The Best of 2021

The top ten

The Matrix Resurrections
Titane
Zola
Purple Sea
Malmkrog
Censor

Petite Maman
Malignant
Notturno
Shiva Baby



Film of the Year
The Matrix Resurrections

Lana Wachowski’s belated capper to the hugely influential trilogy made stylish again a form of cinematic spectacle deadened over the last decade of Marvel reign. This phenomenally beautiful sci-fi fantasy piece gleefully leaps down the rabbit-hole with abandon, pushing the series’ roots as a trans allegory to the fore, bursting with pride and unfiltered romanticism. It’s a rocky road, and surely a test for a certain kind of ‘fan’ but, for those open to it, there are a wealth of big and barmy experiences to treasure here. The franchise was always incomplete, it now seems. The Matrix Resurrections turned this casual viewer into a true believer.


Titane

Whatever you think you’re prepared for, Titane is more than that. Julia Ducournau collected the Palme d’Or at Cannes for her follow-up to cannibal coming-of-ager Raw, this time offering up a gender fluid nightmare of auto-erotic pregnancy, serial murder and complex codependent relationships. Operating like a mechanised hybrid of David Cronenberg and Claire Denis, this is modern cinema at it’s boldest and most brazen. It won’t be for all tastes, but the cinematic landscape is invigorated by it’s bastard presence.




Zola

“Wanna hear a story about how me and this bitch here fell out? It’s kinda long but it’s full of suspense…” So begins Janicza Bravo’s ASMR odyssey through A’Ziah King’s viral Twitter thread telling of two pole dancers visiting Tampa for the weekend and the chaos that ensues. A sex-positive shaggy-dog story that throws shade on Black appropriation, this is one to take you over the rainbow. Zola mixes the tawdry with the transcendent, helped in no small part by Mica Levi’s kaleidoscopic score that seems sent direct from the heavens. Hedonistic, brash and also strangely affirming, this is one vaycay you’ll never forget. xoxo

Purple Sea

A radical act of immersive (no pun intended) filmmaking. While fleeing Syria, Amel Alzakout found herself capsized but able to record her particular disaster, thanks to the GoPro strapped to her wrist. The result is an extraordinary and dizzying audio-visual experience, accompanied by an inner-monologue added by Alzakout after-the-fact. A documentary like no other, and an immensely empathetic shout from the middle of the ongoing global refugee crisis.

Malmkrog

The prospect of a punishing 3 hours and 20 minutes in the company of a bunch of bourgeoisie Eastern European socialites circa the turn of the last century might sound like an endurance test, but the results are worth it. The debates themselves are engrossing, but the longer it goes on, the more impotent things become. Their privilege reveals itself, and traps them in entropy. Cristi Puiu deconstructs the relevance of the upper classes, entombing them in a frozen country estate and – possibly – the afterlife. Understandably divisive, but there’s so much to appreciate here. A major work.



Petite Maman

Bathed in loving autumnal warmth, Céline Sciamma’s follow-up to the prestigious success of Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a smaller affair, but one no less generous with its emotional grace. Twin actors Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz are mother and daughter united at aged 8 by an inexplicable fold in time that occurs in a woodland no man’s land between past and present. Here they are able to share a magical new form of connection. In a concise 70-odd minutes, Sciamma provides a paean to both childhood and motherhood that is both fleet-of-foot and slyly substantial. Essential viewing.


Censor

Prano Bailey-Bond’s feature debut is a wonderfully vivid journey down the rabbit hole of video nasty censorship and the perils of unrecognised personal trauma. Niamh Algar is sensational in the lead role as Enid, a censor for the BBFC who conflates the dark, grizzly B-pictures she’s assessing with the unresolved disappearance of her sister. Bailey-Bond’s tunneling psychological horror utilises and celebrates the tropes of a bygone era, while resonating with more modern variants like INLAND EMPIRE and Saint Maud. For all it’s aesthetic touchstones, its an incredibly moving film, never losing sight of the fragile humanity at it’s own quickened heart.


Malignant

It seems counter-intuitive to wave a flag for a mainstream horror release as though rooting for ‘the little guy’, but James Wan’s Malignant deserved so much betters; victim of day-and-date released and with poor box office showings compared to some of the other high profile offerings that have appeared since cinemas reopened. It’s been perceived as something of a failure. In actuality, it’s a knowing, quasi-camp, shape-shifting romp. Appearing from afar as just another identikit boo factory, what unfurls encompasses elements of the slasher, Giallo and even J-horror, and features a new and iconic horror villain to sit beside the genre greats of the ’80s. The most fun that movies have been this year.



Notturno

Italian documentarian Gianfranco Rosi spent several years touring the borders of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Kurdistan to gather the footage for his latest thoughtful essay in contrast and juxtaposition. Without narrative he presents us a tapestry of Middle Eastern stress, taking in war zones, peaceful rooftops, encampments, schools and liminal spaces in-between, conjuring an evocative picture of a region defined by its tension. A quiet and moving collage of waiting and unrest.


Shiva Baby

An itchy, puckish, claustrophobic and hilarious shot across the bows from Emma Seligman with her feature debut and a crackerjack showcase for Rachel Sennott to boot, Shiva Baby compacts all manner of toxic family dynamics, Jewish truisms and bisexual catastrophes into it’s tight 77 minute running time as Danielle (Sennott) contends with all manner of embarrassments over the course of a single afternoon at a shiva. A film that is both stressful and positively alive.

The best of the rest….

The Nest
The Harder They Fall
Azor
Drive My Car
Beginning
Lamb
The French Dispatch
The Cloud in Her Room
This is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection
Limbo
If It Were Love
Violation
C’mon C’mon
Antlers
After Love




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