With the fall film festivals kicking off as we speak, it’s only a matter of time before the awards season gets into full swing. As we do every year before we collectively enter the trenches, it is time to catch up on the best films that have arrived thus far, many of which you may have missed.
Below one will find a rundown of our favorite films of the last 8 months (U.S. releases only) in alphabetical order and including just about every genre. Many are already available on streaming platforms or on home release, so check out the list below and dedicate some time to watching these gems. Then come back at the end of the year and see how many of these contenders make it to the finish line.
21 Jump Street
When it comes to dumb movies, 21 Jump Street is among the best. With a mix of reflexive and, often, self-deprecating humor, this reboot of the late-80s cop show managed to rise above the recent rash of recycled material by presenting itself as a smart-aleck comment on Hollywood’s nostalgia addiction. Led by the unexpected pairing of Channing Tatum and weird-skinny Jonah Hill, the refreshing raunch fest featured stand-out performances from supporting cast members like Rob Riggle, Nick Offerman and Ellie Kemper, not to mention the always memorable Ice Cube. But the biggest surprise was Tatum, who proved he’s more than just a stripper with smooth moves (although that works too, as you’ll later see) by delivering some impressive all-or-nothing physical comedy. – Amanda W.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Set in a small Bayou community not too far from New Orleans, Benh Zeitlin’s feature debut is 93 minutes of pure cinematic joy. Although a fantasy in many ways, there is a stark authenticity to the relationship between a father and his 6-year-old daughter with a wild imagination. Delivered by miraculous first-time performances by Dwight Henry and Quvenzhané Wallis, both struggle to survive but maintain a strong, positive outlook on life. There are no huge stars or fantastical action sequences here, yet it all feels very grand, made all the more poignant by its post-Katrina surroundings. – Jack C.
Richard Linklater’s latest effort is an acerbic mockumentary which tells the story of Bernie Tiede (Jack Black, who previously collaborated with the director on School of Rock), a mortician who moves to the small town of Carthage, Texas and immediately makes his mark on the people. Quickly beloved by all, he decides to strike up a friendship with the wealthy, mean old widow Marjorie Nugent (Shirley Maclaine), and a very strange incident follows. The meticulousness of Black’s performance as the eccentric and effeminate Bernie combined with the hilarious fake interviews of the town’s people and an intriguing true life story make this one of the sleeper hits of the year. Watch out for man-of-the-moment Matthew McConaughey, too. – Jack C.
Beyond the Black Rainbow
It’s just a bit funny: I saw this film some 16 months ago, even liking it so much as to give it an honorable mention on my top ten list last year. Most, however, didn’t see Beyond the Black Rainbow until this year — I suspect those numbers aren’t high in and of themselves, either — and only recently plunged into the dark and imposing world of Panos Cosmatos’ debut. Not that the length of time necessarily matters; a bizarre sense of humor mixed with striking imagery and superb sound design all make Rainbow awfully hard to shake. When the whole package is so deftly handled, whether or not it makes total sense almost doesn’t matter. – Nick N.
The Cabin in the Woods
Film theorists and critics alike credit Scream as the original post-modern take on horror movies, but the popular 1996 slasher flick does not hold a candle to The Cabin in the Woods. Joss Whedon combined his creative superpowers with that of another small screen giant, Lost writer/producer Drew Goddard, to create the ultimate commentary on an extremely varied, trope-filled genre. Filled with sharp, funny writing and riotous action – not to mention a very game cast – it sets a new standard for meta-movies of any kind. – Amanda W.
Chicken with Plums
The duo of Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi brought wonders to the animation genre with Persepolis and now they return with an astounding story of lost love. Perfecting their magical realism technique, it’s difficult not to be enraptured by their sophomore feature. With a mix of various kinds of animation woven into this live-action film, Chicken with Plums is one of the most stimulating, visionary films of the year. - Jordan R.
This story of a fast-food restaurant, gullible employees and one phone call that will change their lives will leave you angry and in need to converse about the subject matter it delves into. Craig Zobel made a big, controversial splash at Sundance earlier this year and the film’s been riding the wave ever since. See it on the big screen while it’s still in limited release — just be prepared for a worthy, lengthy discussion. – Dan M.
Love it or hate it, this is a film made without compromise. But I do love it, and even think David Cronenberg has done some of his finest work with a scary, funny, and prescient examination of a world which lies just outside the limo. What’s great on the page and translated through the camera is tied together by one great ensemble, all of whom are squaring off against Robert Pattinson, an actor who could only be said to have made his homecoming. What a beautiful breakout this is. – Nick N.
Damsels in Distress
If you’ve seen any Whit Stillman film before then you’re either on board with his style or far in the other direction. With his latest, teaming Greta Gerwig with Analeigh Tipton, Aubrey Plaza and more, the director returns after a 14-year break and continues the same sharp, witty dialogue with his refreshingly-relaxed tone. Hopefully he won’t be gone for too long again. – Jordan R.
The Deep Blue Sea
This one, like so many of British auteur Terence Davies’ films, was quickly and quietly forgotten upon its release. And it’s shame, because Rachel Weisz has never been better, playing a tortured wife in love with a tortured British soldier (the magnificent Tom Hiddleston) in post-war Europe. Davies’ steady, confident direction is aided by some beautiful lensing from Florian Hoffmeister. – Dan M.
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