Friday, June 26, 2015

The 10 best films of the first half of 2015

Click on the title to see the film's trailer

1. Inside Out **** Directed by Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen. This isn't just a movie. It's a doctoral dissertation on human psychology, with a bit of therapy on the side. Miraculously, it's fun, to boot.

2. Mad Max: Fury Road **** Directed by George Miller. Wild and unrelenting, but also possessed of the outlandish poetry, laced with hints of humor, that rises to the surface when the world is all churned up.

3. The Duke of Burgundy ***½ Directed by Peter Stickland. There’s voyeurism, fetishism, bondage, lingerie and high-flown naughtiness galore, but that’s hardly the movie’s most conspicuous achievement. Also at work in this transfixing account of a sado-masochistic relationship on the ropes (so to speak) are a probing intelligence, a catalogue of inspirational cinematic references and — perhaps most impressive — a big, sad, beating heart.

4. It Follows ***½ Directed by David Robert Mitchell. The film doesn't try to get viewers to jump out of their seats. Instead, employing the time-honored technique of the "slow build", it pressures fingernails to dig into arm rests.

5. Seymour: An Introduction ***½ Directed by Ethan Hawke. The remarkable if unorthodox life and art of the classically trained pianist is explored with acute feeling and quiet tenderness in Hawke’s terrific biographical portrait.

6. Red Army ***½ Directed by Gabe Polsky.  In this swift, smart, often very funny film, Polsky takes an unprecedented look at the legendary Soviet-era hockey program and its life after glasnost, exposing an athletic system that became a crucial symbol of Communist history and politics, but also discipline, grace and brooding, melancholy soul.

7. Love & Mercy ***½ Directed by Bill Pohlad. Rarely have two actors (Paul Dano and John Cusack) been so effective playing the same character while taking totally different approaches.

8. Iris ***½ Directed by Albert Maysles. There's a fine line between bag lady and belle of the ball, and Apfel instinctively knows it. Her sense of style is uncanny.

9. A Most Violent Year ***½ Directed by J.C. Chandor. Has its share of wham-bam moments — a car-truck-foot chase into the city's bowels is superb — but the action never speaks louder than Chandor's hard-boiled words.

10. Clouds of Sils Maria ***½ Directed by Olivier Assayas. A meditation on fame, acting, aging, and acceptance, Clouds is a multilayered rapture on the subject of woman, performing. Not only does the film demand repeat viewings, it rewards them.

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