Favourite Visual Media of 2021

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.

Dune

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 πŸ˜‰ Reasonably faithful to what we know of how the middle ages looked in France.

Half-opened helmets are not historical, but lets face it, it helps that we can see expressions on the actors’ faces when the hammer each other with swords…

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 πŸ˜‰ 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) πŸ˜‰

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 πŸ˜‰

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 πŸ˜‰

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 πŸ˜‰ 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 πŸ˜‰

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 πŸ˜‰ 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.

What are all these people doing? They heard there’s some meat to be bought in this butcher shop, so they queued up, it does not happen too often…

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 πŸ˜‰

Arcane

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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ˜‰

51 thoughts on “Favourite Visual Media of 2021

  1. I didn’t see this post in the Reader but I got the email notification today. This was a great read, thank you both. Two excellent choices for film of last year; I can’t call it between them both. I had a more emotional reaction to Spidey, that’s about he only difference in the two for me. Loved them both and desperately wat to watch them again. (Spidey wasn’t released until January over here, *sigh*).

    I keep hearing great things about Arcane. I started watching Demon Slayer, but dropped out mainly due to time investment. I agree with Ola that it looks gorgeous. Your comments on the story have got me tempted to return to it. My favourite show from the last few months is Cobra Kai S4. But I’m a fan of the original Karate Kid movies, so I’m biased. Huge disappointments were The Witcher S2, Cowboy Bebop (new version), Loki, and The Expanse. I didn’t make it more than 3 episodes into any of them. WTF happened?

    One last thing, I started watching the new Korean high school horror drama “All of Us Are Dead” and got pulled in right from the start. Long episodes, but worth a look for the good writing, great characters, humour, thrills, and compelling themes. Sorry, this comment is turning into an essay, so I will stop here.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. piotrek

      Thanks! Well, I do recommend Arcane, in addition to being great it’s also quite short.

      I hear good things about Korean shows, definitely on my list! Not sure which one to choose for starters, but there are a few on Netflix.

      Liked by 1 person

            1. I enjoyed Seasons 1 to 4 very much, especially the first three. Season 5 was just okay, in my opinion. Half a good season. I will wait and see what you think of Season 6, then I may return to it. πŸ˜‰

              Liked by 1 person

    2. Yeah, something weird happened, looks like nobody gets it in the reader… :/
      You’re very welcome, Wakizashi! I remember when I watched your emotional YT video on your reaction to Spidey and thought that I couldn’t agree more – it’s such an emotional journey for me too! πŸ˜€

      Demon Slayer totally pulled me in; after the first two episodes that felt a bit clunky due to exposition the rest flew by to the accompaniament of oohs and ahhs and laughs and bitten fingernails πŸ˜‰

      Maybe you too have watching overload? πŸ˜‰ I hated the WitcherS2 so much I DNFed it. Loki left me cold, and I stopped Expanse after the first season (to be fair, though, I liked the first book the most). Never watched Korean drama – might give it a go! πŸ˜‰

      Thanks for reading and commenting, as always! πŸ˜€

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The same thing has happened to my posts on a few occasions. I hit publish “immediately” and it disappears from the reader, slipping back in time for some weird reason. I do schedule posts sometimes, so I’m not sure if it’s me or a glitch in the matrix.

        Not so much “watching overload” as disappointment and annoyance that a once great TV series or property can be turned around to *suck* so much. I think a lot of this has to do with the creators or producers desire to tick as many boxes of inclusivity as they can; usually at the expense of good writing, believable characters, and compelling storytelling.

        Wow, where did that come from?! LOL, I feel better now, thanks.

        Liked by 1 person

            1. That it did, and for a reason – now, though, it’s hard to get something authentic in this regard. Well, I guess the pendulum will swing back at some point and maybe the selling point will once again be good stories and interesting characters πŸ˜‰

              Liked by 1 person

            2. piotrek

              Well, but if we get cynical tokenism instead of equally cynical racism (“you’re a great actor but we can’t have a person of colour leading a major TV show”), that’s a kind of progress, ain’t it? I mean, the world is not perfect, but it’s unlikely to ever be…

              Liked by 1 person

      1. It was weird. I suspect wordpress screwed up something (I’ve heard of this happening to others on the forums). And since you’re a paying customer, I’m guessing this is another issue you’re “paying” for πŸ˜‰

        Liked by 1 person

          1. Well, no. It posted last night really late (which was when I was notified of your link back) but was scheduled for the 29th and shows up in the feed for the 29th.
            Did you get “likes” on the 29th?

            Liked by 1 person

            1. piotrek

              Sorry, you’re right, it says 29.01, despite being posted on 2.02, with no earlier likes nor views… but on 29th it wasn’t even ready, so the main problem seems to be that people who check their reader had no chance of finding out about it.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. My guess is that the 29th was when it was first titled or something. Sometimes those things get “stuck” and the date just doesn’t work the way it is supposed to.

                And you’re right. Your post is invisible to anyone not getting an email update from you. If it wasn’t for your link, I’d never have known this post happened.

                Liked by 3 people

  2. I keep waffling about the Spiderman movie. I’m done with superhero movies and at some point I’m just going to cut the string for good. Part of my issue is Disney’s insistence on tying them all together. I just don’t know where to just say “stop”.

    Dune is just fantastic. I hope it gets the recognition it deserves.

    Not having netflix, I’ve not heard of any of the tv shows either of you mention.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. piotrek

      I have similar, but less intense feelings towards superhero movies… I’ve skipped a few lately, some I’ve only seen on HBO, instead of in the cinema, this one I want to see, definitely (although it’s too late to go to the cinema, I was in quarantine around the time they played it…)

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Oh, it’s not like your typical MCU/Disney movie – Sony’s got guts (a surprising statement, I know, but actually the new Spidey makes fun of MCU ;)).
      What TV do you watch? HBO? Amazon? Regular cable?

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Yeah, I’m slowly going this way too… I used to watch a lot of movies, but somehow the repetitiveness of themes and structure and motives just gets to me these days. I feel like most of the new movies and series are a waste of time πŸ˜‰ I still hope it’s just a fatigue, though πŸ˜‰

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Lets hope it’s short term fatigue. That can be overcome with rest and cessation.
            Long term fatigue though, that can take years or more. I feel like I used up all my tv interest in my 20’s and early 30’s with anime. Once that phase of watching ended, I just never went back.

            Liked by 1 person

  3. It was a long, long wait to finally get a Dune movie worthy of the original material, but now it’s here, and it’s truly magnificent. I bought the DVD as soon as it was available, but I’m ready to buy the director’s cut as well if it will include the (probably many) deleted scenes.

    I looked at the list of available movies for Netflix in my country and Dancing with the Birds is there: I’m very intrigued by your description and I will watch it at the first opportunity – it sounds both inspiring and delightful… πŸ™‚

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I need to watch Dancing With the Birds!!
    And of all the titles in there I watched only Don’t Look Up. I enjoyed it and I think that it is brilliant, but I didn’t really loved it. I think that with all the great actors in there they could have done something… More for the enjoyment part. The concepts were brilliant and I loved how they developed them but… I was a bit bored while watching it.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I am yet to see The Duellists by Ridley Scott. I have found out about it only recently and don’t know why it took me so long to discover this debut of his. Since you say it is so good, I think I will have to see it asap. Three of my absolute favourites are Gladiator, Blade Runner and Thelma & Louise. I am still on the fence whether to see The Last Duel. My brother saw it and said it was quite frank in its presentation and I am intrigued by its Rashomon structure.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. piotrek

      The Duellists is a movie much much smaller in scale than his later epics, but no worse because of it, great acting and great fencing. I think I’m going to revisit it, it’s been a few years since my last rewatch πŸ™‚

      Liked by 2 people

    2. The Duellists is a curious Scott movie, I must say I admire it while not liking it all that much πŸ˜‰ Gladiator and Blade Runner are in my top three, too, but as much as I like Thelma&Louise I feel Alien and Black Hawk Down was better πŸ˜€

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Alien is better than Thelma & Louise? πŸ˜‰ Speaking of Alien, last year I read the novel Alien is supposedly “based on” – The Voyage of the Space Beagle (1950) by A. E. van Vogt and in particular its third section concerning the Ixtl entity obsessed with its own reproduction and wanting to implant eggs in others. I thought I would write a book-to-film comparison article but apparently I could find little detailed similarities and only thematic and general ones, so it may be true that the scriptwriter O’Bannon “didn’t steal Alien from anybody. [He] stole it from everybody”, as he said. Interesting.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’d say there a good few similarities between the two movies, actually – the celebration of female power, for once πŸ˜‰
          Oh, I agree that Alien is something stolen from everybody – beginning with fairy tales πŸ˜€ I think that’s why it works so well! This sadly can’t be said about the rest of the franchise, with the exception of Aliens, maybe. But that first movie is fantastic πŸ˜€

          Liked by 1 person

  6. That’s a lot of praise for Spiderman! I’ve only seen the first with Tobey Maguire, which I enjoyed, but none of the Tom Holland movies. Seems that lots of people love it, though. I’m curious why you didn’t like My Octopus Teacher? I haven’t watched it, but I am fascinated by octopuses.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I love octopuses (octopi?). I think that’s why I was so angry with this movie. If you haven’t seen it I don’t want to spoil it for you, but this movie is very much human-centric, in the antiquated sense of humans being the superior form of creation who can observe all other lifeforms almost from a God-like perspective.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I see what you say and that is too bad. When I read about some of the experiments humans have performed in the past trying to understand octopuses, I actually squirmed. I do think that we mostly respect octopuses these days, especially after we discovered how intelligent they are (should we actually treat more intelligent life better than less intelligent life??!)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That’s always the question, isn’t it? I do remember the sarcastic slogans “carrot juice is a murder” but apparently trees have memories and choose strategies that don’t seem to be driven by environment… I think we’re not smart enough, or compassionate enough, to really understand the world around us yet. At the same time, I don’t see us living on sunlight, so there will always be a lot to get to grips with when it comes to our role in the wider world.

          Here it’s not so much about experiments, but about objectifying the octopus to the extent of denying her the ability to think logically and have expectations. The director/narator hadn’t gotten rid of his god complex throughout the movie, and I was angry because it directly affected the octopus’s wellbeing.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Absolutely. It’s one of the questions where science and philosophy meet. Will we ever be able to understand what it’s like being someone or something else? What is conscience? Can we identify it?

            As it happens, I don’t have any problems about being part of the eco system. After all, that goes for all of us, plants as well as animals. The same atoms are being reused again and again in different forms and there is just one energy source which keeps us going (so in that sense we all do live from sunlight) πŸ˜‰

            Liked by 1 person

  7. Dune was easily among my favourites last year as well, accounting for my Villeneuve praise too. πŸ˜› Glad to see it on your list! I also had an entertaining time with The Last Duel. A somewhat timely subject that was tackled in a pretty original fashion here while evidently exposing the strangely obnoxious values of men/knights back in the day! I also had fun with Spidey! Still doesn’t reach the excellence of Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 but definitely, a nice way to end/begin Holland’s next (I imagine) trilogy. I saw Dancing With the Birds in 2020 I think and had soooo much fun with it too! What an original piece of documentary with brilliant narration. Great post, guys! πŸ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Lashaan! πŸ˜€

      Yeah, I loved all the Easter eggs in Spider-Man and the tribute to Raimi’s trilogy. Dune was good, visually absolutely stunning, but – unpopular opinion time – I think I actually liked Arrival better πŸ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

  8. The cinematography is what got me about Dune too. This list reminds me of to catch up on several things, Spiderman: No Way Home and Arcane. And you’ve made me curious about Don’t Look Up. I was planning to avoid it at first.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: W.W.W… TV SHOWS!

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