Just because a movie does well at the box office, there’s no reason to turn up your nose. The smart, emotionally gripping “Arrival” already has made close to $90 million domestically, and it is still plugging along.
Then again, “Suicide Squad” made $325 million. So, the cinematic masses can be unwashed at times.
As 2016 comes to a close, we give you a list of 10 movies that didn’t set any sales records but still deserve a look. Some failed to meet initial buzz, while others never had the promotional push to reach a broad audience. You’ll be hearing about at least one of these films during Oscar season, but you will have to dig into online services to find some others.
We asked Dean Otto, curator of film at the Speed Art Museum, for a few picks. We also included domestic box office numbers from Box Office Mojo as of Tuesday, Dec. 27, as well as aggregate critical opinion from Rotten Tomatoes for a little context. Some of these picks are still screening, but none of them are going to be seen as widely in theaters as they deserve.
Directed by Barry Jenkins: $11,957,076 (122nd), 98% Positive
Reviewed as the year’s best by Dean Otto.
“I had the amazing opportunity to see the film at the Telluride Film Festival, with the cast and director in person participating in a post-screening discussion. Without a doubt, one of the most moving films of the year following three crucial periods of a young African-American gay man’s life. It’s one of the most important films about how people form families when traditional structures don’t exist.”
Directed by Maren Ade: $30,972 (503rd), 91% Positive
Reviewed by Dean Otto.
“The film is so much more than a father and daughter trying to connect after a prolonged period of estrangement. Hilarious, embarrassing and heart-wrenching, the film takes us to places not expected. Along the way we experience a cultural critique of corporate team-building, feminism, financial exploitation and parenthood. Not to be missed.”
Directed by Robert Eggers: $25,138,705 (88th), 91% Positive
This writer’s pick for the best of 2016, the claustrophobic character study resonated with critics but was lost on modern horror audiences. Essentially “The Manchurian Candidate” with witchcraft, the film traces the disintegration of a Puritan family cast out of their village to the edge of the dark forest. Unflinching it its depiction of sexual and chauvinistic repression, “The Witch” is artful in its portrayal of violence, which makes it all the more disturbing.
Directed by Jeff Nichols: $3,712,282 (164th), 84% Positive
Jeff Nichols is getting Oscar buzz for this year’s “Loving,” but “Midnight Special” was a major risk and (as often proves out) a box office flop for the critical darling. The story of a father and son who go on the run when they discover they have unexplained powers is artfully restrained — pretty much certain to not connect with spring /summer sci-fi audiences.
Directed by Jeremy Saulnier: $3,220,371 (173rd), 91% Positive
Tense, raw and yet still smart, “Green Room” follows a failing punk rock band as they fight their way out of a neo-Nazi roadhouse where they’ve been booked for one last, horrible gig. Patrick Stewart steals the show as the heavy; we are anxious for the debut release from The Ain’t Rights (get it?).
“Swiss Army Man”
Directed by Daniel Scheinert & Daniel Kwan: $4,210,454 (155th), 68% Positive
More interesting than good, this movie is still worth a look just because it’s willing to be so visually daring. Essentially a weirdo buddy film, with Daniel Radcliffe staring as a corpse that’s befriended by a castaway who just wants to get back to his girl. Sometimes described as “magical realism,” it’s really just an image-first debut outing from a pair of music video directors. Don’t expect emotional resonance; just look at the pictures, and you will be fine.
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos: $8,700,374 (136th) , 90% Positive
This little sci-fi film got a lot of pre-release buzz but failed to get over with a broad audience. Tonally akin to Goddard’s “Alphaville” (1965), a great cast, most notably Léa Seydoux, perfectly skirt the line between malaise and tension as they move between worlds where personal relationships are a matter of law, not preference.
“Kubo and the Two Strings”
Directed by Travis Knight: $48,023,088 (59th), 97% Positive
The most commercially successful film on this list, “Kubo” still pulled less than a third of the box office for “Trolls.” Beautifully animated in the style of “Coraline” (2009), it keeps its maudlin string-pulling to a minimum while exploring themes of family and community. Funny and scary in equal parts; ghostly guqin haven’t been this creepy since “Kung Fu Hustle” (2004).
Written & directed by John Carney: $3,237,118 (171st), 96% Positive
Impossibly sweet and romantic, this movie follows a Dublin teen as he forms a band to get the girl. Timeless. Equal parts a love letter to young romance and early ’80s pop music, save this one for date night. The young cast is amazing.
“The Love Witch”
Written and directed by Anna Biller: $152,035 (34oth), 95% Positive
Praised as much for its Technicolor pallet as for its lean morality tale, “The Love Witch” follows a magical seductress who finds most of her conquests ultimately tedious, until she meets an interesting guy. Not unlike 20 or so “Twilight Zone” episodes, but those are great, too, and Anna Biller’s passion for homage (she has like 10 credits on this movie) demands a viewing. Hammer fans, rejoice!