Clock if off and catch up on the stuff you missed!
By Douglas Greenwood
Okay, the time has come for us to shut off the work email, press ‘X’ on the office Slack and relax for a while. Christmas is coming, and Omicron or not, you’re gonna be spending most of it sprawled across the sofa anyway, so why not make sure you're up to speed on this year’s best movies and TV series before 2022 begins?
From dark documentaries to future Oscar winners, with some frivolous stuff in between, these are the 30 movies and TV shows released in the past 12 months that you’ve got no excuse for missing out on. Steal a mate’s log-ins to complete the list.
1. The Lost Daughter (Maggie Gyllenhaal, 2021)
Having proven her abilities as an actor for the best part of two decades, Maggie Gyllenhaal slid into the writer-director chair for her debut, a starry adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s novel about a professor confronting her failings as a mother while on holiday. A big Oscar frontrunner, starring Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, Jessie Buckley and Paul Mescal. On Netflix from 31 December.
2. Truffle Hunters (Gregory Kershaw, Michael Dweck, 2020)
Luca Guadagnino executive produced this slow and sweet documentary about a group of men living in the forests of Italy, foraging for truffles with their well-trained dogs. A big festival hit. Available to rent on YouTube, Google Play, Amazon Prime.
3. Zola (Janicza Bravo, 2021)
The word-of-mouth hit that kept us waiting. Janicza Bravo’s tale of two strippers galavanting across America looks like all laughs, but is a deeply-rooted story of survival under the pressures of the patriarchy. Genius. Available to rent on YouTube, Google Play, Amazon Prime.
4. Pig (Michael Sarnoski, 2021)
A directorial debut that had us all hooked at the mere mention of Nicolas Cage + piggies. In this, king Nic plays a truffle hunter (mere coincidence that it’s not the same movie as the above!) living in the Oregon woods whose fateful pig companion is kidnapped, leading him on an emotional journey to get him back. Available to rent on YouTube, Google Play, Amazon Prime.
5. Spencer (Pablo Larraìn, 2021)
A new entry into the gay Christmas canon, Pablo Larraìn’s dark Diana fairytale is a weird work of art. Set over a few days around Christmas at Sandringham, it takes liberties with the life of an icon, but manages to match the tone of everyone’s attitudes towards the royal family in 2021. Kristen Stewart deserves an Oscar for it. Available to rent on YouTube, Google Play, Amazon Prime from 20 December.
6. The Green Knight (David Lowery, 2021)
Bandied about distributors (including A24) before eventually landing on Amazon, David Lowery’s moody, medieval epic stars Dev Patel as King Arthur’s nephew, sent on a quest to kill the titular Green Knight in order to prove his worth to his family. A critical smash seen by too few. Available to stream on Amazon Prime.
7. The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (2021)
If you got hooked on Housewives at the start of the pandemic and have managed to return to normal life, missing out on the most recent seasons, get back on the bandwagon for season 12. A tepid first few episodes unfold into a real-life crime drama told over white-clothed dinner tables and through searing bitching sessions. Jaw-dropping television. Available to stream on Hayu.
8. The Capote Tapes (Ebs Burnough, 2020)
Chances are you read about the life of Truman Capote at school or college, but the famed literary journalist lived a life so great no one has quite got to the bottom of all that went on. The Capote Tapes pieces together unheard audio and interviews with Capote and his friends, to bring his unrealised novel about New York’s high society, Answered Prayers, to life. Available to rent on YouTube, Google Play, Amazon Prime.
9. The Most Beautiful Boy in the World (Kristian Petri, Kristina Lindström, 2021)
A sleeper hit at this year’s Sundance, this documentary looks back upon the life of a teenage boy named Björn Andresen, who was plucked from obscurity for his commanding looks and placed at the centre of Luchino Visconti’s classic Death in Venice. But this hyper-speed route to global fame broke him. Decades on, as his image still inspires countless others, the film tells the fascinating, if at times bleak story of how it all fell apart. Available to rent on YouTube, Google Play, Amazon Prime.
10. Hacks (2021)
A break-out award hit for HBO Max, Hacks tells the story of an ailing Las Vegas comedian reaching a point of irrelevancy, and how she attempts to claw it back with the help of an ostracised young writer with bright ideas. Best known as the show clever enough to cast Megan “Hi gay!” Stalter in her first screen role. Available to stream on HBO Max.
10. Misha and the Wolves (Sam Hobkinson, 2021)
Fans of true crime will get a lot out of this mystifying documentary about tragedy as true deception. In 1997, a woman in suburban America revealed the tale of her life in wartime Europe as a Jewish girl running away from a foster family and living in the woods with wolves to survive. It became a book and a movie, before someone started asking the hard questions: how much of this adds up? Available to stream on Netflix.
11. Summer Of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (Questlove, 2021)
The same summer that Woodstock took place, a festival in the heart of New York City made cultural waves but received barely a smidge of coverage. The 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival brought Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone and countless others out across the course of six weeks. Here, director Questlove compiles the found footage and asks stars to recount their memories of that time. It’s vibrant, brilliant and memorable. Available to stream on Disney+.
13. The Last Duel (Ridley Scott, 2021)
For those who came out of House of Gucci with a taste for Ridley Scott’s films, fear not! He made another film this year that critics gave less of a hard time but that did bad numbers at the box office. In The Last Duel, Adam Driver, Matt Damon and Jodie Comer come together to recreate the true story about a knight and his wife, and a squire accused of attacking her. As the title suggests: a bloody battle ensues. Available to stream on Disney+.
14. Squid Game (2021)
Do we really need to explain? Available to stream on Netflix.
15. Annette (Leos Carax, 2021)
After opening Cannes Film Festival this year, this mad-hatter opera dramedy from Belgian director Leos Carax left cinema audiences befuddled. What is it? A satirical masterwork? A schlocky mess? Both labels have been used, but you’re going to have to dive into the world of this torrid love affair between an opera singer and a comedian, and the puppet baby they bring into the world, to find out more. Available to stream on Mubi.
16. Only Murders in the Building (2021)
Selena Gomez made her acting comeback after a couple of years out in this Disney+ series about a trio of true crime fanatics living in an Upper West Side apartment building, whose dreams/nightmares come true when a murder takes place a few floors up. Steve Martin and Martin Short co-star. Available to stream on Disney+.
17. The Hand of God (Paolo Sorrentino, 2021)
Paolo Sorrentino’s new, partly autobiographical film takes us to 80s Italy, during a summer when Diego Maradona was the name on everyone’s lips, and the cinemas were filled with chainsmokers soaking in Fellini. Amongst it all, a teenage boy with his sights set on making his mark on the world comes of age. Available to stream on Netflix.
18. Limbo (Ben Sharrock, 2020)
British cinema occasionally births a few gems, and this year’s was Ben Sharrock’s smart and moving comedy Limbo. Set on a faraway Scottish island, it follows a Syrian refugee who gets placed there while waiting for his documents to get processed, his leave to remain either approved or rejected. In the in-between time, he reflects upon life back home, his brother, and what it means to hold on to your heritage in uncertain circumstances. Available to stream on Mubi.
19. The Power of the Dog (Jane Campion, 2021)
One of the current frontrunners for Best Picture at the Oscars next year, Jane Campion’s first film in nearly a decade takes place in the dusty plains of Montana, following a putrid-souled rancher and the trauma he inflicts on his extended family. Kodi Smit-McPhee, who we interviewed about the film’s queer themes, already nabbed a Golden Globe nomination for it too. Available to stream on Netflix.
20. Censor (Prano Bailey-Bond, 2021)
Horror heads went mad for this Sundance break-out hit, which melded gross-out violence with a family psychodrama. A woman who works for the BBFC rating films during the peak of the video nasty era is confronted with the image of a woman who looks like her sister, thus starting a mad investigation into her family’s fractured history. Available to stream on Amazon Prime.
21. Shadow and Bone (2021)
Expectations were high for this behemoth fantasy series about a woman possessing a rare power that could unite and protect her community as war goes on around them. Developed by the writer of Bird Box, it was a smash hit. Season two is on the way. Available to stream on Netflix.
22. Sweat (Magnus von Horn, 2021)
Conversations surrounding social media, performance and identity spur off this indie Swedish-Polish film, about an online influencer with hundreds of thousands of followers and endorsement deals. Her name is Sylwia, and she’s forced to confront how this mass fame measures up to loneliness in the real world. Available to stream on Mubi.
23. Shiva Baby (Emma Seligman, 2021)
No movie got the Twitter girlies talking quite like Shiva Baby, Emma Seligman’s grossly uncomfortable film about a bisexual college student arriving at a shiva (that’s a Jewish funeral service), only to find her ex-girlfriend and sugar daddy were in attendance too. Rachel Sennott was the year’s breakout star. Available to stream on Mubi.
24. Cruella (Craig Gillespie, 2021)
Emma Stone steps inside the Disney live action universe with this silly 101 Dalmatians spin-off that’s now earned her a Golden Globe nomination. The origin story of the titular character, there’s not much to take seriously here, but it’s perfectly suited for an afternoon of switch-off entertainment with delicious, stylish embellishments. Available to stream on Disney+.
25. Azor (Andreas Fontana, 2021)
Critics went crazy for this subtle drama about a Genevan banker called upon to visit his Argentinian clients, taking the place of his colleague, who has suddenly disappeared. It’s the 80s, and such disappearances are quite common, and so the banker must navigate this unsteady landscape, questioning whether or not he’s next. Available to stream on Mubi.
26. Young Royals (2021)
2021 was the year Netflix’s global productions had their moment. This summer, Young Royals arrived, a Swedish series about a prince at boarding school life reckoning with his queerness and falling for a boy for the first time. It was catnip for the Tumblr graduates, and has been commissioned for a second season. Six, easy episodes, too. Available to stream on Netflix.
27. Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry (RJ Cutler, 2021)
Billie Eilish’s ascent to fame is painstakingly captured in this moving and insightful documentary. Helmed by RJ Cutler, the director responsible for cutting through the fashion noise in Vogue documentary The September Issue, he takes a step back and lets us see Billie’s ability to navigate massive public notoriety alongside the regular pains of being a teenage girl. Available to stream on Apple TV+.
28. Dopesick (2021)
Michael Keaton, Kaitlyn Dever and Will Poulter star in this compelling series about America’s biggest drug epidemic, and the one company that was greatly responsible for its spread. Inspired by a best-selling non-fiction book by writer Beth Macy, it captures the Oxycontin crisis from all angles, from the boardrooms where fatal decisions are made to the streets of small towns where those decisions ravage families apart. Dark, but essential. Available to stream on Disney +.
29. Passing (Rebecca Hall, 2021)
For her directorial debut, actor Rebecca Hall adapted the historical novella of two Black women crossing paths years after their last encounter; one of them living covertly as a white person while the other navigates life as a prosperous woman in Harlem, embodying the experience of a Black person in early 20th century New York. An acting masterclass (Ruth Negga deserves all the awards for this), this semi-sapphic story of cultural divides from within your own community is gorgeously realised. Available to stream on Netflix.
30. Souad (Ayten Amin, 2020)
Originally slated to premiere at Cannes Film Festival in the pandemic-claimed year, this Egyptian coming-of-age film pins down the importance of sisterhood, and how even the most traumatic of circumstances can’t sever that tie. Souad is a 19-year-old living a secret life online by projecting a false image of herself, getting dangerously tied up in relationships with older men. When she takes her own life, her 13-year-old sister is left to tie together the real story of the life she led. Available to stream on Amazon Prime.