2016 is undoubtedly a huge year for movies. We've had Captain America square off against Iron Man in Civil War, Batman take on Superman in, well, you know the title, and beyond that, we still have plenty of huge movies to come, including Disney's first Star Wars spin-off in December.
However, between all these massive, action-packed tentpoles, quality independent and low-budget films with limited or virtually non-existent theatrical releases often slip through the cracks. Which is a shame because, really, these often end up being the best films of the year. So without further ado, as we near the halfway point of 2016, I present to you the 10 best films from 2016 that you haven't heard of... yet.
10 Everybody Wants Some!!
You may not have heard of Everybody Wants Some!! (the exclamation points, while annoying to anyone with a preference for proper grammar and punctuation in their film titles, are a reference to the Van Halen song of the same name), but you’ve certainly heard of writer/director Richard Linklater’s last film, Boyhood. At the 87th Academy Awards, Boyhood was nominated for 6 Academy Awards, ultimately losing Best Picture to Birdman but taking home the Best Supporting Actress statue for Patricia Arquette.
It’s unlikely that Everybody Wants Some!! will be the awards darling Boyhood was, largely due to its decidedly light tone and April release date, but that doesn’t make it any less of an achievement. Set in the 1980, the film follows a college baseball team as they dance, drink and party their way through the last weekend of summer before classes start. With little plot to speak of, the film relies almost entirely on the strength of its characters and their interactions. Luckily, the characters are instant classics, and the experience of watching the film is like meeting people you instantly know you want to be friends with forever. It’d be enough to just watch them talk and hang out for two hours, but Richard Linklater sets them on an aimless odyssey across the early '80s college party scene, rocking hilarious outfits and jamming out to amazing music, all with a knowing wink and clever sense of humor that will leave you smiling the entire time.
Did you get your chuckle out of the way yet? Don’t worry, the first time I saw the title for this aptly named film, I did the very same. Weiner is an inherently funny word in our culture due to the meaning that it’s taken on. But that isn’t exactly what it is supposed to mean in the case of this documentary.
The titular “Weiner”, in fact, is not a body part, but a person: Anthony Weiner. Yes, that Anthony Weiner. Former United States Representative and former New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner. The same Anthony Weiner that suffered TWO (yes, two) internet-based sex scandals. What’s the saying? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice… and I should probably stop taking pictures of my junk and sending them to strangers on Twitter.
On paper, it all seems poised for blockbuster success: a visually dazzling science-fiction thriller starring some of the hottest up-and-coming stars (Tom Hiddleston, Luke Evans, James Purefoy) and even a cinematic veteran (Jeremy Irons). And yet, if there’s any film that can be considered the single most inaccessible movie on this list, it’s High-Rise. Because while on the surface High-Rise may easily pitch itself as “Snowpiercer in an apartment building,” it’s really anything but. In fact, High-Rise is a surreal, dream-like descent into a rabbit hole of madness driven by lust, power, and class division fuelled by long, aimless montages of violence and debauchery that all adds up to an allegorical take on class warfare.
7 Don't Think Twice
Okay, I cheated a little bit. This film hasn’t exactly, well… come out yet. In fact, we’ve still got over a month until this gem hits theaters in a (what will most likely be) pretty limited release from distributor Film Arcade. Lucky for me, however, I was able to catch this film - comedian-director Mike Birbiglia’s follow-up to his hilarious and heartfelt debut feature Sleepwalk With Me - at Austin’s SXSW Film Festival back in March and I’d be remiss if I didn’t put it on this list based solely on just how damn lovable it is.
6 Sing Street
You may have heard of this one. But… not for the reasons you should’ve. Recently, the writer/director of this film, John Carney, gave a rather toxic interview promoting Sing Street in which he blasted the star of his previous film Begin Again, Keira Knightley. He’s since apologized and it has largely been forgotten, but with that so has the criminally underrated, infectiously fun Sing Street, a musical that takes the well-worn let’s-make-a-band story and places it in 1980s Ireland, infuses it with catchy music, and roots it in genuine heartbreak and emotion.
5 The Lobster
English-language debuts are a hard thing to conquer for any foreign language filmmaker -- but Yorgos Lanthimos, the Greek filmmaker behind the Oscar-nominated Dogtooth, managed to knock it out of the park with the offbeat, wholly original romance The Lobster. Set in a dry, dystopian future where those who don’t have a spouse by a certain age are sent to a facility to find love or be turned into an animal of their choosing, The Lobster may be one of the strangest films on this list, but it also certainly has the best cast.
4 Being Charlie
Rob Reiner is by far the most successful director to have a film on this list. He’s behind some of the most iconic films of all time, including This Is Spinal Tap, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, A Few Good Men and more. And yet, for the better part of the last two decades, he’s been decidedly off-the-grid. Sure, he’s made films, but they’ve all failed to make a splash, with many of them going straight-to-DVD or VOD in recent years. Being Charlie seems destined to do the same, falling into his latter camp of forgotten films rather than being placed among his classics.
3 Eye in the Sky
If any cast could rival The Lobster’s in terms of greatness, it's this one — when your film has Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman (in one of his final film roles), and Aaron Paul, it’s hard to argue with that sentiment. And yet, Eye In The Sky didn’t nearly get the attention it deserved. Sure, it’s certainly the most successful film on this list, but this could’ve easily been an Oscar contender if it had been released later on in the year. The only thing I can think of that works against this war drama set in the morally murky world of drone warfare is it is not particularly cinematic — director Gavin Hood really takes a step back and lets the story and characters speak for themselves.
2 Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Damn. I promised I wouldn’t do this again, and yet — here we are. This is an entry for yet another film that hasn’t been released yet. However, we’re not too far away! This film, New Zealand comedian Taika Waititi’s follow-up to the hilarious vampire mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows, was one of the funniest films to come out of Sundance and SXSW this year, taking the typical buddy comedy and turning it on its head, delivering laughs, heart, and a new star in the process. The star in question is Julian Dennison, giving a hilarious and heartfelt performance as a wannabe-gangster orphan who ends up on the run in the New Zealand wilderness with his gruff-yet-lovable foster father of sorts, played by Jurassic Park’s Sam Neill.
1 Love and Friendship
I have to say, largely in order to preface my praise for this film, that this kind of genre (period piece/Jane Austen adaptation) is not my thing in the slightest. Which I guess makes my adoration for this Whit Stillman-directed adaptation of Jane Austen’s Lady Susan all the more impressive.
Starring Kate Beckinsale, Chloe Sevigny, Stephen Fry, and a standout Tom Bennett, Love and Friendship is a quick-witted, funny, and entertaining comedy elevated by fun characters and an energy uncommon for its genre. However, what is most notable about this film by far is its script, which displays a complete mastery of the English language that’s made all the more impressive thanks to the film’s talented and capable cast spouting out the thorny yet enchanting dialogue. It’s made a slight impact, making almost $9.5 million out of 826 theaters, which is not bad for a film that couldn’t have reasonably expected to be a massive financial success.
And ultimately, that’s the perfect way to end this list. In an age where most films need to make hundreds of millions of dollars just to break even, these are 10 films that exist more as pieces of art rather than products, made of course by studios that want to be profitable, but also by writers and directors who want to make the best film possible — and, in many cases, that’s exactly what they did.
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