Discoveries of 2015

About Elly

America finally gets a release of one of the most talked about Iranian films. The less said about this film the better. It’s a slow burn to a great final act and you’re absolutely want to see this film blind. Asghar Farhadi is establishing himself as one of the best international filmmakers and going back to this work only solidifies his status in the world of cinema.

Ashes and Diamonds

This one is a bit of a cheat because I’ve seen it before, but watching it again, I finally came to appreciate it. The film oozes with romantic fatalism and the black and white photography is gorgeous. It’s a film filled with tons of tiny, beautiful moments.

Black Moon

What an absurd little film. Part of the joy of this film is just watching the madness unfold, but it always feels like there’s some bizarre logic to that madness. As the world falls apart, so does the sanity of the film as it falls into more and more absurdity.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Possibly the best looking film I saw all year, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a visual powerhouse. The film casually oozes sex and violence all whilst using the horror genre as a means to express feminism in a part of the world where women are often denied a voice.

The Human Condition

This epic six part film is one of the most ambitious examinations of war committed to film. Starting with a POW labor camp and then moving to the battlefield, it’s a series that feels like it takes on a holistic look at the cost of war. It’s a true epic.

Meshes of the Afternoon

This short, experimental film plays a lot with identity and image. It’s images are some of the most surreal and chilling I’ve seen in a film. Wordlessly told, the story here is about as abstract and incomprehensible as they come, but the image and mood lingers long after the film has ended.

Mind Game

Unbridled and absurd, Mind Game wanders into dense philosophical ideas with an air of irreverence. The film does take those ideas seriously, but explores them in the silliest way possible. Life, death, God, the nature of man and more are pondered by the film, but with a wink and a smile at the audience. Life is one grand big game for this film and what an entertaining game it is.

Monsters

A great mid-budget flick that focuses more or tone and setting than special effects and spectacle. A lot of what sells the film are the tiny moments of human perseverance in a world falling apart. Most similar movies would want to focus on big, important heroes. Here we see the world through the eyes of two ordinary characters and that makes all the difference.

Onibaba

The creepiest film I saw all year. The amount of claustrophobia produced by setting it amongst reeds makes even the mundane moments unnerving and tense. It’s a bit of a slow burn, the final act is where things get explosive and it’s worth waiting it out to get to those scenes.

Outer Space (1999)

Another short film makes the list. I love how the film builds itself as a visual assault on the viewer. The rapid editing and the obscured images make for a film that deliberately alienates the viewer. The result is a film that uses the very basics of making movies to generate something horrific and unnerving on an almost primal level.

Popeye

One of the more unusual adaptations I’ve ever seen. Part musical, part Marxist drama, part real-life cartoon, Popeye is a fascinating film. I’m not sure all of it is good and the final act feels a bit like it jumps the shark, but it remains one of the most memorable and distinct movie experiences I had all year.

Sisters

Brian De Palma does it again. His pulpy sense of filmmaking brews up another unnerving thriller/horror flick about a woman having a nervous breakdown after she believe she’s witnessed a murder. Like a good De Palma film, the pulpy narrative blended with artistic flourishes takes b-movie grade plot and turns it into an arthouse outing.

Stranger than Paradise

I can’t think of a cast of characters I enjoyed more this year. There’s nothing particularly special about these characters, they’re all sort of bums just eeking out the bare minimum in life, but they’re portrayed with such a warmth and affection that I adored them by the end of the film. The strong performances by John Lurie, Eszter Balint and Richard Edson make the trio of characters come to life.

Summertime

An aged Katherine Hepburn spends a summer in Venice and looks for love. Cultural barriers and time conspire against her in this quest. There’s a lot of warmth to this film. It’s not just in the story, but etched into every image of the film with the rich colors and vibrant architecture of the beautiful city of Venice. It’s a film just as much in love with a place as it is with its characters.

Tess

The anti-period drama. There’s a lot more griminess and messiness to Tess than most films made of this era. Instead of ballroom dances, there’s a lot of time spent going on about just how difficult life could be in this era. It’s an idea story for Roman Polanski to tell, and yet somehow even that darkness won’t be overwhelmed by the end of the film.

Tucker and Dale vs Evil

Stupid, hilarious fun. Two bumbling hillbillies accidentally get caught up in a series of accidents that make it look like they are murdering a group of teens who are camping in the area. Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine are the main attraction here, two magnificent comedic performances that totally sell a setup that might otherwise fallen flat. It’s another in a long line of comedies subverting horror and it might be the funniest one this side of Evil Dead 2.

Two Days, One Night

Marion Cotillard’s performance as a woman suffering from depression and forced to fight for her job combined with the Dardenne brothers’ cinematic realism results in the most gut-wrenching movie I saw in 2015. It’s a simple work, but one that speaks so profoundly into the difficulties facing those suffering from mental illness.

Two or Three Things I Know About Her

Godard continues to delight and stimulate me with his provocative, beautiful films. This one deals heavily in identity, reality, language and the fabric of the universe itself. Godard is one of cinema’s great philosophers and Two or Three Things I Know About Her is one of his finest films.

World on a Wire

A progenitor of The Matrix, World on a Wire is a fantastic, mind-bending sci-fi drama. The completely artificial computer world monitored by the protagonist soon becomes the means to ask a lot of the same philosophical questions that The Matrix poses, although with a lot less gunplay and a lot more philosophizing.

Director

The Films of Satyajit Ray (Charulata, The Music Room, The Big City)

Three of the most warm, the most human, and the most delightful films I saw this year came from Satyajit Ray’s body of work. It’s the characters that truly make these films. They’re people that are endearing and often tragically flawed. Simply spending time with them in even the most mundane moments is a delight.

  • I had The Human Condition as my Blind Spot for last year. What a fucking trilogy that is. I love it. I also just saw the Apu trilogy last month. I hope to do more Ray this year.