I keep thinking I'll find time to write extensively about films I've seen, but it never seems to happen, and now we're just days from the first of our two High Holy Days, so let me mention some things in brief:
I think, all things considered, Shoplifters is my favorite film of the year. It's for sure the only major movie that exceeded my expectations (Bohemian Rhapsody turning out to be not utterly abject crap doesn't count). I liked After the Rain in a sort of Chekhovian way, and expected Shoplifters to affect me much the same. But, from the start, it worked on a deeper level, and, in the final reel, it just punched me in the gut (it was like a fighter who pulls his punches most of the way, then goes full Muhammad Ali in the last round). The movie is deceptive: in the early portions, it can feel slightly annoying trying to put together who all these people are and who's related to who. But eventually it turns out there was method in the madness, and the film surprises in all kinds of complex ways by the end (almost to the point I wanted to re-watch the movie, knowing from the start all the things I knew by the finish). Great cast, with special mention to Sakura Ando, whose character keeps showing new sides, all the way to the climax. A truly wonderful piece of work.
Spider Man: Into the Spider-verse disappointed me just a tiny bit, in the sense that it was still, at core, a Spider Man movie -- meaning it had its villains and the plot to destroy the world as its main structure. I also thought it took a bit too long to get started; for the first 20 minutes or so, I was wondering what anyone had seen in the film. But it definitely took off, and much of the way was full of witty surprises and spectacular animation (it would be an excellent time for BJ's long-held wish of an animated film getting a production design nomination). I can't say I found the film exactly profound -- perhaps I'd need to have seen all the Spider Man movies, not just the 2 or 3 I have, for it to really blow my mind. But I have no problem with this becoming the animated feature winner; it's clearly a cut above. (And, to beat the same horse one more time, if one Marvel movie were to get a screenwriting nod this year, I'd be for this ahead of Black Panther.)
I'm not sure Private Life even counts as a movie (though it did open that way at Sundance). But it's one of the most solid adult comedy-dramas of the year. Tamara Jenkins is still mostly a writers-and-actors director -- she has no particular visual style -- but she's written a strong piece and has three really good actors front and center. Paul Giammatti can be tiresome in stuff like Billions, but here he offers a reminder of how good he was in Sideways (though one tirade in a doctor's office is perhaps too much a echo of that performance). Kathryn Hahn breaks out as a dramatic actress, with one fine scene after another. And Kayli Carter is so good at conveying all the shades of her character -- young, unfocused, too judgmental, but deeply generous -- that I'm retroactively sorry she hasn't been part of the year's supporting actress discussion.
Finally: The Rider. Sigh. If you were to construct a film in a laboratory specifically designed to not appeal to me but get raves elsewhere, The Rider would be the result. Stipulate that I saw the film on home video and didn't partake of the theatre experience...but I found the film akin to sensory deprivation: dull and inarticulate characters living bleak lives where nothing happens (apart from occasionally having to sell off or kill a beloved horse). I had my issues with Roma as narrative, but Roma is action-packed compared to this film. I gather it's more or less a true story, enacted by the people involved, but that only makes it worse: the amateur-level actors bring nothing to liven the proceedings, and the film has the limitation of documentary (no interesting plotting) without the advantage of verisimilitude. I guess this is the kind of movie people call "authentic" (especially critics who've likely never been within 500 miles of the milieu), but in this case, authenticity seems perilously close to cliche; I felt like I'd seen almost everything in it somewhere before. I did like a few stray things -- the campfire with the main character's buddies, the demonstration of how he trained a horse, the woman telling him he looked like his mother. But these were few and far between in a movie that mostly bored me senseless. I respect the right of others to love this kind of movie, but it's just not for me.