Each year, as I set out to compile my list of the best films of the year, a handful of smaller films that also affected me in strong fashion get left behind.
With 2015 being a blockbuster year for movies, there was no shortage of films that told more intimate stories or accomplished big things with small budgets. The following films—a nice mixture of genres—definitely fit that description and deserve to be recognized on their own merits.
Presented in alphabetical order, here are six gems that got lost in the shuffle last year and are well worth your time.
BONE TOMAHAWK (dir. S. Craig Zahler) – One of the strangest and nicest surprises of the year, the mash-up that is Bone Tomahawk combines the western genre with a heaping helping of horror and a sprinkling of comedy. Kurt Russell plays the no-nonsense sheriff of a quiet town who is forced out of comfort zone when a group of people, including a convict (David Arquette) and the town doctor (Lili Simmons), are abducted by Indians. Leading a rescue mission that includes his deputy (an unrecognizable Richard Jenkins), a cocky gunslinger (Matthew Fox), and the doctor’s injured husband (Patrick Wilson), the men soon find that they’re dealing with something far, far worse than they could’ve imagine… Giving away anything else would ruin the fun. While the film suffers from a sluggish second act (this despite two editors), Bone Tomahawk succeeds where so many horror films fail, delivering an unforgettable third act that is shocking, fearless, and definitely not for the faint of heart while also featuring the single most disturbing cinematic death of the entire year.
GIFT, THE (dir. Joel Edgerton) – Actor Joel Edgerton (The Great Gatsby, Zero Dark Thirty) made a formidable directing debut with this minimalist, Hitchcockian thriller with the most gut-wrenching twist ending since Se7en. Edgerton also wrote the script and plays Gordo, whose chance meeting of old classmate Simon (Jason Bateman) and his wife (Rebecca Hall) triggers a series of events that changes their lives forever. Like Bone Tomahawk, the less you know of this taut thriller that smartly pulls a bait-and-switch on the “fill-in-the-blank-from-hell” genre (made popular by such films as The Hand That Rocks the Cradle) by messing with the audience’s perception of what’s black and white, the better your experience will be. Bateman, playing against type, and Hall are superb as the harried couple, while Edgerton succeeds both behind and in front of the camera as a triple threat worth paying attention to.
I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS (dir. Brett Haley) – Blythe Danner is absolutely luminous in her first lead role in this very funny and touching film. Playing a widower who finds love late in her life, and must deal with the confusion and sadness that comes along, Danner delivers a performance that is not only commanding but endearing. I’ll See You in My Dreams does take a surprising turn in its third act but it never feels cheap or exploitative. Featuring a wonderful supporting cast, including the always welcome Sam Elliot (playing the object of her affections), Martin Starr (as her pool boy who sparks an unorthodox friendship), and the trio of June Squibb (Nebraska), Rhea Perlman, and Mary Kay Place (as her best friends), Dreams proves that great things truly do come in small packages.
LOVE & MERCY (dir. Bill Pohland) – 2015 was a great year for music in film and definitely include Love & Mercy on that list. Eschewing a straight biopic on Beach Boys frontman Brian Wilson, the film instead focuses on Wilson during the group’s beginnings and heyday of their popularity, where he is portrayed by Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine, There Will Be Blood), and much later when a middle-aged Wilson (now John Cusack) deals with his mental illness under the tutelage of his maniacal therapist (Paul Giamatti). Elizabeth Banks is superb asWilson’s future wife, who helps him move out of the fog of mental anguish and gives him a new lease on life. While much has been made of the fact that Cusack is hardly a dead ringer for the real Wilson, you completely believe the actor in the role, while the scenes of Wilson and the group at their creative peak, particularly a thrilling sequence involving the recording of “God Only Knows” with The Wrecking Crew, are superbly anchored by Dano, proving once again that he is one of the best young actors working today.
MR. HOLMES (dir. Bill Condon) – Sir Ian McKellen deserves a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his turn as the titular character, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s brilliant detective, now a 93-year old retiree struggling from impending of dementia and haunted by his one case that remains unsolved. Bill Condon, finally free of the creative purgatory known as the Twilight franchise, adapts Mitch Cullin’s book A Slight Trick of the Mind with assured direction that, in an age where we have not one but two television shows based on Doyle’s timeless character, still manages to say something new about Holmes. While Condon manages to craft a winning mystery here, Mr. Holmes is first and foremost a character study, showing us the cost of obsession and regret and that it is never too late to leave it all behind and start anew.
WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (dir. Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi) – For almost 30 minutes, What We Do in the Shadows offers more laughs than the entirety of most comedies released in 2015. While it eventually settles into something more traditional once its pesky plot kicks in, this is nevertheless one hilarious film. A faux documentary in the vein of This is Spinal Tap by way of TV’s Big Brother, WWDITS chronicles the lives of vampire roomies Vladislav (Jemaine Clement), Viago (Taika Waititi), and Deacon (Jonny Brugh) as they deal with the many ups and downs of their situation. Utilizing a small budget, co-directors Clement and Waititi do a still manage to dazzle us with some neat filmmaking tricks (it’s no wonder that Waititi has been tapped to helm the next Thor film) and the script is loaded with Clement’s signature dry humor (a running gag involving a pack of werewolves is a personal fave). WWDITS is destined for cult status and is a must for comedy fans.
© Shantipedia 2016