Exclaim!'s 8 Most Underrated Films of 2017

2017 in Lists

BY Exclaim! StaffPublished Jan 3, 2018

The gap between blockbusters and indie films has grown so large that one could reasonably consider any film outside of a Disney-owned franchise to be underrated. Still, 2017 saw plenty of obscurities slip through the ever-growing cracks. From action-packed beat-em-ups to life-affirming documentaries and formula-ditching comedies, here are eight films that deserve another shot. 

Brawl in Cell Block 99
(Directed by S. Craig Zahler)

It's hard to imagine that Vince Vaughn was ruining True Detective and making shitty comedies about Google internships mere years ago. With Brawl in Cell Block 99, he's proven himself to be the wise-cracking action hero we never knew we needed. Directed by Bone Tomahawk's S. Craig Zahler, this unfathomly gritty action thriller is perfectly placed. Yes, there are plenty of skull-crushing fight scenes, but it's less of a broad beat-em-up and something altogether more substantial.
Josiah Hughes

Brigsby Bear
(Directed by Dave McCary)

While so many Saturday Night Live cast members have struggled to make the leap to the big screen, Kyle Mooney transitions to a cinematic world of higher stakes and deeper emotions far more seamlessly than some might have expected with Brigsby Bear. Working with regular collaborators from his Good Neighbor sketch troupe that was formed prior to their time on SNL (co-star Beck Bennett and director Dave McCary), it's a sweet, subtly affecting story about the cathartic release of creativity. Mooney channels the awkward persona he's spent years cultivating into a funny but surprisingly tender performance as a naïve and damaged soul slowly discovering there's an entire world he never even knew existed.  
Kevin Scott

It Comes at Night
(Directed by Trey Edward Shults)

Before he was the world's only ever orc cop movie star, Joel Edgerton showcased his subtler side with It Comes at Night. From director Trey Edward Shults (Krisha), the film was an allegorical horror-thriller not unlike Get Out or The Witch. Unlike those films, however, It Comes at Night likely didn't find a massive audience because of its aforementioned subtlety. Rather than beat you over the head with a premise or message, the film is decidedly creepier, staying open to interpretation and provoking plenty of conversation. For those reasons, it's worth more attention than it received.
Josiah Hughes

(Directed by Daniel Espinoza)

In a year that gave us Alien: Covenant, another bloated entry in the rapidly stagnating Alien franchise, 2017's other extraterrestrial horror film, Life, was a welcome and refreshing reminder of the format that made the original Alien so successful. Life doesn't reinvent the wheel — rather, it works with established conventions seen in other "alien lifeform terrorizes spaceship crew" thrillers and executes them with aplomb. It's a tight, tense, creepy and occasionally darkly funny film with a truly horrifying twist ending. Written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, the team behind Zombieland and Deadpool, Life made modest bank at the box office. Trailers and marketing failed to depict a film that, despite its familiar premise, stood out amongst the multitude of space horror duds, and audiences expecting just another scary alien movie skipped out. 
Laura Di Girolamo

(Directed by Bong Joon Ho)

If Netflix's many health documentaries still haven't made you seriously rethink eating animals, try Okja Snowpiercer director Bong Joon Ho's thought-provoking, homeward bound rescue movie that used a CGI super-pig to kick start a conversation about food scarcity and industrialized farming. It's a beautiful-looking film, too, which somehow makes its release even more depressing. (Despite the filmmaker's wishes for a semi-proper theatrical run, Netflix only streamed it in select New York City and Los Angeles theatres, meaning few have seen the movie the way it was meant to be seen.)
Matthew Ritchie

Person to Person
(Directed by Dustin Guy Defa)

Perhaps a little too comfortable in its relaxed vibe, Person to Person did not cry out for audiences to check it out. And that's a damn shame, because Dustin Guy Defa's New York-set comedy is both breezy and warm, offering crackling soul and eye-popping cinematography along with its collection of subtle short stories. From a record collector getting scammed on his big score to Michael Cera as a bumbling journalist and Tavi Gevinson as a teen with Degrassi levels of melodrama, Person to Person is a comedic hug that served as one of 2017's best kept secrets.
Josiah Hughes

(Directed by Jonathan Olshefski)

A documentary about a low-income family in North Philadelphia, Quest uses its decade-long timeline to explore racial tensions, the broken American health care system and the power of family. It's a truly sobering film that will undoubtedly force you to reckon with your own privilege, but ultimately it pays off by depicting the triumph of the human spirit. 
Josiah Hughes

(Directed by Pavan Moondi)

Injecting some life into the classic buddy comedy genre, Pavan Moondi's Sundowners wrings laughs and pathos from the carefree aimlessness of youth colliding with the impending responsibilities of adulthood. With solid chemistry from newcomers Phil Hanley and Born Ruffians' Luke Lalonde as a pair of hapless wedding photographers filming a seemingly doomed destination wedding, there's plenty of room in the margins for nice supporting work from the likes of Nick Flanagan, Nick Thorburn and a scene-stealing Tim Heidecker. The locale is sunny and picaresque, the script is smart and amiably episodic and Canadian comedies just don't come much better than this. 
Kevin Scott

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