25 Contributions by: Renee Cuisia On Hulu

Staff & contributors

Nothing about Saint Omer is easy. A female Senegalese migrant (Guslagie Malanga) is put to trial for committing infanticide, but throughout the film, it becomes clear how much of a victim she is too, of an uncaring and deeply prejudiced society. “What drove her to madness?” Her attorney asks at one point. We’re not sure. We're not necessarily asked to side with her, nor answer the many hard-hitting questions brought up in the film, but we sit with the uneasiness of it all and, in that silence, confront our ideas about motherhood, womanhood, personhood. 

This confusion is what makes the film so compelling. Despite the court’s best efforts, Laurence isn’t meant to be understood. She’s meant to be an example of the ever-ambiguous, forever-complicated, always-hurt person. It’s human nature after all to be this complex and messed up. The film shows us that the best that we can do in situations like this is to listen, understand, and as our protagonist Rama (Kayije Kagame) does, make peace with the noise. 

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Aurelia Petit, Guslagie Malanda, Salimata Kamate, Valérie Dréville, Xavier Maly

Director: Alice Diop

It's heartbreaking to realize that Happening, a film set in 1960s France tracking a young woman's journey to dangerously and desperately terminating her pregnancy, is still very much relevant and relatable to this day. Around the world, abortion is still inaccessible, if not completely illegal, and women still struggle to lay full claim to their bodies. A lot of girls grow up with pregnancy statistics meant to instill fear, but Happening brings all that to brilliant life in intimate and unrestrained detail. The fears and wants of our protagonist Anne (played precisely by Anamaria Vartolomei) are palpable throughout. Nothing is held back in this film, and if you find yourself sick in parts, then it has achieved its goal of realistically conveying what it's like to stay alive in a society that fails to recognize your needs. 

 

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Alice de Lencquesaing, Anamaria Vartolomei, Anna Mouglalis, Cyril Metzger, Édouard Sulpice, Fabrizio Rongione, Francois Loriquet, Julien Frison, Kacey Mottet Klein, Leïla Muse, Louise Chevillotte, Louise Orry-Diquéro, Luàna Bajrami, Pio Marmaï, Sandrine Bonnaire

Director: Audrey Diwan

Rating: R

, 2021

In the first few minutes of Mass, hushed tones, solemn movements, and awkwardly averted eyes hint at an unspoken tragedy that haunts everyone in the film. The four main characters discuss it during a sit-down, but even then it remains unspeakable; such is the dedication of first-time full-length director Fran Kranz in depicting the reality of tragic events. Not much is done in the way of plot twists and shocks, but in place of those, Mass makes clever use of close-up shots and unmoving settings to portray the privacy and paralysis of grief. For this reason, Mass often feels like a masterful play brought to life, but also more than that, a brilliant portrait of healing—or at the very least, coping with the everlasting aftermath of loss. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ann Dowd, Breeda Wool, Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton, Michelle N. Carter, Reed Birney

Director: Fran Kranz

There are only two main characters in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande: Nancy, a retired teacher who was recently widowed, and Leo, an adept sex worker with a mysterious past. They're almost always in one place and work on a single goal: pleasure. But despite the seeming monotony, the movie is crackling with wit and sensuality every step of the way. It doesn't waste any time getting to the heart of the matter. Nancy and Leo go back and forth about their past, with Nancy divulging much about the stigma of aging and Leo about the stigma of sex work. They also dive into the shame attached to pleasure, ultimately revealing more than just their naked bodies to each other and to the audience.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Daryl McCormack, Emma Thompson, Isabella Laughland, Les Mabaleka

Director: Sophie Hyde

Rating: R

, 2021

When Amin sits down for a tell-all interview about his troubling past, his memories come to life in vivid animation. Sometimes they are sweet and intimate, like when he recounts his time as a playful boy in a much freer Afghanistan. But often, they’re marred by the unbelievable horrors of refugee life. Now a successful academic and soon-to-be husband, Amin discovers the inescapability of his status and identity, the reality of which continues to threaten his safety to this day.

Relevant and vital, Flee sheds some much-needed light on an often-overlooked phenomenon. More than just displaying factoids and numbers, it relays the specific unease and constant vigilance that comes with fleeing one’s home. But as Amin’s story, it is also richly detailed and wonderfully personal; for all its harsh exposés, the film leaves enough room for Amin’s stirring realizations about love, identity, and sexuality.

Genre: Animation, Documentary

Actor: Behrouz Bigdeli, Belal Faiz, Daniel Karimyar, Fardin Mijdzadeh, Jean-Pierre Pernaut, Rashid Aitouganov, Tormod Ringnes

Director: Jonas Poher Rasmussen

Rating: PG-13

Fire of Love is a documentary that follows Maurice and Katia Krafft, a scientist couple who’ve dedicated their entire professional lives to studying (and marveling at) volcanoes. The two met at university and have been inseparable ever since, chasing explosions around the world until their death at the Mount Unzen eruption in 1991. 

The fiery passion the title refers to is as much about Maurice and Katia as it is about their dedication to volcanoes. Like any love story, it tracks how they were first wonderstruck by the formation and how that awe shaped their lives and led them to each other, as well as how they came to discover hard truths about it and dealt with the heartbreak that soon followed. 

Combining the breathtaking footage the couple left behind with lovely writing and artful animation, director Sara Dosa creates a moving documentary about passion, adventure, and the world itself. 

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Alka Balbir, Katia Krafft, Miranda July

Director: Sara Dosa

Rating: PG

On the one hand, How to Blow Up a Pipeline is a tense thriller—an excellently set-up heist that makes you wonder, until the end, whether the low-budget operation succeeds or not. On the other hand, it’s a thoughtful rumination on the evil and influence of Big Oil, which despite its relentless destruction of environments and communities, continues to run scot-free. 

Together, these parts make for a powerful, nerve-racking film about both the danger and necessity of eco-terrorism—a radical act that is impressively humanized and spared from caricature here. How to Blow Up a Pipeline's themes may be big and its means explosive, but its rich characterizations of the young activists ground it into a relatable reality. One is dying due to toxins released by the nearby plant, another is forced to give up his property to make way for the construction of a pipeline. All are tired of the fruitlessness of government promises and peaceful protests. Rousing and relevant, there's never been a more timelier film than this. 

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Ariela Barer, Calhoun Koenig, Christopher Hagen, Clint Obenchain, Forrest Goodluck, Grayson Berry, Irene Bedard, Jake Weary, Jayme Lawson, Kristine Froseth, Lukas Gage, Marcus Scribner, Mark Dalton, Mike Miller, Sam Quinn, Sarah Minnich, Sasha Lane, Travis Hammer

Director: Daniel Goldhaber

Rating: R

Director Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt) reunites with Mads Mikkelsen to tell the story of four teachers going through a mid-life crisis. They’re not sad, exactly—they have homes and jobs and are good friends with each other—but they’re not happy either. Unlike the ebullient youth they teach, they seem to have lost their lust for life, and it’s silently eating away at them, rendering them glassy-eyed and mechanic in their everyday lives. 

Enter an experiment: what if, as one scholar suggests, humans were meant to fulfill a certain alcohol concentration in order to live as fully and present as possible? The teachers use themselves as the subjects and the tide slowly starts to turn to mixed effects. Are they actually getting better or worse?

With an always-satisfying performance by Mikkelsen and an instant classic of an ender, it’s no surprise Another Round took home the award for Best Foreign Film in the 2020 Academy Awards.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt, Christiane Gjellerup Koch, Diêm Camille G., Dorte Højsted, Frederik Winther Rasmussen, Helene Reingaard Neumann, Lars Ranthe, Mads Mikkelsen, Magnus Millang, Maria Bonnevie, Martin Greis-Rosenthal, Michael Asmussen, Morten Thunbo, Niels Jørgensen, Per Otto Bersang Rasmussen, Susse Wold, Thomas Bo Larsen

Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Rating: 0, Not Rated

Among the sea of class satires released in the last year, Triangle of Sadness is one of the better ones. Directed by Ruben Östlund (The Square, Force Majeure), the film follows an ultra-rich group of people who get stranded on an island after their luxury cruise ship sinks. The social pyramid that has long favored them suddenly turns upside down when a crew member (a glowing Dolly de Leon) effectively runs the group of sheltered castaways.

Triangle of Sadness may not be as sharp as Östlund’s previous work, and it may not add anything particularly new to the saturated discussions of social class, but it remains a darkly humorous and engaging watch, masterfully helmed by a strong script and ensemble.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alex Schulman, Alicia Eriksson, Amanda Walker, Arvin Kananian, Beata Borelius, Camilla Läckberg, Carolina Gynning, Charlbi Dean, Christina Saliba, Dolly de Leon, Emma Warg, Fredrik Quinones, Fredrik Wikingsson, Hanna Oldenburg, Harris Dickinson, Hedda Rehnberg, Henrik Dorsin, Iris Berben, Jean-Christophe Folly, Karin Myrenberg, Linda Anborg, Malte Gårdinger, Oliver Ford Davies, Ralph Schicha, Shaniaz Hama Ali, Stefan Godicke, Sunnyi Melles, Vicki Berlin, Woody Harrelson, Zlatko Burić

Director: Ruben Östlund

Rating: R

In this documentary by Bianca Stigter, a three-minute home video of a nondescript Jewish town in Poland is examined in great detail to reveal the history and humanity behind it. Taken just before the Holocaust, it’s one of the few remaining proofs of life the town has before its population was decimated in the war. And so the footage is repeated and stretched in this documentary, because as the narrator puts it, “as long as we are watching, history is not over yet,” and the people have yet to be gone.

Glenn Kurtz, the grandson of the person who shot the home video, takes it upon himself to investigate the history of the town and its citizens: what they were and what became of them. The results are often grim and unsettling, and the eerie editing matches them with great effect. But when it's not haunting, the film is oddly hopeful—for a future that remembers its past and preserves it in meaningful ways. Couple this sentiment with the narrator’s own poetic observations, and you get a powerfully moving elegy about loss and memory. 

Genre: Documentary, Drama, History

Actor: Helena Bonham Carter

Director: Bianca Stigter

Bad Axe is an intimate documentary that follows the Sievs, a tight-knit family that runs a restaurant in the city of Bad Axe, Michigan. When the rise of COVID restrictions and racist hate groups put their business at risk, the Sievs try to hold on to each other while also carefully, in their own way, fighting back.

Mostly shot in the unforgettable year that is 2020, Bad Axe captures the fraught intensity and existential panic we all spiraled into during the global pandemic. It’s a charged film, but underneath all that buzz is a story about a family with its own tensions and histories and contradictions to deal with. Bad Axe is at once simple and complex, and like family, you just kind of love it, flaws and all.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Director: David Siev

The Banshees of Inisherin is an Irish dark comedy film that begins with the breakup of longtime friends Pádraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson). Averse to the sudden split, Pádraic tries to repair their relationship, but instead of achieving goodwill, he inadvertently sets off even more unrest in their little town of Inisherin. Set in 1923 against the backdrop of the Irish Civil War, the film doubles as a fable about the consequences of war. 

The last time Farrell and Gleeson were together was in the expert thriller In Bruges, and their reunion in The Banshees of Inisherin shows how powerful and chemistry-filled their pairing is. Theirs is a knockout turn, but it's also far from the only good thing in the movie. Packed with gorgeously lush images of rural Ireland, strong performances from an all-Irish cast, and a whipsmart script from writer-director Martin McDonagh, The Banshees of Inisherin is an impactful watch that will give you lots to unpack long after the credits roll. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Aaron Monaghan, Barry Keoghan, Brendan Gleeson, Bríd Ní Neachtain, Colin Farrell, David Pearse, Gary Lydon, Jon Kenny, Kerry Condon, Pat Shortt, Sheila Flitton

Director: Martin McDonagh

Rating: R

Somewhere in Queens has the familiar feel of an indie dramedy. It’s intimate and unassuming, casually funny and effortlessly moving. It has the low-key charm that evades more large-scale productions, lending the film that rare poignancy that makes something feel special. 

All these boost an otherwise simple story of family and acceptance. Couple Leo and Ange (a very compelling Ray Romano and Laurie Metcalf) are getting on in years, and watching them navigate the common pitfalls of people their age is both funny and heartwarming to watch. This is cleverly paralleled with their son Sticks’ (Jacob Ward) coming-of-age journey, which is just as expected but tender as ever. 

Theirs is a tight-knit family that fights as much as they love, and watching them in a modest production like this isn't just feel apt but authentic and dear too, like an old family picture come to life.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Caryn Richman, Danny Garcia, Erik Griffin, Geoffrey Owens, J. C. MacKenzie, Jackson Pace, Jacob Ward, James Ciccone, Jennifer Esposito, Jennifer Simard, Joe Caniano, Jon Manfrellotti, June Gable, Karen Lynn Gorney, Katie Kreisler, Laurie Metcalf, Matt Romano, P. J. Byrne, Ray Romano, Sadie Stanley, Sebastian Maniscalco, Seth Barrish, Tony Lo Bianco

Director: Ray Romano

Rating: R

Directed by Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda, the Korean film Broker is a simple but tender story about chosen family. It follows Moon So-young (IU), a young mother who decides to drop her baby off at a church, seemingly for good. But when So-young decides to return for the child, she discovers that he’s been stolen by two brokers who’ve put the baby up for adoption on the black market. She joins them in the hopes of meeting her child’s prospective new parents (and staking a claim at the payment) but the more they spend time with each other, acting like a real family on the road as they do, the more it becomes real for her, and the more she feels conflicted about the decision she’s about to make.

As with any Hirokazu Koreeda film, Broker is an affecting, empathetic story that succeeds at humanizing its misunderstood cast of characters. Admittedly, it’s not the best Koreeda movie out there, even when the category is narrowed down to stories about found families (the best in that regard would be his 2018 film Shoplifters). And Koreeda fans will find Broker somewhat scrubbed and Disney-fied for a larger crowd, lacking the edge that his previous Japanese films had. But it is undeniably heartwarming and beautiful. The road trip setup allows the characters to build their rapport naturally, and the warm crisp tones capture the seabreeze ease of the film. Regardless of your view on Koreeda, Broker is well worth a watch.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama

Actor: Bae Doona, Baek Hyun-jin, Bek Hyun-jin, Choi Hee-jin, Choi Hui-jin, Gang Dong-won, IU, Kang Gil-woo, Kim Do-yeon, Kim Keum-soon, Kim Sae-byuk, Kim Sun-young, Kim Yae-eun, Lee Dong-hwi, Lee Joo-young, Lee Mu-saeng, Oh Hee-joon, Park Hae-jun, Park Kang-sup, Ryu Kyung-soo, Seong Yu-bin, Song Kang-ho, Song Sae-byuk

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Rye Lane knows it’s treading familiar ground by having its charming leads fall in love as they walk and talk their way through a beautiful city. So instead of experimenting on a tried-and-tested setup, it smartly focuses on specificity. It hones in on the characters’ Gen Z woes and cranks up the British references, giving itself character and charm for days. It also finds other ways to be inventive as it trades plot twists for bold editing and camerawork. Rye Lane is a refreshing entry into romcom cinema, but it is also obviously a big fan of it as it holds plenty of homages and subversions of the genre. This one is made for and by romcom fans, and it's always nice to see a modern love story set during our times.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alice Hewkin, Colin Firth, Delroy Brown, Gary Beadle, George Taylor, Karene Peter, Levi Roots, Llewella Gideon, Malcolm Atobrah, Marva Alexander, Munya Chawawa, Sandra Daley, Simon Manyonda, Vivian Oparah

Director: Raine Allen-Miller

Rating: R