1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: master of the transcendent crime story (In Bruges), writer-director Martin McDonough creates another masterpiece, with a brutal and sometimes funny story of a justice battle that can’t be won, played out in one irony bomb after another, with character and plot flips throughout. Frances McDormand is Marge gone vengeful, Sam Rockwell is a nasty Barney Fife, and Woody Harrelson is a police chief who just breaks your heart. This is writing at the very top. Should win best picture but will probably lose to a much inferior Shape of Water.
2. Get Out: a rare and brilliant combination of horror and satire makes the powerful case that no matter how far we think we’ve come, racism is in America’s DNA and we all have the disease.
3. The Big Sick: a romantic comedy-drama that transcends the form, equally adept at comic and serious, with writing that’s strong in both story and scene.
4. The Post: a deeply moving social melodrama overcomes preaching to the choir by focusing on an older woman coming of age through her realization of the value and duty of the free press.
5. Lady Bird: the comedy drama of a teenager wanting to leave her hick town is overly familiar, but sharp, fresh micro scenes (as in Boyhood and The Tree of Life), witty dialogue, and a brutal relationship between mother and daughter make this film emotionally satisfying.
6. Their Finest: this story of a secretary who becomes a screenwriter for propaganda films in World War II Britain is a little gem with a kick. Best of the three Britain-on-the-brink films this year.
7. I, Tonya: a scathing and funny satire about a gifted American athlete destroyed by a horrible mother, a violent husband, and a win-at-all-cost culture.
8. Okja: a simple girl-and-her-beast story becomes a surprisingly moving social fantasy about the brutality of modern capitalism.
9. Darkest Hour: this true story recounting of Churchill during Britain’s near devastation at Dunkirk turns on a hokey, absurd scene, and yet the film packs real emotional power.
10. The Shape of Water: a horror story combined with fairy tale and love that hits the same basic story beats as ET and Splash. The love seems rushed and forced, but the plea to see the humanity in and love for the Other, the Alien, or what some in this country call the “wetback,” gives the ending a powerful punch.
11. Dunkirk: strangely uninvolving with a three-part crosscut structure in time that sucks the life from the sum of its parts.
12. Call Me by Your Name: a touching love story without the predictable Hollywood beats, but so sloooow and loooong. The scene with the dad makes it worth the wait.
13. The Lost City of Z: a boring, episodic story about one of those guys obsessed with the jungle, which for me is like mountain climbers: a definition of insanity.
14. Downsizing: a high concept social fantasy about downsizing humans to save the planet that just fizzles and dies.
15. Hostiles: the Western as funeral dirge in slow motion.
16. The Disaster Artist: this movie isn’t a disaster, but watching an entire film about a mentally-challenged man who thinks he’s a great artist is a painful slog.
17. Blade Runner 2049: glacially slow and almost incomprehensible, this visually stunning science fiction detective-thriller makes a lot of noise to uncover a big pile of “That’s it?”
18. Wonderstruck: two parallel journeys by children where nothing happens.
19. Phantom Thread: creepy, boring, phony, pretentious nonsense. Locks down Paul Thomas Anderson’s position as the most overrated writer-director in America.
20. The Florida Project: episodic story that follows one of the most obnoxious little kids in the history of film and her repulsive mom in a Florida motel. As unpleasant as it sounds.
21. Mother!: this trip into a woman’s madness is mind-numbingly dull and pointless. The worst film I saw this year.