16 Overlooked and Underrated Films from 2021

If you blinked this year you likely missed these much-misunderstood films when they played to empty auditoriums at your local theatres – if they made it to cinemas at all! Use the holidays to seek out these delightful cinematic oddballs and rejects

Feature by Film Team | 09 Dec 2021
  • Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar

Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar (Josh Greenbaum)

The Bridesmaids team is back with a bang in this kaleidoscopic, sublimely silly and criminally underrated comedy. Co-writers Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo are the titular culotte-loving, middle-aged besties on a Florida getaway, crossing the path of murderous villain Sharon Fisherman (also Wiig). But the real surprise is Jamie Dornan as Sharon’s henchman Edgar, who romances the two friends and gifts viewers a preposterous, delightful dance routine for the ages. [Stefania Sarrubba]

The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet (Ana Katz)

A poetic homage to life and all of its woes and glories, Ana Katz’ The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet is a poignant tale of a modern flaneur who is comfortable in peaceful passivity. Through its contemplative black and white cinematography and beautifully contained performances, this Argentinian gem communicates the most complex of emotions through unrequited gentleness. A triumph. [Rafaela Sales Ross]

Greenland (Ric Roman Waugh)

Yes, the Amazon Prime/Gerard Butler movie is good. I am shook. You are shook. We are all shook. Greenland paints an uncomfortably realistic portrait of how a world responds to the first tremors of a global disaster. On top of that, it features some genuinely stunning effects and keeps its eyes firmly on the human drama underneath them, even when the sky is falling. [Ross McIndoe]

I’m Your Man (Maria Schrader)

The uncanny promises of AI get an imaginative, surprisingly funny reworking in Maria Schrader’s heartfelt rom-com. Dan Stevens delivers his best performance in years, his just-too-perfect face and bearing contributing to the oddness. But ultimately, observing and adapting to humans proves the oddest experience of all. I’m Your Man knows that frustrations enrich life, and those shouldn’t be automated. [Carmen Paddock]

The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão (Karim Aïnouz)

A lush and heartbreaking melodrama about two unhappy sisters in 1950s Brazil, The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão is an extraordinarily confident piece of storytelling that carefully pieces together its decades-spanning narrative before arriving at an emotionally overwhelming climax. The lead performances from Carol Duarte and Julia Stockler feel so raw, and the great cinematographer Hélène Louvart makes expressive use of framing, texture and colour in almost every scene. A knockout. [Philip Concannon]

The Last Duel (Ridley Scott)

From The Duellists to The Last Duel, what a career Ridley Scott has had. And he's never been kindly treated by the critics. His best films have been appreciated in retrospect (Blade Runner) or not at all (1492: Conquest of Paradise). I'm confident the roundly abused The Last Duel will join Scott's list of underappreciated masterpieces. This medieval #MeToo tale is technically daring, brazenly witty (Ben Affleck is funny AF), and has a final 20 minutes of pure cinema. [John Bleasdale]

Malignant (James Wan)

They don’t make movies like this anymore, primarily for good reason. James Wan’s completely unhinged response to Aquaman earning a billion dollars, this horror-mystery is as close as we've had to a studio financing an intentionally so-bad-it’s-good film. Best appreciated by those who value slick filmmaking craft and a penchant for off-the-wall nonsense. Once it warms up, it never cools down. [Rory Doherty]

The Night House (David Bruckner)

It’s easy enough to denounce The Night House as a meagre entrant into the pantheon of calcified, ‘elevated’ horror, but that misses the primally upsetting, sophisticated conceit running through this exhausting drama of grief and hopelessness. Naysayers will deplore it for treating trauma as a gimmick; I disagree. This is the most earnest, high-minded, elementally scary horror film in years. [Thomas Atkinson]

Ninjababy (Yngvild Sve Flikke)

When Rakel discovers she’s pregnant after a one-night stand with a butter-scented man, she reckons on an abortion. To her shock, however, she’s seven months gone, and this inventive foetus takes to taunting her in doodle form. Ninjababy bracingly flips pregnancy narratives – Rakel is resolutely not maternal. Grappling with her predicament frankly, this film draws its coming-of-age story with distinctive lines. [Eleanor Capaldi]

No Sudden Move (Steven Soderbergh)

A Steven Soderbergh heist thriller every bit as slick and satisfying as we’ve come to expect. Few directors understand star power better and Soderbergh has a full constellation to work with here – from Brendan Fraser’s stolid middleman to Benicio Del Toro’s debonair menace. Tight, tense and dripping with charisma, No Sudden Move is a perfect crime movie. [Ross McIndoe]

Old (M. Night Shyamalan)

The beach may make you old, but the film won’t leave you cold. After one of the most impressively garbage run of films from 2006 to 2013, M. Night Shyamalan has settled into making B-movie fare with expert style (and killer casts). The dialogue is, objectively, abysmal, but there’s an earnestness to the trash that makes the whole endeavour admirable. [Rory Doherty]

Palm Springs (Max Barbakow)

Acclaimed by the few who saw it at US drive-thrus in 2020 and a UK streaming audience this year, Palm Springs deserved so much more: specifically, packed cinemas across the world, full of laughter. Why? Because Max Barbakow’s time-loop comedy about a schmuck stuck at a wedding (Andy Samberg) in the titular desert resort town is relentlessly funny, loveable and ridiculous. [Lou Thomas]

Quo Vadis, Aida? (Jasmila Žbanić)

Bosnian drama Quo Vadis Aida? is a harrowing portrait of a former schoolteacher turned UN translator as she attempts to juggle her duty with the urgent need of saving her family from what would become known as the Srebrenica massacre. With a stunning central performance by lead Jasna Đuričić, this slow-burning masterclass in tension is as moving as it is brilliantly executed. [Rafaela Sales Ross]

Riders of Justice (Anders Thomas Jensen)

While Another Round was receiving critical plaudits and awards, there was another Mads Mikkelsen-starring Zentropa production in cinemas that deserved more acclaim. It’s a violent and morally ambiguous revenge tale, but one shot through with a streak of knockabout comedy. Anders Thomas Jensen handles the wildly fluctuating tone superbly. As hilarious as Riders of Justice frequently is, he never loses sight of his characters' grief and trauma. [Philip Concannon]

Sequin in a Blue Room (Samuel Van Grinsven)

Sequin in a Blue Room navigates the ecstasies and anxieties of queer desire in the digital era: exploring high school bathrooms, the user interfaces of hookup apps, and anonymous sex parties, it shapeshifts from coming-of-age film to psychological thriller with rhythmic ease. It's not every day you come across something so imaginative – and so uncompromisingly nuanced in depicting sex and intimacy. [Xuanlin Tham]

There Is No Evil (Mohammad Rasoulof)

Perhaps it’s not fair to call There Is No Evil underrated; it won big at the Berlin and Sydney film festivals, after all. But as with many foreign-language films, the prize seems to mark an end, not a start. It’s the industry’s loss, because Mohammad Rasoulof’s latest is a shattering and defiant act of protest-as-cinema, a fierce repudiation of the Iranian penal system that resists state power at every turn. [Anahit Behrooz]