Thanks to ads and PR, you're already familiar with some great movies released this year. As great as (some of) these films are, a bevy of gems await your discovery. Here are my Top Ten picks for criminally underexposed 2015 celluloid.
BY SAMANTHA ANNE CARRILLO
Thanks to ads and PR, you’re already familiar with some great movies released this year. Films like “Dope,” “Grandma,” “Room,” and “Spotlight” deserve their spots on our collective best-of list. But making yet another list of these same movies seems pointless.
From the Avengers to Star Wars, you’ve been briefed on the latest franchise installments. You know that feminists took “Straight Outta Compton” to task for its revisionist omission of N.W.A. members’ history of violence toward women. Charlize Theron’s filmic prominence over Tom Hardy in “Mad Max: Fury Road” enraged the Men’s Rights Movement – yes, that’s a thing.
Movies about sex and gender captured the popular imagination. While “50 Shades of Grey” broached the topic of BDSM – badly, IMHO – with the masses, “Carol” poignantly illuminated the challenges of life as a coupled lesbian in 1950s America. Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of transgender pioneer Lili Elbe in “The Danish Girl” dispelled any lingering questions about his dramatic range.
As great as (some of) these films are, a bevy of gems await your discovery. Here are my Top Ten picks for criminally underexposed 2015 celluloid.
Dramatic triple-threat Desiree Akhavan’s acerbic debut comedy screened at Sundance 2014 and got a limited theatrical release here last year. It centers on Shirin, an alternate version of Persian, bisexual writer-director Akhavan. Although she fears backlash from her traditional family, Shirin’s sexuality stands as an open secret. The neurotic brilliance of Akhavan’s semi-autobiographical make-outs, breakups and ultimately, coming out rival anything Woody Allen has done. Unrated. 90 minutes. (trailer)
Best of Enemies
Co-directors Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville’s documentary film chronicles the 10 televised debates between conservative William F. Buckley, Jr. and liberal Gore Vidal during ABC’s 1968 coverage of the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. These fiery debates between political adversaries – whose intellects and personalities challenged each other – were television worth watching. Now where’s the culture war’s next power couple hiding? Rated R. 87 minutes. (trailer)
The Big Short
Adam McKay’s feature adapts nonfiction on the aughts’ subprime mortgage crisis. The comedy-drama’s narrative is impressive in scope. Christian Bale portrays Michael Burry, creator of the credit default swap market, as an awkward, sympathetic antihero. Drinking champagne in a bubble bath, actor Margot Robbie lays bare the history of mortgage bonds. Other standouts include money manager Mark Baum (Steve Carrell) and traders Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) and Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt). Rated R. 130 minutes. (trailer)
The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Marielle Heller has been working with Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic novel “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” for a hot minute. Before acquiring film rights, Heller wrote and headlined a theatrical production. Starring Kirsten Wiig, Alexander Skarsgård and Bel Powley, the only thing controversial about this “semi-autobiographical” coming-of-age story – especially its teenage protagonist’s choice of an older lover – are her chromosomes. With the genre populated by “Weird Science” and “American Pie,” a bold, female-driven representative is welcome. Rated R. 102 minutes. (trailer)
The Duke of Burgundy
Did you find “50 Shades of Grey” heavy in style but light in substance? Released stateside in early 2015, Peter Strickland examines the love story between accomplished entomologist Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and her younger student, domestic and lover Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna). There’s more to this May-December romance than meets the eye, and Strickland’s cinematography and creative storytelling techniques reveal deeper, darker aspects of power, desire and obsessive love. Unrated. 104 minutes. (trailer)
Heaven Knows What
Ben and Joshua Safdie partnered with Arielle Holmes for this nihilistic drama. Based on Holmes’ life as a homeless addict, the bleak quasi-biopic stars Holmes herself and Caleb Landry Jones as her twisted, black metal-obsessed boyfriend Ilya. Melding fiction and docudrama, “Heaven Knows What” also employed rapper Necro and actor Buddy Duress, who missed festival appearances while imprisoned on drug charges at Riker’s Island. This raw, authentic film depicts mad, fringe-dwelling love. Rated R. 94 minutes. (trailer)
Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ English-language debut is set in a dystopian near-future. “The Lobster” chronicles the life of singles in a city where the unattached have 45 days to find a mate – lest they be transformed into an animal. When his wife leaves him, David (Colin Farrell) briefly takes up residence at The Hotel before escaping to a forest where the resistance forbids romance. But love always finds a way, and David forges a doomed romance with Short-Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz). Unrated. 118 minutes. (trailer)
Maps to the Stars
Body horror master David Cronenberg’s latest flick is a star-crossed, outsider love story injected with Hollywood vanity and taboo sexuality. An all-star cast portrays the Weiss family and other characters in an LA landscape amped up on the vapid and paranormal. Self-help guru Stafford Weiss (John Cusack) and wife Cristina (Olivia Williams) have a secret. Their banished 18-year-old daughter Agatha (Mia Wasokowski) returns home and is hired as batty starlet Havana Segrand’s (Julianne Moore) personal assistant, setting in motion a fairy tale-death spiral. Rated R. 112 minutes. (trailer)
Queen of Earth
Alex Ross Perry’s new psychological thriller showcases “Mad Men” actress Elisabeth Moss’ dramatic talents. As Catherine Hewitt, Moss delivers a nuanced performance as a woman unhinged by getting dumped shortly after her dad dies. Catherine seeks sanctuary at a lake house with BFF Ginny Lowell (Katherine Waterston). Amid mounting mistrust, the dynamics of their complex friendship are framed by horror conventions, putting the “psycho” back in psychodrama. Unrated. 90 minutes. (trailer)
Best known for her graphic novel “Persepolis,” Marjane Satrapi’s latest directorial venture relates the story of Jerry Hickfang (Ryan Reynolds), a simple-minded, delusional bathtub factory worker who believes he can talk to animals – like his pet dog, Bosco, and cat, Mr. Whiskers – on his quest to find true love. Reynolds’ portrayal skillfully straddles the line between psycho killer and sympathetic nutcase. Psychiatrist Dr. Warren (Jacki Weaver) urges Jerry to take his meds. He doesn’t. So his romances with Fiona (Gemma Arterton) and Lisa (Anna Kendrick) prove rather short-lived. Rated R. 103 minutes. (trailer)
Samantha Anne Carrillo is a situationist, fourth-wave feminist and associate editor at ABQ Free Press.