Pickle Top 10: indies and space epics

Betsy Pickle
Features columnist

Ranking a year’s movies has turned into a national obsession, but it’s so much fun and such a healthy addiction that you don’t have to worry about seeking professional help – unless you’re literally relying on a professional critic for guidance.

It’s only opinion, after all, so there’s no right or wrong. People have different tastes and are drawn to different genres. And since the end of the year is always a good time to reflect, it makes sense to play the game.

2015 was a satisfying movie year because there were great blockbusters and amazing indies. It was a good mix. And while that makes the apples-and-oranges quality of Top 10 lists dizzying, it’s also the perfect entry point for debate. So let’s begin:

1. “Room” – This fall’s indie sensation is a powerful example of what

Ma (Brie Larson) broadens the horizons of a confined world for Jack (Jacob Tremblay) in “Room.”
Ma (Brie Larson) broadens the horizons of a confined world for Jack (Jacob Tremblay) in “Room.”

film can do. Based on a novel by Emma Donoghue, who adapted the screenplay, “Room” shows the resilience of the human spirit with its story of a young woman and her little boy, held captive in a tiny space but using their imaginations to learn, grow and survive. The clash of fantasy and reality is brutally inevitable, but even when it arrives, “Room” finds avenues to challenge and uplift.

2. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” – The long-anticipated epic delivers new hope for the beloved franchise. After the dark years of the prequel trilogy, “The Force Awakens” builds on the familiar but re-engineers the space saga so that there’s a more complex palate of emotions and a more diverse array of characters. The emotional wallop of seeing old favorites back in action is a quantity that cannot be dismissed, but the new young stars – Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver – bring nuances that should carry the series into the future.

3. “Brooklyn” – A “small” film in the tradition of old Hollywood romances finds a way to tap into more intimacy than many of its venerable predecessors. A young Irishwoman comes to the United States to find opportunity, but cutting ties with the old country proves harder than she expected. Watch out: Saoirse Ronan may turn out to be the Meryl Streep of her generation.

4. “Amy” – Documentaries can hold their own or even surpass narrative films in terms of powerful storytelling and cultural insight. “Amy” is a great film, no matter how it’s classified. It respectfully dissects the short and tragic life of singer Amy Winehouse and makes it clear why the world should regret her passing.

5. “The Martian” – Even before “The Force Awakens” arrived, space was a popular frontier in 2015 thanks to the collaboration of Matt Damon and director Ridley Scott (who has an affinity for the milieu). Adapted from a book by Andy Weir, “The Martian” is a roller coaster of an epic and a grabber of a lone-survivor story, with an outstanding performance by Damon.

6. “Trumbo” – Bryan Cranston’s measured portrayal of blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo serves a passionate plea for tolerance while depicting one of the nation’s darkest eras.

7. “The End of the Tour” – Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel do a graceful dance of the conflicts between art and commerce in this slice-of-life bio inspired by doomed novelist David Foster Wallace.

8. “The Danish Girl” – Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne triumphs again in a period piece inspired by the life of a transgender pioneer, who first became noted as artist Einar Wegener. Redmayne is equally matched by the brilliant Alicia Vikander, as Einar’s artist wife.

9. “Ex Machina” – Speaking of Vikander, 2015 was her year, and “Ex Machina” is one of the reasons why. As an android exploring her human side, she befuddles both creator Oscar Isaac and tech geek Domhnall Gleeson in this smart sci-fi drama directed by Alex Garland.

10. “Love & Mercy” – Whether you’re a Beach Boys fan or not, this film about the struggles of musician Brian Wilson will draw you in and break your heart. The debate continues over whether John Cusack or Paul Dano is the star (my vote’s for Dano), but both, along with Elizabeth Banks and Paul Giamatti, make this biopic riveting.

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