"Mad Max: Fury Road"
"Mad Max: Fury Road" (Film Still)

1. "Mad Max: Fury Road" (George Miller, Australia) "Mad Max" never needed Mel Gibson. And the world doesn't really need Mel Gibson—fuck that asshole. The newest installment in George Miller's post-apocalyptic action franchise (starring the infinitely-more-scrumptious Tom Hardy as the title character) flips a middle finger to Gibson and the action genre as a whole for its history of misogyny and boring masculine ideals. "Mad Max: Fury Road" pulled out all the stops: explosions, car chases (well, the whole thing was really one long car chase; and speaking of cars, that vehicle design, damn), blood and guts, and rock 'n' roll, all to an extreme level that we rarely see, even in today's big-budget Hollywood. The post-nuclear-holocaust Earth never looked so stunning or so fucking metal. The film set all the bait to draw in the usual male audiences, but instead of giving them another macho hero who rescues a helpless damsel from danger, it offered Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) as the road-warrior heroine who saves the enslaved wives of the tyrant Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne)—much to the dismay and confusion of chauvinist dude-bros. Max helps a little, but it's really all about the women. Makes you wonder if the film would have done as well at the box office if it had been called "Imperator Furiosa" instead of "Mad Max." (Maura Callahan)

2. "Tangerine" (Sean Baker, United States) A much-needed shotgun blast through awards-season bullshit, defying Hollywood's white cis-het erasure of trans lives both historical ("The Danish Girl," "Stonewall") and made up ("Dallas Buyers Club"). As a buddy comedy and Hollywood-set revenge romp where black sex workers are the non-tragic heroines, "Tangerine" also flips the burdened men, fallen women, and white fears of prestige L.A. noir. Here, supposedly disreputable women have the moral high ground, men are the peripheral dopes, and white tears are best served cold. Yes, it was shot on an iPhone, but that speaks less to Sundance press-kit miracle than to how marginalized Americans increasingly have to document their abuse. Prison, street harassment, and the specter of wholesome holiday cheer loom large and all these women have is each other. (Adam Katzman)


3. "Spotlight" (Tom McCarthy, United States) "Spotlight" tells the true story of the team of Boston Globe reporters whose 2002 expose of pedophile priests in the Boston area—and the fact that the Roman Catholic Church had known about it and done nothing—caused an uproar and set in motion a series of investigations around the world. While the material is shocking, screenwriters Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer never play it up for shock value, instead providing a detailed look at the Globe investigation that allows the horror of the priests' behavior to speak for itself. And the journalists are given the same detailed, accuracy-obsessed treatment: The movie shows both the heart-rending interviews with abuse victims and the journalistic drudgery of poring through old records, to great effect. (Anna Walsh)

4. "Hard to Be a God" (Aleksey German, Russia) As an entertainment, it's a nearly plotless trudge. As an immersive cinematic experience, it makes 3-D IMAX look like a cheap gewgaw. Aleksey German's adaptation of a Russian sci-fi epic, set on a distant planet similar to benighted medieval Earth, channels the militant ignorance of our own times, but what will stick with you is the mud, blood, snot, and filth that practically drip from the screen. The ever-moving camera spends whole reels penned up in claustrophobic quarters, shooting in close-ups, only to turn through a stone doorway and reveal an entire castle—an entire world beyond—dripping dank and writhing with activity. You have never seen anything like it, and probably never will again. (Lee Gardner)

5. "The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution" (Stanley Nelson, United States) Stanley Nelson's kinetic documentary on the life and death of the Black Panther party is not perfect—the Lowndes County Freedom Organization is for the most part left out, it skips Eldridge Cleaver and rape altogether, and barely considers how the feminist movement complicated and perhaps assisted in the exit of many women from the party—but Nelson's patient and rigorous style and the documentary's confidence to not pull its punches (it is deeply critical of Huey P. Newton; it makes no bones about acknowledging that the Chicago police assassinated Fred Hampton) make it a vital document of an important organization that feels even more significant than usual this year, the year of Black Lives Matter and the Baltimore Uprising. (Brandon Soderberg)

6. "Dope" (Rick Famuyiwa, United States) Yes, writer/director Rick Famuyiwa's "Dope" is a throwback teen comedy in the "Risky Business" mold. By following the trials and tribulations of high-school senior and black nerd Malcolm (Shameik Moore in a breakout role), "Dope" doesn't merely recast that genre but reinvents it as social commentary on education, class in the black community, labor opportunities, and the at-times crippling vulnerability that is teenage masculinity. And it does all that and is spit-take funny on top. (Bret McCabe)

7. "Magic Mike XXL" (Gregory Jacobs, United States) From the moment Mike's welding routine is disrupted by Ginuwine's 'Pony,' it becomes apparent that "Magic Mike XXL" is going to treat sex work as a legitimate form of labor, throwing the original's cautionary moralism to the wind and embracing stripping as its own means of self-actualization. Diversifying the group's racial dynamic, amplifying their working-class aspirations, and dedicating their exploits to the female gaze, it's as valiant and thrilling an attempt at intersectional praxis as you'll get from a motley crew of straight bros. One that, in straddling the Florida-Georgia line, confronts America's legacy of racial/sexual stratification, provocatively offering the stage as a platform on which everyone can, well, come together. (AK)

8. "Straight Outta Compton" (F. Gary Gray, United States) It was N.W.A.'s gangsta shit that opened the way for artists in the streets (and kids in the suburbs) to shake off that goody-two-shoes act and keep it real. The hip-hop group's story is told through this gritty biopic: Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.), MC Ren (Aldis Hodge), and Ice Cube (O'Shea Jackson Jr.) are fully formed characters in "Straight Outta Compton" as well as a complex and often-hypocritical symbol for the oppressed and how they must snatch up hip-hop success by any means necessary. Director F. Gary Gray tells their story in a way that's compelling enough that, like the group itself, the streets and the bougie alike can get down with its aspirational narrative as well as all the weed, guns, sex, and Felicia. (Kenneth Stone Breckenridge)

9. "Creed" (Ryan Coogler, United States) One of the campiest entries in the Rocky franchise yields a new classic in the 40-plus-year-old film franchise with "Creed." See, America was going head-to-head with the former Soviet Union in the Reagan '80s when "Rocky IV" was released, so Russian fighter Ivan Drago (a chiseled-from-granite Dolph Lundgren) kills boxer Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) in the ring during a brutal charity fight. And this is where "Creed" picks up: Unbeknownst to most of the characters, Apollo Creed left behind an infant son, Adonis Creed. "Fruitvale Station" director Ryan Coogler deftly guides Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed through the world of modern boxing while also exploring a romance between Adonis and his girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson)—their relationship feels as real as the fighting scenes between Creed and his British rival later in the film. Coogler, who also co-wrote the film, has taken the character of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and given him a depth not seen since the early films in the series—it's Stallone's best role since "Cop Land." During the final fight, Adonis tells Balboa that he's "not a mistake." The same goes for "Creed," which easily could've become corny in the hands of a less sensitive team of filmmakers and actors. (J.M. Giordano)

10. "Field Niggas" (Khalik Allah, United States) Existing somewhere between the visual avant pop-rap splendor of "Belly" or "Spring Breakers" and the hard-edged portraiture cinema of works like "Portrait of Jason" and Gordon Parks' films and photography, Khalik Allah's experimental documentary about fringe denizens of Harlem, "Field Niggas," which played at the Maryland Film Festival, is hard to shake. Allah finds beauty and surrealism in the locales as neon lights from bodega awnings fire psychedelic light on the homeless, mentally ill, addicted, and those just plain uninterested in societal conventions. Plus, Allah shoots them with wizened empathy. Meanwhile a soundtrack of prison-gang songs and Allah's booming honest voice asking his subjects questions and even for advice counters the condescending freak-show attitude that fuels so many street-level documentaries and reportage. (BS)