11 Movies Like The Little Things (2021)

Staff & contributors
Koreeda's troubled childhood often serves as the inspiration for his poignant Japanese dramas that deal with loss, the meaning of being a child, and of being parent. In Like Father, Like Son, Ryota Nonomiya (Masaharu Fukuyama), a hard-working architect, who is married to his work, comes home from work. He receives a call from the hospital where his son Keita was born and learns that he was switched at birth with their biological son Ryūsei. His wife and him are not only faced with the prospect of having to switch the two six-year-olds back, but also with the rickety family his 'real' son grew up in—and his aversion to what they stand for. But who is real and who isn't? Must they be switched back? The age-old question of nature vs. nurture and the relationship of love and biology is at the heart of the parent's struggle. As always with Koreeda's works, the result is soft-spoken, sensitive, and symphonically directed. Winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes.

Genre: Drama, Family

Actor: Arata Iura, Hana Kino, Hiroshi Ôkôchi, Ichirō Ogura, Isao Natsuyagi, Jun Fubuki, Jun Kunimura, Kazuaki Shimizu, Kazuya Takahashi, Keiji Nakazawa, Keita Ninomiya, Ken Ochiai, Kirin Kiki, Kōichi Kitamura, Lily Franky, Machiko Ono, Maki Yoko, Masaharu Fukuyama, Megumi Morisaki, Meguri Hiroo, Natsuki Inaba, Pierre Taki, Rina Endou, Sasaki Masakazu, Shogen Hwang, Tetsushi Tanaka, Tomomitsu Adachi, Tomoya Nakamura, Yamamoto Shuri, Yo Yoshida, Yoh Yoshida, Yôko Maki, Yuji Yoshimasu, Yujiro Komura, Yuri Nakamura, 福山雅治

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda, Hirokazu Koreeda

Rating: Not Rated

One of the most thrilling biographical films to come out of Hollywood in the 2020s, Shaka King's exhilarating take on a truly remarkable leader within the Black Panther Party—and the young man who would eventually be twisted into betraying him—also provides a respectful, honest space to voice out progressive views that still aren't fully embraced in the United States. Much of the film is made up of beautiful, powerful rhetoric, contrasting in fascinating ways with scenes of violence or deception that only remind us how ahead-of-his-time chairman Fred Hampton was and still is. And in a thunderous, Oscar-winning performance, Daniel Kaluuya brings all of Hampton's words roaring to life while still reminding us of how tragically young this inspirational figure was at the time of his death.

But Judas and the Black Messiah tells an equally powerful second story over this one: that of FBI informant William O'Neal who reluctantly agrees to sell Hampton to the feds, and quickly realizes that he's been scammed too. Rivaling—and, arguably, besting—Kaluuya's performance is LaKeith Stanfield, whose tortured and increasingly despairing performance as O'Neal is the stuff of pure Shakespearean drama. Together, both stories ask us what real freedom looks like, and that we believe we can still fight for it.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Algee Smith, Amari Cheatom, Amber Chardae Robinson, Ashton Sanders, Caleb Eberhardt, Chris Hahn, Daniel Kaluuya, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Dominique Fishback, Dominique Thorne, Graham Lutes, Ian Duff, Ikechukwu Ufomadu, James Udom, Jermaine Fowler, Jesse Plemons, Khris Davis, Lakeith Stanfield, Lil Rel Howery, Linda D Gaines, Martin Sheen, Nicholas Velez, Nick Fink, Raymond Seay, Robert Longstreet, Terayle Hill

Director: Shaka King

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, Herbie Mann, 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, Tony Lawrence, Walter Cronkite

Director: Questlove

Two elderly gay men, Pak and Hoi, start a secret relationship during their twilight years. The catch: Pak is married and both are, well, old. Beneath their shared moments of tenderness, there is an undercurrent that the romance is ultimately futile, their remaining years too short to start life anew. Yet at the same time, director Ray Yeung uses the protagonists’ old age as justification for their love affair. Having dedicated their entire lives to their families and loved ones, romance is presented as a rewarding experience indicative of queer freedom, no matter how ill-fated or short-lived it might be.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Ben Yuen, Ben Yuen Foo-Wa, Ben Yuen Foo-Wah, Kong To, Lam Yiu-Sing, Lo Chun Yip, Patra Au Ga-Man, Tai Bo, Yuk-Guen Tsang

Director: Ray Yeung

Featuring real, in-the-moment footage of operations to rescue young queer individuals from the continuing anti-gay purges in the Chechen Republic, Welcome to Chechnya makes for a demanding but essential call to action. There's a genuine sense of fear that pervades the documentary, not just for those being rescued after being forcibly outed, beaten, and trapped by the people around them, but for the filmmakers themselves, whose operations are built on meager resources and desperate, spur-of-the-moment decisions. It's a remarkably courageous film—one that also presents new ways of keeping sensitive subjects safe through the thoughtful use of deepfake technology, keeping their identities hidden while allowing them to freely express themselves.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Ramzan Kadyrov, Vladimir Putin, Zelim Bakaev

Director: David France

This lovely comedy-romance from Ireland is about a closeted gay teen and his lesbian schoolmate who pretend to be in a relationship to avoid being bullied at their school.

This premise makes Dating Amber an original story in a genre in which that's increasingly rare. This is added to the setting, in 1995 rural Ireland, which is executed to gorgeous perfection in everything from the clothes to the music. 

Dating Amber ends up being more coming-of-age than a comedy-romance. It's a tale of friendship and self-acceptance.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Adam Carolan, Ally Ni Chiarain, Anastasia Blake, Andrew Bennett, Arian Nik, Art Campion, Barry Ward, Corey Millar, Emma Willis, Eva O'Connor, Evan O'Connor, Fionn O'Shea, Fionn O'Shea, Ian O'Reilly, Ian O'Reilly, Jonny Woo, Karl Rice, Lauryn Canny, Lola Petticrew, Peter Campion, Sharon Horgan, Shauna Higgins, Simone Kirby, Tara Flynn

Director: David Freyne

In The Kid Detective, Adam Brody stars as Abe Applebaum, a once-beloved child prodigy turned pathetic P.I. stuck in the glory days of his past. At 32 years old, he’s still solving petty mysteries and coasting on his parents’ money, but things start to change when he is finally dealt with a real, adult case: a murder that confounds even the local police. As Abe uncovers more details about the case, he also unwittingly finds a connection to his traumatic past and begins a long-overdue coming-of-age journey. 

Released during the first year of the pandemic, The Kid Detective understandably flew under the radar when it first came out, garnering sufficient critical praise but not enough fanfare. It will no doubt find a second life among film lovers, though; it’s too smart and riveting to go unnoticed. Most impressive is how director Evan Morgan, in his feature debut, deftly balances multiple genres in a movie that often feels as if Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums, Roman Polanski's Chinatown, and modern stoner humor were somehow rolled into one. The gags consistently amuse, the drawn-out mysteries pay off, and the human element persists throughout. Adam Brody, himself a kid celebrity back in the day, expertly carries this delightful and sobering film. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Mystery

Actor: Adam Brody, Alan Catlin, Alicia Brand, Amalia Williamson, Avery Esteves, Barbara Rajnovich, Bethanie Ho, Brent Skagford, Bruce McFee, Dallas Edwards, David Rosser, Deborah Tennant, Devin Myler, Giovanna Moore, Isaac Kragten, Jake Bell-Webster, Jesse Noah Gruman, Jonathan Whittaker, Kaitlyn Chalmers-Rizzato, Kaleb Horn, Kevin Hoffman, Kira Gelineau, Lisa Truong, Marcia Bennett, Marcus Zane, Marlaina Andre, Maurice Dean Wint, Peter MacNeill, Sarah Sutherland, Sharon Crandall, Sophia Webster, Sophie Nélisse, Sophie Nélisse, Steve Gagne, Tracy Rowland, Tyler Duke, Tzi Ma, Wayne St-George, Wendy Crewson

Director: Evan Morgan

Rating: R

, 2021

Palmer may not be treading new ground, but it does tackle relevant themes with impressive sensitivity. With Palmer (Justin Timberlake), it reveals the stigma that haunts ex-convicts well after they’ve redeemed themselves. And with Sam (a charming Ryder Allen), it brings to light the heartbreaking and often dangerous bigotry queer children face. These are heavy issues, but Palmer takes them on with the utmost care and compassion. Though it reads cheesy at times, the sweetness is a welcome note considering the more tragic turns narratives like this tend to take. Empathetic and hopeful, Palmer is a pleasant enough film about second chances and found families.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alisha Wainwright, Carson Minniear, Charmin Lee, Craig Sheffer, Dane Rhodes, Dean Winters, Fisher Stevens, Hero Hunter, J.D. Evermore, Jake Brennan, Jesse C. Boyd, June Squibb, Juno Temple, Justin Timberlake, Lance E. Nichols, Molly Sue Harrison, Nicholas X. Parsons, Ray Gaspard, Ryder Allen, Stacie Davis, Stephen Louis Grush, Theodus Crane, Wynn Everett

Director: Fisher Stevens

Rating: R

Dakota Johnson and Casey Affleck star in this comedy-drama as a small-town couple, one of whom gets diagnosed with a terminal illness. Their best friend (Jason Segel) puts his life on hold and moves in with them, picking up the husband when he faints at the hospital, shaving his head in solidarity with the wife, and even taking care of the dog who also gets sick.

It might seem like just another terminal illness drama, but Our Friend is based on a true story, and it’s as much about the illness as it is about how to be there for people, and reversely, the power of people being there for you.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Ahna O'Reilly, Azita Ghanizada, Casey Affleck, Chandler Head, Cherry Jones, Dakota Johnson, Denée Benton, Gerald Brodin, Gwendoline Christie, Hali Everette, Isabella Kai, Jacinte Blankenship, Jake Owen, Jason Bayle, Jason Segel, Jennifer Pierce Mathus, Jeronimo Spinx, John McConnell, Lindsey Reimann, Marielle Scott, Mark Costello, Michael Papajohn, Mike Lutz, Paige King, Reed Diamond, Richard Speight Jr., Ritchie Montgomery, Sampley Barinaga, Susan Williams, T.C. Matherne, Violet McGraw

Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite

The Dig is a reliable telling of an archaeological expedition. The setting is Britain in World War II, and a widow (played by Carey Mulligan) hires an archaeologist (played by Ralph Fiennes) to dig through her estate where a historic discovery is waiting to be found. The biggest thrills are a conflict regarding control of the land and its treasures, and an affair that blossoms within the archaeological team.

The film’s cadence is akin to that of a weary traveler sharing a fascinating tale, with each frame lit softly and beautifully. No twist or surprise appears as you turn the corner — you’re merely beckoned to uncover the past amidst a tumultuous, wartime present. Director Simon Stone has capable hands and Mulligan and Fiennes as the leads — supported by a cast that includes the charming Lily James — tick all the British, repressed, stiff upper lip boxes. All, in varying juicy degrees, exhibit an emotional undercurrent befitting the film’s subtle dramatic tension. Those seeking more insight into those undercurrents will come away sorely disappointed, however, as the well-tempered nature of the film keeps it mild and tasteful.

Though it’s not as compelling as it could have been, The Dig is, by all accounts, a lovely film.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Archie Barnes, Arsher Ali, Ben Chaplin, Bronwyn James, Carey Mulligan, Christopher Godwin, Danny Webb, Eamon Farren, Ellie Piercy, Jack Bennett, James Dryden, Joe Hurst, John Macmillan, Johnny Flynn, Jonah Rzeskiewicz, Ken Stott, Lily James, Monica Dolan, Paul Ready, Peter McDonald, Ralph Fiennes, Robert Wilfort

Director: Simon Stone

The movie follows Martha (Vanessa Kirby), a young wife who loses her baby in a failed home birth. She tries her best to trudge through the aftermath of loss, but her coping attempts prove to be near impossible, not least because her husband Sean (Shia LaBeouf) and mother Liz (Ellen Burstyn) continually domineer every aspect of her life.

Pieces of a Woman is harrowing and heartbreaking, with the actors giving their all in this realistic and revealing drama. But it's Kirby's performance as the unraveled yet apathetic Martha that is the film's immediate standout, rightfully earning her a Best Actress nomination at the 2021 Academy Awards.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alain Dahan, Benny Safdie, Domenic Di Rosa, Ellen Burstyn, Frank Schorpion, Gayle Garfinkle, Harry Standjofski, Harry Strandjofski, Iliza Shlesinger, Jimmie Fails, Leisa Reid, Molly Parker, Sarah Snook, Sean Tucker, Shia LaBeouf, Steven McCarthy, Tyrone Benskin, Vanessa Kirby, Vanessa Smythe

Director: Kornél Mundruczó, Kornél Mundruczó

Rating: R