Where did the time go? The first six months of the movie year have rushed by resulting in the biggest movie opening of all-time (Jurassic World), two smash sequels (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Furious 7), successful crapola (Fifty Shades of Grey, San Andreas) and fat flops from first-rate filmmakers — the Wachowskis' Jupiter Ascending, Brad Bird's Tomorrowland, Neill Blomkamp's Chappie, Cameron Crowe's Aloha, and Michael Mann's Blackhat. Which begs the question: Has 2015 produced any movies so far that could be fairly categorized as award-caliber or memorably good? I couldn't get to 10 — but here's a solid seven.
A documentary you can't get out of your head. Filmmaker Crystal Moselle somehow infiltrates the Angulo family — a girl and six boys, half-white, half-Latino — who, on orders from their parents, rarely if ever leave their cramped apartment on Manhattan's Lower East Side. All they know of life comes from the movies they watch, transcribe and act out. Dazzling, unnerving and unforgettable.
The big winner at Sundance 2015 lives up to the hype. By now coming-of-age stories tied to a death narrative are so common we cringe. Snap out of it. Thomas Mann excels as the "Me" of the title, a high-school senior forced by his mom to visit dying classmate Rachel (Olivia Cooke), about whom he makes a film with his similarly movie-crazed friend Earl (RJ Cyler). Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon helps three gifted young actors tread the line between laughter and tears with uncommon delicacy and feeling.
Filmmaker Olivier Assayas journeys with humor and heart into the minds of two woman — an aging star, gorgeously acted by Juliette Binoche, and her personal assistant, played by a revelatory Kristen Stewart in a virtuoso performance that should silence all doubts about her talent. Stewart and Binoche make Clouds a contact high.
One of the best music biopics ever, mostly because director Bill Pohlad and screenwriter Oren Moverman blissfully unfollow the rules. As the young Brian Wilson, Paul Dano gets so far inside the genius of the former Beach Boy that you can feel his nerve endings. As the older Wilson, John Cusack takes a different approach, showing the ravages of mental illness and the hard road ahead. It's all there in the music, joyous and haunted.
Screenwriter Alex Garland makes the directing debut of the year with a sci-fi provocation about a sexy, independent-thinking android (the extraordinary Alicia Vikander) and the tech billionaire (Oscar Isaac, outstanding) who invented her. Everyone I send to see Ex Machina comes back with questions that keep playing in their heads. If you haven't yet seen this brilliant mindfuck of a movie, get busy and get in the game.
Pixar tops itself with an animated movie miracle that take us inside the head of an 11-year-old girl and lets her emotions run wild. They are Joy, Fear, Sadness, Disgust and Anger. And director Pete Docter brings them to life in ways you do not see coming. Just for kids? No way. Inside Out's got all our numbers.
George Miller's post-apocalyptic spectacle grows in my estimation each time I see it. (I'm three times and counting.) This baby makes you drunk on movies again. Tom Hardy steps in for Mel Gibson as road warrior Max Rockatansky and rocks it. And Charlize Theron, as rogue warrior Furiosa, gives the best performance by an actress I've seen so far this year. If Oscar doesn't listen, the golden boy is even more of an idiot then I thought. Fury Road is such a visionary explosion of images and ideas, you may feel you dreamed it.