My film reviewing year started with a nightmare (“Jupiter Ascending”) and ended with a disaster (the dull, pointless remake of “Point Break”). However, there was greatness in between.
The five films I highlight below rank among the year’s finest, and all count as bold, innovative, personal visions. Even lesser films from my list of reviews – “Creed,” “Crimson Peak,” “Everest,” “Irrational Man,” “The Assassin,” “’71,” even “Magic Mike XXL” – offered significant pleasures.
Heck, I even liked “Pan.”
Here are five of the year’s most memorable cinematic treats:
1. “Phoenix.” There are moments in this stunning, unforgettable post-World War II film that will, quite literally, take your breath away. Director Christian Petzold’s story of a concentration camp survivor’s attempt to reconnect with the (non-Jewish) husband who believes she is dead, and to learn whether he betrayed her to the Nazis, is a stunner. The film’s overwhelmingly emotional final scene cements the greatness of Petzold’s achievement.
2. “Clouds of Sils Maria.” The mysterious, wondrous “Clouds of Sils Maria” finds three individuals – director Olivier Assayas and stars Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart – at the peak of their powers. You have never seen Stewart be as compelling, as enigmatic and as utterly relatable as she is here. And rarely has a film about memory and its role in the creative process seemed so breathtakingly human.
3. “Breathe.” The directorial debut for wonderful French actress Mélanie Laurent (“Inglourious Basterds”) is an astute study of the emotions and pains of adolescence. It tells a simple story, but one that should resonate with anyone who dealt with unpopularity, nastiness or troubled friendships as a teenager.
4. “Goodnight Mommy.” This Austrian horror-thriller is one of the most chilling films in recent memory, a fiercely compelling story of creepy, blonde-haired twins and the woman who may (or may not) be their mother. It repels and intrigues in equal measure, and there are moments in the film that make you gasp in astonishment. Featuring fascinating performances from its three leads, it is an off-kilter nightmare that dares you to not look away.
5. “What We Do in the Shadows.” An inspired, riotous mockumentary and future cult classic as sharply funny as any release this year, the film co-stars and was co-directed by “Flight of the Conchords” genius Jemaine Clement. Think vampire movies and mockumentaries have grown stale? “What We Do in the Shadows” will make you think otherwise.
– Christopher Schobert