NNNN: 121 excellent films made in 2015

Seen everything on our NNNNN-rated list already? These are the next best thing

NNNN: There are 121 near-perfect gems listed below, certified by NOW’s critics as totally watchable and not-at-all boring. The first section highlights all films available on Netflix, iTunes and/or in theatres. The second lists the rest of these excellent titles we hope to catch soon!

Want kid-friendly movies? Click here. Click genres for all titles under that category and find all Netflix films here.

Available online and/or in theatres:

50 Year Argument, The (documentary): Martin Scorsese can make all the Leonardo DiCaprio movies he wants if it gives him the juice to make documentaries for HBO in his spare time. His latest, co-directed with his long-time doc editor David Tedeschi, recounts the history of the New York Review of Books, which celebrated a half-century in 2013.

’71 (thriller, action, drama): This intense survival thriller is set in a particularly heated time during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. 

1971 (documentary): Johanna Hamilton‘s 1971 may not be as dynamic or immediate a documentary as executive producer Laura Poitras’s Citizenfour, but as a look at the earliest iteration of America as a security state, it’s essential.

A Christmas Horror Story (horror): Across a series of amusing, loosely interconnected stories ghosts, changelings and holiday devil Krampus (Rob Archer) terrorize various residents of Bailey Downs on Christmas Eve.

American Ultra (comedy, action): American Ultra is a stoner spin on The Bourne Identity, with Jesse Eisenberg playing Mike Howell, a sweet-natured West Virginia pothead, convenience-store clerk and occasional cartoonist who discovers he’s a brainwashed CIA super-soldier – and that his former employers are trying their best to take him out.

A Most Violent Year (crime, action, drama, Netflix): J.C. Chandor’s follow-up to Margin Call and All Is Lost is a moody character study of Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac), an entrepreneur who spends a month in the winter of 1981 trying to put his heating-oil business on a solid financial footing.

Batkid Begins (documentary): On November 15, 2013, five-year-old leukemia survivor Miles Scott ran around San Francisco pretending to be a superhero. Orchestrated by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, his adventure ricocheted around the world on social media. Rough estimates suggest that as many as 1.7 billion people might have been aware of it.

Beeba Boys (crime, drama, thriller): Deepa Mehta’s visceral, graphically violent gangster pic about Vancouver gangs fighting over turf is not for the faint of heart.

Best Of Enemies (documentary): This account of the incendiary debates between William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal during the 1968 Republican and Democratic Conventions recalls a time long gone.

Big Game (adventure, action): How does Finnish writer/director Jalmari Helander follow up the demented killer-Santa horror comedy Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale? Well, with Big Game, an action thriller that’s just as balls-out crazy.

Big Muddy (crime, drama): Big Muddy is set in the present, but it doesn’t have to be. The prairie-noir premise is pretty timeless.

Bridge Of Spies (drama, biography): Someone will inevitably call Bridge Of Spies “old-fashioned,” but don’t buy it. The values are vintage, sure, but the storytelling is state of the art.

Cartel Land (documentary): Cut like an action movie, with director Matthew Heineman accompanying paramilitary forces into free-fire raids to capture drug lords in Mexican bodegas, Cartel Land is an unapologetically cinematic take on the crime documentary – breathless, intense, spectacular.


Tim “Nailer” Foley (left) is part of an anti-immigration force in gripping doc Cartel Land.

Chameleon (documentary): Shot and cut like a thriller, Ryan Mullins’s profile of Anas Aremeyaw Anas follows Ghana’s foremost investigative journalist as he researches a series of exposés – busting an abortion provider who insists on having sex with his patients, freeing women forced into prostitution, rescuing children from an abusive religious cult. 

Charlie’s Country (drama): Legendary Australian actor David Gulpilil and his Ten Canoes director, Rolf de Heer, reunite for a more grounded drama about an aging Aboriginal who decides to leave his community and live by “the old ways,” only to find himself drifting into increasingly unpleasant situations. 

Clouds of Sils Maria (drama, Netflix): Playing a frumpy and loyal personal assistant to a veteran actor frightened by the prospect of aging, Kristen Stewart holds her own opposite the exquisite Juliette Binoche. As their characters debate art, gossip, career choices and Google, Stewart and Binoche’s palpable intimacy is intensified by how much the dialogue reflects their own work. 

Cop Car (thriller): It’s funny that Cop Car should open the same week as Turbo Kid. Both films are rooted in 80s indie film, but while the makers of Turbo Kid weightlessly riff on exploitation pictures that went straight to VHS, director Jon Watts and his co-writer, Christopher D. Ford, are doing something a little more textured.

Court (drama): India’s rusty legal system seems too easy a target for newbie talent Chaitanya Tamhane. Court, his cold, smart and absurdist debut, lays bare the irresponsible and malicious use of irrelevant laws, some of them survivals from colonial times.

Crimson Peak (horror, drama): The marketing of Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak as a horror movie does it a great disservice. Scary things do shuffle about, manifesting with howling and shaking, but the intentions are more literary. Imagine Jane Eyre, if the first Mrs. Rochester was literally haunting Gateshead.

Dancing Arabs (drama, Netflix): Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Palestinian-Israeli author Sayed Kashua, this intriguing coming-of-ager follows Eyad (Tawfeek Barhom), a gifted, soft-spoken Arab-Israeli kid (Razi Gabareen plays him as a boy) who follows his activist father’s dreams and gets into a prestigious Jerusalem boarding school.

Dark Star: H. R. Giger’s World (documentary): Swiss painter H.R. Giger’s airbrushed, sexually charged images birthed the terrifying xenomorph of Alien and hundreds of similar biomechanical nightmares.

Diamond Tongues (comedy, drama): A dramedy about a young woman (Leah Goldstein) trying establish an acting career in Toronto, Diamond Tongues works both as a character study and an exercise in cringe comedy: you spend an hour and a half watching someone make a lot of bad choices, hoping that she’ll learn from at least one of them.

Diary Of A Teenage Girl, The (romance, drama): Director Marielle Heller understands that to be a teenager is to live with the torturous awareness that you’re walking around in the body of an adult but no one is willing to see you as one. 

Editor, The (comedy, horror, mystery): Having paid feature-length tribute to crappy 80s movies in Manborg, Adam Brooks and Matthew Kennedy turn their sights to the splatteriffic 70s and the strain of Italian horror known as giallo. 

End Of The Tour, The (drama): I can’t really say how effectively Jason Segel captures David Foster Wallace in The End Of The Tour, which is a matter of some importance to the late author’s more fervent fans. 

Entertainment (drama): In the anti-comic Neil Hamburger, Gregg Turkington created a cult caricature of an old-school comedian whose caustic sense of humour is more likely to make his audience gag than laugh. Rick Alverson’s Entertainment casts Turkington as a version of Hamburger, and explores just how awful it would be to really be that guy.

Experimenter (drama, biography): Experimenter may lack the fireworks of this year’s other true-life psychological drama, The Stanford Prison Experiment, but that’s just fine. It simply takes a different route into the soul of its subject, one that’s no less effective.

Far From The Madding Crowd (drama, romance): As Bathsheba Everdene, the headstrong centre of Thomas Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd, Carey Mulligan is magnetic. She’s in nearly every scene of the two-hour film and has not one but three men to play against. Not to mention sharing the screen with some gorgeous landscapes evoking 19th century Dorset.


Watch Far From The Madding Crowd on iTunes.

Finders Keepers (thriller): A hit at Hot Docs earlier this year, Finders Keepers takes the ludicrous true-life story of two North Carolina men fighting over possession of a mummified leg and slowly unpacks it to find genuine pathos and sorrow. 

Fort Tilden (comedy): After wrangling an invitation for a day trip to the beach, Harper and Allie decide to get there by bicycle – except they only have one bike between them, which leads to the first of a series of increasingly bad decisions.

Freeheld (romance, biography, drama): Nothing like a recently out and proud actor playing a kick-ass dyke. Ellen Page rocks in this Peter Sollett-directed true story about long-time police officer Laurel (Julianne Moore), who’s dying of cancer and wants to leave her pension to her lesbian lover, car mechanic Stacie (Page).

Furious Seven (crime, action, thriller): Oh, what the hell. Furious Seven is ridiculous and insane even for the Fast & Furious franchise, but that’s kind of the point. It insists on topping the stunts and scale of the last six movies, escalating further and further until it’s almost touching the stratosphere. 

Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (drama): Gett: The Trial Of Viviane Amsalem takes place entirely within a sterile rabbinic courtroom, where a divorce hearing drags on for more than five years. The set-up can make things frustratingly constrictive and redundant, but that’s the point.

Girlhood (drama): French director Céline Sciamma loves to keep adults out of the picture. Her film Tomboy (bad title) follows a middle-school transgender boy and his peers’ reactions to him in ways that show Sciamma’s understanding of kids’ mindsets.

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (documentary): Many faiths make space for doubt. Alex Gibney’s Going Clear: Scientology And The Prison Of Belief demonstrates that one belief system uses it as a weapon.

Hard Day, A (thriller, crime, action): A corrupt cop commits a hit-and-run, buries the corpse and is immediately blackmailed by an all-knowing mysterious caller. The Shallow Grave scenario in A Hard Day may be familiar territory, but director Kim Seong-hun keeps you on your toes with top-notch pacing and detours you won’t see coming.

Heart Of A Dog (documentary): Musician, multimedia artist and moviemaker Laurie Anderson attempts to process a lot of things in this experimental documentary: her anger at America’s post-9/11 shift into a surveillance state, her grief at the death of her beloved dog Lolabelle and her conflicted feelings about her mother’s subsequent passing. 

Hunting Ground, The (documentary): The Hunting Ground is Kirby Dick‘s third documentary exposing institutional protection of sexual assault, after 2004’s Twist Of Faith, about the Catholic Church’s shielding of a predatory priest, and 2013’s The Invisible War, which examined rape within the U.S. military. 

In Her Place (drama): Local writer/director Albert Shin picked up the Toronto Film Critics’ Jay Scott Prize for an emerging artist and nabbed a slot on TIFF’s Canada’s Top Ten with good reason. His sophomore feature, In Her Place, is an expertly plotted drama that packs a paralyzing emotional gut punch. As far as accolades go, the film deserves more.

I Put A Hit On You (thriller, comedy, romance): A contrived set-up is treated with impressive realism in I Put A Hit On You, a romantic comedy about a woman who, well, puts a hit on her ex.

It Follows (horror, thriller, mystery): David Robert Mitchell, director of the thoughtful teen drama The Myth Of The American Sleepover, makes a radical genre shift – and seriously ups his game – with this high-concept nail-biter about 19-year-old Jay (Maika Monroe), whose new boyfriend infects her with a sexually transmitted demon that will stalk and kill her unless she passes the curse along to someone else.

Kilo Two Bravo (adventure, thriller, drama): Effectively tense and utterly unflinching in its depiction of battlefield carnage, Paul Katis’s first feature centres on a 2006 incident in which a dozen British soldiers found themselves trapped in a minefield in Afghanistan, dramatizing the story with a minimum of artistic licence and virtually no mercy.

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (drama): Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is based on actual events. In 2001, a young Japanese woman named Takako Konishi, speaking very little English, arrived in wintry Minnesota and asked to be driven to Fargo. In no time, an urban legend sprang up that she had been looking for the treasure hidden in a snowbank by Steve Buscemi’s hapless criminal in the Coen brothers’ movie Fargo.

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter

Watch Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter on iTunes.

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (documentary): Kurt Cobain, it turns out, was a list-maker. To-do lists, potential band names and myriad organizational scribbles filled his notebooks, to which director Brett Morgen had access for the making of this family-approved documentary about the troubled grunge star. 

Last Days In Vietnam (documentary, Netflix): If you think you’ve seen all there is to see about the Vietnam war, well, here’s 98 minutes that you haven’t.

Last Five Years, The (drama, comedy): In this adaptation of the off-Broadway musical, a young couple (Anna Kendrick, Smash’s Jeremy Jordan) recount the ups and downs of their relationship in song – she moving backwards from the bitter end, and he going forwards from the optimistic beginning.

Love & Mercy (biography, drama): Paul Dano is wonderful as the pop genius Brian Wilson on the brink of his breakdown while working on his masterpiece, Pet Sounds, for the Beach Boys. 

Magic Mike XXL (comedy, drama): With the Kings of Tampa back together and on the road to a male-stripper convention in Myrtle Beach, Magic Mike XXL is the all-out man-party audiences wanted the first movie to be.

Mavis! (documentary): This doc is pretty much flat-out hagiography, but you can see why director Jessica Edwards couldn’t help herself. Gifted singer Mavis Staples, who has been a force for peace and racial harmony since she began singing with the Staple Singers at age nine, is irresistibly charismatic.

Meet The Patels (documentary): L.A. actor/director Ravi Patel is single and almost 30, so he agrees to let his Indian-American parents find him a nice girl via the vast network of Indian matchmaking services and matrimonial websites.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (action, adventure, thriller): So here’s a surprise: it turns out the Mission: Impossible franchise doesn’t require a distinctive directorial vision after all. This is not a knock on Christopher McQuarrie, who takes the reins of episode five, Rogue Nation, after directing star/producer Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher and co-writing Valkyrie and Edge Of Tomorrow for him, too.

Mistress America (comedy): Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig’s follow-up to Frances Ha is another quietly frantic comedy starring Gerwig as a New Yorker teetering on the verge of success or collapse. This time, though, her character is observed through the eyes of her younger, more impressionable stepsister-to-be.

Ned Rifle (drama, Netflix): Ned Rifle finishes the story arc begun in 1997’s Henry Fool and extended in 2006’s Fay Grim, with the son of those two characters (Liam Aiken) turning 18 and setting out to find his father (Thomas Jay Ryan) and kill him for ruining the life of his mother (Parker Posey). But first he has to figure out what the deal is with the odd girl (Aubrey Plaza) who’s stalking his uncle, poet-turned-web-comedian Simon (James Urbaniak).

Nightmare, The (documentary, Netflix): Ascher’s new project, The Nightmare, is another examination of the tricks our minds play on us. This time he’s exploring the phenomenon of sleep paralysis, that state of consciousness in which the mind “wakes up” before the body.

Northern Soul (drama): Elaine Constantine’s Northern Soul introduces us to John (Elliot James Langridge), an angry teenager who gives up on education and embraces club life in 1974 Lancashire just as the eponymous pop phenomenon – built on obscure American singles from labels like Stax rather than Motown – was at its peak. 

The Overnight (mystery, comedy): In The Overnight, Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling play a couple newly arrived in Los Angeles and looking to make new friends. So naturally, they’re delighted to be invited to dinner by the parents (Jason Schwartzman, Judith Godrèche) of their son’s playmate… only to discover these hipster sophisticates have some very odd expectations for the evening.


Netflix and iTunes both have The Overnight on offer, starring Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling.

Phoenix (drama): Nelly, a concentration camp survivor, returns to her hometown in Germany to find her husband, Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld), who may have betrayed her to the Nazis. When she catches up with him, he doesn’t recognize her, but enlists her in a morally questionable cash grab.

Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence,  (drama, comedy): Roy Andersson’s latest exercise in morbid absurdism opens by declaring itself “the last in an unofficial trilogy about being a human being,” following 2000’s Songs From The Second Floor and 2007’s You, The Living.

Porch Stories (drama, romance): Shot a few blocks north of the Drake, Sarah Goodman’s Porch Stories is a delicate study of lives bouncing off one another on the side streets of downtown Toronto.

Preggoland (comedy, drama): Actor/writer Sonja Bennett explores the societal pressure on women without children and gives a knockout performance as bad girl Ruth.

Red Army (documentary, Netflix): If you weren’t around in the 80s to hear the tales of the Soviet Union’s hockey squad, Gabe Polsky‘s Red Army brings them to vivid life.

Resurrection of a Bastard, The (thriller, crime): Remember the name Guido van Driel. The bold Dutch director makes an auspicious debut with The Resurrection Of A Bastard, a brutally violent and haunting crime movie adapted from his own graphic novel.

Room (drama): As a young woman who’s spent seven years in total isolation – five of them with her young son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay) – Brie Larson’s recessed, almost elemental performance communicates bone-deep trauma and profound resilience. She is the movie, plain and simple.

Salt Of The Earth, The (documentary): Given its Oscar nomination for best documentary feature, people might be surprised that The Salt Of The Earth is a fairly conventional biography made somewhat more intimate by a wealth of stills and home-movie footage.

Second Mother, The (drama): Latin America’s culture of live-in housekeepers has long been a fecund subject for the region’s filmmakers. The latest, from Brazil’s Anna Muylaert (The Year My Parents Went On Vacation), distinguishes itself by focusing on the irony of a housekeeper devoting her energies to her employers’ family at the expense of her own. 

Selma (drama, Netflix, iTunes): This pic about the movement for black voting rights in 60s America comes at a time when racist killings have galvanized activism all over the U.S. But Selma would be a powerful film even without its current political resonance.

Seymour: An Introduction (documentary): Ethan Hawke’s first documentary is a portrait of Seymour Bernstein, a New York concert pianist who’s given up live performance and devoted himself exclusively to teaching.

Shaun The Sheep Movie (family, comedy): Don’t turn your nose up at Shaun The Sheep Movie because it’s a children’s property. Nothing Aardman Animations does is ever just for kids.

Sicario (crime, drama, action): Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario is about the war on drugs, no doubt about it. But it’s a superior work in the genre, comparable to Steven Soderbergh’s magnificent Traffic in its scope and sensitivity. It’s an ambitious and smart film, expertly cast and mercilessly executed.

Siddharth (drama): In Canadian Richie Mehta’s assured sophomore feature, a man’s urgent search for his missing son provides a harrowing look at poverty and desperation in India’s slums. 

Sinister 2 (horror): Sinister 2 is a rare example of a horror sequel that’s better than the original. It may lack an A-list star like Ethan Hawke, who played a grizzled, alcoholic writer in the first outing, but it deepens and expands on the original’s mythology about a demon who gets kids to kill their families.

Slow West (action, thriller, western): John Maclean’s first feature, Slow West is a perfect execution of the western, even as it deconstructs the genre. It’s strange and lyrical, with an imaginative spark that makes the economical narrative feel much, much larger. And it gives Michael Fassbender one of his best roles yet, which is really saying something.

Son of Saul (thriller, drama): Scenes of the horrors of Auschwitz in László Nemes’s Son Of Saul make the lager in Schindler’s List look like a summer camp. Ingeniously, he accomplishes this while keeping almost all the brutality off camera. Opens Dec. 25.

Spotlight (drama, crime): Tom McCarthy’s simmering docudrama tells the story of the Boston Globe’s 2001 investigation into the Catholic Church’s cover-ups of predatory priests in the Boston archdiocese.

Spring (sci-fi, romance, horror): Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s Spring is a love story, a coming-of-age tale and a horror movie. It’s an elegant piece of mashup cinema: Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise with a monster.

Spy (action, comedy): Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy’s Spy is more or less what you’d expect when the director of Bridesmaids and his breakout star decide to tackle an action movie. It’s funny and smart, and even legitimately exciting at a couple of points.


Spy is available now on iTunes, brought to you by the director of Bridesmaids and his breakout star Melissa McCarthy.

Stanford Prison Experiment, The (thriller, drama): The Stanford Prison Experiment is a dramatization of the infamous study – the one conducted in August 1971 by psychology professor Philip Zimbardo, who randomly assigned 24 college students the roles of prisoners and guards to study prison social dynamics. 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (action, adventure, sci-fi): No fanfare is necessary. J.J. Abrams’s The Force Awakens is the Star Wars movie we want it to be: a proper space opera that breathes much-needed life into the franchise George Lucas has spent the past two decades defiling. 

Stop Pounding The Heart (drama): Roberto Minervini‘s drama is a close-up study of young Sara (Sara Carlson), who lives and works with her large family on their rural Texas goat farm. Just edging into her teenage years, the sheltered girl is starting to comprehend the larger world beyond her home-schooled Christian household. 

Tab Hunter Confidential (documentary): Director Jeffrey Schwarz (Vito, I Am Divine) delves into the life of 50s matinee idol Tab Hunter, who was marketed as the boy next door during Hollywood’s studio system period while he kept his homosexuality (and relationships with Tony Perkins and figure skater Ronald Robertson) private.

Tangerine (comedy, drama): Trans working girl Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), on the street after 28 days in jail, connects with her best friend, aspiring nightclub singer and sister trans sex worker Alexandra (Mya Taylor), who informs her that her boyfriend Chester (James Ransome) has been cheating on her while she was in the clink – with a woman “who has a vagina and everything.”

That Guy Dick Miller (documentary): This is an unabashed celebration of Dick Miller, the veteran character actor whose filmography reads like the history of American genre cinema.

Tomorrowland (family, action, adventure): Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland is an adventure movie of remarkable visual flair and invention, with maybe one idea too many. That’s the worst thing I can say about it – and is that really so bad? Which would you prefer, a movie with too much in its head or not enough? 

Trainwreck (comedy, romance): After three seasons of her hilarious TV show Inside Amy Schumer, stand-up Schumer makes a remarkably smooth transition to feature films as Amy, a sexually confident magazine writer at a men’s magazine who falls for Aaron (Bill Hader), a celebrity sports doctor who’s the subject of her latest article.

Unfriended (horror): Taking the next evolutionary step from the found footage genre, Unfriended is a chilling and hysterical horror movie set entirely on a laptop screen, effectively conjuring jolts in video chat rooms and Google searches.

The Voices (horror, comedy): It’s best not to know anything more about The Voices, which goes to some very dark places as Jerry’s interactions with his co-workers (Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick) and his psychiatrist (Jacki Weaver) grow increasingly strained.

Wet Bum (drama, family): Tormented by her classmates and drawn to her older lifeguarding instructor (Craig Arnold), Sam finds herself strangely sympathetic to a cranky resident (Kenneth Welsh) of the retirement home where she works as a cleaner.

What We Do In The Shadows (horror, comedy): Using a mockumentary format, director/stars Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement – old friends whose previous collaborations include Eagle Vs Shark and several episodes of Flight Of The Conchords – deliver a giddy, mostly improvised look at the lives of a quartet of vampire flatmates in Wellington, New Zealand. 

What We Do In The Shadows

What We Do In The Shadows’ sense of humour falls somewhere between deadpan and bloody hysterical.

While We’re Young (comedy, drama, Netflix): After the more experimental Frances Ha, Noah Baumbach‘s While We’re Young finds the writer/director synthesizing his earlier observational comedies with his later, crueller character studies of self-destructive intellectuals. [See also: Mistress America]

Wildlike (drama, adventure, thriller): Writer/director Frank Hall Green proves a talent to watch in his debut about a vulnerable teenager’s trek through Alaska with a widower. A lyrical story about healing, Wildlike is modest in scale but big in unspoken emotions.

Wild Tales (drama, comedy, Netflix): Argentine director Szifron’s film is a comic anthology of five shorts and one lightning-fast prologue all revolving around revenge, responsibility and payback. But the real motivator in each tale turns out to be a violation of the agreed-upon social order.

Wolf Totem (adventure): Wolf Totem is a powerful and beautiful story about a Beijing student (Feng Shaofeng) who adopts a wolf cub when he’s sent to live and work with nomadic Mongolian herders during China’s Cultural Revolution.

Yes Men Are Revolting, The (documentary): This documentary by Laura Nix, in collaboration with her subjects, Yes Men Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, tracks the intrepid activists as they do various batshit – and often risky – things to call attention to environmental and economic issues.

Z For Zachariah (drama): Post-apocalyptic settings are commonplace these days, but few such movies are as quiet, thoughtful and free of CGI as Craig Zobel’s Z For Zachariah. 

More amazing films of 2015 we hope to watch online soon:

Amina Profile, The (documentary): Sophie Deraspe’s taut doc begins with a hot online affair between Montrealer Sandra Bagaria and the mysterious Amina, author of the online blog Gay Girl In Damascus, an online property that blows up and becomes an international sensation thanks to a story in the Guardian.

Backward Class, The (documentary): Despite its premise, The Backward Class, Audience Choice winner at last year’s Hot Docs, isn’t your average underdogs-beat-the-odds documentary. Former untouchables, while still at the bottom of India’s social hierarchy, are studying at Shanti Bhavan School to pass college entrance exams.

Black Panthers: Vanguard Of The Revolution, The (documentary): Stanley Nelson’s documentary tracing the rise and fall of black America’s most militant movement has a little bit of everything good: mercurial personalities, passion and plenty of drama.

Creeping Garden, The (documentary): Have you ever taken a moment to think about plasmodial slime moulds and wondered what purpose they serve in nature? How they go about performing their functions, what it is they want? 

Driving With Selvi (documentary): Reel Asian’s opening-night gala is an inspirational look at a young Indian woman who fled an abusive marriage to reinvent herself as the first female taxi driver in the city of Karnataka – a hard-won achievement that opened the doors to further opportunities. 

Forbidden Room, The (comedy, mystery, drama): Trying to summarize the plot of The Forbidden Room would sound like the rantings of a madman. Like most of co-director Guy Maddin’s previous work, it’s less a narrative than a fugue state of half-remembered images from 1920s and 30s cinema amped up with feverish desire.

Grandma (comedy): It’s about time Lily Tomlin played a dyke, but she’s so terrific in Grandma you can almost forgive her for making us wait this long.

The Iron Giant: Signature Edition (animation, comedy): Ahead of a long-overdue Blu-ray release, Brad Bird’s 1999 masterwork about a lonely kid named Hogarth (voiced by Eli Marenthal) and the giant alien robot (Vin Diesel) who becomes his best friend returns to the screen in a gorgeous new restoration.

Marinoni: The Fire In The Frame (documentary): If a documentary is only as good as its subject, then Marinoni: The Fire In The Frame is golden. Tony Girardin has a fantastic one in 75-year-old Giuseppe Marinoni – a cranky but revered Montreal manufacturer of bicycle frames determined to set a world distance record for his age group.

My Internship In Canada (comedy): Originally slated for release earlier this month in advance of the federal election, Philippe Falardeau’s My Internship In Canada has been bounced around the calendar and now opens after the vote. Not that its good-natured vision of Quebec and national politics would have made much difference, I suspect.

Of Men And War (documentary): The second film in a planned Genealogy Of Wrath trilogy – the first one was 2003’s War-Wearied – Laurent Bécue-Renard’s Of Men And War embeds itself at a California centre where a handful of American servicemen are being treated for severe PTSD after tours of duty in Iraq. 

Some Kind Of Love (documentary): Thomas Burstyn’s documentary looks at first like an indulgent examination of his own family’s intimacy issues. But soon it blossoms into an emotionally charged investigation into the universal themes of familial love, ambivalence and obligation.

Steve Jobs (drama, biography): How do you make a Steve Jobs movie in a world where there are already two Steve Jobs movies? You think different, and you turn it into an Aaron Sorkin movie.

Theeb (thriller, drama, adventure): This co-production from the UK and three Arab countries impeccably captures a historical moment – the impact of the railroad on traditional Bedouin societies in 1916 – but it’s the powerful emotions that drive it.

Timbuktu (drama): Nominated for this year’s best foreign language feature Oscar, Abderrahmane Sissako‘s Timbuktu arrives with a heady political charge: it’s about Islamic militants imposing sharia law on a small community that doesn’t particularly want it.

The Walk (adventure, drama, biography): Set atop (and around) the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, where French aerialist Philippe Petit made his remarkable high-wire crossing on the morning of August 7, 1974. And while that impressive feat was documented very effectively in James Marsh’s Oscar-winning documentary Man On Wire, Marsh didn’t have. Robert Zemeckis’s toolbox.

When Marnie Was There (animation, drama, family): Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s When Marnie Was There is a dreamy animated drama about Anna, a sickly, socially anxious teen sent to spend a restorative summer with relatives in the country. 

See all films here.

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