In alphabetical order.
Why stop-motion animation for the tale of a corporate executive who briefly finds love, only to be undone by his own limitations? Because it perfectly suits the dryly funny worldview of writer/co-director Charlie Kaufman, and allows for flights of fancy that provide a heartbreaking illustration of the conceit that gives the film its perfect title. And, yes, it has the most explicit puppet-sex scene since "Team America," but here it’s neither shocking nor funny; it’s tender and moving.
Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain last brought us "No," his humorous look at the battle to defeat Augusto Pinochet; this time he ups the stakes considerably with "The Club," which is based on the world of defrocked priests who are assigned to live in a remote group home rather than face their crimes. His political and intellectual sensibilities are at the fore in this drama that's generous in its criticism and compassion for all concerned.
"The Diary of a Teenage Girl"
This film is a miracle on so many fronts: It’s a pitch-perfect adaptation of Phoebe Gloeckner’s semi-autobiographical graphic novel, and it presents a view of a young woman’s sexuality that owns both its power and its confusion. Star Bel Powley is nothing less than a revelation and actress-turned-filmmaker Marielle Heller turns in an astonishingly assured debut.
It sounds like the most impossible pitch, even for Pixar: A trip inside the mind of a pre-adolescent girl as she comes to terms with life’s difficulties for the first time. But trust Pixar to have the wisdom to see the possibilities, and here they’re realized in ways that are equally funny and heart-tugging. Major bonus points: A movie all about a young lady’s brain earned $850 million worldwide.
The last film of documentary master Albert Maysles is a fitting end to a glorious career. His portrait of style icon Iris Apfel is more than a look at the influences that informed this colorful fashion iconoclast; it’s infused by the spirit of two whip-smart octogenarians going toe-to-toe, each backed by a lifetime of experience as brilliant free-thinkers.
"Mad Max: Fury Road"
The raw, unfettered energy in this flamethrower of an epic doesn’t feel like a sequel, much less one directed by a 70-year-old visionary. But that’s exactly what George Miller’s movie is, fueled by plenty of jaw-dropping random weirdness like the manic crowing of Nicolas Hoult’s Nux to the impenetrable force that is Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa. And while there’s no Oscar for character names (Rictus Erectus! Toast the Knowing! Cheedo the Fragile!), Miller’s screenplay (written with Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris) deserves them.
Fox was delighted when they discovered their Ridley Scott thriller scored so well with the female quadrant, but the key to its success lies in the umami of a fifth user group: The XKCD crowd. Unlike most sic-fi epics, this one didn’t sacrifice logic for thrills and got the NASA seal of approval. And, it did something few films have done before by showing the world that scientists are smart and funny.
Journalists can always be suckers for movies about their own kind, but "Spotlight" goes a step further in Tom McCarthy’s thoughtful, measured approach to capturing the quiet hard work of investigative journalism. And his cast is uniformly excellent, from Michael Keaton’s flawed and hard-nosed editor to Rachel McAdams’ portrayal of life as a shoe-leather reporter. Weird to think that in another decade or two, this could seem like a period piece.
"Straight Outta Compton"
This movie could have been just awful, and probably would have been if the stars didn’t align to give us all the elements the made it, well, sing: An airtight script, sharp direction and editing, and most of all the ensemble cast that could portray these icons of rap without seeming like parody. Yes, the role of women here is fairly pathetic (as one critic said: bitches, girlfriends, and bitches who become sympathetic girlfriends), but I don’t doubt that’s how the principals then saw women in their world. Still a great movie.
This is a movie that helps keep the dream of indie film alive as we move into 2016. Shot on an iPhone, on the streets of scary Hollywood, starring transgendered actresses in their feature debuts, the energy in this film could power a week at Burning Man. Produced by the peripatetic Duplass brothers. and directed by Sean Baker, it’s as much a love letter to the power to create as it is to Los Angeles itself.
Eric Kohn, Deputy Editor and Chief Film Critic
Eric Kohn's Eccentric "Other" Top 10 List of Moving Images in 2015
My top 15 list of movies released this year is immutable, and there are literally dozens of other movies released over the past 12 months worth celebrating as well. These include "Girlhood" (a moving, gritty coming of age story that's also a love letter to the streets of Paris), "Ned Rifle" (Hal Hartley doing what he does best), "Cheatin'" (Bill Plympton, same deal), "'71" (a bracing war drama) and "Magic Mike XXL" (essentially Minelli in the 21st century).
But cinema isn't a world that any of us exclusively reside in. Here's a look at some of the other moving image experiences that left an impact on me this year.
1. "Tales From the Borderlands"
Even if you haven't warmed to video games, you may still want to check out this alternately silly, rambunctious and charming episodic game, which you can easily get on your smart phone right this second. Telltale's riff on the "Borderland" franchise follows a bunch of would-be scam artists and entrepreneurs on a cross-planet journey in search of profit. Their odyssey, a kind of steampunk Hope & Crosby romp, is beautifully written no matter how you choose to progress through its multifaceted narrative. It's also got an iconic side character in the deadpan companion to the presumed protagonists, the faithful droid-like creation known as Loaderbot. Imagine a Transformer with the disarming personality of C-3PO and you might get an idea for the amusement factor in store, which gives way to much richer developments in the emotional conclusion.
But more than that, "Tales From the Borderland" also points to the next phase of popular storytelling — there's no question that the Telltale folks have crafted a wonderful narrative, but it's one that allows players to feel like they're both watching and experiencing it at once. If this is the future of entertainment, I'll all for it. Bring on the VR revolution!
2. "World of Tomorrow"
Technically cheating since this is indeed a movie, but short films rarely get a chance to be showcased this time of year, so screw it: Don Hertzfeldt's colorfully inventive time travel chronicle (which won prizes at Sundance and SXSW) is the DIY animator's most accomplished work since his groundbreaking Oscar-nominated "Rejected." Go rent it on Vimeo and luxuriate in its cosmic wonders; rinse and repeat.
3. "Fallout 4"
Bethesda Studios' latest entry in the post-apocalyptic gaming franchise that started in the nineties is another incredible open world with an epic story rooted in the player's personal decisions, this time combining the personal quest of a parent who's lost his son with the material of a hardboiled detective story. Plus, the usual recipe of mutants, radscorpions, radiation poisoning and mini nukes. "Fallout 4" lets you experience the end of the world by surviving it with some semblance of hope. It's the finest narrative of its type this year that's not "Mad Max: Fury Road."
Sorry, "Star Wars," but Brian K. Vaughan's ongoing fantasy series is the only distant fictional universe I anticipate these days. With a scale matched only by its disarming humor and intelligence, the veteran comic book writer outdoes his own "Y: The Last Man" with this marvelous science fiction accomplishment.
5. "The Show About the Show"
Caveh Zahedi's self-reflexive web series, which has so far only posted three episodes, is the provocative diary filmmaker's most exciting project to date: The folks at BRIC TV gave Zahedi carte blanche to make anything he wants, so each episode is basically just that — a chronicle of his interactions with the network and actors about the creation of the show itself. Hilarious, strange and often boundary-pushing in its exploration of creative ambition, it's also wonderfully inventive and one of the most intriguing surprises of the fall.
6. "Broken Age"
With his point and click adventure games for Lucasarts in the nineties, Tim Schafer was one of the smartest popular entertainers of the nineties (even Spielberg was a fan), though he's rarely given credit for it beyond the insular world of the gaming community. With his indie company Double Fine, Schafer has only grown more ambitious, and the two-part fantasy-adventure "Broken Age" — which takes place in a distant future land and involves two wildly different characters, one of whom is voiced by Elijah Wood — is a brilliantly inventive form of interactive storytelling. Get it on your iPad to soak in the gorgeous, painteresque landscapes and don't spoil the puzzles with an online walkthrough; this is a brain teaser in which the teasing is part of the storytelling experience.
7. Season 19 of "South Park"
From gentrification to Trump to the cannabalization of media by advertising, the show engineered to enlighten and offend in equal doses reached the apex of its startling run with his extensive, season-long arc. (I'm not sure I'll ever enter Whole Foods without feeling a twinge of guilt again.) Trey Parker and Matt Stone emerged as the great satirists at the end of the 20th century; they're already the preeminent ones of the 21st.
8. "Jessica Jones"
The most intriguing genre experiment of the ever-expanding Marvel franchise, "Jessica Jones" is an absorbing detective story with a rich ensemble, sumptuous mysteries and a terrific showcase for Krysten Ritter that just so happens to take place in the MCU.
9. Harrison Ford's Publicity Campaign for "Star Wars"
At this writing, I have yet to experience the latest look at a galaxy far, far away. But I already nominate Harrison Ford for most hilarious shill of the year on the basis of his recent publicity campaign, which includes a jab at Donald Trump and the best response to a bland promotional question ever when Jimmy Fallon asked him if returning to Han Solo made the actor emotional: "No. I got paid." Sorry, Trump, but the real truth talker of the fall shot first.
10. "Jeff Ross Roasts Criminals"
Who needs a Vice special when you have this disarmingly goofy yet incisive and humanizing peak inside the broken penal system? Ross' ability to toy with his incarcerated subjects while foregrounding their heartbreaking situations is one of the great, under-appreciated activist statements of the year.
Kate Erbland, Managing Editor
A process movie for people not necessarily enamored of process movies, Tom McCarthy's best film of the year (best both for him, apologies to "The Cobbler," and for the rest of the field) fires on all cylinders and breathes brutal life into a story not intuitively made for the big screen. Featuring an all-star ensemble that ably embraces the true meaning of "supporting," everyone gets a chance to shine in "Spotlight," but the story is always at the front and center. It's the real deal.
My one big cinematic regret for 2015 is that I didn't catch John Crowley's captivating "Brooklyn" when it debuted at Sundance in January, instead waiting until September — a lifetime! — to catch up with the gorgeously rendered and lovingly made coming-of-age story. Star Saoirse Ronan lights up the screen as a young lady going through a time of major transition (look, I don't like to include Britney Spears references for the hell of it, but come on, this is basically the period version of "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman"), one who emerges on the other side with grace, charm and admiration to spare. Another stellar ensemble cast pumps up the film's power, but it's Emory Cohen who steals the show, a heartbreaker the likes of which Hollywood rarely sees these days.
Perfection transmitted in a glance, passion told by a sigh. It's the most romantic movie of the year.
4. "Mad Max: Fury Road"
A bruising experience from start to finish, no film was more eye-popping and entertaining this year. That it's filled to the brim with subversive storytelling and ass-kicking characters is just a bonus. Witness me!
There's no other way this story could be told. A deceptively simple tale about a disaffected dude and the little lady who turns it all around for him, it's the animation aspect of Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson's gloriously emotional feature that forces you to confront expectations of humanity. Almost too real.
6. "Ex Machina"
Just like the stop-motion puppets of "Anomalisa" seem almost more human than human, Alicia Vikander's wide-eyed robot Ava somehow seems more curious, unique and emotional than any other human who populates Alex Garland's endlessly layered feature. Plus, Oscar Isaac dancing.
It earns all those too-easy pull quotes: "A knockout! A winner! It will KO your heart! Bring the smelling salts!" This is how you do a reboot.
8. "The Revenant"
Leonardo DiCaprio's growling, raspy, Oscar-hungry performance isn't his best, but it's definitely his most gutsy, but even it can't take away from the stunning visuals and jaw-dropping sound design of the world's most horrific survival tale. Pumped up by the year's best long-take battle, "The Revenant" will haunt me for years to come (even if I'm not entirely sure that's a good thing).
9. "Mistress America"
Dizzy, silly, strange and unrepentingly screwball, Noah Baumbach's latest only gets better with more watches, though Greta Gerwig and Lola Kirke are pure magic right from the start.
10. "The Diary of a Teenage Girl"
The most necessary film of the year. More like this, please.
1. "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt"
The relentlessly charming "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" is perhaps the entertainment world's best antidote to the current spat of so-called "peak TV" that, while totally great!, can also be totally bleak (looking at you, "The Leftovers" and "Show Me a Hero" — we'll talk later). The Ellie Kemper-starring Netflix comedy series is wrapped up in candy-colored dreams and endless good cheer, but that doesn't keep it from imparting some important wisdom about life (and not just life lived inside the confines of a bunker), while also being so damn funny that you almost can't handle it. They alive, dammit, and so is this show.
2. "Jessica Jones"
As Marvel has steadily seeped into the cultural consciousness, it's proven ever more difficult to avoid the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its many-tentacled arms. For fans of the MCU, new additions like "Daredevil" and "Jessica Jones" have been a boon, but they've also provided a handy new entry point for people who aren't disposed to see their related films on the big screen. As someone who happily eats up most MCU offerings, "Jessica Jones" has been a welcome chance of pace on many fronts: She's one of the MCU's most interesting characters, the show takes a real-world approach to PTSD and its feminist underpinnings are maybe the best thing to come out of the franchise, well, maybe ever.
3. "The Leftovers"
After a mixed bag of a first season, HBO's dark drama hit its stride in its sophomore outing, neatly pulling together storylines, characters, themes and ideas while also moving most of the action to a brand new location. It was a bold move, but one that paid off hugely, allowing viewers to find new people and things to love while also reinvesting in established characters and ideas. The show may still be dark as hell, but now it's got real purpose for its moodiness.
FX's own "Fargo" also mixed things up this year, moving its action back to the swinging late seventies and introducing to both new characters and younger versions of beloved old ones. Despite knowing some of the things that would befall our group — cancer, murder and something about a massacre — the show has managed to keep surprising and delighting its audience. Considering the constraints placed on it in terms of both tone and family trees, that's it's own special sort of accomplishment, but that it does it while still being so fully itself is nearly a miracle.
5. "Better Call Saul"
No one was more doubtful of this "Breaking Bad" prequel than me, no one. "How could this possibly work?" I would yell at my television. "Why is this happening?!?" I would mewl. And then I was proven wrong, so very wrong, by this canny and funny and sad and original and wholly unique spin on a show I already loved, capped off with a performance by Bob Odenkirk that somehow blends together both humor and absolute heartbreak.
6. "Mad Men"
Peggy Olson came up with that Coke ad, as fueled by her and Stan's consummated love, and I don't want to hear another word about it.
7. "Show Me a Hero"
The only problem with Oscar Isaac becoming a huge, massive, giant star is that it means it's all the more unlikely we'll get to see him in a heady, thoughtful HBO miniseries about the ins and out of public service ever again. Savor this one.
8. "Silicon Valley"
As the giddy humor of the first season slipped into the thundering pain of the second season, fans of the HBO comedy series were left to contend with the unshakeable feeling that our heroes will never be able to actually keep things together, no matter if said "things" involve such sundry details as bad energy drinks and worse home engineering. The show is still hysterical, but now that pain in our belly, well, it comes from a different place.
9. "The Last Man on Earth"
A brilliant idea executed perfectly. After a few bumps in its first season, "The Last Man on Earth" continued to plow on, taking risks, depending on characters to make wholly terrible decisions and plundering a deeply sad premise for something so original and amusing that we hope it never ends.
10. "Bar Rescue"
The guiltiest of guilty pleasures and the platonic ideal of what a reality show can and should be. Stock characters, recycled plots, a host with an ego the size of Jupiter and more screaming than is necessary and advisable, "Bar Rescue" has everything and it packages it all up inside a rat-infested, mold-soaked bar rag, wielded by the angriest bartender in the worst "work appropriate" clothes imaginable. Perfection.