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Movies You May Have Missed in 2017 (and where to watch them)

By Noah Gittell

In 2017, cinema was divided into the haves and the have-nots. The major studios combined to release only 94 movies (down from 131 in 2007), the majority of which were either sequels or animated fare for kids. For those without access to an arthouse theater, the movies really were dead. On the other hand, independent, low-budget releases offered an embarrassment of riches. It seemed like every week a new masterpiece was released, but you had to scour the Internet just to figure out where to see them. Allow me to help. Here are six of the best movies of 2017, each of which grossed less than $5 million in theaters, and where you can stream them.

<<“The Work”>> (YouTube)

My choice for best film of the year was a documentary. “The Work” chronicles a four-day intensive therapy session at Folsom Prison in California. Mixing curious outsiders with hardened criminals (often from rival gangs), the session was carefully constructed to get these men to quickly let down their guards and expose their wounded hearts. The result is a riveting deconstruction of toxic masculinity and a reminder that documentaries can be more dramatic than any fiction.

<<“A Ghost Story”>> (Amazon Prime)

David Lowery’s metaphysical horror film is best known for its gimmicks. Maybe you heard about how Casey Affleck plays a ghost, wearing an old-fashioned sheet with holes cut out for eyes. Or you might have heard about the scene in which Rooney Mara, playing his widow, grief-binges an entire chocolate pie in a long, unbroken shot. That’s fine.

Come for the gimmicks, and stay for the most original film of the year, a time- and mind-bending narrative that creates a unified theory of human loneliness.

<<“The Lovers”>> (Amazon Prime)

Many obituaries have been written for the traditional rom-com, but while the socially regressive genre left the mainstream many years ago, bold, independent filmmakers are finding new things to do with it. Consider “The Lovers,” a wickedly funny and sharply observed tale of a married couple (the ubiquitous Tracy Letts and the rarely-seen Debra Winger) who have been cheating on each other for years and are on the verge of divorce when an unexpected passion reignites their relationship.

Terrific performances and a masterful balancing act by Azazel Jacobs keep us guessing whether this is a tragedy or a comedy until the final moments. Either way, it’s a joy to watch.

<<“Nocturama”>> (Netflix)

In Paris, a group of teenagers commit a brazen act of terrorism then hide out in a closed department store all night, waiting out the night so they can return to their families. “Nocturama” plays out like a heist movie, with the criminals’ carefully laid plans being shredded by their own hubris, but writer/director Bertrand Bonello (“Saint Laurent”) goes beyond genre thrills to find a more humanistic angle.

Sporting natural performances from its juvenile cast and a fine eye for symbolism – a burning statue will be forever seared in my memory – “Nocturama” is too good to be buried alive on Netflix.

<<“Mudbound”>> (Netflix)

Speaking of Netflix, its failure to get significant awards attention for the critically acclaimed “Mudbound” reveals a glaring blind spot in the streaming giant’s plan for global domination.

Dee Rees’ adaptation of Hillary Jordan’s post-war racial masterpiece is novelistic in all the best ways. It uncovers layers of a dysfunctional ecosystem – a poorly producing parcel of farmland in Mississippi – in luxurious chapters. First, we spend time with the land’s well-meaning white owners (Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke), then the black family (headed by Mary J. Blige and Rob Morgan), and finally, crucially a returning veteran from each family (Jason Mitchell, Garret Hedlund) who bond over their traumatic experiences and try to navigate the Jim Crow South as equals.

<<“Lucky”>> (Amazon Video)

Veteran character actor Harry Dean Stanton died last year, but before he did he gave one of the best performances of his five-decade career. In “Lucky,” he plays an avatar of his real-life self: a hard-drinking, still-smoking war veteran whose spitting in the face of his own mortality took on near-cosmic proportion. Stanton plays the title character, who, with little to do in his small desert town, searches for meaning in every interaction.

Written and directed by another longtime character actor, John Carroll Lynch (Norm Gunderson in “Fargo”), “Lucky” feels like the work of a veteran filmmaker. Lynch ropes in a cavalcade of aged acting masters – including Tom Skerritt, who shows up for one glorious monologue – and every interaction is crafted to add to its soul-searching ethos.

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