10. It Follows
It Follows is a sex-as-death horror film, but one that’s far less hypocritical and puritanical than the 1980s slasher flicks it means to echo. Rather than depicting sexuality as titillatingly naughty and deserving of punishment, the slow, ponderous camera of It Follows gives it a metaphysical weight. Ultimately, the movie recognizes sex’s significance to us as created beings in search of meaningful connection.
9. The Assassin
Creation comes to life in ravishing ways in this Tang dynasty drama from Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien. Wind rustles leaves and curtains, matching the imperceptibility with which the title character, who is torn between her conscience and her duty, stealthily approaches her targets. In a climactic scene, fog from a valley is seemingly summoned to overtake a mountaintop. The movie’s story is rooted in Chinese myth and history, but there are moments in The Assassin that feel as primordial as the first chapter of Genesis.
Trainwreck is another unlikely exploration of sexuality, in that it’s a raunchy, explicit (and very funny) sex comedy that nonetheless argues in favor of genuine relationship. Writer and star Amy Schumer proves to be a big-screen talent in the title role, that of a promiscuous and hard-drinking magazine writer who does her best to avoid commitment. Rather than shaming her, though, Trainwreck simply offers a better vision: that by setting certain sexual boundaries, one can actually find flourishing and freedom.
7. The Revenant
This frontier adventure is brutal and exhausting, thanks in large part to the extended takes and 360-degree camerawork that define the breathless action sequences. Yet this aesthetic intensity is also why the movie’s brief moments of mercy are so staggering, whether they involve a shared piece of bison meat or a delicate snowflake falling on the tongue.
What does it look like to serve “the least of these” in contemporary Los Angeles? Might it be one transgender prostitute lending her wig to another while sitting in a laundromat on Christmas Eve, having been driven there after being doused with urine by jeering men? Tangerine — a fierce, tawdry and persistently beautiful independent movie shot with a mobile phone — suggests that the answer is yes.
There are moments in The Assassin that feel as primordial as the first chapter of Genesis.
Spike Lee returns to rabble-rousing form with this musical comedy (based on an ancient Greek play, no less) about a woman who leads a sex strike in her Chicago neighborhood until the warring men give up their guns. It’s blistering, often hysterical stuff. And it turns out John Cusack, as the local priest, can preach.
4. Inside Out
Christians know that true joy is a response to — not a denial of — deep sadness, so what a delight to see that understanding imaginatively and artfully expressed in this Pixar animated feature. It is only after we recognize the deep sorrow of this world that we can fully appreciate the pure glee of Christ’s redemptive act. So go ahead, Bing Bong, and let those candy tears fall.
Hope is hard-won in this maniacal reboot of the post-apocalyptic action series. Even the ostensible hero of the title (Tom Hardy) argues against it, as he joins a band of escapees fleeing a cruel warlord across an unforgiving desert. Yet one woman (Charlize Theron) holds firm in her vision for a better world, one built on community, gentleness and sacrifice. Only a band of raving, hot rod-driving lunatics stands between her and that eschatological vision.
2. White God
You’re familiar with the plague of locusts. White God chronicles a plague of dogs. A social parable from Hungary, the movie imagines — and then envisions, with real animals — that the impounded mutts of Budapest have escaped and unleashed chaos on the city. The result is an audacious commentary on the way humankind’s “civilized” culture often serves as a mask for the sinful nature that lurks within.
1. Ex Machina
What separates man from machine? This increasingly pressing question is cleverly explored in Ex Machina, in which a tech genius (Oscar Isaac) coerces one of his employees into taking his new AI robot on a psychosexual test drive. The movie works as an expert thriller and smart, speculative science fiction, while also making the decidedly spiritual observation that it may be empathy — our Christ-like ability to share the experiences of others — that ultimately defines us.