Brand-happy though Hollywood is, it’s still rare when three high-profile franchise extenders all debut on the same weekend. Personally speaking, it’s even rarer when all three are follow-ups to movies I liked. (One of which, to be accurate, I only kinda liked.)

In its blatant attempt to revive a scare-flick “franchise” that couldn’t even produce a second sequel, director F. Javier Gutiérrez’s Rings probably won’t make 2002’s The Ring and its 2005 follow-up relevant again, but the results are better than I expected – by which I mean the first 10 minutes are actually pretty good.

With apologies to my parents’ house cat Sam, who I’m crazy about, I’ve always been more of a dog person, and was totally anticipating a good cry at A Dog’s Purpose even in light of that notorious, upsetting footage of a German shepherd seemingly forced into a scary-looking aquatic stunt. Yet while its trailer never failed to slay me, I actually watched director Lasse Hallström’s family weepie completely dry-eyed, given how tough it is to get misty when your primary emotions are confusion, irritation, and offense.

James McAvoy in Split

It’s long been a misconception that M. Night Shyamalan movies are dependent on The Big Twist, because there certainly weren’t any in his run of god-awful 2006-13 titles that included Lady in the Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender, and After Earth. But Shyamalan’s 2015 scare flick The Visit sure did have a doozy – the twist being “It’s actually pretty good!” – and the whopper of his new thriller Split is that it’s close to great: scary, funny, nerve-racking, and boasting no fewer than three outstanding performances. Many more if you include all of star James McAvoy’s personalities.

Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield in Silence

By now, we should be used to cinematic miracles from Martin Scorsese. But Silence, his 160-minute, decades-in-the-planning exploration of faith, is still something I don’t think I’ve ever seen before: a deeply redundant movie that isn’t at all boring. This sentiment was obviously not shared by the quartet of middle-aged patrons who exited the auditorium ahead of me complaining about the film’s length and dullness and their growling stomachs and the previews being “totally deceptive.” (Personally, I thought the trailers captured the haunting, enigmatic mood about as ideally as a three-minute spot, or a 30-second one on TV, ever could. Were these folks expecting Hacksaw Ridge 2: 17th-Century Gore?) Yet if you have the patience for it – and considering the many scenes of physical and emotional torture, the stomach for it – you may find the experience of Scorsese’s latest riveting. I may have been aware of the thematic and narrative repetition, but I never once yawned.

Mark Wahlberg in Patriots Day

Rarely do I want movies to be longer. But there’s enough that’s great about Patriots Day – director Peter Berg’s procedural thriller about the Boston Marathon bombings – that suggests how great it might have been if given a more expansive presentation à la FX’s 10-part docu-drama The People v. O.J. Simpson. Heaven knows Berg had the cast to pull it off – with one exception. One major, infuriating, movie-wrecking exception.

Zoe Saldana and Ben Affleck in Live by Night

I don’t know about you, but I love watching car chases in movies set in the 1920s, because you know that despite sharp editing and camera angles giving the impression of astounding speed, those vehicles were probably scooting around at 40 miles per hour tops. Live by Night, director/writer/star Ben Affleck’s adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s 2012 novel, is similarly deceptive. Telling of a petty Boston crook who, between the ’20s and ’40s, becomes a Florida-based rum entrepreneur and bona-fide gangster, the film has a breadth and look and quality performers suggesting an epic tale of venality and greed, like The Godfather with fewer Sicilians and heavier humidity. In truth, however, it’s a dawdling, unsatisfying attempt at an epic, and it is slow. Forget 40 miles per hour; this thing doesn’t have a heart rate of even 40 beats per minute.

Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea

Looking over my list of favorites from the recently ended movie year, I was trying to find something – anything – that connected them beyond my admittedly eclectic tastes. I mean, seriously: low-budget drama next to Disney animation next to indie horror next to teen comedy next to musical romance next to cops and robbers next to sci-fi next to a woman being transformed into a Shetland pony ... . What the hell kind of cinematic Top 10 is this?

Hidden Figures

Considering it’s more than three hours long, I’ve seen Philip Kaufman’s space-program epic The Right Stuff an almost unseemly number of times. Yet as strong as my recollections of the film are, I don’t recall a single person of color with a speaking role, which makes the new Hidden Figures an important, necessary corrective – and a terrifically enjoyable one, to boot. I’m due for another viewing of Kaufman’s 1983 Oscar winner, and probably soon, but I’m not sure I’ll ever again be able to watch all those earnest white NASA guys hard at work without thinking, “Hey ... where the hell is Taraji P. Henson?!”

Denzel Washington in Fences

Movies aren’t plays, but it’s amazing how movie versions of plays, every once in a while, can make audiences momentarily forget that. A decade after seeing Dreamgirls, I can easily pinpoint the four moments in Jenifer Hudson’s “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” solo that caused our cheering crowd to burst into applause. Thirty-five years after the fact, I can still hear, with perfect clarity, the relieved laughter and ovation at On Golden Pond’s finale when Henry Fonda looked up at Katharine Hepburn and said, “I think I’m feeling all right now.” And if you ask me years down the road, I think I might also have instant recall of which revelations in the August Wilson adaptation Fences elicited loud, collective gasps at my screening, to say nothing of the Viola Davis line reading that, were this an actual play, might have stopped the show for a full 30 seconds.

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