No one can see everything. We’ve reached such a peak of movies making their way to cinemas (many of which are four-wall releases serving as glorified VOD adverts) that even the New York Times threw their hands up this year and decided they were no longer going to review every single release, and that’s even ignoring the wealth of TV and other media on offer.
And with giant blockbusters sucking up so much ad space and online discourse, it’s arguably easier than ever for a great movie to get overlooked. Fortunately, we have our annual feature to help you find some of the diamonds in the rough, with our look at the best films you might not have seen in 2015.
By “you,” we obviously mean “the general public,” and we kept our list to those films that achieved relatively slim box office returns, which didn’t necessarily get huge shout outs at the time from the press, and that didn’t figure into our 20 Best Films Of 2015. Take a look at our 25 picks (in alphabetical order) and let us know what you think deserved more attention this year in the comments section.
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It’s been almost two years since Yann Demange’s thrilling “’71” was unveiled at the Berlin Film Festival: that we’re still talking about it is a reflection of how indelibly it scorched our minds. This taut but textured thriller drops British squaddie Jack O’Connell in the middle of Belfast at the height of the Troubles in the titular year, pursued by both the IRA and his own side. The film never lets up, with Gregory Burke’s terrific screenplay putting our hero through the wringer while giving vital insight into the political situation. Few filmmakers since Paul Greengrass have been able to show controlled chaos the way that first-time feature director Demange has here, aided by David Holmes’ propulsive score and outstanding photography by Tat Ratcliffe, while the performances from O’Connell to familiar character actor types like Sean Harris, Paul Anderson and Richard Dormer are all stellar. [Our review]
Where You Can Catch It: Available to rent or buy on iTunes and Sony Entertainment
Easily the most expensive movie on this list, “Blackhat” is also the first giant flop —despite a $70 million price tag and a starring role from Thor, Michael Mann’s latest made just $8 million domestically, less than “Amy,” “Far From The Madding Crowd” and “Love & Mercy.” Critically derided Helen Mirren pic “Woman In Gold” made four times as much money. And that’s a ridiculous shame, because Mann’s film is something of a peak in the director’s action-movie expressionism, an utterly beautiful, deeply compelling piece of art. Yes, the set-up was silly: Chris Hemsworth as a jailed computer hacker who’s enlisted into a joint U.S./Chinese task force aimed at bringing down another hacker who’s essentially holding the world to ransom. But as ever, Mann’s utter dedication pays off with a film that feels both oddly realistic and gloriously heightened, and proved to be one of the more swooningly romantic films of the year. Pull it out of the bargain bin, play it big and play it loud. [Our review]
Where You Can Catch It: Rent or buy on most streaming services
An austere, slow burning and haunting Western that takes a turn into the worst kind of terrible darkness? Fucking yes please. The directorial debut of S. Craig Zahler —who’s so good he made our breakthrough director’s list— “Bone Tomahawk” may have been the disarming surprise of the year for The Playlist collectively. None of us were prepared for how good, moody and absorbing this Wild West horror about four men who set out to rescue a group of captives from cannibalistic cave dwellers was. Then there’s the cast. Kurt Russell is always good, but he’s in a bit of a renaissance period, and the movie is chock full of terrific performances by underrated players like Patrick Wilson, David Arquette and even Matthew Fox (no, really) And Richard Jenkins, oh man, he’s in his own category. Put this in your must-watch wish-list now. [Our review]
Where You Can Catch It: It’s currently available for digital rental on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu and Sony Entertainment among many others
Not content with being a tremendous actress, “Inglourious Basterds” and “Beginners” star Melanie Laurent graduated into a terrific directing career, and used what we assume was her sweet “Now You See Me” paycheck for her second directorial feature “Breathe.” A coming-of-age movie of rare nuance and feeling, it follows the intense friendship (and potentially more) between 17-year-old Charlie (Josephine Japy) and her new classmate Sarah (Lou de Laage), looks not dissimilar to a few other dozen movies on paper (“Blue Is The Warmest Color,” for one). But Laurent brings a real specificity to the story and a rare insight into both the warmth and the sharper edges of female friendships, thanks to a cracking ensemble (the film’s cast is predominately women). The film is extremely assured even when the story comes a little off the rails by the end, and we can’t wait to see what happens next time Laurent gets behind the camera. [Our review]
Where You Can Catch It: Rent or buy it on iTunes, Google Play or Amazon
“Catch Me Daddy”
Receiving the slimmest of theatrical releases in the U.S, Daniel Wolfe’s scorching debut “Catch Me Daddy” was one of the best British-made movies of the year, a blend of genre thriller and social realism that packed a whopping great punch. Initially following a group of Asian men assembling in the North of England for unknown purposes, Wolfe gradually reveals that the men are planning an honor killing of one of their sisters, (impressive newcomer Sameena Jabeen Ahmed), who’s run away with a white guy. It sounds like it could be pulpy, tabloid-y stuff (and walks a tricky cultural tightrope), but the director, a music video veteran, turns it into a sort of hallucinatory nightmare, falling midway between Shane Meadows’ “Dead Man’s Shoes” and a horror film as directed by Andrea Arnold. With spectacular photography from the great Robbie Ryan and a tremendous score by Daniel Thomas Freeman and Matthew Watson, it was one of the most impressive debuts of the year by some distance. [Our review]
Where You Can Catch It: Stream with Amazon Prime, or rent or buy it with iTunes