3 Great Fall Films You May Have Missed

A Potpourri of Vestiges Feature

The final quarter of 2015 has been pretty packed with major films, and December alone will bring even more massively hyped projects. It's been a welcome burst of quality for film fans after a somewhat-lackluster year overall, and now the problem is suddenly that there are almost too many good options to get through! As a result, it's easy to miss some of the limited-release films that have slipped through the cracks these past few months.

Often such films are better left ignored, because the reason for a limited release or minor exposure is that the movie just isn't that good. But in 2015 a number of titles that fall into this category have been among the most impressive films of the year. Here are three from the fall alone that you'll want to check out if you missed them.

Beasts of No Nation

Beasts of No Nation, Movie Poster

For a film that was never released in theaters, Cary Joji Fukunaga's Beasts Of No Nation actually got a decent amount of publicity for two reasons: first, it starred one of the more popular actors in the business of late in Idris Elba; and second, it was the biggest film to be released straight to Netflix. The story is about Agu (Abraham Attah), a child soldier fighting in a West African civil war. The specific country goes unnamed, with the result that the film has been viewed as a broad but powerful look at the horrors of the child soldier problem and armed conflict in general. It was a very successful release both with critics and audience members (90% and 93% positive ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, respectively), and some expect it to be a contender come awards season.

As is perhaps only natural with a story about such serious topics, there has been a little controversy regarding the messages in Beasts Of No Nation. For instance, some have suggested that it's a bit simplistic as a commentary on real issues, sacrificing truth or insight in the name of good storytelling. This is a tricky criticism because there's no proper degree of balance a film is meant to strike between realism and fiction. But one nice way to go into viewing Beasts Of No Nation in a way that contextualizes it as a work of art is to read it first. The film is based on a book by Uzodinma Iweala, which is available on Amazon, and this is one instance in which the book and film strengthen one another (rather than one being clearly superior).

Mississippi Grind

Mississippi Grind, Movie Poster

Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's Mississippi Grind had a limited release back in late September, though it failed to make much of a splash at all at box offices. It was very well received by critics and appreciated (though with a smaller degree of enthusiasm) by the audience it did reach. But rest assured, particularly if you're a fan of the gambling genre, this was a very skillfully crafted project that may just be the best title to delve into casino themes since Rounders in 1998. Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelsohn star in what amounts to a fairly classic tale of gambling addiction, complete with a buddy road trip down the Mississippi River in pursuit of fortune.

Other than the fact that it's better acted than most any casino film since Rounders, the thing that most stands out about Mississippi Grind is this: its gambling scenes are executed with a certain level of sophistication that's been lacking in this genre but which may actually strike a chord with a modern audience. Today's poker film viewer has likely grown up with a pretty firm understanding of casino gaming thanks to the easy accessibility of the games online. At Betfair's cards gaming page alone, players can grow accustomed to Blackjack, Texas Hold'em, and other forms of poker, as well as the betting strategies that go with each game. Compare this to the years before Rounders, when most people only played such games at actual casinos, and it's a fair statement to say public understanding has increased. Mississippi Grind handles this challenge deftly, which makes it a particularly strong film for fans of casino gaming.

James White

James White, Movie Poster

James White is the directorial debut for Josh Mond, whose most noteworthy achievement in film before this was a production credit for Martha Marcy May Marlene. And it's proven to be quite the debut, having won "Best Of Next" at the Sundance Film Festival in 2014 leading up to this year's release. The story is about James White (Christopher Abbott), a New Yorker in his 20s battling various vices and addictions when his mother (Cynthia Nixon) falls ill, forcing him to change his lifestyle for the good of his family. It's basically what it sounds like from that point on—a combination addiction/family drama with a deep focus on human relationships. But the performances elevate the film, and Mond's direction is simultaneously understated and impactful.

Even positive reviews of this film noted that it's something of a downer, and that's a fair point and probably one of the main reasons it wasn't more widely viewed. But there's also joy in James White, and it comes largely through seeing such strong performances from a cast that seems to feature a name for everybody. A review in Buzzfeed correctly pointed out that "it's Abbott who's the revelation," as the actor previously best known for a role on TV's Girls is surprisingly strong under the spotlight. But in addition to Abbott, the film features strong turns from Nixon, a Sex and the City veteran; Ron Livingston, best known as the lead in Office Space; and Scott Mescudi, better known by his musician alter-ego "Kid Cudi." It's not often we see a serious film made with a bunch of people associated with light, fun entertainment, and the effect is pretty striking.

It's almost too much to ask given the aforementioned abundance of noteworthy films this season to fit three more into your plans. But if you're curious about some of the fall's smaller projects, each of these is a must-see. 

Readers, please feel free to share your views/opinions in the comment box below. As always your insightful comments are highly appreciated!

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