Deciding which movies to review and which ones to skip is one of the toughest decisions The A.V. Club makes on a weekly basis. Seriously, it can be quite agonizing. In a perfect world, we’d review a much larger percentage of the sometimes couple dozen new releases that hit theaters or streaming platforms every week. Instead, we have to prioritize, starting with the wide-release studio films, moving down to the major indies, continuing to festival favorites and new work from name directors, until we’ve reached maximum capacity of what we can reasonably cover. It’s a tough, mercenary process, and while it often just means that we end up ignoring some Z-grade curiosity that’s never heard from again, there are plenty of times when we miss the boat on a genuinely good movie—on something, in other words, that we should have reviewed.

And so to right our wrongs and address our blindspots, The A.V. Club finds time every December to single out some of the best movies of the year that slipped through the cracks in our coverage. Every one of the movies listed below opened in theaters or premiered on a viewing platform in 2017. None of them received an official review from the site. And all of them are worth seeing and writing about, better late than never.


Boys In The Trees

There were several films dealing with the dark side of adolescence this year, but Boys In The Trees, a fantasy/horror/drama hybrid from Australian up-and-comer Nicholas Verso, grapples with the universal teenage themes of fitting in and growing apart more imaginatively—and sensitively—than most. Set on Halloween night 1997, the film centers on Corey (Toby Wallace), an aspiring photographer in his last year of high school who still feels guilty about ditching his childhood best friend Jonah (Gulliver McGrath) in favor of a more popular clique. The two end up crossing paths at a skate park, taking a long walk together, and reconnecting over ghost stories and shared memories of an elaborate fantasy game they used to play as kids. That’s when their journey through the dark, tree-lined streets of their Adelaide suburb takes a surreal turn, its hallucinatory imagery anchored by realistically profane teen dialogue and a tragic LGTBQ subtext. Streaming on Netflix. [Katie Rife]


The Challenge

Less a traditional documentary than a superb photography collection in which the pictures all move, Yuri Ancarani’s The Challenge doesn’t bother with exposition, or even with basic contextualization. Nobody gets interviewed, and the film’s subject is never formally announced in any way. Instead, Ancarani serves up various outré images—an airplane with hooded falcons in every seat; SUVs drag-racing over sand dunes; a sheikh and a cheetah in a Lamborghini—that gradually create a portrait of phenomenally wealthy, incredibly bored Qatari men. Whether one chooses to see The Challenge as an indictment of the idle mega-rich or as a gorgeous aesthetic object (it can arguably be both) is a matter of taste. Nobody, however, could possibly deny that it features some of the most stunning falcon-cam shots ever captured. Playing in select theaters; click here for cities and dates. [Mike D’Angelo]

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The Daughter

Most screen adaptations of Henrik Ibsen’s plays suffer from extreme staginess, and there would seem to be little reason to expect otherwise from The Daughter, a contemporary update of The Wild Duck originally conceived for an Australian theater company. That’s especially true given that the film’s first-time director, Simon Stone, previously helmed (and wrote) the stage version. Yet The Daughter, while sticking close in broad outline to Ibsen’s 1884 masterpiece, moves with a fluid grace that’s wholly cinematic—if you didn’t know the story’s provenance, it’d be hard to guess. Stone struggles a little with the play’s most melodramatic elements, but generally finds sharp modern-day equivalents for its tale of two families riven by class struggle and buried secrets. And the cast, which includes Geoffrey Rush, Miranda Otto, Paul Schneider, Anna Torv, Sam Neill, and a remarkable actor named Ewen Leslie (carried over from the stage production), is so uniformly strong that they might well have made staginess work. Streaming through Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, VUDU, Google Play, and YouTube. [Mike D’Angelo]


Dina

The documentary Dina, about a tender-hearted yet truthfully imperfect relationship, often plays like a romantic comedy, but it hasn’t been rigged to resemble one. Directors Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles were simply lucky enough to find organically flowering humor in the courtship between a Walmart greeter with Asperger’s and an independent spirit with OCD, anxiety, and a litany of other mental stressors. The emotional negotiations that adult relationships require don’t come easy to this pair (their sex talk is frank, uncomfortable, and so touchingly intimate you want to apologize for watching it), but their mutual devotion sees them through. Sweet without being sappy, the film extends an uncommon empathy to two characters that colder films (and, as we see, people) would treat as a punchline. Available on home-viewing platforms January 8. [Charles Bramesco]


Folk Hero & Funny Guy

After years as a relatively obscure subject, there are now enough movies about stand-up comics that even a dramedy about an interracial relationship and coma-level illness finds time to explore the details of comedians honing their jokes. Yet Jeff Grace’s Folk Hero & Funny Guy doesn’t feel like a warmed-over Apatow production, in part because it has the courage to let the “funny guy” half of its duo be kind of a mediocrity in his field. Paul (Alex Karpovsky) isn’t finding much success at comedy, and his tour with longtime friend Jason (Wyatt Russell), a well-liked singer-songwriter, commences in part out of pity. As Paul’s prickly self-consciousness chafes against Jason’s successful flakiness, Grace takes gentle note of how personality flaws can help or hinder people in creative fields, depending on the circumstances, and gives the movie an odd couple whose affection and grievances feel equally lived-in. Streaming on Amazon, iTunes, VUDU, Google Play, and YouTube. [Jesse Hassenger]

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Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold

There’s something amazing about watching Joan Didion, the 82-year-old essayist, public intellectual, and icon of American culture, respond to being asked what it was like as a journalist in 1967, walking into a room and seeing a 5-year-old child on acid. After a long pause, she speaks: “Let me tell you, it was gold.” That searing sense of honesty imbues The Center Will Not Hold with a magnetism as powerful as the voice at its center. Given that relative Griffin Dunne directed, one might expect hagiography, but despite the fact that nary a single negative word about Didion is uttered, this documentary feels raw and real. It ranges freely from her early childhood to the pain of losing her daughter and Blue Nights (the book where she discusses that loss), and all of it only serves to reinforce the idea that the film could be 10 hours long and still never exhaust its subject, whose writing Dunne often returns to as proof of her volcanic intellect and penetrating insight. How vital is Didion? Harrison Ford shows up to discuss being her carpenter in ’70s Malibu, and all you want is to get back to Joan. Streaming on Netflix. [Alex McLevy]


Mister Universo

Since their first film in 2001, Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel have repeatedly collaborated with a troupe of traveling Italian circus performers on features that move like narratives but look convincingly like documentaries—and, depending on the scene, they actually are. Mister Universo follows lion tamer Tairo Caroli’s road trip to find bodybuilder Arthur Robin, the first black Mister Universe. Rather than the usual hybrid tactic of forcing viewers to question what’s real or not, the result is a buoyant, low-key, celebratory look at an extended, seldom-seen community in which every scene, constructed or captured, has the same ring of truth. It’s a hard maneuver to make look effortless, but Universo is an easy pleasure to absorb. [Vadim Rizov]


My Happy Family

Georgian writer-director Nana Ekvtimishvili (In Bloom) brings a rare subtlety and sensitivity to this ironically titled domestic drama. Ia Shughliashvili stars as a middle-aged woman named Manana, who one day decides to move out of the crowded apartment she shares with her grown children, her inattentive husband, and assorted in-laws. My Happy Family’s minimal plot mostly follows the family’s efforts to shame her into returning—or at least to understand why she left. What makes the movie so resonant is that Manana’s choice feels so obvious. Leaving aside her clan’s various personality defects and moral failings, the heroine’s clearly much more content in her own place, with no responsibilities, listening to her own music, staring off her own balcony, eating sweets. Ekvtimishvili turns simple solitude into a fantasy more powerful than any science-fiction story. Streaming on Netflix. [Noel Murray]

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Our Time Will Come

A rebuttal to the patriotic blockbusters of mainland China, Ann Hui’s imperfect but nuanced anti-epic about the World War II-era left-wing resistance fighters in Japanese-occupied Hong Kong attempts to reclaim the ordinariness of the underground. Zhou Xun stars as a young schoolteacher who joins the movement as a courier, and works her way up from smuggling pamphlets to carrying a gun. The sumptuousness, romance, and derring-do that usually characterize wartime cloak-and-dagger stories only occasionally pop into Hui’s low-key take on the period, which is more concerned with how people (especially women) keep living in times of war; her unlikely roster of collaborators—including composer Joe Hisaishi and longtime Éric Rohmer editor Mary Stephen—reflects the film’s more humanist ends. An important figure in the Hong Kong film renaissance of the 1980s, Hui remains under-appreciated abroad. Like many of her films, Our Time Will Come requires and rewards patience. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]


Rat Film

Though Theo Anthony’s eclectic documentary Rat Film has the urban-dwelling rodent on its mind, it treats rats not as a subject but as a microcosm for systemic injustice. Taking cues from spiritual forebears like Chris Marker and Harun Farocki, Anthony parallels the history of government pest control projects with Baltimore’s post-Depression racist urban planning. His sociological inquiry reaches disquieting, provocative conclusions, yet Anthony exercises remarkable restraint by suggesting instead of preaching. Rat Film isn’t a dry academic exercise, but rather a supremely confident essay film, its various vignettes and digressions all sharning a unique internal logic, aided by Dan Deacon’s chilling score and Maureen Jones’ narcotized narration. Anthony privileges poetry over subject matter, all while keeping real human lives at center. Playing in select theaters; airs on PBS February 26. [Vikram Murthi]


Shock Wave

In this unapologetic piece of B-movie termite art from the prolific Hong Kong writer-director Herman Yau, a vengeful gangster with a flair for explosions threatens to blow up the city’s busiest tunnel if the authorities don’t hand over his imprisoned younger brother. Yau, who made his name with sick exploitation items like Ebola Syndrome and The Untold Story, plays the outlandish ’90s action-thriller elements completely straight (the climactic tunnel free-for-all is terrific), but keeps throwing interesting twists into the mix—beginning with the younger brother, who’s since reformed and doesn’t want to return to a life of crime. The surface might be sensationalist and the hero (Andy Lau) might be a stock brooding bomb-squad super-cop, but underneath is a sober consideration of actions and consequences. Collateral Damage might have been a better title. Available on DVD and Blu-Ray January 2. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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Tragedy Girls

Finally, millennials have a Heathers of their very own. Actually, that’s not quite right: Imagine instead a Heathers that gleefully goes all the way past the point of nihilism, and ends up in a warped funhouse mirror reflection of society that blends camp and satire in equal measure (with a heaping dose of gore liberally applied throughout). Reimagining high school murderers for the age of Instagram, Tragedy Girls casts Alexandra Shipp (X-Men: Apocalypse) and Brianna Hildebrand (Deadpool) as social media-obsessed high schoolers who kidnap a serial killer—not to kill him, but to learn how to more effectively stage their own attacks, the better to boost the numbers on their YouTube show. And that’s just the first five minutes of this nastily effective comedy-horror, which takes genre clichés and runs them through a candy-coated ADHD wringer, leaving you bloodied and smiling at the end. Playing in select theaters; click here for cities and dates. [Alex McLevy]


Uncertain

The aptly named Texas/Louisiana border town of Uncertain has struggled for years with the spread of a life-choking lake-weed, slowly killing the area’s most reliable sources of income: fishing and tourism. Anna Sandilands and Ewan McNicol’s absorbing, elliptical documentary takes an Errol Morris-like look at some of the desperate and/or eccentric folks who still live in the town—either trying to eke out a living off whatever’s remaining or to scrape together enough money to leave. The movie’s both haunting and honest, confronting what it’s like to see the community that sustains you die right in front of your eyes. Streaming on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, and YouTube. [Noel Murray]


Walking Out

It didn’t get as much attention as the surprise indie hit Wind River, but writer-directors Alex and Andrew Smith’s similarly snow-swept, panoramic Walking Out—which, like Taylor Sheridan’s directorial debut, premiered at Sundance back in January—is another old-school wilderness adventure, making location integral to plot and theme. Matt Bomer stars as a skilled Montana hunter who invites his citified teenage son (played by Josh Wiggins) on an outing to track moose, then suffers an injury that forces his boy to use everything he’s ever learned about surviving. The mountain backdrops are stunning, but the movie’s real draw is its understanding of how children pick up more from their parents than their skeptical, self-pitying moms and dads ever imagine. Streaming on Amazon, VUDU, Google Play, and YouTube. [Noel Murray]

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What Happened To Monday

Don’t let the “Orphan Black knockoff” vibes sway you from checking out this baldly silly yarn, set in a a future where environmental devastation has led to a strict global “one child per family” law. Noomi Rapace stars as seven identical septuplets named Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc.; each leaves the house one day a week, all under the same shared identify, which of course has disastrous consequences. The main draw is seeing Rapace pull off the delightful juggling act of seven different personalities, but director Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow) also orchestrates gleefully over-the-top action and chase sequences. He’s staged a crowd-pleasing game of cat-and-mouse, jazzed up by sci-fi flourishes and a high concept. Streaming on Netflix. [Alex McLevy]


The Work

A grown man howls and shakes, locked in intensely physical struggle with the other men who have come to confront, and perhaps coax out, the darkness that’s possessed him. It’s like something out of a lost Exorcist sequel, except the demons being expelled are psychological, not supernatural, and those performing the exorcism aren’t priests. Gethin Aldous and Jairus McLeary’s visceral documentary chronicles four days of intensive group therapy, as three volunteers step behind the maximum-security walls of Folsom Prison to help convicted felons get in touch with feelings they’ve never known how to express; one by one, prisoners and visitors alike experience volcanic breakthroughs, the cameras creeping in close, confronting and comforting. More than just an advertisement for the process depicted, The Work carries a profound, implicit point about a culture that encourages men to bottle up what they feel, then condemns them after those emotions express themselves in violent, destructive ways. Playing in select theaters and available on VOD. [A.A. Dowd]