The Film Gems of 2017

Ron Swanson looks at forthcoming gems from current and emerging talents


In our previous two looks ahead at 2017, we’ve considered the films likely to contend for BAFTA and Oscar recognition, and the films that should provide the biggest bang for your blockbuster buck at the box-office. Today’s preview is a slight change of pace, focusing, instead, on some of the films that you might not be as aware of, being made by some of the world’s brightest cinematic talents (I’ll also discuss, a little, a couple of long-awaited franchise films).


One of the year’s most important festivals is Sundance, when several of the US’s best filmmakers premiere their new films. At last year’s festival, the buzz for Birth of a Nation and Manchester by the Sea was intense, and the latter has ridden that all of the way to becoming an undeniable awards contender. Gillian Robespierre’s last film, the excellent Obvious Child, debuted at the festival, and her latest – Landline, once again a collaboration with the wonderful Jenny Slate, will do the same. Set in 1995, the film is a family comic-drama about two sisters coming to terms with their father’s affair. Alongside Slate, Edie Falco and John Turturro co-star.

Sean Baker’s remarkable Tangerine was another Sundance hit, and his follow-up, The Florida Project is likely to be released in 2017. Having filmed Tangerine on an iPhone, he’s decided to do a 180, and is shooting The Florida Project on 70mm. The film tells the tale of a group of kids having an unbelievable summer at Disney World, while their parents are having a tougher time. Baker proved with Tangerine that he didn’t need a starry cast to elicit outstanding performances, but here he has Willem Dafoe, Caleb Landry Jones and indie darling Macon Blair in key roles.


It would be fair to say that Seven Psychopaths tarnished the star of Martin McDonagh, somewhat, but his follow-up Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing Missouri has me intrigued, mainly for the opportunity to see the great Frances McDormand headline a movie once more, and it would appear to be one heck of a role – a vengeful mother taking on the authorities she believes have covered up her daughter’s death. As always, McDonagh has attracted a starry supporting cast, including Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Abbie Cornish, John Hawkes, Clarke Peters and Manchester by the Sea’s breakout Lucas Hedges as her son, but this should be McDormand’s show.

Mektoub is Mektoub is Abdellatif Kechiche’s follow-up to his Cannes’ sensation Blue is the Warmest Colour. I adored that film, and Kechiche’s earlier Couscous, so am very excited to see what’s next. It’s an adaptation of the novel La Blessure, la Vraie written by Francois Begaudeau (who teamed up, so memorably, with Laurent Cantet’s The Class, an adaptation of his novel Entre Les Murs).

Joachim Trier made two of my favourite films of this century in Reprise and Oslo August 31st, and while I was underwhelmed by last year’s Louder than Bombs, I’m genuinely very excited to see what he does next. He’s back and working in Norway on Thelma, a film described as a romantic and supernatural thriller. That’s quite a departure from Trier’s more character-based studies so far, but he’s such a talented director, and even in his earlier stuff has always been able to spring a surprise on his audience that the move to more generic material could be a thrilling one.

Clio Barnard has made quite an impact in her first two films – The Arbor and, especially, The Selfish Giant, so her third film, Dark River, which tells the story of a woman who returns to her home village following the death of her father, after fifteen years away. Ruth Wilson stars in the lead role, and the film is said to have noir-ish, thriller-y overtones. Barnard has proven herself to be an exceptional filmmaker, and Dark River could be one of 2017’s hidden gems.

After It Follows, David Robert Mitchell’s next move was always going to be highly anticipated, and given that he’s once again changing genres, this time making a modern-day LA noir called Under the Silver Lake, excitement levels should be pretty high by the time this is released by the end of the year. American Honey breakout Riley Keough, Andrew Garfield, the criminally underused Jimmi Simpson and Girls star Zosia Mamet head the cast.

Lucia Aniello has been a key part of one of TV’s best comedies, having directed almost a dozen episodes of Broad City. In Rock that Body, she makes her feature debut, with Broad City’s Ilana Glazer in a key role. The film is a dark comedy about the death of a male stripper during a hen-weekend, which could understandably bring back bad memories of Very Bad Things, but I have enough trust in Aniello/Glazer to put those to the back of my mind, and the rest of the cast is exceedingly promising with Kate McKinnon, Scarlett Johansson and Zoe Kravitz taking lead roles, and Demi Moore, Jillian Bell and Ty Burrell in support.

If you’re a fan of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, the chances are high that you’re one of the handful of people who saw their underrated big-screen crime comedy Keanu earlier this summer. Now, Peele is stepping behind the camera for this intriguing horror project, for which he has assembled a knockout cast including Sicario’s Daniel Kaluuya, Girls alum Alison Williams, the uber-talented Keith Stanfield, Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener. It’s probably a film better experienced than discussed, so here’s the trailer.

Michael Haneke is not to everyone’s tastes, of course, but his last two movies have been amongst the best of the century. I’m not sure he’s the filmmaker to make a movie against the backdrop of the refugee crisis in Europe, but he’s working once more with Isabelle Huppert (who has had a wonderful 12 months, or so) and Jean-Louis Trintignant, and you know you’re going to be provoked, at the very least, by whatever he does.

Andrey Zvyagintsev came really close to creating cinematic perfection with Leviathan. He should be back in 2017 with his follow-up, Loveless, a story about a divorcing couple whose child goes missing, and must search for him in the midst of their acrimonious split.

Most of these films are exciting because of the talent behind the camera, but for You Were Never Really Here, it’s more the return to the big screen of Joaquin Phoenix (whose recent run is one for the ages: The Master, The Immigrant, Her, Inherent Vice and ignore the Woody Allen [as we all must]) that has me excited. For others, though, the return of Lynne Ramsay to the director’s chair will be a big draw, too. Ramsay hasn’t completed a film since the bafflingly overrated We Need to Talk About Kevin, so it will be interesting to see what she does here – adapting a novel by Jonathan Ames (Bored to Death) about a former FBI agent, whose investigation into sex trafficking brings him into conflict with a powerful New York politician. Alessandro Nivola co-stars.

Destin Daniel Cretton’s previous film, Short Term 12, featured a remarkable, awards-worthy performance from Brie Larson, who would go on to win for Room, just a couple of years later. His new film, The Glass Castle, sees director and star team up again, on an adaptation of Jeanette Walls’ best-seller. Larson will play Walls, the noted gossip-columnist, on whose early life the story focuses. Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts are playing her parents, with other key roles for unsung talents like Sarah Snook and Max Greenfield. The book is a remarkable read, and if Cretton can get the tone right, it could be a slamdunk festival hit.

Few directors feel more poised for breakout success than Andrew Haigh, whose first two features Weekend and 45 Years have been met with righteous, universal acclaim. His next film, Lean on Pete, would appear to be a change of pace, and sees him working in America for the first time on the big screen (in between his two films, he created a San Francisco-set TV show, called Looking, which is well worth a watch). The film is an adaptation of a novel by Willy Vlautin, the lead-singer and lyricist for alt-country band Richmond Fontaine. It’s a story about a teenage boy, and the connection he makes with an old racehorse while working at a race track in Oregon. The novel was highly acclaimed, and Haigh has assembled an excellent cast, including Thomas Mann, Steve Zahn, Steve Buscemi, Amy Seimetz and Chloe Sevigny, alongside relative newcomer Charlie Plummer in the lead role..

I would imagine that Yorgos Lanthimos could cast just about any actor in what he does next, given the remarkable performances he drew from his entire cast in The Lobster, which was a worthy follow-up to his extraordinary calling card Dogtooth. His next project appears to be an exceedingly dark and unpleasant tale – The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which sees Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman star. The thought of Lanthimos fully unleashing his twisted sensibility on a Hollywood audience is intoxicating.

There are a couple of 2017 films that are revisiting much loved franchises. Firstly, Ridley Scott’s return to the Alien franchise was underwhelming in just about every way, but one. Prometheus was a box-office hit, and as such, the option was always going to be there for the legendary director to have another go. He’s assured people that Alien: Covenant will see the franchise return to its roots. He told audiences at trade shows last year that he intends to “scare the shit out of audiences”. Alien holds a very special place in my heart, and the franchise going back to its horror movie origins is very exciting indeed.

Alien: Covenant isn’t Ridley’s only return to his past next year, as he’s also producing Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049. Villeneuve has just made (far and away) the best film of his career in the critically-acclaimed sci-fi Arrival, which bodes well for this. Harrison Ford returns to one of the more iconic roles in his remarkable career, and he’s joined by Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas and Jared Leto, while the trailer, below, features typically stylish cinematography from the great Roger Deakins.

It seemed like Behind the Candelabra might be Steven Soderbergh’s farewell to film – he announced as much. But, one of America’s great filmmakers has, thankfully, been convinced to return. His first film back Logan Lucky, sees him working in the heist-comedy genre, which we know he can knock out of the park. He’s assembled one of the year’s best casts with Katherine Waterston (off the back of star-making turns in Fantastic Beasts and Alien: Covenant), Adam Driver, Riley Keough, Sebastian Stan, Channing Tatum, Hilary Swank and Katie Holmes all lining up, and it’s such a joy to have him back that this should be one of the events of the year.

Kathryn Bigelow is the only female filmmaker to win the Best Director Oscar, and her new film seems like a good bet to catapult her into the midst of another awards race next year. After the excellence of The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, her Untitled Detroit Project is a film about the riots caused by a 1967 police raid. Writer/producer Mark Boal has once again provided the script, and the cast is unbelievably strong, including Short Term 12’s Kaitlyn Dever, John Boyega, Straight Outta Compton’s Jason Mitchell, Will Poulter, Anthony Mackie, Jack Reynor and John Krasinski. She’s, for my money, the best director of action in American cinema, and I expect this to be a thrilling, powerful and important movie.

If Bigelow is American cinema’s best action director, world cinema’s might just be Bong Joon-Ho, whose next film should arrive in the UK market before his last. While Snowpiercer remains in limbo with the Weinsteins, Okja has a distribution deal in place with Netflix. It may mean no traditional cinema release, but at least audiences will get a chance to see the work of a true master. Bong has co-written the script with Jon Ronson, and he’s cast Jake Gyllenhaal, Lily Collins, Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Steven Yeun and Giancarlo Esposito. Given that Okja is a massive animal, and the target for a multi-national corporation’s kidnap attempts, it’s fair to say that this should be another true original from one of our dearest filmmakers.

Paul Thomas Anderson and Dainel Day-Lewis

All previews should end on a note of hope, and so it is that I hope that Paul Thomas Anderson manages to complete and release his new film, the snappily named Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson Fashion Project before the end of 2017. Any Anderson film is cause for celebration, but a second collaboration with Daniel Day-Lewis is intoxicating. It’s set in 1950s London, which is yet another tableau for Anderson to leave his mark on. He has an extraordinary CV, filled with endlessly interesting and intelligent films, and there’s very little doubt in my mind that this will be another outstanding addition to his resumé.

Ron Swanson

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