In three minutes and about 6 square feet, Ryan Gosling's nameless protagonist delivers two swift actions that define the year's best film and cement director Nicolas Winding Refn in the master class: an act of tenderness and an act of protective brutality. It's serene in its beauty and jarring in its ugliness.
Former gang leader Ameena Matthews—one of three "violence interrupters" profiled in documentarian Steve James' searing chronicle of Chicago gang violence—stands beside the casket of a slain teenager, his mother wailing in a funeral parlor full of gangbangers frothing for revenge. She delivers an impassioned, simple plea: "Cease the fire. Call a truce."
Fear, love and faith converge during an average Midwestern feeding frenzy in which Michael Shannon's mental illness becomes public knowledge. It might as well be a witch trial. Eyes belt Shannon like stones in a scene of stark vulnerability.
Sometimes you just need to point a camera at funny people to make a great comedy. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon bickering at a quaint bed and breakfast—as each uncannily traces the evolution of Michael Caine's voice from
—is simple bliss.
Japanese provocateur Takeshi Miike follows an hour of uncharacteristically subdued and nuanced samurai drama with an eye-popping, 45-minute, 13-on-200 battle full of flaming oxen, clanging swords and endless mini-melees. Kurosawa would have approved.
is filmed so fluidly it could be mistaken for a
clone. Then the world slows, and the camera hits the ground. Cinematographer Lars Skree has been shot in battle.
With a dead alien and a katana in tow, teen hoodrat Moses (John Boyega) rolls through a claustrophobic high rise in glorious slow motion, fireworks blazing all around him. Those rockets aren't just the demise of the "big gorilla-wolf motherfucker" aliens. They herald the arrival of a slick new talent in director Joe Cornish.
Tom Cruise's vertigo-inducing ascent of Dubai's Burj Khalifa tower is magnificent on its own, but it's just the beginning of a riveting sequence that also includes a catfight and a car chase through a sandstorm. Hear that knocking, Mr. Cameron? It's Brad Bird raising the stakes.