The Top 50 Films of 2015

20.) Mississippi Grind – As good of a road movie as you’ll see, Mississippi Grind harkens back to the Robert Altman classics of the 70’s, telling a go for broke story that hits so consistently you forget about the misses. We follow two men traveling down the Mississippi River, pit stopping their way at all the big gambling spots. The film is a highlight vehicle for the otherworldly actor that is Ben Mendelsohn, here playing a degenerate addict of avarice. And it shows the talent of Ryan Reynolds as his harbinger of luck. It’s bold, entertaining, and instinctive in the saddest of ways.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

19.) Phoenix – Led by an intrepid, powerhouse performance by Nina Hoss alongside her frequent directing collaborator Christian Petzold, Phoenix tells a tale of two cities wearing two different faces. Hoss stars as a survivor of Germany’s concentration camps who undergoes facial reconstructive surgery. The mystery comes when she questions whether or not her husband, who doesn’t recognize her, turned her over to the Nazi’s. Phoenix builds slowly, like the classic noirs of old, and ends with a devastating final scene that is up there with the year’s strongest.

Where to watch: Netflix

18.) Sicario – Director Denis Villeneuve makes painstaking movies, and they are all for the better precisely because of that attribute. This time, diving into the lands of drug cartel drama, he’s made a film that inspires anxiety as well as inciting frustration. It’s tense, gripping, mechanically melodic. And every story beat conclusion that it comes to is justified. Most importantly though, Sicario never takes one political or social side, always remaining impartial so as to resonate its theme stating that good can only come from the good and bad from the bad.

Where to watch: Available to rent

17.) Twinsters – It might feel a little amateurly assembled, but the impassioned and bubbly Twinsters effortlessly coasts along on the strength of its unifying material. Two identical twins, residing on opposite ends of the Earth and completely unknown to one another, come together in ways that beautifully depict the universality of love. Twinsters emphasizes the benefits of living in an information age, and is 2015’s feel good movie of the year. It adorns you with an earnest smile and twinged eyes that cannot be swapped out for an ounce of negativity. Not enough movies make such enveloping positivity their goal. Even fewer embrace the outcome’s alacrity.

Where to watch: Netflix

16.) Girlhood – This coming of age French drama is Mean Girls placed within an outreaching societal depth. Filled will as much strong visual storytelling as it contains the masked growth/eventual embrace of femininity, Girlhood subverts genre expectations by always knowing who exactly it is or wants to be in the long run. Abiding by France’s national motto, the lead character finds solitude and self-expression through liberty, equality, and fraternity. It tackles race, social class ranking, and the abandonment or acceptance of a unique identity. Girlhood is an unbiased depiction of growing up gleaned through the eyes of the predators, the prey, and those strong enough to willingly be bent but never break.

Where to watch: Netflix

15.) The End of the Tour – Everyday funnyman Jason Segel was criminally snubbed for leading actor awards in his studied approach as deceased author David Foster Wallace. It’s serious and sentimental, revealing and concealed. The movie, also starring Jessie Eissenberg – another one of our most unheralded stars – is talky and evocative and fleeting. Look deep though and you’ll find that the effusiveness along with the aloofness adds up to a shattering depiction of the once in a lifetime literary talent. So many movies strive to find glazed eyes; The End of the Tour prefers rampant blinking, clicking refresh on our consciousness as often as possible to keep our inner fires burning.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

14.) The Mend – Some movies pander while others present, and The Mend effortlessly falls into the latter by simplifying all of the deep-seeded ironies and judgements of human depravity into a little New York apartment. Bolstered by one of 2015’s best male performances from Josh Lucas, the film took me two viewings to really understand, but trust its process and believe in its message. What’s left to be discovered is a moving and destabilized glimpse into the search for finite life conclusions. As The Mend reminds us, we’re coping from the moment we’re born.

Where to watch: Netflix

13.) Son of Saul – Director László Nemes’ essential and Oscar-winning film is a fully immersive event, constricting itself inside the hearts of darkness pulsing through an Auschwitz concentration camp. His 1:1 aspect ratio and intrusive camerawork is almost always focused on the exhausting performance by lead Géza Röhrig, playing a camp worker in search of a rabbi to properly bury a child (who we assume is his own). The technique provides intense humanity for the historical subject and its subtext evoking hell on earth. Son of Saul’s tragic quest is to do right in the face of evil, with a canorous ending full of such equanimity that it won’t soon leave your memory bank.

Where to watch: Available to rent

12.) Anomalisa – Who would have guessed that a stop-motion animated film aimed directly at adults would be one of the year’s most profoundly compassionate and understanding stories? Charlie Kaufman’s latest genius deals with isolation through loneliness alongside love through connection. Its revelations are startling, the world-building expert, and skillfully dresses those ornate details by wearing its emotions on its slightly creased sleeve. Anomalisa harps on the importance of possessing a passion for life.

Where to watch: Available to rent

11.) Me and Earl and the Dying Girl – It may have gotten a little lost in the mix after its breakout success at Sundance, but make no mistake, Me and Early and the Dying Girl pulls no personal punches. Here’s a movie that would make John Hughes proud, as well as marvel at its sheer creative ingenuity. Clever, challenging, and ultimately gut wrenching, the film paints a relatable portrait of the high school experience for us all to vicariously live through. Rarely does a film care about the art and the process of making movies as much as this one. Also, keep an eye out for Olivia Cooke as the eponymous dying girl; she’s a literal eye-opening revelation of a talent.

Where to watch: Available to rent

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