22 Movies Like Tick tick...BOOM! (2021)

Staff & contributors
Orlando von Einsiedel's epic documentary is at once a stunning natural film, an intimate human drama, and an intense political thriller slash investigative report. The titular Virunga National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site in Eastern Congo, serves as the magnifying glass through which we witness the natural, human, and political crisis of this embattled and volatile region. There are poachers killing endangered gorillas, the bloody business of Big Oil companies, government forces fighting a myriad of militias, and, lastly, the three individuals struggling to protect Virunga and its mountain gorillas from death and destruction. The result is a snap-crackle-pop-type situation, like sitting on a powder keg. The film captures all this superbly with great editing, compelling real-life material, and gripping action. Virunga's intensity can rival a well-made fictional thriller any day of the week.

Genre: Documentary, War

Actor: André Bauma, Emmanuel de Merode, Mélanie Gouby, Orlando von Einsiedel, Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo

Director: Orlando von Einsiedel

Rating: Not Rated

Wise, superbly acted, and gorgeously put together, all of these apply to Nightmare Alley. In a world where remakes are more in vogue than needed, Guillermo del Toro shows us how it's done. A sumptuous tale of a man's rise and fall guarantees some spectatorial pleasure, but having both Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett in the same film (plus unsung genius Toni Collette and all-round-favorite Willem Dafoe) pushes us into talent overload, in the best possible way. In addition to its thrilling plot and studded cast, Nightmare Alley is also psychologically literate enough to make a carnival out of the human soul. It's no surprise that in 2022, it got four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture where it certainly would have had my vote.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Bill MacDonald, Bradley Cooper, Caleb Ellsworth-Clark, Calvin Desautels, Cate Blanchett, Charles Langille, Clifton Collins Jr., Clyde Whitham, Dan Lett, Daniel Falk, Danny Waugh, David Hewlett, David Strathairn, Dian Bachar, Holt McCallany, James Collins, Jesse Buck, Jim Beaver, Lara Jean Chorostecki, Mark Povinelli, Martin Julien, Mary Steenburgen, Natalie Brown, Paul Anderson, Perry Mucci, Peter MacNeill, Richard Jenkins, Romina Power, Ron Perlman, Rooney Mara, Stephen McHattie, Tim Blake Nelson, Tim Post, Toni Collette, Troy James, Willem Dafoe

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Rating: R

In Drive My Car, a widowed artist travels to Hiroshima for his latest production. There he meets a young woman enlisted to drive him around the area. They forge an unexpected bond and soon share pithy observations and long-buried secrets, which culminate in a touching scene of catharsis and forgiveness.

Not a lot is said in this three-hour film, but when words (and signals) are shared, they are always underlaid with simple but transcendent truths. Drive My Car is a gripping film that explores love and loss in its own quiet way, at once intense and intimate.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ahn Hwi-tae, Ahn Hwitae, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Jin Dae-yeon, Masaki Okada, Park Yu-rim, Perry Dizon, Reika Kirishima, Ryo Iwase, Satoko Abe, Shoichiro Tanigawa, Sonia Yuan, Toko Miura, Toshiaki Inomata

Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Rating: Unrated

The concepts of roads not taken and domino effects have received plenty of cinematic attention in their showier forms by way of multiverse comic book movies and dimension-hopping films like Everything Everywhere All At Once. But, though there’s no hint of sci-fi in Past Lives, Celine Song’s gentle film can count itself as one of the best treatments of that universe-spawning question: “what if?”

When her family moves from Seoul to Canada, teenage Na Young bids a loaded farewell to classmate Hae Sung and changes her name to Nora. Years later, they reconnect online and discover the spark still burns between them. This is no idealistic romance, though: Past Lives is told with sober candor. Song acknowledges real obstacles standing in the way of a relationship between the two — those pragmatic (distance) and, more painfully, personal (evolving personalities, American husbands).

Those two threads — unrealized romance and the transmutation of identity that so often takes place after migrating — are expertly entwined in Past Lives to produce a sublime, aching meditation on memory and time, practical love and idealistic romance, and all the complex contradictions that exist in between. That Song communicates so much and so delicately in only her first film makes Past Lives all the more stunning.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: An Min-yeong, Chase Sui Wonders, Choi Won-young, Emily Cass McDonnell, Greta Lee, Hwang Seung-eon, Isaac Powell, John Magaro, Jojo T. Gibbs, Kristen Sieh, Moon Seung-a, Moon Seung-ah, Teo Yoo, Yim Seung-min, Yoon Ji-hye

Director: Celine Song

Rating: PG-13

Summer of Soul would already be remarkable if it was just a collection of some of the greatest live performances ever put to film. Boasting a roster that includes Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight, and Sly and the Family Stone, the nearly-forgotten 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival featured in the documentary was an all-star catalog of some of the biggest names in popular music, all at pivotal moments in their careers. Seeing them at the height of their powers, in front of a Black audience that meant so much to them, makes for an unexpectedly emotional experience.

But Summer of Soul also expands beyond the actual concert, using the Harlem Cultural Festival to represent a turning point in Black culture and history, especially after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. Through the film's pristine, electric editing and gorgeous archival restoration, music becomes a communal act of mourning, a rallying cry to face the uncertain future, and a celebration of a people and a heritage continuing to fight against erasure and persecution.

Genre: Documentary, Drama, History, Music

Actor: Abbey Lincoln, B. B. King, Chris Rock, David Ruffin, Fidel Castro, Hugh Masekela, Jesse Jackson, John F. Kennedy, John V. Lindsay, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mahalia Jackson, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Mavis Staples, Max Roach, Moms Mabley, Nina Simone, Questlove, Redd Foxx, Richard Nixon, Robert F. Kennedy, Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder, Walter Cronkite

Director: Questlove

, 2021

Celebrated Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s latest movie is about Rahim, a man who is in jail because he was unable to repay a debt. He gets a temporary release from prison, and with a big smile on his face, he leaves his confinement with a plan not to come back.

His secret girlfriend hands him a pack of gold coins, which they plan to sell to repay the creditor. But, as is custom with Farhadi’s movies, the center of the story is a moral dilemma that comes from one of the characters trying to be a good person. The gold coins are not Rahim’s or his girlfriend’s, but it's life-changing for both of them. 

Selected as Iran's official submission to the Oscars. 

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Amir Jadidi, Ehsan Goodarzi, Fereshteh Sadr Orafaee, Mohsen Tanabande, Sarina Farhadi

Director: Asghar Farhadi

This Oscar-nominated drama tells the story of the events leading up to the Srebrenica massacre, in which 8372 Bosnian Muslims were killed. It focuses on one U.N. worker who was caught between trying to protect her family, herself, and helping people in need.

The film is as horrific as it is relevant: up until the actual killing starts, people are constantly being assured that everything is under control and that there is no reason to panic. This gives an eerie feeling of resemblance to the tone many minorities in distress receive nowadays.

Still, Quo Vadis, Aida? stops at depicting any of the acts that were committed that day. Instead, it focuses on Aida’s unrelenting race against the clock to save whatever she can.

Genre: Drama, History, War

Actor: Alban Ukaj, Boris Isaković, Boris Ler, Emina Muftić, Emir Hadžihafizbegović, Ermin Bravo, Ermin Sijamija, Izudin Bajrović, Jasna Đuričić, Job Raaijmakers, Joes Brauers, Johan Heldenbergh, Juda Goslinga, Micha Hulshof, Raymond Thiry, Reinout Bussemaker, Rijad Gvozden, Sanne den Hartogh, Sol Vinken, Teun Luijkx

Director: Jasmila Žbanić

Andrew Garfield is a single father living with his own single mother in their family home. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, they find themselves evicted from their home by a businessman - Michael Shannon in a role as intriguing as Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, if not more. Desperate for work, Garfield’s character starts working for the same businessman, ultimately evicting other people. A star-packed, gritty and sobering tale on capitalism and our the lengths to which we’re ready to go to save face - while at the same time risking our most important relationships.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Andrew Garfield, Ann Mahoney, Carl Palmer, Clancy Brown, Cullen Moss, Cynthia LeBlanc, David Maldonado, Deneen Tyler, Don Brady, Donna DuPlantier, Elton LeBlanc, Garrett Kruithof, Gretchen Koerner, Gus Rhodes, J.D. Evermore, Jayson Warner Smith, Jeff Pope, John L. Armijo, Jonathan Tabler, Joni Bovill, Juan Gaspard, Judd Lormand, Kerry Sims, Laura Dern, Liann Pattison, Luke Sexton, Manu Narayan, Michael Shannon, Michelle DeVito, Nicole Barré, Noah Lomax, Patrick Kearns, Randy Austin, Richard Holden, Robert Larriviere, Tim Guinee, Tom Bui, Wayne Pére, Yvonne Landry

Director: Ramin Bahrani

The culture of propaganda and cover-ups that kicked off the pandemic is the subject of this compelling documentary by award-winning director Nanfu Wang (One Child Nation). Wang, who traveled with her family to China in January 2020, saw and filmed the pandemic firsthand, and wrote to major newspapers like The New York Times to convince them to write about it. They never did. 

Media and government in both China and the U.S. played down the threat, and this documentary asks how different everything would have gone otherwise. More dauntingly, it's an examination of how the Communist Party in China managed to use the event to its advantage. 

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Director: Nanfu Wang

Belfast stars Outlander’s Caitríona Balfe as the mother of a working-class Northern Irish family during The Troubles. Religious tension and the lack of opportunities put the family in a difficult position: they're the first in many generations to think about leaving the city of Belfast. They all have to navigate so many difficult questions on belonging, religion, and identity.

The story,  based on the director’s own childhood, is packaged in a noise-canceling black and white format. Also stars Judi Dench.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Bríd Brennan, Caitriona Balfe, Ciarán Hinds, Colin Morgan, Conor MacNeill, Elly Condron, Gerard Horan, Gerard McCarthy, Jamie Dornan, John Sessions, Josie Walker, Jude Hill, Judi Dench, Lara McDonnell, Mairéad Tyers, Mark Hadfield, Michael Maloney, Olive Tennant, Oliver Savell, Orla McDonagh, Sid Sagar, Turlough Convery, Vanessa Ifediora, Victor Alli

Director: Kenneth Branagh

The Hand of God is the autobiographical movie from Paolo Sarrantino, the director of the 2013 masterpiece The Great Beauty. He recently also directed The Young Pope with Jude Law and Youth Paul Dano, both in English. He is back to his home Italy with this one. 

More precisely, he’s in his hometown Naples, in the 1980s, where awkward teenager Fabietto Schisa’s life is about to change: his city’s soccer team Napoli is buying the biggest footballer at the time, Diego Maradona.

Sarrantino, who is also from Naples, made this movie that is half a tribute to the city and half to what it meant growing up around the legend of Maradona.

The Hand of God is to Sarrantino what Roma was to Alfonso Cuarón, except it’s more vulgar, fun, and excessive. It is equally as personal though, and it goes from comedy to tragedy and back with unmatched ease.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alessandro Bressanello, Betti Pedrazzi, Birte Berg, Cristiana Dell'Anna, Daniele Vicorito, Dora Romano, Enzo De Caro, Filippo Scotti, Lino Musella, Luisa Ranieri, Marina Viro, Marlon Joubert, Massimiliano Gallo, Monica Nappo, Renato Carpentieri, Sofya Gershevich, Teresa Saponangelo, Toni Servillo

Director: Paolo Sorrentino

If Steven Spielberg had just decided to do a straightforward cover version of West Side Story, it still would have been a wonder of music, movement, and color. But more than the lush camerawork and impassioned performances from Rachel Zegler, Mike Faist, and Oscar winner Ariana DeBose, this adaptation is most memorable for its renewed focus on the senselessness of its central turf war. Here, New York City exercises absolute power over the Jets and the Sharks, rendering all this gang violence as a futile attempt to hold on to outdated values in the face of economic desolation. Spielberg might not be able to do much about the story's weaker Romeo and Juliet-inspired parts, but he still finds a way to let this often ridiculed tragic romance serve a greater purpose.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Music, Romance

Actor: Ana Isabelle, Andrea Burns, Andy Powers, Annelise Cepero, Ansel Elgort, Ariana DeBose, Ben Cook, Bert Michaels, Brian d'Arcy James, Chryssie Whitehead, Corey Stoll, Curtiss Cook, David Alvarez, David Guzman, Denia Brache, iris menas, Jamie Harris, Jamila Velazquez, Jeff Ward, Joe Lanza, José Ramón Rosario, Josh Andrés Rivera, Kevin Csolak, Kyle Allen, Maddie Ziegler, Mike Faist, Mike Massimino, Myles Erlick, Nadia Quinn, Paloma Garcia-Lee, Patrick Noonan, Paul Niebanck, Rachel Zegler, Rene Ojeda, Ricky Garcia, Rita Moreno, Ryan Woodle, Shade Rupe, Talia Ryder, Victor Cruz, Yassmin Alers

Director: Steven Spielberg

The Last Duel propped high expectations as the Closing Film at the 2021 Venice Film Festival, but its theatrical release later that year proved to be a flop. Ridley Scott blamed it on millennials, but both critics and streaming audiences have been much more favorable than moviegoers. As a film, it's a rather monumental project: quite a dark period piece set in Medieval France, dealing with harsh and offensive themes. Or better said, it deals with ethics and morality through these harsh and offensive themes. There are many ways where this could have gotten wrong—and it's evident from the labels that have been circulating from the very beginning, that Scott has made his "MeToo" movie—but the truth is much more nuanced. From Eric Jager's 2004 book to a script co-written by Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and (most importantly) the astute Nicole Holofcener, The Last Duel is really the best of both worlds: action-packed and devoted to the right side of history.

Genre: Action, Drama, History

Actor: Adam Driver, Adam Nagaitis, Alex Lawther, Ben Affleck, Bosco Hogan, Brontis Jodorowsky, Bryony Hannah, Caoimhe O'Malley, Chloe Harris, Christian Erickson, Clare Dunne, Clive Russell, Harriet Walter, Ian Pirie, Jodie Comer, John Kavanagh, Julian Firth, Marton Csokas, Matt Damon, Michael McElhatton, Nathaniel Parker, Oliver Cotton, Paul Bandey, Peter Hudson, Sam Hazeldine, Serena Kennedy, Shane Lynch, Simone Collins, Tallulah Haddon, Thomas Silberstein, Tyrone Kearns, William Houston, Zeljko Ivanek, Zoé Bruneau

Director: Ridley Scott

Rating: R

Even if you aren't familiar with the original, Tony Award-winning Broadway production from Lin-Manuel Miranda, this adaptation of In the Heights is still infused with the same infectious energy and loaded with many of the same eclectic songs. This is musical theater at its most fundamental (cheesy, us-against-the-world romance; unstoppable optimism) and also at some of its most unique—with old-school Broadway numbers mixing seamlessly with hip hop, Latin dance, and cheery 2000s pop. But beyond its music, In the Heights offers a gorgeous tapestry of stories about life in a proud immigrant community and the challenges of staying rooted to home while reaching for the stars.

Genre: Drama, Family, Music, Romance

Actor: Anthony Ramos, Ariana Greenblatt, Christopher Jackson, Corey Hawkins, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Dascha Polanco, Dean Scott Vazquez, Gregory Diaz IV, Javier Muñoz, Jimmy Smits, Leslie Grace, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Marc Anthony, Mateo Gómez, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz, Olivia Perez, Patrick Page, Ryan Woodle, Seth Stewart, Stephanie Beatriz, Susan Pourfar, The Kid Mero, Valentina

Director: Jon M. Chu

There’s a scene early in the documentary when present-day Michael J. Fox, who famously suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, swaggers along a street and greets a fan, only to stumble at that very moment and have people surround him with concern. Instead of giving into their pity or pretending nothing happened, he cooly tells the fan, “It was so nice meeting you, you knocked me off of my feet!” 

This brief moment tells you all you need to know about the ‘80s icon—Fox refuses to be a victim. Still is his brilliant and admirable attempt at telling his well-known story on his own terms. It covers everything from his childhood and early work in Hollywood to his life-changing roles in Family Ties, Teen Wolf, and most memorably, Back to the Future. It also sheds light on Fox's life as a husband, father, and Parkinson's sufferer. Director Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) does a genius job of using faceless reenactments and cuts from films and TV shows to accompany Fox’s narration, which pumps the film with a dynamism that matches Fox’s resilient spirit. 

Urgent, clever, and exciting, Still is one of the rare celebrity biographies that serves a higher purpose than just recounting a famous person's life. Anyone who understands the importance of constantly moving and evolving will appreciate this film's existence. 

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Christopher Lloyd, Crispin Glover, David Letterman, Donna Lysell, Eric Stoltz, Gary David Goldberg, Gene Siskel, Hannah Galway, Jason Calder, Jay Leno, Johnny Carson, Justine Bateman, Larry David, Meredith Baxter, Michael J. Fox, Michael McDonald, Muhammad Ali, Rick Pearce, Robert Zemeckis, Roger Ebert, Shayn Walker, Siobhan Murphy, Steven Spielberg, Thomas F. Wilson, Tracy Pollan, Woody Harrelson

Director: Davis Guggenheim