Cinema 2015: Top 250
With a few exceptions, year of release was determined by the first non-festival US run. I chose this criterion only to ensure I had access to the widest possible selection of films.
You can also find this list (along with star ratings) on Letterboxd.
250. Fantastic Four - dir. Josh Trank
I've seen many bad films in my life, but I don't think I've ever seen one that so clearly wasn't finished. To say that Fantastic Four feels like a rough draft would be generous; it's nonsensically structured and incompetently edited, incapacitated by poor performances and poor filmmaking. The only redemptive sequence is the one in which the team discovers their abilities for the first time: it's shot like Cronenbergian body horror, and it's a single flash of brilliance in what is otherwise, bar none, one of the worst films I have ever seen.
249. Lava - dir. James Ford Murphy
The worst short Pixar has ever made? (Yes.) Lava is stupid, annoying, and an embarrassing precursor to Inside Out, the exceptional movie it precedes. It even features a pun. I love puns. I hate Lava.
248. Taken 3 - dir. Olivier Megaton
Y tho? Seriously, I have no idea why Taken 3 exists (Taken 2 was already an overextension of what should have been a one-and-done deal, so I'm not sure how we even got here); it's basically a two-hour sequence of the laziest action tropes imaginable. Fridged woman to motivate the hero? Check. Daughter takes gruff dad to lunch and he totally misses her Hiroshima-sized hints that she's pregnant? Check. Poorly-choreographed and incompetently-edited fights? Check. Poorly-choreographed and incompetently-edited chases? Check. Even Liam Neeson and Maggie Grace cannot save this dull affair. Pass.
247. San Andreas - dir. Brad Peyton
When Roland Emmerich is knocking down cities, he at least has the decency to muster up some mediocre thrills (see: The Day After Tomorrow, 2012). But San Andreas is just so...boring. Earthquakes are no longer thrilling to modern audiences—we've all seen digital effects at ten times this scale, and they've looked better—and the characters aren't nearly interesting enough to create an emotional core. CG destruction-fests have their place, but they should at least be fun.
246. Tomorrowland - dir. Brad Bird
I should have paid heed to the dark omen that is screenwriter Damon Lindelof, but I was instead blinded by the promise of director Brad Bird; it turns out that even his immense talent cannot redeem Lindelof's relentless stupidity and suffocating laziness. Tomorrowland has its heart in the right place—an optimistic counterpoint to our collective "dark and gritty" obsession—but such noble intentions are rendered moot by the one-dimensional characters, stilted dialogue, and third-grade plotting. Tomorrowland is an insufferable bore.
245. Kung Fury - dir. David Sandberg
Ostensibly a loving homage/send-up of 80s science fiction, action, and cop dramas, Kung Fury is not fun nor satirical in any meaningful way. The visual effects are bad, the writing is bad, the acting bad - and yes, I realize that they are all supposed to be bad - but the result is supposed to be "I'm having a good time," not "I want to carve my eyes out so I don't have to sit through one more second of this nonsensical bullshit." Kung Fury (blessedly) runs for a mere thirty minutes, but it would have been wildly improved by a zero-minute runtime.
244. Dark Places - dir. Gilles Paquet-Brenner
To be fair, Dark Places is a much weaker novel than its successor, Gone Girl. I'm not sure it ever could have spawned a great film. But with the right script, actors, and director, it could have been a good film. Unfortunately, the script and direction lie somewhere between "bad" and "incompetent" - the actors, at least, try their best, but nothing they do can save the material they have to work with (and Charlize Theron, as much as I like her, was horribly miscast). Give Dark Places a pass and go rewatch Gone Girl; that's a great film worth seeing again.
243. Minions - dir. Kyle Balda & Pierre Coffin
Illumination Entertainment somehow manages to lower an already low bar with every film they make. Their creations are lazy, soulless, boring, incomprehensibly stupid affairs that lack entertainment as well as artistic value. To say that Minions appeals to the lowest common denominator would be a generous untruth; it appeals to fucking marketing executives, and it doesn't even have the elegance to use that appeal as a springboard for something interesting (some marketing ploys have generated great entertainment, even art, so no excuse!). Minions is garbage and Illumination is garbage—unfortunately, they know how to make money and they're on the rise.
242. The Danish Girl - dir. Tom Hooper
NB: I am transgender. The Danish Girl has its heart in the right place (at least, I believe it does), but this is the worst kind of faux-progressive art—it perpetuates all the regressive tropes that have made it so difficult for cisgender folks to understand what the transgender experience entails, especially in its equating of gender dysphoria with disability before falling into the "cure or kill" trap. For a lucid and thorough breakdown of The Danish Girl's many moral shortcomings, here is the illustrious Sally Jane Black's review on Letterboxd: letterboxd.com/glazomaniac/film/the-danish-girl/
241. Pixels - dir. Chris Columbus
The content of Pixels seems to be targeting Gen X, but the tone of Pixels seems to be targeting Gen Z—it's a disparity that rends the film apart and renders it unappealing to anyone (and if you were somehow still enjoying it, there's a heavy dose of misogyny to turn you off). Pixels is neither funny nor thrilling; it's devoid of anything resembling stakes or tension, and there is no nostalgic warmth or legitimate laughs to fill the vacuum.
240. Suffragette - dir. Sarah Gavron
Suffragette, in its own weird way, reminded me of Marieke Nijkamp's novel This Is Where It Ends; "I'M PROGRESSIVE!" it seems to say. "I'M RELEVANT!" And in the hands of more talented creators, it could have been. It should have been. But this muddy, muddled piece of cinema not only deliberately distorts important facts, but it profoundly fails in its attempts to communicate the meaning and the magnitude of what these women went through as they fought for fundamental rights.
239. The Nightmare - dir. Rodney Ascher
Rodney Ascher's previous documentary, Room 237, was an enthralling examination of the absurd conspiracy theories that have accumulated around Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. The Nightmare is exactly what Room 237 wasn't: dreadfully boring. Rather than exploring what should be a fascinating topic, sleep paralysis, Ascher allows his subjects to tell stories for ninety grating minutes about the "evil presences" they felt in the room while they were paralyzed. The Nightmare won't give you sleep paralysis, but it will put you to sleep.
238. Cinderella - dir. Kenneth Branagh
Can we finally concede that Kenneth Branagh, at least when he's not doing Shakespeare, is not a particularly talented director? (Fine actor, though.) "Soulless" is the word that comes to mind in regard to his live-action adaption of Cinderella; Cate Blanchett doles out a heavy dose of credibility to anything she's in, but she's the only anchor in this weightless film. Slavishly recreating the animated classic was the core mistake here—Maleficent, for all its faults, tried something new, and Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book dazzled with unbelievable visual effects. But Branagh's Cinderella has no magic, no heart, nothing to set it apart. This is one remake that you're better off skipping.
237. Pan - dir. Joe Wright
When Peter first arrives in Neverland in this entirely unnecessary prequel, he arrives to the sound of thousands of CG orphans (and Hugh Jackman, who, as Captain Blackbeard, is the closet thing this film has to a saving grace) singing "Smells Like Teen Spirit." I'm not inherently opposed to anachronism or audacious musical choices (I felt that the use of contemporary songs in Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby worked remarkably well), but the addition of Nirvana's iconic track adds nothing to this film—it only takes away. Pan is an empty film: empty of soul, wit, charm, laughs, or thrills. It's truly a shame.
236. Before We Go - dir. Chris Evans
Excuse me? Excuse me? Excuse me? Excuse me? Excuse me? After what feels like ten minutes of characters saying "excuse me," this Before Sunrise ripoff transforms into one of the most uninspired romances(?) I've ever seen. Helmed by Captain America himself, Chris Evans (who also stars alongside Alice Eve), it's a race to the bottom between the awful script, awful direction, and lackluster performances. There's a sense of real melancholy pervading Before We Go—despite giving off all the pheromones of a rom-com, it's a surprisingly dour and humorless piece of work—and I appreciated that aspect, but it's not enough to save these dreadful ninety minutes.
235. Point Break - dir. Ericson Core
Both the original Point Break and this misguided remake are cheesy as fuck—but the original knew it, and this one doesn't. It's suffocatingly self-serious, saturated in a dour grey-green color palette that saps any potential joy from the film like an aesthetic condom. When Johnny Utah (who, for some reason, is given a tragic backstory that has virtually no relevance to anything else that happens in the film) fired his gun into the air and screamed, I didn't feel his frustration like I did in the original; I laughed out loud. This remake isn't bad, it's insulting.
234. Aloha - dir. Cameron Crowe
I honestly have no idea what the hell Aloha is or what the hell it's trying to do. Is it supposed to be a comedy? Because it's not funny. Is it supposed to be a romance? Because it's not romantic. Maybe a...thriller? (It turns into a thriller for a hot second.) I don't know. Aloha is the cinematic equivalent of a dying fish flopping around on a beach. The only good thing to come out of it was the "Aloha is great" meme: twitter.com/davidehrlich/status/730969154480701440
233. Mortdecai - dir. David Koepp
I actually laughed two or three times during Mortdecai, which is two or three more times than I expected. It's a strange, stupid, nonsensical movie with an outlandish sense of humor that will make you question which of the four quadrants the filmmakers and studio executives could possibly have been aiming for. It's not the worst piece of cinema to come out in 2015, but goddamn—it's like a bunch of dimwitted aliens watched Charlie Chaplin and a ton of British comedy, completely misunderstood what makes either of those things funny, and then generated Mortdecai. Try again, aliens. Or don't. Just don't.
232. Unexpected - dir. Kris Swanberg
Unexpected could have capitalized upon its premise—the parallel pregnancies of two women, one young and black, the other middle-aged and white—to say something meaningful about socio-economic inequality, especially in regard to women and their bodies, but it instead opts for a generic story about generic people, generically shot and generically written and generically performed. Unexpected is the only thing worse than bad: it's a dull, pointless, tasteless work.
231. Ant-Man - dir. Peyton Reed
Not only Marvel's worst movie to date, but one of the laziest and most incomprehensibly stupid pieces of superhero cinema to be released in the early 21st century. Paul Rudd is Ant-Man's only saving grace; Michael Douglas is miscast, Evangeline Lilly is woefully underutilized, the script is bad, and the visual effects are bad. Would Edgar Wright's Ant-Man have been a great film? Maybe, maybe not. But it would have been better than this. Ant-Man is an insulting piece of garbage.
230. Truth - dir. James Vanderbilt
Despite a monumental cast led by Robert Redford and Cate Blanchett, Truth is essentially what you get if you try to make Spotlight or The Insider and profoundly fuck it up. Even if, like me, you know next to nothing about the events which resulted in the departure of Dan Rather and the firing of Mary Mapes at CBS (come now, I was ten when it happened!), it's not hard to see that this is a movie which egregiously misunderstands the qualities which are valued in journalism—it paints its protagonists as martyrs, not as veterans who made mistakes. Truth is a film which is decidedly untruthful.
229. Results - dir. Andrew Bujalski
What IS this movie? Leads Cobie Smulders, Guy Pearce, and Kevin Corrigan hold the screen, but the point of the film left me baffled. Is it supposed to be a romantic comedy? The ending seems to imply as much, but Results is neither romantic nor funny; it flails so wildly in terms of tone, emotion, and structure that the inconsistency is almost admirable. A good companion piece to the mind-boggling oddity that is Aloha (although, to its minor credit, Results is marginally better).
228. Goosebumps - dir. Rob Letterman
There's a moment of borderline-profundity near the end of Goosebumps (spoilers, if that matters to you): the protagonist's love interest, like the monsters, was brought to life by author R.L. Stine, and the protagonist realizes that he can only destroy the monsters if he also destroys her. It's a moment of real growth, a realization that one can only become an adult by letting go of both childish fears and childish fantasies. I was impressed by the power of that message in the midst of what was otherwise a run-of-the-mill children's film. But then Goosebumps takes the easy way out, and it brings the love interest back. That moment of borderline-profundity is washed away in a tide of corporate-mandated mass appeal and lazy storytelling. Boo.
227. Dope - dir. Rick Famuyiwa
Dope is so Sundance it hurts. Most of the running time is spent on a film that feels like a perfectly competent YA adaptation: the actors own their roles, the dialogue is appropriately snappy, and the entire affair is a slickly-shot piece of cinema. But it's also a landslide of dull clichés we've seen time and time again, and Dope seems to be entirely unaware that it's all been done, and done better, before. Skip this and watch Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl instead.
226. The Age of Adaline - dir. Lee Toland Krieger
What's up with this thing where promising premises—in this case, a woman who stops aging—are wasted on generic stories? There was so much potential to say something here, to say something about how a woman's appearance subverts or reinforces expectations and stereotypes across the span of generations, but Age of Adaline elects instead to tell a love story that would have been equally ineffective without the science-fiction setup. At least Harrison Ford gives 150%.
225. Fort Tilden - dir. Sarah-Violet Bliss & Charles Rogers
Fort Tilden's final ten minutes or so are actually quite effective in that they capitalize elegantly and unexpectedly on an emotional arc that you didn't realize was happening, but the preceding eighty minutes are about as enjoyable as having nails stuck through your eyes. The problem isn't that the characters are unlikable, it's that they're uninteresting—unlikable in a cliché, one-note fashion. Fort Tilden is a suffocating, irritating, stupid film that might have worked as a short; as a full-length feature, however, it fails miserably. This is one to avoid.
224. Maggie - dir. Henry Hobson
Arnold Schwarzenegger turns in a sensitive, nuanced performance in this almost-arthouse take on the zombie apocalypse (it eschews the standard survival drama of something like The Walking Dead in favor of a more contemplative look at the emotions that come with the inevitability of death). Unfortunately, Abigail Breslin struggles to carry the emotional weight of the film as Schwarzenegger's daughter, and it doesn't work without her. Arnold is Maggie's only saving grace.
223. American Ultra - dir. Nima Nourizadeh
American Ultra doesn't know what it wants to be. Comedy? Action? Satire? Some sort of mishmash between all three (i.e., Kick-Ass, Super)? It's not funny enough to be a comedy. There isn't much action. And the satirical elements are so light and so ineffectual that they might as well not be there at all. Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart are solid anchors for any film, but they are not are their best here, and the movie that surrounds them is both aimless and lifeless.
222. Fifty Shades of Grey - dir. Sam Taylor-Johnson
Dear Anastasia Steele,
When Christian Grey asked if you were a romantic, you replied: "I studied English lit, so I kind of have to be." There isn't actually a correlation there, but I understand where you're coming from—"romantic," here, is that urge to apply narrative where there isn't any, a quality which seems to attract those who study stories (e.g., me) and storytellers themselves (e.g., me). But Ana, let's revisit an earlier moment in the text of your own story...
"Tell me," Christian Grey asked you during your first meeting with him, "was it Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen, or Thomas Hardy who first made you fall in love with literature?" (I'm curious, Ana: why didn't you ask him his reasoning behind these three options? Why not Chaucer, Shakespeare, or Milton? Faulkner, Steinbeck, or Hemingway?)
The things you say and do throughout the rest of the film suggest that Austen would be your answer, but it's not: it's Hardy. HARDY. This is your first significant character beat in the film, so we can't take it lightly. There is romance in Hardy, but Hardy is not romantic—Hardy is sadistic. One might even go so far as to say that your unexpected answer is supposed to tell us something about your character; perhaps it is telling us that, deep down, you are not a romantic. Perhaps it is telling us that you derive pleasure from pain. Perhaps that somehow relates to a motif in the film. Dunno what it could be.
So what's the deal? Were you lying about being a romantic? Were you lying about Hardy? Did you just not know that you were a masochist? Or, wait—perhaps...perhaps romance and masochism are not fundamentally opposed ideas. Perhaps they are not mutually exclusive. Did I just learn something? Did I just learn the same lesson you learned over the course of this film? Wow. It's almost like this fundamental disconnect in the portrayal of your character elucidated the themes of the film through an effective use of subtext.
Lazy writing is also a possibility.
P.S. Your partner, Mr. Grey, does not understand consent. HE LITERALLY SOLD YOUR CAR WITHOUT ASKING YOU.
P.P.S. You...you don't know what BUTT PLUGS are? What the actual fuck, Ana? Do you live in the world? Jesus Christ. Jesus fucking Christ.
221. Focus - dir. Glenn Ficarra & John Requa
Too thrilling to be romantic, too romantic to be thrilling. Like Now You See Me, none of the magic feels real because it is so clearly constructed around the careful editing that disguises its falsity. I'm pretty sure the only reason Focus exists is so hot people can be on a screen together, because there is nothing resembling intent or substance here. Will Smith and Margot Robbie know how to hold the screen, but this is a dumb and pointless film that lacks...focus. (Sorry.)
220. Sisters - dir. Jason Moore
Amy Poehler and Tina Fey are obviously having a lot of fun, but this movie a) isn't funny, and b) is more than TWO. HOURS. LONG. Jesus Christ. It certainly doesn't help that the second half of the film all takes place in one location, which turns the movement of the plot(?) into a viscous crawl of molasses. Sisters is an inoffensive comedy, but it simply doesn't deliver the laughs it requires to justify its running time.
219. Burnt - dir. John Wells
Burnt introduced me to the concept of Michelin Stars, which in turn caused me to fall down a rabbit hole of Wikipedia links that resulted in my new favorite hobby—reading negative reviews of outrageously high-end places to eat. For example, restaurant critic Tanya Gold says of a New York location commonly considered one of the best in the world: "If you want an experience like the one on offer at Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare, then put a dead fish on your kitchen table and punch yourself repeatedly in the face, then write yourself a bill for $425.29 (including wine). That should do it." SAVAGE AF. As for the movie itself? It's not bad or anything, just...tasteless. Zero Michelin stars.
218. Jurassic World - dir. Colin Trevorrow
The characters in Jurassic World must be the ancestors of those in Prometheus, because the machinations of the plot depend entirely on their incomprehensible stupidity (running from a Tyrannosaurus Rex in high heels, are you fucking kidding me?). That's really the long and short of it. I know the premise of the Jurassic franchise is inherently ridiculous, but it's too hard to buy into the drama when everything the characters do is dictated by a desperate screenplay rather than legitimate motivations (it's not dissimilar to The Walking Dead). Director Colin Trevorrow doesn't have a tenth of Spielberg's talent, and his half-hearted attempts to evoke the master fall painfully flat.
217. Blackhat - dir. Michael Mann
Blackhat, surprisingly, suffers from the Superman problem: its protagonist is not only a world-class hacker, but he's also Chris Fucking Hemsworth and can kick your sorry ass. So who cares? There's never a real sense of stakes or danger because of the hyper-competence of this character. Blackhat is not without merit, however—it's beautifully shot, and there's an unexpected and thrilling sense of scale for a movie about working on computers. While not a complete trashfire, Blackhat hardly compares against Michael Mann's best work.
216. Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words - dir. Stig Björkman
I was hoping that Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words would provide some insight into Bergman's work as an actress, but her professional life plays second fiddle in this documentary to her troubled relationships with her children. If you want to learn all about how Ingrid was never there when her daughters needed her, you'll probably get more out of Words than I did; frankly, I didn't care. But it's interesting to see some of the footage that Bergman was so fond of shooting.
215. Concussion - dir. Peter Landesman
There's a good movie buried somewhere in Concussion, but it plays things far too safe—especially given that it was released on the cusp of a resurgence in anti-science, anti-immigration mindsets in the United States. This is the true story of a man who moved from Nigeria to America and used science to battle the NFL, and for some reason it chooses to be as apolitical and passionless as possible. This is an opportunity to BE political, to BE passionate, to showcase the power and insensitivity of corporations and the people who are suffering and dying as a result. But Concussion is cold and conventional and empty.
214. Iris - dir. Albert Maysles
Iris is predicated on one core idea: elderly folks can live active, interesting lives. It's good to be reminded of that once in a while—and Iris Apfel, the subject of the documentary, is a joy to watch. But there simply isn't enough here to justify a feature-length film, and Iris strains its running time even at a lean eighty minutes. It's a perfectly pleasant way to spend an afternoon, but you're better off with a similar-but-superior documentary such as Seymour: An Introduction.
213. Tig - dir. Kristina Goolsby & Ashley York
I remember when Tig's famous set happened. I remember hearing that now-iconic opening for the first time: "Hello, I have cancer. How are you?" I remember how profound and transgressive that felt. But this documentary isn't interested in exploring the ouroboros of tragedy and comedy so much as Tig's personal life after her diagnosis, and Tig's personal life simply isn't interesting enough to warrant a feature film. Things get worse for her, then they get better, and it largely happens outside of her control. What are we supposed to take away from that? "It gets better"? Dunno. Tig's story is sweet but pointless.
212. Goodnight Mommy - dir. Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz
The costume design in Goodnight Mommy is fan-fucking-tastic (those bandages!), and the quality of the direction is a step above your average horror fare, but that's about all this film has going for it. The Shyamalan-esque twist is cheap and predictable, and it slips far too often into lazy genre tropes—gratuitous violence, creepy twin children, etc.—to earn its place in the horror pantheon. This is a clear case of style over substance: Goodnight Mommy is a well-made movie, but it doesn't hold up where it counts. A disappointment.
211. Very Semi-Serious - dir. Leah Wolchok
A passably interesting documentary about New Yorker cartoons, Very Semi-Serious is more an amusing showcase of humor and artistry (and the people who create it) than it is an incisive look into its subject matter. The only time it truly comes to life is in its exploration of comedy in the months immediately following 9/11; considering the frequency of The New Yorker's release schedule, a tighter focus on the relationship between the cartoonists and world events would have done wonders. Very Semi-Serious doesn't aspire to much—that's okay.
210. Coming Home - dir. Zhang Yimou
This might be one of those "it's not you, it's me" situations. Although well-acted and well-directed (I've enjoyed Zhang Yimou's other work), I found Coming Home to be overwhelmingly and unpleasantly sentimental—it's almost an emotional flipside to the far-superior Phoenix, which deals with similar motifs of identity and memory to much more meaningful effect. I didn't care for Coming Home, but I certainly won't suggest that it's in any way bad or not worth watching.
209. Deathgasm - dir. Jason Lei Howden
Deathgasm is trying sooo hard to be a 21st-century Evil Dead, but imitating Sam Raimi is difficult when you're not Sam Raimi. This isn't to say that it's a complete waste of time—it's fun, it's funny, and there's a decapitation joke that practically had me rolling on the floor. But Deathgasm's flashes of brilliance are few and far between, and I am inclined to believe that it would have worked much more effectively in the form of a short film. Debut director Robert Lei Howden shows promise, and I am interested in checking out his future work, but he just isn't there yet. Someday, maybe, he will make a great film.
208. Chappie - dir. Neill Blomkamp
Chappie is a bad movie—it's a step down even from Elysium—but it's not as bad as you might expect. Director Neill Blomkamp's distinctive aesthetic is as crisp and sharply-realized as ever, and he attempts here to say something meaningful about the way we raise our children and the influence we have on them. The execution, however, is where everything falls apart; it's clumsy at best, featuring uninteresting performances and writing that slips into cliché after cliché.
207. Paper Towns - dir. Jake Schreier
Paper Towns may be John Green's best novel, but it doesn't survive the transition to the screen. It's empty, hollow, a desperate feign of a commentary on boy-gets-girl stories that falls flat on its face. The characters are boring. The filmmaking is boring. And like The Fault in Our Stars, it slips right into the same traps that it is so intent on satirizing. This is YA moviemaking at its most generic and most uninspired.
206. Trumbo - dir. Jay Roach
At some point during the production of Trumbo (before it was written, ideally), someone should have seriously asked themselves: "Why does this story need to be told, and why does it need to be told now?" Because Trumbo's tale, while interesting, is not relevant nor engaging in any meaningful way. It glosses over the material that matters—the witch-hunt qualities of McCarthyism, the political nuances of communism as the world transitioned from WWII to the Cold War, and especially the hypocritical classism of a rich white man living in luxury while claiming that everyone should be equal. Bryan Cranston is good and John Goodman is even better, but what else is new? Trumbo is nothing more than an excuse to namedrop a lot of famous people, many of whom show up on-screen.
205. Joy - dir. David O. Russell
Jennifer Lawrence holds the screen (as you would expect, even though she may have been a few years too young for this part), but her performance is the only thing that makes Joy worth watching. The desperation with which David O. Russell attempts to wring feminism from this tale practically bleeds through the screen, and his efforts are counter-productive perhaps even more than they are ineffectual. Joy is an enJOYable (sorry) enough watch thanks to the talent of its lead actress, but this story isn't compelling enough to justify its existence.
204. Cyberbully - dir. Ben Chanan
Cyberbully is an antiquated "be careful on the internet" PSA, and it doesn't pretend to be anything otherwise. That said, it's better than it needs to or has any right to be. Maisie Williams (the only reason anyone watched this, including me) gives a solid performance, and the ways in which the movie plays off audience sympathies and expectations is actually somewhat interesting; Cyberbully has much in common with Unfriended in that the protagonist does not always have the moral high ground. There are worse ways to spend an hour.
203. The Visit - dir. M. Night Shyamalan
The Visit features the crispest directorial work that Shyamalan has done in years, and the moment-to-moment writing is endearing silly. Even better, the horror here stems from something that is all-too-real—the fear that comes with not knowing how to react when the bodies of the elderly behave in ways that we do not expect. But every part of this story, including the obligatory twist, is mind-numbingly stupid: it's riddled with plot holes that don't hold up under the slightest scrutiny, and it perpetuates damaging tropes about the mentally ill. Well-made it may be, but The Visit is yet another failed effort from M. Night.
202. Human Capital - dir. Paolo Virzi
I'm not sure there's any film on this list which I feel more neutrally about than Human Capital. Its structure is Crash-adjacent, with the lives of its characters ricocheting off one another like billiard balls; unfortunately, those lives are not particularly interesting, and they exist only to serve the movie's single belabored point (can you guess what it is?). Acting and direction is fine, even good, across the board—but again, it's just not interesting enough to hold your attention.
201. Office - dir. Hong Won-chan
Two movies called Office came out in 2015; this is the South Korean one, not the Chinese one (which I wanted to watch but was unable to find, unfortunately). In any case, this is a somewhat disjointed horror/thriller that riffs on the cutthroat anxiety of an office environment by literalizing it through murder, but the filmmaking is not strong enough to support the premise in any meaningful way. Ah-sung Ko, however, turns in a solid lead performance as Lee Mi-Rye.
200. Infinitely Polar Bear - dir. Maya Forbes
Not only does this movie not contain infinite polar bears, it contains NO polar bears. Can you believe that? It's actually a mental illness pun, and I sometimes found Infinitely Polar Bear's treatment of such to be inappropriately casual and/or comedic. Regardless, it's a pleasant and heartwarming film that I enjoyed watching; Mark Ruffalo is a reliable anchor in the lead role. It simply doesn't hold up against similar-but-better works such as People, Places, Things or Welcome to Me.
199. Time Out of Mind - dir. Oren Moverman
Time Out of Mind captures the grit and realism of homelessness in New York (or, at least, it's a convincing facade—I've never been homeless in New York and can't speak to its authenticity), but it's overly-long at a whopping two hours. Its meandering pace is undoubtedly meant to capture the aimlessness experienced by Richard Gere's character; however, better films such as Heaven Knows What evoke this same quality without losing the interest of the viewer.
198. Z for Zachariah - dir. Craig Zobel
The cinematography in this post-apocalyptic love story is crisp and beautiful, and the cast (all of Margot Robbie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Chris Pine, whose character probably should have been cut from the film entirely) is strong, but the movie as a whole doesn't quite come together. Its attempts to unpack themes revolving around race and religion are half-baked at best. Despite the weakness of the material, though, the direction and performances carry Z for Zachariah.
197. Best of Enemies - dir. Morgan Neville & Robert Gordon
The 1968 debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley form the crux of this documentary; unfortunately, it devotes far too much of its runtime to hagiographies of these two men instead of ACTUALLY SHOWING THE DEBATES. The footage we do see is riveting, crackling with with and energy, and it's thrilling the watch—directors Robert Gordan and Morgan Neville obviously couldn't have featured two hours of debate footage (even though that would have been great), but there needed to be far more than the snippets they provide.
196. Two Step - dir. Alex R. Johnson
Two Step contains what might be the year's best line of dialogue—"What in God's name are you so fat and sassy about?"—but otherwise, this is nothing more than No Country For Old Men by way of passionate amateurs. Writer/director Alex R. Johnson and the entire cast are trying so hard to emulate the grit, naturalism, and craftsmanship of the Coens' thriller, and their strain is plastered across every second of screentime. There are a few magical moments, a clever match cut or an interesting turn of phrase; it's just not enough.
195. White God - dir. Kornél Mundruczó
White God, fueled by the suffocating metaphor of "dogs = minorities/oppressed groups" (the movie is called WHITE GOD), is a hot tonal mess that fluctuates between Homeward Bound and...I don't know, an obscenely bloody horror flick in which animals tear out throats. Film critic Josh Larsen, in his review of White God (which you can find on his website, Larsen on Film), laid out a compelling argument for those tonal shifts as intentional and satirical—I don't quite buy it, but I will concede that there is occasionally a bit more cleverness going on here than it seems at first glance. If nothing else, I can't imagine that "God" wasn't intended to be a play on words: spell it backwards, of course, and you get "dog." The climax, at least, is suitably bonkers, even if the resolution is unmitigated stupidity.
194. Tangerine - dir. Sean Baker
I was so ready to love Tangerine. An indie cult hit (filmed on an iPhone) about trans sex workers? That sounds exactly like the kind of progressive character drama that I'm attracted to. But Tangerine didn't work for me, and it's all for one core reason: I didn't care about any of the characters. I seem to be in the minority, so perhaps the fault is with me and not the film itself, but I simply wasn't invested in anything that was happening. Even still—kudos to Tangerine for doing something entirely unlike anything else in 2015.
193. Mr. Holmes - dir. Bill Condon
Ian McKellan as a 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes seems like a recipe for success, but Mr. Holmes struggles in its attempts to decide the kind of story it wants to tell. Is this a Holmesian mystery colored by the confusion of age? Or is it a commentary on the way in which we attempt to make sense of our lives as we get older? It's both, of course. But the mystery (and it's a dull mystery) gets in the way of the central metaphor and undermines the qualities that make it so compelling, which is a shame. Beautifully shot and acted, though.
192. Pitch Perfect 2 - dir. Elizabeth Banks
Of all the movies to sequelize (let alone threequelize), Pitch Perfect? Really? Elizabeth Banks takes over as director for the second entry in this franchise, and while her work is hardly incompetent, she fails to bring anything meaningful to the material. It's not her fault, though—the actors have almost nothing to work with, and it shows. Pitch Perfect was passable entertainment, but Pitch Perfect 2 is a shell of its predecessor; it hits all the same beats, but this time the jokes don't quite land, and the notes would be flat if they weren't autotuned.
191. All Things Must Pass - dir. Colin Hanks
A competently-made but conventional documentary that chronicles pretty much exactly what is promised by the subtitle: the rise and fall of Tower Records. Given that almost all of the events and mindsets depicted happened before I was born, I probably found this more interesting than folks in the generations preceding mine would. The thematic crux here—the rapidity with which changing technology can bring down even the mightiest empires—doesn't justify the runtime.
190. What Happened, Miss Simone? - dir. Liz Garbus
What Happened, Miss Simone? is a documentary that is far too tame for the fiery woman at its heart. It's good to see a film devoted to Nina, and her presence is magnetic even in the archival footage, but the movie treads too delicately around issues of racism and mental illness—important parts of Simone's story which need to be addressed. This is a perfectly adequate documentary for what it's trying to do; it's just that Nina Simone deserves more than adequate, more than this.
189. Welcome to Leith - dir. Michael Beach Nichols & Christopher K. Walker
Welcome to Leith is a documentary with one-note shock value: white supremacists attempt a democratic takeover of a tiny town, and they can't be arrested because they haven't violated any laws. There are faint echoes of Minority Report—what do you do when no violence has happened, but violence seems inevitable? This question (at least in the case of Welcome to Leith) cannot sustain a feature film, but it's mildly interesting to witness the anachronism of Nazis in the 21st century.
188. Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon - dir. Douglas Tirola
Although hardly innovative by documentary standards (read: not innovative at all), the subject matter is interesting enough to hold your attention. The story of National Lampoon is a fascinating one. Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead is all about HOW; what it's missing is WHY. Why is that famous cover with the dog such a wicked bit of satire? Why were people attracted to the magazine in its early days? Why did that attraction change over time? Greater consideration for questions such as these would have enriched DSBD immeasurably. As it is, it's fine.
187. What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy - dir. David Evans
What Our Fathers Did doesn't play off the idea of how one reckons with monstrous parents so much as how familial relations distort our ability to see people as they are or were. This documentary follows two men, each the son of a Nazi war criminal, as they react to and process what they know and learn about their fathers; one son acknowledges the crimes and the cruelty, the other desperately denies it. The contrast between the two forms the heart of the film, although it becomes painfully lopsided going into the second half.
186. Amour Fou - dir. Jessica Hausner
Amour Fou would make an interesting double feature with When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism; it features the same sense of parched humor that will appeal to an extremely specific type of viewer (although WEFOBOM does it better). If that's your thing, you'll probably enjoy Amour Fou. If it's not, you probably won't. I found it to be a perfectly serviceable viewing experience, but it didn't inspire or impress me quite as much as I would have hoped. Amour Fou is okay.
185. Digging for Fire - dir. Joe Swanberg
Digging for Fire relies heavily on strained metaphors in its attempts to say something insightful about marriage and relationships, but it's an inoffensive watch with a surprising stacked cast including Brie Larson, Anna Kendrick, and Sam Rockwell. The real star here is Dan Romer's score; the Beasts of the Southern Wild and Beasts of No Nation composer finally makes music for a movie without "Beasts" in the title, and the result is a rich soundscape that belongs in a better film.
184. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. - dir. Guy Ritchie
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is slickly-made trash. Guy Ritchie's direction is unusually crisp, but the saving graces here are Henry Cavill and Alicia Vikander—the former has (arguably) never been better cast, and the latter is predictably excellent. If a film like Dr. No had been made in the 21st century, it probably would have resembled The Man from U.N.C.L.E.; that comparison, though, would be an insult to Bond. This is a competently-made and watchable movie, but it's not that good.
183. Far from the Madding Crowd - dir. Thomas Vinterberg
Thomas Vinterberg's adaptation of the famed Thomas Hardy novel could hardly be more different from his previous film, The Hunt, a riveting and unexpected thriller about a man whose life is thrown into chaos when a prepubescent girl kisses him on the lips. (Yes, I am using this review as an excuse to recommend another movie.) Performances are good, and the film is beautifully shot, but Rolling Stone critic David Ehrlich ultimately says it better than I ever could: "It's still a movie that opens with Carey Mulligan on a pony galloping toward a rainbow."
182. Hitchcock/Truffaut - dir. Kent Jones
The problem with Hitchcock/Truffaut is that it's too in-depth for a newcomer to Hitchcock (it expects you to have some familiarity with his most famous works), and it's not in-depth enough for anyone who has considered his filmography with even a slight critical eye. There's good material here—the Martin Scorsese segments are predictably insightful—but honestly, Hitchcock/Truffaut would have benefited from going all-out and showcasing another ninety minutes of analysis.
181. Krampus - dir. Michael Dougherty
Krampus is a film that needed to be campier (Krampier?). It takes a long time to get to the good stuff, and its tongue-in-cheek qualities get lost too frequently in its attempts at legitimate horror. That said, the production design in Krampus is nearly flawless and brimming with sumptuous detail. I wouldn't be terribly surprised if it became a cult classic, although it frequently feels just a bit too classy for that status.
180. Ted 2 - dir. Seth MacFarlane
I didn't particularly care for the original Ted, and its sequel is more of the same. There are a few good laughs—in fact, I would say that I found Ted 2 to be funnier than its predecessor—but the best bits are the ones that are complete non sequiturs to the rest of the film (a celebrity cameo near the beginning is the highlight of the entire movie), and there aren't enough of them to justify the existence of the entire picture. There are worse ways to spend your time than watching Ted 2, but it's hardly worth seeking out when there are better options.
179. Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict - dir. Lisa Immordino Vreeland
Your reaction to this documentary will likely depend heavily on how much you already know about Peggy Guggenheim. I knew nothing about her before watching this, and I found myself not enthralled, but at least engaged by the stories of this woman who was so voracious for art and for sex. If you are already familiar with these stories, there probably isn't much for you here—it's a dramatized Wikipedia article about a wickedly interesting person. Worth watching; not exceptional.
178. Spy - dir. Paul Feig
Rose Byrne. Rose fucking Byrne. The most underappreciated actress of the 21st century proved herself time and time again performing dramatic roles in genre films, and now, between Neighbors and Spy, she is proving to be one of our most talented comedic actresses as well. With Jason Statham as her backup, Rose Byrne saves this movie from the doldrums of comedy; Melissa McCarthy, unfortunately, isn't half as funny as either of them. I'm sorry, Paul Feig, I just don't like anything you make. Thank God for Rose Byrne. Rose fucking Byrne.
177. Call Me Lucky - dir. Bobcat Goldthwait
Holy Shit, Comedians Are Also People: The Documentary. That's a bit harsh—there's actually a lot of interesting material in Call Me Lucky, which delves into the dark past of entertainer Barry Crimmins and explores how he went on to channel his suffering into a force for good. But director Bobcat Goldthwait banks hard on the reveal that the people who make us happy aren't always happy themselves, which is far less of a revelation than Call Me Lucky seems to imply. Trimming twenty or thirty minutes from the runtime would have done wonders.
176. Bone Tomahawk - dir. S. Craig Zahler
On paper, Bone Tomahawk sounds a cult hit that I would be on board with: it features luxurious, Tarantino-esque dialogue, a heavy dose of black comedy, and plays fast and loose with genre. It just didn't work for me. It's dreadfully-paced, at least twenty or thirty minutes too long, and I found the descent into gross-out horror to be dull and uninspired. But writer/director S. Craig Zahler certainly has talent, and I will be keeping an eye on his future work. He shows great promise.
175. Jupiter Ascending - dir. Lana & Lilly Wachowski
Jupiter Ascending isn't a good movie, but I'm going to come to its defense. Because it's an interesting movie. It's an ambitious movie. It's a bold, insane, exciting movie that is shamelessly silly and a throwback to the pulp science-fiction of the early-20th century. Honestly, it would make a decent double-feature with Gods of Egypt (which is also a bad movie, but SO MUCH FUN). Channing Tatum rides rocket skates. Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne is...is doing something. Dunno what the fuck is going on. Shut up. Watch Jupiter Ascending. Have fun.
174. Meadowland - dir. Reed Morano
After a stunning opening sequence (a red herring both in terms of theme and quality) involving the loss of a child, Meadowland struggles to engage meaningfully with everything that happens in the aftermath. But though the writing falls flat, the direction and performances remain strong; there are some truly striking images in Meadowland, and Olivia Wilde is given a rare chance to show off her versatility. Director Reed Morano is clearly bursting at the seams with talent (her work as director on the first three episodes of The Handmaid's Tale was instrumental to the success of the show), and, despite Meadowland's faults, I can't wait to see what she does next.
173. The Wolfpack - dir. Crystal Moselle
The Wolfpack is an unbelievably frustrating documentary. Its subjects, a group of siblings who escape the world through film while being zealously guarded by an overprotective father, are interesting enough to hold the screen. But the documentary itself refuses to engage meaningfully with their situation, and the result is a mild curiosity rather than the probing investigation into the relationship between art and abuse that it should have been. (And on a moral note, the nonchalant dismissal of abuse in this movie is also a bit frightening.)
172. Cobain: Montage of Heck - dir. Brett Morgen
Cobain: Montage of Heck is chock-full of surprisingly intimate footage, but it ultimately has almost nothing to say about Cobain either as a person or as a musician. I did find the animated sequences to be a compelling choice that brought life to Cobain's story without treading into distasteful territory; surely, though, there must be more to unpack—this is one of the great musical geniuses of the 20th century! Montage of Heck is clearly passionate about its subject, and one can hardly fault it for ambition, but it needed to complement its expansive production with actual analysis of the footage being shown.
171. Southpaw - dir. Antoine Fuqua
The first half-hour or so of Southpaw is bad. It's REALLY bad. Women get fridged, and the protagonist's last name is "Hope." Excuse me while I throw up. But the remaining ninety minutes, while hardly exceptional, are a strong comeback—this is for one reason and one reason only: the performances. Jake Gyllenhaal is at the top of his game, and his chemistry with both Forest Whitaker (as his trainer) and Oona Laurence (as his daughter) carries the movie. I can't recall another instance where a film has been so explicitly saved by its knockout (sorry not sorry) cast.
170. Bluebird - dir. Lance Edmands
Bluebird is well-written, acted, and directed, but it's such a thorough rip-off of The Sweet Hereafter that it becomes distracting to the point of active unenjoyment. Why? Why? If you're going to remake The Sweet Hereafter, remake The Sweet Hereafter. Bluebird's predecessor hangs over it like a pall, preventing it from ever become the great film it wants to be. It's not a bad movie by any means, but there's no reason to watch this when you can watch The Sweet Hereafter.
169. Charlie's Country - dir. Rolf de Heer
David Gulpilil is a treasure, an irresistibly warm screen presence who elevates anything and everything he's in. Charlie's Country is no exception: he brings the film to life and makes it worth watching. But there are tonal disparities in the writing and direction which make the movie felt oddly fractured—it whiplashes between comedy, life-affirming feel-good drama, and sobering meditation on cultural tensions in Australia, none of which naturally mesh with one another.
168. Eden - dir. Mia Hansen-Løve
Eden doesn't need trimming so much as massive chunks hacked off; it's thirty or forty minutes too long (clocking in at over two hours), and tighter editing would have done wonders. That said, this is a mildly-engaging meander through the night life of a DJ, and writer/director Mia Hansen-Løve clearly knows what she's doing both on the page and behind the camera. Eden simply didn't connect with me personally, and the overzealous running time really damages its overall effect.
167. Hard to Be a God - dir. Aleksey German
I was so ready to love Hard to Be a God. A three-hour black-and-white Russian film based upon a book by the authors of Roadside Picnic? Sign me the fuck up! Maybe, someday, I'll appreciate this film—but although there are certainly some striking images, I found it to be both tedious and thematically hollow as it failed to capitalize on its rich premise in any meaningful way. I was so baffled that I almost gave Hard to Be a God a special "unranked" slot on this list. But, alas, I didn't like it. I really did not like it. Or appreciate it. Someday, maybe.
166. In the Heart of the Sea - dir. Ron Howard
In the Heart of the Sea is a gorgeous film: the oily aesthetic beautifully brings out the period setting by evoking art with which we are all familiar. But In the Heart of the Sea is also a wildly confused film, a film that doesn't know where the core of its story lies. Is it a throwback to modernism, to archetypal heroes and villains? A meditation on the construction of narrative (both the marketing campaign and the movie itself are weirdly obsessed with pulling the "inspiration for Moby-Dick" card for misguided shock value)? An environmentalist warning? It fluctuates between these themes with such abandon that it tears itself apart in the process, and whatever it's trying to say gets lost in the shuffle. In the Heart of the Sea is full of potential, most of it unrealized.
165. Avengers: Age of Ultron - dir. Joss Whedon
Whedon's dialogue still shines in the second Avengers film, but Marvel's fingerprints are all over this mess; many scenes are needless diversions or suffocating setups for future entries in the MCU. Thematically, too, Age of Ultron struggles to engage meaningful questions about artificial intelligence and Tony Stark's role as a creator of advanced technology. At least the action sequences are halfway compelling? And James Spader's voicework as Ultron is magnificent.
164. The Martian - dir. Ridley Scott
There is much to admire thematically in The Martian—I love its pro-science optimism and "get to work" mentality—but I found it hard to care between protagonist Mark Watney's annoying sense of humor and the movie's utter disinterest in creating stakes or dramatic tension. Creating a lighthearted film where you know everything is going to turn out all right is perfectly fine, but at least make me believe that things might go south so I have a reason to be invested.
163. Terminator Genisys - dir. Alan Taylor
Terminator Genisys is bad, but it's not THAT bad (I'll take it over Rise of the Machines any day of the week). What you'll get here is essentially a Greatest Hits mashup of the Terminator franchise, and that equates to some decent thrills and fun action setpieces. Performances are fine, visual effects are fine, and it's certainly not boring. This is simply a competent blockbuster that had the misfortune of belonging to a franchise still overshadowed by its initial two knockout entries.
162. The Standard Prison Experiment - dir. Kyle Patrick Alvarez
The Stanford Prison Experiment is an inherently compelling story, and that's essentially the problem: placing the events we all read about in our Psychology 101 textbooks up on a screen adds nothing to them, especially given how desperately the film struggles to find a dramatic texture that isn't instantly undermined by our knowledge of the experiment and its outcome. That said, there's talent here in spades—young actors such as Michael Angarano, Ezra Miller, and Tye Sheridan bring their A-game—but it's not enough to save this hyper-literal dramatization. For your psychology fix, try Experimenter instead.
161. Crimson Peak - dir. Guillermo del Toro
Guillermo del Toro isn't exactly known for his subtle touch, but Crimson Peak is a legitimately suffocating piece of work that doesn't give its audience any leeway to make connections and figure to things out; instead, characters actually say things like, "The ghosts are a metaphor for the past!" Just, you know, in case you didn't get it. Hey, do you think the location is called "Crimson Peak" because of the red clay being mined there? Or is that also a metaphor? Gosh, I don't know. The ambiguity is too hard to read. To be fair, the performances are solid—Wasikowska, Chastain, and Hiddleston, oh my!—and the production design is sumptuous, but Crimson Peak ranks among del Toro's worst for no reason other than the writing. It's bloody awful.
160. Black Mass - dir. Scott Cooper
Black Mass has the look of, and hits all the beats of, a great Scorsese film, but director Scott Cooper simply does not have Marty's mastery of cinema. "Competent but generic" is probably the appropriate description. That said, it's been years since I found Johnny Depp to be such a riveting screen presence, and not once was I bored while watching Black Mass. It's an enjoyable enough experience, but it's not one that has stuck with me in any substantive form.
159. Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine - dir. Michele Josue
The story of Matthew Shepard—a young gay man whose brutal murder was a key event in the push for LGBTQ+ rights—is a compelling one, and one worth telling, but Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine is simply too straightforward to justify its own existence. It offers no insight, instead playing Matt's death for shock value and the aftermath as cheap tearjerking inspiration. This is a documentary not without value, but you would be better off reading the relevant Wikipedia articles.
158. The Hunting Ground - dir. Kirby Dick
Essentially a setting-shifted retread of Kirby Dick's previous documentary, The Invisible War, The Hunting Ground is appropriately horrifying in its expose of rape on college campuses and the subsequent mass mishandlings by the school administrations, but it ultimately becomes more interested in shocking the viewer than unpacking the problem and offering potential solutions. The Hunting Ground might be an effective film for someone who is unfamiliar with this epidemic, but it will ring hollow for those who are (like me).
157. Everest - dir. Baltasar Kormákur
There are a lot of talented actors on the screen in Everest, but none of them can redeem the suffocating conventionality that weighs down this dramatization of the 1996 Everest disaster. If you're looking for a high-quality film about mountaineering, you don't even need to look beyond 2015: see the documentaries Meru and Sherpa, both of which rank much higher on this list. Everest is a pointless piece of cinema that doesn't even make a convincing case for its own existence.
156. The Peanuts Movie - dir. Steve Martino
The Peanuts Movie perpetuates some discomfortingly antiquated tropes about wooing women, but it contains a few good laughs and it certainly stays true to the Peanuts spirit. The animators make exceedingly clever use of 3D CGI that reflects the 2D qualities of traditional Peanuts animation while still feeling fresh and modern. I certainly enjoyed myself while watching The Peanuts Movie, but there was so much more they could have done than a "boy wins girl" plot.
155. Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials - dir. Wes Ball
While not without merit, the adaptation of the first Maze Runner book was largely a by-the-numbers piece of dystopian YA cinema that failed to contribute anything meaningful to the genre. The Scorch Trials is a huge step in the right direction, featuring a refreshingly bright color palette of browns and oranges that becomes especially striking when paired with its crumbling cityscapes. The film struggles to distinguish itself in its conventional first and final acts, but the middle section shines; Scorch Trials is ultimately an improvement upon its predecessor, even if it doesn't hold a candle to any of the impressive Harry Potter or Hunger Games adaptations that have set the standard.
154. Trainwreck - dir. Judd Apatow
Surprise! Although Trainwreck has a few good laughs (Tilda Swinton and John Cena, in relatively minor roles, are funnier than either of the leads), it suffers from the same problems as every other Judd Apatow movie in existence—namely, it's about thirty minutes too long. Is it a bad way to spend two hours? Not at all. But I wouldn't go out of my way to watch Trainwreck, especially when there are shorter and funnier options such as 2015's own Grandma available.
153. '71 - dir. Yann Demange
I could understand almost none of the dialogue in '71 because of the accents (the same problem I had with Starred Up back in 2014), so I missed much of the nuance that probably would have pushed this film higher up on the list if I had had access to subtitles—which still aren't standard on DVDs, for some reason. That said, '71 is a richly-realized portrayal of a riot in Belfast during the Troubles, and its premise is intensely and immediately gripping. I look forward to seeing it again.
152. Still Alice - dir. Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland
There's nothing exactly wrong with Still Alice—the writing and direction are fine (albeit uninspired), and Julianne Moore is at the top of her game—but there's an obligatory quality to the fimmaking that saps it of the passion that it so desperately needs. That's a lazy critique, I know. I just can't quite put my finger on why this failed to connect with me; it's too textbook, too straight-laced, and that doesn't make for engaging cinema when the material should be so interesting.
151. Sunshine Superman - dir. Marah Strauch
Sunshine Superman is less interested in exploring the origins of BASE jumping than it is exploring the life of Carl Boenish, the man who, for all intents and purposes, created it. The problem is that the film clearly doesn't understand Boenish and doesn't have any insight into who he was; there are clear indications that he had mental health problems, but the movie skirts around the issue and chooses to emphasize his spirituality instead. The result feels incomplete at best and dishonest at worst—and without the compelling aerial footage of a documentary such as Birdmen, there isn't much for Sunshine Superman to stand on.
150. Pawn Sacrifice - dir. Edward Zwick
Tobey Maguire and Liev Schreiber turn in solid performances in this dramatization of Bobby Fischer's life up through his famous defeat of Boris Spassky in 1972, but director Edward Zwick seems afraid to engage with the relationship between genius and mental illness (perhaps he's afraid of retreading territory already elegantly covered by A Beautiful Mind?), and Pawn Sacrifice struggles to find another compelling thematic throughline. The most interesting part of the film is the text at the end which summarizes the remainder of Fischer's life.
149. People, Places, Things - dir. Jim Strouse
A quirky indie comedy that will likely appeal to fans of Noah Baumbach, People, Places, Things is anchored by a strong performance by Jermaine Clement, whose star continues to excitingly rise. There isn't enough substance here to push against the heavy-hitters of this genre, but if you're looking for a feel-good movie to pass the time, there are far worse choices than People, Places, Things. It's a fun watch; I liked it, it just didn't do enough for me to love it.
148. The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution - dir. Stanley Nelson
What you get out of The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution will likely depend on your working knowledge going in. As someone who knew virtually nothing, I found the documentary to be engaging and informative; however, that engagement came from the information rather than the presentation. The Black Panthers is interesting only insofar as a Wikipedia page is interesting (which can be quite a bit)—the documentary itself brings little to the table.
147. The New Girlfriend - dir. François Ozon
The New Girlfriend handles an extraordinarily sensitive subject (which I won't reveal here; I don't consider it a spoiler, although some viewers might) with a degree of grace and even humor, but that humor is where the film begins to break down. It struggles to decide just how serious it wants to be, and that tension saps it of much of its dramatic weight as it fails to navigate the muddy waters between genres. Romain Duris and Anaïs Demoustier give nuanced performances in the lead roles that bring unexpected complexities to their characters.
146. She's Funny That Way - dir. Peter Bogdanovich
Two words: Imogen Poots. She's Funny That Way is a messy and pointless piece of work with few laughs, but Imogen Poots is a magnetic screen presence who single-handedly saves the movie from the doldrums of mediocrity (I mean, it's still mediocre, but not entirely forgettable). I don't know if a single performance is enough to merit a recommendation, so I'll leave that decision up to you. Plus: the best cameo and the most baffling cameo of 2015 in the same film!
145. The Salvation - dir. Kristian Levring
The Salvation is about as straightforward as a revenge Western can be, but it's a blast to watch nevertheless. Kristian Levring's direction is quite good and refreshingly flavored with non-American sensibilities; the real highlight, though, is the cast, which includes Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Jonathan Pryce in predictably exceptional performances across the board. I had a lot of fun with The Salvation—it simply doesn't transcend its competition on this list.
144. Animals - dir. Collin Schiffli
Animals suffers in comparison with the similar but superior Heaven Knows What, although it is a competent film in its own right; the characters here con and threaten in their pursuit of drugs, and watching them do so has a strangely hypnotic quality. Unfortunately, they simply aren't compelling enough to hold a (short) full-length feature. Animals isn't bad movie in any respect, but you'd be better off watching any number of films that explore the same premise.
143. Love & Mercy - dir. Bill Pohlad
Love & Mercy alternately follows Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys during his 20s and his 40s, and these two timelines both strengthen and weaken the film. The early timeline is the most interesting in every conceivable respect: Paul Dano turns in the superior performance as Wilson, and the chronicle of the band and their music-making process during this time is where the movie comes to life. John Cusack is tiresome as the middle-aged Wilson, but...his timeline documents a man coming to terms with mental illness, and that's a message we sorely need in cinema. If only there was some substance to support it.
142. Testament of Youth - dir. James Kent
It's refreshing to see an anti-war film from the perspective of a woman who is only tangentially involved in the war—we're not dealing here with the horrors of killing so much as the horrors of dealing with those who haven't been killed—but Testament of Youth can't quite get the monstrosity of its message through its period-piece sheen. Let's be honest, though: we're here for Alicia Vikander, and, at the risk of sounding paradoxical, she is predictably exceptional. As Rolling Stone critic David Ehrlich said so succinctly, "SURRENDER TO THE YEAR OF THE VIKANDER."
141. The Fool - dir. Yury Bykov
The elegance of The Fool's parable—a man in an apartment complex attempts to convince his fellow residents that the building is structurally unsound and on the verge of collapse—is that you can apply its metaphorical value to virtually anything you want; it read to me as a fable concerning climate change, but I'm sure others will see it differently. Although it probably would have been more effective as a short film than a full-length feature, The Fool is dryly amusing in its ability to communicate humanity's self-destructive inertia.
140. Counting - dir. Jem Cohen
Counting sounds like exactly like the sort of opaque cinematic essay that would appeal to me: almost without context, it captures images of city life around the world in fifteen chapters. And some of those chapters are quite engaging. But some of them aren't. I struggled too with the intertitles, which identify the locations at the end of their chapters rather than at the beginning—although I appreciated the anticipation of waiting for the reveal, I often found myself so distracted by guessing that I wasn't paying attention to what was actually happening on the screen. Counting is a mixed bag.
139. Room - dir. Lenny Abrahamson
Maybe this makes me a bad person, but I had a hard time becoming invested in Room because I found the Jacob Tremblay character to be so. Fucking. Annoying. In terms of more legitimate criticism, I found a pivotal shift that occurs midway through the film to be unearned, and the second act that it leads to less engaging thematically than the first. But Brie Larson's performance is a knockout, and I appreciated everything the movie had to say about the ways in which our minds construct the world the around us. That quotation from Paradise Lost has hardly ever been more relevant or challenging: “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven."
138. Timbuktu - dir. Abderrahmane Sissako
Timbuktu is refreshing: the Islamic extremists who micromanage the lives of the characters in this film are not the demonized fanatics of American cinema, but rather an insidious and hypocritical evil that eats the innocent inside out. The weight of the horrors here seems to be at odds with the brief runtime, the warm color palette, the crisp cinematography, but that disparity makes Timbuktu linger in the mind. I only wish the movie had provided just a shade more context regarding the socio-political backdrop of the events taking place.
137. Beasts of No Nation - dir. Cary Fukunaga
I tend to prefer stories that are not set in a specific time and place; it lends them an agelessness that makes them feel perpetually relevant. Beasts of No Nation is the exception to the rule—its tale of child soldiers in Africa is all too real, but its refusal to name any actual locations blunts the political edge that it so desperately needs. There is much to enjoy in Beasts, however: Idris Elba turns in one of the best performances of the year, and writer/cinematographer/director Cary Fukunaga (of True Detective fame) is a true talent behind the camera.
136. The Diary of a Teenage Girl - dir. Marielle Heller
I'm not sure what exactly it was about Diary of a Teenage Girl that connected for so many people and not for me. There's a lot to like: it's a refreshingly-honest and fiery portrait of female sexuality (which is sorely lacking in cinema), and Bel Powley turns in one of the best performances of the year in the lead role. But Diary is narratively and thematically stagnant—it would have worked perfectly as a short film; as a feature-length movie, however, it desperately needs a sense of growth and movement and kinetic energy that is sorely lacking. The disparity between content and form kills an otherwise promising film.
135. Unfriended - dir. Levan Gabriadze
If not for the final three seconds of Unfriended, it would have been gunning for a relatively high spot on this list. The brilliant production design takes advantage of our understanding of computers and social media to build character (pay attention to all the tabs and windows on the screen), generate tension (what's going to pop up when that buffering circle finishes spinning?), and create dramatic irony (one character may privately message another while also participating in a group chat), and it uses these tools to elucidate a trite but truthful message about the power and danger of our online behavior. Unfortunately, the final three seconds—literally THREE SECONDS—of Unfriended opt for a cheap jump scare that unravels the mythology established by the rest of the film and undermines its potent themes.
134. Brooklyn - dir. John Crowley
Yes, Brooklyn is light and sweet and fluffy and there's nothing wrong with that, but I just want more out of my movies. I think my problem is that immigration is such a big fucking deal—for heaven's sake, you're uprooting your entire life and moving to a place with different laws and customs and traditions and people—and the Saoirse Ronan character has such an easy time of it that it comes across as gross and dishonest. (I've never immigrated myself, so I can't speak from personal experience; I'm not saying that immigration is inherently a nightmare, but the opposite does not an interesting movie make.) Brooklyn is beautifully written, acted, and directed, but I simply did not find it to be particularly compelling. To each their own.
133. Furious 7 - dir. James Wan
Furious 7 is exactly what you think it is—dumb fun. The action is suitably over-the-top and a joy to watch, and the characters' genuine comradery shines through. The only scene specifically worth calling out is the obligatory send-off to Paul Walker, which is handled with surprising deftness: it's a truly touching moment that the series actually earns. Furious 7 is not a great film even by the standards of action movies, and it may be just a touch too long, but it's good fun.
132. The Salt of the Earth - dir. Juliano Riberiro Salgado & Wim Wenders
This biographical documentary, directed by Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, brings the photography of Sebastião Salgado (Juliano's father) to life in vivid detail; it fails, however, to meaningfully interact with the ethical qualities of Salgado's work and the relationship between his photography and the world around him. The pictures are certainly eye-catching, but they would likely have been better served by a book or interactive online experience than a film.
131. The Pearl Button - dir. Patricio Guzmán
Director Patricio Guzmán uses water as a jumping-off point for this meditation on Chile's challenging history, but the disparate qualities of this documentary don't quite mesh together; in some respects, it is a tone poem that isn't too far-fetched from Laurie Anderson's Heart of a Dog, and in other respects it could function as a spiritual companion to Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing or The Look of Silence. Focusing on either aspect would have made for an interesting film, but attempting to play them off one another simply didn't work for me.
130. Listen to Me Marlon - dir. Stevan Riley
Listen to Me Marlon leans a bit too heavily into its gimmick—it is built entirely from audio recordings of Brando himself—but it is a riveting portrait of an actor and the course of his career in his own words (much more so than the misleadingly-titled Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words). This means you won't be getting other perspectives on the events of Brando's life, but that's precisely what makes it so interesting: this is one man reflecting on and engaging with the things he did and the things that happened to him, and director Stevan Riley expertly brings a flow, mood, and rhythm to the overall picture.
129. Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom - dir. Evgeny Afineevsky
Winter on Fire distinguishes itself from other documentaries with the sheer volume of its uncompromising footage, and that is both a benefit and a detriment. On the one hand: it's really, really good footage. On the other hand: the film doesn't provide enough context to fully understand the nuances of the events taking place. It doesn't pretend to ever be anything other than one-sided, and there's nothing inherently wrong with that, but I needed more information in order to truly sympathize with the struggle depicted.
128. Mediterranea - dir. Jonas Carpignano
As in the case of another movie which ranked more highly on this list, the question prickling in the back of my mind while watching Mediterranea: "Why isn't this a documentary?" There's no real reason for it to be dramatized when it portrays such a timely struggle—the immigration of Africans to Europe—and I suspect it could have captured more of the nuance of that struggle had it not been fictionalized. That said, it's unspeakably refreshing to see the portrayal of an immigrant experience that doesn't involve America in any way.
127. Dreamcatcher - dir. Kim Longinotto
The thing I love about Dreamcatcher, a documentary about former prostitute Brenda Myers-Powell and her efforts to help women who have been consumed by the sex industry, is its lack of pretension and its lack of interest in escalating the dramatic stakes; director Kim Longinotto is content to portray a good person doing good things, creating a low-key positivity that works well because doesn't assert or insist upon itself. Dreamcatcher is quiet, confident, and effective.
126. Horse Money - dir. Pedro Costa
Horse Money is a film which probably would have ranked highly on this list if I knew anything whatsoever about Portugal's cinematic or political history, because it draws heavily upon both. That said, it's still an unforgettable and striking film that highlights the contrast between light and dark to create a claustrophobic, dreamlike quality that is only enhanced by the opacity of its storytelling. This is a movie that you don't watch so much as experience, and while I wouldn't say that I enjoyed it, I was always intrigued by and invested in its imagery.
125. Arabian Nights - dir. Miguel Gomes
Arabian Nights (which, it insists, is NOT an adaptation of the classic book), although packaged in three two-hour volumes—The Restless One, The Desolate One, and The Enchanted One—is a single six-hour movie and should be viewed as such. It is perhaps too long, not egregiously so, and it spends its first half-hour floundering as it attempts to establish the premise of its fables as allegories for events in Portugal, but there are enough tonal and thematic shifts to keep things interesting even with its extended runtime. The full implications of its parables can be difficult to grasp for those of us who weren't there; even still, it's funny where it counts and beautiful where it matters.
124. Prophet's Prey - dir. Amy Berg
Prophet's Prey is an enthralling exploration of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and their former leader, Warren Jeffs; it plays heavily into the shock value that comes inherent along with the knowledge that a polygamist cult presided over by an abuser and rapist can exist right in the heart of America, but more compellingly, it demonstrates the insidiousness with which religion still infiltrates every conceivable facet of modern life, even and especially the economy. This is a singularly terrifying documentary.
123. It's All So Quiet - dir. Nanouk Leopold
It's All So Quiet is about the slow encroachment of death, but the film obfuscates the division between creeping existential dread and the peacefulness of a deep sleep. There's a simplicity and a confidence to the cinematography that I found immensely appealing, and these qualities are reflected in the storytelling—"quiet" is a word that thrives in the limbic space cradled by comfort and fear. It's All So Quiet is an unassuming but remarkably effective piece of cinema.
122. Seymour: An Introduction - dir. Ethan Hawke
Ethan Hawke's meditative documentary on Seymour Bernstein is the perfect watch for a rainy Sunday afternoon: it's light, honest, and playful, full of good humor and a genuine love of music. You won't find any deep insights or shocking revelations here, but that's beside the point—this is, after all, "An Introduction," and it's a love letter as well. These are eighty-four minutes during which to smile, admire, and be at peace, and the lack of drama or conflict is like a lungful of fresh air.
121. Ballet 422 - dir. Jody Lee Lipes
I'm a sucker for documentaries about professional dancers; the precision, the ruthlessness, the relentless physical and mental strain all fascinate me to no end. But Ballet 422 is all footage, no insight—I want to know how these people got to be where there are, why they do what they do, and how they do it. There are no answers to be found here. The most interesting thing about Ballet 422, unfortunately, is its title: how bitterly twisted it is to see so many people working so hard, so passionately, so creatively, on a world-class production...with that assembly-line "422" tacked on the end.
120. Christmas, Again - dir. Charles Poekel
Christmas, Again is exactly the sort of soft, understated cinema that attracts me; like Something, Anything, its emotional movement is so subtle that you likely won't realize the protagonist has changed until you reach the end of the film and reflect on the beginning. Critic Sheila O'Malley says it better than I ever could: "Things sometimes resolve themselves, gently, only it's fragmentary, and none of it is 'the point.' [...] There is no self-pity, no maudlin catharsis. The film has the courage of its convictions and confidence in its mood."
119. Twinsters - dir. Samantha Futerman & Ryan Miyamoto
I have a hard time justifying my love of Twinsters. There's no real dramatic conflict, no real insight into technology or relationships, no compelling reason for the movie to even exist. But Twinsters is a celebration of happiness, and I fucking love it. Documenting the budding relationship between two twin sisters who were separated at birth and eventually discover one another through technology, it's an unapologetic feel-good piece that will leave you smiling. That's okay!
118. Straight Outta Compton - dir. F. Gary Gray
I'm a bit out of my depth with Straight Outta Compton. Not only did I know virtually nothing about N.W.A. going in (and make no mistake, as expansive as the scope is here, the movie expects that you have some working knowledge regarding its subjects), it deals with racial and socio-economic issues that I am no way qualified to comment on. But it's a confident film, well acted and directed, and I never lost interest in the events portrayed. This one simply isn't for someone like me.
117. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 - dir. Francis Lawrence
What the hell happened? I championed the first Hunger Games movie as the best book-to-film adaptation since The Lord of the Rings, and I stand by that; Catching Fire was even better than its predecessor, and Mockingjay - Part 1 even better than that. But Mockingjay - Part 2 clumsily falls into all the pitfalls I was expecting from the beginning—the core of the characters and story give way to mindless action setpieces, and two key scenes near the end of the movie (the two most important scenes, I would argue) are so monstrously misjudged that they retroactively undermine much of what worked in the earlier films. Mockingjay - Part 2 is not a complete failure: the opening sequences are as strong as anything in the series, and certain key moments shine, but it fucks everything up exactly when it can't afford to. It's a sour note on which to end one of the most intelligent book-to-film adaptations of the early 21st century. A real shame.
116. Faults - dir. Riley Stearns
This story of a couple who attempts to snatch their daughter back from the clutches of a cult banks heavily on a (predictable) third-act twist, but it works better than your typical Shyamalan fare because everything leading up that twist is so elegantly constructed: Faults is sharply written, directed, and acted, with what may be a career-best performance from Mary Elizabeth Winstead. There's even a certain pleasure in watching the film navigate its way to the final reveal—shame that it clings to that moment with such desperation.
115. Justice League: Gods and Monsters - dir. Sam Liu
Justice League: Gods and Monsters is not exactly a great film, but it's significantly better than any of DC's embarrassing live-action output. Set in an alternate universe where Superman is the son of Zod and Batman is a literal vampire, Gods and Monsters follows the Justice League's core trio (Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) as they attempt to clear their names after being framed for a series of attacks. Barely breaking a brisk seventy minutes, it's a well-paced piece of work the builds a believable world, riffs on your expectations, and thrills with compelling action sequences that are more competently edited than anything in Batman Vs. Superman or Suicide Squad. DC's animation department, as usual, knows how to tell stories right.
114. I'll See You in My Dreams - dir. Brett Haley
I'll See You in My Dreams is one of the most surprisingly-poignant dramedies of the year. It thoughtfully meditates on the sadness and wry humor of aging and its ability to interfere with our collective cravings for sex and romance; director Brett Haley navigates the muddy waters between comedy and tragedy with unusual elegance, allowing melancholy to enrich the positive qualities of the film rather than undermine them. Here is a movie that truly earns its emotions.
113. Cartel Land - dir. Matthew Heineman
Cartel Land follows vigilantes intent on battling those involved in the drug trade on both sides of the US/Mexico border; it's a riveting documentary (the opening scene is one of the most shocking blindsides of 2015), but the dichotomy is forced—the American vigilantes simply aren't worth the screentime they consume, and the film leans a shade too far into glamorization on the side of the Mexican vigilantes. That said, the Mexican side of the story is fascinating: this material is as engaging as anything in Breaking Bad or Sicario, and it's all the more potent because it's real. Cartel Land is thrilling nonfiction.
112. Janis: Little Girl Blue - dir. Amy Berg
2015 seems to have been the year for documentaries about singers/musicians, and Janis: Little Girl Blue is one of the most conventional of the bunch. But it worked for me more than others such as What Happened, Miss Simone? and Cobain: Montage of Heck for no other reason than Janis Joplin's ability, whether in performance or interview, to hold the screen. You can't take your eyes off her; she's fire incarnate, and it's a privilege just to watch her do her thing. But Little Girl Blue also glosses over the darker aspects of Janis' life, including the circumstances of her death, a choice which left me conflicted. On the one hand, it feels like a gross sanitization that deliberately obfuscates important facts. On the other hand, it downplays the gossip factor in favor of a celebration—of Janis as a person and as a musician. It's thrilling, it's powerful, and it works.
111. Felix and Meira - dir. Maxime Giroux
There's a moment about half an hour into Felix and Meira which perfectly captures the film: Felix asks Meira, a Jew, why she doesn't look him in the eyes. She tells him that she is not allowed to look men in the eyes. And in the seconds that follow, as they stand together in silence, not quite facing one another, Meira's eye flick up for the space of a heartbeat. It's a moment of quiet transgression and unexpected power. So is Felix and Meira itself, a contemplative joy brought to life by the chemistry between its leads, Hadas Yaron and Martin Dubreuil.
110. Sunset Song - dir. Terence Davies
I wouldn't be surprised if I ended up enjoying Sunset Song more upon rewatches. It sometimes strays towards the maudlin tedium that has consumed post-New World Malick, but it is also unconscionably beautiful and elegantly captures the crudeness of the past along with that beauty. At two-plus hours, though, it is entirely too long, and would have benefited immensely from thirty or so minutes of trimming. Sunset Song is a good film that comes with frustrations.
109. A Murder in the Park - dir. Christopher S. Rech & Brandon Kimber
Did you binge-watch Making a Murderer? Have a hard time turning off Serial? Then A Murder in the Park is for you—it's chock-full of twists and turns that escalate almost comically into an exploration of what happens when genuine evil meets blind utilitarianism (and, unlike the former examples, it doesn't drag its story out for hours upon hours). This is a tight, riveting piece of true crime that is just as engrossing as its more famous counterparts, well-told and well worth your time.
108. Jauja - dir. Lisandro Alonso
All hail Viggo Mortensen, who somehow made his way from starring in three of the biggest films of all time to this minuscule oddity that critic David Ehrlich described as "an Andrei Tarkovsky remake of The Searchers? Seen through a slide projector? Starring Viggo Mortensen AS Andrei Tarkovsky?" Jauja left me baffled and intrigued—although methodical almost to point of tedium, the Shamalyn-esque ending is a shot of vitality that transforms the movie into something unexpected.
107. Beloved Sisters - dir. Dominik Graf
A three-hour German film chronicling the relationship(s) between Friedrich Schiller and two sisters, Caroline and Charlotte von Lengefeld, Beloved Sisters sounds like a tedious period piece. It's not. The story itself may not be particularly interesting, but the lead actresses are so good and the production design is SO GOOD that I found myself completely enthralled. I was bothered only by the occasional on-screen text, which skitters across the screen in a distinctly contemporary way that repeatedly shatters the illusion.
106. Carol - dir. Todd Haynes
The inherent tension in Carol ostensibly comes from the disparity between a lesbian romance and a period in history that was not welcoming to gay relationships; the problem is that I never felt an actual clash between the characters and their time, and it sapped much of the drama for me. Carol is beautifully shot, there's no question, and Cate Blanchett proves once again that she is one of the most talented actresses in the history of cinema (I was not impressed by Rooney Mara's performance; she takes the "deer-in-the-highlights" approach just a bit too far), but its political fire lacks heat. The only thing left is the characters, and Carol was too cold to invest me.
105. Youth - dir. Paolo Sorrentino
Youth is hardly a great film—Paolo Sorrentino's hand is far too heavy to allow its themes to emerge organically, and he frequently suffocates the movie—but it's certainly a step up from his previous effort, The Great Beauty. Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel are predictably excellent, and I deeply enjoyed the ways in which the artistic sensibilities of their characters (music composition and filmmaking) play into and against one another. Youth is a fine piece of cinema, but it has an unfortunate habit of tripping over its own feet.
104. The Falling - dir. Carol Morley
The Falling often feels like a rough draft of The Fits (a superior film which tackles many of the same themes with more metaphorical heft), but it contains an eerie and hypnotic quality all its own. Maisie Williams, in the lead role, expands upon her work as Arya Stark by playing the dichotomy between innocence and malevolence, the latter of which transforms into the pubescent disfranchisement that comes when young minds break free from the shackles of religion. The Falling is a rich, rewarding movie that smartly riffs on Salem witch hysteria.
103. The Walk - dir. Robert Zemeckis
The Walk is a competent but largely unremarkable film—until it arrives at the final sequence, the walk itself. Although I was not fortunate enough to see it theatrically (which I heard was a singularly jaw-dropping experience), it remains one of the best sequences of the year; it is striking not only for its technical qualities, but for the audacity with which it subverts structure. We all know the story of Philippe Petit. We all know he is not going to fall. So The Walk abandons any pretense of false conflict and simply lets the moment exist, lets us revel in it—much like Petit himself. It is as peaceful as it is thrilling, a triumph, a sequence of pure and uncompromising cinema.
102. The Assassin - dir. Hou Hsiao-hsien
Viscous as molten rock, The Assassin is a dreamy and slow-moving tale struck through with lightning bolts of violence. Its richness spills out not in the story, but in the cinematography, in the exquisitely-composed frames and vivid colors—imagine Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as directed by Tarkovsky. There's something bold, almost defiant, about the juxtaposition between the title of the movie and its meticulous pacing, but it's fitting for a film this frustrating. The Assassin is willfully obtuse, a middle finger to the conventions of its genre, and that quality makes it difficult to forget.
101. It Follows - dir. David Robert Mitchell
It Follows is undoubtedly one of the most frustrating films of 2015. The "It" of the title (a sexually-transmitted monster that pursues you relentlessly until it kills you) is a terrifying creation, thematically rich and horrifying even in concept, and director David Robert Mitchell is a true talent behind the camera; his extraordinarily effective use of shallow focus feeds our fear relentlessly as we watch. But the mythology of the monster crumbles throughout the film, and Mitchell repeatedly elects the laziest and least-interesting options when choosing how to portray the creature. There is genuine brilliance in It Follows (the first and final sequences are absolute knockouts)—but it is undermined and undone at seemingly ever turn.
100. Wild Tales - dir. Damián Szifrón
Wild Tales sounds fun in concept—six anthologized short films, each humorously themed around revenge—but stuffing them together across two relentless hours saps them of any joy that might be had. The third film, focusing on a case of ever-escalating road rage, is the highlight of the bunch; the remaining five are overly-cute and unbearably impressed with their own wit (of which there isn't much), and the light satirical elements are lazy at best. With one possible exception, none of the films included here are outright bad. They're just not that good, and certainly not as great as they think they are.
99. Paddington - dir. Paul King
Paddington was so much better than I expected. It occasionally slips into lazy children's movie tropes, and it slips hard when it does (especially near the end), but most of the film is a fun and refreshing romp filled with delightful slapstick humor and a few good jokes for young and old alike. The immigration metaphor is also effective without being overplayed. Paddington came and went without much commercial fanfare, but it's certainly worth seeing if you get a chance.
98. Experimenter- dir. Michael Almereyda
Significantly better than its obvious 2015 counterpart, The Stanford Prison Experiment, Experimenter wisely relegates Stanley Milgrim's most famous study to its first act (come on, we all know that story) and spends the rest of the film exploring what came afterwards—questions regarding the ethics of the experiment and the various studies Milgrim conducted afterwards, which were all overshadowed by the one he is known for. Experimenter loses its way near the end as it struggles to find a compelling focal point, but it's an interesting look at Milgrim.
97. The Good Dinosaur - dir. Peter Sohn
Oh, right, Pixar released two movies in 2015. The Good Dinosaur usually gets forgotten alongside its big brother, Inside Out, but it's a decent film in its own right: it features some of the best art direction Pixar has ever done, and the construct of its core duo—a dinosaur as protagonist, with a human child in the role of animal sidekick—is subtly subversive. The themes of The Good Dinosaur, however, are too familiar and too tritely told to distinguish itself as one of Pixar's best.
96. The Last Five Years - dir. Richard LaGravenese
I've never seen a stage performance of The Last Five Years, so I can't compare, but its film adaption is a pleasant (if occasionally bland) experience. The songs blend together. The chronology is difficult to follow and muddles the emotional movement of the narrative. And yet, Anna Kendrick radiates pure warmth in one of the best performances of her career, and none of the music is outright bad. I thoroughly enjoyed The Last Five Years, even if I did not find it memorable.
95. The Big Short - dir. Adam McKay
I enjoyed The Big Short's inventive editing and kinetic energy, but it suffers in its attempts to explain the 2008 financial crisis in terms that are accessible to the layperson; its convoluted metaphors left me even more confused than I was before, although I'm not entirely sure that that's not a part of the joke (the fact that I can't tell inclines me towards the negative). The Big Short is entertaining and not without merit, but you'd be better off with a documentary such as Inside Job.
94. Welcome to Me - dir. Shira Piven
I am neither qualified nor comfortable unpacking Welcome to Me's treatment of mental illness, but I greatly admired its ability to toe the line between "Should I be laughing at this?" and "This is really fucking funny." The latter comes mostly courtesy of Kristen Wiig's performance, which is undoubtedly one of the best of her career and Welcome to Me's ace in the hole; any other actress—or a weaker performance—would have sunk this film like a rock. Welcome to Me plays with fire, but it comes out unburned and with a lot of laughs.
93. While We're Young - dir. Noah Baumbach
While We're Young ranks right behind Mistress America on this list because, as a Noah Baumbach movie, it shares many of the same qualities—dysfunctional drama and characters, offbeat humor, the like. The "Gen X versus Gen Y" angle provides a bit more substance than Baumbach typically provides, and I admired his ability to celebrate and poke fun at both generations, but Mistress America ultimately connected with me a bit more. That said, Adam Driver continues to cement his status as one of the finest actors of the decade.
92. Mistress America - dir. Noah Baumbach
Mistress America is a Noah Baumbach movie, so you know what you're getting: a quirky indie comedy starring Greta Gerwig that's more about spending time with the characters than creating any sort of propulsive narrative. This ranks among the sharpest, funniest work Baumbach has ever produced, and Gerwig, as always, is a treasure (she also co-wrote the film). It merely lacks the satirical edge that brought something special to Frances Ha and While We're Young.
91. Finders Keepers - dir. Bryan Carberry & J. Clay Tweel
Get a leg up (sorry) on your fellow filmgoers and seek out this strange—true!—story of a man who mummified his amputated leg, put it in a grill (which he in turn placed in a storage unit), and then lost the grill during an auction to a man who was...quite intent on keeping the leg. The story really strains the documentary's already-meager running time (an hour probably would have been more than sufficient), but it's such an absurd meditation on the ways in which our obsessions define our lives that it's difficult not to be entertained. Finders Keepers is a fascinating documentary with a surprisingly strong emotional core.
90. Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation - dir. Christopher McQuarrie
The Mission: Impossible franchise doesn't get enough credit. Rogue Nation is its fifth entry in nineteen years, and across those two decades it only produced one bad movie (I think we all know which one); this isn't hugely remarkable in and of itself, except that each of those five films was helmed by a different director and has its own distinctive style. Rogue Nation continues that tradition with writer/director Christopher McQuarrie in charge, and he crafts another solid franchise entry. It doesn't match the high-water mark that is Ghost Protocol, but it sits comfortably alongside the original Mission: Impossible and Mission: Impossible III as a snappy, highly-entertaining action film that ranks above your standard popcorn fare.
89. Star Wars: The Force Awakens - dir. J.J. Abrams
I understand why The Force Awakens had to happen. I understand why it needed to be a tabula rasa for Star Wars, a paring down to the core of what made us all fall in love with the franchise. But frankly, I'm sick of big-budget franchises playing it safe, and Force Awakens might as well be wearing the cinematic equivalent of one of those inflatable sumo suits—for heaven's sake, you've got a whole GALAXY full of potential stories, and you're just gonna do A New Hope again? The Force Awakens actively desaturates (through repetition) the power of the original trilogy. That said, the love and passion of the filmmakers is evident on the screen, and franchise newcomers Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac are pure charisma as the core trio. Episode VII is a fine film on its own terms, but it is inextricable from the rest of the franchise—and as part of the franchise, it devalues Star Wars.
88. The Forbidden Room - dir. Guy Maddin & Evan Johnson
The Forbidden Room was my first experience with director Guy Maddin, and what an experience it was—I don't think I was ready, but I don't think it's entirely possible to be ready for something like this. A paint-splatter of interconnected short stories, framed by the tale of a submarine crew who cannot ascend to the surface without triggering an explosive on the ship, bookended by instructions on how to take a bath, The Forbidden Room is a baffling love letter to cinema that is as punishing as it is rewarding. I'm looking forward to watching it again.
87. Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem - dir. Ronit & Shlomi Elkabetz
Although technically the third entry in a trilogy (following To Take a Wife and Shiva), Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem holds up perfectly well as a stand-alone film. Like Mustang, it draws out the insidiousness of patriarchal institutions by grinding down the viewer as well as the women (or, in this case, woman) in the movie itself. This tale of a woman attempting to finalize a divorce in a country and religion that allows little leeway for such things is as tense as any action thriller.
86. The Mend - dir. John Magary
Like Alonso Ruizpalacios' debut Güeros, The Mend values the richness of dialogue and the precision of cinematic craft more than creating a compelling narrative, and it's a gamble that pays off thanks to the raw talent of writer/director John Magary. He has a keen eye for visuals and a keen ear for the flow and rhythm of conversation. The Mend heralds the arrival of yet another new talent whose work I can't wait to see more of.
85. When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism - dir. Corneliu Porumboiu
I'm a sucker for anything Romanian New Wave, the crowning achievement of which still being 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days. When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism is more light-hearted than that film (not a high bar, admittedly); with its tongue firmly in its cheek, it quietly satirizes and undermines the insidious mindset of the patriarchy by juxtaposing the objectification of a woman's body with meandering pseudo-philosophical conversations that function as excuses through the distorted lens of artistic integrity.
84. Bitter Lake - dir. Adam Curtis
Bitter Lake's thesis—that the West, unable to untangle the cultural, economic, political, social, and religious threads that have contributed to America's complicated relationship with the Middle East, buried those complications in an easy-to-digest good-versus-evil narrative—is perhaps too big even for a documentary that sprawls past the two-hour mark, but it is certainly compelling and speaks to that human fondness for reductive causality. If nothing else, you will gain an appreciation for the metaphorical machinery that runs our world.
83. The Gift - dir. Joel Edgerton
Joel Edgerton proves with The Gift that he is just as formidable a talent behind the camera as he is in front of it (although, in this case, he occupies both positions); there's a meticulousness to his cinematic storytelling, an obsessive attention to detail that reveals a filmmaker who knows how to curate and calibrate his work to elicit the exact response he wants from his audience. Unfortunately, the story is not particularly strong—its surprisingly novel theme, the insidiousness of suggestion, is ratcheted just a few degrees too far into the realm of hyperbole to be taken seriously. But there's a lot to like in The Gift, and it's worth keeping an eye on any future directorial work from Edgerton.
82. Spring - dir. Aaron Moorhead & Justin Benson
Spring typically gets pitched as "Before Sunrise meets Lovecraft," and that's not far from the truth. It's a movie of quiet conversation, of strangers meeting and coming to understand one another, except that one of those strangers is a reptilian monster in human form. The film doesn't quite manage to reconcile its romantic aspects with its horror aspects—each desaturates the power of the other—and its metaphors are still somewhat muddled by the end, but Spring is an ambitious piece of work that doesn't feel quite like anything else that came out in 2015. It's worth seeing for the audacity alone.
81. The Final Girls - dir. Todd Strauss-Schulson
What a delight! While Whedonesque to its core, The Final Girls has more in common with a B-tier episode of Buffy (don't get me wrong: a B-tier Buffy episode is still a fairly high bar) than its obvious counterpart, The Cabin in the Woods (friendly reminder that Drew Goddard directed Cabin; Whedon was only co-writer). Following a young woman who is sucked into the world of an 80s slasher flick that her mother starred in, Final Girls isn't the meta-meditation on storytelling that you would expect. Rather, it's a mediation on the ways in which we rationalize our fear of death—in this case, through the slasher trope of sex as mortal sin. The film struggles in its efforts to capitalize on its themes in the second half, but I can hardly blame it: it would take a master storyteller to successfully pull off what it is trying to do. Even still, Final Girls is a surprisingly ambitious, surprisingly funny, surprisingly emotional horror spoof that earns its place alongside movies such as Scream and Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil.
80. Girlhood - dir. Céline Sciamm
Girlhood is a movie which I suspect I will appreciate more with every rewatch. European cinema often isn't interested in dealing with race, so a French film about black women feels like a whole new world opening up. For all their immaturity, all their stupidity, the characters are warm-blooded and likable, and Karidja Touré shines in the lead role. Girlhood captures the agony and the ecstasy and the wild, blinding passion that accompanies the years of adolescence.
79. Embrace of the Serpent - dir. Ciro Guerra
I can't quite pinpoint exactly how I feel about Embrace of the Serpent, although I suspect I will enjoy and admire it more every time I watch it. This spiritual mash-up between Apocalypse Now and Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (a film I never thought I would invoke in any context, and I'm only half-joking) features cool, crisp cinematography and languid pacing that communicates a refreshing sense of slow and distinctly uneventful decay. No one gets hugged by a snake, though.
78. 52 Tuesdays - dir. Sophie Hyde
52 Tuesdays is a coming-of-age story, chronicling a teenage girl's experiences with sex and friendship while her transgender parent undergoes hormone treatments in preparation for sex reassignment surgery (he can only spend time with his daughter on Tuesday, and the film takes place over the course of one year, hence 52 Tuesdays). The movie's touch is light and honest, and its emotions feel real, especially given the gimmicky premise and tangled knot of gender and sexuality that had the potential to weigh it down. Solid performances, too.
77. Junun - dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
Paul Thomas Anderson creates visual/auditory poetry in the hypnotic Junun; although looser and more rugged than the clockwork perfection of 2017's Valentine, his work here with Jonny Greenwood and other musicians captures the relationship between image and sound with that carefully-crafted naturalism only PTA can create. Junun may be destined to go down as a footnote in the filmography of a formal cinematic genius, but I prefer to think of it as a grace note.
76. Güeros - dir. Alonso Ruiz Palacio
What Güeros lacks in narrative momentum, it more than makes up for in formal mastery: writer/director Alonso Ruizpalacios draws upon Italian Neorealism and French New Wave, displacing them to Mexico through unbelievably crisp black-and-white cinematography by Damián García. Güeros is such a pleasure to watch, and its dialogue is rich with a touch of humor that isn't dry so much as amusingly off-center. I can't wait to see what Ruizpalacios does next, because he's clearly a talent to watch. Güeros is a remarkable debut.
75. Steve Jobs - dir. Danny Boyle
Steve Jobs might be the single most frustrating film of 2015; the drop in quality from its first third to its final third is almost impressive given how far it plummets. Director Danny Boyle's kinetic touch is welcome here (it may be one of his best efforts), but the movie inevitably belongs to screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and his quick-witted dialogue. Zeroing in on Steve Jobs in the moments before three key product launches, Sorkin shines until he arrives at the concluding segment, which descends into trite sentimentality so fast (he's not such a bad guy after all!) that you'll wonder if you're even watching the same film you were at the beginning. If Steve Jobs was as good as its first forty minutes all the way through, it would have been a contender for the top ten on this list—alas, after the first forty minutes, it's all downhill.
74. Mississippi Grind - dir. Ryan Fleck & Anna Boden
Mississippi Grind is gloriously uncinematic. There is no urgency to its pacing, no visual polish, no glamorizing score to heighten the moments of drama. All the focus is on Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Renolds—both of whom, arguably, have never been better—as two gamblers working their way, Huckleberry/vignette-style, across the Midwest. Even if it is twenty minutes too long, I loved spending time with these characters in this world. Mississippi Grind is honest and sorrowful, and it's quite unlike anything else to come out in 2015.
73. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl - dir. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is unquestionably a product of YA's John Green era, because his faux-quirk style is all over it; fortunately, this adaptation is quite a bit better than its obvious counterpoint, The Fault in Our Stars. It's a movie that's clearly in love with movies, even if it is a bit self-impressed by its ability to reference titles from the Criterion Collection, and that love shows: it knows when to play into and against expectations, and the climatic scene is one of the most unforgettable and purely cinematic moments of the year.
72. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief - dir. Alex Gibney
In many ways, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief feels like the first episode of a documentary miniseries; it's chock-full of interesting information, but it all feels introductory and comes to an end just as it is beginning to dig into the truly juicy material. "Wanting more" is usually a good feeling for a film to leave you with—but perhaps not a documentary. All the content in Going Clear is high-quality content, and it's well-presented. There's just not enough of it.
71. Where to Invade Next - dir. Michael Moore
It's a Michael Moore documentary. You know what you're getting. I tend to approach his movies cautiously since I almost always agree with the points he is trying to make, and I feel like that blinds me to the actual qualities of his films; that said, I really enjoyed Where to Invade Next. It's blisteringly funny, relentlessly positive, and genuinely intrigued by the many countries it visits. Moore's aim here is to "steal" smart ideas from around the world (primarily Europe)—education, paid vacation, prisons with an emphasis on rehabilitation—and bring them back to America. If nothing else, it's a fascinating examination of the many ways in which countries seek to solve the problems we all face.
70. Love - dir. Gaspar Noé
Love is a Gaspar Noé film, so you shouldn't be surprised when it opens with an explicit three-minute blowjob sequence. His goal is not to desensitize us to sex and nudity—it's to normalize sex and nudity, and the problem is that he succeeds. The relentless sex in this movie is so overwhelming that it sublimates from titillating to boring in no time flat, and the result is, well...boring. Love is not without merit: it's beautiful in that garish Noé fashion, and it at least attempts to say something profound about the nature of human relationships. An ambitious failure, a failure nonetheless, but still worth watching.
69. Shaun the Sheep Movie - dir. Mark Burton & Richard Starzack
Given that Shaun the Sheep Movie relies on visuals rather than dialogue to communicate its story, the quality of the tale becomes even more impressive. It's never boring, full of clever jokes and gags that will entertain children and adults alike. It doesn't measure up to the likes of, say, Chicken Run, but Shaun the Sheep Movie is a step above your average fare—a shame that it was largely overlooked by critics and audiences alike, because it's more than worth seeing.
68. Medeas - dir. Andrea Pallaoro
Although visually lyrical in a way that almost—but doesn't quite—evoke Malick, Medeas dangles its title over the movie like the sword of Damocles, promising tragedy. Writer/director Andrea Pallaoro is a Schrodingerian filmmaker, reveling in the ambiguity of image and sound, the way a body lying facedown could potentially be either dead or alive, or the way a scream could be either a cry of pleasure or of pain. This ambiguity sometimes enriches the story, sometimes leaves it hollow, but either way: I suspect I will be revisiting Medeas.
67. James White - dir. Josh Mond
James White, in its own miserable way, would make an excellent companion piece to Heaven Knows What: it's relentlessly uncinematic, raw and painful and all-too-real. The story of a young man attempting to get his life together while caring for his mother, who is dying from cancer, it oscillates between sympathy for the struggles of its protagonist and frustration with the ouroboros of his self-destruction. James White is not an easy watch. But you should watch it.
66. Kingsman: The Secret Service - dir. Matthew Vaughn
Matthew Vaughn knows, perhaps more intimately than any other director in the industry, how to have fun with his films. Kingsman is no exception: it's a delightful romp that, for all its stupidity, will have you smiling and laughing along the way. The action scenes are thrilling (the church sequence is one of the most balls-to-the-wall setpieces I saw in 2015), and there are even a few legitimately shocking twists that will keep you on your toes precisely when most genre films would be lulling you into lethargy. Kingsman: The Secret Service is a blast.
65. The Look of Silence - dir. Joshua Oppenheimer
The Look of Silence was preceded by The Act of Killing, which was released to critical acclaim in 2012; while admirable in its efforts, I found that film to be overly-long and somewhat muddled in its attempts to understand the depths of human cruelty. The Look of Silence is significantly better, a tightly-edited companion piece that abandons pretense in favor of raw emotional honesty. It's painful, but it is powerful.
64. Appropriate Behavior - dir. Desiree Akhavan
Appropriate Behavior has much in common with Girls or a Noah Baumbach film, so you will probably like it if either of those attract you. It's light, charming, funny, a coming-of-age tale about a young Persian-American woman growing up in Brooklyn. Desiree Akhavan writes, directs, and stars, and she proves to be a formidable talent in all three arenas. I hope this is the beginning of a lustrous career for Akhaven, because Appropriate Behavior is an absolute delight.
63. Sleeping with Other People - dir. Leslye Headland
You'd never guess by the generic title, but Sleeping with Other People is a romantic comedy that'll remind how much you miss good romantic comedies (seriously, where the hell did this genre go?). Is it innovative or groundbreaking? No. But it's charming, genuinely funny, and vibrant with real emotion—I'll definitely be watching this one regularly as part of my "feel-good" movie rotation. Set aside the time to watch Sleeping with Other People; I doubt you'll regret it.
62. The Boy and the Beast - dir. Mamoru Hosoda
At the heart of the sumptuous fantasy world built by The Boy and the Beast lies a decidedly simple story we've seen a thousand times before: two characters who begrudgingly grow to love one another. But no matter, because writer/director Mamoru Hosoda tells that story with such clear-eyed conviction that it feels fresh. And while the animation is exceptional, The Boy and the Beast truly shines in its sound design—the creak and clatter of wood, the deep reverberating thrum of manifesting magic—which brings the film vividly to life.
61. How to Change the World - dir. Jerry Rothwell
This documentary about the early years of Greenpeace is surprisingly rewarding; it focuses in on three core members of the group and explores how their differing visions nearly destroyed the organization, largely through the power of image and how difficult it can be to control once it reaches the public. But the real highlight here is the astounding and profoundly disturbing footage captured by Greenpeace in the '70s—the harpoon sailing over Bob Hunter's head, the tides of blood, Paul Watson kneeling on the corpse of a whale floating in the open ocean. It's shocking and unforgettable.
60. Peace Officer - dir. Brad Barber & Scott Christopherson
The wisdom in this documentary about the gradual militarization of US police forces over the decades is in its refusal to demonize either side; although it acknowledges mistakes made by all parties, it understands that the true enemy is the culture of fear we have bred in America and how that fear continues to cause needless deaths. Terrifying in its content but elegant in its presentation, Peace Officer distinguishes itself as one 2015's best and most important documentaries.
59. Slow West - dir. John Maclean
Slow West has received some criticism because its setting doesn't resemble America (it was filmed in New Zealand), but that profoundly misses the point: this is a mythic tale, a few degrees displaced from reality, and the location disparity is an inextricable part of that. It's almost hypnotic—agonizingly beautiful, symphonic in its pacing, soaked in color and lush landscapes that are difficult to look away from. For heaven's sake, "Slow" is in the title; this is a bold, confident piece of filmmaking that invites thoughtfulness and curates mood.
58. Magic Mike XXL - dir. Gregory Jacobs
A delight! Magic Mike XXL is the perfect complement to its predecessor, which was fabulous in its own right; whereas Magic Mike was cool in that uniquely Soderberghian way, Magic Mike XXL is warm—a fun, funny, good-hearted movie that will leave you smiling. It's about the chemistry between the characters, the vignettes, the playfulness, the subversions of structure and toxic masculinity that are so blessedly refreshing. Magic Mike XXL will probably, unfortunately, go down as 2015's forgotten gem. See the original and see this.
57. The Duke of Burgundy - dir. Peter Strickland
Like a hummingbird hovering above a flower, The Duke of Burgundy is a film that is simultaneously motionless and thrumming with vibrant energy. Its sly humor pokes gentle fun at the scenarios and relationships we're supposed to consider taboo, toeing the line between what is and isn't appropriate with a deviousness that brings to mind the reign of the Hays Code. The Duke of Burgundy is layered, complex cinema that will hold up to multiples rewatches with ease.
56. Western - dir. Bill Ross IV & Turner Ross
While not my favorite documentary of 2015, I feel confident in saying that Western is the most important (at least for Americans). Focusing on two adjacent towns on opposite sides of the US/Mexico border, it chronicles the tectonic forces that gradually begin to alter them and their relationship with one another. Western is a sobering slap in the face to the assumptions we are so fond of making about these neighboring countries, and a reminder that animosity is not inherent: it stems solely from people, and we have the power to change that.
55. Spectre - dir. Sam Mendes
Spectre is a film that received far too much unjustified hate. Yes, its flaws are glaring—bloated pacing, a convoluted plot that relies heavily on overly-cute connections—but these were also problems in critical-darling Skyfall. What about everything Spectre gets right? The opening sequence is a knockout, the cinematography is gorgeous (not quite Roger Deakins, but still), and Lea Seydoux and Christoph Waltz join the cast. Spectre is another solid entry in the Bond canon.
54. Tu Dors Nicole - dir. Stéphane LaFleu
Tu dors Nicole is trying so hard to be a Noah Baumbach film—which is a shame, because it's better than anything he's ever done (and don't get me wrong, I usually enjoy Baumbach's work). There is no real narrative to speak of here; Nicole is a series of low-key comedic vignettes, and almost every single one is a hilarious gem (my favorite is a sly joke involving a microwave). Light, fun, and full of goodwill, Tu dors Nicole is the perfect movie with which to wind down and relax.
53. What We Do in the Shadows - dir. Jermaine Clement & Taika Waititi
The best mockumentary in years focuses on a group of vampires who are sharing a flat together; it's laugh-out-loud funny ("We're werewolves, not swear-wolves!") and chock-full of gentle jabs at genre tropes and loving references to classic horror films such as Nosferatu. Unfortunately, the second half of the movie is significantly weaker than the first half, but that's not enough to completely undermine this comedic gem. It's a delightful watch.
52. Selma - dir. Ava DuVernay
Despite some problems revolving around its depiction of violence (gospel tracks, slow motion that inappropriately sanitizes tragedy), Selma is a step above your standard biopic. I really felt the power and the passion of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s work to a degree that I normally wouldn't in a film like this; much of that is thanks to David Oyelowo's extraordinary performance in the lead role. Blessedly, Selma also dodges the assassination-epilogue trap that brought Lincoln low.
51. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night - dir. Ana Lily Amirpour
Methodically and unapologetically shot by writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a fairy tale that plays like a feature-length version of that iconic opening scene from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the show, not the movie) in which the pretty blonde damsel turns out to be the monster. Surreal and exacting, Amirpour's debut is a breath of fresh air that straddles the line between classic and modern cinema to thrilling effect.
50. Amy - dir. Asif Kapadia
I knew next to nothing about Amy Winehouse before watching Amy, but it made me wish I had paid more attention to her during her life—it's not only a raw portrait of the ways in which becoming a celebrity can utterly destroy a person, but a celebration of a young woman's unbelievable talent. This is the rare documentary that is engrossing with being exploitative, intimate without being distasteful. And the final ten minutes rank among the most emotionally cutting cinematic sequences of the year, documentary or not.
49. And Then There Were None - dir. Craig Viveiros
This sumptuously-shot adaptation of Agatha Christie's classic novel (featuring every Game of Thrones cast member who died during season four) is soaked in dour greys and greens, as if the characters are collectively drowning in a storm-tossed sea. Some of the twists and turns are overly-cute, but And Then There Were None is at its best when it focuses in as a meditation on the nature of guilt and paranoia. My problem lies more with the core structure of the story than with the filmmaking—this is an exquisitely directed and acted adaptation that made three hours fly by. If only its themes had managed to resonate.
48. Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter - dir. David Zellner
Kumiko is a sweet and unassuming gem, the story of a Japanese woman who journeys to America in an effort to find the money-filled suitcase that was buried in the snow in the Coen film Fargo. It's the kind of movie you just want to chill with on a Sunday afternoon: it's charming and demands nothing from its audience, instead inviting you to come along while it writes a love letter to cinema. That's what Kumiko is, in the end—pure, unadulterated love for movies.
47. The Revenant - dir. Alejandro González Iñárrit
Let's talk about one of 2015's most-talked-about and most divisive films. There is much to like about The Revenant: Emmanuel Lubezki's typically inventive and top-of-the-line cinematography, the bear attack sequence, the climatic sequence, Leonardo DiCaprio's very good performance and Tom Hardy's great one. There is also much to dislike: everything involving Hugh Glass' family, the frequently-shoddy digital effects (all the money went into the bear?), and the fact that, at the end of the day, the film simply doesn't add up to much. Is The Revenant a good movie? Certainly. Is it a great one? Certainly not.
46. Macbeth - dir. Justin Kurzel
This is what I want from an adaptation of Shakespeare: period setting, verbatim (albeit truncated) dialogue, talented actors, and jaw-dropping cinematography. Justin Kurzel's Macbeth is held back by one major problem—everyone is always whispering/murmuring, and it's borderline impossible to understand anything they are saying. Yes, Macbeth is a grim play. Yes, Macbeth is a moody play. But this adaptation is grim and moody to a fault; it needs theatrics, it needs drama. It needs to be BIGGER. That said, thanks to the exquisite production design and lead performances from Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, this is still the best interpretation of Macbeth I have seen on film. That's no small feat, and it's well worth a watch.
45. Buzzard - dir. Joel Potrykus
Buzzard, undoubtedly a future cult classic, was my most pleasant surprise of 2015. Its title is an apt one: the protagonist is a societal vulture, scavenging for scraps of money and food by taking advantage of loopholes and fine print (there is a strain of Office Space in Buzzard's DNA). There's something strangely riveting about watching someone game the system without violating its legal boundaries. Frequently funny, occasionally disturbing, Buzzard is a sheer delight from beginning to end—even if that end believes itself to be a bit more clever than it actually is. Star Joshua Burge is a supreme joy.
44. Clouds of Sils Maria - dir. Olivier Assayas
If there was ever any doubt regarding Kristen Stewart's remarkable talent, Clouds of Sils Maria should dispel that uncertainty. In the vein of films such as Black Swan (although without the horror elements), Clouds blurs the lines between performance and real life, the professional and the personal, as an actress prepares for an upcoming role in a play she starred in decades earlier. Director Oliver Assayas' only major misstep is a painfully miscalculated attempt at satirizing Hollywood superhero cinema; every other element in Clouds of Sils Maria shines, creating a film worth watching over and over again.
43. Stations of the Cross - dir. Dietrich Brüggeman
Told in a series of fourteen scenes that metaphorically mirror (you guessed it) the Stations of the Cross, Stations of the Cross follows a young woman who takes her faith to the extreme. Curiously, the quality of the film correlates with the rigidity of the camerawork: although each scene is shot in a single unbroken take, it is not until the ninth sequence that the camera moves for the first time. It is also at this point that the movie begins to fall apart, descending so deeply into hyperbole that its powerful message begins provoking laughter rather than insight. Stations of the Cross begins as an exceptional film, one of the best of the year—by the end, it is merely very good.
42. When Marnie Was There - dir. Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Studio Ghibli does it again! (I'm shocked.) Although it doesn't rank against their best work, When Marnie Was There is a strong B-tier film. Chronicling the friendship between a young artist and a girl who may be a ghost, strong homoerotic currents course under this coming-of-age metaphor and enrich its implications. The supernatural elements don't quite pay off, but there's so much to enjoy in Marnie: it's beautifully animated, of course, and the impossible-to-ignore but never overbearing lesbian subtext is perfectly calibrated. When Marnie Was There is yet another strong entry in the impressive Ghibli canon.
41. Creed - dir. Ryan Coogler
I had never seen a Rocky film before Creed, but I feel safe in saying that Ryan Coogler delivers the goods for both longtime fans and newcomers to the franchise. He doesn't break from the boxing film formula in any significant way, and that's okay: Michael B. Jordan is predictably excellent in the title role, and Coogler makes impressive use of lighting and movement in his direction, particularly in the lead-up to the final fight scene. Creed is a knockout entry in a genre that has been oversaturated for years, and it is reassurance that its director will go on to make many great films in the future. I can't wait!
40. Heaven Knows What - dir. Ben & Joshua Safdie
The thing that trips me up in regard to Heaven Knows What is a single question: why isn't this a documentary? Based upon the memoir (unpublished at the time of the film's release) of its star, Arielle Holmes, it is such a harrowing examination of the life of a drug addict on the streets of New York City that it blurs the line between fiction and nonfiction almost to the point of imperceptibility. Heaven Knows What is pure pain, unmitigated by narrative constraints and false drama, a necessary but almost-unbearable watch. The transition to the end credits, in particular, might be the single most emotionally-destructive moment in the cinematic year. Please, please watch it.
39. 99 Homes - dir. Ramin Bahrani
Michael Shannon and Andrew Garfield have rarely been better than in 99 Homes, the story of a man who is evicted from his house and then accepts a job with the shady real estate broker who threw him out. The film treads the line between thriller and personal drama with surprising elegance (it leans just a shade too far into the former near the end, but not enough to upset the balance); the agony of eviction and the moral crisis of Garfield's character feel organic and fully-realized. Sharply written, acted, and directed, 99 Homes would make a natural double-feature with a cinematic razor like Hell or High Water.
38. Spotlight - dir. Tom McCarthy
2015's Best Picture winner, with the notable exception of its inelegant editing, makes few missteps. The cast, led by Michael Keaton, is universally excellent, and the story is powerful in its simplicity: a reminder of the great change that can be brought about by information, and a glorious celebration of what can be accomplished by professionals doing their job well. Spotlight is a film about process rather than achievement, which is a rare and unexpected pleasure in cinema; watch the gears turn, listen to the performance unfold, revel.
37. Theeb - dir. Naji Abu Nowar
Theeb is unusually crisp—visually and structurally, at least, perhaps less so morally—and that clarity makes it stand out in a cinematic landscape cluttered with mindless CGI and tangled storytelling. There's a simplicity here, a focus that calls back to an earlier era of filmmaking. Comparisons to David Lean abound, and rightfully so; Theeb impressively translates Lean's cinematic style to the 21st century while layering in the societal and cultural nuance that we so desperately need in modern movies.
36. Grandma - dir. Paul Weitz
Grandma is secretly the best comedy of the year. Coming in at less than eighty minutes, it's a snappy and honest and warm piece of work that never hits a wrong note. Lily Tomlin shines in the lead role as Elle, who is determined to help her granddaughter find the money she needs to get an abortion even as she deals with her own personal and romantic issues. Moments of real sadness and heartbreak and satire shine through the laughs, but the laughs always come first—Grandma is everything that a modern comedy should be.
35. Something, Anything - dir. Paul Harrill
Something, Anything is one of 2015's most unexpected delights; it's a tale that lacks almost any significant dramatic action, and that's precisely why it's so good—this is a story of quiet transformation, of all the small things that shape who you are without you even realizing. Quiet and confident, Something, Anything is the kind of movie that gets me excited about movies again. There are no CG aliens, no monsters, no superheroes in tights...just good, grounded storytelling.
34. The Second Mother - dir. Anna Muylaert
If not for a character change near the end of the movie that I found extremely difficult to swallow, The Second Mother would have been a contender for the highest echelon of this list. The story of a woman who works for a wealthy family in Brazil and her visiting daughter, who fails to understand the nuances of the social hierarchy, it's a tale of inter-generational misunderstanding and conflict that shines in its rich characters, organic performances, and sophisticated screenplay.
33. Mustang - dir. Deniz Gamze Ergüve
Mustang is a film I find fascinating because, structurally, it's a slasher movie—but the killer here is the patriarchy, and "death" manifests in the form of arranged marriage, which picks off five Turkish sisters one by one. It's almost as much a thriller as it is a sobering and intimate portrait of what it means to be a young woman. Beautifully performed and scored, Mustang takes decades-old genre tropes and displaces them into an entirely unexpected context, twisting them into something refreshing and new. A true cinematic gem.
32. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence - dir. Roy Andersson
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, a delightfully droll comedy/satire filmed in a series of static shots a la Stations of the Cross, a confounding string of vignettes featuring recurring appearances from a pair of Rosencrantz- and Guildenstern-type characters, a wry endurance test for the modern moviegoer, a masterful exhibition of framing and blocking, an absurd anachronism, a baffling and hypnotic cinematic experience unlike any other in 2015.
31. The Brand New Testament - dir. Jaco Van Dormael
I was so worried that The Brand New Testament was going to be one of those smug, self-important "angry atheist" movies. Fortunately, it's not: chronicling the story God's daughter, Ea, and her efforts to get back at her abusive father, it's a delightfully lighthearted romp that is more interested in celebrating the human condition than condemning religion (it takes a few cheap shots at an admittedly easy target, but it's all in good fun and rarely unwarranted). The Brand New Testament is an absolute delight; bonus points for unobtrusive genderbending!
30. Meru - dir. Jimmy Chin & Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
If there's one thing I love more than documentaries about professional dancers, it's documentaries about batshit-insane mountain climbers. This is the latter. The ascent in question here is, refreshingly, not Everest, but a route up a vertical cliff face called the "Shark's Fin" on Meru Peak. The narrative of the climbers is compelling and the footage they shoot is unbelievable; this is the best documentary about mountain climbing to be released since 2003's Touching the Void.
29. An Honest Liar - dir. Tyler Measom & Justin Weinstein
A sort-of biography of James Randi, the magician known for his exposure of psychics, pseudoscience, and con-artists, An Honest Liar is essentially three documentaries in one—and, somehow, it all feels organic and of a whole. Any one of its three aspects (which I won't reveal here) could have become a weak link that unraveled the whole film, but they are all riveting in their own right and complement each other in a way that elevates the entire experience to something that exceeds the bar established by your standard documentary.
28. Sherpa - dir. Jennifer Peedom
I'm so glad that Sherpa exists; this is a documentary that we really, really need right now. (And Everest should be embarrassed for coming out in the same year.) Navigating the strained relationship between the Sherpa and Western mountaineers in the wake of the 2014 avalanche that claimed the lives of sixteen Nepalese guides, Sherpa is a clear-sighted and compassionate examination not just of different cultures struggling to understand one another, but of the knot of politics and economics and spirituality and personal glory tangled up around Everest and its ability to divide—or unite—friends and family. Sherpa is an engaging and emotional work, 2015's must-see nonfiction film.
27. 45 Years - dir. Andrew Haigh
Andrew Haigh, director of underseen indie darling Weekend, truly gets to flex his filmmaking muscles in 45 Years. The simple story of a marriage beginning to unravel when knowledge of a deceased former lover surfaces, it's a quiet movie that depends on the strength of its two lead performances (Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay) and meticulous cinematic technique. The more you pay attention to the minutia of the characters—the direction of their gazes, the movements of their hands and fingers—the more you will be rewarded by the intimacy, detail, and power of Haigh's remarkably subtle storytelling.
26. The Summer of Sangaile - dir. Alanté Kavaïté
Warm. No other word suitably describes this autumn-toned tale (I see the discrepancy there, but the film is saturated in a dusky golden-brown haze that evokes autumn more than summer) of an aspiring stunt plane pilot who overcomes her vertigo with the help of a young woman with whom she falls in love. Although light on plot, Summer of Sangaile is so beautifully shot and scored that it will take you to another world, a world of magic that only cinema can produce.
25. Bridge of Spies - dir. Steven Spielberg
Bridge of Spies may or may not go down as one of Spielberg's best movies, but it undoubtedly is: this is vintage filmmaking at its finest, the confident and assured work of a craftsman who has mastered his craft, so uninterested in showing off its brilliance that that brilliance becomes easy to overlook. The only major misstep in Bridge of Spies is a painfully misjudged visual motif involving the climbing of a barrier, which was clearly intended to say something along the lines of "not everything is bad in the world" and instead comes across as "who cares about those fuckers getting killed in Europe? AMERICA FUCK YEAH." It's an unbelievably sour moment that spoils a magnificent film.
24. Ex Machina - dir. Alex Garland
Alex Garland (who you probably know as the screenwriter for films such as 28 Days Later and Never Let Me Go) makes his directorial debut with Ex Machina, a meditation on the nature of consciousness disguised as a classy sci-fi thriller with a religious/feminist angle. Can a machine be conscious? What exactly makes a person different from a sufficiently-advanced computer? Science fiction has been dealing with these questions for years, and Ex Machina doesn't bring much new to the table on that front, but its themes have rarely been portrayed with such elegance. It's a simple but exquisitely-made piece of work, genre fiction for people who don't like genre fiction.
23. Approaching the Elephant - dir. Amanda Wilder
Approaching the Elephant is the most unexpectedly riveting documentary of the year, chronicling without color the events that go down at a school where nearly every rule is voted upon by the children in attendance. It doesn't take long for the kids to learn how to manipulate the democratic system, and both adults and students begin behaving childishly as tensions escalate. Approaching the Elephant is what The Stanford Prison Experiment should have been: horrifying but inevitable, a disturbing dissection of human nature.
22. Blind - dir. Eskil Vogt
Eskil Vogt, screenwriter for Joachim Trier's Reprise, Oslo, August 31st, and Louder Than Bombs, makes his directorial debut in the sensory and subjective Blind, a film which evokes Charlie Kaufman and even Wes Anderson in its clockwork precision, its willingness to use the language of cinema to distort and undermine objectivity, and its ability to navigate those treacherous waters between soul-crushing (sometimes, in this case, literal) darkness and tongue-in-cheek playfulness. Blind is a knot of rich storytelling which will reward attentiveness and multiple rewatches. A true cinematic gem.
21. Heart of a Dog - dir. Laurie Anderson
I'm not entirely sure what Heart of a Dog is or why I like it so much. Created and narrated by Laurie Anderson, it's a sort of audio/visual essay in which she mediates on modern life—the ramifications of 9/11 and data surveillance, among other topics—by way of metaphor in the form of her terrier, Lolabelle. And although Anderson occasionally slips in pseudo-scientific/philosophical bullshit, her cutting honesty and obvious literacy (references to Kierkegaard, Wittgenstein, and David Foster Wallace abound) draw you irresistibly into her world.
20. Respire - dir. Mélanie Laurent
I've found Melanie Laurent to be a hypnotic screen presence ever since I first saw her in Inglourious Basterds, but she proves in Respire that she might be even more talented behind the camera than in front of it. Chronicling an intense friendship between two young women, Laurent imposes a rigidity in structure and framing that lends a claustrophobic quality to the film; Respire may indeed have been the most unbearable ninety minutes I spent with a movie in 2015, and I mean that in the best way possible. It's a lean, streamlined, relentless piece of work, proof that Melanie Laurent is a director worth watching.
19. Queen of Earth - dir. Alex Ross Perry
Queen of Earth has The Shining and Under the Skin in its DNA: it is insidious, creeping into your bones in ways you can't always put your finger on. Sometimes, though, you can—director Alex Ross Perry makes use of unconventional angles, off-kilter framing, and Elisabeth Moss' unreadable eyes in order to freak you out on an almost subconscious level. Dear Lord, Elisabeth Moss. That woman is a tour de force, and I'm not sure she's ever been better than she is here.
18. Anomalisa - dir. Duke Johnson & Charlie Kaufman
Charlie Kaufman does it again. Anomalisa doesn't quite reach the heights of Synecdoche, New York, but it's another unexpected and unorthodox cinematic experience from one of our strangest filmmakers. Animated through the use of stop-motion, Anomalisa slyly riffs on our assumption that protagonists—especially protagonists who feel they are misunderstood by a monochromatic world—are underdog heroes who we want to relate to. The result is a tale that is narratively subversive, bitingly honest, and fiercely feminist.
17. Phoenix - dir. Christian Petzold
Phoenix is an inverted Vertigo, the story of a woman named Nina who returns from a concentration camp following WWII and receives facial reconstruction surgery due to a major wound. Her husband fails to recognize her, but, seeing the resemblance to his wife, asks her to impersonate Nina. Elegantly reexamining the themes that distinguished Hitchcock's classic in decidedly more feminist terms, Phoenix explores the ways in which we construct, perceive, and manipulate identity in order to serve our own ends, and how it blinds us to the world that lies right in front of our eyes.
16. Son of Saul - dir. László Neme
While watching Son of Saul, this quotation from Kurt Vonnegut kept tumbling through my head: "Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water." The protagonist here, a Sonderkommando prisoner in Auschwitz, has one goal—to properly bury the body of a boy who has been killed in the camp's gas chambers. The simplicity and, more importantly, the specificity of this goal constitute one of Son of Saul's two great strokes of brilliance. The other is its claustrophobic camera, which almost never strays from the head of its focal character; combined with a 1.375:1 aspect ratio and relentless use of shallow focus, the film forces you to extrapolate events from audio cues and visual glimpses that flash by in the margins of the frame. One of the all-time great directorial debuts.
15. About Elly - dir. Asghar Farhadi
The only suitable word for describing About Elly is "Hitchcockian" (fitting, then, that it shows up in my list near Phoenix). Although it is ostensibly about a woman who mysteriously disappears, it is in truth more interested in the ways in which her disappearance peels back the false fronts put on by the people around her. About Elly is a meticulous unpacking of psychology, of truth and untruth, from one of Iran's most talented filmmakers.
14. Inside Out - dir. Pete Docter
Inside Out is a glorious return to form for Pixar, brimming with the wit ("All these facts and opinions look the same!"), charm, and high concepts that characterized their work through the late 90s and early 2000s. Elegantly weaving the story of a young girl named Riley with five of her anthropomorphized emotions—Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust—Inside Out is the kind of movie that viewers of all ages can relate to. Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith deliver knockout performances, highlighting the voice cast as Joy and Sadness.
13. Chi-Raq - dir. Spike Lee
Adapting stage dramas written hundreds (or in this case, thousands) of years ago to contemporary cinema is a notoriously difficult task, especially if dialogue is directly or indirectly carried over in verse. Chi-Raq might be the first time I've ever seen it done successfully. It's a vivid, voracious translation of Lysistrata set in modern Chicago, and it feels at once both wholly original and inseparable from its origins. The message is hardly a subtle one—the film literally ends with Samuel L. Jackson saying "WAKE UP!"—but it's blisteringly relevant, a necessary firebrand that makes its point with sass and whip-crack attitude.
12. Sicario - dir. Denis Villeneuve
Denis Villeneuve is unstoppable. Coming off Prisoners in 2013 and Enemy in 2014 (the first a very good film, the second a near-masterpiece), he unleashes Sicario, a movie about drug cartels and their law enforcement rivals on both sides of the US/Mexico border. The plot itself is only marginally better than your average fare, but Villeneuve brings his undisputed mastery of tension and catharsis to bear; supported by cinematographer Roger Deakins, composer Johan Johansson, and a talented cast starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, and Benecio del Toro, he elevates Sicario to something exceptional.
11. A Most Violent Year - dir. J.C. Chandor
Even though J.C. Chandor's previous film, All Is Lost, was one of my favorites of 2013, I was still shocked by how much I liked A Most Violent Year. Chandor proves once again that he is a master of restraint, of playing thrills low-key, in order to highlight their weight within the narrative. Aesthetically, too, the film is a triumph: the greys and browns from which the muted color palette is composed serve to highlight the crisp chill of New York in the 80s, and they lend an air of authenticity to this grim tale. Oscar Isaac has never been better cast.
10. In Jackson Heights - dir. Frederick Wiseman
I wouldn't have fully appreciated In Jackson Heights if I had watched it before Trump's time in office. I wouldn't have fully appreciated In Jackson Heights if I had watched its scenes out of the context of the film, even though the film provides no context. It is a mosaic, a portrait of a community painted without commentary. It is poetry. In Jackson Heights portrays a utopia—not because Jackson Heights is perfect or without problems, but because it is a community strengthened by its differences. This, in microcosm, is what America once aspired to be.
9. The End of the Tour - dir. James Ponsoldt
David Foster Wallace—as a person, perhaps, even more than as a writer—has always had a sort of gravitational pull on me. He wrote one of the most important books in the history of American literature, he was enormously self-aware, and he hanged himself at the age of forty-six. The End of the Tour, adapted from David Lipsky's book Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, wisely focuses in on the conversation between the two men in the final days of Wallace's book tour for Infinite Jest; blessedly free of pretension (unlike director James Ponsoldt's previous film, The Spectacular Now), The End of the Tour doesn't highlight Wallace's brilliance so much as the humility and confusion he felt after skyrocketing to fame. Jason Segal, as Wallace, turns in the most honest, most human performance of the year.
8. The Hateful Eight - dir. Quentin Tarantino
It's a testament to Tarantino's talent that, despite being one of my least-favorite entries in his filmography, The Hateful Eight still makes it into my top ten of 2015. It's a premise that seems more suited to the stage than the screen—in the late 1800s, eight people become stranded in a cabin together during a blizzard; conflict inevitably breaks out—but Tarantino makes full use of framing and focus in order to bring out the cinematic drama in a confined space, and it works wonders.
7. Of Men and War - dir. Laurent Bécue-Renar
Of Men and War is an epic, intimate, landmark documentary. Each decade has its defining entry in the genre—Night and Fog ('50s), The House is Black ('60s), Gates of Heaven ('70s), The Thin Blue Line ('80s), Hoop Dreams ('90s), An Inconvenient Truth ('00s)—and The Act of Killing will likely be that monolith for the 2010s. But it should be Of Men and War. This sprawling but deeply personal examination of men who have returned from and been scarred by war more than earns its 2.5-hour runtime by exploring the relationship between masculinity and mental illness in the wake of mindless American imperialism.
6. Mad Max: Fury Road - dir. George Miller
Mad Max: Fury Road is the anti-Avengers—a film that wields three-act structure with more precision and eloquence than any action movie since Die Hard, paring away any potential fat until the only thing left is a core of pure cinematic meat. And what a feast! The exquisitely-choreographed fights and chases, expertly shot and edited and highlighted against a distinctive orange and blue color palette, relentlessly prove that laziness is not an inherent characteristic of the action genre. Fury Road may be popcorn entertainment, but it's popcorn entertainment created by a filmmaker at the top of his game.
5. Taxi - dir. Jafar Panahi
Taxi is pure magic. Jafar Panahi, the Iranian director famous for creating This Is Not a Film and sending it to Cannes on a USB drive hidden inside a cake after being banned from making movies, returns with this semi-nonfictional piece of metacinema starring Panahi himself. Taxi is a middle finger to the Iranian government, but it's a film with nothing resembling anger or hatred in its heart: like Panahi and his infectious smile, it is irresistibly funny and charming, radiating warmth and celebrating the magic of movies in every glorious second.
4. Mommy - dir. Xavier Dolan
Mommy is a film that features Oasis' "Wonderwall" and Lana del Rey's "Born to Die" non-diegetically and non-ironically, and the (admittedly few) naysayers of the movie seem to be hung up on that quality: it wears its heart on its sleeve, and it is uncompromising and unapologetic in its sentiment. I found it refreshing, especially given the sheer conviction of the talent involved—stars Anne Dorval, Antoine-Olivier Pilon, and Suzanne Clément turn in three of the best performances of the year, and director Xavier Dolan is a force of nature behind the camera. He is the closest we have to a 21st-century Orson Welles, a Paul Thomas Anderson for the next generation.
3. Victoria - dir. Sebastian Schipper
Victoria's claim to fame at the time of its release was as the longest movie to be filmed in a single unbroken take (138 minutes). Fortunately, though, it's also a riveting piece of entertainment that is as beautifully performed and scored as it is shot. Chronicling barely two hours in the life of a young Spanish woman living in Berlin, Victoria follows its titular character as she becomes involved with a group of men in the early hours of the morning—I don't want to say much more, because a great deal of this movie's magic comes from the unexpected escalation of events that sweep you along. Victoria is unadulterated catharsis, bleeding you dry in the best way possible.
2. The Tribe - dir. Myroslav Slaboshpytsky
"This film is in sign language. There are no translations, no subtitles, no voice-over." The Tribe opens with these words on the screen, and that's the only concession it offers: it is indeed in sign language—Ukrainian Sign Language—and your understanding of the plot (unless you are fluent in Ukrainian Sign Language) will be entirely dependent on what you see the characters doing onscreen. The result is pure cinema. The tale is a riveting one, about a student who attends a boarding school for the deaf and becomes involved in a crime ring with his fellow students. The Tribe sounds all gimmick, but it transcends in every possible way—fittingly, I have no words to describe what a harrowing and eloquent experience it is.
1. World of Tomorrow - dir. Don Hertzfeldt
Don Hertzfeldt does in sixteen minutes what most filmmakers couldn't do in sixteen hours: build a believable science-fiction world and weave from it a compelling story about complex characters that spears right to the heart of the human condition. Nothing else needs to be said—World of Tomorrow isn't only the best film of 2015, it is a perfect film.