The 25 Best Movies of 2024 (So Far)

Movies Lists Best of the Year
The 25 Best Movies of 2024 (So Far)

The best movies of 2024 have come tumbling out in a rush befitting the start-and-stop movie cycle that had a major hiccup when its unions needed to strike to get the treatment they deserved. Now that everyone’s getting paid and boasting some minor contractual protections against encroaching AI, we’re seeing a lovely mix of blockbusters, festival hits, streaming surprises and touring roadshow workhorses enter the cinematic conversation. Memorial Day’s box office might’ve been a bust, but that’s not the fault of the movies themselves — with Dune: Part Two, the new Planet of the Apes and Furiosa, even the franchises are (mostly) pulling their weight this year.

The numbers might reflect the studios’ increased dependence on streaming and at-home rental deals (who knows how big some of these movies could’ve been if they’d just been allowed to play theaters for a few more weeks), but I also wonder how much of the pop cultural half-year’s relative insubstantiality comes down to all the drama happening outside screens small and large. The internet is becoming increasingly useless, unless you’re looking for video clips of war crimes, while political scandal more clearly addresses us as a collective than any crossover film hit. That makes the movies that have stuck in our minds all the more impressive. The number of Dune and Challengers memes speaks to more than just Zendaya’s star power, just as the radical insight of I Saw the TV Glow and The People’s Joker speaks to more than any “moment” for trans filmmakers. So far, the best movies of 2024 have had a lot to compete with, and by tapping into our collective unrest, rather than assuaging us with base entertainment, they work in tandem with our discomfort.

And now we’ve compiled our list of the best movies of 2024, alphabetized and ready to fill your watchlist. We left off plenty of good upcoming films heading our way from festivals, like Megalopolis, Kinds of Kindness, Black Box Diaries and Between the Temples. But even without those buzzy Cannes and Sundance titles, we’ve still gotten new Radu Jude, Ethan Coen, Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Richard Linklater and Rose Glass films. Not to mention all the folks breaking out with their first big features. Together these filmmakers defy any claims that the movies are dying, despite what box office prognosticators may think. This was a tough list to pare down, but these 25 movies are all worth seeking out — in theaters or at home.

Here are the best movies of 2024 (so far):


Challengers

Release Date: April 26, 2024
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Stars: Zendaya, Josh O’Connor, Mike Faist
Rating: R
Runtime: 131 minutes

There’s no need to know, or even enjoy, anything about the sport of tennis to find enjoyment in director Luca Guadagnino’s Challengers. Still, tennis is inextricably knotted to its sensuous love triangle, which evolves over the course of 13 tumultuous years, climaxing with a match between two estranged players whose love story eclipses the more overt romance between the pair and Zendaya’s tennis prodigy, Tashi Duncan. But it is a story of desire, love, power and co-dependency between three gifted young athletes who all hold that nagging fear, even in their early 30s, that their best years are behind them. The only thing that can reinvigorate their lost sparks is base, animalistic competition, like that which fueled their chaotic threesome over a decade prior to the lowly Fire Town challenger tournament in New Rochelle, New York. We first meet Tashi and Art Donaldson (Mike Faist), married and with a mostly neglected young daughter, after Tashi’s best tennis-playing days are behind her (due to a consequential leg injury) and Art is all but bereft of his mojo. In an effort to get his head back in the game and out of early retirement, Tashi enrolls him in a challenger: A small, U.S. Open qualifier that should be beneath an athlete whose face adorns ads the size of building facades. The goal is to have Art compete against players who are obviously below him in order to loosen him up and regain his confidence. The only problem is, it’s the same kind of minor sporting event that attracts a hard-up guy like Patrick Zweig (Josh O’Connor). Thirteen years earlier, Patrick and Art were both just two young tennis studs who once jerked off together (what guys can’t say the same?), in love with the same beautiful woman. Thirteen years later, one of them got the girl, the other is cosplaying as poor, and the former two haven’t spoken to the latter in years. The film is just as dynamic as its stars. Rapid cuts give the film a cohesive, kinetic rhythm that keeps the story in a near-constant state of momentum, and none of the frames the camera cuts to are superfluous compositions. This is matched by the occasionally dizzying camerawork from Gudagnino’s Suspiria cinematographer (also Apichatpong Weerasethkul’s on Memoria) Sayombhu Mukdeeprom. Challengers surprised me. It’s a grandiose, propulsive, erotic follow-up to the dull, Tumblr-core emo of Bones and All, and I found myself enthralled by Guadagnino’s latest, in which three of our hottest young actors convincingly, tantalizingly explore alternating dynamics of power and sexuality. Challengers isn’t really a film for tennis fans—it’s a film for fans of guys being a little gay for each other, and also fans of the kind of explosive yearning that’s even hotter than the sex scenes we all like to complain don’t exist anymore.–Brianna Zigler


Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World

Release Date: March 22, 2024
Director: Radu Jude
Stars: Ilinca Manolache, Nina Hoss, Uwe Boll
Rating: R
Runtime: 164 minutes

Radu Jude’s literalized mouthful Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World depicts, perhaps, the most accurate representation of the dystopia we live in, and the supposed impending dystopia that we’re in the process of arriving at. Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World largely centers on a day in the life of young Romanian woman Angela (Ilinca Manolache), an overworked, underpaid film production assistant, driving around Bucharest to cast for a work accident film. The film has been commissioned by a major company obviously attempting to cover the tracks left by lax safety precautions for their workers, fronted by a suit named Doris Goethe (Nina Hoss)—funnily, a direct relation to the influential German writer. Between meetings, Angela films intentionally provocative and popular TikToks playing the character of an Andrew Tate wannabe named Bóbita. Throughout the black-and-white cinematography of the present day, where we follow Angela around and find ourselves lulled to sleep by the rhythmic movements of her hands on the steering wheel and the changing gears, Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World slips in and out of the story of another Angela: The 1981 Romanian film Angela Goes On. Directed by Lucian Bratu, the older film chronicles the seemingly humdrum routine of the eponymous woman (played by Dorina Lazar) working as a taxi driver. But it was, at the time, a quietly subversive work depicting the reality of life under poverty, having been made during the oppressive and censoring regime of Communist leader Nicolae Ceaușescu. Jude considers the films of both Angelas in conversation with one another: Two films about two women doing similar jobs during drastically different political periods in the same country. Jude even slows down parts of the older film for audiences to catch what the Romanian censors at the time did not. Jude’s film is hypnotic, patient and playful, bending the rules of filmmaking, overlaying fiction on top of fiction, blending mixed media—even interjecting a surprise and charming cameo from notorious German director Uwe Boll, whom Angela convinces to appear in one of her Bóbita TikToks while he shoots an inane green screen action sequence on a backlot. In the reality depicted by Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World, the world will not end with a whimper or a bang, but as work accident victims idle, filming an insurance video in the rain; while the crew bickers among themselves; while the film’s PA risks crashing their car due to loss of sleep out on field work; while young people make TikToks displaying a tenuous grasp on the concept of satire; while nothing is being done to improve the lives of the people who still very much live on this planet.–Brianna Zigler


Drive-Away Dolls

Release Date: February 23, 2024
Director: Ethan Coen
Stars: Margaret Qualley, Geraldine Vaswanathan, Beanie Feldstein, Colman Domingo, Pedro Pascal, Bill Camp, Matt Damon
Rating: R
Genre: Comedy

Ethan Coen’s solo fictional directorial debut Drive-Away Dolls is an end-to-end comedy, a road film about two twenty-something lesbians unwittingly ensnared in someone else’s caper, dodging a couple of criminals while growing as people. Margaret Qualley is Jamie, a free spirit of uncertain employment who we meet while she’s stepping out on her partner, police officer Sukie (Beanie Feldstein). Geraldine Viswanathan is her upright and uptight friend Marian, who works an ambiguous office job where she’s tired of her coworkers as well as the big city (Philadelphia in 1999). After Sukie catches Jamie cheating, gives her a black eye at a bar, and kicks her out of their shared apartment, Jamie tags along on Marian’s road trip to visit her aunt in Tallahassee using Curlie’s (Bill Camp) driveaway service. Their journey of self-discovery is eventually impacted by two goons (Joey Slotnick as Arliss and C.J. Wilson as Flint) working for The Chief (Colman Domingo), who are on their trail to recover some sensitive objects hidden in the car. Drive-Away Dolls is funny all the time. There is a goofiness of circumstance, fools and jesters brought together because of their employment and other people’s decisions. It’s never stiff or stuffy, but often very smart. The dialogue is terrific (written by Coen and his wife/frequent editor Tricia Cooke) at distinguishing the personalities of each character, big and small, making them feel like real (sometimes real odd) people rather than just archetypes (and every archetype presented is fleshed out for maximum value). On top of that, Drive-Away Dolls is a sometimes tender, sometimes thrilling, tightly-paced comedy that, despite clocking in at under 90 minutes, feels downright luxuriant at times. With Drive-Away Dolls, Tricia Cooke and Ethan Coen channel their influences and experiences into a tight, satisfying, humorous road movie. A knowing and humorous tone never loses its flair, with an artistic touch and commitment that makes you buy into the jokes in the first place. It is a refreshing comical experience threading together the absurd and the authentic.–Kevin Fox Jr.


Dune: Part Two

Release Date: March 1, 2024
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Stars: Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Josh Brolin, Austin Butler, Florence Pugh, Dave Bautista, Christopher Walken, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Léa Seydoux, Souheila Yacoub, Stellan Skarsgård, Charlotte Rampling, Javier Bardem
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 166 minutes

Set aside the complicated calculus of food, shelter and family needs. It’s time to shell out the big bucks and head to the local IMAX. To borrow from Kidman’s AMC commercial more explicitly, though you might not be “somehow reborn,” there will be “dazzling images,” sound you can feel and you will be taken somewhere you’ve “never been before” (at least, not since Dune). As befits a Part Two, Villeneuve’s film picks up in medias res, with Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), his mother Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) and the Fremen encountering and dealing with a murderous Harkonnen hunting party while trying to reach the Fremen stronghold. From this encounter, Villaneuve nimbly guides the narrative from one key moment to the next, a veritable dragonfly ornithopter of plot advancement (with a few slower moments to allow the burgeoning relationship with Paul and Zendaya’s Chani to breathe). If the outcome of each narrative stop feels very much fated, that in turn feels appropriate given the messianic prophecy undergirding the entire tale. Dune: Part Two’s production design is as much center stage as its star-studded cast. Villaneuve pummels the viewer with the sheer scale and brutal, industrial efficiency of the Harkonnen operation—well, it would be efficient if not for those pesky Fremen—yet all of it is engulfed in turn by Arrakis itself. Meanwhile, the sound design and throbbing aural cues evoke the weight and oppressiveness of a centuries-spanning empire, the suffocating cunning of “90 generations” of Bene Gesserit schemes and the inescapable gravity Arrakis and its spice-producing leviathans exert on both. For those torn on whether it’s worth venturing forth to the multiplex, consider Dune: Part Two a compelling two-hour-and-forty-six-minute argument in the “for” column. And that “indescribable feeling” you get when “the lights begin to dim?” That’s cinematic escape velocity, instantly achieved. Next stop, Arrakis.–Michael Burgin


Evil Does Not Exist

Release Date: May 3, 2024
Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi
Stars: Hitoshi Omika, Ryo Nishikawa, Ryuji Kosaka, Ayaka Shibutani
Rating: NR
Runtime: 106 minutes

Evil Does Not Exist opens with the camera languorously tracking through treetops, seen from the ground, until interrupting itself abruptly with a music-stopping shot of Hana (Ryo Nishikawa), a grade-school-aged girl with her neck craned up – suggesting we were previously sharing her point of view. The implied closeness of that opening shot is the nearest the camera gets to its characters for a while; it’s 10, maybe 15 minutes before anyone in the movie is seen in anything resembling a close-up. We meet Takumi (Hitoshi Omika), Hana’s father, and figure out some details of their life, explaining the remoteness of the cinematography: They live in a woodsy Japanese village, broadly isolated but not alone, enjoying the quiet. We watch as Takumi performs outdoorsy tasks — chopping wood, hauling fresh well water — until we realize that, put together with minding Hana, they form his job, of sorts. Takumi and Hana aren’t that far from society; Takumi delivers the well water to a local udon restaurant, not exactly a strictly survivalist outpost. But there’s something pristine and untouched about their environment, making the interest of a company called Playmode both natural and horribly unnatural all at once. For a little while, it seems like Hamaguchi has made his own quiet, non-cutesy version of the story where the company man is tasked with steamrolling a small town, only to find himself charmed by its inhabitants and way of life. Evil Does Not Exist doesn’t exactly swerve away from that narrative; instead, it shifts again, slowly but surely, this time into more unsettling (and unsettled) territory. Hamaguchi’s previous film, his U.S. breakthrough and recipient of a Best Picture Oscar nomination, was the deliberate, sometimes mesmerizing Drive My Car. Evil Does Not Exist is only a little over half that movie’s length, and though it allows its characters a certain measure of soul-bearing conversation, it plays certain offscreen developments even closer to the vest. Hamaguchi’s film – and the performance style of Omika, a Hamaguchi crew member moving into acting here – is too controlled to produce an anguished tragedy out of this material, but it’s too unsparing to offer an easy exit. Even the most formidable steamrollers can’t always clear a path out of the wilderness.–Jesse Hassenger


Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

Release Date: May 24, 2024
Director: George Miller
Stars: Anya Taylor-Joy, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Burke, Alyla Browne
Rating: R
Runtime: 148 minutes

If you ever took a class on the Greek classics, you might remember that the epics of Homer are defined by their first words. The Odyssey is the story of a “man,” while the Iliad is a story of “μῆνις,” which is often translated as wrath, rage…or fury. The epics of George Miller barely need words at all, yet Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is the Iliad to Fury Road’s stripped-down Odyssey. The latter’s elegant straight-line structure is replaced with lush chapters, documenting the interconnected systems of post-apocalyptic nation-gangs through the years. Through it all, a Dickensian hero clings to this world’s seedy undercarriage. Reducing Furiosa down to a single word does it as little justice as it does the sagas it scraps, welds and reuses like its countless Frankenstein vehicles. But understanding George Miller’s Fury Road prequel as the story of war—of sprawling futility, driven by the same cyclical cruelty that turned its deserts into Wastelands—makes it far more than a satisfying origin story. (Though, it’s that too). Furiosa speaks the language of epics fluently, raging against timeless human failure while carrying a seed of hope. What we learn, we learn through the eyes of Furiosa, from the moment she’s ripped from the Green Place of Many Mothers as a child, to the second before she tears out of Immortan Joe’s Citadel, smuggling Fury Road’s stowaways. As Furiosa grows from traumatized child (Alyla Browne) to damaged adult (Anya Taylor-Joy), she survives the slave-labor bowels of the Citadel, claws her way into a position aboard a trade caravan and waits for the perfect moment to enact revenge upon her initial captor, the chaotic, power-hungry biker warlord Dementus (Chris Hemsworth). Pushing back on the various men who hunt them, Browne and Taylor-Joy’s performances work in stunning tandem, steadily heating the steely young girl’s resolve until it turns molten. When you match the most powerful eyes in the business with Miller’s evocative framing (Furiosa is shot a bit like Galadriel’s brush with evil in Lord of the Rings—somewhere between avenging angel and Frank Miller cover), you get all the character you need. Each action scene, whether another amazing chase or a desperate rescue mission deep in enemy territory, is driven just as deeply by visual logic as by spectacle. These stunning visions of neo-medieval torture in Hell’s junkyard only work if we can make sense of it all. Furiosa is a film well-planned and deeply dreamed. Miller’s movies strip folkloric epics down to their basic mechanical parts, functional skeletons that run on raw emotion like the war machines running on piss and guzzolene.–Jacob Oller


Hit Man

Release Date: May 17, 2024
Director: Richard Linklater
Stars: Glen Powell, Adria Arjona, Austin Amelio, Retta
Rating: R
Runtime: 115 minutes

Armed with the kind of star wattage capable of outshining his co-stars, Glen Powell has cemented himself as a leading man. With the raucous comedy Hit Man (which he co-wrote with director Richard Linklater), Powell crafts a character that can ground its delightful and relentless series of plot twists. While Linklater and Powell’s last collaboration worked under the guise of an ensemble in Everybody Wants Some!!, Powell is the definitive protagonist of Hit Man. Gary (Powell) is a bumbling, lovable philosophy professor who works part-time with the undercover division of the New Orleans police department. He loves his cats, has a good relationship with his ex-wife and drives a sturdy, practical Honda Civic. When fellow detective Jasper (Austin Amelio), undercover as a hitman, is pulled from a case for misbehavior, Gary steps in, relishing the chance to immerse himself in another life, free from moral reasoning and the trappings of normality. Once he encounters the sweet and desperate Madison (Adria Arjona), who wants to rid herself of an abusive, domineering husband, his life spins into chaos. While the film weaves together colorful, tonally specific threads with relative ease, it is dominated by its romantic and comic impulses, following Madison and Gary’s relationship with unwavering focus. This requires unbidden chemistry between the two leads, a multi-hyphenate source of energy that both insulates them and propels the story forward. Powell and Arjona are up to the task, gravitating towards each other and leaning into every suggestive conversation with startling ease. Gary’s lessons in philosophy slowly coalesce with his personal experiences in Carrie Bradshaw-esque fashion. It is here that Hit Man feels somewhat shallow and underdeveloped, trying to shoehorn grander life lessons into a relatively simple relational set-up. While the ambition of such a storytelling move isn’t totally unwelcome, it does take the audience on an unnecessarily bumpy ride, forcing them to ascribe deeper meaning to a purely physical, chemistry-riddled expression of cinema. Arjona and Powell leave as the victors of this light excursion, following in the footsteps of Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck, with shades of Cary Grant coloring Powell’s playful physicality. He is spry and breezy, thriving in the informality of the silly premise he and Linklater rip from real life (Hit Man is based on a Texas Monthly article by the same man who covered Bernie’s real-life inspiration). With such charming old-school performances, Hit Man peels back the layers of genre to reveal something alive–lovely in its full-bodied animation.Anna McKibbin


Hundreds of Beavers

Release Date: January 26, 2024
Director: Mike Cheslik
Stars: Ryland Brickson Cole Tews, Olivia Graves, Wes Tank
Rating: NR
Runtime: 108 minutes

Hundreds of Beavers is a lost continent of comedy, rediscovered after decades spent adrift. Rather than tweaking an exhausted trend, the feature debut of writer/director Mike Cheslik is an immaculately silly collision of timeless cinematic hilarity, unearthed and blended together into something entirely new. A multimedia extravaganza of frozen idiocy, Hundreds of Beavers is a slapstick tour de force—and its roster of ridiculous mascot-suited wildlife is only the tip of the iceberg. First things first: Yes, there are hundreds of beavers. Dozens of wolves. Various little rabbits, skunks, raccoons, frogs and fish. (And by “little,” I mean “six-foot stuntmen in cheap costumes.”) We have a grumpy shopkeeper, forever missing his spittoon. His impish daughter, a flirty furrier stuck behind his strict rage. And one impromptu trapper, Jean Kayak (co-writer/star Ryland Brickson Cole Tews), newly thawed and alone in the old-timey tundra. Sorry, Jean, but you’re more likely to get pelted than to get pelts. With its cartoonish violence and simple set-up comes an invigorating elegance that invites you deeper into its inspired absurdity. And Hundreds of Beavers has no lack of inspiration. The dialogue-free, black-and-white comedy is assembled from parts as disparate as The Legend of Zelda, Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush, JibJabs, Terry Gilliam animation, Guy Maddin and Jackass. Acme is namechecked amid Méliès-like stop tricks and Muppety puppetry, while its aesthetic veers from painting broad violence upon a sparse snowy canvas to running through the shadowy bowels of an elaborate German Expressionist fortress. Guiding us through is Tews. He’s a wide-eyed mime with a caricatured lumberjack body, expertly gauging his expressions and sacrificing his flesh for the cause. His performance takes a little from the heavy-hitters of the form: The savvy romanticism of Harold Lloyd, the physical contortions of Buster Keaton, the underdog struggles of Charlie Chaplin, and the total bodily commitment of all three. You don’t get great physical comedy accidentally. Just as its intrepid idiot hero forges bravely on despite weathering frequent blows to the head, impaled extremities and woodland beatings, Hundreds of Beavers marches proudly towards the sublime transcendence of juvenilia. In its dedication to its own premise, Hundreds of Beavers reaches the kind of purity of purpose usually only found in middle-school stick-figure comics or ancient Flash animations—in stupid ideas taken seriously. One of the best comedies in the last few years, Hundreds of Beavers might actually contain more laughs than beavers. By recognizing and reclaiming the methods used during the early days of movies, Mike Cheslik’s outrageous escalation of the classic hunter-hunted dynamic becomes a miraculous DIY celebration of enduring, universal truths about how we make each other laugh.–Jacob Oller


I Saw the TV Glow

Release Date: May 3, 2024
Director: Jane Schoenbrun
Stars: Justice Smith, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Ian Foreman, Helena Howard, Fred Durst, Danielle Deadwyler
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 100 minutes

I Saw The TV Glow takes filmmaker Jane Schoenbrun’s canny observations about how pop culture can create identity and applies them to a warped world of dysphoric digital nightmares. On its face, the film follows the stunted Owen (an incredible, committed Justice Smith), who bonds with fellow outcast Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine) over a Buffy-ish genre show. As the movie and its inhabitants evolve, changing but perhaps not growing up, it becomes like a bad trip to Twin Peaks’ Roadhouse, where the grim setlist is composed of neon static. The film features performances from Phoebe Bridgers and Kristina Esfandiari, as well as small appearances by two men who are discomfort personified: Conner O’Malley and Fred Durst. Just typing their names so close together gave me a little anxiety. Interconnected with the film’s crushing reality is that of the campy series its characters obsess over, its haunted creatures (one of which looks a bit like if Mac Tonight was a sex offender) allowing real-world problems to be mapped onto their cartoonish make-up. If I Saw The TV Glow doesn’t awaken something in you, you probably didn’t grow up hiding your personality behind your favorite pieces of media. The result is a captivating feat of audiovisual style, unconventional storytelling, and pervasive emotional pain.–Jacob Oller


In a Violent Nature

Release Date: May 31, 2024
Director: Chris Nash
Stars: Ry Barrett, Andrea Pavlovic, Cameron Love, Reece Presley, Liam Leone, Charlotte Creaghan, Lea Rose Sebastianis, Sam Roulston, Alexander Oliver, Lauren Taylor
Rating: R
Runtime: 94 minutes

While shifting into the eyes, bodies and mindsets of killers has long been a disruptive tool in the ambitious horror filmmaker’s bag of torture implements, the commitment to this perspective-switch rarely involves a total shift in form. These gambles usually manifest as single montages that jolt us out of our seats, or short film gimmicks briefly impressing video store gorehounds sniffing through anthologies for promising new blood. Writer/director Chris Nash cut his teeth on at least one of these short showcases—ABCs of Death 2—before making his feature debut with In a Violent Nature. How do monsters like Jason or Michael Myers teleport behind their hapless, horny co-ed victims? Where are they before being awakened by this hormonal hubris? What is the murderer up to in the moments before or directly after the music shrieks and the blood hits the wall? With grim patience, vibrant realism and genre-nodding humor, Nash marches us one plodding bootstep at a time through the procedure of slashing. A gorgeous, quiet and still horror film, In a Violent Nature is as methodical as its unstoppable lead, filled with gruesome, delightfully disgusting kills. The rhythms are right, the gags all land, the deaths are absolutely massive and the craftsmanship is the very reason Fangoria was established.–Jacob Oller


Infested

Release Date: April 26, 2024 (Shudder)
Director: Sébastien Vaniček
Stars: Théo Christine, Finnegan Oldfield, Jérôme Niel, Sofia Lesaffre, Lisa Nyarko
Rating: NR
Runtime: 106 minutes

Arachnophobes beware: Infested is the best spider-centric horror movie since Arachnophobia. Sébastien Vaniček’s feature debut is a no-bullshit tour de force about eight-legged assassins that nearly perfects the subgenre. Imagine [REC] and Attack the Block but with spiders. Lots of spiders. Giant-ass spiders—but not to be confused with the comedic tone of Big Ass Spider! Infested is a paralyzing nightmare caked in webbing that’ll have your skin crawling for weeks. Vaniček and co-writer Florent Bernard use low-income housing to sneak commentary underneath the nerve-shredding experience, especially since the film was once titled Vermin (a reference to how the film’s central community is treated). An overfilled grab bag of fears about spiders is exploited on repeat, from being hidden inside shoes to nesting within air vents—and that’s just the beginning. Infested is an arachnophobic smorgasbord of “absolutely ‘effing not” imagery, from body horror grossness to animal attack violence, as Vaniček reels us in the more his characters struggle to escape. Cinematographer Alexandre Jamin might well be a spider whisperer the way he can track critters from their most elegant long-legged emergences to speedily aggressive lunges. Jamin loves framing characters in the foreground while imminent threats loom in the background, dangling from threads, made evermore excruciating by the way shadows limit just enough visibility—but that’s hardly all. Infested shows an arachnid takeover of Picasso’s Arenas in Noisy-le-Grand like we’re on the front lines, face-to-face with hordes of soldier spiders, ducking into cover away from poisonous fangs and whizzing bullets alike. I hate how much I love this movie because while my psyche never wants to watch Infested again, it’s too crackerjack to ignore. Infested will haunt your waking hours, exterminate any bedtime relaxation, and have you flinching at the slightest tingle against your body.–Matt Donato


Inshallah a Boy

Release Date: January 12, 2024
Director: Amjad Al Rasheed
Stars: Mouna Hawa, Haitham Omari, Yumna Marwan, Salwa Nakkara, Seleena Rababah
Rating: NR
Genre: Drama

Inshallah a Boy has a quiet ordinariness to it. In just under two hours, the film tells the story of Nawal (Mouna Hawa), a personal support worker in her 30s, whose life is upended by the sudden death of her husband. At first, she has to deal with the grief of losing a spouse and taking care of her young daughter. But then her brother-in-law Rifqi (Haitham Omari) starts demanding payments for the money he is owed. According to local custom, he can lay a claim to Nawal’s home and take guardianship of her daughter. Nawal’s only recourse is a male heir. In order to keep her brother-in-law at bay, she claims to be pregnant. Over a course of three weeks, Nawal faces one challenge after another as she fights to own what’s rightfully hers and to protect her daughter. From the opening frame, Jordanian filmmaker Amjad Al Rasheed, who also wrote the film with Rula Nasser and Delphine Agut, draws us into the absurdities of Nawal’s life. Inshallah a Boy opens with her trying to retrieve an errant bra that’s somehow ended up hanging on an electrical wire outside her closed-off balcony. She tries reaching it with a broomstick handle, quiet frustration etched out on her face. Any woman who has grown up in a crowded city in the global south, where public spaces seldom feel accommodating or safe for women, will relate to Nawal’s peculiar predicament. Underwear is never meant to be seen, even as a mere garment—forget the concept of airing dirty laundry. Throughout Inshallah a Boy, we get a sense of Nawal’s fortitude, which hits several breaking points as circumstances keep testing her faith—in her religion, her family, her marriage and ultimately herself. Palestinian actress Hawa shines as Nawal, and is ably assisted by a supporting cast in her portrayal of a widow sometimes barely grasping at straws. There’s a lived-in weariness that Hawa taps into; her version of Nawal is never distraught, nor enraged—although she has flashes of outbursts. She simply does not have the luxury. The way that Hawa is able to articulate Nawal’s moment of personal crisis, in the furtive look she gives her sister-in-law or the exasperation she reserves for her own brother, makes for a commendable performance. Inshallah a Boy doesn’t give any clear answers. Instead, the film offers a look at the life of an ordinary woman in Jordan, going through an ordeal likely faced by many like her. In an interview, Al Rashad spoke of being inspired by a real-life incident within his own family. A relative was in a similar situation as Nawal, and he wondered, “What if she says no? What if she decides to fight and what are her options?” It’s remarkable how that inquiry led Al Rashad to write and direct such a compelling drama about the limits and liberations of faith.–Aparita Bhandari


Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell

Release Date: January 19, 2024
Director: Phạm Thiên n
Stars: Lê Phong Vũ, Nguyễn Thịnh, Nguyễn Thị Trúc Quỳnh, Vũ Ngọc Mạnh
Rating: NR
Runtime: 178 minutes

Having a kid irrevocably changes a person’s life, and those changes are doubled when the kid arrives orphaned by tragedy. Two lives in flux, and the new parent is responsible for shepherding a little one through formative grief, on top of traditional parenting duties. But Thiện (Lê Phong Vũ), the laconic protagonist of Phạm Thiên n’s first feature, Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell, handles this abrupt charge with laid-back ease, as if his every experience has prepared him for the circumstance of his sister-in-law’s death and subsequent custodianship of his nephew, Đạo (Nguyễn Thịnh). Most people would be rattled by these events. Thiện rises to the occasion with preternatural nonchalance. His comfort with this solemn trust is not by any means the movie’s most fantastical quality. n follows in the footsteps of the greats of slow cinema, notably Tsai Ming-liang, Edward Yang and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, both in terms of taking his sweet time allowing Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell’s story to breathe, and in terms of judiciously applying surrealist brushstrokes to an aesthetic that verges on neo-realist. Static compositions provide structure for n’s hypnagogic digressions; there is a rigid formality to much of the filmmaking here, and from that flows a handful of languid sequences that flirt with otherworldliness. n obscures God’s presence in the world through meticulous, thoughtful filmmaking. This is perhaps the intent behind Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell’s combination of long takes and still frames: To force the audience to look at each image for minutes at a time like they’re poring over a Where’s Waldo? book, combing for proof of the Alpha and the Omega in Saigon’s neon lights and unfeeling concrete, or deep-green jungles teeming with life. The second half of the film follows Thiện on the road to find his estranged brother, and if a three-hour jaunt through Vietnam in search of faith and family sounds like an insurmountable challenge, Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell is anything but. It’s a journey jammed with pleasures we can all appreciate, and canopied by questions we all ask.–Andy Crump


Love Lies Bleeding

Release Date: March 8, 2024
Director: Rose Glass
Stars: Kristen Stewart, Katy O’Brian, Jena Malone, Anna Baryshnikov, Dave Franco, Ed Harris
Rating: R
Runtime: 104 minutes

Love Lies Bleeding is, in actuality, a far more effective horror film than Saint Maud. Filmmaker Rose Glass excels at crafting horrific images, moments of pure grotesquery and terror, and she pushes the boundaries of an otherwise grounded thriller-crime drama into something that resembles a gorgeous night terror. Sensuality oozes from every frame for a film that isn’t even terribly gratuitous during its sex scenes. But the physical act of sex between bodybuilder Jackie (Katy O’Brian) and gym manager Lou (Kristen Stewart) equals otherwise non-sexual scenes, such as Lou jabbing a syringe into Jackie’s butt cheek, or Lou Sr. (Ed Harris) whispering in Jackie’s ear before she fires a gun—or even Jackie’s roid rage-fueled murder of JJ (Dave Franco), which plunges Jackie and Lou’s passionate neophyte romance into an explicitly gay Thelma and Louise, where the two lovers must flee the wrath of Lou’s criminal family. The connection between the two women is desperate, carnal and overwhelming, if simultaneously toxic and even a little superficial. Suddenly, nothing matters to Lou quite as much as her ripped new girlfriend, whom she’s more than happy to continue supplying with body-enhancing drugs that cause Monstar-like eruptions under her skin in sequences of heightened surrealism. As the walls close in on Jackie and Lou, Glass amps up the tension with tight, suffocating shots, propulsive editing and an absorbing score by Clint Mansell. At the center of it all is Jackie and Lou’s cacophonous romance. By all accounts, the gay Romeo and Juliet were doomed from the start. Stewart and O’Brian have incredible chemistry, and Stewart’s understated naturalism really shines. Love Lies Bleeding is easily one of the best of 2024 so far: A thorny, thrilling narrative about two fucked-up women that is—most importantly—genuinely, scintillatingly hot. The film is also very obviously about the myriad, terrifying ways human beings express love to one another, and on the surface seems to question which ones are more or less valid.–Brianna Zigler


Pictures of Ghosts

Release Date: January 26, 2024
Director: Kleber Mendonça Filho
Rating: NR
Runtime: 91 minutes

A good personal essay, so thoroughly embedded in the author’s experiences, tends to require some broad exterior perspective or context to give readers a stronger reason to care. Pictures of Ghosts, director Kleber Mendonça Filho’s new documentary, starts with personal experiences: His upbringing in Recife, the capital of the Brazilian state Pernambuco, his memories of his mother, and of what the city was versus what it has become throughout his 55 years. You’re forgiven for assuming Filho is his own subject. He is, after all, the inception of the film, and without him, there’s no story to tell. But without Recife’s cycle of development and decline, and a culture once-upon-a-time friendly to arthouse cinemas, there would be no Filho, either. Through his wryly narrated anecdotes, he becomes a conduit for a larger story. Pictures of Ghosts is about him, and in so being, it’s also about the process by which cities are unintentionally brought to disrepair through modernization. And between these two axes, it’s also about Brazil’s growing pains from the 1960s to the 2020s. Filho is self-reflective, not self-obsessed, and his clear-eyed stance is crucial to the anti-vanity he brings to his examination of his childhood home and youthful obsession. Watching Filho’s account of this gradual doom might inspire thoughts about streaming, though the concept remains far from Pictures of Ghosts itself. Filho isn’t a time traveler, and the folks running the digital platforms that have influenced how movies get made and seen for the last decade aren’t, either. But Recife’s history is bound in these moviehouses, and turning away from them has consequences. Spackling over Art Palacio, for example, means erasing memory of how the Nazi regime designated the spot as a Universum-Film AG outlet, intended as an extension of their propaganda cinema machine nestled within Brazil’s sympathetic bosom. Nevermind Recife’s glitzy glory days, graced by visits from Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis; the city’s relationship with the Third Reich can’t be allowed to fade from the public record. In a way this makes Pictures of Ghosts Filho’s show after all; he’s performing the duties of a preservationist, using a combination of archival footage, family home video footage, and his own filmmaking (including clips from his first feature, Neighboring Sounds) to sculpt the full image of Recife, from half a century ago to today, warts and all. Filho doesn’t seem interested in remaking Recife to match his own image he lives there, and that’s about it. Filho is affected by Recife’s changes. He isn’t the one affecting them. Instead, he’s ensuring they won’t be forgotten.Andy Crump


Problemista

Release Date: March 1, 2024
Director: Julio Torres
Stars: Julio Torres, Tilda Swinton, RZA, Catalina Saavedra, James Scully, Greta Lee, Larry Owens
Rating: R
Runtime: 98 minutes

Anyone familiar with Saturday Night Live writer and Los Espookys co-creator Julio Torres’ idiosyncratic, fanciful sense of humor won’t be surprised to learn that his feature film debut, Problemista, is a delightfully erratic and wild ride. Problemista follows Alejandro (Torres), a young man who moves from El Salvador to Bushwick in the hopes of realizing his dreams as a toy maker. Getting the sponsorship he needs to remain in the United States proves to be a headache of epic proportions, but he sees a potential light at the end of the tunnel in the form of Elizabeth (Tilda Swinton): An eccentric, volatile and hostile art critic who spends her days picking fights with waiters and Apple Support technicians. Elizabeth solicits Alejandro to help get her cryogenically frozen husband Bobby’s (RZA) paintings into an art show, vowing to sponsor the young man should everything go to plan. But, we all know that everything tends not to go as planned in these sorts of situations. Getting sponsored turns out to be a wholly Kafkaesque experience for Alejandro—an experience replete with a healthy dosage of ludicrousness that Torres highlights with magnificent maze-like sets that recall the wacky, dystopian office spaces of Jacques Tati’s Playtime. These spectacular sets are a staggering showcase of Torres’ command over his unique aesthetic sensibilities and provide shrewd commentary on immigration and classism in a wholly inventive way. Despite the strength of Problemista’s fantasy, Torres doesn’t fall victim to leaning too heavily on the unreal. Using fast-paced cuts, editors Jacob Secher Schulsinger and Sara Shaw seamlessly weave the real and imagined worlds together until they become almost indistinguishable, expertly walking the delicate tightrope of believability, relatability and otherworldliness. This fearless, authentic debut showcases immense command of a unique and inventive form of humor, while touching on a very real issue with heart and candor.–Aurora Amidon


Spermworld

Release Date: March 29, 2024
Director: Lance Oppenheim
Rating: R
Runtime: 83 minutes

A few days before a documentary about cum shot onto Hulu, Esquire ran an article titled “How to Be a Better Man Right Now.” This piece assessed modern masculinity in relation to past advice dispensed by its fellow macho magazines, and came to a simple conclusion: “Guys are struggling.” As some parts of society slowly begin to reject the toxicity that has come to define masculinity, responses range from a radicalized doubling-down on misogyny to self-effacing apology. There are countless annoying ways men jerk themselves off about their experience being infinitesimally decentered from our cultural spotlight, but the bottom line is that many guys are finding themselves adrift, seeking purpose and place. Esquire recommends learning to listen and making soup, and offers more masturbatory suggestions like developing encyclopedic knowledge of a pet topic. But none of this has the insight of Spermworld, a movie that understands the strange, complex, lonely desires of its male subjects—men who’ve found that the best self-care is self-abuse. Spermworld, from Some Kind of Heaven filmmaker Lance Oppenheim, follows the lives of off-the-books sperm donors. These freelance impregnators connect through Facebook with those seeking children. In private groups, there’s a sense of community—something less icy than an online database and more transparent than a skeevy Craigslist ad. Whether the film finds itself in a deserted parking lot (where a guy, parked with his fiancée, is jerking off into a cup) or a children’s playplace (where a guy asks someone to watch the kids so he can go into the bathroom and jerk off into a cup), the documentary’s saturated color, high shadows, and shallow focus generate the uneasy feeling of an anonymous hallway, explored alone. But, as strange and off-putting as it can be, this world serves a purpose. For the recipients, the process is goal-oriented. Get a baby, get out. For the cumtributor, it’s somewhere between sex work, charity and a god complex. There are the kinksters getting their rocks off, and the Goo Samaritans. Nobody’s reasons are black-and-white. Spermworld is engrossing, intimate and bittersweet. The desperate desire for connection with others and contribution to something bigger than a 9 to 5 is especially relatable as our increasingly isolated and tech-centric lives silo us off into our Slack channels and group chats. As we see the men interact with their clients, the complicated (sometimes ulterior) interpersonal motives bleed through. I never thought there’d be so much jacking off in such a moving film.–Jacob Oller


Stopmotion

Release Date: February 23, 2024
Director: Robert Morgan
Stars: Aisling Franciosi, Stella Gonet, Tom York
Rating: R
Runtime: 103 minutes

Folks on the prowl for monstrously uncanny thrillers need to prioritize Robert Morgan’s Stopmotion. The award-winning short filmmaker’s hallucinatory feature debut remarkably blends stop-motion with live-action like it’s a commonplace horror practice. Morgan bleakly and ingeniously captures what it means to be a “tortured artist,” hybridizing an icky yet alluring stop-motion style that feels like a collaboration between claymation celebrity Lee Hardcastle and slasher legend Leatherface. Aisling Franciosi of The Nightingale and The Last Voyage of The Demeter fame stars as Ella Blake, an aspiring stop-motion filmmaker under duress. Morgan does a tremendous job making Ella’s handcrafted characters feel inhuman but alive. Ella ditches felt and fuzzy materials for steel armatures and mortician’s clay, molding putty people who resemble escaped delinquents from Phil Tippett’s Mad God. The introductions of raw meat underneath waxy flesh only add to the disfigured take on human anatomy, like our figure was lumpily reshaped by stone hands. Morgan’s feature debut is as stunning, diabolical and boundary-pushing an emergence as any filmmaker could hope to achieve. Stopmotion is brazenly original and delicately unhinged, well-intentioned to let us marinate in Ella’s poisonous behaviors. We’ve seen movies where unhealthy obsessions devour artists, but never with stop-motion freakshows rising from an inexplicable beyond to haunt their makers. It’s fresh, it’s ferociously unique and it’s goddamn fantastic—three important “F” words.–Matt Donato


The Fall Guy

Release Date: May 3, 2024
Director: David Leitch
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Emily Blunt, Winston Duke, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Hannah Waddingham, Stephanie Hsu
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 125 minutes

The deceptive difficulty of action movies, comedies, and their intersection is being able to do something completely stupid with total straight-faced commitment. Like so many easily dismissed parts of film production, a punchline delivered with invested emotion is just as hard to pull off as a pratfall performed with total abandon. If either misses its mark by a hair, you fall flat on your face and leave the audience hating your smug performance or hyperactive flailing. It’s all the more impressive, then, that Ryan Gosling does it all in The Fall Guy. He plays stuntman Colt Seavers, living bruise, returning to action One Last Time in order to help his old flame Jody Moreno (Emily Blunt) on her first directorial effort, Metalstorm. That’s the simple set-up, designed to showcase the jock rock of filmmaking: A stunt spectacular combining the technical prowess and meathead charm of the dirtbag daredevils behind every awesome car crash and killer fight scene. And, thanks to Gosling—playing his role like his schmuck detective from The Nice Guys accidentally found himself in a Mission: Impossible—the film breezily flits between a savvy behind-the-scenes pastiche and a committed action rom-com. Ok, The Fall Guy owes its success to far more people than its leading man. That’s kind of its point. Directed by longtime stuntman David Leitch (with this film, distancing himself from solely being the less impressive half of the John Wick team) and written by Drew Pearce (one of Leitch’s Hobbs & Shaw scribes), The Fall Guy works best as an anti-blockbuster. It wants to blow shit up and wow us with its ballsy choreography, but it also wants to take the shine off these feats of movie magic. Funnier and more effective than most movies built upon a foundation of car chases and fistfights, The Fall Guy is smart enough to showcase its dumb action in a new and exciting way. Its affection is infectious, whether that’s for the art of filmmaking, the haywire pleasures of being on set, the adrenaline rush of a well-made gamble, or for finding someone special to share your simple corner of the world. The ambitious meta-film overcomes the baggage of trying to be both the movie of the summer and the movie that comments on those kinds of movies, hitting a cinematic sweet spot and singing the praises of stunt performers everywhere.–Jacob Oller


The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed

Release Date: April 26, 2024
Director: Joanna Arnow
Stars: Scott Cohen, Babak Tafti, Joanna Arnow, Michael Cyril Creighton, Alysia Reiner
Rating: R
Runtime: 88 minutes

The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed begins with writer/director Joanna Arnow’s naked body curled up next to her character Ann’s dozing dom, Allen (Scott Cohen). She humps him slowly and awkwardly over the duvet, and quietly encourages his lack of interest in her own sexual gratification. It’s true that their sub-dom dynamic is largely focused on Allen’s pleasure, while Ann is merely his willing servant. It’s a dynamic that they’ve shared together since Ann was in her mid-twenties, with Allen at least 20 years her senior. But later in the film, Ann reveals that she can’t actually achieve climax from physical touch, anyway. Throughout the film, Ann hops between a small handful of BDSM relationships—the only kinds of relationships she’s ever been a part of—until she meets the soft-natured Chris (Babak Tafti). It’s here that Ann decides she’s done with the sub-dom life and is finally willing to try “real” dating. For as chaotic as this arc sounds, The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Passed is an incredibly still film. There is hardly any non-diegetic music, and characters do not say very much. These ordinary scenarios are completely hypnotic to watch and to hear. Despite Ann being something of a wallflower, her low voice and deadpan delivery are utterly alive, and there is also life in New York, even when the city is not jumping from the screen like it usually does in movies. The molasses feel of the film is such a welcome contrast to the normal stereotype of New York City as fast-paced, on-the-go and constantly interesting. Arnow also makes these boring parts of life seem so daunting. The job that won’t get better, the sex that won’t get better, the family that won’t get better; the love that might get better but could still fall apart at any moment. The Feeling That the Time for Doing Something Has Past beautifully observes how the ridiculous mundanities of being alive are some of the most difficult.–Brianna Zigler


The First Omen

Release Date: April 5, 2024
Director: Arkasha Stevenson
Stars: Nell Tiger Free, Tawfeek Barhom, Sônia Braga, Ralph Ineson, Bill Nighy
Rating: R
Runtime: 117 minutes

Unless it’s something like the Evil Dead franchise, I generally don’t give horror sequels or prequels a passing thought other than “obvious insta-garbage.” How wrong I was about The First Omen, the feature debut of writer/director Arkasha Stevenson. Her film immediately struck me not as a franchise cash-in, but as the work of someone who deeply understands what makes good horror tick and who made this installment almost completely their own. The small handful of Marvel-esque Easter eggs are entirely negligible for how well the film succeeds at being an affecting and stomach-churning work of modern horror. The First Omen kicks off with a queasy conversation between two English priests, Father Harris (Charles Dance) and Father Brennan (Ralph Ineson), over the conception of an unknown cursed child, a girl (Damien is a boy, yes—but I’ll keep this review spoiler-free) whose birth will bring forth an all-powerful evil. Kept elusive and told via a collage of disturbing yet striking images, we leave this scene and cut to the arrival of a young American nun-to-be named Margaret (Nell Tiger Free). She befriends her new roommate, the free-spirited Luz (Maria Caballero), who is determined to use her remaining days of secular freedom spent as the hedonistic young woman she still is. One night, Luz gets a reluctant Margaret all gussied up and drags her to a disco, where Margaret meets a nice Italian boy with whom she shares an intimate moment. The next day, she wakes up in a puddle of her own sweat, the memory of the previous night already erased; Luz assures her that she got Margaret home safely. A grave encounter with Father Brennan portends impending doom, and Margaret begins to see and experience strange, diabolical things. Stevenson, aided by co-writers Tim Smith and Keith Thomas, makes The First Omen remarkably fresh while utilizing old tricks. Pans and zooms give the filmmaking a throwback feel (cinematography credited to Aaron Morton), jump scares function as earned accoutrement for a well-crafted atmosphere instead of supplanting actual horror filmmaking, and there are images that are genuinely difficult to look at—not just because they make the audience look at something particularly visceral, but because of the way the shot is blocked, the way the lighting is lit, the way a body is not quite as it should be. Not overtly gory but just off, which is often far more skin-crawling than blood and guts ever are. The First Omen is an exceedingly successful first feature, and an invigorating film within a genre’s increasingly limp mainstream.–Brianna Zigler


The People’s Joker

Release Date: April 5, 2024
Director: Vera Drew
Stars: Vera Drew, Lynn Downey, Christian Calloway, Griffin Kramer, Kane Distler, Nathan Faustyn, Phil Braun, David Liebe Hart, Scott Aukerman, Tim Heidecker, Maria Bamford, Bob Odenkirk
Rating: NR
Runtime: 92 minutes

A feat of parody so outrageous that its legend (and strongly worded letter from corporate) precedes it, The People’s Joker is an endlessly amusing, deeply personal, wildly inventive collision of genres all bent to the will of filmmaker Vera Drew. Her queer coming-of-age is filtered through the language and imagery of Batman media, her transition and alt-comedy leanings all given hilarious reflections in the Rogues’ Gallery of Gotham. But it’s through the combination of DIY greenscreen work and effervescent, scrappy animation captured in populist media like Minecraft and VR Chat that the film’s indie production wins you over. The resulting collage is like visiting your childhood bedroom, and relating the sticker-covered walls to your adult life. Also, all the stickers are voiced by people like Maria Bamford, Scott Aukerman, Tim Heidecker and Bob Odenkirk. Drew herself is a charismatic performer, as is Kane Distler, who plays her romantic foil (who is also a Joker), but it’s Phil Braun’s ridiculous Batman that always steals the show. The riotous, anarchic result is everything the corporate use of the Joker isn’t, and everything it could be. The People’s Joker is a deftly assembled reckoning of how we use art — ranging from the cribbed comic aesthetic to the film’s Lorne Michaels-skewering comedy scene — to craft ourselves.–Jacob Oller


The Promised Land

Release Date: February 2, 2024
Director: Nikolaj Arcel
Stars: Mads Mikkelsen, Amanda Collin, Simon Bennebjerg, Melina Hagberg, Kristine Kujath Thorp, Gustav Lindh
Rating: R
Genre: Drama/Western

Mads Mikkelsen plays Ludvig Kahlen, a retired military officer living in 18th-century Denmark who’s hellbent on cultivating the Jutland heath, a stretch of land considered impossible to farm. If he can accomplish this seemingly undoable task, he’s been promised a noble title, a goal he chases with obsessive resolve. But beyond taming this infertile landscape, he also must contend with Frederik de Schinkel (Simon Bennebjerg), a sadistic magistrate willing to spill blood to ensure he retains control over the region. As Kahlen spends every penny of his meager pension to cultivate this space, a stand-off brews between these men, each determined to get his way. While The Promised Land largely takes place on a relatively tiny plot of dirt in the Danish boonies, its filmmaking lends this struggle an expansive, David-versus-Goliath slant. Cinematographer Rasmus Videbæk and director Nikolaj Arcel contrast the breadth of the Jutland countryside against the smallness of our protagonist’s enterprise as he cuts through vast shrubland and tills acidic soil in what initially feels like a futile and hubristic effort. But what makes The Promised Land truly compelling is how it naturally grows into something else, as Kahlen nurtures a seed of doubt about his ultimate aims. Mikkelsen deftly embodies these turns with subtle gestures that bring out internal struggles, and it’s deeply satisfying to watch as his icy demeanor at least marginally melts. The toughness of these surroundings makes it feel all the more precious when he finds his unexpected connections. But, thanks to Mikkelsen’s performance and Kahlen’s characterization, even at the heights of their happiness, there is a genuine uncertainty around how things will break, a relative rarity in a storytelling landscape where the protagonist’s final decision often comes across as perfunctory and obvious. It all comes together to make The Promised Land a stirring historical epic that balances its grandiose framing with something surprisingly grounded and genuine. A bountiful harvest indeed.–Elijah Gonzalez


The Settlers

Release Date: January 12, 2024
Director: Felipe Gálvez Haberle
Stars: Camilo Arancibia, Benjamin Westfall, Mark Stanley, Alfredo Castro, Mishell Guaña
Rating: NR
Runtime: 97 minutes

Three men maneuver through the fog, their rifles piercing the early morning air as they creep forward silently, mechanically. They take aim at figures in the distance and open fire, the crack of gunfire punctuated by screams. This is the Selk’nam genocide as presented in The Settlers, a searing anti-Western from Chilean filmmaker Felipe Gálvez Haberle. In its unflinching portrayal of historical massacres perpetrated against the Ona tribes of South America, it presents obfuscated truths about colonial atrocities, using its austere direction and sun-bleached color palette to firmly place us in the middle of man-made horrors. The Settlers opens in 1901 on José Menéndez’s (Alfredo Castro) sheep farm, where men are more disposable than livestock. Menéndez, who’s been granted land by the Chilean government, determines that the native peoples who live on “his” property must be wiped out for the sake of business. To do so, he recruits his underling Lieutenant Alexander MacLennan (Mark Stanley), an ex-British soldier, and Bill (Benjamin Westfall), an American with experience killing natives. MacLennan orders Segundo (Camilo Arancibia), a “mestizo” (someone of both Indigenous and Spanish colonial ancestry) who has impressive aim with a rifle, to accompany them. Haberle and cinematographer Simone D’Arcangelo present stark imagery in their pristinely cropped wide shots of placid countrysides, these seemingly scenic vistas given a jittery edge from the sharp strings of Harry Allouche’s score. The Settlers is very clearly a Western, defined by a methodical pace; the slow trek across the land luxuriates in plentiful shots of nature. But unlike the clean digital look that accompanies many modern spins on the genre, a noticeable grain and faded color grading make it seem as though we’re viewing long-abandoned film stock not meant to be seen. Although there aren’t many scenes that directly depict the violence perpetrated against the Ona people, when they do appear, they’re framed with disturbing matter-of-factness, and the main indication from the filmmakers that we’re witnessing something horrible comes from the lurching pangs of the soundtrack. The friction between these calmly presented images and the frantic soundscape keys us into the settlers’ façade—their outward insistence that they’re introducing “peaceful civilization” is nothing more than a thin veil over the buzzing insanity of mass murder. Through adroit filmmaking, The Settlers probes into the unconscionable evils of the past, revealing caked blood under fingernails and whitewashed lies.–Elijah Gonzalez


Yannick

Release Date: April 5, 2024
Director: Quentin Dupieux
Stars: Raphaël Quenard, Pio Marmaï, Blanche Gardin, Sébastien Chassagne, Jean-Paul Solal, Laurent Nicolas
Rating: NR
Runtime: 67 minutes

Yannick (Raphaël Quenard), the title subject of Parisian trickster Quentin Dupieux’s latest absurdist spotlight on humanity, is by all accounts dimwitted. Yannick spotlights its protagonist’s vastly overinflated sense of self through this inciting event, during a production of Fernand Crommelynck’s Le Cocu magnifique, whose cast – Paul Rivière (Pio Marmaï), Sophie Denis (Blanche Gardin) and William Keller (Sébastien Chassagne) – can scarcely believe the gall of a person to stand up mid-scene and vociferously complain about his entertainment. Le Cocu apparently offends Yannick’s need to be mindlessly entertained. It makes him feel bad instead of good and this, in his calculus, is not what a play is supposed to do. Dupieux pulls no punches conceptualizing Yannick as a delegate of entitled audiences everywhere: People who think that art, whether film or television or theater, exists to flatter them, pander to their wants – only theirs –and validate them through the embrace of a worldview that mirrors their own. Yannick takes place almost entirely in the theater itself, with occasional cuts to the lobby. More than observers, we’re part of the audience taken hostage by the lead character, put squarely in their position as helpless bystanders in the absolute most pants-on-head silly standoff in the history of armed standoffs. The effect is surprisingly suffocating. Quenard invests surprising care and empathy in his characterization, alongside casual stupidity and slack-jawed egotism. Buried under Yannick’s aggression and chafed emotions, he’s wanting for the basic need of being understood. This side of Yannick enhances Dupieux’s critique with a casual observation: Art is freeing, and without it, we’re doomed to lonesome misery. Yannick finds Dupieux looking unexpectedly inward and demonstrating a vulnerability that’s absent elsewhere in his body of work — but not at the expense of either his tongue-firmly-in-cheek outlook, or his predilection for self-destruction. –Andy Crump

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