Catholic News Service
NEW YORK — While the outstanding films of the year just past covered a wide range of traditional genres, from sci-fi adventures to sports stories, fact-based titles predominated to a notable degree. A musical biopic, a Cold War spy duel, the tale of canny investors who managed to profit from a worldwide economic downturn: all were grist for high-quality big-screen treatment.
Thus, at least four of Catholic News Service’s top 10 movies for 2015 — as chosen by CNS’ Media Review Office — have their roots in reality.
Except as indicated, the CNS classification for films under the first heading is A-III — adults, and their Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
1. The Big Short — The ensemble dramatization “The Big Short” follows a collection of Wall Street outsiders (including Christian Bale, Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling) as they stake everything on a downturn no one else foresees. Adam McKay’s film merrily berates greed and folly without forgetting the human cost of corruption (R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian).
2. Bridge of Spies — In Steven Spielberg’s outstanding historical drama “Bridge of Spies,” a corporate lawyer (Tom Hanks) defends a KGB agent (Mark Rylance), then negotiates his exchange for a downed American pilot (Austin Stowell). The understated decency of its main character makes this balanced, well-crafted retrospective a valuable experience.
3. Brooklyn — “Brooklyn” is the meticulously understated story of a young Irishwoman (Saoirse Ronan) who, with the help of a priest (Jim Broadbent), emigrates to the United States in the early 1950s and falls for an Italian-American plumber (Emory Cohen). John Crowley’s drama offers a trenchant look at migration (A-II — adults and adolescents).
4. Creed — An imaginative, surprisingly gentle reboot of the “Rocky” franchise, “Creed” finds the iconic ex-champ (Sylvester Stallone) coaching the illegitimate son (Michael B. Jordan) of a long-deceased adversary-turned-ally. Ryan Coogler’s underlying message is that, no matter what the circumstances, the cherished values of self-sacrifice and discipline can prevail.
5. Far From the Madding Crowd — In “Far From the Madding Crowd,” Thomas Vinterberg’s adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel, an independent-minded heiress (Carey Mulligan) is pursued by three suitors (Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen and Tom Sturridge). A top-rank cast, lush cinematography and high drama combine for a treat that’s suitable for most viewers (A-II).
6. Love and Mercy — The documentary-like biography “Love and Mercy” is a profile of Brian Wilson, the driving force behind the Beach Boys. Director Bill Pohlad evades sentimental gloss, adopting instead an intelligent, steady approach to his gifted but troubled subject — played in youth by Paul Dano, in later life by John Cusack.
7. The Martian — Ridley Scott’s screen version of Andy Weir’s novel, “The Martian,” centers on a NASA botanist (Matt Damon) who’s stranded alone on the Red Planet after a space mission gone awry. This compelling sci-fi epic uses its protagonist’s plight to examine fundamental aspects of the human spirit.
8. 99 Homes — A profoundly moral drama, Ramin Bahrani’s “99 Homes” examines the toll taken by the recent financial crisis via the story of two bit players on the Orlando, Fla., real estate scene (Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon) as each struggles to weather the maelstrom of forces unleashed by the meltdown (R).
9. Room — Viewers of faith will appreciate the biblical overtones of Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room,” a poignant study of the love between a mother (Brie Larson) and her young son (Jacob Tremblay) as both are held captive by a predator (Sean Bridgers) (R).
10. Spotlight — “Spotlight” is Tom McCarthy’s hard-hitting look at how a new editor (Liev Schreiber) at the Boston Globe inspired a group of dedicated reporters (led by Michael Keaton) to uncover their hometown’s clergy sexual abuse scandal. His painfully accurate film will educate mature viewers even as it grieves them (R).