In a conversation with musician David Byrne, director Mike Mills said it’s his natural urge to make every film feel like the chorus of a song. Choruses are often the zeniths of a song. A wondrous combination of euphoria, sincerity, and meaning. Mills – again, as with 20th Century Women before – pieces together a tapestry of life’s seemingly innocuous moments, yet magically combines them to build towards something larger, just like when a chorus hits. In 2021, C’mon C’mon is the film we all needed.

In C’mon C’mon, Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) travels the country interviewing children as a radio journalist. Reconnecting with his sister Viv a year after their mum died, she asks him to babysit her son Jesse while she takes care of her estranged husband who struggles with mental ill-health.

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Courtesy of: A24

Following a tense media tour for Joker, which saw him rarely crack a smile and often use acceptance speeches to get serious about animal welfare and the environment, it’s particularly comforting to see Phoenix take on such a warm role that taps into the best of humanity. This is a gentler side of Phoenix, immediately likable from the way he talks to the kids for his radio project. These scenes, where the kids give real answers to questions about their perceptions of themselves and the world around them, establish Johnny as a caring and interested person. We feel safe with him.

Woody Norman is a revelation as Jesse. He plays a child with frustrating, occasionally abrasive tendencies but who never comes to be defined by them. He roleplays as an orphan and asks the adults around him to play along, which on paper sounds somewhere between terrifying and twee. It would almost be unbelievable if it weren’t based on something composer Aaron Dessner’s son actually does. What he perfectly captures is a child’s curiosity, often erratic, just as often extremely focused. When Johnny teaches him how to use his recording equipment, it’s like watching a kid at Christmas with a new toy. We’re seeing him learn and develop a new language for the world around him. Suddenly the sound of skateboards is remarkable when yesterday it meant very little.

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Courtesy of: A24

Maybe that’s why C’mon C’mon meant so much in 2021. Johnny and Jesse effectively meet again as strangers, an uncle and nephew who have spent so much time apart. Coming together, they teach and learn from one another. Jesse is navigating a new space, having not yet left behind the blinkered eyes of a child, but beginning to ask bigger questions about love and loss. Johnny comes to acknowledge a loneliness ushered in by his partner leaving him, and up until now he had no family around for support. Life is different when it’s spent together. It’s no coincidence there’s as much care in Robbie Ryan’s cinematography as in Mills’ characterisation, because it is a beautiful world in which they inhabit, and it is beautiful because they inhabit it.

Life has been full of small moments recently. Many spent in isolation, listening to familiar voices on podcasts, noticing new details on well-trodden walks. Some of these moments have been filled with grief and with no one to help carry it. It’s why Gaby Hoffmann’s scenes pack such a punch, as Viv deals with her estranged husband Paul, played by Scoot McNairy. More than ever before, audiences understand the feeling of going through something alone. Help is down the end of a phone, but it’s not on its way. Again, Mills shows reverence for mothers, who have an angelic amount of patience for the men in their lives they inevitably care for, while giving these characters space to be defined not by who they support, but by acknowledging the conscious and exhausting effort they put in to keep everything afloat. This is Hoffmann’s first film role in six years, and if there was any justice she would be a frontrunner for every supporting actress award.

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Courtesy of: A24

C’mon C’mon is marvellous. It’s comforting and life-affirming, from a director who wants to provide comfort and finds life to be truly magnificent. There’s no cynicism, no irony, nothing in the way of Mills making a film that feels like a chorus. It lingers long in the memory because it’s a film that’s heard as much as it’s watched, like a footstep on sand evoking young Jesse on the lookout for unique sounds to notice and record. Thank God that, in a year of worry and isolation, Mike Mills reminded us what it means to pay attention and be there for each other.

So, to recap, here’s our Top 20 to 7…

#20 – After Love
#19 – Undine
#18 – No Time To Die
#17 – Ninjababy
#16 – The French Dispatch
#15 – Shiva Baby
#14 – Dune
#13 – Drive My Car
#12 – Annette
#11 – Minari
#10 – Sound of Metal
#9 – Spencer
#8 – First Cow
#7 – C’mon C’mon

Stay tuned for the remainder of 2021 as we count down our Top 10 films of 2021!