The 19 Best Movies That You Didn't See in 2015 - More Films to Watch
by Alex Billington
February 15, 2016
The best of the best - that you didn't see last year. We have returned with another set of worth watching, underseen films from 2015. Back again is our ninth annual list of the 19 Best Movies That You Didn't See in 2015 (past lists here: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007). Featured below is a hand-picked line-up of the best independent and/or mainstream films that were either quietly dumped, ignored by audiences, or just not marketed well enough. So to give them extra attention in the spotlight, and to support some of the finest filmmakers out there, here is our best of 2015 recap. Read on for the full list!
This year it was tougher than usual to put together this list and find 19 movies that not everyone has seen already. It's not that there aren't amazing films to recommend, it's determining which ones are worthy of making the "You Didn't See It" cut. Many of my favorites from 2015 ended up playing well in theaters, either because they were released wide to begin with or eventually found an audience over time. That means it was even harder to find more favorites that I felt were worthy of being included yet also didn't play well in theaters. Beasts of No Nation is a great example of this - an exceptional film that earned rave reviews, but because of Netflix's release strategy there was minimal buzz during its release and not many people (that I know) actually watched it. Now I get to say - please take a moment and actually watch a few of these movies.
One of the best aspects of cinema is the endless discussions that surround it. Once you see one of these films listed below, start talking about it - with friends (online or in person), with other cinephiles, or with anyone who feels differently about it than you do. And if you really love a film, make sure you go out of your way to show it to other people. Loan them your DVD/Blu-ray, or better yet, host a screening for them and show it to them yourself. This makes a world of difference. Spread the love as much as possible. Remind everyone you meet that it's okay to love films of all shapes and sizes, even obscure indies that no one has heard about.
I would like to encourage everyone to watch at least one of these that they haven't heard of (or didn't see) beforehand. If you spend the two hours or so that it will take to watch even one of these movies mentioned below, it would mean that much more to the filmmakers who put so much time and effort into making each of these movies. This isn't about getting kudos for mentioning certain films, this article is about pointing out movies that don't deserve to be forgotten and are begging to be watched. So pick one and watch it tonight. Tip: click on the poster images below to visit each film's official website to find out where/how to see it.
Opened on December 23, 2015
Directed by Andrew Haigh
A married couple preparing to celebrate their wedding anniversary receive shattering news that promises to forever change the course of their lives.
Why it's on here: What happens when a relationship you built your life upon has a major shift? For some, no matter how extensive, this can cause an irrevocable rupture, while others can learn to mend and heal. While 45 Years (thankfully) doesn't offer up a definitive answer, it walks through such an event tenderly, with impeccable performances from both Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay. Quietly devastating in its depiction of this emotional chasm, Andrew Haigh proves to be one of the most exciting directors currently working. (Written by Jordan Raup from The Film Stage)
Beasts of No Nation
Opened on October 16, 2015
Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga
A drama based on the experiences of Agu, a child soldier fighting in the civil war of an unnamed African country.
Why it's on here: There's a reason why Idris Elba won the SAG Award for this film, and it's not just because everyone loves him. Beasts of No Nation is a tremendous, magnificent film made by a masterful filmmaker - Cary Fukunaga - who only gets better with every story he tells. This is his finest work to date, and it's extraordinary in so many ways, including the two main performances from Elba and Abraham Attah, who plays the main boy Agu. This film floored me when I first saw it at a film festival, surpassing all expectations, but it had a hard time finding a wide audience, perhaps because Netflix wanted it to be available to everyone online. Whatever the case, it's definitely worth taking the time to sit down and watch this one in full.
Best of Enemies
Opened on July 31, 2015
Directed by Robert Gordon & Morgan Neville
A documentary on the series of televised debates in 1968 between liberal Gore Vidal and conservative William F. Buckley.
Why it's on here: Buckley vs Vidal! The seminal political showdown that changed television (and maybe politics?) forever. This fascinating, fantastic documentary explores the relationship between political polar opposites - Gore Vidal (a liberal) and William F. Buckley Jr. (a conservative), who often debated each other live on TV in the 1960s. Not only is it incredible to see all the old archival footage of these two and their brutal bouts (the recording studio fell apart once right before one of the debates!) but it's also touching to see a nice story about how these two mortal enemies were actually kinda-sorta maybe appreciative of each other's opinions, too.
Opened on June 26, 2015
Directed by Jalmari Helander
A young teenager camping in the woods helps rescue the President of the United States when Air Force One is shot down near his campsite.
Why it's on here: Samuel L. Jackson stars as the President of the United States in this very smart little action film from Finland. When Air Force One crashes after a hostile takeover, it's up to a young Finnish boy (played by Onni Tommila) on a solo trip into the woods to save the President and keep him away from the people after him. This film reminds me of Cliffhanger (guilty pleasure!) more than anything, and while it's occasionally just as cheesy as that film, there's still plenty to enjoy. It's quite charming and fun to watch, the action is solid, it's only 90 minutes long, and it teaches some good lessons about survival and standing up for yourself.
Boy & the World
Opened on December 11, 2015
Directed by Alê Abreu
A little boy goes on an adventurous quest in search of his father.
Why it's on here: An animated film unlike any other. This truly one-of-a-kind feature from Brazil is so beautiful to watch and so inspiring. The sketch-style animation gets more creative as the film goes on, with some very unique twists that will make your jaw drop. Aside from the spectacular animation, the fairly simple dialogue-free story about a boy from the jungle searching for his father in the city culminates in a powerful anti-consumerism message. It's potent and provocative, the kind of film you will find yourself thinking about often and recommending to others. If that doesn't pique your interest, then watch this for the animation alone.
Clouds of Sils Maria
Opened on April 10, 2015
Directed by Olivier Assayas
A film star comes face-to-face with an uncomfortable reflection of herself while starring in a revival of the play that launched her career.
Why it's on here: This features one of the best performances ever by Kristen Stewart, who plays a young assistant to an aging actress on vacation in the Swiss Alps. Not only is it wonderful to learn about the actual "Maloja snake" (or the "Clouds of Sils Maria" in the Maloja Pass which I now want to see for myself), but the film has plenty of insight to offer more intelligent cinephiles. It addresses ideas of fame, glory and the troubling life of an actor, as well as themes of aging and death. Via New Yorker: "The hired hand brings us down to earth, while the star is lost in the clouds."
Opened on September 9, 2015
Directed by Zhang Yimou
Lu and Feng are a devoted couple forced to separate when Lu is arrested and sent to a labor camp as a political prisoner during the Cultural Revolution. He finally returns home only to find that his beloved wife no longer remembers him.
Why it's on here: The latest film from Zhang Yimou (director of Hero, House of Flying Daggers, The Flowers of War) is one of the most emotional films on this list. It premiered in Cannes way back in 2014, opened in China in 2014, got lost in the mix when it was released in the US in late 2015, and honestly deserves better. It's such a beautiful, beautiful film about love. When a husband is taken to political prison during the Cultural Revolution in China, his wife receives an injury leaving her with drastic memory loss. He returns many years later but she doesn't remember him, so he desperately tries day after day to remind her of his love. Even when she refuses, he never gives up hope, never stops loving her.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Opened on August 28, 2015
Directed by Marielle Heller
A teenage artist living in 1970s San Francisco enters into an affair with her mother's boyfriend. Based on the book by Phoebe Gloeckner.
Why it's on here: See this marvelous film and enjoy! While most have (hopefully) heard about this one, not enough people have seen it. Director Marielle Heller rightfully received a Best First-Time Filmmaker nomination from the Directors Guild of America for making this, and I honestly can't wait to see what she does next. Not only is The Diary of a Teenage Girl an excellent film by Marielle Heller, it's the breakout movie for actress Bel Powley, who tears this story to shreds with her fierce, commanding performance as a young girl in the 70s taking control over her life. There's so much to love about the film, from the soundtrack to the story to the set design, I can't recommend it enough.
Opened on June 19, 2015
Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve
Paul, a teenager in the underground scene of early-nineties Paris, forms a DJ collective with his friends and together they plunge into the nightlife of sex, drugs, and endless music.
Why it's on here: Similar to the Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis, this film shows how hard it is to be both extremely creative and successful. It's not all about talent, there's so much more to it (including everything else in life getting in the way), and Eden spans nearly 20 years of time attempting to address this in a very realistic way. This film shouldn't be thought of as the origin story of Daft Punk (they're seen throughout as friends of the main character), but rather the tragic story of the guy who didn't become as successful as Daft Punk. It's a very long film, but a tremendously honest look at how everything changes (or doesn't) as our lives go on.
The End of the Tour
Opened on July 31, 2015
Directed by James Ponsoldt
The story of the five-day interview between Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky and acclaimed novelist David Foster Wallace, which took place right after the 1996 publication of Wallace's groundbreaking epic novel, 'Infinite Jest.'
Why it's on here: This is another film from my Top 12 of 2015 that just didn't get enough love when it was released. Jason Segel gives one of his finest performances to date as the late writer David Foster Wallace (author of Infinite Jest), who spends a week being followed around for an interview by journalist David Lipsky, played by Jesse Eisenberg. It's an intimate, thoughtful, brilliant film that examines (among other themes) how much we reveal about ourselves in conversations. I'm a huge fan of director James Ponsoldt, who continues to make amazing films year after year, capturing the most natural performances from his actors.
Opened on September 25, 2015
Directed by Bryan Carberry & Clay Tweel
Shannon Whisnant purchased a grill at an auction. Inside was an amputated leg. What follows is a story centered on the enterprising Whisnant and John Wood, the man whose leg wound up in the grill due to an odd chain of events.
Why it's on here: What a crazy story! Anyone claiming they don't usually like watching documentaries needs to watch this one. It's one of the most entertaining, unbelievable, laugh-out-loud funny, and surprisingly honest documentaries I've ever encountered. Here's the pitch: Shannon Whisnant buys a BBQ grill, finds an amputated leg inside, realizes he can capitalize on it, becomes kinda famous as the "I-found-a-leg-in-a-grill guy". Turns out the guy who is missing that leg wants it back, because he lost it in an airplane crash that killed his father, and it was once his (seriously!). The two go at each other for years, and this doc shows both sides of the story from start to finish.
Opened on November 13, 2015
Directed by Josh Mond
James, a twenty-something New Yorker, struggles to take control of his self-destructive behavior in the face of momentous family challenges.
Why it's on here: In the five months found within James White, our title character is at the most difficult chapter of his life thus far. He's grieving the loss of his father and attempting to assist his ailing mother, and the drama authentically depicts the brutality of that process. After producing the gripping Sundance dramas Martha Marcy May Marlene and Simon Killer, Josh Mond diverts in some ways with his directorial debut. While providing yet another intimate character study of a fractured individual, James White also has a perhaps unexpected, enveloping warmth. While lesser, perhaps more commercial films might shy away from the actual process of decay and loss, Mond displays no fear in vividly walking us through the bleak events in James White's journey. (Written by Jordan Raup from The Film Stage)
Listen to Me Marlon
Opened on July 29, 2015
Directed by Stevan Riley
A documentary that utilizes hundreds of hours of audio that Marlon Brando recorded over the course of his life to tell the screen legend's story.
Why it's on here: Even if you think you know him well, you don't really know actor Marlon Brando until you see this documentary. Stevan Riley's Listen to Me Marlon is an eye-opening inside look at the life and times of actor Marlon Brando, made up almost entirely of audio that Brando recorded of his own thoughts. It's less about his profession as an actor, much more about who he was as a person - his values, his family, the legacy he wanted to leave. Brando was a very private person, which makes so much of the footage in this doc so fascinating to see. It's a breathtaking story of a man who was more than just a man.
Opened on September 25, 2015
Directed by Edward Zwick
Set during the Cold War, American chess prodigy Bobby Fischer finds himself caught between two superpowers and his own struggles as he challenges the Soviet Empire.
Why it's on here: This film about iconic chess player Bobby Fischer barely played in theaters, marred by negative reviews, but it's actually better than most will have you think. Tobey Maguire is outstanding and intense as Fischer, taking on the very complex role of a brilliant schizophrenic with zeal. Liev Schreiber challenges him head-on as Russian chess champion Boris Spassky, and it's riveting to watch these two battle in and out of matches. I almost always enjoy films directed by Ed Zwick (The Last Samurai, Blood Diamond, Defiance), and this is no exception. Even if chess bores you, give this a shot anyway, there's still plenty to appreciate.
Jafar Panahi's Taxi
Opened on October 2, 2015
Directed by Jafar Panahi
Jafar Panahi is banned from making movies by the Iranian government, he poses as a taxi driver and makes a movie about social challenges in Iran.
Why it's on here: Because Jafar Panahi is the best! Even if you have no idea who Jafar Panahi is (he's a filmmaker), that shouldn't stop you from catching up with this charming, amusing, mind-expanding pseudo-documentary. Taxi Tehran (as it's now called) stars iconic Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi as a taxi driver in Tehran, picking up a colorful cast of characters for fares. He meets all kinds of people around the city, some recognize him, others don't, but every discussion is intriguing with eye-opening insight to offer viewers. I felt so refreshed and invigorated after watching this film, it's surprising uplifting thanks mostly to Panahi's lovable attitude.
Opened on January 28, 2015
Directed by Abderrahmane Sissako
A cattle herder and his family who reside in the dunes of Timbuktu find their quiet lives -- which are typically free of the Jihadists determined to control their faith -- abruptly disturbed.
Why it's on here: Released in the early month of January, Timbuktu sadly seemed to go forgotten throughout most of 2015, but it's one of the year's most essential dramas. Directed by Abderrahmane Sissako -- who may not be a recognizable name in the world of international cinema, but certainly deserves to be after this film -- the drama follows what happens to a small community (and more specifically, a family) when a group of religious fundamentalists take control. In conveying this divide and the conflict it causes, Sissako displays some of the finest, most gripping cinematography of 2015 as we witness the harrowing actions enacted on the townspeople. (Written by Jordan Raup from The Film Stage)
Opened on June 17, 2015
Directed by Miroslav Slaboshpitsky
A deaf teenager struggles to fit into the boarding school system in Ukraine.
Why it's on here: What a film. The Tribe is a Ukranian film starring deaf kids communicating through sign language presented entirely without subtitles. It's actually challenging to watch (running over two hours) but if you make it through you'll have seen an ingenious, disquieting, awe-inspiring, one-of-a-kind film from the other side of the world. Everyone is already talking about it, but it's a hard sell because most of the time you won't know what anyone is saying, but that's all part of the experience. It challenges the viewer to interpret what's happening on their own and relies on the incredible visual power of cinema to tell the story.
Opened on October 9, 2015
Directed by Sebastian Schipper
A young Spanish woman who has newly moved to Berlin finds her flirtation with a local guy turn potentially deadly as their night out with his friends reveals a dangerous secret.
Why it's on here: I still think about this film every few days even though its been months since I first watched it. Victoria is worth seeing because it was shot entirely in one long take, without any tricks, meaning it plays from start to finish without cuts or editing. Beyond that, it's a powerful film about loneliness and connection and perception. At first you may feel certain emotions or concerns, but as the story plays out, you'll discover you were wrong about those feelings, and the immense power of intimate connection trumps everything. The two main performances by Laia Costa and Frederick Lau are totally and completely convincing.
Opened on February 20, 2015
Directed by Damián Szifrón
Six short stories that explore the extremities of human behavior involving people in distress.
Why it's on here: This hilarious little film from Argentina was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film last year and for good reason - it's so much fantastic fun! Wild Tales is the ultimate cathartic release for these modern times, featuring six different comedic stories about frustrated people who've just about had enough. My favorite one is the "Bombita" story, but each one is just as unique and amusing as the last. And they all have excellent performances and impressive production design, which only makes things much more enjoyable. My regards to director Damián Szifrón for making such an unforgettable, outstanding anthology. It's one of the best laughs you'll have in a while.
I hope we've been able to introduce everyone to a few more great must-see films that you have never seen. Not everyone will love all of them, that's certainly expected, but I guarantee there is something unique to discover in every last one of these. Support an indie filmmaker today, watch one of these 19, it will make a difference! Let us know what you think of it after, too.
Honorable Mentions (even more great films to watch!): Grímur Hákonarson's Rams, Mélanie Laurent's Breathe, Jonas Carpignano's Mediterranea, Roy Andersson's A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence (see this!), John Maclean's Slow West, Christian Petzold's Phoenix, the documentary (T)error, Ulrich Seidl's In the Basement, Carlos Marques-Marcet's 10,000 Km, Kyle Patrick Alvarez's Stanford Prison Experiment, Marjane Satrapi's The Voices, Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi's What We Do in the Shadows (so good!), James Vanderbilt's Truth (opposite of Spotlight), plus Xavier Dolan's Mommy (my #1 of 2014).
Other best movies you missed lists for 2015 to check out similar to ours: Buzzfeed's 22 Wonderful Films to Watch, Moviefone's 8 Best You Didn't See, Houston Chronicle's Best You Probably Didn't See, Wired's 10 Best You Probably Didn't See, Empire's Best You Probably Didn't See, The Playlist's 25 Best Films. Enjoy.
Let us know how many of these movies you've seen, plus any other favorites that we might have missed!