My Best Films of 2021

From the image below you can see the type of vibe that this film presents. The young boy is called Bruno, and I doubt you’ll ever forget him after watching the film. Despite being non-professional actors; a feature of Italian neorealist films, both Bruno and his father Antonio, give some of the best performances in film. Both are looking for a bicycle which was stolen on Antonio’s first day of work. It’s just after the second world war and unemployment in Italy is high. On the verge of quitting, Antonio gets a job which requires him to have a bicycle. However, he never gets to start the job because his bicycle gets stolen. What would a man who depends on a bicycle for his livelihood do to get it back after it’s stolen? Director Vittorio de Sica allows us to see the plight of normal working class citizens of post world war II Italy, as they struggle to provide for their families. This film is available on YouTube and you can watch it here.

Antonio and Bruno seated on a pavement. Bruno looks up at his father, who is frustrated by the bicycle search
Image courtesy: Weebly

2. Rear Window (1954)

Alfred Hitchcock takes us through voyeurism, one of the most interesting human behaviors in Rear Window. Voyeurism is the bad habit of peeping to see what other people are doing despite being an infringement of other people’s privacy. In this film, viewers are invited to join the main character (Jeffries) in his voyeuristic tendencies. The film is made interesting by the many sub-plots embedded within it; all arising from the different houses Jeffries and the viewers have to spy on. Jeffries has broken a leg and he’s unable to leave home. He has to find a way to amuse himself and keep his long days less boring. He settles on voyeurism, made possible by the hot weather that prompts the neighbors to live their windows open. With the help of Jeffries work Camera, we can zoom and see the crazy things his neighbors are doing under the guise of privacy. Alfred Hitchcock is considered a genre of his own, and he’s definitely one of the most influential film directors of all time. Rear Window is a Hitchcock masterpiece.

Rear Window’s film cover
Image courtesy: Cultjer

3. Singing in the Rain (1952)

I fell in love with the Hollywood Musical immediately after watching Singing in the Rain. This is a film genre that will definitely liven your moods. The image below is from the good morning scene. It’s my personal favorite. You can watch the scene here. The film is set after the great depression and during the recovery. Everybody is happy and optimistic at the same time, making the Hollywood Musical the best genre that captures the spirit of this era. The film has zero politics and mostly focuses on show business and pop culture. As part of its themes, it traces the history of film from the 1920s to the 1950s. For example, you will see how dubbing was invented, the introduction of voice coaches in film, the studio era and many more. Musical numbers are, however, at the center of this film and you will definitely enjoy the music and the ecstatic dance moves. Gene Kelly (the man on the right), who also stars in the film, is the director of Singing in the Rain together with Stanley Donen.

A scene from singing in the rain

4. La Haine (1995)

We are all told that the world is ours. However, for the young people living in the banlieues of France in 1995, it was an obvious lie. This film explores some contemporary themes like poverty and police brutality among the lower classes. The three main characters; Hubert, Vinz, and Said find a pistol that was dropped by a police officer during a civilian protest against police brutality. The gun is tempting, and takes the three boys from the banlieues to Paris; an interesting, yet intriguing journey of knowledge and self awareness. Does the world belong to them or is the game already rigged? La Heine depicts the rise of independent film and does not fit any particular film genre. The director Mathieu Kassovitz explores different cinematographic techniques that cut across different genres. Do you know what’s a dolly zoom shot or a vertigo shot? This scene from La Haine is the best depiction of that cinematographic technique. The full movie is also available on YouTube and you can watch it here.

The world is ours written in French

5. The Night of the Hunter (1955)

The Night of the Hunter is a film of its kind. Directed by Charles Laughton, it embodies the essence of American gothic. It is a horror film meant for children. However, even as an adult, you’ll find this film to be quite captivating. It’s about two children who are being preyed on by a serial killer. From the image below, Lilian Gish, the lady that takes up the children is seen holding a riffle. Robert Mitchum the killer, can be seen sited outside waiting for the children. I’ll admit this (watch it on YouTube) is one of the best shots in the film together with a well created chapel scene, where Mitchum kills the young children’s mother. The sad thing is that Laughton did not live to see this film become a classic it is. In his lifetime, he only directed the Night of the Hunter and it flopped.

A scene from The Night of the Hunter
Source: Electric sheep magazine

6. 400 Blows (1959)

Francoise Truffaut won the 1960 Canes Prize for best director. The 400 Blows reflects the invention of a new Genre of film called the French New Wave. The genre focused less on the film’s story line and relied more on improvisation. 400 Blows, therefore, does not have the traditional narrative style characteristic of most Hollywood films, making the story line disjointed and non-continuous. Truffaut and other directors of the French New Wave emphasized the use of various editing and cinematographic techniques to make their films interesting. The jump cut was invented in this era, and from the film we can see interesting techniques like the distracted camera, the subjective point of view, and a long tracking shot. However, that does not mean the 400 Blows does not have interesting themes. The film is a critique of adult society and how it fails children. Antoine, the kid depicted in the image below, is a victim of this world. Similarly, the film is a representation of Truffaut’s life and how film saved his life. Watch the film and see how parents and adults can be so cruel to innocent children.

Image source: Mountain Xpress

7. Detour (1945)

It’s 1945 and everybody hates 1945. It’s the year the second World War hits the climax and nobody is in a good mood. The films of that era are generally called Film Noir; a film genre that is characterized by its pessimistic and often cynical vibe. It’s the exact opposite of the Hollywood musical which was more optimistic of the years after the great depression. Detour, therefore, is that type of film where nothing gets better. We are used to traditional plot lines where the main character goes though hardship only to emerge victorious at the end. Detour shows us that life does not necessarily have happy endings; things can become bad and continue to get worse every passing minute. Watch Detour on YouTube here.

Al Roberts and Vera in the car scene
Image source: Mountain House Memories

8. 12 Angry Men (1957)

I honestly loved this drama film. It shows the value of healthy skepticism during inquiry. 12 members of a jury are asked to decide whether a suspect is guilty of homicide or not. 11 members believe the suspect is guilty and are ready to make the vote so that they can leave. However, one man holds them back and asks them to explain why they think the man is guilty. As the drama unfolds, it becomes increasingly clear that the suspect might not be guilty at all. It takes a lot of convincing and shouting to turn the tide from 11 to 1 for guilty to 11 to 1 for innocent. Watch the film on YouTube here.

9. Goodbye Lenin (2003)

The history of Germany during the Cold War is one of the most interesting. A wall was built separating West Germany from East Germany for 28 years. This film is, however, set a few months before the fall of the Berlin wall. Christiane, Alex’s mother, works for the socialist government in East Berlin and believes socialism is transformative and good. However, Alex does not like socialism and attends a rally against the regime. During the protest, he’s roughed up and beaten by the police. His mother who was watching gets a heart attack and falls into a coma. She wakes up a few months after the fall of the Berlin wall but she’s still too weak to handle stress. Alex knows that the fall of the Berlin wall and the triumph of capitalism is enough to give her mother another heart attack. He, therefore, tries to fake her mother’s surroundings, ensuring nothing about capitalism or the fall of the wall is evident. This film is definitely a must watch for those interested in political films. For those who are interested in the history of the Cold War, BBC has a series of documentaries on YouTube beginning with the Comrades and ending with the fall of the Soviet Union.

Cover of Goodbye Lenin
Image source: Hot corn

10. The Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel (1964)

The sound of silence is a song and not a film. This song is featured in the film “The Graduate” (1967) in its entirety. The graduate is an interesting film by itself and you should definitely watch it. For those who have just completed your graduate or undergraduate studies, this film will have you thinking about what life is all about after school and what you should do. You can also listen to the sound of silence on YouTube here. Disturbed also did a rock version of the song and you can listen to it on YouTube here. I think this song deserved to be on the list because it formed a huge part of my year.

The graduate cover
Image source: Movie House Memories

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Zinah Issa

Zinah Issa

Reflecting on the cognitive and sociocultural nature of our societies.