Year-Ender: 5 Crazy, Criminally Underrated Hidden Gem Films of 2021
The year’s coming to an end, treat yourself with these mind-boggling films. What are you waiting for?
"Tum chahe kitni bhi movies dekhlo Bunny, kuch na kuch to reh hi jayega..." (No matter how many movies you watch Bunny, something or the other will always remain unwatched). I wish Deepika Padukone would have said this instead to Ranbir Kapoor in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. Everybody saw films that surfaced well on whatever platform their boat cruised to. But, just like every year, this year too, many movies didn't make it to halls or OTT and never saw the light of the day.
Just because the famous much-talked-about films from the filmmakers are covered extensively, many of the indie, breath-of-fresh-air cinema remains unexplored. They are mostly made on a tight budget but are a total 'paisa vasool'. With New Year 2022 just two days away, here I bring you my rundown of the top 5 criminally underrated movies of 2021.
Director- Julia Ducournau
Run time- 108 minutes
Actors- Agatha Rousselle, Vincent London, Garance Marillier
Release Date- 14 July 2021
May the mastery of discomfort commence!
These will be my first words to anyone who musters up the courage to watch this gem.
I’m a French Graduate, it’s funny, I know. And saying that I wouldn’t have seen a handful of French films would be an understatement. “Sous-titres” (I used to consider them saviour), helped me learn the language and furthermore, made me a ‘European Cinema Enthusiast’. It is one of the trophies I’ve collected from my ‘otherwise so boring’ course.
Before I tell you about Titane, I’ll run you through what French films are like. They are famous for being over-the-top (and I don’t mean Rohit Shetty’s cars flying in the air kind of thing or Karan Johar’s expensive love saga, with a bit of ‘Poo element’). French films are dark, give you a neo-noir vibe, have a choking concept-turned-into-a-good-story, brutal, explore the dark side of human relationships, full of incest and s**, and some feverish and jaw-dropping content.
When I first watched Julia Ducournau’s Raw, I was gutted but I wanted to continue watching it. People feeding off each other, gore-ism, anorexic lead actress (Garance Marillier) who just wants human flesh; it was cannibalism which even Hannibal wouldn’t approve of, but the film kept me on tenterhooks. Julia stunned everyone with Raw, which for me was viscerally upsetting yet beautiful.
Titane, for me, is the ‘Most French Film’ I’ve ever seen in my life. I believed Irreversible, Eraserhead, Midsommar were the weirdest movies until I saw this one.
Titane (the French word for Titanium), is a sci-fi body-horror film about Alexia (Agatha Rousselle), a dancer, who after being injured in a car accident as a child, has a titanium plate fitted into her head. Alexia shares a complicated relationship with her dad and is a dancer. Titane deserves your attention because it is like a mosaic of provocative ideas and captures humanity in a very ‘raw’ and unsanitized way. It’s a physical, violent, grisly thriller that relentlessly descends through a sort of hell and comes through on the other side with some deep themes about identity and unconditional love.
The film surpasses everything in terms of weirdness and surrealism, it blew me away in every single scene. It certainly is one of the most insanely creative character studies I’ve seen in years. A must-watch!
Interesting Fact: The film won Palme d’Or and received a 9-minute standing ovation after its Cannes premiere.
Director- Michael Sarnoski
Run time- 90 mins
Actors- Nicolas Cage, Alex Wolff, Adam Arkin, Nina Belforte
Release Date- 16 July 2021
“You want your supplier, I want my pig”
For those who have watched the film, will know how significant and meaningful these words were to Mr. Robin Fled.
When Pig’s trailer came out, I was super stoked to see the film. Chanced upon many reviews, read theories of people on the film’s ‘three prominent pillars of narrative’, how people drew the comparison with Keanu Reeves’ John Wick.
Pig by Michael Sarnoski is a weird/good film. Before I watched it, I heard ‘opinionated’ folks saying they were expecting it to be more violent, disturbing-sort-of-a-mess, unsettling John Wick-esque type and how they kept expecting cathartic violence from it, instead of an emotional look into the restaurant/service industry. (I cannot fathom the John Wick comparison being drawn by Cinephiles)
I’ll get straight to the point, tell you why you should watch this film.
Pig is about a man named Robin Fled (Nicolas Cage), a once revered and beloved chef-turned-quiet-hermit who returns to civilization (Portland, basically) after his treasured truffle pig gets stolen. The pig was dear to him because she sniffs out truffles, a delicacy found in the wilderness where the man and pig live. Nick Cage as Robin has to come out of the wilderness to find the lost pig and he must face the ghosts of the past, the memory of who he once was, of loved ones.
Pig is slow, somber, and heavy. It’ll surely split your heart open, squeeze very tightly. It showcases man’s journey from isolation back to the world he once left behind. Cage beautifully tapped on the subtlety and depth of performance. The camerawork is edgy, beautiful, focusing on the scars, creases, and crevasses of his face, sad glint in his eyes when he fails to discover his pig.
Interesting Fact: The budget for Pig was so small that they couldn’t hire a trained pig!
Alex Wolff, who was fascinating in Ari Aster’s Hereditary, has delivered a good performance. He matched Nicolas Cage beat-by-beat in the acting department. The film had me emotional when I finished watching it as it is beautifully shot, directed, with its focus on Anti-Capitalism, takes on an existential tone, its minimalistic yet hair-raising music, and muted cinematography serving that purpose. Pig is profound and elegiac in its messaging.
Undoubtedly, Nicolas Cage’s best performance in years!
Director- Vladimir Johannsson
Actors- Noomi Rapace, Björn Hlynur Haraldsson
Run time- 106 minutes
Release Date- 13 July 2021
“Rage beneath the surface of this flawed world”
When Lamb’s trailer came out, people were like- “Bro, what’s wrong with directors these days.. First PIG, now LAMB, what’s next STEAK?”. And trust me, it wasn’t funny. And I had to retaliate, so I said- “So what? Content matters, right? RIGHT. It’s the story that shines, right? EXACTLY”. And now, these friends have stopped talking to me.
LAMB, which is the Icelandic entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 94th Academy Awards, is a super tender metaphor about embracing whatever brings you happiness and solace, no matter what the social standards dictate. And this is what I call “Absurd Cinema”. In this Icelandic wild-horror and pastoral thriller masterpiece by debutant director Vladimir Johannsson, a childless couple in rural Iceland makes a daunting discovery in their barn. “Mother Nature”, as the title of the film goes, they soon face the repercussions of defying nature’s will, and what happens next is highly creative, unique, weird, crazy, and absurd.
Presented by A24, LAMB is a slow burn and relatively focuses on a mother’s love and the wrath one might face when their baby is ‘snatched’ from them. Piqued with curiosity, I assumed the film’s concept to be “Mother Vs Nature” instead. The film takes time to really immerse you into the setting, which allows the supernatural elements to feel genuine. My venture into Vladimir’s filmography and I’m already a fan as to what perspicacious, crazy story he’ll come up with next. Lamb is a deeply mystic, gloriously mundane, philosophical poignant journey of a childless couple and their pain. The slow and steady camera movements with striking visuals on an anamorphic lens and genius throughout the entire film give you a constant feeling of- as if something unspoken is being conveyed to you.
The scene where Maria (Noomi Rapace) gives Ada (the lamb) a bath and feeds her milk, setting up her bed and putting to sleep, displays characteristic theatrics divulge in the advent of emotional rigidity, shifting the character traits quite drastically and swiftly– then again the secluded milieu the film works on. If you ask me, ‘Dyrid’ (also called Lamb) is thematically intriguing, projects dispassionate familial integrity and an aspiring parentage. The film leaves a bland contextual void and should be watched more to understand its beauty.
Interesting Fact: The film set a record in the US, where it grossed more than 1 million dollars in its opening weekend, an all-time highest debut by an Icelandic film.
Director- Janicza Bravo
Actors- Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Nicolas Braun
Run time- 87 minutes
Release Date- 30 June 2021
“Y’all wanna hear a story about why me and this bitch here fell out????????”
You all will be wondering what this is about. ‘Zola’, a Florida A24 film written and directed by a ‘bravo’ indie director Janicza Bravo (Can we all cheer a bit for these phenomenal female directors please?) is different because it’s based on true events; not on a news story, or a book, but a viral Twitter thread from 2015 by A’Ziah “Zola” King, which is considered as “one of the greatest stripper sagas ever tweeted.” Woah, mind-blowing plot, isn’t it? Well, the movie is even better!
Before you read any further, here’s a link to the original viral Twitter thread:
Now, I think you’ve all settled in. You know what’s in for you here, you know the context of the original story, however, the movie adaptation is bone-chillingly exciting. The plot of the film goes like this- Zola (played by Taylour Paige), a Detroit waitress, is seduced into a weekend of stripping in Florida, but the trip turns into a nightmare- thanks to her iniquitous friend Stefani (Riley Keough), and a MURDER!
Why Zola deserves to be seen is A) It certainly doesn’t abide by traditional filmmaking rules and B) The film doesn’t try to do anything spectacular, just captures the absurdity of the original Twitter thread, and C) It’s a random and thrilling wild ride, given the fact that filmmakers actually greenlit the film.
Janicza Bravo is a mastermind who basically took a risk with Zola, and similarly, such films deserve to be appreciated even more for their experiential tone and focus on a sub-culture, that are not often given fair and accurate screen time. Moreover, the performances by both Paige and Keough in the film were totally hilarious.
Zola still remains unknown despite having a crazy, ‘real’ story that caught the attention of many known Hollywood faces. I enjoyed this film specifically for its dreamlike feel, how it showcases life experiences; it’s a very whimsical dive into passionate friendship and trauma. People have had to swallow a hard pill to say mean things about this film by judging it a lot on the morality aspect since it’s about s**, naked dancers, strippers, abuse, and some disturbing scenes, but served with great humour.
Ignore all the comments and WATCH IT NOW.
Interesting Fact: To prepare for Zola, Taylour Paige worked at Crazy Girls on Sunset and La Brea as a stripper for a month and actually took off her clothes onstage.
Director- Emma Seligman
Actors- Rachel Sennott, Diana Agron, Danny Deferrari
Run time- 77 minutes
Release Date- 2 April 2021
The director of this film is just 25 and Shiva Baby is her ‘baby’, her first film. And I’m 26. Now, that hit hard!
Watched Uncut Gems last year and remembered having pangs of anxiety? You’re in for another ride with Shiva Baby then. Shiva Baby, a dark black comedy with horror elements, is another gem by a female director. (My heart literally just swells with pride seeing exemplary work by women). The storyline goes like this- At a Jewish funeral service with her parents, Danielle (Rachel Sennott), a college student, who is also earning money as a ‘sugar baby’, meets her ex-girlfriend and her super-hot sugar daddy who is present along with his wife and kid.
The Shiva in the title refers to the week-long mourning period in Judaism after the close relatives of certain someone are bereaved. The funeral forms the fundamental crux of the storyline. It’s just not a simple plot of a gathering where people mourn, NO. It’s much more. Shiva Baby is dreadful, claustrophobic. It doesn’t conform to the regular norm where you giggle a great deal at, but rather it’s a kind of comedy that is more about the silliness of the situation; many upsetting situations, many unsettling moments. This one was great, not just great but I’d say, perfect from start to finish, but yes- more bizarre and creepy!
Throughout the film, there is ongoing stress that makes the story so relatable. One of the reasons why I could relate to the film is because I’m also quite on the same page as Danielle and I’m also building up anxiety every day. There was a palpable authenticity to the movie that drew me in. At a stage in my life where everything is so uncertain, the film resonated with me pretty well.
Not enough praise can be showered upon this film for the absolutely stellar direction from Seligman, which often makes the viewers feel as if they are trapped in this funeral with the protagonist and her many insecurities. Rarely does a movie come along that simultaneously feels like a horror and a farce. The editing is top-notch, with the close-ups and quick cuts delivering a suffocating feeling during the more intense scenes compared to the slowness of the more calm scenes; the score is stressful and tense. Phenomenal acting.
Overall, this is a horror film masquerading as a comedy. Shiva Baby is a quirky, poignant dark-comedy that will and should gain a cult following for what it has to offer. It’s quite a challenge to create a film set in one place that can keep you glued to your seat. Hysterical at times, it's like a mix between Meet the Parents & Climax. The character study is incredibly understated and yet it induces so much anxiety.
Shiva Baby is severely under-viewed, it's terribly attractive and hits you square in the chest. A roller coaster ride this one is. A full 5 on 5.
Interesting Fact: The first scene in the film was the last to be shot. The movie takes place during one 24-hour period.
How many have you seen? Comment below.
Apeksha prefers all things entertainment! This season, you will find her straddling the worlds of European and Indian...Read more