1. ‘Bad Genius’
Directed by: Nattawut Poonpiriya
Starring: Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, Teeradon Supapunpinyo
In a year that saw an unusual excess of comedic heist thrillers, “Bad Genius” easily tops the competition. The Thai blockbuster smashed box-office records in numerous Asian countries for its extraordinary portrayal of the exceedingly ordinary task of test taking. In a phenomenal acting debut, Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying plays a teenage prodigy who establishes an exam-cheating business, first as a venture at her high school and then as a national enterprise. The movie also offers a telling commentary on class structure and the education system in Thailand.
2. ‘Call Me by Your Name’
Directed by: Luca Guadagnino
Starring: Armie Hammer, Timothee Chalamet
“Call Me by Your Name” reaffirms Luca Guadagnino as a master of mise-en-scene, or telling a story through visual art and the theatrical landscape. Guadagnino and his crew sensually present a love story set against the handsome aesthetics of summertime in northern Italy. While at times the film plays out like a prolonged meet cute, the off-the-charts chemistry between Armie Hammer and 2017 breakout star Timothée Chalamet makes the story worthwhile. Also noteworthy is the film’s exceptional soundtrack, which includes music from The Psychedelic Furs, Giorgio Moroder and Ryuichi Sakamoto, among others.
Directed by: Adrian Molina, Lee Unkrich
Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt
Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina take Pixar’s winning formula to uncharted territory in the ambitious and imaginative “Coco.” Telling the tale of an aspiring musician in search of his great-great-grandfather in the land of the dead, the film does justice to its heart-rending subject matter and pays due respect to Mexican culture. Unsurprisingly, the soundtrack, composed by the maestro Michael Giacchino and other talented musicians, is also incredibly affecting, especially the tear-jerking song “Remember Me.”
Directed by: James Mangold
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Dafne Keen
Hugh Jackman’s final stint as the X-Men’s lone wolf checks all the boxes of a stellar superhero movie, with intriguing heroes and villains, tense action sequences and stunning special effects. But “Logan” transcends the genre’s conventions and enters the realm of cultural mythology. The film encompasses a range of complex and mature themes, and arguably even serves as an allegory for immigration in 21st-century America. Jackman and Patrick Stewart also deliver career-defining performances, while newcomer Dafne Keen promises to be a worthy successor of the Wolverine character.
Directed by: Andrey Zvyagintsev
Starring: Maryana Spivak, Aleksey Rozin
Andrey Zvyagintsev’s latest directorial effort is not an easy film to watch. Every relationship depicted in the mystery-drama is devoid of love: The vitriolic, divorced protagonists fail to show the slightest hint of affection toward their son until he goes missing. Part domestic drama, part police — or rather, volunteer search group — procedural, “Loveless” aptly captures a sense of disconnectedness and anomie in modern-day Russia, highlighted by cinematographer Mikhail Krichman’s calculated camerawork.
6. ‘Loving Vincent’
Directed by: Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman
Starring: Douglas Booth, Eleanor Tomlinson
A spectacle in every sense of the word, “Loving Vincent” is impressively composed of 65,000 oil-painted frames inspired by the paintings of Vincent van Gogh — a reverse tableau vivant of sorts. The film also works as a meta-diegetic detective story — just as the protagonist investigates the mysterious circumstances of van Gogh’s death, the audience too plays detective with the numerous visual references to van Gogh’s oeuvre.
7. ‘My Happy Family’
Directed by: Simon Groß, Nana Ekvtimishvili
Starring: Merab Ninidze
In a standout performance, Ia Shugliashvili plays Manana, a middle-aged woman who unexpectedly leaves her multigenerational household and begins life anew, liberating herself from the quotidian pressures of family life in Georgian society. Manana’s newfound freedom is not without challenges, however, as she finds herself constantly returning to her former domicile under different circumstances. With their unflinchingly feminist tale, filmmakers Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Groß prove that not all happy families are alike — they may not even exist in the first place.
8. ‘On the Beach at Night Alone’
Directed by: Hong Sang-soo
Starring: Kim Min-hee, Jung Jae-young
Perhaps the most consistently excellent filmmaker working today, Hong Sang-soo’s latest festival darling, “On the Beach at Night Alone,” shows the auteur at his most intensely personal. The film stars Kim Min-hee as a lovesick actress who reflects on her affair with a married director. In a turn of anti-mimesis, Kim, whose performance earned her the Silver Bear for Best Actress, revealed her own affair with Hong at a press conference for the film. Tabloid drama aside, the film is classic Hong, featuring plentiful awkward conversations over soju.
9. ‘The Other Side of Hope’
Directed by: Aki Kaurismaki
Starring: Sakari Kuosmanen, Ilkka Koivula
As images of the European migrant crisis come and go in the 24-hour news cycle, depictions of refugees in film and television have the ability to shape our discourse and understanding of the situation. Leave it to Aki Kaurismäki to craft a compelling tale of a Syrian refugee’s plight in Helsinki, imbued with empathy and his signature deadpan style. Sherwan Haji plays an asylum seeker who searches for his sister with the help of an older Finnish restauranteur. “The Other Side of Hope” is humanist cinema at its finest.
10. ‘Summer 1993’
Directed by: Carla Simon
Starring: David Verdaguer
Based on writer-director’s Carla Simon’s childhood, “Summer 1993” follows Frida, a 6-year-old girl who is sent to live with her family in the Catalonian countryside after her mother dies of AIDS. Seen through the eyes of a latently grieving Frida, this Neorealist gem shies away from sentimentalism; instead, the audience is immersed in Frida’s experiences as she adjusts to her new surroundings. The result is a raw, authentic portrayal of bereavement and maturation.