10) BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY
The tragedy of having beauty and brains is how the world dismisses the later while obsessing over the former. This was certainly true for Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr, as we see in Alexandra Dean’s documentary Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story. She’s so known for her acting career that they overlook her invention, which paved to way for modern online streaming technology.
Hedy starts out as an intelligent little girl with a knack for gadgetry and a dream of being an actress. As we see her move on through the years, her mind constantly cooks up new ideas that could help humanity. But her intelligence was undervalued in favour of her beauty. From this shallow mindset, people tried to put her in a box. Her first Nazi-sympathetic husband tried to force her into the role of housewife, so she fled the country. Puritanical producer Louis B. Mayer typecast her into the role of the mindless starlet while forcing her to play sultry characters deserving punishment.
But nothing could stop her inner genius, which came in handy during WW2. Drawing from her first husband’s arms deals with the Nazis, Hedy teamed with composer George Antheil to invent a telecommunications method that could allow Navy submarines to radio-control torpedoes without it being detected or jammed by Nazi U-Boats. She even gave it to the navy for free. Of course, the Navy underestimates the invention’s potential and threw it into a pile. Their invention would pave the way for Wi-Fi, and they never got their due.
But the shallow expectations of the public eye finally get to her, leading her to get lots of plastic surgery in a futile attempt to preserve her beauty. In time, she becomes reclusive, even from her family.
Through her life, we find a tragic look at a defiant, brilliant woman destroyed by society’s shallow attitude towards women.
9) SUPER DARK TIMES
There seems to be a subcategory of underrated teen crime movies. These movies are often about messed up teenagers trying to cover up a horrendous crime but end up consumed by guilt. Unfortunately, they follow the common trend of being overlooked by mainstream audiences. It’s unfortunate because they contain some of the most realistically portrayal of teenagers. One such film worthy to join the likes of The River’s Edge, and Mean Creek is Super Dark Times, an atmospheric thriller about teens trying to cover up the accidental death of a classmate via katana.
From the opening image of a wounded deer in a classroom, Director Ken Phillips and cinematographer Eli Born blur the lines between realism and dream-like with its astounding visual. At first, they haunt the real world with this grey mistiness of grounded realism. Occasionally, you see our hero Zach’s (Owen Campbell) fantasies about making it with Allison (Elizabeth Cappuccino). But when Daryl’s (Max Talisman) accidentally killed with a katana, Zach finds his dreams overloaded by nightmares embodying his internal conflict.
Kudos to writers Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski for capturing the complicated personalities of teenagers. Throughout the film, Zach and his best friend Josh (Charlie Tahan) find themselves caught between the lines of selfishness and selflessness, self-absorption and world weariness, stupidity intelligence. In their attempts to cover up the death, Zach and Josh become consumed by guilt and paranoia, leading one of them to descend into a path of violence that threatens the life of Allison.
8) THE BIG SICK
The Big Sick isn’t your usual love story. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Girl is put into a medically induced coma due to a strange disease. Boy bonds with the girl’s parents while she’s in a coma. This love story is so strange it could only come from real life. Turns out it happened to writers and real-life couple Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon. With Nanjiani playing himself and Zoe Kazan playing Emily, they bring this love story to life in this quirky, funny comedy.
Nanjiani has already garnered attention thanks to his comedic role as snarky programmer Dinesh in Silicon Valley. But his acting experience consisted of supporting roles (The Lego Ninjago Movie) and tv guest appearances (Drunk History, Portlandia). The closest thing he had to a lead role was hosting the X-Files Files. That changed with The Big Sick showcasing his potential as a leading man. Not only does the performance showcase Nanjiani’s comedic chops and geeky charm, but he also gets to show a lot of range in his acting. That range truly shines with Kumail’s struggles between his love for Emily (Zoe Kazan) and his family’s traditional values. Kumail may eyeroll at his mother’s constant attempts to hook him up with Pakistani women, but he still loves them, and fears being banished by them. Most of us can relate to Kumail’s clash between his modern independent views and his love for his family.
What certainly elevates his performance is his interactions with Emily and her family. Which is important since romantic comedies depend on the chemistry of the leads. In the brief time we see them together, Nanjiani and Kazan play off each other beautifully, creating a believable relationship between Kumail and Emily. So, when she goes into a coma, you’re engaged in their relationship. Nanjiani also has excellent interactions with Emily’s parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter). The awkward circumstances of their situation create unique interactions as they try to make the best of this situation.
I’d also recommend director Michael Showalter’s underrated romantic comedy Hello, My Name is Doris.
The petty fighting between 20th Century Fox and Marvel Studios is probably the best thing to have ever happened to the X-Men franchise. Sure, Marvel has erased the X-Men from the comics via a poorly written finale, but I doubt the recent films from the franchise wouldn’t have been as groundbreaking if they were a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Deadpool’s critical and commercial success has proven there’s a mass market for R-rated superhero movies. Logan proved superhero movies can tell thoughtful, compelling stories about mature, complex characters.
Loosely based on Mark Millar’s Old Man Logan, Logan brings us into a not-too distant future where the anti-hero once known as Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is now one of the last mutants in existence. In his heyday, he was slashing bad guys with his metal claws along with the X-Men. Now he’s a limo driver caring for a now senile telepath Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), whose seizures are powerful enough to level a town. On top of that, his healing powers barely work anymore. Along comes Laura (Dafne Keen), a savage little girl who shares Logan’s powers. With a corporate agency closing in, Logan and Xavier begin a journey to take the girl across the border to a sanctuary. Through his journey, Logan learns to reconnect with the hero he once was.
Practically everything comes together to make elevate this film above the generic superhero movie. First there’s the atmosphere. Instead of showing off a post-apocalyptic future, Writer/Director James Mangold grounds the world with only a few futuristic technologies like self-driving trucks. The world is also a dark place where innocent people can die out of nowhere and heroes can die in the least heroic way.
And then there are the performances. Jackman has always excellent as Logan, but this is the first time the character is fully realized. Logan was always portrayed as a bitter loner with a strong moral code, but this film allows Jackman to bring out Logan’s nasty brutishness with F-bombs and bloody fight scenes. Jackman takes his performance a step further to portray the guilt he feels losing his team. Patrick Stewart was born to play Xavier and he doesn’t disappoint revealing his character’s wisdom through a deteriorating mind. But the real standout is Keen, who is pure badass as the little mutant known as X-23, especially in the fight scenes. This character could have been grating, but Keen makes us care about this little girl while almost never saying a single word.
And then there’s the storytelling. Thankfully, Mangold and co-writers Scott Frank and Michael Green isn’t completely accurate to its source material. While the concept has a lot of potential, Old Man Logan was overrated and poorly written. This film seems to draw inspiration from the Last of Us. I’m sure the similarities were a coincidence, but if they did draw inspiration from the game, I’m glad they chose a better source of inspiration. Still, there’s enough differences to be its own thing. At its core, Logan is a western road movie of a former superhero learning to reconnect with his humanity through the daughter he never had.
6) THE SHAPE OF WATER
Aka “the one where a mute janitor F@&#s the Creature from the Black Lagoon.” 
This describes The Shape of Water as much the words “Gay Cowboy Movie” describes Brokeback Mountain. But it’s much more than that. It’s a fairy tale of Eliza (Sally Hawkins), a lonely woman who forms a bond with a fish man (Del Toro collaborator Doug Jones). It’s also a political thriller of a cruel paranoid agent (Michael Shannon) determined to use the Fish Man to win the Cold War, while a Russian spy (Michael Stuhlbarg) plots to capture it. But most of all, it’s a tale of lonely people/creatures longing for connection. And Guillermo Del Toro blends all these into this enchanting fantasy.
Del Toro is one of the few current filmmakers creating unique fantasy. He creates unique creates like the pale man from Pan’s Labyrinth and puts a spin on classic supernatural creatures like fairies and ghosts. While the Fish Man resembles the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Del Toro’s blend of the realistic and fantastical designs makes it stand out. Doug Jones also fleshes out the character by revealing signs of intelligence behind animalistic mannerisms.
For every supernatural monster, Del Toro gives us an all too human monster. In this case, it’s Secret Agent Strickland (Michael Shannon). Like Captain Vidal from Pan’s Labyrinth, Strickland has no regard for the Fish Man through his cruel treatment. He also shows disregard for human life, as he demonstrates in a creepy attempt at coming on to Eliza. All he cares about is projecting power to protect his insecurity. Which makes it so much fun when we see him outwit by janitors.
At the core of the film is loneliness and connections. The heroes are looked down upon by society for a variety of reasons, from Eliza’s deafness to her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) being a closeted gay man. It leads to a strange musical number resembling a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance. There’s so many ways this could go wrong, yet Del Toro makes it feel so right.
Just when Pixar seemed to be losing its mojo, along comes a movie that captures the audience’s imagination while leaving them in tears. Case in point; Coco, an enchanting Mexican fantasy about a little boy who’s magically transported into the spirit world during the Day of the Dead.
I could talk about the awe-inspiring animation, loveable characters and dazzling music, but since everyone else will be talking about it, I’m going to discuss the overlapping themes of family, memories and music.
Music flows in Miguel’s (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) veins, and he longs to follow in his footsteps of his late idol Ernesto De La Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). He becomes more determined to become a musician when he finds out De La Cruz may be his great, great grandfather. But his journey through the spirit realm reveals the dark side of pursing the music career, full of loneliness and uncertainty. At the same time, the film still celebrates music’s ability to connect people and celebrate a culture. It helps when the songs are written by Frozen songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez.
The one thing standing in the way of Miguel’s dreams are his family, both living and dead. Believing music to be a curse, Miguel’s great, great grandmother Mama Imelda (Alanna Ubach) had issued a ban on music that’s gone on for decades. This ban leads a complex look at family. Miguel’s family share a close bond with their shoe making business started by Imelda. But for Miguel, Imelda’s draconian “no music” ban makes the family feel repressive and suffocating. In these moments, we see how family can be a hinderance when it doesn’t allow their own to travel their own path.
But it’s just as bad to have no family at all, as we see in the lonely characters of Ernesto and acrobatic trickster Hector (Gael Barcia Bernal). Sure, he may have celebrities surrounding him, but when the party’s over, Ernesto De La Cruz returns to an empty house. While Ernesto claims he doesn’t need family, Hector longs to return to the living world to see his daughter again. Behind his acrobatic energy, Hector longs for the close bond Miguel’s family shares.
This leads to the last and most important theme of the film; memory. When no one remembers someone from the spirit realm, that person vanishes from existence. A second death if you will. If Hector’s daughter forgets him, he will suffer the same fate. Through Hector, the film argues for the importance of remembering those in the afterlife.
All three themes come together in the climax, where we finally understand why this film is named after Miguel’s great grandmother.
4) YOUR NAME
Like the shooting stars in the opening scene, Your Name has left anime fans in awe of its beauty. You realize this film is much more than a gender bending fantasy about two teens of different world switching bodies.
Being an anime almost always guarantees extraordinary animation and this one reinforces this idea. Whether set in the hyperactive urban environment of Tokyo or a quiet, serene village countryside, every environment is created with awe-inspiring attention to detail. But that’s nothing compared to moments when fantastical elements, especially those shooting stars.
Matching the animation is the storytelling. Writer-Director Makoto Shinkai takes the classic body switch trope and places spin after spin on it. You always see the plot unfold from the characters perspectives after they switched bodies, but how many start with them waking up back in their bodies. It results in a fun act 1 with the teen boy Taki (Taki Tachibana in Japanese; Michael Sinterniklaas in English) and teen girl Mutsusha (Mone Kamishiraishi in Japanese, Stephanie Sheh in English) trying to figure out the aftermath of the other selves’ actions. It of course leads to funny scenes with the character’s affecting the other’s lives by making her more attractive to local boys and her getting him in touch with his feminine side. I also thank the film for creating smart protagonists who inform the other of their routines and rules via the notes app on their smartphones.
But as the film unfolds, it builds mystery around their body swaps. Why do they keep swapping in and out of each other’s bodies on various days? Why do they suddenly cry out of nowhere? Each revelation goes beyond the theme of gender and builds on themes of time and memory before the mind-blowing and enchanting climax.
3) GET OUT
Get Out serves as an addition to the growing trend of cerebral horror films serving as allegories for serious subject matters. The Babadook uses a monster to symbolize the heroine’s grief. The curse from It Follows was interpreted in many ways, from STDs to death. Now writer/director Jordan Peele uses the genre to examine modern racism. This movie would arguably consider more satire than horror, but it still brings on the creeps.
From creepy cold opening of a black man (Keith Stanfield) being abducted in a white neighbourhood, Peele demonstrates a masterful skill with building suspense. Like Alfred Hitchcock, Peele makes the unassuming white neighbourhood feel unsettling, especially with the overly friend locals. It helps to create one creepy imagery after another, from the image of the groundkeeper (Marcus Henderson) running around in the middle of the night to the teacup hypnosis scene. Anyone who can create a sense of dread from an unplugged iPhone deserves to be praised.
Matching Peele’s masterful direction are the performances. Daniel Kaluuya makes Chris a perfect horror lead, revealing his character’s suspicion through his face while conveying his character’s repressed grief of his mother’s death. LilRel Howery provides lots of humour as Chris’s friend Rod, who takes his security job a little too seriously. You get plenty of creepy from Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener as the unassuming yet suspicious in-laws. But no one’s scarier than Betty Gabriel, whose perfect maid creeps you out with her artificial smile.
Through the chilling moments, Peele keeps the commentary hiding in plain sight. What unique about the commentary is how it looks at a subtler kind of racism. We’re used to films portraying the kind of racism that regards Black America’s existence with contempt, but Peele portrays a more condescending kind of racism that puts the black body on a pedestal. Through moments like Dad (Bradley Whitford) claiming “If I could, I would vote for Obama a third time,” Peele also takes some pot shots as smug liberalism.
From the chilling build up to the bloody climax, Get Out makes me excited for what Peele has in store for later films.
2) LADY BIRD
Teen angst has never felt more achingly real than in Lady Bird, a quirky yet realistic high school dramedy that came of nowhere and enchanted audiences. In her directorial debut, Greta Gerwig perfectly captures a teen’s confusing journey of self-discovery.
On the surface, the film doesn’t seem like anything special. It’s just the daily routines of a catholic school student. But when rebellious underachiever Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) jumps out of the car during the opening argument with her mother (Laurie Metcaff), Gerwig hooks you with a quirky sense of humour, nuance realism and unflinching portrayals of families.
On the surface, the film seems to have no central story arc. The film consists of a series of segments of Lady Bird’s life. One moment, she’s acting in a play to attract a guy (newcomer Timothee Chalamet). The next, she’s forgotten about acting after breaking up with him. In a way, the structure creates a stream of consciousness in a teenage mind adrift in constantly changing interests, trying and failing to find a direction in life. As a bonus, these moments are hilarious. There are some broad comedic moments, especially when a coach tries to direct a high school production of The Tempest using football strategies. But the highlights are those little moments you recognize in your life like Lady Bird carving her crush’s name on her bed.
The film does have an emotional centre; the difficult relationship between Lady Bird and her mother. To say they don’t see eye to eye would be an understatement. These two are downright hostile toward each other, each knowing exactly how to hurt each other. At the same time, they still love each other.
Gerwig has Ronan and Metcaff to thank with their pitch perfect performances. Since her first Oscar-nominated role in Atonement, Ronan has brought a charismatic normality in her performances, whether it’s Atonement or Brooklyn. But role had to be a challenge for her considering how unlikeable Lady Bird can be. She’s very inconsiderate, impulsive and can make stupid decisions. Ronan never backs away from these traits, but she helps you understand her need to escape her adrift life. Plus, you kind of admire her for saying the things we’re too afraid to say.
Just as impressive is Metcaff’s performance. Her character is a worn out, world weary nurse trying to keep a roof over their heads with the little finances the family has while dealing with a difficult daughter. You feel the character’s exhaustion in Metcaff’s tired eyes, yet you also see a strength that allows her to deliver harsh truths to her difficult daughter. You know that deep inside, she still loves her and can get hurt when Lady Bird goes too far.
This film has become the most positively reviewed film of the year.
Based on the real-life event of thousands of stranded British soldiers rescued by civilian boats, Dunkirk had the makings of a great war film of heroics through impossible odds. But great isn’t good enough for Christopher Nolan. While the story’s way more straightforward compared to his previous labyrinth plots, he still challenges himself by dividing the film into three perspectives; a young soldier (Fionn Whitehead) struggling for survival, a simple tugboat sailor (Mark Rylance) who travels across the sea to rescue them and a fighter pilot (Tom Hardy) who must shoot down the aircraft firing on his fellow soldiers. Then he takes it a step further has these perspectives take place in different timespans; the first takes place within a week, the second in a day and the third in an hour. And yet, Nolan’s able to overlap these stories with the steady hand of a heart surgeon. In the process, he presents a broader perspective that portrays war not as one experience but a series of experiences overlapping each other.
And boy do we experience these events. Not since the D-Day scene from Saving Private Ryan has a film so perfectly captured the chaotic, unforgiving environment of war. Nowhere is this truer than when we’re with the stranded soldiers. From the opening image of flyers floating over a deserted French village, Dunkirk puts you in a state of terror most horror films couldn’t. Throughout the film, these desperate young men try to run and hide from an invisible enemy. But their situation becomes more and more hopeless as each hideout is only met with either bullets or bombs. It’s hard to tell what’s more terrifying; the startling enemy fire or the oncoming sound of enemy aircraft. When You feel the panic and hopelessness of this situation, War becomes not about winning but about survival.
What really keeps you on the edge of your seat is that music. Hans Zimmer’s music keeps building and building more tension. You keep wishing for relief, but the music never lets up. In a way, it puts into the mindset of the young soldiers, also longing for relief from their hell.
But the unsung heroes of this film are the actors. Reviewers give so much attention to Nolan’s directing that they overlook the powerful performances in these movies. Whitehead make you feel his character’s traumatic desperation as he runs and hides from unrelenting enemy fire. Brady maintains a restrained cool as he races against time to shoot down enemy planes. But the most underappreciated is Rylance, who brings a quiet dignity to an unassuming hero. Some of them have even managed to pull off these performances with little to no dialogue.
Put them together and you get that rare modern war movie that offers a new perspective of war. It perfectly captures the chaos and cruelty of war, which in turn showcases the heroics and bravery of the soldiers. Besides, when a film receives appraisal from an actual veteran, it deserves credit.
 This really brings in mind the Madonna/Whore complex Hollywood suffered from when it comes to female characters.
 A podcast I highly recommend for X-Files fans.
 The hillbilly Hulks were just plain embarrassing. Why is Millar so turned on by incest?
 And yes, they do have sex. And no, you don’t get to see it.
 You must admire her for starting a shoe business by herself.