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.
Everybody Wants Some!! ultimately only made it to 454 theaters and didn’t even make $4 million at the box office, but it’s one of the most fun movies to come around in a long time, and it is definitely worth watching if it’s still playing in a theatre near you - or at least when it comes to Blu-Ray/DVD on July 12.
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.
Made possible by unprecedented access to the disgraced representative’s 2013 mayoral run (which was ultimately interrupted and tanked by yet another sex scandal), Weiner is a jaw-droppingly funny, horrifying, and completely engrossing look at a politician in distress. It’ll make you angry, it’ll make you laugh, and it’ll certainly make you cringe. But most importantly, it’ll keep you on the edge of your seat and waiting to see what happens next, which is a big feat for a political documentary. Weiner opened in just 71 theaters and has barely made over $750K at the box office thus far, making it all the more important that you check out this insanely entertaining documentary at the first chance you get.
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.
Does that not sound like your kind of thing? Then don’t watch this. Does it sound like your kind of thing? Then give it a shot, but be warned: if it’s a clear and direct plot you seek, you may want to look elsewhere. High-Rise is more of a sensory-based experience than a plot-based one, using hypnotically colorful imagery and incredible cinematography as an easel on which it paints a portrait of madness. It’s an insane film, featuring such unexpected madness as an 18th century costume party and a soberingly haunting ABBA cover that plays over one of the montages. It’s certainly not for everybody, but it’s so rare to see a film with such a marketable premise taken in such a divisive, surreal direction that I can’t help but love it. High-Rise opened in just 41 theaters, but is currently available to rent on iTunes and other VOD platforms — so if this sounds like your kind of thing, check it out. But if it doesn’t, trust me: you’re probably gonna like something else on this list better.
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.
Featuring a cast of brilliant comedians (including Gillian Jacobs, Birbiglia, and Keegan-Michael Key) starring as a tight-knit if not exactly successful improv group based out of New York, Don’t Think Twice takes a painfully honest, funny, and often quite sad look at art, success, and at what age you might just have to let some dreams go. It’s a soberingly realistic take on the improv theatre scene and features the funniest and most honest parody of SNL ever put to film, but it’s the cast and their relatable, engaging characters that makes Don’t Think Twice a film you’ll certainly want to experience more than once when it comes to theaters on July 22.
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.
You’d have to be heartless for this film to not put a smile on your face, and that’s largely due to the charm of its characters, the instantly memorable songs, and the very real emotions the film manages to convey through great performances from Ferida Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, and Jack Reynor. It may not exactly stick the landing (the ending is a bit wonky, and threatens to take you out of the movie), but that doesn’t stop Sing Street from being a fun, heartfelt ride for anyone who loves music or coming-of-age stories. Sing Street has made nearly $3 million in just 525 theaters and will hit Blu-Ray/DVD on July 26.
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.
Boasting great work from Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly and more, The Lobster could’ve been a bigger film if it weren’t so damn out of the box. And yet, that’s not to its detriment — this is one of the most darkly funny, subtly heartbreaking, and incredibly original films I’ve seen in years. It’s a wildly different and wonderfully crazy resuscitation of the romance genre that deserves to be seen. It’s already out on Blu-Ray/DVD in the UK, but played in just 560 theaters in the US, netting a total of $5 million at the box office. However, it’s set for a US home video release on August 2nd, so you should definitely check it out then.
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.
However, that doesn’t stop Being Charlie, based off a semi-autobiographical script from Reiner’s son about his own struggles with drug abuse and rehab, from being Reiner’s finest film since 1995’s The American President. It’s clever, heartfelt, and packs a huge emotional punch thanks largely to Reiner’s sensitive direction and a killer lead performance from Nick Robinson, previously seen in The Kings of Summer and Jurassic World. Reviews for this film have admittedly been mixed, and it’s hardly made a splash, making just over $30,000 from just 14 theaters. But when the film eventually does show up on streaming services and home video (no release date has been announced yet), I highly recommend checking out, if not to experience the emotional journey the film offers, then to check out a worthy film in the latter-day canon of a legendary director.
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.
I often thought throughout my time watching the film that it could easily make a killer play, thanks to its limited locations, strong characters, and tense, dialogue-driven situations. Overall, Eye In The Sky is such a solidly crafted, well-performed, and suitably intense morality tale that it ultimately deserves way more attention than it’ll ever get. However, topping out at 1,089 theaters with just over $18.5 million at the box office, Eye in the Sky certainly wasn’t a failure and will surely find legs as soon as it hits home video.
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.
This film is a perfectly balanced crowd-pleaser, delivering beautiful cinematography, plenty of huge laughs, and a lot of heart all within the span of a brisk 101 minute run-time. The film has already released in New Zealand, where it was a big hit, and is set to release in the US on June 24, so I highly recommend going to see it at the first chance you get.
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.