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Rebounding tenfold after the critically maligned comedy "The Cobbler," writer-director Tom McCarthy crafted an unforgettable drama ripped from one of the biggest headlines of all time. Starring Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery and Stanley Tucci, best picture winner "Spotlight" tells the riveting true story of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe team that investigated allegations of sex abuse in the Catholic Church. Their year-long search for the truth uncovered a cover-up at the highest level of Boston's religious, legal and government establishments, igniting a wave of controversy and revelations around the world. McCarthy, best known for small human dramas and strong character work, paints his biggest canvas yet, and his incredible cast and commitment to details makes for one of the year's best.
"The Danish Girl"
In the perfect combination of rising star power — including current it girl Alicia Vikander, who just picked up a best supporting actress Oscar for her turn in the film, and Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne — and fascinating historical drama, Tom Hooper's "The Danish Girl" is guaranteed to set the awards season alight this season. At its heart, the film is a classic love story, but its timely nature also sets it apart as a tale still relevant to today's world. Complete with an Alexandre Desplat score, the art-infused feature looks and sounds stellar, but it's the sterling performances that will carry over well into 2016.
Brie Larson took the indie world by storm in 2013 with her acclaimed, Gotham Award-winning performance in "Short Term 12," and she did still more resonant work in her best actress-winning role in "Room." Adapted by Emma Donoghue from her bestselling novel of the same name, the drama centers around a mother and her five-year-old son (outstanding newcomer Jacob Tremblay) who have been living in captivity in a small room for a number of years. Fans have long thought the book was impossible to translate to the big screen, but director Lenny Abrahamson, who last showed an assured vision behind the camera in "Frank," reached out to Donoghue directly to convince her of the novel's cinematic possibilities. As fans of the book already know, the finished result is a powerfully moving drama about the bonds between mother and son.
After dismantling the American Dream with 2012's Zac Efron-starring "At Any Price," Ramin Bahrani returns to familiar territory with "99 Homes," which uses similar material to far better effect. Andrew Garfield stars as a put-upon single dad struggling to make ends meet for both his young son and his own mother (played by Laura Dern), a hard-knock life that only gets worse when the family loses their house. Desperate for a job, Garfield's Dennis takes a job from the very man who snatched his home away from him, unscrupulous real estate broker Rick Carver (Michael Shannon, who picked up a number of awards for his performance during the 2015 awards race). As Dennis plunges deeper into Rick's world, partaking in unexpected windfalls, he also begins to lose his moral compass and, still worse, his own family. Bahrani keeps his tension tight, and his actors respond with two of their finest performances yet.
"Steve Jobs" may not technically be an indie-financed production, but Danny Boyle's portrait of America's tortured genius is arguably the most highly-anticipated title of the month, and it features a handful of the biggest indie heavyweights to boot. The sharp-witted Aaron Sorkin has penned a blazingly motormouth script, which follows Jobs, played by an unforgettable (who was nominated for a slew of awards during the season) Michael Fassbender, through Apple's initial product launches and behind the scenes of the digital revolution. Broken up into three 30-minute scenes, the film concludes with the 1998 launch of the iMac. Like the best biopics, the drama is rightfully as flawed and mesmerizing as its iconic subject. Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen and Katherine Waterston also star.
Available until August 31
Few Hollywood pairings are as enticing as Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. Whether collaborating behind the scenes as producers ("Band of Brothers") or at the forefront of projects as director and actor ("Saving Private Ryan," "Catch Me If You Can"), the duo have been a consistent high mark of cinema and television for over two decades now. Cold War thriller "Bridge of Spies" finds the two reuniting for the first time since "The Terminal" to tell the true story of James Donovan, a Brooklyn lawyer who gets entangled with the CIA in order to negotiate the release of a captured American U-2 pilot. With Mark Rylance (who pulled out at a surprise best supporting actor win at the Oscars), Amy Ryan and Alan Alda in supporting roles, Spielberg's longtime DP Janusz Kaminski back behind the camera and the Coen Brothers helping out on the screenplay, "Bridge of Spies" has almost too much amazing talent to be true.
Jay Roach made a name for himself as the director of the "Austin Powers" and "Meet the Parents" franchises, though in the past couple of years he's reinvented himself as the Emmy-winning director of HBO political dramas "Recount" and "Game Change." His politically-minded television work serves him well in the biographical drama "Trumbo," which stars Bryan Cranston (who picked up a number of nominations for his turn) as the eponymous screenwriter who was blacklisted by Hollywood at the height of McCarthyism. Trumbo ended up fighting the U.S. government and studio bosses in a war over words and freedom, and he never stopped working despite being forced to use pseudonyms. Louis C.K., Elle Fanning, John Goodman, Diane Lane, Alan Tudyk, Michael Stuhlbarg and Helen Mirren co-star.