Piotrek: Ok, so we already told you about our favourite books, now the time comes for the visual media. And it’s been a good year on this front, as well! Not so much for cinema, I’ve only been… twice, I think? But there were some great shows and a few good movies also. With frequent lockdowns there I had time to see quite a lot, but here I’ll only mention the best of the best, and only things premiered in 2021.
First, Piotrek’s favourite movies.
It was the movie of the year, definitely. Can’t wait for it to get to one of the streaming services so I can re-watch. There were several great reviews around, including a glowing one from Bookstooge that I totally agree with. SF’s ultimate classic got an adaptation it deserved, and that sadly Lynch did not deliver. Atmosphere, music, casting, scenography – all shined and played well together. It could be longer, some things are missing, and I think we deserve a Director’s Cut with extra 30-45 minutes, but even the theatrical version was excellent.
The Last Duel
Ridley Scott made way too many movies for me to see them all, and some I hate (Kingdom of Heaven, Robin Hood, to a lesser degree), but some are among my all-time favourites. Galdiator, Black Hawk Down, Blade Runner, The Duelists… he made a lot of movies. This one I liked more than I thought I would.
A deftly crafted period piece, certainly, with pretty strong performances by Damon, Comer, Driver and Affleck. Two knights, their liege lord, a woman and, well, a duel. Not the last one, actually, but who cares 😉 Reasonably faithful to what we know of how the middle ages looked in France.
One significant thing is the movie’s construction. It tells the story three times, from the perspective of each of the main characters. This is not new, but works here well.
Another is in the message. Not the ridiculous, ahistoric stupidity that Kingdom of Heaven gave us with its protagonist’s speech. This is more subtle. We have the world of manly men, and its give its credit, and we have women and their very limited choices, even if they happen to be high born. Our heroine is not happy, and even when she chooses to speak up, she cannot fight for herself, she’s fully reliant on her husband. After all, a crime against a woman is, in this world, a crime against the honour of her male owner.
So, we have some proper duels, some food for thought, and it all plays well together. The message fits the world of the story, without too many anachronisms. I liked it, wife liked it, we might even re-watch one day.
Don’t Look Up
Ok, that was not one of the best, strictly speaking. But it was quite good, often funny, and very timely. I watched it on New Year’s Eve, when my wife’s COVID was just starting (I had a few days before it got me), and I naturally wandered what the next year might bring. The movie did not inspire any optimistic thoughts.
Is it a great piece of art? No. It’s a satire well suited for our times. Corrupt politicians, thoughtless media, crazy tech-billionaires, and the masses so stupid it makes you think they actually deserve it all… and science that is solving more and more mysteries, but losing its ability to guide the humanity. Sad.
Ola’s favourite Movies
It wasn’t a great year for movies, or visual media in general, at least for me. Cinemas closed for the best part of the year, and even when they opened there was a bit of unease mixed into the entertainment 😉 So my choices aren’t necessarily things that premiered in 2021, just things I’d seen that year. With all that said, though, I was lucky enough to see my favourite movie of the year in the cinema – and – spoiler! – it wasn’t Dune (which I actually haven’t watched in 2021, only in 2022) 😉
Spider-Man: No Way Home
I never hid the fact that I’m a Spidey fan :D. For me it’s one of the most relatable comic book characters, fun and heartfelt and as down to earth as a superhero with special abilities can be ;). Rent problems, aunt problems, girl problems… Spidey has them all ;). I very much enjoyed the old Tobey Maguire/Sam Raimi movies (the first two, at least) and liked the new Tom Holland iteration of the character well enough. I wasn’t a fan of the second part, Spider-Man: Far from Home, it felt contrived and too long and seemed to lose the freshness and magic of the first new Spider-Man. But I was hyped the moment when I recognized Doc Ock from Spider-Man 2 in the trailer, and hoped against hope that this new Spider-Man would take the best of the animated Into the Spider-verse, Sony video games, and the movie lore. And for once my hopes were rewarded :D. I absolutely loved this movie!!! This has all a fan of Spider-Man can hope for. I wouldn’t change a thing, even the slightly cheesy ones, and I loved every minute of it ;). The love of the lore, the attention to detail, and the sheer unbridled joy of this movie is for me the yardstick every MCU and DCU flick will be now measured against 😉
Dancing with the Birds
I watched a good few nature documentaries last year, and this is the best. I could argue long and loud why I dislike My Octopus Teacher, even if it ultimately serves the case of raising awareness about animal intelligence. But this little gem, narrated by Stephen Fry, is laugh-out-loud funny, observant, and a rare feel-good educational story to boot. It’s truly joyful, and the unusual choice of presenting the birds through music works wonders. Recommended, also for kids!
Ola’s favourite TV Shows
I freely confess I have something of a watching overload. This last year I seemed very hard pressed to find shows or movies that I unreservedly enjoyed (with the exceptions above). I did find a couple, though, so here they are 😉
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba
An anime that’s simply jaw-droppingly beautiful. The art is stunning, and the story is very interesting too, if really dark. A rare beast for me, anime that’s better than manga, and I enjoyed every minute of it (and have a half a mind to watch it again ;)). It’s funny, heartbreaking, at turns silly and at turns pretty grim, like only manga can be. The main villain looks like Michael Jackson, so much so I’m surprised nobody was sued 😉 And did I mention the art? The inspiration from Hokusai is clear, and lovingly preserved, and I could just sit and look at those stills for a long, long time 😉
The Last Kingdom
We go slowly with the series, as I’m reading the books before watching, and one season of this series incorporates two books 😉 While it starts slowly and a bit ungainly, and I had to spend some time before I warmed up to Dreymon’s iteration of Uthred, I am impressed with how the producers managed to improve the quality and maintain through what is a really time- and effort-consuming enterprise, and they remained faithful (more or less ;)) to the books. I’m watching season 3 of the TV series right now, and I’m still enjoying it very much. I’ll save the comments on the new Witcher S2 for the Worst of the Year post, but I’ll say this here: the contrast between the two series couldn’t be clearer in everything, from the emotional impact to the set battles to props and costumes.
Piotrek’s favourite TV Shows
I wasn’t watching that much of the new stuff, actually. Among the old things – Babylon 5, Deep Space 9 (never seen more than a few episodes at once before), Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood… I absolutely loved Star Trek: Lower Decks, but only watched season 1 last year, and that premiered in 2020. So, I’ve chosen three new things.
Rojst ’97 (The Mire ’97), Season 2
A Polish crime/thriller show available on Netflix. I’m cheating here a bit, as season one is older, and quite necessary to watch if you want to understand part two, but believe me, it’s worth it. Season 1 takes place in the 80-ties, Season 2 in late 90-ties, both have the Second World War in the background.
The story is simple enough, but definitely good, I did not see the solution coming. In Season 1 Poland in under communist rule, and in that reality we have a murder of a local dignitary, an old cynical journalist who knows when not to ask too many questions, and a young and ambitious who doesn’t. Small-city underworld, some functionaries of communist militia, the suffocating atmosphere of these difficult times, when the Solidarity movement had been mostly subjugated and it seemed the regime will never end. The scenography is perfect, you can feel nostalgic if you remember these times (I do, a bit, as I was born in 1983). A great way to get acquainted with Poland of the 80-ties, while enjoying a decent crime show.
Season 2 is better. It shows the 90-ties even better then Season 1 does the previous decade, and it’s so very (Polish) 90-ties that I got very nostalgic – as this decade I remember very well. I also found the intrigue better and the conclusion more satisfying. Would you believe, in the new democratic Poland there also are dignitaries who seem to be above the law ;)?
In both series, we get glimpses from the war and the bloody pasts weighs heavily on the people involved in the story. The part of Poland we see used to be Germany and also a place of a camp for Polish prisoners. Then the Red Army came and the same camp was used for German civilians, and it’s not pretty when the victims turn into perpetrators. Whatever happened, people do not talk about it, until the protagonists discover that the key to the crime might be in the past.
It’s not long, 11 episodes altogether, and a bit different than most crime shows on Netflix – I’m not sure how interesting it would be for someone not familiar with Poland’s recent history, but judging how much I often enjoy stories from countries I know next to nothing about – I think I can recommend it to you!
Scenes from a Marriage
A great mini-series with Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac, remake of Ingmar Bergman’s mini-series from the 70-ties. Something I would not choose myself, but I’m happy I agreed to watch it. A drama about love, attachment, doubt, commitment… marriage, and it was fascinating, and a bit disquieting to a newly-wed me.
Acting is superb, story relatively short (5 episodes) and concentrated on the relationship, with no distractions. This is not a romcom, but a serious and deep story. But probably not for everyone, I don’t think I’d enjoy or even understand most of the nuances earlier in my life 😉
I’m going to finish with a genre gem that gave me so much fun! I never played League of Legends, computer game universe this animated show takes place in, but the show itself is pure gold. Beautiful, smart & entertaining steampunk from Netflix, much lighter than anything I recommended above.
It might be a story we heard before, of an advanced, rich – but corrupt – city and a brutal, vicious world of its criminal underbelly, but there’s so much grace in the execution!
Characters are likeable and varied, from all strata of the society and several factions, there are clear conflicts and some hidden agendas. The world is changing, the new methods of combining magic and technology will surely lead to a new era of opportunity and prosperity. For the right people, of course, and who the right people are, well, that remains to be seen…
It possibly deserves a long review, but it’s such a long post already, let me just finish with a very strong recommendation. Great adaptations of video games are possible 🙂
That’s all folks, at least for now ;). Blogging-wise, this year starts slow, but we hope we’ll get in the rhythm soon enough! Maybe the Worst of 2021 post will do the trick 😉