Phantom Thread (2018)
Daniel Day-Lewis announced his final role in film with Phantom Thread and what a high note to go out on! He plays Reynolds Woodcock, a supremely stuffy fashion designer of 1950s London. He sticks to a very strict routine but may risk shaking his world when he takes on waitress Alma Elson (Vicky Krieps) as his muse. With its sophisticated intoxication on the focus of haute couture, this is the ultimate testament to Day-Lewis’s skill at making the role of such insufferable boss so intriguing and brimming with beauty and dry wit.
Richard Linklater’s most ambitious project is arguably Boyhood, a family drama with a production of 14 years. Ellar Coltrane plays Mason Evans Jr and we watch him grow up before our very eyes from a little kid reading Harry Potter to a college-bound adult. We also watch Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette grow alongside him, shifting their careers, relationships and politics with the different years. Though the story is fairly simple family drama, it’s the passage of time as a character itself that makes the film not just an amazing experiment but a contemplative one as well.
Thunder Road (2017)
Jim Cummings directs and stars in this small-town drama with an unorthodox level of pity that walks a fine line between laughs and tears. He plays Jim Arnaud, a cop with a small-town life that is falling apart. He embarasses himself at his mother’s funeral while trying to give her a musical tribute, can’t connect with his daughter now that he’s divorced, and just can’t manage to keep things straight in either his career or emotions. Sometimes he explodes with anger, sometimes he breaks down in tears, and sometimes he just floats in an empty void of his own depression. Cummings creates a character that becomes so enduring and pathetic you can’t help but feel for him and his plight, hoping everything will work out for him in the end.
Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic feels as beautiful and grand as it does contemplative with its lofty themes. Set on a decaying Earth, the remainder of humanity coordinates a team of astronauts to seek a solution among the stars in a last-ditch effort to save the human race. Joseph Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is one of the astronauts tasked with saving the planet, tragically leaving behind his family that he fears he will never see again not just for his dangerous mission but the passage of time. With its focus on enduring love and survival among the stars, this is as much an emotional experience as it is one of intense sci-fi thrills.
The Lobster (2015)
Of all the false utopias in cinema, The Lobster is perhaps the most wickedly clever and odd in this dark romantic comedy. The punishment for single people is very severe. Those without a mate are placed in a camp where they must find a new mate within 45 days. Those who fail this test will have their brains placed inside an animal. David (Colin Farrell) chooses a lobster for various scientific reasons. What follows is a surreal romantic drama of humor most dry in this unorthodox film from acclaimed director Yorgos Lanthimos.
Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri (2017)
When Mildred (Frances McDormand) seeks justice for the murder of her daughter, she won’t find it with the local police force but in advertising. Trying to make her case known to the public, she purchases space on three billboards to draw attention to the injustice of the area. Her actions anger the police, most notably a short-fused deputy (Sam Rockwell). Based on a true story, writer/director Martin McDonagh delivers a raw and emotional drama of how one town struggles to overcome its own flaws and struggles to make peace.
Oslo, 31. August (2011)
Anders is a recovering drug addict at the end of his rehab, becoming clean and sober for a new future. The film follows him over the course of one day in Oslo where he must both make it to a job interview and reconnect with his old friends. Partially based on the book Will O’ the Wisp by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, Joachim Trier’s film about redemption and being haunted by the past was so profound it won the awards for Best Film and Best Cinematography at the Stockholm International Film Festival.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
With a number of film franchises turning 30 with stellar soft-sequels, Blade Runner 2049 towers among all of them, finding more than just nostalgia in its return to a grimy dystopia. Ryan Gosling plays the replicant K, working in the controversial role of the law enforcement’s Blade Runner division in hunting down rogue replicants. The further he digs into his targets, however, the more he uncovers both a conspiracy of evolution and a buried memory of his own past, leading him towards the retired Blade Runner, Deckard (Harrison Ford). Echoing Ridley Scott’s moody and atmospheric setting, director Denis Villeneuve perfectly encapsulates the philosophical questioning and crushing isolation of the original film while still placing his own sublime mark on the franchise all his own.
The Beguiled (2017)
Sofia Coppola takes the Southern Gothic by story by Thomas P. Cullinan and shifts the focus to that of the women characters as a stark contrast from the 1971 film adaptation. Cpl. John McBurney finds himself injured after leaving the Civil War and finds help at a female Southern boarding school. Though the many women of teachers and students are keen to aid him, they soon form rivalries and bitterness for the man seeking refuge. Coppola’s direction is spot on when armed with impressive ensemble staff that included Elle Fanning, Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst.
A Russian couple soon find themselves divorcing and seeking new love interests in their life. But this tearing down of a relationship becomes difficult with their 12-year-old son in the picture. And when the boy goes missing when he runs away after a fight between his mom and dad, the crumbling couple find themselves putting their differences aside for the good of their boy. Director and co-writer Andrey Zvyagintsev showcases the harshest and most chilling aspects of human nature in this stirring drama of family and relationships that rocks the soul.