The Book of Life
In a more just world, this Guillermo Del Toro-produced animated phantasmagoria would have pulled in the same kind of numbers as that movie about LEGOs. In addition to being emotionally compelling, no movie since Spring Breakers (or possibly Enter the Void) has engaged the rods and cones so much.
Nymphomaniac: Vol. I
The concept sounds dodgy, and it loses some steam in Vol. II, but the first part of Lars Von Trier's epic about a self-diagnosed nymphomaniac is a thoughtful and (intentionally!) funny defense of female sexuality by a man who seems aware that it's not his job to defend female sexuality.
There was plenty of great anime this year, such as Short Peace and A Letter to Momo, but Yasuhiro Yoshiura's vertiginous tale of a young girl at odds with gravity was strangely overlooked. And, like last year's film about Newtonian physics, it's best experienced on a big screen.
A Girl Walks Home Alone
Shot in glorious widescreen black-and-white, Ana Lily Amirpour's Farsi-language film about chador-wearing, skateboard-riding vampire girl in a seedy Iranian city (portrayed by Taft, Calif.) echoes the early works of Jim Jarmusch and Alex Cox while becoming its own wonderfully weird entity.
A Room 237-esque examination of how we perceive movies, the difference being that it's about a film that doesn't exist. And since Alejandro Jodorowsky never got to make his hallucinatory version of Dune, we're free to speculate that it would have been the greatest thing in the history of ever.
Everything you could want from Darren Aronofsky at his prime, at least for we who consider prime Aronofsky to be The Fountain and not The Wrestler. And like Scorsese's similarly controversial Last Temptation of Christ, it suggests that there's no greater curse than knowing God's will.
My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Rainbow Rocks
Last year's My Little Pony: Equestria Girls often seemed to lack a purpose beyond its ponies-as-humans gimmick, but it set the stage for this terrific sequel and its strong, emotionally complex redemption arc. It also features the year's best non-God Help the Girl songs, particularly the brilliantly edited "Under Our Spell" montage.
It Felt Like Love
Few films have so perfectly captured the confusion and occasional blind terror of burgeoning young desire like Eliza Hittman's debut film, thanks in no small part to Gina Piersanti's performance. It also has more to say about girlhood than Richard Linklater's bloated home movie had to say about the other thing.
Joon-Ho Bong's claustrophobic train odyssey is the year's best action movie by a long shot, and not just because its social commentary roused the McCarthyites out from under their beds to denounce it as "two hours of Communist propaganda" while refusing to actually watch it. Their loss, our hilarity.
God Help the Girl
Stuart Murdoch's joyous tale of a troubled young woman finding salvation through song is the best live-action musical in years. Scrappy and naturalistic, there's more genuine heart in performances such as the new shoegaze classic, "I Just Want Your Jeans," than any Oscar-baiting number from Les Miserables.