The Summer Oscars: The Best in Movies of Summer 2017
No one is going to fight for last summer. It was a horrific time for movies, blockbuster after blockbuster failing both financially and critically, and the few indie gems that did come out being ignored. While its best film, Hell or High Water, is undeniably magnificent, the list falls off steeply after that. So when it came to this summer, many were hesitant. Would the studio continue to crank out garbage? Unfortunately, it did, with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and Transformers: The Last Knight both continuing a disgusting trend. But unlike last summer, for every stink pile this summer, there was a brilliantly entertaining crowdpleaser. For every horribly messy embarrassment, there were two or three films that showcased some of the most masterfully artful filmmaking of recent memory. Despite it being one of the worst periods for the box office, this summer’s movies themselves, as many have said, represent one of the best seasons we’ve had in a long time. In May, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and The Lovers hit on both ends of the cinematic spectrum in lovely fashion. As June rolled around, It Comes At Night, The Big Sick, Baby Driver and The Beguiled showcased why relatively smaller films are where we should invest our interest. But let’s also not forget about the wondrously historic event that was Wonder Woman. In July, blockbusters found life again, as Spider-Man: Homecoming reinvigorated the web-slinger, War for the Planet of the Apes capped off one of the best trilogies of all time and Dunkirk stunned as an overwhelming cinematic achievement that perhaps only Christopher Nolan could’ve made. Indies didn’t stop either, with A Ghost Story haunting us to this day, Girls Trip stomping on everyone’s pre-conceived notions and Atomic Blonde kicking everyone’s ass as women have this summer. A dip may have expectedly come in August — it’s almost unavoidable — but within the bad were gems like Ingrid Goes West, Logan Lucky, Wind River and the arresting, John Cho-starring (more please!) Columbus.
It’s been shocking to watch this summer unfold, great movies releasing almost weekly. Top 10 lists of this season rival those of the entirety of last year. So, to combat this strange idea that films not from the fall should be left on the cutting board when it comes time for awards season, we at MovieMinis thought to award the best of summer 2017 so that they may have their fair share of the spotlight:
Best Original Screenplay: Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani — The Big Sick
Comedies had fallen flat. Great romcoms were almost non-existent. Then, The Big Sick showed up and not only gave us more from the genre than we’ve had in a long while, but genuinely brought out the best that it could offer. And it all starts with its absolutely pitch perfect script. Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon based The Big Sick in the true story of their romance, and it’s easy to immediately feel the truth at the core of the film, which features such emotionally resonant scenes that hinder on what a character says and what another doesn’t — the film being, on a whole, about communication and perspective. Gordon and Nanjiani give thorough perspective to each character in the film, something that most films in general don’t do. Kumail, Emily, Emily’s parents, Kumail’s parents and Kumail’s friends are all written with a care for independent motivation and given actual arcs that are fulfilled. And all of this is outside of the comedy, which is perhaps its best feature. While, these days, most jokes in films feel forced, The Big Sick is all about natural humor, humor that feels informed and plays off of the film’s themes of perspective and culture. Truly, The Big Sick‘s script is wholesome. But if we were being honest, it deserves this award if only for that 9/11 joke.
— Kyle Kizu
Runner-up: David Lowery for A Ghost Story
A Ghost Story‘s screenplay reportedly hovers around 30 pages. Many know that the “one page, one minute” concept is a mostly incorrect generalization, but to have 30 pages turn into 90+ heart-wrenching minutes is a feat, a feat because writer-director David Lowery somehow finds a harrowing, haunting truth with very few words. It’s not surprising, considering that the film is essentially a showcase of minimalism on all levels, but each line of dialogue, each crafted scene, in setting and progression, hold the weight of the human condition — our fight against time. The characters are defined with a tragic tenderness. The supernatural concept is executed so organically. While most of the film becomes about the visual, it’s the written word that conceives such a thing, and it’s hard not to be wholly moved by the simple and profound written word of A Ghost Story.
— Kyle Kizu
3. Trey Edward Shults — It Comes At Night
4. Bong Joon-ho, Jon Ronson — Okja
5. Christopher Nolan — Dunkirk
Honorable Mention: Kogonada — Columbus
Best Adapted Screenplay: Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves — War for the Planet of the Apes
The most recent Planet of the Apes trilogy is led by one of the best film characters of all time, Caesar (Andy Serkis), and that is a huge credit to the screenplays behind the films. In the best of them all, War for the Planet of the Apes, the script plunges Caesar to his lowest point, and it is nothing less than riveting. Despite the regality that emanates from him, he is brought to a crushing point of desperation — exacerbated by the menacing, if sympathetic Colonel (Woody Harrelson). Ultimately though — and this is perhaps the most defining trait of this Apes franchise — Caesar’s downfall makes him yet more human in the eyes of the viewer, and more importantly, his arc by the end of the film feels rewarding and earned. Over the course of three films, Caesar has transformed from a mere pet into an epic hero of biblical proportions — a legendary Mosaic figure that thenceforth enriches and informs the history of the apes. Then of course, War’s script maneuvers tone expertly — showing us the harrowing depths of Caesar’s fall, but also taking moments to inject much-needed levity through Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) and franchise mainstay Maurice (Karin Konoval). Such a script makes War the capper to one of the great film trilogies of all time, a sentiment echoed by 20th Century Fox’s plans for a major awards campaign.
— Harrison Tunggal
Runner-up: Sofia Coppola — The Beguiled
There are two wars in Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled. One is obvious— the film follows a school of women and young girls in the Confederate south as they nurse a Union soldier back to health. The other is far more subtle; it wages beneath the surface, simmering behind genteel manners, flirtatious glances and courteous dinners. Coppola’s script rises to the challenge of the particular setting, imbuing those infamous Southern manners with surprising malicious underpinnings. Even Colin Farrell’s charming Union soldier comes across as harmless on paper, but it’s the nonverbal threats accompanying his every word that leave the audience on the edge of their seats. News that Coppola was adapting the original 1971 film came with both criticism and anticipation, but in the end, the script is one of her all-time best. Talk about nailing an ending.
— Kate Halliwell
3. Erik Sommers, Chris McKenna, Christopher Ford, Jon Watts, John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein — Spider-Man: Homecoming
4. Alice Birch — Lady Macbeth
5. Allan Heinberg, Zack Snyder, Jason Fuchs — Wonder Woman
Honorable Mention: Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham — The Glass Castle
Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role: Holly Hunter — The Big Sick
Holly Hunter has always been a reliable character actor, winning an Oscar in 1993 for Jane Campion’s The Piano. However, it has been awhile since she gave a performance that dominated the critics circle and awards season talk. Well, thanks to her touching, humorous and scene-stealing turn in The Big Sick, it appears that she is about to enter those conversations again, and maybe even dominate them.
In the film, Hunter plays Beth, the mother to Zoe Kazan’s character Emily Gardner whose sudden medical condition puts her into a coma. From here, Emily’s ex-boyfriend, Kumail Nanjiani (playing himself) feels like he has to stay bedside to Emily throughout this ordeal, despite Beth’s wishes for him to keep his distance. At first, Beth’s character seems like the stereotypical, stuck-up mom who doesn’t believe anyone will know her daughter better than her. Yet thanks to both Hunter’s acting and Nanjiani’s writing, the film slowly reveals the depths of character that have made Beth such the stern mother she is. While she may live an upper-middle class life, saying her life has been easy is a miscalculation of her tics. Being the performance behind some of the most tear-jerking scenes in the movie (and since the movie might be the biggest tear-jerker of the year so far), Hunter won us over. Look for major awards talk to come her way this year.
— Levi Hill
Runner-up: Rooney Mara — A Ghost Story
No one does repressed grief quite like Rooney Mara. From her turn as a restrained, lovestruck shopgirl in Carol, to Lisbeth Salander’s trademark subdued fury, Mara has built a career on her ability to speak volumes with a single look. A Ghost Story marks a return to form for Mara, who is genuinely devastating as a grieving wife haunted by her recently deceased husband. Mara is as understated as always, and again she’s enormously effective. Pain flickers across her face, then it’s quickly replaced with a sort of emptiness, a numb realization that things will never return to the way they were before. Mara has reached a point in her career where perfection is expected, and as such, her performance in A Ghost Story will most likely miss out on any awards season recognition. Even so, it’s comforting to know that performances like these are just another film for Mara. We can look forward to many more understated, brilliant turns to come.
Just perhaps not ones that involve eating an entire pie.
— Kate Halliwell
3. Tiffany Haddish — Girls Trip
4. Tilda Swinton — Okja
5. Kirsten Dunst — The Beguiled
Honorable Mention: Zoe Kazan — The Big Sick
Achievement in Costume Design: Jeffrey Kurland — Dunkirk
Dunkirk may not jump out as a film with amazing costume design. And that’s exactly why it’s such an achievement. Costume designer Jeffrey Kurland didn’t have the uniforms in hand to simply recreate. Each garb had to be handcrafted with the character’s definition ingrained in each thread. Upon close inspection, what may have initially looked like an endless see of brown becomes an indicator of what kind of soldier each one is. For Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), his uniform is overwhelming and big, a sign of his youth and inexperience. Alex (Harry Styles) wears, as some may not have noticed, a slightly different uniform (people have connected his character and his regiment to Scotland), one that fits tighter and is more controlled, indicative of his higher status. But the singularity of uniforms wouldn’t have been enough to sell the look of this film. Dunkirk is about being there. It’s about feeling as though you’re on the beaches, as though you’re being bombed by German planes. It’s about the feeling of being stuck. And the costumes had to be designed with this gritty, dirty, sweaty sense of desperation, of being washed over by ocean water, of being stranded for a week and beaten down into the streets and sand.
But the costumes are also about the civilians who came across on boats. The sweaters have already been raved about humorously on social media. But the 40s English attire truly does inform the story. These are ordinary men thrust into an operation far greater than anyone may handle, and the humble simplicity in a hand-knitted red sweater truly does impact the film and call to the “Dunkirk spirit” as much as the soldiers’ wear and tear does.
— Kyle Kizu
Runner-up: Stacey Battat — The Beguiled
Period dramas tend to seem like a boring choice when it comes to costume design recognition, but the pastel evening gowns and crinkled crinolines of The Beguiled are too fabulous to ignore. In one particularly memorable scene, Kirsten Dunst’s sexually repressed Southern belle comes to dinner in a ruffled, revealing gown that ostentatiously shows off her best assets. Her attempt at wooing Colin Farrell’s charismatic Union soldier is just as unsubtle as the gown itself. Instead, he’s more interested in Elle Fanning’s far younger seductress, who is all blushing cheeks and fluttering eyelashes in a series of flowy white gowns. Nicole Kidman presides over the chaos as a stern, commanding governess. She’s nearly always clothed in imposing high-necked gowns, excepting the already infamous “Bring me the anatomy book!” scene, where she’s literally up to her elbows in blood. What a waste of a gorgeous nightgown.
— Kate Halliwell
3. Holly Waddington — Lady Macbeth
4. Cindy Evans — Atomic Blonde
5. Lindy Hemming — Wonder Woman
Honorable Mention: Annell Brodeur — A Ghost Story
Achievement in Production Design: Nathan Crowley — Dunkirk
Similar to its costumes, Dunkirk doesn’t jump out as a film with stunning production design. In actuality, it’s not meant to be one. The production design, much like every other craft aspect of the film, acts in service of immersion, in service of the visceral, tangible, largely physical experience. Shooting on the real beaches of Dunkirk came with a big problem: part of the central setting, the mole, had been destroyed. And thus, production designer Nathan Crowley was tasked with recreating it, with building a pier that’s been, alongside the soldiers, the blunt victim of unforgiving waves and, more terrifyingly, dive-bombers. As Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) and Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) run down the breakwater, squeezing between soldiers and traversing blown off portions over only planks, the mole feels and, most importantly, looks alive, like a character bracing alongside the soldiers.
The sets of ship interiors and exteriors during attacks, of a stronghold in the city and of the equipment and vehicles on the beaches are designed with that same gritty, worn down aura and historical accuracy. These sets are complex and extensive, built to invoke claustrophobia. Crowley also makes use of portion sets and cardboard cutouts for backgrounds, extending the view of soldiers endlessly, capturing the scope of 400,000 men.
But where the film engulfs us next is in its design of its planes, recreating Spitfires through redesigns of other planes. The dogfight sequences are some of the most stunning of Dunkirk, and the fact that real planes are used, interiors and exteriors designed with pinpoint precision, does wonders for the main goal of the film: transporting us there.
— Kyle Kizu
Runner-up: Aline Bonetto — Wonder Woman
In the first act of Wonder Woman, we feel a sense of awe not yet felt within the DC Extended Universe, as we explore the island of Themyscira, where Wonder Woman was brought up by the Amazons. The architecture and culture of Themyscira is reminiscent of the ancient Greeks, but unique enough to fascinate and intrigue viewers, and that’s a credit to production designer Aline Bonetto. Of course, her work in designing the drabness of London and the battlefields of World War I are admirable, but her work in designing Themyscira is truly praiseworthy. She carves out a space within the DCEU that’s bright and majestic, and it leaves us nothing less than wonderstruck.
— Harrison Tunggal
3. David Scheunemann — Atomic Blonde
4. James Chinlund — War for the Planet of the Apes
5. Scott Chambliss — Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Honorable Mention: Hugues Tissandier — Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling: John Blake, Jay Wejebe — Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
The makeup in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is nothing short of pristine. The stunning makeup on the colorful aliens Yondu (Michael Rooker), Drax (Dave Bautista) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) were carryovers from the first Guardians film, but this time, John Blake, Jay Wejebe and their team created an entire race of aliens covered in a gold sheen — the Sovereign. These aliens look like walking Oscars, which could be somewhat prophetic given the team’s excellent work in this film. If that weren’t enough, the film also puts a spotlight on the Ravagers, a motley crew of scarred, deformed space pirates, which put the onus on the makeup team to create a variety of hardened alien thieves. In particular, the film’s joke about Taserface (Chris Sullivan) wouldn’t have worked had it not been for an appropriately tasered face. Even though Star Wars: The Last Jedi might throw this makeup team’s chances at Oscar glory for a loop, they deserve every bit of praise for this list of summer awards.
— Harrison Tunggal
Runner-up: Shandra Page, Tony Ward, Mia Goff, Natalie Christine Johnson — The Beguiled
Rarely does hairstyling get as much recognition as makeup, but the work of the hair team of The Beguiled is as integral to the film as every other craft department. With the film’s themes and concepts, of sexual attraction, of a deconstruction of the male gaze, of a community of women separated from the warring country, and with the historical setting, the hairstyling had to be pitch perfect. And it is. The younger children all hold a sense of curiosity and innocence within the larger scale of events. Nicole Kidman emanates a regal authority, fitting her position as head of the house. Elle Fanning’s hairstyling evokes the explorative sexuality that is centric to the film’s story, as is the quiet and repressed core of Kirsten Dunst’s character, whose hair reflects her journey of attempting to break free from a community she doesn’t feel as though she truly belongs to. On an aesthetic sense, the hairstyling is beautiful. But because of the fact that it serves the story so thoroughly, it deserves endless recognition.
— Kyle Kizu
3. Jessie Eden, Sasha Grossman — It Comes At Night
4. Laura Morse, Christine Blundell — Wonder Woman
5. Sian Wilson — Lady Macbeth
Honorable Mention: Lesley Vanderwalt — Alien: Covenant
Achievement in Cinematography: Hoyte van Hoytema — Dunkirk
It was hard to imagine Christopher Nolan without his longtime cinematographer Wally Pfister. But after Interstellar, it became hard to imagine Nolan not working with Dutch-Swedish lenser Hoyte van Hoytema for the foreseeable future. And their collaboration on Dunkirk shows just why Hoytema may be Nolan’s greatest partner. From the breathtaking first image to the mesmerizing penultimate shot, Hoytema’s work represents the pinnacle of cinema, especially in its IMAX 70mm form. As what’s been said time and time again with Dunkirk‘s craft categories, the main goal of the cinematography is for immersion. And it does that unlike any film truly has. Utilizing the IMAX camera like a go-pro, Hoytema places us as a soldier on the beach, ducking for cover, racing to the departing boats, shaking at the shockwaves of bombs. Through the cinematography, we inhabit a space on the small civilian boats, thrown around by waves. We inhabit a space below deck on navy destroyers, nearly drowning after being downed by a U-boat. We inhabit a space in the air, peering through the scope, veering left and right, laboring as we try to shoot down the German ME 109s. These are camera angles that haven’t been fully realized until this film, with Hoytema and the team inventing rigs to place cameras where they’ve never been before.
On a technical level, the work is astounding. At first, it might not seem as artistic as his cinematography on Interstellar. But Hoytema is perhaps more subtly artful in his rendering of Dunkirk. Like the shot above, there’s this breathtaking sense of scope, this arresting design of the mise-en-scene that tones the look of Dunkirk with a trapped claustrophobia amid one of the largest and most important events of the 20th century. And at the end, the wandering camera almost finds a tranquility unexpected with a film like Dunkirk. Farrier’s (Tom Hardy) Spitfire, gliding with the soldiers below and the city in the background, is truly a shot for the ages, a quiet one that allows us to breathe after all of the overwhelming movement. It’s cinematography that represents the best that cinema can offer, that fights for the medium, both of the film format and of film in general, with something purely visual.
— Kyle Kizu
Runner-up: Andrew Droz Palermo — A Ghost Story
If Dunkirk showcases the best that cinematography can offer on the large scale, then A Ghost Story offers the best of cinematography on a small scale. Andrew Droz Palermo’s work truly shows an artist in tune with every thematic level of the art. With A Ghost Story, we’re meant to project our emotions onto the titular ghost, and Palermo rightfully lingers, hangs and frames shots in ways that overwhelm — especially in the framing of uninterrupted still shots — to a point where it’s impossible not to find a profound emotion, or ten, within the eyes of the ghost. But Palermo also excels in movement, his tracking in particularly. There’s this haunting, majestic, almost mythic poetry as we slowly follow the ghost, wholly crafting the film’s spirituality and invoking just what the film needed to become truly great: making us, the viewer, a ghost ourselves.
— Kyle Kizu
3. Philippe Le Sourd — The Beguiled
4. Bill Pope — Baby Driver
5. Michael Seresin — War for the Planet of the Apes
Honorable Mention: Elisha Christian — Columbus
Achievement in Film Editing: Lee Smith — Dunkirk
Dunkirk performs an illusion: the Shepard tone. You may think I’m talking about the score. I’m not. The score performs the illusion too, but Dunkirk, the film itself, is structured in a way that replicates the effects of the typically musical anomaly — something Christopher Nolan intended while writing the screenplay. It’s a massive, difficult task to weave together three storylines that not only are all constantly rising in tension, but also play out on different timeframes. Before jumping in, outside of those complex aspects, Lee Smith is incredibly calculated when crafting action scenes. The Spitfire sequences have been raved about for their realism, and credit must be given to Smith for how fluid and steady the progression of each dogfight is. And right before the soldiers are dive-bombed by German planes, Smith lingers on reaction shots, of eyes wandering up to the sky at the source of noise, masterfully building suspense. But Smith has done these and similar things before, his work on the grander scale of Dunkirk being what truly solidifies this as his and Nolan’s greatest collaboration yet — a monumental feat when considering their work on Inception. Despite jumping backward and forward in time, there’s never a sense of imbalance in the film’s momentum. Each thread feels as though it’s still progressing, even when it’s treading water we’ve been through before — often thanks to careful revelations of dramatic irony. And as the film builds, the structure does too. As expected, the three timelines meet at a singular moment. But instead of simply crashing them together, Nolan and Smith play the climax out of order as the threads seem to try to find each other. There’s a great sense of disorientation, a purposeful one to tone the chaotic, senseless and harrowing event happening before their (and our) eyes, but the scene never loses focus or coherency — a quality that all the best edited films have. The climax plays out of order, but it plays so masterfully that out of order feels somehow more organic, an intangible sense of filmic cohesion, just as the entirety of Dunkirk is, due to how the film is put together.
— Kyle Kizu
Runner-up: Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss — Baby Driver
While Dunkirk is a monumental feat in film editing, Baby Driver isn’t as far off as one would assume. Blending the tap and dance sound mixing of a classical musical, with more ferocity of any heist scene featured in Fate of the Furious, Baby Driver would not be as successful of a film as it is without the incredible, crisp editing that Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss pull off. Edgar Wright’s films always feature bravado filmmaking, with wipe pans, dual screens, long tracking shots and practically anything else the cinematic genius can think of, and only editors with the most amount of precision could bring all of the visual and aural synchronization together. So while this might be our runner-up for Best Editing, don’t be surprised if the film manages an ACE nomination later this year.
— Levi Hill
3. David Lowery — A Ghost Story
4. Sarah Flack — The Beguiled
5. Matthew Hannam, Trey Edward Shults — It Comes At Night
Honorable Mention: Meeyeon Han, Yang Jinmo — Okja
Achievement in Sound Editing: Richard King, Michael W. Mitchell, Randy Torres — Dunkirk
If we had to pick the most important technical aspect of Dunkirk, which would be an entirely unfair and borderline impossible task, the one that would be the most understandable to point to is sound, both editing and mixing.
Editing is the crafting of sounds and, in Dunkirk, it’s often specific sounds that add the most to the suspense. The incoming wane of the German planes’ horns is truly horrifying, as is the bombs’ explosions, which find a terrifyingly earthy, subsurface sound as they lift sand and soldier into the air. When we’re in the interior of planes, the rumble of metal adds to a sense of immersion, to a sense of fear and anxiety in the smallest of spaces. And with the approach of Nolan, to remove the face of the enemy, bullets are louder, more jarring and more affecting. They pierce, whether it be through skin or sand or wood or metal, with a jolting, invasive, bodily ping. Dunkirk is meant to be a suspense film, and the specific sounds of war, sounds that real Dunkirk veterans have said are louder than the actual event, are crafted here with their fullest effect.
— Kyle Kizu
Runner-up: Will Files — War for the Planet of the Apes
In the rebooted Planet of the Apes trilogy, we see some of the most realistic special effects of all time, but the CGI wizardry wouldn’t hold up if not for excellent sound editing. The sound editing of War for the Planet of the Apes completes the film’s masterful CGI illusions, connecting our expectations of ape sounds with the visuals onscreen. We are convinced that the apes onscreen are grunting, shuffling about in the snow and fighting in a realistic way. Additionally, the sounds of war — the opening and closing battle scenes in particular come to mind — are immersive, putting us on the ground alongside Caesar and his apes. War films are often recognized for their sound editing, and in these awards, War for the Planet of the Apes is no different.
— Harrison Tunggal
3. Choi Tae-young — Okja
4. James Mather, David Mackie, Nina Norek — Wonder Woman
5. Shannon Mills, Guillaume Bouchateau — Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Honorable Mention: David Acord, Addison Teague, Lee Gilmore — Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Achievement in Sound Mixing: Mark Weingarten, Unsun Song — Dunkirk
Sound mixing is how all of the sounds are brought together to create an atmosphere. And, quite evidently, Dunkirk has an auditory atmosphere fit for a horror film. No, truly. Dunkirk‘s sound mixing is in the vein of horror films. Think to the bombing of the hospital boat. As the giant ship’s metal moans as the boat tips into the wood of the mole, a voice can be heard screaming repeatedly, its body being crushed. Body’s jump off into the water, each splash toning the already terrifying scene that’s featured gunshots riddling the pier and bombs exploding on the boat.
The mix overwhelms us into a transfixed terror, hosting obviously physical elements within those attacks. But it also is subtly physical, working on every layer, literally, to render the beach, boats and air tangible. The wind and splashing waves almost feel like they hit us, constantly sitting behind the dialogue, reminding us of the setting. The wisp of the air, rattle of the Spitfire’s cockpit and masks of the pilots render dialogue as muffled and communication as difficult, as it would be in its reality. Dunkirk‘s sound mixing can transition from desperate voices drowning within the interior of a ship to massive explosions on its exterior with such fluidity while also maintaining the chaos of the situation. And that’s the true purpose of sound mixing, to become physical and to inform the story. With Dunkirk, there’s almost no movie at all without the horror that the mix provokes.
— Kyle Kizu
Runner-up: Kasper Pedersen, Al Green, Mary H. Ellis, James Peterson — Baby Driver
Sound will always be one of the most underrated aspects of film, especially sound mixing. Where sound editing can tend to favor bombast, as sound editing represents the actual sounds we are hearing, mixing has to favor subtlety. Mixing is how the sound designers bring together all of the disparate sounds to create one perfect aural mix.
And honestly, it doesn’t get much better than what can be heard in Edgar Wright’s summer masterpiece Baby Driver. Featuring a booming soundtrack, with tight editing of car chases and heist scenes in sync with the sound, the Baby Driver mixing team had their work cut out for them. Imagine having to combine a rollicking Bellbottoms song, with the faint singing and air drumming of Ansel Elgort (in-tune with the music), with a souped-up muscle car’s engine running, all the while in the distance a heist with sirens and shooting is taking place. Sound like a doozy? Well, that’s just the first scene in a film filled to the brim with impeccable craft in the audial categories.
— Levi Hill
3. Chris Duesterdiek, Erin Michael Rettig, Shawn Holden — War for the Planet of the Apes
4. Michael L. Barnett — A Ghost Story
5. Chris Duesterdiek, Danny Michale, Park Jong-kun — Okja
Honorable Mention: Ronnie Mukwaya — Wonder Woman
Achievement in Visual Effects: Dan Lemmon, Joe Letteri — War for the Planet of the Apes
If one were to travel back in time to 1968 and show Charlton Heston War for the Planet of the Apes, one could undeniably convince him that the film was made using real ape actors (Hell, you could convince me that the film was made using actual apes). Of course, one would cause irreparable harm to the space-time continuum, possibly precipitating an actual simian hegemony, but that’s beside the point. The fact is, the visual effects in War (and the trilogy it belongs to) are utterly groundbreaking. Great CGI is nothing new, but the way the rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise is predicated on photo-real apes is nothing short of extraordinary. These films need their apes to look believable, or else there’s no way an audience could invest in its characters, and it works — in the faces of these apes, we see genuine human emotion. The words “movie magic” get thrown around too casually to wholly represent the peak craftsmanship involved in creating this franchise’s apes, but one does feel a sense of wonderment at seeing something as totally unique and powerful as the CGI in War.
— Harrison Tunggal
Runner-up: Scott Stokdyk, Joe Letteri — Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets initially looked like a visual risk, seemingly bordering on muted overuse of CGI that could fall flat and become forgettable. Thankfully, the film evades that pitfall, so much so that it almost makes up for the unengaging story and one dimensional characters. And that’s because, in a way, the visual effects do impact the story. The beings and objects that the CGI in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets creates are distinct. Worlds are rendered with attention to detail, not just aesthetically, but societally, as civilizations are visually crafted with systems, practices and purpose. That’s what takes the visual effects to the next level. They’re stunning and beautiful to look at, generating imagery that only a visual master like Luc Besson and an expert visual effects team could’ve concocted — aliens are neither replicants of humans nor are they so wildly complex — and making use of color in distinct and attractive ways. But the visual effects also serve to world-build, or in this case, universe-build, and they’re taken to the next level for it.
— Kyle Kizu
3. Matthew Crnich, Ray McMaster, Doug Spilatro, Christopher Townsend — Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
4. Jeon Hyoung Lee, Jun Hyoung Kim, Mike F. Hedayati, Erik De Boer — Okja
5. Viktor Muller, Bill Westenhofer, Loeng Wong-Savun — Wonder Woman
Honorable Mention: Theodore Bialek, Lou Pecora, Dominik Zimmerle — Spider-Man: Homecoming
Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role: Mark Rylance — Dunkirk
Similar to his Oscar-winning Bridge of Spies turn, Rylance’s performance in Dunkirk is incredibly understated, with perhaps even less screen time. In the film’s aftermath, one quickly realizes that it’s the work of an actor who informs every bit of himself, physically and vocally, with why his character is the way he is. Truly, the aftermath, both at the end of the film and after audiences have left the theaters, is where Rylance’s performance holds the most weight.
Within Dunkirk, Rylance plays a civilian committed to crossing the channel, even in dire circumstances, and a man with a fascination for the RAF’s planes. But pay close attention to the dialogue after his boat, the Moonstone, full of rescued soldiers, dodges one final attack before making its way back to England, and Jack Lowden’s Collins asks Rylance’s Mr. Dawson how he knew the maneuvers to evade the German plane. Mr. Dawson says that his son was in the RAF before Peter, the son that we’ve known, reveals that he had a brother who died three weeks into the war. Mr. Dawson says, “I knew he’d see us through,” before tending to a shaking, terrified soldier (Cillian Murphy). In that moment, and after that specific line and that specific image, we pause, our breaths almost taken away.
The exposition, about the engines of Spitfires, delivered with a comforting admiration, becomes highly personal. The recurring fatherly moments — both in image (his heartbreaking nod to Peter after a tragic reveal) and in dialogue (his collected yet commanding presence when organizing a hectic rescue) — portray a character so defined and so thoroughly realized that, in repeat viewings, it’s difficult not to be in awe of Rylance as a performer.
But finally, one moment stands out. As Collins’ plane crashes into the water, Peter tells his Dad that he didn’t see a parachute and that the engine was out. Mr. Dawson doesn’t respond. Peter repeats. Mr. Dawson steers his boat firmly ahead. Peter repeats again, adding that the pilot is probably dead. Finally Mr. Dawson flings around, yelling, “Damnit Peter, I hear you!” He glances back. “Maybe he’s alive.” His volume lowers to a heartbreaking reserve. “Maybe we can help him.” It’s a moment that comes before the revelation, and is powerful when first seen. But in learning of his dead son, one who flew with the RAF, this moment transforms. His yells and his desperation are in an image of his son. In that moment, Mr. Dawson is trying to save the son that he couldn’t, and Rylance uses every ounce of his physical emotion to find that truth.
Dunkirk is an overwhelming spectacle, a film more about the event and the mass of people than purely individuals. Many have said that the near nameless, near faceless characters are simply there, without much emotion. But imagine Dunkirk without Rylance’s Mr. Dawson. It’s really difficult. Imagine Mr. Dawson as played by someone other than Rylance. It’s almost impossible. Rylance plays the most pivotal role in the film. Mr. Dawson is the core, the heart, the father — a character with actual inspiration from Christopher Nolan’s late father — that guides this picture’s emotions along a harrowing journey. It’s Rylance who sees us through.
— Kyle Kizu
Runner-up: Ray Romano — The Big Sick
In The Big Sick, Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) meets Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano), the parents of his ex-girlfriend, Emily (Zoe Kazan), who falls into a coma. Despite Beth and Terry’s initial dismissiveness toward Kumail, he still decides to have lunch with them in the hospital cafeteria. As if things couldn’t get any more uncomfortable, Terry almost immediately dials the awkward levels to precipitous heights: “So, uh. 9/11. . .” Nevertheless, Terry develops a close bond with Kumail over the course of the film, and Ray Romano gets the chance to showcase his iconic comedy chops, while diving into his best dramatic role. Romano’s delivery relishes the awkwardness of Terry’s situation, but underneath it, there’s a tenderness and sincerity that The Big Sick depends on, and makes it all the more endearing and emotional.
— Harrison Tunggal
3. Michael Fassbender — Alien: Covenant
4. Chris Pine — Wonder Woman
5. O’Shea Jackson Jr. — Ingrid Goest West
Honorable Mention: Steven Yeun — Okja
Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score): Hans Zimmer — Dunkirk
Many weren’t sure what to expect with Dunkirk‘s score, unsure of how legendary composer Hans Zimmer could expand his already endlessly experimental career after voiding percussion and crafting his most emotional score with Interstellar. But somehow, with Dunkirk, Zimmer goes further, composing music that serves the film in an entirely different way. Here, Zimmer seemingly avoids musicality entirely, instead enhancing the soundscape of the film infinitely by adding to it. The center of the score is the tick of a watch, representing the urgency and immediateness of time. The tick is overbearing at times, ramping up tenfold, invading our bodies and digging its way into our heads. Much of the score’s lower sections are made up of sounds that feel as though they’re remnants of the battle itself, as though they’re the creaks of boats, the wanes of the ocean against a ship’s metal or the explosions of bombs. There are certain horror inspirations, with the biting strings of violins, the moan of the bass, the constantly and quickly fluctuating volume of a high pitched, auric screech. The beginning of Home sounds as though it’s been plucked straight out of a horror film.
As mentioned before, Zimmer makes use of the Shepard tone, a musical illusion that sounds like it’s constantly rising in tension. For a film based in suspense, tension and terror, such an illusion has immense effect, the pieces often becoming so filled with energy that’s then released in climactic fashion during the attack sequences.
But even despite the fact that Zimmer strays from typical musicality, he still manages to compose some career best work. In particular, The Oil represents everything utterly magnificent about Zimmer. Like pieces from Interstellar and The Dark Knight, The Oil starts incredibly low in volume and thin in layers. Playing at the climax of the film itself, The Oil builds in layers and volume consistently for six straight minutes, adding literal rise to the illusion of rising, before exploding into its own climax just as the film does. With this, the piece then becomes a serious, overbearing manipulation of the mind and the body, which initially sounds unpleasant, but, when watching the film’s climax, grabs hold of the eyes in ways that the climax couldn’t without the piece and in ways that cinema strives for.
And all of this comes without discussion of the film’s most emotional and most musical element: the influence of Edward Elgar’s Nimrod. Portions of it can be heard in Home, beautifully encapsulating the “Dunkirk spirit” as the civilian boats arrive. But none is more moving than Variation 15, a variation on Nimrod composed by Benjamin Wallfisch and produced by Zimmer, which plays at the end of the film. There’s something “unbearably moving” about it, as Christopher Nolan himself says in regard to Nimrod. And the piece does just that. The events at Dunkirk were a “military disaster” as Winston Churchill put it. But there’s “a victory inside this deliverance,” and it is exactly Variation 15 that renders not only the journey of the characters as triumphant, but Zimmer’s score and Dunkirk itself as well.
— Kyle Kizu
Runner-up: Daniel Hart — A Ghost Story
Whether it’s the grating strings that herald Whatever Hour You Woke, or the warm, embracing melody of a single violin on Post Pie, Daniel Hart’s score for A Ghost Story never relents in its uncanny power to haunt the listener. The sense of introspective melancholy found in any of the score’s tracks lingers with the listener, until — especially through the defining track, I Get Overwhelmed — a swell of emotion becomes inescapable, maybe even cathartic in a powerfully ethereal way. A Ghost Story asks its viewer to project emotions onto the titular lonely specter, but Hart’s score amplifies those emotions, making them profoundly affecting in myriad ways. Resultantly, listening to Hart’s score is its own singular experience, one that exists beyond the confines of the film itself. Just put it on at night, maybe even fall asleep to it, and see what it tells you.
— Harrison Tunggal
3. Michael Giacchino — War for the Planet of the Apes
4. Brian McOmber — It Comes At Night
5. Oneohtrix Point Never — Good Time
Honorable Mention: Michael Giacchino — Spider-Man: Homecoming
Performance by an Ensemble Cast: The Big Sick
Where the potential for brilliant ensemble work in The Big Sick started was with the script, as Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani wrote each character with a genuine emotional arc. But that would’ve been for only so much had the roles not been cast to utter perfection. Kumail plays himself, which could’ve turned out poorly for the film. But he allows for a vulnerability that speaks to the reality of the story while other playing-themselves-stunts might’ve avoided such an aspect. Zoe Kazan, playing Emily, gives herself over to the role, also finding a vulnerability, except with the perspective of her character, which makes for a performance that feels singular and truthful. Romano and Hunter, playing Emily’s parents, play off of each other impeccably well, nailing the key traits of character that allow for a back and forth rhythm that elevates the importance of their relationship and role within the story as well as the comedy that they provide. The same goes for Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff, playing Kumail’s parents, who bring an opposite perspective, but an equally dynamic chemistry. Throw in Bo Burnham basically playing himself (which is a good thing!) and supporting characters that each feel like their own person, and The Big Sick is the type of ensemble that doesn’t come around that often.
— Kyle Kizu
Every member of Okja’s ensemble cast is essential, bringing new dimensions and nuances to the film. Of course, there’s Ahn Seo-hyun, who gives the film its beating heart, and the obvious standouts like Tilda Swinton, bringing her unique brand of weird humor, and Jake Gyllenhaal, who adds to the zaniness by giving a performance that is essentially a Joker audition. Though he doesn’t have much screen time, Giancarlo Esposito also lends the film his trademark cool. The cast comprising the Animal Liberation Front brings their A-game too, as Paul Dano and Lily Collins play determined, uncompromising activists. Steven Yeun arguably gives one of the best performances in the film, since he is playing a distinctly Korean-American character, one that is essential in developing the theme of linguistic boundaries, and how systems of power play into them. Every character in Okja is rich and specific in detail, and only through a stellar ensemble cast can the film’s characters be truly realized.
— Harrison Tunggal
4. Baby Driver
5. The Beguiled
Honorable Mention: Spider-Man: Homecoming
Achievement in Directing: Christopher Nolan — Dunkirk
While many may still hold that The Dark Knight or Inception are better films, few will argue that Christopher Nolan’s direction of Dunkirk isn’t the best of his career, which is seriously saying something. The film has been awarded so many categories above precisely because of how every aspect of this film is working at full power and with full force, something that comes together under the guidance of one of the true auteurs of our time. Dunkirk is Nolan’s most cinematically ambitious film, utilizing the IMAX film format like it never has before and turning to visual elements of film, and away from dialogue and conventional story, to craft a piece of art that is wholly and purely cinematic, that can only exist as a piece of cinema. Nolan’s guiding hand paces the film to craft unmatched tension and structures the film to capitalize on and make the most of the historical event as well as to continue his investigation into time. It is at once Nolan’s most experimental film, the film that deviates the most from his typical style and expands his purview, while also being perhaps the most “Nolan” film we’ve gotten so far. His composition of action sequences, grounded in the physical, tangible reality of practical sets and practical effects, represents a technical genius on par with Alfonso Cuarón and George Miller, directors of similarly gigantic cinematic achievements. But his handling of theme, that of time, invoked by the film’s structure, elevates him above being purely a masterful technician. Nolan, showcased perhaps most efficiently and thouguhyl by his direction of Dunkirk, is a masterful storyteller.
Runner-up: David Lowery — A Ghost Story
A Ghost Story is obviously a very personal story to David Lowery, and sometimes, because something’s personal, it fails to be translated and executed in a way that resonates with audiences. And yet, there’s so much care offered to each frame, to each performance, to how each aspect of production, from technical to emotional, coalesces into the singularity that is A Ghost Story — a tale about grief that is as human as any film you might think of. Lowery’s direction, how he holds on to scenes, how he paces and progresses the narrative and how he forces the viewer to confront the film, is sublime. But his job as a director perhaps becomes elevated by how he works with his team and how he opens up to suggestion. The film initially was structured much more linearly until Shane Carruth came in to help edit. The film also lacked the song I Get Overwhelmed and how that song is intimately connected to the characters until Daniel Hart, who created the song, suggested it. Lowery’s personal vision doesn’t fail because he allows others in on it. A Ghost Story is not the sign of a typical “auteur,” but of someone who knows that in order to craft his deeply personal message, it has to become about the collaboration between everyone. And in that way, under that type of direction, A Ghost Story is a fully realized story about the weight of time.
— Kyle Kizu
3. Edgar Wright — Baby Driver
4. Bong Joon-ho — Okja
5. Trey Edward Shults — It Comes At Night
Honorable Mention: Matt Reeves — War for the Planet of the Apes
Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role: Florence Pugh — Lady Macbeth
It was a summer of nasty women. In an attempt at viral marketing, the team behind The Beguiled rolled out a summer campaign that dubbed its leading ladies “vengeful bitches.” While the term certainly fit, an unassuming summer indie ended up making Sofia Coppola’s scheming Southern belles look positively docile. Lady Macbeth, starring Florence Pugh, was the feminist, “burn the patriarchy” movie of the summer. In the beginning, it’s a tired tale; Katherine (Pugh) is married off to an older man in what is quickly revealed to be a loveless marriage. Unlike similar period dramas, however, Katherine is no damsel in distress. She makes the jump from blushing bride to cunning psychopath in the blink of an eye, manipulating everyone in the household as her plan comes to fruition. It’s a star-making performance for Pugh, who shot the film at 19 and currently sits on the precipice of becoming Hollywood’s newest ingenue.
— Kate Halliwell
Runner-up: Ahn Seo-hyun — Okja
None of Okja’s jabs at the meat industry, animal rights activism and the violence condoned by capitalism would hit hard without the audience’s investment in the relationship at the film’s core — the friendship between Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) and Okja. Since Okja is a CG creation, Ahn deserves praise for being able to act alongside a stuffed animal (later replaced with a CG super pig). She wrings heaps of emotion from us, as she frolics with Okja in the woods of her home, and as she descends into a hellish meat packing plant to save her friend. Ahn is one of the best child actors working today, and she has an undeniably bright future ahead of her.
— Harrison Tunggal
3. Aubrey Plaza — Ingrid Goest West
4. Charlize Theron — Atomic Blonde
5. Gal Gadot — Wonder Woman
Honorable Mention: Nicole Kidman — The Beguiled
Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role: Andy Serkis — War for the Planet of the Apes
War for the Planet of the Apes, despite the grandeur and bombast implied by the title, is an intimate character study. As a result, the film relies heavily on closeups of character’s faces, more so than its two predecessors, and Andy Serkis (Caesar) rises, like he’s never done before, to that challenge. Serkis should have been nominated for awards for his pioneering motion capture work long ago, but detractors claim that CGI gives him an unfair advantage. No matter where you stand on this issue, it’s undeniable that War is predicated on Serkis’ performance. The computer wizardry behind Caesar needs to start somewhere, and Serkis provides expressions that could stand on their own. If the film isn’t evidence of the man’s talent (It is!) just look at this. We knew Serkis could deliver an extraordinary breadth of emotion from the previous films in the Apes franchise, but War considerably widens that breadth. Through the film’s close-ups, the camera lingers on the pain, weariness and sometimes joy that Caesar feels, and those emotions are extremely palpable. In particular, when Caesar is reunited with his loved ones, we see a character defined by his composure break down completely, and Serkis’ performance is powerful enough to move us to tears. Serkis truly deserves every amount of praise that comes his way, and hopefully, come fall, Academy voters won’t tune out such praise.
— Harrison Tunggal
Runner-up: Joel Edgerton — It Comes At Night
It Comes at Night is a film that revels in ambiguity, and that extends to Joel Edgerton’s performance as Paul, a man trying to protect his family amid a viral apocalypse. In many ways, the ambiguity in the film shows how difficult it can be to trust other people, and Edgerton’s performance is nuanced enough to suggest varying degrees of morality and maybe something sinister too. He claims to have been a teacher, but how does he know how to efficiently dispose of a body, let alone shoot with tip top accuracy? Edgerton’s facial expressions don’t give us any answers, intentionally keeping us in the dark. There’s a certain weight to the character that Edgerton brings too, a grounded sense of power that gives every yell and deep stare a harsh resonance, and that’s the brilliance of his performance.
— Harrison Tunggal
3. Robert Pattinson — Good Time
4. Kumail Nanjiani — The Big Sick
5. Woody Harrelson — The Glass Castle
Honorable Mention: John Cho — Columbus
Best Motion Picture of the Summer: Dunkirk
From the very beginning of Dunkirk, especially if viewed in IMAX 70mm, we are immersed, moved and affected on every sensory level in ways that virtual reality could only dream of. As showcased by its various technical awards, Dunkirk is a film that begs to be seen theatrically, that fights for the art form of cinema as it’s truly and only a cinematic experience. It’s host to action sequences that we almost never get, realistic and bracingly physical scenes that truly transport us to the beaches of Dunkirk, to the boats on the channel and to the air above, realized by artists, on every level, working toward their full potential. Its structure is experimental and, through perfect execution, almost groundbreaking, opening up a new space in how one experiences a film and how a filmmaking crafts a tense and utterly transformative story. But then there’s the sense of theme within the film that elevates it, a theme that Christopher Nolan’s been obsessed with investigating since the start of his career: time. Time works in the film to add to suspense. But it also works in building perspective, to capture scope and to evoke humanity. Dunkirk is wrapped in terror, horror, fear and more, but there’s a through-line of humanity, how all of those intense and overwhelming emotions come directly from our humanity, something Nolan approaches with empathy. In its final minutes, toned triumphantly, Dunkirk solidifies itself as more than just a technical achievement. It’s a film that represents everything that film stands for, in the theatrical, cinematic experience, both on a sensory level, but also on a deeply emotional, resonant and empathetic level as well.
— Kyle Kizu
Runner-up: It Comes At Night
In It Comes at Night, indie-cinema-savior A24 and budding horror visionary Trey Edward Shults team up to deliver a sparse, Lynchian slow-burn of a horror-thriller, one where nightmares bleed into reality to create an inescapable sense of fear and dread. Such fear is merciless and it easily devours even the most moral of people, so when the film postulates this sentiment, a lurch in the gut becomes inevitable. Never mind the ambiguity surrounding the identity of the titular “it.” Ignore the divided opinions between critics and audiences. This film warns us that untethered, insidious fear will be our doom, and it’s a warning that needs heeding now more than ever.
— Harrison Tunggal
3. A Ghost Story
4. The Big Sick
5. War for the Planet of the Apes
6. Baby Driver
7. Wonder Woman
9. Good Time
10. The Beguiled
Honorable Mention: Columbus
A Note: We at MovieMinis feel a need to take into account sexual harassment and assault when relevant to films. ‘A Ghost Story’ is one of those films where a conversation must be had in order to be responsible writers, journalists and human beings. Casey Affleck was accused of sexual harassment while making the film ‘I’m Still Here.’ The cases were settled out of court. We will not, nor will we ever, act as the court, but we will and must believe the women that took cases up with him because it is necessary — as so few victims of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape are believed in the first place. This past of Casey Affleck has influenced many viewers of ‘A Ghost Story’ in deeply negative and painful ways, so we must make clear that our recognition of the film is not in support or endorsement of him. We denounce those actions and we must confront the reality that ‘A Ghost Story’ will always be affected by his presence. In our decision to recognize the film, we aimed to fully avoid Affleck and hoped to look at the achievements of the other people who made undeniably excellent contributions to the film. While ‘A Ghost Story’ should never be looked at as wholly separate from Affleck, we feel as though there’s a way to both celebrate the work of certain artists while also not ignoring the problems that arise with his involvement. We hope we’ve been responsible and we stand with survivors and victims.
Featured image via Warner Bros.