Robert Hunt Breaks Down the Year's Top Films

Dec 30, 2015 at 1:00 am
Marie Ruchat in Goodbye to Language.
Marie Ruchat in Goodbye to Language. Kino Lorber Inc.

Film criticism, it has been argued, is dead. The truth is that it's more like Schrödinger's cat, hidden away somewhere. It might be dead or alive but we really don't know — because who's got time to check on it when we have Facebook and Twitter generating instant opinions? And the studios couldn't be happier.

Between social media and the fanboy culture that gushes over any and every bone the publicity departments throw them, the commercial-film apparatus has an outlet so compliant and conformist that it makes Photoplay and the fan magazines of the 1930s look like a seminar taught by André Bazin, Sergei Eisenstein and Manny Farber. We are in an age where discussion and analysis has been replaced by increasingly irrelevant lists ("25 facts that will completely change the way you look at Pretty in Pink! Warning: Contains Spoilers!!"), while a self-proclaimed geek culture takes pride in its refined, esoteric taste yet somehow ends up championing the same comic-book films that are being seen by billions of people from here to Mongolia.

Nonetheless, there were some high spots in a year dominated largely by the uninspired. What follows makes no claim to be a complete guide to the films of 2015, or even the absolute best of the year; these are just a few of the points of interest that fought their way through an unfortunately ordinary cinematic landscape.

Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard)
Too ambitious to fit into an ordinary ranking, Godard's 3-D experiment made a belated appearance at the St. Louis International Film Festival almost a year after being named best film of 2014 by the National Society of Film Critics. It's an audacious, difficult film — in other words, typical late Godard — but it's also a breakthrough, an attempt to create a completely new visual language.

Maps to the Stars (David Cronenberg)
Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas)
What a great double feature this would make: Two films about middle-aged actresses trying to recapture past glories and survive in a culture that values youth over experience. Assayas' film was a thoughtful piece with great performances from Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart. Cronenberg's film was tossed out into theaters almost unannounced, as if the distributor was afraid to be associated with it, despite Julianne Moore having won an Academy Award a week earlier. You could almost understand their nervousness; it's a satiric portrait of fame and celebrity culture that wasn't afraid to go into very dark territory. You'll never listen to "Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)" the same way.