5 Best Movies to Watch by Paul Mescal

Staff & contributors

In Aftersun, Sophie recalls a holiday she took as an eleven-year-old in the ‘90s with her father. Video recordings help jog her memory, but she’s looking for more than just a blast from the past. Rather, she seems to be seeking answers to fill in the gaps between who she knew as her father and who he really was: an immensely nice but deeply troubled man.

At first, Aftersun looks like a simple but beautiful story about father and daughter bonding over the course of a summer trip. But within minutes, it’s clear that there are layers to Aftersun, emotionally and editorially, that aren’t always explained but nonetheless enrich the movie with profound meaning. Stirring, complex, and surprisingly inventive, it’s not surprising that Aftersun is one of the most beloved films of the past year. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Celia Rowlson-Hall, Frankie Corio, Harry Perdios, Kieran Burton, Paul Mescal, Sally Messham, Sarah Makharine, Sophia Lamanova, Spike Fearn

Director: Charlotte Wells

Rating: R

As in his previous films, Director Andrew Haigh explores the delicate nature of loneliness, grief, and love in All of Us Strangers, except this time he does so through a supernatural lens. The result is mesmerizing: amid the tenderness the film draws from its characters, there’s a swirl of mystery too: how is it possible that Adam is conversing with his dead parents? Who, exactly, is Harry? The intrigue is there, and Haigh builds to a satisfying climax that answers all these questions. The mystery also lends the film an ethereal style that makes it visually resemble a horror or thriller more than it does a romance or drama. But as superb as it looks and as compelling as the ambiguity is, they never distract from the film’s central goal, which is to bring us into the complex emotional journey Adam goes through as he simultaneously develops a relationship with Harry and parses his childhood trauma with his parents. It’s a hefty film, filled with big emotional moments that will have you crying, smiling, longing, and healing all at the same time. And like any good film, it will haunt you for days on end.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Ami Tredrea, Andrew Scott, Carter John Grout, Claire Foy, Jamie Bell, Paul Mescal

Director: Andrew Haigh

Rating: R

, 2023

Director Garth Davis (who worked with Jane Campion on Top of the Lake) adapts Iain Reid's novel Foe with little concern about realism and veracity. The psychologically dense event at the film's centre—an impending separation of husband and wife—renders the whole world around them meaningless. Saoirse Ronan stars as the self-assured Henrietta (Hen) and Paul Mescal, as the belligerent Junior, two of the last remaining people in rural and farm areas. The year is 2065 and Earth is unrecognizable (peak Anthropocene) and life can be reduced to the impossibility of letting go. One fine day, a stranger comes to visit (Aaron Pierre), informing the couple that Junior has been drafted not to the military, but to a space colonization mission. A most curious triangle forms when Pierre's character decides to stay in the family guest room: there is no telling where Foe will take you, but it will be a long, hard fall; either to the pits of despair or desire, ambivalence galore. 

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Romance, Science Fiction, Thriller

Actor: Aaron Pierre, David Woods, Jordan Chodziesner, Paul Mescal, Saoirse Ronan, William Freeman, Yesse Spence

Director: Garth Davis

Rating: R

, 2023

Renowned choreographer Benjamin Millepied brings an 1875 opera leaping into the 21st century with this modern retelling — through dance and drama — of Carmen. The plot is reimagined along the US border and recenters the titular character (Melissa Barrera), a newly orphaned refugee from Mexico making her way to her godmother (a fabulous Rossy de Palma) in LA. In places, Carmen recalls Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet: aided by Nicholas Britell’s operatic score, it embraces its grand origins to evoke a star-crossed sense of looming tragedy over the romance that blossoms when reluctant border patrol guard Aidan (Paul Mescal) saves Carmen’s life and flees with her to California. 

Where Carmen really soars is in its translation of drama into dance. It’s an inspired move, pairing this almost mythical story with such a primal medium — but, while the movie achieves visceral emotion that words would struggle to produce in its choreographed scenes, there’s something lacking in the moments where dialogue is crucial. The conversations never move as fluidly as the dancing bodies do, and the passion and the fury falter as a result. That being said, this is largely still a boldly inventive filmmaking experiment, one that spotlights the thrilling potency of pure movement as a storytelling medium.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Benedict Hardie, Elsa Pataky, Kaan Guldur, Kevin MacIsaac, Melissa Barrera, Morgan Smallbone, Nico Cortez, Nicole da Silva, Paul Mescal, Pip Edwards, Richard Brancatisano, Rossy de Palma, Tara Morice, The D.O.C., Zac Drayson

Director: Benjamin Millepied