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Andres Solar’s Top Ten Films of 2015

Punchdrunkmovies.com film critic Andres Solar's Top Ten of 2015:

10. Cartel Land
This exceptional documentary evokes the intense danger and ticking-time-bomb atmosphere of current Mexican drug organizations and the civilian militias which have risen to defend their neighborhoods—on both sides of the border. American director Matthew Heineman’s jaw-dropping access to key figures in the battles—and the armed battles themselves—keeps your adrenaline pumping throughout. Available on home video.

9. Macbeth
The great classics of drama will always be reinterpreted and reinvented, just as music written three, four, five centuries ago is still performed and recorded today. To endure, the work must excel, and this richly textured, finely acted (leads Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, particularly) and fearless rendition of Shakespeare’s tale, by British director Justin Kurzel, certainly does that. Now playing in theaters.



8. Manglehorn
Texan director David Gordon Green, who has been making fine, independent films lately (“Prince Avalanche” [2013], “Joe” [2014]), stumbled this year with his Warner Bros.-distributed political comedy “Our Brand Is Crisis.” Earlier in the year, though, IFC Films released his quietly surreal tale about a lonely, lovelorn locksmith (Al Pacino) and his newfound friend (Holly Hunter). Green’s capabilities in depicting metaphysics in contrast with seemingly ordinary settings impress yet again. Available on home video.

7. Orion: The Man Who Would Be King
At a November 2015 Q&A in South Miami-Dade, England’s Jeanie Finlay pointed out that she “went to art school, not film school,” and the director’s work benefits from that fact. It takes an artist to look at a masked singer on an album cover, “have a desire to just pull the mask and have a peak at who’s behind it,” and turn those two simple moments into a thorough—and thoroughly enjoyable—documentary about personality and fame. Now playing in theaters.

6. Gett: The Trial Of Viviane Amsalem
The Israeli entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2014 is a raw, riveting and poignant work written and directed by one of its stars (Ronit Elkabetz). In Gett, she plays a woman seeking a divorce from her domineering, headstrong husband who repeatedly refuses to "grant" her the "gett" for many years. She brings her petition to the only venue that can legally hear it: a tribunal of rabbis. Available on home video.



5. It Follows
American director David Robert Mitchell understands broadly the greatest of all fears—fear of the unknown. So, in this gorgeously shot, unconventional horror/thriller, while lead character Jay floats peacefully, languidly in her backyard pool, an electric, pulse-pounding suspense permeates each shot and lingers defiantly in the ethers. Available on home video.

4. Youth
Italian director Paolo Sorrentino’s follow-up to last year’s Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar winner, “The Great Beauty,” draws you into a luxury spa for meditation, reflection, thrilling scenery, and a happy rubbing of elbows with Miss Universe. Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) and Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) give powerfully subdued performances as friends of sixty years ruminating on past, present, and future. Now playing in theaters.



3. The Wonders
This fine, sublime artwork by Italy’s Alice Rohrwacher proves there is nothing more fake than reality television and nothing more real than naturalist surrealism. The eldest daughter of a farming family in Tuscany becomes enamored with the idea of appearing on such a show when a producer, in search of “cultural authenticity,” appears in her village. The film is like a strange, lovely painting—a diptych contrast between ages-old agronomies and today’s hypermedia ubiquities, among other fascinations. Available on home video February 2016.

2. Love & Mercy
Inspired in its visual, verbal, and musical languages, this biopic on the mastermind behind the Beach Boys landmark “Pet Sounds” album allows itself to be led by Brian Wilson's life and work. The creative ensemble of Paul Dano (Wilson in the late 1960s), John Cusack (Wilson in the 1980s), Elizabeth Banks (superb as Wilson’s love interest), and Paul Giamatti makes the film a feel like the Golden State itself: a sunshine dreamland streaked with dark altostratus clouds. The bittersweetness of the experience makes it more real and more honest. Available on home video, and coming to the Miami Beach Cinematheque January 3rd.



1. A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence
Swedish veteran auteur Roy Andersson completes his “Living Trilogy” with a colossal, hysterically hilarious satire about that which humans call “life.” With a couple of hapless novelty salesmen as existential guides (of sorts), life and death comingle in unpredictable ways. The title is purposely unwieldy and pretentious, but Andersson’s work is cinematic storytelling at its finest. Among the great apes, humans are the most warring. So, isn’t any time the right time to pin something absurd to the noses of those? Available on home video.

Other 2015 picks: Trainwreck (Judd Apatow) showcases the edgy comedic talents (and surprising tenderheartedness) of its writer/star Amy Schumer; Spotlight (Tom McCarthy) features a wonderful ensemble cast (Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James, Liev Schreiber, and Stanley Tucci) that clicks like the works inside a Rolex in this powerful newsroom detective drama; Where To Invade Next (Michael Moore) finds the political activist/documentarian in an “aggressive” mood, personally “invading” countries like Finland and Italy to bring the “spoils” (mainly wildly superior social programs) back to America; The End Of The Tour (James Ponsoldt) focuses on a few days in the life of the celebrated American contemporary novelist and essayist David Foster Wallace. The exciting director from Athens, Georgia, Ponsoldt, wisely allows Jason Segel’s informed, nuanced performance in the lead role to flow and to delicately show what made the author of “Infinite Jest” so fascinating.

Andres Solar reviews new fare with an emphasis on art house and indie for Punch Drunk Movies. He would love to see Burt Reynolds in another Paul Thomas Anderson movie but understands that it probably “ain’t gonna happen.”