The old year is behind us, the new year is ahead of us, and the Oscar nominations are right around the corner. And, as usual, all the film buffs simmer to the surface to tout their champions, while the enraged hipsters on your Facebook feed vitriolic tangents about how mainstream awards are ruining the art of film, and artistic fascists insist the Oscars still matter and a movie can't really be any good unless it won recognition from the Academy. And then there's us, not the buffs, not the avant-garde artistes, but the lovers, looking for something we can enjoy watching and, occasionally, something that leaves us breathless with wonder.
Yeah, we all saw the latest masterpieces from Disney and Pixar, and whatever you prefer to call what Dreamworks had to offer in 2016. These are some of the movies that will be topping the animated feature category in this year's Academy Awards.
But what about all those glorious films you didn't even hear about? The foreign ones, mostly. The ones you were lucky to see advertised if you live in America, the ones that haven't even been released for U.S. audiences yet. All the best animated movies you missed. Where do you find those?
I'm going to help you out with that. Let's take a look at some of the best animated films to be made in 2016, and where (or when) you can feast your eyes on them.
10. Ballerina (or, Leap)
This animated musical from France has more of a Hollywood feel to it than some of the titles on this list. Set in the 1880s, it follows 11-year-olds orphan Félicie to Paris, where she meets budding young inventor Victor, and with a little support from each other they work hard to achieve their dreams. It's an emotional, inspirational, and overall fun film.
Where you can watch it: Coming to the U.S. on March 3rd, 2017.
9. The Red Turtle
Studio Ghibli's first film since Hiyao Miyazaki's retirement, this film was, in every way, an experiment, directed by Dutch-British animator Michaël Dudok de Wit. It tells the story of a man who washes up on a desert island and befriends a giant red turtle, and not just survives, but thrives. Even without Miyazaki's direction or a traditional style of animation, it's all Ghibli, and it's sure to leave you in tears.
Where you can watch it: Coming to to the U.S. on January 20th, 2017.
8. The Little Prince
Based on the 1943 children's novel, with an embellished frame narrative about childhood, imagination, and what it means to grow up, full of feels that will mash your insides into jelly.
Now, to be technical, this film was made in 2015, but it didn't get a U.S. release until August 2016, over a year after its French release, so I'm going to cross the line a little bit for that.
Where you can watch it: Netflix streaming, right now. What are you waiting for?
This maturely formed, adult-oriented film is not meant for the kids (especially the ones who, like me growing up, are traumatized by stop-motion animation). Written by Charlie Kaufman, based on his 2005 play and then Kickstartered into a film, the story examines the life of a customer service expert and writer named Michael Stone, as he struggles to feel alive. A mindbendingly devastating, and perhaps cautionary, tale about relationships and love.
While this is another 2015 film, it didn't get wide release until 2016, and my main excuse is that if you haven't seen it, you should.
6. Your Name
If you don't know Makoto Shinkai, then you need to start looking up his movies ASAP. In every movie he makes, Shinkai does what I've never seen anywhere else: he highlights the crushing beauty of everyday life and relationships in a way that feels every bit as vibrant and relevant to a Western audience as it does to his Japanese fanbase. Your Name wouldn't be a bad introduction to this man's magic.
The story revolves around Mitsuha, who's so fed up with her mundane country life that she wishes for a life as a handsome Tokyo boy - a life like Taki, a high school student in Tokyo, lives. And, suddenly, they're switching bodies every night in their dreams.
Where you can watch it: Nowhere yet. Coming to the U.S. sometime in 2017. Meanwhile, the rest of Shinkai's films - like 5 Centimers Per Second - can be rented from Netflix or streamed from your favorite anime gateway, such as YouTube.
5. Only Yesterday
Unless you speak Japanese, this 1991 Studio Ghibli film will be new to you. Finally redubbed for English-speaking audiences last year, with Daisy Ridley's voice in the starring role, Only Yesterday shows us a sweeping arc of life, following Taeko as she leaves her boring city life behind and travels to the Japanese countryside. It's a contemplation of past, present, and future, on of Ghibli's most mature and least fantastic stories.
Where you can watch it: Rent the DVD from Netflix.
4. April and the Extraordinary World
This delightful French-Belgian-Canadian (but mostly French) sci-fi steampunk romp takes place in an alternate timeline, which, as the title suggests, is pretty extraordinary. Groundbreaking scientists such as Albert Einstein and Enrico Fermi have disappeared under mysterious circumstances, leaving behind them a world still relying on coal and wood. When April's parents disappear, too, on the verge of discovering a longevity serum, it's up to her and a talking cat to find them and uncover the conspiracy that's holding their history back.
3. Long Way North
Set in 19th-century Russia, Long Way North is the story of Sacha, a young girl from an aristocratic family, dreaming of exploring the Arctic like her grandfather, Oloukine, who disappeared on his most recent voyage, before he could fulfill his promise to take Sacha with him. So she flees her controlling parents and arranged marriage, setting out in pursuit of her dreams and in search of her grandfather and his ship. I haven't seen the movie but I'll bet you she finds him and, along the way, herself. I expect a tearjerker.
Where to watch it: Rent the DVD from Netflix.
2. Kubo and the Two Strings
Along with The Little Prince, this is the only film on this list I hope you've already seen. If not, shame on you. Kubo and the Two Strings came to us widely available in August 2016, the latest and easily greatest film from the makers of The Boxtrolls and Coraline. And yet the film barely broke even at the box office. This is my champion for the Best Animated Feature at the Oscars, not that I'd be heartbroken if Zootopia or Moana beat it for the award.
Kubo and the Two Strings is a hauntingly fantastic fairy tale rooted in Japanese culture, like Wizard of Oz meets Spirited Away. Despite valid complaints that the film's cast is blindingly white, the film's respect for the culture it portrays is in other respects praiseworthy. It's a visually spectacular, enchantingly told story about courage and family, and what it really means to be a hero. And yes, I cried.
Where to watch it: Rent the DVD from Netflix.
1. My Life as a Zucchini
Just the description makes me want to cry. The trailer broke me. So let's hear it as Rotten Tomatoes put it:
After his mother's sudden death, Zucchini is befriended by a police officer, Raymond, who accompanies him to his new foster home, filled with other orphans his age. At first he struggles to find his place in this at times strange and hostile environment. But with Raymond's help and his newfound friends, Zucchini eventually learns to trust and love, as he searches for a new family of his own. Brought to life through striking character designs and expressive stop-motion animation, the story soars with laughter, sorrow, and joy, and stands as a testament to the resilience of the human heart.
There you have it.
Where to watch it: Unfortunately, nowhere yet, and there's no official release date for the U.S. But it's worth saving the DVD to your Netflix queue.
Bonus: Life, Animated
It might not be animated, but this documentary deserves an honorable mention for being a heartbreakingly beautiful depiction of what the cartoons we grow up with mean to us, how they affect us, and how they can change lives.
I hope you start catching up on as many of these gems as you can, as soon as possible. Just remember what studios like Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks have taught us about children's movies: keep tissues handy!