Every year hundreds, thousands of movies come out, and yet at the end of the year critical consensus seems to settle on a group of about 30-40 movies that show up on most top ten lists. It only makes sense- out of all the options out there, only a handful are bound to be masterpieces that find their place in the canon.
Excluding those consensus picks, I thought it would be fun to make a top ten list of movies you will (probably) find nowhere on those lists.
These are movies that are not in contention for my personal top ten. These are movies that a lot of people may have already forgotten about. Perhaps people never heard of them in the first place. These movies are good. These movies are “pretty” good. They are a fun time. They are the kind you find on television one day where you might not be able to turn them off.
Don’t feel bad that you might have missed them in theaters- they will play like gangbusters on your home entertainment system. Thusly, I present my personal list to you, in alphabetical order.
Hunt For The Wilderpeople (dir. Taika Waititi)
Kiwi filmmaker Taika Waititi brings the laughs with this surrogate father son adventure comedy. It pays tribute to VHS classics like The Goonies or E.T., as Sam Neill and newcomer Julian Dennison star as a wrongfully accused duo on the run from the authorities through the New Zealand wilderness. Dennison gets a ton of laughs as a mischevious Tupac loving 13 year old, but whose worst crime seems to be spitting in public. It could one day be a minor classic of deadpan comedy, but for now it gives me faith that Waititi has what it takes to make an action movie with soul- he’s the director of the next Thor movie, coming out November of 2017.
Keanu (dir. Peter Atencio)
Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele make a glorious little sandbox for themselves to play in here, showcasing their love and admiration for action and gangster films- skewering their cliches deservedly while simultaneously bowing down at their altar. All the while riding on a strong undercurrent of self deprecating humor. Oh, and there’s a really cute kitten, of course. This disjointed film falls apart at the end when it tries to resolve its insane plot mechanics. But when it’s basically a series of bellyaching short skits by these two brilliant comedians, it’s fantastic. I also recommend watching the “clean version” on an airplane, as I did, if you get the chance. Otherwise you wouldn’t experience the glory of lines like “This ain’t no mother father* pet store!”
King Cobra (dir. Justin Kelly)
I caught King Cobra at this year’s Philadelphia Film Festival, and it was certainly the most *fun* I had watching a movie that week. A true crime biopic about a vicious murder in the gay porn world- starring gen-x icons like Christian Slater, Molly Ringwald, and Alicia Silverstone? Check. James Franco going full Franco on us? Check. The two best performances coming from two young newcomers? Check. Not without its problems, and strangely playing a little too safe with its subject matter; but it’s still a damn good time.
Midnight Special (dir. Jeff Nichols)
A sci-fi chase movie that had been in the works from Jeff Nichols since 2013, this long delayed movie finally dropped this year, but in the semi-no man’s land of March. It’s too bad, because this tribute to the high art genre films of John Carpenter deserves to be seen by a big audience. It has it all- thrilling action set pieces, an ominous score, terrific performances, and a strong emotional core anchored by lead Michael Shannon; as a father on the run from the authorities with his son, a boy with special powers. Joel Edgerton turns in a lovely supporting performance, and Adam Driver and Kirsten Dunst also show up (though the latter is unfortunately wasted). I found a lot to love about this movie, and I hope that you do too.
Morris From America (dir. Chad Hartigan)
Another great father and son comedy, where the son is an adorable hip hop loving troublemaker. Starring Craig Robinson (still my favorite cast member of The office) as the father of the titular Morris (newcomer Markees Christmas), the two live on their own in Heidelberg, Germany. They’re the only African American folks in town, needless to say a hard place for a 13 year old with brown skin to grow up. There aren’t any other movies that tell a story quite like this- and for that alone, it’s like a breath of fresh air. But it’s a breath you take when you’re not laughing at its biting, daringly honest humor.
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (dir. Nicholas Stoller)
Nicholas Stoller and his post Apatow cast didn’t need to make a sequel to the highly enjoyable 2014 film Neighbors, but they did for some reason- at least they gave us this solid feminist comedy that everyone can enjoy heartily. By that I mean, you can laugh at the pure stupidity of a “colorblind” white dude who can’t see his own privilege- as much as you might laugh when a guy’s ballsack suddenly appears onscreen without warning. The laughs are hard and aplenty. Plus, I can’t think of a mainstream Hollywood comedy of recent years that was this smart about gender politics. That’s a pretty good deal if you ask me.
Sausage Party (dir. Conrad Vernon & Greg Tiernan)
This one actually has made it to a top ten list- A.O. Scott of the NYTimes thought it was deserving of the nod, and I totally see why. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s screenplay anchors this filthy, filthy animated comedy about a grocery store full of anthropomorphic talking food items, coming to terms with their place in the world. Smuggled in this raunchy, hard R comedy, is a story about forming inter-class coalitions across racial and cultural divisions, coming together to fight for your mutual liberation against the real enemies.
The Conjuring 2 (dir. James Wan)
James Wan isn’t one of my favorite horror directors, but he’s the only one whose films are 100% guaranteed to make my skin crawl. He makes me sweat, gives me the chills, and keeps me awake at night; afraid to turn on the lights, and afraid to turn them off. His sequel to the surprisingly good original from 2013 falls short by tacking on too much gooey sentimentality. But the highs are just as high, and the frights are just as soul shaking. Plus, two words: Demon Nun.
The Nice Guys (dir. Shane Black)
Shane Black made a welcome return to smaller meta-genre fare with this L.A. set neo-noir. I knew it would be a funny, smart, and violent buddy comedy, but I didn’t know it would remind me how great Russell Crowe could be. Imagine that his Bud White character from L.A. Confidential grew a sense of humor, aged twenty years and found himself in modern day Los Angeles. And Ryan Gosling makes a more than capable smarmy sidekick.
The Purge: Election Year (dir. James DeMonaco)
The Purge movies will likely never achieve much notoriety or critical respect, but their dirty little secret is that they’re pretty good, and they keep getting better. That, and they are some of the most prescient, reflective movies when it comes to capturing our modern day social problems (even when they hit you on the nose like a giant swinging axe). No other movie portrayed the division, violence and fear of the flaming dumpster fire that was 2016, as big and blatant as this one. It was the kind of year where that felt right.