Author Archives: Kyle Kizu

Kyle Kizu’s Favorite Scene of 2017: The Oil — ‘Dunkirk’

It’s hard to know where and how to start writing about the climax of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. There is so much going on, not only in what’s happening on screen, but also in how everything builds to that point — and that doesn’t even take into account that much of the scene jumps around in time. That it all works, that it all coalesces into an absolutely mesmerizing sight of overwhelming intensity is beyond astonishing.

I define the climax as everything that happens once Hans Zimmer’s “The Oil” starts playing and until it stops. So, that starts right after the little ships arrive, when those on the Moonstone first see the destroyer bombed, and ends when Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) is finally pulled up onto the Moonstone as it flees the water on fire.

The climax folds the three storylines on top of each other, amplifying the tension that they’ve individually held throughout the first two-thirds of the movie and producing pure exhilaration immediately. The whole film is essentially crafted as a climax, so this moment is the climax of the climax. It’s almost unfair.

The most effective work the sequence does is a bit subtle, but it’s present from its very first shot: there’s a constant negotiation between the intimate, personal perspective and the massive event, full of masses of people.

As the Moonstone approaches the bombed destroyer, we, through the camera, stand on the boat with them, seeing the huge army ship go down far off in the distance. It’s a raw, human, gripping perspective, the framing of the destroyer through the front window of the Moonstone as terrifying and transfixing for us as it is for Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), whose distraught face we cut to.

The sequence then cuts to shots of the masses of soldiers loading onto the little ships from the beaches. The shots are strangely tranquil, nearly still and holding longer than most shots do, allowing the pure process of the evacuation, and how truly massive it is, to sink in without romanticizing it.

The rest of the sequence is much of the same. If we get, for example, a perspective shot from behind Tommy as he swims through the water to try to find safety on the destroyer, only to realize that it’s sinking — a 12 second shot, which is far longer than most action shots — we get a shot of the tens of soldiers trying to find their way off, sliding down the side of the ship or jumping off before getting trapped underwater.

There are multiple intimate perspectives throughout the sequence: that of Tommy, the Moonstone and Farrier. And there are multiple large scale portions: the soldiers loading from the beach, the soldiers on the sinking destroyer, the soldiers in the water and the soldiers loading onto the boats near the destroyer.

We, the viewer, are disoriented on multiple occasions, seeing the destroyer sink at the beginning of the scene from the Moonstone’s perspective before jumping back in time to see it again from Tommy’s — not to mention that we saw it sink from Farrier’s perspective earlier in the film.

It’s all jarring and chaotic — frantic, desperate bodies filling the screen as they fight to survive. And Hans Zimmer’s “The Oil” only makes it more so, leveraging the Shepard Tone, the illusion of rising tension, while also actually adding layers and volume as the music builds to its own climax. The piece feels invasive, as though it’s taking control of our own bodies, throwing them into the water and forcing them to fight too.

It’s so chaotic because it’s meant to be. It’s so chaotic because the filmmaking is not. Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography is all-encompassing, immersive, breathtaking and, as said before, perspective-based, placing us into the water, onto the boats and within the cockpit. The sound design is absolutely haunting, a brutalist atmosphere of bodies splashing in water, creaking ships, gunfire, explosions and, most impactfully, screaming voices. The editing is almost balletic, cutting with intensity, but also with fluidity at each turn, rendering the entire sequence into a beauty of movement both in-frame and between frames. And the structural give-and-take is stunning — particularly at the sequence’s climax, when Farrier stops the German bomber only for it to crash into the water and cause the fire, and at the sequence’s release, when a soldier’s life is violently taken in the midst of crackling fire just as Tommy’s life is saved as he’s revealed as the soldier being dragged alongside the escaping Moonstone.

Even with all that’s been said, it’s hard to feel as though I’ve done the sequence justice. There are so many intangible, particularly visual layers to it that can only be absorbed by watching it. I hope that I’ve been able to unpack some aspects of it. But what I’ve written this all for, anyway, is for you to revisit it, for you to give it another watch.

 

Featured image via Warner Bros.

Kyle Kizu’s Top 25 Films of 2017

While 2016 limped through the Spring and Summer seasons before finishing strong, 2017 proved to be a brilliant year for film since the first few months.

Spring films such as Get Out and Logan evoked profound conversation about genre pictures, their potential and their impact. Summer studio films reinvigorated the term “blockbuster” with some actual weight. And the Fall/Winter awards contenders might be, as a whole, even more plentiful than last year.

Essentially, I had a blast at the movies in 2017. The cinematic experience is special and there were so many different times when I felt a sense of immersion, engagement and/or excitement that I hadn’t ever felt before. Thus, I couldn’t simply list a top 10 when I had upwards of 50 films I thoroughly enjoyed. So, I tasked myself to come down to 25.

To be very clear, this is a list of my personal favorites of the year. I am not suggesting that these are the best films of the year. Those are two rather different conversations. These 25 films are ranked based on how I personally responded to them, and I do recognize that some not in my top 10 favorites are among the top 10 best of the year.

Without further ado, here are my top 25 films of 2017, with some honorable mentions since narrowing down was too difficult:

Honorable mention: Columbus

Superlative Films/Courtesy

Video essayist Kogonada’s feature directorial debut, Columbus, which he also wrote and edited, is visually fascinating, beautiful and tranquil. While the story is about architecture, the film, itself, almost becomes a piece of architecture in its exquisite shot construction that reflects character interiority unlike any other film.

Honorable mention: Their Finest

Nicola Dove/STX Entertainment/Courtesy

Their Finest is one of the more refreshing stories of the year. Gemma Arterton leads the film with verve, complimented by Bill Nighy’s hilarious wit and Sam Claflin’s dashing charm. By the film’s end, after traversing the frightening setting of WWII Britain and the inspiring efforts of the British film division in inspiring its country, we come away with a lovely ode to the immense importance of the female perspective in storytelling.

Honorable mention: The Big Sick

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The Big Sick is almost more about family, perspective and culture, until the central romance gets its time to shine again and tugs at our hearts. That’s what makes the film so special, that it has so many different sides to it. There’s the budding relationship between Kumail and Emily, but also the conflict between Kumail and Emily’s parents, the conflict between Emily’s parents, the calls of friends in search of a career and the struggle of cultures clashing. The screenplay integrates ever aspect into a wonderful whole, and the actors all turn in such deeply felt performances.

Honorable mention: Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

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Abacus: Small Enough to Jail follows the small bank Abacus, founded by a Chinese family in a U.S. Chinese community, as it is sued by the U.S. government in relation to the wide scale fraud that caused the 2008 financial crash. In fact, Abacus is the only U.S. bank to face charges. The immediate sense of injustice that that simple description evokes drives the entire emotional undercurrent of the documentary. But the doc goes even further, diving deeply into the cultural significance that Abacus played and still plays in its community as well as the cultural work ethic of the Chinese family behind it. The continuous conversation between the intimate small scale and the epic large scale makes this easy to both invest in and be fascinated by.

Honorable mention: Get Out

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Allow me to explain. I do fully understand that Get Out is among the ten best films of the year and, while I disagree, I believe in the validity of arguments that call it the best. The leveraging of genre allows writer-director Jordan Peele to tell not only one of the most biting and invasive horror stories, but simply one of the most astonishingly polished narratives of any kind. But that brings me to why it can’t quite break my top 25. It’s tightly constructed. In my personal viewing experience, it was almost too tight to allow the film to take me over in ways that the 25 below did, even though I was mesmerized by the filmmaking on display.

 

25. Okja

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Okja is such a sublime film, one glowing with a sense of care for its originality and not just originality for its own sake. The titular super pig is an adorable blend of a pig, dog and hippo, rendered stunningly by the visual effects team, and the relationship Okja has with Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) is one of the most authentic animal-human relationships in film of recent memory. Throw in inspiration from French and screwball comedy cinema, such tightly controlled storytelling from Bong Joon-ho and wacky delightful performances across the board, and Okja is nothing short of a joy to watch.

24. The Post

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For obvious reasons, The Post is gripping and engaging. It reflects the unsettling world we’re encountering today. But the film is also rather uplifting. Director Steven Spielberg injects a purely journalistic energy into the camera and the pacing, and frames an emotionally moving feminist story around Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, whom Meryl Streep plays with the utmost nuance.

23. Spider-Man: Homecoming

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When Marvel acquired rights to include Spider-Man in the MCU, one couldn’t help but fear that the web-slinger would fall into the studio’s generic formula. But, surprisingly, Spider-Man: Homecoming turned into one of the universe’s most enjoyable films precisely because of how it treated Peter Parker as a singular character with his own journey. And that journey is one filled with thoroughly realized conflict of youth/adolescence. In reality, Homecoming is a coming-of-age film, and one of the better ones. Parker is imagined brilliantly and his character’s arc is intertwined with the plot in ways that do the character so much justice.

22. Logan

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A film about coming to terms with death and finding our true hearts, Logan is as much a modern Western as it is an X-Men flick. Like everything else in the picture, Hugh Jackman turns in a raw, weathered performance that truly situates Logan as depressed and suicidal. But it’s the very character work of the screenplay, the first superhero film Oscar nominated in writing, and the extremely tight direction of James Mangold that makes that journey an endlessly satisfying and emotional one.

21. Our Souls at Night

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Our Souls at Night could be described as a “dawning-of-age” film. It’s quiet and soulful, told from a perspective that holds the past close to heart without ever necessarily being explicit about it. And every part of the film takes on that idea, from the pacing to the dialogue to the actors. Leads Jane Fonda and Robert Redford turn in performances that are both wholly lived in and, thus, sneakily profound. The film does not necessarily state its existence like most of the art form does, and that’s exactly why it’s so good.

20. The Shape of Water

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It’s hard not to get wrapped up in Guillermo del Toro’s fantastical, magical vision. The world-building production design, almost balletic cinematography and the empathetic, truthful performances of Sally Hawkins and Richard Jenkins grab us by our hearts and just don’t let go. And it’s exactly that empathy that makes this film so special. The story is a touching reflection on the Other, on those that feel out of place and as though they don’t belong. Even though Sally Hawkins’ Elisa doesn’t speak, the emotional strains in her face as she expresses herself shows us that she is, in a way, the most human of us all.

19. Lucky

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Oh Harry Dean Stanton, you legend. In Lucky, the late actor delivers a performance that is equally as hilarious as it is profound. He owns the screen, especially when on it alone, and imagines both the physicality and mentality of the titular Lucky so deeply. And while the film is, essentially, a vehicle for his performance, that focus allows its story to evoke some weighty ideas about life and when it’s coming to an end. Through some totally bizarre yet awesome moments, the film reminds us that both making connections and living freely is what will make the most of our lives.

18. The Breadwinner

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The Breadwinner may be one of the most carefully executed stories of the year. The film deals with such heavy subject matter, painting the image of women in a culture that so often suppresses them. But it also contextualizes the brilliant strength that these women build out of it, and the beautiful family bonds that so many form. There are moments, visually arresting ones, that do justice to the harsh truths at the film’s core, but the filmmakers also opt to make use of elements of innocence and wonder, specifically in its children, to complement. The result is a majestic, culturally-infused fable of bravery and love, delivered with such power by the voice performances, the score, the animation work and director Nora Twomey guiding it all so wonderfully.

17. Molly’s Game

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Most of the time, an Aaron Sorkin film demands and earns a level of entertained engagement that few other films do. His writing is so utterly electric, and Molly’s Game is more of such, but also a platform on which he shows that his directing work can also accomplish the same. Structurally brilliant, ebbing and flowing with immense energy and building to unexpected levels of emotion, Molly’s Game is also a reminder that Jessica Chastain is one of the best in the business, period. She chews on Sorkin’s words so smoothly and effectively, producing a spark in her character that few other films of the year have.

16. The Florida Project

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What might perfectly describe Sean Baker’s The Florida Project is empathy. The film is, quite obviously, so much more than just that, but it does seem like every feature also adds to the film’s wholesome, beautiful sense of empathy. Every part of the filmmaking works to situate the viewer with Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), whether that be the oft low angle, vibrant cinematography, the free flowing narrative structure or the endlessly playful character moments. And as the situation surrounding Moonee gets tougher and tougher, we stick with her, not necessarily confronting everything, but growing an attachment to her and a need to see her come out of it all okay.

While every bit of that is such brilliant, perspective-based filmmaking, the full execution of it all rested on Prince’s shoulders, and the seven-year-old actress is a jaw-dropping force of nature. The spirit in her character emanates off of the screen at every minute, and she pulls off a scene at the end that is just unexplainably masterful.

15. Phantom Thread

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Phantom Thread is like a lovely dream. It’s so odd, yet it feels undeniably real in the moment. It floats and fades before pronouncing itself again. And as we leave it behind, as we leave the theater, it’s tough not to long for it.

That’s the power that Paul Thomas Anderson has as a storyteller. With his most recent, he draws us into this delirious and delightful world, making us swoon and then shocking us, making us scratch our heads and then drawing us in so intensely. There’s a clear sense that, although the film might not seem easy to process at points, because it all ties in so efficiently at the end, Anderson had such purposed drive in every choice, in every line of dialogue.

And with that, as with every other PTA film, comes magnetic performances. Day-Lewis is wickedly delicious, but so is Lesley Manville, and Vicky Krieps takes control of every frame with eyes as fierce as any.

14. Kedi

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A documentary about cats was, quite clearly, too simple of an expectation. It should’ve been more evident that the film would be something so much more layered.

Kedi is, for the lack of a better word, beautiful. For cat lovers, it’s irresistible. The simple image of them throughout the film yanks out more smiles than most movie experiences ever will. But the cats are placed into context. They’re not simply cute animals; they’re a part of the Turkish culture and, thus, a part of the Turkish people’s lives.

For some, these cats are close friends. For others, these cats are family. And for a few, these cats are the difference between life and death. What’s most surprising about Kedi is its mental health aspect, lovingly depicting stories of people whose faith was confirmed or whose depression was helped by them.

And its through this image that the film becomes a profound statement on life. One line toward the end of the film says it better than any analysis can: “A cat meowing at your feet, looking up at you is life smiling at you. Those are moments when we’re lucky. They remind us that we’re alive.”

13. The Lost City of Z

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The Lost City of Z, at least today, is a type of film that we rarely get. It’s an exploration epic that truly earns the epic through exactly how it explores.

Writer-director James Gray takes his time. The film is slowly paced, at first searching. But with fully immersive and mesmerizing sound design, production design and cinematography, we become invested in the world. Thus, when a journey is taken up by Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), we’re committed alongside him.

It’s brilliant character alignment that a polished, efficient storyteller like Gray thrives on. But what he does with the journey itself is truly special, placing us in the obsessive head of Fawcett so that we also end up overcome by the wondrous possibilities of the jungle. By foregrounding the personal to evoke the mythical, The Lost City of Z can accomplish both an emotional story and a fascinating one. It’s an experience that we likely won’t get from anyone else.

12Icarus 

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With Icarus, director Bryan Fogel accidentally struck gold, and what starts as a documentary about the potential for cycling drug tests to be undermined turns into a geopolitical thriller about how Russia has had a vast history of doping in sports and how wildly powerful people, like Putin himself, worked to cover it up.

The fascination levels are off the charts, perhaps exceeding that of any film of the year. And while the situation may have been accidental, Fogel tracks, orchestrates and constructs it all so that the fascination we viewers have is no accident. We are guided to fall into the circumstance with jarring force, but also with such perfectly precise pacing, which carries on throughout the rest of the film as the layers expand and expand.

And, in the filmmaking’s regard, Icarus also functions as a gripping character piece. Grigory Rodchenkov is, at first, simply the quirky doctor who guides Fogel through his doping regimen. But Rodchenkov is at the center of the scandal as it all kicks off. As we follow along, his story becomes filled with a profound history, toned by the current personal pain and fear for his life that the weight of an entire government rejecting his claims and putting him down causes. Yet, Fogel also makes sure to capture the fact that, through it all, Rodchenkov retains his delightful sense of humor.

Icarus truly is a wonder of storytelling that could only come through the documentary medium.

11. Jane

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Jane is a sneaky documentary. It starts with plenty of intrigue — over 100 hours of footage of Jane Goodall’s first journeys has resurfaced. And the first half of the film is appropriately fascinating, operating almost as a silent film with the lack of words from Goodall in the footage, but elevated greatly by both the sound from the footage and the sound design added to it.

Yet, the whole time, due to director Brett Morgen’s calculated construction of footage, narration from an interview with Goodall and other aspects such as that sound design or Philip Glass’ outstanding score, the film genuinely captures the life lived by Goodall.

And once the final half hour starts, we become consumed by the fact that we’ve just seen an expansive, singular, epic life on screen. The film evokes journey, but it also evokes nostalgic reflection, without regrets and filled with appreciation. It’s rare to feel the intangible weight of a person’s life. Cinema, the place where that can be accomplished, doesn’t always pull it off. But Jane does.

10. Lady Bird

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The phrase “lived in” may apply here and there, but Lady Bird is, arguably, the epitome of what it truly means. There’s so much specificity not only in every scene, but in every frame. And while such intense specificity may seem as though it would be alienating, it actually casts a net of details so wide that the film becomes more universal than it would be were it not so specific.

With these details that writer-director Greta Gerwig puts into her film comes the truths behind them, and with so many truths, every single viewer has the potential to find their own truth reflected back at them. We may not have had a mother like Laurie Metcalf’s character, but we had a best friend like Beanie Feldstein’s character. We may not have struggled with depression like Tracy Letts’ character does, but we struggled with depression like Stephen McKinley Henderson’s character does. We may not have fallen for a guy like Timothée Chalamet’s character, but we feared the future like Saoirse Ronan’s Lady Bird does. And even if we didn’t experience certain aspects, Gerwig renders everything with such empathy that it’s hard to, ourselves, not feel deeply for every single character.

9. Loving Vincent

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It’s a bit unfair, as the film is the first to ever be made entirely of paintings, but Loving Vincent is, by far, the most visually stunning film of the year. The material quality that the paint lends to the image creates, in the transition between frames, such transfixing, majestic, enchanting visual movement that is singularly cinematic.

For a good portion of the film, the visual element is most of what there is to latch onto. And that’s because the true storytelling work that Loving Vincent is doing is not fully realized until the final act, in which the film establishes itself as a story about mental health.

The story follows Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth) as he comes across people who knew Vincent van Gogh before he killed himself. Each has a different story to tell. van Gogh was either a cold, distant and rude man or a soft, gentle-hearted and shy one. He was either a humble painter or visionary genius.

Yet, no one really knew van Gogh, or why exactly he took his own life — except for the other artist he lived with before he died. van Gogh was struggling with depression. No one else understood, and so, everyone else made judgments. It’s a film about impressionism, until it suggests that impressions are flawed.

And the film clearly differentiates the perspectives of these perceivers and the perspective of truth, pushing the idea that van Gogh lived his life for no one other than those he loved and for nothing other than his mode of expression — his paintings. In that sense, Loving Vincent is one of the more distinctly human films of the year.

8. Mudbound

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Mudbound is rich in every sense of the word. It is both literary and cinematic, combining beautiful visuals with profound symbolism to heighten its emotional impact. Director and co-writer Dee Rees tackles race relations in the South during and after WWII with such wholesome yet restrained storytelling. But she also investigates the many different sides of these characters and their stories at the same time, such as a mother fearing for her son at war, soldiers struggling with PTSD, a woman at the will of a husband in the mid-20th century and more.

Mudbound‘s cinematography is breathtaking, as is its sound, production and costume design, and its score. These elements add to the rich narrative intangibly, but also directly locate the film in the South and as a Southern family epic. And each performance is firm, controlled and empathetic — specifically those from Garrett Hedlund, Jason Mitchell and Mary J. Blige — coalescing into the true ensemble of the year.

Mudbound is all-encompassing and tragic for that very reason. Rees subtly makes the forces of society at the time so sneakily overbearing, before showing them as fully and truly horrifying as they were.

Yet, the film leaves us on an uplifting note, crafting one of the most powerful endings of the year.

7. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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Where Star Wars: The Last Jedi diverts is exactly where it becomes so enthralling. As much as it worked for the original trilogy, that idea of a hero, fated to save the galaxy, was never going to work again for these new films. And so, writer-director Rian Johnson envisioned a new type of hero while deconstructing that old one.

Luke was always going to be at the center of such deconstruction. But the approach, rather than undermine the character, actually expands upon him. In The Last Jedi, Luke confronts the flaws of what he once considered his fate. He confronts old age and the traumatic scars that a perfect past ruined by the more immediate past leave, and Mark Hamill embraces these vulnerabilities entirely.

On the other end, Rey confronts the fact that her need for destiny could never be fulfilled, that she was convincing herself of the presence of one to hide from the fear that comes with confronting the world alone, and Daisy Ridley realizes this conflict thoroughly.

Rian Johnson empathizes with that fear, and the story that he crafts, in leading from fear to bravery, powerfully announces the purpose of this new trilogy. Where The Force Awakens is familiar, The Last Jedi is jarringly, but effectively different. And as Johnson also envisions visual elements that we’ve never seen before in one of these movies, as well as visual perfection of what we have seen, The Last Jedi marks itself as a the new era of Star Wars.

6. Hostiles

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Hostiles starts with Joseph Blocker, an army captain filled with hatred for the Native Americans who’ve killed his friends. And writer-director Scott Cooper unforgivingly foregrounds the brutality that pushes Blocker to feel that way.

But slowly, Cooper guides us along the methodical, quiet, bruised journey Blocker takes in escorting a terminally ill Native American chief, who’d killed his friends in their past encounters, back home to die on his lands — a journey that asks Blocker to give up hatred.

Not many films take hatred head on like this one does, especially because one misstep in characterization or arc could result in something troubling. But Cooper handles his narrative with perfect construction. As he foregrounds the brutality that drives the white man’s hatred, he continually reminds us of the background of a Native American genocide that has been taking place. While Blocker experiences such explicit violence in the moment, these Native Americans have been subject to less visible, more long term violence.

In that way, Cooper does not set out to redeem Blocker, but to display the process of an understanding that both Blocker and the Native American chief come to. And Cooper succeeds in doing so through not only his perfectly paced out, heartbeat-like moments of development, but through the slow shift in emotional energy from aggression to spiritual contemplation.

With Christian Bale bringing Blocker to life so viscerally and intensely through his captivating use of his eyes, delivering his best performance yet, Hostiles is an unforgettable and haunting Western that becomes even more so in retrospect.

5. War for the Planet of the Apes

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After Rise and DawnWar for the Planet of the Apes had the opportunity to turn Caesar into a truly biblical figure in future ape history. And the film accomplishes that enormous task.

Director and co-writer Matt Reeves pulls this off through an intimate focus on character within war rather than war around character, and not only narratively, but visually too. Close-ups in this movie are just as beautiful in the visual work they do as they are in the character work they do.

Reeves’ approach to Caesar is not to idealize him, but to morally challenge him. The oppression of the apes becomes so intense that it literally manifests in Holocaust-esque imagery. Thus, its difficult not to understand the hatred that builds in Caesar, who, again, is rendered absolutely masterfully by Andy Serkis.  And since it’s difficult not to sympathize, it becomes all the more profound when Caesar steps painfully in the right direction, capped in utter perfection with one of the most powerful character climaxes of the year. Yet, Reeves also understands that good villains are reasonable, and makes the fall of this film’s antagonist more so tragic than triumphant.

War for the Planet of the Apes stands out among the blockbuster field for these very reasons. It understands, more than even most that also do, that such a massive canvas can be so effective if based in character.

4. Blade Runner 2049

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Blade Runner 2049 had no business working as well as it does. But all it took was a simple shift in perspective, from human to android. And with that shift, director Denis Villeneuve composes a tale that exceeds the profundity of even the original.

The film is a visual masterpiece, full of absolutely arresting cinematography from Roger Deakins and jaw-dropping production design, both of which leverage light in stunning fashion. And these technical elements add to the story, which builds and focuses on a world void of natural life, of natural light and of natural color. Essentially, everything is digitally constructed. So how can humanity still exist and move forward?

Through challenging the notions of humanity that humans have adopted for their entire existence. Through ruminating on exactly what it means to have a soul. Villeneuve deftly paces out this journey that Ryan Gosling’s K takes, allowing for long stretches of quiet, hypnotic development. And through that approach, Blade Runner 2049 establishes that humanity does not come from birth nor from purpose bestowed upon someone. Rather, it comes from the purpose one creates for himself, from establishing a sense of self precisely through a sense of others. Villeneuve’s film is prescient, especially in today’s world and considering the society we’re building to. It’s tragic, yet the necessary humanist touch that large canvases need more of.

3. Call Me by Your Name

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Call Me by Your Name is about bodies, and how bodies fall into and embody love. That’s why the many shots of stretched arms, toes touching, mouths meeting and more are so powerful in this film. Each is so sensually evocative because they represent how the feelings created in our minds are made real, tangible and accessible to another.

The atmosphere within which this all occurs is just as drunkenly alluring as the bodies themselves. The dream-like quality of a summer full of freedom is masterfully achieved by director Luca Guadagnino, and realized with painterly beauty by cinematographer Swayambhu Mukdeeprom. Moments aren’t necessarily connected, but still flow into one another with an unparalleled fluidity. 

The film risked indulging in the dream-like. But actors Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg all breathe their characters to life. Chalamet, particularly, lends Elio Perlman a physicality that perfectly represents the conflict between the summer’s freedom and the frightening feelings that his body aches to express. And as that conflict releases into love, and that love is then cut off, Elio encounters another bodily conflict, that of pain in no longer being able to express through his body. This gives Chalamet the scene of the year, as he stares into a fire in a long, single take, traversing a slew of unbearable emotions hauntingly.

Call Me by Your Name, in its entirety, is the love story of the year.

2. A Ghost Story

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A photograph. A song. A poem. A film. Each one of these mediums of art feels like an appropriate description of David Lowery’s A Ghost Story, and that might be because the film makes use of qualities of each. In long, uncut, still shots, the film stresses framing and the importance of sitting with a moment in time. Narratively and thematically, the film suggests that music is the art through which we express and through which hold onto expression. In its rumination on time, navigating this world on entirely spiritual terms, the film seems to almost speak, and speak rhythmically. And the composition of this all is specifically cinematic.

A Ghost Story is one of the few films of the year, and truly of any year, to so bravely confront time. How Lowery constructs it within the film is fascinating, and helps us to be able to inhabit the ghost, even if just for a moment. As said before, the film contemplates the importance of the still moment, played out in its entirety. Five minutes uninterrupted seem like an eternity. And yet, years can also flick by in an instant. Why is that so?

Time, especially for those who have passed, challenges our existence. Do we still exist after we die? Do we still need to? And Lowery pulls off a miracle in directing this arc of the ghost, an almost comically looking figure with no mode of expression, with such emotional perfection.

A Ghost Story is simple and minimal, and yet, it feels galactic. It’s often lacking the sight of a human being, and yet, it so profoundly ponders humanity. It’s hard for the film not to feel personal, for it not to feel invasive in how vulnerable it asks us to be.

1. Dunkirk

Warner Bros./Courtesy

It may be because I’ve written nearly five thousand words for this list up to this point, and I’m tired. It may be because, for anyone who knows me or has read my work, this comes as no surprise. It may be because I’ve already written at length about Dunkirk elsewhere, like in my full review of the film. It may be because I’m unsure of whether or not I can do the film justice considering how strongly I feel about it. It may be because I’m finally realizing the extent to which a “favorite film” is personal.

Dunkirk is my favorite film of 2017. In a slightly egocentric and naive point of view, I feel that staying guarded of a personal favorite allows me to still feel as though it’s mine.

In reality, though, it’s mostly because I’m tired. But I won’t be writing anything about Dunkirk here.

Thanks for reading.

 

Featured image via Amazon Studios/Netflix.

 

*Writer’s note: Of course, I am aware of the previous allegations made against Casey Affleck, who appears in A Ghost Story, and it’s my responsibility to explicitly address them. In no way do I condone, make excuse for or ignore Affleck. My support is and will always be with not only the women affected by Affleck, but the entire #MeToo and #TimesUp movements — the silence breakers — that have so bravely led this cultural shift we so desperately need. I would like to consider myself a part of those movements, and I will continue to fight for them.

I include A Ghost Story in this list because it is a personal list and it would be a lie to say that it’s not my second favorite film of the year. I responded to it so strongly and on such a personal level. But I know that there’s also a difference between having it as a personal favorite and writing about it as a personal favorite. I don’t feel as though I could write this list, which I feel I have a right to write, without it, so I wanted to hit a middle ground: write about it, but address Affleck. I hope that I’ve handled this with respect.

Shoulda Been A Contenda: Films that deserved awards recognition

Every year, there are a set of films and artists that miss out on award nominations that deserved to at least compete for them. They might have not had enough resources to put together as strong (or as loud) of a campaign as others. They might have been flooded out by the more popular films. They might have never been given the time of day in the first place. It could be due to a variety of reasons.

Some of those would qualify as “snubs” — in that, based on majority opinion, they are of better quality than one or more of those nominated. But that’s such a difficult circumstance to determine, meaning that a lot of those are just unfortunate misses.

The following list will detail films and artists that were hardly a part of the larger conversation. So, while Jessica Chastain’s miss in Best Lead Actress for Molly’s Game is painful, she was considered a potential nominee up until the nominations were announced and, thus, will not be a part of this list.

Here are ten films/artists that deserved to be a part of awards season, but, for the most part, weren’t:

*To be transparent, I’ve borrowed the use of this phrase in regard to the Oscars from The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg.*

Kedi (Best Documentary)

Oscilloscope/Courtesy

Kedi gets points for being absolutely adorable, and that shouldn’t be a trivial statement, as it takes great filmmaking to sell that aspect.

But who knew that a documentary about cats could be a profound statement about the beauty of life? The film accomplishes that through its wholesome approach to the cats it follows. Kedi isn’t just about the cats. It’s about the history that brought them to Turkey, the culture that they’ve become a massive part of, the human beings that they live with and depend on and the human beings that they help.

One of the most touching parts of the documentary is how it frames the cats as aids of mental health. The human subjects often come from tough places, backgrounds or situations, and the cats are what led them out of the struggle.

The line that, perhaps, sums up the movie perfectly is: “A cat meowing at your feet, looking up at you is life smiling at you. Those are moments when we’re lucky. They remind us that we’re alive.”

Darius Khondji — The Lost City of Z (Best Cinematography)

Amazon Studios/Courtesy

To be quite honest, The Lost City of Z should’ve been a contender in nearly every craft category. Its sound design is deeply layered, and its costume and production design contribute so much to the world-building. We believe in the world of explorers and discovery that writer-director James Gray crafts, which is also a testament to its (adapted) screenplay.

However, the most glaring omission from far too much of awards season — he did show up for a few critics groups — was Darius Khondji for his stunning cinematography. Khondji’s job was, on both an emotional level and a technical level, absurdly complex.

The film was shot on 35mm in actual jungles, lending Khondji opportunities that he took to their full potential. The wide shots of landscapes are breathtaking, and the slowly creeping camera, almost playing the role of another explorer among the crew, is fully immersive.

But the lighting, specifically, is always breathtaking, both deeply earthy below the jungle trees yet somehow simultaneously ethereal and mythical. And that’s precisely what the visuals of the film had to accomplish to sell its story — evoke the reality of the setting while hinting at the possibilities that Percy Fawcett so desperately searches for.

Philip Glass — Jane (Best Original Score)

Abramorama/Courtesy

It’s not common for a score for a documentary to be among awards chatter, but if any were to deserve it, it would be Philip Glass’ compositions for the Jane Goodall doc, Jane.

The most beautiful part of the experience of watching Jane is how it sneaks up on us and grabs our minds and hearts before we even notice. By its end, we walk out with a beautifully wholesome and loving portrait of a strong and brilliant woman, and true grasp of just how epic her life has been.

And one of, if not the most essential part of that is Glass’ score. That lovingness and that epicness is based in the music, as if Goodall’s will is the driving force behind each note. The slow build of Glass’ layering, on pieces such as “In the Shadow of Man” and “Perfect Life,” truly evokes a sense of journey, but also a simultaneous sense of nostalgic reminiscence. The score so often ebbs and flows with highs and lows that perfectly dig into the highs and lows of Goodall’s life, and there’s such an immense explorative quality in the progression of the music that does as much work painting Goodall as the rest of the film does.

Dafne Keen — Logan (Best Supporting Actress)

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

Hugh Jackman, the titular Logan, seemed to be almost unparalleled in his ferocity for 17 years. And then, a young 11 year old actress came along. What Dafne Keen accomplishes in Logan is not to be understated. She truly inhabits the character of Laura in every manner. We believe in her fierceness, her ruthless aggression. We believe in her desperation to get to her friends. We believe in the relationship that she and Logan builds.

With nearly no dialogue for a huge portion of the film, Keen grabs our attention and hangs onto it with metal claws. And at the end, when the entire ending rests on her shoulders, she brings us to tears with a powerfully delivered monologue taken from Shane. It’s fully devoted acting that is just as crucial to the emotional story as almost anything else.

Jason Mitchell — Mudbound (Best Supporting Actor)

Netflix/Courtesy

Mudbound got four Oscar nominations, and was still deeply underappreciated. That’s just how good it really is.

One of its greatest assets is its ensemble, and we are elated that Mary J. Blige is being recognized. There is, however, a performance just a rich and just as nuanced as Blige’s — that of Jason Mitchell

Mitchell plays Ronsel, a Black man in the South struggling with not only PTSD after World War II, but the oppressive society he returns to and the family role he’s expected to fulfill. He’s often in conversation with Garrett Hedlund’s Jamie, and Jamie’s more explicit PTSD fills a lot of space. But Mitchell’s quieter evocation of Ronsel’s interiority is even more gripping.

Black people of the time, evidently, weren’t granted the same rights and didn’t have the privilege of expression that a Jamie would have, and Mitchell brings this conflict out in Ronsel with force, burying the anger so truthfully that it becomes visible to the viewer. Ronsel may simply be sitting, looking down at the floor as he talks about how the war changed him, but we see so much of who he is and wants to be, and why he can’t be that, through Mitchell’s precise, minute expressions and almost poetic vocal pacing. And it’s Ronsel who we’re with at the end, hearts breaking before being lifted from ash by a narrated monologue that Mitchell performs with stunning empathy.

Vicky Krieps — Phantom Thread (Best Lead Actress)

Focus Features/Courtesy

It’s rare that someone stands tall next to Daniel Day-Lewis, let alone takes over scenes that he appears in. In Phantom Thread, however, that’s not only the necessity of the character of Alma, but also the unbelievable strength that relative newcomer Vicky Krieps shows in her performance.

In a way, it’s rather meta that Krieps hasn’t been given her fair share of celebration. Day-Lewis’ Reynolds Woodcock has such a massive personality that eats up the screen.

But how Krieps subtly elevates Alma to a point where we believe the power dynamics that develop is exactly why she might be more deserving of praise than the legendary actor, as she, essentially, does more with less.

Alma is often silently staring, whether that be in longing, sensuality or even intense anger, and Krieps sells each one so magnetically. It might be that anger, though, that is the most delicious and plentiful, her eyes nearly materializing daggers.

Christian Bale — Hostiles (Best Lead Actor)

Entertainment Studios/Courtesy

Bale is a three-time Oscar nominee, winning once for The Fighter. So, it comes as a bit of a surprise, and as a bit humorous, that the actor’s arguably best performance in Hostiles was essentially left out everywhere.

In Scott Cooper’s brutal, bruised Western, Bale plays a man filled with anger, nearly broken by it. Precisely how the actor conveys it is where the performance elevates to the extraordinary.

Bale doesn’t have expressive monologues nor does he engage explosively with the other actors. Instead, he pushes all of the emotional work into his eyes. Whether they’re straining, holding a stare or looking on with deep care, Bale’s eyes are absolutely absorbing, and underscore his character with an intensity that renders a softly spoken word into a harrowingly touching moment, or a brief and firm line into the most intimidating, dominating action in the entire film.

So while Bale may be known for his rather outward transformations, it’s in this subdued, careful performance that he shows exactly how much he can do.

Matt Reeves — War for the Planet of the Apes (Best Director)

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

On nearly every level, Matt Reeves’ Planet of the Apes films have been under-awarded. And with War, which somehow tops Dawn, Reeves directs something truly special, a classically inspired epic that tells its story with grace and care in ways that few other stories of any kind are told.

It may be easy to look to the film’s visual effects, the actors, the set pieces and more, but we should take a step back and look at the person who orchestrates it all. Reeves’ hand is as firm as any other director’s this year, guiding us through a grand character arc that nails every turn, building the feel of a world imagined far beyond the edges of the frames we see, constructing cinematic language so rhythmically and sonically dynamic.

It’s hard to imagine few other directors delivering War the way in which it was delivered. It’s a blockbuster that doesn’t exploit its big budget, nor its visual spectacle, instead capitalizing spectacle in service of emotion and story. It’s a directorial wonder.

Blade Runner 2049 (Best Picture)

Warner Bros./Courtesy

A long-after sequel to an absolute classic. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, and it often is. Even with the recently Oscar-nominated director Denis Villeneuve behind the project, it was hard to be anything but skeptical.

The director, however, arguably delivered the masterpiece of his career, topping even Arrival, with a visually arresting, thematically profound rumination on how we define our humanity. In a world that is quickly becoming digitized and uploaded, it’s strange that more weren’t overcome by 2049, a film that suggests that, even in the absence of natural life and vivid color, humanity can still live through our relationships and through our choices.

Every feature of 2049 is stunning. Roger Deakins’ photography is transfixing and haunting. The actors all work wonders, none over-the-top, all players committed to the subtleties of the many aspects that make us human, especially the stoic, lingering and vulnerable Gosling. Villeneuve directs with force, a true atmospheric genius. And the story builds to something truly tragic, yet invigorating and uplifting. Blade Runner 2049 is the rare film that takes its massive canvas and grounds each frame in the human soul.

 

Featured image via Lorey Sebastian, Le Grisbi Productions/Waypoint Entertainment/Courtesy.

Box Office Report: ‘Maze Runner’ races to the top as ‘Hostiles’ expands

Maze Runner: The Death Cure, the final installment in the series, opened to an estimated $23.5 million this past weekend to top the box office. The Dylan O’Brien led young adult action franchise has seen great financial success due in large part to the films’ ability to make a dent on a comparably low budget — the first being made for $34 million, the second for $61 million and this one for $62 million. Add in The Death Cure‘s international haul of $82 million, bringing the worldwide total to $105.5 million, and the film is already close to breaking even.

While Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was finally unseated, the film still only dropped 15.9%, making another $16.4 million. It has officially passed It and Spider-Man: Homecoming to become the fifth largest domestic grosser released in 2017. It’s approximately $50 million behind Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Having released in most international markets, it will likely fall just short.

Coming in third with an estimated $10.205 million was Hostiles, which expanded wide this past weekend after opening in limited release on December 22. The film reportedly had a budget of $39 million, meaning that it will have to climb to approximately $80 million to break even. While Christian Bale and crew were among those vying for Oscar nominations, the film fell short, perhaps due to a late October purchase by brand new distribution company Entertainment Studios — an unfortunate result as Bale’s performance is one of his best.

The Greatest Showman will just not quit, taking home $9.5 million for fourth place and a domestic total of $126.475 million. With two more solid weekends, the film should pass Transformers: The Last KnightWonder and Split on the 2017 domestic chart.

Finally, the recent Oscar nominees have faired well. The Post earned an estimated $8.85 million to bring its worldwide total to $83.035 million. It will certainly break even off of its $50 million budget. The Shape of Water added 1,001 theaters, making $5.7 million to bring its worldwide total to $51.581 million. The Guillermo del Toro film was made for an astonishing $19.5 million, meaning that it’s veering into profit territory now.

*All weekend numbers are domestic, meaning that they’re from theaters in the US and Canada, and are also estimates, reported by Box Office Mojo, with actuals coming out in the next few days.*

 

Featured image via 20th Century Fox.

Analyzing the Oscar Nominations

The Academy never fails to surprise or disappoint and, this year, they did both to varying degrees. Here are some of the notable takeaways from the nominations announced this morning:

Most nominated:

The Shape of Water earned 13 nominations to take the spot as the most nominated film of the year. It held on in categories such as Best Costume Design and Best Film Editing, where there was heavy competition, and pushed through into Best Supporting Actress with Octavia Spencer when it seemed that she was just beyond the edge.

The second most nominated film is Dunkirk, recognized in eight categories. The film was always a craft/technical juggernaut, and it showed up as such in Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Production Design and Best Cinematography. But the film also confirmed itself as one in the top of the pack, landing Best Director and Best Picture nominations.

A phantom contender:

Focus Features/Courtesy

While most expected nominations in Best Lead Actor for Daniel Day-Lewis and Best Costume Design for Mark Bridges, Phantom Thread was justly nominated in Best Original Score for Jonny Greenwood, Best Supporting Actress for Lesley Manville, Best Director for Paul Thomas Anderson and Best Motion Picture. Anderson films doesn’t always click with the Academy, as The Master was limited to just acting nominations and the director was only nominated in the category once before for There Will Be Blood. The same can be said about Jonny Greenwood who, despite turning in brilliant work on those previously mentioned films as well as Inherent Vice, had never been nominated before.

Firsts:

These nominations provided plenty of firsts, both for individual artists as well as in Oscar history.

  • Rachel Morrison became the first woman to be nominated in Best Cinematography.
  • Logan became the first superhero film nominated in a writing category.
  • At 88, Christopher Plummer is the oldest acting nominee.
  • Among firsts for many in their career — such as Greenwood, actresses Margot Robbie and Mary J. Blige, actors Timothée Chalamet and Daniel Kaluuya and debut directors Greta Gerwig and Jordan Peele — perhaps the most notable first comes to a veteran. Christopher Nolan, director of landmark films such as MementoThe Dark Knight and Inception, earned his first Best Director nomination.
  • Dee Rees became the first Black woman to be nominated in Best Adapted Screenplay and joined Suzanne de Passe (Lady Sings the Blues) as the only Black women nominated for screenwriting.
  • Mary J. Blige became the first person ever nominated for a performance and for an original song in the same year, for the same film.
  • Netflix picked up its first non-documentary Oscar nominations with the four that Mudbound received.

Netflix/Courtesy

A year to celebrate women (but we can still do better):

Over the last fourth of 2017, culture began shifting as the world finally began talking — genuinely talking — about not only sexual assault and harassment, but other women’s rights areas such as equal pay, representation and opportunities.

Female filmmakers, particularly, have been championed and today, the Academy nominated Greta Gerwig in Best Director, making her the fifth woman to ever be nominated.

That stat is embarrassing and shameful, that there have been so few, but Gerwig’s inclusion here is rightful recognition of her beautiful accomplishment this year and, hopefully, another key moment in lifting up female filmmakers. Gerwig should not have to embody the entire movement, as that would be unfair, but the nomination is still something that will and must extend beyond the awards ceremony.

Gerwig doesn’t even have to, if one looks below the surface. Women have producing credits on six of the nine Best Picture nominees, and are recognized in, beyond Best Director, both writing categories, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Animated Feature, Best Documentary Feature, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup & Hairstyling, Best Original Song, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design and Best Sound mixing — as noted by journalist Mark Harris.

Merie Wallace/A24/Courtesyy

And while Dee Rees did not get her fair share of talk for the Best Director category and the film was omitted from Best Picture, Mudbound still showed up with four nominations, and its players also made history.

Only more change will come.

Other stories of note:

While they may not have been firsts or records, these following stories, culturally, in Oscar history and just as awesome occurrences, are of note:

  • Jordan Peele became both the third person to ever be nominated in Best Picture, Best Director and one of the writing categories for their first film, and the fifth Black person to be nominated in Best Director. Get Out released back in February and many thought, at the time, that it could compete in Best Original Screenplay and not much else. But its critical, financial and cultural success proved to hold and hold true as the year wrapped up, and the film continued to show up throughout the awards season.
  • James Franco had been predicted in the Best Lead Actor category by plenty of experts, most thinking that the allegations unveiled in the LA Times article arrived too late in the voting process — there were only two days left — for him to be left off. But Franco did end up missing, which may have been due to the allegations, the competition of other actors or, the more likely scenario, a combination of both.
  • At 22, Timothée Chalamet is the youngest Best Lead Actor nominee since 1939.
  • Christopher Plummer was announced to replace Kevin Spacey in All the Money in the World in early November. He then shot his part between November 20 and November 29. Weeks later, he was nominated at the Golden Globes. And today, a few days over two months since Plummer stepped on set, he has an Oscar nomination. The turnaround of that is one of the most mind-boggling stories of its kind.

Sony Pictures/Courtesy

Surprises:

A ‘surprise’ can usually be determined by how much love a certain film or artist got or by how many ere predicting it to show up. They can be individual or general. Here are the many:

  • Both Call Me by Your Name supporting actors missed out. Armie Hammer received plenty of buzz out of Sundance and seemed to maintain it for the first two thirds of the year. Then, Michael Stuhlbarg took over once the film came to more festivals and released to the public — likely due to his transfixing, heartbreaking speech at the end of the film. But both were passed over. The scenario wasn’t unheard of, as the same happened at the Screen Actors Guild, but many were hoping that the Academy would take a different path.
  • Most things Phantom Thread, as said before.
  • I, Tonya did not show up as strongly as many had suggested it would. As 2017 came to an end and Oscar voting got underway, there was a lot of buzz about how the film was picking up steam. And the evidence was there, with the film earning nominations at the WGA and PGA, and at other craft guilds such as makeup & hairstyling. But it seemed as though Phantom Thread got in instead.
  • Darkest Hour turned up much better than expected. The film was one of the most talked about out of the late August/early September film festivals, but seemed to have sunk as the season shaped up. There was never any doubt about Gary Oldman or Best Makeup & Hairstyling, but the film held strong in other craft categories, making it into Best Costume Design, Best Cinematography and Best Production Design. It also showed up in Best Picture, shocking many that thought that I, TonyaThe Big Sick and Mudbound were ahead of it.
  • Victoria and Abdul‘s nominations are, perhaps, on the more boring end of ‘surprise.’ The film earned nods in Best Costume Design, ahead of films like The Greatest Showman and Murder on the Orient Express, and in Best Makeup & Hairstyling, ahead of supposed strong contenders I, TonyaBright and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
  • This may not be the most evident surprise to most, but, in the Best Visual Effects category, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Kong: Skull Island showing up was not what buzz suggested. This branch holds a contender showcase, often regarded as the “bakeoff,” where each on the shortlist offers a presentation on the visual effects of their film. Word from the bakeoff pointed to OkjaThe Shape of Water and Dunkirk as the films that would fight for the final two spots. That none of them made it in is surprising.

Netflix/Courtesy

  • In the Best Documentary Feature category, two heavyweights ended up falling off — City of Ghosts and JaneCity of Ghosts was nominated at the Directors Guild and Jane won the documentary award from the Producers Guild.
  • Finally, many expected Martin McDonagh to show up in the Best Director category. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri had just won the SAG Best Ensemble award and McDonagh was nominated by the DGA. The DGA and the Oscars don’t always line up, but, with the film’s supposed (and now defunct?) frontrunner status, many thought that Peele or Gerwig would fall before he did.

Snubs:

‘Snub’ is a word that’s thrown around far too often. I adhere to a rather strict definition of what a snub really is. Granted, much of this is subjective, but I believe that a snub occurs when a film or artist left off is, in the majority opinion, of better quality than at least one of those nominated. With that definition in mind, here is a list of what the snubs of this year might be (as there will be disagreement on what’s been deemed of better quality in the majority opinion):

  • Mudbound missed out on a Best Picture nomination, and many believe that it may be due to the Netflix label, which might still be frowned upon by a significant portion of industry voters and might have caused some to even ignore the picture all together. That seems to be the only logical reason because the film is absolutely breathtaking and regarded as one of the best films of the year.
  • The Best Foreign Language Film category is hard to suggest there’s a ‘snub’ in because so few see all of the shortlisted films, so this one is based mostly on critics and the awards season. Israel contender Foxtrot emerged from the Venice Film Festival as one of the most talked about and acclaimed foreign films of the year, picking up a few awards from the festival. It won the category at the National Board of Review, and has a MetaCritic score only beaten by A Fantastic Woman.
  • As mentioned above, Jane won the PGA documentary award, making it more than a little bizarre for the film not to even be nominated.
  • Also pointed to above, Victoria and Abdul didn’t really strike many as a Best Makeup & Hairstyling nominee. The snub doesn’t come in any specific film’s exclusion, but in a variety of options instead of the Judi Dench picture.
  • Another point talked about, Michael Stuhlbarg was a critical and audience favorite. The industry respects him, and Call Me by Your Name was apparently a very strong contender in many places. It seemed strange to think that the film would only earn one acting nomination, for the newcomer lead Chalamet. So, Stuhlbarg was expected and wanted. And he deserved a nomination. The performance is lived in in every way, quiet but impactful in similar (but also opposite) ways as Best Supporting Actress nominee Lesley Manville. But what Stuhlbarg had was one of the most stunningly performed scenes of the year — the speech at the end of the film. The scene is the most talked about from the film (if not the one that’s a little more peachy) and in a year when hate was so rampant, its empathy seemed all the more powerful. How the Academy opted for Woody Harrelson, who is no better than ‘Woody being Woody’ in Three Billboards, is beyond us.

Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy

  • We would like to formally apologize to Octavia Spencer. We have nothing against you or your performance. You are a brilliant actress, one of the best. But we would certainly call the exclusion of actresses such as Hong Chau, Holly Hunter and Tiffany Haddish — perhaps Hunter in particular due to her momentum and popularity leading up to today — snubs. Spencer is good in the role, but, let’s face it, she’s not anything more than that.
  • Our final snub is one that stings because of the history that comes along with it. Three years ago, the Academy shockingly and ridiculously omitted The LEGO Movie from Best Animated Feature. And this year, while not as shocking, they ridiculously omitted The LEGO Batman Movie. What got in instead? Ferdinand and The Boss Baby. It’s not even up for debate.

Takeaways:

The Oscar nominations are often a bit diverting from what the awards season had built up until that point. While other awards, such as those from the major guilds, point to potential outcomes at the Oscars, the Oscar nominations can change those narratives. Here are the takeaways from the nominations:

  • Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is not the frontrunner (to be clear, though, it never was). It’s still in contention — especially with that SAG Best Ensemble win and a Best Film Editing nomination — but missing out in Best Director is a bit crushing. Argo recently pulled off a Best Picture win without a Best Director nomination, but it seems rather unlikely for Three Billboards to do the same. McDonagh would almost certainly need to win the DGA award to craft similar momentum for the film.
  • Dunkirk is holding on in Best Picture and Best Director, thanks in part to McDonagh falling off. As awards season shaped up, Christopher Nolan’s WWII film seemed to flatline — not as a contender, but as a serious contender. But that nomination in Best Director ahead of a supposed frontrunner film’s director gives Nolan and the film a much needed boost. It’s main obstacle is that it is much more obviously a technical/craft contender. Without a nod in Best Original Screenplay, Dunkirk will probably lose out on Best Picture. But, just recently, The Revenant showed that a film can still contend, and contend up until the last moment without a writing nomination. Even if it does lose there, a win at the Directors Guild wouldn’t be surprising and would give Nolan further momentum toward possibly beating Guillermo del Toro.

Melina Sue Gordon/Warner Bros./Courtesy

  • The Shape of Water might have made up for its lack of a SAG Best Ensemble with its 13 nominations. It needed the acting nominations and safely made its way into Best Original Screenplay. And it showing up throughout the technical/craft categories shows its wide strength (every voter from every branch gets to vote on Best Picture). But this seemed to be the narrative for La La Land too, that it could make up for missing out of a nod for SAG Best Ensemble. We all know how that turned out, so let’s just say that things are still up in the air.
  • Get Out and Lady Bird are still fighting for Best Picture. Had one of them gotten a Best Film Editing nomination, the narrative would be stronger, but both making it in for Best Director is key. If the WGA award for Best Original Screenplay goes to either of these, they could pick up even more steam. And if one of them wins Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars, even if the film miss out on winning Best Director, lookout for the one that does to take the night — as Spotlight and Moonlight did the same.

 

Featured image via Fox Searchlight Pictures.

The 2018 Oscar Nominations

The time has finally come. This morning, at the absurd hour of 5am, the Academy announced their Oscar nominations for the films of 2017. The contenders for the 90th Academy Awards are as follows:

Best Motion Picture:

Get Out
Lady Bird
The Shape of Water
Call Me by Your Name
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Dunkirk
The Post
Phantom Thread
Darkest Hour

Best Director:

Christopher Nolan — Dunkirk
Guillermo del Toro — The Shape of Water
Jordan Peele — Get Out
Greta Gerwig — Lady Bird
Paul Thomas Anderson — Phantom Thread

Best Lead Actor:

Gary Oldman — Darkest Hour
Timothée Chalamet — Call Me by Your Name
Daniel Kaluuya — Get Out
Daniel Day-Lewis — Phantom Thread
Denzel Washington — Roman J. Israel, Esq

Best Lead Actress:

Frances McDormand — Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Saoirse Ronan — Lady Bird
Sally Hawkins — The Shape of Water
Meryl Streep — The Post
Margot Robbie — I, Tonya

Best Supporting Actor:

Sam Rockwell — Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Willem Dafoe — The Florida Project
Richard Jenkins — The Shape of Water
Christopher Plummer — All the Money in the World
Woody Harrelson — Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Supporting Actress:

Laurie Metcalf — Lady Bird
Allison Janney — I, Tonya
Mary J. Blige — Mudbound
Lesley Manville — Phantom Thread
Octavia Spencer — The Shape of Water

Best Original Screenplay:

Jordan Peele — Get Out
Greta Gerwig — Lady Bird
Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani — The Big Sick
Martin McDonagh — Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Vanessa Taylor, Guillermo del Toro — The Shape of Water

Best Adapted Screenplay:

James Ivory — Call Me by Your Name
Dee Rees, Virgil Williams — Mudbound
Aaron Sorkin — Molly’s Game
Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber — The Disaster Artist
James Mangold, Scott Frank, Michael Green — Logan

Best Production Design:

Dennis Gassner, Alessandra Querzola — Blade Runner 2049
Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer — Darkest Hour
Paul Denham Austerberry, Shane Vieau, Jeff Melvin — The Shape of Water
Nathan Crowley, Gary Fettis — Dunkirk
Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer — Beauty and the Beast

Best Cinematography:

Hoyte van Hoytema — Dunkirk
Roger Deakins — Blade Runner 2049
Rachel Morrison — Mudbound
Bruno Delbonnel — Darkest Hour
Dan Laustsen — The Shape of Water

Best Costume Design:

Mark Bridges — Phantom Thread
Jacqueline Durran — Beauty and the Beast
Consolata Boyle — Victoria and Abdul
Luis Sequeira — The Shape of Water
Jacqueline Durran — Darkest Hour

Best Film Editing:

Lee Smith — Dunkirk
Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss — Baby Driver
Tatiana S. Riegel — I, Tonya
Sidney Wolinsky — The Shape of Water
Jon Gregory — Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Makeup & Hairstyling:

Ivana Primorac, Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski, Lucy Sibbick — Darkest Hour
Naomi Bakstad, Robert A. Pandini, Arjen Tuiten — Wonder
Daniel Phillips, Lou Sheppard — Victoria and Abdul

Best Sound Mixing: 

Mac Ruth, Ron Bartlett, Doug Hemphill — Blade Runner 2049
Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker, Gary A. Rizzo — Dunkirk
Stuart Wilson, Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick — Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Glen Gauthier, Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern — The Shape of Water
Mary H. Ellis, Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin — Baby Driver

Best Sound Editing:

Mark Mangini, Theo Green — Blade Runner 2049
Richard King, Alex Gibson — Dunkirk
Matthew Wood, Ren Klyce — Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Nathan Robitaille — The Shape of Water
Julian Slater — Baby Driver

Best Visual Effects:

Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett, Joel Whist — War for the Planet of the Apes
John Nelson, Paul Lambert, Richard R. Hoover, Gerd Nefzer — Blade Runner 2049
Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Chris Corbould, Neal Scanlan — Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Jonathan Fawkner, Dan Sudick — Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza, Mike Meinardus — Kong: Skull Island

Best Original Score:

Hans Zimmer — Dunkirk
Jonny Greenwood — Phantom Thread
Alexandre Desplat — The Shape of Water
John Williams — Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Carter Burwell — Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Original Song:

“Mystery of Love,” Sufjan Stevens — Call Me by Your Name
“This Is Me,” Benj Hasek, Justin Paul — The Greatest Showman
“Remember Me,” Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez — Coco
“Stand Up for Something,” Diane Warren, Common — Marshall
“Mighty River,” Mary J. Blige — Mudbound

Best Animated Feature:

Coco
The Breadwinner
Loving Vincent
The Boss Baby

Ferdinand

Best Foreign Language Film:

The Square
A Fantastic Woman
Loveless
The Insult

On Body and Soul

Best Documentary Feature:

Icarus
Faces Places
Strong Island

Last Men in Aleppo
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

Best Documentary Short:

Edith+Eddie
Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405
Heroin(e)

Knife Skills
Traffic Stop

Best Live Action Short:

The Eleven O’Clock
The Silent Child
Watu Wote/All of Us
My Nephew Emmett
DeKalb Elementary

Best Animated Short:

Dear Basketball
Lou
Negative Space
Revolting Rhymes
Garden Party

 

Featured image via A24/Warner Bros./Universal Pictures/Fox Searchlight.

Box Office Report: ‘Jumanji’ is rock solid as ’12 Strong’ opens strong

Here we are again, with Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle atop the box office. This weekend, its fifth, it pulled in an estimated $20.04 million, which is an astonishingly small 28.7% drop-off from the previous weekend. Its domestic total stands at $316.985 million and needs just under $18 million more to beat both It and Spider-Man: Homecoming to become the fifth largest domestic grosser released in 2017. The film has truly struck gold.

In second and third are two new releases, 12 Strong and Den of Thieves. The former, based on a true story of soldiers heading off to the Middle East almost immediately after 9/11, stars Chris Hemsworth, and made an estimated $16.5 million despite middle of the road reviews.

The latter, starring Gerard Butler, 50 Cent and O’Shea Jackson Jr., made a respectable $15.32 million, also in spite of rather poor reviews.

Coming in fourth is last weekends #2, Steven Spielberg’s The Post. In its wide release, the Tom Hanks-Meryl Streep vehicle is fairing rather well, boosting up to $45.191 domestically after $12.15 this weekend. On a budget of $50 million, the film will likely end up successful, especially once it receives Oscar nominations.

In fifth, and still holding strong, is Hugh Jackman’s The Greatest Showman with approximately $11 million. Domestically, the film has outperformed many other large budget spectacles, such as Blade Runner 2049. Its run speaks to the power of a wide demographic.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi just passed a milestone, crossing into $600 million domestically — $604.284 to be exact. It is only the sixth film to ever do so. It’s unclear if it will beat Marvel’s The Avengers $623.357, but there’s certainly a shot

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread expanded from 62 theaters into 896, and made an estimated $3.37 million. It’ll be interesting to see how well it does as it continues to expand and if its star, Daniel-Day Lewis, does get an Oscar nomination.

Finally, Call Me by Your Name also expanded, from 174 theaters into 815, but in much worse fashion, pulling in only $1.505 million. The film had been in limited release since November and it seems as though anticipation has fizzled out and that it still isn’t even in enough theaters to gain traction. Sony Pictures Classics botched this release plan, and now must hedge bets on Oscar nominations pushing some to go see it.

*All weekend numbers are domestic, meaning that they’re from theaters in the US and Canada, and are also estimates, reported by Box Office Mojo, with actuals coming out in the next few days.*

 

Featured image via Columbia Pictures

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