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  • Writer's picturePerrin Faerch

My 100 Favourite Films of 2021 (100-51)

Updated: Apr 6, 2022

So here we are, another great year of films despite the pandemic. I watched 362 films from last year that meet the criteria for this list. A lot of them I loved, a lot of them I didn't. The eventual, final shortlist was comprised of 168 movies, all of which are films I thoroughly enjoyed. So as you can imagine, I had my work cut out for me as I attempt to whittle it down to an even 100.

So, what were the criteria for qualifying for this list? Some of these films debuted in 2019 and 2020, but only at film festivals that were barely accessible to the wider public. So everything on here made their debuts outside of that bubble through wider theatrical runs, streaming premieres, virtual screenings, etc. in countries like the USA, UK and South Africa. Although a film like The Worst Person in the World made most end-of-year lists for 2021 by critics and publications alike, most of the general public didn't have access to it. It only made its full theatrical debut this year, so it will qualify for my 2022 lists.

Unlike my 50 Favourite Performances of the Year list, this one is in order, or the best order I could put them in, at least. Remember, this is all my subjective opinion, in no way am I saying which film is better than the other. These are films that just resonated with me the most, some more than others. It eventually boils down to what I enjoyed the most and connected with that adhere to my taste and who I am.

So once again, this is all like, just my opinion, man.

First, here are some special mentions that didn't qualify for this list based on its format but wanted to give shoutouts to...

The Underground Railroad

(Limited Series)

My Take: Barry Jenkins' jaw-dropping, magic-realist epic about a slave named Cora (Thuso Mbedu)'s horrifying journey to physical and spiritual freedom. Based on the book of the same name, The Underground Railroad takes the name given to the network in freeing slaves and makes it a literal underground railroad, with Jenkins adapting the text to fulfil the impact of each important allegory, metaphor and literal representation of the suffering endured by Cora and black people living in America as a whole. It's a devastating work of art that is truly unforgettable. Without a doubt, one of the best things I have ever seen.

Where you can watch it: Prime Video (Worldwide)

Bo Burnham's Inside

(Netflix Special)

My Take: Documentaries 76 Days (2020) and The First Wave (2021) are vital snapshots of history as it happened on the front lines during a pandemic that will be viewed as important, historical documents years from now, but if there ever was a work that accurately depicted the mental degradation and overwhelming anxiety of being in lockdown during a pandemic, Bo Burnham's Inside could very well be that definitive document. This couldn't have come at a worse time for Burnham. He took a break from doing live comedy performances in 2016 so he could work on the anxieties that caused him to take a step back. When he felt ready to return to the stage, the pandemic hit - forcing him to spend the next year shooting, writing and editing everything you see from inside by himself at home. Inside is a brutally honest depiction of anxiety, self-doubt, loneliness and depression that hit home way too hard for me.

Where you can watch it: Netflix (Worldwide)

So anyways...


100. Old Henry

Director: Potsy Ponciroli

Genre/s: Western/Thriller Length: 1 Hour 39 Minutes Country: USA Language/s: English/Spanish

Cast: Tim Blake Nelson, Stephen Dorff, Trace Adkins, Gavin Lewis, Scott Haze

Synopsis: A weathered, quiet man (Tim Blake Nelson) and his teenage son (Gavin Lewis) take in a cash-heavy, wounded stranger (Scott Haze) claiming to be a sheriff on the run from a band of outsiders (led by Stephen Dorff).

My Take: Tim Blake Nelson is one of the great character actors of his generation, an ever-reliable talent able to control scenes at his will even when he isn’t the A-list name on the bill. But he has never been given the job of leading man, here he is finally afforded that duty, and the results are wonderful. What would appear to be a standoff/siege plot waiting for an inevitable bloody shootout, Old Henry is essentially a character study first and foremost - a fascinating mystery that focuses on its titular character. Thanks to Tim Blake Nelson’s closely-guarded performance and Ponciroli’s keen understanding of the genre, Old Henry’s twists, turns and revelations in its patient build-up are made all the more satisfying by its bloody bullet-riddled finale.

Where you can watch it: Blu-ray and DVD (USA), Showtime (USA), most VOD platforms (USA, UK, Australia), Blu-ray and DVD (USA)

99. Ghostbusters: Afterlife

Director: Jason Reitman

Genre/s: Comedy/Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Adventure Length: 2 Hours 4 Minutes Country: USA/Canada Language: English

Cast: Carrie Coon, Paul Rudd, Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, Logan Kim

Synopsis: Taking place 32 years after Ghostbusters II, a single mom (Carrie Coon) and her two kids (McKenna Grace & Finn Wolfhard) move into her father’s old home. But pretty soon things get weird, prompting them to discover their Ghostbusters legacy as the world requires them to save the day once more.

My Take: Afterlife is most certainly a film whose lifeblood is sentimentality and nostalgia. Thankfully Reitman and co. don't rely on just that to get it over the line as they come to the party and give us a genuine love letter to the franchise that not only embraces the sentimentality of it all, but challenges where it can go next. We do get some great fan service moments, but we never dwell on them. Instead, Reitman opts to focus on developing the next generation of Ghostbusters: a group of kids in an unfamiliar environment far away from the New York City setting we automatically associate the franchise with. It’s a fun, exciting introduction to a new cohort of Ghostbusters that also serves as a touching goodbye to the old guard, particularly that of the late Harold Ramis. Bring tissues.

Where you can watch it: 4K UHD, Blu-ray and DVD (Worldwide), most VOD platforms (USA, UK, Australia)

98. Mandibles

Director: Quentin Dupieux

Genre/s: Comedy/Fantasy Length: 1 Hour 17 Minutes Countries: France/Belgium Language: French

Cast: Grégoire Ludig, David Marsais, Adèle Exarchopoulos, India Hair

Synopsis: Dimwit slackers Jean-Gab (David Marsais) and Manu (Grégoire Ludig) find a giant fly in the boot of a car they stole, so naturally they start training it to pull ambitious heists off for them.

My Take: Mandibles is as strange and goofy as it sounds, but at the centre of its absurd concept, lies a touching, endearing bromance brought closer together by a giant fly named Dominique, one we end up falling in love with. She’s sweet, timid and curious as she enters the lives of these two, drawn closer together once more as they hatch a plan to get rich quick. And although Dominique is the centrepiece to the odd plot of Mandibles, it’s their friendship that both us and Dominique stick around and go back for. Toro. Toro indeed.

Where you can watch it: Hulu (USA), most VOD platforms (USA, UK, Australia)

97. Slalom

Director: Charlène Favier

Genre: Drama Length: 1 Hour 32 Minutes Countries: France/Belgium Language: French

Cast: Noée Abita, Jérémie Renier, Maïra Schmitt, Axel Auriant

Synopsis: 15-year-old skiing prodigy Lyz (Noée Abita) undergoes a tough training regime at the tutelage of her strict, predatory coach (Jérémie Renier).

My Take: An intimate, smartly composed psychological drama appropriately set within the world of alpine skiing, Charlène Favier’s debut is an impressive, assured work. Despite its heavy subject matter, Favier never turns it into shocking exploitation, often priming her focus in ever-tightening shots and moments on Lyz, and only her, as she comes to terms with being a victim in a sexual predator’s game of manipulation and exploitation. A sensational Noée Abita plays Lyz with a guarded expressivity, never quite revealing to us if she feels herself to be a victim or a willing participant in her coach’s games. But thankfully, Slalom’s stance is clear, showing us how easy it is for authority figures to take advantage of the vulnerable in need of belonging and finding a greater sense of purpose.

Where you can watch it: Showtime (USA), most VOD platforms (USA, UK, Australia)

96. Judas and the Black Messiah

Director: Shaka King

Genre/s: Drama/Thriller Length: 2 Hours 6 Minutes Country: USA Language: English

Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, Martin Sheen

Synopsis: After accepting a plea deal by the FBI, local hustler Bill O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield) infiltrates the Black Panther chapter in Illinois to gather intelligence on Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya).

My Take: Shaka King does not make Judas a straight-up biopic of Fred Hampton. We still get a sensitive, humanist perspective of the enigmatic icon, but instead, it comes from the man who betrayed him: Bill O’Neal. Through effective documentary-style footage scattered throughout of a tormented Bill O'Neal sitting in an interview, we see a true portrait of a broken man filled with regret, sorrow, anger, disappointment, etc, challenging his moral compass as a black man effectively forced and manipulated in betraying those who look to actually better his existence as a person of colour living in America. Along with Shaka King, Stanfield embraces the tragedy of his character, a victim of a brutalist, racist system poised to exploit those who have their backs against the wall in order to keep them in the dirt.

Where you can watch it: Showmax (SA), HBO Max (USA), Netflix (Australia), Most VOD platforms (SA, USA, UK), Blu-ray and DVD (Worldwide)

95. Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes

Director: Junta Yamaguchi

Genre: Comedy/Sci-Fi Length: 1 Hour 10 Minutes Country: Japan Language: Japanese

Cast: Kazunari Tosa, Riko Fujitani, Gôta Ishida, Masashi Suwa

Synopsis: Café owner Kato (Kazunari Tosa) discovers a pair of monitors that can see into the past and future. But only two minutes.

My Take: One of the funnest, most original genre films I have seen in years, Yamaguchi delivers a brilliant little sci-fi comedy that takes full advantage of its concept and the creativity it encourages. Every cast member is fully committed, and thanks to truly ingenious methods in sewing each moment in the past, present and future together, director and editor Yamaguchi manages to pull off some impressive visual trickery that allows for the fun script by Makoto Ueda to shine and have the fun it deserves. It may not be as dense of a think piece one would want from more cerebral sci-fi’s, but it doesn’t need to be – fully embracing its silliness, letting its cast and crew revel in the playground that is offered to them that will leave you grinning from ear to ear. For my extended thoughts, check the review I did for it over here.

Where you can watch it: Blu-ray (UK), Most VOD platforms (USA, UK), Netflix (Japan)

94. Swan Song

Director: Benjamin Clearly

Genre: Drama/Sci-Fi Length: 1 Hour 52 Minutes Country: USA Language: English

Cast: Mahershala Ali, Glenn Close, Naomie Harris, Awkwafina, Adam Beach, Nyasha Hatendi

Synopsis: Cameron (Mahershala Ali) is dying from an internal illness. In a bid to save his family from the pain of his inevitable death, he undergoes a controversial procedure that allows for an exact clone to take his place once that day comes.

My Take: The other Swan Song that came out in 2021, Benjamin Clearly’s film is a beautiful meditation on acceptance and letting go. Ali plays Cameron, a man undergoing special treatment to create a perfect clone of himself with the added benefit of not having the illness he is soon to die from. Clearly writes two deeply complex and distinctly individual versions of the same character that is understood on the page, but it is ultimately Mahershala Ali’s spectacularly choreographed dual performance that brings them to vivid life. One is embroiled with jealousy, anger, sorrow and paranoia while the other goes through the motions of falling in love again as well as the overwhelming guilt he feels in his inevitable replacement of the original Cameron. It’s a deceptively simple high-concept sci-fi film with a tender, bleeding heart at the centre of it all.

Where you can watch it: Apple TV+ (Worldwide)

93. Limbo

Director: Ben Sharrock

Genre/s: Comedy/Drama Length: 1 Hour 44 Minutes Country: UK Languages: English/Arabic

Cast: Amir El-Masry, Vikash Bhai, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Kenneth Collard

Synopsis: Omar (Amir El-Masry) is a talented young Syrian musician stuck on a Scottish island as a refugee. Set up in a tiny town and boarding house with three other refugees, they wait patiently for the results of their asylum requests.

My Take: A gorgeous, asymmetrical refugee comedy-drama from Scotland, Limbo is a touching exploration of cultural identity and one’s desire to connect with and find a home that accepts them wholeheartedly. Ben Sharrock creates a world that truly does feel like limbo, providing stark landscapes and sets as the characters continue to lose any sort of enthusiasm and hope in the world around them. Sharrock’s dry humour is met with tonally appropriate performances, further entrenching ourselves within this purgatory state of waiting for something to happen along with the characters as well. But thankfully it's not all one-note. Sharrock provides additional cell phone footage scattered about as Omar looks to reconnect with his identity and that of his family's as well, culminating in a thrilling talent show during the film's final third that allows for Limbo to be an entirely wholesome affair.

Where you can watch it: HBO Max (USA), Mubi (UK), most VOD platforms (USA, UK), Blu-ray (USA, UK)

92. The Truffle Hunters

Director/s: Michael Dweck & Gregory Kershaw

Genre: Documentary Length: 1 Hour 24 Minutes Countries: Italy/Greece/USA Language: Italian

Synopsis: The trials and tribulations of the truffle business in Italy, centring around the colourful characters and the special bonds they share with their dogs.

My Take: The Truffle Hunters is far more than just a movie about old men hanging out with their best buds. It’s a film about growing old while the world changes around you, forced, and refusing to adapt as you remain in dead-set traditions. Some of these men grow angrier, more tired, get disinterested in their work, etc. but one thing that remains a constant throughout Dweck and Kershaw’s documentary is that they always prioritize their furry friends as they aren’t that much different from them. They're territorial, loyal and at the end of the day, they just want to forage in the forest for truffles with their best friend.

Where you can watch it: Most VOD platforms (SA, USA, UK, Australia), Prime Video (Australia)

91. The Velvet Underground

Director: Todd Haynes

Genre/s: Documentary/Music Length: 2 Hours 1 Minute Country: USA Language: English

Synopsis: Todd Haynes explores the origins and legacies surrounding one of the most influential bands of all time: The Velvet Underground.

My take: Todd Haynes’ (Carol, Safe, I’m Not There, Velvet Goldmine) first foray into documentary filmmaking ends up being one of his best films. It’s appropriately cool and stylish, but Haynes understands the level of substance beneath the leather and black shades. It’s a glorious deep-dive into a deeply collaborative band, and Haynes does well not to lavish all the attention on a specific band member, doing well to spread the limelight across the board and give the band a definitive film that truly shows the extent of their power and influence on the musical landscape that goes beyond that of Lou Reed and Andy Warhol.

Where you can watch it: Streaming on Apple TV+ (Worldwide)

90. Rose Plays Julie

Director/s: Joe Lawlor & Christine Molloy

Genre/s: Drama/Thriller/Mystery Length: 1 Hour 40 Minutes Countries: Ireland/UK Language: English

Cast: Ann Skelly, Orla Brady, Aidan Gillen

Synopsis: Veterinary student Rose (Ann Skelly) attempts to seek out her biological mother, an actress named Ellen (Orla Brady), with the hopes of meeting and connecting with her. However, Ellen isn’t interested. Rose soon turns her attention towards finding and meeting her father, Peter, a local archaeologist (Aidan Gillen).

My Take: What starts as a simple journey of discovering one’s identity, quickly turns into a darker, brooding beast as Rose begins to uncover the secrets to her existence and the trauma attached to it. Rose plays the character of Julie without fully understanding who she is herself, but that’s where Ann Skelly’s performance is so effective in that there is a hidden truth that rests in each longing look, yet she has no idea what that truth is. But it’s with her mother and father that are the ones truly performing - hiding the traumatic wounds of the past as well as wearing sheep’s clothing in a bid to ensnare their prey. After all, we are all wearing some sort of mask, creating a persona for the world as we look to hide the wounds and vicious truths of our past, present and eventual future.

Where you can watch it: Blu-ray and DVD (UK), Shudder (USA), most VOD platforms (USA, UK)

89. Apples

Director: Christos Nikou

Genre/s: Drama/Mystery Length: 1 Hour 31 Minutes Countries: Greece/Poland/Australia/Slovenia Language: Greek

Cast: Aris Servetalis, Sofia Georgovassili, Anna Kalaitzidou, Argyris Bakirtzis

Synopsis: Set during a worldwide pandemic of sudden amnesia, Aris (Aris Servetalis) finds himself enrolled in a recovery program of unidentified, unclaimed patients who build new identities.

My Take: In order for Aris to create a new life with a new identity, he is tasked by the recovery program to complete a series of check-list activities, creating new memories for a new life. A first car crash, the first time riding a bike, a random one-night stand, etc. we see Aris leap at the opportunity to attain each one of these moments, but thanks to smart writing, direction and performance from Servetalis, we see a deeper sense of sadness through everything that he does, giving us much-needed insight into the mystery of this character we know absolutely nothing about thanks to its effective premise. We don’t always know the full story and with Aris' case, it’s a part of himself we soon see he desperately wants to run away from. After all, if you had the chance to start all over again, would you?

Where you can watch it: Mubi (UK), most VOD platforms (UK).

88. The Village Detective: a song cycle

Director: Bill Morrison

Genre/s: Documentary/Experimental Length: 1 Hour 21 Minutes Country: USA Languages: English/Icelandic/Russian

Synopsis: After discovering reels of 35mm film off the coast of Iceland, documentarian Bill Morrison examines the life and illustrious career of Soviet actor Mikhail Zharov, who appears prominently on all four reels of this lost film.

My Take: An audio-visual experiment unlike anything else from 2021, The Village Detective is a fascinating time capsule into not only the career of Mikhail Zharov but into the history of Soviet cinema itself as we journey through his life and the very institutions he found himself apart of, now decaying and mostly destroyed thanks to time and the elements. Morrison develops a fondness for his subject and so does David Lang, the film’s composer. We find out that Zharov was an adept accordion player, and with the film’s visual language of ghosts from the past speaking to us in fragmented pieces, David Lang completes the puzzle - delivering a haunting, hypnotic accordion-driven score fitting of its imagery. It’s an otherworldly soundscape deserving of its visuals, as though Zharov is speaking to us from another realm not of this Earth, regaling us of his story as we fall under his spell.

Where you can watch it: Most VOD platforms (USA), Blu-ray (USA)

87. 7 Prisoners

Director: Alexandre Moratto

Genre/s: Crime/Drama Length: 1 Hour 33 Minutes Country: Brazil Languages: Portuguese/Spanish/English/French/Korean/Haitian

Cast: Christian Malheiros, Rodrigo Santoro, Vitor Julian, Lucas Oranmian, Josias Duarte

Synopsis: 18-year-old Mateus (Christian Malheiros) fights to escape from his junkyard boss Luca (Rodrigo Santoro) as he finds himself trapped in the world of human trafficking and modern-day slavery.

My Take: 7 Prisoners is a survival film that puts a strong emphasis on the moral identities of its characters, drawing attention towards serious social-economic problems in Brazil that could easily (and does) happen all over the world. Moratto challenges the very foundations of our moral viewpoint – tossing multiple ropes to safety for Mateus, only for him having to adapt accordingly to do what is eventually right for him, and only him. Rodrigo Santoro turns in one of the year’s finest performances as Luca, giving us a multi-layered villain that slowly pulls the mask back to reveal a true product of his environment and his fight for survival. Thankfully, 7 Prisoners doesn’t excuse any of this behaviour. Instead, it pinpoints the very entry wounds that cause the infection to fester and spread, eventually corrupting the very morals and ideal of its characters that is a sobering indictment of humanity in its ability to adapt in order to benefit itself.

Where you can watch it: Netflix (Worldwide)

86. A La Calle

Directors: Maxx Caicedo & Nelson G. Navarrete

Genre: Documentary Length: 1 Hour 50 Minutes Country: USA Language: Spanish

Synopsis: An intense, on the ground documentation of Venezuelans’ fight for democracy amid economic turmoil and a brutal, corrupt dictatorship.

My Take: A breathless account of the people’s war for democracy in Venezuela at the height of Maduro’s corrupt regime as it looks to plunge the country further into economic upheaval as a means to benefiting themselves. It’s an urgent call to action, using messy, yet effective ground footage of protests, police brutality and riots to drive the point home in just why these people are going to war with their government. But it’s not only an angry film about the Venezuelan government, it’s a sobering reminder of how this is happening in so many other countries held hostage by populist leaders and a rise in totalitarianism. It’s a reminder that these governments can so easily manipulate and force people to their will, but it’s also a thrilling reminder of just what ordinary citizens can do to take power back and shake the system to its very core.

Where you can watch it: HBO Max (USA)

85. Stray

Director: Elizabeth Lo

Genre: Documentary Length: 1 Hour 12 Minutes Country: USA Language/s: Turkish/Arabic

Synopsis: Documentarian Elizabeth Lo follows the life of Zeytin, a stray dog living on the streets of Istanbul.

My take: Lo takes to the streets of Istanbul following a stray dog by the name of Zeytin. It’s a fascinating portrait of a dog living in a city and country where capturing and killing of stray dogs is illegal, effectively allowing the streets to be filled with Istanbul’s other frequent citizen: the dog. Lo follows her subjects closely, revealing a POV of mankind through the dog’s perspective. But Stray is at its most revealing when it argues that dogs are no different to us, going from point A to point B to pass the time, surviving, and finally, to find a meaningful connection. There’s an interesting friendship and bond that connects Zeytin with a group of homeless kids, Syrian refugees to be exact. The parallels between these stray dogs and these kids are obvious - although allowed, they’re largely ignored and often-times shooed away, but thankfully they’ve found each other, showcasing the intrinsic need for connection in all of us regardless of species.

Where you can watch it: Blu-ray (UK), most VOD platforms (SA, UK, USA), Hulu (USA), DocPlay (Australia)

84. Servants

Director: Ivan Ostrochovský

Genre: Drama/Thriller Length: 1 Hour 20 Minutes Countries: Slovakia/Romania/Czech Republic/Ireland Language: Slovak

Cast: Samuel Skyva, Samuel Polakovic, Vlad Ivanov, Vladimír Strnisko

Synopsis: Two students in a theological seminary have to decide between informing for the totalitarian communist Czechoslovakian government or becoming targets of the secret police themselves.

My Take: A taught monochrome thriller from Slovakia sitting at a bite-sized 80-minutes, Servants still takes its time in instilling a great sense of fear among its characters of an unseen entity that picks and pulls each one of its characters at will. It’s not as simple as a plot about government vs. the state, but instead, it feels like a battle for each one of their souls through ideals vs morals - pitting loyalty, friendship and faith against one another as they become mere pawns in a synchronic battle between similarly oppressive states.

Where you can watch it: Most VOD platforms (USA, UK)

83. Violation

Directors: Madeleine Sims-Fewer & Dusty Mancinelli

Genre: Drama/Horror Length: 1 Hour 47 Minutes Country: Canada Language: English

Cast: Madeleine Sims-Fewer, Anna Maguire, Jesse LaVercombe, Obi Abili

Synopsis: Miriam is visiting her sister Greta (Anna Maguire) and her brother-in-law Dylan (Jesse LaVercombe) from London with her husband Caleb (Obi Abili) in the hopes of them reconnecting after years apart. But one night, Miriam finds herself violated by someone she thought she could trust, sending her down a vengeful path.

My Take: Oftentimes, films of the rape-revenge sub-genre have the inciting incident to be violent, vicious and cruel, which are completely necessary and effective in eliciting a visceral response from us, but it can often be misjudged and misused as a means of shock-value. Violation, however, takes a different approach, going a far more quiet route that reminds us that any non-consensual sex is rape, even when it isn’t violent and aggressive on the surface. No really means no. Sims-Fewer (who also plays the film’s protagonist) and Mancinelli’s direction is smart, considerate and most of all, subtle, with how they handle and approach such difficult subject matter and the moments that follow - focusing more on atmosphere, framing and eerily quiet sound mixing to give us a real sense of violation. Thankfully Violation isn’t an exploitative piece of shock tactics. It doesn’t just want to show bad things happening to fragile people but wants to challenge us in understanding if Miriam’s confrontation with the situation is too extreme or completely justified. After all, how would you respond? My extended thoughts can be read over here.

Where you can watch it: Shudder (UK, USA, Australia)

82. The Disciple

Director: Chaitanya Tamhane

Genre/s: Drama/Music Length: 2 Hours 9 Minutes Country: India Language: Marathi

Cast: Aditya Modak, Arun Dravid, Sumitra Bhave

Synopsis: A devoted classical vocalist (Aditya Modak) undergoes a long and arduous journey of self-doubt, sacrifice and struggle as he searches for mastery in his craft that remains elusive.

My take: Aditya Modak, an actual classical musician, plays the role of Sharad, a man so passionate about his craft, brandishing an obsessive desire to achieve the same levels of mastery as his mentor and the musicians he idolizes and studies. Unlike the white-knuckle intensity of similar striving-for-perfection-esque films like Whiplash, The Disciple makes use of time as the necessary construct in achieving perfection and all the frustrations that come with that time. The pacing is much slower in this regard, making it perfectly appropriate with The Disciple’s plot and themes. It’s a gut-punch of a film for anyone striving for this kind of perfection within any field, especially those who just may not ever be as good as those they look to emulate, however hard they may push themselves to get there. It’s a beautifully centred film with gorgeous music, requiring keen patience and willingness from its viewer much like Sharad as he goes on a decades-spanning journey for that elusive perfection he may or may not ever achieve.

Where you can watch it: Netflix (Worldwide)

81. In Front of Your Face

Director: Hong Sang-soo

Genre: Drama Length: 1 Hour 25 Minutes Country: South Korea Language: Korean

Cast: Lee Hye-yeong, Yunhee Cho, Hae-hyo Kwon

Synopsis: A once popular, but now retired actress (Lee Hye-yeong) returns to Seoul to visit her sister, but she soon meets a director interested in collaborating with her, causing her to consider a return to the craft.

My Take: Hong Sang-soo is one of South Korea’s most interesting directors. His simplistic stripped-down approach lets actors act, consistently prioritising performance over visual flair. It’s not exactly slow cinema, but it could be. In Front of Your Face deals with the very notions of accepting and being appreciative of what you already have that, as the title suggests, is in front of your face. Lee Hye-young mirrors elements of her career here, playing a former actress returning to South Korea to visit her sister. In Front of Your Face follows Sangok from moment to moment as she revisits places and people from her past, participating in free-wheeling conversations that don't meander, but gives us a true indication of her current regretful state as she looks to make up for the time she lost since leaving Korea. It’s so easily relatable, even more so after she comes to the realisation and truth of her situation that has her laughing uncontrollably to a voice note, reminding us of what we don’t and do have going for us in our present. Sometimes things are just too good to be true, and sometimes, what we already have can be good enough.

Where you can watch it: Awaiting streaming dates as it is no longer on circuit.

80. The Suicide Squad

Director: James Gunn

Genre/s: Action/Comedy/Adventure/Sci-Fi Length: 2 Hours 12 Minutes Country: USA Languages: English/Spanish

Cast: Idris Elba, Margot Robbie, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Daniela Melchior, David Dastmalchian, Peter Capaldi, Sylvester Stallone

Synopsis: In exchange for reduced prison sentences, a team of supervillains are brought together to blow up a lab on the heavily armed fictional island nation of Corto Maltese.

My Take: DC appears to be going through a bit of a reinvention phase as it looks to peel itself free from the polarizing Zach Snyder blueprint that has plagued a vast majority of their films in tone and style post-Nolan’s Bat trilogy. And we’re all here for it as they look to rope in filmmakers with interesting ideas of how they want to approach their catalogue of characters through different means of styles, themes and ideas, effectively letting them go a bit crazy and do whatever they want. Despite what you may think of it, we saw it in Joker, we saw it even earlier before that during the height of the Snyder blueprint phase in the incredibly overlooked Shazam!, we’re seeing it with The Batman, and now we are experiencing it in full force with James Gunn as he looks to inject his sense of humour and fun into The Suicide Squad and its incoming spinoffs. It’s not a sequel to the tonal mess that was the 2016 version, instead, it’s a brand new start that is unabashedly silly at every turn, poking fun at itself as well as being completely wholesome in the relationships and characters it builds and looks to elaborate on even further in the future. It’s quintessentially James Gunn, and thanks to an outstanding cast, higher stakes, and candy-coated, blood-soaked visuals, DC looks to keep Gunn and his band of misfits around for good - making The Suicide Squad a fresh layer of much-needed paint on a sub-genre that has reached well past its saturation point.

Where you can watch it: HBO Max (USA), Most VOD platforms (SA, USA, UK, Australia), 4K UHD, Blu-ray and DVD (Worldwide)

79. Yellow Cat

Director: Adilkhan Yerzhanov

Genre/s: Comedy/Drama/Crime/Adventure Length: 1 Hour 30 Minutes Country: Kazakhstan Languages: Kazakh/Russian

Cast: Azamat Nigmanov, Kamila Nugmanova, Sanjar Madi, Yerzhan Zhamankulov

Synopsis: Yellow Cat takes place in the rolling, vast badlands of Kazakhstan as we follow ex-con Kermek (Azamat Nigmanov) and prostitute Eva (Kamila Nugmanova)’s attempt to leave their life of crime behind with the hopes of fulfilling Kermek’s dream of opening a cinema in the mountains.

My Take: Director Adilkhan Yerzhanov creates a warm, playful film that feels like a true love letter to movies and the impossible dreams we choose to chase despite the overwhelming odds stacked against us. It’s a romantic lovers-on-the-run film a la True Romance and Badlands without actually being a romance film at all, with Yerzhanov cleverly cross-referencing and foreshadowing questionable classic film anti-heroes that either doom or strengthen Kermek and Eva’s quest for complete and utter freedom. Yellow Cat is a dreamer’s paradise, an audacious jab at actually chasing after one’s dreams against the circumstantial forces that look to deny them. It’s a beautiful little gem that is simultaneously joyful and utterly heartbreaking. One of the truly wonderful hidden secrets of 2021 that is impossible not to be swayed by its charm. You can read my extended thoughts on it over here.

Where you can watch it: Mubi (Worldwide)

78. Cowboys

Director: Anna Kerrigan

Genre/s: Drama/Adventure/Western/LGBTQ+ Length: 1 Hour 26 Minutes Country: USA Language: English

Cast: Steve Zahn, Sasha Knight, Jillian Bell, Ann Dowd, Gary Farmer, Chris Coy

Synopsis: Troy (Steve Zahn) runs away with his transgender son Joe (Sasha Knight) to the Montana wilderness in hopes of eventually crossing over into Canada for a better life. But soon, they find themselves on the run from the law when Sally (Jillian Bell), Troy’s wife and Joe’s mother, informs the police, making them outlaws on the run as detective Faith Erickson (Ann Dowd) follows their trail.

My Take: Anna Kerrigan's modern western adds to the growing list of fresh new spins on the genre in terms of theme, plot and setting, managing to give a unique approach using the masculinity of cowboys and westerns to discuss gender identity, gender roles, self-discovery and eventually, acceptance (Sam Elliot, take note). Cowboys is a beautifully made and performed story of acceptance, self-discovery and gender identity that could only be told as effectively within the ideals of a modern western, exploiting its tropes and plot beats we have seen on countless occasions, echoing the smarter, more complex westerns over the years. Anna Kerrigan is most certainly a talent to keep your eye on. You can read my extended thoughts over here.

Where you can watch it: Hulu (USA), Most VOD platforms (USA, UK)

77. The 8th

Directors: Aideen Kane, Lucy Kennedy & Maeve O’Boyle

Genre: Documentary Length: 1 Hour 34 Minutes Countries: Ireland/USA Language: English

Synopsis: The story of Irish women and their fight to overturn one of the most restrictive laws on abortion in the world.

My Take: The 8th is an effective film in that it refuses to talk down to anyone, regardless of them being pro-life, pro-choice or even those who remain undecided. And although The 8th’s stance is clear, it looks to convince in an intelligent, calming manner before brandishing its necessary fury when the time is right. It’s tough for documentaries to do so amidst an urgent call to action that doesn’t come across as obnoxious or condescending, but The 8th achieves this with flying colours through a combination of debates, marches and extensive research - creating a neat little bundle that works as both a care package and a grenade.

Where you can watch it: Apple TV (SA), Most VOD platforms (UK)

76. Language Lessons

Director: Natalie Morales

Genre/s: Comedy/Drama Length: 1 Hour 31 Minutes Country: USA Languages: Spanish/English

Cast: Natalie Morales, Mark Duplass

Synopsis: Told entirely through video calls, Language Lessons follows the blossoming friendship between a Spanish teacher (Natalie Morales) and her student (Mark Duplass).

My Take: Despite what you may think, Language Lessons isn’t a film about or set during lockdown, but it very well could be – mirroring our deep desire to connect more than ever as we find ourselves confined to our homes and ourselves on a far more regular basis. Natalie Morales directs and shares a co-writing credit with her co-star in Mark Duplass, and although they are never in the same room together, only interacting through video call sessions, their chemistry is among the sweetest, most genuine of 2021 - yearning for the same connection with each other as we do during a pandemic. Best experienced through the screens of your phone, computer or tablet; Language Lessons is a touching exploration of friendship during the digital age that will reinvigorate your desire to reach out and make a new friend once again.

Where can you watch it: Most VOD platforms (USA), Blu-ray (USA)

75. Attica

Directors: Traci Curry & Stanley Nelson Genre: Documentary Length: 1 Hour 56 Minutes Country: USA Language: English Synopsis: During the summer of 1971, tensions between inmates and guards at the Attica Correctional Facility are at an all-time high. On the morning of Sept. 9, it all comes to a head as Attica becomes the stage for one of the largest U.S. prison riots ever.

My Take: The filmmakers give us an extensive breakdown of the infamous maximum-security prison of Attica through its history, how it got to that point and how we can still learn from the events that unfolded that is rooted firmly in systemic racism and blatant abuse of power. It’s a powerful documentary that speaks to the survivors as well as the descendants of both prisoners and guards – painting an eye-opening portrait of a flawed system that remains broken, choosing to sweep the ghosts of its past under the rug and never speak of it again. Thankfully we haven’t forgotten Attica, and thanks to films like this and its survivors, we won’t forget it anytime soon as we look to the past with a desperate need to improve our present and future.

Where you can watch it: Showtime (USA), Most VOD platforms (USA)

74. There Will Be No More Night

Director: Éléonore Weber Genre/s: Documentary/War Length: 1 Hour 15 Minutes Country: France Languages: French/English Synopsis: Éléonore Weber’s sobering war documentary is told entirely through viewpoint footage of American and French Helicopters in Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran.

My Take: A perfect companion film to 2021’s All Light, Everywhere; There Will Be No More Night is a fascinating study on objectivity vs subjectivity through the POV of a camera lens. Like All Light, Everywhere; it argues the camera’s viewpoint as a truly objective vantage point - limiting what we see and hear as we scrutinise the behaviour and intentions of those on the ground. Weber only makes use of this footage throughout the film, putting us in an eerily surreal position as we see only what the gunners and pilots of these crafts see through the scope of their cameras, making vital judgement calls on activities and behaviour we see from an impossible distance that could end a suspect's life in an instant. It’s an unnerving piece of cinema that places us in an oddly privileged perspective as we become judge, jury, and executioner, reigning death upon those down below.

Where you can watch it: Mubi (Worldwide)

73. The Witches of the Orient

Director: Julien Faraut

Genre/s: Documentary/Sport Length: 1 Hour 40 Minutes Country: France Languages: Japanese/French/Russian/English

Synopsis: The story of the 1964 Japanese Olympic volleyball team nicknamed the Oriental Witches, one of the most dominant teams in sports history.

My Take: The world has barely heard anything from these ladies since their monstrous run of form back in the 60s, but instead of giving them a by-the-numbers sports documentary, Julien Faraut adds to the myth of their exploits - giving us a highly stylish blend of archival footage (training routines as well as a popular anime volleyball series at the time), sound design and music that thickens the magical fog of mystery that shrouded them back then and still does to this day, creating a truly thrilling audio/visual experience that celebrates The Witches as the extraordinary heroines that they are.

Where you can watch it: Mubi (USA), Most VOD platforms (USA, UK)

72. Ninjababy

Director: Yngvild Sve Flikke

Genre/s: Comedy/Drama Length: 1 Hour 43 Minutes Country: Norway Language: Norwegian

Cast: Kristine Kujath Thorp, Arthur Berning, Nader Khademi, Tora Christine Dietrichson

Synopsis: Rakel (Kristine Kujath Thorp) undergoes a journey of growing up and overwhelming responsibility as she comes to terms with an unwanted pregnancy.

My Take: Coming-of-age films often follow kids, teenagers or even young adults as they, you know, come of age. But I find the most relatable coming-of-age stories to be those set deep within the protagonist’s adult years as they still have no idea what their purpose is or where they’re heading. Ninjababy is one of those films that is endlessly inventive, touching, wholesome and entirely relateable as she fights against the expectations of needing to grow up when she just isn't ready to. It’s in Reka's moments of mature immaturity that let Ninjababy become such a relevant piece on growing up and finding your actual purpose in life, even when everyone is growing up to the new responsibilities faster than you can keep up. Featuring an animated ninja baby throughout, Yngvild Sve Flikke’s comedy is consistently hilarious, sweet and poignant. Expect the US to make a haphazard remake of this at some point.

Note: Not including a trailer as it gives far too much of the plot and its revelations away.

Where you can watch it: Most VOD platforms (UK)

71. The Real Charlie Chaplin

Directors: Peter Middleton & James Spinney

Genre: Documentary Length: 1 Hour 54 Minutes Country: USA Language: English

Synopsis: An extensive character study of Charlie Chaplin’s life and career in front of and behind the camera.

My Take: Arguably the most famous and recognisable movie star ever, The Real Charlie Chaplin is a jaw-dropping visual essay and character study of a complex individual that separates The Tramp from Charlie Chaplin, analysing the parallels and major differences between them as we go on a deep dive throughout his life that is understanding and unforgiving in its honesty and objectivity. It may not be filled with new, mind-blowing revelations if you’re an expert on the man already, but it still manages to captivate our attention with every frame and word uttered throughout, allowing experts and novices to immerse themselves within the myth that is Charlie Chaplin, warts and all. It refuses to back down from its convictions, breaking him down from icon, to legend, to man - one that was a genius, but most of all, seriously flawed.

Where you can watch it: Showtime (USA), Most VOD platforms (UK)

70. After Love

Director: Aleem Khan

Genre: Drama Length: 1 Hour 29 Minutes Country: UK Languages: English/French/Arabic/Urdu

Cast: Joanna Scanlan, Nathalie Richard, Talid Ariss, Nasser Memarzia

Synopsis: Mary Hussain (Joanna Scanlan) finds herself a widow after the sudden death of her beloved husband. But just a day after the burial, she discovers that her husband had a secret family just across the English Channel in the French town of Calais, where she soon begins to work for them as a domestic worker.

My Take: A devastating rapid-fire sequence of revelations amidst heavy grief, After Love challenges the very identity of Mary’s marriage to her husband, one steeped in religious traditions and conservatism. It’s an interesting and highly effective premise that has one secret, that being Mary, prying into the secrets of another, that of her husband's entire double life and the family attached to it, completely unaware of her existence as well as his death; with Mary comparing and uncovering a different world to hers, one that is either a portrait of the real him or the false one. Joanna Scanlan churns in a heartbreaking performance - handling each secret and truth of her husband with stoic resilience, some of which she hides well, while others she cannot bear to take.

Where you can watch it: Most VOD platforms (UK), Blu-ray (UK)

69. tick, tick…BOOM!

Director: Lin-Manuel Miranda

Genre/s: Drama/Musical Length: 1 Hour 55 Minutes Country: USA Language: English

Cast: Andrew Garfield, Robin de Jesus, Alexandra Shipp, Vanessa Hudgens, Joshua Henry, Bradley Whitford, MJ Rodriguez

Synopsis: Based on the autobiographical musical of the same name, Jonathan Larson (Andrew Garfield) is an ambitious composer navigating through the trials and tribulations of love, friendships and living in New York City.

My Take: A show-stopper of a directorial debut from Lin-Manuel Miranda, tick, tick…BOOM! is a true love letter to not only the legacy of its subject and author in Jonathan Larson but that of musical theatre and well, the very process of creating itself. It’s highly detailed in every aspect from its art direction to that of Andrew Garfield’s pitch-perfect performance as Larson that very well could be the man himself. Although it’s rightfully a bombastic spectacle in some of its set-pieces, Miranda does well to reign in excess and keep it compact, even claustrophobic at times, that remains true to the original vision dreamt up by Larson as age and the cruel inevitabilities of life start to close in on an increasingly anxious Jonathan Larson - aware of his impending 30s but completely unaware of his inevitable, tragic fate. It’s a triumphant celebration of creativity in all its successes and failures, with both Lin-Manuel Miranda and Andrew Garfield inviting us to dive into the deep end with them as we confront our very own strengths and insecurities as creatives as well.

Where you can watch it: Netflix (Worldwide)

68. I’m Your Man

Director: Maria Schrader

Genre/s: Comedy/Drama/Romance/Sci-Fi Length: 1 Hour 48 Minutes Country: Germany Language: German

Cast: Maren Eggert, Dan Stevens, Sandra Hüller

Synopsis: In order to obtain research funds for her studies, Alma, a scientist (Maren Eggert) accepts an offer to participate in an unusual experiment: for three weeks, she is to live with a humanoid robot named Tom (Dan Stevens), created to make her happy.

My Take: I'm Your Man is a simple, yet effective sci-fi romance about being loved and loving yourself, proving that they should always be mutually exclusive. The expected plot beat/s of “human teaches robot to be human and/or robot teaches human to be human” comes into effect, but in no way does it feel like the easy solution in Alma and Tom’s narrative. It's smart, sweet filmmaking that shows us at our most stubborn and fragile all at once - learning to be loved and loving ourselves, including all the imperfections that make us, us. And as expected, Dan Stevens is as dreamy and as delightful as ever, showing off his German fluency in full force.

Where you can watch it: Hulu (USA), Most VOD platforms (USA, UK, Australia), Blu-ray (USA)

67. Apocalypse ‘45

Director: Erik Nelson

Genre/s: Documentary/War Length: 1 Hour 43 Minutes Country: USA Languages: English/Japanese

Synopsis: Pulling from newly restored archival footage, Apocalypse ’45 recalls the brutal final months of WWII in The Pacific.

My Take: A collage of war in all its ugly fury, Apocalypse ’45 is eerie in all its clarity, making use of introspective narration from survivors and veterans layered on top of restored, never-before-seen footage of war at its most primal and cruel. It’s a very real account of war that refuses to romanticise the glory and accolades of the winner. Veterans recall their journeys as heroes, eventually showing remorse as they became the villains that had them levelling civilian cities in the blink of an eye. War is hell, and few films truly showcase this quite like Apocalypse ’45.

Where you can watch it: Discovery+ (USA), Blu-ray and DVD (USA)

66. Faya Dayi

Director: Jessica Beshir

Genre: Documentary Length: 2 Hours Country: Ethiopia/USA/Qatar Language: Amharic

Synopsis: A journey into the rituals of khat, a leaf that Sufi Muslims have chewed for centuries for religious meditations and Ethiopia's most lucrative cash crop.

My Take: An other-worldly experience that contemplates the future while being trapped in the present, one that is marred by dangerous habits masquerading as age-old traditions. Faya Dayi is appropriately hypnotic and dream-like, putting us in a trance that mirrors its subjects' dependence on Khat. However, it's not a film about the industry, instead, it’s about how it keeps people from leaving, or in some cases, has them coming back as the only means of surviving - survival that has them connecting with the same harmful traditions that keep them rooted to the spot, a detriment on their trajectory in an ever-evolving modern world.

Where you can watch it: The Criterion Channel (USA)

65. A Quiet Place Part II

Director: John Krasinski

Genre/s: Horror/Thriller/Adventure/Drama Length: 1 Hour 37 Minutes Country: USA Languages: English, American Sign Language

Cast: Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Cillian Murphy, John Krasinski, Djimon Hounsou, Scoot McNairy

Synopsis: Set in a world forced into silence thanks to the arrival of creatures who hunt by the slightest of sounds, Part II takes place directly after the events of the first film, forcing the Abbotts to traverse into the unknown as they go in search of a new home that will keep them safe for good.

My Take: John Krasinski shows his immense directing talent once more in the follow-up to 2018’s A Quiet Place that is even better – expanding the world of story as well as developing characters to even greater heights. Krasinski’s instincts for suspense were incredibly impressive in Part I, but he manages to outdo himself with more elaborate set-pieces that aren’t just for show but manage to tie the ever-present themes of family and togetherness in even more effective ways. Next to a spectacular opening prologue, he manages to blend and tie three simultaneous set-pieces to form a cohesive, nerve-shredding narrative that makes this franchise such an exciting one to immerse ourselves in. Krasinski remains a thrilling directing talent to watch. Bring on Part III.

Where you can watch it: Paramount+ (USA, Australia), Most VOD platforms (Worldwide), 4K UHD, Blu-ray, DVD (Worldwide)

64. Riders of Justice

Director: Anders Thomas Jensen

Genre/s: Black Comedy/Drama/Action/Thriller Length: 1 Hour 56 Minutes Country: Denmark Languages: Danish/Estonian

Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Lars Brygmann, Nicolas Bro, Andrea Heick Gadeberg, Gustav Lindh, Roland Møller

Synopsis: Deployed soldier Markus (Mads Mikkelsen) returns home to raise his teenage daughter Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg) after his wife dies in a train accident. However, Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), a survivor of the incident, suspects foul play and approaches Markus to inform him of this. From there, Markus goes on a mission to avenge his wife’s death, and with the help of Otto, he ropes in fellow weirdos Lennart (Lars Brygmann) and Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro) to help him find the people responsible.

My Take: On the surface, it appears that Riders of Justice is yet another copy/paste revenge actioner we have seen so many times before, but what separates it from the colder exteriors of the Takens, the John Wicks and now the Nobody’s of the world, is that it has heart. It could’ve settled with being nothing more than a cause and effect revenge brawler, but instead, it prioritizes character development above all else - dissecting themes and ideas of grief, needing to belong, and eventually, acceptance. Thanks to its band of oddball, colourful weirdos at the heart of it, Anders Thomas Jensen crafts the finest buddy comedy of 2021 - expertly balances absurdist humour, drama and tense action into a film that never finds itself stalling or losing focus of the deeper ideas and themes found beneath its simple concept. You can read my extended thoughts on it over here.

Where you can watch it: Hulu (USA), Most VOD platforms (USA, UK, Australia)

63. Val

Directors: Ting Poo & Leo Scott

Genre: Documentary Length: 1 Hour 49 Minutes Country: USA Language: English

Synopsis: A look into the daily life of Val Kilmer that collects 40 years' worth of private footage all shot by the man himself.

My Take: Val showcases the immeasurable talent of a star that never truly took flight as he should have. Due to irreparable damage on his throat post-cancer treatment, Kilmer is unable to speak with as much ease as he would like to, so he and the filmmakers enlist his son to narrate the story of his life - balancing his past with that of his present and future as we see the tragedy of Val unfold before our very eyes. It may not be as confrontational with himself as I was hoping for, particularly surrounding his notorious onset behaviour as a difficult talent to deal with, but thankfully it sits in the rearview as we get vital insight into the whys of Val Kilmer, showing us a mournful, regretful man looking back at what could've been. Val is very much a tragedy, but ultimately, it is also a hopeful introspection of life after death through reinvention and acceptance of our past's role in shaping who we are today.

Where you can watch it: Prime Video (Worldwide)

62. Dear Comrades!

Director: Andrey Konchalovskiy

Genre: Drama/Thriller Length: 2 Hours 1 Minute Country: Russia Language: Russian

Cast: Julia Vysotskaya, Vladislav Komarov, Andrey Gusev, Yuliya Burova, Sergei Erlish

Synopsis: Workers in an industrial town go on strike to protest the raising of food prices by the government. Based on the true events that happened in the town of Novocherkassk, 1962. It’s told in stark detail through the perspective of devout party activist Lyuda Syomina as she begins to question her loyalty to the party.

My Take: Dear Comrades! cleverly uses the dynamic of a family through three generations to blur the line between political ideologies, family and the moral compass we dictate our lives with. Lyuda, a veteran of WWII is still fiercely loyal to Stalin, but she is the odd one out in her family - clashing with the differing ideals with that of her father and daughter: one who has experienced the Soviet Union in its purest infancy, while the other fights for a future that allows her the freedom her voice screams for, something with which she now shares with her grandfather as both their morales and ideals continue to evolve further away from the ones forced upon them by the party. Thanks to the trigger happy KGB, a peaceful protest goes awry, forcing Lyuda to race against the clock to find the whereabouts of her daughter as the government looks to quickly cover up this bloody page in history. Dear Comrades! is a frightening, unbearably tense account of loyalty vs. truth that is more relevant now than ever.

Where you can watch it: Hulu (USA), Most VOD platforms (USA, UK, Australia)

61. The Lost Daughter

Director: Maggie Gyllenhaal Genre/s: Drama/Mystery Length: 2 Hours 1 Minute Countries: UK/Greece/USA/Israel Languages: English/Greek/Italian Cast: Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, Dakota Johnson, Ed Harris, Peter Sarsgaard, Paul Mescal, Jack Farthing, Oliver Jackson-Cohen Synopsis: A college professor’s (Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley) holiday in Greece is interrupted when she develops an obsession with a young mother (Dakota Johnson), bringing back traumatic memories of early motherhood.

My Take: The Lost Daughter is a heavy watch. It’s an exhausting, anxiety-inducing experience that has Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley and Dakota Johnson at the very top of their respective games. It is also Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut, one that is razor-sharp with its intentions and finitely complex with every living detail found throughout, unlocking new perspectives and interpretations with each rewatch. It’s an intricately layered cake of a film with each level revealing new flavours to each character and scenario, effective in its ability to convey guilt, anxiety, regret and the intrinsic desire to compensate as we look back at our pasts we cannot change despite however much we want to. Although highly stressful, The Lost Daughter continues to grow as a vital, empathetic viewing experience, one that I won’t be able to shake off any time soon.

Where you can watch it: In cinemas (SA), Netflix (mostly worldwide)

60. The Rescue

Directors: Jimmy Chin & Elizabeth Chai Vaserhelyi

Genre: Documentary/Thriller Length: 1 Hour 47 Minutes Country: UK/USA Languages: Thai/English

Synopsis: A play-by-play chronicle of the massive rescue operation that took place to save twelve boys and their soccer coach in a cave in Thailand, 2018.

My Take: The Rescue is a stressful, race against the clock that puts the human spirit and will to the test. Husband and wife filmmaking duo Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vaserhelyi look to go deeper beneath the surface of the massive operation at hand, focusing on the civilian cave divers who spearheaded the rescue to truly understand the psychology of these individuals. It’s something that seems to be skimmed over in a lot of recent documentaries involving extreme sports, but thankfully the filmmakers saw this opportunity as a means to truly understand these people, making The Rescue a true testament to the human spirit and all its complexities.

Where you can watch it: Disney+ (Worldwide)

59. Shiva Baby

Director: Emma Seligman

Genre: Comedy/Drama Length: 1 Hour 17 Minutes Country: USA/Canada Language: English

Cast: Rachel Sennott, Danny Deferrari, Fred Melamed, Polly Draper, Molly Gordon

Synopsis: Danielle (Rachel Sennott) attends a Shiva (a week-long mourning process) only to find herself bumping into both her ex-girlfriend and her sugar daddy.

My Take: Emma Seligman writes and directs her feature-length debut, expanding on the experiences and ideas of the original short of the same name she made back in 2018. Seligman still plays to the strengths of her short, isolating the film’s events to one location over one day rather than succumbing to the temptation of injecting needless filler to make up for the longer running time. Shot, cut and scored like a horror film, Shiva Baby is an exercise in anxiety that’s as sharp and funny as it sets itself up to be - making use of its tense, short run-time of just 78 minutes to the absolute maximum. Seligman’s clear strength and love in collaborating closely with her cast and crew sets her up as a fiercely original voice that is destined for even bigger and better things. You can read my extended thoughts on it over here.

Where you can watch it: HBO Max (USA), Mubi (UK), Most VOD platforms (USA, UK, Australia)

58. Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar

Director: Josh Greenbaum Genre: Comedy Length: 1 Hour 47 Minutes Country: USA Language: English Cast: Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo, Jamie Dornan, Damon Wayans Jr., Reyn Doi, Andy Garcia Synopsis: Best friends Barb and Star (Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig) go on the holiday of a lifetime, stepping out of their comfort zone of the Midwest for the sun-soaked sands of Vista Del Mar, Florida.

My Take: Barb and Star is a film that is so unabashedly true to itself. Like the wholesome friendship at its centre, it refuses to be anything but itself, fully committing to its wacky premise as it does with each visual gag, joke and subsequent punchline that appreciates in value with each rewatch. They really don’t make studio comedies like this anymore: a massive spectacle that doesn’t limit itself to the page, creating a big, colourful, silly extravaganza that is equal parts hilarious and touching. Everyone is clearly having a blast in Barb and Star (including a singing and dancing Jamie Dornan in one of the year’s funniest and best performances), and you know what? So will you. A cult classic in the making, Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar will go down as one of the funniest films of the decade, let alone 2021.

Where you can watch it: Hulu (USA), Most VOD platforms (Worldwide), Blu-ray, DVD (USA)

57. Wildland

Director: Jaenette Nordahl

Genre/s: Drama/Crime/Thriller Length: 1 Hour 29 Minutes Country: Denmark Language: Danish

Cast: Sandra Guldberg Kampp, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Joachim Fjelstrup, Elliot Crosset Hove, Besir Zeciri, Carla Philip Røder, Omar Shargawi

Synopsis: Following the death of her mom in a car accident, 17-year-old Ida (Sandra Guldberg Kampp) moves in with her estranged aunt and adult sons, a notorious local crime family.

My Take: Admittedly, Wildland’s plot can be derivative of the Australian crime thriller Animal Kingdom, mirroring similar crime family dynamics and themes. But for me, Wildland went deeper – expanding on these similar themes that benefit even further from a female’s perspective within the male-dominated POV in crime films. Sidse Babett Knudsen is fantastic as the icy matriarch of the household, but it’s Sandra Guldberg Kampp’s tragic character of Ida, the shy, often wordless observer, that proves to be the most compelling. Wildland is at its most enthralling when it abandons the surface-level crime plot beats and focuses on the thematic character beats instead, as it looks beneath the surface at something far darker – a cruel, fractured family willing to eat its own young in order to survive. Themes of loyalty and needing to belong are seen in tiny slithers offered to us by Kampp's Ida as she is thrown into this new habitat, attempting to understand her purpose and role within the only family she has left, and if she actually wants any part of it at all. In the film’s devastating final blow, simultaneous cries of life and death ring out, once again repeating a cycle with which there appears to be no escape.

Where you can watch it: Mubi (UK), Most VOD platforms (USA, UK, Australia)

56. Lamb

Director: Valdimar Jóhannsson

Genre/s: Horror/Drama/Fantasy Length: 1 Hour 46 Minutes Country: Iceland/Poland/Sweden Language: Icelandic

Cast: Noomi Rapace, Hilmir Snær Guðnason, Björn Hlynur Haraldsson

Synopsis: Lamb takes place on a sheep farm deep within the untouched, natural beauty of rural Iceland. A childless couple (Noomi Rapace and Hilmir Snær Guðnason) discover an unnatural newborn one day, quickly deciding to take her in as one of their own.

My Take: Led by a truly spectacular Noomi Rapace deep within the remote Icelandic countryside, Lamb is a strange and mysterious journey into mother nature’s unforgiving wrath as well as its instinctive need to nurture. 2021 has been blessed with a multitude of strange films, but like those other bizarre gems, Lamb avoids strange for strange-sake - making sure that every moment has a purpose in driving home its themes and ideas. It’s an eerily harrowing film teeming with thematic intrigue and meaning that reveals itself the longer it sits with you. You’ll never look at sheep the same way again. You can read my extended thoughts on it over here.

Where you can watch it: Mubi (UK), Most VOD platforms (USA, Australia), 4K UHD (USA), Blu-ray (UK, 28 March)

55. I Was a Simple Man

Director: Christopher Makoto Yogi

Genre: Drama Length: 1 Hour 40 Minutes Country: USA Languages: English, Japanese, Mandarin

Cast: Steve Iwamoto, Constance Wu, Tim Chiou, Kanoa Goo

Synopsis: An old man (Steve Iwamoto) nearing the end of his life begins seeing the ghosts of his past.

My Take: I Was a Simple Man could very well be the deathbed experience. It’s a surreal ghost story that blurs the line between reality and fantasy as Masao (Steve Iwamoto)’s life begins its demise, inviting the ghosts of his past, namely his deceased wife (Constance Wu), to guide him through. It's a tonal masterclass in creating a dreamlike atmosphere through visual compositions and most importantly, performance. To pull a quote from Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia (1999), “We may be through with the past, but the past isn’t through with us.” These words couldn’t be more appropriate in describing the events and journey for Masao in I Was a Simple Man, forever trapped in the past as his ghosts remind him of the inevitabilities of his life ahead that will determine and shape the regrets of his future.

Where you can watch it: The Criterion Channel (USA), Most VOD platforms (USA)

54. There is No Evil

Director: Mohammad Rasoulof

Genre/s: Drama/Thriller Length: 2 Hours 31 Minutes Country: Iran/Germany/Czech Republic Languages: Farsi/German

Synopsis: Four different stories about four different people dealing with the death penalty in their own way.

My Take: Shot in secret and then smuggled out of Iran, There is No Evil is a brutal discussion surrounding the death penalty in Iran and how it affects those having to go through with this task - one that is considered a duty for Iranian men having to serve compulsive military terms. Anthology films can be tricky to pull off, but Rasoulof creates a cohesive flow throughout, raising and dipping the stakes across the board through razor-sharp tension, blindside twists and quiet introspection as the film looks to discuss if there really is no evil - suggesting that there is inherent goodness in us all as we look to stay, run and hide from the evil with which a cruel government looks to force upon them.

Where you can watch it: Mubi (USA), Most VOD platforms (USA, UK)

53. Sweat

Director: Magnus von Horn

Genre: Drama Length: 1 Hour 46 Minutes Country: Poland/Sweden Languages: Polish/English

Cast: Magdalena Koleśnik, Julian Swiezewski, Tomasz Orpinski, Aleksandra Konieczna, Zbigniew Zamachowski

Synopsis: Massively popular fitness instructor Sylwia (Magdalena Koleśnik) continues her rise to the top with sponsorship deals, magazine spreads, a massive, growing fan base and an impending interview on the biggest morning show in Poland. But as this all begins to bear down on her, Sylwia starts coming to terms with her deepest insecurities and her need for true intimacy.

My Take: A tightly-wound drama on the verge of snapping, Sweat is a tense, intimate character study about our desire and need for connection. Appropriately following a social media starlet, Magnus von Horn refuses to look away from Sylwia as we see two distinct personas: one that pretends to be happy, while the other is desperately lonely in need of true intimacy. Magdalena Koleśnik is sensational, pulling off a demanding role that is physically and mentally draining as she is never afforded a break from us. It's a claustrophobic performance that is constantly on the verge of breaking point, only to have her bury it deep beneath the surface once more. It’s not just a film that suggests social media stars are people too, Sweat argues that we are all one and the same, desperately clinging onto each other as we search for some sort of true intimacy and human connection.

Where you can watch it: Mubi (USA, UK), Most VOD platforms (USA, UK, Australia).

52. C’mon C’mon

Director: Mike Mills

Genre: Drama Length: 1 Hour 49 Minutes Country: USA Language: English

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Woody Norman, Gaby Hoffmann, Scoot McNairy, Molly Webster, Jaboukie Young-White

Synopsis: Johnny (Phoenix) interviews kids across the country as a radio DJ, asking them about their feelings on the present and future. But one day Johnny is asked by his sister Viv (Gabby Hoffman) to look after her son Jesse (Woody Norman) as she leaves to deal with a mental breakdown that her husband and Jesse’s dad (Scoot McNairy) is going through.

My Take: C'mon C'mon is yet another delicate Mike Mills (Beginners, 20th Century Women) project that connects different generations through ideas, interests and experiences that are not too different from their own. Phoenix is at his most sensitive and vulnerable since Her (2013), delegating the pace and intention within each scene expertly as he approaches Jesse and each child he interviews with a genuine sense of curiosity and desire to connect, as well as relating to the very same hopes and fears for the present and future. Thanks to this newfound relationship with his nephew Jesse, Johnny is allowed to reconnect with his sister through him as he looks to further understand himself, his bond to his sister and his trajectory going forward. Mike Mills cleverly blends interviews into the narrative, creating something part-documentary, part-narrative that never feels like a forced case of “kids say the darndest things”. He too wants to understand himself better through each one of these kids and their perspectives, reminding us that we are one and the same.

Where you can watch it: In cinemas (SA, 25 March), Most VOD platforms (USA, UK)

51. John and the Hole

Director: Pascual Sisto

Genre: Drama/Thriller/Horror Length: 1 Hour 43 Minutes Country: USA Language: English

Cast: Charlie Shotwell, Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Ehle, Taissa Farmiga

Synopsis: John (Charlie Shotwell) discovers a hole at an abandoned construction site in the woods near his family's house, so naturally, he decides to trap his family in it.

My Take: John and the Hole is a slow-burning atmospheric thriller on the surface, but at its core, is actually a pitch-black coming-of-age comedy about prematurely growing up. Love it or hate it, John and the Hole is undoubtedly a challenging piece of metaphorical storytelling that is bound to create an immediate discussion among those who choose to take the risk with it. Pascual Sisto is a filmmaker worth keeping an eye on, and so is Charlie Shotwell, delivering one of the most challenging and disturbing performances of the year. You can read my extended thoughts on it over here.

Where you can watch it: Most VOD platforms (USA, UK, Australia), Blu-ray (USA)

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