Here are BUST’s five favorite movies–in alphabetical order, of the entire cinematic year. We’ve loved watching and reviewing all these great flicks. Don’t be embarrased if you still haven’t seen them, because you still have time before the year ends. Pop some popcorn, sit back, relax and enjoy:
Directed by Todd Haynes
In this exquisite drama from Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine, Safe), Rooney Mara plays a department store shopgirl in the 1950s who becomes smitten with a posh housewife (Cate Blanchett). Therese (Mara) and Carol (Blanchett) live wildly different lives; Therese is a young artist with a passion for photography who’s never contemplated being with a woman. Carol is older and, after an affair with her best friend Abby (Sarah Paulson), is seriously on the outs with her husband Harge (Kyle Chandler). In the middle is Carol and Harge’s beloved daughter Rindy, who’s used as a bargaining tool by Harge and his family to manipulate Carol into being a good housewife.
There isn’t a weak performance in this entire film, which is especially impressive given how much remains unspoken about the nature of Carol’s relationships. Every look and every touch is weighty with significance and erotic potential, and Haynes’ direction makes every frame look like a work of art. The chemistry between Blanchett and Mara is woozily delicious, and the nuance of Haynes’ direction during their love scene sets a new bar for male filmmakers trying to capture lesbian sex with sensitivity. (We’re looking at you, Blue is the Warmest Color’s Abdellatif Kechiche.) Carol is an absolute can’t-miss film.
Clouds of Sils Maria
Written and directed by Olivier Assayas
Juliette Binoche stars in this truly meta movie about celebrity culture as Maria Enders, a successful actress increasingly resentful of her age. Kristen Stewart plays Valentine, Maria’s opinionated and pop-culture-savvy personal assistant. And Chloë Grace Moretz plays Jo-Ann Ellis, a talented but troubled young starlet (think K. Stew during her Snow White and the Huntsman cheating scandal). The film centers on a revival of the play that launched Maria’s career 20 years earlier. The production is a comment on aging, following an affair between a manipulative young woman and the older woman who falls in love with her. After the death of the playwright, Maria reluctantly agrees to take the part of the older woman, although she insists that she still identifies with the younger part, now played by Jo-Ann. Staying in the playwright’s home in the Alpine village of Sils Maria, Maria struggles to prepare for the role with help from Valentine, who is outspoken about her interpretation of the play and admiration for Jo-Ann. As Maria’s relationship with Valentine becomes increasingly tense, Jo-Ann begins to cause trouble for Maria on her own.
Binoche and Stewart both put in some of the best performances of their respective careers, while Moretz also shines in her supporting role. At turns funny, dramatic, ironic, and philosophical, Clouds of Sils Maria is a must-see—especially is you still only think of Kristen Stewart as the girl from Twilight.
-Erika W. Smith
Written and directed by Sara Colangelo
An intensely engaging drama, Little Accidents is set in a small rural town that was recently devastated by a fatal mining disaster. The only survivor of the accident, Amos (Boyd Holbrook), is newly out of the hospital and recovering. As he gains his footing with his new physical limitations, he forms a precarious relationship with Diane (Elizabeth Banks), a woman traumatized by her teenage son’s recent disappearance and her husband Bill’s involvement in the mine collapse. Their story unfolds alongside that of Owen (Jacob Lofland), a local boy whose father died in the mine.
As Owen adjusts to life with a single mom (Chloë Sevigny), he accidentally finds himself caught in a secret that intricately connects him with individuals who would otherwise be his enemies. The harsh understanding that ensues drastically complicates his already misshapen and confusing world. In telling the story of Diane, Amos, and Owen, writer/director Sara Colangelo beautifully illustrates the kind of unexpected clarity that can stem from extreme pain and loneliness. The film pushes viewers to see its characters from every possible angle, and rejects the concept that human relationships are never black and white. Overall, Colangelo has created a beautiful, searching, and powerful narrative that is absolutely worth seeing.
Written and directed by Patrick Brice
For a movie about two wealthy, white, married couples, The Overnight does a remarkably successful job of challenging norms. Though the story begins fairly predictably—new-in-town L.A. husband and wife Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling) strike up a friendship with hip dad Kurt (Jason Schwartzman) at the park—it never settles in to standard couples comedy terrain. Rather, when Emily and Alex join Kurt and his wife Charlotte (Judith Godrèche) at their place for pizza, viewers get a realistic look at the complex dynamics of romantic relationships and the hilarious awkwardness of budding friendships. Plot reveals are consistently countered with dark jokes, uncomfortable conversations, and blurred sexual lines by Schilling—who maintains the relatable skepticism she mastered on Orange is the New Black—and by Scott and Schwartzman, whose comedic chemistry is incredibly engaging.
An added bonus is the film’s refreshing look at male body image issues. After Alex reveals he is ashamed of his tiny package, Kurt’s guidance leads him to an empowering feeling of self-love. Viewers become so intimately acquainted with each character’s insecurities that by the end, it’s like we’ve all gotten through that awkward getting-to-know-you phase together. -Marissa Dubecky
What Happened, Miss Simone?
Directed by Liz Garbus
The full range of jazz and blues legend Nina Simone’s tortured, brilliant life is at the heart of Liz Garbus’ new music doc, and the results are amazing. “What happened, Miss Simone?” was writer Maya Angelou’s question, when Simone took off for Liberia after a decade of civil rights activist, and stopped singing. To find the answer, Garbus traces her path from rage in the song “Mississippi Goddam” and found, in civil rights music, the “mainstay” of her life. “I could sing to help my people,” she says. But this came at huge personal cost.
Garbus is especially good at letting Simone do most of the talking. The film weaves together her taped interviews and diary entries withs tories from her ex-husband and daughter. When an interviewer asks about freedom, she says it’s having no fear. Then the film cuts to the first lines of “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free,” with Simone singing into a duct-taped microphone, her muscled arms pounding a piano, and her voice taking over.
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