Needles In A Haystack: The Top Ten Hidden Gems of 2015

By Scott Kurland

I began this list three years ago when I realized I had too many films on my “best of” list. I also realized many people hadn’t watched a lot of those movies. This is perhaps my favorite list to write. With the “best of” list, people tend to know what’s going to be on it and no one wants to  see the “worst of” flicks because let’s face it they’re awful. This list of hidden gems is the one that inspires most people to seek out the films therein, then write to me that they loved what they saw. So please, read this list and search for these films.

10. “Love & Mercy” 

When I first reviewed this film back in June, I only gave it a B+. On second viewing I realized what a brilliant and underrated film it truly is. Now, I’m upping that B+ to  an A. Yes, this film is upsetting with it’s dark storylines. However, seeing the life of Brian Wilson come to life is amazing. Paul Dano and John Cusack are incredible as Brian Wilson in 1960 and 1980. Both actors depict such successful, albeit different, views of Wilson. Dano is more of the creative genius, while Cusack is more of the damaged goods. What makes “Love & Mercy” so great is watching all these fantastic actors interact with one another and bring something new to the table. “Love & Mercy” starts this list with a bang.

9. “It Follows”

 “It Follows” still scares the pants off of me every time I view it. This is a true cautionary tale about sleeping with strangers because, if you’re not careful, a sex demon might try to kill you. “It Follows” is old-school-horror scary. It plays the psychological game over visual scares. For that reason alone I love this film. I saw it back in April, and it stuck with me. It’s beautifully shot, well paced, and when someone dies they die hard. If you need a perfect movie for halloween or a good frightening movie on date night, this is your film.I just hope that the rumors of a sequel aren’t true, because this movie ended on the perfect ambiguous note that leaves so much to the imagination. “It Follows” earns the number nine spot.  

8. “Sleeping With Other People”

Back in September I saw this film called “Sleeping With Other People”. It’s not an award winner, it’s not action packed, and there’s no real message; yet I found it incredibly charming and sweet. Jason Sudeikis stars as a womanizer and sexaholic while Alison Brie plays a serial cheater. I know. With a plot like that, it’s not a ringing endorsement, but it’s one of those “don’t-judge-a-book” stories. Sudeikis isn’t a scoundrel. He’s just afraid to be loved because the only person he’s cared for is Brie’s character. She’s afraid to love Sudeikis because she has a rocky history based on her first love. Watching their friendship blossom on camera is beautiful. He’s a mess, she’s a mess, but they’re really perfect for each other. “Sleeping With Other People” was overlooked, but it deserves to be considered a hidden gem.

7. “The Big Short”

The full review is coming this week, but Adam McKay’s “The Big Short” makes this list at number seven. “The Big Short” takes the subject of the economy crash/ the housing bubble and makes it enthralling. How McKay assembled Gosling, Carrell, Pitt, and Bale is beyond me, but they all work so well together. The real star of this film is Bale whose character is a loner outcast. I must say though, Bale’s Michael Burry is one of the most entertaining and tragic characters to ever be depicted on-screen. Bale is socially awkward to the point of pity, but that’s not the reason “The Big Short” is on the list. McKay’s storytelling is why this movie makes the list. McKay uses fast cuts and celebrities like Selena Gomez and Margot Robbie in cameos to explain the boring details of economics. McKay also has his characters break the 4th wall and let you know what was added for the film and what really happened. “The Big Short” is clever, real, and an absolute winner.

6. “People Places Things”

Jemaine Clement will appear not once but twice on this list, so lets start with the first film he stars in: “People Places Things”.  This film was only released in theaters in New York and L.A. But it was also OnDemand from August and September, which is how I saw it. Clement stars as a graphic novelist who shares custody  of his two daughters with his ex-girlfriend (Stephanie Allynne). He’s a good father, but he’s a mess as a person. He succeeds in his profession as a college professor, but his love life is lacking any real substance; at least until one of his student’s mothers, played by Regina Hall, catches his eye. This is a great film. It’s a very simple, very pure movie to watch, but it’s also very sad. “People Places Things” snuck by the studios and theaters, yet it’s finding a second life on Netflix which is another reason why everyone should have ,or at least be piggyback off of a Netflix account. If you do so, you’ll get to discover great films like “People Places Things.”

5. “What We Do In The Shadows”

This is Clement’s second film on the list, and it’s the strangest, most inventive mockumentary I ever saw. “What We Do In The Shadows”is about a group of vampires being filmed by a New Zealand documentary crew . Clement co-directs the film with co-star Taika Waititi, and the film is an absolute blast. The actors playing the vampires are hysterical, and watching them get caught in one debacle after another is just side splitting. I will say this is a hard film to track down. You might have to pay a few extra dollars to rent it, but this is genius filmmaking at its finest. From the start of the film, I knew I was watching something special unfold before my very eyes. 

4. “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”

Let me start off by saying, this is a good film that tanked at the box office. Shame on Warner Brothers for releasing “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” a week after “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation”. “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” is one of the few television-to-screen adaptations I actually enjoyed. I mean, it was directed by Guy Ritchie so it can’t be that bad right? Armie Hammer and Henry Cavill have this natural chemistry to each other; almost as good as Paul Newman and Robert Redford. The film is silly and a nice throwback piece to the roaring 60’s.  If you don’t believe me just look at all the great details in the costumes. Hopefully “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” does well on video so we can get a sequel made. I want to see what other adventures these two get into.

3. “Slow West”

I saw “Slow West” at the Boston Independent Film Festival and it knocked me out of the water. This is a visually stunning western with a vivid set design and great direction from John Maclean. I was shocked this didn’t get a wider release, but it did find an audience because there are people who loved this film. I’m talking die- hard fans of both Maclean and Michael Fassbender who worship at the alter of this film. Fassbender and Ben Mendelsohn steal all their scenes together, but young Kodi Smit-McPhee has no problem catching up to them. “Slow West” is a nice modern western for a modern age of digital film-making. 

2. “DOPE”

This film blew my mind. It’s the first film about black nerds, directed by a well known black nerd. Back in June I called “Dope”, “What ‘Boyz In The Hood’ would look like if directed by Wes Anderson.” I stick by that statement, and I absolutely loved this movie. This is a film that has everything from old-school rap to obscure film references. Let’s not forget, it also has Zoe Kravitz in it so you know it’s good. “Dope” was passed up by many in favor of lesser films like “Entourage” and “Ted 2”, but this is a special film that deserves a wider audience to see it for all it’s glory.

1. “Me And Earl and The Dying Girl”

 This film came so close to being number ten on the best films of 2015. With that said, this deserves to be number one on the hidden gems list because that’s what this film is; a true hidden gem. “Me and Earl and The Dying Girl” embraces film-geek culture and gives us one of the best movies about young filmmakers, friendship, and juvenile cancer. What makes this film so wonderful is how anyone can appreciate and relate to this movie. It doesn’t matter if you love cinema, are experiencing loss, or your family is going through a hard time; “Me and Earl and The Dying Girl” will move you in some capacity. “Me and Earl and The Dying Girl” is quite possibly my favorite hidden gem since 2013’s “In A World…”. I implore you to rent it and see for yourself.
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