« All Features

The Film Stage’s Top 50 Films of 2015

Written by on December 30, 2015 

40. Embrace of the Serpent (Ciro Guerra)

Embrace of the Serpent

I have a weakness for heart-of-darkness films, and Embrace of the Serpent ranks amongst the best (and most gorgeous) I’ve seen. It’s also the only one I can think of that successfully adopts a native perspective in charting the white man’s journey down the river, thus offering a moving elegy to the myriad cultures that were destroyed in the process instead of just probing into humanity’s vilest instincts. – Giovanni M.C.

39. Tom at the Farm (Xavier Dolan)


Filmmaker wunderkind Xavier Dolan explores the depths of forbidden desire with his screen adaptation of a Michel Marc Bouchard play. With its fog-draped rural setting and confused, dreamlike tone, the story of a gay French-Canadian who gradually gives himself over to his dead lover’s brutish, seemingly closeted brother perfectly illustrates the psychology of abusive relationships and their symptomatic isolation. But as the chemistry between the titular Tom (Dolan) and his abuser (played by the commanding Pierre-Yves Cardinal) grows, the line between sexual attraction and violence becomes blurred, veering the film away from a victim narrative to a far more engaging erotic thriller with horror flourishes. – Amanda W.

38. Room (Lenny Abrahamson)


Free from the manipulation that a Hollywood picture might offer, Room is a masterfully crafted and wrenching portrait of Ma (Brie Larson) and Jack (Jacob Tremblay), both giving affecting performances as a mother and son imprisoned in a small room. Carefully constructed by director Lenny Abrahamson, the room is the entire world for Ma and Jack until they are (spoilers!) liberated in a stunning escape. What follows is just as brilliant. Adapted by Emma Donohue from her novel, Room is a triumph and a tearjerker, confidently directed and masterfully acted. – John F.

37. Youth (Paolo Sorrentino)


At first glance, Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth looks like another of the Great Beauty director’s idyll frolics in the fields of Fellini, demonstrating a sharp eye for visual beauty and aesthetic control while lacking a thematic substance. Although it does tend to veer wildly from one emotion to the next, spastically leap-frogging across stray, melancholic thoughts and trotting out a parade of game actors and actresses ready to play, the great strength of Youth is that it’s seemingly introspective meditation on aging, loss, and legacy is both sincerely heartfelt and imaginatively playful. Sorrentino’s playground (a health spa in the Alps) proves to be a perfect foil for the work of Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel, who each give one of the best performances of their career. Even as the film threatens to swoon and fall off the precipice of its own dreamy imaginings, it pulls back and delivers moments of grand loveliness and emotional heartbreak that draw the whole piece together. – Nathan B.

36. Mommy (Xavier Dolan)


Xavier Dolan’s Mommy is a curious picture, one arriving in the U.S. in the typically dead zone of early winter, yet no other film has stayed with me in the same way. An emotional gut punch, Mommy continually breaks all of the cinematic rules, challenging its audience with a square frame similar to that of an iPhone held vertically while shooting. Dolan employs frequent collaborator Anne Dorval as Diana, a mother who breaks her son (Antoine-Oliver Pilon) free after he’s committed in light of the passage of a fictional Canadian law. The road ahead is painful, bittersweet, and powerful as the mother dreams of a future for her son, only to have those dreams crushed. Dolan is simultaneously in and out of control of his narrative, a frantic call to action mashing up pop culture, desire, youth obnoxiousness, and mental illness. With a constantly moving camera by André Turpin, Mommy is unforgettable experience. – John F.

35. Bridge of Spies (Steven Spielberg)


Tom Hanks has a cold, and he needs to save America. A natural follow-up to Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln in its immersion into nitpicky political discussion, Bridge of Spies also distinguishes itself with a wittier, frequently downright sarcastic screenplay (mostly courtesy, one imagines, of the Coen brothers), more agile camerawork (the ten-minute opening jaunt through Mark Rylance’s Brooklyn morning has been a justified source of attention), and a different kind of lead performance: where Lincoln was a method actor’s movie, Bridge of Spies is a movie star’s movie, with a typically relaxed, everyman-mode Hanks smiling, badgering, and coughing his way through never-ending negotiations. – Danny K.

34. Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (Spike Lee)

Da Sweet Blood of Jesus

Spike Lee’s incendiary politics and outspoken nature have led to his being unfairly pigeonholed as a race- / politics-first director, when in fact, as far back as Do the Right Thing, his mastery as a stylist has been apparent. Da Sweet Blood of Jesus should serve as a corrective. Lee’s politics are far less explicit than in his best-known work, meaning his sensual use of color, offbeat, expressionistic performances, and music command the most attention. There is plenty of subtext to mine, but even if there weren’t, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus would stand out for being among the sexiest and alluring films in some time. – Forrest C.

33. Shaun the Sheep Movie (Mark Burton and Richard Starzak)


One of the marvels of cinema is its ability to convey thoughts and ideas without words, relying instead on wholly visual and non-linguistic cues to put across its purpose. Shaun the Sheep understands this power and harnesses it to create what is one of the most entertaining and moving film experiences of the year. Packed with visual comedy while also pulling off some truly affecting emotional stakes, this film takes what other works might see as a challenging gimmick (a dialogue-free comedy about a pack of sheep) and instead uses it to create a universal tale of friendship and family. – Brian R.

32. The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Marie Heller)

The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Writer-director Marie Heller paints an accurate, honest, and vibrant portrait of her young protagonist, Minnie (Bel Powley), in The Diary of a Teenage Girl. With the use of some beautiful hand-drawn animation, an enlightening and funny narration, and Powley’s versatile performance, this is about as intimate as a subjective picture gets. We experience the world as this young girl does. What’s exciting for Minnie feels truly exciting, and the same goes for any moments of pain and confusion. The Diary of a Teenage Girl is as funny and touching as it is an unflinching directorial debut. – Jack G.

31. Right Now, Wrong Then (Hong Sang-soo)


I was generally puzzled by the rhapsodic critical praise lavished upon virtually every one of Hong Sang-soo’s staggeringly frequent — and unabashedly homogenous — new features, but with Right Now, Wrong Then I finally “got” it. The film is a veritable masterpiece of understated filmmaking, one so deceptively simple that its depth catches you by surprise and leaves you in awe of a director capable of approaching the human condition with such empathy and sensitive insight. – Giovanni M.C.

Continue >>

« 1 2 3 4 5 6»

See More: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

blog comments powered by Disqus

News More

Trailers More

Features More
Twitter icon_twitter Follow