Finding 10 films for a 10-best list can be a challenge and a chore. The year 2015, however, presented the opposite problem. In fact, the surfeit of worthy candidates encouraged me to throw caution to the winds and extend the list to 14. "Don't be stingy, baby," Greta Garbo once famously advised, and I've taken her words to heart.
This wealth of quality cinema made choosing my No. 1 even more difficult. As it turned out, one of the very first films I saw in 2015 stayed with me longest and made the most powerful impression. That would be "Brooklyn," adapted from Colm Tóibín's novel by Nick Hornby, directed by John Crowley and starring Saoirse Ronan. A feast of rich emotions presented with wit, grace and not a trace of sentimentality, this is the kind of film I'm always looking for but rarely find.
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The rest of my list, presented alphabetically as per usual, is as follows:
"Amy": Asif Kapadia's devastating work allows us to, in a sense, live singer Amy Winehouse's life along with her. Other top docs were "We Come as Friends," "Meru" and "Listen to Me Marlon."
"The Big Short": A surprisingly funny film about the deadly serious 2008 global financial crisis.
"Bridge of Spies": Steven Spielberg's tale of Cold War derring-do reminds us that proficient storytelling isn't something we see every day.
"Carol": Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara create the feelings and emotions that all the best love stories aspire to.
"45 Years": Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay excel as a long-married couple in this measured yet provocative film. (Opens Dec. 23)
"Inside Out": Pixar's triumph not only goes to places other animation creators don't dare, it goes to places the rest of the pack don't even know exist. Other animated fare worth noting include "Shaun the Sheep Movie" and "When Marnie Was There."
"Mad Max: Fury Road": A barnburner of a post-apocalyptic extravaganza in which sizzling, unsettling images are the order of the day.
"The Martian": A triumph for star Matt Damon and director Ridley Scott, who know their way around mainstream entertainment.
"Room": Transcendently acted by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, "Room" is several things by turn: creepy, frightening, exhilarating and then frightening and exhilarating all over again.
"Son of Saul": From Hungary, a Holocaust film unlike anything you've seen before. (Opens Dec. 18) Other top foreign-language films included "Phoenix" and "The Second Mother."
"Spotlight": The screenplay is self-effacing, the direction intentionally low-key; the fistful of top actors blend into an eloquent ensemble. The result is a knockout.
"Steve Jobs": This riveting dramatization of a life is an impressionistic construct that makes rich theatrical use of the building blocks of one man's existence.
"Testament of Youth": Based on an acclaimed World War I memoir, it tells the kind of potent, many-sided story whose complexities come courtesy of a life that lived them all.