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Best movies of 2015: Don’t miss ‘Spotlight’ and ‘Brooklyn’

Leonardo DiCaprio turns in a best actor-caliber performance in “The Revenant.”
Leonardo DiCaprio turns in a best actor-caliber performance in “The Revenant.” 20th Century Fox

No matter how dazzling visual effects can be on screen, we still crave a good story. And, in 2015, state-of-the-art technology connected with rich storytelling.

We welcomed back some of the sturdiest icons of the ’70s and ’80s – Rocky Balboa, Han Solo, Leia and Luke Skywalker, and Max Rockatansky. We witnessed 70-year-old director George Miller do his best work and a couple of new guys rejuvenate two of our most beloved franchises — Ryan Coogler “Creed” and J.J. Abrams “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

From the epic adventures to the intimate dramas, this year grabbed our hearts and minds in vibrant, thoughtful ways.

Here are my purely subjective lists on the best of the year. Happy Awards Season!

“Spotlight”

This movie gets it right on so many levels, from the way a newsroom works to how sexual abuse occurred in the Boston Archdiocese. It is a powerful, riveting and haunting masterpiece.

In 2002, the Boston Globe special investigative unit Spotlight disclosed an extensive number of pedophile priests and the church hierarchy’s cover-up in 2002. This led to more victims coming forward and widespread reform in the Catholic Church.

A superb ensemble cast shows the methodical, painstaking efforts of a newspaper operation — Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Live Schrieber, Rachel McAdams, Brian D’Arcy James, John Slattery and Stanley Tucci fiercely inhabit the real players. Director and co-writer Tom McCarthy carefully depicts the human toll.

It is not only the year’s best, but the most important film of the year, too.

“Brooklyn”

Beautifully filmed and acted, the year’s best love story is also an emotional exploration of making one’s way in the world and what home means. “Home is home,” Italian plumber Anthony tells Irish store clerk Eilis.

It’s also a look into the generation that helped build our country and what the American Dream meant in 1952. Nick Hornby’s script brims with heart and humor.

In her first grown-up role, Saoirse Ronan masterfully conveys the fear, loneliness and ultimately the steely resolve of a young Irish immigrant building her own life.

Emory Cohen and Domhnall Gleeson are appealing as the suitors, and the supporting cast — including Jim Broadbent as a parish priest and Julie Walters as a landlady — is first-rate.

This is a movie about a generation for other generations to savor.

“The Revenant”

A wilderness survival tale on the frontier in the 1840s is not new, but the visual artistry that director Alejandro Inarritu uses to tell this harrowing adventure is stunning.

The acting is fearless. Leonardo DiCaprio delivers an Oscar-caliber performance as a man determined to make it against all odds after he is left for dead. His physical body language is remarkable. As his adversary, Tom Hardy turns in another strong character portrayal.

The film is unapologetically tough. Back-to-back Oscar winner Emmanuel Lubezki (“Gravity,” “Birdman”) performs his magic again to cinematically capture the very wild west and both the beauty and harshness of nature.

This one will get inside your head and stay a while.

Wide release is set for January.

“Mad Max: Fury Road”

The adrenaline rush of this fourth installment set in a hellish post-apocalyptic future is a cinematic tour de force. Director George Miller goes full-throttle, putting the spectacular in the spectacle — a frenetic wild ride featuring mind-blowing stunt work and top-notch technical achievements.

Tom Hardy takes over the role Mel Gibson played in the previous three films (1979, ’81 and ’85), and easily slips into the strong, silent, tortured hero. But it is Charlize Theron’s movie as the fierce Furiosa — a blistering performance.

Add a creepy tyrannical ruler, eye-popping action and a pulsating music score, and you have a feverish dream of a film.

“Creed”

The best time at the movies all year, this fresh, sentimental work honors Rocky’s legacy while standing on its own as rousing, crowd-pleasing entertainment.

A lovingly crafted movie, it elicits cheers and tears in equal measure, thanks to the expert crafting by director and co-screenwriter Ryan Coogler. He has such affection for the source material that he gives us plenty of Easter eggs while elevating an underdog boxing story.

Stallone, assuming his signature role like a second skin, hasn’t been this good in years, and his work with Michael B. Jordan, as mentor to brash Adonis Creed, is the cherry on top.

By the time we hear the iconic “Rocky” theme, we’re pumping our fists and ready for the grand finale.

“Inside Out”

Its cleverness unsurpassed this year, Pixar’s imaginative masterpiece is to be cherished. This mind-bending, rib-tickling, envelope-pushing animated film achieved new heights as a witty excursion into the human mind. Chock-full of colorful visuals, it endears because of its warm look at childhood. Not only is their ambition rewarded with dazzling modern techniques, but it also connects emotionally. Every parent can relate to the precious moments and pitfalls shown as the principal character grows up. And the voices were cast perfectly.

Director and co-writer Pete Docter is a genius, as he proved with “Up.” Pixar has raised the bar so often, and its excellence is a gold standard to applaud. “Inside Out” is among its very best.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

The fact that this seventh episode lived up to the massive hype is a remarkable achievement. But the way this engrossing epic carries us forward into the next trilogy is exciting, honoring the past but introducing us to new characters we want to follow on the next space adventure.

Director and co-writer J.J. Abrams brings back our heroes, with Han Solo, and Leia and Luke Skywalker getting noteworthy screen entrances. Seeing them again evokes grins and lumps in the throat.

Nevertheless, the fresh crop of young actors proves they can measure up, too – Daisy Ridley as spunky scavenger Rey, John Boyega as reluctant Stormtrooper Finn, Adam Driver as Dark Side leader Kylo Ren, Domhnall Gleeson as maniacal general, and Oscar Isaacson as ace pilot Poe Dameron.

This rip-roaring mystical adventure is not just the event movie of the year but one of the year’s finest accomplishments as well.

“Beasts of No Nation”

A staggering work about lawlessness in West African civil warfare, this indelible movie stuns with its unflinching brutality and absorbing performances.

Director Cary Fukunaga’s visual style is distinctive, infusing the film with both graceful beauty and harsh reality. He also co-wrote the adaptation and was his own cinematographer.

Abraham Attah’s debut performance as a boy ripped from his family and forced to be a guerrilla soldier is one of the year’s standouts. As the evil incarnate Svengali-like leader, Idris Elba is mesmerizing.

The subject is difficult and the violence tough to watch. Haunting and powerful, we can’t look away, no matter how badly we want to, from the Third World.

“Room”

This emotional rollercoaster shows us the human toll of evil as well as the wonders of the world through a child’s eyes.

Seemingly ripped from today’s headlines, the story about a young woman kept as a sex slave in captivity, is raw and real, sensitively directed and impeccably performed. As gut-wrenching as “Room” is, there are moments of tender, pure love that make this film an unforgettable experience. I was a puddle of goo midway.

We are drawn into this difficult material because of the emotional depth of the acting, some of the best of the year. Brie Larson digs deep as the mom enduring hell while Jacob Tremblay gives one of the most extraordinary performances ever by a child. They are natural and endearing together in an unforgettable tale.

“Love and Mercy”

The heart, hope and healing of Brian Wilson, one of America’s greatest composers, is vividly brought to life in this insightful biopic.

Superbly acted and thoughtfully arranged, the movie examines the Beach Boys wunderkind’s rise to fame and his storied place in American culture as well as his darkest days.

With its novel approach of using two actors to play Wilson at pivotal times, the film benefits from convincing portrayals by Paul Dano and John Cusack, delivering career-best performances.

Music director Atticus Ross showcases the enduring harmonies and unmistakable sound. This is inspired cinema.

Honorable Mention

“The Martian”

“Bridge of Spies”

“The Walk”

“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”

“The End of the Tour”

“It Follows”

“Joy”

“Trumbo”

“Truth”

“Trainwreck”

BEST ACTOR

Leonardo DiCaprio “The Revenant”

Matt Damon “The Martian”

Eddie Redmayne “The Danish Girl”

Bryan Cranston “Trumbo”

Tom Hardy “Legend”

Abraham Attah “Beasts of No Nation”

Ian McKellen “Mr. Holmes”

Michael Fassbender “Steve Jobs”

Geza Rohrig “Son of Saul”

Will Smith “Concussion”

Steve Carell “The Big Short”

Michael Keaton “Spotlight”

BEST ACTRESS

Brie Larson “Room”

Saoirse Ronan “Brooklyn”

Cate Blanchett “Truth”

Charlize Theron “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Alicia Vikander “The Danish Girl”

Jennifer Lawrence “Joy”

Blythe Danner “I’ll See You in My Dreams”

Charlotte Rampling “45 Years”

Lily Tomlin “Grandma”

Sarah Silverman “I Smile Back”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Paul Dano “Love and Mercy”

Mark Rylance “Bridge of Spies”

Sylvester Stallone “Creed”

Idris Elba “Beasts of No Nation”

Jason Segel “The End of the Tour”

Benicio del Toro “Sicario”

Jacob Tremblay “Room”

Mark Ruffalo “Spotlight”

Tom Hardy “The Revenant”

Michael Shannon “99 Homes”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Alicia Vikander “Ex Machina”

Kristen Stewart “Clouds of Sils Maria”

Marion Cotillard “Macbeth”

Joan Allen “Room”

Julie Walters “Brooklyn”

Rachel McAdams “Spotlight”

Rooney Mara “Carol”

Elizabeth Banks “Love and Mercy”

Cynthia Nixon “James White”

Helena Bonham Carter “Suffragette”

BEST JUVENILE PERFORMER

Abraham Attah “Beasts of No Nation”

Jacob Tremblay “Room”

Milo Parker “Mr. Holmes”

Ed Oxenbould “The Visit”

Elias and Lucas Schwarz “Goodnight Mommy”

BEST ENSEMBLE CAST

“Spotlight”

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

“The Hateful Eight”

“The Martian”

“Trumbo”

“Brooklyn”

“Straight Outta Compton”

“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”

“Steve Jobs”

“Truth”

BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCES

Daisy Ridley “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

O’Shea Jackson Jr. “Straight Outta Compton”

LeBron James “Trainwreck”

Emory Cohen “Brooklyn”

RJ Cyler “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”

Taron Egerton “Kingsman: The Secret Service”

Christopher Abbott “James White”

Amy Schumer “Trainwreck”

DYNAMIC DUOS

Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan “Creed”

Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay “Room”

Robert Redford and Nick Nolte “A Walk in the Woods”

Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard “Macbeth”

Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper “Joy”

Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley “Learning to Drive”

Harrison Ford and Peter Mayhew “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler “Sisters”

MVPS OF THE YEAR

Tom Hardy “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Revenant” and “Legend”

Alicia Vikander ‘The Danish Girl” and “Ex Machina”

Domhnall Gleeson “Brooklyn,” “The Revenant,” “Ex Machina” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

Cate Blanchett “Carol,” “Truth” and “Cinderella”

John Cena “Trainwreck” and “Sisters”

BEST COMEDY

“Trainwreck”

“Spy”

“Mistress America”

“While We’re Young”

“Pitch Perfect 2”

BEST DOCUMENTARY

“He Named Me Malala”

“The Look of Silence”

“The Hunting Ground”

“Cartel Land”

“Finders, Keepers”

“3-1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets”

“Romeo is Bleeding”

“Seymour: An Introduction”

“Wrecking Crew”

“Best of Enemies”

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

“Son of Saul”

“Mustang”

“Phoenix”

“Timbuktu”

“The Assassin”

BEST ACTION

“Mad Max: Fury Road”

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

“Jurassic World”

“Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation”

“Ant-Man”

BEST HORROR-THRILLER-MYSTERY

“It Follows”

“Ex Machina”

“The Visit”

“Goodnight Mommy”

“The Gift”

BEST ANIMATED

“Inside Out”

“Shaun the Sheep Movie”

“The Peanuts Movie”

“The Good Dinosaur”

“Anomalisa”

BEST SEQUEL

“Mad Max: Fury Road”

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

“Jurassic World”

“Pitch Perfect 2”

“The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”

BEST DIRECTOR

Tom McCarthy “Spotlight”

George Miller “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Alejandro G. Inarritu “The Revenant”

J.J. Abrams “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

Ryan Coogler “Creed”

Cary Fukunaga “Beasts of No Nation”

Ridley Scott ‘The Martian”

Pete Docter “Inside Out”

Lenny Abramson “Room”

David Robert Mitchell “It Follows”

BEST SCREENPLAY – ORIGINAL

“Spotlight” Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy

“Inside Out” Pete Docter, Meg Lefauve, and Josh Cooley

“Bridge of Spies” Matt Charman, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

“Ex Machina” Alex Garland

“Mistress America” Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig

“While We’re Young” Noah Baumbach

“It Follows” David Robert Mitchell

“Clouds of Sils Maria” Olivier Assayas

“Love and Mercy” Oren Moverman and Michael Alan Lerner

“Spy” Paul Feig

BEST SCREENPLAY – ADAPTED

“Brooklyn” Nick Hornby

“The Martian” Drew Goddard

“Room” Emma Donoghue

“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” Jesse Andrews

“Creed” Aaron Covington and Ryan Coogler

“Beasts of No Nation” Cary Fukunaga

“The End of the Tour” Donald Margulies

“Learning to Drive” Sarah Kernochan

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

“The Revenant”

“Mad Max: Fury Road”

“Beasts of No Nation”

“Sicario”

“Carol”

“The Walk”

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

“Timbuktu”

“Crimson Peak”

“Brooklyn”

BEST EDITING

“The Big Short”

“Mad Max: Fury Road”

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

“The Walk”

“It Follows”

BEST MUSIC SCORE

“The Hateful Eight” Ennio Morricone

“It Follows” Rich Vreeland

“Carol” Carter Burwell

“Brooklyn” Michael Brook

“Inside Out” Michael Giacchino

“Creed” Ludwig Gorensson

“Learning to Drive” Dhani Harrison and Paul Hicks

“Spotlight” Howard Shore

“Sicario” Johann Johannsson

“Macbeth” Jed Kurzel

BEST SOUNDTRACK

“Love and Mercy”

“Straight Outta Compton”

“The Martian”

“Pitch Perfect 2”

“Wrecking Crew”

BEST SONG

“See You Again” Furious 7

“Writing’s on the Wall” Spectre

“Feels Like Summer” Shaun the Sheep Movie

“Pray for My City” Chi-Raq

“Til It Happens to You” The Hunting Ground

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

“The Danish Girl”

“Cinderella”

“Crimson Peak”

“Ex Machina”

“Carol”

“Honorable Mention: Mississippi Grind, Brooklyn”

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

“Mad Max: Fury Road”

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

“Jurassic World”

“The Martian”

“The Revenant”

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

“Cinderella”

“Brooklyn”

“Crimson Peak”

“Carol”

“Joy”

BEST SCENES

The rescue “Room”

The bear attack ‘The Revenant”

Adonis’ first fight ‘Creed”

The tightrope walk between the Twin Towers “The Walk”

Paul Walker farewell “Furious 7”

WORST FILM

“Jupiter Ascending”

“Fantastic Four”

“Aloha”

“Stonewall”

“St. Laurent”

“Fifty Shades of Grey”

“By the Sea”

“Rock the Kasbah”

“Entourage”

“The D Train”

Best Family Film: “Cinderella”

Best Romance: “Brooklyn”

Most Over-rated Movie: “Carol,” “Amy”

Most Under-rated Movie: “The Walk,” “Truth”

Best Voice-Overs: Phyllis Smith “Inside Out,” Sam Elliott “The Good Dinosaur”; and Jennifer Jason Leigh in “Anomalisa.”

Best Cameos: Richard Kind “Inside Out” and Norman Reedus “Vacation”

Best Comeback: Jennifer Jason Leigh “The Hateful Eight” and “Anomalisa”

Best Comic Turn by Dramatic Guys: Chris Hemsworth “Vacation,” Jason Statham “Spy”

Most Disappointing (Wanted to Love But Just Couldn’t): “Our Brand Is Crisis,” “Youth,” “Irrational Man,” “Steve Jobs,” “Tomorrowland,” “Legend,” “Black Mass” and “Suffragette.”

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