1. Solo: A Star Wars Story
Thought I'd start with a small indie film that most probably missed. But seriously, folks! It's a bit odd to have a Star Wars movie with no Force, no Jedi, no lightsabers, but I think Solo pulled it off. This isn't changing the paradigm or breaking new ground, but it is a very, very solid entry in the Star Wars saga and the most straight-foward fun of any of them since Episode IV. Probably my favorite of the Disney Star Wars movies. Alden Ehrenreich ain't Harrison Ford, but then no one is, and he does a good job of filling the Han Solo riding boots.
2. You Were Never Really Here
Arty, intense film about a man who rescues underage girls who have been sold into the sex trade. Not the slam-dunk I was hoping for, but Joaquin Phoenix delivers. Lynne Ramsay also directed We Need to Talk About Kevin, and if you liked that, you'll probably like this. You Were Never Really Here is based on a novella by Jonathan Ames, who created the HBO series Bored to Death, which also didn't quite deliver as much as I wished but which was still worth a watch.
3. The Woman Chaser
Great movie or the greatest movie? This black-and-white comedy stars Patrick Wharburton as a car salesman turned filmmaker. Set in 1960 Los Angeles, it's period details are spot on. The Woman Chaser is based on a novel by the great paperback writer Charles Willeford, and if you've read Willeford, you know what you're in for. Hilarious, if you've got a twisted sense of humor. Released in 1999 to much critical acclaim but no audience interest whatsoever, it's now available on various streaming platforms.
4. Small Town Crime
John Hawkes plays an ex-cop who tries to solve the murder of a woman he finds on the side of the road after an alcoholic blackout. If that sounds too cliche for you, then you should probably skip this one. But if you are me and that sounds right up your alley, then Small Town Crime is worth watching. It's Tarrantino-esque and Coen Brothers-y. Like Solo it doesn't exactly break new ground, but it does what it does very well.
5. First Reformed
Though The Woman Chaser is one of my all-time favorite movies, I've saved the best for last here. Written and directed by the great Paul Schrader of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull fame (among others), First Reformed is going to be a serious contender come awards season, particularly for Ethan Hawke, who turns in as good a performance as he ever has as an alcoholic minister struggling with his faith and the loss of his family. Filmed in Academy ratio and without a score, this is definitely in the "art house" vein, but don't let that trick you into thinking this is some pretentious, navel-gazing horse hockey. The intensity and tension mount throughout until you reach an ending that will keep you thinking for days.