The cold snap in D.C. offers film fans the chance to entertain friends and family with some of the most intriguing movies of 2017. All of the films discussed below are available now on DVD or through streaming services and are sure to start some lively discussions over dinner or dessert.
“Battle of the Sexes” is a thrilling recreation of the famous 1973 tennis match between feminist pioneer Billie Jean King (a fierce Emma Stone) and male chauvinist pig Bobby Riggs (a fascinating Steve Carell). The dazzling screenplay by Simon Beaufoy (“Slumdog Millionaire”) clearly retells the public battles between King and Riggs, but also captures their private struggles. Andrea Riseborough is great as Billie Jean’s first girlfriend and Austin Stowall and Elisabeth Shue turn in fine performances as their conflicted spouses.
Almost a year ago, first-time director Jordan Peele made an accomplished cinematic debut with “Get Out,” a troubling and thoughtful movie that uses both comedy and horror to create a chilling portrait of racism in contemporary America. Daniel Kaluuya stars as Chris, a black man who visits the family of his white girlfriend at their suburban estate. Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener are deeply sinister as her liberal parents.
In the lush “A Quiet Passion,” legendary queer auteur Terence Davies creates a searing portrait of poet Emily Dickinson, played with fervent intensity by Cynthia Nixon. Jennifer Ehle and Keith Carradine turn in strong supporting performances as Dickinson’s sister and father who struggle to understand the unconventional and increasingly reclusive poet who remained largely unpublished during her lifetime.
Salma Hayek is simply stunning as the title character in “Beatriz at Dinner.” She plays a holistic healer who is stranded at the home of a client (an excellent Connie Britton) when her car dies. The well-meaning client invites Beatriz to her dinner party that evening, but tempers flare when she meets fellow guest Doug, a repulsive businessman played with great relish by John Lithgow. Chlöe Sevigny turns in a richly layered performance as a conflicted dinner guest.
Written by and starring “Saturday Night Live” regular Kyle Mooney, the delightfully quirky “Brigsby Bear” is about a sheltered young man whose carefully constructed world suddenly crashes down around him. To make sense of it all, he tries to recreate his favorite television show, a low-budget series about a bear with amazing gadgets and superpowers. Mark Hamill is both creepy and creative as the bear’s creator.
Is she a murderess or is she being slandered by her naïve love-struck cousin? That’s the central question behind “My Cousin Rachel,” a lovely period drama based on the popular novel by bisexual author Daphne Du Maurier. Rachel Weisz is amazing inscrutable as the title character (she even refused to tell director Roger Michell if she thought the character was innocent or guilty). Holliday Grainger is equally enigmatic as Rachel’s rival and Pierfrancesco Favino is delightful as Rachel’s sexually enigmatic lawyer.
“Patti Cake$,” developed by writer/director Geremy Jaspar at the Sundance Institute, is a raw family saga about three generations of powerful and outspoken New Jersey woman. At the center is a powerhouse performance by Australian actress Danielle Macdonald who learned how to rap and speak with a Jersey accent for the role. She plays Patty Dombrowski, a white working-class woman who dreams of becoming a famous rock star. New York cabaret singer Bridget Everett and acclaimed actress Catherine O’Hara turn in equally strong performances as her bitter alcoholic mother and her feisty grandmother.
Based on the award-winning novel by Julian Barnes, “The Sense of an Ending” features a beautifully nuanced performance by Jim Broadbent (“Moulin Rouge” and “London Sky”) as a quiet camera shop owner who is forced to reexamine his life when he receives an unexpected legacy. Charlotte Rampling, Harriet Webster and Michelle Dockery are terrific as his ex-lover, his ex-wife and his very pregnant daughter.
Finally, on a very different note, “War for the Planet of the Apes,” is a visually inventive and thought-provoking continuation of the latest franchise reboot. Andy Serkis and Woody Harrelson (both of whom turned in several notable performances in 2017) are well-matched as deeply conflicted leaders on opposing sides of the inter-species struggle. Twentieth Century Fox is mounting a campaign for Serkis to be nominated in the Best Actor Category at the Academy Awards; his fine motion-capture performance as Caesar has already been recognized by several critic’s groups.