The 50 Best Movies of 2022

Movies Lists best of 2022
The 50 Best Movies of 2022

It’s all coming back to the movies. In 2022, whether it meant the long-coming sequels to Top Gun, Avatar, Black Panther, Jackass or Beavis and Butt-Head, we were going back to the basics after the pandemic had put our conflicted world of theatrical blockbusters and streaming services into sharp relief. As Warner Bros. burns its goodwill alongside its library in search of some kind of short-term profit; as Netflix loses subscribers, password sharers and the faith of its shareholders; as the Marvel movies finally show signs of fatigue at the box office—the last few years have led to some shaky foundations and some shakier decision-making, but have yet to harm the overall quality of the yearly batch of films. Every year since I’ve started running this section of Paste Magazine, there have been undeniable screw-ups in the film industry. Yet, every year, selecting the best movies released from all over the world has been a painstaking experience.

2022 was, of course, no different. It was a year dealing with isolation (through creepypastas, Rear Window mysteries, and finger-chopping), donkeys (Polish and Irish), stop-motion, RRR, Tar Tar Tar and Pinocchios (seriously, three new wooden boys). We rebooted familiar franchises, saw old masters deal with their present realities, and embraced the multiverse. But no matter which corner you inhabit—no matter which “thing” or “where” in Everything Everywhere All at Once resonates with you—cinema had something great to offer.

Here are the 50 best movies of 2022:

50. No Bears

The rigidity of borders—literal and figurative—is the primary interest of No Bears, Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi’s latest film. Completed two months before the director’s most recent arrest—culminating in a six-year prison sentence for “propaganda against the regime” in his native Iran—the film is a meta-commentary on the artistic suppression that Panahi has been increasingly subjected to throughout his career, also currently affecting a large swath of Iranian filmmakers, artists and activists. No Bears incorporates two parallel plot lines. The first involves Panahi (who plays himself) covertly renting a room near the Iranian border, secretly overseeing the shoot for his next film, which is happening in a nearby Turkish city. Restricted from leaving Iran (much like the real-life Panahi), he monitors the production’s progress via Zoom and cell phone calls—that is, when the frequently-spotty reception allows for it. In his free time, he takes photographs of the small town he’s lodging in, with special emphasis on its provincial residents. However, he quickly becomes embroiled in a local scandal involving a photo he allegedly took of a young couple whose union is strictly forbidden by the town’s traditional customs, though he vehemently swears that no such photograph exists. The second storyline occurs within Panahi’s intra-film narrative, which similarly concerns a star-crossed couple. Bakhtiar (Bakhtiar Panjei) and Zara (Mina Khosravani) struggle to obtain an extra passport so that they can flee to Europe together, a plot that stems from the actors’ (at least as they appear in No Bears) own lived experiences. Soon, the prospect of illegally leaving the country becomes a pressing concern for all parties, both real and fictional, involved. No Bears feels darkly prophetic, seemingly aware of the filmmaker’s encroaching imprisonment. The authorities are an omnipresent threat to Panahi’s character in the film, suspicious that he’s traveled from his home in metropolitan Tehran to a small village conveniently close to the border. If the armed guards weren’t enough of a deterrent, there is a local superstition that bears roam the vast terrain that separates Turkey from Iran, which is where the film gets its title. “Our fear empowers others. No Bears!” Shouts a villager to Panahi’s character of the myth. Yet even without the existence of ferocious beasts, No Bears emphasizes that the border does indeed have the capacity to kill in various ways: Whether by armed guard or the bureaucratic restriction of “proper” documentation, lives are irreparably altered—and lost—due to this invisible outline.—Natalia Keogan


49. Neptune Frost

Neptune Frost is a powerful film, clean and digestible while it traffics in metaphors and deploys poetry and philosophy. Directed by Anisia Uzeyman (a Rwandan actress and playwright that also directed photography) and Saul Williams (an American musician and multimedia artist who also wrote the screenplay), Neptune Frost is extensively musical without ever being exhausting. It’s clear in its theses, demanding equity and decency for workers, for citizens of the Global South generally and Rwanda specifically, and for intersex and queer Africans subjected to discrimination and marginalization born from the same colonial traditions that rob nations of their wealth. It’s elegantly shot and engages with traditions of science fiction and anti-colonialist magical realism to frame an alternatingly rough and ornate Afrofuturist aesthetic. Calling Neptune Frost art with a purpose feels like damning it to the pile of things that are “good” because they are “important.” Neptune Frost is valuable because of the creative and organic way it delivers its messages: Questioning colonial legacies and demanding change through a moving, musical script while displaying speculative imagery that requires audiences’ imaginations as well as their eyeballs. Neptune Frost is about colonialism’s consequences—patriarchal heteronormativity, economic exploitation and resource extraction—punishing ignored masses. We need to pay attention; workers’ well-being is the price of our luxuries. In Rwanda, as in other parts of Africa, Asia, Oceania, South America and the Caribbean, the wealth of the West costs lives. But we’ve known this since Cien Años de Soledad, since Candide. It’s a reminder that there are no countries in Africa destined to be deprived of development, only countries who’ve had their wealth taken from and, often, weaponized against them. To that end, the poetry of the script, the clarity of the messages, the beauty of the music and the earnestness of the performances combine to make Neptune Frost a powerful film. Art can’t change the world on its own, but people—moving in solidarity and coalition, speaking up for and out against exploitation—can call upon one another to change it.—Kevin Fox, Jr.


48. Children of the Mist


What’s most disturbing about Diem HÀ Lê’s directorial debut isn’t the subject matter but rather how nonchalantly it’s treated by those in front of her lens. Among the Hmong people of North Vietnam, it’s customary for young girls to be kidnapped from their homes, forced to become child brides for whomever steals them away. Children of the Mist’s bucolic setting—this mountain community feels like it exists in a mythic past—belies the Hmong’s cruel ritual, and the film focuses on 13-year-old Di, who fears that she could be the next target. But even her parents aren’t all that concerned—after all, it’s tradition—and Diem serves as a silent observer as the townspeople play kidnapping “games,” mocking the terror that awaits these girls. Children of the Mist is deceptively restrained in its first half, but that leads to a finale that’s raw in its pain and anguish. Few recent documentaries have captured anything so heart-wrenching as Di’s abduction, with Diem trying frantically to intervene, her camera recording every traumatizing moment. This is sobering filmmaking that illustrates a terrible injustice and the patriarchal attitudes that keep it thriving. —Tim Grierson


47. Girl Picture

Growing up can be brutal. Especially when you’re at what Finnish director Alli Haapasalo describes as the “liminal” age of 17 or 18—aware enough to know you want more, young enough not to know how to get it. In Haapasalo’s beautifully designed, emotionally honest Girl Picture, three teenagers who are not exactly girls and not yet women look for love, sex, belonging and, most importantly, the strength of their own voices to carry them through a moment in limbo. Ronkko (Eleonoora Kauhanen) and Mimmi (Aamu Milonoff) are best friends, classmates and coworkers at a smoothie shop where they use their free time to tell each other everything. Emma (a graceful and compelling Linnea Leino) is a figure skater and fellow classmate with an eye set on the European championships, and a mother who just wants her to take some time to be a kid. When a high-strung Emma locks eyes with a cynical Mimmi at the smoothie counter, sparks fly. Whether those sparks are between friends, enemies or lovers isn’t made clear until a mutual classmate jokingly invites Mimmi and Ronkko to the party Emma begrudgingly attends that night. While Emma and Mimmi are making nice on their own storyline, Ronkko (whom Kauhanen plays with an endearing, open bubbliness) is on a mission to orgasm, or at least to figure out what’s going wrong in her hookups. Staunchly heterosexual and in dogged pursuit of pleasure, she stumbles from one oversexed, awkward interaction to another. These are stories on a micro scale, but Haapasalo treats them with an investment and verve that respects her characters. When you’re walking the tightrope of your late teens, every day is the most important day of your life, every argument the one that will potentially bring the sky tumbling down. That Haapasalo and screenwriters Ilona Ahti and Daniela Hakulinen understand this makes for a film that not only calls out its characters on their overreactions, but examines and has great empathy for the source of those wounds. Amidst the depths of that respect and discovery, Girl Picture is a joyous, resonant snapshot of growing into one’s own, and challenging even your own expectations of who you thought you could be.—Shayna Maci Warner


46. Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths

“Ni de aquí, ni de allá” This Spanish expression is commonly used by members of Latin American communities to describe shared experiences of immigration and biculturalism. Meaning “not from here, not from there,” the popular phrase alludes to a sort of geographical and ideological displacement—an uncertain, unsatisfying liminal space between cultures, nations and belonging. In Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths, Alejandro G. Iñárritu compounds this labyrinth of intersecting identities with the concept of the bardo, an intermediate state between death and rebirth observed in Tibetan Buddhism. The result is a deeply moving cinematic experience that entangles threads of Mexican history with one man’s surreal odyssey through life, death, success and grief. This fantastic voyage through time and space is led by Silverio Gama (Daniel Giménez Cacho), an acclaimed Mexican-born documentarian who has spent the last 15 years of his life living and working out of Los Angeles. Although he spends much of the film surrounded by his loving wife and children, Gama is primarily left to his own devices when navigating the overwhelming guilt and imposter syndrome that has been brought upon him by his overlapping identities of documentarian, father, son, husband, Mexican, American and immigrant. Shot in stunning 65mm by cinematographer Darius Khondji, Bardo takes visual inspiration from Mexican artists José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros to craft enchanting visual landscapes of absurdity, chaos and fantasy. Similar to Orozco’s 1934 mural The Epic of American Civilization, Bardo often disregards spatial logic. Iñárritu frequently transports his protagonist across seemingly unrelated locations in order to establish spatiotemporal freedom and symbolic meaning. This sensation of geographical, atmospheric and narrative uncertainty are, at various times, both relieved and/or exacerbated by Gama’s contradicting views on Mexico and perception of self. In Bardo, Mexico is simultaneously an amazing and deeply flawed country; this observation feels authentic to the Latin American experience, where many immigrants have good reasons to have fled their homes, but also good reasons to miss it now that they’re gone. What’s more is that these observations remain just that, observations. Bardo has so much confusion, pain and frustration to air, but it expresses itself without lecturing, scolding or claiming to have all the answers. It simply encourages an open dialogue across these complicated themes. Bardo often feels like an inside joke—and for the first time in a long time, I get the jokes. I understand the cultural significance behind Gama’s family being América fans. I’ve felt the joy of dancing my heart out to cumbia with loved ones. I understand the feelings of shame and rejection that can arise when being bicultural in a country that doesn’t always accept different. To me, Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths not only describes the sentiment of “Ni de aquí, ni de allá,” but creates an opportunity for its viewers to feel and understand those very emotions of fear, confusion, uncertainty and dissatisfaction. It’s not always the most pleasant experience, but we’re stuck in limbo—pleasant isn’t the point.—Kathy Michelle Chacon


45. Prey

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Filmmaker Dan Trachtenberg’s Predator prequel Prey succeeds by daring to embrace what prior sequels did not: Simplicity. The basics of Predator cinema boil down to skull trophies and rival combat, but most of all, the thrill of an uninterrupted hunt. With brutal ease, writer Patrick Aison translates Predator codes to hunter-gatherer dichotomies in Native American cultures. There’s nothing scarier than the laws of natural hierarchies on display in their most elemental forms, and that’s what Prey recognizes with menacing regard. Trachtenberg understands what Predator fans crave, and executes without mercy. Set in the Northern Great Plains of 1719, Prey pits a Predator challenging any species’ alphas—wolves, bears, people—against a Comanche tribe. Taabe (Dakota Beavers) leads other boys on hunts while his sister Naru (Amber Midthunder) practices her deadliest skills in secrecy. She’s dismissed by most for her gender, but not by Taabe. Naru’s chance to defeat a lion (thanks to Taabe) and earn her warrior’s rite of passage fails when a Predator’s alien technology distracts from afar—which no one believes. Only Naru can protect her family and tribespeople from the unknown Yautja threat since no one will listen, which will be the warrior-wannabe’s ultimate test. Prey is inarguably the best Predator since the original. The film gets so much right, paying homage to John McTiernan’s 1987 masterwork—through cigars and direct quotes that it’ll have fans hooting—and adding Indigenous representation with real cultural strength. Trachtenberg and Aison keep things simple, and that’s the special sauce. The performances are tough-as-nails, action sequences absurdly gory and intensity streamlined like a high velocity arrow. By going back to beginnings, Prey sheds pounds of franchise dead weight for a leaner, meaner Predator prequel with all the spine-tearing, one-liner-spouting gladiatorial conquest that fans desire—computer-generated or not. —Matt Donato


44. A Couple

Half an hour into Frederick Wiseman’s A Couple, which happens to also be its halfway point, the camera cuts to and rests on a rapid stream of ants crawling on a log. They scrabble over bark, scoot across exposed wood and weave in and out of splintering crevasses. For myrmecophobic viewers, the sequence is a 14-second nightmare. For Wiseman, it’s a clever visual metaphor comparing the way his subject Sophia Tolstoy lived in service to others with the way ants live in service to the colony. The scurrying mass looks chaotic, but it’s all for the sake of achieving an existential harmony humans rarely find. Wiseman and Nathalie Boutefeu, his star and co-writer, based A Couple on Sophia’s diaries, molding them into a roughly 60-minute dialogue with their audience, performed by Boutefeu, who wanders between verdant gardens, hushed forests and the meandering, gelid shoreline of Belle-Île, an island within spitting distance of Brittany, where the film was shot. Wiseman, 92 years young and rocking the easygoing vigor of a filmmaker in their 30s, chose his location for a handful of reasons. Practically, shooting in a remote setting kept him safe from COVID back when everyone lived in confinement. Dramatically, Belle-Île gave Boutefeu the space necessary to breathe life into Sophia’s angst-wracked missive to her husband, Leo Tolstoy, because to be Sophia was to be cast in his shadow at all times. Boutefeu enjoys all of A Couple’s oxygen. Belle-Île gave her limitless freedom to bond with Sophia’s spirit and channel her myriad feelings about her legendarily irascible husband, hopelessly tangled with one another as they are: In the same scene, even in the same sentence, Sophia takes emotional journeys that start with earnest love for Leo, shift to anger, bleed into grief and settle down back into love again. Listening to her reminiscences gives the impression that being married to Leo meant spending 30 years and change on a rollercoaster. The part of him that loved Sophia was every bit as sincere as the part of him that resented and loathed her, and worst of all, as the part of him that simply didn’t care enough to pay her any mind. That’s the cost of being hitched to great, difficult, genius men, A Couple suggests. Though A Couple is his first narrative feature in 20 years, the narrative structure documents history by fashioning Sophia’s diaries and letters as a performance. But Wiseman likely would prefer not to go through life known only as “the documentary guy,” and, in fairness, A Couple lets him set aside that label for one blessed hour of immaculate narrative filmmaking.—Andy Crump


43. Captain Ahab: The Story of Dave Stieb


At what’s become a yearly clip, Jon Bois and Alex Rubenstein have crafted long, lovingly researched films bent around the kind of coincidence and improbability that makes for pretty undeniable cinematic bliss. 2020’s 220-minute The History of the Seattle Mariners surveyed the absurdity of one particularly luck-plagued baseball franchise as both symptom and sign of the power of professional sports, while the next year’s 413-minute The History of the Atlanta Falcons leaned in, charting the majesty of God’s Indifference in impressive statistics and a spiritual knack for making esoterica mean something. In 2022, Bois has been especially prolific, directing three films under the duo’s Dorktown banner—including Section 1, a brisk, 42-minute Tony Scott thriller, and Captain Ahab: The Story of Dave Stieb, what feels like Bois and Rubenstein’s storytelling distilled to its purest, most nakedly exciting form. Ahab ostensibly chronicles major league pitcher Dave Stieb’s attempt at a no-hitter throughout the ’80s, but in detailing the career of a man who’s been unfairly treated by gods and sports writers and fate and fellow teammates alike, Bois does not hesitate, and not for the first time, to present hyperbole as the foundation of Stieb’s narrative: “There’s no way to make the assertion I’m about to make with much confidence, but it’s possible that what Dave Stieb has just experienced is the most impossibly unlikely outcome in the entire history of competitive sports, that has ever come to pass.” The stakes are undeniable, and deservedly so, with an obvious archnemesis in certifiable dickhead Jack Morris and a redemption arc still unfolding today. When, in the film’s final part, Bois and Rubenstein make the case for how Stieb can still get into the Hall of Fame, festooning their own Stieb plaque with the all-caps “HERE’S SOME DAMN CHARTS”—sometimes life delivers you moments for which you have no choice but to tearfully applaud. Regardless, cosmic bleakness accompanies Stieb’s legacy, is in the air and in between words throughout Bois’s film. Not sadness or trauma, but Lovecraftian incomprehensibility, as if unknown powers are leaking like a pestilence into reality to fuck with this guy. “How can this happen to me?” he asks no one, and everyone, at one point. I don’t know, Dave, but you don’t deserve whatever “this” is. I hate baseball writers now too. —Dom Sinacola


42. Lingui, the Sacred Bonds

The Chadian word “lingui” denotes the invisible social ties that sustain communities of people, especially if they’re connected by a common unifying trait. In Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s film Lingui, the Sacred Bonds, this alliance is forged through the strife and solidarity intrinsic to womanhood. Though much of the Chadian-born, France-residing director’s work has focused on the lives of outsiders and underdogs, Lingui is his most feminine-forward film to date—perhaps save for his acclaimed 1994 breakthrough short film Maral Tanié, which chronicles a teenage girl forced by her family to marry a man in his 50s, a union which she refuses to consummate. Similarly in Lingui, a teenage girl named Maria (Rihane Khalil Alio) finds herself maligned by patriarchal society when she discovers she’s pregnant with a child she has no intention of raising. Fortunately, her single mother Amina (Achouackh Abakar Souleymane) understands what it feels like to be shunned for carrying a child out of wedlock, and begins a quest with Maria to secure an abortion—despite the legal and societal ramifications that threaten them if their plot is exposed. The visual splendor of the film is what anchors it in a realm of optimistic rebellion as opposed to depressing observation. Cinematographer Mathieu Giombini (Haroun’s frequent collaborator and allegedly the only white European on the shoot) captures the exquisite beauty of the characters’ every mundane action and intentional idling—whether depicting the strenuous process of Amina fashioning kanoun stoves out of rubber tires to sell in town or the pensive stillness of Maria looking out over the confluence of the Chari and Logone rivers. The effervescent glow of sunlight imbues each shot with a sense of buoyancy that feels apt for conveying the warmth with which these women embrace one another, a constant beacon of hope for sisters in need. Gorgeously realized and bolstered by amazing performances by Souleymane and Alio, Lingui, the Sacred Bonds is a prescient portrait of what tribulations afflict—or await—women who are barred from receiving comprehensive reproductive care. Clearly, the tandem legislative and societal injustices imposed by restricting this access are incredibly heinous. However, no matter what regulations are enacted against a woman’s right to choose, there will surely be an enduring, sacred bond that continues to foster solidarity and sisterhood in the name of preserving the ability to shape the circumstances of our own futures. The merits of mutual aid are inherent to the notion of lingui, after all.—Natalia Keogan


41. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed


Nan Goldin’s fingerprints are everywhere. The idiosyncratic photographer, activist and subject of Laura Poitras’ first feature documentary in six years is equal parts icon and iconoclast, an embodiment of what it means to hold two truths—wonderful and terrible—in balance: All the Beauty and the Bloodshed. Similarly, the film is structured into two intersplicing sections charging forward at a rate of devastation your tear ducts absolutely cannot keep up with. One section gives Goldin a platform to chronologically tell her life story. The other follows her years-long fight against the pharmaceutical reign of terror that is the appallingly inhumane Sackler/Purdue Pharma operation. They are essentially the same story, Goldin’s story, but one starts at the beginning and looks ahead while the other starts in recent history and looks back, the two colliding and bringing us into the present, where the Goldin-founded P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) is slowly but surely ripping the Sacklers’ mouth from the teat of the art world it so desperately clings to for influence. Goldin is narrating. An open book, sadistic charmer and seasoned storyteller, she has a dry, frank, true way with words, the kind of person that doesn’t need many to tell you what it means, a master in the art of phrasing. (“I brought him out and he named me Nan, so we liberated each other,” she says summarily of her connection to a dear, lifelong friend.) Known best for her slideshows, Goldin flips through hundreds of pictures and tells story after story—each one gripping, culminating, well-delivered, giving way to an eagerness for the next—often returning to her most famous collection of over 700 photos on 35mm from 1983-2022, titled The Ballad of Sexual Dependency. Overflowing with candor, the photography presents a life fully lived, aiming to capture the universal impossibility in the push-pull relationship between autonomy and dependency. In between stories, Poitras builds out the generation-spanning criminality of the Sacklers through well-researched talking heads that illuminate the family’s cruelty. As Nan describes herself and her family—whom she defiantly defines as friends, the people whom she’s lived and learned alongside, not a romantic partner or biological family—they were “rebels running from America, living out the life they needed to live.” She says it of herself in the past, but All the Beauty and the Bloodshed shows that spirit still thriving, still moving, still turning the world around it upside-down. —Luke Hicks


40. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair


We’re All Going to the World’s Fair isn’t straightforwardly a “horror” movie—even if the title reads like an invocation chanted by hypnotized cultists doomed to whatever fate awaits them at the fairgrounds. That, of course, is more or less exactly what it is, as evinced in the opening sequence, where young Casey (Anna Cobb) recites the phrase three times while staring wide-eyed at her computer monitor. Innocent enough, if firmly eerie. Then she pricks her finger with a button’s pin about two dozen times in rapid succession and streaks her blood on the screen (though just out of the audience’s line of sight) to conclude the ritual. All that’s left is to wait and see how joining in this online “game” changes her, as if undergoing a Cronenbergian rite of passage. What writer/director Jane Schoenbrun wants viewers to wonder is whether those changes are in earnest, and whether changes documented by other participants in the “World’s Fair challenge” are legit or staged. They’re unreliable narrators. To an extent, so is Casey—insomuch as teens stepping into the world solo for the first time can be relied on for anything resembling objectivity. There’s also the question of exactly where Casey draws the line between truth and macabre make-believe, and of course whether that belief is made up. Maybe there really is a ghost in the machine. Or maybe a life predominantly lived in a virtual space—because physical space is dominated by isolation and bad paternal relationships—naturally inclines people toward delusion at worst and an unerring sensation of disembodiment at best. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair concludes with ambiguity and atmospheric loss, as if we’re meant to consider leaving childhood behind as a form of tragedy. Spoken in Schoenbrun’s language, that process is painful, transformative and—first and foremost—an internal experience regardless of the movie’s stripped-down visual pleasures. Outside forces influence Casey, but Casey ultimately controls the direction those forces take her. In a way, that’s empowering. But Schoenbrun belies the collective dynamic implied in We’re All Going to the World’s Fair’s title with Casey’s lonesome reality.—Andy Crump


39. Dos Estaciones


The lush, rolling hills of Western Mexico set the scene in Juan Pablo González’s Dos Estaciones, the director’s first foray into narrative filmmaking. More specifically, the rows of agave plants that speckle these highlands are what bring the film into sharp focus, as the succulent plant’s most prized byproduct—tequila, named after the town in Jalisco it was first distilled in—is the lifeblood of the film’s namesake, a tequila factory named Dos Estaciones. González takes his sweet time bringing characters and their motivations to the forefront, relishing in the details of the laborious process inherent to producing the coveted spirit coupled with the surrounding natural beauty of his home state. Having grown up in Atotonilco El Alto, Jalisco, across the street from a tequila factory owned by his grandfather, González imbues the film with intimate touches gleaned by a native to the state and its most lucrative industry—blending his sparse yet stirring narrative with the observational eye typical of his previous documentary work. The director’s personal history is also evident in the setting of the titular tequila factory, which is actually owned by González’s extended family. However, for the purposes of Dos Estaciones, the factory’s owner is María García (a superb, shattering performance by Teresa Sánchez). She oversees everyone—from the fieldhands to the women who hand-affix stickers on each bottle—with a brusque directness, yet is clearly respected and admired by her workers despite her inability to promise paychecks on time. Gruff demeanor and dwindling finances notwithstanding, María is a beloved pillar of her community: she loans out her own equipment to workers, regularly supports other local businesses, and even attends the birthday parties of her employee’s kids. Dos Estaciones is Mexican slow cinema that defies conceptions often projected onto the country by Americans, while simultaneously criticizing the role the U.S. has played in destabilizing a vital industry in its financial and cultural infrastructure. Whether a tequila factory is owned by American corporations or a local independent business, those responsible for the laborious process of actually making tequila will likely always be Mexicans. What was once a mode of production that sustained a community is now having its resources depleted, with all gains flowing into one corporation’s pocket instead of the land which cultivated it—certainly something to keep in mind before buying Kendall Jenner’s recently launched tequila brand.—Natalia Keogan


38. Watcher


Maika Monroe knows better than almost any actor working today how to turn her head or widen her eyes in mounting horror. The control she has over her body, the ability she has to convey realistic fear and her 2014 double-header of The Guest and It Follows made her an instant household name for genre fans. Perhaps one of those was director Chloe Okuno, who knows exactly what to do with her star in her paranoid debut feature (which follows her V/H/S/94 segment from last year), Watcher. A straightforward little B-treat, Monroe’s furtive glances out her Rear Window morph Watcher into a moody thriller elevated by its acting. Monroe plays Julia, a beautiful young housewife cooped up in an empty apartment and cooped up in an intimidating and isolating Bucharest after moving there with her husband Francis (Karl Glusman) for his work. Francis speaks Romanian. He entertains clients, makes friends, grabs drinks, chastises fresh cab drivers and translates day-to-day interactions with neighbors and landlords. Julia has none of that. No job, no friends, no real way to communicate with the world aside from her baser senses. She has her taped language lessons, which soundtrack her wistful wanderings around her lovely pale apartment and its massive window. Through that window, she sees those marking the building across the way. One of them contains a figure that also stands at the glass, looking right back. As Okuno twists the screws on the plot—Francis and Julia take a late-night stroll past police, conducting what they later learn to be a serial murder investigation—her characters unravel exactly how we want them to. Watcher flourishes as it complicates its premise beyond the unknowable and faceless desires of a shadowy silhouette. When do finally meet said suspicious neighbor (Burn Gorman), the resulting scenes are the film’s best. Monroe is fantastic alone—reacting both to intense fears and to indignation at Glusman’s fed-up patronizing—but with the always-nuanced Gorman, Watcher taps into something sharper, creepier and enjoyably ‘90s in its psychological execution.—Jacob Oller


37. Hold Me Tight

A woman (Vicky Krieps) gets up, collects her things and leaves her family in a reckless hurry. She embarks on a road trip in the red family car and imagines what her family members are doing in her absence. As she drives toward the sea, Clarisse imagines herself encouraging her daughter Lucie (Anne-Sophie Bowen-Chatet) as she practices piano, watching her son Paul (Sacha Ardilly) measure his growing height and speaking to her husband (Arieh Worthalter) of love and loss in hushed tones. Sometimes they speak back to her and sometimes they don’t, as the line between what is real, imagined and mere memory becomes deliriously blurrier. Adapted from Claudine Galea’s unproduced play, Hold Me Tight is a visual and sonic poem that expresses the intricacies of how we communicate with loved ones across time, space, grief and memory. It is a true artistic accomplishment that writer/director Mathieu Amalric was able to take Galea’s text, originally meant for the stage, and spin it into a vivid piece with such a uniquely lush cinematic language. Amalric’s formal risks emotionally pay off tenfold each time a visual or auditory motif is repeated—such as falling snow or Lucie’s piano music. Superb performances from all four leads elevate Hold Me Tight’s emotional avalanche, but Krieps’ performance is a standout in its profound, elegiac devastation—one not seen since Juliette Binoche’s turn as a grieving woman in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors: Blue. Amalric knew he wanted Krieps for the role ever since—as the filmmaker explained at a Lincoln Center post-screening Q&A—he saw her “walk through that door and take Daniel Day-Lewis’ order,” in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread. Grounded yet imaginative in her desolation, Krieps brings a soft yet strong benevolence to the role even in the woman’s darker moments of anguish. An enigmatic revelation about a woman’s descent into grief-stricken madness, Hold Me Tight packs an agonizingly painful wallop in the form of a complete reversal which would not work without Krieps’ deft skills or Amalric’s confident audiovisual risks. Right when the audience believes they’ve grasped Hold Me Tight’s dreamy threads, the film shifts into something totally new and nightmarish, yet still cohesive with the emotionally forthright throughline of the film overall.—Katarina Docalovich


36. Nitram

The controversy around even the idea of Nitram was swift, loud and completely understandable. A movie depicting the events leading up to the 1996 mass shooting at Port Arthur, Tasmania—where 35 people were murdered and 23 others wounded—would inherently be profiting from the atrocity. It would humanize a man who committed inhuman acts. It would dredge up the unimaginable pain of the Tasmanian community for the sake of offering “a cautionary tale about gun control,” as if there weren’t enough of those already. Though the raft of objections caused trouble with funding and filming locations, director Justin Kurzel—who lives in Tasmania—persisted. Now there’s a film to judge on its own merits. In that film, the character is called Nitram (the first name of the actual perpetrator spelled backwards), and is played by Caleb Landry Jones. Nitram lives with his parents (Judy Davis and Anthony LaPaglia), both fatigued from the effort of keeping a vigilant eye on their dangerously erratic grown son. Unable to maintain a conventional job, Nitram meets Helen (Essie Davis) when he’s prowling the neighborhood, offering to mow lawns in exchange for money. Unlike most of the people he encounters, Helen—an oddball herself, albeit a less threatening one—invites him in, and the two embark on an unusual romance. For a while, the two misfits achieve a fragile equilibrium. Then tragedy strikes, and strikes again. Kurzel’s Nitram does a lot of things very well—foremost amongst them, retaining a commendable level of neutrality. Concerns that the movie would pity the killer, that he’d become a misunderstood hero who wouldn’t have chosen to take such a terrible path if he hadn’t been bullied at school or was loved more by his parents, quickly prove unfounded. Nitram doesn’t go too far in the other direction either, not treating its disturbed protagonist as cartoonishly evil. You never get the sense that Kurzel is trying to tell us how to feel about Nitram. We’re asked to observe, not to judge. In a film centered on such a traumatic event, the maintaining of a perspective not overshadowed by intensity of emotion is a notable achievement. Beyond its deeply unnerving character study, Nitram is a stark warning. Some of the objections to Kurzel’s movie could never be satisfied; for many, its mere existence is offensive. However, Nitram does exist, and it’s difficult to imagine how it could possibly have handled its harrowing subject matter with any more sensitivity or respect.—Chloe Walker


35. Everything Everywhere All at Once

Everything Everywhere All At Once follows Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), a jaded, middle-aged laundromat owner who may or may not be involved in some minor tax fraud. Her tedious, repetitive life is thrown into total pandemonium, however, when her husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan)—or at least a version of him—alerts her to the existence of the multiverse on the elevator ride to an IRS meeting. He then explains that a powerful villain named Jobu Tupaki is in the process of constructing a universe-destroying force that only Evelyn has the ability to stop. And so Evelyn reluctantly plunges headfirst into the multiverse. The facts: There are an infinite number of universes that exist simultaneously, containing just about anything you could possibly imagine. The rules: To acquire different skills, you must picture a universe in which you inhabit that skill, whether it be inhumanly strong pinky fingers or a mastery of knife-fighting. (If you can think it up, it exists.) What follows, then, are roughly 140 frenetic minutes filled to the brim with dense, complex science, colorful setpieces and scenes that feel like they’ve been pulled straight out of dreams far too abstract to describe. As you can probably gather, Everything is not dissimilar to its title—and a lot to wrap your head around. If all this sounds intimidating (which, let’s be honest, how could it not?), rest assured that Everything is grounded by an effortlessly simple emotional throughline. Indeed, the film contains as much emotional maturity as it does cool concepts and ostentatious images (yes, including a giant butt plug and raccoon chef). At its core, it is a story about love and family, carried by the dazzling Yeoh in a subtle and unsentimental performance. Where Everything’s emotional throughline is Evelyn’s relationship with her family, its visual thread manifests as a series of hypnotic, vertiginous action sequences, choreographed like a ballet by Andy and Brian Le. As a bonus, these sequences recall Yeoh’s iconic role in Ang Lee’s wuxia film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The directors do not shy away from the use of dizzying flashing lights, or rapidly shifting light sources that disorient the viewer. They also aren’t afraid to implement over-the-top images, like a person’s head exploding into confetti or a butt-naked man flying in slow-motion toward the camera. At the same time, movement between ‘verses feels seamless through Paul Rogers’ meticulous editing, as does the effortless fashion in which different aspect ratios melt into one another. If Everything Everywhere All at Once can be boiled down to one, simple question, it would be reflexive of its own title: Can you really have everything everywhere all at once? Whatever the characters’ answers end up being (I’ll let you discover that on your own), I am certain that the Daniels would say yes, of course you can.—Aurora Amidon


34. EO

On paper, an existential Polish remake of a 1960s French arthouse classic about a donkey’s journey might seem intimidating or uninteresting—flat, droll, inaccessible high art—but writer/director Jerzy Skolimowski is a filmmaking wizard, a Swiss army knife of style and technique that knows how to get your attention with creativity and empathy alone. His rate of constantly evolving expression, executed with the taste and tact of a living legend pushing 85, sucks you in. That, and the most loveable lead, EO. Skolimowski’s contemporary take on Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar stays true to the simple ass-centricity of the original. The plot summary is the same: We follow a donkey through good times and bad. But make no mistake, EO is the wildest donkey film of the fall. Heck, maybe even the whole year. Every second counts. Blink and you might miss a surprise throat cut, lasers bursting through the forest or Isabelle Huppert smashing plates. Where EO (think: Eeyore, or the sound a donkey makes) ends up is as sudden and bewildering to us as it is to him, a paragon in the psychic art of weathering change. EO is innocence incarnate, a pure, blameless, unsuspecting victim around every corner (something you can’t get out of a human character), but he’s not fragile. There’s a near-mechanical will to live, a steely, preternatural sense of survival inside him that won’t give up. EO endures. Skolimowski gets more out of a donkey than most filmmakers get out of a person. EO is experimental and surreal, but not in a brash, over-your-head, alienating kind of way. If anything, it’s just the opposite. Every moment is innovative or imaginative, as if Skolimowski is spinning a wheel of his favorite tricks and applying them to each section as it lands, the prospect of wedding such varied expressions a challenge in itself. Through EO, Skolimowski offers a fresh perspective on our own frailty, our own getting blown with the wind, through life, pain, death and rebirth in an endless cycle. Perhaps the most transfixing moment of EO is near the end: A single waterfall tracking shot reversed into a hypnotic natural rhythm, the water folding into itself as if to be reborn. EO seems to be getting at the rhythm of life—up, down, happy, sad, joyous, torturous, cyclical, always changing, never fully understood. That’s how we see ourselves most preciously in EO. We’re never in control, even when we think we are.—Luke Hicks


33. Mad God

Though it begins by quoting the 26th chapter of Leviticus—“I will lay your cities in ruin and make your sanctuaries desolate and I will not savor your pleasing odors”—Mad God plays out like the Book of Revelation. Punishment and apocalypse are writ large and brown in feces and industrial run-off. Medical malpractice means more than negligence, it means quacks and ghouls elbow-deep in your guts. All is grist, everything is decay, human bodies little more than rag dolls made of shit. A so-called “She-it,” a screeching, walking tumor of hair and bared teeth, defends her beaked young against the mania of Mad God’s wasteland, wielding a cleaver. (All while I crammed so-called “Cheez-Its” down my gullet, watching and ceaselessly consuming.) Your pleasing odors escape un-savored into the ether. And just when you think you’ve reached the bottom of Hell, convinced there are no more realms of the beyond left to unveil, you see there is always more bottom, always more beyond. You see whole universes of innocent creatures suffering behind heavy vault-like doors, within the memories of one disposable martyr after another, in the spaces yet to be born. In a series of ever-obliterating visions, Mad God reduces the human experience to cosmic chum. It’s deeply upsetting, and often just as stirring. It would be a pretty clearly nihilistic piece of work, too, were it not such a careful, frequently astounding achievement. A stop-motion film 30 years in the making—beginning with an idea sparked during a lull in shooting Robocop 2Mad God is mostly the work of one man, legendary animator Phil Tippett, every elaborately nauseating set hand-fashioned over the course of decades. In Mad God, life seems meaningless. Stories don’t end when protagonists die because there are only antagonists running reality. And yet, as punishing as the film can get, it’s also clearly, fully realized, as pure a translation of a remarkable man’s bodily prowess—action, reaction, sinew and muscle and bone in tandem, the heartrending inertia of all things moving toward obliteration and the patience to let that happen—as we’re privileged enough to get from someone who’s already given us so much of himself. For all the grossness, all the bodily fluids and misery and Dan Wool’s charmingly contratonal music, for all the cynicism about the nature of the human race, Mad God is ultimately hopeful. It’s an absolution, for Tippett and maybe for us too. Nothing that’s taken 30 years, and so much health and sanity, could be anything but.—Dom Sinacola


32. Inspector Ike

In what seems like a lost TV movie from the 1970s, the understudy of an avant-garde theater group murders its star actor in cold blood so that he can finally have the spotlight for himself. He thinks he’s gotten away with it until Inspector Ike, New York City’s greatest police detective who, according to legend, can “solve crimes without any clues or evidence,” comes knocking at the door asking questions and poking holes in the understudy’s story. Since the exact details of the crime are revealed in the first act, Inspector Ike’s charm doesn’t come from trying to figure out whodunit, but from watching Inspector Ike unfold the case before him with signature deadpan—all while the killer’s inner psyche unravels as he tries to outrun his guilt. Where most detective parodies might take their leads for a bumbling fool, Inspector Ike himself is skillfully played straight-faced by Ikechukwu Ufomadu in a refreshing spin on an old comedy trope. Ike’s confidence in himself and in his work projects the presence of a trustworthy, comforting guiding hand in the absurd world that director Graham Mason has carefully crafted. Simultaneously deadpan and warmly funny, Inspector Ike borrows ingredients from multiple genres to create something weird and totally new in a way that honors the feelings of its characters, yet never takes itself too seriously. For example, the narrative flow of the film is interrupted so that Inspector Ike can relay a chili recipe to us. We’re encouraged to write it all down on a recipe card. With a pinch of satirical, self-deprecating humor here and a dash of giallo-esque deep red flashbacks there—all structured as a Columbo-style detective serial—you get a dish so hearty that you’ll find yourself clamoring for another bowl. In fact, after the credits rolled, I wished I lived in a time and place where I could tune into Inspector Ike’s adventures every week.—Katarina Docalovich


31. Elvis

Consider a hypothetical: If you were making a biographical film about the rise and fall of Elvis Presley, and you were trying to decide what song should be used to punctuate a cinematic depiction of Presley’s time frequenting Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee, what song would you use? On the surface, it might seem somewhat obvious that you would utilize a timeless track by one of the many blues legends that are forever cemented in history on that hallowed avenue, musicians that Presley himself often rubbed shoulders with. Maybe a song by B.B. King, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis or Otis Redding; maybe even “Crossroads” by Robert Johnson, a way to underscore Presley’s own crossroads by that point in this particular film, at which the siren song of fame and success is calling but its tune clashes with that of concerned family. Maybe you would do that. But you’re not Baz Luhrmann. The first time I watched Elvis, the Doja Cat needle drop nearly made me laugh. It seems to propel out of nothingness, but it doesn’t. It fades in as part of a mashup with a cover of “Hound Dog” by actress Shonka Dukureh playing Big Mama Thornton, the song’s original singer and the song Elvis would later make famous with his star-making trademark fusion of blues and country. So, director Baz Luhrmann does score this sequence in Elvis’s life with a song by a Beale Street native. But Luhrmann does the song his way, in the only way that Luhrmann could: By mixing Dukureh’s cover with a modern, pop beat and a rap by the “Say So” singer. Luhrmann’s take on the late, great king of rock and roll—a gaudy, bedazzled epic that tries to outdo The King himself in scale, flitting uncaringly between sincerity, absurdity and sincere absurdity far bigger and grander than the kind of nauseating vulgarity Luhrmann had already become infamous for but, somehow, in the best way—transitions from one delirious sequence to the next. Luhrmann doesn’t seem particularly interested in exploring Elvis’s interiority more extensively beyond brief, maudlin scenes where tears are shed and voices are raised. Instead, the film seems most intent on creating a spectacle of Elvis to match that of real-life, as if building upon the myth rather than deconstructing it.—Brianna Zigler


30. White Noise

It’s 1984 in Don DeLillo’s White Noise, an iconic novel that opens on a highway crammed to a stop with evacuating families. But in writer-director Noah Baumbach’s screen adaptation, we begin somewhere else, a little further back, in a classroom submerged in lecture: “Look past the violence!” It’s a call to action from professor Murray Siskind (Don Cheadle) to his students, and an invitation to satirical logic for us, the viewers, students in the art of DeLillian critique and maximalism for the next two hours and sixteen minutes. This plot, like all plots, “moves deathward,” as founder and professor of Hitler Studies at College-on-the-Hill Jack Gladney (Adam Driver) explains. That’s the nature of all plots, but the phrase applies in excess to White Noise. After a brief spell of normality, an “airborne toxic event” creates a pandemic that hovers ominously in the form of a black cloud over life on Earth, leaving people quarantined and displaced, uprooting the Gladneys’ mild, routine suburban life. Babette (Greta Gerwig) and Jack have seven kids from past marriages, four of whom they’re still rearing: Wilder, Denise (Raffey Cassidy), Heinrich and Steffie (the latter two played by Sam and May Nivola, children of Alessandro Nivola and Emily Mortimer). Baumbach uses a bizarro cast of characters to freshly convey the warmth and comfort that can be found in a partnership or close-knit nuclear family. Guns—and the violence inherent in them—are a huge topic of discourse, often academically discussed as so many things are in White Noise. They kick the film off through a distinctly non-Baumbachian introduction in style—a lecture on the brief history of the weapon, our mass philosophies around it and the violence that stems from it—cut with the zip and punch of a full-fledged action sequence. Historical footage whirs by in a blur of brutality as Murray pounds his lecture into students and the montage unfolds at a breakneck pace, the coming of a new style of Baumbach. The film flexes its budget creatively and responsibly, every department offering sumptuous work, a testament to the collective experience of the creative heads and Baumbach’s keen ability to wed all elements of a film into a unified whole, no matter the style or budget. He doesn’t leave a department unconsidered. t’s tempting to say the story of White Noise—which feels massive for Baumbach—is about more than an individual, or couple, or family in New York, like all of his previous films, but it is just about a family. The setting and characters are so strange and surreal that it seems like a fantasy, or an epic, or something else expensive, but it’s a natural story for Baumbach to make a career transition through.—Luke Hicks


29. Resurrection

A thriller based around the embodiment and repurposing of patriarchal trauma, Resurrection is far more seething and straightforward in its B-movie ambitions than other films that seek to ostentatiously elevate their horrors. Almost all of that is due to Rebecca Hall’s intense rigidity in performance. As a woman who once escaped her abusive partner, Hall unfurls the blueprints of her altered architecture. Where once we could imagine the give and flexibility that betrays our humanity, there is now inhuman structure. If Kafka’s Gregor unexpectedly awoke metamorphosed into a beetle, Hall’s Margaret painstakingly forged her own protective carapace. Writer/director Andrew Semans’ sophomore feature pulses with black-hearted humor and cruelties so odd as to be undeniably believable, but it’s Hall’s expressive transformation that drives the film’s blood into its final manic fever. Margaret is driven there thanks to the gaslighting return of David (Tim Roth), a slippery creep made entirely of need. His calculated demands sadistically dehumanized Margaret as deeply as she defensively dehumanized herself in the aftermath. And that’s not even mentioning their infant son that David claims to have eaten alive. Right. There’s a strange undercurrent to the film’s familiar outline, a dark magic that gives us a peek at the nearly supernatural power David once wielded over Margaret. He threatens to wield it again as he blows back into Margaret’s life. The prediction inherent in her daily, Terminator-like, arm-pumping runs comes true: He came for her. She’s been preparing for this moment, this man, since she made her eventful escape. And don’t worry, we hear all about it. That expository scene, like the best of them, is bundled in such bravura filmmaking (a tight, long take on Hall, capped with a bleak and gasping punchline), that you hardly recognize it for what it is. Much of Resurrection is like that, tastefully hiding its seams and scars behind stylish performances and toe-curling stress. Margaret’s warped perspective empowers Resurrection: Its minor conflicts and dire premise need logical justification as little as its balls-out bold finale; its themes work as well as they do because they’re enhanced by a nightmarish tone, one verging on the mythical.—Jacob Oller


28. Top Gun: Maverick

Not quite four years since Mission: Impossible—Fallout and much of Tom Cruise’s purpose remains the same—if it hasn’t exactly grown in religious fervor. In Top Gun: Maverick, the sequel to Tony Scott’s 1986 original, Cruise is Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a man trapped in the past, refusing to advance his career as resolutely as he refuses to do much of anything besides continue to prove he’s the greatest pilot in the world—a title the film never forgets to remind the audience that Maverick earned long ago—and mourn his best friend, Goose (Anthony Edwards), who died 35 years ago in an accident for which Maverick still feels responsible. Tom Cruise is also, simply, “Tom Cruise,” the only notable show business scion left to throw his body into mind-numbing danger to prove that it can be done, to show a younger generation that this is what movies can be, what superstars can do. Must do. The more modern action films teem with synthetic bodies bursting apart at the synthetic seams, the more Tom Cruise builds his films as alters upon which to splay his beautiful sacrificed flesh. To that end, Joseph Kosinski is the precisely correct director to steer Cruise’s legacy sequel. As was the case with Kosinski’s Tron: Legacy, Maverick seems to exist to justify its existence, to update an IP that seems to only work in the past. For Top Gun this means translating Scott’s vision of sweat-drenched beach volleyball and unmitigated military spectacle into a soberer IMAX adventure, moving from the halcyon days of Reagan’s America to a world with no more need of a man like Maverick. “The future’s coming, and you’re not in it,” he’s told; every one of his superior officers appears to have no patience for him left. One can’t help but imagine that every new Tom Cruise vehicle is a way for him to reckon with that. Kosinski’s dogfights are pristine, incredible feats of filmmaking, economical and orbiting around recognizable space, but given to occasional, inexplicable shocks of pure chaos. Then quickly cohering again. If Scott’s action was a melange of motion never meant to fully cohere, keeping the American dream just that, then Kosinski is dedicated to allowing the audience a way into the experience. With his regular cinematographer Claudio Miranda, he revels in symmetry to keep the audience tethered. A wide glimpse of a dogfight in total, resembling a beach scene earlier, so suddenly appeared silently in the vast theater and unlike anything I’d ever really seen before, I gasped.—Dom Sinacola


27. The Northman

Forged in flame and fury, Robert Eggers’ The Northman is an exquisite tale of violent vengeance that takes no prisoners. Co-written by Eggers and Icelandic poet Sjón (who also recently co-wrote A24’s Icelandic creature feature Lamb), the film is ever-arresting and steeped in the director’s long-standing penchant for period accuracy. Visually stunning and painstakingly choreographed, The Northman perfectly measures up to its epic expectations. The legend chronicled in The Northman feels totally fresh, and at the same time quite familiar. King Aurvandill (Ethan Hawke) is slain by his brother Fjölnir (Claes Bang), who in turn takes the deceased ruler’s throne and Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman) for his own. Before succumbing to fratricide, Aurvandill names his young son Amleth (Oscar Novak) as his successor, making him an immediate next target for his uncle’s blade. Narrowly evading capture, Amleth rows a wooden boat over the choppy waters of coastal Ireland, tearfully chanting his new life’s mission: “I will avenge you, father. I will save you, mother. I will kill you, Fjölnir.” Years later, Amleth (played by a muscular yet uniquely unassuming Alexander Skarsgård) has distinguished himself as a ruthless warrior among a clan of Viking berserkers, donning bear pelts and pillaging a series of villages in a furious stupor. The Northman is an accessible, captivating Viking epic teeming with the discordant, tandem force of human brutality and fated connection. Nevertheless, it’s worth mentioning that the film feels noticeably less Eggers-like in execution compared to his preceding works. It boasts a much bigger ensemble, seemingly at the expense of fewer unbroken takes and less atmospheric dread. In the same vein, it eschews the filmmaker’s interest in New England folktales, though The Northman does incorporate Eggers’ fascination with forestry and ocean tides. However, The Northman melds the best of Eggers’ established style—impressive performances, precise historical touchstones, hypnotizing folklore—with the newfound promise of rousing, extended action sequences. The result is consistently entertaining, often shocking and imbued with a scholarly focus. It would be totally unsurprising if this were deemed by audiences as Eggers’ definitive opus. For those already enamored with the director’s previous efforts, The Northman might not feel as revelatory as The Witch or as dynamic at The Lighthouse. What the film lacks in Eggers’ filmic ideals, though, it more than makes up for in its untouchable status as a fast-paced yet fastidious Viking revenge tale. The Northman is totally unrivaled by existing epics—and perhaps even by those that are undoubtedly still to come, likely inspired by the scrupulous vision of a filmmaker in his prime.—Natalia Keogan


26. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

In Rian Johnson’s latest Knives Out mystery, the Glass Onion is as much a metaphor for the nature of the whodunit as it is for the grandeur of the film itself. Resting upon a gorgeous Greek villa (on a billionaire’s private island, no less), the titular emblem is created through a combination of VFX and a practical structure that stands a mighty 20 meters high. Made in the U.K. from all-glass paneling, the Onion’s design was so intricate that it had to be assembled in its birthplace first to ensure that all its pieces fit together, disassembled entirely for its journey to a Serbian studio and then reassembled for the film. This extravagance perfuses beyond budget and set design to inform key elements of the overall work—most notably, its characters, sense of humor and roller coaster narrative. In Glass Onion, everything is more. More jokes. More self-reflexivity. More twists and turns. And, undeniably, more fun. Peeling back the layers of this campy mystery is none other than Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), “The Last of the Gentlemen Sleuths.” He opens a mixed bag of eccentric personalities, including unfiltered fashion designer Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), Connecticut governor Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), mysterious scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.), men’s rights influencer Duke Cody (Dave Bautista), wealthy entrepreneur Miles Bron (Edward Norton) and Andi Brand (Janelle Monáe), his estranged business partner. This absurdly delightful cast and gags are accompanied by a narrative that mirrors their chaos and lightheartedness. Where Knives Out is a straight whodunit, this second installment is more of an adoring parody of the subgenre. From recurring jokes about Clue to the utilization of famous novella tropes, the film dives headfirst into all things murder-mystery. It has multiple puzzles layered onto each other to create a viewing experience jam-packed with revelations and shocks—hence its overarching onion metaphor. Glass Onion is the kind of crowd-pleasing entertainment that is best experienced in a group setting, where the film’s topsy-turvy take on the whodunit is sure to keep you guessing (and laughing).—Kathy Michelle Chacón

25. The Menu

Early in The Menu, director Mark Mylod’s beautiful, intricate dark comedy set amid the trappings of exclusive restaurant culture, a character explains that, for him, art doesn’t matter. Films aren’t important. Neither are books, paintings or music. Food, he tells us, is the purest and best art form, because a great chef’s medium is “the raw materials of life and death.” Like just about every piece of dialogue in the film, written with fiendish joy by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, it’s both funny in the moment and unexpectedly profound in the larger context of The Menu’s dark game. Yes, the enigmatic master chef at the heart of film is playing with the raw materials of life and death on his plates—seafood, fungi, roast chicken, flash-frozen microgreens and plenty of artful foam—but the menu he’s developed, and the film that depicts it, is also dealing with the raw materials of human human life and death. The list of ingredients is long, the techniques complex, but everything is whipped like egg whites into something so light and airy you barely notice the bitterness until it smacks you in the teeth. The restaurant at the heart of this heady recipe is Hawthorne, a fabulously expensive establishment run by the demanding, precise Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes, sharp as carbon steel) from a private island where all the ingredients are local and a seat at the table will set you back more than a grand. Hawthorne serves just 12 diners per service, and on the night we journey to the island, they include everyone from a couple of regulars (Judith Light, Reed Birney) to a renowned and famously hard-to-please food critic (Janet McTeer) to a fading movie star trying to build a second career as a travel show host (John Leguizamo). The film is interested in each of these personalities to varying degrees, but turns particularly sharp focus on Margo (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), a mismatched couple with very different views of what they’re about to experience. Yes, all the ingredients are treated with care, and the film’s early developments are placed with the precision of a single sprig of chives tweezed onto a plating, but the film’s dark secret is that it’s not here to be subtle. Its true strength is not in tweezers, or carefully engineered molecular gastronomy, but in the furious swipes of a cleaver coming at your head. The complexity, both tonally and visually, is there to tease out the film’s black genre heart, and it’s that heart that makes The Menu a delicious and deeply filling experience that will make you beg for a second helping.—Matthew Jackson


24. Broker


“Don’t have a baby if you’ll abandon it.” This is the first line in Broker, uttered by Bae Doona’s single-minded police detective Soo-jin as So-young (Lee Ji-eun, aka IU) leaves her swaddled baby, Woo-sung, outside a church on a rainy Busan night. The following 129 minutes of the film work to contextualize and complicate that statement. To do so, celebrated Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda uses an ensemble of complex, delicately drawn characters with differing opinions, some strong and some weak, about So-young’s choice. The result is a treatise on the families we make and the systems that get in the way of us caring for one another—and one of the best films of the year. Kore-eda’s talent for delicate character work and rich, contemplative pacing is on full display in Broker. Everyone has an opinion about So-young’s choice to leave her child at a baby box, a designated and safe drop-off spot for parents who are unable to care for their children, and Kore-eda unspools them over the course of the film. For Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won), a volunteer at the church who uses his role to steal babies for the adoption black market with friend Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-ho), the act of baby abandonment is deeply personal and deeply wrong. Dong-soo was left at an orphanage as a child, and initially uses So-young as an excuse to release decades of unexpressed anger. While some of these characters are deeply judgmental of one another, Broker itself treats each of its ensemble members with immense empathy. In a different world, this could be a family, but Sang-hyeon, Dong-soo, So-young, Hae-jin and Woo-sung keep coming up against systems and expectations that remind them why they can’t keep each other. While Broker ultimately (mostly) reaffirms the power of the traditional nuclear family unit, it keeps space for more creative and flexible systems of caring—and is a more successful story for it. Every baby deserves to be loved and taken care of, but so does every adult. Broker does an impressive job of articulating how these two truths are inextricably intertwined.—Kayti Burt


23. Babylon

Damien Chazelle’s latest feature, a three-hour “hate letter” to the filmmaking machine, is aptly titled. The film continues a tradition: Decadently dragging Tinseltown through the mud (or, in this case, urine, elephant feces, rat’s blood and Margot Robbie’s projectile vomit). But through all its filth, cynicism and poison-inked vengeance, Babylon cannot help but to be a devoted worshiper at the altar of cinema—and its admiration proves infectious. Babylon begins in 1926 with a less-than-luxurious introduction to Manny Torres (Diego Calva), a pliant protagonist who acts as our eyes and ears through much of the film’s rollercoaster journey. When we first meet the young Mexican immigrant, he wants nothing more than to be on a film set, and will do just about anything to make that happen. His hunger has led him to some strange places, and on this particular day, he is tasked with transporting an adult-sized elephant to a hilltop mansion that will later serve as the location for a sweaty, cocaine-fueled jamboree. It’s at this party, between the thunderous jazz, the hoards of half-nude bodies and warm tungsten lights, that we meet the film’s key players: There’s the guest of honor, Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt), a beloved leading man of the silent pictures; Sidney Palmer (Jovan Adepo), the talented trumpet player leading the live band; Lady Fay Zhu (Li Jun Li), the cabaret performer who wows the crowd with her risqué rendition of “My Girl’s Pussy;” and Margot Robbie’s Nellie LaRoy, a vibrant Hollywood-hopeful who crashes the rager with a little help from a smitten Manny. From shot-by-shot references to films like Sunset Boulevard and Singin’ in the Rain to subtle allusions to the rumors published in Anger’s Hollywood Babylon, Babylon is flooded with Hollywood history, real and mythical. Though Chazelle points a gold-plated middle finger to the industry time and time again, Babylon’s cold heart repeatedly melts away from the warmth it holds for its medium. If you’ve ever been on a set or tried making your own cheap student film, you know that production can be an absolute nightmare, but the result—the pure magic that can be captured with a camera lens—is worth every battle. There’s nothing like the moving image. And there’s nothing like creating it yourself. Babylon is the good and bad. The highs and lows. The profane and the sacred. It’s the complicated mess that was and is our motion picture industry. It’s a comeback from a director bruised by the box office failure of his last film, and a strive to return with something bigger, bolder and dirtier. It’s Hollywood.—Kathy Michelle Chacón


22. Argentina, 1985

The horrendous historical reckoning inherent to Santiago Mitre’s Argentina, 1985 is unmistakably evoked through the film’s title. The Argentine director, who is best known for political dramas that examine the country’s social follies, meticulously recreates the circumstances surrounding what’s considered the most ambitious trial against fascist human rights violations in Latin American history. Co-written by Mitre and Mariano Llinás (the filmmaker behind the four-part epic La Flor), Argentina, 1985 is a stylistically assured procedural that manages to tastefully recount the mass torture, rape, killing and “disappearance” of more than 30,000 Argentine civilians by the military dictatorship during the so-called Dirty War that lasted nearly a decade from 1974 through 1983. Through capturing victim testimonies as they were presented in court during this months-long trial as well as the dogged pursuit for justice by a ragtag team of bravely dedicated prosecutors, the film wholly resists sensationalization, opting instead to faithfully reconstruct the events that culminated in a landmark win for social justice amid a shakily budding democracy. Ricardo Darín plays Julio César Strassera, the lead prosecutor of the Trial of the Juntas, who is initially fearful over the prospect of publicly presiding over the case against these murderous fascists, none more notorious than one-time acting ruler Jorge Rafael Videla. Obviously, Strassera’s apprehension is more than warranted: With the national wounds still raw from the junta’s merry mass extermination of citizens accused of opposing their rule, he immediately begins to fret for the lives of his wife and children. This anxiety manifests in subtle and overt ways — he loses sleep, relies on nerve-numbing cocktails and begins taking his son to school on the subway instead of risking the threat of car bombs being planted in his modest sedan. However, the pressure of this undertaking is partially lifted from his shoulders when deputy prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo (Peter Lanzani) joins the case. Together, they select a legal team to aid in their extensive, labor-intensive hunt for witnesses, incriminating documents and written statements that detail the nauseating cruelty and violence of the junta. While much of the film is focused on the collection of evidence and ensuing court case, Argentina, 1985 is also masterfully imbued with period-specific details in the costume and set design, painstakingly emulated from archival footage. Sumptuously captured by cinematographer Javier Juliá’s lens, these visual facets make the two-hour-and-twenty-minute runtime melt by. Of course, the film’s streamlined, never-clunky narrative is no doubt bolstered by Llinás’ involvement as co-writer. After helming an 808-minute feature in 2018, an 140-minute undertaking must feel like light work.—Natalia Keogan


21. Decision to Leave


A detective finds himself falling for his murder suspect, who is fingered for killing her husband. If that sounds like a plot ripped straight from an Alfred Hitchcock film, that’s because it’s textbook Park Chan-wook. The Korean director has been taking inspiration from Hitchcock for much of his career, one defined by twisty mysteries and perverse thrillers that the Master of Suspense likely could never have fathomed. Park’s latest is perhaps the director’s most Hitchcockian in the most crucial aspects, though also more subdued compared to his track record. Hae-jun (Park Hae-il) is an overworked detective who is—in true clichéd, noir form—married to his job more than to his actual wife. The latter lives in quiet, foggy Iso while the “youngest detective in the country’s history” works weeks in Busan, where the crime and murder that sustains him runs rampant. The couple tends to talk about how to keep their marriage lively instead of actually acting upon it. Hae-jun’s wife (Lee Jung-hyun) relays helpful facts about the health benefits of having regular sex, suggesting that they commit to “doing it” once a week. Still, Hae-jun spends more time on stake-outs than in his own bed due to insomnia, which plagues him as a symptom of his pile of unresolved cases. Concurrently with another active case, Hae-jun finds himself adding another crime to his growing folder: A mountain-climber who fell tragically to his demise. Though by all appearances an accident (despite the late climber’s proficiency), the mountaineer’s much younger Chinese wife, Seo-rae (Tang Wei), quickly elicits suspicion from Hae-jun and his hot-head partner Soo-wan (Go Kyung-Pyo). Park introduces the film’s femme fatale in the most unassuming way: Camera on Hae-jun, with her measured voice off-screen as she enters the morgue to identify her deceased husband. Hyper-stylized, surprisingly funny and a little convoluted, at its heart, Decision to Leave is a tragic story about love, trust and, of course, murder. Arguably, Decision to Leave is more of a romance than anything else; the crime/mystery aspect of the narrative is the least interesting part, though one could assume that’s entirely intentional. While not negligible, the crime is more of a conduit through which the real meat of the story, the relationship between Hae-jun and Seo-rae, is catalyzed and slowly evolves. Their romance is dependent upon requited longing and looming, unresolved threat—the kind of threat that fuels Hae-jun’s sleepless life, the kind that he can’t live without. From the string-centric score to the noir archetypes, to the themes of romance, betrayal, obsession and voyeurism, Decision to Leave is Park’s most clear evocation of Hitchcock to date. Because of this, it becomes somewhat evident where the story will go, even when things take a turn. But the familiarity of the crime narrative reads as intentionally superficial, a vehicle for a more unconventional exploration of the standard detective/femme fatale romance which has laid the foundation for Park’s own sumptuous spin. While not Park’s best work, nor a masterpiece, Decision to Leave is an extravagant and hopelessly romantic thriller that weaves past and present into something entirely its own.—Brianna Zigler


20. Crimes of the Future

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Sharing a title with Cronenberg’s second film, the latest from the body horror auteur is a return to (de)form after two decades of more dialed-back drama. Digging into the art world’s juicy guts and suturing it up as a compelling, ambitious sci-fi noir, Crimes of the Future thrills, even if it leaves a few stray narrative implements sewn into its scarred cavities. The dreamy and experimental Crimes of the Future (1970) sees creative cancers develop in a womanless world ravaged by viruses. New organs are created (and sometimes worshiped) in a broken society now run by fetishists and hurtling towards a dire, damnable biological response. While Cronenberg’s 2022 do-over on the subject of organic novelty in a collapsing society isn’t a remake by any stretch of the new flesh, it addresses the same pet interests that’ve filled his films since the beginning. Thankfully, it does so with new subtextual success and a far more straightforward and accessible text (despite the full-frontal nudity and graphic autopsies). Unlike Cronenberg’s early work, this movie has color, diegetic sound and movie stars. It embraces traditional dramatic pacing and supplements its perversion with cutting-edge effects. And at least now the characters speak to each other—in that detached, psychology-textbook-meets-FM-2030-essay style—while the camera dives deep into the guts that fascinate us. Specifically, the guts of Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen). He and Caprice (Lea Seydoux) are performance artists whose medium is the generation and removal of neo-organs. Saul builds them up, Caprice slices them out. Our destruction of the world, filling its oceans with plastic and its air with pollution, allowed this to happen. Humanity is now literally numb. People slice each other with knives at clubs, or in the street. Recreational surgery is commonplace. Many can only feel real pain while asleep. This unconscious suffering is just one of many sharpened sides of Crimes’ metaphor. Art is evolving to meet this nerve-deadened world on its terms. Humans are too, literally. That’s why Saul’s able to squeeze out nasty new lumps of viscera and why National Organ Registry investigators Wippet (Don McKellar) and Timlin (Kristen Stewart), as well as radical transhumanist Lang (Scott Speedman), find him fascinating. The trio help narratively blend the dystopian bureaucracy and thriving, subversive multimedia generated by Cronenberg’s nihilistic predictions. When we eventually ruin things, there will just as surely be new cogs in old machines as there will be new rebels in old resistances. Erudite and exploitative, gory yet gentle, Crimes of the Future shows the new kids on the chopping block that an old master can still dissect with the best. But Crimes of the Future’s more meaningful impact is in its representation of a trailblazer finally seeing the horizon. Cronenberg’s view of the future understands that the true death of an artist and the death of society at large result from the same tragic failure to evolve—even if that innovation is simply renovation.—Jacob Oller


19. After Yang

In After Yang, the sophomore narrative feature from video essayist-turned-filmmaker Kogonada, the near-future boasts a familiarity that is both comforting and disquieting. The idea that humanity continues to thrive despite the threat of imminent cataclysmic disaster certainly provides solace, but this seemingly idealistic alternative turns out to have its own distinct failings. In this timeline, childcare is virtually handed off to a class of “techno-sapien” laborers, purchased as programmable live-in nannies for children. Though it might meander at times, After Yang—based on Alexander Weinstein’s short story “Saying Goodbye to Yang”—is always emotionally intelligent and artfully prescient, showcasing Kogonada’s penchant for sparse storytelling even if the narrative throughlines don’t always feel as rewarding as the film’s aesthetic splendors. We’re introduced to one such future family in perhaps the most entertaining way possible. The film’s title card appears during a virtual dance competition, featuring families from around the world competing via synchronized choreography. Jake (Colin Farrell) and his wife Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) wear matching unitards with their daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) and her android brother Yang (Justin H. Minh), the family of four performing with nimble accuracy and an appropriate hint of playfulness. As such, it’s surprising when they’re eliminated for being out of sync—until they realize that Yang is robotically repeating the same dance move on a loop. Clearly having suffered a major malfunction, Jake resolves to find a way to fix Yang. Krya, however, sees this as an opportunity to let go of their robot nanny and finally step up for Mika as proper caretakers. Yet Mika can’t help but genuinely mourn the absence of her older brother, unable to understand how someone so integral to her life could simply cease to function merely as the result of planned obsolescence and “certified refurbished” scams. Jake and Mika effectively team up to search for a way to save Yang—the pursuit of which teaches Jake about Yang’s hidden interiority, and Mika about the precious (if fleeting) gift of love and connection. After Yang manages to weave together tender truths concerning grief and the delicateness of human connection while also making astute, sober insights on the future of corporeal autonomy and consumer-based surveillance systems. Sharply stylistic and acted with a whole lot of heart, After Yang may not surpass the solemn beauty of Columbus, but this cerebral sci-fi departure for Kogonada definitely delivers.—Natalia Keogan


18. The Sea Beast

When cartographers allowed their senses of imagination and self-preservation to fill the unexplored regions of their maps, they used to warn of creatures like lions, elephants and walruses. Creatures beyond understanding, with teeth and trunks and tusks easy to caricature into danger. But we mostly remember that when you sail to the faded edge of knowledge, there be dragons. The Sea Beast deftly hones this ancient human fear into a sharpened spear tip, striking at ignorance. Its swashbuckling adventure navigates a sea filled with massive critters sure to whet kids’ appetites for piracy, Godzilla films and exciting animation. The first movie from longtime Disney story staple Chris Williams after leaving the House of Mouse for Netflix, The Sea Beast is, to paraphrase Jared Harris’ Ahab-like Captain Crow, all piss and vinegar. That the film even alludes to the phrase, and drops a few other lightly-salted lines you might expect from some seasoned sea dogs, is indicative of its separation from the sanitized juggernaut. It looks violence in the eye; it isn’t afraid to make its threats real. All rightfully so. Telling a tall tale of hunters—mercenary crews funded by a colonialist crown to take out the kaijus populating the ocean—wouldn’t be right without at least a little edge. Our way into the world, the young Maisie (Zaris-Angel Hator), has experienced its dangerous realities firsthand: Her parents went down with a ship, leaving her as one of dozens of hunter orphans. But that hasn’t stopped her from lionizing her martyred family (something explicitly encouraged by the monarchy) and seeking her own glory. Stowing away on Crow’s ship, the Inevitable, she and the capable Jacob (Karl Urban) find themselves confronting the legendary ambitions they’ve built up in their own heads. Williams and co-writer Nell Benjamin immediately drop us into the Inevitable’s quest to take out Crow’s toothy and horned Red Whale, dubbed the Red Bluster, with total confidence that there’s no time like maritime. As our eyes roll and pitch across the impressively realistic waves and our ears try to follow the meticulously detailed helmsmanship, the hunting scenes ensnare us like the catch of the day. We understand the hierarchy of the diverse crew, the honor code among hunters, the tactics needed to take down imposing creatures that look like Toho turned their greatest hits into Pokémon. It’s savvy and respectful writing, put into legible action by Williams’ skilled hand, that trusts in its setting and subject matter to be inherently cool, and in its audience to greedily follow along. By the time the lances are flying, the cannons are firing and the creatures are dying—or are they?—you’re as deeply hooked as any dad watching Master and Commander. A delightful new-school deconstruction of old-school Romantic adventure that never compromises on the lushness of setting, color and emotion inherent in the latter, The Sea Beast rises to the front of Netflix’s animated offerings like a high tide.—Jacob Oller


17. The Banshees of Inisherin

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Whether we wear it on our sleeves or bury it somewhere down in the darkest part of ourselves, we all carry the fear that someday someone we trust and love will simply decide to abandon us. It lives somewhere in each of us in the same vicinity as the fear that, someday, inexplicable and motive-less violence will descend on us and our loved ones—a little knot of dread waiting to unspool. But this fear is quieter, simpler and, therefore, less-often discussed in the wider cultural landscape. There are a lot of films about sudden violence, but you don’t see as many feature-length explorations of straightforward, person-to-person departures. With that in mind, it would be easy to look to Martin McDonagh’s phenomenal The Banshees of Inisherin as some kind of fable, a dark fairy tale from a faraway time and place meant to cast long, shadowy metaphors over our own lives. If you’re willing to look closely, you’ll definitely find all the material you need to make those metaphors happen in your mind, but at the film’s Fantastic Fest premiere, McDonagh himself called it “a simple break-up story,” an exploration of what might happen to two men if one simply decided to cut ties with the other. So, is it a grand, fathoms-deep exploration of the bittersweet nature of human relationships, or “a simple break-up story” that’s just about one Irishman deciding he doesn’t want to see another Irishman anymore? In the end, it’s both, and that’s what makes The Banshees of Inisherin and its blackly hilarious portrait of everyday pain one of the best films of the year. Through beautifully framed shots rich with the texture of rustic stone walls and the warped glass of old windows, McDonagh takes us back to Ireland a century ago, where civil war rages on the mainland and things progress at their usual slow pace on the island of Inisherin. It’s here, with artillery fire raging in the background, that Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) decides he’s done hanging out with his old pub pal Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell). For some on the island, it makes a certain degree of sense—the creative and contemplative Colm and the more simple-minded Pádraic always were a mismatched pair—but for Pádraic, it’s a baffling, literal overnight tectonic shift in his life. He hopes Colm’s sudden distance is part of a fight that he somehow forgot, or a poor choice of words after one too many pints, but according to Colm, it’s painfully, frighteningly simple: “I just don’t like you no more.” It all creates an atmosphere that invites us to ask a question about what we’re watching: On the grand scale of time, does it really matter if one man decides to cut ties with another? Will history record it? Will anyone care? Or, when faced with our own mundane despair in the face of the vast wider world, is being nice to your neighbor the only thing that matters? McDonagh’s characters, and McDonagh himself, might not have an answer for us, but the film’s ability to call these questions to mind is evidence of its haunting power. In its unwavering devotion to the straightforward nature of its story, The Banshees of Inisherin has found something profound and universal, something that will leave you both laughing and shaken to your core. It’s the kind of film that crawls into your soul and stays there.—Matthew Jackson


16. Avatar: The Way of Water

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Avatar: The Way of Water is a promise—like the titular Way as described by a beatific, finned Na’vi fish-people princess, the film connects all things: the past and the future; cinema as a generational ideal and one film’s world-uniting box office reality; James Cameron’s megalomania and his justification for Being Like That; one audience member and another audience member on the other side of the world; one archetypal cliché and another archetypal cliché; dreams and waking life. Avatar’s sequel can be nothing less than a delivery on everything Cameron has said, hyperbolic or not, he would deliver. What’s less clear is exactly what Cameron’s intending to deliver. The Way of Water’s story is a bare bones lesson in appealing to as many worldwide markets as possible, the continuation of the adventures of Bostonian Jake Sully (Sam Worthington, who’s spent the past decade trying not to sound like an outback chimney sweep) as he raises a Na’vi family with like-warrior-minded Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña, screaming from inside her golden prison) and realizes that Earthlings aren’t going to stop colonizing Pandora just because they had their shit kicked in a lifetime ago. The Way of Water’s true achievement is that it looks like nothing else but the first Avatar, unparalleled in detail and scale, a devouring enterprise all to itself. Watching The Way of Water can at times feel astonishing, as if the brain gapes at the sheer amount of physical data present in every frame, incapable of consuming it, but longing to keep up. We believe that this film will redefine box office success because Cameron presents it—making the absolute most of high frame rates, 3-D, and IMAX, normalizing their use, acclimating our brains in ways Ang Lee could only wish—as the next evolutionary step in modern blockbuster filmmaking. This is immersion for its own sake, moviegoing as experience vaunted to the next level, breathtaking in its completely unironic scope. After so many hours in Pandora, untroubled by complicated plot or esoteric myths, caring for this world comes easy. As do the tears. The body reacts as the brain flails. Avatar has consumed James Cameron; it is his everything now, the vehicle for every story he wants to tell, and every story anyone may want to tell—the all-consuming world he’s created is such a lushly resourced aesthetic wonder that anything can be mapped onto its ever-expanding ecosystems. Pandora is a toolbox and ready-made symbol. No film will ever be this beautiful in my lifetime, at least until the next Avatar.—Dom Sinacola


15. Belle

Belle explodes onto the screen with a bombastic concert in a virtual world. Known simply as U, it’s the ultimate virtual community where users can become entirely different from their dull real-life counterparts. Among them is one singer that has captured the love and adoration of billions. As the starlet Belle begins belting out her opening number, center stage on the back of a giant whale, it’s easy to be swept into this vibrant world. Thankfully, Belle has enough substance to back up this spectacle. The crux of writer/director Mamoru Hosoda’s latest film is a reimagined Beauty and the Beast mixed with teenage adversity in a digital wonderland. It’s a potpourri of hormones, misunderstandings and animation styles that recall his 2009 breakthrough Summer Wars. Belle even relies on the family dynamics seen in some of his later movies—like the lone outcast Ren in 2015’s The Boy and the Beast or the wolf siblings in 2012’s Wolf Children. Hosoda’s children have always had to endure great tragedies. It’s within this combination of family struggles and virtual reality that Belle finds its groove. Suzu (Kaho Nakamura) is a 17-year-old high school student who lives in the countryside with her father (Koji Yakusho). Although a few years have passed since the death of her mother, Suzu is still traumatized. She’s shut out the world around her, her despair sapping her of her joy and love of singing. Her relationship with her father is nonexistent, and she’s a certifiable pariah at school. Suzu takes the plunge and joins the world of U. This new world—free of the pressures of reality—allows Suzu to pursue singing once again. That’s until trouble arises in the form of a violent avatar known as “The Dragon.” Belle’s most spellbinding sequences come from inside the virtual world of U. Colorful 3D figures float through a kaleidoscope of colors and towering structures. The biggest setpieces in the movie take place here: An epic concert for billions of eager spectators, a battle through a castle—these are only a few of the memorable sights and sounds of U. To get an idea of what it sounds like, Nakamura’s contributions are like a mixture of rap and pop that becomes an instant earworm like on the opening title, “U.” The song brings in a wild rhythm while Nakamura races to keep up with the beat. It’s the perfect introduction to this futuristic virtual world. Other songs, like the ballad “Lend Me Your Voice” and the soaring anthem “A Million Miles Away,”Beauty and the Beast, it’s also a moving story about overcoming grief and seeking help when everything seems lost. Though it tackles a little too much, Belle is a triumph.—Max Covill


14. Dual


In Dual, everyone talks like they’re a robot. Perhaps that’s because they want to better integrate new Replacements, clones made of terminally ill or otherwise on-their-way-out people, into the world. Maybe it’s because the delivery is supposed to be as dry, strange and winning as the low-key sci-fi itself. Regardless, this idiosyncratic acting choice by writer/director Riley Stearns is just one of many over the course of his third and (so far) best movie. The world of Dual is near-future, or present-adjacent but in another dimension. Its video chat is Zoom-like, but texting has more of a coding aesthetic. Its minivans still run on gas, but you can make a clone out of spit in an hour. Its people still love violent reality TV, but its shows sometimes involve government-mandated fights to the death between people who discover they’re no longer dying and their Replacements. It’s the latter situation in which Sarah (Karen Gillan) finds herself. After puking up blood, creating a clone to take over her life and receiving improbable good news from a scene-stealingly funny doctor, Sarah finds that she has a year to prepare for the fight of (and for) her life. Stearns shoots the film in grim, hands-off observations sapped of color and intimacy, but with amusing angles or choices (like a long take watching characters do slo-mo play-acting) that add visual energy to the bleakness. As we see this unfurl, we root for Sarah’s success not because we want her to get her old, sad life back, but because the training process has opened her up to life beyond those walls. It can be read as a redemptive allegory representing a life-shaking break-up or other crisis, but Stearns’ deadpan script and wry situations rarely give you enough distance to consider Dual beyond the hilarious text in front of you. Gillan goes beyond a cutesy Black Mirror performance to find tragedy, obscene humor and warmth even in her relatively stoic roles, but the shining star of the show is Aaron Paul, who gets the biggest laugh lines as her intense combat instructor. Somewhere between a living instruction manual and the “Self-Defense Against Fresh Fruit” Monty Python sketch, Paul’s character is a riot as he attempts to familiarize Sarah with weapons and desensitize her to violence. His performance is just as committed as his serious scene partner’s, but when the two are in the groove together, Dual transcends to such big-hearted, surreal silliness that I had a hard time calming my laughter down as the film reminded me that death was on the line. Stearns’ work has always been a bit of a specific flavor, a little like that of Yorgos Lanthimos where if you’re not in on the dark joke you can feel ostracized from the universe of the movie, and Dual is both his most successful and most eccentric yet. But if you’re blessed with matching taste, where you’ll put up with a bunch of over-literal, stiff-backed oddballs dealing with a clone crisis, you’ll find a rewarding and gut-busting film that’s lingering ideas are nearly as strong as its humorous, thoughtful construction.—Jacob Oller


13. Kimi

A modern update on the jangling conspiratorial thrills of films like The Conversation and Blow Out, Steven Soderbergh’s Kimi was a jolt of energy for me in the early days of 2022 that no film since has been able to replicate. Nearly a decade since he announced his premature retirement, the Oscar-winning director demonstrated yet again that he’s one of the most relevant filmmakers in the game, centering his latest around tech worker Angela Childs (Zoë Kravitz) as she tries to unravel a crime overheard by the eponymous Alexa-like device. Soderbergh is a remarkable craftsman, so even on a surface level Kimi was always going to be a masterfully executed bit of pulp entertainment. But what makes this film more than mere “imitation Blow Out” is its lead. In bringing the paranoia thriller into the modern age, Soderbergh and screenwriter David Koepp have also delivered a film with a keen eye in correcting long-damaging cinematic tropes around the portrayal of Autistic characters. When she opens the door and heads outside, the aesthetic dramatically changes. Soderbergh overwhelms us with the blaring light of day and the sonic cavalcade of the busy streets, having us feel what it’s like to be in Angela’s skin. He places her in the corner of the frame, so tiny as she crams herself up against a wall to avoid being touched by passersby. This sensory overload—bombarded by an array of unfamiliar sights, sounds and textures—is perhaps the closest I’ve personally felt to a film mirroring my own experience, incredible in its activation of all senses to situate us in Angela’s shoes. We’re no longer in a controlled bubble, and the shift is terrifying. Angela Childs isn’t a superhero. She’s just struggling to get through the day in a world that isn’t designed to accommodate her. She’s discovered a wrong and wants to make it right. Kimi could have been a thriller about anyone. Replace this character with someone neurotypical and it more or less functions the same. It’s a thriller about a character who, I believe, happens to be Autistic, without the need to shout it big and loud. That kind of representation is the most thrilling there is, as it demonstrates that people like Angela are out here in the world experiencing the same kinds of stories as other characters in film—just with their own perspective, one which Kimi captures with aplomb.—Mitchell Beaupre


12. Turning Red

Filmmaker Domee Shi (who delivered the best short Pixar’s ever made in Bao) becomes the first woman to direct a Pixar movie alone, and her floofy red panda’s coming-of-age story stretches the strengths of the company’s legacy. Turning Red is a hyper-cute whirlwind of figurative layers and literal loveliness, dense with meaning and meaningful even to the most dense among us. An exceptional puberty comedy by way of Sanrio-branded Kafka, Turning Red’s truthful transformations are strikingly charming, surprisingly complex and satisfyingly heartfelt. And yes, so cute you might scream until you’re red in the face. Hyperactive 13-year-old overachiever Meilin Lee (Rosalie Chiang) likes to think she runs Toronto with her weirdo friends, partitioning her life into boy-band obsession, extracurricular exceptionalism and deference to intense mom Ming (Sandra Oh) and soft-spoken dad Jin (Orion Lee). She’s got it all balanced, embodying the multiple identities we develop as we become our own people with the overwhelming energy of someone discovering this exciting new freedom for the first time. Chiang’s crackling vocal performance and a blistering visual pace right out the gate make it clear that Mei’s a ridiculous little goober who knows exactly who she is. That is, until she’s “visited by the red panda.” What initially seems like a fairly straightforward allegory for the bodily betrayal and raging emotions of puberty starts scooping up more and more relatable elements into its impressive, finely detailed bear hug. Shi and co-writer Julia Cho weave an ambitious amount of themes into a narrative that’s main plot engine is boy-band concert lust. Its love-hate bout with puberty is obvious, but self-actualization, filial piety and intergenerational trauma keep its romping red wonder from feeling one-note or derivative of underwhelming transformation tales. Turning Red’s oddball characters and well-rooted fantasy inject personality into the common plot device. Not only one of Pixar’s best efforts from the last half-decade, Turning Red is one that overcomes some of the animation giant’s weaknesses. It’s original and human-centric; it’s not particularly beholden to messages more weepy for adults than enjoyable for children. It’s funny without being overly witty and smart without being overly heady. Shi displays a fantastic ability for integrating the specific and personal into the broad beats of a magical cartoon, all done sweetly and endearingly enough to become an instant favorite among modern kids and those who’ll recognize their past selves. —Jacob Oller


11. A Love Song


One of my grandpas died right before the pandemic. My grandma met someone in the middle of it. Her new relationship wasn’t well-liked in my family, but it made her giddy as a schoolgirl—finding another cowboy to look at livestock with, play cards with, to make dinner with. When I was little, she used to live in a trailer, driven out into the woods and bricked into the earth. I see a lot of her in writer/director Max Walker-Silverman’s sublime debut, A Love Song, where a widow and widower find a teenage verve for each other—weathered but not beaten in the sun of the American west. Faye (Dale Dickey) lingers at one of several campsites surrounding a crawfish-filled lake, waiting for Lito (Wes Studi). She’s not sure he’ll arrive, but as we observe her daily routine—listening to birds, making coffee and catchin’ crawdads as she spins the radio dial in search of another country tune—her uneasiness is couched in a kind of contentment. Walker-Silverman situates us the same way, with ogling environmental photography that takes pleasure in a rare flowery purple on dried brown dirt and Faye’s tininess in relation to the lake, the mountains and the overwhelming dark (or starry splendor) of night. The location is spectacular but, conspicuously, never as enthralling as the actors. When they eventually meet up, top-level turns from Studi and Dickey combine for a contained masterclass, a relationship that’s been nursing a low flame for decades. They’re shy, affectionate and oh-so awkward—spurred by nervous attraction and lingering guilt surrounding their lost loved ones—with an honesty that makes the most of a sparse and quiet script. A Love Song’s a brief and pretty little thing—less than 90 minutes—with the warm melancholy of revisiting a memory or, yes, an old jukebox love song. Walker-Silverman displays a keen eye, a deep heart and a sense of humor just silly enough to sour the saccharine. Dickey takes advantage of one of the best roles she’s ever had to tap into something essential about loss, lonesomeness and resilience. Her performance is a gift, one given by someone who knows about simple pleasures and those that last—how both are important, and how they might not always be separate.—Jacob Oller


10. RRR


A Telugu epic rivaling even the over-the-top antics of writer/director S. S. Rajamouli’s previous massive blockbusters (the two Baahubali films), RRR’s endearingly repetitive and simple title reflects a three-hour romp through Indian colonial history filled with the primal pleasures of brotherhood and balls. Almost cartoonishly political, its story of star-crossed besties Alluri Sitarama Raju (Ram Charan) and Komaram Bheem (N. T. Rama Rao Jr.) is one focused on shallow contrasts masking bone-deep similarities. Based on two superheroicized revolutionaries—ones that never, but should have, saved a child by simultaneously bungeeing a tethered motorcycle and horse over opposite sides of a bridge—the at-odds heroes represent the rural and urban poles opposing the British colonizers. Caricatures of the urbane heartthrob and the noble backwoods beast, the two embodiments of cultural pride battle CG beasts, ridiculous Brits and each other—though you can’t help but hope they end up holding each other tight. (They do squats while riding each other piggyback. C’mon.) Their back-and-forth, glisteningly homoerotic friendship walks a taut narrative tightrope, but with the movie’s maximalist filmmaking as its balancing rod. A phenomenally thrumming and amusingly worded soundtrack accompanies some of the year’s most bombastic action sequences and charming dance scenes without mussing a single mustache hair. The two beefy and hyper-masculine leads span silent comedy, musical song-and-dance prowess and elegant fight choreography as the kind of do-it-all stars we just don’t get in the U.S. anymore. As their morally turbulent path rages against the pure evil of the cruel white oppressors, any doubt that RRR is a modern myth fades deep into the shadows of the jungle. Overflowing with symbols, political shorthand and stereotypes of all kinds, RRR rises, roars and revolts with raw cinematic power—and enough fascinating density to warrant watching and discussing over and over again.—Jacob Oller


9. TÁR

Lydia Tár’s fabled career can be summed up in one four-letter word: EGOT. The all-consuming subject of writer-producer-director Todd Field’s TÁR joins rank with Tracy Jordan as one of the only fictional forces of gravity to pull it off. A career composer, Tár (Cate Blanchett) climbed the ranks from prestigious orchestra to more prestigious orchestra until she mounted the top of the totem. A titan of the medium, a la Leonard Bernstein (her mentor), she’s managed to usurp critique through sheer contribution, an untouchable virtuoso. But power is fleeting. Once a symbol of modernity, a harbinger of artistic progress breaking ground for women conductors, now she breathes smoke. She doesn’t see it, but everyone else can—uncritical, exploitative, out of touch, legendary debris from an imploding generation hellbent on teaching a lesson. She’s come full circle in her philosophies by the time we meet her in her 50s. On a scale from The Assistant to TMZ, TÁR is as much the former as a Hollywood-made cancel-culture narrative can be. Most of the film snails along with a still yet compelling subtlety, hovering in the consequential despair of actions past, the spaces in between. The dry, tense tone is interrupted every so often by the discordant tuning of an orchestra, or an explosive performance at the conductor’s podium in Berlin, or a rare crumb of confession, until the mood suddenly shifts from slow spiral to imminent plane crash and the drama sets in. Field’s first film in 16 years lands with a thud. Not a crack, or a bang, or a boom, but a lead-heavy thud—the kind that shakes the earth after the toppling of a giant, slow-falling tree, one that takes two hours and 38 minutes to hit the ground. If we measured the maestro’s intelligence the way Schopenhauer did, by one’s “sensitivity to noise,” she’s all but illiterate at this point, incapable of sitting down at the piano without looking over her shoulder or going for a run in fear of her own footsteps. We witness it in slow motion with rapt attention, always out of the loop, Tár’s every move taking on more severity, more self-assurance, more insecurity, until it can’t.—Luke Hicks


8. Nope

Among his most amusing directorial quirks, Jordan Peele appreciates the melodrama of a good biblical citation: 2019’s killer doppelgänger vehicle Us tirelessly invokes Jeremiah 11:11 and his latest effort Nope opens with Nahum 3:6: “I will cast abominable filth upon you, make you vile, and make you a spectacle.” It’s that last clause which perfuses Nope, a shrewd, tactile yarn about a brother-sister rancher duo in pursuit of video evidence of a UFO circling their home. Though Peele routinely prods at the Hollywood machine and its spectacles, here he unlades it all: Image-making as brutality, catharsis, posterity, surveillance, homage, indulgence. Six months after a freak accident killed their father, siblings OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald Haywood (Keke Palmer) have taken over “Haywood’s Hollywood Horses,” Agua Dulce’s intergenerational horse-wrangling business which specializes in equine showbiz. Working in beautiful contradistinction, Kaluuya plays OJ as stoic and reticent—the true older brother type—and Palmer’s Emerald is prodigiously magnetic and full of puckish chatter. After a series of strange happenings—blackouts, agitated horses, pained noises emanating from the canyons—OJ observes what appears to be a flying saucer gliding through the inky night sky. The next day he spots a cloud that doesn’t move an inch. Suspecting a connection between the saucer and their father’s death, OJ and Emerald enlist the help of gawky, unstable techie Angel (Brandon Perea) and renowned documentarian Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott, excellent rasp) to obtain proof of the UFO, with intent to profit off of the footage. In a sense, the Haywoods want to make a movie. This is Peele rescripting the American film canon, asking what it means to engage with such an exclusionary medium. Shot in IMAX by Dutch cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema—a Christopher Nolan regular, responsible for the slick, beautified landscapes of Interstellar, Dunkirk and TenetNope configures a world of sweeping, dusty landscapes and bloodied dwellings. Steven Spielberg is less a point of reference here than he is the emotional roadmap. The Close Encounters of the Third Kind comparisons write themselves, but notionally, Nope is more like Jaws in the sky. Parts neo-Western, family drama, sci-fi and cosmic horror, Nope sees Peele balance more throughlines here than ever before: Aliens, Muybridge revisionism, undigested grief, chimpanzee carnage, a punctilious documentarian chasing the impossible. Nope is indisputably one for Peele—a spectacle in the least derogatory sense; a palimpsest of nostalgic blockbusters and Peele’s deservedly self-assured vision of Hollywood’s future; but mostly, a solution to and an undertaking of modernity.—Saffron Maeve


7. A Hero


What’s the price for having a conscience? Iranian master Asghar Farhadi’s A Hero spirals out a good deed to all its messy conclusions, providing fertile ground for the filmmaker’s command of aesthetic realism and closeknit interpersonal dynamics. Rahim (Amir Jadidi), a jailed debtor, returns a bag filled with money that he found on leave. The consequences from that act, pushed and prodded and wheedled by Farhadi’s script—which adds a deft understanding of social media to a sharply constructed web of relationships and reputations—are an endurance test for the tear ducts. Doomed nobility is the biggest ask for Jadidi, but his big toothy smile and world-beaten posture allow him to find the perfect amounts of charm (whether genuine or off-putting) or pathos (which we know he’d hate) in Rahim. Sahar Goldoost, Maryam Shahdaei and Alireza Jahandideh make the film a truly potent ensemble drama, while Farhadi’s daughter, Sarina Farhadi, has a memorable return to the screen a decade since her last role, in Farhadi’s A Separation.—Jacob Oller


6. X

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X is a remarkable and unexpected return to form for director Ti West, a decade removed from an earlier life as an “up and coming,” would-be horror auteur who has primarily worked as a mercenary TV director for the last 10 years. To return in such a splashy way, via an A24 reenvisioning of the classic slasher film, intended as the first film of a new trilogy or even more, is about the most impressive resurrection we’ve seen in the horror genre in recent memory. X is a scintillating combination of the comfortably familiar and the grossly exotic, instantly recognizable in structure but deeper in theme, richness and satisfaction than almost all of its peers. How many attempts at throwback slasher stylings have we seen in the last five years? The answer would be “countless,” but few scratch the surface of the tension, suspense or even pathos that X crams into any one of a dozen or more scenes. It’s a film that unexpectedly makes us yearn alongside its characters, exposes us (graphically) to their vulnerabilities, and even establishes deeply sympathetic “villains,” for reasons that steadily become clear as we realize this is just the first chapter of a broader story of horror films offering a wry commentary on how society is shaped by cinema. Featuring engrossing cinematography, excellent sound design and characters deeper than the broad archetypes they initially register as to an inured horror audience, X offers a modern meditation on the bloody savagery of Mario Bava or Lucio Fulci, making old hits feel fresh, timely and gross once again. In 2022, this film is quite a gift to the concept of slasher cinema. —Jim Vorel


5. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

Guillermo del Toro has never shied away from infusing the harsh realities of life and death into the journeys of his young protagonists. His fascination with the intersections of childhood innocence and macabre whimsy are what make him the ideal co-director of Netflix’s newest Pinocchio adaptation, a work that marvelously marries the filmmaker’s flair for dark fantasy with the equally strange fairy tale elements of Carlo Collodi’s 1883 The Adventures of Pinocchio. Like all successful marriages, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio brings out the very best of both parties. The stop-motion musical is an artistic triumph that colors Collodi’s cherished storybook characters with humanity and depth to craft a mature tale about rebellion, mortality and the love between a parent and child. This rendition marks the 22nd film adaptation of the Italian novel, and while it remains true to the grisly nature of Collodi’s original stories, it boldly departs from its dated moral lessons. In The Adventures of Pinocchio (and notable renditions thereafter), Pinnochio’s many escapades are structured as cause-and-effect narratives that serve to caution children against defiant behavior. In Disney’s 1940 animated feature, an evening of fun and relaxation on “Pleasure Island’’ nearly turns the wooden boy into a salt-mining donkey. In the original serial La Storia di un Burattino, delinquent behavior leads him to a gruesome death. These values of compliance and servility are reversed by del Toro’s fascist setting. In his Pinocchio, disobedience is a virtue—not a crime. These moral examinations are given a sense of urgency in death—a theme that informs so much of the film’s mind and soul. Where previous adaptations are preoccupied with life—with the puppet’s extraordinary consciousness and the hope that he may someday become a “real boy”—del Toro’s Pinocchio is interested in what our mortality can teach us about being human. In the film, death is never too far away from the protagonist or his loved ones. Death touches Carlo, then remains close to Pinocchio throughout his epic journey. The beauty of del Toro’s Pinocchio is that death isn’t treated with the usual dread and cynicism we typically see in the Western world. Here, death is mysterious, ethereal, soaked in gorgeous blue light. Death is not something to be feared, but respected and accepted when the time comes, because the notion that we will someday—maybe unexpectedly—leave this earth is what makes our time here so beautiful. I don’t typically advise listening to crickets, but believe Sebastian J., because the story of Pinocchio has never been told quite like this.—Kathy Michelle Chacón


4. The Fabelmans

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Embodied by Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle), Spielberg’s story is one of sacrifice and selfishness—at least, that’s how he tells it as a man in his mid-70s, wistfully looking back. Structured to simultaneously track his relationship with movies and his parents’ relationship with each other, The Fabelmans’ memoir flickers and jumps. Its drama is deeply intimate and the vignettes well-remembered. Whether Sammy is played by the young Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord (perhaps the biggest- and bluest-eyed child to have ever lived) and recreating The Greatest Show on Earth with toy trains, or by LaBelle, whose snide teenage edge makes the prodigy relatable, he has the same dissociation and intimacy to the events and people around him as a filmmaker does to his subjects. Even as a child, Sammy is both the main character of his life and the orchestrator of others’. Except for his parents. Mitzi (Michelle Williams) and Burt (Paul Dano), the pianist and the computer pioneer. Their separation would influence some of America’s biggest blockbusters, but how they approached their own callings would dig even deeper under their first child’s skin. Williams, often dressed in ethereal whites and always on the cusp of succumbing to the vapors, embodies artistry set aside for family—suppressed in a way that is slowly killing her. Mitzi’s a flashing warning light as red as her fingernails and lips. Don’t bottle up your needs, creative or romantic, or it’ll lead to heartbreak. Dano stuffs his feelings just as deeply, burying them beneath Burt’s professional achievements: Innovation and ambition dictating the life of his family, keeping the trivialities that make it worth living at arm’s length. He’s as serious as the short-sleeves and ties that NASA employees wore getting us to the Moon, but with enough geeky giddiness that it’s easy to forgive him. At least he’s doing what he loves. One of The Fabelmans’ greatest pleasures is its devotion to the filmmaking process and its playful relationship to putting that process through the paces. Sammy, running off to his room after another hard day of growing up, finds the same beauty in his snapshots of the everyday as we do when Spielberg presents them to us throughout Sammy’s life. A procession of delinquent shopping carts, blown through the intersection by a tornado. Sammy’s tipsy mom dancing in the headlights, her translucent nightgown revealing her to her children, seated around the campsite’s fire, as a woman. These are the images that make up a life, the touchstone sounds (rattling, misaligned wheels on asphalt) and shadows (the dark curves of leg beneath gauzy fabric) that linger over the decades. As Sammy discovers—-on his own and with conversations with his sister (Julia Butters), bully (Sam Rechner) and two scene-stealing old-timers of the industry (Judd Hirsch’s great-uncle Boris and David Lynch’s phenomenal John Ford)—observing your own life not just as someone living it, but as an artist intent on using it, is a lonely way to go. But sometimes you don’t have a choice. There is a terrible cost to dedicating your life to something, an understanding that everything and everyone else is inherently bumped down on your list of priorities. Even in The Fabelmans’ most meandering digressions, Spielberg is reckoning with the central contradiction of his medium. How can someone who sweats over his own memories, frame by frame, be at a remove from them? How can someone be anything but a perfectionist workaholic when they know they’re shutting out their loved ones in favor of their craft? It’d be disrespectful to those left behind if you gave your art anything but your best shot. The Fabelmans makes the bargain look painful, self-centered and utterly joyful—a genius embracing his regrets and in so doing, reminding us of how lucky we are that we all pay some version of this price, for ourselves and for one another.—Jacob Oller


3. Athena

It’s been more than a decade since Romain Gavras filled his raw music video for “No Church in the Wild” with Molotovs, stolen police horses and dropkicked riot shields—visual motifs of protest heroics—and the only thing that’s changed is our familiarity with the aftermath. The rage behind these images still burns, but we know the cold comfort left behind when the embers are finally stomped out. Yet, the only thing to do is light the blaze again, which Gavras does in the riveting, vital Athena. A war epic between the people and the state, it sprints through a grassroots resistance movement like a brushfire: Blinding, dangerous, all-consuming. The warzone is Athena, a French housing project, where tragedy has assembled a community, grown from a family. Idir, 13 and the youngest of four brothers—Karim (Sami Slimane), Abdel (Dali Benssalah) and Moktar (Ouassini Embarek)—has been beaten to death by police. Someone recorded it on their phone. But we find this out in sprinkled bits of exposition, blown to confetti and wafting through the smoke-filled air. Our immediate attention is on Karim, leading a tracksuited pack of neighbors and like-minded young people, raiding a police station. The opening scene, the first of many incredible feats of planning, camerawork and drone operation, will make you vibrate through your seat. Gavras shoots long tracking shots like caffeine straight into your eyes: Painfully energizing. Athena’s opening is one of the year’s best, a piece of relentless, fist-pumping, jaw-clenching, goosebumping action that doesn’t stop until you’re fully radicalized. It’s then that you start peering through the style, seeing how it mirrors the personalities of its perspective characters. There’s a reason Athena feels like a heart attack in motion. There’s pain and panic. Your heart rate isn’t spiking just from the rush. But until we realize that, Karim and his crew star in a sweeping, large-scale epic—a modern 1917 where the horrifying euphoria of war has come home. Athena isn’t here for subtlety. It’s here to blow the drums out of your ears, the lids off your eyes, the lead from your shoes. With shots that start at “un-fucking-believable” and rocket towards “im-fucking-possible,” its grandiose vision aims to define an international symbol of modernity: Protest As War. Benssalah and Slimane, more political gradients than people, guide us along the mythmaking until we’ve fully grasped the absurdity of Athena being both the God of wisdom and war. But, as Frank Ocean sings in “No Church in the Wild,” what’s a God to a nonbeliever? Athena burns bright and fast, searing its unforgettable battle cry into the screen over just 99 minutes. Its idealistic action will stay with you for far longer.—Jacob Oller


2. Aftersun

Parents and children can develop a sixth sense about each other—or, at very least, they can attune some of their five basic senses to each other’s wavelengths without even trying, and those sensitivities sometimes linger. Aftersun communicates its understanding of this connection right away. When Calum (Paul Mescal), a young father on vacation with his 11-year-old daughter Sophie (Francesca Corio), pauses before leaving her alone for a moment, even though he’s out of her sight, she can hear his hesitation. She assures him it’s fine to leave her. Calum’s uncertainty makes sense. Gradually, the movie reveals the basics of their relationship: Sophie’s parents are divorced, seemingly amicably, at least by this point. Sophie lives with her mother in Scotland. Calum lives in London, and doesn’t see her as often as either of them might like. Now they are on end-of-summer holiday in Turkey, at a resort hotel, though Calum can’t afford the all-inclusive passes that would get them unlimited food, drink or whatever else. The pair of them get along—though, as with the friendliness of the divorced co-parents, you get the sense that this may not have always been the case. The time, based on Sophie’s “No Fear” baseball cap and the later-period Britpop that appears on the diegetic soundtrack (“Tender” by Blur; “Road Rage” by Catatonia), the very late ’90s. Eventually, flashes of Sophie as an adult, played by Celia Rowlson-Hall, make it clear that she is remembering this trip, with the help of some home videos we see her taking at the time, and rewatching later. I hesitate to reveal even these minor details, not because Aftersun is full of twists and turns, but because writer/director Charlotte Wells lets this memoir-like movie unfold with such impossible loveliness—and then, as it goes on, with something ineffably anxious beneath the surface. The movie is mostly Sophie’s her point of view, but sometimes Wells follows Calum away from his daughter’s eyes. Are we seeing the truth of those moments, or Sophie’s attempt to reconstruct them years later? Aftersun doesn’t fuss around too much with underlining these ambiguities, though it does use some of its pop songs to comment directly on the action in ways that are at once rapturous and goofily literal, which may be the movie’s way of keeping in touch with its inner tween. Yet Sophie can’t live in that 11-year-old’s memories forever. We see her turning them over in her head, and the movie itself pulls off a devastating flip, from low-key, observant idyll to something profoundly moving about the closeness and distance that can develop in families, sometimes at the same time. In its gentle, modest way, Aftersun might well break your heart.—Jesse Hassenger


1. Hit the Road


The debut of writer/director Panah Panahi (yes, son of famed Iranian New Waver Jafar Panahi), Hit the Road is a sharp and endearing portrait of a family painted through a series of road trip conversations—often veiled, openly lying, or disguised by ballbusting humor. His ensemble includes a car karaoke queen mother (Pantea Panahiha), broken-legged father (Hasan Majuni), quiet driver son (Amin Simiar) and his scene-stealing fireball of a little brother (Rayan Sarlak). And a cute puppy, which means constant pee breaks. Together, they traverse the dry and rural roads fulfilling checkpoints for a mysterious quest that becomes clearer and clearer as they go. Panahi dwells on lived-in conversational rhythms as much as landscapes, both beautiful and affecting in their own ways. Sarlak’s manic little squirt often pays his respects to the picturesque horizon, but every long and loving sparring match between family members contains just as much reverence. It’s this adoration for closeness—and the confidence and trust in your cast to simply sit and shoot them rambling affectionate obscenities for long, long takes—that makes the film’s bittersweetness work so well. When Sarlak’s hilarious antics (he needs to get his contraband cell phone back because of all the people who constantly want to chat with him) and his parents’ deadpanned one-liners give way to fears about loss and separation, familiar modes of connective chatter become coping mechanisms and then reverse course, sometimes in seconds. Panahiha is particularly potent at this, letting it all play on her face—while singing her heart out, no less. For his part, the incredible Sarlak gets a musical moment as show-stopping as Mads Mikkelsen’s Another Round finale last year. It’s a movie where anyone can be a punchline, but nobody’s ever the butt of the joke. There’s too much love at hand, and even a child’s goofy babblings about the Batmobile can be transcendent moments of beauty. The road trip always has to have an end, but the excellent Hit the Road promises that the journey is as good as the people crammed in alongside you.—Jacob Oller

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