Sonia Braga delivers a career-best performance as a woman pressured by developers trying to force her out of the titular apartment building she has resided in for decades. While yet another story of one person determinedly holding on to a way of life in the face of gentrification, Aquarius is elegiac, not nostalgic, driven by mystique instead of melodrama and it masterfully builds towards a shocking, gloriously cathartic finale.
29. CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?
Director Marielle Heller translates Lee Israel’s own memoir about her brief career in literary forgery as if it were a living, breathing, sincere re-creation of a now forgotten Manhattan. The top-notch work from Melissa McCarthy as Israel and Richard E. Grant as an aging hustler and her cohort-in-crime feels so well-drawn and rich with nuance, that, despite being despicable, unapologetic misanthropists, you’re almost compelled to root for them anyway.
28. GOOD TIME
Wipes away any doubts you ever had about Robert Pattinson as an actor—in accent, haircut and overall demeanor here, he’s scarcely the pin-up vampire he once was. But the Safdie Brothers, whose work I’ve admired since their not-mumblecore debut The Pleasure of Being Robbed, have also evolved in sensibility and scope, drawing as much from Scorsese as they do from Cassavetes, only making it all their own thing.
27. PHANTOM THREAD
The retired (for now) Daniel Day-Lewis is predictably great here, as is Lesley Manville, Jonny Greenwood’s score and the insane attention-to-detail (from costuming to period breakfast food.) And yet, what launches this into the upper tier of Paul Thomas Anderson’s work is both the odd confluence of tones he absolutely masters and the arresting Vicky Krieps, who is every bit DDL’s equal, her Alma far shrewder than you’re first led to believe.
26. MOONRISE KINGDOM
In his first explicit period piece, Wes Anderson doesn’t exactly absolve himself of those quirks that all but define him, but in his total commitment to recreating an era and fully realizing a setting’s rich potential, he suddenly feels vital again. The extended sequence where his young protagonists run off together hits a crescendo of feeling and warmth that carries over to the delicate and lovely note the film goes out on.
25. FACES PLACES
As 89-year-old Agnès Varda and her co-director, 34-year-old performance artist JR (whose giant portraits plastered onto buildings drive this essay film’s narrative) travel around France, we see them as nothing less than kindred spirits. Ruminating on her illustrious past and contemplating her own mortality, this last major work from the Godmother of the French New Wave carries a wistful undercurrent in step with her affection for both art and the human spirit.
24. EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP
I initially fully bought this screwball account of a doofus who captured nearly an entire artistic movement with his video camera, which he then turned on its head by becoming its most celebrated participant. Banksy’s film exhilarates via its ingenuous construction and shrewd critique of art’s inevitable commoditization; whether it’s all real or just a hoax is less a cheat than a fascinating study of what an audience will take at face value.
23. UNDER THE SKIN
As an alien (Scarlett Johansson) visits Earth, adapting herself to a strange new world, director Jonathan Glazer encourages the viewer to follow the exact same process where the entire film is concerned—in time, the inscrutable gradually, effectively becomes relatable. A decade on from Lost in Translation, Johansson is a revelation, and so is the film, driven by startling imagery, an intricate sound design and the sustained excitement of continually leaping into the unknown.
22. FIRST REFORMED
The ridiculous and the sublime remain inseparable (as they should) in Paul Schrader’s late-career miracle about a priest (a never-better Ethan Hawke) troubled by climate change, alcoholism, religion-as-business—all the big stuff. From its austere, slow-track, zoom-in opening credits to an absolutely nutty ending, Schrader conducts a wild ride through the dark night of the soul; at last, he achieves the transcendence so favored by his longtime heroes Carl Dreyer and Robert Bresson.
As Todd Haynes films go, what distinguishes Carol’s early ‘50s lesbian relationship apart from Far From Heaven’s heterosexual interracial dalliance (set a few years later) is the love story itself. As expected, Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are both terrific and the meticulous evocation of so particular a world is top-notch; still, it’s all in service of a brave, slow-building screenplay that resonates all the way to its absolutely perfect final scene.