2015 has been a truly impressive year for film. With lots of big budget movies receiving critical praise, some are calling 2015 ‘the year the studios got it right’. While films like Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Mad Max: Fury Road were fantastic in their own right and seen by millions, 2015 was also a phenomenal year for lower budget films that in my opinion didn’t get seen by nearly enough people. Now I myself was not able to watch every movie that came out or even every movie that I wanted to see, but these are ten movies that I did get to watch that I think more people should check out.
Son of Saul | Directed by: Laszlo Nemes | Starring: Geza Rohrig | Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Without a doubt one of the most powerful films of last year, Son of Saul is a Hungarian holocaust film told from the limited perspective of a single Jewish man who is forced to work for the Nazi’s in a concentration camp. The film is intentionally shot in 4:3 rather than a widescreen format to limit the audience’s perspective. Likewise, it is almost entirely in shallow focus, typically always trained on the main character Saul, leading to an uneasy feeling of claustrophobia, confusion, and chaos as most of what is happening around Saul is out of focus and hard to make out. This sounds like it may be difficult to pull off in a feature length film, but the people behind Son of Saul executed this premise perfectly. This film is disturbing and extremely hard to watch at times as it pulls no punches, but it is also simply one of the best films I have ever seen about one of the darkest points in human history and I think everyone ought to watch it.
What We Do in the Shadows | Directed by: Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi | Starring: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathon Brugh | Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
This one may be cheating a bit as it came out in Canada in 2015 but in the original New Zealand in late 2014. If counted as a 2015 release then in my opinion this is easily a high point for comedy last year. Brought forth by the minds responsible for the TV show Flight of the Conchords, What We Do in the Shadows is the story of a group of vampires who share a flat together in Wellington, New Zealand. Shot in a mockumentary style, the film’s sense of humour is very Python-esque and will appeal to those who don’t mind a bit of silliness in their comedies. While it may be easy to quickly write this film off due to its vampire subject matter (something that has been overdone in recent years), I urge you not to do so as you will be missing out on one of the most original and truly unique comedies in recent memory.
Tangerine | Directed by: Sean S. Baker | Starring: Mya Taylor, Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, James Ransone | Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
This independent film follows the story of a transgender prostitute who learns that her boyfriend has been cheating on her. This prompts her to spend a long day on the streets trying to track him down to discover the truth. Refreshingly diverse in its casting as well as interestingly unconventional in its methods, Tangerine was shot entirely on an iPhone proving to anyone that if you want to get into filmmaking it is becoming increasingly more difficult to come up with an excuse as to why you haven’t. Charming, sad, but more than anything a fascinating insight into a world most of us do not know, Tangerine is a wonderful film that entirely too many people have not heard about, and it is currently streaming on American Netflix.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl | Directed by: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon | Starring: Thomas Mann, Olivia Cook, RJ Cyler, Jon Bernthal, Nick Offerman | Rotten Tomatoes: 83%
Overshadowed by the similarly themed The Fault in Our Stars, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is the surprisingly hilarious and incredibly heartfelt story of a teenage boy who befriends a girl with leukemia during their last year of high school. A touchingly sentimental analysis of friendship, emotional isolation, and the ‘hardships’ of being a teenager, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is magnificently shot, perfectly cast, and just the right amount of quirky. The world of film and filmmaking is also lovingly paid tribute to in a way that anyone who has an interest in such things will find both funny and endearing.
Grandma | Directed by: Paul Weitz | Starring: Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner | Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Starring the enthusiastic and incredibly funny Lily Tomlin, Grandma follows a teenage girl named Sage who has recently discovered she is pregnant. After booking an abortion, she realizes that she cannot find the money to pay for the procedure. As a last resort Sage enlists the help of her Grandmother Elle (Tomlin) and the two of them set out on a journey to find enough money before the appointment at the end of the day. A step in the right direction with regards to diverse casting and progressive storytelling, Grandma is the touching story of a woman who must make reparations with her past. Simply a pleasant film, Grandma is sweet, smart, and sure to leave you with a smile on your face.
Beasts of No Nation | Directed by: Cary Joji Fukunaga | Starring: Idris Elba, Abraham Attah | Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
This Netflix published film comes as an adaptation of the 2005 novel of the same name, written by Nigerian-American author Uzodinma Iweala. Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga (famous for directing season one of the TV show True Detective), Beasts of No Nation tells the story of Agu, a boy from a small village in a West African country that is being ravaged by civil war (the specific country is never named). Agu is captured by a rebel faction and forced into becoming a child soldier; during his time with the faction he witnesses unspeakable atrocities and a loss of innocence that is both captivating and horrifying. Stunningly beautiful to look at while also heart wrenchingly brutal, Beasts of No Nation features brilliant performances from Idris Elba as well as the previously unknown Abraham Attah (Agu) and also respectfully explores subject matter that is typically ignored or mistreated by the films of Hollywood.
The Lobster | Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos | Starring: Collin Farrell, John C. Reilly, Lea Seydoux | Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Set in an absurdist dystopian future where those who are caught being single for longer than a month are turned into animals, The Lobster is a wacky, funny, and unsettlingly dark comedy that explores ideas of marriage, romance, and love in the strangest ways possible. Beautifully composed and wonderfully twisted, this film is absolutely not for everyone but those who enjoy surreal dark humour are surely going to find something to appreciate here. The visuals alone are almost worth a watch for those who enjoy stunning almost gothic-esque mise-en-scene and cinematography.
Diary of a Teenage Girl | Directed by: Marielle Heller | Starring: Bel Powley, Kristen Wiig, Alexander Skarsgard | Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Diary of a Teenage Girl follows the story of 15 year old Minnie Goetze who begins a relationship with her mother’s much older boyfriend, Monroe. Depressingly real, Diary is about a young girl’s first romantic experience and how a much older man takes advantage of that. The film is incredibly intimate in its presentation; the audience acts almost like Minnie’s confidante and we are entreated to the thoughts and feelings that she dare not speak aloud to anyone else. Featuring great performances that seem to have been forgotten in the wake of the Oscar rush late in the year, Diary of a Teenage Girl is very much worth checking out.
Dope | Directed by: Rick Famuyiwa | Starring: Shameik Moore, Kiersey Clemons, Tony Revolori, Zoe Kravitz | Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Part comedy, drama, and ode to the world of hip hop, Dope is the story of a high school student named Malcolm from the low income neighbourhood of Inglewood, Los Angeles. Malcolm and his friends are obsessed with 90s hip hop culture, play in their own punk band and generally don’t really fit in with anyone else. Malcolm’s dream is to attend Harvard, however after a strange interaction with a local drug dealer on their way home from school, Malcolm and his friends get caught up in a series of unfortunate events that are both hilarious and exhilarating to watch. One of the funniest films of the year, Dope also has a lot of heart and makes commentary on economic and race relations in a way that is both entertaining and smart. It’s also refreshing to see a high school coming of age film that is told from a different perspective than the typical angst-y white male.
Anomalisa | Directed by: Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson | Starring: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan | Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Anomalisa is a stop motion animation film about a man who becomes enamored with a woman he meets on a business trip, for reasons that he cannot quite express. A technical master work, Anomalisa is also incredibly intelligent and will leave you thinking long after it is over. The world of the puppet characters is brilliantly realized in great detail, and the warm colours and sincere performances give an otherwise lifeless screen presence a truly human feeling. Funny, unpredictable, and very poignant, Anomalisa is one of the best animated movies that I have seen in years and should be sought out if not just for the brilliant animation.
So that’s my list of great movies that you might have missed in 2015! Most likely not all of these movies sound appealing to you, it is my hope however that after reading this list you’ve found at least one or two movies to check out that you wouldn’t have otherwise seen. After a year so jam-packed with excellent films, it’s hard to imagine that 2016 will rival 2015 in sheer quantity of good content, but only time will tell.