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The 50 Best 2017 Films We’ve Already Seen

Written by on January 4, 2017 

The Lost City of Z (James Gray; April 14)

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It is the little-stated, undeniable truth that critics are surrounded by nearly innumerable factors when experiencing the work they’ve been assigned to review. Presentation is rarely treated as a basic on the level of form, theme, or auteurist interest, and most mentions will come only if something had gone terribly wrong. This issue sometimes being rather important, I feel compelled to say James Gray’s The Lost City of Z is a rather forceful thing when projected on 35mm, as befits the writer-director’s wishes and with which the New York Film Festival, premiering this picture as the closing title of their 54th year, complied. I can and will compliment the movie for a number of reasons not necessarily pertaining to what material it was printed on and what machine it came out of, so let it be stated upfront that this is most likely the best (only?) way to experience what Gray and cinematographer Darius Khondji, reuniting from The Immigrant, have achieved: a film that will often truly and totally appear to have been made in decades past and just discovered today. – Nick N. (full review)

The Happiest Day In the Life of Olli Mäki (Juho Kuosmanen; April TBD)

the-happiest-day-in-the-life-of-olli-ma%cc%88ki-1

The Happiest Day In the Life of Olli Mäki is a boxing biopic that has no interest in the sport of boxing. Winner of the Un Certain Regard prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Juho Kuosmanen’s dryly funny, blissfully sweet, and deceptively absorbing work revels in Olli Mäki’s psychological surroundings as he contends with the strangeness of national promotion, the accruing pressures of competing, and a burgeoning romance that’s feeling more permanent than he expected. – Michael S. (full review)

Paris Can Wait (Eleanor Coppola; May 12)

Paris Can Wait 1

With her last feature directorial credit being contributions to 1991’s Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s ApocalypseEleanor Coppola is perhaps better known as Francis Ford Coppola’s wife than a filmmaker. Yet, she triumphantly returns this year with one of the sexiest and most joyful road movies in some time with Paris Can Wait. – Jordan R. (full review)

All These Sleepless Nights (Michal Marczak; Spring TBD)

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Blurring the line between documentary and fiction like few films before it, Michal Marczak‘s All These Sleepless Nights is a music-filled ode to the ever-shifting bliss and angst of youth set mostly in the wee hours of the day in Warsaw, Poland. Marczak himself, who also plays cinematographer, is wary to delineate the line between narrative and nonfiction, and part of the film’s joy is forgoing one’s grasp on this altering perspective, rather simply getting wrapped up in the immaculately-shot allure of its location. – Jordan R. (full review)

The Bad Batch (Ana Lily Amirpour; Spring TBD)

The Bad Batch

Ana Lily Amirpour’s second feature shoots for Harmony Korine meets Mad Max and would have nearly almost hit the mark were it not for the gratingly aloof attitude and the swaths of directorial license being taken. The Bad Batch — an ambitious, expansive dystopian sci-fi western which features partying, drugs, and cannibals — might come as music to the ears of diehard fans of films like Spring Breakers and Gummo (a kid doesn’t quite eat spaghetti in a bathtub, but a kid does eat spaghetti after being in a bathtub). However, beneath its dazzlingly hip surface the script and characters leave much to be desired. It’s like taking a trip to Burning Man: a pseudo-spiritual, uniquely punky experience perhaps, but one that’s full of annoying rich kids and ultimately emotionally shallow. – Rory O. (full review)

Ma’ Rosa (Brillante Mendoza; Spring TBD)

Ma Rosa

Not a huge amount happens in Ma’ Rosa, the relentless new film from Filipino director Brillante Mendoza, which premieres this week in competition at Cannes. In present-day Manila, a woman and her husband are arrested for dealing methamphetamines and taken to the police station for interrogation before rounding up their three children who, in turn, must collect the sufficient sum of money to bail them out. It’s a bit of a slog, not least in the first half, but it’s also the kind of film that seeps into the viewer in the minutes and hours and days afterwards. Returning to the style and locale that brought him international acclaim with Kinatay in 2009, Mendoza shoots it like a pseudo-documentary, employing erratic, grainy handheld camerawork and relatively few cuts. Critics often say he’s an uncompromising director. It’s easy to see why. – Rory O. (full review)

My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea (Dash Shaw; Spring TBD)

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Who amongst us has not wished for something like a snow day or a power outage that would get us out of school or work? As the title suggests, in My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea, it’s the hard-hitting high school student journalists’ good fortunate that an entire high school sinks while they’re on the beat. Dash and Assaf (the voices of Jason Schwartzman and Reggie Watts, respectively) seek to expose their principal’s misdeeds as Tides High School has been built on a cliff, under a fault-line, and has just opened a new auditorium on the top of its senior floor. Not since Wayside School have civic engineers and architects have greater failed the American Education System. – John F. (full review)

Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey (Terrence Malick; Spring TBD)

Voyage of Time

You could argue that Terrence Malick has been trying to find or express catharsis in his films as far back as 1978’s Days of Heaven. That trope has become more and more synonymous with the director as decades have passed, and Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey — a high-caliber visual essay that some people say has been developing for almost 40 years, although it’s probably more accurate to say it’s been in production for “only” seven — always looked like the most direct expression of that search for divinity. It could deliver that experience for some in the audience, and, as narrated in feature length by Cate Blanchett (a 45-minute version narrated by producer Brad Pitt will arrive on IMAX screens), it might be better defined as a voyage of life. Through sometimes-dated (but often glorious) CGI and live-action footage, Malick’s long-gestating epic charts the birth of the cosmos through to the evolution of earth and, finally, to our supposed inheritance of the planet. – Rory O. (full review)

Lady Macbeth (William Oldroyd; June 2)

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Before William Oldroyd‘s first foray on the silver screen with Lady Macbeth, he was an experienced theater director, which clearly has aided his adaptation of Nikolai Leskov’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. The gothic allure of this period piece about a woman forced into marriage and deciding to take things into her own hands is both refreshing and captivating, and make no mistake: there is nothing theatrical or stiff about the film. – Jordan R. (full review)

The Ornithologist (João Pedro Rodrigues; June TBD)

The Ornithologist 1

Publicly stated by its director to concern Saint Anthony, the Portuguese priest and friar who legend calls the most supernatural of saints, The Ornithologist luckily manages to see the profane outweigh the sacred — no white elephantine “spirituality,” but rather a progression of set-pieces. We have something of a return for João Pedro Rodrigues to his debut feature Fantasma, a nocturnal “erotic thriller” of sorts that moved by the logic of its own images, this in opposition to more character-driven films such as Two Drifters and To Die Like a Man or his most recent The Last Time I Saw Macao, a tad too much an academic exercise in mirroring post-colonialism through a deadpan “non-mystery.” – Ethan V. (full review)

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