This year’s Double Exposure poll was the most diverse we ever had. Only three people shared a number one pick, and that was Inside Out, the winner of our poll. Other than that, each contributor had a different vote for the best film of 2015. Below are the tabulated results as well as some thoughts from our contributors on their top film of the year.
1. Inside Out dir. Pete Docter
2. Mad Max: Fury Road dir. George Miller
3. Carol dir. Todd Haynes
4. Tangerine dir. Sean Baker
5. In Jackson Heights dir. Frederick Wiseman
6. Horse Money dir. Pedro Costa
7. Clouds of Sils Maria dir. Olivier Assayas
8. Youth dir. Paolo Sorrentino
9. Timbuktu dir. Abderrahmane Sissako
10 (tied). The End of the Tour dir. James Ponsoldt
10 (tied). Hard to Be a God dir. Aleksei German
10 (tied). Chi-Raq dir. Spike Lee
10 (tied). Anomalisa dir. Charlie Kaufman
14 (tied). The Assassin dir. Hou Hsiao-Hsien
14 (tied). A Pigeon Sat on a Branch… dir. Roy Andersson
16. Son of Saul dir. László Nemes
17. The Revenant dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu
18 (tied). Mustang dir. Deniz Gamze Ergüven
18 (tied). Jauja dir. Lisandro Alonso
18 (tied). Irrational Man dir. Woody Allen
Turkish filmmaker Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s directorial debut, Mustang, takes up the classic theme of sisterhood and the tightness of its bonds. The subject of sisters is often chosen as a means of examining a particular society’s stance towards women, as in, for example, Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides. Mustang shares that film’s spirit and visual lyricism in telling the story of five young orphaned sisters—free spirits encumbered by the rigidity of social norms.
Bursting with youthful energy, the film also probes deeply into the conservative dogma of Turkish rural society and its destructive oppression of young people. Mustang‘s five sisters strive to live on their own terms when confronted with a violently imposed ideology of proper behavior and utter submission to a patriarchal society. The film’s visual poetry and loose pace enhance its melancholic tone, and the story of female youth struggling to navigate a time before womanhood soon comes to celebrate the unassailable, if hard-won, value of individuality. – Rita Zhang
There’s a moment midway through Todd Haynes’s Carol where the titular character, played by Cate Blanchett, is asked by her closest friend whether she knows what she’s doing. In response, Carol smiles and replies that she “never did.” Though I had already heard the line in the trailer, in the context of the film, it startled me. Everything about Carol – from how Phillis Nagy’s script finds an impressive balance between reticence and forthrightness to how Sandy Powell’s costumes work both as sumptuous period wear and windows into the characters’ moods – is carefully composed. Nothing, however, seems more deliberate and mystifying than Blanchett’s own Carol. Blanchett exudes enough star wattage to power a child’s train set (a prop which incidentally figures in the plot) and for much of the film, Carol appears as a confident and experienced figure for her younger lover Therese, played by Rooney Mara, to aspire to become and to desire. The discovery that, in many ways, Carol is just as clueless as Therese, took me aback. As the film progressed, Therese also reveals herself to possess more confidence and agency than I had realized at first. Though Carol kept surprising me by subtly divulging new insights into its central couple and their attitudes towards each other, themselves, and those around them, what I never doubted was that Haynes – unlike Carol and Therese – knew exactly what he was doing. – David Quintas
I wasn’t prepared for Horse Money, and I suspect I wasn’t the only one. When I first saw Pedro Costa’s latest film at the 2014 New York Film Festival, it seemed flat and withholding. It wasn’t until I saw Colossal Youth, as well as an earlier work, Casa de Lava, that this later film began to make sense. Costa has steadily been developing a language of cinematic portraiture, rooted as much in the work of photographers like Jacob Riis and Walker Evans as his heroes Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet. His 2006 feature Colossal Youth uses its star Ventura, a Cape Verdean immigrant living in the decaying slum of Fontaínhas, as a point of contact between the isolated inhabitants of the neighborhood, whom Ventura calls his “children.” While his visits home in that film at times seem like a pretext for Costa’s digital daguerreotypes, Horse Money scrutinizes his past more closely, as well its connection to the director’s own history. Wandering the dimly lit halls of a hospital, Ventura relives the period in 1974 when the soldiers of the Carnation Revolution seized power in Portugal. While Costa was chanting slogans in the street, demanding the overthrow of Portugal’s longstanding dictatorship, Ventura feared for his life, fleeing into the woods and finding himself thrust into a fateful knife fight. This piece of shared history becomes the oblique basis for the film’s haunting climax, in which Ventura, trapped in an elevator, stands off against a motionless soldier covered in metallic paint. Horse Money shuffles from image to image, unforgettable yet unassimilable. Ventura’s world is not meant to be an easy place to enter, but the glances Costa affords us are mesmerizing. – Will Noah
In Jackson Heights
In Jackson Heights’ three hour runtime unfolds with such a natural esteem that, watching it, one has to wonder whether the its saturated color palette is the work of Frederick Wiseman’s boundless camera, or just what the Queens neighborhood is really like. Wiseman’s restraint from overtly signifying or commenting on the world he so thoroughly portrays gives the film a feeling that one has just stepped into an Oz within the city of New York. At the same time, never does the film dare to render the neighborhood as some kind of idyllic candy-colored utopia. A group of elderly ladies gather at the community center where worship and town hall meetings are held. We listen to their conversation which constantly fluctuates between satiric humor and jarring heartbreak—as a few complain about their grandchildren, one, at 98 years old, ponders her continued existence after her husband’s death. The power of the film lies in its unironic portrayal of people in all walks of life—from government employees answering phones, to immigrants applying for citizenship, to Muslims working in a slaughterhouse. There is no designation or qualification assigned to these people other than that they are all residents of Jackson Heights. New York City council member Danny Dromm proudly announces early on in the film, “Jackson Heights is the most diverse community in the whole world. Literally. We have 167 different languages spoken here.” And so an honorable mention must be afforded to the subtitle makers of In Jackson Heights, as much a role-model documentary as Jackson Heights is a role-model neighborhood. – Matthew Rivera
Spike Lee’s Chi-raq is a masterpiece and a mess, simultaneously a Rabelaisian comedy, a sincere, pathos-infused critique, and a series of musical numbers that dazzle for their own sake. From a shocking opener (in the first few minutes, we see the bloody lyrics of “Pray 4 My City” projected on a black screen, then a violent shootout at a rap show), it latches onto your imagination and, in the alternately horrifying and life-affirming–but always captivating–scenes that spiral from its repurposed plot, refuses to let go. John Cusack will catch your sympathy with a passionate sermon on violence, guns and indifference; Jennifer Hudson will make you cry when she sponges her own daughter’s blood off the pavement; and ribald jokes aplenty will make you laugh so much that you forget, for a second, where Chicago gets its nickname.
Chi-raq rightly brings the intersecting problems of systemic poverty, crime, gun violence, and cultural masochism to our collective consciousness. But in his signature provocateur style, Spike Lee doesn’t prescribe us the answers, nor attempt to assign blame to any one part, leaving us instead with clashing yet unforgettable images that force us to, if nothing else, “stay woke.” – Melanie Shi
Son of Saul
If you thought there were no more ways to put the Holocaust to film, Son of Saul will show you otherwise. The film tells the story of a member of the Sonderkommando, a Jewish prisoner forced to dispose of the dead bodies of his own people. Overwhelming doesn’t come close to describing the impact of last year’s Cannes Grand Prix winner. It is a film devoid of highs and lows. There is no climax and there are no moments of rest. From the first shot onwards, the horror pushes on on at a steady, relentless pace.
We follow Saul around the concentration camp in tight close ups and over-the-shoulder shots in a claustrophobic 4:3 aspect ratio. With the background hardly ever in focus, our eyes are drawn more to his unchanging blank expression than the chaos surrounding him. We are looking at a man who has had to drown out the world in order to stay sane – although, the question remains, has it worked? One of the things that makes Son of Saul so memorable is that it doesn’t purely exist to shock us. It is an intimate story that reflects upon the nature of hope and the boundaries of what we might call our humanity.
The film is not an easy sitting, but an essential one. Son of Saul conveys the unimaginable, precisely by not showing it. – Rem Berger
The Princess of France
Given all the fanfare surrounding Janus Films’ restoration of Orson Welles’ Chimes at Midnight this season, it’s surprising that cinephiles mostly passed on Matías Piñeiro’s The Princess of France, a virtuosic, whirlwind pastiche that packs double the Shakespeare into half the time. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the characters are a troupe of actors, their mission is to put on a play, their problem is that they can’t stop falling in love with each other. From the first shot, we’re reminded that we’re watching a magic show, designed to seduce us into amazement. None of this would work without the extraordinary performances of the cast, who, thanks to Piñeiro’s witty choreography, transcend their years as they face the responsibilities of adulthood. The film has the bittersweet feeling of a late-night last hurrah, never more so than in the centerpiece scene: a glittering dance that leaves plot and even Shakespeare by the side of the road. If there was a more liberating moment in a 2015 release—or a more impeccably directed one—I don’t know it. – Jackson Arn
The Revenant, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s latest film, is a gripping and incredibly powerful piece of cinema. The narrative centers around Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), a frontiersman in the 1820s and his epic struggle to avenge his son’s death and get back to his company after being abandoned. The story of a man struggling to survive against all possible odds (in this case man vs. nature, as well as man against his demons) is by no means a new concept. But what makes this story feel so epic is the way in which Iñárritu takes this basic idea of survival, places it in a monumental location and takes the audience along for a visceral ride. The use of camera movement that mimics video games and intimate tracking shots—the camera sometimes close enough for character’s breath to fog up the lens—develops a close relationship between the movie and the viewer’s physical experience. We become attached not through the use of dialogue, but instead by the very image of the characters and the amount of time we spend with them. There is something quite instinctive and primal about this notion, which allows the viewer to connect with the film despite the period setting. Because of this, at times The Revenant can feel almost too emotionally taxing. Yet we must not forget that this is an adventure-thriller, and adventure and thrill it certainly delivers. – Danielle Stolz
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
In the spirit that “art should always be at the service of humanism,” Roy Andersson’s A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence is comprised of a series of subtly cathartic vignettes. In the name of helping people have fun, a pair of salesmen attempt to no avail to sell a briefcase of vampire fangs, a laughter bag and a latex mask of “Uncle One-Tooth”; a cashier announces a dead man’s shrimp sandwich and draught beer for free (purchased just before his untimely passing); a flamenco teacher modifies her student’s dancing with amorous caresses; and an elderly man silently contemplates a taxidermy pigeon. The film is impeccably quiet in more ways than one. There is an all-pervading stillness because of fixed-camera framing and timing alike, sparse dialogue and a muted color palette of grey, beige and green. At times sad and desperate, at times tender and even grotesque, A Pigeon is a tragicomedy that left me hopeful and wanting more. – Sophie Kovel
When Jennifer Jason Leigh’s weak-voiced Lisa sings “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” in its entirety, Anomalisa’s morose protagonist, Michael Stone (David Thewlis), is charmed at first, and then uncomfortable as the song goes on just a bit too long, a bit too sincerely. The whole movie feels like this: the small details of the social encounters in a hotel, highlighted by the animators’ meticulousness, are charming, and then become a little frustrating, and are then, finally, almost sickening in their clarity. Charlie Kaufman doubles down on the usual characteristics of his movies to the point of ridiculousness. His endearingly juvenile characters are now puppets, and they’re more helpless than ever to keep the things they care about from fading away. Michael Stone has a moment of relief in Lisa’s eerie song, and then it disappears, but at least it gives him a lot to think about in the meantime. – Amelie Lasker
Do you agree with our picks? Let us know in the comments.