2015’s Most Underrated Films

It’s the time of year for countdowns and reflection, and in the world of entertainment much of that tends to concern the film industry. Often we see the best movies of the year coming out in November and December, so the days leading up to New Year’s become filled with discussions about which is best, and which performances and projects are likely to take home the prizes come awards season.

But instead of writing up just another discussion debating Oscar favorites, we instead wanted to look back and find some of the truly wonderful titles that seemed to be overlooked. Every year, there are a number of great movies that fit this description, and 2015 was no exception. These five in particular are absolutely worth watching if you missed them over the course of the year.


The Salvation

Mads Mikkelsen and Eva Green (who incidentally featured together in Casino Royale) have pretty enthusiastic followings of their own, so it’s surprising that this bloody Western in which they both starred went largely unnoticed. Directed by Kristian Levring, The Salvation is a fairly traditional Western tale of vengeance. But it’s melodramatic in all the best ways, sacrificing subtlety in the name of raw entertainment and that, every now and then, is a lot of fun in this genre. It’s not quite Django Unchained or even Tombstone for that matter, but fans of both will enjoy it.

The movie also seemed to be timely, given the relative resurgence of the Western genre in recent years. A recent discussion in The Guardian—looking particularly at films like The Revenant, The Hateful Eight, and the aforementioned Django Unchained—declared that “the Western is back in town,” and The Salvation is part of that trend. Perhaps it’s only natural that one of the bunch (the one not driven by a major director) fell into obscurity.


Ex Machina

Probably the most mainstream of the films on this list, Ex Machina has actually gotten a little bit of attention in the early award nominations. Nevertheless, it hasn’t often been mentioned among the best movies of the year, and it should be. Alex Garland’s near-future story about a mad tech genius experimenting with advanced A.I. is simultaneously chilling, amusing, and emotional. Unlike the majority of films that deal with A.I. and robotics, this one remains fairly grounded, avoiding apocalyptic scenarios and world-altering consequences and focusing instead on the very pure question of just how human a robot can become—and whether or not a robot with human consciousness is a good idea to begin with.

It’s a very quiet and relatively slow film made particularly engaging by strong performances from the trio of Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, and Alicia Vikander. These three rising stars had big years, and Vikander in particular was worth the price of admission.


The End Of The Tour

The End Of The Tour did pretty well with critics and had a built-in, natural following of David Foster Wallace fans, given that it was a film about parts of the acclaimed writer’s life. James Ponsoldt directed, and the story concerns an extensive interview Wallace did with Rolling Stone after publishing Infinite Jest in 1996.

The real surprise here, and the thing that sets this film apart, is the performance of Jason Segel as Wallace. Lately, Steve Carell has been getting a great deal of praise for taking a serious turn in the Wall Street critique The Big Short. In fact, a review in Us Magazine went as far as to say he dazzles and mesmerizes in a big, serious (albeit dryly humorous) film about financial corruption. But Segel, a renowned comedic actor from the same general camp as Carell, is every bit as impressive in his own foray into drama. It’s not as tense as The Big Short, but Segel is ideally suited to the laid-back wisdom required of the role. And when you’re done watching it, you legitimately feel like he’s taught you a little something about life.


Mississippi Grind

Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, and starring Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelsohn, Mississippi Grind was 2015’s signature casino movie, and that alone made it blend in a little bit. Like Jake Gyllenhaal’s Southpaw among boxing movies, Mississippi Grind seemed like just another film in its genre. Beneath the surface, however, it was one of the most genuine and impressive gambling flicks in some time.

Specifically the movie follows a gambling journey between Mendelsohn (an unfortunate chronic gambler) and Reynolds (a good luck charm of sorts). But it’s the poker and gambling scenes that steal the show, as Mississippi Grind accomplishes what so many casino movies over the years have failed to do in making a movie suited to a modern audience that loves the game. Over the last 15 years, poker has gone mainstream in a way that’s turned casual fans into sophisticated players who enjoy the game online if not in person. At Betfair’s online poker site, you can get a feel for the various strategies that even beginning players are learning. Knowing when to bet, when to check and fold, and even how and when to bluff or play the odds are all part of the learning process. Mississippi Grind respects this intelligence among its viewers, and it’s a richer film for it.


Life

Some years ago, Life magazine had a photographer named Dennis Stock assigned to James Dean, and the two became friends. In Life, director Anton Corbijn tells that story with admirable restraint, focusing on the specific chapter of Dean’s life rather than spiraling into an overreaching biopic. Dane DeHaan plays Dean as a young, rising star, and Robert Pattinson takes on the role of Stock. Both give arguably the best performances of their young careers, though Pattinson has done more daring work before.

A list at What Culture called Life the most underrated movie of the year, and frankly it’s difficult to disagree. It’s artistic without being aloof, entertaining without being shallow, and ultimately a fascinating portrayal of one of Hollywood’s most intriguing stars. DeHaan in particular deserved more recognition.


Many other films could make a list like this, but these five were worthy of greater attention.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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