Justin Chang

As powerful a grip as King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table still exert on our imaginations, there haven't been enough great or even good movies made about them. There have been some, of course — I'm fond of the lush Wagnerian grandeur of John Boorman's Excalibur and will always love Monty Python and the Holy Grail — but they're more the exception than the rule.

The 60-year-old South Korean writer-director Hong Sang-soo is one of the most tirelessly productive filmmakers working today. He's made more than two dozen films over the past couple of decades, sometimes churning out one or even two a year. The consistency and quality of his work have earned him a significant following at film festivals and among arthouse audiences, who've come to love his wry and melancholy movies: slender, low-budget dramedies that are often focused on the fractious dynamics between women and men.

Having been fortunate enough to attend the Cannes Film Festival every year since 2006, skipping this year's event wasn't easy. Cannes is the most important event of its kind: a thrilling, maddening 10-day marathon of red-carpet glamor and behind-the-scenes deal-making as well as a showcase for some of the best new movies from all over the world.

Eight years ago, Steven Soderbergh announced his retirement from feature filmmaking. Happily for us, it turned out to be short-lived.

In the sensational 2018 thriller A Quiet Place, humanity has been ravaged by hideous alien predators with extraordinary powers of hearing. The story follows the Abbotts, a family of survivors who must stay quiet at all times, unable to talk or sneeze or step on a creaky floorboard or they'll likely be dead.

It was a killer word-of-mouth hook: Here was a movie you had to watch in a theater in your own state of silence, with no slurping or popcorn crunching allowed.

Chalk it up to our eternal fascination with human evil or to a movie industry that's short on original ideas, but it seems like almost every classic villain nowadays is guaranteed their own feature-length backstory.

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DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

Before I saw The Disciple, I knew nothing about Hindustani, or northern Indian, classical music. By the end of the movie, I knew a little bit more, though I'd still be hard-pressed to follow the different intonations that singers bring to their performances, or to explain how a raga works. (That's the musical framework that allows performers to improvise.) Fortunately, no expertise is needed to appreciate The Disciple, which is both a welcome introduction to a kind of music we rarely hear onscreen and a richly layered story of a young man's artistic struggle.

About Endlessness is a fitting title for a movie about the futility of the human condition, but happily, the movie itself is anything but a slog. For one thing, it's only 76 minutes long. And in every one of those minutes, it strikes an exquisite balance between deadpan humor and acute despair, offset by the faintest glimmer of hope.

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DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

When a violent ethnic conflict broke out in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992, the writer-director Jasmila Zbanic was a teenager in Sarajevo, where she would spend the next three years living under siege.

The instability and violence of that era would indelibly shape Zbanic's later work as a filmmaker: In movies like Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams and For Those Who Can Tell No Tales, she explored the aftermath of the war and the deep scars it left in her country's psyche.

Raya and the Last Dragon is a lovely, moving surprise. Its big selling point is that it's the first Disney animated film to feature Southeast Asian characters, but like so many movies that break ground in terms of representation, it tells a story that's actually woven from reassuringly familiar parts. I didn't mind that in the slightest.

Chloé Zhao's amazing new movie, Nomadland, begins with an elegy for Empire, Nev., one of those old-fashioned company towns that thrived during America's post-World War II manufacturing boom. But in 2011, in the wake of a devastating global recession, the local gypsum mine shut down and Empire became a ghost town, displacing hundreds of residents in the process.

There have been many strong documentaries over the years about the history of the Black Panther Party, but Judas and the Black Messiah is the first major Hollywood drama I've seen that puts the organization and its activism front and center.

While it remains to be seen what this year's COVID-19-impacted Academy Awards ceremony will look like, my guess is that there will be an Oscar winner for best international feature, the category that until recently was known as best foreign-language film. I haven't come close to seeing the 93 films that have been accepted — a record for the Academy — but I'm happy to recommend two of them, both dramatic thrillers that demonstrate the power and persistence of love.

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