Films of 2017: The Criminally Overlooked Movies of the Year

These are the films that didn't set the box office alight but should have, the movies that critics roundly ignored, and the films that won't be in conversations come awards season. In other words: these are the year's most criminally overlooked movies

Feature by Film Team | 29 Nov 2017
  • Underrated Films of 2017

John Wick Chapter 2

Dir. Chad Stahelski

John Wick 2 will never not be underrated, even by the people who thoroughly enjoyed it. Underneath an extraordinary amount of bullets lurks a beast of surprising intelligence and ambition. While the original gently hinted at Shakespearean, Jacobean themes – a court of spies and assassins and tragic avengers – John Wick 2 flawlessly takes it to scale. Courts of spies become duchies; dukes and duchesses sit at the high table while characters with names like Ares and Cassian trade bullets in the ancient streets of Rome. For all its mindless violence, John Wick 2 is at its heart a Jacobean revenge tragedy. How many modern action films can make that claim? [Benjamin Rabinovich]

Heal the Living

Dir. Katell Quillévéré

Despite boasting an ensemble cast that reads like a who’s who of French cinema, there’s no central character in Katell Quillévéré’s Heal the Living, something that might explain why it failed to attract a wider audience.

The film follows the journey of a human heart as it’s harvested from the body of a young surfer and transplanted into a middle-aged mother. The premise sounds maudlin, but Quillévéré, a self-proclaimed humanist, cuts through the melodrama with the clinical precision of a surgeon, favouring empathy over miserablism to create a breathtakingly beautiful medical procedural about human interconnectedness and the invisible bonds that bind us. [Patrick Gamble]

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Dir. Ang Lee

Initially touted as the first 120fps, 4K, 3D spectacle, then almost forgotten by the time it hit the UK in a cursory release, Ang Lee’s experiment about an American soldier returning from Iraq may have proved too visually distracting for the first wave of critics who saw it, while audiences barely knew it existed. We saw it in 2D, and stripped of its gimmicks of technical immediacy, it’s clearly a masterful balance of tones, envisioning the divided America of the mid-2000s as a period flick with alternate captivation, bemusement and brutality.

Joe Alwyn is guileless, haunted and boyish as the title veteran, with sensitive support from a cast including Kristen Stewart and Chris Tucker; and the film is a beguiling odyssey that unpicks military mythos as much as something like Flags of Our Fathers, while adding aspects of surrealism, farce and direct, heartfelt reflection on the need for national reconciliation. [Ian Mantgani]

The Lost City of Z

Dir. James Gray

Charlie Hunnam proves his mettle as Lt. Col. Percy Fawcett, a disappointed Army officer who grabs a chance at glory – TE Lawrence style – when he is offered the dangerous job of mapping a disputed border in South America. James Grey’s intimate epic is a bildungsroman of exploration, striving and sacrifice, daring comparison with Werner Herzog at his finest. Here the jungles are genuinely wild and dark but refreshingly honest compared to an old Europe of class distinction and imminent World War. Sienna Miller does her best with the wife-left-at-home role and Robert Pattinson continues his reinvention as an actor. But it is Hunnam’s subtle portrayal of bravery and curiosity in the Conradian depths which makes the movie such a lost treasure and one worth cutting through the vines to see. [John Bleasdale]

Prevenge

Dir. Alice Lowe

Fans of Garth Marenghi's Darkplace and Ben Wheatley's Sightseers will already be well aware of Alice Lowe's comic chops. In her directorial feature debut, Prevenge, Lowe showcases her considerable talents. This comic-horror tells the story of a woman (Lowe) whose unborn baby tells her to go on a killing rampage in the wake of her husband's untimely demise.

Prevenge is viscerally hilarious and terrifying in equal measure, showing contemporaries like Richard Ayoade and Edgar Wright just how it's done. Prevenge will no doubt be passed over come awards season, but Lowe's effort remains one of the best British films of the year. [Christopher Machell]

Slack Bay

Dir. Bruno Dumont

Bruno Dumont’s sudden swerve into comic territory with P'tit Quinquin was as welcome as it was unexpected. Thankfully, Slack Bay proves it wasn’t just a one-off; in fact, everything in this bizarre slapstick farce is bigger, louder and more cartoonish than its predecessor. Dumont pushes his unusually starry ensemble (including Juliette Binoche and Fabrice Luchini) to give the most over-the-top turns they can muster, but for all of the film’s star power, it’s the new faces who stick in the memory. The Laurel and Hardy-esque Didier Després and Cyril Rigaux get big laughs with their frequent pratfalls, while a young actress credited only as Raph steals the movie as Binoche’s gender-swapping offspring. Slack Bay is frantic, ridiculous, violent and consistently hilarious. There’s nothing else quite like it. [Philip Concannon]

Christine

Dir. Antonio Campos

Based on the final days of Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall), the 70s Sarasota journalist who committed suicide on live television, Antonio Campos’ Christine frustratingly never got the recognition it deserved for its sensitive exploration of depression and inconspicuousness of great suffering. As the eponymous protagonist begins to spin out of control, Campos ramps up the horrifying sense of claustrophobia, bringing the camera closer, moving Christine into literal corners. Hall finds a multitude of rages in Christine, from the explosive outbursts that manifest due to career setbacks to the quiet terror of realising that you are suffering from something no one recognises, something no one can see. It’s a terrible shame Hall wasn’t Oscar-nominated for her performance. [Benjamin Rabinovich]

A Cure for Wellness

Dir. Gore Verbinski

Gore Verbinski’s Hammer Horror-inspired gothic thriller A Cure for Wellness is camp, overwrought and utterly batshit crazy, and for these reasons critics ripped it to shreds. But its Grand Guignol excess is precisely why we adore it. Dane DeHaan plays a young Wall Street go-getter who ends up a patient at a creepy spa retreat deep in the Swiss Alps where the sauna is a never ending labyrinth and the sensory deprivation tanks are filled with wriggling eels. As is usually the case with Verbinski, he just doesn’t know when to stop with the excess twists and turns, but we can suffer through a movie this baggy and overblown if it’s also this gorgeous and hysterical (in both senses of the word). [Jamie Dunn]

Thelma

Dir. Joachim Trier

Joachim Trier’s latest is an enchanting supernatural thriller with a compelling, lovable heroine in its titular character (Eili Harboe) who leaves her strict religious parents (Henrik Rafaelsen and Ellen Dorrit Petersen) in the countryside to start university in Oslo.

Her sheltered upbringing does her few favours when it comes to making friends, and despite her loneliness, Thelma does not welcome her romantic feelings for her beautiful classmate Anja (Kaya Wilkins). At the same time, she begins experiencing inexplicable seizures that prove to bear devastating consequences. All at once ominous and beguiling, moody and romantic, Thelma lingers in the mind, a strangely hopeful horror film unlike anything else out this year. [Kelli Weston]

Colossal

Dir. Nacho Vigalondo

Lost among the yearly slew of superhero blockbusters, it's a real shame that Nacho Vigalondo's Colossal was largely ignored by audiences and critics. Perhaps its failure to connect was due to its billing as a kind of indie-monster movie, the USP being that Anne Hathaway's heroine Gloria can control the rampaging monster's actions. What we got, however, was something more akin to a drama-comedy about alcoholism and domestic abuse. Hathaway is hilarious and vulnerable in equal measure, with her monster embodying the consequences of substance abuse. But the film really delivers when the monster becomes an emblem of empowerment against the manipulative Oscar, played with gut-churning nice-guy familiarity by Jason Sudeikis. [Christopher Machell]

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

Dir. Paul WS Anderson

Paul WS Anderson makes a final visit to his Resident Evil sandbox as he takes Milla Jovovich’s Alice back to The Hive: the hellish laboratory that unleashed a bio-engineered apocalypse on the world at the start of this six-film series. The previous two instalments were defined by a slo-mo, geometric elegance, but Anderson, working alongside editor Doobie White, cuts quicker and amps the action up to a frenetic pace for this depiction of humanity’s desperate last stand. Nevertheless, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter maintains the cinematic grandeur and pulpy smarts that have made this overlooked series such a pleasure for plugged in cinephiles. [Tom Grieve]

Jawbone

Dir. Thomas Q Napper

You might think Jawbone covers over-familiar territory, but it has been crafted with enough authenticity and sincerity to make it feel fresh. For this story of a homeless alcoholic using boxing as a means to escape his plight, Johnny Harris mined his own troubled past, delivering a screenplay that is less a traditional comeback tale than an honest portrait of an addict. The film may build to a climactic bout, but unlike most boxing films, it reminds us that the protagonist’s biggest fights are yet to come outside the ring. Director Thomas Napper allows us an intimacy with these characters, encouraging Harris, Michael Smiley and Ray Winstone to give beautifully understated and emotionally rich performances, while Paul Weller's impressive score adds vital texture and mood. [Philip Concannon]

Alien: Covenant

Dir. Ridley Scott

This summer Alien: Covenant, the most recent instalment in Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise, largely divided critics, although most agreed the film far surpassed its predecessor, Prometheus. Eleven years after the events of said forebear, another expedition is underway, this time in the form of the Covenant, a colony ship carrying thousands of frozen humans and embryos prepared to colonize a new planet. When a ‘neutrino burst’ damages the ship, killing several of its inhabitants, Walter (Michael Fassbender) – an updated model of the David android – wakes the crew early. When they detect signs of life on a nearby planet, they decide to investigate. Far from perfect, Covenant works as an entertaining alien horror film and features Michael Fassbender having more fun than he’s been allowed to have in a film in a long time. [Kelli Weston]

Rules Don’t Apply

Dir. Warren Beatty

Warren Beatty is back on both sides of the camera for a fittingly odd and unwieldy tale that’s part rom-com and part biopic of reclusive inventor, aviator and Hollywood eccentric Howard Hughes. Beatty himself plays an aging Hughes, with the rom-com element covered by Lily Collins who stars as an actress signed to the mogul’s stable and Alden Ehrenrich as the chauffeur forbidden from striking up a friendship with her. Featuring handsome cinematography and lavish period design, a light-hearted opening gives way to a back half marked by an affecting melancholy as Beatty takes a tragicomic approach to exploring mortality, wealth and mental illness. [TG]

Le Parc

Dir. Damien Manivel

This little miracle of a movie begins like we’re watching Richard Linklater on a shoestring. We follow a pair of teenagers – a boy who’s karate-daft and a female gymnast – as they get to know each other one afternoon during a first date spent in a sprawling, sun-dappled suburban park. A fixed camera observes them as they walk, talk, and awkwardly flirt. Then the boy leaves, the sun begins to set, and the girl has a revealing text message convo with her departed bae. The seismic content of this exchange seems to switch Le Parc from a low-key hangout movie to a Lynchian nightmare by way of Apichatpong Weerasethakul. If any young filmmaker is looking for inspiration on how to make a knockout feature on a micro-budget, look no further. [JD]

War for the Planet of the Apes

Dir. Matt Reeves

A satisfying close to this simian trilogy, Matt Reeves’s War for the Planet of the Apes proved there’s still a place for blockbusters with both brawn and brains. In the third instalment, Reeves created his own Ape-pocalypse Now, taking the franchise’s Darwinist themes and lifting them into a narrative that combines the DNA of a Western and a Vietnam war movie. An intense exploration of what it is to be human, and our sad tendency to escalate towards violence, the film was met with a lukewarm critical reaction, but an international box-office of over $500m proves there’s still an hunger for intelligent sci-fi. [PG]

The Void

Dirs. Steven Kostanski, Jeremy Gillespie

The adjective 'Lovecraftian' has been tossed around with all the careless élan of a toddler bunger at a baby-throwing competition, but Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski’s practical effects schlocker earns its tentacles. It all begins one night when local sheriff Daniel (Aaron Poole) takes an injured man to a deserted hospital and outside a mob turns up in capes stabbing people who try to leave. So far, so Assault on Ward 13. But the Canadian filmmakers throw everything into the Fangoria blender and set their controls for the heart of The Thing. A bloody, barmy midnight movie. [JB]

A Silent Voice

Dir. Naoko Yamada

Naoko Yamada’s A Silent Voice begins with a boy called Shoya bullying a girl named Shoko. She is deaf, an easy target. He is popular, protected from the consequences of his cruelty. Years pass, Shoko and Shoya meet again as young adults. Having since learned what it is to be alone and abused, Shoya is consumed with remorse. The question that the film revolves around is simple but timely – how do we move on? Sweet but never saccharine, funny and strange – A Silent Voice is a coming-of-age tale perfectly suited for the awakening moment Hollywood is hopefully having. [Ross McIndoe]

On Body and Soul

Dir. Ildikó Enyedi

Evoking the droll surreal humour of Roy Andersen, but managing to cut its own weird and warm path, Ildikó Enyedi’s magic-realist romantic dramedy concerns an abattoir boss with a withered arm and a reserved autistic woman who share the same dream. A mating dance of sorts develops between the two misplaced protagonists, replete with all of the social awkwardness that entails. What could've been a dreadful, wacky romantic comedy in less capable hands is actually a tender, nuanced film about the loneliness of being a fragile deer in a world full of bulls.  [Adam Stafford]

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Dir. Luc Besson

It’s easy to see why critics turned on Luc Besson’s wildly inventive sci-fi, particularly if it’s being judged on the lucidity of its plot, which involves a pair of hipster space cops (Valerian and Laureline) saving a species of beautiful, gender-bending aliens by sequestering an endangered hamster that poops pearls. But there’s so much here to love, not least Besson’s visual flair and loopy sense of adventure, which hits a high point in a setpiece set within a multidimensional bazaar. Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne play the sarcastic law enforcers on the convoluted mission, and their laid-back, charismatic turns nicely ballast the space opera pomposity. We might not always understand why this sarcastic pair are doing what they’re doing, but we love to watch them bickering as they do it. Lucasfilm probably aren't going to give us a standalone Han and Leia movie, but this is close enough. [JD]


Read our Film team's Best 25 Films of 2017

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