The Ten Best Movies Hardly Anyone Saw in 2016

For your summer holiday viewing pleasure.
Sarah Ward
December 07, 2016

A trip to the cinema can brighten up the bleakest of days — and while it's a safe (and often enjoyable) choice to flock to the flicks you know have mass rave reviews, sometimes it's nice to get stuck into a film that hasn't garnered loud critical acclaim.

Superheroes, franchises, sequels and remakes are all well and good, but there's a wealth of features gracing screens near you that don't always fall into those categories. They're the under-seen and often under-sung gems, and they're some of 2016's most rewarding, entertaining and engaging viewing. To help you catch up on a year's worth of great cinema, we're put together rundown of the ten 2016 best movies that box office figures tell us you probably missed. Have a few to catch up on? Don't worry — you can't spend all year purely watching films. Besides, that's what summer holidays are for.


If you only see one movie featuring Patrick Stewart as a fascist heavy metal club owner, make it Jeremy Saulnier's follow-up to the criminally under-seen Blue Ruin. The actor also known as Jean-Luc Picard and Professor Xavier will send chills down your spine — but there's a just as impressive bunch of actors trying to fend him off. As the title suggests, much of Green Room takes place backstage, where Anton Yelchin, Arrested Development's Alia Shawkat and their band stumble across something they shouldn't have. Prepare to feel uneasy as you watch this violent, claustrophobic thriller. And prepare to appreciate Yelchin's many talents for one of the last times.


Lightning strikes not just twice but thrice for Irish filmmaker John Carney; with Once and Begin Again also on his resume, he's clearly on a roll. Sing Street is another music-focused outing, this time following a teenage band in the 1980s — and adolescent hopes and dreams have rarely been so charming. From the original songs you'll immediately have stuck in your head, to the loveable cast of Irish newcomers, Carney doesn't make a wrong move. We predict that, in years to come, this will join all the usual actual '80s efforts on your repeat-viewing list.


Zombie effort Train to Busan wasn't the only ace action-oriented film South Korea gifted audiences this year. Tunnel might've received much less attention, but if you like watching tense disaster efforts, people trying to claw their way out a crumbled structure and/or bureaucratic bungling, then this is the movie for you. Sure, you probably think you've seen it all before — but thanks to A Hard Day director Kim Seong-hun, prepare yourself for one of the most well-rounded examples of the genre to grace cinema screens. Indeed, Tunnel succeeds on three fronts: making its life-or-death scenario feel urgent and immediate, fleshing out its characters and garnering a genuine emotional impact.


Maggie's Plan isn't a sequel to Frances Ha by any means, but it is the next best thing. Writer/director Rebecca Miller guides Greta Gerwig through another idiosyncratic existence, this time as a single woman keen to jump into motherhood — and not at all concerned that she's not in a relationship. Gerwig once again shines in the kind of role she's made her own, with excellent support from Ethan Hawke, Julianne Moore, Maya Rudolph and Bill Hader. What makes the film truly stand out though, is its acceptance of life's ups and downs. You'll laugh, you'll smile, and you'll nod in agreement many, many times while watching.


Among its many, many merits, The Fits proves that bigger isn't always better. In fact, in her first fiction feature, writer/director Anna Rose Holmer makes the most of every one of the film's 72 minutes. Within such a brief running time, she packs in a beguiling narrative set in the world of drill dance, as 11-year-old Toni (first-timer Royalty Hightower, who puts in an astonishing performance) joins a local squad just as her teammates start mysteriously fainting. Both forms of movement are integral in the way Holmer tells her tale — in fact, The Fits is one of the best examples of blending style and story in recent years.


Even when you're an Oscar and Emmy Award-winning producer, making a documentary about Australia's treatment of asylum seekers isn't easy. There's a sense of danger that just doesn't dissipate in Eva Orner's Chasing Asylum, whether you're getting a glimpse of the conditions experienced by refugees detained in offshore facilities, or following the efforts of staff to secretly capture the film's footage. And while Orner's viewpoint is never in doubt, it's supported by an illuminating array of interviews and context-providing background information. Still, the on-the-ground material speaks for itself, and makes Chasing Asylum must-see viewing.


He's big, scaly and has been wreaking havoc on Japan since the 1950s — and now he's back. Yes, he's none other than Godzilla, and his latest big screen venture provides him with a welcome return to the monster movie fold. Forget the terrible 1998 effort starring Matthew Broderick, and the better but still less-than-stellar 2014 film, because this is how a modern Godzilla flick should be made. Nodding to the past and finding a new way forward, Shin Godzilla is a kaiju flick that knows how to balance size and spectacle with societal commentary and human drama.


There's a fine line between ordinary and odd in Looking for Grace, but that applies to the situation its characters find themselves in, rather than the film. Indeed, in trying to explore that very idea, writer/director Sue Brooks offers up an offbeat but insightful take on dramatic family antics, as told across non-linear chapters. And, she has enlisted a fantastic cast to help relate the efforts of a runaway teenage girl, her distraught parents and the retired cop called in to assist. The Daughter's Odessa Young once again proves a star in the making, Richard Roxburgh is a delight and Radha Mitchell shows off her comic timing.


After watching Hello, My Name Is Doris, wanting to grow up to become Sally Field's eponymous character is completely understandable. She might only be finding her way in the world at an advanced age and after the death of her mother, but Doris has something most people can only dream of: a genuine willingness to step outside of her comfort zone and try new things. That's why, as the film that bears her name charts her new affection for a much, much younger colleague (Max Greenfield), it never feels less than sweet and sensitive. Writer/director Michael Showalter also penned and starred in Wet Hot American Summer, which should give you an idea of the movie's slightly offbeat vibe.


Reunited friends, an encroaching separation, a cute pet pooch that needs a new home — as far as tear-jerking clichés go, Truman appears to hit the jackpot. Of course, appearances can be deceiving, as proves the case here. One of the greatest skills in filmmaking and storytelling is making seemingly well-worn tales and components explore new depths, traverse different territory and earn their emotional response. In a quiet, gentle fashion, Cesc Gay's modest but moving musing on life and love, along with Ricardo Darín and Javier Cámara's finessed performances, manages to do just that.

Published on December 07, 2016 by Sarah Ward
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