It's been a year of record movie highs for franchise juggernauts like "Jurassic World" and "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" and year-end critics' lists and awards shows have started to narrow down 2015's critical darlings.
But, a few flicks on the margins might have fallen through the cracks of your viewing schedule. These films won't be working their way to Oscar gold, but they're worth a look nonetheless.
First up is a movie I've talked a bit about in the past, "Slow West." A period western set in the Colorado territory sometime in the early 1800s, the film follows Jay Cavendish, played by Kodi Smit-McPhee, a young Scottish man who has traveled west in search of his lost love, Rose. Accompanying him is brooding bounty hunter Silas, played by Michael Fassbender.
Living up to its name, "Slow West" isn't concerned about ladling on the adrenaline. The plot progresses at its own pace, making use of the vast landscape backdrops that Jay and Silas' journey takes them through as they make their crawl across the wilderness. It's a beautiful film, pockmarked with explosive scenes of violence in tight spaces to contrast the open expanse of the rest of the journey. Definitely worth looking into if you've been wanting a quality western.
Jumping forward to present day and shifting from the American West to the American South, "Mississippi Grind" is next up. Ben Mendelsohn plays Jerry, a small-time, small-town gambler who's dug himself a big-time hole. Smooth-talking Curtis, played by Ryan Reynolds with his usual level of gregarious smart-assery, breezes into Jerry's Iowa poker game and the two quickly form a bond based around betting money they don't have.
Mendelsohn's turn as gambling addict Jerry is what makes "Mississippi Grind." The mix of desperation and excitement on his face as he stares at the cards in his hand or the horses on the track are equal parts heartbreaking, enthralling and enraging. Staying away from the lavish Vegas casino settings found in some other gambling movies, there's no glory in gaming here. Not as complete a downer as the subject matter would lead you to believe, it's something to watch when you're craving interesting (and frustrating) characters.
Last on the list and in major contention for shittiest title of the year is "He Never Died." The film stars Henry Rollins, of Black Flag fame, at his aloof and aggressive best as Jack, a seemingly immortal cannibal whittling away his days in a dingy apartment. Jack's life revolves around diner food, television, bingo night at the local senior center and the occasional fit of homicidal rage.
This movie is surprisingly funny, mostly due to the exasperation Jack causes his acquaintances with his refusal to die and his own complete indifference to their reactions — it's easy to get a bit jaded with people after 2,000 some odd years of roaming the Earth. Right up there with Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Terminator," Rollins does great as an expressionless meat slab. A few existential questions are served up near the film's end, but for the most part they're best left ignored — just enjoy the absurdity.
They didn't exactly break down multiplex doors, but it'd be a shame if these films went forgotten. Here's hoping 2016 holds some comparable gems.
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