The top ten film list I compile each year should not be a cause for contention, anger, disgust or charges of elitism but rather, an opportunity for viewers to investigate films that are very worthy of one’s time. There are many films each year that get limited distribution and while many of them are outstanding, they do not have the promotional push of major studio films. Watch some of these and surprise yourself.
Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos wears the cinematic crown in this outrageous and moving look at palace intrigues during the 18th century reign of Queen Anne. Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone make marvelous adversaries and Olivia Colman, as the Queen, goes from sniveling to arrogant with ease. Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara have written a period piece for the ages.
Totally unpredictable and politically incorrect in the best possible way, Maktub is an Israeli comedy that features with two Jewish hitmen (cowriters, stars Guy Amir and Hanan Savyon) whose incompetence as killers becomes directed toward each other. Nothing is sacred in director Oded Raz’s wild ride of a film.
Three Identical Strangers
A remarkable documentary, covering an incredible twist of fate. Three brothers, separated at birth, are reunited and charm us with their hijinks and good humor. But director Tim Wardle then enters disturbing grounds, as suicide and a little-known experiment destroys the triumvirate.
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Melissa McCarthy shows she can do so much more than physical comedy. As biographer-turned-forger Lee Israel, she’s got bitter down pat. But it is her unlikely relationship with a gay, outrageous drinking buddy, perfectly played by Richard E. Grant that reaches us on a deep, emotional but never cloying level.
More than just clips of brilliant comedian Gilda Radner, this film from Lisa Dapolito wrings honest tears, not only to see how Radner gracefully and generously handled her ovarian cancer but also, the enduring love between her and Gene Wilder.
Sorry to Bother You
Boots Riley has razor sharp writing-directing skills, in this satire about a black telemarketer who sells out by using his “white voice” on the phone and becoming mega-successful, at the cost of his soul. Visually resplendent and chock full of surprises.
When English language tutor Josh Hartnett has a one night stand with student Shinobu Terajima, he does not expect her to obsessively follow him back to the US. Director Atsuko Hirayangi has as much heart as comedic culture clash in this marvelous, under-the-radar gem.
Another little known but powerful film, Allure has daring, stunning performances by Evan Rachel Wood, as a sexually abused woman who then seduces an underage runaway (Julia Sarah Stone). Brothers Carlos and Jason Sanchez handled the incendiary topic and brilliant performers with great sensitivity and élan.
Bernard and Huey
Thank goodness we still have the great Jules Feiffer around, to write this buddy-turned-enemies story, directed by Dan Mirvish. Feiffer’s wit is incomparable and there are great turns by the ensemble, including David Koechner, Nancy Travis, Jim Rash and Richard Kind.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Morgan Neville has tapped a multigenerational nerve with this documentary about the life, work and message of children’s television icon Fred Rogers, of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. You know the director has found a way into the audience’s heart when a 20-something man in front of you in the theatre is sobbing.
On Her Shoulders
Alexandria Bombach’s documentary follows Iraqi refugee and human rights activist Nadia Murad, whose ambivalence toward using the media conflicts with her need to mobilize the world community against the ISIS-led genocide of her people in Northern Iraq. Murad is a reluctant but heroic figure who will long remain in the mind of the viewer.
Jonathan Pryce plays Joe Castleman, an American writer who has won the Nobel Prize. But through Jane Anderson’s lithe script, we learn the sacrifices his wife, essayed with steely determination by Glenn Close, has made, and old resentments threaten to upend the acceptance of the award.
Honorable Mention: RBG, Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable