There is no easy way to say this but 2016 turned out to be quite a damper for mainstream Hollywood – both financially and in terms of content. Save for the likes of ‘Captain America: Civil War’ and ‘Deadpool’, even the once reliable big-budget blockbusters failed to rake in the moolah and accolades at the box-office.
Yet, amidst all the fanfare and failed promises offered by reboots, sequels, and franchises in the year past, some essential gems went unnoticed by the average moviegoer. This may be due to insufficient promotion or limited release of the film. The below list (in no particular order) covers 10 such movies released in 2016 which deserve a wider audience.
Plot: Venus ‘Vee’ Delmonico (Emma Roberts) comes across an online reality game show called ‘Nerve’ where participants can enlist as ‘watchers’ to view the live telecast or execute dares for cash as ‘players’. Greater the stakes, greater the winning prize. After enlisting in what seemed like an easy way to make money, Vee soon becomes wary of the perilous nature of the game and must play with caution to make it till the end.
What makes it great: At first, this may seem like another run-of-the-mill thriller targetted towards the internet generation. But what makes this take stand out is its fast-paced execution by its director duo Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost who have dealt with similar themes on their hit MTV show ‘Catfish‘. Commendable performances across the young cast and constant twists in the storyline makes Nerve an entertaining watch.
Plot: The story follows one week in the life of Paterson (Adam Driver) – a man who leads a simple life as a bus driver in a town which is his namesake. However, he is also a gifted poet and maintains his observations in a notebook. His wife (Golshifteh Farahani) is a constant source of encouragement and tries to convince him to publish his works. Will Paterson be able to break away from his monotonous life and realize his true talent?
What makes it great: Jim Jarmusch is often hailed as the pioneer of the American Independent Film Movement. Often breaking away from traditional storytelling; his movies instead focus on character development and mood setting where pacing takes a backseat. His idiosyncratic style works wonders for this story as it builds up to an unexpected final act. Driver, now well-known for his brooding portrayal of ‘Kylo Ren’ in ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’, is perfect here as the laconic protagonist in a performance that also evokes occasional humor.
3. Hell or High Water
Plot: We are introduced to two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) as they begin a robbery spree across several banks in Southern Texas. The police are stumped regarding the motivation of the robberies until Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) takes up the case.
What makes it great: At this point, there is little that hasn’t been explored in a heist-themed movie. So much so that of late, this genre seems to be on the decline. However, director David Mackenzie brings new life to this tried and tested formula through gripping visuals and gritty characters. Even Bridges, who plays a Southern police character for what seems like the umpteenth time is amusing to watch in this portrayal. His camaraderie with partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) where they often indulge in mocking banter is extremely funny.
4. The Witch
Plot: In 17th century England, a family chose to move away from their Puritan community due to differences in their interpretation of the New Testament. They hence begin a new life in seclusion in a neighboring forest. Soon, strange things begin to happen that make them question their sanity and faith.
What makes it great: In recent times, horror movies have relegated themselves to jump scares and gratuitous gore. I feel moviegoers today have forgotten what brought this genre to the forefront in the 70s. Classics like ‘The Omen‘ and ‘The Shining‘ are reminiscent even today because of their compelling story that truly engages the viewer as it slowly builds an atmosphere of looming dread. It is difficult to talk about The Witch without giving much away, but I can tell you that it will definitely take you back to those times. (Word of Caution: This one is not for the faint-hearted. Contains some disturbing content and visuals.)
5. Sing Street
Plot: It is 1985 in Dublin where opportunities are scarce and unemployment is high. Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is part of a mid-income family who is forced to trade his expensive education in favor of a free state school to help his family to make ends meet. Here he meets the beautiful aspiring model, Raphina (Lucy Boynton) and starts a band in a quest to impress her.
What makes it great: With a 96% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, this is probably one of the best coming-of-age tales in recent times. The story has a lot of heart to it, a theme perfected over time by director John Carney. A terrific combination of humor, lovable characters, and a great soundtrack makes this one a must watch if you are on the lookout for an upbeat feel-good movie.
6. Hail, Caesar!
Plot: Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is the ‘Head of Physical Production’ at Capitol Pictures but he actually works as a ‘fixer’ to keep scandalous stories of its stars out of the press. The studio is currently engaged in a major production titled ‘Hail, Caesar!’, an epic set in ancient Roman times. One day, its major star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) goes missing and Eddie is tasked with finding him.
What makes it great: After a string of movies in the serious drama category, it is refreshing to watch the Coen Brothers get back to comedy. With a success streak across different genres and themes, an inherent attribute across their films is spot-on casting and dark humor. Hence even with a huge ensemble cast that includes Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton among others, not one seems out of place. In fact, each character only adds to this parody of Old Hollywood. Also, George Clooney is hilarious as the dashing but airhead movie star.
7. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Plot: Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is a juvenile whose bad behavior has got him in trouble across various foster homes. His officer, Paula (Rachel House) sees him as a menace and finally sends him to a new home at a remote farm under the care of Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata). Soon after, Ricky goes missing and causes the police to believe he has been kidnapped by Bella’s husband Hector (Sam Neil) and taken into the New Zealand wilderness. A nationwide manhunt ensues for their capture.
What makes it great: Taika Waititi may not be a well-known name right now but that is soon going to change with his first major Hollywood film, ‘Thor: Ragnarok‘ up for release later this year. An already established director in his native New Zealand, Waititi is known for bringing witty humor into everyday stories. Here too, relatable characters and brilliant situational comedy elevate this familiar tale of two misfits trying to break away from the system around them.
8. Kubo and the 2 Strings
Plot: Kubo (Art Parkinson) is a one-eyed young boy with magical powers who lives with his ill mother. One day, he accidentally summons a demonic spirit which threatens to destroy his peaceful existence. He joins forces with Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) to retrieve his late father’s samurai suit – the only force that can stop the evil spirit.
What makes it great: Laika is the animation studio behind some beautiful stop-motion features in recent times such as ‘Coraline‘ and ‘ParaNorman‘. They usually cover darker and more complex themes which may be the reason why this movie was unable to grab the spotlight from the much hyped and light-hearted fare like ‘Finding Dory‘ and ‘Moana‘. Sure the story is familiar with its typical eastern premise and ancient forces at play. But with its beautiful visuals and compelling story, it plays out like a painting in motion.
9. The Lobster
Plot: This futuristic drama revolves around David (Colin Farrell) who lives in a city where single people are given 45 days to find a partner failing which they are turned into an animal. David escapes the system and stumbles upon a cult that lives in a forest where he meets a woman (Rachel Weisz) who maybe the one meant for him.
What makes it great: I have covered this movie previously on another post. This was one of the first movies I watched last year and it amazes me why it received such low views upon release. The quirky dystopian premise proved to be both entertaining and engaging to watch. Farrell also proved to be a true revelation. Mostly known for his tough action-hero persona, he plays the awkward and shy protagonist to perfection.
10. The Nice Guys
Plot: In 1970s Los Angeles, a bumbling private eye Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and an unethical enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) become an unlikely duo as they are forced to work together to solve the case of a missing girl. Through their investigation, they uncover a shocking conspiracy that reaches up to the highest ranks of power.
What makes it great: Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe make a terrific duo bringing back memories of good ol’ buddy cop movies like ‘Lethal Weapon‘. Gosling proves yet again why he is considered to be one of the best actors of his generation. He is terrific as the goofy and bonehead detective. But its real breakout star has to be Angourie Rice playing Gosling’s precocious daughter who joins the duo in cracking the case.
That’s it for this list! Have you watched these movies? What other great movie do you feel deserved more recognition in 2016? Let me know in the comment section below!