The Knowledge

The Best Films Of The Year You Haven’t Seen Yet

Crime capers, comic-book adaptations and slick sci-fi. They’re not Oscar territory, but they are ours

  • From left: Ms Amy Seimetz, Mr Benjamin Rigby and Ms Carmen Ejogo in Alien Covenant. Photograph courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Oscar night lived up to its reputation with big wins for La La Land and Moonlight. This year’s golden statuettes have taken their places in low-profile, high-visibility guest bathrooms, and the industry is already gearing up for the 2017 releases that will herald the 2018 winners. Traditionally, contenders are held back for release over autumn/winter, so the buzz is current and the creativity fresh in Academy minds when the votes are cast, but this year looks likely to bust the trend with a series of conceptually brave films that are dropping throughout the year.

We’ve got Mr Christopher Nolan’s first war drama, Mr Steven Soderbergh’s cinema comeback (having previously renounced the medium) and Mr Luc Besson’s latest intergalactic epic. Read on for the slew of sci-fi thrillers and classy comic-book adaptations MR PORTER advises you to pre-book in the coming months.

DUNKIRK

  • Mr Fionn Whitehead in Dunkirk. Photograph by Ms Melinda Sue Gordon. Courtesy of Warner Bros Entertainment Inc

Mr Christopher Nolan’s best work has been achieved when he focuses his vertiginous talents on one flawed, violent protagonist, from Mr Guy Pearce’s wretched Leonard in Memento to Mr Christian Bale’s troubled Dark Knight. Mr Nolan’s more recent projects, Inception and Interstellar, have been ensemble pieces that lacked the power and engagement of his earlier films, but Dunkirk – another ensemble film, which this time harnesses the mighty talents of Messrs Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance alongside newcomers Messrs Harry Styles and Anuerin Barnard – looks set to prove Mr Nolan can, in fact, do it all. It tells the story of Operation Dynamo, the 1940 evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beach of Dunkirk, with the action hopping from land, to sea, to airspace. And it wouldn’t be a Mr Nolan film without jumping across timelines, too.

Release date: 21 July


LOGAN LUCKY

  • From left: Messrs Adam Driver, Daniel Craig and Channing Tatum in Logan Lucky. Photograph courtesy of StudioCanal

Unlike Mr Nolan, director Mr Steven Soderbergh’s best work (be it 1989’s Sex, Lies, And Videotape or his more recent Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen and Magic Mike) has always featured an ensemble cast. Despite his self-professed retirement from the world of feature films in 2013, Mr Soderbergh is thankfully back doing what he does best – a fast-paced, big-cast crime comedy with snappy dialogue and elaborate capers. Messrs Adam Driver and Channing Tatum play brothers Clyde and Jimmy Logan, who are planning to stage an elaborate robbery during the Nascar Coca-Cola 600 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway (where much of the footage was shot live). Those of us who revere cult Nascar movie Talladega Nights will know what fertile opportunity the race circuit offers the film industry, and with a cast rounded out by Messrs Daniel Craig, Riley Keogh and Seth MacFarlane and Mses Katherine Waterston and Hilary Swank, this is likely to provide as many laughs as it does adrenaline fixes.

Release date: 18 August


FREE FIRE

  • From left: Mr Armie Hammer, Ms Brie Larson, Mr Cillian Murphy, Mr Sam Riley and Mr Michael Smiley in Free Fire. Photograph courtesy of StudioCanal

It’s 1978 and in a Boston warehouse, an IRA arms trade goes wrong, leading to a bloody, chaotic battle between two gangs. However, this is also a Mr Ben Wheatley production, so the physical violence going down on screen is outclassed by the psychological games he plays. Mr Wheatley’s last film, High-Rise with Mr Tom Hiddleston, was lauded as a masterpiece by some and derided as celluloid masturbation by others. Free Fire is a wholly more digestible enterprise and much the better for it. The pace is relentless, the visuals grimy, it lacks any form of grace and makes up for it with incredible styling (the facial hair alone deserves an above-the-line credit) and cracking dialogue. Mr Sharlto Copley is unforgettable, 2016 Oscar winner Ms Brie Larson is unrecognisable and Messrs Sam Riley, Armie Hammer and Cillian Murphy are unrepentantly horrible. Mr Martin Scorcese is executive producer of the film, but Mr Quentin Tarantino is very much its muse.

Release date: 31 March (UK), 21 April (US)


Ghost In The Shell

  • Ms Scarlett Johansson in Ghost In The Shell. Photograph courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Ms Scarlett Johansson is one of the few actresses today who can not only open a film, but open a film targeted at both a male and a female audience, as evidenced by her sensational performance in Mr Luc Besson’s Lucy. Her casting as cyber-cop The Major was rightly controversial – based on the revered manga comic, the film adaptation provided a rare opportunity for Hollywood to cast an Asian actor as lead ­– but Ms Johansson’s portrayal of the human-cyborg hybrid searching for both a super-hacker and her own identity looks to be predictably astounding. Director Mr Rupert Sanders is best known for the underwhelming Snow White And The Huntsman, but everything about Ghost In The Shell suggests it will be quite the opposite: stylish, authentic and intriguing.

Release date: 31 March


Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets

  • Mr Dane DeHaan in Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets. Photograph by Mr Lou Faulon. Courtesy of STX Entertainment

This is the second of this year’s big comic-book adaptations not to stem from the Marvel/DC universes (the book originated in France). So thank the celluloid gods that it was taken on by legendary writer/director Mr Luc Besson, who brings everything great about his 1997 classic The Fifth Element to Valerian, a space opera about time-travelling galactic agents dispatched to the city of Alpha on a humanity-saving mission. The cast is a tick-list of today’s most charismatic early adopters and screen legends: Mr Dane DeHaan as the eponymous, obedient, dependable hero; Ms Cara Delevingne as his sexy, renegade partner Laureline; Mr Ethan Hawke; Rhianna; Mr Rutger Hauer… As with everything Mr Besson makes, it oozes style and class while revelling in its garish, camp inclusivity. Its budget of £171m made it the most expensive film in French cinematic history.

Release date: 21 July (US), 4 August (UK) 


Battle Of The Sexes

  • Ms Emma Stone and Mr Steve Carrell in Battle Of The Sexes. Photograph courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

In 1973, former world number-one tennis player turned shameless self-promoter Mr Bobby Riggs declared that, even aged 55, he could beat any of the current female champions on the court. Cue golden girl Ms Billie Jean King agreeing to an exhibition match in an effort to prove him wrong. The game, played on 20 September in Houston, Texas, was the most viewed television sporting event to date and a feature film waiting to happen. It stars Mr Steve Carrell as hustler Bobby Riggs and Ms Emma Stone as vocal feminist Billie Jean King, and follows their conflicts both on and off the court. Directed by Mr Jonathan Dayton and Ms Valerie Faris, the duo behind Little Miss Sunshine and Ruby Sparks, produced by Mr Danny Boyle, written by his long-term collaborator Mr Simon Beaufoy (127 Hours, Slumdog Millionaire) and costarring Ms Sarah Silverman and Mr Alan Cumming, this film promises to be every bit as amusing, unsettling and surprising as it should be.

Release date: TBC


Alien: Covenant

  • From left: Ms Amy Seimetz, Mr Benjamin Rigby and Ms Carmen Ejogo in Alien Covenant. Photograph courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Where Prometheus, the first of the Alien reboots, failed to reignite the fan fervour of the original four instalments, Covenant looks set to redress the balance. Sir Ridley Scott retains the helm in the second of the Alien prequel/companion series, it is written by Mr John Logan (you may remember a former Scott/Logan collaboration called Gladiator, which did tidy business at both box office and the Academy Awards) and if they handed out Oscars just for trailers, this one would clean up. Mr Michael Fassbender returns to his intellectually superior, emotionally bankrupt best, playing mutilated synthetic David and its next-gen model Walter, who is manning a ship called Covenant bound for an “uncharted paradise”. But this is deep space and a Sir Ridley movie, so we all know what’s waiting for Covenant’s crew, and it’s more Dante than Milton.

Release date: 19 May