Underappreciated Films Of 2016

Staying well clear of the blockbusters, superhero movies and sequels, Lyndon Wells runs down his underappreciated films of 2016. How many of these have you seen…

Taut & Terrifying, "Green Room" Doesn't Hold Back

2016 has been a mixed bag of a year for films. For every Captain America: Civil War there has been a Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. There have been plenty of crowd pleasing blockbusters like Deadpool, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Zootopia, The Jungle Book, Star Wars: Rogue One, Jason Bourne, Doctor Strange and The BFG with big marketing budgets and box office success but there’s also been many audience favourites elvated by word of mouth and crtiical acclaim such as I Daniel Blake and Arrival.

But these films only scratch the surface when it comes to 2016’s cinematic delights…

Being a massive film fan I relish the opportunity to share and preach about those films not enough people have seen. Remember that last film you loved and told everyone to go see? Well this is my top 10 list of the most underappreciated films of 2016 that more people need to see. The top 3 of this list are my favourite films of the year and were all released in the same week in the UK! Let’s begin…

Victoria (Schipper, Germany)

The Best Film Of 2016The only foreign language film on my list, but a must see for all film fans due to its technical achievement. Victoria (Laia Costa) is a young Spanish woman newly arrived in Berlin. She bumps into a group of local youths, accepts their invitation to hang out, and is inadvertently led into surprising and dangerous consequences. The film boasts one single shot: beginning in a nightclub at 4am and following Victoria until the sun rises over two hours later without a single cut. The triumph of the film though is the technical gimmick is forgotten by the viewer as the film seamlessly morphs into an unexpected thriller.

The Nice Guys (Black, USA)

Most Anticipated Movies of 2016 - Top 10 FilmsShane Black’s unique sarcastic tone that bought us Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man 3 arrived in 2016 in the form of his version of LA Confidential. Ryan Gosling steals the show as a failing private eye in 1970s LA and is forced into an unlikely pairing with an enforcer, Russell Crowe, to investigate the case of a missing girl and the connected death of a porn star. The dialogue is sharp and suits both the leads as they bumble through a number of darkly comic set pieces.

Green Room (Saulnier, USA)

Taut & Terrifying, "Green Room" Doesn't Hold BackA fresh twist on the siege and grindhouse genre as a young punk band are forced to fight for their lives when under attack from a group of Neo-Nazi thugs led by a memorable Patrick Stewart. It is also one of the last performances by the late Anton Yelchin. It has found the audience it deserves after its theatrical release but, I wish more people saw this tense riot of a film at the cinema. This is an exploitation film with a brain that delivers on the shock factor.

Midnight Special (Nichols, USA)

"Midnight Special" Reconfirms Jeff Nichols As One Of Cinema's Most Exciting DirectorsDirector Jeff Nichols throws another family into turmoil in this smart sci-fi thriller. Roy (Michael Shannon) goes on the run with his son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) who has powers that make him appear as a threat to some and a saviour to others. They are joined by Alton’s mother Sarah (Kirsten Dunst) and old friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) as they are pursued by government agents (Adam Driver) and an extreme religious sect overseen by Sam Shepard’s driven leader. A soulful film that plays with 1980s nostalgia that bravely trumps themes and emotion above factual resolution.

Kubo And The Two Strings (Knight, USA)

The Best Film Of 2016A stop motion delight from studio Laika that continues its winning streak. The young Kubo is in hiding but after discovery by his grandfather the Moon King he is forced on a daring quest to find three magical pieces of a suit of armour. The animation is beautiful, a perfect backdrop to an undeniably emotive tale that is anchored by a strong voice cast including Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey and Ralph Fiennes. This animated adventure boast big laughs, scary moments and thrills all set on a gorgeous canvas.

Room (Abrahamson, USA)

"Room": Contentious, Uncomfortable, Riveting And UnrivalledWhilst included in last year’s Oscar race this was a film with a 2016 UK release date so the more people I can encourage to see this masterpiece the better. Unlike the other Oscar contenders of last year like The Revenant and The Big Short I am still surprised that not enough people have seen this one. Room is an abhorrent story that challenges its characters to find hope in a seemingly hopeless situation. Ma (Brie Larson) and her five-year-old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) live in a ten-square-foot room that is all Jack has ever known. Ma has been captive in this room for seven years after being kidnapped then raped countless times. Ma creates a world to protect Jack from the harsh reality they face. The film is masterfully directed by Lenny Abrahamson who presents it from a child’s perspective. It is emotionally exhausting and many scenes produced more than misty eyes. The film is about a bond between mother and son and how they provide strength to each other in harrowing circumstances.

Hell Or High Water (Mackenzie, USA)

The Best Film Of 2016A modern western as two brothers – former con Tanner (Ben Foster) and divorced dad (Chris Pine) – are forced into an audacious bank robbing spree to save their family’s West Texas farm from foreclosure. Standing in their way is a wily Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges) and his suffering partner. A simple tale that drags the Western into the modern age in a tense and gripping tale with sympathetic characters and no clear villain, all tied together by the ever excellent Bridges.

Hunt For The Wilderpeople (Waititi, New Zealand)

A film from New Zealand by the director of vampire mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows Taika Waititi. The film follows troublesome fat kid Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) after child welfare services delivers him to a remote farm in the countryside, to be fostered by the warm Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her grumpy husband Uncle Hec (Sam Neill). An unfortunate event leads to Ricky and Uncle Hec becoming the object of a national manhunt when they go accidentally missing in the bush. This hilarious and warm film set to a background of Lord of the Rings country engrosses you with its hyper-realistic stance and razor sharp wit. A pursuit movie anchored with an oddball adventure of a mismatched pair.

Captain Fantastic (Ross, USA)

My top film of 2016 is a family drama with a beautiful comic sensibility and a heart wrenching exploration of modern society. Despite the title this is not another superhero film, Ben (Viggo Mortensen) is the metaphorical Captain Fantastic but can also at times be interpreted as the villain of the piece. Mortensen gives an Oscar-worthy and captivating performance as a father that takes his wife and six children deep into the woods to abandon modern life, preferring high-minded ideals and intellectual theories. However, when his wife dies, the family venture together into the modern world to attend her funeral, including awkward interactions with disapproving family members. This film is fiercely original as it explores the world through the eyes of a gang of outsiders, and the dense but carefully layered metaphors allow this impressive drama to be read on several different levels.

Written and Compiled by Lyndon Wells

What are your fave underrated or underappreciated movies of 2016?

About the Author
A film geek and cinephile masquerading as a Doctor, husband and father. With my dog Bilbo by my side I seek to prescribe a healthy movie experience through accurate diagnostics. Find me on Twitter: @lwellsfilm

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  1. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    Luckily many of these weren’t underappreciated by Top 10 Films with four- and five-star reviews for Room, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Midnight Special, Green Room and The Nice Guys. Great recommendations Lyndon.

    • Avatar
      Lyndon Wells Reply

      Thanks, all films worthy of the high rating. Have to make sure you see Captain Fantastic not enough people have seen it and it’s my film of the year!

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    Rory Reply

    Good stuff. Many of my favourites in 2016 such as Hunt for the Wilderpeople which will no doubt become many people’s new favourite comedy in time. It’s definitely up there with the funniest films I’ve ever seen.

    • Avatar
      Lyndon Wells Reply

      Totally agree Hunt for the Wilderpeople will become q classic in no time!

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    Callum Reply

    Those that I’ve seen I’d recommend too apart from Hell or High Water which I wasn’t fond of. Room and Kubo are brilliant. I want to see Victoria.

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      Lyndon Wells Reply

      I really enjoyed the slow tension of Hell or High Water but not for everyone. Have you seen Sicario? Same writer many people preferred it to Hell or High water. And Voctoria is definitely worth a watch.

      • Avatar
        Callum Reply

        Yes, I really liked Sicario. Maybe Villeneuve – who is such a talent – was able to get the most out of the script. Hell or High Water just didn’t excite me in the same way.

        • Avatar
          Lyndon Wells Reply

          Villeneuve is on a great run at the minute. Excited to see what he does with the Blade Runner Sequel!

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    CineGirl Reply

    Kubo was a big surprise for me this year. Exceptional movie.

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    Courtney Reply

    From this list, I desperately need to see Captain Fantastic, Green Room and Hell or High Water. I don’t know how I managed to miss these in theaters, but there are probably an additional 10 other indies I can add to my watch-list before Oscar season. Great post!

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    Dan Grant Reply

    Thanks for this piece. I really need to see Captain fantastic and Wilderpeople. I’ve heard good things about both of them.

    Hell or High Water is a worthy entry on this list. Such a terrific script and tour de force performances from everyone involved. Bridges gets the glory but I thought both Pine Foster were terrific as the diametric brothers. While both want the same things, they go about it in completely different ways. I would love to see this get some Oscar attention.

    There are few films that feel like a kick to the gut, Room is one of them. If you are human, it’s nearly impossible to not be affected by that film.

    Green Room is a nice little thriller and Nice Guys is good effort from Lethal Weapon writer and Predator victim, Shane Black.

    Great list. If I could add just a couple of more, (not sure if they have been released in UK yet) one would be Manchester-by-the-Sea, which is a terrific film with a Oscar caliber performance from Casey Affleck and then his brother knocked me out with his turn in The Accountant. If you haven’t seen these, maybe check them out.

    • Avatar
      Lyndon Wells Reply

      Thanks, please seek out Captain Fantastic, it’s my film of the year, not enough people have seen it.
      Room is a proper kick to the guts but ultimately an uplifting message.

      Enjoyed the Accountant but didn’t make the list for me. Manchester by the Sea will be a 2017 UK film but hearing great things really want to see it.

      I should make a big mention to Sing Street as well, great little film about an Irish school 1980s band formed to impress a girl, proper feel-good film!

  7. Avatar
    Dan Grant Reply

    I forgot to mention Criminal. This is the film with Kevin Costner, Ryan Reynolds and many others. It was a terrific film and if the academy actually gave out nominations to films from all release points of the year, not just Nov-Dec…Costner would be a shoe in for best actor.

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    Lisa Keys Reply

    Everyone MUST see Hunt for the Wilderpeople. I also loved Sing Street this year and thought Mia Hansen-Løve’s Things To Come needs to find a wider audience.

    • Avatar
      Lyndon Wells Reply

      Yes Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a must see! Also wish I had put Sing Street on this list it’s a great feel good film. Will be seeking out Things to Come and let you know, thanks!

    • Avatar
      Dan Grant Reply

      Just saw it on the weekend and yes, I can see why it is so highly praised. Wonderful film and a great performance from Dennison. Loved all the pop culture references.

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    Keith Reply

    Great list. I definitely agree with many of these choices. So much so that several of these ended up on my Best of 2016 list. I would also add The Innocents, a brilliant and devastating film that no one talks about.

    • Avatar
      Lyndon Wells Reply

      Thanks l, haven’t heard of the Innocents will be on the watch list I will let you know!

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    Ainslie Reply

    I liked David Brent Life on the Road, not many did though.

    • Avatar
      Lyndon Wells Reply

      Don’t think it was under appreciated, think it got about the right amount of appreciation this vanity project deserved!! ?

  11. Avatar
    ArchE Reply

    On the grapevine from which I have my ear, some of these films definitely earned their stripes in 2016. Hunt for the Wilderpeople was extra special, a film with heart and pathos and wry wit and great performances. A film that is so funny it could hospitalise the weak.

    If I could have my say, some others worth a mention as underappreciated 2016 films in need of a loving home: b-movie specialist Stephen Hopkins’ film Race, a biopic about Jesse Owens was far better than it was given credit for. There’s also Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups – not an easy film to enjoy but a departure from the gung ho Marvel films.

    Oh, and The Neon Demon, which I believe was reviewed on this site and given five stars, was another 2016 treat.

    • Avatar
      Lyndon Wells Reply

      Thanks, I didn’t get on with Neon Demon I appreciated it but didn’t enjoy it, I think Winding Refn’s best film is still Drive by a long way.
      I remember seeing the Race trailer then it just disappeared it’s on the watchlist!

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      Dan Grant Reply

      NEON DEMON for the win. One of the three best films of the year imo.

  12. Avatar
    Angel H. Reply

    Great films here. Hopefully some of these will find a bigger audience on DVD/VOD. Kubo was one of my films of the year.

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    stellamarie Reply

    I like to try new things and this list I will look them up. I love international films as long as it isn’t horror films. Sweden has had some good entries before and worth a trawl around the net for Indie international films I agree. Glad their are festivals out there in the world to show us these gems and hope to see more.

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