Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Top Ten Films of 2015: #1


No surprise here: Tom McCarthy's "Spotlight" - from a screenplay he co-wrote with Josh Singer - is clearly the class of the 2015 Oscar field. Based on the Boston Globe's (arguably belated) uncovering of that city's epidemic of pedophile priests, many placed on euphemistically labelled leaves and recirculated to other parishes, "Spotlight" combines the compelling forward thrust of a top-drawer thriller with stop-you-in-your-tracks moments of sorrow and pity; the pit-of-your-stomach gravitas of a social and religious crisis with a rare lightness of touch; genuine wit and humor with purpose and focus.

Here is by far the finest ensemble cast of the year, almost all of whom turn in work as good as or better than any in their filmography: as the editors, John Slattery, Michael Keaton (in a performance as understated as his "Birdman" was all-out), and Liev Schreiber (whose Marty Baron, brought in from Miami by corporate, would in a lesser movie certainly have been turned into a villain); as the Spotlight reporters, Brian d'Arcy James, Mark Ruffalo (given the showiest role), and Rachel McAdams (never better); and as victims' attorneys with antithetical styles, Billy Crudup and Stanley Tucci. It's the sort of movie where the level of acting is so high across the board you check IMDb to see who played half a dozen smaller parts.

"Spotlight" works so well because at every step it's smarter than it had to be, softer than it had to be. McCarthy trusts his audience to recognize the lead in each new interview, each new document the team uncovers. His film is also remarkably attuned to all of the interpersonal dynamics within the newsroom. One scene ends with a wry little "huh" by McAdams, barely audible, but hilarious in context. That's typical. These journalists grapple as intensely with strategic considerations as with ethical questions. That they respect and trust one another comes through in a hundred quiet conversations in which one accedes - often reluctantly - to another's vision. 

And so, I bookend my list with films that celebrate the hard work of reporting. "Truth" is great fun, but "Spotlight" is even finer. It is the best picture of 2015.

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