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The Most Overrated/Underrated Films of 2015

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71 poster

I love this poster. I wish I had loved the film.

This was a tough pair of lists to compile. Some years, the choices are ample. This year, though, there weren’t many films I found significantly overrated (though there are always a few), and fewer which I found truly underrated. But, by dint of effort and with a little (which is to say a lot) of stretching, I came up with 10 of each, and present them unto you.

Overrated:

  • The Assassin

Visually, it’s stunning. It will almost certainly end up with nominations from me for Cinematography, Production Design, and Costume Design. But I had a devil of a time parsing out the story, and after a while found myself unmotivated to try. The visual splendor and the individual scenes fascinated me; the whole baffled me.

  • Bone Tomahawk

There are things I really like about this film. I like that it takes a pulpy premise and gives it a deliberate, restrained, almost art-house treatment. It’s well-acted, especially by Richard Jenkins, has a good score (which it doesn’t make enough use of), and overall suggests a thoughtful and respectable effort.

But at 133 minutes, it is grossly overlong, and the extra time does not, in the final analysis, pay off. The Hateful Eight makes use of its epic running time. Bone Tomahawk never quite justifies its own. (There’s also a random crack of meta-humor towards the end which feels very out of place.)

The acting is the thing here. The script is really not that good, displaying all the pitfalls of films about films, actors, and theater; the fictional play the story revolves around sounds like something from the 30s (not something that would be a sensation in the 80s), the film-within-a-film is laughably unconvincing, and the dialogue often falls into pretentiousness. See it to see how good Juliette Binoche always is and how good Kristen Stewart can be. Don’t see it for the story.

I broke down my issues pretty thoroughly in my review, but to sum them up again: it’s a film which begins very well, which seems to be compressing its whole dilemma (and sub-dilemmas) into one madcap day…and then partway through makes a narrative shift which lets all the energy leak out of it, and makes it harder to overlook the fact that our heroes are selling off what is essentially a date-rape drug.

Add in the one-dimensional characters, the pointless gimmicks (the protagonist being a 90s hip-hop devotee amounts to nothing), and the hamfisted final attempt at sociological savvy, and you’ve got a film which must be counted one of the most overrated of the year. It has great songs, though.

  • The End of the Tour

A film based on literary conversations? Sign me up. But between Jesse Eisenberg’s tiresome audience-surrogate protagonist taking up too much of the spotlight, and the conversations themselves being rather less stimulating than one would hope for, even Jason Segel’s haunted, heartfelt performance can’t make it truly compelling. Only those firmly in love with David Foster Wallace and his work need apply.

  • Room

Let me be clear: this is a very good film. Brie Larson is excellent, and Jacob Tremblay more than carries his end of the film. But dramatically, it doesn’t completely cohere into a satisfying whole. It feels choppy, fragmented, like a film edited to fit a two-hour time slot. There are gaps in the story which are never properly filled in–Old Nick’s acuteness seems to vary based on the needs of the story; Joy’s father appears in two scenes, then vanishes forever (utterly wasting William H. Macy)–and these take away, just a little, from the film’s indisputable strengths. Maybe once I see it again I’ll feel differently.

I barely even remember this film, but between the fine trailer and the glowing reviews, I expected a lot more. This was well done and all, it just felt completely hollow. Jack O’Connell may be a good actor, but between this and Unbroken I haven’t seen him do much but suffer. He had no character to play here, but no one else had that much character either. Maybe I need to give it another chance. But I feel no motivation so to do.

This is kind of in the same boat as ’71. Lots of promise. Glowing reviews. And yet, I watched it and got very little from it. I’ve spoken about this at greater length elsewhere, but to sum up: if you know anything about the War on Drugs and how it’s being fought, very little about this film will surprise you in the slightest. And I didn’t think the characters or the story were ever quite enough to compensate for that. Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin are good, and Emily Blunt does as well as she can with a thinly written role, but for me this never rose above “okay”.

That said, I’m going to try and watch this again before I do my awards, to see if I didn’t give it a raw deal.

Good history. But only a fair drama.

Again, I have to remind myself that this is actually a fairly good film. It is. You should see it. It deals with a fairly vital subject matter. But how this is getting hailed as one of the very best films of the year is beyond me. It’s a solid film–nothing more. Good acting, workable direction, good writing…but there’s not much here that’s great. Maybe I just can’t see it.

  • What We Do in the Shadows

As a short, or maybe a web series, this would be great. As a feature film…nah. Massively overstretched, not consistently funny enough, and burdened by a rather annoying lead (Taika Waititi) who takes up more time than the more compelling supporting cast (especially Jermaine Clement), I found myself far less impressed than I wanted to be. And yet I know people who saw it multiple times and loved it. And I wish I could share in that love. But it’s just too much of a not good enough thing.

Mr Holmes Ian McKellen

A great performance from a great actor–and did the awards groups come calling? They did not.

Underrated:

It’s really a very solid film. It wasn’t totally unappreciated, but at the very least, Johnny Depp deserved to be in the Oscar race. He really did a hell of a job and, aside from a SAG nomination, wasn’t properly appreciated for it.

  • By the Sea

Not a great film. Jolie (or Jolie Pitt) isn’t a great screenwriter. But there’s a strong premise here, and the second half actually does become decently compelling. It’s nowhere near what it could have been, but it’s got more going for it than it might have gotten credit for.

This one I can really vouch for. I wasn’t expecting greatness–I figured it’d be a decent 3D spectacle. Instead, I got a truly compelling survival drama with some very strong performances (especially Jason Clarke’s), fine direction, and one of the best soundscapes of the year. But it was given faint praise by critics and didn’t make that much money. Hopefully it’ll get its due on home media, because it’s really quite a solid (and moving) film.

Let me be clear–this isn’t a good film. It’s the kind of film where you just know no one involved is happy with how it turned out. But it’s not without its merits. I really dug that first scene on Planet Zero, and there are touches there and in the climax which evokes 50s B-films, which give the film an extra layer of artistic ambition I can’t help but appreciate. It’s still a mess and not one I’m likely to rewatch, but give it its due.

  • The Hateful Eight

I like this one more each time I see it. No, it’s not top-drawer Tarantino, but this is still one of the best films of the year. The writing is up to par, the performances are great (even Michael Madsen, the acknowledged weak link in the cast, isn’t that bad), and the three hours move by briskly. I’m going to dig into this more when I finally write my review of it (soon, I promise), but given how mixed the reviews have been and the comparative snubbing of it by the awards groups (outside of Ennio Morricone’s score and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s performance, both of which deserve recognition), it really deserves to be recognized as the excellent film it is. And it may be, in due course of time. For the time being, however, I place it here.

Also, Walton Goggins’ performance might be the most underrated of the year. He’s so fucking great here, and I don’t think a single awards group so much as nominated him. Their loss.

  • Magic Mike XXL

It’s not quite as good as the first film. But it is a lot of fun, and it’s a wonderfully acute portrait of male camaraderie. Some men act as though these films are just beefcake parades pandering to female audiences, but nothing could be further from the truth. These are perfect date movies, more so this one, because it’s just the guys having fun by giving the ladies a good show. It’s absolutely worth your while.

  • Mr. Holmes

One of the best films of the year (for a long time, one of the only **** films I’d seen this year), with a great script, three tremendous performances…and a depressing lack of recognition. Given a better release date this should have, at the very least, put Ian McKellen in the Best Actor race; Laura Linney and Milo Parker are first-class support, and should have been recognized as such. But aside from a few minor critics awards and a BFCA nomination for Parker (in the Young Actor/Actress category), it’s received nothing. For the love of Sherlock, see it.

It’s definitely the weakest of Craig’s films. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a lot going for it. It’s a perfect capper to his tenure (if only they’d stick with it), which leaves the door open for a new Bond with a (relatively) new arch-enemy. It makes some bad choices, like giving Dave Bautista such a nothing role after his triumph in Guardians of the Galaxy, but it’s still better than it seems to have generally been given credit for being.

  • Tangerine

The critics liked it a lot. And some awards groups gave it attention, though not the ones I was hoping for; the Globes in particular missed a chance to highlight one of the year’s best comedies in one of the worst years for film comedy. And it made about $700,000 at the box-office, though a hard-R dark comedy about transgender prostitutes scouring L.A. for the unfaithful lover/pimp of one of them wouldn’t exactly be an easy sell. But it’s one of the brightest and boldest–and in its way, most touching–films of the year. (That “Toyland” scene is something else.) Absolutely recommended.

Not a film I loved, exactly, but given how bad this tanked ($10.1 million in the U.S., or about 4% of Star Wars‘ opening weekend), and how it got snubbed at the last second for an Oscar for Best Visual Effects, I’m here to say it deserved better. It’s a bright and sprightly entertainment until the walk itself, which is quite striking, and which deserved to be seen on the big screen. That it wasn’t, at least by not enough people, suggests that the 3D wave may have crested. But if you like 3D or just find the subject matter interesting, it’s absolutely worth a look. It also boasts one of the more poignantly understated endings I’ve seen in a while.

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