According to the Motion Picture Association of America, 2014 saw the release of 707 movies, and that doesn'tinclude the scrappy independent and foreign films that fly under their radar. The figures for 2015 haven't been released yet, but however many new movies hit screens this year, we used science to determine that these 10 were the best of the bunch.
10. Maps to the Stars
David Cronenberg's latest look at the decay of American culture expands from the laser-like focus of his previous movie, Cosmopolis (2012's best film), to survey a range of horrible Hollywood citizens. Julianne Moore deliversa vanity-free performance as a high-maintenance actress, and bests her Oscar-winning turn in last year's Still Alice in the process. Meanwhile, Mia Wasikowska's role as the literally and emotionally scarred daughter of a dysfunctional celebrity family is the sexiest creation in a Cronenberg film since Rosanna Arquette in Crash. Or in a film by anyone, really.
9. Heart of a Dog
Laurie Anderson's tribute to the passing of her pet rat terrier Lulubelle is less a documentary than a long-form personal essay in Anderson's inimitable style, while also being one of her most accessible works. The picture ties together subjects as disparate as the post-9/11 surveillance state, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, apocalyptic premonitions, and the death of her husband, rock legend Lou Reed. The net result is like a master storyteller letting you peek into her subconscious, and it's so touching and thought-provoking that you can almost forgive Lulubelle the sin of being a dog rather than a cat.
8. East Side Sushi
Anthony Lucero's warm, locally sourced comedy about an Oakland native who wants to be a sushi chef deals with issues that certain upper-crust San Franciscans are obsessed with — like what it means to be authentic. In this case, a Latina like Juana (Diane Elizabeth Torres) making sushi doesn't qualify. (Worse, if it can't be called "authentic," that may mean the sushi isn't even artisanal. Horrors!) The picture also functions as a charming, understated romance between Juana and her restaurant's head sushi chef Aka (Yutaka Takeuchi), while relentlessly teasing the viewer's salivary glands.
The best film Andrei Tarkovsy never made, Lisandro Alonso's stark puzzle-box has the ambience and logic of a dream — although not a pleasant one. The film is set in 19th-century Argentina's wide yet claustrophobic vistas, where military engineer Gunnar (Viggo Mortensen) finds himself far out of his depth. There have been many "humanity vs. nature" films in recent years, but seldom has nature so clearly had the upper hand, particularly when viewed through Alonso's unmatted and thoroughly unsentimental lens, the rounded edges of the 1.33:1 frame adding to the you-are-there unease. What it all means is up to the viewer, and like nature itself, Jauja doesn't care whether you can handle it or not.
6. The Death of "Superman Lives": What Happened?
In a year in which social media ran wild with speculation and occasional outrage about unseen movies, Jon Schnepp investigates the truth about one of the most internet-famous unmade movies ever: Tim Burton's Superman Lives, starring Nicolas Cage. This documentary was marketed toward the Comic-Con crowd, but it's also essential viewing for anyone interested in the gritty details of the filmmaking process. Copious amounts of preproduction material, as well as interviews with Burton and others, make a case that whatever else Superman Lives might have been, it wouldn't have been boring — and that's more than you can say for most modern superhero films.
5. The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Based on Phoebe Gloeckner's 2002 graphic novel, Marielle Heller's hybrid film is an exploration of the title character (Bel Powley) as she sets out to discover her own sexuality in the mostly-anything-goes world of 1970s San Francisco — starting with her divorced mother's boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgård). As much as American pop culture is hung up on straight men wanting to fuck teenage girls, Diary's non-judgmental portrait of a not-traditionally beautiful girl who fucks on her own terms without catering to the male gaze is downright subversive, and never less than joyous and empowering.
4. Clouds of Sils Maria
There are enough interesting ideas in writer-director Olivier Assayas' script that it would have worked even if actress Maria (Juliette Binoche) and her assistant Val (Kristen Stewart) just sat in a room talking. But it's also shot in lovely locations in the Swiss Alps, where a real-life cloud phenomenon known as the Maloja Snake adds particular resonance. The film ruminates on aging, what it means for famous women in particular to age, and whether there can be as much truth in a silly sci-fi adventure as in as serious picture. (The answer might surprise you.)
3. When Marnie Was There
Hiromasa Yonebayashi's lovely picture is reportedly the last feature film from Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli, and if so, it's a wonderful way to exit. Self-loathing 12-year-old orphan Anna (Sara Takatsuki) discovers friendship for the first time with Marnie (Kasumi Arimura), who may be a ghost, a figment of Anna's wounded psyche, or both. Though not personified like Riley in Inside Out, Anna's darker emotions are on display to an extent all too rare for a family film.
2. Inside Out
Speaking of famous animation studios making movies about troubled tweens, some critics suggested that Pixar's collaborative nature somehow made Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen's alternately hilarious and heartbreaking picture about the anthropomorphized emotions of a young girl named Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) to be platitudinous and insincere. It's true that there are two other credited writers in addition to directors Docter and Del Carmen, but that ignores the fact that all movies are a collaborative effort. And while Riley's old imaginary friend Bing Bong (Richard Kind) choosing to succumb to oblivion in the Memory Dump, so happiness avatar Joy (Amy Poehler) can escape, is often cited as the movie's three-hanky moment, there was no more heart-wrenching scene this year than the one preceding it: the tearful breakdown of Joy as she realizes that she won't always be able to keep Riley happy. Few films have so perfectly captured the importance of catharsis, no matter how many people were involved behind the scenes.
1. Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
Joel and Ethan Coen's 1996 Fargo has inspired some of 2015's best entertainment, such as the second season of Noah Hawley's eponymous television series and, especially, this film by Nathan and David Zellner. Based on the debunked urban myth about a Japanese woman who died while looking for the money buried in the Coens' Fargo, the Zellners and producer/star Rinko Kikuchi bring the story to bleak life as the emotionally broken Kumiko engages in a desperate search for some point to existence. We all know it's probably not there, but like Kumiko, we never stop looking.