Saturday, January 9, 2016

Top 20 Films of 2015

I managed to see 80 films released in the U.S. in 2015, but I still wish I'd seen about 20 more. Putting this list together was no easy feat, and any film's absence shouldn't (necessarily) be seen as a negative. This list is, if nothing else, a compilation of movies that affected me in any number of ways. Some of them are relentlessly of 2015; some of them already feel like all-time titans.

20. Unfriended (dir. Leo Gabriadze) 

A fantastic send-up of the "hangout movie" that expertly allows technology--and the social practices of technology--to literally frame everything.

19. The End of the Tour (dir. James Ponsoldt)

It's not necessarily Segel's depiction of David Foster Wallace that makes this movie great; it's Eisenberg's careful, almost meticulous depiction of interviewing, note-taking, and story-making. It's a deceptive little movie about the nature of becoming, and the fear of becoming.

18. Chi-Raq (dir. Spike Lee)

It doesn't all work, but this is an exhausted and audacious critique, one that will try, it seems, anything to make its viewers pay attention to gun violence and systemic racism. It's begging you to see, listen, and do.

17. The Assassin (dir. Hau Hsiao-Hsien)

At times unbearably patient, the textures, colors, and compositions of this film transcend the vague notion of "painterly." Genre contemplated as art.

16. Inside Out (dirs. Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen)

"Intricately imaginative" has often been Pixar's default mode, but their vibrant animated landscapes (interior, fantastic, or otherwise) feel startlingly, bracingly new again.

15. Phoenix (dir. Christian Petzold)

Nina Hoss doesn't so much rise dramatically from the ashes as she does slowly will herself back into existence in this sort-of-double-identity drama with tinges of Hitchcock and Reed lingering about the frames. Stay for the last five minutes.

14. Hard to Be a God (dir. Aleksey German)

A grotesque and brutal movie about the suppression of culture and intelligence, it took German decades to make this movie, and yet it still feels like a damning critique of the Russian state. The more things change...

13. It Follows (dir. David Robert Mitchell)

Kids getting killed after having sex seems like old hat, but it's thrillingly explored (reinvented?) in all its old-fashioned glory (synthesizer included).

12. 45 Years (dir. Andrew Haigh)

That which was residual becomes dominant in this devastating reconceptualization of Gothic horror, where a figurative spirit upends many of the assumptions a wife has made about her husband.

11. Tangerine (dir. Sean Baker)

Tangerine is a human comedy in the fullest sense of the word. Its swooning, oversaturated camerawork--shot on an iPhone--is exhilarating, but it's the humanity that really crackles.

10. 99 Homes (dir. Ramin Bahrani)

This is the angry, ground-level melodrama about the foreclosure crisis I've been waiting years for.  This movie is practically throwing a tantrum about the perpetuation of a rigged system.

9. Carol (dir. Todd Haynes)

Formally breathtaking and emotionally internal, Haynes's latest is meant to be looked at, lovingly and intimately, for its configurations and its relationships--its humans preciously arranged in space, drawn constantly towards each other. It's a complete thought.

8. The Duke of Burgundy (dir. Peter Strickland)

The complexities of routines, compromises, changing roles, senses of identity, and performances are all put front and center in what only appears to be an homage to arty sex movies.

7. G├╝eros (dir. Alonso Ruizpalacios)

It's frankly astounding to me that this gem--alternately a coming-of-age movie, a narrative of political consciousness, a cityscape, a love story, and a movie about how rock can save you soul--has evaded more accolades (in the U.S., anyway).

6. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (dir. J.J. Abrams)

Returning with full fanfare (well, not the Fox Fanfare), the seventh episode of Star Wars pulls off a miraculous feat. It is the embodiment of childlike wonder.

5. The Look of Silence (dir. Joshua Oppenheimer)

Oppenheimer's follow-up to The Act of Killing (my #1 film of 2013) continues to interrogate and confront the ways in which power writes history, and those who commit genocide go unpunished.

4. Timbuktu (dir. Abderrahmane Sissako)

The importance of Timbuktu--which is, on its own, harrowing and devastating--only amplified following the wave of anti-Muslim sentiment that has percolated through too many pockets of American society in the last months of 2015. I don't know if I've seen a better film about the ways in which violent extremism destroys the lives of those Muslims trying to modestly live their faith.

3. Taxi (dir. Jafar Panahi)

The most surprising thing about Jafar Panahi's third non-film is how playful it is. Despite being formally banned from making movies by his government, Panahi has found the perfect literal vehicle for exploring the dynamic cross-sections of life, and the power of cinema as a socio-political critique.

2. World of Tomorrow (dir. Don Hertzfeldt)

It's only sixteen minutes long, but find me a movie from this year--okay, the last handful of years--that has more to say about time, love, loss, relationships, existence, or the whole damn human condition, while at the same time being so spectacular, poignant, and intimate in its visualization and its conception of time and space. Go ahead. I'll wait.

1. Mad Max: Fury Road (dir. George Miller)

Fury Road is the kind of movie to make your skull rattle. It is a lean, mean, wrecking ball. It rattles and crunches. It screams and bleeds. It's loud, aggressive, and more than a little out of control. And it's also poetic, graceful, astonishingly realized. It's about movement, light, color, speed. It is its own brand of kinetics and momentum--things bashing against other things over and over until the whole operation feels like it'll come crashing in on itself. And then it sticks the landing. Pure cinema.

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