Blood and Oil

Apple TV+

Killers of the Flower Moon (2023)

What Martin Scorsese has done here is nothing less than subvert his entire career. For with “Killers of the Flower Moon,” he has made a movie about the same people he has almost always made movies about – immigrants scrabbling to make a living in an unforgiving nation – but for the first time, he is not on their side. For the immigrants in this film are the white people, guests of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma, the richest people per capita on earth thanks to oil on their tribal lands. These immigrants are there to get their hands on that wealth by any means necessary; and their methods are horrible, all the more so for this story being broadly true.

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The Firewall

Robert Viglasky/Netflix

Heart of Stone (2023)

Finally, movies are getting back to what they are supposed to be good at: putting pretty people into mild peril in visually interesting places. Who wouldn’t fly direct from the Senegalese desert to downtown Reykjavik if they could? “Heart of Stone” is a supremely silly action movie that does a fine job of passing the time. And that’s cinema.

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Family Swap

Courtesy photo

Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani (2023)

Watching this gleeful, pointed Hindi rom-com makes it clear what’s been missing from most Hollywood movies lately: a sense of fun. It is abundantly clear that every single actor in this movie, even the villains, are having an absolute whale of a time. The characters even laugh! And it’s the kind of laughter that comes from enjoying yourself while doing good work that you know will be appreciated. This feeling of play goes a very long way to help the movie’s surprisingly radical medicine go down: equal rights for women are essential for a relationship to be a truly happy one.

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The Home Front

Quiver Distribution

Fear the Night (2023)

Plenty of people watching Neil LaBute's "In the Company of Men" 26 years ago, and then "Your Friends & Neighbors" and "The Shape of Things" not long afterward, thought that the movie business had kept up its end of the deal. The first two had male characters showing no empathy for anyone but themselves and who liked hurting other people, and if the third film swapped the genders around it still put a male under the microscope until a viewer in the same category asked a few sobering queries of himself. Neither Mr. LaBute nor these films are in the cultural conversation much now, even though how males are internally wired is discussed everywhere, urgently, all the time. The feeling that art should speak in answers rather than questions seems to have left Mr. LaBute and his inquiries stuck on the bench.

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Haitian Child Support

Javier Labrador

Mountains (2023)

The marketing describes “Mountains” as about the generational gap between immigrants and their children, but it’s considerably more nuanced than that. The gap is between parents who work with their hands – Xavier (Atibon Nazaire) works in demolition, part of a small crew tearing down unwanted properties in Miami’s Little Haiti, while his wife, Esperance (Sheila Anozier), is a crossing guard and dressmaker – and adult children whose job prospects are much more ethereal. Junior (Chris Renois) parks cars at a hotel and is attempting to build a stand-up comedy career by night, relying on a set that discusses how he is a disappointment to his parents. The physical realm is what previous generations are used to, while the younger people must search for their place in the cloud, the nebulous atmosphere where relationships are all. The mountains of the title are metaphorical, but this very good film knows how they rise up between where you are and where you want to be.

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Spirited Astray

Beijing October Media

Deep Sea (2023)

You thought an animated movie set in a restaurant-submarine owned by a magical clown-chef, staffed by walruses and otters and patronized by fish-people customers who are glued to their phones, with an 11-year-old human girl as the main character, was a kids’ movie? You rube. You fool. You absolute nincompoop. This movie is so grim – it has no problem with child abuse and mental cruelty, in addition to holding young Shenxiu (voiced by Wang Tingwen) responsible for the behavior of the adults around her – that only an idiot would show it to anyone under 12, though depressed teenagers will probably love it. This is also probably because the animation is unusually beautiful, in a smeary, lacquered way, populating every centimeter of every frame with the world-building detail found in the best kids’ movies. Sometimes the little otters, who generally work as waiters and bussers in the restaurant, even dress up in animal onesies and sing songs. But all of this anthropomorphic detail and visual depth wallpapers a plot of jaw-dropping horror that builds to a ghastly ending. The combined beauty and trauma is undoubtedly what brought it to the Tribeca Festival, but as such it’s very hard to recommend. Director Tian Xiaopeng has made a gorgeous atrocity.

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Tribeca Festival

Rather (2023)

It must be nice to be able to participate in your eulogy, even if not every aspect of your life is one you care to remember. Dan Rather got his start on local news in Texas, meaning he was the man on the spot when John F. Kennedy was shot in 1963; and 60 years later here we are watching a documentary about his journalism career at the Tribeca Festival. Mr. Rather is in his 90s, still participating in the news cycle through his Substack and a sassy Twitter feed, and witnessing a world of news and journalism which he directly shaped through his choices and his mistakes. The movie is more of a primer for those too young to remember journalism before the 24-hour news cycle, but its examination of Mr. Rather’s legacy pulls no punches.

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Blind Faith

Hiba Khodr

Q (2023)

It’s a sad truth that a great many Americans have had to witness their parents become swallowed by an organization called Q which tells them what to think and how to think it, but not quite like this. This documentary is about Lebanese-American director Jude Chehab’s mother, Hiba Khodr, who has devoted her entire adult life to a secretive all-female religious order in Lebanon, Q for short, run by a leader referred to as the Anisa. Ms. Chehab’s generally normal middle-class life has been in the shadow of her mother’s relationship with the sect, which has been the dominate relationship of Ms. Khodr’s life, as Ms. Chehab’s father, Ziad Chehab, knows only too well. This is a riveting attempt to explain why Ms. Khodr chose to hand over her life to this order, and to attempt to unpick the consequences of this choice.

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The Conformist

Stefan Weinberger

The Line (2023)

It’s not that boys will be boys, or men will be men. It’s power corrupting power. It’s an ugly mentality but one that we, as a society, seem completely disinterested in changing, even as movies about disgusting frat-house culture can be made anew every couple of years. “The Line” is a solid, but not smart, addition to the genre. On the plus side, it knows to its bones the games men play with each other that aren’t really games. On the minus, it has no idea at all about how power includes women. This lazy omission means “The Line” comes up short.

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Nuclear Option

Guy Ferrandis/Le Bureau Films

La Syndicaliste (2022)

While “La Syndicaliste” cannot pretend to be an act of justice, it is an act of respect, as is every attempt to redress a wrong by making good art about it. But at its core this is a movie about work. Gainful employment, health care, clean water and cheap utilities: we forget just how much work goes into all of these things. It’s the same as the amount of work that goes into a clean home, a happy family, good schools and a dignified old age but on a national scale. As you observe Maureen Kearney (Isabelle Huppert) assert the truth – not her truth, the truth – over and over again to indifferent power, you think about how much work everything takes.

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