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 both here, so even if January’s theatrical offerings weren’t always notoriously iffy, now might be a good time to exercise restraint. That said, a solid new Scream and an excellent anime have replaced a few now-on-Netflix offerings this weekend.

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. Scream

scream-2022-poster.jpg Release Date: January 14, 2022
Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett
Stars: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Melissa Barerra, Jack Quaid
Rating: R
Runtime: 120 minutes

Among many things that ended up winning me over about Radio Silence directing group members Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s Scream, the main one was that—like its predecessors—it understood how we were going to feel about it before we even got to see it. It knew that I would be torn about its existence. And that, folks, just scratches the surface on why the new Scream, in all its meta-for-a-modern-time goodness, is the best installment since the Wes Craven original. The fifth installment—which takes place 25 years after the original—doesn’t hold back when it comes to analyzing the inner workings of a classic reboot down to the bones. Scream has always been a franchise for film lovers—and it’s never been afraid to be meta as hell, as meta as it needed to be to get its point across. Big questions are raised and left in the air to hang: Are we really just the monsters we create? Are we the monsters that created us, and do we have to be? What is so toxic about loving something with everything you have and wanting it to stay good? Like you’d expect from the franchise, it doesn’t necessarily offer answers to those questions, but the fact that it poses them at all feels right. It is a welcomed dimension to the films that highlights the larger themes that have come into play as the Woodsboro legacy has aged. Sure, the gags about elevated horror and getting back to the roots of slashers, the film trivia, the dedication to the craft of movies—it’s all part of the show. But it’s the fifth movie, and really, why make it if not to send a love letter to the fans?—Lex Briscuso


9. Italian Studies

italian-studies-poster.jpg Release Date: January 14, 2022
Director: Adam Leon
Stars: Vanessa Kirby, Simon Brickner, David Ajala, Rosa Walton, Jenny Hollingworth, Annika Wahlsten, Neil Comber
Rating: NR
Runtime: 78 minutes

The title refers to a short story collection by Alina Reynolds (Vanessa Kirby), a Londoner lost in New York City, and seemingly in time, too, struck dumb by a sudden bout of amnesia that robs her of her memory and leaves her stranded in a strange place. Leon shoots this key moment, where Alina’s amnesia kneecaps her, with casual poise. There’s nothing special about it. It’s a day like any other day in New York in summer: Alina, looking chic and fashionable in a way that’s so breezy as to be infuriating, takes her curly-haired pooch out for a walk, arrives at a hardware store, ties the dog outside and within minutes of perusing the aisles forgets who she is, where she is and why the fuck she’s browsing wingnuts and push brooms. She leaves the store. She walks away from the dog, expectantly wagging its tail. There’s an unexpectedly heartbreaking cosmic cruelty to the sequence absent in Leon’s other films, though the cruelty is a byproduct of Alina’s stupor and not the intent. It’s sad. It’s scary, too. Scariest of all is Kirby who, in tight proximity with Leon’s camera (guided by his third cinematographer in as many films, Brett Jutkiewicz), somehow conveys Alina’s blackout by doing as little emoting as possible. We can see the instant her mind goes blank, fluttering across her eyes. That kind of darkness simply doesn’t factor into Gimme the Loot or Tramps, but Leon doesn’t deny his audience lightness for long. Compassion abounds. Friendships are made. Relationships are kindled. Alina even reunites with her dog in the end. It’s an odd sort of travelogue Leon and Kirby curate here, but Italian Studies’ drifting, artsy peculiarities make 70 minutes fly by with a palliative affection—for Alina, for New York and for all the intersecting stories contained within its bounds.—Andy Crump


8. Belle

belle-poster.jpg Release Date: January 14, 2022
Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Stars: Kaho Nakamura, Takeru Satoh, Ryô Narita, Lilas Ikuta, Shôta Sometani, Tina Tamashiro
Rating: PG
Runtime: 121 minutes

Belle explodes onto the screen with a bombastic concert in a virtual world. Known simply as U, it’s the ultimate virtual community where users can become entirely different from their dull real-life counterparts. Among them is one singer that has captured the love and adoration of billions. As the starlet Belle begins belting out her opening number, center stage on the back of a giant whale, it’s easy to be swept into this vibrant world. Thankfully, Belle has enough substance to back up this spectacle. The crux of writer/director Mamoru Hosoda’s latest film is a reimagined Beauty and the Beast mixed with teenage adversity in a digital wonderland. It’s a potpourri of hormones, misunderstandings and animation styles that recall his 2009 breakthrough Summer Wars. Belle even relies on the family dynamics seen in some of his later movies—like the lone outcast Ren in 2015’s The Boy and the Beast or the wolf siblings in 2012’s Wolf Children. Hosoda’s children have always had to endure great tragedies. It’s within this combination of family struggles and virtual reality that Belle finds its groove. Suzu (Kaho Nakamura) is a 17-year-old high school student who lives in the countryside with her father (Koji Yakusho). Although a few years have passed since the death of her mother, Suzu is still traumatized. She’s shut out the world around her, her despair sapping her of her joy and love of singing. Her relationship with her father is nonexistent, and she’s a certifiable pariah at school. Suzu takes the plunge and joins the world of U. This new world—free of the pressures of reality—allows Suzu to pursue singing once again. That’s until trouble arises in the form of a violent avatar known as “The Dragon.” Belle’s most spellbinding sequences come from inside the virtual world of U. Colorful 3D figures float through a kaleidoscope of colors and towering structures. The biggest setpieces in the movie take place here: An epic concert for billions of eager spectators, a battle through a castle—these are only a few of the memorable sights and sounds of U. To get an idea of what it sounds like, Nakamura’s contributions are like a mixture of rap and pop that becomes an instant earworm like on the opening title, “U.” The song brings in a wild rhythm while Nakamura races to keep up with the beat. It’s the perfect introduction to this futuristic virtual world. Other songs, like the ballad “Lend Me Your Voice” and the soaring anthem “A Million Miles Away,” are more traditional pieces that build up to crescendos that will have your hairs standing on end. Not only is it an intriguing retelling of Beauty and the Beast, it’s also a moving story about overcoming grief and seeking help when everything seems lost. Though it tackles a little too much, Belle is a triumph.—Max Covill


7. A Hero

a-hero-poster.jpg Release Date: January 7, 2022
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Stars: Amir Jadidi, Mohsen Tanabandeh, Alireza Jahandideh, Sahar Goldoost, Fereshteh Sadr Orafaie, Sarina Farhadi
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 127 minutes

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


6. Drive My Car

drive-my-car-poster.jpg Release Date: November 24, 2021
Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi
Stars: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Masaki Okada, Toko Miura, Reika Kirishima, Park Yurim, Jin Daeyeon
Rating: NR
Runtime: 179 minutes

The melodic rotating faces of tire rims and cassette reels keep the time in Drive My Car, Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s languorous adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s short story of the same name. The film’s meticulous commitment to unhurried emotional introspection might appear to be an overindulgence when considering its three-hour runtime, yet Hamaguchi and co-writer Takamasa Oe gracefully unfurl Murakami’s original story into a melancholy meditation of pain and performance that remains ever-enthralling. Renowned theater actor-turned-director Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) and his screenwriter wife Oto (Reika Kirishima) have what seems like a perfect relationship. Apart from sharing considerable marital bliss, they stimulate each other intellectually and sexually—oftentimes simultaneously. Oto will regularly weave narrative webs aloud while mid-coitus with Kafuku, reaching climaxes in literal and figurative senses. Despite the mutual adoration, both harbor a damning secret: Oto sustains a string of lovers as she hops around on productions, while Kafuku silently uncovers his wife’s infidelity without confronting her. Both maintain the facade of a remarkably happy couple that have been together for over 20 years, yet internally struggle with the emotional toll of concealing the extramarital affairs. The situation is only brought to a head years later, after Oto sustains a mortal injury and Kafuku covertly recognizes one of Oto’s past lovers at an audition for his forthcoming multilingual production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. Simultaneously consumed by jealousy and intrigue, Kafuku casts his wife’s much-younger former paramour Takatsuki (Masaki Okada) in the titular role. The loneliness inherent in living through guilt-ridden grief is perhaps the most palpable aspect of Hamaguchi’s latest drawn-out feature. However, it is also the open embracing of this desolation that eventually yields the most tender and subtly exuberant results. It is through communal mourning—for lives (and lovers) shared or for the unknowable misfortunes of others—that ultimately binds us as human beings.—Natalia Keogan


5. The French Dispatch

the-french-dispatch-poster.jpg Release Date: October 22, 2021
Director: Wes Anderson
Stars: Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri, Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Stephen Park, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson
Rating: R
Runtime: 108 minutes

As was the case with 2014’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, The French Dispatch is a story within a story—or, in this case, multiple stories within a story, and there are stories within those stories as well. Wes Anderson remains a creative force to be reckoned with. Frequently rebuked by naysayers for his commitment to his finely-tuned, “quirky” filmmaking style, The French Dispatch proves he is more interested than anything in how to play around with the medium of film and find new ways to tell his stories. Here, he challenges himself to a far more intricate means of storytelling, which is occasionally convoluted but fosters an eagerness to return to the film—to revisit and discover something new. Additionally, he trades previous forays in stop-motion animation for an extended 2D animated chase scene, and even briefly swaps his prototypically stationary, symmetrical camerawork for a dinner table sequence in which the camera slowly revolves around the seated characters, creating a novel and striking dimensionality to his cinematography. Timothée Chalamet, Jeffrey Wright and Benicio del Toro, in their respective first collaborations with the director, could not have been more perfectly attuned to Anderson’s highly specified wavelength. Even minor roles from new Anderson inductees like Elisabeth Moss, Henry Winkler, Christoph Waltz and Rupert Friend are, as could be expected from a perfectionist like Anderson, a snug fit. The precision with which Anderson once effortlessly deployed anguish, familial strife, love, insecurity and, perhaps above all, loss, within his carefully constructed signature filmmaking is largely absent from his newest endeavor. The various storytelling gimmicks take center stage, while the characters are forced into the back seat. The film becomes a wry showcase for the director’s evolution as a creative who has been refining an unparalleled style for over two decades, with a sharper humor but without the more deeply felt pulse of films like The Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr. Fox or most recently, and most effectively, The Grand Budapest Hotel. Still, it’s not to say that The French Dispatch’s bones are absent of any meat at all. “What happens next?” ends up a proportional sentiment to that of the film’s titular publication, the disappearing town it’s set in and the overall theme within Wes Anderson’s tenth feature: The eternal battle between art and capital. The question of “What happens next?” is less an inquiry as to the future of a shuttered, fictitious publication than a worrying, real-life prophecy, and The French Dispatch acts as a dialogue with this fear of the future of art. In this respect, it’s hard to argue that this latent dissolution of character depth is a net negative, when Anderson is clearly interested in, more than anything, growing and evolving as an artist.—Brianna Zigler


4. Parallel Mothers

parallel-mothers-poster.jpg Release Date: December 24, 2021
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Stars: Penélope Cruz, Milena Smit, Israel Elejalde, Rossy de Palma, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón
Rating: R
Runtime: 120 minutes

Set in 2016, Parallel Mothers follows Janice (Penélope Cruz), a professional photographer in her 40s who begins a casual fling with forensic anthropologist Arturo (Israel Elejalde). Nine months after a particularly steamy encounter, she checks herself into a Madrid hospital’s maternity ward, preparing to give birth and raise her child as a single mother. As fate would have it, her roommate is in a similar position, save for the fact that she’s over 20 years Janice’s junior: Ana (newcomer Milena Smit) is also without a partner, her only support during labor being her self-absorbed actress mother (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón). While Janice is thrilled that she’s been given the impromptu opportunity to become a mother, Ana is initially resentful of the circumstances that have led to her pregnancy. Yet the two women quickly bond, taking strolls down the sterile hospital halls in order to help their babies descend down the uterus. Coincidentally, they both give birth to beautiful baby girls, and exchange numbers in order to keep in touch as they embark on the journey of newfound motherhood. Though the film sets itself up as an straightforward examination of the peculiar perils of parenthood—particularly for women who raise children outside of the confines of conventional, heterosexual nuclear families—Pedro Almodóvar instead utilizes multiple generations of matriarchs to bring light to the families irreparably broken by the cruelty of Spain’s not-so-distant fascist regime. The initial reason why Janice approaches Arturo is to inquire if he could use his connections to organize an excavation of a mass grave in her hometown—one of the bodies buried being that of her great-grandfather. In many ways, Parallel Mothers is also an atonement on Almodóvar’s part for his own distancing from this period of Spain’s history, particularly considering that his own film career flourished after Franco’s decline. For a director who has never shied away from portraying society’s most controversial taboos on-screen—incest, rape, suicide attempts, pedophilia and even golden showers—the fact that it has taken him his entire career to explicitly incorporate the effects of the Spanish Civil War into his work demonstrates the country’s relative inability to reckon with it. Though Almodóvar has stated that none of his own family members were victims of fascist brutality, his dedication to the ongoing plight of the families of those who perished infuses the film with an almost uncharacteristic sense of levity and sorrow. While this is certainly a shift in the filmmaker’s melodramatic and outlandish sensibilities (though this has been shifting significantly since his 2019 semi-autobiographical Pain and Glory, followed by the deconstructive short The Human Voice), it never feels mishandled in his grasp, always remaining sensitive even while incorporating shocking twists and revelations. Particularly paired with Cruz’s knockout performance of a woman whose life endures the legacy left by the trauma of her family’s unresolved past, Parallel Mothers is a deeply political example of what is lost when we have forgotten—and what is achieved when we fight to remember.—Natalia Keogan


3. Red Rocket

Red-Rocket-poster.jpg Release Date: December 10, 2021
Director: Sean Baker
Stars: Simon Rex, Bree Elrod, Suzanna Son, Brenda Deiss, Ethan Darbone, Judy Hill
Rating: R
Runtime: 128 minutes

A wave of early aughts nostalgia immediately saturates Red Rocket, Sean Baker’s latest exploration of echt-Americana, by way of NSYNC’s eternal hit “Bye Bye Bye,” which blares as Mikey Saber (Simon Rex) disembarks a bus arriving in his Texas hometown. Unfortunately for Mikey, this wave is the same one that washes him up here. Having left his small Gulf Coast town to pursue adult film acting in Los Angeles 20 years prior, his return is essentially admitting defeat. But Mikey appears anything but embittered, a spring in his step as he walks through the desolate streets despite his precarious position. Portrayed with beguiling (though at times disagreeable) levity by Rex, Mikey is the center of Baker’s most complex character study to date—all while maintaining the director’s focus on power dynamics, American disillusionment and those on the margins of society (albeit with an added air of compelling moral ambiguity). With no means to secure honest work or cash unemployment checks as an out-of-state resident, Mikey falls back into his old gig of selling weed for local supplier Leondria (Judy Hill), who is equally baffled by his return. Nearly entrenched in a period of regression, Mikey becomes deeply enamored with a 17-year-old cashier at The Donut Hole named Strawberry (Suzanna Son)—pulling him out of his plan to rekindle his relationship with his wife, vying instead to utilize the young girl as his ticket back into the sex industry. While this description makes it easy to write Mikey off as an irredeemably slimy creep, Rex brings an impenetrable air of endearing himboism to the role that makes it absolutely impossible to hate Mikey—a performance indicative of Rex’s indelible talent. The actor’s vulnerability when it comes to revealing a shameless showbiz sensibility while bearing (fore)skin is inextricably tethered to Rex’s own adult film past and integration into VJ-stardom and Scary Movie sequel stints. It imbues the film with the sort of docu-style realism Baker perpetually strives for, only this time choosing to depict an individual who straddles, crosses and distorts his own position of power. By way of candid humor, a magnetic performance from Rex and Baker’s careful attention for authenticity, Red Rocket is a sympathetic profile of a porn star past his prime. In spite of his sleazy nature, Mikey Saber is an enchanting character whose pride (and relative privilege) shields him from the relative shambles of his surroundings, both on hyperlocal and national planes. Yet Mikey is hilarious and heartfelt by way of his shortcomings: Sometimes, disreputable people are the funniest, sweetest and sexiest ones out there—and isn’t that just wonderful?—Natalia Keogan


2. West Side Story

west-side-story-2021-poster.jpg Release Date: December 10, 2021
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, Brian d’Arcy James, Corey Stoll, Rita Moreno
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 156 minutes

Shoot it loud and there’s music playing; shoot it soft and it’s almost like praying: Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story pumps the classic for exactly that, classicism, by milking the musical’s dynamics for maximum expressiveness. Its romance? At its most tender. Its dance? At its most invigorating and desperate. Its songs? As if “Maria” or “Tonight” needed another reason to stick in your head, they’re catchier than ever. Even if you don’t know the lyrics, you know the snaps. And you won’t even need that level of familiarity to get swept up. Spielberg’s been working up to a full-throated musical for decades and he comes at this movie like he’s got something to prove: If there was ever any doubt that he’s a cinematic peer to Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, West Side Story sets it firmly aside. It’s a stunning, loving spectacle that confidently scales the fence right to the top of the movie-musical pack. Justin Peck, choreographer of the New York City Ballet, highlights the characters’ simmering physical threat and sexual power (not mutually exclusive among the charged dancers) by making the most of his performers’ long limbs and extravagant costumes. Bright dress ruffles and beefy arms twirl in magical, powerful symmetry. Spielberg, in turn, stages the numbers to fully explore the space (when sparring in the salt warehouse or on the dance floor) or lack thereof (when melting hearts in Tony and Maria’s fire-escape rendezvous). Nearly every shot is foregrounded with impediments, be they chain-link fences keeping the boys trapped in their circumstances, onlookers framing spotlit dancers, or wrought iron grating separating lovers. It’s a city, after all. Cluttered. Messy. Full of people, things—and potential. Attraction. Camaraderie. Respect. Encapsulated in stand-offs and close-up faces. These are shots that already look like classics, not because they mimic the 1961 film (though Spielberg’s clearly a fan and nods its way in a few key moments), but because they look like they were dreamed, planned and pulled off. You can feel the achievement, yet there’s nothing stagey here: The film’s two-and-a-half hours either zip along or linger so closely around the campfire glow of its couple’s radiating affection that you’d happily stay with them all night. With Rachel Zegler as Maria, surrounded by other scene-stealers performing some of Broadway’s best, it also feels like a sure-fire hit. If you’ve never been a musical person, here’s your way in. If you’re already a convert, Steven Spielberg will make you love West Side Story all over again.—Jacob Oller


1. Licorice Pizza

licorice-pizza-poster.jpg Release Date: November 26, 2021
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper, Benny Safdie
Rating: R
Runtime: 133 minutes

Licorice Pizza is writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s second ode to Los Angeles in the early 1970s: A city freshly under the oppressive shadow of the Manson Family murders and the tail end of the Vietnam War. But while in his first tribute, Inherent Vice, the inquisitive counter-culture affiliate Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) earnestly engages with his surroundings and follows the threads of societal paranoia all the way to vampiric drug smuggling operations and FBI conspiracies, Licorice Pizza’s protagonist, 25-year-old Alana Kane (Alana Haim), refuses to follow any such thread. A bored, directionless photographer’s assistant, Alana nonchalantly rejects any easy plot-point that might help us get a grasp on her character. What are her ambitions? She doesn’t know, she tells successful 15-year-old actor Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman, son of Philip Seymour Hoffman) over dinner at a restaurant called Tail o’ the Cock. What interests and excites her? It’s hard to say. When Gary first approaches Alana while she’s working picture-day at his high school, it’s hard to imagine that Licorice Pizza isn’t going to follow the playful design of a sunny Southern California love story. Alana is instantly strange and striking, and—when Anderson introduces her in a languid dolly-shot with a mini-skirt, kitten-heels, slumped shoulders and a gloriously pissed expression—we are compelled to fall in love with her, just like Gary does, at first sight. Of course, Anderson quickly rejects the notion that Licorice Pizza is going to be a straightforward romance. Anderson knows that this ambling, disjointed structure reflects what it’s like to be young, awkward and in love. Each shot, filled with dreamy pastels, glows with a youthful nostalgia. Anderson and cinematographer Michael Bauman balance out this haziness with a unique control of the camera, implementing long takes, slow dollies, and contemplative pans galore. What is it that Alana gets from being friends with someone ten years younger than her? And why does Gary always return to Alana even when she tries her best to put him down? Like gleefully gliding through the streets of L.A. in the midst of a city-wide crisis, it’s a madness you can only truly understand when you’re living it.—Aurora Amidon