2017 certainly had more than its share of blockbuster releases; from Marvel and DC superheroes smacking each other around to mixbag Stephen King adaptations and Star Wars space operatics unfolding with seemingly limitless budgets and big name superstars. And while such large studio fare gets most of the attention when it comes to audiences plaudits, lots of foreign-language films are largely ignored, as are indie-derived projects, genre entries, and most arthouse fare.
And while this following list is somewhat limited––there were so many wonderful films released in 2017 and so many Taste of Cinema is still catching up on––any way you look at it, a roundup of 2017 films will feature gifted visual storytellers, fearless filmmakers, invention, upset, and vivid imaginings.
Without further ado, please enjoy this list and be sure to add other overlooked films or remarks on our selections in the comment section below.
20. My Friend Dahmer
If you regularly haunt your local comic book shop and/or dig horror comics then the odds are good you came across the John “Derf” Backderf (Alex Wolff in the film) graphic novel “My Friend Dahmer” back in 2012. The book, Backderf’s real-life recollections of high school in Bath, Ohio, in the 1970s and his relationship with classmate Jeffrey Dahmer (Ross Lynch in an alternately sympathetic and sinister break-out performance), shortly before he began his cannibalistic killing spree is deftly adapted to the big screen by writer-director Marc Meyers.
This twisted coming of age horror story is buttressed by a superb cast, which also includes Anne Heche and Dallas Roberts as Dahmer’s struggling parents, Joyce and Lionel respectively, as well as an effective turn from young Liam Koeth as Dahmer’s kid brother, Dave.
A fascinating tragedy, the nostalgic air and occasionally humorous tale does nothing to exploit the lives that Dahmer would eventually take (he would murder 17 men and boys in the Midwest United States between 1978 and 1991), though it does fascinate and frighten as it understatedly fills the mind with nightmare fuel.
19. The Party
This bouncy black-and-white British tragicomedy from writer-director Sally Potter (Orlando) features a dazzlingly impressive dream ensemble, including Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy, Kristin Scott Thomas, Timothy Spall, Bruno Ganz, and a show-stealing Patricia Clarkson, all attending a party in London that unfolds in real time. That narrative hook/gimmick aside, this zinger-packed “political comedy” is a superb drawing-room delight.
Potter, who has by now amassed an impressive eight features to her name, has fun with what may on the surface seem like a claustrophobic parlor piece, but the serrated-edged satire as she sticks it to the materialistic bourgeois –– Buñuel would most assuredly approve –– is both cynical, and side-slapping. This is one party you’d be remiss not to R.S.V.P.
Mysterious, strange, and stirring, director Todd Haynes’ latest film Wonderstruck is a movie about childhood, memory, communication, family bonds, and finding your way, and while it may be a minor film from a major director, it’s still a small miracle. In many ways it’s Haynes’ Hugo.
Based on Brian Selznick’s 2011 novel of the same name (Selznick also adapted the screenplay) and bouncing back and forth between two interlaced stories set in 1927 and 1977, the film tells of two children named Ben (Oakes Fegley) and Rose (Millicent Simmonds). Ben, in ‘77, mourns his mother’s passing and pines for the father he never knew while Rose, in ‘27, fancies after an iconic actress of the silent screen named Lillian Mayhew (Julianne Moore), who’s visage and persona is cribbed from the great Lillian Gish as an homage.
Ben and Rose, though separated by 50 years, find themselves down similar paths on their individual roads to enlightenment, and while a few of the twists in their tales may be easy to anticipate, they’re told with insight, emotion, peculiarity, and grace.
Conjuring imagery and ideas from George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead is effectively and frighteningly utilized in the new film from Bertrand Bonello (House of Pleasures), Nocturama. A terrorism thriller about a massive manhunt after a group of young, multiracial radicals (including Manal Issa, Hamza Meziani, and Finnegan Oldfield) wreak terrorist attacks on Paris before heading to the shopping mall.
Unsettling, and unconventional, Nocturama is the sort of film that polarizes critics and audiences. The Hollywood Reporter’s Jordan Mintzer praised “Bonello’s assured stylistic hand, which mixes fluid Steadicam shots with an array of tantalizing soundtrack choices, as well as an elliptical narrative that brings a handful of characters together in captivating ways, especially in the film’s suspenseful first half.”
For an arthouse horror experiment and an exercise in stylish cool, you won’t do better than Nocturama. If you like risk-taking cinema this is a film for you.
16. The Ornithologist
Portuguese filmmaker (and himself a former ornithologist) João Pedro Rodrigues’ fifth feature is a challenging, confounding, and poetic tour de force. The gorgeous widescreen photography from Rui Poças adds layers to the mysterious beauty portrayed onscreen as Fernando (Paul Hamy), the eponymous ornithologist (an expert on birds), finds himself paddling a remote river fjord in search of a rarely seen black stork.
As the film gently unswirls it becomes both a modern-day parable of sexual and spiritual self-discovery as well as miracuously reimagining the mythic journey of St. Anthony of Padua (canonized the patron saint of lost things and missing people).
“A masterpiece,” wrote Sight and Sound’s Tom Charity, adding that it’s “an extraordinarily rich, unpredictable fever dream.” Don’t miss it.
15. The Divine Order
A funny, crowd-pleasing picture dealing with the women’s suffrage movement and struggle for voting rights? You betcha!
Set in the Switzerland of the early 1970s and punctuated by comedic flourishes with a resilient soft-touch from director Petra Volpe revisits the equal rights fight with the crowd-pleasing picture, The Divine Order. While it’s a story told through fictional characters, it still makes for an eye-opening and highly effective social and political history lesson, though it never once feels like a sermon.
“There is a tiger between my legs, Hans, and I’ve never had an orgasm!” says an empowered Nora (Marie Leuenberger) to her thunderstruck husband (Max Simonischek), uneasily at odds in their old school town that’s slowly being brought up to pace with the rest of the world.
Ultimately, The Divine Order is one that’s not so easily upset by the courage of women who deserve, desire, and secure the standing and sublimity they deserve, and this exquisite underdog narrative from Volpe will remain relevant and enraptured for some time.