Tag Archives: Bradford Young

The Best in Film of Spring 2018

By the end of the year, it’s rather easy to fall into the overwhelming consensus/narrative of what films and performances deserve Oscars. It’s often mostly made up of films that come out in the last four months of the year, with a few from the first eight months — but those had to be more than exceptional.

As that trend continues, it becomes more and more necessary to take the time to really explore the great work across crafts below and above the line from the beginning of the year. And so far, between the months of January and April, film has offered brilliance in so many regards, within both tiny independents and massive blockbusters.

Here is our breakdown of the best in film of Spring 2018:

Best Supporting Actor

Winner: Paul Bettany — Journey’s End

Nick Wall/Good Deed Entertainment/Courtesy

Journey’s End becomes so unnerving so quickly because of the specific tension that it evokes: of composed, orderly men slowly crumbling from the inside at the doom of war approaching. And while Sam Claflin offers the film’s most expressive, explicit performance, Paul Bettany nails that tension with subtle grace. His character’s initial calm and almost fatherly presence is impossible not to latch onto, making it all the more tragic to watch as even he starts to break down — a destabilization of his eyes and rockiness in his slowly suffocated breath. Bettany clearly controls every minute with a clear sense of the story’s path, anchoring the film as the events spiral out of control.

Runner-up: Hugh Grant — Paddington 2
3. Michael B. Jordan — Black Panther
4. Chris Hemsworth — Avengers: Infinity War
5. Jesse Plemons — Game Night

The Next 5
6. Ed Helms — Chappaquiddick
7. Alessandro Nivola — Disobedience
8. Shia LaBeouf —Borg vs. McEnroe
9. Anton Yelchin — Thoroughbreds
10. Simon Russell Beale — The Death of Stalin

Best Makeup & Hairstyling

Winner: Camille Friend, Joel Harlow — Black Panther

Marvel/Disney/Courtesy

Some may argue that Avengers: Infinity War is above Black Panther in this regard, simply because of the number of characters in makeup and the different styles of makeup. But this distinction shouldn’t be for the most work. In fact, Infinity War, even in aspects beyond makeup, bases a lot of itself in what’s come before.

Where Black Panther clearly stands out is in both its innovation and the world-building that the makeup and hair work accomplishes. The makeup is prevalent, but not overt. The prosthetics are integrated into the world-building. The hair is distinct and varied, wound into other design elements perfectly.

Runner-up: Deborah Rutherford, Brian Sipe, Janine Rath — Avengers: Infinity War
3. Kimberly Kimble, Allan A. Apone, Anita Brabec, Geno Freeman — A Wrinkle in Time

The Next 3
4. Tristan Versluis, Sian Grigg — Annihilation
5. AnnaCarin Lock — Borg vs. McEnroe
6. Lesley Noble, Conal Palmer, Roseann Samuel — Journey’s End

Best Costume Design

Winner: Ruth E. Carter — Black Panther

Marvel/Disney/Courtesy

From a design standpoint, Black Panther is one of the most deeply felt films in the past number of years. Crafts are brilliant across the board, but it’s Ruth E. Carter’s costume design that pops the loudest and brightest.

The film not only features a wide variety of styles of a new world — from armor, to daily wear, to royal dress — and a wide variety of material distinctly from that world, but also informs each costume as a clear, storied product of Wakanda. That the costumes are also incredibly beautiful is a testament to the mastery of Carter.

Runner-up: Paco Delgado — A Wrinkle in Time
3. Suzie Harmen — The Death of Stalin
4. Judianna Makovsky — Avengers: Infinity War
5. Anushia Nieradzik — Journey’s End

The Next 5
6. Lindy Hemming — Paddington 2
7. Alex Bovaird — Thoroughbreds
8. Caroline Errington — Chappaquiddick
9. Kicki Ilander — Borg vs. McEnroe
10. Odile Dicks-Mireaux — Disobedience

Best Sound Editing

Winner: Daniel Laurie, Shannon Mills — Avengers: Infinity War

Marvel/Disney/Courtesy

Avengers: Infinity War has the seemingly requisite barrage of guns and explosions. And these sounds are executed rather effectively and with blunt force.

But where Infinity War‘s sound editing shines is in the supernatural elements, such as those surrounding the infinity stones. The ear-ringing electricity present whenever Thanos gains a stone renders them magical, majestic and worthy of the power they end up displaying. And the sounds of the stones used in battle fully inform the mind-boggling visual effect they have. The film is truly galactic, and the sound editing follows suit.

Runner-up: Richard Hymns, Gary Rydstrom — Ready Player One
3. Benjamin A. Burtt, Steve Boeddeker — Black Panther
4. Glenn Freemantle, Niv Adiri — Annihilation
5. Stephen Griffiths, Andy Shelley — Journey’s End

The Next 5
6. Erik Aadahl, Brandon Jones, Ethan Van der Ryn — A Quiet Place
7. Wayne Lemmer, Christopher Scarabosio — Isle of Dogs
8. Malte Bieler, Emma Present — Pacific Rim: Uprising
9. Dominic Gibbs, Luke Gentry — Tomb Raider
10. Al Nelson, Andre Fenley — A Wrinkle in Time

Best Sound Mixing

Winner: Michael Barosky, Brandon Proctor — A Quiet Place

Paramount Pictures/Courtesy

A Quiet Place is a film that tells its story primarily through sound. Within that distinction, the sound’s force is primarily in its mixing.

The calculation of not only when to drop, for example, a creak in the wood, but also of how loud to make the creak is supremely effective throughout. And the overall composition of the mix, beginning steeped in eerie quietude and then slowly introducing brutal, jarring sounds, is some of the best craft work of any type this year. But the mixes most impressive accomplishment is how it informs the physical human situation in the film. With the mix, we feel the horrifying physical strain of the characters throughout, and invest in their story because of that.

Runner-up: Juan Peralta, Tom Johnson, John Pritchett — Avengers: Infinity War
3. Niv Adiri, Michael Clayton, John Skehill, Ian Tapp — Annihilation
4. Dan Johnson, Bryn Thomas — Journey’s End
5. Steve Boeddeker, Peter J. Devlin, Brandon Proctor — Black Panther

The Next 5
6. Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson — Ready Player One
7. Wayne Lemmer, Christopher Scarabosio — Isle of Dogs
8. Hans Møller, Henric Andersson — Borg vs. McEnroe
9. Andrew Stirk, Johnathan Rush, Drew Kunin — You Were Never Really Here
10. Christopher Boyes, Willie D. Burton, Lora Hirschberg — A Wrinkle in Time

Best Supporting Actress

Winner: Jennifer Garner — Love, Simon

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

During the first two acts of Love, Simon, Jennifer Garner’s presence is notably felt, her warmth and charisma delightful.

What elevates Garner so high, though, is a scene rather similar to Michael Stuhlbarg’s shining moment in Call Me by Your Name — yet Garner distinguishes this as her own. We strain at Simon’s conflict throughout the film, and are devastated when it turns south. What makes his situation worse is that he seems so alone. So, when Garner’s character offers him some words of comfort, not only is Simon allowed to breathe, but we are too. But it took Garner’s full emotional investment in the scene, as she emanates a distinctly motherly wisdom. Garner delivers the monologue carefully, necessarily so, but offers a raw vulnerability at the same time; much of the final third’s stability is based in this moment and the work it does.

Runner-up: Gina Rodriguez — Annihilation
3. Letitia Wright — Black Panther
4. Rachel McAdams — Game Night
5. Geraldine Viswanathan — Blockers

The Next 5
6. Andrea Riseborough — The Death of Stalin
7. Millicent Simmonds — A Quiet Place
8. Zoe Saldana — Avengers: Infinity War
9. Tessa Thompson — Annihilation
10. Sally Hawkins — Paddington 2

Best Production Design

Winner: Hannah Beachler, Jay Hart — Black Panther

Marvel/Disney/Courtesy

Some franchises get sequels, and even after a second film, their worlds still feel flat, uninspired and without life.

Black Panther is the exact opposite. Within the first act, the world of Wakanda lives vibrantly, and a huge reason for that is the production design. Like the costumes, the variety of designs, how informed each feel and how each build a specific aspect of Wakanda is a testament to the production design’s accomplishment. The throne room has the hallmark of superhero royal design, and yet, it is distinctly of Wakanda. And Shuri’s lab is as badass and visually exciting as any set throughout the MCU.

To make it plain and simple, look at how the sets of Wakanda are realized at the end of Captain America: Civil War and throughout Avengers: Infinity War. The difference is day and night.

Runner-up: Gary Williamson, Cathy Cosgrove — Paddington 2
3. Mark Digby, Michelle Day — Annihilation
4. Adam Stockhausen, Paul Harrod — Isle of Dogs
5. Jeffrey Beecroft, Heather Loeffler — A Quiet Place

The Next 5
6. Kristian Milsted, Libby Uppington — Journey’s End
7. Charles Wood, Lesley Pope — Avengers: Infinity War
8. Cristina Casali, Charlotte Dirickx — The Death of Stalin
9. Gary Freeman, Raffaella Giovannetti — Tomb Raider
10. Naomi Shohan, Elizabeth Keenan — A Wrinkle in Time

Best Visual Effects

Winner: Dan DeLeeuw, Jeff Capogreco, Varun Hadkar, Doug Spilatro — Avengers: Infinity War

Marvel/Disney/Courtesy

The visual effects of Avengers: Infinity War are simultaneously a synthesis of the MCU and a grand expansion of it. We get our (brief) moment of Hulk. We get Iron Man in full action. We get Dr. Strange and Wong channeling their magic. We get Spider-Man slinging through New York. We get the Guardians going galactic.

But we also get each hero visualized in new situations, using new weapons/suits/powers in new settings. The scope is pushed to the max as Iron Man’s suit evolves in its capabilities, as Dr. Strange is pitted against powers he hasn’t faced, as Spider-Man is taken into space, as Thor gets an axe to replace his hammer. The scope is pushed to the max as the new worlds we see — Titan, Nidavellir, Vormir — begin to paint a brilliant universe that’s been devastated by an approaching apocalypse.

Certain moments are visual effects wonders, many of them on Titan. Thanos bringing down the moon on Iron Man is indescribably transfixing, and the Avengers taking on Thanos to try to remove his gauntlet is a masterful orchestration.

And this all comes without mention of the performance capture work. Where Andy Serkis and crew innovated with the Planet of the Apes trilogy, the team on Infinity War extends that. The children of Thanos are interesting visual pieces, Ebony Maw perhaps the most. But Thanos is clearly the visual effects star. Thanos’ stature, his palpable physicality, which turns into palpable dread for our heroes, is key to the film’s success, and his rendering is brilliant.

Runner-up: Roger Guyett, Grady Cofer — Ready Player One
3. Andrew Whitehurst — Annihilation
4. Nikos Kalaitzidis, Richard McBride — A Wrinkle In Time
5. Geoffrey Baumann, Stuart Lashley, Doug Spilatro — Black Panther

The Next 5
6. Jim Berney, Peter Chiang, Caleb Choo — Pacific Rim: Uprising
7. Scott Farrar — A Quiet Place
8. Rupert Davies, Andy Kind, Peter McDonald, Carlos Monzon, Glen Pratt — Paddington 2
9. Matt Sloan, R. Christopher White — Maze Runner: The Death Cure
10. Thrain Shadbolt, Colin Strause, Erik Winquist — Rampage

Best Film Editing

Winner: Jonathan Amos, Mark Everson — Paddington 2

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Paddington 2 gets nearly everything right. Its characterization is pitch perfect, its tone enchanting. Some of its sequences are simply magical.

And one of the most significant contributing factors to those aspects working as well as they do is the film’s editing. Montage sequences are put together with grace and energy akin to Wes Anderson films, some of them evoking the spy genre in both a genuine and lightly satirical way. The pacing never falters, the film running along briskly throughout. And cuts are leveraged so affectingly, perhaps most powerfully toward the film’s end. The overall piece of Paddington is as delectably crafted as a marmalade sandwich.

Runner-up: Barney Pilling — Annihilation
3. Jeffrey Ford, Matthew Schmidt — Avengers: Infinity War
4. Christopher Tellefsen — A Quiet Place
5. Alex O’Flinn — The Rider

The Next 5
6. Joe Bini — You Were Never Really Here
7. Tania Reddin — Journey’s End
8. Debbie Berman, Michael P. Shawver — Black Panther
9. David Egan, Jamie Gross, Gregory Plotkin — Game Night
10. Jonathan Alberts — Lean on Pete

Best Cinematography

Winner: Bradford Young — Where Is Kyra?

Paladin/Courtesy

Before Bradford Young exposed the deep shadows of a galaxy far, far away, he utilized shadows to dig deep into the psychology of those in poverty. Where Is Kyra? is incredibly and literally dark throughout, and gets darker as the film goes. And Young’s detail in those shadows evokes so much about the despair of poverty. But Young also utilizes the close-up to profound effect. Many of the shots of Michelle Pfeiffer’s face are jarring, but necessarily so, in that they allow a raw, quiet look at her state of mind. And when things get desperate, the uncomfortable angles of close-ups, like in the image above, only further transport us emotionally.

Runner-up: Laurie Rose — Journey’s End
3. Trent Opaloch — Avengers: Infinity War
4. Joshua James Richard — The Rider
5. Rob Hardy — Annihilation

The Next 5
6. Rachel Morrison — Black Panther
7. Barry Peterson — Game Night
8. Charlotte Bruus Christensen — A Quiet Place
9. Triston Oliver — Isle of Dogs
10. Tom Townend — You Were Never Really Here

Best Original Score

Winner: Geoff Barrow, Ben Salisbury — Annihilation

Paramount Pictures/Courtesy

The music of Annihilation stood out even before the film released, with that signature sound sticking in people’s minds and sites even writing articles pinpointing when it popped up.

But the fact that the score stands out is not what makes it so good. The shimmer is as equally horrifying as it is beautiful, and Barrow and Salisbury’s score replicates that, even instills that in the film. The electronic buzz is both paralyzing and dazzling, especially in the final act, as the piece “The Alien” renders the sequence on of the most stunning of recent memory.

And yet, the score also utilizes acoustic guitar in stark contrast, crafting an atmosphere of melancholy that perfectly delivers on the film’s rumination on mental pain.

Runner-up: Ludwig Göransson — Black Panther
3. Jonny Greenwood — You Were Never Really Here
4. Alexandre Desplat — Isle of Dogs
5. Marco Beltrami — A Quiet Place

The Next 5
6. Hildur Guðnadóttir, Natalie Holt — Journey’s End
7. Cliff Martinez — Game Night
8. Carlo Virzì — The Leisure Seeker
9. Dario Marianelli — Paddington 2
10. Alan Silvestri — Avengers: Infinity War

Best Original Screenplay

Winner: Chloé Zhao — The Rider

Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy

The Rider may feature plenty of dialogue that presents its themes up front. But that seems purposeful, as the film is really about the performative of that explicitness as well as the simple, but profound structure/progression of events.

Zhao’s script is gentle, but that allows the story to become rather forceful in its entirety. By its end, those simple, explicit lines of dialogue mean much more than they did at the film’s start.

Runner-up: Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, John Krasinski — A Quiet Place
3. Brian Kehoe, Jim Kehoe — Blockers
4. Mark Perez — Game Night
5. Cory Finley — Thoroughbreds

The Next 5
6. Taylor Allen, Andrew Logan — Chappaquiddick
7. Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, Kunichi Nomura — Isle of Dogs
8. Ronnie Sandahl — Borg vs. McEnroe
9. Andrew Dosunmu, Darci Picoult — Where Is Kyra?
10. Jonathan Bernstein, James Greer — Unsane

Best Adapted Screenplay

Winner: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole — Black Panther

Marvel/Disney/Courtesy

While Michael B. Jordan’s performance as Erik Killmonger is good, most of the powerful impact of the character comes from how he’s written — the dialogue of the character, his arc and the themes that his character touches on.

Writers Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole compose the character of Killmonger with staggering real world weight, but they also envision an entire new world of Wakanda stunningly. The idea of Wakanda as a thriving African nation because it has not been colonized is a fantastic start. Then, evoking isolationism as the country’s guiding theory and taking that into conflict with the responsibility such a nation might have to the ancestors of slaves/those colonized is so indescribably fascinating.

And despite what some others might suggest, this kind of thematic investigation could’ve only come through a superhero film. That Coogler and Cole’s script reaches that potential is the sign of its brilliance.

Runner-up: Paul King, Simon Farnaby — Paddington 2
3. Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely — Avengers: Infinity War
4. Alex Garland — Annihilation
5. Lynne Ramsay — You Were Never Really Here

The Next 5
6. Andrew Haigh — Lean on Pete
7. Simon Reade — Journey’s End
8. Armando Iannucci, David Schneider, Ian Martin — The Death of Stalin
9. Sebastián Lelio, Rebecca Lenkiewicz — Disobedience
10. Elizabeth Berger, Isaac Aptaker — Love, Simon

Best Director

Winner: Paul King — Paddington 2

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Paddington 2 hits all the right notes. It is simultaneously a magical children’s film and a thought provoking film for adults, nailing a balance of charming storytelling and thematic heft. It is a play on spy films while also indulging in the genre. It is a wonder of costume design, visual effects, production design, music and multiple other crafts. And it’s acted to perfection.

Sometimes, a film that succeeds in so many areas doesn’t necessary coalesce into a successful whole. But Paddington 2 does. While Paul King may not be directly responsible for certain aspects of brilliance in the film, he is responsible for the compilation of those aspects into a single piece of art — the resulting film. And for that reason, King’s directing job deserves endless praise.

Runner-up: Alex Garland — Annihilation
3. Anthony Russo, Joe Russo — Avengers: Infinity War
4. Ryan Coogler — Black Panther
5. Chloé Zhao — The Rider

The Next 5
6. John Krasinski — A Quiet Place
7. Lynne Ramsay — You Were Never Really Here
8. Saul Dibb — Journey’s End
9. Andrew Haigh — Lean on Pete
10. Kay Cannon — Blockers

Best Ensemble

Winner: The Cast of Avengers: Infinity War

Marvel/Disney/Courtesy

The simple presence of so many lovable characters, characters we’ve come to care about over a decade, did not necessarily mean that the ensemble of Avengers: Infinity War would work. An ensemble needs on screen chemistry in the situations of its specific film, and they need to, as a whole, contribute to the themes of the films. Thankfully, the dozens of significant characters in Infinity War come together to continue the MCU’s run of infectious ensembles. The back and forth, especially between characters meeting for the first time, is spectacular, both in comedic moments such as those between Thor and the Guardians, as well as in dramatic moments such as those between Tony Stark and Doctor Strange. Finally, the interactions between the Avengers and Thanos are dreadful moments worthy of the six year anticipation of the villain’s arrival.

Runner-up: The Cast of Black Panther
3. The Cast of The Death of Stalin
4. The Cast of Game Night
5. The Cast of Paddington 2

The Next 5
6. The Cast of Blockers
7. The Cast of Annihilation
8. The Cast of Journey’s End
9. The Cast of Love, Simon
10. The Cast of Chappaquiddick

Best Lead Actor

Winner: Charlie Plummer — Lean on Pete

A24/Courtesy

Charlie Plummer’s performance in Lean on Pete is, in terms of how the character is evoked, rather similar to Timothée Chalamet’s in Call Me by Your Name — understated, and more powerful because of it.

In Lean on Pete, Plummer’s character Charley is guarded. His mom is gone. His dad is a drunk. He’s on his own — until he meets aging racing horse Lean on Pete. Plummer plays on that shell that Charley creates so well, utilizing his eyes as the main windows into who he really is, as the rest is mostly protection. There’s a gentleness and tranquility in Charley, but as he’s tested, Plummer evokes the risk of that gentleness turning sour in the transitions of reserved physicality to sudden panic. Plummer says everything through how little he does, rendering the most emotional moments where he doesn’t necessarily do anything so powerful because of his acting prior to those moments.

Runner-up: Joaquin Phoenix — You Were Never Really Here
3. Sam Claflin — Journey’s End
4. Jason Clarke — Chappaquiddick
5. Josh Brolin — Avengers: Infinity War

The Next 5
6. Brady Jandreau — The Rider
7. Nick Robinson — Love, Simon
8. Chadwick Boseman — Black Panther
9. John Krasinski — A Quiet Place
10. Sverrir Gudnason — Borg vs. McEnroe

Best Lead Actress

Winner: Michelle Pfeiffer — Where Is Kyra?

Paladin/Courtesy

Where Is Kyra? is a bracing film about poverty, but it needed an actress that could bear it all for the investigation. And Michelle Pfeiffer goes above and beyond. Her full emotions are underneath the surface, but her desperation is clear to see. Much of the plot traps her character into more and more difficult situations, and Pfeiffer embodies that trapped feeling, injecting into the physicality of her performance, specifically the muscles in her face. She delivers small outbursts so powerfully, but, just when we think we’ll finally see a full outburst of emotion, Pfeiffer contains it all into a simple, devastating look. Pfeiffer’s work is the epitome of harrowing, and it’s a performance we won’t soon forget.

Runner-up: Emily Blunt — A Quiet Place
3. Claire Foy — Unsane
4. Natalie Portman — Annihilation
5. Rachel McAdams — Disobedience

The Next 5
6. Anya Taylor-Joy — Thoroughbreds
7. Rachel Weisz — Disobedience
8. Olivia Cooke — Thoroughbreds
9. Alicia Vikander — Tomb Raider
10. Helen Mirren — The Leisure Seeker

Best Picture

Winner: Black Panther

Marvel/Disney/Courtesy

A “Best Picture” is a film that transcends the medium as powerfully as possible. That doesn’t mean it’s the “best” film and that doesn’t mean it has to be everyone’s favorite. A “Best Picture” has a sort of intangible quality to it that everyone, no matter if they think it’s the “best” or if it’s their favorite, can feel anyway.

So far in 2018, that film is indisputably Black Panther. Superhero films don’t get much celebration. Oftentimes, it makes sense. But in some cases, it’s incredibly sad, as superhero films can evoke ideas, emotions, themes, representation and much more in ways that other films can’t. Black Panther is a pinnacle of that in many regards. Its themes are precisely transcendent, in that they leverage the genre to make profound statements through a hypothetical, extremely imaginative, but always truthful lens.

The fact that there is legitimate argument that Black Panther is also the “best” film only solidifies its place. Ryan Coogler’s storytelling is bravely raw, but also expertly composed. And the design elements of the film and how they contribute to the film’s story represent the best of what film can do.

Hopefully, by the end of the year, no one forgets Black Panther‘s achievement.

Runner-up: Paddington 2
3. Annihilation
4. Avengers: Infinity War
5. The Rider
6. A Quiet Place
7. Journey’s End
8. You Were Never Really Here
9. Lean on Pete
10. Blockers

The Next 5
11. Game Night
12. Chappaquiddick
13. Disobedience
14. The Death of Stalin
15. Thoroughbreds

 

Voting contributions from Hooman Yazdanian.

Featured image via Marvel/Disney/Paramount Pictures/Warner Bros./Good Deed Entertainment.

10 Most Anticipated Films of the Summer

The summer season is notorious for its blockbusters, both the good and the bad (often the bad). But smaller films that release between May and August should not be overlooked. As the best of Sundance start to trickle out and the best of Cannes sneak in later, summer often shapes up to be fun of all sizes. Here are our 10 most anticipated films of summer 2018:

10. Hotel Artemis

Global Road/Courtesy

Directed by: Drew Pearce
Written by: Drew Pearce
Starring: Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella, Jeff Goldblum, Dave Bautista
Release Date: June 8, 2018

On concept alone, Hotel Artemis sounds like a blast: Jodie Foster plays a nurse who runs a secret hospital for criminals. It’s the kind of genre fare we need more of, and the film is stacked with brilliant actors to play these exaggerated parts. But the man behind the screenplay and behind the camera, Drew Pearce, has subtly built a strong resume, with writing credits on Iron Man 3 and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation — two fantastic genre films. If Pearce brings that level of wit and suspense to this film, we could be in for a hell of a time.

9. Leave No Trace

Bleecker Street/Courtesy

Directed by: Debra Granik
Written by: Debra Granik
Starring: Thomasin McKenzie, Ben Foster
Release Date: June 29, 2018

Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone was the quiet film that snuck up on people. Not only was it a gripping showcase for the soon-to-be-star Jennifer Lawrence, but it displayed Granik’s immense writing and directing talents. Her next film, which already premiered at Sundance to rave reviews, is said to offer two outstanding performances from Ben Foster and primed-to-breakout Thomasin McKenzie, as well as more of Granik’s quiet power.

8. Eighth Grade

A24/Courtesy

Directed by: Bo Burnham
Written by: Bo Burnham
Starring: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson
Release Date: July 13, 2018

Bo Burnham is a comedian unlike any other. His wit is quick and awkward, and sometimes bracingly real. His directorial debut, Eighth Grade, which also premiered at Sundance, is a synthesis of those qualities, except through the eyes of an eighth grade girl. Few coming of age stories truly embrace the awkwardness of youth, and even fewer take on social media and the digital well, but reviews say that Burnham has something special that accomplishes both.

7. Incredibles 2

Pixar/Courtesy

Directed by: Brad Bird
Written by: Brad Bird
Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener
Release Date: June 15, 2018

Even Pixar’s weaker efforts are mostly fun animated adventures, so any movie from the animation giant would make this list. But this is not just any movie, nor is it any Pixar movie. This is a movie 14 years in the making, a sequel to one of the most beloved animated films of all time and, truly, one of the best superhero movies of all time. And with Brad Bird back writing and directing, this family follow-up will surely hold onto the heart that made the first one so memorable.

6. BlacKkKlansman

David Lee/Focus Features/Courtesy

Directed by: Spike Lee
Written by: Spike Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel, Kevin Willmott
Starring: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Topher Grace, Laura Harrier, Corey Hawkins
Release Date: August 10, 2018

The basic story of BlacKkKlansman is harrowing: a young black police officer infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan. And there’s certainly no doubt that co-writer and director Spike Lee will not only hit hard on how sickening things were back then, but how sickening things still are now. The first footage, however, suggests that the film will actually be a buddy comedy of sorts. And after thinking about it for a moment, it makes complete sense. Lee’s comedy could easily convey the level of atrocious stupidity of the KKK while maintaining the seriousness of the impact of them. It’ll be a tight balancing act, but if Lee pulls it off — and we’ll see rather soon, as it premieres at Cannes — it’ll be a film to rally around.

5. Sorry to Bother You

Annapurna/Courtesy

Directed by: Boots Riley
Written by: Boots Riley
Starring: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Armie Hammer, Terry Crews, Steven Yeun
Release Date: July 6, 2018

Bay Area activist-artist Boots Riley puts on the writer-director cap for the first time for Sorry to Bother You. The kind of perspective that Riley has offered in other forms of art is desperately needed in the film world, and it seems as though his directorial debut is making quite an impact even prior to its release. Sorry to Bother You already has fantastic reviews, having premiered at Sundance, and its trailer showcases a visual flare and energy that’re not quite like anything else out there. And with a brilliant cast, fronted by Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson, the film will not be one we forget any time soon.

4. Under the Silver Lake

A24/Courtesy

Directed by: David Robert Mitchell
Written by: David Robert Mitchell
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Riley Keough, Jimmi Simpson, Topher Grace
Release Date: June 22, 2018

David Robert Mitchell broke through with It Follows, a horror film already considered among the best of the 21st century in its genre. So, anything Mitchell did next would be something to seek out. What he’s cooked up, however, looks utterly enchanting. Under the Silver Lake, distributed by the powerhouse that is A24 and premiering soon at Cannes, seems to be a surrealist stoner noir, a subgenre that offers endless possibilities for a wild visual trip, led by a shaggy and paranoid performance from Andrew Garfield.

3. Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Paramount Pictures/Courtesy

Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie
Starring: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Henry Cavill, Simon Pegg, Michelle Monaghan, Ving Rhames
Release Date: July 27, 2018

Ghost Protocol reinvigorated the franchise, but it was Rogue Nation that truly showed how high the series could climb. And, thanks to an absolute banger of a trailer, it seems that Rogue Nation writer-director Christopher McQuarrie has taken the franchise, and Tom Cruise, even higher with Mission: Impossible – Fallout. From the physical beast of Henry Cavill to the return of Rogue Nation standout Rebecca Ferguson to the mind boggling practical stunts of Tom Cruise (he’s actually flying that helicopter?!), Fallout is primed to be a spy thriller on par with the best of Bond and Bourne. And, if for nothing else, Fallout will also give us a glimpse at the infamous Cavill mustache we’ve all heard too much about.

2. Hereditary

A24/Courtesy

Directed by: Ari Aster
Written by: Ari Aster
Starring: Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Gabriel Byrne, Milly Shapiro
Release Date: June 8, 2018

When reviews call Hereditary “a new generation’s The Exorcist” (Time Out) and describe it as “emotional terrorism” (The A.V. Club), it’s difficult not to start anticipating it. With Hereditary distributed by A24 and said to host a revelatory performance from Toni Collette, it’s impossible not to feel a paradoxical sense of need to see the film immediately, even if people who’ve seen it out of Sundance and South by Southwest say that it scarred them. This is the sick game that spectacular horror films can play, but we’re here for it.

1. Solo: A Star Wars Story

Lucasfilm/Courtesy

Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan, Jon Kasdan
Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton
Release Date: May 25, 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story may have gone through hell during production, enduring a director firing that has understandably left many rather nervous. But this is still Star Wars, folks. Movies are meant to take us to galaxies far, far away, and we don’t get that, on this scale, too often elsewhere. While the film was reshot under Ron Howard to a point where Lord and Miller didn’t even try for director credits, the trailers have been surprisingly exciting. Ehrenreich absolutely nails his comedic lines and at least looks the part in regard to the drama and action; anyone who’s seen Hail, Caesar! knows that this guy can act just fine. This backstory may not be entirely necessary, but it’s hard not to feel giddy seeing Han Solo and Lando Calrissian meet and fly the Falcon together, and it’s hard not to feel intrigued at the gritty underbelly that this film looks to explore. In fact, it’s that exact aspect that may be the most enticing part of the film. Oscar-nominated cinematographer Bradford Young (A Most Violent Year, Selma, Arrival) brings his trademark darkness to the film’s interiors and injects a stark beauty into each landscape. So, Solo: A Star Wars Story might be familiar company, but it’s unexplored territory.

 

Featured image via Annapurna/Pixar/A24/Lucasfilm.

March Madness of Movies: Best Cinematography Since 2010 — Round 3

These matchups were vote on by the MovieMinis Staff.

The final four of Best Cinematography Since 2010 is here and we have two fascinating matchups. While Emmanuel Lubezki had four entries with GravityBirdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)The Tree of Life and The Revenant, he did not make it through. Bradford Young, who entered with ArrivalA Most Violent Year and Mother of George, also did not make it.

Roger Deakins had three entries and squeaked through for his Oscar winning work on Blade Runner 2049. He will face off against the oldest (not that any of these are actually old) cinematography in Mihai Malaimare Jr. for Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. These are two absolute titans, two #1 seeds in a battle that could rather easily go either way.

The other battle is both bad news and good news for its contenders, as Hoyte van Hoytema will compete against himself in a cinematography matchup of Her vs. Dunkirk. The bad news is that he’ll knock his own work out, but the good news is that he’s guaranteed a spot in the finally. And, much like the other matchup, this one is nearly impossible to predict — though it is a fight between a #1 and #2 seed, instead of two #1 seeds, meaning that the slight, slight edge is with van Hoytema’s lensing for Spike Jonze’s Her. Although, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is a much larger canvas.

It will be interesting to see what the finale ends up being. Will it be a battle of 2017 Best Cinematography nominees? Will it be a battle between the oldest contenders? Will it be a battle of the 70mm films? Will it be a battle of the artificial intelligence sci-fi pictures?

Stay tuned for the round 4 results, which will be posted next week on Friday, April 6!

 

Featured image via Annapurna/Warner Bros.

March Madness of Movies: Best Cinematography Since 2010 — Round 2

These matchups were vote on by the MovieMinis Staff.

Round 2 was a blood bath — not necessarily because of upsets, but because each matchup pitted such strong contenders against each other regardless of seeds.

But there were some fascinating results. While Roger Deakins went into round 2 holding on to all three of his entries, two of them got knocked out this time around. #2 seed Bradford Young for Arrival took down #3 seed Deakins for Skyfall, and #2 seed Hoyte van Hoytema for Dunkirk took down #6 seed Deakins for Sicario.

Young will compete against the powerhouse of #1 seed Mihai Malaimare Jr. for The Master, who beat #4 seed James Laxton for Moonlight. van Hoytema will face fellow Christopher Nolan cinematographer, #4 seed Wally Pfister for Inception, who (perhaps unsurprisingly, due to the popularity factor) upset #1 seed Andrew Droz Palermo for A Ghost Story.

In fact, van Hoytema remains as the most prominent competitor with two entries. His #1 seed work on Her worked by #5 seed Sayombhu Mukdeeprom for Call Me by Your Name. van Hoytema will battle #2 seed Linus Sandgren, who just squeezed by #3 seed Emmanuel Lubezki for Gravity after a tie-breaking vote.

The final matchup features the last remaining entries of two of the strongest initial contenders: #1 seed Roger Deakins for Blade Runner 2049 vs. #2 seed Emmanuel Lubezki for The Tree of Life.

Breaking down the remaining contenders, half of them come from the past two years and the other four are spread between 2010 and 2013, offering a well-rounded and deserving field. The next round will be particularly painful as most of these are #1 and #2 seeds, which were so close to begin with in the initial seeding votes. And even if Wally Pfister, a #4 seed, makes it through, he’d be more than deserving as well.

Stay tuned for the round 3 results, which will be posted next week on Friday, March 30!

 

Featured image via Fox Searchlight Pictures/Paramount Pictures/Warners Bros.

March Madness of Movies: Best Cinematography Since 2010 — Round 1

These matchups were vote on by the MovieMinis Staff.

In “Best Cinematography Since 2010,” 13 of the 16 matchups went to higher seeds, with upsets only coming from middle competitions. #5 seeds Sayombhu Mukdeeprom for Call Me by Your Name and Wally Pfister for Inception bested #4 seeds Luca Bigazzi for The Great Beauty and Rodrigo Prieto for Silence, respectively, while #6 seed Roger Deakins for Sicario beat out #3 seed Dick Pope for Mr. Turner; although Roger Deakins winning is never really an upset kind of story as he’s always such a strong contender. Mukdeeprom and Pfister have big competition ahead in #1 seed Hoyte van Hoytema for Her and #1 seed Andrew Droz Palermo for A Ghost Story, while Deakins will take on #2 seed van Hoytema for Dunkirk.

While Emmanuel Lubezki had four entries initially, he only has two remaining, for #3 seed Gravity and #2 seed The Tree of Life. He’ll have a very tough road ahead of him, facing #2 seed Linus Sandgren for La La Land and #3 seed John Seale for Mad Max: Fury Road.

Both Bradford Young and Hoyte van Hoytema had three entries to start. Young’s only remaining one is his #2 seed Arrival, which will take on #3 seed Roger Deakins for Skyfall. Deakins for Skyfall is what took out van Hoytema’s #6 seed cinematography for Interstellar.

Deakins is quite clearly the strongest on this list, even if he didn’t have the most entries to begin with. All three of his are still in competition, and his #1 seed Oscar-winning work for Blade Runner 2049 will test its strength against #4 seed Bruno Delbonnel for Inside Llewyn Davis. The final matchup will be a powerhouse of spellbinding drama photography: #1 seed Mihai Malaimare Jr. for The Master vs. #4 seed James Laxton for Moonlight.

Stay tuned for the round 2 results, which will be posted next week on Friday, March 23!

 

Featured image via Lionsgate/Warner Bros.

March Madness of Movies: Introducing the Brackets

Now that it’s March and the NCAA will be hosting its annual March Madness tournament soon, we at MovieMinis thought to have our own tournaments, but, of course, with movies.

In the bracket style of March Madness, we will run through four different topics in what we’re calling the March Madness of Movies.

But rather than stick to general topics, such as Best Superhero Movie or Best Animated Movie, we wanted to get specific, to vote on aspects of film that could potentially make for a much more fascinating tournament.

The four topics we ended up on are:

  • Best A24 Films
  • Best Superhero Villain of the 21st Century
  • Best Big Budget Directing of the 21st Century (cutoff at a $75 million production budget)
  • Best Cinematography Since 2010

In this write-up, we’re introducing the brackets, and in subsequent weeks, we will release the results of each round.

For each bracket, we laid out tons of potential contenders, and after a week of painful voting, we seeded each bracket. We must note that, in working through the seeding process, we were reminded of a terrible reality in the film industry.

In the potential contenders for Best Big Budget Directing of the 21st Century, with a cutoff at a $75 million production budget, there were only nine films directed by women, many of them with male co-directors. Only one ended up making our bracket, certainly not as a representation of talent, but as a magnification and emphasis of the problem. For perspective, there were literally hundreds directed by men, and the men were mostly white. This is a rampant problem in Hollywood. Women and people of color — and above all, women of color — are not only not given many chances, but when they are, failure, in any way, results in horribly unfair consequences; in essence, they’re less likely to get another chance than a white man is. This problem applies to cinematography too. In the potential contenders for that bracket, there was a proportionally similar compilation. While female cinematographers received votes, none made our bracket — again, not as a representation of talent, but as a magnification and emphasis of the problem. Hollywood must change, and part of that change comes from not ignoring the problem anymore. We need more big budget films directed by women and people of color, and we need more films, in general, lensed by women and people of color. We need women and people of color involved in every level of pre-production, production and post-production. For more statistics on female directors of big budget films, read Terry Huang’s piece on The Black List blog.

With that in mind, let’s move into how the brackets shaped up:

Best A24 Films

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Moonlight and Lady Bird earned #1 seeds. Joining them were The Florida Project and A Ghost Story. Those four films will face off against #8 seeds Green RoomMorris From AmericaDe Palma and Menashe.

The next set of top films, the #2 seeds, were Swiss Army Man20th Century WomenThe Lobster and Ex Machina, which will face off against #7 seeds The LoversWhile We’re YoungKrisha and Spring Breakers.

The #3 seeds were a mix of widely awarded films and incredibly acclaimed genre/indie pictures: LockeRoomThe Witch and Good Time. The #6 seeds that they’ll compete against leaned more toward the indie darling: The Spectacular NowThe Bling RingUnder the Skin and Enemy.

Finally, in the middle of the pack were #4 seeds American Honey, Obvious ChildA Most Violent Year and It Comes At Night, as well as #5 seeds AmyThe End of the TourThe Disaster Artist and The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

Best Superhero Villain of the 21st Century

This bracket is made up of four subcategories — MCU villains, DC villains, X-Men villains and villains from other properties — and we pulled eight contenders from each subcategory to compete. Instead of leaving them in their own sections, however, we then mixed them up and seeded from there. And we kept it to just eight per subcategory because it seemed more interesting than a likely lopsided MCU bunch had we not had that limit.

And this bracket is not just about performances. It’s about the villain, the character. That involves the writing and the directing of that character too.

With that said, the first three #1 seeds were rather simple to come to: Heath Ledger’s The Joker from The Dark Knight, Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger from Black Panther and Ian McKellen’s Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto from X-MenX2 and X-Men: The Last Stand

Perhaps surprisingly to some who dislike the character, our staff showed strong support for Tom Hardy’s Bane from The Dark Knight Rises, who took that final #1 seed.

Those four will take on #8 seeds Kevin Bacon’s Sebastian Shaw from X-Men: First Class, Ed Skrein’s Francis/Ajax from Deadpool, Mark Strong’s Frank D’Amico from Kickass and Kurt Russell’s Ego from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

The #2 seeds went to Tom Hiddleston’s Loki from various MCU films, Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock from Spider-Man 2, the other Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (played by Michael Fassbender) from the most recent X-Men trilogy and the second The Dark Knight inclusion, Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent/Two Face.

The #7 seeds who will battle these four are Zach Galifianakis’ The Joker from The LEGO Batman Movie, Hugh Jackman’s X-24 from Logan, James Franco’s Harry Osborn/New Goblin from Spider-Man 3 and Michael Shannon’s General Zod from Man of Steel.

Two of the #3 seeds went to the last two Captain America films; Daniel Brühl’s Helmut Zemo from Civil War and Sebastian Stan’s The Winter Soldier (not Bucky Barnes) from The Winter Soldier. Liam Neeson’s Ra’s al Ghul from Batman Begins and Jason Lee’s Buddy Pine/Syndrome from The Incredibles earned the other two #3 seeds. 

Competing against them are #6 seeds James Cromwell’s Professor Robert Callaghan from Big Hero 6, Dane DeHaan’s Andrew Detmer from Chronicle, Peter Dinklage’s Bolivar Trask from X-Men: Days of Future Past and the Sentinels that Trask unleashed onto the X-Men, also from X-Men: Days of Future Past.

In the middle of the pack, earning #4 seeds, were Cillian Murphy’s Dr. Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow from the entire The Dark Knight trilogy, Willem Dafoe’s Norman Osborn/Green Goblin from Spider-Man, Samuel L. Jackson’s Mr. Glass from Unbreakable and Andy Serkis’ Ulysses Klaue from Avengers: Age of Ultron and Black Panther. They’ll match up against #5 seeds Hugo Weaving’s Johann Schmidt/Red Skull from Captain America: The First Avenger, Brian Cox’s Col. William Stryker from X2, Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes/Vulture from Spider-Man: Homecoming and Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Best Big Budget Directing of the 21st Century

This bracket was split up into four different subcategories. Those were “Superhero Directing” (in the upper left), “Franchise Directing” (in the lower left), “Prestige/Original/Non-Studio Franchise Directing” (in the upper right) and “Animated Directing” (in the lower right). We took some liberties with this. Mad Max: Fury Road is a part of a franchise, but we concluded that it felt more in line with its current group than it would’ve among the franchise contenders.

In Superhero Directing:

Christopher Nolan easily earned a #1 seed; many even believe that he should’ve gotten an Oscar nomination for his efforts on The Dark Knight. He’ll face off against #8 seed Tim Miller for the subversive Deadpool.

Coming in behind Nolan in the #2 seed was Ryan Coogler for Black Panther, a cultural phenomenon that many believe could become the first superhero film nominated for Best Picture.

The #3 seed went to Joe Russo and Anthony Russo for Captain America: Civil War; the Russo brothers also placed in the #7 seed for Captain America: Civil War. James Gunn will take on the Civil War Russos with #6 seed Guardians of the Galaxy.

The middle match-up comes from 2017 films: the #4 seed James Mangold for Logan and the #5 seed Patty Jenkins for Wonder Woman.

In Franchise Directing:

Peter Jackson quite easily snagged the #1 seed for his directing job on The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. He’s the only Best Director winner out of five nominated efforts in this bracket. Facing of against him is #8 seed Martin Campbell for the first Daniel Craig James Bond film Casino Royale.

Sam Mendes, director of another Craig Bond film, Skyfall, made the bracket as the #6 seed. He’ll compete with #3 seed Matt Reeves for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

Like Bond, Matt Reeves made his subcategory twice, earning the #2 seed for War for the Planet of the Apes. He’ll take on our perhaps surprising Star Wars inclusion, #7 seed Gareth Edwards for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Finally, with some of the most acclaimed films of the subcategory, #4 seed Alfonso Cuarón for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban will battle #5 seed Denis Villeneuve for Blade Runner 2049.

In Prestige/Original/Non-Franchise Studio Directing

David Fincher’s Zodiac has become regarded as on the best films, in general, of the 21st century, so he glided into a #1 seed pretty smoothly. But his contender is a tough one: #8 seed Alfonso Cuarón for landmark sci-fi film Children of Men.

George Miller earned the #2 seed for his masterful work on Mad Max: Fury Road, and will face of against legendary director and #7 seed Martin Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street.

Scorsese made this subcategory twice, taking the #3 seed for his directing job on The Aviator. His opponent is #6 seed Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk, who also made this subcategory twice, placing as the #4 seed for Inception. He’ll take on #5 seed Peter Jackson for King Kong.

In Animated Directing:

Quite predictably, Pixar dominated this bracket, with #1 seeds Pete Docter and Bob Peterson for Up, #2 seed Brad Bird for The Incredibles, #3 seed Lee Unkrich for Toy Story 3, #4 seed Andrew Stanton for WALL-E, #6 seeds Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen for Inside Out and #8 seeds Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina for Coco.

But other animation directors made it through with their beloved films. Rounding out the eight were #5 seeds Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders for How to Train Your Dragon, and #7 seeds Ron Clements, John Musker, Don Hall and Chris Williams for Disney’s Moana.

Best Cinematography Since 2010

Even with setting the parameter of cinematography since 2010, there were still an overwhelming number of potential contenders and our votes were widely varied, resulting in a bracket that truly represents a mix of our opinions.

The #1 seeds did stand out, however: Mihai Malaimare Jr.’s lensing of The Master, Andrew Droz Palermo’s work on A Ghost Story, Roger Deakins Oscar-winning efforts on Blade Runner 2049 and Hoyte van Hoytema’s unforgettable photography on Her.

In fact, both Deakins and van Hoytema made this bracket three times. Deakins also earned a #3 seed for Skyfall and a #6 seed for Sicario. van Hoytema’s other two were Christopher Nolan films, a #2 seed for Dunkirk and a #6 seed for Interstellar.

Bradford Young also made this bracket three times, taking a #2 seed for Arrival, a #7 seed for A Most Violent Year and a #8 seed for Mother of George.

But, of course, 3-time Oscar winner Emmanuel Lubezki placed more than everyone with four spots: a #2 seed for The Tree of Life, a #3 seed for Gravity, a #5 seed for The Revenant and a #7 seed for Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).

The rest of the bracket is filled with stunning photography. Oscar winner Linus Sandgren earned a #2 seed for his work on La La Land. Other cinematographers of 2016 took spots as well, with James Laxton earning a #4 seed for Moonlight and Rodrigo Prieto earning a #4 seed for Silence.

Work from 2015 films rounded out the #3 seeds: Dick Pope for Mr. Turner and John Seale for Mad Max: Fury Road. The other #4 seeds were Luca Bigazzi for The Great Beauty and Bruno Delbonnel for Inside Llewyn Davis.

While Hoyte van Hoytema may have two Nolan films on this bracket, Nolan’s former cinematographer, Wally Pfister, earned a #5 for his Oscar-winning work on Inception. Rather recent photography also seeded #5: Rob Hardy for Annihilation and Sayombhu Mukdeeprom for Call Me by Your Name.

In fact, a couple of Roberts placed here. Robert D. Yeoman placed in the #6 seed for The Grand Budapest Hotel and the #7 seed for Moonrise Kingdom. Robert Richardson also seeded #6 for Django Unchained, while Robert Elswit was another Paul Thomas Anderson cinematographer to place, earning a #8 seed for Inherent Vice..

Finally, the last few contenders are #7 seed Masanobu Takayanagi for Hostiles, #8 seed Darius Khondji for The Lost City of Z and #8 seed Seamus McGarvey for Godzilla.

 

Follow along throughout March as we vote on these brackets and determine the best of each topic!

 

Featured image via Marvel Studios/Warner Bros./A24.

Trial: What is ‘Blade Runner 2049’ director Denis Villeneuve’s best film?

*Trials is a weekly series in which two writers tackle a proposed question or task. After they’ve written their opening statements, the writers will offer rebuttal arguments against the other’s and for their own, and a third writer will come in to make the verdict.*

This week’s question: What is director Denis Villeneuve’s best film?

Writers: Harrison Tunggal and Levi Hill
Judge: Kyle Kizu

*Warning: Spoilers for ‘Blade Runner 2049.’*

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Levi’s argument:

It’s not an easy task to take a beloved science-fiction classic — one that American Film Institute listed as the sixth greatest science fiction film of all-time — then one-up it. But that is exactly what Denis Villeneuve has done with his masterpiece Blade Runner 2049.

In an age of stale, repetitive blockbusters (lesser “replicants” of their former self), Denis uses this very meta-textual set-up to make an outwardly replicant of the original film. The original film followed a blade runner, Agent Deckard (Harrison Ford), as he begins to hunt down replicants that just want to be human. Because of this, the film created a human perspective from the outside looking in of things that just want to be treated equal to the humans they are modeled after. From this perspective, the film was calculated and cold. Ford played a detective tasked with murdering and murdering (mostly) innocent replicants — until he just can’t anymore because he has fallen in love with one, Rachael (Sean Young). All the while, he is increasingly haunted by memories of violence, and an unicorn running free.

The film leaves us cold, if visually enthralled.

Is Deckard a bad guy? Is he a replicant? Are memories only real for humans?

Wisely, Denis has created another cold, calculated story from Ridley Scott’s template, but frames the story entirely from the *spoiler alert* replicant perspective. Agent K (Ryan Gosling) is indeed a replicant (Nexus 9 model), and once again, is tasked with hunting down the Nexus 6s and 7s that can live as long as humans, if not much longer. However, unlike other replicants we have seen, he has a timed life span, unable to live longer than any other human. He also is made to obey orders from the LAPD — facing a strange PTSD test that questions whether he has established any lasting emotional capabilities after each bloody mission of killing his own kind.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Think A Clockwork Orange’s eyes wide-open scene, but with the humanity removed.

Thus, when K experiences a “miracle” that threatens to “break the world,” Denis’ intelligent placing of the main character as replicant creates an emotional pay-off about the very definition of what constitutes a “human.” The audience’s alignment creates an emotional journey that explores the politics of a rebellion, the cost of human life in a looming war, the power of memories and the sacrifices people make for just wanting to be free.

Acting as a sequel or a “replicant” of the original story, Blade Runner 2049 is the only sequel I can think of that is finally more human than the original — “more human than human.”

Besides this storytelling ambition, that posits itself as a meta-textual statement on how stories can play on established world-building, Denis has also crafted a story more experimental than Enemy, more intense than Sicario, more sprawling than Prisoners and more intellectual than Arrival.

A factory scene, with a grinding, synthetic score rivals the poetic, haunting, surreal beauty of anything Tarkovsky created in Stalker or even in the also lyrically tinged Enemy. A late stand-off between K and a highly-skilled foe adds more bone-crunching intensity than any of Sicario’s many gruesome shoot-outs. The scope of the film, that constantly reimagines what is capable for the medium of film, blows any recent Bond film out of the water and definitely dwarfs the complex, expanding mystery in Prisoners. Then, the very existential question of what it means to be human, and how one becomes “human,” carries more weight here than the equally intellectual questions regarding memory and communication in Arrival.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

With Denis’ controlled direction, each drawn-out, beautifully framed moment stands out as a work of art and the highest class of blockbuster filmmaking. With repeated overview shots of an overpopulated, water-soaked LA, or the orange dust clouds that pervade every frame in the Las Vegas setting, Denis creates a visual structure that only can be registered in all of its majesty on the big screen. It’s the first film Denis has made — and the first film this year, outside of Dunkirk — that visually cannot be truly appreciated without the biggest screen and the loudest sound.

And let’s not forget, this film is following one of the already most visually accomplished works of all-time.

Oh, and Denis proves why Harrison Ford, after many years of taking roles seemingly only for a paycheck, was once considered the most sought after actor. Ford arguably has never been better, and while the actor needs to be praised for bringing an unexpected amount of soul, much also has to be said about the bold choices Denis makes regarding the iconic character.

Every choice Denis makes here — in storytelling, composition, editing, sound, score, acting and design — acts as a culmination of what he has done before.

Not-so-simply-put, in every single facet of filmmaking, this is Denis’ home-run. This is his masterpiece. This is his classic.

Paramount/Courtesy

Harrison’s argument:

Arrival is Denis Villeneuve’s best film because it is the sole entry in his filmography that will define and inform our national conscience for years to come. The film released in the US the weekend after the 2016 election, and it was a clarion call for empathy and rationality, and a denouncement of violence and xenophobia — all of these qualities coalesce to become, at once, a warning against belligerence and a message of consolation in the face of vitriol. There hasn’t been a more timely film in recent memory, a film that speaks to our hearts so frankly, elegantly and warmly. The film’s screenwriter Eric Heisserer himself admitted that writing Arrival came from a place of necessity, the need to invite people to empathize and communicate with each other. It was a cinematic invitation that won him the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

On the level of craft, Arrival is made with precision and purpose, all of which make it yet more profound (especially when paired with Jóhann Jóhannsson’s ethereal score). Bradford Young’s cinematography is utterly jaw dropping, and while he might not have the experience of the seasoned Roger Deakins, Villeneuve’s frequent collaborator, Young delivers shots that are just as jaw dropping as any of Villeneuve’s Deakins-shot films — particularly Dr. Louise Banks’ (Amy Adams) first glimpse at the heptapod spaceships, as clouds roll away.

Paramount/Courtesy

Choosing a mellow, soft color palette of blues and grays to reflect the film’s message of nonviolence was an inspired choice by Young, who shot the film digitally, leveraging the color grading that such a format allows. Arrival is an example of what humanity can strive for, but it is also a fine example of what digital filmmaking should aspire toward.

Then, the production design, the look of the heptapods and their language are astounding feats of design. The towering alien figures are as majestic as whales, but with just a touch of humanity. Their language is beautiful to behold, an example of how design mirrors theme, since the heptapod view of time is nonlinear. The meticulousness and originality that went into creating the heptapod language is itself worth the price of admission.

Ultimately though, Arrival is the story of a mother and her daughter, and we see how time spent with someone, no matter how brief, is worth it if there is love. That’s a message that, regardless of political era, is resonant and timeless. Beneath the film’s linguistic theory is a warm, beating heart, featuring arguably the most emotional climax in any Villeneuve film. Though Arrival is a film of our time, it is also one that prevails throughout cinema henceforth.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Levi’s rebuttal:

Harrison, I don’t disagree with anything you have mentioned above, except that Arrival is Denis’ best film. Rather, it is his second best film, as Blade Runner 2049 took everything that made Arrival a modern landmark, and then one-upped it by giving each of those themes (xenophobia, communication between different species, rationale before violence, familial bonds) a greater sense of purpose and clarity in Blade Runner 2049, albeit with the bigger risk of following up a top ten science fiction masterpiece, while maintaining the very pointed political critique.

Plus, it doesn’t have the most atrociously handled line of dialogue in an otherwise excellently written film — “let’s make a baby” — or the asinine plot contrivances of the Chinese General Shang telling Louise Banks, in the future, that her former/present self should tell his former/present self his wife’s dying words to create world peace. It still doesn’t make sense to me, how a film that did so well for 95% of its run time, can botch the last 15 minutes so severely. Should have it been powerful? Yes. Was it? If you like your movies overly sentimental and don’t fret about plot holes completely untouched, maybe it was — but not for me.

As for Blade Runner 2049, it’s hard to discuss the story at all, but the plot holes that might be present in the film are meant to be there. It’s not a conclusive picture of an entirely built world, but rather, it operates as a conclusive story for Agent K and in some ways, Agent Deckard. The audience is left to ponder real ideas, without given either/or answers. Arrival poses big questions, but rarely allows ambiguity to remain once the final frames brace us. If there is a flaw in Arrival, it’s that.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Say what you will about the lengthy run time of Blade Runner 2049, but if you take any individual scene out, the aura of the mystery, the power of the last 45 minutes and entire grandeur of the project are lost, like tears in the rain. Can you imagine if Lawrence of Arabia was condensed? 2001: A Space Odyssey? The Godfather? Lord of the Rings: Return of the King? Hell, even Interstellar cannot be trimmed and fully be seen as the experience it needs to be. Some films need that time to work us over and create new visual and audial scapes for us to experience. Blade Runner 2049 is one of those films.

Then Leto, yes, he sort of seems off in the film (to some, not me), as a less dimensional villain. However, isn’t that the point? He is one of the only human characters in the world given significant screen time, and humans have created this travesty of the earth where the ice caps have melted and we’ve become so overpopulated that people are crammed in high rises living in hallways, not rooms.

With this, does it not make sense to make the incomparably privileged and wealthy Wallace (Leto) an egotistical, calculated, business-is-cutthroat monster, hell-bent on seeing his own agendas accomplished? Great or fine, Leto’s performance here is not bad, and in fact, it works for the film’s message.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

This is a film that even refuses to paint the main antagonist of the film, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), as anything resembling simple. While a replicant and forced to obey Niander Wallace (Leto) at all cost, Luv even finds a sense of depth in her constructed humanity that Marvel, D.C. or any comparable blockbusters haven’t come close to since the Joker (Heath Ledger) in The Dark Knight.

Add in the symbolism of Wallace’s blindness, unable to see the world for what it is, and Luv’s uncontrollable tears when near him, and the duality of the two characters comment on how seeing is believing within Blade Runner — whether you are a human or a replicant.

There’s an immense sense of complexity in every frame, the most minute of details matter here. The opening shot of a green iris of an eye, followed by a match cut of the barren landscape of the outskirts of Los Angeles say more about the world and tone and theme of Blade Runner than most filmmakers accomplish in a career. And that’s not taking into account the more experimental flourishes that appear in Blade Runner — and are absent from Arrival — such as when Joi malfunctions in San Diego and, instead of quickly cutting, we see an extended take of her heartbreaking malfunction in stop-motion, as the world around her remains shot in real-time.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

I haven’t even touched on the fact that, somehow, Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch may have outdone the original Vangelis score by adding more bombast to giddily jarring purposes, or that every female role in the film creates the agency and urgency in the story, or the other big fact THAT HARRISON FORD IS ACTUALLY 100% ACTING AGAIN, which, considering the potential of him showing up here simply being a fan service-y extended cameo, like what some have argued his scenes in Star Wars: The Force Awakens are, says a lot about Denis’ care to make sure that every element of the film operates as a soulful, humanistic, impressionistic exploration of the fundamental question to existence: what does it mean to be alive?

Designed from beginning to end to be enrapturing, Blade Runner 2049 is one of the most accomplished directorial visions we’ve ever seen — taking an already highly touted vision and making it fresh, unique and cinematically groundbreaking all over again.

If that isn’t enough to convince someone Blade Runner 2049 is the greatest Denis Villeneuve film (so far), a film that not only excels with the given template of blockbuster cinema, but truly advances what is capable for big-budgeted storytelling, then I don’t know what is.

Blade Runner 2049 is what it looks like when the highest of art has finally perfectly synchronized with the spectacle of $150 million of pure, crowd-pleasing imagination. Seriously, the fact that an esteemed film critic has compared Blade Runner 2049 to an Andrei Tarkovsky film says a lot about this film’s poetic, epic beauty.

Take a bow, Denis.

Paramount/Courtesy

Harrison’s rebuttal:

Without a doubt, Blade Runner 2049 is proving to be not just a great sci-fi film, but one of the greatest sequels of all time, deserving a place alongside Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and The Dark Knight. However, it is by no means a perfect film. For starters, Jared Leto has yet to wipe his take on the Joker from our memories, and his portrayal of Niander Wallace doesn’t do him any favors. He continues to harp about his method acting, which gives the character a built-in invitation for dislike. Even without such promotional antics though, his portrayal of Wallace is neither threatening, nor as profound as the rest of the film. In contrast, there isn’t a character in Arrival that is the least bit distracting. An ancillary performance from Forest Whitaker lends the film with a gravitas that Leto can’t pull off, while Stuhlbarg highlights the baser elements of our humanity. Leto might gesture toward grander ideas, but doesn’t succeed as well at conveying them as Arrival.

Additionally, while Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s score is noteworthy, it doesn’t pick up the baton from Vangelis as elegantly as it could have. Much of their score in Blade Runner 2049 veers toward bombastic sound design, and while this approach worked for Zimmer in Dunkirk, it feels jarring when the expectation is the melancholic synth-jazz riffs of Vangelis.

Paramount/Courtesy

Moreover, when it comes down to picking the best Denis Villeneuve film, choosing Arrival feels like the best representation of Villeneuve as a director. The aesthetic choices, production design and the internal logic of the world feel more unique to Villeneuve, whereas in Blade Runner 2049, Villeneuve is forced to play in a sandbox created by Ridley Scott. While Villeneuve succeeds in conforming to the rules of Scott’s universe, the originality present in Arrival makes it a better candidate for choosing Villeneuve’s best film. The endings of both Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 are very emotional, but while the latter film incorporates imagery and musical cues from its predecessor to elicit emotion, Arrival does not have such a reliance. Instead, the emotional finale of Arrival is achieved solely by the characters crafted within it, lending it a sense of originality that just slightly puts it ahead of Blade Runner 2049.

Even though Arrival is based on a short story by Ted Chiang, the characters onscreen and the subversion of sci-fi is still a wholly original cinematic experience. For once, we see a strong female intellectual be the hero of a film. Sure, we’ve seen various professors lead their respective films, but how often is it that a female professor is the star of a film, let alone a female humanities professor? It’s impossible to understate how significant it is that the humanities save the world in Arrival. Ultimately, Arrival boils down to a story about mothers and daughters, and when the box-office of Blade Runner 2049 is partly due to a lack of female audiences, Dr. Louise Banks, and the film she inhabits, is worth celebrating.

Kyle’s decision:

Both arguments are intensely passionate, informed and well-crafted. And this has proven to be one of the better Trials as the arguments and rebuttals are rather different. Levi jumps in with an expansive, overwhelming (in a good way) comprehension of film itself while arguing for Blade Runner 2049, placing it not only within Villeneuve’s filmography and not only in conversation with the landmark original, but within the landscape of film today and in harmony with the history it fits into. It’s an extensive but fluid argument — one that makes me feel the need to put a word limit on Trials as it becomes difficult to not be persuaded by so much excellent argumentation.

But Harrison fights back with fervor, making a more humanistic case for Arrival, a case that pleads for the importance of film outside of the boundaries of film itself. The parallels between Arrival’s themes and today’s problems are harrowingly emotional, and you brilliantly lay out how affecting Arrival is through not just the presence of those parallels, but through how expertly they’re pulled off. You also do a better job in your opening at pointing out the coherency of those intangible elements of the film, theme and emotion and humanistic importance, and how the color palette, the design and the subject matter exist truly as veins of the film, rather than just facets.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

After reading the openings, I realized that these arguments may be calling into question what “best” really means. Levi made the better case for Blade Runner 2049 as Denis Villeneuve’s most brilliantly crafted film, while Harrison made the better case for Arrival as Denis Villeneuve’s most important film. In the rebuttal, I needed more from Levi about Blade Runner 2049’s importance outside of film. I got more about the brilliance of it as a film in film history, in comparison to the original and in Denis’ filmography. I got some small rebuts of Arrival as a film. I got some superfluous detail that didn’t need to be there and threatened the stability of the argument. But I did end up getting that idea of the film’s importance outside of the art form it comes in, how it also has many of the relevant, pressing humanistic themes that Arrival has — not just ideas of humanity in general — and makes use of them well within its own story.

Harrison bounces back with a very fine rebuttal. Unfortunately, it doesn’t present enough in terms of Arrival’s brilliance within the scope of film nor does it take down Blade Runner 2049 in regard to those elements, only offering rebuts of a performance and the score. The rebuttal, however, solidified that, if this were an argument of “importance” rather than “best,” Harrison would be the winner.

But Levi does too well to be overcome. While you may slightly lose out in the “importance” battle (and “slightly” is the important word as anything more severe might’ve cost you), you are undeniably convincing in every other area in regard to defining what “best” is and placing Blade Runner 2049 into that.

Winner: Levi Hill

 

Do you agree with Kyle’s verdict? Or would you have picked a different Denis Villeneuve film as his best? Sound off in the comments.

Staff records:

Harrison Tunggal: 2-1

Levi Hill: 1-0

Kyle Kizu: 0-2

Sanjay Nimmagudda: 0-0

 

Featured image via Warner Bros. and Paramount.