Baby Driver (2017) / Christopher Robin (2018) / You Were Never Really Here (2018)

BABY DRIVER [2017, A-/B+] – Ace humor; of course, it’s E. Wright. Really reaches peaks when it goes dark and stakes become palpable. Cast lives up to more brutal sides of narrative, characters. Slick style makes it edgy and lean. Wish it dwelt more on the romance, but we’re cool.

CHRISTOPHER ROBIN [2018, B/B-] – Was it practicing restraint in movie magic or was it simply dull? Either way, it effectively imbues necessary charm for emotional investment in an otherwise predictable, low-risk narrative. Impeccable visual effects; it’s seamless and delightful.

YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE [2018, A-] – Intense and cutting. Unafraid to immerse in the darkness of human experience. Ramsey exemplifies masterful eye; every stylistic choice aligned. Phoenix continues to reach unpredictable heights, holding it in until his terrifying implosion.

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Beauty and the Beast (2017) / Deepwater Horizon (2016) / Lady Macbeth (2017)

DEEPWATER HORIZON [2016, A-/B+] – Ignore icky foreshadowing devices (there were a lot). Setup becomes more effective in dialogue. Terrific build-up. Once it hits its centerpiece, it’s exhilarating. Top-notch sound design, visuals. Surprisingly moving. A thrilling experience.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST [2017, C/C+] – Exquisite visual panache can’t really make up for the fact that the first 2/3 is emotionally empty, with no real stakes. Forgettable music too. But something happens with the ballroom scene onwards. At least it had an engaging denouement.

LADY MACBETH [2017, B+] – Deliciously opaque and distilled. Moves in a calculated pace, carefully inching in details with alarming precision. Pugh is a true force of nature. In her threatening quietness, her piercing eyes, voice, and posture suggest menace. Astonishing work.

13 Hours (2016) / The Florida Project (2017) / Beautiful Boy (2018)

THE FLORIDA PROJECT [2017, A-/B+] – Immersive but unobtrusive. Vibrant but grounded. Patiently assembles scenes of seemingly sporadic buildup but rich characterization, only to accumulate its emotional gut punch by its finale. Baker realizes palpable life in every shot. The cast!

BEAUTIFUL BOY [2018, C] – So much potential in the material. So what happened? Feels tentative. I don’t approve of overarching visual style. Some odd editing, music choices. Tried to be a dual-faced family drama, only to serve an undercooked version of both sides. Chalamet MVP.

13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI [2016, B-] – Starts really dull with forced, half-baked backstories. Eschews deeper political discourse for more focus in action. Excellent sound design. Overlong, but delivers the thrills, if not covering new grounds. Quite engrossing.

Hail, Caesar! / The Jungle Book / Passengers (2016) / Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017)

HAIL, CAESAR! [2016/B/B-] – Lush visuals. Terrific casting. Actors bring infectious joy to idiosyncratic story. So why do I feel indifferent? Either the film just failed to build up tension in narrative or it’s just too busy relishing in multiple narrative strands. Low-tier Coen.

PASSENGERS [2016, B/B-] – Did it want to be a survivalist drama, a romantic-comedy, or a space thriller? Taken individually, they work. As a whole, it’s an undecided, incongruous mesh of underexplored ideas. Visuals and music its peaks. There’s a better film in here somewhere.

THE JUNGLE BOOK [2016, B/B+] – I’m still tentative about the over-all look, but damn it’s a technical marvel to behold. Fascinating detours the plot takes are mere distractions from narrative’s thinness. Didn’t have a strong emotional connection, but it’s an exciting experience.

ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ. [2017, B/B+] – Straddles a lot of issues, only to blunt them when narrative veers into personal drama. Mixed results on tonal shifts. Makes up for substantial focus on lead. Washington amazes in tricky character, so skillful in specificities and nuances.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them / Suicide Squad / Sully (2016) / If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

SULLY [2016, B+] – Scene plotting works small wonders, bringing accumulative power in succinct narrative. Hanks in top form. Brilliant, sensitive even in the subtlest of nuances. Deserved better VFx. Aesthetic leanness works; could’ve been pushed more, but I’m fine with this.

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM [2016, B/B-] – Visuals astound, save for some of the fantastic beasts and their inconsistent visual effects. Narrative either becomes too busy or just simply dull. Visual splendor can only do so much if story has weak emotional core.

IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK [2018, A] – Lived-in performances. Richly layered writing. Exquisite cinematography. Sweeping music. Jenkins holds nothing back in this timeless mirror of America, love, and life. Its beauty fills my heart. A love story for the ages. A film to remember.

SUICIDE SQUAD [2016, C/C-] – Cast obviously try to do their best (Davis, Robbie, Leto, etc.) with underdeveloped characters stranded in messy, convoluted narrative. Visuals go from cluttered to really good. Overlong. I’m supposed to like it less, but I actually kinda enjoyed it.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? / On the Basis of Sex / Boy Erased (2018) / Isn’t It Romantic (2019)

CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? [2018, B+] – Delicately told narrative handled with precise direction and masterful tonal shifts. McCarthy, Grant securely evoke humor, pathos in beautifully flawed characters. Thrills in its unshowy attention to detail. Confidently humane storytelling.

ISN’T IT ROMANTIC [2019, B] – Narrative quickly runs out, but then commits to the film’s premise (cinematography! production design! music!) and allows Wilson to shine as a rom-com lead. Occasionally endangers itself in falling to the tropes it’s parodying, but Wilson’s a keeper.

ON THE BASIS OF SEX [2018, B] – Succeeds more as time capsule of gender struggle than as clear-eyed portrait. On the verge of making its subject saint-like. Economically visualized. Musical machinations obvious at times. Jones in top form, bringing necessary gusto. I teared up.

BOY ERASED [2018, A-] – Confidently photographed. Amplifies nuances of each emotional beat. Slowly, ever carefully nudges the narrative stakes up. Hinges on assured direction and terrific performances. Exudes so much power in subtlety, punches up skillfully in crucial moments.

BlacKkKlansman / Black Panther / Roma / A Star is Born (2018)

BLACKkKLANSMAN [2018, B+] – How steady, maybe even too steady, this film is in building tricky narrative. So confident in juggling (and even simultaneously handling) several tones. Seething voice explodes in climax, and then ups the impact in gut-punching finale. A must-see.

BLACK PANTHER [2018, B] – Delicious peaks largely make up for occasional narrative lull. Doesn’t defy the Marvel formula, but maximizes its potential. Insightful on themes, even if packaged to be easily digestible. Call me disappointed with some visual choices. Truly engaging.

ROMA [2018, A-] – As sweeping an epic as it is deeply intimate. Sparse narrative demands patience, but atmosphere builds well. Pays dividends by the end. Excellent craftsmanship on full display. When it soars, it’s transcendent. Only a master filmmaker could have pulled this off.

A STAR IS BORN [2018, B+] – Post-Shallow storytelling still feels patchy, but the film has so much love for its characters. Performances shine even more. Cooper flat-out fantastic; shoulda been the Best Actor frontrunner. Gaga luminous, Elliot heartbreaking. Lovely.