In a profile early this year, novelist Dana Spiotta told The New York Times, “That’s seductive, being paid attention to.” Several of the films below — those that seduced me — feature pivotal scenes, whether in diners, at picnic tables or at kitchen tables, of one character raptly listening to the other. These were some of the simplest moments onscreen but also the most transporting, dramatizing qualities that are now endangered resources: compassion, curiosity, humility.
Love between black men — whether carnal, paternal or something else — is explored with specifics and expansiveness, not foregone conclusions, in Barry Jenkins’ wondrous, superbly acted second film.
2. Toni Erdmann
Social studies at its finest, Maren Ade’s piquant dissection of father/daughter bonds and the sinister banality of corporate consultancy meticulously lays bare the comedy of mortification.
3. O.J.: Made in America
Assiduously researched and seamlessly assembled, Ezra Edelman’s nearly eight-hour documentary about the disgraced football star is also a treatise on race, celebrity, the pathologies of sports culture and the criminal justice system — it is, in other words, a potent précis on this country’s past half-century.
4. Happy Hour
Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s spellbinding epic, centered on a quartet of female friends in their late 30s, reveals the latent drama in the most seemingly mundane moments.
5. Fort Buchanan
The first feature from Benjamin Crotty, a riotous military-spouses comic melodrama, is as indebted to the Lifetime channel as it is to French auteur cinema. It also announces the writer-director’s wholly distinct sensibility: playful, fruity, mercurial, sexed-up.
6. Sunset Song
At once solemn and lusty, Terence Davies’ adaptation of Scottish author Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s 1932 novel depicts, with typical steely compassion, human fragility: the slow corrosion of bodies and minds wrought by the brute indifference of nature or war — or by the cruelties inflicted by spouses and kin.
7. No Home Movie
Chantal Akerman’s tender, at times deliberately agonizing portrait of her endearing, fragile mother stands as a wrenching summa of the most prominent themes explored over five decades by the monumental filmmaker, who died in 2015, a year after maman did: filial devotion, exile, evasions, appetite and interior spaces, among so many others.
8. Certain Women
Each of the three discrete vignettes in Kelly Reichardt’s lucid page-to-screen transfer of a 2009 collection of short stories by Maile Meloy incisively probes loneliness — most movingly in the final chapter, between Kristen Stewart’s adult-ed teacher and Lily Gladstone’s crushed-out ranch hand.
9. Cemetery of Splendor
The latest sensory delight from Apichatpong Weerasethakul allegorizes the history of Thailand as deepest REM slumber, as comatose soldiers are hooked up to glowing neon light fixtures to help them have “good dreams.” This is a film about unconsciousness that always stirs to life.
Paul Verhoeven, making his first narrative feature in a decade, may be credited as the director of this constantly bewildering, obsidian-black comedy about a video game exécutrice who gets revenge — sort of — on the man who rapes her. But the film would be an obscenity without the authorial stamp of Isabelle Huppert, its indomitable, hyper-alert star.
Other treasured titles, in alphabetical order: Bad Moms, if only for Kathryn Hahn’s performance and Christina Applegate’s ISIS joke (directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore); Chevalier (Athina Rachel Tsangari); Everybody Wants Some!! (Richard Linklater); The Fits (Anna Rose Holmer); For the Plasma (Bingham Bryant and Kyle Molzan); In the Shadow of Women (Philippe Garrel); Julieta (Pedro Almodóvar); Neruda (Pablo Larraín); Neither Heaven nor Earth (Clément Cogitore); Summertime (Catherine Corsini).