Believe it or not, there are some great movies from the last year that didn’t receive any nominations for the Academy Awards, which will air later this February. This happens every year like clockwork because the esteemed award show tends to be focused around a select season of films released and marketed during a short period of time.
In a way, the studios pretty much decide ahead of time which films they want to push for getting those nominations from other Hollywood insiders, and as a result, some of the best films of the year can get ignored. So we thought it would be interesting to shine a light on just a handful of these hidden gems worth watching in your living room.
Honorable Mention: Arrival
This interstellar film from acclaimed director Denis Villaneuve did manage to score quite a few nominations, including one for Best Picture. But Amy Adams was somehow overlooked for Best Actress, and that’s definitely a shame. She carried a very complex narrative that addresses common humanity and big ideas about how and why we communicate, while also exploring space travel and even an apocalyptic world in some ways. This is a film you don’t want to miss, especially if you can still catch it on the big screen via re-release.
10. Midnight Special
One of the best superhero movies of 2016 was one you probably didn’t get a chance to see. Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, Midnight Special is a unique hybrid of science fiction and comic book tropes that centers around a young boy with powers being protected by his father on the road. Michael Shannon (who was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in Nocturnal Animals), Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Jaeden Lieberher and Adam Driver all contribute great performances to this visually beautiful ensemble piece.
9. Sing Street
A personal favorite of mine in 2016, Sing Street is a love letter to ’80s music from the perspective of a bullied teen in Dublin. Written and directed by John Carney, the film is about a boy named Conor who tries to impress a girl by starting a band. But what starts as a moment of desperation becomes an obsession with music and the creative process, leading to a soundtrack filled with some wonderful original songs.
8. Southside with You
If you’re in the mood for some stylized romance, Southside with You will be an interesting surprise as it takes you through the first date between former President Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson (Michelle Obama’s maiden name). Set in Chicago, the film highlights their initial interactions and playful banter as coworkers not yet in a relationship. Don’t worry, the movie doesn’t get very political or bogged down in references to current events. Instead, director Richard Tanne puts a spotlight on the lives of two extraordinary people who found themselves in an equally extraordinary life.
7. Everybody Wants Some!!
Richard Linklater’s latest film since Boyhood didn’t make quite the splash some of his previous movies have, but that doesn’t make Everybody Wants Some!! any less charming and fun to watch. The movie is a successor to Dazed and Confused set in 1980. The plot is set around a group of college baseball players having a good time in the days leading up to the first week of school. The real strength of Everybody Wants Some!! is in the lead performances, with some faces you might recognize like Blake Jenner and Tyler Hoechlin. The dialogue is sharp, the set pieces are original and the soundtrack is sure to take you back in time.
6. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
One of the weirder entries on this list, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is yet another irreverent, New Zealand standout from Taika Waititi, who also directed What We Do In the Shadows and the upcoming movie, Thor: Ragnarok. This buddy wilderness flick is a bit dark at times, but it’s altogether a hilarious and even touching story about a boy and his foster father getting lost in the woods.
5. 10 Cloverfield Lane
There have been quite a few movies this year about young adults trying to escape small spaces, but none of them are quite as masterful and tightly paced as 10 Cloverfield Lane, the unofficial sequel to Cloverfield. That’s just an aside, though, to a film that’s otherwise a suspenseful thriller with some of the best performances of the year from Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman.
4. Don’t Think Twice
If you’ve been waiting for a film that seriously tackles what it’s like to be in an improv group, then you definitely need to check out Don’t Think Twice, the latest work from comedian Mike Birbiglia. He’s spent the last four years since Sleepwalk With Me, his previous film, crafting a movie about performers in New York trying to grapple with the unlikely success of one of their peers. Birbiglia himself plays a leading role along with Keegan Michael Key (Key & Peele) and Gillian Jacobs (Community) in this funny, heartfelt look at making things up as we go along.
3. Queen of Katwe
Disney had an amazing year in terms of box office, but that doesn’t exclude some of their smaller hits, including this film about a chess prodigy in Uganda who tries to balance her success with responsibility to her family. Starring Lupita Nyong’o, David Oyelowo, and Madina Nalwanga, Queen of Katwe is an authentic and culturally dense drama based on an amazing true story.
2. Pete’s Dragon
Another great Disney film you might have missed was Pete’s Dragon, the live-action remake that actually improves the flawed original for the better. Short, sweet and dripping with small town scenery, this was an unlikely surprise thanks to director David Lowery and lead performances from Bryce Dallas Howard and Robert Redford. And that’s not even mentioning the CGI dragon.
A movie about poetry that is essentially a poem, itself? That’s basically what you’ll get with Paterson, starring Adam Driver, a “day in the life” of a bus driver who writes poems while observing ordinary people during his daily routine. His name is Paterson, the town he lives in is named Paterson and he dislikes poems that rhyme, oddly enough, in what is one of the most critically praised films of the year that didn’t manage to eke a nomination.