For the past couple of years now I’ve made a list of my favorite and least favorite movies. That changes this year. “Best of” and “Worst of” lists are not much more than screaming into a void of online criticism: “I AGREE! THESE MOVIES ARE GOOOOOOOD!” All the various top ten lists are more or less the same every year. If I made one, you’d see stuff you’ve already seen on every other list: Spotlight, The Big Short, Star Wars: Episode VII, The Martian, and of course that whirlwind work of gender-politics-disguised-as-explosions, Mad Max: Fury Road.
That’s why I’ve decided to do something a little different this year. I’m going to recommend a few great movies that, for whatever reason, were complete non-starters for audiences in 2015. Some were difficult to market, some were buried by other, more popular movies, and some are simply too weird to get the kind of attention they richly deserve. But all are worth your time and money, especially if you’re a genre fan.
First though, I want to talk about one of my other very favorite movies of the year. One that’s proving very divisive among both critics and movie-goers. This is going to be a spoiler-filled work of shitty online criticism, so if you haven’t seen this film or you don’t give a shit why think it’s great, just skip down until you see the big screaming headline that says “end spoilers.” Good? Good. Now let’s talk about The Hateful 8.
*** SPOILERS GALORE ***
I’ve seen this movie called vapid, disgusting, and meaningless by critics and friends alike. Really though, it’s only one of those things (it’s disgusting, if you’re keeping score). If you think a Quentin Tarantino movie would be vapid or meaningless, you’re not giving one of our most intelligent and political-minded filmmakers enough respect. The Hateful 8 might be Tarantino’s most angry, meaningful film, and I think he’s pulling out all the stops to prove it to us.
Tarantino is a showman. He’s an entertainer. You don’t need to look further than the crowd-pleasing insanity of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained to see that. Watching those movies in a packed theater, you hear more cheers than at your average sporting event. His movies, especially his most recent works, are built to create huge amounts of tension and release it in the kind of cartoonish wave of violence we can all laugh at and revel in. Murder is a punchline in many of Tarantino’s works. It’s easy to look at The Hateful Eight and conclude that that’s all that’s going on in it. But then you’d be missing the real punchline of the movie: it’s you. You are the joke.
Quentin Tarantino filmed his latest magnum opus in 70mm, a near-dead format. He added an overture and an intermission and called it a “roadshow.” He knew that cinephiles the world over would fill every single seat, and he was right. The kind of people sitting in those very-limited Roadshow seats are exactly what Tarantino wants his audiences to be: engaged, ready for a wild ride, ready to laugh and cheer at his every machination. And then he fills the screen with the most vile, despicable people imaginable.
The Hateful 8′s characters are the worst. We have at least two vehemently racist men, a soldier who likely burned his own comrades alive, a bounty hunter who lives to watch the light leave criminals’ eyes, and worse. But really, these people are us. They’re the worst of America. They yell and scream awful things at each other. They’ll do anything to get ahead, and damn the consequences. They’re racists, murderers, backstabbers, and more. In an America that has spawned cesspools of humanity like #gamergate and Donald Trump rallies, you better believe that Quentin Tarantino is showing us an ugly reflection of ourselves.
This is a movie in which audiences laugh uproariously at Kurt Russell punching a woman in the mouth. What, exactly, do we know about Daisy in this movie? She’s a criminal? Why? Because Kurt Russell says so? Yeah sure, she’s a venomous, monstrous presence, but we don’t see her do much of anything before the beatings start. And by the end of this movie, you might even be tempted to believe that Walton Goggins’ cartoonish racist has been redeemed. You might even be cheering for him! That’s what Tarantino’s magic trick is here: no matter how awful these people are, you’re the one giggling as they get torn apart. You’re the one rooting for at least one of the monsters to win. You’re the one laughing as a presumed-guilty woman gets her teeth knocked out, and you’re the one grinning as a racist tears up a black man’s only form of protection against racial profiling. It’s a nasty message, but it’s clear: we’re as hateful as anything on that screen. And Quentin Tarantino is laughing at us.
*** END SPOILERS ***
Okay. Had to get that out of my system. And now, without further ado, here are some of 2015’s most overlooked films. You won’t see many of these on the standard top ten lists, even if you should.
6. THE GIFT – Writer/director/star Joel Edgerton has been around for awhile (check out his stunning turn as Uncle Owen in Star Wars: Episode III!), but 2015 was a great year for him. His sympathetic-yet-unsettling performance in Black Mass was the cold little heart at the center of an otherwise heartless film, and his indie thriller The Gift was one of 2015’s best surprises. Essentially a three-character piece, it finds Edgerton’s unsettling loner Gordo inserting himself into the life of an old high school classmate, played by Jason Bateman. The twists and turns that follow, though, prey on your expectations and will make you question the very nature of forgiveness.
5. CRIMSON PEAK – Listen, Guillermo Del Toro has a lifetime pass from me. Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone are both so good that I will never be able to dismiss any of his work outright. Crimson Peak is far from his best film, but it’s still a fun, creepy, self-consciously campy little movie. The problem with it is that it’s nearly unmarketable: yes, it has fantastically grotesque ghosts, but it’s not really a ghost story. Yes, it has romance, but it’s less a story about love and more a twisted, sexually-charged thriller. So of course it was marketed as a straight-up horror movie and it baffled audiences. But I’m here to tell you that not only is it a fun flick with some of the very best stabbings ever put on film, in ten years it’s also sure to be a nostalgia classic for today’s 12-year-old goth girls.
Okay, fine. It’s a hard sell, but just watch it. You’ll have fun.
4. DEATHGASM - Before he made The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson was best known as the man behind such wondrous Kiwi gorefests as Dead-Alive. Deathgasm, a splatterific horror-comedy from New Zealand, is the heir apparent to those cult classics. It concerns a high school death metal band who stumble across some ancient sheet music and decide to play it. Of course, it’s a song that unleashes hell on Earth in the form of disgusting demons that will give anything in The Evil Dead a run for their money. If a movie in which the two heroes beat possessed corpses back to death with dildos and anal beads sounds like a blast to you, give all of your money to this movie. If it doesn’t, then frankly I don’t even know why you’re reading this. Are we friends? Not anymore, we’re not.
3. BONE TOMAHAWK – Did you know that there were two Kurt Russell Westerns this year? We’ve already covered The Hateful 8, but leaving out Bone Tomahawk simply wouldn’t be fair. On the surface, this is a simple throwback to old-school Hollywood Westerns, specifically The Searchers. Patrick Wilson (who gave one of the finest TV performances in years on 2015’s season of Fargo), Kurt Russell, Richard Jenkins, and a wonderfully slimy Matthew Fox head off into the wilderness to rescue Wilson’s wife from… well, you’ll see. It’s a slow build, and much of the movie just follows these four men as they head deeper into the wilderness. There are a lot of Western tropes present, and it’s easy to wonder why the filmmakers set out to make a movie that’s been made countless times before. But they’re just lulling you into a false sense of security: when the third act hits, it does so with such relentless ferocity that it will knock the breath right out of your lungs. A horror movie for Western fans and a Western movie for horror fans, Bone Tomahawk is not to be missed as long as you have an iron stomach. Bonus: It’s free on Amazon Prime Streaming right now.
2. THE VOICES - Ryan Reynolds has been in a lot of terrible movies. Whether he’s taking part in a movie that makes us all wish Jeff Bridges would retire the Rooster Cogburn thing forever or trying to become the Poochie of the X-Men Universe (Deadpool isn’t out yet but c’mon, the trailers are enough to make your skin crawl), the guy’s had a rough few years. But The Voices shows us a side of the man we’ve never seen before onscreen, and boy does he make the most of it. Written and directed by Marjane Satrapi of Persepolis fame, The Voices is a pitch-black horror comedy about a man struggling to live a normal life. The trouble is, his pets talk to him. His cat, Mr. Whiskers, acts as the devil on his shoulder, while his dog Bosco is the angel. It’s not long before poor Ryan’s own best intentions get him into hot murder-water and the voices in his head start doing their level best to keep him from getting caught – by any means necessary. Reynolds’ leading-man good looks serve him well here, because if anyone other than one of People Magazine’s Sexiest Men Alive were ever this shuffly and weird we’d be wondering why everyone doesn’t just assume he’s a serial killer.
A deeply disturbing rumination on love and loneliness, The Voices is the dark-hearted answer to the feel-good uplift of something like Lars and the Real Girl. In fact, those two movies would make a pretty awesome double-feature.
1. PREDESTINATION – How was this movie not a huge, massive hit? Are people just sick of time travel stories in general? On the surface, this is a movie about Ethan Hawke, Time Cop. He hops around in time trying to catch the silly-named Fizzle Bomber before he/she kills over 10,000 people at a point in the 20th Century that, for some reason, keeps shifting its date. That should’ve been an easy sell, right?
Underneath that, though, Predestination is a genuinely emotional and heartbreaking look at what makes a person who they are. It takes on everything from gender to fate to the nature of love itself, and none of it is shoved down your throat. The only reason I can think of that this movie got lost in the shuffle is that it requires much more patience and investment in the characters than your average time travel thriller.
To say any more about the story would be doing you, the viewer, a disservice. Suffice to say that co-star Sarah Snook should be finding herself extremely busy very soon, and the Spierig Brothers, who had previously had themselves a nice little cottage industry of B-horror movies, will hopefully be in very high demand as well. This is the only movie on this list that I present without caveat: it’s not just for horror fans or genre fans. It’s one that everyone should see.
- The Films of 2014, Part 2
- A Totally Random Number of Great Movies You Might’ve Missed in 2016