Interview: Composer Tom Holkenborg on Crafting ‘Mad Max’ Scores | FirstShowing.net

Interview: Composer Tom Holkenborg on Crafting ‘Mad Max’ Scores

by Alex Billington
June 10, 2024

“I consider myself, I call it, a ‘full contact composer.’ I’m not a guy that sits behind a piano with a piece of paper…” Now playing in theaters worldwide is the newest awesome George Miller post-apocalyptic action movie – Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga. The movie kicks ass and so does its score. Just like with Mad Max: Fury Road, Furiosa features a score composed by Dutch musician Tom Holkenborg. Before getting into composing scores for movies, Holkenborg went under the moniker “Junkie XL” and was a techno DJ and producer crafting electronica remixes and tracks galore. After achieving mega fame as Junkie XL, he moved into composing – one of his first scores is for the video game movie DOA: Dead or Alive (2006). He later composed the scores for the sequels 300: Rise of an Empire (2014) and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014), before being hired by George Miller to craft the intense rock n’ roll score for Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). It’s one of my all-time favorite scores, I still listen to it all the time. So when I was offered a chance to chat with Holkenborg for an interview, I couldn’t say no. Here is my brief conversation with him about Mad Max.

This one-on-one interview was conducted over Zoom with Holkenborg. The text has been transcribed and edited for clarity. I’ve been interview composers for a long time (here’s a good one with Hans Zimmer) and I love talking with them about the process, their inspirations, what it’s like working with filmmakers, and how they envision the sound for the movie they’re working on. These are the topics I covered with Holkenborg this time, though I wanted to go on and on talking more about his cooking inspiration, how exactly he used his gear to create the distinct Mad Max sound, and much more. Alas, there’s only so much time and I’m glad I had this much time to talk with him anyway. Holkenborg has created three scores for George Miller so far: in addition to the two Mad Max movies, he also composed the lighter, elegant score for Three Thousand Years of Longing (2022). He has also worked with Zack Snyder (on Justice League, Army of the Dead, Rebel Moon) and created the scores for Alita: Battle Angel, Terminator: Dark Fate, Divergent, Deadpool, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Godzilla vs. Kong. Without any further delay, dive into our conversation below…

George Miller & Anya Taylor-Joy on the set of Furiosa

I’m a big fan of your scores for the Mad Max movies, and especially love the track “Brothers in Arms” from Fury Road. I can listen to it on its own and enjoy it and feel totally energized by it, separate from the way it integrates into the scenes in the movie. I love how distinct that particular track is and how much it stands out as music beyond just being a movie score.

Tom Holkenborg: Well, first off thank you so much. Sometimes it’s really special and I’ve had it with a few movies, where the music has a life on its own outside of the reason why it was created in the first place. As an artist, I also had that… probably my claim to fame for a majority of the people on this planet is obviously the Elvis remix [listen here] which was a commercial I did for Nike – a soccer commercial for the World Cup in Asia. And it was made as music for a commercial, and then it became a number one hit. And it’s always a compliment when that happens. And I think it’s special when it does.

You are part of the new era of musicians / artists who have transitioned from being a part of a different world of music (rock bands or electronica or pop music) into movie composing. I find it fascinating because it opens the door to so many different sounds that we weren’t often hearing before. Most movie scores were orchestras and that’s all we heard, but now we have this whole new era of so many different creations and unique sounds. How do you feel about this evolution with so many moving on from bands and becoming composers?

Holkenborg: I want to go back a little bit in history because it has been happening for a hundred years or so. When John Barry did the arrangements for the first James Bond movie it was so refreshing the score was based on big bands – it was not based on the orchestra, it was big bands. Then in the 60s with alternative cinema in Europe, a lot of different, interesting, alternative 60s/70s bands started doing music for Italian and French cinema, which was really refreshing. In the 70s in the States, we had funk music and disco music all of the sudden being predominant in film scores. It was only because of John Williams that the orchestra was brought back in the late 70s into the 80s. He brought it back. But in the 80s, there were so many film scores that were made with typical 80s things. Then in the 90s it became a little bit more traditional. Then we started noticing more electronic music entering into the scene. Very famously, of course, the first Matrix and many movies after that. And it’s give and take. What we see right now is another wave of different types of approaches to film scores. And I think it’s an interesting landscape, especially when you watch streaming things sometimes they take a very experimental road to what the music can be. I really, really welcome it.

Yeah, me too. That’s what I enjoy about it. This is what cinema should be doing, progressing beyond… We shouldn’t have to stick with what is typically expected for a score and that’s it. And I do think it comes down to trusting and believing in the artists. Asking them to create and believing in them to come up with something that is entirely their own vision.

Holkenborg: The reason why this particular movie that just came out [Furiosa] is special to me is that from the very first inception of sound for this franchise – the Mad Max saga, back in 2013 – all the way to what you saw in the theater [now in 2024], I was able to massage the music exactly how I envisioned it. And in this particular movie, it was the first time for me that I was one of the re-recording mixers together with Rob Mackenzie, who won an Oscar for Hacksaw Ridge. He’s the main sound designer [on the movie], and I’m the composer. And together we were able to mix the movie, the way that you’ve heard it in a theater. And it was very special to be in control of, how is the music taking place in the specter, where you are in the theater. Also the give and take between the sound design departments. How can we make this constantly as fluent as possible without trying to fight each other? That’s one thing.

Secondly is that I feel there’s a lot of room nowadays for different forms of interpretation of what film music is. And I consider myself, I call it, a “full contact composer.” I’m not a guy that sits behind a piano with a piece of paper and writes down the notes that will be orchestrated and played by the orchestra. I’m a very physical musician. My studio is packed with stuff – guitars, bass guitars, amplifiers, synthesizers, outboard effects units. I like to turn knobs, I like to hold something, I like to drum on my drum kit.

What I brought to Hollywood scores when Mad Max: Fury Road came out is – how aggressive a rock ‘n roll a film score could be – including the orchestra. Make them almost break their instruments, to a point. Take the recordings and use that as basis material to then do gnarly stuff with – put it through guitar distortion pedals, do all kinds of stuff with it. And I think that that was a breath of fresh air in Hollywood. That a score like that was done pretty much genuine to what a music style would be. And the fact that I play multiple instruments, the fact that I played in reggae bands, the fact that I played in 80s bands with synthesizers, but also industrial metal & hip hop music. I can take those elements, what I’ve learned, and I can inject that into my film score in a very genuine, almost, artist’s way. It doesn’t feel like somebody’s trying to be something [or sound like something], no, that person is [authentically] what the sound is. If that makes sense…

Yeah, it does. I also noticed [in the video for the interview] that your studio reminds me a lot of Hans Zimmer’s studio. You are surrounded by all this equipment and technology, and you have your two monitors in the middle, and you work in this space like he does. Is your studio setup inspired by working with Hans Zimmer?

Holkenborg: No – not at all. That’s what we liked about each other. I remember when we initially started collaborating, at some point we came up with the idea that we could collaborate more effectively if I had a studio right there at Remote Control. So for 2 and 1/2 years, I did have a studio at Remote Control, and when he walked into my studio for the first time when everything was there, he said, this is the best room at Remote Control, because it feels like a musician is is living in here. Not just a computer with a keyboard and that’s it. And if there’s one guy that I can text at 2AM in the morning, just like, “Hey, did you see this new synth that has come out?” It’s Hans. We constantly text about gear.

Tom Holkenborg Interview

It’s clear I’m very thankful that he took me under his wing. What I really learned from him was the political side of things of being a film composer. And being a good manager of your time and manager of other people; managing expectations; what to do and what not to do when you analyze a picture musically. Those were things that were extremely valuable [to learn] from him. And the fact that he made it possible for me to be independent in this film scoring world. I think the most important thing he did to me was, after 2 and 1/2 years, he gave me a tap on the shoulder and said, “you can do this on your own… You’re ready. Go for it.” I will always be thankful he took me on and we became friends in the process. It’s nice with fellow Europeans to talk to each other because we’re straightforward – we don’t dance around the bush [sic], we just go right at it and we’re very direct. It is great to have him in my life and to talk to him every now and then.

I also want to ask about all of this technology around you. It has become essential for modern day musicians to use this technology, not just synthesizers but anything that can add and enhance the sound. And I want to ask you about how important and useful all of this new technology has become to allowing you to create exactly the sound you want to create?

Holkenborg: Well, again, if we jump back into history. Every technical advancement that has been made in science immediately led to a whole new style of music that wasn’t there before. [For example:] when the organ was invented, the church organ; when the piano was invented; when people built the first violin; the first brass instruments; the first woodwinds instruments. Every time when there was a new advancement in science, incredible instruments were being built. And because the instruments were being built, new things were possible. The introduction of the theremin around 1900, then the introduction of the electric guitar, the guitar in general, the guitar amps, and then the first guitar effects pedals, the first wave of synthesizers, and so on. I worked with Gary Numan once who had this band Tubeway Army in 1977, and he released the first album that was called “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?

It’s still one of the best electro pop songs ever written in history. But he was actually a singer / songwriter. His brother brought a synthesizer to the studio and said, “look what I got.” And they started playing around with it, and before we knew it, it became that incredible classic album. We see it in electronic music through the decades, how the introduction of new techniques and faster processes, new music would start to arise because of it. And the introduction of certain types of effects in the past led to a whole different production of albums and such. So in my world, this is extremely important – that when something new comes out, it enables you to do something different and to make different sounds. And I think constantly embracing that technology is interesting to push the envelope of music.

Of course we live in a very scary time period with artificial intelligence, but even with that, I’m not looking the other way because it’s just here, and it’s never going to go away… So you can look the other way and pretend it doesn’t exist, but it’s here and it will go rapidly fast. I think the best way is to embrace it, and see how you can use it to advance on your own with it, because it’s not going to go away. The electric amplifier and the electric guitar are still here after 80 years.

Do you need to visit any of the movie sets to feel immersed enough to understand what kind of sound you need to be creating? Do you ever build your scores purely from a script? How much immersion do you need as the composer to actually develop the sound for each movie?

Holkenborg: A movie set sounds very romantic, but in fact it’s actually not. It’s basically a wall of things that we’re going to be seeing on camera, but outside that, there’s nothing there. It’s like the classic movie sets of western cowboy movies where it’s just the facade of the village, with lumber poles, so it kind of looks like a real city, but when you’re there, it’s obviously not a city. Usually visiting a set is a luxury that barely any composer has, unless the movie’s being shot close to where you are. Especially the bigger movies with long post-production times and long lead-ins into the release. Furiosa was being shot in 2021 and 2022 and I was simply knees deep into another film, finishing another film. You usually don’t come in until the shooting is done, and the post-production phase has started. And on Furiosa, that was 2 and 1/2 years, and Fury Road was also more or less 2 and 1/2 years.

I’ve heard sometimes that composers do get involved very early on. I think it was even Hans Zimmer at one point who said he began creating themes as soon as he read the screenplay, he could already start envisioning the music and working on it right away.

Holkenborg: With George [Miller], I’ve encountered all possible scenarios, which are the main three. They are… You see a section of the movie that is being shot, but other points in the movie are in progress, not yet shooting. So you have a very good idea visually what it’s going to be. This was the case on Fury Road, and then it still took 2 and 1/2 years [for them to finish working on it].

The theme for Three Thousand Years of Longing purely started on the conversation between me and George, what the movie was about. And I hadn’t read the script [yet]. I didn’t see the film. It was way before filming. And George decided that he wanted the music to be done before he started shooting the film. And he wanted to play the music on the set. So the actors were playing towards the music. A very unique scenario, almost like when Ennio Morricone worked with Sergio Leone for Once Upon a Time in America, where all the music was recorded before and the actors would act on the music.

And for our third movie together, Furiosa, it began when he told me what the story was. Then I read the script, but never saw the film [while they were shooting]. I started completely designing what the world was going to be for her [Furiosa]. And eventually he gave me the film really late. He said, “on this particular movie, I want you to see it only when I’m done with the editing.” Because he said, “you can see the movie only once, after that it becomes work.” So it’s only the first time you have the first time experience.

Many movie [productions] nowadays have massive green screens all over the place. Sometimes a section of the set is fully built and the rest is being added with CGI. So the whole idea of visiting a set is more romantic actually than essential.

What kind of movies are you drawn to work on? I noticed you mainly make scores for many big, sweeping epic sci-fi movies or massive fantasy adventures. What inspires you the most as a composer? Are you inspired by art or the process of creating the scores? Or is it something else that inspires you as a musician nowadays?

Holkenborg: Well, for starters, what drew me into film [in the first place] is that multiple different forms of art are being combined into one product. It’s a synthesis of the acting, the directing, visual effects, sound design, mixing, and music – everybody at the top of their game butting heads together [to figure out] how to make this really, really great. Even the movies that are more about form than they are about substance… Even these movies, the people that work on them are so incredibly smart. They know exactly what they’re doing, what they’re creating, and who they’re creating it for. Whether it is Deadpool, or Mad Max, or the Snyder Cut of Justice League, or Batman v Superman, or other movies not done by me like Star Wars or Indiana Jones or the Marvel movies, they know exactly what they’re creating and who they’re creating it for.

And there are other type of movies that are purely substance and less about form, and now we’re zoning in into more of the art house type movies, of which I’ve done a few. Usually that’s the stuff I really watch late at night, streaming, like dark Scandinavian murder dramas that take 20 episodes to find the killer from one murder, not 20 people being slaughtered every episode, but just one murder. With this whole psychological drama to get to the end of it. I really love them both. And in both scenarios you work together with a really solid team of people that really know what they’re doing. And it depends on the time period. Usually the big blockbusters have a long lead in and it’s a lot of work.

It should actually be a separate Oscar category because working on a blockbuster is a marathon, while doing an alternative art house movie is not, it’s a sprint race. Like – okay, the music needs to be done in three or four weeks, which is so different than [on a blockbuster] a 2 and 1/2 year plowing to get to the end. It should be a separate category. It’s a completely different ball game. But the dynamics between all the people that work on them are exactly the same. Whether it’s a movie based on form or a movie based on substance.

My inspiration primarily comes from cooking. I like to cook for hours and hours on end, sometimes days on end, and I attack it with the same precision as music. And because I’m doing that, I can be really in the here and now. And when I’m in the here and now, that’s when ideas come to me.

Thank you to Tom Holkenborg for his time and to Infamous PR for arranging this interview.

Tom Holkenborg Interview

George Miller’s Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is already playing in movie theaters worldwide, exclusively on the big screen. Check your local listings for the showtimes and enjoy this exceptional post-apocalyptic action movie (read our review). You can also listen to the full album of Holkenborg’s score for Furiosa right here.

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Cannes 2024 Finale – The 8 Best Films to Watch Out For From the Fest | FirstShowing.net

Cannes 2024 Finale – The 8 Best Films to Watch Out For From the Fest

by Alex Billington
June 4, 2024

What are the best films out of this year’s Cannes Film Festival? Which ones should you be taking an interest in? What films should be a priority for you to see? After diving into cinema for 12 days at the 77th Cannes Film Festival, after watching a total of 40 films, it’s time to present my 2024 list of my Top 8 Favorites. This was my 14th year back to this festival (I also handed out 4 signed books), and I still love being there right in the middle of all the buzz and excitement, watching new cinema every single day. As I usually say – there’s always more to see, always more to take our breath away. These eight favorites listed below are the ones that connected with me emotionally or intellectually, and I hope you’ll consider watching a few when they arrive in your neighborhood. They are worth the wait – each one distinct and memorable. It might have been another lackluster Cannes overall, for the most part, though I am happy I caught a few bangers by the end. This is my very final recap of Cannes 2024 – don’t skip a chance to watch any of these with an audience.

My goal at film festivals nowadays is to watch, watch, watch and keep watching as much as possible. I don’t want to miss anything that might be good, and I prefer to get a look at anything just to see what each one is about. The Cannes 2024 line-up looked promising at the start, but ended up one of their most unimpressive selections in a long time. Even though I also said that 2023 was a “weaker year”, the all-timers from last year stand out even more than these 8 favorites below. I do not care for Caught by the Tides, Rumours is mediocre, The Shrouds is overrated, Parthenope is a disaster, Motel Destino is terrible, Beating Hearts is trash (here’s my review). Many other films I saw were instantly forgettable – I don’t know whether to blame the filmmakers, or the festival for programming all these films. I missed a few that others are raving about, including Viet and Nam and An Unfinished Film. There’s never enough time to see everything, and it’s hard enough to watch films over 12 days and still work on the site, too. I’m always relieved I could see this many.

I won’t delay any further with my Top 8 films of Cannes 2024, as these are the films that I loved the most, or left the greatest impact on me, and they all deserve to gain recognition outside of France. My favorites:

Anora – Directed by Sean Baker

Cannes - Sean Baker's Anora

The best film of the fest actually won the Palme d’Or this year! Huzzah! 🍾 Congrats to Sean Baker and the entire cast & crew of Anora. This film is going to become an instant classic, beloved favorite of many once it drops in theaters later this year. It absolutely deserves to win the Palme! I loved this film! Easily the best film of the entire 2024 Cannes Film Festival line-up, impressive in every single sense – from the filmmaking to the cinematography to all the performances to the story itself. I could rewatch this right away, and I’m looking forward to seeing it again. Anora is funnier than expected, making me laugh more than almost any other film this year so far. While also still remaining an intelligent, layered, authentic, clever, riveting story about a melange of people getting into trouble in New York City. Mikey Madison is unforgettable as Ani, aka Anora, with a perfect Brooklyn accent. But the best part of this film is Yura Borisov as Igor, who you’ll discover when you watch the film (he was also in the excellent Cannes 2021 film Compartment Number 6).

Black Dog – Directed by Hu Guan

Cannes - Hu Guan's Black Dog

Of course I love a dog movie! But this one is really something special. Black Dog is one of two major dog movies at Cannes this year – the other one is the Swiss comedy Dog on Trial (my review here). Co-written & directed by filmmaker Hu GuanBlack Dog stars celebrated Chinese actor Eddie Peng as Lang, a man who returns to his dusty, aging, industrial hometown after being released from prison. The town is overrun with stray dogs after everyone moved away to find more work, and he befriends one smart, funny, skinny black dog that lives on its own. His friendship with the doggie (and all of the animals around town) changes him and the entire town in the process. Not only is it a magnificent film about dogs, Peng actually adopted a few of the dogs from the film after the shoot. And the film took great care to treat every animal with respect, including a title card at the end about how they handled them and never mistreated any of them on the set.

The Girl with the Needle – Directed by Magnus von Horn

Cannes - Magnus von Horn's The Girl with the Needle

Another controversial pick from the Cannes line-up (some of my friends did not like this film, while others loved it). This film screened on the second day of the festival, one of the very first films to premiere. It’s an especially unsettling, almost gothic horror tale of a young woman living in a very dirty Copenhagen in the early 1900s. Vic Carmen Sonne stars in the brave lead role as Karoline, a poor, working-class woman who ends up getting pregnant while her husband is missing in The Great War. That’s just the start of her story as she tries to survive and make a living while struggling with her pregnancy, then she meets an older woman named Dagmar (played by Trine Dyrholm) who helps find new homes for unwanted babies. Aside from striking cinematography by Polish DP Michal Dymek, and the dark, disturbing screenplay that has some seriously unexpected twists & turns, the best part of this film is the score. Created by musician Frederikke Hoffmeier (aka by her stage name Puce Mary), this atmospheric, moody, actually freaky score has never left my mind. It stayed with me throughout the entire fest which is no easy feat while viewing so many films.

Emilia Pérez – Directed by Jacques Audiard

Cannes - Jacques Audiard's Emilia Pérez

This movie became the “you either love it or hate it” of Cannes 2024. And yep, I love it! I think it’s ambitious and bold and entertaining and something we’ve never seen before. The whole concept is a great example of “wait, what?!?!” Can he actually pull this off. Yes he can!! I’ve been a huge fan of French filmmaker Jacques Audiard ever since I first started attending Cannes and fell in love with A Prophet in 2009. Emilia Pérez is a totally unbelievable creation – a full-on musical about a Mexican cartel kingpin who transitions from man to woman to become “Emilia Pérez”, her true identity, while hiding from his past. All this happens in the first half, then the movie becomes a story about how she tries to reconcile with her violent past and all she did, and whether or not she can change anything in Mexico. Zoe Saldana also co-stars in a fierce role as her lawyer / friend Rita Moro Castro, who joins the cause in trying to make a difference while also getting caught up in her past as well. Spanish trans actress Karla Sofía Gascón won the Best Actress award, and deserves the acclaim for this challenging role. I’m a big fan of this one – I think Audiard really did pull it off.

The Substance – Directed by Coralie Fargeat

Cannes - Coralie Fargeat's The Substance

Brutal! Shocking! Gross! Loud! This is THE horror movie of the festival! Everyone was raving about it! The audience loved it and went wild at the end! It was one of the best screenings of the festival! Even if The Substance doesn’t have universal praise from everyone who saw it (some don’t like it at all), it is still one of Cannes 2024’s big breakouts that will have an impact on cinema once it hits theaters. Guaranteed. It’s a tad too long at 2 hours & 20 minutes, but the bat-shit, is-this-really-happening finale is worth the wait. Plus it’s exciting watching Demi Moore rock this lead role as “Elizabeth Sparkle”, taking her down weird alleys to places I wound never expect. Before the fest began, I had a feeling Coralie Fargeat would be the talk of the fest that’s pretty much what happened – rightfully so with such a gnarly, gory, spectacular body horror film. I had such a great time watching & talking about this one, it’s this year’s Titane (even though it didn’t win the Palme like that one), and proves that Fargeat is going to have a strong and illustrious career in film.

The Seed of the Sacred Fig – Directed by Mohammad Rasoulof

Cannes - Mohammad Rasoulof's The Seed of the Sacred Fig

Essential cinema! This nearly 3-hour Iranian film from award-winning filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof screened on the second to last day of the film festival, arriving just at the last minute to win us over. I was impressed and moved by most of it – a powerful film about Iranian society’s current descent into madness. The story of a family living in Tehran that begins to fall apart. Iman, played by Missagh Zareh, is a loving father of a family of Iranian women living in a very nice apartment – his wife is Najmeh, played by Soheila Golestani, and they have two teenage daughters named Rezvan and Sana, played by Mahsa Rostami and Setareh Maleki, respectively. All four of these performances are exceptionally strong, building this film into a powerful treatise on how paranoia and fear bring about madness. The film’s title, The Seed of the Sacred Fig, seems obscure though it’s actually connected to the many themes within the film and the story of what’s happening with Iran right now – with a healthy nation being strangled by fanaticism and dogma.

Eephus – Directed by Carson Lund

Cannes - Carson Lund's Eephus

Who would’ve thought that a baseball movie from America would end up being one of my favorite films from the 2024 Cannes Film Festival this year? I am so glad I took the chance to watch and discover and enjoy this clever comedy about old timers playing a game of baseball. Eephus premiered in Directors’ Fortnight (aka Quinzaine des Cinéastes) sidebar, marking the feature directorial debut of filmmaker Carson Lund. It’s a remarkable debut, boasting a super smart script full of wise cracks, jokes, and baseball lingo aplenty that will probably go over the heads of anyone who doesn’t already know the game by heart. The cinematography is my favorite part about it, shot by DP Greg Tango, with perfectly composed shots focusing more on close-ups & various players than wide shots of the actual game. It’s a compelling film about dudes getting older, with their time fading away; yet it’s also a baseball movie, unlike any I’ve seen before. I thoroughly enjoyed it, laughed my ass off. Hopefully ends up becoming an indie hit whenever it opens in theaters later this year.

Flow – Directed by Gints Zilbalodis

Cannes - Gints Zilbalodis' Flow

The most adorable and heartwarming film of Cannes 2024! What a wonderful surprise. Another animated stand out from Cannes, similar to Robot Dreams last year. After making his feature directorial debut with Away in 2019, Latvian animation filmmaker Gints Zilbalodis spent five years working on his next feature called Flow. It’s the story of a black cat and his group of friends stuck together on a boat. The dialogue-free story is a beautifully animated tale of animals trying to survive in a magnificent world that is being flooded. As the water gets higher and higher, they journey onward deeper into their realm and meet other animals good and bad. The score by Rihards Zalupe & Gints Zilbalodis, along with the stunning animation work in harmony with this mesmerizing story of companionship. It may be hard to convince anyone else to sit and watch this, but I will do my best as it truly is a rewarding animated tale worthy of the big screen experience.

A few other films from the festival I want to mention even though they didn’t make the list. First, I need to mention The Surfer, the new film from director Lorcan Finnegan (of Vivarium) starring Nicolas Cage as a dude who confronts some suffer assholes on an Australian beach. I was considering including it on the list above, but it barely didn’t make the cut – though I still keep thinking about it. Not only Cage’s character, but the whole concept and commentary baked into it. I also think Andrea Arnold’s new film Bird is quite good, with powerful performances by Barry Keoghan & Franz Rogowski; however it’s not strong as I hoped and compared to these others it didn’t end up as one of my faves. I also enjoyed the stop-motion animated film Savages (aka Sauvages) from Swiss filmmaker Claude Barras, an endearing & touching tale of some kids who rescue a baby orangutan on the island of Borneo. I also enjoyed the Indian film All We Imagine As Light, it’s a tender and touching story, but I don’t believe it should’ve won the Palme d’Or. And I have to shout-out the kooky, weird French comedy Plastic Guns for being so menacingly hilarious in its absurdity.

And that’s it for Cannes 2024, ending our coverage of this film festival. Sean Baker’s film Anora ended up winning the Palme d’Or prize this year – find the full list of 2024 awards winners here. My coverage wraps up with this list of favorites and all my other reviews from the fest. I’m always looking forward to returning to Cannes again, it’s one of my favorite fests and I always enjoy going back hoping to discover masterpieces.

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The Top 10 Godzilla Team-Ups – Jet Jaguar, Rodan, Mothra & More | FirstShowing.net

The Top 10 Godzilla Team-Ups – Jet Jaguar, Rodan, Mothra & More

by Aaron Neuwirth
March 28, 2024

While he is the irrefutable “King of the Monsters“, Godzilla has recently found himself in the spotlight quite a bit. Between Apple’s Monarch: Legacy of Monsters series (streaming now), the Oscar-winning hit Godzilla: Minus One, and the upcoming Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, kaiju fans have had a lot of time to spend marveling in awe of Big G. With that in mind, this upcoming Legendary Pictures movie will presumably be featuring Godzilla partnering up with his previous rival, Kong. Sure, Godzilla has often found himself taking on other giant monsters on his own, or being a party to the destruction of major cities because he (or she) actually just wants to lay some eggs or topple towns because he’s a real mean bastard. However, when the going gets tough, Godzilla sometimes finds himself in a spot where it’s more beneficial for him to have a teammate handy to stop various three-headed dragons, giant cyborg claw beasts, robotic versions of himself, etc. Below is my list of Godzilla’s Best Team-Ups in the franchise’s 70-year history.

For more – read my rundown Stomping Through Godzilla History: Where to Begin & What to Watch.

10. Father and Son – Godzilla and Minilla
Godzilla and Minilla

Godzilla’s children had to make this list because when it comes down to it – they step in when needed. I feel like kids don’t really need an awkward-looking little monster to bring further appeal to an increasingly kid-friendly monster series, but that’s another story. Minilla is introduced in 1967’s Son of Godzilla and later returns in Destroy All Monsters (1968), All Monsters Attack (1969), Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). Born prematurely thanks to interference from Kamacuras (giant mantises), Minilla is trained by Godzilla to protect himself from other giant bugs. With no atomic breath like his pops, Minilla blows smoke loops, which are not a ton of help. All that said, he does get in his shots during a throwdown against King Ghidorah (it’s a long story) AND helps a latchkey kid stand up to bullies (that’s an even longer story). Not everyone’s favorite, and certainly not a looker, but as a part of the lighter side of things, Minilla is a well-meaning ally.

9. Father & Son Again… – Godzilla and Godzilla Jr.
Godzilla and Godzilla Jr.

First introduced as an egg in 1993’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, Godzilla’s other child (first known as Baby Godzilla) had quite the epic arc during the Heisei era. Having imprinted itself onto a biologist before birth, Godzilla Junior (then “Little Godzilla”) would go on to interact with the G-Force member through a psychic bond in the movie Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994). In the final Heisei Era film, Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995), Junior is grown enough to be a very capable fighter against one of Godzilla’s biggest threats. However, Junior is killed at one point during the battle, only to be revived by the movie’s end as an adult taking over the family business. With more of a dinosaur-like look as it grows up, Junior felt more like the Dick Grayson / Tim Drake to Minilla’s Damian Wayne and certainly gave its all when a true villain was looking to take down the King. I don’t really know where Godzilla Junior would be now through the Heisei timeline as a full-size Godzilla replacement. Still, I’m sure it’s living up to its elder’s legacy.

8. RoboFriend – Godzilla and M.O.G.U.E.R.A.
Godzilla and M.O.G.U.E.R.A.

While Moguera (aka M.O.G.U.E.R.A.) first appeared way back in 1957’s The Mysterians film (directed by Godzilla’s own Ishirō Honda), the robot kaiju (operated by multiple pilots) would ultimately enter Godzilla’s universe in Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994), helping Big G take on the crystal-enhanced beast (see the gif above). However, even with the ability to split into two parts (Land Moguera and Star Falcon), it would eventually be defeated. Sure, this thing is fast & armed to the teeth, but weak armor is never helpful against an alien clone from outer space. Still, Moguera does end up destroying SpaceGodzilla’s main power source, allowing Godzilla to finish him off. Even with death on the line, teamwork can make the dream work.

7. Lion in the Toho – Godzilla and King Caesar
Godzilla and King Caesar

A guardian deity modeled after Japan’s stone lion statues, when you really look at it, King Caesar is pretty cool and a stand-up ally. For one, this is one of the few characters Godzilla doesn’t have any beef with from the start. True to life, this giant cat gets involved once it is woken up and deems a situation worth dealing with. In this case, we’re talking fighting Mechagodzilla in 1974’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla. Granted, King Caesar is sadly not one of the stronger kaiju to team up with Godzilla, being beaten by Mechagodzilla on its own and then having Big G do most of the work while battling the alien robot together. Nonetheless, as a creature recruited to keep humans safe, the lack of drama between them goes a long way – long enough for him to let King Caesar live during its mind-controlled reappearance in 2004’s Godzilla: Final Wars.

6. The Two Kings – Godzilla and Kong
Godzilla and Kong

Here’s the thing with these two – they don’t see eye to eye, and they both see themselves as the best. While plenty of other adversaries are merely challengers to the throne, this IS the “King of the Monsters” vs “King Kong”. With that in mind, their time spent working together is minimal so far. While Godzilla x Kong implies the two will have to team up (no spoilers from me right now), 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla was all about the two fighting each other. 2021’s Godzilla vs. Kong movie spent most of the time letting the two alphas battle it out (with Godzilla ultimately winning, natch). The real enemy of the film, however, was revealed to be a secret weapon developed by the Apex company, which, as it turned out, was Mechagodzilla (telepathically controlled by Apex’s chief technology officer using a dismembered skull from Ghidorah… it’s a whole thing). When Mechagodzilla started running wild (breaking free of its controller, because of course it did), Godzilla and Kong needed to work together to stop it. As it turns out, the two champions made for a natural pair, complete with combo moves, weapon assists, and more.

5. King and Queen Combine – Godzilla and Mothra
Godzilla and Mothra

Perhaps this is controversial, but Mothra is ultimately more of a peacekeeper than a true ally. Therefore, I see other team-ups as more worthy when considering the role the Queen of the Monsters has played in this series. Granted, it’s not for lack of appearances. Mothra has shown up a lot in Godzilla’s history (and even had her own Rebirth trilogy, along with starring in her own movie to begin with). As far as when Mothra has made her efforts to protect humanity by actually assisting Godzilla, 1964’s Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster found the giant butterfly actually talking Godzilla and Rodan into taking on the colossal dragon (more on that soon). In later entries, she also works with Godzilla to help him battle an upgraded Gigan and Monster X (aka Keizer Ghidorah – yup!) from Toho in Godzilla: Final Wars. In the MonsterVerse, in 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Mothra practically seems like an old girlfriend who decides to lend a hand to Godzilla during a battle with King Ghidorah and Rodan, sacrificing herself in the process (although Mothra does have a long history of being reborn in some way, so who knows if this is permanent).

4. Best Sidekick Ever – Godzilla and Anguirus
Godzilla and Anguirus

With a similar origin to Godzilla and a more diminutive stature than most other kaiju, Anguirus is more of a sidekick than a friend, but a good one. Think of him as the Robin to Godzilla’s Batman (yes, a second Caped Crusader reference for this article, but bear with me). While the two first battled it out in 1955’s Godzilla Raids Again (Godzilla’s first rival for the series), they quickly teamed up in multiple Showa Era films, including Destroy All Monsters and Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972). The latter would make for their most impressive adventure together, as they had quite the selection of opponents to take on. After talking it out (because Godzilla and Anguirus actually talk to each other in this one) and a little reconnaissance, the two take on Gigan and King Ghidorah together in a brutal battle that leads to a lot of bloodshed (it’s a pretty gory Godzilla movie) but ultimately a victory. The film practically predates Jaws having us watch Godzilla and Anguirus swim back to Monster Island together, having triumphed over their monstrous adversaries.

3. A Friend Forged in Fire – Godzilla and Rodan
Godzilla and Rodan

Like Mothra, Rodan also got his start in his own movie before going to the Godzilla-Verse. However, there’s a critical difference between the Queen and him that I’ve tried to make very clear over the years – Rodan is a dick. He relishes causing destruction and wears a smile while doing it. That’s never been more evident than in 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters, with his finest solo showcase action scene to date. However, Rodan and Godzilla did make for good friends. Initially enemies (as usual when it comes to Godzilla’s desire for dominance), Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964) found the two working together after some coaxing by Mothra. This carried over to 1965’s Invasion of Astro-Monster, which had them taking on King Ghidorah once again after Earth was duped into letting the Xiliens from Planet X “borrow” them to fight this battle in exchange for the cure for cancer (this ended up being an elaborate ruse). Even more notable are the events that occurred during the Heisei Era. In 1993’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, not only did Rodan essentially take a bullet for Baby Godzilla, but while dying, he would go on to let his life force regenerate Big G to help him get supercharged to take down the Super-Mechagodzilla. What a pal.

2. Get Me Everyone! – Godzilla and All of Monster Island
Godzilla and All of Monster Island

Before Marvel’s The Avengers, Toho gave us Destroy All Monsters, which put together an all-star roster of kaiju battling against King Ghidorah (firmly establishing the three-headed creature as Godzilla’s primary nemesis). In this film, following a whole section of the narrative where all the monsters are being mind-controlled by the Kilaaks (this series loves its alien names), a major showdown occurs on Monsterland (the Japanese island that has been converted into a confinement area where the monsters can be contained and researched). This is where Ghidorah must go up against Godzilla, Anguirus, Rodan, and Gorosaurus, along with some support from Minilla, Kumonga, and Mothra in larval form. Baragon, Varan, and Manda are also present but aren’t really needed for this incredible kaiju brawl. Now, granted, the odds were pretty stacked against Ghidorah at this point (not that he’d care, as he’s one cocky bastard). Still, as far as team-ups go, Godzilla had plenty of reason to put in the order for team jerseys after this one.

1. Instant Besties – Godzilla and Jet Jaguar
Godzilla and Jet Jaguar

🎵 Godzilla and Jaguar, they punch, punch, punch! They are the friends of justice! 🎵 Yes, Jet Jaguar may just be a kid-friendly creation by Toho to capitalize on the popularity of Ultraman at a rival studio, but this colorful robot is also 100% awesome. Only ever appearing in 1973’s Godzilla vs. Megalon movie, this friendly human-sized machine initially served as a companion to two scientists and a young boy, only to realize he would need help stopping a threat to Earth. With the arrival of Megalon and Gigan, Jet Jaguar gained sentience and grew to giant kaiju size so he could take on the others. And that’s not all! Jet Jaguar then decided to recruit Godzilla and form an alliance (literally shaking hands to seal the deal – see image above). Were Gigan and Megalon ready for this major bout of double trouble? No, no they weren’t. Cut to the duo stomping all over the villains, with the well-known epic finishing move of Jet Jaguar holding down Megalon while Godzilla lays out an impossible drop kick on the giant beetle. This instant friendship is a joy to see take place, and it’s a shame Jet Jaguar hasn’t returned since.

B-b-b-bonus! – Mothra, King Ghidorah & Baragon against Godzilla
Mothra, King Ghidorah & Baragon Against Godzilla

One more for the road, as 2001’s Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack has a unique set of allies worth mentioning. Part of the Millennium Era, basically an extended anthology series, this film functions as a direct sequel to Godzilla (1954), making Godzilla the villain against everything and everyone. In an exciting twist, Mothra, Baragon, and King Ghidorah (I know, right?) are now Guardian Monsters who must be awakened to stop Godzilla from destroying Japan. It’s not an easy battle for these monsters, with King Ghidorah ultimately getting a lift from Mothra’s sacrifice play (her standard move) to, at the very least, damage Godzilla enough for humans to take advantage of the situation and stop the devastation. A wild approach in one of the most memorable Godzilla films from early in the 21st century.

How will things turn out in terms of team-ups in Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire? We’ll find out soon, as the film opens in theaters March 29th, 2024. Are Godzilla and Kong really going to be working together? More importantly, will this be a lasting friendship? One thing’s for sure: Godzilla may be King, but he does have a history of taking on an ally or two at a given moment. Perhaps it could lead to something more long-term. After all, who doesn’t need a hand when it’s time to, I don’t know, move a large refrigerator, or have a partner for monster pickleball? Anyway, a new Godzilla movie is opening soon. As always – let them fight.

Follow Aaron Neuwirth on Twitter + ask him anything about Godzilla movies – @AaronsPS4

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On the Philosophy of ‘Dune: Part Two’ – Power, Control, Fate & Love | FirstShowing.net

On the Philosophy of ‘Dune: Part Two’ – Power, Control, Fate & Love

by Alex Billington
March 14, 2024

“Consider what you are about to do, Paul Atreides…” Be wary of the path you are headed down, Muad’Dib… As with the two biggest movies of last year (Barbie & Oppenheimer), the biggest movie of 2024 so far is also an extremely dense, philosophically compelling, morally complex work of cinematic art. It’s exhilarating and fascinating to ponder its epic story of control over the planet Arrakis, and even more exciting realizing that audiences are eating this up. Even if the philosophical ideas may not land as deeply with each viewer, it’s proof that truly believing in moviegoers as smart people is actually the right path to take nowadays. Dune: Part Two is playing in theaters worldwide and after watching it three times at the cinema, I must dig into its philosophical side. The most obvious themes are power & control, along with fate & destiny. However, it also makes me wonder about a bigger quandary: what does it really take to overthrow an oppressor and is there actually a successful way to achieve peace & freedom for all? Or will it always lead to more oppression?

One important note before going on – I have not read Frank Herbert’s books. I am familiar with where the story goes and the general ideas within the books, however my thoughts in this article are based entirely on what we’re shown in Denis Villeneuve’s two movies. Dune: Part Two is adapted by Denis Villeneuve along with sci-fi screenwriter Jon Spaihts. I also agree with this point made in Clint Gage’s editorial on Dune: Part Two and the differences from the book published on IGN: “The bigger philosophical point about adaptations though is that they should be different… Villeneuve and Spaihts wrote the two parts of Dune with an eye on the past and future that would make the Kwisatz Haderach proud, by adapting the source material through space, time and a dose of spice.” Even if there are certain philosophical ideas brought up or explained in the books, my conversation is based purely on what Villeneuve and Spaihts have chosen to show on screen, and how Paul’s arc progresses over these two movies so far. Of course, I’m familiar with where it leads with Paul (it ain’t good) which reminds me to indicate that there will be full-on spoilers from here on out. Obviously.

Dune: Part Two continues a modern sci-fi trend where it asks a whole bunch of intriguing questions, brings up plenty of fascinating ideas and concerns for viewers to contemplate, while refusing to provide more clear or useful answers to these concerns, or an optimistic path to follow (in our real world or imaginations). It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that our planet is not in a good place right now – with wars and tumult and troubles on nearly every last continent. An epic sci-fi movie like this, while obviously based on books that were inspired by the oil-obsessed days of the 1950s & 60s, is commenting on our life as humans on Planet Earth and is telling a story that we can relate to as we fight for freedom and peace – just as Paul & Chani do in the first half of Part Two. However, as much as it might be a good story about Fremen fighting back on Arrakis, it turns into something else and becomes a cautionary tale. Unfortunately this means it is not a guide for how to achieve peace and equality. And many of the philosophical ideas in it are questions rather than answers. I can’t provide definitive answers either, but I am still enticed by the questions anyway.

The two main philosophical themes found within Dune: Part Two are: fate / destiny, your chosen path as an individual, how much control you have over it, and how much you just should succumb to and follow it. Along with power / control, the obsessive pursuit of it, the “calculus” of power (as referred to in a line of dialogue), and how chasing power can cause those pursuing it to lose all control or humility. The question of fate and fatalism is most prominent, a common theme in many, many sci-fi films. The Matrix is also about this exact same philosophical conundrum as well. Does Neo have free will – even if he decides to leave his predestined path behind? What does free will even mean? Can he exercise that free will? Is he destined to become “The One”, the hero of Zion and humanity? Can he decide to become that hero or not? What control does he have over his own life if it is a prophecy he will fulfill simply by existing? Paul Atreides deals with these kinds of heavy “hero” questions as well throughout both of Villeneuve’s Dune movies so far. With an extra caveat thrown in – the Bene Gesserit: whispering & plotting & planning & controlling the galaxy for millennia. They “planted” him generations ago and thus he doesn’t have power over his destiny. Or does he?

Dune: Part Two - Paul Atreides

There is one aspect of Dune: Part Two that I’ve been arguing about ever since my very first watch. Viewers who have read the books know he is about to become an evil “Space Hitler-esque” oppressive leader in the next story. “He is not the good guy!” they proclaim. “Will audiences understand this?” Yes, of course, but he has to become the bad guy first. In this movie we only see him confront the Emperor after drinking the blue water to gain clarity with his visions. In the final act, he starts veering towards being the evil bastard that he’s destined (perhaps? perhaps not?) to become. Thanks to the Bene Gesserit’s whispers & plans. However, up until that moment, up until he drinks the “worm piss”, he actually is a “good guy.” Really. Take a closer look when you watch Part Two again. He refuses to go south knowing it will take him to a very bad place. He fights for the Fremen, with the Fremen, adopting their ideals and mindset. He expresses his desire to help them and be an example of an important fighter, even if he is killed, so the next generation may follow in his footsteps. He wants to do good. He admires the Fremen and their ways. He is trying his hardest not to turn evil – but the Bene Gesserit get the best of him and he falls for their whispers. And, well, the rest is history…

This is when the movie digs deeper into the darker side of the galaxy. My third viewing brought a harrowing question to mind: Can someone wield this much extraordinary power (e.g. control over Spice) and be good? Or will they inevitably always be evil? Essentially, is oppression required in a sense to successfully exploit, sell, and manage an extremely valuable resource? This is the core of Dune: Part Two overall. The opening phrase uttered in this dark, guttural alien language before the Warner Bros logo comes up states: “Power over Spice is power over all.” Yes, this means that power & control are intertwined, and there really is no way to control the Spice without having way too much power (since it’s a vital resource needed for intergalactic space travel). There is even a moment in this movie where Paul quietly mutters that he is not worried about gaining control over Arrakis, he is worried about having too much power and this power will corrupt him. Let’s not forget the classic quote: “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely,” stated by British historian Lord Acton. Even on Earth, it seems to be an absolute truth, thus extended into the Dune universe, it does make you wonder: is there really any way Paul could gain enough power to free the Fremen and Arrakis and not be corrupted by that much power? Herbert’s novels say: no.

Those familiar with the books know that the story is essentially a breakdown of the savior trope, showing there is no practicality of a real hero. It is impossible for there to be a holy savior on Arrakis. The Fremen believe in one, because of course, as Chani states in Part Two – the Bene Gesserit have planted this thought and it gives them some false hope to hold onto and wait for. Even if that means waiting centuries. Once you step back and examine Paul’s arc in Part Two, it really is a great tragedy, akin to Shakespeare’s tragedies of great men falling into spirals of despair & insanity. One compelling reaction from a viewer on Twitter states: “Dune: Part Two has left me in artistic euphoria, and also philosophical heartbreak. THAT is what true art is for. To remind us what it is to be human.” Referring to what happens as “philosophical heartbreak” is interesting because it’s trying to reckon with Paul’s great struggle in this movie: attempt to save the Fremen, take down the Emperor, change the galaxy forever; but to do that strategically he must marry the Emperor’s daughter, which means betraying Chani, which means betraying the Fremen. This is slightly different from the book, but it’s still an emotional wallop and quite overwhelming when you sit through it for the first time.

As spectacularly entertaining & awesome as Dune: Part Two is as a sci-fi blockbuster, it’s also chock full of heavy emotions and fascinating philosophical implications. I am in awe of what I’m seeing on screen, while also in awe of all that is racing through my mind with regards to the Fremen and their fight on Arrakis and the control of Spice. In the first movie, I loved seeing Paul rise to the call to lead a revolution, going down a path he was not expecting to take. In the second movie, I’m rocked by his turn, and how his fate seems to be out of his control, no matter how hard he tries. I don’t like this idea that our fate isn’t ours to control, much like Neo in The Matrix. Unlike The Matrix, though, Paul’s path leads him to darkness no matter what hope I have watching his story. The Emperor explains near the end that Duke Leto Atreides ruled from the heart, and that made him “weak”, ergo he had to be eradicated. I want Paul to rule from his heart, to be a leader who brings good to the galaxy. But perhaps that is not possible when half the people on a planet look up to you as a God. At the end of this second movie, we’re left wondering what will happen next when Paul decides to start a Holy War against the other Houses of the galaxy. Alas, the books tell us his future isn’t a good one.

Chani is right all along: “This ‘prophecy’ is how they enslave us!” No one wants to listen, or accept it, but she knows the truth. Even though she loves Paul and even though she knows him well, the scary truth is that his path will lead them farther from where they want to be, towards even darker times for the Fremen. This tragic story continues to make me wonder: how do we actually defeat oppressors and achieve peace and freedom for all? Can a violent revolution even result in peace in the end? Or will it always lead to more war?

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2024 Academy Awards Winners – ‘Oppenheimer’ & Nolan Win Oscars | FirstShowing.net

2024 Academy Awards Winners – ‘Oppenheimer’ & Nolan Win Oscars

by Alex Billington
March 10, 2024

The 96th Academy Awards are finally upon us and it’s time to watch the show and discover the winners of the most prestigious award in Hollywood. The Oscars are back in their normal routine playing out during the winter months, wrapping up this year’s intriguing & extensive awards season in March. All awards will be marked below in the complete list alongside the nominees. There are ten Best Picture noms from 2023, including both Barbie and Oppenheimer from the “Barbenheimer” craze. While I was originally hoping Poor Things would win, it’s expected that Oppenheimer will take home the most awards this year. It may finally be time for Christopher Nolan to have his year! It might also be the first Oscar for Godzilla if it wins in Best VFX. I’m ready for the night and looking forward to find out what The Academy members have chosen. All of the nominated movies are worthy – including American Fiction and Maestro and The Zone of Interest. Now it’s time to find out who’s taking home Oscars, and who isn’t, at the annual Academy Awards. The full set of nominees below will be updated with the winners added once revealed live – refresh for updates.

BEST PICTURE:
Oppenheimer
Oppenheimer!!
Congrats Chris & Emma
BEST DIRECTOR:
Christopher Nolan - Oppenheimer
Christopher Nolan for Oppenheimer
BEST ACTOR:
Cillian Murphy - Oppenhimer
Cillian Murphy for Oppenheimer
BEST ACTRESS:
Emma Stone - Poor Things
Emma Stone for
Poor Things

Continue reading for a complete list of #Oscars2024 nominees & winners. Comment on the winners below.

This will be updated throughout the night to reflect the winners as revealed. Additionally, I might be adding a small bit of personal commentary beneath each category. Winners are highlighted in BOLD below.

Picture:
American Fiction
Anatomy of a Fall
Barbie
The Holdovers
Killers of the Flower Moon
Maestro
Winner! Oppenheimer
Past Lives
Poor Things
The Zone of Interest

Thoughts: What a moment! Woohoo! All predictions pointed to this one winning. And yes I am super happy about it!! Nolan finally, finally gets his day. A most deserving win, with Oppie taking home 7 Oscars in total.

Director:
Justine Triet – Anatomy of a Fall
Martin Scorsese – Killers of the Flower Moon
Winner! Christopher Nolan – Oppenheimer
Yorgos Lanthimos – Poor Things
Jonathan Glazer – The Zone of Interest

Thoughts: Nolan did it! He got his Oscar. Finally. Finallyyyyyyyy. Always been a Nolan fan. Glad this is his day. After all these movies, finally recognized as the master filmmaker he is. Love him. Congratulations.

Actor:
Bradley Cooper – Maestro
Colman Domingo – Rustin
Paul Giamatti – The Holdovers
Winner! Cillian Murphy – Oppenheimer
Jeffrey Wright – American Fiction

Thoughts: I am ecstatic about this! Finally! He wins it and deserves it and this couldn’t be a better pick.

Cillian Murphy - Best Actor Winner

Actress:
Annette Bening – Nyad
Lily Gladstone – Killers of the Flower Moon
Sandra Hüller – Anatomy of a Fall
Carey Mulligan – Maestro
Winner! Emma Stone – Poor Things

Supporting Actor:
Sterling K. Brown – American Fiction
Robert De Niro – Killers of the Flower Moon
Winner! Robert Downey Jr. – Oppenheimer
Ryan Gosling – Barbie
Mark Ruffalo – Poor Things

Thoughts: As expect and congrats! Exactly what everyone was hoping! Good news and completely deserving.

Supporting Actress:
Emily Blunt – Oppenheimer
Danielle Brooks – The Color Purple
America Ferrera – Barbie
Jodie Foster – Nyad
Winner! Da’Vine Joy Randolph – The Holdovers

Thoughts: Of course! She’s the best! I have been rooting her since The Holdovers first opened last fall.

Da'Vine Joy Randolph - Best Supporting Actress Winner

Original Screenplay:
Winner! Anatomy of a Fall – Justine Triet & Arthur Harari
The Holdovers – David Hemingson
Maestro – Bradley Cooper & Josh Singer
May, December – Samy Burch; Story by Samy Burch & Alex Mechanik
Past Lives – Celine Song

Thoughts: As expected for tonight! A big win for France! This went on long journey from Cannes last year, but this screenplay kept wowing everyone all year with its complexity. Congrats.

Adapted Screenplay:
Winner! American Fiction – Cord Jefferson
Barbie – Greta Gerwig & Noah Baumbach
Oppenheimer – Christopher Nolan
Poor Things – Tony McNamara
The Zone of Interest – Jonathan Glazer

Thoughts: Happy about this! I was hoping it would win, had the right buzz & energy behind it all season.

Animated Feature:
Winner! The Boy and the Heron
Elemental
Nimona
Robot Dreams
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Thoughts: Wow! Miyazaki wins! Everyone was expecting Spider-Man, but never doubt the magic of Ghibli.

International Feature:
Io Capitano (Italy)
Perfect Days (Japan)
Society of the Snow (Spain)
The Teachers’ Lounge (Germany)
Winner! The Zone of Interest (UK)

Thoughts: Congrats! As expected. I would’ve loved to have Perfect Days win this one instead, but this is an important film and it’s the right time for it and for Glazer to win anyway.

Cinematography:
El Conde – Edward Lachman
Killers of the Flower Moon – Rodrigo Prieto
Maestro – Matthew Libatique
Winner! Oppenheimer – Hoyte van Hoytema
Poor Things – Robbie Ryan

Thoughts: Huzzah! Congrats to the genius Hoyte for finally winning his first Oscar. Totally deserves it.

Documentary Feature:
Bobi Wine: The People’s President – Moses Bwayo, Christopher Sharp, John Battsek
The Eternal Memory – Maite Alberdi
Four Daughters – Kaouther Ben Hania & Nadim Cheikhrouha
To Kill a Tiger – Nisha Pahuja, Cornelia Principe, David Oppenheim
Winner! 20 Days in Mariupol – Mstyslav Chernov, Michelle Mizner, Raney Aronson-Rath

Documentary Short:
The ABCs of Book Banning – Sheila Nevins & Trish Adlesic
The Barber of Little Rock – John Hoffman & Christine Turner
Island in Between – S. Leo Chiang & Jean Tsien
Winner! The Last Repair Shop – Ben Proudfoot & Kris Bowers
Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó – Sean Wang & Sam Davis

Animated Short:
Letter to a Pig – Tal Kantor & Amit R. Gicelter
Ninety-Five Senses – Jerusha Hess & Jared Hess
Our Uniform – Yegane Moghaddam
Pachyderme – Stéphanie Clément & Marc Rius
Winner! War Is Over! Inspired by the Music of John & Yoko – Dave Mullins & Brad Booker

Live-Action Short:
The After – Misan Harriman & Nicky Bentham
Invincible – Vincent René-Lortie & Samuel Caron
Knight of Fortune – Lasse Lyskjær Noer & Christian Norlyk
Red, White and Blue – Nazrin Choudhury & Sara McFarlane
Winner! The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar – Wes Anderson & Steven Rales

Visual Effects:
The Creator
Winner! Godzilla: Minus One
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One
Napoleon

Thoughts: YES! I am so happy for them! Congrats! Right what I was hoping would happen. Huzzah. Super happy to see the whole VFX team bringing Godzilla toys up on stage and juggling them and Oscar statues.

Godzilla: Minus One - Best Visual Effects Winner

Production Design:
Barbie – PD: Sarah Greenwood; Set: Katie Spencer
Killers of the Flower Moon – PD: Jack Fisk; Set: Adam Willis
Napoleon – PD: Arthur Max; Set: Elli Griff
Oppenheimer – PD: Ruth De Jong; Set: Claire Kaufman
Winner! Poor Things – PD: James Price & Shona Heath; Set: Zsuzsa Mihalek

Thoughts: Yes! Congrats! So glad Poor Things is picking up some wins, especially for the totally wacky and crazy and brilliant sets in this film. Love it.

Costume Design:
Barbie – Jacqueline Durran
Killers – Jacqueline West
Napoleon – Janty Yates & Dave Crossman
Oppenheimer – Ellen Mirojnick
Winner! Poor Things – Holly Waddington

Make-Up & Hair:
Golda – Karen Hartley Thomas, Suzi Battersby, Ashra Kelly-Blue
Maestro – Kazu Hiro, Kay Georgiou, Lori McCoy-Bell
Oppenheimer – Luisa Abel
Winner! Poor Things – Nadia Stacey, Mark Coulier, Josh Weston
Society of the Snow – Ana López-Puigcerver, David Martí, Montse Ribé

Editing:
Anatomy of a Fall – Laurent Sénéchal
The Holdovers – Kevin Tent
Killers of the Flower Moon – Thelma Schoonmaker
Winner! Oppenheimer – Jennifer Lame
Poor Things – Yorgos Mavropsaridis

Thoughts: Deserving win here. And the first of many to come at the ceremony tonight for Oppenheimer.

Sound:
The Creator
Maestro
Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One
Oppenheimer
Winner! The Zone of Interest

Thoughts: Wow! A surprise win but of course the incredible, unsettling sound work in this deserves to win.

Original Score:
American Fiction – Laura Karpman
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny – John Williams
Killers of the Flower Moon – Robbie Robertson
Winner! Oppenheimer – Ludwig Göransson
Poor Things – Jerskin Fendrix

Thoughts: YES! Phew! An all-timer score here, one of the best ever – so so so glad this won.

Original Song:
“The Fire Inside” from Flamin’ Hot – Diane Warren
“I’m Just Ken” from Barbie – Mark Ronson & Andrew Wyatt
“It Never Went Away” from American Symphony – Jon Batiste & Dan Wilson
“Wahzhazhe (A Song For My People)” from Killers of the Flower Moon – Scott George
Winner! “What Was I Made For?” from Barbie – Billie Eilish & Finneas O’Connell

Thoughts: Barbie wins an Oscar! But I would’ve rather given it to “I’m Just Ken” instead…

Honorary:
Winner! Angela Bassett, Mel Brooks, Carol Littleton (More info)

2024 Oscar Nominees

Final Thoughts: Congrats to all of the winners! I’m extremely happy about Oppenheimer and Poor Things winning so many Oscars – both of these were in my Top 5 of 2023. I think Emma Stone absolutely deserves the win over Lily! She gave the most impressive performance of the year, without a doubt, and while Lily’s performance is also outstanding it was truly Stone’s to win. I was also hoping to Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Cillian Murphy would win – and they did! Huzzah! I do think Paul Giamatti would’ve been just as satisfying instead, but once again it’s Murphy’s year and it would’ve been a bigger travesty if he didn’t take home the Oscar. Nearly every other win is just right. The Zone of Interest winning Best Sound over Oppenheimer was a big surprise at first, but also a great win – that sound design is astonishing and vital to the film’s unsettling vibe. Of course it’s the right pick in the end. And finally, Godzilla: Minus One is a sweet victory! Godzilla’s first ever Oscar after 70 years since the big lizard first appeared on the big screen in 1954. What a night. I’m not upset about much…! Every winner this year really deserved it and I think The Academy chose well again.

[For last year’s Academy Awards winners, fear. Everything Everywhere All at Once winning big, click here.]

Chime in below after reviewing the list of 2024 Oscars winners updated throughout the night and tell us if you’re satisfied with this year’s awards, and thoughts on the amusing ceremony hosted by Jimmy Kimmel – the main event being held at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. One final congratulations to all of 2024’s winners as well as every last nominee! Are you relieved? Any thoughts on the 96th Academy Awards?

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Hey Filmmakers – Stop Selling Your Audience Favorite Films to Netflix | FirstShowing.net

Hey Filmmakers – Stop Selling Your Audience Favorite Films to Netflix

by Alex Billington
February 20, 2024

Every month there’s another headline: Netflix buys that great film that everyone loved watching together for an excessive amount of money. Everyone loves to grumble about the headline, and talk about the film when this news hits, but will they actually watch it whenever it’s released on Netflix? Will Netflix even (properly) promote it? Will they even tell their ~260 million subscribers worldwide about the film when they debut it streaming on their platform? Why does Netflix love buying these great theatrical films and dumping them streaming without any fanfare or celebration or anything at all that connects with the audience experience? Why do care so little for the actual audience? I’m so tired of this routine. I’m not so foolish as to tell Netflix to change their ways – apparently they have no interest in this anyway. Instead, I think it’s up to filmmakers to realize that it isn’t a good idea to sell your movie to Netflix anymore – no matter how much money they want to throw at you. Choose a reputable theatrical distributor first, then let Netflix get the streaming rights later after it becomes an even bigger success. That is the best path to take when your film is a hit at festivals.

The debate about Netflix has been raging for years and years. Old Hollywood doesn’t really like them much, but they’re here to stay whether we like it or not. Netflix’s success means they can continue to do whatever they want and make money and be disruptive – no matter the complaints. However, are they actually being “disruptive” anymore? I don’t think so. They are just being annoying. And everyone knows it – to be frank. What has driven me to write this editorial now is watching Netflix buy three of the best films in the last six months that are three of the best theatrical experiences I’ve had at any film festival. It began with Netflix buying Richard Linklater’s Hit Man out of the 2023 Venice Film Festival – I have never seen an audience of curmudgeonly European critics in Venice go THIS wild during a screening. Pardon my French, but they lost their shit for the film, which was exhilarating. It continued a few months later with Netflix buying Greg Jardin’s It’s What’s Inside and Josh Greenbaum’s Will & Harper at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival in January. Once again, two of the most rapturous and exciting audiences I’ve watched films with during any of the 18 years I’ve been going to this fest. That tangibly warm reception, the crowd going nuts, the applause, all of that really, truly matters with cinema. We need to stop ignoring this truth and pretending otherwise…

Netflix doesn’t seem to care anyway. There’s a quote every few months wherein some executive talks about how the theatrical experience is irrelevant or uninteresting to them as a brand. Most recently, Netflix’s Chief Content Officer Bela Bajaria stated that Netflix will never do theatrical as “our members love films and they want to see films on Netflix.” Do they? Does she even know what she is saying here? I doubt it. In a big THR article from April 2023, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos offered another frustrating comment: “Driving folks to a theater is just not our business. Having big new desirable content drives value for our members and drives value for our business. There are no major changes in play.” What he seems to not understand is that the way you make your “content” (btw – fuck this word) into “big new desirable content” that drives value is by letting it play in theaters first. There is research on this that confirms it’s beneficial – the most successful streaming titles all opened first in theaters. Huh. Go figure… At what point will Netflix wake up and realize that it will actually benefit their business, and their pathetic “hours viewed” metric (because they’re afraid to release all the other statistics they collect – like how many folks actually watched a film from start to finish).

My rant, this article, or anyone’s rant, won’t change Netflix either. The company recently parted ways with Scott Stuber, who was running their film division for years. Apparently even Stuber was frustrated with their lack of interest in theatrical runs and despite arguing with Sarandos and other execs, they would not budge. In another recent THR article from January 2024, they included this nugget which is pretty telling:

“Even as the pipeline has slowed, Stuber has not been shy about his greatest frustration: Sarandos’ continuing refusal to offer any film a full theatrical release. Hope flickered when the streamer agreed to give Glass Onion, the 2022 Knives Out sequel, a broader run in cinemas than any previous Netflix film, putting it in about 600 theaters for a week. The movie grossed $16 million in that brief window and Stuber dreamed that Sarandos might develop a taste for cash.”

This falls in line with most of the way the extraordinarily stubborn corporate world works right now (see: David Zaslav at Warner Bros). If there’s someone smart on the team who might challenge archaic concepts and wants to make things better: get them out! Kick them out, lay them off, fire them, by whatever means necessary, don’t let anyone with think-outside-the-box “maybe we should try this” thinking in your company anymore! Instead, fill the roles with mindless drones & corporate robots who say exactly what the stubborn CEO wants to hear and never anything else (e.g. Bajaria). If Scott Stuber couldn’t change Sarandos’ mind, why do I (or anyone else) think they could instead? It’s a lost cause, unfortunately. And despite experiments like Glass Onion, or even the facade of Netflix buying classic one-screen cinemas (the Paris Theatre in NYC and the Egyptian in LA), they’re so obsessed with being anti-theatrical they have turned into an anti-cinema company. They’re so obsessed with their “content” and “hours viewed” data that they forgot to actually build awareness and excitement around their “content” to begin with. If they were any smarter, they might realize all of this is connected – and that showing films theatrically does not in any way hurt their numbers, it only boosts them. The proof is in the pudding! It will build them into a better brand. When will they realize this?

This brings me to the point I want to make here and now: filmmakers and sales agents and producers and creators need to stop selling their films to Netflix. Yes, it’s a scary prospect, rebellious (and perhaps a bit disruptive) to even say out loud, especially when they’re the highest bidder. But it’s a better move – for them, for the film, for the industry, for cinema itself. Greg Jardin and Richard Linklater shouldn’t have agreed to the deal that was made for their films It’s What’s Inside and Hit Man, respectively. They should’ve said “no” and waited it out, gone with someone else that would actually give their films a proper theatrical release. I’m sure it’s an irresistible pitch: we’ll give you tons of money and your film will also be available in over 190 countries around the world! We’re a big platform! Everyone will have the chance to watch it! Yes, sure, but there’s more to cinema than just that. And here is the kicker – if you play your cards right, and go with a proper theatrical release first, Netflix will eventually want the rights to play the film anyway. Of course they will! Especially once it becomes a huge theatrical hit and everyone is talking about it and telling their friends – maybe there is an even more lucrative deal in the cards if you wait it out. This is how things used to work. But that means resisting a tempting initial offer, and resisting the highest bidder to go with the right bidder.

I honestly don’t have a problem with Netflix in general, I just wish they’d do the right thing and partner with a theatrical distributor before putting it on Netflix because that will actually boost them and their brand and their films – but they just don’t get it. Let me reiterate that I really like Netflix as a platform – it is amazing that they can release a film and it will be viewable in over 190 countries around the world (without worrying about local distribution rights, which is a whole other industry problem to discuss another day). However, they’re not the right place to go if you really care about cinema, or if you want your film to have an impact in the world. Maybe one or two of Netflix’s big films every year go on to have a cultural impact because they have good PR teams handling their marketing & publicity. Most of their films don’t have this enthusiastic support. If a filmmaker sells their film to Netflix right out of a festival because they offer the most money – will that film ever be available on physical media, will it ever get a theatrical release down the line? Is that even possible with Netflix? What if you want to show it in theaters one day in the future – will Netflix allow that to happen? What if Netflix ever shuts down (unlikely, but let’s just go with the hypothetical) – how will you get your film back and how will you show it to your family & friends? Aside from harddrive copies, it’s not available on DVD or Blu-ray (or VHS) anywhere. Does it exist in the real world or only on their servers?

What I find particularly strange is that even when a filmmaker has a bad experience with Netflix, and even if they know they are bad at promoting films, they still end up selling to them anyway. This is exactly the case with Linklater. Netflix released his latest rotoscoped film Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood in April 2022 and told pretty much no one it was out. Most people didn’t even know it was released. Linklater later expressed frustration in an interview: “Then one day it showed up on a platform with no fanfare. It’s always kind of sad when you realize even your friends don’t know your film is out. To me, if anything good happens from this stage on, it’s just lucky.” Yeah that is the same for most films dumped onto Netflix. I don’t buy the claim that Linklater had nothing to do with Hit Man selling in Venice and instead it apparently was entirely handled entirely by sales agents & producers. Even if it that is the case, why could he not express a very strong opinion and do everything to resist selling to Netflix if he isn’t happy with how they handled his last film. Again, it’s more important that a good film finds an audience eventually, and that’s best achieved by a distributor believing in their stellar “content” and supporting it fully (with proper marketing and publicity).

For those who believe there is still importance in what Netflix does for cinema and how they support indie films and filmmakers who usually don’t get this kind of exposure, that has recently been mostly debunked by a study with Netflix connecting with Africa. A report was recently published from Nigeria and the Nollywood movement, which Netflix stepped into and tried to participate in by sponsoring and investing in filmmakers and the local industry. Good thing to do, right? While it did achieve some success, it didn’t have much of an impact overall, mostly because Netflix doesn’t really know how to actually support cinema and the culture. “On the critical streaming side, the report suggests that Netflix in Nigeria might not be fully tapping into its potential market, given low subscriber numbers relative to population.” Why, exactly? Their findings: “[It] critiques the reliance on streaming rankings as mere marketing tools rather than actionable insights that could drive the industry forward. It proposes using rankings as a prompt for better conversations on audience preferences and using these metrics alongside other data points to develop and market Nollywood projects more effectively.” Almost as if Netflix doesn’t really care about anything except their own internal “hours viewed” numbers and not the industry it’s supposed to be involved with & the artists that inhabit it…

The film industry is in a bad place right now, yet the film industry doesn’t like to admit this or talk about it. They want business to proceed as usual… They want to focus on making money. For much of the industry, that means if Netflix is going to pay the most for a movie, it’s a “good” thing. It’s time that we challenge this belief and confront the frustrating reality that Netflix releasing these audience favorite films is actually quite bad for cinema and for the industry overall (and audiences, even if they don’t quite understand it). Simply selling a film for tons of money is not an objectively healthy thing for the film industry, despite what many profit-driven minds think. Sundance is infamous for many films selling for high prices and failing after the festival (yes, from a few theatrical distributors, but this is a much different conversation). I’m a huge fan of Hit Man and Will & Harper and It’s What’s Inside and I guarantee at least one of (if not all of) these films will be released without much pomp & circumstance. They’ll drop it on Netflix, send a few emails out, buy a few billboards in Los Angeles, and call it a day. Netflix needs to evolve and innovate and disrupt again. That means disrupting the theatrical world by participating in theatrical distribution. Apple knows how to do this correctly with Apple TV films. I hope Netflix ends up realizing their mistake… Until then, filmmakers shouldn’t sell their hit films to this streaming company until they can actually prove they care about cinema.

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Sundance 2024: Best of the Fest – 10 Favorites from the Mountains | FirstShowing.net

Sundance 2024: Best of the Fest – 10 Favorites from the Mountains

by Alex Billington
February 5, 2024

The 2024 Sundance Film Festival has wrapped up after another invigorating 10-day in-person event held up in the Utah mountains, along with an online counterpart during only the second half. Now it’s time to present our annual Best of the Fest list from the 2024 selection. I was able to catch a total of 51 films this year (my full list on Letterboxd), half of them at screenings in Park City & SLC, the other half virtual screenings. This is my 18th year covering Sundance, and this fest still has a special place in my heart. It was so nice to be back again. I am presenting one big list of my 10 favorite films – a mix of a few documentaries and narrative features. All 10 of these below are worth watching, and I highly recommend seeing them on the big screen whenever it’s possible. Watching all of these with an audience really makes a difference. I also recorded a podcast talking about many of the Sundance films (good and bad). Below are my favorites, the films that connected with me the most and have remained on my mind all the way up to the end of the fest.

It’s always my priority while at Sundance to go see as many films as I can. Even if I don’t love every film I watch, I’m just curious to see what makes each of them so unique. Some other films that I missed and still need to catch up with: Love Lies Bleeding, Ponyboi, Girls Will Be Girls, Reinas, Frida, In a Violent Nature, Handling the Undead, and Winner. This fest always programs some of the most innovative and interesting films ready to watch each year. I appreciate how much they try to focus on the most creative work by new filmmakers. I also encourage all movie lovers to make time for documentaries – don’t ignore them, they’re all too often lost in the mix. They deserve to be seen, too! There’s a few I’ve added to my picks below, but I also recommend: Gaucho Gaucho, Devo, Luther: Never Too Much, As We Speak, Daughters, Never Look Away, and Union. I’m always grateful to Sundance for letting me attend the festival with a press badge and grab tickets to the public screenings, it’s an exciting time that makes me happy every year. Glad to be back…

While I saw many films that I enjoyed (my full list of 51 here), there are always some I missed even though I heard good things about them. But these are my favorite films from this year’s fest from those that I did see.

Alex’s Top 10 Favorite ~Sundance 2024~ Films:

The Outrun
The Outrun
Directed by Nora Fingscheidt

Saoirse Ronan – still making my heart flutter. Still delivering phenomenal performances. The Outrun was my last film of the festival and it ended up being my favorite of the festival. All I want to do is talk about how this film is the epitome of what cinema can and should be. The way it utilizes precise sound design as part of the plot, the way the editing represents her scattered, fragile mind; the way the cinematography is a part of the healing process; the way Ronan’s performance must be everything all at once, yet still feel like there’s an arc to it. She must grow by the end, yet we can only understand that growth by understanding more about her, and we can come to understand her through this editing that can seem a bit overwhelming at times. But there’s a point to it. What German filmmaker Nora Fingscheidt pulls off is breathtaking – all aspects of filmmaking playing in harmony to tell a riveting, exhilarating, touching story of a woman growing up and trying to let go of the addictions that have given her comfort but kept her restrained most of her life.

It’s What’s Inside
It's What's Inside
Directed by Greg Jardin

THIS FILM!! Blew me away. It’s one of the best sci-fi / horror / genre creations in a long time. Featuring an ingenious concept, near perfectly executed, along with a fun cast of newcomers all doing their best playing multiple roles. I can’t say what happens or what the trick is, I won’t even say “what’s inside” the suitcase, there’s nothing more I want to discuss regarding the plot. You just HAVE to wait and see for yourself. Don’t ruin the experience! Don’t read anything more about it! The only thing I can talk about here is how amazing the world premiere screening experience was. The audience went wild! Everyone was losing it! This is what great cinema is all about. These are the kind of moments I live for at festivals. I’m still thinking back to that night at Sundance, all of us sitting down about to see a film shot in secret that no one knew anything about. What would it be? THIS kick ass sneaky, tricky mystery thriller that instantly earned its place in Midnight film history. Whenever you see this, bring as many friends as you can over for an unforgettably good time.

Dìdi (弟弟)
Dìdi
Directed by Sean Wang

Another Sundance coming-of-age classic. Another film I can say I thoroughly loved from start to finish. And it’s also the big moment when filmmaker Sean Wang confirms he is a totally kick ass new filmmaker who is about to go on to have an extraordinary career. Before that happens, though, it is absolutely worth taking the time to watch and enjoy Didi. It may be “yet another coming-of-age” film but it’s filtered through Sean Wang’s lens and thus becomes something unique in the pantheon of great cinema. I loved watching Izaac Wang’s performance as Chris Wang, though everyone in the cast is memorable. I admit I’m a sucker for good coming-of-age stories (especially from Sundance) and this one really hit the spot. Though beyond my personal bias, it’s nonetheless still an exceptionally well-made film that not only nails the performances, the humor, and the honest emotions, it’s also is an amusing time capsule back to the days of AIM and MySpace.

Will & Harper
Will & Harper
Directed by Josh Greenbaum

A wonderful documentary film that has the potential to change the world. This received the biggest standing ovation out of any film that I saw at Sundance this year, and I’m always moved being in the audience during these genuine moments at the film’s premiere. Will & Harper is the story of Will Ferrell and his good friend Harper as the embark upon a road trip driving across America. The film is a watershed moment for the trans community, as Will tells the story of how his friend of 27 years – a comedy writer from “SNL” – revealed that she was a trans woman just a few years ago. Filled with questions and a bit of uncertainty, Will decided to ask her if she would join him on a drive around America, so that they could catch up, he could ask his dumb questions, and learn about what life is like for her now. They also got a filmmaker, director Josh Greenbaum, to join them. And away they went – topped off with a great soundtrack of road trip songs, this is one of the best documentaries I’ve ever encountered about buddies and life and everything else inbetween.

Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story
Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story
Directed by Ian Bonhôte & Peter Ettedgui

Another documentary that left me a mess after watching it – I was wiping away tears almost the entire time. This one is so moving because it’s not just a story about a great actor, it’s a story about a family man, about someone who was extraordinarily brave – about a real hero. Everyone knows about Christopher Reeve, what happened to him, and how he spent half of his life in a motorized wheelchair after ending up paralyzed from an accident while riding a horse. This beautiful documentary doesn’t try to build this up, it opens with this moment – the rest of the film is spent exploring his life before & after, his two great loves, his incredibly lovely family, and everything else he accomplished in his life. It’s a wholesome, uplifting, encouraging story about tenacity and strength, about perseverance and generosity. I’ve been thinking about it almost every day since watching, because it had such a strong emotional impact on me and everyone else who saw it during Sundance. Don’t miss this one whenever it gets released, a must watch doc about a hero on and off screen.

Kneecap
Kneecap
Directed by Rich Peppiatt

An Irish rap musical comedy! F*&k yes! This knocked me out and then lifted me right back up for another round. What a blast! While it may not be as good as what Sundance regular John Carney creates, it’s pretty close, with as much style and substance and great music. Writer / director Rich Peppiatt proves he’s got a knack for energetic, stylized, localized filmmaking that seriously kicks ass. I laughed so much watching the music teacher guy fall in with these youngsters and become a part of their hip hop group as “DJ Próvaí“, rolling right into their reckless ways and realizing the best way to express himself as an Irishman is loud and proud. The most unique and impressive part about this film is how it acts as a love letter to Ireland and the Irish / Gaelic language, shamelessly defending it and fiercely proclaiming it is something to be proud of and feature. Maybe even some people who don’t care for musicals will still enjoy watching this one. It’s possible.

A Real Pain
A Real Pain
Directed by Jesse Eisenberg

One of the most endearing & thoughtful discoveries of Sundance 2024 is the film A Real Pain, the second feature written and directed by Jesse Eisenberg (following his directorial debut When You Finish Saving the World from Sundance 2022). Perhaps one key reason why this film is particularly good is that it’s a very personal film for Eisenberg – he has Polish roots and the film is about two cousins who reconnect on a tour in Poland starting from Warsaw. They eventually try to find their grandmother’s old house in a small town in Poland, and Eisenberg revealed during a Q&A during the festival that this is actually the very real house this his own grandmother used to live in, too. The two lead performances in the film, featuring Kieran Culkin as Benji Kaplan and Eisenberg as David Kaplan, are two of the most memorable and impressive of any at Sundance this year. As much as I enjoyed watching this film, its power is in how it remains on your mind well after viewing – I kept thinking about it over & over, always wanting to talk about it with others.

Sasquatch Sunset
Sasquatch Sunset
Directed by David Zellner & Nathan Zellner

This absurdly bizarre, utterly hilarious, one-of-a-kind nature documentary is unquestionably a highlight of the festival. Sitting in the big Eccles Theater venue with 1000+ people watching this play out goes right up there with some of my all-time favorite Sundance experiences. The latest creation of the Zellner Brothers, Sasquatch Sunset is a dialogue free story of a Sasquatch (aka “Big Foot”) family, following them as the roam around, forage, sleep, eat, crap, fight, and get into trouble with other animals in the forest. It’s as crazy and as wild and as funny as it sounds, though of course it won’t be for everyone… I already got into arguments about it during the festival, which actually only made me love the film even more. The Zellners’ commitment to making this as realistic and as believable as possible, including shooting in real forests with full-on, hand-made, hairy Sasquatch suits, is part of its brilliance. Hiring actual actors including Jesse Eisenberg, Riley Keough, and Christophe Zajac-Denek to play the main roles is also what makes it amazing. This film is another example of how hysterically bonkers cinema can be when you let filmmakers do whatever they want.

Thelma
Thelma
Directed by Josh Margolin

June Squibb is the best!! Thelma ended up being one of the most popular and beloved Sundance 2024 hits – deservingly so because it’s wonderfully wholesome and amusing. Step aside Tom Cruise, 93-year-old actor June Squibb is the new Ethan Hunt in this heartfelt story of an old-timer getting back at scammers. When she gets caught up in one of these tricky phone scams and loses all her money, she teams up with her friend Ben (played by the late Richard Roundtree in a fantastic supporting role) to find them and take them down. Even though it takes some time because she’s rather old and slow and doesn’t know how to work a computer or much else anymore. Not only is the screenplay perfectly enjoyable and so delightful, there are filmmaking flourishes that give this adventure comedy a serious edge. Even if it’s not as innovative as some of the other films at Sundance, all that matters is it’s still a good film that will leave you smiling by the end.

Presence
Presence
Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Soderbergh! He’s still got it! The more I think back over the festival and which films really stood out, this one continues to stay on my mind. Presence is Steven Soderbergh’s version of the Sundance 2017 favorite A Ghost Story. It’s told entirely from the POV of a mysterious ghost haunting a house who is trying to tell the new residents something, though that’s hard when you can’t say anything or even be seen by anyone. It’s eerie and chilling, with a few incredible tense moments, though it’s not that scary and that’s not a bad thing. It’s still as compelling to watch even if the ghost isn’t some evil monster that wants to kill everyone. Lucy Liu leads the cast, though the best performances are from the actors playing her two kids in this: Callina Liang and Eddy Maday. Yet another Sundance film from this year that is best experienced if you know nothing about it going in, saving the reveals and everything else for that moment when you begin watching. The most chilling part of this film is not knowing where it’s going next or what will happen to the characters.

I also recorded a podcast chat about Sundance films with Aaron Neuwirth on his Out Now Podcast – listen to that episode here. And check out my other favorite films list on my Letterboxd page. Thanks for following.

For other Sundance 2024 best of the fest lists mentioning more films we didn’t see or didn’t include here, check out these other websites: The Verge’s AI afterlife, robot romance, and slow-burn slashers: the best of Sundance 2024, Harpers Bazaar’s 16 Must-See Movies Out of Sundance Film Festival 2024, THR’s 15 Best Films of Sundance 2024, NPR’s 14 New Films to Look Forward To, Rolling Stone’s 10 Best Movies From the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, and Vulture’s 15 Best Movies We Saw This Year at Sundance. Our list isn’t the only list of favorites from Sundance! There are many other great films from this year that deserve your time & attention whenever they show up in your neighborhood. Keep an eye out for any/all of the films. I always recommend watching any film from the Sundance line-up if it sounds interesting to you, and many of these will likely show up at other festivals before playing in art house theaters. Make time for as many as you can.

You can find all our Sundance 2024 coverage and reviews in this category. This wraps up our coverage of the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, our 18th year in a row at this festival. We’ll be back again next year. You can also find more thoughts on many films posted on my Letterboxd. Another year of many fantastic films.

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Top 10 Most Anticipated Films at Sundance 2024 – Cinema in the Snow | FirstShowing.net

Top 10 Most Anticipated Films at Sundance 2024 – Cinema in the Snow

by Alex Billington
January 16, 2024
Source: Sundance.org

It’s January again, which means it’s time for yet another Sundance Film Festival. The 2024 festival is about to kick off in a few days, and FS is back in Utah, ready to start watching. Ready to dive into the enthralling line-up of new films this year. This is the 18th time we have covered Sundance, ever since 2007, bringing attention to good films and the festival experience. I am always looking forward to wading through all the good films the fest. Packing in as many as I can catch. Out of the 90+ films showing at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, I’ve picked 10 films that I’m looking forward to the most. To keep things well balanced, I’ve chosen 5 feature films and 5 documentaries from the line-up. For 2024, the fest has once again programmed a compelling selection of unknown directors, first-time filmmakers, and potential hits that could breakout. As usual with Sundance, you never can really tell what’ll good or bad before watching anything, but here’s my early picks anyway. I recommend adding these 10 films to your festival schedule / or to your watchlist.

For the full line-up of films showing at Sundance 2024 – click here. Follow my reviews on Letterboxd. This will be my 18th year in a row covering Sundance, starting back in 2007 then ever since. I’m still excited to be watching the latest indie films, even from afar, and I’m hoping there’s some good discoveries despite the chaotic times we’re living in. The fest is just about to begin, here’s my Top 10 most anticipated 2024 films.

Alex’s Most Anticipated ~Sundance 2024~ Feature Films:

Exhibiting Forgiveness
Exhibiting Forgiveness
Directed by Titus Kaphar

This is perhaps my most anticipated film at Sundance 2024 because it really feels like it’s going to be one of this year’s cinema gems that will go on to have a beautiful life beyond the festival. It’s the feature directorial debut of an artist named Titus Kaphar, starring André Holland, John Earl Jelks, Andra Day, and Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor. What it’s about: “Utilizing his paintings to find freedom from his past, a Black artist on the path to success is derailed by an unexpected visit from his estranged father, a recovering addict desperate to reconcile. Together, they learn that forgetting might be a greater challenge than forgiving.” Yep that sounds like it’s going to be a winner. Sundance adds: “this soulful, sophisticated, and beautifully crafted debut feature blossoms a hard-to-tell story about destructive parenting, the seasons of angst weathered by an abused child becoming a successful human being, and the deep meaning and salve of creative practice.” I’ve heard enough! I’ve got my ticket, ready to watch this with the Sundance audience at the world premiere.

Love Me
Love Me
Directed by Sam Zuchero & Andy Zuchero

This is my favorite “wait, what?!” film of the festival line-up this year (since there’s quite a few). Here’s the synopsis: “Long after humanity’s extinction, a buoy and a satellite meet online and fall in love.” Okayyy I’m sold. I’ll be at the world premiere. I have to find out what this is, I have to see where story goes, I have to see how they visualize this in a film. The strange thing is it’s not just beeping machines, there are actors playing the two main roles: Kristen Stewart and Steven Yeun. I’m not sure which is playing which, the satellite or the buoy, but I’m intrigued to find out and watch their performances. Sundance drops this nice tease: “[the film’s] whimsically philosophical, shape-shifting structure ingeniously weaves together the real, the virtual, and the surreal.” Adding that after collecting data for all these years: “Awash in these mediated experiences and fabricated expressions of love and identity, they yearn to understand who they are, whether their feelings are real, and for that matter, whether they are real.” My kind of intelligent cinema – can’t wait.

My Old Ass
My Old Ass
Directed by Megan Park

Another favorite Sundance trope is: a stuck-in-life character reexamines themselves after going through a major (and usually hilarious) mind-opening experience. This one sounds like a fun one: “The summer before college, bright-yet-irreverent Elliott comes face-to-face with her older self during a mushroom trip. The encounter spurs a funny and heartfelt journey of self-discovery and first love as Elliott prepares to leave her childhood home.” So it’s about a woman encountering her older self and ending up on a coming-of-age love story journey. It could perhaps be another a lo-fi sci-fi concept, similar to the Sundance 2021 film How It Ends, but it actually just seems like another drug trip film with all the usual rediscover-yourself bells and whistles. Sundance adds this tidbit about the cast that should convince anyone to watch: “Maisy Stella and Aubrey Plaza have a terrific unlikely chemistry, as the sass and self-assuredness of the young Elliott, as played by Stella, blends and overlaps with Plaza’s sardonic humor as a more mature Elliott.” Yep I’m there.

Thelma
Thelma
Directed by Josh Margolin

A 93-year-old gets revenge! Ha! I’m all for this, it sounds like such a fun time, just the kind of film we all need right now. June Squibb taking on her first lead role in her very long career as an actor is incredible! I’m still amazed that this is even true. “When 93-year-old Thelma Post gets duped by a phone scammer pretending to be her grandson, she sets out on a treacherous quest across the city to reclaim what was taken from her.” Best part about this is it’s inspired by the filmmaker’s own grandmother, named Thelma, though I’m not quite sure if that actually means she went out for revenge and found the guys who scammed her, too. This is beginning a pretty common plot (Jason Statham’s The Beekeeper is also about him getting revenge on old person scammers) but I have a very good feeling this film is going to handle it just right, letting the actual elderly person (who got scammed) be the star of the show as she goes out on her own to make her mark. I definitely won’t be missing this – I think audiences at the festival are going to flip for this film, too.

Sasquatch Sunset
Sasquatch Sunset
Directed by David Zellner & Nathan Zellner

Wait, what?! A whole film about a Sasquatch family? With people in suits playing the Sasquatches the entire time? Get out of here! This is the kind of weird, wacky, have-to-see-it Sundance film that I love discovering and experiencing with an audience during the festival. The description is purposefully vague: “A year in the life of a singular family.” But early word is that it is as bonkers as we’re all hoping, and sticks close to the premise. More from one early review: “Sasquatch Sunset may be entirely conveyed through errant grunts, failed sexual overtures, and prolific amounts of pissing and shitting, but it somehow manages to cohere into a heartbreaking — and all too human — story about a species oblivious to its own demise.” If you need any more convicning this is worth seeing, the family of Sasquatches is played by actors Jesse Eisenberg, Riley Keough, Nathan Zellner, and Christophe Zacaj-Denek – all completely unrecognizable under their make-up and costumes. Yes, for the whole film. Yep, I’ve got my ticket for the premiere already ready to go.

Other Feature Films I’m Looking Forward To: The Outrun with Saoirse Ronan, Steven Soderbergh’s Presence, Thea Hvistendahl’s Handling the Undead, Jane Schoenbrun’s I Saw the TV Glow, the midnight horror In a Violent Nature, Krazy House with Nick Frost & Alicia Silverstone, Realm of Satan, Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Rob Peace, Mikko Makela’s Sebastian, Stress Positions, Suncoast, Tendaberry, The Moogai, The American Society of Magical Negroes (view a trailer), Freaky Tales, A Different Man with Sebastian Stan.

Alex’s Most Anticipated ~Sundance 2024~ Documentaries:

A New Kind of Wilderness
A New Kind of Wilderness
Directed by Silje Evensmo Jacobsen

I am a HUGE fan of the Sundance 2016 film Captain Fantastic, it’s one of my all-time favorites for many reasons (my original review). It seems a bit of an obvious pick for Sundance to now program A New Kind of Wilderness, which sounds exactly like the real-world documentary version of Captain Fantastic, and that’s why it’s one of my most anticipated docs. A family with a bunch of kids living off-the-grid (in Norway) on a sustainable, grow-everything-yourselves lifestyle must deal with life-changing upheaval when one of the parents passes away. Yeah this is exactly what Captain Fantastic is like, but I’m especially interested to see how an actual, real family deals with this and what insight the film will offer as it follows them through this moment in their lives. The Sundance description makes it sound like it’ll be an emotional experience. “[Director Silje Evensmo Jacobsen] crafts a sensitive, affectionate, and completely heartfelt experience that is as much about navigating grief as it is about graciously accepting change.” It’s one of my must watch docs.

Every Little Thing
Every Little Thing
Directed by Sally Aitken

I have no idea what this film is going to be like or what it’s going to show us, but a documentary about how hummingbirds have changed one woman’s life? Yeah I’m intrigued. I want to find out more. The initial Sundance intro: “Amid the glamour of Hollywood, Los Angeles, a woman finds herself on a transformative journey as she nurtures wounded hummingbirds, unraveling a visually captivating and magical tale of love, fragility, healing, and the delicate beauty in tiny acts of greatness.” They have only released this one hazy, glitzy image (seen above) of the hummingbird, so it’s really hard to tell where this film where go or what else it’s going to explore in its 93 minute runtime. But I want to be there at the premiere to find out, it might be another sensational, life-affirming doc just like last year’s Smoke Sauna Sisterhood (which I also highly recommend discovering). The birds even have names: “The viewer becomes emotionally invested in Cactus, Jimmy, Wasabi, Alexa, and Mikhail, celebrating their small victories and lamenting their tiny tragedies.”

Never Look Away
Never Look Away
Directed by Lucy Lawless

This film wins the award for 2024 for having the greatest got-your-attention promo images. The couple of shots they’ve released for Never Look Away are all I need to be convinced that this is a must see doc at Sundance 2024 (which is why the teaser image at the top of this article is one of these images). Kiwi actress Lucy Lawless (who was the original “Xena: Warrior Princess”) is making her directorial debut profiling an intrepid journalist. “New Zealand–born groundbreaking CNN camerawoman Margaret Moth risks it all to show the reality of war from inside the conflict, staring down danger and confronting those who perpetuate it.” I’m always fascinated by stories like this, about incredibly brave people doing incredibly brave things, especially journalists who risk it all to cover important stories. The Sundance intro makes it sound like a profound film about more than journalism: “Lawless creates a distinctively female, Kiwi lens to cover this titanic career, showing both the horrors & life-affirming dimensions of war from a woman’s point of view.”

Black Box Diaries
Black Box Diaries
Directed by Shiori Ito

I’m interested in this one solely from the description and also that it sounds like it’s going to an important, powerful film retelling a major #MeToo story. Here’s the initial intro: “Journalist Shiori Ito embarks on a courageous investigation of her own sexual assault in an improbable attempt to prosecute her high-profile offender. Her quest becomes a landmark case in Japan, exposing the country’s outdated judicial and societal systems.” It’s the story of the woman at the center of Japan’s #MeToo movement. Not only is it telling her entirey story in complete, unfiltered detail, it’s also directed by Shiori Ito herself, which hopefully means she will dig deep into showing us just how hard it is to confront patriarchy. This line from Sundance is what should make anyone want to watch this: “it is an impressively crafted, concise piece of filmmaking — guided by a strong sense of purpose and broken up by occasional moments of joy. Ito came forward to challenge her high-profile abuser despite knowing the risks.” this film’s premiere is going to be an emotional experience.

Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story
Super/Man: The Christopher Reeve Story
Directed by Ian Bonhôte & Peter Ettedgui

Early word is that this is going to be one of the best documentaries at Sundance 2024, right up there with last year’s Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie. It’s not as if we haven’t heard Christopher Reeve’s story, everyone knows what happened to him, and he made many, many appearances over the years before passing away in 2004. However, my hope is that this film expands upon his story, adding to it by giving us a more intimate, and more honest examination of his unique life than ever before. This seems to be the case, as the Sundance description hints at exactly that idea: “Never-before-seen home movies and extraordinary personal archives reveal how Christopher Reeve went from unknown actor to iconic movie star as the ultimate screen superhero. He learned the true meaning of heroism as an activist after suffering a tragic accident that left him quadriplegic and dependent on a ventilator to breathe.” This doc film is also not available to view online at all during the online portion of the festival, so it’s an important must-see-while-at-Sundance experience.

More Docs I’ll Be Watching: Amanda McBaine & Jesse Moss’ Girls State, Benjamin Ree’s Ibelin, Yance Ford’s Power, Skywalkers: A Love Story, moth doc Nocturnes, Bhutan’s Agent of Happiness, J.M. Harper’s As We Speak, Chris Smith’s music biopic Devo, Emily Kassie & Julian Brave NoiseCat’s Sugarcane, Luther: Never Too Much, Union about unionizing at Amazon, Johan Grimonprez’s Soundtrack to a Coup d’Etat.

For ALL of Alex’s Sundance 2024 updates: follow @firstshowing or follow @alexb.bsky.social

For more Sundance 2024 previews around the web, highlighting early picks and potential breakouts, also see: The Film Stage’s 20 Most-Anticipated Premieres, Indiewire’s 26 Must-See Films at This Year’s Festival, Rolling Stone’s 20 Most-Anticipated Movies from Sundance 2024, and also Nylon’s The 13 Most Anticipated Films of Sundance 2024. You never know what might be a big hit, and it’s vital to have a pulse on the early buzz – even before the fest starts. There’s plenty of intriguing films found in the selection this year, tons of discoveries from first time filmmakers and up-and-coming talent, so let’s jump right in and start watching.

You can follow our Sundance 2024 coverage and reviews right here and on Alex’s Letterboxd. The festival begins on January 18th and runs until January 28th, with films premiering online + locally. Glad to be back.

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Oppie & Miles & Nora & Arthur – Alex’s Top 10 Favorite Films of 2023 | FirstShowing.net

Oppie & Miles & Nora & Arthur – Alex’s Top 10 Favorite Films of 2023

by Alex Billington
January 5, 2024

“The world is changing. Reforming. This is your moment.” Another year, another Top 10. After watching more than 400 films throughout 2023 (always logging everything on my Letterboxd for anyone curious) it’s time to share my final selection of My Top 10 Favorite Films of 2023. I try to watch as much as I can and give myself time to catch up with any extra films at the end of the year, but my favorites can come from anytime in 2023. I fell hard for all the major ones – Oppenheimer, Spider-Verse, Past Lives, Poor Things, and American Fiction. Before anyone asks about the ones missing: I’m not that big on Killers of the Flower Moon (it’s good not great), I quite like Anatomy of a Fall but it didn’t make the cut, Godland and The Eight Mountains are on last year’s Top 10, Saltburn is bad (yeah it’s meh), and Godzilla: Minus One is great also didn’t make the cut. I stuck to my gut and chose these 10 that made me passionate for cinema all over again.

For the previous year’s Top 10 of 2022 list, topped by EEAAO of course, click here (also 2021 + 2020). You can check out my selection of Favorite Movie Posters from 2023 with a look at some of the best cinema art.

A few notes: this is a list of my favorite films, not the best films of the year, these are the ones that I love for my own reasons and I’ll try to explain why with each one. As always, I wish I had so much more to time to watch/rewatch films, and see every last film that played in 2023, but that’s impossible so this is just what I decided to run with. Also – my film selection is based on the date when I originally saw the film at a public event, including film festivals (Venice, Sundance) or public releases limited or otherwise. This is not based on only films released in 2023, but the ones I experienced in 2023, and is a good representation of the best cinema has given us, in my opinion. I’m always a bit nervous to finalize my list, but these are all films I love.

#1. La Chimera directed by Alice Rohrwacher

La Chimera

Arthur and his band of Tombaroli. I watched this film three times at three festivals in 2023. It’s that good. There are two songs performed in the film by an Italian folk singer and when the first one kicks in (the song about the “Tombaroli”), I get chills every time. I adore this film. It’s magical, mystical, and special in about 100 ways. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I don’t think anyone else can even attempt to replicate Alice Rohrwacher’s filmmaking. Truly one-of-a-kind. La Chimera is a mesmerizing, alluring journey through the afterlife – exploring the idea of souls and humanity traversing across time from generation to generation. I am in awe of the performance by Josh O’Connor as Arthur, one of my all-time favorite performances. There’s an aching longing that he embodies so perfectly, while maintaining his sense of appreciation for life as he rolls around the Italian hillsides with the Tombaroli. The shot-on-film cinematography by the French DP maestro Hélène Louvart is also heavenly. I can watch this film over & over & over and never tire of it.

#2. Oppenheimer directed by Christopher Nolan

Oppenheimer

“Are you saying that there’s a chance that when we push that button… we destroy the world?” Yes, indeed there is. This might just be Christopher Nolan’s Magnum Opus. It’s an incredible movie. I wasn’t sure if he would pull this off, it’s such a precarious and dangerous story to tell, yet he aced it. A monumental work of cinema and storytelling. The moment I knew it would be on my Top 10 actually hit me during my second viewing. I went to see it in IMAX (after the initial press screening in a regular cinema) and they cranked the volume and when that “Can You Hear the Music” track kicks in and it cuts to the shot of the clouds over the German city while Oppie’s living in Europe, I was completely taken away. My whole body was shook to its core by Ludwig Göransson’s one-of-the-best-of-all-time scores (yes, seriously) perfectly complementing this intricate story of a complicated intellectual and his destructive creation. And that is just one part. Cillian Murphy’s performance is flawless, the set design and production design is extraordinary, the editing are breathtaking. This is the kind of cinematic experience I live for, and once again, Nolan has made my Top 10.

#3. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse directed by Joaquim Dos Santos & Kemp Powers & Justin K. Thompson

Across the Spider-Verse

It does not bother me at all that this is only “half of the story,” it’s a phenomenal work of art and completes a strong arc with Gwen anyway. The first Into the Spider-Verse was on my Top 10 of 2018, and I’m happy that the sequel is as good as, if not better, than that masterpiece. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is the they-actually-went-and-did-it sequel that lives up to the heart & soul of the original, and again breaks the barriers of visual storytelling by pushing everything further than it has before. I wrote a glowing review when it first came out: “It’s the epitome of cinema as a visual medium, an eye-popping blend of comic book fundamentals, animation (all styles / techniques / formats), and modern storytelling concepts. As always with cinema, story is key – and the filmmakers know this and care deeply. They’ve also outdone themselves in creating one of the most mesmerizing and psychedelic works of art in cinema.” I love how the colors and the stylistic choices in every scene represent the emotions of the characters and what they’re feeling as they go through a moment in their story. I can’t wait to find out what happens next in Beyond the Spider-Verse.

#4. Past Lives directed by Celine Song

Past Lives

What a film. What a beautiful film. What more can I add to the discourse that hasn’t already been said by everyone else who adores this touching film from writer / director Celine Song. I am still so astonished that this is her feature debut, but it also goes to show she really has an eye for cinematic storytelling. There are a few shots that I can never forget just because the cinematography is so lovely to look at, so softly and warmly capturing the moment with a great amount of intimacy focused on Nora. It’s her story after all. I had to watch this film twice before really settling into my appreciation of it, and accepting it as such a moving work of art that does work as well on repeat viewings. I got hit hard by emotions both times when it gets to that end scene, where Nora walks Hae Sung out to his Uber at the end of his trip to NYC. That’s the power of great cinema. Absolutely an iconic performance from Greta Lee taking on Nora, but I also need to praise both John Magaro and Teo Yoo in holding their own with grace as her two great loves. Such charmers.

#5. Poor Things directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

Poor Things

Bella Baxter! Woman of the year! Heartbreaker! Love-maker! Pastéis enjoyer! Ha ha. This film SLAYS. The press screening at the Venice Film Festival was one of the year’s best experiences because you could almost touch the buzz wafting in the air with everyone loving it more & more as it played. Which is not a common occurrence in a room full of snobby critics, to be frank. I also watched this film two times at two different festivals to confirm it holds up and it does. And the audience loved it the second time as well. One of the best performances ever from Emma Stone, though I always think she’s exceptional. At first she doesn’t seem that refined… until you watch her progressively mature and begin to “grow up” over the course of the film, becoming more empowered and insightful as she surfs the waves of patriarchy. The strange score by Jerskin Fendrix is so inexplicably odd yet nicely adds to the weirdness of the whole film, and it’s hard to forget after hearing it. A total knock out, sex-positive, feminist, fearless, freaky creation from the mind of Yorgos Lanthimos. I still think the opening 30 minutes are rough, but other than that, this is a genius film.

#6. Perfect Days directed by Wim Wenders

Perfect Days

A-ha! This is another of my personal favorites from Cannes back in May (my full review) that I haven’t been able to get off of my mind all year. The peace and calm of this film is deeply inspirational and so moving for me. I am profoundly drawn to the Buddhist philosophy found within, the way it shows us how Hirayama has left his life of luxury and wealth to live a simple life, doing the job that no one wants to do yet still finding happiness in every moment. I love that he takes photos of trees. I love his little apartment that he cleans up every day. I love how humble and heartfelt he always is dealing with any situation. Koji Yakusho really does deserve all the awards and accolades for his performance as Hirayama in this, it’s the most soulful and rejuvenating performance in any film of 2023. The soundtrack is great, all of his favorite oldies that make his days brighter. Another film I’ve been recommending and encouraging anyone watch whenever they can.

#7. American Fiction directed by Cord Jefferson

American Fiction

Have a laugh with Monk as he sets out to prove his point about how dumb everyone is right now. This film! Such a joy to watch, some of the best laughs of the year. Such a smart script that slices through the bullshit to show everyone how much the conversation around media right now is total nonsense. Yes of course the meta commentary is obvious, especially considering this is Cord Jefferson’s feature directorial debut, and we have to wonder if he’s thinking about what everyone is saying about this film in the context of what the film is literally about. Jeffrey Wright is always great in any role, no matter how big or small (love him in Wes Anderson’s films), but he’s especially remarkable in this film. Not only does he need to ace the Stagg R. Leigh persona on top of his regular performance, he also needs to hold all the emotional weight of someone going through this and dealing with the loss in his family. I also really do appreciation the more emotional, grounded side of the story about his family and budding romance, it adds depth to the film & Monk’s story.

#8. The Holdovers directed by Alexander Payne

The Holdovers

A new Christmas classic. Yep, it’s already a classic. I watched this film again during Christmas just to see if it holds up to that acclaim, and it really does. There’s just something so cinematically warm and wholesome and endearing about it, even though it’s set during a cold winter. The performances, the vintage 70s vibe, the snowy setting, the soundtrack and song choices, the story about these three lonely people going through the holidays trying to make sense of their lives. How much of a difference good friends and good cheer and good moments can make. A shining example of how to make a great film where everything works together. Paul Giamatti is hilariously unforgettable as the stodgy Paul Hunham, Dominic Sessa is impressive and endearing in his first ever big screen role as Angus Tully, though my favorite performance is still Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Mary Lamb. Her “mhmms” will live on in my mind forever. I’ve been recommending this film to everyone this winter. 🎶 “Crying never did nobody no good, no how… That’s why I don’t cry…” 🎶

#9. The Taste of Things / The Pot au Feu directed by Anh Hung Tran

The Taste of Things

I’m still not sure if this new English title holds up. The Taste of Things is all too bland for such an elegant film. I prefer it as The Pot au Feu, which is what it originally screened under at Cannes this year (though I also don’t care for the longer French title La Passion de Dodin Bouffant). Nonetheless, this magnificent film is one of the best food films ever made. Perfect from start to finish, with some of the finest cinematography all year. Gorgeous shots galore, everything’s framed so perfectly. I actually think it’s better than most of the other food films that other critics reference when they compare this one. Juliette Binoche plays Eugénie with just the right amount of confidence and sophistication, an unforgettable character and incomparably great chef. Benoît Magimel as the Dodin Bouffant also brings his charm to the table to match her, as their chemistry is vitally important in making the heart of this film beat so vividly and so passionately. I may not want to try every dish she makes, but that doesn’t make me like this any less. That pear shot is an all-timer.

#10. The Monk and the Gun directed by Pawo Choyning Dorji

The Monk and the Gun

Another wonderful surprise from the second half of the year. Bhutanese director Pawo Choyning Dorji returns with his second feature film after Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom, and its even better with a more potent message. Aside from how terrific it is to see more stories from the tiny mountain country of Bhutan told authentically from the Bhutanese side (which is what makes this one particularly unique), this film becomes something more meaningful once it gets to the core of what it’s trying to convey with this story of “the monk and the gun.” The performances are all exceptional, especially by Tandin Wangchuk as Tashi and Deki Lhamo as Tshomo. As the film plays out (why does he need this gun?) and the story unfolds, I started to feel more and more invigorated by what I was watching, where it was going, what it was trying to say. They don’t know what you to know that this film makes fun of American ideals, but it does so in such a wholesome and uplifting way it’s hard not to be completely charmed by this film. Absolutely worth a watch.

BONUS! Mars Express directed by Jérémie Périn

Mars Express

Another animated movie that deserves to be mentioned alongside all the other movies in this Top 10. Yes, of course I already have Across the Spider-Verse on here, but animation is awesome (and it’s for anyone of any age to enjoy) and so is this movie. I haven’t stopped thinking about this since first catching it at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival back in May. It has stayed on my mind all this time and stands out. Mars Express is a spectacular, thrilling, visually engaging modern animated sci-fi movie. It’s a futuristic noir detective story about robots and AI and technology, borrowing plenty from the classics Ghost in the Shell & Blade Runner, but still delivering something entirely unique in its own ways. Not enough people have been able to see it yet, following its premieres in Cannes & Annecy last summer, but I think the buzz will grow with more time. The characters are memorable, the whole experience is riveting and even better watched on the big screen if at all possible. This is the excellent sci-fi cinema I look forward to encountering and it is worth discovering.

More 2023 Faves: Hayao Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron, Sam Freeman & Ng Choon Ping’s Femme, Richard Linklater’s Hitman (tore down the house in Venice), Chloe Domont’s Fair Play, Laura McGann’s The Deepest Breath, Roger Ross Williams’ Cassandro, Molly Gordon & Nick Lieberman’s Theater Camp, Greta Gerwig’s Barbie (yep!), Jeff Rowe’s Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, and Charlotte Regan’s Scrapper.

I could discuss all of my favorites endlessly, so if you ever want to chat about cinema, just ask me something about any of them. You can always find all of my ratings and additional thoughts on every film I watched in 2023 on my Letterboxd profile. There are always a few other films I did not get the chance to watch last year due to time constraints, but I still try to catch as many films as possible that my colleagues have been talking about. I am always watching new work throughout the year, seeking out the most exhilarating cinema – films that leave me in awe. If you have questions or thoughts about my Top 10 picks (or anything else), please get in touch: @firstshowing or @alexb.bsky.social. Now let’s dive right into 2024 with hope for what lies ahead.

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Looking Ahead: 10 Movies Opening in 2024 That Will Blow You Away | FirstShowing.net

Looking Ahead: 10 Movies Opening in 2024 That Will Blow You Away

by Alex Billington
December 28, 2023

“Let me fight beside you.” The calm before the storm… 2024 is just around the corner, the New Year ready to welcome us whether we like it or not. In celebration of New Years and the begining of 2024, we’re taking a quick look ahead at some of our Most Anticipated Movies of 2024. Hollywood is in a tumultuous time, coming out of two big strikes in 2023 not to mention myriad other issues related to streaming & storytelling & beyond. So they don’t confirm release dates as far in advance as they used to. The December 2024 line-up is remarkable sparse right now, and plenty of other movies initially set for release in 2024 are just going into production due to the strikes preventing them from filming. The 2024 Release Schedule is always subject to changes and updates, as usual, but for now – these 10 exciting movies below should still arrive in theaters sometime next year. Plenty more to come as Hollywood reveals their surprises waiting in the wings. I tend to focus on sci-fi, since it’s my favorite genre, and 2024 has some sci-fi movies ready to rock theaters.

2024 will be FirstShowing’s 18th year in operation as a movie website. Hopefully it continues to be a good resource for updates and information on upcoming movies, as our goal is to remain a high quality site that is accessible to anyone (no paywalls and no locked content) without resorting to clickbait. It’s in our nature to always look forward to whatever the next highly anticipated “first showing” opening night is, so here we go…

Dune: Part Two (Dir. Denis Villeneuve) – Opening March 1st, 2024

10 Movies in 2024 - Dune: Part Two

THE BIG ONE!! While this sequel was originally supposed to be a 2023 movie, it will now be one of the best cinematic experiences of 2024 – guaranteed. I’ve got a very good feeling about this one. Most importantly, Denis Villeneuve seems confident as well. In a few interviews, he’s already been talking about how this is a “better” movie with more action, more of the sci-fi storytelling he has been waiting to get into after making the first half. I often still think about how Dune: Part One is one of the best sci-fi movies in a long time, and this is going to be even better. Sandworm armies! Emperor Shaddam IV! The rise of the Muad’Dib! If you haven’t read the book, you have no idea what we’re in for… The cast should be enough to get anyone excited: Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Josh Brolin, Austin Butler, Florence Pugh, Dave Bautista, Christopher Walken, Tim Blake Nelson, Stephen McKinley Henderson, and Léa Seydoux. [Watch the trailer]

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (Dir. George Miller) – Opening May 24th, 2024

10 Movies in 2024 - Furiosa

Let’s go, George Miller! Bring on Furiosa! When this opens, it will be 9 years since Mad Max: Fury Road opened and instantly found its place high on the list of best action movies ever made. Much like Fury Road, Furiosa was plagued with production problems and setbacks. They finally shot it in 2022 down in Australia, and it has been getting ready for release ever since. Warner Bros held onto it and set it for 2024 instead of 2024, which might be the right move. This prequel is also based on a screenplay that was written years ago before Miller even made Fury Road, and apparently the crew have been anxiously awaiting this one. As it will be the real deal. A glimpse of footage from the first teaser confirms this is going to rock. Furiosa stars Anya Taylor-Joy as Imperator Furiosa, Chris Hemsworth as Dementus, with Tom Burke, Alyla Browne, Nathan Jones as Rictus Erectus, Angus Sampson as The Organic Mechanic. Can’t! Wait! [Watch the teaser]

Megalopolis (Dir. Francis Ford Coppola) – No Release Date Set Yet

10 Movies in 2024 - Megalopolis

Yep – 2024 is the year of Francis Ford Coppola. While he did make a few experimental indie films in the late 00s (Youth Without Youth, Tetro, Twixt), this is his first major production since 1997’s The Rainmaker. The early rumor is that this is expected to premiere at Cannes 2024, making it this year’s Killers of the Flower Moon – a beloved American filmmaker bringing his ambitious, expensive new project to debut at the festival. Coppola had to finance most of this himself, as the budget is rumored to be over $100M. The sci-fi spectacle is set in NYC and apparently deals a lot with what’s happening in the world now. “In New York, a woman is divided between loyalties to her father, who has a classical view of society, and her architect lover, who is more progressive & ready for the future.” Plus the massive ensemble cast is to die for: Adam Driver, Forest Whitaker, Nathalie Emmanuel, Jon Voight, Laurence Fishburne, Aubrey Plaza, Shia LaBeouf, Jason Schwartzman, Talia Shire, Dustin Hoffman, D.B. Sweeney, and Giancarlo Esposito. I am so curious about it.

Joker: Folie à Deux (Dir. Todd Phillips) – Opening October 4th, 2024

10 Movies in 2024 - Joker: Folie à Deux

Arthur Fleck is back for more mayhem. More clown masks. More jokes. More of… everything. Co-writer / director Todd Phillips got actor Joaquin Phoenix back to make this highly anticipated sequel, and it’s now set to open in October, same as the first Joker movie in 2019. Instead of calling it Joker 2, the new title is Joker: Folie à Deux, because it’ll be introducing Joker’s partner-in-crime: Lady Gaga as Dr. Harleen Quinzel aka the DC villain Harley Quinn. The main cast also includes Zazie Beets returning, with Brendan Gleeson, Catherine Keener, Jacob Lofland, and Harry Lawtey. Cinematographer Lawrence Sher returns, along with composer Hildur Guðnadóttir. Will this be less controversial, more entertaining? Doubtful. I expect it to be even more controversial, but that sounds good to me, as the obnoxious stir the first movie caused was annoying but also brought more people to it and helped cement it as a major moment in cinema.

Alien: Romulus (Dir. Fede Alvarez) – Opening August 16th, 2024

10 Movies in 2024 - Alien: Romulus

Another Alien movie is ready! This new one isn’t directed by Ridley Scott (he’s finishing up Gladiator 2 also scheduled for release in 2024). While the title Alien: Romulus isn’t official or confirmed yet, this is the working title they’ve been using. This standalone movie is set between the events of Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986), though not many other confirmed details are known about the plot yet. Perhaps another spaceship thriller where a crew is overrun by a xenomorph? Acclaimed Uruguayan horror filmmaker Fede Álvarez (of Evil Dead, Don’t Breathe) is writing & directing. In March 2022, it was announced that Álvarez would be making the film after pitching his own story, “unconnected” to the previous films in the franchise. Filming is finished, with an August opening in theaters. Starring Cailee Spaeny (from Priscilla), Isabela Merced, David Jonsson, and Archie Renaux. Expect to see a teaser trailer sometime in the first months of 2024.

LOTR: The War of the Rohirrim (Dir. Kenji Kamiyama) – Opening December 13th, 2024

10 Movies in 2024 - The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim

Yes, there’s a brand new LOTR movie in 2024! The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim is an animated movie produced by Warner Bros Animation. It’s directed by Kenji Kamiyama, a Japanese anime director best known for the “Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C.” series, Star Wars: Visions short “The Ninth Jedi”, and the Blade Runner: Black Lotus series most recently. Set 261 years before the events of The Two Towers, The War of the Rohirrim movie tells the story of Helm Hammerhand, a legendary King of Rohan who must defend against an army of Dunlendings. He becomes the namesake for the stronghold of Helm’s Deep. How awesome does that sound?! Sola Entertainment is behind the animation, using hand-drawn animation in a style reminiscent of traditional anime, with visual inspiration from the original trilogy. WB seems confident this might be a huge hit, scheduling it for a theatrical release in December when the original trilogy opened.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (Dir. Wes Ball) – Opening May 24th, 2024

10 Movies in 2024 - Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

Apes together strong! Another Planet of the Apes movie, not too long after the last trilogy finished (with the brilliant War for the Planet of the Apes in 2017). The ambitious, talented VFX director Wes Ball takes over (after The Maze Runner trilogy), and continues the storyline about a descendant of Caesar far in the future when Apes have been ruling the planet for generations. The story in this next one seems to be similar to the original 1968 Planet of the Apes, where it’s about one ape befriending a human being and fighting back against other vicious ape tribes that do not want peace or prosperity. With most of the money being spent on VFX and production work, the cast is lead mostly by unknown or up-and-coming actors: Owen Teague as Noa, a young chimpanzee, Freya Allan as Mae, a feral young woman, Kevin Durand as Proximus Caesar, Lydia Peckham as Soona, a female chimpanzee, along with William H. Macy. [Watch the teaser trailer]

Twisters (Dir. Lee Isaac Chung) – Opening July 19th, 2024

10 Movies in 2024 - Twisters

They finally made a sequel to Twister! Yes, the 90s tornado movie starring Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton. After years in development with different filmmakers, Twisters finally went into production last year with Minari director Lee Isaac Chung. They started filming for a month, but then the actors’ strike shut down production. They only recently began shooting again and it’s likely they’ll push the release date back, as it will be tough to finish all of the post-production work and VFX by July (the May 2024 date seen on the fan-made art above was the original plan – no longer the case). You never know! This new Twisters stars Glen Powell, Kiernan Shipka, Maura Tierney, and Daisy Edgar-Jones. Powell states that it’s not really a sequel: “It’s a completely original story. There are no characters from the original movie back… It’s just its own standalone story in the modern day.” As a big fan of the original Twister, I have high hopes for this one.

Deadpool 3 (Dir. Shawn Levy) – Opening July 26th, 2024

10 Movies in 2024 - Deadpool 3

Another movie that had to pause production due to the actors’ strike in 2023. They filmed for a few months, then had to wait, and have JUST begun shooting again recently. It may be pushed back, but it’s also pretty clear Disney/20th Century wants this to be a big 2024 movie no matter what. Aside from Ryan Reynolds convincing Hugh Jackman to come back to play Wolverine again (with his vintage yellow costume), what I’m most excited about is the multiverse concept. Based on early set photos, Deadpool 3 looks to be riffing on the 20th Century Fox comic book movie era, with the old logo lying broken in the background of a set they’ve been filming on, and various characters from their movies appearing in this comedy crossover event. The rest of whatever happens we’ll wait to be surprised by whenever this lands in theaters. Whatever the case, even if you didn’t care for the other two Deadpool films, this is shaping up to be a clever comedic blast.

Mickey 17 (Dir. Bong Joon-ho) – Opening March 29th, 2024

10 Movies in 2024 - Mickey 17

A new Bong Joon-ho sci-fi movie!! Enough said. This is both written and directed by Bong Joon-ho, adapted from the high-concept sci-fi novel titled “Mickey7” written by Edward Ashton (described as “The Martian meets Multiplicity“). To be frank, I’m nervous abut Warner Bros handling this movie, as the Hollywood studio system could mess up Bong’s flow (Snowpiercer had a rough time). Nonetheless, I remain hopeful & excited to see what he’s cooking up, especially returning to science fiction with a story that’s intellectually intriguing. Robert Pattinson stars as Mickey Barnes, an “Expendable”: a disposable employee on a human expedition sent to colonize the ice world Niflheim. There can’t be more than two at the same time, but after he goes missing he comes back to discover another, and refuses to let his replacement clone take his place. Will Bong Joon-ho make some adjustments to the plot? We’ll have to wait and find out… [Watch the teaser]

Others not listed that we’re also looking forward to in 2024: Ridley Scott’s Gladiator 2, Reinaldo Marcus Green’s Bob Marley: One Love (out soon), Gil Kenan’s Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire (really hope it’s good), Adam Wingard’s Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, Luca Guadagnino’s Challengers (held over from 2023), Alex Garland’s Civil War (will it be any good?), David Leitch’s The Fall Guy, Pixar’s Inside Out 2 (looking good), Kevin Costner’s Horizon: An American Saga (x2), Shyamalan’s Trap, Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice 2, DreamWorks Animation’s The Wild Robot, Leigh Whannell’s Wolf Man, Barry Levinson’s Alto Knights, Len Wiseman’s Ballerina Barry Jenkins’ Mufasa: The Lion King, Lynne Ramsay’s Polaris, and Robert Eggers’ Nosferatu. Plus of course the sequel Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse if they get it finished (it was set for March until the strikes, now it doesn’t have any release date – I hope they’ll take their time to do it right).

Keep an eye out for more updates on 2024 releases, and stay tuned for the latest trailers and reviews. Our mission with FirstShowing is to always keep everyone informed & excited about upcoming movies, year after year. Stay passionate, stay open-minded, stay interested. You never know which movies will surprise us (in good ways or bad ways), you never know which will end up really blowing us away. Maybe none of these 10 will? Maybe all of them will? It’s time to find out as we slide right into the New Year of movies that await us.

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