The Washington Post Sunday

Big surprises, from McCarthy to ‘Mowgli’

- BY MICHAEL O’SULLIVAN

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.

“Science Fair”

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

 ?? MARY CYBULSKI/FOX SEARCHLIGH­T ?? Melissa McCarthy, with Richard E. Grant, offers a lowkey, Oscar-worthy turn in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
MARY CYBULSKI/FOX SEARCHLIGH­T Melissa McCarthy, with Richard E. Grant, offers a lowkey, Oscar-worthy turn in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

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