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.

    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!

    My Most-Read Posts of 2021

    2021 was a relatively quiet year for me, review-wise — I made just 55 posts, vs. over 120 in each of 2019 and 2020, and over 200 in 2018 and 2017. Nonetheless, that’s still enough from which to draw a Top 5, right?

    Normally I do a “TV Top 5” and “Film Top 5”, but, as I only posted three TV columns last year, that seems a little pointless. Instead, here’s an overall Top 8 — because of course all the TV posts made the very top of the list, and this means you can deduce the film-only Top 5 if you want to.

    Also, the graph in the header image was made with accurate figures, if you want an idea of the posts’ success relative to one another. (A less balloon-obscured version is available here. If you think the two on the left, 7th and 8th, look the same height, they’re not — but they are very, very close: the difference between them has come out as just 1 pixel.)

    My Top 8 Most-Viewed New Posts in 2021

    8) Psycho Goreman
    One of just four reviews I posted in 2021 of new films I watched in 2021. Two of the other three are also in this top eight, while the fourth (Muse: Simulation Theory) came 12th overall. Also worth mentioning (as much as any of this is): Psycho Goreman beat the post in 9th place by just one hit. That was the 100-Week Roundup XXII, for what it’s worth.

    7) The Man Who Reviewed Some Films
    A four-film compilation, including The Man Who Knew Infinity, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and The Man Who Sleeps. Was one of those responsible for its popularity? Or is it a unique combo of four fairly-popular films? Who can say. Maybe people were just intrigued by the title.

    6) Nomadland
    The 2020 Oscar Best Picture winner finally made it to a wide UK release in April 2021, occasioning my review. The mix of awards season success and “new release” status likely explains its success here.

    5) The Past Christmas on TV
    The 2020 edition of my Christmas TV overview, including Cinderella: A Comic Relief Pantomime for Christmas, Doctor Who: Revolution of the Daleks, Roald & Beatrix: The Tail of the Curious Mouse; a roundup of comedy specials, including Ghosts, The Goes Wrong Show, Not Going Out, and Upstart Crow; plus brief words on Blankety Blank and Have I Got 30 Years for You.

    4) No Time to Die
    A new James Bond film was too significant to miss — especially one as long-awaited as this — and so it broke my (inadvertent) long run of not posting reviews, and proved unsurprisingly popular with readers, too.

    3) Death to 2020
    Now, normally this wouldn’t count, because I posted it last year. But I posted it at 11pm on December 31st, and in that first hour it only gained 11 hits, so — under those unique circumstances — it seemed unfair to leave it out entirely. More than unfair, it would be inaccurate: a highly successful post, that could’ve been missed off both the 2020 and 2021 lists due to a technicality of posting time. Anyway, I expect it did well because reviews of Netflix content often do… and because it’s probably more a TV special than a true film, and, as we know, TV reviews usually do best of all. To wit:

    2) The Past Month on TV #67
    including Dial M for Middlesbrough, It’s a Sin, more of The Twilight Zone, WandaVision episodes 5–8, and A West Wing Special to Benefit When We All Vote. I expect the combo of It’s a Sin (one of the best-received TV series of the year) and WandaVision (the much discussed debut Marvel Disney+ series) is responsible for this.

    1) The Past Month on TV #66
    including Cobra Kai season 2, Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema series 3, Staged series 2, more of The Twilight Zone, and WandaVision episodes 1–4. All very popular shows, so it figures they would add up to the #1 spot.

    2021: The Full List

    As revealed in my December review, 2021 finished on a tally of 207 new films — my third highest ever. They’re all listed below, in alphabetical order, along with the small handfuls of titles I admitted to my “Guide To” series and the short films I watched. After last year’s “frankly extraordinary” high of 65, this year I only watched four shorts. Maybe I should set a shorts-watching target too…

    Normally this post also serves to be a big pile of links to reviews I’ve posted in the past year. But those were thin on the ground in 2021: in the list of 207 new films, just four have a review to link to. Oh dear. But you can always (re-)enjoy my monthly reviews (filled with Fun Stuff like the Arbies), and the TV reviews I posted… before that column came up short too.

    Well, hopefully things will be different soon…


    • As It Happened — 2021’s monthly updates, with a chronological list of my viewing.
    • The List — an alphabetical list of every new film I watched in 2021.
    • Television — an alphabetical list of the TV programmes I reviewed in 2021.
    • Next Time — more of 2021 still to come.

    Below is a graphical representation of my 2021 viewing, month by month. Each of the images links to the relevant monthly review, which contain a chronological list of everything I watched this year. There’s also other exciting stuff in there, like my monthly Arbie awards and what I watched in my Rewatchathon.

    And now, the main event…


    An alphabetical list of all the films I watched for the first time in 2021, followed by other films I’ve covered (or intended to cover) this year — primarily, a couple of instalments in film series that I’ve given the “Guide To” treatment, and a trickle of short films. As I mentioned in my introduction, normally many of these titles would link to the appropriate review, but this year you’ll find just four links in the main list. Coincidentally, they’re all really close together.

    • 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
    • 23 Walks (2020)
    • 3 Idiots (2009)
    • The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926), aka Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed
    • The Aeronauts (2019)
    • Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972), aka Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes
    • An American Pickle (2020)
    • Appointment with Death (1988)
    • Appointment with Murder (1948)
    • The Awful Truth (1937)
    • Baby Done (2020)
    • Bachelor Knight (1947), aka The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer
    • Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar (2021)
    • Beginners (2010)
    • The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)
    • Bill (2015)
    • Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020)
    • The Birth of a Nation (1915)
    • The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
    • Black Widow [3D] (2021)
    • Blithe Spirit (2020)
    • Boss Level (2021)
    • The Broadway Melody (1929)
    • A Brief History of Time Travel (2018)
    • Bright Young Things (2003)
    • The ’Burbs (1989)
    • The Burning Buddha Man (2013), aka Moeru butsuzô ningen
    • A Boy Called Christmas (2021)
    • Calling Dr. Death (1943)
    • Capernaum (2018), aka Capharnaüm
    • Captain Phillips (2013)
    • Carefree (1938)
    • Carol (2015)
    • The Catcher Was a Spy (2018)
    • Cats (2019)
    • A Christmas Story (1983)
    • Cinema Paradiso (1988), aka Nuovo Cinema Paradiso
    • The Coldest Game (2019)
    • Coming to America (1988)
    • Con Air (1997)
    • Crank (2006)
    • Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles (2001)
    • The Current War (2017)
    • A Damsel in Distress (1937)
    • The Danish Girl (2015)
    • Daughters of Darkness (1971), aka Les lèvres rouges
    • David Byrne’s American Utopia (2020)
    • David Lynch: The Art Life (2016)
    • Dead Man’s Eyes (1944)
    • Dead Man’s Folly (1986)
    • Defending Your Life (1991)
    • Detective Conan: The Phantom of Baker Street (2002), aka Meitantei Conan: Bekâ Sutorîto no bôrei
    • The Dig (2021)
    • La Dolce Vita (1960)
    • Dreamcatcher (2003)
    • Drop Zone (1994)
    • Dumb and Dumber (1994)
    • Dune: Part One (2021), aka Dune
    • Ernest & Celestine (2012), aka Ernest et Célestine
    • Evangelion: 3.0+1.01 Thrice Upon a Time (2021), aka Shin Evangelion Gekijôban
    • Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (2021)
    • Falling for Figaro (2020)
    • The Father (2020)
    • Festen (1998), aka The Celebration
    • The Final Countdown (1980)
    • The Fly (1986)
    • Frankenstein (1931)
    • The Frighteners: Director’s Cut (1996)
    • From Here to Eternity (1953)
    • The Frozen Ghost (1945)
    • Futureworld (1976)
    • Gambit (2012)
    • Godzilla Raids Again (1955), aka Gojira no gyakushû
    • Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)
    • Going in Style (2017)
    • Going My Way (1944)
    • Good Boys (2019)
    • The Green Knight (2021)
    • Gremlins (1984)
    • The Guilty (2018), aka Den skyldige
    • La Haine (1995)
    • Happiest Season (2020)
    • Happy Death Day 2U (2019)
    • High Life (2018)
    • Holiday Affair (1949)
    • Home Sweet Home Alone (2021)
    • Hotel Reserve (1944)
    • Hotel Transylvania [3D] (2012)
    • The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
    • The Hound of the Baskervilles (1978)
    • The House of Fear (1939)
    • I Care a Lot (2020)
    • The Invisible Man (1933)
    • Isn’t It Romantic (2019)
    • Jerry Maguire (1996)
    • Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway (2019)
    • Jingle All the Way (1996)
    • Joint Security Area (2000), aka Gongdong gyeongbi guyeok JSA
    • Jungle Cruise (2021)
    • The Kid Detective (2020)
    • Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
    • The King (2019)
    • King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), aka Kingu Kongu tai Gojira
    • King Kong vs. Godzilla (1963)
    • The Last of Sheila (1973)
    • Last Train to Christmas (2021)
    • The Last Warning (1928)
    • The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)
    • A Little Chaos (2014)
    • Love Affair (1939)
    • Make Way for Tomorrow (1937)
    • The Matrix Resurrections (2021)
    • Memory: The Origins of Alien (2019)
    • Midnight in Paris (2011)
    • Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo (2017)
    • The Money Pit (1986)
    • Mortal Kombat (1995)
    • The Mummy (1932)
    • Murder by Decree (1979)
    • Murder in Three Acts (1986)
    • Muse: Simulation Theory (2020)
    • My Fair Lady (1964)
    • My Man Godfrey (1936)
    • The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (2012)
    • News of the World (2020)
    • No Time to Die (2021)
    • Nobody (2021)
    • Nomadland (2020)
    • Official Secrets (2019)
    • One Night in Miami… (2020)
    • Page Eight (2011)
    • Pather Panchali (1955)
    • Pillow of Death (1945)
    • The Pinchcliffe Grand Prix (1975), aka Flåklypa Grand Prix
    • Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
    • Primary Colors (1998)
    • The Prom (2020)
    • Psycho Goreman (2020)
    • The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)
    • Radioactive (2019)
    • Raffles (1939)
    • Rain Man (1988)
    • Red Notice (2021)
    • Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)
    • Rodan (1956), aka Sora no daikaijû Radon
    • Royal Wedding (1951), aka Wedding Bells
    • Salting the Battlefield (2014)
    • Sansho Dayu (1954), aka Sansho the Bailiff
    • Sátántangó (1994)
    • Search for Danger (1949)
    • The Secret Garden (2020)
    • Seven Chances (1925)
    • Shakespeare in Love (1998)
    • A Single Man (2009)
    • Six Minutes to Midnight (2020)
    • Sneakers (1992)
    • The Social Dilemma (2020)
    • The Son of Kong (1933)
    • Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)
    • Space Station [3D] (2002)
    • Spielberg (2017)
    • Spiral: From the Book of Saw (2021)
    • Spontaneous (2020)
    • Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
    • Stowaway (2021)
    • Strange Confession (1945)
    • Strictly Ballroom (1992)
    • Stuart Little (1999)
    • A Study in Scarlet (1933)
    • Superman and the Mole-Men (1951)
    • Sylvia Scarlett (1935)
    • Taken 2 (2012)
    • The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
    • Tangerines (2013), aka Mandariinid
    • Tea with Mussolini (1999)
    • Terje Vigen (1917), aka A Man There Was
    • Testament of Youth (2014)
    • Thirteen at Dinner (1985)
    • Three Identical Strangers (2018)
    • Time After Time (1979)
    • The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009)
    • Tokyo Godfathers (2003), aka Tôkyô goddofâzâzu
    • Tower Heist (2011)
    • Truly Madly Deeply (1990)
    • Turks & Caicos (2014)
    • Twister (1996)
    • Under Siege (1992)
    • Vampyr (1932)
    • Vivacious Lady (1938)
    • Warning from Space (1956)
    • We Bought a Zoo (2011)
    • Weird Woman (1944)
    • When the Wind Blows (1986)
    • The White Tiger (2021)
    • Who? (1974)
    • Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
    • Wild Target (2010)
    • Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
    • Wolf Warrior (2015), aka Zhan lang
    • WolfWalkers (2020)
    • Wuthering Heights (1939)
    • Xchange (2001)
    • You Only Live Once (1937)
    • Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)
    • Zatoichi’s Conspiracy (1973), aka Shin Zatôichi monogatari: Kasama no chimatsuri
    • Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983), aka Shu Shan – Xin Shu shan jian ke
    The 100 Films Guide To…
    Shorts
    • Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)
    • Scenes with Beans (1976), aka Babfilm
    • Sherlock Holmes Baffled (1900)
    • What! No Spinach? (1926)
    10 Things I Hate About You

    Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar

    Black Widow

    The Broadway Melody

    Cats

    Con Air

    Daughters of Darkness

    Drop Zone

    Evangelion: 3.0+1.01

    Frankenstein

    Godzilla Raids Again

    La Haine

    Hotel Transylvania in 3D

    Jerry Maguire

    The Last of Sheila

    Make Way for Tomorrow

    Mortal Kombat

    No Time to Die

    Flåklypa Grand Prix

    Rain Man

    Sátántangó

    Seven Chances

    Space Station

    Strange Confession

    The Talented Mr. Ripley

    Time After Time

    Under Siege

    Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

    Zack Snyder’s Justice League

    Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

    Meshes of the Afternoon

    .

    My monthly TV columns came to an accidental halt in February (crikey, I hadn’t realised it was so long ago), but that means I still got in reviews of the following…


    Things are in a slightly different order this year, for one reason or another. Normally next up would be the statistics, but I think before that it’ll be my most-read posts of 2021.

    It’s the Final Countdown: The Concluding Monthly Review of December 2021

    As mentioned last month, this post represents the end of 100 Films in a Year.

    Er, except for all the end-of-year wrap-ups I need to do (did you think I’d leave you without an annual stats post? Perish the thought!)

    But after that… the end? Really? Or is it…

    Change, my dear. And it seems, not a moment too soon.

    But let’s put that aside for, ooh, a couple of days, and instead look back at the final month of 2021…


    #188 Home Sweet Home Alone (2021)
    #189 Spiral: From the Book of Saw (2021)
    #190 Falling for Figaro (2020)
    #191 Gremlins (1984)
    #192 Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)
    #193 Pather Panchali (1955)
    #194 Black Widow 3D (2021)
    #195 Tokyo Godfathers (2003), aka Tôkyô goddofâzâzu
    #196 Happiest Season (2020)
    #197 Zatoichi’s Conspiracy (1973), aka Shin Zatôichi monogatari: Kasama no chimatsuri
    #198 Dreamcatcher (2003)
    #199 Jingle All the Way (1996)
    #200 The Final Countdown (1980)
    #201 A Christmas Story (1983)
    #202 The Matrix Resurrections (2021)
    #203 A Boy Called Christmas (2021)
    #204 Last Train to Christmas (2021)
    #205 The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
    #206 A Study in Scarlet (1933)
    #207 23 Walks (2020)
    Anna and the Apocalypse

    Happiest Season

    The Matrix Resurrections

    .


    • I watched 20 feature films I’d never seen before in December.
    • And that’s the first 20-film December — the final month to hit that milestone! It’s funny it’s worked out that way, because there was a 19-film December all the way back in 2008, at which time it was the second highest ever month, a title it held for seven years, and yet it’s taken three years beyond every other month (the last to crack 20 for the first time was November in 2018). Well, I got there just in time.
    • In terms of monthly averages, it surpasses the lot: December’s (previously 11.1, now 11.7), the rolling average of the last 12 months (previously 16.4, now 17.25), and the average for 2021 (previously 17.0, now finalised at 17.25).
    • As for the year, ending on #207 makes 2021 my fourth year ever to pass 200 films; and, as I did it in 2020 too, that’s the first time I’ve done it two years in a row.
    • Overall, it’s my third highest year ever. (I would’ve needed to make it to #261 for second place.)
    • See the Arbies for more on specific films, including #200 itself.
    • With Zatoichi’s Conspiracy, I’ve finally completed Criterion’s box set of the series. It’s taken longer than expected: I’ve gone from watching one Zatoichi a month (at my height of getting through them in 2018 and ’19) to more like one per year. Although that’s the end of the original film series, I’ve still got a few stragglers to go (a revival movie and three continuations/reboots). Hopefully they won’t take me until 2025…
    • I had two Blindspot films to watch this month to complete my challenge for 2021. I watched one, Satyajit Ray’s enduringly acclaimed depiction of a rural Indian childhood, Pather Panchali. The other was Come and See. I did plan to watch it — I set aside an evening and everything — but then… I just didn’t feel like it. I’ve been in a generally Christmassy mood this December, and it didn’t fit with that to spend two-and-a-half hours watching a film whose own blurb advertises it as “a senses-shattering plunge into the dehumanising horrors of war.” I mean, what could sound less festive than “a waking nightmare of unimaginable carnage and cruelty”? So, yeah, the second greatest film ever made can wait ’til another day.
    • From last month’s “failures” I watched Black Widow, A Boy Called Christmas, and Home Sweet Home Alone.



    The 79th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

    Favourite Film of the Month
    It’s proven divisive with critics and audiences alike, but I’m firmly in the camp that loved The Matrix Resurrections. Expect it to feature highly on my forthcoming “best of year” list.

    Least Favourite Film of the Month
    It was an enjoyable month overall (there’s a couple of likely 5s in the list), but duds crept in nonetheless, especially when trying to pack in the Christmas films. Perhaps the most disappointing was Home Sweet Home Alone. Some people would say predictably so, but I was open to the prospect of a remake. Unfortunately, this particular one fudges the fundamental conceit. Ho hum.

    Most Christmassy Film of the Month
    I don’t normally watch many Christmas films over the festive period. It’s not that I’m averse to them (far from it), I just don’t make a particular effort — and, as December is a time when I often am making a particular effort to round out some goal or other, other things can fall by the wayside. Well, this year I did put some effort into it, and — while I didn’t come close to completing the shortlist of 30 specific Christmas films I drew up — I did watch 10 festive films, which is a lot more than the two or three I usually manage. Of those, I reckon the most Christmassy of all was Happiest Season. I mean, what could be more Christmassy than a mix of festivities and familial awkwardness?

    Most “I Only Chose to Watch It Because of the Title” Film of the Month
    Regular readers will know I like to choose films that are somehow significant for my milestone numbers. My first-ever #100 was Citizen Kane, for example, and others have included Lawrence of Arabia, The Story of Film: An Odyssey, Stalker, Sholay, and, this year, Cinema Paradiso. So for 2021’s #200, I had to pick something befitting my last-ever (sort of) milestone movie. While not a particularly noteworthy film in itself, The Final Countdown seemed a thoroughly apt title.

    The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
    With just two new posts in December (and one of those only a brief Christmas message), let’s once again ignore their fate and see which was the most popular post overall. And this month it was… a tie! And a seasonal one at that, because the joint victors were The Past Christmas on TV and The Past Christmas on TV! Er, that’s the 2018 and 2019 editions, respectively. You might think the 2020 one was close behind… but you’d be wrong: for whatever reason, while those two topped the charts, last year’s Christmas TV post was way down at 25th. Not sure what’s going on there, but my referrals from IMDb suggest the elder posts’ victories may be due to a new series of Vienna Blood (I reviewed the first in the 2019 post) and Christmassy one-off Click & Collect, which I noticed popped up on Netflix this month (and I mentioned in the 2018 column).


    To make my goal of 50 rewatches this year, I would’ve had to (re)watch 18 films this month. Considering my average for 2021 to the end of November was 2.9 rewatches a month, that didn’t seem particularly likely…

    #33 Elf (2003)

    Yeah, of course it didn’t happen. I didn’t even reach that average again (it ends up at 2.75 rewatches per month).

    As for Elf, I enjoyed it more on this, my second viewing, when I was free from any hope of, say, well-executed character arcs (one of the main things I criticised it for in my above-linked review) and so just enjoyed the holiday hijinks.


    Despite setting a new December record, my failures were as multitudinous as ever. My most noteworthy oversight from the big screen has to be Spider-Man: No Way Home, but there was also Steven Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story and prequel The King’s Man, plus films with smaller releases that have nonetheless been much-discussed in cinephile circles, like C’mon C’mon, Lamb, and Titane. Also, Clifford the Big Red Dog. Hm.

    There were similar big guns on the streamers, including forthcoming awards season contenders The Power of the Dog and The Lost Daughter on Netflix, plus other originals like Don’t Look Up, The Unforgivable, and Death to 2021 — though, after not much enjoying Death to 2020, I think I’ll skip its Charlie Brooker-less sequel. Over on Prime Video, there was a belated UK bow for Guy Ritchie’s Wrath of Man, plus Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos and sci-fi Encounter. And talking of Charlie Brooker and sci-fi, Apple TV+ offered the Black Mirror-esque Swan Song.

    Sky Cinema’s originals were mostly Christmassy: as well as the ones I watched, they debuted the likes of 8-Bit Christmas and A Christmas Number One. Also this month, they’ve had Lin-Manuel Miranda musical In the Heights, plus a couple of things that I (annoyingly) bought on disc but haven’t watched yet, like Another Round and The Suicide Squad. Of course, Netflix and Amazon threw up a bunch of back catalogue stuff too, but, looking back over my long-lists, little jumps out at me as being worthy of particular note. That said, if you’ve not seen it, Netflix now has my #1 film of 2020, Never Rarely Sometimes Always. And, as well as meaning to catch Spielberg’s remake, I’d also like to make time to rewatch the original West Side Story, which is streaming on both Prime and iPlayer now.

    Once again taking advantage of not having to worry about licensing windows, Disney+ offered up early streaming debuts for their latest ‘animated classic’, Encanto, plus Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel, which seemed a bit gruelling for Christmastime viewing. The latter is getting a belated, limited release on 4K Blu-ray in the UK at the end of January, which I’ve preordered, but I should probably find the time to watch it on D+ first — if I don’t like it, it’ll save me a few bob.

    And talking of things I’ve bought, that certainly didn’t slow down in December. As is always the case at this time of year, there were multiple big box sets, like folk horror collection All the Haunts Be Ours (encompassing a whopping 22 feature films and 14 shorts), or Arrow’s kung fu collection, Shawscope: Volume One (another 12 features. Vol.2 is due in June), or Indicator’s Mae West box set (another 11 films, plus a TV movie biopic), or the limited edition of Cartoon Saloon’s Irish Folklore Trilogy (including the only disc release ever planned for Apple TV+ exclusive Wolfwalkers), or The Film Detective’s Sherlock Holmes Vault Collection (I actually watched one of those! See #206).

    Also in a ludicrously oversized box was StudioCanal’s 4K release of Mulholland Drive. Considering said box was (a) a weird size and (b) mostly full of air, I think there must’ve been some crossed wires in manufacturing. Similarly joining my 4K rewatch pile were Breathless, My Fair Lady, No Time to Die (a popular Christmas present, based on it becoming a Twitter trending topic on the 25th), Criterion’s edition of Citizen Kane (with dodgy 1080p disc), and Vinegar Syndrome’s 4K/3D edition of Flesh for Frankenstein (with dodgy 4K disc). Also Millennium Actress, part of a frankly excessive haul I ordered from All the Anime’s Christmas sale. Said indulgence also included regular Blu-rays of Birthday Wonderland, The Dragon Dentist, Jin-Roh, Mind Game, Night is Short, Walk on Girl, Promare, and Ride Your Wave. Not heard of some of those? Me either, to be honest — I got one of their mystery boxes. Still, it all looks interesting.

    That’s not even all (I could name another dozen things I bought), but, honestly, it’s more than enough. I’ve once again tried to keep this section brief and to the point, and it’s once again about as long as the entire rest of the monthly review combined. Is it worth giving it its own post each month in 2022? Something to consider…


    …but the moment has been prepared for.

    Merry Christmas from 100 Films in a Year

    It’s a little after midnight on 25th December here in the UK, so time for 100 Films in a Year to wish you a Merry Christmas — and if it can’t be merry, I hope it can be safe.

    The New Year fast approaches too, and, with it, big changes round these parts. But I’ll leave such talk for another day. Suffice to say, this is — officially speaking — 100 Films in a Year’s last Christmas. I’ve been stuffing it with more Christmas films than I usually watch, but, ironically, not Last Christmas. Maybe tomorrow. (Maybe not, too.)

    The Penultimate Monthly Review of November 2021

    Another month of 2021 falls short. Oh dear. But I’m getting ahead of myself — you’ll read all about that in the viewing and viewing notes in just a moment.

    But to get really ahead of myself — at the risk of overshadowing everything else in this update — there’s a bit of, uh, news at the end…


    #180 Royal Wedding (1951), aka Wedding Bells
    #181 Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
    #182 Nobody (2021)
    #183 Jungle Cruise (2021)
    #184 La Haine (1995)
    #185 Red Notice (2021)
    #186 The Last of Sheila (1973)
    #187 The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)
    Nobody
    .


    • I watched 8 feature films I’d never seen before in November.
    • That makes it the weakest month of 2021 so far, and the second in a row where I’ve fallen short of my ten-film minimum target. Oh dear.
    • Though, if I counted rewatches too, I did make it past ten in both October and November. So that’s something… kinda…
    • Unsurprisingly, that means it also falls short of every average going: the November all-time average (previously 11.0, now 10.8), the rolling average of the last 12 months (previously 17.25, now 16.42), and the average for 2021 to date (previously 17.9, now 17.0).
    • On the bright side (sorta), it means I passed the milestone of 2,500 films listed on my reviews page. Let’s not talk about how many are still locked away in my backlog though, eh…
    • This month’s Blindspot film was French urban drama La Haine, which reminded me a lot of Do the Right Thing, although I didn’t like it quite as much. (I was supposed to watch two Blindspot films this month, to make up for October, but didn’t manage it. Hopefully I’ll succeed in December.)
    • I didn’t watch anything from last month’s “failures”, though I did watch a couple of things that would’ve been on this month’s failures if I hadn’t watched them… which isn’t really the point, is it?



    The 78th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

    Favourite Film of the Month
    Fewer films watched means fewer films to choose from, and nothing this month was an out-and-out “loved it” experience — which is not to say there weren’t a couple of films that I thoroughly enjoyed. Foremost among these is probably Nobody, which suffers from riffing a bit too much on the John Wick formula, but still entertains with its blend of comedy and impressively-choreographed action.

    Least Favourite Film of the Month
    Quite a few middling films this month, but the one sticking out the bottom was clear to me. Although a childhood favourite for many, I didn’t care for Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. As a kid, we loved Roald Dahl’s books in our house, and my parents put us off watching this film adaptation — and now I can see why. It’s Americanised; the songs are awful; and, as the now-title character (it’s Charlie in the book), Gene Wilder… is really good — but it takes him almost half the movie to show up. Shame.

    The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
    With only one new review published this month, this one’s a bit of a no brainer. Although, of course, my monthly review could’ve beaten it — though that’s a rare, perhaps even unheard of, occurrence. And, indeed, The Fear of God won out — but only by a solitary hit.



    Another underwhelming month for my Rewatchathon. Y’know, I don’t think I’m going to make it to 50 this year…

    #31 Face/Off (1997)
    #32 Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

    I didn’t set out to rewatch Face/Off — I happened to flick onto ITV just as it was about to start, didn’t have anything better to do so watched through the big opening action sequence, by the end of which I thought, “ah, fuck it, may as well watch the rest.” Yeah, I did the “watch it on TV with ad breaks even though I own it on Blu-ray” thing. But I feel like that’s somehow the perfect way to watch this movie.

    As for Seven Brides, I mostly watched the “alternate widescreen version” on the Blu-ray’s second disc. I say “mostly” because we got about half-an-hour into the regular version on disc 1 before it froze up and wouldn’t play past a certain point. I’ve seen no one else complain about that, so hopefully it’s one bad disc and a replacement copy will be fine. Anyway, although I believe this alternate version is comprised of different takes (rather than just being the regular version cropped), it didn’t seem strikingly ‘wrong’ — not that I’m particularly familiar with the film, having only seen it once about 15 years ago; but any differences didn’t trouble my partner, who grew up watching it.


    Every month, in preparation for this section I keep a running list of films to mention — all the new cinema releases; everything interesting that gets added to various streaming services; everything I buy on disc — and, whew, this month’s list was long. Maybe I should just publish that list, or a version of it, rather than trying to write it up. But, for now, I’ll do it the way I’ve been doing it. So, let’s see how brief I can keep this while still also mentioning everything of note…

    At the cinema, the blockbuster releases this month were obviously the latest MCU entry, Eternals, and the latest attempt to revive a popular old IP, Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Both seemed to meet with mixed reviews. On surer critical footing were the more awards-y films, like Spencer, King Richard, and Petite Maman. I’m not sure if any of those actually played at my local. Also of note this month: a new Disney, Encanto; Ridley Scott’s second release this year, House of Gucci; and Sly Stallone’s belated “ultimate director’s cut” of Rocky IV, now subtitled Rocky vs. Drago and (as was widely reported) shorn entirely of its comedic robot subplot. Looking forward to catching that via streaming at some point.

    And speaking of streaming, I think every service had a blockbuster-esque new release of some sort this month. I actually watched Netflix’s (Red Notice), although black Western The Harder They Fall, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial debut Tick, Tick… Boom!, and Aardman’s latest short Robin Robin were hardly small fry either. Over on Amazon, meanwhile, there was another generic-looking Liam Neeson actioner, The Marksman. It feels like all of Neeson’s films go direct to Amazon these days — I don’t know if they’ve got him on retainer or if his films just play really well for them so they’re sure to snap them up. They also had Tamil drama Jai Bhim. I think most Western viewers can be excused for not spotting that one, but it’s catapulted itself onto the IMDb Top 250, sitting at #126 at time of writing. Google it and you’ll see reports that it has IMDb’s highest rating ever. It currently says 9.5 on its own page, which their algorithm drags down to 8.2 for the Top 250. Read into that what you will…

    As I said, everyone was in on the big releases this month: Disney+ attempted to review the Home Alone franchise with Home Sweet Home Alone (to very poor reviews); Sky Cinema nabbed starry Matt Haig adaptation A Boy Called Christmas; MUBI offered Leos Carax’s latest, Annette; and even Apple TV+ tried to get in on the game, with Tom Hanks post-apocalyptic adventure Finch. It’s about him building a robot to care for his dog after he’s gone, so of course it’s gone straight on my watch list, even if the dog appears to be mostly/entirely CGI.

    I don’t normally mention Disney+ in this column because I’m not normally subscribed to it, but they offered a month for £1.99 recently and that was too good to resist. Before it runs out, I really need to catch up on their latest films that I’ve missed — in particular, Raya and the Last Dragon, Luca, and Cruella. Also the Marvel TV series; less so the films, because I bought Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings on disc; and discovered that Japan are still getting Marvel films on 3D disc, so I, um, acquired a 3D copy of Black Widow, and will now probably wait to do the same for Shang-Chi. Nonetheless, knowing me I’ll probably semi-accidentally let me Disney+ subscription keep rolling — that’s what I’ve done with MUBI, where the prospect of watching the likes of The Killing of a Sacred Deer and Céline Sciamma’s Tomboy stop me from cancelling; and also Sky Cinema (via NOW), whose (far less arty) additions this month include the new Mortal Kombat, lockdown heist thriller Locked Down (imaginative title), and, um, Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds. Classy.

    Just to underline how badly behind I am with reviews, several streamers also offered films I’ve already seen and really should’ve covered by now. Top of the pile has to be Parasite, which had its UK TV premiere on Channel 4 recently and so is now streaming on All 4. Close behind is Denis Villeneuve’s Maelström, which I watched via a fairly crummy DVD-rip but is now in full HD on MUBI. That’s in addition to all the stuff I have seen and have reviewed but want to rewatch, and usually have already bought on disc, that the streamers waggled in my face this month — the likes of L.A. Confidential, Love & Friendship, and The Piano on Netflix; Interview with the Vampire, Mean Girls, and Vanilla Sky on Amazon; and I think iPlayer were the ‘worst’, reminding me I’ve not yet watched my 4K disc of Apocalypse Now: Final Cut, plus that I’m long overdue revisits to Let the Right One In and Portrait of a Lady on Fire.

    So much for keeping this short: I could list dozens more films across the streamers, and I haven’t even started on my disc purchases, which in November totted up to 44 films — even more if you were to count a few alternate cuts, like Ridley Scott’s Legend (I imported Arrow’s US-only release, which comes with the theatrical and director’s cuts) or Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders (the new UK box set of which includes the original cut and extended The Complete Novel version, both in 4K). The number is bolstered by a couple of eight-film box sets: Eureka’s Cinematic Vengeance, containing eight classic kung fu films directed by Joseph Kuo, and Australian label Imprint’s Collaborations, which has eight films directed by Zhang Yimou and starring Gong Li, including the likes of Red Sorghum, Raise the Red Lantern, and Curse of the Golden Flower.

    New films earning an instant purchase on their disc debuts included the confusingly-titled sequels/reboots Candyman and The Suicide Squad (“confusingly” because their titles are so similar / identical to the previous films they’re sequelising/rebooting). Older films with new releases coming straight into my collection include acclaimed Spaghetti Western The Great Silence (I only recently bought the US release, but Eureka’s UK version includes more special features and an improved transfer), Arrow’s Sailor Suit & Machine Gun (another one with two cuts to choose from), 88 Films’ The Chinese Boxer (starring and directed by Jimmy Wang Yu, whose other films I’ve enjoyed), Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes spinoff The Spider Woman Strikes Back (at only 59 minutes, it barely seems to warrant a standalone release, but here we are), and a long-awaited Blu-ray debut for Josie and the Pussycats (the best movie ever).

    If you’re keeping count, you’ll know we’re nowhere near 44 yet. A lot of the rest can be bundled together as filling out import orders to make the P&P charge worthwhile — from Australia, Imprint editions of The Assassination Bureau and superb film noir Sorry, Wrong Number, plus Umbrella releases of Possession, Ozploitation classic Turkey Shoot, and director Alex Proyas’s debut, Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds; and from the US… oh, I’ve listed most of those already, or the order’s been split and more are to follow. But also, I picked up Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia on Blu-ray. I’ve not seen it since 2009, so (as with some titles I mentioned earlier) it’s long overdue another look. (I bet someone announces it in 4K soon now.) I also caved to sales (well, it was the month of Black Friday) from Indicator — picking up Cash on Demand, The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, I, Monster, Light Sleeper, The Valachi Papers, and The Valdez Horses — and Eureka — with if…., Michael, and Tabu — and Criterion, too — just Deep Cover and La Vérité.

    You may be thinking “how does he have the space to buy so much stuff?!”, and the answer is… I don’t, really. It’s getting silly now. And as for the time to actually watch them… don’t get me started on that…


    The final month of 100 Films in a Year.

    …wait, what?!

    Yes, it’s the end — but the moment has been prepared for…