It’s hard to believe we’re already at the year’s halfway point, but since we’re at halftime, it only makes sense to reassess and regroup before going into the year’s home stretch. We all know the second half of the year is always the busier one when it comes to the world of movies, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that 2015 has been a pretty terrific year for movies so far. There’s been a lot of mediocre movies, but also quite a few gems.
And even then, there are many, many movies that came out in this first half of the year that I missed. Some of the movies I really wanted to watch, but couldn’t find the right time for include: Appropriate Behavior, Timbuktu, What We Do in the Shadows, Wild Tales, Wild Canaries, Slow West, Güeros, Dope, The Princess of France, and Hard to Be A God, which is available to watch on Netflix as we speak and I will catch up with as soon as I can.
Now that I made clear what I didn’t watch, let’s get into what I did watch (and loved). Without further ado, I present you with this list of the ten best new releases I’ve seen so far in 2015.
The Top Ten Movies of 2015 (So Far)
(and in alphabetical order)
About Elly (directed by Asghar Farhadi)
We had to wait six years, but this Iranian treasure finally had a commercial release in april. This thriller about a group of Iranian friends on vacation and the repercussions of casual lies and good intentions is more than a worthy companion to Farhadi’s more popular A Separation.
Availability: The movie is still making its away in theaters across the country. Here’s a link to figuring out if it is coming through your town.
The Duke of Burgundy (directed by Patrick Strickland)
One of the year’s earliest releases, but also one of the most memorable, The Duke of Burgundy is soaked on the aesthetic of mid-century European erotica, but feels like nothing you’ve seen before. An intense study of the role of love and torture in a relationship, that is also one of the funniest movies of the year.
Availability: A blu-ray will come out later this year courtesy of Shout! Factory.
Ex Machina (directed by Alex Garland)
Armed with the golden triumvirate of Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander, and Domnham Gleeson, screenwriter Alex Garland’s directing debut is one of the best structured (and best looking) movies of the year. Large stretches of the movie features people talking about big ideas, and in its images, Ex Machina has a few radical ideas of its own.
Availability: It’s still in some theaters. A blu-ray release is scheduled for July 14.
Girlhood (directed by Celine Sciamma)
Contemporary French cinema loves its character dramas, and Sciamma is second to none when it comes to making the most acute and telling observations about the lives of young women. The fact that she is focusing on a group of people whose stories are virtually unseen in mainstream cinema makes this movie even more essential.
Availability: You can watch it on Netflix right now!
Inside Out (directed by Pete Docter)
This just came out a couple weeks ago, and Richard Brody aside, has been pretty much universally praised as a return to form for Pixar. There’s hardly much I can say besides “I agree”. So I’ll just do that.
Availability: In theaters, and well worth your money.
Kumiko the Treasure Hunter (directed by David Zellner)
Inspired by a tragic story that reads like an urban legend, depressed Kumiko leaves Japan to pursue her dream of finding the hidden treasure of the Coen brothers’ Fargo. This is not only a cleverly post-modern piece of cinema, but empathic and glorious in all the right ways.
Availability: It’s available for rent on most on demand services, including Amazon Prime.
Mad Max: Fury Road (directed by George Miller)
Probably the highest praised movie of the year so far, and with good reason. George Miller has redefined the action genre with this monstrous extravaganza. Fury Road will hopefully not only influence the action sequences in movies to come, but the development of kickass female characters too.
Availability: Still in theaters! If you haven’t seen this yet, what the hell are you waiting for?!
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (directed by Roy Andersson)
Swedish director Roy Andersson’s third and final entry in his trilogy about being a human being is a meditation on the futility of humanity, as dense as a philosophical treaty, and a ridiculously hilarious immersion into the most frail and essential parts of the human psyche. It is unique (except when compared to Andersson’s other movies), deep, and depressingly delightful.
Availability: Still playing in theaters, and making its way across the country. Here’s the info.
While We’re Young (directed by Noah Baumbach)
Baumbach’s most “commercial” movie, this generational comedy features Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts doing some of the best work of their careers, and is incredibly funny to boost. It might seem slight at first sight, but it has a lot of deeper and darker things to say than you’d expect from the premise.
Availability: available for rent on most on demand services, including Amazon Prime.
World of Tomorrow (directed by Don Hertzfeldt)
It might be a fifteen minute animated short, but World of Tomorrow is undoubtedly my favorite movie of the year so far. Hertzfeldt’s masterpiece (and his first time using digital animation) examines our relationship to technology, life, and the future in a melancholic story of epic proportions that never loses sight of human feelings and its fantastic sense of humor.
Availability: You can rent it on Vimeo for 3.99. Go ahead, you deserve it.
And because we like listing thinks and naming favorites, here’s a quick rundown of my favorite performances of the year so far:
Best Lead Male Performances:
- Paul Dano surprisingly soulful as the young Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy.
- Tom Hardy in a brilliant physical performance in Mad Max: Fury Road.
- Oscar Isaac is the most charismatic douchebag genius in Ex Machina.
- Viggo Mortensen is desperate, falls down, and speaks Spanish with a danish accent in the otherwise dull Jauja.
- Ben Stiller gets the role of his career in While We’re Young.
Best Lead Female Performances:
(this has been an incredibly rich year for female performances, so I took the liberty of making room for eight performances here)
- Golshifteh Farahani is devastating in an incredibly tricky role in About Elly.
- Dakota Johnson almost single-handedly makes a good film out of Fifty Shades of Grey.
- Rinko Kikuchi puts on a beautiful portrait of depression and obsession in Kumiko the Treasure Hunter.
- Melissa McCarthy is awesome in a role tailor-made for her in Spy.
- Charlize Theron gives us one of the best action performances of all time in Mad Max: Fury Road.
- Khedira Toure is a revelation at the center of Girlhood.
- Alicia Vikander owns the world and we just live in it. She’s also wonderful in Ex Machina.
- Naomi Watts is so funny and full of life in While We’re Young
Best Supporting Male Performances:
- Charles Grodin does wonders while shrugging things off in While We’re Young.
- Adam Driver does his “Adam Driver thing” flawlessly in While We’re Young.
- Richard Kind was instrumental on selling me on a character I wasn’t sure was a good idea in Inside Out.
- Michael Sheen plays repression and sadness like no other in Far From the Madding Crowd.
- David Zellner‘s level of empathy is beyond necessary and much appreciated in Kumiko the Treasure Hunter
Best Supporting Female Performances:
- Rose Byrne keeps on proving herself one of the funniest actresses alive in Spy.
- Raffey Cassidy is by far the best thing in Tomorrowland.
- Fatma Mohamed has only one scene, but what a scene in The Duke of Burgundy.
- Julianne Moore is amazing while exploring her trashier side in Maps to the Stars.
- Phyllis Smith is the MVP and one of the most endearing characters of the year in Inside Out.