The Best Films of 2017 (So Far)

Best Movies of First Half of
Courtesy of Universal Pictures

With new movies from Christopher Nolan, Kathryn Bigelow, and Steven Spielberg on the horizon for the second half of 2017, it’s tempting to conclude that the year is off to a slow start. Truth be told, there have been no shortage of quality releases so far — you just have to look a little harder than the likes of “Beauty and the Beast” and “Wonder Woman,” although both those hits are encouraging in their own way. Because studios tend to hold their serious Oscar contenders till Q4, any mid-year list of favorites naturally skews toward fun, so don’t be surprised to see comedy and horror films among the films that have electrified us so far. Except for “Get Out” — the biggest and most welcome surprise so far this year — the list is alphabetical.

Get Out
Jordan Peele’s racial-nightmare horror movie (pictured, above) is ticklish and disturbing enough to feel like “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” directed by Roman Polanski. The powerful connection it has made with audiences demonstrates one of the eternal — but perpetually forgotten — lessons of the movie business: If you dare to make the forbidden film that everyone says you’re not “supposed” to make…they will come! – OG

Beatriz at Dinner
The first comedy of the Age of Trump. In this darkly witty collaboration between director Miguel Arteta and screenwriter Mike White (their first dual outing since “Chuck & Buck” and “The Good Girl”), Salma Hayek is all luminous angelic flakiness as Beatriz, a downtrodden New Age massage therapist who gets invited to a client’s high-powered dinner party. There, a proudly piggish real-estate baron (John Lithgow) brings out her vengeful inner tiger. Is he a Trump figure? Yes, but less for his tycoon bluster than for the way he stands in for the death of empathy.  – OG

The Big Sick
Did you notice that romantic comedies have disappeared? That makes Michael Showalter’s indie gem not just a Sundance breakout film but a witty, heart-rending new model for the romcom genre. Set in Chicago, it’s about Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani), a stand-up comedian from a traditional Pakistani Muslim family, and Emily (Zoe Kazan), whom he falls in love with but secretly thinks he’s forbidden to marry. Romance and comedy are but two dimensions in a tale of illness, identity, and the way the peskiest of parents can be your best friends.  – OG

Baby Driver
Buckle up for attitude and adrenaline as Edgar Wright revisits the idea behind his music video for Mint Royale’s “Blue Song,” focusing on a getaway driver with a penchant for pop tunes. This unapologetic exercise in style might not be deep, but it makes for some swell summer entertainment. — PD

Contemporary Color
Although the world lost “Stop Making Sense” director Jonathan Demme earlier this year, we’re fortunate that singer David Byrne is still breaking the sound barrier — and that brothers Bill and Turner Ross were there to witness this ecstatic brainchild, in which top pop acts with 10 high school color guard squads. — PD

Heal the Living
Gifted French helmer Katell Quillévéré shows compassion for even the most minor characters touched by a tragedy that enables a life-saving heart transplant in this stirring French melodrama. Though it barely made a blip in theatrical release, watch for this deeply felt festival gem when it hits home video in August. — PD

Land of Mine
How long can you hold your breath? If the answer is anything less than 101 minutes, you might want to rethink watching this white-knuckle Danish war movie, a runner-up for the foreign-language Oscar, in which a team of German soldiers (kids, really) are tasked with removing landmines buried by their comrades. — PD

The LEGO Batman Movie
It lacks the sheer everything-in-this-film-is-awesome novelty of “The LEGO Movie,” but it brings off something else. In portraying Batman (played to manly-voiced comic perfection by Will Arnett) as a ruthlessly monomaniacal, paralyzingly insecure compulsive loner, disconnected from everything but his heroic self-branding, Chris McKay’s animated dazzler comes closer to portraying a superhero as a complex being than any comic-book movie has in years.  — OG

Lost in Paris
The year will be hard-pressed to deliver a funnier movie than the latest from physical-comedy partners in crime Abel and Gordon (check your local arthouse listings!). Whether dancing along the Seine or dangling from the Eiffel Tower, the duo make Paris their playground. And don’t miss the last performance by Emmanuelle Riva, who died in January. — PD

While nothing can top Blumhouse’s brilliant “Get Out” in the horror-as-social-critique category, director Julia Ducournau creeps the bejesus out of audiences with her own unnerving outsider story. Intense hazing scenes prove every bit as scary as the infamous finger-eating moment in a fever-dream that dares us to identify with the monster, a shy French med student who develops a taste for human flesh.  – OG

The Settlers
Attempting to deconstruct the 70-year morass of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis may be a fool’s errand, but no documentary in years — or perhaps decades — has captured the story behind the story the way that Shimon Dotan’s eye-opening chronicle of the Israeli settlement movement does. It allows you to glimpse the grand design of events in a way that even the Israeli leaders who presided over them often didn’t. – OG

After a long stretch of bloated, borderline-embarrassing movies, M. Night Shyamalan pulled off his best surprise yet, delivering ingenuity on a shoestring with this tricksy multiple-personality thriller, which embraces its limitations while making the most of its central asset: a tour-de-force lead performance from cracked-out chameleon James McAvoy. — PD

Their Finest
While the modern film industry reevaluates the under-representation of women in key roles, Danish director Lone Scherfig reminds that the problem is nothing new, focusing on a female screenwriter’s contributions to England’s wartime propaganda effort. The movie has it all: comedy, romance, intrigue, and a scene-stealing turn from Bill Nighy. — PD

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  2. Ayush Chandra says:

    Nice List. But I am surprised to not see “Wonder Woman” and “John Wick 2” in the list. If I talk about my favorite then it is “Baby Driver”, impressed by the action and music.

  3. Jag303 says:

    Where’s Logan????

  4. manny lopes says:

    sorry not to see a mention of “colossal”.

  5. Bill B. says:

    McAvoy is long overdue for some Oscar recognition. I am really looking forward to Baby Driver from what I’ve read, but it doesn’t open until next week. I thought Get Out was good, but all of the points it was trying to make were very predictable. Still, it is decent entertainment with a different angle at looking at racism. Just don’t expect many surprises. The lead actor was very charismatic. I was intrigued by what I read about Raw, but I just couldn’t get myself to view it. Maybe some day.

  6. This was not the “Dinner” movie I was thinking of.

  7. Brad says:

    I’m missing something. Is this limited to movies that have been wide released? Cuz Call Me By Your Name is Not on this list and from everything I’ve read it’s exemplary.

  8. alexander downey says:

    no wonder woman yet split a tired and boring piece of rubbish makes it. wow best films so far really more like worst.

  9. ManOfBronze says:

    No Logan? But Get Out is included in this list?

  10. Julie A says:

    Split is my favourite, M Night is back! And James McAvoy gave a mesmerising master class.

  11. CJB says:

    No no no!
    People on this board seem to want to go to see films that they enjoy! Wrong!
    We must only watch films that move the conversation forward. Films that represent the continued folly of the sad, ill informed, middle class. Important films! The more obscure the better!

  12. vincent says:

    i honestly dont see what was so great about Get Out. it kept my interest trying to figure out what was going on, but it wasnt scary or funny except for Chris’ friend who brought realistic humor. it’s not a movie i’d see again

  13. Paul says:

    Through these movies are actually good the rest nobody in the world gives a crack about no be watched them nobody will watch them they were not good they will never be great they will not be anywhere close to being the best movies of 2017 stop trying to force movies that nobody likes on to us like that crapp LA land

  14. Ronnie says:

    Universal should be pushing Get Out. Those supporting performances definitely need consideration as well as the screenplay and director.

  15. Recently saw Their Finest, which I loved! Beatriz at Dinner and The Big Sick are all on my want-to-see list. Really interested in seeing the rest.

  16. Anon says:

    Let the James McAvoy Oscar campaign begin here. He was robbed a nomination 10 years ago for Atonement, it is time to right that wrong! It is hard to see another 4 male performances bettering McAvoy in Split. Let’s also not forget the $275m worth of box office receipts that went to see said performance.

  17. Stevie says:

    The usual snobby arty pretentious garbage nobody but film critics see and like. No wonder nobody cares about movies anymore!

    • JJHensucker says:

      For all the words I might have imagined someone using to describe Baby Driver and The LEGO Batman Movie, I would never have guessed “snobby, arty, and pretentious”… It seems you have a stick in your craw about the inclusion here of – let me guess – some films that commit the cardinal sin of being in a language other than English and/or pursuing their own vision instead of pandering to a hypothetical multiplex demographic (also known as “originality”). If nobody cares about movies anymore, it’s not the fault of critics praising movies that are genuinely exceptional in some way (which is their job), it’s because people’s estimation of cinema as an art-form have been undermined by years of substandard mainstream product. People go to see Transformers or Pirates of the Caribbean because they know exactly what they’re going to get – it isn’t actually any good but, hey, at least it won’t ask me to think… there’s clearly an appreciative, and apparently undemanding, audience for that stuff. But there’s also an audience for the exact OPPOSITE of that stuff, too. Believe me, I’m one of them, we do exist. Remember: a critic, unlike you or I, doesn’t just go to movies that they want to see. They see everything. They’re exposed to so much more cinema than any Average Joe ever will be and, as such, they do have a broader perspective, a stronger contextual understanding, and ultimately – the thing that makes any decent critic worthwhile – a rarefied opinion. Is it a more valid opinion than anyone else’s? Ultimately, no, but it is usually more credible because they can articulate what they liked or didn’t with much more insight and clarity than Average Joe’s usual summary: “it was cool” or “it sucked”. Just sayin’.

    • David says:

      You know, it’s actually possible to enjoy all kinds of movies. I enjoy watching a Marvel movie as much as I do My Dinner With Andre. Just because you’ve never heard of certain movies or because there are no explosions in them doesn’t mean they’re not worth your time.

    • Nathaniel Carlson says:

      Actually Get Out was a big hit. And why shouldn’t we all as an audience be open to suggestions of films with which we may not already be familiar? How else do we discover what is new to us that might be of interest to us other then through our own flailing around? Introducing us to such films seems a large part of the critics’ prerogative, what they are there to do. How do you know that these films are all “snobby arty pretentious garbage”? Why would we want only our own already existing and established tastes and interests reflected back to us? How de we develop upon that? Do we care to?

    • . says:

      Totally agree!

      John Wick 2 was more entertaining than all that crap. Split was a bore.

      • Cath says:

        How could we see Baby Driver when it isn’t out here yet? Saw Get Out and Split and Batman Lego. None of the others will see the light of day where I live. All three were entertaining in their own way but “best,” best? Performances were good in Get Out and Split.

      • Well you haven’t seen them all have you? Baby Driver for example. Which is both superb and great as “just” entertainment.

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