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Best movies of 2017 so far

Halfway through 2017, we can say a couple of things about the movies. One is that the major studios are making a lot of bad ones. The other is that they can make great ones when they try.

Take, for example, just about every big-budget franchise film released this year. With a few exceptions, they’ve been awful. “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword,” ostensibly the first in a six-film series, was a major flop. The new “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie turned Johnny Depp’s name into mud, while the latest “Transformers” installment reached a 16 percent rating on RottenTomatoes. As for “The Mummy,” it’s been a terrible advertisement for Universal’s forthcoming series of monster-movie reboots. All of these non-blockbusters looked and felt exactly the same: created by committee, written for the box-office and directed by people who seemed to regret it.

On the other hand, look at “Wonder Woman,” a superhero movie that had a purpose — to give a female superhero her own story — and managed to be an absolute crowd-pleaser. Or take Jordan Peele’s “Get Out,” a horror-comedy with overt racial overtones that became a critical and popular hit. Both films made over $100 million — a first for a female-fronted superhero film, and a first for a black director’s debut.

 Here’s my top 20 movies of 2017 — so far:

20. 'Beauty and the Beast'

This image released by Disney shows Dan Stevens
Photo Credit: Disney

Though no match for the 1991 animated film, Disney’s live-action version has a few things going for it. Emma Watson is picture-perfect as Belle, Dan Stevens does an admirable job as The Beast and the whole shebang looks as gorgeous as a fairy-tale should.

18. 'Smurfs: The Lost Village'

Clumsy (Jack McBrayer), Brainy (Danny Pud), Hefty (Joe
Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Animation

It took long enough, but Smurfette (Demi Lovato) finally realizes she’s defined solely by her gender in this animated film, which sends her on a journey of discovery. It’s still the usual kid’s stuff — high jinks and dance numbers — but at least it has something on its mind.

17. 'Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2'

The misfit Marvel heroes search for the true
Photo Credit: Marvel Studios

The sequel to the 2014 smash goes even heavier on the rock music and one-liners, which sometimes feel like too much of a good thing. Still, it has its moments, and any movie that casts Kurt Russell as an immortal god named Ego can’t be all bad. Pictured: Chris Pratt, center, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista and the voices of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel.

16. 'The Belko Experiment'

John C. McGinley stars in THE BELKO EXPERIMENT,
Photo Credit: MGM

Eighty employees are trapped in a remote office building and told they must kill each other. Greg McLean’s horror-thriller is a nasty little treat.

15. 'Logan'

Dafne Keen and Hugh Jackman in "Logan". (2017)
Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox/Ben Rothstein

The sun finally sets on Hugh Jackman’s “Wolverine” franchise with a film that feels more like an old Western than a flashy Marvel movie. Pictured: Dafne Keen and Jackman 

14. 'Split'

Writer/director/producer M. Night Shyamalan returns to the captivating
Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

M. Night Shyamalan’s best movie in years stars James McAvoy, pictured, as a kidnapper who — to the confusion of his already terrified hostages — has 23 personalities. It’s as funny as it is suspenseful.

13. 'T2: Trainspotting'

This image released by TriStar Pictures shows Jonny
Photo Credit: Sony / TriStar Pictures/Jaap Buitendijk

Twenty years after the decade-defining youth film “Trainspotting,” director Danny Boyle and his cast (including Jonny Lee Miller, left, and Ewan McGregor) reunite for a poignant sequel.

19. 'Baywatch'

This image released by Paramount Pictures shows Dwayne
Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures/Frank Masi

Few movies this year got trashed as thoroughly as “Baywatch,” currently holding at 19 percent on RottenTomatoes. But Dwayne Johnson, left, and Zac Efron make a fine team as crime-fighting lifeguards in a comedy that spoofs the old TV show.

12. 'Personal Shopper'

This image released by IFC Films shows Kristen
Photo Credit: IFC Films/Carole Bethuel

Kristen Stewart, pictured, plays a fashion model’s assistant who becomes involved in a supernatural murder mystery. Not for all tastes — it’s cerebral, slightly spacey and very French — but compelling and suspenseful throughout.

11. 'Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie'

Photo Credit: DreamWorks Animation/DreamWorks Animation

This animated film about two fourth-grade pranksters (Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch) who turn their principal (Ed Helms) into the world’s silliest superhero, maintains the gonzo spirit of Dav Pilkey’s popular children’s books. 

10. 'The Fate of the Furious'

Dom (VIN DIESEL) in a scene from "The
Photo Credit: Universal Pictures/Matt Kennedy

Eight films in, the “Fast and Furious” franchise hasn’t let us down yet. This one, about a super-hacker (Charlize Theron) and a nuclear submarine, is noticeably goofier, but with Vin Diesel, pictured, Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham on board, fun will trump logic every time.

9. 'My Cousin Rachel'

Sam Claflin and Rachel Weisz in the film,
Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight/Nicola Dove

Director Roger Michell (“Notting Hill”) goes dark with this Daphne du Maurier adaptation about a wealthy young gentleman (Sam Claflin, left) who falls for a possibly murderous beauty (Rachel Weisz, right). It’s a classic Gothic tale.

8. 'The Lego Batman Movie'

Batman (WILL ARNETT) in the animated adventure "The
Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures/ DC Comics

The superhero with the brooding attitude and adjustable legs gets his own spinoff. It’s a kid-friendly comedy with grown-up appeal. 

7. 'John Wick: Chapter 2'

This image released by Lionsgate shows Keanu Reeves
Photo Credit: Lionsgate/Niko Tavernise

Keanu Reeves returns as a vicious hit man living in a shadow-world of gentlemen assassins. This is the rare sequel that tops the original, with slam-bang action.

6. 'Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer'

Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of
Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Richard Gere, left, delivers a beautiful little performance as a Jewish fellow of no real importance who somehow fast-talks his way into the world of Israeli-American politics. It’s a deceptively small film that touches on life-size issues in funny and touching ways.

5. 'Baby Driver'

Ansel Elgort (
Photo Credit: TriStar Pictures/Wilson Webb

Ansel Elgort plays a hotshot getaway driver — improbably named Baby — who tries to leave his life of crime after he falls for a waitress. It’s a heist flick, a teen movie, a “Pulp Fiction” rip-off and almost a musical(!), yet it all works. Pictured: Jamie Foxx, left, and Elgort

4. 'The Lovers'

Tracy Letts and Debra Winger in A24's "The
Photo Credit: A24/Robb Rosenfeld

Azazel Jacobs’ story of two philandering spouses who suddenly become interested in each other again is an off-kilter gem with two marvelous actors in Tracy Letts, left, and Debra Winger.

3. 'Lost City of Oz'

(L to R) Charlie Hunnam as Percy Fawcett,
Photo Credit: Amazon Studios / Bleecker Street/Aidan Monaghan

James Gray’s drama about the real-life British explorer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) is an old-fashioned epic — gorgeous costumes, lavish sets — with a modern-day sensibility about its hero. Pictured: Hunnam, left, Robert Pattinson and Edward Ashley

2. 'Get Out'

DANIEL KALUUYA as Chris Washington in Universal Pictures'
Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

Writer-director Jordan Peele delivered one of the year’s smartest movies with this horror-chiller about a young black man (Daniel Kaluuya, pictured) who meets his white girlfriend’s parents. It’s a creepy, funny, cringe-inducing look at race in America.

1. 'Wonder Woman'

June 2 WONDER WOMAN. Gal Gadot gets her
Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures/Clay Enos

It isn’t often that a superhero movie really knocks it out of the park — and this time, the batter happens to be female. With a riveting Gal Gadot, pictured, in the title role and Patty Jenkins in the director’s chair, “Wonder Woman” is top-notch summer entertainment that will surely kick open a few doors for women in the movies.

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