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The 25 Best Movies of 2023 (So Far)

May 08, 2023

The best movies of 2023, so far anyways, are hiding right where they usually are. What I mean by that is the familiar divide between half-hearted blockbusters and excellent smaller films is back in a big way. Any lingering hesitance or preciousness around the movies that may have been hanging over audiences after the pandemic's worst moments put movie theaters on the brink of total collapse has vanished in 2023. Avatar pushed us through to the new Marvel movies, which saw us over until Mario was Minion-ized. And yet, even with these inescapable franchises in charge at the box office, the average consumer is more tapped in than ever on issues of production and distribution. Streaming has been in trouble for a while, but now it's gotten so bad that people on the street are noticing. It doesn't hurt that the Writers and now Screen Actors Guilds are striking so that they get what they deserve. As the biggest movies attempt to return to the status quo, it's easier than ever to reject it and demand something a little different.

Maybe that means trying out a new streamer, dropping Max or Netflix for MUBI or Criterion. Maybe that means snagging a virtual or in-person ticket to a film fest. Maybe that means hitting the tiny arthouse theater just as often as you bring the kids to the latest Transformers film. Whatever your path, excellent movies await. We may not yet have our smash indie hit for the year like Everything Everywhere All at Once, but we have new movies from Ari Aster, Kelly Reichardt, Hong Sang-soo, M. Night Shyamalan and Alice Diop. We have debuts from exciting new voices like Celine Song, Manuela Martelli and Raine Allen-Miller. We have a new John Wick, a new Spider-Verse, and a new way to Blow Up a Pipeline. Movies are good, if you know where to look. And we know where to look.

That's how we collected this list of 2023's best movies, alphabetized and ready to fill your watchlist. Still, we left off a boatload festival films we think are worth tracking down whenever they’re available—movies such as Killers of the Flower Moon, May December, Problemista, Kokomo City, and All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt. These are either already getting a lot of attention in general or have been hyped up by us when they came out at Cannes or Sundance or SXSW, but they won't be out for general audiences until later this year. For those, you’ll have to stick around and find out how things shake out at the end of 2023. As for the movies that’ve already come out this year, well, don't let anyone tell you that they aren't making great new films, because this list was hard to cut down to just 25.

Here are the 25 best movies of 2023 so far:

AlcarràsRelease Date: February 24, 2023Director: Carla SimónStars: Jordi Pujol Dolce, Anna Otin, Xènia Roset, Albert Bosch, Ainet JounouRating: NRRuntime: 120 minutes

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

Are You There God? It's Me, MargaretRelease Date: April 27, 2023 Director: Kelly Fremon Craig Stars: Abby Ryder Fortson, Rachel McAdams, Elle Graham, Benny Safdie, Kathy Bates Rating: PG-13 Runtime: 111 minutes

If there's one certainty amidst the chaos of puberty, it's that you’re going to feel misunderstood. Misunderstood by your friends, your siblings, your sex ed teacher and, above all, by your parents. Indeed, when you start to undergo those pesky physical and emotional changes, it inevitably feels as though no one on this godforsaken planet can empathize with what you’re going through–that is, of course, unless you’re lucky enough to stumble across a Judy Blume book. Given the weight that Blume holds for so many kids and former kids, embarking on a film adaptation of one of her works poses a challenge. I’m happy to report, though, that Kelly Fremon Craig's adaptation of the iconic 1970 novel Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret delivers nearly flawlessly. Margaret follows the young Margaret Simon (Abby Ryder Fortson), whose parents Barbara (Rachel McAdams) and Herb (Benny Safdie) move her to a new school in New Jersey for her final year of elementary school. Margaret's journey of self-discovery is a fascinating and satisfying watch. Craig moves Margaret along at a gratifying pace. Its sunny, pastel color palette, whip-smart comedy (a scene where Margaret and her mother discuss training bras deserves a spot in the Comedic Timing Hall of Fame) and ecstatic musical montages make Margaret an exhilarating, ecstatic and thought-provoking watch. While Craig nails Margaret's storytelling and tone, this film simply wouldn't achieve such poignancy and empathy without the stellar lead performance from young breakout Fortson. The budding star is effortlessly funny and brings a stunning level of maturity to her voiceover; when she rattles off an astute, "adult" comment, it feels like she really means and understands what she's saying. While Fortson is the backbone that holds Margaret together, she's not the only actor that brings something delightful and delectable to the table. Graham shines, playing the well-intentioned mean girl with masterful physical humor and surprising tenderness, while McAdams serves as Margaret's emotional core in her best major role in a while. McAdams’ magnificent performance makes Craig's grasp on Blume's book even more clear: The 1970 novel was never just for young girls. It was, and remains, for generations upon generations of women. That's the true beauty of it.—Aurora Amidon

Beau Is AfraidRelease Date: April 21, 2023Director: Ari AsterStars: Joaquin Phoenix, Patti LuPone, Nathan Lane, Amy Ryan, Kylie Rogers, Parker Posey, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Hayley Squires, Michael Gandolfini, Zoe Lister-Jones, Richard KindRating: RRuntime: 179 minutes

I could see a lot of myself in Joaquin Phoenix's perpetually overwrought Beau Wassermann, who finds that the world that he fears is out to get him really is. It's the worst-case scenario for the nebbish Jew archetype. Beau Is Afraid is like if a Woody Allen protagonist was the Griffin Dunne character in Martin Scorsese's After Hours, and the plot of that movie was pumped with existentialist steroids. It's a paranoid, sexually repressed, labyrinthine odyssey with a schlubby hero—a bit like Under the Silver Lake, another movie that distributor A24 had no idea how to market to their clamoring, hyper-online, teeny bopper audience. And like After Hours, Beau Is Afraid similarly plays out like one really long joke. For his third and most ambitious film (I’m loath to conjure Magnolia comparisons), Aster leans all the way into the funny bone he was wont to exhibit in his seemingly ultra-austere first features, Hereditary and Midsommar. In Beau Is Afraid, Aster's got a lighter, more playful touch despite the intimidating 179-minute runtime. Aster cultivates a uniquely absurd and off-kilter world, crafted meticulously by production designer Fiona Crombie, wherein character motivations are erratic, hilarious and questionably driven. In this strange universe (in which it's never quite clear, or necessarily important, what the time period is), there is never a sense of safety for poor Beau. Even the idyllic suburban family home—which hosts a rehabilitating Beau after he's hit by its owner's truck (a bizarre incident which followed another bizarre incident involving invading hobos and Beau's bathtub)—is its own well-tended house of horrors. Beau Is Afraid is very much a black comedy that utilizes well-placed horror techniques–Aster has a solid command of tension and loves to swing his camera to and fro to create a sense of vulnerability. Even scenes which purport deadly earnestness feel intentionally silly when one steps back and sees the bigger picture, in a film that can't help but come across like, at its core, an intricate gag about the worst possible reality for a stereotypically paranoid Jew with mommy issues. Beau Is Afraid is more exciting than Aster's debut and sophomore features, and not just because it's more ambitious, slightly unwieldy and three hours long. It makes sense that a director like Aster would make his third film a sprawling epic–going so far as to incorporate impressive animation sequences of shifting media–after the head rush of initial acclaim. It's admirable that it's disarming, strange and deeply unserious, as if to rattle the critics who have called him the opposite. It also all pretty much works. It's hard to say whether detractors of Aster, exhausted by prestige horror schtick, will be turned to the other side by Beau Is Afraid. It's easy to continue to accept his tone at face value. But it does make you question if that's what we’ve been mistakenly doing all along.—Brianna Zigler

BlackBerryRelease Date: May 12, 2023Director: Matt JohnsonStars: Glenn Howerton, Jay Baruchel, Matt Johnson, Michael Ironside, Cary Elwes, Rich Sommer, Saul Rubinek, SungWon ChoRating: RRuntime: 119 minutes

There is much to love about Matt Johnson's BlackBerry, and then there is the ineffable gravitational pull of its furious white-hot core: A 40-something pale man's bald pate, so smooth it seems forged by eons of tectonic movement, from which erupts perfect sleazy ‘80s-business-guy bon mots alloyed to unbridled sociopathic rage. Johnson's always been at the heart of his films, starring in The Dirties and Operation Avalanche and serving as the source of most of the chaos steering Nirvanna the Band the Show, his series with Jay McCarrol, but in BlackBerry he plays Doug, some guy who technically doesn't even exist. No, Doug is nothing in BlackBerry next to the movie's everything, Glenn Howerton as Jim Balsillie, a vessel for the alarming voice of Canada's most radioactive co-CEO. Lives inevitably wilt in his orbit. "I’m from Waterloo, where the VAM–PIRES hang out!" he hollers at a room of NHL executives, each syllable pronounced as if the sentence is punctuated by tombstones. Based on Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry, the film tells of the rise and fall of the pocket device company, from its exploited beginnings in the mid-’90s as the brainchild of the timid, always-inward-looking Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel) and his best friend Doug, to the company's collapse in the wake of the iPhone's emergence (and more than one SEC violation on Jim's part). Johnson's regular cinematographer, Jared Raab, shoots the film more like D. A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus’ Clinton doc The War Room than The Social Network, BlackBerry's inescapable predecessor, but Johnson's aim is no less Icarus-like: To make a period piece about the founding of a transformational and dramatically tragic tech company with an inimitable, blackly comic performance at it center.—Dom Sinacola

Blind Willow, Sleeping WomanRelease Date: April 14, 2023Director: Pierre FöldesStars: Kwon Hae-hyo, Lee Hye-young, Park Mi-so, Song Seon-miRating: NRRuntime: 100 minutes

There are already several wonderfully meditative, carefully realized adaptations of Haruki Murakami short stories – namely Korean director Lee Chang-dong's Burning and Ryusuke Hamaguchi's 2021 Oscar-winning Drive My Car – yet many of the Japanese literary icon's most famous works have long been deemed unfit for cinematic translation. This likely has to do with Murakami's penchant for employing elements of magical realism. The vivid, often fantastical scenes he creates through prose could easily come off as awkward, incongruous or simply unsatisfying on the screen, even within the seemingly limitless capabilities of modern VFX technology. By adapting several Murakami short stories with particularly surreal elements via animation in Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, writer, director, animator and composer Pierre Földes is able to evocatively distill the mystical streak that permeates loosely connected plotlines, unfolding in the wake of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami that hit Tokyo in 2011. The film incorporates six of Murakami's short stories from three separate collections: The Elephant Vanishes, After the Quake and Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. Even casual Murakami readers will recognize that The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, the (slightly altered) first chapter of which was originally published as The Elephant Vanishes, is a major component of this film. It's not the sole focus, but it lushly conjures many specific details, from Komura's missing kitty-turned-vanished wife to the inquisitive teenage neighbor who allows him to camp out in her backyard. Though the film only delves into the first chapter of the novel as it appears in Elephant, it's difficult to imagine another film tackling The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and succeeding in capturing the hazily idyllic yet overwhelming foreboding atmosphere that Blind Willow does so effectively. The triumph and allure of Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman is owed to the specific animation style that Földes utilizes, which is a visually intriguing combination of motion capture and 2D techniques. Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman is a refreshing take on a popular author's oeuvre. It's also ambitious in its own right, especially as it arrives on the heels of the aforementioned Murakami adaptations that have received substantial acclaim.—Natalia Keogan

Brooklyn 45Release Date: March 12, 2023 Director: Ted Geoghegan Stars: Anne Ramsay, Ron E. Rains, Jeremy Holm, Larry Fessenden, Ezra Buzzington, Kristina Klebe Rating: NR Runtime: 92 minutes

If you want proof of the endless creativity present in the horror genre, look no further than the single-location scary movie. It's not surprising that Ted Geoghegan knows exactly how to deliver on this kind of film, at least not if you’re familiar with his previous supernatural horror film, the remarkable We Are Still Here. That film, while not a single-location story, made excellent use of intimate surroundings and a small cast to tell a moving, frightening story of grief, regret and the ever-present past. Brooklyn 45 allows Geoghegan to return to familiar themes and a stripped-down narrative scaffolding, while delivering something very different from his past horror success. A period piece that's part locked-room mystery, part ghost story and all showcase for a glorious ensemble of character actors, it's another triumph of single-location horror storytelling—and proof that Geoghegan has only just begun to show us what he can do. As the title suggests, the film opens in Brooklyn on a December night in 1945. World War II is over, but the wounds of that great struggle are still very fresh, particularly in the hearts and minds of the five people who’ve just gathered in a beautiful brownstone for a bittersweet reunion. Longtime friends Marla (Anne Ramsay), Hock (Larry Fessenden), Archie (Jeremy Holm), Paul (Ezra Buzzington), and Marla's husband Bob (Ron E. Rains) all carry scars of the war as they enter Hock's elegant parlor, but what they don't yet know is how deep those cuts really run. Once a towering military leader and the glue of their friend group, Hock has been reduced to a grief-riddled mess, diving into texts on communicating with the dead as a way to cope with the loss of his wife. With these ideas in his head, and his ride-or-die inner circle gathered around him, he proposes a simple ritual to try and gain some peace: Lock the parlor doors, hold a séance and try to contact his wife. This setup—and the straightforward elegance with which Geoghegan and company deliver it to the audience—is so beautifully laid out and simple that it could almost function just as well as a stage play. Perhaps with that idea in mind, the filmmaker summoned a cast of committed, constantly compelling stars to fill the parlor for this holiday season's conversation with the great beyond, and it's through that cast that Brooklyn 45 builds something bigger than a riff on a classic ghost story setup. There are echoes in this film of Hollywood's great postwar dramas as well as its great ghost stories, making it a surprising and often poignant blend of The Best Years of Our Lives and The Changeling, and it's remarkable that Geoghegan is able to walk that line so well.—Matthew Jackson

Chile ’76Release Date: May 5, 2023 Director: Manuela Martelli Stars: Aline Küppenheim, Nicolás Sepúlveda, Hugo Medina, Alejandro Goic, Antonia Zegers, Marcial Tagle Rating: NR Runtime: 100 minutes

Decades after his death, Alfred Hitchcock's name is still instinctively used to describe taut political thrillers like Manuela Martelli's feature debut, Chile ’76. Set 3 years after Augusto Pinochet overthrew Salvador Allende, the film steeps in unease for 90 minutes; it's the product of a nation contemporarily inclined toward fractured partisan politics, as if Martelli intends for her audience to face the historical rearview as a reminder of what happens to democracies when they catch a case of hyper-polarization. The first appropriate qualifier for Chile ’76 that anyone should reach for is "urgent." But rather than "Hitchcockian," the second qualifier should be "Pakulan." Chile ’76 shares in common the same pliable atmospheric sensibility as the movies of Alan J. Pakula; Martelli roots her plot in realism one moment, then surrealism the next, oscillating between a sharp-lined authenticity and dreamlike paranoia. Martelli is an optimist, her belief being that when faced with incontrovertible proof of genuine government tyranny, the average citizen will do their part to buck the system even if it might mean getting disappeared by the bully president's goon squad. The sensation of the film, on the other hand, is suspicion, the relentless and sickening notion that nobody can be trusted. Whether the thrumming electronic soundtrack or Soledad Rodríguez's photography, composed to the point of feeling suffocating, Chile ’76 drives that anxiety like a knife in the heart.—Andy Crump

How to Blow up a PipelineRelease Date: April 7, 2023 Director: Daniel Goldhaber Stars: Ariela Barer, Kristine Froseth, Lukas Gage, Forrest Goodluck, Sasha Lane, Jayme Lawson, Marcus Scribner, Jake Weary, Irene Bedard Rating: R Runtime: 100 minutes

Andreas Malm's 2021 book How to Blow Up a Pipeline saw its argument for more climate activism morph into an argument for different climate activism. Money isn't cutting it. Protests aren't either. Maybe sabotage will. Its vitality flows like an antidote to the poisonous nihilism surrounding the climate crisis from progressives; its fiery points threaten the crisp piles of cash collected by conservatives. Filmmaker Daniel Goldhaber's air-punching, chair-clenching, heart-in-mouth adaptation is the best way to convert people to its cause—whether they’re dark green environmentalists or gas-guzzling Senate Republicans. Adapting a nonfiction treatise on the limits of nonviolent protest into a specific, heist-like fiction is a brilliant move by Goldhaber and his co-writers Ariela Barer and Jordan Sjol. In its execution of a carefully crafted plan, held together by explosive and interpersonal chemistry, it thrusts us into its thrilling visualized philosophy. How to Blow Up a Pipeline isn't naïve enough to rely on optimism, opting instead to radicalize competence. Think of How to Blow Up a Pipeline like a word problem. The most exciting word problem you can imagine, where the two trains leaving the station collide in an explosive snarl of steel, your onboard loved ones saved only by quick thinking and teamwork. How to Blow Up a Pipeline contextualizes its concepts into actions so we can better understand, internalize and identify with them. There's not a moment lost getting us there. Malm's chapters ("Learning from Past Struggles," "Breaking the Spell" and "Fighting Despair") are elegantly transposed, their high-level arguments humanized into character and conversation. The ensemble—led by student protestors Xochitl (Barer) and Shawn (Marcus Scribner), whose plan organically gathers together surly Native bomb-builder Michael (Forrest Goodluck), horny crustpunk couple Rowan (Kristine Froseth) and Logan (Lukas Gage), terminally ill Theo (Sasha Lane) and her reluctant girlfriend Alisha (Jayme Lawson), and disillusioned landowner Dwayne (Jake Weary)—is colorfully drawn and filled out through savvy, well-cut flashbacks. Everyone has their reasons, and we have everyone's back. By structuring its simple plot (blow up a goddamn pipeline) as a zigzag, How to Blow Up a Pipeline builds its team without losing steam. It's as efficient and thoughtful in its planning as its heroes, and the results are just as successful. It's as satisfying as any good bank job, only it's stealing a little bit more time on this planet from the companies looking to scorch the earth. Responding to tragedy not with hopelessness but with proficiency, it's not a dreamy or delusional movie. It knows its sabotage doesn't take place in a vacuum. It understands that people get hurt. What makes How to Blow Up a Pipeline great, is that it so deftly wins us to its cause anyway. It's absolutely electric filmmaking.—Jacob Oller

Infinity PoolRelease Date: January 27, 2023Director: Brandon CronenbergStars: Alexander Skarsgård, Mia Goth, Cleopatra Coleman, Jalil LespertRating: RRuntime: 117 minutes

Heartbeats and cumshots are the alpha and omega of Brandon Cronenberg's vacation in White Lotus hell, where the tourists loosen their collars and let loose their lizard brains. The limbic system and the most basic biological processes of life dominate Infinity Pool, the filmmaker's descent into a slimy, sexy, terrifying world where death is just another game for rich people. It's a hit-and-run satire of Western nonsense, dismantling the havoc our destination-hopping upper-crust wreaks on other cultures and the faux-mystical enlightenment hawked by gurus and Goop fools—those too wealthy to have real problems, those aspiring to achieve this status, and those taking lucrative advantage of both. In this tropical trial, they spill into each other, forever and ever. Ego death has nothing on Brandon Cronenberg's brilliantly warped resort. Thedangled, juicy lure isn't subtle: A seemingly normal couple being approached by weird (probably swinging) Europeans always leads to trouble. We’d be fools not to be suspicious of Gabby (Mia Goth) and Al (Jalil Lespert) when they come up to their estranged hotel-mate couple James (Alexander Skarsgård) and Em (Cleopatra Coleman). One of them is played by Mia Goth, which is a sure sign to hightail it back to your room and flip the "do not disturb" sign. But James is a novelist, with one bad book to his name (The Variable Sheath, a fantastic fake title) that only got published because he married the rich publisher's daughter. Gabby's proclaimed fandom strokes the part of his ego that's all but shriveled up and crumbled to dust—he's weak, he's hungry for it, he's the perfect mark. When the white folks inevitably do something irreversibly horrible to the locals of Li Tolqa, their unprepared alienation in their culture is disturbingly hilarious. They don't speak the language, and can't read the forms the cops ask them to sign. But it's stranger than that. Brilliant production design, location scouting and cinematography lock you into a late-night freakout. Getting too deeply into what exactly happens in Infinity Pool is like outlining the recirculating edge of its title's horizon-flouting construction. It won't take away from its pleasures, but you can't really understand until you’re in it. Until Cronenberg drives you down an unlit backroad, long enough that you start wondering if you’re dreaming or awake. But what's clearest in this gallows comedy is that its characters exist. The people who think they’ve solved reality, the conceited class with the luxury of being horny for death, because death has never been real to them. Infinity Pool's inspired critique of this crowd is fierce and funny, its hallucinations nimble and sticky, and its encompassing nightmare one you’ll remember without needing to break out the vacation slideshow.—Jacob Oller

John Wick: Chapter 4Release Date: March 24, 2023Director: Chad Stahelski Stars: Keanu Reeves, Donnie Yen, Ian McShane, Bill Skarsgård, Shamier Anderson, Clancy Brown, Laurence Fishburne, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rina Sawayama, Lance Reddick, Scott Adkins Rating: R Runtime: 169 minutes

Early in John Wick: Chapter 4, our titular Baba Yaga—played by Keanu Reeves after a decade as a near-mute terminator monk, his monastic frock a fine three-piece bulletproof suit and his tonsure a greased-down mane the color of night—is still in hiding following Chapter 3's cliffhanger. Of course, an ever-increasing bounty on his head hasn't stopped him from continuing to murder a lot of people, including the Elder (George Georgiou), who's not the same Elder from Chapter 3, because, as this new Elder explains, he killed the last guy and took over, as the Elder did before that guy, and the Elder before that guy did to the guy before that guy. The convoluted hierarchy of the John Wick Murderverse exists only to multiply and grow more convoluted: In Chapter 2, no one sat above the High Table, except for, as introduced in Chapter 3, the Elder, who sits above and also beside it, but apparently has his share of problems. Just as the membership of the High Table is susceptible to sociopathic sibling rivalry (see Chapter 2), there will always be another Elder to kill, another personal war to wage, another henchman to shoot repeatedly in the face. "No one, not even John Wick, can kill everyone," we hear said in an awed tone. But no, he must kill everyone. This is what we want and this is how this ends, how John Wick can be free: He kills the whole world. If Chapter 3 began immediately following Chapter 2, rarely letting up from its video game formula as levels grew more difficult and bad guys became more immune to John Wick's superpower (murder), then Chapter 4 is the franchise's most deliberate entry yet. With three movies worth of stakes and worldbuilding behind it, Chad Stahelski's latest hyper-violent opus is a modern masterpiece of myth-making indulgence and archetypal action cinema. Stahelski and Reeves know that their movie must inhale genres, superstars, models, singers, Oscar winners and martial arts icons, DTV and prestige alike; consume them and give them space to be sacrificed gloriously to a franchise that values them. Behold Donnie Yen—who feels absolutely at home in the Murderverse—but also Hiroyuki Sanada and Rina Sawayama and Clancy Brown and Scott Adkins, the latter given a lengthy neck-snapping set piece that's both scene-chewing madness and an expected physical display from Adkins. It's all patient and omnivorous and beyond ridiculous. Stahelski wields bodies to push them to god-like ends. Everything on screen is stupendous. This is what we want, to watch John Wick murder the whole world, forever and ever amen.—Dom Sinacola

Knock at the CabinRelease Date: February 3, 2023Director: M. Night ShyamalanStars: Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Kristen Cui, Abby Quinn, Rupert GrintRating: RRuntime: 100 minutes

Knock at the Cabin has a twist that audiences won't see coming, if only because it defies what people have come to know about director M. Night Shyamalan. It's a twist, but it isn't, but it is, but it also isn't. But in Knock at the Cabin—adapted from the novel The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay—it's less about the destination than the journey. A film preoccupied with the frequent use of intimate, shot/reverse-shot close-up conversations, Knock at the Cabin opens with one between Leonard (Dave Bautista) and Wen (Kristen Cui—no Haley Joel Osment, but she's mostly fine). Leonard bears Bautista's imposing figure, but Bautista knows how to handle himself with a gentle touch. He's soft-spoken and warm, and has a tenderness implicit in his presence akin to a large stuffed animal. Accompanied by two women, Adriane (Abby Quinn) and Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), and a hot-headed man named Redmond (Rupert Grint, whose first feature role in eight years proves he's a force of nature), Leonard and his group forcibly enter the Airbnb housing Wen and her adoptive dads, Andrew (Ben Aldridge) and Eric (Jonathan Groff). The groups was united by shared visions of a forthcoming apocalypse that will bring about the end of humanity, and the only way to stop it is if this particular family makes the choice to sacrifice one of themselves willingly. Knock at the Cabin is, perhaps, the quickest 100-minute film ever made. From the quiet and meditative opening sequence—the last moment of normalcy in Wen's life—the film is propelled forward with a sense of urgency that parallels that of the doomsday group. Even in moments of calm, there is a constant, tense and invigorating momentum forward. If you’re a fan of Shyamalan's, or just familiar with his style, you’re accustomed to "dialogue real people wouldn't say" and "actions real people wouldn't take." It's an oft-held complaint about Shyamalan's films by his naysayers, but it's not a creative deficiency. It's just part of Shyamalan's cinematic language, one that functions in a sort of un-reality that prioritizes story, emotion and theme over pedantic logistics in dialogue. At this point, you’re either with it or you’re not. And if you are, Knock at the Cabin could be seen as career-best work.—Brianna Zigler

M3GANRelease Date: January 6, 2023 Director: Gerard Johnstone Stars: Allison Williams, Violet McGraw, Amie Donald, Jenna Davis, Ronny Chieng, Brian Jordan Alvarez, Jen Van Epps Rating: PG-13 Runtime: 102 minutes

Long before M3GAN hit theaters, the film's titular cyborg, who can best be described as a mashup of Renesmee from Twilight (if she was a raging sadist) and a yassified Baby Annette, became a viral sensation. Somewhat miraculously, M3GAN manages to live up to its spectacular advertising. (Though in retrospect, this new triumph in horror camp shouldn't be that surprising, as Malignant's James Wan and Akela Cooper, AKA the people who gave us this scene just last year, co-wrote the film). After losing both of her parents in a tragic car accident, young Cady (Violet McGraw) moves in with her aunt Gemma (Allison Williams), a toy company roboticist partially responsible for PurrpetualPetz: Stuffed animals that have human-like teeth and, among other things, take shits. Realizing she is not equipped to care for a youngster, Gemma makes it her mission to finish building M3GAN—or Model 3 Generative Android—a robot designed specifically to be your child's most loyal BFF. Soon enough, M3GAN starts to take her "protect Cady at all costs" programming a little too literally (who could’ve seen that coming?), resulting in a string of darkly comical sequences of violence—one of which may or may not involve the talking doll zealously wielding a nail gun. M3GAN is more than just another solid entry into this horror subgenre. I might even be so bold as to say that it is horror's newest camp classic, and M3GAN one of the greatest horror icons of recent years. M3GAN, somewhat miraculously, perfects the horror-comedy tone, able to consistently toe the line of too silly—from M3GAN's passive-aggressive, condescending and sickly sweet timbre (nailed by Jenna Davis, the "penny nickel dime" girl from Vine), to her raggedy blonde wig—without ever actually crossing it. M3GAN's most impressive feat, at the end of the day, is that it gives us cinematic sickos exactly what we want without sacrificing greatness in the process. And yes, what we want is a breakdancing, murderous doll. Is that such a crime?—Aurora Amidon

Of an AgeRelease Date: February 17, 2023Director: Goran StolevskiStars: Elias Anton, Thom Green, Hattie HookRating: RRuntime: 114 minutes

Melancholy memories of old flames—and the palpable romantic intrigue they first conjured—are thrusted to sensually cinematic heights in Of an Age, the sophomore feature from Macedonian-Australian filmmaker Goran Stolevski. A somewhat unexpectedly tender and sensual follow-up to his folk horror debut You Won't Be Alone, this film further expands on themes of coerced assimilation, adolescent growing pains and the act of constantly presenting different faces to the world. Of course, the queer experience is in itself a state of ceaseless shape-shifting until one lands in the right skin—a near-impossible task for a teenage boy in ‘90s Melbourne, Australia who lives with homophobic members of his extended Serbian immigrant family. The year is 1999, and 17-year-old competitive ballroom dancer Kol (Elias Anton) rises early to prepare for the long-awaited finals tournament later that afternoon. Hopes for a relatively stress-free morning are unceremoniously dashed when he receives a frantic call from his best friend and dance partner Ebony (Hattie Hook), who blacked out after a rough night of partying and has no idea which beach she's woken up stranded on. Frantically consulting a map while trying to sort out a game plan, the two eventually decide to enlist Ebony's older brother Adam (Thom Green) for clandestine aid without alerting their mother. He picks Kol up in his appropriately boxy sedan, and after getting to know each other on their drive, they eventually find a damp, sandy Ebony sitting in a far-flung phone booth. Kol has virtually no hope of making it back in time for his dance competition, but he has appeared to acquire a much more handsome consolation prize. The film is suffused with the kind of nostalgic attitude that has a tendency to skew toward cringe-worthy sentimentality, yet here allows for the relationship between Kol and Adam to feel all the more realistic and rooted in the director's lived experience. While the film's ending feels a bit abrupt and cheesy, Of an Age boasts phenomenal performances and a salient (if somber) central truth. It's never wise to anticipate a life-altering revelation from haphazard homecomings, particularly when you’ve been yearning for a connection that was fleeting from the offset. In the end, however, reason seldom prevails over romantics. Even after witnessing this cinematic exercise in maintaining hindsight, I’d wager that no viewer will successfully eliminate their own tendencies to ruminate on the infinite possibilities of past passions.—Natalia Keogan

Other People's ChildrenRelease 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 Runtime: 104 minutes

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

Past LivesRelease Date: June 2, 2023 Director: Celine Song Stars: Greta Lee, Teo Yoo, John Magaro Rating: PG-13 Runtime: 106 minutes

Named partially for inyun—a Korean concept encompassing fate, intention and consequence, like a reincarnation-bridging butterfly effect—Past Lives’ bittersweet romance brings to mind Longfellow's ships passing in the night. Not because the decades-spanning relationship between Greta Lee's Nora and Teo Yoo's Hae Sung is inconsequential, but because it is consequential in spite of its briefness and its emotional opacity. It reminds us that it is possible to encounter magic, conjured by the flow of everyday actions, when we pass people multiple times along our lives’ intertwining rivers. It reminds us that tethering your life to someone else's to brave the current together is an act of defiant perseverance. Drawing from a long tradition of yearning romances, while showcasing debut writer/director Celine Song's unique abilities with precise writing and delicate scene-crafting, Past Lives flows from decade to decade with ease, encompassing immigration, coming-of-age, and creative and romantic ennui—only to reach a heartrending acceptance of our exquisite inability to have it all. Nora isn't really caught between East and West, just as she is never really caught between her childhood crush Hae Sung and her husband Arthur (John Magaro). Whenever we meet her—whether as a kid, about to leave Hae Sung and Korea behind, or as a twentysomething connecting with him on Skype, or as a married woman hosting his visit to New York—she's made her choices, or has had them made for her. Song's strongest thematic thrust as she navigates the film's three acts—spanning Nora's childhood, loneliness, reconnection, loss and re-reconnection—is that this isn't exceptional. Drawing from her own experience and a keen sense of psychology, Song writes clever, contained, jewel box conversations. They can have the hesitant, rekindling awkwardness of Yi Yi, or—thanks to an effective use of hairstyling and wardrobe (as well as the posture and demeanor of its leads)—the ambling melancholy of Richard Linklater's meditations on time's passage. But they all allow Lee and Yoo (both in star-making performances) quiet depth. Past Lives is a powerful and delicate debut, a beautiful necklace strung with crystalized memories. Its ideas on love and time, and how one impacts the other, are simple and sear across your heart. It is about all the potential people we could have been, and how none of them matter as much as the person we are—and the fool's errand of trying to figure out what we’d be if we cobbled ourselves together differently. Those possibilities are best left in the past. Besides announcing Song as a brilliant observer of dialogue, interaction, and tone, Past Lives is a strikingly romantic movie about what composes our lives. We are the decisions we make, and the decisions others make for us. But we are also the collection of connections we make, living ship's logs, dutifully recorded. Each repeat encounter is a minor miracle, and every first encounter has that potential. And there can be love in each, however brief.—Jacob Oller

Rye LaneRelease Date: March 31, 2023Director: Raine Allen-MillerStars: David Jonsson, Vivian Oparah, Simon Manyonda, Benjamin Sarpong-Broni, Poppy Allen-QuarmbyRating: NRRuntime: 82 minutes

Part of the joy of making a romantic comedy is reimagining the stakes of a story, relitigating what is deemed cinematic. Rather than the traditional blockbuster terrain, you are charting the more familiar fallout from relational misunderstanding. Romantic comedies are bound by relatability, and truly great romantic comedies understand this relatability grows from specificity. Where many recent examples of this genre fall short is in dodging this degree of specificity, scared to ground an audience in the monotony of the everyday. Rye Lane leans into this perceived monotony, animating everything with the promise of new love. Rye Lane takes place over the course of a day, following Dom (David Jonsson) and Yas (Vivian Oparah) as they wander across South London, concocting new, increasingly ridiculous ways of spending time together. They use local landmarks as a set of interpersonal stepping stones, guiding one another through the physical ruins of their own romantic histories. Everything is captured in sharp, bright colors, reflecting the joy buried in every corner of this city. But the color scheme is only one way director Raine Allen-Miller navigates the playfulness of Dom and Yas’ dynamic. She stages elaborate setups to heighten their budding relationship: A cinema full of multiple Doms, passionately cheering Yas on as she recreates her recent breakup, is both a funny joke and a constructive character beat, showing two people who bond over a shared way of coping. Allen-Miller experiments with the focus and angle of the camera, switching between the extremes of the fish-eye lens and wide shots to capture the blurred and busy texture of the city. Their love story is one dedicated to recontextualizing their surroundings, to overhearing an embarrassing conversation and seeking out the other's amused gaze, to buying burritos from the stall in Brixton and letting the other one order for you. Each new location is a gateway into understanding the other person, a prompt for a new story. In this way Rye Lane builds a lovingly transportive setting. Thanks to Rye Lane's specificity and care for its central relationship, Allen-Miller has made one of the best British comedies–certainly one of the best London-based films—of the last decade.—Anna McKibbin

Saint OmerRelease Date: January 13, 2023Director: Alice DiopStars: Kayije Kagame, Guslagie Malanga, Valérie Dréville, Salimata Kamate, Aurélia Petit, Xavier Maly, Robert CanterellaRating: PG-13Runtime: 122 minutes

In the largely white seaside commune of Berck-sur-Mer, nestled in France's northernmost reaches, literature professor Rama (Kayije Kagame) stands out. This is primarily a matter of her skin color, a rich, flawless pecan in striking contrast to the town's oatmeal-hued locals. But there's also the fact of her dimension, her statuesque frame. When she first arrives in Berck, people turn their heads. In the best case scenario, Rama's steely beauty leaves them stunned. In the worst, they simply see her for her Blackness. Rama's outsider status is central to her role in Saint Omer, Senegalese filmmaker Alice Diop's latest film and departure from her traditional mode as a documentarian. Like Frederick Wiseman's A Couple, Saint Omer welds fiction with fact; it's based on the awful case of Fabienne Kabou, who in 2016 was tried for leaving her 15-month-old child to her death on the beach at high tide. Diop attended the trial, and the experience clearly made an impression on her. Saint Omer views Kabou's crime and the story unfolding in its wake through the lenses of motherhood and daughterhood, arguing that neither can be disentwined from the other. Like Diop, Rama travels to Berck to witness the trial of a woman accused of murdering her 15-month-old; here, that figure is Laurence Coly (Guslagie Malanga), a student and Senegalese immigrant. And like Diop, Rama intends to fashion Laurence's transgression into narrative fiction, as a retelling of the tale of Medea. Not that Saint Omer treats Laurence as a monster, of course. Diop peels back layer after layer of humanity in the film, confronting Laurence's awful deed head-on and clear-eyed all while sparing her judgments made through blinders. There is a version of Saint Omer where the horror of the subject gives way to horror as a genre; Diop has instead gone for a straight ahead interpretation of a nauseating tragedy, where the only thing harder to swallow than infanticide is the realization that there's very little anyone burdened by Rama's doubts can do but learn to live with them.–Andy Crump

Showing UpRelease Date: April 7, 2023 Director: Kelly Reichardt Stars: Michelle Williams, Hong Chau, Judd Hirsch, André Benjamin, Heather Lawless, Amanda Plummer Rating: R Runtime: 108 minutes

Two years after her affecting First Cow hit theaters, Kelly Reichardt doesn't stray from the Pacific Northwest setting where four of her other films take place. This time, she trades 17th century Oregon County for the present-day Oregon College of Art and Craft in Portland, where her exasperated lead, Lizzie (Michelle Williams), works as a day job. When she's not working, Lizzie is crafting uncanny, rigid portraits of women in disjointed poses, whether in watercolor on paper or in tangible clay, the latter of which being the medium she's chosen to showcase in an upcoming show. But before Lizzie can arrive at her big day, she has to navigate a whirlwind of chaos: Her dysfunctional family; the contentious relationship with her landlord, neighbor and fellow artist, Jo (Hong Chau); and a poor, injured pigeon that her cat, Ricky, tormented one night. In her fourth collaboration with Reichardt, Williams is better than ever. Possibly overdone in beleaguered, regular-woman makeup this time around, Williams still best showcases just how lived-in of an actress she can be in Reichardt's work. Every sigh she utters feels pulled down by weights, her slouch hurts to look at; her exhaustion bounces off the screen and infects the audience like an illness. And in spite of how done-up she is in order not to look like an actress, it is primarily in the physicality of her performance and the candor of her dialogue that she is believable as Lizzie, struggling artist. There is never a moment where Michelle Williams slips through the performance. But she's also surprisingly droll, with Reichardt and co-writer Jonathan Raymond penning a number of lines made comic in Williams’ perfect deadpan. Lizzie strikes as the new apex of Williams and Reichardt's consistently fruitful relationship, each installment since 2008's Wendy and Lucy another rung reached in which the two have further hewn the synchronicity between artist and muse. Like Lizzie's patchy figures, Reichardt's camera fixates on obscured body parts and jerky zooms as it follows Lizzie working towards her opening night amidst a near-comical string of setbacks. However, the throughline humming through all the maelstrom of Lizzie's life is creative insecurity. It comes across in how Lizzie carries herself, how she speaks about her art and how she speaks to others. It's the light, minimalist touch of Reichardt's atmosphere and her nurturing of interpersonal subtleties that engenders an overwhelming emotional intensity as Lizzie finally sets up her work on display in the gallery. One single, small row of figures in the middle of a large, empty space.—Brianna Zigler

Smoking Causes CoughingRelease Date: March 31, 2023 Director: Quentin Dupieux Stars: Gilles Lellouche, Vincent Lacoste, Anaïs Demoustier, Jean-Pascal Zadi, Oulaya Amamra, David Marsais, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Grégoire Ludig, Doria Tillier, Jérôme Niel, Blanche Gardin, Alain Chabat, Benoît Poelvoorde Rating: NR Runtime: 80 minutes

After half a decade focusing on high-concept silliness, like the giant-fly tragicomedy Mandibles and the leather-jacket thriller Deerskin, Dupieux follows his more ridiculous impulses by letting the midnight horror anthology stay up until Saturday morning, blending gore and guffaws in an amiable, breezy comedy. The Tobacco Force, a supergroup of "avengers" empowered by carcinogens, composes the film's framing ensemble. A Power Rangers-like tokusatsu parody, they are like Dupieux's Danger 5—a retro satire of form that revels in how desperately adult so much of its juvenile source material is. Where Danger 5 made running gags of the sexism and repetitive plotting of the spy/adventure serial, Smoking Causes Coughing utilizes eye-popping colors and frequent splashes of blood for its heroic team. But Smoking Causes Coughing avoids repeating The Boys or The Suicide Squad's self-aware jabs at skin-tight costuming, empowered immaturity or mad villain plots by avoiding awareness altogether. Instead, it leans into the low-fi pulp aesthetic of cheapy TV and the bumbling clownishness particular to Dupieux's brand of comic incompetence. Harmless stupidity is where Dupieux thrives. Smoking Causes Coughing plays to these strengths, being both sublimely silly and unpredictably, addictively light. The comedy flows into and out of its nested stories without a care in the world, feeling like a loose showcase for all the goofy, horror-adjacent ideas Dupieux had over the pandemic. Because the superheroes spinning these tales are themselves odd, stunted cartoons, their horrific fables are decidedly more absurd than anything else; think Drunk History but for turning the ramblings of a little kid into bloody short films. One centers on a thought-enhancing helmet that drives its wearer to, logically, attack her doofus friends. Another, told by an inexplicably talking barracuda, involves the best wood chipper joke since Fargo. The common thread linking these tales from the dorkside is slangish, intentionally undercooked dialogue that emphasizes the discord between the gruesome content and childish delivery. Naturally, Smoking Causes Coughing is too laid back to be much more than a feature-length smoke break from the heavier nonsense on the factory floor. But for those with a surreal sense of humor, hang up the "gone to lunch" sign and enjoy your union-mandated, 80-minute dose of French comedy.—Jacob Oller

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-VerseRelease Date: June 2, 2023 Director: Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson Stars: Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Oscar Isaac, Issa Rae, Jason Schwartzman Rating: PG Runtime: 136 minutes

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse webs its way into a far more jaded world, one overstuffed with superhero sequels, and specifically, multiverse storytelling. And yet Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse swings in and, yet again, wipes the floor with its genre brethren by presenting a sequel that is both kinetic and deeply emotional. The script by Phil Lord, Christopher Miller and Dave Callaham (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings) smartly builds upon the foundation of its already established characters, their relationships and the ongoing consequences from the first film to further explore the lives of secret teen superheroes Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) and Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) a year after the first film. The writers do so with a clear agenda to not only best themselves visually, but by upping the game of the now-familiar multiple-timeline tropes. Together with the talents of directing team Joaquim Dos Santos (The Legend of Korra), Kemp Powers (Soul) and Justin K. Thompson (Into the Spider-Verse), Across the Spider-Verse—across the board—swings for the cinematic fences in the rare sequel that feels like every frame has been crafted with the intention of wringing every bit of visual wonder and emotional impact that the animators, the performers and the very medium can achieve. The hybrid computer-animation meets hand-drawn techniques established in the first films returns with a more sleek execution that's a bit easier on the eyes, which affords the animators to get even more ambitious with their array of techniques and character-centric presentations. The depth and breadth of the animation and illustration styles are jaw-dropping. There are frames you just want to fall into, they’re so beautifully rendered and conceived. If there's any critique, it's that the more action-centric sequences are almost too detailed, so that the incredible work of the animators moves off-screen so quickly that you feel like you’re not able to fully appreciate everything coming at you. As a middle film in the trilogy (Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse is due in theaters in 2024), it's a joy to be able to say that Across the Spider-Verse stands well on its own, based on the merits of its story and stakes. There's also a killer cliffhanger that sets the stage for a third chapter that doesn't feel like it's cheating its audience like some other recent films have done (cough Dune cough). In fact, repeat viewings of Across the Spider-Verse to bridge the gap until the final installment next year sounds like a great way to savor this film as it so richly deserves.—Tara Bennett

STILL: A Michael J. Fox MovieRelease Date: May 12, 2023 Director: Davis Guggenheim Rating: R Runtime: 94 minutes

Whether it's from his ubiquitous celeb/cute guy status from Family Ties and the Back to the Future movies in the ‘80s and ‘90s or his two-plus decades serving as a public face/advocate for Parkinson's disease, Fox certainly feels like one of the globe's most "seen" figures of note. He's also written four memoirs that encompass his career, family life and living with Parkinson's Disease. All of which begs the question: What's left for a documentary to tell about his life? The answer is "plenty," as evidenced in STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie from director Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth). The intimate yet spritely doc gives the 61-year-old actor the opportunity to share with audiences an unflinching, witty and self-deprecating look at his life up to this point. Unlike other recent celeb docs told in the voice and with the consent of their subjects, like Tina (2021) and HBO's upcoming Love to Love You, Donna Summer (2023), STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie doesn't suffer from feeling like it was heavily curated, or even censored to avoid sensitive topics. To Fox's credit, he's unflinching in assessing the mistakes in his life, from his early boorish behavior, that came with fame, to his alcoholism, which stemmed from him trying to hide his diagnosis. And even with a tight 95-minute run time, Guggenheim paces the doc to hit the span of Fox's life in an even and measured way. Nothing feels particularly skimmed over, and the use of so much film and archival footage has the added benefit of recontextualizing his whole public life and career into a more intimate understanding of the actual man. STILL is an impressive, inspiring and sometimes heartbreaking look at Fox's ongoing journey, made all the more powerful for being told in his voice. —Tara Bennett

The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the FutureRelease Date: May 19, 2023 Director: Francisca Alegría Stars: Leonor Varela, Mia Maestro, Alfredo Castro, Marcial Tagle, Enzo Ferrada, Luis Dubo Rating: NR Runtime: 98 minutes

Magical realism meets the real threat of environmental catastrophe in The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future, Chilean director Francisca Alegría's feature debut following the success of her 2017 short And the Whole Sky Fit in the Dead Cow's Eye. Though the film can at times feel long-winded—a common predicament when transitioning from shorts to features—it is a heady and hypnotic parable for the irreparable ecological harm humans have committed, while insisting that it's not too late to connect and reconcile with the land that nurtures us. When the toxic runoff from a cellulose factory begins polluting the Cruces River in verdant south-central Chile, fish begin dying in droves. As their corpses float atop the drifting water and begin to wash ashore, a haunting hymn appears to escape their lifeless lips. "Come close to us," they chant in booming unison. "Is the end nigh?" Just when their urgent melody concludes, a woman named Magdalena (Mia Maestro) springs forth from the water's depths, long hair cascading over a leather jacket and her hand clutching a motorcycle helmet. She gasps for air, crawling out of the river while still coughing up water. It turns out she died in these very waters decades earlier—her death ruled a suicide by local police—and has some unfinished business with the family that has grown up and moved on in her prolonged absence. When she walks into an electronics store to appear before her would-be widow (Alfredo Castro), he immediately suffers an acute heart attack. Worried about her father's hysterical insistence that her dead mother has returned from the grave, Cecelia (Leonor Varela) brings her two children to spend some time with her on the family's dairy farm while she cares for the aging patriarch. Little do they know, the cows also have a song to sing, and Magdalena's presence is more than an old man's apparition. Though the premise hints at a horror movie, The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future never ventures into supernatural vengeance. Instead, the film incorporates the horrors of the world around us—ecological, political, domestic—to craft a modern fable of immense guilt slowly transforming over time into paralyzing denial, complete with a resolution that promotes the prosperous power of atonement. The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future is Alegría's assertion that we can only move forward by candidly confronting and protecting what we have previously harmed. Hope is far from lost, despite the prevalence of despondent environmental nihilism—the nature of Earth is to breed and support new life, an act of cultivation that is either hugely abetted or quashed by human intervention. It's not too late to confront, assess and ameliorate the damage we’ve already done, as long as we’re not too cowardly to admit that we’ve seriously fucked up. —Natalia Keogan

Unicorn WarsRelease Date: March 10, 2023Director: Alberto VázquezStars: Jon Goiri, Jaione Insausti, Ramón Barea, Txema Regalado, Manu HerasRating: NRRuntime: 92 minutes

Who knew an animated movie made up of sunshine, rainbows, cuddles, and teddy bear dicks could be as bleak as Unicorn Wars? Maybe that last list item is a warning sign. For a bigger indicator, look at the director: Alberto Vázquez, the mind behind 2015's Birdboy: The Forgotten Children. Together, these films make a fine double feature of grotesqueries, though compared to Unicorn Wars, Birdboy is an episode of Sesame Street. A story about drug addiction, corrupt authorities, and environmental collapse sounds grim on paper and plays grim on screen, but Unicorn Wars is more than "grim." It's deranged. Scorched earth and religious prejudice tie these two movies together. In Unicorn Wars, the former comes well after the latter, a deep-rooted belief in God being one impelling factor of many driving conflict between warring factions: Peaceful, forest-dwelling unicorns, and warmongering teddy bears. This isn't a metaphor. There are literal teddy bears. The bears are governed by fascist tough-bears who derive their status from perpetuating war. That doesn't mean the movie is too serious to enjoy its toilet humor. But Unicorn Wars carefully packs big, meaningful themes into a candycoated parcel, using delirium as bubble wrap to keep its contents secure. The fluidity in craftsmanship is as impressive as Vázquez's talent for Trojan Horsing metaphors about the human condition into a movie about teddy bears knifing unicorns and unicorns goring teddy bears. If that was the whole picture, then Unicorn Wars would still be worth watching as an exercise in bad taste filmmaking and gonzo animation, like an extended episode of Happy Tree Friends constructed with actual skill. Ridiculous as it sounds, though, there's more to Vázquez's neon and gore-soaked vision than its grody particulars give away at first glance. Openly raunchy as his film may be, under that surface, it's downright biblical.—Andy Crump

Walk UpRelease Date: April 7, 2023 Director: Hong Sang-soo Stars: Kwon Hae-hyo, Lee Hye-young, Park Mi-so, Song Seon-mi Rating: NR Runtime: 97 minutes

The social influences of one's surroundings—namely the various dwellings we inhabit—act as a clever framing mechanism in South Korean director Hong Sang-soo's Walk Up. Specifically, the film visits each floor-spanning apartment of one particular building, characters neatly shuffling between each residence as they navigate personal employment woes and fluctuating relationship tensions. As Hong makes his way through the building from the ground up, the interpersonal connections between characters shift—romances blossom and fizzle, familial ties strengthen and disintegrate, rental power dynamics sweeten before souring—until they ultimately reset, ready to unfold anew. Filmmaker Byung-soo (Kwon Hae-hyo) and his daughter Jeong-su (Park Mi-so) arrive at a building owned by Ms. Kim (Lee Hye-young), an old friend of the director. Ms. Kim gives the two a tour of the three story edifice, which houses her own work studio on the basement level, her own residence on the first floor, an intimate restaurant owned by a woman named Sunhee (Song Seon-mi) and an apartment rented by a reclusive artist on the top level. After briefly entering each unit (and probably violating a couple lease agreements in the process), the three retire to Ms. Kim's apartment for an evening of copious wine drinking. As the young woman departs to fetch more wine from a convenience store, the next segment begins with Byung-soo, Ms. Kim and Sunhee eating a meal at the latter's restaurant, wherein we find the film's thesis of art, financing and the general impossibility of the two—creativity and capital—coexisting. "For them, a film is purely a means of making money," Byung-soo drunkenly laments when he reveals that the plug was pulled on his most recent film just weeks before it was set to enter production. "Money is the only standard to judge anything." Clearly, Hong is working through some personal disappointments as it pertains to his own metric of "success" here. By the time Walk Up comes to a conclusion, all of the characters appear in front of the building. They are either on their way elsewhere, appearing for an overdue visit or returning to perform job duties inside. This set-up mirrors the very beginning of the film, and relationships that have been fortified or abandoned since have miraculously seemed to regress into their original dynamics. Has Hong simply gone full-circle, setting these individuals up to relive the previous events and perhaps make different choices? Or does the suffocation of our small quarters cause us to become callous and self-centered? Does leaving our most intimate spaces allow us to embrace possibilities that we’ve since considered closed-off or impossible? Without the looming pressures of rent, work-from-home set-ups and casual business meetings, Hong suggests that we might just finally be free.—Natalia Keogan

You Hurt My FeelingsRelease Date: May 26, 2023 Director: Nicole Holofcener Stars: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tobias Menzies, Michaela Watkins, Owen Teague, Arian Moayed, Jeannie Berlin Rating: R Runtime: 93 minutes

Beth (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) accidentally overhears her therapist husband Don (Tobias Menzies) offering an honest and negative assessment of her in-progress novel, after receiving many drafts’ worth of encouragement from him. This premise (or something like it) has probably been used on at least three sitcoms; even here, it features one of the form's great performers in Louis-Dreyfus. But You Hurt My Feelings is also written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, an expert in revealing the invisible tensions lurking behind social and relationship niceties. Her latest film is very funny; even more impressive, it spins what could have been 22 minutes’ worth of misunderstanding and lesson-learning into genuine searching; turns out Tobias is nursing some professional insecurity, too, and not without cause. So are we actually as good at our jobs (and passions!) as we imagine, or are we all just insecure incompetents coasting on the mindless, dishonest praise of our loved ones? The answer probably lies somewhere in between, but Holofcener is clear-eyed enough to give the latter a surprisingly full consideration.—Jesse Hassenger


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