Long Shot – 8

Charlize Theron is a 10, Seth Rogen a 6, the funny-smart dialogue an 8, hence the final average. The movie manipulates in all the time-worn rom-com ways, which meant my cheeks were wet for the final 15 minutes. This was pure escapist entertainment, with topical jabs at Trump, Murdoch, Fox News and politics in general, to compensate for the gross-out element that comes with Rogen. (As the New Yorker put it, “a film for adolescents of all ages.”) I’m not sure that making Theron’s love interest be so clueless, untalented and unattractive was necessary for the film to work, but it was a small price to pay for the privilege of watching her for two hours.

Amazing Grace – 5

An unfinished documentary from 1972 about the making of Aretha Franklin’s gospel record, Amazing Grace. The songs weren’t much, at least to my taste, and Aretha’s performance was so charisma-free, you kept wanting the camera to look at someone else, maybe choir leader Alexander Hamilton. The commentary was similarly lackluster. For me, the only positive was seeing the all-black congregation for Day One, with women dressed in their best, and thinking about that community at that time in history in L.A.

Mustang – 5

Wonderful acting – by the horses. The opening scene of wild mustangs being herded by helicopter over a Nevada plain is the movie’s high point. The main story – horse tamed by man, while man is tamed by horse – is predictable to the point of cliche, although it may not have seemed so to the Belgian/French filmmakers. The two subplots – drug dealing among the convicts and the family relations of the hero – are too confusing to gain traction. Matthias Schoenaerts is the same bullheaded tough he played in Rust and Bone and Bullhead, but is less convincing when he moves out of character.

Brink – 4

A narrow-scope documentary, showing Steve Bannon at work and at rest, not much else. He can be charming, which is interesting to see, but the film offers little insight into his thinking or relationships (if he has any). The camera is always there when he meets foreign leaders, but pulls away before anything really happens. In trying hard not to editorialize, director Alison Klayman gives us little more than this week’s TIME cover story.

Us – 6

Welcome to Jordan Peele’s gun-free America, where peopled are murdered by shears, baseball bats, putters, fireplace pokers and rock crystals, as far as we could see. Nothing in the movie made sense, up to and including the final plot twists, but I suspect that is not required of a horror flick, so long as it keeps you on the edge of your seat – which Us did, unless like my viewing partner you quickly dismissed the whole thing –  which is why I give it a positive score. I also suspect that the buzz it is getting is due to the cast’s being African-American and Peele’s previous film, Get Out, having long legs.

Woman at War – 5

A morally ambivalent story that could be about many things: industrial pollution, corporate greed, citizen action, family, the media, the futility of resistance, the Big Brother state, love. Perhaps it was an Icelandic fable, as the heroine had supernatural powers in an otherwise realistic film, and two musical trios kept showing up, possibly projected from the heroine’s mind. Unfortunately, the heroine wasn’t terribly sympathetic, and when she finally embarked on a truly heroic action, the movie cut off in ambiguity. In all, I’d prefer New Zealand.

Transit – 8

A teaser of a mystery thriller, in which each plot point you anticipate turns in another direction. Franz Rogowski, for starters, didn’t seem like the leading man, until he was. And all the pieces you expected to fall into place at the end, fell apart. German storm troopers invading Paris made you think this was 1940, but the clothes and cars were modern. Nothing was as it seemed, which became a metaphor for Rogowski’s character. How we would behave under stress, political and personal, is a subject of Christian Petzold’s other remarkable films, Barbara and Phoenix, and he draws you in by making his people and their world so real, even when it isn’t. (Special shout-out to Paula Beer, who is the enchanting love interest in both Transit and Never Look Away.)

Birds of Passage – 8

The story of how an indigenous Colombian culture goes to pot, literally and figuratively. Cristina Gallego does a remarkable job of locating us inside the world of the Wayuu people (think Dances With Wolves) then setting in motion a tragic scenario in which everything and everyone is destroyed (think Hamlet or Lear). This was also the country and era of Narcos, which conditioned us to accept that this was going on in the countryside while Pablo Escobar was rising to fame in the city. Tragedies are never fun to watch, but they can lead us to reflect upon human nature and find the universal in a world as remote as this one.

Never Look Away – 9*

This may be the best film about an artist I’ve ever seen, plus it’s a searing look at Nazi-era Germany and a charming love story. It also features six captivating (and attractive) actors who fill the screen and absorb our attention, none more than Tom Schilling, who radiates intelligence with his every look. Sebastian Koch, familiar from The Lives of Others, is almost as compelling in the more challenging role of the alpha villain. I didn’t watch this as a biography of Gerhard Richter, although of course I recognized Richter’s art in the paintings Barnert (Schilling) made and scenes he saw; so I am not judging the movie on that basis. It was simply a great movie on its own terms, with substance and style. When it ended I was sorry, and amazed that more than three hours had passed since its beginning.

*A note on the rating: I don’t believe I have given out a 9 since, maybe, Nashville, and it is time to adjust. I can save 9.5 and 10 for the perfect movie, if one ever comes. By bringing 9 into play I have more room to differentiate, without resorting to lots of fractions. I was finding that too many movies were falling between 7 and 8 to make my scale meaningful. Henceforth, 5 is a movie that leaves me cold but isn’t bad; 6 and 7 are movies that I’m glad I saw but have minor or major reservations about; 8 is a movie I can heartily recommend; and 9 is a landmark that holds up both while watching and afterward, a sure Top-Tenner for the year. The numbers below 5 reflect how much I disliked the experience.

Cold War – 6.5

Filmed in bleak-and-white, Cold War tells the oft-told tale of a man driven by lust who gives us his career, his country, and ultimately his life enslaved by his infatuation. She does little to merit his devotion and much to mock it, leaving me to impatiently and vainly implore him to get over it. The setting in Warsaw, Berlin and Paris, 1949-1964, lead us to hope for a geopolitical dimension that will justify the double entendre of the title, but all we get is changing music and hairstyles over the decades. Rather than sympathy or emotional entrapment, I felt dislike for the female lead, which made this a not very satisfying love story.