May 21, 2024

Eclipse Festival

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The best movies of the fall festivals

Every fall brings its crop of new movies from around the world — comedies, dramas, documentaries, and more uncategorizable films that capture what it is to live in this historical moment. Audiences around the world get to see them at festivals first, whether they’re big buzzy international fests or smaller regional events.

Many of those films start their journey in early fall at festivals in Venice, Toronto, Telluride, and New York, and they’re worth keeping tabs on as they roll out across the country. So here are the best movies we’ve seen at this year’s fall fests, and why you might want to see them, too.

About Dry Grasses

In a remote village in the Eastern Anatolian steppes, Samet (Deni̇z Celi̇loğlu) teaches art to schoolchildren, pursues a girlfriend and a transfer to a better locale, and is shocked to find that he and his fellow teacher Kenan (Musab Eki̇ci̇) are the target of accusations from several girls in their classes. The story unfolds over a languid but engrossing 197 minutes, with the eminent director Nuri Bilge Ceylan exploring Samet’s misery and unlikeability with a wry and even generous eye. It’s a gorgeous film, in Ceylan’s typical naturalistic style, and one that follows the novelistic impulse, complete with a self-absorbed antihero at its center.

How to watch it: About Dry Grasses is awaiting a US release date.

All of Us Strangers

Adam (Andrew Scott), a writer, lives alone in a high-rise on the outskirts of London. The building seems unoccupied except for Harry (Paul Mescal), who he sees one day from the window. Two strangers alone in a building: How could they not strike up a relationship? But Andrew Haigh’s All of Us Strangers keeps veering away into the unexpected, weaving a story that feels deeply personal. How do we live with wondering what our parents think, or would think, about us if they really knew us? What does it really mean to open up to someone else? Emotional and lyrical, All of Us Strangers is a meditation on what it means to really be a human.

How to watch it: All of Us Strangers will open in theaters on December 22.

American Fiction

A Black man in a white button-down and glasses stands with a big beach house in the background.

Jeffrey Wright in American Fiction.
Toronto International Film Festival

At once broadly comedic and bitingly barbed, American Fiction is the story of Thelonious “Monk” Ellison (an outstanding Jeffrey Wright), a writer and malcontent who unwillingly finds himself back in his East Coast hometown. There he is confronted with the family turmoil he tries to avoid, heightened by growing irritation with the expectations he feels from the literary establishment about what “Black literature” ought to be. It’s an extremely funny movie that lands some sharp blows, and a stellar feature debut from seasoned TV writer Cord Jefferson (Succession, The Good Place, Watchmen, Master of None).

How to watch it: American Fiction will be released by MGM in limited theaters on December 15 and wide on December 22.

Anatomy of a Fall

Justine Triet’s courtroom drama (which won the Palme d’Or at its Cannes premiere in May) stars the great Sandra Huller as a writer whose son discovers his father lying on the ground outside their chalet near Grenoble with blood seeping from a head wound. What happened here? That’s the question, and the film slowly peels apart its layers, exploring how truths and facts become fictions in the retellings, whether they’re told in a courtroom or in a novel. Nothing is as objective and straightforward as our enlightened modern legal systems like to pretend, and our cultural prejudices about gender, emotion, and memory are all part of the story we tell. Anatomy of a Fall turns that fact into a scintillating, provocative thriller.

How to watch it: Anatomy of a Fall will be released by Neon on October 13.

Days of Happiness

A young woman in a black shirt conducts an orchestra, a baton in her hand.

Sophie Desmarais in Days of Happiness.
Toronto International Film Festival

It’s unfortunate that Chloé Robichaud’s drama about a young conductor on the cusp of stardom (Sophie Desmarais) probably won’t escape the shadow of Tár, because it’s a strong and self-assured film on its own merits. Desmarais turns in a compelling performance as Emma, who’s desperate to take the next step in her career but is held back by her agent, who also happens to be her domineering father, and by her budding relationship with cellist Naëlle (Nour Belkhiria). Days of Happiness examines familiar territory — the musician battling her demons — but with a fresh, engaging touch.

How to watch it: Days of Happiness is awaiting US distribution.

The Boy and the Heron

The renowned Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro) returns with The Boy and the Heron, one of his most looping, imaginative films. Set in 1943, it centers on Mahito Maki (Soma Santoki), whose mother is killed in a fire during the war. His father remarries, and Mahito goes to live in the country with his stepmother, who is also his mother’s younger sister. Lonely and unsure of how to handle his grief, Mahito drops into a dreamworld of confusion and chaos, reflecting his longing to restore the world. The Boy and the Heron revisits many of Miyazaki’s themes — loneliness, fear, sorrow — with his signature imagination and underlying reflection of Japanese history.

How to watch it: The Boy and the Heron is awaiting a US release date.

Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World

A lot of movies get called “unhinged,” but Romanian director Radu Jude’s 2021 feature Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn actually lived up to the description (and landed on A.O. Scott’s best of the year list). Now he’s back with the equally wild Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World, a dark comedy that’s sort of about labor exploitation, sort of about the gig economy, and sort of about how disconnected corporations are from their workers. Mostly it’s a madcap spin through a day in the life of one production assistant/wannabe social media star (semi-spoofing Andrew Tate) who is hustling like mad to keep her head above water. Few movies are as surgical and scintillating in their societal critique.

How to watch it: Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World was acquired by Mubi and is awaiting a US release date.

Dream Scenario

A bearded, bald, middle-aged man stands in a parking lot, looking confused. Behind him is a car with “LOSER” spray-painted onto it.

Nicholas Cage in Dream Scenario.
A24

Talk about a dream of a premise: Paul Matthews (Nicholas Cage), a mild-mannered professor of evolutionary biology, discovers to his excitement, and then consternation, that he’s been appearing in the dreams of random people all over the world. He doesn’t know why. He can’t make it stop. And it’s wrecking his life. Director Kristoffer Borgli’s comedy Dream Scenario (co-produced by horror maven Ari Aster) makes joking feints toward being “about” cancel culture or internet fame, but it’s pretty clear he doesn’t have a particular ax to grind. He’s really just interested in razzing the audience a little, in the mold of his previous film Sick of Myself. People are terrible, illogical, and weird, but that doesn’t mean we can’t laugh at them.

How to watch it: Dream Scenario will be released in theaters by A24 on November 10.

Evil Does Not Exist

A young girl wearing a coat, hat, and mittens peers into the camera, her hand shading her eyes. Winter trees are in the background.

Ryo Nishikawa in Evil Does Not Exist.
Toronto International Film Festival

Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car and Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy were two of 2021’s greatest films; Evil Does Not Exist is a bit more modest in scope, but just as spectacular. Takumi (Hitoshi Omika) is the local odd-job man in the small Japanese village of Harasawa, where he’s raising his daughter Hana (Ryo Nishikawa) as a single father. When representatives from a talent agency appear in town, announcing a bizarre plan to open a glamping site nearby, Takumi is drawn into the controversy. Evil Does Not Exist provocatively considers the kind of responsibility we bear toward our families, our friends, and even strangers. Evil isn’t some disembodied thing, in Hamaguchi’s worldview: it’s something embodied by humans, who can choose whether they’ll fight it or just give in.

How to watch it: Evil Does Not Exist will be released by Sideshow and Janus Films.

Fallen Leaves

Ansa (Alma Pöysti) lives in Helsinki and works a dead-end job at the supermarket, making barely enough money to live on. She meets Holappa (Jussi Vatanen), a construction worker whose main amusement comes from drinking himself into oblivion every night. The pair hit it off, but their romance is full of bumps, not least because of the misery they’re both desperate to escape. Aki Kaurismäki’s deadpan dark comedy dips with style and just a hint of weird whimsy into the lives of his working-class characters, and the tableaux he crafts give off the whiff of a Finnish spin on Hopper’s alienated figures.

How to watch it: Fallen Leaves will be released by Mubi.

Ferrari

Adam Driver stars in Michael Mann’s Ferrari, a look at a pivotal moment in the life of ex-racer and car mogul Enzo Ferrari. It’s the summer of 1957, and he and his wife Laura (Penelope Cruz) have essentially split up. They maintain co-ownership of the company, however, and it’s in steep financial trouble. The Mille Miglia race is approaching, and Ferrari senses that his team’s performance on the course will determine the future of his company — but at what hideous cost? The film is a peek into the life of a towering figure whose world is coming apart at the seams, and Driver and Cruz turn in riveting performances.

How to watch it: Ferrari will open in theaters on December 25.

Fingernails

A couple sits in a car; she is driving and he looks out the window.

Jeremy Allen White and Jessie Buckley in Fingernails.
Apple TV+

Funny and ultimately heartwrenching, Fingernails pries open the meaning of love by way of some light science fiction. A scientific test has been invented to determine if two people are truly in love, using fingernails from a couple and a fancy machine. Anna (Jessie Buckley) and her boyfriend Ryan (Jeremy Allen White) took the test three years ago, with positive results, but Anna still finds herself drawn to the test and what it means. She takes a job at the Institute where the tests are administered, working with Amir (Riz Ahmed) to help couples deepen their connection, and starts to find herself wondering what love even is. Director Christos Nikou turns the premise into a subtle meditation on how different every partnership’s story is — how love shifts and changes depending on who’s in the relationship — and the result is both kind and thought-provoking.

How to watch it: Fingernails will be released in theaters on October 27, then begin streaming on Apple TV+ on November 3.

Gasoline Rainbow

There’s a wonderful authenticity to Gasoline Rainbow — and that’s no big surprise, coming from brothers Bill and Turner Ross, who in films like Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets mess with the meanings of fiction and reality to probe for deep truths. For this one they turn to the road movie, with its sense of adventure, camaraderie, and discovery. Five teenagers (Tony, Micah, Nichole, Nathaly, and Makai), all of whom consider themselves misfits in their small Oregon town, embark on a road trip toward the Pacific Coast, looking for something they can barely articulate. What they find there is a sense of belonging that extends across generations of outsiders just like them. Gasoline Rainbow is a joyous movie for everyone who’s ever sought community and found it waiting for them where they least expect it.

How to watch it: Gasoline Rainbow is awaiting distribution.

The Green Border

A black-and-white image of a young child behind barbed wire.

The Green Border is a heartwrenching film about the migrant crisis.
Toronto International Film Festival

The great Agnieszka Holland directs an absorbing ensemble drama about the European migrant crisis. Shot in black and white, the film follows a group of refugees from Syria and Afghanistan as they’re pushed back and forth across the Belarus-Poland border, treated as disposable pawns in the country’s governmental disputes. Meanwhile, a group of Polish activists try to help provide what asylum seekers need most without being prosecuted by their own government. It’s heartrending and, at times, heart-stopping — a vital addition to the growing body of European masterpieces illuminating the human cost of political and social crises.

How to watch it: The Green Border is awaiting US distribution.

His Three Daughters

Three women sit on a couch, huddled close to one another.

Natasha Lyonne, Elizabeth Olsen, and Carrie Coon in His Three Daughters.
Toronto International Film Festival

Katie (Carrie Coon) and Christina (Elizabeth Olsen) have returned to their childhood home, a small New York apartment inhabited by their sister (Natasha Lyonne) and their dying father, who’s too ill to leave his room. It’s a commonplace enough setting for a family drama, anchored by brilliant performances by all three leads as their characters find friction in settling old scores. But writer and director Azazel Jacobs unspools the family’s story little by little, exploring the absurd humor of deathbeds and the meaning of memory and grief with extraordinary love.

How to watch it: His Three Daughters was acquired by Netflix following TIFF and is awaiting a release date.

Hit Man

A man with slicked-down hair and glasses looks a little confused.

Glen Powell in Hit Man.
Toronto International Film Festival

An absolute delight, Richard Linklater’s Hit Man is a romcom wrapped in the trappings of a kind-of-true story. Glen Powell plays Gary Johnson, an unassuming philosophy professor who occasionally works undercover for the New Orleans Police Department and finds himself pretending to be a hitman, which is how he meets Maddy (Adria Arjona). Sparks fly, though the course of true love, of course, is a little bumpy. It’s a ton of fun to watch Powell and Arjona’s chemistry, as well as Powell’s evident delight as Gary grows to relish his “hit man” role. Most of all, though, it’s just fun to watch good old-fashioned comedy in which love, danger, and happy endings are all part of a damn fine evening at the movies.

How to watch it: Hit Man was acquired by Netflix following TIFF and is awaiting a release date.

The Holdovers

From its first frame, Alexander Payne’s latest self-consciously presents itself as a film from the 1970s, set in the 1970s at a New England boarding school for boys — a whimsical touch that makes the movie feel like a half-memory. Paul Giamatti stars as Paul Hunham, a dour disciplinarian who teaches ancient history and is much despised by his pupils. Stuck looking after the “holdovers” during Christmas break — the boys who can’t, for whatever reason, leave campus for the holidays — he butts heads with a student named Angus (Dominic Sessa) and tries to be friendly toward Mary (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), the cook, who is grieving her son’s loss. It’s a lighthearted film on the surface, but themes of grief, loss, and the fear of mortality for teenage boys who know they might be drafted and sent to Vietnam at any moment run beneath the beat of the plot. That’s likely why it insists on its 1970s framework, which infuses a cozy holiday story with poignancy and meaning.

How to watch it: The Holdovers will be released by Focus Features in theaters on October 27.

In the Rearview

Technically, In the Rearview is a road movie, a documentary mostly shot from inside a moving van. What matters most, though, is who the passengers are: Ukrainians fleeing their country for Poland after the Russian invasion. The driver is the film’s director, Maciek Hamela, a Polish activist who purchased the van and started evacuating people across the border himself. Through discussions about what they’ve left behind, where they’re going, and what they’re going to do, Hamela’s passengers reveal much about the human toll of the war, as well as the ways that people facing immense upheaval pick up the pieces of their lives and keep moving forward. It’s an extraordinary film.

How to watch it: In the Rearview is awaiting US distribution.

Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell

Thiện (Lê Phong Vũ) left his rural home for Saigon years ago, but when his sister-in-law is killed in a motorcycle accident, he must return to settle family matters and hunt down his brother. Once there, he slips into what feels like a dream state, reality and memories and dreams mixing together as he considers life, death, meaning, and his own struggle to maintain faith while others seem to maintain it so easily. The “cocoon shell” of the title is the trap that catches those chasing fame and forturne, says first-time feature director Phạm Thiên Ân, and his deeply religious inquiry aims to crack open the trap by forcing Thiện, and the audience, into a confrontation with eternity itself.

How to watch it: Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell will be distributed by Kino Lorber and is awaiting a US release date.

Janet Planet

A middle-aged woman and a tween girl are watching something.

Julianne Nicholson and Zoe Ziegler in Annie Baker’s Janet Planet.
A24

Playwright Annie Baker (The Flick, John) shifts to the screen with Janet Planet, the kind of luminous portrait of a summer where nothing happens and yet everything happens. It’s 1991, and in western Massachusetts, rising sixth grader Lacy (Zoe Ziegler) coaxes her mom Janet (Julianne Nicholson) into letting her come home from camp. At home, she watches Janet’s life from her perspective — the friends she makes, the men she sees — and starts to see her mother through new eyes. It’s a perfect coming-of-age movie, but one in which both Lacy and Janet have some growing up to do.

How to watch it: Janet Planet will be distributed by A24 and is awaiting a release date.

La Chimera

A “chimera” is something you wish for, but it’s impossible. La Chimera, from the great Italian director Alice Rohrwacher, follows Arthur, who lives with his own chimera. An Englishman living in Italy who’s fallen in with a band of tombaroli — people who rob graves, looking for ancient artifacts they can sell to become rich — and has an eerie ability to find what’s buried below. He’s also dreaming of his lost love, Beniamina, and forming a friendship with Italia, a young woman who tends to Beniamina’s mother. In classic Rohrwacher style, La Chimera lies somewhere between social commentary, folk legend, and fairy tale, slipping between reality and the surreal. Everyone, in the end, harbors some chimera.

How to watch it: La Chimera is awaiting a US distributor.

Maestro

The romance between the great conductor Leonard Bernstein and his wife, the actress Felicia Montealegre, forms the backbone for Maestro, a swirling, swooning love story. Bradley Cooper directs as well as stars alongside an outstanding Carey Mulligan. The movie is most interested in how the rapidly changing 20th century shifted the way the pair’s relationship was maintained, particularly because Bernstein openly maintained relationships with men alongside his long marriage to Montealegre. Those shifts are mimicked in the film’s style, which evolves both in the performances and the visual aesthetic to roughly match the period. The film elides much of the biographical information, to a point that it skids perilously close to frustration at times, but in the end, it’s hard not to be won over by the sheer passion of the project. In Cooper’s hands, this is a love story for the ages, intertwined with music — a familiar theme for the director of A Star Is Born, and a winning one.

How to watch it: Maestro opens in limited theaters on November 22 and begins streaming on Netflix on December 20.

May December

Todd Haynes tells you early on that May December is camp, but the kind that conceals a queasy heart. He loosely bases the story on the infamous case of Mary Kay Letourneau; here, Julianne Moore plays Gracie Atherton, who went to jail after having sex with 12-year-old Joe Yoo at the pet store where she works, then had his children and married him. Now, 20 years on, they’re still married, but their life together — marked by Gracie’s insistence that she never really did anything wrong — takes a strange turn when an actress (Natalie Portman) who’s going to play Gracie in a movie visits to do research and gets interested in Joe (Charles Melton). It’s sort of a movie about guilt, sort of about conscience, sort of about exploitation, but Haynes’s wrapping it in camp trappings reminds us that this is the stuff of tabloids, and the lightness of touch makes it entertaining and uncomfortable all at once.

How to watch it: May December will be released in theaters on November 17, then stream on Netflix starting December 1.

Menus-Plaisirs Les Troisgros

Frederick Wiseman has devoted his prolific, outstanding documentary career to watching humans work, play, and relate to one another. Now in his 90s, he’s turned to perhaps his most delightful subject ever for Menus-Plaisirs Les Troisgros: the kitchens and dining room of Troisgros, a family-owned restaurant in central France that has earned three Michelin stars. The four-hour film (I would have watched for twice as long) follows Michel Troisgros and his two sons, César and Léo, as they plan menus, train chefs, speak with diners, visit farmers, and celebrate the long history of the culinary arts in their family. True to form, Wiseman has a point in all of this — the vital need for pursuit of balance and detail in growing and making food that nourishes humans. But it’s about as far from pedantic as you can get, instead giving viewers a long, gentle glimpse into the superior craft of the Troisgros chefs and the hospitality they hold out to those who visit them.

How to watch it: Menus-Plaisirs Les Troisgros will open at New York City’s Film Forum on November 22.

The Mission

When evangelical missionary John Allen Chau disappeared in 2018, the story became international news, in part because he disappeared after trying to reach the isolated Sentinelese people. Directed by Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine (Boys State, The Overnighters), The Mission examines, with extraordinary depth and thoughtfulness, the role of Christian missionary stories in “firing up” a generation of young evangelicals to give their lives in “extreme” ways for God. Wisely, the film doesn’t shy away from the responsibility that National Geographic — a producer of the film — bears in exoticizing people who live in remote, “Stone Age” ways. It’s a troubling, smart, must-see documentary.

How to watch it: The Mission opens in theaters on October 13.

The Taste of Things

In a 19th century kitchen, a man and a woman stand near two young girls.

Benoît Magimel and Juliette Binoche in The Taste of Things.
IFC Films

An instant candidate for one of the greatest culinary films of all time, The Taste of Things is a romance at its heart. Yet like any good romance, it doesn’t reveal itself too fast. For a long stretch at the start, we’re simply watching Eugénie (Juliette Binoche) cook some kind of wondrous feast, her movements as choreographed and elegant as if they’re a rehearsed ballet. She’s accompanied by Dodin Bouffant (Benoît Magimel), who turns out to be one of France’s most celebrated gourmands. But all of that comes later, because the focus of The Taste of Things (France’s official Oscar entry, from Vietnamese-born French director Trần Anh Hùng) is the food: what it means, what it sounds like, what it feels like, how it sizzles, how the taste can prompt emotions so profound in the taster that it can’t be put into words. Somehow a deeply philosophical film, The Taste of Things is an enormous inquiry into how the material world mixes with the emotional and spiritual, and what exquisite pleasure and pain come with the knowledge we won’t be able to love this world forever.

How to watch it: IFC Films will release The Taste of Things in the US. It is awaiting a release date.

Pain Hustlers

Emily Blunt and Chris Evans star as Liza Drake and Pete Brenner, pharmaceutical executives whose singular drive toward money embroils them in a criminal conspiracy. The plot beats are predictable at this point for a movie that is, in the end, about business guys. Yet unlike movies like Air and BlackBerry, the stakes are extraordinarily high, since the wares they’re peddling aren’t sneakers or phones: they’re opioids, and the more addicted the patients are, the more money they make. Thanks largely to Blunt’s performance, Pain Hustlers manages to be lively and moving, while also illuminating exactly how broken the American health care system is and how all of us are caught in its claws.

How to watch it: Pain Hustlers will be released in theaters on October 20, then begin streaming on Netflix on October 27.

Perfect Days

On first blush, Perfect Days could be mistaken for a paean to the noble working class; its protagonist, Hirayama (Kaji Yakusho), spends his quiet, ritualized days cleaning public toilets in Tokyo, watering his plants, reading his books, and eating noodles at the same stall. But as Wim Wenders’s film slowly unfurls, its true aim, which hints at Hirayama’s history, starts to paint a broader picture. Perfect Days is a movie about art, exploring how in the midst of chaos, it’s not labor but the physical objects of beauty that we weave into our lives — paperback novels, cassette tapes of favorite albums, carefully tended bonsai plants, a perfectly framed photograph — that structure and give our days meaning. Reminiscent of Paterson, Perfect Days is a poem of extraordinary subtlety and beauty.

How to watch it: Perfect Days, which is Japan’s official Oscar entry, is awaiting a US release date.

The Pigeon Tunnel

Technically, The Pigeon Tunnel is about the life of the famed spy novelist John le Carré, who died in December 2020. But with Errol Morris at the helm, this is no ordinary documentary. Le Carré — whose real name was David Cornwall — and Morris were good friends, enough to spar throughout the film about the nature of truth, reality, deception, and performance. The conversation is woven throughout Cornwall’s unusually intimate account of his own life and memories, particularly those concerning his con artist father, as well as his more existential obsessions. But it’s much richer than a mere biographical documentary, fascinating even to those who haven’t read Cornwall’s work.

How to watch it: The Pigeon Tunnel will be released on October 20 in select theaters and begin streaming on Apple TV+ the same day.

Poor Things

One of the year’s most anticipated films is also one of its most delightfully weird. Poor Things, a demented spin on the Frankenstein legend, stars Emma Stone as Bella, a woman with the literal mind of a child thanks to the tinkering of an experimental scientist (Willem Dafoe) whom she calls “God.” One day, having awoken to certain new bodily pleasures and desires, she ventures out into the world to discover what it means to have a life, and both chaos and hilarity ensue. Director Yorgos Lanthimos’s hallmarks are highly mannered dialogue set into human social situations rendered alien by abstraction; here, his style is harnessed into a slightly more accessible form, a dark comedy that probes human nature. It’s bawdy and weird and funny, and in its own off-kilter way, a crowdpleaser.

How to watch it: Poor Things will be released in theaters by Searchlight Pictures on December 8.

Priscilla

Elvis Presley has been immortalized on screen dozens of times, but for Priscilla, writer-director Sofia Coppola turned her camera toward Priscilla Presley, to whom he was married from 1967 to 1973 and in a relationship with for much longer. It’s a tricky story to tackle well, given that Priscilla (Cailee Spaeny) was 14 when she met 24-year-old Elvis (Jacob Elordi), but Coppola takes that uneasiness and spins it into gold. There are shades in here of Coppola’s Marie Antoinette and Somewhere, but it’s entirely Priscilla’s story, one that honors her feelings and her choices without suggesting that the circumstances were normal or that the situation was simple. And it’s a gorgeous movie, too.

How to watch it: Priscilla opens in theaters on November 3.

The Royal Hotel

Director Kitty Green follows up her masterful feminist drama The Assistant (which also starred Julia Garner) with another feminist barnburner. In this one, two young women traveling in Australia find themselves low on cash and take jobs at a hardscrabble bar in an outback mining town. They think they know what to expect, but as their weeks unfold they’re confronted with every type of twisted machismo, and slowly become worried that they will never get away. It’s a thriller, and an uncomfortable one, in which dangers lurk around corners so common that we sometimes forget how dangerous they really are.

How to watch it: The Royal Hotel will be released by Neon in theaters on October 6.

The Settlers

A sharply critical social and historical commentary housed in a Western, The Settlers is both gorgeous and devastating. The story centers on Segundo (Camilo Arancibia), a Chilean mestizo who is obliged to travel with an English army captain (Mark Stanley) and an American mercenary (Benjamin Westfall) as they clear the Tierra del Fuego archipelago of the natives who live there, all in service of the powerful man to whom the state has granted ownership of the land. The brutality comes back to haunt them as well as Chilean history. Director and cowriter Felipe Gálvez Haberle’s drama fits a larger theme in this year’s global cinema: the ways governments work to erase their unsavory history, and the ways individual people are often helpless to preserve those stories, though they continue to try. It’s a stellar directorial debut, and a movie worth contemplating.

How to watch it: Mubi will release The Settlers in limited theaters on January 12.

Shayda

Shayda (Bar Amir Ebrahimi) has fled her abusive husband Hossein (Osama Sami) with her young daughter Mona (Selina Zahedenia) and is living in a women’s shelter in Australia. But as she works toward filing for divorce, she’s left living in a liminal state, required legally to let Mona see her father and dodging his attempts to force both her and Mona back into his home. Meanwhile, Shayda starts to explore a life outside the restrictions she has known. Noora Niasari’s drama slowly builds into a thriller, and Ebrahimi’s enthralling performance coaxes us to lean in. Perhaps most importantly, Shayda refuses simplistic characterization; no matter what happens with Shayda and Mona, we know that Hossein’s abuse will haunt their lives — and that in this way, they’re like millions of women all over the world.

How to watch it: Shayda is awaiting a US release date.

Sleep

Easily one of the best (and most fun) thrillers of the year, Sleep is the tale of Hyeon-Soo (Lee Sun-kyun) and Soo-jin (Jung Yu-mi), newlyweds who discover that Hyeon-soo sleepwalks. Soo-jin is a little scared of her husband’s nighttime antics, especially when she discovers that she’s pregnant and begins to worry that he’ll hurt their baby in his sleep. Doctors don’t seem to help. What’s going on? Is he possessed? Are they haunted? Or does he just need better meds? Jason Yu crafts a twisty delight that leaves you doubting what you’re seeing and wondering what to believe right till the last moment.

How to watch it: Sleep is awaiting a US release date.

Songs of Earth

A soaring documentary portrait, Songs of Earth is ambitious work from Margreth Olin, who ties cosmic themes of love, grace, time, and memory together through the much smaller tale of her aging parents’ extraordinary love for one another. Cycling through the four seasons with the majestic landscape of Norway as backdrop, Olin explores how the slow movement of time changes landscapes, whether it’s the crags in her father’s forehead or a glacier moving slowly across a landscape over decades. A remarkable, poetic meditation, Songs of Earth weaves the smallness of human lifespan into the grandness of the earth’s history, and does it all with unspeakable beauty.

How to watch it: Songs of Earth is awaiting US distribution.

The Teachers’ Lounge

Carla Novak (Leonie Benesch) is a new teacher at a close-knit German middle school, determined to help her pupils succeed. When one of them is accused of theft, she springs into action, trying to figure out why things keep going missing at the school. But her efforts go sideways, in a manner she never could have predicted. Ilker Çatak takes the setup for an ordinary teacher drama and pulls it taut, building out the tension so skillfully that The Teachers’ Lounge starts to feel like a high-stakes thriller, with no need to teach a lesson beyond the limits of do-gooder idealism. The deliciously twisted turns are enough to keep viewers riveted.

How to watch it: The Teachers’ Lounge, which is Germany’s official Oscar entry, is awaiting a US release date.

Wildcat

A woman in a long coat and a curly haircut stands next to a mailbox on a desolate road, reading a letter.

Maya Hawke in Wildcat.
Toronto International Film Festival

The work of the great American writer Flannery O’Connor can be prickly and off-putting, filled with its uncompromising author’s obsessions: Catholicism, the American South, disability, morality, racism, and pious, sentimental hypocrisy. Wildcat, directed by Ethan Hawke, is less a biopic of O’Connor than a work of criticism. Maya Hawke plays O’Connor and Laura Linney her mother, but they and several other actors also appear in the stories O’Connor is writing, remixes of the world she observes around her. Through the film, the clearness of her artistic vision contrasts with personal turmoil, yielding a dreamy movie (a bit reminiscent of Shirley, about Shirley Jackson) that evokes O’Connor’s biggest project: an inquiry into the broken nature of grace.

How to watch it: Wildcat is awaiting US distribution.

Woman of the Hour

Three people in ’70s garb stand on the set of The Dating Game.

Tony Hale, Anna Kendrick, and Daniel Zovatto in Woman of the Hour.
Netflix

Woman of the Hour, Anna Kendrick’s capable and engrossing directorial debut, tells the true tale of Rodney Alcala (Daniel Zovatto), who was in the middle of a lengthy murder spree when he appeared on the game show The Dating Game in 1978. Kendrick plays Cheryl Bradshaw, the female contestant on that episode, who grows increasingly frustrated with the show’s real reason for existing: an excuse for the audience to howl at leering comments the male contestants would level at the women. Woman of the Hour smartly weaves into the narrative the many ways in which women are conditioned to put up with men because, as the saying goes, they’re afraid of being killed.

How to watch it: Woman of the Hour was acquired by Netflix and is awaiting a US release date.

Youth (Spring)

Wang Bing’s extraordinary documentary, which runs over three and a half hours, captures the lives of migrant Chinese garment factory workers in their late teens and early 20s. They flirt, fight, eat, dream, and sew at a remarkable speed, turning out fast fashions and then negotiating rates with the factory owners, who put them up in barely livable conditions and demand long hours with little room for life. This is less a social-issue documentary and more about an extreme existential poignance, encapsulated in the title: These are young people in the prime years of their lives but without the means or mobility to move forward, living years of monotony without a break. That doesn’t mean their lives can’t be rich, but it does call into question the rapacious appetite for cheaply made clothing and the system that enables it.

How to watch it: Youth (Spring) is awaiting US distribution.

The Zone of Interest

A family picnic on the bank of a river.

The Zone of Interest
A24

The year’s most terrifying horror film comes from Jonathan Glazer — his first feature in 10 years, since the eviscerating Under the Skin. This film, loosely adapted from the late Martin Amis’s novel, is the story of a family living in blissful tranquility right outside the walls of Auschwitz, where the father is commandant. Glazer keeps the family’s home life in the frame, but it’s everything going on just beyond that wall that nauseates the audience, and the film never lets you forget it. It’s formally brilliant in its evocation of the mental distance the family has put between themselves and the atrocities, making the audience feel that discomfort and terror. The Zone of Interest is undoubtedly one of 2023’s best films, and instantly ranks among the greatest films about the Holocaust.

How to watch it: The Zone of Interest will be released in theaters by A24 on December 8.

Update, October 16, 1:45 pm ET: This story was originally published on September 16 and has been updated several times with additional movies.