As 2021 comes to an end, we are reminded of some critically-acclaimed films that we enjoyed and reviewed on EastMojo (from blockbusters like ‘Eternals‘ and ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings‘ as well as smaller-scale Netflix releases such as ‘After We Fell’ and ‘Passing‘.
It has been an eventful year for the cinema for sure. But we have missed out on covering a number of movies (and a “Top Ten” mini-series) on this site as we ran out of time. So we have made a list of some screen content – whether great or small – which made an impact on audiences in 2021.
1. A WORLD WITHOUT (dir. Nia Dinata)
What’s it about? Indonesian film about three teenage girls who join a cult program called “The Light” which claims to help young people find their “perfect match”
What we have to say: The dystopian thriller has a ‘flat’ look and a camera which renders the movie like a commercial ad. That along with the blueish tint in the earlier parts of the film make for an awkward watch. But once you get used to it, ‘A World Without’ has some thrilling plot lines and action which every futuristic, YA-genre fan will enjoy.
2. AFTERLIFE OF THE PARTY (dir. Stephen Herek)
What’s it about? Netflix comedy about a young woman who, after her accidental death, finds herself undergoing a series of tests that will make a difference between heaven and hell, literally
What we have to say: The Netflix comedy has potential with its slapstick-premise. But ‘Afterlife of the Party’ chooses to be tame, quietened, and therefore, unenergetic. However, it is still sweet with a climactic scene that will unexpectedly bring you to tears. This is a fun choice for Netflix users who are looking for pleasant, light-hearted comedies to watch on a weekend.
3. ANGELIENA (dir. Uga Carlini)
What’s it about? A South African indie film, now on Netflix, sees the titular character prepare to spread her wings to travel around the world as she had always wished.
What we have to say: The movie written by Uga Carlini has beautiful cinematography with eye-catching shades of colours. Interestingly, rather than focusing on the heroine’s travels, the movie focuses on the protagonist’s initial hesitation, doubts, and legal difficulties regarding global travel. This might make some audiences underwhelmed and disappointed who came for the adventure and not its preparation.
4. ANONYMOUSLY YOURS (Anónima, dir. Maria Torres)
What’s it about? Mexican teen romance movie sees a shy film-loving girl and a nerdy boy befriend each other via text messages. But they have no idea what the other person looks like. Now on Netflix.
What we have to say: For a movie that claims to capture the budding romance between two amazingly creative teenagers, the movie itself is quite predictable, unadventurous and bland. It refuses to make the most of its absurd storyline, opting for a more dramatic angle rather than comic.
5. BARBIE: BIG CITY, BIG DREAMS (dir. Scott Pleydell-Pearce)
What’s it about? The latest movie in the Barbie franchise has Barbie Rodgers from Malibu flying to New York and meeting a girl of the same name: Barbie Rodgers from Brooklyn. Both girls not only have their names in common but share the dream of being the next popstar, thus enrolled into the same training programme. Now on Netflix.
What we have to say: The animated film is more impressive than Mattel’s recent efforts such as the disappointing ‘Barbie: Spy Squad’ and the scandalous ‘Barbie: Video Game Hero’. ‘Big City, Big Dreams’ should be applauded for its efforts to be more inclusive and in-touch with modern kids with its fun pop soundtrack and some hilariously interesting animation choices.
6. BRUISED (dir. Halle Berry)
What’s it about? Halle Berry’s directorial debut (also starring herself) sees an emotionally wounded woman with a traumatizing past battle her demons in the boxing ring. Now on Netflix.
What we have to say: The film has some thrilling sports scenes and training montage along with a great supporting cast and stellar soundtrack. The sports film sometimes devolves into melodrama which may not be everyone’s cup of tea (not to mention a tired, disinterested looking Halle Berry) as ‘Bruised’ becomes a
story about mother-and-child relationships rather than about sports and a player’s redemption.
7. EVERYBODY’S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE (dir. Jonathan Butterell)
What’s it about? A socially outcast boy meets a former drag queen and is inspired to create his own drag persona. Now on Prime Video.
What we have to say: The coming-of-age musical feels like seven years too late with a good ol’ fashioned tale of a unique boy who feels lost in the jungles of high school and finds himself in the lights and the stage. Except for this time, it’s a drag stage. Still, this movie has plenty of humour, heart, and endearing characters as well as a heart-wrenching subplot involving the hero’s deadbeat dad. Max Harwood will steal your heart as Jamie New a.k.a Mimi Me.
8. HOUSE OF SECRETS: THE BURARI DEATHS (dir. Leena Yadav, Anubhav Chopra)
What’s it about? Indian webseries follows the infamous mass murder-suicide case which took place in the Burari area of Delhi.
What we have to say: When the true crime docuseries came out in October on Netflix, the entire country had nothing to speak about but this show. And why won’t they? This miniseries is effectively bone-chilling, especially thanks to the scene-stealing narration of a mysterious voice actor. Not only that. It’s also a well-layered show which builds intrigue and slowly tackles the questions instead of answering them all at one go. And finally, it confronts the stigma of mental health in modern-day India.
9. LOCKED DOWN (dir. Doug Liman)
What’s it about? A frustrated couple with their marriage on the rocks decides to pull off a heist in the middle of the Covid lockdown. Whether they succeed or not will decide the status of their marriage.
What we have to say: ‘Locked Down’ is perhaps the most unconventional heist movie to ever be filmed. Starring Anne Hathaway and Chiewetel Ejiofor, it advances like a play with actors delivering pages and pages of monologues to explain the acute madness that they’re suffering from thanks to the lockdown. And the couple at the forefront of the heist are not professional thieves. They are everyday people who are just as lost and terrified as anybody else.
10. THE MAD WOMEN’S BALL (Le Bal des folles, dir. Mélanie Laurent)
What’s it about? In nineteenth-century France, a noblewoman claims to see spirits of the dead. Her father gets her appointed to an insane asylum where she experiences harrowing trials and tribulations. Now on Prime Video.
What we have to say: The French language movie directed by Mélanie Laurent (yes, THE Mélanie Laurent from ‘Inglorious Basterds’) is an elegant piece of film. Based on the novel by Victoria Mas, the thriller is at times shocking and at times somber while being steadily paced and expertly filmed throughout.
11. MEENAKSHI SUNDARESHWAR (dir. Vivek Soni)
What’s it about? A marriage between two vastly different people is arranged by their parents. But their marriage experiences a hiccup when the husband is expected to work in Bangalore. Now on Netflix.
What we have to say: The romantic film was shockingly in Top 10 on Netflix India for several weeks given that it was rather bland with a rather uninteresting couple (the groom mentions his favourite colour to be light blue since “it is safe and works for all occasions”. He also doesn’t watch films.). Perhaps we are so starved of healthy and gentle relationships, and since all we get on-screen are toxic ones (‘Kabir Singh’, we are looking at you’) where all they do is exchange punches and yelling, that ‘Meenakshi Sundareshwar’ got Indians thinking, “Look! An Indian film where the couple doesn’t even raise their voice.” Until Bollywood normalises healthy relationships, we’ll have to make do with tedious, albeit positive, films like this one.
12. PAGGLAIT (dir. Umesh Bist)
What’s it about? A newly widowed young woman struggles to mourn the death of her husband. Meanwhile, more members of the family are joining in to fight for their place in a dead man’s will. Now on Netflix.
What we have to say: ‘Pagglait’ is a witty ensemble comedy with its greatest strength lying in the way the various family members interact with each other. At times, some scenes can feel stage-y like a play. But who’s to say that’s a bad thing? The movie is ultimately re-assuring, funny and good-hearted.
13. PROFILE (dir. Timur Bekmambetov)
What’s it about? A British journalist dons a disguise and joins Facebook to track down an enigmatic ISIS recruiter.
What we have to say: Shocking. Taut. Chilling. ‘Profile’, which takes place completely within a computer screen, advances at breakneck speed from the word ‘go’. It makes for an unforgettable and innovative edge-of-the-seat entertainment.
14. RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON (dir. Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada)
What’s it about? In this fantasy animation film, Raya must seek the help of a mythical dragon to save her kingdom from catastrophe.
What we have to say: Don’t forget to bring the whole family with you to watch this breathtakingly epic fantasy led by the charismatically stunning heroine Raya (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran). The only negative score is the questionable character design of the dragon Simu (voiced by Awkwafina) but apart from that, it makes for a rich viewing experience.
15. THE STARLING (dir. Theodore Melfi)
What’s it about? A couple’s marriage is tested upon the tragic death of their baby. While the husband is at a psychiatric institution, the wife must deal with a bothersome bird in her home yard.
What we have to say: ‘The Starling’, directed by Theodore Melfi of ‘Hidden Figures’, is a stale if sweet-natured comedy. And we use the word ‘comedy’ lightly here since the plot of mourning a death is no laughing matter. If anything, it is an improvement on actor Mellisa McCarthy’s last film, the atrocious superhero movie named ‘Thunder Force’.
16. STRAY (dir. Elizabeth Lo)
What’s it about? The documentary follows the lives of various stray dogs in the streets of Istanbul, Turkey.
What we have to say: The quiet documentary is poignant, emotional and a little sad as it follows the lives of three stray dogs in the rough streets of Istanbul. It shows us the gritty, less animal-friendly side of the bustling city while drawing parallels with the impoverished lives of the homeless Syrian refugees who share street space with their furry friends.
17. SWEET GIRL (dir. Brian Andrew Mendoza)
What’s it about? A man sets out on a quest with his daughter to bring down the pharmaceutical company that was responsible for his wife’s death.
What we have to say: The action in the film is realistic and hugely entertaining to watch. While it is a decent action film, the litmus test for the audience is really at the end when a sudden plot twist takes place. Those completely taken aback by the revelation will either detest the movie or love it even more for it.
18. TITANIUM (Titane, dir. Julia Ducournau)
What’s it about? The French thriller has a bonkers storyline where a serial killer has intercourse with a car and is pregnant with a mysterious child. After committing a series of murders, she goes on the run and disguises herself as the long-lost son of a firefighter.
What we have to say: An exciting premise is let down by the second half when the film changes gears and switches genres. What was a merciless and shocking movie about cars and ultra-violence in the first half becomes a strange family comedy-drama with gender-bending situations and father-child bonding. Both genres would work well in separate films but the mood switch here feels too unsettling.
19. TWO (Dos, dir. Mar Targarona)
What’s it about? The Spanish thriller, which is now on Netflix, follows two strangers who wake up to find their abdomens sewed to each other with no memory of how they got there.
What we have to say: ‘Two’ is extremely strange, disturbing and stomach-churning, albeit with an eyebrow-raising plotline. This is a hard R movie
and those with a revulsion to body horror will want to give this a pass. There are some ridiculous choices made by characters here. Secondly, the movie brings attention to a mentally ill antagonist being maniacally obsessed with the number two and makes fun of him for it. But then the movie goes on to make a statement about the symbolism of the number at the end as if the villain was right. It’s an artistic choice that will confuse the audience.
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