Wesley Emblidge ‘17 / Emertainment Monthly Executive Editor
The Oscars are more likely to recognize her awards-friendly work in The Danish Girl, but the breakout star of 2015 Alicia Vikander did her best work of the year in this sci-fi thriller. Alex Garland, the writer of 28 Days Later and Sunshine, makes his directorial debut with this look at a tech tycoon (Oscar Isaac, also fantastic) who brings in a random employee (Domhnall Gleeson) to help him test the new intelligent robot (Vikander) he has designed.
Achievements: Alicia Vikander was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress, Ex Machina was nominated at the Producers Guild Award and Alex Garland was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and Best Visual Effects.
Of the several directorial debuts on this list, The Mend is the one that definitely screams “this is pretty good, but I bet this guy’s next film will be great”. John Magary’s film is stylistically a lot more ambitious than a lot of the movies on this list, especially considering that it’s fairly low budget and shot mostly just in apartments. It’s billed as “a stressed out comedy,” following Mat (Josh Lucas) as he barges in on his brother Alan’s (Stephen Plunkett) life, ripping it to shreds. It’s also got one of the best scores of the year, and has an energy to it that few other films are able to capture.
The film was nominated for Best First Screenplay at the Independent Spirit Awards.
Noah Baumbach had an extremely productive 2015, he not only released two movies he directed but also premiered the documentary De Palma he co-directed at Venice (it’ll be released next year). Of the two he released, Mistress America is the more vibrant, funny film, but it’s also the director more working to facilitate the vision of that movie’s writer and star, Greta Gerwig. His other film While We’re Young is much more a Baumbach movie, complete with the anxieties about aging and general Woody Allen-esque observational comedy. It veers in an odd direction in the second half, but even a minor Noah Baumbach movie like this is still one of the better films of the year.
Baumbach was nominated for Best Screenplay at the Gotham Awards.
Faults is a good example of a lot of things. Writer/director Riley Stearns demonstrates how to work within an indie film budget with really efficient and economical story decisions. It serves as a showcase for Mary Elizabeth Winstead, an actress who has had a lot of bad luck in Hollywood, and as a showcase for Leland Orser, a character actor who rarely is given much to do. Yet, Faults got such a tiny release that there isn’t even information on what paltry amount of money it made at the box office. Indie movies like this one also disappear, only to occasionally be discovered on Netflix, so give it a shot.
Although it was technically completed and played festivals in the country in 2009, it took six years for Asghar Farhadi’s film to get a real US release, based on the success of his later films A Separation and The Past. Though it may not be quite as great as those films, About Elly is the closest to a thriller the director has made, and it showcases his incredible sense for creating tension just with camera placement.
The film won Best Narrative Feature at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival.
Sort of based on a true story, this film from indie directors David and Nathan Zellner follows a Japanese woman (Rinko Kikuchi) who discovers a VCR tape of Fargo and, mistaking it for being about something real, journeys to America to find the money buried by Steve Buscemi’s character at the end of Fargo. It’s an odd, unsettling movie that takes on some of the folktale elements of Fargo but to a less funny degree. It also features the best movie animal of the year, Bunzo the bunny, which alone should be enough to sell you on it.
The film was nominated for Best Director and Lead Actress at the Independent Spirit Awards.
The third film in Swedish director Roy Andersson’s “Living” trilogy, the longest-titled film of the year is also perhaps the most bizarre and the darkest. Made up of a number of single-shot scenes, some loosely connected, Andersson meditates on the strangeness of life with his pitch-black sense of humor. Come for the incredibly intricate production design, and stay for how uncomfortable it’ll make you feel about your life.
The film was nominated for Best International Film at the Independent Spirit Awards.
Perhaps the most under seen movie of the year, Tu Dors Nicole is a lovely little French-Canadian comedy about the laziness and boredom of summer. Stéphane Lafleur has an eye for images and juxtapositions that are absurdly amusing, like a character in the film played by a pre-pubescent kid who claims to have “matured early” and is voiced over by an older, distinguished French man. It’s a small, delightful movie that plays somewhat like Frances Ha meets a Charlie Kaufman film.
One half Wes Anderson, a quarter Looney Tunes and a quarter The Hateful Eight, John Maclean’s directorial debut is the most unappreciated Western of the year. It reckons with the way we treated Native Americans, features one of the best climactic action scenes of the year, gives Michael Fassbender the opportunity to play a classic Western gunslinger; and all in under 90 minutes.
The film won the Grand Jury Prize (Dramatic) at Sundance.
The only movie about trans women you need to see this year; Tangerine beats out all the social issue movies of the year by caring about its two trans women leads as people, and not just as martyrs. A blast on energy so authentic it had to be shot on an iPhone, Sean Baker’s film follows two trans prostitutes (played by trans actresses Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor) as they roam LA on Christmas Eve in search of their pimp. What could have turned duly melodramatic or ugly and exploitative is instead hilarious, honest and vital in its perspective.
The film was nominated for Best Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards, alongside its director and two stars.