Well, another year is in the books, and per usual I'm here to deliver my year in review of the wonderful world of cinema. Also, per usual, I went waaay overboard and continue to suck at narrowing things down. One major difference between my list and most I've seen is that I personally don't believe in separating Non-fiction from Fiction filmmaking, as in my eyes both are made subjectively with the great ones still striving for some form of thematic impact. As always, I'll write a little about each film below, but I encourage you to read my full review of any of these titles which peak your interest (use the search function located in the top right of your screen) .
And NO, Star Wars won't be on this list... sorry. (I liked it, settle down)
Disclaimer: I despise the need in our culture to rank art and list cinema in an easily disposable fashion. That being said, the order of these films, for the most part, is inconsequential, just understand that they are all strong examples of filmmaking I truly appreciated in 2015.
Feel free to comment below and tell me how wrong (or right) I am.
Favorite Films of 2015
La Sapienza - Eugène Green
Profoundly capturing humanity and life on both a grand and intimate scale, Eugene Green's La Sapienza confronts the viewer with existential questions, encapturing the constant flux of life, where humanity has always attempted to understand and compromise ourselves and our existence whether through religion, psychology or science
Field Niggas - Khalik Allah
Ever so often a documentary comes along that shatters me with the brilliance of its simplicity. Khalik Allah's Field Niggas is a provocative portrait of East Harlem which transcends politics and pandering, offering a truly singular and profound vision of humanity, poverty, and circumstance
Girlhood - Céline Sciamma
While Water Lilies & Tomboy were both impressive efforts, Celine Sciamma has outdone herself with Girlhood, an artistically impressive and emotionally resonant film that beautifully captures a young woman trying to find herself, searching for acceptance in a hard, male-dominated world where woman are secondary and double-standards run rampant.
Corn Island - George Ovashvili
Exploring the relationship between humanity and nature, George Ovashvili's Corn Island is a film that feels like a battle of intrigue at first, slowly progressing to become a beautifully realized allegory for the sands of time, minimalistically revealing the cycle of life, with nature being a force that both creates and destroys.
The Kindergarten Teacher - Nadav Lapid
Nadav Lapid is a minimalist filmmaker in terms of drama who forces the audience to pay attention to every intricate detail. His oblique storytelling serves The Kindergarten Teacher well, being a dark, complex character study that also serves as a powerful parable for the death of art in the modern age.
The Mend - John Magary
A unique and transfixing descent into deep-seeded emotional trauma, John Magary's The Mend explores how two brothers deal with their inner turmoil in very different ways. The film's meadering qualities may be a little off-putting to some viewers at first, but The Mend offers a complex vision of the importance of empathy, exploring the human condition in a singular way.
No Home Movie - Chantal Akerman
Without question the most devastating cinematic experience of the year for me. With Chantal Akerman taking her own life earlier this year, No Home Movie feels like a film that is hard to be critical of in anyway. That being said, No Home Movie is complex, introspective, and deeply personal, making Chantal Akerman's final film a poignant portrait of love, loneliness, and even depression . It's a phenomenal companion piece with Akerman's earlier work, News From Home. Rest in Peace.
Stinking Heaven & Uncertain Terms - Nathan Silver
Nathan Silver is perhaps my favorite contemporary American filmmaker that doesn't get nearly the credit he deserves. Seeing two of his films in 2015, he continues to remind me why he is one of the most important new voices in American Cinema which no one talks about. With Stinking Heaven & Uncertain Terms, Silver continues to shatter conventional genre classifications while offering raw, unflinching, and truthful portraits of genuine human emotion.
Victoria - Sebastian Schipper
Given the impressive technical accomplishments of Victoria, a 140 minute film that is shot with a single take, I was a little concerned that Victoria was going to be a film that used its impressive technical prowess to mask a story that is subpar. While the praise of this film continues to be about its technical accomplishments (they are impressive but I personally need more than just that), what impressed me about Victoria is the emotion, tension, and startling lead-performance which combine to make Victoria a visceral experience that provides a strong emotional experience centered around a young woman who is seeking some form of human connection.
Heaven Knows What - Ben Safdie & Joshua Safdie
There have been many films made about drug addiction and the lifestyle of a junkie, but very few I've seen are quite capable of delivering the same feeling of authenticity as Ben & Joshua Safdie's Heaven Knows What. Heaven Knows What really captures the drifting lifestyle of junkies, being a film that doesn't really feel like it is following a narrative structure. The craft of the film really stands out too, from its claustrophobic compositions, to fantastic sound design, Heaven Knows What almost takes on the atmosphere of a horror film at times, never feeling forced but always gripping. The cinematography uses the space of the frame so well, closing off these characters much like the addiction has done to their personal lives. I'm not great at explaining sound design, but it felt sporadic and unfocused, which is absolutely a compliment given the nature of this film. Simply put, a startling descent into addiction.
Song From The Forest - Michael Obert
Michael Obert's Song From The Forest is a profound, poetic, and layered examination of humanity, juxtaposing the big city lifestyle with the tranquil and simple lifestyle of the tribal people. The film effectively captures how similar all humans are, regardless of our extreme cultural differences, but what makes Song From The Forest such a great documentary is it never gets wrapped up in being a seething commentary on our financially driven society. It's not judgmental at all actually, instead being an ode to the pursuit of happiness, urging everyone to not be afraid to do what makes them happy
A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence - Roy Andersson
Roy Andersson's A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence is the final film in the director's self described "being a human being" trilogy, a dreamlike exploration of the various traits, good and bad, which make up humanity. It provides a kaleidoscope of human emotions, but what really resonated with me is the film's ability to tackle both intimate and grandiose aspects of the human condition, showing the quiet longing and inherent selfishness that exists in humanity while simultaneously commenting on some of the more horrific aspects of human history- doing so in an absurdest fashion. Sure to confound some viewers, A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting on Existence's meticulous staging and cinematography make it a film that is hard to turn away from, as Andersson comments on the pettiness, selfishness, grandeur, humor and tragedy that makes up life as we know it.
Taxi - Jafar Panahi
Sharp, charming, and observant, Jafar Panahi's Taxi feels like a great example of the purest form of objective cinema that documentary filmmaking can provide, beautifully capturing a city, country, culture, and way of life through the use of a few simple stationary cameras mounted throughout the filmmaker's Taxi. Featuring a final sequence that viscerally captures the world which filmmaker Jafar Panahi occupies, perhaps Taxi's greatest attribute is simply the reflective nature of this powerful piece of documentary filmmaking, one that reminds the viewer that the audience itself is Jafar's salvation, as viewers of his films make his voice relevant in a regime that tries so desperately to suppress it.
Queen of Earth - Alex Ross Perry
Queen of Earth is grade A filmmaking, essentially taking a very simple break-up story and turning it into an impressive psychological horror film that feels more like a mood piece at times than a narrative (yes, that's a good thing). Alex Ross Perry's latest film is a beautifully acted, impressively directed, fever dream of selfishness and despair, capturing humanities built-in selfishness in a profound and interesting way, being simply the latest reminder of why Alex Ross Perry is one of the most fascinating and unique contemporary American filmmakers working today.
Felix & Meira - Maxime Giroux
Maxime Giroux's Félix and Meira is an incredibly mature and elegant romantic story about two individuals who couldn't be more different. A film that expresses how human connection is instrumental in self discovery, Felix and Meira is a touching romance centered around two individuals discovering themselves through each other.
Titli - Kanu Behl
Impressively blending the tangled narrative of a Neo-Noir with a poignant melodrama reminiscent of the films of Italian Neorealism, Kanu Behl's Titli is an impressive debut feature that's unapologetic and never seeks sympathy for its complicated characters. Honest and raw, Titli paints a complex, intimate portrait of not only two young people trying to find peace and happiness but also of the overwhelming soceital issues facing the city of Delhi, India.
In The Basement - Ulrich Seidl
Ulrich Seidl's In The Basement is the latest documentary from the divisive filmmaker that turns his attention to a place where insecurities are quickly erased away in the comfort of its familiar glow, the basement. Offering a portrait of people and their basements, Seidl has created another hypnotic, transfixing experience that touches on the obsessions, wants, desires, and comforts of a host of individuals, each being more fascinating than the last. With Seidl's beautiful symmetrical compositions that effectively create a hypnotic feel, In the Bedroom is a documentary that defies conventional description, being a transfixing exploration of people and their wants and desires that is equally comedic and tragic all at once.
Almost There - Dan Rybicky & Aaron Wickenden
Dan Rybicky & Aaron Wickenden Almost There is the type of documentary that astonishes with just how much intellectual and emotional depth it's capable of touching on in its 93 minute running time. It is important to understand that Almost There is not a particularly easy film to watch at times, but it's a singular story and detailed character study that embodies a lot of universal truths about dependency, loneliness, obsession, mental illness, and goodwill.
The Lobster - Yorgos Lanthimos
Yorgos Lanthimos' The Lobster is another startling, singular vision from the iconoclast filmmaker, a biting satire of our couple-fixated society where love has become distorted out of fear of loneliness and the desire to assimilate into societies broad definition of love and companionship. Through absurdest means, Lanthimos captures how individuals sell themselves short in order to feel some semblance of companionship, capturing the competitive nature of courtship, as well as the individuals deteriorating individuality out of fear of loneliness.
Stray Dog - Debra Granik
Being that her last directorial effort was Winter's Bone, I was very curious to see what Debra Granik's Stray Dog was all about, and what becomes apparent very fast after watching the film is Granik's ability to find an incredible subject for a film that is both intimate character study and larger examination of America's treatment of veterans. The best 'character study' of the year, Stray Dog peels back stereotypes, revealing a man of true character who offers guidance and warmth to everyone around him, not letting the fact that he has been through so much interfere with helping others.
Five Star - Keith Miller
Just like his previous effort, the remarkable Welcome to Pine Hill, Keith Miller's latest film, Five Star, blends elements of reality and fiction to tell a powerful story of inner city struggle. Five Star touches on a lot of the same issues we've seen before in similar films, such as the romanticism of gangs and violence by youth, but not many touch on the more personal aspects of family and paternity in such a nuanced way. While Five Star doesn't have the same overall weight as Welcome to Pine Hill due to its more familiar subject matter, the film is still a vivid portrait of inner city struggle, told in a very authentic way.
Timbuktu - Abderrahmane Sissako
Timely and essential, Timbuktu meticulously exposes the outright stupidity and hypocrisy of Jihad, doing so in haunting and sometimes comical ways, almost laughing at the pure absurdity of how these men use religion to justify almost anything they desire. Abderrahmane Sissako's Timbuktu masterfully balances its mix of tones, being part satire, tragedy and melodrama, delivering a powerful portrait of life for individuals forced to live under a tyrannical regime.
Heart of A Dog - Laurie Anderson
Laurie Anderson's Heart of A Dog is an impressionistic meditation on death, life, and humanity, which is deeply personal but also universally compelling. While Anderson's film deals with serious, weighty issues, the tone of the film is surprisingly light-hearted, all things considered, with Anderson injecting a nice undercurrent of comedy throughout the film's running time, showing a sense of humor even when discussing such serious topics as love, death, and grief.
Chi-raq - Spike Lee
Spike Lee's Chi-Raq is one of the most energized films I've seen in awhile, a film that dances between moments of emotional poignancy and absurdest-fueled satire that borders on farce. It's a film that tonially feels like it shouldn't work, but it does, being an angry examination of the violence and poverty facing not only Chicago but urban American as a whole. Outrageous, singular, clumsy, but endlessly passionate, Spike Lee's Chi-raq isn't just an immersive political protest but a pleading examination of humanity remembering the importance and power of love over hate.
(T)ERROR - Lyric R. Cabral & David Felix Sutcliffe
Lyric R. Cabral & David Felix Sutcliffe's (T)ERROR is an in-depth documentary which takes the viewer directly into the world of an active FBI counter-terrorism investigation. (T)ERROR is a stark and compelling, examining the current state of America counterterroism, raising fascinating questions about the relationship between public safety, liberty, and privacy.
Finders Keepers - Bryan Carberry & Clay Tweel
Living up to the old idiom, truth is stranger than fiction, Bryan Carberry & J. Clay Tweel's Finders Keepers is a stunning documentary that is funny, engaging, and heartfelt, as the filmmakers show such impressive empathy for their subjects as they document the outlandish events which took place in a small town in North Carolina. Finders Keepers is a impressively designed documentary that lulls the viewer into this strange story with a playful tone, revealing its colorful characters and absurd story-line in a very comedic way only to eventually rip the carpet out from under the viewer as it reveals its true poignancy, being a haunting and intricate examination of two flawed, hurt men.
Carol - Todd Haynes
Todd Haynes has delivered another gem with Carol, a film that beautifully understands its characters and their underlying emotions, something Haynes is capable of expressing through this visual medium in a way that is poignant and nuanced. Carol is far from a political film, and really doesn't seem interested in discussing the merits of homosexuality or the oppression of it, rather it simply presents the world these characters lived in at the time, focusing much of its energy on crafting an emotionally resonant story of love and connection, capturing how love transcends gender, which I think is the filmmakers whole point. A compelling and passionate examination of love, Todd Haynes Carol features nuanced and artistic direction accompanied by two exceptional performances, making it one of the best studio releases of the year.
James White - Josh Mond
I always struggle to put into words why a film like this is so effective, but I think James White works so well simply because it captures in essence the tragedy and fear associated with losing deeply-important loved ones. Featuring a fantastic central performance by Christopher Abbott, who captures James deep-rooted loneliness and grief with nuance, Josh Mond's James White is a powerful character study about loss. Perhaps James White's greatest attribute is its ability to take a character who isn't very likable from initial impressions and slowly expose the audience to his world, creating a great deal of empathy for a character who has been driven down a dark path by unyielding tragedy
Chevalier - Athina Rachel Tsangari
Much more accessible than her previous effort, Attenburg, Chevalier features lively performances from all involved, being a delightful film that comments on the pettiness of competition, exploring themes of vanity, the pursuit of perfection, and friendship. Chevalier is the type of film that thrives on capturing the absurdity of everyday friendly competition, questioning the merits of "being the best" and asking simply what that even means.
45 Years - Andrew Haigh
A mature, observation of love and companionship, which challenges the fallacies of fairy tale love- this ideal that there is only one person out there for each and everyone of us. The film shatters this fallacy and in doing so creates a beautiful examination of what love truly is, speaking to the hard work that intimacy can create, where an individuals emotions can significantly strain even the strongest of relationships. Mature, potent, and honest, 45 Years is a potent study of relationships, regrets, emotional fragility, and companionship, being a film that captures a pure, truthful examination of what love truly is.
We Come As Friends (2015) - Hubert Sauper
Hubert Sauper's We Come As Friends is an absorbing documentary about the human phenomenon known as Colonization,which has ravaged the continent of Africa for centuries. Full of fascinating observations about race, greed, religious oppression, and man's overall desire to own everything it can, Hubert Sauper's We Come As Friends is a film that understands there are no easy answers to this complex and troubling practices of colonialism, offering up far more questions than answers in this observant and detailed examination.
Phoenix - Christian Petzold
Christain Petzold's Phoenix uses a pulpy premise to deliver a powerful film about the way people and nations warp their perspectives in order to move forward and keep surviving. Having the tone of a psychological horror film for stretches, Phoenix is a powerful examination of post war trauma which features another stellar performance from Nina Hoss.
Court - Chaitanya Tamhane
Chaitanya Tamhane's Court is an intricate examination of the court proceedings of Narayan, an aging folk singer whose live performances draw the ire of the Indian government due to their activist nature. The film paints a portrait of a country still steeped in ancient, outdated policies, specifically pertaining to censorship and activism. Intricate in detail and full of insight, Court captures how these ancient policies of censorship simply don't belong in the post-colonialist society,
Something Better To Come - Hanna Polak
Hanna Polak's Something Better To Come is a stark and powerful documentary which uses the incredible story of Yula, a beautiful 10-year-old girl who lives in Svalka, to examine the oppressive conditions in modern day Russia. A story of despair, oppression, corruption, and ultimately hope, Hanna Polak's Something Better To Come is a powerful human rights story that pulls back the curtain on a country that has left so many of its lower-class citizens struggling to survive.
The Look of Silence - Joshua Oppenheimer
Given the film's running time of 100 minutes and lack of surrealist sensibilities, Joshua Oppenheimer's The Look of Silence is a more accessible film than its counterpart, The Act of Killing, doing enough to differentiate itself from its predecessor by focusing on one family, who are victims of the mass killings of Indonesia. The Look of Silence provides a rare, documented story of survivors of genocide confronting their relatives' murderers, being a harrowing journey full of fascinating observations about man, politics, humanity, and our propensity for violence.
Hard To Be A God - Aleksei German
Aleksei German's Hard To Be A God is a bleak and engrossing epic that's sure to be a challenging experience for most viewers due to its brutal depiction of darker ages and its ideas centered around humanity. It's difficult but singular, being a film which attempts to explore the harshness that so frequently goes hand-and-foot with mankind's further enlightment.
The Forbidden Room - Guy Maddin
While The Forbidden Room is dense, confusing, and unquestionably difficult to follow from a narrative perspective, it hardly matters, as Guy Maddin has created a visual feast, a celebration of the art-form of cinema, most-notably pre-code and the silent era. That being said, The Forbidden Room can and should be appreciated as more than just a visual feast, as the film does offer moments of powerful emotional resonance, buried in its complex, opaque stories. Visually one of the most impressive and fascinating films of the year, The Forbidden Room is guaranteed to be pretty much like nothing you've ever seen before, unless you've seen his other films, delivering another singular vision from Guy Maddin that is campy for sure at times, but also impressively assured in its execution.
The Assassin - Hsiao-hsien Hou
Featuring a tepid pacing that is sure to frustrate most viewers, Hsiao-hsien Hou's The Assassin is a idiosyncratic vision of the martial arts genre that juxtaposes the quiet, stillness of a carefully crafted human drama with kinetic action sequences that are full of thrills when they do present themselves.
Tangerine - Sean Baker
Sean Baker is another one of the best contemporary American filmmakers working today, and with Tangerine he has created a love-letter to Los Angeles that finds the beauty in things that many people view as ugly, beautifully balancing the line between emotional poignancy and comedy.
Approaching The Elephant - Amanda Wilder
Going into Amanda Wilder's Approaching The Elephant, I was expecting a film focused on tearing down the traditional educational system, but fortunately this couldn't be further from reality, as the film shows much more interest in providing an observant study of behavior among young and impressionable minds, offering a subtle commentary in the process. Approaching The Elephant's intent is simply about starting a conversation about education, with the film revealing tons of intricate details of how different all children are as it pertains to education and learning. Endlessly fascinating and deeply observant, Approaching the Elephant is an important documentary that raises interesting questions about education and how we as individuals learn.
Little Feet - Alexandre Rockwell
Shot in monochrome black-and-white cinematography, Rockwell's film is a deeply personal, touching love letter to childhood, telling a poetic story of life and death through the eyes of a child.
Love - Gaspar Noe
Using a non-linear narrative, Love captures the host of emotions which exist in any intensely passionate relationship- the jealousy, deceit, and possessive aspects which love can bring, particularly after the so-called "honeymoon" stage has ends. Raw, passionate, and emotionally charged, Gaspar Noe's Love is a sexually explicit journey into the turbulent relationship of two young characters, delivering a one-of-a-kind experience about love, sex, and relationships that perfectly demonstrates the messy nature of love.
The Life And Mind Of Mark Defriest- Gabriel London
The Life and Mind of Mark Defriest is a seering portrait of the correctional system, exposing how a mentally disabled individual was abused due to negligence on recognizing his potential psychosis. Exposing the failures of the correction system and parole commission, The Life and Mind of Mark Defriest is a constant reminder that we still have a long way to go in this country when it comes to mental illness.
Amour Fou (2014) - Jessica Hausner
Featuring lots of philosophical banter about the jarring realizations of life which death can bring, as well as an examination of the oppressive nature of desire, Jessica Hausner's Amour Four is an impressively rendered exploration of choice, fate, and oppression, that offers up a lot for the viewer to chew on long after the credits roll.
Tigers - Danis Tanovic
With Tigers, Danis Tanovic has created an impressive film on both a social and artistic level, with a truly unique narrative that blends fiction and non-fiction in a unique way. Powerful, infuriating, and truly groundbreaking from a storytelling perspective, Tigers is yet another truly impressive film from this great contemporary filmmaker.
Amy (2014) - Asif Kapadia
Asif Kapadia's Amy is a intricate and powerful documentary about Amy Winehouse which effectively shatters the public perception of this extremely talented artist, pulling back the curtain of her fame and public image, revealing a deeply troubled individual who was unable to find the help and support she so desperately needed. Through telling this tragic story of a great talent that was gone too soon, Asif Kapadia' Amy captures the darker side of fame and celebrity, displaying how our self-righteous and self absorbed culture indirectly pushed a fragile soul in Amy Winehouse over a cliff.
Cartel Land - Matthew Heineman
Using an intricate, on-the-ground approach, Mattew Heineman's Cartel Land provides one of the most in-depth looks at terror, despair, and bloodshed brought by the Mexican Cartels and how little the respective governments in the United States and Mexico can do to stop it. Constantly evolving as the story unfolds, Cartel Land offers a harrowing portrait of the entangled mess the drug war has bred. Corruption, greed, and violence have systematically created a world where good and evil almost become completely blurred in this case.
The Sun Against My Eyes - Flora Dias & Juruna Mallon
Flora Dias & Juruna Mallon's The Sung Against My Eyes is an evocation of love, life, and death, that is as challenging as it is spiritual rewarding for those patient enough to immerse themselves in the experience. Using cinematography that is almost exclusively made up of static compositions, as well as an eery amount of silence, Flora Dias & Juruna Mallon have created a film in The Sun Against My Eyes that is both deeply personal and universal, using this character who is suffering from a quiet emotional breakdown to comment on the sense of longing and isolation that is a part of life
The Summer of Sangaile - Alanté Kavaïté
Calling this film a story about "coming out" would be doing it a disservice, as Sangaile's journey to discover her burdening sexuality is just one piece of the film's ability to capture a young woman becoming comfortable with herself. At its core, the film is about the importance of individuality, as The Summer of Sangaile offers a unique and stunning vision that stands out among the "coming of age" stories this year.
Farewell to Hollywood - Henry Corra & Regina Nicholson
While the film's intentions may be written off as exploitative by some, Farewell To Hollywood is a provocative portrait of love, life, and art, delivering beautifully realized portrait of the fragility of life, the importance of doing what you love, and the difficulties of coping with the loss of a loved one. Perhaps the most emotionally effecting documentary I saw in 2015.
Inside Out (2015) - Pete Docter & Ronnie Del Carmen
Funny, cute, and insightful, Inside Out certainly has enough to appeal to the children, but the film's determination to explore existential crises makes it a film more for adults, which surprisingly manages to capture how humanity is at its best with the right emotional composition. Complex and surprisingly mature, Inside Out captures the reflexive quality of emotion, how they are almost never mutually exclusive, and most importantly how sadness and joy are part of the important equilibrium of life.
Favorite Short Films
The World of Tomorrow - Don Hertzfeldt
Simply put, I'm not sure I've ever seen a film in my life that manages to capture the relationship and contrast between optimism and pessimism, between life and death.
Serenity - Jack Dunphy
So many films lament about regret, love, and sex, but not many have the same brutal honesty as Jack Dunphy's Serenity, which cuts to the core, providing a deeply personal and creatively made ode to the confusion many have over their 'first time"
Take What You Can Carry - Matthew Porterfield
Matthew Porterfield’s Take What You Can Carry is a simplistic character study with profound truths. Running only 30 minutes in length, not much happens on the surface of Take What You Can Carry’s story, though under the surface the film is a meditative examination of creativity, personal space, loss, and communication.
Debut Directors I'll Be Watching
Necktie Youth Sibs Shongwe-La Mer
Sibs Shongwe-La Mer's Necktie Youth isn't a film without its share of problems, but I hardly cared while watching this passionate film, as it delivers a brooding, cynical portrait of disenchanted youth and humanity.
I Believe In Unicorns - Leah Meyerhoff
I Believe In Unicorns feels like a deeply personal film, an enchanting and somewhat uneasy experience that presents how a naive young woman, desperate to be desired and appreciated, can fall victim to her own fantasies of romance.
Mustang - Deniz Gamze Ergüven
Capturing the secondary status and lack of individuality of females in Turkish culture, Mustang is an impressive first time feature which shines a light on the double standards and oppression against woman which runs rampant in this culture.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl - Marielle Heller
At its best, The Diary of a Teenager Girl works so well because of its nonjudgmental approach, offering a provocative portrait of a young woman's coming of age that reminds the viewer loving oneself and finding happiness from within oneself, not others, is the key to success both personally and in relationships.
Fort Tilden - Charles Rogers & Sara-Violet Bliss
Featuring two star-making turns by Clare McNulty and Bridey Elliot as Allie and Harper, as well as a sharp and clever script, Fort Tilden is a very enjoyable comedy about the pitfalls of extended adolescence which offers some valuable insights into friendship. While Fort Tilden works as a very funny comedy alone, what makes the film truly impressive is the well developed characterizations of its two main characters, enabling the film to deliver some poignant insights into the mid-20s, post-collage era of life.
Son of Saul (2015) - László Nemes
Laszlo Nemes' Son of Saul is an intimate portrait of two days in the life of Saul Auslander, a Hungarian prisoner working as a member of the Sonderkommando, at the Auschwitz Crematorium. The cinematography and sound design in Son of Saul are without question the film's strongest aspect, creating a claustrophobic and chaotic experience that makes the film very immersive and an impressive first feature. One cannot deny that aspects of Son of Saul are emotionally resonant, but I'd argue not much is earned beyond the intrinsic despair of any film having to do with the darkest time in world history. That being said, the technical prowess of Nemes work makes me very intrigued to see what the filmmaker does next.
Catch Me Daddy - Daniel Wolfe
Daniel Wolfe's Catch Me Daddy is a stylish descent into the world of organized crime that uses a rather unique narrative to offer insights into the relation dynamics which exist in this cruel world. Featuring brooding atmosphere and impressive cinematography, Catch Me Daddy is a visceral experience, and while some of the thematic aspects could have been a bit more developed, the film is a well-crafted thriller full of strong performances and tension-filled energy.
Ma - Celia Rowlson-Hall
Rowlson-Hall's Ma is is a rather unique film, which relies almost entirely on symbolism, surrealism, and striking imagery to tell its tale. A modern day silent film, Ma has absolutely no dialogue throughout its running time, relying on image and performance to create its unique experience. Almost guaranteed to frustrate the average viewer with its lack of dialogue and opaque surrealism, Ma is a film that is bound to only be appreciated by cinephiles, as well as lovers of surrealistic art.
Below Dreams - Garrett Bradley
Garrett Bradley's Below Dreams could be described as a tone poem to millennials, being an observant study of feeling and shattered dreams, a film far more interested in emotion than structure.
A Few Films I Thought Didn't Get The Respect They Deserved
Magic Mike XXL - Gregory Jacobs
Featuring a much more loose, boisterous tone than its predecessor, Gregory Jacobs' Magic Mike XXL may be somewhat slight by comparison, but it's hard not to enjoy this funny road trip film about a host of characters who in many cases are still trying to find their own semblance of happiness as they come to terms with the fact that it's time to retire the thong. Simply put, I had more fun at this film than almost anything else this year.
The Search - Michel Hazanavicius
While the film does fall into manipulative practices at times, I was a bit surprised how much venom was thrown towards The Search. This isn't just another Anti-war film complacent in stating the obvious, that war is bad, The Search instead attempts to understand conflict on a higher level, being a pensive study of the darker side of humanity and the need for hope.
Hungry Hearts - Saverio Costanzo
Saverio Costanzo's Hungry Hearts is a startling psychological drama that works better as a schlocky b-movie than a profound exploration of maternity and mental illness. Part horror movie, part cautionary tale, Hungry Hearts is a haunting evocation on the darker aspects of maternal instinct, showcasing how unconditional love could lead to dangerous consequences.
Experimenter - Michael Almereyda
Michael Almereyda's Experimenter is a unique vision of what a biopic can and should be, being a film that is just as interested as understanding Milgram's obsession with authority and obedience as it is about the fascinating experiments that led him to fame. Perhaps the film's greatest accomplishment is the fact that it made me want to invest more time in social psychology, with Almereyda delivering a unique, thought-provoking biopic that challenges the viewer to question themselves and humanity as a whole.
Blackhat - Michael Mann
Blackhat is certainly a silly film but Mann's film is full of interesting thematic discussions centered around surveillance and technology, with the filmmaker always managing to keep the film compelling from a visual and audio perspective in a way that makes it hard to not enjoy the ride.
Beasts of No Nation - Cary Fukunaga
Beasts of No Nation is a film I would describe as all bark but no bite, relying far too heavily on the audience's built in empathy for children forced into battle, unable to ask the tough questions or create its own sense of emotion outside of what is already built in given the subject matter. The film dances around the political and financial aspects of the wars in Africa, as well as the dangers of faith-driven violence, but Beasts of No Nation never attempts to understand them in the slightest, perfectly complacent in simply presenting the brutality of Africans on one and other, in an unnamed country, without even attempting to deconstruct the root of the problem.
The Wolfpack - Crystal Moselle
The Wolfpack is a fascinating documentary that overstays its welcome, meandering around the more complicated issues of overprotective parents, fear, and the need for independence. Almost like a real-life version of Dogtooth, The Wolfpack features a high-powered concept, but it never goes far enough exploring this family unit to be anything truly special.
The Keeping Room - Daniel Barber
Overly-praised by many as a Feminist Western, The Keeping Room uses the story of these three woman to capture the cruelty of humanity, with the film's best attribute being it's ability to showcase the downstream effect hate, aggression, and cruelty bring. Given the subject matter, The Keeping Room is surprisingly bland and uninspiring though, with perhaps its most troubling aspect being its embarrassing take on race which is quite frankly appalling
Trainwreck - Judd Apatow
My biggest problem with Trainwreck is it's being praised for something that it's not, masquerading as a romantic comedy that subverts gender roles and provides a unique perspective. Unfortunately it doesn't actually do much differently, falling into the same traps, being an old-fashioned romantic comedy that just puts Schumer in the archetypal male role. The character archs are very much by-the-book and how Amy inevitably turns her life around feels overly simplistic given the true nature of her problems. I get that its a comedy, and it has its moments, but its by-the-numbers approach is disappointing, given the talent involved
Mountains May Depart - Zhangke Jia
Mountains May Depart has a lot to like, commenting on the dissolution of culture, perils of capitalism, and the need for freedom, but unfortunately it never reaches the levels of Zhangke Jia's best films, being far more manipulative and showing a lack of nuance which was very surprising given the filmmaker's track record
The Big Short - Adam McKay
Going into The Big Short I'd be lying if I didn't say I had low expectations. A film about the financial crisis directed by the guy who made Anchorman? Yea, ok. The Big Short is a film that rubs your belly and whispers sweet nothings in your ear as it slowly reveals the monstrosities committed by the big banks, decisions which would leave millions homeless, jobless, and penny-less. The tone McKay creates is electric, managing to entertain with biting satire and strong performances, while simultaneously never losing the gravity of the situation in the story it portrays.
Kiery Culkin - Gabriel
Nina Hoss - Phoenix
Elizabeth Moss - Queen of the Earth
Rooney Mara - Carol
Emory Cohen - Brooklyn
Kitana Kiki Rodriguez - Tangerine
Christopher Abbot - James White
Cynthia Nixon - James White
Arielle Holmes - Heaven Knows What
Josh Lucas - The Mend
Gerard Depardieu - Welcome To New York
Sarah Snook - Predestination
Laia Costa - Victoria
Ben Mendelsohn - Mississippi Grind
Jennifer Jason Leigh - The Hateful Eight
Charlotte Rampling - 45 Years
Alba Rohrwacher - Hungry Hearts