Films Of 2018



  1. Roma
    BBBBB  (Alfonso Cuarón, Mexico/USA)  Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical recreation of his childhood, focusing on an indigenous woman who works as a maid to the family of a bourgeois doctor.  The spaces in which the drama plays out are as fascinating as the characters who inhabit them, from the grand family home to the country estate where they spend a holiday, while a number of magnificent sequences take place on crowded streets or busy furniture stores touched with a sense of dark magic that is emphasized by the rich monochrome photography.  Oscars:  Best Director (Alfonso Cuaron); Best Cinematography; Best Foreign-Language Film; Nominations: Best Picture; Best Actress (Yalitza Aparicio); Best Supporting Actress (Marina de Tavira); Best Original Screenplay; Best Production Design; Best Sound Mixing; Best Sound Editing.  Venice:  Golden Lion.  TIFF: 2018.  Trailer

  2. Ash Is Purest White
    Jiang hu er nü
    BBBBB  (Zhangke Jia, China/France/Japan)  A woman gets thrown into prison for her gangster boyfriend and, once released, relies on her wits to get her across the country to find him, but to do so she must contend with a China that has completely transformed in her absence.  The master filmmaker’s outstanding muse Zhao Tao gives one of her career best performances in this superb experience by Jia, who once again pits human drama against socioeconomic development.  Cannes:  In Competition. TIFF:  2018. Trailer

  3. Cold War
    Zimna wojna
    BBBBB  (Pawel Pawlikowski, Poland/United Kingdom/France)   A handsome and brooding musician and a lush, gorgeous singer begin a sexually charged affair behind the Iron Curtain that continues in Paris before events hurtle them back to their homeland.  The post-war fracturing of Europe that affects the lovemaking and fighting of the main couple never upsets this film’s brittle balance between the personal and the political, playing out across a stunning visual palette that startles the viewer with vivid images of jazz cafes, concert stages, sun-drenched meadows and labour camps.  Oscar Nominations:  Best Director (Pawel Pawlikowski); Best Cinematography; Best Foreign Language Film. Cannes:  Best Director (Pawel Pawlikowski).  TIFF:  2018.  Trailer

  4. Blindspotting
    BBBBB  (Carlos Lopez Estrada, USA)  A black man on probation is desperate to keep out of the kind of trouble that would extend his sentence or put him back in jail, but his white best friend’s volatile personality makes trouble hard to avoid when he’s around.  The dense writing and superb direction move smoothly from high to low themes with a surprising amount of humour and energy, the situation that got one man arrested touches on deep issues of economics and racism, the other’s obsession with the hipsterization of his neighbourhood and what it reveals about his own conflicts about his identity provide lighter ruminations that contrast beautifully.  Trailer

  5. Sunset
    BBBBB  (László Nemes, Hungary/France)  A woman who has come to Budapest on the eve of the first World War in search of her past learns that she has a brother that she never knew about, which plunges her into a nightmare of the city’s underworld involving shady men, the women they take advantage of and the rigid class system that keeps injustice in place.  Told in lengthy, languid takes that follow the main character through the city as she ignores all danger to herself in her desire to get to the truth, this elegant look at an old world takes on the barest form of a mystery with a feeling of happenstance that never comes across as scattered or convenient.  Venice:  In Competition. TIFF:  2018.  Trailer

  6. A Bread Factory, Part One
    BBBBB  (Patrick Wang, USA)  In a picturesque, upstate New York town, an esoteric, avant-garde artistic duo called “May Ray” are threatening to suck up available tax money that could be earmarked for a local arts centre that is the beating heart of this lovely hamlet. Wang’s study of a community grappling with issues of art and commerce is one that manages to cover grand themes in deceptively simple ways, enchanting the viewer with as many naturalistic characterizations as it does brushstrokes of eccentric genius.   Trailer

  7. A Star Is Born
    BBBB.5  (Bradley Cooper, USA)  An alcoholic rock star charms an unknown singer with his honesty and friendliness and she agrees to join him on the road, before long finding herself an overnight sensation while he is dragged down by his demons.  Four previous versions (five if you count Mariah Carey) of varying success mean that Bradley Cooper can’t just remake the ever-popular tale of love and celebrity, he needs to also prove why we need it; that he makes a riveting and wholly engrossing film out of a story whose outcome is familiar to most anyone who watches it is practically a miracle, coaxing a great performance out of the usually stiff and awkward Lady Gaga in the process.  Oscar:  Best Original Song (“Shallow”); Nominations:  Best Picture; Best Actor (Bradley Cooper); Best Actress (Lady Gaga); Best Supporting Actor (Sam Elliott); Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Cinematography; Best Sound Mixing.  TIFF:  2018.  Trailer

  8. BlackkKlansman
    BBBB.5  (Spike Lee, USA)  A black man joins the Colorado Springs police department as a new recruit and contacts the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan to show interest in joining, developing a relationship with Grand Wizard David Duke on the phone while sending in his white undercover colleague to pretend to be him in person.  Spike Lee’s most exciting film in years is a remarkable thriller whose dramatic power is never undercut by the brittle layer of comedy with which he addresses the bizarre nature of the story (and the ridiculous nature of white supremacist beliefs in general).  Oscar: Best Adapted Screenplay; Nominations: Best Picture; Best Supporting Actor (Adam Driver); Best Director (Spike Lee); Best Film Editing; Best Original Score. Cannes:  Grand Prize of the Jury. Trailer

  9. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
    BBBB.5  (Marielle Heller, USA)  Broke, unemployed and her celebrated biographies of famous faces published too long ago for anyone to remember them, Lee Israel sells a letter written by Fanny Brice to a bookstore and is inspired to use her knowledge of famous writers to create forgeries that will bring in more cash.  Based on a true story, this film celebrates the gleeful passion with which Israel pulled off this magnificent hoax (she sold approximately four hundred letters before being caught) while investigating the insecurity behind it, with Melissa McCarthy expertly capturing the subject’s complications beautifully.  Oscar Nominations:  Best Actress (Melissa McCarthy); Best Supporting Actor (Richard E. Grant); Best Adapted Screenplay. TIFF:  2018. Trailer

  10. Birds of Passage
    Pájaros de verano
    BBBB.5  (Cristina Gallego, Ciro Guerra, Columbia/Denmark/Mexico/Germany/Switzerland)   In the 1960s, a Waayu villager starts selling marijuana to pay for his marriage and eventually becomes a wealthy drug dealer, whose success brings in plenty of money while traditions begin to slip away and relations with his cousin, who has become a business rival, threaten to soak the land with blood.  This fascinating crime epic is an arthouse Narcos that never feels familiar, possessing as it does strong, resonant elements of spirituality and cultural detail that enrich the plot and make it feel personal and devastating.   TIFF:  2018. Trailer


    Rupert Everett, The Happy Prince
    Honour Roll: Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born; Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate; John David Washington, BlacKkKlansman; Ah-In Yoo, Burning
    Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, The Favourite
    Honour Roll:  Isabelle Huppert, reta; Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me; Julianne Moore, Gloria Bell; Zhao Tao, Ash Is The Purest White
    Rafael Casal, Blindspotting
    Honour Roll: Mahershala Ali, Green Book; Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman; Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me; Steven Yeun, Burning
    Aunjanue Ellis, If Beale Street Could Talk
    Honour Roll:  Tyne Daly, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs; Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk; Carmiña Martínez, Birds of PassageMichelle Yeoh, Crazy Rich Asians
    Alfonso Cuaron, Roma
    Honor Roll: Carlos Lopez Estrada, Blindspotting; Pawel Pawlikowski, Cold War; Ciro Guerra, Cristina Gallego, Birds of Passage; Jia Zhangke, Ash Is Purest White




At Eternity’s Gate
BBBB  (Julian Schnabel, Switzerland/United Kingdom/France/USA)  Vincent Van Gogh’s doubts about himself and his mental illness make him both highly productive and wholly self-destructive, showing a depth of sympathy and beauty in his work while his actual social encounters with people are disastrous conflicts.  Schnabel’s delicate, poetic movie takes place mostly in the moments between the biographical bullet points, featuring soul-stirring monologues by Willem Dafoe set in dimly lit cafes, sunlit studios, hospital beds or asylum cells, all brought to life by the painterly cinematography that replicates the vivid colours of the master’s most awe-inspiring works.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Actor (Willem Dafoe). Venice:  Best Actor (Willem Dafoe). Trailer

Avengers: Infinity War
BBBB  (Anthony Russo, Joe Russo)  The merry band of gifted heroes were split up in a Civil War that now sees them scattered across the globe, which is a real shame considering that another megalomaniac is about to destroy planet Earth with a magical trinket.   The combo packs that Marvel offers in these adventures threaten to become more ridiculous and unwieldy the more they make them, but energetic direction and a tight script keep this one on track and in fine form throughout.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Visual Effects.  Trailer

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
BBB  (Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, USA)  The Coen brothers gather up an omnibus of unconnected stories set in the Wild West, as interested in entertaining you with American mythology as they are looking to expose nostalgic ideas of American history as mythology.  The best are Zoe Kazan as a woman crossing the frontier on a wagon train with her brother and the final piece, a group of travelers forced into a cramped stagecoach whose friction becomes something almost supernaturally scary, but while the whole thing is amusing, it feels too much like it’s been loosely strung together from bits of stories cut from other Coen brothers films.    Oscar Nominations:  Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Costume Design; Best Original Song (“When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings”).  Venice:  Best Screenplay.  Trailer

Black Panther
BBB  (Ryan Coogler, USA)  The (fictional) African nation of Wakanda’s renewable fuel supply, vibranium, gives its king superpowers that make him the Black Panther, but he must protect his country’s precious resource when a young man from Oakland wants to use it as a corrective for the challenges facing African-Americans in his own country.  There’s something a bit jarring about a film that turns an entire nation’s issues with systemic racism into the gripes of a bratty criminal, and even more confusing is that T’Challa’s delightful and highly adept sister Shuri can basically run the entire country from her laptop in a country that is all about scientific achievement, but the place determines its political leadership through brutal, man-on-man combat.  Oscars:  Best Production Design; Best Costume Design; Best Original Score; Nominations: Best Picture; Best Sound Mixing; Best Sound Editing; Best Original Song (“All The Stars”).  Trailer

Bohemian Rhapsody
BBB  (Bryan Singer, United Kingdom/USA)  Farrokh Bulsara is someone that even the glam rock seventies isn’t ready for, but he knows that he has what it takes to be a star, joining a talented college band who eventually become the musical phenomenon known as Queen.   Smaller, smoother, not nearly sweaty enough and never quite capturing the uncontainable sexual energy that Freddy Mercury was always projecting on stage, the character as played by Rami Malek has been repackaged for the era of Enthusiastic Consent, his politically incorrect hookups kept mostly off screen while the only male on male action that we get to view is the stuff that would pass muster in a Meg Ryan movie.  Oscars:  Best Actor (Rami Malek); Best Film Editing; Best Sound Mixing; Best Sound Editing; Nominations: Best Picture. Trailer

BBB  (Ali Abbasi, Sweden/Denmark)  A troll who has been raised by human parents and works as a border guard sniffing out people’s secrets meets a man who is her own kind and falls in love, then discovers a deep dark secret about why he does so much traveling.  Excellent acting under very impressive makeup ensures that this film is not impossible to sit through despite its very gimmicky setup and preachy content, but the script has its protagonist become confused about her identity, not her morality, and the film’s climax challenges the latter and not the former, dragging out a very predictable conclusion without justification.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Makeup. TIFF:  2018.  Trailer

BBB  (Nadine Labaki, Lebanon/France/USA)  Children on the streets of Beirut’s slums survive by their wits and twelve year-old Zain is no exception, his parents are poor, his siblings are many and he spends his days finding any way to make a buck while also keeping an eye on his eleven year-old sister Sahar.  Labaki’s look at the cruelty of life for the destitute of the city is beautifully shot and does a great job of always emphasizing the vulnerability that people living in these conditions are always under, but she seems to have no wish to avoid the whiff of melodrama that lays heavily over what is otherwise a very moving story.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Foreign Language Film. Cannes:  Jury Prize. TIFF:  2018.  Trailer

Christopher Robin
BBB  (Marc Forster, USA)  Now a World War II veteran, husband and father, Christopher Robin works as an efficiency expert for a luggage company and his devotion to the job is putting strain on his family life, until a group of old friends from the 100 Acre Wood return to bring the magic back.  A lovely film that reconnects us all with our childhood fantasies, this one is bolstered quite a bit by what look like tangible stuffed animals coming to life organically amid actors doing a terrific job of performing opposite them, but it also combines a great deal of dark reality (including war scenes) alongside its indulgence in childlike naivete and then rushes its conclusion with a phony bid at slapping capitalism on the wrist without having worked out these tonal contradictions.  Oscar Nomination:   Best Visual Effects. Trailer

The Favourite
BBBB  (Yorgos Lanthimos, Ireland/United Kingdom/USA)  In the early eighteenth-century court of “mad” Queen Anne, nobles and politicians believe the Duchess of Marlborough is behind all her decisions, a control that is challenged by the arrival of the Duchess’s cousin who enters the palace as a maid and works her way up the chain of influence.  A period All About Eve with touches of Fielding grotesquerie (including one of the funniest cinematic hand-jobs ever seen), this one’s witty tongue-lashings and dangerous plot maneuvers make for a ruthlessly funny and hilariously amoral game of human strategy.    Oscar:  Best Actress (Olivia Colman); Nominations: Best Picture; Best Supporting Actress (Emma Stone); Best Supporting Actress (Rachel Weisz); Best Director (Yorgos Lanthimos); Best Original Screenplay; Best Cinematography; Best Production Design; Best Film Editing.  Venice:  Grand Jury Prize; Best Actress (Olivia Colman). Trailer

First Man
BBB.5  (Damien Chazelle, USA/Japan)  Despite being among the few civilian applicants applying to be the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong is chosen for NASA’s burgeoning Gemini space program, eventually making it to our nearest celestial neighbour and uttering the line heard on televisions around the world. Chazelle’s elegant film presents a portrait of a man so determined to avoid processing his grief that he actually travels into outer space so he won’t have to talk to his wife about his feelings, not a typical approach to a biopic of so famous a name but it contributes to what is often a haunting film even when its emotional content falters.  Oscar:  Best Visual Effects; Nomination: Best Production Design; Best Sound Mixing; Best Sound Editing. Venice:  Official Selection. TIFF:  2018. Trailer

Free Solo
BBBB  (Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, USA)  Alex Honnold is one of the less than one percent of rock climbers who practice free solo climbing, crawling up the sides of giant edifices without a rope and feeling the thrill of knowing that any move could be their very last.  Produced by National Geographic, this is an emotional journey into the politics of passion, challenging our rhetoric about living each day as if it were your last and asking if it is only yourself you have to answer to when it comes to borderline reckless behaviour, or if the feelings of others matter. Oscar:  Best Documentary Feature. TIFF:  2018. Trailer

Green Book
BBB.5  (Peter Farrelly, USA)  A low-level Brooklyn Italian hood who takes an assortment of tough-guy jobs to support his family jumps at a lucrative opportunity to chauffeur a world-class black musician on a two-month tour, which includes their surviving dicey situations in the segregated American south.  Every aspect of this story is telegraphed loud and clear in this completely uncomplicated road movie, but there’s a vibrancy to the way that it plays out that feels sweet, and it features a magnificent supporting performance by the always glowing Linda Cardellini.  Oscars:  Best Picture; Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali); Best Original Screenplay; Nominations:  Best Actor (Viggo Mortensen); Best Film Editing.  TIFF:  2018.  Trailer

Hale County This Morning, This Evening
BBBB  (RaMell Ross, USA)  Many of the images we see are dreamy in a film that has very little concrete narrative; there are two young men, Quincy Bryant and Daniel Collins, whose passage into adulthood is charted, but for the most part the film is made up of observations that aim to subvert the usual manner in which African Americans are presented in the media, allowing its participants to exist from their own point of view.  Where films might give in to stereotypes and the news media might emphasize sensationalism or worse, what we have here are families in neighbourhoods, honest struggle, kinship and support.   Oscar Nomination:  Best Documentary Feature.  Trailer

If Beale Street Could Talk
BBBB  (Barry Jenkins, USA)  A young woman has just announced that she is pregnant, a challenging situation given that the baby’s father has gone to prison because of a racist police officer who is settling a score, which flashes her back to golden memories of their early days of falling in love.  1970s Brooklyn is brought to life with vivid beauty, the icing on the cake of a film whose only notable flaw is that, like many cases where the filmmaker is in great awe of the writer (which in the case of  James Baldwin is not misplaced admiration), the overall feeling is more literary than cinematic.  Oscar:  Best Supporting Actress (Regina King); Nominations:  Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Original Score. TIFF:  2018. Trailer

Incredibles 2
BBBB  (Brad Bird, USA)  Still unpopular with the law for their well-intentioned but chaotic methods of stopping evil, the Parrs learn that their superhero program has been shut down, but things look up when they are approached by a tech-company billionaire and his sister who offer them the chance to take part in high-profile crimestopping efforts that will restore their good name.  While Bird’s plotting lacks as much invention as his themes lack subtlety (is it wrong to break the law when the law is wrong, asks an artist in the Trump era?), there is no doubt that a number of sequences pop right off the screen with creativity and excitement.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Animated Feature.  Trailer

Isle of Dogs
BBBBB  (Wes Anderson, USA/Germany)   An ancient wound between man and dog has not healed by the mid-twenty-first century, the dog-hating Kobayashi dynasty uses “snout flu” as an excuse to exile them to a trash island off the coast of their metropolis while their liberal, dog-loving opponents support a scientist whose vaccine for the flu has been suppressed and put the lab team in danger.  Anderson once again brings us to his familiar Boys Only treehouse complete with daddy issues, but finding the next twist in the loopy, complicated but satisfying plot is as much a pleasure as looking at the dazzling visuals.  Oscar Nominations:  Best Original Score; Best Animated Feature.  Berlin:  Best Director (Wes Anderson).  Trailer

Mary Poppins Returns
BBB.5  (Rob Marshall, USA)  Michael and Jane are now grown up and overjoyed to have their beloved magical nanny back, laughing at the silly things they think they once “imagined” about her superpowers, while she, as always, shows the families she takes care of how to solve their own problems by correcting their narrow perspective.  It’s unfair to make a comparison between this and its predecessor, as it pits a film benefiting from modern technology and a built-in audience against a decades-old classic whose quality was an absolute game-changer for the industry and the artform, but this good-natured sequel is blessed with warmth and the tuneful songs will have you humming all the way out the door.  Oscar Nominations:  Best Production Design; Best Costume Design; Best Original Score; Best Original Song (“The Place Where Lost Things Go”).  Trailer

Mary Queen Of Scots
B.5  (Josie Rourke, United Kingdom/USA)  The now widowed Scottish queen returns from France to her homeland where her brother has been reigning as regent, setting her sights on getting rid of that pesky Protestant bastard Elizabeth and taking over England as its rightful Catholic queen.  The anachronisms, meant to make Mary applicable to the modern age, are not compensated for with any good drama in the face of the film’s near-fetishistic obsession with victimhood; Mary can give a good fiery speech but she can never get anything done, and Elizabeth is constantly baffled about what to do or say whenever the men around her challenge her authority.  Oscar Nominations:  Best Makeup and Hairstyling; Best Costume Design. Trailer

Minding The Gap
BBBB.5  (Bing Liu, USA)  Skateboarding is a way that three young men, who have been friends since childhood, escape the various realities of their lives, in all cases troubled homes suffering violence and abuse that has manifested itself cyclically upon the next generation.  The manner in which Liu weaves between their hard personal conflicts as well as the joy of their devotion to their favourite pastime feels seamless and results in the viewer caring very deeply about the people involved.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Documentary Feature. Trailer

Mirai no Mirai
BBB.5  (Mamoru Hosoda, Japan)   A little boy suffering sibling rivalry over the new addition to his family discovers that the tree in his yard is enchanted and acts as something of a portal to different time periods of his family’s lineage, including his great-grandfather as a young man and his own little sister as a grown woman (“Mirai” means future).  Lovingly animated with a sensitive touch to its characters flaws and needs, this sweet and unassuming film falters when it pushes its sentimental keys a bit too hard, particularly in the overwrought ending, but it smoothly blends its keen observations of the frustrations of everyday life with the delicate magic of its supernatural elements.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Animated Feature. Trailer

Never Look Away
Werk ohne Autor
BBB  (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Germany/Italy)   A painter survives a childhood in a destroyed Dresden, grows up in the socialist half of a divided Germany that stunts the intellectual growth of his otherwise developing skill as an artist, marrying a woman he meets at art school whose overbearing father was, unbeknownst to them, a key player in the inhumane medical cruelties of the Third Reich.  Von Dommersmarck initially meant to make a biography of Gerhard Richter but couldn’t get the subject to agree to take part, instead creating moments of lyrical beauty in what is overall an engaging story but one that spells its themes out a bit too clearly.   Oscar Nominations:  Best Cinematography; Best Foreign Language Film.  TIFF: 2018. Venice:  In Competition. Trailer

A Quiet Place
BBB.5  (John Krasinski, USA)  An alien invasion has unleashed a population of monsters upon our planet that have nearly destroyed the entire human race, grotesquely shaped creatures who cannot see but have acute echolocation skills that aid them in capturing their prey.  This juicy chiller has a whole series of terrifying sequences before an ending that does not insult its viewer with any kind of pat reassurance and, despite the fact that it is basically one gimmick spread over a feature film, it’s a highly enjoyable experience if you love to be scared out of your wits.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Sound Editing.  Trailer

Ralph Breaks The Internet
BBB.5  (Rich Moore, Phil Johnston, USA)  When Ralph decides to give Vanellope’s Sugar Rush a boost and overloads the system, they have to save their game from being thrown into the trash.  The story here is as flimsy as it was the last time around, featuring a familiar message about being open to change, but it’s not as tiresome and, overlong running time notwithstanding, it moves from one turn of the plot to the next with impressive creativity.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Animated Feature.  Trailer

Ready Player One
BBB.5  (Steven Spielberg, USA)  In 2045, people escape the perpetual battle of daily life by spending most of their time inside a virtual reality video game called Oasis, created by a now deceased genius whose death came with the announcement that he has planted an easter egg deep inside his magnificent creation which will grant the winner controlling stock in his company.  Spielberg shows himself to be both a great upholder of tradition and hopelessly out of date at the same time, obsessed with storytelling despite all the fireworks (and they are magnificent fireworks), but serving up a standard hero and a villain straight out of central casting, and concluding with a satisfying ending, free of cynicism, in which being good and working hard always pay off.    Oscar Nomination:  Best Visual Effects.  Trailer

BBBB  (Julie Cohen, Betsy West, USA)  The second female Supreme Court justice appointed to the bench, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been influencing the course of American women’s lives from the time that witnessing the horrors of the HUAC hearings inspired her to apply to law school, first as one of only a handful of women at Harvard law before switching to Columbia when her husband’s work took them to New York.  For a movie that begins with a series of bellowing voices calling her dirty names, it would be fascinating to see the ways in which this uncompromising woman, who has done so much to highlight the existence of gender discrimination in a society that often refuses to admit its existence, pisses people off; if we did, the contrast with scenes of her making a cameo in the opera or describing how she chooses her decorative collars would be so much richer.  Oscar Nominations:  Best Original Song (“I’ll Fight”); Best Documentary Feature. Trailer

Solo: A Star Wars Story
BB.5  (Ron Howard, USA)  Escaping from the planet where he grew up as an indentured servant to a monstrous crime boss, young Han Solo is forced to leave behind the woman he loves and strike out on his own, joining a group of thieves who are looking to steal a shipment of intergalactic fuel in a dangerous heist.  A lackluster trip through the Star Wars universe has a serviceable but not exciting plot that is merely a collection of either unnecessary explanations (Han Solo’s friendship with Chewbacca) or ludicrous ones (try not to burn the theatre down when you discover how Han got his “last name”).   Oscar Nomination:  Best Visual Effects. Trailer

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
BBBB  (Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman, USA)   While working on his graffiti art in an abandoned subway station, Miles Morales is bitten by a radioactive spider and gifted with arachnid abilities, while the evil Kingpin has opened up a portal to other dimensions that has sucked a whole bunch of alternate Spider-people into Miles’ life.  The plotting is a bit more complicated than it needs to be, but the visual energy of this movie is incredible, vibrant and beautiful from beginning to end.  Oscar:  Best Animated Feature.  Trailer

Manbiki kazoku
BBB.5  (Hirokazu Koreeda, Japan)  An aging matriarch lives with three adults and a young boy, their clan expanding with the acquisition of a little girl who is taught their special brand of survival and their freedom from rules and conformity.  Kore-eda’s investigation of morality under capitalism is a surprisingly cold affair, not nearly the deeply emotional experience of family life that Our Little Sister and Like Father Like Son are, hitting brilliantly on an intellectual level but rarely inspiring deep feelings for the characters it contains.  Oscar Nomination:  Best Foreign Language Film.  Cannes:  Palme D’Or.  TIFF:  2018. Trailer

BB  (Adam McKay, USA)  Former alcoholic telephone-wire repairman Dick Cheney leaves his comfortable job as an oil company executive to be running mate for George W. Bush in the 2000 U.S. federal election, revealing himself to be a power-hungry monster who thrives on mayhem and who is behind all the most explosive moments of that presidency.  McKay has no idea what to do with the contradiction of so sanguine a man who could easily rip your heart out without fluttering an eyelid, so instead he cuts away to a series of wink-wink montages whenever the film threatens to actually examine the people it’s about.  Oscar:  Best Makeup and Hairstyling; Nominations: Best Picture; Best Actor (Christian Bale); Best Supporting Actor (Sam Rockwell); Best Supporting Actress (Amy Adams); Best Director (Adam McKay); Best Original Screenplay; Best Film Editing. Trailer




3 Faces
Se rokh
BBBB  (Jafar Panahi, Iran)  Actress Behnaz Jafari receives a video message from a young woman in a small village who committed suicide on camera and insists that Panahi help her investigate whether it’s real or if they’re being played for a hoax.  Rarely taking place far from Panahi’s SUV, this continued act of subversion on the director’s part, who has been under a filmmaking ban for nine years by now, is endlessly watchable thanks to his special talent for creating situations that feel like they just naturally unfold around him.  Cannes:  Best Screenplay.  TIFF:  2018.  Trailer

Asako I & II
Netemo sametemo
BB.5  (Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, Japan/France)  A meet-cute between Asako and Baku immediately results in love, then he disappears and never comes back and she falls in love with a man who looks exactly like him. Beautiful cinematography and a strong cast of actors make something delicate out of this mundane melodrama, one whose telling is hampered by the fact that Asako is not a particularly interesting or challenging character, when she’s not elusive she’s just passive.  Cannes:  In Competition.  TIFF:  2018.  Trailer

BBBB  (Chang-dong Lee, South Korea)  A lonely, aspiring writer forced to take over his family’s rural farm runs into a friend from his old neighbourhood who insinuates herself into his life as a non-committal girlfriend, their bliss ended when she takes up with a handsome and wealthy stranger and subsequently disappears.   Moody images and mounting terror abounds in a tale based on a story by Haruki Murakami, in which amoral uncertainty of guilt provides some juicy choices worthy of Daphne du Maurier.  Cannes:  In Competition.  TIFF:  2018. Trailer

BB.5  (Matteo Garrone, Italy/France)  In a crummy Roman suburb, Marcello grooms dogs in what looks like a converted slaughterhouse while supplementing his income by dealing cocaine on the side.  Marcello’s inability to read any room makes him unworthy of our attention and suggests that Garrone, still unable to recapture the heat of Gomorrah, is exploiting him as a symbol and not interested in him as a person (think of many of Lars von Trier’s feeble-minded women, that sort of thing).  Cannes:  Best Actor (Marcello Fonte). TIFF:  2018. Trailer

Everybody Knows
Todos lo Saben
BBBB  (Asghar Farhadi, Spain/France/Italy)  A woman returns from Argentina to her hometown in Spain for her younger sister’s wedding, during which her teenage daughter goes missing and no one has a clue why, then a ransom note comes in and the entire village is plunged in suspicion and fear.  The details of each characters’ involvement in this story is complex and plays out in a spontaneous and captivating manner, as dramatically vibrant as the sunny location and the actors’ physical beauty.  Cannes:  In Competition. TIFF:  2018. Trailer

Happy As Lazzaro
Lazzaro felice
BBB.5  (Alice Rohrwacher, Italy/Switzerland/France/Germany)   A village of peasants working tobacco fields under the thumb of a cold Marquise live a life of toil and struggle that seems straight out of Ermanno Olmi’s Tree of Wooden Clogs, among them a sweet and open-faced boy who questions nothing that is asked of him and comes across as a kind of saintly innocent straight out of Bresson.   Rohrwacher’s modern day fairy tale is directed with beauty and candor, being sunk into the visual poetry of her world is a compelling and satisfying experience, but it’s a shame that she can’t end it with anything better than simplistic jabs at the Catholic church and simplistic finger-pointing at “Society”.  Cannes:  Best Screenplay.  Trailer

The Image Book
BBB.5  (Jean-Luc Godard, Switzerland/France)  Jean-Luc Godard whittles away at his editing machine to once again come up with a visual You Kids Today essay, this time focusing on images that have influenced his life (to which he adds some new ones of his own).  Because most of it is themed around cinema, the result goes down a lot smoother than his more acerbic commentaries on post-modern living, reaching back through decades of movies (including his own) to wordlessly discuss popular culture, Islamophobia, nuclear war and other topics through a series of beautifully assembled bits of footage that weave a hypnotic spell.   Cannes:  Special Award.  TIFF:  2018.  Trailer

Knife + Heart
Un couteau dans le coeur
BBB  (Yann Gonzalez, France/Mexico/Switzerland)  The set of a gay male porn film becomes the staging ground for a series of grisly murders, while its director attempts to get her girlfriend back through actions aggressive enough to almost mirror those taken by the mysterious knife-wielding killer. Love is as brutal as murder in Gonzalez’s eccentric, visually arresting tribute to classic giallo films, indulging in seamy subject matter without ever getting too graphic about it (at least not considering what a lot of French cinema gets up to these days), but creating an atmosphere that makes your head dizzy with the delights of the film’s funky visuals and humorous erotic flair.  Cannes: In Competition.  Trailer

BBBB  (Kirill Serebrennikov, Russia/France)  The underground rock scene surviving under state repression in early eighties Leningrad is the subject of an exuberant and touching musical, focusing on fictionalized portrayals of Zoopark’s Mike Naumenko and Kino’s Viktor Tsoi.  Rather than turn these events into an opportunity for a self-indulgent, melancholic biopic, Serebrennikov keeps the focus on the energy and excitement of musical inspiration, frequently throwing in fantasy sequences with accompanying animation, and a fourth wall-breaking narrator named Skeptic to keep us in mind of the liberties being taken by the story.  Cannes: In Competition.  Trailer

Sorry Angel
Plaire, aimer et courir vite
BBBB  (Christophe Honoré, France) Two very different men cross paths and have a remarkable effect on each other, one of them coming of age and the other coming to the end of his life, a spark flaring up between them that remains as they each deal with life’s devastations.  Honoré has made what is likely his best and deepest film yet, a work that taps into the refreshing sex positivity and seemingly improvisational acting that highlight his earlier works, but there’s a grandeur to this one that feels rare for him.  Cannes: In Competition.  Trailer

Under The Silver Lake
B  (David Robert Mitchell, USA)  An unmotivated L.A. man becomes passionate about a new neighbour, becoming an amateur sleuth when she disappears and stumbling on a conspiracy beneath the city of broken dreams.  A combination of neo-noir with a love of Mulholland Drive could have made this an eccentric cult delight, and no doubt it will have its fair share of ardent followers given its eye-popping visual style and supercool attitude towards sex and crime, but it rambles terribly.  Cannes:  In Competition. Trailer

BBB.5  (A.B. Shawky, Egypt/Austria/USA)  Not caring that Egypt still has antiquated ideas of how to treat people like him, a man who has grown up in a leper colony heads towards his home town to see if he still has any living family.  There are times when the lead character, played by first-time performer Rady Gamal, falls into Symbol territory, the movie is as interested in teaching a lesson as it is in entertaining, but ultimately it’s a touching and beautifully filmed story of a character that we as viewers are also challenged to see the humanity of.  Cannes:  In Competition. Trailer




22 July
BBB  (Paul Greengrass, Norway/Iceland/USA)  On the titular date in 2011, a gunman sets off a bomb in front of Oslo’s government building, killing eight people, then makes his way to the island of Utoya and opens fire on unsuspecting teenagers enjoying their summer with the Workers Youth League camp, killing sixty-nine of them.   No disrespect is done to anyone affected by this horrible event, but the bloom seems to be off the rose of Greengrass’ usually grittier style, there are as many moments in the film that feel like they’re happening in the moment as there are times when you are fully aware, despite the terrific performances, that you are watching a dramatic re-enactment.  TIFF:  2018. Venice:  In Competition. Trailer

Doubles vies
BBBB  (Olivier Assayas, France) A publisher contends with the reality of people reading great works of literature on their smartphones, his company even flirting with the idea of getting into bed with a telecom corporation, while a writer is wrestling with the meaning of “auto-fiction”, fielding criticism from his public about the amount of personal biographical detail he puts into his work. Assayas is the modern master of the kind of Intellectuals In Cafes movies that the French do so well, films in which endless debate is somehow flashy enough for cinema despite how physically static it all is.  Venice:  In Competition. TIFF: 2018. Trailer

BB  (Mike Leigh, United Kingdom)  Napoleonic soldiers return from battle to find their working-class families struggling to survive the inflation caused by the Corn Laws and decide to organize for change, but their success in mobilizing activism inspires fears in their social betters and they are met with resistance that results in a massacre in St. Peter’s Fields.  Meticulous research and planning has clearly gone into this film, you never see a shot where you can’t tell that every teacup is there because it has been painstakingly arranged, but watching it has all the excitement of listening to someone read to you from an encyclopedia, few members of the cast come to life on camera and Rory Kinnear, in a central role, is the dullest of them all. TIFF:  2018. Venice:   In Competition.  Trailer

(Luca Guadagnino, Italy/USA)  A young, naïve woman makes it into a prestigious Berlin dance academy run by a stone-faced and mysterious headmistress thanks to the grisly death of another student, which she thinks nothing of until the whispered rumours of witchcraft start to sink in.  Guadagnino’s decision to take the original film’s brightly colourful visual style in the opposite direction, making a film that looks like the lobby of a 1970s office building, goes hand in hand with the blandness of the characters and the obscurity of the plotting.   Venice:  In Competition. Trailer




By the Grace of God
Grâce à Dieu
BBBB  (François Ozon, France/Belgium)  A successful banker and father of five is inspired to write to the Lyons diocese about his past experiences being molested by a priest who is still working with children and, dissatisfied with the church’s kind-hearted but ultimately unproductive response, connects with other survivors who turn the matter into a nationally televised legal trial.   Delving into a lengthy drama on this ugly and unpleasant subject matter doesn’t sound like a fun night at the movies, but Ozon, working in docudrama for the first time, takes a Just the Facts approach and moves with a positive and optimistic energy through the many stages of the process, never allowing any character to be reduced to a tragic stereotype.  Berlin: Grand Jury Prize. Trailer

BBB  (Christian Petzold, Germany/France)  Citizens of occupied France are rushing to European ports in a desperate attempt to get exit visas, and when a man is given a package to deliver to a writer in Marseille, he discovers on arrival that the intended recipient is dead and, having been mistaken for him by the authorities, he now has the opportunity to leave using his documents.  Petzold sets a World War II novel in the present day without using present-day technology, but his avoiding the smartphones and social media that have played an integral role in Europe’s troubling return to fascism makes it feel a lot more naïve than it does incisive, inventive or shrewd.  Berlin:  In Competition.  TIFF:  2018.  Trailer




Beautiful Boy
BBB  (Felix van Groeningen, USA)  A young man of promise drops out of college because his drug addiction has taken over his life and his father, a writer who has pursued every possible avenue to help him, is at his wit’s end about how to get him back on track.  Steve Carell turns in a surprisingly wooden performance in what is otherwise a very sympathetic character, raising his voice to denote his desperation but never seeming to mean anything he says, while Van Groeningen’s staid direction keeps the story from hitting as deep as it should by focusing more of his attention on overdoing the song selections on the soundtrack than ever finding a proper emotional climax.  TIFF:  2018. Trailer

Ben Is Back
BBB  (Peter Hedges, USA)  A drug addict takes a day off from rehab to visit his family, his mother agreeing to let him on condition that she drive him back there the next day, but over the course of this short period they revisit the worst aspects of his troubled past.  Hedges sets up a fascinating narrative that gives free reign to Julia Roberts’ stellar performance, but her character’s constantly changing tactics for dealing with her kid is meant to be the portrait of a desperate woman caught between logic and motherly protection and the shallow storytelling comes across as erratic writing instead.  TIFF:  2018  Trailer

Boy Erased
BBB  (Joel Edgerton, USA/Australia)  A college freshman devastates his pastor father and devout Christian mother by informing them that he thinks about men that way, and agrees when his parents ask him to attend a therapeutic retreat that attempts to convert him back to heterosexuality.  These “therapeutic” retreats are often (though not always) prohibitively expensive and tend to draw not just young people from religious families but ones who are also very well to do, which means that a film that means to blow your mind with its outrageous truths is actually just another patronizing distraction of the bourgeoisie, in which social justice issues are exploited to prevent viewers from dealing with the economic imbalances that keep them afloat.  TIFF:  2018. Trailer

BBB.5  (Wash Westmoreland, United Kingdom/USA)   The most celebrated female author in France’s history, and in her heydey one of the most popular in the world, made a long journey to self-discovery that required throwing off the shackles of society and putting it all down in best-selling prose.  Westmoreland, working from a screenplay originally created with his late partner Richard Glatzer, hasn’t managed to make Colette’s origin story too easy to distinguish from other cinematic künstlerromans that chart the journey from influenced to influencer.  TIFF:  2018.  Trailer

BBB  (Karyn Kusama, USA)  A grizzled, self-destructive Los Angeles cop flashes back to when she and another officer went undercover with a violent gang of bank robbers, while in the present she blazes a trail through the city to find him, her past a series of jagged clues that we slowly assemble. The willingness of Nicole Kidman to be as true to her character as is necessary and maintain her typical lack of vanity upholds her reputation as a skilled and riveting actor, but the look is somewhat overwrought and at times distracting, her mottled Aileen Wuornos skin and brushy wig practically begging you to admire them and, in their overdone state, never let you forget that you’re watching a very glamorous star play ugly as a stunt.  TIFF:  2018. Trailer

BBB  (Gabriel Abrantes, Daniel Schmidt, Portugal/France/Brazil)   A world-famous, hopelessly naïve soccer player in danger of losing his immense fortune discovers the existence of people called “refugees” and decides to help them, but the boy he adopts from Africa is actually a woman whose cop girlfriend is investigating our hapless protagonist for money laundering.  This colourful, sometimes campy satire is populated with delightfully odd images that could easily see this film developing a major cult following in the future, though it won’t satisfy all who dare follow its bizarre narrative path.  TIFF:  2018.  Trailer

Fahrenheit 11/9
BBB  (Michael Moore, USA)  Moore connects the Trump presidency to his previous, similarly titled film, challenging the commonly expressed anti-Trump sentiment that “even the Bushes were better than this” by putting forth a sequence of events that connects him to all the American presidents going back to Reagan, revealing him to his detractors not as a disease but a symptom of one.  Trump’s election deeply emphasized a divide between an already bifurcated country, and Moore, surprisingly, has as much excoriating commentary for the role that the Democrats have played in the country’s fate as he does the current administration, from Obama’s failure to satisfy the needs of the people during the Flint water scandal, the superdelegate fraud in the 2016 election that promoted Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, and the media’s painting left-leaning activists and politicians as radicals in favour of centrists (because they ultimately favour the needs of corporations).    TIFF:  2018.  Trailer

Gloria Bell
BBBB  (Sebastian Lelio, Chile/USA)  A middle-aged woman coping with life’s mysteries has been divorced for more than a decade, works as an insurance broker by day and spends her evenings at her favourite bar, meeting a shy and kind divorcé who seems to be stuck on his ex-wife and overly dependent adult daughters.  Lelio has altered very little of the tale’s narrative from his original Chilean version, right down to the paintball guns and choice of song in the conclusion, yet revisiting it feels just as warm and wonderful as the first time, a story that doesn’t exploit a character mired in bad choices but rather celebrates her manner of processing the disappointments that life hands out on a daily basis.  TIFF:  2018.  Trailer

BBBB  (Neil Jordan, Ireland/USA)  A lonely waitress in New York City returns an abandoned purse to its owner and they become friends, a lovely older woman who turns out to be an obsessed stalker.  Jordan’s strongest direction in years has him treating his audience like the proverbial frog in a pot of water, slowly raising the heat so that by the time you realize that you’re boiling to death in terror, it’s too late to do anything about it.  TIFF:  2018. Trailer

BBBB  (David Gordon Green, USA)  Laurie Strode lives in her fortified home in the middle of nowhere, paranoid and estranged from her daughter and granddaughter, treated like she is crazy until the bus transferring Michael Myers to his new prison facility is found empty by the side of the road.  Wonderful direction and gorgeous cinematography brighten up the smart and efficient script of a film that enjoys as much character development as it does bloody mayhem, with more than its fair share of thrills and chills.  TIFF:  2018.  Trailer

High Life
BBB  (Claire Denis, United Kingdom/France/Germany/Poland/USA)   One of a group of prisoners sent into space as part of an experiment involving fertility is alone on his ship thanks to the curiously sensual doctor in charge having lost her grip on the emotional equilibrium of the crew. The visually evocative director usually treats her audience to a general sense of her plots without too many details, but here the bits that mean to provide exegesis are dull compared to the obscure stuff, and soften the power of such memorable scenes as an abandoned ship full of lonely dogs.  TIFF:  2018. Trailer

Hold The Dark
BBB.5  (Jeremy Saulnier, USA)  The author of a book about living with wolves is summoned to a remote community in Alaska for a situation that requires his expertise, a woman whose husband is fighting overseas believes her son is the latest of many in her community who have been taken by the four-footed creatures.  Incorporating aspects of the best police thrillers and a touch of The Wicker Man, Saulnier’s adaptation of the novel by William Giraldi doesn’t quite smooth out all its dents, incorporating as many fascinating and unfamiliar elements (like wolf-mask cults) with aspects of police thrillers that are far too worn out (guess what happens to every cop in movies who talks about the vacation he plans to take after “this is all over”).  TIFF:  2018. Trailer

The Kindergarten Teacher
BBBB  (Sara Colangelo, USA)  Taking a poetry-writing class in her free time, a kindergarten teacher is frustrated by how derivative her own expressions of inspiration are until she becomes obsessed with a little boy in her class who has a gift for writing poetry straight out of his head.  Whether what we call conviction is actually inspiration to help the world or something we use to make up for what is missing in our own lives is something this film teases with a brilliantly calibrated sense of unease, with Maggie Gyllenhaal giving her boldest and most disturbing performance yet.  TIFF:  2018.  Trailer

The Land of Steady Habits
BBB  (Nicole Holofcener, USA)  A man enjoying life in early retirement has broken up with his wife because he needed “more space”, his voyage of rediscovery turning out to be an expensive new house and banal one night stands with women he picks up while shopping for decorations, his despondency with the state of things reflected in his increasingly poor performance in bed.  It’s a slimmer experience than Holofcener’s best films, Ben Mendelsohn is cast against his popular psychotic brand to wonderful effect but the other actors play well within their types (will Elizabeth Marvel ever be happy?).  TIFF:  2018.  Trailer

Outlaw King
BBB  (David Mackenzie, United Kingdom/USA)  Following William Wallace’s unsuccessful uprising against Edward I’s takeover of Scotland, Robert the Bruce decides to raise an army and fight for his nation’s independence, coming up against not only the English crown but the Scottish nobles who have decided that letting Edward have his way serves their interests best.  It’s a watchable historical epic with as many giant battles as opportunities for guys to stand around looking terrific in muddy capes and filthy hair, but it also lacks spirit, doing away with all the historically inaccurate flights of fancy that Mel Gibson indulged himself in but never balancing personal drama and action as easily as Braveheart did.  TIFF:  2018.  Trailer

Papi Chulo
BBBB  (John Butler, Ireland/United Kingdom)  A California weather reporter has a breakdown on the air after the departure of his partner and takes a leave from work, developing a friendship with the man he hires to paint his deck without seeming to mind that they don’t speak the same language.  Butler creates something deeply funny and endearing from this lovely bromance in which both characters get to be sympathetic and vulnerable to the strangeness of life’s curveballs, highlighting a particularly good performance by Matt Bomer in the lead.  TIFF:  2018. Trailer

The Predator
(Shane Black, USA/Canada)   An aggressive extra-terrestrial arrives on Earth and gets in the way of a military operation involving a sharpshooting sniper, who is about to be thrown into the loony bin for his troubles before an even bigger monster arrives from the sky and turns a group of colourful rag-tags into a makeshift unit on the run.  It is unnecessary to point out what this film gets wrong, since the small handful of plot holes don’t impede the immense enjoyment of it, with Black’s screenplay balancing action, humour and genuine fear beautifully while his direction turns the plot from exciting It Came From Outer Space-style science-fiction to a breathtaking road movie with exceptional ease.  TIFF:  2018. Trailer

Private Life
BBBB  (Tamara Jenkins, USA)  A Manhattan couple’s determination to have a baby is met with awe-inspiring obstacles, from the physical challenges of trying to get pregnant by medical interference to the process of trying to adopt.  Jenkins expertly balances humour and pain in a film that moves with exceptional ease through its various stages of disappointment, never hitting the dramatic notes too hard but also never allowing the funny dialogue to trivialize what the characters are going through.  TIFF:  2018. Trailer

A Private War
BBBB  (Matthew Heineman, United Kingdom/USA)  The last few years in the life of Sunday Times journalist Marie Colvin, a woman most comfortable in a pair of combat boots and smoking a cigarette while being shot at, who finds herself needing to face the demons that have become unavoidable after twenty years of visiting places raging with conflict and human suffering.  Heineman admires this woman’s drive while respecting the toll her work takes on her, giving as much time to the excitement of being in the field as he does the effect it has on her mind and body, but in his determination to not waste his first opportunity at feature filmmaking, he does include some gracelessly unnecessary dream sequences that don’t comfortably fit with the docudrama-style narrative.  TIFF:  2018. Trailer

Red Joan
BB.5  (Trevor Nunn, United Kingdom)  Aging widow Joan Stanley is puttering about her London living room when the police break in and tell her they are arresting her for treason, flashing back to when she attended Cambridge to read physics and spilled secrets of the British A-bomb project to the nation’s enemies.  It’s a fascinating story, based loosely on the “Granny Spy” case involving Melita Norwood in 1992 and adapted from Jennie Rooney’s novel of the same name, but Nunn hasn’t found much more in the drama than a pale retread of The Imitation Game, the flashbacks dragged down by Sophie Cookson’s weak performance.  TIFF:  2018. Trailer

BB.5  (Ali Vatansever, Turkey/Germany/Romania)  A man desperate to support his family agrees to work for a construction company despite not having a licence to operate the forklift, and it puts him in very serious conflict on all sides, from neighbours opposed to the new building development to the undocumented Syrian immigrant who originally had his job.  A number of turns in the plot are painfully on the nose (Kemil takes a job away from a the people he saved from violent oppression) that only highlight the film’s self-righteous hypocrisy (the Syrian characters have little in the way of personality and are treated merely as narrative symbols).   TIFF:  2018. Trailer

That Time Of Year
Den tid på året
BBB  (Paprika Steen, Denmark)  A woman plays hostess to her resentful minister sister, her bitterly divorced parents, her terrified in-laws, her patient husband and flustered children, but when her former addict younger sister makes a surprise visit with a new husband and step-daughter in tow, this very dysfunctional, badly scarred clan struggles to keep up their holiday traditions and avoid direct confrontations.  It has more than a few narrative secrets that are obvious from the beginning, but the playing out is so compellingly well done that it feels more comforting and reassuring than tired or passe.  TIFF:  2018. Trailer

Too Late To Die Young
Tarde Para Morir Joven
BB  (Dominga Sotomayor Castillo, Chile/Brazil/Argentina/Netherlands/Qatar)  With the fall of the Pinochet regime very recently behind them, a group of Chilean artists leave the big city with their families and form their own commune in an idyllic rural setting, among them a young woman on the brink of adulthood who is, of course, rebelling against all this newfound freedom and planning her escape.  The time spent observing the characters in moments outside the main narrative isn’t particularly compelling, particularly a subplot involving a lost dog whose presence as symbolism is poorly justified.  TIFF:  2018. Trailer

BBBB  (Steve McQueen, United Kingdom/USA)  A heist goes wrong and kills the thieves involved, leaving their wives alone with their grief before bad guys come around and tell them that they have a month to cough up two million dollars or the consequences will be grave.  What seem like random details in the many scenes that lead up to the plot’s central action sequence are all a part of the film’s fundamental architecture, every character is vibrant and the scenes of emotional drama are contrasted nicely with exciting (and often gruesome) violence.  TIFF:  2018. Trailer

BBBB  (Paul Dano, USA)  A married couple emotionally unravels when the unemployed husband decides to take a job putting out forest fires in the hills surrounding their Montana town, leaving his wife vulnerable to her worst fears and inspiring her to drop the helpful homemaker routine she has been sporting.  Dano’s daring choice to find the explosive conflicts in a family that falls apart while avoiding the kind of domestic violence clichés that usually accompany this kind of tale pays off beautifully, there is so much unspoken tension in the spaces between characters’ words and actions that it ends up being far more torturous to bear than some of the scariest thrillers out there.   TIFF:  2018.  Trailer






Dark Money
(Kimberly Reed, USA)  The Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case has chipped away at the country’s protections against the influence of campaign financing, something that the state of Montana has felt sharply as their local elections have been marred by a number of nasty smear campaigns taking the form of posters, commercials and postcards making extreme allegations about candidates.  Beginning with Montana and branching out to other states and local governments, Reed examines a number of situations that the Supreme Court decision has put in motion, having at its centre the tale of journalist John Adams, whose dedication to this issue has a devastating effect on his life.  Trailer

Madeline’s Madeline
(Josephine Decker, USA)  A young woman seeks refuge from a turbulent home life in the rehearsal rooms of an experimental theatre group, at odds with her mother, who has a hard time accessing her daughter’s mental state without breaking out into her own frustrated bouts of rage.  Told in bold strokes that cut through narrative expectations without ever isolating the audience or emphasizing any pretentious levels of confusion, this film is one of the most original and vibrant works to come out in a very long time.  Trailer

The Miseducation of Cameron Post
(Desiree Akhavan, USA)  A teenager who has just graduated from high school is sent to a religious camp after her prom date finds her getting intimate with her female best friend, a place run by a conservative religious therapist and her brother who claims to have been freed from the sin of homosexuality and promises the same for the kids who attend.   It’s not just a successful film thematically, as Akhavan’s superb direction emphasizes quiet, tense moments that hurt almost as much as the more dramatic turns of plot, always keeping the story moving forward with the right pieces of information to keep the process flowing.  Trailer

Mission: Impossible – Fallout
(Christopher McQuarrie, USA)  Ethan Hunt visits Berlin, Paris, London and eventually the mountains of Kashmir in an effort to recover a payload of plutonium that an unknown madman wants to use to cause mass destruction.  It’s been twenty-two years since Tom Cruise first starred in this American James Bond franchise, and it hasn’t lost its power to thrill, which is amazing considering that the plot involves the same variables every time.  Trailer

(Sandi Tan, USA)  In 1992, 19 year-old Sandi Tan writes a script and assembles a crew of her closest friends under the guidance of her media teacher Georges Cardona, completing an independent movie that her teacher steals before vanishing for good.  Two decades later, Tan recovers the footage and has now put together a fascinating film that includes scenes from the original project as well as interviews with friends and cast members, recalling the making of the film and the journey they have been on since.  Trailer

(Kevin Macdonald, United Kingdom/USA)  A second Whitney Houston documentary seems unnecessary after Nick Broomfield’s, but thanks to a higher budget and access to her friends and family, Macdonald’s take on Houston’s life and career features a great deal more insight and production value.  The films complement each other in terms of what they choose to focus on, Broomfield had a lot more information about her childhood and spends more time on the friction between Robyn Crawford and Bobby Brown, while Macdonald has explosive revelations about Whitney’s experience as a victim of sexual assault in her childhood and puts much more dazzle into his exploration of her hits.   Trailer




Bisbee ’17
(Robert Greene, USA)  The 1917 massacre of striking miners in Bisbee, Arizona is commemorated a hundred years later with a day of remembrance that includes a re-enactment of the atrocity.  The process of putting together this strange, mysterious but emotionally cathartic event inspires Greene’s imagination to create a documentary that operates on many levels, learning the story of the Deportation from people who are doing research about the characters they have been asked to play.  Trailer

A Bread Factory, Part Two
(Patrick Wang, USA)  With the crisis resolved at the end of Part One, which concerned making space for the creation of art, the town of Checkford is now free to do the actual creating, but the victories of the first chapter end up giving way to the inevitable disappointment of art’s battle with economics.  Wang’s second half of his magnificent examination of American culture under capitalism is not as vibrant as the first, the jokes are toned down and there isn’t the buzzing calamity of warring personalities: as the town empties out so does the movie, leaving longer, slower scenes that feature deeper ruminations and fewer conflicts.  Trailer

Crazy Rich Asians
(Jon M. Chu, USA)  A New York economics professor happily says yes to her handsome boyfriend when he asks her to fly to Singapore with him and meet his relatives, realizing from the moment she boards the airplane that he is fabulously wealthy and her chances at impressing his extended family are slim.  The rushed and tonally unresolved ending is a disappointment, in which western belief in romance meets eastern ideas of duty and honour and one simply pummels the other into submission without reaching an intelligent compromise, but it’s visually sumptuous, brimming over with warm characterizations, highlighted by a world-class performance by Michelle Yeoh and often very, very funny.  Trailer

Crime + Punishment
(Stephen Maing, USA)  New York City has an impressive police force to service its boroughs, numbering around 36,000 officers, and some years ago the organization decided, in an effort to improve relations with citizens, to abolish the quotas that required officers to make a certain number of arrests per month, but a group of officers come forward with allegations that quotas are unofficially still mandatory as they serve a financial purpose for city revenue.  Bravery is the word for this powerful documentary, much of it captured by Maing getting his camera close to some pretty hairy situations, while a number of officers very honestly allow him to take their testimony and follow their journey without obscuring their identities.  Trailer

Deadpool 2
(David Leitch, USA)  The superhero whose magical powers include his creepy, cancer-related regeneration and, most memorably, his shameless insouciance, is back for another adventure when an adolescent mutant with fiery powers causes a public safety situation.  More creative and lighter in spirit than the first one, this film is overloaded with perverse sexual humour, excessive foul language, grotesque violence and endless bro-friendly gay jokes, but miraculously is not weighed down by them, and for some reason the more tasteless it gets, the more fun it is to watch.  Trailer

Eighth Grade
(Bo Burnham, USA)  Kayla is thirteen years old and handling it as best as she can, at school hiding from the students who intimidate her while at home recording and posting self-help videos about popularity and self-worth, not at all realizing the amount of unnecessary extra pressure it puts on her to conquer these subjects.  Burnham’s contribution to the genre of coming of age films is a gem despite having little original content, buoyed along by Elsie Fisher’s brave and hilarious performance and the spontaneous chemistry she shares with her co-stars.  Trailer

The Equalizer 2
(Antoine Fuqua, USA) The man who keeps moral balance alive on the street is back for another series of reckonings, still keeping a low profile in Boston as a Lyft driver before the homicide of a member of his super secret spy team in Brussels has repercussions for someone close to him, and finding the culprit takes him not too far beyond his own backyard.  Denzel Washington is riveting in this improvement on the original, an exciting and imaginative rendering of a very familiar plot, with moody cinematography, smooth direction and great action sequences.  Trailer

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
(David Yates, United Kingdom/USA)  The nefarious Grindelwald is being held by magical authorities before he manages to escape, heading to Europe where he plans to raise up all wizards and witches to his cause of turning the “muggle” world into their slaves.  Unlike the first entry, this one keeps its plot moving in clean directions and bounces along with some exciting action sequences and spirited performances.  Trailer

Game Night
(John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein, USA)  A husband and wife who are party game enthusiasts step in to a real-life kidnapping situation when his brother asks to host their latest gathering and they have no idea that they are assembling clues amid genuine threats to their lives.  The smart script is worked out to satisfaction in all respects, building up jokes that always pay off and providing twists that are a treat even when they’re a surprise.  Trailer

The Happy Prince
(Rupert Everett, United Kingdom/Belgium/Italy/Germany)  Following his years of hard labor in prison for having been found guilty of indulging in the “love that dare not speak its name”, Oscar Wilde wanders the European continent under increasingly ill health and rapidly increasing depression, haunted by the past and lonely for the relationship that got him in trouble in the first place.  Writer-director-star Everett smashes the pristine images of Wilde that proliferate over a century after his death, the flawless scribe who has become a saintly victim of prejudice and oppression, giving him instead the right amount of contradictions:  his treatment by a society steeped in hypocrisy about sex is tragic, but you also get the impression that Wilde might have fun ruining his life over Bosie even in today’s more permissive climate.  Trailer

The Little Stranger
(Lenny Abrahamson, Ireland/United Kingdom/France)  A medical doctor is brought to a run-down country manor where his mother once worked to see to an ill maid, and soon works his way into the lives of a troubled family whose best fortunes are well behind them.  This absorbing drama of class consciousness is subtle with its plot details, not quite a ghost story, romance or family drama but boldly containing touches of all three, its purpose murky throughout but kept in line by a masterful performance by Domhnall Gleeson at his most assured.  Trailer

Love, Simon
(Greg Berlanti, USA)  A teenager who is, outwardly, the very picture of east-coast upper-middle-class standards does not seem to have any internal conflict about knowing he’s gay, but feels that telling his family and friends will upset a stable ecosystem of which he is a thriving part.  Sharply written and delicately directed, this is a lovely tribute to the spirit of young people and benefits from a terrific cast and a rich sense of humour, which makes up for its being set in the same false (aspirational, let’s say) idea of small town living that hasn’t changed in movies since the days of Andy Hardy.  Trailer

The Mule
(Clint Eastwood, USA)  A Korean war veteran is facing impending bank foreclosure and jumps at the chance when a stranger tips him off to the moneymaking possibilities of being a paid driver for what turn out to be drug dealers.  Eastwood’s charisma and command have not waned in his advanced years, and the film moves at the quiet but arresting pace that his best are blessed with, never overplaying its efforts at either tension or humour.  Trailer

Support The Girls
(Andrew Bujalski, USA)  The manager of a Hooters-esque restaurant takes her job seriously and, on one particular morning, has to deal with an attempted robbery by a man now trapped in the ceiling, then discovers that the cable is shorting out and they need the screens to work for the big boxing match that will draw customers that night.   Bujalski’s idiosyncratic comedy isn’t one awash in laughs, it’s a pleasant and intelligent affair that keeps the pranks to a minimum, a magnificent feat for a film set in a place where girls are constantly defending their big-breasted dignity for minimum wage.  Trailer

They Shall Not Grow Old
(Peter Jackson, United Kingdom/New Zealand)  To commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the November 11 armistice, the Imperial War Museum asked Jackson to create a film that would take footage from their library and do something unique with it that had never been done before. Using digital technology, his team of wizards have adjusted the frame rates, colourizing and adding a soundtrack to give realism and depth to images that results in something deeply inspiring, removing the divide of time between the soldiers and the audience. Trailer

Three Identical Strangers
(Tim Wardle, United Kingdom)   The reunion of triplets separated at birth leads to a heartwarming series of television interviews and they even start a restaurant together, but after what seems like the happy ending on a tragic story, further investigation into their origins takes them down a terrifying rabbit hole involving shady doctors and the possibility that they were part of a lab experiment.  Every time you learn something that you think is the end of the story, this brilliant documentary flips over a page and reveals something even more disturbing, told through skillfully edited sequences that emphasize repetition for a haunting effect.  Trailer

The Woman Who Loves Giraffes
(Alison Reid, Canada)  Anne Innis, later Dagg, went to Africa to study giraffes four years before Jane Goodall headed there to study chimpanzees, but isn’t as nearly well remembered thanks to having lived a very different life since then, inspired by personal experience to turn her focus to gender politics in academics.   Dagg makes a charismatic subject on camera, candid and confident about the biographical details of her life, her general, good-natured restraint making her few moments of emotional vulnerability (particularly the heartbreak of being thwarted in her career, which has never left her) that much more moving.   Trailer

Won’t You Be My Neighbor
(Morgan Neville, USA)  For the thirty-odd years that Fred Rogers entered the homes, lives and hearts of children, he held them in his sway thanks to his sweet gentle fables, heartfelt songs and kindly meted out life lessons.  Neville makes sure to give us a strong sense of Rogers’ timeline, there is a treasure chest of sweet and touching moments to be cherished, but few are as magnificent as the sequence in the Supreme Court  as Senator John Pastore visibly falls in love with this man while listening to him read the lyrics of his song into the microphone for all to hear.  Trailer




100 Things
100 Dinge
(Florian David Fitz, Germany)  Two friends who have created an AI program that they hope to sell to an American tech company have a drunken argument that results in a dare, they must get rid of all their possessions and avoid all materialistic comforts for a month, allowed only one item from their storage lockers each day to see who cracks first.  Themes of runaway capitalism, wage disparity and the impossibility of living happily in a world overrun with stuff are nestled quite comfortably within the sparkling distractions of a bright and bubbly film that has more than a few tired conventions (including a manic pixie dream girl) but there’s a touching connection between the two stars that makes you want to root for this relationship and see it succeed.   Trailer

(Alex Garland, United Kingdom/USA)  An ex-military biologist heads to a mysterious compound where an alien presence has caused a perimeter wall called the “Shimmer”, an atmosphere that has been expanding on a daily basis further and further beyond the shore where it was first spotted.  Very little of what happens is pleasant or innocent in this Solaris meets Apocalypse Now fantasy based on the first of a series of novels by Jeff Vandermeer, which when it’s not overwhelming you with grimness is paralyzing you with sequences that are downright terrifying.   Trailer

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation
(Genndy Tartakovsky, USA)  With his daughter’s happiness well secured by her marriage in the previous film, Dracula is left to focus on himself and, in his solitude, realizes that he is missing the “zing” he had with his late wife, so daughter Mavis takes him, her little family and all their friends on a ghoulish cruise from the Bermuda Triangle to the Lost City of Atlantis.   Silly, charming and perpetually hilarious, this colourful second sequel to the surprise hit franchise is a steady stream of laughs and bright tunes, as light and unimportant as its predecessors and blessed with a bouncy pace and a genuinely good nature.  Trailer

Juliet, Naked
(Jesse Peretz, USA/United Kingdom)  A fan of a long-forgotten indie rock star of the nineties runs a web forum dedicated to his favourite artist that draws the musician’s attention, who begins chatting with his fan’s girlfriend and flies over to England to meet her.  A charming, well observed film brimming with charisma somewhat loses its way in the last third, it doesn’t have a properly padded out final act and feels incredibly short, as if the filmmakers were unable to decide whose narrative to resolve in proper detail and decided to simply cut them all.   Trailer

Leave No Trace
(Debra Granik, USA/Canada)  A father and daughter live off the grid in the woods of the Pacific northwest because of his trauma on the battlefield, but as she reaches maturity she realizes her own need to rejoin the civilized world. The quiet majesty with which Granik films the settings makes for a moody, absorbing drama that reaches a satisfying conclusion, though the Running On Empty meets Captain Fantastic plot isn’t all that groundbreaking and the performances are a drawback, Ben Foster is trying a bit too hard to be grizzled and Thomasin McKenzie lacks substance.  Trailer

My Best Friend
Mi Mejor Amigo
(Martín Deus, Argentina)  A family of four living a happy suburban life allow an unpredictable, destabilizing influence into their home when their dad’s best friend asks him to put his teenage son up for a few weeks, which awakens the older of the couple’s two sons to his own desire when he immediately feels attracted to the visitor.  The film’s plot and world are familiar to anyone who has watched any coming of age movie ever, but the sympathy and intelligence with which this one tells its familiar tale, not to mention its notable (and, for some, frustrating) restraint, make it a charming if not wholly unforgettable experience.  Trailer

Ocean’s 8
(Gary Ross, USA)  Danny Ocean’s sister is released from jail after five years behind bars and concocts a scheme that will help her and her criminal partner get their groove back, stealing a Cartier necklace valued at around 150 million dollars that a famous movie star will be wearing to the Met Gala.  We have a few disingenuous stabs at conflict that don’t really stick, and the ease with which everything happens robs this one of a good climax, it’s somewhere on par with Ocean’s 12 or 13 and not the first of Soderbergh’s remakes.  Trailer

The Other Side of the Wind
(Orson Welles, France/Iran/USA)  Welles filmed roughly one hundred hours of footage between 1970 and 1976, followed by years of the financial and legal woes that plagued most of his films before his death in 1985 and, having left behind his plans for assembling what he shot, this 2018 release is the result of meticulous work overseen by Peter Bogdanovich and producer Frank Marshall to bring the lost project to life.  As with many of Welles’ later works that showed more of an emphasis on his skills as a collage artist than on emotionally resonant storytelling, this one’s story intelligently skewers the creative process but, in its shocking haze of phantasmagoria, doesn’t exactly hit deep and will be an alienating (or just boring) experience for some.  Trailer

(Aneesh Chaganty, USA)  When a teenager doesn’t come home after spending the night studying at a friend’s house, her father is mildly concerned until she remains missing and he goes through all her contacts to find her, learning secrets of his daughter’s life that he never knew about.  What is important to point out about this engaging film, blessed with more than its fair share of plot twists, is that none of it happens on a movie screen, the entire experience is related through technology so that you are always staring at a smartphone, tablet or computer screen and getting information through either text or video messages.  Trailer

Sorry To Bother You
(Boots Riley, USA)  Unemployed and living in his uncle’s garage, a man accepts that most unappealing of jobs for the desperate, working as a telemarketer, informed by a colleague that putting on a “white voice” when talking to customers guarantees sales but his material success causes problems with his socially conscious girlfriend. This surreal comedy of love and business takes its examination of racism and economics into the realm of magic realism for an effect that is as funny as it is thought-provoking.   Trailer

Stan & Ollie
(Jon S. Baird, United Kingdom/Canada/USA)  By the early 1950s, Laurel and Hardy’s best days are behind them, Laurel trying desperately to get another film project off the ground while Hardy is succumbing to the burden of his massive flesh, agreeing to hit the road on a tour of crummy British theatres which they hope will get their next project greenlit.  The warmth of this very enjoyable biopic permeates the scenes of offstage interaction as much as it does the recreations of their onstage bits, and while this film won’t rewrite your idea of its kind, it’s made with sincerity and class.  Trailer

Tomb Raider
(Roar Uthaug, United Kingdom/USA)  Lara Croft’s father has been missing for seven years and inheriting his wealth would mean declaring him dead, which she is about to do when she stumbles upon clues of his whereabouts in the form of an ancient eastern relic and it takes her from London to Hong Kong.  This reboot of the franchise whose earlier, despised attempt starred Angelina Jolie presents a leaner, meaner Croft who doesn’t stuff her bra and whose plot is a clever and fun tale, but Alicia Vikander doesn’t possess enough humour or curiosity for the lead even after the campy elements of the previous films have been removed.  Trailer

Walking On Water
(Andrey Paounov, Italy/Germany/United Arab Emirates/USA)   With the death from an unexpected aneurysm of Jeanne-Claude in 2009, fans of the artists believed that Christo would appear no more, but he premiered his Big Air Package in 2013 and then, in 2016, revived the Floating Piers project that he and Jeanne-Claude created years earlier.  Paounov doesn’t have the razor-sharp precision of the Maysles & Co. for creating a narrative out of the most essential elements of what he observes, but seeing the artist’s work in higher definition is a pleasure and following the project through its paces is still an enjoyable ride.  Trailer

The White Crow
(Ralph Fiennes, United Kingdom/France/Serbia)  A poor boy from the Russian sticks makes it to Leningrad to study dance, determined to overcome the disadvantage of having started late, and once this frequently temperamental upstart named Rudolf Nureyev finds the right teacher in Alexander Pushkin, he flourishes.  This intelligent and sensitive biopic moves back and forth between three separate time periods, threatening to confuse the viewer but only rarely doing so as it presents Nureyev’s dour childhood, his years of study in Leningrad and the historic 1961 trip to Paris with the Kirov Ballet when he defected to the west.  Trailer




Alex Strangelove
(Craig Johnson, USA)  Alex and his girlfriend are looking forward to crossing the next milestone of their relationship, losing their virginity with each other under the most wonderful and romantic of circumstances, but when Alex meets Elliot, the secret feeling he has been suppressing inside himself starts to become more tangible and difficult to ignore.  The film is less mainstream than Love Simon and allows for darker undertones than that one did, but outside the story’s focal relationship, everything else isn’t as well observed or sympathetic, the character types are either silly or dull and the situations that don’t involve the main couple lack ingenuity or sharp observation.  Trailer

American Animals
(Bart Layton, United Kingdom/USA)  Kentucky university students hatch a plan to break into their school library and steal priceless editions of John James Audubon’s The Birds of America and Darwin’s Origin of Species, and even though everything goes wrong from the get-go, they go through with their insane plan anyway.  There’s actually nothing valuable added to the movie by having the real people that this story is based on appear on screen, which attempts to make a heist movie unlike any you’ve seen before but which results in a strained effort that, while not boring, fails in its goal to be special.  Trailer

Book Club
(Bill Holderman, USA)  Four Los Angeles women have stayed connected thanks to their monthly book club and, now in their sixties and seventies, have been told that their best days of ambition, happiness and satisfying sexuality are behind them until one of them suggests they spice up their lives by reading E.L. James’ runaway best-seller Fifty Shades of Grey.   Moving at a smooth pace and punctuated by a few healthy laughs, most of them coming from an outstanding Candice Bergen doing the kind of intelligent irritability she does so well, this is a pleasant look at the kinds of characters that usually get pushed to the margins in other Hollywood films, but is so proud of having chosen them as a subject that it forgets to actually give them enough fun stuff to do.  Trailer

The Commuter
(Jaume Collet-Serra, United Kingdom/USA)  A suburban insurance salesman who takes the same train to and from the city every day is laid off from his job and heads home, and on his usual route is coerced by bad guys into a dangerous scheme involving an attempt to identify and kill an FBI witness riding somewhere near him.  Let’s ignore the silly plot point that federal agents would let a witness travel alone on public transit and focus on the even more hilarious idea that a big lug like Liam Neeson could ever sell insurance, then remind ourselves of the cheap trick of having his character be an ex-cop (who turned to selling insurance!) and what you have is pure film fantasy that is also very amusing fluff.  Trailer

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
(Mike Newell, United Kingdom/France/USA)  A British author with a modest level of renown in post-war Britain receives an anonymous letter that piques her interest and inspires her to visit the beautiful titular channel island, meeting a reading club whose members include an earthy hunk of a pig farmer who challenges her devotion to her handsome American fiancé.  This sincere and straightforward period romance wears its heart on its sleeve and is all the more enjoyable for it, benefiting greatly from the charisma of the actors and their very real chemistry, though the elements of literary appreciation and wartime social politics that the film pretends are essential to the plot are actually just incidental decoration.  Trailer

(Ari Aster, USA)  The tension of her mother’s death and a tragic loss in her own family unit increase a woman’s conflicts with her husband and children before a séance reveals something far more disturbing happening in her home.  A little more narrative cohesion would be appreciated between movements of the plot, Aster goes from haunting-as-grief Babadook metaphor to What Lies Beneath poltergeist mystery to what appears to be The Wicker Man at the eleventh hour and it never all feels like one movie, but Toni Collette is stupendous.  Trailer

(Ian Bonhôte, Peter Ettedgui, United Kingdom)  From humble tailor to internationally acclaimed visionary, the boy from Lewisham wowed the fashion world with clothing that frequently explored his dark imagination (and sometimes seemed downright dangerous to try on). Bonhote and Ettedgui have assembled a biographical timeline of the late, great Alexander McQueen that is illustrated with his accomplishments, a great place for the uninitiated to start exploring his legacy, though the hands-off approach to the subject as an individual makes for a cold and impersonal film.  Trailer

(Camille Vidal-Naquet, France)  Leo sells his body on the streets of Paris, standing on the road waiting for customers to pick him up and pay him to fulfill their desires, at 21 seeing no point in seeking anything other than the next customer or next drug high. Vidal-Naquet does a great job of presenting the vulnerabilities of sex work without coming across a judgmental puritan about them, this isn’t a lecture on love versus sex, and the realities of the clientele and their desires are presented without much editorializing, but there’s no getting away from the fact that the story’s update on My Own Private Idaho has far too few surprises to offer.  Trailer




All Is True
(Kenneth Branagh, United Kingdom)  William Shakespeare retires from writing and London life and moves back to Stratford with his wife Anne Hathaway and their daughters, their home haunted by his beloved late son Hamnet who was taken by plague when he was a child.  This elegantly paced chamber piece aims to give the greatest writer in the English language his own Gods and Monsters, focusing on his years of inactivity as a way of showing what happens to creative minds when they choose to avoid creating, but what Branagh comes up with is not in the least bit interesting or revealing.  Trailer

(James Wan, Australia/USA)  The son of a lighthouse keeper and the Queen of Atlantis has grown into a bar-fightin’ hunk who exists ambivalently between worlds, called back under the sea when a beautiful princess begs him to come help save the planet from his warmongering half-brother.  Jason Momoa doesn’t have the acting chops to match his physical grandeur, his attempts at the film’s humorous lines seem more like he’s making excuses to finish early, and the beautiful recreations of worlds deep beneath the brine are undone by humorless, noisy fights and a bloated, self-important tone.  Trailer

(Kay Cannon, USA)  Three high school seniors who have been friends since childhood are now about to graduate and go off to college, tonight is prom night and their parents have just gotten wind that the girls have decided it’s time to lose their virginity.  What holds this one back from being a solid night of fun is the amazing confusion happening behind the camera, a script written in one tone of comedy is directed in another, its humorous situations ruined by Cannon constantly inserting touching, emotional realism that is frequently out of place and ruins the timing of almost all the jokes.  Trailer

Creed II
(Steven Caple, Jr., USA)   Having overcome his difficult childhood and found his path, Adonis Creed goes rogue for a fight that his mentor believes he should avoid, going up against the son of the man who killed his father.  Told with the same amount of style as Ryan Coogler’s original but only some of the substance, this one lets audiences down by not providing the sequel to Creed that they want but the sequel to Rocky IV that they don’t need.  Trailer

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
(J.A. Bayona, USA)  Claire and Owen are seconds away from completing the evacuation of the animals from an island being destroyed by an erupting volcano when they learn that they have been double-crossed and the dinosaurs are actually being auctioned off to nefarious supervillains looking to use them as biological warfare.  Of course it looks and sounds great and the animals are all magnificent, but whose idea was it to take dinosaurs off an island and have them run around the basement of a country mansion?  Trailer

Life of the Party
(Ben Falcone, USA)   After her husband reveals that he wants a divorce to marry his mistress, a woman decides to enroll in her daughter’s college and get the degree she gave up for marriage and motherhood years earlier.  Melissa McCarthy’s superb charm doesn’t fail her here, she’s as deliciously fun as you ever want her to be and elicits plenty of good laughs, but Falcone’s sloppy direction really make this one hard to put together, she’s supposedly doing great in school but we hardly see her doing any learning or working and it doesn’t make sense that she has a fear of public presentation when she spends most of the movie chipper and friendly because she isn’t in the least bit self-aware or self-conscious. Trailer

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
(Ol Parker, United Kingdom/USA)  Sophie is mourning the loss of her mother and is paying tribute to her by hosting a grand reopening of their idyllic island hotel, prompting flashbacks to 1979 when young Donna breaks with convention by abandoning the promise of an Oxford degree, running away to Greece in order to not have a job and become a single mom.  The follow-up to the biggest hit musical film of all time takes a page from The Godfather Part II, presenting both a sequel and prequel at the same time and, much like in the Coppola’s masterpiece, makes us wonder if murderous, armed gangsters really are a bad thing.   Trailer

(Ondi Timoner, USA)  The famed photographer whose images continued to inspire controversy (and criminal charges) well after his premature death from AIDS in 1989 is put into the biopic machine, and a familiar product is churned out.  Matt Smith provides the only creative signs of life in this otherwise unmemorable affair, perfectly cast as the burgeoning artist who pursued a career in the arts at Pratt before he and Patti Smith (who, for some reason, here meets him in the park and not, as happened in real life, at school) moved into the Chelsea Hotel and began his long journey towards his destiny.  Trailer

The Meg
(Jon Turteltaub, China/USA)  A marine research team accidentally wakes up a prehistoric beast during an exploration of the Marianas Trench, going beneath a layer of hydrogen sulfide that has formed a thermocline (look how smart I sound) and disturbing the peace of an eighty-foot eating machine.  What should be a supersized version of Jaws is ruined by a poor sense of adventure and a distinct lack of death, a movie that can’t quite find the middle ground between Spielberg’s classic and the boredom of Sharknado silliness, or a balance between unbelievable escapes and indulgent carnage.  Trailer

Nothing Like A Dame
Tea With the Dames
(Roger Michell, United Kingdom)  Four of the greatest actors to ever appear on a stage or screen are assembled for what appears to be a day’s worth of conversations:  Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright and Maggie Smith have been friends for decades and allow Michell to interview them about their lives and careers.  It’s a shame that the director had so little time to spend with these ladies given the richness of their careers, file footage of past performances, particularly a lot of great television broadcasts from the BBC archives, really help a great deal, but the inclusion of a lot of throwaway moments feel like filler.  Trailer

The Nun
(Corin Hardy, USA)  The frightening apparition that provided the most chilling scenes of The Conjuring 2 is given her own origin story in this silly but sometimes scary horror movie, set in a Romanian abbey where one of its holy sisters has recently sullied the grounds by committing suicide.  Much of the narrative’s internal logic is flawed, even for a horror movie with no pretensions at greatness, the characters spend too much time in the dark about things that are obvious to the audience but the chillier scenes feature beautiful, Mario Bava-worthy cinematography and the cast is at least fully committed.  Trailer

(Rawson Marshall Thurber, USA)  A war veteran who was once a member of an elite hostage rescue team is now living a much sweeter life as a security expert, assigned to a ridiculously tall, half commercial, half residential Hong Kong building before arsonists set the place on fire with his wife and two children trapped inside.  Right from the outset, this combination of Die Hard and The Towering Inferno fails to live up to the tradition of great, trashy Irwin Allen disaster films, spending liberally on fancy visual effects but scaling down on plot and characters.  Trailer

(Jeff Tomsic, USA)  A group of five friends have been playing a game of tag since they were pre-teens, and now in adulthood spend every month of May travelling as far as is necessary to disgrace each other with the infamous status of being “It”.  It’s a conflicted film, one which is heavily torn between being mean and harsh, which it does too well, or sweet and light, which it comes nowhere near doing well enough, particularly as it has a cast of actors who never can convince you that they were ever all young at the same time, let alone from the same neighbourhood.  Trailer

(Ruben Fleischer, USA)  A provocative journalist’s unorthodox methods for going after a tech billionaire lose him his job, his fiancée and his future before he is accidentally invaded by a parasite from another planet that turns him into an inky, long-tongued monster who has a predilection for biting off people’s heads.  A good-natured sense of humour and a serviceable performance by Tom Hardy make this a film whose first half works well (Marvel movies always do a great job with establishing a regular human being’s transformation) but whose second half has nothing to mark it as special, particularly in its conclusion.  Trailer




Ant-Man and the Wasp
(Peyton Reed, USA)  Just days from the end of his sentence for house arrest, Scott Lang is unhappily visited by his old friend Dr. Pym and daughter Hope Van Dyne, who want his help to find Hope’s mother Janet, who went the way of the microbe decades earlier and hasn’t been seen since.  Despite some nifty effects, this is among the weakest entries in the Marvel Movie Playland, a by-the-numbers plot and performances by Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly that are phoning it in.  Trailer

(Anne Fletcher, USA)  Willowdean lives in a small town and is insecure about her weight, not helped by the fact that her beloved aunt has passed away and her former beauty queen mother is devoted to running the local pageant, which Willowdean signs up for in the spirit of protest.  The film doesn’t seem to know much about the actual world of beauty pageants and rushes through a story with far more dazzling elements than it can handle.  Trailer

(Richard García, Raúl Portero, Spain)  Two Spanish men cross a beautiful Icelandic landscape in search of a man we presume to be a lover, who was supposed to return after a photo shoot but never did.   The end result of the search is actually a smart and well calculated turn of events, but by that point no emotional connection has been established between audience and protagonist and the opaque performances don’t help much, though the scenery is gorgeous.  Trailer

He Loves Me
(Konstantinos Menelaou, Greece/United Kingdom)  Two men are experiencing the last days of their love affair, lounging around on a muddy Greek beach, napping and making love while a lone human voice narrates the perspective of one of them making peace with this inevitable ending.  We don’t get to know either figure as personalities, merely as images, and the spoken words, in trying to be poetic, never tell a story worth noting, you could tell me that the entirety of this film was background footage from a karaoke machine and it would not be hard to believe.  Trailer

The House With A Clock In Its Walls
(Eli Roth, USA)  An orphaned boy is sent to live with an eccentric uncle and his kooky best friend in a strange, magical house to which he is given free reign except for one locked cupboard that contains a forbidden book.  Adapted from the popular children’s book by John Bellairs, this is an unimaginative adventure whose many wan elements undo it completely, from the uninspired performances to the thin storytelling.  Trailer

(Christina Choe, USA)  A lonely woman works as a temp to make ends meet, her only regular companion the unpleasant, ailing mother she takes care of, then stumbles upon a remarkable opportunity when she sees an unhappy couple marking the anniversary of their missing daughter on television and cons her way into their lives.  The sturdy acting helps but the film ends well before it investigates the psychology of its main character and her inability to communicate with others without telling lies.  Trailer

Postcards From London
(Steve McLean, United Kingdom)  A young man from Essex follows his big dreams to London where he meets a group of high-class rentboys who teach him the finer aspects of being a young male companion, becoming the most sought after sex-worker in the city who can provide lustful consummation as well as erudite discussions on art and culture.  Beautifully shot and benefiting greatly from its lead actor’s undeniable physical appeal, this film is simple Peter Greenaway or weak Derek Jarman, it’s hard to decide which, far too timid about sexuality and never finding the nerve of plot that would make it compelling.  Trailer

Proud Mary
(Babak Najafi, USA)  A hit woman for a Boston mob family is still keeping tabs on the adolescent boy she orphaned on a job and whom she now defends from his employer’s mistreatment, setting off a chain of reprisals as her bosses try to figure out who among them is going rogue.  Mary is meant to recall the classic stars of seventies blaxploitation films (Pam Grier, Tamara Dobson) and Taraji P. Henson is worthy of the mantle, but the film lets her down frequently, first by never letting her enjoy the more violent, vengeful moments of the story, and then when she finally gets the chance to really have her emotions be focused on, it comes out as tearful mothering melodrama.  Trailer

A Wrinkle In Time
(Ava DuVernay, USA)  The disappearance of a brilliant physicist whose theories of intergalactic travel have made him the laughing stock of his community leaves his wife and scientific partner trying to keep hope alive with their emotionally conflicted children, a situation that brings otherworldly sages to their door who announce that they can take them to their father on another planet.  This adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s cultishly popular book, the first in a series of science-fiction adventures, is a gorgeously shot, hopelessly dry experience that is weighed down by heavy technical jargon in its dialogue and an overwhelming emphasis on characters contemplating ideas while rarely acting on them.  Trailer




A Simple Favor
(Paul Feig, USA)  A suburban single mom is dazzled by the glamorous, aloof mother of her son’s friend at school and they become instantly chummy, but when her new friend disappears and she learns the dark secrets of her past while trying to find her, she is suddenly embroiled in a dangerous mystery.  Intoxicating and fun thanks to a balanced blend of Kendrick’s Tina Fey-esque self-deprecating humour and a visual style swathed in gleaming cocktail glasses and haute couture costume design, this ridiculous film piles up the details and then proves them all to be brainless red herrings by the time it reaches its nonsense conclusion.  Trailer




The 15:17 To Paris
(Clint Eastwood, USA)  The true-life tale of heroism that occured in 2015 when three Americans, two soldiers and one civilian, prevented a massacre on the Thalys Amsterdam-to-Paris train by attacking and subduing a lone gunman carrying 300 rounds of ammunition. Eastwood isn’t wrong to want to record this impressive accomplishment for posterity and to do so without any irony (there’s no commentary about the downsides of sudden fame or Sully‘s criticism of America’s failure to let Good Guys get on with it), but the technical fails make this one of his worst directorial efforts, beginning with the ill-advised decision to let the real guys play themselves, opaque figures on camera that we can never connect with emotionally.  Trailer

(Brandon Camp, United Arab Emirates/USA)   Two stressed-out children in New Orleans have the misery of their widowed ambulance driving mom alleviated by their finding an unusually intelligent, scrappy little orphaned pup, but when they accidentally stumble upon a robbery in a pawn shop, the bad guys take the children hostage and it’s up to the heroic but resourceful canine to save them.  It’s a kid’s movie, so the shamelessly indulged opportunities for cuteness in this remake of the popular 1974 film should be easily forgiven, but none of the emotions expressed by the actors ring true for a moment and none of the adventure is the least bit fun. Trailer

Destination Wedding
(Victor Levin, USA)  A suppressed-rage case and motormouthed neurotic end up on the same tiny plane heading to the remote town of Paso Robles, hating each other on sight and then devastated to learn that they are both going to the same wedding, their intolerance for each other’s shortcomings softening with increased familiarity. The low-grade quality of this production is an insult to these two stars, you get the sense that the whole thing is made in static two-shots that barely register any other actors around them because they only had a few days to shoot.  Trailer

Fifty Shades Freed
(James Foley, USA)  Now that they’ve gotten married and are fully legit, Anna and Christian are settling into the mundane realities of marriage (rebuilding a new mansion, deciding which helicopter to take to work, etc) but their bliss is ruined by a stranger who keeps breaking into their many houses and leaving threatening clues behind.  We all know a relationship is in trouble when someone finally gets around to using their safe word, but the actually pornographic element to this ridiculous series of movies is in selling a fantasy of a young person’s upward mobility with only the slightest bit of conflict to keep the whole thing from being only about drinks, dinners and spanking.  Trailer

Nobody’s Fool
(Tyler Perry, USA)  A high-powered advertising executive is distraught to learn that her less successful sister is being released from prison and their exasperated, hilariously bewigged mother refuses to take her in. There’s always the hope that Perry’s combination of twisty plots and A-list casting will make for something at least diverting if not unforgettable, but his writing is always appealing to his audience’s moral satisfaction, not their emotional desires, and what should be lighthearted fun is actually quite dark and disturbingly judgmental.  Trailer

Second Act
(Peter Segal, USA)  Sick of the unfair advantages given to people with better backgrounds than hers, a retail employee decides to go for broke when her rascally godson creates a fake website, pads her resume and submits her to be interviewed for a high-profile position at a Madison Avenue cosmetics firm.  The script is basically a pale imitation of Working Girl, which Jennifer Lopez already did with Maid In Manhattan, but this time many story elements are added that, instead of enriching the familiar as I’m sure they meant to do, feel so random as to practically be psychotic.  Trailer

Swinging Safari
(Stephan Elliott, Australia)  Three wacky, dysfunctional families in seventies suburban Sydney, Australia have their summer of wild parties and sunny days by the sea dampened by the unexpected appearance of a blue whale dying on their local beach, permeating the neighbourhood with the smell of its rotting carcass.  There’s no telling if we’re meant to focus on the kids and see the adults through their eyes, or if the adults are the protagonists who don’t realize the effect they are having on their offspring, as spreading the story out to so many people means that every character leaves a thin impression and little of it is actually funny.  Trailer

(Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig, Australia/USA)  A psychiatrist whose career has seen better days is asked by a high-ranking member of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company to assess the sanity of Sarah Winchester, daughter-in-law of the company’s founder and now a majority shareholder, but finds that she is living in a house haunted by victims of gun violence.  More dignified research into Sarah Winchester’s biography has revealed that the real reason behind her projects was that she was performing post-modern experiments in expanding the possibilities of physical architecture, she wasn’t the superstitious woman she is presented as here; even if you wish to forgive this dramatic licence and ignore its possible sexist undertones, the film loses points for having no dramatic strength or character detail.  Trailer




The Rainbow Bridge Motel
(Scott Rubin, J. Garrett Vorreuter, USA)  Happy couple Darren and Dean fly from Phoenix, Arizona to Niagara Falls to get married thanks to Darren’s having arranged their nuptials through a promising online package, but when they get to the Rainbow Bridge Motel, they find that it is a shoddy dump.  Crass, tone-deaf and never for a second funny, this exercise in low-budget torture wouldn’t be worth watching if you were being paid to do it, a wholly unbearable film that barely makes sense and whose cinematography is as unattractive as its setting. Trailer


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