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25 Reasons to Love the Movies in 2017

From amazing directorial debuts to ‘Dunkirk,’ offbeat docs to Daniel Day-Lewis – the films, performances and moments that made the year in movies

25 things we loved about the movies

25 reasons to love the movies in 2017 – Rolling Stone's picks for best performances, blockbusters, directorial debuts and movie moments of the year.

Illustration by Sean McCabe

There were a lot of reasons to hate the movie industry in 2017, from the way it kept foisting reheated-leftover franchises on us to finally finding out just how much enabling it’s given to sexual predators and power-abusing monsters for decades. 

There were, however, a lot of reasons to love the movies over the last 12 months, even if this was an art form that gave us both a parody of dark, bloated Batman blockbusters and an actual dark, bloated caped-crusader adventure in a single year. We will remember 2017 as the Reckoning era and the age of the Female Gaze, but also the year of Get Out and Greta Gerwig, of existential ghosts and extraordinary docs, of saying hello to Timothée Chalamet and Tiffany Haddish and goodbye to Daniel Day-Lewis. 

There was, in fact, a lot that was worth shouting out about the films of 2017 that went beyond just a mere top 10 list (though I’ve included one below just for posterity’s sake). Here are 25 things we loved about the movies this year – from great works to standout moments, career-high performances to big-picture revolutions and small touches. Keep watching.

My Top 10 list:
1. Faces Places
2. Dunkirk
3. Raw
4. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
5. B.P.M. (Beats Per Minute)
6. Lady Bird
7. 
Phantom Thread
8. Lady Macbeth
9. Columbus
10. A Quiet Passion

Honorable mentions: All These Sleepless Nights, Call Me By Your Name, A Fantastic Woman, The Florida Project, Foxtrot, Get Out, Logan, Molly’s Game, Rat Film, The Work.

25 things we loved about the movies

Allison Janey’s Smoking in ‘I, Tonya’

Has anyone smoked this viciously and vicariously on screen since Bette Davis in Now, Voyager? There’s lots to love and admire in Craig Gillespie’s look at the rise and fall of ice-skating “bad girl” Tonya Harding, from Margot Robbie’s committed performance as the disgraced Olympian to the filmmaking chops on display (watch how the cameras keep circling Harding in her skating scenes, like it’s a frenzied shark – everybody, even the movie itself, seems to be a predator out to get her). But it’s Janey’s sneering, vulgar matriarch that we keep going back to, a one-woman self-esteem wrecking crew with both a chirping bird and a big chip resting on her shoulder. The way she wields her ever-present cigarette like a weapon almost tips the film into camp – but it also serves as a great way of letting know who this character is and how she views the world. It’s a genius bit of business, this.

25 things we loved about the movies

‘Phantom Thread’

A new Paul Thomas Anderson movie is always a big deal, much less one that would be a reunion between the filmmaker and his There Will Be Blood star Daniel Day-Lewis (and would turn out to be the thespian’s swan song). What the duo came up with, however, felt unlike anything else out there: an ode to 20th century fashion, obsession, relationship power dynamics and the notion that, for every stuff workaholic pot, there is a lovely German lid. It wore its movie influences on its sleeve without tailoring the entire sleeve out of them; it was somehow both chilly and swooning at the same time. And it has a climactic line of dialogue that we’d rank up there with “I drink your milkshake!” If this is indeed Day-Lewis’ last film, the man is going out on a major high.

25 things we loved about the movies

Michael Stuhlbarg’s ‘Call Me By Your Name’ Speech

There’s any number of reasons to love Luca Guadagnino’s love story: the attention to detail, the introduction to the young star-in-the-making Timothée Chalamet, the scenery, the sensualness, the sense that someone has figured out how to use Armie Hammer correctly, that scene-stealing peach. But nothing floors you like that speech that Michael Stuhlbarg gives to his son near the movie’s ending, a plea for the young man to never forget the agony and the ecstasy that this summer fling has left the teenager with. The way the actor treats three words (“I envy you”) doubles as the sound of hearts breaking – both onscreen and in the theater.

25 things we loved about the movies

A Baker’s Dozen of Cate Blanchetts: ‘Manifesto’

A homeless male Blanchett, a broadcast news anchor Blanchett, a blue-collar factory worker Blanchett, a mourning widow Blanchett – collect all 13! Visual artist Julian Rosefeldt takes his art installation involving the Oscar-winner reading numerous philosophical tracts while in a baker’s dozen of different personas and turns into one seamless showcase. Not all sections are equal, but when you see all of these vignettes strung together as a whole, you realize the focus has switched. It’s now a tribute to the actor – and to the process of acting itself. And to see her transform the principles of Dadaism into a ranting, raging eulogy at a funeral is to witness a performer who knows how to turn text into feeling no matter what. We once said we’d watch Blanchett read the phone book. We’d settle for the Dogme 95 rulebook.

25 things we loved about the movies

Robert Pattinson Got Dirty, James Franco Got ‘Disaster’-ous

Two immersive performances, two career highs. Robert Pattinson had already continued his trajectory into in-house arthouse kook this year with The Lost City of Z, sporting impressive facial hair and sweatiness as an old-time jungle explorer. Then came Good Time, and you suddenly felt like directors Josh and Benny Safdie had discovered a whole other actor behind that pretty face. You can practically smell the desperation emanating off his greasy outer-borough criminal determined to spring his hospitalized brother or die tryin’ – it’s the best thing the star has ever done, and we say this as big Cosmopolis fans. 

As for Franco, his chronicle of how one man crafted the worst movie ever made – The Disaster Artist – would be notable enough for the discipline the story brought to his directorial skills. But when you factor in his demented performance as The Room auteur Tommy Wiseau, complete with “All-American guy” accent and lounge-lizard loucheness, and you can see a whole other level of the modern-day renaissance man’s talent open up. The commitment these two former matinee idols show in these films could not be more admirable, or make us more anxious to see how they try to top it.

25 things we loved about the movies

‘Raw’

Girl, you’ll be a man-eating woman soon. No horror film – not even Get Out, which continues to get better with every viewing – floored us more this year than the French shocker about a college student (Garance Marillier) who develops a taste for human flesh. It’s tough to watch, tougher to look away and toughest of all to believe that this is director Julia Ducournau’s first feature, given how assured and controlled it is. Best of all, it takes the coming-of-age movie into some odd, unexpected places – call it the bloody flip side to Lady Bird. 

25 things we loved about the movies

The Frances and Sam Blues Explosion: ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’

She’s a take-no-shit mom trying to shame local law-enforcement into investigating her daughter’s murder; he’s a dim-witted racist deputy with mom issues. She isn’t afraid to kick a teenage girl in the crotch; he will throw a man out a two-story window in a fit of enraged mourning. Both of them are in need of serious redemption, and what Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell do with these two Martin McDonagh characters feels nothing short of miraculous. The Fargo actress tears into her vengeful-matriarch part with fangs, turning this woman into an avenging angle capable of tenderness (that doctor’s office scene with Woody Harrelson) and a Biblical fury. As for Rockwell, it takes a certain actor to guide you along the arc of such a flawed, violent, unsympathetic man and make you feel he’s earned the small, it’s-a-start victories he gets along the way. And both of them know exactly how to make this playwright-turned-filmmaker’s lines sing.

25 things we loved about the movies

‘Dunkirk’

How do you solve a problem like Christopher Nolan, an man who can turn cerebral puzzles into blockbusters but still makes you feel like you’re watching cinema directed by a brain in a jar? Answer: Give him a massive WWII set piece to recreate. The filmmaker somehow turned his massive spectacle about a turning point in Britain’s battle against the Nazis (the old ones, not the shitty modern-day ones we’re dealing with now) into something with urgency, humanity, a pulse, a soul. You could actually hear a heartbeat beneath all of his usual bells and whistles, which only made the cross-cutting between three chronologically mixed stories feel that much more of an achievement. We always knew he was a technically proficient and someone who could intellectualize pop. Dunkirk proves, once and for all, that he’s also an artist, full stop. 

25 things we loved about the movies

‘Rat Film,’ ‘Dawson City’ and 2017’s Offbeat-Doc Renaissance

It’s not that hard to cobble together a 10-best documentary list every year if you watch a decent amount of nonfiction flicks – and thanks to HBO, Netflix and a number of distributors still willing to get them out to a moviegoing public, you’ve arguably never had a better chance to see them en masse. But 2017 was the year we had serious trouble limiting a documentary list to just 10 – from Faces Places to Ex Libris, The Challenge to The Work, there was a bounty of cinema vérité ready, willing and able to blow your mind.

But for us, this was the year that experimental, offbeat, WTF docs really hit their stride. Films like Dawson City: Frozen Time, Bill Morrison’s tale of lost silent movies found in a remote Canadian mining town that doubles as a case history of bootstrap capitalism and a gorgeous display of decaying imagery. Or Theo Anthony’s incredible Rat Film, which appears to be a look at amateur vermin exterminators in Baltimore before diving into urban planning, institutional racism and cosmic head-trip detours. Or Machines, a narration-less tour of an Indian factory that forces you to rethink not just third-world labor but first-world cine-activism. These were micro-to-macro looks at our past, present and future that reflected the world around us in creative, soul-searching ways. See them by any means necessary.

25 things we loved about the movies

‘Lady Macbeth’

In which a British theater director adapts a Russian novella for the screen and reminds you that revenge should be served ice-cold. William Oldroyd delivers what feels like a Masterpiece Theater period piece with blood drying on its fangs, complete with an oppressed lady-of-the-house heroine that finds liberation in taking a lover and satisfaction in taking down the patriarchy down brick by rancid brick. He already feels like a major filmmaker from the get-go, and his young actress is a major find; if people could start casting Florence Pugh in every third movie, we’d be very grateful.

25 things we loved about the movies

The Fact That Tracey Letts Exists

Few men can play middle-aged white-male anger with more gusto than the Pulitzer-winning playwright and actor, but never mind the rage; 2017 was the year we saw the range. His turn as the gentle, slightly overwhelmed father in Lady Bird has already earned him deserved praise (he and Laurie Metcalf make a great double act), and his small but significant part in Steven Spielberg’s The Post, playing counsel to Katharine Graham, is proof that he’s a top-notch, you-can-see-him-thinking screen listener. It’s his third role of the year, however, that seals the deal: A husband who starts cheating not on his wife but with her (long story) in the criminally underseen movie The Lovers. There is a symphony of reticence, defeat, confusion, exasperation and, at one point, unbridled joy that plays across his face – and that’s not even counting the moment he sings “It Must Be Love” while plinking the Madness tune out on the family piano. This man can do anything.

25 things we loved about the movies

That Sudden Left Turn in ‘A Ghost Story’

We don’t want to give away exactly how David Lowery’s cerebral, soulful, achingly beautiful tale of a man (Casey Affleck), a woman (Rooney Mara) and a filmmaker gambling that you’ll go along with watching someone in a crude Halloween costume for most of a movie takes a midway detour into uncharted territory – suffice to say, it does not involve eating a whole pie in a single shot. (That happens earlier.) What we will say is that the movie suddenly widens its scope in a way that had us audibly saying, “Whoa”; that it made us rethink this entire mediation on grief and memory; and that we were tempted to start clapping in the theater. If you’ve seen it, you know what we’re talking about. If not, check it out. Sheet happens.

25 things we loved about the movies

‘Columbus’

There’s a scene in the visual-essayist-turned-filmmaker Kogonada’s directorial debut in which Haley Lu Richardson, a college student in Columbus, Indiana, takes a visitor – Star Trek‘s John Cho – to a local architectural wonder. She gives him tour guide’s spiel. He interrupts her: But why does it move you? We then watch Richardson begin to explain, emphatically, what it is about this particular building that gives her such an emotional reaction; because the director switches angles and films her from behind the residence’s window, we never hear what she says. Some folks have criticized the sequence, saying it’s another female character denied the chance to speak. But you could also look at the scene from the perspective that the answer itself is not what matters – it’s that someone actually bothered to ask this young woman what she thinks. It’s moments like that one that have kept us thinking about this deceptively spare character study, a small film about connecting that left a gigantic impact on how we thought about the art form in 2017. Any year that gave us a movie like this could not have been all bad.

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