Scott Tobias

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.

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.