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Scott Tobias

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.

About 20 minutes into the beautiful documentary Quest, a stray bullet strikes a 13-year-old African-American girl in a neighborhood in North Philadelphia, robbing her of sight in her left eye. What's remarkable about the incident is that the documentary would have existed without it: Director Jonathan Olshefski had already committed to making a film about the girl's family, the Raineys, and the errant gunfire just happened to occur within the flow of the day.

Though Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space is commonly cited as the worst film ever made, he released a far more compelling failure three years before with Glen or Glenda, a semi-autobiographical melodrama about a cross-dresser, played by Wood under the pseudonym "Daniel Davis." Glen or Glenda has all the staggering ineptitude of Plan 9 — most memorably, Bela Lugosi's armchair commentator shouting "Pull the string!"— but it has the added benefit of being nakedly personal, a plea for tolerance from a man who has chosen to reveal a closely guarded secret on s

Through an accident of timing, 2017 has produced complementary films about British perseverance and moxie at a dangerous inflection point in World War II, when 300,000 men were penned in by encroaching Nazi forces in France. Earlier this summer, Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk celebrated the multi-pronged effort to rescue these soldiers and bring them back across the English Channel, where they could regroup and continue the fight.

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