12 Movies You Might Have Missed in 2015
Pan, Walk in the Woods, Tomorrowland, Aloha . . . According to Box Office Mojo, lots of us plunked down our hard-earned money to see some pretty mediocre movies last year. Here are 12 films that didn’t earn the audience they deserved in 2015. These are some of the great flicks most of us missed in our rush to see Terminator: Genisys.
What We Do In The Shadows – Vampires are so 2008, right? And yet, this mockumentary about the modern-day challenges immortal roommates face is as fresh as a daisy. From ensuring deciding what to wear to the club without the benefit of a mirror image to avoiding the self-righteous werewolves (“not swear-wolves”), this ensemble comedy directed by New Zealand co-writers/directors/stars Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) and Taika Waititi is deadpan that delivers. It is arguably the funniest movie of the year.
Shaun the Sheep Movie – The bar keeps getting raised on children’s movies. Big-name stars, 3D animation and an earworm soundtrack are now the norm. That’s why it’s pretty amazing that Aardman’s 85-minute nearly wordless stop-animation film about clever sheep scouring the big city for a befuddled farmer who has lost his memory and his way could so completely capture the imaginations of children of all ages.
Mr. Holmes – Imagine the world’s most clever detective in his advanced years, living a reclusive life on a farm as the faculties that have served him so well over the years slowly slip away. While this is not an adventure-filled Sir Arthur Conan Doyle mystery, the film adds dimension to the master of deductive reasoning. Ian McKellen delivers a quiet, powerful portrayal of an aging legend running out of time to find the answers inside himself.
Amy – Asif Kapadia’s documentary uses home video, archival footage and interviews to piece together an intimate look at the life and death of British soul singer Amy Winehouse. The Winehouse family, which initially cooperated in the making of the film, subsequently claimed the movie inaccurately portrayed the singer’s life. But, while some of the events documented do put the judgment of the paparrazi and Winehouse’s family, manager, husband in question, the film includes so many interviews and so much primary source material that it appears to be an even-handed look at the rise of a pop star and the cost of celebrity.
Lambert & Stamp – A terrific rock documentary that avoids rock doc clichés, Lambert & Stamp chronicles the early days of the Who by showing the way in which their managers — Chris Stamp and the late Kit Lambert — had an influence on the band’s music and helped introduce the group to a wider audience. As the story goes, Lambert, an Oxford-educated composer’s son, and Stamp, an aspiring filmmaker, decided to make a movie about the band. In the process of introducing themselves to the group, they also realized the band could use management. While not knowing anything about the music business, they pitched themselves in a double role; they would manage the group while making their movie. The guys gave them the green light. The rest, as they say, is rock ’n’ roll history. Director James D. Cooper provides a warts-and-all look at the band’s early days that’s truly intriguing.
American Ultra – Stoner and would-be comicbook artist Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) is trapped in a small town, the victim of anxiety attacks that strike any time he attempts to leave. Luckily, he’s stuck there with an incredibly understanding woman (Phoebe, played by Kristen Stewart) who stands by her man—even when he suddenly finds himself fending off government assassins in a convenience store parking lot. Most of the film comes off like a quirky graphic novel on steroids (a vibe that’s sort of Kick-Ass-meets-Adventureland, an earlier Eisenberg/Stewart vehicle)—something many critics didn’t love but left us clamoring for more.
The Big Short – While it hasn’t generated the big buzz of other Oscar-caliber movies that opened over Christmas, this cautionary tale is a terrifically innovative account of the mortgage crisis that hit the states in the early 2000s. The film uses celebrity interludes and news and sports clips from the era to help tell the story, making it come off as something like a cross between Wolf of Wall Street and Drunk History. Working from Michael Lewis’s book of the same name, director Adam McKay holds nothing back, masterfully turning finance into an entertaining and accessible drama with some help from a cast that features Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt and Steve Carell.
Spotlight – Turning investigative journalism into exciting cinema isn’t easy. And yet, director Tom McCarthy succeeds with this riveting biographical drama set in 2001. The film focuses on how new Boston Globe editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) coaxed the paper’s Spotlight team into investigating allegations that Catholic priests have committed acts of child abuse in the Boston area. Even though the outcome isn’t a surprise, the film manages to make the Spotlight story into an exciting one. The terrific ensemble cast also includes Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, Brian d’Arcy James and Billy Crudup.
Trumbo – The credits of this biopic about Dalton Trumbo (Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston), include clips of the real-life blacklisted screenwriter. What’s striking is the extent to which Cranston resembles him. Cranston nails Trumbo’s mannerisms in a portrayal that should earn him an Oscar nod. The movie provides an important history lesson, too, as its shows how columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) and actor John Wayne (David James Elliott) conspired against Trumbo, one of 10 screenwriters subpoenaed to testify before the United States Congress regarding allegations of communist propaganda in Hollywood films. Director Jay Roach (Recount, The Campaign) personalizes the story of a dark period in U.S. history by showing the way blacklisting effected Dalton and his family.
Dope – YouTube sensation Shameik Moore leaves a lasting impression as Malcolm Adekanbi, a smart and sophisticated high school senior who constantly references 1990s hip-hop culture and plays in a punk band. He and his best friends Jib and Diggy live in the Bottoms, a lower middle class area of Inglewood, an L.A. suburb. Despite his lower middle class background, he wants to go to Harvard. But when drugs inadvertently wind up in his backpack after he and his pals attend a drug dealer’s party, those plans appear to be prematurely derailed. Much like a Spike Lee joint, this low-budget movie written and directed by Rick Famuyiwa (Brown Sugar) has a distinctive charm to it.
I Am Thor – This documentary about bodybuilder/rock musician/actor Jon Mikl Thor opens with a clip from the ’70s. Decked out in big silver boots and a sequined speedo, Thor blows up a hot water bottle until it pops. It is an appropriate way to begin the odd story of the rise and fall (but mostly fall) of a unique pop culture anti-hero. From arena rock tours to the streets of New York, Thor’s story is compelling.
Room – Actress Brie Larson won widespread acclaim for her role as a guidance counselor in a home for troubled teens in the 2013 indie flick Short Term 12. She delivers another terrific performance in Room, a film based on the novel of the same name. It centers on Ma (Larson) and her 5-year old boy Jack (Jacob Tremblay). Held captive for years in what amounts to a shack, she and Jack find a way to make their lives manageable even though a man they call Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) keeps them under lock and key. The film has a real intensity to it and both Larson and Temblay are up to the task here. While not based on a true story, the film succeeds because of the way it addresses the struggle to overcome grief and tragedy.
We definitely try, but we can’t see everything. If you have other largely unseen cinematic gems from 2015 to recommend, please share them with us in the comments section.