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Under the Radar’s Top 30 Films of 2016

Dec 28, 2016
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Once the dust settles and we’re finally able to look at 2016 in our rear view mirrors, we’ll hopefully view this doozy of a year for at least being a good one when it came to films. This year’s top 30 movies list—as voted on by Under the Radar‘s film staff—features indies and blockbusters of many genres, from dramas to comedies to science fiction to horror; foreign language films, documentaries, and even an animated kids’ movie. Not only were great films being made and released, but great films of many varieties. It’s a promising sign for 2017, and one reason to hold out hope in the months to come. If you’re looking for a way to get through these dreary winter months, you could do far worse than catch up on the fantastic flicks below.



Directed by Barry Jenkins

In Barry Jenkins’s film, it’s not merely about the implications of the title word, Moonlight, but about the natural elements and their intoxicating power. They shake a young boy, a young man, and an adult man’s life. The water that Juan bathes Little in, carrying him from the sea; the swirling wind of the camera, without reason or calculation, moving around and about Chiron; the red hot embers and the falling ashes of Kevin’s cigarette which leaves Black completely entranced; the pebbles of sand and specks of dirt that find themselves underneath everyone’s nails and smeared across everyone’s heart. “Moonlight” itself certainly has political implications about the way men of color, particular black men, negotiate sexual and masculine spaces. But the classical elements together join together to become foundation to the film’s lead character. By Kyle Turner


Green Room

Directed by Jeremy Saulnier

What happens when you give incompetent people guns? As with Blue Ruin, Jeremy Saulnier mines incredible amount of suspense from this simple operating principle while creating what is essentially a plausible genre movie. With such a handle on trope and audience expectation, one of the more memorable performances from Patrick Stewart is just a nice bonus. By Shawn Hazelett


The Lobster

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

How do you make provocations in a romantic comedy? And not just provocations in the Seth MacFarlane/Seth Rogen/Kevin Smith vein, but the kind of taunt that forces the viewer to ache. You have Ben Whishaw break his nose on a table, force Rachel Weisz to become blind, and tell Colin Farrell to kick his dead dog. All in the name of love. Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Lobster is a cactus of a movie: sharp, prickly, even maybe a little inaccessible due how caustic it is; but open up the inside and it’s tender and raw, as vulnerable as anything. It’s a film that recognizes and both condemns and cherishes the idiocy of trying to find love in a hopeless place. By Kyle Turner


Everybody Wants Some!!

Directed by Richard Linklater

By far the most low key movie on this year\‘s list, Everybody Wants Some!! is Richard Linklater\‘s take on college life in the early 80s. The perfect mix of Slacker\‘s laissez faire, meandering narrative structure, and Dazed and Confused\‘s nostalgic charm and humor, Everybody Wants Some!! may not be the most mind-blowing but it is certainly the most rewatchable movie of the year. By Sarah Winshall


Hell or High Water

Directed by David Mackenzie

Robbing from the rich and giving to the poor ain\‘t just for Robin Hood anymore. The deep south is turned into a nihilist Nottingham in David Mackenzie\‘s Hell or High Water, the grim saga about a pair of bank robbing brothers (Chris Pine, ruefully scruffing up his pretty boy image, and a wily Ben Foster). Hot on their heels is a dogged near retirement sheriff (the always excellent Jeff Bridges) and his Native American partner (an equally fantastic Gil Birmingham). What could have been a standard heist and car chase shoot-em-up is risen best-of-the-year caliber by the cast\‘s superb performances, Mackenzie\‘s jaw dropping panoramic Americana camera work, and—above all—the script\‘s deft treatment of marginalized small town southerners who all long to stick up the real robbers: bankers, of course. That rich subtext helps Hell or High Water reach unexpected depths as the year\‘s biggest sleeper hit. By Kyle Mullin


Manchester by the Sea

Directed by Kenneth Lonergan

Manchester by the Sea succeeds because of many things, from emotionally honest performances to a script that deftly blends melancholy and levity. It has a surprising amount of funny beats that momentarily distances it from the bubbling sadness permeating through the rest of the film. What makes it an instant classic is that it never shies away from the idea that tragedy can break us, and it wisely avoids schmaltz and forced hope. As such, the tragedy at the heart of Manchester is palpable without being overkill. It\‘s bleak, but true, and it lingers long after the credits have stopped rolling. By Jason Wilson


The Witch

Directed by Robert Eggers

A devoutly religious family in Colonial New England endures a rash of unexpected tragedies; as the crops die and their outlook shows no signs of improving, a suffocating paranoia builds and suspicion turns to their young daughter, Thomasin, whom they fear may have allied herself with the devil. The year’s best new horror film builds its greatest scares not into what it shows, but in the things it only hints at. So much of the movie’s freakiest stuff happens off-screen, leaving the darker recesses of the viewers’ imagination to connect he ghastly dots, that when the movie does decide to peel away the curtain, the effects are truly shocking. By Austin Trunick


Kubo and the Two Strings

Directed by Travis Knight

Kubo feels like a throwback to the darker kids’ fantasy movies of the 1980s, like The Dark Crystal, NeverEnding Story, and Return to Oz. Featuring some of the most imaginative monster design this side of a Guillermo Del Toro film, it’s also a grand adventure that adults will enjoy just as much as their (most brave) children. By Austin Trunick


La La Land

Directed by Damien Chazelle

There’s nothing Hollywood loves as much as itself, but self-absorption is fine when it leads to something as magical as La La Land. Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to Whiplash switches gears from intense drumming to a full-blown musical romantic comedy as Emma Stone’s aspiring actress and Ryan Gosling’s frustrated jazz pianist fall in and out of love around Tinseltown. Packed with glitzy showstoppers, imaginative choreography, surprisingly haunting sequences, and engaging central performances, Chazelle marries heady nostalgia with a thoroughly modern feel. The end result is a colorful delight. By Stephen Mayne


The Handmaiden

Directed by Park Chan-wook

Watch Park Chan-wook’s, mastermind behind Lady Vengeance and Stoker, new film twice: once as con movie, once as romantic melodrama. And then out of the two viewings, figure out which game is best of all: the class game that characters try to play with one another, or the game of sex and love. Park’s great gambit is both being able to balance its many tonal and narrative shifts, but also in making, essentially, Congratulations, You Played Yourself: The Movie. By Kyle Turner


The Nice Guys

Directed by Shane Black



Directed by Denis Villeneuve



Directed by Pablo Larraín


The Love Witch

Directed by Anna Biller


Certain Women

Directed by Kelly Reichardt


Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Directed by Gareth Edwards



Directed by Trey Edward Shults



Directed by Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman


10 Cloverfield Lane

Directed by Dan Trachtenberg


Little Sister

Directed by Zach Clark



Directed by Jim Jarmusch



Directed by David Farrier


Knight of Cups

Directed by Terrence Malick


Captain America: Civil War

Directed by the Russo Brothers


Don\'t Think Twice

Directed by Mike Birbiglia


Love & Friendship

Directed by Whit Stillman



Directed by Tim Miller


Midnight Special

Directed by Jeff Nichols


Hail, Caesar!

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen


Directed by Robert Greene

Kate Plays Christine


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January 11th 2017

Great post

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January 11th 2017

Now are but a few of our preferred summer films that flew under the radar, cinematic delicacy that may have slipped your observe.

January 20th 2017

La La Land was very nice! I really loved it!

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March 10th 2017

Moonlight was something special i agree!

April 20th 2017

Moonlight should’ve definitely won the Oscar though. Great list, and la la land is so overrated.. My site

October 10th 2018

Good list!

June 9th 2019


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June 10th 2019

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