Time to put the Oscars to bed. The actual best film of 2016: Hunt for the wilderpeople

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By James Field

The epic cock-up that was the Oscars best picture presentation might have taken some of the shine from Moonlight’s moment, but luckily it didn’t entirely eclipse the rare pleasure of seeing the grandest of film prizes awarded to the right film.

However, even combined with the schadenfreude of seeing one of the most overblown, self congratulatory ceremonies overshadowed by an accountant taking his one opportunity to flirt with Emma Stone, this briefest of pleasures only distracts for a moment from the realisation that the best film of 2016 wasn’t even nominated for the award.

In fact, there’s a fairly good chance that while you were distracted by the giant shiny space shells of Arrival or the dancy singy industry pat-on-the-back that was La la la land, 2016’s best film flew completely under your radar.

Admittedly all the films nominated for best picture would be worthy winners in a less vintage year (pretty much every year between 1993 and 2007). However, even amongst this stellar cast of films there was a glaring omission, Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the wilderpeople.

Set and filmed in the New Zealand countryside or ‘bush’ Hunt for the wilderpeople is equal parts tragi-comedy, surreal adventure and in one bizarre sequence Fast and Furious.

The film sees troubled teen and certified ‘bad-egg’ Ricky Baker—played brilliantly by relative newcomber Julian Dennison—team up with mountain man and grizzled perma-grouch Hector—played by Sam Neil channelling Jeff Bridges in cowboy mode.

Without revealing too much of the plot, certain tragic circumstances leave the archetypal odd couple trapped together bickering and complaining their way through the vast New Zealand ‘bush’, whilst avoiding the Nurse Cratchit esque ‘child welfare’ played to perfection by Rachel House, and her bumbling sidekick ‘Andy the police officer’ played by Oscar Knightley.

Needless to say, like so many buddy movies before them, the two leads eventually warm to each other in some genuinely moving moments, Ricky finding an unlikely father figure whilst Hector finds an even more unlikely kindred spirit. However, unlike many buddy movies, the film manages to avoid the trap of becoming formulaic and predictable.

This is part of the real mastery of this film, managing to be laugh-out-loud, cough your popcorn onto the person in front of you funny, then suddenly poignant and tragic enough to have you weeping into the very same popcorn box.

Apart from the sharp writing, oddball (but not of the quirky-irritating variety) characters, fantastic performances and endearing story, the film is beautifully shot and huge credit must go to writer/director/producer Taika Waititi, who also has a brief cameo as a vest-sporting laid-back dad of the year.

Having now seen it three time, I struggle to think of another film in the last few years that I’ve enjoyed watching so much, and as much as Moonlight is a worthy, increadible and important film, the biggest scandal of Oscar night 2016 remains the absence of Hunt for the wilderpeople.

If you don’t leave with a huge smile on your face, singing Ricky Baker’s birthday song and telling people you want to live ‘the skux life’, then I don’t understand you and may embarrassing Oscar style mishaps haunt your future endeavours.

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