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Focusing squarely on two families and a select few health workers, The First Wave gets intimate access to the fears and anxieties of individuals trying to contend with the effects of the initial outbreak of the coronavirus in New York. That these characters also tend to belong to already vulnerable sectors in the United States isn't a superfluous detail—as director Matthew Heineman illustrates (without the use of detached talking heads interviews) how proper responses to a global pandemic like this one are still hampered by capitalist interests, and racist and xenophobic institutions built into American society. All of these obstacles make every setback and every moment of progress in these characters' lives feel absolutely crucial, making for an emotionally overwhelming experience.

Genre: Documentary, History

Actor: Al Sharpton, Andrew Cuomo

Director: Matthew Heineman

, 2022

Filled with dense conversations about classical music and cryptic suggestions of a guilty conscience, Tár makes for a challenging watch that rewards patient viewing. The film is ultimately a study of power in an industry built on preserving centuries-old traditions—which makes the character of Lydia Tár, as a queer woman and as a proud, egotistical conductor, such an anomaly in this world. Certain strange choices by the end notwithstanding, this is a movie that leaves itself wide open to interpretation to its view on karma, accountability, and cycles of power. And Cate Blanchett is as good as the awards say: fully immersed in Lydia's ways of arrogant self-preservation, and twitching at every ambient noise that reminds her how fake she truly is.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Adam Gopnik, Alec Baldwin, Alexandra Montag, Allan Corduner, Alma Löhr, André Röhner, Anselm Bruchholz, Artjom Gilz, Cate Blanchett, Chalee Sricharoen, Christoph Tomanek, Constanze Sandmann, Diana Birenytė, Dorothea Plans Casal, Ed White, Frank Röth, Jasmine Leung, Jessica Hansen, Johann von Bülow, Johanne Murdock, Johannes Pfeiffer, Julian Glover, Juliane Kettschau, Kaela Solene Spranger, Kenneth Won, Kitty Watson, Lee Sellars, Lucie Pohl, Lydia Schamschula, Marie-Anne Fliegel, Marie-Lou Sellem, Mark Strong, Mila Bogojevic, Murali Perumal, Nina Hoss, Noémie Merlant, Phongphairoj Lertsudwichai, Prapruttam Khumchat, Razvan Popescu, Sam Douglas, Sarah Bauerett, Somiko Singha-Sila, Songha Choi, Sophie Kauer, Sorawith Sorinchaipaisal, Sydney Lemmon, Sylvia Flote, Tamaki Steinert, Tanutt Tanavoravongsa, Tatjana Reuter, Teresa Philomena Schild, Tilla Kratochwil, Vincent Riotta, Vivian Full, Xenia Assenza, Zethphan Smith-Gneist

Director: Todd Field

Director Zhang Yimou, who already has remarkable wuxia films like Hero and House of Flying Daggers under his belt, delivers another exceptional epic. Set during China's Three Kingdoms era (220–280 AD), Shadow revolves around a great king and his people, who are expelled from their homeland but will aspire to reclaim it. The story requires a fair amount of patience at first, as it slowly builds a world consisting of various characters with different motives, before the real action begins. The journey through Shadow is visually pleasing thanks to its stunning cinematography, impressively choreographed combat, and overall brilliant production design. Packed with sequences that will take your breath away, it is an inventive martial arts epic with one amazing scene after another.

Genre: Action, Drama

Actor: Chao Deng, Deng Chao, Feng Bai, Guan Xiaotong, Hu Jun, Leo Wu, Li Sun, Qianyuan Wang, Ryan Cheng, Ryan Zheng, Ryan Zheng Kai, Sun Li, Wang Jingchun, Wang Qian-Yuan, Wang Qianyuan, Zhang Yimou

Director: Yimou Zhang, Zhang Yimou

Rating: Not Rated

Mystery, domestic horror, and urgent true crime investigation rolled into one, Rewind sees filmmaker Sasha Joseph Neulinger revisiting his own abuse at the hands of a family member while remembering to let his case amplify into a call to action to protect children everywhere. His personal testimony would have been powerful enough, but he dares to put numerous members of his family in front of the camera, too, who begin to unravel a history of neglect and trauma rotting the core of this family over generations. Innocent home video footage turns sinister and seemingly inconsequential memories become warning signs that every adult should be on the lookout for, no excuses.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Sasha Joseph Neulinger

Director: Sasha Joseph Neulinger

Although Descendant is built around the finding of the Clotilda—the last ship to bring African slaves to the United States—this documentary knows that there's so much more potent drama in the stories of the ordinary people of Africatown, Alabama. As this painful reminder of the roots of their community is salvaged from the water, their view of history itself begins to change. Now they face the responsibility of making sure that the Clotilda doesn't just become a tourist attraction, and that their call for reparations unites the Mobile region of Alabama more than anything else. Its a gripping, complex documentary that feels like reading a great novel.

Genre: Documentary, Drama, History

Actor: Cleon Jones

Director: Margaret Brown

Between its maximalist production design and increasingly dark comedic set pieces, the most striking thing about Damien Chazelle's critically misunderstood industry satire is how it strikes a tone closer to tabloid gossip than anything else. As opposed to the clockwork precision of Chazelle's Whiplash, or the dreaminess of La La Land, Babylon's restlessness doesn't resemble Hollywood spectacle so much as it begins to feel like an unscratchable itch, desperate to feel anything. The film ends up trying to say so much that it threatens to say nothing at all, but its vision of cinema becoming reality is so potent that just the experience is more than worth getting lost in.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Aaron Oltman, Albert Hammond Jr., Alex Mansour, Alex Reznik, Alexandre Chen, Andrew Hawtrey, Anna Chazelle, Anna Dahl, Anthony Burkhalter, Ariel Flores, Armando Cosio, Avery Baylin, Azizi Donnelly, Benjamin Jacobson, Bob Clendenin, Brad Pitt, Bregje Heinen, Bryan Scott Johnson, Carson Higgins, Chloe Fineman, Chris Doubek, Christopher Allen, Cici Lau, Circus-Szalewski, Cyrus Hobbi, Dana Marcolina, Danny Jolles, David Abed, David Ury, Dean Anderson, Del Atkins, Diego Calva, Dorian Martin, E.E. Bell, Eamon Hunt, Eric Roberts, Ethan Suplee, Evan Greer, Evgeny Tonkha, Flea, Frederick Koehler, Freya Parker, Hansford Prince, Hayley Huntley, J.C. Currais, Jacob Scesney, James Crittenden, James Vincent, James Wellington, Jean Smart, Jeff Garlin, Jennifer Grant, Jeremy Roberts, Jim O'Brien, Jimmy Ortega, Joe Dallesandro, Joey de Leon, John Kerry, John Macey, John Mariano, John Polite, Johnny Britt, Johnny Hoops, Jonathan Ohye, Jonathan Thomson, Jordan Seigel, Jovan Adepo, Kaia Gerber, Karen Bethzabe, Karina Fontes, Karolina Szymczak, Katherine Waterston, Katia Gomez, Kelly Meyer, Kenajuan Bentley, Kevin Symons, Kevin Toney, Kyle Richter, Laura Steinel, Lewis Tan, Li Jun Li, Lukas Haas, Manny Liotta, Marc Platt, Marcos A. Ferraez, Margot Robbie, Mateo Pollock, Mather Zickel, Max Minghella, Michael Naishtut, Mike C. Manning, Miraj Grbić, Mykail McDade, Nana Ghana, Olivia Hamilton, Olivia Wilde, Oscar Balderrama, P. J. Byrne, Pat Skipper, Patrick Fugit, Pete Ploszek, Phoebe Tonkin, Ric Sarabia, Richard Clarke Larsen, Rickey D. Woodard, Robert Beitzel, Robert Morgan, Rory Scovel, Ryan Porter, Samara Weaving, Sarah Ramos, Sean Billings, Sean O'Bryan, Shane Powers, Sidney Hopson, Sol Landerman, Spike Jonze, Taylor Hill, Taylor Nichols, Telvin Griffin, Terry Walters, Tobey Maguire, Todd Giebenhain, Trisha Simmons, Troy Metcalf, Tyler Seiple, Vanessa Bednar, Walker Hare, William Roper

Director: Damien Chazelle

Rating: R

A recent holiday classic you likely haven't seen, Arthur Christmas uses its premise of the North Pole as a massive spy organization to touch on how commercialization tears people apart. It's a surprisingly smart film with a fascinating dynamic among its family of Santas, with an incredibly funny script full of dry, British wit. And while the animation may already look dated at first glance, Arthur Christmas more than makes up for its looks with truly imaginative art direction and director Sarah Smith's fast-paced set pieces. This is that rare Chirstmas movie that doesn't just surrender to schmaltz; the lessons learned by the characters here are unique, complex, and timeless.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Drama, Family, Kids

Actor: Adam Tandy, Alistair McGowan, Andy Serkis, Ashley Jensen, Bill Nighy, Brian Cummings, Bronagh Gallagher, Clint Dyer, Cody Cameron, Danny John-Jules, David Menkin, David Schneider, Deborah Findlay, Dominic West, Donnie Long, Emma Kennedy, Eva Longoria, Hugh Laurie, Iain McKee, Ian Ashpitel, Imelda Staunton, James McAvoy, Jane Horrocks, Jerry Lambert, Jim Broadbent, Joan Cusack, Julia Davis, Kerry Shale, Kevin Cecil, Kevin Eldon, Kris Pearn, Laura Linney, Marc Wootton, Michael Palin, Peter Baynham, Ramona Marquez, Rhys Darby, Rich Fulcher, Rich Hall, Robbie Coltrane, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Sarah Smith, Seamus Malone, Seeta Indrani, Stewart Lee, Tamsin Greig

Director: Barry Cook, Sarah Smith

Rating: PG

Alejandro González Iñárritu's cleverly layered directorial feature film debut follows three persons whose lives are connected by a car crash in Mexico City. It directly involves two of them: a young man who enters the world of dogfighting to earn enough to elope with his sister-in-law, and a supermodel whose life is changed for the worse after she is fatally injured. The third segment of the film centers on a mysterious homeless man on the street who witnesses the crash.

The title, Amores Perros, refers to the characters’ love of dogs as well as love being a source of misery, and it’s a hint of the chaotic, unforeseen circumstances they each face. Iñárritu’s film shows his brilliance in direction. Despite the film being an early work, his ingenuity shines through and the compelling performances propel all three stories to gritty heights.

Cut-throat editing, handheld cinematography, and Guillermo Arriaga’s intricate screenplay flesh out each character. The viewers are pushed to the edge of their seats as we navigate the gripping miseries of life along with the rest of the cast. The tightly woven film is a painful must-watch, a brutal and uncompromising look at despair and animalistic aggression among humans that is also mirrored in the cruelty their dogs suffer.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Adriana Barraza, Alvaro Guerrero, Dagoberto Gama, Dunia Saldívar, Emilio Echevarría, Gael García Bernal, Gerardo Campbell, Goya Toledo, Gustavo Muñoz, Gustavo Sánchez Parra, Humberto Busto, Jorge Salinas, José Sefami, Laura Almela, Marco Perez, Mauricio Martínez, Patricio Castillo, Ricardo Dalmacci, Roberto Medina, Rodrigo Murray, Rodrigo Ostap, Rosa María Bianchi, Vanessa Bauche

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Rating: R

Shot and edited in an immersive, unembellished style that makes it seem more like a work of narrative fiction than a documentary, Against the Tide begins from a personal place—the friendship between two Indigenous fishermen—before branching off into an exploration of a myriad of issues that these men and their families are involved with. Major credit goes to director Sarvnik Kaur not only for capturing life in Mumbai with loving (but never whitewashed) detail, but also for being a truly silent, invisible observer who never uses her camera to frame any of her characters as right or wrong. There's a dizzying amount of material that Kaur manages to tackle even in the simplest, candid conversations: class, caste, gender, the environment, technology outpacing the communities most affected. And to see the film's central relationships slowly be chipped away by all this change is as heartbreaking as any fictional tragedy.

Genre: Documentary

Director: Sarvnik Kaur

If Steven Spielberg had just decided to do a straightforward cover version of West Side Story, it still would have been a wonder of music, movement, and color. But more than the lush camerawork and impassioned performances from Rachel Zegler, Mike Faist, and Oscar winner Ariana DeBose, this adaptation is most memorable for its renewed focus on the senselessness of its central turf war. Here, New York City exercises absolute power over the Jets and the Sharks, rendering all this gang violence as a futile attempt to hold on to outdated values in the face of economic desolation. Spielberg might not be able to do much about the story's weaker Romeo and Juliet-inspired parts, but he still finds a way to let this often ridiculed tragic romance serve a greater purpose.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Music, Romance

Actor: Ana Isabelle, Andrea Burns, Andy Powers, Annelise Cepero, Ansel Elgort, Ariana DeBose, Ben Cook, Bert Michaels, Brian d'Arcy James, Chryssie Whitehead, Corey Stoll, Curtiss Cook, David Alvarez, David Guzman, Denia Brache, Doreen Montalvo, Feiga Martinez, Gaby Diaz, Harrison Coll, Ilda Mason, iris menas, Jamie Harris, Jamila Velazquez, Jeff Ward, Jess LeProtto, Joe Lanza, José Ramón Rosario, Josh Andrés Rivera, Kevin Csolak, Kyle Allen, Kyle Coffman, Maddie Ziegler, Mike Faist, Mike Iveson, Mike Massimino, Myles Erlick, Nadia Quinn, Natalie Toro, Paloma Garcia-Lee, Patrick Noonan, Paul Niebanck, Rachel Zegler, Reginald L. Barnes, Rene Ojeda, Ricardo Zayas, Ricky Garcia, Rita Moreno, Ryan Woodle, Sean Harrison Jones, Shade Rupe, Skye Mattox, Talia Ryder, Tanairi Sade Vazquez, Victor Cruz, Yassmin Alers

Director: Steven Spielberg