At the end of every year, critics and award groups highlight their picks for the best movies of the year, and movie studios tout their biggest blockbusters in box-office memos.
Those movies are usually pretty great, but there’s more out there that’s worth watching.
Some of the features on this list were swept under the rug. Some didn’t resonate with audiences when they hit theatres, were marketed poorly, aren’t part of the Oscar conversation, or are rightly recognised in some circles, but those circles aren’t wide enough. While some have been recognised by critics, they may be smaller indies catered toward a smaller niche.
One thing they have in common is that they’re all excellent. Here are the 2016 movies you may have missed.
What it's about: A Hollywood fixer scampers around the studio and tries to keep all of his stars happy while also keeping his marriage together.
Why you should see it: It's really, really, funny. Josh Brolin is perfectly deadpan as Eddie Mannix as he tries to make sure all of the studio's stars are in line, and it might have the best cast of any movie this year. The Coen brothers flick is filled with colourful characters and absurd subplots that features George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Jonah Hill, and -- in a star-making turn -- Alden Ehrenreich, who was recently cast as a Young Han Solo.
What it's about: A young boy has uncontrollable supernatural powers. His father pulls him away from a cult that wants to use him, and the FBI tries to track them down.
Why you should see it: 2016 was filled with movies and shows with Spielbergian vibes, like 'Pete's Dragon' and 'Stranger Things.' The best of them was 'Midnight Special,' which was somewhere between 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' and 'E.T.' 'Midnight Special' doesn't quite become a full-blown fantasy movie, but director Jeff Nichols knows how to use it to make a well-crafted story and go deep into the emotional connections between parents and children. 13-year-old Jaeden Lieberher also does a great job as the main character, Alton, and the film boasts a stellar supporting cast that includes Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, and Bill Camp.
What it's about: In the movie's dystopian world, people are sent to a hotel and need to find love within 45 days or they're turned into an animal. David (played by Colin Farrell) needs to find his match.
Why you should see it: 'The Lobster' is one of 2016's strangest movies, and to succeed, it has to run a delicate balance between being a touching story about humans finding emotional fulfillment in a strange world, or failing and becoming merely a weird movie. Luckily, thanks to its game actors (Farrel, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, and a few others), it totally works -- and it might even make you cry.
What it's about: An '80s-set story about a group of college baseball players who are trying to get laid in the last few days before the semester begins.
Why you should see it: Richard Linklater called 'Everybody Wants Some!!' a 'spiritual sequel' to both 'Boyhood' and 'Dazed and Confused.' And while it isn't one of his best movies (and also isn't as raunchy as the title suggests), it's still a charming, psychologically acute film about growing up, and it will leave you with a warm and fuzzy feeling inside.
What it's about: A documentary about ex-congressman Anthony Weiner's quixotic campaign in the 2013 New York City mayoral elections, when a second sexting scandal came to light and doomed his campaign.
Why you should see it: In light of the FBI investigation into his emails that caused headaches for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, 'Weiner' -- released back in May -- almost seems quaint. But it's still worth watching. Documentarians Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg were granted an astonishing amount of access to film what was supposed to be the comeback for Anthony Weiner, only to see it end -- not unexpectedly -- in total defeat. It's a funny, searing, and empathetic portrait of a man who really, genuinely seems to want to be a public servant, but even himself seems dumbfounded by his self-defeating scandals. It's as if Christopher Guest adapted a Greek tragedy, except it's real.
What it's about: A young man is stranded on a desert island with only a flatulent corpse for company.
Why you should see it: OK, so 'The Lobster' is pretty strange, but 'Swiss Army Man' is definitely the strangest movie of the year. It's also a total delight, with a funny, occasionally moving bromance between Paul Dano's and Daniel Radcliffe's characters and a joyful exploration of the limits of the imagination.
What it's about: Werner Herzog explains the internet and its consequences.
Why you should see it: If Werner Herzog explains anything, it's worth watching. 'Lo and Behold,' though, is one of his best works in frequent years. He doesn't just interview internet historians and the engineers who keep it running, he interviews the people whose lives it changes: people who move to the woods, where they think online signals can't reach them and ruin their brains, a family whose dead daughter's body was used in a cyberbullying campaign, and Elon Musk, who dreams of putting the internet on Mars.
What it's about: Two brothers conduct a series of robberies in a scheme to save their family farm and two law enforcement officers try to track them down.
Why you should see it: A lot of heist movies lately -- 'Now You See Me 2,' 'Triple 9' -- are flashy and soulless or just plain bad. 'Hell or High Water,' though, is the rare movie in the genre that has a whip-smart script and a heart that keeps the stakes high.
What it's about: A young one-eyed boy named Kubo goes on a quest to find his father's suit of magic armour to defeat his evil grandfather.
Why you should see it: 'Kubo' is an old-fashioned fantasy adventure, a work of pure imagination lovingly put on screen. The studio behind it, Laika, is on a roll (they have also made 'ParaNorman' and 'The Boxtrolls'), and their stop-motion, 3D-printing approach takes an astonishing amount of detail to assemble.
What it's about: Framed over three time periods, 'Moonlight' tells the story of a young black man on a journey of self-discovery from childhood to adulthood.
Why you should see it: High-flying Oscar prospects aside, 'Moonlight' is a rare movie that feels like life itself. It's well-acted, and has a script that just understands its characters. If you've ever struggled with your own identity, you might just find yourself inside it.
What it's about: Set in Japanese-occupied Korea, a Korean woman is hired as a handmaiden to a Japanese handmaiden and is secretly involved in a plot to defraud her.
Why you should see it: The description above covers just the start of 'The Handmaiden.' I won't spoil the rest because it's one of the twistiest, sexiest plot-driven dramas to come along in years. Directed by Park Chan-wook of 'Oldboy' fame, his newest movie is also a visual delight, with bold colours, period-perfect costumes, and a manor with more secrets than you could have ever imagined.
What it's about: Against the backdrop of the Korean War, a Jewish boy from New Jersey goes to a small Christian college in Ohio where he has a sexual awakening, becomes an independent thinker, and experiences the dangers that come with the two.
Why you should see it: Until now, there's never been a good adaptation of a Phillip Roth novel, which is enough of a justification to see legendary producer James Schamus's directorial debut. It's an intellectually riveting, visually ravishing piece that feels like a throwback to an earlier era. We're lucky to have it now.
What it's about: 'Loving' follows the story of Mildred and Richard Loving, an interracial couple whose 1958 marriage violated Virginia's anti-miscegenation laws and led to a Supreme Court challenge.
Why you should see it: Far from being a blustering, posing Oscar-baiting biopic, 'Loving' knows that the story of the Lovings is, well, a love story -- and a moving one at that. Jeff Nichols hits it out of the park in his second movie of the year (after 'Midnight Special'), and Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga capture Richard and Mildred's quirks and feelings perfectly.
What it's about: A modern-day witch uses spells and magic to get men to fall in love with her.
Why you should see it: Anna Biller's latest movie is a marvel, not least because it's surprising that it got made in the first place. With an aesthetic that works as a homage to mid-century technicolor melodramas, 'The Love Witch' is charming to look at and has a brilliant premise that Biller executes with aplomb.
What it's about: An uncle looks after his teenage nephew after the boy's father dies.
Why you should see it: Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan's new movie isn't exactly a jolly ride, but he's the best at digging deep into emotions his characters don't want to confront. Few movies will strike you as deeply as 'Manchester by the Sea.'
What it's about: The lives of three women intersect in small-town Montana.
Why you should see it: I know, it sounds boring, but director Kelly Reichardt is a master. She has the ability to tap into the hopes, failures, and miscommunications of the most mundane-sounding lives and make them something you care deeply about. And with Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, and Michelle Williams, 'Certain Women' has Reichardt's best cast yet.
What it's about: A game development executive tracks down the unknown man who raped her.
Why you should see it: Hopefully, the plotline will be good enough for you. If not, know that 'Elle' is a return to Paul Verhoeven's transgressive, violent '90s flicks like 'Total Recall' and 'Basic Instinct.' It's totally ludicrous and wild to watch, and only works because of Isabelle Huppert's remarkably stable performance.
What it's about: A philosophy teacher bonds with one of her former students and deals with her mother's death after her husband leaves her.
Why you should see it: Released back-to-back, 'Elle' and 'Things to Come' are a great demonstration of Isabelle Huppert's range. While 'Elle' is a twisty and twisted thriller, 'Things to Come' is an affirmation of hope and goodness in the face of tragedy. It's a lovely movie that shows that, even in the face of tragedy, maybe things will be ok after all.
What it's about: A teen comedy about a girl whose older brother dates her best friend.
Why you should see it: Teen comedies are sometimes raunchy, insincere, or just condescending to its audience. 'The Edge of Seventeen' is the rare one that's funny, understanding, and bittersweet. Plus, we get to see Hailee Steinfeld in her best performance since 'True Grit.'
What it's about: A bus driver drives a bus and writes poems.
Why you should see it: Like Jim Jarmusch's other movies ('Only Lovers Left Alive,' 'Broken Flowers'), 'Paterson' is less about a story and more about the moods, textures, and ideas that the director and actors are able to put on screen. In this case, it's about an everyday man who harbours a deep nostalgia for a world where you can have a day job and be an artist in your spare time -- and then fulfils that dream himself.
What it's about: The Chilean government hunts down Pablo Neruda, a poet and activist, after he joined the Communist party in the 1940s.
Why you should see it: Director Pablo Larraín also directed 'Jackie' this year, which is poised for a few Oscar nominations and is getting noticed for Natalie Portman's performance. At the same time, 'Neruda,' his Spanish-language feature slipping into theatres, deserves just as much acclaim. It's an inventive take on the life of the legendary titular Chilean poet that works more like a noir detective movie than a biopic.
What it's about: Three free-spirited women explore love and freedom in 1970s California.
Why you should see it: 'Beginners,' Mike Mills' movie about a 75-year-old man who comes out as gay to his son around the same time his wife dies and he gets diagnosed with cancer, was a semi-autobiographical account of his dad. '20th Century Women' is about Mills' mum's life, and it covers her with the same bittersweetness, wit, and joy.
What it's about: Two Portuguese Jesuits face persecution while on a mission in 17th Century Japan.
Why you should see it: It's directed by Martin Scorsese! And it's a passion project 30-years in the making. It hits on some of Scorsese's favourite subjects, like faith and violence, but it's also new territory for him, working its way through imperial Japan and the paradoxes of colonialism.
What it's about: An African-American father raises his son and struggles with race relations in 1950s Pittsburgh.
Why you should see it: 'Fences' is one of those movies worth seeing for the talent alone: It's directed by and stars Denzel Washington, it's adapted from the play by legendary playwright August Wilson, and it co-stars Viola Davis. The film works as a powerful acting showcase, with Washington adeptly putting Wilson's fiery dialogue on screen.
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