2021: the Year I Misremembered Sinatra’s Lyrics

To hell with this year.

I mean, really.

To hell with it. Oh wait- it’s already been hell.

Which might be why I thought that this song was actually called “A Pretty Good Year” not a “A Very Good Year.” I was trying to come up with some clever title that wasn’t simply “Hi! These are the media texts that got me through 2021…barely.”

Everything has taken on a dulled haze to it. Like Seoul was really foggy a few days ago. Which could have been the fine dust, could have been the weather, but it just seemed to reflect 2021 perfectly. There’s nothing about this year that has gone off without a hitch. Everything seems to have had some kind of aftertaste or leftover on the plate that just. won’t. disappear.

Do I think that will change in 2022? Naw. But many of us will be better equipped to deal with it. Even to manage the morons who can’t seem to fathom that some positive changes have come out of this relentless non-stop blast-beat of tragedy. People have learned how to provide greater access to workplaces, media/entertainment and everyday life-needs (shopping, medical needs, etc). Complain as much as you like about Zoom and washing your vegetables, but the expansion of delivery services, remote learning, working and more have opened doors that many disabled people have been knocking on for years.

Note- it wasn’t hard to provide these things. It was only hard to do because…disabled people? Who? Single parents? Who? The concept that these remote options might disappear “when the pandemic does” is also ridiculous. These were things that should always have been options.

This has certainly been a shitty year in my life. I love Korea. I genuinely do. But my depression has been the worst I have ever experienced. It is hard to be here with only the barest amounts of contact from my friends at home. I am always the oldest person when I meet people (by a solid amount of years) and I am regularly confronted with the statement: WAIT. You have TWO Master’s Degrees? From UCLA? Why are you teaching English to really young children?

Simple: if I want to do what I love (writing about Korean classic cinema, Korean film history, gender in Korean classic films), I have to have a roof over my head, health insurance and food for my cat and, I suppose, myself. 🙂 It’s not easy. I don’t get paid to write like I did when I was in the US. It’s all for free. My day job is stressful and I’m incredibly lonely and isolated everyday. I don’t have the same support system I used to.

I’m never happier than when I’m doing research and writing on Korean cinema. Never.

And I miss doing my podcast so very much.

Like I said- this year has been hell. For so many people. So many friends have died this last year, so many people I know, and so much senseless agony beyond COVID. I can’t even fathom.

But in that time, I watched some really wonderful things. I don’t like lists (AND YES, I KNOW THIS IS BASICALLY A LIST POST, SHUDDUP) but I think everyone should have heads’ up on these things I watched. I loved them.

Please know that this is not everything I watched
Things that I have yet to see that I know I will love and would have made it to this list had I gotten a chance to complete them or watch them yet:

CHUCKY (Don Mancini)
SUMMER OF SOUL (Questlove)

Things I recommend:

Faves of BIFAN

Nimby, directed by Teemu Nikki
Queer, hilarious, mindblowing, AMAZING.
Find this and see it.

Death Knot, Directed by Cornelio Sunny
Wonderfully terrifying!!!

TV Stuff

Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. WATCH THIS LTD SERIES.
One of the best things I have seen on TV or in film in years.
I am a true crime person but Colman and Thewlis are beyond genius and the structuring and directing of the work as a whole left me with my brains bleeding out of my ears (in a good way).
It’s dark, classy and WOW.

Yeah, I like murder mysteries & crime stuff. But when it’s queer & has solid representation for a range of marginalized characters, it really makes me love it. Well-written & well-done.

I can’t help it. This show is beyond any mac & cheese/ice cream/blankey show I could ever have dreamed of. There are so many little jokes that I love and it’s just…I wish I didn’t like it so hard but I LOVE IT SO FUCKING HARD. And that makes me feel a little uncomfortable. I don’t usually like “feel good” TV. Damn you, Ted. Damn you and your biscuits.


Attica, by Stanley Nelson Jr.
Key Art for ATTICA. Photo credit: Courtesy of SHOWTIME.

This is not for everyone.
It is EXTREMELY GRAPHIC and very disturbing. A lot of footage that had never been released or seen.
A lot of survivors talking about what happened.
I would not recommend it for any of my Black friends, certainly.
But this is one of the most incredibly powerful and important films to come out in 2021.

Betrayal at Attica, by Michael Hull

Yes, this is another doc about Attica and it’s just as heavy.
This one is really interesting from the archival and legal perspective as it also looks at how the woman who “liberated” the films/images and the organizations that sprang up to help the folks after Attica.
The prison system is racist and awful. Nothing has changed. And this just reiterates all of it.

If you love them, don’t know who they are, have a passing interest, any variation of these…you will love this film.

Feature Films

The best feature film I saw this year was Paul Schrader’s The Card Counter. I saw some great stuff and had to think a lot about what I saw, but this was the winner. I’m not posting a trailer because I think the trailer tells too much. Just watch the movie.

Steven Soderbergh’s No Sudden Move is wow. Again, no trailer because it should just be seen.

Both this and Card Counter were really my favorite films of 2021. I feel good about that. They are incredible films that offer mindblowing performances from their casts. Soderburgh’s film is more of a heavy-hitter ensemble film-noir piece and the longer I am away from it, the more perfect I realize it is.
Also, fucking Bill Duke. Bill effing Duke.

Again, no trailer for this. The less you know about Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho the better. But I have not stopped thinking about this film since I saw it and (much like the Sparks doc) I have been listening to almost only the songs/bands I heard in the film ever since. Matt Smith’s performance is…wow. The less I say about it…the better. When you do see it, please read my friend Marc’s piece about it. It’s GREAT. But ONLY AFTER WATCHING IT. It’s spoiler-ific.

Todd Stephens’ Swan Song

Justin Chon’s Blue Bayou
This film broke me.
But I love everything he has ever made. I hope he makes movies forever.

There’s just a few of the NEW films, TV shows, docs, etc that I watched.
Just some.
I watch things almost every night.

And I got new discs from the Korean Film Archive too this year. Those are beautiful!
At any rate this is my 2021 update, over and out.
It’s 10:30pm. Time to put something on.
Maybe next month I will update with my fave films I watched in 2021 that weren’t films from 2021.

Take care, stay safe, and if you watch any of these because I recommended them…Hey- let me know what you think!