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LINDA HOLMES, HOST:
We cover a lot of movies here on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR, but we can't come close to getting to everything. So sometimes we like to take a pause and just pick up some things that got past us the first time and make sure to put them on your radar. Today, we invited some of our favorite film critic panelists to share some of the 2021 movies that you should definitely look out for.
I'm Linda Holmes, and today we're making recommendations for great 2021 movies we missed on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR.
Joining me today is film critic Bob Mondello. Hello, Bob. Welcome back.
BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: It's good to be here.
HOLMES: And also here is writer, comedian and co-host of the "Bad Romance" podcast Jourdain Searles. Hi, Jourdain.
JOURDAIN SEARLES: Happy to be back.
HOLMES: Good to have you. So this is a simple episode. We're talking about movies we missed - and by we, I mean the podcast - in 2021. Each of us is going to offer you one film recommendation that didn't get its own POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR episode. And I want to start with Bob.
MONDELLO: Oh, boy - first of 2022. I actually put this one on my 10-best list, I had such a good time at it. And I think I'm the only person who saw it, practically. It's called "Nine Days." It's very much like the movie "Soul." It's about souls auditioning to be in bodies, except that it's live action. And it stars Winston Duke, and it was made by Edson Oda. This is basically his first full-length picture. And it's extraordinary. He's created this as a sort of a major head trip. You're in a world where souls audition for bodies, and the guy who does the auditioning is sort of this otherworldly bureaucrat, sitting in an arts and crafts house, and he's got a whole lot of television monitors. And at some point, he realizes one of the people who he's been monitoring has died, and so a new soul gets to go. And so he auditions nine people, and they have nine days to sort of prove themselves.
And there's a "Being John Malkovich" attitude to it, which makes sense because the director of that film was one of the producers. It is very head-trippy and uses philosophical constructs from Plato, from Walt Whitman, from all kinds of people. And actually, it kept me going for a lot more than nine days afterwards just thinking about it. And it got very little notice, but what the hey - I just loved it.
SEARLES: My boyfriend loves that movie. Like, I feel like he's one of the, like, five people who went and saw it in the theater.
SEARLES: Yeah, and it, like, blew his mind. And it was one of the first movies that he showed to me when we started dating, so that's really cool.
MONDELLO: Oh, very nice. I'm pleased (laughter).
SEARLES: Yeah, yeah.
HOLMES: Speaks well of the boyfriend. And "Nine Days" is available now to rent or buy on demand. All right, Jourdain, give me your pick.
SEARLES: So my film is "The Novice," written and directed by Lauren Hadaway. She - this is her directorial debut, but she has worked as a sound editor. She did the sound on "Whiplash," which is fitting because "The Novice" is kind of, like, the cross between that '70s film "Personal Best" and "Whiplash." It's just about a queer college student. She wants to join the rowing team, and she becomes obsessed with rowing to the point where it's kind of like a monster movie almost because she kind of, like, destroys her body and, like, her relationships and her friendships and, like, everything because she wants to be the best at rowing.
And what's really interesting about it is that, like, no matter how hard she tries, she's never really the best, and it's hard for her to make peace with that. Like, it's hard for her to, like, just be part of a team. And I think that it's a really fascinating movie about just, like, obsession, forcing your body, kind of like a self-harm thing, but in a way that people wouldn't, like, readily notice it. Like, she just, like, works out a lot and avoids, like, social gatherings, and it's all because of this obsession with rowing and about how it's clearly something deeper that's going on with her.
MONDELLO: I remember reading about it and thinking, wow, that sounds really compelling. And I didn't connect it with "Whiplash," and I'm fascinated by that. That's an especially nice connection.
SEARLES: Yeah. An interesting thing about it is, like, "Whiplash" I feel like really, like, kind of, like, endorses obsession - like, obsession is good; it's good to obsessively do this. And "The Novice" doesn't really. It's, like, a counter to that.
MONDELLO: I rowed crew very briefly...
SEARLES: Oh, cool.
MONDELLO: ...In college for about a minute and a half. Then I realized it was - you had to get up at 4 o'clock in the morning to practice, and that was the end of that.
SEARLES: Yeah. It's rough. Like, watching - it's Isabelle Fuhrman. She was the girl in "Orphan." That's, like, her big thing. She, like - by the end, it's like - her, like, eyes are really sunk in, and she's just...
SEARLES: ...Like, very gaunt. And it's, like, a really, like, compelling physical performance.
HOLMES: It sounds highly intense...
HOLMES: ...Highly intense. Well, again, "The Novice" - available to rent or buy.
I want to talk about a movie that I saw at Sundance called "Mass," which has, essentially, a four-person cast. It's Ann Dowd, Martha Plimpton, Jason Isaacs and Reed Birney. It belongs to a very sad - in the sense that it's sad that it exists - kind of subgenre of film, which is the effort to wrestle with school shootings - because what happens in this movie is that the two parents of a kid who was killed several years earlier in a school shooting - that's Plimpton and Isaacs - meet with the parents of the shooter. That's Ann Dowd and Reed Birney.
And basically, the whole film is just these four people sitting around a table in the back of a church having this, like, conversation that obviously is extraordinarily painful for all of them, but in different ways. And a lot of what you get is the contrast between the ways in which this is a shared trauma for these two sets of parents and the ways in which - particularly, the Martha Plimpton character does not accept that it is a shared trauma because it's a different situation. She feels that, you know, it's not fair to treat them as if they've all suffered a similar loss.
This was written and directed by Fran Kranz, who a lot of people know from, like, various parts of the Joss Whedon universe as an actor. And he wrote - and this is his feature debut as a writer-director. I think what he's trying to do here is get away from the sensational nature of any story that is about violence and trauma. You don't see any of the incident. What you get is the ramifications of it for all of these parents. And I think what made it work for me is that the actors are so uniformly extraordinary in it. Any time that you can put an Ann Dowd and Martha Plimpton in a movie together...
HOLMES: Martha Plimpton always plays with this certain prickliness in both comedic and dramatic roles. And Ann Dowd always plays with this menace - like, often kindness that is actually menace - but in this one, just this extraordinary pain that she's trying to process through this meeting. It's not a movie that I feel like got a ton of coverage compared to both how good it was and how good the actors are who are in it. The acting, in particular, is perhaps the thing that this film did...
HOLMES: ...The best.
MONDELLO: You know, initially I thought, it feels almost like a play. I went to look it up to find out if it had been created as one 'cause it's all taking place in one room, right?
HOLMES: Right. Exactly - around a table.
MONDELLO: Yeah. And the acting in it is gorgeous. You're right. You're absolutely right.
HOLMES: And again, that one is also available to rent or buy on demand. We want to know which ones of your favorite 2021 films we missed. Find us at facebook.com/pchh and on Twitter - @pchh. Next up, it's going to be time to talk about what's making us happy this week.
All right. Now it's time for our favorite segment of this week and every week, What's Making Us Happy This Week? Bob, tell me what's making you happy this week.
MONDELLO: The fact that "Resident Alien" is coming back to the airwaves. I am so excited to see that again. I - we just watched the preview of what it's going to be like and just the actors talking about - I got excited all over again. I love that show. Am I crazy? It's about an alien who comes to reside in the hills of Colorado, in a gorgeous area, and he takes over the body of a doctor there. What the people don't know is that he's been sent to this planet to basically destroy all the people on it. His mission is to get rid of everybody. But slowly but surely, he's becoming, I guess, humanized by his contacts with humans. And it's very funny as you go and - just loved it.
HOLMES: "Resident Alien" making Bob Mondello happy this week. Thank you, Bob. Jourdain, what is making you happy this week?
SEARLES: There is a collection on Criterion of Alfred Hitchcock movies that's leaving at the end of the month. And so I love "Marnie." I really loved "Marnie." It's from 1964, and it's really trying to push the sexual envelope as much as it can for that time period, and I think that that's what's really fascinating. Tippi Hedren is really incredible in it. I love her in this movie more than "The Birds." And as a Bond fan, it's always nice to see Sean Connery, and he's definitely giving a very different kind of performance. It's as sexual as it possibly can be without being explicit, and I always think that it's really fascinating how filmmakers were able to suggest sexuality without showing it necessarily.
HOLMES: OK, so that's "Marnie." It is part of the Alfred Hitchcock collection currently streaming on The Criterion Channel. You can see it through the end of January. Thank you very much, Jourdain.
I want to talk about a book that is out on January 11. And it is called "Mouth To Mouth," and it is by a writer named Antoine Wilson. So "Mouth To Mouth" is about a man who is in the airport and meets up with somebody that he used to know. And they kind of decide to go and have a drink, and this other guy decides to spill the story of how he came to have the fabulous life that he has. And so most of the book is the guy telling the story, right? And of course, the guy who's hearing this story just kind of keeps being like - as the story gets weirder, they're just sitting in this airport lounge, and he's like, what the? This is one of the few books where I can honestly say the last sentence of the book is like - boom...
HOLMES: ...And has this wonderful kind of release to it. I was so taken by this book. It is so well-written. It is so taut. It also has this kind of mystery feel to it. It has a psychological thriller feel to it. And the decision to set this whole book as, you know, a guy telling you a story in an airport lounge kind of puts you in that weird position where you don't know exactly how much of this to believe, how much of what this guy is saying is true, how much of it is exactly what happened, is he exaggerating, is it a tall tale. It's such a cool way to tell this particular story. Loved it. Again, it's called "Mouth To Mouth," and it's by Antoine Wilson. And that book is what is making me happy this week.
That brings us to the end of our show. You can find all of us on Twitter. You can find me at @lindaholmes. You can find Bob at @bob_mondello. You can find Jourdain at @judysquirrels. You can find editor Jessica Reedy at @jessica_reedy, producers Candice Lim at @thecandicelim and Rommel Wood at @blergisphere. And you can find producer Mike Katzif at @mikekatzif - K-A-T-Z-I-F. Mike's band Hello Come In provides the music you are bobbing your head to right now. Thanks so much to everyone for being here.
MONDELLO: It's really been a pleasure. Thank you.
SEARLES: Thank you for having me.
HOLMES: And thanks, of course, for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. We will see you all next week.
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