As usual the criteria are movies over 45 minutes released in the past three years seen for the first time in 2021.
My favorite short film of the year was Twelve Seasonal Films by Jorge Suárez-Quiñones Rivas, a light trip throughout one year. Another ten shorts I liked a lot: Cityscape (Michael Snow), Colección privada (Elena Duque), Condor (Kevin Jerome Everson), daylight (James Benning), La Lumière, la lumière (Philippe Grandrieux), The Night ((Tsai Ming-liang), Propiedades de una esfera paralela (Valentina Alvarado Matos), Se hace camino al andar (Paula Gaitan), Still Processing (Sophy Romvari), Train Again (Peter Tscherkassky).
100) The Last Forest (Luis Bolognesi)
The green of the Amazon is one of the most cinematic things.
99) Short Vacation (Kwon Min-pyo, Seo Han-sol)
One of those movies that have a great eye for teenage friendship.
98) Fat Chance (Stephen Broomer)
Laird Cregar, the image of 1940’s movie villany, gets caught in a web of textures that expand on how this image is set and become a Hollywoodian trap.
97) Sakura (Hitoshi Yazaki)
Yazaki most mainstream movie whose clear surfaces like its happy family gets eaten from inside.
95) Cliff Walkers (Zhang Yimou) and Resident Evil Welcome to Racoon City (Johannes Roberts)
Genre exercises by formalists whose careful images end slowly swallowing their characters. That those filmmakers are operating in such a drama vacuum is part of what fascinates me about them.
94) Atarrabi & Mikelats (Eugène Green)
God and Devil in Greenland. A tale of light and shadow.
93) Come Here (Anocha Suwichakornpong)
A direct and physical immersion in a world always a step removed from the fantastic.
92) I’m Your Man (Maria Schrader)
In a desolate world it is at same time hard and chilling to resist the appeal of fiction be it the romantic comedy rhythms or the algorithm man at its center.
91) In Pieces (Ruy Guerra)
Like most late Ruy Guerra, In Pieces is a trip into itself, but this one packs an introspective self-interrogation he hadn’t achieved in a long time. The movie falls apart with great power.
90) History of Occult (Cristian Ponce)
Latin American history as this eternal cosmic horror return.
89) Bad Trip (Kitao Sakurai)
The starting point is the mix of lowbrow comedy and pranks made famous by things like Jackass and Borat, but it is better formally integrated, so the world feels pushed inside a generic comedy that becomes much funnier because of that.
88) Anaïs in Love (Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet)
2021 most French movie. A very enjoyable comedy about the interplay between power and desire and great showcase for Anaïs Demoustier.
87) All Eyes Off Me (Hadas ben Aroya)
A painfully intimate movie about the anxiety attack of being young today be it in Israel or anywhere else.
86) Castle Falls (Dolph Lundgren)
A small treasure hunt DTV thriller made by people for whom money means not some metaphysical symbol but the materialistic reality of actual bills to pay.
85) Bloodsuckers (Julian Radlmaier)
An exciting and pretty funny Marxist gothic.
84) Întregalde (Radu Muntean)
Romanian realism gets lost in the woods. Some very intriguing formal genre tensions.
83) All the Dead Ones (Caetano Gotardo, Marco Dutra)
A haunting movie for a zombie nation.
82) Escape from Mogadishu (Ryoo Seung-wan)
One of Korean cinema favorite fantasies, the collaboration between the two Koreas, in a thriller with an actual political background. Tense, exciting and includes some terrific action scenes.
81) Downstream to Kinshasa (Dieudo Hamadi)
Forgotten post war bodies survive, live, breathe.
80) French Exit (Azazel Jacobs)
A comedy of aristocratic delusion, very arch, not to every taste, very funny and Michelle Pfeiffer is great.
79) An Unusual Summer (Kamal Aljafari)
A very intriguing use of its vigilance dispositif as much as observation as a formal thriller.
78) Love After Love (Ann Hui)
Ann Hui doing a very belated riff on an early 90s 5th generation period piece as one of her muted melodramas. A torrent of feeling internalized.
77) Stillwater (Tom McCarthy)
America cinema out of place as theme and form. Terrific Matt Damon performance.
76) Subterranea (Pedro Urano)
A geological investigation about an eternal Rio de Janeiro.
75) Voltei! (Ary Rosa, Glenda Nicácio)
To negotiate an apocalypse called Brazil as only we know how to.
74) In the Earth (Ben Wheatley)
Wheatley is always more interesting when he is engaged with British traditions and this riff on Nigel Kneale about the forest unknown and what it does to men is his best one in years.
73) The Otsoga Diaries (Miguel Gomes, Maureen Fazendeiro)
Gomes and Fazendeiro do their usual absurd comic touch to the madness that is keep filmmaking going during a pandemic. A very good comedy about labor which is much more grounded than most movies about making movies.
72) The Eight Hundred (Guan Hu)
Big budget spectacle about resistance in the middle of defeat. Based on a military siege during the Japanese invasion of China. Director Guan Hu’s choreography of destruction is very impressive, making great use of the best the Chinese industry can offer.
71) The Wolf of Snow Hollow (Jim Cummings)
Director/star Jim Cummings is making a career out of being a masochist embarrassment himself with unfortunate displays of masculinity and this horror comedy with its very strange mix of elements is his most interesting yet in part because he is truly great in the main role.
70) Murina (Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović)
Family power relationships observed with a great eye and very careful location work. Everything at the same time is huge and minimal in front of the coastal landscape.
69) Malignant (James Wan)
It is pure excess, made from parts of earlier films and in bad taste, but I can’t help but love watching Wan going all in into an expensive homage to the cheapest strands of American 80s indie horror.
68) Hell Hath No Fury (Jesse V. Johnson)
World War II as a graveyard of greedy souls devoid of honor. Jesse V, Johnson remains one of the most ambitious low budget genre directors and has many good ideas for a single setting absurd damnation comedy.
67) Old Henry (Potsy Ponciroli)
It doesn’t quite fulfill its B-grade Unforgiven ambitions, but it is a very good western with little scale and some strong work from Tim Blake Nelson and Stephen Dorff.
66) Spontaneous (Brian Duffield)
A very charming teen movie about being young in a world one might die at any moment.
65) The Kid Detective (Evan Morgan)
A terrific detective yarn with a strong feel for dead end character lives. I know the title makes it seem like a cult novelty item, but it is much closer to a New Hollywood character piece from recognizable fictional forms like The Late Show.
64) Caught in Time (Lau Ho-Leung)
This was a pretty good year for action thrillers by Hong Kong filmmakers. This 90s-set cops and robbers one turned China into a chaotic violent zone. Propulsive and packed with good action beats.
63) Enormous (Sophie Letourneur)
A horror comedy about the different ways women and men experience pregnancy, uncomfortable, very funny, embarrassing, and blunt about all the power imbalances involved. Marina Föis is great.
62) Dry Wind (Daniel Nolasco)
A sensual war of desires that disappear into the limits of the body.
61) Ahed’s Knee (Nadav Lapid)
A mix tape from an alienated angry filmmaker that is more powerful because it doesn’t allow any distance.
60) The City of Abysses (Priscyla Bettim, Renato Coelho)
A trip through São Paulo audiovisual memory and a city symphony of love and violence.
59) Coffin Homes (Fruit Chan)
A gross out horror comedy about how living conditions in Hong Kong are not just hell, but very expensive. Some memorable images. As always, one of the reasons I like Fruit Chan is that I have no idea what to expect from him.
58) Labyrinth of Cinema (Nobuhiko Obayashi)
Obayashi dreams of movies with all it has of beauty and horror one last time.
57) The Killing of Two Lovers (Robert Machoian)
Relationships fall apart in a series of repetitions and strictly adhered roles. A hard, very well-modulated drama.
56) You Deserve a Lover (Hafsia Herzi)
Disappearing into a constant search for sexual connections. A masterclass of allowing bodies ro breathe.
55) The Velvet Underground (Todd Haynes)
The velvets as an axis for the New York underground art scene. An archival film in the very best sense, one in which every choice is valuable.
54) The Tale of King Crab (Alessio Rigo de Righi, Matteo Zoppis)
Light at the prairies. Film myth revisited between the western and the fantastic.
53) Monster Hunter (Paul WS Anderson)
A platonic movie ideal: just two expressive actors negotiating a complicated terrain.
52) Azor (Andreas Fontana)
Moving through spaces and liturgy of power. An opaque adventure film about going down the river of Latin American exploitation.
51) The Swordsman (Choi Jae-hoon)
Samurai movie reimagined as Korean masochism. Very brutal and well shot.
50) Ostinato (Paula Gaitán)
When two great artists meet. Brazilian experimental musician Arrigo Barnabé (you should give him a listen) talks a lot, but he says as much when he just listens.
49) The Matrix Resurrections (Lana Wachowski)
About finding something vital in imagination dominated by machines. To give ideas a body, perform them, reclaim them and allow them back into the world.
48) Saxifrages, four white nights (Nicolas Klotz, Elisabeth Perceval)
Faces and shadows in a constant struggle to keep resisting. It is a decade later post-script of sorts for Klotz/Perceval earlier underrated Low Life that the movie feels in retrospect one of the key portraits of 10s Europe this one keeps the fire going.
47) The Annotated Field Guide of Ulysses S. Grant (Jim Finn)
The material remains of the American Civil War and how its allowed to keep resonating the country’s imagination. Finn remains one of the more interesting American political artists.
46) Faya Dayi (Jessica Beshir)
From harvesting to trance. An anti-pastoral of attraction and repulsion towards Ethiopia of filmmaker Beshir roots. One gets suspended over the country, observes it and remains taken by a fascinated distance.
45) Three Floors (Nanni Moretti)
Moretti sort of returning to The Son’s Room only now Italian family remains this suffocated thing with only occasional moments of escape. A dry melodrama of absurd violence. Perhaps this year’s most misunderstood movie, it is quite mad, sometimes embarrassing, very harsh and by far my favorite Moretti in years.
44) Careless Crime (Shahram Mokri)
The violent permanence of certain images. Cinema mediates tragedy and national trauma, extends, mystifies, mirrors it, and allows time to consume itself.
43) IWOW: I Walk on Water (Khalik Allah)
The Haitian homeless man and the narcissistic artist trying to portray him: a violent relationship. The idea of the street and community is far too irresistible, but the movie only finds a power imbalance in its poetic images.
42) Ferny & Luca (Andrew Infante)
A romantic musical, in the flow of words and images as much as in how music is central to it. A very generous movie because it is one very willing to embrace how messy life can be.
41) The First Fallen (Rodrigo de Oliveira)
A mythic portrait of the first year of the AIDS crisis in Brazil. Bodies might disappear, but one can live a bit more when gestures can be extended.
40) Madalena (Madiano Marcheti)
A dead body in the fields. It is a movie about a land, the violence and life it contains, and the rigid society structures supposed to organize it and ways one might hope to live or create so one can find some breathing room from it.
39) Bergman Island (Mia Hansen-Løve)
Life and fiction and its many mediations and obsessions. It is an aesthetic discussion including about what to do with a film heritage. Ten years ago, Hansen-Løve released Goodbye First Love, which remains my favorite among her movies, and this Bergman Island is like two revisits to that same material she clearly isn’t ready to let go.
38) A Floating World (Jean-Claude Rousseau)
Rousseau trips to Japan and makes a movie about a modern world watched from a detached faraway place.
37) One Shot (James Nunn)
I’m not a big fan of stunt one shot movies, but the context here, a low budget action movie, makes the challenges more fascinating and it is less about the long take than it is a variation on time and the contrast between action that is urgent and desperate and time that is extended, every gesture immediate but elongated.
36) Old (M. Night Shyamalan)
Movies are a lifetime. Cinema apparatus as an avenue for horror. It kind of falls apart in the end, but it is one of Shyamalan’s more intriguing personal movies along the way.
35) Shock Wave 2 (Herman Yau)
Hong Kong cinema is amnesiac for whom multiple desires are projected on and with the hard mission of trying to appease all of them.
34) The Rescue (Dante Lam)
The Dante Lam special: outstanding widescreen action packaged into excessive melodrama. The subject is Chinese rescue and salvage unit so it is a series of large disaster scenes imagined with care and as many guys suffering in slow motion and CGI as Lam can get away with.
33) The Power of the Dog (Jane Campion)
Like most Campion movies, it is about the relationship between power and desire, but it is also a revisit to The Portrait of a Lady, only it is about an equally besieged cowboy. A series of overactors suffocated by roles society set them to perform in a movie whose supposedly subtle images keep imprisoning them.
32) Raging Fire (Benny Chan)
Benny Chan could deliver action chaos like the best of them.
31) Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar (Josh Greenbaum)
As close to a George Sidney musical as current American cinema can gets. And Jamie Dornan isa surprisingly good Esther Williams analogue.
29) The Empty Man (David Prior) and Smiley Face Killers (Tim Hunter)
Two paranoid horror fictions that feel very resonant today. Smiley Face Killers is a sterile urban conspiracy, and The Empty Man is Hollywood cosmic horror, but they both arrive at strong apocalyptic visions.
28) Belle (Mamoru Hosoda)
Hosoda imagining beauty and the beast for a virtual world. Incredible animation and very emotionally generous.
27) Benedetta (Paul Verhoeven)
Sacred profane. One knows Verhoeven is a great perverse provocateur because deep down Benedetta’s couldn’t be more sincere.
25) The Card Counter (Paul Schrader) and Red Rocket (Sean Baker)
American society purgatories. One ascetic and organized to remain apart from the world, another a warm pop one that throws itself into it. Movies haunted by inescapable histories taken by a constant sublimated violence. They couldn’t be more different and more complementary.
24) North by Current (Angelo Madsen Minax)
An essay film about the complex feelings one has about their origins that remains remarkably free of predetermined ideas and willing to let time modulate where it arrives.
23) In Front of Your Face (Hong Sang-soo)
Hong at his most direct and exposed. That final laugh is worth many movies.
22) Wife of a Spy (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
Marriage is like a country in time of war.
21) Capitu and the Chapter (Júlio Bressane)
Capitu and the Chapter proposes itself less as an adaptation of a key Brazilian literature text than as a reading, a desire to search for film forms to deal with Machado de Assis writing. More than any of Bressane’s other recent digital movies, it is a work of editing, whose meanings are given less through the power of individual scenes, than the constant articulations between them.
20) The French Dispatch (Wes Anderson)
Creative types imaging alternative worlds one can escape to. Anderson’s utopia and very much a movie about itself. It is not really about The New Yorker, but the last grasp of idiosyncratic American auteur cinema made with industry resources. It is also animated by Anderson’s love of actors and how much every one of them gives Anderson something back.
19) Introduction (Hong Sang-soo)
A movie made of holes as big as the generational abyss it covers. A movie haunted by how one performs those set roles, and everything unsaid between them.
18) Procession (Robert Greene)
Robert Greene is a passionate artist who likes to share his movies with the people he is advocating for and a film theorist. Those aren’t always easy to reconcile positions and the power of Procession, done along with a group of middle-aged men who were abused by priests, is how it is a very direct movie about their experiences and annotation on what it means to put them on screen.
17) Parallel Mothers (Pedro Almodovar)
Kleber Mendonça Filho compared Parallel Mothers with John Sayles’ Lone Star and I can’t stop think about it, at first they couldn’t be further apart, but they throw themselves into attempts to rethink fictional traditions dear to their countries to better access their histories of violence.
16) The Works and Days (of Tayoko Shiojiri in the Shiotani Basin) (C.W. Winter, Anders Edström)
Land and fiction. This is an 8-hour hybrid film about a Japanese farmer reimagining the last year of her husband’s life and what is so moving about it is how the disparate elements are made to add into each other.
15) Minamata Mandala (Kazuo Hara)
Aging faces that keep going. Cinema is this incredible thing because it allows each one of those faces to exist by themselves and not get reduced to the symbolic roles the ceremonial text of society rather impose on them.
14) The Monopoly of Violence (David Dufresne)
About the post French revolution modern bourgeois state and the police one that helps sustain it. An essay film more interested in a series of gestures and what they reveal. The Monopoly of Violence has plenty to say on police brutality, its political uses and the desires for law and order that animate and help enable it.
13) Memoria (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
The transference of a sonic landscape into spatial filmic one. I don’t think this is as impressive imagined as Apichatpong 00s movies, but on pure formal control it might be the most impressive thing he made since the guy got his meeting in the woods on Tropical Malady.
12) Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (Ryusuke Hamaguchi)
Self fictions navigating very strict narratives, but there’s always one moment to ponder the roles one performs, and choices made. The three-story anthology, the echoes between them and their deliberate narrative construction points toward a narrow conception and then the approach to actors and setting open it all up again. Also, Katsuki Mori reading the erotic passage of her professor’s novel might be the scene of the year.
11) From Bakersfield to Mojave (James Benning)
The conquest of the west gives away to the bitterness of the post-industrial landscape of Benning’s California. A movie of movement and discovery, one of the train shots is especially wonderful as one slowly gets how perfect Benning’s camera placement is, that is also one that completely empties out a landscape. Film illusion and its opposite.
10) What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? (Alexandre Koberidze)
To give oneself to the wonders of film. Everything is possible, even Messi winning a World Cup. A romantic, very encompassing movie that embraces a lot, maybe not every bit works quite as well as others, but the gesture is more powerful and generous. A movie that made me happy.
9) La Nature (Artavazd Peleshian)
Artavazd Peleshian hadn’t made a movie since 1993 when he out of nowhere came up with this collection of amazing images of ecological disaster. Civilization disappearing in front of nature in revolt. The insignificance of men in front of a diary of the end of the world. Land, air, water, they all tremble.
8) Mr. Bachmann and his Class (Maria Speth)
One of the greatest movies ever made about pedagogy. It is not about the students or even Bachman himself, but about the classroom and the exchange possible when the parts are allowed to find the right way to talk beyond school’s more limited placement.
7) Cry Macho (Clint Eastwood)
Clint Eastwood cried and said goodbye while reaffirming the important things in life in a pastoral neowestern that surprises by the way it exists outside Hollywood forms while informed by a history of it.
6) Annette (Leos Carax)
Finding the possible genuine feeling at a society of spectacle.
5) France (Bruno Dumont)
One rarely gets a movie that gets such a fast reappraisal as France which was joked off Cannes screen half a year ago and keeps popping up in the best of the year. It kind of makes sense when one considers that France is a movie about the manufacturing of images, how they are created, projected, and watched. It is above all else about Lea Seydoux image, her face contemplated and made go through every possible emotion (among many other things it is a comedy about watching Lea Seydoux crying) while the movie doubles on her actual off-screen celebrity. The text is of a media satire, but France knows there’s no difference between third rate TV news and Cannes approved auteur cinema, the effect of commodified images is the same and there’s just no escape from it. Dumont just moves towards erasing any distance and comfort from it.
4) Hold Me Back (Akiko Ohku)
The only reason I’m not ready to say Lea Seydoux gives the performance of the year in France is because Japanese comedienne Non is every bit as good on Hold me Back as 31-year-old woman having a film long anxiety attack when she notices a nice guy is actually interested in her. A romantic triangle whose third party is an internal voice over, this is as often hilarious as It is scary and it is so good and perceptive about contemporary loneliness and anxiety. Director Akiko Ohku keeps making wonderful true movies even if she works in a register that couldn’t be less fashionable.
3) Zeros and Ones (Abel Ferrara)
If Abel Ferrara made the first 21st century movie with New Rose Hotel this sort of stealth thematic sequel closes the door in a decade dedicated to a series of literal and personal apocalypses. Ferrara and cinematographer Sean Price Williams find a series of diverse textures in an eternal night of Rome in lockdown. Every image is precious and ready to fall apart while also given to a tactile strength. It is an audiovisual dispatch about the European Community as a failed police state as a big conspiracy delirium mediated by a conception of cinema, that includes recognize its marginal role in the big market of images, and Ferrara’s Dyonisian relationship of repulsion and given itself to the world.
2) Drive My Car (Ryusuke Hamaguchi)
I guess every year has that one movie that pretty much all cinephilia agrees on and given that I’ve seen a picture of Hidetoshi Nishijima and that red car in nearly every list I come across, Drive my Car seems to be this year’s one, not bad for a 3 hour Japanese movie about grief and Tchekov. Part of the appeal I think is that this is a movie about using forms of shared fiction to reach an emotional truth and that is obviously very seductive for cinephiles. There’s two sets of stages that remain central to it, the literal theatrical one and the car, they both serve to work that emotional baggage and bring people together through it and Hamaguchi’s control of their interplay is remarkable. There’s of course also Hiroshima as the main setting with all the association it brings with. There’s that powerful idea of the car as this place of shared experience that also helps repurpose those personal dramas into the roads it is crossing. And Hamaguchi, Nishijima and Toko Miura do wonders with the way the director and the driver go along with it.
1) Limbo (Soi Cheang)
A movie about space, about creating an environment made of all the forgotten parts of local society to better consider all its ills. A movie of literal open garbage heap turned by cinema into something huge, of violent and exploitive emotions set to consume themselves. The more unreal its images taken by allegorical weight, the more truthful they become. Soi Cheang first made a movie about Hong Kong as a forgotten garbage city 21 years ago with Diamond Hill and he kept depurating that vision in a way or another in the meantime. From the aesthetics of garbage, a monument against forgetting.