By M.V. Moorhead
Proud though I am to be a founding member of Phoenix Film Critics Society, the Society’s choices for Best Picture are not always the same as mine. This year, however, we agree—both PFCS and I lead our list with Tom McCarthy’s griping Spotlight. The rest of the PFCS awards for 2015 may be read at phoenixfilmcriticssociety.org; my Top Ten list is here:
- Spotlight—A team of investigative journalists for the Boston Globe reveals that priests molested children and the Diocese systematically covered it up. Deeply depressing and maddening material made inspiring by the hushed, convincing tension of Tom McCarthy’s direction, and the superb acting ensemble, superbly led by Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and especially Liev Schreiber.
- The Big Short—More depressing material made palatable, though not less infuriating: The 2008 collapse of the housing market played for revue-sketch laughs. Director Adam McKay uses his wacky comedy skills to turn the outrage into a Brechtian variety show with snappy turns from Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt and Christian Bale, among many others.
- Inside Out—This animated feature from Pixar, dramatizing the inner life of a twelve-year-old girl by personifying her emotions, is so fast and complex that its nuances may be lost on kids—or even on grown-ups, if they only see it once. But it’s intensely imagined and emotionally potent, and can probably be fairly called a masterpiece.
- Brooklyn—Saoirse Ronan plays a young woman from Ireland who immigrates to the title borough in the 1950s, works, finds love, endures homesickness and heartbreak, and finds herself torn between her old and new homes. John Crowley’s radiant adaptation of Colm Toibin’s novel is sweet without sentimentality, and Ronan’s performance is deeply sympathetic.
- Carol—Todd Haynes brings his period touch to this impeccable adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 Sapphic romance The Price of Salt. Affluent, elegant New Jersey rich lady Cate Blanchett and aspiring photographer Rooney Mara meet in a department store and are instantly riveted by each other, but, needless to say, things do not go smoothly.
- Straight Outta Compton—Directed by F. Gary Gray, this chronicle of hip hop legends N.W.A. is one of the year’s juiciest entertainments, full of terrific acting and music and laughs and heart. The standout in the strong cast is Jason Mitchell, touchingly pensive as Eric “Easy-E” Wright.
- Bridge of Spies—Yet another midcentury period piece, this Cold War drama directed by Steven Spielberg concerns the exchange, brokered by lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks), of Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) for American U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Sowell). Hanks is reliably excellent, and Rylance gives one of the best performances of the year.
- The Martian—Ridley Scott’s direction makes a polished setting for the role of Matt Damon’s career, as an astronaut stranded on the Red Planet and struggling to survive. It’s a convincing, touching and funny Tom Swift tale, and the ‘70s music on the soundtrack is eccentric but apt.
- Ant-Man—This year’s Guardians of the Galaxy, a big-budget Marvel movie based on relatively obscure source material that’s goofy fun. Paul Rudd shines as the title warrior, capable of shifting from human to ant size at will and also of commanding the loyalty of ants, and director Peyton Reed uses the big-to-dinky perspective on the action to hilarious effect.
- Creed—The Rocky franchise may not have much juice left in it, but this tale of Apollo Creed’s son, directed by Ryan Coogler and starring Michael B. Jordan (both of the unforgettable Fruitvale Station) in the title role was worth the squeeze. Sylvester Stallone slips entertainingly back into the role of Rocky, the kid’s trainer.
Here are few of this list’s very near-misses:Chi-Raq, Shaun the Sheep Movie, Jurassic World, It Follows, Trumbo, The Good Dinosaur, The Visit, Mad Max: Fury Road, Pitch Perfect 2, Jupiter Ascending and Pawn Sacrifice. Also, not many people here noticed Zhang Yimou’s period drama from China, Coming Home, starring the great Gong Li, but it was powerful.
Oh yeah, and that sequel to that space opera from back in 1977 by the guy who made American Graffiti? That wasn’t bad, either.