LANDLINE

With all the acclaim buoying “Lady Bird” in awards season, it’s easy to forget about another charming little film set in relatively the same period with many of the same themes, “Landline.” Jenny Slate steers this funny, family drama about two sisters Dana and Ali (played by Slate and Abby Quinn), their complicated, feuding parents Alan and Pat (John Turturro and Edie Falco), plus Dana’s beleaguered boyfriend Ben and her one night stand Nate (Jay Duplass and Finn Wittrock).

The main plot driver in the movie is that the sisters find out their dad is cheating on their mom. But director Gillian Robespierre lets the characters stew in the aftermath of that event, watching their characters derail and realign themselves repeatedly, always to hilarious and heartwarming effect. It’s charming for it’s family dynamics and flawed characters, with viewers at home being the true winners of this sibling rivalry.

 

WIND RIVER

While it isn’t the driving story force of “Wind River,” the movie posits an unasked question: do Native Americans enjoy where they live, or do they feel a sense of cultural duty to protect that piece of land, regardless of whether they like living there, or have even suffered harm there? Writer and director Taylor Sheridan crafts a story in this mindset, looking at the forgotten horrors and crimes Native American women face in the brash, lawless wilderness.

After a young Native American woman is murdered, a veteran outdoorsman (Jeremy Renner) teams up with an FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) to locate the culprit and cause of her death. At times the story moves as quietly as silk, in other moments it explodes with the vigor of a Michael Bay movie. But it’s always thoughtful and respectful, a film consciously aware that it is telling a story that is not often heard, and elevates itself to make sure the world knows of the underacknowledged assault that Native American women suffer.

 

DARKEST HOUR

With “The Crown” on Netflix and Meghan Markle marrying Prince Harry, royal family fatigue may have caused audiences to steer clear of yet another British biopic. But “Darkest Hour” is an illuminating, worthwhile portrait of Winston Churchill, brought to full life and force by Gary Oldman, as Churchill struggles to mend political wounds and bring home stranded British soldiers in the wake of impending Nazi doom.

Not only is Oldman spectacular as the silver-tongued prime minister, the film is marvelously directed, with Joe Wright designing each scene and frame to carry as much importance and care as possible. It’s an effort equal to that that Churchill gave, a movie from a top notch director who realizes that every second of production and every second of footage received is crucial to success.

 

THE LOST WORLD OF Z

Based on a wildly successful book and packing in starring roles from heartthrobs Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson and Tom Holland, “The Lost City of Z” had surefire ingredients to be a major Hollywood hit. It grossed less than $9 million in its total US run, but “The Lost City of Z” was still a hidden treasure of sorts for those lucky enough to have seen it on the big screen.

The film echoed classic Hollywood adventure tales, with Hunnam and Holland delivering rip-roaring, captivating performances, a journey into an exotic new land and into the undying flame of the human spirit. The film didn’t necessarily prove the existence of the city of “Z,” but it did prove that sometimes the most thrilling cinematic adventures happen within our own world.

 

MARJORIE PRIME

Let’s say someone in your life gets irreversible amnesia, but is still able to learn new things and build new relationships. If you were to repeat every single conversation you’ve ever had with that person and relive every memory and experience you’ve ever shared with them before their amnesia-ridden state, would that make them, essentially, the same person all over again? This conundrum is the heart of “Marjorie Prime.”

Lois Smith plays Marjorie, an elderly woman who is being comforted by a digital, AI projection of her deceased husband Walter, played by Jon Hamm. Lois has conversations with fake Walter to make him feel like the “real” Walter, while her daughter Tess (Geena Davis) and son-in-law Jon (Tim Robbins) bicker about the ethics and creepiness of the whole ordeal. It’s a bit slow at times, as most of the film really is just people sitting in chairs and talking. And while “Marjorie Prime” doesn’t answer that question for audiences, it depicts an immensely thought-provoking and emotionally-rewarding journey in trying to find that answer.

 

BEATRIZ AT DINNER

What’s interesting about “Beatriz at Dinner” is so clearly takes place in a Trump-presidency world, but principal photography on the film wrapped before Trump was elected president. In a sense, this can make the film seem eerily prophetic, with John Lithgow’s unabashed asshole character serving as a surrogate for Trump. But the classism and racism that Beatriz is served throughout the film would have been just as fresh and resonant had Clinton won the election.

Salma Hayek plays Beatriz, a massage therapist who is stuck in Orange County after traveling to see her client Kathy, played by Connie Britton. Kathy invites Beatriz to dinner, where she sits shoulder-to-shoulder with wealthy, white couples whom spare no opportunity to poke fun at Beatriz. It feels overbearing at times, with the white characters being extremely, over-the-top rude and Beatriz being so warmly, affectionately naïve. But when you consider that there are not only rude people like this in the world, but rude people like this who are controlling the world, “Beatriz” only fuels your appetite for anger.

 

MY FRIEND DAHMER

“My Friend Dahmer” doesn’t set out to discover the childhood trauma or societal misdeed that sparked Jeffrey Dahmer’s murderous tendencies. The terrifying yet touching film examines the impact adolescents have and receive from their friends, how we’re ultimately shaped by – and in opposition to, – the choices others make in our presence.

Ross Lynch heartily equips himself with Dahmer’s slumped shoulders and awkward mannerisms, his powerful performance making us fear and strangely adore him. Alex Wolff is excellent too as John “Derf” Backderf, one of the high school cronies who initially pokes fun at Dahmer but grows to empathize with him. And Marc Meyers’ subtle and confident direction doesn’t cast judgment but let’s the story speak for itself.

GOOD TIME

Most of the time, the only thing stopping you from making good decisions is yourself. The rare exception is when you meet someone like Connie Nikas from “Good Time.” Robert Pattinson’s slimy, self-absorbed criminal is a hedonist to no end. His greed, lust and gluttony for psychedelics worsens the lives of everyone within a five-foot vicinity of him.

He’s a despicable character, one lovingly brought to life by Pattinson in this fever dream of a movie. Benny and Josh Safdie, the brothers who directed “Good Time,” show off a commanding and visceral form of filmmaking, last seen in their 2014 feature “Heaven Knows What.” Watching a Safdie brother movie is like watching a “Trainspotting” sequel if Danny Boyle decided to shoot up some heroin during production. “Good Time” is a lucid, fever dream of a flick.

 

BRIGSBY BEAR

Trying to find something to compare “Brigsby Bear” to only proves what a masterful storyteller we have in Kyle Mooney. The SNL cast member wrote and starred in this offbeat dramedy about James Pope, kidnapped young man who is a die-hard fan of a cartoon called Brigsby Bear that one of his captors produced specifically for him. James is rescued from his captors/fake parents (Mark Hammill and Jane Adams) and he’s sent to live in the real world with his real family.

As James struggles to adjust, his love of Brigsby never fades, with people becoming more understanding of this weird kidnapped guy and his even weirder television show. The movie bursts with optimism and understanding, a gleeful endorsement of the oddballs of the world. For anyone who has wanted to tell a story that is truly bizarre, or themselves has felt weird and isolated, “Brigsby Bear” will be a blissful dose of strange, satisfying catharsis.

 

BUSTER’S MAL HEART

Rami Malek plays Buster, an insomnia-ridden young man trying to balance nagging family demands with his graveyard shift at a hotel. When Malek meets a mysterious, conspiracy-spewing vagabond played by DJ Qualls, he becomes increasingly obsessed with the nature of reality, putting Buster at odds against his wife and those around.

Part “Fight Club,” part “Donnie Darko,” and part “Office Space,” the movie is feels like it’s paying homage but is wholly original, a triumphant effort from writer and director Sarah Adina Smith.

 

YOUR NAME

Getting a major American audience to see a full-length, non-“Pokemon” anime film at the theaters is difficult enough. Getting that same audience to take that anime movie seriously is near impossible. But for Americans who bravely put aside their doubt and sat down for a screening of “Your Name” earlier this year, they were treated to one of the most sweeping cinematic experiences in recent memory.

When an adolescent boy named Taki and a girl named Mitsuha wake up in each other’s bodies, they must find out how to save a village from an impending asteroid strike. It isn’t all doom and gloom though, with laughs in constant orbit as Mitsuha pigs out on food she wouldn’t eat as a girl, and Taki fails to follow the countless rules of courtesy girls hold themselves to every day. The movie isn’t just successful by anime standards but also broke ground worldwide, as the fifth-highest grossing, non-English-speaking film.

 

GRADUATION

“Graduation” asks two questions of its audience: What is the necessary role of a parent, and, when is a parent no longer needed to maintain that role? Director and writer Cristian Mungiu doesn’t give us a crystal clear answer, but he does depict the harrowing lengths one father will go to in answering that question.

Adrian Titieni plays Romeo Aldea, a doctor and the father of Eliza, a high school student played by Maria Dragus. Eliza is sexually assaulted and nearly raped one day after school, leaving her traumatized and unable to excel at her studies. Romeo is a flawed character, masking his desperate attempts to protect his reputation as valiant attempts to protect and support his daughter. The film is a heavy experience, but a moving experience for anyone who has suffered a trauma in their lives.