Ten Best Lists for me are always difficult. It’s not about finding films that I admire, it’s more the difficulty of ranking them. Am I a cinephilic snob if I only mention obscure films that may have only played Philadelphia at a festival? Am I being cheeky if I admit to liking a trashy movie more than something prestigious? Can’t I do both? Rather than do a ranked Best List, I’ll mention the ten movies — in alphabetical order — that made the greatest impression on me this year. Some are obscure films that may have played Philadelphia only once at a festival. Some are trashy movies that gave me tremendous pleasure. Most of them I’ve seen twice.
The Boy Next Door (dir. Rob Cohen)
This Jennifer Lopez thriller was a truly enjoyable bad movie, complete with unintentionally hilarious moments that should not be spoiled for the uninitiated. A must.
Brooklyn (dir. John Crowley)
I was completely unprepared for how emotionally devastating this old-fashioned romantic movie would be. Saoirse Ronan gives a truly lovely performance as a woman finding herself in a strange world and finding herself in the process. Her journey is simply remarkable.
Carol (dir. Todd Haynes)
A triumph by Todd Haynes, this adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt was absolute perfection. The costumes and cinematography only emphasized the burning desires of the characters (Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara giving superior performances).
Entertainment (dir.Rick Alverson)
Rick Alverson’s dark drama about a Comedian on a low-rent tour is frequently off-putting with rape jokes being told to prisoners and unsettling encounters in bathrooms, but that is precisely what makes it both great and unshakable.
Heart of a Dog (dir. Laurie Anderson)
Laurie Anderson’s documentary came from the heart; a visually enthralling narrative about the power and magic of storytelling.
The Kindergarten Teacher (dir. Nadav Lapid)
This Israeli import about the title character finding a young poet prodigy will polarize folks, but I love character studies about people behaving badly. Art, corruption, sex, and betrayal all in one film. I was hooked.
Slow West (dir. John Maclean)
Almost no one saw this gorgeous Western when it came out in the Spring and they missed arguably the best film of the year. A taut drama with a real kick — the salt that falls in a gunshot wound was one of them most fantastic moments on screen this year. Slow West was exquisitely made and extremely satisfying.
Taxi (dir. Jafir Panahi)
Jafir Panahi’s film, his third made while under house arrest, is a sublime allegory about Iranian politics and society featuring a cast of characters so real, you think you are watching a documentary. And in a way, you are. Brilliant.
Tangerine (dir. Sean S. Baker)
Shot on an iPhone, set in a single day, and starring two of the most fabulous heroines on screen this year, Sean Baker’s film about transgender prostitutes on the streets of LA during Christmas Eve was a stunning achievement on every level.
Wild Tales (dir. Damián Szifron)
As someone who loves short films, Argentine films, and dark humor, all my Venn diagrams overlapped in this fantastic anthology film about revenge. The first vignette set on a plane was so clever it did not seem possible that the rest of the short films would be as strong. But they were. From a woman asking if expired rat poison was more or less harmful, to a bride making a scene at her wedding, Wild Tales was wild, and wonderful indeed.
Author: Gary M. Kramer
Gary M. Kramer is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer. He is the co-editor of Directory of World Cinema: Argentina. Volumes 1 and 2, and teaches seminars at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer.