25. Mistress America
The Great Gatsby has experienced a filmic resurgence in the last several years, from the horrid Baz Luhrmann adaptation of 2013 on down to the generation defining classic The Social Network. Mistress America is yet another example, as told from the prospective of a college freshman (Lola Kirke) who finds inspiration in the form of her vivacious soon-to-be sister-in-law (Greta Gerwig). Hilarious and cutting in equal measure, Noah Baumbach's second feature of 2015 takes no prisoners, representing an incisive look at millennial culture, and the empti
ness that resides behind all of the bluster.
24. The Revenant
Who needs subtlety or nuance when you've got this much pure talent? The latest from director Alejandro González Iñárritu might not stand up to much narrative scrutiny, but its head-spinning technical mastery works overtime to cover up any blemish. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Hugh Glass, an American frontiersman in the 1820's who is left for dead by his mates, and sets out on a grueling course with little more than revenge on the mind. Astonishingly beautiful from first frame to last, The Revenant marks yet another high point in the now-legendary career of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubeski.
23. The Big Short
Who knew that being repeatedly insulted directly in your face could lead to such a good time? Director Adam McKay, who paid off his mortgage with the likes of Anchorman and Talladega Nights, unexpectedly joins the big kids' table with this story of the mid-2000's housing market collapse. Funny, zippy, and mad as hell, the film features terrific work from an ensemble cast lead by Christian Bale, Steve Carell, and Ryan Gosling, all helping to break down just exactly what happened to our economy, and pointing the blame in nearly every possible direction.
22. The Gift
The Gift is the sort of movie that hardly ever gets made anymore; a thriller for adults that avoids being juvenile without ever fully giving in to schlock. A young couple moves to Los Angeles (seemingly the plot of every film from last year) where the husband (Jason Bateman) is reunited with a high school friend (Joel Edgerton) with whom his relationship remains hazy. Rebecca Haal fills out the cast as Bateman's wife, representing the moral compass and curious eye in a film the continuously evolves before the viewer's very eyes. The Gift marks Edgerton's debut as a feature director, and based on its ruthless tension and crispness of style, he's a talent that's here to stay.
A pocket-sized drama about repression, redemption, and the mercilessness of fate, Timbuktu's Middle East strife somehow comes off as Greek tragedy. It relays the story of a Jihadist group that comes to occupy the titular city, first in the macro of its many citizens, then in the micro of a modest family whose lives are irreparably changed by the occupation. Nothing about Timbuktu is surprising or shocking, but the lack of head-spinners is by design; this is a parable, and as such, it works best when all plot machinations are pushed to the back-burner.
20. 45 Years
Two films under his belt and all of 42 years of life experience, writer/director Andrew Haigh has already cemented himself as an old soul with a thing or two to teach all our young minds. 45 Years tells the story of Kate Mercer (Charlotte Rampling), a septuagenarian living peacefully in the countryside when her husband of four-and-a-half decades receives a letter that throws the entire life they've made together out of balance. Sparse and unwaveringly honest, 45 Years is a slow-burning chamber piece, devoid of many twists and turns, but rich in authenticity of the human experience.
19. The Hateful Eight
Violent and filled with death as they may be, Quentin Tarantino films are defined by their sense of mirth and ecstasy, but last december, he finally decided to take his ball and go home. In the frozen tundra of post-Civil War Wyoming, a bounty hunter (Kurt Russell) stows himself and a captive (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in a claustrophobic haberdashery while a storm dies down, but the cabin's other occupants might be just as dangerous as the cold. Gone is the speed and excess of Django Unchained, replaced here with an intentionally over-long, grueling tale of how modern America was formed, Tarantino's standard sense of fun only occasionally entering the proceedings. Brooding and intense, this might not be Quentin's best film, but it's certainly his most intellectually ambitious.
18. Clouds of Sils Maria
An echoing chamber of rumination on the subjects of art, interpretation, and empathy, Clouds of Sils Maria delves deep into the actor's conundrum, and isn't necessarily fond of what it finds. Juliette Binoche stars as Maria Enders, an aging film actress preparing for a role that brings more than a few skeletons out of the closet. Writer/director Olivier Assayas' screenplay folds in on itself over an over again, drawing a multi-layered story out of something very basic on a surface level, its concepts and notions occupying your mind long after the end credits roll. It's always nice to be reminded that Binoche is one of our finest living actors, but it's Kristen Stewart's turn as her agent that truly breaks new ground.
16. *tie* Bridge of Spies and The Martian
I can't imagine a universe wherein these two films aren't inextricably linked in my mind, and by that standard, I can't rightfully crown one over the other. Both are directed by legends of American cinema (Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott, respectively), and relay stories of an individual man stuck behind enemy lines (Mark Rylance as a Soviet spy captured behind enemy lines, and Matt Damon... you know... stuck on Mars). They each star a bonafide household name, Tom Hanks and the aforementioned Damon giving performances that are as Red, White, and Blue as Apple Pie and Hot Dogs.