There were several hundred movies released in 2015, as many as 900 according to The New York Times, though many barely made a ripple. I saw perhaps somewhere between 100 to 150 of them. Add in all the television shows I watch, and it's a wonder I ever see my family.
So I won't pretend picking my best films of 2015 is anything close to definitive. I undoubtedly missed some good films along the way, especially some of the smaller indie or foreign films that have shown up on critics' lists.
So what follow are 15 films — in alphabetical order — that I would recommend both for their artfulness and entertainment value that you should be able to see in theaters, on demand or on DVD.
Anomalisa: Charlie Kaufman teams with stop-motion animator Duke Johnson to take the audience on another trippy cerebral journey. The story is about an inspirational speaker who suffers from the delusion that everybody is the same person out to get him, a strange tale that is strangely affecting.
The Big Short: Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman declares Adam McKay's film makes "Wall Street skulduggery entertaining." Couldn't agree more. Based on Michael Lewis' account of the collapse of the housing market bubble, there are times you're laughing when you know you should be crying.
Brooklyn: Saoirse Ronan is luminous in John Crowley's heartfelt film about an Irish girl who leaves her small town in the early 1950s to settle in Brooklyn, where she blossoms and finds love. Still emotionally drawn to Ireland and another man, she eventually must choose between her two homes.
Carol: Todd Haynes' adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's 1952 novel "The Price of Salt" is about an affair between a society woman and a shopgirl — Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. The romance is exceptionally rendered as the two women inch toward a new reality.
The Danish Girl: Adapted from David Ebershoff's 2000 novel, Tom Hooper's film tells the story of Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne), who became one of the first patients to undergo sex reassignment surgery. Most people have focused on the transgender aspects of the film, but that undersells it. While Redmayne fiercely conveys the radical changes Wegener undergoes, Alicia Vikander gives a dazzling performance as the artist's wife.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl: Marielle Heller directed this intense and at times uncomfortable drama set in in 1976 about a sexually curious teen (Bel Powley) who has an affair with the boyfriend of her mother (Kristen Wiig). In cinema, uncomfortable can be good, and this is.
The End of the Tour: James Ponsoldt's dramedy is based on the book by journalist David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg). It recounts his five days in 1996 with author David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel). A quasi-road-trip movie, the two share Pop Tarts and dark confessional moments while acutely being aware of their places in the literary world and the pitfalls of the interview process.
45 Years: Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay are superb as a married couple who are shaken by the past as they are about to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary. British writer-director Andrew Haigh's film is economical in the telling, leaving an emotional bite at the end.
Inside Out: From director Pete Docter, Pixar's latest gem journeys into the mind of an 11-year-old-girl, imaginatively making all her emotions into characters. Amy Poehler voices Joy, but the animated film leaves room for Sadness (Phyllis Smith) as a natural part of life.
Love & Mercy: The biopic about Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson splits his life up into two parts. In the 1960s, the rock great (Paul Dano) began to experience psychotic episodes while creating some of his greatest songs. By the 1980s, Wilson (now John Cusack) is depicted being controlled by a disreputable therapist. Through love and music, though, Wilson finds a way to peace.
Mad Max — Fury Road: Director George Miller returns to the dystopian world of road warriors in style with this nonstop kinetic action thriller. He also introduces a fierce new feminist hero (Charlize Theron) to the desolate landscape.
The Martian: Ridley Scott brings his sweeping visual style to Andy Weir's sci-fi novel about a stranded astronaut (Matt Damon), who has a sense of humor and is both resilient and inventive.
The Revenant: Director Alejandro Inarritu's visually stunning epic of survival drops Leonardo DiCaprio's 1820s frontiersman into the magnificence and horrors of the natural world as he endures a grizzly attack and treks across frozen terrain to find the killer of his son.
Spotlight: Tom McCarthy's film is a gripping journalistic detective story. It follows a team of investigative reporters at the Boston Globe that exposes a cover-up by the Boston Archdiocese of widespread sexual abuse of children by priests.
Star Wars — The Force Awakens: J.J. Abrams' reboot has plenty of thrills. It's a perfect combination of enough of the old (Harrison Ford returns as Han Solo) and a new story of a fresh band of heroes out to save a galaxy long ago and far away.