Everything Everywhere All at Once: This genre-busting anomaly from writer/directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert is a drama about a Chinese American family (led by Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan, both incredible) struggling to keep their laundromat business afloat. It’s also a loopy sci-fi tale, a thrilling martial arts action movie, a satire on failed bureaucracy, an apocalyptic race-against-time chair-gripper, and a surprisingly thought-provoking love story.
Babylon: Everything you’ve heard is true. It’s gross, full of jolting imagery (how is this not rated NC-17?) and three hours long. It’s also a phenomenal work, a commentary on how cinema captures our real and imagined past and is an artform lorded over by wealthy monsters. Plus, it’s very funny, with some of the year’s best set pieces. A box office flop today but a potential cult classic tomorrow.
Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio: The combination of stop-motion animation, a deeply felt and funny screenplay, and lovely songs and voice acting here hasn’t been this good since “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” By repositioning the classic tale as an anti-fascist fable and exploring how we deal with loss, del Toro finds new life and meaning in an old story.
Crimes of the Future: David Cronenberg’s latest depicts a world where pain no longer exists, human behavior is no longer recognizable, and surgery is the new performance art. Both riveting and disgusting, with amazing performances by Viggo Mortensen, Lea Seydoux, and Kristen Stewart, this one shocks the eyes and the mind.
Pearl: One of the year’s least likely success stories is a sequel we didn’t ask for to a not-bad horror movie few saw. Ti West’s brilliant prequel to his so-so “X” is as richly colored as “The Wizard of Oz,” takes risks in every scene and is anchored by a knockout performance from Mia Goth. You’ll never forget that closing shot, which is both a feat of cinema and acting.
Islands: A Canadian film about a Filipino family struggling to hold together after the patriarch’s health falls apart. Martin Adralin’s painfully honest, moving drama hits hard and never feels contrived. Adralin’s compassion for his characters is off the charts and so is the humanity invested by the actors.
The Wind and the Reckoning: David L. Cunningham’s 1893-set epic is among the best and most thoughtful films ever made about Hawaiian history. Both passionate and righteously angry, this plays like an exciting western, while depicting an uprise on Molokai against oppressors in a way that is both searing and complex.
MEN: The best and craziest film yet from novelist-turned-director Alex Garland. This horror film stars Jessie Buckley as a tourist who finds herself in a small town of men who all bare the same face (Rory Kinnear is awesome in multiple roles). A masterful slow build finishes with an outrageous finale you won’t see coming.
Three Minutes: A Lengthening: A one-of-a-kind documentary, in which three minutes of discovered footage reveal a lost Polish town in 1938 before it was decimated by Nazis. Narrated by Helena Bonham Carter and only showing us the same hypnotic imagery until the truth becomes increasingly clear, Bianca Stigter immerses us in a real, devastating discovery.
Death on the Nile: Elegant and exciting, director/star Kenneth Branagh’s Agatha Christie thriller is a vast improvement over “Murder on the Orient Express.” I’d give this the edge versus “The Menu” (which I also loved) as the year’s best ensemble murder mystery.