With the best will in the world, we can’t pretend that the 2017 Berlin Film Festival lineup has that many major buzz titles in comparison to previous years. But it pays to remember that the Berlinale is a peculiar festival in that even when it has a high-profile, established-auteur-laden programme, it’s inevitably not those movies that really punch hardest in the end (we’re looking at you, Terrence Malick, Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders and more, all of whom debuted disappointing work at the festival in recent years). The big names, when they come, often fall short here, but it’s almost always true that there will be something else in the mix, from a slightly lesser-known director, an emerging auteur or an all-out newcomer, that will break through and be the film that ends up topping best-of-the-year lists come December — however impossibly far away that seems, or indeed however unlikely a concept “December” might now feel.
In the last couple of years alone, Berlin has debuted Mia Hansen-Løve‘s wonderful “Things To Come,“ Pablo Larraín‘s chilling “The Club,” Jafar Panahi‘s playful “Taxi” and Andrew Haigh‘s sublime “45 Years,” and though none of these films were the biggest things going in to the festival, they all became firm critical favorites as the year wore on. Here, then, are the nine films we’re marking down on our dance cards in advance as the most likely candidates for that crown, plus the one that is the exception that proves the rule in terms of profile (hint: it’s about an X-man). And here’s hoping, and trusting, there’ll be a lot more discoveries to be made.
The Berlinale always tries to include at least one high-profile, commercial movie in an out-of-competition gala slot, but this year the advance speculation was way off: Disney‘s live-action “Beauty And The Beast” was mooted as possible, seeing as Kenneth Branagh‘s live-action “Cinderella” premiered here, and “50 Shades Darker” was also bandied about as the first film had played here previously and the release dates sort of sync up. In the event, rather more excitingly than either of those two, the festival snagged the World Premiere of James Mangold‘s Wolverine movie, “Logan,” starring Hugh Jackman (of course) and newcomer Dafne Keen as the child mutant he must protect. Set in an “alternate future timeline,” the film sees a past-his-prime Wolverine withdrawn from the world and caring for an aged Professor X (Patrick Stewart), and Mangold has promised a darker, more textured take on the iconic character. Mind you, the last time he did that, he delivered “The Wolverine,” so we’d take that with a pinch of salt had we not seen an enticing 40 minutes of the film already and been impressed at the surprisingly bleak but engaging tone. Expectations duly adjusted back upwards.
“On the Beach At Night Alone”
Hong Sang-soo’s regular, one-or-two-films-per-year schedule continues apace to the point that his newest film will premiere before his last one, “Yourself And Yours,” has even had a proper stateside release. But then, that’s a relatively normal occurrence for the South Korean arthouse darling: With a style that is more personal and less genre-based than many of his compatriots, his films can be a hard sell, but there’s reason to hope that “On the Beach At Night Alone” will be one that stands out. The logline sounds typically loose-limbed — an actress wanders around a seaside town pondering her relationship with a married man — but the film does reunite Hong with the wonderful Kim Min-hee (star of Park Chan-wook‘s “The Handmaiden“). And the last time they worked together, they turned in one of Hong’s most acclaimed and accessible films with “Right Now, Wrong Then,” which also picked up the Golden Leopard in Locarno.
We’re never entirely sure why Oren Moverman, director of “The Messenger,” “Rampart,” and 2014’s “Time Out Of Mind,” doesn’t get the props his assured, intelligent, muscular filmmaking deserves, but with each new title, hope flares that this will be the one to push him up a league. Whether “The Dinner” will do the trick is anyone’s guess, but certainly the story sounds intriguing and the cast is pretty impeccable. Based on a Dutch novel, it concerns two adult brothers (Richard Gere, whom Moverman directed to a career high in “Time Out Of Mind,” and Steve Coogan) and their respective wives (the great Laura Linney and the just-as-great Rebecca Hall) who meet for dinner to discuss what to do about their sons, who have committed an as-yet-unreported crime, with the proceedings complicated because of Gere’s character’s position as a prominent politician. Chloë Sevigny, Charlie Plummer and Adepero Oduye also star in what was at one time to have been Cate Blanchett‘s directorial debut.
Álex de la Iglesia‘s star is much more firmly established in the European firmament than in that of the U.S., which is a little strange given that his rambunctious style, which is roughly triangulated between the exuberance of his champion Pedro Almodóvar, the gothic horror work of Guillermo del Toro, and the sheer lunacy of Alejandro Jodorowsky, feels like it should be eminently exportable, subtitles or no. In fact, he has made two English-language films, “Perdita Durango” and “The Oxford Murders,” but both landed wide of the mark. In recent years, he’s diversified from full-bore, bonkers horror hybrids like “The Day Of The Beast,” turning in footballer doc “Messi” and backstage comedy “My Big Night” as his last two films. “The Bar” looks to continue in the vein of the latter, though playing out as a pressure-cooker comedy founded on a thrillerish premise (a group of colorful characters are trapped together in a local bar when a man is shot right outside), there’s plenty of opportunity for the kind of voluble craziness he does so well.