by Todd Haynes
Breath-taking cinema. As much fun as it is to watch the enormity of a film's power writ large in car crashes and the like, there is nothing more cinematic than when a filmmaker renders the details of falling in love perfectly. Carol joins The Long Day Closes, El Sur and All That Heaven Allows in the ranks of deeply felt romantic tales of self-discovery through the heart of an unexpected paramore. It's about the world's beauty finally being visible thanks to another person making it all clear.
by Spike Lee
While we critics have furrowed our brows and rolled our eyes for decades as Spike Lee has supposedly tarnished the legacy of the one film he made that white people like, Spike Lee has continued to be Spike Lee. There have been ups and downs, but as far as this pale white boy can see, he's been on a hot streak. His marvelous last three films (Red Hook Summer, Old Boy, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus) have all been about his life and career, more or less, and the ways in which black Americans fall from grace harder and with more spectators than white Americans. Now he's got his mojo back and Chi-Raq is the most vivid and sensual film he's possibly ever made. He's turned the most violent town in America into a mythic kingdom in ruins, a place where dead men text each other, where a dapper greek chorus sits in barber shops looking perfect while all around him falls to spent shell casings and blood stains that mothers can't clean no matter how hard they scrub. Lee and Kevin Willmott's script, dancing furiously with Terence Blanchard's score, swallows years of white-on-black violence and spits it back at us. And while that easily could have played as a screed, the trio in charge of the film's unforgettable rhythm realize that there must be more than anger. So there is dance, calibrated to the beat of pacifism, bursting with neons and showcasing the beauty of black skin. This film is like hip-hop calligraphy, an unprecedented cinematic slam poem that feels like it was created every day it's watched. A film like Chi Raq will always be necessary. Lee's talents for fusing forms has found its perfect expression in this ecstatic eulogy for a generation of kids hunted by the police.
3. The Assassin
by Hou Hsiao-Hsien
Almost more sweetly intoxicating mist than movie.
4. Greenery Will Bloom Again
by Ermanno Olmi
When I thought that Olmi, the humanist master of Italian cinema, the angel to Marco Bellocchio's devil, had retired with the elemental, metaphor-heavy Cardboard Village, I was perfectly content saying goodbye to him. It had its heart in the right place, had a typically barnstorming performance by Michael Lonsdale, and felt enough of a piece with his modernist beginnings to seem like a satisfying cap to a marvelous career. But then he came out of retirement and made Greenery Will Bloom Again. This is actually the perfect final film. It's an anti-war song set almost entirely in the womb space (shades of another last movie, Edgar Ulmer's The Cavern) of a wooden HQ for Italian soldiers fighting any war. Its silky bleached images lull you into a trance, imagining yourself fighting off the cold outside like the soldiers, only to break it with gunshots. Olmi lets the darkness of humanity course through his film, letting it overwhelm our better nature and drag it literally below ground, where the light of peace can't touch find anything. The gracenotes he allows his soldiers - letters from home, a song in the night, with pure snow acting as an empty concert hall - do not mask the hideous truth of digging through the elements to better kill the enemy whose faces must certainly look like theirs. A twilit communal soul searching, this film looks inside you while you're being serenaded by its plaintive wind-burned periodicity. Quiet, loud, hope, pain, back home, out here, violence, peace, creation, destruction, art, war. Nothing against Cardboard Village, it's quite beautiful, but this is the last statement from master Olmi I was hoping for.
5. 45 Years
by Andrew Haigh
A tale of the crippling doubt that can engulf us when our perception of the most important person in our life is forcefully changed. Haigh mixes Kubrickian precision with the slow melancholy of New Hollywood. It's got something of the bleak Brit domesticity of nomads John Schlesinger, Jerzy Skolimowski and Karel Reisz, and Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling are very much meant to symbolize the polls of their film industry's storied pasts. Rampling the calmed glamour and boundless spirit - traveling the world to be gazed upon. Courtenay the working stiff theatrical every man who used to symbolize rebellion, now an old tired man who can't believe his friends' anger has quelled with age. There's an uneasy alliance between having settled down and wanting to get out and do more that makes you wonder what these two haven't said to each other even before Katya makes her presence felt. Haigh lets her ghost descend over their quiet house and equally quiet marriage like a disease-ridden pall, infecting them in different ways, but equally maliciously. His control of every inch and facet of their measured existence is masterful, and his second film will never leave my subconscious.
6. The Grief of Others
by Patrick Wang
A film that lets mourning infect every one of its audience's senses. You can smell the water-licked wood of the home, silenced by secrets and resentment. Feel the old fabric coating the mismatched furniture and the slight stickiness on the perpetually dirty cabinets. Hear the sighs that pass for full conversations between people who've gotten used to not speaking. See the inexpressible sadness behind ordinary looks and motions. Wang's impressionistic sketch of a family without a center captures a kind of American family that has been pushed to the margins by a louder new class of bohemian. This family is an endangered species and they know it. Wang's film is a document of people who were too late in learning how to let themselves feel.
7. Mad Max: Fury Road
by George Miller
A white hot erotic fantasy of searing metal and flesh, both bulbous and supple. The promise of Ozploitation fulfilled. The lone survivor of an industry built on squeezing and stretching every last nickel has finally been given every last nickel and didn't waste even one. He created a whole world based on the stories told by every survivor of every grizzly outback genre exercise. From the death camp dystopia of Turkey Shoot to the car-strapping hotrodders of Fair Game, the deranged gearhead ecstasy of The Cars That Ate Paris and Midnite Spares, the anti-heroics of sun-scorched cowboy killers like Mad Dog Morgan and the chain gang runaways of Van Diemen's Land. Miller puts them all in a sack, beats it with a wiffle ball bat and releases them like hornets over an untouched land to sting and infect every thing they encounter.
by Michael Mann
Digital subterfuge inflicted on human binary. Are we good or evil when the usual codes of honor heroes used to live by are rendered meaningless by a world used to getting everything it wants?
9. Crimson Peak
by Guillermo Del Toro
A marvel of textural cinema, gesturing with withered, hoary digits at the pleasures only film can provide. A curious camera wrapping itself around a host of gleefully painted settings. Del Toro rightly can't wait for you to see the work and care that went into crafting Crimson Peak. So few people can do what he does at his best.
10. The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
by Guy Ritchie
Guy Ritchie's take on the spy movie has the same fluidity and confidence of his Sherlock Holmes movies, but with an almost staggering cool denied his squabbling, nebbishy detectives. Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, even when violently at odds with each other, never lose their composure. Ritchie's finally calmed down long enough to let his movies just be. Case in point: Alicia Vikander dancing in her pajamas, drink in her hand, knowing how bad she's being. Or Elizabeth Debicki allowing herself a night with her nemesis simply because one hunch of many turned out to be untrue. Movies this pointedly flippant are infrequently this composed or satisfying when they deliver their ostensible reason for being.
11. Miss Julie
by Liv Ullmann
Liv Ullmann, the queen of Swedish cinema, crafts a ferocious tango of morality for three that sits comfortably among the work of her partner-in-crime Ingmar Bergman, and the excellent 1951 adaptation of the same play by Alf Sjöberg. Colin Farrell and Jessica Chastain, doing the best work of which they're capable, rise and fall with currents of ceremony and carnal gamesmanship and Ullmann manipulates their environment to reflect how deeply they're sinking into hell at the other's behest. Honest performances by the central duo and the perennially underused Samantha Morton make the play's text burst into bright flaming life before us.
by Michael Almereyda
A rubix cube of human behavior and predictability indexes. Peter Sarsgaard's hangdog scientist trudges through the decades only too aware that his work is being proved right and meaningless all the time as people increasingly refuse the invitation to consider their existence. Almereyda places him in front of the same backgrounds, many of them purposefully false, to let us know that no matter how far he got in life, nothing truly changed. Progress will always be a myth if we refuse to look inwardly. The world may as well be a backdrop on a stage for all we change about it and ourselves.
13. Mississippi Grind
by Ryan Fleck, Anna Boden
Modern grammar fastened to an old fashioned loser narrative, Mississippi Grind pulls a nifty little trick. It reminds us that films like Mikey & Nicky, California Split and Husbands don't get made anymore by reminding us - through the use of comtemporary spaces and situations - that today failure doesn't have the same poetry. And yet there is still nothing quite as satisfying as watching someone bet the house knowing they could still lose all the nothing to which they lay claim. In the seconds before the wheel stops spinning, with glasses of woodford reserve clutched in their sweaty mitts, these are kings.
by Rick Alverson
A mutant clone with the DNA of David Lynch, Harlan Ellison and David Cronenberg.
15. No Home Movie
by Chantal Akerman
Having to say goodbye to Akerman was the hardest part of 2015. Her final work is as close to her private life as I think she was comfortable showing us. Her mother was the person who meant the most to her, and even she seemed something of a stranger. So Chantal uses her frail mother as a mirror, allowing us to see her guilt, her fears, her longing, the things she misses and wishes. I don't think I could ever watch this film again. Not now that she's gone.
by Alonso Ruiz Palacios
It is not everyday that a director shakes your hand and lets you know everything about him, how intimately he knows the camera and the editing bay and his own influences. Here's Richard Linklater, Godard and Chris Marker in this big furnished with an incredibly certain vision of wistful arthouse cinema. This film feels like the best possible outcome of the post-modern ouroboros that was indie filmmaking in the 1990s and Palacios has found a way to kill time that feels imperative, violent, sexy and fulfilling.
17. The Forbidden Room
by Guy Maddin & Evan Johnson
As solid and hilarious a phantasm as Guy Maddin has ever vomited on us like ectoplasm; the ghosts of fabricated pasts trapped inside the liquid digital images masquerading as silver nitrate. I'll never forget this film, nor the sound of Nick Newman having a fit and nearly dying of laughter during a sequence involving the trading of clothes with a corpse.
18. Listen to Me Marlon
by Stevan Riley
A new form of personal biography, in which an inescapably public figure is imbued with cosmic permanence. Brando's messages to himself make the audience into the man's own unconscious mind as Riley projects a half-dreamt version of his life onto us. The words and pictures match up, creating meaning behind a seemingly random life for what feels like the first time. Brando is human once again, even if he's also a legend, a phantom, and a digital head speaking to its own now dead likeness.
19. Stinking Heaven
by Nathan Silver
Nathan Silver, director after my own heart, has written himself an ironclad dramatic formula I hope he never abandons. Put a bunch of unstable people in a small location with a set of rules just begging to be broken, and then introducing a wild card. The tiny but formidable Stinking Heaven is an almost preposterously strong piece of filmmaking. Its warped images, like a novel written on tin foil, mean that every promise made is bound to be broken, every bad tendency rewarded with mortal harm. Everyone who can self-destruct will and in the harshest way imaginable. Its images also remind us that this was how the world used to be able to see itself, in a time before self-reflection was encouraged the way it is (or can afford to be) now.
20. The Lobster
by Yorgos Lanthimos
In which internalizing one's self-loathing literally turns men into animals. A film that requires admitting that you're a bad person to sympathize with its leads. If you can do that, you'll have a pretty good time.
21. Approaching The Elephant
by Amanda Wilder
A film about the false promise of anarchy as a progressive political strategy. Education requires at least the threat of authority and slowly we see that proved as teachers sink to the level of their charges. Wilder non-judgmentally sits back and hopes for the best, her black and white images allowing us to imagine the first schools that did away with the power structure. We're nowhere near utopia, but some of us are trying.
22. Mistress America
by Noah Baumbach
The absurd door-slamming farce that millenials deserve, wherein the inane bullshit upon which dreams are now built is treated like a preposterous affectation. As it should be. Gerwig's La Cava-inspired cadence is treated with no visual frills by her director, whose new found visual boredom thankfully doesn't doom the film. Gerwig is the whole show here, and she's a star through and through.
23. Catch Me Daddy
by Daniel Wolfe
An English folk horror ballad, except the monster under the bed is your father driven mad by religious conviction. Like Tam Lin or The Wicker Man stripped of allegory.
24. Magic Mike XXL
by Gregory Jacobs
Starts as a Scarecrow-style buddy-road movie and becomes a Last Waltz-esque concert film. A film that seems to genuinely be most concerned with restoring people's faith in becoming enthusiastic about the future, which is about as noble a cause for an American studio film circa 2015 I can think of.
25. James White
by Josh Mond
Exhausting objectivity a la Ballast, The Headless Woman, Crimson Gold, Wendy & Lucy and Revanche returns for the sweating desperation of James White. A chase film, like so many of these movies are at heart, in which a young screw up chases redemption by not allowing himself the time and space to heal himself while totems of stability crumble or burn all around him. Like the heroes of Audiard and Tsai, White knows but rejects the easy way to loving himself and growing again. I wish we still got a dozen films like this every year.
26. The Crossing parts I and II
by John Woo
Having perfected spectacle as its own glorious ends through his hollow American actioners and his big budget fable Red Cliff, John Woo returns to his roots as a big softie with a knack for explosions. Here, he fully gives himself to the romantic sublime. Lovers meet cute, dance passionately, exchanges letters and longing looks from across ballrooms, battlefields and at times whole countries. Every shot has poetry and romance in its choreography and composition. This is his A Farewell To Arms and a summation of his work on two continents over many decades.
27. Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem
by Ronit Elkabetz & Shlomi Elkabetz
The Passion of Joan of Arc in an Israeli divorce court. Absolutely stunning, tightly coiled formalist delight, withholding and revealing like a seasoned district attorney. A perfect mix of Dreyer and Bresson, differing aesthetics and posture uniting in the perfect face of Viviane Amsalem. Silent resilience is dragged inch by inch into the white, judging stillness of the court room.
28. Diary of a Teenage Girl
by Marielle Heller
Brave Bel Powley plays every young woman going through sexual identity crises, at the mercy of those who should know better. Heller gives us a front row seat to a series of world-shattering experiences for a young woman who hasn't been taught right from wrong and must learn the difference the hard way. The dusty nostalgia is firmly on the side of liberal sexual discovery, ensuring that no one judges Powley for her choices. Here's the other side of the Manic Pixie Dream paradigm, the woman who has to learn that waiting for the supposedly perfect man to grow up is a fool's errand. Be good to yourself, the film says, and you'll be rewarded with the path to a better future.
by Ryan Coogler
Coogler's images have the weight and depth of a hero's journey, even if his script can't provide him with the mythic grounding his name implies. The story of Apollo Creed just doesn't have weight for someone who didn't grow up watching the Rocky movies. But Coogler's intimacy with his young hero - the granite-heavy but skin-soft cinematography, the unforgiving colour scheme around him, the true callousness of destiny - find depth where there was none. They find importance in the face of Sylvester Stallone where Stallone couldn't find it in all his own movies. He pointed a camera at himself for decades and Coogler finds the soul he missed in one film. Creed is a calling card for a generation of black filmmakers who haven't yet picked up a camera: Ryan Coogler is carving out a path for you to follow. Your images could bring audiences to tears. Your empathy could change a legacy of white filmmaking into something more beautiful, honest and open.
by Johnny To
To's musical (shockingly his first) imbibes the geometric precision of Tati and Busby Berkeley with their very human clumsiness as chaser. The world of the office is a clock, every gear connecting and spinning together in unison, taking cues from dapper fox Chow Yun-Fat. One faulty cog and the machine breaks down. The pleasures of To's cinema, mainly waves of bodies with conflicting agendas washing over one another in a sick sea of unknowable hopes, are separated into their base elements: regimented movement and momentum. Rapid fire dialogue. Congested biological traffic. To finally lets all his fetishes align in the musical display he's always hinted he'd perfect for.
31. Son of Saul
by László Nemes
A never-ceasing plume of misery vomited like grey industrial refuse over our easy relationship with the past. An unfathomable tragedy rendered in terms a human might be able to wrap its brain around. The war machine made flesh in literally excruciating detail. A documentary of people pretending to be the forgotten and abused, those for whom tomorrow was not a guarantee.
32. My Golden Days
by Arnaud Desplechin
A return to Desplechin's thorny wonderland, a place you can only enter through a nearly closed iris. A coming-of-age story with the hilarity and honesty that has become the french master's stock-in-trade. Unlike many looks back to a director's childhood, Desplechin never forgets that each scene must function on its own, divorced of his own fascination with his growth. Yes, it gazes longingly at a lost childhood, but, unlike a lot of French takes on the same subject we've been treated to over the last several years, it's properly enthralling from start to finish.
33. Inside Out
by Pete Docter & Ronnie del Carmen
After a few years in the wilderness of infant-courting piffle, Pixar returns to tax enjoyment with honest tears. Their neatest concept rendered with their trademark boundless enthusiasm and creativity. Two of the strongest vocal performances the company has yet captured (Phyllis Smith and Amy Poehler) ricocheting off of each other through the depths of a sprightly coloured and amazingly detailed child's mind. They used their audience as their subject in terms their keepers could understand. It's almost unfair how good Pixar (specifically stalwart director Pete Docter) are at this, but I'm not complaining.
34. The Mend
by John Magary
A tender respite from adulthood and social graces consistently interrupted by reality, John Magary's Desplechin-derived masculine purgatory is a place where instability is rewarded with flesh wounds and unearned ego boosts. Magary's excellent script is handled with kid gloves by his warm direction, as he prepares to gently deposit his asshole heroes back into real life. A carefully worded reminder that every New Yorker, no matter how brash, is a human being, too.
35. Arabian Nights
by Miguel Gomes
It is my wish that everyone on earth watch this movie in one sitting.
36. The Stanford Prison Experiment
by Kyle Patrick Alvarez
Alvarez's grip on the tone and pace of his first feature is so steady that even though we in the audience are aware that the film has an assured outcome and its events were not even real to begin with, the experiment is still hugely stressful and tense from the word go. Making us watch these beautiful kids with their mangy facial hair suffer a bastion of torments at the hands of equally pretty psychopaths is the findings of Experimenter's Stanley Milgram made agonizingly literal in the form of beatings and sleep-deprivation. Shocking and captivating, even if I knew how it was going to play out. We're still monsters under all the clothes and the trappings of civilization.
37. The Treasure
by Corneliu Porumboiu
Leave it to the Romanians to make walking around your back yard with a metal detector the most fascinating sight. Porumboiu's hysterical anti-fairy tale may not restore one's faith in magic, but it may maintain one's faith in the virtue of the Bressonian tack of watching someone perform the same action over and over again. Romanians have always valued the specific details of generic conventions. The real time it takes and the spiritual cost of of tailing a criminal, getting an abortion, having an affair and ending your family life as you know it. The actuality of the things we've been conditioned to expect from films for the last eighty years. Porumboiu turns a hunt for gold into a tedious night of bickering and retracing steps. God bless him.
38. In Jackson Heights
by Frederick Wiseman
The most fun I've had in a movie theatre this year was watching a packed house at Film Forum laughing and talking back to this three hour documentary like it was a Scream sequel. Maybe it was just the excitement of seeing their home on screen. As someone who'd recently moved to Queens, it was thrilling to see Wiseman train his eye on streets so close to my home. He captures the vibrancy that hides behind every store front and church, the myriad communities and culture hybrids forged by a shared zip code. There's nothing like watching your home on screen, but it's nice to know that when the movies over I got to go home and live a little down the block from all the excitement.
39. By The Sea
by Angelina Jolie
The best editing I've seen this year is during a montage of Brad Pitt and Jolie dressing themselves up to go get a young couple drunk for their amusement. By The Sea capture the idleness of the rich but, crucially, tampers it by capturing the isolation and hellacious torment of being a woman married to a clueless man. Pitt and Jolie throw themselves back in time so that modern audiences might have a window into root sexism and the casual callousness of masculinity. If it doesn't feel like a 50 year old problem, that's for a reason. The marriage in crisis in By The Sea is a reflection of the current crisis in gender relations, and the way women are still shunted off by men with the power. Case in point: this film's reception. Jolie's late 90s/early 2000s studio diction captures the idealized modernist setting with a firmness wholly different from the artists whose images she flirts with. There's a perfumed diffidence to some of her textures (and it's hypnotic), but she means this and puts her whole being into sympathizing with women everywhere feeling loss of control over their bodies.
by Justin Kurzel
Kurzel may have made hash of his source material, but he did it in the name of making a name for himself as an auteur, and I'm grateful for that even if no one else is. This is metal cinema, through and through, a Rosetta or Isis album set to pictures and cut intuitively to feed its insatiable post-rock rhythm. Macbeth is just an excuse for Kurzel to fill the bleak moors with pagan apparitions and hellish weather. I could see how some found it disrespectful, but cinema isn't about fidelity to words. Or anyway it shouldn't be.
by Xavier Dolan
A sugary New Romantic spree that explodes into song with every Freudian stumbling block for its doomed trio of dreamers. Childhood was never supposed to have ended for a mother who now finds herself responsible for a kid who would need a team of specialists to decipher or calm. It never seems to have happened for the woman across the street, who seems eternally nagged and beaten by broken promises. The mother and son disaster waving at her from across the lawn feed off of her patience and untapped stores of love for the unplanned, the explosive random highs that can only be brought on by humans as messy as these. I hate Xavier Dolan so much. He's older than me by mere months but seems to have said everything he needs to about life in five movies.
42. Amour Fou
by Jessica Hausner
A feminist parable with the revolutionary idea of wondering whether something written off as romantic self-destruction was possibly the result of being bullied by a deficit of choices.
43. Far From Men
by David Oelhoffen
A stark road movie about the trap laid by belief just outside one's comfort zone; the mistaken hope that humans with conflicting ideologies may be capable of cohabitation. The land itself seems to have dried for want of trusting tenders. And who better to draw secrets from the soil than Viggo Mortensen, with his wizened 30s movie star looks and unimpeachable stability as a performer, and Nick Cave & Warren Ellis, whose violin seems to whisper the words of the earth itself.
44. Glass Chin
by Noah Buschel
A classic noir script treated just right by un-intrusive direction. New York is once more home to the darkest impulses, the things we pretend we won't put up with. Corey Stoll and Billy Crudup match wits, Stoll hoping Crudup will blink first, knowing deep inside that won't happen. Buschel finds his voice by losing the affect he put on for his more self-conscious noir homages and finds a sleaker purer expression of his influences.
45. The Tale of Tales
by Matteo Garrone
Garrone mixes Satyricon with Pasolini's Trilogy of Life and unleashes a cornucopia of ravishing mythic figures frolicking in discordant bliss. In this luscious critique of monarchy, Garrone gets to take real pleasure in creation, rather than pitch-perfect representation, and while his appallingly wonderful imagery gets the better of his politics, the film is no less rapturous for it. He'd earned a little vacation after taking on masculinity, corruption, and religion with such uncompromising fervor.
46. Show Me A Hero
by Paul Haggis
Paul Haggis makes a victory lap after selling out scientology with the best film of his career. Technically a six part miniseries, this Springsteen quoting saga of racism and governmental in-fighting is a powerful demonstration of restraint among its first-rate cast and the best showcase for Haggis' directorial chops. Haggis sets the dismal scene for his cast and lets them do the legwork, everyone doing justice to David Simon's terrific script. The superior version of Prince of the City (and by extension the Chris Nolan Batman movies) we knew someone would eventually make for us. The super hero here, in this case Oscar Isaac's Nick Wasicsko, believes he can do what's right for the city he loves, but can't get out of his own way. He doesn't know when he's been defeated, and while the city learns to help itself, he founders. The galvanizing saga of Yonkers is another instance of the past painted over the present and cutting an extremely canny likeness.
by Denis Villeneuve
Denis Villeneuve returns to the unforgiving desert hellscape of Incendies, but with a simpler story of learning to completely mistrust every truth you've ever been taught. With a human dust devil (Benicio Del Toro) as her guide into hades, Emily Blunt's naive crime fighter learns that no one can do good without losing their soul. The drug war has never received a more seductive, yet wretched treatment than this.
by Christian Petzold
It's all in the final five minutes, really. Petzold's filmmaking relies on the insular operations of people keeping secrets. Watching Nina Hoss repeatedly report to the side of former lover and almost-executioner Ronald Zehrfeld is devastating, to be sure, but it's an exercise in repetitive pain. Hoss arrives by his side, and he pours gasoline in her wounds. When is someone going to light the match. Turns out she's the one who gets to launch the fireworks, singing "Speak Low" before a small audience. Those are the most incendiary minutes of Petzold's career.
49. It Follows
by David Robert Mitchell
The other film on this list to take cues from Let's Scare Jessica To Death, though some people have fought me on that. Hazy teen romance takes a turn for the ghastly in David Robert Mitchell's first excellent movie. May be, as some have argued, all style, but when it's this entrancing, it's difficult to argue with the approach.
50. The Better Angels
by AJ Edwards
While the faithful waited for a new Terrence Malick movie, we were treated to a film by his protege AJ Edwards, who has absorbed his technique as a visual storyteller. Repurposing Tree of Life's nature v. grace dichotomy to show the possible lives that Abe Lincoln may have lived if he'd fallen under the sway of one parental figure more than another, Edwards makes a case for this photographic strategy, all wobbling god's eye steadicam, as the best possible representation of a remembrance of childhood. The way memories seem to dive into each other, our movements and placement suddenly upended by some new recollection.
51. Bridge of Spies
by Steven Spielberg
Spielberg combats the age of irony with the best weapon available to him; a script by the Coen Brothers, who've always understood and made a friend of cynicism. Together they make the cold war a frigid labyrinth of paperwork, cancelled meetings and red tape. Tom Hanks, acting with the freedom of a man who finally let out all the emotion he'd been keeping inside in Captain Phillips (proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that he's more than just America's father figure), plays a man who knows how to play act. He can change the current of any situation, the temperature of any room, just by withholding the right information or saying the right few words. But even he's outmatched by Mark Rylance's stolid, possibly cagey soviet spy. This is a battle of faces and words and Spielberg plays it all as cool as he can. A triumph of syntax and wit.
52. Age of Adaline
by Lee Toland Krieger
Earnest, lyrical filmmaking like this is frequently sneered at as appearing susceptible to the charms of the obvious is somehow seen as a weakness (hence why our culture is in a constant battle with the work of Nicholas Sparks). But when a filmmaker presents the promise of ardor as a rush like the breaking of a dam or the opening of a curtain after a decade in darkness, I would feel guilty not giving in. Krieger has learned well the lessons of late 00's post-modern pastorals like The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, letting beauty be its own reward. Harrison Ford and Blake Lively sharing an affair over decades of loss and loneliness is what paradise looks like to this big idiot. Resist if you want to, but it's much healthier to swoon.
53. The Gift
by Joel Edgerton
In which Jason Bateman cashes in on a decade playing hapless mensches. As in the collaborations between Joshua Logan and William Inge, masculinity is a disease, and the only cure is the kind of detachment from morality that Col. Kurtz describes in Apocalypse Now. Edgerton's follow-up to his and his brother's excellent The Square is equally as nasty.
54. Right Now, Wrong Then
by Hong Sang Soo
I've watched Hong hone his focus over 5 years of increasingly great movies. I think he's gotten better and funnier every time, and may have finally made his best work with this, in which one day is played twice. What I think I've learned ultimately interests Hong is, I think, the possibility that one might, and the desire to, change the future. So he's been conducting experiments in a lab by mixing soju with humans and seeing how we can change our destinies. Watching the same people acting in minutely different ways without ever quite changing their nature may just be the apotheosis of Hong's observational, gently biting comedy of life.
55. The Kindergarten Teacher
by Nadav Lapid
Lapid's sophomore effort concerns an unattainable future for a country that so easily decides what's best for everyone. When does support become a crutch for both parties? As usual waiting for the door to close on one half of his equation (both this and Police are about disparate entities forcibly entwined) is deeply engrossing.
56. What Happened Miss Simone?
by Liz Garbus
A sympathetic surface scratching at a queen we've forgotten. A male world couldn't handle Nina Simone; she was too much. Too outspoken, too beautiful, too black, too ready to be violent, too willing to do whatever it took to level the playing field. Her militancy is much missed, and this film is a painful but potent reminder that she was ready to take lives, to make white america bleed because white america never got tired of making the other suffer. The world wasn't ready for Nina Simone and slowly killed her. This film is a nice start. Now let's bring her ideas and her fighting spirt back.
57. Ex Machina
by Alex Garland
Matt Zoller Seitz beautifully explained this film's slave narrative in his review, but where I think the film also succeeds is as a study of treacherous surfaces. Garland adopts a shooting method borrow from Pete Travis, Danny Boyle and Steven Soderbergh, essentially using the moist paint look of digital photography to create a futurist frame for his futuristic story. What this says, slyly, is that we're always moving towards something that we make inevitable. We can change everything if we think enough about our actions before barreling into something we're convinced is inevitable. This is what I want from a first time director who's spent the last decade crafting our best sci-fi films from behind a desk. A guy who actually seizes every opportunity afforded him by stepping behind a camera.
58. The Visit
by M. Night Shyamalan
Philly's Spielberg is back, lighter on his feet and twice as mean. His found footage attack on good taste feels like the most fun he's ever had behind a camera. He's gone for broke, in a somewhat literal sense as his budget is the lowest it's ever been, and returned to his roots: scaring people near his hometown. His former earnestness translates to fearlessness bawdy horror and humour when channelled properly. It's as freely juvenile as it needs to be, but it's also terrifying when the chips are down. Welcome back, M.
59. The Woman In Black: The Angel of Death
by Tom Harper
A wartime romance and scars-of-war metaphor, and, yes, also technically a ghost story. The superior film to its progenitor in tone, scope and romanticism, if not as frightening, but when the film is this luxuriously tragic concerns like that are less important.
60. Queen of Earth
by Alex Ross Perry
Alex Ross Perry stops flirting with the unspeakable implications of his deranged solipsistic knowitalls and goes for outright psychological horror. Trawling the dark recesses of the ego like the lake that mocks the heroine every morning she wakes up still filled with regret and a sense of inferiority. A little Images and Let's Scare Jessica To Death (the accidental cinephile nod de jour) mingle with Perry's acidic verbal curlicues, making a horror that more people in 2015 can relate to than any ghost or zombie.
61. Digging For Fire
by Joe Swanberg
Joe Swanberg's Short Cuts, a shaggy dog ensemble piece where every character may just be a projection of the two leads' subconscious. A married couple decide to spend a weekend apart and consider, fleetingly and un-seriously, the road less traveled. They discover that the world is bigger than they're comfortable with, and the familiar only got that way by being good to each other. The best of Swanberg's studies of marriage by far and a fabulous new direction for Chicago's finest.
62. Uncertain Terms
by Nathan Silver
Mumblecore M*A*S*H*, but not as cute at that makes it sound. Silver loves filling machines with disparate personalities and watching the gears grind and snap when they unsurprisingly turn out to be incompatible. Uncertain Terms is the film I wish I'd thought to make this year, dropping in on a community of angry unwed mothers-to-be and seeing the way a vulnerable man changes the energy of everybody present. Silver chooses one possible outcome, but the beautiful thing about his movies is that they feel like one version of reality, and he seems graciously aware that we could have easily gotten another.
63. The Measure of a Man
by Stéphane Brizé
Vincent Lindon wears the skin of a scared working class man running out of options, and proves there isn't a shade that doesn't look good on him. The way he gestures with his arms, the way he dances, the way he poorly feels out a negotiation. He's lost control and his pride is in danger of slipping away from him, just like his economic stability. Brizé squeezes the air out of Lindon through a series of high-pressure but mundane situations, and watches the pain spread across his face. A film with the spirit of the Dardennes and a performance that has the magnetism of Anna Magnani and Paul Newman.
by Deniz Gamze Ergüven
A touch too reliant on Warren Ellis' themes for The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, but that's a small price to pay for a film that understands that celebrating the individuality and freedom owed to each woman, no matter how young.
65. Apartment Troubles
by Jennifer Prediger & Jess Weixler
A film by women at a crossroads in their artistic lives, for women at an artistic crossroads in their lives. Think of it like a Broad City movie about a pair of gorgeous lunatic free spirits trying to make life's riches come to their front door, even if they're only squatting there. Weixler and Prediger's antic chemistry could power a fleet of electric cars.
66. Eisenstein In Guanajuato / Steve Jobs
by Peter Greenaway / Danny Boyle
Two films that explode with invention, trying to externalize the genius that burned away inside two innovators, one a dickhead technocrat, the other an artist pinioned to a capitalist dogme, both governed by the limitations of their audience's imagination, and by the human body. Both men yearn to escape a life where every decision must be justified to minds unwilling to think at dangerous speeds. Both directors turn the very walls and floors of their material plain into screens onto which they project the inner life of the creator. Boldly cinematic twins, unafraid of audiences unwilling to believe that the nakedness of images and the ferocity of montage must be trusted.
67. Here's To The Future!
by Gina Telaroli
America's answer to Out 1 pulls the curtain on indie film production and cinephilia, becoming a document of the act of appreciating an appreciation. Riveting, within and without.
by Céline Sciamma
Sciamma trains her humane, still eye on a group of girls, the people who need films this awe-inspiring more than anyone on planet earth. She finds their secrets, their language, their codes and their identities as a squad and as individuals inherently breath-taking and worthy of the attention she alone can give. Focus and clarity from a patient filmmaker at a difficult time in the lives of her subjects just as they enter the hardest chapter of their lives; empathy, I guess is what I'm saying. Simple, heart-breaking empathy. Films like this are greatly needed right now. That it's amazing is a nifty silver lining. Sciamma's better understanding and performing the pop/R&B rhythm that interest her, almost as an identification tool for her characters, and it makes for boffo cinema.
by Paul Feig
Melissa McCarthy's next step will be owning her sexiness, instead of hiding behind frumpiness as a character ploy. We all know the truth. She's the whole package. She carries this film (though she's ably assisted by a never-better Rose Byrne, giving a comedic tour-de-force in the sidelines) effortlessly, a bull's conviction and strength, and Carol Burnett's timing and graceful gracelessness. Feig's belief in McCarthy imbues every set piece and composition, which makes for compassionate comedy under the razor-wire insults in the script.
70. In The Heart of the Sea
by Ron Howard
A curious thing: a Ron Howard film, complete with the emotional beats he's relied on since Apollo 13, but relayed to us with the angular grace of Anthony Dod Mantle and his absolutely singular eye for the uncanny in nature. An ordinary story pulled through the eye of a thousand needles and reassembled on the other side. A crooked mirror's image of historical fiction and bravery, a churning storm of viscera and pained bodies.
71. Da Sweet Blood of Jesus
by Spike Lee
We got two Spike Lee joints this year. By any measure that's a win for experimental narrative film. For fans of insanely sexy, misbegotten jazz fusion cinema? That's the Super Bowl sleeping with the Indy 500. Lee's crowd-funded vampire odyssey looks at the way the world conspires to keep black people mortal, even after fate has intervened on their behalf. Watching them live it up has a vicarious kick, but the guilt of knowing how much suffering Doctor Hess Green causes makes his conscious kick in. Lee has such fun depicting the libertine undead lifestyle of his heroes that one suspects that if he didn't have to end the film on a vaguely expected note of repentance, he'd have just made a film about moneyed, pulchritudinous visions living it up for all of eternity. Jim Jarmusch's vampire movie was similarly autobiographical. Spike's is just louder, more colourful, and of course, objectively hotter.
72. What We Do In The Shadows
by Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi
Deadpan behavioral comedy done right. Petyr and Stu are the two most hilarious and expertly performed comedy characters of the year. Absolutely adorable, though not without the occasional deeply wounding turn.
73. Yakuza Apocalypse
by Takashi Miike
A gonzo battle royale from the man who embraces the weird like an old friend. A daylit Yakuza meandering, the plot's surfaces calcifying from shaggy softness into rock hard fists before melting into a puddle. His images' graphic and mythic familiarity dodge and weave between a plot with none of that same stability.
74. One Floor Below
by Radu Muntean
After the harrowing relationship drama Tuesday, After Christmas, Muntean further proves his Romanian new wave bonafides with the unbearable tense One Floor Below. It's got everything I could ever ask from a Romanian murder mystery: low-level bureaucratic policy. Waiting rooms. Long lines. Passive aggression. Locations that alternately trap and dwarf pawns in a game to which there are no rules. Deeply affecting family dynamics. The powerlessness of the average man as the wicked rubs his nose in sin. What in the world else could you ask for?
by Andrew Bujalski
Andrew Bujalski tried something even stranger than the sci-fi hang-out mind trip of Computer Chess with his fifth film: a more or less straight romantic drama. Sure, it's got a baggy shape - in keeping with Bujalski's love of characters he lets them tell the story - but its payoffs and arcs are traditional. Some people love each other but don't know how or if to show it. That's basically it. And they learn to love each other. The radical thing is how he never feels the need to complicate their journey. He's honest and lets their journey take as long as it takes, and the charmingly lazy Results earns your respect by being true to his heroes.
76. A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting Existence
by Roy Andersson
A fittingly sombre and ridiculous close to Andersson's look at the human race. Like a quizzical alien with a magnifying glass that can see through time, he finds the most absurd conflict to fill his gorgeous taxidermied tableaux.
77. The Sky Trembles & The Earth Is Afraid & The Two Eyes Are Not Brothers
by Ben Rivers
A droning anthrodoc slow burn while eastern cowboys drag truth-seekers to their most embarrassing points of departure. Reality accrues layers of fiction as its hero acquires more tacked-on debris on his person, both end up looking like barnacle covered ships traveling new waters.
78. Cop Car/Big Sky
by Jon Watts/Jorge Michel Grau
Two petit genre studies starring America's favourite husband and wife character actors (Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick) about the unforgiving south west landscape playing host to crimes committed out of boredom.
79. Mountains May Depart
by Jia Zhangke
The most literal of Jia's studies of metropolitan angst transforming modern China like a wave of smog. His images - unique among modern directors - are a sleak, otherworldly gift and they've only gotten more specific to his ennui-laden compassion for his homeland.
80. Don't Blink - A Film About Robert Frank
by Laura Israel
A cool no-wave doc on a counter-culture icon who hid quietly behind the names and faces he documented. His story, unspeakably tragic, is the unfortunate end of an era of freedom and exploration. He was the man who documented a country turning away from xenophobia and violent hermeticism. Of course it didn't turn out that way and the era's most outspoken iconoclasts and heroes all died or were silenced by other means. By the time Frank was of the age to settle down and enjoy himself, his children were gone and he had no interest in stopping. Israel's film keeps Frank's antiestablishment spirit and low-key optimism alive even as his story takes dark, unforgiving turns. She gets his essence and treats him with integrity - and most importantly, photographs him in a way he would approve.
81. Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words
by Stig Björkman
A tale of drowning in waves of judgment, a woman in charge of her body, image and fate against a system that wanted all three for itself. Hollywood and America's religious image-consuming audience wanted to devour her.
82. Bone Tomahawk
by S. Craig Zahler
A horror western about which cult enthusiasts will be foaming at the mouth decades from now.
by Christian Petzold
Petzold's air-tight dramatic sense gets a fun work out in this made-for-tv police procedural. With the calm he's become known for, he watches patiently while two seasoned cops solve a bizarre crime. The crime, naturally, is the last thing on Petzold's mind. He revels in their minutiae, the behavior they can rely on the other performing. There is a scene in which one detective gets coffee for another that is the most cinematic thing of 2015. That, less than the more obvious emotional turmoil he studies in his features, is what I've come to expect from Petzold.
84. The Duke of Burgundy
by Peter Strickland
A woman imagines herself the star of a 70s sexploitation film. The truth is far more mundane. It causes her partner to see the world as a Stan Brakhage installation loop, a never ending barrage of unpleasant motion and sounds that all sound like dependence. The delicious sensuality soon turns to nagging and regret. A rarely naked bout of psychodramatic foreplay.
85. Christmas, Again
by Charles Poekel
The prototypical sad indie film done right. Poekel and Audley craft a depressive Holiday classic to rival It's A Wonderful Life. Wrapped in the blanket soft images of Sean Price Williams' warm 16mm photography and cut to Robert Greene's typically sensitive rhythms (see also: Queen of Earth, as with apparently half the films on this list. Good work, Perry, you've conquered 2015) Christmas, Again deals with the ideal versions of ourselves we hide under anger and quiet. The holidays may not make us happier, but they do encourage us to embrace who we really are.
86. She's Funny That Way
by Peter Bogdanovich
Bogdanovich's open mise-en-scene, a fusion of his love of early Welles and silent comedy, makes this charming, swiss-watch door-slammer seem baggier than it ought to. But for warm, respectfully disrespectful writing, Bogdanovich still has the history and the wit to shame comedy writers a fifth his age. No one believes in the power of farce the way he does, possibly because he was among the first generation to have just missed it. Whatever the case, he's brought it to life and the style never feels like an anachronism, just a possibility of which other writers have decided not to take advantage.
87. Run All Night
by Jaume Collett-Serra
A drunken cliched crime story retooled by a pulp auteur with a sensibility that's half-mathematician, half-Frank Miller. Collett-Serra's most satisfying straight film (he may never top the orgastic perversity of Orphan, but he wasn't hamstrung by emotion there), Run All Night penetrates mausoleum-esque storyboarded settings and frames with the whiskey-breathed clumsiness of his actor's genuine feeling.
88. Cemetery of Splendour/The Pearl Button
by Apichatpong Weerasethekul / Patricio Guzmán
Modern life as an accidental eulogy, every city a graveyard. Spirits rising from the abyss to co-opt our waking lives. The past buried under concrete but free to walk around.
89. The Duff
by Ari Sandel
A teen romcom that's both of its moment and timeless. The 2014 vernacular and trappings won't age well, but it won't matter because the dialogue is hilarious and Mae Whitman gives a star performance as a kid who realizes that adolescence is no longer a tenable period of ignorance. Like the excellent, understated Sisterhood of Night, another zeitgeist courting teen film, it uses new communication and a modified social strata as tools for self-discovery. The DUFF may ultimately appeal to people old enough to know that it's subverting the thing that it imitates, but if this ever becomes a film that teenagers tell each other about, that would be a bright day indeed. Whitman's go-for-broke performance deserves no less.
by Radu Jude
The Chimes At Midnight shot through with the ugly whimsy of A Field in England or Hard To Be A God. Jude posits that camaraderie may be what keeps some men on horses looking down at their filthy subjects, but the glittering promise of civilization, of more and more riches, will pull even the strongest man from the saddle. The vicissitudes inherent in believing in one's own authority bring everyone closer to punishment. Like Miklós Jancsó, Jude doesn't believe there's anything separating his heroes from his villains. In black and white, from a hundred feet away, they all look subjects of an absent god watching the big wheels of progress idly spin.
91. The Nightmare
by Rodney Ascher
Rodney Ascher finds a productive use of his paranoid, investigative documentary style. He delves into the secret history of our dreams and the lies we've told to keep from admitting we're powerless before our own minds.
92. The Vatican Tapes
by Mark Neveldine
Neveldine goes it alone, allowing himself the space and patience to find out the possibilities of digital film on every surface, fabric, skin tone and amount of light. His usually chaotic editing is thankfully intact, but this time the grammar is a touch less punk. He's calmer during shot-reverse-shot, and sets up locations for us so that when he wants to break the calm with bursts of satanic menace, it means something. If only he'd follow Michael Mann into crime thrillers.
93. Lost River
by Ryan Gosling
A film about the terrifying, Grand Guignol gauntlet actresses must run simply because they desire a living from the talents they were born with. Curiousity about the stage, hope that they could be treated with the same respect as men who enter the same insane profession, nervousness about feeding your kids, about being treated as something more or less than a woman. This is what America's most famously steely handsome actor decided to make a film about. That is something to celebrate.
by Joel Potrykus
Potrykus, like a basement dwelling Richard Stanley, takes the junk aesthetics of the new American underclass and applies it to the lonely man narratives of Paul Schrader. His hero/villain is a guy who wants to survive without hard work, which naturally finds him squatting and committing assault. The american man is a caged animal, unable to advance through hard work because everyone's at least minimally competent, even in the direst parts of the country. Potrykus sends his beautiful, hapless ferret of a protagonist into the wilderness with nothing but bad checks and a homemade murder weapon. There can be only one outcome. God bless America.
95. In The Shadow of Women
by Philippe Garrel
Another of Garrel's jazzy riffs on fidelity, hilariously mirrored by a conversation on documentary ethics. Still singular among the French filmmaking world, Garrel films Paris like a small town where lovers and spouses can't escape each other, the one the French New Wave turned the great city into by filming on the same streets and making us believe that there was a community of artists who had the same artistic utopia in mind. Garrel's tales of stepping out are an exploration not just of the casually frayed relations of emotional Parisians, but of the failed promise of the new France he was promised, and that same Utopia. In The Shadow of Women sees the fallacy of the tortured male artist through to his lonely conclusion.
96. The Last Witch Hunter
by Breck Eisner
Vin Diesel's love for Dungeons and Dragons becomes palpable as he dons the clothes, armor and gnarly facial hair of a mythic slayer of all things demonic. Breck Eisner's 90s action craft gives him the support he needs while gargling spells and incantations. Swords and sorcery have been relegated to ultra-cheapy productions whenever Peter Jackson isn't involved, but Eisner and Diesel's enthusiasm proves there's life yet in mismatched fantasy like this.
by Michael Almereyda
Almereyda's other great experiment this year, turning Shakespeare into blue collar turf war. The grimy braggadocio of the motorcycle gangs and forest-dwelling delinquents meshes perfectly with the laid back revision of the bard. An easy, digestible daydream from the man who perfected American slacker experiment. Maybe wants for his typically brilliant medium play, but it's a delight to see him play a relatively simple game straight.
98. L for Leisure
by Lev Kalman & Whitney Horn
A bizarrely poignant parody of the microbudget cinema of the late 80s about that same decades deliriously stupid excesses that caused the need for the movement in the first place. Every object is a potential cause for a celebratory montage. Every location is a tourist trap just waiting to be relaxed upon. Every stranger is just a mellow friend with whom you haven't gotten high yet.
by Bill & Turner Ross
The Turner Brothers render a coherent and complete border town out of the echoes of genre films and the barren economic and racial climate that still haunts the American South West. Their mapping of their location is impressive, their divining the humanity behind an intractable conflict is heartrending.
100. Black Sea
by Kevin MacDonald
Sorcerer in a submarine, with a florid claustrophobia borrowed from John McTiernan and the cool rhythm of a 90s electronica album. The bevy of accents and colours make the tiny environment seem huge and MacDonald, freed from the demands of prestige or education, has oodles of fun crafting an underwater heist film stacked to the very low rafters with excellent character actors.