Paterson, the quietly philosophical tale of a bus-driving poet, is one of 2016's best films

Great poets are masters of words, but their most finely tuned skill is often simple attentiveness: to the matches on the kitchen counter, the water slipping over the boulders in the falls, the beer softly frothing in the half-drunk mug.

In Jim Jarmusch’s outstanding film Paterson, a poet named Paterson — who drives a New Jersey Transit bus in Paterson, New Jersey — spends his days in the same simple rhythm of work and home. But he notices things, and we notice them too: the matches, the water, the beer, and also the conversations of the people who ride the bus, and the pictures hung on the wall of his home, and the people in the bar around him. He writes poems about them in his spare moments: before starting his route for the day, on his lunch break sitting near Passaic Falls, or while sitting alone in the basement.

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Silence is beautiful, unsettling, and one of the finest religious movies ever made

Shūsaku Endō’s novel Silence (first published in Japanese in 1966 as Chinmoku, then translated into English in 1969) is slippery and troubling, a book that refuses to behave. It flatters no reader; it refuses to comfort anyone. In telling the story of Portuguese priests and persecuted Christians in Japan, it navigates the tension between missionary and colonizer, East and West, Christianity and Buddhism and political ideology, but refuses to land on definitive answers.

Martin Scorsese’s long-gestating film Silence is based on Endō’s novel, which he read shortly after his 1988 film Last Temptation of Christ was protested and condemned by the Catholic Church and other conservative Christians 28 years ago. It’s almost impossible to capture the nuances of a novel like Endō’s for the screen; Masahiro Shinoda tried in 1971, and Endō reportedly hated the ending. But Scorsese comes about as close as one can imagine, and the results are challenging for both the faithful and the skeptic.


Hidden Figures, about 3 black women at NASA in the 1960s, is the best kind of historical drama

It’s hard to imagine a more perfect film for the holiday season than Hidden Figures: an inspirational, family-friendly historical drama about three black women whose work at NASA was instrumental in putting John Glenn into orbit around Earth.

That could have been the recipe for a much hokier film, but the story — based on a book by Margot Lee Shetterly — is just Hollywood enough to stay entertaining, but smart enough to know how important its story is. Director Theodore Melfi (St. Vincentsticks to every convention of the genre, but sometimes conventions are there for a reason. The story works, and the characters shine. (Pharrell Williams executive-produced the movie and supervised its soundtrack, which also helps account for its overall buoyancy.)

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A Monster Calls is a beautiful movie about dealing honestly with negative emotions

Despite its title, A Monster Calls is not a monster movie, though monsters lurk within. It’s more like a darker, sadder Inside Out: Both are stories about children whose emotions are too overwhelming for them to process, and both take those emotions seriously. Neither gives glib answers.

A Monster Calls explores a common but devastating emotion: the grief — and attendant rage and fear — that comes with losing a parent. The movie starts off looking like a conventional children’s fantasy story, but it morphs slowly into something surprising, and all its own.

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