One Critic's Top 10 Movies of 2015

Spotlight takes a spot in the pantheon of journalism flicks. - Courtesy
Spotlight takes a spot in the pantheon of journalism flicks.

After scraping through 189 films over the last 12 months, here is a look at my picks for the best films of 2015.

10. Grandma (Dir. Paul Weitz) • Sweet, funny and delightfully acerbic, watching actress Lily Tomlin do her best work since earning an Oscar nom for 1976’s Nashville is monumental in itself. As a grandmother driving her pregnant teenage granddaughter around town to find the money she needs to get an abortion, this pro-choice dramedy is a charmer.

9. The Revenant (Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu) • Oscar-winning director Iñárritu (Birdman) takes a harrowing tale of survival and revenge and gives five-time Oscar nominee Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street) the most physically demanding role of his career, which he effortlessly disappears into. It’s the most beautifully shot film this year, with two-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity) behind the camera turning bear attacks into poetry in motion.

8. The Second Mother (Dir. Anna Muylaert) • Household dynamics are agitated in this Brazilian film when the estranged daughter of a live-in housekeeper moves in with her mother and the family she works for. Themes of classism and motherhood run deep as lines are crossed and characters maneuver their way through uncomfortable domestic situations.

7. Amy (Dir. Asif Kapadia) • Devastatingly sad, this extremely well constructed documentary on talented British musician Amy Winehouse, who died in 2011 at the age of 27, takes a heartbreaking and eye-opening look into celebrity culture and reveals the iconic singer’s downfall with admiration and insight. Director Kapadia (Senna) uses powerful archive footage and interviews to paint a striking portrait of a tragic spirit.

6. Ex Machina (Dir. Alex Garland) • Spellbinding, unique and oftentimes humorous, this directorial debut by Garland (writer of Sunshine) is in the same quiet realm of the sci-fi genre as recent movies Moon and Source Code. When a tech programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a contest to meet his company’s reclusive CEO (Oscar Isaac) at his remote office location, he is introduced to a unique brand of artificial intelligence. It’s creepy, compelling and asks some interesting questions about the power of human sexuality.

Emily Blunt shines in Sicario. - Courtesy
Emily Blunt shines in Sicario.

5. Sicario (Dir. Denis Villeneuve) • The most viscerally engaging film of the year stars Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow) as an idealistic FBI agent recruited to work with a mysterious government agency that is crossing into Mexico and the darkest corners of the drug war. Blunt and Oscar winner Benicio del Toro (Traffic) are terrific, and director Villeneuve (Prisoners) keeps the thriller pumping with brutal momentum. Add some breathtaking cinematography by 12-time Oscar nominee Roger Deakins and a terrifying and brilliant score by Oscar nominee Jóhann Jóhannsson (The Theory of Everything) and the wasteland created south of the border becomes all too palpable.

4. Room (Dir. Lenny Abrahamson) • So much of what makes this exceptionally moving drama by director Abrahamson (Frank) work is the world he and screenwriter/novelist Emma Donoghue establish in such a confined space where a mother and son (Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay) are held captive in a backyard storage shed. The relationship between Larson and Tremblay’s characters is genuine, and the fact that the film is told through the eyes of a child gives it a sense of innocence that touches the soul without being overly sentimental.

3. Steve Jobs (Dir. Danny Boyle) • It might have been a failure at the box office, but Oscar-winning director Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) creates a wholly original biography on late Apple founder Steve Jobs that is worthy of the tech genius’ contribution to the computer industry. Broken into three professionally defining acts over the course of his career, Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) pens the type of fast-paced, clever and sardonic dialogue he lives for, but also gives Jobs (Michael Fassbender) a series of personal demons to exorcise, all of which give fascinating depth to his larger-than-life character.

2. The Look Of Silence (Dir. Joshua Oppenheimer) • A follow-up to his 2012 Oscar-nominated documentary The Act of Killing, director Oppenheimer delivers an even more heart-wrenching narrative in this intimate companion piece. Raw emotion rises to the surface as we follow an Indonesian optometrist, whose brother was murdered during the country’s 1965 genocide, as he bravely confronts the men who carried out the killings. The discomfort during these meetings is chilling.

1. Spotlight (Dir. Tom McCarthy) • Expertly paced, absorbing and featuring the most impressive ensemble cast of the year, this print journalism procedural about the award-winning Boston Globe team of reporters who uncovered a long history of corruption and sexual abuse inside the Catholic Church will forever be mentioned in the same breath as other top-tier newspaper films including 1976’s All the President’s Men. Credit director/writer McCarthy (The Visitor) for avoiding sensationalism and turning investigative journalism into an art form.

Honorable Mentions: Bridge of Spies; Cinderella; Clouds of Sils Maria; Creed; Far from the Madding Crowd; 45 Years; Love & Mercy; Manson Family Vacation; Mustang; Trumbo

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