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A determined-looking boy with a bandage on his head stand in a green, windswept, tree-lined area in front of a two-story red house with green gables in The Boy and the Heron, aka How Do You Live? Image: Studio Ghibli/GKIDS

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The New York Film Festival’s best movies are a preview of a major fall movie season

Here’s the rundown on the most notable movies from NYFF 2023

Yes, the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes halted production on a lot of TV and movies this year. But the last few months of 2023 will still be packed with major releases, many of which got initial screenings at this year’s New York Film Festival. Polygon crammed in as many of these new releases as we could during the festival, and we’re here with a preview of upcoming movies worth noting — the standouts, good and bad, from the next few months of major movie releases.

The Boy and the Heron

Two characters from Hayao Miyazaki’s last movie, The Boy and the Heron, sit across from each other glaring. One is a boy with a grey shirt on and the other a strange creature with pointed ears and a big nose wearing a bird suit Image: Studio Ghibli/GKIDS

It can be easy to remember the purely charming bits of Hayao Miyazaki’s work — the large, fluffy forest spirits, the big hugs that envelop you after a dangerous journey, the globs of delicious food plopping on a plate. The Boy and the Heron certainly has these charms, but it’s a bit pricklier than some of Miyazaki’s classics — and, in that way, it’s a fascinating look at what an auteur like him is capable of, even this late in his career.

The synopsis, should you choose to read it (and not just go in totally blind, which the film’s lack of promotion has certainly suggested): 11-year-old Mahito moves to the countryside after losing his mother in a Tokyo fire. There, he’s frequently ambushed by a large heron, and he finds dark corners of the estate that pull him into a world far beyond our own.

Even at its most tranquil, The Boy and the Heron feels like a bird ruffling its feathers, preparing for something bigger. The worlds of the film are living things, and not always clean ones, with mold and insects infecting biomes just as often as water oozes or grass dances in the wind. Like all of Miyazaki’s work, it’s filled to the brim with great shots and knotty themes. It’s the best kind of watch: the one that immediately rings a bell in your head to see this again, hopefully soon. —Zosha Millman

The Boy and the Heron will debut in theaters on Dec. 8.

The Zone of Interest

A wide shot of a group of people resting on the banks of a river with a landscape behind them Image: A24

The Zone of Interest, the new film from Under the Skin director Jonathan Glazer, is one of 2023’s most difficult films, but also one of its best and most essential.

The film is set mere feet from the walls of Auschwitz, at the home of Commandant Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel) and his family, who make up the movie’s main characters and cast. The Höss family builds their life in this small estate, with a fancy house and Mrs. Höss’ carefully curated garden, all with the walls of the concentration camp and its horrible sounds and smoke around them.

This is a decidedly different kind of Holocaust movie than almost any ever made. Glazer’s camera never really goes inside the camp, or shows the prisoners huddled there or their actual fates. Rudolf is careful to never speak about his job while at home.

This may sound like it sidelines the tragedy and horror of the Holocaust, centering the story on the culprits rather than the victims. And it’s true that Glazer’s film relies heavily on extratextual knowledge and awareness to carry viewers’ understanding of the events on screen. But Glazer’s carefully measured detachment lets the situation speak for itself. The knowledge that the viewer carries about the Holocaust gives meaning to the things we don’t see. It’s a difficult and arguably dangerous approach, but it makes Glazer’s film extraordinarily powerful. It’s a horrific and sickening visualization of Hannah Arendt’s concept of the banality of evil. —Austen Goslin

The Zone of Interest will debut in theaters on Dec. 8.

Hit Man

Gary (Glen Powell) looking up at something Image: FLC Press

Richard Linklater’s endearingly goofy Hit Man is a deep dive into the world of assassins and contract killers — not the kind you might expect to see working for a don in a mafia movie or the CIA in real life, but the kind that would come up if you googled “assassin” in an incognito browser or searched for one on Craigslist. In other words, the fake kind — assassins who are usually just operatives for police sting operations.

Hit Man follows Gary, played by Top Gun: Maverick’s Glen Powell, a buttoned-up philosophy professor who doesn’t really know how to cut loose. Gary’s only real hobby is working part time for the local police department doing tech support, until they ask him to pose as a contract killer in a sting operation. As it turns out, Gary is really good at pretending to be a hit man. Eventually, though, he falls for one of the sting operation’s targets, and can’t figure out how to break it to her that he’s just playing a character.

Hit Man is somewhere between a rom-com and a police caper, and every second is a breezy joy. The movie is built entirely around Powell’s endless charisma, charm, and comedic chops, and no one else in a 2023 movie has been this much fun to watch. The first half of the movie lets Powell try on the persona of every movie assassin stereotype in the book, and the second half lets him swap effortlessly between his swaggering assassin character and his lovable-dork Gary persona. It’s rare these days to get movies that are this completely built around a star, but Hit Man is a perfect reminder of just how great it is when we do. —AG

Netflix acquired Hit Man at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival and is planning a release soon.

Foe

Hen (Saoirse Ronan) lies in bed looking despondent while Junior (Paul Mescal) kisses her shoulder tentatively Image: Amazon Studios

Henrietta (Saoirse Ronan) and her husband, Junior (Paul Mescal), live in the not-too-distant future of 2065, on an Earth ravaged by climate change. One day, a representative from a government agency arrives at their farm in a futuristic DeLorean-type thing and tells them Junior is being called into service on a government space station. This being a light sci-fi movie, he offers the couple a consolation of sorts: The powers that be can leave behind a clone of Junior to keep Hen company while he’s away in space.

Foe spirals out from there: Junior’s date of departure looms, but their relationship markedly improves in the meantime. And yet Junior can’t help but feel like Hen is holding back on something, or possibly has too strong a connection to the government man who’s there to make sure the cloning process goes well. So much of Foe effortlessly depicts this strange liminal space they wind up in: Their happy, dwindling days together are often captured at a moody dusk, or holding on a perpetual golden hour.

Unfortunately, director Garth Davis and his co-writer, Iain Reid (adapting his own novel), leave Foe feeling a bit too high on itself to fully dabble in the fun, messy gray areas of the story. As they roll into the third act, they’re so intent on keeping viewers in suspense about what Junior is missing from Hen’s experience that they cut too many corners, letting all of Ronan’s and Mescal’s solid characterization fall by the wayside. A smarter movie would let the two work, and let their dreamy little reality light the way for the story. But the structure of Foe, sadly, is its own worst enemy. It shoots for the moon of highbrow sci-fi, and in the process, fails its stars. —ZM

Foe had a limited American theatrical release on Oct. 6 and is waiting on a streaming date.

Four Unloved Women, Adrift on a Purposeless Sea, Experience the Ecstasy of Dissection

An overhead shot of a fake woman lounging on a floatie with her whole torso dissected Image: Fondazione Prada

Who else is doing it like David Cronenberg? Who else could so expertly balance titillation with flayed flesh? In just four short minutes of his short film, Four Unloved Women, Adrift on a Purposeless Sea, Experience the Ecstasy of Dissection, he picks up the baton he threw down decades ago in Shivers and continues to contort the classic pan up a woman’s body into something much more shocking.

In this short, a set of 18th-century wax internal-anatomy models float in an undefined space with their torsos dissected. As they bob along, we hear contented sighs or giggles played over the imagery. This could sound discordant, but in Cronenberg’s hands it feels completely unforced, like a gust of wind rustling through fall leaves.

Over the course of a few minutes, the camera moves from panning across the women to a more lingering eye, holding on details like a boob and an open chest cavity, intestines glistening in the sun. Even when it feels like Cronenberg is simply playing with dolls and camera angles, this short feels like a more interesting meditative experience than a lot of other things at NYFF. Cronenberg just has the guts to make imagery like that worth our while. —ZM

Four Unloved Women, Adrift on a Purposeless Sea, Experience the Ecstasy of Dissection has no distributor.

The Beast

Gabrielle (Léa Seydoux) and Louis (George MacKay), a pale man and woman in pale blue-grey sweaters, stand opposite each other and look into each others’ eyes in an abstract neon-blue space in a scene from The Beast Photo: Kinology

The Beast opens with pure possibility: Gabrielle (Léa Seydoux) stands in front of a green screen and is asked to act out a scene where she’s attacked by a beast. From there, the movie fractures into a few possibilities: Gabrielle and Louis (Marrowbone and Wolf star George MacKay) are flung into moments throughout history as their lives intersect in 1910, 2014, and 2044. In-movie, these glimpses are explained by Gabrielle in 2044, where emotions are seen as a threat that needs to be eradicated. As part of that, Gabrielle climbs into a machine where she goes into her past lives to expel any such strong feelings.

In the middle, The Beast seems to be trying to say something about how society’s advancement has been a slow progression toward emotionless living — the sumptuous yearning of 1910 gives way to the cold social media of 2014 and the robotic 2044 timeline. But The Beast never quite makes its case convincingly. Each plotline feels simultaneously too big and too small for its portion of the movie, and the ideas introduced in any of them never gel as nicely as they should. In a way, it really is pure sci-fi, pure potential for Gabrielle and Louis to comment on or even fight the system holding them back. The Beast’s problem is just that it’s best seen at a remove, from the very emotional distance it’s trying to argue against. —ZM

Janus/Sideshow acquired The Beast at NYFF and is planning a release soon.

La Chimera

Eight people stand looking toward the camera lead by Arthur (Josh O’Connor) in La Chimera Image: Neon

La Chimera is all about the past of countries and people alike, and the little ghosts that get brought back when the past is unearthed. The movie’s main character, Arthur (Josh O’Connor), has a supernatural ability to find the tombs just below the surface of the Italian countryside. These burial sites are filled with artifacts meant to accompany the deceased to the afterlife. For Arthur’s friends and associates, though, the artifacts are just a little more loot to help them scrape by.

These scenes of bumbling fools rooting through the modest treasures of long-dead people are the best bits of La Chimera, equally funny and melancholic. Director Alice Rohrwacher shoots them beautifully, with gorgeous colors and a lightness that makes this feel like a fairy tale or a bedtime story.

But these moments are bogged down by the movie’s commitment to its metaphor, as Arthur slowly begins to unearth realizations about his own past as he sifts through the past of Etruscan Italy. It’s poignant and moving at times, but it’s also often painfully on the nose.

Eventually, Arthur meets a new girl named Italia (yes, really), played by Carol Duarte, and falls in love, while still struggling with the memory of someone he lost many years ago. Italia and her two children are ghosts, too, just of a different type. They’re unhoused, moving from place to place in desperate search of something permanent. Italia wants Arthur to give up grave robbing, aghast that he and his friends are pilfering the keepsakes of the past and calling that a way to live in the present. The film is transparently a long-winded metaphor for moving on from the past and how that’s a struggle on every level, from societal to personal. It’s effective and beautiful; it just goes on a little too long. —AG

La Chimera is being distributed in the United States by Neon, but does not have a release date.

Ferrari

An overhead shot of Enzo Ferrari (Adam Driver) walking next to a Ferrari race car with the number 532 painted on it Photo: Lorenzo Sisti/Neon

Between Ferrari and Oppenheimer, it’s been a fabulous year for biopics about bastards doing tremendously dangerous things.

The new Enzo Ferrari biopic from director Michael Mann follows the race car driver turned automotive tycoon (played by Adam Driver) during one particularly tumultuous point in the company’s history: the summer of 1957, when the company’s future was in doubt, and it all hinged on whether it could win the Mille Miglia, a thousand-mile road race across Italy.

Ferrari’s standout sequences are unquestionably its races, which Mann infuses with incredible tension, speed, and horror. The movie goes to great lengths to show us how dangerous auto racing is, and every time someone gets into a car, Mann translates that danger into a palpable tension. But what’s almost surprising about Ferrari is that its best parts come when Driver is allowed to suggest what kind of man Enzo Ferrari was.

Mann has been trying to get this Ferrari biopic since at least 2000, and seeing his vision for the story makes it clear why. The movie is an incredible portrait of a man who was a perfect concoction of some of Mann’s favorite things: obsessive, brilliant, awful, detached, and a winner through and through. The film, and Driver’s exceptional performance, make Ferrari’s ambition and passion deeply clear. The painful determination driving him is absolutely electric to watch — and even more exciting than the races, which is really saying something. —AG

Ferrari will be released on Dec. 25.