2015 is when Bryan Cranston and Tim Burton made movies around Tampa Bay while Ben Affleck didn't, when the Force awakened and Bill Murray's … Kasbah tanked. Those highs and lows locally and at box offices are only parts of the story. What still matters more than anything is what's on the screen, to transport and inspire us, whatever manages that subjective trick.
Here are the 10 movies doing it for me in 2015:
1. The Revenant: Oscar-winning writer-director Alejandro G. Inarritu immerses viewers in a harrowing tale of survival and revenge. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as a frontier guide left for dead after a bear attack as jaw-dropping as you've heard. Tom Hardy as the villain is scarier than the bear. After this brutal beauty and Birdman, nobody dares more devilishly than Inarritu. (The Revenant is open in select cities now, but opens locally Jan. 8.)
2. Spotlight: Tom McCarthy's account of the Boston Globe's expose' of child abuse by Catholic priests is a perfectly assembled procedural, as focused and unflashy as its investigative reporters. The year's finest ensemble cast skillfully underplays off each other, letting the story tell itself. I still can't believe how right McCarthy got this profession.
3. Inside Out: At a time when most animation settles for pick-your-critter formulas and easy feels, Disney-Pixar flipped an ingenious script, taking viewers inside the head of a 9-year-old girl. And what a wondrous place it is, filled with adorably conflicted emotions, fading memories and the best imaginary friend ever. Pure Joy (plus Sadness, Anger, etc.)
4. Sicario: Denis Villeneuve's Mexican drug cartel drama is a teeth-grinder from start to finish, with an FBI agent (Emily Blunt) pulled into a covert investigation led by a CIA cowboy (Josh Brolin) and a mysterious contractor (Benicio Del Toro). No less than three set pieces could make any top-10 list of the year's action highlights. Just don't let Donald Trump see it.
5. Anomalisa: Consider this Inside Out for middle-aged, depressed men and needy women attracted to them. Charlie Kaufman's latest flight of dysfunction uses stop-motion puppetry to craft 2015's most unusual one night stand, with David Thewlis voicing him, Jennifer Jason Leigh as her, and Tom Noonan as everyone else. The movie is open in some cities now, but we're still waiting for a local opening date.
6. Room: The year's emotional wringer, its first half entirely set inside a garden shed where a kidnapped mother (Brie Larson) and her son (the astonishing Jason Tremblay) have been held captive all his life. Their escape is a brilliant feat of tension, leading to a third act that captivates even as it veers toward convention.
7. 99 Homes: The Wall Street wolves in The Big Short have nothing on Ramin Bahrani's boots-on-the-ground approach to the 2008 housing collapse. Michael Shannon is frightening as a foreclosure demon luring a victim (Andrew Garfield) to the dark side. Bahrani blends thriller components with a laundry list of fraudulent means, partly researched in Tampa Bay.
8. Amy: A documentary examining the life and death of woozy chanteuse Amy Winehouse, largely in her own words. Director Asif Kapadia led the trend in audio/video scrapbook docu-autopsies (Kurt Cobain, Marlon Brando) with access to everything Amy. The result is a vibrant eulogy for a talent I'd never really appreciated before.
9. Love & Mercy: On the other hand, Beach Boy maestro Brian Wilson is a longtime musical hero. Bill Pohlad's take on Wilson's genius beginnings, warped midlife and contented now is essayed by two actors peaking, Paul Dano and John Cusack, in a dual structure working better than it should.
10. Ex Machina: The year's most original sci-fi fantasy (sorry, Star Wars). Domhnall Gleeson plays a programmer working on a tech mogul's plan to build the perfect woman (Alicia Vikander, who may be). Nothing artificial about the film's intelligence, or its feminism steeped in Frankenstein.