10 Films I Saw This December (Film List 2021)

Hello All,

The final list of the year, for me it has been an incredible year of films, both in terms of what has been released this year, but also what I have managed to cross of my list.

I have seen such a vast array of genres, formats and styles, which has definitely changed what I understood of filmmaking and how different stories can carry through different languages, cultures and borders. This is the last one of 2021, I hope you enjoy.

Passing – Date Viewed: 08/12/2021

Director: Rebecca Hall

Studio: Significant Productions, Picture Films, Flat Five Productions, Film4 Productions, Gamechanger Films, Sweet Tomato Films, Endeavor Content

Release Date: 2021

Rebecca Hall’s feature directorial debut, based on the novel of the same name by Nella Larson – its title alludes to African-Americans who could pass for white as their skin is light enough to allow it. The film is beautiful as it’s presented in 4:3 monochrome, which with its shades of black and whites highlights the skin tones. Much like the visuals, the performances and directed with subtly and a nuisance we see Irene and Claire come to grips with where their lives have taken them as one suppressed the person they once were, culminating in a lot of truths being unearthed. Rebecca Hall has created a really special debut, along with Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga who are also incredible.

Currently on Netflix (At the time of writing)

Haywire – Date Viewed: 09/12/2021

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Studio: Relativity Media, Bord Scannán na hÉireann/Irish Film Board

Release Date: 2012

Steven Soderbergh is one of the rare directors working who constantly refuses to be confined to a genre but elects to instead explore it all and looking at his previous works, Haywire is very much a product of this philosophy. The film is heavily influenced by B-movies as the story is very straightforward, short and action-heavy. We follow Mallory Kane, a secret operative who is betrayed by her employers and has to uncover the conspiracy as she fends for her life. The film has an all-star cast and the performances are campy, but also very fun as the film moves from set-piece to set-piece.

Currently on IMDb TV (At the time of writing)

Encounter – Date Viewed: 10/12/2021

Director: Michael Pearce

Studio: Amazon Studios, Film4 Productions, Raw

Release Date: 2021

Riz Ahmed shines as Malik Khan, a former U.S Marine, who attempts to rescue his children from an extraterrestrial threat. The film plays out like a sci-fi road trip but becomes a lot more insidious when Malik’s past is slowly revealed and his behaviour becomes more and more concerning. Lucian-River Chauhan and Aditya Geddada are both brilliant as Jay and Bobby Khan, who are brought deeper and deeper into trouble as they try to look after their father.

Currently on Amazon Prime (At the time of writing)

Half Nelson – Date Viewed: 13/12/2021

Director: Ryan Fleck

Studio: Journeyman Pictures

Release Date: 2006

Ryan Gosling delivers one of his career-high performances – as an inner-city middle school teacher, who shines in the classroom, but behind the scenes is struggling with drug addiction. The film is brilliantly constructed narratively and aesthetically, using the handheld to motivate movements and character development, but to also give a more tactile feel to what are very heavy subjects.

Currently on IMDb TV (At the time of writing)

Valhalla Rising – Date Viewed: 14/12/2021

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Studio: Nimbus Film Productions

Release Date: 2009

Valhalla Rising centres on Mads Mikkelsen’s ‘One Eye’ from his imprisoned to his subsequent travels with a group of Christians to find the holy land. The film is a brutal exploration of a time long gone; brutality and beauty go hand in hand as the cinematography captures the landscape and characters in a cold, unforgiving light. Nicolas Winding Refn has a way of combing short bursts of violence mixed in with slow but steady character development. This film is a prime example of how that has shaped his voice moving into films such as ‘Drive’, ‘Only God Forgives’ and ‘The Neon Demon’, all of which are worth seeking out.

Currently on IMDb TV (At the time of writing)

Jesus of Montreal – Date Viewed: 18/12/2021

Director: Denys Arcand

Studio: Cineplex Odeon Films, Orion Classics

Release Date: 1989

Denys Arcand’s ‘Jesus of Montreal’ is a layered allegorical look at religion, hailed as one of the greatest films to have ever come out of Canada – it has remained as impactive to this day. The story revolves around an actor tasked with bringing the story of Jesus to a modern audience, as he delves into the performance, the film starts to mirror the text in such an intricate way, which blends the lines between stories in such a surreal style- propelling the performances within the film, which in turn receive censorship from the churches and local authorities.

Currently on BFIPlayer (At the time of writing)

La Haine – Date Viewed: 20/12/2021

Director: Mathieu Kassovitz

Studio: Canal+

Release Date: 1995

A landmark of French cinema, La Haine follows a day in the life of three friends from an immigrant background as they move from the neighbourhoods to the suburbs of Paris. Riots and violence between protestors and police threaten to escalate as a friend close to them is in hospital. The film is rebellious in its presentation as it remixes so much of French cinema with hip-hop culture in such a beautiful and expressive way. The film has stayed relevant for so many years through its incredible characterisations, friendship dynamics and political tone, which still to this day speaks volumes for how cutting edge La Haine still is.

Currently on BFIPlayer (At the time of writing)

Dead Man’s Shoes- Date Viewed: 25/12/2021

Director: Shane Meadows

Studio: Warp Films, Big Arty Productions, EM Media, Film4

Release Date: 2004

Shane Meadow’s violent and dark meditation on revenge sees a paratrooper return to his hometown to seek out the drug dealers who tormented his disabled brother while he was away. The film has a gritty and tactile feel, purposely not making the locations pretty or attractive, but dirtier to reflect the nature of the events and character psychology. The film also becomes more and more heartbreaking as we see the defining events, which proceed the madness and chaos to follow as a more ruthless edge starts to show in the action.

Currently on All4 (At the time of writing)

Don’t Look Up – Date Viewed: 29/12/2021

Director: Adam McKay

Studio: Hyperobject Industries

Release Date: 2021

Adam McKay’s satire centres on the two scientists as they discover a comet which will destroy the world in little over 6 months. A lot of the film’s humour and satire is very on the nose, but I think that it’s the strength of the film that it mirrors the current climate crisis and the response from politicians, tech giants and the media. The cast is as all star as it gets, which again leans into the absurdity of celebrity over science, which within the current climate feels all too familiar.

Currently on Netflix (At the time of writing)

Portrait of a Lady on Fire – Date Viewed: 30/12/2021

Director: Céline Sciamma

Studio: Lilies Films, Arte, Hold Up Films

Release Date: 2019

Céline Sciamma’s breathtaking exploration into the female gaze is set within 18th Century Brittany and centres on the relationship between painter and subject, but that describes one of many layers to the film. The love story which unfolds is performed perfectly, which unfolds as subject is being told that once the portrait will be finished she will be marrying an nobleman. The relationship between the artist and muse is surgically dissected with precision without feeling cold. The inevitability of the period and circumstance doesn’t soften the devastating outcome, which is perhaps on of the very best films I have ever seen. It’s a masterclass in filmmaking and shows how important Sciamma is to the art of filmmaking.

Currently on BBCiPlayer (At the time of writing)

Last list of 2021, I have been watching these using a mix of Netflix, Amazon Prime and IMDb TV. I also use other platforms such as All4 and BBCiPlayer, which are both free in the UK. I have also started to use BFIPlayer again.

I can’t wait to continue this into next year as I start with the 2022 list, which I hope will be just as rewarding as this year.

Stay safe, be present, enjoy things that you like.


Stills courtesy of FILMGRAB / Kiss Them Goodbye / Bluscreens.net / anothermag.com / Elevation Pictures / Movieclips Classic Trailers / movienco.co.uk / screenmusings.com / Screen Goblin /commonsensemedia.org / NME / Joe’s Movie Blog / cultandexploitation.blogspot.com / fancaps.net / ingloriousbaguettes.com / starwarsscreencaps.com / boardchairman / animationscreencaps / forum.pixarpost.com / shattereddteacup / MyCenterMovie / disney.fandom.com / talkbass.com / indyweek.com / theguardian.com / echoartists

Published by Adam Shafi

Here's my work, ranging from films to essays. Hope you enjoy it!

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