The year's best movies involved crimes exposed and the bittersweet triumph of justice


The best movies of 2015 were about crimes exposed and the triumph, although only partial and bittersweet, of justice.

And the movies right behind them were from the durable science-fiction genre. One of them has attracted a lot of publicity lately.

"Spotlight" (religious), "Trumbo" (political) and "The Big Short" (financial) exposed high-level corruption and cynicism, and gave us people to root for in the battle against these forces.

"The Martian" (optimistic science-fiction), "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" (revival of a legendary science-fiction/fantasy franchise) and "Ex Machina" (pessimistic science-fiction) remind viewers of how science-fiction, one of the oldest of film types, can still surprise, shock, amuse and enlighten in a seemingly infinite variety of ways.

Before listing the top 10 films of 2015, an acknowledgement of a landmark and a reboot on the Berkshire County film festival scene.

The Berkshire International Film Festival celebrated its 10th anniversary this past spring. Documentaries were the strength of the lineup, with "Cartel Land," about a citizens' uprising in Mexico and Arizona against regional drug lords, now attracting Oscar buzz.

The Williamstown Film Festival, renamed "WFF Presents: Wind-Up Fest," celebrated nonfiction through documentaries, podcasts, long-form journalism and other mediums, under new managing director Sandra Thomas. She succeeded Steve Lawson, who stepped aside after 15 successful years as executive director.

The Top 10

1. "Spotlight"

The story of how The Boston Globe exposed the priestly abuse scandal and cover-up in the Boston Archdiocese, "Spotlight" is more broadly about how institutional arrogance and abuse of power can poison everything it touches.

The movie is honest about how The Globe as an institution was part of the problem until an outsider, new editor Marty Baron, pushed the staff to pursue an ugly story dropped in its lap years earlier. It then emerges as an old-fashioned newspaper justice story, with The Globe's Spotlight team battling foes in the church and the community and poring through dusty archives in work that isn't glamorous, only of critical importance, especially to past and maybe future victims. With financial cutbacks throughout the news industry, it is the kind of work that may now go undone.

2. "Trumbo"

Blacklisted because of his Communist sympathies in a paranoid post-World War 11 America, screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (an excellent Bryan Cranston) fights back through subterfuge (he writes Oscar-nominated scripts under a pseudonym) and by outlasting or outwitting his foes in Washington and Hollywood.

While the movie is a period piece, substitute Muslim for Communist and take note of how our current mean-spirited social and political climate is not much different from that of the late 1940s and early 1950s.

3. "The Big Short"

Witty, imaginative and infuriating, "The Big Short" is based on the true story of how a few Wall Street insiders and outsiders saw how the mortgage bubble was about to burst in 2007 and tried to profit or survive by betting against it.

Just about all the players are cynics or hypocrites, but unexpected heroes emerge among the carnage. Distressingly, we are left knowing that a greed-based economic collapse could happen again — and probably will.

4. "The Martian"

An astronaut left behind on Mars (Matt Damon) must find ways to survive until his crew and the team back at NASA can rescue him. An homage to science, teamwork and good old American can-do spirit.

5. "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"

J.J. Abrams returns to the analog approach of the first three legendary "Star Wars" films and gives audiences a fun and gripping space opera that returns the luster to a series dulled significantly by the three wretched prequels.

While there is a "Star Wars: The Next Generation" tone that could have been avoided with a little more ambition, the movie sets the stage for follow-ups that could be epic.

6. "Ex Machina"

An icy, unsettling sci-fi thriller in which a modern day mad scientist and his unwilling protege trip over the rapidly disappearing line between an evolving humanoid and a human.

Alicia Vikander, remarkable as the android Ava, emerged from the movie as a star.

7. "The Walk"

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays French high-wire artist Philippe Petit in this film about Petit's 1974 walk between the towers of the World Trade Center. A wry comedy as well as a caper movie, "The Walk" would make half of a great double-feature with "Man On Wire," the 2008 documentary about Petit's remarkable "walk."

8. "What We Do in the Shadows"

A group of vampire pals in modern-day New Zealand deals with the peculiar challenges of their condition, all while being filmed "Office"-style by a documentary crew. Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement are the co-stars, -writers and -directors of this hilariously inventive, low budget gem.

9. "Shaun the Sheep Movie"

In the latest from the stop motion geniuses who gave us the "Wallace and Gromit" movies, the supporting sheep from earlier films take center stage as a bored farm animal whose attempt to shake up the farm has unexpected consequences.

Like its predecessors, the movie is packed with wonderful Rube Goldbergesque calamities and witty sight gags, is beautiful to behold, and contains plenty of heart and wisdom.

10. "Black Mass"

Martin Scorsese's "The Departed," in which Jack Nicholson unofficially played Boston gangster Whitey Bulger, stole the thunder from this official story about the sociopathic killer. Nonetheless, Johnny Depp is a creepy Bulger, and the focus on the corrupt FBI agent who allowed Bulger to literally get away with murder makes this film a good companion piece to "Spotlight."


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