It’s a bit of a cliché to say it’s been a great year in cinema. Every year’s a great year if you’re watching the right films. What’s always certain is that every year, plenty of films don’t get the attention they deserve from audiences. It’s a problem exacerbated by the sheer volume of films released nowadays; if you don’t catch viewers’ interest immediately, you’re dead in the water.
With that in mind, 10 of our writers have come together to praise the films they feel were underappreciated in 2016, whether that’s because of poor box office, poor reviews, or, in many cases, a bad release.
The Little Prince – Phil
The age of on-demand entertainment services has been both a blessing and a curse. The likes of Netflix and Amazon have gained a reputation for taking chances on the kinds of film conventional studios won’t touch, but sometimes that means depriving them of a proper, theatrical release.
With its gorgeous mix of stop-motion, slick CGI and a heartwarming story, The Little Prince easily stands alongside Zootropolis as one of the best films of 2016, animated or otherwise. But there’s something undeniably sad about the thought that most audiences will end up watching it on a laptop, tablet or phone.
The End of the Tour – Jack
Quietly rolled out on VOD in July, The End of the Tour was barely part of the 2016 cinematic conversation in the UK, despite its high-profile stars and Sundance buzz (it premiered at the 2015 festival). It’s a shame, because this story of an infamous Rolling Stone interview with author David Foster Wallace is a wonderfully smart mediation on creativity, masculinity, and self-consciousness with two excellent lead performances from Jason Segel as Wallace and Jesse Eisenberg as journalist David Lipsky. Even if, like me, you’re not familiar with Wallace’s work, I urge you to seek out this funny and compassionate road movie.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – Tom
I gave Tina Fey’s Afghan war comedy five stars back in May, in a desperate attempt to drag some eyeballs to this underrated effort. Four stars would be more accurate, but it’s still criminal how little attention WTF got on release. The mystery of how Tina Fey can rule the world of TV comedy but disappear without a trace on the big screen remains unsolved, despite one of her best performances, blending drama and comedy to great effect. Its trailer suggests a dumb comedy full of wartime hijinks, but the script from Fey’s regular collaborator Robert Carlock piles complex insights on top of the laughs.
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping – Steve
Unlike 2016’s other music mock-doc, Popstar’s vainglorious lead actually feels real, even as he’s quoting Ace Ventura and desecrating Anne Frank’s bathroom. Conner4Real is Popstar’s triumph, his preening superstar acutely skewering an entire generation of popular music – from the frosted tips of the ‘90s to the recent wave of faintly patronising message-pop. Surround him with incredibullshit songs like the overwrought ‘Equal Rights‘ (choice lyrics: “Not gay, I’m not gay, I’m not, not, not, n-n-n-not gay”) and it’s a travesty that Popstar grossed just $9.5million domestically. Sure, like Hot Rod and MacGruber before it, appreciation will come – but not this year.
Gods of Egypt – Joni
Look, I’m not going to pretend Gods of Egypt is Citizen Kane. I don’t even think it’s the Citizen Kane of Swords and Sandals movies (that honour goes to Troy). Really, it’s a criminal example of Hollywood’s over-reliance on lazy CGI and its laissez-faire approach to whitewashing, and Alex Proyas should be set adrift on a glittery space barge for his crimes to cinema. But also: THERE IS A GOLDEN FALCON-MAN THROWING GERARD BUTLER THROUGH A PYRAMID. What do you want from me? That’s entertainment.
Disorder – Patrick N.
The action thriller is a Hollywood genre that often translates poorly into honking Eurotrash when reimagined back across the Atlantic. Disorder – a PTSD thriller starring Matthias Schoenaerts – was anticipated as such: receiving an unkind release date at the fag end of this year’s awards season. The travesty is that Disorder is one of the most innovative actioners for many a year. I recently wrote about the skill of female directors in conjuring uniquely interior aesthetics, and Alice Winocour has turned Disorder’s hokum ingredients into something quite beautiful. As Kim Newman eloquently put it, “Disorder is like a Transporter film directed by Chantal Akerman.”
Nine Lives – Joe
A summer film as commercial and naff as Nine Lives will never make it onto any year-end list of great films. Instead, future film historians will be the ones to truly appreciate this Kevin Spacey cat movie. For it is in the DNA of this unlikeliest of cultural artifacts that the seeds of normalisation are sewn for the Trump era, with Spacey’s character a clear stand-in for the Donald. Made at a time when the idea of a reality star being President was still a joke, this cutesy family adventure best represents an America on the precipice. Watch it to be reminded of a simpler, saner time; a time when an egomaniac billionaire swapped bodies with a cat.
Eddie the Eagle – Conor
Of all of the films to have flown under the radar in 2016, Eddie the Eagle is a surprising candidate. So often, anything even vaguely ‘heartwarming’ is rammed down the throats of cinemagoers like worms at a baby bird’s feeding time, and frequently it’s insubstantial fluff. Eddie may be predictable but it’s legitimately heartwarming, and rising star Taron Egerton is so genuine and delightful in the title role that he elevates it to a higher plane than similar films. It may not take much of a leap narratively, but Eddie the Eagle definitely sticks the landing.
Infinitely Polar Bear – Bertie
Robbed of any coherent release, this is a hidden gem from Sundance 2014 (straight to VOD/home entertainment in January 2016 for the UK). Infinitely Polar Bear sees Mark Ruffalo out-Ruffaloing himself as a manic-depressive mess of a father trying to win back his wife by attempting to take full responsibility of their daughters. With gender and race politics playing as much a role as mental illness, this film has so much to say but says it all with power and grace. A beautiful film, hilarious and touching in equal measure.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – Maddie
Erroneously and bizarrely marketed as a gory zombie flick (plus some bodice-ripping for the boys), PPZ disappointed its target market when it proved impenetrable to anyone who isn’t an Austen pro. However, if you are lucky enough to fall in the centre of that most unusual Venn diagram, it’s a total gem. As smart and funny as its source material, as full of surprising heartthrobs and heroines – Sam Riley is unexpectedly dashing and Lily James is a startlingly excellent Elizabeth – PPZ shares in the most excellent qualities of the novel: it’s fierce, it’s funny, and it really really really doesn’t take itself too seriously.