Best Movies Off the Radar 2016

A selection of staff favorites that might not have played at your local multiplex.

by | December 15, 2016 | Comments

Hundreds of films flood into theaters every year, but only a relative few of them ever get a wide release. Some of the smaller movies do boast the festival accolades or the requisite star power either behind or in front of the lens to rack up some awards buzz, but far more of them flutter away without much fanfare. With that in mind, we here on staff at RT have chosen our favorite films that went mostly unnoticed by audiences at large in 2016. Read on for the full list of our Off the Radar picks of the year.

American Honey (2016) 79%

At once epic and intimate, American Honey is a film that’s completely of the moment, like a series of snapshots from the forgotten corners of America. Andrea Arnold’s episodic road movie about a group of throwaway teenagers crisscrossing the country to sell overpriced magazine subscriptions door to door has a palpable sense of discovery and danger, along with an almost tactile sense of dry heat, sweaty clothes, and buzzing insects. At the heart of everything is Sasha Lane, the preternaturally gifted actress that Arnold plucked off a beach to star in her film; as Star, Lane is alternately headstrong and naïve, tough and thoughtful. Some might be put off by the film’s nearly three-hour runtime, or by its meandering plot, or perhaps by Lane’s co-star Shia LeBeouff (who’s terrific, by the way). Me, I’d love to spend even more time in the van with these kids, just to see what else lies in store somewhere down the highway. — Tim Ryan

Available on: FandangoNOW, Amazon

The Boy And The Beast (Bakemono No Ko) (2016) 90%

Even casual fans of modern anime have seen director Makoto Shinkai declared “the new Hayao Miyazaki,” as Shinkai’s newest release Your Name becomes Japan’s second-highest grossing film behind Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. But with Your Name not hitting American theaters until 2017, I’m recommending a film you can see right now: The Boy and the Beast by Mamoru Hosada, the other new Miyazaki. Like the master himself, Hosada rose through television ranks (working on Samurai Champloo and Digimon), honing his action storytelling craft into eventual features like the breathless Summer Wars. The Boy and the Beast itself hews close to Spirited Away, a contemporary tale of disaffected youth in Japan who discover portals into an alternate world populated by monsters and fantastic creatures. It’s a showcase for Hosada’s punchy battle sequences and family drama, without excessive sentimentality. — Alex Vo

Available on: Amazon

Gimme Danger (2016) 94%

Gimme Danger is an appreciative look at Iggy and the Stooges, viewed through the loving lens of filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, who considers them the greatest band of all time. Even non-devotees will enjoy the Stooges’ story, as told by Iggy Pop (aka Jim Osterberg), his bandmates (including Scott Asheton, Ron Asheton, James Williamson and Steve Mackay), and others close to the group during its rise and fall. Gimme Danger features great footage, excellent music, entertaining interviews, and a surprising amount of humor. Iggy Pop’s memory is a wonder to behold, especially considering everything he’s been through. His detailed recollection of the band’s origin and misadventures take you on a great rock-and-roll journey of a band discovered, lost, and then found again. It’s a great reminder, lest anyone forget, of the sweeping influence that Iggy and The Stooges continue to have to this day. And for those who are lucky enough to be learning about them for the first time, Gimme Danger is a fantastic place to start. — Beki Lane

Preorder on: Amazon

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) 96%

New Zealand writer, director, and actor Taika Waititi has soared off the radar with releases Boy (2012), What We Do in the Shadows (2015), and this year’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Hilarious vampire “documentary” Shadows went straight for the comedy jugular and scored cult status almost immediately. Wilderpeople, about a 12-year-old New Zealand boy in the foster-care system, shares a quirky pathos with 1980s-set Boy. The film stars young newcomer Julian Dennison as the hip-hop loving city kid Ricky Baker, who goes to live in the country with Bella (Rima Te Wiata), a foster mom with a heart of gold, and irascible Uncle Hec (Sam Neill). When events turn and threaten to send him to a foster care institution, Ricky runs away into the bush with Uncle Hec not far behind, kicking off a national manhunt that brings the two closer together. It’ll be interesting to see how Waititi employs his talent for storytelling as director on 2017 superhero release Thor: Ragnarok. And if you haven’t yet seen Boy and What We Do in the Shadows, get to it, you egg. — Debbie Day

Available on: FandangoNOW, Amazon

The Lobster (2016) 87%

This is one of my favorite movies of the year.  I’m reluctant to describe much of the plot, because I think there are sublime surprises in this movie.  Suffice to say that it may be the darkest and sharpest satire about love and relationships that I’ve ever seen.  Colin Farrell gives us a subtly hilarious performance as a man desperate to find love, and there are excellent supporting turns from Rachel Wiesz and John C. Reilly, among others.  As the reviews came in, we saw references to Franz Kafka and Charlie Kaufman, which should give you an idea as to what you’re in for.  If you like your satire with a generous helping of black humor, you’re going to love this one. — Matt Atchity

Available on: FandangoNOW, Amazon, Amazon Prime

Sing Street (2016) 95%

Give John Carney this much: the man knows his niche. With 2007’s Once and 2013’s Begin Again, he demonstrated a talent for telling bittersweet yet ultimately hopeful stories about bruised hearts bonded by music — and as evidenced by this year’s Sing Street, he’s still honing his craft. Set in 1980s Ireland, it uses the travails of a pop-obsessed working-class kid as the solid underpinnings for a coming-of-age drama that’s part early MTV-era jukebox musical, part Commitments-style band picture, and part swooning romance — all bound together by a talented cast and an irresistibly uplifting story that sinks its hooks in you as deep as the effortless homages on its sing-along soundtrack. — Jeff Giles

Available on: Netflix, FandangoNOW, Amazon

Swiss Army Man (2016) 71%

Swiss Army Man is one of the best bromantic comedies of the year. It’s Bridget Jones’s Diary if Bridget Jones were a suicidal castaway (played here by Paul Dano), Colin Firth was a girl on a bus (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and Jude, Shazza, and Tom were actually just a dead (and kind of gassy) Daniel Radcliffe. It’s a terrific, captivating story about friendship, love, mortality, and catharsis. The directing duo, Daniels, known for their music video for DJ Snake/Lil Jon’s “Turn Down for What,” have found a way to seamlessly weave in and out of humor, sadness, whimsy, and vulnerability. The film — original, musical, and absurd — will take you on a purely imaginative and surreal journey that you’ll continue to think about once the credits have rolled. Yes, it has been dubbed the “farting corpse” movie, but it is well worth your time. — Zoey Moore

Available on: FandangoNOW, Amazon

Train to Busan (Busanhaeng) (2016) 94%

An intense, action-packed zombie story told from a unique and terrifying perspective, Train to Busan revolves around a self-centered businessman who travels with his young daughter to visit her mother, but has his plans (and life) altered by a widespread viral outbreak that infects both passengers and the world around them, forcing him to put aside his selfish behavior and work with the other passengers to survive. Even though it only had a brief theatrical life span in the US, the movie quickly became a smash hit in South Korea, where it’s now the top grossing film of the year, having earned over $80 million in the box office. It’s a “when you think things can’t get worse, be sure that they will” kind of movie that’s guaranteed to entertain and keep you on the edge of your seat. — Júlio de Oliveira

Available on: FandangoNOW, Amazon

The Wailing (Goksung) (2016) 99%

He isn’t as well known in the West as Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, The Handmaiden) or Bong Joon-ho (The Host, Snowpiercer), but South Korean director Na Hong-jin made a name for himself with 2008’s The Chaser, and his most recent release, this year’s The Wailing, earned widespread acclaim. The story, about a rural cop investigating a string of mysterious — and possibly supernatural — murders in his small town, takes its time, but never drags, and it successfully pulls off a couple of uncommon feats. First, the beginning of the film is unexpectedly funny, incorporating dry wit and elements of slapstick as two bumbling police officers try to make sense of a grisly murder. But over time, the story sheds its oddball humor and shifts into pure, bloody terror, and the transition is so seamless and effective that you hardly notice it. Second, The Wailing borrows from several genre predecessors, from zombie flicks to The Exorcist, but maintains its own distinct personality, so that you never feel like the film is merely paying lip service to its inspirations. The homages feel organic, and they’re hidden under subtle enough layers that they are recognizable without being obvious. The end of the film does raise some perplexing questions, but that’s what makes it perfect for repeat viewings. It’s well-acted, beautifully shot, atmospheric, funny, a little bizarre, and ultimately chilling, and it’s well worth a watch. — Ryan Fujitani

Available on: Netflix, FandangoNOW, Amazon

We Are Twisted F***ing Sister! (2016) 80%

Most metalheads likely don’t even know the story of Twisted Sister prior to the legendary Stay Hungry album. They were the famous New York headlining heavy metal act that was destined to stay local until the end of time. But TS fought that destiny and their struggle is the highly entertaining focus of this rock doc. The ever-engaging rivalry between band founder Jay Jay French and hired-hand vocalist Dee Snider starts off the story, showing Snider’s quick ability to become the band’s leader once his talent or stamina were questioned. Who knew that telling someone the new song he wrote was “cute” could motivate him to become one of the most famous shaggy-haired metal idols of the time? And when A&R reps from big recording labels are told they’ll be fired if they ever mention the name Twisted Sister again, we — knowing the outcome — can’t help but be amused with an “I told you so” level of anticipation. This film isn’t just for the SMFs (“Sick Mutha F—as,” as TS fans call themselves) out there. The comedy of the journey shines through, no matter the setbacks flung at the hardest working band in metal. They weren’t “gonna take it,” and they didn’t. — Kerr Lordygan

Available on: Netflix, Amazon

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