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 Johnny 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):

Outguess ET 2022 – Oscar Prediction Contest

The 9th edition of my annual Oscar prediction contest is back!

I will share my predictions on the weekend of 26-27 Mar. The Oscars will happen on Mon 28 Mar, 8.00am (SGT).

Instructions:

  1. The contest is open to folks residing in Singapore only.
  2. Copy and paste the below categories into an email.
  3. Indicate clearly for each category whom you think will win the Oscar (‘WW‘) and one dark horse (‘DH‘).
  4. Email to eternalitytan@gmail.com with the subject header ‘Outguess ET 2022’ latest by 25 Mar, 11.59pm (SGT).

How to win:

  • Predicting correctly ‘Will Win’ earns you 3 points per category
  • Predicting correctly ‘Dark Horse’ earns you 1 point per category
  • Score more points than me – a tie doesn’t count
  • If there is more than one winner, the participant who submitted his or her predictions earlier (based on email timestamp) will win.

If you win, choose one of the following prizes:

  • Prize A: The Projector vouchers x2 (worth SGD24)
  • Prize B: Singapore Film Society 1-year Friend Membership (worth SGD29)

Here are the 23 categories in contention:

  1. Best Picture
  2. Best International Feature
  3. Best Animated Feature
  4. Best Documentary Feature
  5. Best Director
  6. Best Leading Actor
  7. Best Leading Actress
  8. Best Supporting Actor
  9. Best Supporting Actress
  10. Best Original Screenplay
  11. Best Adapted Screenplay
  12. Best Cinematography
  13. Best Film Editing
  14. Best Production Design
  15. Best Costume Design
  16. Best Hair & Makeup
  17. Best Original Score
  18. Best Original Song
  19. Best Sound
  20. Best Visual Effects
  21. Best Live Action Short
  22. Best Animated Short
  23. Best Documentary Short

Have fun and good luck!

Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

The Oscar-nominated documentary, Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom (2015), is on Netflix. Harrowing but essential viewing. It shows how Ukrainian youths who were mostly born during the period of post-Soviet independence galvanised their people from all walks of life to protest against the oppressive regime, headed by a pro-Russian president, at the time (circa 2013).

The extraordinary courage and fearlessness of Ukrainian civilians shown in the face of police brutality and certain death in pursuit of freedom tell us a thing or two about their strong unity and fervent resistance against the Russian invasion today.

The war may be far away (for someone in Singapore), but Putin is terrorising the world by laying down the preliminary conditions for WW3 to spark and forcing humanity back to the Cold War paranoia of existential nuclear threats which may very well turn unimaginably real. (Go remind yourself on ultra-close shaves: Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 & the Stanislav Petrov incident in 1983.)

I’m already feeling the fears, both rational and irrational, creeping in. The world has changed and we could be bracing for a pivotal few months or years that future historians would collectively reference to explain the state of the 21st century.

Covid was just the start, this is even more frightening, and then there is the prospect of irreversible climate change within our lifetime. In the short term, I’m just praying for everything to de-escalate as soon as possible.

My Favourite Films of 2020

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 – Jasmila Zbanic for QUO VADIS, AIDA?

For a very accessible piece of history-based filmmaking through the eyes of a UN translator, in this case about the events at Srebrenica during the ‘90s Bosnian War. This is a tense, powerful and clear-eyed work about the unshakeable bonds of family as a harrowing humanitarian crisis unfolds with a devastating sense of inevitability. Arguably the best film of the year.

Silver Snoopy – Catarina Vasconcelos for THE METAMORPHOSIS OF BIRDS

For the most personal and deeply reflective film of 2020. This refreshing self-reflexive docu-fictive experiment is best described as Malick meets Parajanov, where natural realism comes to terms with performative artifice, and where time, memory, and collective histories conflate. It is also a transcendental portrait of what it means to navigate the personal, the familial and the ancestral as a lineage of lived experiences. An extraordinary work of art by a filmmaker making her feature debut.

Silver Snoopy (Special Mention) – Florian Zeller for THE FATHER

For the most emotionally wrecking film of 2020. A tour de force of screenwriting, acting and editing, all based on a deceptively straightforward premise—a woman and her old father who is suffering from memory loss. A complex, heartbreaking work that tore me apart and hit me in ways that I never thought was possible. This is hands down the Oscar Best Picture for me.


  • Best Director – Tomm Moore & Ross Stewart (WOLFWALKERS) for the best animated film of 2020. This enthralling work is a masterful folkloric take on heroes and villains, humans and beasts, and the courage to change perceptions. It asks of us to be brave and to do everything we can to be free of the psychological—or political—obstacles that hold us back. Truly inspiring and emotional.
    • Special Mention: Chloe Zhao (NOMADLAND) for her continuing ability to depict outsiders in society in their natural states with dignity, empathy and poetry.
  • Best Lead Actor – Anthony Hopkins (THE FATHER) for the finest and most emotionally devastating performance of the year. No contest.
    • Special Mention: Daniel Kaluuya & LaKeith Stanfield (JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH) for their energy, intensity and vulnerability playing real-life characters.
  • Best Lead Actress – Jasna Djuricic (QUO VADIS, AIDA?) for her extraordinary performance that pits the weight of an entire country’s historical trauma on her shoulders.
    • Special Mention: Carey Mulligan (PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN) for playing against type in one of her boldest roles to date.
  • Best Supporting Actor – Paul Raci (SOUND OF METAL) for his sharp and intuitive performance of gestures that understatedly but effectively communicate more than words could ever do.
  • Best Supporting Actress – Dominique Fishback (JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH) for her underrated performance playing opposite Daniel Kaluuya that deserved more attention.
  • Best Ensemble Cast – MINARI for the wonderful, collective performances from Steven Yeun, Yeri Han, Alan Kim, Noel Cho and Youn Yuh-jung.
  • Best Original Screenplay – FAREWELL AMOR for portraying the African immigrant experience in the US via an unconventional triptych structure that explores with uncommon nuance the subjectivity of personal truths and experiences.  
    • Special Mention: NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS for its tender and introspective take on the abortion drama from the perspective of two teenage girls.
  • Best Adapted Screenplay – THE FATHER for a nimble and fluid screenplay adapted from the filmmaker’s own stage work that goes deep into the psychological anxieties of dementia and how it affects loved ones.
  • Best Cinematography – NOMADLAND for its calming naturalism.
  • Best Film Editing – QUO VADIS, AIDA? for its sheer storytelling clarity and incredible suspense.
    • Special Mention: SOFTIE for making Kenya’s volatile politics and history compelling and accessible from the point-of-view of a family man running for election.
  • Best Production Design – TIONG BAHRU SOCIAL CLUB for the vibrant and aesthetically-pleasing sets and how they visually serve its premise.
    • Special Mention: TENET for immersing us into a sleek future-is-now world of unraveling tech and time.
  • Best Costume Design – AMMONITE for the period costumes that align with the film’s sombre mood without attracting unnecessary attention.
  • Best Hair & Makeup – BIRDS OF PREY for giving us zany characters marked by their striking looks
  • Best Original Score – Emile Mosseri (MINARI) for his ethereal score and being the film music artist discovery of the year.
    • Special Mention: Ludwig Goransson (TENET) for continuing to experiment with electronic sounds and rhythms in another breathtaking pulsating score.
  • Best Original Song – “Hear My Voice” (THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7) for a modern classic in the making.
    • Special Mention: “Howls the Wolf” (WOLFWALKERS) for a stirring song that concludes one of the best films of the year.
  • Best Use of Source Music – WOLFWALKERS for the use of Aurora’s ‘Running with the Wolves’ in the film’s most emotionally liberating sequence.
    • Special Mention: SUMMER OF 85 for using Rod Stewart’s ‘Sailing’ because any blossoming screen romance is worth feeling for.
  • Best Sound – GUNDA for a dialogue/narration-free work that employs natural sound to sensorial, sometimes ASMR effect.
    • Special Mention: NOTTURNO for its immersive mix and diversity of sounds—and silences—that portray the aftermath of living with the consequences of war and violence in the Middle East.
  • Best Sound Design – SOUND OF METAL for creatively and empathetically manipulating different sound types and qualities throughout the film, from airy muffled sounds to extreme silences to high-pitched distorted noises that reflect the psychological state of its protagonist.
  • Best Visual Effects – TENET for pushing the boundaries of VFX work in a film with numerous complicated technical challenges.
  • Discovery Award (Filmmaking) – Benjamin Ree (THE PAINTER AND THE THIEF) for his beguiling documentary where art, crime and the human condition deftly intersect.
  • Discovery Award (Acting) – Liu Haocun (ONE SECOND) for her immense talent and the heights she will reach as a Chinese acting superstar in the next 5-10 years.

Top 10 Films of 2020:

  1. QUO VADIS, AIDA? – Jasmila Zbanic (Bosnia & Herzegovina)
  2. THE METAMORPHOSIS OF BIRDS – Catarina Vasconcelos (Portugal)
  3. THE FATHER – Florian Zeller (UK/France)
  4. WOLFWALKERS – Tomm Moore & Ross Stewart (Ireland)
  5. NOMADLAND – Chloe Zhao (USA)
  6. THE PAINTER AND THE THIEF – Benjamin Ree (Norway)
  7. FAREWELL AMOR – Ekwa Msangi (USA)
  8. TENET – Christopher Nolan (USA/UK)
  9. A THOUSAND CUTS – Ramona S. Diaz (USA/Philippines)
  10. MINARI – Lee Issac Chung (USA)

Special Mention (in alphabetical order):

Outguess ET 2021 – Oscar Prediction Contest

The 8th edition of my annual Oscar prediction contest is back!

I will share my predictions on the weekend of 24-25 Apr. The Oscars will happen on Mon 26 Apr, 8.00am (SGT).

Instructions:

  1. The contest is open to participants residing in Singapore only.
  2. Copy and paste the below categories into an email.
  3. Indicate clearly for each category whom you think will win the Oscar (‘WW‘) and one dark horse (‘DH‘).
  4. Email to eternalitytan@gmail.com with the subject header ‘Outguess ET 2021’ latest by 23 Apr, 11.59pm (SGT).

How to win:

  • Predicting correctly ‘Will Win’ earns you 3 points per category
  • Predicting correctly ‘Dark Horse’ earns you 1 point per category
  • Score more points than me – a tie doesn’t count
  • If there is more than one winner, the participant who submitted his or her predictions earlier (based on email timestamp) will win.

If you win, choose one of the following prizes:

  • Prize A: The Projector vouchers x2 (worth SGD24)
  • Prize B: Singapore Film Society 1-year Friend Membership (worth SGD29)

Here are the 23 categories in contention:

  1. Best Picture
  2. Best International Feature
  3. Best Animated Feature
  4. Best Documentary Feature
  5. Best Director
  6. Best Leading Actor
  7. Best Leading Actress
  8. Best Supporting Actor
  9. Best Supporting Actress
  10. Best Original Screenplay
  11. Best Adapted Screenplay
  12. Best Cinematography
  13. Best Film Editing
  14. Best Production Design
  15. Best Costume Design
  16. Best Hair & Makeup
  17. Best Original Score
  18. Best Original Song
  19. Best Sound
  20. Best Visual Effects
  21. Best Live Action Short
  22. Best Animated Short
  23. Best Documentary Short

Have fun and good luck!