On Tuesday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released their list of films nominated for the 2017 Oscars. After the debacle of last year’s #OscarsSoWhite, Hollywood’s list of nominees looks far more diverse and interesting. However, since Hollywood tends to overlook films that don’t come out in the final few-month push to awards season—and since we are living in a world where alternative facts are just as valid as regular ones—here’s my list of the films I saw in 2016 that you won’t see on the Best Picture list.
“Midnight Special” — Filmmaker Jeff Nichols had two films out in 2016, this one and Oscar contender, “Loving.” “Midnight Special” is Nichols’ science-fiction love-letter to fatherhood. The writer/director crafts a story about a mysterious boy whose father will stop at nothing to protect him from the government, which wants to know the boy’s extraordinary secret. Michael Shannon plays the father with exceptional heart and soul, constantly fighting with himself and with the oncoming authorities. Although Nichols is just now getting some recognition by the academy, he is truly the filmmaker to watch.
“Green Room” — Hollywood often skips the horror genre or films with horror elements. So I wanted to include a film from “Blue Ruin” writer/director, Jeremy Saulnier. The film follows a punk rock band as they become trapped backstage after a rocky show in a neo-Nazi bar. Saulnier is a master of tension and grit. From the moment the characters are locked into the green room, the film barrels along, crunching and bashing its way through to a brutal conclusion. The film is also notable for one of its lead actors, Anton Yelchin, who passed away in 2016. Yelchin’s anarchic musician goes toe-to-toe with Patrick Stewart’s skinhead leader in an all-out bloodbath.
“Elvis and Nixon” — Michael Shannon’s second appearance in this list, this time playing the King himself, Elvis Presley. Shannon plays opposite Kevin Spacey, whose Richard Nixon is perfectly pitched. The film recreates the famous meeting of the two men in 1970 and offers a suggestion as to what exactly happened between these famous figures. Since the actual details of the meeting aren’t completely known, the film is mostly fictionalized and draws its own conclusions. It is notable primarily for its lead actors but also for the fact that it is so ridiculous. The film isn’t afraid to have fun with history and have a heart at the same time.
“The Nice Guys” — Writer/director Shane Black returns to his comedic, crime-story roots in this film starring Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe as an unlikely duo of detectives forced to work together on a case. The film is well-written and very entertaining, mixing comedy with love, action with slapstick. Every scene drips with the colors, sounds, and feeling of the 1970s. Both of its actors shine, but Gosling gets to play something other than his usual handsome, leading-man role. For all the goodwill it builds up with its light-hearted tone, I was sold the moment it made an Abbott and Costello reference.
“Everybody Wants Some” — Coming off the success of Boyhood, writer/director Richard Linklater also returns to his roots — in more ways than one. The film tells the story of a group of baseball players getting to know each other over the weekend leading up to the first day of college. The cast is mainly full of unknowns, but that adds to the realism of the film. The setting of the 1980s is presented down to the finest detail, and if the film was shot handheld on a video camera, it may pass as a documentary. Much like its characters, the film kind of wanders around rather than moving forward, and this sounds like a turn-off. However, for me, the film works and feels more like an extended party or hang-out than an unfolding narrative. For someone whose career is as diverse as Linklater, this film holds up as an experiment in resurrecting the past.
“Certain Women” — This film had a very quiet release and a very short theatrical run but is notable nonetheless. It is written and directed by Kelly Reichardt, the filmmaker behind “Wendy and Lucy” and “Meek’s Cutoff.” The film doesn’t have an overarching narrative; instead, it is a series of intersecting stories of women living in the Pacific Northwest. It stands out from the rest not only for being a personal film from a female director, but it is also a work of pure poetry. The women’s lives are real and powerful, and Reichardt’s photographing of the land is beautiful and haunting.
“Yoga Hosers” — Famed indie filmmaker and pop culture icon, Kevin Smith, further proves that creativity is king. This film will not pop up on any “best of” lists, except maybe a “Best Kevin Smith Film of 2016.” It’s a weird movie. The plot involves teenage girls, miniature Nazis made of bratwursts, and Canada. It is difficult to talk about without tipping into parody. I saw the film at a Q&A screening with Smith himself at Studio 35 in Columbus. My experience of the film was heightened by that, but I am also a Kevin Smith fan. What I can say is: see it. Not because it’s great—not even because it’s good. See it as an antidote to the stale, corporate, boringness of Hollywood. You might like it; you might hate it. But you probably won’t forget it.
“Zootopia” — This one is a cheat because it does appear on the Oscar list for Best Animated Feature, but oh well. It’s really good. See it. If you have already, see it again. And be reminded that equality and diversity are beautiful things.
These are the films that I enjoyed this year. If nothing else, they counteract the prestige films of the awards season; something different. And different can be good, too.