My Favourite Films of 2021

As per tradition after the Oscars, I will give out imaginary awards to the films that I love most or hold in high regard from the preceding year.

Golden Snoopy – Radu Jude for BAD LUCK BANGING OR LOONY PORN

A schoolteacher and her circulating sex tape headline Jude’s provocative new experiment – a piercing sociopolitical satire that proves illuminating because it dares to be offensive and blunt about everything wrong with the world, and is arguably the most stimulating screen experience of 2021.

Silver Snoopy – Asghar Farhadi for A HERO

The finest film Farhadi has put out in years—here he skilfully draws out a complex, delicate drama with weighty themes of morality, truth and honour from a simple premise: a debt-ridden prisoner and a bag of gold coins. Farhadi doesn’t for one moment judge who’s right or wrong, leaving us to think and empathise in the same vein.  Society’s far too complicated to produce an easy answer, but under the director’s hands, he makes these complications easy to understand. 

Bronze Snoopy – Ryusuke Hamaguchi for DRIVE MY CAR

Three hours fly by in Hamaguchi’s gentle Cannes Best Screenplay winner—a highly-layered and nuanced take on the unresolved regrets and guilt that stay deep within us, and the affordances of performance art and unlikely acquaintance as catharsis. This is arguably the year’s most rewarding film.

Bronze Snoopy (Special Mention) – Maria Speth for MR. BACHMANN AND HIS CLASS

This is pedagogy as cinema—an unobtrusive and highly-rewarding documentary centering on a veteran teacher and his ethnically-diverse students in a small town in Germany, earning every compelling bit of its nearly four-hour runtime. Mr. Bachmann’s incredible patience and compassion are what drive Speth’s work, captivating us as we nostalgise our own experiences in the classroom. 

  • Best Director – Julia Ducournau (TITANE) for an emerging filmmaker with incredible talent and uncompromising vision, delivering a slick if bizarre body-horror shocker for a sophomore feature.
  • Best Lead Actor – Amir Jadidi (A HERO) for a deceptively straightforward performance, building upon his charming smile that reveals a range of subtle emotions even in the most despairing of circumstances.
  • Best Lead Actress – Kristen Stewart (SPENCER) for her tremendous transformation into Princess Diana in a career-best performance thus far.
  • Best Supporting Actor – Vincent Lindon (TITANE) for a physical and intimidating display as a lonely firefighting captain who desires connection after losing his young son. 
  • Best Supporting Actress – Judy Davis & Essie Davis (NITRAM) for two nuanced, sensitively-drawn supporting performances in a quiet and contemplative film about the 1996 Port Arthur massacre.
  • Best Original Screenplay – A COP MOVIE for its inventive storytelling approach that conflates drama with the documentary, giving us a meta-fictional perspective on the trials and tribulations faced by the Mexican police.
  • Best Adapted Screenplay – DRIVE MY CAR for expanding Murakami’s short story into a compelling and richly-drawn three-hour drama that doesn’t feel its length.
  • Best Cinematography – WHAT DO WE SEE WHEN WE LOOK AT THE SKY? for one of the most picturesque films of the year – there’s boundless, curious beauty in nature, people and objects, something the camera identifies and captures with grace, naturalism, and sometimes, stillness.
  • Best Film Editing – A HERO for its storytelling clarity, turning a complex tale into a clear-eyed view of morality and society.
  • Best Production Design – SPENCER for the stately and regal sets that sought to recreate a setting and milieu very few were privy to.
  • Best Costume Design – DUNE for the mammoth task of dressing a diverse range of characters that looked and felt unique.
  • Best Original Score – SPENCER for Jonny Greenwood’s stunning experimental music built on dissonance and abstraction that was instrumental in creating the film’s foreboding and psychological atmosphere.
  • Best Original Song – “A Million Miles Away” (BELLE) for its heart-stirring resonance in the film’s most emotional scene
  • Best Use of Source Music – TITANE for the use of The Zombies’ “She’s Not There” in one of the film’s most unexpected moments of human bonding.
  • Best Sound – WEST SIDE STORY for its top-notch sound mix that brought to life the beloved music and songs of an American musical classic.
  • Best Sound Design – MEMORIA for using sound in highly-sensorial and abstract ways that express existential and philosophical ideas of time, memory, life and death.
  • Best Visual Effects – DUNE for its state-of-the-art effects that were spectacular and epic, contributing substantially to the world-building of the film.
  • Discovery Award (Filmmaking) – Sushmit Ghosh & Rintu Thomas (WRITING WITH FIRE) for their inspiring journalism documentary that is essential viewing for anyone who believes that people can change the world one step at a time, starting with one own’s village, city and then country. 
  • Discovery Award (Acting) – Agathe Rousselle (TITANE) for her sensational and daring performance as a hairpin-wielding serial killer on the run with a childhood trauma of her own.

Top 10 Films of 2021:

  1. Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn – Radu Jude (Romania)
  2. A Hero – Asghar Farhadi (Iran)
  3. Drive My Car – Ryusuke Hamaguchi (Japan)
  4. Mr Bachmann and His Class – Maria Speth (Germany)
  5. Spencer – Pablo Larrain (UK)
  6. Titane – Julia Ducournau (France)
  7. A Cop Movie – Alonso Ruizpalacios (Mexico)
  8. 24 – Royston Tan (Singapore)
  9. Licorice Pizza – Paul Thomas Anderson (USA)
  10. Memoria – Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Colombia)

Special Mention (in alphabetical order):

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