This goes without saying (or maybe it doesn’t because I feel the need to say it), but I haven’t seen every single movie that was released this year. Shocker, I know. I say this mostly because I want to stress that my selections are neither definitive nor are they exhaustive. Obviously. With all of that being said, it’s been a great year for film.
10. The Wolfpack (dir. Crystal Moselle)
This bizarre doc follows the Angulo siblings, who have taken to reenacting their favorite films after being locked in their small Manhattan apartment all of their childhood lives. While the film has a string of issues with it (most notably questionable documentary ethics), the story is, without a doubt, spellbinding. What is most touching, of course, is how they all learn about the world through film, and how deeply they connect to the medium. Watch below for the most adorable Criterion DVD Closet video you’ve ever seen, which was made after the film’s release.
9. The Revenant (dir.Alejandro González Iñárritu)
What I love about this film is that despite it being incredibly sparse, it feels so rich in content and palpable in setting. Real-life frontiersman Hugh Glass (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) is brutally attacked by a bear, and left for dead by his hunting companions. He then crawls approximately 200 miles to get back to his fort. DiCaprio delivers a performance that is unsurprisingly filled with depth (which is impressive given how little he actually speaks). The film also happens to be filmed with entirely natural light, which is ridiculously impressive if you’ve seen it. It’s been a while since a movie this long has felt so short.
8. Ex Machina (dir. Alex Garland)
I won’t say too much on this one because I’ve reviewed it, but this movie really surprised me with how good it is. Each performance is outstanding, and you would never guess that it was Garland’s directorial debut.
7. Victoria (dir. Sebastian Schipper)
All right, I also won’t waste too many words on this one either, because I already did that. I truly enjoyed it after seeing it the first time, but I loved it after a second viewing. It’s immersive, it’s beautiful, it’s gut wrenching, and it flies by. If I haven’t made it clear enough at this point, do not miss this film.
6. Steve Jobs (dir. Danny Boyle)
I’m pretty sure this film allows us to all collectively forget and move past Jobs (2013), right? Steve Jobs takes place during the midst of three major unveilings, ending with the iMac in 1998. It’s fast paced (which is unsurprising for a Sorkin screenplay), but it never overwhelms. Steve Jobs is not made out to be a hero. However, he is also not made out to be villainous. Really, he is portrayed as a deeply driven mastermind. Not to say that he’s made out to be an all-powerful genius. Jobs says it best in the film when he compares himself to the conductor of an orchestra. He might not know how to play the instruments himself, but he excels at orchestrating everyone around him to produce excellence.
5. Anomalisa (dirs. Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson)
Anomalisa is a stop-motion film that beautifully depicts loneliness and monotony. What is particularly wonderful about this film is its painstakingly thought out details, making it deeply moving. It’s undeniably better to enter this film without too much understanding of the story. Suffice it to say, it’s both hilarious and heartbreaking—a balance that Charlie Kaufman seems to have mastered at this point.
4. Wild Tales (dir. by Damián Szifrón)
Again, I’ll keep this one short since I reviewed it previously. Wild Tales is a sadistic whirlwind of revenge and love. It’s not always realistic, but manages to remain strangely relatable throughout.
3. The Lobster (dir. by Yorgos Lanthimos)
I wrote about this film very briefly recently, but I can’t recommend it enough. All right, so technically the official theatrical release won’t come until 2016, but I’m lucky enough to have seen it this year, and I like to break rules (sike, I hate that—but I’m making an exception with this film). I’d say that I’m worried I’ve now built this movie up too much, but I’m not sure I could. Who’s to say? See it and prove me wrong, I dare you.
2. Goodnight Mommy, (dirs. Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala)
In writing this list, I’ve realized that I’ve been extremely lucky to review most of my favorite films of the year, this one being at the very top. Not many films toy with audience expectations quite as successfully as this one. Scary is not at all the correct word for this film. Rather, it’s deeply unsettling. It’s also gorgeously filmed and wonderfully acted.
1. The Look of Silence (dir. by Joshua Oppenheimer)
If you know me at all, you know that The Act of Killing (the preceding companion piece to The Look of Silence) is one of my absolute favorite films. It probes the values and ideations of some of the gang leaders that killed thousands in the Indonesian genocide in the ‘60s. I could go on and on about this film, but instead I’ll hesitantly admit to you all that I shed a tear (or two) when The Act of Killing didn’t go home with the Oscar in 2014. I bring this all up because when I went to see Look of Silence I couldn’t imagine that a companion piece to Killing could even be half as good. Well, it was. In fact, sometimes I think it might be even better. Oppenheimer has an incredible sensibility as a documentary filmmaker, and Look of Silence is utterly enthralling, disturbing, important, and moving. I might shed a few more tears come this year’s Oscar ceremony, but let’s hope not.
Honorable Mention: Love & Mercy
Author: Catherine Haas
Catherine Haas is a native Philadelphian who received her master’s in film history from Columbia University. She is a freelance film programmer, writer, and an avid pug enthusiast.