The Best Overlooked Movies & Shows of 2016

All the movies here are highly-rated (by both critics and viewers), little-known, and handpicked by our staff.

This list is ordered by most recent good movies, and therefore is not a ranking. Here are the titles considered as the best from the year 2016.

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A delicate and profound exploration of loss, and an unbelievably well-made drama, Manchester By the Sea is a true triumph. Its focus on the characters, its timely unfolding of story elements, as well as its world class acting are only equal to the best European dramas. This deep and slow exploration of the human condition has rarely been successful in American cinema, if ever. The last best attempt was probably another movie  by director Kenneth Lonergan, You Can Count on Me. Manchester by the Sea is where he unveils his full potential, and takes the viewer deep into the tensions and history of a building handyman, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck). His angry but quiet life is interrupted by news that his brother suffered a heart attack, and upon going back to his hometown he finds that he is the only one left to take care of his teenage nephew. A truly amazing movie, not to be missed, and a huge success too.  It grossed around $80 million on a budget of $8.5 million.

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Stars: Adil Hussain, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Lalit Behl
Directed by: Shubhashish Bhutiani

Hotel Salvation is a touching movie about a father asking his son for a last wish : let him die in the Holy city of Varanasi. This Indian drama will let you discover a modern Hindu philosophy, the power of the scenic Varanasi and the bonds of family. It faces the question of death in the light, gentle and humorous way that perfectly illustrates the contradiction in question: celebrating life while surrounded by death.

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Stars: Celia Ireland, Kate Atkinson, Leanne Campbell

Dark and almost too realistic, Wentworth is the women’s prison drama that we’ve all been waiting for. This Australian show might have the same set-up as Orange is the New Black, following a recently incarcerated woman as she discovers a new world, but the two series couldn’t be more far apart. Wentworth is more Breaking Bad than Orange is the New Black. It doesn’t follow people who are wronged by the system or who are misunderstood, but women that have actually done violent things, and continue being violent in prison. Everyone appeals to their dark side, and it’s almost impossible for any character to be redeemed in the viewer’s eye. The show’s biggest selling point though is that it never goes the violence-for-violence route, its immaculate character development allows to find reason and authenticity behind every act. This a true hidden gem.

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Stars: Brian Tyree Henry, Donald Glover, Lakeith Stanfield

Atlanta is the work of mastermind Donald Glover, who you may know as Troy from Community, two-time Grammy Nominated rapper Childish Gambino, or again from his successful stand-up career. He goes all out here, in what feels like a complete use of his entire multi-talent arsenal (he directs, writes and stars as the lead), as well as a vehicle for what he has to say about the city where he grew up.

Earn (Glover) is a Princeton University dropout who has a baby with his ex-girlfriend and who is so broke he is de-facto homeless. When he learns that his cousin has been somewhat successful as a rapper called Paper Boi, he tries to reconnect with him to become his manager. The story of the smart but failed college dropout intertwines with the musician hustle, to give many hilarious moments and characters (look out for Darius, played by LaKeith Stanfield), but mostly a very genuine and relevant work. A fun, sharp and unique show.

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Stars: David Farrier, Dylan Reeve, Marko Realmonte
Directed by: David Farrier, Dylan Reeve

Tickled is a documentary about competitive tickling with a very dark underbelly. As ridiculous as that sounds, it’s true. Director David Farrier is a journalist who specializes in reporting on unusual internet phenomenons. When he comes across a video on competitive tickling he casually reaches out to the organizers (on Facebook) to make a quick video with them. Their response is disproportionate and angry – which prompts him to dig deeper. What he finds is both legitimately terrifying and very surprising given the nature of the underlining theme. A suspenseful, rewarding and just straight out weird movie. A great watch.

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Stars: Jameela Jamil, Kristen Bell, William Jackson Harper

The Good Place is about a girl who dies and finds herself in the better side of the afterlife: The Good Place (as opposed to The Bad Place). Only problem? Someone made a mistake and she really doesn’t belong there. While The Good Place is filled with people who went on humanitarian missions and saved the world – her last days were spent scamming old sick people as a drug sales rep. Starring Kristen Bell in a truly hilarious role, The Good Place is about her character’s attempt to become a better person and stay away from The Bad Place. It’s a very entertaining, weird, and clever show. Just watch the first episode and you will be hooked forever.

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Stars: Dong-seok Ma, Yoo Gong, Yu-mi Jung
Directed by: Sang-ho Yeon

It’s disaster movie true to the guidelines of the genre, and yet with a little Korean twist it manages to be refreshingly thrilling. While a father tries to take his daughter from Seoul to Busan, the second largest city in Korea, a zombie virus breaks out. Together with other passengers they try to survive until Busan, with news coming in that it’s a safe zone untouched by the virus. The acting is spot on, the set pieces are well choreographed, and most importantly it makes you care about the characters through the father’s struggle to keep the governing principles of humanity in the bleakest of scenarios.

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Stars: Anna Foglietta, Giuseppe Battiston, Marco Giallini
Directed by: Paolo Genovese

This is a movie with which you can easily connect. I have never experienced such deep connection and feelings towards characters. Seven friends get together for a dinner, and they decide to share every text message, email, and phone call they receive. The difference we all have to some degree between our public selves and private lives is the same one that comes out and threatens the balance between these long time friends.
The film may feel a bit claustrophobic for some but that same feeling allows you to laugh, to shiver, and to even feel the deepest sorrow alongside the characters. For me this is a must watch.

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Stars: Herizen F. Guardiola, Justice Smith, Shameik Moore

Watch out for Ezekiel in this show, he will steal your heart. And also please sit through the first episode. Yes, it’s long, but if you get The Get Down, it is one of the best shows on Netflix. Created by Baz Luhrmann and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis, it narrates the rise of hip-hop in a broken 1970’s New York. The impressive credentials don’t stop there, as the series is narrated by Nas, features work by four-time Academy Award winner Catherine Martin as well as hip-hop historian Nelson George. It is perhaps for this reason that the word “narration” takes its full meaning here. Every episode, every scene, every character are made with extreme care, resulting in sometimes longer than necessary sequences. A sacrifice that will make some viewers very happy, but which many might have a hard time adjusting to.

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Stars: Claudia O'Doherty, Gillian Jacobs, Paul Rust

About love as much as it is about loneliness, romance as much as realism and the longing for a genuine connection as much as being tired of that longing – this is a smart and well nuanced series on building relationships. It follows Gus and Mickey, two damaged people trying to recover from bad breakups. They’re respectively played by writer/creater Paul Rust and Gillian Jacobs (Britta from Community). Love portrays their love story as an example of relationships by default, chemistry that stems more from the need to be in a relationship than any physical or intellectual attraction. And it features many hilarious sequences, some are cleverly composed jokes but most of them are the painfully-real type.

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Stars: Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara
Directed by: Garth Davis

Lion is the award-sweeping movie based on the true story of a kid in India who gets lost in a train and suddenly finds himself thousands of kilometers away from home. 25 years later, after being adopted by an Australian couple, he embarks on a journey through his memory and across continents to reconnect with his lost family. Dev Patel plays Saroo, and Nicole Kidman plays his Australian adoptive mother. Two truly amazing performances that will transport you to the time and place of the events, as well as its emotions spanning tear-jerking moments and pure joy. An uplifting, meaningful, and beautiful movie.

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Stars: John Carroll Lynch, Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman
Directed by: John Lee Hancock

Michael Keaton is the founder of McDonald’s. Well, not exactly, because this movie is the story of how the man he plays, Ray Kroc, took over the company from two very innovative brothers named Mac and Dick. Played by John Carroll Lynch and none other than Nick Offerman, the brothers put up a fight while Kroc works to franchise the name and make it into a billion-dollar empire. It’s a real-life story of the pursuit of the American dream through both persistence and ruthlessness, retracing Kroc’s history from a struggling salesman to a fiercely pragmatic business giant. A crazy story and a cautionary tale of sorts, this is a movie that showcases America for what it is.

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Stars: Bill Buford, Dan Barber, Massimo Bottura

A look into the interesting lives and magnificent plates made in the kitchens of some of the best chefs in the world (including an episode with the best). Each episode dives deep into their worlds’, providing an intimate and ultimately inspiring look at their life both inside the kitchen and out; with all of them having lived unique lives to say the least. Their perspectives on everything from family life to entrepreneurship will dazzle you almost as much as the colorful and spectacular dishes they produce.

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Stars: Benedict Wong, Joan Chen, Lorenzo Richelmy

This colossal-budget show ($90 million for the first season alone) never caught a break. Somehow it didn’t make it to the big audience it deserved. It tells the grand story of Marco Polo the explorer, and the years he spent with the Mongols, going back forth in their ranks between prisoner and leader. It was during this crucial time for the empire that Kublai Khan had extended the reach of his empire even further than his more famous grandfather Genghis Khan. As you’d expect with a show featuring this many characters and such a new world, the first season is not as entertaining as could be, but the show becomes its full-self as a true epic in season 2.

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Stars: Jin-woong Jo, Jung-woo Ha, Min-hee Kim
Directed by: Chan-wook Park

From Park Chan-wook (maker of Oldboy) comes The Handmaiden, a great movie in line with his now mastered style of portraying the beautifully weird. A rich Japanese lady isolated from the world accepts a new handmaiden, a shrewd young Korean girl with hidden motives. The men around them, full of greed and lust, complete the grand Victorian tale of deception, romance or lack thereof, and dark humor. You will find yourself at times screaming “what?”, and at times bewildered by the general aesthetic of the film including clothes, traditions, and the stunning nature of both Korea and Japan. If you love cinema, you can’t miss this movie. It’s just too big of an achievement.

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Stars: Gaspard Ulliel, Léa Seydoux, Marion Cotillard, Nathalie Baye, Vincent Cassel
Directed by: Xavier Dolan

Based on a play and taking place in the span of one afternoon, It’s Only the End of the World is about a successful writer returning to his hometown in rural Canada baring life-altering news. But before he can share anything, he is faced with the remnants of his life prior to moving out and his family members’ eccentric, but relatable, personalities. This is a movie by one of the most interesting directors working today, Canadian Xavier Dolan. Contrary to his plot-heavy Mommy (which earned him the Cannes Jury Prize at 25 years old), in It’s Only the End of the World the story unfolds in a far more important way. It’s an exploration of dynamics: between brother and sister, between son and mother, between brothers, etc. Don’t go into it expecting things to happen, or waiting for what will happen in the end. Instead, the purpose of this film can be found in how Xavier Dolan handles his usual themes of family through big talent: Mario Cotillard, Vincent Cassel, and Léa Seydoux among many others.