“Clouds of Sils Maria”: Olivier Assayas’ spellbinding feature sets piercing character studies against a mysterious Alpine dreamscape. With its tantalizing interplay of artifice and angst, it’s a film that transcends the sum of its considerable parts. Chief among them is Kristen Stewart’s turn as the whip-smart, increasingly restive personal assistant to a movie star.
“Experimenter”: Michael Almereyda’s audacious film shows why social psychologist Stanley Milgram’s hot-button obedience experiments continue to fascinate, 50 years later. As the screenplay breaks the fourth wall and tosses out the biopic template, the cast, led by Peter Sarsgaard and Winona Ryder, matches its unsettling intensity, beat for syncopated beat.
“Sherpa”: Jennifer Peedom’s chronicle of the 2014 climbing season on Mt. Everest would have been a remarkable piece of reportage under any circumstances. But the events that unfolded on the Himalayan peak — beginning with an avalanche — took her documentary in unexpected directions. The result is an unforgettable high-altitude drama.
“Taxi”: Having been barred by the Iranian government from making movies, Jafar Panahi finds increasingly inventive ways to do just that. In his third feature since being sentenced to silence for so-called anti-regime propaganda, he plays himself as a genial cabdriver, tooling through Tehran, dash-cam at his disposal. The bittersweet film is a comic gem.
No más: There’s a rising tide of film-school graduates who are determined to claim the auteur’s mantle straight out of the gate, skipping past such matters as apprenticeship and the vicissitudes of life. Careerism reverberates louder than artistry or point of view in too many first features, making for hollow filmmaking and dispiriting viewing.