If you’re one of the lucky few to be able to attend it, the 2023 New York Film Festival is a great way to see the latest in world cinema. From cutting-edge films like Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s Evil Does Not Exist to more commercial fare like Michael Mann’s Ferrari, the Big Apple film fest effectively showcases the artform as it exists at this moment.
Of the hundreds of features and short films that screened at NYFF, I only managed to see a handful, but each one was distinct and memorable in their own idiosyncratic way. Some, like Garth Davis’ sci-fi movie Foe, have already been released, while others, like Andrew Haigh’s All of Us Strangers, are scheduled to be released this fall. From instant masterpieces to flawed works of art, these six films are worth a look for audiences to see the state of cinema in 2023 and to simply have a good time at the movies.
Sometimes a movie can be misunderstood for all the wrong reasons, or simply unappreciated for no reason at all. Garth Davis’ contemplative, old-school sci-fi feature Foe is one of those movies. When it was released in early October, the movie received a surprising number of mixed-to-negative reviews. Don’t listen to the naysayers; Foe is great, and is well worth your time.
Saoirse Ronan and Paul Mescal star as Henrietta and Junior, a married couple stranded in America’s heartland, which has been ravaged by climate change. One day, they receive an intriguing offer: Junior has been asked to test out an experimental space colony as a future habitat for humanity, and to fill the void left by his absence, he’ll be replaced by an AI version of him until he returns. Naturally, this brings up all sorts of questions about identity and love, particularly when Henrietta develops feelings for Junior’s replacement. Foe is an engrossing throwback to those high-minded sci-fi stories from the 1950s and 1960s, the ones that prioritized asking the Big Questions over empty pyrotechnics.
Foe is now playing in select theaters nationwide.
A slow burn of a thriller, Anatomy of a Fall is as straightforward and blunt as its title suggests. The movie focuses on Sandra (Sandra Hüller, who is also in this season’s The Zone of Interest), a writer living with her husband, Vincent, and vison-impaired son, Daniel, in a remote skiing village in France. One day, the son returns home to find his father dead from a fall and his mother is the prime suspect in his possible murder. Did Sandra kill him? Did Vincent fall by accident? Or was it something, or someone, else?
The director, Justine Triet, isn’t just interested in answering these questions (although fear not, she does) – she’s also fascinated by the reasons they are being asked in the first place. Sandra is on trial for more than just her husband’s murder; she’s also being persecuted for not being a perfect wife, an ideal mother, or an easily definable concept of what a “good woman” is. Anatomy of a Fall works pretty well as a suspense movie, but it’s more interesting when it engages in topics unrelated to the titular crime itself.
Anatomy of a Fall is now playing in select theaters.
A bizarre combination of melodrama, comedy, and poignant character study, May December shouldn’t work as well as it does. It’s a testament to the director, Todd Haynes, and the cast, led by Julianne Moore (Still Alice), Natalie Portman (Thor: Love and Thunder), and breakout Charles Melton (Riverdale), that they pull off such a high-wire tonal balancing act with aplomb, and in the process, make one of the year’s funniest and saddest movies at the same time.
The title refers to the previously scandalous relationship between Moore’s Gracie and Melton’s Joe, who first came together when Grace was 37 years old and Joe was 14. Yes, this is a barely fictionalized version of the notorious Mary Kay Letourneau case from the 1990s, but May December isn’t concerned with cheap imitation. By adding Portman’s vaguely sinister actress Elizabeth, who is shadowing Grace and Joe for an upcoming movie based on their lives, Haynes puts a comedic, campy spin on what could have been a straightforwardly tragic tale. This is an odd, yet breezy movie; there’s nothing quite like it, and its bittersweet humor can sometimes knock you sideways in a pleasant way.
May December will have a limited theatrical release on November 17 before streaming on Netflix on December 1.
Released in Japan under the title How Do You Live?, Hayao Miyazaki’s final film (he’s already backtracked on that proclamation, thank God) is less whimsical than his more well-known efforts like Spirted Away and Howl’s Moving Castle, but no less astonishing in its visual beauty and meaty subject matter.
The movie concerns Mahito Maki, a young boy who has just lost his mother in a fire and is learning to adapt to his father’s new wife and household. Isolated from his peers, Mahito encounters a magical heron, who leads him to a hidden tower that seemingly hides his still-alive mother. From there, Mahito is transported to another world that has all the trademarks of a Miyazaki film: wizards with great power, adventurous women who carve out their own bold paths, and lots and lots of birds.
The Boy and the Heron takes a while to get going (there’s perhaps too many scenes involving the titular heron bugging Mahito), but once it does, it plays like Miyazaki’s best works, full of magic and melancholy. It’s also a great addition to the pantheon of final movies from great directors, joining John Huston’s The Dead and Ingmar Bergman’s After the Rehearsal as a film that functions as a definitive statement of an illustrious career.
The Boy and the Heron will fly into theaters on December 8.
The best movie to come out of the New York Film Festival, and a strong contender for the best movie of 2023, Andrew Haigh’s sadly beautiful All of Us Strangers is the kind of movie that haunts you; if it makes you cry, that just means you have good taste. Andrew Scott plays Adam, a fortysomething screenwriter living in an almost empty London skyscraper. One evening, he takes the train to his hometown and encounters a mysterious man in a park. He follows him home and is not at all shocked to discover that it’s his father (Billy Elliot‘s Jamie Bell), who has been dead for over three decades. Gradually, Adam interacts with both his dad and his mother (The Crown‘s Claire Foy) as if they were still alive, and fills them in on his life, his new boyfriend, Harry (Paul Mescal again), and how society has changed since they passed on.
The premise sounds cutesy, but Haigh never falls into cheap sentiment. It’s up in the air whether or not Adam is hallucinating these visions, and it’s left for you to decide what’s real and what’s not. But what’s clear is that All of Us Strangers is the rare movie to get the feeling of loneliness, of drifting through life with both easy pleasure and low-key anxiety, just right. Both Scott and Mescal create believably lost creatures who bond over being alone; it’s their superpower, and it’s what draws them together. This movie may devastate you, but it will also enrich you as only great art can do.
All of Us Strangers will start breaking hearts in theaters on December 22.
James Mangold’s 2019 movie Ford v Ferrari was the ultimate dad movie, an exciting, unfussy biopic that unironically showcased the appeal of grease and testosterone. Michael Mann’s Ferrari, on the other hand, is the ultimate grumpy uncle movie, a biopic that frequently loses control over its own narrative and is almost killed by some of its disastrous casting choices. (Casting directors, please stop casting Adam Driver as real-life Italians!)
That it’s still worth a watch is largely due to the dramatic real-life story of Enzo Ferrari, especially when he enters a car race that’s necessary to save his company from going under, and the stellar performance by Penelope Cruz as Ferrari’s long-suffering wife, Laura, who juices the movie whenever she appears on-screen. Mann is known for his masterpieces Manhunter and Heat, and there’s just enough of his dynamic filmmaking here, particularly in the bravura climactic race sequence, that makes you wish Ferrari was a better movie.
Ferrari will race into theaters on December 25.
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