We’re entering into the awards season of the movie calendar. Practically everyone who cares about movies is aware of the big name releases coming out, including Thor: Ragnarok, Justice League, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but the majority of films vying for contention will be released between now and the end of the year. Below are seven titles that you should not get lost in the box office shuffle between now and the end of the year because they’re films that should pop up on a number of year-end “Best Of 2017” lists and be heard from during Oscar season.
1. The Florida Project (Now Playing, Limited)
The Florida Project is the second film from director Sean Baker, who caught a lot of attention among critics with 2015’s Tangerine, a film about a day in the life of two transgender prostitutes on Christmas Eve in Hollywood that was shot entirely on iPhones. This follow-up, which was just reviewed very favorably on this very site, is about a 6-year-old girl’s summer in the shadow of Disney World. Baker populates this film with a lot of non-professional actors, including Brooklynn Prince who portrays the 6-year-old Moonee. Willem Dafoe, one of the few professional actors involved, also stars and word is that it’s one of the best performances of his career. There have been a lot of comparisons to last year’s Best Picture winner, Moonlight, as a sleeper best movie of the year. The Florida Project had a limited release in NY/LA on Oct. 6, expanded to 33 theaters this weekend, and will hopefully expand to even more over the next few weeks, but it’s probably unlikely to get a wide release (600 cinemas or more).
2. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Oct. 20)
Director Yorgos Lanthimos is one of those unique European directors whose style does not mesh very well with the Hollywood studios or mainstream American audiences. Regardless, or perhaps because of that, I have a fondness for his films and am greatly interested in whatever his latest film is. 2009’s Dogtooth is one of the most surreal and disturbing family dramas you will ever see. The Lobster (my favorite film of 2016) is a darkly comedic film about a society that requires people to be married or be turned into an animal of their choosing. It’s also an eerily prescient film about polarization of society. The Killing of a Sacred Deer has Lanthimos re-teaming with his star of The Lobster, Colin Farrell. It seems to be less comedic or absurd and more of a twisted psychological horror about a family who lets a strange teenage boy into their midst. Nicole Kidman also stars, as does Barry Keoghan, who some people might recognize as George from Dunkirk.
3. Lady Bird (Nov. 3)
Greta Gerwig is one of my favorite actresses, having given incredible performances in movies like Damsels in Distress, Frances Ha, Mistress America, and Maggie’s Plan in the last few years. She also helped co-write Frances Ha and Mistress America along with Noah Baumbach. Lady Bird is Gerwig’s solo writing and directing debut. The film stars Saoirse Ronan as a teen/young adult living in northern California with her mother, played by Laurie Metcalf. It’s clearly in the coming of age indie comedy vein of movies, similar perhaps to last year’s Edge of Seventeen. Ronan is one of the best young actresses right now, and it’s possible that this film could net her a third Oscar nomination at only 23 years of age. By the way, all of these first three films are from A24, which has put out some of the best film dating back to 2013. Just check out their filmography on Wikipedia.
4. Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri (Nov. 10)
As much as I enjoy the dark comedy of a Yorgos Lanthimos film, in my mind nobody does dark comedy today quite like Martin McDonagh. His first two films are In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, both of which I thoroughly loved. Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri is about a mother (Frances McDormand) who is fed up with the police getting nowhere in solving the case of her murdered daughter. She puts up three billboards calling out the chief of police, played by Woody Harrelson. Sam Rockwell, a personal favorite of mine, is also in the film as a deputy. McDormand always brings it in every performance, and she looks to be at her foulmouthed best here. Also a playwright, McDonagh’s films always have clever dialogue and jokes, so despite the dark subject matter, this should be highly entertaining. It won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival this past September.
5. The Shape of Water (Dec. 8)
I’m not sure what it is about this film, but from the moment it was on my radar I thought it had the chance to be something special. It’s looking more and more like it could be a serious Oscar contender. It’s a fantasy drama set during the 1960s Cold War, with a mute janitor befriends and falls in love with an amphibious creature known as “The Asset” at a government facility. Sally Hawkins is the mute janitor, and frequent Guillermo Del Toro collaborator Doug Jones is the creature. Michael Shannon also has a prominent role. Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, and Michael Stuhlbarg also have supporting roles. The look of the creature is clearly influenced by The Creature from the Black Lagoon. A friend of mine caught the first hour of the film at a festival last month and said it was phenomenal. It picked up a bunch of awards at the Venice Film Festival, including the prestigious Golden Lion. My money is on it to receive a Best Picture nomination and hopefully a Best Director nod for Del Toro.
6. Molly’s Game (Dec. 25)
Sorkin has long been one of the best script writers in Hollywood, and he steps into the director’s chair for the first time with Molly’s Game, an adaptation of a memoir from Molly Bloom, who ran a high stakes poker ring in Hollywood and New York for a decade before being raided by the FBI. Jessica Chastain is the lead in the role of Molly, with Idris Elba and Kevin Costner in supporting roles. Chastain is a consistently great performer; pairing her with a Sorkin script can only portend good things. The original release date for the film was supposed to be November 22, but after strong buzz coming out of the Toronto International Film Festival, the release date was pushed back to a limited release on Christmas Day, perhaps to keep it fresher in the minds of Oscar voters.
7. Phantom Thread (Dec. 25)
This film just got a title, as it was previous known only as “Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson Film” on IMDb. As you may have guessed, it is written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, his first film since 2014’s Inherent Vice. PTA is a director for whom the phrase auteur seems made for, having made some of the best films of the past twenty years (Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood, The Master). Not much is known yet about Phantom Thread only that it is set in the 1950s in the world of high fashion and stars Daniel Day Lewis. There are no trailers and hardly any publicity stills as of yet. As if a new PTA film isn’t enough of a reason for this movie to be on your radar, Daniel Day Lewis has stated that this is his last film and he is retiring. Given that his last collaboration with PTA resulted in Daniel Plainview, one of the iconic performances of the 21st century, I can’t think of a better way for one of the greatest modern actors to leave the stage.