The Year in Review – 2021

by Ken Bakely

Another year has passed. Last December, I discussed how difficult it was to summarize the preceding twelve months in the world of film in a single post, and I find myself in a similar position this year, but perhaps for different reasons.

It’s been an exceedingly strange year in many senses, including at the movies – caught between a continuation of the innovations mandated by 2020 and a desire to return to theaters. For one, the decision from Warner Bros. to release all their films day-and-date on HBO Max was a bold experiment, but considering some of the box office receipts for their theatrical releases, one I’m hard-pressed to imagine they, or any other distributor, will want to try again. In a more conventional model, many films did go exclusively to theaters, but the number of streaming-exclusive titles remained high, and at levels that I’m not so sure will trend downwards even when the pandemic is no longer a factor in decision-making. If I had to guess, the pandemic is speeding along many trends that were well on their way.

I talked about this and other topics in more depth as a guest on the annual year-end edition of the Film Pulse podcast, which you can listen to here.

Also over at Film Pulse is my full top 10 column, with further commentary on each of my selections. For just a preview of just the titles, here they are:

  1. Bergman Island (Mia Hansen-Løve)
  2. The Power of the Dog (Jane Campion)
  3. Drive My Car (Ryusuke Hamaguchi) – expect a full review coming in the next few days or so
  4. Summer of Soul (Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson)
  5. Flee (Jonas Poher Rasmussen)
  6. The Mitchells vs. the Machines (Mike Rianda)
  7. Riders of Justice (Anders Thomas Jensen)
  8. The Lost Daughter (Maggie Gyllenhaal)
  9. Mass (Fran Krantz)
  10. Judas and the Black Messiah (Shaka King)

One particular difficulty I had this year – not that I don’t have it in some form every year – was whittling it down to the ten I most wanted to feature. The first few picks tend to be no-brainers, but once you get down to the last few, there is a feeling that you’re leaving something out. So I do value the chance to share five honorable mentions as well, and here they are, in alphabetical order:

The French Dispatch (Wes Anderson)
Malignant (James Wan)
Shiva Baby (Emma Seligman)
Spencer (Pablo Larraín)
Titane (Julia Ducournau)

And with that, we close the book on 2021. Onwards, and hopefully upwards, into 2022.