Film Hub Scotland’s Favourite Films of 2021

The Film Hub Scotland team have rounded up their favourite films of the year.

It’s end-of-year list season, and Film Hub Scotland make no exception! As blockbusters started to refill cinema screens in 2021, there were also a large number of independent and cultural cinema releases that stuck in our minds throughout the year. Here are our team’s top films of 2021, unranked.

Nomadland | dir. Chloe Zhao | Walt Disney Studios

After losing everything in the Recession, a woman in her sixties begins a new life as a modern nomad.

This has really stayed with me; Frances McDormand’s performance in this is so perfect. It is so much about America; it’s landscape and their culture, but also about the dreams and expectations of older women, which isn’t something we see in cinema very often.

Titane | dir. Julia Ducournau | Winner of The Palme d’Or, Cannes 2021 | Altitude | Out now in UK cinemas

A woman with a metal plate implant goes a wild, unpredictable journey.

Titane shows a fair amount of pain, violence, and sex. If you left the cinema after the first forty minutes, you might remember it as a high-shine, gross-out body horror (albeit, a great one). After that point, though, the narrative shifts; it has a huge injection of strange sympathies. To me, it becomes about surrogacy, and how we find ways to fill one another’s gaps.

I loved its cinematography, sound design and intricate choreography. Look for this in a great a party scene featuring Future Islands’ ‘Light House’.

Ailey | dir. Jamila Wignot | Dogwoof

Technically, Ailey is set for UK release on 7 January, 2022. But this is our list, and you can’t break the rules if you make the rules!

This is a documentary about famed American choreographer Alvin Ailey’s life and career. It contains insightful reflections on the artistic process, as well as on race and representation.

I really liked Ailey when I watched it at one of ICO’s Screening Days. I’d heard about Alvin Ailey and his dance company but knew very little about his complicated life and how this inspired his choreography.

Small Axe | dir. Steve McQueen

Can I count this collection of films by Steve McQueen which were released late in 2020? I watched, and rewatched, them through the year with Lovers Rock being my favourite. He is such an extraordinary filmmaker and these would have all deserved theatrical releases in a normal year. There are great standout performances in each of these films but it’s the tiny details I love about his work; the way the camera can feel so intimate and how rich the details and surroundings are.

Small Axe is an anthology of 5 films that follow the lives of West Indian immigrants in London from the 1960s to the 1980s.

Getting Away With Murder(s) | dir. David Wilkinson | Guerilla Films

This 3hr + documentary outlining the lack of justice which was meted out to the Nazis responsible for deaths in the concentration camps at the end of WW2 is devastating left me incredibly angry. It is told in such a compelling way they the film felt much shorter than many recent blockbusters. I was fortunate that director David Wilkinson spoke at the Central Scotland Documentary Festival screening I attended.

Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1959) – 4K Restoration | dir. Bert Stern | Restored by IndieCollect & the National Film Preservation Foundation (US); UK Reissue: Curzon

The first feature-length concert film with live sound, and a snapshot of 1950s America. Footage from the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival is interspersed with footage of everyday life, boating, and shots of the festival crowd.

There’s a real beauty in the simplest, most relaxed images of the audience, as well as incredible performances from great jazz artists from Thelonius Monk to Anita O’Day. This will be a treat for jazz fans, and fans of a light-touch documentary. It’s a love letter to Newport, the performers, and the people.

Girlfriends (1978) – Restoration | dir. Claudia Weill | Restored by Criterion; UK Reissue: Park Circus

This is an older film, but one I had never been able to see in the cinema until it was reissued in 2021.

Relatively low on plot, it follows a young photographer with an ‘edgy’ sense of humour and her best friend whose life follows a different course. I love it’s sense of humour. It’s an homage to friendship and independence of spirit.

Girlfriends is now being described as a blueprint for other irreverent, feminist narratives about women’s friendship set in New York (think of Frances Ha, Girls, and Broad City).

Sound of Metal | dir. Darius Marder | Vertigo Releasing

A recovering addict and heavy metal drummer processes a loss of hearing and a fundamental change to his identity.

Sound of Metal is an incredible showcase of human fallibility, resilience, and generosity rolled into one. The sound editing is totally transporting. Substantial research has gone into creating an accurate and impactful portrayal of hearing loss. The central performances are all incredible, and Riz Ahmed really shines.

Hear more from Oscar-winning Supervising Sound Editor Nicholas Beker on creating an “audio depth of field” here.

Drive My Car | dir. Ryûsuke Hamaguchi | Winner of three prizes at Cannes 2021, including Best Screenplay | Modern Films

A theatre director grapples with his wife’s infidelity while directing a formally experimental version of Chekov’s Uncle Vanya. While working, he encounters his wife’s younger lover and a young driver with her own mysterious past.

I loved the gorgeous, subtle camerawork and acting. Hamaguchi captures the mystical mood of Murakami while creating his his own detail-oriented world. The play and a series of oral stories provide rich metaphors. Dialogue is sparse, and it’s left to the audience to decide if these metaphors run parallel to characters’ lives.

Another Round | dir. Thomas Vinterberg | StudioCanal

Mads Mikkelson is completely captivating and utterly believable as a ground-down middle-aged high school teacher who embarks on an adventure with alcohol. This made me laugh and cry in equal measure and I wish we were making films of this quality in Scotland.

I came out of the cinema thinking I had experienced every emotion under the sun – but they always felt right, never forced.

Big vs Small | dir. Minna Dufton

A documentary which follows a surfer as she works to overcome her fear of drowning.

Even watching this online as part of Glasgow Film Festival at Home, I was wowed by the talent and bravery of Portuguese surfer Joana Andrada. She is so powerful and yet her fear of drowning leads her to working with Finnish cold-water diver Johanna Noradblad. I was captivated by this film and inspired by these incredibly resilient women who help find a strength in each other.

The Power of the Dog | dir. Jane Campion | Netflix

I loved this film. It is tense and uncomfortable and didn’t go at all where I expected.

The Power of the Dog is a mysterious, slow-burning Western; a character study with dark undercurrents. Released much later in the year, it makes a nice bookend to Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow, though they could not differ more in tone. Watch both to see how the Western is evolving.

Honourable mentions:

Pig, Notturno, Minari, The Card Counter, Red Rocket, The Lost Daughter

Here’s to a new year filled with future favourites. 🥂