About badblokebob

Aiming to watch at least 100 films in a year. Hence why I called my blog that. https://100filmsinayear.wordpress.com

American Animals (2018)

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Bart Layton | 117 mins | digital (HD) | 2.39:1 | UK & USA / English | 15 / R

American Animals

I don’t want this to turn into a rant about IMDb — there’s a time and a place for those, certainly, but what’s meant to be a short review of one film is not one of them — but the way they’ve devalued the documentary in recent years is not also depressing but also inaccurate. Because anything that has the genre Documentary is now marked as “(documentary)” on someone’s filmography, and therefore IMDb, and/or its contributors, are reluctant to use it about anything that isn’t 100% a documentary. Something like, say, American Animals.

To be clear: American Animals is unquestionably a documentary. It tells a true story, about some students who plan to rob a library of its rare books. It features interviews with the real people involved, both the students and others. But it’s mostly told via reenactments starring actors, several of them fairly recognisable faces. The real people appear as talking heads scattered throughout, particularly at key moments. So, it’s also unquestionably a hybrid of documentary and fiction. On the surface, it can look a lot like any fictionalised adaptation of a true story; but it’s hidebound to be more accurate than those often are, because it’s also got all these interviews. IMDb isn’t built for nuance such as this.

Prior planning prevents piss-poor performance... possibly

The film’s director, Bart Layton, previously made widely-praised definitely-a-documentary The Imposter. In my review of that, I described his style as “flashy” and “over-eager”, wondering if “perhaps he better belongs in fiction filmmaking? Perhaps that’s where he wants to go in future”. Here, I guess he’s moving to bridge that divide; but the blurred line means that, when the film says “here’s the real [person X]”, you kind of question it. Especially as, if a crime was committed, how come they’re interviewing the criminals?

That latter thought contributes to a genuine tension and suspense throughout the film. How far will this plot go? Do they even actually attempt it? One of the guys keeps saying, “I expected there to be something to stop us”, and you think maybe something will stop them… but the fact this film exists, and there’s all the chat about how the boys let their parents down and whatever, shows something happened. (No spoilers!) Yet it’s also surprisingly funny, like a bit where we’re shown the “Ocean’s Eleven version” of the robbery, complete with Elvis song on the soundtrack.

Some have criticised these kinds of flights of fancy, or the whole hybrid form, for inviting us to sympathise with these guys rather than condemn their actions. I think there’s room for both. The film seeks to explore what led these pretty normal guys to do such a thing, and (to an extent) how it has affected them since. I think you can both disapprove of what they did and seek to sympathise with them — to understand how it happened is not to condone it.

4 out of 5

American Animals was #107 in my 100 Films in a Year Challenge 2020.
It is streaming on All 4 until 10th February.

Archive 5, Vol.1

Part of the impetus behind this new era of 100 Films was to solve ‘problems’ like my repeated failure to post reviews. Hopefully my plan for regular groups of capsule-sized reviews will solve that going forward. But this has been an issue for a while, and that’s led to a huge backlog of unreviewed films from 2019 to 2021 — it totals a ridiculous 449 feature films (counting shorts too, it goes over 500). Rather than abandon those to the mists of time, I present a new weekly (more or less — let’s not overcommit myself) series: Archive 5.

Essentially, it’s the same format as new viewing: each post is a collection of short reviews; but here they’re five titles plucked at random from my archive of unreviewed films (and I’ve used a random number generator, so it’s genuinely unmethodical). If I can keep this up weekly, it will take me just under two years to clear the backlog — which means I could still be reviewing stuff from 2019 in 2023. Hahaha… haha… ha… ugh.

With that in mind, there’s no need for further ado. This week’s Archive 5 are…

  • Never Too Young to Die (1986)
  • Bachelor Knight (1947)
  • Little Women (2019)
  • Aniara (2018)
  • Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

    (I Care a Lot was originally intended to be part of this post, but then the review turned out a little long, so I spun it off by itself. That’s the kind of thing I’ll probably keep doing, too.)


    Never Too Young to Die

    (1986)

    Gil Bettman | 97 mins | digital (HD) | 1.85:1 | USA / English | 18 / R

    Never Too Young to Die

    If you dropped A View to a Kill, Rocky Horror, WarGames, and Mad Max 2 into a blender, the end result might be Never Too Young to Die. And if that sounds like a ludicrous, unpalatable mash-up… yep, that’s Never Too Young to Die.

    This direct-to-video action-adventure stars a pre-Full House John Stamos as Lance Stargrove, a teenage gymnast whose dad is a secret agent (played by George Lazenby — aged 47 at the time, but looking at least 20 years older). When daddy is killed, Lance teams up with his partner (singer turned actress Vanity) to go after the culprit: gang leader and wannabe terrorist Velvet Von Ragnar (Gene Simmons (yes, from Kiss), chewing scenery as if he’s not been fed for months).

    If you’ve never heard of this film… well, neither had I, until a Cracked article suggesting comical substitutes for Covid-delayed blockbusters. But what really convinced me to watch it is that it has The Greatest Trailer Ever Made. If you set out to make a spoof ’80s trailer, I’m not convinced you’d be able to beat that. Unfortunately, neither can the film as a whole. It’s fun at times (the boob-biting final fight, or a scene where Stamos tries to distract himself from Vanity’s sexuality by… eating multiple apples), but it’s not quite camp or daft enough to really earn a place as a cult classic.

    I’ll say this for it, though: rewatching that trailer has made me really want to watch the film again…

    3 out of 5

    Never Too Young to Die was #70 in my 100 Films in a Year Challenge 2020.


    Bachelor Knight

    (1947)

    aka The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer

    Irving Reis | 91 mins | digital (SD) | 4:3 | USA / English | U

    Bachelor Knight

    If you ever need to name an obscure Oscar winner for some reason, you could do worse than Bachelor Knight — or, to give it its even-dumber-sounding original title, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer. Yes, this won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay (the other nominees aren’t the greatest field you’ve ever seen, but altogether they’re either better-remembered or were considered good enough to nominate for other gongs that evening, so quite how this took the prize, I don’t know).

    The plot also stretches credibility: after high schooler Susan (Shirley Temple) becomes infatuated with artist Richard Nugent (Cary Grant), she sneaks into his place to model for him, much to the disapproval of her older sister Margaret (Myrna Loy), who also happens to be a judge; and when Nugent ends up in her court room, she sentences him to date Susan until her infatuation inevitably wears itself out. I know things are different in the US, and also in the past, but did/do judges there really have the power to hand out any crazy made-up sentences they like?

    On the bright side, the film moves sprightly through its plot. Perhaps that’s because it takes a whole 40 minutes to get through the basic setup, even while running at a pace, means there’s less screen time left to dwell on all that follows. Not that some individual bits don’t go on a tad, like a picnic sequence; but others work very well, like a scene in a nightclub that is a nicely-written bit of escalating farce.

    It’s not the best work of anyone involved, but Bachelor Knight belies its iffy title (both of them) to be a likeable-enough 90 minutes of screwball comedy.

    3 out of 5

    Bachelor Knight was #70 in my 100 Films in a Year Challenge 2021.


    Little Women

    (2019)

    Greta Gerwig | 135 mins | cinema | 1.85:1 | USA / English | U / PG

    Little Women

    Writer-director Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel was greeted in some quarters by questions of if it was necessary: it’s the sixth big-screen version of Alcott’s book, and came just two years after a major new BBC adaptation. Well, I don’t know if it was ‘necessary’ or not, but Gerwig’s version is definitely a very good film.

    A key point that marks it out from other adaptations is that Gerwig has restructured the story: instead of playing out in a straightforward chronological fashion, it flashes back and forth in the sisters’ lives, starting with them as young women in 1868, with Jo in New York and Amy in Paris, before mixing in events from their childhood, seven years earlier, when the four sisters lived together in Massachusetts. This might seem like a rejig for the sake of differentiation, but Gerwig uses it to create interesting juxtapositions or to reframe plot points. For one example (spoilers follow, if you’re not familiar with the story), I felt it made Laurie and Amy’s relationship less creepy. Told chronologically, they first meet when he’s a young man and she’s a child, and he only moves his affection to her after Jo’s rejected him and Amy’s grown up. In Gerwig’s version, we first meet them together in Paris, and they seem more destined for each other, with a genuine spark between them as individuals, rather than a nagging sense of “if I can’t have one sister, this other will do”. It’s only later we learn the full backstory of Laurie and Jo — and, for that matter, of Jo and Amy — which, yeah, is obviously still a bit creepy, when you think about it.

    Whichever way you cut it, Gerwig seems to really get to the heart of the meaning in the story and characters, as well as giving it a lightly feminist polish (misogynists would probably consider it Terribly Feminist and Evilly Revisionist, if they watched it, which I don’t imagine they would). A star-studded cast ensure the whole thing is well acted, and it’s beautifully shot by cinematographer Yorick Le Saux. Questions about ‘necessariness’ are particularly irrelevant when the work is this good.

    5 out of 5

    Little Women was #4 in my 100 Films in a Year Challenge 2020.


    Aniara

    (2018)

    Pella Kågerman & Hugo Lilja | 106 mins | digital (HD) | 2.35:1 | Sweden & Denmark / Swedish & English | 18 / R

    Aniara

    A sci-fi movie based on, somewhat oddly, a 1950s Swedish poem, Aniara is about a spaceship transporting migrators from Earth to Mars that accidentally veers off course and heads irretrievably into deep space. Rather than the kind of action-adventure this might provoke if it were a Hollywood production, Aniara follows how the passengers and crew attempt to cope with their new lives.

    It’s a premise interesting enough that you feel it could fuel a TV series — how this mass of people, forced together by accident and terrible circumstance, comes to function (or not) as a society. Or maybe the remake of Battlestar Galactica already nailed that kinda thing. Either way, here it’s condensed into about 100 minutes; and because it has such a long-term view of what it wants to pack in, there are some surprisingly large time jumps (by the half-hour mark we’ve already reached Year 3). It takes some odd detours when it does that (society completely breaks down into weirdo cults… then a probe that might allow them to return home is discovered, at which point everything goes back to normal), but overall it has a pretty clear thesis about humanity and how we cope with things — “not well”, fundamentally.

    The final act kind of rushes a similar point, skipping ahead (several times) to how things are even worse without really tracking the descent. Maybe that’s why I liked the idea of a series version so much: to fill in all those blanks. But I don’t want to take this criticism too much to heart. If anything, the fact I wanted more detail is a compliment. It’s not the film bungling developments and me searching for justification, but rather that I’d be interested in seeing the themes and characters explored in even more detail. As it stands, Aniara is an epic-scale story told well in a somewhat condensed fashion.

    5 out of 5

    Aniara was #65 in my 100 Films in a Year Challenge 2020. It placed 21st on my list of The Best Films I Saw in 2020.


    Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

    (1966)

    Mike Nichols | 131 mins | Blu-ray | 1.85:1 | USA / English | 12

    Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

    When a middle-aged college professor (Richard Burton) and his wife (Elizabeth Taylor) have his new young colleague (George Segal) and wife (Sandy Dennis) around for drinks one evening, the occasion soon degenerates into a verbal slanging match between the elder couple, the younger inescapably caught in the middle.

    And as the film takes place in almost-real-time, in just a couple of locations, it feels like we’re trapped with them. With a running time north of two hours, the film’s drunken sardonicism almost becomes an endurance test, particularly when it goes on a bit too long in the middle. But it’s carried through by some magnificent performances. Everyone talks about Taylor — just 33 at the time, she wasn’t sure she could play the part of a bitter 52-year-old, but she’s excellent — or they talk about Taylor and Burton — similarly, he wasn’t sure he could play a beaten-down failure of a man, having been used to taking dashing heroic roles — but Sandy Dennis is great too, and deserved her Oscar. Of the four actors, its George Segal who draws the short straw, not really getting the material to truly stand toe-to-toe with the other three (he still got an Oscar nom, though).

    Director Mike Nichols insisted the film be shot in black & white, which helps it to pull off Taylor’s ageing makeup, but was also intended to stop it seeming too ‘literal’ and instead give an abstract quality. That fits the material, because the characters, events, and revelations are all pretty odd; the way it plays out pretty strange. Plus, the pitch-black darkness of the night fits the film’s themes. Cinematographer Haskell Wexler does a superb (indeed, Oscar-winning) job, the photography looking more striking than you might expect, or even need, for such an actor-focused character piece.

    A whole featurette on the film’s disc release discusses how it was “too shocking for its time”, mainly because of the language used (the fact the film was made relatively unedited set a ball rolling that, just a couple of years later, saw the Production Code replaced by the modern MPAA classification system). While such concerns are no longer really relevant (once-controversial terms like “screw” and “goddamn” are hardly “fuck”, are they?), that the film is still powerful shows it was never truly about what was said, but who said it and how they said it. I don’t mean to say that it would still be offensive today, but rather that it still packs an emotive punch.

    5 out of 5

    Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was #22 in my 100 Films in a Year Challenge 2021.


  • I Care a Lot (2020)

    J Blakeson | 119 mins | digital (UHD) | 2.39:1 | USA & UK / English | 15 / R

    I Care a Lot

    Marla (Rosamund Pike) is a professional legal guardian, someone appointed by the courts to arrange care and legal affairs for elderly people no longer capable of doing it themselves. But her real trade lies in pinpointing wealthy people with no family who she can trick the court into placing in her care, at which point she can drain their savings and assets for her own profit. Yes, she is a thoroughly unlikeable, evil bitch. But when she pulls this con on Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), it inadvertently brings Marla to the attention of Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage), a powerful man who is not used to being messed with.

    Already I’m edging into spoiler territory there, and there’ll be more to come, because it’s hard to discuss what’s so fundamentally wrong with I Care a Lot without digging into what occurs past some of its twists — it starts as one thing (which works), quickly becomes something else (which also works), but after about the halfway mark, it ends up diving off the deep end into a mess of implausibility. It may be stylishly made and performed, but all of that is in service of a philosophically jumbled attitude to character.

    What makes the film fall apart is where it wants our loyalties to lie. I’ve often written that I’m fine with films that star unlikeable or unsupportable characters (the idea we need someone we can like/support at the centre of a work of fiction was recently described by someone as a childish impulse, and I agree to an extent), but that doesn’t give them carte blanche. As a commenter put it on iCheckMovies, “you can make a film about horrible, unredeemable characters, but you can’t also expect an audience to root for them when you put them in peril, especially when that peril is one of their own making.” This is the ‘trick’ I Care a Lot attempts to pull. It seems to think we’ll be aligned with Marla by a certain point, but we really aren’t — she absolutely deserves what’s coming to her.

    Talk to the hand because I don't care a lot

    Similarly, when she accuses the villains of “not playing by the rules”, it feels like the film is, again, assuming that will get us on her side; like, “yeah, she’s bad, but at least she plays by the rules, whereas the crooks are just crooks”. But I did not think that, at all. If anything, it makes her even more disingenuous. Yes, technically she’s working within the system — but she’s cheating it and bending it (breaking it, even) to make it work for her. At least the criminals are unquestionably criminals — they’re not pretending to be legit. So while intellectually we know that Roman and his chums are Bad Guys (they’re drug smugglers who don’t care if their human mules die!), in this particular storyline we are much more likely to be on their side: they’ve been wronged by Marla, they deserve their recompense. Heck, they even attempt to do it legally first — that’s more than we can say about other wronged heroes, like, say, John Wick.

    Even while I Care a Lot is watchable thanks to its strong direction and highly talented cast, it’s an awkward viewing experience because it feels like we’re constantly at odds with the movie itself. That it eventually gives us what we need (via a small part for Macron Blair, which merits a metatextual “huh” in relation to the themes of his role in Blue Ruin) is scant compensation for the difficulties up to that point.

    3 out of 5

    I Care a Lot was the 101st film in my 100 Films in a Year Challenge 2021.

    What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen These Films from 1986?

    After a couple of years ‘off’ (or, if you prefer, combined with Blindspot, because they’re essentially the same thing), “What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…?” is back!

    Now, it’s part of my All-New 100 Films in a Year Challenge (you may have heard about that — I feel like I bring it up enough) and has a slightly refined focus. Whereas before it featured great or significant movies I should’ve seen from across film history, now I’m giving it a specific theme each year. For the inaugural year of its new version, I’ve picked my birth year: the 12 films from 1986 that I’m most surprised I haven’t seen.

    First, the films I’ve chosen. After, I’ll natter a little about how and why.


    A Better Tomorrow

    A Better Tomorrow

    Cobra

    Cobra

    Flight of the Navigator

    Flight of the Navigator

    Hannah and Her Sisters

    Hannah and Her Sisters

    The Hitcher

    The Hitcher

    Howard the Duck

    Howard the Duck

    Manhunter

    Manhunter

    Mona Lisa

    Mona Lisa

    The Name of the Rose

    The Name of the Rose

    Pretty in Pink

    Pretty in Pink

    She’s Gotta Have It

    She's Gotta Have It

    The Transformers:
    The Movie

    The Transformers: The Movie


    First, for the sake of context, here are all the feature films from 1986 that I have seen (taken from what I’ve logged on Letterboxd, which should be thorough at this point), in alphabetical order…

    Iron Eagle
    The Karate Kid Part II
    Labyrinth
    Laputa: Castle in the Sky
    Little Shop of Horrors
    The Money Pit
    Never Too Young to Die
    Platoon
    Stand By Me
    Top Gun
    When the Wind Blows
    .

    Yes, Biggles. I loved the books as a kid, so I guess I had to see the film, even though it’s some weird-ass post-Back to the Future time-travel-based reimagining.

    To select the list of films I needed to watch, I had a root around 1986’s highest-rated and most popular films (two different things) on both IMDb and Letterboxd, compiling a long-list of possibilities. That came to around about 30 titles, from which I selected the final 12 based purely on my own level of awareness — for example, Manhunter went straight into the final selection because, given the kinds of films I particularly like, it seems ludicrous I haven’t seen it yet. (It’s partly because I only own it on DVD. I never got round to importing the Shout BD, and now it looks to be out of print, with copies on sale for hundreds of dollars. Mad! And annoying.) I expect, if other people were presented with the same long-list, they might make slightly different selections. Such is life.

    One in particular that I nearly included was Star Trek IV. It must be good, right, because it’s an even-numbered one. Also, everyone seems to know about “the one with the whales”, and it’s that one. But as I’m currently working my way through the Trek films anyway (albeit slowly: TMP was last February and Wrath of Khan last July), it seemed unnecessary, even futile, to include one here.

    In conclusion, it wasn’t a particularly involved or technical selection process this time. At least that means this explanation is a lot shorter than my normal verbosity. In the unlikely event you’re missing that, there’s always my Blindspot post.

    Blindspot 2022

    There may be numerous changes around here for 2022 & onwards, but one thing that remains the same is the Blindspot challenge, which I’m undertaking for the tenth year running (though I called it “What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…?” back at the start. Now, WDYMYHS is a whole additional thing — details of the 2022 version are here).

    For those still unfamiliar with it, Blindspot’s premise is simple: choose 12 films you should have seen but haven’t, then watch one a month throughout the year. (Those 12 also contribute to my All-New 100 Films in a Year Challenge.) Below, I’ve listed my selection for this year, and afterwards I’ll talk a bit about how I chose them.

    The films are listed alphabetically, using the titles they’ve most recently been released under in the UK. Some of those are different to those used by, say, the Criterion Collection (we don’t automatically translate titles into English over here, what with us being more sophisticated ‘n’ all), but if you have to Google them, hey, at least you’ll have learnt something new.


    L’avventura

    L'avventura

    Come and See

    Come and See

    Les enfants du paradis

    Les enfants du paradis

    La grande illusion

    La grande illusion

    High and Low

    High and Low

    A Man Escaped

    A Man Escaped

    Mirror

    Mirror

    Los olvidados

    Los olvidados

    Paris, Texas

    Paris, Texas

    To Be or Not to Be

    To Be or Not to Be

    A Woman Under
    the Influence

    A Woman Under the Influence

    Yi Yi

    Yi Yi


    Some people just pull their 12 films out of who-knows-where. Personally, I’ve largely taken a more ‘scientific’ approach, using lists of great and/or popular films to try to shape some or all of my choices each year. This year is no different. But although I’ve made the process fairly complex some years — with lots of different contributing lists, sometimes weighted in different ways, or with additional rules — this year, I’ve kept it pared back.

    Just three lists were used: the IMDb Top 250 Movies (they’ve finally put “250” back in its official name, hurrah!); the Letterboxd equivalent, the Official Top 250 Narrative Feature Films; and the mother of all great movie lists, TSPDT’s The 1,000 Greatest Films. I limited the last one to its top 250, for equality. All lists were weighted equally, with a film gaining points inverse to its position on a list — i.e. #1 would get 250 points, #250 would get 1 point, etc. I also factored in how many different lists the films appeared on at iCheckMovies (10 points per list), and gave a little nudge (of 11 points) to anything I already owned. That last one didn’t actually have much impact, merely serving to change the final film that made the cut. Still, it means I already have copies of seven of the films, rather than only half of them.

    In fact, ensuring I could reasonably get hold of the films was something I checked before finalising the list, especially as Los olvidados doesn’t have an English-language Blu-ray release (in fact, according to Blu-ray.com, it’s only been released on BD in Japan). The only other factor I implemented was my longstanding “no repeat directors” rule. That took out Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day (in favour of Yi Yi), as you can see in the list below. One previous rule I didn’t enforce this year was that, if I fail to watch a film one year, it’s locked out the next. I failed with Come and See in 2021, but it also topped the chart this year, so I’ve let it back in immediately. I won’t make the mistake of leaving it ’til December this time, though.

    So, as promised a moment ago, here are the final 13 films with their points tallies…

  • Come and See — 777 points
  • High and Low — 573 points
  • Yi Yi — 571 points
  • A Brighter Summer Day — 566 points
  • To Be or Not to Be — 533 points
  • Mirror — 524 points
  • Les enfants du paradis — 509 points
  • La grande illusion — 509 points
  • A Man Escaped — 491 points
  • A Woman Under the Influence — 488 points
  • Los olvidados — 450 points
  • L’avventura — 444 points
  • Paris, Texas — 423 points

    Finally, a couple more stats about the films. Last year, many of the films were exceptionally long — the average running time came out at 2 hours 36 minutes, with only three of the films running under 2 hours; but with the shortest being just 1 hour 10 minutes and the longest 7 hours 19 minutes, there was quite a range. Compared to that, 2022’s extremes don’t seem so, well, extreme: the shortest film is Los olvidados at 1 hour 21 minutes, while the longest is Les enfants du paradis at 3 hours 9 minutes, and five films (almost half) are under 2 hours… although there is a half-hour jump between the longest film under 2 hours (La grande illusion, 1 hour 53 minutes) and the shortest over 2 hours (a three-way tie between L’avventura, Come and See, and High and Low, each running 2 hours 23 minutes). Nonetheless, the average is down from last year, to a slightly more reasonable 2 hours 13 minutes.

    Although it wasn’t a conscious decision, the films are quite well spread around this year, both temporally and geographically. For the former, there’s one from the 1930s, two each from the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, and then one from the 2000s. For the latter, France comes out on top with three titles, followed by two each for Russia and the USA, and one apiece rom Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, and Taiwan. In the latter case, I’m taking (what I believe to be) the primary country of production — several of the films can lay claim to multiples.

    Finally, half of the films are by directors whose work I’ve never seen before. They are Michelangelo Antonioni, Luis Buñuel, Marcel Carné, Elem Klimov, Wim Wenders, and Edward Yang. And with the other films’ directors including the likes of Robert Bresson, John Cassavetes, Akira Kurosawa, Ernst Lubitsch, Jean Renoir, and Andrei Tarkovsky — a real mix of artists whose work that I’ve seen has either struck me as fantastic or… well… — it should be an interesting year.

  • The Best of 2021

    Finally, for the last time (not really the last time): what I consider to be the best (or, more accurately, my favourite) films I saw for the first time in 2021 (that bit’s correct).

    This year, I tried to make a start on my list early (I began pondering it and pruning my long-list back in November, whereas normally I don’t even start that until January 1st), all so I could post it fairly promptly once we reached the new year. Well, it’s now the 9th, which is one of the latest dates I’ve ever posted my ‘best of’ list, so that didn’t really work, did it?

    Anyway…



    The 21 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2021

    No, it’s not 21 for ’21 — it’s 10% of whatever my final total is (as it has been since 2016). This year that total was 207, of which the appropriate percentage is 20.7, but I can’t very well include seven-tenths of a film, can I, so it rounds up to 21. (If you think that’s too many for a list like this, feel free to scroll down and start wherever you like.)

    As always, all the movies I watched for the first time in 2021 are eligible, not just brand-new releases. However, I did watch 31 films that had their general UK release in 2021, and five of them made it into this list, so I’ve noted their ‘2021 rank’ too.

    21=
    Holiday Affair
    Happiest Season
    Anna and the Apocalypse

    Reader, I have cheated! After 15 years of sticking to (my own self-imposed set of) The Rules, I have caved and broken the proscribed number of films allowed on this list, and also allowed a tie (I don’t think I’ve allowed a tie before, although one year I did comment that the top 4 were all effectively in first place — but I still sorted them). Why has this happened? As I’ll talk more about in the Honourable Mentions, I got stuck at 32 films for the longest time. I managed to whittle it down to 23, but after days of being stuck there I just gave in. If I could have decided which of these were #22 and #23, they could’ve been taken off the list; but as I can’t, here are all three, tied. At least they’re connected, by being overtly Christmassy films, which is kinda why they’ve all got stuck together — “which of the many Christmassy films I watched this year did I like the most?” Turns out, that’s a three-way tie (unless you also include the one that’s at #9…)

    20 Carol

    Okay, this one’s quite Christmassy too. Indeed, it’s practically “Holiday Affair but with lesbians”, a comparison I’m sure would’ve come up more if Holiday Affair was better known.

    19 Spontaneous
    High schoolers begin mysteriously exploding in this sort-of-horror cum comedy cum teen romance, which I found both hilarious and surprisingly emotional.

    18 Daughters of Darkness

    An erotic horror movie — sounds like schlocky trash, but mixed through a European arthouse sensibility it comes out the other side as a dreamy, surreal experience.

    17 Who?
    This is a pretty obscure sci-fi spy flick: it has under 700 ratings on IMDb; I hadn’t heard of it before Indicator’s Blu-ray release — but it deserves more. It’s almost like a Le Carré thriller in its slow-burn intellectual depiction of Cold War plotting, but with a dose of just-beyond-the-possible SF mixed in.

    16 Futureworld

    Another ’70s sci-fi thriller that I think deserves better. This widely disparaged sequel to Westworld is very in keeping with other films of its era: it’s a paranoid thriller about a pair of journalists investigating a corporate conspiracy — in this case, Delos’ attempt to rehabilitate their robot theme park after the disaster in the last film.

    15 Love Affair
    A prototypically romantic melodrama (it’s been explicitly remade twice, not to mention the other films that have borrowed from it), I was expecting a bit of fluff but ended up finding it surprisingly affecting. It dodges the clichés I thought it was bound for, in addition to being beautifully shot.

    14 Strictly Ballroom

    Another one that confounded my expectations. As Baz Luhrmann’s debut feature, I expected a dry run for where he’d go stylistically in Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge! But to regard Strictly Ballroom as anything less than a fully-fledged member of the Red Curtain Trilogy is to do it a disservice. Its ludicrous, over-the-top treatment of a ludicrous, over-the-top world is both absurdly hilarious and totally captivating.

    13 Godzilla vs. Kong
    2021 #5 Big monkey punch giant lizard! No one’s going to call this movie high art, but goddamn if it isn’t entertaining pulp-SF gubbins with giant-size fights thrown in for good measure. Honestly, I don’t know what some people expect from movies like this when they go about criticising them. If giant animals having a brawl isn’t to your taste, fair enough, but if you were expecting a meditative character-driven insight into the human condition or something, more fool you.

    12 The Invisible Man

    The fourth feature from Universal’s genre- and studio-defining run of horror films in the early 1930s. Dracula and Frankenstein may have become more iconic, but, for my money, this is the best movie from the bunch (and I’d rank The Mummy second). The special effects are more extensive than you might expect for the era, and even hold up pretty well today, while Claude Rains is superb as the cackling villain, James Whale’s direction is highly effective, and there’s a nice vein of humour to balance the darkness.

    11 Captain Phillips
    That Tom Hanks wasn’t even nominated for most major awards for his performance here is a crime against cinema. He’s extraordinary as the eponymous captain of a cargo ship hijacked by Somali pirates. Paul Greengrass brings his usual edgy tension to proceedings, but its Hanks’s humanity that ultimately elevates the piece. The final scene is one of the greatest single pieces of acting we will ever see.

    10
    The Hound of the Baskervilles

    Hammer does Holmes. Peter Cushing is a note-perfect incarnation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Great Detective in what was, sadly, the famed horror studio’s only attempt at filming Sherlock. Personally, I’ve never thought The Hound of the Baskervilles was a particularly good detective mystery novel — but it is quite a good gothic adventure, which makes Hammer the perfect studio to have brought it to the screen. As that, this version doesn’t disappoint, with Terence Fisher’s direction leaning hard into the appropriate atmosphere, plus a superb cast — alongside Cushing, André Morell is a superb Watson. I wish they’d done a whole series with the pair.

    9
    The Green Knight

    2021 #4 Some people seemed surprised when this film delivered exactly what its trailers had promised: an arty-yet-fantastical interpretation of the Arthurian myth. It’s a moody, earthy take on the material, but one that also has room for magical realism, fairytale-esque fantasy, and flights of inexplicable oddness. The measured pace and off-kilter tone (plus the pitch-dark cinematography) was never going to be to everyone’s taste, but for those on its level, it’s intoxicating. And if you think Die Hard counts as a ‘different’ Christmas movie…

    2021 #3 I was worried that I’d find Nomadland a bit boring and “not my kind of thing”. It seemed like the kind of film where you hang out with the characters and their landscapes, rather than a piece of clear narrative storytelling. And it is that — but, for once, it worked for me. It’s almost like a TV travelogue, visiting places worth seeing and unusual people worth meeting. You watch to appreciate the scenery, to understand the people, to experience a different way of life. It’s a film to escape with — to get away from ordinary life and spend time in these captivating places. Within and alongside that, it creates a beautiful, deeply humane, quite powerful experience. [Full review.]

    7
    Star Trek: The Motion Picture

    Having grown up reading sci-fi magazines, I’m very aware that, when it comes to Star Trek movies, “even ones good, odd ones bad”. And this first one has a particularly poor rep — “slow” and “boring” seem to be commonly-attached adjectives (which I can’t help but feel stems back to expectations on its original release, which came in the wake of the success of Star Wars, so presumably people expected a fast-paced action-adventure). But as I settled down to begin watching all the Trek movies from the beginning, I found myself in for a very pleasant surprise. It’s not even trying to be a Star Wars-style adventure, but something different entirely; almost more akin to 2001 in its sense of wonder and exploration, digging into an imagining of a genuinely alien lifeform rather than running about blasting rubber suits with laser guns. Engaged with on the right terms, I enjoyed every minute of it.

    6
    WolfWalkers

    The third film in Irish animation outfit Cartoon Saloon’s Folklore Trilogy — and Wolfwalkers really does feel like an authentically-told folktale, not a Disneyfied modern reimagining. A big part of that is the animation style. Even if you think you’re becoming inured to it from the studio’s previous work, it has surprises in store; moments of additional innovation or beauty. It’s constantly impressive and regularly breathtaking. Combined with the magical story, the result is a simply gorgeous film.

    5
    Dune: Part One

    2021 #2 Frank Herbert’s Dune is probably one of my favourite novels, and previous attempts to film it have either been interesting but fundamentally flawed (the 1984 film) or faithful but limited by format (the 2000 miniseries), so when it was announced a new version would be masterminded by Denis Villeneuve — one of only two directors to top my year-end best-of list twice, once with another tricky-to-pull-off re-envisioning of a sci-fi masterpiece — well, my hopes were high. Suffice to say, he delivered, albeit in a film that is ‘very Villeneuve’. That is to say, it’s a rather brutalist take on the material, lacking the fanciful, weird interpretations of Lynch, Jodorowsky, or even (to a lesser extent) the TV version. In some ways that’s a shame, but it’s also true to the filmmaker. That the film has to abandon the story halfway through, forced into a rather low-key cliffhanger, is merely a factor of the length of the material rather than a fault of the filmmaker — some have taken serious issue with it, but, personally, the film ended where I always expected it to. And, as a fan, I’d rather this two-part adaptation, giving the story the necessary screentime, even if that means a limp end to Part One, rather than have the whole book in a rushed three-hour single shot. That said, this might be why it’s at #5 on my list rather than becoming Villeneuve’s third #1. I’m optimistic that, once we get Part Two (and, possibly, a Part Three adapting Herbert’s first sequel), the whole will be even greater.

    4
    The Kid Detective

    This is one of those high concepts you wonder why someone hasn’t though of sooner: what would a ‘kid detective’ (you know, like the Hardy Boys or the Famous Five or whatever) be like grown up? One answer to that would likely fuel a CW-esque YA series, but here we get a more real-world treatment: the detective who was exalted as a kid, a quirky story for the local paper and whatnot, is now a washed-up has-been as he tries to follow the same career as an adult. Like several other films on this year’s list, here was a film that looked like it would tickle a particular itch of mine, and delivered — it was everything I expected it to be and more. It’s both an amusing extrapolation of its central premise and a solid mystery in its own right, with a surprisingly moving conclusion. One part in particular gave me goosebumps, and you’ve got to love anything that can elicit such a physical reaction.

    3
    Joint Security Area

    Before Oldboy or The Handmaiden, director Park Chan-wook gained international attention for this 2000 military thriller about a shooting in the DMZ between North and South Korea. After a South Korean border guard apparently kills two North Korean soldiers and wounds a third on their side of the border before fleeing back to the South, heightened tensions between the nations rest on an investigation by a neutral investigator. As the Swiss Army major tries to find the truth of what happened amidst conflicting accounts, the obvious point of comparison is A Few Good Men, but JSA also made me think of Paths of Glory in its ultimately-tragic message about the wasteful futility of war. But although these point towards its tone and effect on the viewer, it outshines simple comparisons to be its own magnificent thing.

    2
    David Byrne’s American Utopia

    I’m not a music critic — heck, I don’t even listen to all that much music on a regular basis, if I’m honest — and yet what is essentially a concert film has made it almost to the top of my favourite movies this year. What gives? I wish I could explain it properly, but, I confess, I don’t quite understand why I loved American Utopia, all I can say is that I did. It had an almost profound impact on me that I can’t quite account for. Of course that’s mostly down to the music and staging by Byrne and his fellow performers, but Spike Lee’s direction and editing transform the theatrical show into a near-perfect cinema version. My only unfulfilled wish is that this had been made during the world’s 3D phase, because movement in a three-dimensional space is a key part of the show’s staging, and I’d love to be able to watch that in 3D.

    1
    The Matrix Resurrections

    2021 #1 This belated return to and continuation of the Matrix trilogy has divided critics and audiences alike. You’ll find plenty of people online prepared to slag it off at the slightest prompt. But for others of us, it’s a borderline masterpiece. Personally, it’s not just a film I enjoyed, but something I’ve almost been waiting for — and by “almost” I mean that I never expected to actually get it. This isn’t a by-the-numbers attempt to recreate the adrenaline highs of an enduringly popular action movie. Instead, it’s the kind of wild-swing hyper-meta self-deconstructing take on a popular franchise that I’ve always longed for a legacy sequel to attempt, but no one has been bold enough to try (or, possibly, no one’s ever been able to convince the suits to allow it). Sure, if all you want from a Matrix movie is people looking cool in sunglasses while they engage in precisely-designed epic action sequences, then Resurrections will leave you disappointed. If you appreciate a film that has something pertinent and meaningful to say about our current entertainment culture, there’s a lot to like.


    As usual, I’d just like to highlight a few other films.

    Normally I’m loathe to mention any films that just missed out on the top list — it is what it is, and if I wanted it to be longer I should just find an excuse to make it longer. That said, this year my “top 21” was stuck at 32 films for the longest time — as I mentioned back at #21, you may remember. So, it feels like those 11 almost-rans deserve a mention; except it’s nine almost-rans, because I couldn’t even get it all the way down to 21. I’m not sure these are truly #24–32 (for that distinction, I’d have to properly reconsider some others from my 89-film long list that I’d eliminated earlier), but, nonetheless, there were (in alphabetical order) The Father, Festen, The Mummy (1932), My Fair Lady, My Man Godfrey, Official Secrets, The Pinchcliffe Grand Prix, Psycho Goreman, and The Quatermass Xperiment. In other years, maybe they would’ve been luckier.

    That said, they’re not the only films that might feel aggrieved to have missed out (if films had feelings), because, while there are 4-star films in my top 21 (even in my top ten), there are 5-star films that didn’t make the cut. I awarded 25 films full marks in 2021, and 13 of them made it into my top list — namely Captain Phillips, Carol, David Byrne’s American Utopia, Dune: Part One, The Green Knight, Joint Security Area, The Kid Detective, Love Affair, The Matrix Resurrections, Nomadland, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Strictly Ballroom, and WolfWalkers. The less fortunate (but still great) ones were The Adventures of Prince Achmed, Cinema Paradiso, The Father, Festen, Kind Hearts and Coronets, My Fair Lady, My Man Godfrey, Official Secrets, Sansho Dayu, A Single Man, When the Wind Blows, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? There were also full marks for the original King Kong when I gave it the Guide To treatment.

    Additionally, let’s recap the 12 films that won Favourite Film of the Month at the Arbies, some of which have already been mentioned in this post and some of which haven’t. In chronological order (with links to the relevant awards): WolfWalkers, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, David Byrne’s American Utopia, Captain Phillips, Official Secrets, The Invisible Man (1933), Strictly Ballroom, The Kid Detective, The Green Knight, Dune: Part One, Nobody, and The Matrix Resurrections.


    This year I watched 31 movies that had their general UK release in 2021, but that means there were a considerable number I missed. So, here’s my annual alphabetical list of 50 films from last year that I’ve not yet seen. In the past I’ve used IMDb’s dating to settle what was eligible for inclusion as “a 2021 film”, but nowadays I’ll allow in something that’s listed as 2020 if it’s only due to festival screenings or (as was the case with one film this year) its own premiere.

    The main downside to watching so few big new movies is that there’s not much room here for the stuff that’s smaller but still significant, which is a shame. And where I did make space for those films, some of the year’s big-but-not-huge movies lost out. That said, in some ways it made selection easier: normally I begin with a long-list of something like 120 titles, in which I typically find 20 to 30 ‘must includes’, then I weed through the rest to choose the remainder. This year, the ‘must includes’ numbered 46. I could easily have doubled this list and still been featuring films everyone’s heard about, not least because I did leave out some multiplex fillers in favour of artier-but-acclaimed films. Maybe next year I’ll finally go all-out and make this a list of 100. That would fit the site’s name, after all.

    For now, it’s 50 once again. As ever, the included films were chosen for a variety of reasons, from box office success to critical acclaim via simple notoriety, and designed to include a spread of styles and genres, successes and failures.

    Army of the Dead
    Free Guy
    The Last Duel
    Luca
    Shiva Baby
    The Tragedy of Macbeth
    Candyman
    Ghostbusters: Afterlife
    Last Night in Soho
    Old
    Spencer
    Venom: Let There Be Carnage
    Army of the Dead
    Belfast
    Candyman
    Censor
    CODA
    Cruella
    Dear Evan Hansen
    Don’t Look Up
    Drive My Car
    Encanto
    Eternals
    Fast & Furious 9
    Finch
    Free Guy
    The French Dispatch
    Ghostbusters: Afterlife
    House of Gucci
    In the Heights
    Judas and the Black Messiah
    King Richard
    The King’s Man
    The Last Duel
    Last Night in Soho
    Licorice Pizza
    The Lost Daughter
    Luca
    Malignant
    The Many Saints of Newark
    The Mitchells vs the Machines
    Mortal Kombat
    Nightmare Alley
    Old
    Petite Maman
    Pig
    The Power of the Dog
    A Quiet Place Part II
    Raya and the Last Dragon
    Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
    Shiva Baby
    The Sparks Brothers
    Spencer
    Spider-Man: No Way Home
    The Suicide Squad
    tick, tick…BOOM!
    Titane
    The Tragedy of Macbeth
    Venom: Let There Be Carnage
    West Side Story
    The Worst Person in the World
    Wrath of Man


    And that, ladies and gents, is officially the end of 100 Films in a Year — not just for 2021, but for ever.

    Well, you already know that’s not exactly true. But it’s the end of the challenge as I’ve been attempting it for 15 years, replaced by a new take. In 12 months’ time, when a new “best of year” list is due, it won’t be drawing from ‘the challenge’ in the same way… though, that technicality aside, I rather suspect it won’t be too different from this post. And if, once again, I’m so spoilt for choice that I struggle to get it down to whatever number I decide the list should include, well, is that actually such a bad thing?

    The Worst of 2021

    ‘Worst of’ lists have become widely unpopular in the film-viewing community in recent years. “Celebrate what you liked, don’t bash what you didn’t,” is the prevailing argument. Well, yes… but also, film watching inevitably involves taking the rough with the smooth. (Hopefully unintentionally: if you’re watching something you’re certain you’ll dislike, why? (Says the guy who intentionally watched all five Twilight movies, so, yeah, sometimes there might be a reason.)) Also, I’ve done this list for 14 of 100 Films in a Year’s 15 years, so now would be an odd time to stop (next year, after the first year of the new-style site, I’ll think again).

    Before we begin, a reminder that my best and worst lists are selected from all 207 films I saw for the first time in the past year, not just 2021’s new releases.



    The 5 Worst Films I Saw For the First Time in 2021

    In alphabetical order…

    The Birth of a Nation
    D.W. Griffith gets a lot of credit for being a great innovator of the silent era — mainly because he was fond of blowing his own trumpet, and I guess a lot of people unquestioningly bought it (plus ça change). Whether innovative or derivative, his work as director is sometimes striking, and Birth of a Nation would be a pretty entertaining… were it not horrendously racist and brazenly pro-KKK. There’s no half measures here; no “well, I suppose you could interpret it that way”: the film is explicitly and undeniably in favour of the KKK and what they did in the wake of the American Civil War, to the extent the Klan used it (and I guess probably still do) as a propaganda tool. Any other merits it has a film are not strong enough to outweigh that side of it.

    Cats
    This is every bit as bad as you’ve heard. It’s littered with bizarre production decisions — things that would be a bad idea even if they hadn’t then been poorly realised in a rushed post-production. But it’s not just the freaky cat/human hybrid characters or inconsistent sense of scale that let this down: the underlying musical is mediocre, with mostly forgettable songs and an incredibly thin narrative. Why this was such a long-running hit on stage, I’ll never understand.

    Dumb and Dumber
    A film that lives up to its title. At no point since its release in 1994 has Dumb and Dumber ever appealed to me, but it has its fans (it even generated a prequel and belated sequel, remember?) and, crucially, was on iCheckMovies’ Most Checked list, which I’ve almost completed (just four to go, thanks to this). Were it not for that, I wouldn’t have watched it. I don’t think I would’ve been any worse off if I never had.

    Mortal Kombat
    Not the new one, but the one from the mid-’90s, an era when various attempts to transfer popular video game franchises to the big screen gave such unwaveringly poor results they tarnished the genre for decades (in fairness, it’s not like there have been many/any that deserved to dodge the bad rep). Plus, it’s by Paul W.S. Anderson — a double whammy of reasons to expect something awful. And it is indeed a cheap-looking, semi-incoherent, unexciting load of tosh.

    Plan 9 from Outer Space
    Sometimes you watch a “bad movie” cult classic and, even though it is technically a terrible movie, you have a great time — I’m thinking of The Room or Love on a Leash here. Theoretically, Ed Wood’s famed Z-movie should fall into that camp. If anything, I think it’s the originator of “so bad it’s good”. For some people, that is how it plays. Unfortunately, it wasn’t for me — I just thought it was poorly-made rubbish.


    The 21 best films I saw for the first time in 2021.

    2021 Statistics

    Enough about my shiny new look (although, if you missed all that, you can read about it here) — let’s go back to digging through the remains of 2021. And we begin (or, rather, resume) with one of my personal highlights of the entire year: the statistics. Regular readers will know what this is all about, but if you’re new to these parts and enjoy things like percentages and graphs… oh boy, you’re in for a treat!

    Before we begin, a quick word that, because I’m a Letterboxd Pro member, I also get a yearly stats page over there. My 2021 stats can be found here. I don’t only log new watches on Letterboxd, so any overlapping statistics will be slightly different, but they mainly have different categories (like repeat cast & crew members — so you can, for example, find out which actor appeared in the most films I watched last year).

    And now…


    I watched 207 new feature films in 2021. That means it ranks 3rd all-time, passing 2015’s 200 by a solid seven films, but coming far shy of the top two: 2018’s 261 and last year’s 264.

    I also ran my Rewatchathon for the fifth year in 2021. I’ve spent all of that time thinking I ought to include it in the statistics properly, and all of that time not getting round to deciding how exactly to incorporate it, and now it’s over — I’m doing something slightly different next year. Well, maybe that will finally compel me to square the circle. Anyway, I rewatched 33 films — short of my target of 50, but not that bad else wise. That makes a combined total of 240 films, which is another distant 3rd place finish, behind last year’s 310 and 2018’s 311.


    NB: I have no rewatch data for 2007 and only incomplete numbers for 2008.

    I also watched four short films last year, which is my lowest total for those since 2016. A shame after the past two years saw me set new records each year, but then I’ve never made a concerted effort to watch shorts. Maybe I should. As always, the only stat they count towards is the total running time, and they barely make a dent there. To wit: the total running time of new features was 357 hours and 12 minutes, while adding the shorts bumps it to 357 hours and 58 minutes — just a 46-minute increase. That’s my smallest “others” total ever, barely even visible on the graph below (it’s 1 pixel high).

    Here’s how that viewing played out across the year, month by month. The dark blue line is new feature films and the pale blue line is my Rewatchathon. Last year I included a pale green line for shorts, but that seemed a bit pointless this year. Last year I noted that, while the precise values of the graph changed each year I’d been running it (since 2018), the rough shape stayed the same: quickly climbing to a peak in April or May, then lower and bumpier to the end of the year. 2021 bucks that trend entirely, with the high point coming in February, before it almost tapers off, but spikes up dramatically in August and December, traditionally two of my weaker months. What does this tell us? Maybe not to rely too much on precedent.

    Next up, the formats on which I watched those films. Despite my continued advocacy (and purchasing of) physical media, it’s digital that once again romps away with the crown here, accounting for 150 films, or 72.46% of my viewing. That’s down slightly from last year’s 73.9%, but is still above the 2015–2021 average, which is 58.5%. I’d definitely like to get it down closer to 50%; or, even better, to see Blu-ray beating it, considering I buy so many of the darn things.

    Of course, a lot of individual formats and services contribute to that digital total. The top spot therein is a tie between Amazon, topping the list for the fourth time in five years, and downloads, each with 35 films (23.3% of digital). Downloading was second last year, so that isn’t actually a huge change. The same could be said of the next few places on the chart: last year Netflix and Now tied for third, while this year Netflix is there by itself, with 26 films (17.3%), and Now is just behind, on 22 (14.7%); and iPlayer comes fifth, with 16 (10.7%). Last year there were three other services to mention: AMPLIFY!, which didn’t occur this year; YouTube, which I didn’t watch anything on this year; and Disney+, which retains that position kinda by default, with seven films (4.7%). Rounding out the digital services were MUBI on five (3.3%), All 4 on three (2%), and Apple TV+ managing a solitary one (0.7%). Most of their original content seems to be TV, although they did have a couple of other films that interested me, so that really should’ve been higher — but then I could say that about all the streamers (I mean, just look at my failures list each month).

    A very distant second place in the format war goes to Blu-ray with 51 films (24.6%) — just a third of digital’s tally, I’m ashamed to point out. It’s the format’s 14th year on this list and its 4th highest total, which doesn’t sound too bad, but as a percentage it pales besides the 40% I was hitting a decade ago.

    Between them, digital and Blu-ray accounted for a staggering 97.1% of my viewing in 2021, up on the 95.5% they represented last year. To be precise, that’s 201 out of 207 films. The remaining six were split equally between three other formats — again, to be precise, that means DVD, TV, and cinema each clocked just two films (0.97% each). Here’s a graph showing how much DVD has fallen — something that should improve next year, at least a bit. (If you want an idea of how much it might grow, 2018 had exactly 12 DVD watches.)

    A similar “once mighty, now not” slump has befallen TV across the decades, its place in my viewing schedule now definitively overtaken by streaming.

    And finally, the cinema, brought low by Covid for the second year in a row. More films that I was interested in were screening, but is it worth the risk? And we’re all hoping 2022 will be better, but how much is still a question mark. We’ll see in a year’s time…

    In amongst all that, I watched 24 films in 4K — a drop from last year’s 40, but still above any year before that (2019’s total was 15, for example). On the other hand, I watched just three in 3D, my lowest total there since I got my 3D TV back in 2017. New releases on the format are dwindling (even Disney, who were previously reliable with Marvel and Pixar titles, now only release the former on 3D BD in Japan, with no sign of the latter), but I’ve still got a not-insignificant pile of 3D discs I’ve bought and not watched yet. It’s somewhat ironic, then, that all of my 2021 3D watches were films I don’t own or can’t get on disc, so were downloaded by other means (wink wink, nudge nudge).

    Topping both of those this year was the number of films I watched in SD. Yep, really. Between some downloads, some streams, and those couple of DVDs, I watched 25 films in SD in 2021. At 12.1% of my total viewing, that’s actually the second highest percentage since 2016. What’s more interesting is that, although it means the percentage fluctuates somewhat, the actual number of SD titles I’ve watched has been pretty consistent for years: the average for the past six years is 23.6, most falling in the 23–25 range. While it’s nice to watch as much in HD (or even UHD) as possible, there are some titles that are just so hard-to-come-by that one has to settle for lower quality. While “SD” might make many of us think of DVD-level quality, several of this year’s SD titles were more “recorded off TV to VHS then ripped to digital”-level. Yeah, they looked and sounded awful, but when that’s the only way to see the film at all…

    Of course, it tends to be older films that only exist in such low quality, and my viewing on the whole skews newer (though don’t get me started on the fact some brand-new productions still receive DVD-only releases). But as the new decade continues to get underway, the question is: how new? It took the 2010s until 2012 to usurp the 2000s at the top of my decade chart. Could the 2020s manage it a year earlier? In short, no — but it’s close! The 2010s are still in first place, but with only 46 films — that’s their lowest since 2012, coincidentally. It represents 22.2% of my viewing this year, the lowest-ever percentage for a top decade (at the same point, i.e. in 2011, the 2000s still had 35.2%). And the 2020s are snapping at their heels, just three films behind on 43 (20.8%). The margin between these two decades was 33% last year, but this year it’s just 1.45%.

    In third place comes the ’90s with 22 films (10.6% — exactly double their percentage in the last two years). That’s their best total ever, their highest placing since 2017, and their best percentage since 2010. Why did they do so well? Oh, don’t ask silly questions (i.e. I have no idea. Chance, I guess). There’s an even bigger surprise in fourth place, though: the 1930s with 18 films (8.7%). Their previous best showing was last year, with just six films (2.3%), and their previous best percentage was way back in 2008, at 3.8%. And with the 1940s coming in fifth with 16 films (7.7%), also their best-ever result, could this be a preview of years to come? Well, I have set myself the task of watching at least 12 films noir next year…

    Things continue to ping back and forth in time as we move down the chart. Next is the ’80s on 15 (7.2%), followed closely by the 2000s on 13 (6.3%), followed even more closely by the ’70s on 12 (5.8%), and right behind them are the the ’50s on 11 (5.3%) — far down the chart though it may be, it’s still their highest ever total. Indeed, never before have so many decades reached double-figure tallies in a single year.

    Rounding out the list, the ’60s have an uncommonly low five (2.4%), while bringing up the rear are the 1920s on four (1.9%) and the 1910s on two (0.97%) — not their best result (2007 and 2010 were both higher), but only the sixth time they’ve featured at all in 15 years. Finally, no features for the 1900s & earlier, but they were represented by a single short film, for only the third time ever (the previous occasions being 2013 and 2020).

    There’s somewhat less variety in where films came from, with the USA once again dominating countries of production, having a hand in producing 140 films. However, at just 67.6% of my total viewing, it’s their lowest percentage ever (down from last year’s 68.6%, the first time it had been below 70%). There’s nothing wrong with US movies, but there’s a whole world out there and it’s nice to spread one’s viewing around a bit. To wit: there were a total of 35 production countries represented in my viewing this year, the second best ever (behind last year’s 40, when there were almost 28% more films, so, y’know, fair enough). Some of the more unusual ones (in terms of my own viewing) included Latvia, Estonia, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Peru, and Romania.

    Back at the top end of the chart, the UK took its usual second place, with 54 films (26.1%). France returned to third place, a position it’s held for six of the ten years I’ve been monitoring this stat, with 18 films (8.7%). Hot on their tail was Japan on 17 (8.2%). Also in double figures were Canada (15, 7.2%) and Germany (12, 5.8%), and coming seventh with seven was Australia (3.4%). China, Denmark, and India were tied on four (1.9%) each, while four countries each had three, eight countries had two apiece, and the remaining 13 had one film each.

    All those US and UK films mean that English was the most dominant language, as always. It was spoken to at least some degree in 183 films, or 88.4% of my viewing, a percentage that’s up from the last three years. As I say, this count includes all films where it was spoken enough to merit listing, even if it wasn’t the primary language. Perhaps I should start making a note of just the main spoken tongue for the sake of the statistic… Also as usual, the language in second was a long way off. This year it was Japanese in just 11 films (5.3%). No others made double figures. But overall there were 27 spoken languages (plus five silent films), which isn’t bad. Some more rarely-heard languages this year included Amharic, Estonian, Kiowa, Somali, Tupi… and Klingon.

    A total of 178 directors and eight directing partnerships were responsible for the films on 2021’s main list. 16 of them helmed multiple films, led by Leo McCarey with five. Second place is shared, with three apiece from David Hare (the Worricker trilogy) and Reginald Le Borg (all among the Inner Sanctum Mysteries series), while Ishirô Honda helmed two plus one film in a ‘partnership’ (that would be the US cut of King Kong vs. Godzilla, where Honda’s original work was supplemented with US material by Thomas Montgomery). The remaining 12 had two films each, and they were: Jack Bernhard, Bob Clark, Cameron Crowe, George Cukor, Joe Dante, Paul Greengrass, Tom Hooper, Ben Lewin, Anthony Minghella, Mike Nichols, George Stevens, and James Whale.

    For a few years now I’ve specifically charted the number of female directors whose work I’ve watched. 2020 saw a new high reached, but sadly 2021 sees it slip back again — although it’s still above 2019, just, so there’s that. My viewing this year included 13 films with a female director (12 solo; one as part of a trio with two men), which comes out as a measly 5.94% of my viewing. As I put it last year, it’s debatable whether the onus should be on me to seek out more films directed by women or on the industry to give more directing gigs to women, but ultimately it’s a bit of both — though I’d argue with more weight on the latter, because I just watch the films I watch; I neither avoid nor seek out female directors especially. Anyway, I do hope this graph will continue to improve in the future, though I’m not sure it will ever approach 50/50 (considering all the older films I watch, which are predominantly directed by men to a farcical degree).

    We’re approaching the end now — broadly speaking, because before I dig into 2021’s star ratings, it’s time for an update on a couple of viewing projects I vaguely have on the go. First, the IMDb Top 250: at the time of writing, seven films from my 2021 viewing appear on that famed list. However, because that list is ever-changing, the number I have left to see has only gone down by two, to 28. That’s my poorest showing since 2012. I feel so close to the end now (just 11.2% to go) that I really would like to get it finished off. Of course, new releases ping on all the time (there are currently four 2021 releases on there), but that’s life — if I finish the rest of the list, I can bop them on the head as and when they pop up. Anyway, the current positions of the seven I saw this year range from 52nd (Cinema Paradiso) to 222nd (La Haine).

    My next viewing project is the one I call my “50 Unseen”. As regular readers will know, at the end of my annual “top ten” post I always include a list of 50 notable films I missed from that year’s releases. I’ve continued to track my progress at watching those ‘misses’ down the years — which is how I know that 2021 was a particularly poor year for this particular mission. Where previously I would watch at least one film from every list, this year I only managed to hit eight of the 14; and from most I only watched one film, leaving my with a total of 21 films across all 14 lists. That’s the lowest since 2010 (when I only had three lists to work from!) In fact, the last time I watched that few films from even just the newest list was in 2014. And speaking of the newest list, in the first year of watching 2020’s 50, I watched 12 of them — the lowest ‘first year’ since 2010 (again), when I only watched eight films from 2009’s list. You might think this is because 2020 was a poor year for new films, thanks to the pandemic, but there are plenty in that 50 I very much want to see, I just… haven’t. Maybe I’ll finally catch up on them in 2022.

    For what it’s worth, the other nine I watched came from 2007, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2019 (all one film each), and 2015 (three films — why so many more, I don’t know).

    All of which means that, in total, I’ve now seen 497 out of 700 of those ‘missed’ movies. That’s exactly 71%, the first time this percentage has dropped year-on-year since 2009 (it was 73.2% last year). On the bright side, that’s still above where it was the year before last (70.3%), so it’s not a total disaster. (As usual, my new list of 50 misses from 2021 will be in my “top ten” post, sometime soon.)

    And so, to conclude the statistics for 2021, it’s the climax of every review: the scores.

    Now, I need to provide a similar caveat to last year: this stat factors in every new film I watched in 2021, even those for which I’ve yet to publish a review — which, this year, is 98% of them. That means there are some where I’m still flexible on my precise score — those films I’d award, say, 3.5 or 4.5 on Letterboxd, but which I insist on rounding to a whole star on here. For the sake of completing these stats, I’ve assigned a whole-star rating to every film, but it’s possible I’ll change my mind when I eventually post a review (it’s happened before). Still, this section should remain broadly accurate.

    Starting at the top end, then, in 2021 I awarded 25 five-star ratings, which means 12.1% of the films I watched got full marks. That’s at the lower end of my range, which historically spans from 11.9% to 21.2%. I’d put that down to harsher marking rather than poor quality: there were quite a few 4.5-type films where I eventually erred towards the lower score.

    As usual, the most prolific rating was four stars, which I gave to 88 films. At 42.5%, that’s a sliver up on last year’s percentage (which was 42.1%), which rather suggests the lower number of five-star films wasn’t all that much due to those 4.5s after all… unless a lot of 3.5s got the rounded-down treatment too, of course.

    Well, there were 63 three-star films, which is the third highest tally ever, behind 2018 and 2020 — both years in which I watched more films. So, really, that’s only appropriate. The historic range of my three-star ratings spans all the way from 19.6% up to 38.0%, so 2021 coming in at 30.4% actually puts it somewhere in the middle.

    Indeed, the real gains are to be found among the two-star films, which number 29 — the highest-ever for one year, and the first time there I’ve given out more two-stars than five-stars (although they did draw back in 2012). It comes to 14.01%, which isn’t actually the highest ever… but it is close, because 2008 reached 14.4%. Again, this brings up the usual debate: was this a weak year, or is my scoring getting harsher? I think, at this point in my life, the latter is definitely a factor.

    Last, and most definitely least, I handed out just two one-star ratings, which is only 0.97% of my viewing. That’s very typical: I’ve awarded two or fewer single-star scores in 10 out of 15 years, and only three years have pushed its percentage above 1.5%

    Finally, the average score for the year — a single figure with which to judge 2021 against other years, for good or ill. The short version is 3.5 out of 5 — that’s the first time it’s dropped below 3.6 since 2012, when it was an anomalous 3.4. Indeed, that’s the first 3.5 score in 15 years (there are five 3.6s, six 3.7s, and two 3.8s). To go to a few more decimal places, it’s 3.507 — still my second-lowest scoring year ever, but it doesn’t stick out quite as egregiously as 2012’s 3.352. Still, it’s only the third time the score’s been below 3.600 (2019 was the other, on 3.589), so it is a low one, whichever way you cut it. Again we ask: was it a weak year, or is my scoring getting harsher? As I said before, I am beginning to feel it’s the latter.

    All of which said, let’s not forget: it’s still a pretty good average overall. I mean, it’s well above 3.0, and 3 is a positive score. A ‘true average’ might be 2.5, but then I’d have to watch a lot more bad movies, and who wants to do that? Maybe I could try to watch even more very good / great films, and then maybe the average would rise again… or maybe I’d just worry I was being too lenient. No, at this point I feel I’ve demonstrated a degree of consistency in my marking — so long as the average is in the 3.5–3.7 range, I feel like I’m getting things about right.

    And so, I’m sorry to say, the stats are over for another year. I know I’m changing things up from 2022, so will this post look significantly different next year? Y’know, probably not: I love this stuff too much to stop working it all out.


    My picks for the best and worst films I saw in 2021. And then my review of 2021 will be over, and you’ll have seen these blue-ish stripey mid-post graphics for the last time!

    The All-New 100 Films in a Year Challenge

    As I said in my introduction to the blog’s new era, reports of 100 Films in a Year’s death may have been grossly exaggerated — because while 100 Films in a Year as it was is no more, in its place I have…

    The All-New 100 Films in a Year Challenge!

    Just like its title, this new version is similar but different. My original challenge was wholly straightforward: watch 100 films I’d never seen before every year. The only thing approaching complexity or contention was whether alternate cuts (e.g. director’s cuts) counted as a “film I’d never seen before” or not. But this brand-new version of the challenge… well, it’s going to require some explaining.

    Before I do, let’s recap why this came about. As regular readers are likely aware by now, I’ve been thinking about modifying my eponymous goal for a few years, primarily because simply “watching 100 new films in a year” stopped being an actual challenge and became my de facto state. It’s almost a decade since I failed in that goal, and over the last few years my average has been closer to 200 films in a year. So, why not just double the target? Or pick another number? Maybe I would’ve just done that, were it not for a few slip-ups (i.e. months where I fell short of my minimum target) and lifestyle changes in recent years. Obviously a challenge should be challenging, not a guaranteed walk in the park, but “just watch more films” didn’t seem the right way to push myself.

    That’s what ultimately led to this new challenge — or, you might argue, array of challenges. You see, rather than just watching any old 100 films, now there are a selection of categories, and films will need to fulfil criteria to qualify. Whereas the old challenge merely motivated me to watch more films, this new version is designed to encourage me to watch certain kinds of films. Plus, with some additional rules for each category, it will spread that viewing throughout the year, rather than seeing me engage in a headlong rush to #100 as quickly as I can (which has happened the past few years).

    So, you could argue this is eight separate challenges that together add up to 100 films, rather than a ‘true’ 100 films challenge — whatever that might mean. And you can argue that, if you want — I don’t care. This is a personal project, not some athletic endeavour subject to outside scrutiny, and this is how I’m choosing to do it. Of course, if for some reason you wanted to join in, you’re more than welcome. Feel free to use my rules. Feel free to tweak them to suit your own goals. Feel free to ignore them entirely and come up with your own criteria. Feel free to think “you know what, I really need to play more video games” and set yourself 100 Games in a Year as a challenge. Heck, that’s how this all began: I ‘ripped off’ the Read 50 Books in a Year challenge.


    As I said, there are now eight groups making up my 100-film challenge. I’ll outline them in a moment, but first there’s one general rule: a film can only count once. Sounds kinda obvious, I guess, but my categories are not so niche as to be mutually exclusive — I could watch a Blindspot pick from the 1970s on DVD and technically it could count across three categories. But if I did that, well, the final tally wouldn’t actually get to 100, which would be self defeating. When a film fulfils the criteria for multiple groups (as some surely will, especially early on), it’s up to me to allocate which category it counts towards — although there are some sub-rules that will help dictate that. (My challenge is watching films, but yours may be trying to understand why I make these things so unnecessarily complicated…)

    Without further ado, the categories are…

    New Films

    Well, that immediately requires clarification, doesn’t it? Because in the old challenge all 100 films were “new”, as in “new to me”. Now, however, I mean “new” as in “new (to the UK)”. And the UK clarification is needed because we so often get foreign films ‘late’, especially awards-y films that play US dates the year before but aren’t released here until January, February, March… even as late as June or July sometimes. So, this category is 12 films that were released in the UK for the first time during 2022. To some people that might seem like no challenge whatsoever — and it’s not that much of a challenge to me, to be honest, because I normally far exceed it. But, on the whole, my viewing skews older (when there’s the whole of film history to explore, why just watch brand-new stuff?), so I feel it’s a worthwhile category to include. Plus, part of the point of this is to spread the challenge throughout the year. To ensure that, this category is limited to one qualifying film per month — so even if I watched two (or more) new films in a single month, only the first would count towards the challenge. However, it can rollover if necessary — for example, if I watched no new films in January, I could count two in February. That might seem to undermine the concept of spreading these throughout the year, but, without it, it would be possible for me to fail the entire year on January 31st, which would suck.

    Rewatches

    In arguably the biggest change of all, rewatches now count… but only 12 of them. Mirroring the “new films” requirement, this is also limited to one per month. I’m not intending to run my Rewatchathon anymore, primarily because of this, but I’d like to think I’ll still rewatch more than 12 films a year. We’ll see — maybe I’ll end up bringing it back.

    Blindspot

    This continues as-is: 12 specific films, chosen ‘scientifically’ from best-of lists and the like, designed to be paced one per month. Because they’re specific films, if I did decide to get ahead of myself then they could count ‘early’, but I don’t think I’ve ever done that and I don’t intend to start now. As usual, there’ll be a dedicated post sometime soon with my 12 picks.

    What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…?

    After a couple of years ‘off’ (or, if you prefer, combined with Blindspot, because they’re essentially the same thing), WDYMYHS is back. The change is, whereas Blindspot is made up of “great movies” (according to other people), WDYMYHS will revolve around a theme of some kind. This year that link will be my birth year: 12 specific films from 1986 that I’m surprised I haven’t seen. Again, my 12 picks will be named in a dedicated post soon.

    Decades

    At least one film from every decade that feature films have existed, i.e. since the 1910s. That makes it another group of 12 — what are the odds?! It’s almost like I’m doing this deliberately… I can watch as many of these as I like within any given month, so we’ll see how long it takes me to tick them all off — recent decades will come quickly and easily, but some of the older ones might require a specific effort.

    DVDs

    I’ve spent years lamenting the fact that I don’t watch enough of my DVDs. Thanks to a couple of decades spent collecting, I own over 1,000 of the things, many never played, and they don’t often make it into my viewing nowadays, largely because they’re not HD. (I suspect that, statistically, I’m more likely to spend money upgrading a DVD to Blu-ray than I am to actually watch a DVD.) So, to force me to dig into that particular back catalogue, I’m making it a goal to watch at least one per month, as per the “new films” rules. And no ‘cheating’: if I don’t want to watch something from my DVD copy (because I want to get it in HD, or even UHD), that’s absolutely fine… but I can’t get it in HD and then still count that towards the DVD goal. I have to actually watch the DVD for it to count.

    Genre

    Like WDYMYHS, here I’m going to pick a specific genre or movement (preferably one that’s either highly specific or that I’m less au fait with, not something broad or well-worn like, say, “action”) and aim for at least one per month, i.e. 12 more films. However, this is a free-for-all: whereas WDYMYHS is 12 pre-chosen titles, this can be anything that falls within the genre; and I won’t limit myself to counting just one per month. Maybe I’ll have a marathon and complete it in one go! Maybe I’ll still spread it thin! At least having the choice provides an opportunity for some variety, right? This year’s genre will be that old favourite, film noir. I’ve had noir ‘viewing projects’ before, but there are plenty of key texts that still elude me, so maybe 2022 will right that. Or maybe I’ll just end up getting all 12 from Indicator’s 24-film Columbia Noir series. Frankly, either is good by me.

    Series Progression

    That’s perhaps the vaguest title of all, but let me explain (that’s the whole point of this post, after all). I have multiple different film series on the go at any one time — so many that, a couple of years ago, I started keeping a list, the Letterboxd version of which is here. Some of those series I continue to merrily work my way through; some I half-forget I have underway. So, the point of this category is to compel me to continue, across another 12 films. I could watch 12 from one series; I could watch one each from 12 different series. I could marathon them all across a weekend; I could watch them one a month throughout the year. Whatever — just so long as I keep going with series I’ve already started. (If I start a new series, either by accident or choice, the first film can’t count, but any future films can.)

    I know I said there were eight categories, but if you’ve been doing the maths so far you’ll have realised we’re only at 96 films. So there must be a ninth category, right? Well, yes and no. Let me introduce you to…

    Wildcards

    The final four films are ‘wildcards’ that I can attach to any of the eight categories. They still have a couple of rules, though. Firstly, wildcards can only be used once the category’s own requirements are met. What that means is, I could use a wildcard to (for example) count a second new film in January, but I couldn’t use one for a DVD viewing until I’ve watched 12 DVDs. Lastly, only one wildcard per category — so I couldn’t (for example) watch five new films in January and count them all. Make sense? If not, let me remind you that you don’t really need to worry about any of this — it’s only me who has to work it out.


    I’ll be tracking my progress with the Challenge in my monthly review posts, and possibly on a dedicated page too.

    Also, while it’s no longer the ‘official’ goal of the blog, I suspect I’ll end up still counting my overall viewing, and likely post year-end stats and whatnot about it next January. I’ve been doing that count for almost my entire adult life, so it’s a well-established habit at this point. Not to mention that, actually, I enjoy it — but now primarily for my own interest, rather than as the raison d’être of this blog.

    A new era begins…

    100 Films in a Year is dead.
    Long live 100Films.co.uk

    Welcome to my new-look blog!

    Don’t worry, you’re going to find a lot of it familiar — I haven’t changed the underlying template, and all the old posts are still there, looking like they always did. Well, almost like they always did: I’ve chosen a new font for headings, so that’ll change. But, primarily, it’s a new name and a new logo, which is showcased on the front page in dozens of randomly-changing header images. (The old header and logo endured for seven years, and that was only a tweak & rearrange of the one I’d had for several years before that, so I think a redesign was about due anyway.) There are 20 new banners in total — can you catch ’em all?

    More substantively, along with the revised aesthetics comes an adjusted focus.

    As regular readers will know, I’ve been pondering “what to do about the blog” for a few years now, but the need for change was really brought to a head in 2021, when I spent most of the year only posting my monthly summaries. There were a couple of things going on that needed addressing. One: what to do about reviews? I wasn’t posting them regularly even before they ground to a total halt, and my ever-increasing backlog of unreviewed films — allowed to mount up over the past couple of years — numbers almost 500. Two: what to do about my eponymous challenge? Reaching 100 films every year has become a relative doddle: the last time I fell short was almost a decade ago, and in four of the last seven years I’ve reached 200 films in a year. Was that unchallenging challenge really still a fitting thing to base my blog around?

    The easiest answer to the latter: move the goalposts. But to what? Another easy answer: stop doing it. But I didn’t want to give up blogging entirely. So, a new blog? Nah: a blog is a ‘brand’ (for want of a better word), and I wasn’t in the mood to start from scratch.

    Ultimately, the inspiration for change came from the easiest of places. I’ve always referred to this place as 100 Films for short, including using that handle on Twitter and registering the domain 100films.co.uk — previously that just referred you on to my WordPress URL, but last week I moved the site over to it properly. (All the old WordPress URLs should still work, which is handy because otherwise I’d have a lot of link-fixing to do…) So, I could ditch “in a Year” and just go with the shorter title. But why that name? Oh, who needs a why? Though, to justify it at least somewhat, I intend to start a new occasional series about various 100-film lists — you know, like the Sight & Sound poll, or all those AFI ones. Plus, the “coming soon” page is going, to be replaced by an ever-changing list of the last 100 films I watched.

    Which brings us back round to the other issue: reviews, and/or what other kinds of posts will appear. In short, my plan is to go back to the blog’s roots, with roundup posts every week or couple of weeks that review what I’ve watched in short capsule-like form. If I have more to say about a film, and the time to write it, I’ll still post separate full-length reviews. How often that will happen, only time will tell. (This “review as I go” approach is part of why the “coming soon” page is being retired.)

    There are a few other ideas I have up my sleeve, but I don’t want to overwhelm with too much forward planning right now. Over the coming days, weeks, and months, the new and revised features of this fresh era will become apparent. Plus, some changes have had to wait until the ‘new’ site was live, so only now am I going to begin rethinking the menus, for example. And, to be honest, I’m still unsure of some of the details myself, so there may be aspects of the ‘old site’ that hang around for a bit before being discarded, or change and develop over time. We’ll just see how things go.

    Also, there’s the small matter of wrapping up the last year of the ‘old’ blog, because I still have to post the statistics and my best (and worst) films of 2021. All that will be coming — complete with familiar graphics and imagery — over the next few days (as usual, a specific timeframe is hard to nail down. I haven’t even chosen a lot of it yet, never mind written it).

    But first, later today I’ll explain how reports of 100 Films in a Year’s death may have been grossly exaggerated…