Life Of Navin

Random Musings, Random Bullshit.


Movies of 2021

Well, it's that time of the year again... Another year in the pandemic, though to be honest, this year felt less surreal than the last. Or maybe we've just learnt to find traces of meaning in this kakfkaesque world, with lifestyle adjustments, both big and small, defining the year for us. Thanks to this constant sense of dread (which got triggered even more with the second wave which hit many of my direct gaggle of friends and family), 2021 was the first year in a long time when I didn't visit a movie theater even once over the course of the entire year. 

Yet, the ever-growing number of OTT platforms (along with our friends at the bay of pirates 😉) ensured that noone could complain about being bored at least. 2021 was a fun year at the movies, so without saying much else, here's some movies I enjoyed watching this year:

13. Lamb (trailer)


Nordic cinema has seen a revival of sorts over the last few years with their movies getting distributed much more widely, both by OTT platforms and traditional media houses. And what I love about a lot of Nordic movies are the whimsical horror movies that come out of there (I still tell everyone I know to watch Dead Snow). Lamb falls bang within this genre. The movie centers around a couple in Iceland who discover an unnatural birth in their sheep pen, and then raise the creature as their own child. A really fun mashup between folklore, fantasy, horror and drama!

If you enjoy Lamb, this year also had Malignant, which was a fun James Wan directed horror flick (which also extensively uses an excellent cover of one of my fave songs), and Titane, which is an excellent entrant to the school of French body-horror!

12. The Mauritanian (trailer)

The Mauritanian is based on the true story of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who was arrested and held at Guantanamo Bay for 14 years with no charges filed against him, simply because the army claimed he was part of Al Qaeda. "Innocent until proven guilty" is simply a phrase unless it is actively practised. And in an age where the government in India seems to be inching closer and closer to using draconian laws as a catch-all against all dissent, this movie hit much harder.

The Mauritanian stars the always charming Bumberdit Clunderbash as the army prosecutor prosecuting Slahi. If you enjoy his movies, you should also check out The Courier which came out this year, which is based on another true story of espionage during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

11. Mandela (trailer)


South Indian cinema is an absolute beast that's just grown leaps and bounds over the last decade. And Mandela was one of the finest political satires I've seen in a long time. A village where 2 fighting upper-caste factions realise that the deciding vote in the village election will be that of the low caste village barber is such a great premise, and executed to near perfection. Yogi Babu truly shines in every frame of this movie!

Some other really good South Indian movies at the interesection of politics, religion and caste that came out this year were Nayattu, and Kuruthi (end of the day, we're all Prithviraj Sukumaran stans, aren't we?)

10. The Trip (trailer)


Another entrant from Scandinavia in the list, The Trip is the story of a couple that plan a trip to a remote lodge, but unknown to them, each is planning to kill the other on the trip. The movie is a laugh out loud riot, and reminded me quite a bit of Papa, sdokhni, which was on the list last year.

Some other comedies focussed on couples at odds with each other that came out this year which you'd also enjoy are Together and Ikkat, both of which focus on couples cooped-in together during the covid lockdown, the former in the UK, and the latter in Namma Bengaluru!

9. Shiva Baby (trailer)

Ever been at a family function where you feel like you are the only person that doesn't belong there? Well, that's the foundation that Shiva Baby builds itself on. What do you think would happen if a young, confused, bisexual, jewish lady attends to a family function where other invitees include her lesbian ex-lover, her ex-sugardaddy who's just had a kid with his new wife, and a never-ending slew of relatives who want to know what's new in her life and just want "to help her out"? So much to unpack here, yet done so beautifully over the course of this movie, shot almost entirely in the house where the function is taking place. And to think this was the director's debut is just a cherry on the cake!

Another movie which, like Shiva Baby, centered around a single location was Malcolm and Marie, which focuses on a couple in a house over one night (who said you can't make movies in a pandemic?), and stars the incredible John David Washington and Zendaya going through waves of equally intense love and hate.

8. Lapsis (trailer) 

Lapsis was a movie I went into without knowing what to expect at all. But it's stunning how Noah Hutton takes elements that we are familiar with, such as the gig economy, robotics, and high speed internet, and pushes it in quirky directions. In an age where Sci-fi is more and more about movies made on a grand scale, movies like Lapsis (and Cargo and Android Kunjappan from last year) truly show that storytelling can shine brightly in a landscape filled with expensive CGI.

Other Sci-fi movies I enjoyed this year include Dune (though tbh I thought it was quite overrated... or maybe it was just the lack of a theater experience), Churuli (whose ending I'm still trying to wrap my head around), and  I’m Your Man (which was another relatively small budget German movie, which was quite reminiscent of the 2013 film, Her).

7. The Novice (trailer) 


The Novice is a movie about a freshman who joins her university rowing team. But more than that, it is a movie about what happens when you try to make "excellence" part of your identity, especially in a world where that word means something different to everyone. It's about the sacrifices made to be the best, and the absolute lows felt when your best is still not enough. It's about the process of trial by fire, anguish, self-flaggellation, and near-insanity. If you resonate with movies like Whiplash and The Social Network, you'd like this movie as well. 

Two other movies from a similarly focus on people blurring the line between focus and insanity are The Disciple, which is probably my second-favorite Chaitanya Tamhane movie after Court, and The Alpinist, which is a Free-Solo like documentary about Marc-André Leclerc.

6. Nine Days (trailer)

Some movies make you laugh, some movies make you cry. But some movies just make you sit back and think. About love. About life. About what it means be alive. Nine Days is one of these movies. Set in a fantasy land where souls are "interviewed" before being selected to be sent to earth to live is such a surreal concept in itself (though quite parallel to Pixar's Soul), but what makes this movie click is completely down to Winston Duke's incredible performance as the arbitrator. This movie captures the essence of life, with all of its complexities oh so poignantly.

5. Tick, Tick... Boom! (trailer) 


I'll be the first person to admit that I had no clue who Jonathan Larson was. Heck, my knowledge of Broadway itself is pretty much limited to a handful of names crumpled somewhere at the back of my mind. So I went into Tick, Tick... Boom! expecting it to be a nice, light musical but boy was I wrong. Massive credit to both Lin-Manuel Miranda for directing this and Andrew Garfield for his portrayal of Larson, and the trials and tribulations he goes through while trying to get the eponymous play onto Broadway for a decade, while life seems to move on from him. 

The multi-talented Garfield (Holland can dance, Garfield can sing, the ball is in Tobey's court now) is incredible as Larson, and manages to capture so much of the constant struggle Larson went through, and the single-mindedness with which he approached things. One of the funniest scenes in the movie is when Larson is arguing with his girlfriend while simultaneously thinking if he could write a musical number about the fight. This movie sent me down a multi-week rabbithole of reading all I could about Larson and his work, as any good biographical movie should!

Two other biographies that came out this year that I thought were incredible were King Richard, which is about Richard Williams, and his "plan" to make his daughters the world's best tennis players, and Spencer which follows Princess Diana over Christmas with the Royal Family. Will Smith and Kristen Stewart, respectively, deserve massive praise for their roles in these movies.

4. The Father (trailer) 


Dementia is such a saddening condition, and unfortunately, way too many of us end up encountering people who suffer from it, in some form or the other, during our lifetimes. The worst part about the disability is that you are constantly second-guessing yourself, never quite certain if your brain is playing tricks with you or not. And like so many other diseases, the condition is hard on both the victim as well as the family. The Father is a movie that focuses on this condition, and Sir Anthony Hopkins plays the titular father in the movie. 

The director chooses to tell the story from the titular character's frame of reference, so you are constantly disoriented by the dementia he faces and the effects it has on him. It's a movie that'll break you (especially that final scene), and leave you shattered when the credits roll. Don't watch this if you are already feeling low, because this movie will ruin your day.

Along the similar lines of memory lapse is the Greek film, Apples, which takes place in world where a world-wide pandemic causes people to have sudden amnesia. Another great story-led film, that deals with memories, and how they impact the people that carry them.

3. Minari (trailer) 

Stories about immigrant families have become a bit of a trope at this point, but every now and then, a movie like Minari comes along, and reminds you why the trope exists in the first place. Minari is about a Korean immigrant family in Rural USA, trying to build a life, and live the so-called American Dream

I think the reason Minari really works is because there is so much of the director's own lived childhood experiences that come through in this movie, so the movie never really has to make massive moments, but clicks throughout simply showing the work that goes into assimilating into a foreign land without losing one's own identity. 

The Justice of Bunny King and Eeb Aalley Ooo are two other movies from this year that tackled similar topics, about how we treat those who are less fortunate than the average joe, and how societies treat those different to the status quo.

2. Bo Burnham: Inside (trailer)


Remember those two years when you were locked in at home, constantly on edge, unsure of what the future held, and whether "normalcy" itself was a concept that we would have to redefine? How did you spend your pandemic years? Well, Bo Burnham sure as hell found a way to create art in the middle of the pandemic. And not just any art, the dude managed to sit alone in a room and pretty much capture the entire essence of what the pandemic felt like to most of us, in all of it's whimsy, depression, excitement, rage, and agony.

Bo is one of those artists I have so much respect for, because whenever I feel like I've achieved something in life, I find myself going back to see what Bo is up to, and constantly being in awe of the stuff that he's putting out, and I feel like he's one of the few master artists that have managed to capture the voice of my generation so well, imbibed of course with his own whimsical style. Special shout-out for the scene where he celebrates his 30th birthday during the pandemic (hard relate there), and for giving us the song that automatically plays in my head everytime Bezos shows up somewhere.

As an aside, another movie that again made fine use of pandemic-induced filming restrictions like Inside and Malcolm and Marie was Language Lessons. The movie is basically just conversations between two people learning Spanish on Zoom, but is a very sweet movie.

1. The Great Indian Kitchen (trailer) 

If there's one movie that truly, truly needs to be watched by every single man in India, it's The Great Indian Kitchen. As someone living in a country where the patriarchy rears it's head ever so often, it's quite easy to forget how a lot of privileges I enjoy are only thanks to, in large part, my gender. And post-marriage, it's also been quite surprising to have even so-called educated folks (including, amazingly, a lot of women) say silly, openly misogynistic things, quite matter-of-factly to me and (more often) my wife.

The Great Indian Kitchen makes incredible use of repetition, and slow shots to drive home the point of how life differs for men and women, how societal expectations shape lived experiences, and how monotony, routine, and sacrifice is just another expectation from a woman after marriage. I was constantly squirming in my seat through this movie, since I could point out countless similar incidents in my own extended families where these expectations hold even today. So while it was a fictional movie, it hit a bit too close for comfort. Feminism, as a concept itself, has so many definitions, but movies like this show us that while a certain segment of folks may feel more empowered today, we have a long way to go in the journey to equality.

Two other movies that deal with similar stories are Biriyaani, which talks about the life of an married muslim woman in Kerala, and Sabaya, which is a chilling documentary about Yazidi women kidnapped by ISIS to be used as slaves.

Honorable Mentions:

I Care a Lot (Rosamund Pike + Peter Dinklage. What's not to like?), Cinema Bandi (A heartwarming movie about movie making), Kala (For the excellent fight sequences), The Suicide Squad (For the fresh breath of air from DC after all the dark, brooding movies), Coda (A movie about a deaf family and a daughter that love singing), Dead Pigs (A Jia Zhangke-esq movie about rural and modern China colliding), Luca (Just Pixar doing Pixar things), This is the Year (For a feel-good YA rom-com), Love Hard (For a feel-good adult rom-com), French Dispatch (Because it's Wes Anderson... duh!)

On the whole, 2021 was a fine year at the movies, and I'm glad that the world seems to be finding it's footing again while that microscopic maniac mutates along. Of course there'll be missteps along the way, and I'm sure that 2022 will have just as much, if not more, in store for all of us. But as the saying goes, here's hoping that everyone expects the best, prepares for the worst, and cherishes every moment in the year ahead. Happy New Year!


Footnote: Never realised that these random yearly movie reccos are something that some folks actually look forward to. So a tip of the hat to the folks who pinged me over last few days asking where this year's reccos are 🤠


Finally after all these years, here's to the beginning of what was there, what is there and hopefully what will remain!! So here are my thoughts & words -Online!!

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