10 Great Movies You May Have Missed in 2016
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It may have been a year of blockbuster disappointments on the whole, but 2016 had plenty of smaller efforts that didn’t quite get the love they deserved.
Whilst we were all off hurling deafening insults at the likes of X-Men: Apocalypse and Suicide Squad, and sending angry hate mail to Roland Emmerich for well-and-truly ruining our childhoods, a select group of incredible indies seemed to just float on by, largely ignored by the majority of the British public.
Some didn’t quite get wide enough releases, others most likely failed in the marketing department. Either way, we’ve condensed the best and brightest into an ultra-manageable list, to make catching up with 2016’s hidden gems a whole lot easier.
Top of the list, and easily one of the most feel-good, non-hits of the year is Once and Begin Again director John Carney’s grand return to the emerald isle, a hugely fun and involving teen drama centred around the 80s music scene in Ireland, and a group of soppy schoolboys who suddenly decide to throw together their own rock band.
Powered almost entirely by a ridiculously talented cast of newcomers (and Jack Reynor), Carney really took things back to basics with this one, building on some of his best original songs to date to pretty much chart the entire history of 80s pop rock. It might be small in its overall ambitions, but Sing Street is a total treat for the romantic artist in all of us; although it does help a tad if you have a similar affection for Duran Duran and/or The Cure.
Read our review of Sing Street.
Train to Busan
This surprise zombie/disaster movie masterpiece comes all the way from Korea, which probably explains why it saw a fairly smallish release around Halloween; but don’t let that fool you, Train to Busan is easily one of the most polished genre releases of the whole of 2016. Mainstreamers included.
We already condensed pretty much all of our love for Sang-ho Yeon’s absolute breath-taker into our five star review here, but in short: it’s a ridiculously entertaining thrill-ride that completely flips everything you thought you knew about zombie movies, and does so totally effortlessly. How’s that for a shocker?
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
A surprise addition to this year’s list, The Lonely Island’s second full-length feature seemed totally destined for more mainstream appeal, especially considering the endless celeb cameos and ridiculously catchy songs (although the deleted ‘Fuck Off’ is still our favourite). Yet, here in the UK, it seemed to get buried very, very quickly, right at the end of August.
Which is a huge shame because it means the majority of Britain missed out on the former SNL trio’s funniest, most awe-inspiringly stupid comedy to date: a mockumentary following Andy Samberg’s Bieber-clone ‘Connor4Real’, as he jets about promoting the worst album ever recorded. Between the main group’s sparky chemistry and a scene with some runaway bees that might well be the funniest of the year, Popstar deserved a whole lot more love. Even just that title alone is genius.
I Am Not A Serial Killer
To avoid sounding far too much like a broken record, we’ll try and condense down our love of Billy O’Brien’s totally bonkers mystery/monster debut to just a few words: it’s positively entrancing, visually and narratively.
You can read our full review here but between Max Records, Christopher Lloyd (yes, that Christopher Lloyd) and Robbie Ryan’s insanely gorgeous 16mm cinematography, I Am Not A Serial Killer is a total under-seen champion of 2016.
It may have filled up bus stops, billboards and train stations nationwide with its awesome-looking posters, but Jeff Nichols’ beautifully-realised Amblin throwback ended up raking in next-to-nothing both in the UK and overseas. Which doesn’t really make any sense considering that nostalgia-wise, it’s basically just a darker and more well-made version of Stranger Things.
It’s a crying shame that an original sci-fi like Midnight Special didn’t really make the mark it should’ve with audiences, especially considering it was something of a genre audition for the upcoming Nichols (who was actually a favourite for the Aquaman job a while back before he lost out to high-flier James Wan). It’s still easily a must-see though, and one that definitely cements Nichols as one of the most talented filmmakers working in the business today, money or no money.
Read our review of Midnight Special.
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The Darkest Universe
Again, this is one we’ve visited before so by all means have a read of the more elaborate summary on why The Darkest Universe is awesome, but on the whole Will Sharpe and Tom Kingsley’s second effort is a total brain-curbing delight.
Trippy as hell, and almost obsessively dark, it’s bizarre and occasionally super abstract (which explains the tiniest of tiny releases, reduced to mostly just London), but on the whole it’s also one of 2016’s most interesting new films, hands-down.
Into the Forest
After sweeping a whole bunch of major film festivals throughout both 2015 and the first half of ’16, Patricia Rozema’s dystopian tragedy Into the Forest pretty much fell off the UK radar altogether, gaining small releases all over Europe but never quite getting anywhere over here. So it’s not really a surprise that no one saw it really, although it’s well worth hunting down for both Rozema fans and general drama addicts alike.
Set deep in the North American woodlands, the brunt of the film takes place following a massive country-wide power outage that quickly leaves two adolescent sisters fighting to survive on their own in the suddenly dangerous wilderness. Ellen Page and Westworld’s Evan Rachel Wood are positively heartbreaking in the leads, Rozema’s style is both downtrodden and gripping, and the ongoing darkness that seems to surround the whole thing (both literally and metaphorically) is really, really hard to turn away from.
It might’ve pretty much vanished in a puff of smoke, but Into the Forest was by all means one of 2016’s most affecting movies and really deserves a whole lot more attention.
We Are the Flesh
Easily the weirdest entry on the list by a country-mile, Mexican first-timer Emiliano Rocha Minter’s totally grotesque exploration of all that is unholy is also well worth 80 minutes of your time, if you’re brave enough that is.
Surrounding the really rather screwed-up actions of a desperate brother and sister at the end of all hope, We Are the Flesh is an absolute face-melter of a horror release, and is destined to be a cult classic for years to come; full review here in case it wasn’t already clear.
Another that quickly found itself in a DVD bargain bin, S. Craig Zahler’s horror-western ended up bowing out of its already ultra-limited UK theatrical run fairly quickly at the end of January. The Kurt Russell-starring horror-western is definitely worth hunting down though, particularly if you have a patient brain and a strong stomach.
Despite being novelist Zahler’s film debut, it’s a relentlessly tense and beautifully crafted old-school dustbowl drama that very quickly, and almost without warning, shifts into one of the most terrifying and brutal slashers of the decade. Like John Ford meets Predator it’s an odd blend, but one that takes off terrifically and deserves a lot more eyes than it ultimately got over here.
Last but definitely not least is Stephen Fingleton’s BAFTA-nominated, BIFA-winning but largely invisible feature debut, that charts the struggles of a lone survivor making his way in a post-apocalyptic world without food, only to come across a pair of women in dire need of his help. Think a solemn Walking Dead minus the zombies and genre basics and you might be half-way there.
There’s simply nothing quite like the patience and innate Britishness of Fingleton’s drama. Between its devoted cast of three and an entirely rural setting, it’s hugely basic, but somehow still crammed full of nail-biting tension and a beautifully-realised dystopian world that cleverly eludes classic science-fiction wherever it can. Even if you’re not crazy about slightly artier releases, The Survivalist is well worth a few hours of your time and marks one of 2016’s brainiest efforts overall.