Over the first six months of 2021 I have watched 192 movies, none of which I have seen before. Below is a summary of some of my favourites.
It took me far too long to watch the classic movie The Blues Brothers, even more shockingly considering my love for ska/swing music. I can see why it's a classic, from the crazy car chases, comedic timing and the music.
The second stand-out in January was Pixar's latest; Soul. The style and theme was reminiscent of Inside Out, although it felt aimed at an older audience. As expected from Pixar, it is beautiful, full of heart and carries an emotional weight.
Wolfwalkers competed with Soul at the 2021 Oscars, but this is a very different piece of art. This is the latest movie by Tomm Moore whose other animations follow a similar stylistic hand drawn beauty. It feels a lot closer to Pixar's Brave with forests and mythical creatures.
A man stranded in the Arctic after a plane crash must decide whether to remain in the relative safety of his makeshift camp or to embark on a deadly trek through the unknown.
A man accepts an invitation to a dinner party hosted by his ex-wife, an unsettling affair that reopens old wounds and creates new tensions.
In this multi-generational drama, a Taiwanese factory worker leaves his homeland to seek opportunity in America, where he struggles to find connection while balancing family and newfound responsibilities.
A teenage boy must deal with his mother's complicated response after his father temporarily abandons them to take a menial and dangerous job.
Next up was a bleak story of survival; Arctic. With little visual clutter and other characters, Mads Mikkelsen carries the entire story. It's surprisingly taut for such a sparse movie. The Invitation starts of slowly, building intrigue brilliantly, but it's explosive final act which leaves an impact. Tigertail and Wildlife are both quite low-key movies, dealing with family and difficult decisions.
Struggling to decide what to watch, I decided to watch a series of documentaries. These are always insightful, often shocking but also heart-warming and inspirational.
A film-maker forges an unusual friendship with an octopus living in a South African kelp forest, learning as the animal shares the mysteries of her world.
In 1980 New York, three young men who were all adopted meet each other and find out they're triplets who were separated at birth. But their quest to find out why turns into a bizarre and sinister mystery.
After losing his memory in an accident, Alex Lewis trusts his twin brother, Marcus, to tell him about his past only to discover that he's hiding a dark secret about their childhood.
In an unbelievable story of perseverance, free climber Tommy Caldwell and climbing partner Kevin Jorgeson attempt to scale the impossible 3000ft Dawn Wall of El Capitan.
My Octopus Teacher completely surprised me, showcasing an incredible bond between a human and an otherworldly animal. Three Identical Strangers starts off very heart-warming, with three New Yorkers finding out they're triplets, but the second-half soon takes a more sinister turn. Tell Me Who I Am, where one twin brother reveals a dark secret of their family after the other brother loses his memory, will have you watching with your hand over your mouth until the very end. The Dawn Wall is a beautifully captured look obsession, as two men look to scale an impossible ascent in Yosemite National Park. The Dawn Wall works well with Free Solo, Touching the Void and Meru. Another interesting documentary was Minding the Gap which followed a bunch of young men as they face hardship and adult life.
There were a few other narrative movies which stood out. First there was Promising Young Woman, starring Carey Mulligan, as she seeks vengeance against men. The first scene plays your expectations and sets the dark tone for the rest of the movie. There are so many good scenes and a traumatic finale. Kodachrome is a much more ordinary movie; a simple road trip where a disgruntled son rekindles his relationship with his obnoxious father. The emotion and growth of the characters shine; an honest and profound story. I See You is a fascinating psychological thriller. Set in two main parts, you slowly unravel what is happening and shocking revelations come to light. I Lost My Body is a quirky French animation and a strange tale involving a severed hand; weird yet lovely.
This month I decided to watch a series of foreign language movies. Although I don't mind subtitled movies, I find it takes me a little more effort to start watching one. However, once I do I am usually impressed – probably because I only know about the better non-English language movies. I was a little disappointed with Happy End – Michael Hankeke's latest depressing outlook on life. Monos was an odd pick, and although it looked incredible, it was really bizarre and I didn't feel overly connected to the characters.
Greed and class discrimination threaten the newly formed symbiotic relationship between the wealthy Park family and the destitute Kim clan.
A successful entrepreneur accused of murder and a witness preparation expert have less than three hours to come up with an impregnable defense.
A woman wants to reorganize her house and convert it into a home office. She will throw away anything that has been lying around unused. However, she faces a great challenge when she comes across some items that belonged to her ex-boyfriend.
I managed to go in to Parasite without knowing anything other than it was the first foreign language movie to win the top prize of "Best Picture" at the Oscars and that it was directed by the incredible Joon-ho Bong. It definitely deserves the accolades, it is meticulously shot, slowly builds the story and throws in few curve balls along the way. There are quite a few "hand-in-mouth" moments as you await what happens next!
The Invisible Guest was a complete unknown to me, but it was incredible. You are presented this crime thriller with a simple perspective, but you learn that it might not be the whole truth. It's difficult to explain how good this movie is without spoiling it, so I recommend you set aside two hours and watch it. Oriol Paulo is now a director whose career I am following closely.
Happy Old Year will be a polarising movie and definitely won't be to everyone's taste. I think your own experiences play a large part in the enjoyment of more unusual or difficult movies and that is the case with this story.
A melancholy minimalist movie about memories and moving on. This is an intimate portrait of family, full of painful memories. Trying to let go of the past by letting go of the cluttered they have gathered. There are small moments of joy in an otherwise depressing look on life.
– Happy Old Year review
There were two other stand-out movies this month; Portrait of a Lady on Fire. I wasn't sure whether a French period drama would be to my taste but this was a nice surprise. This features what would be described as a modern love story juxtaposed within the late 18th century gentry; focusing on art and forbidden love with beautiful shot scenes and costumes.
Reprise; how much love, angst and depression can you endure. The eternal question of "what-if". This Norwegian movie is a raw and unstylised look at youth and dreams. Again, I think your experiences will affect your connection with this movie, but I recommend it nevertheless. Director Joachim Trier is another film-maker's career I am now following.
I also watched Wong Kar-wai's The Grandmaster which I did not enjoy. I read that the Ip Man series was a better look at the story of Bruce Lee's martial arts master. The series of four movies was good, with the second and third movies the two stand outs. If you're looking for a martial-arts movie or series of movies to watch, then I recommend the ones directed by Wilson Yip.
April was probably my best month of movies. It included two 2021 Oscar nominated movies, the classic Do the Right Thing, a fun action movie from John Wick writer with Nobody. There was a silly performance by Tom Hanks in the Coen Brothers' The Ladykillers and Sherpa was an interesting documentary. Also, the Hong Kong-based movie Infernal Affairs that is the basis of the incredible Martin Scorsese movie The Departed.
Two storms separated by 25 years. A woman murdered. A daughter missed. Only 72 hours to discover the truth.
Six short stories that explore the extremities of human behaviour involving people in distress.
A dog groomer living in a poor suburb and stays out of trouble, while trying to deal with his unstable, violent acquaintance.
A woman is hired as a handmaiden to a Japanese heiress, but secretly she is involved in a plot to defraud her.
Mirage is another outstanding movie by Oriol Paulo. It has a completely different tone to The Invisible Guest, a supernatural story about two events 25 years apart affect lives and change the life you thought you knew. The time-restricted window adds to the urgency as you try to unravel different mysteries. Wild Tales is a series of six short stories bound by a theme of revenge. These mundane situations are found commonly throughout society, such as dealing with road-rage and traffic fines, but these stories take them to violent conclusions. It is some times over the top, but each story works really well in their short runtime.
Dogman is a grim story set against a dilapidated Italian seaside town. A diminutive dog groomer, after taken advantage of and beaten, finally decides to fight back. It's a dirty, and gritty violent movie but has some great characterisation and overall works really well. Continuing the theme is The Nightingale which is really dark and brutal. This unforgiving revenge story has a lot of violence, including rape and murder, which will shock you. Every character has a traumatic experience to deal with. I am not sure whether I can recommend you watch this, but the story/history – set in the 1820s Tasmanian wilderness – is not one I have seen told before.
The Handmaiden is the most recent movie by Chan-wook Park who is famous for his "Vengeance Trilogy" that includes Oldboy. A period setting isn't something I normally seek to watch, but this movie is full of intrigue, double-crossing and scheming, with some erotic relationships and an octopus. Andhadhun is an Indian movie I came across in which a blind pianist is "witness" to a murder. What follows is an interesting blend of crime and comedy as he tries to maintain is persona while solving the crime which is growing out of control.
The last two movies I'd recommend were "Best Picture" Oscar nominations and both were very good. Sound of Metal was an interesting character study of a musician losing his hearing. It has an interesting insight in to the deaf community and deals with difficult decisions he has to make along his journey to continue doing what he loves; playing music. The Father was my favourite of the "Best Picture" movies and Anthony Hopkins definitely deserved the "Best actor in a leading role" win. The whole concept works incredibly well as you quickly question your own sanity as the characters change and the sets morph in front of your eyes.
After the quantity of good movies in April, May was a bit disappointing. The best movies in May were the first three I watched.
A quirky, dysfunctional family's road trip is upended when they find themselves in the middle of the robot apocalypse and suddenly become humanity's unlikeliest last hope.
The animation was beautiful with a lot of cool and quirky touches. The hand-drawn flourishes throughout reflected the main character's inventiveness as a wannabe film-maker and introduces a lovely sense of playfulness. There are references and Easter-eggs galour, but they don't detract from the story and emotional moments.
– The Mitchells vs. The Machines
Taking a cue from Andhadhun, I sort out a similar suggested movie and found 3 Idiots. It sounded like an Indian American Pie, with immature college kids pulling pranks and joking around on campus. It was nothing like this and far far better. It was more about best friends and working together, with a sprinkle of love and rivalry. There are some fun musical set pieces and plenty of comical moments but there is also an incredible amount of heart. I thoroughly recommend you watch this movie.
After 3 Idiots, I looked up the lead actor's (Aamir Khan) other movies and went with him starring in PK. He plays an alien who "asks innocent questions and has a childlike curiosity that take him on a journey of love, laughter and letting go." It's an interesting movie, inquisitively questioning major religions without being offensive. It's eccentric and thought-provoking in a silly way.
Other movies this month worth mentioning include Oxygen, which is an interesting one-person focused sci-fi movie. The Family Fang which is a quirky movie that has a Wes Anderson-feel to it with the bizarre characters and family infighting. And finally, Terribly Happy, which is, well, very bizarre; a Danish "local town for local people" story of a police officer investigating the inhabitants odd behaviour.
Anime was the "genre" of movie I started watching this month. The first was A Whisker Away is a fantastical story exploring the youthful struggle of expressing your feelings… by becoming a cat?! Studio Ghibli's Pom Poko features magical shape-shifting raccoons that try to stop the rapid development of their forest home by frightening the construction workers and new residents. Flavors of Youth is three independent storylines, which I hoped came together in the end, but didn't. Food, fashion and young love extinguished by mistake; none of these stories stood out but were OK. A Silent Voice follows a man searching for redemption after bullying a deaf girl at school. It had an interesting story-arc and a strong deaf character I'd not seen represented in film-making before. Finally, another Studio Ghibli movie; Whisper of the Heart which was probably the best of the bunch – closely followed by A Silent Voice.
Hoping that self-employment through gig economy can solve their financial woes, a hard-up UK delivery driver and his wife struggling to raise a family end up trapped in the vicious circle of this modern-day form of labour exploitation.
The peaceful town of Centerville finds itself battling a zombie horde as the dead start rising from their graves.
A former boxer-turned-drug runner lands in a prison battleground after a deal gets deadly.
Sorry We Missed You is a thoroughly depressing look at society in the modern world, through the lives of an English working class family. Trapped in unforgiving zero-hour contracts and thank-less jobs, the parents struggle to keep their family together. The entire cast are wonderful in this authentic and tragic movie.
The Dead Don't Die – like other Jim Jarmusch movies – is an acquired taste. I found this zombie-flick absolutely hilarious. I loved the deadpan-ness of it all and there are so many quotable lines. It has a stellar cast, an unusual story, interesting characters and it well filmed and edited.
Brawl in Cell Block 99 has been on my watchlist for a while, mainly because of the accolades for Vince Vaughn's performance. You immediately connect with his character – in this unusually serious role – expecting his rage to overflow in to violence, yet he manages to focus it towards destruction instead. The screenplay is good, as he descends through the criminal system with a single focus of protecting his family and unborn child. The violence is extreme at times and over-the-top in places, but the impact is justified.
I was unsure whether I'd enjoy a semi-autobiographical look at the former (and current) Catholic pope, but The Two Popes surprised me. Handled by the experienced Fernando Meirelles there were many profound conversations throughout and again Anthony Hopkins steals the show.
I also watched a few 3d digital animations. First was Spies in Disguise which a play on a James Bond story. Instead of lethal gadgets, the movie's "Q" invents humane ways of apprehending the bad guys. Oh, and "James Bond" is a pigeon for most of the movie! There are some impressive action sequences and the inventive story is fun. I followed this with Pixar's latest; Luca. First of all, it is completely gorgeous. The beautifully crafted Italian fishing village stages an intimate story of friendship set against sea-monsters; it's lovely as ever. Finishing a trio of animations I watched Wish Dragon; a modern take on Aladdin but so much more. Dragon was reluctant, Din was charming and the villains villainous. I put Moana on for my son and became captivated. It had an interesting perspective and looked beautiful; I can't believe it took me this long to watch it.