Fall is an exceptional time for movies. It carries the first of the Oscar contenders into theaters, and it also delivers a bounty of films for home viewing that didn’t find audiences earlier in the year. Below are nine films from 2015 deserving of bigger audiences, including the directorial debuts of Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. Take a look at these streaming movies. Not every film will be for everyone, but you’ll find something on this list you’ll have to track down.
Lost River is actor Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut. It’s a dreamlike fairy tale about the power of mythology in a town devastated by the loss of its river. Playing like an experimental horror movie in a post-apocalyptic setting, it’s cruel and kind in equal measure.
It feels at first like a meeting of a Nicolas Winding Refn movie like Drive and a David Lynch movie like Mulholland Drive. Yet, even as its reality passes in and out of metaphor, the style of Lost River is housed squarely in fable. It owes much to the colorful and playful history of Italian giallo horror, full of bright backdrops, electronic soundscapes, and heavy symbolism.
Not everyone will love Lost River. It’s a decidedly experimental film, but if “arthouse” piques your interest, you’ll find few things more emotionally intriguing than this film. It relies on a stellar cast led by Christina Hendricks (Mad Men), a nearly unrecognizable Iain De Castecker (Agents of SHIELD), phenom Saoirse Ronan (Hanna), and a deliciously deranged villain courtesy of Matt Smith (Doctor Who).
Clouds of Sils Maria is another of the best films this year. Some might dismiss a movie about a woman coming to terms with becoming older, yet we constantly celebrate films about men doing just this. We praise older actors like Jack Nicholson and Clint Eastwood for the introspection they bring to these roles.
Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) is an actress going through a divorce and preparing to act in a revival of the play that was once her big break. She spends weeks readying herself for the role in the Swiss Alps with only her assistant (Kristen Stewart) for company. The play inside the film reflects the potential directions their own relationship could take, and their own relationship informs Maria’s performance.
The film is a powerhouse of realistic acting that will redefine Stewart’s talents in many eyes. She goes toe-to-toe with Binoche in my favorite pairing of actors this year. Clouds of Sils Maria carries itself much like a play. It asks for your patience, but rewards you for giving it. Depths of character are revealed slowly, and in an industry ruled by formulaic character development, what happens here feels uniquely real.
It’s an incredible film about learning how to be “all ages at once,” and about the process actors go through in order to capture roles. Clouds of Sils Maria is an incredible and rare cinematic gift.
Moving on to action-drama territory, Black Sea is one of the better submarine movies in recent history. A submarine operator named Robinson (Jude Law) is laid off by his salvage company. His coworkers take information from the company about a sunken Nazi U-Boat in the Black Sea before they, too, get fired. That submarine was carrying tens of millions in gold. With tensions spiking between Russia, Georgia, and Ukraine, the waters are unapproachable by surface ship. Robinson puts together a motley crew to overhaul a derelict World War 2 submarine and get the gold themselves.
Half-British and half-Russian, the crew’s tensions quickly rise. They fight for shares of the gold before they’ve even recovered it, creating a mounting series of problems that strand the ship underwater. Robinson’s obsession with besting his former employers forces worse and worse decisions as he tries to save both his crew and the gold. It’s a classic adventure tale, well-filmed, wonderfully-acted, and very tense. Yet it barely even sniffed theaters.
The Water Diviner follows an Australian farmer who travels to Turkey in order to retrieve his three sons’ bodies. Russell Crowe’s directorial debut addresses one of World War I’s bloodiest moments, the Battle of Gallipoli.
What The Water Diviner lacks in budget is made up for in Crowe’s heartfelt and earnest investment in the story itself. Both as director and actor, he feels the story he’s telling beautifully. The production shortcomings don’t matter when Crowe and (somewhat surprisingly) Olga Kurylenko can so often zero in on the meaning of each scene. Its melodrama is made up for by the contemplative, emotional details Crowe so smartly focuses on.
The Water Diviner is an elegant, powerful, and romantic film. It’s not so concerned about the right or wrong of the war itself. It makes clear that both sides suffered in a needless conflict. This is one man’s personal journey of faith, one that takes him between two religions and two peoples at direct odds to each other. Even if the third act’s a bit too action-oriented for what’s come before, there are moments that will break your heart completely. What more can you ask from a movie?
Police Story: Lockdown is quite possibly Jackie Chan’s best dramatic performance. Yes, there are martial arts here, but Chan’s finesse is toned down in favor of a more brutal flavor of fight scene. In the Lockdown iteration of his fantastic and varied Police Story series (don’t worry, each entry stands alone), he is trapped in a bar with his daughter while kidnappers hold the patrons hostage.
It comes off as Die Hard with Jackie Chan at first, but the film becomes more of a twist on The Usual Suspects and the vengeance stories of Edgar Allan Poe. As Chan tries to figure out his captor’s motives, we flash back to prior cases that inform who they might be. We also flash forward to various potential outcomes in the confrontations he faces. In a game of cat-and-mouse, the film’s intensity lies in how Chan navigates these moment-to-moment choices as a Hong Kong police officer, always looking to minimize risk and casualties while solving the situation through negotiation. It has a decidedly Chinese sense of drama, which is a bit more operatic compared to the grit American audiences are used to, but it plays extraordinarily well. Chan shows off impressive acting chops that often get overlooked in favor of his stuntwork.
Slow West is a Western comedy about a young man in 1870 traveling halfway around the world in order to make it out of his (supposedly) true love’s “Friend Zone.” The film is unique in that it’s essentially one great big set-up for an incredibly wry series of punchlines. Starring Michael Fassbender, if you like dry comedy and can wait an hour until the payoffs start coming, “Slow West” is a darkly witty and nuanced film with a bit of quality action to boot.
Blackhat is a tough film to love, but it’s a remarkably easy movie to be intrigued by. The right viewer will find it very rewarding. Directed by Michael Mann, it’s shot in the same video-style of his Miami Vice and Collateral. He’s the king of meaningful montages, and Blackhat evolves quickly from a showy, modern techno-caper to what it really wants to be: a slick, pulsing 80s crime romance.
Chris Hemsworth plays jailed hacker Nick Hathaway, yet there’s nothing here that requires him to stretch much beyond his role as Thor in The Avengers. He’s tasked with assisting the FBI and Chinese officials in tracking down a rogue hacker who sabotages a Chinese nuclear plant and Wall Street.
The crime procedural and action elements are good, and the more colorful and crowded an area is, the better Mann’s video-style fits the chaotic action. As landscapes or close-up, no one films cities as lonely, neon wildernesses better than Mann does.
There’s definitely something missing in how the characters relate and in the simplicity of how hacking is portrayed, but if you stick with the film, you start feeling its heartbeat more and more. Its deliberate pace becomes a rhythm. Mann has this rare ability to make that rhythm your own as you watch, earning tension through build-ups that are at first too slow but later exert exponential pressure. It’s a strange action movie, but one that feels important nonetheless.
Getting into cheesier territory, Tracers is an enjoyable parkour movie as long as you don’t take it too seriously. Parkour is all about running, jumping, and climbing over obstacles at a sprinting speed, or landing a two-story jump without hurting yourself. Do not try it at home, but certainly watch it. Here’s the biggest hump to get over: Tracers stars Twilight heartthrob Taylor Lautner. He’s a New York bike messenger who joins a gang of rooftop-running, wall-climbing thieves.
The truth is, no one looked good in the Twilight franchise, and no actor should be judged by their part in it. Lautner doesn’t act particularly well here, but neither does he act badly. He acts like a real person, which actually works well for a film like this. He also clearly trained to do many of his own stunts.
There are melodramatic bits, including a central love story that fails to get the blood pumping, but the real stars of the film are the best chase scenes this year outside of Mad Max: Fury Road. Not only this, Tracers is also clever about its similarities to Point Break. It undermines a few Hollywood expectations, even if it doesn’t buck them all. The team considers itself professionals, not thrill seekers. They’re not willing to kill. When the Feds get involved, it’s just another villain to avoid, not the good guys riding to the rescue. Tracers is quality fast food – not a great movie, but certainly the best American parkour movie that’s been made.
Finally, Kill Me Three Times is an Australian comedy that owes much to Fargo. It features a controlling husband with an anger problem, a wife driven to cheating, a dentist owing hundreds of thousands in gambling debts, two murder schemes pulled off by inconceivably bad criminals, and a bag of money that keeps changing hands. As we hop back and forth across two days in a seemingly peaceful coastal Australian town, early moments in the film are later given a weight, irony, and a cutting comedic edge.
The film’s biggest strength is the participation of comedian Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Star Trek) as the perpetually amused hit man Charlie Wolfe. Like much of Australian comedy, there’s a good amount of bloodshed, some sex, and swearing. The joy here is in seeing Pegg and others nastily smirk their way through the clever genre fare. It takes a narrative step too far toward the end, but again – Pegg manages to hold everything together.
If these pique your interest, also check out 6 Dangerous New Streaming Movies You Can’t Miss.