The Washington Post Sunday
Big surprises, from McCarthy to ‘Mowgli’
In an art form that thrives on sequels — and that might as well market its products as “the predictable meets the formulaic” — any film, any actor, any director that still retains the capacity to surprise is an anomaly. Here are 10 of this year’s movies about which I can honestly say, “I did not see that coming.”
“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
Melissa McCarthy’s performance in this acerbic little gem of a movie — directed by Marielle Heller (“The Diary of a Teenage Girl”) and co-written by Nicole Holofcener (“Enough Said”) — comes on the heels of “The Happytime Murders” and “Life of the Party,” which are only the latest two crushing disappointments in a string of lousy movies starring the actress. Playing the real-life Lee Israel, a celebrity biographer who turned to forgery when her writing career dried up, the actress delivers the performance we’ve been waiting for, a low-key, Oscar-worthy turn as a bitter and unvarnished misanthrope. McCarthy isn’t back. She goes someplace she’s never been before.
In a year when the highest-grossing documentary was the uplifting profile of Fred Rogers, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” — outperforming even Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9” — it may be that viewers have grown tired of polemical nonfiction. “Science Fair,” an absolute charmer along the lines of the 2011 spelling-bee doc “Spellbound,” profiles a group of teenage contestants at the 2017 International Science and Engineering Fair. A prizewinner at festivals from Sundance to SXSW, the film includes traditional surprises (including the identity of the ISEF winner, which is unexpected for at least two reasons). But the most surprising thing is that the film — with its implicit critique of an anti-science White House — is actually political. Or rather, that it’s both political and the feel-good film of the year. “Tully”
The year’s best plot twist, hands down, is best not described, even with a spoiler alert. But this perfectly