Best Of 2015

Even with the success of Disney's "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," no studio in the history of the film industry has enjoyed a better year than Universal Pictures had in 2015 – and it accomplished the feat in only seven months!

Ample critical acclaim for its movies is one thing, but the box office numbers – which are what really matters in Hollywood – are mind blowing. The studio commanded a nearly 22 percent market share of all box office grosses, which totaled nearly $2.4 billion domestically, and seven of its 22 films grossed more than $100 million. What’s more, having “Jurassic World” ($652 million), “Furious Seven” ($353 million), “Minions” ($336 million) and “Pitch Perfect 2” ($184 million) be such runaway hits makes up for the disappointments of “Crimson Peak” (only $31 million) and “Steve Jobs” (a paltry $17 million).

But enough about numbers and studio bragging rights. This wasn’t a great year for movies, but the films that stood out seem more a reflection of our times than any year in recent memory. Here are the ten best movies of 2015:

10) Mad Max: Fury Road
At a time when action movies readily objectify women but rarely let them be heroes, this film – for all its non-stop action, crazy stunts, memorable characters, morbid storyline and bold visual choices – made Charlize Theron’s Furiosa arguably the strongest, most butt-kicking character of all. The entire movie is a stylish two-hour action scene that’s pure adrenaline. Available on home video.

9) Best of Enemies
The best documentary of 2015 chronicles the war of words in televised debates between the liberal Gore Vidal and the conservative William F. Buckley during the 1968 presidential conventions. Civil political discourse this is not; it’s a treat to watch these heavyweight windbags sadistically go at it, and scary when we realize this is par for the course with TV pundits today. Available on home video.

8) The Walk
I think I’m still sweating from the finale, which shows Frenchman Philippe Petit on a high wire between the World Trade Towers in the summer of 1974. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is captivating as Petit, and when the visual effects put you on that wire 110 stories above the New York City ground, hold on tight. What an experience. Available on home video Jan. 5th.

7) Carol
A beautiful love story, beautifully told. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are superb as women in 1952 who fall in love and yearn to be together in a society that doesn’t know how to accept homosexuality. The production design, costumes and musical score are also sublime. In theaters now.

6) Straight Outta Compton
Musical biopics have a way of hitting the same beats (pun intended), but this story, about pioneer hip-hop group N.W.A., resonated at a higher level. It clicks with a racial tension still felt in some parts today, then hits you with an emotional ending you don’t see coming (unless you already know the story). If only all musical biopics were this good. Available on home video Jan. 19th.

5) Brooklyn
Saoirse Ronan is outstanding as an Irish émigré in 1950s Brooklyn, New York, in this beautifully shot drama from director John Crowley (“Intermission”). It’s about the immigrant experience, the heart being torn between homes new and old, and the invigoration and conflicts that come with falling in love. Ronan gives the performance of the year as she takes us through the heroine’s journey – a best actress nomination is surely forthcoming. In theaters now.

4) Infinitely Polar Bear
From the best female lead performance to the best male lead performance. The movie came and went criminally quick over the summer, which is a shame given Mark Ruffalo’s standout turn as a bipolar father of two daughters who’s left to care for the girls when his wife moves to New York City. It’s funny, sweet and poignant, a genuinely inspiring heart warmer that deserves to be seen. Available on home video.

3) The Big Short
Great star power, surprising humor and masterful direction headline this superb work from director Adam McKay, heretofore best known for Will Ferrell comedies. When you go to the movie you may not be familiar with the housing market crisis of 2008 or understand why the economy crashed shortly thereafter, but you can be darn sure it’ll all make sense by the time you leave. Explaining everything so clearly is a masterstroke by McKay. In theaters now.

2) Spotlight
No frills storytelling at its absolute best. What’s great about co-writer and director Tom McCarthy’s film is how it so rarely resorts to histrionics for effect. This is about The Boston Globe’s investigation into sexual abuse by Catholic priests, and the pursuit for the truth provides all the tension and suspense we can handle. The more we learn, the more eager we are for the reporters to “nail these scumbags,” as Mark Ruffalo’s intrepid reporter passionately emotes. In theaters now.

1) The Martian
In a year full of crazy extravaganzas, this was the most extravagant of all. Matt Damon gives the performance of his career as astronaut Mark Watney, a botanist who’s left behind on Mars after a storm causes his crew to evacuate. Director Ridley Scott deftly balances Mark’s survival, NASA’s rescue attempts and Mark’s crew as they travel back to earth in a way that logically builds tension and looks absolutely fabulous. It’s an exciting, invigorating, and altogether spectacular movie that in a just world will be a best picture Oscar nominee. Available on home video Jan. 12th.

Honorable mentions: Director Matthew Vaughn once again proved his prowess for action storytelling with “Kingsman: The Secret Service”; Kristen Stewart deserves a supporting actress nom for her great work in the meta “Clouds of Sils Maria”; Woody Allen, Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone were at their philosophical best in “Irrational Man”; “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” proved once again that Tom Cruise is ageless and fearless; Rocky Balboa made a triumphant return to the big screen in “Creed”; Paul Dano deserves an Oscar nom for his great work as Beach Boy Brian Wilson in “Love & Mercy”; Brie Larson gives a powerhouse performance in “Room”; “Cartel Land” took a harsh look at the futility of drug wars; and “The End of the Tour” was a spirited and honest look at life and celebrity that’s not to be missed.

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