INTRO. Caveat: I haven't seen some contenders yet, such as “45 Years,” “The Hateful Eight,” “Son of Saul,” but you don't want to wait until February for this kind of thing. Mid-January is already a month behind. I thought it was a weak year, but it ended well, and I had to leave off some deserving candidates: “Ex Machina,” “It Follows,” “Going Clear,” “Of Miracles and Men,” “The Martian,” “Love & Mercy,” “Bridge of Spies,”Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,“ ”Creed.“ Here we go. Your mileage will differ.
10. STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS. Yes, it's derivative of itself; yes, Rey is a quick study; but my what fun. The torch has been passed to a new generation of Star Warsians, and they have—whaddaya know—personality.
9. CAROL. Not just a love story, not just a coming-of-age story, but a beautiful look back at a bygone era. Between this, ”Brooklyn,“ and ”Bridge of Spies,“ was there any 1950s memorabilia left in the second-hand shops in the New York Metro area?
8. SICARIO. Stunning visually, dramatically, ethically. How true is it? I’m sure liberties were taken. The larger truth is about how thin our veneer of civilization is. Both ways.
7. MEETING DR. SUN. A quirky joy from Taiwan and the Seattle International Film Festival. It's a heist film gone horribly amaterurish. The final, sad wrestling match on the Taipei streets, beneath the gaze of the titular statue, can be read as the two Chinas forever embroiled.
6. BROOKLYN. Something beautiful or unexpected happens in each scene. Watching, it was like I was being handed a rose. By the end of the movie, I felt like I was holding a bouquet.
5. INSIDE OUT. Sadness, and, particularly Bing Bong, take the movie to another level—a level that, in animated films, only Pixar seems to reach. ”Take her to the moon for me“ literally made me stifle a sob in the middle of a packed movie theater. It's the great cinematic sacrifice of 2015.
4. SPOTLIGHT. The best movie about investigative journalism since ”The Insider.“ What's shocking is how undramatic it is, how matter-of-fact. You could almost call it objective.
3. THE BIG SHORT. It's the eat-your-vegetables movie that goes down like an ice-cream sundae. It's a primer on Wall Street, and mortgage derivatives, and the global financial meltdown. You want them to get the bad guys, to prick their bloated self-assurance, even though you know we all fall down. It's tragic, yes, but also fucking hilarious.
2. THE REVENANT. You feel it as much as see it. It's palpable, and beautiful, and exhausting. When it was over I exhaled and thought, ”Great, but I doubt I'll want to see it again.“ The next day, I wanted to see it again.
1. THEEB. It's that rare beast: an art film that is also a harrowing adventure story. It's ”Lawrence of Arabia" from a Bedouin boy's perspective. It's not just about the loss of life but the loss of a way of life.