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LENNY BEER'S GUIDE TO LEISURE, NEW YEAR'S EDITION

Best Books of 2015

1. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates: In the form of a letter to his teenage son, Mr. Coates’ electrifying view on race in America is a quick and potent must read.

2. Dead Wake by Erik Larson: Mr. Larson, who previously brought us The Devil in the White City, delivers a page-turner about America in the early part of the 20th Century—specifically about the sinking of the Lusitania and the onset of WWI.

3. Sinatra: The Chairman by James Kaplan: The conclusion of Kaplan’s two-part masterpiece picks up the story after Sinatra’s comeback Academy Award and takes us through the politics, gossip and musical genius of the second half of a life lived in public and in private.

4. The M Train by Patti Smith: The rock iconoclast returns with offbeat musings about her life, her trips and countless hours spent in coffeehouses, contemplating.  It’s a pleasure to join her journey.

5. The Wright Brothers by David McCullough: An absorbing survey of the life and inventions of the sibling inventors and the beginnings of aviation in the 20th Century. Not a McCullough classic akin to Truman, but his prose and storytelling are always appreciated.

Best Movies of 2015

1. Ex Machina: This neo-Frankenstein piece resonates constantly as it ponders the dawning future of robotics and artificial intelligence; it also powers up a career-making performance by Alicia Vikander.

2. The Big Short: Genius at work: A mediocre and mostly dull book about the housing crisis has become a lightning bolt of a motion picture. Steve Carell is absolutely amazing.

3. Bridge of Spies: Spielberg and Hanks team up once more, this time with a Cold War masterpiece about the Gary Powers U2 incident. Broadway star Mark Rylance shines in a supporting role.

4. Spotlight: The best movie about the inner workings of a newspaper and the craft of journalism since All The President’s Men, with a standout ensemble cast.

5. The Danish Girl: Alicia Vikander strikes again, while Eddie Redmayne heads for his second straight Oscar. Beautiful and stunning.

6.  The Martian:Pure pop entertainment, with stunning landscapes and a powerful central performance by Matt Damon.

7.  Amy: A sure winner for Best Documentary. A tearjerker and a resounding affirmation of Ms. Winehouse’s genius.

8. Youth: Pablo Sorrentino, who won an Oscar for The Great Beauty, scores again with this English-language musing about old age. Plus: breathtaking vistas of the Swiss Alps.

9. Phoenix: The year’s best Holocaust-related film takes place in postwar Germany—with a story that I will not reveal.

10. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl/The Diary of a Teenage Girl: Two coming-of-age movies, each uniquely imagined and told. I can’t separate their impact.

Also recommended, in a year of great moviemaking: Straight Outta Compton, Testament of Youth, Carol, Lady in the Van and Trumbo.

I’ll hold off on The Hateful Eight and Star Wars, which are on this week’s viewing schedule.

 

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