1. SUPER DARK TIMES: When I saw SUPER DARK TIMES at Fantastic Fest in a midnight slot, I had no idea what to expect—and was truly blown away. Kevin Phillips’s directorial debut is insanely engrossing from the jump, setting the tone with a nightmarish opening sequence I won’t soon be forgetting. This is the side of high school we don’t normally see onscreen—awkward, painful, isolating, and occasionally joyful. And that’s all before the film’s climatic event comes out of nowhere. Recommended if you like Gus van Sant and Gregg Araki. Read my full SUPER DARK TIMES review here (and note that it’s now available to stream on Netflix).
2. GET OUT: As a KEY AND PEELE fan who grimaced my way through last year’s KEANU, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Jordan Peele’s second produced feature-length script. As it turns out, there was nothing to worry about—Peele’s first outing as a director is basically flawless, from the casting to the music to the sound design. The genre-defying script gives upper-middle-class white surburbia the satiric brutalizing it deserves while reminding us why Peele is one of (if not the best) comedic writers working today.
3. THE FLORIDA PROJECT: Sean Baker’s second film incorporates the same colorful, washed-out lo-fi aesthetic he utilized to such great effect in CLEMENTINE, peeking into the lives of people living on the margins and not often depicted on screen. As usual, Baker finishes off his particular brand of gritty kitchen sink–style realism with an empathetic, ethereal glow, imparting a sense of hope in the face of the seemingly hopeless situation his characters face as extended-stay residents at the crumbling Magic Castle Inn. Aside from Willem Dafoe, the film’s cast is comprised primarily of first-time actors, though you wouldn’t guess that given how strong their performances are.
4. GOOD TIME: Robert Pattinson’s transformation from TWILIGHT teen idol to award-winning actor willing to take on complicated (and often less-than-flattering) roles reaches its completion in GOOD TIME, a tense, wiry thriller that shows what happens when everything that could go wrong does go wrong in the wake of a half-baked bank heist. In fact, Pattison is damn near unrecognizable beneath a greasy mop of orangey bleached-out hair and a scruffy goatee. Here, he plays Connie, an impulsive, reckless small-time criminal who loves but repeatedly imperils his mentally disabled younger brother as his scheme spirals further and further out of control. Benny Safdie’s performance in the final scene is one of my favorites of the year.
5. LADY BIRD: Few films have taken the trials and tribulations of teenage girls quite so seriously as Greta Gerwig’s LADY BIRD, and even fewer have managed to make their main character feel so wonderfully—and, at times, so frustratingly—relatable. If you’ve ever been a 17-year-old girl, you know what it’s like to screech at your mother in a blind rage (yikes), find out the first person you’ve set your heart on isn’t what they seem (more than once, in fact), or try to change yourself to better fit in with more popular kids (while pushing away the friends who really care about you). Also revolutionary: seeing a mother-daughter relationship depicted onscreen that’s deeply loving but also deeply complicated and tense, as most tend to be.
6. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME: Luca Guadagnino’s lush romance is a real slow burner—it isn’t until the halfway mark at least that the two young men choose to act on their tentative flirtation and mutual admiration. The Italian countryside circa 1983 is the perfect backdrop for a summer fling, re-creating the laid-back, languid ambiance of Eric Rohmer’s best films. Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet are both likely to receive Oscar nods for their turns here as Oliver and Elio, respectively; Guadagnino has coaxed truly naturalistic, unfettered performances out of both actors, and their chemistry onscreen holds the film together even when the source material’s fairly florid leanings poke through James Ivory’s script.
7. RAW: French director Julia Ducournau’s terrifying (and graphic as hell) film tells a coming-of-age story through the lens of the body horror genre, following a precocious young vegetarian as she goes off to vet school and quickly develops a taste for human flesh after a rather disturbing hazing incident. Soon Justine’s body begins to change and feel alien to her as her strange new desires overtake her rational mind. Her older sister who also attends the school is no help—the intense (and often bloody) rivalry between the two feels all too real and escalates into some of the film’s most disturbing moments only a woman with a sister could have dreamed up.
8. INGRID GOES WEST: When it comes to comedy, I’ll take mine as dark as I can get it—no spoonful of sugar, please. You have to hand it to first-time director Matt Spicer, who also co-wrote the film’s screenplay: There’s no last-minute redemption for the titular Ingrid (a never-better Aubrey Plaza) or any of her friends (IRL or IG), no attempts to moralize, and no respite from the film’s pitch-black humor. A Judd Apatow film this is not. Some have called out INGRID for being misogynistic, but from my vantage point, the film paints people of every gender identity as deluded, shallow doofuses. As a full-blown attack on our collective obsession with social media, the film is an all-out success, highlighting the all too real mental health issues that social media can bring out in us (or exacerbate, if we were already struggling with them to begin with).
9. THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER: And if you like your comedies dark, you’ll also want to catch Yorgos Lanthimos’s latest feature, which (as you’d guess from the director’s body of work thus far) is just about as wry and utterly absurd as they come. And that starts with the performances—as with THE LOBSTER and DOGTOOTH, the actors are asked to deliver their lines with a completely robotic affect, which amplifies the already bizarre dialogue into insanely delirious heights. Who exactly is this strange young man following around Colin Farrell’s heart surgeon character, and why does a mysterious illness begin to overtake his family? There’s no one precise way to explain or interpret anything that unfolds onscreen, and that’s the beauty of Lanthimos’s particular brand of storytelling.
10. GOD’S OWN COUNTRY: The best love stories capture that strange electric feeling you get when you realize you’re being looked back at with the same level of desire and affection by someone you’re crazy about—and how scary and exhilarating it is to be this vulnerable and open with another human being. We see a lot of films focus on the exhilarating part, and often there’ll be external forces threatening to keep two people apart, but few are willing to really dig into the more complicated emotions that often lead us to self-sabotage and threaten to tear us asunder from within if we let them—if we don’t capitulate to the breathtaking new landscape that young romance opens up before us as it does in Francis Lee’s heady love story that flips the script (or the ending, at least) on many a queer film that came before it. Read my full GOD’S OWN COUNTRY review here.
Honorable Mentions: THE PHANTOM THREAD; MOLLY’S GAME; I, TONYA; THELMA; TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID; OKJA; BEACH RATS; THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE; THE BIG SICK; THE LOVE WITCH.
Have Yet to Watch: MUDBOUND, PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN; LUCKY