The Top 30 Films of 2015

 

phoenix-movie

15.) Phoenix

Director Christian Petzold made a bold choice with Phoenix: to steal from film classics like Vertigo and Dark Passage, but to invert those films’ points of view. Rather than ending in disaster, Phoenix restores a sense of agency to its female protagonist and enrichens her story. Nelly (Nina Hoss), a disfigured survivor of a concentration camp, returns home wrapped in bandages. Reconstructive surgery restores her features but makes her appearance just dissimilar enough to confuse her husband Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld) into thinking she is merely a look-alike. He hatches a scheme to have her return to claim her murdered family’s inheritance, but while Johnny is transforming Nelly into her former self, she tries to determine whether he sent her to the concentration camps in order to save himself. Petzold favors subtle, interior performances; combined with the austere production design, the film never falls victim to its pulpier impulses. Among many solid performances, Hoss’ Nelly is a revelation. Her ability to convey emotions is remarkable, particularly when her face is bruised and bandaged. The film’s final scene, where Nelly finally breaks into song, is one of the most exhilarating and heartbreaking moments of any film this year. (Brian Marks)

tangerine feature

14.) Tangerine

Tangerine is an exuberantly chaotic, hip-hop-paced slice of urban life over the course of a turbulent Christmas Eve. The primary guides for this wild ride are Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor), two transgender friends who are gleefully crass in their banter and heedless in their behavior. Both are sex workers by trade and Sin-Dee, who just got out of prison, learns her boyfriend has been cheating on her with a “real” girl—”A real bitch with vagina and everything”—and so embarks on an odyssey through the Hollywood night to track down said girl and confront her unfaithful lover. Meanwhile, Alexandra, the initial bearer of bad news regarding the affair, is a wannabe singer so wannabe it is she who pays a venue to sing there, to a practically non-existent audience. A side plot involves Armenian cabbie Razmik (Karren Karagulian), who spends his downtime in hot pursuit of transsexual flings. While his character mostly shows the flip side of the prostitution coin, driving the movie, first and foremost, are Rodriguez and Taylor, two of the stand out newcomer performances of the year. Tangerine is a quick and dirty representation of a fascinating lifestyle bursting at the seams with misbehavior in broad, bristling daylight and complex emotions emerging from the seedy nightlife, yet it ultimately settles to a profound expression of unconventional, though resolute, friendship. Adding to the vitality of the characters is director Sean Baker’s choice to shoot the film on three iPhones, a formal venture that yields stunning results, creating a vibrancy heightened by a pulsating visual style that was as much a result of budgetary restraints as any aesthetic statement. (Jeremy Carr)

Room

13.) Room

Room is such an emotionally affecting story because it concerns the walls and spaces we build inside our mind and how we find solace within them. Happiness is not a location, but the state of mind we build for ourselves. Lenny Abrahamson’s film is very aware of these walls, of these confines, and he finds poetry and untold possibilities and confusion in glimpses of the sky and the struggle with walking down a flight of stairs. Brie Larson is a mother desperate to get her son to “connect with something” and Jacob Tremblay is the boy grappling with his own sense of reality. Despite the film’s remarkable conceit, Room is a universal story of motherhood, maturity and acceptance. (Brian Welk)

What we do in the shadows

12.) What We Do In The Shadows

Where was What We Do in the Shadows during the dreadful Twilight craze? This pitch-perfect mockumentary not only deconstructs our romanticized notions of vampires, it also provides some sharp observations about the artificial nature of “reality” television. Written, directed, and performed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, this is easily the funniest movie of 2015, and seems destined to join the ranks of other classic mockers like This Is Spinal Tap and Best in Show. The genius lies in its simplicity and ingenuity. Whether it’s the exasperation of a fastidious vampire who can’t cleanly bite an artery, or bargaining with a bouncer who won’t invite our heroes into the bar, Clement and Waititi filter each gag through the eccentricities of their flawed immortals. It’s surprisingly sweet, too, as the storytelling emphasizes the importance of friendship and lifelong bonds. Mostly, What We Do in the Shadows is just unrelentingly funny. No vampire trope is safe! (J.R. Kinnard)

MagicMikeXXL

11.) Magic Mike XXL

Much ink has already been spilled about the groundbreaking gender politics of Magic Mike XXL, and rightfully so: Gregory Jacobs’s sequel to Steven Soderbergh’s male stripper odyssey feels oriented towards heterosexual female desire in a way that few films do. But regardless of the movie’s political implications, any larger concerns are overshadowed by it being such a damn good time. Unencumbered by a need for dramatic tension or plot, Jacobs takes the groundwork laid by Soderbergh and turns it into the feel-great film of the year. It’s a road movie, a hedonistic celebration of sexuality, and an absolute blast from start to finish. You’ll never listen to “I Want it That Way” the same way again. (Max Bledstein)

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