I have not seen The Revenant. Must I? But I guess you can read my list as a counterpoint to its celebration of rugged masculinity.
Worst of the Year
The Danish Girl. Let’s put it this way; the filmmakers’ shaky understanding of transgender issues and their general disregard for the historical record are far from this movie’s greatest flaws. These huge miscalculations pale in comparison to the film’s general ineptitude—its discombobulated screenplay, its maudlin sentimentality, its lack of comprehensible character development, and its reliance on laughable symbolism to force emotional reactions it barely even attempts to earn. And then of course there’s the simpering, cowering Eddie Redmayne, ever ready to tug (or more precisely, heave) at our heartstrings in the most vapid performance I’ve seen in quite some time. I refuse to give this film credit for being earnest. Bad is bad. Can we please let the Tom Hooper nightmare end at last??
10. Room. I may be giving this movie too much credit for the fact that I didn’t think Emma Donoghue’s book could ever be made into a coherent film. Or I may be giving it too little credit since I still think that what makes Donoghue’s book most interesting (the fully committed child’s perspective) is inevitably diminished in this film adaptation. But in any case, Room works. It captures the horror and claustrophobia of forced confinement, and then the shock of readjustment to the huge, huge world. It’s visually striking, and it draws emotion where it needs to. And it features Joan Allen (so how could it not make my top ten list?).
9. Girlhood. For the first few months after seeing Girlhood, I let my dissatisfaction with its final act taint my views of the movie as a whole. But the vast majority of the film is wonderful, and its depiction of four teenagers coming of age in a black working-class Parisian suburb is rich and absorbing (without any of the platitudes or condescension one might expect from my rushed plot summary). Director Céline Sciamma’s unpretentious study of the ebbs and flows of adolescent friendship—explored in one captivating scene with a sing-along to Rihanna’s “Diamonds”—ought to trump any quibbles one may have with the movie’s final scenes.
7. Tangerine. Thankfully, queer cinema is alive and well, in spite of Tom Hooper’s best efforts to kill it off. The specifics of the plot already elude me, but that’s okay. What has stuck with me is the film’s raw energy and the dynamic friendship it depicts between two transgender prostitutes (one played by Mya Taylor, who is wonderful). Tangerine wears its queerness on its sleeve, and it pulls us into the lives of its protagonists without asking us to relate to them or to judge them. And yes, it was shot on an iPhone, which still blows my mind.