What to Watch

Hidden Gems of 2021: 30 Films You Might Have Missed

From quirky documentaries to unclassifiable dramas, we highlight the films that might have slipped beneath your radar this past year

Not all films are marketed equal. Sometimes they're released without fanfare, or buried on streaming services. Others simply fail to find an audience – not always a sign of lesser quality. Here, we've rounded up a list of great films that might have slipped beneath your radar, all released in the UK throughout 2021. All of them, from tiny documentaries to experimental dramas, are well worth your time. Best of all, they're now available over a number of streaming platforms.

 

Yellow Rose

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Stage actor Eva Noblezada is truly excellent in this timely and life-affirming musical debut from writer-director Diane Paragas.

What we said: Yellow Rose's optimistic view of the world is infectious – even when it doesn't quite hit the right notes, they're all so lovingly played, you're unlikely to care (read our full review).”

 

Quo Vadis, Aida?

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Jasmila Žbanić’s film tells the story of the Srebrenica massacre through the eyes of a UN translator powerless to save her family.

What we said: “This intense, claustrophobic drama stares directly into the face of that harrowing event and creates a film of extended distress that alights on a sense of complete helplessness (read our full review).”

 

Away

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This animated adventure, created single-handedly by Latvian filmmaker Gints Zilbalodis, is a towering artistic achievement.

What we said: “The stripped-back approach is oddly calming and meditative – a welcomed break from the overhyped antics of American animation (read our full review).”

 

The Furnace

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This outback western is brought to life by way of charming performances and quick-witted, multilingual dialogue.

What we said: “It’s a film about how simple communication can change the world, a grand message buried within an affectingly intimate story (read our full review).”

 

Greenland

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Gerard Butler plays an engineer who must lead his family to shelter in this gripping and surprisingly restrained take on the apocalypse.

What we said: “With less of an emphasis on overblown CGI excess than you might expect from a Butler film, it delivers a surprisingly sensitive and gripping family drama without sacrificing any of the thrills (read our full review).”

 

The Twentieth Century

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Matthew Rankin's debut film is a most unconventional and playful look at the life of Mackenzie King, Canada's tenth Prime Minister.

What we said: “To call it a parody would be diminutive to the breadth of Rankin’s ambition: there is nothing straightforward about this biopic, which presents the Prime Minister’s life as though it were an inverse Hamilton (read our full review).”

 

The Kiosk

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This life-affirming look at the day to day running of a Parisian newsstand, mostly shot using a headcam, is a gem to behold.

What we said: The Kiosk is an affecting eulogy to the last days of a beloved business, but it also doubles as an inspiring look at the human race at its most empathetic and kind (read our full review).”

 

Stray

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Elizabeth Lo's inspired “dogumentary” follows a group of semi-feral canines as they roam the city in search of human connection.

What we said: Stray is slight, but warm and life-affirming – what a treat it is to be embedded with these brilliant underdogs (read our full review).

 

Sequin in a Blue Room

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This supremely confident and sensually shot debut from Samuel Van Grinsven is unafraid to tackle difficult subject matter.

What we said: “It’s rare that a film handles sex and its many complications and pleasures as honestly as this one (read our full review).”

 

Valley of Souls

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An extraordinary first-time performance anchors a raw and mythic story of a father searching for the bodies of his murdered sons.

What we said: “This is a richly detailed story of national tragedy and familial responsibility that is full of rewards for attentive viewers, fronted by one of the most remarkable breakout performances you’ll see all year (read our full review).”

 

Black Bear

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Lawrence Michael Levine’s bizarre melodrama is a compellingly crazy meditation on art and life, with career-best work from Aubrey Plaza.

What we said: “Nestled amongst its layers of domestic chaos is a sharp, meta-textual take on the often cannibalistic relationship between art and the artist (read our full review).

 

Labyrinth of Cinema

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Nobuhiko Ōbayashi's final film is the most epic of spectacles, a meditation on cinema that's by turns baffling, exciting and moving.

What we said: “An agitated, operatic vision that counts on you to neither second guess the plot contrivances, nor the huge, talking goldfish floating through space (read our full review).”

 

Identifying Features

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The debut film from Fernanda Valadez is a quietly tense and brutal descent into the Mexican borderlands, as a woman searches for her lost son.

What we said: “As confident a debut as you'll likely to find, this distressing and timely drama makes a point of not saying too much, but asks that you simply feel out its meanings for yourself (read our full review).”

 

Some Kind of Heaven

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The world's largest retirement community is the subject of a truly fascinating and unsentimental documentary from Lance Oppenheim.

What we said: “Taking its visuals as seriously as its subjects, Some Kind of Heaven masterfully and conscientiously offers a poignant reminder that the journey towards happiness isn’t over when you retire (read our full review).”

 

Servants

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Gorgeous black and white cinematography brings to life the conflict between religion and the authorities in 1980s Czechoslovakia.

What we said: “Director Ivan Ostrochovský creates a sense of doom and inevitable defeat with great efficiency and skill, putting you into the mindset of paranoia that pervades the rebellious priests (read our full review).”

The Killing of Two Lovers

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A small-town romantic rivalry boils over into humiliation and fury, set to one of the year's most disquieting and memorable scores.

What we said: “This is an astoundingly assured film, tightly wound but ready to explode at any minute, capped off by a finale that is at once both ambiguous and imparting a clear moral judgement (read our full review).”

 

In the Earth

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A spiritual successor to A Field in England shot during last year's tiered restrictions, Ben Wheatley's cultish horror burrows deep into your brain

What we said: “Shot on the quick during lockdown, In the Earth drags its audience kicking and screaming into the depths of a Somerset forest for a shroom-y, pagan freakout (read our full review).”

 

The Truffle Hunters

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Director duo Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw offer up a gorgeous and evocative portrait of ageing truffle hunters in Italy

What we said: “It is a whimsical view of the region, and also a showcase for the extraordinary cinematography these directors – who also shot the film – have captured (read our full review).”

 

Sweat

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Magnus von Horn’s insightful sophomore feature offers a sharp look at the unfiltered realities of online celebrity culture.

What we said: Sweat accepts that social media is here to stay, but with heart and empathy, it encourages us not to forget about the human being behind the screen (read our full review).”

 

Martin Eden

Pietro Marcello’s ambitious film of Jack London's novel rests on the shoulders of an inscrutable performance from Luca Marinelli

What we said: “There’s something deceptively light about Martin Eden, the film forever slipping just out of grasp, never quite resolving into something whole. It’s all the better for it (read our full review).”

 

The World to Come

Mona Fastvold's moving frontier drama, with fine work from Katherine Waterston and Vanessa Kirby, doesn't waste a moment.

What we said: “A passionate tale of romance and friendship told with an extraordinary economy of expression (read our full review).”

 

Ninjababy

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Norwegian director Yngvild Sve Flikke’s second feature spins a familiar premise into something quietly groundbreaking.

What we said: “It takes true skill to make a crowdpleaser out of such well-worn subject matter. Flikke more than delivers (read our full review).”

 

Purple Sea

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This essential work from Syrian director Amel Alzakout charts the sinking of a migrant boat using footage from a waterproof camera.

What we said: “There’s a brutal simplicity to the film's structure. Bookended by black screens, it never cuts away from the disaster in its 66-minute runtime, planting you in a moment-to-moment struggle for survival (read our full review).”

 

Wife of a Spy

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A woman begins to suspect her husband is a spy in Japanese filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa's twist-filled wartime thriller.

What we said: “This isn’t an ode to nostalgia, or even nostalgic for the films of the past, so much as it interrogates film’s inherent power (read our full review).”

 

Rose Plays Julie

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Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy's dazzling and evocative film explores serious themes while functioning as unashamed genre fare

What we said: “This isn’t an ode to nostalgia, or even nostalgic for the films of the past, so much as it interrogates film’s inherent power (read our full review).”

 

7 Prisoners

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Brazilian filmmaker Alexandre Moratto’s spare and enthralling social drama offers a lot more than just a story of suffering.

What we said: “A film which transcends its social importance to be an accessible and enthralling look at the human toll of modern slavery (read our full review).”

 

Anne at 13,000 Ft.

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Writer-director Kazik Radwanski’s lo-fi drama centres on a troubled woman who finds an emotional release through the act of skydiving.

What we said: “Radwanski’s most intimate film to date, a suffocatingly close and piercingly personal portrait of what it's like to exist in a liminal state of anxiousness (read our full review).”

 

Never Gonna Snow Again

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Polish director duo Małgorzata Szumowska and Michał Englert helm a supernatural tale about a gifted masseur visiting the rich.

What we said: “A uniquely strange satire that starts out as something of a black comedy about the selfishness of the upper class before slowly taking on the air of a gripping, supernatural drama (read our full review).”

 

Wild Indian

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Debut filmmaker Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr. barely wastes a minute with this tight and haunting story of cyclical violence in America.

What we said: “Corbine makes the most of his meagre budget, crafting a film that is evocative and tight, with barely a minute wasted (read our full review).”

 

Nine Days

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Souls vie for the chance at being born in debut filmmaker Edson Oda's small miracle of a film, starring Winston Duke and Zazie Beetz.

What we said: “A small miracle of a film, Nine Days pokes and prods at the darkest corners of the existential without ever surrendering to the heavy fetters of nihilism (read our full review).”

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Reviews

Luzzu review – gripping, neo-realist tale of a Maltese fisherman’s survival

This heartfelt ode to life on the water from writer-director Alex Camilleri is as stoic in its execution as it is observant

Aftersun review – father-daughter holiday dramedy is a sun-kissed gem

This nuanced look at parenthood, with Paul Mescal, announces its debut director Charlotte Wells as a major talent right out of the gate

Mediterranean Fever review – personal and political collide in an uneven suicide story

Blending drama and comedy to mixed effect, Maha Haj explores the Israeli-Palestine conflict through the story of one man's depression

The Stars at Noon review – a sweltering love story spoiled by zero chemistry

Revered French filmmaker Claire Denis delivers a baffling and unerotic adaptation starring Margaret Qualley and Joe Alwyn