Films of 2021

Uncategorized

In 2021, I saw 520 films for the first time, of which 348 were feature films (60 minutes or longer), 19 were medium-length (40-60 minutes), 148 were short films (up to 40 minutes), and I also watched five shows in their entirety (as well as a number in part, but I only include here those that I saw in full).

This seems like a good tally to me, not least because this year has also seen me getting into parenthood for the first time. And this latter fact also contributed to the highly fragmented manner in which I watched a lot of films. But my present general feeling is that at least to watch in fragments is better than not to watch at all.

This end-of-year round-up will marry the qualitative (which films I liked) with the quantitative, most especially analysing my viewing habits and how my rating system sits alongside the ratings of the general populace. For, in the complete list provided at the end of this blog, you will see that I also noted the IMDb rating of each film as a point of comparison.

That said, while I shall include some observations about the films that I saw in 2021, both in general and in relation to individual and/or groups of films, I shall not alas be able to provide full comments, since this will take way more time than I have (see above for how childcare puts limits on the ability to commit time to projects like this one).

First of all, we can start with my rating system. As usual, I use a Halliwell-inspired rating system that goes from zero to four stars. I note that I am generally more generous than Halliwell, rarely giving zero stars. Indeed, in 2021, I gave zero stars to 17 films, of which 14 were features, with a further three films hovering somewhere between zero and one star.

I gave one star to 225 films, a rating that typically means that the film had something in it that I appreciated, if not much (I think that for Halliwell, one star is quite a good thing; for me, it can be, especially if the film is a small-scale and independent production, but it also often is – especially for mainstream films – a grudging star, whereby I recognise a good performance but did not like the whole film much at all, for example). There were a further 11 films that hovered somewhere between one and two stars, while 176 films got two stars, a rating that I would say is pretty good, and which signals by and large a film that I would recommend. 

Eight films were somewhere between two and three stars, while 56 films got three stars straight – a rating that typically I would put among my proxime accessunt films. This number is high compared to usual, as is the number of films with somewhere between three and four stars (five films were very close to four stars but did not quite get there), and as is the number of films to which I gave four stars – 19 of them in total!

The list of films with three and four star ratings can wait until later, but I might just say that I did reserve for myself the right to reconsider my ratings and to have a ‘now’ and ‘then’ rating system – a score for just after I saw the film, and one for now, after some time has passed. And while some films get better with distance, I would say that most lose their lustre and would drop down a star or so. Nonetheless, while I thought I would go through and re-rate the films now, I in fact have not had time, so I am sticking with the original ranking and if that means that I rate highly a film that anyone else would find embarrassing, then that is just my hard candy.

With an overview of ratings out of the way, let us think about venues. I saw 31 films at the cinema in 2021, of which 18 were features and 13 shorts. This is way down on my non-pandemic film viewing (typically at least 150 films per year in theatres – and some years up at around 250 films). This is even down on the 50 or so films that I saw at the cinema in 2020 before and then as the pandemic got (properly) started.

Beyond that, I saw 2 films on aeroplanes, 8 on file or DVD, 17 on TV, and 462 online. No doubt the internet has become the major source of where I watch films, with the usual suspects of Netflix (32 films), Amazon Prime (20 films), Vimeo (43 films) and YouTube (28 films) being significant ‘content providers.’ That said, MUBI beats all of these with 74 films, and FestivalScope comes in a close second with 71 films, meaning that I have a far greater penchant for their fare (art house and/or festival films – if there is a difference) than the bigger budget works on those more mainstream platforms.

That said, if these providers are the most commonly used, I did in 2021 enjoy a watching a growing number of films selected online by the Vancouver International Film Festival (29 films, of which 16 during the Vancouver International Film Festival itself, and a further 13 as part of their year-round service).

What is more, websites like Aflamuna and the Mizna Film Series have been great sources for watching Arabic cinema, while the Menzies Screening Series has offered some very interesting Australian work, and Klassiki promised to be a great resource for Russian and other cinemas from the former Soviet Union – until it demanded a subscription fee. I should also mention King’s College London Film Studies and the Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image as offering excellent curated selections, especially of Chinese cinemas and essay-films respectively. Meanwhile, Another Gaze has provided access to overlooked work by female filmmakers, especially the seasons of films by Cecilia Mangini and Palestinian filmmakers.

I might also mention that I have sporadically watched works on Disney+, iTunes/Apple TV, KinoNow and others, while e-flux, DA Films and Kanopy also provide very interesting curated selections, and I feel like I could (should?) take greater advantage of these latter sites in the future. I might also mention the Global Kurdish Film Festival as providing some real treats, as well as the selection of classic and foundational Asian American films put together in 2021 by My Sight is Lined With Visions.

Finally, I did watch a lot of films via FilmFreeway over my partner’s shoulder, since she was/is working (unpaid) as a programmer for a relatively major film festival.

As a wee table, I might note the following average star rating per online film provider, based upon those from whom I saw five or more films in 2021:-

Content ProviderNumber FilmsAverage Stars
Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image62.2
Aflamuna62.1
Global Kurdish Film Festival62
Portland International Film Festival52
VIFF Connect292
DA Films91.9
e-flux81.9
MUBI741.9
Amazon Prime201.9
Another Gaze121.8
KinoNow61.8
Vimeo431.7
My Sight is Lined With Visions71.6
Netflix321.6
YouTube281.6
Cinematheque111.5
FestivalScope711.5
FilmFreeway341.3
Slamdance Film Festival61.3

In some senses, there is not much in the scores here (they range from an average of 1.3 to an average of 2.2), and I am slightly surprised by how Amazon Prime scored about the same as MUBI (I would have guessed that MUBI would score higher), while not being so surprised that Netflix comes lower down. I would say that while FestivalScope does not fare that well here (average of 1.5 stars), I nonetheless like the service for the selection of films from contemporary festivals, even if many of them are pretty unremarkable.

I would also note that it is harder to achieve a high score if the number of films seen is much higher. That is, had I watched 74 films on Prime as I did on MUBI, I highly suspect that the Prime score would have dropped significantly, as would the Netflix score have dropped even more had I equally seen 74 films on Netflix.

That is, I only really watch stuff on places like Prime and Netflix that I want to watch; on MUBI and FestivalScope, meanwhile, as well as DA Films, I will effectively watch things without knowing anything about them. Some are not great, for sure, but I cannot and do not avoid the bad films as I do on Prime/Netflix, because I am venturing into the unknown (I typically know nothing about the film that I am about to see on FestivalScope). I may thus discover that a film on FestivalScope is bad (by which I mean ‘not to my taste’), but it is better that than knowing it is bad/that I won’t care that much for it in advance (as applies to so much fare on Netflix/Prime) and watching it anyway – a practice that I generally try to avoid. In short, I prefer watching bad films that are independent and/or from different parts of the world than to watching bad mainstream/big budget films.

Beyond these notes about online viewing, I definitely miss theatrical film viewing on a more regular basis, not least because it means one cannot watch films in the afore-decried fragmented fashion, although being a caregiver also has contributed greatly to the diminished number of trips to the cinema.

That said, while I know that I prefer the experience of the cinema as a venue, I do note that the number of films to which I gave zero stars is proportionally far higher for films that I saw at the cinema this year (5 out of 31; I gave zero stars to 17 films this year; there were 4 on Netflix and 2 on Amazon Prime).

This is in part a factor of how in the places where I had the chance to go to the movies, especially when in St Louis, Missouri, in the summer, there was not much in the way of art house, independent or non-western choices, and so schlocky western blockbusters became the primary diet. But it perhaps also is in part because when cinemas reopened after being closed for so long, the programming reverted to schlocky blockbusters in a bid to get people to go to the movies at all.

I might note that films to which I gave zero stars – and which also had a score on IMDb – achieved an average score on the IMDb of 6.4. Meanwhile, films to which I gave one star had an average score of 6.6 on IMDb. For two star films, the average IMDb score was 6.8. For three star films, the average IMDb score was 7.0. And for four star films, it was 7.3.

While this demonstrates that on the whole when I prefer a film so does the general public, I was secretly hoping that I would be championing films that the general public does not especially like. No doubt this is the case with regard to certain individual films, and I found myself constantly surprised by how the movie-going public preferred x film that I thought was rubbish to y film that I thought was excellent (and my unquantified perception of this is that if the filmmaker is a filmmaker of colour and/or their topic is race, then there is a tendency for the film to get a lower score than films by and/or about white people). All the same, it would seem that my tastes are pretty (and disappointingly!) conformist.

In terms of national provenance, and going only by the first named country in international co-productions, I this year saw 136 films from the USA, 55 films from the UK, 34 films from Canada and 32 from France. This means that the top three in terms of quantity are the same as last year (and in the same order), with China dropping down slightly. I notably saw fewer films from Japan, Brazil and Taiwan this year, but I did see a much greater number of films from France, India, South Korea and South Africa (although the high total for this latter country is largely a result of a number of shorts that I saw on Vimeo by the remarkable Penny Siopis).

What is more, I saw films from a wider range of countries this year (82 different countries, as opposed to 71 last year), including from a couple of countries from which I think I had never before seen a film, including Madagascar, the Netherlands Antilles (Curaçao to be more precise) and Sri Lanka.

Thinking regionally, the films that I saw break down as follows:-

North America170
Europe161
Asia106
Africa45
MENA Region42
Latin America & Caribbean30
Oceania7

This involves a larger number of European films than in 2020 (when I saw 111 European films), as well as Asian films (growing from 76 to 106), with also a large growth of films from Africa (from 14 to 45), the MENA region (from 11 to 42), and with more or less the same number from Latin America and the Caribbean (from 31 to 30). Aside from North America (down from 193 to 170), only Oceania had fewer films (from 10 down to 7). But on the whole these figures do reflect a conscious attempt to watch fewer western films and more from other parts of the world.

Note that the MENA countries straddle Asia and Africa, and so the figures involve repetitions of films. I hope that this is okay. Furthermore, going through rough mental calculations, this also means that the majority of films that I saw in 2021 were non-anglophone.

Here is the complete ‘medal table’ of films seen by country:-

CountryFilmsAvge Score
USA1361.46
UK551.63
Canada341.66
France321.45
China151.7
India153.13
South Africa151.37
South Korea121.54
Germany111.41
Iran111.45
Italy111.64
Mexico111.82
Palestine112.09
Japan81.88
Philippines81.75
Spain81.38
Argentina71.86
Australia62
Lebanon62.83
Turkey62.5
Hong Kong51.2
Brazil42.5
Portugal41.5
Belgium31.33
Democratic Republic of Congo31.83
Romania33.17
Taiwan31.33
Vietnam31.67
Algeria21.5
Angola22
Austria22
Colombia21.5
Egypt21.5
Finland22
Morocco22.25
Myanmar21
Netherlands21.5
North Macedonia21.5
Norway22
Poland22
Russia21.5
Senegal22
Sweden21.5
Switzerland21.5
Thailand21
Tunisia22
USSR22.5
Bangladesh12
Bulgaria13
Cameroon11
Central African Republic11
Chile12
Côte d’Ivoire12
Cuba11
Denmark11
Dominican Republic12
Ethiopia14
Georgia11
Ghana12
Guatemala13
Guinea12
Hungary12
Iceland11
Ireland12
Kenya13
Lesotho13
Madagascar12
Malta13
Netherlands Antilles12
New Zealand12.5
Pakistan11
Peru12
Rwanda11
Saudi Arabia11
Serbia and Montenegro12
Singapore12
Somalia11
Sri Lanka13
Sudan12.5
Ukraine11
Uzbekistan12
Zimbabwe11.5

What is more, as the right-hand column indicates, I also have run some calculations on what the average score is per country. Here, taking only countries from which I saw 5 or more films, the USA drops significantly down the table (from top to fifteenth position), although, as per the figures for films from different online providers, it is of course harder to achieve a high score the more films one sees from that country.

Nonetheless, the runaway winner in the average score stakes is India, averaging an exceptional 3.13 stars per film. Indeed, Indian cinema was for me the complete revelation of 2021, in terms of both older films (by the likes of Mrinal Sen, Shyam Benegal and Mani Kaul) and newer films (especially Chaitanya Tamhane), with numerous being either four or three stars in my rating system.

Thinking about older films, I managed to see only one film from the 1910s this year (Lois Weber’s Hypocrites from 1915; this compares with two films from the 1910s last year), with five films from the 1920s (compared to two in 2020), two from the 1930s (three in 2020), none from the 1940s (also none in 2020), only one from the 1950s (down from 8 in 2020), 12 from the 1960s (up from 8 in 2020), 18 from the 1970s (down from 20), 14 from the 1980s (down from 15), 15 from the 1990s (down from 16), 22 from the 2000s (compared to 19 in 2020), 153 from the 2010s, and 277 from the 2020s, of which 128 were from 2020 and 149 from 2021.

I would like to watch more older films – and the 1940s seems really to be a blindspot of mine, although in all honesty, I am not sure when I would find time to watch them, not least because overall I think that I should watch less, and want to be able to make more.

In terms of work by individual filmmakers, there were several people by whom I saw two films, with mention going to Trinh T. Minh-ha (thanks to a retrospective on DA Films), Yılmaz Güney (Global Kurdish Film Festival), Razan AlSalah and Jumana Manna (Another Gaze), my new colleagues at the University of British Columbia Antoine Bourges and Jessica Johnson, my former student at New York University Abu Dhabi Andrea Yu-Chieh Chung, my friends Ilkka Levä and Maryam Tafakory, the clearly brilliant Yoshishige Yoshida and Agustina Comedí, and the incomparable Lav Diaz, about whom a book was published this year, and which includes an essay by me.

With three or more films were Buster Keaton (about whom I also have a book forthcoming), Khavn de la Cruz (about whom I have written in several places), the highly productive Chloë Zhao (although none quite hit the mark for me this year, even as I raved about The Rider a few years back), and the excellent female trio of Garrett Bradley (her older shorts, including the excellent America), Larissa Sansour (a retrospective from the Mizna Film Series) and Paula Gaitán (DA Films again). I might mention Jon Rafman’s work, which is weird, unsettling and brilliant. And finally, I also saw a good amount of very strong work from Steve McQueen (three from his Small Axe series, and then his masterful Uprising – all on Amazon Prime).

I saw and will note a still-growing and very strong amount of indigenous filmmaking from both Canada, the USA and elsewhere, even as I did not manage to see the highly-regarded Reservation Dogs (one to try to catch in 2022).

I seemed to notice Dan Stevens, Rebecca Hall and Ryan Reynolds much more in 2021, while recurrent themes included mushrooms, pigs, fires, island life, mud, incest and lockdown – about much of which I hope in a scholarly context to write in due course, as well as octopuses, about which I have recently written in a scholarly context with David H Fleming.

There was much imitation of Godard (generally in a good way) and much imitation of Malick (generally in a cheap way), as well as a turn to the ‘theatrical’ in various Black Atlantic productions (The InheritanceEar for EyeMalcolm & Marie and more).

On a personal note, I might mention that I was deeply saddened in 2021 to learn of the passing of Anthony Smith, who during his time had played crucial roles in Channel 4, the British Film Institute and other institutions within the British media industries, and with whom I spent a number of years as a student during his tenure as President of Magdalen College, Oxford.

Tony played a key role in my film life in various ways – some of which were unclear to me at the time. While my passion for cinema had ignited before going to Magdalen as an undergraduate in 1995, the fires were nonetheless stoked by the impressive collection of videos that the college had already accrued by then, and through which I ploughed with great enthusiasm during my studies – at times being a more or less permanent fixture in the Junior and/or Middle Common Rooms, where I would watch film after film, much to the annoyance of other students who went there to play pool and/or to watch Neighbours.

Furthermore, Tony was also responsible for building the Auditorium at Magdalen, where for a couple of years during my doctoral studies in the mid-2000s I ran a very busy film society that in the end became the biggest at the whole of Oxford University, regularly showing half a dozen or more films a week, including various screenings of films on film, including early silent movies that could be screened on what at that time was the UK’s only remaining functional variable speed projector (i.e. you could project a 16 frames per second film at 16 frames per second, as well as 24 fps film at 24 fps, etc). A great encouragement especially in the latter endeavour, neither of these would have been possible without Tony.

What is more, Tony was always encouraging (of) my filmmaking, having taken the time to read some of my earlier movie scripts, and coming to screenings of my work in both Oxford and London when he had the opportunity. His support was of great importance to me, especially the way in which he imbued me with self-belief that I often feel that I lack (asking me, for example, why I was not forging a successful career as a screenwriter, since he felt that I could or should be doing this, or at least spoke of it as if it were so; while I still have effectively zero success as a commercial screenwriter, I nonetheless take heart that someone out there – and someone with the experience and knowledge of Tony Smith – could see that I had (and of course still have) the potential to achieve my professional ambitions).

I remained in touch with Tony until his death. When I was living in London, we regularly would watch films at either the BFI or the ICA (and sometimes at an Odeon or the Picturehouse Central), and especially at his old manor, the BFI, Tony would encounter people he knew, including one time Jeremy Irons, with whom Tony and I shared a drink and a chat – mainly about TS Eliot, if memory serves. Furthermore, after leaving for Canada, I did correspond with him semi-regularly, and had just written to him to ask his thoughts on Terence Davies’ Benediction (for me, a very ‘Tony Smith’ film; I thought Jack Lowden continues to be excellent) when I soon after heard of his passing.

Anthony Smith

I was particularly moved when I saw a picture during his funeral of Tony as a young man – a press pass that reportedly he had made for a visit to Vietnam during the latter stages of the conflict there in the 1970s, and while he was working, I believe, at the BBC. I was struck by a sense of Tony looking like Jean-Luc Godard, especially with his shaded glasses and slightly curling dark hair. Godard – in many ways the biggest aesthetic influence on my filmmaking, and an aspirational figure for me. Smith – in many ways the biggest practical influence on my filmmaking and cinephilia, and an inspirational figure for me. Their marriage in this picture seems wholly fitting to me, and I miss Tony immensely (while also acknowledging that there is so much more to say about this remarkable man).

Maybe it is a nicely fitting personal tribute to say that in 2021 I did get to go to Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood and to see work that I had written being played on a huge screen in front of an audience of about 250 people – the film in question being Mila Zuo’s KIN., which was screening as part of the HollyShorts Film Festival 2021. While I hope that this is nothing like the height or end of my career, I would nonetheless like to dedicate this wee achievement to Tony Smith, who continues to influence me and many others, and whose example of encouragement and belief I hope to reproduce. Indeed, if I can match even a jot of Tony’s decency, then I hope that mine will have been a life well led. His was led in a most exemplary fashion.

And so now to the films of the year, starting with my proxime accessunt three star films and my films that hover both somewhere between two and three stars (not least because Zola is a film that I think I would in hindsight bump up to three stars) and those that hover somewhere between three and four stars. Of these, there are 69 films:-

I basilischi (Lina Wertmüller, Italy, 1963)

Essere donne (Cecilia Mangini, Italy, 1965)

Hullumeelsus/Madness (Kaljo Kiisk, USSR (Estonia), 1969)

Heroic Purgatory (Yoshishige Yoshida, Japan, 1970)

Sambizanga (Sarah Maldoror, Angola/France, 1972)

Coup d’État (Yoshishige Yoshida, Japan, 1973)

Ankur (Shyam Benegal, India, 1974)

The Wasps are Here (Dharmasena Pathiraja, Sri Lanka, 1977)

Sürü/The Herd (Zeki Ökten, Turkey (North Kurdistan), 1978)

Arrival (Mani Kaul, India, 1980)

The Kaleidoscope (Mrinal Sen, India, 1981)

Kasaba/The Small Town (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey, 1997)

Nonfilm (Quentin Dupieux, France, 2002)

Memories of Murder (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea, 2003)

In Pieces (Hakim Belabbes, Morocco, 2009)

Pumzi (Wanuri Kahiu, Kenya/South Africa, 2009)

The Seventh Walk (Amit Dutta, India, 2013)

Chant d’hiver (Otar Iosseliani, France/Georgia, 2015)

Histoire de Judas (Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche, France, 2015)

This Little Father Obsession (Sélim Mourad, Lebanon, 2016)

Farpões baldios (Marta Mateus, Portugal, 2017)

Sexy Durga (Sanal Kumar Sasidharan, India, 2017)

We Don’t Need a Map (Warwick Thornton, Australia, 2017)

In Vitro (Larissa Sansour and Søren Lind, Palestine/Denmark/UK, 2018)

America (Garrett Bradley, USA, 2019)

Ficción privada (Andrés di Tella, Argentina, 2019)

La Llorona (Jayro Bustamante, Guatemala/France, 2019)

Labyrinth of Cinema (Nobuhiko Ôbayashi, Japan, 2019)

She Breathes Water (Penny Siopis, South Africa, 2019)

Sound of Metal (Darius Marder, USA, 2019)

The Halt (Lav Diaz, Philippines/France, 2019)

This is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection (Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese, Lesotho/South Africa/Italy, 2019)

To Live To Sing (Johnny Ma, China/France/Canada, 2019)

You Will Die at 20 (Amjad Abu Alala, Sudan/France/Egypt/Germany/Norway/Qatar, 2019)

499 (Rodrigo Reyes, Mexico/USA, 2020)

An Dà Shealladh/The Two Sights (Joshua Bonnetta, Canada, 2020)

Beginning (Dea Kulumbegashvili, Georgia/France, 2020)

Canada Park (Razan AlSalah, Palestine/Canada, 2020)

Epicentro (Hubert Sauper, Austria/France, 2020)

Gunda (Viktor Kossakovsky, Norway/USA/UK, 2020)

Irani Bag (Maryam Tafakory, Iran/UK/Singapore, 2020)

Limbo (Ben Sharrock, UK, 2020)

Minari (Lee Isaac Chung, USA, 2020)

Promising Young Woman (Emerald Fennell, UK/USA, 2020)

Red, White and Blue (Steve McQueen, UK, 2020)

Shirley (Josephine Decker, USA, 2020)

Sin señas particulares (Fernanda Valadez, Mexico/Spain, 2020)

Te llevo conmigo (Heidi Ewing, Mexico/USA, 2020)

The Disciple (Chaitanya Tamhane, India, 2020)

The Father (Florian Zeller, UK/France, 2020)

Zola (Janicza Bravo, USA, 2020)

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (Radu Jude, Romania/Luxembourg/Czech Republic/Croatia/Switzerland/UK, 2021)

Cousins (Ainsley Gardiner and Briar Grace Smith, New Zealand, 2021)

Don’t Look Up (Adam McKay, USA, 2021)

In the Earth (Ben Wheatley, UK, 2021)

January (Andrey Paounov, Bulgaria/Luxembourg/Portugal, 2021)

Judas and the Black Messiah (Shaka King, USA, 2021)

Kímmapiiyipitssini: The Meaning of Empathy (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Canada, 2021)

Luzzu (Alex Camilleri, Malta, 2021)

Mass Ave (Omas S Kamara, USA, 2021)

Passing (Rebecca Hall, UK/USA, 2021)

Pig (Michael Sarnoski, UK, 2021)

Portraits from a Fire (Trevor Mack, Canada, 2021)

Rock Bottom Riser (Fern Silva, USA, 2021)

Ste Anne (Rhayne Vermette, Canada, 2021)

The Rifleman (Sierra Pettengill, USA, 2021)

The Riverside Bench (Austin Chang, USA, 2021)

Théo et les metamorphoses (Damien Odoul, France/Switzerland, 2021)

Una película de policías (Alonso Ruizpalacios, Mexico, 2021)

And here are my four star movies, in chronological order:-

Umut/Hope (Yılmaz Güney and Şerif Gören, Turkey (North Kurdistan), 1970)

Adolescente, sucre d’amour/A Suspended Life (Jocelyne Saab, Lebanon/France/Canada/Argentina, 1985)

Dil Se… (Mani Ratnam, India, 1998)

Gangs of Wasseypur (Anurag Kashyap, India, 2012)

Court (Chaitanya Tamhane, India, 2014)

Terror Nullius (Soda_Jerk, Australia, 2018)

Collective (Alexander Nanau, Romania/Luxembourg/Germany, 2019)

It Must Be Heaven (Elia Suleiman, Palestine/France/Qatar/Germany/Canada/Turkey, 2019)

One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk (Zacharias Kunuk, Canada, 2019)

Education (Steve McQueen, UK, 2020)

Luz nos Trópicos (Paula Gaitán, Brazil, 2020)

The Inheritance (Ephraim Asili, USA, 2020)

Ear for Eye (debbie tucker green, UK, 2021)

Exterminate All the Brutes (Raoul Peck, USA, 2021)

Faya dayi (Jessica Beshir, Ethiopia/USA/Qatar, 2021)

Jhilli/Discards (Ishaan Ghose, India, 2021)

Pebbles (P.S. Vinothraj, India, 2021)

Tanglewood (Ben Bruhmüller, Canada, 2021)

Uprising (Steve McQueen and James Rogan, UK, 2021)

I might penultimately note that I saw 21 of the 50 films listed in Sight & Sound magazine as their films of the year. Ten of them are in the three- and four-star lists above (Sound of Metal, Beginning, Limbo, Minari, The Father, Zola, Bad Luck Banging, Judas and the Black Messiah and Pig get three stars; Ear for Eye gets four stars), meaning that 11 of them did not impress me so much (with even a three star film not necessarily making my own top 20 or even top 50).

While I am looking forward to seeing various/all of the 29 films in their list that I have not seen (and, indeed, 2021 was a year that for me was/is marked by a good number of films that I did not get a chance to see, even as it is of course marked by the ones that I did), I might note both how their list is primarily western and primarily white. But really, also, just how mainstream it is. Not ‘mainstream’ in the sense that it features films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, exactly; but rather in that it features standard festival favourite films, with no real surprises in there at all. It is as if the journal’s critics basically all watch the same films at the same festivals, and/or on the same websites, and that they chose their top 50 from a collective total of about 100 films that they had seen. It’s a good list. But it is so safe

Maybe my list is also, upon reflection, very safe. But I take the opportunity to note that I want to break out of this safety if possible.

Perhaps what I am saying is that having seen what gets chosen in these end-of-year lists, and having also observed what gets selected (and how) at some pretty big festivals, I think that I have in the back of my mind some future programming of my own; not taste-making in the sense of putting into an ordered list the films that have already been curated by the main film festivals and a few others; rather, taste-making in the sense of bringing in and giving time and space to completely different films.

Doing this successfully is likely as probable as this blog post reaching a wide audience. So perhaps I am just pipe-dreaming, trying to self-promote via some backstabbing of Sight & Sound, and generally howling like a lone wolf in the night. But all the same… as everyone thinks that they know more and better about cinema than everyone else, so, too, do I maybe suffer from – and here indulge – that delusion from time to time.

Finally, a complete list of films that I saw in 2021 is attached, should it be at all of interest:-

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s