If the first half of 2017 has offered more than a few reasons to run screaming from the news and sit in a darkened room away from it all, at least it’s also offered plenty of great movies to watch in that darkened room. Those seeking total relief from reality could find it in Beauty and the Beast’s floral fantasies and Lego Batman’s plastic pratfalls. Those looking for context on the present moment could locate it in the resurrection of James Baldwin’s writings in I Am Not Your Negro and in Get Out’s terrifying meditation on the more insidious manifestations of racism.
There’s much in store for the rest of the year — from the revival of Blade Runner to this year’s Spielbergian entry (featuring national treasures Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks). As we head into the season of superheroes and crowd-pleasing popcorn fare, here are TIME’s picks for the best movies of 2017 so far.
Write to Eliza Berman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I Am Not Your Negro
James Baldwin’s writing has never not been relevant. But if there has been a surge in awareness of just how prescient his words about race and class in America were, director Raoul Peck deserves some of the credit. Peck’s documentary lets Baldwin speak for himself — between archival footage and Samuel L. Jackson’s narration of the writer’s unfinished final opus — and in so doing, speaks to the many ways in which America has failed to change in the years since his subject’s life and death.
MORE: James Baldwin Documentary I Am Not Your Negro Is the Product of a Specific Moment in History
The Lego Batman Movie
Though it emerges from the drawn-on mouth of a computer-animated, two-inch wedge of black and yellow plastic, the voice of Will Arnett has as much pathos as any of the previous Batmen. In sending up the blunders of recent superhero movies (“Get a bunch of bad guys together to fight bad guys? That’s a terrible idea!”), it became the genre’s most delightful entry of the year so far.
Upon its February release, Jordan Peele’s directorial debut became nothing short of a sensation — and not just at the box office, where it made more than $200 million on a sub-$5 million budget. Inspired by social thrillers like Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives, the movie is as brilliant a critique of the insidious threat of white liberal racism as it relentlessly entertaining, a combination that’s launched Peele as one of the most promising new directors to watch.
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore
Though it takes its title from a 1965 country gospel song, Macon Blair’s Sundance award-winning comedic drama could just as easily have drawn inspiration from Twisted Sister’s 1984 anthem “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” Melanie Lynskey’s Ruth Kimke has had it up to here with the book-spoilers, line-cutters and emissions regulations dodgers who seem intent on obliterating that old-fashioned value, common decency. It’s a cathartic delight to watch Lynskey take matters into her own hands, with the help of a rat-tailed ninja wannabe played by Elijah Wood.
My Life as a Zucchini
A stop-motion coming-of-age tale about an orphan adjusting to his new life in a group home, this Swiss-French adaptation of a Gilles Paris novel is a simple story told with vast reserves of empathy. Through the blue-rimmed eyes of young Zucchini — whether we’re reading the subtitles or listening to an English-language version dubbed with the voices of Nick Offerman and Amy Sedaris — we see a world of sorrow and wonder in equal measure.
Kristen Stewart shows, once again, that her inscrutability is one of her greatest assets. As the titular personal shopper in her second film with French writer-director Olivier Assayas, she might be described as a portrait of grief — so long as we can agree that grief is an abstract, enigmatic and altogether finicky subject for portraiture. Part ghost story, part psychological thriller, the genre-bucking film is an argument in favor of a long and prosperous Stewart-Assayas partnership.
Beauty and the Beast
If you’re going to remake one of the most beloved properties of the Disney Renaissance, you might as well give them the ol’ razzle-dazzle — and that’s exactly what director Bill Condon does in this live-action do-over. From Busby Berkeley-inspired choreography to a flower budget that must put royal weddings to shame, Beauty and the Beast is a reminder that movies can still offer the kind of spectacle that leaves stars in your eyes.
The Lost City of Z
James Gray’s adaptation of David Grann’s 2009 book takes as its source material a mystery without a satisfying conclusion: the disappearance of British explorer Percy Fawcett, who went dark while on the search for a lost Amazonian city in 1925. But this is the type of movie you watch not for its conclusion, but for its artful unfurling of the clues that add up to the ending’s shadowy ambiguity. As the audience gets lost in the lush green of the jungle, Charlie Hunnam’s Fawcett gets perhaps not lost, but found, on his own spiritual journey.
If the Babadook is an allegory for grief and Godzilla is a stand-in for nukes, the monster in Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal operates, metaphorically, on a smaller scale: as an avatar for one woman’s addiction, self-destruction and specific strain of hurting. Anne Hathaway is a magnetic blend of slapstick, sloppy and slovenly in a genre monster mash that’s as satisfyingly weird as it is surprisingly empowering.
Depictions of love after 50 often exist at either extreme of a spectrum: squawky sitcom-style nagging on one end, and the impenetrable sheen of a Cialis commercial on the other. But Azazel Jacobs’ The Lovers avoids caricature by imbuing the marriage of Mary (Debra Winger) and Michael (Tracy Letts) — who have sought out passion in extramarital affairs — with the idiosyncrasies of real people. And it doesn’t shy away from the sexy business that takes place after the Cialis commercial fades from foreplay to buzz-killing disclaimers.