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The 50 Best 2017 Films We’ve Already Seen

Written by on January 4, 2017 

Sieranevada (Cristi Puiu)

sieranevada

For this critic’s money, of the several excellent filmmakers to emerge from the Romanian New Wave, Cristi Puiu ranks as the most formidable. After kicking off his career in 2001 with the outstanding Stuff and Dough, a small-scale but expertly modulated road/drug-deal movie, Puiu made two bona fide masterpieces back to back: The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and Aurora. While his newest dramatic feature, Sieranevada, may fall just short of M-word classification by not reaching the same level of radical invention as its two predecessors, it is nonetheless another proud entry in Puiu’s stellar filmography. – Giovanni M.C. (full review)

Ta’ang (Wang Bing)

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A text against a black screen informs us of the Ta’ang ethnicity belonging to Myanmar, a nation engulfed in an endless civil war, which happens to be driving its citizens, chiefly this group, out. Crossing the border between their home and China, the Ta’ang refugees are in a constant state of displacement, if still unity. Though if deceived by this simple, prosaic way of dosing out information to the audience, which will likely consist 95% of bourgeois festival attendees, a counter is swiftly served. Its first real image is one of violence, both in form and content; what appears a father striking a child, like a camera suddenly, and ungraciously, emerging out of thin air, as if birthed into this dire situation as an uneasy necessity for what seems an emergency. – Ethan V. (full review)

Tramps (Adam Leon)

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The romantic comedy formula is one that can’t help but become redundant in premise. How many different scenarios are there for two people to converge? Even so, Adam Leon may have found a new one with his meet-cute during a dead-drop gone wrong called Tramps. It should have been a painless exchange: Ellie (Grace Van Patten) picks up Danny (Callum Turner), they retrieve a briefcase with unknown contents, and deliver said case to a woman with a green purse at the train station. She may have second thoughts and he may be pinch-hitting for brother Darren (Michal Vondel) who’s currently in jail, but how could anyone screw this up? – Jared M. (full review)

Una (Benedict Andrews)

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“It’s a long story.” So says Una, a young woman with a going-nowhere office job and an emotionally devastated past, when asked about her relationship with Peter — the man she knew as Ray. Indeed it is a long story — a morally complex and cruelly realistic one, too. The debut feature from theater veteran Benedict Andrews, Una is an astonishing success. Anchored by two exhilarating performances from Rooney Mara and Ben Mendelsohn, the film is also harsh, moving, and extraordinarily riveting, one of the more unsettling works to play the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival and undoubtedly among the most provocative. – Christopher S. (full review)

Wakefield (Robin Swicord)

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Bryan Cranston’s Howard Wakefield seems to have a great life. He is a successful New York City lawyer, is married to a loving wife, has two teenage girls, and owns the ideal house. However, problems do lurk beneath his psyche and, before we could even get to know him a little better, he decides to disappear from his own life. He hides in the attic, where his family never really cares to go, and observes how his loved ones deal with his disappearance. – Jordan R. (full review)

Weirdos (Bruce McDonald)

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Weirdos, the latest film from the quintessentially Canadian auteur Bruce McDonald, is on its face just another road trip comedy with the spirit of Andy Warhol, but this time Warhol actually appears on screen — although for legal reasons, per the credits, Rhys Bevan-John plays “Not Andy Warhol.” It’s the summer of 1976 in Nova Scotia when Kit (Dylan Authors) takes out on the road with his radiant pal Alice (Julia Sarah Stone). She’s as confused as he is when she asks if they’ll be having “goodbye sex,” something they’ve been putting off for an obvious reason. – John F. (full review)

A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery and The Woman Who Left (Lav Diaz)

A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery 7

Starting with the Spanish conquest of the Philippines in the mid-16th century, the country was under the colonial rule of four different foreign powers for nearly 400 years. Independence gave way to two decades of vicious dictatorship and a democracy severely compromised by corruption and extensive external influence. As a nation that encompasses a staggering number of ethnicities and languages, the Philippines’ centuries-long experience of oppression has engendered an enduring identity crisis. It’s this crisis that has brought forth the films of Lav Diaz. They are dedicated to an excavation of his country’s turbulent past in search of its identity; the simultaneously chimeric and vital nature of this endeavor constitutes the emancipatory dialectic that drives his cinema. Having addressed Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship from a variety of angles in several earlier features, Diaz turns his attention to the Philippine Revolution of 1896-97 with A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery, an extraordinarily rich, initially exasperating, yet eventually marvelous postmodern epic. – Giovanni M.C. (full review)

The Woman Who Left 5

Lav Diaz’s Golden Lion winner from this year’s Venice Film Festival feels like something of a surprise because, for all its extended shots, luminous black-and-white photography, and socio-historical weight, The Woman Who Left is ultimately an unostentatious work. Compared to, say, Norte, The End of History’s remarkably grim ending, with its reaches into fantasy / metaphysics (don’t forget that Tarkovsky-esque levitation), there doesn’t seem to be quite the same need to impress or belabor the point. – Ethan V. (full review)

Yourself and Yours (Hong Sang-soo)

yourself and yours hong sang-soo

See enough films by any director and you’ll start to think you’ve got a grip on the whole thing. See everything they’ve directed — “everything,” here, constitutes 17 features and three shorts that are in excess of half an hour — and expected pleasures are chief among the reasons for continuing the journey. Yourself and Yours is enjoyable the way every other Hong Sang-soo film is enjoyable: funny, relatable and emotionally honest, structurally innovative, and composed with a patient eye that favors the peaks and valleys of conversation over standard get-to-the-point construction. Here, though, he wields a sharper blade: in its defiance of internal logic, character motivation, or even a conventional understanding, the film’s narrative (about doubles or twins or doppelgängers or all or none) brings contemplation of romantic relationships’ hardest edges — those gaps between men and women that no one’s quite figured out, perhaps because they’re entirely irreparable — to a point more digestible than the standard dramatic formats of shouting, crying, confrontation, etc. Largely because it’s funny. Hong’s continued fixation on idiocy will never not hit this writer’s funny bone, and cultural barriers mean nothing; it’s among the few universal languages. – Nick N. (full review)

Honorable Mentions

We could’ve easily extended this list beyond 50 with a number of other titles we liked. First up, there’s 2016 awards-qualifying films that will get official releases in 2017, including The Red Turtle (1/20), The Salesman (1/27), I Am Not Your Negro (2/3), and My Life as a Zucchini (February TBD).

Next up, there’s a selection of films landing in the next few months we were more mixed (or negative) on, including I Am Michael (1/27), A United Kingdom (2/17), Raw (3/10), Frantz (3/15), The Belko Experiment (3/17), Their Finest (3/24), and The Promise (4/28). There’s also the Berlinale drama Paris 05:59, which just missed the cut, arriving on January 27 and The Lure, coming on February 1.

Moving onto more recommended films we’re awaiting either on distribution or a release date for, one should check out our list of the best undistributed films of 2016, which includes a handful of the films above. There’s also another film titled The Lure, Cristian Mungiu‘s GraduationThe Road to Mandalay, the Riz Ahmed-led City of Tiny Lights, I Called Him Morgan, Scarred Hearts, This Time Tomorrow, Donald Cried, Laura Poitras‘ new documentary Risk, After Love, Folk Hero and Funny Guy, Women Who Kill, I Promise You Anarchy, Kill Me Please, The Patriarch, Death in Sarajevo, and, lastly, we seem to be in the minority on Walter Hill‘s (Re)Assignment.

What are you most looking forward to this year?

Read MoreOur 100 Most-Anticipated Films of 2017

most-anticipated-of-2017-the-film-stage

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