The 25 best films of 2024 (so far)

At the mid-year mark, we celebrate the best the big screen has had to offer, ranging from tennis triads to a Furiosa origin story

The 25 best films of 2024 (so far)
Clockwise from top left: Green Border (Kino Lorber), I Saw The TV Glow (A24), Evil Does Not Exist (Janus Films), Kinds Of Kindness (Searchlight Pictures), Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (Warner Bros.) Graphic: AVClub

Now that the film festivals have settled down and the blockbusters have started rolling out in earnest, it’s high time to look back on the year’s movies so far, either to appreciate what we’ve already forgotten from our early-winter viewings, or to shore up our watchlists with gems that passed us by. The best movies of 2024 have so far either crept up on us, sneaking onto streamers and quietly dominating conversations around their genres, or have had their arrival trumpeted for so long (as they finish their roadshow circuit or land award after award at Cannes or SXSW) that they risk letting us down once we finally get to compare hype to reality.

But whether the movies were massive sci-fi franchise entries or simply the horny sports fantasies of the “potion seller” guy, one thing was certain: They starred Zendaya. But even without her, some movies managed all on their own. Ryusuke Hamaguchi and George Miller didn’t disappoint in their follow-ups to pinnacle work, operating at entirely different volume levels. Jane Schoenbrun and Minhal Baig took leaps between their indies, finding even more lush ways to tap into the topics and aesthetics that entrance them. Ryan Gosling cried to Taylor Swift. The Joker, trans and loving it, kick-danced down some stairs—and for the first time, it was good. Horror and action movies added new flavors, while remixing old favorites like one of those fancy touch-screen soda machines. And above all else, guys in beaver suits perpetrated violence upon one another.

The old villains of cinema may still be here in 2024, whether that means self-imposed censorship or (incredibly) a vertically-integrated monopoly, but so too are all the reasons we continue to cling to this artform. Even when the year’s best movies have hidden inside the marketable shell of IP spectacle, in their cores exist all the things we hope our filmmakers, our musicians, our comedians, our writers can smuggle into the productions that pay the bills. These movies play with form (In A Violent Nature, The People’s Joker), our expectations around our bodies (Thelma, I Saw The TV Glow), and our understanding of what kinds of illusions are possible through lights, camera, and action (The Fall Guy, Furiosa, Hundreds of Beavers). If the movies’ enemies are going back to basics, all the best things about movies will be there to meet them.

The Beast

The Beast | Official Trailer | In Cinemas 31 May

A human drama with a sci-fi concept for scaffolding, inspired by one of Henry James’ most haunting tales, Bertrand Bonello’s The Beast takes its sense of urgency, combines it with two incredible central performances, and delivers one of the most impactful experiences you’re likely to have at the movies this year…even if it does take you a while to untangle what you’ve just seen. In 2044, much of the human workforce has been replaced by artificial intelligence, which is deemed safer and less emotional than the flawed human thinking that created previous global catastrophes. In this future version of Paris, Gabrielle (Léa Seydoux) is desperate for a sense of purpose. Eager to prove herself, she agrees to a procedure that will supposedly cleanse her of any emotional instabilities by going back through her past lives, the idea being that confronting and eventually eliminating any lingering trauma in her genetic code will make her not just more qualified for a job, but more satisfied and docile. Through it all, she interacts with three different versions of Louis (George MacKay), who’s at times a lover, at times a friend, and at times a deadly force. There’s an overt bleakness to this imagined future, one that’s countered by the vibrant hues Bonello’s camera conjures in the luxuriant reds and greens of turn-of-the-century Paris and the cool pool-water blues of 2014 Los Angeles. Seydoux and MacKay do tremendous, powerful work, squeezing every ounce of feeling from even the most syrup-slow of sequences. As it carefully and methodically winds its way through three different eras of human experience, The Beast sink its claws into you, then ask you to contemplate the wounds it leaves. [Matthew Jackson]


CHALLENGERS | Official Trailer 2

Challengers, seemingly about three tennis players, is actually about three characters who play love like a tennis match, to get ahead and reap the rewards they want. The framework of the film is an important match in the careers of Patrick (Josh O’Connor) and Art (Mike Faist), rivals and former best friends. Between them is Tashi (Zendaya), former girlfriend of one and current wife and coach of the other. Luca Guadagnino has always been attuned to capturing the fiery emotional undercurrents of relationships, as he proved in movies like I Am Love and Call Me By Your Name. For many of his characters, desire is their raison d’etre and the driving force of their narrative arc. In Justin Kuritzkes’ screenplay desire is a weapon daringly, and sometimes manipulatively, used by the three protagonists. Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s camera ogles the actors’ bodies, capturing every flicker of light in their eyes, every trembling lip and sweaty brow. All of this makes for a movie high on sexual heat, something not seen much in contemporary American cinema. For the tennis matches, Guadagnino has a few tricks up his sleeve. First is Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ loud, thumping music. Then, the slowing down of many scenes to an almost standstill to show every nuance of movement on the actors’ faces while ignoring the uninteresting small yellow balls. Challengers succeeds thanks to complicated characters, played by actors on their way to becoming sparkling screen stars. [Murtada Elfadl]

Dune: Part Two

Dune: Part Two | Official Trailer 3

Dune: Part Two picks up exactly where its predecessor left off, then manages to have the same rhythm, look and feel as the first one, for better or worse, as neither movie can stand alone. They should be taken together as one long five-hour adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel. It’s a polemic about how religious power brokers manipulate people’s belief systems to gain power, something more than what audiences usually get in a Hollywood blockbuster. The story follows Paul Atreides’ (Timothée Chalamet) ascendance to lead the people of the dusty desert planet Arrakis against the forces of evil. It is straightforward enough and has all that is expected in such a movie: A requisite love interest, a violent nemesis, and the hero’s realization and embrace of their power. But it’s those religious themes that make it more than just a spectacle. And it checks that box too: Everything is just a little bit more lavish and striking. The battles are bigger, the sandstorms more violent. Dune: Part Two is a thrilling ride that totally earns its two-and-a-half-hour running time. [Murtada Elfadl]

Evil Does Not Exist

EVIL DOES NOT EXIST – Official US Trailer

Evil Does Not Exist takes its time. At the beginning there’s foreboding music on the soundtrack as the camera moves across nature and vegetation. Then a character appears out of nowhere, startling the audience. Almost half an hour passes before a character even speaks. In that dichotomy of patience and alarm lies the genius of Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s follow-up to the Oscar-winning Drive My Car. It’s a fable, like a simple game of good versus evil, that unspools with such density of narrative that it takes the breath away. Hamaguchi’s sparse storytelling starts with building a sense of space. The audience is introduced to the rural mountainous hamlet of Mizubiki. The camera closes in on the terrain, the water springs, the tall trees, before revealing any characters. When a marketing agency comes to town revealing plans to build a glamping site, one character takes center stage: Takumi (Hitoshi Omika), a jack of all trades who seems to know the most about the town. Quickly the agency people (Ryuji Kosaka and Ayaka Shibutani) begin to see him as someone who could help them convince the townspeople of their plans. But Takumi needs to be cajoled and persuaded first. Thus begins the game; the players are identified and the stakes are revealed. [Murtada Elfadl]

The Fall Guy

The Fall Guy | Official Trailer

Above all else, The Fall Guy is a crowd-pleaser. Adapted by Drew Pearce (Hotel Artemis) from the TV series of the same name created by Glen A. Larson, David Leitch’s film is a big, slick excuse to put actors who are all bona fide charm bombs together in the same frame. He surrounds them with explosions and car chases, having a good time while the music of KISS and The Darkness bumps in the background. The “fall guy” is Colt Seavers (Ryan Gosling), a veteran stuntman who’s got a job he likes and a girlfriend, camera operator Jody (Emily Blunt), he likes even more. Everything seems to be going Colt’s way until the actor he doubles for, the egomaniacal Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), demands he perform a massive falling stunt one more time. Things go wrong, and just like that, Colt is out of the stunts game with a back injury and an even more painful wound to his pride. Leitch began his career working in stunts, and brings all his powers to bear on this film, giving us everything from an ode to Miami Vice to an unexpected garbage-truck fight scene to, yes, plenty of onscreen odes to the stunt teams doing the work on film sets around the world. Even with the action and stunt work operating at full throttle, what really makes The Fall Guy work is the partnership between Gosling and Blunt. He gets to once again play the beaten-down hero on a quest for redemption, as he did so well in films like The Nice Guys, while she gets to play the ambitious woman who’s balancing her career with the desires of her heart. It’s two hours of movie stars being absolute charm machines, and sometimes that’s all you really need. [Matthew Jackson]


Flipside – Official Trailer – Oscilloscope Laboratories HD

You don’t have to be of a certain age to appreciate everything Chris Wilcha sets out to do in his new documentary Flipside, but it certainly helps. The way this project speaks to the Gen X experience, especially if you’ve ever thought of yourself as an artist, is so specific it almost feels like an attack. To be clear, that’s a compliment. Even the title of the film, which it shares with the vintage New Jersey record store heavily featured in it, evokes that point in life when you realize there’s more behind you than there is ahead. It’s not that the film’s message will be opaque to anyone outside of Wilcha’s generation—it also deals with universally relatable concepts like regret and the desire to leave your mark on the world—it’s just that the director’s journey to reconcile the idealistic, ambitious kid he once was with the 50-something man he’s become will resonate more deeply with those who are also in a place to take stock of their own lives. Flipside is Wilcha’s attempt to bring his life’s work full circle, a return to the personal self-reflection of The Target Shoots First, with the distance and hindsight that 25 years of life experiences will give you. It’s not as navel-gazing as it sounds. To make his broader point, Wilcha incorporates footage from his abandoned documentaries and even returns to some of his former subjects in search of some kind of closure. Wilcha acknowledges that his idealism has been replaced with realism, his ambition with complacency. He stares down his younger self and resists the temptation to flinch. [Cindy White]

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga


Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga officially enters my tightly regulated library of highly regarded prequels because George Miller is entirely interested in building up an inner life and history for Furiosa that can exist without Fury Road and still be a damn fine movie. And then Miller executes the pinnacle prequel trick of turning the relationships, connections, and losses collected in Furiosa into subtext that makes the already sublime Fury Road even better. Furiosa’s story is told in five chapters, opening when we meet her as a child (Alyla Browne) living within the hidden, idyllic community of the Green Place of Many Mothers, then through 15 years of her life, ending in her mid-twenties when she’s become the Imperator Furiosa (Anya Taylor-Joy) within a much younger Immortan Joe’s (Lachy Hulme) Citadel. And Furiosa is still an experience. It swallows you up like the sand and holds you tight until the very end. Cinematographer Simon Duggan (The Great Gatsby) doesn’t miss a step when taking the visual baton from Fury Road’s cinematographer John Seale. Furiosa overwhelms the senses, especially in IMAX, as Duggan and Miller immerse you within the vehicles as they rumble over the dunes, or pound the strips of road that connect the Citadel to The Bullet Farm and Gastown. Almost every piece of Furiosa comes across visceral and real, which reminds you how special it is to get this kind of experience at the movies every once in a while. [Tara Bennett]


Ghostlight – Official Trailer | HD | IFC Films

Co-directed by Alex Thompson and screenwriter Kelly O’Sullivan, Ghostlight counts among its stars a real-life married couple and their daughter, feeding its sense of authenticity. The result is a small, bespoke gem about finding constructive channels for deep and uncomfortable feelings. In an Illinois suburb, construction worker Dan (Keith Kupferer) is gripped by an emotional constipation that’s left him increasingly adrift from his wife Sharon (Tara Mallen) and their teenage daughter Daisy (Katherine Mallen Kupferer), who’s facing a threat of school expulsion for her latest incident of rebellious acting out. When Dan snaps at work, this fleeting moment of public rage catches the attention of actress Rita (Dolly De Leon). Sensing something, Rita pulls Dan into a table read and pitches him on joining her barebones community theater production of Romeo & Juliet, despite his unfamiliarity with the source text. Dan is outright dismissive at first, then skeptical, but he finds himself drawn back to the group’s rehearsals—a development which he keeps secret from his wife and daughter. As the movie unspools, the unspecified trauma hanging over the family—and the complicated, sometimes at-odds feelings the three of them have—comes into sharper focus. This family drama and healing then plays out against the backdrop of several twists and turns leading up to the play’s opening night. O’Sullivan and Thompson capably oversee a modest and straightforward technical package that yields unfussy charms. The film’s sharp eye for character detail and naturalistic blend of low-key humor and pathos, nicely captured in wide frames by cinematographer Luke Dyra, overcome its slightly heightened emotional pitch and innate eagerness to please. At its most basic, Ghostlight is a film about grief and the utility of community in processing it, and if that seems obvious, it’s still fairly piercing as rendered here. [Brent Simon]

Green Border

Green Border – Agnieszka Holland – Official U.S. Trailer

Green Border, the latest from master Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland, is nothing short of a call to direct action. The film provides a nuanced, if at times frankly brutal, account of the treacherous conditions migrants face on the Polish-Belarusian border, which are either exacerbated or assuaged by opposing military and activist forces. This particular frontier is dubbed the “green border” due to the thick, swampy forest that separates the two countries. Duped by a fraudulent campaign orchestrated by Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko, migrants from Africa and the Middle East travel to the Eastern European country (and noted Russian ally) after being reassured that they will find swift and safe passage to Poland, thus able to apply for asylum in the European Union. When they do cross over, however, Polish border patrol simply rounds the refugees back up and dumps them over barbed wire back into Belarus, where they are abused, robbed, and berated before being violently pushed back into Poland. Holland approaches the material with indignant rage and the irrefutable facts to back it up. Dialogue directly states the mounting migrant death toll in Europe and its characters were shaped through hours of pre-production interviews with refugees, activists, Polish borderland residents, and anonymous border patrol officers. By presenting the film in sumptuous black and white (expertly lensed by frequent collaborator Tomasz Naumiuk), Green Border feels timeless in its approach, again emphasizing past and ongoing violence against those deemed societal “threats.” The treatment of African and Middle Eastern refugees, of European Jews, of Palestinian civilians, are all connected by state-sanctioned sadism and those who blindly obey reductive propaganda. What’s most marvelous about Green Border—aside from its resounding commitment to humanization, buttressed by a thrilling and harrowing narrative—is that it doesn’t let anyone off the hook. [Natalia Keogan]

How To Have Sex

HOW TO HAVE SEX | Official Trailer | MUBI

The feature debut of writer and director Molly Manning Walker, How To Have Sex follows in the tradition of many a teenage sex comedy. The difference is that How To Have Sex is gritty, realistic and deals with serious themes of sex and consent. The premise sounds familiar: Three British friends spend a summer vacation in Greece during the last year of high school. Skye (Lara Peake) and Em (Enva Lewis) are slightly more experienced than Tara (Mia McKenna-Bruce), who hopes to lose her virginity on this trip. The filmmaker is attuned to the ways teenage friends behave around each other. The sweet way they take care of each other and demonstrate their love for each other. The petty grievances and inexplicable animosities that sometimes drive how they react to each other. The camaraderie and the oneupmanship. The abandon they feel when no adults are present. The exaltation that comes with alcohol. On top of that, Manning Walker straddles that fine line when consent becomes dissent and desire becomes repulsion. Her camera sensitively probes the actors’ faces and their surroundings to tell the story the characters cannot verbalize. Reminiscent of a young Kate Winslet, with the same warm screen presence and emotional fearlessness, McKenna-Bruce anchors the film with a superb performance. Manning Walker keeps the focus on Tara’s point of view, so the audience feels what she’s feeling at all times. And most of the time Tara is not sure, and that’s what makes her story fascinating and this film enthralling. [Murtada Elfadl]

Hundreds Of Beavers

HUNDREDS OF BEAVERS Official Trailer (2024) Slapstick Comedy Film

One impromptu trapper, Jean Kayak (co-writer/star Ryland Brickson Cole Tews), newly thawed and alone in the tundra, has found himself thrust back in time, to an era where each action has a comedic reaction—to a time when you could saw off the end of a plank and then stand there in the air, gravity giving us the grace period to laugh our asses off before taking its toll. The dialogue-free, black-and-white comedy Hundreds of Beavers is assembled from parts as disparate as The Legend of Zelda, Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush, JibJabs, Terry Gilliam animation, Guy Maddin and Jackass. Acme is namechecked amid Méliès-like stop tricks and Muppety puppetry, while its aesthetic veers from painting broad violence upon a sparse snowy canvas to running through the shadowy bowels of an elaborate German Expressionist fortress. It is stupid, it is sublime. The first time one of the mascot-suited critters eats shit on the icy landscape, you will laugh. And you won’t stop until the credits roll. One of the best comedies in the last few years, Hundreds of Beavers might actually contain more punchlines than beavers. By recognizing and reclaiming the methods used during the early days of movies, filmmaker Mike Cheslik’s outrageous escalation of the classic hunter-hunted dynamic becomes a miraculous DIY celebration of enduring, universal truths about how we make each other laugh. [Jacob Oller]

I Saw The TV Glow

I Saw The TV Glow | Official Trailer HD | A24

With their previous feature, the excellent We’re All Going To The World’s Fair, writer-director Jane Schoenbrun charted that kind of obsession in the form of an obscure internet game with potentially dangerous consequences. This time, Schoenbrun gets more personal, and more primally haunting. I Saw The TV Glow is a remarkable portrait of pop-culture obsession—how it can unite us, change us, and ripple down through our entire lives in ways both uplifting and unsettling. The particular pop-culture obsession dominating I Saw The TV Glow is The Pink Opaque, a supernatural teen drama that airs late on Saturday nights. It follows two best friends united across a long distance by a psychic connection, which helps them battle all manner of monsters. Owen (played by Ian Foreman as a pre-teen and Justice Smith as a high-schooler) is a lonely kid who’s caught glimpses of the show while channel surfing, and is intrigued enough to approach superfan Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine) about The Pink Opaque’s true nature. The film’s visuals conjure the sense that we’re watching two people adrift in a sea of boring, faded reality, sailing this way and that in search of the connective tissue that will lend meaning to their lives. Of course, the real meat of I Saw The TV Glow comes as Schoenbrun dials into the transformative nature of their characters’ obsession, which might bring about a metamorphosis or might just be triggering dangerous, numbing dissociative episodes. If you’re willing to lean into the film, and follow Schoenbrun’s tone-poem instincts, you’ll find something magical. They’ve charted a narrative that’s simultaneously a tale of a piece of media changing someone’s life and a tale of someone taking the long way ’round to who they really are. [Matthew Jackson]

The Idea Of You

The Idea of You – Official Trailer | Prime Video

Starring one of the best actresses of her generation delivering one of her finest performances, and filled with a sincere sense of passion that will have eager audiences humming in their seats, The Idea Of You is one of the best romantic comedies we’ve seen in quite a while. The Idea Of You follows Solène (Anne Hathaway), a single mom who’s poured all of her energy into raising a teenage daughter (Ella Rubin) and running a trendy art gallery in L.A.’s Silver Lake neighborhood. But Solène also isn’t shy about admitting that she’s searching for something more, some sense of fulfillment that she hopes to find on a solo camping trip she’s planning. That is, until her frustrating ex-husband (Reid Scott) bails on taking their daughter and her friends to Coachella to see August Moon, a One Direction-esque boy band that she loved in junior high. Solène finds herself face to face with Hayes Campbell (Nicholas Galitzine), August Moon’s handsome and charming lead singer, who’s taken by her self-assuredness and her initial failure to recognize him. It’s a nice meet-cute, one that Solène shrugs off, at least until Hayes shows up at her gallery in an effort to get her know her, setting off a whirlwind romance that will take the 40-year-old single mom around the world with the 24-year-old pop star. Hathaway relaxes into a very human, very vulnerable role, sitting right in the key emotional pockets of the story, and simmering with a mixture of longing, doubt, and joy. That Galitzine is able to share the screen with her without getting completely blown out of focus is an achievement, but then he goes further, matching her emotional rhythms for some great work of his own. All that, plus some very catch boy-band tunes, a breezy comedic tone, and a third act that keeps even seasoned rom-com fans guessing at least a little bit, means that The Idea Of You is a very welcome new piece to the rom-com canon. [Matthew Jackson]

In A Violent Nature

In a Violent Nature – Official Trailer | HD | IFC Films

Chris Nash’s feature film debut, In A Violent Nature, immediately involves the audience in the shifting mire of the slasher’s ecosystem, with its protagonist Johnny (Ry Barrett) crawling out from a layer of silt and dead leaves after a fairly innocuous conversation between disembodied voices. It’s like the woods themselves are possessed, blurring the line between setting and characters–all of which is characteristic of Nash’s unusual filmmaking. Background bleeds into foreground, action into inaction, violence into natural serenity. With such an unhurried outlook—one that remains unfailingly locked into the villain’s perspective—there is the potential for it to feel like a video game gimmick, but Nash teases out the cinematic value of this methodical vantagepoint. Any sense of being tricked is sidestepped by the director’s tight control of tone and space. Shots are painstakingly composed with long single takes, absorbing the sound of creaking boughs and snapping twigs with no interfering music, letting the patient spanning of the world around substitute the score. Through the escalating violence—culminating in one of the goriest kills ever preserved in film (you’ll know it when you see it)—Nash appeals to the purely physical sensation of witnessing death, employing a visceral, bodily empathy. With In A Violent Nature, Nash crafts something entirely new; composed, near and real. But the film’s sense of tone and timing prove that he also intimately understands why audiences were always invested in these marathons of blood, gore, and guts. [Anna McKibbin]


Infested | Official Trailer | Shudder

In Sébastien Vanicek’s Infested, a lone exotic spider makes its way into a French apartment building where an enterprising young man (Théo Christine) and his family and friends are trying to build a better life. Over the course of the following days, that lone spider becomes an army of deadly, relentless, constantly multiplying arachnids in a film that gives spider horror classic Arachnophobia a run for its money. What starts as a satisfyingly creepy creature feature eventually morphs into a survival horror clash for the ages, culminating in some truly jaw-dropping, brutal moments of eight-legged fury. [Matthew Jackson]

Janet Planet

Janet Planet | Official Trailer HD | A24

Set in Western Massachusetts during the hazy summer of 1991, Janet Planet, the cinematic debut from Pulitzer-winning playwright Annie Baker, exquisitely captures the texture of this time and place through an adolescent gaze. While Baker’s plays involve extended scenes in enclosed spaces, her foray into filmmaking is formally assured, implementing her long-held interest in sharp yet meandering dialogue alongside lush 16mm imagery. Some might find her style to be narratively insipid, but fans of her broader oeuvre will find familiar comfort—and broadened fascination—in the quiet minutiae she transmits to celluloid. After calling home with deadpan threats of suicide, 11-year-old Lacy (impressive newcomer Zoe Ziegler) adequately convinces her mother, Janet (Julianne Nicholson), to pick her up from what was supposed to be an extended sleepaway camp. Only then does Lacy realize that returning home may not have been the wisest decision, as she’ll need to share space with her mother’s current boyfriend, Wayne (Will Patton). While the relationship between Lacy and her mother is peppered with textbook signs of codependency, Janet is all too eager to share her time with a revolving door of lovers, friends, and spiritual counsel, much to her daughter’s ill-concealed frustration. Janet Planet hones in on would-be mundanity, from Lacy’s solitary walk to and from dreadful piano lessons to Avi’s long-winded spiritual ramblings. Yet Baker is also attuned to how routine environments can become heightened by a child’s rosy perspective—a mall becomes an elaborate playground, a new shampoo at showertime a titillating experiment—compounded here by the magic of summer smog. Few artists can so seamlessly transcend artistic labels, but Annie Baker has proven that she possesses the natural knack for quiet storytelling across mediums. [Natalia Keogan]

Kinds Of Kindness

KINDS OF KINDNESS | Official Trailer | Searchlight Pictures

There was a subversive thrill to the original title of Yorgos Lanthimos’ new anthology movie, the “triptych fable” Kinds Of Kindness. Calling a movie “And” would have broken pretty much every commonsense SEO and marketing rule; the very idea of it felt like a cheeky two-fingers up to studio execs and search engines everywhere (even if it would have posed a bit of a nightmare for anyone trying to find showtimes). But watching Kinds Of Kindness—which sees Lanthimos reunite with Efthymis Filippou, his writing partner on nearly everything besides The Favourite and Poor Things—the wisdom of its retitling becomes clear, and the rebellious appeal of the original name is quickly forgotten. If you’ve ever seen a Lanthimos film, you’ll recognize an obvious ironic undertone to this new title, as compassion and selflessness are routinely absent from his sterile worlds. But more than Lanthimos and Filippou’s other collaborations, Kinds Of Kindness is also an intensely icy immersion into the duo’s psychological dystopias—where identities are surreally warped and emotion disconcertingly cold—and so the title’s emphasis on human connection feels perfectly fitting. Kinds Of Kindness three chapters are most obviously linked by their titles: “The Death of RMF,” “RMF is Flying,” and “RMF Eats A Sandwich,” which all reference a silent and otherwise anonymous man who is closer to being a plot axle than an actual character. Each episode also shares a tight troupe of actors: Jesse Plemons, Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe, Margaret Qualley, Hong Chau, Mamoudou Athie, and Joe Alwyn (with Hunter Schafer appearing only in the concluding chapter). But at their core, what most unites the movie’s trio of stories is their common exploration of choice and control, subjugation and submission. The movie is not unlike a sicko’s take on The Five Love Languages—only here, voluntary “acts of service” are reimagined as sacrifices made to satisfy the sadistic demands of emotional tyrants. At first glance, Kinds Of Kindness may seem to lack some of the surface elements most associated with Lanthimos’ work: For example, cinematographer Robbie Ryan largely retires his fish-eye lens here, after putting it in heavy rotation on Poor Things. But in deeper ways, the movie feels like peak Lanthimos. After a few years of collaborating with other writers on more accessible films, the director reunites with Filippou to dig their heels in on their idiosyncratic style, never bolder or more divisive than it is here. Following Poor Things’ brief foray into happy endings, Kinds Of Kindness sees Lanthimos return to the kind of movie it feels perverse to say you “enjoy.” In short: The Greek freak is back. [Farah Cheded]

La Chimera

LA CHIMERA – Official Trailer

The past is so close you can almost touch it in Alice Rohrwacher’s romantic treasure hunt, La Chimera. Set in the liminal space between living and dying, better known as the Italian countryside, Rohwacher’s carefully excavated narrative unearths a funny and deeply satisfying meditation on loss and hope. We meet Arthur (Josh O’Connor) in a dream. From his first-person perspective he admires the face of the woman he loved, lost, and is desperate to find again, Beniamina (Yile Yara Vianello). She haunts Arthur from just beyond his grasp, leaving behind a red string from the past that he longs to pull. Luckily, that’s what Arthur does best. Arthur’s main quest is for a holy grail of another sort. Returning to Italy hoping to reconnect with Beniamina and pay off a lingering debt, Arthur begrudgingly reteams with his old gang of Italian tomaroli, or tomb raiders. They scour for valuables found in their backyard, aided in no small part by—ahem—Arthur’s supernatural connection with Tuscany’s subbasements of yore. The tombaroli live among ruins, calling ramshackle shacks devoid of heat, furniture, or even floors home. At this stage, in the decomposing white linen suit he was seemingly born in, Arthur is starting to resemble the relics he hunts. He finds his first tomb at Beniamina’s home, where her mother, Flora (an effortlessly comforting Isabella Rosellini), resides. With the rounded edges recalling its 16mm photography, the film has an old-world feel, as if we’re seeing something uncovered from the past. Written with Carmela Covino, who contributed to Rohwacher’s Happy As Lazzaro and her Oscar-nominated short Le Pupille, and Marco Pettenello, Rohwacher’s script hides surprises behind every line, revealing elements of Arthur’s past and recontextualizing his present. La Chimera, a formal delight that holds no shortage of surprises, enchants the viewer with its decaying spaces and lively performances. [Matt Schimkowitz]

Monkey Man

Monkey Man | Official Trailer

Dev Patel did his homework. But it’s one thing to know your influences, and another entirely to put them into practice onscreen while losing none of your own singular voice. For all its many triumphs—and Monkey Man is a film packed with triumphs on a moment-by-moment level—Patel’s film may have found its greatest success in the way it seamlessly, powerfully translates the director’s pure, kinetic love of cinema into something bold, new, and unforgettable. Patel stars as Kid, a bedraggled young man who lives in the slums of India. Kid has scars, both mental and physical, that will never fade, at least not until he’s finally worked his way close enough to pull the trigger and get his vengeance on the men responsible for his pain. Within Monkey Man’s many action sequences, viewers will see everything from Taxi Driver to The Big Boss to The Raid to The Villainess, and so much more, all delivered with unbridled, frenzied energy by Patel and cinematographer Sharone Meir. But Patel’s not just stringing together references, nor is he playing by all the rules that a lifetime of watching action movies might have taught him. For all the blood and all the brutality—and there is a lot of it, all expertly crafted—Monkey Man is at its most powerful when it quiets down. Kid is not just a fighter carrying decades of pain, but a man trying to find a way to still his restless mind and soothe his aching heart. Patel gets deeper into the metaphors of the story he’s telling than an action story would seem to suggest, embedding Kid not just with the poor, but with the outcasts who dare to walk their own path in a society that keeps pushing them backward. It imbues the film with a sense of community and adds to the mythic tone in ways that Kid’s journey as a loner never could. Monkey Man is a muscular, emotional, ferocious triumph of a movie, and when it’s over, you’ll want to go right back in and watch it all over again. [Matthew Jackson]

Orion And The Dark

Orion and the Dark | Official Trailer #2 | Netflix

The notion of an animated feature for children written by Charlie Kaufman, the anxiety-riddled scribe of metaphysical nesting-doll movies like Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, sounds about as unlikely as a G-rated Disney movie directed by David Lynch, or Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor composing a Pixar score. Yet those things did happen, to acclaim aplenty, and now, so has this. Orion And The Dark may look almost nothing like any Charlie Kaufman film to date, but it bears his personality. While that might be a bit much for the youngest kids, for 11-year-olds like those depicted in this story, it may strike a chord simply by refusing to underestimate their intelligence. Here, he takes a children’s tome, one designed to help 4-year-olds overcome their fear of the dark, and makes it about existential dread, right at the age most kids are starting to experience such a thing without necessarily having a name for it. Director Sean Charmatz (Trolls: Holiday In Harmony) keeps the visuals kid-friendly, but he also keeps Kaufman’s voice recognizable throughout. And though Orion And The Dark appears to go through the motions of a family flick, it throws some serious curves en route to a loving yet emotionally devastating resolution. Will kids enjoy it? Let’s just say that the references to David Foster Wallace, Saul Bass, and Werner Herzog (playing himself) probably aren’t for them—but they’re very much for you. The original book requires a parent’s judgment call as to whether their 4-year-old is ready to face fears of the dark; the movie requires one regarding their 11-year-olds’ abilities to deal with fear of death, bullies, climate apocalypse, and literally everything else they can think of … and beyond. [Luke Y. Thompson]

The People’s Joker

The People’s Joker – Trailer (In Theaters Now!)

Bursting with DIY creativity, a casual observer might think The People’s Joker is simply a fan project spearheaded by a marginalized creator. However, filmmaker Vera Drew, with co-writer Bri LeRose, uses the rough outline of 2019’s Joker as a springboard to explore her own experiences with the calcified halls of the comedy industry, the ways damaged individuals harm one another out of shame and ignorance, and her struggles with discovering her transgender identity. Retrospectively narrating her story from humble rural beginnings as a child in Smallville, Joker the Harlequin (Vera Drew) guides us through a young adulthood where her mother (Lynn Downey) puts her on a regimen of the antidepressant drug Smylex, and comedy stardom is a path to escape on the stage of UCB Live, an unsubtle send-up of the Upright Citizens Brigade, SNL, and its showrunner Lorne Michaels (a flailing animated facsimile voiced by Maria Bamford). Shot entirely on green screen, The People’s Joker bears a proudly artificial aesthetic that balks at conventional notions of consistency. Characters animated in 3D and stop-motion or as puppets interact with the human cast, sometimes with deliberate care in their construction, other times with an equally deliberate post-punk carelessness. Some scenes are just entirely animated in 2D, not only for high action but for deeply intimate moments, signaling this creative choice is not meant solely to cut budgetary corners. It’s a chaotic aesthetic that comes across as coherent because it is so chaotic. On one level, it directly lampoons the artificial mechanisms by which big-budget blockbusters tell their stories, yet it also provides an avenue for deeply personal storytelling within the framework of our shared cultural mythology. The People’s Joker is a chimera built of conflicts and contradictions, but so are we all. Our jigsaw assemblage of human experiences is universally messy, and if there’s one thing Drew seems to be telling us, it’s that we should be relishing those paradoxes. Then we won’t have to paint on smiles anymore. We can just be happy. [Leigh Monson]

Robot Dreams

Robot Dreams – Official Trailer

Eclectic Spanish filmmaker Pablo Berger has made silent movies before, but never one quite like Robot Dreams. A New York tourism advert for anyone who thinks WALL-E sold out to Big Talkie after breaking its opening vow of silence, Robot Dreams communicates the aches, pains, and joys of a friendship deferred without a word of dialogue. Though its minimally designed characters don’t speak, the nuts and bolts of this Robot’s dreams complicate Berger’s tour of New York, filled with authentic urban soundscapes and a population of anthropomorphic animals and their robot companions. Opening on the Queensboro Bridge under deep blue dusk, Robot Dreams introduces us to Dog, a lonely mutt living in the ’80s and spending another night with Atari and frozen mac and cheese. After beating himself in Pong (again), Dog finally acknowledges the loneliness of beating yourself at Pong (again). So, at the behest of a perfectly timed infomercial, he orders a new friend: Robot. With a flick of the neck, Robot boots to life like a Reagan-era PC loading DOS, and suddenly, Dog’s life has a purpose. Robot Dreams’ strength is in Robot and Dog, who resemble animated shadows of Abbott and Costello or Laurel and Hardy. With those archetypes in mind, Berger highlights their differences for maximum communication. Dog is pragmatic and careful, aware of the consequences of social infractions, and pays the price for them. Robot is more open-minded and ready to greet each new adventure with a welcome smile and wave. But in their separation, they find connecting with those around them difficult. With Robot Dreams, Berger has also crafted an aesthetically gentle but emotionally hardened New York City. Operating under the belief that there is little one can control in a city of that size, Berger allows his film to take flights of fancy that loop around back to companionship. How can a city so filled with people feel so lonely? Without uttering a word, Robot Dreams has an answer. [Matt Schimkowitz]


Stopmotion – Official Trailer | HD | IFC Films

Aisling Franciosi stars in this chilling, uncomfortable tale as a stop-motion animator who finds herself swept up in a new idea for a film to such an extent that it becomes alienating, frightening, and ultimately dangerous. The promise of exploring the horror space through stop-motion animation is reason enough to check out Robert Morgan’s film, but Franciosi’s powerful performance propels Stopmotion beyond gimmicks and into the realm of truly harrowing emotional terror, as art and artist merge into something new, violent, and unforgettable. [Matthew Jackson]


Thelma – Official Trailer #2 | June Squibb, Fred Hechinger, Richard Roundtree, Parker Posey

How often does a film come along that you can comfortably recommend to literally everyone in your life? Not often enough. For that reason alone, Thelma deserves to be celebrated. That’s not just down to the playful action-spoof premise or the multigenerational cast, though those are both worth praising. Thelma is simply an enjoyable film with an endearing protagonist you can’t help but root for. It helps in this case that the protagonist is played by the indomitable June Squibb (Nebraska, and many, many more). At 93 years old she capably holds down the center of this film in the title role, with a little help from the late Richard Roundtree (Shaft himself) as her longtime friend and adventuring sidekick Ben. It’s a delight to spend time with these feisty characters as they traverse the San Fernando Valley via motorized scooter on a quixotic quest to track down the thieves who scammed $10,000 out of Thelma over the phone. First-time filmmaker Josh Margolin—who wrote, directed, and edited the film—has said that he based the character of Thelma on his own grandmother. There are lots of little touches that add dimension to the characters, like a running gag in which Thelma keeps thinking she recognizes random strangers, or Ben playing Daddy Warbucks in an all-senior production of Annie, or the moments that aren’t played for laughs, like when they talk about all the people they know who have died. Margolin wisely stays out of the actors’ way in these scenes. He just gives them space and lets them cook. On one level, Thelma is a fun and funny twist on the action genre. It’s an entertaining ride that lasts for a breezy 90 minutes or so. If that’s all you take away from it, that’s perfectly okay. On a deeper level, though, it has some important things to say about the final stages of life. It may make you think of words like “dignity” and “decency.” It asks you to appreciate how hard it is to hold on to your sense of self as your body and mind start slipping away. It encourages you to look at the elders around you with respect. Whichever way you approach the film, it makes for a fine summer outing for audiences of all ages. [Cindy White]

We Grown Now

WE GROWN NOW – Official Trailer (HD)

From its very first shot, Minhal Baig’s masterful We Grown Now grabs you. A still shot of an empty hallway (in, as we learn, the Cabrini-Green housing project in Chicago) beckons you to discover it, to let the many lives it houses drift through you. We hear scraping. We hear sneakers squeaking. We hear, and soon see, two kids. They’re carrying a mattress. There’s an unhurried sense of curiosity being awoken by this image, by this action. And with time, Baig’s latest feature further establishes itself as a gorgeous gem of a film with a distinct and engrossing sense of place. The year is 1992 and the two boys we first meet in that opening sequence are best friends Malik and Eric (Blake Cameron James and Gian Knight Ramirez), two Black boys who have learned how to make Cabrini-Green an expansively imagined space in which to thrive. That mattress they painstakingly carry down several sets of stairs and then across an asphalted open area before they arrange it next to several other discarded ones soon becomes yet another way for them to jump—to fly into the guileless childhood they unknowingly cherish. Such innocence is the guiding principle of We Grown Now, whose title obviously nudges us to where the film will end up, at the moment when Malik and Eric will have to say goodbye. Throughout, we watch these two boys and their families assess the ever-changing world around them: Malik’s single mother (a soulful Jurnee Smollett) struggles with getting promoted and taken seriously at work, work that barely covers their living expenses. Eric’s single father (a grounded Lil Rel Howery) is still grieving, unsure how best to keep his unruly little son in check. Perhaps what they need is a way out. But if they do leave Calibri-Green, what does that mean for the life they’ve made there? Tackling those questions—and broader ones about public housing, brutal policing, racism, and urban planning—Baig’s film is a tender meditation on what we make with what we have and on the flights of imagination necessary to carve new paths ahead. [Manuel Betancourt]

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