For all the attention Moonlight, La La Land and Manchester By the Sea are getting as the year’s best films, there’s a ton more cinematic gems in 2016 that are simply overlooked and aren’t getting the love that I believe they deserve. I’m focusing on five narrative features that not only are overlooked but are award-worthy and deserve attention, thus considering them the Most Underrated Films of 2016. Like any year-end list my choices are all up for contention. There’s American Honey, The Handmaiden, High Rise, Swiss Army Man, Green Room, Neon Demon, Little Men, Other People, Midnight Special and a whole slew of others. Deadpool did get Golden Globes love so I’ll let that one slide.
These five films could rival some of the current nominees in various categories, from their solid screenplays to the amazing performances in each film. Yet, they’ve received no love this award season when I feel they should have.
5. Hello, My Name is Doris (Roadside Attractions)
Anchored by a nuanced, layered performance from Sally Field as a lonely office worker who develops a deep infatuation for a younger co-worker (Max Greenfield), this sweet little film could have been a bigger hit if it was released in the early 2000’s when these kinds of films were making heavier plays during awards season. I’ve seen it four times and loved it more per viewing. It’s hilarious, touching, and achingly bittersweet. Sally Field should have at least gotten a nomination for her mesmerizing performance.
4. Sing Street (Weinstein Company)
The recent entry in John Carney’s unofficial music trifecta trilogy (Once and Begin Again as the first two) is set in 1980’s Ireland about a rag-tag group of teenage schoolboys forming a rock band. What I love about Carney’s musical films is he captures the process of music-making so accurately on film, and Sing Street is his most personal. With an irresistible soundtrack and a fresh, talented cast this film needed more love. Instead, it got lost in the mix with an untimely summer release. Thank God Netflix picked it up. Any of the original songs should have been nominated especially the Hall & Oates inspired uptempo tuner “Drive It Like You Stole It” which was robbed of an Original Song Oscar nomination this year.
3. Hologram For a King (Lionsgate)
This choice will anger a few but after seeing the film last summer it surprisingly left a lasting impression all year. It can be frustrating to enjoy a film about, well, frustration and when the premise is basically Waiting For Godot in Saudi Arabia, it can test the patience of even the keenest of moviegoers. Once you peel the veneers though there’s much to explore; from perceptions of culture to discovering love when one is out of their element, both physically and figuratively. The film is framed by a solid performance from the ever dependable Tom Hanks playing a tech salesman who’s been asked to pitch a business proposal to an elusive king. One of the film’s many gifts is the scene-stealing performance of Alexander Black as Yousef, an American educated Saudi cab driver who proves he can hold his own against Hanks. From its stark cinematography to its subtle commentary on international relations, this is a film that I urge people to (re)consider.
2. The Nice Guys (Warner Bros.)
I grew up on a steady diet of Shane Black films (Lethal Weapon, anyone?) and for a majority of last summer, I couldn’t stop raving about this film. A studio picture that’s original(!), kooky, off-the-wall and oozing with just the right amount of sleaze, violence and genuine slapstick. The pitch-perfect chemistry of Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe harkens back to those great buddy comedies of yesteryear, a genre Shane Black perfected in the 80’s. Not to mentioned the perfectly curated disco soundtrack, the colorful, unforgettable cast of characters, the spot-on production and costume designs and a byzantine L.A. noir potboiler of a screenplay that’s paced beautifully and seamlessly. This is how good studio pictures used to be and The Nice Guys could have easily been a hit back in the 80’s or 90’s. In my opinion, this is the kind of film studios should be making more of again.
1. A Monster Calls (Focus Features)
This dark, gorgeous and enchanting children’s story about loss and grief is my pick for the most underrated movie of 2016 because it actually had an award campaign going for it. What happened? There’s way too many goodies in this movie that deserve some kind of nod. Patrick Ness, adapting his own novel to the screen, proves he understands the cinematic form. But the true highlight here is the heartbreaking performance of newcomer Lewis MacDougall who wins you from the get-go with his charm and vulnerability. I found his performance far more effective and stronger than Lucas Hedges in Manchester By the Sea. On the surface, the film can easily be mistaken as heavy visual effects fodder for kids but that would be unfair. The VFX is stunning, sure, yet it’s the overall visual cohesiveness at play that’s far more impressive, directed with such assurance by J.A. Bayona (the helmer of the next Jurassic Park installment). Also, MacDougall is surrounded by captivating performances from his adult castmates; Liam Neeson voicing the monster, Felicity Jones as his ailing mother, Sigourney Weaver as his strict grandmother and Toby Kebbell as his estranged father. This is beautiful, unforgettable and heart-wrenching cinema that can be enjoyed by the whole family. That’s rare and A Monster Calls is definitely a film that hopefully grows the following it so deserves.