Digging this out of the dusty drafts folder to finish and post now, when last year feels so very far away: the best movies I saw in 2015 that weren’t released in 2015.
Honorable mention: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012)
I think about Lorene Scafaria’s movie so often. Just give it a chance.
10. Adam’s Rib (1949)
Much like how my love for Charles Dickens’s prose and storytelling makes me read maybe one of his novels every couple of years so I can postpone ever being done with them (and I know he was kind of an a-hole; don’t @ me), so have I spaced out catching up on all of the glorious K.Hepburn’s most famous films, even as her glowing visage graces my phone screen and gives me strength every day. And then when I really need it, there she is spouting feminism and breathing fire and making everyone on screen with her seem worthy, even though they’re totally not (sorry, Judy Holliday, luv u 2). She rules, George Cukor rules, this movie rules.
9. The Thin Blue Line (1988) / Into the Abyss (2011)
Obviously the appetite for true crime documentaries took the U.S. by storm in 2015, and I was not immune — I will tell you why I think Adnan did it, or encourage you to go back to watch The Staircase and then let me tell you about the crazy online theory I actually believe. But crime stories can be and should be more important than just providing the voyeuristic thrill of dissecting the possibility of one person’s guilt. Thankfully we have Errol Morris, Werner Herzog, and other non-fiction writers and documentarians who approach the landscape of our criminal justice system and our assumptions about it in less sensational ways.
8. Nightcrawler (2014)
Speaking of our collective voyeurism and obsession with crime… Dan Gilroy’s twisted story combined with Jake Gyllenhaal’s BONKERS CREEPY performance created something seriously entrancing to me. Louis Bloom is that character who’s so repulsive you can’t actually look away, as we watch his confidence and hubris grow as he moves from merely exploiting crime scenes for the photos he can sell to actually manipulating the scenes and the people he’s selling the photos to. Gilroy has had an established screenwriting career, but I was surprised to see this was the first film he directed. He needs to do more; I will watch without hesitation.
7. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002)
God, what a bleak, heartbreaking, gorgeous maze of tragedy. It’s all right there in that word sympathy, even though this film opens Park Chan-wook’s “Vengeance Trilogy.” Everyone in this movie does the wrong thing for a desperate or ill-informed reason, and it all begins because of a system that leaves people dying because they can’t afford the medical care that will save their lives. Someday maybe we will live in a world where that doesn’t need to be a common theme.
6. Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Ah, the glorious feeling when people have been pestering you to watch a movie and then it totally lives up to expectations! It happened to me with this film, and I promptly paid it forward by harassing someone else to watch it, too. A convoluted set of writing credits often gives me pause (even when Christopher McQuarrie is in the mix), but director Doug Liman (undersung for how many solid-to-great films he’s made) brings it all together here by hitting the right tone of actual fun — not just random quips — on top of the Save the World plot. Please let Tom Cruise continue to be used smartly as a jackass, and please let Emily Blunt become a true action star, please please please. (Bond. Jane Bond?)
5. The Accused (1988)
This is the first in a trio of list entries that represent movies from the ’80s one can’t watch today without desperately wishing that in the last thirty years we’d made a bit more social progress on the issues at hand. Here the issue is rape, and specifically society’s tendency to blame or discredit a victim who doesn’t meet exacting yet arbitrary standards of “innocence” and “trustworthiness.” As hard as it is to watch — particularly when writer Tom Topor and director Jonathan Kaplan finally show us the full horror of what happened in the bar, nearly at the end of the film — Jodie Foster’s Oscar-winning performance remains a marvel.
4. The Brother From Another Planet (1984)
Joe Morton is a living treasure who’s been mostly known to me for rants on Scandal and the immortal line from Speed “It’s finished on the goddamn map!” John Sayles has been a glaring blindspot for me on the list of important indie filmmakers of the 1980s. I’m glad I started remedying that with this clever, funny, and sad film, where The Brother, a mute alien on the run from those who would enslave him, slowly comes to realize what his outward appearance as a black man means in this new world. Joe Morton’s beautiful silent performance will hold up until the end of time. I wish the social commentary didn’t have to.
3. A Dry White Season (1989)
When I saw this affecting and successful film about the fight against apartheid in South Africa, done on this kind of scale, I was angry for two reasons: obviously, that the same kind of injustices illustrated here by apartheid continue to replicate themselves around the world relentlessly. And also, that someone who was able to stage and tell this story so beautifully hasn’t had every opportunity and dollar thrown at her to keep making films of this magnitude. Euzhan Palcy should be a much more widely known name.
2. Force Majeure (2014)
What do you do when suddenly faced with a situation that illuminates a weakness, a fault you never knew or admitted you had, or one you never knew your partner had? Something that changes your whole perspective? Ruben Östlund explores that here when a wealthy Swedish couple’s view of themselves shatters after Dad’s instinct in perceived danger — in this case, an avalanche that turns out not to be one — is to run away from Mom and kids and save himself. The aftermath is uncomfortable, fascinating, darkly funny, and darkly honest about how we’re all really selfish hypocrites in the end.
1. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Okay, because there are so many director’s cuts and such of this film, to be clear: I saw the 1998 Collector’s Edition, and I saw it at with a beautiful crowd at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in a haze of pot smoke filling the unusually chilly and misty Los Angeles night, and it was wonderful. Spielberg is Spielberg, after all. (See, I can criticize how he doesn’t make movies about women AND still love him. Nuance, internet bros. The world contains it.)