The Underseen Films of 2017
I’m trying to keep all three of my lists separate this year. Meaning no overlaps on Overrated/Underrated/Underseen. I’m trying to include as much stuff as I can. Some things can easily be on all three lists if I wanted, but I want to shout out as much stuff as I can.
This one, more than anything, is about saying, “Hey, maybe you’ve heard of this, but chances are you haven’t seen it, and you should.” Or, even if you’re someone who has seen these movies — not all of your friends have. I want this list to be about the stuff that, past the big stuff you’ve heard of, that you’d tell people they should go out and see. Because man, there’s such great stuff out there that needs to be loved.
If I can get ten people to put one movie each from this list in their rotation of, “Hey guys, check out this one. It’s awesome,” then I’ve done my job. As someone who was that guy, who showed a room full of people an awesome movie they hadn’t seen before, we need more people like that to get more films out there.
Here are the great underseen films of 2017:
1. Brawl in Cell Block 99
I feel like Bone Tomahawk made this list two years ago for similar reasons. This is one of the most unique experiences you will have watching a movie. This is not for everyone, so don’t just put it on based solely on my recommendation. It’s a very violent movie at times. But it’s also way more than just some prison riot movie. He’s not even in prison until like 35 minutes into the movie. He doesn’t get to Cell Block 99 until much later. Trust me when I say there’s a lot here to like. If you’re one of the people who saw Bone Tomahawk on a recommendation like this one (from me or anyone else), and thought it was awesome (or at least appreciated how unique and fucked up it was), do yourself a favor and see this one too. It’s on Amazon Prime. This is one of the most unique entities you will see this year.
Most people, if they’ve heard of this at all, go, “Isn’t that the Anne Hathaway Godzilla movie?” And sure, that’s kind of what it is and how you sell it to people. But even if people dug a little bit past that, all they’d get is, “People seem to think it’s good.” But they’re still not watching it! And this is one of the most emotionally satisfying films of the year. There’s a lot to like about this movie, and not enough people actually sat down and watched it for whatever reason. If I thought this had any sort of audience, I’d have put it on the Underrated list yesterday. But I don’t think people ever actually went out to check this out. Which is such a shame.
I didn’t even particularly love the movie, but it was immaculately shot and was a really interesting film on a lot of levels. I think it’s one of those that, for better or worse, it should at least have had the benefit of the audience. John Cho gets to put in interesting dramatic work, which you rarely get to see him do, and Haley Lu Richardson is (to some) a revelation. I’ve admired her work from The Bronze (and Edge of Seventeen, and in Split), and here she shows why she’s one of the best up-and-coming actresses out there. This is one of those movies where — if you see it, I don’t think you’ll hate it. You might not like it, but there will be at least one element of this movie that you come out appreciating. And I think that makes this way more worth seeing than your third watch of whatever superhero movie or whatever. Just give it a shot. It deserves it.
4. Free Fire
Another one I could have called underrated if I thought enough people even saw it. People know about this movie, they just didn’t actually go in on it. This is destined to be that Netflix watch in a few years that people go and see a bunch because it’s fun and simple and easy to watch, but they never think about why it never did any well at the box office. Everyone thought it looked cool at the time. So now just go out and actually see it instead of letting it disappear into the ether.
5. Good Time
I’d say this is the one that most people would look at and go, “No, everyone knows about that. They’ve seen it.” No they haven’t. Just because the online film community has seen it doesn’t mean anyone knows what this is. And even if you think they do, you should still want to keep it out there and get more people to see it. Because most people I know who’ve seen this really like it. And if you really like something that didn’t do particularly well at the box office, despite critical acclaim (if you added up the box office total for every movie that’s appeared so far on this list, it would total to less than the fifth weekend of Spider-Man), you need to be trying to get as many people you like to see it as possible. This is a great thrill ride, a fantastic movie, and one of the times (which are happening with greater frequency recently) where I said, “Wow, Pattinson can really act.” Indie Spirit Awards aren’t enough. This is one of the best movies of the year and not enough people even know it exists.
Already forgotten. People don’t even know this came out. And even so, do people even know what it is? It’s the guy who did Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace and Black Mass and stars Christian Bale and Rosamund Pike. You hear that and you’re probably interested. And yet — nothing. A month in theaters and not even a million dollars at the box office. It’s slow, it’s austere, and it’s got something to say. You might be bored out of your face. It’s a western. Those aren’t for everyone. But based on those other three films, you at least owe this movie a watch. Don’t be that person.
7. Lady Macbeth
Possibly the greatest hidden gem of the year. This only made a million dollars at the box office. It’s not gonna be for everyone, but for anyone who really loves film, you owe it to yourself to check this one out. This is a hell of a movie. Gorgeously shot, a starmaking performance by Florence Pugh, and one of those movies that grabs your attention in such subtle and wonderful ways. I’m shocked not more people have seen this. I’ve given this to like a dozen people to watch, and I can guarantee you probably ten of them haven’t bothered to put it on. And probably seven of them intended to, but haven’t gotten around to it and probably won’t get around to it without severe prodding to do so. This is just that kind of movie. And that’s exactly why it needed to be on this list. I gotta do my part to at least get one of those people to put it on.
Obvious Child was such an indie darling a few years ago. Everyone loved it, and it made all the lists of ‘this was really lovely and people should check it out’. That was the trendy underseen film of 2014. And now, the director’s sequel — it’s not even getting that treatment. And I don’t know why. Because it’s lovely. Written by women, directed by a woman, and starring Jenny Slate, John Turturro and Edie Falco. I’m shocked by how few people know this exists. And I show them the opening five minutes of the movie and they go, “This looks great.” It’s funny, it’s charming, it’s sweet, and it has great performances. Criminally underseen, this movie is.
9. Loving Vincent
They made a movie entirely out of 65,000 oil paintings. Do you understand what I am saying? They painted 65,000 paintings. On canvases. And then they edited those paintings together. To make a movie. At that point, you should say ‘fuck you’ to almost every other animated movie that came out this year, because none of them tried as hard as this movie did. This movie did better at the box office than you’d expect, but even if you average that out to average ticket price, less than 750,000 in the U.S. went to a theater to see this. That’s not enough. By comparison, about the same amount of people saw The Emoji Movie in its third weekend as this movie got in its entire theatrical run. Fucking go out and see this movie, because it’s one of the greatest artistic achievements of the year.
10. Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer
Why is it that every year there’s another Richard Gere movie that no one knows about? This movie was great! And no one knows it exists! I’ve been talking this one up to people since like, April. It’s so good. Gere is amazing, and it’s one of those movies that, if ten people saw it, at least four of them will really like it. This is one of those true hidden gems for the year.
Another movie that is just a gem that not enough people know about. Terrific performances all around, and a captivating story that was written and directed by a woman. Quietly came out and made $500,000 in theaters. It’s one of those movies with a somewhat limited subject matter, but those are the movies that need to be championed the most. Because it’s so easy to not see them. It’s so easy to just watch that comfort movie or TV show for the dozenth time. But movies like this deserve your time.
This is the Netflix entry of the year. There are a few I can shout out — Wheelman, Tramps, Our Souls at Night, Shimmer Lake, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, The Incredible Jessica James (I really need to write up a giant article ranking all the Netflix original movies, because there are some gems in there) — but this feels like the poster child. Netflix never puts out their metrics, so we don’t know how many people saw this. We know film Twitter (and internet people) saw it, but what does that mean? How many parents saw this? How many people not connected to movies saw this? There are a bunch of great Netflix movies out there that no one knows about. And they need to be seen.
13. Patti Cake$
This sold for a lot of money at Sundance last year. It was bought to be the indie darling and breakout hit and potential Oscar contender of the year. And then somewhere along the way it got totally lost. It came out quietly in August, no one saw it, despite really positive reviews. And everyone I know who saw it was completely charmed by it. It’s not straying too far from the formula you’d expect from a movie like this, but it wins completely on uniqueness and charm. Danielle Macdonald is a revelation, and Bridgett Everett is incredible. This is like Lady Bird meets 8 Mile. The director wrote all the raps! And they’re good! I can’t believe this has been so underseen, because this is a movie that will be really enjoyed by almost anyone who sees it.
I almost put Prevenge here. But that’s deservedly one of those fucked up little gems that almost deserves not to get overhyped. It’s better to just slip it to people and see their reaction and get it out there that way. This movie, though — this is the kind of fucked up that deserves to be seen. This was so awesome. This was the one you might have caught wind of because the right people were talking it up. But that still doesn’t mean enough people saw it. Some people deliberately skipped it because they thought it would be too much for them to handle. But trust me, it’s worth it.
15. Their Finest
The third Dunkirk movie of the year. This was randomly the one where people all over the map would bring up over the course of the year and go, “I saw that. It was good!” Because this is the charming British ensemble film of the year. The Full Monty, the Four Weddings and a Funeral, the… what was that one from a few years ago with the gay pride… oh, Pride. This is that. One of those movies you can enjoy without any strenuousness.
16. Wind River
This is the only movie on this entire list that made more than $6 million in theaters. The only one. It’s one of two that made over $5 million. Only one other movie crossed $6 million. The rest are under $4 million and, as of this posting, 8 of them are under $2 million. (Fun fact: The $6 million movie is Loving Vincent.) Yet, even though this made $33 million, I can’t help but feel no one actually went to see this. And you know what? I don’t even care if enough people did. I still think this is underseen. If not, okay, call it underrated. I don’t care. I think that this is a movie I need to start pounding the table for to get people to watch it, because otherwise it becomes the less talked about cousin to Hell or High Water and Sicario. And that’s unfair. Because this movie is great. Sure, it’s slow, and it wants to talk about injustice when some people just want gunfights, but this is a very good movie and more people ought to have seen it.
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