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The 10 best movies of 2017 you probably never heard of

You know the blockbusters. You know the award contenders. We covered many of those in those our top 50 ranking. But 2017 was such a strong year for movies that our rundown merely scratches the surface. Here are 10 overlooked films that could easily sit alongside the entries on the best-of list, and where you can track them down.

Super Dark Times

Of all the memorable films released this year, Super Dark Times stuck with me the most. It’s a harrowing experience, so tense that at times you’ll want to scream at the screen and watch through your fingers. Without spoiling any of its surprises, all that should be said is that the film is about how a single traumatic event changes the lives of a group of teenage friends. The fact that the film is completely grounded in reality, not some fantasy world, makes it all the more affecting. It features some of the best, most natural performances of the year, and mostly from children!
Availability: Netflix

Brawl in Cell Block 99

For those who caught writer-director S. Craig Zahler’s debut, Bone Tomahawk, one of the best films of 2015, you know just how brutally violent things can get. Brawl in Cell Block 99 takes that idea and runs with it. Its B-movie premise is so perfectly absurd: A man with no other options reluctantly takes work as a drug runner, eventually gets caught, owes bad people money, and in order to pay off his debts is forced to commit escalating acts of violence in prison to get thrown in cell block 99 — the worst prison inside the worst prison — and kill another prisoner as penance. Oh, and the bad guys have kidnapped his wife, so he really has to get it done or else she and his unborn child will suffer. Did I mention it stars Vince Vaughn in one of the only roles of his career that actually utilizes his hulking strength and stature? If you love prison movies, you just got a new favorite.
Availability: Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube

Free Fire

English director Ben Wheatley, the man behind cult hits like Kill List and High-Rise, pulls off the unthinkable with Free Fire — he made me enjoy a Sharlto Copley performance! The film is set entirely in one-location, a giant warehouse, as an arms deal goes down between multiple gangs. Once the deal goes bad, the rest of the movie is just an 80-minute gunfight as the characters try to make it out alive, every man for himself. It’s a hilariously simple premise that sounds like a bad SNL sketch, but it somehow works, thanks, in part, to an amazing cast that features the likes of Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson, and Jack Reynor, who also stole the show in last year’s underrated Sing Street. It’s violent, very funny, and an incredible actors’ showcase.
Availability: Amazon Video (free with Prime), Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube

Thirst Street

Nathan Silver’s latest film, described by some as a “psychosexual drama,” is the eighth film he has made in eight years. It’s about an American flight attendant who, after the suicide of her lover, goes home with a bartender while in Paris on a layover. It’s not long before she relocates and starts planning her life around running into this man again, and the film takes a disturbing stalker-ish turn. Thirst Street is basically an 80-minute car wreck; you’re cringing the whole time just waiting for the impact. Lindsay Burdge, whom you may recognize from Netflix’s Easy or Karyn Kusama’s excellent The Invitation, totally carries the film — without her terrific performance, the movie could easily have wound up striking the wrong note. And it’s gorgeously shot to boot!
Availability: Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube

Natasha

Natasha is likely the darkest — and most impactful — coming-of-age tale you’ll see onscreen this year. Adapted from his own short story, writer-director David Bezmozgis’s film captures the immigrant experience in modern-day Toronto. Mark, a 16-year-old pot-dealing slacker, is forced to spend his summer days with 14-year-old Natasha, the daughter of a Russian mail-order bride his uncle is marrying. Natasha’s, shall we say, disturbing upbringing comes into focus as the teenagers’ forbidden romance blossoms, and tragedy seems imminent. It’s not the most delightful or pleasant film to watch, but it will surely leave a mark.
Availability: Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube

Stronger

It’s hard to understand why Stronger flew under the radar. Even with subject matter this deeply upsetting, an A-list lead and Oscar-worthy performances should have been enough to make an impact. Anchored by a devastating Jake Gyllenhaal in one of his best roles yet, the film is the moving true story of Jeff Bauman, a survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing featured in a viral photograph. It’s certainly an inspiring story, but before it gets there, it’s a depressing, often brutal look at the complexities of becoming a symbol for something bigger than yourself, and the impact it has on one’s psyche. The rare tearjerker that earns its stripes through terrific, human filmmaking.
Availability: Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube

Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer

Richard Gere has spent the past few years racking up indie film cred (check out Time Out of Mind if you want to be sad for two hours), and with Norman he has truly outdone himself. The film tells the story of Norman Oppenheimer, a small-time New York fixer, desperately trying to make connections between anyone who will listen. After he (methodically) befriends a politician who winds up becoming the prime minister of Israel, his life changes for the better. But as his political influence grows, so does the potential scrutiny, and the viewer is left wondering how long before it all comes crashing down. While it may not sound exciting on paper, Gere is sublime in the role, and the film manages to be incredibly engaging the entire time. A small film, but a damned good one!
Availability: Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube

Colossal

Certainly one of the most unique films of the year, Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal is subtle in portraying its central metaphor. It stars Anne Hathaway as an alcoholic, unemployed writer who, after getting kicked out of her boyfriend’s fancy Manhattan apartment, moves back to her empty childhood home. Jason Sudeikis plays her old childhood friend, who immediately swoops in and tries to help get her life back together. Oh, and there’s a giant, Godzilla-like monster in South Korea that keeps causing destruction that you soon learn is controlled by Anne Hathaway, but only when she’s in a specific part of a playground. Confusing? Sure. Ambitious? Definitely! It’s a film about a woman losing, and then regaining, her power. Even though the giant monster rampaging a city/Anna Hathaway destroying her life metaphor is a bit on-the-nose, it works, for the most part, and the movie is a funny, subversive treat unlike anything else this year.
Availability: Hulu

Graduation

Graduation unfolds like a modern-day morality play — it forces the viewer to question what they would do if backed into such a corner, and it does so by weaving an incredibly unsettling tale. Romeo, an honest doctor in Romania, wants a better life for his daughter, Eliza. She is one exam away from getting a scholarship for a prestigious university. When Eliza is attacked the day before her test, her father is put to the test — how far will he go to protect his daughter’s future? It’s an expertly crafted masterpiece that will render you as anxious as its protagonist.
Availability: Netflix

Only the Brave

Despite its unfortunate timeliness, Only the Brave barely made a dent at the box office upon its release in October. Based on a true story, the film tells the story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a group of the best-of-the-best firefighters who risk their lives to protect towns from wildfires. It has a great cast (Josh Brolin! Jeff Bridges! Jennifer Connelly! Miles Teller!) and manages to weave an incredibly heartfelt narrative in the midst of all the firefighting action. In addition to all that, the inside-baseball details of how fighting wildfires actually works is fascinating and informative.
Availability: Pre-order on Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube for Jan. 26 digital release.

Check out the podcast The New Flesh to hear about these movies, and many more!

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