17 Movies Like Vanquish (2021)

Staff & contributors
After you've watched a few films by Hong Sang-soo, you should know the general outline of what to expect: long, unbroken shots of long, unbroken conversations between characters (who are probably drinking alcohol), with very minimal movement on screen, a few recurring character types, and probably actress Kim Min-hee. But where a number of Hong's films tend to make excuses for its burdened, self-righteous artist characters, The Novelist's Film expresses not just a self-awareness of Hong's usual perspective but a sincere willingness to imagine something beyond himself. With one of the strongest screenplays he's had in a long time, unexpected new touches to his usual style, and a powerful lead performance by Lee Hye-young, the film manages to infuse a newfound sense of vitality and vulnerable emotion into tis familiar beats. There's plenty of humor and light tension to be found in the film's many conversations about the purpose of art—boiling things down to the most foundational reasons for why we make and respond to creative works in the first place. Whether you're a longterm fan or longterm skeptic of Hong's work, The Novelist's Film adds something undeniably new to his oeuvre.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Gi Ju-bong, Kim Min-hee, Kwon Hae-hyo, Lee Hye-young, Park Mi-so, Seo Young-hwa

Director: Hong Sang-soo

Rating: NR

To plenty of countries around the globe, democracy has become so ubiquitous that we forget it’s relatively new, at least relative to the rest of human history. Bhutan is one of the last countries that became a democracy, and writer-director Pawo Choyning Dorji chose to depict a slice of how they made the shift in The Monk and the Gun. As Tashi sets out to obtain two weapons for his mentor, and Ron seeks a specific antique gun, Dorji presents slice-of-life moments of the beautiful Bhutan countryside, intercut with the subtle ways tradition still persists amidst modernity, and the funny ways change can clash with culture. It’s no wonder The Monk and the Gun was chosen as the Bhutanese entry for the Best International Feature at the 96th Academy Awards.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Choeying Jatsho, Deki Lhamo, Pema Zangmo Sherpa, Tandin Sonam, Tandin Wangchuk

Director: Pawo Choyning Dorji

Many comedians use humor as a way to ease into more serious subject matter, though there always exists a risk that a comedy special can skew too far down the silly or the self-reflective route. Mike Birbiglia has come about as close to the perfect balance as possible, in this recording of his one-man Broadway show at the Vivian Beaumont Theater. Key to this is the fact that Birbiglia tells one very cohesive story throughout these 77 minutes, frequently branching off to other humorous anecdotes but always returning with a pensive self-consciousness to the real possibility of him dying sooner than he'd want.

This filmed version of Birbiglia's show doesn't give a full idea of its multimedia qualities (Birbiglia occasionally has words and images projected onto the curved screen behind him, which he also physically interacts with), but the comedian's sincere style of storytelling more than makes up for the lack of audiovisual tricks we're permitted to see. And don't get it confused: this is a very funny stand-up special, whose jokes always come from the most unexpected places—it also just happens to contain some truly moving moments that come out of nowhere, but make total sense alongside all the laughter.

Genre: Comedy

Actor: Mike Birbiglia

Director: Seth Barrish

Rating: PG-13

When your dad is single, and he isn’t in a relationship with someone else, naturally, a kid would wonder about their real biological mother. Hi Nanna is a take on this familiar tale, though Shouryuv’s directorial debut makes it feel brand new by telling the love story in a way a father would tell his daughter– mindful of the audience, so slightly embellished, but no less sweet. By doing so, it makes the viewers yearn for the lost love before raising our hopes and revealing the possibility of getting it back, especially with the natural chemistry of Nani and the striking Mrunal Thakur.

Genre: Drama, Family, Romance

Actor: Angad Bedi, Baby Kiara Khanna, Jayaram, Mrunal Thakur, Nani, Nassar, Neha Sharma, Priyadarshi Pullikonda, Shilpa Tulaskar, Shruti Haasan

Director: Shouryuv

If you’re familiar with the upscale Chinese restaurant chain owner, or that Chinese boy in old 60s British films, or with his paintings, Aka Mr. Chow might surprise you because they’re one and the same. Born with two names, Zhou Yinghua and Michael Chow, Mr. Chow is just so cool that telling his life story is already interesting. From the tough immigrant experience, living alone as a boy, to his current worldwide success in film, food, and painting, it’s interesting to know that it’s possible. But the documentary dives into it, using the film medium to mirror his own creative style and artistic sensibilities. The film is able to link each of his opinions, not just with his life, but also with the historic changes in his home country. It’s an intriguing approach, if a bit superficial in certain areas, but it’s very entertaining.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Brian Grazer, Cecilia Zhou, China Chow, Ed Ruscha, Fran Lebowitz, Julian Schnabel, Maximillian Chow, Peter Blake

Director: Nick Hooker

Written like a stage play, directed like the viewer is a fly on the wall, and shot with a love for deep shadows and warm candlelight, Flowers of Shanghai is about as immersive a chamber drama as one could ask for. Having most of the "action" take place off screen, director Hou Hsiao-hsien draws our eye instead to how his characters (including one played by an exceptionally stoic Tony Leung) continue to negotiate for their own freedom against patriarchal norms, pushing against cultural notions of proper decorum. It's a film brimming with repressed emotion, but without ever raising its voice. The vibes, as the kids say, are immaculate.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Annie Shizuka Inoh, Carina Lau, Jack Kao, Michelle Reis, Michiko Hada, Moon Wang, Pauline Chan, Rebecca Pan, Stephanie Fong Shuan, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Vicky Wei

Director: Hou Hsiao-hsien

Sophia Castuera's first feature after two indie shorts seems like a low-key affair, but it fits neatly into a canon of post-mumblecore, or a Gen Z mumblecore. It features a fumbling protagonist named Cal and played by Ali Edwards (who also wrote the script), a wanna-be actress fresh out of college who finds herself stuck between two people. Not just any people, but her childhood best friend Jay and his long-term girlfriend Emily. August at Twenty Two queers the love triangle trope and makes the most of the characters' anxieties, their hopes, and awkward daily sacrifices to climb up into each other's good books. Appearances are key, of course, since everyone's delightfully immature. The good thing is that the film knows all this very well and even sneaks a post-ironic hint or two. That said, its self-assurance is also its Achilles heel: you cannot convince me that twenty two year olds would call each other often enough to have voicemail. 

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Adrian Burke, Ali Edwards, Clay Singer, Jorge Felipe Guevara, Lilli Kay, Mia Rose Kavensky

Director: Sophia Castuera

, 2021

Though it only really serves as a recounting of events from 1971 rather than a much thorough analysis, Attica is a great example of that type of documentary that can be incredibly difficult to pull off well: that is, the archival documentary mainly told with already existing material. Thanks to plenty of detail (and the good instinct to know how to deploy these details), this documentary avoids feeling like a mere history lesson and begins to feel almost as dramatic as a radio play. And the film knows better than to be detached from its subject; it makes sure to characterize the inmates of Attica as an intelligent, passionate group that set aside their differences to stand up for their rights—and were summarily punished for it.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Clarence Jones, Elizabeth Gaynes, Herman Schwartz, James Asbury, John Johnson, Nelson Rockefeller, Richard Nixon

Director: Stanley Nelson, Traci A. Curry

Although limited by the timeframe in which it was released—that is, before its characters really got to finish organizing themselves in response to the film's subject matter—Aftershock still provides a detailed primer on the ways the American healthcare system has been manipulated to take advantage of the underprivileged. The documentary can get technical but since it grounds its reporting on two tragic stories of preventable loss, there's more than enough reason to pay full attention. It definitely isn't meant to answer every question about pregnancy care, but it definitely compels deeper inquiry into the ways we've been socialized into perceiving romantic notions about childbirth.

Genre: Documentary

Director: Paula Eiselt, Tonya Lewis Lee

The latest installment in Netflix'S “Unknown” docuseries, Unknown: Killer Robots puts the evolution of artificial intelligence under an ethical microscope. Although the title could be misleading, it does cover the possible dangerous applications of AI as it forces us to question the growing divide between human morality and machine efficiency. With advances in war and medicinal applications, the capabilities of AI to heal, save and destroy are terrifying and awe-inspiring in equal measure. Like the previous films in the series, it is hyper-concentrated to an almost-stifling degree, but it’s also powered by the passionate subjects on either side of these advancements. Forgoing sensationalism, this digestible documentary questions intention over the technology itself. 

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Director: Jesse Sweet

Visual artist Ann Oren's first foray into feature-length filmmaking is a sensual delight and a gift that keeps on giving. Oren approaches her film with sincere dedication to every single building block: Piaffe looks, sounds, and feels sensational while being a fairly modest production. A true indie film, Piaffe verges on experimentation as a young woman named Eva (Simone Bucio) takes over the job of a foley artist from her sister. Even though she's under-qualified, she tries her best t0 come up with the sounds for a horse-themed commercial to no avail. However, in the process, she notices a bump on her lower back that grows into a horse's tail. Piaffe is a tale of metamorphosis, not only of the flesh, but also of the heart, as the themes it explores are also directly related to sexuality, submission, and, of course, love as a manifestation of all those things.

Genre: Thriller

Actor: Bjørn Melhus, Josef Ostendorf, Lea Draeger, Nico Ehrenteit, Sebastian Rudolph, Simon(è) Jaikiriuma Paetau, Simone Bucio, Tristan Bumm

Director: Ann Oren

You don’t come into a Tyler Perry movie expecting to be dazzled, but you do expect to be entertained. Mea Culpa evokes neither of those feelings, at least not in the first half of the film. Between the predictable plot and Rhodes’ bewilderingly flat performance, it’s a mighty challenge to stay awake. Rhodes is, of course, the lead in the award-winning film Moonlight, where he gave a soulful and lived-in performance. So it doesn’t make sense why, in Mea Culpa, despite playing a perennially horny man, he’s as exciting to watch as paint dry. We’re supposed to believe that his charisma (or lack thereof) seduces Rowland’s character, but there’s no chemistry to be found. For her part, Rowland is a delight to watch. The many turns she experiences fit her range, and she is effectively the heart of the film. Mea Culpa, to be fair, revs up and gets thrilling by the second half, when the chips start to fall and the twists unfold. But it’s too little too late, and they barely shock you at that point, that is if you’re still awake.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Angela Robinson, Connor Weil, Kelly Rowland, Kerry O'Malley, Nick Sagar, RonReaco Lee, Sean Sagar, Shannon Thornton, Trevante Rhodes

Director: Tyler Perry

Rating: R

In Love and Deep Water is torn between multiple concepts. There’s a murder, sure, and a butler trying to figure out who’s the killer, but there also happens to be a romance plot where the same butler falls in love with the passenger that informs him of their partners’ infidelity. The film also tries to squeeze in comedy with the way the killers try to hide the dead body, the ridiculousness of some passengers, and cheeky but contextless commentary. While the romance is lovely, In Love and Deep Water isn’t the fun and chaotic murder mystery promised, as it drowns itself with interesting ideas that never really fully pans out.

Genre: Comedy, Mystery, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Airi Matsui, Aju Makita, Amane Okayama, Aoi Miyazaki, Hatsunori Hasegawa, Hidekazu Mashima, Ken Mitsuishi, Ken Yasuda, Kento Nagayama, Nahana, Rinko Kikuchi, Ryo Yoshizawa, Saki Takaoka, Takashi Okabe, Tomu Miyazaki, Yoh Yoshida, Yoshimasa Kondô, Yuki Izumisawa

Director: Yusuke Taki

Rating: R, TV-MA

Based on the novel by Women Talking author Miriam Toews, this adaptation of All My Puny Sorrows holds clear reverence for its source material but falls short of making a case for its existence as a film. Toews's prose—significant parts of which writer/director Michael McGowan has kept intact in the dialogue—may be appropriate for a book that allows full internal access to its narrator, but on film her words come across as overly articulate and artificial, even if they speak beautiful, harsh truths about grief. And without a defined visual identity or proper flow of ideas to back up its admittedly complex characters (played with authentic tenderness and force by Alison Pill, Sarah Gadon, and Mare Winningham), the film ends up stuck in its own darkness, unable to give a proper form to all its thoughts.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alison Pill, Aly Mawji, Amybeth McNulty, Boyd Banks, Donal Logue, Elizabeth Saunders, Mare Winningham, Marin Almasi, Martin Roach, Michael Musi, Mimi Kuzyk, Morgan Bedard, Racine Bebamikawe, Sarah Gadon

Director: Michael McGowan

Rating: R

Plenty of missing people stories don’t get resolved, so understandably, all their loved ones can do is contemplate the potential horrors that could have happened to them, like being lost and needing to survive, or being kidnapped, or, of course, being dead. Primbon is a story where a missing girl returns home, though her return seems suspicious, at least, according to Javanese superstition. So much could have been made with this premise. They could have delved into Rana’s possible trauma from the reason she was lost, or the way these superstitions hinder these victims from receiving help from others. The film at least shines during the moments between Dini, her mom, and Rana, as they try to get back to normal. But in prioritizing the family, Primbon is torn between being a family drama versus being a supernatural horror film, and ultimately fails at being both.

Genre: Horror

Actor: Azela Putri, Chicco Kurniawan, Flavio Zaviera, Happy Salma, Jajang C. Noer, Nugie, Whani Darmawan

Director: Rudy Soedjarwo