The 10 Best Movies I’ve watched in 2021 (so far)

After plundering through 202 movies in 2020 I vowed I’d never set myself targets again – so I haven’t. THAT SAID, my film-watching odyssey has continued into 2021, so I decided that every once in a while I might just list a few good ones I’ve watched – all scored on my handy Covid Rating, 1 being turdballs, 19 being excellent.

Shout-outs to a few that didn’t quite make the cut: Late Autumn (lovely Ozu), Zazie Dans Le Metro (zany Gallic madness), LA Story (surprisingly odd), The Searchers (racist John Wayne), Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (Poitier classic), A Tale of Springtime (big up, Eric Rohmer). Now here’s the ones that did…

All About Eve (1950) – the downsides of fame viewed from just about every angle. The ruthless hunger of someone searching for it, the paranoid desperation of someone trying to hold onto it. There’s not a soul depicted that hasn’t been sold somehow, and no real hero, just different shades of Faustian degradation. Bette Davis (amazing) is the fading Broadway star being slowly devoured by Anne Baxter’s devious upstart. Very much in the same ballpark as Sunset Boulevard, and probably better too (by a whisker).

Covid Rating: 18

Scenes from a Marriage (1974) – Ingmar Bergman’s forensic study of a relationship told in vignettes as a couple comes apart at the seams, and then sort of clumsily stitches itself back together again in patchwork. The protagonists – for the most part the only two people you’ll see – try to make sense of their contrasting thoughts, feelings and tawdry desires, essentially having one big fucking existential crisis, of which the message appears to be that our groins and hearts will rarely align, so what’s the point? Caused a mass spate of divorces on its release.

Covid Rating: 18

Local Hero (1983) – Bill Forsythe peddles films completely lacking in cynicism (and bear in mind, he’s Scottish). Gregory’s Girl could easily have made a berk of the gawky lead but instead it made him lovingly aspirational, and likewise here, where even the bloodsuckers working for a big corporate monster attempting to buy a remote Scottish town are painted with enough humanity to make them not just sympathetic, but likeable. It might be the most uplifting film I’ve ever seen.

Covid Rating: 17

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) – I did a Brando double bill. First this, then Last Tango in Paris. The character similarities are pretty stark, both sexual aggressors, both clearly channelling underlying mental health issues. The key difference is that Brando’s Stanley Kowalski is sexy, iconic and brutish, while his Paul in “Tango” is just pure sleaze. In the spirit of inclusivity it should also be pointed out that Vivien Leigh is amazing in this. Another troubled soul.

Covid Rating: 17

Silent Running (1972) – Bruce Dern tries to keep a rainforest alive in space. If you’ve been to the Eden Project you’ll know the setup, only it’s on a spaceship drifting slowly towards Saturn. Oh yeah and he’s murdered the rest of the crew like a deranged Swampy. Dern plays it just the right level of psychotic ecowarrior, and the accompanying Joan Baez song is lovely. Better than Kubrick’s 2001, though perhaps I just wasn’t stoned enough.

Covid Rating: 16

The Graduate (1967) – once you get used to 30-year-old Dustin Hoffman playing a recent graduate with a voice made up entirely of bass notes, and you accept that it’s the late 60s and the sexual politics are over the place – most notably when a girl is in two minds about a boy because she thinks he might have raped her mum – what you’ve got is a really excellent romantic comedy. Constantly funny, always awkward, and it looks spectacular too. No one ever seems to mention that.  

Covid Rating: 16

Play it Again, Sam (1972) – the Woody Allen film that Woody Allen wrote, starred in, but didn’t direct. So essentially a Woody Allen film without officially being a Woody Allen film. I feel like I’m saying Woody Allen a lot. Anyway it’s very much an embryonic precursor to Annie Hall, not least because it stars Diane Keaton as the adorable klutz he falls in love with. She’s great.

Covid Rating: 16

The Parallax View (1974) – Warren Beatty chases down conspiracy theories as an investigative journalist, putting him somewhere in the middle of the Venn Diagram that links All the President’s Men, Fletch, and a tiny tiny micro-blob of James Bond. It does a terrific job of emoting paranoia, and all in that muscular 1970s cinema way where even the apples look like they’ll break your teeth. And best of all, it clocks in at around 90 mins, making it a political thriller at a canter – just how it should be.

Covid Rating: 15

Wild Strawberries (1957) – the ole Bergman again, and on top navel gazing form too, as an aging intellectual takes a road trip, both in an actual sense, and also a metaphorical one down a road I like to call “Memory Lane” (a term I completely made up). And while going down this Memory Lane (my term), he bears witness to his more notable failings – like a highlights reel of all the times he got it wrong, acting in contrast to his journey to pick up a doctorate. This is classic Bergman territory, positing barely any concrete answers, but posing (what I like to call) a fuck of a lot of questions.

Covid Rating: 15

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) – Salvador Dali’s old mate Luis Bunuel (a Spanish Francophile) is widely considered the master of surreal cinema, and cards on the table, I’m not great with surrealism. Surreal comedy, people telling me their dreams – all a bit of a bête noire. BUT, this farcical almost-story about a group of bourgeois friends not quite being able to have dinner might just have tamed the beast. *checks melting watch* Momentarily anyway.

Covid Rating: 15

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