10. Perfect Days
Only director Wim Wenders could make this quiet drama of a Japanese toilet cleaner compelling and beautiful. Kōji Yakusho is absolutely stunning as the patient and sweet Hirayama, an old man who doesn’t talk much while on the clock. He lives a simple life of listening to classic rock while driving in the morning and reading every night before sleeping. He’s not completely mute as he does talk, but he chooses his words wisely. Slowly, his past is revealed, but also his philosophy on the nature of time and finding the best parts of being alive. It’s a beautiful film, and Yakusho’s performance is one of the best of the year.
9. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
Much like the previous Spider-Verse film, Sony’s animated Spider-Man films continue to be the most impressive of superhero films. And that’s a huge compliment in a sea of superhero films overwhelming the cinema. As the sequel to Into the Spider-Verse, this film is more impressive visually for its mixing of mediums and more enticing for its narrative about breaking cannon and not being bound by comic book lore. Miles Morales asserts the film’s compelling narrative of doing your own thing and not placing this film on a rigid track. It ventures into new territory and has fun while doing so.
8. All of Us Strangers
As one of the saddest films of the year, All of Us Strangers follows Adam, a lonely screenwriter in London. He still hasn’t gotten over the death of his parents and continues to talk to their spirits. At the same time, he forms a romantic relationship with his neighbor, Harry. But it’s a relationship he fears won’t last as he drowns himself in a haze of grief, regret, and passion. In addition to featuring fantastic performances of Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal, this is a mesmerizing ghost story that finds a bittersweet acceptance of letting go of love and a fear of being isolated. The final scenes of Adam coming to terms with the passage of life are unforgettable.
7. John Wick: Chapter 4
There’s a lot to talk about with the seemingly final chapter of the John Wick saga. It’s an action series showcasing the nature of revenge and how easily egotism and greed can drive a world of violence that all seem to be against this guy. Really, though, it’s just a damn good action movie. Everything from the close-quarters battles of a Japanese hotel to the incredible shootout amid the oncoming traffic of the Arc de Triumph is fantastic. It’s beautifully assembled and exciting to watch unfold, featuring some of the most impressive setpieces and stuntwork. I honestly can’t stop thinking about some of these sequences for how they are assembled and how cool they are to watch in motion.
6. Killers of the Flower Moon
Martin Scorsese’s historical epic on the Osage tribe murders of the 1920s is as engrossing as one would expect him to handle this material. The all-star ensemble performances are great, but the stand-outs are clearly Lily Gladstone as Ernest’s disillusioned wife, Mollie, and Robert de Niro as the conspiring political player William King Hale. Even at three and a half hours, Scorsese’s film finds the perfect beats to showcase how Hale’s masterminding of murdering Native Americans for their land was cruel, calculative, and downright grotesque. As a Western crime drama, Scorsese never loses focus and presents a deeply reflective and engrossing tale of America’s darker history.
5. Anatomy of a Fall
Justine Triet delivers one of the best courtroom dramas in the longest time. When Sandra’s husband falls to his death from their home, she is put on trial with the accusation of murder. This case is intriguing because it never delivers a 100% clear answer as to what went down. It’s the investigation that becomes more unique as the layers are slowly pulled back on this troubled family. Sandra Hüller’s performance as Sandra is incredible because she continuously switches between languages when being interrogated on the stand. Milo Machado Graner, playing Sandra’s son, is also a highlight for being the most conflicted of witnesses trying to piece together this mystery. It’s an intoxicating film that had me transfixed from beginning to end.
4. The Zone of Interest
The concept of The Zone of Interest is simple enough. It centers on the seemingly mundane family home life of a Nazi family residing a few feet away from a concentration camp. The sounds of gunfire and screams become muffled background noise for the family, trying to separate themselves from the horrors of the holocaust. The film is so effective at being chilling without showing a single frame of the violent torture and inhumanity. It’s a challenging film that asks viewers how willing they are to accept inhumanity when it goes unseen despite being literally next door. The final sequence is an unforgettable juxtaposition of the horrors of the past and how easily they become the quiet notes of the future.
3. Past Lives
Everybody has those thoughts when they get older of questioning what might’ve been. Past Lives explores these thoughts with the estranged relationship between Nora and Hae. The two of them were close friends in South Korea, and everybody expected them to grow up and be a couple. But when Nora’s family moved to North America, they grew apart. Reunited after so many decades, the two of them catch up in New York City but slowly realize they’re not the same people they once knew. It’s a sweetly sad drama about accepting the passage of time and making the hard call of letting go of who you once thought you were. This contemplative and tender picture beautifully explores the uncomfortable yet earnest realization of never being able to return to the places we’ve been before and the people we once knew.
2. The Holdovers
Alexander Payne’s sincere and hilarious film about lonely souls on Christmas was a real treat. Paul Giamatti delivers his finest performance as a grumpy yet astute professor who watches over a teenage student amid a 1970 Christmas. Joined by the school’s cook, perfectly played by Da’Vine Joy Randolph, this film quickly won me over with its characters, who are sweet at heart and broken on the outside. It finds the absolute perfect beats of humor and drama, never letting all of one spill out in a single scene. The fact that Giamatti can effortlessly go from sticking up for a student to calling an administrator the human form of penis cancer is amazing. Everything from the retro style to the graceful soundtrack left me with such a warm feeling by the film’s end. This is easily going to be a Christmas classic.
1. Poor Things
Yargos Lathimos goes hard with Poor Things. It’s a brazenly weird tale of Bella Baxter, played by Emma Stone, going on a fantastic yet grounded journey of learning about the world. The best way to describe it is an absurd and horny version of Frankenstein, but even that description doesn’t do it justice. It’s a visually stunning film with lavish costumes, exaggerated sets, and refreshing camera work. It’s also wildly sexual, violent, blunt, and off-the-wall hilarious. Stone is perfect in this film, but the performances are great all around, especially with Mark Ruffalo playing a manipulator who goes from suave to pathetic in the most laughable way possible. I found myself laughing hard at this film for its boldly eccentric nature but also grinning deeply for the freedom this film had. Think about it; this is a film with a fantastic cast that has Emma Stone flopping around penises, Willem Dafoe vomiting bubbles, and Mark Ruffalo performing the most ridiculous of dancing and horny whining. I can’t wait to watch this film again.
-Skinamarink: Deeply unsettling micro-budget horror that tapped into a long-dormant fear of childhood and being the only one awake in the middle of the night.
-Beau is Afraid: Ari Aster’s offbeat journey of one man coming to terms with his life and his death is loaded with as much intense anxiety as it has laughable sight gags and over-the-top performances.
-The Boy and the Heron: Hayao Miyazaki’s third final film is a more abstract yet thematically grounded film about learning to move on and let the next generation build their own world.
-A Thousand and One: A deeply moving portrait of a family growing with uncertainty about the people who raised you and how they’ll carry on another day, with a magnificent performance by Teyana Taylor.
-Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret: Judy Bloom’s popular and controversial novel of growing up is beautifully brought to the big screen with an enduring portrait of womanhood, approached with all the blunt honesty and tender comedy that comes with exploring sex, menstruation, and spirituality.
-Beyond Utopia: An incredible documentary about the tragedies that come with trying to free North Korean citizens seeking to flee secretly.
-Polite Society: A vivid and wildly absurd action comedy of an aspiring stunt woman who uses her fighting skills to save her sister from the most sinister of marriages.
-Oppenheimer: An engrossing biopic on the existential dread and political fallout that came with Oppenheimer’s development of the most devastating weapon of war.
-Barbie: A very funny…you know what, I don’t have to explain it. You’ve seen Barbie and you already know why it’s great.