Films Watched in 2021

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We saw SOOO many good films this year that I had to expand our Top 10 to Top 15 AND include subcategories based on directors and countries.

David and I always start the new year off with a long film or multi-film series. Last year, it was The Emigrants and The New Land, both of which I highly recommend. From our list of films, you’d think we never watched comedies, and it’s kind of true. We tend to reserve our comedy-watching for UK panel shows (Mock the Week, QI, Would I Lie to You) and endless repeats of Blackadder, but when it comes to film…it’s true they tend to be of a darker nature and more serious subject matter. 

Even when they’re comedies, they’re dark. 

The Finnish and the Danish have mastered that combination, and 2021 had no dearth of films from both countries in our repertoire. I mentioned Aki Kaurismäki in my 2020 list, and more of his are below, and the first Fassbinder film we watched had us spellbound. We watched a ton by Danish directors Susanne Bier, Anders Thomas Jensen, and Thomas Vinterberg — in all of which you’ll see a rotation of the same brilliant actors. 

In our Top 15, you’ll see FOUR films by Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev, so definitely check those out. Not. Comedies. But absolutely heart-rending and heart-filled. Lilya 4 Ever may be the most devastatingly sad film we’ve ever seen, but it’s so brilliantly made and acted that I have to recommend it. It will rip your heart out, and you will never forget it. 

Anyway, I hope you enjoy reading our list and our rating of each film, and of course I hope you enjoy any films you watch because of it. We rate each film we see on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the highest), and we have a number of films rated at 8.0 and above that aren’t in the “top” lists below. And don’t skip the 7.0 films; they’re decent films — entertaining, enjoyable — but just not fall of your seat good.

TOP 15 FILMS WATCHED IN 2021 

  1. The Emigrants and The New Land by Jan Troell — I’m counting these as one movie, because we loved them equally well, and they’re really part of each other. You wouldn’t watch one without the other. 
  2. Sorry We Missed You — Ken Loach has been telling the same story for 30 years, and damnit if he doesn’t tell it well. 
  3. Ali, Fear Eats the Soul — directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. If only everyone looked through the same lens as the female main character, the world would be a better place.  
  4. Flickering Lights — Directed and written by Anders Thomas Jensen (starring Mads Mikkelsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Ulrich Thomsen) We saw the original French version of this story many years ago (which is great), but this one…It’s like watching Seven Samurai, where each and every character deftly reveals his own strengths, flaws, passions, and contribution to the whole.
  5. The Secret of Santa Vittoria — I guess this one could be considered a comedy despite the Nazis. An absolutely delightful film with fantastic performances and perfect comedic timing. 
  6. Another Round — How Thomas Vinterberg is able to make film after film about difficult subjects without judging the characters’ decisions or manipulating the viewer to think one way is beyond me. Absolutely brilliant. I’ve watched the ending about 50 times already.
  7. Riders of Justice — A perfect example of a Danish film that squeezes into 5 genres, each equally well. Directed and conceived by Anders Thomas Jensen, it will make your laugh, cry, and drop your jaw.
  8. Infernal Affairs — The film that inspired The Departed. While I really liked The Departed, now having seen the inspiration behind it, I can say there is definitely more heart and soul in the Hong Kong original. (We did watch Infernal Affairs II and III, but the first one is superior and can stand on its own.)
  9. Lilya 4-Ever — Based on a true story, this movie tore our hearts out, and it’s not one we’ll soon forget. Watch it, but be prepared to be devastated. 
  10. Wild River — A perfect example of how Elia Kazan let his actors depict the most human, honest, well-rounded characters and turn in the most honest, human, raw performances. 
  11. La Vie de Boheme by Aki KaurismäkiThe story will be familiar to you if you’ve ever seen (or heard of) Puccini’s opera La Boheme, but this lovely movie is quintessential Kaurismäki. 
  12. Leviathan (2014) by Andrey Zvyagintsev  — David and I have spent hours talking about our perspective of what brings the main character to his demise. Every second of the film, I hope he will make a different decision than he does, but he is also the victim of relentless cruelty and revenge. How much is his responsibility? How much is he a victim of someone else’s bitter resentment? Would love to hear your thoughts.
  13. The Return (2003) by Andrey Zvyagintsev — Brothers Andrei and Ivan return home from school to find their father has returned after a 12-year absence. What happens next is suspenseful and perplexing — and makes you want to jump through the screen and envelope these boys.
  14. Loveless (2017) by Andrey Zvyagintsev — I think a reviewer in The Guardian put it best: “after spending two hours in the company of toxic Boris and Zhenya [the main characters], I emerged from the cinema in dire need of a shower.” Chilly, dark, unsettling, and sad, it’s also gorgeous, brilliant, and flawless.
  15. The Banishment (2007) by Andrey Zvyagintsev — This was the first movie of Zvyagintsev’s I watched, and it not only hooked me on his filmmaking but also on Maria Bonnevie’s acting. As dark and stunning as his others, what sets this one apart is the ambiguity of time and place. You’ll never guess either.  

RECOMMENDED KEN LOACH FILMS

  • Sorry We Missed You (2019) 8.0
  • I, Daniel Blake (2016) 7.0
  • Land and Freedom (1995) 8.0

RECOMMENDED DANISH FILMS (there are more, but these are taken from our 2021 watch list)

  • Submarino (2010) 8.0 directed by Thomas Vinterberg
  • Another Round (2020) 8.0 directed by Thomas Vinterberg  (Mads, Thomas Bo Larsen)
  • A Second Chance (2014) 7.0 directed by Susanne Bier written by Susanne Bier and Anders Thomas Jensen (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Maria Bonnevie, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Thomas Bo Larsen)
  • Open Hearts (2002) 8.0 directed by Susanne Bier, written by Susanne Bier and Anders Thomas Jensen (Mads Mikklesen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas)
  • Riders of Justice (2020) 8.0 directed by (also idea by) Anders Thomas Jensen  (Mads Mikkelsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas)
  • In a Better World (2010) 8.0 directed by Susanne Bier and written by Bier and Anders Thomas Jensen 
  • Pelle the Conqueror (1987) 7.0 (Max von Sydow)
  • Babette’s Feast (1987) 7.0
  • Force Majeure (2014) 7.0 / 6.0
  • Flickering Lights (2000) 9.0 
  • Brothers (2004) 8.0 – another great Danish movie by Susanne Bier – starring Ulrich Thomsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, and Connie Nielsen
  • In China They Eat Dogs (1999) 8.0 
  • Adam’s Apples (2005) 8.0 directed by Anders Thomas Jensen and starring Ulrich Thomsen, Mads Mikkelsen, Nicolas Bro

RECOMMENDED ANDREY ZVYAGINTSEV FILMS

  • Leviathan (2014) 8.0 
  • The Return (2003) 8.0
  • Loveless (2017) 8.0 
  • The Banishment (2007) 8.0

ALL FILMS WATCHED IN 2021

  • The Emigrants (1971) 9.0
  • The New Land (1972) 9.0
  • Ali, Fear Eats the Soul (1974) 9.0
  • Zodiac (2007) 7.0
  • Rust and Bone (2012) 7.0
  • La Vie de Boheme (1992) 9.0
  • The Prophet (2009) 8.0 
  • Opening Night (1977) 7.0
  • La révolution française (1989 TV series) 8.0
  • Sorry We Missed You (2019) 8.0
  • I, Daniel Blake (2016) 7.0
  • Land and Freedom (1995) 8.0
  • Appaloosa (2008) 6.0
  • The Rose Tattoo by Daniel Mann 4.0 (Please don’t watch this disaster of a movie. It was the most embarrassing film we’ve ever seen, despite it starring two of my favorite actors: Anna Magnani and Burt Lancaster.)
  • The Horse Soldiers (1959) 7.0
  • The Red Badge of Courage (1951) 7.0
  • War and Peace (1972-1973) BBC series with Anthony Hopkins 8.0
  • War and Peace (2016) BBC series with Paul Dano, James Norton, and Lily James 8.0
  • Sideways (2nd time since it was in the theater in 2004) 7.0
  • Nomadland (2020) 6.0
  • The Seven-Ups (1973) 6.0
  • The Desperate Hours (1955) 8.0
  • Night Moves (1975) 7.0
  • The Long Goodbye (1973) 7.0
  • Nightcrawler (2014) 6.0
  • Black Hawk Down (2001) 7.0
  • Leviathan (2014) 8.0 directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev —
  • The Return (2003) 8.0 directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev —
  • Loveless (2017) 8.0 Andrey Zvyagintsev —
  • The Banishment 8.0 Andrey Zvyagintsev —
  • The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969) 8.0
  • The Lighthouse (2019) 7.0
  • Midsommar (2019) 6.0
  • Infernal Affairs 9.0 (2002)
  • Infernal Affairs II (2003) 7.0
  • Infernal Affairs III (2003) 6.0
  • Submarino (2010) 7.0 
  • Another Round (2020) 8.0 
  • A Second Chance (2014) 7.0 
  • Open Hearts (2002) 8.0 
  • Riders of Justice (2020) 8.0
  • In a Better World (2010) 8.0 
  • Pelle the Conqueror (1987)  7.0 
  • Babette’s Feast (1987) 7.0 
  • Force Majeure (2014)  7.0 / 6.0
  • Journal 64 (2018) 7.0 
  • Flickering Lights (2000) 9.0 
  • Brothers (2004) 8.0 
  • Three Monkeys (2008) 8.0 (David saw this Turkish film without me, but it’s on my list. He loved it.)
  • Zorba the Greek (1964) 8.0 (I saw this years ago, but David saw it for the first time.)
  • The Medusa Touch (1978) 6.0 
  • Under the Tuscan Sun (2003) 5.0
  • The Proud Ones (1956) 7.0
  • Department Q: A Conspiracy of Faith (2016) 6.0
  • Department Q: The Absent One (2014) 7.0
  • Department Q: The Keeper of Lost Causes (2013)
  • A Hijacking (2012) 6.0
  • A Quiet Place II (2020) – 8.0
  • In China They Eat Dogs (1999) – 8.0
  • Adam’s Apples (2005) 8.0 
  • Lilya 4-Ever (2002) 8.0
  • Crime and Punishment (1983) 7.0
  • Black Girl (1966) 7.0
  • Into the Okavango (2018) 7.0
  • Blood Diamond (2006) 6.0
  • District 9 (2009) 8.0
  • 99 River Street (1953) 7.0
  • To Walk Invisible 
  • Wild River (1960) 9.0
  • The Art of Crying (2006) 7.0
  • A Face in the Crowd (1957) 8.0

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