Yes, it’s that time again: when I sigh heavily and decide that maybe this is the year that I’ll actually start blogging about movies, writing, and filmmaking on a more regular basis (spoiler alert: this isn’t the year either). I’m pretty much resigned to the fact that this blog now serves the sole function of allowing me to publish barely-readable crap about how I feel about various movies once a year. At first, it was the best-ofs. Last year, I did my favorite genre movies. This year, though, the genre movies weren’t quite so strong, so we’re going to go with a wider, more general “Underappreciated Gems” theme. If you want to hear my thoughts on Moonlight, La La Land, Loving, or any of the other movies sure to be nominated for Oscars this year, then… I dunno, call me in a month once I’ve scavenged all the screeners from my more successful buddies. Or don’t, I don’t really care. Anyways, on with the show!
But first! My actual, real, true favorite of the year: Arrival, a smart, sobering science fiction film that looks at how language shapes the way we view the world. It’s an especially valuable movie given our current political climate, and it packs one hell of a twist. This movie will seduce your mind, then suckerpunch you right in the heart before sending you out into the world with all of your emotions in disarray. See it at night so it’s less easy to tell how freely your tears are flowing as you leave the theater.
A couple of honorable mentions, now: Hell or High Water, which proves that a simple, almost rote premise, well-written and well-executed, with an amazing cast, can be elevated far beyond what one might expect. It’s not a revolutionary film, but it is a riveting, frightening, funny, and often sad little story of family and robbin’ banks, and features another great turn from Cowboy Jeff Bridges.
And finally, I have to mention the other Daniel Radcliffe movie that came out this year. Not the farting corpse one, which I haven’t seen yet but seriously cannot wait to watch when it comes out on Amazon Prime later this month. No, I’m talking about Imperium, a genuinely disturbing look at how white nationalism has wormed its way underneath American society. Good ol’ Harry P. plays an FBI agent who goes undercover with a nationalist group, and the first time you see his new “friends” at home with their families, or throwing barbecues and birthday parties in the backyards of their beautiful suburban homes, the chills will start. And they will not stop.
Okay! For real this time! Drum roll please! For all, I dunno, one of you that cares, my underrated, under-watched, underappreciated films of 2016!
- PETE’S DRAGON: A reimagining of the 70’s Disney movie that everyone my age watched growing up but can barely remember, this movie was pretty much ignored when it dropped in August. Shit, you might not even be aware that it was a thing. But it was indeed a thing, and a very, very good thing. The animated Elliot (the dragon, if you were wondering) from the original is now a realistic CGI dragon/dog thing that is both gigantic and adorable. If boy-and-his-pet-whatever movies make you cry as much as they make me cry, grab like eighty boxes of tissues and settle in for a heartwarming, old-fashioned kids’ flick. It’s basically about a boy who just wants to be left alone by society to play with his dog, and I very much relate to that so onto the list it goes.
- GREEN ROOM: Patrick Stewart as an eerily-calm-yet-evil-as-fuck Neo Nazi? Hell yes. Punk rockers vs. white nationalists? Double hell yes. This movie is raw, brutal, totally gripping, and currently available on Amazon Prime for fucking free. If you love grimy, 70’s-inspired thrillers, you will live for the scene I now only refer to as “the unzippening.” You’ll know it when you see it.
- THE NICE GUYS: This is definitely not a movie for everyone. Shane Black’s best movies as a director (this and KISS KISS BANG BANG) are unapologetically crass and don’t really give much of a shit about telling a great story: they’re all tone and character. This one has a labyrinthine plot involving porn producers and a little kid and some other stuff, but the real treat here is watching Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe spar using Black’s crackling dialogue. If you think you can laugh at a showdown between two of our best working actors in which one of them is taking a shit and the other is trying not to look, this movie is for you.
- TRAIN TO BUSAN: Koreans do Western genres better than Western movies do. There, I said it. The best Korean genre movies manage to have tongue planted firmly in cheek without actually being cheeky about it: they’re fun and funny, but also unapologetically emotional, even sentimental. When done right, they can rise to the heights of Bong Joon Ho’s THE HOST. Add Sang-Ho Yeon’s TRAIN TO BUSAN to that auspicious list. Yes, it’s a zombie movie set on a train, and no, it doesn’t have a great twist on the zombie subgenre. But it executes it to near-perfection: an oft-absent father, taking his daughter with him on a business trip to Busan, finds himself trapped on one end of a long train hurtling across the Korean countryside. On the other end of the train, his daughter. Between them, hundreds of very hungry, vicious, and speedy zombies. It’s the very definition of a great ride.
- SING STREET: I went into this one knowing very little about it other than that it was a musical and was supposed to be great, and that’s how your should go in. I will say that SING STREET, from ONCE writer/director John Carney, is a funny, heartfelt, infectiously energetic 80’s-set musical that feels like some kind of lost Irish John Hughes movie. It also contains a great message about empowering young people to use art to find their voice. It’s on Netflix streaming right now. Watch it. Watch it forever.
- HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE: Another coming-of-age movie, this time from New Zealand, this one honestly surprised me. Writer/director Taika Waititi (who, along with Jeff Goldblum FINALLY playing a space alien, is the best reason to care about the upcoming third THOR movie) pulls off a neat trick: a genuinely hilarious, often very balls-to-the-wall comedy that’s crass, ridiculous, never anything less than incredibly entertaining, yet contains moments of genuine sadness and emotion that don’t fall flat amidst all the shenanigans. This is a great movie for young writers to watch, too; every single person that enters the frame is a fully-realized, utterly unique, and unfailingly funny character. One of the absolute best of the year.
- THE WAILING: I debated putting this movie on the list at all, but once I decided I was going to, there was never any doubt that it would be number one. Writer/director Hong-Jin Na’s small-town horror epic begins as a family comedy about a bumbling police officer investigating what appears to be a small-scale, localized zombie outbreak. When he and his co-workers become convinced that an elderly Japanese hermit who lives in the nearby woods is the culprit, things take a turn for the dark and the weird. Very dark, and very weird. This film goes to some truly unexpected, often terrifying places, and it turns into a subjective, point-of-view-fueled, utterly baffling, feverish nightmare by the time its third act rolls around (which takes awhile). Most people will genuinely hate it, but if you’re a genre fan who loves a good challenge, has some patience, and wants to see what for my money is the very best exorcism scene since Linda Blair barfed pea soup onto her duvet, this will likely become one of your very favorites. Bonus: it’s currently streaming on Netflix. Give it a shot. Or don’t, if all of this sounds horrible to you. Y’know what, just try watching the first ten minutes and see how it goes. If you hate it, Captain America: Civil War is on there too, ya plebe.
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