14. Imitation Girl
Written and directed by Natasha Kermani (Shattered), this eerie exploration of dissonance and feminine identity beyond the oft-times oppressive male gaze is startling, sensual, and often surreal. The immediate comparison that audiences are likely to draw is of course Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, and both films share a similar premise and an allied dreamlike visage and a complexity of ideas and intrigue.
Lauren Ashley Carter is our eponymous heroine, and she has materialized in the south western desert and, adorned in just a thin negligee, she soon lucks out and finds friendship and affection when she stumbles into Saghi (Neimah Djourabchi) and his sister Khahar (Sanam Erfani), themselves Iranian immigrants. It’s not long before our Imitation Girl feels more and more at home in her strange new body and learns she has a twin, with whom she may be joined in more ways than just an uncanny visual similarity.
Beguiling in the best possible sense, and beautifully photographed (the artful soundtrack from Tyger is also pleasingly effective), this chimeric and emotionally ensnaring small-scale odyssey is an awe-inspiring and, despite comparisons to similarly themed films, a shockingly original little picture from a filmmaker full of promise.
13. Never Steady, Never Still
What at first feels like a small story of sentimental family struggles set amongst a northern BC backdrop gradually unspools with painterly precision into a naturalistic, sensual, and considerably-sized poetic canvas in Never Steady, Never Still, the assured directorial debut from Kathleen Hepburn.
An instantly gripping film, it’s buoyed by an astonishing, career-best performance from Shirley Henderson (Trainspotting, Okja) as Judy, a Parkinson’s afflicted woman, recently widowed, raising a teenage son named Jamie, who’s brilliantly portrayed by the rising young star Théodore Pellerin (It’s Only the End of the World).
This film takes a brave and heartbreaking look at a number of provocative and taboo topics including grief work, homosexuality, promiscuity, and suicide, and handles it all with morality and aplomb. At times the flow of Never Steady, Never Still is a passive and idly paced one, but on its own terms it also does a slow dance that’s terribly close to perfection.
Disorientingly strange and utterly original, but what else would you expect from the Spanish writer-director behind 2007’s Timecrimes, Nacho Vigalondo? Another genre-defying mash-up, Colossal is a sci-fi psychodrama creature feature in black comedy dress with a thing or two to say about alcoholism, the frustrations of being single, childhood nostalgia, sexual harassment and male privilege, too.
Anne Hathaway is excellent as our put upon protagonist Gloria, a (barely) functioning alcoholic and struggling writer, freshly jilted by her long term boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens), she finds herself struggling against her self-destructive impulses and fleeing the Big Apple for her hometown in New England. Oh, and she’s also somehow at the crux of a giant reptilian monster that keeps materializing in Seoul, South Korea, and shattering large sections of the city.
Colossal is a godsend for niche audiences and will certainly be something of a challenge for more mainstream tastes –– but therein lays so much of the appeal. If you’re adventurous and can get on Vigalondo’s warped wavelength, this semi-ironic, semi-sentimental monster mash will be a smash.
11. Logan Lucky
Steven Soderbergh returns from his early cinematic retirement and comes out swinging with this good-times caper comedy that combines his usual visual flourish with a quick pace, a razor wit, and an impressive ensemble cast (Daniel Craig, Adam Driver, Katie Holmes, Riley Keough, Hilary Swank, Channing Tatum and Katherine Waterston are just some of the star players).
Jimmy Logan (Tatum) is a West Virginia family man, with a fractured family, who teams up with his one-armed bartending brother Clyde (Driver), his fast-talking sister Mellie (Keough) in a twisty heist to steal some big bucks from North Carolina’s Charlotte Motor Speedway. Their plans hinge on a demolition experts named Joe Bang (Craig) and a ragtag crew of semi-reprobates. Will they have the moxy to pull off so huge a heist during a nail-biting NASCAR race? Watching it all unspool with an assortment of oddball eccentrics is part of the fun.
Film critic Matt Zoller Seitz nailed it in his review when he proclaimed: “[Logan Lucky is] a precision-tooled entertainment made by experts, and sometimes more than that. Watching it is like finding money in the pocket of a coat that you haven’t worn in years.”
10. Gerald’s Game
In a year that saw several Stephen King adaptations hit the big screen, from the drek of the Dark Tower to the mainstream mega-hit It, the best of the lot that no one saw coming was Mike Flanagan’s Netflix release of Gerald’s Game.
Based off one of King’s more minor works, Flanagan (who co-wrote the screenplay with Jeff Howard) take the 1992 suspense novel and with it fashion what may well be the horror movie of the year.
A never-better Carla Gugino is Jessie Burlingame, who along with her husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) abscond to an isolated lake house in Fairhope, Alabama, for a romantic getaway to help recharge their floundering marriage. Soon a terrifying situation is made even more disturbing by the psychological wounds it brings back to the surface for Jessie and there’s also at least one gruesome scene you won’t be able to unsee.
DP Michael Fimognari also deserves a shout out for his ace lensing, and there’s a terrifying cameo from Carel Struycken as the Moonlight Man that will have you leaving the night light on for the foreseeable future.
9. The Other Side of Hope
Ostensibly the middle film in Aki Kaurismäki’s still in the works Le Havre harbor trilogy (following 2011’s Le Havre), The Other Side of Hope is another eccentric humanist tale from the forever happy-sad Finnish auteur. Once again achieving the blissful balance between melancholy and mirth, Kaurismäki offers up flapdoodle optimism in this shaggy-dog about a former shirt salesman named Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen), now on the outs with his wife but keen on playing a high stakes poker tour, and a Syrian refugee named Khaled (Sherwan Haji), who is desperate to find his missing sister, Miriam (Niroz Haji).
The Other Side of Hope illustrates the working faith that Kaurismäki has always had in humanity, and it’s this hangdog optimism that has endeared him to us in the first place, is it not? Touched by the silly and the serene, this film is a warm and whimsical reward.
8. The Endless
Having already established themselves as impressive innovators in the low-budget but high-concept realm of mumblecore sci-fi/horror films (2013’s Resolution and 2014’s Spring are must-see movies for genre junkies), the writer-director duo of Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson present their most ambitious and riskiest move yet with The Endless.
The filmmaking pair behind the lens also take the two lead roles for this refreshingly unconventional trip through the twilight zone, as protective and skeptical older brother Justin (Benson) and younger, more unaffected Aaron (Moorhead) find themselves in a bit of a rut.
There’s a delicious irony that the two men find their present idle –– a professedly endless loop of shit jobs, junk food, and borderline bankruptcy –– plagued with a yearning to return once more to Arcadia. Jokingly but with a grain of truth referred to as “a UFO death cult” and one that, a decade prior the pair barely escaped, the arrival of a videotape tempting the brothers to return one last time, has them motivated once more. Will they journey back to the ashram out in the arid desert? Do you even have to ask?
There’s no one making films quite like Benson and Moorhead, who seem so well-suited to the manufacture of the juicy setup, the buddy-buddy banter, the allure of the forbidden, the draw of the dark, and the suggestion of what just might be beyond. This is, of course, what horror fans really want, with no skimping of the fun stuff, and that’s exactly what The Endless delivers.