Year-end top 10 lists are necessarily personal things. Each critic brings his or her baggage and perspective to the party and no one speaks, or should pretend to speak, from above.
Example: I was born Irish Catholic in New York City and raised there in the ’50s. An Italian woman in an upstairs apartment cared for me during the day. So is it any wonder that out of many fine films released this year, “Brooklyn,” the story of an Irish immigrant girl who comes to New York City in the ’50s and falls for an Italian guy, would particularly resonate with me? It’s a superb film by any measure, but I had connections to it that set off all sorts of personal fireworks.
Not that the critic is directly connected to every work. I have never been a teenage girl, transgendered or held captive in a room for years, just as I have never flown in a space ship, but enjoyed the new “Star Wars” movie. But within every strong narrative, no matter how far-fetched, there are beats and ties the audience can grab onto, that pull us in.
2015 was a strong year for movies; there was much to pull us in. I offer here the 10 films that worked best for me, and then 10 more. It’s heartening that in a time of blockbuster overkill there are still so many good films to see.
1. “Brooklyn:” The luminous Saoirse Ronan — she’s only 21! — delivers the performance of the year in this story of an Irish girl who comes to America to find economic hope and a new life. Obviously, there are all sorts of reflections of America’s current immigrant turmoil, but this film, adapted from Colm Tobin’s novel by Nick Hornsby and warmly directed by John Crowley, is chiefly a coming-of-age romance.
2. “Youth:” Two old friends, Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel, take a vacation in the Swiss Alps, facing age, their ongoing ambitions and frustrations, and luxuriating in what physical comfort is left. Director-writer Paolo Sorrentino has an uncanny eye for fascinating angles and juxtapositions. Just breathe it in.
3. “The Diary of a Teenage Girl:” All the sexual messiness, wonder and frustration of adolescence comes alive in this film directed by Marielle Heller and built around the jarringly true performance of newcomer Bel Powley.
4. “James White:” This film won’t hit Detroit until January, but it’s a shocking strong portrait of a messed-up twentysomething guy (Christopher Abbott, out of nowhere) forced to care for his dying mother, played by a stunning Cynthia Nixon. Strong stuff.
5. “Inside Out:” Pixar genius Pete Docter delivered this animated tour de force, which follows the conflicting emotions inside the head of a young girl uprooted from Midwest life and moved to San Francisco. Funny, intelligent, insightful and endlessly inventive.
6. “Spotlight:” The year’s best-carved picture, in which an ace ensemble tells the story of how an investigative team of Boston Globe reporters exposed massive sexual abuses by Catholic priests and the church’s slimy efforts to cover things up.
7. “Mistress America:” Noah Baumbach’s finest film, co-written with star Greta Gerwig, is a screwball comedy about a scattered, but ambitious NYC woman in her early 30s and a younger girl (Lola Kirke) who studies her and draws on her energy. Razor sharp.
8. “Mommy:” This one came out way back in January, but it’s story of an indulged, violent but ebullient teen (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) and his harried, confused, sexy mother (Anne Dorval) told with bracing energy by young writer-director Xavier Dolan.
9. “Room:” Brie Larson and young Jacob Tremblay bring the captive characters of Emma Donoghue’s novel and screenplay to heartwarming, harrowing life in this captivating adaptation directed by Lenny Abrahamson. A film you won’t soon forget.
10. “Tangerine:” I don’t think this crackling explosion of crazy ever played Detroit, but it’s on Netflix now. It starts raw and the barrels madly forward, following two transgender prostitutes (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor) for one day on the streets of L.A. Sleaze and surprising tenderness.
Also… “Ex Machina,” “MacFarland U.S.A.,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Big Short,” “Grandma,” “Paddington,” “It Follows,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “Love & Mercy,” “Bridge of Spies.”