After tomorrow, 2021 will be in the books. Despite starting off with an attempted coup and ending with a new superinfectious mutant virus, the past twelve months were actually a little better than 2020—and that shows you where we’re at. As long as we’re in the end times, with plagues and insurrections and heat waves at Christmastime and half of Facebook praying that a secret cabal is really directing all this chaos, we might as well enjoy a few weird movies along the way—even if they’re increasingly starting to look like documentaries.
Actually, for the purposes of weird movie accounting, we put 2021 to bed last month. Our annual movie calendar ends on the last day of November, to allow 366 Weird Movies Yearbooks to go out in December. We’re not missing out on much; usually, December releases are limited to extended universe entries and Oscar bait dramas.
As always, there were hard cuts at the bottom of the list. The Show, in particular, caught us off guard with a late November Blu-ray drop. The conspiracy horror The Empty Man scored well with some of our staff, but came up empty in the end. ‘s About Endlessness were weighty and weird, but fell victim to more-of-the-same syndrome. ‘s eerily noisy Memoria certainly would have made this list, but it didn’t make it’s official debut until December. And of course, a couple of festival favorites bearing 2021 copyright dates—the whimsical dream auditing romance Strawberry Mansion and ‘s decades-in-the-making Boschian stop-motion hellscape Mad God—haven’t been distributed yet and will have to wait until a future year for consideration.penned surrealist noir
I personally finalize this list. The staff here has input, but I set the voting rules, create the universe of candidates, and break all ties. Therefore, if you feel that it’s a crime that Titane comes in at a lousy #4 instead of the #1 any idiot can see it so obviously deserves, I am the idiot to blame. When ranking, I use a secret proprietary formula that accounts for cinematic craftsmanship, the degree of surrealism/weirdness, and the perceived prestige in the weird movie community based on buzz and reader feedback, then I shuffle them into whatever arbitrary order I momentarily feel like without regard to any of that.
So, on to the official Weirdest Movies of 2021 List! As always, films are listed in random order—the weirdest of orders.
9. Undergods – Two corpse collectors link tales—sometimes via dreams and bedtime stories—all set in a vague dystopian future. Giles Edwards says that debuting director Chino Moya’s vignettes “unfold and unsteady us in the finest tradition of H.G. Wells, George Orwell, Phillip K. Dick, and the Black Mirror television series.”
5. Annette: A musical wherein a stand-up comedian (played by ) and an opera singer (played by ) wed and give birth to a miraculous daughter (played by a creepy puppet). Musical brothers (Ron and Russel Mael) had been trying for years to get a movie project off the ground, coming close to making a film for which was scrapped because of the actor’s untimely death. In 2021, eccentric director stepped in to make their musical dreams a reality, and his offbeat approach proves the perfect compliment to Sparks’ angular ideas. In 2021 the Maels also appeared in an documentary, The Sparks Brothers.
4. Titane: A movie about a car-obsessed female psychopath with a metal plate in her head that goes in directions you could never guess. is proving a name to watch for weirdness. Great performances by both leads, especially first-timer Agathe Rousselle. This often grotesque horror film unexpectedly won the
1. Keep an Eye Out [Au Poste!]: Also #9 on the overall list, our official pick for weirdest movie of the year is ‘s most ian movie. It’s essentially one long interrogation of an obviously innocent witness to a murder by a suspicious detective, interrupted by impossible flashbacks, dreamlike sequences, and poorly eaten oysters. It was released in France in 2018, but didn’t make it to these shores until this year.
10. Evangelion 3.0 + 1.0: Thrice Upon a Time: The plot defies description, but… angsty teenage mecha pilot Shinji must cope with his guilt over inadvertently nearly destroying the world, and regroup to face NERV and his own father in a final apocalyptic battle. This is the third ending has written for his apocalyptic teen angst/depression metaphor/giant robot fighting anime, and perhaps the most satisfying in a narrative sense (though I miss the craziness of Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion). The visuals get a digital psychedelic upgrade, too. Amazon Prime snapped this up as an exclusive offering in 2021.
6. Ham on Rye: 16-year-olds make their way to the local deli, where they engage in an arbitrary ritual that will determine their futures; the second half of the film follows those left behind in the small town. As ambiguous and elliptical an indie as you’ll find, Giles Edwards advises, “This movie will confound anyone seeking narrative clarity, but its absence is exactly what makes Ham on Rye such an appetizing enigma.” Technically a 2019 movie, but it got noticed mostly when it debuted on Amazon Prime during our 2021 window.
7. Prisoners of the Ghostland: A prisoner (Nicolas Cage) is outfitted in an exploding suit and sent into the Ghostlands to find and return the governor of Samurai Town’s adopted granddaughter. It was highly anticipated in these parts for years since Cage announced it in 2018 with the teaser “it might be the wildest movie I’ve ever made, and that’s saying something”—a claim that became more credible when we learned would direct. That pedigree would be hard to live up to, but the result is unquestionably one of the weirdest films of 2021.
3. The Green Knight: adapts the fragmentary medieval poem about an Arthurian knight who accepts a game with the mysterious Green Knight: trade blows with his axe, delivered one year apart. In between, he has a number of strange adventures with witchy women, talking foxes, decapitated heads, and wandering giants. Also, it’s #1 on our mainstream movie list; if it had been a lot weirder, it could have topped both lists.
2. Man Under Table: A nameless screenwriter tries to write a movie (the movie we’re watching), while his peers’ careers seem to be taking off faster than his. This surreal satire about those struggling on the fringes of the indie movie scene was made for next to nothing—but weirdness is free production value. If nothing else, it’s current content with a lot of discussion of fracking.
8. Used and Borrowed Time: A blind old Jewish woman eats a mystic pie served up by a racist at an Alabama fair and goes back in time to relive her experiences in an interracial romance during the civil rights struggle. It’s stranger than it sounds, with the characters speaking in rhyme most of the time and CGI extras popping up in the background. Not that this is not a good movie by any stretch: the acting and sets are on the community theater level, scenes drag on and on, and a lot of it is just clumsy sermonizing. And it’s almost four hours long! (Thankfully, Amazon eventually repositioned it as a miniseries and split it into episodes.) But it is without question one of the weirdest and most unexpected bombs 2021 dropped on us. (Trailer below is NSFW due to language and racial slurs).