COLUMN: 16 hidden gems from 2016

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16 HIDDEN GEMS FROM 2016

Netflix distribution and the rental revenue possible from Video On Demand sites are becoming go-to outlets for independent and micro-budgeted films to gain a greater platform of release.  It beats chasing screen bookings at the multiplex and finding the few remaining art-house theaters.  Every year, the amount of possible “buried treasure” movies is immeasurable.  

Even with my access to more-than-most with festival coverage and press credentials, I can’t see everything.  What I can do is prop up some hidden gems that I was lucky enough to see and review.  Here are 16 under-seen winners from 2016.  The qualifier for the list was title earning less than $1 million at the box office.  They are ranked from highest-scoring review to least.

If you’re always looking for something different, unique, and off the beaten path, seek these out.  If you want to where to find them, I recommend the website JustWatch to search for streaming or rental availability in a snap across all platforms.  Happy hunting and even happier viewing!

1. “Life, Animated”

"Life, Animated" is a Disney fan's dream and the best documentary I saw all year and was #3 on my 10 Best List.  I cannot recommend this high enough.  It's the best $3.99 rental you will spend on this list.  I guarantee it.  (Approximate gross: $255,000)

FULL REVIEW


2. “Coming Through the Rye”  

I discovered this gem from the Phoenix Film Festival and followed it all the way until my Chicago audience finally got a chance to see it in November.  It's an outstanding coming-of-age story.  This is a must for all J.D. Salinger fans.  (Approximate gross: $18,000)

FULL REVIEW


3. ‘Blue Jay”

I am behind in writing up an "overdue review," but "Blue Jay" is a revelation waiting for you on Netflix.  Sarah Paulson and Mark Duplass engage you and then tear your heart out with this reminiscing drama.  (Approximate gross: “22,000)

FULL REVIEW COMING SOON


4. “The American Side”

"The American Side" was a local Chicago film premiere opportunity that fell into my lap in June where I was lucky enough to meet its director-star-writing team of Jenna Ricker and Greg Stuhr.  Initially planned as a one-weekend feature at The Wilmette Theatre, it was carried over for four weeks by popular demand.  It's a deft throwback merger of the atmosphere of a 70s conspiracy thriller guiding a gumshoe detective mystery available on Netflix.  Excellent ensemble work with the likes of Matthew Broderick, Robert Forster, and the late Robert Vaughn!  (Approximate gross: N/A)

FULL REVIEW


5. “In a Valley of Violence”

Sorry, "The Magnificent Seven," but Ti West gave us the best western of 2016, Ethan Hawke and all.  Enjoy Hawke and refreshingly half-camp/half-menacing John Travolta in this steely thriller. (Approximate gross: $53,000)

FULL REVIEW


6. “Elvis & Nixon”

All I should need to say is "Kevin Spacey" and "Michael Shannon."  If that wasn't enough, throw in actual gonzo history behind the wild meeting of two icons.  This was one of the best comedies of 2016 and not enough people saw it.  (Approximate gross: $1,000.000)

FULL REVIEW


7. “The Invitation”

Each year, there's always one or two good, as I call them, "mindf--k" movies that aren't full horror and aren't high sci-fi, but complete and delicious brain scramblers.  A few years ago it was "The One I Love."  This year, it's "The Invitation."   (Approximate gross: $230,000)

FULL REVIEW


8. “The Sea of Trees”  

In the wake of the "McConaissance," I don't know how he, along with the director of "Good Will Hunting," can't secure a distributor or taker for what turned out to be a far better film on loss and reflection than "Collateral Beauty" that had ten times wider of a release.  This one is currently on Amazon Instant Video.  (Approximate gross: $20,000)

FULL REVIEW


9. “High-Rise”

"High-Rise" is a twisted cornucopia of social commentary led by Tom Hiddleston and filmmaker Ben Wheatley.  Subversion of the highest order, the parallels from its 1970s setting echo to today.  This is another Netflix exclusive.  (Approximate gross: $350,000)

FULL REVIEW


10. “Louder than Bombs”

Available on Amazon Prime Video, "Louder the Bombs" is one of the better family dramas of the year.  Jesse Eisenberg and Gabriel Byrne get the top credits, but the revelation here is the tortured central performance from Devin Druid.  This will also be the "other other" Isabelle Huppert movie after "Things To Come" and her Oscar buzz for "Elle."  (Approximate gross: $163,000)

FULL REVIEW


11. “Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You”

Renowned TV producer Normal Lear, still spry in his 90s, made for a perfect subject of a jazzy documentary into his influence and stewardship of some of the best hits in TV's history from a generation ago.  (Approximate gross: $71,000)

FULL REVIEW


12. “The Family Fang”

Nicole Kidman is garnering Oscar attention for "Lion," but this may very well be her better supporting performance from 2016.  Paired with Jason Bateman (who also directs), this impressive dysfunctional family dramedy and its elaborate public pranks by one family are a quirky piece of entertainment.  (Approximate gross: $263,000)

FULL REVIEW


13. “Born to Be Blue”  

Playing jazz trumpeter Chet Baker, this is the best Ethan Hawke performance away from Richard Linklater of his career.  "Born to be Blue" is a non-traditional biopic that came out months before the jazz wave brought on by "La La Land."  (Approximate gross: $800,000)

FULL REVIEW


14. “Fathers and Daughters”

Call me a sucker as a softy father of toddlers, but Russell Crowe's lead performance as a struggling single father battling for custody and his own sanity really struck a chord with me.  In you can accept some sap, this film from the director of "Pursuit of Happyness" is available on Starz.  (Approximate gross: N/A)

FULL REVIEW


15. “The Program”

I don't consider two-time Oscar nominee Stephen Frears to be chopped liver on Amazon Prime Video, but his journalistic biopic of disgraced sports and charity celebrity Lance Armstrong shouldn't have been shafted to the back of the pack.  With no remorse to "Hell or High Water," this is the better and more vivid Ben Foster performance of 2016 too.  (Approximate gross: $14,000)

FULL REVIEW


16. “Blood Father”

Dirty, bloody, and mean, "Blood Father" is the real Mel Gibson comeback effort from last year.  I'll take seeing him on-screen in revenge mode here than any minute he operates behind the camera of "Hacksaw Ridge" and its overrated awards consideration.  (Approximate gross: N/A)

FULL REVIEW


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