Steve Jobs – 8.5

Instead of a biopic, director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin tell the story of Apple’s founder in three parallel days of product launches. Instead of recreating reality, those days are representative, telescoped, dramatically heightened. Each involves a Jobs confrontation with 1) his daughter Lisa and her mother; 2) his cofounder Steve Wozniak; 3) his corporate parental figure John Sculley; 4) his creative team; and, throughout, 5) his marketing executive Joanna Hoffman. Through these confrontations we experience the strange but consistent personality of Steve Jobs, and through these confrontations we see all five relationships change. Whether any or all of this is accurate – despite being based on Walter Isaacson’s book – didn’t matter to me. The story is presented as a drama, and as a drama it is superb. The dialogue – no surprise – is fast-paced, impossibly clever and devoid of fat. The acting, especially by Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet (whom I didn’t even recognize), is A+, Oscar-worthy. The context – the creation of the world’s most important and familiar company – adds enormous relevance. And I’m not ashamed to admit that in the final scene between Jobs and Lisa, I couldn’t stop my tears.

Black Mass – 7.5

For all the reasons I usually dislike movies “based on true events,” I ate up the story of Boston crime boss “Whitey” Bulger. I knew the name and vague outlines of his story, but this film filled in the details. I have a particular, if distant, affection for the streets of Boston from The Departed and stories of Dennis Lehane, and the Bulger brothers played by the unlikely duo of Johnny Depp and Benedict Cumberbatch fit right in. Joel Edgerton’s agent John Connolly is the fulcrum of the plot, but it is the intense, controlling persona portrayed by Depp that makes the film, whether true or not, memorable.

Anomalisa – 7.5

One weird movie that either speaks to the universal human condition (in stop-action animation) or is a Rorschach blot to engage in how you will. Then there are those mask-faces with detachable parts. Or the voices that are all the same, except for Michael and Lisa. A movie doesn’t have to make sense to move you, or to qualify as art. Like Waiting for Godot. Charlie Kaufman’s mind just happens to be different.

Alex and Eve – 5

Harmless piffle for the schmaltz-inclined. Originality: zero. Subtlety: zero. Believable characters: zero. Surprises: zero. But as I said, it won’t hurt you, unless you’re overly sensitive to caricatures and stereotypes, in this case Greeks and Lebanese. Others loved it; I found it silly.

45 Years – 7

Here’s an answer to the question, Why don’t they make movies about real people? Because not much happens in their lives and it’s hard to understand them talking. This entire movie hinged on the wife (Charlotte Rampling)’s discovery that her husband (Tom Courtenay) had never gotten over his prior lover. But since we didn’t see their marriage before this discovery, and it wasn’t clear whether the husband had dementia, it was hard to understand what the wife was going through – or why. The movie was remarkable for showcasing an older actress, but it’s unfortunate that she wasn’t more relatable. It also, in the attempt to be real, was very slow.

The Revenant – 4

An absurd story with terrible acting (Domnhall Gleeson especially, but I could name others), with lots of violence and gore and amazing cinematography. You wonder first, how they could have shot this, and then second, why bother? Leonardo DiCaprio’s escapes from death were so unbelievable that they had no emotional impact. As for the dialogue and plot, it was if the director were writing in a foreign language. The conversations in Pawnee were no more convincing. Every scene I look back on, I want to complain about.