“This was important to me and I’m trying to figure out why.” Heard there was an overlooked Laura Dern trauma drama this year, so obviously I’m all over it. Premiered in competition at Sundance, with Blaze, Blindspotting, and Sorry to Bother You. A quarter of my top twenty movies of the year played there, but it’s still a scattershot festival so it’s hard to trust it. Hard to trust this movie too, when we’re already seeing flashbacks to earlier in the movie at the 18 minute mark.

Present Jenny + Past Jenny = the poster image

Dern is as good as expected, and Elizabeth Debicki (lately of Widows) is perfect as her riding instructor/molester, with handsome rapist husband Jason Ritter (Jeb in Oliver Stone’s W.). Documentary filmmaker Jenny’s mom Ellen Burstyn finds a disturbing story Jenny wrote years ago, wants her to come home and figure some things out, so we hang with Young Jenny (Isabelle Nélisse of both Mama and Mother) for half the movie and watch how she got into a relationship with a sexy attractive couple, which would be cool if Jenny wasn’t 13 at the time. Ends with Present Jenny talking with Past Jenny (given away by the movie poster). This is based closely on the filmmaker’s life, but The Rider it ain’t – the writing is obvious, and despite all the professionalism on display, it feels like a TV movie that scored a great cast.

Lovely, wholesome molesters:

As cynical and absurd as Idiocracy (and even featuring Terry Crews). Lakeith Stanfield finds something he’s good at (selling awful things to rich people) and forsakes his awesome girl Tessa Thompson and his unionizing coworkers for a taste of fortune and power. He realizes the error of his ways, but also gets turned into a horse.

A fictionalized version of horseman Brady’s life and family. We only skipped this at True/False because I was pretty sure it would open here, and thankfully it did, with Brady and Lane in person on opening night. All respect to Zhao for making a lovely film, but it doesn’t work without Brady – he’s a nonactor who not only manages to carry a film, but does so with such grace and soul. Opening in the aftermath of Brady’s head injury after a rodeo fall (we see him watching the real footage), he struggles to envision a future where he can’t ride anymore. For a long time the film title seems like a cruel joke, since he never gets on a horse, until one beautiful scene shot in long takes through a fence (because it was essentially a documentary moment) as Brady demonstrates to a rancher that he can tame his skittish horse. At that moment, watching someone with a born talent for working with horses, every western movie we’ve ever seen felt more fake than ever.