1. MUSEUM HOURS
When I pitch this film to friends, I can see their eyes glaze over with descriptions of “slow and quiet,” “lots of shots of artwork,” “a friendship instead of a romance.” I wish I could more succinctly capture why I love this exquisitely wrought, distinctively wise film so dearly. It is sturdy in its stillness and unearths humanity so delicately. The two leads, Mary Margaret O’Hara and Bobby Sommer, are pure grace and soul. Writer/director Jem Cohen has created a gift of a film. “It is bluer than I could tell.”
2. TO THE WONDER
Love begins to describe it. The familiar and alien as two sides of the same undulating ribbon. “…in a dream you can’t make mistakes.” I know now what it is to have my life flash before my eyes–a beautiful, tear-inducing (and, yes, religious) experience. God bless you, Terrence Malick.
3. LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE
4. BEYOND THE HILLS
Punishing, pure, poetic. Mungiu is a piercingly keen observer of humanity’s weaknesses. Breathtaking compositions. Heart-rending storytelling. A crucible. A mirror. A painting.
5. THE ACT OF KILLING
The most revealing “selfie” ever. Of Anwar. Of humankind.
6. POST TENEBRAS LUX
“I could feel every blade.” Thank you, Mr. Reygadas. You made a The Tree of Life that I could embrace wholeheartedly. The theme? I think Michael Sicinski described it best: “…the need to defend the family against all potential threats, foreign and domestic.” Many complain of the choice to shoot with an almost constant “tilt shift” focus, but I found it powerful. It creates the closest replication of what a first-person POV, personal memory “looks like” to me. And those first several minutes are some of the most gorgeous I’ve ever experienced in a darkened theater.
7. COMPUTER CHESS
“Everything is not everything.” Artifacts on a collision course. Kubrickian moves in miniature. What a screenplay. What a delight.
8. YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHIN’ YET
Romantic, quixotic, intoxicating. A gambit of the heart, a song for the soul. Resnais and his stellar cast conjure magic.
9. THE GREAT BEAUTY
“What’s wrong with feeling nostalgic?” Indulgently sweeping, sweetly fleeting. A lush reminder of what cinema can do. Bravo, Sorrentino and Servillo.
Jeff Nichols does America proud with a Huck Finn tale that knots a handsome, homespun fable out of rope, dust, silt and spit. One great performance after another with dialogue as lived-in as decade-old dungarees.
“I was there.” So plainly American. Like drinking from a stream or recognizing the pinch of a bruise. Dern and Forte are surprisingly strong sparring partners.
12. THE PAST
It wasn’t this film’s plot or dialogue that fascinated me, but all the delicately observed details–from visual metaphors tucked around the decaying house to gut-punches delivered in the smallest gestures. Farhadi is a master storyteller.
13. THE COUNSELOR
It’s an honor to be the quarry when Ridley and Cormac are killing it. Elegant, brutal, philosophical, romantic and dead sexy.
What a thrill to soak up the spoils of director Chan-wook Park’s lush visual imagination. Thrumming with an electric love of the delicious dark. Ever-so-grimly comic at its core with a florid fascination with what lures the female heart, mind and desire–potential weapons all.
15. BLUE JASMINE
I don’t remember Woody ever feeling this relaxed. Just tremendous. Cate wrings herself out and it’s a thrill to watch her operate.
16. SIDE EFFECTS
A sly thriller teeming with sharp social commentary. Vividly captures the tightrope walk of maintaining one’s security and reputation in modern life. It seems all manner of manipulation is breathtaking in Soderbergh’s hands. Jude Law gives one of the best performances of the year as a man who is crumbling in the face of scandal. I went unusually long on this film over on my Letterboxd.com post.
17. MOTHER OF GEORGE
Shots so gorgeous, you can feel them in your molars. A satisfyingly assured command of what to leave out. Director Andrew Dosunmu and DP Bradford Young weave true beauty.
18. NOBODY’S DAUGHTER HAEWON
Limited exposure to Hong made me think I’d always find his films maddening, but this pleasant drift (aka FRANCES HA-EWON) grew on me steadily in the 48 hours after seeing it. I was especially impressed by the film’s examination of the currency of “pretty,” which is done off-handedly, but powerfully. Jeong Eun-Chae’s performance gradually won me over too. Hopefully this film will get a U.S. release, but I’m including it here just in case it doesn’t.
19. WHITE HOUSE DOWN
A total blast. The most fun I’ve had at an action film in a loooong while. Tatum and Clarke delighted me. Surprisingly visually plush for the genre. Felt like putting on cashmere.
20. FRANCES HA
A very sweet, pleasant diversion that has become my latest go-to hang-out film. I’ll just stream it on Netflix in the background to enjoy glimpses of glimpses and sound bites of that charming dialogue. Refreshing to see Baumbach play it loose. Gerwig is a special kind of sunshine.