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The Underrated Films of 2017

Today, we discuss the underrated films of 2017. (You can see the Overrated films list here.) Unlike Overrated, where you can call pretty much anything you want overrated and be right (and get people upset with you, which is my favorite part because — you think I care about any of it), underrated is a tricky thing. What makes a movie underrated? What separated underrated from underseen? Sometimes people aren’t talking up a movie enough because not enough people even know it exists. That’s why we have tomorrow’s list, which are the films more people need to see.

Broad strokes, I think the way to describe this list is — there’s more here than meets the eye. Like Transformers. It does not mean that you had to like the movie. It just means that there’s more here to appreciate than you might think. There are preconceived notions about a movie — or just a narrative that has been created once it came out — and there’s just more to it than that.

Here are the underrated films of 2017:

1. Battle of the Sexes

I can’t stop thinking about how this film was structured. I think, on its own, the film we were sold — the match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs — was a disappointment. However, the film gave us two other elements that I was not so much expecting that turned out to be more interesting than the film we thought we were gonna watch. To me, the match itself is an afterthought compared to everything else it set up. The first act, with her and her fellow female tennis players breaking away from the tennis association to start their own out of protest with unequal purses between men and women, is great. And the middle part, with her exploring her sexuality and attraction to a woman, was also great. My point to this is — here’s a movie that is generally thought of as a potential Oscar contender that wasn’t. It came out, people heard about it, not a lot of people saw it, and I think while there is a lot of good will out there, people are likely either thinking (ignorant of whether or not they want to see it if they haven’t), “That didn’t really go over, did it? no one nominated that for anything,” or, “Oh, yeah, it’s about the match.” And I think it’s a much better film than ‘just’ being about the match. And even though it didn’t land at the awards as much as maybe they’d hoped, it’s a really solid film. And I think, once all that dust settles, people are gonna come around on what an interesting movie this is.

2. Blade Runner 2049

You might have this on yesterday’s list. I wasn’t gonna put it on either. But I’ve seen this two… and a half times now. (I started it a third time and wasn’t able to finish it.) The more I see this, the more I keep thinking about it. I think there’s so much here to think about that this is one of those treasures that will keep on giving. So no matter what you thought about it… I think there’s more going on here than whatever your initial reaction was. The hardcore Blade Runner people who were disappointed in this… I think there’s more to it than that. It’s asking a lot of big questions and building things out a lot. And the hardcore fans who loved it… I think there’s more to it than just a solid continuation of the Blade Runner story. I just feel like this is one of those movies that has a lot more to offer the more you watch it. And I don’t think you can end up with a singular opinion after just one watch.

3. The Boss Baby

Nothing but respect for my president. I wasn’t gonna put this here, just because you’d think I was kidding, and because… this movie has sort of become my brand. (I’m sorry… #brand.) I’ve made enough jokes about it (both serious and not) that I don’t even know if this is a good movie anymore. But no joke, I had two people tell me I had to put this here. Unironically. I mentioned I was putting up an underrated movies list and asked if they had a few that sprung to mind immediately. Just because, after a certain point, I can’t see the forest for the trees and can no longer differentiate between underrated and underseen. They said, “The Boss Baby.” And I laughed and said, “Yeah.” And they went, “No, seriously,” and proceeded to tell me how it was a way better movie than they thought it would be. Sure, my antics made them watch the movie, but the response was the response. It’s actually kind of a fun movie! There’s a real story there, and it doesn’t get as insane as these animated, non-Disney/Pixar movies tend to be. I think it’s either been dismissed as a dumb kids movie or, “Yeah, I get it, it’s funny to say it’s amazing” without actually thinking it’s very good. I’m gonna straight up say — this is a good movie. I think we need to start appreciating that.

4. Detroit

This movie got forgotten the last half of the year. I think what happened with this was that it came out, everyone went, “We get it. 1967, 2017. Similarities. Kathryn Bigelow, great director, really good movie.” But I think once it checked those boxes, people left it alone. I think there’s more to this movie than just “shit’s still bad.” I think there’s a really well constructed movie here that, while flawed, has a lot of really terrific things about it. And I think it’s just been undervalued.

5. Downsizing

I didn’t particularly like this movie, but the fact that this came out, got… not shredded but it got the kind of reviews that made even people excited for this not see it. And as much as I think this is a disappointment, I do think there’s a lot going on here and a lot to like. I think it’s too quickly being dismissed and that it deserves more of a fair shake. I heard someone (one person, but still, they’re out there) say they loved this movie. I think this is one of those movies people are unfairly tossing aside. I think there’s a lot more here to like than you might think based on the ‘meh’ reviews.

6. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

It’s making money and people are loving it, but do you realize just how much of an achievement this was? It’s easy to make a $100 million movie that people enjoy. But to make one that’s actually smart, and entertaining, and can be liked by most people is really difficult. This felt like a movie I’d have watched growing up. I don’t feel like that about most of these kinds of movies. They’re fun, they’re fine, and I might really like them, but they feel too modern. This felt really throwback. Maybe it’s just the level of the writing and performances here. I don’t know. Again, not a perfect movie, but this movie feels like it was well conceived from top to bottom. All the little things are done right. It didn’t feel like they just slapped a story on the screen. It felt like they thought this one out down to the extras in certain places. So, sure, you might not think this is overrated at first glance, but it’s really impressive to me just how much fun this was. And the more I think about it, the more I like it. And I haven’t come across many movies like this that are, across the board, enjoyed by everyone. To me, the ability to make a movie like this is so underrated, and I’ll keep putting stuff like this on here no matter how much it seems like it shouldn’t belong.

7. Logan Lucky

Everyone knew about this movie, so few people saw it. And the general feeling was always, “Oh yeah. Was it good? I couldn’t tell.” And it’s like, “Yeah it was good!” Another one of those movies that people don’t realize just how well put together it is. Even people who saw it and liked it — I don’t think they realize just how high the replay value is on a movie like this. Just give this one about five years, and I think it’ll start getting the kind of appreciation it deserves.

8. The Lost City of Z

James Gray movies have been featured in articles like this for years. They just haven’t been in mine until now. I always like his movies, but I never felt they were truly underappreciated. This one, though — man. This is a well constructed movie that I think has broader appeal than it might seem. It’s not quite the previous two entries on the list, but it’s a really great movie. And it’s stuck in that mode where it was critically acclaimed, made a lot of top ten lists for people with… classier tastes, I guess is the proper term, and yet the public at large really doesn’t know much about it. But it’s available on Amazon Prime, and I feel like it’s one of those movies that people don’t realize is truly great. This is legitimately one of the best films of the year. It might not be your favorite, but I think more people should appreciate what this accomplishes.

9. Mother!

Feel however you want to about it, but just because you didn’t like it doesn’t mean that it’s not incredibly well put together and that there isn’t a lot of really interesting stuff going on here. To me, this is one of the most interesting films of the year, and to just dismiss it as overdone and overblown completely misses the point. Of all the movies that came out this year, this is in the top five percent of ones that make you think about them afterward. That is such an undervalued trait. And I think that this one… it didn’t crash and burn, but it definitely gained a sort of notoriety for being divisive. And I think, for good or bad… it definitely felt underappreciated in terms of what it was doing and what it was going for. There’s some great stuff here. Crazy, but great.

10. Murder on the Orient Express

This is that movie that looked great at the outset, then not so great in all the previews, and then when it came out, everyone was like, “meh plus.” And I was almost dissuaded from seeing it because of that. At least in the theater. And when I did go to see it (in 70mm, which was a great decision), I loved it. I couldn’t understand why people were so mixed on this. Sure, you know the story, and the movie’s giving you what you came there to see, but why is that ever a bad thing? YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’RE GETTING. And you get it, and it’s fun, and it works, and it gives you the theater experience you want to get. This is, to me, one of the most underrated and undervalued movies of the year. Legitimately one of my favorite movies of the year, and I can’t understand the lukewarm reaction it got.

11. Phantom Thread

I might be stretching it, but I’ve seen this movie twice now (once in 70mm), and this keeps unfolding more treasures each time I watch it. This is already underrated. Even with the great reviews, and the class factor of Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis. This is already gonna end up being one of those weird, overlooked movies on a great director’s filmography. Seeing this movie for me immediately made me think of Barry Lyndon. How you go into it going, “It’s Kubrick, I’m sure it’ll be good.” And you come out going, “Why was I so invested in that?” This is underrated because this movie is a giant that is being treated as a prize show horse. It’s gonna get a modicum of attention during awards season, but not enough that it’ll really be out there. And it’ll just sort of recede away, fondly remembered but not much more than that. And I think this is a legitimate masterpiece. This one’s still being received by people, but I’ve already got my money on underrated. I also think there’s such great universal themes here about art and artist and the artist’s relation to their work that haven’t even begun to be explored yet.

12. Roman J. Israel, Esq.

This will be the movie that will have benefitted the most from time. Because this movie should have been beloved. And I don’t know why it’s not. Some people wanted Nightcrawler again. Some people maybe formed an opinion after a too-long cut appeared at one of the festivals and the reviews for it were so-so. Some people just didn’t think the subject matter sounded interesting. But man, this is one of the best movies of the year. An incredible character study, with great work all around by the cast, and a movie that keeps rewarding you every time you see it. I’m amazed at how underrated this has been.

13. Stronger

Destined to be the forgotten Boston Marathon movie. People saw Patriot’s Day, it was meh, and then nine months later they heard this was happening and were like, “Why do I need to see that?” You think it’s about the event. You hear it’s about the guy and you’re like, “Sure, the guy at the event. We get it.” But there’s so much more going on here that’s great. The way they show the guy’s life. His family. The performances of Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany. I would say, in the realm of what movies this year were truly underrated, this might be #1. There are a lot of people who haven’t seen this. And if they even know what it is (which is a fair amount, surprisingly), most of them don’t really know what this is. And even if you tell them it’s good, they still have that preconceived notion about what it is. This movie is the epitome of, “Whatever you think this is, it’s not, and it’s better.”

14. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

That’s right, I said it. It’s underrated. Everyone dismissed it as brightly colored garbage. If that’s the case, then what is Marvel? Here, I saw a completely original (based on a graphic novel, but it’s not exactly Watchmen, you know?) movie that creates its own universe and is trying to build something from the ground up. Is it perfect? No. Is it running the broad strokes Fifth Element playbook? Absolutely. But are other movies not running other movies’ playbooks? Let’s not pretend like Wonder Woman reinvented that wheel. This is a visually sumptuous thrill ride that gives you something you haven’t seen before. And people just instantly dismissed this on every level. I still don’t understand how something like this is less worthwhile than the Avengers, where they just throw characters together with barely any sort of plot or story. I thought this was one of the most underappreciated movies of the year.

15. Wonder

It made a lot of money and people love it, but truly… how hard is it to do a movie like this and not fuck it up? I was shocked that this was even watchable, let alone really good. Even if you think people are going overboard on their praise for this, you still need to appreciate a movie that takes a genre that has basically died because it’s so impossible to do right anymore (it’s like if they make a good rom com. What’s the last one of those you saw?) and breathes life into it. You can’t put a price on that.

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One response

  1. I would include Captain Underpants in my list as well.

    January 17, 2018 at 8:06 am

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