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X-PRESS TOP FILMS OF 2021


What did you think of the sequel to 2020? Some preferred it, some didn’t, and some thought it was simply the same old crap. But in the world of films, it was a time of anticipated excitement, with many delayed films finally getting their release (many of which thankfully in cinemas). But it seemed that quite a few of these films ended up being disappointments, which revealed a different and unexpected excitement. The likes of Black Widow, A Quiet Place 2, Furious 9, and even No Time to Die were all okay, but didn’t benefit from an extra year of waiting. It was instead the films that were produced during pandemic times that were superior, as if they benefited from being created in such a turbulent and unsure environment.

So whether they’re brand new or simply delayed (or had their release in Australia this year), X-Press Film & TV Editor DAVID MORGAN-BROWN and Film & TV reviewer DAVID O’CONNELL recap the best of such a wonky, yet rewarding year.

Pig

Nicolas Cage’s late Renaissance as an outstanding genre actor continues at pace, in this strange dish. At first glance this might appear as a John Wick clone, as a withdrawn recluse cleaves a path through a strange underworld in search of an animal with strong emotional ties to his past. Where Wick finds its catharsis in mayhem, Pig looks instead to the bonds we form. It says a surprising amount about food, artistry, shared experiences, and the ways we communicate.  All of this is anchored by an incredibly contained yet impassioned performance by an actor that’s normally renowned for going wildly over the top.

DAVID O’CONNELL

Nitram

Obviously this is a tough watch, but one worthwhile for those willing to revisit this tragedy with a clear eye. Nitram takes a broad and troubling topic and gives it a rather clean portrayal, showing simply the usual factors that contribute to this kind of atrocity. The film swept at the AACTA Awards, claiming all the top awards, beating out Australian films that felt so naff and mediocre in comparison. But Australian cinema has for the longest time been creating some of the most disturbing and uncompromising films in the world, and Nitram is further proof of that. Director Justin Kurzel created one such film as his debut more than a decade ago with Snowtown, and he’s made an even more incisive film about a different chapter of brutality in modern Australian history.

DAVID MORGAN-BROWN

Dune

Finally Frank Herbert’s classic space opera gets a worthy adaptation. The film project that has broken a slew of directors before, finds a worthy set of hands in Denis Villeneuve. Here we are submerged in the alien worlds and political intrigue of the far future of humanity, in a way that is stunning to behold. This is a far more naturalistic take than previous versions, subtly saying some interesting things about the “white saviour” narrative that is often seen as baked into the original narrative (that’s a topic for a longer discussion, but we’ll see that play out in part 2). This version’s lack of exposition has divided viewers, but for those with a familiarity with the property (as well as sci-fi fans in general), this is a must-see on the big screen.

DAVID O’CONNELL

Saint Maud

Although labelled a horror film, this actually plays out as a drama for the longest time, all the while engaging the viewers into this poor woman’s world, that by the time the horror actually materialises, you’re twice as scared and three times as unprepared. Although this unfortunately skipped Aussie cinemas and landed straight on DVD this year (not even Blu-Ray!), it’s still not to be missed. Besides, this isn’t exactly a gorgeous Dune-like production, the cinematography here is appropriately drab, murky, and depressing, uneasily pulling you in to this worldview that seems distorted and disturbed, but it takes its sweet time before revealing exactly why it feels this way.

DAVID MORGAN-BROWN

Riders of Justice

This Danish film should suffer tonal whiplash from the speed that it shifts from action thriller to dark comedy, but Riders of Justice manages to consistently be as surprising as it is entertaining. It’s that rarest of beasts, an action film that never forgets that at its heart it is a character study, and treats the failable group of flawed misfits with compassion and empathy. Under such a spotlight characters bloom, as the film questions the very tenements of the revenge motivation action genre. A strange and wondrous piece of cinema.

DAVID O’CONNELL

Bad Luck Banging

One of the first ‘masked’ films, and will likely emerge as one of the best. A true auteur effort, crafted by a man with a brilliantly singular mind who’s surrounded by such talented collaborators, Bad Luck Banging or Looney Porn is a monster compared to its po-faced thematic contemporaries. This is an opinionated film, in a multifaceted and conversational way, but it’s politicising is so much more attractive simply because it’s so damn funny and anarchic.

DAVID MORGAN-BROWN

TITANE

2021’s cinematic jolt to the system was this devilishly strange film that took on a handful of lofty topics and spread them out in such a perplexing, yet tantalising tale of murder, sex, love, and, of course, titanium. It lures viewers in with its flagrant violence and sex before moving in such a weird, yet appropriate direction towards the immateriality of our identities and the possibility of unconditional love behind it. It’s a film that’s certainly of its influences (namely the films of David Cronenberg), but it’s also a film that seems so wholly original and unique, as if it too will very likely go on to have an influence on future films.

DAVID MORGAN-BROWN

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