Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The 25 Best Films Released on DVD in 2015

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

1. Boyhood Directed by Richard Linklater. Starring Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater. The greatest movies, the ones that stick with us, are those that hold up a mirror to the human condition and reflect something back at us that we too often manage to overlook. Boyhood is one of those movies, and with it Linklater proves he is among the best practitioners of that art. A home movie of a fictional home life, an epic assembled from vignettes, Boyhood shimmers with unforced reality. It shows how an ordinary life can be reflected in an extraordinary movie.

2. Inside Out Directed by Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen. Starring Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Phyllis Smith. I never saw a movie this year with a more brilliant combination of imagination, emotionally moving moments, witty writing, visually interesting details and psychologically accurate behavior than this one. It’s as audacious as it is silly, as funny as it is imaginative.

3. Mr. Turner Directed by Mike Leigh. Starring Timothy Spall. Through it all, Spall is equally enigmatic and transfixing: With his guttural croaks and barks, his J.M.W. Turner is often difficult to understand, but, thanks to Spall’s amazing physical performance and Leigh’s sensitive, information-laden direction, he’s never incomprehensible.

4. Leviathan Directed by Andrei Zvyagintsev. Magnificently acted, expertly crafted and unerringly sure of every treacherous step it takes, Leviathan is an indictment, but also an elegy, a film set among the monumental ruins of a culture, whether they’re the skeletal remains of boats, a whale’s bleached bones, a demolished building or a trail of lives that are either ruined or hopelessly resigned. It may be the one true masterpiece of global cinema to be released this year on DVD.

5. Timbuktu Directed by Abderrahmane Sissako. A transcendent political poem as intellectually rigorous as it is beautiful. Sissako’s point, while never heavy-handed, is hard to miss: Traditional Muslims are among the world’s biggest victims of Islamic militarism. A thoroughly remarkable and disquieting film, it is also a work of almost breathtaking visual beauty, but it manages to ravish the heart while dazzling the eye simultaneously, neither at the expense of the other. It’s a work of art that seems realized in an entirely organic way.

6. Mad Max: Fury Road Directed by George Miller. Starring Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron. Will leave you speechless, which couldn't be more appropriate. Words are not really the point when it comes to dealing with this barn-burner of a post-apocalyptic extravaganza in which sizzling, unsettling images are the order of the day. Even in the most chaotic fights and collisions, everything makes sense. This is not a matter of realism — come on, now — but of imaginative discipline. And Miller demonstrates that great action filmmaking is not only a matter of physics but of ethics as well. There is cause and effect; there are choices and consequences. It’s all perfectly, wonderfully, fantastically crazy. Amidst all those ingenious, power-packed road warrior sequences, Fury Road contains a surprising amount of depth and character development.

7. Selma Directed by Ava DuVernay. Starring David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson. A gripping, inspiring and sometimes terrifying historical drama, loaded with specific detail, that brings a turning point of the civil rights movement back from black-and-white obscurity to present-tense urgency. Even if you think you know what’s coming, Selma hums with suspense and surprise. Packed with incident and overflowing with fascinating characters, it is a triumph of efficient, emphatic cinematic storytelling. And much more than that, of course. Oyelowo takes full advantage of his close physical resemblance to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but he wisely avoids mere impersonation, delivering a performance that’s as sensitive as it is spellbinding.

8. Two Days, One Night Directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne. Starring Marion Cotillard. This is a small, compassionate gem of a movie, one that’s rooted in details of people and place but that keeps opening up onto the universal. Her shoulders slumped, her eyes weary, her gait heavy, Cotillard moves past naturalism into something impossible to doubt and hard to describe. Her character is an ordinary person in mundane circumstances, but her story, plainly and deliberately told, is suspenseful, sobering and, in the original, fear-of-God sense of the word, tremendous.

9. Whiplash Directed by Damien Chazelle. Starring Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons. This is a muscular and accomplished work of kinetic cinema built around two tremendous acting performances, and it’s really about teaching and obsession and the complicated question of how to nurture excellence and where the nebulous boundary lies between mentorship and abuse. Chazelle proves an exceptional builder of scenes, crafting loaded, need-to-succeed moments that grab your attention and hold it tight.

10. Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Starring Michael Keaton. The director has wisely assembled an ensemble of performers who know how to handle a long take; this will certainly rank among Keaton's career highlights — in a role that allows him to completely dump out his paintbox and show a vast range of emotion — but everyone shines.

11. Citizenfour Directed by Laura Poitras. Both an urgent tale torn from recent headlines and a compelling work of cinema, with all the paranoid density and abrupt changes of scenery of a John le Carré novel.

12. Life Itself Directed by Steve James. Gives measured and pragmatic reflection to many of the things that are most interesting about film critic Roger Ebert's personal and professional life. James has done a wonderful job of telling a colorful life story.

13. Force Majeure Directed by Ruben Ostlund. A movie about something not often explored in film: the consequences of male weakness in a world in which men are expected to be strong at all times. It's the rare kind of film-watching experience that will haunt you long after you turn off the TV and could lead to some very awkward conversations with your spouse. A brutally smart and original film.

14. The Babadook Directed by Jennifer Kent. Starring Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman. Believe it or not, the real horror of this superb Aussie monster movie has almost nothing to do with the title fiend and everything to do with the unspoken, unspeakable impulses he represents. Remove the Babadook from The Babadook, in other words, and something plenty terrifying remains.

15. Amy Directed by Asif Kapadia. Amy Winehouse’s story is a tragic one — as with Kurt Cobain, who also died at 27, her potential as a singer and songwriter was only just beginning to be realized. Yet the prevailing mood of this documentary is joy. Kapadia captures what was irreplaceable about this unique performer, and in the process gives her the opportunity to do what she was made to do, the only thing she ever really wanted: to sing.

16. Tangerine Directed by Sean Baker. Starring Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, James Ransone, Mya Taylor. Writer-director Baker’s sun-scorched, street-level snapshot is a work of rueful, matter-of-fact insight and unapologetically wild humor that draws a motley collection of funny, sad and desperate individuals into its protagonists’ orbit. It’s touching for its non-condescending stance toward working girls and the spirit of the sidewalk.

17. Love Is Strange Directed by Ira Sachs. Starring John Lithgow, Alfred Molina. Calling this a great gay love story is both precise and inaccurate; I didn’t see a more finely performed and beautifully crafted love story, with or without any mere modifiers, on DVD this year. In addition to the performances — truly, everyone is good — what stands out is Sachs' direction. It's measured, patient. The scenes play out as one imagines the characters' lives would.

18. It Follows Directed by David Robert Mitchell. Starring Maika Monroe. A smart, relentlessly chilling thriller that opts for originality over cheaply rejiggered jolts. Pretty much earns its buzz as the scariest and best-engineered American horror movie of recent years, and that’s all down to Mitchell’s sophisticated understanding of technique and the trust and freedom he accords his youthful cast.

19. ‘71 Directed by Yann Demange. Starring Jack O’Connell. This is more than just a performance showcase, delivering a gripping, at times almost unbearably tense, incredibly involving anti-war statement, made the stronger for being set against the less cinematically familiar backdrop of Belfast in the year 1971. Nothing is extraneous, no moment that doesn't enhance the tension of this nightmare scenario is allowed to survive, until the proceedings become, in the best possible sense, almost unbearable to watch.

20. Red Army 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. Good sports movies are always about more than sports and this one touches on themes of friendship and perseverance. It also offers a compact and vivid summary of recent Russian history.

21. The End of the Tour Directed by James Ponsoldt. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Segel. Like Almost Famous, Ponsoldt’s film gets at something deep and true about the journalist/subject dynamic and the phony intimacy and tiny betrayals implicit in it. It’s a profoundly moving story about a towering talent who seemed to feel too much and judge himself too harshly to stick around for long. What a shame. There was a cry from fans of novelist David Foster Wallace fans when Segel was cast (some are still up in arms), but he’s terrific. So is Eisenberg, in an even more difficult role, as Rolling Stone reporter and novelist David Lipsky.

22. Foxcatcher Directed by Bennett Miller. Starring Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Steve Carell. Another strange and compelling anthropological drama from Miller, a director with evident expertise at enabling Oscar-worthy star performances. Though anchored by an affecting and sullen turn by Tatum, the movie derives its primary discomfiting power from Carell in a revelatory performance as a monster of American wealth.

23. Inherent Vice Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. This isn't the towering masterpiece that those who admired There Will Be Blood and The Master were probably hoping for, and thank God for that. It's loose and free, like a sketchbook, though there's also something somber and wistful about it — it feels like less of a psychedelic scramble than the novel it's based on. It serves as a portrait of 1970 California that mixes absurdity with an air of looming cataclysm, a volatile formula that wouldn’t work without central performance from Joaquin Phoenix.

24. Shaun the Sheep Movie Directed by Mike Burton, Richard Starzak. In a bold move that pays off, the movie jettisons dialogue altogether and tells its whole story through barn-animal noises, goofy sound effects, and sight gags so silly they’d make Benny Hill spin in sped-up ecstasy. The effect is contagiously cute. A world-class winner.

25. Love & Mercy Directed by Bill Pohlad. In telling the story of one damaged suburban genius and his unlikely rebirth, Love & Mercy captures the vanished possibilities of 1960s pop music, the fecklessness of the California dream and its decay into tragedy and madness, and other things less easy to describe or define. It doesn’t claim to solve the mystery of Brian Wilson, but it succeeds beyond all expectation in making you hear where he was coming from.

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