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The 50 Most Overlooked Films of 2017

Written by on December 27, 2017 

the-most-overlooked-films-of-2017

There are a multitude of reasons why any film may get unfairly overlooked. It could be a lack of marketing resources to provide a substantial push, or, due to a minuscule roll-out, not enough critics and audiences to be the champions it might require. It could simply be the timing of the picture itself; even in the world of studio filmmaking, some features take time to get their due. With an increasingly crowded marketplace, there are more reasons than ever that something might not find an audience and, as with last year, we’ve rounded up the releases that deserved more attention.

Note that all of the below films made less than $1 million at the domestic box office at the time of posting — VOD figures are not accounted for, as they normally aren’t made public — and are, for the most part, left out of most year-end conversations. Sadly, many documentaries would qualify for this list, but we stuck strictly to narrative efforts (though one genre-blurring documentary made both lists); one can instead read our rundown of the top docs here.

Check out the list of 50 (or so) below, as presented in alphabetical order and, in the comments, let us know the 2017 films you loved that aren’t getting the recognition they deserve. A great deal of the below titles are also available to stream, so check out our feature here to catch up. One can also follow the list on Letterboxd.

Abundant Acreage Available (Angus MacLachlan)

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Faith-based cinema is as diverse a genre as there is, from the extreme, often violent portraits of devotion from established directors like Martin Scorsese and Mel Gibson, to the attacks on logic in the God’s Not Dead and Left Behind pictures. Angus MacLachlan, a great storyteller of the not-too-deep south, offers a nuanced example of what this genre can bring, returning with the moving Abundant Acreage Available. – John F. (full review)

After the Storm (Hirokazu Kore-eda)

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Hirokazu Kore-eda is one of contemporary film’s best empathists, extending tremendous good humor and generosity of spirit to his characters even as he lays bare their weaknesses and failings. Has-been author Ryota is the writer-director’s biggest fuckup of a protagonist, chronically unable to translate his earnings as an ersatz private detective into child support payments instead of gambling debts. And Kore-eda manipulates every mechanism of the story to engineer one lovely moment in which life’s everyday ugliness falls away, and this is done not in the service of offering Ryota absolution, but instead a bittersweet reminder of beauty past, future opportunities lost, and the assurance that it is in fact still possible to do good and decent things in the midst of utter confusion. – Dan S.

All These Sleepless Nights (Michal Marczak)

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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)

Beach Rats (Eliza Hittman)

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Burgeoning sexuality is the basis for nearly all coming-of-age films, but with her specific eye, Eliza Hittman makes it feel like we’re watching this genre unfold for the first time. With only two features to her name, she’s captured the experience with a sensuality and intimacy nearly unprecedented in American independent filmmaking. Following 2013’s It Felt Like Love, the writer-director follows it with another look at the teenage experience in Brooklyn for this year’s Beach Rats, this time with a protagonist five years older and of a different gender. – Jordan R. (full review)

Berlin Syndrome (Cate Shortland)

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While the recent 10 Cloverfield Lane and Room told stories of captivity with various hooks — science-fiction and the process of healing, respectively — Cate Shortland’s approach in her latest, harrowing drama Berlin Syndrome makes room for more nuance and depth. Locked in a Berlin apartment, there is little hope for our protagonist for nearly the entire runtime. And while some of the story’s turns can feel overtly manipulative, Shortland finds a bracing humanity in depicting the perverse situation of Stockholm syndrome. – Jordan R. (full review)

The Blackcoat’s Daughter (Osgood Perkins)

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Osgood Perkins’ debut feature, The Blackcoat’s Daughter – originally known as February at its premiere – is a stylish exercise in dread, teasing out its slow-drip horrors with precision, and building a deliriously evil presence that hovers along the fringes. However, there’s a thin line between mystery and vagueness in storytelling, and it becomes difficult to decide where a film fits when it only works in the context of a specific structural order. Read my full review. – Mike S.

BPM (Beats Per Minute) (Robin Campillo)

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Sometimes a movie doesn’t need much character development to make an impact. The ensemble cast that comprise Robin Campillo’s AIDS activists in BPM (Beats Per Minute) all work together to be the same voice. Through this group, the director captures a force that resonates more in message than in any of the conventional, dramatic sparks you might find in a Hollywood version of this story. This is one of the most politically-minded movies to come around in quite some time as Campillo stages heated strategy sessions between the activists of ACT UP like a Godard cinematic political essay post-La Chinoise. Through effective direction, the activism on display here is inspiring enough to rile one up to set aside preoccupations and try to make a difference in the world. – Jordan R. (full review)

Brawl in Cell Block 99 (S. Craig Zahler)

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S. Craig Zahler is the kind of genre filmmaker who’s making films unlike anyone else in his field today. His 2015 debut Bone Tomahawk pulled together an impressive cast of character actors to make a two-plus hour western/horror hybrid, spending its sweet time building to a repulsive finale. The long runtime, slow pacing, and abrupt tonal shift all worked, though, thanks to Zahler’s memorable dialogue and imagination when it came to horrific violence. Brawl in Cell Block 99 sees the writer-director sticking to the same formula that made Bone Tomahawk work so well, and it’s hard not to blame him. Usually formulaic would be a bad thing, but Zahler is the only one using his particular formula, and the results are just as brutal and entertaining as before. – C.J. P. (full review)

The Breadwinner (Nora Twomey)

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In the Taliban-controlled Afghan city of Kabul, Nora Twomey’s debut film as sole director (she co-helmed Oscar nominee The Secret of Kells) depicts an eleven-year old girl facing the futility her future inevitably holds. Adapted by Anita Doron from the award-winning novel by Deborah Ellis, The Breadwinner delivers a heart-wrenching coming-of-age tale within a nation that’s lost its way. The shift was virtually overnight once the Taliban took over: women forced under hoods and trapped in houses, photographs and books outlawed, and men turned cruel as “protectors” of an extremist interpretation of a peaceful religion. The city’s former glory is immortalized only through stories of those who still remember. And as they perish to be replaced with new generations raised in hate, the past risks being forgotten forever. – Jared M. (full review)

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