Hollywood Reporter Film Critics Pick 10 Underseen 2021 Gems


The Inheritance
Ephraim Asili calls his debut feature a remix of La Chinoise, Jean-Luc Godard’s 1967 mélange of Maoist politics among idealistic young Parisians. With energy and wit, he achieves his goal of creating “a critique and an homage at the same time,” but you don’t need to be familiar with the earlier work to appreciate this one. It stands solidly on its own as a dynamic inquiry into revolutionary culture and Black identity, not to mention the challenge of living with roommates. — SHERI LINDEN

The Killing of Two Lovers
Examining the agonizing uncertainty of a punctured union skidding along the edge of definitive blowout, this transfixing drama has not a wasted word or inessential scene. Driven by a viscerally raw performance from Clayne Crawford as a man’s man working through some fragile feelings as he and his wife test out a trial separation, it marks a knockout first solo narrative feature for writer-director Robert Machoian. — DAVID ROONEY

No man is an island in this comic drama about a group of refugees stranded in a remote Scottish town. Building on the promise of his debut, Pikadero (2016), writer-director Ben Sharrock displays a winning flair for observational detail and minor-key mirth in his warmhearted second feature, whose deadpan tone invites comparison to Aki Kaurismaki or Jim Jarmusch. — STEPHEN DALTON

French director Quentin Dupieux’s latest surreal offering, about two dolts and a giant fly, is buoyed by the chemistry of leads David Marsais and Grégoire Ludig, who seem to be directly imported into France from the world of Dumb and Dumber. In the otherwise stale universe of French comedies, Dupieux stands so far in left field that he’s become a genre unto himself, but this one has more straightforward appeal: It’s short, sweet and often genuinely funny. — JORDAN MINTZER

Oliver Hermanus explores the toxic masculinity of apartheid-era South Africa and the twin forces of racism and homophobia that fed it in his brutal, beautiful drama about a gay military conscript (played with mesmerizing internalized anxiety by Kai Luke Brümmer) trying to remain invisible. It’s sometimes tough to watch, but the harshness is mitigated by moments of aching tenderness and desire. — D.R.

Sebastian Stan and Denise Gough, both intense and committed, star as young-ish Americans in love and living for the weekend in Athens in Argyris Papadimitropoulos’ anti-rom-com. There will be viewers who recoil from these characters’ wild, exhibitionistic carnality and druggy hedonism. But many who’ve been in a relationship like this — the kind that starts to feel like a codependent bipolar disorder trapped on a rollercoaster — will relate to the film’s sensual, funny and above all honest look at amour fou. — LESLIE FELPERIN

Beautifully directed and performed, French writer-director Charlène Favier’s powerful coming-of-age drama tells the story of a prodigious 15-year-old skier (the excellent Noée Abita) drawn into an exploitative sexual relationship with her older male coach (Jérémie Renier), evoking several scandals that have made headlines in recent years. It’s a searing but sensitive account of athleticism and abuse. — J.M.

A Son (Un fils)
Mehdi M. Barsaoui’s intense, emotionally complex debut stars the exceptional Sami Bouajila as an upper-middle-class Tunisian man whose son is gunned down by terrorists. Probing delicate questions of parenthood, masculinity and ego within the specific context of the Arab world, the film suggests the director has a bright future. — BOYD VAN HOEIJ

Israeli director Eytan Fox (Yossi & Jagger) brings sensitivity, restraint and slow-burn sensuality to a story of cross-generational emotional awakening between a New York Times writer on assignment in Tel Aviv (John Benjamin Hickey) and the young local whose apartment he sublets (Niv Nissim). It’s a thoughtful queer melodrama that accumulates illuminating details in its portrait of the mutually beneficial intersection of two radically different lives. — D.R.

Wife of a Spy
Kiyoshi Kurosawa delivers an absorbing, clever, smartly paced period thriller in which a young Japanese wife on the eve of World War II discovers her businessman husband is intent on revealing Japan’s secrets to the Americans. What ensues is a tense and intriguing marital battle with moments of disconcerting horror and realism. — DEBORAH YOUNG

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