5. Her

An inventive and often ingenious futuristic sci-fi/romance that’s subtle with the sci-fi, but a little heavy with the romance. From the design to the concepts, it really delivers on creating its world and in evoking thoughts with its many “what if” scenarios.

Scarlett Johansson’s voice-acting, Jonze’s directorship, and the way Joaquin Phoenix interacts with the Artificial Intelligence all come together to convincingly humanize something that doesn’t have a body, and is present mostly as just an earpiece.

Although it’s a bit too long and begins to lose sight of its central ideas, the relationship drama was always at the forefront. It’s a love story that’s not unlike many we have seen for decades on the big screen, but this man is in love with his computer. It’s a frightening, disturbing, but nonetheless heartfelt, moving, and an utterly original account of loneliness in the modern age.

– Todd S. Gallows

4. The Past

Marie has asked her ex-husband Ahmad to come to Paris from Tehran so that they can have a proper goodbye and finally some closure. To Ahmad’s dismay, and for unexplained motives, she hasn’t booked him a hotel but instead offers him space in her own home, where she lives with her three children. The film carefully unravels a web of complex relationships – each one tragic, confused, and compelling in its own right. Director Ashghar Farhadi unearths a vast and intricate mosaic of details, stories, and emotions. Each moment feels purposeful, but not contrived. Farhadi is a brilliant and skillful storyteller, and some of the themes from A Separation carry over in this film – themes about marriage, domesticity, family, and where and how we place our various histories. The Past is compelling on every level – entertaining with all its plot twists, intellectually engaging with all the questions it asks, and emotionally moving with its beautifully and honestly drawn out characters.

– Bahar Orang

3.  Blue is the Warmest Colour

I prefer the French title of this film, La Vie D’Adele: Chapitres 1 et 2, because to me, this was not a film about Emma’s blue hair, but instead the story of Adele, a story that has only just begun. We see her as a shy, confused, and frustrated teenager. We see her as a lover, filled with desire, intensity, strength, and compassion. We see her as a teacher, quiet, patient, careful. The film is composed almost entirely of close-ups of Adele’s face – her blushed and embarrassed cheeks, her loving smile, her tearful eyes. The camera follows her through every little moments – and while some details prove immediately important, others are just part of a larger landscape of her life that is constantly, shifting, growing, and becoming more complete.

There is the moment when she first catches Emma’s eyes on the sidewalk, there is the moment where she leads her students in a dance, when she sits around the table with her parents discussing her future plans. Things happen, the movie, ends, Adele walks away, and we know that she will keep walking and her life will keep going even after we’ve turned away from the screen.

This is the power of the film: its incredible vitality. The stories are honest, the relationships are present and real, the characters are complex and flawed and lovable. It’s gained a certain amount of backlash for the long and explicit sexual encounters, but I defend those scenes. They are not the crux, the pinnacle, or the main event of the film. Nor are they meant to be visual signifiers – telling the audience that they slept together. The sex is a part of her life, and we see it in the same full and unadulterated honesty as we see the way the lovers meet, fight, fall apart, move on, and then look back. Perhaps the sex scenes are not necessary, but then nothing is.

I left the theatre feeling both empty and fulfilled; elated by the film’s ability to express my human longings, but my head was clouded as I wondered, inevitably: what is the meaning of all this – Adele’s life and my own life?

– Bahar Orang

2. Upstream Color

Upstream Color takes place in what the French impressionist filmmaker and theorist Germaine Dulac called “the realm of nature and dream.” Writer-director Shane Carruth’s elliptical screenplay bridges images that are beautiful, disturbing, and inexplicable. Frequently, the film is all three at once.

Carruth imagines a mysterious, multi-stage ecological cycle that ensnares two ordinary people, Jeff (Shane Carruth) and Kris (Amy Seimetz). The film is a love story in the sense that they develop a profound, metaphysical bond. But Upstream Color is the antithesis of a romance like Before Midnight, in which the characters expound on their love and life together. Instead, Carruth proposes that it may be impossible to unpack a relationship in long monologues. Sometimes the forces that draw people together defy description or comprehension.

Even when Jeff and Kris try to engage in the obligatory banter of a new couple they are foiled. At one point they exchange childhood stories, only to realize that they hold the same overlapping, fragmentary memories.

“I was six,” Jeff tells Kris.

“No, I was six,” she replies gravely.

This blurring of identity feels at once deeply erotic and disquieting. Yet true intimacy necessarily involves exactly this type of shared experience and loss of self. Any pair of lovers could be seen as a microcosm of the complex ecosystem that links Jeff and Kris’ consciousnesses.

Rather than verbalizing these themes, Carruth paints them. In a series of striking shots, Jeff and Kris argue over whose memories are whose, while black birds fill the sky. As the flock makes tightly coordinated loops and arcs in the twilight, the individual birds seem guided by some collective intelligence or invisible hands. Jeff and Kris are similarly subject to unseen powers. They too are flying wingtip to wingtip, but they cannot understand how or why.

Carruth’s first feature was the labyrinthine time-travel story Primer. The 2004 film felt like a puzzle that could eventually be solved with enough viewings and maybe some flow charts. It is not clear that Upstream Color has the same entirely coherent internal logic. Regardless, it is a dream that still cries out to be experienced more than once.

– Cooper Long

1. Frances Ha

I thought I would hate Frances Ha. 

I morbidly expected the movie to mirror in hipster style (the film is in grayscale) my own sense of uncertainty and aimlessness in life, to draw on some profound, abstract philosophy too deep for my meagre mind, and then to end cynically as if celebrating the process of being lost.

But (thankfully) it wasn’t what I expected. Instead, I fell in love.

Instead of caricaturizing an empty girl obsessing over unattainable dreams, Greta Gerwig beautifully portrays the everyday self, full of desires, contradictions, and expectations. I was taken with the desperate curiosity in Frances’ eyes, her languid but graceful posture, her wanderlust, her unintentional awkwardness and how she embraces that awkwardness. I love the way she inexplicably pushes people away when she all wants to do is pull.

The movie doesn’t excuse wantonness or laziness. It doesn’t celebrate the indulgence in staying lost or unknowing. Instead, it offers hope. It tells me that it is ok to be lost, for a little while. To want something but not know how to get it, or to get something even if I don’t know if I want it. To be free. To not be ready when society relentlessly demands for you to “settle down”.

Frances Ha (both the movie and the character) never pretends to be bigger than itself. It is bold but unpretentious, it is honest, it is raw, it is charming and it is so satisfyingly humorous. I recommend it to every lost soul out there.

– Karen Wang

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