Year in and year out, movies are promoted for their craft and celebrated for the impact they make on the world’s collective consciousness. At this time of year, they fall under scrutiny from awards associations for reasons that have less to do with cinema and more to do with campaign strategies. Historically, popular entertainment fairs better than other types that do not fit into a neat category. There are exceptions, but it comes down to the diversity and specific function of a voter base. Here is a list of overrated movies from 2017 and the hidden gems that got lost in the awards circuit shuffle.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Let’s get this one out of the way first. Critics threw writer-director Rian Johnson a big bone for taking the franchise to new places, if only slightly because the series began 40 years ago and shows no signs of ending soon. This could be the best Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back and the most visually distinctive so far with Luke’s neo-medieval hideout and the use of the color red as a motif, especially in an arresting throne room scene featuring the movie’s beating heart, Rey and Kylo Ren. However, Johnson’s bold narrative is tainted with a weird sense of self-worship and ironic humor with new characters dropping out of the sky and others created solely to sell toys. There is always next year, and probably forever at this rate.
Stephen King’s American pastoral shot straight to the top of the zeitgeist on a rainy day in September. At the time, the domestic box office was saying its last words and needed a killer coming-of-age clown to creep up and fill theatre seats. They came in droves and stayed for the Stand by Me vibes, Stranger Things actor Finn Wolfhard and ‘80s nostalgia. Other than that, the R-rated movie coasts by on the efforts of its young cast and lots of jump scares.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
In this case, a movie is only as good as its ending. The audience is supposed to believe, after senseless violence and hatred is exchanged, two opposing figures (a drunken racist and a grieving mother) get in a car together and ride off into the horizon. It is the kind of ending that might trivialize some of what came before it in a script that mostly crackles with wit and vitality. The best aspect that nearly eclipses the movie’s flaws is Frances McDormand’s fiercely determined performance as Mildred Hayes, a middle-of-America woman who lives knowing her daughter’s killer walks free in a crazy, changing world.
Political films and film in general should convert and unite audiences with effective storytelling despite their timeliness or cultural resonance. Steven Spielberg should have made a statement about a political figure like Oliver Stone did with JFK, Nixon and Snowden. He is a master craftsman, technician and timekeeper reinforced by great performances from the infinitely watchable Tom Hanks and especially Meryl Streep. However, that does not overshadow the fact that these historical events are masquerading too overtly as a rallying cry for the anti-Trump agenda. The Post is an invigorating piece of feminist cinema while other journalism movies such as All the President’s Men and Medium Cool pack more of a political punch.
There is evidence that Jordan Peele should work behind the camera from here on out. His voice is needed in a realm all his own of social psychology movies that defy genre, but what makes his effort here so effective is also what makes it less ambiguous. The movie should be saluted for its audacious use of white liberal racism as the basis for a horror thrill ride, even if sometimes that’s all it is. While the movie is worthy of its several horror influences, it should be distinguished from the conversation it sparks. Much of that dialogue concerns what the emerging director will do next.
Watching Darren Aronofsky’s latest mindbender is a crazy cinematic trip. It is one of the finest films of the year and the most shocking of the past decade. As might be expected, nobody went to see it, those who did hated it and it was shut out by every awards organization. Featuring phantasmagoric cinematography and an octagonal production house where the scenes take place, it rests on the shoulders of Jennifer Lawrence, who goes to hell and back in a story that starts out as a chamber romance turned pitch-black comedy, then spirals out of control into an assaulting allegory about mankind’s tarnation of Mother Earth.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Another great movie that never caught a break is Yorgos Lanthimos’ absurdist horror flick. It is adapted from the Greek myth Iphigenia, making it the Greek director’s most accessible work to date. Starring Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman as soulless suburbanites, the story makes a hairpin turn for the worst when their family’s bliss is interrupted by life’s impossible sacrificial conundrum. It features a breakout performance from Barry Keoghan who also appeared in Christopher Nolan’s World War II project, Dunkirk.
Sofia Coppola achieves feminist edge subconsciously, as is the language of all her work (The Virgin Suicides, Lost In Translation). It is one of the classiest pieces of pulp fiction or trash art that showcases a trio of knockout performances from Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning as repressed schoolhouse women of the American Civil War in 1864. The writer-director turns an old Clint Eastwood vehicle into a moral tale of desire that morphs into an intoxicating spell aided by Southern Gothic cinematography and setting. After taking home the Best Director prize at Cannes, the movie never gained much traction even though it had a considerable amount of commercial appeal.
South Korean director Bong Joon-ho continues his purposefully idiosyncratic streak with his foray into Netflix about a girl who rescues her genetically modified pet super pig. It could be the fact that it came out on a streaming service that most people dismissed it, but it has much to offer including Tilda Swinton’s environmental baddie and a Jake Gyllenhaal performance that is so wonderfully deranged it rivals Tom Cruise in Magnolia. Also, the special effects should have easily beat Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 for an Oscar nomination.
Kristen Stewart, proving once again (although nobody is listening) that she is a leading actress of her generation, has made a name for herself in France by way of the post-new wave auteur, Olivier Assayas. In Personal Shopper, she plays a medium and celebrity fashion assistant in Paris who tries to connect with the ghost of her recently deceased twin brother. Understandably, that might not be everyone's idea of a good time. It was polarizing at its Cannes premiere but has since been lauded for its realist and formalist elements that dive deep into a haunted psychology of the soul and modern connection.
From there, Stewart’s Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson starred in an electrifying neo-noir called Good Time; A Ghost Story was another supernatural drama that put Casey Affleck under a sheet for nearly the entire running time. From last year’s Sundance festival there is a string of overlooked indies: The Little Hours (a hilarious and poignant medieval nun comedy), Ingrid Goes West (Aubrey Plaza’s dark social media satire) and Kyle Mooney of “Saturday Night Live” writing and starring in Brigsby Bear. Beyond that, there were two noteworthy directorial debuts in the homecoming drama Columbus and the erotic, hyper-masculine thriller Beach Rats This should be a good start on all of last year’s movies that are still sitting in the dark.
Edited by Claire Colby | firstname.lastname@example.org