Believe it or not, Shaun The Sheep Movie was recently announced as the highest rated film of the summer in 2016. Why is this so unbelievable? Because for a film that only has one bad review out of the collective 112 reviews it received, it’s only made $11.1 million, to date, during in its US release.
This got me to thinking: what other highly decorated films were released upon the public, only to fail at finding an audience? The results of such questioning are surprising enough that we actually found 10 supreme candidates that are well loved by critics, but somehow vastly unseen by the viewing public at large.
For her first feature since 2009's Jennifer's Body, Karyn Kusama delivers one of the year's great gripping thrillers with The Invitation, an intensely unnerving story about a Los Angeles man (Logan Marshall-Green) who, with his girlfriend in tow, attends a dinner party hosted by his ex-wife (Tammy Blanchard) and her new boyfriend (Game of Thrones' Michiel Huisman)—an awkward situation compounded by the fact that Marshall-Green and Blanchard's characters split following the death of their young child, which neither has properly gotten over. Kusama shrewdly lays out her psychological dynamics, and she imbues her action with an eeriness that suggests there's more to this get-together than initially meets the eye, and which slowly builds to near-unbearable levels. By the time its revelations finally arrive, The Invitation has become a small-scale masterwork of sustained anxiety, and all the more chilling for casting its eventual horrors as the natural byproduct of madness begat by grief.
Director Fede Alvarez proved he was a gifted technician with his 2013 Evil Dead remake, but it's his latest thriller that establishes him as more than just a look-at-me behind-the-camera showman. Alvarez's latest concerns three kids (Dylan Minnette, Jane Levy, Daniel Zovatto) who, desperate to get out of their working-class circumstances, decide to rob a blind man (Stephen Lang) reportedly in possession of a stash of money hidden in his dilapidated home. Their plot, however, goes awry when that sightless individual turns out to be far more capable—and lethal—than anticipated, leading to a perpetrators-become-the-victims nightmare that the director orchestrates for maximum tension. Even when it eventually turns to third-act bombshells, Don't Breathe is a work of superbly sustained suspense, employing its gorgeous widescreen visuals to deliver a bevy of heart-pounding thrills—and one that also, subtly, doubles as a commentary on the literal, emotional, and psychological decay that's overtaken modern-day Detroit.
With the war in Iraq raging on, a young man (Jonah Hill) offers his childhood friend a chance to make big bucks by becoming an international arms dealer. Together, they exploit a government initiative that allows businesses to bid on U.S. military contracts. Starting small allows the duo to rake in money and live the high life. They soon find themselves in over their heads after landing a $300 million deal to supply Afghan forces, a deal that puts them in business with some very shady people.
Jonah Hill is so repellent – all swagger, sweat and unapologetic sexism – in War Dogs, that for a while, you don’t immediately realise what a blitzkrieg of a performance he delivers. Bulked up considerably for the role, he plays Efraim Diveroli, one half of a real-life pair of twentysomething Yeshiva schoolfriends from Miami who made millions by hawking dodgy supplies to the US military. He looks like a doughnut stuffed with testosterone and reckless ambition; his hyena laugh has a combination of pleading neediness and mania that makes it chillingly effective. It’s the force of Hill’s tremendous, committed performance, plus the chemistry with costar Miles Teller (very much the straight man here as Efraim’s business partner, David Packouz) which carries a film that takes too many cliched routes to ever match the quality of its lead actor.
Shane Black perfected the mismatched buddy-cop formula with 1987's Lethal Weapon, so it's no surprise that, 29 years later, he's delivered another bickering-duo gem set in the L.A. underworld.
In this thoroughly amusing 1970s neo-noir comedy, Ryan Gosling is a bumbling private investigator who finds himself paired with Russell Crowe's for-hire enforcer on a case involving a missing girl and a dead porn star. As they make their way through a seedy showbiz landscape, Crowe and Gosling prove an irresistibly combative, cantankerous pair, with Crowe's gruff exasperation clashing with Gosling's doofus bumbling.
Energized by a dry, wry cynicism that borders on fatalistic desperation, The Nice Guys is an idiosyncratic crime romp that builds humorous momentum as it moves towards its mystery-unraveling conclusion. Plus, Gosling's impromptu Lou Costello homage is one for the ages.
There’s more than a hint of Richard Ayoade in Craig Roberts’s darkly comic directorial debut. Both the teen awkwardness of Submarine (in which Roberts memorably starred) and the Dostoevskian paranoia of The Double are here present and correct. Working from his own script, Roberts plays the titular Jim, a dorky misfit whose life is transformed by the arrival of new neighbour Dean (Emile Hirsch), who teaches Jim to be a rebel.
Trips to a rat-pit cinema endlessly repeating the same mock-noir hint that Dean may be partly a Fight Club-style figment of Jim’s cineliterate imagination, although the film’s surreal threads are left deliberately open-ended. With his deadpan Keaton-esque demeanour, Roberts is already a singular screen presence, and here acquits himself confidently behind the camera, handling the film’s shifting tones with nicely cracked off-kilter humour.
Christian Slater and James Franco play rival producers of gay pornographic movies in Justin Kelly’s “King Cobra,” a sleazy dark comedy that aspires to be a low-budget, all-male answer to “Boogie Nights.” Based on the true story, reported in Rolling Stone, of Bryan Kocis, a maker of gay pornography who was murdered at his home in 2007, mostly it tries not to titillate with explicit images, although the dialogue is casually raunchy.
Mr. Slater’s hapless character, Stephen, shoots movies of young men masturbating in his home in suburban San Diego and markets them under the name Cobra Video. Mr. Franco plays the other producer, who runs his own company, Viper Boyz. His sole star is his younger lover, Harlow (Keegan Allen of “Pretty Little Liars”), nicknamed Piggy Bank and whom Joe occasionally rents out to middle-age men.
Billionaire industrialist Damian Hale (Ben Kingsley) is master of his universe, until he encounters a foe that he can't defeat: cancer. His only hope is a radical medical procedure called "shedding," in which his consciousness is transferred to a healthy body. After the procedure, Damian, now called Edward (Ryan Reynolds), starts a new life in New Orleans, but he's plagued by disturbing images. When he delves into Edward's mysterious origin, he learns that some will kill to keep it secret.
For a while, as “Self/less” unfurls all of its knotty complications, the movie gives off a junkily entertaining vibe, like the A-picture knockoffs that used to roll down the assembly line of shlock impresarios Roger Corman and Menahem Golan. But the more the narrative straightens out into a series of shootouts, punch-outs and car chases, the more monotonous it becomes (especially at 116 minutes). Unlike “Seconds,” Singh’s movie isn’t much interested in exploring the psychological consequences of becoming a “new” person, and it lacks the energy and humor that might have transformed it into a rollicking, “Total Recall”-style caper.
Elite passengers on a South Korean bullet train face a twitching, hissing threat from the cheap seats in “Train to Busan,” a public-transportation horror movie with a side helping of class warfare.
The setup is lean and clean. A flattened deer, mowed down in a quarantine zone in Seoul where some kind of chemical spill has occurred (echoes of Bong Joon-ho’s 2007 enviro-horror film, “The Host”), springs back to life. Then, in just a few swiftly efficient scenes, we meet a harried hedge-fund manager and his small, sad daughter (Gong Yoo and an amazing Kim Su-ahn), see them settled on the titular locomotive and watch in dismay as a vividly unwell last-minute passenger lurches onboard. And we’re off!
Everybody’s done it. You wake up, see a figure in the dark, turn on the light and the figure disappears. David F. Sandberg’s horror takes that universal mind-trick and asks: what if that figure was actually there? Already yelped at by millions on-line, Lights Out started life as a viral YouTube short – the shock here is that Sandberg’s expanded a three-minute nano-horror into a brilliantly sustained sense-attack that torches the nerves for 80 ruthless minutes.
Lights Out is a 2016 American supernatural horror film directed by David F. Sandberg in his major directorial debut, produced by Lawrence Grey, James Wan and written by Eric Heisserer.
Although influenced by J-horror and the slow-creep style of producer James Wan, Lights Out is arguably this year’s Babadook: there’s a memorable monster, peekaboo scares, but, crucially, a spiky emotional turmoil that feeds the fear. Led by Teresa Palmer, the family under siege are a dysfunctional bunch damaged by grief and madness. That turbulence manifests itself in the form of a shadow-dwelling spirit calling itself Diana – a lurking silhouette with glowing eyes, Nosferatu nails and a punishing back-story to justify the malevolence.
The best movie from 2016 - In December 1941, two Czech soldiers (Cillian Murphy, Jamie Dornan) parachute into their occupied homeland to assassinate Nazi officer Reinhard Heydrich. Alternate history of World War II, Tom Cruise tried and failed to assassinate Adolf Hitler in the loosely fact-based “Valkyrie,” as did Walter Pidgeon in Fritz Lang’s thoroughly fictional “Man Hunt,” before Brad Pitt finally managed to get the job done with the help of his fellow “Inglourious Basterds.” Now, in the most historically accurate of these big-screen resistance feats, “Fifty Shades of Grey” heartthrob Jamie Dornan takes aim at one of Hitler’s top lieutenants, SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, who oversaw both the Reich’s claim on Bohemia and Moravia (now the Czech Republic) and the Final Solution.
“Anthropoid,” which derives its sci-fi-sounding title from the Czechoslovak army-in-exile’s real-life operation to assassinate Heydrich, capitalizes on the facts of this little-known act of heroism, casting two dreamy stars (Dornan and Cillian Murphy) as expat soldiers Jan Kubiš and Josef Gabčík, who parachute back into their Nazi-occupied homeland to carry out the mission. The trouble is that for all the narrative intrigue and excitement such an endeavor might suggest, director Sean Ellis’ less-than-dramatic recreation of this daring act of defiance proves surprisingly stiff — all starchy costumes, shaky camerawork and thick Slavic accents (the latter borrowing from the by-now-laughable trend of British actors playing foreigners as if they have mastered neither their native tongue nor our own) — barely redeemed by an even more surprisingly intense finale.