Our 2021 Film Recaps

In a year of uncertainty and upheaval, here are some films (new and old) that spoke to us.



Natalie Duerr

Something new: C’mon C’mON

Radio journalist Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) travels the United States interviewing children about their lives and hopes for the future. His plans shift when his young nephew Jesse (Woody Norman) needs someone to watch him. Along the way, Jesse prods Johnny with those scarily perspicacious questions that kids ask. Johnny may take Jesse on his first trip to New York City and New Orleans, but Jesse takes him to places he's never gone before too, forcing him to dive deep into contemplation and reflection.

Director Mike Mills brilliantly stirs together children's guile, the reality of adulthood, and the hopefulness of this whole thing called life. The result is a cup of chicken noodle soup for the soul—a cup that encourages us to keep going, to wake up another day and try again. Maybe when I'm in a better place emotionally, I won't feel the same way, but this film has burrowed itself in my heart for now.

Something new to me: Vertigo

I know I'm 60 years late to this party (to be fair, I've only been an actual cognizant human for like 20 years and really into film for five years), but I have no clue how and why I avoided Hitchcock for so long. It's glamorous yet elusive. It's romantic yet ghastly. What isn't it!? The scenes and cinematography are so gorgeous that the story almost becomes secondary at some points. And maybe Hitchcock uses that to his advantage—I never predicted the film's next moment. It swings from paranormal romance to murder mystery in a way that keeps you wanting more. There are always new films coming out and I usually find myself trying to stay up-to-date, but sometimes a history lesson is more valuable than the present trend.

From the community board: Thaw

This music video begins with a woman (played by singer Sabrina Song) sitting in a delicately positioned chair attached to a car. Her cerulean gloves and earrings starkly contrast her surroundings. She's contemplative but not in control—her fate is left to a masked driver at the wheel. “Thaw” centers on a desire to change and evolve, but something is holding Song back. These obstructions take physical form, dancing around her space. They call her attention but evade her. Lights flicker on and off in an empty staircase as these glistening figures haunt the room. With a title like “Thaw,” just depicting melting ice would have been easy and relevant. Instead, the video brings a new dimension by creating a visual metaphor for our aspirations and the ghosts that try to prevent us from realizing them.

Sydney Kim

Something new: Minari

The film follows the Yis, a Korean family, as they move from California to Arkansas in a bid to build a better life. Its pacing is a slow burn, but Minari’s strength doesn’t lie in rapid plot progression. Rather, it’s in its soberingly honest portrayal of the immigrant experience. While many have tried to other the film and reduce it to “foreign” (I’m looking at you, Golden Globes), it’s important to note that Minari is entirely an American story—just not one that audiences are used to seeing. It’s about the pursuit of the American Dream and everything that comes with that: the highs, the lows, the hopes, and the desperations. It’s raw, it’s real, and most importantly, it’s a fresh perspective in a sea of stale stories.

Something new to me: Sound of Metal

Although this film is relatively recent, I’m still disappointed it took me so long to watch it. Sound of Metal tells the story of Ruben, a professional drummer in a metal band, as he loses the very thing that his identity and livelihood depend on: his hearing. It’s a narrative about loss, and with loss comes the five stages of grief. You can’t help but to become immediately attached to Ruben, so it’s hard to watch him while he’s in denial about his circumstances, during his explosively angry outbursts as he attempts to bargain with his disability, or while he’s in the deep throes of depression. The excellence of the film is the journey through these stages and knowing that inevitably, acceptance waits at the end.

From the community board: White Mirror: The Color Red

This short film follows August, a Black man, as he recounts his traumatic experience with race-motivated violence. “White Mirror: The Color Red” approaches horror with a deft hand, utilizing the genre’s most common components of jump scares and twist endings in a refreshing way. It manifests the protagonist’s feelings of fear and helplessness with a cutting poignancy, so much so that the audience is bound to feel it within their own bodies.

Lizzie Racklin

Something new: Shiva Baby

What’s there to say that hasn’t already been said? This movie is an anxiety-fueled, claustrophobic, coming-of-age shitshow with the score of a horror movie. With the ensemble cast all cramped in a small house, it at times morphs into a comedy of manners, all focused on Rachel Sennott’s Danielle, who finds herself at a shiva with her sugar daddy, his wife, their baby, and her ex-girlfriend from high school. The tension never quite dissipates and I appreciate the fact that Emma Seligman’s script doesn’t create some life-defining arc for Danielle—it shows her at an uncertain time in her life and leans into that uncertainty as family members question her plans for the future. Sweaty, overwhelmed, confused, and self-centered, Danielle is a complicated and honest portrayal of young womanhood, and this movie is a funny, jaw-clenching depiction of the complete what-the-fuck feeling of your twenties.

Something new to me: The Last Black Man in San Francisco

When my friend sat me down to watch the opening sequence of this movie, it was one of those moments that completely reaffirms my love for film. The rest only gets better—it’s a nostalgic yet timely odyssey about identity, community, friendship, and home. Jimmie Fails (who stars as a fictionalized version of himself) recruits his friend Mont (Jonathan Majors!) to join him on a quest to reclaim the Victorian house his grandfather built. They journey through San Francisco, the city that raised them and seems to be leaving them behind. The filmmakers create an homage to their hometown, even as gentrification displaces them from the city they love, and explore the idea of hometowns in general—what does it look like to leave your hometown, or to lose it? The poignant story is amplified by the grounded yet atmospheric visuals and the distinct cast of characters. I’ve watched a lot of great movies this year, but if I could recommend any of them most urgently, it’s this one.

From the Community Board: The Basics

I love to get meta, so a comedy about comedy was bound to get me. This series has 30 Rock’s sense of humor with Search Party’s bite and upends the comedy scene’s typical vision of itself. It’s filled with wonderfully basic “basics” and quippy improvised dialogue, and it’s made by a gorgeous team of New York comedians.