The unloved. The strays. The mutts. There’s value here, but you have to look a little harder. As we all remember John Winger saying, no one is “more faithful, more loyal, more loveable than the mutt.”
All right, that’s a very strange (and perhaps a little insulting) way into my annual nominations for the writers, directors and actors who don’t have the slightest chance of getting an Oscar nomination – but who deserve some recognition for their outstanding work in 2016. Many were in small, obscure, or otherwise marginalized genre movies. A few were overshadowed by bigger fish in their own pond. Some made the mistake of acting in a foreign language. But here they are, warts and all.
I spent a good ten minutes reading IndieWire’s breakdown of possible nominees before compiling this. If IndieWire mentioned you, then I banned you. You already are getting some love. I also decided, with maybe an exception or two, to only recognize one nominee per film, so that I could spread the wealth around a little.
And the wealth goes a little something like this…
Taika Waititi – Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Comedy, adventure, pathos and coming-of-age, this follow-up to Waititi’s hysterical spoof What We Do in the Shadows was a fully realized and mature work of great feeling and entertainment.
Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias – Little Men
This could have been saccharine or sentimental. Two boys form a friendship, but the real world conflict between their parents threatens to split them up. Sachs, with his talented cast, navigates the minefields with a clear eye for the joys and pains of growing up.
Mike Birbiglia – Don’t Think Twice
Birbiglia presents an ensemble cast – each character clearly rendered – and somehow captures the spontaneity of improv comedy in a scripted drama. It is the best comedy of the year.
Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone – Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
The Lonely Island boys write brilliant songs for this send-up of pop stardom, but they also create a great story and a great character – and the funniest comedy of the year.
Bob Nelson – The Confirmation
He wrote Nebraska for Alexander Payne. For his directorial debut, Nelson creates a beautifully subdued coming-of-age story, seemingly inspired by the Italian classic Bicycle Thieves, only less sentimental and somewhat more witty.
Ti West – In a Valley of Violence
I’ve written several things already about this one. It’s a modern Italian Western. And it’s sensational.
Andrea Arnold — American Honey
This could have been a disaster. It is kind of free form, like the lives it portrays. It is quite long. And it has Shia LaBeouf. But Arnold handled all those potential pitfalls masterfully and created an engrossing, moving portrait of today’s youth.
Jon Watts — Clown
I’ll admit this constitutes a bit of double recognition. Watts made his first feature several years ago, but it wasn’t released until this year. In between, he created one of last year’s minor gems, Cop Car. But there is enough in Clown, a cleverly-premised and effectively-delivered horror, to warrant attention, with or without considering Cop Car.
Martin Zandvliet – Land of Mine
This Danish war film is one of the year’s best, with echoes of the suspense classic Wages of Fear. Zandvliet finds a new take on the war film genre, crafting memorable suspense and characters alike.
Attila Till – Kills on Wheels
As with In a Valley of Violence above, I’ve already written about this Hungarian genre-bender. Brutal action, dark humor, and killers in wheelchairs. Comic books too.
Craig Robinson – Morris From America
Robinson is mostly seen in comedies and his warm humor adds a lot to this fish-out-of-water tale. But his dramatic chops are fully displayed in the beautiful speech he delivers to his son at the end of this quietly potent drama from Chad Hartigan.
David Morrissey – The Ones Below
Actors in genre films rarely get proper credit. In this suspense/horror, Morrissey has to play a handsome, cultured man who has just enough wrong with him to make your skin crawl. He does it brilliantly, without ever going over the top.
Andy Daly – Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life
Actors in genre films rarely get proper credit. In this teenage comedy, Daly has to play an overblown, self-important school principal who has an unhealthy infatuation with enforcing rules. He does it brilliantly, adding life and quirkiness to what could have easily been a cliché.
Andre Holland — Moonlight
So many of the performers in Barry Jenkins’ breakout drama are getting awards buzz. Mahershala Ali would be a legit Oscar winner, as would Naomie Harris on the female side. All three actors who play the ages of the movie’s central character Chiron have gotten attention. But so far, I haven’t seen any for Holland, who not only has to make us believe he is the same Kevin we have already seen two other actors portray, but also has to carry the weight of the dialogue with the reticent Chiron (Black) in the film’s powerful final chapter.
Tracy Letts – well, let’s see…
Letts did significant character work in four features in 2016 (five if you count Elvis & Nixon, but that one was just disappointing all the way around.) He is solid in the first section of Wiener-Dog, and a genuine standout as a low-rent and crafty Limbaugh type in Imperium, as a sympathetic, put upon news director in Christine, and as a benevolently manipulative Dean in Indignation. That movie is not great, but the scene he plays with Logan Lerman is one of the year’s best.
Molly Shannon – Other People
Shannon plays a role very much like the one Margot Martindale plays in The Hollas. A dying mother, trying to maintain her dignity and humor, while leaving her struggling family on solid ground. Martindale is one of the best character actresses we’ve got. Shannon does this role even better.
Melanie Lynskey – The Intervention
The brittle, beating heart of Clea DuVall’s wry take on modern relationships. Lynskey is a character everyone will recognize – a sweet bully who is completely sure of herself right up until her inevitable breakdown.
Imogen Poots — Green Room
One of the coolest movies of the year, provided you don’t mind blood, blades, and fangs. Poots is a tough girl who never succumbs to cliché in this violent horror. And she plays opposite Anton Yelchin, the youngest of the stars we lost in the black hole we call 2016.
Sarah Megan Thomas – Equity
This movie is similar too, but better than, Jessica Chastain’s more hyped Miss Sloane. One of the reasons is the more realistic manner in which Thomas’s ambitious assistant deal maker is presented. Thomas co-produced with partner Alysia Reiner, who is also quite good as an investigator. But Reiner’s role seems almost an afterthought. So Thomas gets the nod.
Lulu Wilson – Ouija: Origin of Evil
If all it took for a child actor to be scary was a zombie-like stare, lots of kids could do it. Wilson does so much more as little Doris Zander, the conduit some nasty spirits employ to break into the world of the living. She is funny and touching and a real kid. But she can do that zombie thing and scare the crap out of you too.
Ethan Hawke — Born to be Blue
I think this portrayal of tortured jazz legend Chet Baker is the best work Hawke has ever done.
Dave Johns — I, Daniel Blake
Ken Loach has a way of finding relative unknowns to play major roles. Johns had acted in television comedy, but was primarily a stand-up comedian before Loach tapped him to play the not-getting-any-younger carpenter caught in a Kafkaesque web of regulations as he tries to get government assistance after a heart attack.
Cliff Curtis – The Dark Horse
Curtis, who has played every ethnicity there is, gets to play a Maori character in this rough and tumble chess story. (Yes – you can have a rough and tumble story about chess.) And that’s good, what with Curtis being Maori and all.
Ryan Reynolds – Deadpool
Actors in genre films rarely get … oh, you’ve heard that before. Suffice to say, a lot of people loved Deadpool, and despite the clever writing and special effects, I’d say that 99.9% of what makes Deadpool work comes directly from Reynolds.
Guillermo Francella – The Clan
Let me be honest. I didn’t like The Clan. I have a review of it somewhere on here that you can seek out if you want to know why. But I loved Francella’s portrayal of the petty tyrant Arquimedes Puccio, one of the year’s nastiest villains.
Rebecca Hall – Christine
I can’t predict the future, but I’m pretty sure that this is the Oscar snub that will infuriate me the most. Hall gives the best performance – be it woman or man, lead or supporting – of the year. She carries a movie that might have been minor and makes it major.
Sandra Huller — Toni Erdmann
Huller is spectacular as Ines, daughter of the irascible Winfried/Toni. In one of the year’s best scenes, she awkwardly breaks free of her high-pressure corporate lifestyle by belting out some Whitney Houston. And a few scenes later, she manages to top it.
Margita Gosheva — Glory
If you saw her as the harried schoolteacher in Grozeva and Valchanov’s The Lesson, you may not even recognize what these same directors have done with Gosheva in their newest drama. She is a high energy public relations maven who can and will ruin lives with a flip of her hair. This is one of the year’s best movies, and much of it has to do Gosheva’s entirely believable monster.
Morgan Saylor – White Girl
Well, I just wrote a piece calling this the most important American movie of the year. So I suppose the young actress at its center, who has to play every emotion under the sun, ought to get a little credit.
Michalina Olszanska — I, Olga Hepnarova
Olga, based on a real-life tragedy, is a totally different kind of modern-day monster from the one Gosheva plays. This is a devastating film from Poland about the horrors of alienation, bullying, and mental illness. Olszanska’s Olga is not easily forgotten.
There you have it. The obscure and the wonderful of 2016. There were many more names to mention, especially amongst the lead actresses, but these are ones I remember best of all. Feel free to throw in your own nominees. Mutts need love, just like the rest of us.