What we consider to be the best of this year represents a combination of the movies that had the greatest emotional impact on us, matched with movies that felt innovative or groundbreaking. Here are the films Ryan considers to be this year’s best:
10. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
The only other documentary on this list is awarded to another HBO-distributed film and made with even greater impress. What makes Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief even greater than the film itself is the fact that it even exists in the first place. Director Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) took the film to Sundance this year, unsure if it would even screen due to its controversial subject matter and the people in high positions it could expose– and worried they should have been. Gibney fearlessly peels back the curtain on the religion that is still largely considered a mystery and misunderstood. But beyond revealing the incredulous story behind religion and its founder, L. Ron Hubbard himself, Gibney goes on to show what deeper and darker moments that affect all associated with it in a shocking way. It’s the one film that left me feeling amazed at what real-world injustices are happening behind closed doors.
Victoria most likely won’t be on a lot of readers’ radars, which is unfortunate for this small Berlin-set movie. If only more audiences knew that this heist-film was shot in a single, uninterrupted take, then maybe people would have been drawn in. Beyond that, however, is a story that supersedes its camera trickery. Victoria, on one late night out, is herself drawn into an unfamiliar world of new friends when Berliners make her acquaintance, eventually befriending the girl who is in turn involved in a bank robbery. The single take never gives the audience a moment to relax, which makes the whole thing an even greater movie-watching experience. When the sun finally rises in this incredible movie, it leaves the watcher feeling amazed at what all just took place in one real, single night.
I first heard about ‘Room’ when I saw the hardcover book a few years back on my mom’s bedside dresser. I was familiar with what the story was, about a mother and son being held hostage in a backyard shed for many years, and was intrigued at what its eventual movie adaptation would portray it as. Director Lenny Abrahamson (Frank), along with the novel’s author and screenwriter Emma Donoghue, bring an incredible vision to the big screen, focusing the story of these hostages not on the single aspect of harrowing survival, but rather the shared, singular connection between that of mother and son, played by pitch-perfect Brie Larson and young marvel Jacob Tremblay. Room succeeds as a moving love story by mining the most unique and visceral moments in the place both characters only call “Room,” to show a reality that can only exist when love is at the center of it. Incredibly directed and acted, there are more than a few sequences that had me arrested in seeing these new worlds for the first time, making this one of the most successful novel-adaptations of this or any year.
Gaspar Noe’s (Enter the Void) latest film is certainly not for everyone. In fact, it’s probably one of the most singularly divisive films of this or any year, due to its incredibly graphic subject matter. Love, the story of two young art-school students, one American and the other Parisian, is the story of heartbreak. Love alternates between past and future events to show every corner of what feels like one of the most authentic relationships captured on screen. Now, the hook here, of course, is that real-life sex scenes link these scenes together–non-staged, non-faked, real-life intercourse. Admittedly, knowing this before going into the movie, I thought that these scenes were only going to be included for the spectacle of it, but what I soon realized was that Love was in fact, a love-story. It was all held together by moving performances and storytelling, making the scenes feel less pornographic and more artfully composed and honest. This movie is for those that are fearless in finding out that all of these moments together make a story that is beautiful, heartbreaking, and boundary-pushing.
6. It Follows
Personally, I don’t much prefer watching scary movies. I’ll specify this by caveating, that I don’t much prefer to watch this new brand of today’s scary movies, which are all either entirely built on empty silence/loud-noise moments or of the tasteless torture porn variety. So leave it to It Follows to shake me out of my scary-movie snootiness, and scare me to the core, with it’s incredible take on what makes scary movies scary: suspense. With its dry yet direct title, this throwback to 80s-style scary movies punches up suspense more than anything I saw this year, as uninterrupted long takes, seeing out-of-focus characters slowly walk into the foreground, and other great moments, make this simple set-up, about a curse passed on from teen to teen, one that had me breathless and amazed. This is what scary is supposed to feel like.
5. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
It seems like a new movie genre is forming entirely anew at the moment–that being the YA book-turned-movie, about high schoolers dealing with life-altering events. Where The Spectacular Now and The Fault in Our Stars both made their marks as being both of those things, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl did that and more this year. I loved everything about this movie, mostly because it had an undying energy, spirit, and vision, that made this story feel completely new to me. The Sundance movie offered more amazing camerawork and cutting to make this movie unique and different than so many of the same ilk. Do yourself a favor–make sure you catch this deserving movie at your next opportunity.
4. The Revenant
The most immersive and unbelievable movie of the year just needs to be seen to be believed.
3. Inside Out
Cracking the top three for me this year was what we’ve all come to expect from Pixar: that we should never be able to expect anything as good as Pixar has made until the next one comes out (Unfortunately, that doesn’t quite hold true for The Good Dinosaur). As a film, Inside Out is perhaps the most far-out Pixar film in terms of concept alone. To create, from scratch, a movie about the mind of a human, is an unbelievable feat. To do it with such humor, introspection, thoughtfulness, and honesty is to push the cinematic envelope entirely. The journey here, voiced in part by Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith as “Joy” and “Sadness” to a young girl, was one that made me feel like a kid again.
2. Ex Machina
Ex Machina shines for a number of reasons, of which I’m positive will be the reasons why the film will grow in popularity as a cult and fringe film. It’s a sci-fi movie that ditches the cold, unpenetrable, feeling that excludes wider audiences, and it’s because it chooses to focus on a more universal element than just science. It would seem that we are now at a point with our technology that filmmakers have begun to ask themselves the question, beyond what my reliance is on technology and artificially intelligent beings, what is my relationship with them on a human and loving scale? Her, the story about a man falling in love with an operating system, preceded Ex Machina in terms of making a movie about the new question this generation is starting to face and it does so with style, intelligence, and incredible foresight. Plus, the winning combination of Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, and Alicia Vikander, make this the film to watch simply as the one that had all three of them in this film alone. All three absolutely shine, and the experience of understanding AI beings is made even more real, harrowing, and philosophically poignant than any other like it.
My favorite film of the year is one I’m still in some big ways, puzzled by. Beyond the spectacular blockbuster film-making of the year that Star Wars and The Revenant had, beyond the intense human dramas such as Room and Sicario, my favorite film of the year is a stop-motion movie about a middle-aged customer service salesman. Anomalisa had me laughing, thinking, pondering, heartbroken, and philosophically perplexed, and wrapped in a package of inspired filmmaking. I shouldn’t be too surprised, however, as I’ve grown to be something of a reluctant Charlie Kaufman fan (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)–who makes his mark by telling the stories of the lonely. It’s here, however, in Anomalisa, that I found the most human connections of the year in terms of studied human behavior. It’s one of the most peculiar films I’ve ever seen, and it speaks to where we are in this fragmented world more than ever before. It’s something that isn’t a typical number one pic, but hey–that’s what anomalies are.
Cobain: Montage of Heck- What more is there to say about Kurt Cobain, almighty rock god and most credited for the birth of the grunge music scene in Seattle, Washington in MTV-era America? As evidenced by Cobain: Montage of Heck, there is an entire world left to say, as director Brett Morgen’s HBO documentary showcases new, never-before-seen footage and music to not just fill in the gaps of Cobain’s short-lived life, but to tell entirely new chapters of it. The reason that Cobain: Montage of Heck works so well is that this is the only documentary that has been made with the approval and help of the Cobain camp, which includes not only interviews with his mother, father, family members, and Courtney Love herself, but through which all of the new video and music has been provided, coloring in the entire picture of Cobain, the artist, musician, father, poet, and human being.