Scott Tobias

The funniest throwaway moment in Freak Show, an unsteady coming-of-age fantasy, finds Billy Bloom (Alex Lawther), a gay teenager with a penchant for sequins and feather boas, introducing himself to his new classmates at a private school somewhere in the Deep South.

In the desert outpost of Five Keys, New Mexico in 1953, the Rainier family lives so close to the federal penitentiary that all the lights in the house flicker from the surge of a nearby electric chair. While her little brother Christian greets the occasion with boyish enthusiasm ("You're on the Hades Express, mister!"), Elise quietly sketches a vision of the man in his final moments and recites certain facts about him, like how he chose a ribeye steak for his last meal and told the witnesses to "Go to hell!" before the executioner flipped the switch.

Even the title, Phantom Thread, sets the mind reeling. The term refers to a Victorian Era phenomenon in which East London seamstresses, utterly exhausted by a long day's work, continue to go through the motions at home, sewing threads that do not exist. It also evokes the otherworldly quality of artistic creation, some divine and inexplicable force that helps bring a work to fruition.

For a simple children's story about a pacifist bull in Spain who would rather smell the flowers than charge a matador, Munro Leaf's The Story of Ferdinand generated tremendous controversy, owing to its worldwide popularity and its date of publication, 1936, which found it caught in political crosswinds. It was banned in Franco's Spain. Hitler ordered it burned as "degenerate democratic propaganda" in Nazi Germany, though it was republished and distributed for free in the same country once the war was over, to teach children a message of peace. Gandhi was a fan. So was H.G. Wells.

About 20 minutes into the beautiful documentary Quest, a stray bullet strikes a 13-year-old African-American girl in a neighborhood in North Philadelphia, robbing her of sight in her left eye. What's remarkable about the incident is that the documentary would have existed without it: Director Jonathan Olshefski had already committed to making a film about the girl's family, the Raineys, and the errant gunfire just happened to occur within the flow of the day.

Though Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space is commonly cited as the worst film ever made, he released a far more compelling failure three years before with Glen or Glenda, a semi-autobiographical melodrama about a cross-dresser, played by Wood under the pseudonym "Daniel Davis." Glen or Glenda has all the staggering ineptitude of Plan 9 — most memorably, Bela Lugosi's armchair commentator shouting "Pull the string!"— but it has the added benefit of being nakedly personal, a plea for tolerance from a man who has chosen to reveal a closely guarded secret on s

Through an accident of timing, 2017 has produced complementary films about British perseverance and moxie at a dangerous inflection point in World War II, when 300,000 men were penned in by encroaching Nazi forces in France. Earlier this summer, Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk celebrated the multi-pronged effort to rescue these soldiers and bring them back across the English Channel, where they could regroup and continue the fight.

At one point during Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond — Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton, a documentary about Jim Carrey and the making of Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon, Carrey gets emotional when asked about his father. Carrey remembers his dad as the funniest person in the room and a brilliant saxophonist who gave up his musical ambitions in order to care for his family. Then he lost his job as an accountant at 51 and it broke him. He hadn't just failed to achieve his dreams. He failed at the compromise.

The title of Greta Gerwig's semi-autobiographical Lady Bird refers to the name— not the nickname, the name — a mildly rebellious senior gives to herself, part of the comprehensive array of quirks meant to separate her from the pleated drones of an all-girls Catholic high school. She insists that everyone call her "Lady Bird," including her parents, who grudgingly oblige, though they prefer the name they gave her, Christine, and it stings a little to see it rejected so casually.

Director Tomas Alfredson is in the ennui business. His films are heavy and portentous, often blanketed in the permafrost of his native Sweden and always just as chilly indoors. His 2008 breakthrough, Let the Right One In, reinvigorated the vampire myth by draining it of sensationalism and using it as an affecting metaphor for the eternal loneliness of adolescence.

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