It’s inevitable. Every year a lot of great films can’t find their audience and don’t get much recognition for this reason or another. Maybe they come out at the wrong time, maybe some other film overshadowed it, or who knows what else. Critics try to support those films with awards but there are films even most critics don’t get a chance to watch.
This year is no different, there are many great films that didn’t the attention they deserve. It doesn’t necessarily mean they all were destined to be popular hits but they could’ve got more attention from their target audience. Here are ten films of the underrated films of 2021 in various genres, so hopefully there’s something for everyone.
10. The Beta Test
Jordan Hines (Jim Cummings), is a Hollywood agent under pressure. He receives an anonymous invitation to a mysterious sexual date in a hotel room. Despite being engaged, Jordan accepts the invitation, but never receives another letter afterward. He sets out to find the reasons for his willingness to cheat and soon finds himself in a.. well, it’s hard to explain without spoilers or it’s a film that is hard to explain in general. You just have to let yourself enjoy this unpredictable tale of infidelity and digital data.
You might see this film as a horror film, a mystery thriller, a black comedy, or a socio-political commentary and it’d still work. All genres are so expertly coming together and Jim Cummings, who co-wrote, co-directed, and starred in the film, finds the right pacing and narrative style for us to care about his character. The film is not slow or anything but can be frustrating for the audiences who want easy answers but it only makes the film better, it puts you in the place of the lead character. Much of the intrigue is the mystery behind how the secretive society works and Cummings did a lot of a good job on carefully building it and the film industry can take a lesson from here or two.
9. Language Lessons
Cinema, more often than not, reflects its time. Since Zoom conversations became part of our lives ever due to pandemic, it only helped to development of the “screenlife” format, which is also known as computer screen film. These types of films are mostly common among horror and thrillers and in the pandemic they actually made a very good horror film called “Host” in 2020.
“Language Lessons” is yet another film that is mostly set on computer screens but this time it’s not a horror. It’s a sweet comedy/drama and its setting on a computer screen becomes a non-issue pretty quickly because director Natalie Morales is doing a great job with the material. She finds the right tone for her film, which helps it to become charming as it goes on and the chemistry between her and co-star/co-writer Mark Duplass is so good that you get involved in their life.
This type of “Zoom” filmmaking, in fact, brings more intimacy to the story. Almost makes it more real, even if a bit challenging at times. The film feels real because it maintains its honesty through its runtime and once again shows us that we often need most in our lives, no matter in pandemic or not: to find a human connection.
8. Here Today
There are only a few entertainers left that are seemingly from another era. Their humor and style might not appeal to every member of younger generations, they represent a different kind of old-school comedy. Some of them found their way to introduce their style to younger people so that maybe they can check out their older work and fall in love with them just like their parents or grandparents did. Steve Martin and Martin Short showed that they still have it in “Only Murders in the Building” while Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara finally get enough of appreciation from young people who never heard of them before, thanks to ”Schitt’s Creek”.
Billy Crystal hasn’t had that type of a role but in a low-key way, he still gets great projects. “Here Today” is directed by him and he gives himself a role of an aging comedy writer (with memory problems) who befriends a younger street singer (Tiffany Haddish). Maybe it’s Billy’s way of looking at how comedians of his generations are perceived by the youth of today. It’s not a “great” film, it’s a bit uneven and has a lot of sentimentalities but it’s also kind of sweet. Especially to watch Crystal in a graceful role, which gives him a chance to show his comedic and dramatic skills in an effective way.
7. The Novice
The year 2021 is full of great female performances; like Kristen Stewart in “Spencer” and Alana Haim in “Licorice Pizza” but many of them get awards and lots of praise. It seems like the “Orphan” star Isabelle Fuhrman is a bit left out in the conversation which is a damn shame because this is a sensational, gripping performance. She plays Alex Dall, someone who is new to the university. She joins the rowing team with a clear goal in mind. She wants to make it into the first boat, no matter how much strain she has to take and no matter how hard the training is. However, her athletic ambition starts to show some self-destructive traits. This avoids to be thought of as some sort of “motivation” story, it makes it clear that you have to chill out a bit at times. However, making it clear that it’s about obsession doesn’t reduce its complexity You feel the pain as the film finds just the right line between psychological horror and a character study/drama.
You might say it’s like the rowing version of “Whiplash”. This is feature film debut for Lauren Hadaway and one can argue that it might be the best directorial debut of the year, cause it’s a type of film that when you see it, it’s hard to believe it’s the director’s first job. Masterful and mesmerizing work.
6. What Do We See When We Look at The Sky
Kutaisi. The oldest city in the Southern Caucasian state of Georgia. Summertime romance and World Cup fever are in the air. The medical student Lisa and the soccer player Giorgi happened to meet twice on the same day in the Georgian city of Kutaisi. The first brief moment is enough for them to fall in love with each other. In the evening they meet a second time and arrange to meet for the next day in a café. When they wake up the next day, they’ll find out that they look completely different. Some kind of curse must be in the works.
If you think it’s a horror or something, it definitely isn’t. What is it then? What is it all about? For to find it out, you have to surrender to the movie. It’s a meditative film. No, not something where nothing happens. In fact, a lot of things do happen. It makes you question the understanding of soulmates, how love can transcend (or can it not?) appearances. Sometimes other things interfere with our lives and we can’t make our own choices, we lose or gain abilities. We have no control over what happens to us. Whatever has to happen will happen. Call it “fate”, call it “destiny” or something else – doesn’t matter. The movie is interested in big questions and delivers them with such magic realism in a poetic way.