Something tells me 2015 will be looked back upon by film historians as a year when extremely difficult subject matters were explored with unparalleled honesty. Or maybe it was just another year of great cinema from a collection of talented, thoughtful storytellers. Either way, here are my favorites from this past year:
1 Steve Jobs Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin demonstrates yet again that he is the absolute best in the biz. Sorkin’s script, combined with the keen direction of Danny Boyle and a stellar performance from Michael Fassbender, made this my top pick.
2 Room Incomprehensible subject matter delivered with such thoughtful, understated grace by director Lenny Abrahamson. A break out performance from Brie Larson, almost certain to reward her with an Oscar. And then there’s the young boy, Jacob Tremblay. Brilliant film.
3 The Revenant Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu delivers again. As does cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezky. As does Leo. This is one of those films you have to think twice before recommending due to the graphic brutality of some of the sequences. But it’s a monster achievement on multiple levels. A masterpiece? Maybe. Lubezky should win his third consecutive Oscar.
4 The Martian So challenging to pull off what director Ridley Scott and his team did here. An intellectually stimulating, crowd-pleasing blockbuster success. This is territory usually reserved for a club of one: Steven Spielberg. Great to see Scott back on top! I loved this film.
5 Youth Another picture that is difficult to just casually recommend. I, myself, had to absorb it three times before I could really appreciate what I was viewing: an honest examination of the artistic process and the collateral damage left in its wake. I predict Jane Fonda snags her third Oscar here…for basically one scene.
6 Me and Earl and the Dying Girl One of those “little films” that catches you totally off guard and knocks you on your butt. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s work here is fresh in a Wes Anderson kind of way, minus the precious nostalgia. This is a tear-jerker.
7 Star Wars: The Force Awakens I loved every minute of this ridiculously hyped cinematic event. So comforting to see all those familiar faces from the original 1977 classic; and such a relief to see what good hands the George Lucas franchise is now in with its new stars. This is why we still, as a society, love going to the movies.
8 Straight Outta Compton Director F. Gary Gray walked a fine line very effectively, showing the rise and fall of the most controversial musical group from the “gangsta rap” phenomenon in enough “street” detail without sinking too deep in to the more banal, brutal aspects of their reality. He kept it just “real” enough. Don’t be surprised if Jason Mitchell wins the Oscar for his performance as Eazy-E.
9 Black Mass I’ve spent two decades wondering when mega-star Johnny Depp would deliver another performance that gave me as much hope for him as in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993). So refreshing to see him out of the Tim Burton sand box! He is wicked good in this “true” Boston mob movie. As is the entire cast.
10 Sicario Emily Blunt is excellent in a role that would have been out of her reach a few years ago; but Benicio Del Toro is the reason to take this ride. Again, a tough film to recommend due to its graphic brutality. But Del Toro is an elite talent and when he’s this good, he is not to be missed.
11 Love & Mercy Thoroughly enjoyed this film about the demons that haunted Beach Boys’ genius, Brian Wilson. Loved both Paul Dano and John Cusack as Wilson.
12 Ex Machina Brilliantly executed, three stars on the rise huge in 2015: Oscar Isaac (Star Wars), Domhnall Gleeson (Star Wars, Brooklyn, The Revenant), Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl).
13 Creed Not an easy franchise to breathe new life in to. But…mission accomplished. Stallone may just win the Oscar here for finally showing us his real age.
14 Amy So sad to watch Amy Winehouse’s inevitable implosion. But her music? Ridiculously intoxicating. What a talent.
15 Brooklyn Beautifully performance from another ’15 break out star, Saoirse Ronan. Kind of a Hallmark film, though.
16 The Danish Girl Amazing film to look at. Like one Vermeer after another. Will be widely celebrated come Oscar time.
17 Joy Jennifer Lawrence proves why she’s such a star. David O. Russell’s film, however, a little flimsy. A good rental.
18 Carol Another exquisitely crafted film from Todd Haynes, but it kind of limps along and lacks a genuine climax.
19 Spectre Not nearly as satisfying as Sam Mendes’ previous Bond film, Skyfall, but still quality popcorn entertainment.
20 Macbeth Very dark and moody, and, dare I say…well-written! Fassbender and Marion Cotillard are great together.