The first new feature in eight years by one of the medium's greatest artists, and one 2015's most outstanding achievements, The Assassin masterfully pursues its super-cinematic fetish to the point of conceptual exhaustion: rippling silks, a flickering candle, a fluttering branch. Hou returns to cinema's first source of spectacle in this lavishly detailed portrait of invisible presence.
Cemetery of Splendour (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand/United Kingdom/France/Germany/Malaysia/South Korea/Mexico/United States/Norway)
An open and digressive masterpiece from the best director of his (post-Hou) generation, myth and remembrance find their place in a hospital ward populated by sleeping soldiers. Thai military rule intervenes accordingly, along with Apichatpong films past, in this latest expansion of the filmmaker's sprawling multiverse.
3. Knight of Cups (Terrence Malick, United States)
Fragmented, lyrical and impressionistic to the most extreme of degrees, the suddenly prolific Malick's Pilgrim's Progress riff possess the same "similitude of a dream" as Bunyan's high-Protestant 17th c. original. To the Wonder looks less and less like a divertissement seen in light of this portrait of a Hollywood star's soul.
4. Taxi (Jafar Panahi, Iran)
No less than the third (and certainly the most unambiguously entertaining) feature made by Panahi since receiving his 20-year ban from filmmaking, Taxi asserts the director's latest alibi in his car's dashboard security device. Talk of interrogators and its final-act theft also insure that this is the director's most overtly political film too.
5. No Home Movie (Chantal Akerman, Belgium/France)
2015 marked the tragic passing of Akerman, but not before the feminist film icon produced the year's most moving piece of essay cinema. No Home Movie also represented a seismic shift in our understanding of the director's art, a corpus, because of this latest, that now demands to be seen in reference to the filmmaker's mother.
6. The Treasure (Corneliu Porumboiu, Romania/France)
The precisely structured latest from one of Romania's smartest auteurs, The Treasure plays off its Robin Hood intertext to produce a real-world fairy tail that continually subverts the expectations created by its art-cinema framework. A return to the thematic and stylistic territory -- not to mention the pleasures -- of the director's best, Police, Adjective.
7. Right Now, Wrong Then (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea)
A return to the twice-told format that defined his pre-2008 body of work (cf. Virgin Stripped Bare by His Bachelors), Hong's 17th feature provides just enough variation to radically disassemble story from plot. A film about how stories can be told differently, Right Now, Wrong Then is filmmaking as the most potent form of film criticism.
8. My Golden Days (Arnaud Desplechin, France)
Desplechin remains contemporary France's most invigorating and stylistically idiosyncratic outlier, a Scorsese-like figure in his catholic approach to technique. A prequel to the director's monumental My Sex Life, imagined from the position of middle age, My Golden Days exquisitely channels all the consuming passion of its first-love subject.
9. Chevalier (Athina Rachel Tsangari, Greece)
Staged on a rented private vessel in the Aegean Sea, Chevalier cunningly exposes the absurdities of male competition in its presentation of a game in which the participants are judged by each other in everything they do. The Attenberg director's latest is a new peak for Greece's exceedingly allegorical nascent art-cinema idiom.
10. Carol (Todd Haynes, United Kingdom/United States)
In a down year for Hollywood prestige productions, Carol was the biggest exception. Graceful (and even subtle, compared to Far From Heaven) in its numerous quotations of Sirkian 50's melodrama, Haynes's best to date allegorized the intimacy and social acceptance of its same-sex couple through its deft widescreen manipulations.