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Staff & contributors

, 1997

Cure is about a mad society, where both cure and sickness might be one and the same. Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa subverts the police procedural into an interrogation without definite answers, an abstract study on the evil that resides and is suppressed in every person’s heart. Unlike most horror films, Cure’s scares are left in plain sight, hypnotically mesmerizing as they are gruesome, with a sense of mundanity associated with other Japanese masters like Ozu or Kore-eda. “At the time it just seemed the right thing to do,” a man answers when asked why he killed his wife, and it is this contradictorily calm, nonchalant demeanor that creates a feeling of unease in the film’s horror aesthetic.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Akira Otaka, Anna Nakagawa, Denden, Hajime Tanimoto, Kōji Yakusho, Makoto Kakeda, Makoto Togashi, Masahiro Toda, Masato Hagiwara, Misayo Haruki, Ren Osugi, Shôgo Suzuki, Shun Nakayama, Taijirō Tamura, Takeshi Mikami, Taro Suwa, Tsuyoshi Ujiki, Yoriko Dōguchi, Yukijiro Hotaru

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Proving that children's entertainment can be legitimate art like any other kind of cinema, the sequel to 2014's Paddington displays a stronger love for community and storytelling than many other adult-oriented productions. It may be cutesy and innocent, but Paddington 2 also uses its stunning visual effects and intricate production design to prop up a sophisticated story about discrimination, staying true to one's self, and (most surprisingly) the prison-industrial complex. It's a proper throwback to another era of family movies that offers something far more substantial to young children and genuinely moving moments for the parents and children at heart.

Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Family, Kids

Actor: Aaron Neil, Alex Jordan, Ben Miller, Ben Whishaw, Brendan Gleeson, Cal McCrystal, Catherine Shepherd, Claire Keelan, Dan Antopolski, David J Biscoe, David Sant, Deepak Anand, Eileen Atkins, Enzo Squillino Jr., Geoffrey Lumb, Gus Brown, Hiten Patel, Hugh Bonneville, Hugh Grant, Imelda Staunton, Jag Patel, Jamie Demetriou, Jessica Hynes, Jim Broadbent, Joanna Lumley, Joel Fry, Julie Walters, Justin Edwards, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Kya Garwood, Louis Partridge, Madeleine Harris, Maggie Steed, Marie-France Alvarez, Meera Syal, Michael Gambon, Michael Mears, Nadine Marshall, Nicholas Lumley, Nicholas Woodeson, Noah Taylor, Peter Capaldi, Richard Ayoade, Robbie Gee, Sally Hawkins, Samuel Joslin, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Shola Adewusi, Simon Farnaby, Stephen McDade, Tim Fitzhigham, Tom Conti, Tom Davis

Director: Paul King

The Iranian director Jafar Panahi has faced constant persecution from his country's government for over a decade, for his career of sharply political films speaking truth to power. In fact, No Bears—which was shot in secret, in defiance of the government banning him from filmmaking for 20 years—had its initial festival run in 2022 while Panahi was in prison. Evidence of Panahi's drive to keep making his movies, no matter what, are clear in this film's limited resources and occasionally inconsistent video quality. But even those obstacles can't get in the way of his vaulting ambition.

No Bears operates on several different layers that all express Panahi's growing frustration with—but also his commitment to—making art that only ever seems to put himself and other people in harm's way. At its base level, this is a suspenseful small-town thriller, as an exiled Jafar Panahi (playing himself) tries to evade suspicion from the villagers around him. At the same time, Jafar is struggling to direct a film remotely, which creates a strain on his production crew. On top of that, the characters in his film undergo their own drama, seeking asylum out of Turkey. All of this is edited together under a stirring screenplay written with heart, humor, and the hope that the institutions that try to scare us will never keep us in the dark forever.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Jafar Panahi, Mina Kavani, Narges Delaram, Naser Hashemi

Director: Jafar Panahi

, 2009

A thirst for love, a thirst for recognition, a thirst for sympathy, a thirst for meaning, a thirst for life, and a thirst for blood. Director Park Chan-wook and actor Song Kang-ho, two of the biggest names in South Korean cinema, join forces for the first time in a modern take on the supernatural. In present day South Korea, Catholic priest Sang-hyun (Song) volunteers himself as a human experiment during the formulation of a vaccine against a deadly virus. When the experiment fails and he is thought to be dead, he resurrects as a conflicted vampire, one whose moral code continually goes against his intrinsic desires. Along with Song and long-time collaborator cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon, Park creates a riveting atmosphere that is both very scary and sad. By blending elements of horror and drama, he also achieves putting a fresh and unique spin on the time-honored vampire film.

Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller

Actor: Choi Hee-jin, Choi Hui-jin, Choi Jong-ryul, Ériq Ebouaney, Hwang Woo-seul-hye, Jo Deok-jae, Jo Moon-ee, Kang-ho Song, Kim Hae-sook, Kim Hae-suk, Kim Ok-vin, Lee Hwa-ryong, Mercedes Cabral, Natallia Bulynia, Oh Dal-su, Park In-hwan, Ra Mi-ran, Seo Dong-soo, Shin Ha-gyun, Shin Ha-kyun, Son Jong-hak, Song Kang-ho, Song Young-chang

Director: Chan-wook Park, Park Chan-wook

Rating: R

Difficult but essential viewing, Procession tracks the progress of six men undergoing art therapy—specifically, by creating short filmed scenes to process their trauma from being sexually abused by Catholic priests. The resulting films we get to see are wildly varied in the emotions they express, forming a rich and powerful tapestry of the effects abuse can leave on individuals. And to see these men confront the worst events of their lives through filmmaking begins to feel like validation for filmmaking itself, that it can truly be an art form that changes and saves lives. But even more striking, somehow, is the unbreakable bond that forms among these survivors throughout this entire process, captured with reverence and overflowing compassion by director Robert Greene.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Dan Laurine

Director: Robert Greene

, 2003

It has become increasingly rare to find films made in Afghanistan, so when a movie like Osama comes along, it becomes nothing short of essential viewing. This is a profoundly depressing but beautifully crafted story of a young girl made to look like a boy so as to go unnoticed by Taliban forces while trying to help her family. It's a simple film wherein this character's budding awareness of her girlhood is set against a terrifying backdrop of violence, abuse, and fundamentalist extremism—all of which director Siddiq Barmak keeps off the screen.

Barmak knows exactly what to point his camera at, covering multiple angles of life in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan without calling attention to himself, and still finding ways to show the smallest shreds of sympathy and support hiding within this society. And in the lead role, a teenage Marina Golbahari delivers a towering, heartbreaking performance that never registers as anything but authentic. The fear that she embodies is almost too real to watch without becoming afraid yourself. Osama is incredibly difficult viewing, but it's a truly valuable work of art that deserves to be preserved.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Arif Herati, Malik Akhlaqi, Marina Golbahari, Zabih ullah Frotan, Zubaida Sahar, مالک اخلاقی

Director: Siddiq Barmak

One of the most thrilling biographical films to come out of Hollywood in the 2020s, Shaka King's exhilarating take on a truly remarkable leader within the Black Panther Party—and the young man who would eventually be twisted into betraying him—also provides a respectful, honest space to voice out progressive views that still aren't fully embraced in the United States. Much of the film is made up of beautiful, powerful rhetoric, contrasting in fascinating ways with scenes of violence or deception that only remind us how ahead-of-his-time chairman Fred Hampton was and still is. And in a thunderous, Oscar-winning performance, Daniel Kaluuya brings all of Hampton's words roaring to life while still reminding us of how tragically young this inspirational figure was at the time of his death.

But Judas and the Black Messiah tells an equally powerful second story over this one: that of FBI informant William O'Neal who reluctantly agrees to sell Hampton to the feds, and quickly realizes that he's been scammed too. Rivaling—and, arguably, besting—Kaluuya's performance is LaKeith Stanfield, whose tortured and increasingly despairing performance as O'Neal is the stuff of pure Shakespearean drama. Together, both stories ask us what real freedom looks like, and that we believe we can still fight for it.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Algee Smith, Amari Cheatom, Amber Chardae Robinson, Ashton Sanders, Caleb Eberhardt, Chris Hahn, Daniel Kaluuya, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Dominique Fishback, Dominique Thorne, Graham Lutes, Ian Duff, Ikechukwu Ufomadu, James Udom, Jermaine Fowler, Jesse Plemons, Khris Davis, Lakeith Stanfield, Lil Rel Howery, Linda D Gaines, Martin Sheen, Nicholas Velez, Nick Fink, Robert Longstreet, Terayle Hill

Director: Shaka King

This tender, autobiographical coming-of-age story about a working class family in post-war Liverpool is Terence Davies’ masterpiece—evoking memories through a series of loosely connected scenes that highlight the joys and woes of growing up. It is comprised of two films shot two years apart. The first details the tribulations of a young family surviving an abusive father in the ‘40s. The second part follows the kids grown up and finding their way in the ‘50s, and the influence of music and cinema on their lives. Davies uses a series of beautifully composed tableaux to tell the tale, which bring the setting and the characters intimately to life. Distant Voices, Still Lives is regarded as one of the greatest British films of all-time.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Alan Bird, Andrew Schofield, Angela Walsh, Anne Dyson, Bill Moores, Carl Chase, Dean Williams, Freda Dowie, Ina Clough, Jean Boht, John Michie, Lorraine Ashbourne, Matthew Long, Michael Starke, Nathan Walsh, Pauline Quirke, Pete Postlethwaite, Roy Ford, Sally Davies, Susan Flanagan

Director: Terence Davies

The best thing about The Rehearsal—Nathan Fielder's elaborate Russian doll of social experiments and self-examination—is how seamlessly it goes from prank comedy to surrealist horror. The show's concept of staging situations where real people can practice making an important decision (complete with actors playing all the background characters) pays off in spades. Fielder's insistence on over-preparation collides beautifully with the unpredictability of human behavior, leading to some of the funniest and weirdest interactions to grace TV.

But the greatest trick that The Rehearsal has up its sleeve is Fielder, playing a version of himself using this show to understand how to live a meaningful life. As he stretches these rehearsals beyond their limit (at certain points, recreating his own rehearsals with someone playing himself), his character's persona also begins to crack. Suddenly the series isn't just a comedy, but a poignant reflection on empathy and forgiveness, and a psychological mind-bender about an egomaniac who refuses to give up control of reality itself. There's nothing else like it on television.

Genre: Comedy, Documentary

Actor: Nathan Fielder

Director: Nathan Fielder

After you've watched a few films by Hong Sang-soo, you should know the general outline of what to expect: long, unbroken shots of long, unbroken conversations between characters (who are probably drinking alcohol), with very minimal movement on screen, a few recurring character types, and probably actress Kim Min-hee. But where a number of Hong's films tend to make excuses for its burdened, self-righteous artist characters, The Novelist's Film expresses not just a self-awareness of Hong's usual perspective but a sincere willingness to imagine something beyond himself. With one of the strongest screenplays he's had in a long time, unexpected new touches to his usual style, and a powerful lead performance by Lee Hye-young, the film manages to infuse a newfound sense of vitality and vulnerable emotion into tis familiar beats. There's plenty of humor and light tension to be found in the film's many conversations about the purpose of art—boiling things down to the most foundational reasons for why we make and respond to creative works in the first place. Whether you're a longterm fan or longterm skeptic of Hong's work, The Novelist's Film adds something undeniably new to his oeuvre.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Gi Ju-bong, Kim Min-hee, Kwon Hae-hyo, Lee Hye-young, Park Mi-so, Seo Young-hwa

Director: Hong Sang-soo

Rating: NR

, 2023

Made on a clearly lower budget but with enthusiasm and love for the craft overflowing from every frame, Junta Yamaguchi's River gets clean and wholesome comedy—that's still plenty memorable—out of a terrific ensemble of actors, all of whom get to display a full range of expression for their increasingly exasperated characters. It's smart, economical filmmaking that's still dazzlingly put together, as each two-minute loop is done in a single unbroken shot that feels different with every reset. Yamaguchi is highly aware of how quickly this gimmick might overstay its welcome, so he allows the film's emotional landscape to open up considerably with every cycle. As the hell of this situation starts to chip away at the characters, the film also becomes more urgent and more soulful, leading the story down unexpected paths and inviting us to think beyond the pattern it sets up for itself.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Science Fiction

Actor: Gota Ishida, Haruki Nakagawa, Kazunari Tosa, Manami Honjo, Masashi Suwa, Munenori Nagano, Riko Fujitani, Saori, Shiori Kubo, Takashi Sumita, Yoshifumi Sakai, Yoshimasa Kondô, Yuki Torigoe

Director: Junta Yamaguchi

Clocking in at just over four hours and shot in vivid color, Norte, the End of History stands not only as Filipino auteur Lav Diaz's best work since his earliest films, but as the easiest entry point into his unique filmography. Told on a sweeping yet intimate scale, the film has all the trademarks of Diaz's work: slow, lengthy shots; bursts of dense dialogue and philosophizing; and copious amounts of human despair and systemic corruption. As our three protagonists' souls (who rarely share the screen, if at all) are pushed to the limit after a terrible crime is committed, everything heads toward universal truths—the perseverance of love, and the inevitability of divine justice.

It can be difficult to recommend any film of this length and deliberate pace, but Norte remains a masterful example of how to use time itself to build a monumental story.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Angeli Bayani, Archie Alemania, Barbie Capacio, Hazel Orencio, Ian Lomongo, Kristine Kintana, Mae Paner, Mailes Kanapi, Moira Lang, Noel Sto. Domingo, Perry Dizon, Sheenly Gener, Sid Lucero, Soliman Cruz

Director: Lav Diaz

Director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s feature debut is nothing short of a masterpiece, his style of serenity apparent from the get-go. With Kore-eda’s still frames and touching, relatable stories, it’s almost impossible not to find yourself caring for his characters like they are your own family. 

In Maborosi, Yumiko (Makiko Esumi) is haunted by one loss after another and struggles to accept these tragedies and move on with her life. Her story is probably the toughest Kore-eda has had to tell, yet there is still a certain beauty to it, especially in its quietness and moody atmosphere. Not forcing any of his characters’ feelings on the audience, Kore-eda manages to tell a harrowing tale in the gentlest of ways.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Akira Emoto, Hidekazu Akai, Hiromi Ichida, Makiko Esumi, Midori Kiuchi, Minori Terada, Mutsuko Sakura, Ren Osugi, Sayaka Yoshino, Tadanobu Asano, Takashi Inoue, Takashi Naito

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Rating: Not Rated