My Top 10 films of 2021

Given it’s Paul Anthony Nelson’s final year anchoring Primal Screen on Triple R, I conceded to his demand/whinging for a ranked Top 10. Consequently, the following list of films has been presented in ascending order, so to capitalise on the anticipation – what will be my Number One for 2021? Well, if it’s got you on tenterhooks, let me relieve you of that tension…

10. SWAN SONG (dir. Todd Stephens)
Similar to Robert Redford in THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN, this film is steeped in love and veneration for its aging lead actor, Udo Kier, but does so, artfully, in the form of a biopic. It’s a clever means of paying tribute – after all, an actor’s brief is to pretend to be someone else – but the parallels to career and legacy are woven in such a way to ensure there won’t be a dry eye in the house. It helps to be a Kier fan.

9. CANDYMAN (dir. Nia DaCosta)
The fandom for the original CANDYMAN of 1992 runs deep with many, but I can’t say I’m one of those folks. That’s possibly one of the reasons why I’m so enamoured with Nia DaCosta’s modern rendering of this African-American urban legend, although I would argue her use of colour, geometry and, above all, horror is up there with the best of them. Props to Jordan Peele as co-screenwriter/co-producer.

8. CENSOR (dir. Prano Bailey-Bond)
In its explanation of how dark subject matter plays with the subconscious – or, more tellingly, toys with the nascent darkness in its viewers – no film says it better than CENSOR. In fact, with this film, Bailey-Bond has drawn from the stories of a past generation (i.e. the video nasties era in 1980’s Britain) to create an intelligent horror movie for a new age. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

7. PIG (dir. Michael Sarnoski)
PIG is devastating. It’s a film that avoids heart-string-plucking clichés but, nevertheless, rips at the soul. Much has been said of Nicholas Cage’s ‘campness’ in his latter career, yet his turn here as a chef-turned-truffle-hunter is by far his best role in years. It is at once gritty, conflicted, tender, callous, honest, pretentious and impossibly raw. Best viewed without knowing much more.

The magnum opus of esteemed film critic and programmer Kier-La Janisse, this 194-minute doco triumphs in both respecting its subject matter and imparting information in a useful and thoroughly entertaining manner. The subject of folk horror may be a niche one but, for anyone with even a whiff of curiousity, this film will send you through the looking-glass of discovery and fascination.

5. TICK, TICK… BOOM! (dir. Lin-Manuel Miranda)
Musicals are inching their way back into the mainstream, thanks to such high-quality offerings in recent years as LA LA LAND and now, TICK, TICK… BOOM! Even for those not familiar with Jonathan Larson’s Broadway struggles (and his sad demise at the precipice of success with RENT), Miranda’s complex, hyper-energised, musical biopic will captivate and amaze. And Andrew Garfield is a genuine revelation.

4. POWER OF THE DOG (dir. Jane Campion)
There was a moment in POWER OF THE DOG where it appears Campion is cookie-cutting her 1993 masterstroke, THE PIANO, but then she barrels down a very different narrative trajectory to surprising, nuanced results. We witness acting with a capital ‘A’ – most notably in Benedict Cumberbatch’s smouldering, repressed nasty – but its bravery in going nowhere is almost as exciting as the set-up.

3. PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (dir. Emerald Fennell)
For most of the world, PYW was released in 2020, although its official Australian date was 7th January 2021 – hence, its inclusion in this list. While the finale of this film veered perilously into ‘horror cute’, I still rank it highly for its entertaining handling of a difficult subject matter and, similar to Prano Bailey-Bond, for saying what is so tricky to intelligently articulate. It’s stayed with me, which is saying something.

There’s something evangelical about a good music doco, and SUMMER OF SOUL perfectly fits the bill. It presents rarely seen footage and eyewitness accounts of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival – a sibling of Woodstock but one buried under paranoia of race uprising. In ranking this doco high on my list, I also honour the superlative limited series 1971: THE YEAR THAT MUSIC CHANGED EVERYTHING.

1. LAMB (dir. Valdimar Jóhannsson)
My love of simply complex storytelling comes into its own here – and how! With the fingerprints of one of its producers, Béla Tarr, all over it, LAMB creates sentience in its livestock through little more than camera placement, and yet this important establishment of anthropomorphosis is what sells everything that comes after it. A folkloric tale with modern pathos, LAMB is really something else.

My Top 7 films of 2020

My viewing of new cinema was somewhat stymied by the events of 2020 so, in creating this list, I’ve gone with a heavenly Top 7 of all-killer-no-filler. Here they are in alphabetical order:

THE ASSISTANT (dir. Kitty Green)
Utterly transfixing in its depiction of the mundanity of junior office positions, THE ASSISTANT is also terrifying real in its representation of systematic workplace abuse and neglect – subtle, insidious and that little bit too close to what many women have experienced ‘in real life’ (me included).

DISCLOSURE (documentary, dir. Sam Feder)
In fleshing out Hollywood’s representation of transgender people, this documentary is notable for its no-frills approach of talking heads combined with clip & tell. But this approach only serves to accentuate the brilliance of its interviewees. No platitudes here – insights of the highest calibre.

HOST (dir. Rob Savage)
I had to be prodded to see this one, and there’s no one more surprised than myself that one of the better horror movies of the year could be about the COVID pandemic. At a tight 57 minutes, HOST serves as an example of why horror is such an important, relevant genre. Now, no more pandemic films, please.

THE LIGHTHOUSE (dir. Robert Eggers)
Simultaneously hilarious and a fever dream of the grimiest forms, Robert Eggers proves he’s one of the gnarliest wordsmiths currently in the film biz. Claustrophobic, sweaty, insane. THE LIGHTHOUSE also ticked off another item on my cinematic bucket list: to see Willem Dafoe as a grizzled seaman.

MORGANA (documentary, dirs. Josie Hess & Isabel Peppard)
Remarkably intimate and delicately revealing documentary about a middle-aged, Australian woman who overcomes her stultifying suburban existence by creating pornography. A film that has you grabbing at your heart in unexpected ways.

POSSESSOR (dir. Brandon Cronenberg)
If there was any wonder whether Brandon Cronenberg was his father’s son, this film definitively demonstrates that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Yet, Brandon has come up with his own stamp of ‘Cronenburgundian’ mindfuckery. For that, he must be applauded.

THE STYLIST (dir. Jill Gevargizian)
This film is everything I wanted from Peter Strickland’s IN FABRIC but, sadly, was not served. A horror film steeped in style, as its name would suggest, and one that holds its form from first through to third act. It makes me excited to see what Jill Gevargizian will do next.

Going Full Goth: Filmmakers Turn to The Dark-Side

Cinema Nova in Melbourne generously allowed me to indulge in another one of my loves: gothic cinema.

Specifically, they invited me to write a piece for the cinema’s Novadose magazine titled ‘Going Full Goth: Filmmakers Turn to the Dark-Side’ with a special focus on the brilliant debut from William Oldroyd, Lady Macbeth.

While this article is only available in the Issue #11 (July-September 2017) print version of the magazine (see feature image), I have included the text below for your reading pleasure… Continue reading “Going Full Goth: Filmmakers Turn to The Dark-Side”

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