One might say that 2016 is one of the weaker film year of this decade, and I have to agree to that. But that doesn’t mean the year lacks cinematic gems that are worth discovering. If you are a film buff who pays attention to new films around the world, it’s not difficult to find some really awesome movies that are not often talked about on mainstream movie sites.
The following 10 movies are carefully handpicked by the author, and some of them are personal favorites of 2016. They are not featured on any “best of 2016” lists you may have read, and hopefully the recommendations are intriguing enough to bring some new fans to these great underseen movies.
1. The Unknown Girl (The Dardenne Brothers, France | Belgium)
When you are a two-time Palme d’Or winner, people expect you to get the third with your new film. So when the Belgian Dardenne Brothers took their latest film, ”The Unknown Girl”, to compete in last year’s Cannes Film Festival, the expectations were high.
However, the film didn’t win anything and even worse, it became the Dardenne Brothers’ worst reviewed film to date. The criticism focused on the over-the-top performance from Jeremie Renier and the abrupt third act. But you can’t deny the fact that it’s still a top-quality drama.
Like every other film from the brothers, the story draws you in from the get-go, and the camera stays so close to the main character that it puts you in her shoes and invites you to join a investigation full of guilt and redemption.
Adele Haenel, the young actress who plays the leading role, is able to deliver a nuanced performance that make it easy for the audience to see her thoughts and feel her emotions.
A thought-provoking film on the immigration issues in Europe and the untold truth, “The Unknown Girl” is a fine Dardenne Brothers offering you don’t want to miss.
2. I’m Not a Serial Killer (Billy O’Brien, UK)
In a nutshell, “I’m Not a Serial Killer” could be one of the coolest and most unconventional serial killer movie you’ve never seen. Take a look at the plot: a teenager who works in his mother’s funeral home is diagnosed as a sociopath and suffers homicidal impulses. He’s fascinated by serial killer cases, and actually witnesses someone being killed by the serial killer that has been around in the town lately. He suspects his neighbor, an old man who looks weak and is very good to his wife, and starts stalking him.
What’s really cool about the movie is the teenager whose obsession with death might remind you of the character Harold in the cult classic “Harold and Maude”. The foggy atmosphere and heavy metal score totally work in such an unsettling thriller. It’s also full of typical British black humor. If you are into serial killer movies, and are looking for something dark and different, “I’m Not a Serial Killer” is perfect movie to watch.
3. Graduation (Cristian Mungiu, Romania)
Romanian auteur Cristian Mungiu, who won the Palme d’Or for his outstanding drama “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”, deservedly shared the Best Director award last year with his latest film ”Graduation”. It chronicles the events after a young girl was attacked and her scholarship to a prestigious British university was jeopardized by that.
In the hands of other directors, the story might be told from the young girl’s perspective, and how her future was affected by this accident. This was not the way Mungiu told it; the director chose to navigate the plot from the girl’s father’s perspective, how he handles this situation by using all the social relationships he has, and how he goes through all mid-life crisis problems during the whole movie. This wise choice of shifting perspective brings us a bigger picture of the whole Romanian society and the dark side of it.
It also asks the ultimate question every parent will have to face someday: when you teach your children the lessons of survival in the society, do you tell them to obey social codes when sometimes it means you can not remain 100 percent honest? The static camera and its deliberate distance from the characters give you the time and space to think these questions.
4. Childhood of a Leader (Brady Corbet, UK | France)
Judging from the visual style of the film, one would hardly believe this is actor-turned-director Brady Corbet’s directorial debut. But when you think from another angle, the aesthetic audacity can only come from someone who’s young and ready for something ambitious. It also comes as no surprise that this dark and twisted family drama comes from someone who’s worked with Michael Haneke, who’s so good at making such films.
The film chronicles the childhood of a fascist leader in a period closely following the end of World War I. It’s a great study of how evil is born and in what environment, both political and family, could give birth to dictatorship. It has arguably the best opening and ending of any 2016 movie. The exquisite cinematography and Psycho-like score, aided by superb performances of an ensemble cast (especially the double performance of Robert Pattinson), make the film one of the biggest surprises of 2016.
5. The Wailing (Na Hong-jin, South Korea)
South Korean cinema has had this big boom since the beginning of the century, and one of the genres that helped its growth of popularity is the thriller. Though the director Na Hong-jin only made two movies (“The Chaser” and “Yellow Sea”) before this one, both are classics that already gained cult followings. His third film, “The Wailing”, won four major Blue Dragon Film Awards including Best Director, and still holds 99 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.
The movie takes place in a small village where a series of sudden deaths occur after a mysterious Japanese man arrived there. Police officer Jong-goo, who is responsible for the case, gradually finds that his daughter is also in danger.
Like all great horror films, “The Wailing” knows how to build up suspense. It introduces characters that constantly give you confusing messages and you are easily affected to make false judgement. In the last 20 minutes, the director uses parallel editing to push this confusion to the highest level, and it’s probably the tensest last 20 minutes you will see in any movie. And boy, isn’t the final reveal of the villain horrifying!