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It’s only May, but it’s already been a great year at the movies.
We’ve had surprise box-office hits, strong genre fare, early awards contenders, and everything else in between. If the first four months of 2023 are any indication, it’s looking to be a fantastic year for cinema.
We launched our list of the best movies of 2023 in February, but we will continue to update it as the year goes along, adding our favorite movies as we catch up with them. At the end of the year, this will then turn into our definitive list, with our staff voting on the best movies of 2023.
For now, consider this a sampling platter — a rolling list that encapsulates the many different kinds of good movies that have been released this year, and the different tastes in movies we have on our staff. There’s plenty in here for any kind of movie watcher to enjoy.
Because this list is not ranked (yet), we’ll be listing the entries in reverse chronological order. That means the most recent release will be listed first, and then the next most recent, all the way down to the earliest release of the year that we liked. That also means new additions will be surfaced earlier in the list. Because we’re thinking of you, dear reader.
Without further ado, here are the best movies of 2023 so far, and where to watch them. Our latest update added Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Enjoy!
Run time: 2h 29m
Director: James Gunn
Cast: Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper
James Gunn’s presumably final outing with his Marvel team of spacefaring aliens and misfits is calculated to a fault, full of little “gotcha” setups designed specifically to make viewers want something out of a given character so it’ll be fun when it pays off later. (When Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer snarls that dancing is for idiots, so he doesn’t ever dance, you know full well what he’s going to be dancing by the end of the movie.) But it’s an effective ploy, frankly, at least for people who already have any affection for the Guardians movies and their messy team of badly broken people who just need a win, no matter how small and specific.
Guardians 3 goes darker than the previous two movies, with a graphic storyline about Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and his harrowing past as a lab experiment, and with nominal team leader Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) descending into alcoholism as he mourns his relationship with Gamora (Zoe Saldaña), who died, then emerged from a different timeline where she never got to know him. But it’s still much the same in spirit as the previous two movies, with a lot of ridiculous straight-faced banter, some manic action, some heartfelt personal connection, and a whole bunch of small personal payoffs.
Even though most of the characters here aren’t human, this movie has a lot more human emotion than most Marvel movies manage, and it pulls together a ton of micro storylines into something resembling both a satisfying goodbye and a hello for a potential new team of Guardians. In spite of the film’s darker elements, this one is all candy, and it’s appropriately sweet. —Tasha Robinson
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is now playing in theaters.
Genre: Fantasy adventure
Run time: 2h 2m
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Cast: Nanoka Hara, Hokuto Matsumura (Japanese); Nichole Sakura, Josh Keaton (English)
Suzume is a fantastical adventure, featuring a giant earthquake-causing worm, portals to the afterlife, and a hot guy turned into a chair. But it’s also a grounded exploration of trauma and grief, and is fundamentally about reconnecting with the world around and rediscovering the will to live.
Makoto Shinkai has once again woven a vibrant film that bursts with funny moments — any scene with the leading chair hobbling around, for instance — that never undermines the heavier emotional beats. Suzume, a high school student, and Sōta, the hot-guy-turned-chair, take a road trip across Japan, chasing after a mischievous cat spirit in order to stop impending disasters. Along the way, Suzume meets a whole host of different people and reconnects with her aunt, all while being forced to grapple with her past in a way she has avoided for years.
Those familiar with Shinkai’s previous works — particularly his two most recent films, Your Name and Weathering With You — will recognize familiar themes: star-crossed lovers, gorgeous blue skies, and the idea of connecting with others when the whole world is crashing down. But everything that didn’t quite work in those two films triumphantly coalesces in Suzume. —Petrana Radulovic
Suzume is now playing in theaters.
Genre: Action comedy
Run time: 1h 43m
Director: Nida Manzoor
Cast: Priya Kansara, Ritu Arya, Nimra Bucha
Imagine your sister has dropped out of art school — sure, OK, who hasn’t taken a break from their studies? Now imagine she’s also engaged to some jabroni she’s only known for a month. It’s a little more concerning, considering she used to be your partner in crime, there to encourage and film every new stunt move. This (admittedly increasingly specific) hypothetical is the lived reality for Ria (Priya Kansara), who dreams of being a stuntwoman and loves her sister deeply. Of course, the combination of those two things means she does what any of us would: plan a wedding heist to rescue her sister from what’s surely a fate worse than death.
Written and directed by Nida Manzoor, Polite Society excels because it never feels like Ria’s mindset is wrong per se — in fact, it revels in it, overflowing with style and confidence. The movie jumps between genres and tones and makes it all look easy, melding the wedding prep comedy of Lena’s (The Umbrella Academy’s Ritu Arya) nuptials with Ria’s action thrill ride. Sister fights become knockdown stunts, and a beauty routine becomes literal torture.
What Polite Society has in spades is heart. It never settles into a single groove, instead dancing its way to a conclusion that pulls together all its various threads in predictably grand fashion. Ria’s story may be singular, but all of us can relate to the enthusiasm and care she brings to her life. (Even if the rest of us are still trying to nail our flying reverse spinning kick.) —Zosha Millman
Polite Society is now playing in theaters.
The Pope’s Exorcist
Run time: 1h 43m
Director: Julius Avery
Cast: Russell Crowe, Franco Nero, Laurel Marsden
Like its protagonist, The Pope’s Exorcist knows exactly what it’s about. Father Gabriele Amorth (an Italian-accented Russell Crowe) is, as the title suggests, the exorcist whose boss is the pope. He does not take guff from anyone, be that a demon taunting him about his sins or a panel of cardinals questioning his methods (something he laughs off with a few sips of his doppio and a reminder of who he answers to — again, the pope). Father Amorth does his job, and he does it well.
The Pope’s Exorcist is the same way. As Father Amorth faces his most ferocious demon yet, the exorcism flick dips into horror and comedy with equal glee, artfully teasing out its story with a knowing wink and artful camera shots. A particularly shuddering one as the demon takes hold of its host is enough to shake off any preconceived notions you might have of this film: this Pope’s Exorcist is gonna be a banger.
And lo, it is. The real Father Amorth claimed to have performed some 160,000 exorcisms over the course of his career, but The Pope’s Exorcist covers just one of them, at a small, former abbey in Spain. Such contained chaos gives the movie license to just go off: Father Amorth and his assistant uncover a vast conspiracy, and the movie rises to meet the challenge. Crowe’s performance anchors the whole movie with the warm wisdom, small, easy chuckle, and absolute devotion that a premise like this needs. It all adds up to make something surprisingly deft, an exorcism movie with a knowing smile and Russell Crowe riding around Rome on Vespa. That’s divine cinema, baby. —ZM
The Pope’s Exorcist is playing in theaters, and is available for digital rental or purchase at VOD vendors.
Run time: 2h 19m
Director: Byun Sung-hyun
Cast: Jeon Do-yeon, Sol Kyung-gu, Esom
Netflix’s first action movie banger of 2023, this stylish Korean thriller is about a world-class assassin balancing the challenges of her job with the difficulties of being a single mom. Jeon Do-yeon stars as Gil (“Kill” to her co-workers) Boksoon, the top assassin at her firm. She’s looking for a way out, as she realizes she barely knows her teenage daughter.
Let me sell you on one specific fight sequence, to give you an idea of what the movie’s got for you. Boksoon and an ally are engaged in fights on opposite sides of the same wall. The wall has two doors — one on the far left, one on the far right — that are both open. As the two groups fight on either side, the camera continually rotates through the open doors. Director Byun Sung-hyun punctuates the moments where the camera passes through the doors with action beats of people being slammed into the wall (sometimes appearing on the other side), giving the whole scene a vibrant rhythm and connecting the two fights while still keeping them separate.
With playful fight sequences (one involves a whiteboard marker, another invokes Raiders of the Lost Ark), clever editing (we see Boksoon play out multiple approaches to a variety of situations, whether it’s a target she’s trying to kill or a daughter she’s trying to parent), a powerhouse lead performance, and beautiful sets and costumes, Kill Boksoon is a delight for the senses and great mix of domestic drama and rollicking fun action thrills. —Pete Volk
Kill Boksoon is streaming on Netflix.
Genre: Crime thriller
Run time: 1h 43m
Director: Daniel Goldhaber
Cast: Ariela Barer, Lukas Gage, Forrest Goodluck
An unconventional adaptation of the controversial 2021 nonfiction novel, How to Blow Up a Pipeline applies the ethos of the book (which argued sabotage is a necessary part of environmental activism) to a fictional scenario. In the movie, a group of people from different walks of life gather in Texas with a plan: to blow up an oil pipeline and finally enact some real change. And the movie absolutely rules.
It’s a perfect marriage of the heist thriller genre and the movie’s radical politics, with a likable group of young people and an extremely tense final act. Sure to be one of the buzziest and most controversial movies of the year, don’t mistake it for an empty vehicle for controversy; How to Blow Up a Pipeline is a thoughtful, masterful work that weaves in the principles of what makes heist thrillers fun to great effect. Don’t miss it. —PV
How to Blow Up a Pipeline is playing in theaters, and is available for digital rental or purchase at VOD vendors.
Genre: Martial arts drama
Run time: 1h 25m
Director: Ernesto Díaz Espinoza
Cast: Marko Zaror, Eyal Meyer, Gina Aguad
Marko Zaror is one of the most exciting action stars working today. He’s an incredibly skilled martial artist and acrobat who has made a career out of jaw-dropping fights as villains in direct-to-video action hits (Undisputed 3: Redemption, Savage Dog), guest spots in blockbusters (Machete Kills, Alita: Battle Angel, and most recently John Wick: Chapter Four), and leading roles in Chilean action cinema (Kiltro, Mandrill, Redeemer).
Fist of the Condor sees Zaror team up once again with director Ernesto Díaz Espinoza in an 85-minute old-school martial arts drama in which he plays twin brothers at odds with each other over an ancient text that teaches the movie’s titular martial art. Zaror, who also choreographed the movie’s fight scenes, excels, as Fist of the Condor makes the most of his considerable skills. There are high-flying kicks, rapid displays of martial arts forms, and the drama inherent to great cinematic fights.
The movie is at its best when leaning into the action, but that’s not all it has to offer. In addition to the story of long-lost brothers pitted against each other, Espinoza shoots the landscape of Chile in a way that builds the drama of the fights and adds an element of tranquility to the chaos. For fans of martial arts cinema, Fist of the Condor is a must-watch. And for the curious, watch Zaror’s jaw-dropping fight against Scott Adkins in Undisputed 3, and then make your decision. —PV
Fist of the Condor is streaming on Hi-Yah!.
Genre: Romantic comedy
Run time: 1h 22m
Director: Raine Allen-Miller
Cast: David Jonsson, Vivian Oparah, Benjamin Sarpong-Broni
Something of a shorter, jazzier, more free-form take on Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, set in the trendy, arty young people’s London of I May Destroy You, Rye Lane puts two strangers together on a long, breezy walk-and-talk that neither of them really wants to end.
Dom (David Jonsson) and Yas (Vivian Oparah) are both fresh off major breakups. When they meet at a mutual friend’s terrible art showing, there’s no sense that either of them is really hunting for their next relationship — but they find a spark in each other. This isn’t a rom-com in the sense most people mean the term these days: It’s funny and romantic, but fairly short on the kind of magical-realism story contrivances or big, ridiculous barriers that would keep the couple apart. What it has instead is a first-time director energetically playing with visual and narrative style, running through lenses and angles with abandon, giving the whole film a subjective feel that crawls into the characters’ heads (sometimes literally) to see how they visualize each other’s stories or see each other differently after the latest exchange of ideas. It’s a very small, personal getting-to-know-you movie that goes big and stylish, with huge emotions and outsized romantic gestures as part of the landscape, in addition to the actual landscape of London’s Peckham and Brixton neighborhoods. Even for people weary of rom-coms and screen romance, it’s a surprisingly engaging, slyly winning movie. —TR
Rye Lane is available to watch on Hulu.
John Wick: Chapter 4
Run time: 2h 49m
Director: Chad Stahelski
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Donnie Yen, Ian McShane
John Wick: Chapter 4 is almost too big of a movie. Almost.
The latest entry in Keanu Reeves and Chad Stahelski’s massive action series takes the character, and the world, right up to its logical limits with some of the biggest and best action-blockbuster set-pieces ever, each given the inventive and creatively violent love and care the series has made its name on.
Perhaps most impressive about this particular film in the John Wick series is the fact that John’s not really its main character at all. Instead, that honor falls more squarely to the absolutely terrific Donnie Yen, who plays Caine, a blind assassin and longtime friend of John’s who has been set on his trail by the High Table and its Marquis (Bill Skarsgård).
With Caine getting most of the emotional arc of the movie, and its payoff, John is freed to highlight one of the things Keanu Reeves is best at: supporting. Whether it’s as a scene partner in an emotional or epic moment or as an opponent in an action scene, Reeves is tremendous at shaping his body, performance, and style to fit the things that the other actors around him are most adept at.
This fact is a large part of the reason the John Wick series’ endless list of action-movie icons always looks their best — along with the hard work of Stahelski and his crew of stunt choreographers and action veterans. But whether it’s a gunfight with a flaming shotgun, a discotheque duel with Scott Adkins, or even a showdown at dawn with Yen, Reeves is always helping his John Wick 4 scene partners shine, which carries the series to new, and previously impossible to imagine, heights in its fourth entry. —AG
John Wick: Chapter 4 is playing in theaters.
Genre: Sports drama
Run time: 1h 56m
Director: Michael B. Jordan
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Jonathan Majors
The third installment in the Creed series sees franchise star Michael B. Jordan not only step back into the ring as heavyweight boxing scion Adonis Creed, but also, for the first time, take the role of director. Set several years after the events of 2018’s Creed II, a now retired Adonis is enjoying the fruits of his labor, raising his young daughter, Amara, along with his wife, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), and mentoring the next generation of heavyweight boxing champs. That all changes when Damian Anderson (Jonathan Majors), a formerly incarcerated childhood friend of Adonis, reenters his life with the request that Adonis give him the opportunity to fight for the championship himself. When Damian’s machinations are brought to light, Adonis must face not only his old friend, but his own long-buried past in search of reconciliation, resolution, and atonement.
In the same way that no director other than Ryan Coogler could produce a movie like the original Creed, no director other than Michael B. Jordan could make a sequel quite like Creed III. Jordan’s idiosyncrasies and passions for visual storytelling and editing are writ large and deep across every shot of Creed III, from the film’s many (many) nods to anime, to his distinctive, exhilarating approach to fight choreography and framing. Jordan is entirely in his element throughout the course of Creed III, as is Majors, whose performance as Anderson elevates the character from a mere paper-thin antagonist to a fully formed character as compelling as Adonis himself, equal turns insidious and sympathetic in his own right. In Creed III, Adonis isn’t fighting to claim his birthright or right the injustices incurred by his father, but transcend both his birth father Apollo and his surrogate father Rocky Balboa to become his own man and fight for his own legacy. For both Michael B. Jordan and Adonis Creed, Creed III is nothing short of a triumph. —Toussaint Egan
Creed III is available for digital rental or purchase on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, and Vudu.
Genre: Found-footage horror
Run time: 1h 40m
Director: Robbie Banfitch
Cast: Robbie Banfitch, Angela Basolis, Scott Schamell, Michelle May
Found-footage movies don’t often feel like something new, which is exactly what makes The Outwaters so remarkable. Joining trend-bucking movies like Lake Mungo or the original Paranormal Activity, The Outwaters shakes the genre hard enough to send it straight to the gory cosmic center of horror.
The Outwaters follows a group of friends who head into a remote part of the Mojave Desert to film a music video. As the crew ventures farther and farther into the heat and sand, they eventually find something they shouldn’t have and realize it’s far too late for all of them. Up until that moment, The Outwaters feels like a normal, if a little slow, found-footage horror movie. But once things kick off in the Mojave, the movie never stops to breathe for even a second, bucking the slow ramp-up that most of the genre leans on.
Even more impressive is the way The Outwaters uses its camera. In some moments, the camera is almost self-consciously the focal point through which we see everything, like when we get a sideways view of the world as a character shuffles through the desert with the camera in their hand and their arms at their sides. Other times, the pretense of the camera feels like it melts away completely and we instead get eerie point-of-view shots, like the camera has momentarily melded with the eyes of the movie’s characters.
These moments, often lit by nothing other than a disembodied flashlight, help give the movie is creeping cosmic dread, melding found-footage staples with the feeling of being watched from just over your shoulder by a presence you can never see. Adding to this is The Outwaters’ outstanding effects and sound design, including slithering desert creatures and ominous creatures that feel like they’re emanating at once from outer space and the center of planet Earth. And that’s not to mention the movie’s copious and disgusting, but oh-so-effective, gore.
All of this may sound a little bit like a mess, but that itself is part of The Outwaters’ appeal too. Good found-footage horror transports you to the scene of something terrible, envelops you in the dread of the characters, and makes you feel like you’re part of their world. What makes The Outwaters special is that it makes you feel like you aren’t part of any world at all. —AG
Knock at the Cabin
Genre: Family drama (Shyamalan variant)
Run time: 1h 40m
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, Rupert Grint
If you haven’t checked in with M. Night Shyamalan’s brand of earnest filmmaking in a minute, you might’ve missed that the guy’s been on a bit of a hot streak. For whatever jokes people might make about his twist endings or his rocky post-Sixth Sense years, Old found poignancy in what could be a punchline, and Glass ambitiously capped off a long-running trilogy about superherodom.
Knock at the Cabin continues this run, and it’s some of his best direction in years — maybe primarily because it’s the first story in a while that’s felt like it can bear the weight of his skill. A family (Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, and Kristen Cui) suddenly find themselves held hostage by four people who claim the only way to stop the apocalypse is for their family to willingly choose one person to sacrifice. For all its philosophical prodding, Shyamalan keeps Knock at the Cabin grounded and contained. Within the titular cabin, he finds angles that tell the whole story, lingering on reactions to the sorrow in order to better show the true horror at hand. Every scene feels rich, a series of individual visual narratives getting woven together into something deeply human.
Most importantly to me, someone who likes to yell about movies, is the fact that Knock feels dense enough to bear scrutiny. Whether the sincere or ponderous or even undisguised parts of the story resonate with you almost feels beside the point. Knock at the Cabin earns its place on this list because it is a rich showcase from a director totally in control of what he’s trying to say. —ZM
Knock at the Cabin is available to watch on Peacock, or for digital rental or purchase on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, and Vudu.
Run time: 1h 57m
Director: Brandon Cronenberg
Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Mia Goth, Cleopatra Coleman
Death doesn’t have to be real in the world of Infinity Pool, at least not if you’re rich enough to turn it into a fun night out. Brandon Cronenberg, the director of 2020’s stellar Possessor, sets his third movie in a world that’s seemingly just like ours, with the one exception of a little island nation called La Tolqa that survives off of tourism and a very strange legal code: If someone commits a crime on the island, they will either be killed by a person they have wronged, or they can pay for a clone of themselves, one with all their exact memories and emotions, to be created and killed in their place.
The film follows Alexander Skarsgård as a writer named James Foster who’s vacationing on this island with his wife, Em (Cleopatra Coleman), who’s also paying for everything. When James and Em meet a strange couple played by Mia Goth and Jalil Lespert, they quickly fall into a night of drinking, drunk driving, and sneaking out of the heavily guarded walls of the island’s vacation resort. When James accidentally kills a pedestrian, he gets thrown into the island’s legal system, where he has to watch himself die. But that’s just Cronenberg ramping up.
James eventually falls into a social circle so wealthy that they’ve started committing crimes just to watch themselves die, obscuring their own identities and the very concept of death so completely as to rob them of any meaning at all. Rather than let the movie sit with the unfathomable existential horror of watching a carbon copy of yourself die, and being forced to wonder if you’re still really you or whether or not you’d be able to tell the difference, Cronenberg uses this moment as a jumping-off point to dive headlong into the themes of identity and corporeal ownership that seem to obsess him — at least based on his first two movies.
Infinity Pool is a bizarre, if not as bizarre as some might hope, look into the void of identity, and one of the most queasily fascinating, and existentially dreadful, movies of 2023 so far. —AG
Genre: Spy thriller
Run time: 2h 26m
Director: Siddharth Anand
Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone, John Abraham
Global megastar Shah Rukh Khan made his long-awaited return to movie screens in Pathaan, the fourth entry in the blockbuster YRF Spy Universe franchise. And boy, did he deliver.
SRK is Pathaan, a former special agent who returns to the fold to take down an exiled former operative (John Abraham) who is planning a dastardly scheme that could threaten millions of lives. In the process, Pathaan teams up with a Pakistani agent (Deepika Padukone) and an old friend from earlier in the franchise.
Pathaan is a spy blockbuster that harkens back to turn-of-the-(latest)-century Hollywood, taking notes from the Pierce Brosnan Bond movies and early Mission: Impossible movies for a globetrotting fun time. There are high-octane set-pieces, cool gadgets, big explosions, double- and triple-crosses, and gorgeous outfit after gorgeous outfit. It’s a feast for the senses, and there’s a good reason it’s the highest-grossing Indian movie of the year. A sequel is already on the way. —PV
Pathaan is available to watch on Prime Video.
Run time: 1h 38m
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Cast: Kang Soo-yeon, Kim Hyun-joo, Ryu Kyung-soo
Yeon Sang-ho is consistently one of the most interesting sci-fi filmmakers working today, touching on different branches of the genre, like apocalyptic fiction (Train to Busan, Hellbound) and superhero fiction (Psychokinesis). His latest movie, JUNG_E, harkens back to even more classic science fiction touchstones: artificial intelligence, cloning, robots, and the commodification of people and bodies (with a side of the more modern “humans as data products”).
In JUNG_E, most humans have been sent fleeing to space after the ravages of climate change. Two factions have emerged from these space colonies, and have been warring for decades. Instead of a sprawling war movie, Yeon instead decides to focus on a much smaller story, much to JUNG_E’s benefit: one of a lonely scientist tasked with cloning the perfect soldier from the brain of her comatose mother. It’s a stirring performance from the late Kang Soo-yeon, who died before the release of the movie, one that requires her to interview versions of her mother before shutting them down for good.
While not as consistently thrilling as some of his previous projects, JUNG_E is still very solid science fiction action fare. The movie thrives on its designs, with great creatures augmented by incredible sound effects like shifting gears and whirring machinery that bring the mechanical creatures to life. Yeon’s animation background goes a long way to making this work, clearly aiding his ability to frame and integrate CG characters into the rest of JUNG_E’s environments. It is also bookended by some banger fight scenes, which is always a plus. —Pete Volk
JUNG_E is available to watch on Netflix.
Run time: 1h 51m
Directors: Nicholas D. Johnson, Will Merrick
Cast: Storm Reid, Nia Long, Ken Leung
If Knives Out has proven anything, it’s that people are hungry for mysteries on the big screen. Missing — the spiritual sequel to 2018’s Searching — is what people don’t know they’ve been looking for. It’s a web of clues, a mess of mystery, all played within the computer screen of June (Storm Reid), who’s left to figure out what happened when her mom (Nia Long) doesn’t return from a vacation with her boyfriend.
Where Searching eked out its mystery by showing the struggles that a father can have with modern technology, Missing flips the script, using June’s more natural understanding of the internet to complicate her investigation. It’s smart — suddenly June and the audience are getting pulled down a rabbit hole with knowing suggestion. And because she’s more fluent in the ways of the computer, the mystery gets to be more complex.
Sure, Missing can strain the credulity of the whole exercise, but here’s the thing: I don’t care. I don’t care! June should be able to hire a person in a different country to go scout security footage, or leave her FaceTime up in the background just so we can see it. Once you get on board with those needs of the story you can acknowledge just how well Missing works from start to finish: It’s twisty and fun, smarter than it needs to be as it remixes the desktop-based tropes of Searching (and, in part, the mystery genre as a whole) to build a satisfyingly well-paced mystery. The mystery genre deserves more, movies that feels big and meaty. And whether it’s splashed across the big screen or just a computer one, Missing manages to bring its A game. —ZM
Missing is available for digital rental or purchase on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, and Vudu.
Genre: Crime dramedy
Run time: 2h 9m
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Gang Dong-won, Bae Doona, Lee Ji-eun
Shoplifters is one of my favorite movies of the 2010s, so it makes sense that I would be similarly susceptible to Hirokazu Kore-eda’s newest found-family movie, Broker.
Kore-eda’s second production outside of Japan (following 2019’s French production The Truth), Broker is another story about a group of people without ill intent committing crimes to survive. This time, it’s two men (Song Kang-ho and Gang Dong-won) who sell babies dropped off at a church’s baby box on the adoption black market. But when a young woman (Lee Ji-eun, also known as the singer IU) changes her mind and returns to pick up her baby, she learns of their scheme and becomes entangled in it.
The result is a sometimes messy depiction of a series of weighty concepts: The impossible expectations of motherhood in a society that doesn’t adequately provide support, the way children are treated as objects instead of people with autonomy, and of the many different forms family units can take. But it’s not the narrative that draws me to Broker. Instead, it’s Kore-eda’s camera, aided by master cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo (Parasite, Burning). Broker is a breathtaking movie, contrasting gorgeous seaside images with cramped car interiors, and often shooting Lee’s character Moon So-young wide with empty space around her or close with her face obscured, highlighting her isolation from the world around her. Kore-eda is one of the finest at cinematic blocking we have today, and it is on exquisite display in Broker.
The performances from the cast also stand out and make Broker special. Song Kang-ho and Bae Doona reunite for the fourth time (and the first since 2018’s The Drug King), delivering electrifying performances — Song as another shifty, funny schemer who is in way over his head, and Bae as a hard-headed cop pursuing them on the road. But it’s Lee Ji-eun who steals the show as So-young, with a fierce intelligence and hardened worldview concealed by a veneer of youthful innocence. Plus one very adorable baby. That never hurts. —PV
Broker is available for digital rental or purchase on Amazon, Apple, Google Play, and Vudu.
Run time: 1h 23m
Director: John Hyams
Cast: Gideon Adlon, Bethlehem Million, Dylan Sprayberry
A slick April 2020 period piece (remember wiping down cereal boxes?) from one of our great undersung directors, Sick is another solid genre entry this year that brought new life to the COVID slasher.
In Sick, two friends travel to a cabin in the woods at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. One is explicitly going to quarantine, to help prevent her from exposing her at-risk father to the disease. One is just trying to get away from school. When the two of them start getting creepy texts, an unwelcome visitor arrives and changes the nature of their getaway.
Director John Hyams is a master at building tension, as seen in his heralded direct-to-video masterpiece Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, but also in other underrated works like the Netflix zombie show Black Summer and the thriller Alone. He brings that energy to Sick, and it’s much to the movie’s benefit — eschewing music in favor of natural eerie sounds like buzzing electricity to heighten the anxiety in the movie.
Hyams’ background in action also helps — there are some gnarly kills in this movie, with a standout fight scene in a dorm room in the beginning. He also loves ambitious one-take shots, and we see a few of them in Sick as well.
The COVID stuff is hit-or-miss for me in Sick — some of it works, some of it doesn’t — but what’s undeniable is the craft on display. Hyams’ action sequences and penchant for building tension move the story along at a brisk pace, and it’s a nice movie to look at — even the night scenes are lit well, which is a lesson some other recent horror movies could take some notes from. Another thing some other movies could take notes on: It’s 83 minutes long. —PV
Sick is available to watch on Peacock.
Genre: Crime thriller
Run time: 2h 26m
Director: H. Vinoth
Cast: Ajith Kumar, Manju Warrier, Samuthirakani
Tired of snark-heavy action heroes, or ones that rely on relatability? Looking for something closer to the larger-than-life action heroes of the Hollywood days of yore, who seemed to define “cool”? Look no further than Thunivu, a delightful Tamil-language heist movie with one of the suavest bank robbers you will ever meet.
In Thunivu, a group of criminals intricately plan a bank job, complete with miniatures. They’ve thought of everything: the timing, the location, having an inside man, and the escape. But they couldn’t plan for Dark Devil, a master operative who is already there, also planning to rob the bank.
Thunivu takes on this big-time bank robbery from all angles: the robbers (and there are many), the police, the corporate executives, the government, the public, the media — you name it, it plays a significant role.
Much of Thunivu takes place inside the bank, with multiple explosive action sequences. The movie effectively sets us up for that with the opening planning sequence: Using miniatures and an immersive camera that flies through the rooms, it gives the audience a grounding in the geography of the bank, making it easier to follow when things get hectic.
The action is strong, too — there are impressive stunts and lots of explosions, and Thunivu effectively uses lively camera movements, slow-motion effects, wirework, and VFX to augment the stylized action. And like any good heist narrative, Thunivu slowly unspools narrative complications, revealing schemes upon schemes to keep the audience guessing.
But the real heart of the movie is star Ajith Kumar, who brings an unreal level of swagger and charm to the silver-haired Dark Devil. (He comes by it honestly, too — he previously took a sabbatical from acting to try his hand at being a professional race car driver, and even competed in Formula 2). Always smiling, always confident, always in control, we’re introduced to him in an explosive manner that quickly sells us on both his charm and his hyper-competence with violence. It’s a true movie star performance, and one that Thunivu successfully hitches its wagon to. —PV
Thunivu is available to watch on Netflix.
Run time: 1h 42m
Director: Gerard Johnstone
Cast: Allison Williams, Violet McGraw, Amie Donald
The anxiety about AI art, AI writing, and AI just overall ingesting everything humans create and then spitting it all back out again in new forms has hit a fresh high in 2023, which makes it a good year for a fresh take on the tired old “new technology is inevitably scary and evil” horror trope. But as evil AI by way of the Chucky movies goes, M3GAN is refreshingly funny and engaging, on top of actually being reasonably scary. Allison Williams stars as the tech whiz who’s so unnerved by being granted guardianship over her dead sister’s kid that she builds that kid a robot companion to handle all the difficult aspects of parenting. And then the robot gets protective. Scripted by Akela Cooper with the same shamelessly messy, giddy verve she brought to Malignant, M3GAN isn’t deathless, uplifting cinema. But it’s an unabashed good time for horror fans, who will catch the referential humor and wink-wink acknowledgements to the silliness of this whole endeavor, and then get some solid thrills out of the action to boot. —Tasha Robinson
M3GAN is available to watch on Peacock, or for digital rental or purchase on Google Play.
Run time: 1h 34m
Directors: Molly Gordon, Nick Lieberman
Cast: Jimmy Tatro, Ben Platt, Molly Gordon, Noah Galvin
All great camp movies are about found family, and there are few subcultures that theme fits better with than theater kids. Theater Camp, the new movie from Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman, is well aware of this and plays its excellent (and specific) jokes to the cheap seats for an audience it knows has felt its characters’ pains and joys themselves.
Theater Camp is a mockumentary about a performance-art camp whose beloved founder falls ill and passes the camp off to her bro-y YouTuber son, Troy, played by American Vandal’s Jimmy Tatro. Troy and the documentary crew following the camp then introduce us to a lovable cast of friends who find themselves misfits anywhere else. Of course, the camp is losing money thanks to how much Troy’s mom was racking up debt to make everyone happy, and it’s up to Troy and the kids to save the camp with one big show.
Perhaps Theater Camp’s biggest strength is how expertly it walks the line of poking fun at its characters without ever laughing at them or letting us lose sympathy. It’s a movie full of theater people who all love what they do enough to realize the parts of it that deserve a little bit of playful mocking. Most importantly, by playing so far inside its own lane, with in-jokes aplenty, it still manages to hit broad enough comedy to pull laughs from someone who’s never set foot on a stage — thanks in large part to the ridiculous commitment of Jimmy Tatro.
What Theater Camp understands best about its subjects, and what Tatro’s YouTuber character fits perfectly into, is that being a theater kid means never really leaving a stage. It’s all performance, whether it’s for an audience, your best friend, your campmates, or alone to yourself. And it doesn’t really matter if you’re laughing or crying, as long as you enjoyed the show. —AG
Theater Camp premiered at Sundance. It will be out in theaters July 14.
Talk to Me
Run time: 1h 34m
Directors: Danny Philippou, Michael Philippou
Cast: Sophie Wilde, Joe Bird, Miranda Otto, Alexandra Jensen
Talk to Me is like the horror-movie version of a perfect comedy sketch. It’s got a perfect premise, a brilliant turn you saw coming from the start but that hits even better than you expected, and it ends before it wears out its welcome. It helps that it’s also one of the most stylish and shocking horror movies of the last few years.
The film brings a twist to the more traditional demonic possession narrative: A few kids have acquired the hand of a dead person, and if you say the right words and grasp the hand, you can summon a spirit back from the dead and even invite them into your body. So like all good teens, the kids immediately use possession as a party drug. As it turns out, if you don’t let the spirit overstay its welcome, you can ride the temporary high without losing control forever — all you have to do is drop the hand and you’re good. As you might imagine, someone eventually isn’t quite as precise with their timing as they should be.
Once the movie’s turn hits and a demon overstays its welcome, the film shows off a flash of brilliant violence, and filmmaking, and queasy makeup work at its absolute, stomach-churning best.
Between its abrupt bursts of violence, possession-party montages, and creeping family tension, by the time Talk to Me’s brisk (just under 90 minutes before the credits roll) run time is up, it feels like you were one of the lucky kids who let go of the demon hand at exactly the right moment for the maximum high. —Austen Goslin
Talk to Me premiered at Sundance. It will be out in theaters July 28.