4 Best Movies to Watch From American Zoetrope

Staff & contributors

There are a striking number of similarities between Priscilla and director Sofia Coppola’s earlier offering, Marie Antoinette: both revolve around 14-year-old girls hand-picked to be partners to more powerful men in long-unconsummated relationships, and both girls are emotionally cut adrift and forced to live in gilded cages. But where Coppola’s Barbie-pink historical biopic is punkily anachronistic and riotous, Priscilla is a far more muted affair. There are no wild parties at Graceland as there were at Versailles; instead, Priscilla’s emotional isolation, thousands of miles away from her family, is made disconcertingly clear in shots of the infatuated teenager (played by Cailee Spaeny) anxiously ruminating alone in endless lavish rooms while the decade-older King (Jacob Elordi) plays away. Elvis’ emotional manipulation of Priscilla is conveyed subtly but inescapably — and the full sickening, insidious effect comes to the fore thanks to Spaeny’s astonishing performance. Based on Priscilla Presley’s own memoir, this is a bubble-bursting biopic, and it’s so compelling and painfully immersive that we never feel, even for a moment, like we’re watching the B side — instead, Spaeny and Coppola convincingly assert that this was the real story all along.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Alanis Peart, Ari Cohen, Cailee Spaeny, Conni Miu, Dagmara Domińczyk, Dan Abramovici, Dan Beirne, Deanna Jarvis, E. Fegan DeCordova, Gwynne Phillips, Jacob Elordi, Jorja Cadence, Josette Halpert, Kamilla Kowal, Kelaiah Guiel, Kelly Penner, Luke Humphrey, Lynne Griffin, Mary Kelly, Olivia Barrett, R Austin Ball, Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll, Sarah Dodd, Stephanie Moore, Stephanie Moran, Tim Dowler-Coltman, Tim Post

Director: Sofia Coppola

Rating: R

Shattering the rules for how a biographical drama can look and be told, Paul Schrader's Mishima rejects the usual character study template in favor of a much more abstract attempt to understand a person through their art. Told in fragments that flit between Mishima's early life, dramatizations of his fiction novels, and the final day of his life, the film pieces together what it believes was the core of this person's life. Schrader's script (co-written with his brother Leonard Schrader) traces within Mishima's history a lifelong struggle with perceptions of his own masculinity and authority—as if he spent his every waking moment trying to compensate for a lack that he could hardly articulate. The character's eventual turn towards reactionary beliefs makes logical sense in the film, but remains baffling all the same.

With all of its talk about beauty—enhanced by Philip Glass' opulent musical score, and Eiko Ishioka's breathtaking production design that transforms Mishima's novels into tactile stage productions—the film conceals an incredibly dark heart. Mishima doesn't inspire sympathy so much as he inspires morbid fascination, and it's both a daring and frustrating choice to focus entirely on the character's harmful delusions without room for much else. Still, Schrader has constructed an unforgettable audiovisual experience that lingers long after it's over.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Alan Poul, Bandō Mitsugorō X, Chishū Ryū, Eimei Esumi, Go Riju, Haruko Kato, Hideo Fukuhara, Hiroshi Katsuno, Hiroshi Mikami, Hisako Manda, Jun Negami, Junkichi Orimoto, Ken Ogata, Kenji Sawada, Koichi Sato, Kunihiko Ida, Masahiko Sakata, Masato Aizawa, Masayuki Shionoya, Miki Takakura, Minoru Hodaka, Mitsuru Hirata, Naoko Ohtani, Naomi Oki, Naoya Makoto, Reisen Ri, Roy Scheider, Ryō Ikebe, Sachiko Hidari, Setsuko Karasuma, Toshiyuki Nagashima, Yasuaki Kurata, Yasuhiro Arai, Yuki Kitazume

Director: Paul Schrader

Rating: R

Even if it seems like nothing really "happens" for much of The Secret Garden, its characters paint quite the moving picture of neglected children and their indomitable capacity to find hope in the world. Director Agnieszka Holland tells this story with just the right amount of whimsy: at times it's spooky and magical, but everything is grounded in the charming performances of the film's young actors, who are allowed to be difficult, smart, and sorrowful whenever they need to be. It may be old-fashioned, but watching it in this new decade—when we're all trying to guard our kids from sickness and death—makes it feel all the more relevant.

Genre: Drama, Family, Fantasy

Actor: Andrea Pickering, Andrew Knott, Arthur Spreckley, Colin Bruce, David Stoll, Eileen Page, Heydon Prowse, Irène Jacob, John Lynch, Kate Maberly, Laura Crossley, Maggie Smith, Peter Moreton, Walter Sparrow

Director: Agnieszka Holland

Rating: G

A group of male friends become obsessed with a group of mysterious sisters who are sheltered by their strict, religious parents after one of them commits suicide. Sofia Coppola does a great job taking the novel and turning it into a full featured movie. The movie is admittedly a bit slow, but it paints such a great picture into the characters lives and everyone around them, that your attention will quickly be turned to that. The casting is spot on and even though it may seem like a very dark subject matter, the film is very enjoyable to watch no matter your taste in movies.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: A.J. Cook, Allen Stewart-Coates, Amos Crawley, Andrew Gillies, Anthony DeSimone, Chelse Swain, Conor Dean Smith, Courtney Hawkrigg, Danny DeVito, Dawn Greenhalgh, François Klanfer, Gary Brennan, Giovanni Ribisi, Hanna Hall, Hayden Christensen, James Woods, Joe Dinicol, Joe Roncetti, John Buchan, Jonathan Tucker, Jonathan Whittaker, Josh Hartnett, Kathleen Turner, Kirsten Dunst, Kristin Fairlie, Leslie Hayman, Melody Johnson, Michael Paré, Michael Pare, Michèle Duquet, Murray McRae, Neil Girvan, Noah "40" Shebib, Robert Schwartzman, Roberta Hanley, Sally Cahill, Sandi Stahlbrand, Scot Denton, Scott Glenn, Sherry Miller, Suki Kaiser, Thomas Mars, Timothy Adams, Tracey Ferencz, Хейден Кристенсен

Director: Sofia Coppola

Rating: R