The 20 Best Movies on MUBI (July 2024)

Movies Lists streaming
The 20 Best Movies on MUBI (July 2024)

Streaming services are creatively upended by their need to drum up viewership in the post-syndication era, churning out half-hearted sequels and remakes that no one called for, (anyone remember He’s All That?) The movies on MUBI stand out because the service is willing to platform quality films from across the globe. 

While Netflix contains unlimited potential for memes in its haphazard film categorization (listing Babadook under “LGBTQ+ Films” may have been a galaxy-brain analysis but it was more likely a mistake) MUBI crafts lists that feel thrillingly handmade. MUBI’s functionality celebrates filmmaking—how near impossible it is to make a movie and how miraculous it is when something is good; how every on-screen offering is caught in the tangled web of cinematic intertextuality, reliant on everything that came before. This list celebrates the best MUBI has to offer, focused on its offerings for Americans. Those in the U.K. can find our breakdown of movies available to them here.

Here are the 20 best movies on MUBI right now:

1. 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

2. Lingui, the Sacred Bonds

Year: 2022
Directors: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
Stars: Achouackh Abakar Souleymane, Rihane Khalil Alio, Youssouf Djaoro, Briya Gomdigue, Hadjé Fatimé Ngoua
Rating: NR
Genre: Drama

The Chadian word “lingui” denotes the invisible social ties that sustain communities of people, especially if they’re connected by a common unifying trait. In Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s film Lingui, the Sacred Bonds, this alliance is forged through the strife and solidarity intrinsic to womanhood. Though much of the Chadian-born, France-residing director’s work has focused on the lives of outsiders and underdogs, Lingui is his most feminine-forward film to date—perhaps save for his acclaimed 1994 breakthrough short film Maral Tanié, which chronicles a teenage girl forced by her family to marry a man in his 50s, a union which she refuses to consummate. Similarly in Lingui, a teenage girl named Maria (Rihane Khalil Alio) finds herself maligned by patriarchal society when she discovers she’s pregnant with a child she has no intention of raising. Fortunately, her single mother Amina (Achouackh Abakar Souleymane) understands what it feels like to be shunned for carrying a child out of wedlock, and begins a quest with Maria to secure an abortion—despite the legal and societal ramifications that threaten them if their plot is exposed. –Natalia Keogan

3. The Host

Year: 2006
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Stars: Song Kang-ho, Byun Hee-bong, Park Hae-il, Bae Doona, Go Ah-sung
Rating: NR
Runtime: 119 minutes

Before he was breaking out internationally with a tight action film like Snowpiercer, and eventually winning a handful of Oscars for Parasite, this South Korean monster movie was Bong Joon-ho’s big work and calling card. Astoundingly successful at the box office in his home country, it straddles several genre lines between sci-fi, family drama and horror, but there’s plenty of scary stuff with the monster menacing little kids in particular. Props to the designers on one of the more unique movie monsters of the last few decades–the mutated creature in this film looks sort of like a giant tadpole with teeth and legs, which is way more awesome in practice than it sounds. The real heart of the film is a superb performance by Song Kang-ho (also in Snowpiercer and Parasite) as a seemingly slow-witted father trying to hold his family together during the disaster. That’s a pretty common role to be playing in a horror film, but the performances and family dynamic in general truly are the key factor that help elevate The Host far above most of its ilk.—Jim Vorel

4. Rewind & Play

Year: 2022
Director: Alain Gomis
Genre: Documentary
Rating: NR

In the Fall of 1969, at the end of a European tour and on the precipice of his Salle Pleyel performance (to be iconized on the album Paris 1969), Thelonius Monk agreed to record an episode of a French TV program hosted by white record producer and fellow jazz pianist Henri Renaud. Editing together outtakes and interstitial liminal space—Monk waiting at the piano, over-lubed with liquor and increasingly sweating beneath the oppressive stage lights as he’s plied to play “Round Midnight” more than once—Alain Gomis weaves a throughline of existential unease amongst the mundane behind-the-scenes moments otherwise doomed to the dustbin of modern critical history. As Renaud treats Monk like a wayward child, figuring out the content and timbre of the conversation as they go along, prodding Monk more and more to answer questions in tune with the narrative he’s creating, Monk loses control over his own mythos, Renaud confirming less and less with Monk over the details of Monk’s story and ignoring the musician’s pleas to stop, to give it up, to go get some dinner together. Renaud delights in telling the camera about visiting Monk in New York, about catching on to Monk’s genius when, apparently, jazz critics hadn’t gotten there yet, but when Monk begs they stop, Renaud replies as the disciplinarian—not a friend, or admirer, or peer—and Gomiz responds with visceral horror: heavy, panicked breathing; close-ups on Monk’s dripping face; the ambient wetness of alcohol poured over and over; and, perhaps most blissfully, Monk’s performances, unparalleled. Elemental—especially given how drunk he was. Rewind & Play is an infuriating, exhilarating experience, an exhibition of transcendent talent as much as it is a document of casual, run-of-the-mill racism. —Dom Sinacola

5. Fallen Leaves

Release Date: November 17, 2023
Director: Aki Kaurismäki
Stars: Alma Pöysti, Jussi Vatanen, Janne Hyytiäinen
Rating: NR
Runtime: 81 minutes

A stiff romantic comedy positioned out of time and space by Aki Kaurismäki, Fallen Leaves combines melodramatic plot machinations with the settings of dreams to create a Finnish love story as dry as a pile of autumn leaves. Alma Pöysti’s Ansa and Jussi Vatanen’s Holappa (though both go unnamed at times, to both us and each other) scrape the kind of Helsinki lives by where anonymity and distance come with the weekly paycheck. Holappa copes with booze; Ansa with a minor bit of shoplifting. Both have the kind of larger-than-life aspirations embodied by karaoke and the cinema. Their loneliness blossoms into familiarity, overcoming the obstacles of poverty, with an intangible and imperfect sweetness. The only thing that grounds them is their constant lack of financial stability and the ongoing war in Ukraine. The isolating, stagnant camera doesn’t dare to hope. Its characters’ black humor (particularly a scene-stealing, charismatic Janne Hyytiäinen) scoffs at the idea. But hope is there, at the edges and in the small moments. A stray dog. A second set of flatware. Connections are still possible, even at the bottom.–Jacob Oller

6. Inspector Ike

Release Date: February 18, 2022
Director: Graham Mason
Stars: Ikechukwu Ufomadu, Matt Barats, Ana Fabrega, John Early, Aparna Nancherla, Grace Rex
Rating: NR
Genre: Comedy

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

7. Passages

Release Date: August 4, 2023
Director: Ira Sachs
Stars: Franz Rogowski, Ben Whishaw, Adèle Exarchopoulos
Rating: NR
Genre: Romance

With Passages, Ira Sachs brings beautiful devastation. The thorny relationships he usually explores push on boundaries of monogamy, of commitment, of what it means to be with someone and stay with them through the complexity of years. The pressure he exerts on these limits—necessarily drawn (but not always happily accepted) with more give for queer people, particularly gay men—the love that ebbs and flows throughout this adversity, and the limits themselves stagger us with their realism. Passages is this close, painful, sexy twisting of the screws at its best, as Sachs and his frequent co-writer Mauricio Zacharias observe the havoc wreaked by a bisexual brat’s latest dalliance. Sachs so deftly avoids the stereotype of the greedy have-it-all bisexual that he comes back around on it, creating a perfectly punchable narcissist (who’s sexy enough to back up the bad behavior) in Tomas (Franz Rogowski). Given to whims and his own ego, Tomas leaves his bookish, quiet husband Martin (Ben Whishaw) behind at his film shoot’s wrap party in order to hook up with a rebounding extra, Agathe (Adèle Exarchopoulos). Passages brilliantly and brusquely blows through the low-key, embarrassing, engrossing questions permeating non-monogamous queerness, encapsulated by the singularly focused story of a taker running rampant over the other people in his life. We’re allowed the dignity of applying the themes ourselves, Sachs subtly nudging us with the details of his brash three-way blow-up. It’s a dark thrill, real enough to open our own old wounds. A bittersweet reckoning deftly illustrated by a duo on opposite ends of a relationship’s chaotic twists and turns, Passages revels in the fallout of fucking around and finding out.—Jacob Oller

8. The Unknown Country

Year: 2023
Director: Morrisa Maltz
Stars: Lily Gladstone, Raymond Lee, Richard Ray Whitman, Lainey Bearkiller Shangreaux, Devin Shangreaux
Rating: NR
Genre: Drama

With The Unknown Country, filmmaker Morrisa Maltz takes viewers on a journey through the American West that creatively blurs the line between fact and fiction with illuminating results. The Unknown Country stars Lily Gladstone as Tana, a Lakota Sioux woman who embarks on a road trip from the Midwest to the Texas/Mexico border, following her grandmother’s death. However, the fictional protagonist is merely a cipher that introduces a slew of real-life subjects—fellow Lakota people, local service workers and others whose stories are often pushed into the periphery of the American consciousness. In a voiceover accompanying the short vignettes that interrupt the narrative, each subject grants viewers an intimate look into their lives for minutes at a time. In one instance, a convenience store clerk who manages to crack a smile from our withdrawn protagonist narrates how he and his partner came to know each other, and recounts vivid dreams he had of them meeting years before their paths crossed for the first time. From the pursed lips of an elderly woman meowing back at her cats, to the bright blue basketball shorts of a Sioux father holding his daughter’s tiny hand on their way to school, cinematographer Andrew Hajek captures the beauty in the mundane through intimate close-ups during these segments. The Unknown Country posits homecoming and healing as two sides of the same coin: To heal is to restore something that has been damaged, and to return is to recuperate something left behind. Whereas Tana is afraid of unlocking the nostalgia of past memories when she’s at her most vulnerable, her family reassures her that bridging this gap between past and present will help guide her on this spiritual journey. As Tana opens up to others over the course of her trip, her relationships to the land she treads and the locals who inhabit it are shown in similar moments of tenderness. Gladstone is imminently watchable—understated but fully evocative of the pain that comes with harboring grief. Like Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women, Maltz’s quiet, meditative drama takes full advantage of the actress’ flair for naturalism, her microexpressions conveying more than many actors do in loaded outbursts. Gladstone’s presence alone makes The Unknown Country worthwhile, ultimately taking Tana and the audience on a journey towards catharsis.—Ursula Muñoz S.

9. Decision to Leave

Release Date: October 14, 2022
Director: Park Chan-wook
Stars: Tang Wei, Park Hae-il
Rating: R
Genre: Drama, Romance

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

10. Matthias and Maxime

Year: 2019
Director: Xavier Dolan
Stars: Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas, Xavier Dolan, Pier-Luc Funk
Rating: NR
Genre: Drama

There is an unexpected ferociousness which possesses Matthias and Maxime. A far cry from the softened coming-of-age love stories often adopted by audiences, director Xavier Dolan crafts something which honestly reflects the real-life anger undercutting the language and humor of young men. Matthias and Maxime’s relationship is ill-defined; eluding both of them as they mistakenly confuse the unspoken nature of their relationship for its non-existence. As their dynamic unravels, they draw into themselves, participating in a silent, seething standoff. Eventually the film culminates in something encouragingly open-ended, shifting from self-destructive to self-realized. –Anna McKibbin

11. The African Desperate

Year: 2022
Director: Martine Syms
Stars: Diamond Stingily, Erin Leland, Cammisa Buerhaus
Rating: NR
Genre: Drama

Nobody’s better versed in matters of race than white people, assuming one of the two following conditions is true: When they outnumber people of color in a conversation, or when they’re in the sole company of their fellow honkies. Martine Syms’ excellent feature debut The African Desperate opens in media res on the former scenario, where the power dynamic puts Blackness under a white microscope. Palace Bryant (Diamond Stingily) sets up and sits down, waiting for the MFA thesis committee to assemble and pass judgment for the final time in her journey through art school; when they finally arrive, talk gets alternatingly fluffy, heavy, knotty and, in the parlance of the day, problematic, which is just a neutral way of saying “straight-up racist.” Some committee members flatter Palace seemingly out of hand. Others speak in such a highfalutin patter that Syms’ viewers, like Palace, may furrow their brows as they mentally untangle the nonsense dialect to figure out what in the hell’s being said. Others still make comments they shouldn’t. Again: Racism. It’d be unfair to Syms to say that the whole film is in this opening scene; there are, after all, about 90 minutes left to go once we’re through the first nine. But an awful lot of The African Desperate happens in those nine, or at least is established in those nine, and—depending on your personal experiences—those nine are crucial for framing the way that you engage with the remaining 90. –Andy Crump

12. 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

13. Please Baby Please

Year: 2022
Director: Amanda Kramer
Stars: Andrea Riseborough, Harry Melling, Karl Glusman, Demi Moore, Ryan Simpkins
Rating: NR
Genre: Drama, Fantasy

In style and spirit, Please Baby Please embraces flamboyance. Amanda Kramer appears to reject the notion that less is more; for her, more is more. Specifically, the more that’s layered upon the story’s foundation, the more the foundation strengthens. You’d think that piling ballast on ballast would backfire and create instability instead of depicting it. You’d be wrong. Please Baby Please, not with a small amount of glee, happily resolves to be and to do too much, bit by bit ticking up the dial on set design, lighting, writing, performances, and subterranean neuroses until hitting a crescendo in its final dance cue. The excess works, mirroring the explosive release of Arthur and Suze’s muted appetites and identity crises after their initial encounter with the gang, called the Young Gents. Kramer’s filmmaking is vibrant, vital, easy to swallow while retaining astounding verbal density; you may wish for subtitles and a notepad to follow along with the near-constant back-and-forth between her characters. –Andy Crump

14. Family Romance, LLC

Year: 2020
Director: Werner Herzog
Rating: NR
Genre: Documentary

Shooting narrative fiction like he would anything else he makes hardly does Werner Herzog any favors—the worst of this recent output being Salt and Fire, wherein Gael Garcia Bernal has diarrhea so bad he leaves the movie entirely. Which is meant to be a joke, but given Herzog’s inability to convey contrived scenarios in any way but a-narratively, circumstance and shades of verite style making his every movie seem like some sort of experimental documentary, it doesn’t read like a joke. It’s a weird, uncomfortable extension of a context we as an audience aren’t partial to. We’re concerned more than amused, repulsed more than compelled. Did he really have diarrhea? We’re not sure what’s going on. In Family Romance, LLC, filmed two years ago in Tokyo with non-professional actors, Herzog toys with the jarring nature of his docu-drama exigencies, able to plumb the depths of his self-awareness—perhaps his most lovable attribute as a filmmaker—in ways more heartbreaking and humanistic than anything he’s made in over a decade. Following small business owner Yuichi Ishii (playing himself) as he spends a day in the park with his estranged daughter (Mahiro), then meets with Mahiro’s mother (Miki Fujimaki), then accepts payment for services rendered pretending quite successfully to be Mahiro’s dad, then attends a meeting with a new client, who asks that one of Yuichi’s employees take the place of her sick husband during their daughter’s wedding, we move through the strangeness of this apparently real business, Family Romance, LLC, which rents out actors to play family members. How could anyone do this to their loved one? How could these actors keep from growing closer to the people they’re pretending to love? How come no one figures this out? Is this really a thing? Herzog provides lilting space for us to question the lovely artificiality of Yuichi’s encounters with faux family members—samurai LARPing and robot hotels and proper hedgehog maintenance find moments for reverie—then climbs nimbly out of the uncanny valley. Everyone knows the actor isn’t the bride’s real dad; her real dad is a drunk who will embarrass her on her wedding day, guaranteed, and all she really needs is a supportive father figure by her side. Despite the contrivance surrounding it, real or concocted, it’s a moment that rings achingly correct—a moment of quiet sublimity in our noisy world, found in a time when the world seems tapped out. Like all of Herzog’s best films, Family Romance, LLC reveals itself slowly, its greatness stumbled upon like a half-remembered dream of fake samurais committing fake seppuku, but filled with very real regret. —Dom Sinacola

15. Alcarràs

Year: 2023
Director: Carla Simón
Stars: Jordi Pujol Dolce, Anna Otin, Xènia Roset, Albert Bosch, Ainet Jounou
Rating: NR
Genre: Drama

The Solé family is often sprawled across their home, fleeing the stress of the never-ending harvest. Simón crucially never offers us a clear layout of the family’s land, capturing it in a series of close-ups, disjointed and intimate. Every moment is fractured, conveying how disparate the family has become, desperate to avoid the perpetual stress that lingers over every conversation at this pivotal moment. In a particularly tense scene, Dolors (Anna Otín) massages the knots out of gruff patriarch Quimet’s (Jordi Pujol Dolcet) back, while her children do their own tasks, milling around them. Simón chooses to hold them in individual shots, never pulling back to frame them in relation to one another, only catching sight of them as they linger in the background of another’s close-up. It is a careful setup, one that balances the family’s desire for connection—piled into a contained space—against the inability to connect in a meaningful way. –Anna McKibbin

16. Other People’s Children

Release Date: April 21, 2023
Director: Rebecca Zlotowski
Stars: Virginie Efira, Roschdy Zem, Chiara Mastroianni, Callie Ferreira-Goncalves, Michel Zlotowski, Yamée Couture, Victor Lefebvre
Rating: NR
Genre: Drama

French director Rebecca Zlotowski tackles the subject of a “biological clock” and the social pressures surrounding it with grace and levity, undoubtedly impacted by her own experience as a child-free woman in her 40s. Her film Other People’s Children doesn’t merely focus on a woman weighing her options when it comes to the prospect of motherhood; it also exemplifies the myriad ways that we can foster genuine, compassionate bonds with kids—particularly those acting outside the “parent” label. Fortysomething Rachel (a dazzling Virginie Efira) is a high school teacher in Paris who, by all accounts, is living her best life. She maintains a friendly-enough relationship with her ex-husband (Henri-Noël Tabary), is devoted to her dad (Michel Zlotowski, the filmmaker’s father who’s appeared in a few of her earlier films) and sister Louana (Yamée Couture) and has recently begun to learn to play guitar. It’s during one of her weekly lessons that she finally goes out for a drink with Ali (Roschdy Zem), a fellow student whose presence has encouraged Rebecca’s own perfect attendance. He makes her laugh, they hit it off and eventually become lovers. As their relationship escalates, Ali tells Rachel about his 4-year-old daughter, Leila (Callie Ferreira-Goncalves), who he maintains full custody of. Interestingly, Zlotowski herself became unexpectedly pregnant during the making of this film, a fact that makes the central struggle of Other People’s Children all the more fascinating and poignant. Funny, frank and never adopting a fatalist viewpoint, Other People’s Children entrenches itself in a full spectrum of human (though largely feminine) emotions that concern prospective parenthood. Its thoroughly French sensibility (humorous nudity, gratuitous shots of the Eiffel Tower and several café/bistro scenes) is only bolstered by the Jewish identity of Rachel and her family, yet the relationship between her and proudly Arab Ali never serves as fodder for milquetoast observations of religious difference (lord knows Europeans typically can’t resist these oft-tepid surveys). Coupled with Audrey Diwan’s vital film Happening from last year, French women directors are creating a necessary canon of child-free womanhood, past and present, assured and uncertain.—Natalia Keogan

17. Dogville

Year: 2003
Director: Lars von Trier
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Lauren Bacall, Chloë Sevigny, Paul Bettany, James Caan
Rating: R
Genre: Drama

When Lars von Trier pits idealism against human selfishness, the latter always wins. His hubristic characters become what they hate by inescapable degrees. Dogville is his most trenchant polemic, with a minimal black-box theater set cultivating fevered lucidity. It’s about a town that destroys a woman by loving her, and a woman who loves a town by destroying it. In von Trier’s world, idealism inevitably leads to ruin, and there are only two kinds of people: martyrs and buffoons.—Brian Howe

18. Spring Night, Summer Night

Year: 1967
Director: Joseph L. Anderson
Stars: Larue Hall, Ted Heimerdinger, Marjorie Johnson
Rating: R
Genre: Drama

In the late ’60s and early ’70s, independent cinema was defined by a startling realism that was borrowed from the griminess achieved through European filmmakers. John Cassavetes would arrive as the main sculptor of this style, known for his ability to capture real people anxiously spinning around one another in real time, but before there was A Woman Under the Influence or Faces, there was Joseph L. Anderson’s Spring Night, Summer Night. Anderson’s behind-the-scenes passion for scouting the right location pays off, with the black-and-white cinematography throwing the stark emptiness of the Ohio fields in a haunting light. As Jessica (Larue Hall) and Carl (Ted Heimerdinger) circle one another in increasingly disturbing ways, the silence, which was once alleviated by bursts of loud joy in the early half of the film, is made overwhelming, constricting this central couple as they pursue hope. Spring Night, Summer Night is an undervalued gem from a highly influential period of movie-making history. –Anna McKibbin

19. Perfumed Nightmare

Year: 1977
Director: Kidlat Tahimik
Stars: Kidlat Tahimik, Dolores Santamaria, Mang Fely
Rating: NR
Genre: Drama, Comedy

Perfumed Nightmare has the feel and texture of a home video, clinging to people and objects with the same affection and care as a family member. As Kidlat, the small town jeepney driver, moves from the Philippines to Europe, the film veers away from the careful steadiness of the film’s earlier shots into a more frantic pace. Gradually the film unfolds layering grainy shots with earnest narration, exposing the insubstantiality of Kidlat’s initial dream to move to away from his rural village. By the film’s conclusion, the audience is longing for the careful meandering of the film’s earlier feeling. –Anna McKibbin

20. Smoke Sauna Sisterhood

Release Date: November 24, 2023
Director: Anna Hints
Rating: NR
Genre: Documentary

The Russian bath across the street from where I used to live in Chicago, once owned by the mob and now known as Red Square, is a cultural rarity. There are very few saunas in the U.S. retaining its form: The water sizzling on the hot rocks, the swollen wooden benches, the whole “get smacked by some branches” thing (note: I haven’t done this). But it’s a far cry from the community and conversations generated by the smoke saunas in Võrumaa, a southern county of Estonia bordering Latvia and Russia. With its traditions captured in delicate, sweaty vignettes by filmmaker Anna Hints, Smoke Sauna Sisterhood’s anecdotes fill your lungs and engulf you, until its women’s secrets drip down your body. Hints films a year’s passage, with seasons passing over a log cabin isolated in the forest. Some months, fog rolls off the nearby lake. Others, the ice is so thick, the woman tending the sauna has to smash a hole and drop down a wooden ladder for her clients’ cooldown dip. But no matter the weather, the building is filled with steam and women, baring it all. Literally and figuratively: Smoke Sauna Sisterhood constructs gorgeous topographies from the naked, relaxing bodies, while they expunge some of their biggest stresses.—Jacob Oller

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin