Despite ongoing life challenges and demands (or maybe because of them), 2021 turned out to be a good film and entertainment year for me. Or at least a prolific one as I watched just at 500 titles.
This year I worked my way through some of the Poirot films, re-watched the Narnia franchise and some of my old favorites from Disney. I also branched out a bit to give 1970’s-80’s films a try though I’m normally not a fan of their aesthetic. In other big news (to me anyway), I got the Hallmark channel back after a two year absence, right around the holidays. So I spent a lot of time at the end of the year catching up on all their Christmas films.
The big decision I made in 2021 was to focus on classic musicals which is a genre that is usually more miss than hit with me. And while it still isn’t my favorite, I’ve learned to appreciate it more. I’ve found I have a decided preference for the dancing performances over singing ones.
Film Classics -194 total
As usual, the majority of my entertainment time was spent with the classics, including the aforementioned musicals. I almost doubled last year’s count in watching new to me classic films.
I did try to fill gaps in the filmographies of Van Johnson, John Gilbert, John Garfield, Lucille Ball, Kay Francis, Anne Southern and silent screen legend Mary Pickford. Completely unintentionally, I happened to view quite a few Gregory Peck movies too. And thanks to all the musicals, I finally got around to watching many of Doris Day’s as well as Fred Astaire’s sans Ginger Rogers. I discovered a newfound love for the joyful dancing of Eleanor Powell, the lithe talent of Vera-Ellen as well as the dashingly handsome Gordon MacRae.
In addition, I tackled some big name (and some times lengthy) classics this year including; Anatomy of a Murder, the epic Lawrence of Arabia, political thriller The Manchurian Candidate, The Four Feathers, How the West Was Won, The Big Country, Hitchcock’s second version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, A Man for all Seasons, Anne of a Thousand Days, the John Wayne classic Rio Bravo, British missionary biopic The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, courtroom drama Inherit the Wind, The Yearling and Lilies of the Field. Of these, I was most impressed with The Big Country thanks to great performances and cinematography and Lilies of the Field. Sidney Poitier was fabulous! I was also incredible moved by the themes and message found in The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, not to mention fantastic performances by Ingrid Bergman, Robert Donat and Curt Jurgëns.
Some of the more famous musicals I finally got around to this year are Carmen Jones which featured an outstanding performance by Dorothy Dandridge and Barbara Streisand’s Funny Girl, a film I didn’t expect to like as much as I did. I enjoyed Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse’s pairing in Silk Stockings, but did not really like The Band Wagon (please don’t stone me, film fans). I was also pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed The Harvey Girls.
Silents – 27 Total
Thanks to a few good biographies I read and documentaries I saw which kindled my interest, I made a conscious effort to watch more silent films this year, including several films each featuring stars Mary Pickford, LiIlian Gish, Roman Novarro, Lars Hanson and Alice Terry. Terry and Hanson were new discoveries for me who I really liked. I also saw my first silent Ernst Lubitsch films as well as one starring Baby Peggy, who I thought was adorable. And I finally got the opportunity to see the well known turn of the century films A Trip to the Moon and The Great Train Robbery. Another stand-out in my memory was the original Ben-Hur. Overall, I watched five times more silent films in 2021 than I did in 2020.
Documentaries: 13 Total
Once again most of my documentary viewing centered around classic film and entertainment names. I did branch out a little bit watching documentaries about female telephone operators in WWI (The Hello Girls), Indian and early American civilizations (The Lost Civilizations of North America), and one which focused on the rise and fall of rare book sellers and stores in New York City (The Booksellers). I’m thankful to see Netflix is now producing good celebrity documentaries and enjoyed their offerings on Audrey Hepburn and Frank Sinatra. I also took a chance watching docs on people I knew very little about like Universal founder Carl Laemmle, Louis Armstrong in Satchmo, silent screen star Francis X Bushman and the fascinating Dean Martin. My favorite of all was Churchill and the Movie Mogul for it’s unique look at how the films of director and producer Alexander Korda helped influence the war effort during WWII thanks to his unique collaboration with Winston Churchill.
- Churchill and the Movie Mogul
- The Hello Girls
- The Lost Civilizations of North America
- Narnia’s Lost Poet: The Secret Lives and Loves of C.S. Lewis
- The Booksellers
- Sinatra: All or Nothing at All
- Satchmo: The Life of Louis Armstrong
- This is Francis X. Bushman
- Carl Laemmle
- That’s Dancing
- King of Cool: Dean Martin
Foreign Films & Series: 17 Total
My foreign entertainment viewing is down quite a bit from previous years and at least half from 2020 alone. I have no explanation for this since I love getting a taste of other cultures and doing some armchair travelling. Still I did do a little exploring. This year is the first time I’ve seen films from Poland (Squared Love), Israel (The Wedding Plan) and Indonesia (Kartini: Princess of Java).
The classic French short The Red Balloon was adorable. After a long wait, I was thrilled to finally see the Swedish period crime series Crimes of Passion as well as the Netherlands portrayal of two of its’ aviation pioneers in King of the Skies. I also really enjoyed getting a glimpse of Indonesia and it’s historical culture in the aforementioned Kartini: Princess of Java.
Television Series: 37 Total
2021 saw a decline for me in this category compared to 2020 by about 33 percent. Many of the shows I watched this year were continuing seasons for series I keep up with on a regular basis. This was true for the genealogy show Finding Your Roots, Netflix’ Virgin River, HGTV’s Home Town, PBS shows Call the Midwives and Grantchester as well as Brokenwood Mysteries, Miss Fisher’s Modern Mysteries, The Mallorca Files, My Life is Murder, Modern Love and The Chosen.
I found several series I liked so much that I watched them twice, including the new All Creatures Great and Small and The Duke and Miss Scarlet. The brief mini-series Just William showed daily life in an English village through the eyes of a child. William made for such a funny and cantankerous narrator that I just had to experience it twice. The Cafe was another one I found charming enough for a second viewing.
In addition some other series I really enjoyed were the Australian legal dramedy Newton’s Law, American-Filipino crime drama, Paradise Island, the British-Norwegian WWII series Atlantic Crossing, Newfoundland based PI series The Republic of Doyle AND the much beloved Foyle’s War. I was also completely charmed by the funny, snarky comedy series Ladies of Letters.
For the most part, I’ve quit going to the theater. Thanks to COVID, I got out of the habit of it, and once they were open again, there has been little to tempt me back. I was planning to go see High Society on the big screen, but had an accident on the way and didn’t make it. I found a few new releases on Netflix, but none that wowed me. I did however, make it to the Fathom Events screening of The Chosen’s Christmas episode.
Looking back on my favorite discoveries this year, I realized that though I watched a lot of great films, there are only a few I truly loved or that were very memorable for me. I’ve found that these often aren’t the same ones most critics and reviewers favor. Perhaps my taste is too plebian. In any case, I like what I like and make no apologies for it.
- The Wipers Times – quirky and unexpected and I also loved the story about a group of soldiers producing a satiric newspaper from the battlefields of WWI
- The Unsuspected -crime dramas aren’t generally my thing, but this one kept me intrigued with a unique story, tense action and a great cast. I was on the edge of my seat waiting to see how it would all play out.
- It Started with Eve – This is the first Deanna Durbin film, I felt deserved the hype and that’s partially due to her co-stars Charles Laughton and Robert Cummings. It’s such a delightful comedy.
- The Red Pony – A sweet, but also sad love story between a child and a horse which I fell hard for. I loved seeing Myrna Loy in color and playing a farm-wife and also Robert Mitchum in a supporting role as the wise ranch hand.
- The Family Secret – my first experience with silent child film star Baby Peggy was a delightful one. I was so pleased to finally have the chance to see her on screen after hearing so much about her.
- The Red Balloon -I wouldn’t have thought a short film about a little boy and his beloved balloon would hold my attention, especially since there is little dialogue. But it was adorable and I also enjoyed walking the streets of Paris with the boy.
- The Sky’s the Limit – when I finally got around to watching the rest of Fred Astaire’s films, I fell hard for this one. It’s a bit different for him, but it was also the first time I was impressed by Joan Leslie.
- A Damsel in Distress – Though Joan Bennett is very mis-cast in this Fred Astaire musical, I loved seeing the dancing master partnered with George Burns and Gracie Allen. It’s such an unexpectedly refreshing match.
- A Girl A Guy and a Gob – While I have long been a fan of comedienne Lucille Ball, I did not expect to enjoy this film starring her in a love triangle with George Murphy and Edward O’Brien. I also never expected to get a new perspective on O’Brien as a romantic lead, but he nailed it.
- Honolulu – this is the film where I was finally hit by the genius and star wattage of Eleanor Powell. That hula dance scene will long live in my memory.
- Joy in the Morning – this is one of those that was not a case of insta-love, but has stayed with me long after the credits rolled. The depiction of a young married couple facing the difficulties and challenges of life while trying to make their marriage work was made memorable thanks to sincere performances by Yvette Mimiuex and Richard Chamberlain
- The Good Guys and the Bad Guys – an aging George Kennedy and Robert Mitchum tickled my funny bone with this Western tale about two nemesis who join forces.
- The Big Country – I’ve never claimed to love Westerns or Gregory Peck, but the visual and narrative scope of this film really wowed me.
- Let Freedom Ring – I know some reviewers find this western/musical/comedy a bit uneven, but I found it fun. I appreciated the patriotic message as well as an entertaining supporting performance by Victor MacLaglen.
- The Next Time I Marry – Another light Lucille Ball comedy featuring her as an heiress who married a stranger for money only to find her new husband is not as easy to manage as she thought. It’s not one that would win awards, but it sure tickled my funny bone.
- A Bear Called Winnie -The quality of this film makes it feel like a made for tv movie., But the sweet true story about the origins of the bear that inspired Winnie the Pooh led by leading man Michael Fassbender left me with the warm and fuzzies.
- Western Union – Everything about this Fritz Lang directed Western surprised me. I found out Robert Young could act and that Randolph Scott was interesting.
- Ben-Hur – I’ve never appreciated the Charlton Heston adaptation of this famous story. But this silent film version really wowed me! This may be Ramon Navarro’s best performance as the betrayed title character. The action scenes were fabulous. I was so engrossed I never even notice the long run-time.
- Churchill and the Movie Mogul – The partnership between the Prime Minister and director Alexander Korda was one I was unaware of and one which I found fascinating. It’s also a palatable look at how propaganda is created and promoted.
- Just William – Irreverently funny, this mini-series set in an English village and seen through the eyes of a mischievous young boy won me over easily.
- The Cafe – This British series about three generations of women who own and run a seaside cafe was full of quirky characters which really grew on me. I wanted to be part of the cafe’s makeshift family.
- The Inn of the Sixth Happiness – With excellent performances by Ingrid Bergman, Robert Donat and Kurt Jurgens, this biopic on a dedicated British missionary to China challenged and inspired me.