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The 50 Best 2017 Films We’ve Already Seen

Written by on January 4, 2017 

Awaiting Release Date and/or Distribution

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail (Steve James)

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Steve James’ filmography has long been about finding entry into larger conversations through intimate portraits. The director’s landmark debut, Hoop Dreams, and latter-day efforts like 2014’s monument to critic Roger Ebert, Life Itself, don’t have much in common on the surface, but they both use their central characters to tell larger stories about big picture topics like structural dysfunction and the purpose of film criticism. – Michael S. (full review)

Austerlitz (Sergei Loznitsa)

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Having experimented with feature-length fiction films, shorts, and archival-footage documentaries in the course of his career, Sergei Loznitsa’s output since his 2014 Ukrainian crisis documentary Maidan has both garnered him greater acclaim than before and zeroed in on cinema as a collectively generated form. – Tommaso T. (full review)

Bangkok Nites (Katsuya Tomita)

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Two echoing images. The film’s very first, a reflection cast as our heroine, Luck (Subenja Pongkorn), stares into the glass window of a high-rise building as a man who claims to love her is in the adjacent room. Our second is in a Bangkok brothel: women wait behind a sheet of glass for men to greet, but what do they do all day? The impulse behind both is repetition, yes, but also patience for a change that may never come. – Ethan V. (full review)

The Bleeder (Philippe Falardeau)

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The Bleeder looks a bit familiar. A film of browns and greens; disco music and ‘70s rock tunes; big haircuts and even bigger lapels. Indeed, in a way reminiscent of recent period efforts such as Black Mass and David O. Russell’s last two outings, The Bleeder is drenched in that particular decade’s elaborate trappings. It also owes a lot to the school of Scorsese, complete with wise-guy narration, east-coast working-class lilts, and a sense of “You gotta be shitting me! Is this really my life?” But it’s a sports film at heart and a rather good one at that, all plucky underdog right hooks and tragic, humiliating falls. In a way, it’s also a film about movies, too. Coming from decorated Québécois filmmaker Philippe Falardeau, it is the true life story of Chuck “The Bayonne Bleeder” Wepner, the man who fought Muhammed Ali after the champ’s victory in the Rumble in the Jungle, and later the main influence for a certain film by Sylvester Stallone. – Rory O. full review)

Boys in the Trees (Nicholas Verso)

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We’ve all lost friends whether from naturally parting ways or an avoidable blow-up proving petty in hindsight. Age advances and tastes evolve — we don’t often think much of the phenomenon because they find peers more attuned to who they’ve become just like you. But sometimes the severed relationship carries with it pangs of guilt. Maybe the fracture was triggered by lame excuses like the concept of survival of the fittest, you joining your oppressors in order to stop being oppressed. Perhaps you cut loose the person you once said you’d do anything for in a way that transforms them into your enemy. And as graduation approaches with a clean break from the immaturity you’ve grown to resent, that guilt eats away at your conscience in search of relief. – Jared M. (full review)

Brooks, Meadows and Lovely Faces (Yousry Nasrallah)

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The wedding, in cinematic terms — the opportunity to present dozens of extras of mingling amidst an ever-expanding backdrop (e.g. the Visconti quotations from The Godfather or The Deer Hunter) — is, to say the least, a very exciting opportunity. Though within Brooks, Meadows and Lovely Faces, the idea of a wedding points to a pressure for national unity when the narrative in question is all about splintering: separate couples all living in fear of their true feelings for others in the shadow of class and age. – Ethan V. (full review)

Carrie Pilby (Susan Johnson)

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The synopsis for Carrie Pilby can sound atrocious on paper. Most films utilizing an eighteen-year old Harvard graduate do so as periphery color because the trope lends itself to obnoxious pedantry and an unsympathetic notion of “first world problems.” Having your titular lead (played by Bel Powley) be that person is therefore a risky proposition. She’s an introvert bagging on society for willingly lowering their IQ to fit a cesspool of mediocrity despite making no attempt to engage or discover whether that assumption is true. We should despise her and harbor frustration towards director Susan Johnson for wanting the opposite. Well the joke’s on us because her character proves utterly likable in her failings — likable and relatable while traversing the landscape of life and love. – Jared M. (full review)

Clair Obscur (Yesim Ustaoglu)

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Life for a woman like Elmas (Ecem Uzun) in Turkey is a living nightmare. An eighteen-year old all but sold to a willing husband (Serkan Keskin‘s Koca) much older than she to clean his house, give her mother-in-law (Sema Poyraz‘s Kaynana) across the hall insulin shots, and — marriage or not — get raped every night, she’s gradually losing her sense of identity and mind. She’s so young and unversed in the world that she makes a game out of folding the sheets atop their bed to see whether a coin will slide from one end to the other without hitting a fold. Elmas’ sole release is watching her neighbor in the adjacent building dance to pop music while sneaking a cigarette on the balcony when no one is looking. – Jared M. (full review)

Colossal (Nacho Vigalondo; April 7)

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Whether the existence of time travel or an alien invasion, writer/director Nacho Vigalondo has proven king at dealing with large-scale concepts affecting small-scale characters. Always looking to portray how genre catastrophes are handled by nobodies on the ground without government credentials or scientific degrees, he continues this trend again with his latest monster movie Colossal … for the most part. After certain truths are revealed, it’s easy to discover how two former classmates in a sleepy city with one watering hole may have more to do with the chaos wrought by a giant Godzilla-sized humanoid creature in Seoul, South Korea than anyone would believe. Gloria (Anne Hathaway) and Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) have unfinished business together that’s ready to be unleashed and not even they know it’s there. – Jared M. (full review)

The Death of Louis XIV (Albert Serra)

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A fair question to ask: why The Sun King now? Perhaps American icons are always ripe for deconstruction as, after all, we have the world’s greatest (or rather dwindling) superpower shoved down our throats seemingly everyday. Yet, on the subject of Louis XIV, having to ascribe any current European crisis to the need to resurrect one of France’s greatest kings seems foolhardy. But The Death of Louis XIV succeeds just enough on the pure terms of a formalist exercise, with mostly static shots in a series of rooms lit by candlelight as historical context seems to somewhat recede into the dark. – Ethan V. (full review)

Despite the Night (Philippe Grandrieux)

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Philippe Grandrieux’s Despite the Night is a relentlessly morose, miasmic thing that, like much of his work, alternately seeks to narcotize and brutalize its viewer into submission until the distinctions between agony and ecstasy, tenderness and violation, are indistinguishable. Grandrieux is, in many respects, a wildly contradictory figure: a tough sell for most audiences; an easy pitch for prospective fans (the maximalist Denis? the haptic Lynch? the narrative Brakhage? the goth Malick? etc); a niche artist even in the realm of “festival cinema”; yet (for instance) a favorite of Marilyn Manson, who once recruited him to direct a music video. – Ian B. (full review)

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