ALLIED

Robert Zemeckis’ World War II thriller Allied is a movie teeming with pleasures, from Steven Knight’s deft and ingenious screenplay to the flawless production design to the visual effects that are employed so seamlessly they barely register as effects. Somehow, they all emerge as afterthoughts compared to the consistent, devastating pleasure that is Marion Cotillard. Over the years, the Oscar winner has had better roles and has delivered finer portrayals, although maybe no more than two or three of them. But Cotillard’s radiant charisma and performance gifts are employed so stunningly well in Allied that the film, quite early on, begins to feel unimaginable without her – at least barring a miraculous hole in the space-time continuum that would allow a 1940s Ingrid Bergman to take her place.

MOANA

There’s a throwaway joke in Disney’s Moana that comes right after the titular Polynesian is referred to as “Princess,” and the headstrong girl – soon to be her tribe’s first female chief – bristles at the chauvinistic comment. “If you wear a dress and you have an animal sidekick,” explains the chauvinist, “you’re a princess.” A bit later, this guy, a heavily tattooed demigod named Maui, notices Moana looking wistfully at the sea and grumbles, “If you start singing, I’m going to throw up.” These laugh lines are amusing and all, but have Disney’s animated musicals finally become so oppressively clichéd that even their own characters are tired of them?

MOONLIGHT

Writer/director Barry Jenkins’ coming-of-age drama Moonlight feels so personal, so revealing, that it sometimes seems as though you shouldn’t even be watching it. Yet you might also find it impossible to look away; Jenkins’ cinematic triptych on the experiences of a young, gay, black male growing up in lower-middle-class Miami elicits the kind of empathetic fascination you occasionally derive from a first-rate memoir, and only rarely from a movie. Given how thrillingly, unusually specific its point-of-view is, Moonlight’s also being extraordinarily well-acted, -written, and -produced is practically a bonus.

FANTASTIC BEASTS & WHERE TO FIND THEM

The best thing about Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them is that, as part one of screenwriter J.K. Rowling’s planned five-part movie series, it’ll likely be at least a half-dozen years before Hollywood begins rebooting the Harry Potter franchise. (And don’t give me that look; you know it’s gonna happen.)

But the second-best thing is that because this new tale of wizards and Muggles – called No-Majes here – isn’t based on a Rowling novel, instead taking its inspiration from the author’s 2001 tie-in “textbook,” director David Yates’ adventure doesn’t feel slavishly beholden to its source material the way the Harry Potters so often did. Both Rowling devotees and those of us who’ve never read her prose get to be surprised by the goings-on together, kind of like how George R.R. Martin fans and the Martin-ignorant alike could bond over this latest season of Game of Thrones. I just wish the surprises here were a bit more ... surprising. It’s not a Harry Potter, but in look and tone and narrative scheme, it’s exactly like one of Yates’ Harry Potters (he directed the final four of them), and so even if you’re enjoying yourself, the whole experience can feel a bit like yesterday’s news.

ARRIVAL

When they touch ground on Earth – or rather don't, as they actually hover roughly 10 feet above its surface – the alien spacecrafts that show up in the science-fiction drama Arrival suggest downturned eggs dyed charcoal black and split in half. When the aliens themselves appear, these enormous creatures could be what you'd get if a squid mated with a human hand, and H.R. Giger was there to take the baby pictures. At different times, director Denis Villeneuve's latest is reminiscent not only of Ridley Scott's Alien, but also 2001, Close Encounters, Independence Day, Contact, Interstellar, and the collective oeuvre of Terrence Malick. And yet for all of its resemblances and echoes, Arrival still feels like a complete original – a paranoid thriller that's also an intellectual puzzle that's also, somehow, a deeply emotional experience of optimism and wonder.

DOCTOR STRANGE

Doctor Strange is the best Marvel movie yet. I realize that, on the Internet Movie Database, fanboys express that same sentiment about nearly every new Marvel movie, although usually with more capital letters, exclamation points, and typos. But I’m thinking it might actually be true for this fantastically clever and entertaining endeavor, primarily because the traditional comic-book-flick elements that are ordinarily a yawn are instead the most satisfying elements of all.

INFERNO

It probably doesn’t need to be said, but over the past five years Tom Hanks has been enjoying a rather spectacular run of creative accomplishments. A brilliant performance in Captain Phillips. Acclaimed turns in Bridge of Spies, Saving Mr. Banks, and A Hologram for the King. Current raves for Sully – his biggest non-animated hit in a decade. Documentary cred as executive producer of CNN’s The Sixties, The Seventies, and The Eighties. Emmy Awards for co-producing HBO’s Game Change and Olive Kitteridge. David S. Pumpkins. Now Hanks stars in Inferno, his third go-around as author Dan Brown’s cerebral action hero Robert Langdon. And all I gotta say is: The run sure was nice while it lasted.

OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL

Beyond the performances of Olivia Cooke and Lin Shaye, almost nothing about 2014’s dull, dopey horror flick Ouija was the least bit satisfying. Yet because the thing made money anyway, here we are with the inevitable Ouija: Origin of Evil. And while I still can’t believe it, almost nothing about this unnecessary follow-up isn’t satisfying, and Cooke and Shaye aren’t even around this time. It’s not just that director Mike Flanagan’s prequel is good for its genre. It’s really, really good, period – a cleverly crafted, beautifully acted, truly frightening freak-out that’s more sheer fun than anything else in current release. Prefer Affleck with a gun or Blunt on a train if you must. I’ll happily take a nine-year-old girl scooting around on the ceiling and kicking the crap out of Elliott from E.T.

MASCOTS

We’re about a half-hour into Christopher Guest’s new comedy Mascots when a familiar figure, one played by Guest himself, enters the scene with a sweetly swishy “Hello-o-o-o!” It’s been almost 20 years, but he’s just as you remember him: the goatee, the bowl cut shaved two inches above his ears, the polka-dot blouse, the pants that can only be described as “indescribable.” (They look like clown pajamas designed by Calvin Klein.) Granted, the guy is moving a little slower than he used to, and his speech is a little stilted, and there are liver spots where there weren’t before, and nothing he says or does comes as much of a surprise. But what does it matter? It’s Corky St. Clair, for Pete’s sake – that indefatigable, talent-free impresario from Waiting for Guffman! To quote the man’s adorable sycophant Steve in 1997: “Corky! CORKY-Y-Y-Y!!!

THE BIRTH OF A NATION and 13TH

Call it a coincidence, a stratagem, a not-entirely-accidental feat of synchronized scheduling, or, for conspiracy theorists, a deliberate act of Hollywood-liberal aggression intended for political gain and societal upheaval. But whatever you call it, this past Friday not only saw the nationwide release of writer/director/star Nate Parker’s historical slave-revolt drama The Birth of a Nation, but also the Netflix debut of 13th, Selma director Ava DuVernay’s documentary on the escalating incarceration, and “lawful” killing, of African-American men. Both films boast many moments of startling clarity and power. Both films, as you might expect, explicitly state that black lives matter. But one of them also argues, to its occasional detriment, that one particular life may have mattered more than others.

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