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The MovieMini Awards for the Films of 2018

In chaotic times, film becomes more important. As a source of entertainment, as a mode of escape, as a reflection of identity and community, and as an empathy machine, film shapes plenty about how we navigate the world — and we need that when the world is full of whiplash.

In 2018, film guided us powerfully. From a little bear from darkest Peru to a domestic worker in Mexico City, from three skateboarders in the Rust Belt to an astronaut shooting for the moon, from a family on the edges of Tokyo to the King of Wakanda, the characters of these films asked us to reflect upon ourselves, and helped us learn about others in this world.

Simply put, it was a damn good year for movies, and we’re grateful for how they’ve impacted not just us, but millions around the world. If even one film leaves something important with someone needing it, it’s a testament to the power of the art form. But we’re certain that more than a few films did that for more than a few people.

And it all calls for a little needed celebration, a little needed positivity. As that little bear says, “If we are kind and polite, the world will be right.” Film was good to us, so here’s some recognition for film.

Here are the MovieMini Awards for the Films of 2018:

(These awards were voted on and compiled by Rosemarie Alejandrino, Danielle Gutierrez, Levi Hill, Kyle Kizu, Michelle Lee, Miyako Singer, Harrison Tunggal, and Hooman Yazdanian.)

Best Specialty Performance

Winner: Ben Whishaw as Paddington — Paddington 2

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Ben Whishaw’s turn as a kind and deeply principled bear from darkest Peru may not be the buzziest performance in acclaimed masterpiece Paddington 2, but Whishaw’s voice is the gentle glue that holds the movie together. He’s tasked with making the bear cute, but not cloying, unwaveringly good, but never preachy — a CGI bear capable of silliness and sternness in equal measure. Whishaw achieves this by imbuing Paddington with his natural tender-yet-brisk Britishness. Paddington’s matter of fact politeness makes the comedic scenes all the funnier for his total sincerity, and the tear jerking moments all the more heartrending. In Whishaw’s hands (paws?), Paddington is — like his famous, prison reforming marmalade — the perfect mix of sweet and tart.
— Miyako Singer

Runner-up: Shameik Moore as Miles Morales — Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
3. Holly Hunter as Elastigirl — Incredibles 2
4. Jake Johnson as Peter B. Parker — Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
5. Sonoya Mizuno as Humanoid — Annihilation

Next Group:
Josh Brolin as Thanos — Avengers: Infinity War
Jim Cummings as Winnie the Pooh — Christopher Robin
Stephen Lang as Shrike — Mortal Engines
Brian Tyree Henry as Jefferson Davis — Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Nicolas Cage as Spider-Man Noir — Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Honorable Mention: Olivia as Good Doggo — Game Night/Widows

Best Breakthrough Performance

Winner: Yalitza Aparicio — Roma

Netflix/Courtesy

It’d be impossible to tell that Yalitza Aparicio is a first time actress, let alone someone with no formal training prior to starring in Roma. Her warmth is immediate, and only grows exponentially throughout the rest of the film. Just as Alfonso Cuarón renders the space three-dimensional, Aparicio makes it feel alive, navigating the house with confidence. Her chemistry with the family is delightful, but Aparicio is absolutely breathtaking during the delivery scene and the beach sequence. Roma is a film that makes you feel alive, as it’s about life, and Aparicio is the beating heart.
— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Thomasin McKenzie — Leave No Trace
3. Kiki Layne — If Beale Street Could Talk
4. Elsie Fisher — Eighth Grade
5. Lady Gaga — A Star Is Born

Next Group:
Cynthia Erivo — Bad Times at the El Royale
John David Washington — BlacKkKlansman
Geraldine Viswanathan — Blockers
Brady Jandreau — The Rider
Lana Condor — To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

Best Feature Debut

Winner: Bradley Cooper — A Star Is Born

Clay Enos/Warner Bros./Courtesy

From the very opening shot of A Star Is Born — on-stage with Bradley Cooper’s Jackson Maine in such visceral, wild, grimy, and adventurous close-up — we know we’re in the hands of a director with complete confidence and control. The film is intimate and rough, raw and painful, and Cooper digs his hands into the blood of the material to find emotional truth. Whether it be the close-up of Ally and Jackson’s hands touching in the convenience store parking lot, or the cross-cutting between Jackson on stage and Ally on her way to his concert before bursting into “Shallow,” or the harrowing cut from Ally’s performance at the end of the film to Jackson playing for her at home, Cooper’s choices are staggeringly powerful.
— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Paul Dano — Wildlife
3. Ari Aster — Hereditary
4. Bo Burnham — Eighth Grade
5. Boots Riley — Sorry to Bother You

Next Group:
Carlos López Estrada — Blindspotting
Kay Cannon — Blockers
Gustav Möller — The Guilty
Josie Rourke — Mary Queen of Scots
Aneesh Chaganty — Searching

Best Original Song

Winner: “Shallow” — A Star Is Born

Warner Bros./Courtesy

At this point in awards season, there’s not much to be said about “Shallow” that hasn’t already been said. It’s nearly become a parody of itself, and the movie’s meme-able reputation definitely precedes it — if only so it can take another look at the movie that follows.

But let us not forget that what makes a song most deserving of the Best Original Song title does not simply rely on the quality of the song itself; it requires a song to, yes, standalone, but to also amplify the moment of the film which it occupies. “Shallow” does not amplify only one moment of A Star is Born, but three: Ally’s shy crooning in the parking lot, Jackson and Ally’s first duet on stage, and Ally’s solo piano performance before learning of Jackson’s fate. And yet, beyond the film, the song itself has taken on new meaning as part of “Enigma,” Lady Gaga’s Las Vegas residency. She turns to the piano ballad to close her electrifying, synth-heavy and neon-laced live show, knighting the song of an anthem for defying expectations. “We’re far from the shallow now,” refers to breaking free from the status quo shallowness expected of a high-profile pop artist, a message both Ally and Lady Gaga declare with triumph.

So while Lady Gaga’s projected victory for “Shallow” on Oscar night may read like the predictable end of a rote coming-of-age novel, let us not forget the first moment that Ally’s voice cracked into the late-night Los Angeles air, hesitant but somehow firm, expelling from her lungs like the slow birth of a legacy in a convenience store parking lot.
— Rosemarie Alejandrino

Runner-up: “Sunflower” — Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
3. “Opps” — Black Panther
4. “Maybe It’s Time” — A Star Is Born
5. “Suspirium” — Suspiria

Next Group:
“All the Stars” — Black Panther
“Pray For Me” — Black Panther
“A Cover Is Not the Book” — Mary Poppins Returns
“Always Remember Us This Way” — A Star Is Born
“Wrapped Up” — Vox Lux

Best Original Score

Winner: Nicholas Britell — If Beale Street Could Talk

Annapurna Pictures/Courtesy

Nicholas Britell’s If Beale Street Could Talk score is unbearably beautiful. With lush, waning strings and fluttering, hopeful woodwinds, each piece of music is a stunning evocation of love — of love’s strength, but also of love’s painful journey. The score aches with many truths just as Jenkins’ vision of Baldwin’s characters do — “Eros” a transcendent piece of swelling intimacy and “Hypertension” a bone-rattling piece of soul-crushing fear and despair. And then, “Ye Who Enters Here” truly lives as the blend of such powerful lows and highs at once. Britell’s music tells the story as much as any other part of If Beale Street Could Talk does. It’s not simply there to accompany the film. It pushes the film to new heights. It talks.
— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Justin Hurwitz — First Man
3. Ludwig Göransson — Black Panther
4. Lorne Balfe — Mission: Impossible – Fallout
5. Thom Yorke — Suspiria

Next Group:
Mowg — Burning
Alexandre Desplat — Isle Of Dogs
Jóhann Jóhannsson — Mandy
Daniel Hart — The Old Man & the Gun
Alexandre Desplat — The Sisters Brothers

Best Sound Mixing

Winner: Mary H. Ellis, Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Ai-Ling Lee — First Man

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

There’s true depth to the sound mix of First Man. It’s loud and brutal, but immersive and three-dimensional. The interior of the space crafts are made distinctly human through the mix, in that the rattling of the metal, the hard-to-hear radio buzz of astronaut communication, the sudden jerks and slashes, and even the gravity of sound are all meshed into a cohesive environment that can be fully lived-in. It’s a symphonic nightmare.
— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Skip Lievsay, Craig Henighan, José Antonio García — Roma
3. Gilbert Lake, Mike Prestwood Smith, Paul Munro — Mission: Impossible – Fallout
4. Michael Barosky, Brandon Proctor — A Quiet Place
5. Niv Adiri, Michael Clayton, John Skehill, Ian Tapp — Annihilation

Next Group:
Tom Johnson, Juan Peralta, John Pritchett — Avengers: Infinity War
Michael Semanick, Nathan Nance, Vince Caro — Incredibles 2
Michael Semanick, Tony Lamberti, Brian Smith, Aaron Hasson, Howard London — Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Steve Morrow, Tom Ozanich, Dean Zupancic, Jason Ruder — A Star Is Born
Drew Kunin, Andrew Stirk — You Were Never Really Here

Best Sound Editing

Winner: Ai-Ling Lee, Mildred Iatrou Morgan — First Man

Daniel McFadden/Universal Pictures/Courtesy

The First Man sound team went to incredible lengths to capture the accuracy of the sounds of spacecrafts, from recording actual launches to consulting the professionals for the minutiae of space travel. And it pays off immensely. Every created sound feels entirely organic to every environment — and often times because it was, with everything that the film does practically. But it’s the most brutal effects that elevate the film, as we can feel the metal in our bones, just like the astronauts likely did.
— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: James Mather — Mission: Impossible – Fallout
3. Skip Lievsay, Sergio Díaz — Roma
4. Ethan Van der Ryn, Erik Aadahl — A Quiet Place
5. Geoffrey G. Rubay, Curt Schulkey, John Pospisil — Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Next Group:
Glenn Freemantle, Niv Adiri —Annihilation
Shannon Mills, Daniel Laurie — Avengers: Infinity War
Benjamin A. Burtt, Steve Boeddeker — Black Panther
Coya Elliott, Ren Klyce — Incredibles 2
Gary Rydstrom, Richard Hymns — Ready Player One

Best Makeup & Hairstyling

Winner: Joel Harlow, Camille Friend, Ken Diaz — Black Panther

Matt Kennedy/Marvel Studios/Courtesy

The makeup and hairstyling work in Black Panther does what a lot of the other design work in the film does: it builds a world, and does so extremely thoroughly and organically. The hairstyling is distinct and varied, from the extravagant regal designs of Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) to the stylishly personal work for both Shuri (Letitia Wright) and Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). And the makeup is prevalent, but not overt. The larger prosthetics are carefully utilized and integrated, such as with a tribe leader’s mouth, and the facial designs breathe life to the characters, telling their own stories for each tribe and status. Combined, the film’s work is innovative.
— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Nadia Stacey — The Favourite
3. Mark Coulier, Fernanda Perez, Manolo Garcia — Suspiria
4. Jenny Shircore, Marc Pilcher, Jessica Brooks — Mary Queen of Scots
5. Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe, Patricia DeHaney — Vice

Next Group:
LaWanda M. Pierre, Shaun Perkins — BlacKkKlansman
Göran Lundström, Pamela Goldammer — Border
Heike Merker — Crazy Rich Asians
Bill Corso, Barbara Lorenz — Destroyer
Oriane De Neve — Mandy

Best Costume Design

Winner: Ruth E. Carter — Black Panther

Matt Kennedy/Marvel Studios/Courtesy

To be honest, Ruth E. Carter earned this back in February of last year. Not to take away from any of the other wondrous world-building within the film, but the costume design is simply supreme. From the layout and layering of beads, to the various textures and colors of fabrics, to the infused metal, Carter’s costumes are both steeped in the history of African clothing and evocative of what afrofuturism envisions, engaging with the past and the future simultaneously in the same way that the story does. But it’s her scope and range that are difficult to put into words. The tribal clothing is so specific and so intuitive, declaring rank, but also declaring style and personality — and that’s for multiple tribes, as well as for warrior armor and regal wear. And this all goes without mention of how incredibly badass and utterly gorgeous it all looks.
— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Sandy Powell — The Favourite
3. Caroline Eselin — If Beale Street Could Talk
4. Mary E. Vogt — Crazy Rich Asians
5. Sandy Powell — Mary Poppins Returns

Next Group:
Kym Barrett — Aquaman
Alexandra Byrne — Mary Queen of Scots
Lindy Hemming — Paddington 2
Renee Ehrlich Kalfus — A Simple Favor
Amanda Ford — Wildlife

Best Production Design

Winner: Hannah Beachler, Jay Hart — Black Panther

Hannah Beachler/Marvel Studios/Courtesy

Best Production Design could also be known as “Best World Building,” literally, as the production designer and set decorator are the people tasked — with the guidance of the film’s director and screenwriter — in crafting the world of the film, fictional or authentically real. And this past year, the work of Hannah Beachler and Jay Hart in creating Wakanda is simply unrivaled.

Black Panther’s success truly stems from its ability to let Wakanda, Oakland, and South Korea be vital locations and production sets for the story Coogler is telling. Every set, every design presents eye-popping creations, but with real-world authenticity. Yet, it was the first scene in which the audience is shown the fictional African country of Wakanda that we knew exactly who would be taking home this award. Beachler and Hart have created an awe-inspiring world, where futuristic high rises co-exist with classical African village designs. The look of Wakanda feels real, and honors the film’s black identity, but is also willing to be highly original with its deep mines of vibranium and stunning throne rooms. Truly, because of the work these two crafted, as well as the film’s direction, cinematography, costume design, and makeup, we’ll always remember that first feeling of when we knew what “Wakanda Forever” meant.
— Levi Hill

Runner-up: Fiona Crombie, Alice Felton — The Favourite
3. Eugenio Caballero, Bárbara Enrı́quez — Roma
4. Nathan Crowley, Kathy Lucas — First Man
5. Mark Digby, Michelle Day — Annihilation

Next Group:
Martin Whist, Hamish Purdy — Bad Times at the El Royale
Nelson Coates, Andrew Baseman — Crazy Rich Asians
Adam Stockhausen, Paul Harrod — Isle of Dogs
Gary Williamson, Cathy Cosgrove — Paddington 2
Keiko Mitsumatsu, Akiko Matsuba — Shoplifters

Best Visual Effects

Winner: Paul Lambert, J.D. Schwalm, Ian Hunter, Tristan Myles — First Man

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

First Man is a celebration of practical effects. From its various scales of models to its massive LED screens that play backgrounds of skies and space for in-camera capture, the film is invigoratingly tactile. We can sense real physics and real depth at play, which is immensely key to communicating the dangers of the Gemini and Apollo missions. That the film feels as though it truly takes us to space, through the genius of perspective as well as invisible CG and compositing, is an astounding accomplishment.
Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Dan Deleeuw, Kelly Port, Russell Earl, Dan Sudick — Avengers: Infinity War
3. Andrew Whitehurst, Sara Bennett, Richard Clarke, Simon Hughes — Annihilation
4. Nicholas Bennett, Rupert Davies, Andy Kind, Peter McDonald, Carlos Monzon, Glen Pratt — Paddington 2
5. Jason Smith — Bumblebee

Next Group:
Kelvin McIlwain, Jeff White, Bryan Hirota, Kimberly Nelson Locascio — Aquaman
Matt Johnson, Steve Warner, Jim Capobianco, Kyle McCulloch —Mary Poppins Returns
Jody Johnson — Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Roger Guyett, Grady Cofer, Matthew E. Butler, David Shirk — Ready Player One
Rob Bredow, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan, Dominic Tuohy —Solo: A Star Wars Story

Best Cinematography

Winner: Alfonso Cuarón — Roma

Netflix/Courtesy

There’s something initially objective and removed about Alfonso Cuarón’s cinematography for Roma. There aren’t many close-ups. Perspective is, occasionally, not attached too strongly to individual characters. It’s almost as if the camera were a young boy watching from a distance.

And that’s where it all clicks. As Cuarón’s camera pans or tracks through space in unbroken takes, we become enveloped in something truly three-dimensional. “Lived in” is an overused phrase, but it’s the most potent thing about Roma’s photography. It breathes with life. It’s lived in. It’s memory.

There’s such immense visual depth in this film, greater than what 3D could ever accomplish. But there’s also warmth, connection, and love. Cuarón captures his images with the quiet wonder of a boy admiring the matriarchs in his life. However, it’s also clear that this is not just removed, but a reflection into the past, which allows his cinematography to break the bounds of its objective style and evoke true emotions within time.
— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Rob Hardy — Mission: Impossible – Fallout
3. Lukasz Zal — Cold War
4. Linus Sandgren — First Man
5. Hong Kyung-pyo — Burning

Next Group:
Robbie Ryan — The Favourite
James Laxton — If Beale Street Could Talk
Bing Liu — Minding the Gap
Joshua James Richard — The Rider
Benoît Debie — The Sisters Brothers

Best Film Editing

Winner: Eddie Hamilton — Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Paramount Pictures/Courtesy

In more ways than one, Mission: Impossible – Fallout is explosive. One of the most underappreciated facets of that, however, is the film’s editing. Eddie Hamilton’s pacing is never off-note, taking us through a roaring 2.5 hours without anything ever feeling slow or unbalanced. And zooming in to individual sequences, Hamilton’s compositions are breathtaking, particularly the “stairs and rooftops” chase through London. That sequence is its own spotless short film, a blend of perfectly timed comedy and powerful bursts of energy. We feel Ethan Hunt’s energy and exhaustion distinctly through Hamilton’s work, and the entire film is taken to a new level for the franchise because of that.
— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Bing Liu, Joshua Altman — Minding the Gap
3. Alfonso Cuarón, Adam Gough — Roma
4. Jonathan Amos, Mark Everson — Paddington 2
5. Joe Walker — Widows

Next Group:
Nick Fenton, Chris Gill, Julian Hart — American Animals
Barry Alexander Brown — BlacKkKlansman
Yorgos Mavropsaridis — The Favourite
Hirokazu Kore-eda — Shoplifters
Jay Cassidy — A Star Is Born

Best Documentary

Winner: Minding the Gap

Hulu/Courtesy

Bing Liu’s directorial debut is a true revelation. Minding the Gap centers on three boys — Liu himself, Zack Mulligan and Kiere Johnson — in Rockford, Illinois, who all skateboard and who, we learn, all grew up in abusive households. Liu’s film, like so many of 2018’s best, wrestles with the essential question: What have our parents done to us? The answer to this question is completely different for each of Liu, Mulligan and Johnson. Yet each of these stories, even Liu’s own, is handled with a deft touch of empathy and true intuition. We know these boys, not just their traumas but their charm, their shortcomings, their senses of humor, their aspirations. We cry with them and for them, but we also hope with them.

Minding the Gap is about so many things. Escaping your home. The oppressive force of capitalism. Cycles of abuse. Toxic, limiting masculinity. Friendship. Ultimately, it’s about everything that shapes us into who we are and the shared traumas that can underlie our relationships. That’s what makes this not just the year’s best documentary, but one of its very best films as well.
Hooman Yazdanian

Runner-up: Free Solo
3. Hale County This Morning, This Evening
4. The Dawn Wall
5. Science Fair

Next Group:
Nossa Chape
Shirkers
They Shall Not Grow Old
Three Identical Strangers
White Tide: The Legend of Culebra

Best Animated Film

Winner: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Sony Pictures/Courtesy

It’s been more than a month since the release of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and we’re still feeling the ripples of its arrival. It’s hard to say something that’s not already been said, but it’s the fact that people are still saying things that shows just how significant this film is. Visually dynamic and innovative, but also with a pulsing emotional core, the film feels like a dream, an all-too-perfect culmination of superhero-centered art from its inception in the form of comic books to its dominance of popular cinema today. Spider-Verse is not just a leap forward, but a leap up, all because it was brave enough to take a leap of faith.
— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Incredibles 2
3. Ralph Breaks the Internet
4. Mirai
5. Early Man

Best Foreign Film

Winner: Shoplifters

Magnolia Pictures/Courtesy

In its first two-thirds, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters is a warm yet unflinching movie about the daily rhythms of a family living on the fringes of Tokyo. The Shibata family — Nobuyo (Sakura Ando) and Osamu (Lily Franky), their son Shota (Jyo Kairi), and adult sibling Aki (Mayu Matsuoka) — live in the cramped home of grandmother and matriarch Hatsue (the late Kirin Kiki), living off her small pension, odd jobs, and the eponymous shoplifting.

One day, Nobuyo and Osamu come across a hungry and abused little girl named Yuri (Miyu Sasaki) and decide to take her in, setting in motion a doomed story of kidnap and familial love. Had the movie ambled along in this way, quietly checking in on the day to day of the strange and messy Shibatas, it would have been a triumph of humanistic filmmaking. But in its third act, Shoplifters delivers a shocking series of twists which blow apart the family’s fragile, cobbled-together peace, and reveal that Kore-eda has something much deeper to say about choosing love and family when you’re up against the world.
— Miyako Singer

Runner-up: Roma
3. Burning
4. Cold War
5. Happy As Lazzaro

Next Group:
Capernaum
The Guilty
I Am Not A Witch
Museo
Zama

Best Adapted Screenplay

Winner: Phil Lord, Rodney Rothman — Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Sony Pictures/Courtesy

Granted, there’ve been a lot of Spider-Man stories (comics, movies, and games) this century, and a lot have been wildly successful. But there’s something about Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman’s take on the classic Spider-Man story that sets it above the rest, and honestly, as one of the best superhero scripts ever.

Maybe it’s how it introduces Miles Morales into the cinematic canon, while still giving us a thrilling Peter (B.) Parker story? Maybe it’s because it takes a plethora of villains and heroes from the Spider-Verse, and gives each character their own rational motivations for their actions, with varying degrees of forgivability? Maybe it’s just because we didn’t laugh harder or cry more during a studio film from 2018 than we did while watching Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse? Or most likely, it’s because it did all of these things, and crafted an inclusive story that anyone of any race, gender, age, or nationality can relate to. Because in the end, the power of superhero stories has always been that superheroes don’t have to be that super at all; they just have to believe in themselves and in the good of the people around them. Anyone can wear the mask.
— Levi Hill

Runner-up: Paul King, Simon Farnaby — Paddington 2
3. Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan — Wildlife
4. Lee Chang-dong, Oh Jung-mi — Burning
5. Nicole Holofcener, Jeff Whitty — Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Next Group:
Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole — Black Panther
Peter Chiarelli, Adele Lim — Crazy Rich Asians
Barry Jenkins — If Beale Street Could Talk
Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini — Leave No Trace
Jacques Audiard, Thomas Bidegain — The Sisters Brothers

Best Original Screenplay

Winner: Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara — The Favourite

Yorgos Lanthimos/Twentieth Century Fox/Courtesy

The incredible passive aggressiveness, snark, and sass of Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara’s script for The Favourite is, quite frankly, jaw-dropping. From the overarching manipulative machinations of Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail (Emma Stone), to the invigoratingly sexy scenes, all the way down to the single lines of dialogue — the most gobsmackingly awesome being Queen Anne’s “I like it when she puts her tongue inside me” — the script is an absolute wonder.

But that’s not all that Davis and McNamara accomplish. The story is also a seering look at the sacrifices made in a quest for power, as well as the corruption that such a quest can bring upon one’s soul. And, in perhaps the film’s most powerful scene when Lady Sarah tries to connect with Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) again, The Favourite reveals itself as a story of what love truly means.
— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Hirokazu Kore-eda — Shoplifters
3. Bo Burnham — Eighth Grade
4. Alfonso Cuarón — Roma
5. Tamara Jenkins — Private Life

Next Group:
Paweł Pawlikowski, Janusz Glowacki — Cold War
Paul Schrader — First Reformed
Mark Perez — Game Night
Alice Rohrwacher — Happy As Lazzaro
Ari Aster — Hereditary

Best Supporting Actor

Winner: Steven Yeun — Burning

Well Go USA Entertainment/Courtesy

Burning is a reserved, chilling psychosexual thriller from one of the world’s premier directors, Lee Chang-dong. The film follows a love triangle between Lee Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in), Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo), and Ben (Steven Yeun). Through Chang-dong’s lens, we see the story from Jong-su’s increasingly anxious, jealous, and fractured view. But because the film rests with Jong-su, this allows Yeun’s Ben to become the film’s enigma; it’s through his character and Yeun’s portrayal that the film morphs into a stunning, shocking mystery. On first viewing, when the three are with each other, Yeun’s almost displeasing yawns and seemingly mocking laughter shake Jong-su, and the audience, to the core. There’s clearly something underneath this person — a rich kid so privileged in society, that maybe, just maybe, he has turned to murder to feel something in the world. Yet, on repeat viewings (which this film begs for), it could be implied that Ben isn’t all that bad. While having an aura of superiority around him, Ben appears rather inviting. Maybe, after all, it is Jong-su trying to force Ben into the story he wants for himself.

Thanks, in large part, to Lee Chang-dong and Oh Jung-mi’s masterful script and Steven Yeun’s even more masterful performance, we’re never granted answers, though. Yeun perfectly relies on subtlety, born charisma, and his dashing good looks to craft Ben into an unknowable key to understanding what transpires. Yet, the answers go up in flames, and we’re all left with the haunting reality that we may never truly know who Ben is.
— Levi Hill

Runner-up: Hugh Grant — Paddington 2
3. Brian Tyree Henry — If Beale Street Could Talk
4. Alex Wolff — Hereditary
5. Daniel Kaluuya — Widows

Next Group:
Timothée Chalamet — Beautiful Boy
Richard E. Grant — Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Nicholas Hoult — The Favourite
Jesse Plemons — Game Night
Jake Gyllenhaal — Wildlife

Best Supporting Actress

Winner: Rachel Weisz — The Favourite

Yorgos Lanthimos/Twentieth Century Fox/Courtesy

In The Favourite — a film full of overt, loud, and clear (even if passive aggressive) expression — Rachel Weisz is a complex force. Her Lady Sarah is simultaneously manipulative, loving, confident, and jealous. Under a rarely changing steely glare, Weisz breathes with power, while also communicating her character’s slow loss of it. And along with that comes a loss of friendship and a loss of love, and Weisz evokes a painfully palpable desperation, culminating in her heart-wrenching monologue of what it means to love someone. While there’s an engaging sadness and depression to Olivia Colman’s Queen Anne, it’s Weisz’s brilliant performance as Lady Sarah that lays a soul at the foundation of the film.
— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Regina King — If Beale Street Could Talk
3. Emma Stone — The Favourite
4. Elizabeth Debicki — Widows
5. Marina de Tavira — Roma

Next Group:
Michelle Yeoh — Crazy Rich Asians
Rachel McAdams — Game Night
Margot Robbie — Mary Queen of Scots
Kayli Carter — Private Life
Kirin Kiki — Shoplifters

Best Lead Actor

Winner: Bradley Cooper — A Star Is Born

Peter Lindbergh/Warner Bros./Courtesy

A Star Is Born opens with Bradley Cooper on stage as Jackson Maine, strumming the hell out of his guitar and belting out “Black Eyes.” Cooper not only answers any questions about his musical bonafides, but does it with fervor, commanding that stage and the audience — both the one in the film and the one watching it — like a real life rock star. He commands us not just to watch, but to believe. We need to believe he’d be successful, famous enough to attract big festival crowds, but also to walk into a drag bar and be treated like a star right away. Later, we need to believe he would both instantly fall in love with Ally (Lady Gaga) and have Ally fall in love with him. We need to believe this is a man in pain, and that this pain lingers even and especially when he’s head-over-heels in love with Ally, as he is until the end. We need to believe, and feel, and regret, the self-medication by alcohol Maine resorts to; haunted by the traumas of his youth and embroiled in the tumultuous rollercoasters of love and fame, Maine’s only restraint is more dangerous than the rollercoasters themselves. He gets drunk, he yells, he regrets. He goes to rehab. We need to believe it’s all real. We need to believe in Cooper as Maine does in Ally. And boy, is Cooper worth believing. He falls into the role of Jackson Maine. The star we know is hidden behind a beard, scraggly hair and sunworn skin. Of Cooper, only his winning eyes remain, and even they do their fair share of sad talking.

When an actor as famous as Bradley Cooper does a role as big and different as this one, it can be distracting. It’d be easy to watch A Star Is Born and just yell, “That is Bradley Cooper, the motherfucker from The Hangover! And he is singing!” But this doesn’t happen because we believe Cooper. The now seven-time Oscar nominee gives the performance of his life and of the year. We were right to believe.
Hooman Yazdanian

Runner-up: Tom Cruise — Mission: Impossible – Fallout
3. Ethan Hawke — First Reformed
4. Ryan Gosling — First Man
5. Lily Franky — Shoplifters

Next Group:
Yoo Ah-in — Burning
Tomasz Kot — Cold War
Stephan James — If Beale Street Could Talk
John Cho — Searching
Christian Bale — Vice

Best Lead Actress

Winner: Sakura Ando — Shoplifters

Magnolia Pictures/Courtesy

Amidst an amazing cast, Sakura Ando is transfixing in Shoplifters. A sense of enigmatic cool immediately emanating from her performance, Ando allows us in slowly. From her character’s quiet will to endure and survive, to her deep and raw connection to Yuri (Miyu Sasaki) through shared trauma, to her growing sense of motherhood and what it means to take care of someone, Ando’s turn unveils layer upon layer with stunning precision and timing, while maintaining an emotional truth to every aspect. She’s the powerful, magnetic center to the film because she plays that part to the film’s family, anchoring them in both fantasy and reality. And in her two key moments in the third act, when talking about motherhood and when telling Shota (Jyo Kairi) key information, Ando is harrowing in both her quiet pain and her strained certainty. Her performance is one of the most brilliantly understated of the year.
— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Olivia Colman — The Favourite
3. Toni Collette — Hereditary
4. Carey Mulligan — Wildlife
5. Yalitza Aparicio — Roma

Next Group:
Joanna Kulig — Cold War
Thomasin McKenzie — Leave No Trace
Kathryn Hahn — Private Life
Regina Hall — Support the Girls
Glenn Close — The Wife

Best Ensemble

Winner: The cast of The Favourite

Atsushi Nishijima/Twentieth Century Fox/Courtesy

The cast of The Favourite may not be as expansive as other ensembles. But the set of performances is undoubtedly unmatched. Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, and Olivia Colman all deliver deliciously devilish and ravishingly ravenous turns. And they’re accompanied by a magnificent Nicholas Hoult, and a solidly serviceable Joe Alwyn and James Smith.

The range of work from these actors would be enough to put it into contention, but what locks it in as the best ensemble of 2018 is the vibrant and explosive chemistry between every single performer. Yorgos Lanthimos movies are idiosyncratic, so chemistry is key, and here, the rapport is simply sublime.
— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: The cast of Shoplifters
3. The cast of Black Panther
4. The cast of Widows
5. The cast of Game Night

Next Group:
The cast of Bad Times at the El Royale
The cast of Crazy Rich Asians
The cast of If Beale Street Could Talk
The cast of Private Life
The cast of The Sisters Brothers

Best Director

Winner: Alfonso Cuarón — Roma

Carlos Somonte/Netflix/Courtesy

Like practically every other critics group (and we’re predicting the directors guild, too), we found Alfonso Cuarón’s deeply personal autobiographical memory play to be the best piece of directing of 2018. Using crisp black-and-white digital 65mm cinematography, mostly non-professional cast members, and stunning on-set recreations of 1970s Mexico City, Cuarón paints a humanistic, neo-realistic love letter to both the city and the women who raised him.

Cuarón’s approach to the material is organic in every facet. Composed of mostly long takes, Cuarón allows the performers, and thus the audience, to live in his world. There’s no prioritization of banal, seemingly simple moments (such as kids being cleansed with vinegar after getting sunburnt) over more dramatic moments (when a fire ravages an estate where the central family and friends are spending Christmas). Furthermore, the film perfectly balances moments of brevity — like a cheeky visual reference of the family going to the movies to see Marooned, which Cuarón may or may not have based his own Oscar-winning Gravity off of — with complete tragedy — such as when Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) loses a part of herself, in a devastating scene that won’t be spoiled here.

Yet, Cuarón is also giving a voice and vision to people rarely seen on the big screen: domestic workers. Starring an indigenous woman (the groundbreaking, now Oscar-nominated Yalitza Aparicio), Roma explores privilege, class, and race within Mexican society, but in a way that allows audiences to see the hard, caring work that these people do for the families they serve and, equally, how much they shape the people they help. Films have always been described as empathy machines, and it doesn’t get much more empathetic than what Cuarón’s direction achieves with his masterpiece Roma.
— Levi Hill

Runner-up: Paul King — Paddington 2
3. Lynne Ramsay — You Were Never Really Here
4. Lee Chang-dong — Burning
5. Hirokazu Kore-eda — Shoplifters

Next Group:
Ryan Coogler — Black Panther
Yorgos Lanthimos — The Favourite
Bing Liu — Minding the Gap
Christopher McQuarrie — Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Tamara Jenkins — Private Life

Best Picture

Winner: Paddington 2

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Sweet but never saccharine, Paddington 2 gives the perfect answer to the cynicism of the day, and does so without standing on a soap box, megaphone in hand, declaring itself apolitical. In fact, it does the opposite, embodying soul and optimism about humanity without betraying its messaging as a perfectly-toned rebuke of anti-immigrant, anti-refugee sentiment. Such is the case with 2018’s best film (that’s right, US release dates) and the flagbearer of nicecore, Paddington 2.

The story is simple: Paddington (Ben Whishaw), a bear from darkest Peru who lives with his adopted family, the Browns, in London, wants to buy his Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton) a popup book for her birthday. He wants to share the magic he sees in it with her. The end of that story is truly tear-jerking, and the execution of the journey to get there is transcendent. Packed with action, humor, and joy, the film takes aesthetic swings and knocks them out of the park. It is directed phenomenally by Paul King and perfectly acted, led by a layered, career-best performance from Hugh Grant.

Filled to the brim with equal helpings of ingenuity, marmalade, and heart, Paddington 2 sees the best in us and manages to be the best film of 2018 along the way.
— Hooman Yazdanian

Runner-up: The Favourite

3. Shoplifters
4. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
5. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
6. Black Panther
7. Minding the Gap
8. Roma
9. Wildlife
10. Private Life

Next Group:
Annihilation
Burning
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Cold War
Game Night
Hereditary
If Beale Street Could Talk
A Star Is Born
Widows
You Were Never Really Here

Feature graphic by Kyle Kizu
Feature images courtesy of Paramount Pictures/Twentieth Century Fox/Warner Bros./Netflix/Sony Pictures

Top 10 war films since 2010

Cinema thrives when it comes to war films. These are events that many regular civilians would never understand on any level other than statistics and classroom lessons. So, that’s where cinema’s job comes in — to transport us, to help us understand. And recently, war films have gone beyond that. But we don’t like to confine the genre to just those of generals, political machinations and battlefields involving some form of Western force. Those are outstanding, but war is more than that. War drags children into conflict in countries that can’t defend them. War is the deeply human and deeply empathetic look at those not necessarily fighting, but suffering — either those subject to enemies and without the ability to fight back, like Holocaust victims, or those struggling in the aftermath of what they’ve had to do, like PTSD victims. Even genre films, superhero or otherwise, have utilized war and wartime settings to comment, in immensely effective ways, on violence. So, let’s extend the perceived boundaries of the war film. Releasing this Friday, Oct. 27, Thank You For Your Service looks to do just that, mostly leaving the battlefield to extend Jason Hall’s investigation into PTSD that started with American Sniper. Who’s to say that that’s not as much of a war film as any? Here are our top ten war films, both traditional and subversive, since 2010:

10. First They Killed My Father (2017)

Netflix/Courtesy

While Beasts of No Nation and First They Killed My Father confront the topic of the child soldiers whose lives are consumed by the wars surrounding them, Angelina Jolie’s First They Killed My Father is unique in how it paints a portrait of a country’s history, and how it derives such a portrait from following its young lead (Sareum Srey Moch). Beyond being an affecting historicization of Cambodian history, it is a deeply beautiful film despite the horrors that it depicts — some of the dream sequences and the film’s multiple overhead shots transcend the vileness of war, suggesting that Cambodia’s own beauty as a country triumphs against the Khmer Rouge regime.

— Harrison Tunggal

9. ‘71 (2015)

Roadside Attractions/Courtesy

Yann Demange’s directorial debut is a breathtakingly intense look at more of a guerrilla war than a typical war, following the “Troubles,” a conflict which centered around Northern Ireland’s status as either a part of the UK or part of a united Ireland. And that’s what’s so special about this film — that you can feel that distinction from the opening scene. Demange’s construction of tone through editing and cinematography that build tension in the streets of Ireland is masterful. Similar to Dunkirk, ‘71 is almost a silent film, a chase film filled with frightening stakes. It’s one of the better war films of recent times because it succeeds in spades in portraying a region under duress, not from enemies outside, but from fellow people within.

— Kyle Kizu

8. Lincoln (2012)

Touchstone Pictures/Courtesy

With a little bit of make-up, a sizeable amount of screentime and a lot of method acting, is there really any role Sir Daniel Day-Lewis can’t play? In Lincoln, the prolific actor practically becomes Abraham Lincoln as the renowned and revered president navigates a unique time period within the context of the American Civil War — its final few months and the repercussions of its aftermath on American slavery. Helmed by Steven Spielberg in, arguably, one of his best films in the past decade, Lincoln takes an incisive look at the intricacies behind not only Lincoln himself, but the president’s impact on shaping the United States’ perception of race-based politics into the modern era. Not only does Spielberg’s direction manage to entertain through a sheer cinematographic fixation on the enigmatic and truly revolutionary mind of Abraham Lincoln, but the film’s incredibly talented supporting cast, including a possibly show-stealing performance by Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, ensures that the film goes down as one of the most compelling and meticulously recreated historical war dramas to ever appear on screen. There’s a sense of artistic passion that oozes from Day-Lewis’ portrayal of the strong-willed yet holistically perceptive Lincoln, one that envelops every scene he’s in (spoiler: with a name like Lincoln, it’s a lot of ‘em) but that never grows stagnant. Leave it to Day-Lewis and Spielberg to make a high school reading requirement into war cinema royalty.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

7. Wonder Woman (2017)

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Sure, on an instinctual level, Wonder Woman is a superhero film, but it uses its wartime setting as effectively as any other film on this list. The film posits that war is a product of man’s own destructive ways, and that it’s up to a woman to bring the compassion (and kickassery) that precipitates peace. If nothing else, the film’s argument makes it a unique entry in this list of war films, but the level of craft that director Patty Jenkins brings to Wonder Woman lends the film an edge that its peers lack — Jenkins does Zack Snyder action better than Zack Snyder, the production design alone is worth the price of admission and the “No Man’s Land” scene will go down in cinema history as one of the most inspiring moments ever filmed. Truly, where most war films claim to depict heroism, Wonder Woman defines the standard to which such heroism should be held. As Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot channels Christopher Reeves’ Superman to give audiences a figure of hope they can aspire to — she is the hero the world needs and the one it deserves. But in Wonder Woman’s words, “It’s not about deserve; it’s about what you believe. And I believe in love.”

Harrison Tunggal

6. War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

There may be less physical conflict shown in War for the Planet of the Apes than Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but the third Apes film is the first to truly be about war. Not every moment in war is physical conflict. Exemplified by Game of Thrones, war is often about the aura in the air and the disposition of every single person across vast regions, which, in War’s case, genuinely feels to be the entire planet. There is often silence in barren and broken landscapes that are strangely beautiful, and moments of harrowing communal strength in stake out locations. There are factions with warring ideologies, embodied by their leaders, and, most importantly, there’s a sense of history of what’s gotten us to this point. War for the Planet of the Apes holds all of that, and more, and is it arguable the most stunningly crafted of the trilogy. When it does come to physical conflict, it features some of the more viscerally abrasive battles of recent memory, especially the film’s opening. And it’s also host to some searing, haunting imagery akin to the Holocaust, as well as to any other conflict that involves mass imprisonment, such as the Japanese internment camps. War is one of the few war films, in general, to truly understand what “war” means, the implications of it, the often ignored visual and emotional impacts on both the small and wide scale, the ideological divide, the characters that perpetrate it and the characters that uphold the best of humanity — which, in this case, are the apes.

— Kyle Kizu

5. American Sniper (2014)

Warner Bros./Courtesy

American Sniper is a rorschach test of sorts. Some people see this film as a jingoistic piece of propaganda. Others see it as a sobering investigation into post traumatic stress disorder. It lands so high on our list as we mainly fall into the latter. While the film may not have a typical progression of narrative, we follow Chris Kyle, portrayed with unbelievable vulnerability by Bradley Cooper, through this growing sensory and emotional overload. Rather than use a typically inspirational score like Lone Survivor, American Sniper makes use of horrifying sound design that enhances the sounds of bullets and explosions. The film crafts this entrapment, most directly on his tours as gunfire rains down from all over and even hiding places are not so safe, but also in brief moments back in the U.S. as Kyle becomes entrapped in his own head. The brevity of his raw emotional moments shows just how much pressure and silence these soldiers dealing with PTSD feel like they have to put on themselves, making them all the more powerful — exemplified by the bar scene when Kyle arrives back to the U.S. without telling his wife and, when she calls, he breaks down and can only say “I guess I just needed a minute.” American Sniper is a war film that digs into you without you really noticing, so when you get to those points, you still feel all of what Kyle feels. It’s a necessary look at what war does to human beings.

— Kyle Kizu

4. Son of Saul (2015)

Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy

The Holocaust is a subject that is often focused on in World War II films. There have been a multitude of movies exploring the horrors and atrocities committed during this moment of history, with notable examples being the eight-hour documentary Shoah or the Best Picture winning Schindler’s List. The topic has been explored by filmmakers like George Stevens, Otto Preminger, Stanley Kramer, Vittorio de Sica, Quentin Tarantino and Paul Verhoeven. With all of these major filmmakers being vital and their films classics, it may be hard for anyone to feel that cinema needs to retouch one of the worst crimes against humanity ever committed. Yet, László Nemes’ directing debut Son of Saul might just be the most stunning from both a filmmaking and pathos standpoint. The film follows Saul (Géza Röhrig), who is a Jewish Sonderkommando, as he goes by his day-to-day activities, which includes the truly demoralizing jobs of being both the person who leads fellow Jewish people into the gas chambers, and then being the one who disposes their bodies afterward. One day, Saul sees a child — after the fact — that resembles what his son would have looked like. From here, the film plunges into the wearied psyche of Saul as he tries to find answers to where his son is, and if that boy was his son. Filming in mostly tight close-ups, Nemes and cinematographer Matyas Erdely create an extremely subjective view on the Holocaust, forcing the audience to rarely see the violence, but instead to hear it, to be surrounded by it, to be as closely immersed in this devastatingly tragic time as any film before it. It may be a grim film, but it’s about as important and courageous as film can get — showing that sometimes in the most dire of circumstances, we can regain our own humanity.

— Levi Hill

3. Beasts of No Nation (2015)

Netflix/Courtesy

Beasts of No Nation represents not just one country, but the many that suffer from the type of atrocities and conflict of war present in this film. And this is where writer-director Cary Joji Fukunaga pulls off a stunning feat of storytelling — we understand that this is the tragedy of many, but we get to know our characters so deeply and so vividly. We become so connected to this idea of a larger devastation because we get such intimacy with the singular devastation we see. Much of that comes from violence. The trauma that Agu (Abraham Attah) encounters is overwhelming in every way, something that we immediately recognize as far too much for a young child. And as Agu falls into his own head, we see the potential for what he can become in the film’s juxtaposition of him next to the Commandant (Idris Elba) — a broken man forced into fighting, addicted to fighting, but only for any semblance of individuality and not for the war’s cause. That’s what makes Beasts of No Nation such a vital war film. Not only is it gorgeously rendered with some arresting cinematography and some viscerally intense filmmaking, and not only is it a film that shows conflict outside of the Western world, but it’s so invested in its humanity, in the brutality that gets us to a point like that and in the psychology of the most psychologically vulnerable during wartime: children.

— Kyle Kizu

2. Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Columbia Pictures/Courtesy

Director Kathryn Bigelow has never been one to shy away from war in cinema. Whether it be her first foray into the genre with 2002’s K-19: The Widowmaker or 2009’s Oscar darling, The Hurt Locker, (which reminded Hollywood, yet again, directing isn’t just a boys’ club) Bigelow has proven time and time again that she is the female authority on war on the silver screen. Combine her directorial prowess in capturing the governmental manipulation behind contemporary conflict along with the moral ambiguity of modern politics and a tour de force performance from Jessica Chastain, and you have Zero Dark Thirty. How does one portray the relentless hunt for the leader of the militant organization that orchestrated the worst terrorist attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor? With an unwavering realism that produces a profound sense of patriotism that is simultaneously overpowered by a sense of conscientious repugnancy, Zero Dark Thirty earns its spot on this list not solely for the gripping fashion in which it fashions an intimate look at the minds integral behind the assassination of Osama bin Laden, but the staunch stance it takes in revealing how war affects those that aren’t on the front line, and what they, and we as a nation, are willing to sacrifice to win.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

1. Dunkirk (2017)

Warner Bros/Courtesy

Statistically speaking, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is, hands down, the film MovieMinis has written most about, by a margin wider than the English channel itself. And for good reason — beyond simply being a great war film, easily one of the best of all time, it is still the best film of 2017 (the ball is in your court, Guillermo del Toro).

You can read all about Dunkirk’s merits as a film here, but as a war film specifically, Dunkirk’s brilliance comes from its comprehensive, thorough subversion of every war movie trope ever put on screen. No character in this film pulls out a photo of his girlfriend back home, we hardly ever see enemy soldiers firing away at our heroes and, quite remarkably, the film maintains its thrills without spilling a drop of blood. In terms of war films, Dunkirk is the anti-Hacksaw Ridge — a film about evacuation rather battle, the empirical engineering of tension over mere spectacle. In this sense, where most war films are happy to indulge in hyper-masculine violence or cliched patriotism, Dunkirk intends to achieve none of it, preferring to blaze a new trail for what a war movie could be. Unlike any other film in the genre, Dunkirk is a purely experiential film, aiming to put viewers on Dunkirk’s beaches, in the skies above it and in the waters of the English Channel. The film’s IMAX format, expert editing, earth-shattering sound design and reliance on practical effects remind us how the language of cinema is a mimetic one. Speaking of Dunkirk, one feels the compulsion to pontificate about how audio and visual immersion is a quality unique to cinema, but let’s face it, such immersion is unique to Dunkirk.

— Harrison Tunggal

 

Featured image via Keith Bernstein/Warner Bros.

Jennifer Lawrence’s top 5 performances

Jennifer Lawrence is one of the biggest superstars on the planet right now, deemed by many as the next Meryl Streep; she’s already been nominated for four Oscars at the young age of 27, meaning that she has 31 years to catch up to Streep’s current number of 20 nominations — a task not too unthinkable.

Looking back at her career, Lawrence has surprisingly fewer notable appearances than one may first expect — perhaps a reminder of how young she is. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing because each performance is one that sticks, whether because of her immense talent, showcased in films such as Silver Linings Playbook and Winter’s Bone, or because she’s already cemented herself as a big franchise A-lister with leading roles in X-Men and The Hunger Games.

With Darren Aronofsky’s mother! releasing this Friday, Lawrence will only remind those that sadly and systemically undervalue her that she’s not going anywhere. She’s not the next Meryl Streep because she’s the only Jennifer Lawrence. And while this list may not host as many hot takes as others, it’s a rightful celebration of an undeniable talent.

5. The Hunger Games

Lionsgate/Courtesy

In The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) captures the fascination of the public, but in a slightly meta twist, Lawrence herself catapulted to the broader public’s radar. By then she had already been nominated for Best Lead Actress for her work in Winter’s Bone, but with The Hunger Games, Lawrence established herself as a heroine for the ages — the highest grossing action film heroine, to be precise. But don’t let the memory of Barnes and Noble’s endless supply of Katniss merch sully the performance Lawrence gives in the first Hunger Games film. She gives us a heroine who’s vulnerable and sympathetic, but never lets that get in the way of being a badass. Amid the flood of YA novel adaptations that descended upon cinemas in the wake of The Hunger Games, Lawrence’s turn as Katniss shows that the phenomenon began and ended with her undeniably strong performance.

— Harrison Tunggal

4. Joy

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

David O. Russell’s Joy is a bit of an unengaging slog, but Jennifer Lawrence isn’t one of the reasons why. In fact, she’s the only reason why the film is watchable in the first place. She embraces and envelops herself in the dynamic familial conflict and vulnerability of the character of Joy — a young inventor and businesswoman who builds a dynasty — reacting with a quiet energy and taking charge with such lively fervor; we almost feel the line “never… speak… on my behalf… about my business… again” in our bones, each brief pause breathing with badassery. She may not dive as deep into the mentality of the character as she does in performances ranked higher, but her utterly firm and assured commitment to the role reverberates off the screen.

— Kyle Kizu

3. Winter’s Bone

Roadside Attractions/Courtesy

The performance that started the hype around her talents, Winter’s Bone was a tiny little indie that did significantly better than anyone would have expected, largely in part due to Lawrence’s captivating leading character. Set in the rural Ozarks, Winter’s Bone features Lawrence as a 17-year-old tasked with taking care of her mentally ill mother and her two younger siblings within a financially destitute family that is being threatened to have their housed foreclosed on since her meth-addicted father put the house up for bail. And he, for reasons waiting to be discovered in this twisty film, has yet to make his court date.

What’s so immediate about this film’s portrayal of this kind of life is both Lawrence and director Debra Granik’s refusal to allow stereotypes to percolate into the story. There’s an authenticity to the sadness, the courage and, ultimately, the hope Lawrence brings to this young heroine. One could immediately see the star power that Lawrence possesses, which has only been further proven in each film since.

— Levi Hill

2. American Hustle

Sony Pictures/Courtesy

Bat-shit crazy Jennifer Lawrence is the best Jennifer Lawrence: so it is written.

As Rosalyn Rosenfeld in American Hustle, Lawrence injects what could have been a stereotypical “wronged, manipulative wife” role with charisma, intensity and a touch of true malice. In one memorable scene, Christian Bale’s character calls his wife “the Picasso of passive-aggressive karate.” She does indeed spend a good portion of the film attempting to sway events through careful manipulation, but when the dam breaks, no one throws a tantrum like Lawrence. And for what it’s worth, just overcoming the sheer extravagance of American Hustle’s costuming was a feat for all involved— from that slinky white gown to her teased blond updo, it’s a noteworthy accomplishment that the most “extra” thing in the film was Lawrence herself.

— Kate Halliwell

1. Silver Linings Playbook

The Weinstein Company/Courtesy

While Jennifer Lawrence was already an Oscar nominated actress with seemingly endless potential at such a young age, it was really 2012 that catapulted her into super stardom and the charts of Best Actresses Working Today. Between The Hunger Games and Silver Linings Playbook, any actor could claim they owned the year. Leading a massive franchise and the biggest crowd-pleasing prestige film is quite the accomplishment, yet it’s her performance in that second film, David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, that stands as her best performance in her already acclaimed career. With the premise of the film centered around deeply flawed people, Lawrence plays Tiffany, a young widow who battles depression and is ostracized in her town for having casual sex with many of the men in it after her husband’s passing. While the film rests on Bradley Cooper’s shoulders, who convincingly plays the manic-depressive Pat Solitano, Jr., Lawrence steals the show. Given almost equal weight in this tight balancing act of mental-issues-drama with dysfunctional family comedy, without Lawrence’s performance — which gives off bubbly optimism and a cold cynicism — the movie may not have had its silver lining.

— Levi Hill

Featured image via Paramount.