Prano Bailey-Bond’s Censor must be one of the most promising debuts of 2021.

The film takes us back to the mid-1980s, when following on from muggings, punk rock and football hooligans, a new moral panic emerged in the shape of video nasties. Encouraged by newspapers like The Daily Mail and Christian conservatives like Mary Whitehouse, some films eventually ended up being prosecuted, many were cut and a list of ‘video nasties’ was drawn up. Many making their way on to the list were worthless trash. Others like Tenebrae, Suspiria and Scanners are today available uncut and critically acclaimed.

Of course, as usually happens with this kind of crusade, many were alerted and attracted to something they might otherwise never have been aware of, some becoming intent on tracking down as many as they could get their paws on.

Here, one of the country’s moral guardians is Enid Baines, played by Niamh Algar. Uptight, everything is far from alright with Enid. She works in a drab warren like environment for a version of the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) and believes utterly that she’s ‘protecting people’ in her role.

Enid suffers from the fallout of a traumatic incident in her past when her younger sister Nina mysteriously disappeared in a local wood while out with her. She clings on to the hope that Nina is still somehow alive and while assessing a B-movie chiller by director Frederick North, she convinces herself that the low-rent scream queen onscreen might indeed be her long-lost sister.

Niamh Algar is a revelation here, managing always to ensure that we empathise with her cold and prudish character even when disagreeing absolutely with what she says and does. Censor looks striking too, with shades of Italian masters like Mario Bava and Dario Argento, as well as British documentary photographer Martin Parr. As for the ending, I think I better watch it again.

The unluckiest film to be given a general release in 2021 must be Our Ladies. It’s based on Alan Warner’s 1998 novel, which on publication was optioned almost immediately. The fact that the novel was titled The Sopranos necessitated a switch of names once the American classic TV of the same name came to our screens the following year. By the time it had finally been filmed, comparisons with Derry Girls, a sitcom also about a bunch of pals attending a Catholic all-girls school in the 1990s became inevitable. There are even some comments on IMDB suggesting it’s a rip-off of the Channel 4 show.

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Our Ladies eventually premiered at the 2019 BFI London Film Festival and was then screened at the 2020 Glasgow Film Festival on 28 February, just prior to what was scheduled to be its cinematic release in Britain that March. Then COVID-19 struck, and a string of delays gradually put its general release back to August 2021 in Britain. Good things come to those who wait, though.

The plot concerns a group of Fort William schoolgirls who travel to Edinburgh to take part in a choir competition. In the big city, the girls are more interested in boys, booze, boots and the only singing they’re interested in is at an all-day Northern Soul karaoke session, where they even perform a surprisingly enjoyable version of Tainted Love.

I’m sure some of the faces here will become much better known in years to come.

Look out too for Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza, Julia Ducournau’s Palme d’Or winning body horror Titane, and Parallel Mothers, the latest melodramatic marvel by Pedro Almodóvar starring Penélope Cruz.

Best film of the year? I couldn’t claim to have watched enough new dramas over the past twelve months to make any definitive judgement – I’m still catching up hence the belated nature of this post – but The Card Counter was certainly a standout.

Paul Schrader specialises in bleak films about intense loners facing existential problems. Still delivering the goods in his seventies, his latest focuses on a man known as William Tell (Oscar Isaac), who teaches himself the art of card counting while in prison.

I love my Cincinnati Kids, Mississippi Grinds and California Splits. In an average year it’s about three to one on that I’ll see a new gambling film that hooks me in. The Card Counter did just that. Not that’s it’s really about poker.

William doesn’t like to draw attention to himself and possesses the self-discipline to bet small and leave a casino with more money than he entered with but not the kind of money that will change lives. Winning big would counterproductive. If casinos pick up on his card counting skills he’d be banned.

Despite himself, his expertise is spotted by La Linda (Tiffany Haddish), a ‘people person’ who runs a stable of gamblers bankrolled by a wealthy syndicate and judges he’s ready to hit the big time.

This tempts William, as by winning big money, he could pay off the debts of Cirk (Sheridan), the son of an Abu Ghraib guard who worked with William and who later committed suicide. They go on the road, with Tell hoping to win enough cash to rid the younger man of his debts and impart some much-needed wisdom to him too.

The three central performers share an impressive chemistry, and Willem Dafoe is very good too. As always.

An Oscar for Oscar Isaac? He might deserve it, but Will Smith would be a better bet for that Best Actor gong. As for Paul Schrader gaining even a nomination for his script or directing, here’s another tip: keep your money in your pocket. Overlooked in the past for his screenplays for films like Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, Schrader’s sole nomination came via First Reformed and he pissed off Hollywood by admitting that he was conflicted as ‘I have never really respected the Academy for their choices.’ This won’t be forgotten any time soon.

A million miles from Hollywood is Nobody Loves You and You Don’t Deserve to Exist (my favourite title of the year) written and directed by Brett Gregory. This is a microbudget independent shot in Manchester on a Sony A7R III. Consisting of a series of extended monologues, which might be better suited to a theatrical piece, it tells the harrowing story of a man going through a emotional and psychological breakdown. That man Jack is played by David Howell. His searing performance won’t be seen by the millions sat in multiplexes but it will lodge in the memories of those who do take a chance to see the film.

Finally, there were some impressive physical releases in 2021 too. BFI gave us Dennis Hopper’s nihilistic Out of the Blue, Mike Leigh’sfinest drama Naked, and Chris Petit’s underappreciated post-punk road movie Radio On.

Eureka Masters of Cinema, meanwhile issued Spaghetti Western classic and Tarantino favourite The Great Silence, and VIY, a legendary 1969 film made in the Soviet Union based on Nikolai Gogol’s novella of the same name. It’s said to be the only real horror movie made during the Communist era and only allowed to be made as Stalin had been a fan of Gogol.

And if anyone has ever wondered who the witchy female on the left of my header is, that’s Natalya Varley, who plays Pannochka here.