Generation Film’s Top 25 Films of 2015

Film-Sundance-End of the Tour-First Look25. The End of the Tour– Though it’s incredibly likely that the great, late American novelist David Foster Wallace would have thoroughly objected to the creation of The End of the Tour, it’s actually quite stunning how compassionate and sensitive this unauthorized study is in the hands of director James Ponsoldt. Based on David Lipsky’s memoirs and interviews obtained from his five-day tour with the esteemed writer and adapted by playwright Donald Marguiles, Ponsoldt’s film never sets out to be a traditional biopic of character study. Instead, this philosophical conversation film attempts to tap into a facsimile of spirit that could have been DFW, and becomes an insightful study of creative jealousy, male competitiveness, unorthodox friendship, and, of course, the loneliness that plagues the mind of an artist. Through the two hours of the film we’re graced with only the dramatic drive of pure conversation—about writing, television, technology, relationships, fame, and, most importantly, the quality of being genuine—and it’s all captivating thanks to the thoroughly convincing performances from Jason Segal and Jesse Eisenberg. Though we’ll never really understand the mind, heart, and soul of David Foster Wallace—one that was so unique, advanced, and delicate as to not be of our particular time—Ponsoldt’s film recognizes this reality and creates an experience that touches upon the essence of his being, which is as close as we’ll ever get in the realm of cinema.

bonetomahawk24. Bone Tomahawk– As directorial debuts go there might be none as hilariously bizarre or as gruesomely brutal as S. Craig Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk, a film whose grisly, offbeat combination could only be described as John Ford’s The Searchers (1956) meets Italian exploitation horror from Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1979). A witty fusion crossbreed of old-fashioned wester veneer, pitch black comedy, and cannibalistic horror, Zahler’s film becomes an appropriately embellished experience filled to the brim with respectfully defined characters. Utilizing these talkative individuals—who almost cross the line into the Tarantino anachronistic void of meaningless discussion—the film drives forward with its devious twisting on all of its chosen genre’s conventions. It’s an elegantly crafted film that shows graceful patience in a director willing to take his time to organically build immense tension, mostly attributed to our growing dedication and admiration for the film’s unique characters and the inevitable sense of dread that accompanies them. It’s so devilishly designed through the director’s unflinching focus on character and violence that once it descends into gruesome brutality in its final act you’re too invested to turn away from its horrors. For those who thought Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight was the pristine film that blended the western with the horror genre’s dread then they should turn to Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk for the genuine article.

goodnightmommy123. Goodnight Mommy- There’s something eerily disquieting about the darkly violent, dread-filled thriller Goodnight Mommy. It begins with a lullaby and ends with a twisted gut-punch of terror, mostly to take the idea of juvenile imagination as something to be feared rather than something to be celebrated. Paced with quiet deliberation and possessing a thoroughly sophisticated embrace of terror, this immensely creepy household horror film from directors Severin Fiala and Veronica Franz keeps the tension overflowing in their insidious mother-son familial dynamic. These two filmmakers prove to be masters of diversion and professional conjurors of horror in their creation of a tightly controlled mystery that becomes increasingly more terrifying as more light is shed upon its unfolding revelations. It’s an effectively malevolent film that expertly plays with your nerves and pummels you into submission even if you’ve already guessed its secretive plot reveal. It’s daring storytelling at its finest through the use of harrowing subject matter and tension driven intensity, and those willing to be slightly uncomfortable in their seats will be gripped by the film’s enveloping sense of twisted darkness. Not for the faint of heart, Goodnight Mommy becomes a disorienting nightmare of paranoia and one of the more hauntingly memorable psychological thrillers in some time.

 

youth322. Youth– In his latest film Youth—the second of his English speaking films since the bizarre reflection on alienation in This Must Be the Place (2011)—Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino creates a corporeal purgatory represented by an idyllic health spa in the Swiss Alps, where characters reflect and experience life’s ebb and flow of positive and negative gifts: the elusive beauty as well as the haunting devastation of memory, the thriving inspiration and atrophying loss of creativity, and the gainful joys juxtaposed with the harmful fleeting of love. It’s a film that feels intuitively and precisely composed like a symphony, utilizing a circular repetition and inert momentum as a metaphysical state of mind for another of Sorrentino’s stationary protagonists, semi-retired composer Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine). Through Fred’s melancholic disengagement from the world—an understandable avoidance of more pain and disillusionment—the film explores the universal conflict of youth’s lack of wisdom in experiencing its ample opportunities, and aging’s lack of opportunities even when you fully realize what’s been lost. Youth conceives its motifs with harmonious intent, and though minor flaws exist, they seem like welcomed blemishes that humanize the immaculate cinematic experience. Sorrentino has proven again that he’s the pioneering European filmmaker that has resurrected the spirit of Federico Fellini in all of the Italian auteur’s visual and philosophically reflective reverie.

it follows film still21. It Follows– What makes the subversively intelligent horror film It Follows such a brilliant twist on the classic horror model is its dedication to creating pure clammy-palmed atmosphere. Filled with sexual subtext and inspired by M.R. James’s haunting short story Casting of the Runes—which has been used for numerous hex films from Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell (2009), Hideo Nakata’s RIngu (1998), and Jacques Tourneur’s Night of the Demon (1957)—this unhurried film creeps under your skin with every intentionally slow-moving moment. It might only be his second feature, but David Robert Mitchell doesn’t hesitate to tackle this ambitious John Carpenter homage with great sincerity and a tactful wielding of a deadly external threat. It’s a mixture of horror homage and a self-satirized warning on sexual attitudes from our Americanized and prudish sensibilities, and Mitchell tackles both with a genuine attention. A deeper interpretation could be linked towards what sexuality and intimacy actually mean to us, a sort of self-created malaise from giving oneself fully to another and having to alleviate it through continuous sexual contact. Whether it’s a critique on society’s sexual perceptions or a reflective warning on our developed sexual norms, It Follows still remains at its core a haunting and thrilling horror experience unlike any other this year.

what-we-do-in-the-shadows_small20. What We Do in the Shadows– New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi’s mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows proves that a proper satirical insight and burst of energetic spirit can breathe new life into a genre that’s threatened by deadened creative exhaustion, specifically in this case the depleted originality of the vampire genre. Mixing intricate vampire mythology with the mundanity of roommate quibbles, Waititi’s arthouse comedy becomes one of the funniest of the decade through its slyly satirical criticism on millennial slackerdom. It’s an ingeniously intelligent and perceptive analysis of life’s quotidian ups and downs, and it’s all down through the use of deadpan humor, absurdist riffs, and inventive commentary. Though unabashedly silly, even borderline ridiculous, What We do in the Shadows finds its comedic power through an anarchic sitcom setup of vampiric oldsters struggling to with society’s impending modernity, which is all done through a blend of Jim Jarmusch’s loose energy and a revival like quality of Christopher Guest inspired comedic greatness, most notably This is Spinal Tap (1984) and Waiting for Guffman (1996). Waititi has created another homerun that’s an incredible deviation from his previous two features—Eagle vs. Shark (2007) and Boy (2010)—but it nonetheless maintains the filmmaker’s respectful, reflective, and often times silly sensibilities.

the-tribe19. The Tribe– Societal degradation finds its allegorical quintessence in a Ukrainian boarding school for the deaf in Miroslav Slaboshpitsky’s unconventional silent film The Tribe. It’s a grimly violent and disturbingly brutal study on abandoned self-governance, as the unapologetic pimps, bullies, and robber students of the school take control as the oppressive rulers due to the negligence of their teachers, an aspect that’s clearly influenced from Peter Brook’s Lord of the Flies (1963). Executed through elongated takes, a conversational restriction of pure sign language, and never aided by one moment of orchestral soundtrack, The Tribe is a film that seems as though it’s taking place on entirely different planet. The film’s silence brings about a creeping sense of alienation and anxiety, which suggests that this tribe of deaf youths are left to nurture their own definition of justice through violence—an attribute that defines numerous victim cultures who become reactionary towards their own isolation. Despite its difficult subject matter and incredibly uninviting style, Slaboshpitsky’s delicate and intimate film is actually quite simple in its bleakness, which seeks to give us a warning about the dangerous bond that links humiliation and power. Once you’ve seen The Tribe you’ll be hard-pressed to forget it.

tangerine0118. Tangerine– Nothing can really prepare you for the madcap chaotic ride that is Sean Baker’s Tangerine, a modern-day screwball farce that follows the misadventures of some transgender prostitutes on the colorfully gritty streets of Los Angeles. Shot entirely on his iPhone5 with an app entitled Filmic Pro, Baker’s film transcends being defined as a novelty by never wasting a single moment in its rough and tumble technical anarchy that entertains in its liveliness and fascinates in its practically French New Wave stylistic embodiment (particularly Godard’s grimy glamour and energetic pith). Astonishingly honest and grittily executed, Tangerine never shies away from portraying its sex worker protagonists as genuine human beings seeking familiar desires despite their avid denunciation of society’s sexual mores. Though a majority of the film focuses on a personal vendetta investigating the discovered infidelity of an alluded Harry Lime-esque pimp, Tangerine’s message is actually about the unbreakable bonds of true friendship, and its final reflective moment proves that momentary lapses of judgment can always be forgiven and understood. Once you’ve fallen to its irresistible and unconventional charm, Tangerine is an unforgettable experience that’s as explosively thrilling as a rollercoaster and as heartfelt as a love poem.

the_lobster_18-620x40017. The Lobster– Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos might be the current master of high-concept, pitch black, utterly weird comedy, an aspect that he regularly explored in his previous two features Dogtooth (2009) and Alps (2011). His first English speaking outing with The Lobster certainly follows his deadpan sensibilities that’s dripping in blood-soaked absurdism, but underneath the strangeness there lies a glowing human heart. Set in a dystopian society where singletons are forced to choose a partner within 40 days or else be turned into an animal, Lanthimos is reflecting on society’s monogamous attitudes and relationship demands with a biting sense of satire. Though acerbically melancholy, The Lobster nonetheless maintains an inviting and humorous attitude towards its immensely preposterous fictional world that’s pure tongue-in-cheek storytelling that places an unflattering mirror towards how we live and love versus the struggle for individual human identity. It’s an ambitious, thoroughly strange, yet incredibly moving romance that horrifies through sheer suggestion and the creation of a world that, while alien, doesn’t seem all too unfamiliar. It might be one of cinema’s acquired tastes, but for those willing to expand their visual, cinematic, and storytelling palette there’s rewards to be found underneath the layers of weirdness.

creed216. Creed– the seventh installment of a long-dormant franchise that became the pioneering inventive spiritual reincarnation we’ve been waiting for wasn’t the soulless, derivative remake known as Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, but rather it was Ryan Coogler’s Creed. Working off a promising debut from Fruitvale Station (2013), Coogler doesn’t disappoint with a film that’s teeters between synthetic recreation and glorious tribute, always slanting towards the latter. He breathes new life into this respectable yet battered franchise by having a self-awareness towards the pugilism genre’s sentimentality, maintaining a deep appreciation for the previous chapters of the Rocky series, and simply focusing on the important element of characterization, whether it’s directing his acting muse Michael B. Jordan in the creation of Adonis or deepening the already layered and iconic Rocky Balboa. It’s a brilliant display of cinematic craftsmanship, populist charm, and a repetition of familiar underdog truisms that makes it one of the most memorable and creative franchise extensions in cinematic history. Seeing as how it’s only Coogler’s second feature, Creed serves as a triumphant confirmation of the young filmmaker’s talent and shows that good old-fashioned cinema can be replicated, enhanced, and executed.

the look of silence0115. The Look of Silence– If Joshua Oppenheimer’s haunting documentary The Act of Killing (2012) was an unconventional portrait on the perpetrators of Indonesia’s lawfully enacted genocide, then his companion piece The Look of Silence focuses on the country’s grieving victims. Following a similar unobtrusive direction, Oppenheimer’s latest is a sensitive, devastating study on the families who still live amongst the monsters who enacted acts of cruelty on their community and the corrupt legal system that still allows them to walk free and remain celebrated as war heroes. It’s essential viewing, one that should inspire heartbreak and anger in witnessing a culture’s inexplicable acceptance of crimes without justification. Too often documentaries have become narcissistic exploitations or shallow studies of subjective opinion, but Oppenheimer proves again that the documentary can be a powerful tool in exposing truth by unraveling subject matter that’s morally important, yet sometimes too delicate to touch or too complex to effectively explain. Oppenheimer has established himself as one of the bravest and most creative documentarians to ever tackle the medium, and The Look of Silence expands his Indonesian Atrocity chronicle with delicate grace and the result is an experience that gravely impacts the soul.

99 homes14. 99 Homes– Ramin Bahrani’s heart-wrenching drama 99 Homes tackles the home foreclosure crisis in the only way it should be done, which is to put a human face on the consequences that unfold in the aftermath of societal devastation. Utilizing what could only be deemed a stylistic revival of neorealism, Bahrani creates a devastating human drama that provides a sympathetic portrait to both those who suffered evicted loss and those who are forced to evict in order to survive. There’s a natural authenticity to Bahrani’s work—whether it’s his melancholic portrait of a New York City street vendor in Man Push Cart (2007) or his duel character study of loneliness in Goodbye Solo (2009)—and 99 Homes continues that strength with a genuine reflection on self-interested survival. It isn’t an overt pontification—a criticism that definitely can be attributed to its weaker companion piece The Big Short—nor does it provide any simple answers to its complex portrait of debtors, collectors, and in some cases a combination of both. Instead, Bahrani wants us to deeply focus that, after all is analyzed, reanalyzed, and assessed, people are the ones at the heart of the aftermath and those are who end up suffering the consequences of any system’s failings, intentional or not.

sicario413. Sicario– Coming off the success of his gloomy, kidnapping thriller Prisoners (2013) and his experimental doppelganger mind-trip deviation with Enemy (2013), director Denis Villeneuve has delivered his most assured and ferociously visceral work to date with Sicario. A tightly wound thriller about the moral ambiguities and principle compromise that define the endless, violent, and futile War on Drugs, Villeneuve’s film invokes a death stare into the consequences of governmental control and state sponsored violence. It’s aura of constant threat and unnerving menace stays with you in its unrelenting tension driven narrative, always aided by cinematographer Roger Deakins’ merciless camera work that immerses you into its suspenseful and bleak world that reflects this modern human tragedy. It isn’t a political film, nor is it attempting to give plausible answers to this war’s continuous existence, but instead Sicario highlights that sometimes we’re never asking the right questions to our societal ills. Villeneuve creates a palpable reality of raw power, gritty opportunism, and moral relativism that portrays the hard felt realities of the War on Drugs in order to generate whether or not this is a fight worth pursuing. Sicario undoubtedly proves that the Québécois filmmaker’s ability to take on topical subject matter makes him a cinematic voice to keep a devout eye on.

ASSASSIN-THE-Still-212. The Assassin– After seven long years of creative struggle, intricate planning, and dedicated perseverance, venerated Chinese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien finally brought his immersion into the Wuxia genre to subliminal life. Skillfully elegant, beautifully damaged, and philosophically challenging, The Assassin is both an inward journey of introspection and an outward adventure for its elegiac heroin that artistically blends Tang dynasty history, politics, and class with a narrative wrapped in mystery. What results is an effectively executed film with a meticulous pace that mesmerizes in its tranquil escapism. Set amidst enrapturing bucolic vistas and captured with pristine clarity from cinematographer Ping Bin Lee (In the Mood for Love, Norwegian Wood), Hou delivers a cinematic experience that’s purely reflective in how it transports our souls, both visually and mindfully, into an entirely different fictional dimension of choreographed action, ethereal breaks, and the slow reveal of delicate character layers. To be taken under the film’s deceptively shrouded wings of mystery and character is to allow the incursion of possible transcendence, whether it’s to be amazed in its visual perfection or to allow its gracefulness to grant you the inner peace that exists at its core.

White-God11. White God– The implausibility of Kornél Mundruczó’s White God is what makes the film so arresting in its energetic imagination, an aspect that’s always self-aware in the filmmaker’s particularly conscious storytelling choices. This borderline unclassifiable satire and pseudo-horror thriller about a canine uprising in Budapest makes for one of the strangest yet most captivating cinema experiences this year, mostly because of its thrilling trained animal choreography that was executed without a hint of digital trickery. It’s partly a social metaphor towards class systems, and the general upheaval that always threatens the status quo, but it’s mostly an effective thriller with deadpan sensibilities that captivates you with its slowly building tension and intrigues you with its eerily haunting potential. Though it isn’t easy to embrace all of its bold, brutal, and beautiful ambitions, White God’s ability to generate authentic atmosphere and genuine emotion through pristine technical implementation and heartwarming performances—both human and canine alike—makes it a truly unique thriller. Whether you see it as a parable of familial resentment, an allegory of class uprising, a divine love story between owner and pet, or a unique embodiment on Hitchcockian horror, White God is a film that will stay with you long after the final frames end.

ex machina10. Ex Machina28 Days Later (2002) and Sunshine (2007) scribe Alex Garland finally graced us with his enchanting directorial debut in Ex Machina, a sleek and unsettling psychological thriller that embraces the writer’s penchant for philosophical preoccupation and genre bending. It’s an intelligent study on artificial intelligence, consciousness, and morality, germinating some ideas that have been contemplated before, though not necessarily through Garland’s inquisitive curiosity. His natural ability behind the camera creates a fertile, polished, and hypnotizing visual experience of enrapturing beauty and absorbing atmosphere that merely compliments his puzzle-box layer writing that has sparse dialogue and selective insights. It features only four actors trapped in the confines of a singular space, but not a moment is wasted and everything methodically builds to its thrillingly romantic and violently action oriented conclusion. It’s a prime example of how the miracle of special effects can be utilized to enhance the service of the narrative, and brings to the forefront the remarkable power of character, whether they’re flesh and blood or metal and wire. Ex Machina maintains a sense of intrigue and mystery to its somewhat familiar proceedings, and makes for a simple pulp sci-fi thriller that is necessary for our tech-savvy age and unforgettable in its ominous tone.

Mustang_039. Mustang– For those who advocate for equality for women around the world, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s Mustang serves as an indictment as to just how far that reality is from being obtained. Creating a narrative relating to the lack of sexual identity and freedom for young Muslim women inside the repressively traditional society of modern-day Turkey, this important, fearless, and stylish film places us into the perspective of its multiple female protagonists and immerses us into their patriarchal experience. And yet, despite a viewing experience that’s increasingly frustrating as each character is systematically placed into forced engagements, Mustang inspires a prominent ending of hope that perhaps can potentially change for future generations. It’s an important film of valid feminist substance, both on screen and off, and it reminds us that progress is infinitely more difficult when oppression is culturally ingrained. Even though it’s rooted in cultural context, Erguven’s film actually speaks to a universal truth for women everywhere by reflecting on their connecting desires, aspirations, fears, and dreams. A beautiful portrait of sisterhood, a loud celebration of ferocious femininity, and an indictment on patriarchal systems, Mustang might be one of the most bracing and timeless films released this year that’s accentuated in spirit by its formidable ensemble cast of newcomers.

insideout8. Inside Out– Pete Doctor’s Inside Out marked the glorious return of Pixar studios ability to create wholly original and ambitious entertainment, unlike its following film this year The Good Dinosaur. In tackling one of their most daunting subjects—the precariously developing emotions of an adolescent young girl—Inside Out masterfully tackles each of its complex subjects with beautiful attention, which include the elusiveness of memory, the power of the subconscious, the beauty of dreams, and the fleeting permanence of imagination. It’s one of Pixar’s most inventive, gorgeously animated, and emotionally moving masterpieces of dreamy originality, and it becomes a brilliant Jungian psychological lesson for both children and adults alike. Inside Out acts as a bittersweet reflection on life’s moments, creating an intricately complex and matured study on the necessity of sadness to put our more joyous moments into a valid perspective. It’s a riotously beautiful and profound piece of animated entertainment that, while emphasizing an insight on melancholy, is purely dependent on playful pacing, witty insights, and colorful energy. With its unique literal mind-bending concept, Inside Out has established itself as one of the greatest additions in the quality pantheon of Pixar films which argumentatively makes it one of the greatest films of all time.

room-10247. Room– Adapted from Emma Donoghue’s novel of the same name, Room carries with it a beautiful endurance of hope in the darkest confines of human nature. It’s a film about child development, the maternal bond, the difference between noumenal and phenomenal realities, the psychological cost of repression, and the existential joys—and uncontemplated dangers—of freedom. The film’s power in exploring post-traumatic suffering and passionate resilience comes mostly from the dedicated, enthralling, and pitch perfect performances from Brie Larson and remarkable child actor Jacob Tremblay, which also can be attributed to Lenny Abrahamson’s hope-filled direction. What’s fascinating is the film’s ability to make the imprisoned room seem infinitely large and the real world seem claustrophobically limiting, which drives home the psychologically adjustment of its child protagonist’s knowledge gaining. Room might seem like a small film with unrealized ambitions, but its dramatic impact is enormous in how it presents the beautiful dedication of a mother’s love and the unbridled imagination of youth. It’s a profound work of honest and challenging material that will unsettle you to your core, but there’s always hope in its proceedings that reminds us that miracles in even the grimmest of places can still come true.

the-revenant-fn016. The Revenant– Alejando Gonzalez Iñárritu’s latest film,The Revenant—which literally means “a person who has returned, supposedly from the dead”—possesses overt spiritual and resurrection connotations juxtaposed with unrelenting punishment and physical brutality, a sort of frontiersman stations of the cross of man, beast, and nature that brings its protagonist closer to divinity through the transcendence of suffering. It’s an endurance test of emotional anguish, physical erosion, and the mental fortitude needed for survival, all of which accumulate to a core message of how a state of grace can be found by letting go of earthly restraints that are anchored by the darkened depths of our instinctual human nature and the ruthless, unforgiving wild that mirrors it.The Revenant might be too harsh, too raw, or too emotionally stagnant in its narrative simplicity for most audiences, but it’s Iñárritu’s seamless blend of vicious corporal realism and ethereal visual poetry that make this harrowing survivalist-vengeance western so immersive and beautifully rewarding for those willing to endure its cold, unyielding journey. It’s an endurance test on and off the screen that’s made engrossing through visual excellence thanks to the unflattering natural light photography of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. It might not be as existentially fascinating as his previous film Birdman, or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (2014), but Iñárritu proves that he’s one of the only hardworking directors these days who still makes projects that are pure cinema.

spotlight5. Spotlight– There’s something maturely sobering about Todd McCarthy’s investigative procedural Spotlight, an instant newsroom classic that is meticulously attuned to its process, averse to sensationalism, and thoroughly unwilling to exaggerate heroism or victimhood in order to drive home the film’s incredibly important message. In a world filled with social media immediacy, opinion driven journalism, and sensationalized headlines, Spotlight might be the film we need to remind us that true news takes a dedication of time and spirit to uncover all the important facts. McCarthy’s film might possess one of the finest acting ensembles to grace the screen together, but that shouldn’t distract us from his unadorned expertise as a cinematic storyteller. The film possesses delicate tension, a growing sense of righteousness, and an expertly nuanced step-by-step discovery that is immensely detailed, all of which highlights the uncovering of church hidden abuse, comments on the mass psychological dysfunction that was hiding in plain sight within our communities, and seeks to warn us of continuous damage if these perpetrators and abettors aren’t properly exposed. Comparisons to Alan J. Pakula’s All the President’s Men (1976) and Michael Mann’s The Insider (1999) are loud and continuous, and they are more or less deserved in reference to this praise worthy investigation drama.

CAROL4. Carol– Todd Haynes’ Carol might be the most delicately intimate romance picture made in at least several years, if not the past decade. It’s a film about unspoken magnetism, subtle gestures, and furtive glances that defines natural passion, whether it’s between two members of the opposite sex or two members of the same sex. Because of its immaculate craftsmanship and consummate control, Carol never approaches a level of pontification, and instead subverts your preconceptions with a swooning display of romance that’s incredibly familiar in its yearning, but also tragic in its fragility due to society’s expectations and close-minded mores. What’s brilliant about Haynes’ Carol is his ability to make a romance defined as improper to appear infinitely timeless, an ability to invoke a modern evolution of thought into the past’s reservations. Ultimately, Haynes’ pristine period piece recreation in Carol actually feels like an unattainable dream; a masterfully elegant and intimate dance of desire that seems preserved within glass, only to be shattered once its barrier between the past and the present breaks. Carol certainly possesses familiar themes from Haynes’ filmography, and invokes that sensationalized stylish touch from his Douglas Sirk devotee inspiration, but Carol proves it’s a magical and timeless portrayal of finding that dream of love and holding it tight no matter what tries to come between it.

sonofsaul2-1600x900-c-default3. Son of Saul– László Nemes’ Son of Saul isn’t just an impressive and unnerving debut feature from an incredibly promising filmmaker, but it’s also the most horrifyingly unique immersion into the cataclysmic horrors that are associated with the living nightmare known as the Holocaust. Exceptionally shot by cinematographer Mátyás Erdély (Miss Bala, James White) in claustrophobic shallow focus—where the hellish vortex of death, piled-up corpses, and gruesome living conditions are on the peripheral view of its protagonist Saul, a Sonderkommando gas-chamber attendant—Nemes’ film has accomplished something truly extraordinary in its ability to honestly depict the atrocities of its controversial subject matter and intimately contemplate the survivalist lengths one will go to in order to stretch out their inevitable mortality. Nemes has created an uncomfortable yet transforming experience that fully realizes the morally repugnant mysteries and realities of this tragic blight on human history that only a handful of documentaries have elucidated, from Alain Resnais’ Night and Fog (1955) to Claude Lanzmann’s essential Shoah (1985). Overwhelming in its earnest conviction, haunting in its breathless execution, and difficult in its presentation of selfish horrors, Son of Saul is powerful, raw, and ruthless cinema at its finest, and will be difficult to surpass in its unabashedly earnest intentions.

madmax12. Mad Max: Fury Road– George Miller’s return to the apocalyptic landscapes of his famed Mad Max series has become the antithesis of cynical franchise extension, mainly because it’s an immaculate mixture of perfected blockbuster entertainment and the thought-provoking grungy overtones of an experimental arthouse picture that defined the versatile director’s early years. Mad Max: Fury Road propels itself forward with untamed momentum and the filmmaker’s penchant for grandiose filmmaking bravado, never stopping to allow its audience to register its ingenious twisting of the genre’s conventions from reengineered gender roles to the desperate acceptance of a deeply flawed hero. It’s not merely an adrenaline infused action extravaganza (though that exists at its entertaining core), but rather it’s an artfully made symphony of intricately designed destruction, gloriously pristine cinematography, and intriguing character foils that all harmoniously blend together to satisfy all of our delicate human senses. Miller has created a work of arguable genius, one that deepens his previous franchise with conceptual fervor, but also stays true to the articulately designed futuristic world he created decades ago. It’s the most thrilling spectacle film in at least a decade, and should become the new template of entertainment with integrity, which means entertainment that is thrilling to experience and equally artistic in its execution.

anomalisa1. Anomalisa– Charlie Kaufman’s genius lies in his ability to deconstruct the human brain—fragmented piece by fragmented piece, pulpy strain by pulpy strain—and expose its mechanical workings, which speaks to a greater truth towards our damaged, insecure souls. His latest pessimistic study of the human condition is filled with his signature mordantly anarchical humor, yet this time it’s an animated conception co-directed by Kaufman and one off Morel Orel director Duke Johnson. The result couldn’t be more realistic, despite its animated artifice, as the film explores immensely complex themes relating to societal homogeneity, the desperation for connection, the fragility of our individualized conceits, and the fleeting uniqueness one can perceive in a conjoined lonely soul. Anomalisa might be the most stingingly painful anti-romance of the decade, but it’s done so with melancholic honesty and a darkly brilliant psychoanalysis that exposes people for what they truly are: damaged, lonely, and dull individuals who still maintain a sense of hope and inimitable loveliness. Charlie Kaufman has once again created an awkward and strange fictional world that could only be a distorted mirroring of our own depressingly-bland reality, and it’s truly one of the most beautiful, insightful, and essential cinema experiences in a decade.

Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order): Brooklyn, The Duke of Burgundy, The Gift, James White, Mistress America, Queen of Earth, Slow West, Steve Jobs, Victoria, and Wild Tales

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