Just released in the U.S., Asghar Farhadi’s 2009 mystery revolves around a
kindergarten teacher invited on a beach trip by the mother of one of her
students and drifts inexorably towards tragedy. It doesn’t have the
social panorama of Farhadi’s A Separation, but it’s more compressed, more visually evocative. Farhadi evokes an Iranian society in which alienation is absolute. —DE


Amy


Part brilliant testament to the artistry of Amy Winehouse (arguably the most
soulful vocalist of the last quarter-century), part autopsy, this
documentary makes your heart alternately leap and hurt. The dad who told
her not to go to rehab (no, no, no) didn’t like it. —DE


Blackhat


Michael Mann’s latest, a cybercrime thriller starring Chris Hemsworth, tanked
so hard that a couple of the director’s flops from the 1980s actually
beat its box-office take. It came in for some critical drubbing, too; David’s mixed review,
in which he said it was “good enough to make you wish it were better,”
was probably one of its nicer notices. To be fair, the film has its
issues, not the least of which is a plot that starts off with a nuclear
explosion and then steadily de-escalates from there. But Mann, as I
discussed in my profile of him at the time,
has become an increasingly abstract filmmaker over the years: For him,
the dance of images, sounds, and textures is as important, if not more
so, than the typical interplay of characters and dialogue. As Blackhat
hops across the globe from city to city, Mann creates a world of grids
and dense, repeating designs, as if the film’s very reality has absorbed
the microscopic patterns of the digital world. Meanwhile, the
characters go from typically Mann-ly alienation to visceral proximity:
There’s a reason why this movie about 1s and 0s gradually moves towards a
surprising, grotesque bloodbath. It definitely doesn’t work for
everybody, but for the director’s fans, Blackhat is one sustained, mesmerizing reverie. —BE


Eden


Mia Hansen-Løve’s surprisingly epic look at the career of a French house garage DJ —
modeled after her own brother — is rambling, cool, and thoroughly
absorbing. The film has adopted the tonal paradox of the music itself:
“Between euphoria and melancholia” is how the protagonist describes one
song, and the same could be said for the film itself. But this is far
from a glorification of DJ culture. For a film with such great music,
most of it played in clubs and parties, there’s very little joy here.
So, where is the real “Eden” in Eden? It’s in the music itself,
in the fleeting little moments of transcendence that those hypnotic
beats provide — tenuous connections that materialize and are gone
forever. In his review, David observed
that “the triumph of the film itself is its centrifugal force, its
dispersed palette, its constant movement away from a center.” —BE


Hard Day


A South Korean thriller with so much narrative and visual wit that you’re
simultaneously laughing and crying out in fear. Kim Seong-hun’s hairpin
bloodbath charts approximately 24 hours in the life of a police
detective named Choi (Lee Sun-kyun) who attempts to dispose of a body he
hit while driving — slightly inebriated — to the funeral home to bury
his mother. The first half has an uproarious exponential logic: For
every action Choi takes, there’s a greater and opposite reaction,
meaning every problem solved creates two more. —DE


Inside Out
The best Pixar film?


Certainly the most penetrating. Director Pete Docter conceived this
rambunctious, surreal animated masterpiece as a way to see the world
through the eyes of his sad 11-year-old daughter. The resulting film —
set inside its protagonist’s mind, where wayward emotions in human form
attempt to work together — will help sad girls and boys and the
grown-ups who grew up from them for as long as there are movies. As the
voice of Joy, Amy Poehler conveys not just supernatural exuberance but
quavers of doubt that keep her from being cloying or cartoonish. It’s one of the best vocal performances in movies. —DE


It Follows


A tense and incredibly scary horror movie that also works as an
exploration of the film image itself. The idea of a demon that finds and
walks towards you in a straight line — often, as shot by director David
Robert Mitchell, from the very depths of the frame — is unnerving, yes,
but it also sets the mind on fire: You start to watch everything and
everybody with suspicion. (In his review, David said
the film scared him in a “so-upset-I-feel-sick kind of amorphous dread”
way.)  In a shocking turn of events, Mitchell also takes the care to
give us real characters who seem to come alive onscreen; it’s the rare
horror movie where we actually worry about people instead of reveling in
their destruction. And, and, and ... It Follows is also fraught with thematic possibility; don’t be surprised if it inspires generations of dissertations. —BE


Jauja

In Lisandro Alonso’s captivating and befuddling beauty of a film, the
great Viggo Mortensen plays a Danish engineer in late 19th-century
Argentina who goes off on a quest to find his daughter, wandering a
bizarre lunar landscape on what seems to be an increasingly symbolic
journey. The film toys with meanings — Alonso raises questions about
violence and civilization, about loyalty and servility — but that it
resists analysis is one of its strengths. “The less you understand, the
more mesmerized you are,” I said in my review, and now that I’ve seen the film a couple more times, I stand by that statement even more. —BE


Mad Max: Fury Road

George Miller’s years-in-the-making masterpiece is more than just a
great action film — though it absolutely is also that. It follows the
logic of a nightmare: Miller makes sure that we experience the movie as a
series of surreal images, even as he delivers the visceral goods. (In his excellent review, David called
the film’s desert setting “a mythic stage for a punk-rococo circus of
freaks.”) So we get truck chases and car chases and bikes flying off
cliffs and epic, intricate four-way fistfights … but we also get armies
of masked demons who pole-vault into moving cars, and ghostlike, fierce
terminal warriors who worship V8 engines and chrome paint, and ancient
female avengers who seem to rise up out of a desert that changes texture
depending on the characters’ psychic states. In the midst of it all,
Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy use the film’s terseness and relentless
pace to their advantage — filling small gestures and glances with such
emotion that this film’s silences say more than most movies can with
their entire running times. —BE
Bertrand Bonello’s episodic, dense biopic of Yves Saint Laurent presents
the great fashion designer (played by a touching, fragile Gaspard
Ulliel) as a prisoner of beauty. Creation is both his savior and his
damnation, and the seemingly formless film is actually quite intricately
structured. As the years progress, Saint Laurent works out his
obsessions, memories, and desires through his designs, but they also
deprive him of his essence, too. In the film’s climactic setpiece, a
delirious re-creation of YSL’s 1976 show presenting his fall/winter
line, we see the models walking in their own frames, their sweeping
moves creating an intoxicating alternate reality while the designer
himself looks pathetic, helpless, peering from behind a wall, a mere
mortal who can only witness the beauty he himself created. It’s a
gorgeous film about being lost. —BE


Tangerine

Famously shot on iPhone 5 and named for the orange hue that
evokes the low, slanted winter sun, Sean Baker’s boisterous but bleak
L.A. farce centers on two transgender people on Christmas Eve, one
searching for an unfaithful boyfriend/pimp, the other trying to drum up
an audience for her cabaret show. They’re hilarious, but their universe
isn’t. This is a farce in which the bottom suddenly drops out and you
see the sadness of these peoples’ lives. —DE


The Wolfpack

Crystal Moselle’s emotional documentary centers on the six
Angulo brothers of New York’s Lower East Side — virtual prisoners of a
grandiose alcoholic dad — who connected to the world largely by watching
and acting out movies together. It’s a documentary that shows how even
pulpy, sadistic art can help you make the kind of imaginative leaps that
free your mind — a bridge off the island of terror that is the nuclear
family. —DE


Timbuktu

The word is slang in the West for East of Nowhere, but in
Abderrahmane Sissako’s remarkable film, this Mali city on the edge of
the Sahara is an epicenter, a volatile crossroads for several distinct
cultures. One of them, alas, belongs to the Islamist jihadists that in
2012 took over and announced the enforcement of sharia, Islamic law. That’s the film in a nutshell: sharia meets multiculturalism. It would be hilarious if it weren’t so tragic. —DE


White God

In Hungarian director Kornel Mundruczo’s thriller, homeless
urban dogs are driven to the breaking point and turn on their human
abusers. It’s a rousing B revenge thriller that is, at the same time, a
stunning parable of social injustice. For who better to explore the
fetid back alleys, rubbish-strewn lots, and brutal prisons of an august
Eastern-European capital than a stray dog? The performance of that dog —
actually two dogs, brothers Body and Luke — is more emotionally full
than the work of many human actors. —DE

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