COVID has, once again, kept most of us stuck at home for a good portion of 2021, but films continue to be made and there have been some great titles released throughout the year, even if few had a notable cinematic release. So, as per custom, the Blueprint: Review team have collated their individual lists of favourite films released in the year.
The boutique Blu-ray/UHD labels have been spoiling us rotten this year too, with numerous high profile releases to excite the collectors among us. As such, I and several other writers have added our lists of favourite first-time watches and physical releases for you to read.
If you’re interested in what I saw in 2021 and beyond, I try to keep tabs of everything I watch, new or otherwise, at Letterboxd. It’s a cool site if you’re not aware of it, offering a social network for film geeks and a place to track the films you’ve seen or want to see.
Below are the top 10’s and other lists of the year from a handful of our contributors. As always, let us know your thoughts in the comments section and feel free to include your own lists.
I’ve included links to reviews when available.
I sadly made very few trips to the cinema in 2021, but managed to watch a fair number of new releases via online exhibitor preview events (I run a touring cinema on the side of my filmmaking/videography) as well as catching up on some of the well regarded Netflix and MUBI titles at the end of the year. I’ve still missed a lot of hyped-up, big-name films, but I can’t watch everything.
As usual, most of my film-watching has consisted of Blu-ray screeners of older titles though, so I’ve provided lists of my favourite general first-time watches and discs released in 2021.
Top 10 New Releases (going by widespread UK release dates)
10. Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes – I’ve always had a thing for time-travel movies and this micro-budget Japanese entry to the genre provides a refreshingly original and light-hearted spin on it.
9. Violence Voyager – Ujicha’s latest is a bonkers, gruesome treat that manages to use its lo-fi paper cutout puppet stylings to craft something surprisingly cinematic.
8. Sound of Metal – The underrated Riz Ahmed shines in this low-key but riveting drama about a heavy metal drummer that has lost his hearing, causing his life to fracture.
7. The Mitchells vs the Machines – I caught Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe’s animated Netflix film at the last minute before compiling my list as I’m a sucker for animation and it had been recommended by a number of writers I respect. It did not disappoint. Visually playful, emotionally satisfying and endlessly entertaining. You can’t ask for anything more.
6. The Father – Watching another Alzheimer’s drama didn’t appeal at first but I gave this a shot and was glad I did as this takes a clever and incredibly impactful approach to portraying the illness. Topped off by a rightfully lauded central performance by Anthony Hopkins, it’s an excellent film.
5. Cryptozoo – Another late animation entry to my list was Dash Shaw’s Cryptozoo. A psychedelic fantasy action-adventure, made with an unusual visual style blending fairly basic animation with eye-poppingly colourful and often quite surreal artwork, it’s a one-of-a-kind gem that deserves to be better known. Its graphic imagery won’t be to everyone’s tastes though, it must be said.
4. First Cow – I’ve only seen a small handful of Kelly Reichardt’s films, but she’s swiftly becoming one of my favourite directors. As usual, it’s her subtle, natural approach that impresses in this quiet, intimate tale of friendship among the developing American frontier.
3. After Love – I expected this to make a much bigger impact on its release this year (I caught an early preview), but After Love came and went relatively unheralded, receiving strong reviews but little attention elsewhere. It’s a shame because it’s a restrained but quietly powerful drama about a woman coming to terms with the sudden loss of her husband and discovery of his hidden life.
2. Summer of Soul – This was another last-minute entry to the list but it shot right into second place, as I was blown away by it. At one side a foot-stomping celebration of soul, funk and gospel music and at another a rousing examination of race relations in late-60s America, it’s a phenomenally well-constructed documentary.
1. Minari – As my list will attest, I’m a big fan of low-key dramas, and it was Lee Isaac Chung’s superb period piece that impressed me most. Delicately observed, it takes some potentially melodramatic material and crafts it into a deeply personal and beautifully performed and presented masterwork.
Honourable mentions – The Power of the Dog, Nomadland, Shiva Baby, Zappa, The Reason I Jump, Dune, News of the World, Apples
Notable films missed or not released in the UK yet – Lots, including Licorice Pizza, West Side Story, The Lost Daughter, The Green Knight, Encanto, The Last Duel, Last Night in Soho, Titane, Suicide Squad, Spider-Man: No Way Home and Tick, Tick… Boom!
Top 20 Older First Time Watches
* Click on the links to read full reviews when available
20. Portrait of Hell
19. The Great Silence
18. One, Two Three
15. Black Sabbath (1963)
14. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold
13. Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea
10. Over the Edge
9. The Ascent
6. Original Cast Album: Company
4. Cape Fear
3. Secrets & Lies
1. Le Samouraï
Honourable mentions – Crumb, Pushover, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, Faust (1926), Murder by Contract, And God Said to Cain, The Sniper (1952), Before Tonight is Over, Out of the Past, The Brothers Rico.
Favourite Blu-Rays of the Year
TOP 20 SINGLE TITLE RELEASES:
20. The Valachi Papers – Indicator
19. Suburbia – 101 Films
18. Tigers Are Not Afraid – Acorn Media/Shudder
17. Viy – Eureka
16. The Ascent – Criterion
15. Mirror – Criterion
14. Bleak Moments – BFI
13. The Great Silence – Eureka
12. Invasion of the Body Snatchers – BFI
11. Salaam Bombay! – BFI
10. Kagemusha – Criterion
9. Light Sleeper – Indicator
8. Lake Mungo – Second Sight
7. Major Dundee – Arrow
6. Spookies – 101 Films
5. The Young Master – 88 Films
4. The Millionaires’ Express – Eureka
3. Original Cast Album: “Company” – Criterion
2. The River – BFI
1. Over the Edge – Arrow
There was some tough competition this year, with many releases stacked with special features and gorgeous new transfers. Over the Edge made my top choice though because the volume and quality of extras was astonishing and the film itself blew me away too. Every release in my top 20 comes highly recommended though. It really was an incredible year for boutique Blu-rays.
Honourable mentions – Secrets & Lies – Criterion, Silent Action – Fractured Visions, The Pawnbroker – BFI, Geronimo: An American Legend – Indicator, Bringing Up Baby – Criterion, Saint Maud – Studiocanal, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion – Criterion, Piccadilly – BFI, Dogs Don’t Wear Pants – Anti-Worlds, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold – Eureka
TOP 10 MULTI-FILM BOX SETS:
10. Hungarian Masters – Second Run
9. Early Universal Vols. 1 & 2 – Eureka
8. The Daimajin Trilogy – Arrow
7. Years of Lead: Five Classic Italian Crime Thrillers 1973-1977 – Arrow
6. Cinematic Vengeance! 8 Kung-Fu Classics From Director Joseph Kuo – Eureka
5. Columbia Noir #2, #3 & #4 – Indicator
4. Vengeance Trails: 4 Classic Westerns – Arrow
3. World of Wong Kar Wai – Criterion
2. Cartoon Saloon’s Irish Folklore Trilogy – Studiocanal
1. Shawscope: Volume 1 – Arrow
It was a very strong year for boxsets too and, whilst Studiocanal’s Irish Folklore Trilogy scored more consistently high in terms of film quality and extras in my review, I had to go with Arrow’s Shawscope set because it was like mana from heaven for me, being a massive kung-fu fan that hasn’t seen nearly enough Shaw Brothers titles. Arrow had a great year in general for boxsets, so they deserved to take the top spot.
I’d like to add that I’m only one man, so can’t watch every disc or boxset released each year. Notable sets I’d like to mention that look great and I own but haven’t got around to watching yet are Indicator’s Mae West in Hollywood 1932-1943 and two Third Window sets, Toshiaki Toyoda 2005-2021 and Nobuhiko Obayashi’s Anti-War Trilogy.
Honourable mentions – The Weird and Wonderful World of Ujicha – Third Window, Demons 1 & 2 – Arrow, Sabata Trilogy – Eureka, Yokai Monsters Collection – Arrow, Straight Shooting & Hell Bent – Eureka, Lucky Stars 3-Film Collection – Eureka
10. Love and Monsters
9. Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar
8. Sound of Metal
7. The Suicide Squad
6. Spider-Man: No Way Home
5. Last Night in Soho
4. Palm Springs
3. The Father
2. Promising Young Woman
1. The Mitchells vs the Machines
2021 has been a very strong year for new releases and paring down to a top 10 was extremely difficult. As with previous years, I’ve gone by UK release dates but unlike previous years, where I have included the odd borderline TV/film crossover like Small Axe, this year I have stuck strictly with film releases. This means I have not included Peter Jackson’s Get Back, which was the absolute best thing I watched all year, and I’ve also chosen to exclude Bo Burnham’s Inside, which plays like a film but is officially classed as a stand-up special.
Even with these omissions, the list of contenders was lengthy. Before we get to my top 10 of the year, I’d like to briefly give some honourable mentions, which are all films I rated 3.5 stars and enjoyed greatly. I’ve also included a list of what I’ve termed “runners up”, which were films I’ve rated 4 stars or higher, all of which were in the running for potential inclusion in my final 10. Finally, I’ve also made a list of big films I didn’t manage to see, which may otherwise have been in contention.
Honourable mentions: Promising Young Woman, I Care a Lot, Barb and Star Go to Vista del Mar, Passing, Ron’s Gone Wrong, Cruella, Free Guy, Werewolves Within, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Lift Like a Girl – I’m not sure what drew me to this observational documentary about an Egyptian training ground for teenage weightlifters but it ended up being fascinating.
Summit of the Gods – Atmospheric French animation based on a Japanese manga about mountain climbing. Makes you feel every chill wind and torn muscle in its fantastic climbing sequences.
The White Tiger – Excellent adaptation of the Booker Prize winning novel. Sprawling crime drama with touches of black humour. Slightly scuppered by an eleventh hit switch into flashy, fourth-wall breaking ending.
Luca – Thoroughly charming Pixar animation which was largely treated as a minor work but which I enjoyed more than the much ballyhooed Soul.
Nomadland – Formally interesting and timely docudrama that won Best Picture Oscar. I think I’ll like this one even more on a rewatch.
Vivo – Underrated Sony animation about a singing, dancing kinkajou voiced by Lin Manuel-Miranda, who also wrote the excellent songs. Miranda’s songs have soundtracked several films this year, including Disney’s Encanto, which Vivo is much better than. ‘My Own Drum’ is a particularly infectious number.
Judas and the Black Messiah – Very solid historical drama about William O’Neal’s infiltration of the Black Panthers, featuring a knockout Oscar-winning performance by Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton.
The Sparks Brothers – Exhaustive Edgar Wright documentary on the brilliant Sparks, which goes through their whole catalogue. Suitable for new and existing fans alike.
tick, tick… BOOM! – Lin-Manuel Miranda again, this time in the director’s chair, for a funny, lively, sad and moving adaptation of the Jonathan Larson stage musical of the same name. Excellent performance by Andrew Garfield as Larson, great songs and an accessibility that reaches beyond existing fans of musical theatre.
First Cow – Beautiful, slow-burning tale of friendship and class divisions, made with typical precision by Kelly Reichardt, who brings out the simple story’s nuances and makes Toby Jones tasting a cake into one of the best scenes of the year.
Val – I’ve never been the biggest Val Kilmer fan but this documentary, much of it gleaned from amateur film shot by Kilmer himself, gives a fascinating insight into his life and career with the sort of comprehensive and exclusive footage that would never be available for most actors.
Yet to see: Another Round, Flee, Petite Maman, West Side Story, King Richard, The Tragedy of Macbeth, Last Night in Soho, C’mon C’mon, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Lamb, Gunda, Drive my Car, Nobody, The Last Duel, Annette, CODA, Titane, The Hand of God, Greenland, A Boy Called Christmas, In the Heights
Top 10 New Releases
10. The Mitchells vs. The Machines – I’m a huge fan of the animated series Gravity Falls so when two key players in that series’ production, Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe, teamed up to write and direct an animated feature, the likelihood of me loving it was high. The Mitchells vs. The Machines is an utter delight, easily trumping Disney’s disappointing 2021 output and pipping other strong animations like Luca, Vivo, Ron’s Gone Wrong and Summit of the Gods to a place in my top 10 of the year. The Mitchells vs. The Machines benefits from a witty script, a terrific voice cast (including a scene-stealing Olivia Colman, who has played another blinder this year), strong LGBTQ+ representation and imaginative visuals. It does slightly oversell the emotional side of the central father/daughter relationship but this is a minor quibble in a film that is almost unerringly joyous.
9. Shiva Baby – Emma Seligman’s Shiva Baby was a film I immediately loved for its independent spirit, which immediately reminded me of the 90s indie films I grew up on. The film’s near real-time narrative and single location setting give its claustrophobic tension a real authenticity, while Seligman’s wonderful blackly comic script, taut direction and brilliant cast (in particular a powerful Rachel Sennot, whose shrewd comic timing underscores the horror of the situation she finds herself in. The palpable tension culminates in one of the best reimaginings of the Marx Brothers Stateroom scene that I’ve ever encountered; a perfect topper for a splendid film.
8. News of the World – 2021 has seen a handful of high profile westerns, a genre of which I’ve always been a fan. I loved (as we shall see) Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog but I wasn’t taken with Jeymes Samuel’s flashy The Harder They Fall. Perhaps the most underrated and quickly overlooked western of the year however was Paul Greengrass’s News of the World. Released in the midst of a gloomy February, News of the World’s understated style seemed to become subsumed by the winter, rejected by audiences looking for something brighter. But amidst its stark atmosphere, News of the World also has the glow of genuine warmth about it, emanated chiefly from the chemistry between Tom Hanks’s travelling newsreader (old style) and Helena Zengel as the young girl he is attempting to return to her family. They are both extraordinary in their roles and the unique onscreen chemistry between them exquisite.
7. Summer of Soul – Quickly acquiring a reputation as one of the must-see documentaries of the year, Questlove’s uplifting Summer of Soul is one of those stories that you can’t believe have been out there for decades without you knowing about them. The racially-motivated reasons behind this are actually part of the film though, as performers and attendees at the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival are interviewed amongst astonishing footage of performances by Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone, Gladys Knight and the Pips and Nina Simone to name just a few. It’s a deliriously feelgood documentary for sure but one with a timely, angry side to it too.
6. The Power of the Dog – As a big fan of the genre, I was immediately captivated by Jane Campion’s beautiful western drama. But The Power of the Dog is a very different kind of western. Around a small but multi-layered and ambiguous story, Campion sets out a visual feast that uses its deliberate pace to weave a beautiful but eerily alienating atmosphere, heightened by Jonny Greenwood’s unnerving score. A quartet of perfectly-pitched performances complete the spell, with a forceful but enigmatic Benedict Cumberbatch matched by a conflicted, desperate Kirsten Dunst, a mysterious Kodi Smit-McPhee and a deeply understated Jesse Plemons.
5. The Green Knight – Adapted from the 14th-century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, David Lowery’s ravishing, enigmatic, layered medieval fantasy utterly wowed me with its sumptuous, inventive visuals and deftly wrought screenplay which allows the episodic structure of a classic quest narrative to slowly cohere into a psychologically rich whole. Headed up by a superb Dev Patel as Gawain, The Green Knight has the feel of a lovingly created classic as opposed to big budget fantasies that have the ability to create whatever CG creatures they can imagine but lack the heart to imbue them with the required magic, the likes of which The Green Knight consistently provides.
4. Minari – Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari tells a simple tale but one that it is rich in metaphor, minutely observed details and touches of dry humour. It is this richness which makes it a film that will surely reward multiple viewings, and with its leisurely pace and sumptuous photography of green rural landscapes, it is certainly a film that invites them as well. Although the plot is minimal, it is well drawn and builds convincingly to decisive moments of dramatic tension, giving the viewer plenty of moments to breathe and the freedom to fill in the gaps. The film is further boosted by excellent performances all round. A quiet masterpiece.
3. The Lost Daughter – Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter arrived late in the year and, in doing so, saw another Olivia Colman film, The Father, narrowly bumped from my top 10. I immediately loved The Lost Daughter, with Colman absolutely excelling once again in the role of Leda, an awkward academic and mother holidaying alone in Greece. Almost as good is Jessie Buckley as the younger Leda, seen in flashbacks triggered by holiday experiences. Gyllenhaal, who also wrote the screenplay for her first directorial outing, has delivered a stunning debut that confirms her talents behind the camera with a multi-layered, deeply affecting examination of the ridiculous societal expectations we place on mothers that plays on those very tendencies in the viewer themselves with its intelligent structure and emotional frankness.
2. Cryptozoo – I can’t imagine Cryptozoo will trouble many people’s end of year top tens but for animation enthusiasts like myself, Dash Shaw’s second animated feature (following the equally masterful My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea) should prove an absolute joy. The tone, style, pacing, even the score, draw upon classic independent and foreign language animations of the 70s and 80s, evoking Rene Laloux’s Fantastic Planet, Marcell Jankovics’s Son of White Mare and Roman Kachanov’s Mystery of the Third Planet. The general air of strangeness that hung over this era is captured in more general stylistic allusions, including mildly pornographic moments, sudden abrupt violence, and a reverence, albeit self-aware, for the ideals of the era. But Cryptozoo is no mere tribute. For all its spot-on evocation of its influences, Shaw ensures this is very much his own film and one replete with relevant social commentary on exploitation, cruelty and white saviour narratives. And it’s utterly ravishing.
1. The French Dispatch – Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch divided critics, many of whom said only devoted fans of Anderson were likely to love it. I’m a massive Wes Anderson fan and obviously I loved it but I think this is an oversimplification. The French Dispatch is not a crowd-pleaser like The Grand Budapest Hotel. It is a lot more wilfully obscure, cerebral and strange. The visuals, of course, are stunning, with the frame packed with the usual levels of Tati-esque detail, but the script is just as intricately packed, with three individual stories plus sundries (including a hilarious short travelogue starring Owen Wilson). You have to really have your wits about you as the screenplay is verbose and exaggeratedly eloquent but it’s definitely a film that demands multiple viewings to pick up on every detail and fully connect with the intricate storytelling style, which is deliberately challenging. All that said, this is still a classic Wes Anderson style film, meaning that it is dryly hilarious if your sense of humour tends towards a certain oddball style. My film of the year.
For the second year in a row, the quality of films released these past 12 months seemingly took a big hit due to the pandemic.
Outside the world of film, however, we did at least get new seasons of the consistently brilliant Succession, and the welcome burst of positivity that is Queer Eye (which just squeezed into 2021, coming out on New Year’s Eve).
We also got Derek Delgaudio’s In & Of Itself, which is now streaming on Disney Plus. Somewhere between a magic show and performance theatre, it’s an incredible watch and one that’s good to go into without knowing too much.
But my absolute favourite piece of media of any kind this year was Bo Burnham’s Inside. It really is the only piece of pandemic art you need. If you’ve not seen any of Bo’s standup comedy, definitely check out his other two specials on Netflix before this. You’re in for a treat.
Now, onto the main event. My top 10 films of the year.
Honourable mentions: How it Ends, The Sparks Brothers, The Velvet Underground, Dinner in America, Nomadland
9. First Cow
7. Another Round
5. Judas and the Black Messiah
3. Sound of Metal
2. C’mon C’mon
And the runaway winner…
1. The French Dispatch
Top 10 Blu-ray Releases
It has been another bumper year for boutique film releases. In the history of film, I really don’t think there has been another period where such a wealth of great films has been made available for audiences, presented with such love, care and appreciation. Despite what the naysayers might say about physical media, I think we have been living through a golden age for home video for the last several years – long may that continue into 2022! In fact, there have been so many great releases I haven’t had the time to watch them all. Therefore, in the interests of fairness, I have restricted my Top Ten to only the Blu Ray releases I have seen…but I can’t wait to dive into some great 2021 releases like the Wong Kar Wai boxset and Out the Blue as soon as possible.
10. Ingmar Bergman BFI Boxsets – Although Criterion released a beautiful boxset of Bergman’s films a few years ago, this was restricted to those willing to import. The BFI have now rectified that with two Bergman Blu Ray boxsets released this year (with more to come in 2022). Adding additional films not seen in the Criterion (such as the wonderfully bleak Prison) there was even reason for owners of the Criterion boxset to pick these up.
9. Pariah (Criterion) – I came into this film cold and it absolutely blew me away. A searing, powerfully emotive drama about homosexuality and coming out, it is filled with stunning, heartbreaking performances and a tone and filming style that recalls the work of Cassavetes. One of the most underrated films of the last ten years finally got the release it deserved via Criterion.
8. Irreversible (Indicator) – One of the best films from this century got the Indicator treatment (and marked the label’s first foray into foreign-language cinema). A beautiful package all round. Be prepared if you haven’t seen it before…nihilistic and bleak, it certainly isn’t for the faint hearted.
7. Mulholland Drive 4K (Studiocanal) – Another of the greatest films of the 21st Century got a deluxe release – not from Indicator but from Studio Canal. A few extras were lost from the previous Blu Ray release, but a stunning 4K picture and absolutely beautiful packaging made up for it. An essential purchase for anyone with a 4K set up.
6. Over The Edge (Arrow)- One of the best Arrow releases of the year. One of Kurt Cobain’s favourite films, this is a brilliant but little seen teen drama that fully deserves to take its place alongside the classics of the genre. Hopefully Arrow’s fantastic release should go some way to finally achieving that.
5. True Romance 4K (Arrow) – Another stunner from Arrow. Arguably Tony Scott’s greatest film (and possibly Tarantino’s most purely enjoyable and straightforward script) True Romance deserved the deluxe treatment and boy did it get it. Books, postcards, enough extras to drown in and a great, filmic 4K transfer easily made this one of the releases of the year.
4. Indicator’s Film Noir Boxsets – Although the first of these came out in 2020, Indicator continued to release three more boxsets during 2021. Compiled with what seems to be a phenomenal amount of love and attention, these collections combined stone cold classics with gems you had never heard off. Even the weaker films in the sets were consistently enjoyable. Combined with beautiful packaging, exhaustive extras and thick booklets, these boxsets brought lost and forgotten films back into the limelight and are a prime example of why the home video market is so rich and exciting right now. Snap these up before they go out of print.
3. Radio On (BFI) – I saw this way back in the Spring and it has remained with me ever since. Half drama, half travelogue of 70s Britain, with one of the best soundtracks ever compiled, this is a long forgotten, unique masterpiece that fully rewards those who sit down with an open mind. Stunning.
2. All The Haunts Are Ours (Severin) – Not a British Blu Ray release, but this had to go in my top ten. Released by Severin Films in the States, this is an exhaustive compendium of folk horror cinema from around the world that includes a critically lauded three hour plus documentary, dozens of films, CD soundtracks, bountiful extras and a thick booklet. A beautiful and unique release for horror fans, I think this has to be the best Blu Ray boxset released this year. For anyone who can only play Region B, the good news is that the vast majority of the films here are also region free. If you are a horror fan, what are you waiting for?
1. The Servant 4K (Studiocanal) – Dirk Bogarde’s best performance. Harold Pinter’s best screenplay. Joseph Losey’s best film. In my opinion, the best British film of the 1960s. All released in a beautiful 4K transfer, with wonderful packaging, with all the extras carried over from the previous Blu Ray release, as well as some new ones. How could this not be number one? Dark, twisted, funny, tragic, subversive and idiosyncratically British, The Servant is a stone cold masterpiece and one of the best British films (hell, films) of all time. The fact that it was released in this 4K edition absolutely made my year. Buy this now.
2021 was a great year of film for me on two levels. As a long-time collector and watcher of boutique Blu-ray we got another sumptuous year of releases from all over the world and the pandemic levelled the cinematic playing field. The gap between theatrical release and being able to watch it at home has shortened and it meant I got to see more films from the past year than I would normally. With that in mind, I’ll split my list into two. I’ve tried to have a rule not to include films that I reviewed for the site (but as you’ll see, I am not as strong as I would like to be about this)
First up, the top 10 films from the last year
10. The Suicide Squad – I watched most of the big superhero movies in the cinema this year and while this may not be the most lauded one, it is the one I had the most fun with. James Gunn’s film played with expectations and common conventions of the genre to play with the viewer. As far as I am concerned you can sign me up for anything that Gunn puts his hands to in the future.
9. The Dig – A film that I haven’t seen many talk about. This Netflix release from the start of the year is about as far from the cinema spectrum as my number 10 but portrays a film with heart. It allows the central performances of Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes, Lily James, Ben Chaplin and others to fill the screen with the telling of an archaeological dig on some private land. It seeks to rewrite a perceived historical wrong in its telling and I found it to be a joy to spend time with.
8. Annette – This is a film that could have ranked anywhere in my list, including the very top spot but it is a film that begs for as many rewatches as you can give it. The tale of two celebrities having a child with gifts. It’s full of imagery and ideas all wrapped up in a musical theatre bubble. Leo Carax and Sparks have a lot to answer for.
7. Dune – You have to tip your cap to Villeneuve. If ever there was a person who knew how to relate and tell science fiction stories and present to the common man, it is him. It wasn’t enough to convince any of the rest of my family that there was anything to remember about the story aside from its length. What they missed out on was a subtle hand in taking one of the most complex social fiction and making it seem engaging while preserving its depth and suspense. Hell, even Jason Momoa turned in a compelling performance.
6. The French Dispatch – Another film that will no doubt rise with subsequent rewatches. As a fervent Wes Anderson fan, a film that manages to be (possibly) the MOST Anderson film of them all. The attention to detail in every scene of this ode to the New Yorker is as charming and inventive as ever. Well worth the wait.
5. First Cow – Reinhardt is a master of doing so much with so little. At a time where regular access to other humans is limited, we are presented with a tale centred around the importance of having the ‘right’ people around you to encourage you, nurture you and get us into mischief. Like many other of Reichardt’s films, it is almost a silent film, much of the dialogue is softly spoken, a drawl or allegory to an inner monologue. The setting, accompanying soundtrack and crackling of leaves, fires and the life around our characters says as much as the characters themselves.
4. Shiva Baby – It seems like every other film I watch lately is a masterclass in what it feels like to have a prolonged anxiety attack. Shiva Baby is more honest about it than most as it’s staccato string soundtrack punches and swells in an orchestrated assault on the senses.
All of this sounds like a review of a film I did not enjoy. The truth is that Shiva Baby revels in awkward social familial gatherings and its shorter run time of 77 minutes is stuffed to the gills with drama, possible impending doom and disaster. Couple this with the difficulties of youth and finding your place in the world when nothing seems to be working out.
3. After Love – I promised myself to exclude any films that I reviewed for the sight but I have to make an exception for this tale of cultural diversity, love and loss. A film that revels in the dread and exploration of finding out that those you love most have not revealed everything that there is to know.
2. The Green Knight – It’s difficult to comprehend how a film that looks as incredible as this does can be made for so little (15 million dollars allegedly). It’s a cliche to say that every scene is a picture but that would not do justice to what else is going on in each frame.
The movement of the camera, in, out and through the scene accentuates the feeling that everything isn’t quite what it appears to be at any stage of the legend, a legend that is presented in as spectacular fashion as any Arthurian story.
As each Lowery film is released, admiration for how he is expressing his craft grows. He is a filmmaker with whom I will sit enthralled moment by moment, even if I know some may leave this cold. It is obtuse in how it weaves its tale, deliberate in its choice of when to use light and dark and whose imagery will repeat in your minds eye for long afterwards.
1. Tick Tick… Boom! – As a fan of musical theatre, that I would engage with the story of Jonathan Larson was perhaps the most predictable outcome of the year. Heightened by the absence of y’know… actual musical theatre, the songs, the scripting and all the clever flourishes that you expect from Lin Manuel Miranda.
Andrew Garfield’s performance is enormous and honestly Oscar-worthy. A smile stretched across my face in joy and awe and I’ve been back to revisit it often since its release.
Top Physical Releases this year
I’m purposely excluding boxsets as they are much more known commodities, and frankly, I’ve started but not finished many of them… for shame. I will be concentrating on individual releases. I can’t so 10 so it will have to be 12.
12. Time and Tide (Eureka) – There were so many Asian film releases that it can be hard to know the great from the good. This 2000 Tsui Hark film is a weird and wonderful look at the world of hitmen. The film starts with a young barman impregnating a lesbian cop and this isn’t where the weirdness ends. A lot of fun punctuated with numerous frenetic chases and action scenes.
11. The Outsiders (Studio Canal 4k) – A film I had never seen and a far cry from what I thought it was going to be based on the trailer. In order to qualify as a worthy pickup for upgrade, a 4k release has to be noticeably different to my eyes. This does so in spades. The colours are on a whole other level to accompany the upscale in resolution. A film that appears to be about street wars but is actually about spirituality and poetry.
10. Beauty and the Beast (Second Run) – A banner year for Second Run that could have had any number of their releases in the list. This retelling of the classic tale is different from any other that you have seen. Juraj Herz’s gothic tale is confusing at first but soon develops into an enchanting deep dive.
9. 20th Century (Indicator) – There were a number of acclaimed screwball comedies released this year, including the wonderful Bringing up Baby. Hawks was pretty great at this genre it seems. Instead of Grant and Hepburn, here we have the equally wonderful Lombard and Barrymore. This is a rags to riches story where one makes the other famous before realising that they need each other in the long term. It twists here and there in hilarious comedic effect and is a real joy from start to finish.
8. The Babadook (Second Sight) – A haunting modern horror from the mind of Jennifer Kent takes the premise of the boogeyman who lives under the bed being a bit more than that. It plays on the psychological trail left by loss while managing a growing young life. As usual, it is about much more than the creature under the bed. It is a distinctly uncomfortable watch but one that will play longer in the memory.
7. The Young Master (88 Films) – A kung fu film from Jackie Chan could have been from any number of releases. I’ve plumped for the deluxe presentation of this Chan classic. Many of these genre movies have similar plots but The Young Master stands out from the crowd as being something a bit different from the rest. A special nod to the extras which look at the reason for the existence of different cuts.
6. Viy (Eureka) – A Russian horror tales from the 60s. Its not long but packs more in its short run time than many movies would fit into double the time. Part inspiration for Pan’s Labyrinth and Encounters of a Spooky Kind. Not to be missed.
5. Light Sleeper (Indicator) – Willem Dafoe is a high-class drug dealer who is looking for a change but as usual things are not so easy. A surprisingly moving and sympathetic tale that has some of the best-written characters of any film I’ve seen this year.
4. Original Cast Album: Company (Criterion) – Another massive surprise. I am not familiar with the musical but I could not help but be enthralled while watching Stephen Sondheim in his prime (may he rest in peace ) take the cast in trying to record a definitive version of the soundtrack to his hit musical. There is more drama here than you could possibly imagine and the last twenty minutes capture a memorable deconstruction of a great.
3. The Lighthouse (Second Run) – Another exception as I reviewed this for the site, but a film I fell head over heels in love with. Like a love letter to the greats of Russian cinema, it borrows aspects from each as we have the story of a young woman returning to the village she grew up in to rescue her grandparents from civil war. Haunting, beautiful, upsetting and moving in equal measure.
2. Pariah (Criterion) – Cinema often crosses cultural barriers. It was surprising to me that one night when watching a film that I had only passing interest in, that I recognised many of those I know and love most in the world, portrayed on screen. Being able to sit and watch an autobiographical story play out the way it did was something that I did not expect in any way.
1. Raw (Second Sight) – A film that I’m not sure why I purchased, that I watched behind my fingers for most of the duration, challenged me in ways that meant it lived with me for most of the year as I tossed and turned the themes and ideas around my head. A film with cannibalism at its heart would be surprising to be called beautiful but that’s what you have here. Its heart is in dealing with growing up and finding your place in the world. Congratulations to a stunning release of an astonishing film.
(Calculated by placement, so 10 points for 1st, 9 for 2nd etc.)
9 – Summer of Soul/The Father – joint 9th with 13 points
8 – Sound of Metal – 14 points
4 – The Mitchells vs the Machines/First Cow/The Green Knight/Cryptozoo – joint 4th with 15 points
3 – After Love – 16 points
2 – Minari – 20 points
1 – The French Dispatch – 25 points
So, whilst Wes Anderson’s French Dispatch proved a little divisive among most critics, the writers here at Blueprint: Review clearly loved it.
…and as a special bonus consensus list, I thought I’d compile our top 5 favourite boutique Blu-ray labels, taking into account placement in various top disc release lists among our writers:
(Calculated by placement, so 20 points for 1st, 19 for 2nd etc.)
5 – BFI – 74 points
4 – Eureka – 80 points
3 – Indicator – 87 points
2 – Criterion – 106 points
1 – Arrow – 129 points
It’s an unfair list in many senses, as different labels release different volumes of discs (Second Sight and Second Run are two of the best labels out there but they only release roughly 1 disc a month, whereas Arrow release 4 or 5). However, I wanted to celebrate the fine work of the companies that we feature so heavily on the site. I’m happy to see Arrow in the top spot too, as they’ve been playing very much to my tastes over the past 12 months, releasing numerous martial arts classics, westerns, Japanese genre movies and Eurocrime titles to keep me like a pig in mud.
So that’s it for another year. Keep visiting the site for our thoughts on the latest home entertainment releases (and the rare cinematic releases that we get around to). Let us know your thoughts about the best and worst of the year below or on social media.
Happy New Year!