By Dr. David C. Simmons
1. Call Me By Your Name. My favorite film of the year is a poetic rumination on how to process the mystery of love. It’s also as sensually juicy as a sun-ripened peach. Elio (the intense Timothee Chalamet) is a 17-year-old who becomes enamored of his professor-father’s older grad student, Oliver (the breezy Armie Hammer) who is living with the family for a few weeks in the summer to help with archaeological research. Director Luca Guadagnino’s compositional space is as brilliant as the summer Italian sun, highlighting the closeness/separateness of Elio and Oliver (who symbolically share near inverse three-syllable names) as their relationship evolves. Make sure you stay through the closing credits for a devastating final shot.
Opens in local theaters Jan. 19.
2. The Shape of Water. Sally Hawkins gives the performance of the year as Elisa Esposito, a non-talking woman who shares so much feeling with just her eyes. Elisa finds love and understanding in the form of the captured Amphibian Man (Doug Jones—no relation), an “other” who represents systemically oppressed groups (like Octavia Spencer’s Zelda and Richard Jenkins’ gay neighbor, Giles) in this xenophobic, militaristic society of early 1960s.
In theaters now.
3. Frantz. Another beautiful film by Francois Ozon, which, like his masterpiece In the House, wrestles with the notion of how narratives discover deeper truths. In 1919, a Frenchman named Adrien (Pierre Niney) comes to Germany to visit the grave of Frantz, whom he met during World War I. While there, he discovers Anna (Paula Beer), who had been engaged to Frantz before his untimely death. The two begin a friendship that comforts, while it complicates. Meanwhile, the town struggles with this “enemy” among them.
On DVD/Blu-ray and streaming, FREE on Amazon Prime.
4. Dunkirk. A creatively unusual visual and aural (re)presentation of the evacuation of British soldiers off the French coast of Dunkirk during World War II by mostly ordinary British citizens. Christopher Nolan’s camera keeps us sutured closely with his protagonists, yet we are coolly kept from identifying too closely with them through the screenplay, which flashes between four different time periods (from the point of view of soldiers, officers, airmen and civilian boatmen), and contains very little dialogue or backstory on any of them. Hans Zimmer’s score, which is founded on a ticking clock with slowly increasing tempo, adds to the constantly growing anxiety.
On DVD/Blu-ray and streaming.
5. Lady Bird. A funny and poignant coming-of-age/end-of-the-nest comedy-drama from bittersweet writer-director Greta Gerwig. “Lady Bird” is the given name of Christine McPherson, meaning, she explains, “the name I gave to myself.” She wrestles with the notion of identity while attempting to navigate the whitewater waves of her senior year of high school, including performing in Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along (highs) and having discouraging experiences while dating a couple of boys (lows). Meanwhile, she tries to discern which is more valuable—popularity, friendship, or family? Saoirse Ronan as Lady Bird and Laurie Metcalf as her mother are both extraordinary in their roles.
In theaters now. Available on DVD/Blu-ray and streaming services in February.
6. A Ghost Story. A film unlike any you’ve ever seen before—we identify with a ghost in a sheet. Rather than being a horror film, however, it’s actually an artful meditation on love, grief, relationships, letting go and moving on, time, space, causality, and, ultimately, our place in the cosmos. It was shot in 1:1.33 aspect ratio, which evokes meaningful old home movies, forgotten memories you long to remember, or a nostalgia for the past. Be ready through—ghost time is different than our time. Sometimes time seems interminably slow (as when we watch one character languidly consume an entire pie in one shot), and other times it goes so quickly, it takes a moment for us to catch up.
On DVD/Blu-ray and streaming.
7. Coco. Gorgeous animation meets an innovative and moving script about a young boy, Miguel, who enters the world of the dead on Dia de Muertos, seeking not only his dream of becoming a musician, but a chance to reconcile with his family who opposes it.
In theaters now.
8. Detroit. A film so troubling, violent, and topical that it will remain with you for days. It depicts the night of July 25-26, 1967, during the 12th Street Riot in Detroit, where two white women and seven black men were beaten or murdered at the hands of a few sociopathic members of the Detroit Police Department and National Guard. This too-frequently occurring systemic problem of state-legitimized racial violence is not merely an aberration of the 1960s, but continues, unabated in our day (hence, the unwavering need for #blacklivesmatter).
On DVD/Blu-ray and streaming.
9. I, Tonya. A funny, quirky, clever film that provides insight into the Tonya Harding story you never knew you wanted to know. Allison Janney gives the funniest performance of the year as LaVona Golden, Tonya’s unempathetic mother. Margot Robbie is remarkable as Tonya, especially during an extended close-up where she weeps while applying ghoulish-looking blush to her face in an attempt to look pretty before an Olympic event. No matter how much she tries to cover herself up, she still remains trapped in her violent, lower-class upbringing.
Opens in local theaters this month.
10. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. A pitch-black exploration of the existential angst inherent in an unjust society. Without God, or a divine plan, or any meaning to this world, should we be the ones to use violence to solve problems and issue justice? Martin McDonagh’s clever script and beautiful direction capture Frances McDormand’s sublime performance as Mildred, a tough-as-steel woman who pays for three billboards to remind Sheriff Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) that his office hasn’t solved the crime of her murdered daughter. Sam Rockwell’s performance is right up there with hers, as the troubled Officer Dixon whose small-town, conservative upbringing hasn’t allowed him to see the grays in a world he thought was black and white.
Available on DVD/Blu-ray and streaming Feb. 27.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi. In theaters now.
Get Out. On DVD/Blu-ray and streaming.
Molly’s Game. In theaters now.
Mudbound. On Netflix.
Beatriz at Dinner. On DVD/Blu-ray and streaming.
Baby Driver. On DVD/Blu-ray and streaming.
Victoria and Abdul. On DVD/Blu-ray and streaming.
All the Money in the World. In theaters now.
Blade Runner 2049. On DVD/Blu-ray and streaming Jan. 16.
mother! On DVD/Blu-ray and streaming.
Marshall. On DVD/Blu-ray and streaming.
The Big Sick. On DVD/Blu-ray and streaming, FREE on Amazon Prime.
The Beguiled. On DVD/Blu-ray and streaming.
The Wound. On DVD/Blu-ray and streaming.
A Quiet Passion. On DVD/Blu-ray and streaming, FREE on Amazon prime.
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