A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Poster10. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
d. Roy Andersson

Not as bizarre as you might expect, if you’ve read any reviews of Roy Andersson’s film. It’s a poker-faced, mordantly funny sequence of elegantly strung vignettes about man’s impassive, recyclic cruelty to man and beast, featuring a cast of reanimated corpses and moribund onlookers. And it may contain the strangest, most depressing abstract comment on colonization you’ve ever seen.

Song of the Sea Poster9. Song of the Sea
d. Tomm Moore

Inside Out is rightly well-regarded, but it doesn’t get near the luminous melancholy of Tom Moore’s moving paean to Ireland, childhood, and loss. And you can’t have a respectable “end of year best” list without Brendan Gleeson’s involvement somewhere.

Mommy8. Mommy
d. Xavier Dolan

Exceptional performances elevate this Sofia-Coppola-meets-Alan-Clarke examination of a car crash scenario involving the hardened disappointments of a widowed woman, her ADHD-afflicted son and a damaged neighbor. Unflinching and empathetic and unlike anything else I saw in 2015. Ignore the occasional soundtrack faux-pas.

Mistress America Poster7. Mistress America
d. Noah Baumbach

Greta Gerwig and Lola Kirke deliver the year’s best acting double-act in, for me, Noah Baumbach’s best film. Other films in 2015, notably the likeable Appropriate Behaviour, covered very similar territory (literally), but there are few directors now who can make a handful of locations and people talking in rooms as much interesting fun as this.

Hard to Be a God Poster6. Hard to be a God
d. Aleksey German

We’re all looking for immersive cinematic experiences but this is almost painfully so — and is often like being dunked headfirst in bloody grime. Utterly bizarre and relentlessly dingy and violent, Hard to be a God, set in an absurdly chaotic Medieval landscape, isn’t something to be made much sense of. It’s consciously into Tarkovsky territory and, like Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy, is best simply experienced.

The Look of Silence Poster5. The Look of Silence
d. Joshua Oppenheimer

If you haven’t seen this or Joshua Oppenheimer’s landmark The Act of Killing, watch them both. This is the contemplative yet confrontational companion piece to that extraordinary documentary and, whilst less hard-hitting than its precursor, still asks some horrifying, unanswerable questions — such as “How do you live impassively alongside the killers of a loved one?” –and is no less essential.

The Wolfpack Poster4. The Wolfpack
d. Crystal Mosella

A group of brothers locked inside an apartment during their childhood construct their identities and ideas of the outside world via movies, which they re-enact in their Manhattan apartment. Fascinating, funny and weirdly moving, and the kind of thing E.L. Doctorow might’ve written about.

Whiplash Poster3. Whiplash
d. Damien Chazelle

Budding drummer Miles Teller is tormented into shape by J.K. Simmons’ urbane drill sergeant in one long clattering, unrelenting drumroll that quickly reaches a crescendo and stays there. Ends brilliantly, on a baffling note of grueling euphoria.

It Follows Poster2. It Follows
d. David Robert Mitchell

A curse is passed on from one person to the next during sex, resulting in death for the recipient unless they can quickly transfer the affliction. Sounds ridiculous; result is one of the best horror films in years. Could’ve been even better but to make such a premise work at all is impressive.

The Salt of the Earth Poster1. The Salt of the Earth
d. Wim Wenders

Best film of 2015 by a million miles, a distance you feel the subject — photographer Sebastião Salgado — would easily cover in pursuit of his goal: to capture human life close up in all its forms. Salgado’s admirable resilience and good-humored relentlessness, and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and Wim Wenders’ documentary tribute, are pretty spectacular.

Notable mentions: Carol, Amy, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, The Gift, The Duke of Burgundy, Precinct Seven Five.

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