10 Best Under-the-Radar Films of 2015

As I mentioned the other day in my look back at 2015 in the cinema, my Top 10 of 2015 will be coming soon, once I’ve caught up on a few more pictures.

In the meantime, here’s another list to consider.

As per usual, plenty of the year’s best cinema found their way to us on platforms other than Cineplex, or if they did show in town, they often came and went relatively unheralded. It’s the fact of Halifax being a small market: Many quality features won’t find distribution in theatres.

Here are 10 great features you may not have seen because they either had a very brief run locally, or you had to find them on Netflix, VOD, or Blu-Ray. A few of them were technically released in 2014, but because they never arrived in theatres here, they were made available to us this year.

I was fortunate enough to see some of these titles as a result of my work at Carbon Arc, the Halifax alternative cinema screening series at the Museum of Natural History. Otherwise, I read a lot about upcoming films and hits of international film festivals, and tracked them down.

(If I’ve reviewed the films earlier in the year, you’ll find my more detailed thoughts if you click the titles.)

99 Homes
This would be a perfect film to see in a double-feature with The Big Shortas it details the other side of the story, all those people who lost their homes when the banks foreclosed on those bad loans. Andrew Garfield is Dennis Nash, a single father who also looks after his mother (Laura Dern) in a suburban Florida home. Which he loses. The realtor handling the bank’s interests is Rick Carver, a serpentine Michael Shannon, channeling the kind of dangerous strut Christopher Walken had circa Dogs of War. Nash, up against the wall, makes a Faustian deal with Carver to work for him. Carver knows all the angles in the foreclosure market, and Nash starts to see the benefits of sleeping with the devil. Writer director Ramin Bahrani has an adrenalized filmmaking style that carries the story to a conclusion that feels inevitable, if maybe a little sentimental. Still, this is very effective, timely stuff.

One of the year’s most surprising “coming of age” movies, partly because the lead character is a little long in the tooth to have the kind of realizations he does, and partly because the story goes unexpected places. It’s about an Ugly American, played by Gethin Anthony, in the titular Danish capital looking for his roots. The key relationship is between him and a much younger girl, (Frederikke Dahl Hansen), and with the city, which is one of the world’s most beautiful. A charming and totally effective first film from writer/director Mark Raso.

An Indian courtroom drama, itself a novelty to me, the film is a sharp satire of the country’s legal system, telling the story of an activist, a folk singer, facing trumped up charges of inspiring suicide. But the film isn’t as interested in him as it is in the lawyers and judge, as we spend time with them away from the court. This is a slow-moving film that demands your attention, but its impact is cumulative. At the end, you’ll wonder what you saw, and how much was unvarnished truth and how much comedy. Powerful stuff.

The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby: Him & Her
A shocking absence from the 2014 Best Of lists, I think mostly because not a lot of people got to see Ned Benson’s debut. It’s now getting some recognition as it’s released on other platforms. Originally a two parter—the story of a New York couple’s relationship problems, starring Jessica Chastain and James MacAvoy—the films told the story from each lover’s perspective, a heartbreaking Rashomon. Now only available in Canada as The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them, due to the Weinstein’s insistence that the two films become one, it was still buried—a total mystery. Try and see the two parter—available in the United States—but if you can’t, see the amalgam.

The Duke of Burgundy
One of the year’s most seductive and peculiar films, Peter Strickland’s picture is a strange mix of ’70s softcore erotica and 21st Century indie. It’s about the sadomasochistic relationship between two women, a power dynamic that appears to be one thing but we soon learn is something altogether different. Not a comfortable film, but a deeply thoughtful, surreal, and eye-opening one.

An adaptation of one of the great time travel short stories, Robert A. Heinlein’s All You Zombies, by Aussie filmmaking brothers Michael and Peter Spierig (Daybreakers), starring Ethan Hawke as a temporal agent in existential crisis. The filmmakers take a little artistic license, turning a piece that was tongue-in-cheek into a deadly serious story of gender identity and time conundrums, but it all works well as a twisty, unpredictable thriller. A launching pad for the immensely talented Sarah Snook, who was also seen this year in Steve Jobs.

Slow West
A meditative, but quite violent indie western with a gorgeous, wide-screen aesthetic, this is filmmaker John Maclean’s first film. It’s something special, with New Zealand doubling for the old west, about a young Scot (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who tracks down his first love on the frontier, protected by hired gun (Michael Fassbender). One part Terrence Malick, one part Jim Jarmusch, it’s a sad story, but a beautiful one.

Sean Baker’s shot-on-smart-phones triumph, the bittersweet and hilarious story of an ensemble of characters in West Hollywood on Christmas Eve, with an eye especially on two transgender prostitutes, one on a rampage of revenge and the other preparing for her big show singing at a local nightclub. An Armenian taxi driver gets involved as all the characters dovetail to a late night donut store on Santa Monica. Harsh and tender all at once.

Wild Tales
Speaking of revenge, this Argentinian film was released in 2014 and we finally got to see it here at Carbon Arc this year. People have called it Tarantino-esque, because it’s a six-episode anthology with every story about retribution, but it has a far more playful, less genre-driven spirit. It also has the world’s most hellish wedding ever put on film. Hilarious, twisted, and massively entertaining, I predict it’s only a matter of time before it gets a Hollywood remake.

Z For Zachariah
A three hander—Margot Robbie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Chris Pine—are refugees from the apocalypse, hiding out in a West Virginian valley, safe from the radiation. The story of intersecting motivations, this kind of drama could play out on a minimalist theatre stage, but in this lovely, deliberate film, it’s a gorgeous New Zealand landscape. Really about what makes life worth living, and surviving—faith or knowledge or some combination of the two—it’s a terrific picture.

About the author


Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.