The 13 Most Underrated Movies of 2016
by Moviefone Staff
Say what you will about the world at large, but 2016 was a pretty great year for movies. And for all the films that are getting the kind of year-end awards buzz, there are just as many quality films that were released and subsequently ignored. Here are the films you probably overlooked.
Mel Gibson has had quite the comeback in 2016. In addition to directing the visceral World War II drama "Hacksaw Ridge," he also starred in "Blood Father," a marginally released thriller from underrated French filmmaker Jean-François Richet. Gibson plays a skuzzy tattoo artist who attempts to track down his missing, drug addled daughter. The supporting cast is surprisingly strong and Gibson's performance is almost note-perfect. He feels right at home in this kind of grungy grindhouse action movie. Welcome back, Mel.
'Age of Shadows'
I am literally the only person I know who saw this film. (It's South Korea's entry for the Best Foreign Language Film, which is a real eff you to "The Handmaiden," but could mean that people actually see it at some point.) It's a real shame because this movie is totally amazing -- a sumptuous spy thriller set in Japanese-occupied Korea that has numerous odes to De Palma's "The Untouchables." It features one of the more finely textured performances of the year, courtesy of the always incredible Song Kang-ho, and feels like the type of movie they just don't make anymore.
Ben Wheatley is one of those fearless filmmakers whose imagination is never inconvenienced by his relatively small budgets. "High-Rise," his loopy dystopian satire based on the book by J.G. Ballard, really pushes this to the extreme. Tom Hiddleston plays a doctor who moves into a futuristic apartment building whose architects seem to be hiding insidious motives and whose residents are driven slowly insane. Any movie this dark that also manages to include several covers of ABBA's "S.O.S" should be seen by everyone.
'Hunt for the Wilderpeople'
Next year, Taika Waititi will unleash Marvel's "Thor: Ragnarok" on an unsuspecting world and maybe that'll be enough to nudge people in the direction of "Hunt for the Wilderpeople," his utterly charming and expressive masterpiece from this year. Sam Neill stars as a gruff New Zealand outdoorsman who, along with his loving wife (Rima Te Wiata) adopts a wayward orphan named Ricky (Julian Dennison). While this sounds like a totally syrupy set-up, it actually is quite dark and melancholy and hilarious and, in the movie's unexpected third act, takes on a larger, more adventurous dimension that would be criminal to spoil here.
Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key reunited with a chief "Key and Peele" collaborator, director Peter Atencio, to do their riff on '80s action movies. But nobody showed up. (Blame the kitten-focused marketing campaign). It's more in line, tonally, with something like "Hot Fuzz," and, like that film, "Keanu" seems destined for cult immortality.
"The Lobster" takes place in a world where people go to a hotel and are forced to either couple-off or be turned into an animal. (For Colin Farrell, who goes there after his wife cheats on him, he wishes to be made into a lobster.) Those that choose not to participate in this activity roam the woods wildly, listening to electronic music and avoiding detection by those at the hotel (who hunt them for sport). If this sounds like the strangest (and worst first-date) movie ever made, that's because it is. But it's also deeply affecting and the work of a master filmmaker (Greek oddball Yorgos Lanthimos). At turns bleak and hopeful, "The Lobster" is genuinely unlike anything you've seen all year.
'Love & Friendship'
Whit Stillman's playful period comedy, based on a partially unfinished Jane Austen novel, was the kind of frothy delight that should have served as killer counter programming in the superhero-fueled summer months. But Amazon Studios and Roadside, who have bungled the release of some of the year's very best movies, once again made it virtually impossible to actually see the movie. Now that it's on Amazon Prime, though, everyone should take part in the upstairs-downstairs fun, anchored by Kate Beckinsale's peerless performance (one of the year's best).
"Jackie" isn't the only visionary biopic about a marginalized female historical figure. There was also "Miss Hokusai," a Japanese animated film about the life of Katsushika Ōi, whose father was Hokusai, the famous painter behind that "waves" painting that hangs on countless dorm room walls. The story unfolds with a similarly painterly vibe, as a series of vignettes, that allows you to appreciate her as an artist and a person.
Bewilderingly overlooked, this nifty thriller about a nefarious role-playing game/social network, is breathlessly entertaining and anchored by a pair of likable performances by Emma Roberts and Dave Franco.
'One More Time With Feeling'
In 2015, Australian musician Nick Cave's son died in an accident after falling off a cliff. So, instead of doing a press tour for the release of his latest album, he commissioned a 3D documentary to be made by his friend and frequent collaborator, Andrew Dominik. The resulting doc is beautifully and bruising; it's oftentimes uncomfortably confessional and the entire enterprise, filmed in velvety black-and-white, feels draped in a kind of suffocating sadness. It'll be on home video next year; have a stiff drink ready.
'Queen of Katwe'
Ostensibly part of the Disney sports movie lineage that includes everything from "The Mighty Ducks" to "Million Dollar Arm," "Queen of Katwe" was instead a more focused, less showy piece, and one that eschewed the "white guy coming into a foreign culture" worldview for something more genuine and moving. "Queen" is the true story of a female Ugandan chess prodigy, who believed in herself and triumphed on the world stage. Director Mira Nair makes a quietly powerful, altogether authentic triumph.
'Tale of Tales'
Of course Matteo Garrone, the insanely talented Italian director behind "Gamorrah," would make an anthology film based on the works of Neapolitan poet Giambattista Basile. It is awesome. Fans of some of Jim Henson's darker work (particularly "The Storyteller") will lose their minds for this wonderful film, which features, amongst many other things, John C. Reilly battling a sea monster and Salma Hayek eating a monster's bloody heart.
'Voyage of Time'
One of the reasons a movie can be overlooked is that you literally can't figure out how to see it. That was case with Terrence Malick's Brad Pitt-narrated IMAX documentary "Voyage of Time." It was released on only 12 IMAX screens that were located in places like science museums, made even more confusing by the fact that at around the same time, a different version -- featuring twice as much footage and different narration (this time by Cate Blanchett) -- was being screened. The point is that if you can see the film (and you should), it's totally trippy and amazing–like the beginning of "Tree of Life" but with more dinosaurs.