5. “45 Years”
Between his tremendous breakthrough with “Weekend” and his gorgeous work helming much of HBO series “Looking,” we’ve had our eyes on British director Andrew Haigh for a while. But no one was prepared for “45 Years,” a serious step up for the director and one of the very best relationship movies in a very long time. The film focuses on the run-up to the titular wedding anniversary of an elderly, seemingly happy married couple (Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay), and the fractures that appear when the body of his ex-girlfriend, who died in a mountaineering accident and has been frozen in the ice for half a century, is discovered. It’s perhaps a contrived set-up (based on David Constantine’s short story), but that’s the last thing in Haigh’s film that’s anything less than utterly truthful, particularly when it comes to performances from the two leads that come close to being the best roles of their 50 year careers. European in style without being austere (it’s a textured, tendered film, even funny in places), beautifully lensed throughout, it’s perhaps above and beyond anything else a ghost story about how the past can haunt and change us long after the fact, how time shifts and changes us, and how unearthed secrets can make you reevaluate everything in your life. [Read our review]
Given the commensurate lack of buzz, it’s possible you missed the boat on the exquisite-ness of Todd Haynes’ superb HBO mini-series “Mildred Pierce.” But lets not be nags: everyone’s on board the Haynes train this year, and that’s just gravy for all of us. Haynes’ delicate, nearly-note-perfect “Carol” is a swooning, romantic picture that makes you feel the grace notes of trembling desire in between words and between the eventually requited kisses and passionate moments. It is a movie about the unspoken moments of desire, the subtle gestures, the furtive glances, and the batted-eyelashes we have to decode when falling in love, but are too deep in a place of vulnerability to play our hand. Immaculately crafted, tremendously acted and rendered with consummate care and control, “Carol” is about the inexpressible, and the aching yearns of early, unformed loves and all the fragility it entails. It’s a directing masterclass, its two leads Cate Blanchett and Rooney Maradeliver tour-de-force performances of restraint, and its score and cinematography (by Carter Burwell and Ed Lachman respectively) gorgeously underscore all the pangs of implicit heartache with musical dolor and frosty visual reflection. With this impeccably made movie, Haynes, perhaps belatedly, is crystallized as one of America’s greatest living directors. [Read our review]<
3. “The Duke Of Burgundy”
Nothing in our poll of contributor voting surprised us as much as the strength of support for “The Duke Of Burgundy.” We figured it might make the list somewhere, given our rave review, but we didn’t imagine that an experimental art film about a sadomasochistic couple would appear on more lists than any film bar our winner, much less make the final top three. But then again, it is fucking brilliant. A significant step up for director Peter Strickland even from his excellent last movie “Berberian Sound Studio,” it is, like three of our top five, a relationship movie, in this case set in a world seemingly without men and focusing on the relationship between Evelyn (Chiarra D’Anna) and Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen), two lepidopterologists (scientists studying butterflies) who are deeply in love but are increasingly strained by Evelyn’s highly submissive sexual tastes. Which might make it sound intimidating and unrelatable, but one of the film’s many pleasures is the way that it makes a seemingly extreme situation utterly relatable and deeply moving. Strip away its gorgeous design and more expressionistic elements, and you’ll find a deceptively sly, sexy and playful picture, an impossibly tender love story beautifully performed by its two leads, and which tackles universal truths in the most specific way imaginable. [Read our review]
Denis Villeneuve cements his status as one of the most exciting working filmmakers with his furious, visceral thriller “Sicario.” Following the grim one-two punch of his gloomy, arresting “Prisoners” and his whatsit of a doppelganger flick “Enemy,” “Sicario” emerges as Villeneuve’s most assured and distressing work to date. A tale of inexorable moral compromise unfolding along the godless Cartel city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, “Sicario” is ultimately the story of Kate Mercer, a driven and resolutely unsentimental FBI agent who finds herself repeatedly thwarted by her male superiors when she agrees to enter this Southwestern heart of darkness. Villeneuve has an almost eerie ability to stage set pieces of prolonged, heart-stopping tension —as he does in a bullet-ridden showdown set at the U.S./Mexico border— and his work here with Roger Deakins, who also gave “Prisoners” its dark, glistening patina, is some of the best work either has ever done. Emily Bluntis a force of raw, elemental pain as Kate, Josh Brolin is wonderfully slimy as her annoyingly laid-back supervisor, and rising star Jon Bernthal has a scene with Kate in a motel room that ranks as one of the most terrifying we’ve seen all year. But it’s Benicio del Toro, as a man whose soul is all but a bygone thing, who quietly steals the show here. His Alejandro is a man of no allegiances, who, with his pointed goatee and predatory body movements, appears to be more wolf than man. “Sicario” follows Alejandro’s grim, precise footsteps: it’s coiled like a snake, with a bite just as deadly. [Read our review]
1. “Mad Max: Fury Road”
The Playlist’s 2015 pick for the best film of 2015 didn’t dominate to the extent that “Under The Skin” did last year, but from very early on in the voting process, it was clear what was going to come top. And what else could it be? Uniting everyone from highbrow cinephiles to explosion-happy genre fans (the film featured on all but two of the seventeen lists submitted), George Miller’s fourth movie in his post-apocalyptic franchise was an absolute wonder, literally the best action movie in decades, and a classic even before the title character (Tom Hardy) has had his mask removed. Stripping down to the absolute basics —it’s a chase movie in the same way that Buster Keaton’s “The General” is a chase movie— barely ever stopping to catch a breath while building a fascinating world through side-details and establishing complex characters through action, the director gifted us all with an adrenaline shot of pure, unfiltered cinema. One that returned grace and beauty to the summer blockbuster. One that wasn’t afraid to get weird, like the blue-tinged section in the mudlands that feels almost like a Tarkovskymovie. One that stealthily put a woman at the heart of a testosterone-filled, gas-guzzling actioner. One crafted at a level that suggested that 95% of movies simply aren’t trying hard enough. Miller’s already started talking about potential further ‘Max’ movies, but there’s part of us that wants him to let it alone, because returning with something as utterly perfect as “Fury Road” is a big, big task. [Read our review]What else did Playlisters vote for that didn’t quite make the cut? Just missing out on the top 20 was David Robert Mitchell’s woozy, inventive horror “It Follows,” Olivier Assayas’ meta-psychodrama “Clouds Of Sils Maria,”Guillermo Del Toro’s gorgeous Gothic romance “Crimson Peak,” Noah Baumbach’s delightful farce “Mistress America,” Cary Fukunaga’s powerful “Beasts Of No Nation,” Damian Szifron’s hugely enjoyable “Wild Tales,” Thomas Vinterberg’s finely-honed “Far From The Madding Crowd,” and Roy Andersson’s beguiling “A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence.”
Not all staffers had seen “The Revenant,” “Joy” and “The Hateful Eight” by the time voting closed, but only Inarritu’s film registered on one poll of those that had, suggesting they might not have made the cut if they had (it’s worth noting that other late-year openers like “Anomalisa” and “45 Years” did, while last year films like “Selma” and “A Most Violent Year,” which also hadn’t been widely screened yet, cracked the Top 20). We have all seen “Star Wars,” and we all hated it. Joke!
Also clocking up a vote or two, but not racking up enough points to make it onto our final list, were “Bridge Of Spies,” “Heaven Knows What,” “The Good Dinosaur,” “The Walk,” “Magic Mike XXL,” Spy,” “James White,” “Victoria,” “Youth,” “Tokyo Tribe,” “The Look Of Silence,” “Eden,” “Queen Of Earth,” “Entertainment,” “Tu Dors Nicole,” “Bone Tomahawk,” “Arabian Nights,” “What We Do In The Shadows,” “Slow West,” “Heart Of A Dog,” “Ballet 422,” “Timbuktu,” “Experimenter,” “The Pearl Button,” “Cartel Land,” “L’il Quinquin,” “Listen To Me Marlon,” “Dope,” “The Night Before,” “Phoenix,” “Jauja,” “The Forbidden Room,” “Hard To Be A God,” “Mississippi Grind,” “Breathe,” “While We’re Young,” “Cobain: Montage Of Heck,” “The Martian” and “White God.” In other words, it’s been a good year!
What do you rank as your favorite films of the year? Let us know in the comments below.
— Oliver Lyttelton, Rodrigo Perez, Kimber Myers, Nikola Grozdanovic, Oktay Ege Korak, Gary Garrison, Katie Walsh, Nicholas Laskin, Erik McClanahan
VOTERS: Ken Guidry, Oktay Ege Kozak, Erik McClanahan, Charles Bramesco, Nicholas Laskin, Oliver Lyttelton, Charlie Schmidlin, Kenji Fujishima, Kimber Myers, Rodrigo Perez, Jessica Kiang, Gary Garrison, Nikola Grozdanovic, Katie Walsh, Russ Fischer, Cory Everett, Kevin Jagernauth