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.

This is a great week for movies, and one that finally sees In the Heights lose its top spot as a pair of excellent newcomers take over: The Green Knight and Nine Days both soar into theaters this week. We also say goodbye to The Sparks Brothers and Mandibles as they head to VOD.

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. Roadrunner

roadrunner-poster.jpg Release Date: July 16, 2021
Director: Morgan Neville
Genre: Documentary
Rating: R
Runtime: 118 minutes

“Romantic” is the term that gets thrown around the most in Roadrunner, the documentary about late chef, author, host and all-around culinary nomad Anthony Bourdain. The man who opened up top-grade kitchens to the world, then opened up the world to a viewing public, had a “romantic” view of life. He was a “classic romantic.” That kind of thing. Director Morgan Neville tends to unpack this in details: The single gold hoop earring Bourdain wore is traced to pirate fantasies, put in motion by a kitchen knife duel; drugs and booze are the gateway to rock star writer cool, on display through Hemingway, Hunter S. Thompson and Iggy Pop. What Roadrunner does well is show how these romantic notions helped drive Bourdain to his most curious and open-eyed peaks and his most disillusioned, depressive lows. Even if a third act turn momentarily warps its close-knit mass of talking heads and archival footage towards a spiteful fit of mudslinging, Roadrunner’s painful imperfections only reveal how deeply Bourdain left his mark. One of the benefits of making a movie about someone who spent the last few decades of their life being constantly filmed is that you’re never at a loss for footage. Neville digs deep, mapping out an archival road from Bourdain’s sexy bad boy Kitchen Confidential press tour—when the rail-thin, charismatic chainsmoker was quipping on talk shows and still working as a chef—to his final days doing Parts Unknown—when living a constantly televised life had him burned out. It’s a staggeringly thorough account, one that’s sheer depth encourages empathy. It seems terrible to live like that, knowing those closest to you through the impenetrable filter of a camera lens. It’s bittersweet that most of the talking heads that know him best are his production team. Sure, a few chef and musician friends Bourdain bonded with (David Chang, Josh Homme and David Choe among others) pop up, but the most intense details of daily life come from coworkers. Perhaps that’s why the last third of the film feels like a targeted takedown of actress/director Asia Argento, whom Bourdain dated leading up to his death. But she’s not only dragged professionally, but personally: Argento introducing Bourdain to the #MeToo movement, which Bourdain became deeply involved with, is shown as the final stage of his final addiction. At the bottom of this, Argento’s tabloid-captured infidelity is given to us as Bourdain’s catalyst to suicide. Unsurprisingly, Argento did not participate in Roadrunner. The inherently unfulfilling search for answers was never going to be Roadrunner’s strength. That it gives so much time to it feels like the kind of exploitation that it so deftly avoids for most of its runtime. In truth, this isn’t a movie about understanding why—a question that desperately wants an easy answer to a complicated problem—but about understanding Bourdain. Appreciating him. Mourning him. To that end, Roadrunner succeeds once the mythologizing dies down and we see the person inside the romantic.—Jacob Oller

9. The Forever Purge

the-forever-purge-poster.jpg Release Date: July 2, 2021
Director: Everardo Gout
Stars: Ana de la Reguera, Tenoch Huerta, Josh Lucas, Cassidy Freeman, Leven Rambin, Alejandro Edda
Genre: Action/Horror
Rating: R
Runtime: 103 minutes

In the case of The Forever Purge, the fifth film in the Purge series, 2021 is as good a time as any for a theatrical run: No matter the year, no matter the time, the Purge movies enjoy evergreen status and will stay fresh as long as American politics resemble a battlefield. Next to the escalating bedlam documented on morning news and in the papers, The Forever Purge reads as quaint. Working from DeMonaco’s screenplay, director Everardo Gout follows two protagonist parties: The Tuckers—dad-to-be Dylan (Josh Lucas), his pregnant wife Emma (Cassidy Freeman), his sister Harper (Leven Rambin) and his father Caleb (Will Patton)—and husband-wife duo Adela (Ana de la Reguera) and Juan (Tenoch Huerta). The Tuckers own a ranch in Texas. Juan, having fled from Mexico with Adela ten months prior to The Forever Purge’s story, works for the Tuckers training horses, while Adela supervises a meat packing facility. As the film opens, it’s just hours before everyone’s favorite annual government-sanctioned murderfest, reinstituted in the gap between The Forever Purge and The Purge: Election Year. Safely behind the protections purchased with their wealth, the Tuckers hunker down for the night. Making do with the meager protections available to them in the lower class, Juan and Adela shelter with others who likewise lack their own personal fortress. The Purge comes and goes with no casualties in either party. Gout shows video surveillance footage of people killing and people getting killed, and that’s all. Dawn comes. The Tuckers open their doors. Everyone goes back to work, walking straight into ambushes set by rogue Purgers intent on keeping the tradition alive—all year round. So it goes. The Tuckers, Adela, Juan and their friend T.T. (Alejandro Edda) stick together to survive and get to Mexico’s border. Our neighbors to the south have opened their borders for American refugees escaping the Purging. After the stultifying original Purge, the franchise toed the action-horror line with Frank Grillo’s Punisher riff in The Purge: Anarchy and The Purge: Election Year, and stepped over that line with The First Purge in 2018. In The Forever Purge, the line doesn’t exist: It’s all action, all the time, with little by way of fright save for jump moments orchestrated in the keys of “creepy” and “cheap.” This isn’t a bad thing. From the start, The Purge has been a confused, “glass half full…or maybe it’s half empty” project. Broadcasts heard over carnage speak urgently to a nation divided, a nation at war with itself. Later, these same broadcasts relay messages of hope: Americans band together in the streets to fight the Purgers and save their country. The Forever Purge is the most optimistic of its kin thanks to that grace note.—Andy Crump

8. F9

f9-poster.jpg Release Date: June 25, 2021
Director: Justin Lin
Stars: Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, John Cena, Nathalie Emmanuel, Jordana Brewster, Sung Kang, Charlize Theron
Genre: Action
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 143 minutes

This latest entry marks the return of director Justin Lin, who helped guide the series’ evolution from Tokyo Drift to Fast & Furious 6, and while he struggles with how unwieldy F&F has become, his undeniable understanding of what makes these movies tick keeps the film roaring along. Lin’s still adding new characters and twists to this high-octane telenovela as often as prefixes, retconning deaths and introducing long-lost brothers as easily as he moves from simply defying physics to defying astrophysics—as easily as he turned street-racing spies into globe-trotting superspies. The crew, including the newly domestic Dom and Letty, is pulled back into the world of…whatever it is they do...once again and their impossible mission (which they always choose to accept) has to do with another globally destructive techno-MacGuffin and a globally destructive flesh-MacGuffin: Dom’s younger brother Jakob (John Cena), excommunicated from the family for sins that become apparent over the course of extensive flashbacks. As Dom’s uneasy relationship with Jakob becomes clear—over the course of explosion-laden jungle races, rooftop chases and posh sitting room brawls—F9’s knowing relationship with its own cartoonishness balances it out. One of the funniest gags sees Tyrese Gibson’s Roman openly speculating if he and the rest of the crew have plot armor. Are they actually invincible? The gang realizing that they’re all in a movie seems like it could honestly be the next step, with them turning their cars towards the camera and bursting out of the fiction like Daffy Duck in Duck Amuck. While both come too late in the film for my taste (leaving much of the film hanging on how pleased you get seeing the admittedly amusing returns of Sung Kang and Lucas Black), two innovations keep F9 on the cutting edge of ridiculous action: Magnets and rockets. But such winning ideas, timed as they are to energize a relatively dramatic entry like last-minute nitro boosts, have a hard time standing out amidst the meandering plot and the narrative’s bevy of cameos. Perhaps the most telling way in which you can tell that F9’s action is a little underwhelming is that the standout moment from the film is purely dramatic. A shockingly well-directed “life flashing before your eyes” sequence allows Diesel to undersell a bevy of emotions through little more than a lemon-pursed mouth, while Lin spins his past, present and future around him. It’s not a great standalone entry into the Fast canon, but as the franchise speeds towards its finish line, it’s still satisfying to know that it’s in the hands of someone well-versed in the series’ strengths and still willing to imagine new ways to crash its toys into each other.—Jacob Oller

7. Old

old-poster.jpg Release Date: July 23, 2021
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Stars: Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Eliza Scanlen, Thomasin McKenzie, Alex Wolff
Genre: Horror/Thriller
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 108 minutes

The reception to The Visit and Split proclaimed that Shyamalan was “back,” but Glass—a deeply earnest critical miss—portended the director’s true return to form with Old. Old centers on an outwardly perfect nuclear family that is, of course, quietly fracturing. Husband Guy (Gael García Bernal), a risk assessor, and wife Prisca (Vicky Krieps), a museum curator, spit at one another over their impending separation and an as-yet-unknown medical diagnosis given to Prisca while on their vacation away at a beautiful, tropical resort with their two kids: Pre-teen Maddox (Alexa Swinton) and six-year-old Trent (Nolan River). The quiet day, isolated from the resort’s overcrowded main beach, starts off peacefully enough—children playing, selfie-taking, problem-avoiding—until everything slowly, carefully begins to unravel. The children discover lost personal items from the hotel hidden beneath the sand; Charles’ mother-in-law experiences strange pains in her chest; a rapper named Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre)—yes, that’s right—lingers strangely at a distance as an earlier brief, cryptic scene between him and an anonymous young woman on the beach leads us to understand that something has gone seriously wrong. And that’s when the body turns up. As fear and confusion escalate among the beach-goers, Shyamalan expertly disorients the audience along with them, crafting an atmosphere of deep claustrophobia despite being surrounded by the vastness of the open ocean. The moments leading up to the realization that all three children have drastically aged are like living inside a panic attack: Mike Gioluakis’ cinematography alternates close-ups of anguished faces as they are flanked by various disarray on all sides. Loosely adapted from Pierre-Oscar Lévy and Frederick Peeters’ graphic novel Sandcastle, Old is a simple tale of cosmic terror—a Twilight Zone-esque look at mortality and greater-good sacrifice of life that is creepy, beautifully set up and followed through. In the end, the scariest thing in Old is not that our bodies will age and decay, or that nature is punishing our very intrusive presence within it (much like the beach-goers’ intrusion on the lush, natural world), but that we will spend our lives preoccupied by ultimately meaningless problems and frivolities with ourselves and one another that rapidly consume our ticking clocks, while people in positions of power view our short lives as expendable for some perceived “greater good.” Old is not Shyamalan’s best film, but it’s both a chilling summer escape and an empathetic reminder that other people are working against us as just as quickly as time, when all we have in our time left is each other.—Brianna Zigler

6. Summer of Soul (...Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

summer-of-soul-poster.jpg Release Date: July 2, 2021
Director: Questlove
Genre: Documentary
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 117 minutes

The 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival is the subject of Ahmir Khalib “Questlove” Thompson’s debut documentary feature, Summer of Soul (...Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised). More specifically, the documentary examines how this six-week summer festival, which featured many of the most revered Black musicians of all time— including Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone and Gladys Knight—went largely unrecognized in America’s cultural consciousness. Featuring an immense catalogue of footage that sat in a basement virtually untouched for 50 years, Summer of Soul acts as an interrogation of what the absence of these materials has meant for the subsequent generation of Black artists, including Questlove himself. Despite the apparent cultural amnesia that followed the event (at least among non-Black Americans), the Harlem Cultural Festival easily overshadowed a ubiquitous moment in American history: The 1969 moon landing. Archival interviews with several attendees reveal that for many Black Americans, the moon landing was not seen as a boundary-pushing event worth celebrating. Catching Stevie Wonder’s set, on the other hand, was. Considering the undeniable essence of colonialism that space travel entails, who can blame them? 300,000 music lovers descended on Mount Morris Park that summer—hardly a negligible amount, especially when compared to Woodstock’s 500,000 attendees. While Woodstock may have been emblematic of the power of counter-culture, the predominance of white spectators in the crowd cemented the event as an artistic awakening. Meanwhile, the equally hyped Harlem Cultural Festival was relegated to the sidelines of historical preservation due to its predominantly Black audience and centering of Black acts on stage. Summer of Soul was easily one of the most successful films at this year’s Sundance, earning the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award in the documentary section. But Questlove was never in it for the acclaim, a sentiment made evident in some of the first words the filmmaker uttered during his remote acceptance speech: “I didn’t even know this was a competition, yo!” The documentary was quickly picked up by Searchlight, with a streaming release on Hulu imminent. Whether interested in unraveling an overshadowed cultural event or eager to experience awe-inspiring performances from beloved artists at their best, Summer of Soul surely won’t disappoint.—Natalia Keogan

5. Zola

zola-poster.jpg Release Date: June 30, 2021
Director: Janicza Bravo
Stars: Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Nicholas Braun, Colman Domingo
Genre: Comedy, Thriller
Rating: R
Runtime: 90 minutes

A’Ziah “Zola” King’s ultra-viral Tweet thread—AKA The Story AKA The Thotessy AKA Dante’s Infern-ho—about stripping, sex trafficking and the dangers of braving the surreal and nearly mythological land of Florida with a white girl you barely know, has it all. It’s hilarious and disturbing, with characters noble, treacherous and pathetic, damning voyeurism while encouraging our participation and spectatorship. The social media saga is also a treatise on storytelling. It’s been embellished, deleted and reposted after the dark comedy inherent in the compelling truth was honed for an audience—an evolving epic poem, technologically modernized. Naturally, writer/director Janicza Bravo had her work cut out for her when turning its garish and nightmarish weekend into a film. But she responds in kind, adding in her own tweaks and retellings to heighten the fable. Zola maintains its source’s compelling magic, transforming us from rubberneckers to spellbound participants along for the wildest cinematic road trip of the year. In less capable hands, Zola could’ve been a movie of morbid fascination. But Bravo, who adapted her sophomore feature alongside Jeremy O. Harris, embraces the secondhand spontaneity of the vibe while immersing us in the humanity of its participants. We’re rarely looking at them, as can happen during the sleazy Floridian spectacle of Spring Breakers, but going through it with them. Sometimes that means empathizing with Zola (Taylour Paige) and Stefani (Riley Keough) when they’re feeling themselves, taking selfies in the strip club dressing room. Sometimes that means chuckling sadly when Stefani’s boyfriend Derek (Nicholas Braun, whose clueless giant schtick gets a Malibu’s Most Wanted coat of paint) brags to a stranger in an empty liquor store that they’re in town “making shmoney.” But the shmoney ain’t for nothin’ and these chicks ain’t free, as the next days spiral from a simple strip trip to a messy collision between culture vultures, warring sex traffickers and an ever-increasing desire to get the hell home. Zola continues the fairy tale evolution of King’s story, passing the rich text on with the same outrageous spirit—a level of respect most adaptations only aspire to.—Jacob Oller

4. Pig

pig-poster.jpg Release Date: July 16, 2021
Director: Michael Sarnoski
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Alex Wolff, Adam Arkin
Genre: Drama
Rating: R
Runtime: 92 minutes

In the forest outside Portland, a man’s pig is stolen. Rob (Nicolas Cage) is a witchy truffle forager that we learn used to be a chef—a Michelin-starred Baba Yaga, a gastronomical Radagast—who sells his pig’s findings to sustain his isolated life. What follows is not a revenge thriller. This is not a porcine Taken. Pig, the ambitious debut of writer/director Michael Sarnoski, is a blindsiding and measured treatise on the masculine response to loss. Featuring Nicolas Cage in one of his most successful recent permutations, evolving Mandy’s silent force of nature to an extinct volcano of scabbed-over pain, Pig unearths broad themes by thoroughly sniffing out the details of its microcosm. The other component making up this Pacific NW terrarium, aside from Rob and the golden-furred Brandy’s endearingly shorthanded connection, is the guy Rob sells his truffles to, Amir. Alex Wolff’s tiny Succession-esque business jerk is a bundle of jagged inadequacies, and only Rob’s calloused wisdom can handle such prickliness. They’re exceptional foils for one another, classic tonal opposites that share plenty under the surface of age. Together, the pair search for the pignapping victim, which inevitably leads them out of the forest and back into the city. There they collide with the seediest, John Wick’s Kitchen Confidential kind of industry underbelly you can imagine, in a series of standoffs, soliloquies and strange stares. It’s a bit heightened, but in a forgotten and built-over way that feels more secret than fantastic. The sparse and spacious writing allows its actors to fill in the gaps, particularly Cage. Where some of Cage’s most riveting experiments used to be based in manic deliveries and expressionistic faces, what seems to engage him now is the opposite: Silence, stillness, realist hurt and downcast eyes. You can hear Cage scraping the rust off Rob’s voice, grinding the interpersonal gears much like the dilapidated truck he tries (and fails) to take into town. Wolff, along with much of the rest of the cast, projects an intense desperation for validation—a palpable desire to win the rat race and be somebody. It’s clear that Rob was once a part of this world before his self-imposed exile, clear from knowing gazes and social cues as much as the scenarios that lead the pig-seekers through basements and kitchens. Part of Pig’s impactful, moving charm is its restraint. It’s a world only hinted at in 87 minutes, but with a satisfying emotional thoroughness. We watch this world turn only slightly, but the full dramatic arcs of lives are on display. A sad but not unkind movie, and certainly not a pessimistic one, Pig puts its faith in a discerning audience to look past its premise.—Jacob Oller

3. In the Heights

in-the-heights-poster.jpg Release Date: June 11, 2021
Director: Jon M. Chu
Stars: Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Gregory Diaz IV, Jimmy Smits
Genre: Musical
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 143 minutes

In 2018, director Jon M. Chu imbued the standard rom-com plot of his Crazy Rich Asians adaptation with classical Hollywood decadence, hanging it all on a framework of well-constructed cultural specificity. It was big, spectacular and embarrassingly novel for an American movie of its kind. Now, in 2021, we’re getting Chu’s version of In the Heights, the musical that put Lin-Manuel Miranda on the map (and won him his first Tony). It’s incredible. The exciting electricity of a non-white blockbuster cast becoming superstars before your eyes, the maximalist style of a modern smash updating its influences, the intertwining of hyper-specific and broad themes—Chu’s strengths and his cast soar, bringing In the Heights as high as it’s ever been. It’s the best Hollywood musical in years. Tracking a few sweltering days in New York’s Washington Heights, the film meshes Do the Right Thing’s hot summer tension with School Daze’s teasing affection for its song-slinging genre. It just so happens that the corner we’re on is the collision point for the intersecting lives and romances of two couples—bodega boss Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) and aspiring designer Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), and dispatcher Benny (Corey Hawkins) and recent Stanford dropout Nina (Leslie Grace)—who serve as the neighborhood’s most vocal examples of those that life’s rigged lottery left putting their patience and faith in a daily scratcher. There’s no real pivotal struggle (especially not between Sharks and Jets, though wouldn’t it be incredible if Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story gave 2021 two great NYC musicals?) aside from the ever-present and myriad anxieties of Nth generation Americans living in a racist country. Yes, those familiar with the themes of Miranda’s Hamilton will find a similar rhythm and thematic flavor here—though with the showtunes’ style slipping into a salsa or bolero as easily as the rap bars dip in and out of Spanish—but with a purity of form and meaning that’s lyrical critiques and observations are even sharper than those mired in the phenomenon’s historical metaphor. In fact, almost all the songs are bangers that keep emotions high—you’ll weep, you’ll cheer, you’ll hum the songs to yourself on the way out of the theater—bolstered by orchestration that, while restrained when limited to its lovers, explodes when the choruses finally incorporate the neighborhood at large. Head-bobbing bops and moving melodies match rhythmic editing and a vibrant, fittingly populous background that’s constant choreography sustains the perpetual, organic flow of a community. In the Heights is great, and its greatness is amplified by the joy that it will inspire in theaters full of people for years to come.—Jacob Oller

2. Nine Days

nine-days-poster.jpg Release Date: July 30, 2021
Director: Edson Oda
Stars: Winston Duke, Zazie Beetz, Benedict Wong, Tony Hale, Bill Skarsgård, David Rysdahl, Arianna Ortiz
Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi
Rating: R
Runtime: 124 minutes

In a small house, alone in the desert, Will (Winston Duke) watches. Nine Days, the wrenching feature debut from writer/director Edson Oda, understands that we are an existence of voyeurism. We’re only truly living to our fullest when we can see, share, feel the experiences of others. Will is a sort of hiring manager for life itself. As painful as it is for him to accept (he’s obviously grown fond of his previous picks), there is a new vacancy, and there are a few candidates. Over a nine-day process, almost like an audition for a reality show—especially fitting considering that the plane they would leave behind houses a watcher carefully and compassionately taking in a televised wall of literal life-streams—Will and his friend/co-worker Kyo (Benedict Wong) whittle down the applicants to find the best person suited for the gift of worldly existence. Oda’s compact, stirring, metaphysical sci-fi stageplay about the ends and beginnings of life—and all the wonder ripe for the sharing contained between—is as moving a debut as you’ll see all year. First, it takes some real creative brass to try to tackle such an ambitious, heady and easily trite topic. Second, it takes some major storytelling talent—both in the crafting of the script and the handling of its actors—to overcome those obstacles while keeping the dignity of all involved intact. Nine Days has quiet confidence, written in the way that some of the best sci-fi is, where it feels like a massive text that’s been erased down to the barest elements necessary for a perception imagination to piece together—a painting of overwhelming sentiment depicted with the simplest strokes possible. Oda’s script has been visualized with a similar restraint, nearly contained to Will’s home and its screens before it slowly pushes at these boundaries. But, at first at least, Will’s hopefuls—including Tony Hale, Bill Skarsgård, David Rysdahl, Arianna Ortiz and a last-minute Zazie Beetz—are roped into routine. As the would-be humans continue to prove themselves through a series of psychological tests, their growth or stagnation metered out in compellingly restrained segments overseen by Duke’s stoic yet compassionate shepherd, we become as invested as Will in their prospects. The gravity of what they’re after hits us. The ultra-sincere Charlie Kaufman/Spike Jonze-esque premise (Jonze executive produced the film) moves beyond its high concept and starts digging into its emotional implications. Scene after scene of appreciation for the magical moments of life hammer our hearts. Rarely do movies so tenderly tenderize you. It can be shatteringly bittersweet even without the soaring strings of Antonio Pinto’s score, and when they come in, it’s not even fair. Admirably ambitious and bracingly sincere, Nine Days leaves you raw and refreshed. Nine Days marks Oda as one of our most exciting new directors, a filmmaker possessing an innovative cinematic mind with a heart to match.—Jacob Oller

1. The Green Knight

the-green-knight-poster.jpg Release Date: July 30, 2021
Director: David Lowery
Stars: Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, Ralph Ineson, Barry Keoghan, Joel Edgerton
Genre: Drama, Fantasy
Rating: R
Runtime: 130 minutes

When Sir Gawain departs Camelot, he rides past a scene of desolation. A once-prosperous forest stripped of its lush greenery by human hands, only splintered wood and dust remain. Through his journey, Gawain (Dev Patel) is greeted by similar, if not entirely equal imagery, constantly evocative of mankind’s awkward, unwanted presence within the natural world. One year prior, the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson) approached King Arthur (Sean Harris) and his Knights of the Round Table, conjured up by Gawain’s mother, Morgan Le Fay (Sarita Choudhury), seeking a participant for his Christmas Game. Should one of Arthur’s knights land a blow against him, the knight shall receive his mighty axe, but must seek him out exactly one year later to receive an equal blow in return. When Gawain, reluctant to accept though eager to bring honor to his name, agrees to the Green Knight’s terms, the humanoid creature only drops his axe and lowers his head to reveal an oaken neck, offering it to Gawain freely. Naturally, Gawain succeeds, but at what cost? The Green Knight retrieves his head and rides off into the night. Gawain understands he cannot do the same. Foliage sprouts in the stone cracks on the hall floor where the Green Knight’s blood has been spilt. David Lowery’s The Green Knight is a modern reckoning with a medieval fable. It’s a haunting, confounding, surprisingly erotic fantasy epic; a confrontation between man and nature, nature and religion, man and himself. Adapted from the anonymously authored Arthurian poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Lowery’s austere yet spellbinding take on the simple 14th century legend evokes the same questions as the original work, interrogating the cost of one’s life for the sake of one’s honor when there is only certainty that they will die. “Greatness? Why is goodness not enough?” pleads Esel (Alicia Vikander), Gawain’s lover, a sex worker, whom he holds at arm’s length. But the film and Gawain’s quest carry a message that stretches far beyond the fantastical world of King Arthur, one about humanity’s inherent frailty in the face of far-reaching environmental destruction and what gods they have foolishly chosen in place of nature. Obscurities are what anchor The Green Knight as Lowery leans into the ambiguity that defines the original text and replaces it with his own equally mystifying visual interpretations. By blending his abstract sensibilities seen in 2017’s A Ghost Story with the grand fantasy of his live-action Pete’s Dragon, Lowery has crafted a breathtaking, titillating adaptation of folklore with a denouement that carries real-world weight.—Brianna Zigler

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