The Best Movies of 2015

CAROL

Making my list of the Best Movies of any given year is always fun. It is also painful, especially in a year like this one when I saw much more than just 10 great movies. But you know what they say. There can only be ten.

Is there an overarching theme that unites the ten movies I’ve chosen for this list? I can see certain similarities, like the fact that eight of them have a female protagonist (and one of the other three is particularly interested in women and their pleasure), but the truth is that these are just the ten movies I liked best. I tend to think of these lists as time capsules that let me know what spoke to me at different moments in my life.

I saw more movies in 2015 than in any other year of my life (more than 90 in theaters), and what I learned from this experience is that I’ve spent too much time analyzing what movies are about and not enough analyzing how they are about it. Seeing so many movies made me realize that the ones that stood out and stayed in my mind were the most beautiful ones. The ones that used their sounds and images to create unique experiences. The ones that felt magical. The ones from which I will not only remember what happens in the movie, but how I felt about it happening.

Before we get into it, I want to make clear I only considered movies that had a commercial release in the United States between January 1 and December 31, 2015 when making this list.

And now, finally…

The Ten Best Movies of 2015:

worldoftomorrow101. World of Tomorrow
(Dir. Don Hertzfeldt, 17 min, USA)
Ok, so I guess I’m breaking my own rules by putting this animated short film (which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was released online a few months later) on my list, but the truth is this is the one piece of cinema I’ve thought the most about all year. Animator Don Hertzfeldt’s first foray into digital cinema is built around the brilliant conceit of juxtaposing a bleak and philosophically complex view of our future with the nonsensical musings of a four year-old girl. It’s an unlikely marriage that results in one of the most moving and original films I have ever seen. And it is available for rental on Vimeo for only $3.99!

Screen shot 2015-12-10 at 11.14.07 p.m.2. Carol
(Dir. Todd Haynes, 118 min, USA)
I couldn’t find the time to write a review of Carol, but then again, I don’t even know what I would’ve said. That it’s one of the most beautiful love stories I’ve seen? That Carter Burwell’s score is magnificent? That Todd Haynes is perhaps the most talented director of his generation? That Rooney Mara is brilliant? That Cate Blanchett gives the best performance of her career? That Ed Lachman’s cinematography is gorgeous and his use of glass even better? That it features a sex scene so emotional it made me cry? That its final five minutes are a masterpiece of romantic cinema? Yeah, I’d probably have said all those things…

Screen shot 2015-12-10 at 11.18.47 p.m.3. Mistress America
(Dir. Noah Baumbach, 84 min, USA)
Director Noah Baumbach and actress Greta Gerwig are a match made in heaven. Gerwig, an astute observer of her place in the world around her, creates one of the most fascinating characters of the year. The ultimate millennial woman: an autodidact with “so many things” to sell. Newcomer Lola Kirke plays the young student who becomes her biggest admirer. Meanwhile, Baumbach, fascinated with finding truth in the most hermetic and pretentious characters, decides that this exploration of female mentorship should devolve into an outright screwball farce. The movie’s unstoppable middle section -set in a Connecticut mansion- is one of the most impressive, and definitely the funniest, scenes of the year.

Screen shot 2015-12-10 at 11.21.20 p.m.4. Phoenix
(Dir. Christian Petzold, 98 min, Germany)
A Holocaust survivor comes home from the war, but her face is not the same. The only thing she wants is to be reunited with her husband, but he doesn’t recognize it. This is the conceit of Christian Petzold’s gorgeous and brutal melodrama, which accomplishes the impossible task of being a seductive and enchanting piece of dramatic cinema, while simultaneously exploring one of humanity’s darkest moments. How can one begin to reconcile, let alone understand, the emptiness that must have come after such horrifying events? Phoenix dares to try to answer those questions, and in its haunting final scene, comes as close as any movie ever will. And you can watch it on Netflix right now.

Screen shot 2015-12-10 at 11.23.25 p.m.5. Mad Max: Fury Road
(Dir. George Miller, 120 min, Australia/USA)
Cinephiles who are constantly complaining about the dire state of Hollywood blockbuster cinema might have finally found the answer they were looking for. I can’t imagine a more perfect action movie for the year of Our Lord 2015 than George Miller’s post-apocalyptic desert odyssey. Fury Road‘s two hours of non-stop action encapsulate the meaning of the word cinema. What’s even more impressive is that a movie this lean and slick could also hold one of the most exciting feminist statements of the year. Based on an ancient Aboriginal Songline, Mad Max: Fury Road is both timely and timeless. A primal legend and a furiously relevant statement at the same time.

Screen shot 2015-12-10 at 11.30.41 p.m.6. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
(Dir. Roy Andersson, 101 min, Sweden)
Two middle-aged men, who look more like deteriorating zombies than human beings, come into a store and try to sell comedic toys to a serious doctor. A man dies on a cruise ship’s dining room and the biggest question is who will eat the meal he already paid for. An old man remembers fondly the limping bartender who exchanged drinks for a sailor’s kiss. Roy Andersson has a unique and dry sense of humor. His movies are unique dioramas that explore the ridiculous emptiness of everyday life, and together, they form the most hilarious philosophical treaty imaginable, which by the way is available to stream on Netflix right now.

Screen shot 2015-12-10 at 11.35.32 p.m.7. Ex Machina
(Dir. Alex Garland, 108 min, UK)
Good science fiction movies are hard to find. Especially nowadays, when filmmakers seem to think that they need all kinds of crazy twists and turns in order to hold an audience’s attention. The truth is that no crazy reveal -no matter how original- could ever hold a candle to a well crafted exploration of a fascinating theme. Ex Machina asks relevant questions about both the future of artificial intelligence, and our contemporary ideas of what constitutes a human. All of this while being a supremely enjoyable thriller and thanks to the amazing acting trio of Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, and Alicia Vikander, as well as the visual eye of screenwriter Alex Garland in his directorial debut.

Screen shot 2015-12-10 at 11.33.00 p.m.8. Girlhood
(Dir. Céline Sciamma, 113 min, France)
Carol, Phoenix, and A Pigeon Sat on a Branch are all strong contenders for the best scene of the year. But even then, none of them can really touch the moment in which four teenage girls rent a room in a Paris Hotel and sing along to the lyrics of Rihanna’s “Diamonds”. That single scene encapsulates everything that is great about this Celine Sciamma’s wonderful coming of age story, which focuses on the kind of minoritized women who are rarely the focus of any film, let alone one as beautiful as this one. And just so you know, you can experience the best scene of the year on Netflix right now.

Screen shot 2015-12-10 at 11.40.00 p.m.9. Spotlight
(Dir. Tom McCarthy, 128 min, USA)
Spotlight is such an unassuming and well-made movie that it’s easy to forget how exceptional it really is. Beyond the excellent performances by its magnificent cast. And beyond its perfectly structured exterior, which takes the form of a well-oiled investigative thriller in the tradition of All the President’s Men, lies not only an urgent message ready to be heard (the movie focuses on the Boston Globe’s investigation of systematic sexual abuse in the Catholic Church), but a tender and humane movie that never loses track of the fact that the most important people in this story are the victims.

mmXXL_110. Magic Mike XXL
(Dir. Gregory Jacobs, 115 min, USA)
Can you imagine a world in which all men’s existence revolved around making sure women feel happy and satisfied all the time? A world in which a woman’s smile is worth more than a brand new Mercedes? Magic Mike XXL might be as close as we’ll ever be to such a paradise. Mike’s respect for women is as essential as his amazing dance moves in making him the ultimate male specimen. This movie’s fascination with women’s pleasure makes it one of the most radical and exciting movies of the year. There is barely any conflict in the plot of Magic Mike XXL, but then again, if all men were like this, there wouldn’t be any conflict in our world either.

Honorable Mentions:
About Elly
Bridge of Spies
Brooklyn
Creed
The Diary of a Teenage Girl
The Duke of Burgundy
Inside Out
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Shaun the Sheep Movie
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Timbuktu

Movie I Wish I Had Seen Before Making This List:
I’ve been desperately trying to catch up with Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence ever since I missed its theatrical run, but no luck so far. This is Oppenheimer’s second documentary about the aftermath of the Indonesian genocide. After taking a horrifying and bizarre look at the victorious “gangsters” of The Act of Killing (undoubtedly one of the best movies of this decade), the director turns his gaze toward the victims who must live amongst the people that murdered their families.

Best Movie of 2015 that Won’t Come Out until 2016:
Thanks to the folks at Lincoln Center and their Critics Academy program, I got to see a lot of movies at the New York Film Festival this year. Most of them don’t come out until next year, and the very best of those movies, was Yorgos Lanthimos’s science fiction romance The LobsterIt’s supposed to come out in the U.S. in March, and let me tell you, I’d be surprised if it doesn’t end up near the top of my list a year from now.

The Worst Movies of the Year:
It’s not always fun shitting all over the movies I don’t like, but sometimes you have to. Here’s the ten worst movies I saw this year:
1. The Wedding Ringer (directed by Jeremy Garelick)
My girlfriend and I had a joke in which we would go to the movies, and whenever the trailer for The Wedding Ringer played, we would tell each other how excited we were to see it. We got so into the joke that at some point we felt like we kind of had to see this movie we were so relentlessly mocking. I will never make such a joke again.
2. Fantastic Four (directed by Josh Trank)
It seems a little cruel putting Fantastic Four in here considering how it was taken away from director Josh Trank, reworked, and ended up barely resembling what we would call a movie. Nevertheless, I did watch it, and it was painful. 
3. Entourage
(directed by Doug Ellin)
When I was thirteen years old, I discovered the television show Entourage and thought it was totally cool. About two years later, I was already mature enough to recognize how stupidly inert it was. Watching this movie opened my eyes into exactly how misogynistic and hideous this property always was. 
4. Hot Girls Wanted
 (directed by Ronna Gradus, Jill Bauer)
This documentary presents itself as an exposé on the amateur porn industry, and follows a group of up-and-coming teenage porn actresses. It is so obsessed with proving its point that it ends up objectifying these women as much as the pornographers they work for do.
5. Lava (directed by James Ford Murphy)
and Frozen Fever (directed by Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee)
I put a short film in my “Best” list, so I thought it only fair two include these two atrocities here. Both shorts played before a major Disney release, and both were built around irritating songs. The Frozen short would’ve been disappointing if it were a DVD extra, while Lava shows the diminishing returns of Pixar wanting to make people cry with every single one of its shorts.
6. Pan (directed by Joe Wright)
I was dismayed to see Joe Wright -a director I love- be stripped of the tangible resources that make him such a great filmmaker. Someone must’ve misinterpreted his fondness for fairy tale aesthetics as a sign that he would be fit to direct a children’s movie. Silly, because all his good movies are rooted in a sort of adult sexuality. No one needed another stupid origin story, least of all Joe Wright.
7. Blackhat (directed by Michael Mann)
This movie has a sizable group of avid supporters, but I must assume they are either Michael Mann fanatics, or people who fetishize loud gun noises and shots of minimalistic architecture. If you have the faintest interest in plot, character, or entertainment, this is not the movie for you.
8. Chappie (directed by Neill Blomkamp)
Despite all of this movie’s weaknesses, despite its supremely stupid plot, and despite its suicidal decision to make South African hip-hop group Die Antwoord the (very unlikable) main characters of its story, I must admit that Chappie itself is a pretty impressive creation as far as computer generated visual effects are concerned.
9. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejón)
I still can’t believe people loved this enough to give it both the Jury and Audience award at the Sundance Film Festival. Not only is this a hacky interpretation of what an “indie movie” should look like, but it offensively uses a terminally ill girl and a racial stereotype as devices to tell the story of how a young white boy learned to love himself. Fuck that.   
10. Pitch Perfect 2 
(directed by Elizabeth Banks)
I wrote a lot in my review about how disappointed I was with the amount of racism in Pitch Perfect 2. And sure, the racist jokes themselves are disappointing, but the truly infuriating thing is that the movie shoots itself in the foot by indulging in all these “edgy” jokes. It doesn’t help that most not racist sequences are also not funny.

Biggest Surprise:
I’ve never been a Rocky fanatic. I’ve also never been one of those people who complaint the original Rocky won the Best Picture Oscar because they haven’t seen it and don’t know that it is actually a great movie. I had no interest in Creedbut the reviews were good, and so I watched it. I’m so glad I did. Not only is this an amazing melodrama, but it is part of one of my favorite trends of 2015: rejuvenating ’70s classics through diversity, as seen in Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It’s the way of the future!

Biggest Disappointment:
I heard nothing but great things about Sean Baker’s Tangerine ever since it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. It is one of the best reviewed films of the year, it is being included in many film critics’ top ten lists, and I just don’t get it. Where others saw invigorating energy, I found only noise. What other people thought was hilarious cleverness, I could barely register as jokes. A no-nonsense comedy about two transgender streetwalkers in L.A. shot on an iPhone sounds right up my alley. I was heartbroken that I didn’t really like the film.

Most Underrated:
I’ll make the case for Joy any day of the week, but the critical reaction that frustrated me the most this year was how people didn’t give Sam Taylor-Johnson’s adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey a fair shake. Sure, the movie isn’t perfect -it still had to play by the rules of its ridiculously bad source material- but its images tell a much more nuanced and empowering story than anyone could have expected. Not to mention the fact that Dakota Johnson is pure dynamite in the role of Anastasia Steele.

Most Overrated:
“The best horror movie of the decade”. That’s the kind of praise that met David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows when it came out earlier this year. Such statements were ridiculous not only because The Babadook already exists, but because It Follows is actually not a very good movie. I will admit this is a brilliant premise for a movie -a horror movie about a sexually-transmitted curse- but I was infuriated by the execution. I was one hundred steps ahead of any of the characters in knowing what was going to happen. The climax of It Follows would’ve come at the end of a better movie’s first act. A (Dis)Honorable Mention goes out to Mia Hansen-Love’s Eden

The Best Movies of 1995

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This is the official end of the 1995 Project, which became the third year, after 1992 and 2005, in my quest to find out what is the best movie of my lifetime.

I was three years old in ’95, which means I did most of my movie watching at home. I do remember having seen Pocahontas and Toy Story, and The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Movie in the theater. A revision of the year was in order. People don’t talk about ’95 as a great year for film, but I found it to be stronger than the two previous years in this project, especially when it comes to American film. There seems to have been something in the air, as the last days of Generation X cynicism mixed with a younger, more optimistic generation. Some of the very best movies of the nineties came out this year, and they’re represented in the following list…

Top Ten Best Movies of 1995

Safe951. Safe
(dir. Todd Haynes / 119 min. / USA)
A masterpiece. One of the few movies I would call perfect. There is hardly an element of the production I couldn’t rave about. Be it the tight focused script, the rigorous cinematography by Alex Nepomniaschy, the measured editing, the eerie score, the outstanding lead performance by Julianne Moore, or the thing that holds all of them together: the masterful direction by Todd Haynes. This is a tight character study on the darkest scariest aspects of contemporary life. The true horrors that are so mundane you don’t realize how sickening they are until you look closer. Haynes provides the perfect metaphor. He gets us as close to his lead character as he possibly can.

toystory952. Toy Story
(dir. John Lasseter / 81 min. / USA)
A game-changing movie if there’s ever been one. A new technical medium came to the mainstream, and even though the asinine imitators could bring anyone to pronounce themselves against the medium, one can’t argue against the brilliance of this original. The key, as with all the best Pixar, is in the story, which takes one of the most essential questions of childhood: “are my toys secretly alive?”, and takes it to the animation stratosphere. Two existential sequels followed. They’re both great, and they owe that greatness to this more than sturdy foundation.

deadman953. Dead Man
(dir. Jim Jarmusch / 121 min. / USA)
What does this darkly hilarious anti-western about a Cleveland accountant’s westward march toward death have to say about America? It’s hard to tell, but there is no question that the beautiful black and white photography, the quirky cavalcade of supporting characters, and the poetic allusions to religious and Romantic literature are all meant to paint a portrait of a land where manifest destiny is always moving, where settling down is a mistake, and where all roads lead to a grave.

whiteballoon954. The White Balloon
(dir. Jafar Panahi / 85 min. / Iran)
Panahi’s debut feature -written by cinematic master Abbas Kiarostami- is the story of a little girl who wants to buy a goldfish. The perspective is fixated on the girl as the movie unfolds like a children’s picture book that episodically introduces us to the fixtures of her Tehran neighborhood. The title is a question until the end, after the movie has revealed an intricate and humane society, and uses its final shot to ask the answer one last essential question. A triumph of simplicity, a little story that says more with a whisper than most movies do with a howl.

babe955. Babe
(dir. Chris Noonan / 91 min. / Australia)
A staple of my childhood. The pacing is more frenetic and the direction not quite as attuned as I remembered, but the magic is still there. There are a few key reasons why this is one of the best family movies ever made. For the children, it’s the fact that the movie traffics in some of the most primal fears and essential questions of discovering the world around you (which in this case, is a whimsical farm beautifully designed by Roger Ford). For the adults, it’s the bittersweet and touching relationship between a stern farmer (James Cromwell) and an unusual little pig.

seven956. Se7en
(dir. David Fincher / 127 min. / USA)
Notable as the first time Fincher got to marry his iconic style to a movie that shares his own dark philosophy. I don’t always love Fincher, but his technical prowess and innate talent for filmmaking is undeniable. His movies are always well-made, it is up to the richness of the script and the marriage between director and material whether or not they’ll be great. This is the first great movie Fincher ever made. A handsomely crafted thriller worthy of the talent behind it and the clearest omen for the masterpieces that were yet to come.

before sunrise7. Before Sunrise
(dir. Richard Linklater / 105 min. / USA)
One of the best trilogies in film history gets off to a pretty great start. It’s true that the movie retroactively gains a lot of power from its sequels, but that doesn’t mean that there is no power here. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are as charming as ever as two young lovers who meet on a Vienna-bound train, as the true magic of this movie is in the way Linklater and his cast manage to capture a magic moment while remaining truthful to a generation, human nature, and most importantly, two beautiful characters.

kickingandscreaming958. Kicking and Screaming
(dir. Noah Baumbach / 96 min. / USA)
Ignored during its initial release, Baumbach’s first feature is much stronger than people gave it credit for, and better than most of the arrested development twentysomething comedies it was compared to. Unlike the weaker entries in that genre, Baumbach’s film knows how to delve into the unsympathetic aspects of its characters while still being funny. Like the director’s best, a mix of empathy and nastiness turns this into a truthful and worthy movie.

sense and sensibility 959. Sense and Sensibility
(dir. Ang Lee / 131 min. / UK)
1995 was the year of the Jane Austen renaissance, and with good reason. This collaboration between the amazing Emma Thompson’s freshly modern screenplay and Ang Lee’s modest and meticulous direction results in the best entry in the long list of nineties prestige literary adaptations. The secret? This is not a movie about literature, costumes, or the past. It’s a story about people, passions, and the present. The impeccable work by a game ensemble makes this as immediate a story as the loudest and edgiest contemporary story ’95 could have produced.

10. Clueless
(dir. Amy Heckerling / 97 min. / USA)
Like I said above, this was the year of Jane Austen, and Amy Heckerling’s retelling of Emma takes the cake for being as much a tribute to the author as it is one of the decade’s most defining movies. Cultural relevance and greatness don’t always go hand in hand, but they are one and the same when it comes to Clueless, one of the most winning and optimistic movies ever made. A love-letter to friendliness, and the idea that the politically-minded cynicism of Generation X and the sunny optimism of the Millennial are not only capable of coexisting, but of becoming a love story.

Honorable Mentions: A Close Shave, A Little Princess, Apollo 13, Fallen Angelsand ShowgirlsI limited the honorable mentions to five, but I could’ve gone on and on listing worthy movies from this year. Even the most average movies seem to have had one or more extraordinary elements to offer.

That’s the list! Thanks for reading, and stay tuned. The next year I’ll be revisiting is 2000.

The Best Movies of 2015 So Far

Pigeon Top 10 2015It’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 Godwhich 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’ FargoThis 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

The Best Movies of 2005

top ten 2005
This is the official end of the 2005 Project, which followed last year’s Summer of ’92 in my obsessive quest to determine what is the best movie of my lifetime. The “closing ceremony”, so to speak, is a list of my top ten favorite movies of that year.

I’ve always remembered 2005 as one of the best years of my life. It mostly has to do with a number of personal reasons, but I was 13 at the time, which makes it right around the time I was discovering “grown-up” movies and television. However, fond memories and contemporary realities are different, and my taste has changed quite dramatically since then. Back then, my favorite movies of the year were A History of Violence, Match Pointand The Squid and the WhaleOnly one of those three movies remains in my top ten. Wanna find out what movies are on the list and why? You just have to keep reading…

Top ten best movies of 2005

Disclaimer: There are a couple of movies I wanted to watch before writing this article, but couldn’t find a decent copy of. I’ve made peace with catching up with most of them at some point in the future, but the one I’m really bummed I couldn’t get a hold on is Romanian director Cristi Puiu’s Cannes-winning The Death of Mr. LazarescuIt is, by all accounts, an essential film, and I couldn’t write a “best of 2005” list without mentioning it.

Grizzly101. Grizzly Man
(Dir. Werner Herzog / 103 min. / USA)
One of the most unique and excellent cinematic experiments. The Discovery Channel had loads of footage to make a movie about the life and tragic death of Timothy Treadwell. But instead of just making the movie, they handed the footage to Werner Herzog, a man whose personality can only be described as the absolutely opposite of Treadwell’s. The result is a magnetic dialogue in which Treadwell’s love for nature blooms from the afterlife, and Herzog tries to re-assemble the life of a mind he can barely grasp.

Film Title: Munich.2. Munich
(Dir. Steven Spielberg / 164 min. / USA)
A strong contender for Spielberg’s greatest movie, Munich is now more relevant than ever. Clearly a response to 9/11 and the war on terror, Spielberg boldly says what no one was willing to say at the time, and what most people are still unwilling to admit: violence will only bring more violence. And he did it by examining one of the most difficult subjects in all of contemporary politics. Years from now, this will be one of the key movies to understanding the politics of our world. We will hopefully look at it as a sign of change, and not an early omen of our failures.

pride083. Pride & Prejudice
(Dir. Joe Wright / 129 min. / UK)
The most delightful experience on this list. Jane Austen is obviously a genius. Literary adaptation are often dully swallowed by their own prestige. The beauty of Wright’s movie is in how excited he seems to be not only to be telling this story, but to be telling it as a movie. Lighting, costumes, sets, camera movements, editing, score, sounds, choreography… no cinematic elements goes unexplored in turning this into a movie that shares the lively enthusiasm of Austen’s prose and its main protagonist.

squid074. The Squid and the Whale
(Dir. Noah Baumbach / 81 min. / USA)
Of all the movies in this list, this one hit me in the most personal way. The life of the characters in Baumbach’s autobiographical movie has enough small similarities with my own personal history as to make me identify and consider some of the most upsetting elements about the aftermath of this disturbed family’s divorce. But it’s not that it only speaks to me, the level of detail Baumbach puts into the movie makes it ring true. There is enough here to find multiple ways into the mind of these characters. It’s not a “nice” movie, but it’s a deeply genuine one.

proposition pearce5. The Proposition
(Dir. John Hillcoat / 104 min. / Australia)
A perfectly made Australian western, The Proposition follows in the tradition of the genre by using its conventional set-up to explore deeper and darker elements of the soul. It not only makes reference to the most violent passages of Australia’s history, but it uses the wild frontier to examine the nature of justice, and how the cold and analytical nature of reason is easily defeated by the boiling hot passion of our humane feelings. These feelings make us human, but are they our greatest strength, or our biggest flaw?

newworld066. The New World
(Dir. Terrence Malick / 135 min* / USA)
I have a limited experience with Malick, but this is the only one of his movies that has truly spoken to me. The visuals, aided by genius cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, are amazing, and the structure of the pre-existing history of Jamestown and Pocahontas give Malick solid ground to build on. It might seem a little too new age-y at the start, but as it goes on, The New World reveals that by being fascinated with the world of the natives, John Smith is as complicit as anyone in Pocahontas’s tragic end. There is no way of approaching the virgin land without changing it forever.

threeburials057. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
(Dir. Tommy Lee Jones / 121 min. / USA)
There are imperfect elements to this screenplay, but the fact that both of Jones’s movies as a director have gotten as little recognition as they have is just criminal. In this beautiful allegorical tale, the friendship of a rugged all-american rancher and an undocumented Mexican immigrant is put to the test in the form of a typical Western quest across the Texan border. It’s quite a magical movie, full of poetic metaphors and heartbreaking parables about the human relationships between the two countries. On a more superficial level, Jones speaking Spanish is a delight.

warworlds088. War of the Worlds
(Dir. Steven Spielberg / 116 min. / USA)
Dismissed as corny and poisoned by Cruise’s bad publicity upon release, just a decade has been enough for me to recognize the gigantic intentions of this movie. Sure, the more corny aspects are still there (it is, after all, Spielberg), but then again, this *is* Spielberg. And this might very well be the quintessential disaster movie of our time. A movie that, through imagery and directorial strength, harkens back to the most primal fears of humanity in a world that has met the holocaust, 9/11, and global warming.

chappelle099. Dave Chappelle’s Block Party
(Dir. Michel Gondry /  103 min. / USA)
I considered this a fun movie when I first saw it. Nine years later, it shines as a defiant political document. Its most radical characteristic? It’s optimism. Chappelle is a great performer, but he is also a very intelligent man. On the face of the Bush administration back then, and on the face of gentrification and police violence now, Chappelle’s love-letter to the “hood” becomes an idealistic and powerful cry towards tolerance, community, and understanding. The funniest, most entertaining deeply radical film you’ll ever see.

Qi Shu10. Three Times
(Dir. Hou Hsiao-Hsien / 120 min. / Taiwan)
Determining the 10th spot was quite hard for me. I seriously considered Brokeback Mountain, Cacheand Kiss Kiss Bang Bang for this spot, but at the end, even if I wasn’t *completely* in love with Hou’s multi-temporal love stories, there are very few movies that can compare to the very best moments in Three Times. I wasn’t a big fan of the obtuse modernity of its third act, but the second act is as audacious a filmmaking exercise as you’re going to find, and the first act is one of the most gloriously romantic segments I have ever seen in any movie. And even with my reservations towards some of the segments, the juxtaposition of these three love stories is quite powerful.

Honorable Mentions: Brokeback Mountain, Cacheand Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

And in case you’re curious, here are my favorite performances of 2005:

Lead Actor: Steve Carell (The 40 Year-Old Virgin), Robert Downey Jr (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), Tommy Lee Jones (The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada), Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain), Ray Winstone (The Proposition)

Lead Actress: Joan Allen (The Upside of Anger), Q’Orianke Kilcher (The New World), Keira Knightley (Pride & Prejudice), Qi Shu (Three Times), Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line)

Supporting Actor: Jeff Daniels (The Squid and the Whale), Val Kilmer (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), Barry Pepper (The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada), Mickey Rourke (Sin City), Donald Sutherland (Pride & Prejudice)

Supporting Actress: Amy Adams (Junebug), Taraji P. Henson (Hustle & Flow), Catherine Keeener (The 40 Year-Old Virgin), Laura Linney (The Squid and the Whale), Jena Malone (Pride & Prejudice)

List of the Week: The Best Mad Men Episodes

MadMenEpisodes

I can’t imagine what this weekend’s series finale would have to do for Mad Men to not be my favorite television show of all time. I love it that much. It’s going to be a bittersweet departure, and if I’m being honest, I would be disappointed if it weren’t. What could be more Mad Men than being incredibly happy and incredibly sad at the same time?

Anyway, I knew I had to commemorate this historical occasion somehow. Last year, I thought I could make my way through all of Mad Men and write extensive reviews of every episode leading into the finale, but as it tends to happen with my projects, life happened and I couldn’t keep up. I did make it through the first two seasons, though, and you can find those reviews here.

In lieu that I didn’t make it through my original idea, I decided that, at the very list, I should share my list of the best episodes in the show’s history. I mean, if I’m going to argue that this is narrative television’s biggest achievement, I might as well provide some evidence, so her we go…

The 20 Best Episodes of Mad Men

(in chronological order)

1. Babylon (Season One, Episode Six)
The first episode of Mad Men, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”, does a wonderful job of establishing the world of the show and introducing us to its main players (thanks in no small part to director Alan Taylor), but I will contend that the show’s first truly great episode was “Babylon.” This is a true Mad Men episode of the first order, with three story-lines that connect thematically and color our understanding of the characters and the show going forward. This episode was the first to focus on the women of the show -one of the best thing about Mad Men is its female characters- and introduced us to the affair between Joan and Roger, one of the show’s defining relationships.

2. The Wheel (Season One, Episode Thirteen)
Perhaps Matthew Weiner’s biggest stroke of genius, and definitely the moment that announced Mad Men as a major contender for the pantheon of television’s greats, was how he chose to end the first season. Don’s pitch of Kodak’s carousel is so beautiful it’s almost impossible not to tear up every time I watch it, which makes the very last shot of the episode, set to Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” one of the show’s most poignant and iconic moments.

3. Maidenform (Season Two, Episode Six)
Is one of the most symbolism-heavy episodes of Mad Men, and one of the darkest episodes of television I have ever seen. It’s all about reflections, doppelgängers, and missed opportunities in an episode in which Don, Pete, Peggy, Joan, even Duck Phillips realize that they are failing at being the person they thought they could be. The last scene of the episode, with Sally watching her dad shave his beard is incredibly desolate, as the audience contemplates the futility of being human. The show didn’t end up being quite as dark in the long run, but “Maidenform” gifted the show with some deeply existential stakes.

4. Meditations in an Emergency (Season Two, Episode Thirteen)
The thing about the second season of Mad Men is that it is so uniformly great, it becomes almost impossible to point out to a stand-out episode. Even if the show hit its highest peaks in subsequent seasons, I truly believe there is not a single mediocre episode in this batch; and it all comes together beautifully in the season finale, during which the Cuban missile crisis brings the characters to reflect on their complicated pasts and their uncertain futures. Don triumphs with his power-play against Duck Phillips, Betty learns that she is pregnant, and Peggy has a heartbreaking conversation with Pete. Again, the last shot of the season has become iconic, building on the end of “The Wheel”, only this time Don sits next to his wife, not knowing how to deal with the times that are yet to come.

5. Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency (Season Three, Episode Six)
By this point, we knew Mad Men could be dark, and we knew Mad Men could be funny, we just didn’t know it would be willing to mix those elements, and what a great result said mix would deliver. Otherwise known as “the lawnmower episode”, the British start their reign at Sterling Cooper with the wrong foot (pardon the pun), and we get an amazing scene between Don and Joan. Jon Hamm and Christina Hendricks have amazing chemistry, and the way the show has wisely restrained on pairing these two has turned their few interactions into a rare televisual aphrodisiac.

6. The Gypsy and the Hobo (Season Three, Episode Eleven)
The defining moment of the Draper marriage, as Betty discovers the truth about Don’s past. It was a confrontation a long time coming, and this episode delivers in, you guessed it, incredibly bittersweet fashion. Jon Hamm is amazing, and January Jones -not the best served actress in the show’s history- shines in what is arguably Betty Draper’s greatest moment (Ok, Betty shooting the pigeons might be better, but still, this is a great episode).

7. Shut the Door, Have a Seat (Season Three, Episode Thirteen)
People who’ve only seen a couple episodes of Mad Men think I’m being disingenuous when I say it is an exciting show. Well, the season three finale is exhibit A of my argument. This beautifully executed Ocean’s Eleven-style caper made the politics of the advertising business seem like a more life-and-death situation than the dismantling of an atomic bomb. The most fun the show has ever been? Maybe, but this pivotal moment turned out to be just the beginning of what the show had in store.

8. The Suitcase (Season Four, Episode Seven)
Probably the best hour of television the show ever produced, this one-on-one bottle episode quickly became the defining blueprint to understand the nature of one of the show’s most important relationships: Don and Peggy. The fact that Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss didn’t win Emmys for their performances in this episode is just the best argument for anyone who wants the discredit the value of the Television Academy.

9. The Beautiful Girls (Season Four, Episode Nine)
This episode features the show doing two of the things it does best. The first one is turning the spotlight on some of its wonderful female characters, with story-lines focusing on Joan, Peggy, Sally, and season four recurring guest Dr. Faye Miller. The other, is the show’s rare but always efficient dark sense of humor, as we bid farewell to Ida Blankenship, one of the show’s funniest characters, in appropriately hilarious fashion.

10. Signal 30 (Season Five, Episode Four)
Saying Pete Campbell is an unlikable character is an understatement. But while most people hate Pete, he is one of my favorite characters just because of how unique he is Being born at the precise moment where he is too young to reap the fruit of the all-american fifties lifestyle, but too old to be part of the sixties counter-culture, Pete is a truly fascinating character, dreaming of becoming a man that is about to become extinct. This is my favorite Pete-centric episode, because we waited five season for Pete to be punched in the face, and then “Signal 30” decides it can’t land said punch without making us feel a little sorry for the guy.

11. Far Away Places (Season Five, Episode Five)
Mad Men had played with tone and structure in the past, but “Far Away Places” took the experimentation to a whole new level. Build as a non-chronological triptych of stories focused on Peggy, Roger, and Don (and Megan), this episode not only had fun with the way the story was being told, but made the most out of it by featuring some of the show’s most memorable moments. Megan’s orange sherbet, Peggy’s handjob at the movie theater, and Roger’s first LSD trip are all classics.

12. The Other Woman (Season Five, Episode Ten)
Staying on the topic of structural experiments, “The Other Woman” is notable not only because it is a great Joan episode (that would re-define the character going into the show’s second half), but because it used structure both as a way to misdirect and surprise the audience, and the make the punchline an effectively hurtful one. Also, Don kisses Peggy’s hand, and it means so much on so many levels.

13. Commissions and Fees (Season Five, Episode Eleven)
Lane Pryce was as impenetrable as he was endearing. The endearing part is easy to grasp; when I say impenetrable, I mean it was hard to put myself in his shoes, considering his old-fashioned sense of honor and etiquette. In any case, our clearest link to Europe, aka the “old world”, couldn’t have stayed with us until the end of the show, and Lane makes his exit in appropriately spectacular fashion. Plus, I’m a sucker for a good Sally storyline, and this episode has one of the best (and most controversial) ones.

14. The Crash (Season Six, Episode Seven)
The ultimate example of Mad Men‘s willingness to experiment, in “The Crash”, the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce are injected with a stimulant that is supposed to give them inspiration, but ends up sending them into a hazy hallucination of a weekend. It’s not easy to make sense of this episode, but it’s an achievement, and if nothing else, gave us this.

15. The Better Half (Season Six, Episode Eight)
On first glance, I thought this episode was a little too obvious on the way it connected its themes, focusing on the characters’ relationships and their “better halves.” However, as time has gone by, it has grown on me tremendously. Its biggest achievement is that after being the weakest link for two seasons, it gives Betty a much needed recovery. She was down in the pits for a while, but this episode had her emerge gloriously revamped.

16. In Care Of (Season Six, Episode Twelve)
It’s hard to beat “The Suitcase”, but if there is any other option for Jon Hamm’s finest hour, it’s got to be the season six finale. Don’s Hershey’s pitch is the most important development for the show going into the final round, and Hamm delivers. Also, the relationship between Don and Sally might be my favorite, and after putting it to the test, this season offers a more than satisfying resolution in the last moments of this finale…

17. A Day’s Work (Season Seven, Episode Two)
…And talking about the Don-Sally relationship, season seven picks up at a pivotal moment for the father and daughter. Don spends much of a day in which little work is done with his daughter, and their scene at the diner ends up becoming the most essential moment to understanding just how complicated and messed up their father-daughter relationship really is.

18. The Strategy (Season Seven, Episode Six)
I know I just said Don and Sally is my favorite relationship, but just thinking about the slow-dancing to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” makes me think I was a fool for believing, even for a second, that there is anything that can top the complicated, destructive, hilarious, empowering relationship between Don and Peggy. With scenes that resembled many fans’ dreams as closely as the “My Way” dance, and the dinner at Burger Chef, it was just so gratifying, going into the last batch of episodes, to know that the show knew where its heart was.

19. Waterloo (Season Seven, Episode Seven)
Peggy has a huge moment of triumph! And after a dreadfully stressful season, Don does it again! Somehow, he manages to end up back on top. But, hey, wait a minute. What is that? The best things in life are free? A perfect farewell for Robert Morse, and an even more perfect set-up for the end of an amazing show.

20. Time & Life (Season Seven, Episode Eleven)
The last half-season of the show got off on a slow start, but by calling back to some of the most memorable moments in the show’s history, “Time & Life” was an exhilarating hour of television. The gang decides to stage one last coup, but the results are not what they expected. The end of an era indeed, now we just have to wait and see where our favorite characters land as the show wraps up this weekend.

And even then, this list means leaving out a number of fantastic episodes of television. “At the Codfish Bowl”, “For Immediate Release”, “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword”, “Three Sundays” they could all be among the best episodes of any series. Hell, “My Old Kentucky Home” should be on this list based on one line alone. The fact they aren’t on this list only shows what a great show Mad Men has been. It will miss it, even if I know that if the show could talk, it would quote Trudy Campbell and say “I’m jealous of your ability to be sentimental about the past.”

The Best Movies of 2014

We are the best

Well, we’re finally here. I’m sorry this took a little while, but I’ve had a very busy January. Anyway, 2014 -and all its social troubles- is gone. While we try to make 2015 better, let’s take some time to look at the best movies that were released last year, which more often than not ended up dealing with some of the year’s biggest issues.

2015 was a year marked by social discrepancy, and fights for equality from all kinds of minority groups: Women, racial minorities, LGBTQ people… and I think that the movies that resonated the most with me -while displaying pretty fantastic filmmaking on their own right- dealt in their way with the struggle for equality, happiness, and fairness. Many of these movies seem to be telling us why it’s important to never be quiet, to always be fighting for what is right. Even if we fail, it’s important to take a stance. Anyway, without further ado, here are my favorite movies of 2014…

The 10 Best Movies of 2014:

GrandBudapestHotel1. The Grand Budapest Hotel
(Wes Anderson, 100 min., USA)

“To be frank, I think his world had vanished long before he ever entered it – but, I will say: he certainly sustained the illusion with a marvelous grace”

On first glance, a perfectly constructed and hilarious adventure, that operates with the precision of a swiss watch: always moving forward and carefully sheltered by the narrative equivalent of a Russian nesting doll. But if we look further, we will find The Grand Budapest Hotel to be the culmination of Wes Anderson’s career as a director, and a sort of manifesto through which he decided to prove that the obsessively twee and mannered movies he loves making have a place in this world. Set in a fictional land before the rise of an alternate version of Nazism, this is a love letter for delicate things, and the value of beautiful art in the face of destruction. Monsieur Gustave H (a magnificent Ralph Fiennes) holds on to the ideal of a time that has evaporated, but the fact that such a world might have vanished, doesn’t mean that it’s not fighting for.

UndertheSkin2. Under the Skin
(Jonathan Glazer, 108 min., UK)

“When is the last time you touched someone?”

A new kind of star vehicle for Scarlett Johansson (who thank to this movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Lucy made 2014 into her banner year). Also, an experimental film in which the movie star plays an alien that drives around Scotland luring unsuspecting men into her deadly hive. The third movie by Jonathan Glazer is a masterpiece of miss en scene, using striking imagery and Mica Levi’s haunting score, to create some of the most iconic and stirring sequences of the year. But Under the Skin is also a story of the predator becoming the prey, that culminates in a fatalistic look at the role of female sexuality in modern society. Not even a man-eating alien is safe in our sexist world.

SELMA3. Selma
(Ava DuVernay, 127 min., USA)

I know you are asking today, “How long will it take?” Somebody’s asking, “How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne?” Somebody’s asking, “When will wounded justice, lying prostrate on the streets of Selma and Birmingham and communities all over the South, be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men?” Somebody’s asking, “When will the radiant star of hope be plunged against the nocturnal bosom of this lonely night, plucked from weary souls with chains of fear and the manacles of death? How long will justice be crucified, and truth bear it? I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because truth crushed to earth will rise again.

That’s the MLK quote with which I opened my review of Ava DuVernay’s portrayal of the Civil Rights Movement. One of the most powerful experiences I had at the cinema all year, and one of the most rewarding. Beyond that, I think the quote speaks for itself.

WeAretheBest4. We Are the Best!
(Lukas Moodysson, 102 min., Sweden)

“Hate the sport! Hate the sport!”

Three thirteen-year-old girls for a punk band in 1980s Stockholm. They suck, and they have the time of their lives. Lukas Moodysson is perhaps one of the most observant directors in the world (if you need proof, watch 2000’s Together), and it’s still very surprising that a middle-aged man could so perfectly capture the complexly mundane inner life of three female teens. I mean, I’ve never been a thirteen-year-old girl, but my God, does this movie remind me of the girls I knew in middle school, of the questions and fears I’ve heard them talk about, and most importantly, of the joy that a teen can experience when they finally find that one thing. Every girl and every body in the world should see this movie! Pardon the pun, but it is, after all, just the best.

The Homesman5. The Homesman
(Tommy Lee Jones, 122 min., USA/France)

-Tell me just a kind word.
-Like what?
-That I’m a good woman… I helped you.

Tommy Lee Jones’s second movie as a director premiered to muted reviews at the Cannes Film Festival and was barely seen during its U.S. release. Not surprising, since it is a western that is hugely informed by the history of the genre, but a pity nonetheless, since it is one of the most powerful movies I saw all year. In it, Hilary Swank and Jones himself team-up to travel across the West and bring three crazy women to a sanatorium. What starts out as a feminist take on the western, reveals itself to be something much darker and relevant. It is a story about human ambivalence and its role in American society, as well as a carefully made movie, where every detail is as bold as it is specific.

Snowden6. Citizenfour
(Laura Poitras, 114 min., Germany/USA)

“At this stage I can offer nothing more than my word. I am a senior government employee in the intelligence community. I hope you understand that contacting you is extremely high risk and you are willing to agree to the following precautions before I share more. This will not be a waste of your time.”

An outstanding feat of journalism. The fact that filmmaker Laura Poitras had access to film the encounter during which Edward Snowden first leaked the NSA’s secrets into the world is in and on itself pretty remarkable, but Citizenfour is truly invaluable as a document that will forever show, on record, how this historical meeting went down. That Poitras does as outstanding a job as she does portraying Snowden in an objective light, and that she manages to turn this story into an espionage thriller more exciting than any Bourne movie is almost unbelievable. But here we are, and I am thankful for a movie as visceral and angry in its portrayal of a country at a moral crossroad as Citizenfour. Only time will tell where America goes from here, but the fact that this moment has been documented is notable worth.

Joaquin Phoenix in Inherent Vice7. Inherent Vice
(Paul Thomas Anderson, 148 min., USA)

“… as long as American life was something to be escaped from, the cartel would always be assured a bottomless pool of new customers.”

On first glance, a fantastic experiment. Paul Thomas Anderson steps out of his comfort zone to indulge in a ridiculously nonsensical neo-noir that is as much a poignant comedy as it is a structural portrayal of what it’s like to be stoned out of your mind. On second glance, though, this is a continuation of Anderson’s recent fascination with retelling American history, and exploring the forces to clashed in order to shape the country that we live in today. This time, the hippie dream of an alternative life outside the system is devoured by the merciless bite of vertical integration. One Nation under capitalism and so on…

TaleofPrincessKaguya8. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
(Isao Takahata, 137 min., Japan)

“Go round, come round, come round, O distant time
Come round, call back my heart
Birds, bugs, beasts, grass, trees, flowers
Teach me how to feel
If I hear that you pine for me, I will return to you”

This animated folk tale from veteran Studio Ghibli director Isao Takhata ends up being a very interesting companion film to Under the Skin, as the story of a tiny girl who is found by an elderly couple inside a bamboo tree becomes a feminist tragedy, in which a young girl’s will -even if she is a lunar princess- is nothing against the rigid social system that surrounds her. Delivering its message in the form of gorgeously delicate hand-painted animation, the last few minutes of The Tale of the Princess Kaguya moved me in a way that very few movies ever have.

BlueRuin

9. Blue Ruin
(Jeremy Saulnier, 90 min., USA)

You know what’s awful? Just ’cause my dad loved your mom… we all end up dead.

A popular way to describe this movie is as “No Country for Old Men, starring an idiot”. As effective an anti-violence film as I have ever seen, Blue Ruin is, first of all, an outstanding exercise on building up tension thanks to director Jeremy Saulnier’s amazing use of lighting, sound, and atmospheric music. Macon Blair stars as a man who, after many years, decides to finally take revenge for his parents’ murder, entering a seemingly never-ending circle of violence and blood. And because he is not an action hero, but just a regular dude, we can see the horrific results that come out of trying to be the protagonist of a revenge story. Fascinating for film lovers, and exciting for everyone, the scars of Blue Ruin will stay with you for a long time.

Boyhood10. Boyhood
(Richard Linklater, 165 min., USA)

“You know how everyone’s always saying seize the moment? I don’t know, I’m kind of thinking it’s the other way around, you know, like the moment seizes us.”

The more specific things are, the more universal they become. That might be one of the biggest cliches you’ve ever heard about movies, but it seems to be the mantra through which director Richard Linklater has become one of the most reliable chroniclers of contemporary life in cinema. As the above quote demonstrates, Linklater is a filmmaker that doesn’t shy away from the clunky and imperfect philosophy that can be found in our every day life, and Boyhood, a twelve-years-in-the-making portrait of a boy growing up into a man, somehow manages to capture the insignificance of our lives in comparison to the infinite power of time, and be a celebration of the act of living at the same time.

Honorable Mentions
11. Listen Up Philip (Alex Ross Perry)
12. The Double (Richard Ayoade)
13. Ernest & Celestine (Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar, Benjamin Renner)
14. Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-ho)
15. The Immigrant (James Gray)
16. The Trip to Italy (Michael Winterbottom)
17. The Babadook (Jennifer Kent)
18. Life Itself (Steve James)
19. They Came Together (David Wain)
20. Beyond the Lights (Gina Price-Bythewood)

The Worst Movie of the Year
Because I’m not a professional critic, but just a guy that loves movies and writing about them, I don’t have a boss or an editor that assigns me to watch movies that I think I’m probably going to hate. So, even though I sometimes have self-hating impulses that make me watch shit like The Desolation of SmaugI don’t usually see most of the things that end in worst-of-the-year lists. Things like Jersey Shore Massacre and A Haunted House 2I have not seen. I did see a lot of movies that I didn’t like this year, but if I’m being completely honest, there is only three movies that stand out amongst the pack. They are the dull and inartistic thriller Transcendencethe tone-deaf remake of Annie, and Clint Eastwood’s propagandistic American Sniper.

Other Movies You Should Avoid: Jersey Boys, Men Women and Children, Noah, The Imitation Game, and Begin Again  

Biggest Surprise 
Every trailer I saw for Luc Besson’s Lucy made me think it would be the most idiotic of movies. The “we only use 10% percent of our brains” schtick is more than tired at this point, especially after Transcendence proved how cataclysmically boring a movie about a man turning into a supercomputer could be. Much to surprise, Lucy, which is still a very silly movie that isn’t nearly as deep as Besson probably wants it to be, turned out to be one of the most exciting pieces of entertainment of the summer. Anchored by a fantastic Scarlett Johansson performance (again, she had 2014 on a leash) and Besson’s determination to make his own hyperactive version of The Tree of Life, Lucy towers over almost all of this year’s big Hollywood productions by virtue of being so unafraid of taking weird chances. Not all of them payed off, but it’s a fascinating film to watch nonetheless.

Biggest Disappointment
It would have to be recent Golden Globe winner How to Train Your Dragon 2a movie that is full of gorgeous visuals and state-of-the-art animation, but takes the anti-war message of its lovely predecessor and throws it in the garbage. It turns the story of Hiccup and Toothless into another generic “you’re the chosen one” piece of trash. When 2014 started, I was so excited to revisit Berk, and learn about awesome new kinds of dragons. Instead, I got a clunky Star Wars rip-off. 

Best Blockbuster
There are movies I really liked, like Lucy and Snowpiercer, that follow the template set up by mainstream Hollywood blockbusters and do something interesting, new, and invigorating with it. But both of those movies were not only directed by foreign directors, but largely financed with foreign money a.k.a. made outside the Hollywood Studio system. Out of the blockbusters released this year, the only one that I would call great is Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla, the one big studio release this year that understood that blockbuster entertainment is about the sensorial experiences that can be created with sound and pictures, and not about shooting some explosions and intercutting them with some funny lines of dialogue. It is also the only blockbuster this year that knows how important it is to convey the (physical and thematic) relationship between the monumental destruction of its giant monsters and its human protagonists.

Most Underrated Movie
If you’re British, you might recognize Richard Ayoade as one of the guys from The IT CrowdIf you’re American, you might recognize him as one of the unfortunate actors that starred in The Watch. If you’re me, then you know he is one of the most exciting rising talents as far as British directors are concerned. His feature debut Submarine was one of my favorites the year it was released, but with The Doublea Franz Kafka meets Terrry Gilliam story about doppelgängers and corporate ambivalence- he has made his first truly great film. The production design, sound, music (by Andrew Hewitt) and amazing performances (by Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska) all come together in a way that few directors can achieve, and that has me really excited for what he’s going to do next. 

Most Overrated Movie
A lot of people were impressed by Steven Knight’s Lockea movie in which Tom Hardy is the only actor on screen, as he drives his car through the highway and tries to put his messy life in order in the process. To be fair, Hardy gives a commendable performance, showing he is full of interesting choices, and charismatic enough to hold your attention for close to 90 minutes, but on the other hand, there was nothing about seeing this man try to be a good person that was particularly interesting to me. It was yet another story about a middle aged man feeling guilty about the choices he’s made in life. If you are a fan of the art of pouring concrete into construction sites and want to hear Hardy talk extensively about it, then watch Locke. Otherwise, you’re better off skipping it. 

List of the Week: Those Silly Globes

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The Globes giveth and the Globes taketh away… In honor of the occasion, let me do a quick list of the nominations that made me jump off my seat, and the ones that me groan at my computer. Without further ado, the “Best” and “Worst” of this year’s Golden Globe nominations!

Best:

1. The Grand Budapest Hotel had a very good morning, with four very valuable nominations on its way to the Oscars, including a Best Lead Actor (Comedy or Musical) citation for Ralph Fiennes’ outstanding work, and even more surprisingly, a Best Director nomination for Wes Anderson. Could this finally be the year that he breaks big with the Academy? The timing wouldn’t be bad, since Budapest is his best film yet.

2. I must admit I’m not caught up with the show, but I really loved the first few episodes of Jane the VirginSo much so, that I wrote about it on the blog. If you read that article, then you already know I’m ecstatic at the show being nominated for Best Comedy or Musical Series, and that its star, the lovely Gina Rodriguez, is also nominated. The feat is even more impressive when you consider the fact that the show airs on the CW, a channel whose awards traction is usually relegated to the Teen Choice Awards.

3. Another great new series that got more traction that I expected, is Amazon’s lovely TransparentI was expecting Jeffrey Tambor to get nominated for his amazing performance, but the show getting in for Best Comedy or Musical Series is a wonderful, and deserving, surprise.

4. Keeping the conversation to television, I was also super happy to see Orange is the New Black get three nominations after it didn’t get much last year. Even Uzo Adubo managed to get a Supporting Actress nomination. It also look like it might be the front-runner to win the Best Comedy Series award, and I’m more than ok with that.

5. I don’t want to sound like one of those people who get excited for a movie they haven’t seen yet, but just the fact that Selma director Ava DuVernay got a nomination, which means she’s very likely to become the first African-American Woman to get nominated for a Best Director Oscar (maybe even win!), makes me very, very happy.

Worst:

1. It was also a big morning for The Imitation Gamewhich is not a horrible movie, but presents a level of mediocrity that shouldn’t be rewarded by awards bodies, and yet, it very often is. It’s definitely got to do with the fact that awards puppet-master Harvey Weinstein is backing the film, but still, five nominations is way too much for this disappointment of a movie.

2. Just a couple days ago I wrote about my Golden Globe wish-list in the comedy categories. None of those wishes came to pass, and the most heartbreaking one was Jenny Slate being ignored in the Best Lead Actress Comedy or Musical category. Her performance in Obvious Child is one of the best in any genre this year, but I guess they just had to make room for Quvenzhané Wallis in Annie (which by the way, is a horrendous movie that doesn’t capture an ounce of the sparkle Wallis showed in Beasts of the Southern Wild, instead turning her into an uncharismatic zombie).

3. The LEGO Movie and The Boxtrolls are pretty good, and I haven’t seen The Book of Life, but the Animated Feature category feels very disappointing this year. Nominating five films and not making room for The Tale of Princess Kaguya is just wrong. Well, I guess they just had to nominate such big-studio nonsense as Big Hero 6 and How to Train Your Dragon 2

4. In the television categories, nothing makes me more depressed than the fact that Ray Donovan stars Liev Schreiber and Jon Voight took two nominations that could have gone to any number of deserving actors. I don’t watch the show regularly, but I’ve seen my dad watch it enough times to know it’s pretty bad.

5. I don’t have anything against Robert Duvall personally, but it’s starting to look like he’ll be nominated for the Oscar, which means my obsessive brain won’t leave alone until I watch The Judge, and judging by the reviews and that dismal trailer, I really, really, don’t want to.

You can see a full list of this year’s Golden Globe nominations here.