Each year, there seem to be some films which, despite being good (or, in some cases, great), don’t always get enough attention at the time of their release.
The second-best film on this list is an amazing psychological thriller with great acting, great atmosphere and a very well-written script. But, so far, it’s got 20 times fewer votes on IMDb than the acclaimed Get Out, a film in the same genre. Is Get Out a film so much more worth to see? Is it 20 times better? No, of course, it only had a better promotion, the advantage of being an American film and so on.
This list tries to shed light on some hidden-gems that got lost in the 2017 ocean of films.
10. Angamaly Diaries (India)
This film might as well be called the Mollywood Goodfellas, as it shares a lot of thematic similarities with the classic Scorsese film. Angamaly Diaries tells the story of Vincent Pepe, a teenager who, inspired by local gangs, decides to pull together his own group of goons.
Along with six other friends, he makes his way into pork business, but soon attracts the attention of rival gangs and has to confront them. As the story progresses, we see Pepe and his friends growing up and getting into more and more troublesome situations.
Being a Mollywood product, this film doesn’t have the gravitas of most gangster movies. It lacks graphic violence, guns, swearing or nudity – classic ingredients in such films. Also, it doesn’t shine from a technical point of view as there are a lot of questionable editing choices and not much of a good-looking cinematography. But there are other things that make this film worth a watch.
It is funny, fast-paced, full of colorful characters and, most importantly, it has a fresh take on the gangster genre. Not to be forgotten, it has a truly amazing ending sequence which consists of an uncut 11-minute long take featuring about 1000 actors and one crazy, nicely choreographed fight scene.
Angamaly Diaries surely isn’t the best film on this list, but you cannot overlook how original and totally wacky it is.
9. Duckweed (China)
Making over 150 million dollars at the box office, Duckweed is the fourth highest grossing Chinese film of 2017 and has been widely appreciated by critics for its relaxed, carefree tone.
The film’s plot sounds ridiculous, but it surprisingly works. It is 2020 and renowned rally driver Xiu Tailang has a serious car accident. While struggling between life and death, he has a vision where he sees his whole life pass before his eyes and then gets teleported to 1995. There, he meets and befriends his young father and goes searching for his mother, who he never met before.
Directed by famous Chinese blogger Han Han, this film is somewhat silly, predictable and – at times – clichéd, but it can not be denied how funny, endearing and, most importantly, entertaining it also is.
With plenty of quirky humor, highly choreographed fighting sequences and over-the-top characters, Duckweed might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it surely stands out from the crowd. Of all the films from this list, this is the only one that might benefit from a remake aimed at an English speaking audience (Edgar Wright, looking at you!).
8. Spoor (Poland)
This part drama, part crime film brimmed with ecological messages has won the Silver Bear at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival and was selected as the Polish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 90th Academy Awards.
Spoor follows Janina Duszejko, an eccentric, yet very likable retired English teacher who is a convinced animal rights defender. When she finds herself in the middle of a series of mysterious murders, she tries to convince the local police that she knows who the murderer is, but due to her bizarre explanation, she is not taken seriously.
The protagonist’s beliefs towards killing animals are made visible throughout the whole film. She is angry with the local hunters and accuses them of being poachers, she confronts the authorities about the wrongness of hunting and she steals a hunting calendar from the police station in order to check if the hunters don’t shoot animals out of season.
Along with having a strong moral point, this film also has an amazing cinematography and is absolutely stunning to look at. The winter landscapes, imposing coniferous forests and rich wildlife are the perfect scenery for this kind of story. Not only do they look great, but along with the inspired musical score, they contribute a lot to the cold, isolated atmosphere of this film.
Despite having some pacing problems and the ending being a bit of a letdown, this film has a lot to offer and puts forward some thought-provoking moral dilemmas.
7. A Man of Integrity (Iran)
While returning from Colorado, where his Un Certain Regard winner film, A man of integrity, was being screened at the Telluride Film Festival, Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof had his passport confiscated by Tehran authorities and was ordered to attend a court hearing. This was not the first time Rasoulof had trouble with the Iranian state because of his films. In 2010, he was arrested while on set and imprisoned for one year. The reason? Filming without a permit.
A man of integrity is a courageous form of protest in which Rasoulof discloses a corrupt system. A system which at first glance seems very strict and law-based, but is in fact deeply rotten.
A little girl is expelled from her school because of her non-Muslim religion. A grieving family isn’t allowed to bury their loved one for the same reason. Reza, the main character, secretly makes a watermelon moonshine because alcohol is prohibited in Iran since 1979. All of these are people strangled by the system’s absurd laws.
Behind the curtains: a huge amount of corruption. Reza is bearing a moral struggle as he is constantly told to bribe authorities if he wants to ease his life. Firstly, he is advised to bribe the bank when he has problems with his loans. Then, to bribe the police in order to get out of jail (he gets imprisoned after he has a fight with his malevolent neighbor). But Reza has strong principles and doesn’t want to play by the rules of an amoral society. He is a man of integrity.
This film is more of a social commentary. It doesn’t feature eye-catching cinematography, loud performances from the actors or anything which could presumably unfocus the viewer from the film’s message. It is a very raw movie, filled with gray, bleak imagery and a strong sense of authenticity. While it might be harder for audiences outside of Iran to grasp all of the film’s subtleties, Mohammad Rasoulof’s A man of integrity is definitely a must-watch.
6. Last Men In Aleppo (Syria)
There are not many documentaries as unnerving as Last men in Aleppo. It starts abruptly, throwing you in the middle of an airplane bombing. After a few minutes, a short interlude informs the viewer about the causes of the events depicted in the film.
In 2011, what began as a peaceful manifestation against the regime of Bashar al-Assad led to an armed conflict when the government forces began launching bombs and airstrikes against the protesters. As of September 2015, the Russian army started to support the Syrian government, causing more damage. In Aleppo, Syria’s formerly largest city, the rebel forces formed The White Helmets, a volunteer organization whose task is saving people’s lives.
What Syrian filmmaker Firas Fayyad managed to do with this documentary is amazing and at the same time very disturbing. He is not afraid to show raw images and this is visible from the first few minutes, when we are watching Khaled Omar Harrah, a White Helmet, as he is saving a child from the ruins of a dilapidated building. There are many hard to watch scenes in this film, but the ones showing children covered in blood and shattered cement, some alive, some dead, are the ones that will remain etched on your memory.
Last men in Aleppo lacks artistry. It is filmed with hand-held cameras and it doesn’t have interviews, nor voiceovers. It doesn’t feel like your usual documentary, but more like some found footage film. And this is exactly why it has such a great impact on whoever watches it.