Stumbling Out of the Gate

Adolpho Veloso/Sony Pictures Classics

Jockey (2021)

“The Rider,” about an injured rodeo star living on a South Dakota reservation, was a much-admired little gem that catapulted the career of an auspicious filmmaker. It made such an impression that her follow-up would warrant a full-fledged Oscar campaign. That filmmaker was of course Chloé Zhao; and her follow-up was “Nomadland.” To try to bottle that lightning twice would be a fool’s errand. But the distributor of “The Rider,” Sony Classics, seems to have another one just like it in the hopper three years later.

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Chaos Reigns


True Things (2021)

Some people lead messy lives. They can’t get out of bed in the morning. They can’t get to work on time. You don’t have to relate to them. You don’t even have to like them. You must, however, recognize their existence. There really haven’t been many movies about these folks. “Four Weddings and a Funeral” seems to be the last to leave a lasting impression, and that’s almost three decades ago. “True Things” is one such movie though, about an individual who can’t get her act together and doesn’t bother trying.

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Body Snatcher

Amazon Studios

Encounter (2021)

Not sure what it is with these recent British bait-and-switchers, but “Encounter” unfolds very much like “Here Before”: It begins in one genre and then swerves into something else entirely. “Encounter” commences as science fiction, with Riz Ahmed as a former marine Malik Kahn, who, after years of absence, hurriedly snatches his two kids, Jay (Lucian-River Chauhan) and Bobby (Aditya Geddada), from his estranged ex, Piya (Janina Gavankar). They embark on a secret mission to take cover at a military base amid an alien invasion. Through elaborate special effects, the film depicts people altering their behaviors after insect bites, and their eyes give them away. If you are a sci-fi fan, just know looks here are deceiving. If that doesn’t deter you, beware of spoilers ahead.

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Made in U.S.A.

Samuel Goldwyn Films

Snakehead (2021)

Among the recent films on immigrants – “Limbo,” “I Carry You With Me,” “El cuartito,” “Chal Mera Putt,” “Flee” etc. – “Snakehead” is the only one that actually hammers home the point that lives are at stake. Perhaps that’s because it is also a gangster flick. In the others, border crossing is merely a process: If you get caught, you get deported; it’s no biggie – the movies don’t even remind you of the dangers awaiting the immigrants back home. “Snakehead,” on the other hand, shows that the peril doesn’t end on arrival. The smugglers, to whom the undocumented are indebted, are far more dreadful than the Border Patrol.

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Fellow Travelers

Sami Kuokkanen/Sony Pictures Classics

Compartment No. 6 (2022)

Finland’s entry in the Academy Awards’ International Feature Film category, “Compartment No. 6” tells a deliberately heart-warming story, of an extremely unlikely friendship, that’s patronizing and inadvertently offensive.

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Future Perfect

Courtesy photo

Chal Mera Putt 3 (2021)

“Chal Mera Putt 3” bears more resemblance to an entry in a blockbuster franchise than to the 2019 Punjabi sleeper hit that spawned it. The latest sequel is a blast, but it feels for the most part like a feature-length epilogue to the previous two films. Every plot in it is tangential.

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Emotional Laborer

Robert Viglasky/Sony Pictures Classics

Mothering Sunday (2021)

Based on Graham Swift’s 2016 novel, “Mothering Sunday” is another absolutely pointless reminiscence about a bygone era of wars, manners and servitude, when well-bred society people (Olivia Colman! Colin Firth!) indeed suffered real loss and tragedy – and not the elective and entirely preventable kind such as Lehman Brothers or Covid-19 – yet remained undeterred to meet for picnics and dinners just to trade barbs, throw hissy fits and be awful.

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That's Amore

Utopia Distribution

Vortex (2021)

Gaspar Noé has gotten moodier with age, but “Climax” felt like a soulless artistic exercise. The death of his mother, Nora Murphy, and his own battle with a brain hemorrhage apparently have had a profound effect on his follow-up, “Vortex,” at least thematically. To be quite frank, the screenplay of the new film may be just as threadbare as the last, but at least Mr. Noé here deploys split-screen that sustains the viewers’ attention more successfully than one single continuous shot.

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The Best of Youth


Futura (2021)

Three notable figures among the next generation of Italian filmmakers – Pietro Marcello of “Martin Eden,” Francesco Munzi of “Black Souls” and Alice Rohrwacher of “Happy as Lazzaro” – team up for the documentary “Futura,” about youths across Italy disillusioned by a grim future, lack of economic opportunities, insufficient government investment and disruptions brought about by Covid-19. This filmmaking collaborative doesn’t have ambitious aims to disrupt the status quo with a major stylistic movement like la nouvelle vague or Dogme 95. Rather, here they retreat to the country’s great cinematic tradition and follow in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s footsteps.

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Duck and Dive

National Geographic Documentary Films

The Rescue (2021)

A documentary recounting the 2018 mission to save a Thai soccer team of 12 kids and a coach trapped inside a flooded cave, “The Rescue” easily matches any dramatic action thriller in its ability to rivet viewers. This is no surprise coming from Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, the filmmaking couple behind the Oscar-winning “Free Solo.”

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