The 10 Best Movies in Theaters Right Now

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The 10 Best Movies in Theaters Right Now

Movie theaters are officially back. As the cinematic offerings slowly return to the big screen compared to the streaming services and various digital rental retailers, we’re here to sort out what’s actually the best bang for your buck at the box office.

A new year and a new COVID variant are in full swing, so now might be a good time to exercise restraint even if there are bigger budget offerings hitting the big screen.

Of course, use your judgment when choosing whether to go back to the movies or not, but there’s an ever-growing percentage of vaccinated moviegoers who are champing at the bit to get back in front of the big screen. And I’m very happy to say that we’re back, here to help.

That said, things in theatrical distribution are a little strange right now, so apart from some big recent blockbusters, there’s a mix of Oscar-winners, lingering releases, indies and classics booked—depending, of course, on the theater. But thankfully, there’s been enough good movies actually released recently this year that you should have no problem finding something great to watch.

Check out the 10 best movies in theaters right now:


10. Barbarian

Release Date: September 9, 2022
Director: Zach Cregger
Stars: Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård, Justin Long
Rating: R
Runtime: 102 minutes

The deceptively simple premise of Barbarian, the horror debut from writer/director Zach Cregger, is enough to induce genuine goosebumps. However, Cregger takes a creepy idea and concocts a breakneck tale of unyielding terror, giving audiences whiplash with each unpredictable revelation. When Tess (Georgina Campbell) arrives at her Detroit Airbnb on a forcefully stormy night, she finds that there’s no key in the encrypted lockbox to let herself in. After calling the host proves fruitless, she suddenly sees a light turn on through a front window. Tess frantically rings the doorbell, and the recently roused Keith (Bill Skarsgård) awkwardly answers the door. Realizing they accidentally double-booked the same rental for the next few days, Keith immediately insists that Tess get out of the rain and take the bedroom for the night (of course, he’s totally content with taking the couch). Surprisingly, she agrees. Though few viewers would likely make the same decision as the film’s protagonist, Barbarian wastes no time creating a thick sense of dread that clings until the credits roll. To divulge any further details of the film’s plot would thwart the winding, increasingly shocking narrative crafted by Cregger. With each terrifying reveal feeling fresher and freakier than the last, it’s encouraged to go into Barbarian with as little background and context as possible. Even citing Cregger’s horror references would serve to unnecessarily hint at jarring shifts in the film’s story, though comparisons to the work of fellow horror filmmakers James Wan, Tobe Hooper and George Romero are particularly apt. Barbarian offers up plenty of food for thought in its rancid banquet from hell. It’s got a biting socially-conscious undercurrent that addresses the bleak reality of existing as a woman in the U.S.—both past and present, whether residing in manicured suburbs or “shady” inner-city neighborhoods—even successfully weaving in a #MeToo subplot that doesn’t feel one-note or cursory. Even more impressive, Cregger incorporates this throughline with a heavy dose of humor, no doubt aided by his tenure as a member of IFC sketch comedy show The Whitest Kids U’ Know. Barbarian offers a fascinating take on the oft-unspoken claim men have long believed they have over women’s bodies. It does an excellent job at juxtaposing banal excuses for gendered violence with ghoulish, heinous ploys to strip women of their bodily autonomy (and their very humanity), exposing the malevolent nature of this deeply ingrained cultural misogyny. With the wounds still raw from the recent repeal of Roe v. Wade, Barbarian’s fixation on the omnipresent threat of rape in our society hits as hard as it (hopefully) ever could. Never relishing in the very brutality that it denounces, the film has its heart in the right place. It refuses to depict sexual violation on screen, cleverly illustrating the pervasiveness of this miserable reality without exploiting it for shallow shock value. Yet, even with the best of intentions, Barbarian will mercilessly run you through the wringer, letting these fucked-up facets of America absolutely ravage the screen—and your sanity—for 102 remarkably tense minutes.—Natalia Keogan


9. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Release Date: November 11, 2022
Director: Ryan Coogler
Stars: Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Florence Kasumba, Dominique Thorne, Michaela Coel, Tenoch Huerta, Martin Freeman, Angela Bassett
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 161 minutes

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever boasts the same director in Ryan Coogler (and the same writing team of Coogler and Joe Robert Cole), who have again created a story whose conflicts and character arcs go deeper than the average MCU fare. Of equal importance, Wakanda Forever again features the Oscar-winning talents of Hannah Beachler (production design) and Ruth E. Carter (costume design). Wakanda remains a vividly realized Afrofuturist cityscape (even in mourning), and the MCU’s newest kingdom, Talokan, though markedly less flashy than James Wan’s Atlantis in Aquaman, feels as real and wondrous as a fictitious Aztec/Mayan underwater realm should. The cast is mostly the same, with Michael B. Jordan’s scene-stealing antagonist Erik Killmonger replaced by Tenoch Huerta’s similarly compelling and cleverly reimagined anti-hero Namor (who is much more integral to Marvel Comics—and likely the MCU—than Killmonger). But how keen the loss contained in that word—“mostly.” Chadwick Boseman’s portrayal of T’Challa was a magical piece of casting alchemy on par with Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers. Coogler confronts the loss directly in Wakanda Forever in a beautiful opening tribute to both actor and character. T’Challa’s funeral is a reminder of just how strong the cast is overall, providing Angela Bassett, Letitia Wright and Danai Gurira some grief-themed scene-chewing of their own. Where Thor: Love and Thunder felt like a lighter, sloppier version of its predecessor, Wakanda Forever feels like a well-considered, necessary next step for a franchise rocked by loss. It’s a tad overstuffed—an entire sub-plot involving Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) feels more like Feige fiat to ensure certain characters and developments are sufficiently presaged—but that only serves as a reminder of the fine line between “laying groundwork” and overpacking. Despite the daunting challenge faced by Coogler and his team, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever feels like the surest step taken in the MCU since Thanos was reduced to ash. It’s both an impressive achievement and a promising development, especially when considers the strong comic book connections between Namor, mutants (he is one), and a certain fantastic foursome on the MCU horizon.—Michael Burgin


8. The Menu

Release Date: November 18, 2022
Director: Mark Mylod
Stars: Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, Ralph Fiennes, Hong Chau, Janet McTeer, Judith Light, John Leguizamo
Rating: R
Runtime: 107 minutes

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


7. Decision to Leave

Release Date: October 14, 2022
Director: Park Chan-wook
Stars: Tang Wei, Park Hae-il
Rating: R
Runtime: 138 minutes

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


6. Return to Seoul

Release Date: December 2, 2022
Director: Davy Chou
Stars: Park Ji-min, Oh Kwang-rok, Guka Han, Kim Sun-young, Yoann Zimmer, Louis Do De Lencquesaing, Hur Ouk-sook, Emeline Briffaud, Lim Cheol-hyun, Son Seung-beom, Kim Dong-seok
Rating: R
Runtime: 118 minutes

We first meet Freddie (Ji-Min Park) at age 25, when she impulsively travels to Seoul after a flight to Japan is canceled. We’re not given this context until well into the movie, instead thrown into Freddie’s life as she checks into a hostel and almost immediately starts accumulating Korean drinking buddies. Like the character, we have little choice over how we’re brought into this world or how we grow into it. Though Freddie may work furiously to hide it, she’s just as confused as we are. Uncertain if she belongs in this culture of her birth, or if she even wants to. Some of Freddie’s new friends speak fluent French, but most do not, which has the dialogue switching between Korean, French and English as the characters work to understand one another. It’s a depiction and theme that will continue throughout the film: The arduous work of human connection, especially across language barriers and cultures, and through the unique perspective of a transnational adoptee. While director Davy Chou may not exactly embody his subject matter, he is not unfamiliar with the experience of returning to a place you have never been (or have no memory of), looking for a kind of connection. The child of Cambodian parents who fled their home to escape the Khmer Rouge, Chou grew up in France, first visiting Cambodia at the age of 25. He uses Return to Seoul to, among other things, explore that first/second-generation immigrant experience of being complexly, confusingly torn between two cultures. However adept the filmmaking, such a piece would fall apart without the right central actor. Park is a revelation in what is, unbelievably, a debut performance. Regardless of when or where we find her, Park simultaneously imbues Freddie with a vulnerability and impenetrability, characterized by a vibrant, exhausting defiance she brings to each and every interaction. I cannot believe this is Park’s first role. Because we almost exclusively see Freddie during her visits to Seoul, it’s unclear what other factors—outside of her identity as a transnational adoptee—might influence her restlessness. Though I missed the larger context of Freddie’s life, Return to Seoul’s commitment to staying in the moment creates an engrossing cinematic experience, an inextricable character portrait both intimate and fathomless.—Kayti Burt


5. TÁR

Release Date: October 7, 2022
Director: Todd Field
Stars: Cate Blanchett, Noémie Merlant, Nina Hoss, Sophie Kauer, Julian Glover, Allan Corduner, Mark Strong
Rating: R
Runtime: 158 minutes

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


4. Top Gun: Maverick

Release Date: May 27, 2022
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Stars: Tom Cruise, Jenifer Connelly, Miles Teller, Jon Hamm, Monica Barbaro, Ed Harris, Val Kilmer, Jay Ellis, Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, Danny Ramirez, Greg “Tarzan” Davis
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 137 minutes

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


3. The Fabelmans

Release Date: November 25, 2022
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Gabriel LaBelle, Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, Judd Hirsch, David Lynch
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 151 minutes

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


2. The Banshees of Inisherin

Release Date: October 21, 2022
Director: Martin McDonagh
Stars: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan
Rating: R
Runtime: 114 minutes

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


1. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

Release Date: December 9, 2022
Director: Guillermo del Toro, Mark Gustafson
Stars: Ewan McGregor, David Bradley, Gregory Mann, Ron Perlman, Finn Wolfhard, Christoph Waltz, Tilda Swinton, Cate Blanchett
Rating: PG
Runtime: 114 minutes

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