Chief among them was Pixar's Inside Out, the outfit's finest production since their Toy Story feature debut two decades earlier (I loved Toy Story 2, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Monsters Inc., and most of WALL-E, but none of them reached this film's towering emotional height). Visually lush and, frankly, raucously funny and still very sorrowful, this was the 2015 film that really made me FEEL more than any movie out there. Brilliantly performed by its cast (I particularly loved Phyllis Smith as Sadness and Richard Kind as the fading imaginary friend Bing-Bong), the movie is conceived with such lithe, detailed care that it transformed the way I think about my own thoughts, and I suspect it did the same for many filmgoers. It might be a difficult movie for some Pixar fans to love, as it's essentially about gloom (parents were likely challenged to explain its details to their kids, who will benefit from its insights) but I think that's its prime attribute; we don't get many movies about that subject, and certainly none directed at children, who are always smarter than we think. As a person that suffers from depression (a daily struggle), Inside Out honestly helped me gain valuable perception into my past, present, and future; that it made me laugh, cry, marvel and cheer was a generous bonus. How I adore Inside Out for this!
But my second favorite movie of the year also still resonates fully. Andrew Haigh's 45 Years, in telling of a happy marriage reduced to ashes upon a joltingly blithe revelation, is so haunting it almost feels like a ghost story. Impressive in its economy, it speeds by, its laconic pace never feeling rushed as every coming moment finds a fresh reveal in the weathered faces of our leads, Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courteney, who both deliver career-best performances (though it's clearly Rampling's story, and a shining vehicle for this neglected actress). 45 Years has the single most stunning closing shot of any 2015 movie--one that, when coupled with that final song and dance, reduces me to shivering tears. And still there's Creed, probably the last movie we thought would reach greatness, and yet Ryan Coogler--a big fan of the original Rocky--delivers the most powerful and loving example of fan service ever with his well-modulated sequel (the sixth film in the series), providing us with Michael B. Jordan's deeply nuanced, understated but muscular Adonis Johnson, and reviving our admiration of Sylvester Stallone as his finest (and self-written) role. I was heartbroken when Mark Rylance--a respectable actor--stole the Oscar from Stallone, who deserved the award not only for his aching and lively performance as an aging athlete, but also as a filmmaker who willingly let go of his hold on the franchise to give things over to Coogler, who took it in a (finally) respectful direction. Basically, Stallone will always be more of a movie persona, and Rylance was primarily a stage presence and, as such, I will eternally have a problem with Rylance's ultimate win.
As for the leads in the Oscar race this year, I found Spotlight to be a respectful, "important" TV-movie-like tale, but it had no visual pop to codify it as a great movie. The Revanant had riper prospects for Best Picture, but it was also often violently hard to watch, especially since it was basically a revenge tale, and we should all be decidedly tired of those. But this one was so well-crafted that I had little complaint (though I have already given DiCaprio his long awaited Oscar for the movie he deserved it for, The Wolf of Wall Street, so I felt no need for make-up sex here). I feel like there were at least four forgotten movies that should have gotten more attention: newcomer Josh Mond's James White, a movie most moviegoers (if they even knew of its existence--another failure of the critical mass) didn't get a chance to see until the following year, with a devastating supporting performance from Cynthia Nixon as the cancer-ridden mother of Christopher Abbott's unprepared party guy; James Ponsoldt's The End of The Tour, with jittery Jesse Eisenberg as a journalist needling his way into a deceptively genius author's life (with Jason Segal commanding as the late David Foster Wallace); Spike Lee's Chi-Raq, a fantastically funny, iron-heavy look at the American gun violence problem, creatively shunted as a poetic adaptation of Aristophanes' Lysistrata that obviously hit home too problematically for politically-divided audiences, even if it contained one of the best ensembles of the year, led by the dynamic Teyonah Parris; and the astonishing, animated Anomalisa, based on a play by Oscar-winner Charlie Kaufman and led by amazing voice performances from David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tom Noonan (who portrays nearly every character in the film, and even sings the final song).
As for Mad Max: Fury Road--which mystically commanded the 2015 critical accolades--well, that film felt like it capitalized on the lengthy period since the original Mad Max series hit the screens back in the '70s and '80s. I'm convinced the audience that lost their collective shit over this rather anemic story had never seen Mad Max or The Road Warrior on the big screen, and were thus suitably stunned by George Miller's radically motorized vision of the apocalypse--an enhanced but basic repeat of the original films which strangely reduces the title character to a supporting role. I don't get Miller's urge to jettison his character's past (it doesn't even remember that the kid he lost was a boy, and there's no appearance of his murdered wife, either), but I do understand the filmmaker's urge to revisit his world with modern technology and. in that way, I admire his work here--yes, the visuals are terrific, but I'm like "Yeah, but where is Max's story?" Still, I give Miller a nomination here as Best Director, just because I think he deserves it as the progenitor of a unique filmic universe that's extremely worthy of note.
As for the Oscars So White controversy, clearly the subject was relevant given the presence of movies like Creed, Tangerine, Dope, Chi-Raq, What Happened Miss Simone, and Straight Outta Compton, though few of these titles really register as Oscary movies (that's a justifiable problem that urgently needs correction, though I enthusiastically call on black filmmakers to focus on stronger, more serious subject matters; what is needed are less immediately green-lit action and comedy movies, and more penetrating dramatic stories--and we need to see more movies that are more enthused with present-day black lives, and more movies that are concerned with the lives of those essential black historical figures who have enriched our world). Also, I should point out that Best Original Song is a category that really pops this year with a surprisingly impressive slate, though the Academy decided to ignore all of this year's terrific songs and reward a damnably idiotic ditty from a sup-par Bond film. Meanwhile, songwriting genius Brian Wilson was disqualified from the final running because of arcane Academy rules. I rejigger that hurtful injustice here. NOTE: These are MY choices for each category, and are only occasionally reflective of the selections made by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (aka The Oscars). When available, the nominee that actually won the Oscar will be highlighted in bold.
PICTURE: INSIDE OUT (US, Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen) (2nd: 45 Years (UK, Andrew Haigh), followed by: Creed (US, Ryan Coogler); Amy (UK/US, Asif Kapadia); The Revenant (US, Alejandro G. Inarritu); Anomalisa (US, Charles Kaufman and Duke Johnson); Chi-Raq (US, Spike Lee); James White (US, Josh Mond); The End of the Tour (US, James Ponsoldt); Sicario (US, Denis Villeneuve); Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (Israel, Shlomi Elkabetz and Ronit Elkabetz); Bridge of Spies (US, Steven Spielberg); The Tribe (Ukraine, Miroslav Slaboshpitsky); A Despadida (Farewell) (Brazil, Marcelo Galveo); Son of Saul (Hungary, László Nemes); Dope (US, Rick Famuyiwa); Krisha (US, Trey Edward Shults); Carol (US, Todd Haynes); Two Step (US, Alex R. Johnson); The Gift (US, Joel Edgerton); God Bless The Child (US, Robert Machoian and Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck); Straight Outta Compton (US, F. Gary Gray); Mad Max: Fury Road (Australia, George Miller); In Jackson Heights (US, Frederick Wiseman); Spy (US, Paul Feig); Tangerine (US, Sean Baker); I'll See You in My Dreams (US, Brett Haley); Heaven Knows What (US, Ben Safdie and Joshua Safdie); A Monster with A Thousand Heads (Mexico, Rodrigo Plá); Experimenter (US, Michael Almereyda); Love and Mercy (US, Bill Pohldad); Cartel Land (US/Mexico, Matthew Heineman); Spotlight (US, Tom McCarthy); The Yes Men are Revolting (US, Andy Bichlbaum, Mike Bonnano, and Laura Nix); 3 1/2 Minutes Ten Bullets (US, Marc Silver); Brooklyn (UK/Ireland/Canada, John Crowley); Embrace of the Serpent (Columbia, Ciro Guerra); Welcome to Leith (US, Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker); Best of Enemies (US, Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville); Meru (US/India, Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi); What Happened, Miss Simone? (US, Liz Garbus); Bone Tomahawk (US, S. Craig Zahler); Magic Mike XXL (US, Gregory Jacobs); The Hateful Eight (US, Quentin Tarentino); Irrational Man (US, Woody Allen); Merchants of Doubt (US, Robert Kenner); The Assassin (Taiwan/China, Hou Hsiao-Hsien); Hitchcock/Truffaut (US, Kent Jones); Shaun The Sheep Movie (UK, Mark Burton and Richard Starzak); Mistress America (US, Noah Baumbach); A Walk in the Woods (US, Ken Kwapis); Steve Jobs (US, Danny Boyle); Dante's Down the Hatch (US, Jef Bredemeier); Where to Invade Next (US, Michael Moore); Learning to Drive (UK/US, Isabel Coixet); Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (US, Christopher McQuarrie); The Duff (US, Ari Sandel); Christmas Again (US, Charles Poekel); Results (US, Andrew Bujalski); The Stanford Prison Experiment (US, Kyle Patrick Alvarez); Trumbo (US, Jay Roach); Danny Collins (US, Dan Fogelman); Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (US, Alex Gibney); Concussion (US, Peter Landesman); Finders Keepers (US, Bryan Carberry and Clay Tweel); Mr. Holmes (US, Bill Condon); Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman (US, Adam Carolla and Nate Adams); Star Wars: The Force Awakens (US, J.J. Abrams); Ex Machina (US, Alex Garland); The Martian US, Ridley Scott); The Big Short (US, Adam McKay); Hello My Name is Doris (US, Michael Showalter); By Sidney Lumet (US, Nancy Buirski); The Witness (US, James D. Solomon); Consumed (US, Daryl Wein); Everest (US/UK/Iceland, Baltasar Kormákur); Knight of Cups (US, Terrence Malick); A Bigger Splash (Italy/France, Luca Guadagnino); The Lobster (Greece/UK/France, Yorgos Lanthimos); Trainwreck (US, Judd Apatow); Beasts of No Nation (US, Cary Fukunaga); Spectre (US/UK, Sam Mendes); Cop Car (US, Jon Watts); Youth (Italy/France/UK, Paolo Sorrentino); Manson Family Vacation (US, J. Davis); Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (US, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon); A Man Called Ove (Sweden, Hannes Holm); The Meddler (US, Lorene Scafaria); The Diary of a Teenage Girl (US, Marielle Heller); Avengers: Age of Ultron (US, Joss Whedon); Victoria (Germany, Sebastian Schipper); The Program (UK/France, Stephen Frears); Jurassic World (US, Colin Trevarrow); High Rise (UK, Ben Wheatley); Ant-Man (US, Peyton Reed); Joy (US, David O. Russell); Jupiter Ascending (US, Lana Wachowski and Lilly Wachowski); Room (US/Ireland, Lenny Abrahamson); The Wave (Norway, Roar Uthaug); Victor Frankenstein (US/UK/Canada, Paul McGuigan); Ricki and the Flash (US, Jonathan Demme); Mortdecai (US, David Koepp); The Peanuts Movie (US, Steve Martino))
ACTOR: Michael B. Jordan, CREED (2nd: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant, followed by: Christopher Abbott, James White; Géza Röhrig, Son of Saul; Tom Courteney, 45 Years; Matt Damon, The Martian; Paul Dano, Love and Mercy; Jesse Eisenberg, The End of the Tour)
ACTRESS: Charlotte Rampling, 45 YEARS (2nd: Ronit Elkabetz, Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, followed by: Rooney Mara, Carol; Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn; Krisha Fairchild, Krisha; Teyonah Parris, Chi-Raq; Cate Blanchette, Carol; Blythe Danner, I'll See You in My Dreams)
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Sylvester Stallone, CREED (2nd: Jason Segal, The End of the Tour, followed by: Benicio Del Toro, Sicario; Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies; Tom Hardy, The Revenant; Jason Michell, Straight Outta Compton; Tom Noonan, Anomalisa; Jason Statham, Spy)
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Cynthia Nixon, JAMES WHITE (2nd: Elizabeth Banks, Love and Mercy, followed by: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Anomalisa; Mya Taylor, Tangerine; Tessa Thompson, Creed; Phyllis Smith, Inside Out; Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs; Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight)
DIRECTOR: Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen, INSIDE OUT (2nd: Andrew Haigh, 45 Years, followed by: Ryan Googler, Creed; Alejandro Inarritu, The Revenant; George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road; Asif Kapidia, Amy; Josh Mond, James White; Miroslav Slaboshpitsky, The Tribe)
NON-ENGLISH-LANGUAGE FILM: GETT: THE TRIAL OF VIVIANE AMSALEM (Israel, Shlomi Elkabetz and Ronit Elkabetz) (2nd: The Tribe (Ukraine, Miroslav Slaboshpitsky), followed by: A Despadida (Farewell) (Brazil, Marcelo Galveo); Son of Saul (Hungary, László Nemes); A Monster with A Thousand Heads (Mexico, Rodrigo Plá); Embrace of the Serpent (Columbia, Ciro Guerra); The Assassin (Taiwan/China, Hou Hsiao-Hsien))
DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: AMY (UK/US, Asif Kapadia) (2nd: In Jackson Heights (US, Frederick Wiseman), followed by: Cartel Land (US/Mexico, Matthew Heineman); The Yes Men are Revolting (US, Andy Bichlbaum, Mike Bonnano, and Laura Nix); 3 1/2 Minutes Ten Bullets (US, Marc Silver); Welcome to Leith (US, Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker); Best of Enemies (US, Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville); Meru (US/India, Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi); What Happened, Miss Simone? (US, Liz Garbus); Merchants of Doubt (US, Robert Kenner))
ANIMATED FEATURE: INSIDE OUT (US, Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen) (2nd: Anomalisa (US, Charles Kaufman and Duke Johnson), followed by: Shaun The Sheep Movie (UK, Mark Burton and Richard Starzak))
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen, Meg LeFauve, and Josh Cooley, INSIDE OUT (2nd: Taylor Sheridan, Sicario, followed by: Shlomi Elkabetz and Ronit Elkabetz, Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem; Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy, Spotlight; Rick Famuyiwa, Dope)
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Andrew Haigh and David Constantine, 45 YEARS (2nd: Donald Margulies, The End of the Tour, followed by: Kevin Wilmott and Spike Lee, Chi-Raq; Phyllis Nagy, Carol; Charlie Kaufman, Anomalisa)
LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM: A GIRL IN THE RIVER: THE PRICE OF FORGIVENESS (US/Pakistan, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy) (won as Documentary Short), followed by: Body Team 12 (Liberia, David Darg), followed by: Stutterer (UK, Benjamin Cleary) (won as Live Action Short); Everything Will Be Okay (Germany/Austria, Patrick Vollrath); Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah (US/UK/Germany, Adam Benzine))
ANIMATED SHORT FILM: WORLD OF TOMORROW (US, Don Hertzfeld) (2nd: We Can't Live Without Cosmos (Russia, Konstantin Bronzit), followed by: Prologue (UK, Richard Williams); Last Day of Freedom (US, Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman); If I Was God (Canada, Cordell Barker))
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Emmanuel Lubezki, THE REVENANT (2nd: Roger Deakins, Sicario, followed by: Ed Lachman, Carol; John Seale, Mad Max: Fury Road; Maryse Alberti, Creed)
ART DIRECTION: MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, Inside Out, Carol, Bridge of Spies, The Revenant
COSTUME DESIGN: CINDERELLA, Mad Max: Fury Road, Carol, The Revenant, The Assassin
FILM EDITING: MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, Creed, Sicario, The Revenant, Son of Saul
SOUND: LOVE AND MERCY, Mad Max: Fury Road, Creed, The Revenant, Sicario
SOUND EFFECTS: MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, The Revenant, The Martian
ORIGINAL SCORE: Johann Johannson, SICARIO (2nd: Michael Giacchino, Inside Out, followed by: Carter Burwell, Carol; Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight; Ludwig Goransson, Creed)
ORIGINAL SONG: "One Kind of Love" from LOVE AND MERCY (Music and lyrics by Brian Wilson) (2nd: "Cold One" from Ricki and the Flash (Music and lyrics by Jenny Lewis and Jonathan Rice), followed by: "Who Can You Trust" from Spy (Music and lyrics by Theodore Shapiro and Craig Wedren); "Simple Song #3" from Youth (Music and lyrics by David Lang); "Don't Look Down" from Danny Collins (Music and lyrics by Don Was and Ryan Adams); "Earned It" from Fifty Shades of Grey (Music and lyrics by The Weeknd, Amhad Balshe, Jason Quenneville, and Stephan Moccio); "So Long" from Concussion (Music and lyrics by Leon Bridges, Josh Block, Austin Jenkins, and Chris Vivion); "Sit Down for This" from Chi-Raq (Music and lyrics by Kortney Pollard, Dean McIntosh, and Peter Martin); "I'll See You in My Dreams" from I'll See You in My Dreams (Music and lyrics by Keegan DeWitt); "Waiting for My Moment" from Creed (Music and lyrics by Ludwig Goransson, Donald Glover, Ryan Coogler, and Vince Staples); "See You Again" from Furious 7 (Music and lyrics by Justin Franks, Andrew Cedar, Charlie Puth and Cameron Thomaz); "Til' It Happens to You" from The Hunting Ground (Music and lyrics by Diane Warren and Lady Gaga); "Manta Ray" from Racing Extinction (Music by J. Ralph, lyrics by Anohni); "Feels Like Summer" from Shaun the Sheep Movie (Music and lyrics by Ilan Eshkeri, Nick Hodgson, and Tim Wheeler); "None of Them Are You" from Anomalisa (Music by Carter Burwell, lyrics by Charlie Kaufman))
SPECIAL EFFECTS: MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, The Revanant, Ex Machina, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Martian