New York

Crash Dive

Vince Valitutti/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

Thirteen Lives (2022)

“Apollo 13” might have been the film that changed the game in Hollywood. It was a dramatic re-enactment of a real-life event most people had either forgotten about, or not quite understood the historical importance of. But that aborted space flight happened in 1970; and Ron Howard directed the movie version in 1995. Nowadays the rush to adapt real-life events into filmic re-enactments happens almost as soon as news cameras arrive on the ground. “Thirteen Lives” is about a Thai football team getting trapped in a flooded cave in 2018 – that is to say, four years ago. The teenagers who were in that cave are still teenagers now. Is that a spoiler? But how can it be, when the incident is so fresh in our minds? So what Mr. Howard needed to do was find an angle like what “Apollo 13” had. In that case, it was to remind us of human ingenuity in times of crisis and what humanity lost by stopping our exploration of the universe. It is unfortunate that this time around, Mr. Howard did no such thing.

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Made to Measure

Courtesy of TIFF

The Blue Caftan (2022)

Now this is cinema. It’s a small movie, with a slow pace, focused on watching three people think their thoughts and say very little of what they are actually thinking. It’s set in a place most people have heard of – Casablanca – but in a world most people haven’t – the workshop of a master craftsman (a maâlem) who embroiders caftans by hand. In Moroccan culture, caftans made by a maâlem are a treasured possession designed to last the lifetime of the wearer, or even passed from mother to daughter in a way that perhaps only christening gowns are in the West. (One customer mentions her caftan was a gift from her husband on the birth of their first son, 50 years ago.) Or at least they were. Times being what they are, hardly anyone is interested in buying something designed to last forever anymore. But a movie like “The Blue Caftan” makes a beautiful, enchanting case for always taking your time.

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Restricted Aria

Larry Horricks/20th Century Studios

Chevalier (2022)

The opening scene is almost too good to be true. Mozart himself is giving a concert in Paris when an audience member stands up and insults him. Of course Mozart laughs – he’s Mozart! – but the smile vanishes when the insulter challenges him to a violin-playing duel. Of course Mozart accepts – he’s Mozart! – but soon realizes that the challenger is actually pretty damn good, and the audience is so delighted by his chutzpah and his skill that they cheer him to victory. Who the hell is this? Well, his name is Joseph Bologne (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and before this triumph he stood out in 18th-century French high society anyway. He’s Black.

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No Netflix, No Chill

Searchlight Pictures

Empire of Light (2022)

At a certain point, blockbuster filmmakers must get bored. If you have, over the course of your career, demonstrated that you can handle both small budgets and colossal ones, high romance and shooty-action stuff, talky teenagers and morose adults, then what mountains are there left to climb? If you’re Sam Mendes, you direct your own screenplay and call it “Empire of Light.” It’s a love letter to cinema, of course; while he might be winning a bet he made with himself he’s still career-minded enough to keep his pet project in awards consideration. But while he was at it, Mr. Mendes decided to give cinematographer Roger Deakins a few tough marks to hit as well (backlit night fireworks, lamplit rooms at sunrise and the inside of a projectionist’s booth are just three examples). The irritating thing is that Mr. Mendes and Mr. Deakins are so skilled they could have succeeded blindfolded. They are two of current cinema’s greatest auteurs, who know how to stage an image in a way that elevates the plot. “Empire of Light” is so casually gorgeous it’s easy to overlook its flaws.

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Killer Instinct

Courtesy of TIFF

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022)

When was the last time a movie was so thoroughly, unashamedly, fun? Rian Johnson might have had “Star Wars” unjustifiably taken away from him, but never has anyone needed a major franchise less. Not when he can, with no visible strain on his part and all the support in the world (including a world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival), casually set up a better one of his own. “Glass Onion” is a flawless delight; and it’s crystal clear Mr. Johnson is only getting started.

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The Parent Trap

Universal Pictures

Ticket to Paradise (2022)

As an advertisement for modern parenting, “Ticket to Paradise” is a terrific argument for abortion on demand. Instead, it’s meant to be that dying art, the romantic comedy. While on holiday in Bali with best friend Wren (Billie Lourd), recent law grad Lily (Kaitlyn Dever) meets local man Gede (pronounced G’day, and played by Maxime Bouttier) and almost immediately they decide to get married. But the movie doesn’t care about them. Their relationship only exists to spite Lily’s parents, who have been bitterly divorced for decades. Instead the romance and the comedy are meant to be found in whether David (George Clooney) and Georgia (Julia Roberts) will be able to set aside their mutual loathing and work together to prevent the wedding. How comedic! How romantic!

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Modern-Day Gypsy

Sony Pictures Classics

Carmen (2022)

Robert De Niro once answered a question about his career by saying “The talent is the choices.” Whether or not Paul Mescal knows that quote, it’s advice he has taken to heart. After the television show “Normal People” captured everyone’s imaginations in early lockdown, both he and his costar Daisy Edgar-Jones were given the freedom to choose what they wanted to do next, an incredible position for any actor in their early 20s to be in. While Ms. Edgar-Jones has gone for unusual rom-coms and more standard courtroom dramas, Mr. Mescal has proved himself willing to experiment, and push beyond the comfort zone a lot of actors on the rise have.

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Nurse-ry Crimes

Courtesy of TIFF

The Good Nurse (2022)

The main topic of “The Good Nurse,” which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, is healthcare under capitalism, while its subtext is the power of kindness. It’s important to make that explicit since there’s a worrying recent trend for audiences to interpret “based on a true story” to mean that what is shown on screen is exactly as things happened in real life. There is no longer tolerance for changes to serve a cinematic purpose (such as the third child in “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”) or in order to simplify complicated plots (such as when multiple characters are combined into one in almost any film). Netflix has pushed this “based on a true story” to new limits, by having the subject of the brand-new “A Friend of the Family” appear at the start to assure us it exists with her blessing. There is some argument for this – if someone made a movie about my life while I was still alive to see it, you had better believe I’d expect all my irritating opinions to be respected by the filmmakers. But there is also a strong case for a better understanding about the blurred lines inherent in any retelling – life is messy and complicated, and sometimes sanding the edges makes for a better story. On a less philosophical level, a better understanding of how fiction handles the truth would also cut down on spoilers, and more easily enable us to examine a piece of art on its own terms. Nothing is ever only about itself; there’s always subtext. “The Good Nurse” is also a Netflix film, and also based on a true story, but writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns (a Brit, ie someone from a nation with socialized healthcare) and director Tobias Lindholm (a Dane, also from a nation with socialized healthcare) are uninterested in sensationalizing suffering. For once we have a movie which minimizes its depiction of pain.

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Kingdom Done

Felix Vratny/IFC Films

Corsage (2022)

Early on there’s a slow-motion shot of Empress Elisabeth of Austria (Vicky Krieps) and her three ladies-in-waiting (Jeanne Werner, Alma Hasun and Katharina Lorenz) running up some palace stairs. The shot is slow-motion to allow the audience to realize that they filmed in the actual palace without bothering to cover up the modern trappings of the museum it has become, to the point there’s a uniformed guard in a glass ticket booth by the door. This jarring choice by writer-director Marie Kreutzer might have been an inevitable budgetary consequence – they could shoot in the genuine historical locations, or in perfectly accurate period settings, but not both – but it turns the heart of the film away from Elisabeth into the conflict we have when assessing a real historical figure with modern eyes.

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A Bitter Pill

Nan Goldin

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (2022)

There has rarely been a more effective demonstration of how the personal can be political. Nan Goldin should be mentioned in the same breath as Sylvia Plath as artists who changed the world through their overwhelmingly emotional, deeply personal art. Ms. Plath was a poet, whose work was seen through the gendered lens of “confessional” and whose suicide has unfortunately permanently overshadowed her incredible talents as a writer. Happily Ms. Goldin is still alive, despite a life equally full of pain. She is most famous for “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency,” a photographic slide show set to music which debuted in 1986, depicting herself and her friends going out or staying in, having sex, taking drugs, being ill in hospital or other similarly private and intimate activities. (The best version is in the permanent collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, while a more British-themed version is in the permanent collection of the Tate in London.) It runs on a continuous loop and can be an overwhelming experience due to the rawness of emotion from the combination of sound and images that somehow floods the viewing room. Like a great movie, come to think.

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