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Monday, December 21, 2015

Best Movies Of 2015

Here's my list of the Best Movies Of 2015, with a few caveats.

One is that I don't see every movie that comes to theaters -- I can't stand comic book and horror movies, anything where I have to read subtitles throughout, or any film based on a book by Jane Austen or starring Adam Sandler. I also haven't included the Ryan Reynolds/Ben Mendelsohn gambling road movie "Mississippi Grind" because I'm biased in its favor by having appeared in it. I have also not included "Concussion," the Will Smith movie about Dr. Bennett Amalu, who revealed that NFL players were dying because they suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy due to the repeated blows to the head on the field. I expect it to be very good, but it doesn't open until this Friday, so I'll have to review it separately.

With those points noted, there were the best movies I saw this year. The links go to the full reviews I posted on this site when they were released.

1) "Inside Out." Pixar returned to form with a perfect peek into the emotions inside a girl's head. There is simply nothing wrong with the story, the animation, or the voice work by Amy Poehler, Lewis Black, Phyllis Smith, Mindy Kaling, Richard King, and many others. When it was released, I gave it a ten out of ten -- you can't get better than that.

2) "Spotlight." The best drama of the year tells the story of the Boston Globe reporters who uncovered the pedophile priest scandal in that town 14 years ago. With brilliant direction by Tom McCarthy, the ensemble of Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel MacAdams, Bryan D'Arcy James, Liev Schreiber, and John Slattery show how real journalists assemble a story piece by piece while uncovering ugliness inside -- and trying to pry the truth from -- the incredibly powerful Catholic Church. It's the best publicity newspaper people have gotten since "All The President's Men." The end slides showing how many dioceses were infested with these sickos will turn your stomach and make you wonder why anyone has put a dime in the collection plate since.

3) "Room." A psychological drama about a woman locked in a room with her five year old son. Not only does she have to endure the damage inflicted by her captor, but she also has to raise a child who is totally unaware there's a world outside the walls of the shed that is their home. As I warned at the time, if you plan to see "Room," don't watch the trailer or read any other reviews because they'll give away crucial plot points you do not want spoiled. Brie Larson will be Oscar-nominated for the lead role, and the performance by young Jacob Tremblay is just as good.

4) "Trainwreck." Amy Schumer's breakout movie is hysterical, raunchy, and a perfect vehicle for her. She's a single woman with no interest in commitment to anything more than having fun until she meets Doctor Right. LeBron James is a surprise standout among the supporting cast, which includes Will Forte, Tilda Swinton, Colin Quinn, and Vanessa Bayer. Directed by Judd Apatow, "Trainwreck" is the funniest comedy since last year's "Top Five" from Chris Rock.

5) "The Walk." Based on the Oscar-winning documentary "Man On Wire," "The Walk" tells the true story of Philippe Petit, who in 1974 suspended a cable between the towers of the World Trade Center and walked between them, suspended in mid-air. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is very good as Petit, but its director Robert Zemeckis' magic that makes the movie work. The second half plays like a tense high-stakes heist story, and when Petit takes his first step onto the wire as we watch from above, you can't help but take an anxious deep breath.

6) "The Martian." The best STEM movie since "Apollo 13." While Matt Damon gives a terrific performance as an astronaut stranded on Mars, left behind by the crew that believes he's dead, it is the combination of science, technology, engineering, and math that makes the film so good. "The Martian" is also a helluva ride. It is what big-screen movie entertainment is all about.

7) "Love and Mercy." In the hour after seeing this Brian Wilson biopic, I wasn't sure I liked it. But the more I thought about, the more it appealed to me, particularly the dual performances by Paul Dano and John Cusack as Wilson. Elizabeth Banks does her best-ever work as the woman in Wilson's life, and Paul Giammatti is perfectly creepy as the psychologist whose therapeutic ideas do more harm than good. The scenes of Dano's Wilson working in the studio with The Wrecking Crew to create that unique Beach Boys sound were a real treat.

8) "The Big Short." When I read Michael Lewis' book about the people who predicted (and profited mightily from) the housing bubble burst in 2008, I couldn't imagine how it could be turned into a movie. But Adam McKay (better known as Will Ferrell's partner in lowbrow comedy) rose to the occasion, and actually has us rooting for the guys who have bet that our economy will collapse. Christian Bale and Steve Carrell are outstanding in a cast that includes Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Marisa Tomei, and Melissa Leo.

9) "Trumbo." Bryan Cranston is on the money as Dalton Trumbo, the highest-paid screenwriter in Hollywood in 1947, when his world was turned upside down by the Red Scare. He and others were subpoenaed to testify before the House Un-American Activities committee, where they were asked if they were communists and required to name others with similar political beliefs. When they refused, they were sent to prison for contempt of Congress. Upon release, the Hollywood Ten (and lots of others) were blacklisted and couldn't work under their own names, so Trumbo used pseudonyms and eventually earned two Oscars for Best Screenplay, which he could not accept in person. Directed by Jay Roach, with a supporting cast that includes Diane Lane, Louis CK, John Goodman, Helen Mirren, and Michael Stuhlbarg, "Trumbo" is a true story from a sad fear-driven era in our history that still resonates in today's political environment.

10) "Bridge Of Spies." Another Cold War drama, this one tells the story of James Donovan, a lawyer asked to defend a Soviet Spy caught in Brooklyn and then negotiate his exchange for Francis Gary Powers, the American pilot captured when his U2 spy plane was shot down over Russia in 1960. Hard to go wrong with Tom Hanks in the lead and Steven Spielberg directing, but it's the performance of Mark Rylance as Rudolf Abel, the Soviet spy, that stayed with me, along with the chilling scene of the Berlin Wall being built in the middle of the street to the absolute shock of Germans strolling by.

Tomorrow: the Worst Movies Of 2015.