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Land War in Asia

Courtesy photo

The Battle at Lake Changjin (2021)

Centered on the 1950 Battle of the Chosin Reservoir that decided the Korean War, “The Battle at Lake Changjin” is a spare-no-expense epic commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party that boasts three noted filmmakers – Chen Kaige, Tsui Hark and Dante Lam (plus three more codirectors!) – a budget of $200 million and a three-hour runtime. It’s like Michael Bay’s “Pearl Harbor” but for the Chinese – same jingoistic celebration of militarist carnage but, instead of white gaze, we get communist homilies.

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Homeland Insecurity

Rob Youngson/Focus Features

Belfast (2021)

In a movie about people whose lives are torn apart by terrorism, it’s pretty bad to reduce your audience to rooting for the bombs, but here it’s the only rational choice. The only innovation in Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast” is to make the tax situation of one family as important as the sectarian violence busting out all over. Otherwise no cliché of the Troubles or life in ’60s Ireland is forgotten. Critics who don’t know the city of Belfast are salivating over this movie. Critics who do are finding praise sticking in the throat.

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No Good Deed

Amirhossein Shojaei

A Hero (2021)

Asghar Farhadi’s “A Hero” is yet another engrossing thriller in the vein of his “A Separation,” in which a few seemingly innocuous white lies spiral out of control and lead to dire consequences.

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It Takes a Village

Concordia Studio

All These Sons (2021)

The documentary “All These Sons” looks at two Chicago nonprofits – Maafa Redemption Project and Inner-City Muslim Action Network’s Green ReEntry – working to deescalate the gun violence plaguing the city’s south and west sides. Billy Moore, life coach and case manager at IMAN, served a 20-year sentence for murder. Robert Ervin, life coach and program manager at Maafa and deacon of New Mount Pilgrim Church, is apparently also a former convict. Having been lured down the wrong paths themselves, these reformed men now serve as father figures to at-risk youths struggling with broken families, mental health issues and/or substance abuse, and help steer them in the right direction.

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Big Brother Is Watching

Courtesy photo

Annaatthe (2021)

When “The Irishman” digitally de-aged its stars – Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino – many complained they still moved like senior citizens. In “Annaatthe,” 70-year-old legendary Tamil superstar Rajinikanth is under a blow-dried ’80s rock band wig and an entire cake’s worth of concealer to appear decades younger, but at the very least he carries himself accordingly – which is not to say he hasn’t had help from some movie magic. During the requisite musical numbers, director-cowriter Siva employs the old Hype Williams trick of slowing down the music on set, then playing back at regular speed to make movements look a lot sharper. The result is almost seizure-inducing, much like “In the Heights.”

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Broken Vessels

Janus Films

Drive My Car (2021)

“Performing allowed me to be someone other than myself. And I could revert back when the performance ended,” Haruki Murakami wrote in the short story “Drive My Car,” anthologized in “Men Without Women.” “But the self that one returned to was never exactly the same as the self that one had left behind.” These words are left unspoken by actor-director Yûsuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) to his chauffer, Misaki Watari (Tôko Miura), in the film adaptation directed and cowritten by Ryûsuke Hamaguchi. Rather, they are faithfully enacted.

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Putting It Together

Josh Barrett/A24

The Souvenir Part II (2021)

“The Souvenir Part II” is, in essence, the making of “The Souvenir,” Joanna Hogg’s maybe autography about Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne), the Sloane Ranger-y student enrolled at the Raynham Film School (stand-in for Ms. Hogg’s alma mater, the National Film and Television School) and living in Knightsbridge, who perpetually feigns a smile as her forehead tightens. The school seemingly expects her well-to-do folks (Tilda Swinton, Ms. Swinton Byrne’s real-life mum, and James Spencer Ashworth) to bankroll her student projects. They do, and in turn she takes some of the hard-begged handouts to support the drug habit and wastrel lifestyle of The Worst Fuckboi Ever, Anthony (Tom Burke).

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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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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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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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