With the Sundance Film Festival now wrapped up, offering our first glimpse at the 2023 cinematic offerings, eyes are now on Berlinale, which kicks off later this month. Looking at this month’s theatrical releases, it’s an eclectic mix of fest favorites (including the best film from last year’s Cannes and a pair of highlights from last year’s Slamdance), underseen gems, and a few auteur-driven studio offerings.
12. The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic (Teemu Nikki; Feb. 3)
A week before James Cameron’s 1997 box-office behemoth returns to theaters, we’ll see the release of an acclaimed festival favorite in which his Best Picture winner figures into the central narrative. Winner of the Orizzonti Extra Audience Award at the Venice International Film Festival, Teemu Nikki’s The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic follows Jaakko (Petri Poikolainen), a charming Finn who loves movies despite his blindness, and his long-distance phone relationship with Sirpa (Marjaana Maijala). When he hears about her declining health, Jaakko sets out to meet Sirpa in a different city with only the help of strangers to rely upon.
11. Emily (Frances O’Connor; Feb. 17)
A highlight at TIFF, about which Christopher Schobert said in his review, “Emily, the directorial debut for Mansfield Park and A.I.: Artificial Intelligence star Frances O’Connor, is one of the more remarkably assured first efforts in recent memory. Shot with breathtaking beauty and acted with extraordinary emotion and grace, this exploration of the life and development of Emily Brontë is tremendously enveloping. Emily looks deep into Brontë’s life story for evidence of what that really means. While it is unclear how much of the film is historically accurate and how much is conjecture, O’Connor’s account of the author of Wuthering Heights feels respectful and well-reasoned.”
10. Consecration (Chris Smith; Feb. 10)
First landing on my radar with the back-to-back genre blasts Triangle and Black Death, director Christopher Smith returns this month with Consecration. Led by Jena Malone, the psychological horror drama follows her character, Grace, to a Scotland convent upon the news of her brother, a priest, passing under mysterious circumstances. A brooding mystery conveyed with chilly atmosphere before it turns to near-Ken Russell levels of bloody sacrilege, it’s a genre highlight this spring.
9. The Integrity of Joseph Chambers (Robert Machoian; Feb. 17)
Reaching a wider audience with 2020’s The Killing of Two Lovers, writer-director Robert Machoian and star Clayne Crawford are back with their follow-up, The Integrity of Joseph Chambers. As John Fink said in his review, “Arriving at a scary time in American history when inflation is at an unprecedented high, The Integrity of Joseph Chambers is initially willing to lean into the impulse some have to buy a year’s worth of freeze-dried meals from Costco in the event of global catastrophe. This thread of commentary looms over Joe’s actions as he’s drawn into the woods for the vague reason of proving to his wife he’s no ‘soy boy,’ capable of ‘grown-man shit.'”
8. Hannah Ha Ha (Jordan Tetewsky and Joshua Pikovsky; Feb. 10)
Jordan Tetewsky and Joshua Pikovsky’s dryly humorous character study picked up the top prize at last year’s Slamdance Film Festival and will now arrive this month. Matthew Danger Lippman said in his interview that their debut is “a perfectly realized suburban dramedy, with the titular Hannah (Hannah Lee Thompson, a Baltimore-based musician) fumbling to find employment after her start-up douche brother (producer Roger Mancusi) comes to town. He’s mystified at her life, which consists mainly of hanging with her father (Avram Tetewsky, Jordan’s actual dad), watching The Twilight Zone, and working on a farm. An oddball cast of local characters round out this melancholy, lightly-satirical trip through suburban Massachusetts.”
7. The Quiet Girl (Colm Bairéad; Feb. 24)
Colm Bairéad’s acclaimed drama The Quiet Girl, Ireland’s Oscar entry which secured an Academy Award nomination last week, arrives well-timed ahead of next month’s awards. Set in rural Ireland circa 1981, the story follows a nine-year-old who leaves her overcrowded, dysfunctional family to live with foster parents for the summer. Considering it was one of the five films to best out Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave from a nomination, we’re curious what is in store.
6. The Civil Dead (Clay Tatum; Feb. 3)
The second notable Slamdance winner arriving this month proves the festival is doing a fine job spotlighting American indies that fall outside the more manicured, cookie-cooker mold of its main competitor. Clay Tatum’s The Civil Dead, a dryly hilarious, idiosyncratic buddy-comedy-of-sorts, was a deserved Audience Award winner at last year’s fest and now arrives this week. C.J. Prince said in his review, “The Civil Dead’s refusal to expand beyond the limited perspectives of its two protagonists, and its treatment of an extraordinary situation as little more than inconvenience, is admirable enough to make for a funny, entertaining experience.”
5. Knock at the Cabin (M. Night Shyamalan; Feb. 3)
With Old delivering his best thrills since 2004’s The Village, expectations were high for M. Night Shyamalan’s latest feature, which teams him with Robert Eggers’ cinematographer Jarin Blaschke and is led by Dave Bautista. Reactions have been all over the place for his apocalyptic single-location family drama (our own Michael Frank was mixed), but I personally can’t wait to see the latest from one of the few studio filmmakers still making work solely on his terms.
4. Godland (Hlynur Pálmason; Feb. 3)
After his acclaimed, smaller-scale dramas Winter Brothers and A White, White Day, Icelandic director Hlynur Pálmason returned to the festival circuit last year with Godland. An epic spiritual journey told on a wide canvas, the film follows a young Danish priest in the 19th century who travels to a remote part of Iceland to build a church and photograph its people. As Ethan Vestby said in his review, “Frankly, this writer was expecting Godland to be a slightly tougher sit, but the surprising brevity of its first third carried interest for a long time. It’s no coincidence that Hlynur Pálmason’s film employs the time-lapse trick at multiple points, knowing when’s long enough to hold a shot to convey something, instead of the masturbatory slow-cinema trappings that would seemingly strangle a film of its ilk. This, even with the square aspect ratio—corners rounded, a stylistic tic that began almost a decade ago with Jauja—that usually is a signifier of peak-self-conscious artiness.”
3. Return to Seoul (Davy Chou; Feb. 17)
Near the top of our best performances of 2022 list was Park Ji-min in Return to Seoul–in a debut role, no less. Davy Chou’s heartfelt, kinetic latest feature will now finally get a theatrical rollout starting this month. Michael Snydel said, “The narrative of Park Ji-min’s lead role in Return to Seoul is almost too neat to be real: how often does an actor’s first-ever performance communicate both an involving audience surrogacy and a nuanced individual presence in any given scene or line? What if that breakout role also came in an exceptionally smart, tough film about adoption, a cinematic subject that historically lends itself to phoniness? There’s nothing false or affected about Park’s work as an adopted Korean woman who grew up in France and now wants to find her birth parents. She isn’t looking to surrender to a happy ending, but understand how the contradictions of adoption led her to this point.”
2. Magic Mike’s Last Dance (Steven Soderbergh; Feb. 10)
Seven years after leading one of the best sequels of all time, Mike Lane–aka Magic Mike–makes his triumphant comeback with Magic Mike’s Last Dance. Steven Soderbergh is back in the director’s chair after skipping out on helming duties for XXL, and if this third outing successfully caps things off, we could be looking at one of cinema’s greatest trilogies. With Channing Tatum joined by Salma Hayek, reactions should start to arrive soon ahead of next week’s release.
1. Pacifiction (Albert Serra; Feb. 17)
Yes, it’s early days but it’s hard to imagine we’ll get many 2023 films that will top Albert Serra’s mesmerizing Pacifiction, far and away our consensus favorite of this year’s Cannes Film Festival. As Rory O’Connor said in his review, ”Pacifiction is what Albert Serra might describe as an unfuckable movie. “Unfuckable is, you take the whole thing or you don’t take it but you cannot apply a critical judgment in an easy way,” he explained to us in 2019, “because it is what it is and it doesn’t look like any other film.” Pacifiction does not look like any other film. It doesn’t taste or smell like other films, either, even Serra’s own distinctive body of work. It premiered in a Cannes competition that has been high on wattage but low on power, crying out for a sensation. Pacifiction is that sensation: a film unlike any other this year, appearing near the end of proceedings, with the festival’s final furlongs already in sight; it is the closest the selection has come to delivering a masterpiece.”
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