In the third episode of HBO’s The Last of Us, a couple argues bitterly over home renovations amid the fungus-fueled societal collapse around them. Frank, played by Murray Bartlett, wants to paint the house and spruce up the neighborhood-turned-compound they live in. Bill (Nick Offerman) thinks this would be a waste of precious resources.
But Frank isn’t moved by his prepper partner’s anxieties. “Paying attention to things,” he says. “It’s how we show love.”
At their strongest, films and TV shows can help us pay attention to — and by extension, love — the people and the world around us. They can reveal and indict unjust power structures, uncover buried histories, and point us to freer ways of being. The on-screen stories that follow do just that and more — and they represent some of the best entertainment of the year.
Killers of the Flower Moon
Martin Scorsese’s latest epic tells the true story of white settler violence against the Osage in 1920s Oklahoma. The film is a career highlight for the director, anguished and unflinching in its assessment of American greed. And, as reviewer Zachary Lee notes, it’s all the more disturbing because the titular killers profess to love the very community they harm.
Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret.
In this adaptation, the spiritual exploration at the heart of the eponymous novel by Judy Blume, well, blooms to life. Eleven-year-old Margaret has a lot to navigate: puberty, a new school, complex family dynamics — and, of course, the perennial question of God’s existence. “Margaret is simultaneously learning what it means for her body and spirit to change,” writes Olivia Bardo. “Both are something that no one can force.”
This contemplative indie romance grapples with the eternal tension between destiny and free will. When childhood sweethearts Nora and Hae Sung reunite after years of living in separate countries, they can’t help but wonder if they’re meant to be — but would their fatedness render meaningless the lives they’ve built apart? Zachary Lee writes that the film “recognizes that we are finite beings, bound by time and space, and as a result, we will always leave stones unturned and dreams unfulfilled.”
Would it be possible to consider the yin and yang of the summer’s auteur blockbusters apart? Though they’re different as can be in style and tone, Barbie and Oppenheimer both critique the stubborn and harmful logics that underly our culture. Barbie skewers patriarchy with bright pink satire and, as Olivia Bardo notes, it subverts the Genesis story. Oppenheimer exposes the callousness of the American war machine, asking, in the words of reviewer Abby Olcese, “If peace is secured through ‘mutually assured destruction,’ is it really peace?” Neither film is flawless, it’s true. Barbie sometimes feels like a feature-length commercial, and Oppenheimer demonstrates director Christopher Nolan’s characteristic awkwardness with writing women characters. But taken together, the two works show what’s possible when filmmakers get to be gutsy — politically and artistically — on the big screen.
The second season of this big-hearted ABC sitcom cements it as one of the most refreshing comedy series out there. Set in an underfunded Philadelphia elementary school, the show manages to shine a light on the injustices of the American education system while maintaining a steady flow of hilarious educational high jinks. In an age when teaching in public schools has become increasingly difficult, Abbott Elementary is an essential celebration of dedicated educators.
Who knew the most nuanced treatment of Christian faith — and Jesus Christ himself — from major streaming services this year would be about a renegade nun taking on an AI overlord? And that description only scratches the surface. Tropey and ridiculous, Peacock’s Mrs. Davis is nonetheless grounded in “genuine, unashamed religiosity and love,” writes reviewer Sarah Vincent.
Frenetic and gritty, the second season of this Chicago tale builds on the promise of the first. As the perfectionist chef Carmy and his team try to launch their beloved, dysfunctional sandwich shop to restaurant stardom, they wrestle with the lure and costs of greatness. There’s a lesson here for the U.S. church, notes JR. Forasteros: “Greatness isn’t about perfection, but openness.”
This FX dramedy, set in a fictional rural town in the Muscogee Nation, began by following a group of teenagers’ mischievous attempts at obtaining enough money to move off their reservation. By the third and final season, those teenagers are still grappling with the meaning of home, but they’ve done a lot of growing since. And the show has grown right along with them. Balancing deadpan humor and a sober sensibility, Reservation Dogs ends its solid run on an experimental high note.
The Last of Us
In HBO’s adaptation of the beloved video game, a fungal pandemic (read: zombie apocalypse) has laid waste to civilization. It’s a brutal world in which most people “forsake solidarity, choosing instead to find security through selfishness,” Joe George observes. But amid their horrific circumstances, the show’s sensitively drawn characters — especially the hard-boiled smuggler and precocious teenager girl at its center — breathe new, humanizing life into the post-apocalyptic genre.