It’s hard to believe, but true: 2017 is already half over.
The most prestigious films of the year usually come out in the fall in an attempt to make a run at the Oscars. But this year has already yielded a bumper crop of great movies, including three excellent superhero films, a bunch of horror films with a message on their mind, several riveting and unconventional documentaries, a few revenge flicks, some of the year’s best comedies, and a movie about a giant superpig.
Not all of the movies played in theaters; not all of them are to everyone’s taste. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a more eclectic list. What they have in common is their ability to surprise and confound and even infuriate the audience.
Here are the 17 best movies of 2017 so far, how you can watch them, and why you should.
Release date: May 10
What makes it great: Manifesto stars the marvelous Cate Blanchett as 13 different characters — something she could probably pull off in her sleep — but there’s no real narrative. More avant-garde art installation than film (in fact, before premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in January, it was an art installation), Manifesto rewards the patient viewer with a mysterious, artful, often funny reflection on the swagger, idealism, and ironies that arise when artists talk about their own work. The lines Blanchett speaks are taken from artist manifestos that informed the 20th century, with all but a snippet of Marx and Engels’s written by the artists themselves.
Plenty of the manifestos in Manifesto would sound pretty pompous if you closed your eyes and just listened. But recited by Blanchett, performing as a puppeteer or a drunken punk in a dive bar, they become slightly ironic.
How to watch it: Manifesto is currently playing in limited theaters and will move to Amazon Prime later this year.
Release date: February 24
What makes it great: I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore is the strangely titled but delightfully unpredictable story of a depressed loner frustrated with the world — “everyone is an asshole!” she says early on, in a fit of anger — who gets wrapped up in a strange, elaborate, and gory heist plot, entirely by accident, after her house is robbed. She makes unexpected friends with a neighbor (Elijah Wood) who has a penchant for ninja weapons (nunchucks, ninja stars, you get the idea), and the pair find themselves in the center of something far crazier than they expected.
The movie isn’t making fun of anyone, but it knows exactly how absurd humans are, and it uses tiny details — a woman’s obsession with nut milks, a man’s rat tail — to pull together a kooky cast of characters who aren’t stereotypical. It helps that star Melanie Lynskey and Wood have impeccable comic timing, and the film is often very funny.
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore doesn’t go anywhere you would expect — but it doesn’t want to. It feels like a Southern Gothic tale in which someone’s finger might get snapped or a hand blown off, eliciting both gasps and giggles. Granted, it’s more violent than anything the iconic Southern Gothic author Flannery O’Connor ever wrote, but there are hints of O’Connor in the story: the flashes of goodness in the midst of bad, and the affection for characters who are difficult to love.
How to watch it: I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore. is streaming on Netflix.
Release date: March 3
What makes it great: Logan is the best X-Men movie since 2003, and very likely the final film in which Hugh Jackman will play Wolverine, a character he's been portraying onscreen for 17 years. Burned out, weary of life, but still burdened with a self-healing body, Logan (that is, Wolverine) has been tending to a periodically senile Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who has trouble controlling his powers. The pair find themselves on the run with a young mutant named Laura (Dafne Keen), whose profound connection to Logan has deep implications for everyone's futures.
Logan skillfully draws on a cinematic language that’s half post-apocalyptic, half classic Western, to great effect. Concentrating more on characters than big bang-up stunt scenes, Logan is the kind of comic book movie even the pickiest cinephile can love.
How to watch it: Logan is available on DVD and Blu-Ray, which also include the black-and-white “Noir” cut of the film.
Release date: April 7
What makes it great: Colossal actively defies categorization. Sometimes the movie (which stars Anne Hathaway as a burned-out alcoholic) is a romantic comedy; sometimes it’s something much darker. And sometimes — quite unexpectedly — it’s a monster movie, with actual, city-flattening monsters. All of those components mashed together make for an oddly entertaining, refreshingly original movie.
But it’s not just entertaining: Colossal is about how complicated addiction can be, and about the ways our relationships and our histories can make healing messy. Sometimes the people we think are our friends turn out to be monsters. And sometimes we’re the monster.
13) Personal Shopper
Release date: March 10
What makes it great: It’s an eerie, meditative ghost story that glides between worlds, from high fashion and wealth to the search for the supernatural. In her second collaboration with French director Olivier Assayas, Kristen Stewart plays a personal shopper to a wealthy socialite and, on the side, an amateur ghost hunter who's searching for her dead twin brother.
Personal Shopper isn’t to everyone's taste (it was booed at Cannes), but it’s deeper than it seems at first blush, a meditation on grief and an exploration of society’s “between” places — on the fringes of wealth, and in the space between life and death. It also has one of the most tense, extended text-messaging scenes ever seen onscreen.
Release date: April 7
What makes it great: Graduation is an intense Romanian drama about the thorny ethics of giving your children the best opportunities. Director Cristian Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) tells the story of a law-abiding man named Romeo (Adrian Titieni) who finds that bureaucracy and his desire for his daughter to go to a good college lead him down a path he never expected to tread.
A long, deliberate, slow-burning satire, Graduation is both infuriating and pessimistic, but always intriguing. The shift in Romeo’s outlook is subtle, but as we watch him change, the film becomes something like a quieter, more understated Breaking Bad, with all the same moral weight.
How to watch it: Graduation is awaiting a US home-video release date.
11) Casting JonBenet
Release date: April 28
What makes it great: Hardly a conventional documentary, Casting JonBenet is a moving look at how and why we respond to sensationalized crime in deeply personal ways. The decades-old case of the 6-year-old beauty queen found murdered in her family’s home on Christmas night in 1996 is a popular subject for filmmakers looking to capitalize on the current taste for true-crime documentaries and docudramas. But the focus of Casting JonBenet isn’t the crime itself, it's the people of Boulder, Colorado, where the murder took place.
Director Kitty Green put out a casting call in the Boulder area, inviting people to audition for any role in the Ramsey case. Once they arrived on her set, Green explained that the casting material would be used in the film — that anything they said on camera during the auditions might end up in the final cut, so they should be careful about what they say. Most of the film comes from these audition tapes. Casting JonBenet makes the case that the way we think and talk about sensationalized crime cases is deeply influenced by our own experiences — and it calls into question the possibility of ever arriving at something like the truth.
How to watch it: Casting JonBenet is streaming on Netflix.
10) Wonder Woman
Release date: June 2
What makes it great: The record-smashing Wonder Woman is popular for a reason: Not only does it tell the origin story of a beloved superhero, but it does so with aplomb, feminism, and good humor that has both critics and audiences cheering.
The film’s director, Patty Jenkins, took the story of Diana (played by an ass-kickingly awesome Gal Gadot), an Amazonian woman who becomes part of the effort to stop World War I after a pilot (Chris Pine) crashes on her island, and infused it with a vitality that hasn't been seen in a superhero movie in a long time. The result is pure joy — a visually beautiful, often very funny film with a heroine who is more interested in saving the world than smashing up cities.
How to watch it: Wonder Woman is currently playing in theaters.
Release date: May 12
What makes it great: Risk is a frustrating and complicated film about a frustrating and complicated subject: Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks. And that’s exactly the film it needs to be — and exactly what makes director Laura Poitras a perfect match for her subject. As with Poitras’s Citizenfour, a twisty, feature-length interview with Edward Snowden, Risk plays more as a character study of Assange than a straightforward, informative look at WikiLeaks.
After seven years in production, the film arrives at a time when WikiLeaks, once embraced by the left, has gone through a strange shift, with some accusing it of influencing the 2016 US presidential elections — or at least being okay with helping authoritarian leaders, especially in Russia. As such, many viewers will approach the film with preconceived ideas about WikiLeaks — and Risk won’t make the matter any simpler.
But instead of fitting the story into any familiar political narrative about WikiLeaks, Poitras presents an uncomfortable look at the complicated interplay of Assange’s personal goals, the goals of his organization, his ego, and the then-outstanding sexual assault allegations against him in Sweden — all of which contribute to a sometimes admiring, sometimes infuriating portrait. Risk does anything but lionize Assange, but it doesn’t try to take Assange down, either. It’s frustrating and absolutely necessary.
How to watch it: Risk is available to digitally rent or purchase from Amazon, iTunes, and Vudu. The film will also air on Showtime on July 22 and be available to stream from the Showtime app starting July 23.
Release date: June 28
What makes it great: It’s a bonkers corporate satire starring Tilda Swinton, a brave little Korean girl, and a giant superpig. ‘Nough said.
Need more? Fine. Okja is a rare breed of movie: It boasts a multi-hemispheric setting and cast, extended use of two languages (Korean and English), and the distinction of combining action, arthouse, and political satire in one funny, biting, disturbing, often kind of adorable package. The movie ruffled some feathers (and resulted in a policy change) as part of a Netflix controversy at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival this year, and it will probably ruffle a few more as it becomes more widely available, since the film is every bit as weird — and, on the whole, as wonderful — as you’d expect from Bong Joon-Ho, the director of Snowpiercer and The Host.
At its core, Okja is a movie about the horrors of factory farming, and sometimes it turns into a horror film to make its case. But it’s also skewering the absurd ways in which corporations co-opt the language of environmental and localist movements to reel in consumers. The result is kind of a masterclass in how vocabulary can be twisted for insidious ends.
How to watch it: Okja is in limited theaters in the US and streaming on Netflix.
7) The Beguiled
Release date: June 23
What makes it great: The Beguiled masquerades as a Southern Gothic tale, with all the requisite grotesquerie and a killer cast that includes Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, and Colin Farrell. But beneath its frilly, corseted bodice, it’s a stone-cold revenge fantasy, a potent cocktail laced with toxic comedy and pungent desire.
The film is set at Miss Martha Farnsworth’s Seminary for Young Ladies, upon which a Union soldier stumbles after having been wounded in battle. He discovers it to be a hotbed of sublimated desire and good breeding, which you might think sounds like good luck. You'd be wrong.
The film’s fixation on revenge means it feels considerably tighter and simpler than its marketing might have led you to believe. This isn’t the wild, extravagant romp of director Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, nor does it lean so plainly on the hormonal teenage angst of The Virgin Suicides. Simple, irresistible desire is what drives revenge movies — desire for retribution, inexorably enacted.
How to watch it: The Beguiled is currently playing in theaters.
Release date: April 14
What makes it great: This is technically a biographical film about Emily Dickinson, but it transcends its genre to become something more like poetry. A Quiet Passion is a perplexing and challenging film, crafted without the traditional guardrails that guide most biographical movies — dates, times, major accomplishments, etc. Time slips away in the film almost imperceptibly, and the narrative arc doesn’t yield easily to the viewer.
Cynthia Nixon plays Emily Dickinson, whose poetry and life is a perfect match for the signature style of director Terence Davies: rich in detail, deeply enigmatic, and weighed down with a kind of sparkling, joy-tinged sorrow. A Quiet Passion is a portrait (both visually and narratively) of the kind of saint most modern people can understand: one who is certain of her uncertainty, and longing to walk the right path.
5) The Big Sick
Release date: June 23
What makes it great: It’s hard to imagine seeing a more charming movie in 2017 than The Big Sick, which hits all the right romantic comedy notes with one unusual distinction: It feels like real life.
That’s probably because The Big Sick is written by real-life married couple Emily V. Gordon and Silicon Valley's Kumail Nanjiani, and based on their real-life romance. The Big Sick — which stars Nanjiani as a version of himself, alongside Zoe Kazan as Emily — is funny and sweet while not backing away from matters that romantic comedies don’t usually touch on, like serious illness, struggles in long-term marriages, and religion. As it tells the couple’s story, which takes a serious turn when Emily falls ill with a mysterious infection and her parents (played by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) come to town, it becomes a funny and wise story about real love.
How to watch it: The Big Sick is currently playing in theaters. It will eventually be available on Amazon.
4) Baby Driver
Release date: June 28
What makes it great: Part heist movie, part jukebox musical, Baby Driver is a 100 percent satisfying action-comedy from Edgar Wright, a director known for playful but reverent genre filmmaking. Though it boasts a crack ensemble that includes Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, and an excellent, menacing Jon Hamm, the movie turns on Ansel Elgort’s charismatic performance as Baby, a getaway car driver who lives his life under headphones in order to drown out the ringing in his ears, a souvenir from a traumatic childhood car crash.
From that contrived-seeming premise, Wright builds an action-comedy like no other, one that cannily uses its omnipresent soundtrack to narrative, thematic, and stylistic ends. Baby Driver is a stealth movie musical, choreographing its vehicular mayhem like dancers in Busby Berkeley production, but beyond that, it’s the sort of singular and wildly entertaining genre movie that’s all too rare at the multiplex.
How to watch it: Baby Driver is currently playing in theaters.
3) I Am Not Your Negro
Release date: February 3
What makes it great: This stunning documentary was directed by Raoul Peck, but it was written by writer and social critic James Baldwin — who died 30 years ago, in 1987. But this isn’t a documentary about James Baldwin, though it certainly is about him.
All of the film’s narration (by Samuel L. Jackson) was written by Baldwin, mostly drawn from letters and notes he made toward a novel called Remember This House that was never published, as well as other books and essays. By pulling together Baldwin’s own words with footage — both images he would have known well and clips of Baldwin himself, talking with interviewers, politely tearing them to shreds — I Am Not Your Negro becomes a document of a country by way of a keen observer and unsparing thinker. It is a cinematic essay-memoir, and a vital, uncomfortable one.
How to watch it: I Am Not Your Negro is streaming on Amazon Prime and available to digitally rent or purchase on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and Google Play. It’s also available to purchase on DVD or Blu-Ray.
Release date: April 21
What makes it great: This is a stately, elegant epic paced like an elegy. Based on David Grann’s 2010 book about explorer Percy Fawcett, The Lost City of Z feels like a movie from an earlier era.
The film follows Fawcett's travels in South America over his lifetime as he hunts for a rumored city, painting him as a hero who feels earthbound by his ancestors and longs for something greater, some experience that defies definition, to discover something beyond what his own civilization has managed to produce. It is a dreamlike film that feels like a bittersweet lament, a wish that man could know the world more fully in the time he’s allotted. In the end, Percy Fawcett is the manifestation of a powerful, universal idea: that we humans can only find ourselves by losing ourselves to something much bigger than us.
1) Get Out
Release date: February 24
What makes it great: Racism is scary. But Get Out (written and directed by Key & Peele's Jordan Peele) isn’t about the blatantly, obviously scary kind of racism — burning crosses and lynchings and snarling hate. Instead, it’s interested showing how the parts of racism that try to be aggressively unscary are just as horrifying, and it’s interested in making us feel that horror in a visceral, bodily way. In the tradition of the best classic social thrillers, Get Out takes a topic that is often approached cerebrally — casual racism — and turns it into something you feel in your tummy. And it does it with a wicked sense of humor.
How to watch it: Get Out is still playing in limited theaters. It is also available to digitally rent or buy from Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, and Vudu, and the Blu-Ray and DVD are available to purchase or rent.