Well, here we are, in the brave (terrifying) new (still terrifying) world of 2017. Whatever else we have to expect in the 363 days to come (and actually, the first 48 hours have been pretty good on the whole), it promises to be a good year for the movies, as you might have seen from our 100 Most Anticipated Movies piece a month or so back. But somehow, that was just the tip of the iceberg.
Because of the way that festivals and release patterns line up, not everything that we see on the circuit comes out in the same calendar period, which can mean that some of the best films of the year are actually the best films of last year. Or possibly vice versa. Below you’ll find the 20 best (or, in some cases, most notable) films of 2017 that we’ve already seen, and what we thought of them. Take a look, and let us know if you have any recommendations from your festival-going in the last year.
Director: Nacho Vigalondo (“Timecrimes”)
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens, Tim Blake Nelson, Austin Stowell
Synopsis: A hard-partying young woman returns to her New Jersey hometown after a break-up, where she discovers that she might have a bizarre connection to a giant monster that’s attacking Seoul
Verdict: With a synopsis like that, it’s hard not to be intrigued by “Colossal,” but one of the things it has going for it is that there’s much more to it than its admittedly bizarre logline. It might feature a whacking great kaiju or two, but it’s a film about “the beasts that dwell within creatures who are capable of equally horrific damage: human beings,” and proves surprisingly dramatic and powerful. Taking a “chilling look at how self-hatred, perceived emasculation, coupled with jealousy and regret creates a swirling set of ingredients by which abusers and emotional manipulators take root,” it’s curiously less compelling when it’s purer genre than in its dramatic beats, but still finds a “depth beyond its intriguing premise.” This feels like it could hit the same kind of instant-cult-classic status that “The Lobster” or “Swiss Army Man” managed last year.
Our Review: B from Kevin at TIFF
Release Date: A new, still-unnamed distribution company from Drafthouse founder Tim League and former Magnolia and Radius exec Tom Quinn won the bidding war, but haven’t yet set a release date.
Director: Ben Wheatley (“High-Rise”)
Cast: Brie Larson, Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy, Jack Reynor
Synopsis: In 1970s Boston, when a deal between some IRA terrorists and a group of gun-runners goes south, the two sides have to blast their way out.
Verdict: Despite a much bigger budget and an A-list star in Tom Hiddleston, Ben Wheatley’s “High-Rise” wasn’t exactly the mainstream breakthrough he deserves: It was too divisive, too, well, Ballardian to connect with a wider audience, and made less than $500,000 at the U.S. box office. But the crossover hit might be here with “High-Rise,” his first U.S-set movie, and easily his most accessible. It’s “a shoot-em-up with a wide streak of wicked humor, coupled with no shortage of bullets and blood, marking his most purely popcorn and wildly enjoyable movie to date,” with a perfect ensemble (including Sharlto Copley in his best turn since “District 9” and a revelatory performance from Armie Hammer), and an impressive sense of geography. It might not be the most substantial thing that Wheatley’s made so far, but it’s definitely the most fun, a movie “that will certainly see more than his core fanbase sitting up and paying attention.”
Our Review: Kevin gave it a B at TIFF
Release Date: March 17th, via A24.
“The Girl With All The Gifts”
Director: Colm McCarthy
Cast: Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine, Glenn Close, Sennia Nanua, Fisayo Akinade
Synopsis: In a near-future after Britain has fallen to a zombie-like plague, a young infected girl travels across country in search of a cure with a scientist, a teacher and a soldier.
Verdict: Just when we thought the zombie movie was played out, 2016 brought two that proved there were fresh braaaaaaaiiiins still to be mined. The first was Korean hit “Train To Busan,” and the second was this uncommonly smart British indie, which deserves to make something of a splash on its U.S. release this year. Based on a YA best-seller, and directed by “Sherlock” and “Peaky Blinders” director Colm McCarthy, it has a fine cast (with particularly good work from young star Sennia Nanua and Paddy Considine), impressive production values on a limited budget, some nail-biting sequences and a genuinely fresh approach to the zombie trope. It’s not quite destined for “28 Days Later”-style greatness, but it’s likely to be one of the year’s better genre sleepers.
Our Review: We actually missed it at TIFF and haven’t reviewed it yet, but Oli caught the film on its UK release and gives it the thumbs up.
Release Date: Saban Films have the US rights, but haven’t set a date yet.
Director: Cristian Mungiu (“4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days”)
Cast: Adrian Titieni, Maria Dragus, Lia Bugnar, Malina Manovici
Synopsis: After his daughter is injured in an assault, a doctor attempts to trade favors so her exams aren’t affected.
Verdict: Perhaps the best known and most successful of the Romanian New Wave directors (he won the Palme D’Or for “4 Months…”, “Beyond The Hills” took Best Actress and his latest was awarded Best Director at last year’s Cannes), Cristian Mungiu returned on his usually terrific form with “Graduation.” Both a family drama and a look at the corrupt politics of modern-day Romania, it’s “less linear, more circular or spiral-shaped” than his other films, “but is no less rigorous and possibly even more eviscerating.” With “an authenticity that feels raw, but storytelling that feels silken,” it’s a film of “magnificent pessimism,” and while it’s undoubtedly specific to its locale, it should strike a more universal chord wherever it plays.
Our Review: Jess was torn between a B+ and an A- at Cannes.
Release Date: Sundance Selects have the rights, but haven’t set a release date yet.
“It’s Only The End Of The World”
Director: Xavier Dolan (“Mommy”)
Cast: Marion Cotillard, Gaspard Ulliel, Vincent Cassel, Léa Seydoux, Nathalie Baye
Synopsis: A successful playwright returns to his family to tell them that he’s dying.
Verdict: Some might be surprised to see this one on this list, not least its director Xavier Dolan, who took issue with Jess’s decidedly negative review (publicly, repeatedly and over a period of months) of his latest movie. But to exclude it would 1) ignore that the film does have fans, even if the reaction on the Croisette was divided at best (it even won the Grand Jury Prize from George Miller and co.), and 2) ignore that this is, after all, a new film from a major filmmaker, with an absolutely stellar cast of French performers. Jess did find something to like in the director’s “undeniably exciting filmmaking craft,” but ultimately found a film that “reinforces the very negative impressions [Dolan] may have designed it to address,” “a shrieking bore, without a single character worth rooting for, least of all the puddle of maudlin self-pity at its center.” Still, you’ll be able to make your own mind up later in the year.
Our Review: C- from Jess at Cannes
Release Date: Curiously, no U.S. distribution has been announced yet, but with the film on the Oscar longlist and a cast like this, we’re sure one will come through soon enough.