1. Mommy By Xavier Dolan
This film was about the intensity of the love between a mother and her son. What I loved was two-fold. First off I loved the telling of the intensity of this relationship because the son is very challenging and obviously has some mental health challenges that make parenting particularly taxing. At the same time you have the sense that mom hasn't always known how to be the best mom either. Though explosive at times, the underlying emotion here is devotion between the two of them. I also loved how this was shot on a square format. There were some camera techniques that were very unique and I thought really added to the overall feeling of the movie.
French w/ subtitles, this one got a 90% rating on rotten tomatoes.
2. While We're Young by Noah Baumbauch
If you're over the age of about 39 you know someone who is desperately trying to stay young. And failing. Because if you're trying too hard to stay young, I guarantee it's not working. If you know that person (and maybe even if you are that person) this movie is just the thing to both confirm how ridiculous it is to try to stay youthful and relevant, while at the same time perhaps reminding you youth is really mind over matter anyway. The young all just want to be established and successful and the old just want to be young again. It's a silly existential dance we do when we try to circumvent the natural progression of life and stay transfixed in time we no longer belong to. But don't let the seriousness of that description I just penned dissuade you - this is actually really funny. There are some hilarious comparisons between the newer generation of hipster and the aging gen x adults who grapple to understand why a VCR would be somehow trendier than digital and trying to remember why we gave up vinyl music albums in the first place if they were so dang cool. This hit home for me too because there is a scene where the desperate to be cool Ben Stiller and Noami Watts decide to try Ayahuasca in hopes the hallucinogen will bring them to some deep and profound point that will erase the angst of aging and renew their youthful outlook while giving them buckets of meaning. If you know anything about Ayahuasca you know it usually brings buckets of puke along with it's insight. This hit home for me because I recently had a long conversation with a 40 something who bought a trip to South America specifically to go try Ayahuasca in the hopes of finding her purpose in life. I really think she's just having a mid life crisis and I wanted to prescribe she go watch this film instead. I think you'll enjoy this no matter your age and no matter how cool you're trying to be (or not).
Rotten Tomatoes - 86%
3. Dior and I by Frederic Tcheng
This film is an absolute dream. Later, I had to buy this on digital so I can watch it whenever I want. Seeing the inspiring creative process of Dior's Raf Simons (who sadly, just left Dior a few weeks ago) is nothing short of miraculous. Watching the process of creating the couture gowns and all the hand stitching was just incredible. The amount of work that goes into a collection and a show is just astounding. I can't really recommend this enough.
This one is in french a fair amount of time but not always - partially english. Rotten Tomatoes 81%
4. Kurt Cobain - Montage of Heck by Brett Morgen
Okay look pretty much everyone who knows me knows that I love Kurt Cobain so maybe I'm a little biased on this movie. But I think even if you don't like Cobain this is still entertaining, informative, and an enjoyable ride. The documentary takes an intimate look at Cobain using footage never before seen and augmenting the movie with his artwork in ways that are both provocative and give context and meaning to who Cobain was. For me it was poignant, profound and heartrending.
97% on Rotten Tomatoes
[if you want to really go down a Cobain rabbit hole, follow this up with the way more non-mainstream view of the Kurt and Courtney story on Netflix and watch "Soaked in Bleach"]
5. Diary of a Teenage Girl - by Marielle Heller
This film, in spite of being a somewhat disturbing subject matter on it's face, really hit a an interesting balance between tackling a difficult topic and keeping it non-exploitative. To simplify a complex topic the movie is about a coming of age for our teenage protagonist Minnie. But that coming of age is fraught with the difficulties of a mother who parties too much and pays little to no attention to what is going on with her daughter. That daughter's first real boyfriend is also her mother's boyfriend. You sort of want to hate Alexander Skarsgard for taking advantage of a teenage girl and you feel compelled to consider him a predator or a pedophile, but you also realize it's more complicated than that for Minnie. There are no simple emotions or situations here and the film is set in the midst of San Francisco during the post free love age that pretty much confused everything for everyone. High moral ground you won't really find here. But what you will find is a portrayal of everything that is both awesome and horrible about being a teenage girl. The setting of the 70s was so spot on where some films get it wrong, this is really what the 70s looked like.
Rotten Tomatoes 94%
6. Far From the Madding Crowd - Thomas Vinterberg
Based on Thomas Hardy's original book - the melodrama of some of these old stories is both kind of funny and refreshing. This movie is as romantic as it gets. I loved Carry Mulligan and Matthias Schoenaerts chemistry in this movie. What can I say? This movie is about star-crossed love at it's best, improbable and perfect. Enjoy it for what it is.
Rotten Tomatoes 86%
7. Crimson Peak - Guillermo Del Toro
Sometimes you just want a good old fashioned gothic style ghost story and this one really worked for me. Del Toro is a dude with a huge imagination and I thought this film really captured all the elements of a perfect ghost story. The film is also beautiful and the attention to detail with the sets and costumes is excellent.
Rotten Tomatoes 69%
By the Sea - Angelina Jolie
Okay hear me out on this one. Do not go if you don't like slow movies, movies with very little plot, subtle subtext, or long shots that linger on stylistic elements. DO see this if you like any of those things, and additionally love little sea villages, gorgeous clothes, beautiful rooms, languid shots, subdued plot, pretty people, and general moodiness. This is right up my alley, but I'm fully aware I am in the minority about these sorts of things. There's also some kinda deep stuff about voyeurism and obsession with other people's lives which feels particularly interesting coming from Angelina. Whatever else can be said about this I think there is no doubt Angelina meant to make a film that felt more like something created in the mid to early 70s. A beautiful film that gets all the right shots and that is totally accomplished here.
32% Rotten Tomatoes (see, no one liked it except me)
The Intern - Nancy Myers
First off, Nancy Myers is my feel good guru. This movie was just sweet as all get-out. How rare is it that a movie explores a friendship between a man and a woman and it REALLY is just about friendship. Sometimes I like to just sit on the couch and escape from the world with a good Nancy Myers movie and this is one I'll probably buy for that purpose. There's also, as usual with Nancy, some scrummy interiors to drool over and the main action of the movie is a JCREW-like office in New York that is also visually lovely (and a dream work place environment).
Rotten Tomatoes - 61%
The Second Mother - Anna Muylaert
This is as foreign film that explores the complexities of a classist society. Set in Brazil, the film is about the relationship between a maid and the household family members she has been employed with for a long time. Her relationship with the son of the household is more like that of mother and son rather than an employee. There are other complications with relationships between family members as well including difficulties with her own daughter. It sounds overly dramatic and there is some drama, but it is also very funny at times, and heartfelt. I really liked the overall message of the film and I thought it was very well made.
Portuguese with English subtitles - Rotten Tomatoes LOVED this with 96%
Love & Mercy - Bill Pohlad
This was super excellent and not just because I think my boyfriend John Cusack did a great job of portraying Brian Wilson. Probably one of the best biographical movies I've ever seen it really helps give context to all of the weird Beach Boys/Brian Wilson drama we've heard about over the years. It also shows what a genius Wilson is and really helps him get his own story out there when for many years other people tried to control his story and give their own versions that were inaccurate. It's a sweet love story to boot and will make you fall in love with Beach Boys music all over again. Both Cusack and Paul Dano do an excellent acting job here.
Rotten Tomatoes totally loved this with a 90% approval rating
Iris - Albert Maysles
LOVED this. Iris Apfel is a national treasure. If you don't know who she is or why she's pretty much the most awesome senior fashionista in existence, run out and rent this right away. You'll fall in love with her immediately. I can only HOPE to be 1/10th as cool as this lady is when I'm old.
Rotten Tomatoes agrees she's super awesome with 98% really you can't get a higher rating than that!
Animals - Colin Schiffli
This is one probably not that many people saw. If you're interested in a story about the toll of addiction, this is a really good one. Realistically providing insight into how addiction both humanizes and dehumanizes a person at the same time. The movie is both empathetic towards their heroin addiction, and yet ultimately not overly sympathetic. Which is a difficult and nice balance to strike. A lot of times movies about addiction sort of feel like they get it wrong, but I felt like this one really got it right. Beautifully filmed as well. If you're not into a movie about two drug addicts and their struggle to survive, I understand. But if its a topic you find remotely interesting and you like good filmmaking, this one is good.
Rotten Tomatoes - 84%
Lastly here are honorable mentions - movies I really liked this year but didn't make my cut for top 10-15. All are movies i enjoyed and you might like as well - some are more mainstream and therefore didn't make my cut to review them because it's likely you already heard PLENTY about them (Inside Out, I'm looking at you)
Straight Out of Compton
Me, Earl & The Dying Girl
I'll See You In My Dreams
The Big Short
An Irrational Man
AND as a bonus - I asked all of my girlfriends what movies they enjoyed most this year and I got these which I neglected list myself:
Infinitely Polar Bear
Bridge of Spies
Big Hero 6
Anything you loved that I didn't mention? Checking out the list above should keep you busy for a while.