The French-Belgian debut from Julia Ducournau is a surreal, deliriously twisted coming-of-age story that suggests “Heathers” by way of “Dogtooth.” The plot only skirts the surface of its strange narrative: A young woman joins her sister at a massive veterinarian school campus, where she’s subjected to a series of humiliating hazing rituals and discovers her taste for human flesh.
Wait a minute. Veterinarian schools have campuses with hazing rituals? And…cannibalism? Writer-director Ducournau’s memorable first feature takes its off-kilter logic at face value, developing a mesmerizing look at the experience of a young woman waking up to her desires in a world of peculiarities. Alternately beautiful and grotesque, it’s one of the most astonishing debuts in recent memory, the vision of a great genre filmmaker with an uncompromising spirit and loads of potential for the future. —EK
3. “The Big Sick”
The first reason why this true romance is so good: It’s authentic. You couldn’t make up this truth-is-stranger-than-fiction culture-clash story, written from life by “Silicon Valley” star Kumail Nanjiani with his wife and co-producer Emily Gordon (Zoe Kazan). Gordon’s character falls in love with Nanjiani before she’s hospitalized with a mysterious illness and put into a coma. Producer Judd Apatow (“Girls,” “Trainwreck”) developed “The Big Sick” over four years, pushing hard to refine and tighten the script, find the right cast, from Ray Romano to Oscar-winner Holly Hunter, and make sure the jokes landed.
Director Michael Showalter leaned into the romantic side of this comedy, inspired by love stories from writer-directors like Steve Martin, Richard Curtis, Nora Ephron, and Woody Allen. Unlike most Hollywood romantic comedies, the relationship between Nanjiani and Gordon is balanced, their witty dialogue and smart repartee equally strong. Watch this one stick in theaters all summer and wind up, backed by critics, in the year-end awards fray. —AT
2. “Get Out”
New Academy member Jordan Peele’s $4.5 million horror comedy about suburbia gone very wrong, featuring “Girls” star Allison Williams and unknown Daniel Kaluuya, is the sleeper hit of the year. Writer-director Peele, having laid the groundwork for the movie in multiple sketches on Comedy Central’s “Key & Peele” that pulled humor out of racism, leaned into his inspirations, horror classics that brought Grand Guignol wit to their dark themes: “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Stepford Wives,” and “Scream.” A satiric romantic comedy thriller, the movie channels Hitchcock at his best, luring audiences into uncomfortable places they didn’t think they wanted to go.
At $175 million to date (and another $75 million overseas), “Get Out” is yet another low-budget Blumhouse home run — and their highest-grosser to date. Universal, laughing all the way to the bank, will pull out all the stops on an Oscar campaign which should yield an Original Screenplay nomination. —AT
1. “A Ghost Story”
David Lowery’s “Pete’s Dragon” follow-up could easily have been an embarrassment — it could easily have been his “The Book of Henry.” Shot in secret (or at least in unpublicized quiet), sandwiched on the schedule between his beloved studio debut and his next big project, and loaded with a premise that sounds way too precious to sustain its feature-length running time, “A Ghost Story” seemed like a blip at best, and potentially something far worse. And then it screened at Sundance.
Suddenly, “that movie where Casey Affleck is under a sheet the whole time” became “that micro-budget movie that profoundly marries the chronological sweep of ‘The Tree of Life’ to the cosmic wonder of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ while still making time for a Ke$ha cameo and a scene where Rooney Mara eats an entire pie in a single shot.” The comically lo-fi saga of a man who dies in a car accident and then spends the rest of eternity haunting the house he once shared with his wife, “A Ghost Story” is the furthest thing from a throwaway project between friends. An unforgettable exploration of time, transience, and the things that define our time on Earth, it’s one of the very best films of this or any other year. — DE