The Best Films of 2017 So Far
We may be in the age of Peak TV, but movies are showing no signs of slowing down. We’re a little over six months into 2017, but we’ve already been inundated with a slew of terrific films, and I know that we’re all going to be hard-pressed to narrow our lists down to a Top 10, especially when we’ve got new films from Steven Spielberg, Guillermo Del Toro, Kathryn Bigelow, Paul Thomas Anderson, and more on the way.
So to make sure that the excellent first half of the year isn’t lost in the shuffle, we’re checking in at the halfway point to run down the best movies of the year thus far. If you feel like you’ve fallen behind with all of the great films out there, we’re here to help you figure out what you need to see ASAP before we’re buried in awards season.
Note: This list is in no particular order. Also, we’re only counting films that have been distributed; festival titles that have yet to be released weren’t counted.
The film has only been out for a few months, but I’m pretty sure that Get Out is going to become a horror classic. Writer-director Jordan Peele has constructed a film that’s easily described as a cross between Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and The Stepford Wives, but that doesn’t begin to do it justice. The film is creepy beyond all reason, and yet it’s creepiness feels so immediate because of the social issues the movie confronts. You feel uncomfortable not just because of Chris’ predicament, but because the racial cues are so clear.
Where Peele gets ahead of the curve is in knowing all of the horror tropes backwards and forwards, so he’s always with his audience rather than trying to outwit them. The inclusion of Chris’ friend Rod helps provide not only comic relief, but also an audience surrogate who’s ahead of the curve and yet powerless to stop the events that are unfolding at the Armitage’s home.
Get Out is a movie that will not only be dissected and discussed for years to come; it’s likely going to influence a new generation of filmmakers as they try to follow in the vein of Peele’s unique social thriller. – Matt Goldberg
Patty Jenkins‘ Wonder Woman is a delightful, groundbreaking movie that has enchanted audiences worldwide across demographics. That universal appeal might just be thanks to the film’s celebration of heroism and the human spirit. Jenkins loves her hero and her hero loves the world, how could we help but love them back? In addition to being a joyful and uplifting film, Wonder Woman is just plain entertaining to watch. Jenkins directs superhero action with unique, visually rich detail, particularly when it comes to her female heroes and Amazons, who she endows with a sense of physical strength and prowess, reveling in beauty without exploiting it. And she’s smart enough to give Gal Gadot‘s Diana a love interest worthy of her in Chris Pine‘s Steve Trevor, a bright and driven spy who’s allowed to have more of an arc and more shade of grey than most superhero love interests combined. It works as a love story, an origin story, a coming of age tale, and a war movie, and while the third act falters, it’s not nearly enough to undermine the charm of what came before. Fans have been asking for a Wonder Woman movie for decades, and though it’s a shame it took so long, it was worth the wait. — Haleigh Foutch
Baby Driver was my most anticipated film of 2017, and it did not disappoint. Writer/director Edgar Wright crafts a wholly original thing here—it doesn’t fit into one genre specifically, but infuses aspects of a musical, actioner, heist film, and even a little noir for good measure. But this isn’t Wright simply covering old classics. Baby Driver is its own film through and through, anchored by a tremendous soundtrack that’s as essential to the character of Baby as it is to the action it’s supporting. The story itself is something of a tense-filled fairy tale, and indeed it’s impossible not to get swept up in the dizzying central romance of Baby and Debora. This is a breezy, wildly entertaining, and surprisingly emotional thrill ride, and like any great album, it’s one you want to go back to again and again. – Adam Chitwood
The Lost City of Z
James Gray often gets called a throwback director but The Lost City of Z is the furthest throw he’s lobbed into cinema’s great past. Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) is an undecorated military man who cannot receive advancement due to his “poor choice of relatives” but then captures the world’s attention when he ventures into the Amazon to find an ancient civilization that might pre-date the Western world. It spans more than two decades of his life and Gray uses that time economically. It never feels like Z is rushing past important touchstones and it even stops to show how World War I—a Western war, for we are not that much more evolved than the Amazonian “savages” that Fawcett is constantly defending to the British Empire—marks time as something that’s just as twisty and cruel as the Amazon River.
There are arrows, there’s dissection of familial bloodlines and their importance to both the Western world and the native tribes, there’s mist, there’s a mumbly Robert Pattinson and an enunciation to the nosebleeds done by Hunnam. It’s impeccably and economically paced. The expansive story places it in the realm of the thoughtful and immense profiles of greatness that David Lean used to make. But don’t think that it isn’t modern. Gray is attuned to ideas that would’ve been revolutionary not only in 1905 but also throughout most of Hollywood’s history. It’s about a small batch of white men who believe that their society and Empire is built on false pride. And the pride of their societal order not only looks down on other cultures they enslave, but it also starts global wars and keeps women in service to their partner’s greatness—even at the expense of hiring an unqualified society man who they perceive can carry his weight simply due to his elevated rank. Gray might be making movies like he lived in the 1970s, but he’s also making them great—for modern times—by taking the time to enhance the meaning underneath the grand adventure. — Brian Formo
Hounds of Love
Ben Young‘s directorial debut Hounds of Love will make you want to look away, and yet, you may find yourself struggling to take your eyes off the screen. Such is the nature of a film that is so brutal and crushing, while also being a gorgeously shot, impeccably edited thriller. Fortunately, Young is a smart enough filmmaker to know when to look away for you.
Set in 1980s Perth, Australia, Hounds of Love follows a serial killer couple that stalks, abducts, rapes, and murders young women. It’s a grim and grisly gut-wrencher, and Young knows well enough that it shouldn’t be easy to watch. Indeed, it’s not the subject matter that’s special — a beautiful young girl is abducted and horrible things happen to her, it’s Young’s approach to it. We’ve seen that basic narrative unfold infinite times in entertainment, be it in pulpy horror or on your favorite weekly network procedural. Young comes at the subject with quiet, soft-footed approach, getting intimate with his monsters in a way that demands careful craftsmanship, fully realized characters, and careful restraint. – Haleigh Foutch
Raw made quite a splash on the festival circuit last year, where paramedics were called the scene of the TIFF premiere to tend to some queasy moviegoers. The real force of Julia Ducournau’s coming-of-age cannibal film isn’t the gross-out gore but the unflinching excavation of human systems of identity, family, and our often frenzied yearning for intimacy and satisfaction. It’s bloody, to be sure, and Ducournau has a gift for framing violence in a way that makes you think you’re seeing much more than you are. There are a few scenes to test your stomach and a few more to twist you up in anxiety, but they’re balanced out by complex tale of conformity, sisterhood, and inherited tradition told through the story of a virginal vegetarian who discovers a craving for flesh, and the pleasures thereof, after enduring the brutal hazing rituals of her veterinary school. Sensual, scary, and weirdly sexy, Raw is a full meal and it sticks to your ribs long after you’ve left the theater. — Haleigh Foutch
A Ghost Story
It’s been six months since I saw A Ghost Story at Sundance, and while I’m still not sure if I like it, I know that it demands to be seen. Unique movies that hold our attention and take chances are the films that push the medium forward. There’s a place for safe films that are like comfort food, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t also take time for movies like A Ghost Story.
While it’s possible to describe what happens in A Ghost Story, it’s not a plot-driven narrative by any stretch of the imagination or even a particularly character-driven movie. It’s all about tone and themes, and writer-director David Lowery takes some big chances to try and wrap you up in the emotional moments of the movie even if you don’t know the names of the characters. It’s a risky move, but also one that pays huge rewards.
A Ghost Story isn’t an easy recommendation in the way that a movie like The Big Sick is, and yet anyone who professes to love movies should make time for A Ghost Story. It’s weird, it’s challenging, it’s unique, and it’s a movie you won’t forget anytime soon. – Matt Goldberg
It’s too early to tell, but Spider-Man: Homecoming may be my favorite Spider-Man movie yet and I adore Sam Raimi‘s first two films. Tom Holland is Peter Parker to a tee and Marvel Studios knows exactly what to do with their beloved character, rooting Peter’s standalone story in recognizable human drama by way of teen comedy and embellishing it with moments of action. In his first studio film, director Jon Watts demonstrates impeccable command of tone and pacing, swinging through the comedic and dramatic beats without toppling in either direction, all the while balancing the demands of an MCU film. Or maybe MCU adjacent is more accurate for Homecoming, which keeps the stakes small and relatable even in the presence of Tony Stark. It’s a wise move; one that builds genuine, toe-tapping tension that’s much more effective than the standard apocalyptic endgame. We all know the world’s never really going to end in those movies anyway. Peter’s world is populated by quirky, standout supporting characters who are updated and recognizable versions of their comic book counterparts. The Vulture, in particular, is a highlight, a timely depiction of working class rage filtered through the unsettling charm of Michael Keaton. Consummately entertaining and laugh out loud funny, Homecoming revels in the joy of being a Spider-Man movie, making it the kind of film you want to watch over and over again. — Haleigh Foutch
A Cure for Wellness
So many people lament the extinction of the mid-budget Hollywood movie, and yet so few went and saw A Cure for Wellness. Here’s an unendingly interesting filmmaker making an original piece of Gothic horror on a grand scale, and audiences decide not to show up. Granted, A Cure for Wellness suffered from some mediocre reviews, but I’m here to attest those people are wrong. This is a demented fairy tale; a ghoulish, gorgeous, thrilling decent into madness on a massive canvas. Dane DeHaan is pitch-perfect casting as an ambitious corporate executive who becomes a prisoner of a secluded wellness center, and Jason Isaacs is delicious devilish as the spa’s head honcho. This thing is filled with frights and delights in equal measure, and Verbinski elevates the whole thing with phenomenal filmmaking and striking cinematography. – Adam Chitwood
In Sofia Coppola‘s The Beguiled, Colin Farrell’s wounded soldier is a fresh-off-the-boat immigrant from Ireland who has no side in the war; he’s just getting a paycheck for enlisting for the North after docking. After running away with a bad leg wound, McBurny hopes to start his new life as a deserter now that he’s cashed in. He’s an opportunist. And the Southern women in a nearby house who tend to him, whilst the battlefield encroaches on their schoolhouse, are an opportunity of a new life elsewhere; a new life that he’s yet to experience in America since he enlisted for payment. Losing his leg would cripple his opportunity and freedom in this new land.
In Don Siegel’s 1971 film McBurny was a US-born Quaker who’s opposed to using guns and that’s why he gets shot. And Clint Eastwood simply plays him as a man in heat, whereas Farrell’s McBurny was trying to seize the best opportunity as a man of no border allegiance. The women in both films throw themselves at the soldier, but Coppola’s version focuses more on the bartering power they have with him, giving them some equal footing that they wouldn’t have were he not at their mercy as not only a wounded soldier but also a deserter behind “enemy” lines.
Coppola’s careful attention to female body language and her brief asides to McBurny’s opportunistic nature makes The Beguiled work narratively for both genders, as opposed to being closed off to one perspective. Kirsten Dunst, Nicole Kidman and Elle Fanning’s full body language is fit into each shot. And I mean full body language; glances that move from the eyes to the spine, to the hips, to the earth. This version is a portrait of the manipulative male ego and the fragility of the male ego when that manipulation is countered. And it’s witty! There are exposed shoulders, cold shoulders, and ultimately no shoulder to cry on for anyone hoping they’ll have a better life after the Civil War ends. — Brian Formo
War for the Planet of the Apes
The Planet of the Apes franchise is one of the best film franchises of all-time, and War for the Planet of the Apes is among its best entries. The culmination of the story that began back with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, War feels like its own beast while still building on everything that came before. It’s a trilogy capper in the truest sense, but unlike other threequels that struggle to figure out a direction to go, War is arguably the best film in the new Planet of the Apes trilogy.
There’s so much to love about the new Apes film. Director Matt Reeves makes bold choices with his direction and storytelling, continually taking the narrative in unexpected directions that are still deeply influenced by the Western and War genres as well as the Old Testament. Andy Serkis yet again reminds us that he is the forerunner of an entirely new way of acting, and that his performance as Caesar will be one of cinema’s all-time great characters. And while the “War” part of the title might imply an action-heavy spectacle, the film is more invested in the dramatic arcs of its various characters.
If you’ve never been into the Apes franchise, you’re long overdue. You won’t want to start with War, but you’ll want to catch up with Rise and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes as soon as possible so you can appreciate this excellent trilogy. Then go back and watch the original saga from the 60s and 70s to see how bonkers these movies truly get. – Matt Goldberg
Talk about going out at the top of your game. Hugh Jackman re-teamed with his The Wolverine writer-director James Mangold for Logan, and emboldened by the wildfire success of Deadpool, 20th Century Fox gave them permission to go all-in on the R-rated Wolverine movie fans have always wanted to see. And it’s a beaut. A superhero swan song by way of the western, Logan may be the most empathetic comic book movie yet, deeply invested in the humanity of its superhuman characters. It plays more like a sci-fi bent redemption story than a classic X-Men film, unearthing the fragile and selfish weak points in our heroes and laying them bare. Jackman turns out a career re-defining performance in the title role and he’s backed by a phenomenal, heartbreaking turn from Patrick Stewart, whose age-addled Professor X has witnessed so much tragedy the twinkle is carved out of his eyes. Bracing and beautiful, Logan is genre filmmaking at its best and proves that filmmakers aren’t running out of ways to tell superhero stories, they’re only getting braver and better with time. — Haleigh Foutch
Yes, this Kristen Stewart-texts-with-a-ghost movie has received a lot of snickers. But for the truly adventurous, this ghost story is one of the most profound films of the year. If A Ghost Story is about time, this ghost story is about communication—the various ways we conduct it and how simple answers we desire are hard to come by when there are two people—let alone a spirit—communicating.
Stewart is phenomenal as a shopper who works for a model that she basically never sees, just drops off her new designer clothes in her apartment that rarely hosts her. She’s in Paris hoping to make spiritual contact with her deceased twin brother. Her pursuit is a ghost, she essentially works for a ghost, and she herself moves through the city as if she’s a ghost. Olivier Assayas’ lyrical film is about the isolating feeling when communication falters. There is a lengthy text message scene with a spirit that includes the typing dots and read receipts. We can visualize when we’re being engaged and when we’re being ignored via information on a phone and the future is only more detached. And the more detached we get, the less likely we’ll be able to connect to the spirits of the previous world. — Brian Formo
It may be easy to write off Your Name. because it’s anime, but that would be a mistake. Makoto Shinkai’s film is warm, sweet, tender, funny, and wholly unexpected. Just when you think you’re getting a handle on the story, Your Name. will throw a curveball at you and force you to reappraise the character and their relationships all over again.
On the surface, it’s a body-switching comedy. Mitsuha is a teenage girl living in a rural town, and Taki, a teenage boy living in the city. They keep waking up in each other’s bodies even though they’ve never even met. They don’t know why it’s happening, and they’re not sure how to make it stop, so they try to cope with each other’s lives while slowly forming a unique connection beyond their unusual predicament.
To say any more would spoil the plot, but I guarantee you won’t know where Your Name. is headed, and the surprises make the narrative even more worthwhile. Even if you’re not into anime, Your Name. is definitely worth your time. – Matt Goldberg
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 is a film that is 100% uninterested in what you think it should be. After crafting one of the more memorable Marvel Studios movies, James Gunn chose to make a pure hangout film as the sequel. For most of the film’s runtime there’s no crazy, diabolical villain plot that needs to be foiled or close friend/romantic partner in danger. We simply stick with this Guardians family and watch them work out their dysfunctional dynamic. Indeed, the characters’ efforts to raise Baby Groot forces them to work through their issues, and a third act twist has everything to do with the emotions of the characters, not some crazy plot development that sets up an action set piece with zero emotional impact. In short, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 DGAF. – Adam Chitwood
There have been many recent films that have chronicled an individual’s pursuit to survive after a post-apocalyptic event reduces the living back to hunter-gatherer status. The Survivalist might be the best of the lot. It follows the template of observing one survivor’s adaptation before strangers arrive and disrupt that isolated living. That setup is interesting because it becomes a parlor game of trust, observing every eye movement to see if someone is planning to co-exist, looking to take, or looking to murder. The Survivalist hit the film circuit back in 2015 but wasn’t released in theaters stateside until spring 2017. That massive gap in release isn’t indicative of quality, but rather of how minimal and harrowing this film is, making for a pretty limited audience. But it’s also fantastic and really one of the best—if not the best—entries into this new indie subgenre that conceives of an isolated, deadly future.
What makes The Survivalist great is that there are some character choices that feel far more genuine than other movies. It’s a movie that’s set up the decline of humans on Earth—due to the fallout from the peak oil collapse, creating a massive population decrease because food production comes to a near halt—but there are some bleak but necessary choices that the two main characters make (Martin McCann, Mia Goth) that show a well thought out survival instinct as opposed to adhering to societal norms of family. Choices are hard in The Survivalist, and it’s a difficult and dreary experience but it’s rewarding because it feels like writer/director Stephen Fingleton has thought through the wasteland of apocalyptic decision-making and uses that as a story roadmap instead of values that would be more relatable to us now. Additionally, McCann is fantastic as the farmer who is wary of receiving any help. — Brian Formo
The LEGO Batman Movie
I adored The LEGO Movie, so The LEGO Batman Movie had a tough act to follow. And yet, the film knocked it out of the park, taking the charm of The LEGO Movie and melding it with a deep adoration for all things Batman. The live-action Batman movies keep trying to figure out how to adjust the character for a modern audience, and yet the animated version gets to the core of Batman much faster and in an incredibly entertaining way.
The LEGO Batman Movie, for all of its silliness, understands that Batman is driven—both at his best and his worst—by family. By using that as the basis of a character arc, director Chris McKay came away with one of the strongest Batman movies ever made.
It’s also a beautiful sight to behold as the frame is packed with vivid colors, non-stop action, and Easter eggs galore. It’s a film you’ll want to rewatch just to pick up on all the jokes you missed and to sit back and enjoy watching Batman drop some sick beats, make some lobster thermidor, and laugh at Jerry Maguire. – Matt Goldberg
The Big Sick
I saw The Big Sick back at Sundance and I’ve been waiting since January for everyone else to find out how good this movie is. It’s one of the easiest recommendations I’ve had to make as writers Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon turn their real-life romance into the cure for the common rom-com by imbuing the narrative with hilarious, painfully funny truths.
The story follows a standup comic Kumail (Nanjiani) who falls for Emily, a woman who heckles him (Zoe Kazan). He tries to hide the relationship from his parents, who want to arrange a marriage for him to a Muslim woman, but his love is tested when Emily falls into a coma (not a spoiler, the movie is called “The Big Sick”) and he’s forced to bond with her parents (played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter).
That may sound heavier than it is, but Michael Showalter’s film always finds the laughs and the heart in every situation. It’s a total crowdpleaser, and a movie you should definitely seek out when it comes to a theater near you. – Matt Goldberg