There seemed to be an unusual fascination with World War II, well-represented by several excellent films: Who can forget the body-strewn beaches and frighteningly realistic depiction of the terror of battle in “Dunkirk”? Or an intimate glimpse into the story of a female English propaganda writer in wartime, practically unheard of back then, so well done in “Their Finest”? Winston Churchill was well represented by Brian Cox in “Churchill,” and brilliantly enacted by Gary Oldman in “Darkest Hour.”
Yes, there were comedies, but two in particular were far from fluffy or escapist: “The Big Sick” dealt with Pakistani immigrant families, reverse racial prejudiceand the struggle to find a career as a stand-up comic, and it was one of the best films of the year. “Lady Bird” presented a particular mother/daughter relationship that, alas, accurately reflected how, when it comes to child-rearing, both parents and kids probably mean well, but stuff comes out wrong, and sets up battle lines—especially when the daughter is creative and rebellious.
Better-than-usual representatives of a fan-favorite genre I will call “Comic Books Brought to Life” and/or “New Chapters of Previous Action Films” abounded: “Wonder Woman” comes to mind immediately, because it—finally—brought us a kick-ass heroine played by a kick-ass actor, Gal Gadot. The entire franchise has been waiting for this since the comic’s debut in 1941, so it was past time. The “Star Wars” saga continued with “The Last Jedi,” which was not as good as the first three (probably not possible) but, in my opinion, more complex and with better characterizations than any since then. “Logan,” well done and a fine vehicle for Hugh Jackman’s thespian gifts, seemed to be the swan song for the original “X-Men” series, while “Thor: Ragnarok”—number three in the “Thor” franchise—could well be classified as a comedy because it bore very little resemblance to its predecessors’ emphasis on grim battles with muscle-bound men and monsters. “Blade Runner 2049” answered questions set up by the original, and “Atomic Blonde” may have started a new franchise with another kick-ass heroine (do we sense pattern?) played by Charlize Theron.
Biographies presented their subjects’ complexities of character instead of glossing over them and were richer films for doing so: “A Quiet Passion,” about Emily Dickenson; “Jane,” a revealing documentary about Jane Goodall; “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story,” about the beautiful and brainy 1940s actress who was also a noted inventor. Historical incidents from the previous century were effectively dramatized in “The Post,” “Battle of the Sexes” and “I, Tonya.”
Finally, there were four films this past year that defied categorization at all, brilliant creations by amazing writer/directors: “Okja,” “Get Out,” “The Shape of Water,” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Trust me on this: They are all worth seeing.
I must end today’s column with a correction: In my review of “The Post” in the Dec. 13 issue, I incorrectly identified the actor Bob Odenkirk as playing the role of Daniel Ellsberg; instead he played Ben Bagdikian, the reporter who met with Ellsberg. Matthew Rhys played Ellsberg.