10. Fast & Furious 7
“Furious 7 is possibly the most well-directed entry in the series. Some of the cinematography is dizzying. Director James Wan has a clear eye for shooting action scenes. There are four major set-pieces, and each one is viscerally thrilling. The skydiving cars and mountain chase sequences are particularly excellent, standing out as two of the most brilliantly constructed set-pieces in the entire series. On the slightest of downsides, this part comes early on in the film, and is unmatched by any of the later sequences or car chases. All the returning actors turn in commendable work (if you like them in the previous films, you’re going to like them here), newcomer Jason Statham is a powerhouse villain, and Kurt Russell is always fun to watch.” – Read Ryan MacLean’s full review.
9. While We’re Young
“As one would expect, many of the While We’re Young‘s jokes come from the situational comedy of an older couple hanging out with young hipsters. While the scenes of hip-hop dance classes and purging rituals are really quite funny, the film sometimes slips into the kind of slapstick humor that seems far more in line with [Actor Ben Stiller’s] older films than the tone initially established in this one. Despite such moments of tonal incongruity, Stiller and [co-star Naomi Watts] always manage to find the emotional core in each scene. [While actress Amanda Seyfried] is disappointingly underused, even as she grabs your attention in every scene she’s in, it’s Adam Driver’s performance (with his untraditional looks and oddly over-thought body language) who delivers an exceptional performance as a complicated character, that leaves the viewer with more than a few things to think about when it comes to the nature of honesty in film and in life.” – Read Richard Newby’s full review.
“Writer and director Rick Famuyiwa’s coming of age comedy romanticizes ’90s hip-hop culture within the black community in the same way that a majority of modern teen comedies set in suburbia romanticize the ’80s. The beats and lyrics of Nas and Public Enemy replace that of Pat Benatar and Peter Gabriel; the school bullies aren’t letterman wearing jocks but red-clad Bloods; and what happens at prom is far less romantically significant than what happens on the sidewalk. Like a love-child of Spike Lee and John Hughes, Dope balances its honest portraitures of blackness and neighborhood life with teenage wish-fulfillment and narrative convenience. Dope is deliberately modern and unique in its approach to filmmaking, announcing itself as far more than a sampling of familiar tracks. In terms of direction, there hasn’t been a drama or comedy this year that displays quite the same kind of visual artistry that Famuyiwa, editor Lee Haugen, and cinematographer Rachel Morrison display here. There are enough clever audio-visual tricks, from split-screen, narration, cutaways, and rewinds, to stand up against any Edgar Wright film. Inglewood has never been displayed as dynamically as it is here, and there’s never any doubt that the players behind the scenes know its streets just as well as the characters in front of the camera.” –Read Richard Newby’s full review.
7. It Follows
“The heart-racing third act is evidence that horror movies don’t need 3D to make their audiences duck and cower. The climax’s success is largely due to [director David Robert Mitchell] avoiding the invitation of fatigue by prematurely using the most frightening moments too early on. Smarter still, It Follows resists providing a third act explanation for its featured entity. While most horror films can’t resist providing a thematically deflating backstory, Mitchell knows that the most successful aspect of horror comes in the things that can’t be explained. But that doesn’t mean the film is without answers or meaning. While it’s easy to state the film as an allegory for STDs, it’s also something far more complex than that. It Follows aims to capture sexual anxiety, in the form of a willingness to engage in the act, and the questions of what comes next. When [actress Maika Monroe] and another character ask each other if they feel differently post-intercourse, they both reply no. Yet we know they’re lying. The whole film is built on that adolescent notion of feeling different afterward, of being haunted by something younger and older than oneself. It Follows is a beautiful, intimate, and transformative experience that will leave you shaken.” – Read Richard Newby’s full review.
6. Appropriate Behavior
“[Actress Desiree Akhavan] plays Shirin with eye-rolling disdain for everything around her, but not in a detached or passionless way. Shirin has a fire in her that makes you sit up straight, and Akhavan has that same fire as a writer and a director. One of its greatest successes is its ability to poke fun at Brooklynites without coming across as reactionary or cynical. Akhavan’s camera treats them neutrally, refusing to hypocritically pass judgment, though that doesn’t detract from the film’s 30 Rock-esque sense of humor. At first, the slightly heightened tone of the jokes seems to be at odds with the film’s kinda-rough, indie aesthetic, but the jokes are funny enough that it didn’t make much of a difference. Akhavan’s performance really pulls it all together, though, with her monotone derisiveness being profound enough to allow for complex displays of emotion. Akhavan’s ability to keep all those balls in the air (writing, directing, and acting) is evidence of an immense talent.” – Read Josh Rosenfield’s full review.
At just 17 minutes in length, World of Tomorrow, [director] Don Hertzfeldt’s follow-up to his philosophical and experimental masterpiece It’s Such a Beautiful Day, manages to distinguish itself as one of 2015’s funniest, sincerest, most honest, and wise films. The speculative science in the fiction isn’t anything new, but it hits so deep, the viewer is left with the sense of having seen nothing like it before. Hertzfeldt re-registers his trademark of dressing fear as wisdom, presenting our fleeting, temporal existence as beauty, and adding lighthearted chuckles to mortal tragedy. Hertzfeldt is one of the best and bravest artists working in film (or any other medium) and this condensed experience offers as much as any other film this year. – David Shreve
4. Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
“Kurt Cobain was a poet, using the distortion of guitars and vocal chords to express himself to the world. Loud (but not abrasive) Cobain channeled pure emotion into his music. There will be those who can’t see beyond the perception that Kurt Cobain was constantly filled with depression and angst, lashing out at the world for his problems. Montage of Heck shatters that notion in order to reveal the headspace of grunge’s most well-known artist. The film doesn’t ask you to come to a decision on whether or not you like the artist and his work, it merely presents to you what was going on in his life at a certain point in time.” – Read Diego Crespo’s full review.
3. Ex Machina
“It doesn’t hurt that Ex Machina is such an aesthetic pleasure. Cinematographer Rob Hardy has a tendency to make things look like those Apple computer commercials, with close-up shots of a product against a white backdrop. This is the era of the White & Grey Future, where symmetry and minimalism dominate design. It’s all attractively slick, full of sharp digital imagery that befits a film about something digital and sharp. Intrusions of color are sudden and overwhelming; more than once, the house where the film takes place is entirely bathed in red light due to “power cuts,” and the complete change in color comes to signify the shifting power dynamics between the three main characters. Ex Machina is visually simplistic, but then again, so is the front of an iPhone until you turn it on.” – Read Josh Rosenfield’s full review.
2. The Look of Silence
“[Director Joshua Oppenheimer] doesn’t abandon his theories about the innate power of cinema in Look of Silence; far from it, his thesis here is far less direct or outwardly experimental in its explication, but its simplicity packs a punch of its own. The subject switches from film itself to the camera, displaying the power of its presence. [The film’s featured protagonist] Adi could never get away with talking to these people the way he does under normal circumstances. Refusing to entertain any pretense of innocence in their interactions, Adi tries to force them to admit their guilt. He puts them on trial, relentlessly demanding that they come clean about their actions. “You ask deeper questions than even Joshua did,” exclaims one, referring to the soft prodding approach that Oppenheimer took, comparatively infuriated at Adi’s piercing accusations. [The men in Oppenheimer’s film] still hold tremendous political and social power in Indonesia. Some of them could very well have Adi dragged out and shot for his insolence. And why don’t they? Because they’re on camera. None of them would kill someone if they thought there would be consequences, and that’s what the camera represents. Once it’s on film, it’s out of their control, and it could be seen by people with the power to do something about it. The camera protects Adi from harm, acting as a neutral witness whose very existence is a threat to immoral behavior. Though this shouldn’t diminish Adi’s courage in standing up to these men, of course. He’s still taking an immense personal risk in doing so, and knowing that makes those scenes punishingly intense to watch.” – Read Josh Rosenfield’s full SxSW review.
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
“[Actor Tom Hardy] lends a despair-fueled rabidness, and with paranoid shifting eyes and jerky motions in the shoulders and neck, we end up with a much more feral and animalistic Max than we’ve ever seen before. Hardy continues to build on his impressive body of work, pulling from roles in which he merely occupies the space of intimidation, often wordlessly. Which really just clears the way for Imperator Furiosa, the film’s true hero. In a film that is decisively feminist, and in an imagined world where the only thing that ever stops the forward-moving action is the exhibited life-giving force of a stunning Rosie Huntington, and in a world in which the baddest man in modern movies can be reduced to a sniper pedestal for a more accurate triggerwoman, [actress Charlize Theron] is the perfect central manifestation of feminine complexity, beauty, and strength. As a standard, I know one needs to wait and think before applying any accurate historical ranking of a film. But, right now, fresh off my introduction to the film, it distinctly feels as though the terms in which we think of action movies has been fundamentally changed, and we may have to adjust the way we speak of them in regards to the past and the present; action movies that were once “good” might now just be “passable,” and action movies that were once “passable” now feel like a “waste of time.””- Read David Shreve’s full review.