Reflecting on 2021: Film and TV
After attending ‘Transformations: Moving Image Storytelling’, a Q&A event provided by UCL with film industry professionals back in June this year, my inner film critic was ignited. The event centred around Life In A Day, a documentary that captures the day of July 25th, 2020 from a global angle. The film followed the Life In A Day that was created in 2010, a documentary of similar form. Over 300,000 videos from 192 countries were submitted to the project, connecting themes of love, death, hope and more. The event aimed to capture the experience of editing this intriguing, captivating film, and after watching the documentary itself I was inspired to delve into more films and cinematic creations that perhaps lay out of my usual repertoire of 'go-to' movies.
I have since enjoyed a range of films, documentaries and TV shows over the year, each spanning different themes and conversations, and broadening my knowledge of a variety of topics. As the year draws to a close, here is a curation of a selection of these films and TV shows, alongside my thoughts on each.
Marking the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, this intensely moving documentary gives voice to the people who were directly and deeply effected by the terror attacks. We hear from the World Trade Centre's artist in residence, a fire fighter who survived the effort to evacuate the towers, the wife of a pilot who's plane was hijacked, the father and brother of a Reuters employee who lost his life, and several other individuals who lost loved ones on 9/11. We hear their stories, and see how they have rebuilt their lives after suffering such personal and collective tragedy. A powerful documentary, the narratives of which will stay with me for a long time.
Telling the story of the events that led to the arrest and charge of Gary Dobson and David Norris in 2012, two of the men involved in the murder of Stephen Lawrence, Stephen really stands out as being a highlight of 2021 TV. Moving and emotive, frustrating and devastating, the drama takes a look at the failure of the Metropolitan Police to seek true justice for Stephen and his family, a necessary critique of a severe failure on behalf of an organisation that is seeing to become ‘the most trusted police service in the world.’ You can check out my full review of the series to hear all my thoughts over on Empoword Journalism, but I really urge you to watch it for yourself.
Great British Menu
One of my all-time favourite shows on TV, series sixteen was as exceptional as its predecessors. Bringing together the very best chefs from across the country to compete for a place on the prestigious Banquet Menu, it brings an explosion of culinary creativity to our screens every year. This year's theme was 'British innovation', and chefs had to bring dishes that celebrated inventions and scientific creations, culminating in the top chefs cooking at the Jodrell Bank observatory in Chesire. I adore Andi Oliver, who hosted the programme this year after leaving her seat in the Judges Chamber, and the chefs created some amazing dishes, including the first wholly plant-based menu from Kirk Haworth.
How To Get Away With Murder
A new find for me this year, How To Get Away With Murder is one of the most gripping, riveting and tense dramas I have ever come across. This legal thriller follows the 'Keating 5', the five students chosen by renowned criminal defence attorney and law professor Annalise Keating (Viola Davis), after they enrol in her class at Middleton University. The way the series' are put together is so clever that you are always keep guessing all the way through, and there are so many twists and turns that, once you get invested in the characters and their narratives, you'll never be able to stop pressing 'Play Next Episode.'
This programme sees 10 ambitious aspiring interior designers compete for a life-changing commercial contract. Hosted by the amazing Alan Carr and judged by Michelle Ogundehin, it was so intriguing to see what challenge each week brought. The designers were tasked with responding to a variety of client briefs as they faced everything for hair salons to beach huts, hotel suites to show homes. The talent each designer exhibited was incredible, and whether you're an avid interior designer or simply interested in how beautiful spaces are created, this ensures an interesting and enjoyable viewing.
This film is based on the testimony of Wladyslaw Szpilman (played by Adrien Brody), a remarkable composer and pianist who, during the Nazi occupation of Poland during the Second World War, was separated from his family after he escaped deportation. It is heartbreaking and uplifting, devastating and memorable, shining a light on a man of courage, bravery and strength who faced the most traumatic and overwhelmingly shattering moments in history. A really powerful watch, and one everyone should invest some time in.
Based on a true story, Unbroken movie follows American Olympian and Army officer Louie Zamperini (Jack O'Connell) who, after surviving a crash-land into the ocean during WWII, spent 47 days on a raft before his captured by the Japanese Army. He was sent to a series of prisoner of war camps, until the camps were liberated at the end of the War. The acting is exquisite, the story is shattering, and overall the film teaches us that resilience and determination can see us succeed, even in the most devastating of circumstances.
Following the true story of Katherine Gun, a translator for GCHQ who leaked information regarding an illegal spy operation by American and British intelligence services that intended to affect the United Nations' Security Council's decision to support an invasion of Iraq, this film fosters a tense, gripping and anger-fuelling experience. Prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act, Gun was eventually released of all charges, and she stands as a reminder of the dilemmas faced when our loyalty to an organisation conflicts with our moral and ethical responsibility. It spotlights a time in our country's history which it still fraught with questions, frustration and grief, and makes for interesting, thought-provoking watching.
The Dig shares the events of the 1939 excavation of Sutton Hoo, starring Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes, Lily James and more. Set against the backdrop of WWII, the film traces follows archaeologist-excavator Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes), hired by Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) to excavate the burial mounds on her estate. The film details the miraculous discovery of an Anglo-Saxon ship, and the politics behind its discovery as who has ownership of the discovery is contested. A very interesting and enjoyable movie.
Based on the true story detailed in Lorenzo Carcaterra book of the same name, Sleepers follows four childhood friends who live in Hell's Kitchen in the 1960s. After robbing a hot dog vendor, the young boys are sentenced to the Wilkinson Home for Boys, where they suffer life-affecting abuse from the abhorrent guards. Many years later, they take their revenge on their abusers. It is a moving, shocking film with incredible acting from the entire cast.
The White Tiger
Based on the novel of the same name, the film adaptation of Aravind Adiga's masterpiece was a thrilling experience. Following Balram Halwai (Adarsh Gourav) on his journey to entrepreneurship, the movie brings his narrative to life, with fantastic performances from Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Rajkummar Rao. Check out my full review of the film here.
The Shawshank Redemption
I watched this iconic movie for the first time this summer, and it did not disappoint. Starring the incredible Morgan Freeman as Red and Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne, the film takes place largely at Shawshank State Prison after Andy is served two life sentences for a crime for which he pleads innocence. And so unravels a stellar narrative, exploring loyalty, resilience and cunning as Andy lives out his sentence; no wonder it has become a much-loved classic.
I Care A Lot
This compelling film starring Rosamund Pike and Peter Dinklage follows Marla Grayson, an exploitative and manipulative woman who has made her money through deceiving the legal system into believing her guardianship over elderly patients is necessary for the fact they are no longer capable of caring for themselves. Placing them in assisted living facilities, Marla sells their assets and keeps the money for herself. That is, until she chooses Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest) as her next victim.
This intriguing and thought provoking psychological thriller stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom, who emerges as a self-made journalist after he begins to record violent events that occur during the night before selling his footage to a local television station. The sinister, often frightening atmosphere amidst the dry humour and Lou's unnervingly cheery personality and determination certainly keeps you gripped throughout. Lou is the the typical antihero who you want to admire on one level yet constantly find yourself debating his integrity as he profits from an intensely problematic, nay deplorable, career; consequently, one finds it impossible to justify his choices and actions as the film unfolds. Overall, the film asks us to think about sensationalism, media culture and our role as consumers of it.