A great movie year, for sure. But it was Stealth Greatness. It seemed to arrive under cover of night. ¶ Nothing all that special seemed to be happening for the longest time as 2015 arrived. Oh, all right, there was a scene in the Amy Winehouse documentary “Amy” that took hold of you and was never likely to let go. ¶ But then, suddenly as the fall arrived, one of the truly great films of the past decade – Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room” – changed everything. It not only lodged in my head for three days straight and refused to budge but it came along at the same general time as “Brooklyn” and “Spotlight.” ¶ That did it. All argument with myself ceased. That was enough, right there, for me to think of 2015 as a great year for movies, one of the best of the past decade and then some. ¶ And I’m not even talking here about all those happy “Star Wars” fans or all those people who actually have hope that Sylvester Stallone in “Creed” may get an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. ¶ So here, from a very happy and fulfilled critic, is a Top 10 list in alphabetical order of the year’s best movies and their directors.
Asif Kapadia’s “Amy”
Who could have imagined that the short, self-annihilating life of British R&B phenomenon Amy Winehouse had been so well-documented on video? There is one scene in the movie likely to stay with you forever. Winehouse is recording a duet version of “Body and Soul” with her girlhood idol, Tony Bennett, 89 years old when the session took place. She is not in optimal shape and messes up one take. She’s disconsolate and mortified at the possibility of making a fool of herself in front of her lifelong idol. What happens, though, is that Bennett has seen so many lifetimes in popular music self-destruct that he coaxes her through it with grandfatherly tenderness and finesse of a sort you have never seen on film before.
John Crowley’s “Brooklyn”
Saoirse Ronan is a major Oscar possibility for Best Actress in Crowley’s simple and true adaptation of Colm Toibin’s novel about an Irish immigrant in Brooklyn in the ’50s. In its quiet way, this is the primal American story – the transoceanic voyage to a new life. And the conviction that one is, at last, home.
Todd Haynes’ “Carol”
A near-perfect film adapting Patricia Highsmith’s once controversial “lesbian novel” “The Price of Salt” starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. An exquisite film in every possible way and one of the year’s very best of the best.
David Landesman’s “Concussion”
It’s unlikely that Will Smith will ever be better than he is here as the pathologist who discovered the horrific effect of chronic traumatic encephalopathy on NFL players. By the time the film is done telling you what all those blows to the head entail, it is apparent that it wants to ask questions that neither Roger Goodell nor the NFL want to answer. The question now is what do parents of young football players think about it all?
Alex Garland’s “Ex-Machina”
Great, brilliant sci-fi without a budget the size of France’s GNP.
Pete Docter’s “Inside Out”
The animated Pixar masterpiece of the year. It may not be all the way up there with “Up” or “Wall-E” or “Toy Story 3,” but it’s not far from there either.
Ridley Scott’s “The Martian”
How good and crowd-enthralling a movie can a 78-year-old filmmaker make? See the movie.
Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room”
Not only the best film of the year but one of the finest films of the past decade. A tense, haunting story of abuse, terror and liberation with a performance by 9-year-old Jacob Tremblay that is one of the greatest child performances in movie history. What he and Brie Larson do together is as profound an exploration of mother love as you’re likely to encounter.
Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight”
Perhaps the most accurate film about journalism ever made. A great cast performing impeccably as an ensemble and directed by a man who is, himself, a working actor. It tells of the Boston Globe’s world-rocking investigation of priestly pedophilia and its resultant Pulitzer Prize. A great working cast – Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, John Slattery and others.
Judd Apatow’s “Trainwreck”
It isn’t Apatow’s final gooey sentimentality that makes this, it’s the script and performance by Amy Schumer that made it the year’s funniest film. So brazen was its sexual edginess that it attracted the invention of one of the vile, gun-toting, mass-murdering psychotics who have become a plague in modern America.
Close But No Cigar: “End of the Tour” with a shockingly good performance by Jason Segel as the late novelist David Foster Wallace; George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road,” a kind of brother under the skin of Ridley Scott’s demonstration of what film visionaries can still do in their eighth decade on earth; “The Best of Enemies” featuring William F. Buckley Jr. vs. Gore Vidal in Morgan Neville’s documentary; Alfonso Gomez-Rezon’s “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”; Davis Guggenheim’s “He Named Me Malala”; Damian Szifron’s “Wild Tales” from Argentina”; Edward Zwick’s “Pawn Sacrifice”; David O. Russell’s “Joy”; and Andrew Niccol’s “Good Kill.”
Performances of the Year Where You’d Never Expect Them: Mark Rylance in Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies,” Blythe Danner in “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” Lily Tomlin in “Grandma,” Sam Elliott in “Grandma” AND “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” Kristen Wiig in “Welcome to Me” and Michael Caine in “Youth,” opening locally on Jan. 15. Johnny Depp’s chances of getting an Oscar nomination for “Black Mass” may be slim, but he did reasonably well anyway playing Whitey Bulger.
Actress Who Can Do No Wrong at the Moment: Cate Blanchett in “Carol” and “Truth.”
Good Bob, Bad Bob: Let’s hear it for Robert Redford teaming up with Nick Nolte in “A Walk in the Woods.” On the other hand, let’s try to forget Redford playing Dan Rather in “Truth.”
Whaddaya Mean You’d Rather Watch Al Pacino Play a Rock Star Than an Electrician?: He was pretty good as both – in “Danny Collins” as the former and in “Manglehorn” as the latter.
Underrated Box Office Sacrifice: Sandra Bullock didn’t stand a chance of making a box office dent in “Our Brand Is Crisis,” but it was enjoyable satire anyway.
Overrated Films of 2015: “The Big Short” five times over. But also “Infinite Polar Bear,” “Bridge of Spies” and “Spectre.”
Overrated Performances of the Year: Michael Fassbender as “Steve Jobs,” Helen Mirren in both “Woman in Gold” and “Trumbo.”
The Old College Try: Ron Howard never graduated from college but in “In the Heart of the Sea” he did what he could for “Moby Dick,” a perennial candidate for “Great American Novel” by telling the story that inspired Herman Melville.
Boxing Made a Movie Comeback: Not only in “Creed” but in “Southpaw.”
Apocalyptic Fun and Games: Visible aplenty in “Jurassic World” and “San Andreas.”
Most Unexpectedly Tender Elegy for a Dead Actor: The way “Furious 7” treated the accidental death of Paul Walker at 40.
You Think This Stuff is Easy: Dakota Johnson actually emerged from “Fifty Shades of Grey” with her dignity intact.
Worst Movie of 2015: The competition was fierce among movies with A-rated expectations. “Terminator: Genisys” was about as bad it could have been. So was “The D-Train.” But for deliberate, vigorous and downright energetic hatefulness, Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” has all exits and entrances covered. It’s the winner, hands down.