Although filmed in North Carolina, Martin McDonaugh’s bitterly funny comic drama “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri” has a very dark “show me” attitude. Frances McDormand is an instant Oscar front-runner playing a woman who posts billboards to prod Sheriff Woody Harrelson into investigating the rape and murder of her daughter. Sam Rockwell may also be an awards contender for his portrait of a racist cop. Smart, extremely disturbing and vividly told, “Three Billboards” is one of the year’s best films.
“Last Flag Flying” is a respectable and well-acted drama from filmmaker Richard Linklater about three Vietnam Vets played by Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne, who go on a road trip to bury Carell’s son, a soldier killed in the Iraq War. While it’s meandering and quirky, the cast hoists this flag with aplomb.
“The Man Who Invented Christmas” tells the story of how Charles Dickens came to write “A Christmas Carol.” Dan Stevens gives a stagy performance as Dickens, but Christopher Plummer is just right as his imaginary Scrooge. It’s a sweet, low-key movie bonbon that never quite rings true.
“Novitiate” chronicles a young woman’s spiritual struggles to be come a nun in 1964. Melissa Leo’s scary turn as the stern Mother Superior is the main attraction in this earnest but sometimes melodramatic effort.
Also opening this week, Denzel Washington stars in “Roman J. Esquire,” a thriller about an activist defense attorney. “Sweet Virginia” is a suspense drama set in a remote area of Alaska. Jon Bernthal stars. “The Square” is a comic drama set in the art world that won the top prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.