It’s easy during awards season, when audiences are bombarded with all the “important” films and “awards hopefuls,” to overlook or completely forget certain movies that filled up the calendar from January to November.
2016 has been a weird year is so many ways, and the overwhelmingly backloaded slate of great films feels even more pronounced this season. While La La Land, Manchester by The Sea, and Moonlight all jockey for position in the Oscar race (and seem to be the three shoe ins for Best Picture), let us not forget some of those other great movies the year has given us. I know people have, these days, a What Have You Done For Me Lately mindset, but try and think back all the way to November, to August, hell to March if you can, and let’s appreciate some of the 2016 movies we may have already forgotten.
The Invitation – Way back at the beginning of the spring, Alamo Drafthouse released the best thriller of 2016, and one of the four or five best movies of the entire year. The Invitation, directed by relative newcomer Karyn Kusama, will get under your skin and unnerve you more than just about anything else from this calendar year.
Logan Marshall-Green, who’s gone a long way this year to make sure people realize he’s actually a good actor and not just The Guy Who Looks Like Tom Hardy, completely owns this paranoid thriller. It’s a dinner party full of old friends, but the wounds from a past tragedy are still fresh, and some who were directly involved in said tragedy have decided to fall into a new avant garde “religion” to find comfort. The film is patient, and that’s part of its brilliance; because that patience builds to the most incredible final act in 2016 cinema.
Everybody Wants Some!! – Somehow, a new Richard Linklater film on the heels of Boyhood – not to mention a film the director called a “spiritual sequel” to both that film and his masterpiece, Dazed and Confused – came and went without much fanfare. The story itself, about the lazy college days of a university baseball squad, didn’t have the same reach as Boyhood, but it still had the same lived in care and attention which permeates all of Linklater’s films.
Everybody Wants Some!! is absolutely a bro comedy flick, but it has such an ear for honest conversation and truth in its characters, it deserves a little more credit than being some Todd Phillips retread.
Green Room – This isn’t nearly as forgotten as some films on this list, but Jeremy Saulnier’s sophomore follow up to Blue Ruin still isn’t getting the sort of high praise it deserves. The story of a punk rock band witnessing a murder in the green room of a neo-Nazi club tucked away in the Oregon wilderness is certainly a niche story. But the execution is near transcendent in its ability to build and release tension over and over.
This is not a film for the squeamish – just ask the mangled arm of the late Anton Yelchin in, sadly, his greatest performance of his tragically short life – but anyone who can stomach the brutality will witness one of the best thrillers of the decade. And not to mention, it seems to have a certain resonance these days, given its Nazi ties…
A Bigger Splash – You won’t find Luca Guadagnino’s white hot, sexually charged thriller in any awards categories this season, but it is still one of the most well-acted films of the year. Ralph Fiennes dominates as Harry Hawkes, a loose cannon producer and former lover of Marianne Lane, a glam-rock goddess played by Tilda Swinton who does an incredible job in a role where she is mostly mute.
Taking place almost exclusively at an Italian villa, A Bigger Splash is all about sideways glances, betrayal, and desire, and should be admired for somehow getting a captivating performance out of Dakota Johnson. It’s the sort of film Adrian Lyne might have made in his heyday.
Born to Be Blue – Music biopics are one of the tougher genres to inject originality into these days. The mid 2000s saw an onslaught of Tortured Musician films, and since then biopics in the vein of Walk the Line and Ray have felt too flat and too structured. Then there’s Born to Be Blue, Ethan Hawke’s Chet Baker biopic.
While Born to Be Blue might not be the greatest movie out there, Hawke delivers a captivating performance in a film that approaches its subject in an inventive way. It captures the frenetic rhythms of Baker’s jazz, and the messy life he lived. For a fresh take on a tired sub-genre, this one is worth your time.
The Neon Demon – Nicolas Winding Refn is an acquired taste. His best movie, Drive, may also be his most reserved, especially given the two films he’s made since: Only God Forgives and this, The Neon Demon. It isn’t for anyone, or for most really, but this story of Hollywood models devouring each other in some sort of fever dream gone awry is a star-making turn for Elle Fanning, who continues to push limits and challenge herself as an actor.
Hunt for The Wilderpeople – It took some diligence to seek out Taiki Waititi’s clever coming-of-age adventure, but it was certainly worth the effort. It’s always nice to see Sam Neill, who seems to be in fewer and fewer films these days, pop up in something special like this. But it’s the performance of Julian Dennison as Ricky, the plucky youngster adrift in the New Zealand wilderness with his eccentric pops, that steals the show and makes it something more.
This is a rare smart comedy, one of the toughest things to pull off these days, and a perfect blend of familial truths and zany adventure. Quite the follow up for Waititi, who brought us the brilliance of What We Do in The Shadows in 2014.
The Edge of Seventeen – This pitch perfect teen dramedy only came out just about a month back, but somehow it’s drifted out of view. At least more than it ever should have drifted out of view.
Try and remember the last time an honest, well-crafted teen film really blew you away. They’ve all been raunchy comedies or forgettable, sappy (i.e. fake) Nicholas Sparks drivel. But here, thanks to a wonderfully complicated performance from Hailee Steinfeld and brilliant supporting work from the adults in this world, Woody Harrelson and Kyra Sedgwick, director Kelly Fremon Craig shows us the clumsy romantic confusion and the way molehills can be built into mountains for teenagers in a terrific movie anchored by some real truth.
Allied – Even more recent than Edge of Seventeen is Robert Zemeckis’ prestige spy thriller, a film that floundered at the box office despite its impeccable art design and the presence of powerhouses Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard. It may not be anything groundbreaking, but Allied deserves more credit than what it’s received.
Despite the conventional nature of the plot – an airman’s new wife with whom he met on an assassination mission may or may not be a German spy – Zemeckis directs every frame with wonderful care and attention and, amazingly, restraint. That’s not what Zemeckis does. Allied is wonderful to simply observe, don’t worry about getting too involved in the mechanical plot or try and find some monumental twist. That’s not what he’s doing here.