Get Out – 8

A totally fun horror film, with just the right amount of sci-fi mumbo-jumbo and tension-breaking humor. Allison Williams is charming, until she isn’t; Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford are wonderfully debonair parents, until hell breaks loose. The racially charged setup – white girl bringing black boyfriend home for the weekend – adds tension and a bit of misdirection. And the ending couldn’t be more gratifying.

The Hero – 5

A little Sam Elliot is a delight to watch. An entire movie with nothing but closeups of Sam Elliot is rather too much. The story – an aging cowboy movie star given new life by a young girlfriend and a viral video – is neither deep nor plausible, and the secondary characters don’t do much with what little they’re given. In short, a film for Sam Elliot devotees only. (San Francisco Film Festival)

The Cage Fighter – 4

A not terribly well made documentary about a not terribly interesting man engaged, not terribly successfully, in mixed martial arts – something I’m not terribly interested in and certainly don’t enjoy watching. The filmmaker took life as he found it – and the access he achieved was remarkable; not every life, however, is worth a film. (San Francisco Film Festival)

The Salesman – 8

(fuller review TK). Real-world cinema, in this case from Iran: no special effects, no histrionics, just real people facing real situations, making choices that the viewer can admire or criticize. In other words, we are drawn into director TK’s vision and made to question our own feelings and reactions. Here, notably, we admire the lead male for his sensitivity, forbearance, skill with his pupils and ability to hold it all together; while we lose sympathy with his wife, despite her rape, as she is unable to move on and stop burdening those around her. And then our sympathies shift. For every character we see the good and the bad. And we recognize that here, as in life, there is no black and white, only many shades of grey that blend into one another, for better and worse.

I Am Not Your Negro – 7

As much a success of style as of content: telling James Baldwin’s story through his own words, both recorded live and read posthumously, with video from the day mixed with later interviews, gave us an unusually rounded and real picture of a man we know more as a reputation.

Toni Erdmann – 1

If not the worst movie of the year, it will take something to beat it. I had read it was that rare thing, a German comedy. We waited 85 minutes for the comedy, but by then the characters were so unpleasant to watch that we gave up. The lead woman was not just unhappy below the surface, she was a mess above. The lead man was supposedly the comic character, but his eccentricity was never explained, nor was his presence in the Bucharest scenes, and you just felt sorry for him when not squirming at the awkwardness of it all. The secondary characters were no better – not a recognizable human person among them – and the business situations were equally caricatured. Finally, the hand-held camerawork was unnecessarily annoying. In short, I can’t think of one redeeming aspect, although we did miss the final 80 minutes.