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

Raw 
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

Split 
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