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Sunday, May 22, 2016

Top 10 of 2015

As usual, much of a year has passed me by before I'm ready to look back on last year's movies. It was a very good year for movies, as most are if you know where to look. Of the 56 movies I saw last year, I enjoyed a large majority of them, and highly recommend everything listed below. I particularly like the diversity of my Top 10 list this year, which encompasses a couple sequels, science fiction, animation, and comedy.

Here are my #16-25, in alphabetical order:

Best Documentary winner Amy, Best Picture nominee Bridge of Spies, Carey Mulligan in the Thomas Hardy adaptation Far From the Madding Crowd, French immigrant drama Girlhood, divisive but charming Sundance winner Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, the hypnotic German film Phoenix, Amy Schumer's overlong but very funny Trainwreck, fascinating documentary about a great artist What Happened Miss Simone?, the completely unique Hungarian film White God, The beautiful, stylish, naval-gazing and moving Youth by Italian director Paolo Sorrentino.

5 Runners-Up (In alphabetical order):

The End of the Tour: Jason Segal and Jesse Eisenberg are terrific in this movie about David Foster Wallace and the journalist David Lipsky hanging out and chatting. It's like Before Sunrise without the romance.

45 Years: A portrait of new discoveries in a long and complacent marriage, this is a master class in acting from Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay.

Room: This Best Picture nominee is moving and gripping, especially in its first half.  Best Actress winner Brie Larson is terrific, and young Jacob Trembaly gives a remarkable child performance.

Spotlight: While it didn't quite make my Top 10 list, last year's Best Picture winner is a totally solid choice. A movie committed to chronicling the slow, steady heroism of a group of journalists, this is an important, entertaining, and educational film.

Tangerine: The movie starring two transgender actresses and filmed on an iPhone is pulsing with life, energy, and sass.  This movie gives a great sense of the hardscrabble LA streets.

And my top 10:

10. Steve Jobs: This movie bombed at the box office, and its a real shame. With sparkling, quick-witted dialogue by Aaron Sorkin, a clever structure, and great performances by Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet, this movie is a real treat.

9. Creed: If you had told me a year ago that a Rocky sequel would grace my top 10 list, I would have scoffed. I like but don't love the original Rocky, and have not followed or seen most of its sequels .  Director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) and actor Michael B. Jordan were the exact right mix for a sequel/reboot. While paying enough tribute to the themes and iconography of the series to satisfy fans , something new is created here, with elegantly choreographed fight scenes, a real sense of African-American Philly, and a elegiac relationship between the elderly Rocky and the young Creed.

8. Clouds of Sils Maria: Great performances by Juliette Binoche and (especially!) Kristen Stewart anchor this movie about acting, women, and artifice.  Talent, aging, and meaning are debated through long scenes of fascinating dialogue. Talk bout passing the Bechdel test!

7. Inside Out: Another year, another great movie from Pixar, right? Out of the high concept of emotions living in your head, Inside Out pulls off the tricky balance of making both the humans and "emotions" matter, moving us to tears with just the right mix of humor and melancholy.

6. Sicario: Canadian director Dennis Villeneuve has made several impressive movies (including Incendies and Prisoners), but Sicario is a huge step forward into another league.  Great performances  by Benicio del Toro and Emily Blunt, stunning cinematography by Roger Deakins, and a tightly constructed script blend beautifully into a perfectly tense hard-eyed look at the intricacies of the drug war on the U.S.-Mexico border.

5. The Big Short: A hilarious, frightening, angry howl at the American economic system. This movie is so all over the place it shouldn't really work, but work it does. It's a movie where you laugh so you don't cry.

4. Brooklyn: A movie packed, from start to finish, with honest emotions both large and small. Saorsie Ronan gives a luminous performance (the best of the year) as an Irish immigrant negotiating life choices in 1950s New York in a story both particular and universal.

3. Ex Machina: Proof that the best science fiction comes from ideas, not from big budgets. This three-handed drama slowly draws you in and plays with your mind, forcing your sympathies and curiosity between the recluse scientist Oscar Isaac, the "A.I." Alicia Vikander, and naive visitor Domhnall Gleeson. Without relying on gotcha tricks, Ex Machina slowly shifts your perspective so that you'll be reanalyzing everything you've seen once you leave the theater.

2. Carol: A train set, lost gloves, a camera. Director Todd Haynes uses an array of period-specific details to tell a beautiful story of same-sex love in the 1950s. Simultaneously aware of its period trappings and utterly sincere, Carol is a thing of beauty. With two perfectly pitched performances at the center, Carol is a work of art for the ages. I just saw it for a second time and, as I suspected, it's the kind of movie that reveals even more of its magic on repeated viewings.

1. Mad Max: Fury Road: Ever since seeing this in the theater, there was a little doubt what would to my list. Mad Max: Fury Road is an act of crazy genius by director George Miller. Never before has an action movie had so much to say with so little dialogue and so much rich visual language.  It's also a feminist and environmental parable for the ages, and one of the most thrilling experiences I've ever had in a movie theater.

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