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15 Great Movies You May Have Missed in 2015

From a French EDM film to a single-shot heist thriller — the year’s can’t-miss movies you need to see

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Let's say you go to the movies several times a week, hitting up all the big multiplex releases — your new Mad Maxs, your latest Marvel superhero epics, your Star Wars Episode VIIs and Furious 7s. You regularly log on to your favorite streaming services and check out what's been added to the roster. Come September, you dutifully check out the Oscar-buzzed biopics and based-on-a-true-story dramas. Occasionally, you may even stop by your local arthouse theater or brave the wild frontier that is VOD, renting an unfamiliar movie on a whim because it has that one actor you like in it. And still, at the end of any given year, you might look back at several prominent Top 10 lists and see titles that produce a giant cartoon question mark over your head. I knew about Minions, you say, but what the hell is Mustang?

There are usually a handful of incredible movies that hit theaters and may slip right under your radar, or depending on where you live, bypass you entirely. So we're shining the spotlight on 15 of our favorite 2015 releases that you might have missed: gritty to graceful indies, limited-distribution documentaries and mockumentaries, foreign films ranging from obscure to offbeat to, in the case of Hard to Be a God, downright WTF unclassifiable. Some require a more adventurous mindset than others; each can currently be found on DVD, Netflix, iTunes and/or other streaming services; all of them are worth your time.

I'll See you in my dreams; Movies you missed 2015

‘I’ll See You in My Dreams’

You could be forgiven for thinking this tender, delicate tale of a seventysomething widow was simply an indie variation on the current wave of Oldsploitation, in which elderly people act like stinkers in the name of lazy laughs and lazier sympathy (see Youth, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movies, etc). But despite the requisite old-biddies-smoking-dope scene, co-writer/director Brett Haley is much more interested in exploring what makes his autumnal heroine tick than picking low-hanging fruit. And what Blythe Danner does with this role is a gift to both her filmmaker and audiences — a nuanced, bone-deep take on late-in-life opening up to the world after years of closing yourself off. Attention must be paid.

The Kindergarten Teacher; Movies You Didn't See 2015

‘The Kindergarten Teacher’

A teacher (Sarit Larry) notices that one of her young students writes poetry that suggests he's the second coming of T.S. Eliot. Her admiration leads to an almost single-minded dedication to nurturing his singular gift — and then to the woman's complete unraveling. One of the brightest filmmaking talents to come out of Israel in years, writer-director Nadav Lapid (hunt down his 2011 feature debut Policeman if you can) tackles a number of big-picture questions — How far will a person go to protect beauty? Can an artist function in a society that prizes power over poetry? Is it appropriate to wake a five-year-old from a nap in order to steal his work? — while slowly bringing everything to a boil.

James White; Movies you Missed 2015

‘James White’

One of 2015's two must-see feel-bad New York indies (the other being The Mend, which is also well worth your time), writer-director Josh Mond's story of a troubled twentysomething (Girls' Christopher Abbott) taking care of his terminally ill mother is one raw-nerve experience; even if it wasn't semi-autobiographical, this character study would still feel like a personal exorcism. There's an attention paid to both the snot-nosed restlessness of an Upper West Side lost boy and the mechanics of caring for a loved one that feels all too real, as well as a career-best performance by Cynthia Nixon that adds a serious tenderness to this unflinching look at death, dying and redemption.

Mustang; Movies you didn't see 2015

‘Mustang’

Call it a Turkish Virgin Suicides or a prison film embedded in a female coming-of-age story — just don't pass up the chance to see Deniz Gamze Ergüven's lyrical debut about five young women butting up against the Eastern European country's oppressive gender-based restrictions. As these sisters find ways to fight off their life-under-familial-lockdown blues — sneaking out for a soccer game, sassing their elders, forming their own sorority of support — the powers that be keep conspiring against them. (As with Vegas, the house always wins here.) Yet there's a sense of hope beneath the cri de couer bleakness here, suggesting that standing up and speaking out is in itself a victory against second-class citizenship.

Phoenix; Movies you missed 2015

August .2013 Dreharbeiten zum CHRISTIAN PETOLD Film PHÖNIX mit Nina Hoss , Ronald Zehrfeld und Nina Kunzendorf Verwendung der Fotos nur in Zusammenhang mit dem Film PHÖNIX von Christian Petzold ( Model release No ) © Christian Schulz Mobil 01723917694

‘Phoenix’

Returning from the WWII camps with a surgically reconstructed face and bone-deep scars, a former nightclub singer (Nina Hoss, never better) seeks out her long-lost husband in Berlin — a down-on-his-luck lout who wants to recruit this unrecognizable woman to impersonate (wait for it) his allegedly deceased wife to collect an inheritance. Filmmaker Christian Petzold reworks Vertigo's notion of reinvention and romantic obsession from the outside in, suggesting both a Germany rising from the ashes and a heroine who seems ready to go up in flames in the name of love. And that ending is a serious doozy.

Slow West; Movies You Didn't See 2015

SLOW WEST, from left: Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee, 2015. ©A24/Courtesy Everett Collection

‘Slow West’

Whether or not the horse opera is making a genuine comeback remains to be seen — but what we can say is that this criminally underrated, left-of-center take on the wild, weird West scratched our oater itch far more than any heavily hyped frontier-justice parables this year. A young Scottish dandy (Kodi McPhee-Smit) travels across the 19th-century badlands in search of a lost love; a high plains drifter (Michael Fassbender) with his own agenda accompanies him on his journey. Filmmaker and former Beta Band member John Maclean offers up a warped America full of preacher assassins, absinthe benders, good intentions, bad decisions and beaucoup dead bodies. All this, and Ben Mendelsohn in a plush fur coat.

The Tribe; Movies You Didn't See 2015

‘The Tribe’

A new boarding-school student falls in with the institution's resident Mob-like gang and thanks to quick wits and quicker fists, soon finds himself rising in the ranks. Alas, an emotional attachment to a young prostitute spells disaster for our young antihero. Did we mention that everyone involved is deaf, and that the characters communicate through untranslated sign language? Ukrainian director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy's spellbinding, one-of-a-kind drama bypasses gimmickry and goes straight for the jugular, presenting a Lord of the Flies-like world of social Darwinism that's as brutal as it is strangely beautiful. 

Victoria; 15 Movies You Missed; 2015

‘Victoria’

There were lots of impressive displays of long-take virtuosity in 2015, and then there was Sebastian Schipper's elaborate, Rube-Goldberg–mousetrap of a movie — in which a Spanish ex-pat meets a potential soul mate in a Berlin nightclub, hangs out with him in the wee small hours, is recruited to be a getaway driver in an impromptu heist and goes on the lam all in a single 138-minute shot. An extreme example of real-time cinema choreographed down to the last shaky-cam chase scene, this would be a stunner simply by virtue of pulling off its technical stunt successfully; that it also manages to capture a certain anything-goes moment in your twenties and boasts an incredible central performance by Laia Costa as the titular over-her-head heroine only sweetens the deal. Run, Victoria, run!

What we do in the shadows; Movies You Didn't See 2015

‘What We Do In The Shadows’

The notion of a mockumentary about centuries-old vampires cohabitating like twentysomething bros, co-directed by the guy who made Eagle vs. Shark and the bespectacled half of Flight of the Conchords … let's just say on paper, this didn't exactly sound promising. But what the New Zealand duo of Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement does with this horror-comedy is fairly miraculous: It removes the stake from the heart of Bloodsucker Spoofery 101, adds in Type O-splattered set pieces and pathos, and mines humor from apex predators muttering over mundane roommate problems — and balances it all perfectly. Call it the undead-pan movie of the year.

White God; Movies You Didn't See 2015

*** FILM STILL DO NOT PURGE *** Zsofia Psotta in WHITE GOD, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

‘White God’

Welcome to the premier girl-meets-dog, girl-loses-dog, dog-leads-massive-canine-revolt-against-human-oppressors movie of 2015. Whether you view Hungarian filmmaker Kornél Mundruczó's drama about a girl's search for her M.I.A. pet in a city full of animal-control thugs, underground hound-fight clubs, etc. as a class-conscious allegory or simply Benji reimagined as a vigilante thriller, there's an undeniable rush to seeing an enraged four-legged army running amuck in the streets of Budapest. Also, someone needs to get that lead Shar-Pei/Labrador pooch a three-picture deal and a role in the next Star Wars ASAP.

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