The Year in Cinema

Transexual Cinderellas, stampeding dogs in the streets of Budapest, a heroic sheep … There was much more to cinema in 2015 than the glorious return of Star Wars (even though that was pretty awesome, too). Here are a few films that you might have missed, or at least deserve revisiting, from the year that was.


Best Movie Shot Entirely on iPhone: Tangerine

Sean Baker’s hyperreal slice of West Hollywood street life is one of the most thrilling hand-held style movie experiences since 2011’s Snow on Tha Bluff. The film exists in a sun-drenched, sense-assaulting megalopolis of strip malls, pop-up brothels, crack-fueled beatdowns, fluid gender boundaries and horribly botched family Christmases. Located at the center of the storm is trans sex worker Sin-Dee Rella, trying to find a center of personal gravity and peace while caught up in her friend’s exhausting, day-long vendetta against a cheating pimp/boyfriend. Zero preaching or self-aware artifice make for a beautifully flawed and utterly believable naturalism. Tangerine found a new paradigm of moving character studies that use Crank 2 and Grand Theft Auto as aesthetic blueprint. An instant time capsule of L.A. energy on a particularly insane Christmas Eve in the early 21st Century.

White God

Best Film to Hug Your Dog after Watching: White God

Amores Perros meets The Birds meets Homeward Bound in this cruel, breathtaking urban fable. After a government order begins to regulate the ownership of mixed-breed dogs in Budapest, Hungary, 13-year-old Lili is forced by her father to abandon her canine soulmate, Hagen, in a back alley. As the disillusionment of Lili’s adolescence dawns on her, another drama unfolds across the city as Hagen falls in with a growing army of oppressed mutts who decide to rise up and take to the street in a raging stampede, wreaking havoc wherever they go. The shots of animal mayhem (using all real dogs) would be worth the price of admission, but what makes White God an experience for the ages is the uncannily human-like performances director Kornél Mundruczó captures in the non-speaking four-legged stars. We are left with jaws agape, wondering if we would even deserve forgiveness if our species’ best friend one day gained the upper paw over us.

Mad Max

Best Films that Broke the Law of Gravity: Furious 7/Mad Max: Fury Road

There’s no need to reintroduce these big ones, the two current pillars of action blockbusters done right in the era of CGI overkill. While certainly guilty of some of these sins, these two mega-sequels have miraculously proved that giving the people more and more (and more) of what they want isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you’re taking notes, a couple important things to mark down is that both movies:

1. Are completely aware of what works in their respective series and don’t try to flip the board or rewrite the rules.

2. Let you step back and appreciate the stunts (in these cases, heavy metal ballets of vehicular mayhem) without shaking you or the camera around too much.

Shaun the Sheep the Movie

Best Film With No Dialogue: Shaun the Sheep

If you’ve ever considered buying a Minion-shaped birthday cake just so you can stab one of those inescapable, high-volume lipopods in the face, then you probably need a break from the lower tendencies of animated kids movies and a refreshing, smart alternative. The creative force behind Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run returned this year with one of their frustratingly rare releases in the form of Shaun the Sheep, an endearing and completely word-free claymation spectacular featuring a herd of wayward ovine buddies who venture in to the big city to bring their amnesiac owner (who has since become a star hairdresser) back home to the farm. A little subtlety goes a long way in this timeless, low-fanfare comedy. All those baa-s sound like music to my ears.

Beasts of No Nation

Best unwatched film in your Netflix queue: Beasts of No Nation

Yes, it is about time you watched this gut-wrenching survival drama about child soldiers in Western Africa that also happens to be the first Netflix original feature. If ever the war film has lost some of its power to shock in recent years, the presence of a young and vulnerable cast (rounded out by many real-life ex-child soldiers) makes all the wounds fresh again. This visceral journey from filmmaker Cary Fukunaga (who explored the world of MS-13 gang members in 2009’s Sin Nombre) brings us into a reality few of us dare to imagine in the West. In the character of preteen Agu we witness the fear and weariness of several lifetimes, from a loving family in an unstable border territory to complete loss, a quest for revenge and a search for a father figure in the treacherous, single-minded Commandant (Idris Elba). All the while we see in Agu’s youth the reminder that, while life can be short and meaningless, there is always time to change, and as long as there is hope, there are possibilities.

The Lobster

Best Film I Haven’t Watched Yet: The Lobster

Colin Farrell and John C. Reilly in a black comedy about having to find a mate within 45 days or be turned into an animal forever? Count me in, bring over some drinks and let’s do this!