Writer: Henry Selick, Clay McLeod Chapman, Jordan Peele
Starring: Lyric Ross, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Angela Bassett, James Hong, Ving Rhames
Henry Selick may not be a household name in the same way that Hayao Miyazaki or Pete Docter or Brad Bird are, but his contributions to animated films can’t be denied. I still remember a room full of shocked faces when the answer to a trivia question announced that Tim Burton did not direct The Nightmare Before Christmas. Whenever Disney gets too cutesy with a few too many animal sidekicks, Selick manages to come back with something of a polar opposite. That he does so by pushing the stop-motion animation medium forward each time just goes to show how different the animation world would be without him.
Writer: Edward Berger, Lesley Paterson, and Ian Stokell
Starring: Felix Kammerer, Daniel Brühl, Albrecht Schuch, Moritz Klaus, Aaron Hilmer, Edin Hasanovic
War is hell. It always has been, and it always will be. Whether you’re a Spartan fighting against the Trojans, or a colonialist seeking your independence from the British, or a German slumming through the trenches in France, one thing remains constant in war: those that fight always lose. You don’t need a multi-million dollar Netflix production to tell you that. You don’t necessarily need to remake Erich Maria Remarque’s novel – a version of which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1930 – either. Indeed, it’s the biggest question for director and co-writer Edward Berger: why did All Quiet on the Western Front need to be made?
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ethan Hawke, Maribel Verdú, Sophie Okonedo
Remember how it felt the first time you watched The Hangover? It was the type of comedy where anything was possible, where the screenwriter was free to make up whatever kooky shenanigans they could think of simply because the action had unfolded off-screen. Raymond and Ray feels like the dramatic equivalent of that kind of storytelling, a free-for-all experiment where everyone simply talks about someone we never actually meet first-hand. It feels like an acting exercise, and an empty one at that, where its primary cast mostly makes it out unscathed.
Women Talking may be the simplest film of the year in terms of its concept, but it undoubtedly one of the most complex of the year, and it’s that conflicting push-pull that makes it one of the best of the year. Its simplicity lies in its setup: it takes place mostly over the course of a day or two, in and around a barn. But where it shows its complexity is in the discussions its characters have, the fascinating way its characters are written, and the conversations it will surely elicit after the credits roll.
Starring: Song Kang-ho, Gang Dong-won, Lee Ji-eun, Lee Joo-young, Bae Doona, Im Seung-soo
They say that you never truly know what love feels like until you’ve had a child, so what happens when you have a child that you don’t love? This is the central question to Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Broker, the Japanese auteur’s first film set in Korea, which still manages to feel of a whole with his filmography at large.
Starring: Olivia Colman, Micheal Ward, Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Tom Brooke, Tanya Moodie, Hannah Onslow, Crystal Clarke
The ever-reliable Toby Jones, playing the longtime projectionist of the fictional Empire Cinema, opines that our brains perceive static frames of film as moving images which “creates an illusion of life.” Perhaps it’s a little harsh to say this sentiment could be an accurate tagline to sum up Empire of Light, writer and director Sam Mendes’ latest film, but there’s a lifelessness to the proceedings that holds the film back from greatness. Mendes has now written the screenplays to his two most recent films, and neither one has particularly struck as impactfully as he likely intended. Indeed, Empire of Light shares a handful of similarities with 1917: elegantly crafted production design, stunning visuals, and powerful performances, but a lackluster script that only scratches the surface of who the characters really are.
Starring: Natascha McElhone, Steven Love, Michaela Farrugia
When we’re first introduced to Carmen, the titular heroine of writer/director Valerie Buhagiar’s film, she seems to be in the throes of a comfortable life. She’s the sister of her Maltese town’s Catholic priest and, despite the fact that nobody in town likes or respects her, she’s mostly content. She’s live with him in the parish’s rectory since she was 16, and she considers her role as his care-taker her own full-time job. Naturally Carmen is a woman of strong religious conviction, so when her brother suddenly and unexpectedly dies, leaving her essentially homeless, she begins to question exactly how big a role her faith should have in her life going forward.
Starring: Ana de Armas, Bobby Cannavale, Adrien Brody, Julianne Nicholson, Evan Williams, Xavier Sameuls
Has any Hollywood star loomed larger over pop culture since their discovery, and lingered even longer after their death, than Marilyn Monroe? Whether directly or indirectly, the blonde bombshell has appeared in too many biopics and fictionalizations to count in this column since her untimely death. Her life is the stuff of legend, and her tragic exploitation at the hands of virtually everyone that she trusted is well known by now. So what could be gained by making a new account of her life, based on Joyce Carol Oates’ novel of the same name?
Starring: Eva Noblezada, Simon Pegg, Whoopi Goldberg, Jane Fonda, Flula Borg
The animation world has long been searching for someone to challenge Disney and Pixar – and, to a lesser extent, Dreamworks – as the de facto animation studio that kids and adults rely on. Sony Animation has been successful occasionally with Into the Spider-Verse and Mitchells vs. the Machines, and Netflix has been known to put together some interesting titles like I Lost My Body and The Sea Beast. Now entering the ring with its first animated feature film is Skydance, a subsidiary of the studio that co-produced mostly action films like World War Z, The Tomorrow War, and Top Gun: Maverick. Skydance’s animation division had already gotten off to a rocky start thanks to its hiring of John Lasseter as Head of Animation after his forced exit from Pixar, and Luck, which lists Lasseter as a producer, won’t do the studio many favors.
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Brandon Perea, Michael Wilcott, Keith David
In just three feature films as a director, Jordan Peele has enjoyed a noticeable upgrade in virtually every aspect of his production scale. His reputation as an exciting auteur of genre filmmaking has similarly skyrocketed. Get Out was a left-field cultural smash that garnered critical and popular attention and won Peele an Oscar for its screenplay. 2019’s Us received similar praise but steered more sharply into its horror trappings while still making a unique statement on class. Now comes Nope, a sci-fi/horror blend that manages to have a lot on its mind but never manages to bring it all together cohesively.