Kurland On Film’s 5th…or 4th Annual Top Ten Hidden Gems for 2016
By Scott Kurland
Every year, I write three lists for this site: The "best of" top ten, the "worst of" top ten, and this little sleeper list; my top ten "hidden gems". I know you’re not supposed to pick a favorite child, but this one is my favorite. You have the best of list that’s the eldest child; large in charge trying to achieve greatness and keep family order. Then there’s the youngest child, the worst of list; the baby of the family which needs the most attention because they like to get into mischief. Then there’s the hidden gems, the middle child. They’re not confident like the eldest, nor are they scrappy like the youngest…what they are is special. This list is filled with some great films didn't make the "best of" list, films that no one saw, and a few, small-budgeted films that pulled off the impossible by capturing the world’s attention.
10. Popstar! Never Stop Never StoppingI love those Lonely Island boys to death. Just when the world thought they were only good for sketch comedy shorts on SNL, they prove they can make one hell of a film. I loved that “Popstar” wasn’t a straightforward narrative, but a cohesive mockumentary that chronicles the life of Conner 4 Real. Samberg shines as Conner, who he plays like the bastard love-child of Justin Bieber and Macklemore. The music is catchy, the jokes are pitch perfect, and the cast is spectacular. This film cost 20 million dollars to make and only made back 9.5 million. I simply don't understand that because the film is so much fun to watch. In a world where we get a million routine gross out comedies like “Horrible Bosses 2”, it’s refreshing when you get a chance to see an original work of comedic art.
9. The ShallowsHere’s a film made for nearly nothing and made its budget back seven times over. Blake Lively takes center stage as a surfer in Mexico stranded on a giant rock with a seagull. Why you may ask? Because if she steps one foot off that rock, a giant great white shark will eat her. This modern day “Jaws” scared the life out of me, and did I mention it’s only PG-13? This is a great example of horror done right. Take a minimal cast (in this case practically no cast except Lively), keep it simple, and have a giant shark. You can’t go wrong with a giant shark. Director Jaume Collet-Serra is known for making those Liam Neeson "Taken" rip offs, where people take things away. They aren’t “Taken” but they’re pretty close (and, oddly, star Liam Neeson). Collet-Serra made money off those films, but he really shows his talents with “The Shallows”. When I saw this in June, I knew I was watching a movie that might save the summer movie season and, in a way, it did. That’s why it’s number 9 on the list.
8. Hunt For The WilderpeopleThis is the second year in a row that director Taika Waititi made this list. Although this isn’t a vampire mockumentary like “What We Do In The Shadows,” this film is something special. Sam Neil and Julian Dennison star as Hec and Ricky; a newly formed foster family. To say these two are mismatched is an understatement. What brings them together is Hec's wife Bella, played by Rima Te Wiata. After Bella passes away, the New Zealand Welfare Services decide to separate Ricky and Hec . Knowing he’s going to be taken to a prison for children, Ricky flees to the woods . When Hec goes to find him, Welfare Services thinks the young boy has been kidnapped by his foster father. What ensues is a heartwarming comedy about misunderstanding. I love Taika Waititi. He made the brilliant indie sleeper “Boy” and he recreates that magic here. “Hunt For The Wilderpeople” is full of comedy, pain, and beauty. If you haven’t seen it or even heard of this film, see it. You’ll absolutely love all these characters and the crazy journey they embark on.
7. Eddie The EagleI love inspirational stories, I truly do. “Eddie The Eagle” is one of the most inspiring films I have ever seen. Taron Egerton stars as Michael Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards in a nearly unrecognizable performance. What I love the most about “Eddie The Eagle” was how it felt like a 90's Disney sports film like “Cool Runnings” or the “Mighty Ducks”. Sure, it had moments of comedy, but this is a film gushing with heart. Egerton and Jackman have incredible chemistry, even when they’re bickering with one another. They don’t make films like this anymore. “Eddie The Eagle” is a perfect film for a family movie night, date night, or if you are just having a rough day and need something to lift your spirits.
6. 10 Cloverfield LaneJust like “The Shallows,” “10 Cloverfield Lane” was made on a small budget and made it all back in one weekend. This character study in human nature will have you on the edge of your seat. The main reason I am including “10 Cloverfield Lane” on the list is because, for starters, I loved it, and second, no one knew it was coming. J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot production made this film almost two years ago with John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr., and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Once you see it, you’ll understand why they kept it a secret for so long. They knew this was going to be a hit and they wanted to surprise the world, which they did. “10 Cloverfield Lane” is the true meaning of a hidden gem in every sense of the word.
5. DeadpoolThis is the film that not only relaunched the career of Ryan Reynolds, but also the career of “Salt ’N’ Peppa.” As we all know, “Deadpool” loves ‘Shoop’. The real reason “Deadpool” is on this list is because Fox had no idea what they had on their hands. They gave Reynolds and Tim Miller a small budget, and they made the highest grossing R-rated film of all time. Reynolds was born to play this role. You can tell that he’s loving every moment he gets to kick ass in that crimson and black suit. “Deadpool” was the film nobody saw coming. It’s funny, sweet, action-packed, and boy is it dirty. With the exception of children, this film caters to almost everyone. Need a romance movie? “Deadpool." Comedy? “Deadpool." Pansexual comic book blood fest? “Deadpool." But...what an odd mood to be in. The number five spot is perfect for “Deadpool” to rest in because, just like him, it’s caught in the middle of everything.
4. The LobsterNot many people saw this film, except for the critics, and the ones that did see it seemed to hate it. Basically, people disliked it because a dog dies; a dog who was once a human man. I should have said spoiler alert. I loved this film so much because it was so bizarre, beautiful, and raw. Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz give two subtle performances that are perfect. Their love story is so unique and bittersweet that you can’t help but root for them to break the social norms of their dystopian society. “The Lobster” was directed by Yorgos Lanthimos who is known for making dark, depressing Greek films and that’s what “The Lobster” is. This is a dark comedy, with emphasis on dark. If you see this movie, you must go in knowing things won’t make sense. This world exists without explanation, so just go with it. “The Lobster” stuck with me since May of this year, and it’s one of the rare films that I can remember vividly with only one viewing. It earns the number four slot.
3. Midnight SpecialI love when acclaimed indie directors break out of their comfort zone and tackle genres they love. Jeff Nichols is one of the hardest working directors in both Hollywood and the independent world. One minute he’ll make an acclaimed film like “Mud,” then he follows that up with our number three film “Midnight Special.” I can’t wrap my head around the genius of this film. Nichols takes a simple idea of protecting your child, and then he raises the bar. Michael Shannon shines as a father who leaves a cult that was exploiting his sun’s unique abilities. Not knowing where to go, Shannon, his son, and his best friend drive to get to the only people who can protect the child. The downside? Those "people" might be aliens. Shannon and Nichols have made six films together, and I hope they continue to work side-by-side. They’re such a dynamite duo and you can tell they trust each other. That trust helps make this film soar. “Midnight Special” feels like a throwback to old school Spielberg films like “Close Encounters Of The Third Kind,” and that homage makes this film feel even more special. If you haven’t heard or seen “Midnight Special,” watch it.
2. Hail, CaesarYou can’t deny it, the Cohen Brothers are Gods. Even when they make garbage, they make it the most entertaining garbage you ever saw. The Cohen’s “Hail, Caesar” is a love letter to old 1950s Hollywood and it is one of the greatest love letters you’ll see. The genres of popular films they tackle like westerns, musicals, romances, and big budget epics is spectacular. The Cohen's showcase a era that once ruled the world, now trapped in time. What makes “Hail, Caesar” soar is two performances. The first is Josh Brolin, a Cohen’s regular. He dominates the screen as studio fixer Eddie Mannix. Eddie has the charm of Gable and the temper of David O. Selznick. The second great performance is by future Han Solo, Alden Ehrenreich as Hobie Doyle. Doyle is the smartest simpleton to ever grace the silver screen. Every time I watch this film I die laughing when he is set up on a date with the Carmen Miranda like actress and asks: “Is it hard to dance with all dem bananers on your head?” It slays me every time. “Hail, Caesar” is the second best hidden gem of 2016.
And 2016’S GREATEST HIDDEN GEM IS….
1. The Nice GuysShane Black is a national treasure, and I will fight to the death to protect that statement. Black wrote “Lethal Weapon,” “Last Action Hero,” and “The Monster Squad.” He also directed “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” one of the greatest Neo-Noir films ever made. “The Nice Guys” is one of the best film's of 2016, and I had the option of making it number one on this list or number ten on the "best of 2016". I think I made the right decision. “The Nice Guys” is a throwback to old 70's action comedies of yesteryear. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe on paper seem like the oddest choice to pair up as buddy cops, but they truly compliment one another. Gosling is insane and over the top while Crowe is subtle and strong. Together they are unstoppable. Black’s script is clever and smart, but when it come to Black those two are always a given in his writing. What makes “The Nice Guys” the best hidden gem of 2016 is not the performances, or Black air-tight script. It’s one simple fact... this is a fun movie. It’s explosive, intense, and a great satire on the detective genre. “The Nice Guys” is the best hidden gem of 2016, and if you haven’t seen it, you should as soon as possible.