The Top 10 Overlooked, Undiscovered, Misfit Films of 2016

Posted on January 04, 2017, 3:01 pm
12 mins

You don’t have to look very far to find a parade of film critic’s “best of the year” lists. And if you’re looking to catch up on the very best films of 2016, that’s a great place to start.

Still, one can only endure lists populated with uncontroversial favorites such as Moonlight and La La Land for so long before you start to wonder, what else is out there? Presented in no particular order, here are ten films that were critical darlings with small audiences, critical failures, commercial flops, limited in distribution, or languished in some faint and cursed fate in between.


Hardcore Henry 

From Russian filmmaker Ilya Naishuller comes the inventive and batshit action picture Hardcore Henry. Told entirely from the perspective of the hero (literally, with a GoPro camera attached to his person), we experience a never-ending series of dangerous, explosive and bizarre situations. The film gives us amnesia and a pretty doctor girlfriend, tells us we’re half-machine and throws us out of an airplane—and the hits just keep coming from there.

Critics complain that Hardcore Henry too closely resembles a video game. It’s a dumb observation that ignores the care and ambition that went into making this exhilarating piece of cinema work. Just check out this video for The Weeknd’s “False Alarm” by the same director if you don’t believe me. Warning: Graphic violence ahead.

Available to rent on amazon in HD for $3.99


The Love Witch

Director, writer and set designer Anna Biller turns the male gaze on its head in her strange 1960s throwback picture. Shot on 35mm in brilliant technicolor, The Love Witch features a profoundly narcissistic woman on a rampage. She uses witchcraft to seduce men and then just as quickly dismisses them. The film played at this year’s SIFF and is currently touring the country through this February. I first wrote about the film in anticipation of its stop in Seattle this November.

You can pre-order The Love Witch on their website, available on DVD and digitally in February.


Trash Fire

In the wonderfully-named black comedy/horror film Trash Fire, we meet a couple at a turning point in their highly dysfunctional relationship. They are Owen, played by Adrian Grenier (of Entourage fame) and his silky-voiced girlfriend Isabel (Angela Trimbur). The couple seems to hate each other in delicious, irreconcilable ways, but ultimately, they’re a united front against the world. Further, their circumstances dictate they must re-visit Owen’s troubled past… something about a fire?

There are a lot of stellar performances buried in this weird picture: the highly religious grandmother played by Fionnula Flanagan (imagine the grandma from Flowers in the Attic, but masturbating); the same-sex oriented, badly burned sister played by Annalynne McCord. All of it culminates in a conclusion worth its weight in blood. (Skip the trailer for this one; it gives too much away. Just take my word for it.)

Available to rent on Amazon in HD for $4.99

Adrian Grenier and Angela Trimbur futilely engage in couple’s therapy.


Frank & Lola 

It seems like Michael Shannon is in just about everything—an Oscar-buzzy role in Nocturnal Animals, a memorable cameo in the otherwise meh picture Loving, and roles in the beloved Midnight Special and the infamous Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. However, his turn in the little known indie picture Frank & Lola may be his most challenging and interesting role of them all.

Let me explain: Shannon has a penchant for playing eccentrics, weirdos, the mentally ill and villains. Here, however, he’s just an ordinary, lovesick guy. Shannon plays the titular Frank, an ambitious chef who meets the younger, troubled and irresistible Lola (Imogen Poots). Together, they suffer slings and arrows, separate, reunite and on and on, and its always fascinating. This is an ambitious debut for writer/director Matthew Ross, and it makes me look forward to what he comes up with next.

Available to rent on Amazon for $4.99


Krisha

Next, we have another ambitious feature debut from director Trey Edward Shults. He borrows heavily from director John Cassavette’s “Cinéma vérité” style (AKA “truthful cinema”). Krisha stars Shults’ own aunt (Krisha Fairchild), as well as several other family members. Plus, the film takes place entirely in a family-owned home over Thanksgiving holiday.

In Krisha, we get a woman constantly frazzled and on the brink of some disaster, but goddamnit, she’s trying her best. You may actually see this one on a few “best of the year” film lists, but it came and went in theaters so quickly that I doubt many people had a chance to catch it. (Also, if you haven’t seen Cassavette’s A Woman Under the Influence, for god’s sake, start there first.)

Available for free to Amazon Prime subscribers


Wiener-Dog

Weirdo filmmaker Todd Solondz returns after a 5-year absence from features to bring us this story about a mindless dachshund who travels from one dysfunctional owner after another. Lessons are learned, but mostly we feel disgust and pity for our fellow humans. Still, with that pity comes a healthful dose of warmth and grace.

Wiener-Dog sees the return of Dawn and Brandon from Welcome to the Dollhouse (played this time by Greta Gerwig and Kieran Culkin), plus a slew of brand new characters to feel sorry for. Solondz’ films are never boring and often misunderstood. Watch this one, and then go back and watch every other feature of his you may have skipped over the years.

Available for free to Amazon Prime subscribers


Indignation

Set in 1951, this adaptation from a Philip Roth novel quietly and crushingly delves into religion, intellectual elitism, mental illness—all the best things. The film stars Logan Lerman as Marcus, a Jewish kid from New York as he embarks on his first year at a small, christian college in Ohio. We see Marcus experience prejudice (both subtle and profound), his first sexual encounters and the guilt and shame that goes along with that. Most of all, we’re gratified to overhear the conversations and debates he has with the school’s Dean, his roommates, his mother and his girlfriend. In the grand tradition of bleak cinema, I fear no good can come of it.

Available to rent on Amazon in HD for $5.99


The Innocents

The French production Les Innocentes tells the true-life story of a Polish convent in 1945, who suffer a spate of pregnancies after soldiers invade their convent at the end of World War II. Anne Fontaine directs the film, which may remind you a little of Sister Act, except instead of singing and dancing, its cruel and merciless rape.

A lady doctor arrives at the convent to help deliver the babies in secret. Meanwhile, the women grapple with their faith in the wake of such a dreadful thing. The snow that surrounds the convent makes the place feel like a prison, so much so at times you feel like you’re watching the bleakest of horror films. I’m making it sound dreadful—and it is—but the film is also surprisingly entertaining and watchable.

Available for free to Amazon Prime subscribers


The Greasy Strangler

What a revolting, sickening, ugly and baffling film this is! I didn’t like it at all. But it’s like when you accidentally drink spoiled milk from the fridge—you want everyone to have a taste. Think “Tim & Eric” meets Napoleon Dynamite meets a pile of garbage.

I sold this to a room of people at a party by pitching it as a “weird, gross comedy/horror,” because that’s how it was described to me. Most of the room revolted, violently. The women nearly threw up. The men giggled. The IMDB trivia says filmmaker Jim Hosking cut 40 minutes of footage from the 93-minute runtime. (More trivia: All the penises in the film are prosthetics. No shit.) When the room became particularly restless, I taunted them with threats that we were watching the “director’s cut.” Skip the trailer and watch Hosking’s short film Microphone Man to whet your appetite instead.

Available to rent on Amazon Prime in HD for $4.99


The Neon Demon

Finally, from Nicolas Winding Refn (the man who brought you highly-stylized films like Drive and Only God Forgives) comes this cautionary tale about the dangers of being young and beautiful in Los Angeles. Elle Fanning stars as a 16-year-old orphan who comes to town to pursue a modeling career. She’s immediately befriended/accosted by make-up artist Ruby (Jena Malone) and a gaggle of other models who are viciously envious of her vitality and youth.

True to form, Refn’s film lingers on strangely-lit shots and bizarre happenings. We begin in reality, until the circumstances become more and more unreal. The Neon Demon may have one of the best and weirdest third acts of any other film I’ve seen this year, and I’ve seen The Greasy Strangler. Just wait until you see what Malone does to that corpse in the morgue.

Available for free to Amazon Prime subscribers

Molly Laich is a writer and media fan. You can find her at mollylaich.com and doghatesfilm.com and on twitter @MollyL