2021 cinematic retrospective. Top 10 of the year, favourite cinema trips and more

Intro

2021 has been a pretty good year for films. Coming off of 1 of the worst the industry has experienced, 2021 had forced a lot of expectations and delayed films forced onto it. Cinemas were finally reopening and the industry responded in swing. There was a healthy line-up of blockbuster films such as Dune, Spiderman and in my opinion the most underrated action release of the year ‘nobody’. A large contribution of the blockbuster scene was courtesy of Marvel continuing their regularly scheduled wave of releases to my dismay. The year however was a strong year for the independent scene with films like the green knight, Bo Burnham’s ‘inside’ and C’mon C’mon. You would be hard pressed to not find something for everyone this year. Action film, documentary, comedy and drama were all represented in healthy measures.

This retrospective of the year will be a way for me to reflect on this year in film. Giving my thoughts and opinions on the new releases of the year, good and bad. Giving me an opportunity to give my thoughts on the films I missed or neglected to write about as well as any notable TV shows, favourite cinema experiences and books I experienced this year. There was a lot of releases this year, a lot of stuff to talk about and not a lot of time so entries will vary in length.

I’ll structure this piece as follows; starting with the main attraction – the top 10 of the year then a detailed list with my opinions of the other releases from 2021 ranked, catching up and giving my thoughts on the leftovers from last year that only released in the UK this year, my favourite experiences at the cinema and finally a rundown any notable tv shows and books I read this year.

Bare in mind there is still healthy backlog of films I haven’t found the time to see but I do plan on seeing

Films still to watch

Drive my car, Titane, card counter, pig, Halloween kills, malignant, the humans, Swan song, wrath of man, Snyder cut, lamb, the lost daughter, sparks brothers, cruella, flee, Belfast, bendetta, memoria, wheel of fantasy and fortune

Top 10 of the year

Last duel

The last duel is a fantastically made film on every level. It’s shot incredibly, the screenplay is wonderfully crafted and the performances are excellent. I don’t have that much to say funny enough but the project as a whole speaks for itself. Definitely Ridley best film of the year and a technically impressive showing.

West side story

West Side Story is a film that feels like it could only have been made by Steven Speilberg. After decades of experience where he has built universally revered filmography this project feels like the culmination of everything he’s learned. What Speilberg is able to achieve is an awe inspiring blend of theatrical stage performance and meticulous filmmaking. Every minute there are dozens of decisions, large and small sporadically happening to create an awe inspiring experience. He reels your attention in 1 direction before abruptly bringing it back around in a technique I can only describe as a ‘whip crack’ camera movement. The aggressive and meticulous movements of the dance sequences effortlessly guide the viewer’s attention in perfectly choreographed numbers. The entire world and city itself is part of the large-scale musical number being conducted, cars crudely interrupt the jet’s initial flash mob and the props of ordinary life are shaped into tools of expression and choreography. At every turn Speilberg is trying something new, heightening his ambition to an absurd degree, as though he was throwing his many toys and the setpieces they occupy like a handful of dice. He launches them into the air like a desperate gamble brought on by misguided confidence, “there’s no way he can pull it off” you briefly think to yourself on the edge of your seat. However there’s one thing you forgot, this is his game. It always has been. And just like that he rolls perfect 6’s every time.

Full review: https://talking-film.com/2021/12/15/west-side-story-review/

Annette

Dazzlingly brilliant in it’s direction. Adam Driver plays up his theatrics to psychotic degree and yields incredibly effective results. Hilarious at points, fascinating and perplexing everywhere else. It’s pantomime-like extremities and refusal to conform to conventional structure, script, cinematography make it wildly unpredictable yet exciting. Shakespearean apparitions, living dolls, reality itself breaking apart to give way to abstractions or insane and eccentric displays of theatre merging with film. Nothing is off limits leading to a truly unique if not polarising experience.

The matrix resurrections

Matrix resurrection is something really special. It’s a unique and welcome film that uses its identity as yet another modern sequel/ reboot of a beloved classic to deliver a bold meta commentary of the current state of the film industry in the most unabashedly Wachowski way imaginable. It’s a film that wears the context it finds us in the modern age as another one of it’s storytelling utensils rather than a played out crutch. What’s been made here is a stark middle finger to the formulaic cash grabs and studio driven crowd pleasers, a film cursed to split audiences but a film that completely enraptured me and perfectly contextualised a modern Matrix return in a playfully cynical way while remaining 100% true to the style and identity that made the original so phenomenal.

Full review:

Dune

A bold cinematic spectacle that feels like a high thrills blockbuster that lives up to its own insane budget and proves that when an interesting voice is given a huge stage and blockbuster of this scale to express his vision, people will still listen.

Full review:

Green knight

I was incredibly worried after the UK release of pulled due to covid concerns so when I saw the trailer at my local I was pretty ecstatic. The green knight was able to defy my every expectation and is one I was thrilled to be able to see on the big screen. The Green Knight is a bold and artistic film that is built on it’s imagery. The imagery presented is incredibly bizarre and will definitely be polarising to a lot of people however this bold artistic direction is something I appreciated greatly and is an aspect that will stay in my mind for a long long time. The use of colour, lighting and composition create a viewing experience I was consistently marvelled by. Gawain’s journey in search of honour starts when the titular Green Knight enters King Arthur’s castle seeking a challenger to play his game. Wishing to prove himself Gaiwan meets the knight and chops off his head, locking into an agreement in which in one year time he must journey to the green chapel and the green knight will return the blow.

The tragedy of MacBeth

Macbeth is a worthy addition to the duo turn lone filmmaker’s filmography and his most artistically driven film by him to date finally contending a worthy rival to Akira Kurosawa’s classic the throne of blood as an adaptation of Shakespeare’s original Scottish set moral folly.

Joel pushes the iconic symbols of the story to greater heights with some truly mesmerising filmmaking and artistic liberties. The 3 witches are tranforgified to controtioning surreal creatures maintaining their prophetic narrative purpose but given more presence in the bird like way they’re presented, The continuous usage of dripping used as a frequent motif in the thundering audio scapes and soundtrack is beautifully atmospheric and effective or the thick fog of ambiguity that hangs over every dense swamp moor or heinous murder a constant visual aid of Macbeth’s muddied, abstruse mind corrupted by madness.

The technical aspects of the film are a marvel of production and artistic direction. The abstract walls that construct the monolith-like structures confining the cast in MacBeths Inverness castle are haunting in the exaggerated impracticality. The artistic identity warps the archaic structures, plot points and visages of madness into something incredible to look at. The production effort as a whole is phenomenal sporting incredible usage of lighting to drape the aforementioned walls and stone archways in ethereal lumisens, or clean cut silhouettes in a fantastical fashion impossible to achieve on a theatre stage. Although cinematography is the definite highlight the other filmmaking aspects are also brilliantly handled. The editing is concise in precision and slow and purposeful as the subtle crossfades lurking under the all consuming drobes of smoke and smog clutter the screen. The costume design is all appropriate and well handled and the performances are appropriately theatric with the clear standout being Denzel Washington’s depiction of demented fallen monarchy. An underrated aspect of production handled wonderfully here is the sound design. From the moment go the listening experience of MacBeth is daunting and incredibly atmospheric, loud and impressive

The story is something we’re all familiar with and is delivered well with the greater focus on abstract imagery which furthers the visual wording of the story and Joel’s screenplay is an incredibly faithful interpretation of the original play consisting of grandiose Shakespearan dialect and theatrical mannerisms. An excellent experience to cap off the year.

C’mon C’mon

Out of all the films that have been released this year and I have seen so far there has been none that I have thought about more than C’mon C’mon. For being so seemingly innocent and simplistic on the outside it’s a film I haven’t been able to shake off. After seeing it twice now I can confidently say it’s one of my favourites of the year and even of all time. C’mon C’mon is a film about documentary filmmaker Johnny who looks after his nephew for an extended period of time while his sister struggles to get her husband settled into a hospital due to his series of drug induced manic episodes. C’mon C’mon is a sombre reflection on the human condition, showing the inescapable effect of time through  Johnny and Jesse’s characters and their respective experiences. Showing their budding relationship and the realistic disappointments that follow the jaded father figures efforts to understand his nephew as well as the many young people he interviews for his upcoming documentary.

Full review:

The french dispatch

The French Dispatch is a film that views the world and it’s many commodities through the lens of a newspaper and it’s many columns. The last newspaper of the most acclaimed newspaper Wes Anderson could imagine. A newspaper that gives us a subversive glimpse into the world of fine arts and artists, politics, poetry and the tastes and the smells. The French Dispatch aims to subvert our understanding of the world around us, it portrays the world as an eccentric, abstract gallery of ideas, people and stories, shedding light on the oddballs and abnormalities that make the world worth reading about. The French Dispatch is a newspaper, something we’re all accustomed to. A way we view the world through on a daily basis. However like the poison Nescaffier ingested the French Dispatch is the new, the spectacular, the feeling of curiosity and rediscovery of passion that we live our lives searching for. Both as a film and a newspaper the French dispatch is a looking glass of wonder that dares us to gaze through its peculiar lens and observe the people, the places, the arts, the artists, the politics, the poetry, the tastes and the smells in the juvenile perspective that we lose the more accustomed we come to our routines, a perspective that still believes the world can surprise despite how familiar we believe ourselves to be with our passions and the stories we read about in tabloids. Nescaffier’s words and The French dispatch as a whole represent a brilliantly optimistic and pure idea. That no matter the effect time has on our bodies and the places we visit, there’s always more to see, read, watch and discover in the world around us. Wes Anderson at his most profound and sentimental. It’s artistic, it’s spectacular, it’s masterful, it’s artistic, political, it’s poetic, it stimulates the senses and it’s emotionally revenant in a way Wes Anderson has never been before.

Full review here:

Licorice pizza

Paul Thomas Anderson is my favourite film maker so I made it no secret that licorice pizza was by far my most anticipated release in a LONG time. I went into the 35mm preview with high expectations and in standard PTA fashion he delivered an experience truly unique, masterful which was somehow miles better than my already astronomic expectation. Licorice Pizza is a film I don’t want to rush talking about and getting a review out. The more I sit on it, think about it and rewatch it an unhealthy amount of times I’m always discovering new things to adore. PTA has made something truly remarkable, something so special and wonderful in every way that it was impossible to hide the giant smile plastered on my face for the entire film. Licorice PIzza was everything I wanted and so much more making it my favourite of the year.

2021 ranked

Free guy

I had to watch ‘Free Guy” after attending a ‘secret screening’ . It was my first time with the unique screening and I can say I would not have watched this film if I hadn’t been tricked into it. I think it’s fine for films to adopt a purely entertainment driven and unchallenging experience which is where the perplexing critical love seems to be coming from however free guy is a film that doesn’t try on any level. It phones in every aspect in an uninspired, boring, safe and incompetent piece of schlock devoid of originality in any form.

Red notice

Another failed effort from Ryan Reynolds this year. If you don’t find any of it’s leads charismatic  or entertaining like me then all you have left is an uninspired dribble of a plot that attempts to substitute actual script writing and character development with cheap twists and referencial filler.

Malcolm and marie

Malcolm and Marie is a film that admittedly had some potential. The cinematography was strong, the performances were desperately struggling to save this sinking ship however the script, dialogue and uncomfortable or embarrassing intention of the film made the experience insufferable. Malcolm and Marie is a nearly 2 hour temper tantrum from an incompetent child who is angry at his film being panned by critics.

Don’t look up

This film was incredibly boring and uninteresting. It was very poorly made, sporting the worst editing of the year. The only thing that wasn’t rage inducingly mediocre was the performances. Leo is giving it his all and chalamet was a surprise highlight in the cast.

Eternals

Completely devoid of any life, substance or charm. All it’s leads bounce off each with the chemistry of a group of boulders banging against each other for 2 and a half hours. A structural nightmare consisting of expository dribble and a sci-fi lexicon that expects us to take the names King and Druig seriously while also expecting us to seriously connect to those same characters on an emotional level. This would be fine if the film actually committed to either of its identities. It is torn between a serious Chloe Zhao picture and the standard marvel slop that rears in its ugly head with every comically flat quip and obtuse goofy side character.

Black widow

Black widow is a film that feels too little too late. Scarlet Jahnson deserved to be represented sooner in the MCU considering how important her character and representation is, so releasing this now feels like backtracking. The MCU seems to be gearing for some of its biggest events yet furthering its overarching narrative into grander and abstract territory so I have to ask. Why now? Why do they choose to throw black widow; a reserved character spy flick against the bigger competition of their own creation. Context aside black Widow is definitely one of the weaker efforts from marvel. Simple by the books marvel that won’t shake any worlds or convince any naysayers nor will it dismay established fans of the franchise.

Ghostbusters: afterlife 

Another case of a studio making a film went as expected. Safe by the books holding nothing of substance or value. Utilises every trick in the modern blockbuster book with overly witty and uniform characters. 

Old

M night is a filmmaker I admittedly am too familiar with. I remember watching the sixth sense and his infamous Avatar the last air bender adaptation at a young age, however his body of work is something I’m still playing catch up with. I’ve only heard the jokes and comments surrounding his declining quality but I was willing to and still am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt despite not enjoying old. Old is a film very strong on a conceptual level just not on a film making or execution level. The dialogue characters, editing and pacing all felt agrigasly incompetent but despite that there I still think there is a unique voice echoing through the inconsistencies and blunders which has intiqued me to delve into his work further.

F9

Being completely unfamiliar with the franchise jumping into the 9th entry was certainly an experience. Despite not knowing the established status quo I had no trouble figuring out the dynamics, characters and routine. Vin Diesel expresses his conviction in family matters and they go to space in order to put some shots in the trailer, John Cena is entertaining enough and there’s a lot of explosion. 

Reminessance

Reminessance is a film that ironically has gone forgotten from me, leaving very little impression when I left. A very interesting world let down by a formulaic and predictable script. Not even High Jackman’s delivery of a typical yet timeless washed up detective chasing a girl could save it from its shortcomings

Shang Chi

Don’t really know how to feel about this as a whole. It has some elements I enjoyed and sections I was having fun with, mainly in the first half, but at some point it starts to fumble and when I consider the experience as a whole I’m walking away pretty unsatisfied. It felt torn between being an intimate character driven martial arts film and avengers level CGI spectacle. Because of its indecisiveness it isn’t able to achieve either and the film ends up feeling hollow as a result. Still I will put it above most other marvel schlock because as I said I think there is some fun to be had in the first half when it’s focusing on fight choreography and the father son dynamic and the performances and characters are able to shine.

Stillwater

Matt Damon plays it as straight as possible in a competent if not forgettable and standard American in foreign country drama with slight detective elements.

Candyman

Didn’t leave as much of an impression as the original and “candy man” didn’t have as much of a presence which really hurt the horror elements. Still it was well shot, performances were good and it did a good job of adapting the story to modern times while maintaining the original’s core messages and themes. Wasn’t a fan of the slasher elements. Where the first was primarily psychological with slight slasher elements this feels like a slasher foremost.

Jungle cruise

Definitely enjoyed this more than I was anticipating. While not feeling a cash grab or part of a pre existing franchise the trailers for this had the same dull and monotonous energy I associate with modern Disney. With that said I was surprised at the ways this film exceeded my expectations. The score was really great, the performances were entertaining and the action was very fun and creative. While it definitely wears its influences on its sleeve mainly Indiana Jones I wouldn’t call that a bad thing. Jungle cruise leans into its influences and doesn’t attempt to be anything more than it is. I think it definitely drags in the latter half but it’s a very fun and charming experience regardless that left me sufficiently satisfied against my prior judgement.

Tick tick boom

Andrew Garfield is giving it his all as always, unfortunately his efforts arn’t matched by the amatuer at points filmmaking decisions

Cry Macho

The filmmaking ranges from mediocre to horrendous however the underlying thematic narrative being conveyed effortlessly roped me in for the charming and wholesome adventure.
It’s a charming and poetic journey that reflects on the important nature of the messages that are echoed throughout the years from stories and icons long passed at a time where those ideals are being pushed to the wayside. The film takes an optimistic approach to this exploration leaving us with the inspiring reaffirmation of the importance of traditional values of kindness and of course ‘macho’.

Luca

Pixar seems to be stagnating in innovation in recent years with a lot of projects that feels basic or samey. Despite falling into mediocrity and slowly slipping from the prestigious pedestal I have always put it on Luca is still fun, charming and gorgeous as always

The guilty

Far too many small decisions and problems to recommend but as a quick watch on Netflix it isn’t a worthless product. Gyllehaal turning in a high effort performance as always and the films strongest aspect.

Venom: let there be carnage

Venom let there be carnage was a film I was convinced I would hate however to my surprise it actually surpassed my expectations. Making it a very solid if not great comic book film that faithfully adapts the campy melodrama and goofy characters of the source material with a childish enthusiasm absent from other offerings of the genre which continue to demand to be taken seriously. 

Last night in Soho

As the film slows down and the pieces fall into place allowing us to understand what really happened 60 years ago the film starts to lose me. Not to say the climax is devoid of enjoyment. The film maintains its strong visual direction and sharp editing. However with the intrigue gone I don’t think the slasher horror offerings were able to hold its own for the remaining runtime. There are some promising ideas and some admittedly unnerving imagery but the best aspect about this film’s horror was definitely the psychological side. The glamorous, bright eyed indulgence of Elouises fantasies that quickly unravels and reveals how messy and imperfect the past actually was, contrary to the idealistic way we tend to view it through scratched up vinyls and classic memorabilia.

Full review:

The courier

For going into this looking to fill up an afternoon I was definitely surprised at how captivating this film ended up being. Not a masterpiece by any means but considering how little I find myself interested in cold war dramas I was surprisingly engaged.

King Richard

King Richard is a film I’m surprised I forgot to write about. When I sat down to write about it I was surprised that I had very little to talk about. King Richard is fine, good even. It does what it has to do and delivers on it’s emotional notes, characters and plot points. Satisfying crowd pleaser done right and by the book if not slightly too conventional for my liking at points.

No time to die

Pretty underwhelming for me unfortunately, wouldn’t say I hate it but there were definitely a lot of large issues with the film that brought it closer to spectre and qos than casino and skyfall. The big issue that I feel this film suffers from is that despite its long run time more than a few key ideas and characters the film attempts to deliver on feel sorely under-developed. The villain, Nomi and the emotional notes it hits feel paper thin yet the film insists on being the longest in the franchise’s history.

Encanto

The current trend for the latest disney films seems to be predictable family pleasers as always but in recent years particular focus has been on lining the formulaic stories. Encanto’s meta narrative about the realistic familial complications, struggling with the burdensome expectations of talent and responsibility to ancestral traditions.

Mitchells vs the machines

Visually stunning and charmingly endearing however the very predictable and often obnoxious script held it back from becoming a new classic

The suicide squad

I like James Gunn and in an industry of bland formulaic movies I felt that he brought something somewhat interesting and stylish to the table. Although it has its problems the guardian films are fun and clear the low bar of expectations I have from comic films and for the most part I feel as though suicide squad is the same despite having far more and pronounced issues.

Although it’s toned back Gunn still brings his style to the forefront in a good way that helps the film stand out amongst its contemporaries by feeling far more comic book like. Gunn is clearly a fan of the source material and this love and passion for comic books and superheroes is definitely felt throughout.

Full review: https://boxd.it/221Pof

Inside

Inside was pretty spectacular when it was first released. Showing a uniquely personal contemplation of the contemporary isolated living we all endured over the past couple years. Inside is a creative achievement of production and writing with catchy songs, depressing vibes in all the right places and enough subtle commentary on the past years to elevate it to more than just another netflix comedy special.

The power of the dog

A slow burn that meanders and aimlessly twiddles it’s thumbs opposed to following through on its promising narrative. I found the film to be quite boring, not due to lack of understanding the intent, in fact I understood what Campion was attempting and was fully on board however the end result was not something I can say I connected with. It’s half formed ideas allude to something fascinating with rich a potential for depth and nuance but the reserved approach was to the films detriment.
Cumberbatch is given plenty to work with and is the most interesting character of the cast. He plays his part as well as you would hope or expect with no complaints. The rest of the costars however are given significantly less to work with, their characters feeling as underdeveloped as the films core themes.
The pace is my final point of contention. It does no favours for the drab screenplay and lacklustre performances. Another aspect that could have work better under different context such as stronger thematic direction.
The films saving grace aside from Cumberbatch, his character and the fleeting moments of brilliance, and the aspect that saved this film from being a forgettable blunder is by far the filmmaking.
Every aspect of Campions direction is marvellous. The score is incredibly tense and daunting and the cinematography is jaw dropping. The magnificent shots of the hills are accompanied by nightmarish symphonies of string and brass in a truly inspiring work of filmmaking.

House of gucci

A melodramatic dramedy I’m split down the middle on. For every great example of scriptwriting or impressive performance there is an equal measure of strange decisions or poorly conceived aspects.

Full review:

Bad trip

The prank film is a genre that I will always have a soft spot for. Watching jackass clips in computer class when I wasn’t supposed to make these films infinitely rewatchable and the comedic styling of their stunts make them timeless for me so seeing Eric Andre, one of my favourite comedians keep the art life with bold presentation and hilarious effect was perfect.

Spencer

Spencer was a great celebrity biopic blending elements of horror, art house imagery and all round fantastic filmmaking and performances. It subverted my expectations for a genre that in my experience with it so far has always felt bland and formulaic.

Full review:

Spiderman no way home

Spiderman no way home is the 3rd instalment of the MCU’s iteration of the character but to make a more relevant statement, no way home is the 8th major live action outing for Spiderman on the big screen and this occasion is what no way home is about commemorating. Celebrating how far Spiderman has come in the theatrical scene, the history that precedes him, the reputation he’s garnered as the people’s superhero and the timeless stories and messages that has made him the pop culture icon he is. No way home attempts to be a monumental swan song for the characters legacy to mixed results…

It may not have delivered the emotionally rich Peter Parker story I was hoping for but in hindsight that was never what it was never supposed to be. It doesn’t commit to a grander message and is satisfied with sidelining it’s weighty messaging to instead celebrate the action oriented side of his cinematic outings in cathartic fashion. I have a lot of problems with no way home but upon viewing the film a second time I’ve come to appreciate what this film set out to accomplish, something it achieves successfully. Something cathartic, bold, exciting and above a true celebration of everything Spiderman that feels earned.

Full review: https://talking-film.com/2021/12/19/spiderman-no-way-home-review-spoilers/

Nobody

A great action flick to fill up the dead space of June before the season of summer blockbusters took full effect. Odenkirk is fantastic in anything and his portrayal of Lawrence Gopnik meets John wick was incredibly enjoyable making it an aggressively fun ride.

2020 catch up

Godzilla vs king kong

For a film to return to the cinemas with it done just what I wanted. Big, loud, cathartic and impressive. At least for 20 minutes it was while the actual ‘vs’ of the title was happening. For the rest of it’s overly long runtime

Nomadland

Very underwhelming considering the buzz surrounding it last award season. Outside of the stunning landscape shots of vast unoccupied dessert and fields there really wasn’t enough going on plot wise to get me invested in the first place let alone maintain that investment for it’s nearly 2 hour runtime

I care a lot

I care a lot is a film I completely forgot existed until now which is pretty emblematic of my thoughts on the product. Forgettable, bland and desperately trying to evoke the impression from better filmmakers.

Supernova

Both leads are turning in great performances. The messaging and delivery of said message is well executed however the structure and best by beat moments are where the film falls apart. It knew what it wanted to end on and it focused primarily on delivering those final moments.

The courier

For going into this looking to fill up an afternoon I was definitely surprised at how captivating this film ended up being. Not a masterpiece by any means but considering how little I find myself interested in cold war dramas I was surprisingly engaged.

Shiva baby

Pretty hilarious at points but not entirely engaging felt like it was relatable to experiences I have never nor will never have but the snowballing structure of tension and comedy was incredibly entertaining. I will definitely keep an eye on what Seilgman goes onto do next as this is a very strong debut.

Sound of metal

Another one of the Uk catch up releases of this year. Sound of metal utilises some very fascinating filmmaking techniques to portray the decline in hearing in it’s main character as he slowly goes deaf and begins to learn to live with his disability. This incredible megring of the concept of filmmaking made the sound of metal one of the most unique watches not only of this year but probably ever. Paired with a ‘sound’ screenplay on top of immaculate soundesign and acting makes it an easy recommendation and one of my favourites of the year.

Another round

Excerpt from my review:

The prospect of seeing Vinterberg direct another film with Mads Mikkelsen as the lead playing a juvenile teacher and hijinks ensue was very appealing to me considering my love for Thomas’ first film with Mads. While that film largely dealt with very heavy and dark themes and tone in a respective contemplative way, another round is more of a comedy and while it doesn’t shy away from getting more realistic and brutal the film stays very light hearted and comedic in tone.

Demon slayer mugen train

Maybe it’s the fact this was my first film at the cinema after nearly a year away from the picture house or maybe it’s just the fact I’m a sucker for effective shonen storytelling and visually stunning action but the Demon Slayer is one of my most revisited films of the year and definitely one of the most fun. High octane, relentless and thrilling complimented by some of the most impressive serotonin inducing visuals I’ve seen period.

Minari

Minari is the kind of film that welcomes you in with promises of positivity and wonder before kicking you in the teeth with a harsh reality 5 minutes later. The way this film captures life is so fantastic and unforgettable. You feel the struggle and hardships of the parents fighting and struggle to make their ideal life work, You feel the childlike wonder of the kids when you explore with them and the grandma makes you feel happy and nostalgic from the time you spend with your own grandparents. The music and cinematography come together perfectly to create a dream-like atmosphere that wraps around and makes you never want to leave. Minari is a film about hardship but more so to me it’s about small triumphs that make it all worth it. Despite the hardships this film takes you with the family it’s because of them that the sky seems more blue and the grass more green in Minari. What a tender and pleasant film for the time we’re all going through that serves as a reminder to work hard and keep moving forward no matter what life throws at us.

The Father

Originally a play the father makes a smooth transition to the big screen carrying over certain theatrics and lighting conventions of the medium while also making full use of it’s new opportunities that film brings: the music is fantastic, it’s very well shot and the editing/ structure lends itself to delivering it’s core messages brilliantly.

Favourite cinema experiences

Spiderman no way home

Spiderman no way home was the first time in ages since I’ve found myself excited about a marvel studio project. Although I remain a comic book film detractor, seeing theatres finally packed after months of scant viewership and depressing box office results was a welcome gift for the festive season and I would be lying if seeing the nostalgic carthartisism of the climax didn’t have me grinning ear to ear.

C’mon C’mon

This was an experience that wasn’t entirely because of the film, of course it played a huge part, the relaxing and heartfelt atmosphere of watching C’mon C’mon in a dark room, laughing and crying with strangers is intoxicatingly inviting. However, going to see this film and the day that accompanied it was a day I definitely needed. At the end of a long, tiring week nothing was better than spending the day with myself, getting the train, visiting all the bookshops on the way to the cinema, bigging up the latest one piece volume for myself, getting a coffee, getting comfortable and reading before the picture started. It was a pleasant experience that reminded me of why the film is my ultimate escapism. The times were the nauseating onslaught of dissociative thoughts yield kinder and more pleasant reflections as I unwind.

Dune

I think everyone knew Dune was going to be something special on a big screen. If Dennis’s other sci-fi triumphs a few years back Blade runner 2049 was anything to go by Dune was shaping up to be a sinematic feat of scale and awe. Needless to say now that the reviews are in (mine included) Dune was a film made for the big screen. Few experiences have really sold me on the power of a bigass screen than the sandworm devouring the spice harvester as Paul precariously holds on the Ornithopter and Hanz Zimmer’s grandiose scores orchestrates the jaw dropping precision. Moments like these are what loud blockbusters are about.

Lord of the rings re-release

The Lord of the Rings is a film trilogy I have a large amount of respect and fan boyish love for. Every couple of months I set aside a full day in order to rewatch the entire 9 hour trilogy in one sitting, this year I was lucky enough to watch all 3 films across the span of a weeked (not all at once due to scheduling issues) I’ve always been a fan of the cathartic spectacle of high budget blockbusters in theory. I love the idea of being at the mercy of a giant screen full of loud action and imposingly huge sound systems but I’ve never really felt the thrill I look for in modern cash grabs and low effort action shlock. Revisiting LOTR on the big screen gave me the feeling I’ve been searching for and more. It was incredible to see my favourite film trilogy on a massive scale and despite being exhausted at the end running off adrenaline and the Starbucks coffees I had, it’s an experience I’m dying to have again.

2049/ in the mood for love

My first time going to the Glasgow film theatre (my new favourite cinema) was purely by chance when I remembered walking past it one day in summer and out of curiosity looked up the website. To my absolute delight I saw they were covering the work of Wong Kar Wai, a director whose filmography I had been dying to get into. Although I only got involved in the latter half in the mood for love and 2046 became not only some of my favourite cinema experiences but 2 masterpieces of filmmaking that shot up to the upper echelon of my all time favourites lists. As a first experience there I couldn’t have asked for 2 better films to familiarise myself with the picture house and instantly make me fall in love with it. Seeing 2 classics like this re-introduced to a cinematic setting was phenomenal. Not only that but it was the introduction to an auteur that I deeply respect and adore on every level. Setting a very high president for the experiences I love my new favourite cinema for. Revisiting classics and personal favourites in a comfortable, welcoming cinema setting.

The master 35mm

Speaking of viewing personal favourites in a cinema setting, my first experience with 35mm was with one I adore. Paul Thomas Andersons the master fit perfectly on 35mm projection and was a completely new and refreshing experience. The feeling of awe being in a crowded theatre and completely enraptured by the interrogation like screening process scene and involuntarily catching my breath and readjusting myself in my seat at the end of continued tense interaction only to look around and find nearly everyone else doing the same filled with a powerful and sentimental gratitude that I was able to experience this in a cinema setting. One of my favourite personal examples of the unifying power of cinemas.

Licorice pizza 35mm

To finish off the year I Went to see a 35mm preview screening of Licorice pizza, my most anticipated and ultimately my favourite film of the year. The atmosphere of the crowd was wonderful. Since the start of cinemas reopening I haven’t heard an audience this hysterical before and the beautiful cinematography fit snugly in the crisp 35mm projection and evoked the perfect amount of 70’s nostalgia. Since Licorice pizza has been my most revisited film in cinemas as I can’t stop coming back and taking advantage of Glasgow film theatres’ abundance of 35mm screenings.

TV 

Twin peaks season 2

After making my way through the first season in the latter half of 2020 I spent the next 6 months gradually making my way through the second season of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. Although it contains more aimless plot lines than the first season, the highs that season 2 is able to hit far outweigh the faults. The characters are more developed and the means Frost and Lynch develop the wide array of character dyniamics and relationships is so natural and makes it impossible not to fall in love with the unique assortment of characters in the titular town.

Twin peaks the return

Twin peaks the return was a project or piece of art would be a better description that I only truly started to appreciate at the end. A big reason for this is the fact that it’s called a TV. When watching it under that context the pacing and episode by episode structure can feel like an awkward and weird even for David Lynch standards. In hindsight however the experience is something I appreciate and is something pulled off masterfully. I realised that although the project is a tv show the structure is more comparable to a film and it’s only when I thought of it under that pretext it really clicked for me. In the final 3 episodes when all the pieces started to fall together and started to see what David had been doing all this time it reminded me of why I consider him to be one of the best creatives to ever do it. All his many moving pieces aligned with perfect precision and flawless execution. Culminating in a final episode, a final scene, a final moment that I can truly say will stay with me for the rest of my life. I’ll admit it took a while for it to click but when it did Twin peaks  the return became one of the most impressive, captivating, memorable and unsettling experiences I have ever had and in hindsight is a project that eclipses even the original run in quality.

Invincible

Invincible has a phenomenal character, a phenomenal twist and one of my favourite constructed stories in the character of Nolan or ‘Omni man’. The rest of the show unfortunately is something I can’t say I completely connected to. The beat by beat story tended to drag fairly egregious, the side characters outside of Nolan weren’t all that interesting and Mark’s character story never felt all that unique up until the climaxing episodes that recontexualied his hero’s journey in shocking yet brilliant fashion. I appreciated the artstyle which aimed to evoke the same style as the early batman the animated series and justice leagues cartoons that contradicted their approachable kid friendly look with cathartic gore and excessive violence. I have my grievances but invincible is still one of the best tv shows of this and I’m very excited moving into season 2.

Attack on titan

I actually was watching Attack on Titan during its original seasons back when I was first getting into anime at a young age. I thought the show was incredible but after season 1 I had no access to new episodes and as my interests shifted I never caught up on the show. Now in 2021 with the release and discussion around season 4 I thought it would be a great time to revisit the show with a new appreciation for storytelling beyond the base level thrill ride my 10 year old self was looking for. Attack on titan is a very interesting story. The story Hajime Isayama crafted was phenomenally engaging and well written despite the scant instances of plot convenience and the divisive ending I will refrain from discussing in this anime only section. It was still a great series with some fantastic heights which more than compensate for the very few low moments. Coupled with

I think you should leave

An unexpected hit for me came one morning when I decided to watch the sketch comedy show I think you should leave. By far the funniest and most personally quoted sketch comedy show I’ve seen. Every episode was full of brilliant humour, entertaining bits and incredibly memorable performances.

One piece this year

Although I didn’t start watching one Piece this year I felt the need to mention it due to the insane level of quality present in this year’s episodes. With episodes like 982 and of course it’s monumental 1000th episode (a topic that warrants a piece in itself), with key animators like Megumi Ishitani bringing far more life to dozens of character and action moments there has been few years as stellar as this, at some points even surpassing the source material.

Your lie in april

Tragic, gorgeous and very compelling. Runs with its premise and delivers a satisfying emotional narrative. The characters were enjoyable, the overarching story of overcoming personal trauma through a rediscovery of passion was incredibly engaging and heartwarming as much as it was heartbreaking and the music choice was stellar, utilising the perfect romantic and classical era pieces to exemplify it’s emotional weight.

Arcane

League of legends has always appealed to me on a conceptual level so the league of legends TV show arcane which sought to expand on the lore and characters was an enjoyable watch for me. I binged it at a fairly fast pace as I struggled to put it down. The story about familial bonds that had my investment and the world was well developed and interesting but the best part about Arcane would have to be the artstyle/ the animation. Consistently marvelling and wondrous the look of Arcane was so pleasing and phenomenally well done that I would recommend the show for that alone.

Keep your hands off Eizouken 

Keep your hands off Eizouken was a wonderful show full of irresistible characters, a charming plt and is brimming with wholesome energy. So colourful, vibrant and euphoric in it’s execution which makes watching episode to episode a playfully energetic experience. A show that celebrates the creative process and the joy of sharing that process with your friends. Couldn’t recommend it enough.

Squid game

Arguably the biggest small screen release of the year would be the massively successful and talked about squid. Releasing on netflix to incredibly wide appeal and discussion the Korean drama hit new heights for the streaming services achieving staggering numbers. The show brought a lot of new eyes to Korean entertainment but how does it hold up under the critical eye? Pretty well. Despite the clear influences of the story from shows like Kaiji Ultimate survivor the show is very fun and the twist of childhood games turned into sinister saw traps was refreshing due to the incredibly dedicated and stylish production design. The large ambitious set pieces are always entertaining 

Jojo’s bizarre adventure part 6

Jojo’s is a show I’ve been watching and reading for a while and it’s one of my favourite ongoing shows ever. I had read part6 beforehand a couple years ago so I was incredibly excited for this adaptation where I could revisit the story and characters with David productions unique stylistic flair again. Revisiting it I was surprised at how much I appreciated the unique setting and characters this time around. I enjoyed it the first time but this time round I had a much better time with it and had a great time with the prison escape set piece for Araki’s ‘bizarre’ writing style and ideas.

Books/ manga

Once upon a time in hollywood

Once Upon a Time is a satisfying evolution on the film’s groundwork that builds on establishing characters, plot events and the thematic purpose of the film. Tarantino develops his characters in the most Tarantino fashion imaginable; through their film tastes and experience with film.

Uzumaki

Utterly terrifying, I’m not someone who is easily affected by body horror by the meticulously grotesque manner Juniji ito paints his creature, deaths and the tense ways he builds up anticipation to his page turns kept we hooked despite the weaker beat by beat plot. Although the ending felt rushed and underwhelming it’s a phenomenal read and I understand why it is seen as one of the quintessential works of horror manga. 

One piece this year

Similar to the anime I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the manga of one piece and the brilliant work Oda has delivered this year. Onigashima has shaped into of the series most epic and large scale conflicts, evolving and changing with dozens of character introductions, revelations and phenomenal moments of hype as Oda pushes his characters to their limits in back to back cathartic fights, setting up reveals for the future, recontextualising entire characters and strengthen his characters in preparation for the inevitable and wildly exciting endgame of the epic saga.

Chainsaw man

Chainsaw man is a series I had been anticipating reading for a while and the second I started it I was instantly hooked and knew this was something special. I’m a huge fan of shonen storytelling and the way Tatsuki Fujimoto subtly deconstructs the typical protagonist of these stories by examining what drives them and keeps them going made it a phenomenally engaging read. Coupled with phenomenal artwork that brings the often grotesque action to visceral life made Chainsaw many not only one of my favourite reads of the year but also my most revisited. I can’t wait to see how the anime adaption turns out as well as the second part continuation next year.

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One thought on “2021 cinematic retrospective. Top 10 of the year, favourite cinema trips and more

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