This year’s best films wrestled mightily with questions of identity and belonging in a year when our culture did the same. Awkward laughter is more on tap here than belly laughs, though I’ll give an honorable mention to the slightly bro-y but hilarious “Deadpool 2” for its skewering of comic book movies, approximately 86 more of which are set for release next year.
Can “excruciating” function as a compliment? “Eighth Grade,” director Bo Burnham’s debut film makes a good case for it. His humane portrait of the endearing but gawky Kayla (Elsie Fisher) in her last week of middle school might have you suffering adolescent flashbacks, it’s so real.
Still, white-knuckling through Kayla’s attempts at socializing was my favorite cinematic experience of the year.
Joaquin Phoenix is post-traumatic stress disorder incarnate in the bleak, pulsating “You Were Never Really Here,” about a tormented hit man tasked with rescuing an abducted girl. Also in traumatized men, “Leave No Trace” features a heartbreaking performance by Ben Foster as a homeless war vet trying to raise a teen daughter (Thomasin McKenzie) off the grid in the Pacific Northwest.
Two of the year’s funniest films are also the ones that best called out racism and classism. The raucous “Sorry to Bother You” stars Lakeith Stanfield as a telemarketer who climbs the corporate ladder using “white voice.” And police brutality and gentrification are at the heart of “Blindspotting,” in which an ex-con (Daveed Diggs) tries to get through his last days of parole trouble-free.