No matter how you feel about the pomp and circumstance of the ceremony itself, one of the best parts about the Oscars is that it sheds light on movies that may have otherwise fell under the radar for moviegoing audiences.
And while “La La Land” and “Moonlight” may be forever remembered more for the fiasco at the end of Oscar night instead of for what those movies were able to achieve, the Oscars still led people to research just what those nine nominated Best Picture films were.
On the other end of the spectrum, however, that also means there were plenty of 2016 movies that didn’t get that Oscar bump, despite being worthy of the recognition.
As you await those DVD releases for the late-in-the-year Oscar nominees, here are some of last year’s gems, most of which are available to you now.
I’ll start with the horror genre because it had an excellent year in 2016, with the most notable and talked about being “The Witch,” which launched the career of Anya Taylor-Joy, who later starred in “Morgan” and “Split.”
“10 Cloverfield Lane” is among the most recognizable in this list, but is still a must-see for those who may have missed it. The movie was recently made available via streaming on Hulu for those who need to catch up.
Some of the lesser known horror flicks that impressed critics are “The Fits,” which follows a young girl’s interest in dancing as other girls come down with what they dub “the fits;” “Green Room,” which stars the late Anton Yelchin as a member of a punk band left to defend themselves against neo-Nazis led by Sir Patrick Stewart; “Hush,” which centers around a deaf woman who is terrorized by an armed man at her home; “The Invitation,” which is a psychological thriller involving an increasingly sinister dinner party; and “The Wailing,” a South Korean film centering around an investigation into a mysterious illness besieging a village.
“La La Land” wasn’t the only musical critics raved over last year—and for many critics, the Oscar nominee didn’t even feature their favorite songs.
Quite a few people bemoaned the lack of Oscar love for both “Sing Street” and, surprisingly, “Popstar: Never Stop Stopping.” The latter is an Andy Samberg comedy that entertains without losing your interest in the first 10 minutes (unlike other newer “SNL” cast movies). All of the songs are original, and it must take considerable talent to come up with lyrics that terrible while still not putting you off the music and movie entirely.
“Sing Street” is an Irish film that unfortunately was not on the radar of academy voters, likely due to a lack of marketing for the film. One of the constants among film critics on Twitter during the Oscars was how much they liked “Drive It Like You Stole It” better than any movie song of the year.
The film isn’t so much a musical as it is a coming-of-age tale where a boy tries to discover where exactly his passion for music lies, with plenty of 1980s nostalgia with his band’s music.
The comedy genre is largely ignored during the awards season unless the film stars Meryl Streep. Like most years, there were plenty of comedies that intrigued critics, but not many have resulted in big box office weekends.
“The Edge of Seventeen” is on many critics’ Top 10 lists, though hardly made a dent at the box office, earning only $14 million in its entire run (which probably wasn’t helped by the fact it opened the same weekend as “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”). On the surface (and in the trailer), the film looks like another movie focused on a teenager’s rather awkward and cringe-worthy problems. But, critics found the movie to have a much more honest portrayal than other teen-drama flicks, and raved about this being the best performance from Hailee Steinfeld (who was nominated for an Oscar in 2011 for her work in the “True Grit” remake).
“The Nice Guys” starring Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling did marginally better at the box office, but only scored $11 million its opening weekend and $36 million overall domestically. The buddy-cop comedy set in the 1970s is a bit on the violent side for the genre, but it also earned some credit with critics for its slick feel and dark comedy.
Also worth a look are two films from across the ponds—“Love & Friendship” and “Hunt for the Wilderpeople.” “Love & Friendship” is based on an early work from Jane Austen when she was a girl, and features those Austen-type devious characters, though this time in the lead. The roundabout conversations alone will be worth the watch as Kate Beckinsale’s character repeatedly manages to wiggle herself out of situations and lies.
“Hunt for the Wilderpeople” comes from New Zealand and stars Sam Neill as someone saddled with a boy as they both run from the law.
As with any year, there were also the movies that critics considered in contention for major awards but didn’t manage to score a single nomination.
Among the biggest surprises was “The Handmaiden” from director Chan-wook Park (“Oldboy”). Critics were sure it had a shot at Best Foreign Film, as well as a possibility to score Costume Design and Production Design nominations, but it was snubbed from all categories. The film is set in 1930s Korea and focuses on a woman hired to serve a Japanese heiress in a secluded estate.
In terms of acting, critics were pushing for Rebecca Hall for “Christine” and Adam Driver for “Paterson.” Hall starred in a rare biopic focused on a woman, in this case a reporter as she struggles with her colleagues and sexism in the job. “Paterson” is a quieter film, with Driver as a bus driver who aspires to be a poet.
With Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, it’s getting easier to catch many of these films, and they’re worth the watch, even if they can’t boast an Oscar nomination on their covers.