The Best Films of 2021

Okay, I’m back on the writeups. It likely won’t last.

But first, the caveats.

Among the very best things I saw this year were Derek Delgaudio’s In and Of Itself and Bo Burnham’s Inside, but even in a list that meshes fiction and documentary, it still felt wrong to rank a filmed stage performance and a piece of performance art against a clearly-defined artform that’s on a whole other evolutionary track. It’s okay, I don’t really know what that means either. I think maybe I just didn’t feel like it.

This list was compiled with the usual hand-wringing, hair-pulling, and hand-pulling that always accompanies these things. The lower the stakes, the harder it is. My best-of fails to include a number of titles I spent most of the year convinced would come out on top: Baba Yar. Context is yet another tremendous work from Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa who has long-since perfected the art of the observational, narration-free documentary, and this one ranks up there with Austerlitz, The Event, or his masterpiece Maidan. Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round, Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos, and Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch were also excruciating near-misses. At the start of the year, I told a number of people that if Regina King’s astonishing One Night In Miami somehow got edged out of the top ten, it would mean 2021 would turn out to be a pretty great year for film. Guess what.

Release date rigmarole and general distraction meant I couldn’t see the likes of C’Mon C’Mon, The Lost Daughter, Drive My Car, Parallel Mothers, and a number of other popular 2021 titles that seem entirely up my alley. At some point early in the year, I happened to catch up on the 2020 fantasy Wendy from Beasts of the Southern Wild director Ben Zeitlin, a film I adored with such ferocity, I almost included here out of belligerence. But then, that would be breaking the incomprehensible and seemingly arbitrary rules I’ve set up for myself as to what may and may not be included. Don’t try to make sense of it, just know that the system works. Continue reading

The Best Films of 2020

You might think that this year delivered us a paucity of new films from which to choose from, but that’s defeatist talk. It was incredibly easy to find ten new films that left an indelible impression on me in 2020.

I’m only half kidding about those. At the halfway point of 2020 I’d seen exactly seven new releases, so for most of the year I was adamant that this list of previously-unseen classics was going to be it. (And the cover image was briefly going to go the other way, featuring films that were supposed to come out this year but were pushed to 2021: Black Widow, No Time To Die, Dune, etc.) This post was, for a long time, going to be an unavoidable illustration of what a weird gutpunch this year was, with just the slightest hint of sincerity. All About Eve is so, so great.

But then things opened up a bit – at least in the intangible realm of streaming platforms  and instead of struggling to reach the arbitrarily-round number of 10 great films of the year, I found myself unable to get the list down to 10. Every year there are a few beloved stragglers hovering beside the podium (true this year as well), but culling two of the below from the final tally felt strangely dishonest.

This year, the page break definitely came to rest outside the top 12, and why argue? There’s no reason anyone should care. Really, those of us compelled to make these lists year after year should change that final number each and every time, get under our own skins and do a top 14 one year and a top 4 the next. This endeavour is inherently rigid, there should be at least one element of chaos in there.

But no prime numbers, obviously. The grid remains sacred.

New Release Films Watched in 2020

Little Women, Uncut Gems, Red Dwarf: The Promised Land, Onward, The Vast of Night, Da 5 Bloods, The Wave, Eurovision: The Story of Fire Saga, Relic, Servants, Rose Plays Julie, Speak So I Can See You, State Funeral, La Lorona, The True History of the Kelly Gang, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Greyhound, The Devil All the Time, Enola Holmes, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), My Octopus Teacher, The Trial of the Chicago 7, Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, Guns Akimbo, Motherless Brooklyn, Rebecca, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, On the Rocks, The Personal History of David Copperfield, Proxima, The Lighthouse, The Invisible Man, The Old Guard, Extraction, Emma., Just Mercy, Underwater, Palm Springs, Shirley, Hillbilly Elegy, Dick Johnson Is Dead, His House, Bombshell, Mank, Sweet River, Bill & Ted Face the Music, Babyteeth, Tenet, Hamilton, Dark Waters, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, The Gentlemen, Soul, Wolfwalkers, Wonder Woman 1984, Sound of Metal, Nomadland, Promising Young Woman.

Older Films Watched in 2020

Vertigo (1958), A Night at the Opera (1935), Blade Runner (The Final Cut) (1982), All the President’s Men (1976), The Edge of the World (1937), The Lion Has Wings (1939), Contraband (1940), 49th Parallel (1941), One of Our Aircraft is Missing (1942), The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), A Canterbury Tale (1944), I Know Where I’m Going! (1945), A Matter of Life and Death (1946), Black Narcissus (1947), The Red Shoes (1948), The Small Back Room (1949), Gone To Earth (1950), The Elusive Pimpernel (1950), Tales of Hoffman (1951), The Wild Heart (1952), Oh… Rosalinda! (1955), The Battle of the River Plate (1956), Ill Met By Moonlight (1957), Lune de Miel (Honeymoon)(1959), The Thief of Bagdad (1940), Demolition Man (1993), Peeping Tom (1960), Bluebeard’s Castle (1963), The Queen’s Guards (1961), They’re a Weird Mob (1966), Age of Consent (1966), Age of Consent (1969), The Boy Who Turned Yellow (1972), Dr Who and the Daleks (1965), Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 AD (1966), The Ghoul (1975), The Wild Blue Yonder (2005), Heathers (1988), 6 Underground (2019), Aladdin (2019), A United Kingdom (2016), Shazam! (2019), Hannah Arendt (2012), I, Tonya (2017), The Eagle Has Landed (1976), The Boys From Brazil(1978), The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989), Wreck-It Ralph (2012), Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018), Searching For Bobby Fischer (1993), Pawn Sacrifice (2014), American Pastoral (2016), Joe Versus the Volcano (1990), X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019), The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1965), Orlando (1992), Eye in the Sky (2015), Spider-man: Far From Home (2019), Jasper Jones (2017), Maggie’s Plan (2015), John Wick (2014), John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017), John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019), Big Night (1996), The Jungle Book (1967), The Jungle Book (2016), Mowgli(2018), Catch-22 (1970), The Gambler (1974), Blade Runner 2049 (2017), Miles Ahead (2015), Reds (1981), Midnight Express (1978), Ordinary People (1980), Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (2017), The House With a Clock in its Walls (2018), A Simple Favour (2018), The January Man (1989), Eddie the Eagle (2015), All About Eve (1950), Eagle vs Shark (2007), The Conversation (1974), How Green Was My Valley (1941), Dr No (1962), Gone With the Wind (1939), Unicorn Store (2017), From Russia With Love (1963), The Hunt For Red October (1990), A Yank in the RAF (1941), Agora (2009), Goldfinger (1964), That’s Not Me (2017), The Long Good Friday (1980), Thunderball(1965), Barbarella (1968), Bone Tomahawk (205), Top End Wedding (2019), Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972), You Only Live Twice (1967), Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962), Downfall (2004), The Social Network (2010), Casino Royale (1967), Showboat (1951), Hot Rod (2007), Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot (2018), Rocketman(2019), Long Shot (2019), On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), Steve Jobs (2015), Gemini Man (2019), Hustlers(2019), Diamonds Are Forever (1971), Juliet, Naked (2019), Danger Close (2019), The Nightingale (2018), Charlie’s Angels (2019), Live and Let Die (1973), Monster (2003), The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Society (2018), Sommersby (1993), Last Christmas (2019), The Man With the Golden Gun (1974), Lady Macbeth (2016), Ophelia(2018), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), Cleopatra (1963), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Mulan (1998), For Your Eyes Only (1981), Like Water For Chocolate (1992), Caravaggio (1986), Frida (1992), Octopussy (1983), Marshall (2017), Mississippi Burning (1988), LBJ (2016), All the Way (2016), Never Say Never Again (1984), Gothic (1986), Mom and Dad (2017), The Wind (2018), A View To a Kill (1985), Mary Queen of Scots (2018), The Good Liar (2019), The Living Daylights (1987), Borg McEnroe (2017), The Bookshop (2017), Hearts Beat Loud (2018), License To Kill (1989), I Think We’re Alone Now (2018), Ideal Home (2018), The Man With the Golden Arm (1955), GoldenEye (1995), The Best Man (1964), Advise & Consent (1962), Venus (2006), Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), Ford vs Ferrari (2019), Canadian Bacon (1995), Mr Pip (2012), The World Is Not Enough (1999), My Night At Maud’s (1969), Die Another Day (2002), Casino Royal (2005), Judy (2019), Stan & Ollie (2019), Quantum of Solace (2008), Official Secrets(2019), Skyfall (2012), Emma (1996), Spectre (2015), Vox Lux (2018), Bad Influence (1990), Before We Go (2014), Shanghai Surprise (1986), Zodiac (2007), Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989), Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).

Short Films Watched in 2020

Smith (1939), What Did Jack Do? (2017), Papers, Please (2018), The Volunteer (1944), Return to the Edge of the World (1978), Playdate With Destiny (2020), Out (2020).

The Best Films of 2019

Mostly out of habit, here are the films I’ve decided I enjoyed the most this year. Guaranteed not to be disavowed until at least mid-January.

New Release Films Watched In 2019

Glass, Loro, Velvet Buzzsaw, The Sisters Brothers, High Flying Bird, On the Basis of Sex, If Beale Street Could Talk, Captain Marvel, High Life, Destroyer, Us, Dumbo, Hellboy, Avengers: Endgame, Knock Down the House, The Kid Who Would Be King, Wine Country, Always Be My Maybe, The Perfection, I Am Mother, Toy Story 4, Yesterday, Shaft, Spider-man: Far From Home, Parasite, Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese, The Final Quarter, Late Night, Captain Marvel, In Fabric, Bacurau, The Dead Don’t Die, The Unknown Saint, The Mountain, The Day Shall Come, Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project, Little Monsters, Hearts and Bones, Sword of Trust, Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, The Lodge, Sunset, Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks, The Amazing Johnathan Documentary, The Australian Dream, Ad Astra, Joker, El Camino, Between Two Ferns, The Laundromat, Pain and Glory, The King, Dolemite Is My Name, Doctor Sleep, The Truth, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Knives Out, The Irishman, 1917, Booksmart, The Report, The Souvenir, The Two Popes, Under the Silver Lake, The Farewell, Tell Me Who I Am, Jojo Rabbit.

Older Films Watched In 2019

Monkey Businees (1931), A Man For All Seasons (1966), Nine To Five (1980), Swiss Army Man (2016), The Stranger (1946), Sully (2016), I Killed My Mother (2009), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), Heartbeats (2010), Unbreakable (2000), Split (2016), Laurence Anyways (2012), ’Round Midnight (1986), Tom at the Farm (2013), Mommy (2014), It’s Only the End of the World (2016), Get Me Roger Stone (2017), My Voyage To Italy (1999), A Personal Journey With Martin Scorsese Through American Movies (1995), P’tit Quiquin (2014), La Vie de Jésus (1997), L’Humanité (1999), Twentynine Palms (2003), Hadewijch (2009), Hors Satan (2011), Camille Claudel 1915 (2013), Ma Loute (2016), Jeannette, L’enfance de Jeanne D’Arc (2017), Coincoin et les Zinhumains (2018), Who’s That Knocking At My Door? (1967), Boxcar Bertha (1972), Mean Streets (1973), Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974), Taxi Driver (1976), New York, New York (1977), The Last Waltz (1978), Raging Bull (1980), The King of Comedy (1982), Personel (1975), The Scar (Blzna) (1976), The Calm (Spokój) (1976), Short Working Day (Krótki Dzien Pracy) (1981), Camera VBuff (Amator) (1979), Blind Chance (Przypadek) (1987), The Dekalog (1988), A Short Film About Killing (Krótki Film o Zabijaniu) (1988), A Short Film about Love (Krotki Film o Milosci) (1988), The Double Life of Veronique (1991), Three Colours: Blue (1993), Three Colours: White (1994), Three Colours: Red (1994), Kartoteka (1979), The Man on the Eiffel Tower (1949), The Night of the Hunter (1955), What We Do in the Shadows (2014), After Hours (1985), The Colour of Money (1986), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), New York Stories (1989), Goodfellas (1990), Cape Fear (1991), The Age of Innocence (1993), Casino (1995), Bringing Out the Dead (1999), Gangs of New York (2002), The Aviator (2004), No Direction Home (2005), A Letter To Elia (2010), The Departed (2006), Shutter Island (2010), Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018), Hugo (2011), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), The 50 Year Argument (2014), Public Speaking (2010), Caligula (1979), The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000), The Front Runner (2018), Green Book (2018), The Upside (2017), Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018), Back to the Future (French language) (1985), Creed II (2018), Aquaman (2018), Independence Day: Resurgence (2016), Local Hero (1983), How To Marry a Millionaire (1953), Me and My Gal (1932), Top Hat (1935), Horse Feathers (1932), Duck Soup (1933), Bell, Book and Candle (1958), The Simpsons Movie (2007), Sanjuro (1962), The Landlord (1970), Harold and Maude (1971), The Last Detail (1973), Shampoo (1975), Bound For Glory (1976), Being There (1979), Coming Home (1978), Second-Hand Hearts (1981), Lookin’ To Get Out (1982), Let’s Spend the Night Together (1982), The Slugger’s Wife (1985), 8 Million Ways To Die (1986), Hal (2018), Last Flag Flying (2017), The Invitation (2015), Crazy Rich Asians (2018), Dolemite (1975), Future Schlock (1984), Shoot ’Em Up (2007), Street Scenes (1970), His Lordship (1932), Red Ensign (1934), Something Always Happens (1934), The Fire Raisers (1934), Lazybones (1935), The Night of the Party (1935), The Love Test (1935), The Phantom Light (1935), Inside Out (2015), Crown V. Stevens (1936), The Man Behind the Mask (1936), Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015), Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).

Short Films Watched In 2019

What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? (1963), It’s Not Just You, Murray! (1964), The Big Shave (1967), Italianamerican (1974), American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince (1978), The Office (Uzad) (1966), Tramway (Tramwaj) (1966), From the City of Lodz (Z Miasta Lodzi) (1968), First Love (Pierwsza Milosc) (1974), Dekalog I (1988), Dekalog II (1988), Dekalog III (1988), Dekalog IV (1988), Dekalog V (1988), Dekalog VI (1988), Dekalog VII (1988), Dekalog VIII (1988), Dekalog IX (1988), Dekalog IX (1988), Concert of Requests (Koncert Zyczen) (1967), The Photograph (Djecie) (1968), I Was a Soldier (Bylem Zolnierzem) (1970), Factory (Fabryka) (1970), Before the Rally (Przed Rajdem) (1971), Workers ’71: Nothing About Us Without Us (Robotnicy ’71: Nic o Nas Bez Nas) (1971), Between Wreclaw and Zielona Gora (1972), The Principles of Safety and Hygiene in a Copper Mine (1972), Refrain (Refren) (1972), Hospital (Szpital) (1976), X-Ray (Przeswietlenie) (1974), Pedestrian Subway (Przejscie Podziemne) (1974), Curriculum Vitae (Zyciorys) (1975), The Bricklayer (Murarz) (1973), Slate (Klaps) (1976), Seven Women of Different Ages (Siedem Kobiet w Roznym Wieku) (1978), Railway Station (Dworzec) (1980), Talking Heads (Gadajace Glowy) (1980), From a Night Porter’s Point of View (Z Punktu Widzenia Nocnego Portiera) (1977), Made In Milan (1990), Lady by the Sea: The Statue of Liberty (2004), The Audition (2015), Anima (2019), Gulpilil: One Red Blood (2002), The Cobbler’s Lot (2018), Audio Guide (WIP) (2019), Solo Trans (1984), Rynox (1932).