Best Discoveries of 2021

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Just because there was a wealth of great new cinema this year, doesn’t mean we all stuck it to the classics after they sustained us through multiple lockdowns. As well as their favourites of the year, we also asked friends and contributors for their favourite discoveries made in 2021. The lists we got back are a heady mix, but a fruitful one. If there’s another thing to toast at the end of 2021 besides the brilliance of cinema, it’s the health of our cinephilia, and the continuing drive to seek out the hidden gems and fill the gaps in our film histories.

Incidentally, the most-mentioned director is the great Joan Micklin Silver, who sadly passed away at the start of the year. A toast to her, too.

Best Discoveries of 2021

Tom Atkinson

  1. Time and Tide (2000, Tsui)
  2. The Bridges of Madison County (1995, Eastwood)
  3. Casting Blossoms to the Sky (2012, Obayashi)
  4. To the Wonder (2012, Malick)
  5. Shopping (1994, Anderson)
  6. Unfriended: Dark Web (2018, Susco)
  7. Nemesis (1992, Pyun)
  8. Nazar (1990, Kaul)
  9. Fuses (1967, Schneeman)
  10. The Fate of Lee Khan (1973, Hu)

Ben Flanagan

  1. The Best Years of Our Lives (Wyler, 1946)
  2. Les Vampires (Feuillade, 1915) 
  3. Chameleon Street (Harris Jr., 1989)
  4. Hush! (2001, Hashiguchi) 
  5. Humanité (Dumont, 1999) 
  6. The Rebel (Day, 1961)
  7. Playing Away (Ové, 1987)
  8. Bulworth (Beatty, 1996) 
  9. The Story of a Three-Day Pass (Van Peebles, 1968)
  10. Sextette (Hughes,1978)

Cathy Brennan

  1. Teenage Hooker Became Killing Machine (2000, Nam)
  2. Tokyo Paralympics: Festival of Love and Glory (1965, Watanabe)
  3. Safe in Hell (1931, Wellman)
  4. The Black Vampire (1953, Barreto)
  5. Silent Night (2017, Domalewski)
  6. The Hour of Liberation Has Arrived (1974, Srour)
  7. The Basilisks (1963, Wertmüller)
  8. Lucky Chan-sil (2019, Kim)
  9. Mark of Lilith (1986, Fionda, Gladwin and Mack-Nataf)
  10. Microhabitat (2017, Jeon)

Anna Devereux

  1. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946, Wyler)
  2. Nashville (1975, Altman)
  3. Assault on Precinct 13 (1976, Carpenter)
  4. The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973, Mitchum)
  5. Bamboozled (2000, Lee)
  6. The entire body of work of Danny DeVito, particular mention to Throw Momma from the Train (1987, DeVito)
  7. The Kid Detective (2020, Morgan)
  8. Halloween (1978, Carpenter)
  9. Collateral (2004, Mann)
  10. Between the Lines (1977, Silver)

Ellisha Izumi

  1. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016, Lee)
  2. Halving the Bones (1996, Ozeki)
  3. Chilly Scenes of Winter (1979, Silver)
  4. The Break-Up (2006, Reed)
  5. Au pan coupé (1968, Gilles)
  6. The Plagiarists (2019, Parlow)
  7. Get Well Soon (2001, McCarthy)
  8. Iguana (1988, Hellman)
  9. The Piano Teacher (2001, Haneke)
  10. No Place Like Home (2019, Henzell)

Alonso Aguilar

  • Le Tempestaire (1947) – Jean Epstein
  • Halloween 2 (2009) – Rob Zombie
  • Brindisi ’65 (1966) – Cecilia Mangini
  • Plaisir d’amour (1991) – Nelly Kaplan
  • Hanoi, martes 13 (1968) – Santiago Alvarez
  • Watermelon Man (1970) – Melvin Van Peebles
  • Isole di fuoco (1955) – Vittorio de Seta
  • Fake Fruit Factory (1986) – Chick Strand
  • El mundo de la mujer (1972) – Maria Luisa Bemberg
  • Esta Noite Encarnarei no Teu Cadáver (1967) – José Mojica Marins

Sam Moore

Amer and The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (dir. Helene Cattet and Bruno Foranzi)
Two kaleidoscopic, deconstructed gialli that drill the genre down to its essence; Amer is plot-light, all in on atmosphere, and some of the best sound design maybe ever; an ear and eye for detail in a way that gets under the skin. Strange Colour takes the typical plot beats and expands, inverts, and takes them in all sorts of strange directions. Both beautiful to look at, with gore and darkness in their hearts in a way that feels unique to horror: beauty is terror.

Anti-Porno (dir. Sion Sono)
Strange, meta, and layered, Sono dives in to so many of the things that make films about sex interesting: the ways in which we perform – for ourselves, for others – and how the presence of a camera impacts that. Some of the strangest, most vivid production design, and a deep dive into what the process and cost of creation. (Aside: If you do watch and like this, try and seek out the recent Halsted re-releases that also capture the intersection between adult film and fascinating storytelling)

Death Race 2000 (dir. Paul Bartel)
Violence-as-spectatorship before all the other films that you’ve heard of that do it. Makes bloodshed a national pastime in a way that’s uniquely American; brutal kills, excellent satire, and a fascinating dive into the relationship between the famous and those that observe them.

Interstellar (dir. Chris Nolan)
Not the kind of out there, under-seen film that would normally be on this list, but somehow I only saw Interstellar for the first time this year. Nolan’s best film and it isn’t even close, manages to take his habit for being a bit of a cold technician, and root it in humanity on both the biggest and smallest of scales. A teachable moment about how good a film can be if you actually write good female characters.

Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway (dir. Miguel Llanso)
Still not sure how I feel about this one, or even if I know entirely what was going on – whether or not the end was an All A Dream moment, if that makes it a cop-out, or if it’s something else entirely – but I know that my mind still goes back to it, and I haven’t seen anything else like it.

Malignant (dir. James Wan)
I just wanted an excuse to include this film on one of my year end lists. Yes the first two acts are a little whatever, but the final act is one of the most out-of-left-field, baffling, and enjoyable things I’ve seen in ages. More strange, incomprehensible exploitation in mainstream releases should be the goal for 2022. 

Short films!
When I wrote about found footage for CYZ earlier this year, it gave me space to write about short films, which I don’t often do. And off the back of the essay, I found myself seeking out and watching more of them. They’re not a form I’d seen much of beyond watching them at undergrad, and for my CYZ essay. So more short films were a major discovery for me; chief among them were World of Tomorrow and I Was a Teenage Serial Killer.

Joseph Owen

  1. Cairo Station (1958, Chahine)
  2. Tokyo Story (1953, Ozu)
  3. The Long Goodbye (1973, Altman)
  4. The Comfort of Strangers (1990, Schrader)
  5. The Green, Green Grass of Home (1982, Hou)
  6. …À Valparaiso (1963, Ivens)
  7. Ten Skies (2004, Benning)
  8. The Piano (1993, Campion)
  9. Crash (1996, Cronenberg)
  10. The Long Good Friday (1980, Mackenzie)

Patrick Preziosi

  1. Outskirts/A Good Lad (1933/43, Barnet)
  2. Kill, Baby…Kill! (1966, Bava)
  3. Working Girs (1986, Borden)
  4. Street Angel (1928, Borzage)
  5. Le Boucher/Le Rupture (1970, Chabrol)
  6. Emma Mae (1974, Fanaka)
  7. Les Belles Manières (1978, Guiguet)
  8. Southern Comfort (1981, Hill)
  9. The Funhouse (1981, Hooper)
  10. One Day Before the Rainy Season (1971, Kaul)
  11. The Naked Spur/The Far Country (1953/54, Mann(
  12. Mirch Masala (1986, Mehta)
  13. The Rocking Horsemen/Hanagatami (1992/2017, Obayashi)
  14. Late Autumn (1960, Ozu)
  15. Cutter’s Way (1981, Passer)
  16. Bandini (1963, Roy)
  17. Adieu Philippine (1962, Rozier)
  18. Maya Darpan (1972, Shahani)
  19. Chilly Scenes of Winter (1979, Silver)
  20. Gate of Flesh/Kagero-za (1964/81, Suzuki)
  21. Love Massacre/Final Victory (1981/87, Tam)
  22. Simon Barbes or Virtue (1980, Teilhou)
  23. Drugstore Romance (1979, Vecchiali)
  24. The Big Parade (1925, Vidor)
  25. Me and My Gal/The World in His Arms (1932/52, Walsh)


  1. Bliss (1967, Markopoulos)
  2. Early Monthly Segments (2003, Beavers)
  3. L’homme Atlantique (1981, Duras)
  4. In the Stone House (2012, Hiler)
  5. Screen Test: Ann Buchanan (1964, Warhol)
  6. Losing Ground (1982, Collins)
  7. Three Drops of Mezcal in a Glass of Champagne (1983, Hernández)
  8. Nitrate Kisses (1992, Hammer)
  9. Łòdź Symphony (1993, Hutton)
  10. Turbulence (2015, Lowder)

Alistair Ryder

  1. Girlfriends (1978, Weill)
  2. The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967, Demy)
  3. Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985, Schrader)
  4. Marathon Man (1976, Schlesinger)
  5. Beautiful Thing (1996, Macdonald)
  6. Children of Paradise (1945, Carné)
  7. The Human Condition I: No Greater Love (1959, Kobayashi)
  8. Belly (1998, Williams)
  9. Summer of Sam (1999, Lee)
  10. Love and Basketball (2000, Prince-Blythwood)