The Best Films of 2015

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25. It Follows
24. Respire
23. Lost River
22. Ex Machina
21. Tom at the Farm
20. Anomalisa
19. Love
18. Magic Mike XXL
17. Mississippi Grind
16. Buzzard
15. Sicario
14. The Look of Silence
13. World of Tomorrow
12. Entertainment
11. Heaven Knows What

10. Decker: Port of Call: Hawaii: The Movie

The funniest film in years, Decker: Port of Call: Hawaii: The Movie is a product of its larger On Cinema at the Cinema universe. Tim Heidecker and Gregg Turkington have lovingly crafted something major that started from something minor. Playing movie “experts” on the web series, the two characters, also named Tim and Gregg, have developed a push and pull relationship where they sometimes can’t stand each other, but at other times can’t imagine a world without one another. There’s backstabbing, passive aggressive insults and, of course, lots of bags of popcorn handed out to the movies they review.

After a few seasons of development between the characters, which includes weekly YouTube episodes and live Oscars specials, the two were able to pull off the first Decker series, which led the way to this feature length film sequel (originally debuted as a series of short episodes) that goes beyond spoofing the action and spy genres with its layers of comedy and references to their characters on the show.

Sure, you stand to gain a lot more from Decker: Port of Call: Hawaii: The Movie the more familiar you are with On Cinema. But for those who aren’t, even those who are only mildly familiar with Heidecker’s style of comedy, there’s lots to enjoy here. The film’s intentional blunders – bad editing, poorly delivered lines and off camerawork – are perfectly unintentional. Decker truly feels like it was an honest attempt by Heidecker’s On Cinema character at making art and not as the joke the two actual smart and more capable Heidecker and Turkington behind it all made it as.

9. The Hateful Eight

There are so many strengths in Quentin Tarantino’s latest that it’s hard for me to begin praising it. I mainly loved how much intrigue and paranoia this film carries throughout its entire runtime. Each character is a new face, a new person to understand and a new potential source of danger or trouble.

The film itself is gorgeous, even though most of it takes place inside a cabin, and Tarantino’s screenplay is, again, outrageously good. Whatever he does, he makes his characters talk in the most engaging and interesting way. You hang on most words and in turn each scene. And The Hateful Eight is another example of that.

8. The Mend

John Magary’s directorial (and screenplay) debut is a raging comedy about brotherly love and hatred. As The Mend begins, we know little about its players. It’s a film that slowly reveals itself to the audience with every passing minute. We learn about a relationship we previously didn’t know about, we find details through conversations that start out as being pointless and we begin realize why these characters feel so tense together.

The Mend very much resembles something that could work on stage. Its signature moments come in the film’s third act. An uninterrupted sequence inside the claustrophobic New York apartment between the two brothers, and later the girlfriend of one, spirals deeper and deeper down a hole of madness. It’s funny, crass and brutally honest.

Josh Lucas’ performance as Mat is a highlight of the year for me. And Magary’s direction, stylish at the right times and perfectly steady at the others, is just enough to carry The Mend as one of the finest directorial debuts in the last many years. Truly, though, it’s his screenplay – and the way the actors execute those words – that is winning awards with me.

7. Phoenix

I appreciate Phoenix for many reasons, and one of them is finding a way to tell a World War II era story in a refreshing way.

Christian Petzold’s near-perfect film is about identity and what it means when your face no longer represents who you once were. Nina Hoss is wonderful as Nelly, the disfigured concentration camp survivor, who tracks down her husband who can no longer recognize her.

The film’s final scene is among the best closing moments to a film all year. It’s perfect.

6. Queen of Earth

From start to finish, Alex Ross Perry’s Queen of Earth is a tightly wound drama about two friends trying to find a balance in their relationship. The performances from Elizabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston are two of my favorites of the entire year and they just happen to be in the same film. They work so well together, each assuming versions of their characters in the present and the past. Through them, the tension is made.

Perry also creates a wonderful juxtaposition between the desired serenity and peacefulness of the lake home the two friends are staying at with the emotional and internal drama being fought inside their minds. There are a lot of questions you can raise about the two main characters in their movie, and probably many ways to interpret their motives and feelings, and that lends to something I could watch over and over again.

5. Mommy

At the young age of 26 (one year younger than me!), Xavier Dolan has crafted five great films. Mommy might be his best yet. It tells a relatable (to a degree) story about a single mother and her troublemaker son, but places it into a fictional Canadian society where parents can place those troubled children in a hospital with no argument from anyone.

I think what works so well for Dolan is a really nuanced handling of the small moments that are actually explosive in good and bad ways. These aren’t twists and turns. They are parts of our normal family lives, although perhaps exaggerated at times to better fit Steve’s personality (played wonderfully by Antoine-Olivier Pilon).

The use to film in a 1:1 aspect ratio actually worked for me. The moment in the film where Steve, finally happy, reaches out and pushes the screen to a more familiar aspect ratio is exhilarating. That might be the first time an aspect ratio gave me chills.

4. Mad Max: Fury Road

There really isn’t another film like Mad Max: Fury Road. It topples George Miller’s three Mel Gibson Mad Max films. There’s an energy unfound in other action movies that can be found in Miller’s instant classic. This is some imaginative stuff.

Fury Road‘s editing and plotting is beat by beat, never missing a single step, and that rhythm is what really makes every action sequence so much fun to watch and study. Nevermind how beautiful the entire film is to the eye.

3. Hard to Be a God

Watching Aleksei German’s Hard to Be a God is like throwing yourself face first into a pile of mud. The film, about a group of scientists sent to a planet similar to Earth where the inhabitants have resisted a renaissance, thus making them stuck in the middle ages, is the most immersive film experience I had all year.

German’s work on this science fiction/middle ages hybrid of an epic places the viewer right alongside its characters. You feel, through stark black and white photography and a camera that isn’t afraid to get close to its surroundings, that you are getting a first-person view of this hell hole. You bump into dead animals and clutter handing from the ceilings, you hear the sound your feet make as they trudge through piles of mud and you recoil in disgust from the discharge of bodily fluids coming your way. Watching this, I felt part of every conversation and every bewildering character interaction. For three hours, I was a resident of this strange planet.

It’s easy for me to say I’ve never seen a film like this before. Not of this style and not of its ideas. Though its non-structured narrative can be confusing to follow, it doesn’t detract. It only adds to the chaos of the location and social structure that, because we are the alien visitors, don’t quite understand. We are the outsiders.

2. Blackhat

Michael Mann’s unfairly maligned Blackhat is a great example of movie storytelling through images. Abandoning any kind of classical form, Mann’s characters do a lot of their emotional talking through glances and gentle touches.

Behind it all is a highly stylized Michael Mann film that begs you to devour its gorgeous locations and perfectly choreographed action with your eyes, your mind and your heart. Chris Hemsworth, so wonderfully strong, brooding and handsome, gives the character of a hacker some weight and force.

In Mann’s film, we don’t need words spoken between Hemsworth’s Hathaway and love interest Chen Lien (Wei Tang) to know they’re entangled romantically. Our eyes tell us that. This is filmmaking poetry in all the right ways.

Blackhat is a hefty and perfectly paced film full of meaning that can be found in the eyes of its characters. It’s one that many critics in the future will be saying “Oops” about when they revisit their takedowns.

1. Carol

Todd Haynes, with such care, has delivered us one of the greatest love stories I’ve ever seen told on film. Every frame and shot matters in this movie. Haynes did everything with a reason and with a purpose. The decision to use 16mm for a film set in 1952 is stunningly perfect. The grain on the screen pops, adding a certain kind of special feeling that wouldn’t be achieved without the real thing.

This is a film where two characters gazing at each other from across a room can mean just as much as the words they say after that. It’s beautiful, it’s heartbreaking and it all hits you right in the heart. And Cate and Rooney are the best at making sure that happens.

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