Bob Mondello

I'm not sure why this happened, but as I assembled this year's best-of list, I kept seeing matched sets: Two terrific desert movies, two swoon-inducing romances, two single-minded crusades by men who think they're already dead, and even a pair of riveting mortgage crisis flicks (and what are the chances of that?). The doubleness is a good organizing principle, since my 10-best list nearly always turns into a 20-best — so here goes:

A short story about a long marriage — "In Another Country" by David Constantine — provided source-material for Andrew Haigh's breathtaking marital drama, 45 Years, but it's been enhanced and sharpened in its transition to the screen. What was once a story that harked back to WWII, and was loosely based on a real incident, has become a devastatingly intimate tale about a couple unsettled late-in-life, by an unexpected revelation.

The camera stays tight on a gaunt, weathered face as we hear a train and the dull roar of exhausted travelers disembarking at the outset of Son of Saul. The screen is narrow — almost square — so there's very little space in the image around his head. As a result, we hear but don't see a band playing as the train's passengers are herded into a building, then to a large room with benches and wall pegs.

The words "This Is An Emergency" flash on-screen in red block letters at the outset of Spike Lee's satirical call to disarm, Chi-Raq, setting up the newscaster who'll set up the title.

"Homicides in Chicago, Ill., have surpassed the death toll of American special forces in Iraq," he says.

Hence Chi-Raq. During the title sequence, rapper Nick Cannon, who plays an up-and-coming rap star in the film, underscores the urgency in song: "Please pray for my city / Too much hate in my city / City of Chi-Raq."

Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings) and Miss Shepherd (Maggie Smith) are both forceful personalities, but The Lady in the Van excels at bringing out undercurrents of frailty.
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Last week, James Bond, this week James White — proof, should any be required, that fall movies come in all shapes and sizes.

Filmmaker Josh Mond, making his feature directing debut after producing a slew of intriguing indies, brings intensity to an intimate domestic drama about a feckless New York City slacker who appears to have a fight-or-flight approach to a familial crisis.

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Some movie titles tell you exactly what the movie's going to be about. Others, not so much.

The new documentary Do I Sound Gay? falls firmly into the first category. (The comedy Tangerine, which has nothing to do with citrus, falls just as firmly into the latter; more about it in a moment.)

But first, the obvious question: Do I sound gay? I mean, you hear me on the radio all the time. (Or, if you don't, you can also hear me in the audio link above.) So really, do I?

With Spy topping Hollywood's box-office charts this weekend, Melissa McCarthy becomes the latest woman to head a major box-office hit in 2015. And while that merely puts her in good company this year, it's hardly been common in the past.

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When a Broadway musical feels as effortlessly right as Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's did to audiences in 1956, it's easy to imagine that it simply sprang to life that way. Not My Fair Lady. The musical, based on George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, is filled to bursting with some of the best-known songs in Broadway history — "The Rain In Spain," "Wouldn't It Be Loverly," "On the Street Where You Live" — but it turns out the show originally had other tunes that almost nobody knows.

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Longtime NPR contributor Pat Dowell died Sunday after a long illness. She was 66. Pat covered film for nearly 30 years. Our critic Bob Mondello remembers his late colleague.

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