Best Movies of 2015, From a. O. Scott
Our chief film critic shares his picks for the best movies of the year. You can read the picks from our other critics here: http://nyti.ms/1QqEAsb
- •"Timbuktu" (Abderrahmane Sissako)This portrait of life under jihadi rule in northern Mali is brutal and shocking, but also gentle, generous and surprisingly funny. Sissako doesn't humanize violent extremists so much as demonstrate that they already belong to the species and reflect part of our common, tragic nature. But his movie also insists that the only effective and ethically serious way to oppose fanaticism is with humanism. Which is to say with irony, with decency and, perhaps above all, with art.
- •“Inside Out” (Pete Docter)This journey into the mind and feelings of an 11-year-old-girl may be Pixar’s wildest adventure yet. It’s a very funny workplace sitcom (with exuberant, touching performances from Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, @mindy Kaling and others), an ingenious allegory of psychological development, and an almost unbearably moving and honest defense of the role of sadness in our lives.
- •“Spotlight” (Tom McCarthy) and “The Big Short” (Adam McKay)Two terrifically entertaining, ensemble-driven, fact-based procedurals about appalling crimes and the institutions — the Roman Catholic Church and Wall Street banks — that allowed corruption to fester. In addition to mustering righteous anger, McCarthy and McKay, in very different ways, managed to infuse the routines of modern work (answering phones, typing on keyboards, scrutinizing spreadsheets) with suspense, emotion and moral gravity.
- •“Heart of a Dog” (Laurie Anderson)A meditation on love, loss and the meaning of life. Dog people and Lou Reed fans will be especially susceptible (I plead guilty on both counts), but anyone who ever had a heart is likely to succumb to Anderson’s ethereal wisdom and her fierce formal wit.
- •“Carol” (Todd Haynes) and “Anomalisa” (Charlie Kaufman/Duke Johnson)The finest romance and the most acute anti-romance of the year, from some of the most rigorous intellects in American movies.
- •“Taxi” (Jafar Panahi)The Iranian dissident filmmaker, posing as a (barely competent) Tehran cabdriver, stages a sly, pseudo-documentary inquiry into the paradoxes of cinema and the contradictions of everyday life under authoritarian rule.
- •“Out 1: Noli Me Tangere” (Jacques Rivette)It took almost 45 years for this 13-hour shaggy-dog experiment to reach American screens, but the timing turned out to be perfect. Rivette’s mischievous ramble through Paris, French literature and a handful of perennial philosophical puzzles is both a charming, newly rediscovered artifact of its hectic time and a bulletin from the cinematic future. Everything has already been done, and everything is still possible.
- •“Mad Max: Fury Road” (George Miller)A master class in old-school, super-linear action filmmaking, full of nasty, punk-rock, dystopian Australian humor. Also the best recent eco-feminist-socialist allegory that isn’t a novel by Margaret Atwood.
- •“Creed” (Ryan Coogler)If any movie can bridge the deep racial, generational and class divides in American life — at least for a couple of hours — it would have to be this revival of the ancient “Rocky” franchise. Sylvester Stallone gives perhaps the loosest, warmest performance of his career. Michael B. Jordan, as Adonis Johnson, Rocky’s protégé (and the illegitimate son of his onetime rival, Apollo Creed), continues his emergence as one of the vital movie stars of our moment.
- •“Results” (Andrew Bujalski) and “Welcome to Me” (Shira Piven)A pair of post-mumblecore comedies about self-realization and its limits. Bujalski’s is a flawless screwball triangle (with Guy Pearce, Cobie Smulders and Kevin Corrigan as the sides) masquerading as an easygoing hangout with the oddballs of Austin, Tex. Piven surveys the darker territory of mental illness and daytime television. Thanks to Kristen Wiig’s astounding performance (as a lottery winner), “Welcome to Me” is a portrait of an American dreamer that is unsettling and inspiring.
- •“The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” (Stanley Nelson) and “What Happened, Miss Simone?” (Liz Garbus)These documentaries use the standard tools — archival footage, talking-head interviews, carefully selected musical cues — to write history in the present tense. In the era of Black Lives Matter, the stories of the Black Panthers and the jazz singer and activist Nina Simone could hardly be more relevant. Nelson and Garbus tell them beautifully.
- •“The Kindergarten Teacher” (Nadav Lapid)This quiet, intense Israeli film unfolds like a psychological thriller. A poetry-loving teacher discovers that one of her young pupils is a literary prodigy, and takes increasingly extreme measures to protect his gift from an indifferent world. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Mr. Lapid is engaged in a stealthy, ferocious critique of a society that has sacrificed its spiritual values and its cultural inheritance on the altar of power and materialism.
- •“Girlhood” (Céline Sciamma) and “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” (Marielle Heller)oming of age: in the modern banlieues of Paris and in San Francisco in the 1970s. These movies dramatize the harrowing, thrilling passage to womanhood with unsparing honesty and infinite compassion.
- •“Grandma” (Paul Weitz) and “Tangerine” (Sean Baker)Two against-the-clock tours of Los Angeles. Two celebrations of the sometimes prickly solidarity among women. Four tremendous performances, from Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, Julia Garner and the great Lily Tomlin. “Grandma” is the work of a studio veteran. “Tangerine” was shot on iPhones. Anyone prone to lamenting the death of movies needs to shut up and watch these.
- •“The End of the Tour” (James Ponsoldt)Widely misunderstood as a biopic about the novelist David Foster Wallace, Mr. Ponsoldt’s film is a comedy of journalistic bad manners and a bitter, knowing satire of the machinery of literary fame. Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel use the conventions of the buddy movie to perfect a new subgenre: the frenemy film.