KTEP - El Paso, Texas

Ella Taylor

The production notes for Patti Cake$ describe the movie's heroine as "plain and plus-sized." Plus-sized she may be, but neither Patti Dombrowski, an aspiring rapper in her 20s, nor Danielle Macdonald, the gifted non-rapper who plays her, is plain in any sense unless your definition of beauty begins and ends with Angelina Jolie.

Doffing a hasty prefatory cap to the crime stats and overflowing garbage of 1970s New York, Marc Webb's The Only Living Boy in New York soon withdraws to more glam pastures within. By which Webb and screenwriter Allan Loeb mean the amber-lit, opulent interiors where Manhattan's writers and artists gather to kvetch and preen. Not much writing or arting goes on here, but it is clear that these are creative types because they are extremely attractive and throw dinner parties where they gesture prettily with slender-stemmed wine glasses while drily quipping.

In 4 Days in France, a mesmerizing road movie by first-time director Jerome Reybaud, a young gay Parisian named Pierre (Pascal Cervo) packs his bags at dawn and leaves his sleeping lover, Paul (Arthur Igual). Departing the capital for a radically unstructured odyssey around a rural France enchantingly free of glam movie-Frenchiness, Pierre is guided by his Grindr app, with Paul in irritable pursuit behind him.

The British playwright Alan Bennett once remarked that people are more interesting when they are trying to be good than when they are being bad. That's certainly true of Menashe, a recently widowed Orthodox Jew struggling to raise his young son alone in a Hasidic enclave of Borough Park, Brooklyn. Though he can be a religious dogmatist when it comes to others, Menashe errs abundantly himself and complains routinely in Rodney Dangerfield mode, which sounds funnier in Yiddish.

In a canny revision of one of literature's top nasty women, William Oldroyd's Lady Macbeth brings us a Gothic tale of a shackled young wife turned angry bird, wreaking havoc on all who cross her and plenty who don't. Set in rural Victorian England, the movie, which filters Shakespeare's toxic bride through a 19th-century novella by Nikolai Leskov, minces neither word nor image laying out the forces that conspire to warp young Katherine Lester (Florence Pugh).

Among the photographs featured in the voluminous archive of photographer Elsa Dorfman, there's a joyful selfie — taken in 1988 before either the word or the practice became a thing — of Dorfman and her frequent subject, Beat poet Allen Ginsberg. Arms linked and holding hands, the two friends stand side by side, grinning broadly in unself-conscious camaraderie. Ginsberg is less known for his chipper outlook than for his sonorous meditations on lost America, and that goes double for filmmaker Errol Morris (The Fog of War, The Thin Blue Line).

While Clint Eastwood was busy playing a wounded Union soldier held at the pleasure of a bevy of Southern belles in Don Siegel's 1971 Civil War drama The Beguiled, the actor also found time to direct his first film, Play Misty for Me, in which he also starred as a disc jockey stalked by an unhinged female fan. Both films were visceral articulations of male paranoia about the sinister potential of repressed or oversexed women.

Every so often, brightly lit Hollywood comedies set in West Coast mansions will slip in five minutes of light-relief banter between a Latina housekeeper and her wealthy white liberal boss. Mild joshing ensues about the cluelessness or prejudice of the employer, perhaps with a good-natured roll of the maid's eyes thrown in. That done, everyone slips back into their assigned slots in the social pecking order. Point taken, but not really.

Anna (Zoe Lister-Jones) and Ben (Adam Pally) are fighting. The young Los Angeles couple bickers long and loud in unprintable expletives about dirty dishes, interfering mothers, his laziness, her incessant judgments and, of course, sex (not enough) in their shaky 10-year marriage. Band Aid is a comedy, and though the jokes are out-there funny on and off (a toddler named Isis has a cameo), half an hour in you may wish this quarrelsome pair would take it outside.

There's a whiff of John Cheever-ish unease in Wakefield, a quietly unsettling drama about a man who disappears from his suburban home, only to spy on his family's response from a house across the street. In fact, the movie is based on a 2008 New Yorker short story by E.L. Doctorow, which in turn was inspired by a Nathaniel Hawthorne tale with the same premise, written in 1837.

In the Israeli romantic comedy, The Wedding Plan, Michal (Noa Koler), a youngish woman who's been trying to get hitched for years sits opposite a prospective mate, trying to make small talk. This is her umpteenth date in umpteen years; all relevant clocks are ticking; she's fed up and close to despair. Mary Richards may spring to mind, also Bridget Jones, and just about every Jane Austen adaptation extant.

Anyone who's experienced grief more as a wild boat ride on stormy seas than as the scheduled five stages from denial to acceptance, will feel intimately spoken to by One Week and a Day, a trenchant first feature from the young Israeli writer-director Asaph Polonsky. Equal parts bracing and beguiling, Polonsky's modestly budgeted movie addresses head-on the ungovernable confusion and raw emotion that attend one of the worst losses anyone can suffer — the death of a child.

Last December The Ottoman Lieutenant, a love story set in Turkey during World War I, came and went in the blink of an eye. The movie was pretty terrible in its own right and, as critics pointed out, its Turkish funding guaranteed a truck-sized memory hole about Turkey's 1915 massacre of over a million of its Armenian citizens, an act generally deemed by historians a genocide that Turkish authorities refuse to acknowledge to this day.

"A sheltered life can be daring too," the Southern writer Eudora Welty wrote in her 1984 memoir, One Writer's Beginnings. Writing about what and whom she saw around her, Welty enjoyed robust literary fame without ever marrying or moving out of her parents' house in Jackson, Mississippi.

In the charming and soulful Japanese anime Your Name, two teenagers who have never met wake up rattled to discover that they have switched bodies in their sleep, or more precisely their dreams. And it's not just their anatomies they've exchanged, or even the identities-in-progress each has managed to cobble together at such a tender age. Mitsuha, a spirited but restless small-town girl of Miyazaki-type vintage, and Taki, a Tokyo high school boy, have also swapped the country for the city, with all the psychic and cultural adjustments that will entail.

Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, documentary filmmaker Petra Epperlein had painful personal reasons to return from the United States, where she now lives, to her hometown of Chemnitz in what was once East Germany. The city had been renamed Karl Marx City under the German Democratic Republic, a Soviet satellite from just after World War II.

From time to time in Hirokazu Kore-eda's gently incisive family drama After the Storm, the soundtrack produces a few bars of casual whistling backed by a soft fragment of melody that noodles along with its lead character, stalled novelist and private detective Ryôta Shinoda (Hiroshi Abe). As he bumbles through another dispiriting day in the life, we learn that a typhoon is on its way to the Japanese town where he lives.

The quietly momentous film The Sense of an Ending began life as a sublimely achy short novel by British writer Julian Barnes (for whom it won the 2011 Man Booker prize) about an apparently unremarkable man with the aptly flavorless name of Tony Webster. Partially retired and on the cusp of old age, Tony receives a blast from his youthful past back in the 1960s that shatters his conveniently doctored memory of a long-buried act of vengeance wreaked on two school friends.

He's a handsome fellow who can play all sorts when given half a chance, but Michael Shannon's alarming bone structure and "you-talkin'-to-me?" eyes tend to trap him in many Frankenstein-adjacent roles. Which is why you might be forgiven for spending much of Wolves, a somber family drama with a fun sports movie neatly tucked inside, waiting for Shannon to explode. And he is a familiar coiled spring as Billy, the self-immolating father of a promising high-school basketball star.

As You Are, a coming-of-age movie in which no one comes of age (putative adults included), opens and closes with an aerial shot of two figures crossing a lawn in front of a house. A shot rings out both times, and the action in between circles around that event in time, framed by scenes of an unseen detective grilling the major players for their selective memories of a trauma for which everyone's responsible — yet that no one, least of all the shooter, meant to happen.

There's more than one fractured monarchy in A United Kingdom, a period saga of love, race and colonial politics set in both post-World War II Britain and a tiny African tribal nation then-named Bechuanaland. Some of this really happened: In 1947 the African country's heir apparent, Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) and white office worker Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike) cross paths at a missionary dance in drab, foggy post-War London. In the film, their eyes lock across a crowded room; they bond over a mutual love of jazz; that's it, they're hooked for life.

Frank Langella has all manner of elastic gifts, but he's never been the sort of actor to disappear into the many roles he's played over a distinguished career. There's an underlying stern implacability to just about every deplorable villain (and occasional hero) Langella has tackled: intractable obstinates all, who bend others' wills to their own and give no quarter.

If you've been tracking Matthew McConaughey's well-earned victory march from serious babe to serious actor specializing in wilderpeople, it will not shock you to learn that in Gold, a brand new, pretty old-school poem to the American huckster, the actor bares his bottom for a scene that requires him to leap into the unprepared arms of Edgar Ramirez.

A young man about whom we know little other than his name — Leo — arrives in a pretty French village, where, with little finesse and less success, he propositions a muscled sulk of a teenage boy (Basile Meilluerat). Leo, who's played by Damien Bonnard with a kind of predatory befuddlement, has better luck with Marie (India Hair), a shepherdess who calmly takes the sexual initiative.

Rummage through the many movies that get dumped into distribution in the run-up to Oscars night and you'll often find, amid all the prestige, cinematic awards-bait, a smaller film that's perfectly fine — not great — yet that tells us something consequential about the culture that produced it. That's 100 Streets, a sour-sweet British drama about a bunch of walking-wounded Londoners crossing paths as they struggle through life-crises we all recognize — a marriage on the skids, a longed-for child, an uphill battle to rise above poverty and petty crime.

If Pablo Larrain is news to you, he won't be for long. The Chilean director, whose Tony Manero, No, and The Club won critical praise but only modest box office here, has two highly recommended new films in the awards spotlight this year. Like Jackie — a challenging and brilliant portrait of Jackie Kennedy in the aftermath of her husband's assassination — Larrain's Neruda engages in iconoclastic play with clichés that have clung to a national legend, in this case Chile's beloved poet-politician Pablo Neruda.

One way or another, every Pedro Almodovar film is all about his mothers, real or imagined. His latest, Julieta, marks a return to form for all who love to take a bath in his crimson maternal melodramas. Still, it's a quieter, more inward film, less inclined to broad winks at the audience than, say, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Talk to Her, or even All About My Mother.

The friction between art and life is director Damien Chazelle's ongoing obsession. It's a fine thing to ponder, though I didn't much care for his 2014 melodrama Whiplash, which worked up an overblown froth from the daffy proposition that you can bully a fledgling musician into becoming a genius drummer.

Late in mid-life Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert), a Paris high school philosophy teacher, suffers a string of punishing losses that threaten not just her well-being and sense of fulfillment, but her entire identity as a wife, daughter, mother and professional woman. Her husband (Andre Marcon) announces he's moving in with the mistress he's kept a secret for many years. Nathalie is forced to move the fragile mother (Edith Scob) she has propped up since childhood into assisted living; it doesn't go well.

Late in The Edge of Seventeen, a deftly blackish teen comedy written and directed by newcomer Kelly Fremon Craig, high-schooler Nadine sits on the toilet with her head in her hands. She's taken a beating on the usual fronts of adolescent suffering, as well as another ordeal no youngster should have to bear. "Please God, help me," the girl mutters. Then, "Why do I even bother?" Because to cap it all off there's no toilet paper. If you've seen any other movies or TV shows that producer James L. Brooks has had a hand in, you will recognize the comedy of embarrassment hard at work.

Pages