2021 in lists: concerts & shows, theatre, books, movies, TV

Movies (seen in the cinema)

  • Bonjour Tristesse. Read some grumpy words about this here
  • La Dolce Vita. Read some grumpy words about this here
  • Possessor. A movie from David Cronenberg’s son, Brandon, I brought husband because it was described as a sci-fi thriller. I sort of had skipped over the ‘horror’ part so saw more blood and gore than I’ve seen in a long time. But I thought it was an amazing film: engaging story, creepy atmosphere, superb acting. 
  • Roman Holiday. Having not appreciated two film classics, and another not-so-classic old film, I had high hopes that this film would change my view. Oh yes it did. Obviously the mother of so many romantic comedies, this was the original, and done in a way I found engaging and charming. Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck have wonderful charisma, the script is funny, Rome is shown in its full glory (whereas when watching La Dolce Vita, I was like: Where’s Rome? (except for the Trevi Fountain scene). If you haven’t seen this film before, give yourself a treat! We saw it on Valentine’s Day. Perfect.
  • Max Richter’s Sleep. A documentary about Max Richter’s 8.5 hour musical composition, written for audiences to sleep to, the film has the same dreamy, unrushed quality. I really like Richter’s music: it’s emotional and direct, beautiful and atmospheric. The film is a little about him, and a little about him and his wife and their partnership, with a focus on some of the fans of the music and event. I loved it.
  • Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings. I was sort of hoping to like this as much as the Black Panther, and I did like a lot about it (Asian-Canadians, represent!). Bored and confused by the CGI battle scenes at the end, but very glad that it’s done so well.
  • Great Freedom (Große Freiheit). Shown at the Sydney Film Festival, this Austrian film, about a German man imprisoned, multiple times, for being gay, and his friendship with another prisoner is beautiful acted and filmed, engaging, complex and dark. Highly recommended. 
  • West Side Story. I’ve seen the old movie at least twice and the stage show a few times as well. So, I found it impossible to view the new film without comparing it to my various memories. There are some very beautiful images and great performances. I’m enjoying reading the debates on it: was a new version really necessary? Could something fundamentally based on inaccurate stereotypes be redeemable? I’m not sure, but I was glad to see the effort.
  • The Matrix: Resurrections. My husband has a tradition of watching movies on Boxing Day and this was our pick. I liked it lots. I didn’t have high expectations. I found it entertaining. Good to see Carrie-Anne and Keanu back in action. 

Movies (seen on TV, like on Netflix)

  • Pride. How I loved this charming English movie about a group of ragtag gay and lesbian activists who supported a community of Welsh miners during the strikes in Thatcherite England in the 80s. Based on a true story. 
  • 101 Rent Boys. A documentary, of sorts, of 101 rent boys in Los Angeles. I thought it couldn’t be NOT interesting (and was right) but didn’t expect the storytelling to be so weak and just watching it makes you feel like you’re part of the exploitation. 
  • Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom: It did feel like a play made into a movie, which is not necessarily a bad thing, to hear that sort of dramatic poetry in intense spurts. And my god, the acting. Very intense. 
  • Nomadland: Strange and beautiful and harsh. I found the combination of non-actors and Frances McDormand engaging and interesting. 
  • Luca: I’m reading the reviews which say it’s fine but not the best Pixar movie (the NYT review has the best headline ‘Calamari by my name’. Kudos to whoever wrote that). But it charmed me, made me laugh many times, and marvel at how beautiful the imagery and colour was. And it was a taste of sunny Italy. Locked down and unable to travel overseas, I LOVED this. Who cares if it’s not a masterpiece?
  • Minari: I found this film had an interestingly similar pace to Nomadland: it felt like an arthouse film but it was constantly engaging. The burdens of this family are so hard: immigration, dislocation, menial jobs, farming. I thought it was a beautiful film. 
  • Supernova: A film about an older gay couple on a road trip? Well, this was a must-watch for our household, though the early dementia plot is not part of our journey. I found it beautiful and quiet and sad. 
  • Dear Evan Hansen: I loved the stage musical so much, it was hard for me to be objective. And I’m not. It has faults, but I liked it. Boy, it’s getting bad reviews though. 
  • Everyone’s Talking About Jamie: When I look back at 2021 and see that most of my viewing was of drag queens, will I be happy or sad? A great opening number and the lead has good energy, but I was surprised how weak the story was: clichéd and predictable. The stage show seemed to get great reviews. 
  • Fabulous Fungi: So beautifully filmed and a really interesting advocacy narrative. You think you’re watching a nature doco and then boom: there’s a whole other agenda. Which I’m on board with. Love live fungi. 
  • Old: What mixed reviews there are for this movie. I saw the good ones and sort of regret that. It was like ‘White Lotus’ (come to a resort where bad things happen) combined with ‘Nine Perfect Strangers’ (come to a retreat because you need something fixed) and ‘Squid Game’ ((nearly) everyone dies). I don’t mind, as in Squid Game, something wild and fantastical and even violent, as long as there’s an internal logic, but I found myself laughing out loud at how little this movie made sense in terms of characters’ motivations, plot and dialogue, though I found Kriebs and Garcia Bernal very, very engaging actors. 
  • Promising Young Woman: I thought this was engaging, entertaining, challenging and squirm-inducing, all tied together with an incredible performance by Carey Mulligan of a screenplay (and directed) by Emerald Fennell, a writer for Killing Eve, one of our fave shows. I could see the connection: stylish visuals, suspense, complicated women. Highly recommended. 
  • Tick, tick, boom: I enjoyed seeing this portrait of an artist, the creator of the musical Rent, Jonathan Larson. The story is well-told and Andrew Garfield and his castmates are charismatic. Lots of cameos of those who love Broadway musicals. 
  • Cloud Atlas: Having read the book, and husband being a fan of the movie, I was quite looking forward to this. Also, the Wachowskis do interesting work. But I have no idea how anyone who hasn’t read the book could follow this film at all. It’s a blur of different time periods and characters. The plots are laid out in quick brushstrokes. The connection between the stories and characters seems to be made stronger in the film, predating the Wachowskis work on the TV series, Sense8, which we enjoyed. There seems to be a mystical mumbo jumbo thread of all of us being reincarnations of each other, different versions of each other. But on the whole, I can’t say I thought this movie worked. 
  • Single All The Way: It would seem like social progress that a new Christmas movie is as clichéd and silly as other Christmas movies but the hero of the film is gay. Can’t say I loved it, so take away my gay card. 

Documentaries and Reality Television

  • RuPaul’s Drag Race, Season 13. All in all, I thought this was a pretty good season, including the pandemic special, which showed the extra measures they had to go through to film this. I thought it was the right winner, and the cast was pretty entertaining and interesting, particularly Gottmik. 
  • RuPaul’s Drag Race Vegas Revue. Hmm. Watching out of sheer fandom. It’s painful to watch these young men, who are great performers but not very mature human beings in how they treat each other and their bodies and their expectations. 
  • RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, Season 2. Wow. How much of drag race can we watch? The year has only begun. Still, it was such a diverse group of queens in the finale, I enjoyed it. I’m not sure I’ve seen Ru lately fall in love with someone so much as he did with the winner. Every time they were on screen together, it was clear that Ru LOVES this one. 
  • Amy. Ouch. Amy Winehouse had such an amazing, natural voice and a real talent. Could she have survived her addictions? It’s not sure, but she was certainly surrounded by people who did not help her survive, and those who wanted to help her couldn’t reach her. Sad. 
  • Blown Away, Season 2. I loved the quirky first season of this reality show about glass-blowing and you know, I loved Season 2 just as much. We also watched the Christmas special, which came out in November 2021, and it was fun. 
  • Project Runways All Stars, Season 8. Not sure how we missed this when it came out a year or two ago, but we can’t resist this show. It was, all in all, pretty fun, and I think I was happy enough with the finale, though a little nationalism was creeping through and I was hoping Biddell, the Canadian designer, would win. 
  • The Great Pottery Throw-Down, Seasons 1, 2 and 3: A reality TV show about pottery? I think only the British could pull this off, and it was a lovely look at an art form that I love. I find some of the episodes drag, and as they are all amateurs, sometimes I’d like to see a bit more experience and craft. But I enjoyed them. And one of the judges often cries, at the beauty of an object or at a noble effort. It’s very charming. 
  • RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under. Because I can’t resist watching it and everyone else down here seems to be. But RuPaul and Michelle seem out of sorts and the judging feels very random. In the end, it was very disappointing. Though drag is fabulous and creative here in Australia, Australian drag didn’t seem to translate to this game show format. 
  • Masterchef Australia. It’s crazy to think back to last year, when most people in Australia seemed to be watching that season, with new judges and returning favourite contestants, partly because we were all in lockdown. I’ve always loved this show, though with it on FIVE NIGHTS A WEEK, I’m trying to be reasonable about it and just catch it when I can. But I have fallen in love with the contestants. Nowhere else on Australian TV is the real diversity of society represented, including Asians, gays, and gay Asians, but it’s not the story. It’s just presented as the way Australia is while they cook up a storm nearly every night of the week. Bravo.  
  • RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars Season 6. I think I might have come to my limit. TOO MUCH RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE. There are no surprises anymore, and the pain of say, the acting challenges, then just becomes deeper. But the ending was a surprise for me, and a good one. 
  • Too Hot to Handle, Season 2. I basically watched this for the schadenfreude and visual stimulation. Attractive, self-centred people who are prevented from making out with each other (or they are supposed to not do it!) matched with hilarious, droll commentary. I can’t say I’m proud that I watched it though. 
  • Drag Race España. OK. I don’t know how much more I can take of the Drag Race franchises. They never stop. Having said that, this was surprisingly fun: an interesting, positive burst of Spanish energy and it felt like something new. 
  • Australian Survivor. What’s surprising to me is just how different this franchise is than the American one. The fact that it’s on three days a week is one thing. But there is a different rhythm to the show, different edits for how we get to know the contestants. It’s much less serious. The banter between contestants and the host is surprising. I was worried about it at first: the concept of ‘Brains vs Brawn’ is moronic. But the last shows have been really very entertaining. 
  • Drag Race Holland. We quite liked this show and season. I mean: how sad that Drag Race Down Under turns out to have been the worst of the franchises so far. Like All Stars, I was surprised, pleasantly, by the ending. 
  • Survivor, Season 41: We can’t resist as we love this show, but the new pace (less episodes, a shorter season) will be interesting and so far we are NOT loving it. Not sure why. We’re rooting for no one. 
  • Drag Race UK, Season 3: So much drag race. WTF? But it is a fun enough group of queens. 
  • Canada’s Drag Race Season 2: I sort of like the format where there is no one main host. And again, a talented enough group of queens. 
  • Drag Race Italia: And even though I like the energy, the host, the judges and the pit crew … with the episodes 90 minutes long, and SO MUCH drag race these days, we watched a few episodes but are taking a break.
  • School of Chocolate: It was inevitable that we’d watch a reality competition about chocolate and what I really like is that the losers of the week don’t get kicked off. Yay for changing that tired format. 

Other television

  • Death to 2020. Not a documentary but a mockumentary by Charlie Brooker of Black Mirror on 2020. It got mediocre reviews but I don’t have high expectations these days.
  • Lupin. Seasons 1 & 2. We loved this series. Fun, stylish. The lead actor has buckets of charisma. Some episodes are better than others, but it is well worth watching. 
  • Snowpiercer. Season 2. I was enjoying it but in the end, I didn’t love this season that much. The first season had a strong dramatic question and then a fantastic twist at the end. This season had too many plots and a focus on too many characters for me. But husband liked it a lot. 
  • Money Heist (La Casa de Papel). We totally loved this: the characters, the storytelling. Watch it with subtitles. We watched the first two parts, took a break and then watched the next, and in late 2021 watched the latest series and the finale. Great TV. Every action seems motivated by an emotional situation, rather than the often cold and intellectual action or heist films from ‘merica or other countries. 
  • It’s a Sin. Touching, engaging, the tragedy leavened by comedy. Apparently a huge hit, in the UK, especially. I’m glad that this story is being told for a new generation. 
  • Sex Education. Seasons 1, 2 and 3. I really liked this series. The characters are appealing and mixed in with light, youthful comedy are some heavyweight emotional truths and situations. I found some of the farce of Season 3 a bit much, and some of the messages basic, but my affection for the characters overweighed the faults and I liked that so many characters got their moments. 
  • Handmaid’s Tale, Season 4. Woohoo. This was amazing TV. I found the previous season too harrowing, and while this was also harrowing, there were so many important questions about choices, survival, recovery and more, all anchored by incredible acting. I really enjoyed it. 
  • Sweet Tooth, Season 1. There’s much to like about the show, and the integration of COVID-19 parallels is really very unsettling. I do like the characters, but something about the storytelling feels a bit weak at times, or with an odd pace. Still, why not? In lockdown, it’s entertainment. 
  • Trapped, Seasons 1 and 2. Brrr. It looks cold in Iceland. We loved this Icelandic police story. Sort of like the Bridge. Not as good in terms of plot and writing, but a peek into a totally unfamiliar landscape and culture was really, really engaging. Season 2 was more complex, but also enjoyable. 
  • The White Lotus. I did enjoy this series, particularly the lead performance by Murray Bartlett, but I’m surprised at the rave reviews it got in the New Yorker, New York Times and elsewhere. I thought it was OK but not *that* good.
  • Pose, Seasons 1, 2 and 3. Surprised it’s took us so long to get around to watching this, but we enjoyed it a lot, and binge watched it. Found Season 1 stronger than Season 2. There are faults in the storytelling, the acting can be variable, and Ryan Murphy just loves him some melodrama, but the most important thing was the actors and characters, who we sort of fell in love with. 
  • Sparking Joy with Marie Kondo. Three watchable episodes in this series, and I find it not only entertaining, but useful to my life. We’ve been folding our clothes like she recommends since her first season!
  • Squid Game. OK. Yes, we watched it. I couldn’t look away. In spite of the cartoon-levels of violence (like the old Roadrunner cartoons: splat!), I loved the acting and thought it proposed interesting moral questions. But I am surprised at what a global phenomenon it has become. We like Money Heist better!
  • Dexter: New Blood. I watched the first few seasons of Dexter and not the last ones, and not the last episode which disappointed fans so much. Still, I’m curious about this new series: I really like Michael C Hall. Almost finished by the end of the year: am loving it. 


  • Alain De Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life (philosophy). I’m not convinced that I should read Proust, but I loved reading this instead. Is that cheating? Beautiful writing about friendship, reading, paying attention and being alive. 
  • Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain (novel). I was so engaged with the story and characters that I stopped noticing the writing. It’s a harrowing story and feels unique. I’m not sure if I loved it as much as some of my friends did (or the Booker prize jury) but it’s a great book.
  • Judith Flanders’ A Place for Everything: The Curious History of Alphabetical Order (non-fiction). It’s rare that I give up on a book, and I note I probably could have finished it as the last third of the book is footnotes. And it really was interesting in many ways to see the way alphabetisation developed. But it’s SO well-researched with SO much detail (about text from so long ago). It takes a particular kind of mind to be able to engage with this material. 
  • Tricia Dearborn’s Autobiochemistry (poetry). A fellow Sydney poet; we read together recently at an event. And I was so glad to receive her latest collection from her. There are some gems in this collection. 
  • Rowena Lennox’s Dingo Bold– The life and death of K’gari dingoes. See the review here.
  • Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Committed (fiction): Wow. See my review here.
  • David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas (fiction): See the review here.
  • Christos Tsiolkas’s Dead Europe (fiction): See my review here.
  • Sally Rooney’s Beautiful World, Where are You? (fiction): See my review here.

Concerts, Shows, Theatre, Exhibitions & Words

  • Sydney Festival’s The Rise and Fall of Saint George. An interesting, passionate sort of rock opera that portrayed the time of the same-sex marriage debate in Australia, symbolised by the defacing of the striking wall mural of George Michael, as a saint, in Erskineville. And what a setting. I had no idea they’d be able to host concerts at the Headland in Barangaroo like that. It was stunning. 
  • Young Frankenstein (Hayes Theatre). It seems like Mel Brooks, buoyed by the success of adapting his movie ‘the Producers’ to a hit musical decided to do the same with Young Frankenstein. It’s basically a silly, ridiculous, entertaining farce. I think is reminded me of the ridiculousness of Spamalot more than the Producers, and the cast and crew do an amazing job with bringing this to life. An enjoyable, silly time. 
  • Hamilton (Lyric Theatre). Way back when Hamilton was I heard Australia would be opening in Australia, I wondered how they would find Australians to do such an American show and if they could manage such complicated and demanding parts, combining Broadway and rap and other musical genres. It seemed like a unique phenomenon. I was wrong. Completely. The Australian cast is young, scrappy and hungry and put their own spin on a show which I think is amazingly written and constructed. I feel very privileged that we’re able to see theatre here in Australia where most places in the world have shut down their shows. 
  • Fun Home (Sydney Theatre Company). In university, I read Alison Bechdel’s wonderful lesbian comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, and was amazed and delighted to watch her journey as she published the autobiographical graphic novel, Fun Home, and see an introverted artist on the margins win multiple awards, become beloved across North America and THEN have that book be turned into an award-winning musical. To see a deeply personal and strange story be brought to life was fantastic; I’d been waiting to see this since it came out. Also, Maggie McKenna, who we last saw in the musical adaptation of Muriel’s Wedding, playing the ‘Middle Alison’: astonishing.
  • Frozen (Capitol Theatre). Oh dear. I didn’t even question that we’d see this: a Broadway musical, with a songwriting team we admire, and hey, we liked the movie. But just before arriving, an acquaintance asked, ‘Why are you going to THAT?!’ and when we arrived, I understand why. It was crawling with children, chatting over the scenes, asking out loud ‘Why did she just hit him?’. It reminded me of when I was at Disneyland with my niece. So, the story was very young and somewhat confusing, and I admit, I didn’t like it very much. 
  • I want to know what love is (Darlinghurst Theatre). From the Queensland-based The Good Room, I wasn’t sure what to expect from a piece compiled from audience submissions. Yet it was joyous, dark and sad, using the best conventions of theatre to create amazing theatre by a diverse, talented and engaging cast. 
  • Come from Away (Capitol Theatre). I’d seen this musical before in NYC, and was amused what the Canadians had pulled off. New Yorkers love themselves, so creating a musical partly about NYC (by way of 9/11) and combining it with a true story set in Canada, it was a brilliant commercial idea. But much more than that, it’s great storytelling and wonderful music, with a cohesive style. Seeing the Australian version, I had forgotten just how good it is as a musical. Very emotional. 
  • Merrily We Roll Along (Hayes Theatre). I’ve always loved this musical though it’s difficult to pull off. It requires great acting and singing, and direction that pulls it together and has it rise above some weaknesses in the structure and story. This production was quite amazing and succeeded on all counts. 
  • Hannah Gadsby’s Body of Work (Opera House). Unique, smart, engaging comedy, very Australian and wonderful. The humour is so quick and specific that at times I missed bits, but I like that she’s not going for the lowest common denominator, or trying to make comedy easy. 

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