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Staff & contributors
In 2008, legendary and controversial director Darren Aronofsky delivered yet another unforgettable allegory, starring Mickey Rourke as Randy "The Ram" Robinson, an aging professional wrestler long past his prime, who is struggling to retain a sense of identity, purpose, and dignity later in life. Rourke, who worked as a professional boxer in his 90s and, like his protagonist, almost hung his hat at the time the movie was shot, delivers a once-in-a-lifetime performance that rightly earned him a Golden Globe. Everybody talked about this movie when it came out! Marisa Tomei's performance, who plays the mid-40s stripper The Ram pursues a serious relationship with, was also deemed iconic by some critics. Shot on 16mm film, The Wrestler's cinematography, like its acting, feels incredibly raw, intimate, and realistic. It is essentially about bouncing back, making amends, and growing old and features acting performances that will be remembered for a long time. One for the books!

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Abraham Aronofsky, Ajay Naidu, Alex Whybrow, Alyssa Bresnahan, Andrea Langi, Armin Amiri, Ben Van Bergen, Bernadette Penotti, Bill Walters, Brandon DiCamillo, Brian Heffron, Charlotte Aronofsky, Claudio Castagnoli, Cobian, Daniel Healy Solwold Jr., Daniel Solwold Jr., Darnell Kittrell, Donnetta Lavinia Grays, Douglas Crosby, Dustin Howard, Dylan Keith Summers, Dylan Summers, E.J. Carroll, Emmanuel Yarborough, Eric Santamaria, Erika Smith, Ernest Miller, Evan Rachel Wood, Felice Choi, Giovanni Roselli, Gregg Bello, Jamar Shipman, Jeff Chena, Jen Cohn, Jess Liaudin, John Corson, John D'Leo, John Zandig, Jon Trosky, Judah Friedlander, Lloyd Anoa'i, Marcia Jean Kurtz, Marisa Tomei, Mark Margolis, Matt Cannon, Michael Drayer, Mickey Rourke, Mike Miller, Nate Hatred, Nicholas K. Berk, Nick Papagerio, Olivia Baseman, Paul E. Normous, Paul Thornton, Peter Conboy, Rebecca Darke, Rob Strauss, Robert D. Siegel, Robert Oppel, Ron Killings, Ryan Lynn, Ryan Tygh, Sakinah Bingham, Scott Franklin, Steven Haworth, Sylvia Kauders, Todd Barry, Tommy Farra, Vernon Campbell, Wass Stevens

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Rating: R

With its origins as a full-length rock monologue, it's understandable if Tick, Tick... Boom! comes off as overly concerned with its protagonist's personal anxieties and not the larger social and health crises happening right outside his door. But while it really doesn't offer much insight into the AIDS epidemic, or even the art scene of 1990s New York, the helplessness that Jonathan Larson feels in the face of his own inability to save the world comes off as honest expression nonetheless. Andrew Garfield and a strong cast that includes Robin de Jesús and Vanessa Hudgens give purpose and energy to this somewhat messy character study that still manages to land its emotional beats.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Adam Pascal, Alex Lacamoire, Alexandra Shipp, André De Shields, Andrew Garfield, Bebe Neuwirth, Ben Levi Ross, Bernadette Peters, Beth Malone, Bradley Whitford, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Chad Beguelin, Chita Rivera, Christopher Jackson, Chuck Cooper, Danielle Ferland, Danny Burstein, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Eddy Lee, Ehizoje Azeke, Eisa Davis, Elizabeth Chestang, Gizel Jimenez, Howard McGillin, Ilia Jessica Castro, Jeanine Tesori, Jelani Alladin, Joanna Adler, Joel Grey, Joel Perez, Jonathan Larson, Jonathan Marc Sherman, Joshua Henry, Judith Light, Judy Kuhn, Ken Holmes, Laura Benanti, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Marc Shaiman, Mason Versaw, Micaela Diamond, Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, Nick Blaemire, Phillipa Soo, Phylicia Rashād, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Ricardo Zayas, Richard Kind, Robin de Jesús, Roger Bart, Ryan Vasquez, Sheila Tapia, Stephen Schwartz, Stephen Sondheim, Steven Levenson, Tariq Trotter, Tom Kitt, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Vanessa Hudgens, Wilson Jermaine Heredia

Director: Lin-Manuel Miranda

Rating: PG-13

At one point in The Whale, Brendan Fraser’s Charlie —  a morbidly obese, reclusive teacher — describes an act of abject cruelty as “not evil” but “honesty.” Darren Aronofsky seems to believe the same about his movie, but alas, he's gravely misled, because The Whale is flooringly glib. From the outset, the film actively and incessantly tries to choreograph audience disgust for Charlie, all so that it can pull off a manipulative “he’s human, actually” swing later on — a “twist” that won’t work if you, you know, already accept people’s humanity irrespective of their appearance. 

Cinematography, makeup, and score all conspire to paint Charlie as grotesque: the camera laboriously over-emphasizes his size and mobility issues, while histrionic music chimes in to frame trivial moments (like Charlie reaching to pick something up from the floor) as grand, tragic dramas. Even if you ignore all its needless cruelty, The Whale — which is adapted from a play — can never shed its stagy origins: the writing frequently reaches for transcendence, but its efforts are as subtle as its evidently retroactively-shoehorned-in-title. If it’s as sincere as it purports to be, this is one of the worst movies of recent years, and if it’s not — which is almost preferable — then it’s a landmark exercise in trolling.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Allison Altman, Brendan Fraser, Hong Chau, Jacey Sink, Sadie Sink, Samantha Morton, Sathya Sridharan, Ty Simpkins

Director: Darren Aronofsky