Best Overlooked Film is one of the best categories that The Calvins offers each year. Our belief is that too many great movies fly under the radar as mediocre blockbusters soak up too many Cineplex playdates each weekend. We at BOP want to celebrate the small scale triumphs, so we’ve set up this category for the express purpose of highlighting the hidden gems you might have missed. Our criteria for the category are simple. We set a specific date (this year, it was February 2nd), and if a film hasn’t earned $25 million in domestic revenue by then, it’s eligible in the category.
2017 Calvin Awards: Best Overlooked Film
By David Mumpower
February 22, 2017
Every year, a handful of great films earn two or three million too much, which is heartbreaking, but we’ve stood by the $25 million ceiling for more than a decade now. It’s unlikely to change. For that matter, a couple of the most diehard indie fans here constantly clamor that we drop the ceiling to $10 million, assuring that only the true indie films garner a nod. We’ve resisted that change thus far, but it’s probably closer to reality than raising the box office roof, so to speak. Now that you know the rules, here’s our list of the Best Overlooked Films of the year.
What do you if you’re a teen boy trying to win the attention of a teen girl? Before you answer, remember that it’s the 1980s. That tidbit should influence your answer. Yes, you now realize that you should form a band and film your own music video. That way, your wannabe model lady love will become world-famous, thereby assuring that she’ll only have eyes for you from now on. Okay, a couple of logic flaws exist in this line of thinking, but again, you’re a hormonal teen boy. If winning a woman’s heart were easy, high school dances wouldn’t be such sad affairs.
All of the above is a roundabout way of saying that BOP’s choice for Best Overlooked Film this year is Sing Street, the latest musically focused masterpiece from John Carney of Once/Begin Again fame. With Sing Street, he went back to his roots a bit as an Irish teenager during the 1980s. The output is a tender, awkward, and oddly bittersweet love story about two kids from sad upbringings who bond over a shared desire for celebrity…and belonging. Unlike Once and Begin Again, each of which ultimately ran away from a love story, Sing Street has only one distinct purpose from the start. A boy tries to win the heart of a girl. Along the way, he also wins the heart of BOP’s staff, which is why Sing Street earned easily the most first places and overall points in the category.
Best Overlooked Film was largely a two-film race this year. Sing Street and the film it edged for first place finished well ahead of the competition. The second place offering is also the only other entry with multiple first place selections, and that honor belongs to Moonlight, the Golden Globe winner for Best Drama. Our voters felt an emotional connection to Chiron, the son of a drug addict who finds himself taken under the wing of his mother’s dealer in an unusual turn of events. The dealer, Juan, becomes the father figure Chiron needs, yet he still finds himself walking a dark path in life. He’s broke, spiritually empty, and uncomfortable around other children.
Over the years, three different actors show the growth of Chiron as he evolves from a confused child to a bullied teen into a functional adult. And he also deduces the cause of his complex feelings toward one of his friends, something his barely there mother had always known about her son but never helped him to understand. Moonlight is a nuanced story of a boy overcoming a hard knock life to become the man he was always intended to be. It features some of the finest acting and storytelling of the year and finishes a close second as one of the Best Overlooked Films of the year.
Three VERY different guy films complete our top five this year. Everybody Wants Some!! is Richard Linklater’s latest opus about coming of age. This time, the setting is a dorm comprised of (mostly) college baseball players. It’s a simple story that allows Linklater to look back with fondness toward his days as a low level college athlete. Midnight Special skews even younger. It’s about a mysterious boy whose scary powers cause some religious types to believe that he’s a holy vessel. His dad, on the other hand, just wants to help his boy live free of such expectations. Once he liberates the boy from his holy kidnappers, the story evolves into an odd science fiction examination of man’s place in the natural order. And nobody, I mean NOBODY, could guess how this story ends.
The fifth entry is Green Room, an action horror film about a band who gets a high-paying gig that turns out to be the worst job of their lives. Their target audience doesn’t think much of certain races, religions, and cultures, and one of the band members unluckily sees something that they shouldn’t. By now, everyone knows the rules about seeing the face of a criminal, which means the band has try to make their escape from a single claustrophobic room in a bar in the middle of nowhere. All that stands in the way of their freedom is a bunch of skinheads, a few human flesh-loving dogs, and the captain of the Enterprise, TV’s Patrick Stewart. Unexpectedly, Stewart is the scariest thing on that list. Green Room is a masterful action-suspense movie, yet as wonderful as it is, it’s clearly the worst of the five films listed thus far. Best Overlooked Film may have the best top ten in the history of the category this year.
Politics plays a hand with our sixth and seventh choices in the category. History might remember Eye in the Sky as the late Alan Rickman’s last great role, but he still offers only the second best performance in the film. Helen Mirren might never top her work in The Queen. This movie is the closest she’s come since then, as she portrays a dedicated British Army Colonel faced with an impossible choice involving the deployment of drones. Eye in the Sky offers no easy answers about military solutions. It’s unafraid to ask the hard questions, though, and that makes it all the more memorable.
The seventh selection, Jackie, doesn’t feature lighter fare, although the materials are presented in a more palatable fashion. It’s a story about Jacqueline Kennedy dealing with her early days as First Lady as well as the tumult caused by the assassination of her husband, John F. Kennedy. Jackie is an off-kilter film that doesn’t present the titular character in the best light, and that’s a key reason why our staff found it so engaging. Too many biographies treat their subjects with kid gloves. The Jackie of this film is dizzy and in over her head. Those decisions make for a better movie.
Three very different romances complete our exceptional top ten this year. Loving tells the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple arrested in the 1960s for having the audacity to get married. Their case eventually winds up settled by the Supreme Court. The story follows their struggle to deal with maddening, clearly unconstitutional laws, a topic that…may feel familiar today. Mr. Right is a dark romantic comedy about an assassin who falls in love with a normal person. Rather than her redeeming him, he kinds of seduces her into becoming a badass. It’s unconventional to be sure. The highlight is the off the charts chemistry between romantic leads Anna Kendrick and Sam Rockwell. They’re the zany version of Bogart and Bacall in Mr. Right. Finally, the last romance is between half of Key and Peele and a cat named Keanu. In a year where George Michael died, it’s all too fitting that the comedy duo built an entire film around his music catalogue. Keanu is slapstick silly and messy as Hell, but it has ample belly laughs, which is all we want from our comedies.
The films that didn’t quite make this killer list of Best Overlooked Films of the year include American Honey, Captain Fantastic, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong, 13th, Nocturnal Animals, The Lobster, and Swiss Army Man. Seriously, this was an amazing year for small-scale cinema. If you watch all 18 of these films, I guarantee that you’ll fall in love with more than half of them.
Best Overlooked Film
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best TV Show
Best Use of Music