With the year finally over and Oscar season quickly approaching, it’s important to take a look back at some of the great films Artsweek didn’t have a chance to review, or films you maybe didn’t have the time to see. While there are dozens of films that deserve recognition, here are five great picks you may have missed in 2016.
Kicking off the list is Jeremy Saulnier’s “Green Room,” a brutally fun gorefest that makes up in action for what it lacks in content. There isn’t much to be found in story, or in meaning, but if all you’re looking for is an intense horror/thriller hybrid with lots of gore and violence, then this is exactly the film you need.
When a punk rock band gets desperate for a gig, they find themselves playing in a seedy venue filled with white supremacists. After stumbling upon a gruesome murder scene, the group is forced to take shelter in the venue’s green room, while the owner and his ruthless gang try to cover up their tracks by murdering the witnesses.
If you’re a fan of Saulnier’s previous work, “Blue Ruin,” then you’re going to be right at home. For any fan of the late Anton Yelchin, who tragically passed away earlier this year, a great performance of his is to be found among the superficial action and blood. It’s one of the most shocking, grotesque and fun movies of the year.
“Manchester by the Sea”
For what is probably the most well-known out of this list, “Manchester by the Sea” is an overwhelmingly critically acclaimed drama about an emotionally absent janitor (played by Casey Affleck), who distances himself from the world. When a new tragedy strikes, Lee (Affleck) is called to reconnect with what is left of his family, forcing him to face the hidden trauma he had hoped to keep submerged.
Solidified by its strong performances and grounded in reality with its nuanced script, “Manchester by the Sea” is remarkably similar to this year’s “Moonlight.” It’s a story that has drama, heartbreak and tragedy, but it treats its subject matter with such respect and consideration that the emotional dilemmas are never presented as something done just to tug at the heartstrings. Instead, the film’s focus is on the effect of trauma rather than the dramatic trauma itself. Affleck’s Golden Globe-winning performance is so real and reserved it’s hard to find a moment in which he seems to be acting. It’s filled with a hidden pain that is difficult to watch at times.
It’s an incredibly human piece that seamlessly weaves between deep depressions and warm hilarity. With by far the greatest male performance of the year and with incredible polish by writer and director Kenneth Lonergan, it is guaranteed to be a favorite in the Oscar season.
“The Light Between Oceans”
With what could perhaps be considered as the antithesis to “Manchester By the Sea,” especially with its lackluster critical reception, “The Light Between Oceans” is at times melodramatic, self-indulgent and even, dare I say, cliché. But it’s all so expertly pulled off by director Derek Cianfrance (“Blue Valentine”) that it’s easy to let go of these reservations and enjoy what is a beautiful and classically crafted film.
The plot follows WWI veteran Tom (Michael Fassbender) and his new wife Isabel (Alicia Vikander) as they struggle with their new life as operators of a lighthouse on a secluded island. After the couple runs into difficulty trying to conceive a child, their prayers are seemingly answered. What at first seems like a miracle quickly turns into an ethical and moral dilemma that simultaneously heals and destroys their relationship and humanity.
With remarkable performances, a period piece setting that seems to be written by Jane Austen herself, and a low-stakes melodramatic tone, the film wears its desire to be a classic drama on its sleeve. At times this drive brings out the worst in the film, with gimmicky setups and predictable plot points, but it by no means diminishes the craft and engrossing nature of the film.
Robert Eggers’s “The Witch” is such a masterfully crafted horror picture Kubrick that himself is somewhere smiling. It oozes dread at every corner, with such a demanding atmosphere that you’d be a sadist if you still felt comfortable five minutes in. It’s shocking how controlled and beautifully polished Eggers manages to present his feature debut. Each scene is gorgeously terrifying, and every story beat is as equally unnerving as the one that came before. Alongside its perfected tone comes a cast of convincing thespians, delivering historically dense and rich lines with such conviction and natural effort you begin to believe it’s all really happening before your eyes.
The film follows a religious colonial family as they move to the outskirts of a forest. As they begin to experience satanic disturbances, the family’s religious conviction and dedication wavers, unraveling their familial bonds and dragging into question whether satanic force or religious prudence is the cause of their waking nightmare.
It’s original, terrifying and by far the best horror movie since “The Babadook.”
Perhaps the most original film of 2016, director Yorgos Lanthimos’s “The Lobster” distinguishes itself as one of the most uniquely disorienting films of the last decade. With cold, blunt surrealist humor, “The Lobster” twists our typical societal conventions of romance and love into cruel, calculated and methodical dictations.
A group of hopeless, lonely singles are checked into a hotel with a 45-day limit to find a companion of their choosing before they are horrifically transformed into the animal of their choosing. The deadpan, mundane insanity escalates a charming setup into a very real metaphorical nightmare. We watch as prospective lovers violently hunt hotel escapees, sadistically lie to seduce each other, and subdue their human instincts in gruesome ways, all in the pursuit of “true love” and happiness.
With a unique and outstanding performance from each of its cast members, “The Lobster” is comedically brilliant, absurdly confusing and the most refreshing film of 2016.