A Quiet Passion (2017) ***
Cynthia Nixon beguiles as Emily Dickinson in Terence Davies’ portrait of the poet, whose steadfast self-assurance utterly scandalized the upper crust of 19th century Massachusetts.
A Quiet Place (2018) *****
Writer/director/star John Krasinski (The Office) weaves a taut web of terrror in this sci-fi drama about a family being stalked by viscious alien creatures drawn by the sound of their voices. Krasinski and Emily Blunt are heroic as the parents; as their children deaf actress Millicent Simmonds (so wonderful in Wonderstruck) and Noah Jupe are heartbreakingly brave.
Race (2016) ****
Stephan James stars as Jesse Owens, the runner who humiliated Hitler at the 1936 Olympics (FULL REVIEW)
RBG (2018) ****
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, The U.S. Supreme Court's second woman justice and a quietly dynamic champion of liberal causes, gets the rock star treatment in this engrossing documentary from Julie Cohen and Betsy West. Fiercely ambitious, the young Ginsburg finds herself fighting for women's rights in the workplace and at home, riding a crest of her own making all the way to the Supreme Court. Right-leaning folks who think they'll take pass on this film should follow the lead of Ginsburg's closest friend, the eminently conservative Justice Scalia, and open their hearts to one of the most inspiring public lives of the past 50 years.
Ready Player One (2018) ****
Steven Spielberg throws up the usual landmarks in his screen translation of a beloved young adult novel — in which a teenager (Tye Sheridan) competes to win a half-trillion dollars in a virtual reality universe. There are brave, fatherless kids; fanciful-yet-perilous settings, and a soaring musical score that tells you how to feel. The film truly comes alive when it escapes the video game realm entirely and dumps us inside a perfect re-creation of the Overlook Hotel from Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. (FULL REVIEW)
Remember (2016) **** Christopher Plummer evokes panic and determination as a man with dementia trying to find a Nazi war criminal before it's too late (FULL REVIEW)
Riddick (2013) ***
Director David Twohy (The Fugitive) has helmed all three Riddick movies, starring Vin Diesel as the gravel-voiced interplanetary convict/adventurer. Here we go again with Riddick, well into middle age, still kicking butt like a muscle-bound, bald-pated pro.
The Right Stuff (1983) ***
By the time Tom Wolfe's epic tale of NASA's Project Mercury hit the screen, we were already beginning to suspect the heroic era of space exploration was over. Thirty-five years later, when America lacks even a rocket to take us to the International Space Station, it's a feeling that's hard to shake. So by all means, do revisit this soaring epic and soak in the reflected glory of Sam Shepard as Chuck Yaeger, Scott Glenn as Alan Shepard, and Ed Harris as John Glenn (and delight in the word games you can play with all those interchangeable names).
Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017) **** (Pictured Above)
Oscar-nominated Denzel Washington adds an indelible new character to his portfolio: that of a socially awkward civil rights lawyer who, after years of beating his head against the wall of institutionalized racism, slowly allows himself to be co-opted by the trappings of success. Meanwhile his law firm boss (Colin Farrell), inspired by Roman's initial idealism, finds himself following the opposite route. What results is an actors' fugue of sorts, as the two characters' points of view weave amongst each other to create a rich tapestry of social commentary. Directed by Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler), whose knack for capturing the seedy side of LA is unsurpassed.
Romeo and Juliet (2013) ***
Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes adapts Shakespeare’s tale of star-crossed lovers, and Italian director Carlo Carlei borrows heavily from Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 version. The question is: Why bother?
Room (2015) ****
Brie Larson stars in this claustrophobic thriller about a kidnapped mom and her young son (FULL REVIEW)
Rules Don't Apply (2016) ****
Warren Beatty is funny and heartbreaking as Howard Hughes (FULL REVIEW)
Rush (2013) ***
Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl are great fun as James Hunt and Niki Lauda, rival kings of Formula 1 racing in the 1970s. Ron Howard, who cut his directing teeth with Grand Theft Auto in 1977, seems right at home depicting the brutal beauty of high-octane racing.
Salinger (2013) ****
Almost everyone has to read The Catcher in the Rye in high school, and in 1965 all those kids buying all those books enabled its author, J.D. Salinger, to retire to his New Hampshire home and hide from view for the rest of his life. This documentary studies the enigma of Salinger – and the obsession of those who insisted on following him into his solitude.
*** Samson (2018)
Co-directors Bruce Macdonald and Gabriel Sabloff have a supremely appealing leading man in 6-foot-2 Taylor James, who is at once imposing and boyish. He also kicks butt convincingly, wielding a mean donkey jawbone against 1,000 Philistines. But as in too many faith-based movies, the villains make the best company. Samson something of a scold who spends his time glowering, brawling with bad guys, and praying (although only in moments when he needs God to strengthen him, like an Old Testament Popeye looking for his can of spinach). (FULL REVIEW)
Savannah (2013) ***
This big-hearted drama traces the story of a duck hunter (Jim Caviezel) in Savannah, Ga., and his lifelong friendship with a freed slave (Chiwetel Ejiofor). The terrific supporting cast includes Sam Shepard, Hal Holbrook and The West Wing‘s Bradley Whitford, but the real star is the lavishly photographed Savannah marsh wilderness, sprawling and lovely as the story itself.
Saving Mr. Banks (2013) ****
Tom Hanks is Walt Disney; Emma Thompson is Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers in this true story about the making of that classic film (FULL REVIEW)
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) ****
Director/star Ben Stiller celebrates the mystery of imagination, the wonder of real-life, and the point at which they intersect in this spectacular comedy adventure loosely based on the classic James Thurber short story. Kristin Wiig plays the adorable object of Mitty’s affection, Shirley MacLaine cameos as the hero’s loving mom, and Sean Penn pops up in a brief but pivotal role as a globetrotting photographer.
The Sense of an Ending (2017) ****
Jim Broadbent is riveting as a man haunted by some unfinished business with a long-ago girlfriend (Charlotte Rampling)
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978) ****
The world was still mourning the loss of The Beatles (and hoping for that reunion that never came) when rock impresario Robert Stigwood mounted this hodgepodge of Beatles songs draped over a dumb plot about the titular band (The Bee Gees) joining a charismatic singer named Billy Shears (Peter Frampton) to defeat greedy evildoers who want to corrupt the music business (!). The Beatles' own superproducer George Martin did the arrangements, and truth be told the Brothers Gibb are fine vocal stand-ins for the Lads from Liverpool. The movie was worth just two stars when made; now it's an invaluable time capsule of 1970s pop featuring the likes of Aerosmith; Alice Cooper; Earth, Wind & Fire; Billy Preston, and, as Dr. Maxwell Hammer, a wild-and-crazy Steve Martin. George Burns, then enjoying a late-life renaissance, appears as the narrator, and the closing credits boast the greatest collection of music royalty cameos this side of "We Are The World," including Heart, Jose Feliciano, Leif Garrett, Etta James, Curtis Mayfield, Peter Noone, Robert Palmer, Bonnie Raitt, Helen Reddy, Johny Rivers, Monti Rock III, Del Shannon and dozens more.
Shakes the Clown (1991) ***
It's nearly a cinch you haven't seen Bobcat Golthwait's pitch-dark comedy about a substance abusing children's party clown, and admittedly it seems at times more of a fever dream than an actual movie. But it has a memorably twisted view of show biz culture, plus cameos by the likes of Adam Sandler, Kathy Griffin, Florence Henderson, LaWanda Page and, as a freaky mime teacher, Robin Williams, working under the pseudonym Marty Fromage. Plus, every film critic who's ever lived has envied the spot-on assessment by Boston Globe reviewer Betsy Sherman: "The Citizen Kane of alcoholic clown movies."
The Shape of Water (2017) *****
Guillermo del Toro's fairy tale for grownups is part Beauty and the Beast, part E.T., and part Creature From the Black Lagoon. And it's one of the most gloriously assured films of this or any year. Sally Hawkins is a mute cleaning woman at a U.S. government compound who stumbles upon a tall, dark, and fishy creature in a squalid holding tank. She brings him food, and ends up giving him her heart. Be forewarned there's some carnal splashing involved, but only a monster would deny this beauty her beast. FULL REVIEW
Sid And Nancy (1986) ****
Gary Oldman brings uncanny energy to this factually dubious account of the doomed romance of Sex Pistols frontman Sid Vicious and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen (Chloe Webb). The pair's descent into drug-induced self-destruction is as hard to watch now as it was 31 years ago, but this new Criterion Collection release reminds us of the sure hand of co-writer/director Alex Cox — whose comfort with the fringes of reality are elsewhere evident in films like Repo Man and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Silence (2016) ****
Martin Scorsese draws upon his lifetime body of work in this heartfelt story of Jesuit missionaries in Japan (FULL REVIEW)
Solo (2018) ***
They’re cranking out Star Wars movies like Model T’s these days, and this genesis story for the series’ beloved character Han Solo comes off the assembly line with a full compliment of bells and whistles. We meet young Han (a pleasingly smug Alden Ehrenreich) as a juvenile delinquent, stealing cars (of the flying kind) and wooing a cute girl (Emila Clark). Circumstances split them up — but not forever, of course. Han tries to carve out a life as a gangster, a career choice that will, alas, never serve him well given his innate goodness. Director Ron Howard floods the screen with echoes of previous Star Wars episodes — and, oddly enough, Stanley Kubrick’s World War I epic Paths of Glory.
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) ****
Tom Holland is nerdily perfect as the new big-screen Spidey, but the most fun this time around is courtesy of onetime Batman Michael Keaton as his nemesis, The Vulture (which can't help but remind us all of Keaton's Oscar-nominated turn as Birdman)
Spotlight (2015) *****
The Oscar-winning story of the Boston Globe team who broke the pedophile priest scandal (FULL REVIEW)
The Star (2017) **
This animated re-telling of the Christmas Story — told through the eyes of the animals that witnessed it — betrays its promise of gentle Holiday entertainment by devolving quite quickly into a raucous slapstick adventure. Ice Age meets The Nativity, and the result is somewhere this side of Heaven.
Stay Hungry (1975) ***
So, do you remember when Arnold Schwarzenegger actually won an acting award? Rewind to '75, when in his first sustained screen role — and undubbed for the first time — the future Terminator played a body builder/bluegrass fiddler in this muscular comedy/drama from Five Easy Pieces director Bob Rafelson. Jeff Bridges and Sally Field are the main attractions here, but Ah-nold walked off with a Golden Globe for "Best Acting Debut in a Motion Picture." Yeah, this is around the time Pia Zadora also won a Best Actress Globe.
Still Mine (2012) ****
James Cromwell (Babe, L.A. Confidential, The Artist) gives the performance of a lifetime as an 87-year-old man who builds a small house for his ailing wife (a radiant Genevieve Bujold) with his own two hands. That is, until local bureaucrats start butting in.
Suburbicon (2017) **
Good News: Director George Clooney got Matt Damon, Julianne Moore and Oscar Isaac to star in his movie about murder and mayhem in a 1959 'burb. Bad News: He failed to reckon with a scattershot script (co-written by Clooney and the Coen Brothers) that piles social consciousness on top of a whacked-out plot. (FULL REVIEW)
Sully (2016) ****
Tom Hanks and director Clint Eastwood triumph in this no-frills telling of the "Miracle on the Hudson" (FULL REVIEW)
The Summit (2012) ****
One one day in 2008, 11 adventurers died on the slopes of K2. Using the team’s own videos and new footage, director Nick Ryan takes us along on one harrowing hike.
Tab Hunter Confidential (2015) ***
The 1950s matinee idol narrates his own story of life under the Hollywood studio system.
This Beautiful Fantastic (2017) ***
In this charming tale of a grumpy widower (Tom Wilkinson) helping his hopeless neighbor (Jessica Brown Findlay) revive her disastrous back yard does for gardening what Sideways did for Pinot Noir.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, MIssouri (2017) *****
Frances McDormand gives an exposed-nerve performance as an angry, grieving mom. She plays Mildred, a mother who, frustrated with the local cops' inability to solve her daughter's brutal murder, posts her displeasure on three giant billboards on the main road into town. Woody Harrelson, having the best year of his career, is a sympathetic foil as the police chief who tries to reason with Mildred. And perhaps best of all is the glorious Sam Rockwell as a trigger-tempered, yet somehow lovable deputy. Writer/director Martin McDonagh has already made two small masterpieces (In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths). This is his most satisfying film to date.
Tommy's Honor (2017) ****
You don't have to be a golf enthusiast to love this true story of a brash young Scottish golfer named Tommy Morris (Jack Lowden) and his greenskeeper father Tom (Peter Mullan), who virtually created the modern game of golf in the mid-1800s. Sam Neill is a devil-eyed delight as the aristocrat desperate to keep both men in their place.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) ****
In this adaptation of John le Carre´s novel, a haunted George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is called back from forced retirement to sniff out a mole at M16.
A Trip To The Moon (Le Voyage dans la Lune) (1902) *****
Most early filmmakers were inventors and technicians — Georges Melies was an artist of the first rank. Seizing on the fanciful possibilities of the medium, he created a series of fantastic, dream-like films unmatched for their sheer originality. He didn't consider A Trip to the Moon to be his masterpiece, but it is the one that continues to capture the imagination of 21st Century movie lovers.
Trumbo (2015) ****
Bryan CranstoBryan Cranston is compelling as Dalton Trumbo, the screenwriter jailed and blacklisted during the Red Scare of the 1940s. The film resists demonizing Hollywood commie-hunters in favor of showing how polarizing government policies forced good people to make devastating choices. t (FULL REVIEW)
Tulip Fever (2017)
If you think the markets are volatile these days, imagine 17th Century Amsterdam where, for reasons economists study to this day, the sale of a single tulip bulb could set you up for life. Against this backdrop a wealthy and rather cold-hearted businessman (Christoph Waltz) commissions a handsome young artist (Dane DeHaan) to paint his beautiful young wife (Alicia Vikander). Well,you know how that goes — soon the two youngsters are planning to run off together with money they hope to earn in the crazed tulip bulb market. Judi Dench pops up as a worldly nun. Tom Stoppard wrote the script from Deborah Moggach's best-selling novel.
Tully (2018) ****
Charlize Theron compels as a late-30's mom, overwhelmed by life, who finds solace in the person of a night nanny played by Mackenzie Davis. But because this film is written by Diablo Cody (Juno, Young Adult), you know this ain't no Mary Poppins.
A United Kingdom (2017) ****
Rosamund Pike and David Oyelowo star in a true story of taboo love (FULL REVIEW)
V.I Warshawski (1991) ****
This hardboiled yarn about a tough-as-nails Chicago private eye who uses her wits as well as her womanly charms should have re-ignited the career of Kathleen Turner. Alas, it did not, but the film stands as one of her most memorable performances.
Viceroy's House (2017) ***
There's historic sweep and intimate human drama in Indian director Gurinder Chada's telling of the 1947 handover of India from the British Empire. Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey) stars as Lord Mountbatten, the man in charge of the transfer, and he brings a regal sort of humanity to the role. In Chada's telling, Montbatten and his wife (Gillian Anderson) are deeply disturbed by the looming conflict between Muslim and Hindu, and appalled by the slapdash way in which a partition of the nation is being applied ("You Broke It, You Own It" didn't start with Iraq). The upstairs geopolitical story is layered over a Romeo-and-Juliet downstairs romance between Mountbatten's Hindu butler (Manish Dayal) and a palace translator (Huma Qureshi), a drama that illuminates the social conflict that would savage life on the subcontinent for decades to come. As in virtually all movies made in India, the churning streets and explosions of color cannot help but make the country itself the film's central character.
Victoria & Abdul (2017) ****
In her last years, Queen Victoria (Judy Dench) befriended a low-level emissary from India (Ali Fazal) — much to the horror of the Royal court, especially her son and future king Bertie (Eddie Izzard). This telling of that story offers absolutely everything lovers of the Masterpiece Theatre genre will expect: lush settings, cross-cultural conflicts, benevolent members of the Upper Crust and plucky up-and-comers. Director Stephen Frears (The Queen, Philomena, Florence Foster Jenkins) knows his audience and delivers the goods.
Voyeur (2017) ****
Meet Gerald Foos, a friendly guy with an easy laugh — and a motel owner who for decades hovered above each room, peering from his "observation platform," watching his guests in their most private moments. In this spellbinding documentary, writer Gay Talese visits Foos just prior to publication of his book about him. Turns out Talese didn't know quite everything about America's most notorious Peeping Tom.
Wait For Your Laugh (2018) ****
The late comic Rose Marie was a show biz powerhouse — and this documentary about her 90-plus years in show biz goes a long way to capturing her megawatt personality. The likes of Tim Conway, Carl Reiner and Dick Van Dyke all step up to the camera to sing her praises, but it's Rose Marie herself — in vintage clips and interviews shortly before her recent death — who powers
the film from beginning to end.
Wakefield (2017) ****
Bryan Cranston is masterful as a successful lawyer who, on a whim, decides to hide out in his family's garage...and stays there for a year. It's a movie for everyone who's ever wondered, "What would they do without me?" (FULL REVIEW)
War For the Planet of the Apes (2017) ****
The film series, created by Rod Serling in 1968, comes full-circle: The third episode of this 21st Century reboot brings us up to the point where the apes take over and begin the monkey-centric society Charlton Heston and his fellow astronauts discover in the original. It's a fully realized mythology fleshed out (so to speak) through fine computer-aided performances by Andy Serkis and Steve Zahn. Woody Harrelson is fun as a borderline psycho human military commander.
The Way, Way Back (2013) ****
It’s a coming-of-age comedy starring Liam James as a confused 14-year-old kid, but he’s surrounded by one of the great grownup casts of the year: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, and Sam Rockwell.
We Are What We Are (2013) ****
Director Jim Mickle’s gothic tale of a family steeped in secret cannibalism begins in a dark, drenching downpour and never lightens up; not one bit. Go for the one bright spot, a neighbor played by the rarely seen Kelly McGillis, who brings a measure of pleasant humanity to the family’s otherwise impenetrable darkness.
What Haunts Us (2018) ****
When director Paige Goldberg Tolmach learned that six of the 49 boys who graduated from her high school class have committed suicide over the past 35 years, she became determined to find out why. Her devastating and infuriating documentary, fueled by the filmmaker's personal anguish, gets to the awful truth that involves (inevitably, it seems), pedophilia and the willfull ignorance of those in charge.
Whose Streets? (2017) ****
Raw as the emotions it illuminates, this documentary about the aftermath of Ferguson never once considers exploring the motivations of police and court officials whose actions sparked days of violence. Nor does it attempt to frame Ferguson's riots within a larger cultural malaise. A direct descendant of Latin America's subversive Third Cinema of the 1960s, this guerrilla project is a portrait of visceral anguish; a community's cinematic scream.
Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971) ****
Author Roald Dahl hated this version of his children’s book (even though he wrote the screenplay), but there is much to love in Gene Wilder’s quirky, subliminally threatening portrayal of the world’s most reclusive candy mogul.
Wilson (2017) ****
As the desperately lonely, nakedly neurotic, delusionally condescending title character in this comedy based on Daniel Clowes graphic novel, Woody Harrelson pulls off the ultimate actor's trick: He annoys us to no end, leaving us breathlessly desperate for more (FULL REVIEW)
Wind River (2017) ****
Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water) has fashioned a new genre: The Modern Western. Instead of rustling cattle, the bad guys get high and commit grotesque crimes until a determined lawman tracks them down. Here it's Jeremy Renner, usually a tracker of animal predators, on the trail of the human predator who killed a local girl.
Winnie Mandela (2011) ***
Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson plays the wife of Nelson Mandela (Terence Howard) in a biopic that traces the entire arc of her life – from a village child to social worker to sometimes brutal anti-apartheid activist. Hudson is impressive and Howard is handsomely stoic, but the real beauty here is South Africa itself, lushly photographed by Mario Janelle.
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) ****
Teaming for the fifth time with Leonardo DiCaprio, director Martin Scorsese lets loose a cannonade of sex, drugs, and no-holds-barred avarice in telling the mostly true story of a New York stockbroker who made an outrageous fortune by swindling investors in the 1980s and ’90s. Like his central character, Scorsese once again proves that nothing succeeds like excess.
Wonder (2017) ****
Bring the family — and a family-size box of tissues — to this endearing story of a young boy born with a deformed face (Jacob Tremblay) whose parents decide to send him to school rather than home school him. Tremblay is wonderful, as are Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson as his wise and loving parents.
Wonder Wheel (2017) ***
Woody Allen vividly recreates 1950s Coney Island in this domestic drama about a carousel operator (Jim Belushi), his dissatisfied wife (Kate Winslet) and his wayward daughter (Juno Temple).
Wonder Woman (2017) ****
Director Patty Jenkins' vision of the ultimate female superhero is an enthralling tale of timeless empowerment. Mixing Greek mythology with World War I history, the film packs surprises with its punches.
Wonderstruck (2017) ****
Heart-tugger extraordinaire Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven, Carol) directs this touching, ambitious tale of a 1920s deaf girl (Millient Simonds) and a 1970s runaway boy (Oakes Fegley) whose stories and lives intermingle in far-fetched, yet somehow inevitable, ways.
Although the narrative similarities of the two kids are evident from the start, Haynes does a masterful job of veiling their ultimate connection until the precise right moment—and by then we're helplessly in his thrall.
A Wrinkle In Time (2018) **
Once you get past the 60-foot-tall Oprah Winfrey, you'll still be flummoxed by this over-produced and impenetrable sci-fi fantasy based on a beloved young adult novel. The tale of a young girl (Storm Reid) trying to rescue her dad (Chris Pine) from the clutches of a disembodied evil called The It fancies itself a profound meditation on universal truths, but in the end settles for a mundane "Love Conquers All" trope. Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling and that supersized Oprah appear as her very annoying spirit guides. (FULL REVIEW)
Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) ****
Henry Fonda brings boyish charm to the role of the future 14th President in John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln. The film came in the middle of the astonishing two-year span in which Fonda starred in Jesse James, Drums Along the Mohawk the Grapes of Wrath And The Lady Eve. His Abe Lincoln sometimes gets lost in the shuffle, but lanky, drawling, soft-spoken Fonda remains one of the most affecting Honest Abes ever.
The Zookeeper's Wife (2017) ****
Jessica Chastain stars with Johan Heldenberg — whose heroic character is shortchanged by the title — as the real-life couple who hid fugitive Jews from the Nazis in their zoo compound in Warsaw, Poland. As the couple make selfless choices that place them in increasing peril, director Niki Caro (Whale Rider) constantly ratchets up the suspense (FULL REVIEW)