Reel Film Tome

2015 Countdown: Top 25

By Floyd Rock

With the passing of Oscar weekend I’ve finally put an end to catching up with as many films from 2015 as I could so I can settle on a list of 25 films from last year (US release dates). Narrowing it down to 25 was particularly difficult this year. There were probably 30 to 40 films I was considering for the last 25. Céline Sciamma’s Girlhood, Aleksey German’s Hard to Be a God, Marielle Heller’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years and Pedro Costa’s Horse Money where just a few that barely missed the list.

25. Black Coal, Thin Ice (Dir. Yinan Diao)

This neo-noir winner of the Golden Bear award at the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival follows Zhang (Liao Fan), a former cop, trying to piece together information from seemingly connected murders. Five years after body parts are found at several coal processing facilities he begins investigating curious connections to the original killing and following a woman named Wu (Gwei Lun-mei), the widow of the man identified in the first killing.

Black Coal, Thin Ice is a slow burn and a grim layered affair. With remarkable cinematography, thick atmosphere, and outstanding lead performances the film draws the viewer into its dark story of underachieving police, forgotten working class, and cruelly subjugated women.

24. Assassination (Dir. Dong-hoon Choi)

In Japanese occupied Korea in 1933 a gifted sniper named Ahn Ok-yun (Jun Ji-hyun), separated from her twin sister as a baby, and a small group of resistance fighters are tasked with assassinating a Japanese commander. Little do they know that a mole for the Japanese army is among them and he’s hired a duo of contract killers (Ha Jung-woo and Oh Dal-su) to dispose of the fighters.

With numerous characters and conflicting parties to establish it takes Assassination a little while to get going but once it does it’s full of wonderfully choreographed operatic shootouts and unexpected turns that culminate at a chaotic showdown during the wedding for Ahn Ok-yun’s twin sister. It’s one of the best action movies of the year.

23. The Martian (Dir. Ridley Scott)

Though Ridley Scott’s science fiction pictures tend to be met with anticipation few could predict that The Martian would be his highest grossing film to date. Matt Damon stars as botanist Mark Watney, an astronaut stranded on Mars and left for dead.

Last year I wrote about director Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland and about how its biggest hurdle is the complications involved with actualizing its themes of human ingenuity and optimism in the face of dire odds and later that year comes this new Ridley Scott picture that does just that. The Martian uses its simple narrative about a stranded astronaut to showcase numerous scientific obstacles and the bureaucratic problems that accompany them. It serves as a testament to perseverance and what mankind can accomplish when working together for the common good.

22. Chi-Raq (Dir. Spike Lee)

With two recent films, both Chi-Raq and the critically dismissed though thoroughly underappreciated Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, Spike Lee certainly isn’t slowing down after the setback from the disappointing Oldboy remake. With Chi-Raq he adapts Lysistrata, a play from ancient Athens playwright Aristophanes, setting it during modern day Chicago. In response to gang violence women of Chicago stage a sexual protest, withholding sex from their husbands and boyfriends in order to put an end to the bloodshed.

Though inner city violence is a principle issue in Lee’s latest film it isn’t the only issue he set out to address in Chi-Raq. The film is a broad satire that also goes after political corruption, police brutality, gender and sexual power dynamics, and racial issues imbedded in national traditions. Though it may not be Lee’s most consistent film there’s a fire burning and he propels it with impassioned fervor. Spike Lee with a camera and a purpose is never a trifling matter.

21. Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter (Dir. David Zellner)

Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter is inspired by inaccurate media reports of a Japanese woman that went in search of the hidden money from the Coen brothers film Fargo. Rinko Kikuchi stars as Kumiko, an office worker who lives alone with only the company of her pet rabbit. When she finds a video tape of the 1996 film Fargo in the unlikeliest place her obsession with the film grows, leading her to abandon her life in Tokyo to travel to the United States in search of the money buried in the snow from the film’s end.

What’s so interesting about Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter is how it is able to both adapt the urban legend that grew from the inaccurate story and touch upon the state of depression that its lead goes through, which may be more faithful to the truth behind the real life events which inspired the film. To many individuals the movies are a form of escapism, much like the end of Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo which uses footage from the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers picture Top Hat, that can take viewers out of the hardships of their lives, if only for a couple hours. Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter takes this one step further when Kumiko not only finds escapism from a movie, but also develops a purpose, a quest to find a hidden treasure. Plus, the film is sure to present Kumiko with other things people often use to give their life meaning. Her mother pesters her about getting a husband, an old woman offers to drive her to a mall (the prospect of material happiness) instead of her desired destination, and she’s even approached in an airport about finding fulfillment through religion. Ultimately, like many who suffer through depression, the biggest hurdle is communication. Even for the people that want to help it’s difficult to understand just how another person is feeling and their predicament. Try as we might it is never possible to know what it’s like inside their head. One of the film’s most tragic scenes is between Kumiko and a police officer trying to help her and this inability to understand her is presented through the use of their language barrier. The way David Zellner’s film subtly handles its themes is one of the prime reasons it’s one of the more important smaller films of 2015.

20. Wild Tales (Dir. Damián Szifron)

Produced by acclaimed director Pedro Almodóvar, selected for competition at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, and a nominee at the 87th Oscars for Best Foreign Film, director Damián Szifron’s black comedy is a collection of six standalone shorts on vindictive human behavior. From a waitress who recognizes a loan shark that ruined her family’s lives, a man who suffers bureaucratic obstruction after his car is unjustly towed, to a rich family attempting to cover up an accidental hit-and-run no one is safe from the deranged barbarism of Wild Tales.

With Wild Tales Szifron has crafted a cinematic mixtape of common frustrations; road rage, nepotism, bureaucracy, infidelity, and funneled them through a kind of dark comedic lunacy and processed it for wholly satisfying outcomes and comeuppance. The two strongest shorts feature combative road rage fueled drivers and a glorious train wreck of a wedding but each short is sustained by Szifron’s fiendish sense of humor as he acknowledges and ridicules humanity’s common regression into uncivilized behavior and it’s a madcap comedic marvel.

19. Mustang (Dir. Deniz Gamze Ergüven)

One of the most recent nominees for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars Mustang is the first feature film from Turkish-French director Deniz Gamze Ergüven. The film follows five young orphaned sisters growing up under strict command of their uncle. After an instance of innocent roughhousing with some boys at the beach the girls are sternly punished. The closer each grows toward adulthood the sooner their uncle and grandmother plan their arranged marriages, against their will, and inevitably fracture the close bond the sisters share.

What’s first notable about Mustang, and a major element that separates it from the comparisons it often receives with Sofia Coppola’s adaptation of The Virgin Suicides, is the way the film is presented through the eyes of the five girls, where as Coppola’s film is narrated from the perspective of the neighborhood boys. By doing so Ergüven is able to present these girls as not just victims of their static cultural barriers but also as rebels, each act of defiance an act of progression. What is so striking is its universal significance where the greatest obstruction to the freedoms of these young girls is not the walls and windows of their house but of the confining traditions heaped upon them. This makes Mustang not just a film about how women are perceived in Turkey but how societal expectations for women can be so inhibiting across the globe.

18. Eden (Dir. Mia Hansen-Løve)

The fourth feature from French director Mia Hansen-Løve Eden was loosely based on the life of her brother Sven who co-wrote the script with her. The film took years to produce because of the expenses involved in obtaining the licensing for some of its music. Eden chronicles the electronic dance movement in Paris starting in the early 90s through Paul (Félix de Givry), a student who gets involved in the scene due to his love of the music. Paul partners with a friend to form a DJ collective called Cheers coinciding with the formation of Daft Punk by two of his other friends.

Like her previous film, 2011’s Goodbye First Love, Mia Hansen-Løve’s Eden moves unimpeded by time, constantly surging forward like a river, its flow assisted by a frequently panning and tracking camera. Rather than driven by a central plot the picture moves through a rhythmic collection and repetition of situations, relationships, and emotions like an assemblage of memories from youth strung together. Some tragedies and joys fleeting and others lasting, it’s a captivating rendering of young adulthood embodying the music scene with which it accompanies.

17. Magic Mike XXL (Dir. Gregory Jacobs)

After the events of the first Magic Mike Dallas has jumped ship to start a new show elsewhere. Mike (Channing Tatum) is enlisted by his former colleagues to throw caution to the wind, and a few pairs of breakaway pants most likely, and accompany them on a road trip to Myrtle Beach for an annual stripper convention. Though Steven Soderbergh has stepped back from directing he still remained on as cinematographer, camera operator, and editor under a few pseudonyms for this unexpected sequel.

I’m as surprised to find this on my list as everyone else. Though Magic Mike XXL is a big departure from the unconventional gender flipped drama of the first movie it finds success as a feel-good road trip, buddy movie. Though it never really offers high dramatic stakes the movie is surprisingly accessible and inclusive, bolstered by comradely and goodwill. Mike and his friends show a great deal of support in one another and the film itself displays a thoughtful appreciation for sexuality and sensuality for both men and women. Also, with Soderbergh’s eye behind the camera it earns a spot as one of the better looking films of the year.

16. Love & Mercy (Dir. Bill Pohlad)

Paul Dano and John Cusack give duo performances as the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson in this biopic split between two periods in Wilson’s life. Dano plays Wilson during the 1960s while Cusack portrays the musician in the 1980s when he meets his second wife, Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), while under the strict guardianship of his doctor Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti).

Love & Mercy cuts back and forth between two time periods creating a parallel narrative that depicts Wilson’s psychological turmoil that began as a young man which he faces into adulthood. Both Dano and Cusack give two of the most notable performances of the year, one facing the tyrannical control of his doctor and medication while the other facing the obstacles of the music industry and need to express himself through his music, hindered by his opportunist father and artistic disagreements with the rest of his band. By juxtaposing the two halves the film is able to show that not all enclosures and barriers are physical while carefully creating a deep character driven narrative of artistic and emotional expression. It’s one of the best biopics of recent memory.

15. The Mend (Dir. John Magary)

John Magary’s feature film directorial debut The Mend premiered at South by Southwest (SXSW) in 2014 as one of eight selected films among over 1300 submissions and was proclaimed by Time magazine as one of the top ten films at SXSW. The Mend follows two estranged brothers Mat (Josh Lucas) and Alan (Stephen Plunkett) in New York City. A fierce argument between Mat and his girlfriend has him crash at his brother’s place while Alan plans to go on vacation with his girlfriend Farrah (Mickey Sumner) but returns prematurely on his own. Though Alan attempts to tolerate his brother’s presence his company brings mutual frustrations rising to the surface.

With eccentric energy The Mend is consistently moving itself forward into unpredictable places and unexpected terms to its confrontations. This isn’t just any old indie that focuses on hitting plot points and finding typical resolutions for its principle cast and their complications. Just as Mat and Alan must find a way to be open with one another they also must reach honest realizations about themselves and the film itself is no different. Often very funny but never insincere or dramatically fraudulent The Mend serves as natural a display of dysfunction as any comedy in recent years.

14. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (Dir. Roy Andersson)

The Golden Lion winner at the 71st Venice International Film Festival A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence is the third film in Swedish director Roy Andersson’s ‘Living’ trilogy. Like the previous films in the thematic trilogy, Songs from the Second Floor and You, the Living, Andersson’s latest film is more a series of loosely connected vignettes than a film driven by a clear central plot. The most consistent plot element of the picture follows a duo of unsuccessful traveling salesmen, Jonathan (Holger Andersson) and Sam (Nils Westblom), with a small briefcase of novelty joke items.

For movie goers looking to satisfy their addiction for droll existential Swedish comedy you’re in luck with Roy Andersson capping off his ‘Living’ trilogy with perhaps its best installment, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence. Like the film’s opening, observing an exhibit of a bird sitting on a branch, scenes for Andersson’s film are shot with a detached stationary camera positioned to monitor each subject’s absurd or tragic or humorous predicament (often a combination of the three) for the viewer’s scrutiny. While the film lacks a running plot A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence is more concerned with capturing moments rather than stories. Some of those moments are sad, some of those moments are funny, and sometimes an impersonal distance or the passage of time alters how those moments are perceived but in the end they’re still the culmination of all our lives and the finality of it all can be devastating, or perhaps not entirely if someone gets a free beer out of it.

13. World of Tomorrow (Dir. Don Hertzfeldt)

It takes something special for a short film to stand out each year among many anticipated features but I rarely look forward to any other short as much as I look forward to the work of Don Hertzfeldt. World of Tomorrow is his first film since 2012’s It’s Such a Beautiful Day, which compiles his short of the same name, Everything Will Be OK, and I Am So Proud of You into a sixty-two minute long feature. In his Oscar nominated short film World of Tomorrow a little girl, Emily, is contacted by her third generation clone from 227 years in the future and explains to her of technology, including the time travel that makes their conversation possible, and life in the distant future.

At only seventeen minutes in length World of Tomorrow may be the saddest and funniest film from minute to minute in 2015. Hertzfeldt employs his signature brand of tragic poignancy wrapped in ironic humor. It’s a film told through otherworldly bizarre futuristic situations where the third generation Emily clone describes her first job programming robots on the moon, falling in love with a rock, and uploading consciousnesses onto digital cubes but the spine of the film is its humanity and frank reconciliation with mortality. For all its surreal qualities it’s one of the most honest films from last year because its sentiment is so genuine. It may well be Herzfeldt’s best work.

12. Shaun the Sheep Movie (Dir. Mark Burton & Richard Starzak)

Wallace and Gromit spinoff Shaun the Sheep gets the feature film treatment much to the joys of the few that took the time to catch it while in theater. Read more on Shaun the Sheep from a post from last year:

Shaun the Sheep Movie Full Review

11. Anomalisa (Dir. Duke Johnson & Charlie Kaufman)

A nomination for Best Animated Feature at the 88th Academy Awards Anomalisa is screenwriter Charlie Kaufman’s second theatrical directorial effort, joined by stop-animation director Duke Johnson, based on his play of the same name. In Anomalisa David Thewlis voices Michael Stone, a self-help writer traveling to Cincinnati to promote his latest book. Though Michael works as a motivational speaker he suffers from identifying everyone he meets with the same voice (Tom Noonan) and facial features, even his wife and son. But when Michael hears the distinct voice of an insecure woman named Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) he is compelled to find her and discover what makes her so exceptional.

Similar to how Kaufman’s film Synecdoche, New York uses the term synecdoche to define the movie’s themes as a whole Anomalisa utilizes inspiration from the rare disorder from which Michael seemingly suffers and for which the hotel is named, the Fregoli delusion. But compared to Synecdoche, New York where there’s a kind of symbiotic collection of many individuals and events pieced together to define its characters and their lives Anomalisa in a way has flipped things where Michael’s uniform perception of everyone around him has detached him from his surroundings until he meets Lisa. It isn’t the culmination of many events for Michael but the chance meeting with a unique woman, a single anomalous encounter, which is so significant to him and the film. In the short span of a single night Kaufman intuitively explores loneliness, longing, and the yearning to sense and feel more in one of the most melancholic compassionate films from last year.

10. Crimson Peak (Dir. Guillermo del Toro)

Always a fan of monsters and ghouls director Guillermo de Toro has followed up his big action monster movie with an unlikely romantic gothic thriller, though unsurprisingly he populates the picture with numerous ghosts. Though the advertisements pushed Crimson Peak as a horror movie it’s closer to one of the stories written by the film’s lead Edith (Mia Wasikowska) when she states that she hasn’t written a ghost story, she’s written a story with ghosts in it. As a child Edith has a premonition from her mother’s ghost warning her of a place called Crimson Peak. She is unfortunately unaware that this refers to the dilapidated mansion owned by Sir Thomas Cushing (Tom Hiddleston), the man she soon marries. When Edith moves into the mansion, which Thomas shares with his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain), Edith again witnesses the appearance of ghosts which lead her to unearthing the dark past of the estate.

Crimson Peak is a great example of a celebrated filmmaker using his name to make a film that would unlikely be made otherwise. It’s one of the most surprising films of the year, mostly dismissed by critics, part Gaslight and part The Innocents as if made by Hammer Films. Del Toro often builds his pictures around detailed productions and Crimson Peak is no different. Its cast is draped in terrific period costuming and the house itself is almost its own monster, breathing, gurgling like some dying Hill House, sinking into its own soil. It’s the undervalued gem of last year.

9. The Forbidden Room (Dir. Evan Johnson & Guy Maddin)

A new film from Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin is generally a treat or at the very least an interesting curiosity because there simply isn’t anyone else like him. Maddin developed his latest film, The Forbidden Room, along with co-director Evan Johnson, while he was working on an interactive installation and film project called Seances. With Seances Maddin wanted to approach the project with the idea of shooting productions of lost film and though The Forbidden Room is not a part of his Seances project it isn’t surprising that it is also a collection of short pieces that resemble films from the late silent and early sound era, strung together in unorthodox ways.

Even more than Roy Andersson’s A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence Guy Maddin’s latest film is the most unconventional one to appear on this countdown. Though Andersson’s movie links its segments with reoccurring characters and locations and Herzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow uses a time travel narrative to explore its assortment of ideas the story links in The Forbidden Room are tangential at best. It’s a wide variety of micro movies that bleed into one another like melted nitrate film. For those unfamiliar with Maddin this may not be the best first exposure, though his 2007 film My Winnipeg could be a great place to start, but once a taste is acquired there are few films from 2015 as unrestrained and fun. Flapjacks and derrieres never looked so good.

8. The Assassin (Dir. Hou Hsiao-hsien)

The Assassin is Hou Hsiao-hsien’s first feature film since 2007’s Flight of the Red Balloon and it’s a welcoming return for the Taiwanese director, winning Best Director at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. Set in eighth century China it follows a skillful assassin, Nie Yinniang (Shu Qi), who discovers that she has been sent to eliminate a governor (Chang Chen) to whom she was once betrothed.

It’s largely a fascinating study of wuxia aesthetics because Hou’s usual style is contradictory to the quick motion and physicality of the genre but he is able to harness the stillness of his frames to accentuate the flurries of action when they occur. Combined with the beauty of the compositions this gives The Assassin an authenticity to the violence which threatens to endanger Nie Yinniang’s yearning to find tranquility away from her life of killings for which she has been instructed to carry out. While the expository narrative is largely told through dialogue the core of the film lies in the relationships between characters, told more through gestures and inaction than conversation.

7. The Hateful Eight (Dir. Quentin Tarantino)

Always a fan of the memorable cinematic experiences of his youth director Quentin Tarantino used his latest film, The Hateful Eight, to resurrect the practice of roadshow releases which largely ended in the 1970s. 70mm prints of The Hateful Eight made their way to select theater showings with a slightly different cut of the film along with an intermission. Tarantino’s latest picture is an Agatha Christie-esque western set shortly after the American Civil War. Samuel L. Jackson plays a bounty hunter by the name of Major Marquis Warren who meets another bounty hunter, John Ruth ‘The Hangman’ (Kurt Russell), along the road to Red Rock, Wyoming. Ruth is particularly wary because he’s transporting a captive fugitive, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). A looming blizzard causes them to hole up in a stagecoach lodge but a variety of shady characters keeps Ruth on edge, suspecting a bushwhack to free Daisy.

Though Tarantino opens his latest film on the road most of the time is spent at the stagecoach lodge Minnie’s Haberdashery. Once there he constructs a well designed chamber piece with a half dozen suspicious characters. Though on the surface The Hateful Eight is a mystery it’s a character piece where it counts. More important than revealing the culprit planning to free Daisy the film uses its post-Civil War setting to divide its cast with racial tension and strained regional conflicts boiling over. Tarantino is sure to show there are no heroes in this picture and The Hangman isn’t the only ruthless individual with everyone having their own deceitful vindictive characterization to propel the film’s series of conflicts. Though set shortly after the Civil War this may be Tarantino’s most topical film. It’s a bitter scathing look at a United States with fresh wounds where duplicity further fuels loathsome hostility.

6. Brooklyn (Dir. John Crowley)

Saoirse Ronan gives one of the best performances of the year as Eilis, an Irish immigrant moving into Brooklyn, New York, leaving her mother and hometown behind on her way to finding her place in the world as she grows into adulthood. It’s a coming-of-age tale where Eilis must discover what she wants to do for a living, find love, and ultimately find a city to call home. This is where Eilis’ greatest conflict lies and by extension the film itself, where to call home. She is torn between making a new life in New York with reconciling the loss of what she’s left behind in Ireland with her mother and sister.

A lot of criticisms of Brooklyn mention that it lacks plot conflicts and conventional climaxes but this misses the film’s biggest strength. One of the most remarkable things a film can do, which Brooklyn accomplishes fully, is the ability to cinematically portray internal conflicts rather than simply depict the plotting of a narrative. A large portion of this achievement belongs to Saoirse Ronan but credit should be given to its direction and writing, both confident in Ronan’s abilities as a performer to bring her internal struggles to the screen and in doing so they have produced a film that already feels as if it’s a classic.

5. Phoenix (Dir. Christian Petzold)

German director Christian Petzold reteams with Nina Hoss and Ronald Zehrfeld after his 2012 film Barbara for his latest film, Phoenix. The film is set within Germany during the aftermath of World War II. Hoss plays Nelly, a woman who survived internment in a concentration camp during the war. Though she finds her freedom she must undergo facial reconstructive surgery due to injuries sustained from a bullet wound. Though warned that her husband Johnny (Zehrfeld) may have betrayed her to the Nazis she seeks him out anyway. When she finds Johnny he fails to recognize her but the resemblance to his ex-wife (Nelly herself), whom he believes is deceased, prompts Johnny to ask Nelly to impersonate herself to obtain her own inheritance.

It wouldn’t be a top films countdown without a post-World War II drama that addresses the deep physical, ethical, and emotional scarring of the war and surprisingly Phoenix, like Ida before it, comes in at number five on this list. Similar to how Nelly herself must restore her physical appearance and emotional state Petzold’s film also serves as an allegory for the regeneration of a country fragmented by war and abandonment. It’s an atmospheric morally ambiguous reflection on identity carried by one of the most remarkable performances of the year from Nina Hoss as she attempts to reproduce the woman she once was. However, some injuries can never fully heal from irreversible harm and Nelly, and Germany itself, will be irreparably changed.

4. Clouds of Sils Maria (Dir. Olivier Assayas)

Clouds of Sils Maria is the latest film from Oliver Assayas, husband to the director of Eden, Mia Hansen-Løve. Juliette Binoche returns to collaborate with Assayas after his 2008 picture Summer Hours. Joining Binoche in the movie are Kristen Stewart and Chloë Grace Moretz. Notably Kristen Stewart is also the first American actress to win at France’s César Awards for her supporting role in Clouds of Sils Maria last year. The film follows Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche), a prestigious actress traveling with her assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) to accept an award on the behalf of a famous playwright whose play and film adaptation started her career decades ago. Originally cast at 18 years old Maria reluctantly accepts the opposing lead role, a much older woman, in a revival of the same play.

Clouds of Sils Maria is the kind of reflective drama that may require more than one viewing to uncover all it has to offer. The film deftly concerns itself with a number of themes from the development and commitment to the acting process, with art imitating life or perhaps life imitating art, to self discoveries involved with aging and sexuality. There’s even a vulgar auteurism-esque conversation between Maria and Valentine over a recent superpowers science fiction film starring a young popular actress, Jo-Ann Ellis (Moretz). With so much to unpack in this dense meta drama repeat viewings years from now will probably unearth new ways to appreciate the film.

3. Mistress America (Dir. Noah Baumbach)

Mistress America marks the third film from director Noah Baumbach starring Greta Gerwig and the second, after 2012’s Frances Ha, in which she shares writing credit. Tracy (Lola Kirke), a college freshman, is having a difficult time transitioning into college life in New York City when she meets Brooke (Gerwig), her soon-to-be stepsister. Tracy is immediately spellbound by the confident buoyancy in which Brooke seems to live her life. Finding Brooke a distinct personality Tracy begins using her as the inspiration for writing samples for her college’s prestigious literary group unbeknownst to Brooke. This comes to a head when Brooke travels to confront an old friend whom she had a falling out with years before with Tracy accompanying her.

Like Baumbach’s previous film starring Gerwig Mistress America focuses its attention on the transition into young adulthood with Tracy admiring the way Brooke has chosen to live as an adult, a contrast to what we see of Tracy’s mother, compromising to remarry. In Brooke she is able to still see that youthful impetuosity that many young adults may share, the confidence in nearly everything they do but little certainty in what exactly they should pursue and like in Frances Ha Baumbach is able to satirize his characters while not fully condemning them. In the self-serving, self-involved mentality that comes with being young he captures the biting truth of human beings as walking contradictions who may genuinely mean whatever it is they say even if it challenges behavior from moments before. At less than ninety minutes the film is a refreshing departure from today’s adlib driven comedies. Dialogue is precise and cutting as the film builds momentum until it reaches its topsy-turvy climax at the home of Brooke’s ex-friend, Mamie-Claire. Mistress America proves that Baumbach’s previous collaboration with Gerwig was no fluke and is a reason to anticipate whatever the couple produces next.

2. Mad Max: Fury Road (Dir. George Miller)

Mad Max: Fury Road is the sequel we never knew we wanted and the most surprising action movie in years. Read more on Fury Road from a post from last year:

Mad Max Fury Road Full Review

1. Carol (Dir. Todd Haynes)

As an obvious fan of Douglas Sirk, his 2002 drama Far from Heaven can easily be seen as a reinterpretation of Sirk’s own All That Heaven Allows, director Todd Haynes is certainly not unfamiliar with romantic melodrama and with last year’s Carol may have made the finest film of his career, or at the very least his best film since his 1995 picture Safe. Rooney Mara stars as Therese, a young woman working at a department store, who meets an intriguing older woman, Carol (Cate Blanchett), by happenstance while at work. Their meeting and following encounters unearth feelings Therese doesn’t fully understand about herself and a romance blossoms despite Carol’s controlling soon-to-be ex-husband and society’s harsh views against homosexuality in the 1950s.

Where to begin with Carol? First, the film looks stunning and is shot on 16mm, inspired by photography of the time period by artists like Saul Leiter. Director of Photography Edward Lachman captures moments of longing through glances from behind windows or the lens of a camera that can say more than words could and so much credit must be given to the film’s leads, Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett. Both actresses, deservedly nominated for Oscars, give complex performances under the confident guidance of their director. Haynes is able to make a film that is so carefully measured and yet feels so alive. Each composition has an importance, each glance has a purpose, and yet his film is filled with such raw passion and bittersweet tender affection. It’s a truly remarkable romantic masterpiece, both visually and thematically, deserving to be called the best film of the year and the best film of its kind since Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love.

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