We’re thrilled to launch a new feature on The Film Stage highlighting our top recommendations for films currently in theaters, from new releases to restorations receiving a proper theatrical run. While we already provide extensive monthly new-release recommendations and weekly streaming recommendations, as distributors’ roll-outs can vary, we thought it would be helpful to provide a one-stop list to share the essential films that may be on a screen near you. We’ll be updating this page weekly, so be sure to bookmark.

All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson)

Raven Jackson’s directorial debut All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt is a distillation of cinema to its purest form, a stunning patchwork of experience and memory. Daring in its formal gambits but universal for how it explores humanity’s connection with nature, loss, and love, it’s among few films in the history of Sundance that genuinely seems to advance the language and possibilities of cinema. With adoring notes of Terrence Malick, Andrei Tarkovsky, Carlos Reygadas, and Julie Dash, Jackson isn’t wholly reinventing what has come before, but rather pushing this poetic-based variety into thrilling new territories. – Jordan R. (full review)

Anatomy of a Fall (Justine Triet)

The ensuing days after a romantic breakup, even if it isn’t a cataclysmic one, are an uncanny time. Perhaps once the spell of verbal conflict and sparring’s ceased, suddenly your sole companion for the most intimate thoughts is yourself once again, but it’s an opportune moment for contemplation: how did it really go wrong? Or, can I be honest with myself and acknowledge my own partial responsibility for its demise? For Sandra (Sandra Hüller) and Samuel (Samuel Theis), the key onscreen and offscreen players in Anatomy of a Fall, are enduring this quagmire, although their inevitable breakup was enforced––the latter has just tragically died. – David K. (full review)

The Boy and the Heron (Hayao Miyazaki)

Whereas that 2013 film saw Miyazaki––a man with distinct sensitivity to children’s perspectives––deciding to close on the very adult tale of a man bearing blood on his hands from World War II, he returns to the well, somewhat, in The Boy and the Heron (I much prefer its Japanese title How Do You Live?). Beginning in the middle of a Toyko fire during the war, young man Mahito’s life is thrown into quick disarray. Quickly check Miyazaki’s Wikipedia page to find a quotation about him noting that one of his first memories was the “bombed-out cities” of his home country during that period––though Mahito faces a tragedy Hayao didn’t, his mother perishing in the flames. Soon relocating to the countryside with his strict father Shoichi––who is long past Mahito’s mother, having remarried her younger sister Natsuko––the boy faces growing pains beyond belief. His face smacked with a rock and shooting a burst of blood was enough of a shocking image from an anime film to make the press-screening audience gasp. – Ethan V. (full review)

Fallen Leaves (Aki Kaurismäki)

In 2006, Aki Kaurismäki was asked what he felt young filmmakers lacked. His response was almost Cartesian: “Humility,” the director suggested, “Above all, it is necessary to forget oneself.” The Finnish auteur returns with Fallen Leaves, a charming, moving, bittersweet romance packed with all the lovely things we’ve come to associate with him after four decades. The locations and colors still come in admirable shades of mustard and pea soup––as do the characters and their moods. As a film, Fallen Leaves could hardly be simpler––two people living separate, lonesome lives meet and maybe fall in love––but there is beauty in that simplicity and, as ever, Kaurismäki’s characters live far richer inner lives. – Rory O. (full review)

Godzilla Minus One (Takashi Yamazaki)

For much of Takashi Yamazaki’s Godzilla Minus One, Toho Studios’ 33rd film in the beloved kaiju franchise, the iconic monster exists as an abstraction. After a brief, brutal rampage to start, he is kept offscreen, a shadow in the mind of our hero Kōichi Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki). To a certain extent, this entirely symbolic usage is nothing new: the deeply ingrained allegory for nuclear annihilation that Ishiro Honda’s 1954 original presented has persisted, and often been adapted to fit the times: the most recent Japanese live-action predecessor, Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi’s ferociously incisive Shin Godzilla, tackled the tangled bureaucracy ill-equipped to deal with the Fukushima disaster head-on. – Ryan S. (full review)

The Holdovers (Alexander Payne)

After teaming for Sideways two decades ago, writer-director Alexander Payne and actor Paul Giamatti have reunited The Holdovers, and while it’s not a return to form (Downsizing defender, reporting in), it’s already been rightly embraced as a triumph for the duo. Certainly set to be a recurring sad Christmas classic, Ethan Vestby said in his TIFF review, “[for] how it captures the ambiance of walking out of a liquor store and down a wintry street a few days after Christmas, The Holdovers makes for the ideal annual holiday revisit. If far from revelatory, it nonetheless contains a good deal of likability and honesty.”

in water & The Daughters of Fire (Hong Sangsoo and Pedro Costa)

Hong Sangsoo’s in water may be his shortest feature yet but it’s also his most formally fascinating, shot almost entirely out of focus and as bold of an artistic statement as you’re likely to see this year. Coupled with Pedro Costa’s new short The Daughters of Fire (his review out of Berlin, “Narratively it’s nothing if not succinct, and whatever In Water lacks for plot it more than makes up for in mood and ideas, as well as a kind of raw artistic honesty––regarding his work, yes, but also his sense of mortality. All of which only makes you wonder: might something be fading for the 62-year-old? Derek Jarman was losing his eyesight when he made Blue. Could Hong eventually distill his cinema to different shades of grey? In any case, you’d never doubt the sincerity. ‘I’m not the type to make films for the money. I lack the skill for that, anyway,’ Seoung-mo explains in an early scene. ‘I’m just hoping for honor.’ Amen to that.”

Killers of the Flower Moon (Martin Scorsese)

Wolves are not subtle creatures. It’s a rhetorical question: “Can you find the wolves in this picture?” Who couldn’t spot wolves among humans? They’re much smaller than people, much growlier. They have a vicious appetite and care only about satisfying it. What they lack in tact they make up in blunt aggression, tearing their victims apart limb-by-limb and leaving a blood-stained trail of evidence to prove it. They’re indignant, not the most intelligent, and they don’t speak the language. But that’s where William Hale differs: he speaks the language. Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Killers of the Flower Moon makes no mistake about who is at the center of its tragedy: the Osage Nation. – Luke H. (full review)

May December (Todd Haynes)

Todd Haynes’ May December pulls from a popular ’90s scandal wherein 34-year-old teacher Mary Kay Letourneau had sex with her 12-year-old student, birthed their baby while awaiting her sentence, went to prison, got parole, broke a restraining order to see him again, went back to prison, had another child behind bars, got out after seven years, married the student, raised a family with him, and was eventually left by him 14 years into their marriage. It’s not the exact story of May December, but the differences are negligible––twins instead of children a year apart, some shuffled details. And most importantly, the addition of Natalie Portman. – Luke H. (full review)

Menus-Plaisirs Les Troisgros (Frederick Wiseman)

The first of Menus-Plaisirs Les Troisgros‘ four hours moves as quick as a glacier. Herbs are inspected at a farmer’s market. Two chefs weigh up the benefits of pike and zander. Fans of Frederick Wiseman, immediately recognizing these rhythms, know to sit back and relax: his cinema is usually as taxing as a breath of air––probably as good for the system. Plaisirs is Wiseman at his most indulgent. There is a section that goes in deep on how cheese is aged. There is a visit to a beekeeper and another to a vineyard. But Plaisirs‘ 240 minutes are mostly spent charting a day in the life at Troisgros, one of the oldest three-Michelin-starred restaurants in the world. Suffice it to say: do not enter on an empty stomach. – Rory O. (full review)

Monster (Hirokazu Kore-eda)

Few stories are as gratifying as the narrative jigsaw. How to fool the viewer into believing one thing without lying about what happened? It’s difficult enough to execute on the page, but much more can be hidden in writing. With film it’s a matter of obscuring the context of what we both see and hear, which requires some trickery. Like any sound cinematic tool, it can be misused and abused (see: the MCU), but with tasteful restraint it can be the backbone of a masterclass in mystery. See: Monster. – Luke H. (full review)

Orlando, My Political Biography (Paul B. Preciado)

Orlando, My Political Biography, Preciado’s new work––and his first behind the camera––is the latest to tackle Woolf’s text and surely one of the most original to do so. It’s structured as both a correspondence—messages from the writer to Woolf—and a series of kaleidoscopic vignettes starring trans and non-binary people. In various ways––deeply heartfelt, often funny, occasionally repetitive but never less than joyous––the performers speak about their relationship with the text through personal experiences while, in voiceover, Preciado distills a life spent grappling with the novel (both as intrepid reader and discerning academic) into a poetic and philosophical treatise, providing a robust foundation for the more earnest emotions onscreen. – Rory O. (full review)

Priscilla (Sofia Coppola)

There’s no big screaming match in Priscilla, no takedowns, no zingers. It’s a refreshing and unexpected choice for a movie that ends in divorce. A child of her father, Coppola has a sixth sense for the language of cinema, for communicating complex themes effectively without being heavy-handed or coercive. Take, for instance, the Vegas phase. It seems like a unwieldy period to cover, but she tells us everything we need to know in two shots, the weight of a feature within them: Elvis at rock-bottom in his legendary Vegas penthouse, a cave-like darkness swallowing him and hellish neon glow pulsing through the windows as if he’s trapped inside a lit cigarette, each drag from the giant demon smoking it a soul-sucking experience; then Priscilla in Los Angeles, in the sun, meeting new people, laughing, smiling, open––as simple (and rewarding) as a great conversation. – Luke H. (full review)

The Sweet East (Sean Price Williams)

After 22 years behind the camera––as cinematographer for the likes of Alex Ross Perry and the Safdie brothers––Sean Price Williams has emerged with his first directorial feat(ure), which boasts the creative flourish of a veteran on numerous levels, not least the seamlessly executed shifts in style and batshit Odyssean arc following a girl who must keep escaping the grasp of older men. The sweet cyanide screenplay was penned by film critic Nick Pinkerton, whose toe-stomping approach to character, theme, and colorful storytelling lays fresh ground for Williams to exercise every trick he’s ever learned. More non-musical movies should have integrated theme songs. – Luke H.

Youth (Spring) (Wang Bing)

 Wang Bing’s Youth (Spring) is the first of a supposed trilogy shot from 2014 to 2019 chronicling Millennial and Gen Z (consciously always listing the age when onscreen text introduces a new character) China. And judging by the three-and-a-half-hour runtime, it seems like many of them are toiling away in factory settings where pop music blasting off iPhone speakers or the radio (including a Pitbull song I Shazam’d) intersects in the sonic landscape with the running of the machines. Yes, in Godard’s fashion we have to endure the sounds, but Wang Bing’s mission statement is very different. After all, what’s eternally moving about the veteran documentarian is his deep earnestness. – Ethan V. (full review)

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