A bar-raiser for independent movies everywhere, Jeremy Saulnier's scrappy little revenge thriller turns on the darkly comic pathos of an inept avenger. It's a revelation role for lead actor Macon Blair, without whose presence the movie is hard to imagine, but also a controlled blast of exhilaratingly economical storytelling.
The 12-year slice of life: what a concept! Widely hailed as the movie of the year, Richard Linklater's insouciant epic lets us reflect on being a kid, and maybe also on being a parent, and knowing all too well the feeling that the speed of life, once presumed constant, does accelerate.
John Michael McDonagh's deeply Irish comedy-drama describes an apocalypse, in very intimate terms. The outstanding Brendan Gleeson plays a priest confronted with a reckoning, and a great grabber of an opening gives way to a payoff far weirder and more stirring than we had any right to expect.
The essential plot point in Swedish writer-director Ruben Östlund's film is a controlled ski resort avalanche; the action is a more metaphorical snowing under. Here is tonally exquisite marital strife as maybe only the Swedes can do, but with shades of absurdist, Buñuel-worthy satire. It's not cruel, but it is beautifully pitiless.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Of all the so-called dollhouses that Wes Anderson has built, this one has the most square footage. Its capacity is vast enough to contain a whole civilization — or at least a collective yearning for one. Plus, we knew Ralph Fiennes was intelligent, but who'd have thought he could be so bittersweetly funny?
What's great about the latest structured improv from DIY inspiration Joe Swanberg is how it allows for a lived-in feminism that isn't zero-sum. Also, that shy sweet moment when Anna Kendrick's character and Melanie Lynskey's can't quite look at each other while admitting how much they like hanging out.
This rare delight, a perceptive movie by young people about non-young people, involves two old friends on a trip through Iceland. Filmmakers Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens transmute the low-key chemistry between stars Paul Eenhoorn and Earl Lynn Nelson into a timeless affirmation of human dignity.
Listen Up Philip
The insecurities underpinning white male entitlement come under welcome scrutiny in a lot of movies on this list, but never with as much brutal hilarity as in Alex Ross Perry's film, with Jason Schwartzman as a hipster novelist who's also a dick. The welcome surprise here isn't literacy; it's generosity.
How lonely it must be at the crossroads of top-notch suspense thriller and truly indie character study. How brave of director Kelly Reichardt to go there. And to cast Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, and Peter Sarsgaard as a trio of bomb-plotting environmental activists, how brilliant.
Under the Skin
It may once have been hard to believe that the same guy who made Sexy Beast also made Birth. Now it's easy to believe that Jonathan Glazer can do anything. In this case, it's soul-rattling science fiction, in which Scarlett Johansson fearlessly interrogates her own public persona.