New York

Live at the Apollo

Pop. 87 Productions/Focus Features

Asteroid City (2023)

It's the way in which he uses physical things and precise language that makes him so easy to parody, but that is also his appeal. Wes Anderson is the only director currently working with such a clear visual style that it can be endlessly parodied without any further explanation. This is his gift but as “Asteroid City” makes clear, also his curse. Mr. Anderson is a sensitive, thoughtful director of grief and disappointment, but his messages of the need of kindness and the importance of true human connection are often lost under his aesthetic. That aesthetic overshadows how actors are fighting to work for him even in the smallest of parts; his gentle sense of humor is overlooked; and his willingness to explore even the tiniest detail within a frame makes his movies treasures which can be continually revisited without sound. On the other hand, deep in the credits of his newest offering, there’s mention of a yodelling consultant. So he’s on the verge of becoming a parody of himself.

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Sparring Partners

Iglesias Más/Sony Pictures Classics

Strange Way of Life (2023)

They don't even kiss; not their current counterparts, anyway. Silva (Pedro Pascal) and Jake (Ethan Hawke) were young cowboys together, and together in every sense of the word. Now Jake is a sheriff and Silva a rancher; and their meeting for the first time in 25 years is due to the awkward fact that Silva's son, Joe (George Steane), has killed Jake's sister-in-law. Has Silva decided to leverage the past in order to save his son? Or is there something else going on?

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Close to the Sun

Well Go USA

Born to Fly (2023)

“Born to Fly” is much, much more interesting than its top line, a.k.a. the Chinese answer to “Top Gun: Maverick.” The influence of American war movies is strong on this one, in that there are shots and plot beats lifted straight from “Top Gun” and “The Right Stuff,” but that is not the point. And while the opening sequence features English-speaking black-helmeted pilots (who are never directly called American) harming innocent Chinese workers, damaging Chinese property and flipping Chinese pilots the bird, this is not a standard war movie. It’s instead meant as a testament to ingenuity, in how the Chinese army develops its fighter jet program without international tech or innovations from elsewhere. On the one hand, this is a huge testament to the war tactics referenced in the opening lines of “Patton.” But from “Born to Fly’s” point of view, there’s something bigger at stake here.

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Darkened Door

"Suzume" Film Partners/Crunchyroll

Suzume (2023)

American cinema currently churns out an endless parade of superhero movies to counteract how powerless most Americans now feel, but Japanese art is the best in the world at metaphors for trauma. “Godzilla” and its uncontrollable rampages through Tokyo and other cities was an obvious stand-in for nuclear destruction, and its many imitators were able to exist because the need was still there. “Suzume” is more specifically about a more recent disaster, that of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011, but its combination of the supernatural and modern everyday life builds to create a tearjerker of surprising emotional power.

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Painted Into a Corner

Wolfgang Ennenbach/Focus Features

Inside (2023)

It's tough to imagine a movie about a man (Willem Dafoe) trapped in an apartment not immediately drawing pandemic parallels, but “Inside” is such a compelling puzzle that it takes a while for the metaphor, if that is what it is, to become apparent. This is more about how art helps you survive when the immediate necessities, like running water and windows that open, are denied you. Instead there's a refrigerator that plays “Macarena” when you leave the door open too long and a collection of modern art so impressive it's listed in the credits. If you have to be trapped, it might as well be in the nicest apartment anyone has ever seen, but still, it's no way to live.

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Sunset Strip

Warner Brothers Pictures

Magic Mike's Last Dance (2023)

How can an entire film industry look at Channing Tatum for nearly 20 years and still not know what to do with him? Gene Kelly couldn’t believe dancing wasn’t as easy for everyone as it was for him; and his resulting arrogance made him a beloved bad boy. Fred Astaire combined the vibe of a disapproving uncle with a litheness and elegance on his feet that has kept him a byword for physical grace. And Mr. Tatum is like your best friend’s goofy little brother, somehow so likable and charming that you smile just thinking about him. There’s very few actors who have ever had his combination of killer physique, relaxing physicality and sense of humor. He should be surprising us with fresh new tricks as often as Kelly and Astaire did. It is devastating to report that instead “Magic Mike’s Last Dance” doesn’t know what to do with him, either.

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Down to Earth


All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (2023)

History wraps around itself while you're watching "All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt," setting the life of one person against those of her parents, grandparents, sister and her own child. Different time periods in the same Mississippi setting mesh together, not urgently for impact but languidly for poetry, events crossing across each other like the wandering tuning of an old radio. Dialogue is sparse but the soundtrack is dense with the noise of rain, insects, running water, while the images are lengthy shots of hands, vegetation and mud. A story about one young rural mother builds up incrementally, a sad story; but the film roots her so firmly into the landscape that she and her pain might be aspects of some larger, more spiritual thing.

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On the Rebound

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Rye Lane (2023)

South London rise up for “Rye Lane!” Finally we have a fun movie for us! In the past quarter-century, West London has enjoyed posh romcoms like “Notting Hill” or cheery kids movies like “Paddington 2.” North London has worthy tales for the moneyed set of a certain age like “Hampstead” or “Lady in the Van.” East London can claim endless gangster movies (including “Anti-Social,” a.k.a. the one with Meghan Markle) as well as Hollywood attempts at British realism like “Run, Fatboy, Run” and the latest “Tomb Raider.” All south London previously had to call its own was the standalone excellence of “Attack the Block” (which gave us John Boyega) as well as many grim misery-porn crime flicks. (Despite Bridget Jones famously living in Borough Market, in tone and style those are West London movies.) The general common thread of South London movies was violent cliché, like in 2019’s “Blue Story,” a crime thriller with Micheal Ward in his first lead role, which was a big financial success.

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The End of the Affair

Guy Ferrandis/Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Passages (2023)

Finally, a chaos bisexual. Tomas (the outstanding Franz Rogowski), a German movie director who lives and works in Paris, has just finished his latest film. At the wrap party he complains to a man at the bar that no one wants to dance with him. The random woman next to him overhears and offers. This is Agathe (the incredible Adèle Excharopoulos), a Frenchwoman whose friends worked on the film and who quietly, but with some satisfaction, has just dumped her boyfriend. Tomas grins and meets Agathe on the floor. As they dance, the man with whom Tomas was talking makes his goodbyes; we realize he is Tomas’s husband, the English Martin (a superb Ben Whishaw). Between Agathe and Tomas, one thing shortly leads to another. But when someone is as careless in their personal life as Tomas is, no path is ever straightforward.

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Spousal Support


You Hurt My Feelings (2023)

Nicole Holofcener is a national treasure who should be protected at all costs. There is hardly anyone in America anymore doing similar work to her, which is to say, making midbudgets about the everyday problems of middle-class people without a lick of special effects; it’s obvious why the Sundance Film Festival loves her. There are filmmakers all over Europe being praised to the skies for making movies about the first-world problems faced by the well-off in Paris or Amsterdam or cosy second homes in the countryside. Why is Ms. Holofcener one of the very few Americans working in this vein? Her movies are not twee and they are certainly aren’t boring; they just might have a little more realism than people care to deal with. It’s the drama of the everyday things, when a disagreement over a rack of tasteful earrings can be as high stakes as an infinity stone.

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