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The 25 Most Overlooked Movies of 2015

29 April 2016 | Features, Film Lists | by Shane Scott-Travis

Slow West

2015 featured a glut of glorious films with a staggering stylistic variety. While it’s often the blockbuster releases and large studio fare that gets most of the attention the following list looks at some of the more indie-derived and arthouse fare, with some genre films and documentaries, too. While this list is lacking in the foreign-language department, don’t worry, that list is coming!

That caveat aside, any way you look at it, any roundup of 2015 films will be heartening for all the vividly imagined movies, strong female characters, inventive genre exercises and life-affirming approaches taken by fearless filmmakers and gifted visual storytellers.

Enjoy this list, and above all, seek out the titles here that are new to you, for wonders await the adventurous among you.

 

25. The Nightmare

The Nightmare

Rodney Ascher made a name for himself with Room 237, his ambitious 2012 documentary that gave perhaps too much lip service to obsessive fans of Kubrick’s The Shining. Similarly, somewhat, his latest documentary The Nightmare, is primarily aimed at horror film aficionados and therefore may be of little interest to anyone else.

While it does briefly detail the lives of eight individuals that experience sleep paralysis––a condition which leaves them unable to move, speak or react––the real reason to watch this film is for the visual representations of their nightmares.

Ascher is a visually inventive filmmaker who delights in many surreal elements and isn’t at all above jump-scare tactics and other stock horror devices to manipulate his audience. Ostensibly a gimmick film, The Nightmare and its eccentric subjects provide ample fuel for staying up late with the night light on.

 

24. Disorder

Disorder

French writer/director Alice Winocour (Mustang) drama Disorder detours into thriller territory all while maintaining a palpable air of paranoia and pain. Matthias Schoenaerts (The Danish Girl, Rust and Bone) is marvellous as Vincent, a former soldier reeling from PTSD, now a bodyguard for a beautiful married woman, Jessie (Diane Kruger), whose husband has some dark secrets making her and her son vulnerable targets.

Some of the familiar tropes of the home invasion genre get unexpectedly tweaked as Winocour unleashes the beast via startling action sequences shot handheld and with a deft precision. The luxury villa where Denis and Jessie take their stand is compromised at every turn by woozily paranoiac and stylishly sleek and tension addled action. Winocour is a filmmaker to watch as Disorder visits familiar cinematic ground and then utterly upends it in exciting and artful ways.

 

23. The Final Girls

the-final-girls-review

Sure, the idea of a self-aware horror comedy set at a summer camp sounds about as inspired as last night’s beer farts and yet Final Girls, the latest feature from director Todd Strauss-Schulson, manages to be a pleasant and palatable genre picture that lands the laughs and a fair share of jump scares, too.

There’s a film within the film, brashly titled “Camp Bloodbath”, a decorously tongue-in-cheek piss-take of 1980s horror tropes at their most retrograde–everything from homophobia, horny teenagers, and misogyny–and gives it all the ironic perpetuation it deserves. Add in a cast of great comic actors including Malin Åkerman, Taissa Farmiga, Thomas Middleditch, and Alia Shawkat, all bringing their A-game, and you’ve got a fun American splatter comedy deserving of a franchise.

 

22. Legend

legend movie review

1960s London is depicted with an eagle-eye for detail as the thorny and short-fused lives of East End underworld rulers and twin brothers, Ronnie and Reggie Kray, get another cinematic swing courtesy of US writer-director Brian Helgeland (A Knight’s Tale).

Tom Hardy mesmerizes in his dual role as the Krays, and if that’s more or less the gimmick of the film, it’s a good one. Hardy blows hot and cold, cruel and kind with equal eclat; Reggie is ruthless but personable whereas Ronnie is prone to tantrums owing to an undiagnosed mental health quandary and whose violent outbursts are terrifying and troubling. It’s a performance that risks indulgent overdoing, but, as the film’s title suggests, these are larger than life characters who buy into their own legend.

True, much of Helgeland’s film reads as Scorsese-lite, aping Goodfellas’ visceral visual cues and voice-over narration, but this is a genre film and as far as crimeland chapter and verse goes, Legend is engrossing, and entertaining. The Swinging Sixties crackle and spark, the large ensemble cast is strong, particularly Emily Browning and Elsie Shea, but in truth, it’s Hardy’s show and nothing can call away attention from his powerhouse performance.

 

21. Slackjaw

Slackjaw

Zach Weintraub’s (Bummer Summer) audacious arthouse alternative, Slackjaw is, like the auteur behind it, something of an anomaly. The film seems to delight in eccentric slice-of-life naturalism, to celebrate awkward social arrangements, and to wear adolescent bravado like merit badges.

Malone (Robert Malone) is Slackjaw’s hangdog hero, he’s also a serious fashion victim with heinous dance moves and questionable musical talent. His small town is being infiltrated by a Monsanto-like company adding to Malone’s paranoiac persona.

Weintraub draws a difficult to discern line between kitsch and societal malaise, but make no mistake, Slackjaw is an outlaw indie, strange and self-indulgent, it’s also a singular experience and a winning, totally off-kilter comedy.

 

20. Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter

Rinko Kikuchi (Babel) electrifies as the eponymous heroine in David Zellner’s feature-length directorial debut, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter. Kumiko, who leads a lackluster and lonely life in Tokyo is somewhat obsessed with the Coen brother’s classic crime film, Fargo. Believing she can locate the bag of money that Steve Buscemi’s character, Carl, buried in a nondescript Minnesota field, Kumiko plots passage to America and the fool’s errand she can’t seem to shake.

True, Zellner, who co-wrote the script with his brother, Nathan Zellner, based their tale on the urban legend surrounding the suicide death of Takako Konishi in 2001, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter isn’t at all a love letter to the Coens, nor is it an exploitation of mental illness or a dirge to self-immolation.

As the film unfolds in somewhat of a slow burn, it reveals designs more in keeping with Nicolas Roeg––particularly Don’t Look Now––but with an inspired trammel of odd amusement amongst the ambiguity.

 

19. Slow West

slow-west

John Maclean of the now defunct experimental folktronic Scottish group The Beta Band made an inventive and artful directorial debut with Slow West. Ostensibly a coming-of-age on the frontier tale, Slow West is a slow burn acid Western, not as OTT as El Topo or as bleak as Dead Man, it still presents a Wild West of eccentric characters, poetic dialogue, and explosions of startling violence.

Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road) stars as wet-behind-the-ears Jay Cavendish, lovesick as can be, he’s travelled from Scotland to the American West, dogging the trail of his beloved, Rose (Caren Pistorius). Michael Fassbender, Ben Mendelsohn, and Rory McCann also figure prominently in this absurdist fable-like film that is in turns hilarious, heartrending, menacing, and adrenalizing. A murderous movie where love makes fools of everyone, be quick not to miss Slow West.

 

18. Montage of Heck

Kurt Cobain Montage of Heck

LA-based documentarian Brett Morgen turns his industrious gaze towards 90s icon Kurt Cobain in Montage of Heck. A labor of love some seven years in the making, Morgen’s film overflows with eagerness and ardor for its subject and, make no mistake, this is the definitive Kurt Cobain film. Presented here, though perhaps at times haphazardly, a portrait of the artist as a young man that’s emphatic, funny, despairing, and frequently riveting.

The wealth of stock footage, plenty of which previously not made public or extremely rare, interviews, animations, and inventive not to mention somewhat subduing editing makes for a truly marvellous cinematic memoir, one very removed from hagiography, that will appeal not just to Nirvana fans, but to anyone wishing to understand the creative process, personal pains, mental anguish, and the human condition. Montage of Heck is a remarkable and bittersweet journey of joy and sorrow.

 

 

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  • Hank

    The End of the Tour, Mustang, Mississippi Grind, Z for Zachariah, Results.

  • john in denver

    Great list. So many to see. Still think Ex Machina was the most grievously underappreciated . Underrated Bone Tomahawk was the best B movie since Bubba Ho-tep.

    • shane scott-travis

      I loved Ex Machina and put it on my list of Best Films of 2015, here: http://www.tasteofcinema.com/2015/the-30-best-movies-of-2015/ It should have gotten more love, true, but I don’t feel it was overlooked. Thanks for reading! 🙂

      • Cap

        ikr it wasn’t overlooked at all.

      • john in denver

        You’re right. Has gained the respect it deserves over time. Can’t wait to see Rams.

  • Dimitri Poenaru

    Black Mass

  • D Train

    Brilliant list! Loved Bone Tomahawk and Slow West especially!

  • Tjakko Martijn

    thanks for this list. Will definitely watch some of these flicks! Girlhood, was absolutely one of the most fantastic films I’ve seen last year. The subject indeed is ground that has been covered many times before. But the integrity with which Sciamma portrays the girls is unique – tough and hard (without becoming completely destructive) and affectionate (giving the girls grit and personality).

    • Vincenzo Politi

      Girlhood is just amazing. I’ve also loved the director’s previous movie, “Tomboy”, an absolute gem!

      • Tjakko Martijn

        Haven’t seen any other movies from Sciamma. Will check it out! Girlhood defnitetely made me curious to see more of her movies

        • Vincenzo Politi

          Oh my God, yesterday evening I decided to rematch Tomboy right after writing my comment, and I confirm: it’s an absolute gem of a movie! Of course Girlhood has a more constructed and sophisticated plot, it is also longer and more ‘produced’. But Tomboy is astonishing nevertheless. I have no idea how Sciamma managed to work with that cast, but the acting is stellar. And keep an eye on the sister of the main character: she’s the best! 🙂

  • jann1k

    Wow, this is one of the best lists I have seen here in quite a while. I liked every movie I’ve seen from the ones listed and many others sound either very interesting or already are on my ‘to-watch-radar’.
    I do miss Ex Machina though. I know that it is a well known movie, but for me it was one of the standouts of the year, so I was quite disappointed that it wasn’t really appreciated by most awards.

  • Rudi

    Thanks! Very interesting list with much to discover.

    I would like to add I Believe In Unicorns and Kreuzweg (Stations Of The Cross) to the list.

  • Minz

    I watched Blackhat in the cinema and honestly found it so incredibly boring.

    • Anthony

      I totally agree. The one weak link on the list, as far as the one’s I’ve seen. Nowhere near “Heat”.

  • sailor monsoon

    Son of Saul.
    It is a masterpiece

    • shane scott-travis

      I agree that Son of Saul is a masterpiece but it’s hardly overlooked. It won big at Cannes, got the Oscar for Foreign Language Film and I mentioned it previously as one of 2015’s finest right here: http://www.tasteofcinema.com/2015/the-30-best-movies-of-2015/ Thanks for reading! 🙂

  • Michael Stuart

    Bloody Macbeth was overlooked, and it was one of the best from last year.

  • Melody Lanzatella

    Bone Tomahawk was GENIUS!

  • ViewerNumber7

    Interesting list! I would add “Sicario” by Denis Villeneuve. It hasn’t been nominated on Oscar as best film, neither has been Denis Villeneuve as best director. Could’ve won!