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The Best Films of 2015 (So Far)

Written by on June 23, 2015 

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With a week to go until 2015 crosses the halfway mark, now’s the time to take a look back at its first six months and round up our favorite films thus far. While the end of this year will bring personal favorites from all of our writers, think of the below 30 entries as a comprehensive rundown of what should be seen before heading into a promising fall line-up.

As a note, this feature is based solely on U.S. theatrical releases from 2015, with many currently, widely available on home video, streaming platforms, or theatrically. Check them out below, as organized alphabetically, followed by honorable mentions and films to keep on your radar for the remaining summer months. For those on Letterboxd, one can find the list here.

About Elly (Asghar Farhadi)

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A few years before A Separation left its considerable mark on the world-cinema landscape, Asghar Farhadi had another masterpiece under his belt. Why it’s been unavailable in the United States for some six years is a total mystery, but that (courtesy of Cinema Guild) has finally been taken care of — and now, at long last, here is About Elly. For fitting the mold of mystery, hangout movie, social critique, and gender-dynamics drama with equal aplomb, this film is the clearest example of Farhadi’s considerable powers. Its 2009 tag be damned, About Elly is one of the best “new” releases we’ve been given this year. – Nick N.

Amour Fou (Jessica Hausner)

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An ecstatically original work of film-history-philosophy with a digital-cinema palette of acutely crafted compositions. Amour Fou seamlessly blends together the paintings of Vermeer, the acting of Bresson, and the psychological undercurrents of a Dostoevsky novel. It is an intensely thrilling and often slyly comic work that manages to combine a passionately dispassionate love story of the highest order with a larger socio-historical examination of a new era of freedom, and the tragedy beset by those trapped in its enclosed world. – Peter L.

Appropriate Behavior (Desiree Akhavan)

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Iranian-American filmmaker and actress Desiree Akhavan channeled Woody Allen for her feature debut, a romantic comedy about Shirin (Akhavan), an aimless 20-something struggling to get over her ex-girlfriend. But while the film recalls the storytelling and New York intellectual vibe of Annie Hall, it stands apart with a distinctive deadpan humor and bisexual female perspective. More importantly, however, it’s a damn funny movie and a welcome introduction to a talented new voice. – Amanda W.

Ballet 422 (Jody Lee Lipes)

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The spectacle of ballet is inherently cinematic, married as it is between the visual and aural arts. The art of creation, however, is much less so, married as it is to silence, pondering, and repetition to the point of perfection. Ballet 422 uses composition, editing, and unfettered observation to create a compelling portrait of a novice choreographer’s first full-length ballet, and the result is as engrossing as they come. – Brian R.

Beloved Sisters (Dominik Graf)

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If German cinema has been dominated by reservation, here is kissing, screaming, fucking, pushing, breaking, and running. Most of all, Beloved Sisters embraces feeling, turning even the written word into a series of direct addresses that passionately reach toward its receiver instead of only an admiration for the transference of materials. Graf’s camera flies through these mansions and small alcoves with every cinematic technique known to man — push-ins, zooms, wipes, dissolves, quick pans, jumping titles! — but, most of all, he relies on the work of his editor to conflate time and space into pure emotion. – Peter L.

Blackhat (Michael Mann)

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Michael Mann is one of the few directors still making thoughtfully composed and visceral action films for an audience that refuses to turn its brain off. That Mann also chooses to tackle concerns of the modern world while still maintaining his old-school action aesthetic is icing on the cake. Blackhat took some heat for its portrayal of a buff, rough and tumble hacker, but with a genuine understanding of computers and the implementation of classic Mann action scenes, this movie still stands as one of the best of the year so far.  – Brian R.

Buzzard (Joel Potrykus)

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A film obsessed with the post-recession, post-NSA era, Buzzard is littered with money (or the lack of it) that recalls neo-realist greats, but not by making a film about the toils of the human spirit. Instead, it takes the form of the a bro genre movie (pair this with Entourage for real whiplash), and peppers each one of its moments with stunning accuracy and an extreme paranoia. It’s a film that understands the new American dream is a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs instead of two microwaved Hot Pockets. – Peter L.

Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas)

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Movies about making movies often get a bad rap; there’s just a presumed pretentiousness that goes along with watching filmmakers and actors defending their craft. So when it turns out that Clouds of Sils Maria is actually a beautifully directed and acted defense of the timelessness and universal value of storytelling in all forms, what could have been a European Birdman actually becomes something so much more. – Brian R.

The Duke of Burgundy (Peter Strickland)

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Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy is an immersive experience that demands to be pondered, discussed, and watched again. This visually sumptuous, aesthetically sublime study of role-playing and sadomasochism (but funny!) is a true stunner, and certain to become a cult classic. While Strickland deserves much of the credit, as does the credited creator of its perfumes (the credit reads “Perfume by Je Suis Gizelle”), the performances of co-leads Sidse Babett Knudsen and Chiara D’Anna are especially worthy of praise, note-perfect as lovers immersed in a relationship of role-playing and elaborate (controlled) deception. Infused with the spirit of ’70s sexploitation and influenced by everyone from Fassbinder to Brakhage, Burgundy is an achievement like no other in recent memory. In fact, it’s no exaggeration to say you’ve never seen anything quite like it. – Christopher S.

Eden (Mia Hansen-Løve)

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At this point, it should be obvious enough that we’re really quite fond of Mia Hansen-Løve‘s Eden, so I’ll save us some time by linking to my review — which, though several months old, in no way reflects a once-higher evaluation — and interviews with the director and co-writer / central inspiration. This is a film whose reputation will only grow in the years to come. Don’t sleep on it while a big-screen experience is still available. – Nick N.

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