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1.      Mad Max : Fury Road

A hallucinatory milestone from director George Miller, who, at 70, proves himself the most vital action director in movies today. Tom Hardy excels as the futuristic road warrior, but Charlize Theron steals the show as a force of feminist nature. That's Miller for you, making a woman the redeemer in his world of fire and blood.

A woman rebels against a tyrannical ruler in postapocalyptic Australia in search for her home-land with the help of a group of female prisoners, a psychotic worshipper, and a drifter named Max.

The Playlist's 2015 pick for the best film of 2015 didn’t dominate to the extent that “Under The Skin” did last year, but from very early on in the voting process, it was clear what was going to come top. 

And what else could it be? Uniting everyone from highbrow cinephiles to explosion-happy genre fans (the film featured on all but two of the seventeen lists submitted), George Miller’s fourth movie in his post-apocalyptic franchise was an absolute wonder, literally the best action movie in decades, and a classic even before the title character (Tom Hardy) has had his mask removed. 

Stripping down to the absolute basics —it’s a chase movie in the same way that Buster Keaton’s “The General” is a chase movie— barely ever stopping to catch a breath while building a fascinating world through side-details and establishing complex characters through action, the director gifted us all with an adrenaline shot of pure, unfiltered cinema. 

One that returned grace and beauty to the summer blockbuster. One that wasn’t afraid to get weird, like the blue-tinged section in the mudlands that feels almost like a Tarkovskymovie. One that stealthily put a woman at the heart of a testosterone-filled, gas-guzzling actioner. One crafted at a level that suggested that 95% of movies simply aren’t trying hard enough. 

Miller’s already started talking about potential further ‘Max’ movies, but there’s part of us that wants him to let it alone, because returning with something as utterly perfect as “Fury Road” is a big, big task.

2. Steve Jobs

This galvanizing take on Apple's contentious genius debuted to raves. Then the tide turned when the film failed to attract crowds. Screw Aaron Sorkin's volcanic script, Danny Boyle's audacious direction and Michael Fassbender's career-best acting in the title role. In an alarming trend, commercial failure again taints artistic success. But it's amazing.

An inspired, risky and unconventional biopic, "Steve Jobs" finds the unlikely team of author Aaron Sorkin and director Danny Boyle convene on a story of the late Apple impresario, and channeling the best of their abilities in symphonic unison to create dynamic electricity in a three act neo-Shakespearean drama. Through an 1984 ascension, a 1988 falter and a 1998-set reclamation, Boyle and Sorkin chart the imperiousness, arrogance and genius of this tech trailblazer.

Arguably the true auteur of the movie, Sorkin’s witty, rapid-fire dialogue crackles and is made human by the herculean acting ofMichael Fassbender —one gets the sense he had to wrestle the script into a chokehold and consume it. The terrific supporting cast of Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg and Katherine Waterston, all working at the top of their game, make the movie radiate that much more. 

But perhaps the movie’s secret weapon is Boyle, who has spent a lifetime impelling visual propulsion, but instead here expertly channels the kineticism already on the page —an insightful and counter-intuitive move if there ever was one. An exhilarating and orchestrally-pitched drama about the cost of brilliance and an emotionally trenchant look at legacy and parenthood, “Steve Jobs” is an engrossing portrait of a relentlessly determined and dysfunctionally complicated tech titan.

3. Spotlight

No 2015 movie left me more choked up or rapt with admiration than Tom McCarthy's ode to old-school investigative reporting. Kudos to the year's best acting ensemble: Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery and Brian d'Arcy James. At The Boston Globe in 2002, the Spotlight team nailed the Catholic Church for its legacy of child abuse and cover-ups. And the movie sets a new gold standard for 21st-century cinema about journalism.

The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core.

Tom McCarthy has been producing relatively solid dramedies for a handful of years. But this year, we got a peek at a couple of new sides of the director. The first was the godawful Adam Sandler fiasco “The Cobbler” (which occupies a spot on our Worst Of The Year list). 

But the second was this incredibly sure-footed and rigorous take on the Boston Globe team that broke the news of the sexual abuse scandal and cover up in the early aughts. McCarthy snagged an impressive cast for the gig (Michael Keaton,Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber), all of whom are in top form and none of whom dominate the film, which is just how it should be. 

“Spotlight” is the definition of an ensemble film —it's a story of teamwork and trust and one of the finest depictions of journalism since “All The President’s Men” (a connection that has been made repeatedly, but happens to be true). Despite being as exacting as it is, “Spotlight” manages keep the plot moving and maintains some of the sharpest tension of the year.

 It’s a film of moral quandaries and ethical obligations, where the city of Boston stands as one of the most compelling characters. It’s easy to imagine “Spotlight” in the hands of a different director, prone to overstuffing the film with melodrama and exploitation of this tragedy. Fortunately, we got McCarthy’s: it's a deeply affecting, satisfying film and an impressive technical achievement.

4. Carol

In 1950s Manhattan, glam Cate Blanchett fixes her gaze on naive shopgirl Rooney Mara, and both turn a period piece into a timeless cry from two defiant hearts. Todd Haynes' film is perfect in every way, especially Blanchett, who just may be the best actress on the planet. An aspiring photographer develops an intimate relationship with an older woman.

Given the commensurate lack of buzz, it’s possible you missed the boat on the exquisite-ness of Todd Haynes’ superb HBO mini-series “Mildred Pierce.” But lets not be nags: everyone’s on board the Haynes train this year, and that’s just gravy for all of us. Haynes’ delicate, nearly-note-perfect “Carol” is a swooning, romantic picture that makes you feel the grace notes of trembling desire in between words and between the eventually requited kisses and passionate moments.

It is a movie about the unspoken moments of desire, the subtle gestures, the furtive glances, and the batted-eyelashes we have to decode when falling in love, but are too deep in a place of vulnerability to play our hand. Immaculately crafted, tremendously acted and rendered with consummate care and control, “Carol” is about the inexpressible, and the aching yearns of early, unformed loves and all the fragility it entails. 

It’s a directing masterclass, its two leads Cate Blanchett and Rooney Maradeliver tour-de-force performances of restraint, and its score and cinematography (by Carter Burwell and Ed Lachman respectively) gorgeously underscore all the pangs of implicit heartache with musical dolor and frosty visual reflection. With this impeccably made movie, Haynes, perhaps belatedly, is crystallized as one of America’s greatest living directors.

5. Inside Out'/'Anomalisa (Tie)

If you still don't think animation is an art form, try Pete Docter's Pixar masterpiece about the emotions that rule us. Or get lost in the radiant sadness of Anomalisa, a stop-motion game-changer from co-directors Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson about a one-night stand between a weary married self-help guru (David Thewlis) and a buoyant woman (Jennifer Jason Leigh). What Leigh does with her voice to create character is some kind of miracle. So's the movie.

The last few sequel-heavy years aside, Pixar has built up such a reputation for brilliance that when the studio makes a film deemed only ‘pretty good,’ as with the currently-in-theaters “The Good Dinosaur,” you can feel disproportionately disappointed. But that certainly wasn’t the reaction to "Inside Out," released earlier this year and which is certainly Pixar's most ambitious film and easily one of its best.

Set inside the head of young Riley, whose emotional turmoil after moving to San Francisco sends the personifications of Joy (Amy Poehler) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) into the deepest recesses of her mind, it’s a remarkably mature yet accessible look at what makes us tick and which grapples with an elusive truth —sadness isn’t just unavoidable, it’s necessary— that so-called grown-up movies would cross the street to avoid.

But this being from Pixar, and in particular from “Up” director Pete Docter, it’s also a total, well, joy —bright, exciting, funny (was anything funnier this year than the film’s closing credits? Or the gum commercial? Or the ‘abstract thought’ section? or (repeats ad infinitum)… "Inside Out" is fleet-footed, light of touch, beautifully voiced and impossibly touching. The bar’s been raised once again.

After young Riley is uprooted from her Midwest life and moved to San Francisco, her emotions - Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness - conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house, and school.

6. Brooklyn

Can a movie romance charm its way to greatness? This one can. Much credit to director John Crowley and screenwriter Nick Hornby for keeping sappy out of this tale of an Irish girl coming to America in 1951. Saoirse Ronan, 21, illuminates every frame. She's an enchantress.

Brimming with charm, John Crowley’s “Brooklyn” is an earnestly sweet tale that never feels cloying or manipulative. It’s an old-school story told in an old-school way: Saoirse Ronan plays Eilis, a young Irish woman who leaves her small town for New York, where she finds a new home and a new love with an Italian man (a sigh-inducing Emory Cohen) in her new neighborhood. 

Brimming with charm, John Crowley’s “Brooklyn” is an earnestly sweet tale that never feels cloying or manipulative. It’s an old-school story told in an old-school way: Saoirse Ronan plays Eilis, a young Irish woman who leaves her small town for New York, where she finds a new home and a new love with an Italian man (a sigh-inducing Emory Cohen) in her new neighborhood.

“Brooklyn” is simple, never deviating from its central characters or introducing obstacles into their path for obstacles’ sake. The wide range of emotions felt by Ronan’s Eilis feels earned within the film, and the actress’s blue eyes clearly communicate each of her thoughts. She has previously wowed us in films like “Hanna” and “Atonement,” but her work here feels like a new level of adult achievement. 

Shot by Yves Bélanger, it’s a golden look at 1950s Ireland and New York City, filled with François Séguin’s perfect production design and Odile Dicks-Mireaux’s gorgeous costumes. But the film isn’t all sweetness and light; Eilis’s early days in New York are dominated by loneliness and isolation, and the event that sends her back to Ireland sent us into tears. However, it’s impossible to leave “Brooklyn” feeling anything but joy, as well as the desire to immediately see it again.

An Irish immigrant lands in 1950s Brooklyn, where she quickly falls into a romance with a local. When her past catches up with her, however, she must choose between two countries and the lives that exist within.

7. Tangerine

Yeah, Sean Baker's indie sensation is the movie shot on tricked-up iPhones. But the tech stuff is only part of what amazes. Academy prudes might not respond to live-wire performances from transgender actresses Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, as two L.A. hookers working on Christmas Eve. But what's your excuse?

If you’re an aspiring filmmaker, sitting around on your ass waiting for someone to hand you money to make your feature is no longer good enough : Sean Baker took a hundred grand and a couple of iPhones and made one of the best movies of the year. The film received much of its acclaim thanks to its legitimately beautiful iPhone 5s photography, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the movie’s virtues, which back up what we suspected after

Starlet” —Baker’s one of the most interesting indie filmmakers working. Set over one long Christmas Eve night in L.A. (it’s a holiday classic in the making), the movie tracks Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor), as they set out to find Sin-Dee’s boyfriend (James Ransone), who’s allegedly been cheating on her while she was in prison. Given that both the central characters are trans women and sex workers, Baker makes them three dimensional while also not ignoring their identities, and the film feels far more progressive than, say, the leaden “The Danish Girl." But more than that, it’s a raucuous, restless blast, feeling closer to a sort of' 70s sex farce, the spirit of Hal Ashby and Peter Bogdanovichrunning through it, than anything else. After a lean 88 minutes, you emerge rejuvenated and with a renewed hope for the future of film.

8. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Here's the last movie I saw in 2015. J.J. Abrams' continuation of the Star Wars saga is popcorn-movie nirvana buttered with style and soul. Watching two generations of jedis blend brings an audience close to euphoria.

Three decades after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new threat arises. The First Order attempts to rule the galaxy and only a ragtag group of heroes can stop them, along with the help of the Resistance.

9. The Martian

During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.

His space crew abandons astronaut Matt Damon on Mars. The Golden Globes think it's a comedy. I think it's an exuberant take on the science of the unknown and a chance to celebrate the vibrant, virtuoso talent of director Ridley Scott.

10 Room

Nothing about director Lenny Abrahamson's previous work could have prepared us for the emotionally visceral gut punch of “Room.” Based on a best-selling novel by Emma Donoghue, who also adapted her book for the screen, this picture is about Jack (Jacob Tremblay), a loving, energetic, and imaginative 5-year-old boy who spent his entire life imprisoned in a ten-feet-by-ten-feet room with his mother (Brie Larson). In order to raise Jack in this horrific environment with any semblance of normalcy, Ma makes him believe that the room is the only place that exists in the world and that all the people and places he sees on TV are in a different galaxy.

All of the information we get about Ma and Jack's predicament builds up to one of the most pulse-pounding, nail-biting, any other review buzzword cliché-generating sequences we've seen in a long time. Even though the thriller elements are laid to rest about halfway through "Room," there's still a tremendously engaging emotional journey ahead, where Abrahamson smartly avoids every trap for conventional melodramatics that the basic story elements would seem to lay out for him. 

The performances from everyone involved are extraordinary, especially for a story that's ripe for hysterical dramatics. Tremblay carries the entire emotional weight of the picture with an exceptional display of natural empathy and energy, and Larson’s more than his match. The premise suggested a film that could have been almost impossibly bleak if Abrahamson put a foot wrong: instead, it’s deeply human.

A kidnapped mother and son escape from a room in which they have endured imprisonment for the entirety of her son's life. Upon breaking free from its confines, they experience a dramatic homecoming; provoking insight into the depths of imagination and the extent of a mother's love.
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