From big-budget box office juggernauts to smaller scale independent productions, fans had a lot to chew on at the movies in 2015. As year-end lists start rolling out and we all take time to remember each and every movie that we saw over the last 11-12 months, our minds drift to films that flew under the radar.
Every year, there’s a slew of films that just simply never connect with an audience, whether they were critical darlings, films that struggled to find an audience, or decent box office successes that quietly disappeared from our minds months after we saw them. Check out 12 of the most underrated films of 2015 below.
12. Jupiter Ascending
Ever since The Matrix finished out in 2003, directors The Wachovski Siblings have had a hard time replicating that kind of success at the box office. They tried again in 2012 with the sweeping epic Cloud Atlas and swung for the fences again with Jupiter Ascending; an ambitious, if sloppy and unfocused, trip through space involving aliens, half-wolf people, and eco-friendliness. Its plot may not have been up to par, but Ascending was so beautiful that you’re likely not to care.
An action movie where a woman has to fight her way out of an apartment building being raided by gangsters and top-notch assassins sounds an awful lot like The Raid in reverse, but Everly is so much more than that. Combining high-octane action with campy horror gore and comedy, this Salma Hayek-starring thrill ride is a meticulously crafted small pleasure that’s disgusting, thrilling, and a great showcase for a woman of color leading an action movie.
10. American Ultra
American Ultra may very well be the weirdest spy comedy you’ve ever seen in your life. A perpetually stoned convenience store clerk named Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) learns that he’s a sleeper agent for the CIA, yet spends the whole movie running from them with his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart). The movie is scattershot and a little long, but its goofy charm and genuinely good performances injected some much-needed fun into the 2015 movie scene.
9. Shaun The Sheep
Speaking of fun, this gem from the people at Aarman Animation (Chicken Run, Wallace & Gromit) is all smiles. Following the titular sheep as he and his flock head to the big city to save their farmer, it’s got laughs and charm all without uttering a single word. And no, it’s not just for kids.
Amy Winehouse was many things to many people: a singer, a poet, a lover, and a fighter. This documentary, directed by Asif Kapadia combines rare home video footage with interviews, studio sessions, and live performances to paint a portrait of an artist who continually fought her way through the publicity machine.
7. The Lobster
Part satirical science fiction and part neurotic romantic comedy, The Lobster tells the story of a post-apocalyptic society where the remaining humans are turned to animals if they can’t find a life partner. David (Colin Farrell) would like to be a lobster when/if the time comes. He strikes up a romance with a Short Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz) and one of the strangest and most endearing romances of the year unfurls from there. If you like weird science-y flicks, this is for you.
6. Crimson Peak
Guillermo del Toro is a director who always gets the benefit of the doubt. Movies like Blade, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Pacific Rim are rich with dramatic and cinematographic detail, which del Toro uses to his advantage in this old-school gothic haunted house flick. More of a doomed romance film than a straight horror, Crimson Peak’s attention to detail and macabre atmosphere help etch out a place in his fantastic mind.
The second spy comedy on this list, Spy is even funnier than its straightforward title might suggest. The story of a secretary-turned-secret agent (Melissa McCarthy) is as subversively sidesplitting as it is action-packed, and both McCarthy and the usually stone-faced Jason Statham were one of this year’s best double acts. Melissa McCarthy’s been looking for a breakout role ever since stealing the scene in 2011’s Bridesmaids, and I hope the great box office and critical acclaim will do just that, even if no one seems to remember this one.
The United States continues to lose The War On Drugs by choosing to fight it. The government is running operations that cast impenetrable shades of grey across relations between The DEA and border patrol in Mexico. Sicario is the film that brings this deadly dance to disturbing life on screen in as objective a way as you possibly can. This movie is such a dense white-knuckle thrill ride that one of its supporting characters is supposedly getting their own movie next year.
3. Ex Machina
Attempting to quantify the concept of humanity has been our greatest challenge. Ex Machina doesn’t have easy answers to that question, but it knows how to make a hell of a good science fiction movie out of it. Steve Jobs-esque Nathan (Oscar Isaac) invites techie Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) to interact with AVA (Alicia Vikander), an artificial intelligence that can allegedly pass as human. Watching AVA and Caleb play cat and mouse with each other is a sight to behold, and while writer/director Alex Garland’s heady feature perpetuates some archaic viewpoints on female empowerment, it’s still a tense labyrinth of a sci-fi thriller.
How much money would you pay to see a movie shot entirely on iPhone 5 cameras? If they’re as good as Tangerine, I’ll pay whatever you’re charging. The odyssey of Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), a trans sex worker on the hunt for her cheating boyfriend, has equal shades of Love & Hip-Hop and Pedro Almodovar and is a creatively vibrant take on modern romance that’s just starting to receive awards season love. Either way, not enough of y’all have seen this. Don’t sleep.
A hip-hop themed coming-of-age high school movie? Why it took a movie like Dope so long to emerge is beyond me, but writer/director Rick Famuyiwa pulled it out of the darkness. Our generation’s amalgam of Sixteen Candles and A Different World steeped in nostalgia fueled meme culture, Dope is a funny and nuanced path of self-discovery for colored kids across the spectrum. Featuring breakout performances from Shameik Moore and Kersey Clemons and a tight soundtrack, Dope is both a Blerd anthem and a modern day classic in its own right.