When it comes to entertainment, August is a tacit line in the sand: When September comes rolling in, so will the “important” content — the Oscar-bait movies, the shiny new TV season, the honking big reads. But before we get there, we want to look back on the goods that the first eight months of the year brought us, and they were plentiful. To wit, here’s the best of 2015 (so far) in Movies.
Shot on iPhones in some of the grungiest spots in Los Angeles, Tangerine is a gritty, hilarious, massively enjoyable flick about the down and dirty misadventures of a pair of sexy, brash, fast-talking friends who happen to be transgender hookers (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor) working the Santa Monica Boulevard beat. Lovingly directed by Sean Baker and co-written with Chris Bergoch, the movie never lets us forget the crushing odds its two main characters have stacked against them — even when their antics are straight out of a screwball comedy.
9. THE WOLFPACK
Crystal Moselle’s haunting and emotionally uplifting documentary tracks the six Angulo brothers, whose abusive alcoholic father pretty much kept them and their sisters isolated prisoners in their Lower East Side apartment. The boys found their lifeline to the world largely through the mother who home schooled them and by watching their stash of 5,000 movies on video like Scarface and Reservoir Dogs, then acting them out. Spending time with these close-knit, funny, loving brothers and seeing their Batman suit made of yoga mats and boxes of cereal, let alone their film scripts transcribed painstakingly by hand, is an astonishment.
8. IT FOLLOWS
Mumblecore indie and teen horror mesh nicely in this balls-out-scary skin-crawler about a Detroit teen (Maika Monroe) stalked by horrible apparitions after she has casual sex with one supremely weird dude. She must either sleep with someone else to pass on the curse or be haunted forever. Jolty, deeply odd, and swirling with queasy undercurrents of unease about sexually transmitted diseases, the movie by David Robert Mitchell (The Myth of the American Sleepover) puts a super sharp, individualistic stamp on tired old tropes rung dry by too many sequels to Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and The Ring.
7. LOVE & MERCY
A mold-breaking bio movie with musical sequences so good they can lift you out of your seat, this one, directed by Bill Pohlad and written by Oren Moverman and Michael Alan Lerner, is set in both the 1960s and 1980s and features killer performances by Paul Dano and John Cusack playing the Beach Boys’ erratic genius and pop symphonies creator Brian Wilson. Tender and respectful about the trials and tribulations of a troubled maestro, the movie begins with a close-up on Wilson’s ear, so it’s no wonder that one of the most gorgeous sequences shows the creator of Pet Sounds helping studio musicians bring into the world the sounds he hears banging around his head.
6. INSIDE OUT
Look, Pixar’s latest animated juggernaut didn’t knock us sideways the way it did some others. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t ridiculously creative, packed with big laughs, quirky details, and plenty of emotion. It turns out that experiencing the voices and emotions inside the head of a lively, sensitive 11-year-old girl — joy, sadness, anger, fear, and disgust — is not only universal, it’s also moving and, yeah, even kind of therapeutic.
Documentarian Asif Kapadia’s elegy to Amy Winehouse, packed with fresh archival footage and unheard music tracks, testifies that the singer’s talent was scorching but her life was stormy, heartbreaking, and short. The more restraint and tact the director shows, the tougher it is to witness Winehouse’s rapidly shocking decline before her death from alcohol poisoning at 27. Amy is the film equivalent of taking a punch.
In director Yann Demange’s jangly thriller written by Gregory Burke, one night in the life of British soldier Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) proves to be the hellish stuff of our worst nightmares. He and his platoon members leave boot camp expecting to be shipped to Germany. Instead, they’re dumped in Northern Ireland during the worst of the Troubles. Accidentally left behind and alone, the poor SOB’s horrors make for a terrifying, grabby thriller that grips like a vise and never lets go.
3. EX MACHINA
Writer-director Alex Garland’s darkly absurdist paranoid thriller is brainy, chilly, timely — a futuristic horror parable with gothic trimmings. Instead of a storm-battered old dark house, the setting is remote bunker retreat. Instead of an unhinged madman out of The Island of Doctor Moreau or Frankenstein, we get an eccentric loner (Oscar Isaac) who invented the world’s most popular search engine. Instead of an Igor-ish mute assistant, there’s a mute, gorgeous Asian servant (Sonoya Mizuno) and, then, there’s the “monster” — the movie’s secret weapon — actress Alicia Vikander in a brilliant turn as Isaac’s latest man-made robot femme fatale. Even when the flick loses its footing, Vikander’s allure, balletic movements, pathos, and ambiguity reign supreme.
A flat-out stunner, this satiric, poetic tragedy with comic overtones revolves around ordinary citizens of the small village of Mali. They’re just trying to get through their day while being targeted by gun-toting, childlike Islamists, who have banned everything from smoking and soccer to playing music. Director Abderrahmane Sisskako’s fantastic movie, full of horrifying suffering and thrilling acts of defiance, ought to be mandatory viewing for anyone who needs a gut check, especially for a nation of whiners bitching on Yelp.
1. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
Director George Miller’s visually sensational, cuckoo bananas two-hour race across the desert is stolen lock, stock, and barrel by an astonishingly ferocious Charlize Theron and a nearly unrecognizable Nicholas Hoult. Breathless and crazily inventive, here’s a rare movie that proves that blockbusters, let alone sequels, can be works of art — so long as maestros are writing and directing them. At turns freak show, demolition derby, nightmare, and slapstick comedy, it plays like a classic silent movie — just an eardrum shattering one. The ghosts of directors John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, and Buster Keaton must be smiling.