Best of another bad year: movies, music and other highlights of 2021.

For the list of my best (ie favourite) films, music, books, etc two years ago, I noted the importance of taking solace from the arts at a time when Brexit, Johnson, Trump, climate change and others were cause for such anxiety, anger and despondency. Last year, of course, with Covid having taken its toll, we’d also lost a great deal of direct access to the arts, so that 2020 felt like a new low. This year, thanks to various factors, not least the vaccine rollout, there’s been some improvement on that front, despite the many failings of the dreadful UK government. As I write, life is far from being back to normal, and there remains great uncertainty about how things will develop. But I was fortunate enough to be able to make the most of what London has to offer in terms of live music (I managed to get to more than 60 concerts, ten more than I watched online), and while I didn’t see as many movies as I should have liked, I did manage to catch most of those I especially wanted to see. 

While there were many films that impressed me, none of them bowled me over as much as Peter Jackson’s Get Back, which I watched on TV over two days at Christmas. (It may sound like an epic slog, but I for one would have been happy for it to have lasted even longer. I thought I knew quite a bit about the Beatles – I saw them live in November 1963, the first album I bought myself was Sgt Pepper, and from Please Please Me to their break-up I followed their music with avid curiosity and great pleasure – but some of this proved a revelation.) Intriguingly, two of my favourite new movies – Summer of Soul and The Velvet Underground – were also products of musical archaeology; I also noticed, having compiled the list below, that a number of other films on it deal in interesting ways with the past. Was I unconsciously trying to tell myself something about how to cope with the times we are living through? Who knows? What I am sure of is that we should always try to learn from the past, and some of these movies touch on that.

Whatever, what you will find below are my highlights of another difficult year. Music, especially, has provided great solace, but so have film and television, books, art, the natural world… and people, of course. Communication is enormously important at a time when so many can feel – or, indeed, are – isolated. I hope you might find something below that you can enjoy too; and if by any chance you’ve been involved in some way as a creative participant in one of the highlights listed, I thank you. I wish you all the very best for 2022. 


The Power of the Dog

New (20, very roughly in order of preference)

The Power of the Dog (Jane Campion)

Lingui (Sacred Bonds) (Mahamet Saleh Haroun)

The Dance (Pat Collins)

The Velvet Underground (Todd Haynes)

The Lost Daughter (Maggie Gyllenhaal)

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (Babardeala cu  bucluc sau porno balamuc, Radu Jude)

Summer of Soul (Ahmir Thompson)

No Sudden Move (Steven Soderbergh)

Benediction (Terence Davies)

Passing (Rebecca Hall)

Undine (Christian Petzold)

The Tragedy of Macbeth (Joel Coen)

Parallel Mothers (Madres paralelas, Pedro Almodóvar)

Paris Calligrammes (Ulrike Ottinger)

The Worst Person in the World (Verdens verste menneske, Joachim Trier)

Un Monde (Playground, Laura Wandel)

The Hand of God (È stata la mano di Dio, Paolo Sorrentino)

There Is No Evil (Sheytan vojud nadarad, Mohammad Rasoulof,)

Întregalde (Radu Muntean)

Les Olympiades, Paris 13ème (Paris, 13th District) (Jacques Audiard)


Recent and old films seen for the first time(10 in chronological order) 

Antoine et Colette (short, François Truffaut, 1962)

Elektra, My Love (Miklós Jancsó, 1974)

Adoption (Márta Mészáros, 1975)

Keep It for Yourself (short, Claire Denis, 1991)

Mudanza (short, Pere Portabella, 2008)

The Mule (Clint Eastwood, 2018)

J’accuse (An Officer and a Spy) (Roman Polanski, 2019)
First Cow (Kelly Reichardt, 2019)

Martin Eden (Pietro Marcello, 2019)

Nomadland (Chloé Zhao, 2020)

Johnny Guitar

New DVDs/BluRays (6)

Ingmar Bergman Volume 2 (BFI)

Johnny Guitar (Eureka)

Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson (Indicator)

Adoption (Second Run)

Twentieth Century (Indicator)

The Silence of Bach / Mudanza (Second Run)

The North Water


New (6)

Get Back (Peter Jackson)

The North Water (Andrew Haigh)

Pretend it’s a City (Martin Scorsese)

Coventry Cathedral (John Wyver)

Beat the Devil (David Hare)

Daniel Barenboim In His Own Words (Guy Evans)

Old (5)

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Smiley’s People

Blackadder series 2, 3 and 4

Cold Comfort Farm (John Schlesinger)

Keith Jarrett: The Art of Improvisation (Mike Dibb)


Sol Gabetta and Patricia Kopatchinskaja

Classical CDs (10, roughly in chronological order)

Renaud Capuçon, Bertrand Chamayou, Edgar Moreau: Saint-Saëns – Sonates & Trio (Erato)

Various: Martin Suckling – This Departing Landscape (NMC)

Renaud Capuçon, Steven Hough, London Symphony Orchestra, Rattle: Elgar – Violin Concerto & Violin Sonata (Erato)

Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg, Gimeno: Francisco Coll – Violin Concerto, etc (Pentatone)

András Schiff, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment: Brahms Piano Concertos (ECM)

Lisa Davidsen, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Gardner: Sibelius – Luonnotar, Tapiola, etc (Chandos)

Igor Levit: On DSCH (Sony)

Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Sol Gabetta: Sol & Pat (Alpha)

Vadim Repin, Gewandhausorchester, Nelsons: Sofia Gubaidulina – Dialog: Ich und Du, etc (Deutsche Grammophon)

André Schuen, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Lintu: Thomas Larcher – Symphony 2 & Die Nacht der Verloren (Ondine)

Other CDs (10, roughly in chronological order)

Junk Magic: Compass Confusion (Pyroclastic)

Frode Haltli: Avant Folk 2 (Hubro)

Jakob Bro, Arve Henriksen, Jorge Rossy: Uma Elmo (ECM)

Joe Lovano, Marilyn Crispell, Carmen Castaldi: Garden of Expression (ECM)

Arve Henriksen, Terje Isungset: The Art of Travel (All Ice)

Vijay Iyer, Linda May Han Oh, Tyshawn Sorey: Uneasy (ECM)

Craig Taborn: Shadow Plays (ECM)

John Coltrane: A Love Supreme – Live in Seattle (Impulse)

Graham Collier: British Conversations (My Only Desire)

Nils Økland: Glødetrådar (Hubro)

Christian Gerhaher and illustrious musician friends

Live music: classical (20)

Steven Isserlis, Irène Duval, Mishka Rushdie Momen: Beethoven, Kurtág, Schubert, Wigmore Hall 17/5

Heath Quartet, Tom Poster: Beethoven, Elgar, Wigmore Hall 23/5

Castalian Quartet: Janacek, Dvorak, Wigmore Hall 6/6

Nicola Benedetti, LSO, Wigglesworth: Simpson, Jolas, Witter-Johnson, Piper, Stevenson, Barbican 13/6

Lawrence Power, Simon Crawford-Phillips, Héloïse Werner: Knox, Machaut, Werner, Couperin, Salonen, Stravinsky, Poulenc, Adès, Berlioz, Ravel et al, Wigmore Hall 22/6

Doric String Quartet: Schubert, Wigmore Hall 8/7

Christian Tetzlaff, Leif Ove Andsnes: Lutoslawski, Dvorak, Bartók, Grieg, Wigmore Hall 15/9

Belcea Quartet: Mozart, Shostakovich, Schubert, Wigmore Hall 17/9

Various soloists, LPO, LP Choir, ENO Chorus, Gardner: Tippett – The Midsummer Marriage, RFH 25/9

Christian Gerhaher et al: Schoeck, Schoenberg, Berlioz arr D Matthews, Wigmore Hall 29/9

Mark Simpson, Quatuor Diotima: Schubert, Adès, Brahms, KIng’s Place 30/9

Boris Giltburg: Prokofiev, Schumann, Ravel, Brahms Rachmaninoff, Wigmore Hall 4/10

Benjamin Grosvenor, Hyeyoon Park, Timothy Ridout, Kian Soltani: Mahler, Schumann, Strauss, Brahms, Wigmore Hall 9/10

Alina Ibragimova, Sarah Connolly, Andreas Schager, Philharmonia, Zhang: Beethoven, Mahler, RFH 11/11

Lucy Crowe, Nash Ensemble: Stravinsky, Ravel, Debussy, Berlioz et al, Wigmore Hall 13/11

Ian Bostridge, Lars Vogt: Schubert, Wigmore Hall 26/11

Mark Padmore, Jonathan Biss: Schumann, Milton Court, 30/11

Lucy Crowe, Roderick Williams, LPO & Choir, Elder: MacMillan – Christmas Oratorio, RFH 4/12

Alina Ibragimova, LPO, Jurowski: Shostakovich, Dean, RFH 8/12

Antoine Tamestit, Cédric Tiberghien: Brahms, Shostakovich, Bach, Wigmore Hall 19/12

Vijay Iyer, Linda May Han Oh and Tyshawn Sorey

Live music: other (3)

Vijay Iyer, Linda May Han Oh, Tyshawn Sorey; QEH 14/11

Mike & Kate Westbrook, Phil Minton et al, Epiphoni Choir: The Westbrook Blake, Cadogan Hall 19/11

Charles Lloyd Quartet, Barbican 20/11

Streamed classical performances (6)

András Schiff: Bach, Wigmore Hall

Mahan Esfahani: Bach (Well Tempered Clavier I), Wigmore Hall

Thomas Adès: Beethoven, Wigmore Hall

Nicola Benedetti, LSO, Noseda: Mark Simpson Violin Concerto, LSO St Luke’s

Kirill Gerstein, Netherlands RPO, Cannellakis: Thomas Larcher Piano Concerto, Amsterdam Concertgebouw


The Royal Ballet, et al: The Dante Project, Royal Opera House

BOOKS (10, in order read)

David Thomson: A Light in the Dark

Elizabeth Gaskell: North and South

Laura Cumming: A Face to the World – On Self-Portraits

Douglas Pye (ed.): VF Perkins on Movies: Collected Shorter Film Criticism

Caitlin Horrocks: The Vexations

Gavin Lambert: The Slide Area

Barbara Pym: Jane and Prudence

Colm Tóibín: The Magician

Katie Kitamura: Intimacies

Jean Echenoz: Ravel


Tony Cragg (Houghton Hall)

Dürer’s Journey’s: Travels of a Renaissance Artist (National Gallery)

Other stuff

Ten days in north Norfolk (including finding – unexpectedly – a purple heron seemingly unnoticed, and therefore unreported, by anyone else).

Holkham Beach, north Norfolk

A week in the Shropshire Hills (including seeing a peregrine suddenly catch a swallow and fly off with it).

The Long Mynd, Shropshire

2 thoughts on “Best of another bad year: movies, music and other highlights of 2021.

    1. Well, I only got to a cinema once (a pre-LFF press show in NFT1) so I was a little constrained in that regard. But I’m fortunate in that I can get to and from the Wigmore Hall quite easily!


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