The 10 Best Movies in Theaters Right Now

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The 10 Best Movies in Theaters Right Now

Movie theaters are officially back. As the cinematic offerings slowly return to the big screen compared to the streaming services and various digital rental retailers, we’re here to sort out what’s actually the best bang for your buck at the box office. In the Heights still reigns supreme, but Edgar Wright’s The Sparks Brothers hops to a high place on the list as it hits theaters. This unfortunately means we say goodbye to Mads Mikkelsen’s Riders of Justice—now available to rent.

Of course, use your judgment when choosing whether to go back to the movies or not, but there’s an ever-growing percentage of vaccinated moviegoers who are champing at the bit to get back in front of the big screen. And I’m very happy to say that we’re back, here to help.

That said, things in theatrical distribution are a little strange right now, so apart from some big recent blockbusters, there’s a mix of Oscar-winners, lingering releases, indies and classics booked—depending, of course, on the theater. But thankfully, there’s been enough good movies actually released recently this year that you should have no problem finding something great to watch.

Check out the 10 best movies in theaters right now:


10. All Light, Everywhere

all-light-everywhere-poster.jpg Release Date: June 6, 2021
Director: Theo Anthony
Genre: Documentary
Rating: NR
Runtime: 105 minutes

The camera is a gun according to Theo Anthony, director of All Light, Everywhere, a patchwork documentary which blends interviews, archival footage and even scenes from the film’s cutting room floor in order to dissect the omnipresence of video surveillance—particularly in Black communities which have long been over-policed. Anthony’s filmic medium appears paradoxical considering his vested interest in critiquing the omission of unbiased truth inherent in camera footage—particularly those recorded by police body cams, covert aerial surveillance programs and panopticonic corporate workplaces. But as the director peels back the layers of his methodology, the viewer observes unpolished glimpses of Anthony setting up shots, prepping subjects for interview and divulging research logs—a technique that shatters the illusion of objectivity altogether. Through obliterating the guise of impartial filmmaking, Anthony examines the insidious history of image capturing as a tool of incarceration and its continued weaponization by the state. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy: Heightened surveillance in minority communities proliferates a high rate of crime—with infinite eyes scanning for crime, more crimes (predominantly minor offenses) are reported and prosecuted. Without the amplification of these invasive practices in affluent white communities, the false narrative of crime-riddled cities—like Anthony’s hometown of Baltimore—is infinitely reinforced. Perhaps the most insidious use of surveillance technology evident in All Light, Everywhere is the intentionally grainy, indeterminate nature of body camera footage itself, the argument being that if the cameras are too perceptive, too unbiased in their ability to document altercations between police and citizens, they might sway courtrooms to see the police’s actions as irresponsible or negligent. After all, if the jury can clearly see that a victim of police brutality was indeed holding a water gun instead of a deadly weapon, how could cops be expected to take accountability for their mistakes? If the premise of authoritarian monitoring isn’t terrifying enough, a scene involving AI-generated faces—composites of would-be individuals (or criminals)—pushes All Light, Everywhere into overt horror. Not just through the uncanny, skin-crawling quality of human non-humans, but by effectively presenting the evil inherent in these technologies when utilized against citizens by corrupt institutions.—Natalia Keogan


9. Those Who Wish Me Dead

those-who-wish-me-dead-poster.jpg Release Date: May 14, 2021
Director: Taylor Sheridan
Stars: Angelina Jolie, Nicholas Hoult, Finn Little, Aidan Gillen, Medina Senghore, Tyler Perry, Jake Weber, Jon Bernthal
Genre: Thriller
Rating: R
Runtime: 100 minutes

There are few things about a thriller that get me more excited than realizing the movie doesn’t rely on complicated plot MacGuffins, but on a fully realized setting and characters that either make their home or find themselves helpless there. From writer/director Taylor Sheridan, Those Who Wish Me Dead is one of those thrillers—and those two elements, setting and character, are two that Sheridan is most capable with. Based on Michael Koryta’s 2014 novel of the same name, the film’s rock-solid survival story is enhanced by its charming ensemble and striking, elegant environment. This simplified adaptation (which Koryta co-wrote with Sheridan alongside Charles Leavitt) thrusts good and evil together with the same easy confidence of a corral shootout. A forensic accountant (Jake Weber, playing a pretty badass accountant but not a The Accountant-level badass) and his son, Connor (Finn Little) are on the run. Why? Well, the most we get is that Connor’s dad found out something pretty damn incriminating and those incriminated are none too happy. “What did you do?” Connor asks. All he really gets by way of answer is, “The right thing.” Quickly, that hard ol’ reality sets in that the right thing might not be the consequence-free thing it’s cracked up to be. It’s all carried by its cast, and Angelina Jolie is its best member. She plays Hannah, whom Connor stumbles into in the middle of the forest after Plan A is jettisoned for B. A smokejumper (basically like if a regular firefighter was in Point Break) with PTSD, Hannah was left guilt-ridden and shaken after a particularly awful wildfire. It also left her stuck in a dead-end assignment: All alone on watch duty, high above the forest in an isolated fire tower. Among the other visual feats pulled off by Ben Richardson (Sheridan’s cinematographer on Wind River and Yellowstone, who recently helped Mare of Easttown “[render] our small, collective suffering in stark shapes”) is the height, lonesomeness and awe of this skyward sentry, far above the verdant treetops. Ensembles collide, ricochet and tangle as Those Who Wish Me Dead builds its brutal if expected thrills, and it’s near impossible to look away. It’s the dense woodland, the savvy character work, the moral core that’s both optimistic and pessimistic enough to sustain its modern-day white and black hats. It pulls off the kind of complexity and aesthetic cohesion that Without Remorse and Sicario: Day of the Soldado (Sheridan’s latest screenplay works) so sorely lack. Gripping and intelligent, Those Who Wish Me Dead is revitalizing.—Jacob Oller


8. Raya and the Last Dragon

raya-and-the-last-dragon-poster.jpg Release Date: March 5, 2021
Director: Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada
Stars: Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Izaac Wang, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Benedict Wong, Sandra Oh, Thalia Tran, Lucille Soong
Genre: Action, Fantasy
Rating: PG
Runtime: 107 minutes

From its intricate and exciting swordplay to its detailed depiction of styles and cultures underutilized by the House of Mouse, Raya and the Last Dragon is one of Disney’s better action-adventures. Its first foray into a Southeast Asian environment blends its traditional “princess” movies with a trial-hopping quest like Kubo and the Two Strings. Raya (Kelly Marie Tran), after a youthful tragedy leaves her father (Daniel Dae Kim) turned to stone and her land fractured, must hop from community to community—gathering up the pieces of a magical gem and new quirky team members—so that Sisu (Awkwafina), the last dragon, can depetrify everyone and put the world right. There’s a well-meaning but sloppily implemented lesson from writers Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim about trust at the film’s heart, explained almost like an argument for nuclear disarmament—basically, mutual animosity won’t improve if nobody’s willing to take the first step. But it’s all just an excuse really, to take us through some of the best environmental work of Disney’s 3D era and some of its best fight sequences ever. A muddled but bold finale keeps Raya from being a tour de force, but it’s still worth taking a tour through Kumandra.—Jacob Oller


7. Akilla’s Escape

akillas-escape-poster.jpg Release Date: June 11, 2021
Director: Charles Officer
Stars: Saul Williams, Thamela Mpumlwana, Vic Mensa, Donisha Prendergast, Ronnie Rowe Jr., Olunike Adeliyi, Colm Feore, Bruce Ramsay, Shomari Downer
Genre: Thriller/Drama
Rating: NR
Runtime: 90 minutes

In Akilla’s Escape, a hypnotic crime-noir from Jamaican-Canadian filmmaker Charles Officer (Nurse.Fighter.Boy), cycles of violence and oppression collapse into an ominous nightmare loop as one man retiring from a life of crime races to stop a younger man from following a similar path. The older of the two men, Akilla (multihyphenate Saul Williams, who also did the trip-hop score with Massive Attack’s 3D AKA Robert Del Naja) is a marijuana dealer in modern-day Toronto resolved to leave the business now that pot is legal and the government is muscling in, signaling that it’s time to step away from his grow-op and cash out. But on the eve of Akilla’s retirement, an armed robbery wipes out his supply and a dispensary employee is hacked to death with a machete. In the chaos that follows, Akilla knocks out one thief, a teen named Sheppard (Thamela Mpumlwana), who’s swiftly abandoned by the rest of the crew. Simultaneously, Akilla’s Escape follows 15-year-old Akilla in 1995 New York, where his Jamaica-born father (Ronnie Rowe Jr.) heads up a dangerous gang that Akilla’s abused mother (Olunike Adeliyi) is desperate but powerless to stop her son from falling in with. Mpumlwana also plays the younger Akilla which, in conjunction with the film’s flashback-heavy structure, works to collapse the decades and distinctions between its characters. It’s clear that the world-worn, melancholy Akilla sees himself in Sheppard, and Officer’s film shares that perspective, blurring the two characters until both represent distinct stages in a larger cycle of crime, carcerality and consequence. Throughout Akilla’s Escape, the weight of history as well as personal legacy hangs heavy in the air. The film’s opening montage, exploring Jamaica’s volatile past, intersperses newspaper clippings and archival footage with a hypnotic sequence of Williams dancing in a warehouse, drawing a portrait of Jamaican culture (particularly the emergence of reggae) as a rebellious movement against forces of colonial violence and political unrest. Akilla’s Escape is a requiem for its protagonist, a man whose life has been defined by his formative traumas and who struggles to avoid paying forward the pain he learned young. But the film’s central, timeline-collapsing gambit pays off by turning Akilla’s Escape into something more sweeping. Through its unification of Akilla and Sheppard’s struggle, the film offers a uniquely powerful visualization of Black men caught in oppressive cycles—and foregrounds the illumination of those cycles, rather than the characters’ individual stories, as the film’s main objective. Akilla’s Escape offers few answers when it comes to ending the generational traumas its characters carry, but the unique force with which it expresses the life-altering weight of such burdens meaningfully moves the conversation around them forward.—Isaac Feldberg


6. Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train

demon-slayer-kimetsu-no-yaiba-the-movie-mugen-train-poster.jpg Release Date: April 23, 2021
Director: Haruo Sotozaki
Stars: Natsuki Hanae, Akari Kito, Hiro Shimono, Yoshitsugu Matsuoka, Satoshi Hino, Daisuke Hirakawa, Hiroshi Kamiya
Genre: Action/Drama
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 117 minutes

A new anime sensation is sweeping audiences off their feet: Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba. The series follows Tanjiro, a young man on a quest for vengeance against the demons who slaughtered his family. In his quest, he joins the Demon Slayer Corps—the force sworn to protect humanity from demons—and learns the way of the Demon Slayers through intensive training. Yet, the series is about so much more than vengeance: It is about found family, processing grief, coping with trauma, and inner strength. Amidst the beautiful battle choreography and animation are quiet, emotional moments that give the characters a complexity not often seen in male-oriented manga, or shonen. Now, months after the end of the hit first season, American audiences can now experience the season-capping film, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train. Mugen Train begins with Tanjiro (Natsuki Hanae) and his companions Zenitsu (Hiro Shimono)—a perpetual scaredy cat—and Inosuke (Yoshitsugu Matsuoka)—who wears a boar mask and has an explosive temper—boarding the Mugen Train as part of their next mission. Once on the train, the trio find Rengoku (Satoshi Hino), a high ranking soldier in the Demon Slayer Corps with expert fighting techniques, to receive their next mission. There is something demonic on board consuming passengers and it’s up to this group of four to protect those on the train. They also quickly learn this threat is more than just a regular demon, but a much more powerful one who can manipulate dreams. The tone of these sequences fluctuate both in subject matter and animation style, and yet it all comes together as each dream—and their aesthetics—teaches the audience even more about these characters, their pasts and their deepest desires. Mugen Train is a feast for the eyes with its bright colors, meshing of animation styles and meticulously designed environments that emphasize the action. It’s a gorgeous film that expands the universe of Demon Slayer, but because it is canonical and provides a bridge between seasons, it is not a film meant for newcomers to the franchise.—Mary Beth McAndrews


5. Together Together

together-together-poster.jpg Release Date: April 23, 2021
Directors: Nikole Beckwith
Stars: Patti Harrison, Ed Helms, Rosalind Chao, Tig Notaro, Fred Melamed, Julio Torres
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Rating: R
Runtime: 90 minutes

Together Together is an amiable, successfully awkward surrogacy dramedy that also has the respectable distinction of being a TERF’s worst nightmare. That’s only one of the tiny aspects of writer/director Nikole Beckwith’s second feature, but the gentle tapestry of intimacy among strangers who, for a short time, desperately need each other certainly benefits from the meta-text of comedian and internet terror Patti Harrison’s multi-layered starring performance. Stuffed with bombastic bit parts from a roster of recent television’s greatest comedic talents and casually incisive dialogue that lays waste to media empires and preconceptions of women’s autonomy alike, the film is an unexpected, welcome antidote to emotional isolation and toxic masculinity that meanders in and out of life lessons at a pleasingly inefficient clip. That the tale of fatherhood and friendship is told through the sparkling chemistry of a rising trans star and her entrenched, anxious straight man (an endearing Ed Helms) only adds to Together Together’s slight magic.—Shayna Maci Warner


4. Censor

censor-poster.jpg Release Date: June 11, 2021
Director: Prano Bailey-Bond
Stars: Niamh Algar, Nicholas Burns, Vincent Franklin, Sophia La Porta, Adrian Schiller, Michael Smiley
Genre: Horror
Rating: NR
Runtime: 84 minutes

If Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio and Alexandre Aja’s High Tension had a kid and raised it on Vinegar Syndrome releases, that kid would grow up to be Prano Bailey-Bond’s Censor. A demonstration of refined craftsmanship and a gleeful embrace of horror’s grimiest mores all at the same time, Censor is the ultimate “have cake, eat it too” film, being both exceptionally well-made and stuffed to the gunwales with everything that makes horror worth watching: Creeping dread, paranoia, gross-out violence and inspired fits of madness, with a side of smirking defiance for the conservative pitchfork mobs that have tried to pin all the world’s ills on the genre since always. Bailey-Bond’s film is in conversation with history, the era of Margaret Thatcher and cultural garment-rending over the proliferation of video nasties among impressionable Brits. Enid (Niamh Algar), a film censor, fills her days watching graphically staged dramatizations of brutality, then cutting down their countless offenses to an acceptable size. One such picture too closely resembles a horrible incident from her childhood, one resulting in the disappearance of her sister—or more specifically, it’s the lead actress in the picture who too closely resembles her sister. The encounter sets Enid on a quest to recover her long-lost sibling, which takes her on a descent into insanity…plus a few choice gore shots. But as much as Censor connects with Britain’s past, it connects with horror’s past, too, in keeping with the genre’s tradition of self-awareness and self-critique. When social forces come together to blame horror for the existence of darkness, it’s because those forces can’t stand their own self-reflections. They need an easy way out, and moral panic is easy. Horror knows who the real villains are, and so does Bailey-Bond. Don’t take that as a warning sign, though: Censor isn’t stuffy or preachy, not at all. It’s the reason we go see horror movies in the first place.—Andy Crump


3. The Sparks Brothers

the-sparks-brothers-poster.jpg Release Date: June 18, 2021
Director: Edgar Wright
Genre: Documentary
Rating: R
Runtime: 135 minutes

The Sparks Brothers is a thorough and charming assessment and appreciation of an idiosyncratic band, and the highest praise you could give it is that it shares a sensibility with its inimitable musicians. Not an easy task when it comes to Ron and Russell Mael. The Californian brothers have been running Sparks since the late ‘60s (yeah, the ‘60s), blistering through genres as quickly as their lyrics make and discard jokes. Glam rock, disco, electronic pioneering—and even when they dip into the most experimental and orchestral corners of their musical interests, they maintain a steady power-pop genius bolstered by Russell’s fluty pipes and Ron’s catchy keys. It’s here, in Sparks’ incredible range yet solidified personality, that you quickly start to understand that The Sparks Brothers is the marriage of two perfect subjects that share a mission. Experts in one art form that are interested in each others’, Ron and Russell bond with director Edgar Wright over a wry desire to have their fun-poking and make it art too. One made a trilogy of parodies that stands atop its individual genres (zombie, cop, sci-fi movies). The others made subversive songs like “Music That You Can Dance To” that manage to match (and often overtake) the very bops they razz. Their powers combined, The Sparks Brothers becomes a music doc that’s self-aware and deeply earnest. Slapstick, with a wide range of old film clips delivering the punches and pratfalls, and visual gags take the piss out of its impressive talking heads whenever they drop a groaner music doc cliché. “Pushing the envelope?” Expect to see a postal tug-of-war between the Maels. This sense of humor, appreciating the dumbest low-hanging fruit and the highest brow reference, comes from the brothers’ admiration of seriously unserious French filmmakers like Jacques Tati (with whom Sparks almost made a film; remember, they love movies) and of a particularly formative affinity for British music. It doesn’t entirely tear down facades, as even Wright’s most personal works still emote through a protective shell of physical comedy and references, but you get a sense of the Maels as workers, brothers, artists and humans on terms that they’re comfortable with. The nearly two-and-a-half-hour film is an epic, there’s no denying that. You won’t need another Sparks film after this one. Yet it’s less an end-all-be-all biography than an invitation, beckoning newcomers and longtime listeners alike through its complete understanding of and adoration for its subjects.—Jacob Oller


2. Undine

undine-poster.jpg Release Date: June 4, 2021
Director: Christian Petzold
Stars: Paula Beer, Franz Rogowski, Maryam Zeree, Jacob Matschanz, Anne Ratte-Polle
Genre: Romance/Drama
Rating: NR
Runtime: 91 minutes

Undine opens as a rom-com might. A lilting piano score, not without a shade of sadness, purrs quietly during the title cards. A tearful break-up presages a quirky meet-cute between industrial diver Christoph (Franz Rogowski) and city historian Undine (Paula Beer), our new couple bound by the irrevocable forces of chance—and, in director Christian Petzold’s own mannered way, a bit of physical comedy—as the universe clearly arranges for the pieces of their lives to come together. Squint and you could maybe mistake these opening moments for a Lifetime movie—that is, until the break-up ends with Undine warning her soon-to-be-ex (Jacob Matschenz) that she’s going to have to kill him. He doesn’t take Undine seriously, but the audience can’t be so sure. Beer’s face contains subtle multitudes. She could actually murder this guy. What once felt familiar now feels pregnant with dread. And that’s saying nothing about Christoph’s odds for survival. Anyone remotely familiar with the “Undine” tale knows that she’s not lying to her ex. Undine is a water spirit, making covenants with men on land in order to access a human soul (as well as a tasteful professional wardrobe). Breaking that covenant is fatal. Or so the story goes. When she meets Christoph, she’s revitalized, because she’s heartbroken but especially because he takes such interest in the subjects of her lectures. He too is bound to the evolving bones of Germany, repairing bridges and various underwater infrastructure—he may, in fact, be more intuitively connected to the country than most. He’s the rare person who’s gone beneath it, excavating and reconstructing its depths, entombed in the mech-like coffin of a diving suit he wears when welding below the surface. As in all of Petzold’s films, Undine builds a world of liminal spaces—of lives in transition, always moving—of his characters shifting between realities, never quite sure where one ends and another begins. Like genre, like architecture, like history, like a love affair—at the heart of his work is the push and pull between where we are and where we want to be, between who we are and who we want to be and what we’ve done and what we’ll do, between what we dream and what we make happen. In Undine, Petzold captures this tension with warmth and immediacy. Many, many lives have brought us here, but none are more important than these two, and no time more consequential than now. My god, how romantic.—Dom Sinacola


1. In the Heights

in-the-heights-poster.jpg Release Date: June 11, 2021
Director: Jon M. Chu
Stars: Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Gregory Diaz IV, Jimmy Smits
Genre: Musical
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 143 minutes

In 2018, director Jon M. Chu imbued the standard rom-com plot of his Crazy Rich Asians adaptation with classical Hollywood decadence, hanging it all on a framework of well-constructed cultural specificity. It was big, spectacular and embarrassingly novel for an American movie of its kind. Now, in 2021, we’re getting Chu’s version of In the Heights, the musical that put Lin-Manuel Miranda on the map (and won him his first Tony). It’s incredible. The exciting electricity of a non-white blockbuster cast becoming superstars before your eyes, the maximalist style of a modern smash updating its influences, the intertwining of hyper-specific and broad themes—Chu’s strengths and his cast soar, bringing In the Heights as high as it’s ever been. It’s the best Hollywood musical in years. Tracking a few sweltering days in New York’s Washington Heights, the film meshes Do the Right Thing’s hot summer tension with School Daze’s teasing affection for its song-slinging genre. It just so happens that the corner we’re on is the collision point for the intersecting lives and romances of two couples—bodega boss Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) and aspiring designer Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), and dispatcher Benny (Corey Hawkins) and recent Stanford dropout Nina (Leslie Grace)—who serve as the neighborhood’s most vocal examples of those that life’s rigged lottery left putting their patience and faith in a daily scratcher. There’s no real pivotal struggle (especially not between Sharks and Jets, though wouldn’t it be incredible if Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story gave 2021 two great NYC musicals?) aside from the ever-present and myriad anxieties of Nth generation Americans living in a racist country. Yes, those familiar with the themes of Miranda’s Hamilton will find a similar rhythm and thematic flavor here—though with the showtunes’ style slipping into a salsa or bolero as easily as the rap bars dip in and out of Spanish—but with a purity of form and meaning that’s lyrical critiques and observations are even sharper than those mired in the phenomenon’s historical metaphor. In fact, almost all the songs are bangers that keep emotions high—you’ll weep, you’ll cheer, you’ll hum the songs to yourself on the way out of the theater—bolstered by orchestration that, while restrained when limited to its lovers, explodes when the choruses finally incorporate the neighborhood at large. Head-bobbing bops and moving melodies match rhythmic editing and a vibrant, fittingly populous background that’s constant choreography sustains the perpetual, organic flow of a community. In the Heights is great, and its greatness is amplified by the joy that it will inspire in theaters full of people for years to come.—Jacob Oller

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