1. The Family Friend (2006)- My quest for more Paolo Sorrentino films continues, and this, his third effort, again confirms my belief that he's one of the most exciting international filmmakers working today. And no one uses the symmetry of image and music quite as stirring as he does... outside of maybe Scorsese. It takes a while for this film to find its groove- sleazy, cheap, old loan shark Geremia (Giacomo Rizzo) swaggers through his life collecting chocolate and taking care of his elderly mother. The only pleasure he derives from life is his ability to insinuate himself into the lives of the people who borrow money from him. Then he meets young, beautiful Rosalba (Laura Chiatti) when he funds the money to her father in order to pay for her wedding and a beauty-and-the-beast relationship forms between them. Several characters, including Geremia's henchman, circle the story without real definition, but as the film winds down, its serpentine themes begin to emerge. Wildly ambitious, stylish and even a bit moving, "The Family Friend" is yet another fascinating cog in the Sorrentino universe of eccentric people and unique situations.
2. Dexter The Final Season- I know, this show wore out its welcome three or four years ago, but I still felt depressed and sad as I watched the final episode. I've been with this thing since its inception over a decade ago. As with all shows, it became incredibly ludicrous, verging on the soap operish, but its resolute sympathy for such an evil anti-hero continued to amamze. Adios Dexter.
3. The Invisible Woman (2013)- Ralp Fiennes' telling of Charles Dickens and his secret lover, expertly played by Felicity Jones. Fiennes wisely inverts the emotional center towards Nelly and away from himself, which creates an even more devastating portrait of unrequited love.
4. Big Bad Wolves (2013)- I should have guessed that the film Tarantino praised as his favorite of the year would, basically, be a two hour extension of his Michael Madsen torture scene from "Reservoir Dogs". There's really no more depth than that, as a revengeful father and cop take out their anger and mistrust on the man suspected of the crime. This was all done with more panache and moral ambiguity in last year's "Prisoners".
5. Locke (2014)- If any current actor can maintain our attention for an hour and a half alone, driving in a car... it's Tom Hardy. And he does it well in "Locke", taking what could have been an uninteresting character and making into something real and honestly flawed. Juggling a huge job, the consequences of his wife and a decision in London over a car bluetooth phone, "Locke" reverberates with intensity. Hardy carries a wide array of emotions, displaying them all with ease. At 84 minutes, I simply didn't want it to end.
6. Beyond the Black Rainbow (2012)- Trippy man.. trippy. Like a sci-fi Jodorwosky, the colors and hallucinogenic tempo of this film are unique. Even if the story is half baked- something about a psychic girl trapped by a mad scientist in this futuristic greenhouse- I suspect it's limitations of narrative are dependent on the miniscule budget.