It’s been a strange year for film here at Paste. Several of us have felt very out of sync with the critical consensus. In fact, in our Top Fifty Movies of the Year list, below, it’s very possible that none of our top 25 will be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. But we don’t see that as a failing; we actually see it as a happy circumstance where we’re able to bring you our very favorite films, many of which seem to be falling through the cracks, awards-wise. From transgender sex workers to heroic sex strikers, here are the top 50 movies of 2015.
Tangerine is an uncontrollable, outsized experience, contradictorily a brisk, compact 88 minutes totally absent of waste. Sean Baker, directing through iPhones outfitted with anamorphic lens adapters, has a mission, much like his protagonists, two transgendered prostitutes working Santa Monica Boulevard. Baker invites us to feel what Sin-Dee and Alexandra feel, which frankly isn’t that far off from what most of us feel in our day to day. And that happens to be the film’s greatest stunt: We think ourselves apart from these women, utterly different, but the truth is that we’re far more alike than we realize at a glance. And Tangerine gazes far deeper than that. (Read the full review here.) —Andy Crump
Writer-director Rick Famuyiwa’s latest feature opens with onscreen definitions of its title, Dope, referencing 1. drugs; 2. a stupid person; or 3. cool and very good, respectively. A critical and audience favorite from this year’s Sundance Film Fest, Famuyiwa’s frenetic mashup of twisted cautionary tale-meets-comedy caper touches upon all three definitions. Despite jarring shifts in tone, the film deftly raises important issues about socioeconomics and race in America without sermonizing its audience. This isn’t a straight-up, feel-good comedy—drugs and gangs aren’t easy comic fodder—but Dope satirizes preconceived notions of race and culture, and Famuyiwa keeps things entertaining while still posing hard-hitting questions to the characters and audience. (Read the full review here.) —Christine N. Ziemba
Results is a significant departure for Andrew Bujalski. While relatively low-budget, this is the director’s biggest film to date—there’s no shaky camerawork or poor sound quality here, and working, notable actors are seemingly getting working day rates. Bujalski’s Funny Ha Ha, in 2002, was one of the first to be coined “mumblecore,” and the awkward but natural performances from its nonprofessional actors became a defining characteristic of the movement. There’s certainly more polish from Cobie Smulders, Guy Pearce and Kevin Corrigan, but their performances—refined and, admittedly, “professional”—only enhance the lived-in nature of the characters Bujalski’s created.
These characters all happen to be rather pathetic, emotionally stunted and odd human beings—but you can’t help but become invested in their lives, each with their own endearing quirks, each amusing in their own way to discover and observe. The film is a series of tiny, revealing moments. —Regan Reid
47. The New Girlfriend
The intimacy of female friendships and the unpredictable ways that people grieve are at the core of The New Girlfriend, but its surface is focused on sexier, kinkier matters. A sly little treat, The New Girlfriend watches what happens when a woman (Anaïs Demoustier) becomes close to her dead best friend’s husband (Romain Duris), who reveals to her a closely-guarded secret: He prefers dressing as a woman. Writer-director François Ozon (working from a short story by Ruth Rendell) eschews camp for an erotic, thoughtful drama about female friendships. (Read the full review here.) —Tim Grierson
46. The Revenant
Savage, pummeling, an endurance test, and the most visually striking movie you’ll see all year, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s The Revenant is a dark ride through the depths of humanity and a father’s search for justice. Leonardo DiCaprio, in a wild, physical performance, plays frontier trapper Hugh Glass, who, mauled by a bear and left for dead, survives to embark on an epic quest for revenge against the man who left him for dead and murdered his son. Another mesmerizingly gorgeous collaboration between Inarritu and celebrated cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, the ruthless story is so naturally artistic that it’s easy to lose sight of the technical mastery involved, but the result is a brutal, edge-of-the-world Apocalypse Now. —Brent McKnight
Denis Villeneuve’s considerable strengths and severe limitations are both present in Sicario, a Traffic-by-way-of-Zero Dark Thirty look at American drug policy along the Mexican border. This propulsive action thriller boasts a series of strong performances and is punctuated by some ace suspense sequences. As a piece of sleek, grown-up entertainment, it most assuredly succeeds. But it’s all the trappings around Sicario where matters get far more complicated. Even if the film doesn’t tell us much that we don’t already know about America’s drug wars, it tells it with abundant skill. (Read the full review here.) —T.G.
Think of Trainwreck as Amy Schumer’s comedy fed through Judd Apatow’s directorial dehydrator: It’s 124 minutes of everything we love about Schumer deprived of just enough bite and flavor to keep us tantalized, and not enough to make the experience special. To the credit of both Apatow and Schumer, who wrote the whole damn thing, they’ve made a funny film—and in fairness, “funny” is all that Trainwreck needs to be. When the picture clicks, you’ll be too busy bearing down and expelling laughter to catch any air or worry about politics. Schumer and her colossal supporting cast easily prove that all anyone needs to cut together a solid comedy is good old-fashioned chemistry, sharp delivery, and a surfeit of killer punchlines. —A.C.
’71 is a claustrophobic experience, as gray and imposing as the film’s muted color palette. Set largely in Belfast during the midst of one of the most violent periods of the Northern Ireland Conflict, the feature directorial debut of Yann Demange doesn’t floor us with fresh insights about war or man’s inhumanity to man. No, ’71 is far too intimately focused on its besieged protagonist for anything so sweeping. How can one worry about poetry when not getting killed is the higher priority? In such a crucible, soldiers are, as one person says in ’71, merely meat, but there’s no teary-eyed revelation in the fact—like everything here, it’s presented as blunt truth. (Read the full review here.) —T.G.
It’d be easy to forgive Timbuktu if it milked its subject matter for as much grandiose emotion as possible. After all, there’s plenty to get worked up about when examining the atrocities that Islamic jihadists committed while occupying North African villages. But director Abderrahmane Sissako (Waiting for Happiness) takes a more deadpan approach, dismantling the extremist ideology with sharp observations and clever juxtapositions. By exposing the human element behind it, Sissako creates a deeper sense of the ordinary people behind the horrific events. No matter how terrifying the moment of history, someone behind it probably just wanted to sneak away for a cigarette, whether smoking was forbidden or not. (Read the full review here.) —Jeremy Mathews
41. Listen to Me Marlon
There’s a certain ghoulishness to the concept on the face of it: a beyond-the-grave autobiography of legendary—and legendarily difficult—actor Marlon Brando made up almost entirely out of his own confessional audio recordings, with director Stevan Riley overlaying film clips, interview snippets, behind-the-scenes footage, and more on top of it all. But what’s most disarming about Listen to Me Marlon is Brando’s at-times-brutal honesty in addressing his life and his craft. There’s barely a trace of the infamous eccentric; he’s consistently forthright and thoughtful even when it comes to explaining his stranger actions post-1972. Though Riley’s film certainly comes from a place of admiration for its subject, this is far more than a hagiographic tribute. Instead, Listen to Me Marlon reveals a flawed yet thoughtful human being as committed to being truthful about his own personal life as he was imparting inner truths as an artist. —Kenji Fujishima