It’s one thing to rank the movies out on the various streaming services, assemble the best films now on demand or—when it’s once again safe to go to the movie theater (a time that is approaching with exciting speed)—the best new movies on the marquee. It’s another to give a more total picture of cinema’s new releases week by week, especially considering the diversity of distribution that’s now common for film. The best film of any given week could be a VOD release, a movie that had a limited theatrical run before landing on a streamer or an obscure original living on a niche service.
If you don’t really mind if a movie’s old or new, we’ve got plenty of lists documenting the best films on the services (Amazon, Hulu, Disney+, Netflix, HBO Max, Apple TV+, Shudder, Paramount+, Peacock, Redbox) and premium channels (Starz, Showtime, Cinemax). But for those who’re after the latest and greatest, please enjoy our weekly updated list, which ranks The Best of the newcomers and bestows one terrible, rotating shame upon The Worst.
Director: Oliver Hermanus
Stars: Kai Luke Brummer, Ryan de Villiers, Matthew Vey, Stefan Vermaak, Hilton Pelser, Wynand Ferreira
Runtime: 104 minutes
Available for rent
“Moffie” is an Afrikaans slur, used to describe a gay man. For those of us who haven’t grown up hearing it, the term can read almost affectionate, its soft syllables suggesting a sweetness. In reality, there’s violence in the word, spat out with cruelty. This tension pervades the fourth film from Oliver Hermanus, regarded as one of South Africa’s most prominent queer directors. Moffie tells the story of Nicholas Van der Swart (Kai Luke Brümmer), a closeted 18-year-old drafted into his mandatory military service in South Africa in 1981, when the country was still in the throes of apartheid. Adapted from André Carl van de Merwe’s novel, Moffie tells a brutal tale with moments of beautiful respite. Despite the constant barrage of terrorizing drills and frat boy behavior, however, there is tenderness—like Nicholas’ connection with his rebellious squadmate, Dylan Stassen (Ryan De Villiers). An earlier incident makes it abundantly clear how dangerous it is to express any sort of affection. As a result, even the smallest gesture of intimacy is fraught with tension. Although the young men, shown in various forms of dress and undress, are strapping soldiers, there’s also a vulnerability to them. You can’t help but silently cheer, even as your heart breaks a little, when Nicholas and Michael break into a muted rendition of “Sugarman,” giggling as they clean their rifles. Despite the army’s best efforts to break the young men, their spirits seem to survive. Despite the heavy load it carries, Moffie is a masterful film. Hermanus and Jack Sidey have co-written a tight script, with stretches of silences that pull you into the internal struggles of its characters. The cinematography by Jamie D Ramsay ranges from languorous shots of the rugged, dusty landscapes where the recruits carry out drills in the harsh sun to the handheld immediacy of Nicholas and his fellow soldiers’ misery. The cast—made up of a mix of high school students, trained actors and non-professionals—manages to conjure up a chapter of South African history that many would like to forget.—Aparita Bhandari
Director: Park Hoon-jung
Stars: Uhm Tae-goo, Jeon Yeo-been, Cha Seung-won, Park Ho-san
Runtime: 131 minutes
Watch on Netflix
Writer/director Park Hoon-jung’s sixth feature, Night in Paradise, posits that revenge is a dish best served raw. Characters feast on mulhoe—spicy raw seafood soup served chilled—a delicacy that elicits childhood memories and reminiscences of pleasurable meals shared with family members who have since died at the violent whims of spiteful gangsters. Instead of acting as a point of catharsis, these recollections fuel a fruitless pursuit for vengeance. After his terminally ill sister and her child become the latest targets of the Bukseong gang, professional hitman and rival Yang gang member Tae-gu (Uhm Tae-goo) attempts to settle the score by ambushing the culprits he believes responsible for their murder. With the ruthless Chief Ma (Cha Seung-won) mobilizing the entire Bukseong faction to catch and kill Tae-gu, he is ushered off to Jeju Island where he will stay with an assassin-turned-arms-dealer before permanently relocating to Russia. In lieu of personally fetching Tae-gu upon his arrival, the old man sends his young but ailing niece Jae-yeon (Jeon Yeo-been) to chauffeur the fugitive back to their island abode. Not one to mince words or feign politeness, Jae-yeon is initially contemptuous towards Tae-gu and resents her uncle’s participation in his escape. Her own past has seen relatives needlessly sacrificed in the name of gang rivalry, a point that inadvertently allows the two would-be adversaries to bond over their incalculable loss—as well as, of course, their shared love of mulhoe. While the visual and thematic richness of Night in Paradise could adequately carry the film on their own, the wry comedic tone that often infiltrates even the darkest exchanges between characters enhances the overall emotional payoff. This is particularly true of Jae-yeon and Chief Ma, who—despite having death as an omnipresent specter in their lives—manage to contribute nonchalant levity, whether that be after a near death experience or while overseeing orchestrated assassinations. Park’s careful attention to multifaceted and often intersecting sentiments keeps the viewer consistently enthralled in the narrative web he weaves, an undeniable boon for a two-hour-plus film. Night in Paradise is most incisive in these complex moments of bitter ambiguity. It would be impossible and ineffective to attempt to aptly deduce the most morally correct way to overcome a rabid desire to avenge those who have been unjustly ripped away from this mortal coil. Park lingers in the burning rawness of these compulsions. Whether the viewer finds the piquant discomfort alluring or is ultimately left soured by the ordeal is merely a matter of palate.—Natalia Keogan
Director: Corinna Faith
Stars: Rose Williams, Shakira Rahman, Charlie Carrick, Diveen Henry, Gbemisola Ikumelo, Nuala McGowan
Runtime: 92 minutes
Watch on Shudder
Writer/director Corinna Faith has the touch. She’s got The Power. The Shudder horror film could skate by simply on the strength of its unique and gripping period setting—1974 London where miner’s union disputes led to electricity conservation efforts, namely blackouts—but doesn’t have to. Horror movies are always searching for new and creative ways to keep their subjects stuck, disoriented, away from the cellphones and bright lights that are so often antithetical to fear. Faith nails one. Nurse trainee Val’s (Rose Williams) first day (and night) on the job at a spooky, dilapidated hospital is a good enough premise to sustain a slight and schlocky fright night all its own. But Faith weaves an intimate and subversive script that makes The Power a far more enduring artifact than its fossil fuel foundations. While there’s no use in giving too much away with plot specifics, what you should understand from the start is that Faith’s title is as interested in the absence of power (the dark, the working class, the women) than in its alternative. Whether it’s the incredible double act of veteran nurses Comfort (Gbemisola Ikumelo, solid and straightforward) and Terry (Nuala McGowan, hilarious and take-no-shit) or Val’s interest in the connection between illness and poverty, The Power is very clear that those at society’s bottom are all too aware of those walking atop them. A too-charming doctor; a late-night watchman with a headlamp and a keyring; administrators too happy to avoid unpleasant realities. Some truths can’t be hidden just because the lights shut off. Much of the writing is nicely realistic, even dipping into a mix of mumblecore brogues that are indecipherable without subtitles. Its themes are clear and its spin on tradition meshes well with teased-out visual clues. But the third act loses some of that courage, that trust in its audience. Spending so much time making the expertly implicit clumsily explicit only makes the uneven use of its setting and scares more apparent. When The Power is on, it’ll have you white-knuckling a flashlight all night. When it starts flickering, well, even its least nuanced moments or most telegraphed turns still have a level of craft that make certain Faith will be able to keep the lights on as a filmmaker for a long time to come.—Jacob Oller
Director: Neil Burger
Stars: Tye Sheridan, Lily-Rose Depp, Fionn Whitehead, Colin Farrell
Runtime: 108 minutes
Available in theaters only.
It’s not hard to see what’s coming at the end of Voyagers, but like all things, it’s about the journey and not the destination. Thankfully, both aspects of this doltish sci-fi are equally worthless. Its central mission comes about because, due to global warming, humanity will have to abandon ship. The first step in that process is a mission that’ll take 86 years and necessitate its crew’s reproduction. So, a diverse group of American kids (naturally, the main characters are still the same ol’ interchangeable white folks while everyone else fulfills sideline stock roles), created through some sort of barely addressed eugenics program, are shot into space, their only purpose being to procreate and prepare their descendants to scout a presumably inhabitable planet. Writer/director Neil Burger, a filmmaker whose stints in vapid YA (Divergent) and treacle (The Upside) seem to most inform Voyagers, is in rare form here: Everything in the film is done worse than the media it mimics. The crux of the sci-fi is a nature vs. nurture debate tackled by stories both classic (Lord of the Flies, Voyagers’ most obvious influence) and recent (Raised by Wolves). What is natural for people? Laziness? Aggression? Justice? Order? What Voyagers suggests is that, left to their own devices, humans raised in isolation will revert to movie tropes. The reason it’s so easy to get hung up on all the facile writing is because the film is so dull—a result of narrative predictability and aesthetic familiarity. These stark white walls have kept many more interesting premises and compelling characters sequestered in the lonely vacuum of space. We start picking at contradictions just for something to pass the time.—Jacob Oller