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Family ties, family victories, family losses

Domestic relationships have loomed large onscreen this year

Clockwise from back left: Amy Schumer, Steven Yeun, Beanie Feldstein, Richard Jenkins, Jayne Houdyshell, and June Squibb in "The Humans."
Clockwise from back left: Amy Schumer, Steven Yeun, Beanie Feldstein, Richard Jenkins, Jayne Houdyshell, and June Squibb in "The Humans."Linda Kallerus

The movies, especially American ones, have tended to ignore the family. There have been notable exceptions. “The Godfather” pictures are the most impressive example. But families are all about ensemble. The movies favor the individual: stardom, the close-up. Or the couple: the two-shot, the clinch. The kiss, yes; the group hug, no.

So it’s notable that so many movies this year have been about families, often focusing on unexpected aspects of that most fundamental of social units.

Will Smith, center, with Demi Singleton, left, and Saniyya Sidney in "King Richard."
Will Smith, center, with Demi Singleton, left, and Saniyya Sidney in "King Richard." Warner Bros. Pictures via AP

There have been cartoon families: the Madrigals, in “Encanto”; the Addamses, in “The Addams Family 2.″ There have been real-life families: the Franklins (as in Aretha), in “Respect”; the Williamses (as in Venus and Serena), in “King Richard”; the title clan in “House of Gucci.”

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The Princess Diana biopic “Spencer” is only incidentally about fashion and glamour. Note that the title comes from her family name, not her given name — and her in-laws, the Windsors, are very much presented as a family unit, one to which she’s never really admitted. More important, the most affecting moments in the movie involve Diana and her sons.

Corey Stoll and Vera Farmiga in "The Many Saints of Newark."
Corey Stoll and Vera Farmiga in "The Many Saints of Newark." Warner Bros. Pictures via AP

There’s been a prequel family, in “The Many Saints of Newark”; and a sequel family, in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.” That one’s the first of the four movies in the franchise where proton packs come with blood ties.

A science-fiction family, the Atreides, is at the center of “Dune.” Difficult father-daughter relationships power “Stillwater” and “Annette” (where part of the difficulty is that the daughter is played by a doll).

A nephew-uncle relationship is at the heart of two movies: “C’mon C’mon” and the forthcoming “The Tender Bar.” When was that last time that happened? Deafness helps define family identity in not one but two films: “A Quiet Place Part II” and “CODA.”

Emilia Jones and Troy Kotsur in "CODA."
Emilia Jones and Troy Kotsur in "CODA." Apple TV+ via AP

A mother-daughter relationship is so important in both “El Planeta” and “The Souvenir Part II” that a mother and daughter in real life play the mother and daughter in each film. Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Licorice Pizza,” which opens Christmas Day, can top that. Alana Haim’s character has two sisters — played by her real-life sisters — and lives at home with her parents, played by, you guessed it, their real-life counterparts.

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From left: Jamie Dornan, Ciarán Hinds, Jude Hill, and Judi Dench in "Belfast."
From left: Jamie Dornan, Ciarán Hinds, Jude Hill, and Judi Dench in "Belfast."Rob Youngson

There’s been a Tony Award-winning family, in Stephen Karam’s “The Humans.” Will there be an Oscar-winning one? “Belfast,” Kenneth Branagh’s autobiographical family drama, is widely considered this year’s frontrunner for best picture. It’s family right down to including distant cousins and having a set of grandparents (Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds) who steal the show.

Family figures in all three of this fall’s neo-westerns. “The Power of the Dog” has feuding brothers, absent parents, and a mother-son bond that fuels the fraternal feud. “The Harder They Fall” begins with a family under threat and ends with a plot-upending family revelation. It makes sense that Clint Eastwood, at 91, would be better suited to family dramas than action pictures — and a drama involving not one but three families is what Eastwood’s “Cry Macho” is.

From left: Eduardo Minett, Natalia Traven, and Clint Eastwood in "Cry Macho."
From left: Eduardo Minett, Natalia Traven, and Clint Eastwood in "Cry Macho." Claire Folger/Warner Bros. Pictures

Family onscreen this year has extended even to documentary. The title of “The Sparks Brothers,” about the musical duo, announces its family dynamic at the outset. It’s the fraternal relationship between older brother Whitey and younger brother Bill that drives “My Name Is Bulger,” on discovery+. But in some ways the most interesting parts of the film have to do with how Whitey’s nephews and nieces view him.

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An important element in the “Fast & Furious” franchise has been how the crew sees itself as a substitute family, right down to two of its chief figures being brother and sister. The latest go-round, “F9,” ends with a family reunion/barbecue.

One of the best things about the “Avengers” movies was how the superheroes functioned as a version of family — with Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man as charmingly wayward dad and Chris Evans’s ever-dependable Captain America as shield-bearing mom (of sorts).

From left: Meng'er Zhang, Simu Liu, and Awkwafina in "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings."
From left: Meng'er Zhang, Simu Liu, and Awkwafina in "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings." Marvel Studios/Associated Press

With that cycle of films concluded, the family element has become, if anything, even more pronounced in several of this year’s Marvel movies. The principals in “Eternals” explicitly talk about their group being a kind of family, right down to Salma Hayek’s Ajak being their de facto mother. In “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” brother and sister (Simu Liu, Meng’er Zhang) battle evil dad (Tony Leung).

“Black Widow” has the most fun with interweaving superhero movie with family drama (family comedy, too). The title character (Scarlett Johansson) gets a sister (Florence Pugh). This not only sets up Pugh-starring spin-offs. It creates some entertaining bickering, though not as entertaining as the bickering between the sisters and their parents (Rachel Weisz, David Harbour).

From left: Rachel Weisz, Scarlett Johansson, and Florence Pugh in "Black Widow."
From left: Rachel Weisz, Scarlett Johansson, and Florence Pugh in "Black Widow." Jay Maidment/Marvel Studios

Finally, it would give away too much to explain why “No Time to Die” is the one Bond picture that could be described as a family drama. But it is. Let’s just say that the affinity between 007 and “Belfast” is more than Judi Dench’s having played M for a while.

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Mark Feeney can be reached at mark.feeney@globe.com.