2021 in Film(s That Didn’t Come Out in 2021)

Check out previous installments here, here, here and here.


2021 was, I’m sure we can all agree, the most recent year in the Gregorian calendar. Though, that being said, Ciara now exclusively understands the passage of time through self-programmed film seasons (e.g. Soviet June-ion, Silent September, Shane Black Christmas) and Dean has lost track of linear time altogether. It was a year of surprises in film: Zack Snyder finally got to finish his four-hour superhero epic and Sylvester Stallone, for better or worse, finally got to cut the robot from Rocky IV. We started a podcast, The Sundae Presents, where we take turns showing each other favourite films of ours the other hasn’t seen (catch up now!). We published lots of good pieces, including the first guest contribution to our pop punk series. Ciara finished watching all the Nightmares on Elm Street (except the remake, obviously) and Dean watched every Gus Van Sant film, then immediately got super into pirate movies for some reason. 

We’ll be looking back at our favourite films released in 2021 on Oscars weekend, which we guess is in March this year? This is a look back at some of the best films from other years that we watched for the first time, spanning eighty years of cinema from the earliest days of animation to the earliest days of Paul Verhoeven’s post-Hollywood career. At the risk of repeating ourselves, one of the few upsides to a year where staying inside was, at the very least, highly recommended was a lot of time to watch movies, and these represent less than five percent of them, so you know they come highly recommended. We’ve got Arthurian myth and silent romance and four films from the seventies, because we can’t pretend we don’t have a period bias. Check them out and stay tuned to The Sundae for more cold takes and fresh pods in 2022!

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Westerns, Part 3

“I can name for you every western I’ve ever seen. It wouldn’t even be hard.” – 2018

“There’s something just better about westerns, I can’t explain it. A great western is a special thing.” – 2019

“… nobody wants to be the crotchety old man saying things were much better in the good old days. But then you sit down and actually watch a 1940s western and it melts your face clean off.” – 2020

There probably wasn’t an exact moment when I went from “getting into westerns” to just “being a big westerns guy,” but if I had to pick, it would probably be around the time I started watching the Friday western on TG4. TG4 is an Irish public broadcast TV station that mostly shows Irish language programming, but every Friday night, they show a western. I’m not sure why, but I’m glad. “An western”: Irish for “the western”, with the word western untranslated, the way you wouldn’t translate noir or giallo into English. The films they show range from established classics to obscure gems to stuff that really isn’t very good at all, but usually in an interesting way. I don’t always watch the western on Friday, but I’m always happy I did. There are some things in this world that are so purely joyful, so satisfying, that they make your heart feel like it will burst. They’re precious, and I try to hold onto them where I can. A great western is one of those. The particular pleasures great westerns offer make me fall in love with films all over again.  

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The Best of The Sundae #5

Self-congratulation is gauche, but as long as we’re doing it anyway: it’s pretty unbelievable we managed to stick so rigidly to our “no hot takes” policy in a year that featured the most consistently hot topic of our lifetimes. Amazon literally released a show about a pandemic caused by a bat virus jumping to humans, seemingly as a result of a vast conspiracy by liberal elites, and we just had to be like, nah, not gonna write about that. Expect our frigid coronavirus takes circa 2030.

Instead, we wrote what we’ve always written: deep dives into movies and shows that stick in our brains for months or years, screeds against the state of the entertainment industry and essays about the way we understand and misunderstand art. We also published great pieces from guest contributors and started our very own podcast, The Sundae Presents, where we take turns showing each other favourite films of ours the other hasn’t seen.

For long-time readers, this is our year in review. For newer readers, this is our sizzle reel. And if you’re here for the first time, this is a pretty good look at what we’re all about, as are the previous four times we’ve done this, so check them out.

Here’s the best of The Sundae so far since last so far.

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Double Features #8: The Whole of the Moon

This article is part of the Double Features series, which pairs great films that go great together. Check out previous installments here.


One of my pet peeves is complaints that a film isn’t basically a totally different film. Why doesn’t The Deer Hunter deal with American war crimes instead of being an extremely beautiful, sad film about three working-class Russian-Americans’ experience of Vietnam? Why doesn’t Michael Moore make documentaries that drily recite the facts instead of comedic leftist polemics? Why won’t Aaron Sorkin stop writing in the style of Aaron Sorkin?

Films don’t need to be about all things to all people, and probably shouldn’t be. I like when films are about something specific and small, and I love a lot of my favourite films because of their attention to granular detail, not for speed-running through everything they can fit in.

But there is something nice about feeling like you’re getting a panoramic view. Like you’re seeing a bunch of sides to something all at once. These double features are each made up of two opposite halves that make up something approximating a whole. Whether that’s taking on similar material from opposite directions or using the same approach to deal with apparent opposites, you won’t come out of any of these pairings asking why they didn’t address blah blah blah.

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August Van Sant: A Film Diary

Until we recorded the fifth episode of our podcast, I’d only seen two Gus Van Sant films: his infamous 1998 shot-for-shot remake of Psycho and his 2018 biopic of the late cartoonist John Callahan, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot. I thought the former was interesting, but not necessarily enjoyable, and the latter I thought was simply a good film. But I was never really drawn to Van Sant as a filmmaker. I’m not sure why. I’d heard high praise for some of his films, especially My Own Private Idaho, but I’d heard others panned into the ground. Maybe it’s just because he doesn’t have a public persona the way a lot of directors do: he’s a private enough guy that he doesn’t even have a personal life section on his Wikipedia and he doesn’t seem to have much appetite for self-promotion or even making calculated career moves.

Then I watched Good Will Hunting and it piqued my interest in the films of this mysterious man with a name that just about rhymes. So, I decided to watch them. All seventeen of them, over the month of August. I initially recorded my brief thoughts on each over on my letterboxd, now I’ve compiled them here, with some elaboration. I found very little advice on navigating Van Sant’s filmography when I started, so hopefully this can act as, if not a guide, then at least an example of how someone did it for others to follow or ignore as they see fit. You can hear my thoughts on Good Will Hunting on the podcast, but the rest of the gang is all here.

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Eternal Subscriptions of the Spotless Mind

We’re living through a time that future media historians will call a major turning point in the digital era. The younger, techier companies that created the modern streaming market, like Netflix and Amazon, have used up their first mover advantage and the regrouped old guard are gearing up to crush them. (Apple are on the tech side, but did not use their first mover advantage, because they’re idiots, presumably.) The biggest conglomerates in the film industry – Disney, AT&T, Comcast, ViacomCBS – will stop licensing their films to streaming services owned by other companies in favour of exclusively streaming them on services they own: Disney+, HBO Max, Peacock and Paramount+ (formerly CBS All Access) respectively. It’s gonna take a few years to make the shift, as deals that were signed before launching these services cannot be rescinded. But they’ll pretty much all be expired by the end of this decade and very few will be renewed, especially once HBO Max, Peacock and Paramount+ go international. That’ll leave any streaming service without a major studio archive increasingly reliant on their original releases as enticement to stay subscribed, which will always be a worse value proposition for a consumer than original releases plus loads of existing films. Amazon seem to be futureproofing Prime against this threat by buying MGM and securing a back catalogue of their own. Netflix and Apple seem to be doing sweet fuck all, but that could change any minute. It’s Silicon Valley vs Hollywood in a fight to the death over which shower of assholes in California get to shape the future of global media, and it terrifies me.

Streaming has only been around for the bones of a decade and it’s already transformed the industry so much, mostly for the worse. Suffocating overproduction, cinemas decimated, expanding power of corporations to censor art. The casualties of the first streaming war (June 2011March 2020) have already been severe, and that was before Disney, one of the most awful, nihilistic media companies in human history, got involved. What fresh horrors will come now the second streaming war (May 2020 – present) is afoot? I obviously can’t know what Bob Iger and his ilk are cooking up in their high rises, but I can try to think like them. I’ve looked at graphs of market trends and nodded slowly, I’ve brainstormed and wordclouded and powerpointed, I’ve put a photo of Martin Scorsese on a dart board and shot it with a revolver. I’ve danced with Minions in the pale moonlight, huffed the helium from Walt Disney’s cryopod and sought prophecy in the entrails of a still-living Boots the Monkey. I’ve read the fucking Economist. And lo, the Invisible Hand came forth from the great maelstrom of the market, laid a single finger on my forehead and answered my prayers. I have seen the future that Disney and all the other rogues will bring about in their ruthless, pointless pursuit of wealth. It has come to me as if in a vision, and, buddy, it is fucked up.

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Nightmares / Phases / Professions

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

Asked to picture a mental hospital in a horror film, most of us would think similarly. From old B-movies to Halloween to the recent Happy Death Day and IT, they house dangerous maniacs itching for an escape, a weapon and an unsuspecting innocent to murder. It’s a trope A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors plays into: a nun reveals that Freddy Krueger was the result of her gang-rape in an asylum, making him “the bastard son of a thousand maniacs.”

But Dream Warriors also flips this on its head. Our heroes, teenagers in a psychiatric unit, are all tormented by Freddy in their dreams, and Freddy is both a metaphor and a catalyst for mental health problems. Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette) lands in the hospital after Freddy slits her wrists, but the other kids – in desperate attempts to stay awake or just deal with the trauma of their dreams – exhibit symptoms of mental illness. Jennifer puts out cigarettes on her arms. Will is paralyzed at the waist after a botched suicide attempt. Joey, once a high school debater, is mute.

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The Tragic Intimacy of Asif Kapadia’s Archival Trilogy

Documentaries are too often not treated as films proper. They’re talked about less as a type of film than a totally separate art form, shunted off in the back somewhere. No documentary has ever been nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture. I realise the Oscars have a pretty blinkered point of view, but even other forms of cinema ghettoised at the Oscars have gotten some Best Picture nominations: thirteen films not in the English language, only a handful of horror movies, just three animated films, but not a single documentary. It’s kind of insane, if you think about it.

Part of it is that way too many documentaries are not made like films proper. Far too many rely so heavily on their subject being of interest that they don’t make the telling interesting in its own right. You just film a bunch of talking heads saying what happened and call it a day. I’m not criticising documentaries as a whole, here – lots and lots and lots of fiction films are visually lazy and uninteresting, and if the subject is strong enough, a documentary can be great whether it’s boldly ambitious or just talking heads telling you what happened. I recently watched a TV documentary about Mike Nichols and Elaine May, and even though the talking heads were more or less entirely boring and terrible, I still enjoyed it because it had lots of clips of Nichols and May sketches. But I think that exact strength allows us to imagine that documentaries are good if their subjects are interesting, that nothing much else goes into it. It allows us to buy into the division of documentaries from the rest of filmmaking. I think all the time about Michael Moore’s frustration at being called a “documentarian”, rather than a documentary filmmaker, since it’s not like people call Martin Scorsese a fiction-atarian. (The irony, of course, is that Scorsese is an accomplished documentary filmmaker too, but most of the time nobody talks about his documentaries in the same breath as his fiction films.)

I love Asif Kapadia’s documentaries in part because there’s no way that anyone, even subconsciously, could think of them not as “real” films. His 2010 film Senna – about the life and career of Formula One driver Ayrton Senna – is a sports movie in the truest sense, following his rivalry with Alain Prost like Rocky and Apollo Creed. Senna was followed by Amy, his Oscar-winning documentary about Amy Winehouse, in 2015, and Diego Maradona in 2019. Senna, Amy and Diego Maradona form a trilogy both thematically and stylistically: each is a chronicle of creative genius and the pressure of fame, pieced together from archival footage.

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The Sundae Film Awards 2021

We usually begin these with some reflections on the year that’s been, but you know how the last year has been and it would feel condescending to repeat. Half the films we anticipated we would be writing about this year at the start of last year didn’t even come out, and almost none of those that did got a theatrical release. We usually define the “film year” through a combination of Oscar eligibility, Irish release dates and our own gut feeling about whether a movie is part of a given cultural “season” or not. This year, it’s all gut feeling, so if you’re wondering why I Care a Lot, released February 2021, was eligible, but not Zack Snyder’s Justice League, released March 2021, it’s because we say so.

Just like every year, we gave one award for each of the eight major Oscars: we care about most of the others (except for the fake awards like Best Original Song) but this post would be absurdly long if we picked those too. We each did out our personal nominees and then selected the winner by consensus, so the winners only come from films that both of us have seen and nominated, but we’ve each picked a personal runner-up regardless of whether the other has seen or nominated it. We also each gave a Special Achievement Award for something that doesn’t quite fit the regular categories. You can see each of our full slates of nominees at the bottom of this post, which we strongly encourage you to check out if you’re looking for recommendations. There was a surprising number of great films this year, and we only got to award a small fraction of them.

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Burying J.K. Rowling

No question has dominated pop cultural writing over the last decade as much as this: what do you do when one of your faves is problematic? The situation is obviously a lot more nuanced than that, but that’s the essence of the dilemma, the question that people struggle with. How should you feel, and what should you do, when – not if – the creator of a work of art you love does something evil? How should you feel about them? How should you feel about their work? Should you go see their next film or buy their next book?  

Last year, J.K. Rowling publicly confirmed, after years of speculation by fans of her work, that she hates transgender people. Rowling would obviously disagree with this characterisation, but I’m not interested in trying the case against her, I’m just describing my view. She’s often described by critics as a TERF, or trans-exclusionary radical feminist, but I don’t actually think that label is accurate. I remember when the term “TERF” was first popularised, and the entire point of it was to describe a specific kind of transphobic bigot, a radical feminist who denied that trans women are women, not just anyone who uses any kind of feminist rhetoric to justify their hatred. While some figures involved in recent anti-trans political activity in the UK fit that description, the vast majority wouldn’t be caught within a country mile of the actual political tradition of radical feminism. Those that are feminists at all are almost exclusively liberal feminists borrowing the arguments, but not the principles, of genuine TERFs, just as certain elements of the far-right use the contemporary rhetoric of antiracism to advance a white nationalist agenda

J.K. Rowling is one of those liberal feminists. She’s not a TERF, just a garden-variety bigot trying to coat her hatred in a thin gloss of moral righteousness. I appreciate this might seem like a pedantic point, but I think it’s important to be fair, accurate and precise about people’s political positions, especially those of your political opponents. You can tell Rowling and other anti-trans feminists of her ilk aren’t proper TERFs because they can’t even make their shite arguments as well. They’re just regurgitating dunks they saw on Twitter or Mumsnet, passed on through some massive game of transphobic telephone, without ever understanding the underlying philosophy that motivates them. All their arguments are purely instrumental, just a way to advance the cause, itself motivated by more-or-less unmediated hatred and disgust toward trans people (especially trans women), rather than any even internally coherent set of values or ideas. Not that proper TERFs are less motivated by hatred, exactly, but at least it’s an ethos. These liberal knock-offs (I’m shocked “astroTERF” isn’t a thing yet) say shit like “you can’t just go around changing the definition of womanhood”, because that’s what all the other transphobes – or “gender-critical feminists” – say. But underneath it, even if they were speaking in good faith, it’s doubtful they could elaborate beyond a few more online talking points on how they define womanhood or how trans people’s existence undermines it.  

This is not, despite the title, a takedown of J.K. Rowling’s personal bigotry towards trans people or her political activism to curtail efforts to expand their civil rights, access to healthcare and general ability to live safely in a world so hostile to their lives, not least because the definitive takedown already exists. She’s just a useful tool for thinking about the relationship between the art and the artist. Partly because she is, for better or worse, one of the most famous, influential and successful artists of the last fifty years. Partly because her common habit of publicly asserting things about the universe of Harry Potter that aren’t present in the books – e.g. that a Jewish wizard named Anthony Goldstein attended Hogwarts during the events of series or that wizards used to shit on the floor and magic it away until the eighteenth century – has already provoked lots of discussion on whether fans have to accept, believe or give a shit about what Rowling says is true of the world she created. But mostly because she’s been one of a few constant cultural figures my entire life, someone whose works were formative touchstones of my childhood that I returned to regularly up until a few years ago. I even wrote a (not very good) dissertation on them in my final year of college. Every shift in my attitude towards this question of the art and the artist – a topic I’ve been struggling with for years – has been informed at least in part by my changing relationship to both her work and her public persona. I learned how to bury authors from watching her dig her own grave. 

Part 1 – Joanne 

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