Greatest Film That Doesn’t Act Like a Great Film: Walk Up
Are any other director’s masterpieces more unassuming than those of Hong Sang-soo? “It’s a cute building, small and tidy. I’ve always liked spaces like this,” says Byungsoo, a filmmaker who, like the four-story walk-up he is visiting and will soon live in, shows signs of wear and tear. The stairs are heavily scuffed, there are plumbing problems, unsold artwork collects dust. The characters in Hong Sang-soo’s exquisite Walk Up, his strongest film since 2017’s The Day After, always fret about the cost of things: cigarettes, parking tickets, rent, plane fare to attend film festivals. The notion of economic strain that takes a physical toll is built into the very reality of the apartment building. However, the real impoverishment in Walk Up is emotional, not economic. Byungsoo is estranged from his daughter and feels smothered by the women he cohabits with. And the landlord, Ms. Kim, is an old friend who can barely mask her simmering frustration (in a brilliant performance by Lee Hye-young).
Though many of his films feel like fractured self-portraits, Hong’s project is not solipsistic. He is a genuine modernist; like much great art of the past century, his work reveals the process of its own making, not to strip away meaning but, paradoxically, to add mystery. The film’s structure at first seems evident; the building and the film’s narrative each have four stories. But scuffs in the throughline emerge; we don’t know whether days or years have passed between scenes, and there are moments when it isn’t clear whether we’re seeing a flashback or an alternate reality. The deceptively simple structure becomes a Möbius strip, and the film’s obsession with the mundane realities of daily living evolves into a deeply rewarding meditation on memory, metaphysics, and spirituality: including, hilariously, Byungsoo’s recounting of a visitation from God telling him to make more movies. —David Schwartz
Work Sucks, 2023 Edition: The Delinquents & Full Time
Filled with strikes, stoppages, workplace unionizing, and covert union busting, 2023 seemed like the year when everyone finally abandoned the toxic idea that your job will save you. Rodrigo Moreno’s leisurely heist comedy The Delinquents and Éric Gravel’s fleet, tense drama Full Time both illustrate how employment inherently corrodes a person’s life and the desperate lengths people will go to escape it or, at the very least, mildly improve it. For the two Argentine bank clerks in The Delinquents, a brief stint in prison and a well-kept secret are acceptable sacrifices for never having to work a meaningless job again. Meanwhile, Full Time’s single mother desperately tries to acquire more stable employment so she doesn’t have to literally pressure-wash shit at a fancy Parisian hotel, all while struggling to care for her young children and commute to work amidst a debilitating transport strike. The Delinquents’ low-key fantastical tone and Full Time’s anxious Safdie Brothers-esque pacing render them very different films, but both have their ire laser-focused on capitalist systems that will gladly grind humanity down to a nub for an extra dollar before providing people with an ounce of relief. Moreno and Gravel ultimately reach the same conclusion: work will kill you if you don’t kill it first. —Vikram Murthi
Best Reminder That Work Is a Four-Letter Word: The Killer
If The Social Network presented the specter of the future Silicon Valley CEO as a twentysomething in a hoodie, The Killer presents the shadowy corporate overlord as a baby boomer in a Sub Pop Records t-shirt and skull beanie (Arliss Howard). When The Killer does not have its unnamed assassin (Michael Fassbender) give dry voiceovers amidst the late-capitalist hellscape he has made peace with, the viewer gets to listen to the music he engages with in his labor: The Smiths. In Fincher’s film, the UK band, synonymous with Thatcher-era England, becomes part hype music, part ritual, and part commentary. The Smiths’ catalog is riddled with sardonic songs about detesting work, including “Work Is a Four-Letter Word.” While that song is not in the film, famous antiestablishment Smiths hits like “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” and “Shoplifters of the World Unite” are. The latter is the best approximation of this film’s nihilist killer, observational and confessional but harboring issues with self-assessment: “My only weakness is a list of crime/My only weakness is, well, never mind, never mind…” The use of The Smiths is less about the coolness barometer (à la the Pixies needle drop in Fight Club) than about presenting a world of workers closed off from society, their lone companion a self-curated music playlist. The Killer does not fashion itself as a “way we live now” film (for all the jabs at companies and apps, there is plenty of product placement in the film), but it nonetheless alludes to the communal circling of the drain many have felt for the last few years in their work. To quote Johnny Marr and Morrissey again, “Oh, why do I give valuable time/To people who don't care if I live or die?” —Caden Mark Gardner
Most Forgivable Needle Drop: The Holdovers
If “The Wind” by Cat Stevens has previously marked iconic scenes of lonesome characters struggling to be loved—kite-flying Jason Schwartzman in Rushmore or Kate Hudson swaying solo in Almost Famous—the song’s use in Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers seems initially to be a surprising, almost embarrassing regurgitation. What’s extraordinary about The Holdovers, however, is the film’s lack of shame regarding its own sentimentality. Its plot even sounds a bit twee: the triangulation of a begrudging friendship between curmudgeon classics teacher Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti); grieving mother and school cook Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph); and antagonistic teen student Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa) while they spend the Christmas holidays at a New England boys boarding school in the early 1970s. Where the film finds necessary restraint is in this trio of actors, whose closely hewn performances reveal serious consideration of their characters, as well as a depth of compassion towards them. If The Holdovers aims to evoke the look of a Christmas card, it also operates with the understanding of the complex, painful familial dynamics inside. Even as it extends Payne’s interest in self-alienating or neglected protagonists, the desperation with which the film insists on the transformative qualities of kindness—even fleeting or temporary—stands out. Therefore, when the opening riff of “The Wind” plays over a scene of a boy skating under the eye-rolling yet affectionate supervision of his prickly professor, the recall of its filmic antecedents feels less like a whimper and more like a bang. —Katherine Connell
Best Flash Forwards: Killers of the Flower Moon and The Zone of Interest
At the close of Killers of the Flower Moon, we learn through the performance of a radio play the fates of murderers Ernest Burkhart and William Hale, as well as Mollie Burkhart, the Osage woman whose family they conspired to kill off. Scorsese himself appears on stage to read Mollie’s obituary, “There was no mention of the murders.” Smash cut to a drone shot of the Osage Nation, present day.
“They’re calling it Operation Höss,” Rudolf Höss says to his wife over the phone in the final moments of The Zone of Interest. He’s speaking proudly of the next and nearly final phase of the Holocaust. He leaves his office to head home, descends a shadowy staircase, stops short, and, like Anwar Congo’s retching in The Act of Killing or Robert Durst’s guilty burping in The Jinx, hacks something up his throat. He stares off into a dark hallway. On the other side of that darkness, the future. Three women sweep and dust inside of present-day Auschwitz. In both cases, whether or not atrocities are recognized by history, the evil that wrought them is swept up as history. “Never again,” we say. Yet genocides are carried out today. The inclusion of the present day in both films serves as a warning that the struggle against evil persists. —Conor Williams
Unfunniest Gay Clichés: American Fiction, in which Sterling K. Brown’s buffed-up, coked-out brother Cliff sows family chaos by coming out of the closet and partying with a pair of pea-brained Fire Island rejects in speedos whose sole shared character trait seems to be “making smoothies.” (Odd for a film about the perniciousness of clichéd cultural identifiers.)
Funniest Straight Clichés: Barbie, which somehow made us smile to hear Matchbox Twenty’s “Push.”
Biggest Small Movie: A Thousand and One
The only tenably positive thing about the annual pageantry of “awards season,” which fundamentally and execrably reduces movies from quietly honed and crafted works of art into tired old horses barely huffing over the finish line in a race pitting them pointlessly against one another, is the possibility that a worthy smaller film might somehow reach new fans who might have missed it the first time around. Not so the case, shamefully, with A.V. Rockwell’s A Thousand and One, a superlative example of the type of American independent drama that used to make waves or, at the very least, start conversations. Perhaps evoking classic maternal melodramas isn’t the way to mainstream white viewers’ (or Oscar’s) heart these days, but Rockwell’s mesmerizing and precisely detailed decade-spanner is a worthy contemporary successor to King Vidor’s Stella Dallas or Mitchell Leisen’s To Each His Own, framing its tale of a mother’s devotion and sacrifice against a New York City landscape of ever-widening gentrification.
A Thousand and One did not go unseen: soon after winning big at Sundance, the film opened in the weekend’s overall top ten, its release strategy in New York focused on a mix of art-house theaters like BAM and non-art theaters like the Magic Johnson Harlem 9, and it ended up grossing $3.5 million. Its success—however one wants to measure or define that—never seemed to cross over to those who pass out honors and therefore “elevate” a film to “award-worthy,” a dubious status that nevertheless encourages people to seek out a title. Whatever discussion has popped up around the film has understandably focused on Teyana Taylor’s galvanic breakout performance as Inez De La Paz, who boldly and without shame tries to re-jolt her life after getting out of Rikers and reuniting with sad-eyed Terry, the six-year-old boy who is her everything. Yet Rockwell deserves commendations far beyond patronizing “best first film” pats on the head: A Thousand and One, which is structured precariously and perfectly around a major late plot reveal, is accomplished in terms of storytelling and emotional clarity far beyond the work of most of today’s well-practiced auteurs. It’s surely a political film, but it reveals its quiet outrage by simply accruing the details of a life lived in the margins, affected, day after day, by the crushing weight of a system that will never make room for it. It’s as sweeping and revealing of a city’s interiority and how its denizens function amidst unstoppable change as Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret—so where is the cinephile’s rallying cry for A Thousand and One? — Michael Koresky
Smallest Big Movie: Skinamarink
Troubling was the word for Kyle Edward Ball’s Skinamarink, whether you got on its weird, whispery wavelength or not. Some found it a work of unbearably frightening anticipation, others the latest let-down in “nothing happens” horror minimalism. Some were emotionally engaged by its fuzzed, abstracted evocation of child abuse and neglect, while others I know were enraged by it for those very reasons. Any way you look at it—if you were able to literally see past its murkiness at all—there was no doubt that it was the strangest surprise hit in many a moon, an experiment in perception that made over two million dollars at the box office on a minuscule $15,000 budget. Seeing this in a multiplex with a nearly sold-out crowd on a weekday afternoon in the bowels of Manhattan was its own genuinely decentering experience. I’m not sure what people thought they were going to be seeing (the word-of-mouth surrounding horror tends to function on its own logic), but when it ended, as obliquely as it began, the least I can say is that no one had thrown their soda at the screen. As the room filed out in a presumed mix of confusion and distress, I was not exactly scared, or even rattled—it was something more like estrangement born of environment and context. If I had seen it within a circumscribed “experimental” cinema setting or even at home alone around midnight, it would have had a different effect. So while Skinamarink didn’t frighten me the way I might have “wanted,” it certainly made me think about my body and mind in the moment and place I was watching it, preceded, perfectly and incongruously, by a trailer for Renfield. —MK
Most Deflating Trend: Air and the “Product Origin” Film
The amount of time, planning, and bureaucratic delay before a film reaches consumer eyeballs might make trend-spotting a stretch. Nevertheless, the glut of “product origin” stories that arrived in 2023 was unignorable. While the topic is not new—Joy (Miracle Mop) and The Founder (McDonald’s) are other recent-ish examples—the past year brought the logjam of Tetris (about the video game where you slot together falling blocks), Flamin’ Hot (based on a contested claim of creation of the spicy Cheetos varietal, screened at Biden’s White House), BlackBerry (appears to consist mostly of one the “It’s Always Sunny” guys boardroom-barking in a bald cap, and is purportedly Actually Good), and the highest-profile of the bunch, Ben Affleck’s Air, about the development of a massively successful line of Michael Jordan-branded Nike basketball shoes. (Barbie may be the most inspired of these, but its mawkishly reverent scenes featuring Rhea Perlman as the doll’s inventor and Mattel co-founder are its most painful.) While I saw one article credit this onslaught of free-market celebration to capitalist overcorrection of the success of the class-conscious Parasite, I’ll leave such ersatz-Hoberman zeitgeist-spotting to others.
Alex Convery’s screenplay was fished out of that trusty collection of bankable but unsold middle-of-the-road fare, the “Black List,” and as simple storytelling it’s diverting enough, but drably lacking in panache. Affleck’s direction of this big-money tale is as bland and uninterested as his portrayal of Nike head Phil Knight. It feels like it was shot in one or two takes over the course of maybe a week and a half, and with all the production design and flair of Peter Bogdanovich’s Tom Sizemore–starring Pete Rose TV cheapie Hustle—disappointing considering the involvement of ace cinematographer Robert Richardson and onscreen talent like Chris Tucker and the ever-watchable Matt Damon as the protagonist executive who lands Jordan for Nike. The film’s laziness is best exemplified by its soundtrack, a generic succession of hits pared down from an Affleck Spotify playlist of 1984 songs to those that were the cheapest to license. (And would a shoe exec really drive around rocking “Blister in the Sun,” a song that didn’t really have its moment until the 90s?).
As with the self-serving, multipart pandemic watch The Last Dance, which inspired Convery to write the screenplay (and of which, candidly, I savored every second), Jordan’s ego hovers over every choice: the retired star requested several script edits that Affleck obediently implemented. After obligatorily glancing at the horrendous conditions of Nike’s overseas sweatshops—the low monetary cost of which is another crucial cause of the company’s success—with one throwaway Jason Bateman line, Air soars to a holy crescendo as the deal is inked, a profit-percentage triumph for one megarich athlete that is meant to be read as a societal win. The final insult of this one-percenter victory lap comes with the closing title cards, which asterisk Knight’s wealth with a note that he’s given millions to charity (worth noting it’s mostly college endowments that plaster his name over various buildings and scholarships). All that said, it’s still funny when Damon, trying to become an exercise guy toward the end of the film, gives up after ten seconds and huffs off the track. —Justin Stewart
Best Supporting Actress: Penélope Cruz in Ferrari
There is enough typically meticulous and muscular craft on display in Michael Mann’s Ferrari to withstand the lugubrious exertions of Adam Driver and the bad trip that is Shailene Woodley’s ravioli-making goomah. But there is also the divine Penélope Cruz, who makes Enzo Ferrari’s wife, collaborator, and adversary Laura into the biopic’s marquee attraction. It’s a mid-career highlight that solidifies the actress as our clearest descendant of Anna Magnani. As Leo Goldsmith recently noted, Mann’s female characters are typically given short shrift in critical appreciations of his oeuvre yet continue to be vivid and indelible creations, thanks in no small part to the director’s eye for redoubtable actresses capable of transcending underwritten roles. And yet what Cruz achieves in Ferrari feels without precedent in Mann’s career; only Diane Venora’s smoldering spouses in Heat and The Insider come close to matching her strength if not her multidimensionality. The heft of Cruz’s physicality and the driven, calculating intensity of her inner life are more aligned with the likes of James Caan, Al Pacino, and Russell Crowe, actors who, like Cruz, define their characters and alter the force of gravity in a Mann movie through body and soul.
The director clearly knows that in Cruz he has the star his film deserves, an actress capable of recasting a spurned helpmate into a cunning, carnal, and malcontented fire-starter. Mann accordingly accentuates her potent, dagger-eyed pout and lets her pilfer scenes that are already securely in her bag, like a visit to the bank that the actress hilariously punctuates with several frustrated whacks of a dry pen against the desk of an instantly cowed manager. But Cruz also dislodges Ferrari from its forward, automotive momentum, as when the film slows to a transfixing crawl upon Laura’s discovery of her husband’s double life, the camera steadied on Cruz as the full insult of this betrayal ripples across her face. She plays Laura as neither martyr nor victim nor avenging angel but an industrious queen usurped in her king’s affections though not in his legacy, determined to keep her foothold in the patriarchal order of things; she refuses to be solely estimated by the lifespan of a deceased son whose memory remains an anchor around her heart. The audience roots for Signora Ferrari not only because her interpreter outacts everyone in sight but also because Cruz has cracked open a well-trodden maternal archetype and found a resourceful, red-blooded woman lying impatiently in wait. —Matthew Eng
Best Bathtub Scene: Beau Is Afraid
Worst Bathtub Scene: Saltburn
Best Supporting Goulash: Afire
A film that flits effortlessly between moods, genres, and color palettes, Christian Petzold’s Afire is a pleasantly nebulous patchwork of styles. If there’s any firm ground, it’s the set-up, straight out of La Collectionneuse. Like the two intellectuals in Éric Rohmer’s 1967 film who find their supposedly peaceful summer getaway compromised by the presence of an aloof, alluring young woman (and her nightly trysts), Felix (Langston Uibel), an upbeat artist, and Leon (Thomas Schubert), a sulky novelist, find their seaside sanctuary occupied by Nadja (Paula Beer), a young ice-cream seller (and, it’s later revealed, literary scholar). Nadja’s effervescent attitude jibes with everyone she meets, but her positivity seems to irk Leon, who seethes as he silently blames her for upending his plans to bury himself in work on his novel, dubiously titled Club Sandwich. While Leon initially chafes at her attempts at friendship, it’s—improbably—a ripped plastic bag of goulash leftover from Nadja’s staff meal that begins to bridge the divide between the two. Biking away from an unpleasant exchange with Leon, Nadja falls over, groceries in tow. Leon stomps over to help, only to discover her main concern is whether the bag of goulash, torn and spilling out onto her bike tire, can be salvaged. He awkwardly tries to help by placing the bag inside another plastic bag, tripping over himself in the process. As she wipes some from his brow, something shifts. “It’s really tasty,” he confesses. It’s perhaps the first smile we see on Leon’s face and the beginning of a strange bond with Nadja. Confronted with her lack of ego, Leon’s own self-importance begins to fade. It’s easy for us to laugh at a character who takes himself too seriously, but it’s a rare feat for him to laugh at himself. —Susannah Gruder
Angriest Vital Auteurs: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne for Tori and Lokita
Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s twelfth fiction feature Tori and Lokita follows two young African refugees in Belgium. As is typical of the directing duo, their close-up of these marginal characters is charged with a profound disgust toward the system in which they are forced to eke out a living. While the directors’ previous efforts balanced their characters’ suffering with small glimmers of hope—a move which heralded them as today’s great humanists—Tori and Lokita’s commitment to tragedy signals a shift in the duo’s political attitude from sympathy with the dispossessed toward a shared anger. Their recent films' further embrace of the thriller genre, which had been palpable since their earliest features, suggests it has become impossible to capture the world’s growing apathy with a camera and thus, to make any political indictment, it’s best to aim the power of fiction against a viewership already caught up in a world of disbeliefs. —Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer
Most Welcome Return: Ulrich Seidl’s Rimini
Somewhere in the middle of dire 2023, I found myself, with no small surprise, settling in to watch a new Ulrich Seidl narrative for the first time in about a decade. The tale of Richie Bravo, an aging, degraded pop star playing the hits for (and regularly bedding) the even more aged tourists who comprise his latter-day audience in the titular seaside resort, Rimini hits with a blast of déjà vu—the filmmaker’s visual rigor, sensitivity to the myriad mortifications of late-capitalist living, and facility with choreographing the most horribly awful-seeming sex imaginable are fully intact, almost if they’d been preserved in amber following his 2012 Paradise trilogy. There’s a sweetness about it too, a sense of affection for this protagonist and his ridiculous situation (while struggling to make a living, Richie is jostled by the arrival of the daughter he hasn’t seen in years demanding money) that reminded of the filmmaker’s wry documentary work. Seidl was ever too curious and upsetting to elevate himself beyond the margins, but my assumption from a decade ago was that the crafty Austrian would become a regular fixture on the international art circuit, churning out films yearly. Since Paradise we’ve had a decade’s worth of locked-composition European entries in the 21st-century cinema of displeasure he helped forge that will be forgotten in another ten years’ time, but little from Seidl himself. There’s rich pleasure to be had in re-encountering this unlikely master. I didn’t know I missed him so much. —Jeff Reichert
Best Reality Break: About Dry Grasses
About two-thirds of the way through Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s latest caustic prosecution of male self-deception, Samet (Deni̇z Celi̇loğlu), a disillusioned elementary school teacher chafing at the provincial bonds of the rural East Anatolian village where he has been assigned to teach art, is having an increasingly heated debate with Nuray (Merve Di̇zdar), a fellow teacher with whom he has been carrying on a mild flirtation. Throughout the film, their rapport offers the kind of mix of curiosity, attraction, bitterness, and irritation that one might expect to see in a screwball comedy, if it happened to be set in a soul-sucking, snowbound backwater. Here, the more confrontational, righteously left-wing Nuray’s simmering resentment towards Samet’s intellectual bloviations and refusal to put his rancor and cynicism about the state of the world into anything resembling political action is about to reach a boiling point—or perhaps a sexual catharsis. The mood cools, the room heats, she seems ready to welcome him into her bed, albeit with an unsettled reluctance. Here, Ceylan boldly tears open the very fabric of his film. Samet walks down the apartment’s hallway, presumably to prepare himself for an intimate moment, and he keeps moving, on and on, out a side door and onto a soundstage, revealing the behind-the-scenes set of the film we have been watching. The camera follows him, past klieg lights and grips, follows him as he enters a bathroom and looks in a mirror, a character, an actor, a personage. This unexpected flourish, never spoken of again, is more than a random bit of metacinematic deconstruction: it confirms there is a world beyond the one we create for ourselves, encouraging us to question the perimeters of the reality as it’s presented to us. Because their engines run on philosophical ideas rather than burdensome plot mechanics, Ceylan’s movies feel big and expansive. Sometimes they can’t be fully contained. —MK
Most Expected Narrative to Involve Reptilian Humanoids: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
Lest Expected Narrative to Involve Reptilian Humanoids: Trenque Lauquen
Best Scene-Stealer: Louis Cancelmi in Killers of the Flower Moon
Amidst some of the most villainous, blackhearted characters in screen history, standing out as the most morally empty (and possibly stupidest) counts as something of an achievement. But of all the murderous wolves who satellite Robert De Niro’s William “King” Hale in Killers of the Flower Moon, Louis Cancelmi’s Kelsie Morrison nets this honorable mention. Taking the greedy logic of the Hale syndicate’s exploitation of Osage headrights to its inevitable furthest point, Kelsie, a killer whose Osage wife (a mother of two) recently died, calmly asks a family lawyer whether, were he to adopt the kids and they were to also die, he would stand to inherit their headrights, too. The dumbstruck lawyer tells Kelsie that it sounds as if he’s planning to kill the children. Kelsie sees that question as a “no,” and with a pout says there’d be no reason to adopt them otherwise. As a distillation of the soulless avarice at the heart of Killers, the scene is brilliantly written, and its pure evil approaches the comic, but the vacant, almost innocent look on Cancelmi’s square-jawed face provides a note of banal menace that grounds it in the sad reality. A stage actor with several recurring or main-cast roles on television, Cancelmi has already secured a spot in film history mainly based on this and another memorable minor role in a late-Scorsese masterpiece, The Irishman (2019), where his eyes seemed to bug out under thick Coke-bottle glasses as Genovese family murderer Salvatore “Sally Bugs” Briguglio. Traditionally handsome but with an askew goofiness, Cancelmi’s a fascinating screen presence, and one hopes he keeps popping up in every remaining Scorsese picture. —JS
Riskiest Maximalism: Beau Is Afraid
Who can blame audiences for feeling conflicted by a film that ends on a scene in which a stadium full of spectators quietly shuffle out as its Jobian main character slowly drowns center frame? There is no applause to redeem him, no music to enliven our experience, just, hilariously, the writer-director’s credit up there on the screen. Some might take this final gesture as a kind of fuck-you to the viewer, but for those of us who watch movies as projections and expressions of others’ lives rather than as our own private personal affronts, what could be more open and giving than an invitation into a filmmaker’s phobias? Large-canvas, significantly budgeted American films that plumb their characters’—and makers’—interiority have become near-extinct with the disappearance of mid-budget auteur-driven studio projects, so Ari Aster’s spectacle of bemused neurotic terror felt like some kind of throwback. In expansive, minutely detailed tableaux, he offered a crypto-comic tone that constantly encouraged us to wonder, Is he serious? The answers to that question are gratifyingly unclear, though we may very well look back at Beau as a centerpiece expression of American despair in the COVID era, when so many of us, let down by authority figures, therapists, neighbors, even our own families, began to dread the act of going outside at all. Sometimes our fears are absurd, sometimes they’re warranted—in Beau Is Afraid it’s impossible to tell the difference. —MK
Most Myopic Biopic: Maestro
Much like A Star Is Born, Bradley Cooper’s Maestro unfolds as a two-hander between a man and a woman: Leonard Bernstein (Cooper) and Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan). A power couple, they came under fire for their center-left politics and the company they kept at their penthouse parties. Their being photographed with Black Panther Donald L. Cox caused a scandal, leading to the infamous “radical chic” New York Magazine cover story by Tom Wolfe. Felicia, an outspoken antiwar activist, pushed back against Wolfe and other critics. Yet in Cooper’s film, Felicia simply oscillates between being her husband’s champion or being tormented by his adultery, before succumbing to cancer.
Like West Side Story and Candide, Bernstein’s gay collaborators, such as Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim, are absent from the film. Many same-sex lovers of Bernstein are also omitted, and those who remain are marred by notable editorializing by Cooper. There is David Oppenheim (Matt Bomer), who goes from lover to marriage and baby—which hits LB with the hard realization that he has to follow suit. Of course, this did happen, but many of Bernstein’s gay peers did not opt into this “prehistoric ritual.” Even when married to Felicia, LB has an affair with Tommy Cothran (Gideon Glick), a relationship presented with no real sense of rediscovery or relief, but as sloppy cheating. (The people in Cothran’s life have a different story on the significance of this relationship.) By deleting or diminishing these figures, LB’s “complicated” marriage becomes schematic and one-note, with Felicia simply serving the role of “the wife” and Bernstein the tortured closet case. All posturing and no interrogation, Bradley Cooper’s Maestro could have explored why Leonard Bernstein remained such a revelatory figure. How does a titan like Leonard Bernstein, situated in an era of major pop cultural shift, go from West Side Story and Candide to declaring on a 1966 television special that Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys was one the guides for the future of pop music? Maestro looks the part of a high-prestige biopic, and there are adventurous moments, such as the On the Town dream ballet, but it runs perilously close to Irwin Winkler’s middling Cole Porter musical De-Lovely. —CMG
Read the Book Instead Awards: American Fiction and Poor Things
The minimum we can hope of any book-to-screen translation is that it’s managed by sensitive artists who aim to capture not merely the most relevant events and characters from the source text in question but also something of its writer’s deployment of language and how their wordsmithery contributes to the work’s overall effect. The spirit of the thing. I’m not here to argue that books are often better than movies, but the novels upon which American Fiction and Poor Things were based certainly are—both Percival Everett (Erasure) and Alasdair Gray (Poor Things) received the cinematic treatment from admiring filmmakers who seemingly viewed their adaptive process as content delivery, dutifully transmitting the dramatis personae and situations of both books while maintaining little of their form or feel.
What made these attempts especially egregious to this fan of both novels is that certain strategies central to each very adventurous book could have been smartly repurposed to make for better cinema. In Erasure, when protagonist Thelonious “Monk” Ellison settles in to write his mock ghetto novel, My Pafology, Everett spends the next 70 of his 272 total pages forcing us to read the entire thing. This effect would be impossible to fully replicate in a film with mainstream ambitions, for sure, but the idea deserved more than the cursory sequence Cord Jefferson devotes to it in American Fiction. Everett’s hilarious structural gambit productively upends his novel and sets the family melodrama surrounding the fake book-within-a-book in relief. Without fully exploring the digression, the movie is neither as laceratingly funny nor as starkly sad as Erasure, landing in a blandly tedious nether region.
The full title of Alasdair Gray’s novel—Poor Things: Episodes from the Early Life of Archibald McCandless M.D., Scottish Public Health Officer—suggests a bit of what’s lost in Yorgos Lanthimos’s adaptation, which to be fair, does attempt to match Gray’s manic energy. A viewer of the film who hasn’t read the original source material might be surprised to learn that the book is a patchwork of textual sources and that it allows the cuckolded McCandless to tell his side of Bella’s story, but also makes space for the heroine herself to comment on the ridiculousness of his recounting. Perhaps filtering at least some of the events through Bella’s perspective might have amplified the simplified feminism of the film more than Lanthimos’s trademark detached, fish-eyed omniscience? Neither of these adaptations registers as horrifyingly as, say, what happened to The English Patient (I often wonder about those who rushed to Michael Ondaatje’s novel and found themselves reading a tale about two characters—one non-white, naturally—who were a blip in Anthony Minghella’s popular white love story). Nevertheless, it was sad to see two formally daring novels flattened out. —JR
Best Comeback Comedy: No Hard Feelings
The R-rated No Hard Feelings was a welcome return to form for Jennifer Lawrence after a series of prestige projects where she was either greatly underutilized or miscast. Despite a few slapdash, gratuitous action set pieces, there is significant chemistry between Lawrence and her leading boy, Andrew Barth Feldman. Lawrence plays Maddie, a struggling waitress with several fleeting side hustles who takes up a wealthy Mountauk family’s Craigslist posting to “date” their nebbish son Percy. Despite Lawrence’s movie star quality permeating every scene, Feldman is very much her equal in gravitas. The theater-trained performer carries an air of old Hollywood to him, and his sensitive, piano-playing, animal-obsessed teen recalls a certain type of Preston Sturges male lead, like Henry Fonda in The Lady Eve. He makes Maddie’s conflict around being compensated for her interest in Percy feel more weighted. Maddie and Percy are mismatched in age, life experience, and economics, but thanks to Lawrence’s effortless comedic chops in portraying eagerness and desperation and Feldman’s sweet but tightly wound insecure masculinity, they become one of the most fascinating on-screen pairs of 2023. No Hard Feelings may not usher in a new slate of R-rated comedies, but it made me want to pay attention to Feldman’s career and hope that Lawrence remains in this genre for the foreseeable future. —CMG
Best Horror Rorschach: Knock at the Cabin
Every M. Night Shyamalan release is another occasion for audiences and critics alike to relitigate how seriously the filmmaker asks to be taken. Knock at the Cabin was no different. A tense, grim, ambiguous potboiler that pits a gay couple and their adopted daughter on vacation against four intruders who claim to represent the four horsemen of the apocalypse, the film was deemed a return to form for the director by some while others dismissed it as a convoluted, reactionary polemic. Timing is everything, both in the film's steady, focused build-up of dread, but also in the film’s release schedule. Coming off Shyamalan’s Old, released in summer 2021, Knock at the Cabin’s February premiere situates it with previous unwieldy winter releases like Split and Glass. But Knock isn’t a bounce back for Shyamalan, though there is that familiar idiosyncratic mastery of plot, character, and violence that has been lacking consistently since 2015's The Visit. Instead, the film shows Shyamalan questioning the optimism so prevalent in his other projects, not replaced by nihilism but despair and, finally, what seems like a diminished version of Shyamalan’s usual hope. Is humanity worth saving or sacrificing? Can the family be a microcosm for all that is good and flawed about the world? How does one live with a terrible decision? There are no easy answers and Knock's ending, bizarre and contested, presents the filmmaker’s bleakest, most existentially unsettling turn yet. —Nicholas Russell
Best Sex with a Dirtbag: Passages
Worst Sex with a Dirt Mound: Saltburn
Most Intriguing Star Text: Natalie Portman in May December
I am surely not the only Todd Haynes devotee who raised a skeptical brow when it was announced that Natalie Portman, one of our most divisive actors, would be co-headlining his latest with Julianne Moore, the director’s longtime muse. My doubts were for naught: Portman is great in May December, though it’s a greatness that, to my mind, works not in spite of our knowledge of the actress but expressly because of it. Portman’s inspired casting and admirably acidic performance as Elizabeth create a thrilling, mind-bending dissonance in which an untrained, Oscar-winning, critically polarizing film star excels as a Juilliard-educated actress of dubious merits, best known for her work on a network medical drama and searching for scraps of inspiration in the life of a onetime tabloid sensation (Moore), whose crime is to be dramatized in her next film. Portman was 13 when she debuted as an assassin’s ward in Luc Besson’s Léon: The Professional, the first (and far from the last) time that Portman would find herself warped into a “Lolita figure,” culminating in a declined offer to star in Adrian Lyne’s Lolita, a project she denounced as “sleaze” to the New York Times in 1996. Portman’s reputation has always operated in firm contrast to Hollywood’s rampant, sexualized infantilization of women, be they adults or minors, and thus so much of the early coverage of Portman pivoted around her precocious intellect, good behavior, discernment in selecting age-appropriate roles, evolving Judaism, and Ivy League studies. May December cannot help but evoke the myth of Natalie Portman, both the hyper-mature adolescent and the outspokenly vegan, liberal-leaning, TIME’S UP–advising adult, in order to upend it, inviting us to take perverse, speculative pleasure in watching an outwardly upstanding actress play an unscrupulous one who sleeps with her director, shrugs off the bruised feelings of others, and seduces her subject’s developmentally arrested husband in order to “get into character.” (Portman’s ongoing stint as the face of Dior even gets satirized in a scene where Charles Melton watches Elizabeth in a skincare commercial on loop.)
Elizabeth’s zealous commitment to becoming Moore’s Gracie also brings to mind Portman’s own strenuous dedication to her roles, from the arduous balletic training of Black Swan, which arguably netted her an Oscar more than the actual performance did, to the bewildering Jackie Kennedy voice that launched a thousand party-trick impressions. Even in her finest performances, Portman has struggled to escape the starched air of the unduly prepared actor prioritizing effort over effect. One of May December’s funniest motifs is Elizabeth’s incessant notetaking, diligently practiced even when her interview subject is offering the most banal of insights. Her hope is that by gaining unlimited entry into Gracie’s life she will somehow understand this ill-famed, unrepentant woman on a deeper level and therefore capture something like her authentic self on screen. She appears to believe that with investigative preparation come truth and transformation, no matter how morally corrupt one’s tactics may be.
The power of this arch, winking performance comes primarily from Portman’s skillful harnessing of her own proclivity for artifice in the service of a wildly disingenuous character. But it also derives from watching an eminently studious actress pitilessly depict an actress whose immersive research comes up short. Elizabeth strives and strains to become someone else, succeeding only in a knockout monologue, suggesting the completion of a metamorphosis that Gracie herself soon upends. The irony is that Haynes’s film ends with Elizabeth inanely lisping in a cheap wig, gradually feeling a fidelity that is imperceptible to our eye, no closer to believably becoming Gracie than when she started. It’s audacious of Portman to give the lie to actorly identification when it seems you can’t throw a rock in Beverly Hills without hitting an actor talking to a trade publication about the importance of empathy in their work and the responsibility of humanizing the misunderstood. At this point in her career, Portman perhaps knows that sometimes you walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes and only end up with yourself. —ME
Best Throwback Slasher: Thanksgiving
Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving is a ludicrously lurid chunk of trash, grotesque and gleefully gory while never lapsing into self-severity or hammy winking. This is for people who like Pieces and Terror Train and Prom Night, an unrepentant capital-H Horror film, unconcerned with current trends in genre filmmaking and making no effort to court casual moviegoers. Reagan-era slashers reflected the violence ingrained in Reagan's America, even if they were intensely apolitical in intention, their inflated body counts and runnels of red bearing the influence of trickle-down economics and social reactionism. A grouchy skewering of youth culture made by a middle-aged man, Thanksgiving finds social media and craven consumerism scarier than knives and axes: dressed as a pilgrim in a cheap throwaway plastic mask, a man hacks up New England after a pre-Black-Friday sale ends in tragedy. Roth doesn’t waste time trying to inspire fear in traditional slasher ways: Thanksgiving offers no jump scares and no cumbrous metaphors. The ideas are on the table. He's having fun with an antiquated genre and its hallmarks and trappings, relishing the opportunities promised within established limitations. Imbued with the irritated air of a man who made his name on teen horror and is now looking at modern youth and not liking what he sees, Thanksgiving is the progeny of Scream—though it’s better than the last few (the insidious depiction of social media makes it a kindred spirit of Scream 4). Halloween and Friday the 13th and Scream are seminal, spawning innumerable, often insipid offspring; Thanksgiving will likely not inspire a new cinematic movement. And that’s okay. —Greg Cwik
Best Diary Film: How To with John Wilson, Season 3, Episode 4: “How To Watch the Game”
John Wilson laments that he’s not as passionate about sports as his other friends. He tells the audience that his father once gave him an issue of Sports Illustrated when he was younger—the swimsuit edition, perhaps in an attempt to strengthen his heterosexuality, but it resulted in him fooling around with his male friend throughout high school and feeling ashamed. This admission is followed by a trip to a vacuum repair shop, where he discovers an upcoming vacuum cleaner collectors’ convention in Scranton and shows up to film a small group, mostly men, with a lot of vintage vacuums. In one room, he finds a guy showing off a truly gigantic Hoover vacuum. “This is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen,” he says. They compete to clean up the most stuff. Wilson says that for the first time, he understood the rules of a game. He talks to enthusiasts. Some hid their love of vacuums out of shame. “I just liked vacuums,” one says, “whether or not anyone else approved of that or not…in the end, everyone has a vacuum.” It’s a startlingly moving short about companionship, grief, and truth.—CW
Biggest Dogpile: Foe
In our divisive era, it seems that almost every movie has its share of passionate partisans looking to set the record straight to a culture who just didn’t get it. Not so for Garth Davis’s science-fiction marriage story Foe, which seems to have been loathed with a rare unanimity, including in this publication by our own Matthew Eng, who called it “unnervingly forced” and “a chore.” The criticisms leveled at this 2065-set tale of an emotionally estranged married couple who live in a parched midwestern landscape who agree to take part in a top-secret experimental governmental project, are varied and valid: the plotting is meandering and obvious; the future world it creates is underrealized; the casting of fresh-faced Irish stars Saoirse Ronan and Paul Mescal as mournful Americans is woefully off; its final revelations over-dramatized. Disinterested in going to bat for a film that is so irrefutably drab, I nevertheless feel an unprompted twinge of desire to voice the mildest admiration for Foe, which, in its very form, seems to me designed to purposely alienate its viewers in a way that would have any cheerful enthusiasm likely impossible. Adapted from a book by Iain Reid, Foe maintains for most of its running time a narrative inchoateness that fogs everything in hazy motivations and purposeful confusion. While you’re watching, the film’s frustrations are manifold: why are these people behaving this way? Why does everything feel so intensely disconnected? What is happening outside the perimeters of their tightly circumscribed lives? The climax answers all these questions definitively, even if it doesn’t retroactively make the film enjoyable. As irritated as I frequently was during Foe, I ultimately was moved and perhaps productively upset by Foe, which doesn’t “tackle” contemporary issues like cloning, A.I., and climate change as much as employ them as matter-of-fact backdrop for an effectively centerless portrait of two people who have stopped being able to see each other. —MK
Best Duo: Bottoms
Forget “Murder on the Dancefloor”—Emma Seligman’s Bottoms ends with a bloodbath on a football field initiated by a teenage girl’s fight club helmed by two lesbians looking to get laid by cheerleaders. Lampooning the (often sexist) fantasies of 1990s and early 2000s American teen coming-of-age comedies in which outcast boys rise to a moment of social and romantic glory, Bottoms is most immediately comparable to Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart. While the films share certain similarities as feminist reframes, Bottoms feels punchier because its genre citations are exceeded by the magnitude of its absurd imagination. In the same tonal vein (right down to the ironic set pieces) as But I’m a Cheerleader, Clueless, or Strangers with Candy, Bottoms leans so far into artifice that it uncovers moments of depth. At its best, the film’s self-reflexive humor exposes the ways that adolescent rituals and behaviors are symbiotically shaped by the films about them. Not least, the film is genuinely hilarious, hinging on the acuity of its jocular dynamic between leads Ayo Edebiri and Rachel Sennott (also the film’s co-writer). Sennott’s wild, aggressive zingers encourage Edebiri’s mock anxiety that escalates towards extended flights of fancy: monologues that map out surreal worst-case scenarios delivered with absolute conviction. It’s an original kind of comedic chemistry that makes the film special. —KC
Best Oscar Snub: Saltburn (all categories)
Worst Oscar Snub: Menus Plaisirs Les Troisgros (Best Documentary Feature and Best Supporting Performance: The Cheese Cart)
The “Stick to the Script” Award: Sanctuary
If I taught an Intro to Screenwriting seminar, I would teach Sanctuary as a cautionary tale. In this 90-minute “two-hander,” directed by Zachary Wigon and written by prolific sound recordist and mixer Micah Bloomberg, a dopey Denver-based hotel-chain heir named Hal (Christopher Abbott) is preparing to step into his father’s shoes as CEO. That means it’s time to cut ties with his dominatrix, Rebecca (Margaret Qualley, affecting Daddy’s Home–era St. Vincent in a green velvet suit and, for 23 whole minutes, an awful blonde wig). She hates this idea, and they struggle for power over the course of a TV Tropes–patented One Crazy Night.
But what a crazy night it is: Screenwriting 101 plotting meets dialogue that sounds like iPhone autocomplete. I decided to rank seven of my favorite scenes, out of context and out of order, and include verbatim dialogue from the film. After all, Hal and Rebecca’s relationship is predicated on their love of scripts: Hal writes the scenes, Rebecca performs them, they get meta and argue about whether the writer or the actor is the true talent (really).
● SCENE: Rebecca sensually recites the Pledge of Allegiance while walking slowly toward Hal and beginning to cry. The gel lights, the film’s third key performer, are sickly, pale blue. She puts a knife to his throat, and they have sex. Rebecca reveals that she has an app on her phone that tells her she is ovulating, and she is ovulating right now: “I want to tell you something. I have an app on my phone and it tells me when I’m ovulating. I’m ovulating right now.”
● SCENE: Rebecca tells Hal she’s hidden a camera somewhere in his hotel suite, which potentially has blackmail footage on it. She hurtles herself around the room to Bonnie Pointer’s “Heaven Must Have Sent You” and barks “WARMER!” or “COLDER!” as Hal ransacks the place. She screams, “I do scrub my own toilet and I don’t like it!” as he yanks a plasma-screen TV off the wall and rips down an illuminated, scorching-hot recess lightbulb with his bare hands.
● SCENE: Rebecca remembers her childhood. (NB: In direct quotations, punctuation is included only if Qualley pauses for breath.) “The first time I went to the dentist I was 19 years old. He took one look inside of my mouth and do you know what he said. He said perfect. He said A-Plus. I did that me because no one else gave a flying fuck that is who I am.”
● SCENE: Rebecca demands that Hal wire him half of his first-year salary as CEO—four million dollars—as penance for firing her. He is emailing his accountant to coordinate one lump-sum deposit. She tells him to stop typing—“The IRS will be living at my house”—and recommends he open an account for her in the Caymans, into which he can deposit fractions of the money quarterly. Hal, a character who should probably have an MBA, replies: “The Caymans. That's a tax shelter, right?”
● SCENE: This is the rare not-at-all good film that busts some moves in the third act. In it, Rebecca decides that Hal should make her CEO of the hotel chain because she’s smarter than him. She growls through closing hotel elevator doors: “That whole thing has bloomed and died my friend we are in a whole new world now we are talking about where in relation to yours my office is going to be and we need to start talking about my title!!!”
● SCENE: While tied to Hal’s four poster bed—because of the blackmail and the chaos—Rebecca wildly contorts her face so that Hal cannot unlock her phone with Face ID. She decides to manipulate him by role-playing as his late father. She puts her hair into an updo and screams: “BOY…DO NOT TEST ME!” while using her restraints to fully snap off one of the bedposts.
● SCENE: Rebecca reminisces about the beginning of their relationship. “Do you remember the fucking thing with the cuticle clippers? I couldn’t sleep. I was shining.”
A moment to recognize my favorite Hulu ad break during this film: a Disney World commercial that only shows Disney adults, no children, attending the park. —Chloe Lizotte
Biggest Excuse for Recycling: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
Like its predecessor, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is an astonishing showcase for the possibilities of visual experimentation in mainstream American animation. It's thus deeply unfortunate that the plot launders some of the worst storytelling instincts of superhero fiction. Even more than other Hollywood blockbusters, these are films ruled by clichés—with every iteration of Spider-Man, we must again see him lose a loved one to motivate him to do good, among countless other familiar beats. These movies are often promoted in terms of which comic book stories they’re adapting, and that medium has its own problems with endlessly recycled tropes. Across the Spider-Verse refashions the genre's struggle with originality as a feature rather than a bug. In the script's imagining, these reused story beats are in fact “canon events” that happen to every iteration of Spider-Man across every parallel universe. The use of the religious term “canon” comes from fandom, validating the seriousness with which obsessives treat this material. It’s of a piece with the irksome trend to claim that superheroes are “modern mythology” to excuse the genre near-totally taking over Hollywood for the past 20 years. That the story is nonetheless genuinely heartfelt makes this all the more insidious. —Dan Schindel
Most Unexpectedly Weird: Origin
I have not read Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, so can’t address questions of fiedlity as I have with Erasure and Poor Things above, but I wondered after watching Ava Duvernay's Origin if it really could be a bonkers time-jumping mishmash of biography, process, ideas, and historical reportage. [CO-EDITORS NOTE: Yes, it kind of is.] Either way, this is meant as a compliment. There are certainly groaners to be found in DuVernay’s attempt to dramatize the writing of a big book of ideas while unpacking the ideas themselves—if you dread a scene in which a whiteboard is frantically rolled into a living room and scrawled upon many times in montage, you will find it here—and the film skirts the kind of hard economic analysis that I imagine is fully threaded into Wilkerson’s argument (I don’t think I recall any utterances of the word “capitalism” in the film, but perhaps I misremember). But there are also more than a handful of terrific, emotional moments rubbing elbows with sequences that attempt to make visual big invisible historical forces. There’s something seductive about witnessing a filmmaker who has, ever since her arrival, seemed so in control, so unfailingly tasteful, leaping into what is, at base, an experiment. (I may also be, admittedly, more than a little predisposed towards a film that centers a writer and writing.) As the film bounces through eras, I felt at times like I was barely keeping pace. And for every juxtaposing cut that flirts with tackiness (such as Wilkerson leaving her mother’s empty home at film’s end only to be greeted by smiles from her book’s assembled protagonists from across history loitering on the lawn), there are others that revel in the unlikely freedom of form DuVernay almost fully embraces. Origin doesn’t totally “work,” and I don’t even know, if asked, that I’d say it’s necessarily a successful film on the main. But it’s far weirder than it has any reason or right to be, a gift in 2023. Duvernay’s first narrative feature since 2018’s underappreciated A Wrinkle in Time has been rattling around in my skull since I’ve watched it, and it’s left me honestly excited for another one. —JR
Worst Time to Work at a Movie Theater: Barbenheimer
I’m a film critic, a cinephile, and I make films. I also work at a movie theater. A lot of my coworkers are also movie lovers and writers and creative individuals, and it’s great to spend time with them at a place that allows people to come see great films. But the arrival of the two-headed beast known as Barbenheimer to our theaters last summer, the pop-cinematic superpower that raked in billions, was a test of endurance. Barbie and Oppenheimer were two perfectly fine movies that were rocketed to iconic status for silly reasons. The week of the films’ release, our staff was encouraged to dress as a Barbie or a Ken. “Hi, Barbie!” said everyone to everyone else. I dressed as J. Robert Oppenheimer. Shows were always sold out. We gave out special deals to those who saw both films on the same day. We shoveled popcorn into hundreds of bags for hundreds of people and then swept it all off the theater floors. It was more than exhausting. In fact, when one Alamo Theater made the case to unionize recently, the employees listed the stress of the whole Barbenheimer phenomenon among the reasons they were fighting for better conditions. To this day, my chest tightens a little when I see someone wearing pink. —CW
Closing Sequence Most in Need of a Rewind Button: R.M.N.
Opening Sequence Most in Need of a Fast-Forward Button: Barbie
Least Offended: Reverse Shot Writers
Long one of our most alarmingly popular columns, our 11 Offenses has in recent years dwindled down to a sidebar in Two Cents. When we semi-retired it in January 2020, we still couldn’t help but feature Mark Asch’s slaughtering of JoJo Rabbit. In January 2021, when everyone was exhausted from a year of pandemic isolation and stunned by the recent insurrection and movies were our most significant comfort, it just didn’t feel right to vent any further spleen in an official Offenses column, even if that year featured some real humdingers (Trial of the Chicago 7, Mank, Promising Young Woman). Things made a significant comeback with a full 7 Offenses for the movie year of 2021, a bounty of badness that included Belfast, Being the Ricardos, and The Many Saints of Newark. And lest you think we’re getting soft in our middle age, for 2022 we managed to squeeze in a nearly full set of 10.
However, this year, we...don’t really have anything to offer our dear readers hungry for venom. Was the movie year that good? Not completely, of course, but the ones we didn’t like don’t seem to have incited any particularly strong feelings among us or many of our writers, save the misgivings about such films as Maestro, Sanctuary, Air, and American Fiction, articulated above. Even a film as stupid as Saltburn ultimately felt too goofy to truly get our knickers in a twist, while the true offense of the year in terms of visual media (the imminent proliferation of AI-created auto-entertainment) still feels on the horizon. It’s an odd sensation for us, but not an unpleasurable one. To those disappointed by this unprecedented turn of events, we hope to return to regularly scheduled programming next year. Movies may have been back and bigger than ever in 2023, but we have no doubt that there’s a Lovely Bones, Shame, or Bohemian Rhapsody somewhere down the road. And when they arrive on screen, we promise the Offenses will be ready. —MK & JR