Scott Tobias

When director Travis Wilkerson first premiered his documentary, Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun?, at the Sundance Film Festival and True/False last year, it was a unique piece of performance art. Seated next to the screen with a desk, a laptop, and a microphone, Wilkerson narrated the film in his deep, booming voice, leading the audience through a semi-experimental assemblage of home movies, snapshots, musical interstitials, and original footage of his travels to Alabama, where he went to investigate a shameful chapter in his family history. His great-grandfather S.E.

Over the past few months, the roll-out of several high-profile Netflix releases has revealed a predilection for expensive, hard-edged, futuristic genre fare, starting with the human-alien buddy picture Bright, continuing with the TV series Altered Carbon and the surprise post-Super Bowl unveiling of The Cloverfield Paradox. None of them opened to much critical acclaim and Netflix is notoriously cagey about sharing its numbers, but the company has found a niche market that its algorithm can reinforce.

Look closely at a frame from Early Man — or any of the other features and shorts by Nick Park, the stop-motion animator behind Creature Comforts, the Wallace and Gromit series, and Chicken Run — and you can spot the truest and most literal of all auteur stamps: The curvatures of a fingerprint. As computer animation has become the dominant format, Park and his craftspeople at Aardman Animations have remained defiantly analog, using their hands to manipulate the features of plasticine models, frame by painstaking frame.

With films like The Color Wheel, Listen Up, Philip and Queen of Earth, writer-director Alex Ross Perry swiftly established himself as indie-cinema's premier misanthrope, as if the literate class of Woody Allen movies had been body-snatched by caustic malcontents of John Cassavetes movies. Shot in 16mm, mostly in interiors free of electronic distraction, Perry's films are defiantly analog in their four-walled intensity, committed to unpacking the restive desires of characters who act on impulse and often look ugly in the process.

The late Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami often talked about the audience "completing" his movies, which of course implies that he left his work deliberately incomplete, as if to tease the imagination. "I make one film as a filmmaker," he once said, "but the audience, based on that film, makes 100 movies in their minds. Every audience member can make his own movie. This is what I strive for."

The maze-running part of The Maze Runner trilogy wrapped up about two-thirds of the way into the first film, leaving it to exist only as a metaphor for fresh-faced young people getting treated like laboratory rats.

The funniest throwaway moment in Freak Show, an unsteady coming-of-age fantasy, finds Billy Bloom (Alex Lawther), a gay teenager with a penchant for sequins and feather boas, introducing himself to his new classmates at a private school somewhere in the Deep South.

In the desert outpost of Five Keys, New Mexico in 1953, the Rainier family lives so close to the federal penitentiary that all the lights in the house flicker from the surge of a nearby electric chair. While her little brother Christian greets the occasion with boyish enthusiasm ("You're on the Hades Express, mister!"), Elise quietly sketches a vision of the man in his final moments and recites certain facts about him, like how he chose a ribeye steak for his last meal and told the witnesses to "Go to hell!" before the executioner flipped the switch.

Even the title, Phantom Thread, sets the mind reeling. The term refers to a Victorian Era phenomenon in which East London seamstresses, utterly exhausted by a long day's work, continue to go through the motions at home, sewing threads that do not exist. It also evokes the otherworldly quality of artistic creation, some divine and inexplicable force that helps bring a work to fruition.

For a simple children's story about a pacifist bull in Spain who would rather smell the flowers than charge a matador, Munro Leaf's The Story of Ferdinand generated tremendous controversy, owing to its worldwide popularity and its date of publication, 1936, which found it caught in political crosswinds. It was banned in Franco's Spain. Hitler ordered it burned as "degenerate democratic propaganda" in Nazi Germany, though it was republished and distributed for free in the same country once the war was over, to teach children a message of peace. Gandhi was a fan. So was H.G. Wells.