Films I saw in 2021

In 2020 I watched 211 films, beating my previous record, and I suspect that may stand for
a long time. This year I watched a far smaller, but still respectable 134 films.

I did often find myself hunting around for something to watch and being a bit underwhelmed. A few times I fancied a trip to the cinema but couldn’t find anything I wanted to see and in the end only saw 11 films in the cinema, which is one less than even 2020 and about half what I used to do in ‘normal times’. Cinemas being closed at the start of the year made a big difference as I usually make a push to see Oscar films, then blockbusters were delayed further. Things are looking up for 2022 though and I’ve already seen two films in the cinema.

Despite that though, I still saw 46 films released in 2021, which is up from the 33 in 2020 and almost exactly the same as in 2019 which I’m quite pleased with. so obviously most of those were on streaming services. Even as a big cinema fan, I still found myself just going for the easy option of waiting a couple of weeks for the streaming releases. There were a further 48 films that were new to me from previous years, meaning 70% of my watching for the year was new.

I watched 82 films (62%) on subscription services, half of those were on Netflix (40), a third on Amazon (28) and a sixth on Disney+ (13). Netflix is the clear top of the pile for value and quality with a great range of genres (and a lot of TV shows too), Disney isn’t amazing value for me, but the Marvel and Star Wars TV series make it worth it. Amazon is probably the one that I’d give up, except of course for the other shop elements. I also made good use of my dvd collection to watch 27 films (20% of the total) and watched 12 (9%) on the TV just to prove that old media isn’t dead to everyone.

Only 13% of the films were from pre-2000 and only 2 films were pre 1980, which is pretty poor to be honest. Also pretty poor is that I only watched four films not in the English language. Other than that I had a pretty good range of genres with a roughly even split of comedy, sf/f, drama, and action.

2021 Releases
I don’t think 2021 will go down as a banner year for film, which is hardly surprising. The average rating for 2021 releases was 6.7, and 7.0 in 2019, so there’s a definite step down. and it’s also down against the average across the whole collection which was 6.9. Thinking back over the year I struggled to remember any particular highlights, and big names like Bond, or Oscar winner Nomadland (released in the UK in 2021) didn’t really connected with me. There are 3 films however that while they may not have stuck with me long term, did get 9/10.

  • Sound of Metal – rich characters and a well paced story with innovative film-making and use of sound. It’s not always a pleasant watch because of the sounds, but I felt part of the character’s experience in a way I really haven’t in many films.
  • tick, tick… BOOM! – the most musical of musicals ever and I loved it. Everything about it worked, there wasn’t a dud song, performance or story thread in the whole thing and I was deeply moved and completely entertained.
  • Palm Springs – I am as surprised as anyone to see a comedy film here, I went in with very low expectations of another go around of the groundhog day format, but this film evolved the idea and managed to deliver interesting philosophical thought, sweet romance and a good spread of laughs as well.

Honorable mentions – 11 films got 8/10, Dune was easily my best cinema experience of the year with stunning visuals and sound. Stowaway is a really solid science fiction film that may have flown under the radar, taking a Twilight Zone style proposition and seeing how it plays out with some very good actors and solid visuals (albeit a slight craziness towards the end). Love and Monsters is similar to Palm Springs in that it takes the familiar movie tropes and gently evolves them into a knowing blend of SF and romcom. If you want to watch a funny, sweet, heartbreaking, and riotous film about middle aged men getting blind drunk, then Druk (Another Round) is definitely for you. If you’re looking for some mindless fun, Cruella and Jungle Cruise are both a good laugh, Woman in the Window is an excellent variation on a theme of Vertigo, and if everything’s a bit much, The Dig is the gentlest film that you can imagine.

Dishonourable mentions – The Green Knight is one of the most boring films I’ve ever seen and Army of the Dead was not only bad, but it was LONG and bad. Raya and the Last Dragon was a rare miss-step for Disney lacking in charm and coherence. On paper the new version of Cinderella was great, but the reality was mediocre acting, zero chemistry, cheap production and a poor selection of songs. Moxie took the massively complicated area of discrimination, assault, ritualized harassment and horror that exists in schools and oversimplified them to such an extent I wanted to scream. And I’m sorry, but No Time to Die was boring and indulgent; I did like the developed roles for women, but they were still incidental and I didn’t think the stunts or action sequences made up for the lackluster villain, confused plot and way too long runtime.

Genres (including 2021 films and older ones)
Documentaries – I watched eight documentaries and four of them were absolutely brilliant. Crip Camp, Rising Phoenix, Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary and My Octopus Teacher (this year’s Oscar winner). All treated their subjects with respect, curiosity and open mindedness, whether that was (respectively) a 1970’s camp for disable children that changed civil rights, the Paralympics, a science fiction film and its fans, or an octopus. Each of these educated, moved and inspired me. Other documentaries miss-fired despite being interesting and well made films, becoming problematic because of the lack of balance. The Schumacher documentary was very interesting until you realise just how many voices are missing and then it starts to feel more marketing than documentary, and the Bob Ross documentary was also one sided.

Films not in the English Language – a truly embarrassing 4 films, which I’m going to try to improve in 2022. Druk (Another Round) is easily the best, and coincidentally the Oscar winner, but Portrait de la jeune fille en feu (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) is also worthy of note as it’s the type of noodling, slow film that would usually bore me, but this one didn’t for some undefinable reason. Minari, which probably would have won the Oscar if it hadn’t been nominated in the best film category rather than the foreign language category was a lovely idea which I found absolutely mind-numbingly boring.

Science Fiction/Fantasy – I hate trying to decide what sits were, so with a fairly broad interpretation of the genre there are 33 films somewhere on the spectrum (mostly on the SF end). Dune is easily the outstanding film of the year here, an intense cinema experience with stunning cinematography and sound and a faithful retelling of the book. I went back to rewatch The Matrix trilogy in preparation for going to see the 4th installment and it’s impressive how good the first movie still is, but unfortunately 2 and 3 were so poor I was no longer inspired to go to the cinema for the 4th. I re-watched all the Jurassic Parks and it’s similarly interesting how they’re all over the spectrum too (1 and 5 great, 2 awful, 3 and 4 in the middle). I re-watched Avatar and for all the spoofs and baggage, it’s still a really amazing film.

Horror – frankly I didn’t feel that I needed the additional stress and adrenaline from watching horror and that’s reflected in the truly pathetic 3 horrors I watched, 1 good, 1 middling and 1 awful. Somehow I’d never seen An American Werewolf in London and there was a lot more to it than I expected, Zombieland: Double Tap was fine, and Army of the Dead was truly terrible.

Animations – I watched 15 animations this year (surprisingly low given how often I just wanted to watch something nice and easy. Almost all of them were re-watches of films that everyone already knows are excellent – Moana, Frozen, Inside Out, Shaun the Sheep, Lego Movie 2 and the less well known Klaus. I was a little underwhelmed by most of the new releases, Luca and Encanto from Pixar/Disney were fine but didn’t stand out (although I should say I watched Encanto again last week and liked it a lot more), Ron’s Gone Wrong was very sweet though and some of the messages there are sticking with me, more so than the very similar but poorly done Mitchells vs the Machines.

Musicals – 10 musicals (many of which are also animations of course) and the outstanding was tick, tick… Boom! as mentioned above, the most musical of musicals and truly brilliant. Also worth highlighting is In the Heights which was a joyous experience, particularly in the summer in a cinema with a good crowd for the first time in ages. I want to mention The Muppets, because not only is it a lovely film, but the songs are incredibly clever, as are the ones in Mary Poppins Returns, both cleverly developing from the previous films. I re-watched La La Land to see if I’d been unfair, and I hadn’t, it’s still annoying.

Comedy – 30 comedy films this year with varying levels of actual comedy. It’s very rare that a comedy film will get a high rating from me because it’s funny, it’s usually the other bits that are blended well with the comedy that would make it score highly for me. So Palm Springs does something new and interesting with the timeloop idea, and Instant Family shows both the hilarity and heartache of adoption and family life. Done wrong though and you just end up with something that has insufficient laughs and not enough else going for it (The French Dispatch, The Darjeeling Limited) or is occasionally outright problematic (Sixteen Candles, The Devil Wears Prada). Somehow finding a category of it’s own mind you is Jungle Cruise where the jokes are so terrible that when I laughed at them my cinema companion looked at me in absolute horror, but *I* enjoyed it.

Action – 34 films, exactly 25%. The best action film I saw this year that was new to me was Hotel Artemis which has a huge amount of rich backstory lurking behind some edge of seat action sequences. There’s no superhero sub category this year because I didn’t watch many, but Black Widow was definitely one of the better ones with all the ingredients (action, laughs and heart) delivered brilliantly, the only thing that makes me sad is that this film wasn’t done 15 years ago and that [Endgame spoilers]. Aquaman is  the complete counterpoint to that, as if they were TRYING to make a terrible terrible film. Then there’s the weird combo of the awful Army of the Dead which is over stuffed, overlong and features utterly needless gratuitous female nudity, and the infinitely better prequel Army of Thieves which is slick and full of charm. I also watched the first 6 Fast and Furious which ranged from terrible to mediocre.

Drama – that leaves 29 films in the ‘miscellaneous drama’ category, generally a pretty broad group from fairly mindless fluff to films bordering on traumatic experiences, but this year I mostly couldn’t face anything too hard core avoiding anything with words like ‘intense’ or ‘moving’ or ‘challenging’. So we’ve got things like a Saint Frances and Sylvie’s Love – gentler but no less meaningful looks into people’s lives, Encounter which hops around different genres to keep you guessing. There were a pair of Sorkin’s book-ending the year showing off his usual talents of big stories in small spaces – Being the Ricardos and The Trial of the Chicago 7 were both interesting and entertaining. I re-watched a couple of favourites – Greta Gerwig’s masterful Little Women, and the utterly uplifting The Blind Side.

I watched some real turkeys though as well. Hillbilly Elegy was hilariously over-written and over-acted, it just didn’t mean to be, The Chaperone however just looked like no one was even trying to be any good. Page Eight somehow took Bill Nighy and Rachel Weisz and made a film so boring and awful that I didn’t even finish it (something I NEVER do). And Ammonite made me furious because of it’s complete disrespect for the astonishing Mary Anning, even though the film itself was very well made.


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