Movies

The Most Underrated Films Of 2015

We recently published our list of the year’s best films, comprising everything from unconventional indies like Tangerine to Oscar shoe-in Room. But the story of any given year in film goes beyond the movies about which everyone — or almost everyone — can agree. Sometimes it’s the outliers — the little-seen, the critically-ignored — that we remember most, that help to define a year. (Someday others will see War Horse as one of Spielberg’s best films, right?) We asked our writers to pick one film from this year they consider underrated or misunderstood. The question yielded some fascinating and unexpected responses.

The D-Train
Subtly subversive comedies never get their due come awards season (or really any comedies, for that matter). Comedy, by its very nature, doesn’t tell you how important it is, and awards voters generally aren’t smart enough to notice anything that isn’t shouting. (The only comedies that ever win Oscars are the ones that are full of inside jokes about the movie industry, like Shakespeare in Love or The Artist). Luckily I’m a hero, and I’m here to tell you that one overlooked gem you probably missed this year was The D-Train. It seems like every studio comedy of the last few years has had to include at least one gay panic or cutesy, gay-but-not-really-gay bromance joke like it was a legal requirement. The D-Train takes one of those bromance subplots and treats it like a real thing, rather than just some throwaway joke. Which, paradoxically, ends up being way funnier. If you like a comedy that isn’t afraid to “go there,” check out The D-Train, which is much more like an Alexander Payne movie than a “Jack Black movie.” — Vincent Mancini

Maggie
This film was more than overlooked: It never got the lift it deserved at all. Ahhnold does a fine job conveying somber emotion, and the story offers a fresh take on a bloated genre. Many zombie films today are recycled bloodbaths. There’s nothing wrong with that, but Maggie slows things down, homing in on one father/daughter relationship (between Schwarzenegger and Abigail Breslin)  as a zombie outbreak unfolds. We get to see a lot of the pain and profound implications other zombie films brush over. On top of that, it’s suspenseful and pulls off a successful slow burn without ever being boredom. If nothing else, it’s a reason to look forward to more screenplays from John Scott 3. — Jameson Brown


Vacation
People didn’t really like the new Vacation all that much. But, even in the sometimes cynical crevasses of movie and culture writing, I’ve found a faction of people like me who think this movie is really funny. (We meet twice a month in secret, in the shadows.) Yes, I can objectively say the new Vacation has a lot of problems, but I laughed and I laughed and I laughed. (I should add I saw it twice. After seeing it once at an early press screening, I paid money to see it again.)

Its problem is that the big, bombastic “laughs” are terrible. No one needed to see Christina Applegate vomit multiple times while running a sorority obstacle course. But it nails the small humor: There’s a scene where a local yokel has a rat sitting on his shoulder. When Rusty Griswold (a game Ed Helms) comments that he likes this guy’s pet rat, the guy says, “What?” Then looks at his shoulder and freaks out, saying, “I don’t know him,” as he swats the rat away. (Okay, I realize this description is not helping my case, but please just know I found this funny.)

So, whatever! It’s not a great movie. But I laughed a lot. And I’m not the only one who laughed. There are a few of us out there. I’m here to let you know that you are not alone. — Mike Ryan

Meet the Patels
Ravi Patel and his sister, filmmaker Geeta Patel, team up on this rom-com documentary with a somewhat gimmicky premise — “What happens when an Indian-American guy lets his parents try to arrange his love life?” —  and manage to turn it into a surprisingly moving exploration of one’s obligation to family and heritage. Aziz Ansari rightly got a lot of credit for his portrayal of the Indian-American experience on his Netflix series Master of None, a show on which Ravi Patel appears. But Meet the Patels certainly also deserves some attention for its nuanced look at what it means, for both parent and child, to have a soul split between two cultures. — Jen Chaney

Crimson Peak
Universal clearly had no idea how to market Guillermo del Toro’s latest. The trailers made it look like a straight-up horror film, but instead viewers were treated to a gothic romance in the vein of the Brontës on cocaine and Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. The lush film — seriously, every costume and set piece is exquisite — boasts a stellar cast and one Charlie Hunnam, and Jessica Chastain’s sister-in-law-from-hell in particular is a delight to watch. She chews through so much scenery that it is an absolute marvel that the house is left standing in the end. While it isn’t a particularly scary or subtle film, it is a profoundly watchable one, ruminating on the twisted side of love and the dark underbelly of human nature. — Alyssa Fikse

Maps to the Stars
David Cronenberg’s latest — scripted by Bruce Wagner — didn’t so much get panned as it earned perplexed responses. And rightfully so: It’s a strange film that sometimes seems to be at war with itself, mixing easy satirical jabs at Hollywood with eerie atmospherics. It’s far from Cronenberg’s best, but it’s too odd to dismiss, filled with too many memorable Julianne Moore freak-outs to ignore, and, in its best moments, makes the workings of Hollywood feel as much like the stuff of horror movies as zombies or masked killers. — Keith Phipps

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
It’s not hard to see why The Man From U.N.C.L.E. passed audiences by: It’s based on what is at this point a somewhat obscure show from the ’60s and was marketed as an off-brand Bond movie. Which is odd because instead it’s a series of capers, more Topkapi than You Only Live Twice, as art thief Napoleon Solo (played suavely by Henry Cavill) and by-the-books Russian spy/rage case Illya Kuryakin (a hilarious Armie Hammer) have to team up to protect a seemingly innocent East German mechanic from a Nazi plot to steal nuclear weapons. (What else?)

There’s the token ogling of fashion and style from the era; Ritchie shoots the whole thing like a magazine spread. But underneath there’s his trademark playfulness, anchored not least by the fact that Cavill and Hammer quickly develop a bickering couples chemistry that the movie plays out in unexpected ways. If you missed this in theaters, and you love superspy movies, check it out; along with Kingsman: The Secret Service it’s a welcome twist on a genre dominated by Bond. — Dan Seitz

Fort Tilden
Fort Tilden could be all the mean things people who have never seen an episode of HBO’s Girls think Girls is like. It’s about aimless musician friends (uh oh) living in Brooklyn (oh no) who try to bike to a hipster-ridden beach (uh oh, oh no). But the satirically sour comedy, written by Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers, is on the joke. The main characters, played by the promising Bridey Elliott and Clare McNulty, are terrible and terribly self-obsessed people. You’re fine to dismiss them as “ugh, millennials.” That’s the point. — Josh Kurp

Jupiter Ascending
In terms of sheer volume, Jupiter Ascending is a lot. Like vacationers jumping on top of their overstuffed luggage in an effort to squeeze it shut, the Wachowski siblings crammed enough harebrained deviations of plot, nonsensical mythmaking, and bewildering exposition to fill an entire trilogy (with the third installment split into two films, natch) into their latest feature. No other filmmakers could possibly muster up the chutzpah or requisite madness to attempt a sweeping sci-fi epic binding together a half-dog Channing Tatum, a janitor space princess, magic bees, alien Eddie Redmayne screaming with the guileless innocence of a guy who doesn’t know he’s about to win an Oscar, and space bureaucracy. But thank goodness that the Wachowskis can still use their Matrix street cred to con major studios into backing their insane fantasies — not only is Jupiter Ascending the most ambitious would-be blockbuster in years, it’s also the most personal; the themes of bodily agency and independent identity act as a defiant declaration from Hollywood’s most visible trans filmmaker, Lana Wachowski. — Charles Bramesco

Paper Towns
Paper Towns didn’t need to be good. The film was non-discriminating-teen bait from top to bottom: It was based on a wildly popular John Green YA novel. It starred Nat Wolff and Cara Delevingne, a supermodel-turned-Instagram-sensation-turned-actress with an unmatched talent for winning the unadulterated adoration of teenage girls and boys alike. It was marketed as a melancholy, Garden State-esque teen romance in which Cara Delevingne wears a sexy red dress and mounts Nat Wolff in a dark room. Nobody expected Paper Towns to be good, and everybody knew it would make money from said teens; as such, nobody was concerned about Paper Towns, and it came and went with very little attention from the adult world. But we made a mistake, guys! We should not have slept on Paper Towns. It’s actually a great little movie, rivaling The Perks of Being a Wallflower in its sweet, relatively authentic depiction of teen angst, lust, and self-discovery. Delevingne is a surprisingly talented actress, effortlessly charming and real; Wolff is convincing as a kid who thinks he’s got it figured out, but still has a lot growing up to do. The best moments, though, come from the interactions between Wolff and his two best friends, Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith). Their scenes as a trio are delightful, filled with awkward teenage-boy chatter and a sort of emphatic weirdness. Paper Towns can skew a little — forgive me — paper thin at times, but on the whole it’s an earnest, funny film that deserves eyes of all ages. —Rachel Handler

Promoted Content

×