Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of film critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?”, can be found at the end of this post.)
This week’s question: What is the most overlooked and/or underrated movie of 2017?
E. Oliver Whitney, Screencrush.com, @cinemabite
Despite the critical praise, “A Fantastic Woman” only a one-week qualifying run last month, and I worry is it’ll easily be forgotten this awards season. Daniela Vega gives one of the most astounding performances I’ve seen this year, one that comes from somewhere fierce and internal, portraying the life and struggle of a trans woman that cinema has rarely shown an interest in exploring. But since you can’t see it until it has a proper release in Febraury, do check one of the year’s other great LGBTQ films – the beautiful and thoughtful “Princess Cyd,” a coming-of-age tale that would pair wonderfully with “Lady Bird.”
Christian Blauvelt (@Ctblauvelt), BBC Culture
How sad that we live in a world where “The Lost City of Z” is not the Oscars’ front-runner for best picture? James Gray, who has proven himself to be as fine a film-maker as America has today with the one-two-three punch of “Two Lovers,” “The Immigrant,” and “Z,” links Old Hollywood style with a contemporary sense of social justice in exploring the life of Percy Fawcett, the explorer whose belief that there was an ancient, sophisticated civilization in the Amazon threatened ideas of white supremacy in the early 20th Century. Charlie Hunnam steps into the shoes Douglas Fairbanks Jr or Cary Grant might have filled in an earlier epic – and does so with enough charisma and soul that any doubt about his prospects as a marquee idol should be quelled. And it’s gratifying that Gray gives Sienna Miller much more to do than just be “the wife who’s left behind” when Fawcett embarks on his three Amazon expeditions. Like all great quest movies, the journey in “The Lost City of Z” is internal as much as external, building toward a mysterious, haunting ending that left stunned in my seat at the movie’s first US screening at the New York Film Festival last year. (Although I wasn’t too stunned to be the lone, weird person giving applause to Franco Nero and Ian McDiarmid when their names appeared in the end credits.) Not to mention that I can’t think of another film in recent memory with simply as stunning a final shot. “The Lost City of Z” is the year’s great celebration of how experience – cultural, physical, emotional, spiritual – leads to understanding (sorry “Call Me By Your Name”), and it is a cinematic experience you’ll never forget. That is, as long as you know to seek it out.
Richard Brody (@tnyfrontrow), The New Yorker
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So many, tough to name just one. I was very surprised that Rebecca Zlotowski’s metaphysical-historical-cinemacentric drama “Planetarium,” based loosely on the real-life story of the French producer Bernard Natan, and adding a twist of the beyond, didn’t get more attention at the time of its release — not least, because of Natalie Portman’s shimmery, elusive performance.
Candice Frederick (@ReelTalker) Freelance for Harper’s Bazaar, /Film, The Undefeated, Birth.Movies.Death
“Step.” This is a film I went into with no expectations (and I honestly didn’t really even know what it was about). But when I sat down with it, I was so immersed by the story of a young black girls on the brink of adulthood growing up during Black Lives Matter, at the same time when the death of their peers was met with no justice. Watching these girls rise above overwhelming circumstances at such a young age–and form a genuine sisterhood that’s not without its own ups and downs–is so inspiring and exactly what we need to see right now.
Tasha Robinson (@TashaRobinson), The Verge
Courtesy of Sundance
Of all the small films I loved this year, the one I’m most hoping gets some critical end-of-year love is Brigsby Bear, a strange, sweet comedy about a man (played by Saturday Night Live’s Kyle Mooney) whose life revolves around an extremely weird TV show called “Brigsby Bear.” He lives in a bunker with his parents (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams) after some unspecified disaster, and his world is pretty much math problems, TV fandom, and the internet, until things abruptly change, and he has to make the TV show for himself if he wants it to continue. The most obvious comparison here is “Be Kind Rewind,” both because “Brigsby Bear” is goofy and sentimental in the same kinds of ways, and because it’s so expressly focused on the joys of creativity and working with a community to build something fun. But it also has its own kind of distinct, demented whimsy. Once the story gets past the opening premise (which the trailers completely give away, so if you like surprises, don’t watch them), there were so many obvious directions and big pitfalls in the story’s way, but Mooney, co-writer Kevin Costello, and first-time director Dave McCary dodge them all neatly and gracefully. It’s one of the year’s nicest movies, in terms of gentle humor and positive messaging, but it’s also bizarro enough to be authentically distinctive. I admire this movie, but I adore it too.
Matt Prigge (@mattprigge), Freelance
“Dawson City: Frozen Time” is overlooked, right? It’s the closest archive fanatic Bill Morrison (“Decasia”) has ever come to “mainstream”; usually he’s content to make epic montages of battered celluloid, giving a platform to decayed images that aren’t assumed to be presentable. Here, he presents an actual, real-life story: the finding of 500 films that languished for some 50 years underneath a swimming pool in a bygone Yukon hotspot. It’s a treasure trove of wonders that also unearths a forgotten history of old-timey film distribution. The footage is ravishing, but it also issues a stark reminder: We can still watch these images because they were printed on film. There will be no “Dawson City: Frozen Time” made about all the movies released during this young century. That’s because digital, let’s not forget, is terrible, terrible, terrible for archiving, and we still haven’t figured this shit out. When post-apocalyptic humans happen upon DVDs or Blu-rays or external hard drives or server gizmos, they won’t be able to look at the films contained within. Meanwhile, if they stumble upon the missing reels of “The Magnificent Ambersons,” they’ll get to see what we never did, because the images are right there, in their hands, ready to be unspooled.
Kristy Puchko (@KristyPuchko) Riot Material / Pajiba
I’d like to say people should catch “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women,” Angela Robinson’s inspiring and vibrant biopic about the people behind the iconic superheroine. Sadly, it was out of theaters in the blink of an eye, and Annapurna Pictures doesn’t appear to be doing anything in the way of FYC screenings or screeners. So seeing it now is virtually impossible. In a season typically rife with predictable biopics, Robinson offered something unexpected, beautiful, and unapologetically queer. And while the performances of all three of its leads were strong, it’s downright criminal that Rebecca Hall’s turn as the ferocious yet vulnerable Elizabeth Marston seems doomed by Annapurna apathy. Here’s hoping those who saw the film during its festival run will be vocal on her behalf. Hall has been delivering soul-shaking performances for nearly a decade, and has been the bridesmaid of award season far too long. ever
Thankfully, two of the best but undersung movies of the year are now on iTunes. Unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, Erlingur Thoroddsen’s Icelandic horror/gay romance “Rift” bends genre expectations to create a film deeply frightening and fraught with feeling. And for something wildly fun and inventive, check out Nattawut Poonpiriya’s “Bad Genius.” This Thai comedy tore it up on the festival circuit, thrilling audiences with its high-school set heist story that plays like “Ocean’s Eleven” meets “The Breakfast Club.” To miss either is your loss.
Edward Douglas (@EDouglasWW), The Tracking Board
“From the Land of the Moon” — this amazing French drama from Nicole Garcia based on Milena Agus’ book stars Marion Cotillard as Gabrielle, a woman from a small French village who is forced into marriage with a Catelan man named José. When she becomes sick and is sent off to a spa like the one in “A Cure for Wellness” — aside from the eels and creepy Jason Isaac — she meets a soldier named André (Louis Garrel) and the two fall in love. I was surprised how much i enjoyed Gabrielle’s story, mainly due to Cotillard’s performance, but also felt like it was either ignored or panned by critics, maybe because it had been sitting on the shelf since last year Cannes. I know a single critic on RottenTomatoes that saw/reviewed it, and i think it deserved more of a push than it received from IFC Films.
Charles Bramesco (@intothecrevasse), Freelance for Vulture, the Guardian, New York Times
I urge you all to give “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” another look now, and to spare us the inexplicable 20-year waiting period until the general public recognizes this film’s mad genius. Luc Besson is seemingly the only filmmaker who knows how to make a $180 million studio tentpole look like $200 million, instead of an overproduced television show. There’s just so much movie here, an overwhelming experience you submit to as it washes over you in waves. Entire planets with elaborate, specific designs whiz by in a matter of seconds, the story makes precious little sense and yet appears to be a commentary on environmentalism as well as colonialism, and Besson tapped two of the most fascinatingly idiosyncratic young actors currently working for his leads (never mind that their chemistry evaporates after the steamy first scene). Sometimes, when you bite off more than you can chew, it turns out you can choke it down whole anyway.
Siddhant Adlakha (@SidizenKane), Birth.Movies.Death.
“Loev” is a film I wish got more attention, both in the western world and in its native South Asia. It’s available on Netflix worldwide though, so most folks reading this will likely have the opportunity to get lost in its vivid scenery and enchanting characters. Queer films out of India are a rarity to begin with, and “Loev” is precisely the kind of work where non-traditional distribution is the difference between a film living and dying, given Indian laws about both censorship and same-sex relations, and it’s a worthy entry into the modern canon of queer works that exist at specific social intersections.
The film follows two old friends on a drive through the mountains outside Mumbai, chronicling pleasant bilingual conversation between two kinds of upper/upper-middle class Indians you’re likely to find on this route: those who moved to the west, and those who stayed behind. This cultural nexus is familiar to me, and it’s explored with the kind of deftness and authenticity rarely granted to Mumbaikar men, both in terms of conversational quality as well as the ambiguity of Indian male relationships. One of the leads passed away shortly after completing his role, which makes the film seem all the more vital as a snapshot of talent lost, but whether it’s the film’s class subtext or its occasionally harrowing scenes of wordless longing, its most pertinent question is a simple one: can these two people find a way to have a good time despite everything around them working to pull them apart? “Loev” is many things, from rebellious and enticing to authentic and mellifluous, but above all else, it’s about reveling in momentary joy when it seems like the whole world is trying to snatch it away from you. (Full review)
Eric Kohn (@erickohn), IndieWire
“The Girl With All the Gifts.” A haunting post-apocalyptic saga in which semi-sentient kid zombies destroy the planet, it’s also got the very greatest breakthrough performances of the year, with Sennia Nanua as one cannibalistic child who may actually hold the key to the future of humanity. In these morally complicated times, Colm McCarthy’s elegant thriller nails what it feels like when the world turns upside down, and suddenly a terrible threat may be our last great hope.
Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC), Freelance
I don’t know if it qualifies as underappreciated, because most of its reviews were fantastic, but Cristian Mungiu’s Graduation was one of the best movies released this year–an acute, bitterly funny, unflinching study of how systemic and personal corruption can intertwine. I first saw it in October 2016 at the New York Film Festival, but more than a year later, its timing feels better: It’s the right movie for this ugly moment. Mungiu is a bit like Asghar Farhadi–he’s as much writer as director, which means he’s never going to be to all tastes. I wish there were more filmmakers like him.
Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@chrisreedfilm), Hammer to Nail/Film Festival Today
There are many fine indie films that I recommend to those who have missed them. On the fiction side, there is: “The Divine Order” “Most Beautiful Island,” “Princess Cyd,” “The Strange Ones,” “Their Finest” and “The Transfiguration,” among many others. On the documentary side, there is: “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail,” “Dealt,” “Dolores,” “Kedi,” “Motherland,” “Rat Film,” “Strad Style” and “Strong Island,” again among many others. But perhaps the most delightful gem among the many small movies deserving of wide audiences is Adam Keleman’s “Easy Living,” which stars Caroline Dhavernas (Dr. Alana Bloom on NBC’s “Hannibal”) as a depressed makeup saleswoman whose exterior poise masks interior chaos. With its brilliant central performance and sharp dialogue, the film is a marvel of economical storytelling and a deeply funny, bittersweet meditation on the dangers of false happiness.
Jordan Hoffman (@JHoffman), Freelance for Vanity Fair, The Guardian
The most overlooked movie with Hollywood stars is “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer”. The most overlooked foreign language movie is “Graduation”. The most overlooked documentary is “Thy Father’s Chair.”
Christopher Rosen (@chrisjrosen), Entertainment Weekly
I’ll go to the mattresses for “Alien: Covenant,” the type of DGAF summer blockbuster everyone says they want (but then hate when it actually happens). This movie is a hilarious black comedy — there was no better line-reading in 2017 outside of every piece of “Lady Bird” dialogue than “I’ll do the fingering” — with a bleak-as-hell view of humanity that feels particularly resonant in this current climate. “Alien: Covenant” is a movie about stupid people making terrible decisions — and with such hubris. It’s the GOP platform with (more) xenomorphs. The cast is great too, not that it even matters. Everyone is basically cannon fodder for the aliens to kill (snaps to Amy Semeitz for the movie’s most memorable lol death) and Michael Fassbender to eat for lunch. He chews this movie to pieces and gets better and better as everything reaches its bloody conclusion (the third act includes a shower sex scene out of “Red Shoe Diaries” for no reason other than to have the xenomorph go to Murdertown, U.S.A. in graphic, head-exploding detail.) To think Ridley Scott spent this much money on a giant eff you to, well, everyone simply delights me to no end.
Max Weiss, Baltimore magazine (@maxthegirl)
Eliza Hittman’s “Beach Rats” is a beautiful film about Frankie, a closeted gay boy in Brooklyn who hangs out with his buddies during the day and trawls for men on the Internet at night. In a way, the film is about the battle for Frankie’s soul—will he succumb to his friends’ toxic masculinity or will he be true to his own delicate heart? Between this and “It Felt Like Love,” Hittman has proven herself to be an excellent chronicler of teenage ennui, especially during the slow, sticky, and torpid days of summer. And Harris Dickinson—a Brit!—is extraordinary in his film debut. He plays Frankie as sad and still and wary, with just a barely discernible yearning to be truly seen and understood.