There is no tip-toeing around this. This past summer movie season was a disappointment to say the least.
There were films that fell short of their hype (Jason Bourne and Suicide Squad), films that were made despite little enthusiasm (Were any of you foaming at the mouth for Alice: Through the Looking Glass and Independence Day: Resurgence?), and then there were the movies that garnered critical praise, but were met with little fanfare.
And that’s what this piece is about. The movies that few people saw, but were deserving of more attention.
In no particular order, here are some of the most underrated releases of summer 2016.
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
This one hurts. Not only was it criminally overlooked, but it was pulled from theaters just a few weeks after it was released.
Why? It’s The Lonely Island making a Justin Bieber version of This is Spinal Tap.
How is that not appealing? Whatever the case, Popstar is a hilariously absurd satire of the current music industry.
Its real strength, however, lies in the songs. If those didn’t work, the film wouldn’t work.
Thankfully, each one is funny and like its main character, ignorant. Mona Lisa, Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song), and Incredible Thoughts are just a few of the standouts.
It comes out on home media soon, so if you missed out the first time, don’t pass it up again.
It’s the most underrated comedy of the year.
There are movies that you have to warm up to. Then there are movies that hook you from the beginning and make you fall in love with them.
Sing Street is one of those movies. There are no big stakes and overly-complicated storylines to follow.
It’s just about a teenage boy in 1985 Ireland who forms a band to impress a girl.
Its tone is so charming and earnest that it becomes irresistible.
Much like Popstar, the film ultimately works because of the songs.
Rather than coast off the audience’s familiarity with 80’s music, Sing Street takes the feel of that era of music and makes it its own.
No other film left me feeling this good after watching it. And after a summer of grim, world-ending blockbusters, this was an excellent pallet cleanser.
The Nice Guys
How this one went under people’s radars is a mystery.
Especially since it was released in the beginning of summer and stars two A-list actors is Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling.
Writer/director Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Iron Man 3) knows the film noir inside and out and his ability to constantly subvert audience expectations makes The Nice Guys a film that only improves on repeat viewing as you start to notice things you didn’t see before.
It’s also incredibly funny and features terrific chemistry between Crowe and Gosling (the latter proving to have a talent for physical comedy).
Despite underperforming at the box office, The Nice Guys looks to have a healthy life on home media.
You can count on seeing this one on many critics’ best of the year lists.
Hell or High Water
Over a week ago, I saw No Country For Old Men for the first time.
While neither of these films are related, Hell or High Water feels like a spiritual successor to that film.
In that they are both contemporary westerns that sees a character (or in High Water’s case, two brothers) become lawless out of greed, survival, or sometimes both.
However, while Old Men has a clear villain, the roles of protagonist and antagonist are constantly shifting.
On some occasions we want to see these two brothers (played exceptionally well by Ben Foster and Chris Pine) succeed, and on others we want the close-to-retirement cop (Jeff Bridges) to bring them to justice.
Hell of High Water wears its thematic undertones on its sleeve.
The film is about two brothers robbing banks during the recession to get enough money to purchase their home, which is sitting on oil, before the bank forecloses.
To a lesser extent, the film also shows why “good guys with guns” are ineffective at stopping criminals.
But if you want to ignore all that and just focus on the film being a slow burner that becomes a shootout/high-speed chase, then Hell or High Water is for you.
At this point, it’s safe to say that Disney is on a roll with their live-action remakes, and out of all of them so far, Pete’s Dragon is a my personal favorite.
If you’re hoping for a straight-up remake of the 1977 original, you are going to be disappointed.
Rather than being harmless kiddie fodder like its predecessor, this remake opts to tell a carefully restrained, yet still awe-inspiring story about loss, family, and companionship.
It may be a film for kids, but Pete’s Dragon treats its target audience (and accompanying adults, too) with respect and honesty.
Almost every character in this film has been affected by the death of a loved one, yet rather than go into lengthy and expository scenes detailing each loss, it gives you just enough for you to put the pieces together for yourself.
We live in an era where so much of our entertainment tries to make us nostalgic for things from our past.
Pete’s Dragon makes us nostalgic for who we once were: Children who were both frightened and amazed by the larger world around us.
In just its first five minutes, the film effortlessly weaves tragedy, fear, curiosity, and wonder. Pete’s Dragon may not reach Jungle Book levels of success, but it’s destined to become a classic in its own right.