Earlier today, I confirmed, thanks to Letterboxd (the social network of cinephiles), that I had seen a total of 199 new-to-me films in 2021. Not bad! That included fiction films, documentaries, short, medium-length and feature films. I might have forgotten to register some. I don’t know. So, let’s say it was around 200. If I could briefly resume my year in films via bullet points, it would sort of go that way:
- William Holden‘s filmography completed (yes!!)
- Many new-to-me films directed by women
- Many new-to-me British films
- George Segal
As we just entered 2022, a year during which I hope to discover more films, I thought it would be fun to make a top list of my favourite cinematographic discoveries of 2021. Of course, I won’t do a top 200 because it would be too long to organise, but I decided to limit myself to 15 films. These are all films that I immensely enjoyed and that meant something for me. So, it will be a good representation.
I’ve decided to include only fiction features. I did see a lot of good documentaries and short films. However, it would be too much like comparing oranges and apples if I included them so it would for another occasion.
Before going further, bear in mind that, as usual, this is a list of favourites, not of best. It is purely subjective and based on my own preferences. I’m not claiming that these are objectively the best films but simply that they are the ones I personally prefer. But, in my opinion, this list contains films that are indeed masterpieces and others that aren’t necessary but that remain good entertainment (for me at least)!
Without further ado, here we go!
15. Running on Empty (Sidney Lumet, 1988)
I had forgotten that Sidney Lumet directed that film. No wonder why it was so good! I watched it on what marked the great late River Phoenix’s birthday. The actor received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor ( lost to Kevin Kline in A Wish Called Wanda). However, I’m not sure why he wasn’t nominated for Best Actor instead. To me, he’s pretty much the main actor in the film! I’m not an expert on how the Academy evaluates things tho.
14. Raising the Wind (Gerald Thomas, 1961)
Ok, this is one of those entertaining films without being a masterpiece. But a film in the style of a Carry On, especially one with Leslie Phillips and Kenneth Williams, is almost sure to please me. Yeah, it’s silly as you would expect it to be, but it certainly won’t leave you bored or indifferent!
13. A Touch of Class (Melvin Frank, 1973)
I watched that film for the article on the great late George Segal that I wrote for the film magazine Séquences last summer. I have to make a big confession: that was my first Glenda Jackson film! I know, I know, shame on me and blah-blah-blah. She was great and even won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance. So, I’m looking forward to seeing more of her films. PS: I also saw my first Susannah York film in 2021 (The 7th Dawn).
12. The Revengers (Daniel Mann, 1972)
I had no expectations whatsoever for that film and thought it would just be meh. Obviously, I quickly changed my opinion, and it turned out to be an agreeable surprise. Directed by the man who also made Come Back Litle Sheba, a film I love, The Revengers is, in my opinion, a very underrated western. It somehow made me think of The Wild Bunch and The Professionals. So if you like those two westerns, I definitely encourage you to give a chance to The Revengers!
11. Children of a Lesser God (Randa Haines, 1986)
Not only that film was directed by a woman, but it also stars the first deaf actress who won an Oscar for Best Actress (for that film in question): Marlee Maltin. She’s also the youngest actress to have won an Oscar for that same category. I had seen her previously in my favourite David Bowie’s film, The Linguini Incident, in which she plays a pretty badass character. William Hurt, who plays the new teacher at a deaf and hard of hearing school, is great also and delivers a performance with lots of passion. Too bad to know that he was disagreeable with Marlee Maltin during the making of the film.
10. Sleuth (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1972)
That film paring two great British actors of two completely different generations: Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine, certainly won’t leave you indifferent. Its execution is simple, yet, it’s a very complex story. Somehow, I didn’t remember Joseph L. Mankiewicz, an American, made it. Anyway, American or not, he was a great director, so the picture benefited from his talents! Sadly, that was his last film. But a brilliant swan song, that’s for sure!
9. Crossing Delancey (Joan Micklin Silver, 1988)
That is another film I watched during my films-directed-by-women marathon last March. Sadly enough, the director, Joan Micklin Silver, passed away about two months after I saw it. That brilliant and free of clichés romantic comedy opposes Amy Irving (Carrie) and Peter Riegert (Local Hero). Among all the many good things we can remember from that film, let’s not forget that hilarious lesson that it’s tricky to put on lipstick in a moving car!
8. What a Carve Up! (Pat Jackson, 1961)
And here is another film with a bunch of Carry On actors (including the lovely Shirley Eaton, who only appeared in three of them). I especially liked that Kenneth Connor, my favourite Carry On actor alongside Kenneth Williams, had the main role. You feel it was his film. Interestingly British actor Dennis Price mixed himself with that bunch of Carry On actors. He and Shirley Eaton both starred in the 1965 version of Ten Little Indians, and somehow, that film reminded me of What aCarve Up!. If you’re looking for a great horror comedy to watch next Halloween, I certainly recommend that one!
7. 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013)
I don’t know why I waited so long before seeing that film. I was obviously missing something great (and moving)! That poignant film was based on Solomon Northup’s memoir. In 1841, he was captured by white men and made a slave in Louisiana for… 12 years. The film puts in your face the terrible injustices that black people were victims of in the US at that time because slavery was a thing. And we all know that injustices still go on for them. They are not represented in the same way, but they are still here. Anyway, 12 Years a Slave is not an easy film to watch. However, it’s an important one that puts the light on a shameful period of US history.
6. After Hours (Martin Scorsese, 1985)
There would be so many things to say to praise that underrated comedy by Martin Scorsese. First of all, if you want to see a film by that director without gangsters, without Robert De Niro or Leonardo DiCaprio (don’t get me wrong, I love them), you should definitely give After Hours a try. I loved that the story evolves thanks to a bunch of crazy and unbelievable coincidences. They truly set the humoristic tone of the film. The story is simple. During a night, a guy played by a very likeable Griffin Dunne (An American Werewolf in London, Who’s That Girl?) is the victim of various misfortunes. Among the people he meets during his journey, the underrated Rosanna Arquette plays one of them.
5. Too Many Crooks (Mario Zampi, 1959)
Ok, I swear this is the last Carry On-esque film on my list! Too Many Crooks is, in my opinion, not just an entertaining comedy. I’m ready to call it a film of quality. However, among the Carry On actors, there’s only Sidney James and a very young Bernard Bresslaw (he was only 25- and so tall)! Joining them was Brenda De Banzie, the hilarious Terry-Thomas and George Cole.
4. The Summit of Gods (Le Sommet des Dieux, Patrick Imbert, 2021)
I saw that film not a long time ago with my two best friends at the Cinémathèque québécoise in Montreal. And what a shock (in the good sense of the term)! That is an A-class animation. It was so well-made that it almost felt real. Add to that the top-notched sound dimension that almost makes us feel as if we were on the snowy mountains with the characters, feeling the icy weather. Plus, it’s really the type of story that keeps you at the edge of your seat. I recommend it to anybody who’s just willing to watch something unforgettable!
3. Knives Out (Rian Johnson, 2019)
I don’t remember what made me watch that film, but I’m so glad I did. I loved the story à la Agatha Christie, the colourful cinematography, the casting, the setting. It was one of Christopher Plummer’s last films. There’s a sequel that should be released in 2022, and Edward Norton (one of my favourite “contemporary actors”) is in it. I’m so down for that!
2. The Mirror Has Two Faces (Barbara Streisand, 1996)
It isn’t necessarily a masterpiece. However, in terms of personal tastes, it was a memorable discovery. I watched it on the day George Segal passed away as he plays a supporting role in it. Barbra Streisand and Jeff Bridges play the leading role in this highly enjoyable romantic comedy, and they share great chemistry. Among the supporting cast, there’s also Pierce Brosnan and Lauren Bacall. Not bad Conradl! And guess what? You can watch that little gem on Netflix!
1- The Italian Job (Peter Collinson, 1969)
That is the type of British film that goes in my chords. It’s a thrilling story, plus it has a touch of well-appreciated British humour. The beginning with the Rossano Brazzi driving his convertible in the Alps is one I could watch over and over again. The main characters are played by Michale Caine and the great Noël Coward. If you’re looking for a bit of action in the form of a heist film, that one should be high on your list. It almost makes me want to own a Mini Cooper! I also liked that it takes place in Torino, a beautiful Italian city I’ve visited on three occasions. Interestingly enough, in 2021, I saw two other films by Peter Collinson, The Earthling (his last film) and Open Season. But I liked The Italian Job much better than those two.
That’s it! Of course, I saw many other great films in 2021! And some mediocre ones, but not so many, to be honest. Interestingly, there aren’t any films older than 1959 on that list, but it’s a pure coincidence. I’ll be curious to know what are the best films you discovered in 2021! Let me know in the comments!