Moody and haunting -- thanks to the great cinematography by 12-time Oscar nominee Roger Deakins -- the dark drug cartel thriller challenges you to think while keeping you on the edge of your seat with no shortage of tense sequences. After being a full-metal bitch, Emily Blunt again shows she's comfortably at home in the action world, but it's Benicio del Toro who steals the film as mysterious hitman Alejandro, giving arguably his best performance since his Oscar-winning turn in Traffic.
There is nothing sexy about Bridge of Spies, but that's the beauty of it. Based on true events and written by the Coen brothers, the Cold War spy-swap drama is a smart, engaging chess game that rewards patience and asks some tough questions about morality and humanity. Tom Hanks is in solid Jimmy Stewart-esque good guy mode as James B. Donovan, the lawyer tasked with negotiating the exchange between a POW and Soviet spy Rudolf Abel -- played by an excellent Mark Rylance -- while Steven Spielberg's admirable craftsmanship packages this type of classic adult film that is too often taken for granted.
With a sleek flair and stellar performances by Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac, Alex Garland's directorial debut is sci-fi at its most thought-provoking. Rather than rely on the usual explosive action sequences with villainous robots, Ex Machina is a cautionary tale on artificial intelligence and an examination on the increasingly disturbing struggle between man and machine.
Even if you take the iconic rhymes out of the equation, the N.W.A. biopic is just as incendiary and potent. Under the fierce direction of F. Gary Gray and featuring breakthrough performances, including O'Shea Jackson Jr. as his dad Ice Cube, Compton throbs with urgency as it traces a critical turning point in gangsta rap and galvanizes you to fight the system. It is both soberingly of its time and more socially relevant than ever.
Leave it to Amy Schumer to give us the fresh take on rom-coms that the genre desperately needed. A frank, cynical spin on modern sexual politics with an unapologetic heroine to boot, the comedy is as delightfully sweet and sour as the drinks Amy downs. Plus: The movie thoroughly disproves the notion that athletes can't act, making complete scene-stealers out of LeBron James and John Cena.
The less-than-impressive prequel series feels like a memory far, far away now. Well worth the wait, J.J. Abrams' sequel bodes well for the rest of the trilogy, grounding the eye-popping, out-of-the-world set pieces by staying faithful to its roots and the characters fans first fell in love with almost 40 years ago. But it's not just a nostalgia cash grab: Fresh faces, including Daisy Ridley's Rey, John Boyega's Finn and Oscar Isaac's Poe Dameron, ably stand on their own to lead the new generation. And let's not forget the real star of the franchise: BB-8.
For a film about legacy, Creed is an excellent addition to Rocky's. The seventh entry in the franchise, the drama -- which follows Adonis Creed, the illegitimate son of Apollo, as he works his way into the ring with Rocky Balboa in his corner -- evokes the same gritty underdog spirit of the original while establishing its own pulverizing energy through a rousing performance by Michael B. Jordan and some truly unforgettable fight scenes, including one indelible one-take bout. Giving the Italian Stallion a tough tenderness, Sylvester Stallone also settles nicely into the mentor role as the backbone and heart of Creed.
An adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's groundbreaking novel The Price of Salt -- about a love affair between two women in the '50s -- Todd Haynes' romantic melodrama is a companion piece of sorts to his 2002 gem Far From Heaven. Sumptuously shot and led by the equally exquisite Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, Carol is a poetic meditation on longing and hope. Perhaps most powerfully, it makes your heart ache as you realize how much of Carol and Therese's story resonates today.
Based on Colm Tóibín's novel of the same name, the old-fashioned drama is a simple story brought to luminous life by director John Crowley and a perfectly cast Saoirse Ronan, who plays Eilis, a young Irishwoman immigrating to America in 1952. Poignant and moving, Brooklyn drives home the point that the joys and hardships of change are universal, regardless of where you're from. But the film's biggest accomplishment might just be making you forget that Emory Cohen, as Eilis' charming suitor Tony, is the same person who played Leo on Smash.
As far as action films go, it doesn't get much better than Fury Road. A visual feast of balletic and manic mayhem, George Miller's post-apocalyptic spectacle needs no CGI to put you in the middle of the desert frenzy. The film's best and boldest attribute, however, is its subversive feminist narrative. Tom Hardy might play the titular character, but Fury Road's true hero is Charlize Theron's take-no-prisoners badass Imperator Furiosa.
No movie this year sits with you like Room does. Adapted by Emma Donoghue from her novel of the same name -- about a kidnapped woman and her 5-year-old son who escape from the shed he has known his whole life -- the harrowing drama is an emotionally draining but ultimately uplifting rumination on love, resilience and imagination. Brie Larson is tremendous as Ma and 9-year-old Jacob Tremblay crushes your soul as Jack as he slowly discovers that the world is as boundless as the love between mother and child.
You might be disappointed if you go into Steve Jobs expecting a full biopic on the Apple co-founder. Aaron Sorkin instead takes a genius impressionistic route, dividing his script into a theatrical three acts set at three product launches, to offer an incisive character study into the complicated, brilliant and maddening visionary who built an empire because of -- and in spite of -- himself. Danny Boyle's electrifying direction gives even more rhythm to Sorkin's delicious rat-tat-tat words, while the cast, which includes Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen and Jeff Daniels, dazzles behind Michael Fassbender's towering turn as Jobs.
The concept of Inside Out is so complex, you can't believe someone managed to make a movie out of it, let alone come up with such an awe-inspiringly inventive story for it. Featuring impeccable voice work from Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black and Mindy Kaling as the five emotions that operate inside 11-year-old Riley's head, the Pixar masterpiece is funny, intelligent and cathartic in reminding us that our feelings, including, yes, sadness, are valid. They shape who we are and we shouldn't ignore them. It's a simple yet profound notion that will only reverberate more with kids as they, like Riley, grow up.
A lot of movies tend to get in their own way. Spotlight, like the Pulitzer-winning Boston Globe Spotlight reporting team on which it's based, never veers off its path: expose the Catholic Church's decades-long cover-up of sex abuse. Starring an aces ensemble that includes Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Brian D'Arcy James, John Slattery, Liev Schreiber and Stanley Tucci, the drama is decidedly straightforward, but no less gripping in showcasing hard work, determination and people who are just damn good at their jobs. In the Twitter age of speed and "being first," Spotlight is a valentine to the tedious grind and power of the vanishing breed that is investigative journalism.
The Martian is one of those rare films that does a lot of things and excels at all of them to form one wildly entertaining crowd-pleaser. With self-effacing cleverness and a charismatic turn from Matt Damon as a wisecracking astronaut marooned on Mars, the Ridley Scott space flick is serious without being ponderous, scary without being hopelessly bleak, funny without being desperate, thrilling without being cheap and digestibly nerdy without being alienating (no pun intended). And despite its otherworldly setting and title, The Martian, at its core, is a very human story of survival and a celebration of mankind's resolve and ingenuity. Yeah, science!