This list was originally written for Taste of Cinema – http://www.tasteofcinema.com/2020/10-great-recent-movies-you-may-have-never-seen/
It seems that now, more than ever before, it can be so easy to become pre-occupied and forget about those films we’ve really been wanting to see. It’s becoming tricker to keep up with what is and isn’t out, what’s available and what isn’t… but it’s alright as there are still more than enough quality films having lasting impacts and being readily available. To function as something of a guide, this article will reveal ten more recently released films (the oldest being from 2013 and the latest from 2018) that may have slipped under your radar undeservedly.
1. Welcome to New York (Abel Ferrara, 2014)
Let’s start with a bang – from the cult legend Abel Ferrara comes his most overtly political film, focusing on Gerard Depardieu as Devereaux, a politician who finds himself some real trouble after committing a crime. Coming out just a couple of years before the #metoo situation would finally come to light and be talked about generally, Ferrara’s Welcome to New York seems to pre-date all of what was to come with Harvey Weinstein, and as if this early focus on such a pervasive and provocative theme wasn’t impressive or bold enough, Ferrara’s switch in style also marks a drastic change in his approach to cinema that started with 4:44 Last Day on Earth (2011) and continues now with his latest films, too.
There is something so darkly electrifying in the story being told, and Depardieu gives such a terrific performance as this man who is intoxicated by his own power to the point that he thinks he is above both the law and mortality. Welcome to New York is one of the most striking films of the 2010s as a whole, and it’s a film that really should be seen by all who can manage to get access to it.
2. Creepy (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2016)
Stepping back a bit for what is just a damn great moody thriller, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Creepy is one of the most overlooked thrillers of recent memory. Becoming something of a sleeper hit, maybe due to the focus on a more straight forward murder mystery narrative as opposed to Kiyoshi’s typically more supernatural interests, Creepy is one of the most overlooked films from one of Japan’s most brilliant directors currently working.
To put it simply, no one makes horror films quite like Kiyoshi Kurosawa. There is something within his films that remains unspoken by anyone, this horrific feeling of pure dread and tension that matches up perfectly with just the right amount of giddiness from the audience being in on what’s happening, especially in Creepy where the mystery is only really given to the characters whilst the audience has a rough idea of what’s happening the entire time. Kurosawa’s blocking is just wonderful, the way that his camera moves is impossibly elegant and the performances he manages to drag out of the depths of his actors, especially from Teruyuki Kagawa who is totally unforgettable. Creepy is a living and breathing revitalisation of the seemingly dormant serial killer genre, and God is it good!
3. The Childhood of a Leader (Brady Corbet, 2015)
Brady Corbet is definitely not someone you’d have expected to secretly be an excellent director, but between Childhood of a Leader and his more recent (and more well known) Vox Lux both releasing in the second half of the 2010s he’s made a real name for himself that marks the arrival of a seriously exciting new vision. Making use of a very detached style that shows the influence from some of the directors Corbet worked with, particularly that of the prolific Michel Haneke, Corbet manages to merge so many different styles together that it’s difficult not to be impressed by his confidence, especially in Childhood of a Leader considering that it is a debut feature.
Childhood of a Leader looks at the son of a man working for the government to create the Treaty of Versailles in 1918, with his experiences in the world moulding him into an increasingly despicable person. Helped along by an incredible score from the one of a kind Scott Walker, Brady Corbet’s debut feature (and the film he made to follow it!) really deserves to be seen by a larger crowd.
4. Pendular (Julia Murat, 2017)
Possibly the least known film on this list, Julia Murat’s incredibly tender Pendular is one of the most beautiful films of the last few years. Reminiscent of the style of Claire Denis (this one is especially similar in style to Beau Travail, what with its focus on movement and the body in contrast to setting) among others, the film follows the relationship between two artists and examines the connection between love (and the lack thereof) in accordance with creation.
With some of the most breathtaking dance sequences put to film, there is so much power given to movement and to the body in Pendular, and it makes for some of the most unforgettably expressive sequences in modern cinema. It’s so refreshing to see a film with such a simple narrative dig so deep in terms of content, going so much further than is really required. An incredible film, really, and one that still deserves so much more credit than it receives.
5. Season of the Devil (Lav Diaz, 2018)
Lav Diaz seems to have slowly been becoming more well known around the world as his towering works continue to come to life. Season of the Devil is one of his most recent outings, and it is also one of his most experimental. Being a pioneer of the slow cinema movement, the last thing that Diaz’s audience would have been expecting from him would be a musical, and yet, Season of the Devil is exactly that.
Of course, Diaz didn’t make any tradition musical, though, and instead he channels his usual themes surrounding oppression in Filipino history and the people who bravely fought back against and continue to fight against that oppression. Clocking in at Diaz’s characteristically long runtime of four hours (short compared to his others!), Season of the Devil is, surprisingly, one of his more accessible efforts next to Norte, The End of History (2013), and it is one of the best films of the last few years, too.
6. Christine (Antonio Campos, 2016)
Working from the true story of Christine Chubbuck, a TV news reporter in the 1970s who fell into a harsh depression due to a lack of advancement in her career and other pressures outside of work, Antonio Campos’ 2016 film Christine is one of subtleties but also one that is utterly heartbreaking.
With Rebecca Hall giving her career best performance as the aforementioned Christine Chubbuck, the focus on character and a more emotional version of cause and effect is very impressive as the film seems to gather such a real momentum, even as things hurtle towards the horrendous ending that this one has. It’s admittedly a difficult movie to talk about without spoiling, so it looks like you’ll just have to go and out and see it based on this recommendation!
7. The Homesman (Tommy Lee Jones, 2014)
Similarly to Brady Corbet, one simply wouldn’t expect Tommy Lee Jones to have a strong eye for directing, and yet he has made two of the finest westerns of the 21st century with The Homesman and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005). The Homesman is especially impressive, functioning as a great example of the modern revisionist western by rolling in themes of feminism (see also Meek’s Cutoff by Kelly Reichardt) to the typically patriarchal Wild West landscape as well as channelling Unforgiven (Eastwood, 1992) through Jones’ own character who is framed more often as a pathetic drunk than a gun-toting Man with No Name to be reckoned with.
Continuing to carry the torch that Clint Eastwood initially lit with the westerns he directed, Tommy Lee Jones manages to create the best western of the 21st century so far with The Homesman, and just to make the film all the more impressive, he makes it look totally effortless. Here’s hoping that Jones continues to direct and continues to impress, too!
8. Hanagatami (Nobuhiko Obayashi, 2017)
Nobuhiko Obayashi doesn’t seem to earn much credit other than for the midnight madness classic House (or Hausu) from 1977, however, in ignoring the rest of his work people are also ignoring some of the most creative and stylistic films releasing over the last thirty years. And whilst the majority are ridiculously tricky to get ahold of, excusing many for never seeing them, Hanagatami caught on a little more and is more accessible because of the attention it managed to gather as it worked its way around film festivals and was showing on MUBI for some time… and it’s a good job that a film as interesting as Hanagatami did manage to catch on somewhat, as Obayashi certainly deserves it for the risks he takes in his visual storytelling.
Deviating from the style he is known for from Hausu and following the more serious story of a young boy experiencing the second World War, Obayashi takes his work in a new direction but also stays in tune with some of the stylistic features of his visual style that gained him his cult film notoriety in the first place, making his new work continue to stand out to those who are new to his work. Hanagatami is a sprawling, gorgeous film, and whilst it may be overstating to call it perfect, it’s so impressive that perfection doesn’t come into it.
9. Three Landscapes (Peter B. Hutton, 2013)
Peter B. Hutton, no doubt a director most well known for his experimental short films, is a really underrated cinematic voice. Being one of the earlier filmmakers to catch and then latch onto the slow cinema movement, Hutton works from the same script as the fascinating James Benning and simply focuses on the mundane, stripping back cinema to the very basics in the way that the Lumiere Brothers started the form 120 years ago. But Hutton takes things further in his vision, and often changes his films into black and white or adds something else to make his films stand out compared to those of Benning, creating films like 2004’s Skagafjordur which is one of the most breathtaking short films ever made.
Three Landscapes is one of Hutton’s few feature length films, and it may be the finest of them as it focuses 3 static shots on… you guessed it! Three landscapes. And it sounds simple to a detriment, but there is something quietly wonderful about this approach to cinema, building this world view that feels like that of a babies as every small movement becomes so much more important. It’s a quietly stunning film, one that requires patience but is certainly very rewarding for those who stick with it in the same way as the work of James Benning and Tsai Ming-Liang is.
10. James White (Josh Mond, 2015)
James White is a total punch to the gut. Coming from the same group of producers and filmmakers who made Christine further up on the list, and taking mumblecore styles and merging them with a much more narrative based script, James White feels like something comparable to if John Cassavetes were more directly emotional – it plays out like a more physically visceral version of A Woman Under The Influence as it focuses its vision on the titular James White. James’ father has just passed, and he is evidently struggling with increasingly high levels of anxiety as he receives more bad news from home.
Using the intimate film form that is offered by mumblecore sensibilities, James White becomes harsher and harsher until it ends, making for one of the hardest hitting films recent memory. Christopher Abbott gives one of the best performances of the 2010s, channelling so much energy through his character constantly and managing to portray this delicate mixture of anxiety, exhaustion and hope. This one will knock most anybody sideways, especially on first viewing, and is a great film to see if you thought that Manchester by the Sea was also great.