The Plain, Simple Review of the Year: 2021 – Part One

Here we are again at the end of the year, the year in general having been pretty crummy, given the ongoing pandemic that I’m sure we all want to see the back of pretty darn soon, and it’s time to do my big ol’ roundup of the best and worst film and TV that 2021 had to offer.

This year on the blog has been very different from previous years because, as regular viewers may have gathered, I’ve been writing far less reviews, preferring to do my roundups at the end of the month, and I think that this is because, regrettably, my passion for writing film reviews seems to have been fizzling out for quite some time; I hate to say it but writing reviews has become a bit of a chore and honestly, I’ve been struggling to think of ideas, opinions and observations that I could actually put into a review.

But, downbeat opening out of the way, I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do my end of year top 10/20 lists so now, as always, I bring you the first part of my review of the year.

Best TV of 2021

Now, when it comes to TV this year, I’ve definitely been lazy and I’ve been noticeably less enthused than in previous years to catch up on all the best shows of the year; I don’t have Sky or Apple TV, so no, I haven’t seen Succession, Mare of Easttown or Ted Lasso, I haven’t yet seen the newest seasons of Lost in Space or The Witcher, and I even waited until the end of the month to catch up with Squid Game.

So in total, I watched a relatively measly 24 new shows (as well as loads of other, older, shows such as Deadwood, Game of Thrones (finally finished it!), Chernobyl, Watchmen, and about five seasons of Gilmore Girls) and these are my top five of the year.

5. Love, Victor (Series Two)

2021 also gave us the first season of the Love, Simon spinoff but the second series is the superior one because in its second year, the show manages to step out from the shadow cast by its cinematic predecessor and really does its own thing; the writing is stronger, the performers are far more comfortable, and overall, this was just such a pleasant series to sit down and watch every week.

4. WandaVision

Proper event television if ever there was such a thing, Disney Plus took the MCU into the televisual realm and here, we had a very unique show that made excellent use of its “decade hopping”, treating us to well designed episodes that started in the fifties and then gradually moved forward into the present day; there’s enough comedy and good feeling to entertain but as the show moves on, events really do take a darker turn as the couple’s world slowly falls apart and the big “mystery” is gradually unravelled.

WandaVision was a strong step forward for the MCU as it gave us an exciting, visually stunning, and well written series that promised new surprises for the cinematic universe and the cast all perform well, with Elizabeth Olsen and Kathryn Hahn making the most impact.

3. Squid Game

I think it’s safe to say that the first (will there be more?) series of this unique South Koran show was the biggest hit of the year – truly the show which everybody was talking about, though I actually only finished watching it two days ago – and it works so well because the games are really exciting and tense to watch, the show is designed quite brilliantly, and there are many colourful characters, many of whom don’t make it and certain “exits” are indeed quietly devastating.

2. Star Trek: Lower Decks (Series One and Two)

Going in, I was apprehensive about Lower Decks, not having very high expectations as it looked very silly and, frankly, a bit of a p*sstake but although it took me a little time to settle in, I ended up having a really good time with the animated Trek series – both of them – as it’s fun, really well animated, there are tons of references in there for the committed fans, and the cast and characters are an endearing and lively bunch, particularly the formidable Beckett Mariner who is clearly my favourite character and, gosh darn it, I just love her so much.

1. It’s a Sin

Russell T. Davies truly is an excellent writer (I’m practically counting the days until he returns to Doctor Who) and with his latest series, he has given us a show that manages to be so full of hope, joy, laughter and happiness – doing so well by giving us great characters who we can support and enjoy spending time with – but it’s also a series that houses an equal amount of darkness, heartbreak, devastation and loss as we are made to witness certain characters that we’ve come to like gradually diminish and grow more sick, being abandoned as they are left in empty hospital rooms, and these moments truly affected me and provoked quite the emotional reaction.

It’s a very well written series that tells all about the emergence of AIDS – how no-one really understood it and how its victims were mistreated – and it demonstrated how important it is to have an emotional support network, with family and friends who will stand by you no matter what. Truly, this was a powerful piece of television.

La!

Worst Films of 2021

Each film year can bring us some truly wonderful films but similarly, we may also be subjected to a few stinkers and 2021 sure wasn’t any different. Indeed, a couple of the films below – the worst culprits – even got single star reviews from me. A rare occurrence indeed, since I’m usually quite generous and often give bad films at least a two.

So out of the 120 or so new films that I saw this year, these were the bottom ten.

10. The Little Things (2020)

As one of the films that I went and saw when cinemas finally reopened in May, The Little Things isn’t the worst film ever but it sure is one of the duller ones – a film that led me to actually nod off a few times whilst in the screening. It’s a super serious, slow film with an uninspired story and when it comes to the cast, Denzel Washington is nowhere near as charismatic as he usually is and Jared Leto (who has had a bad year, with his much laughed about performance in House of Gucci also under his belt this year) does his usual “might be a killer creepy weirdo” schtick.

9. Cherry (2021)

From the same people who brought us some of the best films of the MCU, if you can believe that, Cherry sees Tom Holland bravely branch out into some more mature roles but while that’s admirable, it’s a shame that the film he’s in is such a dud. It’s an overall unpleasant, depressing and wholly pointless affair filled with unlikeable characters and many odd directorial decisions.

But at least the film taught us a valuable lesson: that joining the army just because your girlfriend dumped you is a bad idea. Who knew?

8. The Woman in the Window (2021)

A film that was eagerly awaited by film Twitter’s diehard Amy Adams fans, TWITW was ultimately a big disappointment as it didn’t have an original bone in its body and turned out to be a big dull dud. It would appear to be this year’s Girl on the Train, a film which also tries to imitate the work of Hitchcock but fails miserably, and it’s so rubbish because it has a substandard, trope-laden script that gives us the ol’ “is she crazy or is there actually something going on?” bit, the characters aren’t likeable, and the big name cast is really misused.

7. Thunder Force (2021)

Another Melissa McCarthy/BenFalcone project that I’m sure everyone was eaaaaaagerly awaiting, this particular waste of time literally has one good joke in the entire piece – all the rest of the comedy is lame and embarrassing – and in other areas, the superhero setpieces are only okay and too much of the film is slow and cloyingly sentimental, being ineffective as we are made to sit through many heart-to-hearts which just go nowhere.

6. Cinderella (2021)

Yes, I gave it a chance, hoping to see some good in it, but this was unfortunately one of those times when the popular opinion was correct because Kay Cannon’s Cinderella is a rubbish film through and through, although I would award points to both Pierce Brosnan and Ben Bailey Smith. The film is essentially a bad Christmas pantomime and it annoys with its really bad jukebox soundtrack – which features an odd mix of mashups and cover versions – and its insistence on being “ultra modern”, what with its topical themes, dance sequences, and flashmob scenes, just irritates and peturbs; the writing is lame as it tries so hard to be funny when it really isn’t and Camila Cabello is just a little too obnoxious in the leading role.

And I’m sure that we’ll never forgive the film for haunting us with the image of James Corden, dressed in a ratty costume, dry humping the air right next to some poor onlooker. Shudder.

5. The Simpsons short films: The Force Awakens From its Nap (2021), The Good, The Bart and The Loki (2021), and The Simpsons in Plusaversary (2021)

Now, this marks two firsts for my end-of-year review: the first time I’ve had more than one entry share a position and the first time that short films have made it onto my list. Because this year, Disney Plus gave us three short films from the formerly funny family and all of them were apparently made just so that they could properly throw in as many Star Wars, Marvel and Disney characters as they could and all three of the films (with the possible exception of the first one, which admittedly had its moments) are so shallow, pointless, and only go to show just how irrelevant and unremarkable the Simpsons have become. Loki is a laugh free affair that only really serves as an advert for the Marvel show and Plusaversary is an awful, soulless outing that just goes on and on about how great Disney is and it hurts to see the yellow family sell out so.

4. The War With Grandpa (2020)

We’re moving into one star territory now and while Grandpa might not be the worst film ever and Robert De Niro actually comes off quite well, considering, the film is still a lame, lame, lame excuse for a comedy that often comes across as desperate, embarrassing, and pathetic and additionally, the story is uninspired, the script is sub par, and performances are weak across the board.

It hurts to remember that both RDN and Christopher Walken were once giving awards worthy performances in the freaking DEER HUNTER but are now starring in films like this.

3. Home Sweet Home Alone (2021)

The first of the 2021 Christmas films that you’ll see in this list, the sixth instalment in the popular holiday film franchise (one that has only seen three good films but, now, three abysmal ones as well) sees Jojo Rabbit‘s Archie Yates turn his home into a house of horrors for both Rob Delaney and Ellie Kemper and the film fails miserably because it’s a totally unfunny, messy, and mean spirited film that makes sure to reference the mighty original film plenty of times but it’s a film that clearly doesn’t understand what made its predecessor so great; performances are poor – the main culprits being Yates and Kemper – and most of all, it makes the big mistake of having two characters who actually don’t deserve the punishment go through the harmful deathtraps.

2. Father Christmas is Back (2021)

Another brand new Christmas film, courtesy of Netflix, this irredeemable feature was just so cheap, which is ironic considering the main characters were really rich; FCIB looks and feels like a cinematic adaptation of some really bad BBC sitcom and as such, it’s horribly directed, the camerawork is poor, and the score is very very silly – reminding me of some CBeebies kids show, misguided wacky sound effects included. Performances are incredibly lame across the board, the story sucks, it’s very often mawkish and syrupy, and the characters are unlikeable, with the possible exception of Talulah Riley’s wild Aunt character.

1. Capone (2020)

Director Josh Trank once gave us a great, original superhero story in Chronicle, then later a universally maligned version of Fantastic Four (which I actually didn’t mind), and now, he gives us Capone: a film that could indeed have had potential at one point – a film about the once great Al Capone who, later on in life, finds himself to be a complete physical and mental wreck – but Trank’s film is just way too unpleasant, coarse, and ugly and Tom Hardy is surprisingly bad in it because his portrayal of Capone is just too grotesque and all he does is mumble, hack, retch, and sh*t his way through the whole film. The supporting players do try but at the end of the day, Capone is a wholly unremarkable, unpleasant, one star film.

The BEST of the Best of the Rest

In my monthly roundups, I often finish with “The Best of the Rest”, a brief couple of paragraphs about the best, non-2021 first time watches that I sat through that month so now, at the end of the year, I thought that it would be fun to bring you my top ten first time watches of the year.

10. Clue (1985)

I saw this film – a big screen adaptation of the popular board game – because it appeared to have several fans on Twitter and I sure did have fun watching it; it’s a fun madcap romp with entertaining performances from Tim Curry et al.

9. La Jetée (1962)

Chris Marker’s film may only be 28 minutes long but every moment is used remarkably well; it’s a unique and imaginative short film about time travel and it’s astonishing to see that something so clever – a film that must’ve been a big influence on future sci-fi films- was brought to us in the early sixites.

8. Saint Frances (2019)

Saint Frances has one of the strongest and most mature scripts that I’ve seen in a modern film for quite some time: it’s both tender and funny and the characters are very well written, especially the titular Frances and also her male friend, who proves to be a very progressive and positive representation of men.

7. Fantastic Planet (1973)

This was a beautifully animated, though often dark and disturbing, French film about a race of tiny people who rebel against their tyrannical towering overlords; the music is chilling, the story is imaginative, and I just really dug the eerie atmosphere.

6. Jubilee (1978)

There was probably a smart message in this film that I was too dull to understand but I still really dug this film as I loved the nihilistic, hedonistic, anarchic atmosphere and was drawn in by the wild punk characters who were played with passion by the cast. Plus, that version of “Rule Britannia” was truly excellent.

5. Amarcord (1973)

Fellini is a hit-and-miss director for me as I don’t think much of his classics 8 1/2 and La Dolce Vita but I really really liked Amarcord; it’s a funny and warm-hearted film – one that blends fantasy with semi-autobiographical storytelling in a more accessible manner than 8 1/2 did – and the raunchy antics of the hormonal young guys – thankfully played for laughs – was a real delight.

4. Stranger Than Paradise (1984)

Jim Jarmusch’s film seems to channel the spirit of Wim Wenders’ Road Movie Trilogy and it works so well because the characters are easy to support (heck, it’s a pleasure just watching them do absolutely nothing) and the film is both shot and edited beautifully.

3. Tess (1979)

Roman Polanski’s adaptation of Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles was a pleasure to watch because the production design, cinematography and costuming are all stellar, the story is engrossing, and young Nastassja Kinski performs confidently in the titular role.

2. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

My kind of film, no mistake, Henry is dark, creepy, atmospheric, and tense, the three main characters are memorable, and I just love how the film revels in its brutality, never pussyfooting around as we watch the two main characters kill people for kicks.

1. PlayTime (1967)

Jacques Tati and I initially got off on the wrong foot, me not liking Mr. Hulot’s Holiday despite it being quite a revered film, but PlayTime is quite comfortably my favourite first time watch of the year because it’s just so funny and clever; there are tons of visual and audio gags to be found throughout the film and its two major settings of a uniformly grey office complex and an unfinished hotel are a real trust for the eyes. With this film, Tati really showed how life can be a beautiful and wacky merry-go-round, while also poking fun at technology, and I thank him wholeheartedly for this very endearing film.

* * *

And that does it for part one. Please join me tomorrow for the big one: the top 20 films of the year. Should be a good one.

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