Every day I drive past a slew of billboards, most of them advertising a product, event or service. Occasionally I come across a solid black billboard with white text that simply reads “Got Jesus?” Most of them are non-offensive although on a drive to the northern part of the state a couple of summers ago I came across a despicable, angering and offensive one that read “Diversity is another term for white genocide.” I stewed over it for the rest of the drive. I believe that trash has since been taken down but it certainly left its mark.

It brought up several questions:

“How in 2017 can someone be so backwards and uneducated in their beliefs?”

“Who owns that billboard and why would they allow such a terrible message to be displayed?”

“Why hasn’t the local county, city, etc. done something about this? “

It also brought out a discussion in my mind of censorship, freedom of expression, etc. While I believed the message to be incorrect and offensive on every level and wouldn't tolerate it from anyone I know, is it my place to say it can’t be there?

That’s the discussion that starts off Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) is a mother whose daughter was raped and murdered not long before the movie begins. In view of her home are three billboards on a road that’s only used by lost tourists and haven’t been used since the mid-80’s. She pays to have a red background with a bold message in black lettering on them that, when put together, read “RAPED AND MURDERED STILL NO ARRESTS? HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?” As you can imagine, the local police force led by Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) are not happy about it. Tensions rise further when Dixon (Sam Rockwell), an immature momma’s boy with a penchant for violence and worships the ground Willoughby walks on, takes direct action to have the billboards taken down.

It’s a story of the pain of others. We all have pains and losses that we suffer through. Pain affects us in diverse ways and we handle that grief differently. Mildred Hayes was still grieving the loss of her daughter and was angry that no one had been brought to justice for the horrible act. She believes that what happened to her daughter is her fault. It turns out that Chief Willoughby is battling Pancreatic cancer and is faced with his mortality and leaving behind a legacy for his daughters. Dixon is angry that his life hasn’t turned out the way in which he wanted it. He’s practically a laughingstock in the town and isn’t exactly the smartest man around.

The high point of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is the characters. The actors that play them go all in on these characters and are deserving of praise. These are well-developed characters with rich backstories that you learn about over the course of the film. Characters that you dislike in the beginning become sympathetic while others that you like become unsympathetic.

The mark of a well-written character is being able to recognize how they’ve changed by the end of the film. I’m not talking in terms of a characters being weak, getting bitten by a spider and becoming a superhero. I’m talking about how they change who they are at their core. Mildred Hayes changes over the course of the film, Chief Willoughby changes over the course of the film, even Dixon who emerges as the film’s villain changes early on over the course of the film. I don’t want to spoil the changes but I will say that they are nearly unrecognizable from beginning to end.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a dark comedy that is entertaining for the most part. It falters somewhat in the latter half but as I said, it’s all about the characters.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the next great writer/director has arrived. Greta Gerwig delivers a powerful film in Lady Bird which stars Saoirse Ronan as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a young woman navigating her teenage years. She’s butting heads with her equally strong-willed Mom, played by Laurie Metcalf, who is working to keep the family afloat after her father, played by Tracy Letts, loses his job. She’s also working to build relationships and seems eager to change her life during her senior year of high school. It’s an affecting look at how relationships, circumstances and beliefs define us.

I’ll just come right out and say it: Lady Bird is the best film of 2017.

It’s incredibly well-acted. It took me about three minutes to buy into the characters. Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf knock this movie out of the park.

Watching this movie is like watching teenagers in the wild. As if you just sat back and observed and they didn’t know you were there. It’s so amazing to watch. Teenagers have problems and Writer/Director Greta Gerwig gets that and they go through a process of discovery, finding out who they are and who they want to be while forming relationships with other teens and adults. She understands that. She writes it and puts it on film in a way that reaches out and grabs you.

It’s a captivating film. I couldn’t look away and I didn’t want to look away. Parents of teenagers will be able to relate to the characters in this movie.

I see my teenagers in this. I see my relationship with my teens in this. I see my teens friends in this and I see myself in this movie.

I repeat, Lady Bird is the best film of 2017.

I also got the chance to watch Coco. Disney/Pixar’s latest from the director of Toy Story 3 and Finding Nemo. Miguel has dreams of being a musician but his family, who make shoes, has banned music from every aspect of their lives. They’re not even allowed to whistle, hum, or blow rhythmically into a glass bottle.

This hatred of music started when Miguel’s great-grandfather left his family for life on the road as a musician. Set against the celebration of Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday meant to remember their ancestors who have died and praying for their spiritual journey. While searching for a guitar to prove his talents, Miguel winds up in the stunning and colorful Land of the Dead where he meets some of his ancestors and the charming tricksters, Hector. Together, they set off on a journey to unlock the mystery behind Miguel’s family history and the reason behind his passion for music.

Coco is one of Disney/Pixar’s best. Putting the story aside, they have gone leaps and bounds in their animation. When you watch this film, pay attention to the minute details. Look at how shadows move across the screen, the splashing of water, the burning of candles, the dirt patterns on the streets, the movement of the fingers while plucking guitar strings and the way the guitar strings themselves respond to being plucked. It’s an amazing achievement. The hours and hours spent writing the code for that animation is worth every single second.

The story is so wonderful. Family is at the core of it all. The importance of family, remembering your ancestors and supporting each other. It is a beautiful tale.

You will laugh, you will cry, and you will want to know more about your family ancestry.