The pandemic and resultant lockdowns meant that for the second year in a row the release of films was regularly readjusted throughout 2021. Film aficionados had to regularly recalibrate their expectations as distributors altered schedules to maximise returns.
Originally my plan was for this list to be an assembly of the 10 best films I saw for the first time last year. With those limitations it would have included such classics as To Catch a Thief (1955), Roman Holiday (1952), and Dunkirk (2017).
Yet as the year wore on and cinemas opened, I changed tack, realising there were plenty of new films from which to choose. That said, I twisted the rules slightly to accommodate a few movies stumbled upon on SBS on Demand, a fantastic resource for film lovers.
Interestingly enough, the only film on my list mentioned in Oscar conversations was Dune. The Academy, however, has different criteria to me, with my list based only on viewing enjoyment.
No Time to Die was my favourite for the year, with the others in no particular order.
No Time to Die
The last Bond outing for Daniel Craig sees a retired 007 (his number has even been re-assigned), enjoying a minimalistic solitary (though eminently stylish) life in Jamaica when once again he’s called upon to save the world, rescuing us all from the mad delusions of an insane megalomaniac.
Yes, yes, we’ve seen it before, but somehow the 25th iteration of the superspy franchise is rather a bit more moving, engaging and nuanced than expected, honouring Craig’s own tuxedoed era, but also that of his predecessors.
Who would have thought that the thick pulpy Frank Herbert sci-fi novels with panel van art on the covers, which had their heyday in the 1970s, could be so absorbing on screen? Clearly the potential was seen by helmsman Denis Villeneuve, who has learned from his mistakes on the extravagantly dystopic Blade Runner sequel and silly Arrival (come on, how do cephalopods construct spacecraft; they can’t even hold a screwdriver!) to make this thoroughly thrilling space epic.
Perhaps there is some truth to what they say about books and covers.
In Order of Disappearance (Kraftidioten,2014)
In this Norse action/thriller Stellan Skarsgård plays a mourning snowplough driver (Nils) hell-bent on revenging his son’s murder at the hands of a ruthless drug cartel. There are unexpected laughs aplenty in this unconventional blacker-than-black Scandi noirish outing.
The Girl in the Fog (La Ragazza Nella Nebbia, 2017)
After a long hiatus, the MO of a notorious serial killer is once again being observed in the fog-shrouded and ominous climes of the Italian Alps. Is a local teacher the unlikely perpetrator, or is he being set up? The great Toni Servillo and Jean Reno feature.
Wrath of Man
Guy Ritchie and Jason Statham reunite from their Lock, Stock days in this tricky Tarantinoesque action outing. Statham plays H, who is clearly over-qualified for his new gig as a security van guard, perhaps pursing his own agenda, with vengeance very possibly on his mind.
The French Dispatch
Once again Wes Anderson delights and divides with this most Andersonian fun and fastidious Francophile film. The attention to detail is astonishing, the plots meandering, the gestalt pleasing.
Army of Thieves
An aspiring Teutonic safe cracker with a historian’s appreciation of the skill-set hooks up with a gang of hip young international millennial thieves to execute the heist of heists in Europe’s picturesque cities. This was one the best of the original Netflix kinetic actioners, which also include 6 Underground, Red Notice, Kate, and The Misfits – all great and all super enjoyable.
A tie with Army of Thieves (and another Netflix high-concept offering), you might describe Boss Level as Groundhog Day meets John Wick, with perhaps a soupçon of Grosse Pointe Blanke and a dash of Kill Bill added. As my good friend D put it this is a “muscular throwback action movie, personified in the stubble and grit of leading man Frank Grillo”. Yes it is, and mighty entertaining too.
Nicolas Cage puts in his best performance in years as a dishevelled truffle-scrounging loner in this stylish though uneven epicurean outing. When his eponymous truffle pig is stolen Robin (Cage) heads to the big(ish) smoke, layers peeling away as his sad story is slowly revealed.
Riders of Justice
The great Mads Mikkelsen plays a distraught army veteran whose path of rough justice is set out following an encounter with a trio of conspiracy-minded IT geeks.
Surprisingly delightful family-friendly escapade, featuring Reynolds as a character (Guy) within a video game who insists on his right to grow and change.