4. Cold War (Pawel Pawlikowski)

Singer Zula (Joanna Kulig) and pianist Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) find themselves, more often than not, trapped in the bottom half of Pawlikowski’s 4:3 black & white frame. The two lovers, who steal moments in the shadows after years apart, are continually suppressed and separated by people and circumstances over the course of decades. Political unrest provides them safety only so long as their art — music, dance and folklore of the people — twists toward Stalinist propaganda. The film, running at a brisk hour and a half, skips over scenes of actual trauma inflicted on our protagonists. It leaves this violent backdrop to our imagination; discomfort sets in regardless, even and especially during romantic moments, depicted as details the characters try desperately to ignore. Zula and Wiktor age as the years pass, not only in body and attire, but in their very souls, becoming weighed down by political chess games they’ve been forced to become a part of as they try and re-capture a romance that may be forever lost.

5. The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos)

The Favourite dares you to take women seriously; it might sound like an odd, even insipid mission, but Yorgos Lanthimos makes it both timely and artful. Along with cinematographer Robbie Ryan, he creates distorted spaces within his posh, early 18th century locale as Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), her lover and advisor Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) and recently hired housemaid Abigail Masham (Emma Stone) engage in a political, personal, wildly entertaining love triangle, beginning first as farce before moving slowly into tragic drama. The three leads astonish in their respective roles, beginning from a place of madcap frenzy (shot with lenses so wide they may as well be Fish-Eye) before their performances transition slowly toward subtlety and nuance, with the picture morphing into gorgeously lit portraits of each woman as they begin to bare their souls. (Nicholas Holt and Joe Alwyn are along for the ride too, helping make the film an absolute laugh riot in between its heart-wrenching moments)

6. Her Smell (Alex Ross Perry)

In just five scenes, about twenty to thirty minutes each, Alex Ross Perry paints a portrait of an entire life lived. Not the course of lifetime, mind you — the film chronicles five or six years at most — but the vital highs and lows of punk star Becky Something (Elizabeth Moss) and bandmates Marielle Hell (Agyness Deyn) and Ali van der Wolff (Gayle Rankin), as the aging Becky self-destructs in the face of new talent and attempts to find ways to rebuild. The film’s snaking long-takes and harsh lighting create a lurid texture, helped along by a bold sound-mix that turns every drugged out, Shakespearean monologue by the impeccable Moss into a waking nightmare. That is, until both Becky and the film are forced to slow down and sit almost still, silently and in isolation, lest they destroy themselves. From then on out, it’s as if the film itself is exercising caution before re-establishing what it is, as Becky attempts to find a new voice and build a career that has room for her daughter.

7. High-Life (Claire Denis)

High-Life is a haunting sci-fi drama about the loneliness of humanity, playing in a dramatic space often used to answer the question “What next?” Claire Denis however, isn’t concerned with answering this external query about our collective fate; instead, she dives inward, balancing a fatalistic outlook with an intoxicating lust for life, or what remains of it. The film takes place on a lonely space-station, long after humanity’s demise. Monte (Robert Pattinson) and his baby tumble through the empty cosmos, as he remembers — the film’s memory scenes show up as disconnected flashes triggered by sensory input — both his time on Earth, before he and other felons like him were sent out into space as experiments, and his recent past, when he lived among this criminal community. Or, whatever one might call a group of prisoners subject to interstellar fertility experiments, led by a doctor with a God complex (Juliette Binoche), for whom the creation of life is intrinsically woven with an ethereal sexual energy despite a calculated, scientific approach. You may have already caught word of the film’s “fuckBOX,” the space-station’s masturbation chamber; a ridiculous tidbit to be sure. However seeing it, or rather experiencing it as Binoche does, as moments of untamed bliss surrounded by death and infinite nothingness, is a life-giving experience.

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