1. Crimes of the Future– “I don’t like what’s happening with the body. In particular, what’s happening with my body, which is why I keep cutting it up.”
Saul Tenser, an artist of the near future, does not feel pain. He eats plastic to survive. His body automatically grows new organs, which his collaborator and lover Caprice surgically removes in front of an audience.
This premise is so Cronenbergian that mentioning who directed it may seem beside the point. However, David Cronenberg’s first film in nearly a decade takes his usual artistic obsessions to sparse aesthetic extremes. Set in a drab world of near-apocalyptic ruin, Crimes of the Future is populated with clashing ideologies over how to deal with these evolving bodies. There is a governmental office dedicated to tracking new organs, and radical evolutionists who want to modify their own digestive systems. Amid this flurry of pleasingly grotesque world-building is Cronenberg’s most romantic movie since 1996’s Crash. Saul and Caprice (Viggo Mortensen and Lea Seydoux) are lovers at the end of the world, creating art not out of pain but its absence. A lack of physical sensation has driven them to surgical extremes, and who can blame them?
2. In Front of Your Face– The prolific director Hong Sang-soo directed two of the best films I saw this year. The first is In Front of Your Face, a deeply affecting portrait of an actress (Lee Hye-yeoung) who has returned to Seoul after years in the U.S. to visit old friends and family as well as meet a promising young director who wants her to return to acting in his new film. Filled with long, meandering conversations that gradually unveil profound emotional truths (Hong’s signature), scenes from this film, and Lee’s striking performance, replayed in my mind long after it ended.
3. Tár– Todd Field makes a triumphant return to filmmaking with this ruthless and exacting epic about classical music conductor Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett), whose world is crumbling under the weight of her own hubris. A slow-burning ghost story that doubles as a complex dissection of power, Tár simply would not work without Blanchett’s cooly confident yet simmering performance at its center. As the world that Tár has become queen of begins to slip through her fingers, Blanchett brings this masterclass in narcissistic folly to brutal, scathing life. It’s one of the great director/actor pairings in recent memory.
4. Nope– A sci-fi Western set on the outskirts of show business, Jordan Peele’s latest is a thrillingly entertaining film that doubles as an incisive examination of Hollywood. Centered on two siblings (Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer, both excellent) keeping a horse ranch afloat after the mysterious death of their father, Nope showcases their attempts to catch a UFO stalking the area on camera. Peele continues to sharpen his formal chops with each new film, and showing his characters in the act of creating their own images out of the unknown yields astonishing, even jaw-dropping, results.
5. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed– Laura Poitras’ gripping documentary about the photographer Nan Goldin is an expansive and thrilling portrait of art, activism, and how the two are inextricably linked. Structured around her struggle to hold the Sackler family accountable for the opioid crisis, Poitras also opens up the movie to showcase how this modern fight was informed by Goldin’s experiences in the ’70s and ’80s queer art scene in New York and her tumultuous family history.
6. Decision to Leave– I don’t throw out the term “Hitchcockian” lightly, but Decision to Leave is exactly that. An immaculately conceived thriller about obsession, desire, and obsessive desire (did I say it’s Hitchcockian yet?), it centers on a police detective (Park Hae-il) who gets a little too close to a potential suspect (Tang Wei). This is the kind of movie where saying more would ruin the fun, but I will say that director Park Chan-wook is in top form here. I can’t wait to see it again.
7. Armageddon Time– James Gray’s new movie is an examination of his own childhood in Queens, told with microscopic attention to detail and filled with some of the most moving scenes in any film of the last year. He looks at the generational divides that quietly splinter his middle-class Jewish family when a young boy befriends a black classmate before being shipped off to private school. Anchored by two wonderful child performances from Banks Repeta and Jaylin Webb with amazing supporting work from big-name stars (Anthony Hopkins in particular), Armageddon Time is a thorny reflection on youth that is stripped of sentimentality.
8. The Fabelmans- As with Armageddon Time, Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical tale about his Jewish upbringing in Arizona and California and his relationship with his parents is so much more than a nostalgia piece. The Fabelmans finds one of the most popular filmmakers in the world looking back on his youth and uncovering the often complicated inspirations for his art. It is about a boy named Sammy Fabelman discovering he can find truth in images, and then use them as a means to relate to the world. However, he finds that the results of those images provoke as much as they entertain.
9. The Novelist’s Film- Like his other film on this list, Hong Sang-soo’s The Novelist’s Film is anchored by a captivating, slyly humorous turn by Lee Hye-yeoung. Here she plays a writer named Junhee, who encounters an acclaimed actress (Kim Min-hee) while out on a walk and spontaneously tries to convince her to star in her first film. A keenly observed character study that is an effortlessly entertaining showcase for its two stars, the movie is also a wry dissection of Hong’s own creative process.
10. Benediction– Terence Davies’ World War I-era biopic of the poet Siegfried Sassoon is a meticulous, haunting story of queer repression and guilt. Following Sassoon through his time in the British Army, his stint at a psychiatric facility for his anti-war stance, and his romantic relationships with different men, Benediction is imbued with just enough exuberance to keep the movie from total despair. As the younger version of Sassoon, Jack Lowden brilliantly navigates his turbulent life, the way his wartime traumas and his past loves inform his creative brilliance.
Hit the Road
Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris
Both Sides of the Blade
Avatar: The Way of Water