Monday, January 2, 2017

The Most Underrated Films of 2016

It was very tough to put this list together this year. In 2016, with such a massively disappointing set of blockbusters, films that flew under-the-radar inevitably ended up being some of the best of the year. In fact, at the end of the summer season, I called it the "Summer of Hidden Gems," and you could pretty much expand that to the year as a whole and it would still be true. You had to search a little harder to find the best films of 2016, but it all ended up being pretty rewarding in the end. For this list, I tried to come up with films that received a positive, but muted critical reception, while also serving as a major box office misfire. All of these films were praised by critics, but they aren't really being discussed in the end-of-year conversation. In addition, I tried to keep films that will be appearing on my Top 25 list off this one, but ultimately, my #1 pick will be on both lists. In the hopes of preventing you from being confused any further, here are my five picks for the most underrated films of 2016!

5. A BIGGER SPLASH


Images courtesy of Fox Searchlight

A Bigger Splash is certainly an imperfect film, and it really falls flat in its final act. But wow, those first two acts are something. An erotic thriller set on the sandy, sun-baked shores of the Mediterranean, A Bigger Splash announced the arrival of Luca Guadagnino as a directorial force to be reckoned with, a filmmaker who could craft an alluring drama with some of the most dynamic characters of the year. Props should also go to Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Dakota Johnson, and Matthias Schoenaerts, a terrific ensemble built on stunning levels of chemistry. For all of its flaws, this was a delightful summer treat, a fun, sexy couple of hours at the movie theater. A Bigger Splash is escapist arthouse fun, working purely as a delightful carnival ride of love, lust, and violence.


4. MIDNIGHT SPECIAL


Jeff Nichols released two films this year, and while one will likely receive awards attention throughout the early months of 2017, the other slipped under the radar in March to never be heard from again. Of course, I'm referring to Midnight Special, Nichols' moody, esoteric sci-fi chase film, which stars Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Adam Driver, Kirsten Dunst, and Jaeden Lieberher. The film was praised by critics, and while it does have its flaws, I was really hoping that it would connect with people in a more substantial way. Midnight Special disappeared without a trace at the box office, which is a shame. It's one of the more interesting viewing experiences I had in 2016, and it manages to be mysterious and thoughtful at the same time. It has its flaws, but this fascinating little film deserved a bigger audience.


3. ANTHROPOID


Images courtesy of Bleecker Street

Anthropoid features the best action scene of the year, and that is not an understatement. The final act of this World War II film has some of the best white-knuckle thrills of the year, crafting a bloody, gritty, terrifying sequence for the ages. The first two acts aren't too shabby either, establishing two desperate, scared characters, and allowing them to operate in an impossible scenario. Director Sean Ellis crafted a dark, intense thriller about the unseen cost of war, set during a covert mission in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan deliver two highly underrated performances in this impressive war film, which was ignored by most critics and audience members. It's a rock solid war movie, and despite a few dull moments, this spectacularly entertaining film is an important, brutal flick that delivers exactly what you want from a World War II thriller.


2. KEANU


Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele finally made the transition to the big screen in 2016, and they delivered a comedy that was just as incisive and hilarious as their hit show. Keanu is both a parody of the action/comedy genre and a smart look at race in America, made all the more absurd considering that it's about the chase for a missing kitten. The film is fun, fast, and wildly entertaining, and it's very odd to me that it wasn't embraced upon its initial release. Critics praised the film, but were lukewarm overall, and the late April release led to a box office gross of merely $20.5 million. Maybe Key & Peele's audience is more limited than we had once imagined, but it's still monumentally disappointing that one of the best comedies of the year did so poorly. Nonetheless, it's the kind of film that will have a long shelf life, and I have a feeling that we haven't seen the last of this duo on the big screen.


1. POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING


Image Credit: IMDB/Universal

Each year, I try to separate the films that I place on this list with those that find a home on my Top 25 list. But just like last year, when I placed Mississippi Grind on both lists, I'll do the same with The Lonely Island's Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. This movie should have made $100 million with ease, but instead, it left theaters quickly with a $9.4 million domestic gross and a future as a cult classic. Critics were receptive of Popstar, awarding it a score of 77% on Rotten Tomatoes, but it didn't seem like too many people were fighting hard for the film when it died at the box office. As I read through many end-of-year lists, it seems like the attitude towards Popstar has changed just a bit. And honestly, that doesn't bug me one bit- at least people are finally recognizing it as the genius comedy that it is. Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone have created a gut-busting satire of the modern pop music world, and even though the film only runs 87 minutes, the trio accomplish so much in that short time. This is one of the funnier comedies in recent years, bolstered by the terrific cast and one hell of a soundtrack. It's the most underrated film of the year by a mile, and one that we'll be talking about in the years to come.


That is all for this list. As the week goes on, I'll be publishing my Most Overrated Films of 2016 list, as well as the worst of the year, before finally publishing my picks for the best films of 2016.

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