Tag Archives: Christian Bale

The MovieMini Awards for the Films of 2017

In difficult times, we often turn to the movies for comfort, for inspiration, for escape, for expression. We have throughout cinema’s history and we will throughout cinema’s future.

Without a shadow of a doubt, 2017 was a difficult year. But it almost seemed like movies responded accordingly. Not only were films great from January to December, but they also often transcended the art form, bleeding into real life with such vividly real emotions. That’s what cinema is meant to do.

Once a year in film wraps up, it seems only appropriate to celebrate it and to celebrate it thoroughly. 2017 is one of those years where it seems necessary, where reflection expands upon the impact that the films have.

We see this celebration in the form of awarding films, and many places and people take part, from critics to Academy voters. And while it’s fun to watch those award shows, they risk becoming frustratingly difficult to engage with. Response to cinema, to what’s “the best” has its objective elements, but it’s also often subjective and personal. That’s why we feel the need to celebrate 2017 our way, as we can only add another layer, a layer that distinctly reflects us.

Our celebration takes the form of the MovieMini Awards, a project we’ve spent more than two months on. We gathered a team. We traversed four rounds of voting. We poured ourselves into our writing. And we dressed it up a little to present it all to you.

Without further ado, here are the MovieMini Awards for the films of 2017:

Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role: Willem Dafoe — The Florida Project

Image courtesy of A24

In much of Sean Baker’s The Florida Project, the oft-menacing Willem Dafoe plays a warmer, more paternal motel manager named Bobby.

In a scene likely to find itself on Dafoe’s Oscar reel, Bobby confronts a pedophile lurking around the motel’s many children. At first, Bobby seems to treat this man with some sympathy, but it becomes apparent that that may have been to avoid rousing suspicion among the kids. As he escorts the pedophile away, anger bubbles behind Dafoe’s facade. Then, when he angrily rebukes the man, we get a sense of how protective Bobby is of the children he’s constantly fighting with and that even now, Bobby’s seen it all before.

Perhaps the movie’s harshest reality is at the end when — spoilers — Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) is about to be separated from her mom. Dafoe, who’s spent so much time trying to help the pair, has no choice but to walk away and separate himself from the situation. He can’t help anymore and that, perhaps more than anything, hurts. He’s not there watching the pain anymore, but we see in his eyes that he’s been changed by all of this. Sure, he’s seen it all before, but that doesn’t mean he can bear to see it again — you just don’t get used to that sort of pain.

Hooman Yazdanian

Runner-up: Michael Stuhlbarg — Call Me by Your Name

Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy

Within Michael Stuhlbarg’s sublime and endlessly warm performance, one brief moment always comes to mind. When Elio, fresh off an agonizing farewell with Oliver, wanders into his father’s study and catches his eye, Stuhlbarg lifts his chin up and breaks out an ear-to-ear smile. So begins the heartbreaking and tender penultimate scene of Call Me By Your Name.

Stuhlbarg’s performance — which is equal parts gentle, edifying and achingly human — leads to one of the most unforgettable monologues in modern film history.  “Right now, there’s sorrow, pain. Don’t kill it, and with it, the joy you’ve felt.” The soft, quiet breaking of Stuhlbarg’s voice is masterful — a perfect ending to a spectacular supporting performance.

— Michelle Lee

3. Jason Mitchell — Mudbound
4. Richard Jenkins — The Shape of Water
5. Armie Hammer — Call Me by Your Name

The Next 5
6. Mark Rylance — Dunkirk
7. Michael Shannon — The Shape of Water
8. Bill Skarsgård — It
9. Tracy Letts — Lady Bird
10. Christopher Plummer — All the Money in the World

Achievement in Makeup & Hairstyling: Ivana Primorac, Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski, Lucy Sibbick — Darkest Hour

Image courtesy of Focus Features

Heavy makeup often becomes an issue for films. When there’s so much work being done, there’s an equally large risk that something will stick out or look visually off, especially when there are other characters without makeup in the same shots. But the prosthetics in the Winston Churchill biopic Darkest Hour are seamless. Gary Oldman, an otherwise thin man, is fully transformed into a rather different type of physicality, a physicality that is integral to defining the character of Churchill. There’s so much humor in Churchill’s bumbling demeanor, and yet there’s so much power and gravitas in it as well. So many layers of the film are pulled off, including Churchill’s interactions with other characters.

The makeup work hits that sweet spot between too much and using an actor that only roughly looks like Churchill, allowing the essence of the man to come through as perfectly as possible.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Mike Hill, Shane Mahan — The Shape of Water

Fox Searchlight/Courtesy

The work done in The Shape of Water has proved to be a bit of a divide for categorization and judgment. Some deem the Amphibian Man’s exterior as, actually, a costume, it being something actor Doug Jones put on. But we look at it as makeup work, as a sort of large scale prosthetic piece designed to be skin, not costume.

And, in addition to the wonderful period details of the hair of the rest of the cast, the skin of the Amphibian Man is truly outstanding, built from such minute detail to create a creature that feels fully imagined and realized. Each part of the creature feels alive in such majestic ways.

— Kyle Kizu

3. Deborah LaMia Denaver, Adruitha Lee — I, Tonya

The Next 3
4. Joel Harlow, Cindy Harlow — Logan
5. Paul Engelen, Sarah Alice Hoyle, Lesley Nobile — Phantom Thread
6. Sarah Craig McEathron, Linda Dowds, Sean Sansom — It

Achievement in Costume Design: Mark Bridges — Phantom Thread

Image courtesy of Focus Features

Mark Bridges’ remarkable work is vital to Phantom Thread, because if it were not excellent, it’d be hard to buy into the hype surrounding Reynolds Woodcock. As important as it was for Daniel Day-Lewis to inhabit Woodcock, it was crucial for Bridges to do the same. He had to make clothing that Woodcock would, not just clothing from 1955, but clothing this particular man would make at this particular stage of his life. That meant using copious lace with rich colors — hallmarks of the Woodcock brand — and imbuing regal undertones in the many dresses Alma (Vicky Krieps) would fashion. It also meant making a wedding dress that, while beautiful to us, would’ve disappointed Woodcock.

Beyond the dresses, Bridges is responsible for dressing the characters on a daily basis. Before a word is spoken, we know what time period it is. Before Alma speaks to Woodcock in their diner meetcute, we can get a sense of her present state. Her slightly wrinkled, slightly misfit outfit contradicts with Woodcock’s strenuously put together, neat clothing.

So is it cheating to pick the film literally set in the fashion world for best costume design? Honestly, yeah, probably. Do we care? No.

Hooman Yazdanian

Runner-up: Jennifer Johnson — I, Tonya

Neon/Courtesy

Jennifer Johnson absolutely nails the look of the figure skating world in I, Tonya. Johnson’s work was especially important in capturing different stages of Tonya Harding’s life. Early on, before Harding hits it big for the 1994 Olympics, most of Tonya Harding’s clothing was handmade by her. As such, Johnson effectively made Harding’s clothing look homemade and ill-fitting, contrasting with the more prim costumes we see from Harding’s competitors.

Later, as Harding’s star is rising, we see her showing off fancy jewelry she hadn’t donned prior, representing Harding’s own feeling that she was finally making it. In the 1994 Olympics, Harding’s competition outfit looks more than up to snuff with her competitors — finally she belonged. The way Harding was dressed is an important plot point in I, Tonya, and Johnson managed to hit all her marks.

Hooman Yazdanian

3. Renée April — Blade Runner 2049
4. Lindy Hemming — Wonder Woman
5. Jacqueline Duran — Beauty and the Beast

The Next 5
6. Luis Sequiera — The Shape of Water
7. Stacey Battat — The Beguiled
8. Jeffrey Kurland — Dunkirk
9. Jenny Eagen — Hostiles
10. Michael Kaplan — Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Best Documentary Feature: Icarus

Image courtesy of Netflix

To be honest, it’s hard to say I thought I’d be calling Icarus the best documentary of the year early in the movie. Within 15 minutes, we see a man trying to cheat a cycling race show his dog’s testicles to the doctor helping him dope. What the hell is going on?

The film begins with Bryan Fogel, the documentary’s director, wanting to see how possible it would be to get away with doping in a cycling race. He enlists the help of Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, who put Fogel on the same regiment he put Russian athletes under, injections in the butt and all. What happens after this weirdness — that’s admittedly still fascinating — is remarkable.

As Russia’s systemic doping was unveiled during filming, Icarus’ focus shifts to the scandal at large, where Rodchenkov is a major player. The movie shows the rampant, state-sanctioned cheating going on in Russia (which now finds itself banned from the upcoming Winter Olympics). More compelling than even that is the light it sheds on Russia’s treatment of anyone who could harm the nation and Vladimir Putin’s reputation.

On a more human level, Fogel delves into Rodchenkov, highlighting his emotional journey and presenting us with a three-dimensional character. Rodchenkov gets an opportunity to shine; we see his sadness, his fears and the traumatic experiences that led him here. We get a sense for his personality through his sense of humor, and in a beautiful scene at the end of the film, we see Rodchenkov frolic with Fogel’s dog on a beach, seemingly happy and free, for now.

A movie that begins with dog testicles, frozen pee and Fogel’s butt turns into a thriller rife with geopolitical conflict and, undoubtedly, one of 2017’s best films.

— Hooman Yazdanian

Runner-up: Jane

Abramorama/Courtesy

From the first minute, Jane is easy to become fascinated with. It’s a look at over 100 hours of never-before-seen footage of the famous Jane Goodall during her journeys with the apes she got so close too. But the documentary is also a sneakily epic and intimate character piece. As the film turns to its second half, we start to get a sense that we’re witnessing such a wholesome portrait of Goodall’s life, of what drove her not only as a scientist, but as a woman in that time and as a human being in general. It’s a soft portrait, but it’s unbelievably powerful. Director Brett Morgen’s control of the archival footage and quiet empathy for Goodall, which comes out in the editing, is nothing short of masterful, and Philip Glass’ score is one of the most beautiful of the year.

— Kyle Kizu

3. Faces Places
4. Kedi
5. Ex Libris: The New York Public Library

The Next 5
6. Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
7. Strong Island
8. City of Ghosts
9. Chasing Coral
10. Batman & Bill

Breakthrough Performance by an Actor or Actress: Timothée Chalamet — Call Me by Your Name

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Well, well, well. Someone had themselves quite the year. Timothée Chalamet, the star of the magnificent Call Me By Your Name, undoubtedly delivered one of the best performances in recent years in this film. His expressive face and ultra-specific physicality — whether its his posture, his dancing or the way he falls into Armie Hammer — tell a story, all on their own. In Call Me By Your Name, Chalamet had lengthy close-ups of just his face and he pulled it off better than just about any veteran actor could. His tone-perfect line delivery ties the bow on a  performance that leaves no nits to be picked.

Add to that his brilliance as the scene-stealing, People’s History of the United States-reading bastion of pretension we all know in Lady Bird, and it’s hard not to get excited for his future in the industry.

That’s what made it so disappointing to see that one of his next movies is a starring role in a Woody Allen film. The young actor’s apology gives us some hope that he actually did learn from and recognize the mistake, and can make more mindful decisions going forward. It’d be a shame if he didn’t because he’s got unrivaled potential and we’d love to see him succeed.

Hooman Yazdanian

Runner-up: Daniel Kaluuya — Get Out

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

Daniel Kaluuya is ready to be a star. He’s likely been ready for a while and, frankly, it’s telling that he didn’t get a true shot until now. And now that he did get that chance, Kaluuya’s emotionally versatile, wary performance in Get Out earned him an Oscar nomination. His generally perturbed, concerned vibe is perfect for the role, as is his bemused dismissal of the consistent microaggressions hurled his way. Kaluuya’s eyes are extremely expressive — which is all the more harrowing in the context of the film — and they get a chance to do a lot of work in Jordan Peele’s many close-ups.

His accent work is impressively natural as well; Kaluuya so thoroughly inhabited the role that it was legitimately shocking to hear his thick British accent outside of the film. In 2018, the 28-year-old’s much-deserved breakthrough will continue as he is set for roles in Black Panther and Steve McQueen’s next film, Widows.

Hooman Yazdanian

3. Brooklynn Prince — The Florida Project
4. Vicky Krieps — Phantom Thread
5. Dafne Keen — Logan

The Next 5
6. Ahn Seo-hyun — Okja
7. Mary J. Blige — Mudbound
8. Tiffany Haddish — Girls Trip
9. Betty Gabriel — Get Out
10. Florence Pugh — Lady Macbeth

Achievement in Sound Editing: Richard King, Alex Gibson — Dunkirk

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

The sound of Dunkirk is about as integral to the cinematic experience as any other aspect. With specifically sound editing, which is the creation of sounds, Dunkirk plants us firmly in the three settings of the film — the cockpit of a Spitfire, the deck of a civilian boat and the beaches of Dunkirk, France.

The sound of most war films is mainly filled with gunfire, and Dunkirk does have plenty of it. But it’s the variety of sounds that is the film’s greatest asset. We not only get bullets launching out of guns, but we get the impact of those bullets, whether they be ripping through the wooden planks of the mole, piercing the side of a boat, pinging off the Spitfire and more. Beyond the guns, though, we also get the roar of a few different airplanes, both fighters and bombers, as well as sounds that build the space of these characters so thoroughly, such as the rattle heard inside a cockpit. The goal of sound is immersion, and the sound editing of Dunkirk accomplishes that goal incredibly.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Mark Mangini, Theo Green — Blade Runner 2049

Warner Bros./Courtesy

The sound editing of Blade Runner 2049 is rather raw and incredibly forceful. The futuristic Los Angeles and Las Vegas feel rather suffocating, claustrophobic and overwhelming, and the intensity with which the sound editing team craft the sounds of the cities and the sounds of the hovers cars and the guns that fill their streets adds immeasurably to those elements and our experience of them. In a world void of nature and much color, the sounds are made to get under our skin and rattle us. Silence permeates much of the film and then, when the actions ramp up, the explosions of the sounds hit hard. Without spectacular sound editing, Blade Runner 2049 wouldn’t be nearly as effective in evoking the humanity the entire film hinges on.

— Kyle Kizu

3. William Files, Douglas Murray — War for the Planet of the Apes
4. Matthew Wood, Ren Klyce — Star Wars: The Last Jedi
5. Nathan Robitaille — The Shape of Water

The Next 5
6. James H. Mather — Wonder Woman
7. Julian Slater — Baby Driver
8. Matthew Wood, Trey Turner, Christopher Scarabosio — Phantom Thread
9. Shannon Mills, Guillaume Bouchateau — Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
10. Choi Tae-young — Okja

Achievement in Sound Mixing: Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker, Gary A. Rizzo — Dunkirk

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

No matter how well sounds are crafted, they oftentimes don’t have as much of an impact if they’re not mixed well. In Dunkirk, the sounds evoke such visceral reactions because of how they’ve been compiled, because of their onslaught. One scene exemplifies this. During the first attack on the mole, gunfire rips through the wood, bombs explode on the hospital ship, the German fighter planes’ horns shriek from above and voices scream as bodies splash into the water. It’s a mix so overwhelming and intense that it becomes genuinely brutalist.

And that brutality is extended to the rest of the film. The volume levels are never off mark, and when they’re loud, they deafen with a purpose. The layers also extend deeply, specifically in the climactic oil scene where the three storylines collide, and the ridiculous sounds of each are mixed to perfection both in their own spaces and in the edited audial flow between those spaces. Dunkirk’s sound mixing truly raises the bar for other war films.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Glen Gauthier, Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern — The Shape of Water

Fox Searchlight Pictures/Courtesy

The Shape of Water’s sound mixing is rather subtle. There aren’t many obvious sound moments, but the sound mixing does go a long way toward building the world that our characters inhabit. Much of the film takes place in the underground government facilities, which is host to advanced technology, a creaking and echoing atmosphere and plenty of water. In fact, it often is with water where the sound of the film does such wonderful work. The sound of water is treated delicately, but also majestically, enhancing so much of the thematic work being done. In the climactic moment, that water pours down as gun shots sound out, the sound mixing as integral to the release of the moment as the writing, performances or any other aspect.

— Kyle Kizu

3. Mac Ruth, Ron Bartlett, Doug Hemphill — Blade Runner 2049
4. Mary H. Ellis, Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin — Baby Driver
5. Stuart Wilson, Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick — Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The Next 5
6. Josh Berger, Derek Heir, Tom Johnson, Robert Hein — The Lost City of Z
7. Chris Duesterdiek, Andy Nelson, William Files — War for the Planet of the Apes
8. John Midgley, Adrian Bell, Christopher Scarabosio, David Acord — Phantom Thread
9. Paul Urmson, Brian Tarlecki, José Antonio García — Hostiles
10. Christopher Boyes, Michael Semanick, Vince Caro — Coco

Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role: Laurie Metcalf — Lady Bird

Image courtesy of A24

There are certain supporting performances that are arguably just as key as the lead performances to the film’s success. Whether as a scene-stealing villain such as Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight, or Anthony Hopkins psychologically fraught 26-minute “lead” performance in Silence of the Lambs or Jake Gyllenhaal’s essentially co-leading Jack Twist in the emotionally devastating Brokeback Mountain, there are films that rise to their great heights because of the perfect synchronization between a lead and their main supporting actor. And Laurie Metcalf’s role as Lady Bird’s mother Marion is one of these.

While much of the film can be seen as a young woman’s version of Boyhood, in which we watch Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) go through her senior of high school, the film’s powerful, lived-in drama comes from the butting heads of Metcalf’s seemingly domineering mother (who is actually very caring towards her daughter, despite her sometimes harsh words) and the free-wheeling and free-spirited Lady Bird.

Metcalf though, unlike some other overbearing motherly performances (specifically, Allison Janney in I, Tonya), brings a bruised humanity to the role. While Marion can tell her daughter she’s not college material, or that her father has been battling depression or that she can’t afford Lady Bird’s New York state college ambitions, there’s always a bracing realism and warmth to her. While the film is told from Lady Bird’s perspective, the film wisely ends with Lady Bird realizing what her “small,” “midwest of California” city of Sacramento meant to her, but more importantly, what her wise mother, perfectly played by Metcalf, meant. Thus, for a film that’s widely considered one of the best coming-of-age stories in cinematic history, it may just be the older woman who’s already come-of-age to only go through a midlife crisis that illustrates what makes Lady Bird so powerful and relatable.

— Levi Hill

Runner-up: Tatiana Maslany — Stronger

Roadside Attractions/Courtesy

In regard to performances of characters experiencing tragedy, it’s easy for actors to overemphasize that tragedy, to make it too much of the focus. But Tatiana Maslany, in the Boston marathon bombing true story Stronger, is incredibly delicate and empathetic in shaping Erin Hurley, the girlfriend of Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal), whose legs were amputated after the bombing.

There is certainly focus on the impact that the tragedy has on these human beings, and Maslany is absolutely gripping in those scenes, heartbreakingly bringing the overwhelming emotions to life with such vivid use of her eyes and strain in the rest of her face. But Maslany also handles the soft moments of reconnection with Jeff and the difficult frustration of Jeff’s troubled recovery so well. Her character is so selfless, but also holds her self-worth so strongly, and Maslany lives in that conflict with grace.

— Kyle Kizu

3. Holly Hunter — The Big Sick
4. Dafne Keen — Logan
5. Mary J. Blige — Mudbound

The Next 5
6. Allison Janney — I, Tonya
7. Tiffany Haddish — Girls Trip
8. Betty Gabriel — Get Out
9. Lesley Manville — Phantom Thread
10. Bria Vinaite — The Florida Project

Best Foreign Language Film: A Fantastic Woman

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Sebastian Lelio’s best films have been dedicated to giving women who typically don’t have voices the chance to be the central characters in compassionate character pieces. In Gloria, for example, Leilo created a stunning portrait of an aging woman who still wants to have fun, to be free, to go out, to have sex, to drink and to find love. Where Hollywood rarely, if ever, gives women over 45 a chance to star, let alone in a film actually about the very ordinary life of a woman “of a certain age,” Leilo marvelously details the intimate moments of a life that deserves to be on the big screen.

However, what Lelio accomplishes with A Fantastic Woman might be his most excellent film yet — if much darker than Gloria. A Fantastic Woman follows Marina, a transgender woman working as a waitress and aspiring to be a singer, living her life with Orlando — an older businessman who owns his own textile company. Yet one day, Orlando falls ill, is taken to the emergency room and then dies.

Before even given the time to mourn for her lover’s death, Marina is treated by his family with disdain and as a potential cause of Orlando’s death. To them, she is perverse. However, with the fantastic lead performance of Daniela Vega and Lelio’s considerate direction, the film reveals the lifelong traumas people and society have placed upon her and her want to simply be treated empathetically. And even with these issues, and Lelio’s ever-changing tones (suspense thriller, romantic drama and even a musical), the film and Vega never lose sight of what is at stake for Marina. Thus, the story not only shows a “Fantastic Woman” but becomes a fantastic film of grace and defiance in the face of hate.

— Levi Hill

Runner-up: Loveless

Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy

Andrey Zvyagintsev has become known as Russian public enemy #1, despite also being the most internationally acclaimed Russian filmmaker working today. After The Return — Golden Lion winner in 2003 — Zvyagintsev has used simple stories of family disputes as grand metaphors for the societal issues found within contemporary Russia. Loveless, his second Academy Award nominee after Leviathan, is his most scathing film yet.

One day, a young boy  — who has become emotionally distant due to his parent’s diatribic divorce — disappears walking home from school. From here, Zvyagintsev digs into the issues these two parents have, painting a portrait of social malaise and two despicable characters (Boris and Zhenya), asking whether this broken of a relationship and a society even deserve these children to begin with. Loveless is, without a doubt, one of the toughest watches from 2017, but its blunt impact is not easily forgotten.

— Levi Hill

3. Foxtrot
4. The Square
5. Raw

The Next 5
6. First They Killed My Father
7. BPM (Beats Per Minute)
8. On Body and Soul
9. Thelma
10. In the Fade

Best Animated Feature: Coco

Image courtesy of Pixar

Disney-Pixar’s Coco is enthralling in nearly every way. Visually, the film is stunning in its depictions of a small Mexican town where neighbors all know each other, as well as its inventive interpretation of the Land of the Dead. Emotionally, Coco is deeply omnipresent.

When star Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) is chastised by his family for wanting to be a musician — his great-great grandfather ran away to chase fame as a guitarist — he steals the guitar of the town’s most well-loved musician so that he himself can perform in front of the town to prove his talent. But, the performance is on Día de los Muertos, and those who steal from the graves of the dead on Día de los Muertos find themselves lost in the Land of the Dead, where they require the aid of their ancestors to return to the Land of the Living.

At its core, Coco speaks to narratives of lineage, familial love and finding oneself — and it ties each of these themes together with the thread of familial bonds that transcend time and space — all in the context of a very special holiday, Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.

— Sophie-Marie Prime

Runner-up: The Breadwinner

Gkids/Courtesy

The Breadwinner is a film that elevates animation in ways directly connected to the art form. The story it tells is harrowing and dark, and the content is often restrained so that the film may appropriate for families, as the film involves families. But it also is always pushing at the glaring social issues inherent to the narrative, specifically the oppression of women in much of Afghanistan’s culture. As visually striking as it is emotionally engaging, the film also shows love for the great parts of that culture, the parts that bond the beautiful family at the story’s core, and the parts that allow the film to also act as an almost fable-esque tale that is distinctly youthful. The Breadwinner is essentially animation, constructing a narrative with such significant real world implications while maintaining a sense of wonder that only animation can hold.

— Kyle Kizu

3. Loving Vincent
4. The LEGO Batman Movie
5. Cars 3

Performance by an Actor or Actress in a Specialty Role: Andy Serkis as Caesar — War for the Planet of the Apes

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Andy Serkis has been innovating ever since his performances as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy nearly two decades ago. That became a turning point for motion capture, but it’s really been the new Planet of the Apes trilogy and performance capture where Serkis has changed our idea of what acting is and what it means to perform. Truly, in the Apes trilogy, we are seeing Serkis’ performances; we are seeing him bring the character of Caesar to life. Visual effects may realize the ape exterior, but it is Serkis’ performances that realize his interiority.

In War for the Planet of the Apes, Serkis not only offers his most emotional turn in this technological phenomenon yet, but also one of the most emotional turns of any performer of the year. With War, director and co-writer Matt Reeves sets out to specifically test Caesar, to bend and break his character so that his morals come directly into conflict with what’s needed to save the apes. Serkis hits on this conflict heavily, painting Caesar as a tragic figure, but also as an epic one. Precisely because of the sometimes heartbreaking and sometimes visceral, rage-filled facial expressions in the raw close-ups of Caesar, War is elevated intangibly and turned into a gripping blockbuster, a vast epic and an intimate character piece all at once. It is no coincidence that Andy Serkis’ Caesar will be remembered as one of the greatest characters put to film in the 21st century.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Doug Jones as Amphibian Man — The Shape of Water

Fox Searchlight/Courtesy

Doug Jones has made quite a career for himself, notably starring in many of Guillermo del Toro’s films, including as the notorious Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth. Jones’ work as The Asset, or Amphibian Man, in The Shape of Water is among the best he’s ever done. His handle of sensuality, innocence and intimidation are essential to the characterization of this mysterious creature. The way he sits, hoping to get back on Giles’ (Richard Jenkins) good side after eating one of his cats, exhibits his humanity. His embrace for humans after so much betrayal at their hands is heartwarming, while his protective vengeance is satisfying. Jones makes his Amphibian Man a feeling being, and he makes us believe it’s all possible.

Hooman Yazdanian 

3. Saara Chaudry as Parvana — The Breadwinner
4. Anthony Gonzalez as Miguel — Coco
5. Gael García Bernal as Héctor — Coco

The Next 5
6. Taika Waititi as Korg — Thor: Ragnarok
7. Robert Gulaczyck as Vincent van Gogh — Loving Vincent
8. Will Arnett as Batman — The LEGO Batman Movie
9. Andy Serkis as Supreme Leader Snoke — Star Wars: The Last Jedi
10. Michael Cera as Robin — The LEGO Batman Movie

Achievement in Production Design: Dennis Gassner, Alessandra Querzola — Blade Runner 2049

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

With Arrival, Denis Villeneuve distinguished himself as a director who can, in collaboration with a brilliant production designer and set decorator, design sets the way physical space/light artists do. And with Blade Runner 2049, and production designer Dennis Gassner and set decorator Alessandra Querzola, he only furthers this notion.

Blade Runner 2049 is, quite simply, jaw dropping, Much of that comes from Roger Deakin’s photography, but an equal if not greater portion comes from the production design. Undoubtedly influenced by the light and space artist James Turrell, like Arrival was, the sets are often beacons of light, mostly artificial but often natural. Here is where the designs elevate to thematic significance. The world of Blade Runner 2049 is void of nature and color much like the original, hence the focus on spaces that bring in light. But this is a future 30 years removed from the original, and where the original was gritty, this world has attempted to smooth out the surfaces, to make perfect a world without nature and natural color — hence the brilliant, jarring, forceful shapes of the sets.

Production design and set decoration can often feel merely like dressing, like pretty layers simply for the sake of pretty layers. But Blade Runner 2049 is the epitome of design working on unmatched levels.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Paul Denham Austerberry, Shane Vieau, Jeff Melvin — The Shape of Water

Fox Searchlight/Courtesy

The production design of The Shape of Water works like nearly every other element of the film, evoking a quiet, majestic beauty. The sets of Elisa (Sally Hawkins) and Giles’ (Richard Jenkins) apartments are so deeply decorated, elegantly colored, delicately aged and thoroughly lived in that they, alone, would’ve pushed this craftsmanship up this far on the list, but the film also lays out the underground facilities and much of the exteriors with such period strength. Good production design for period films is an accomplishment in and of itself, but The Shape of Water is also distinctly a fantasy film, a Guillermo del Toro fantasy film with just as much flourish in the production design of that aspect as well. The film becomes a visual genre delight through its sets.

— Kyle Kizu

3. Nathan Crowley, Gary Fettis — Dunkirk
4. Rick Heinrichs, Richard Roberts — Star Wars: The Last Jedi
5. Mark Tildesley, Véronique Melery — Phantom Thread

The Next 5
6. James Chinlund, Amanda Moss Serino — War for the Planet of the Apes
7. Aline Bonetto, Anna Lynch-Robinson — Wonder Woman
8. Jean-Vincent Puzos, Maria Andrea Rangel, Naomi Moore — The Lost City of Z
9. Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer — Darkest Hour
10. Claude Paré, Rosalie Board — It

Achievement in Visual Effects: Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett, Joel Whist — War for the Planet of the Apes

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Similarly to Andy Serkis’ performances in this trilogy, the visual effects have been sorely under-awarded. But enough is enough. The clear, unmatched, inarguable standout of the year in this craft category is the trilogy’s final installment, War for the Planet of the Apes.

With years of further development from the first, the visual effects team envisions the apes in their most photorealistic manner yet. The hairs, both individual and packed together, are palpable and tangible, and the rough skin, often shot in harrowing, raw close-up, looks weathered in ways that only truly lived in skin often does.

But the apes aren’t all that the visual effects can boast about. The film is host to wondrous production design, and the extension that the visual effects provide — such as in the opening action sequence or in the mostly CGI cave home that gets raided early on in the film — is purely breathtaking.

The team even developed a system for the creation of trees in the forests that the characters traverse. Rather than model them one by one like done in the past, the team uses the system, titled Totara, to develop trees in groups and allow factors such as competition for sunlight and the age of separate trees in relation to how they grow next to each other to determine the ultimate layout of a forest.

On so many levels, the visual effects of War for the Planet of the Apes functions in ways that the craft should — enhancing character and enhancing the characters’ interactions with their setting. It is a genuinely groundbreaking picture from a visual effects standpoint.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Scott Stokdyk, Martin Hill, Philippe Rebours, François Dumoulin — Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

STX Entertainment

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets will never get accused of having too compelling a story and especially not of having good acting. But the visuals are worth the price of admission alone. They just about had to be too, given this movie’s groan-inducing line delivery and dialogue.

The unique (in a good way) character design, sweeping landscapes of spectacular worlds, captivating opening sequence and especially notable market design help make Luc Besson’s latest film a visual masterpiece. Unfortunately, it couldn’t go beyond that.

Hooman Yazdanian

3. John Nelson, Paul Lambert, Richard R. Hoover, Gerd Nefzer — Blade Runner 2049
4. Andrew Jackson, Andrew Lockley, Scott Fisher, Paul Corbould — Dunkirk
5. Dennis Berardi, Shane Mahan, Trey Harrell, Kevin Scott — The Shape of Water

The Next 5
6. Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Chris Corbould, Neal Scanlan — Star Wars: The Last Jedi
7. Erik-Jan De Boer, Stephen Clee, Lee Jeon Hyoung, Joon Hyung Kim — Okja
8. Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Jonathan Fawkner, Dan Sudick — Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
9. Bill Westenhofer, Frazer Churchill, Alex Wuttke, Mark Holt — Wonder Woman
10. Charley Henley, Ferran Domenech, Christian Kaestner, Neil Corbould — Alien: Covenant

Achievement in Film Editing: Lee Smith — Dunkirk

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

How Lee Smith was passed on for an Academy Award nomination for his work on Inception is baffling. But there is nothing that can take away from what he’s accomplished with Christopher Nolan’s most challengingly structured film since that mind bending thriller. The fact that Dunkirk works at all on a narrative level is a testament to how good its film editing is. And the fact that Dunkirk’s narrative does not simply just work, but becomes something emotionally profound and entirely singular points to its film editing as something genuinely special.

The first moment that the film editing comes into focus for the audience is a stark, forceful cut from Cillian Murphy’s soldier as a composed leader to him as a shivering, broken man.

But that moment is simply one layer. The entire structure of the film is continuously working to offer us a perspective of the grand event taking place. Running them on the time scales that he does, Nolan, and Smith in the execution of those scales, forces us into absorbing the intense, distinctly human efforts of the soldiers, pilots, generals and, most importantly, civilians. Running them chronologically would vastly limit the emotional possibilities.

On more of a technical level, running them chronologically would also rid the film of the immense tension it holds. Composer Hans Zimmer utilizes the Shepard Tone illusion in his music to craft a sense of never-ending rising tension. Nolan constructed the screenplay in the same manner and intended to construct the film under that guiding illusion as well. Lee Smith executes the edits with that idea of a constant rise in the narrative stakes. When there’s a release in one storyline, the stakes of another are amped up. The whole film, in turn, becomes a masterpiece of suspense.

Dunkirk’s greatest and most stunning, borderline indescribable moment of film editing comes in its climax, the oil scene. It’s here where the three storylines collide, but the climax fascinatingly plays out of order. Smith underscores their collision with an effectively overbearing force, but he also disorients us with the composition of the entire sequence while never losing our focus through the coherence in that very composition. It is extraordinary editing that only comes from a film editor with a complete grasp on what “cinematic” means, and intention to break its rules and extend its possibilities.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Mako Kamitsuna — Mudbound

Netflix/Courtesy

There’s a tension in the storytelling of Mudbound. It attempts to constantly utilize purely novelistic features, such as narration and overt symbolism, to maintain the literary beauty of the piece while it also attempts to render the story as something specifically cinematic.

The simultaneous success of these two layers is due to plenty of brilliant work from various departments, but one of the most integral is the film editing. Mako Kamitsuna’s control of pacing is extremely tight, doling out the emotional beats not necessarily smoothly, but on an intensely affecting wave of progression. Kamitsuna does wonders for each character, but also for the piece in balancing those characters. She evokes the deeply personal while also painting the journey of so many different people and turning the film into a sprawling epic.

— Kyle Kizu

3. Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss — Baby Driver
4. Joe Walker — Blade Runner 2049
5. Walter Fasano — Call Me By Your Name

The Next 5
6. Nick Houy — Lady Bird
7. Gregory Plotkin — Get Out
8. Dylan Tichenor — Phantom Thread
9. Sean Baker — The Florida Project
10. Alan Baumgarten, Elliot Graham, Josh Schaeffer — Molly’s Game

Achievement in Cinematography: Hoyte van Hoytema — Dunkirk

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography for Dunkirk may not pop quite like Roger Deakins’ lensing on Blade Runner 2049 does, and for that reason, we expect this to be an unpopular pick. But picking the one that pops the most would be a cop out. It should be about the service the cinematography provides to the film’s story and to the cinematic experience. In that light, while it was close, we firmly believe in our winner.

The simple existence of some of the imagery in Christopher Nolan’s war epic is something not to be underappreciated, as van Hoytema and his crew literally invented rigs that could lock the IMAX cameras onto the exteriors of Spitfires. So much of the aerial photography wouldn’t be possible before this film, which represents visual storytellers pushing cinematic boundaries to explore the power of the cinematic image.

The aerial portion might be van Hoytema’s greatest accomplishment on this film, the difficulty of it unimaginable. But the rest of the Dutch-Swedish photographer’s work is transfixing. In no other film will we find an IMAX camera carried handheld like a GoPro. These shots transport us, immerse us within the film. We feel the Dunkirk beach and live on it because van Hoytema is literally running on it, carrying the IMAX camera next to his head. It’s not necessarily flashy cinematography, but it’s just as striking as any other imagery of the year.

Even without flash or pop, van Hoytema is still able to leave us with haunting iconography, epitomized in the tranquility of a Spitfire coasting over Dunkirk and in the defiance of that same Spitfire crackling as it burns.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Roger Deakins — Blade Runner 2049

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Even the best director is only as good as the crew that works with them, and luckily for Blade Runner 2049 helmer Denis Villeneuve, his crew contained arguably one of the best cinematographers working today: Roger Deakins. From the orange-laden dunes of a desolate Las Vegas to the grungy, dilapidated iron works in a massive factory, the landscapes and spaces of Blade Runner 2049 are gorgeously captured by Deakins’ keen eye for visual storytelling. Every set, environment and piece of architecture is meticulously angled, without feeling overtly staged, as Deakins is able to imbue even the most kinetic sequences with a harrowing stillness. After DP’ing two previous films with Villeneuve, Deakins’ third with the director might be his cinematic magnum opus.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

3. Dan Laustsen — The Shape of Water
4. Rachel Morrison — Mudbound
5. Swayambhu Mukdeeprom — Call Me by Your Name

The Next 5
6. Darius Khondji — The Lost City of Z
7. The Camera Crew — Phantom Thread
8. Andrew Droz Palermo — A Ghost Story
9. Masanobu Takayanagi — Hostiles
10. Alexis Zabe — The Florida Project

Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score): Jonny Greenwood — Phantom Thread

Image courtesy of Focus Features

Phantom Thread is twisted and psychological, subtle and calculated. Jonny Greenwood’s score fills a baseline-level role of enhancing an already complex narrative, while at the same time standing alone to fill the haunting silences between the characters with suspicion, passion and condemnation.

In truth, as gorgeous and sinewy as Paul Thomas Anderson’s direction, and the performances of Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps are, Greenwood’s score alone tells the story of Phantom Thread just as well. Dances on piano keys and stringed orchestras communicate infatuation, tenderness, frustration and internal chaos with precision and cutting honesty.

It does so, however, without negating the inherent frivolity and bliss felt when Day-Lewis and Krieps are seen walking near a beachy cliff together. Greenwood’s composition is so exacting, that, after seeing the film, one can picture its imagery just by listening to “Alma” or “Phantom Thread III.” The score of the film is a study in the same themes as its acting performances: love, manipulation, control and obsession.

— Sophie-Marie Prime

Runner-up: Hans Zimmer — Dunkirk

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Recently, Hans Zimmer, in collaboration with Christopher Nolan, has been one of the most effectively experimental film composers in the industry. With Interstellar, he abandoned percussion and composed from a deeply emotional starting point to craft his most personal score to date. With Dunkirk, he abandons melody almost entirely, treating the score like a layer of sound design — Alex Gibson, the supervising music editor, was nominated by the Academy in the Sound Editing category. The score becomes undoubtedly his most intense.

With Dunkirk, Zimmer uses the Shepard Tone, an illusion of constantly rising tension. In conjunction with the structure of the film, the score works wonders in physically, viscerally affecting viewers. The music, with the illusion and with Zimmer’s almost underwater atmospheric sound design, feels invasive and manipulative in how it provokes that reaction, even leaning into horror-esque compositions to elevate the suspense, which turns the cinematic experience of the film into a thoroughly wholesome one.

But then the score turns to the unbearable beauty of Edward Elgar in its most emotional moments, specifically with “Variation 15,” rendering the music as not only a mode of intensity, but also as a mode of humanity.

— Kyle Kizu

3. Alexandre Desplat — The Shape of Water
4. Daniel Hart — A Ghost Story
5. Oneohtrix Point Never — Good Time

The Next 5
6. Tamar-kali — Mudbound
7. Philip Glass — Jane
8. Michael Giacchino — War for the Planet of the Apes
9. Max Richter — Hostiles
10. Mychael Danna, Jeff Danna — The Breadwinner

Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song): “Mystery of Love,” Sufjan Stevens — Call Me by Your Name

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Sufjan Stevens may be the perfect movie musician. Stevens has uniquely mastered evoking tone without being one-dimensional. He penned two brand new songs for Call Me By Your Name and they ended up as our top two finishers in this category.

As Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer) hike together, “Mystery of Love” plays. Stevens initially appears to be singing from Elio’s perspective: “Oh, to see without my eyes/ The first time that you kissed me.”

Stevens’ lyrical work combines with airy, delicate vocals to evoke the wondrous flight of the heart for a first love. But he doesn’t lay claim to Elio’s full range of emotions. He’s interpreting just like we are, projecting. He speaks not just for Elio, but for us as well.

Even as Elio and Oliver frolic through beautiful wilderness, it all feels fleeting. Stevens describes the quiet terror of this fleeting love perfectly, speaking the contradiction into truth: “Oh, oh woe-oh-woah is me.”

It’s so good now, how bad will it be when it ends? Such is the fear of an impermanent love. Stevens sings “Now my riverbed has dried/ Shall I find no other?” He’s asking us, can it get this good again? And if not, is it truly better to have loved and lost?

Hooman Yazdanian

Runner-up: “Vision of Gideon,” Sufjan Stevens — Call Me by Your Name

Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy

Sufjan Stevens has mastered the art of heartbreak. On “Visions of Gideon,” Stevens’ ethereal voice encapsulates the experience of love lost and he vocalizes the fleeting nature of love. Did it really happen? He sings: “For the love, for laughter I feel up to your arms/ Is it a video?”

Played during Call Me By Your Name’s final scene, with a close-up of Elio (Timothée Chalamet) staring into a fire and crying, “Visions of Gideon” perfectly complements Elio’s hurt. As Stevens sings “I have loved you for the last time,” he forces the audience to pay attention. Elio’s face shows us the pain and Stevens’ song blocks the exits.

Hooman Yazdanian

3. “I Get Overwhelmed,” Daniel Hart — A Ghost Story
4. “Remember Me,” Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez — Coco
5. “The Pure and the Damned,” Oneohtrix Point Never, Iggy Pop — Good Time

The Next 5
6. “Mighty River,” Mary J. Blige — Mudbound
7. “The Crown Sleeps,” Qais Essar, Mychael Danna, Jeff Danna — The Breadwinner
8. “How Shall A Sparrow Fly,” Ryan Bingham — Hostiles
9. “Summer Storm,” Joel P. West — The Glass Castle
10. “This Is Me,” Benj Pasek, Justin Paul — The Greatest Showman

Achievement by a Debut Director: Greta Gerwig — Lady Bird

Image courtesy of A24

In probably the biggest anomaly of our voting, Gerwig managed to beat out Jordan Peele here despite finishing behind him in Best Director and Lady Bird falling behind Get Out for Best Picture. We can only attribute to this some overlap between voting blocks for Lady Bird and Call Me By Your Name, whose director Luca Guadagnino is far from a feature debut.

Whatever the reason may be, Gerwig manages a much-deserved win here. Though she co-directed a film in 2008, Lady Bird was Gerwig’s debut as a lone director, which is a monumental task itself. And what a debut it was.

Gerwig’s proclivity to excel when shifting the film’s tone is incredibly impressive, reminiscent of work you’d expect from a director in her 10th outing. The way she draws performances out of every single actor in the film is stunning. The intimacy she establishes without an overemphasis on close-ups is masterful. The camera still drives these intimate moments as much as Gerwig’s phenomenal screenplay do, with Gerwig employing over-the-shoulder shots to let us literally see things from different characters’ perspectives. Gerwig builds Lady Bird’s setting precisely, with everything from room decorations to parking lot hangouts reeking of authenticity. Emotional punches hit when we least expect them, like when Lady Bird leaves douchey Kyle’s (Timothee Chalamet) house and we get a glimpse at his sick father.

With all of these talents and such a beautiful handle of subtlety so early in her directing career, it’s incredibly exciting to await what Gerwig has in store for us next.

Hooman Yazdanian

Runner-up: Jordan Peele — Get Out

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

Jordan Peele, of Key and Peele fame, was long pegged as a comedian. But, in his big screen directorial debut, Peele showed the world he can do much more than that. In Get Out, he’s crafted a horror movie for the ages. His mastery of pacing and genre belie his lack of experience. The fact that Peele’s first film has already become a cultural touchstone, mined for conversation topics and memes alike, bodes well for his future in filmmaking.

Every industry is better off for having people like Jordan Peele, and his combination of social awareness, sheer brilliance and ingenuity should make him a leading auteur in the film industry for years to come (although we’re not going to pretend we won’t miss his acting as well).

He’s already hinted at a possible sequel to Get Out as well as the fact that he’s toying with other “social thrillers,” as he calls them. Sign us up.

Hooman Yazdanian

3. Aaron Sorkin — Molly’s Game
4. John Carroll Lynch — Lucky
5. Kogonada — Columbus

The Next 5
6. Matt Spicer — Ingrid Goes West
7. Julia Ducournau — Raw
8. William Oldroyd — Lady Macbeth
9. Taylor Sheridan — Wind River
10. Chris McKay — The LEGO Batman Movie

Best Original Screenplay: Greta Gerwig — Lady Bird

Image courtesy of A24

Lady Bird wants freedom and attention, independence and spontaneity. She’s a performer in the way that we all are as we shape ourselves into the people we want to be — and into the type of friend, daughter, son, sibling, parent, etc. those around us want us to be, too. She wants to be liked, and she wants to like herself.

Within that narrative, there are notes of Wizard of Oz-ian conflicting desires to both leave home and return home once you’ve left. Lady Bird paints its story through a subtle lense of class. There is a mother who wants to keep her daughter close so desperately that she pushes her away in the process.

Lady Bird is nostalgic, wise and authentically adolescent. Lady Bird is truly something special.

Gerwig sews fresh and endearing narratives of friendship and finding oneself with threads of class and fearsome yet irresistible independence. With Lady Bird, she crafts a character that is always lovable and at times self-centered, the latter of which is an inevitable part of growing up.

— Sophie-Marie Prime

Runner-up: Jordan Peele — Get Out

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

From a purely storytelling perspective, what stands out about Jordan Peele’s Get Out screenplay is how unbelievably tight it is. This is screenwriting of the utmost efficiency and control. Both the story’s arc and Chris’ (Daniel Kaluuya) are smooth and hit every necessary beat hard. The ensemble is balanced brilliantly. The symbolism is deeply ingrained in the conceit as well as in the consistent, layered and always motivated character actions. And the emotions ring true.

Those last two aspects are where the screenplay transcends simply being brilliant storytelling (which would be enough, alone, to earn its place here). Get Out evokes reality for so many Black folks, and it evokes it specifically with storytelling, with written characters, like Chris, and storytelling concepts, like the Sunken Place, that craft a narrative with such pressing implications, with such profound symbols.

— Kyle Kizu

3. Paul Thomas Anderson — Phantom Thread
4. Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani — The Big Sick
5. Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch — The Florida Project

The Next 5
6. Vanessa Taylor, Guillermo del Toro — The Shape of Water
7. Bong Joon-ho, Jon Ronson — Okja
8. Liz Hannah, Josh Singer — The Post
9. Kogonada — Columbus
10. Sebastián Lelio, Gonzalo Maza — A Fantastic Woman

Best Adapted Screenplay: James Ivory — Call Me by Your Name

Image courtesy of Houston Cinema Arts Festival

“When you least expect it, Nature has cunning ways of finding our weakest spot. Just remember: I am here. Right now you may not want to feel anything. Perhaps you never wished to feel anything. And perhaps it’s not to me that you’ll want to speak about these things. But feel something you obviously did.

You had a beautiful friendship. Maybe more than a friendship. And I envy you. In my place, most parents would hope the whole thing goes away, to pray that their sons land on their feet. But I am not such a parent. In your place, if there is pain, nurse it. And if there is a flame, don’t snuff it out. Don’t be brutal with it. We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster, that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to make yourself feel nothing so as not to feel anything ― what a waste!”

Scripts and their words and structure are always the blueprint for what will become either a great film, or a classic one. James Ivory’s precise, careful, emotionally resonant adaption of André Aciman’s adaptation of Call Me by Your Name — as illustrated by the above scene, the best of 2017 — is an all-time classic. Like the novel its based on, and thanks to considerate direction by the always fantastic Luca Guadagnino, Ivory’s script puts an emphasis not on plot, but on small character beats that culminate in a denouement (starting with the dialogue above) that will leave most viewers flattened with the insightful depths of emotional honesty.

— Levi Hill

Runner-up: Dee Rees, Virgil Williams — Mudbound

Netflix/Courtesy

Mudbound aims to utilize many novelistic qualities of storytelling, and the brilliance with which the film accomplishes that starts precisely with Dee Rees and Virgil Williams’ adapted screenplay. There’s plenty of narration throughout, but it’s all used so purposefully and, in turn, effectively.

The story of Mudbound is heavy, and Rees and Williams take care of that aspect. There’s expressionism in much of the plot details and the construction of many of the character moments. Rees and Williams, however, are also restrained throughout, allowing the quiet details to speak loud.

The writers don’t simply take care of one character, but of all of them. The emotional balance they lend to each member of the ensemble is nothing short of outstanding, but Rees and Williams also do craft the Black characters so profoundly that it is they who hold onto our hearts long after we’ve closed our Netflix tab.

— Kyle Kizu

3. Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber — Our Souls at Night
4. Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves — War for the Planet of the Apes
5. Hampton Fancher, Michael Green — Blade Runner 2049

The Next 5
6. Aaron Sorkin — Molly’s Game
7. James Mangold, Scott Frank, Michael Green — Logan
8. Anita Doron, Deborah Ellis — The Breadwinner
9. Rian Johnson — Star Wars: The Last Jedi
10. James Gray — The Lost City of Z

Achievement in Directing: Christopher Nolan — Dunkirk

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

Christopher Nolan is one of the quintessential directors of our time, telling iconic story after iconic story. Awards bodies may not have recognized him for much of his career, but films like The Dark Knight and Inception are cultural landmarks that will stand the test of time. After nearly 20 years of Nolan building one of the most impressive filmographies ever, he brings us Dunkirk.

Dunkirk is an interesting convergence point in his career. It’s yet another incredibly entertaining blockbuster that also acts as an innovative, subversive art film. It’s a film that, while not necessarily as culturally pervasive as some of his other work, will be remembered by general audiences more than most films are. But it just so happens to be in a genre that is a bit more friendly for organizations such as the Academy, who have finally nominated Nolan. And while it might not be his most impactful piece in the ways that his other landmarks are, Dunkirk does also happen to be Nolan’s greatest directorial effort.

With Dunkirk, Nolan structures and constructs a story so forceful in its specifically cinematic features. The director is often the figure around which the multitude of crafts are organized and where they are put into coherent focus. The fact that each layer of Dunkirk’s cinema — its sound design, its production design, its cinematography, its score, its ensemble and more — all excel not only individually and not only as parts of a whole, but as a singular, organic whole that serves story is a testament to how absolutely refined, precise and, frankly, masterful Nolan’s focus as a director is on Dunkirk.

Cinema is meant to be a purely visual art form, and Dunkirk is a film that challenges established structures to expand notions of what can be accomplished visually. The film quite literally offers us never-before-seen imagery. In that light, Dunkirk is a significant, important accomplishment in film. Those accomplishments don’t necessarily become the most widely beloved films of their time; although, Dunkirk is not far off and comes closer than similar films (but in truth, they don’t make films like Dunkirk). But when a film not only challenges boundaries but actually pushes them, that organizing force, the director, should be celebrated endlessly.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Jordan Peele — Get Out

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

Jordan Peele’s Get Out is probably one of the year’s most beloved films, but most of that love has been pointed at Peele’s excellent screenplay. Peele’s directorial work, however, is just as skillful.

Peele is already a master of hinting at tension, rather than shoving it down our throats. The way he shifts from a normal close-up to an extreme close-up on Chris’ face, crowding up his — and the viewers’ — space, during the famous “no, no, no” scene with Georgina (Betty Gabriel) is a perfect example. (Watch it)

He shows an uncanny mastery for knowing just how long to let a shot linger. When Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris stares into the eyes of a downed deer, we get a sense of Peele’s pacing and of the movie’s tone. This is no comedy. No, this is a movie crafted by someone who knows how to do horror. He knows when to subvert our expectations for a jump scare and when to satisfy them, when to point out irony in our societal preconceptions and when to emphasize the terror in them.

Hooman Yazdanian

3. Luca Guadagnino — Call Me By Your Name
4. Greta Gerwig — Lady Bird
5. Denis Villeneuve — Blade Runner 2049

The Next 5
6. Guillermo del Toro — The Shape of Water
7. Dee Rees — Mudbound
8. Paul Thomas Anderson — Phantom Thread
9. Sean Baker — The Florida Project
10. Matt Reeves — War for the Planet of the Apes

Performance by an Ensemble: The Cast of Lady Bird — Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Beanie Feldstein, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Lois Smith, Bob Stephenson, Jake Mcdorman, Jordan Rodrigues, Shelly Yuhan

Image courtesy of A24

From top to bottom, Lady Bird is populated by phenomenal performances. Saoirse Ronan is pitch perfect, exuding the essence of her character in every scene, notably in her characteristic audition for the school play. As much as Ronan’s Lady Bird wants to think she has herself figured out, Ronan makes the questioning subconscious visible.

Laurie Metcalf might be even better than Ronan in her wonderful, lived-in performance as Lady Bird’s mom, Marion. And Tracy Letts plays empathy, kindness and bottled-up depression excellently in one of the year’s best supporting performances.

Beanie Feldstein’s wondrous depiction of the longing best friend has flown under the radar this year, but it deserves recognition. Timothée Chalamet and Lucas Hedges each capably occupy smaller roles while consistently managing to steal scenes. For Chalamet, it’s with pretension and humor; for Hedges, it’s with awkwardness followed by an explosion of pain.

Even those in smaller roles — such as school staff depicted by Bob Stephenson (who might have the year’s funniest scene as the football coach directing a play), Stephen Henderson, Jake McDorman and Lois Smith — get chances to shine through.

In addition to the individual excellence of the performances, Lady Bird is able to thrive off the excellent give-and-take between its actors. The best moments in the film tend to be emotional exchanges between the characters, something this cast seems to have mastered. Additionally, the sheer fact that even actors in much smaller parts got chances to shine highlights the effectiveness of this ensemble. Characters had opportunities to control their own scene without the leads insisting on taking up all the air in a room.

In a film carried by a screenplay devoted to making each of its characters as full-fledged and real as possible, Lady Bird’s cast had to be excellent and they were in the year’s best-acted film.

Hooman Yazdanian

Runner-up: The Cast of Get Out — Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Betty Gabriel, Lil Rel Howery, Lakeith Stanfield, Marcus Henderson, Caleb Landry Jones

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

The phrase “perfectly cast” is often thrown about too freely. Every once in a while, however, it rings entirely true.

The cast of Get Out is an impeccable blend of veteran actors and relatively unknown newcomers. At its core is the exceptional Daniel Kaluuya, an English actor who was previously best known to American audiences for Sicario and the Black Mirror episode “Fifteen Million Merits” (note: if you haven’t seen this episode, do yourself a favor and watch it). Kaluuya turns in a charismatic and soulful performance as Chris Washington, rightly earning an Oscar nomination for the role.

The Armitages could not have been cast better, with the ever-perfect Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford, two widely-respected actors with storied careers who have still somehow maintained enough anonymity to seamlessly blend into these characters. Quite literally everyone else in the cast is also pitch perfect, including Allison Williams, Lakeith Stanfield, and scene-stealer Lil Rel Howery. Altogether, it produces one of the most formidable ensembles of 2017.

— Michelle Lee

3. The Cast of Call Me by Your Name — Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel, Vanda Capriolo
4. The Cast of Mudbound — Jason Mitchell, Mary J. Blige, Rob Morgan, Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke, Jonathan Banks
5. The Cast of The Shape of Water — Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Michael Stuhlbarg, Doug Jones

The Next 5
6. The Cast of Dunkirk — Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Jack Lowden, Barry Keoghan, Tom Glynn-Carney, Aneurin Barnard, James D’Arcy
7. The Cast of The Big Sick — Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff, Adeel Akhtar, Vella Lovell,  Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant, Kurt Braunohler
8. The Cast of The Post — Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Sarah Paulson, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys, Allison Brie, Carrie Coon, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jesse Plemons
9. The Cast of The Florida Project — Brooklynn Prince, Christopher Rivera, Valeria Cotto, Bria Vinaite, Willem Dafoe, Mela Murder, Josie Olivo, Aiden Malik
10. The Cast of Okja — Ahn Seo-hyun, Hee-Bong Byun, Steven Yeun, Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Lily Collins, Daniel Henshall, Giancarlo Esposito

Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role: Timothée Chalamet — Call Me by Your Name

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

In many ways, Timothée Chalamet’s characterization of Elio Perlman is one marked by opposites. Elio is carefree but methodical, melancholic but exuberant and, above all, full of both boyish naivete and extreme precociousness. Which is all to say, Chalamet portrays 17-year-old Elio in all of his unabashed complexity, producing perhaps the most fully realized character of 2017.

Chalamet benefits from a rare brand of charisma, one that emits empathy rather than mystery. This allows Chalamet to make Elio’s quietest moments his most revealing, including a devastating final scene. As the end credits begin, we see Elio’s avalanche of emotions, from disbelief, to anguish, to as close to acceptance as he can come. Shot in one beautiful, long take, this scene caps off one of the strongest and most nuanced performances of the decade.

— Michelle Lee

Runner-up: Daniel Day-Lewis — Phantom Thread

Focus Features/Courtesy

In Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread, Daniel Day-Lewis inhabits dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock, who, at first glance, seems to be the archetypal obsessive artist. But as the film carefully unravels, Day-Lewis’ layered performance hints at much more. His peevish nature isn’t just a product of obsession; it’s a yearning for the past — as with many artists, Woodcock believes authenticity is leaving his industry. He fears it’s out with the old, in with the vile “chic.”

Day-Lewis’ oeuvre has instilled anything his character says with an aura of significance. We can’t help but hang on every witty, biting word. His exchanges with Alma (played by the amazing Vicky Krieps) are works of art, their first meeting a perfect meet cute imbued with nervous energy and infatuation.

Day-Lewis has said this film will be his last. If it is, it would be a perfect swan song to an amazing acting run, adding one more brilliant performance to a career chock full of them. But we hope the greatest living actor has a change of heart.

Hooman Yazdanian

3. Daniel Kaluuya — Get Out
4. Andy Serkis — War for the Planet of the Apes
5. Hugh Jackman — Logan

The Next 5
6. Robert Redford — Our Souls at Night
7. Christian Bale — Hostiles
8. Jake Gyllenhaal — Stronger
9. Harry Dean Stanton — Lucky
10. Woody Harrelson — The Glass Castle

Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role: Margot Robbie — I, Tonya

Image courtesy of Neon

I, Tonya was one of the most — if not the most — fun movies of 2017. It’s witty and gripping, and handles certain domestic violence issues with great care. Margot Robbie shows the world a side of Tonya Harding that no one had ever seen before, and perhaps didn’t care to see. While the real-life, 1994 “incident” left America believing Harding was evil, Robbie’s portrayal of Harding begs to differ. She’s certainly no angel, but she is also a woman who has experienced abuse, physical and emotional. This version of Harding is tough, endearing and hilarious.

Robbie’s performance is one of thoughtfulness, even in comical moments. With the current social climate, performing a female character who is physically abused is no easy feat. And on top of that, to make said female character funny in such a serious matter is unbelievable. Despite knowing the outcome of the “incident,” we truly can’t help but cheer for Tonya to beat the odds. The Tonya Harding the media introduced us to in 1994 couldn’t do it, but the one Margot Robbie introduces us to makes us second guess whose side we were once on a few Olympics ago.

— Samantha Celentano

Runner-up: Saoirse Ronan — Lady Bird

A24/Courtesy

In a year of amazing lead actress performances — seriously, the actresses in our Next Five would all contend in a normal year — Saoirse Ronan has flown under the radar. She’s picked up nominations all year and even won a Golden Globe, but not many discuss that her performance in Lady Bird is one of the most genuine of the year.

Ronan especially shines when on screen with Laurie Metcalf, and both impeccably pull off the quick mood swings that can characterize a mother-daughter relationship. They move from crying to an audiobook to immediately fighting, from fighting to marveling at the perfect dress in a very Ross-like store. Ronan’s performance in these scenes is incredibly naturalistic.

Her best work is late in the film when her character’s mom refuses to speak to her. Lady Bird pleads with Marion, trying to get her to admit that she’s proud. But as Ronan’s voice trembles, Lady Bird shows that she’s internalized her mom’s criticisms: “Please, Mom, please I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you. I appreciate everything you’ve done for me. I’m ungrateful and I’m so sorry…” Then, she yells, “Talk to me, Mom! Mom, please! Talk to me!” Her pleading to get her mom’s attention might have been the most stirring, powerful moment in an excellent film full of them. For that reason, and many others, Ronan was one of the best lead actresses of the year.

Hooman Yazdanian

3. Frances McDormand — Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
4. Sally Hawkins — The Shape of Water
5. Brooklynn Prince — The Florida Project

The Next 5
6. Meryl Streep — The Post
7. Jessica Chastain — Molly’s Game
8. Daniela Vega — A Fantastic Woman
9. Vicky Krieps — Phantom Thread
10. Haley Lu Richardson — Columbus

Best Motion Picture of the Year: Call Me by Your Name

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

It is genuinely hard to come by a movie that conveys love the way Call Me by Your Name does. One of the best parts about this film is that it is not necessarily a gay love story, but rather a love story that is about two bisexual people. The script is derived from the novel of the same name by André Aciman, and it is perfection — not just the adapted screenplay (James Ivory), but the set, the soundtrack, the performances and the earnest storytelling by Luca Guadagnino. With such an extraordinary love and gut-wrenching heartbreak, how could this not be the best movie this year?

To begin, it is difficult not to fall in love with this movie when we’re suddenly spending a summer somewhere in Northern Italy. The set design and cinematography alone are enough to make us drop everything and find an apricot farm in Italy to live on. The soundtrack jumps from beautiful, classical piano to awesome 80’s jams, and then to original songs by Sufjan Stevens, which we end up playing on repeat after leaving the theater. Timothée Chalamet, although not completely new, seems to be what we have been missing from amazing movies. The pure chemistry and passion portrayed by him and Armie Hammer is astounding. This movie wouldn’t have been what it was if Elio and Oliver were played by anyone else. To top it off, Michael Stuhlbarg gives audiences the speech of a lifetime at the end. It is a speech everyone should hear.

In short, every feature of this film combines to create a beautiful experience that is guaranteed to move you, to leave you speechless. It’s a love story, but better, more transcendent.

— Samantha Celentano

Runner-up: Get Out

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

Jordan Peele’s Get Out is an accomplishment of the highest order. It entered the Best Picture race back in February 2017, and it came in armed with a brilliant cast, a first-time director who should probably take over the industry and a tight script devoid of any fat. As solely a cinematic accomplishment, it holds up, giving us tension, laughter, anguish, relief and a twist that feels earned. Get Out explores what it means to feel trapped, whether that’s by an oppressive system or by one’s own emotions. It gives us humanity. In the film’s final minutes, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is driven by a survival instinct but trapped by grief he has suppressed, leading him to make a questionable decision that nearly proves fatal.

Additionally, Get Out has impacted its culture in a way films packed with social criticism thrive to do. The film has produced memes, sure, but it more importantly came out at the perfect time to spark conversation about injustices in policing and the dangerous nonchalance of white, liberal racism. In a time when the latter has been oft-ignored in favor of whataboutism decrying  “those racists over there,” Peele put it in viewers’ faces. He made it undeniable. Racists come in all different packages. They don’t just say the n-word; they can pelt and oppress with subtler microaggressions too.

Hearkening back to genre greats of the past like Stepford Wives while reinvigorating horror with passion, ingenuity and social commentary, Get Out is one of the best films of 2017.

Hooman Yazdanian

3. Lady Bird
4. Phantom Thread
5. Mudbound
6. Dunkirk
7. The Shape of Water
8. Blade Runner 2049
9. The Florida Project
10. Coco

The Next 10
11. The Big Sick
12. The Post
13. I, Tonya
14. War for the Planet of the Apes
15. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
16. Wonder Woman
17. Stronger
18. Good Time
19. The Beguiled
20. Hostiles

 

Featured image courtesy of Warner Bros./20th Century Fox/A24/Universal Pictures/Focus Features/Sony Pictures Classics.

Kyle Kizu’s Top 25 Films of 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Honorable mention: Columbus

Superlative Films/Courtesy

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

Honorable mention: Their Finest

Nicola Dove/STX Entertainment/Courtesy

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

Honorable mention: The Big Sick

Amazon/Courtesy

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

Honorable mention: Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

PBS/Courtesy

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

Honorable mention: Get Out

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

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

 

25. Okja

Netflix/Courtesy

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

24. The Post

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

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

23. Spider-Man: Homecoming

Marvel/Sony/Courtesy

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

22. Logan

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

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

21. Our Souls at Night

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

20. The Shape of Water

Fox Searchlight Pictures/Courtesy

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

19. Lucky

Magnolia Pictures/Courtesy

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

18. The Breadwinner

Gkids/Courtesy

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

17. Molly’s Game

Michael Gibson/STX Entertainment/Courtesy

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

16. The Florida Project

A24/Courtesy

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

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

15. Phantom Thread

Focus Features/Courtesy

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

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

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

14. Kedi

Oscilloscope/Courtesy

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

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

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

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

13. The Lost City of Z

Amazon Studios/Courtesy

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

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

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

12Icarus 

Netflix/Courtesy

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

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

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

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

11. Jane

Abramorama/Courtesy

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

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

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

10. Lady Bird

A24/Courtesy

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

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

9. Loving Vincent

BreakThru Films/Trademark Films/Courtesy

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

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

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

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

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

8. Mudbound

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

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

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

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

7. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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

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

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

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

6. Hostiles

Entertainment Studios/Courtesy

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

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

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

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

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

5. War for the Planet of the Apes

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

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

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

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

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

4. Blade Runner 2049

Warner Bros./Courtesy

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

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

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

3. Call Me by Your Name

Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy

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

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

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

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

2. A Ghost Story

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

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

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

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

1. Dunkirk

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

 

Featured image via Amazon Studios/Netflix.

 

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

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

Shoulda Been A Contenda: Films that deserved awards recognition

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

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

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

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

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

Kedi (Best Documentary)

Oscilloscope/Courtesy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philip Glass — Jane (Best Original Score)

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

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

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

Dafne Keen — Logan (Best Supporting Actress)

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

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

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

Jason Mitchell — Mudbound (Best Supporting Actor)

Netflix/Courtesy

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

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

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

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

Vicky Krieps — Phantom Thread (Best Lead Actress)

Focus Features/Courtesy

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

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

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

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

Christian Bale — Hostiles (Best Lead Actor)

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

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

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

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

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

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

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

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

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

Blade Runner 2049 (Best Picture)

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Featured image via 20th Century Fox.

‘Hostiles’ Review: A haunting, meditative Western ruminating on duty and hatred

Great contemporary Westerns are few and far in between. They either come from a big time director like Quentin Tarantino with Django Unchained, are remade from classics like the Coens’ True Grit and James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma or strike at just the right time like David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water.

Writer-director Scott Cooper has neared the genre with the tangentially related Crazy Heart and Out of the Furnace, so it’s not much of a surprise that he’s the next to deliver.

Hostiles, following Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) as he escorts Cheyenne chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) across the country despite hating him for killing many of his comrades, is brutal from minute one until the very end. But the brutality, the soul crushing violence serves narrative purpose. The film ruminates on the hatred that builds between these intruding white men and the Native Americans fighting for their lands, and Cooper pulls off a tricky moral balance in placing a white man, full of hate, at the head of his story.

Cooper evokes empathy for Blocker and for Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike) through the unfathomable violence that we see them encounter, while periodically and carefully invoking a sense of history to temper viewers’ full allegiance to these characters and force audiences to confront the long term, less visible violence that Yellow Hawk, his family and his people have faced.

The turn of Blocker’s morality is a fascinating one. Another of the underlying themes of the film is in how we follow duty, where duty leads us and where duty ends. The army men are often given direct orders to further the genocide of the Native Americans, and Blocker believes that this separates him from the others who just kill to kill.

But in taking on a duty that is in such direct tension with his hatred, one that the film contextualizes with violence, Blocker almost becomes like the audience, slowly forced to confront his shortsightedness of simply following duty ordered by men — and Cooper’s climactic moment for Blocker is precise and perfect in regard to the character’s arc.

Hostiles is slow and meditative, but there’s still a fire in its pacing. The beats are perfectly doled out and hit hard, creating a pulsating feel to the film’s progression. And when those moments hit, they’re shot hauntingly by cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi, whether that be in low angle close-ups of broken men or in Deakins-esque long shots of heart-wrenching sights. Layer in Max Richter’s swelling score, and the film becomes emotionally overwhelming in a very effective way.

At times, though, Cooper does overwrite beats. So much of Hostiles works, and sticks with us long after we’ve left the theater, because of how quiet and subtle it all is — and it seems that Cooper is, sometimes, not confident in his ability to sell those quiet moments, causing him to indulge in laying out his point a bit too clearly.

But even then, that doesn’t become much of an issue due to every single actor performing at the top of their game. Rosamund Pike plays the character who encounters the most, and the most shocking tragedy in the film, and she turns all of herself over to the role to portray the trauma that the violence causes. Wes Studi’s role is, in terms of dialogue, small, but Cooper often frames him in close-up and Studi commands the screen.

And Christian Bale turns in one of his greatest performances, which is saying something when considering the career that he’s had. Similarly to Studi, Bale is riveting in his quietude, as he’s somehow able to portray his character’s interiority without saying a word. And when he speaks, it’s often soft and subdued, but there’s a consistent underlying intensity, achieved through how Bale interacts physically with his counterpart in the scene and how he often pushes the emotional work from his mouth to his eyes. It’s truly the sign of a master, and it’s a performance that renders Hostiles a brilliant Western.

Grade: A-

 

Featured image via Entertainment Studios.

25 most anticipated films of 2018

As each year ends, it’s customary to look back on our favorite films, to spend hours on lists of the best that we saw. But it’s also a hell of a time to look forward at the films releasing in the coming year and start to build anticipation. The ones that immediately pop into mind are the blockbusters, the landmark events of the year like Solo: A Star Wars Story and the early Black Panther. They’re beyond exciting, not only for us, but for millions of people. The real fun for us film writers, though, comes with the research, with digging deep to find which prestige, Oscar-nominated or, simply, personal favorite storytellers (actors, directors or writers) have movies coming out that are currently under-the-radar to most people — and then going even deeper to find the films that even us film writers would miss on a first go around of digging.

What immediately became apparent after finishing our research and sitting down to pick our top 25 is that 2018 is going to be a spectacular year for film — hence our honorable mentions list being so long.

We thought 2017 was a never-ending ride of greatness, from Get Out back in February all the way to Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread today. 2018 should be just the same. Whether it be the aforementioned blockbusters, or the return of both Barry Jenkins and Damien Chazelle, or Martin Scorsese pairing up with Netflix, or French female filmmakers taking on science fiction, 2018 films need to get going already.

25. Bios

Dick Thomas Johnson/Courtesy

Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik

Written by: Craig Luck, Ivor Powell

Starring: Tom Hanks

Release date: Possibly 2018, currently in pre-production, expected start shooting early 2018

This film might’ve been ranked higher on the list were it further along in production and guaranteed for 2018. With production meant to start in early 2018, there’s a definite possibility, considering the star power of Tom Hanks, that we could see it toward the end of the year, especially as an awards contender, which is why we’re including it. But there’s also a definite possibility that it won’t, as we never really know in regard to a film like this until the cameras start rolling.

Regardless, the team behind BIOS, a sci-fi story that follows a robot “built to protect the life of his dying creator’s beloved dog” on a post-apocalyptic Earth, is a heavyweight one. There’s the obvious, consistent, dependable brilliance of Tom Hanks. Then, there’s a Black List (a list of the best unproduced scripts in Hollywood) script from writers Craig Luck and Ivor Powell. And finally, there’s director Miguel Sapochnik, best known for the final two episodes, Battle of the Bastards and The Winds of Winter, of season 6 of Game of Thrones. He also directed the season 5 action heavy episode Hardhome. All three are all timers for the series, but Battle of the Bastards is a special piece of visual storytelling, as it features what is arguably the best directed, most viscerally brilliant war sequences in all of TV or film. The episode is truly a landmark piece of direction, one that rightfully won Sapochnik the Emmy and Directors Guild Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in a Drama Series. It was only a matter of time before he got the opportunity to direct a massive, visual-heavy film, and BIOS sounds like a film that could prove Sapochnik as an equally brilliant film director.

— Kyle Kizu

24. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Sony Pictures/Courtesy

Directed by: Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti, Rodney Rothman

Written by: Phil Lord

Starring: Shameik Moore, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Liev Schreiber

Release date: December 14, 2018

Finally, Miles Morales is coming to a theater near you. Sony Pictures hasn’t always done right by the webhead (2.5/5 ain’t bad), but bringing on the tonally unique duo Phil Lord and Chris Miller to oversee an animated theatrical Spider-Man release that introduces general audiences to Miles f$@#ing Morales as well as the breadth of alternate-earth Spider-Men is, well, amends enough. Although the first teaser only dropped recently, a photorealistic NYC in the background juxtaposed with the imaginative and malleable hand-drawn imagery of the protagonist himself makes Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse an aesthetic and, hopefully, narrative treat for comic book fan and casual moviegoer alike.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

23. A Wrinkle in Time

Disney/Courtesy

Directed by: Ava DuVernay

Written by: Jennifer Lee

Starring: Storm Reid, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Chris Pine, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Oprah Winfrey, Zach Galifianakis, Andrè Holland

Release date: March 9, 2018

If there’s one incontrovertible truth about Ava DuVernay’s career thus far, it’s that all of her films are imbued with an unbridled sense of passion from a creative standpoint, and A Wrinkle in Time appears to continue that trend. Ever since its first trailer set to the tune of the Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), DuVernay’s take on Madeleine L’Engle’s iconic fantasy novel has seemed visually distinct, naturalistically cast and rousingly written and executed. The past few years have provided us with some fairly poor YA novel adaptations, but from what we’ve seen thus far, A Wrinkle in Time is set to break the mold.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

22. At Eternity’s Gate

Josh Jensen/Courtesy

Directed by: Julian Schnabel

Written by: Jean-Claude Carrière, Julian Schnabel

Starring: Willem Dafoe, Oscar Isaac

Release date: Expected in 2018, currently filming

What’s poised to be a incisive look at renowned painter Vincent van Gogh’s life while he lived in Arles and Auvers-sur-Oise, France, benefits greatly from its principal starrers, Willem Dafoe and Oscar Isaac as van Gogh and fellow famous painter Paul Gauguin, respectively. Combine Dafoe’s range with Isaac’s intensity and both with director and co-writer Julian Schnabel’s unabashed reverential directorial stylings à la The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and an eternity is just how far away this film’s release feels.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

21. Creed II

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Directed by: Steven Caple Jr.

Written by: Cheo Hodari Coker, Sylvester Stallone

Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren

Release date: November 21, 2018

Though admittedly hesitant to re-enter the ring after its predecessor’s knockout performance and conclusion (puns intended and necessary), we’d be fools to not want to see Adonis Creed again on the big screen for another fight of his life in Creed II. Now with Dolph Lundgren in the mix, hopefully Ivan Drago finally gets what’s coming to him.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

20. Proxima

Gage Skidmore/Courtesy

Directed by: Alice Winocour

Written by: Alice Winocour

Starring: Eva Green, Lars Eidinger

Release date: Expected in 2018, currently in pre-production

Alice Winocour, co-writer of the Oscar-nominated Mustang, for which she also won Best Original Screenplay at the Cèsar Awards (essentially, the French Oscars), will dive into science fiction with her upcoming film Proxima. However, the film sounds as though it’s heavily based in reality. Proxima will follow a mother just before her departure on a year-long mission at the International Space Station, as she physically trains for space and prepares to say goodbye to her young daughter. The story seems incredibly emotional, and has basis, as she says, in Winocour’s own feelings of separation from her daughter when she shoots a movie — ringing a similar bell to the inspiration behind Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. Such a basis should bring such genuine weight to the story, one that will explore a side of an astronaut’s life that not many films get into, and offer Eva Green material for a powerhouse performance. And to see a female astronaut who is also a mother as the lead character is necessary and empowering visibility. Oh, and the film will be in French.

— Kyle Kizu

19. Newsflash

Gage Skidmore/Courtesy

Directed by: David Gordon Green

Written by: Ben Jacoby

Starring: Seth Rogen

Release date: November 22, 2018

David Gordon Green has had a rather interesting career, breaking out with the incredibly small independent film George Washington, flourishing in the comedy genre with Pineapple Express, giving Nicolas Cage a platform to actually excel in Joe and devastating us with the powerful, human Stronger. Just a month before Newsflash, Gordon Green will release Halloween, another film in the Halloween franchise, and showcase yet another side of his directorial skill set with horror.

He can really do everything, which intensifies our anticipation of the recently announced Newsflash, a film about Walter Cronkite, who, on November 22, 1963, reported on live TV about the assassination of JFK.

The obvious thematic relevance of the film — the power of journalism (this time broadcast) — is enough to grip onto. But the specifics of the story offer it utterly dynamic potential; it could end up as much a story about the power of journalism as it is a study of that terrible moment in American history as well as a character study of Cronkite himself. The choice of Seth Rogen to lead the film is, initially, a bit jarring — but not in a bad way, as it very quickly turns into excitement at the thought of Rogen expanding his dramatic chops, after a very serviceable performance as Steve Wozniak in Steve Jobs, and showcasing the charisma we all know he has. Newsflash could very well play a similar role in 2018 that The Post is playing in 2017.

— Kyle Kizu

18. Mission: Impossible 6

Christopher McQuarrie/Paramount/Courtesy

Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie

Written by: Christopher McQuarrie

Starring: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Henry Cavill, Vanessa Kirby, Michelle Monaghan, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Angela Bassett

Release date: July 27, 2018

We appreciated the first. We drank to forget the second. We reluctantly saw the third. We cheered for the fourth. And we were in awe of the fifth. If Mission Impossible has proven anything up to this point, it’s that, much like lead actor Tom Cruise, this franchise has got legs. Mission: Impossible 6 has Christopher McQuarrie back at the helm (a series first) along with much of its predecessor’s cast in what is to be, hopefully, another enthralling action-adventure defined by its practically-performed death-defying stunts. Most of the film’s plot is still under wraps, but one thing is certain: Henry Cavill will be sporting a mustache that — if digitally removed — gives him uncanny valley face.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

17. On the Basis of Sex

Dick Thomas Johnson/Courtesy

Directed by: Mimi Leder

Written by: Daniel Stiepleman

Starring: Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux, Kathy Bates

Release date: 2018, currently in post-production

The story of On the Basis of Sex, following Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s fight for equality and journey to become a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, is fascinating and deeply needed in this moment in time, as well as reason enough, alone, for this film to make this list. But the pieces around the story are absolutely brilliant. Felicity Jones is one of the more emotionally powerful actresses working today; just look at her raw, moving performance in The Theory of Everything. Armie Hammer is resurfacing — to our delight — as a true acting talent, also channeling raw emotion in this year’s Call Me by Your Name. And the director behind it all, Mimi Leder — who has been sorely and unjustly underappreciated in Hollywood, but has become one of TV’s greatest directors, especially after her work on The Leftovers — will show everyone what they’ve been missing when she nails this film.

— Kyle Kizu

16. If Beale Street Could Talk

Allan Warren/Courtesy

Directed by: Barry Jenkins

Written by: Barry Jenkins

Starring: Regina King, Pedro Pascal, Dave Franco, Ed Skrein, Emily Rios, Aunjanue Ellis, Teyonah Parris, Brian Tyree Henry, Finn Wittrock, Michael Beach, Colman Domingo, Stephan James

Release date: 2018, currently in post-production

Moonlight’s ethereally cathartic narrative and characters earned it the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2017, so it should come as no surprise that we’re eagerly awaiting writer-director Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning follow-up, If Beale Street Could Talk. If Jenkins can invoke the same emotionally complex yet superficially subtle and restrained atmosphere when adapting James Baldwin’s novel of the same name for the silver screen, then the filmmaker could be looking at another critical darling in his filmography in the not-too-distant future.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

15. Suspiria

Elena Ringo/Courtesy

Directed by: Luca Guadagnino

Written by: David Kajganich

Starring: Chloë Grace Moretz, Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Jessica Harper

Release date: 2018, currently in post-production

A remake of legend Dario Argento’s supernatural Italian classic gallo film from one of the most talented directors working today, who just blew us away with Call Me by Your Name and has built some kind of career with films like I Am Love and A Bigger Splash? With a cast of Chloë Grace Moretz, Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton and Mia Goth? With the first original score from Thom Yorke, the frontman of Radiohead? With an appearance from the original film’s star, Jessica Harper?

There’s no way that this film won’t be a gorgeous, gory descent into madness.

— Levi Hill

14. High Life

Nicolas Genin/Courtesy

Directed by: Claire Denis

Written by: Claire Denis, Jean Pol-Fargeau, Nick Laird, Zadie Smith

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Mia Goth, Juliette Binoche

Release date: Expected in 2018, currently in post-production

Another French filmmaker is leaping into science fiction. Claire Denis, director of Beau Travail, White Material and 35 Shots of Rum, will simultaneously make her English language debut with High Life, a sci-fi story that Denis has been developing for nearly two years now. The concept, alone, is the stuff of sci-fi dreams: Monte, a criminal who chose to participate in a government project rather than serve jail time, is sent out into space with other convicts to find alternative energy as well as to participate in human reproduction experiments. Now headed toward a black hole, Monte must connect with his daughter Willow, who was born out of one of the experiments.

That Denis is experimenting, herself, with science fiction after a career of careful character studies is riveting — and likely means that this film will also end up being a complex character study in the setting of space. But that she’s doing it with such an original story and a lead actor like Robert Pattinson, who just turned everyone’s head with his performance in Good Time, makes High Life one of the most compelling projects of the upcoming year.

— Kyle Kizu

13. Roma

Gage Skidmore/Courtesy

Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón

Written by: Alfonso Cuarón

Starring: Marina de Tavira, Daniela Demesa, Marco Graf, Yalitza Aparicio

Release date: 2018, currently in post-production

Not much is known about Roma, except that it’s Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuarón’s first film set in Mexico since his breakout masterpiece Y Tu Mamá También and his direct follow up to Gravity, the film for which he won that Oscar. With a cast of, to American audiences, unknowns and Cuarón’s distinct ability with setting, showcased in Children of Men, Roma will have an authenticity unlike many other films. We’re beyond excited to see whatever this incredible filmmaker can concoct.

— Levi Hill

12. Untitled Adam McKay directed, Christian Bale starring Dick Cheney biopic

Gage Skidmore/Courtesy

Directed by: Adam McKay

Written by: Adam McKay

Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Sam Rockwell, Steve Carell, Bill Pullman

Release date: 2018, currently in post-production

Who knew that Adam McKay, the man behind Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and Step Brothers, is a magnificent drama director. Perhaps it should’ve been more obvious that McKay could make a film like The Big Short, a searing and sharp film dissecting a complex moment in recent history; his success in comedy shows that he’s a deeply intelligent storyteller as comedy is the hardest genre to pull off and pull off well. That McKay is continuing in this direction, this time dissecting ex-vice president Dick Cheney, is exciting on multiple levels. But that he’s also teaming up with Christian Bale, who is, arguably, the greatest method actor of our time outside of Daniel Day-Lewis and whose transformation for this role has been mind-boggling, and Amy Adams, one of the most underappreciated actresses in the game and someone who should have Oscar gold on her mantle already, is a near dream. Throw in Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush and what will surely be a script that does not hold back at critiquing that administration’s failures, and this film, rumored to be titled Backseat, will certainly be a knockout.

— Kyle Kizu

11. Wildlife

Eva Rinaldi/Courtesy

Directed by: Paul Dano

Written by: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan

Starring: Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ed Oxenbould

Release date: Premiering at Sundance Film Festival in January 2018, will see a 2018 release date if, as expected, it is picked up by a distributor

Time will tell how Paul Dano’s directorial debut shapes up, because it’s premiering at Sundance within a few weeks. But Dano, as an actor who always chooses interesting projects, getting behind the camera is an intriguing proposition. Throw in the excellent starring duo of Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal, and Wildlife, based on a true story adapted by Dano and his talented actress-writer-wife Zoe Kazan, might be the Sundance breakout of 2018 — at least on paper.

— Levi Hill

10. Ad Astra

Maximilian Bühn/Courtesy

Directed by: James Gray

Written by: James Gray, Ethan Gross

Starring: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Donald Sutherland

Release date: January 11, 2019, with an expected limited release in late 2018

After Two Lovers, The Immigrant and The Lost City of Z, James Gray has proven himself as a respectable filmmaker, a traditionalist with such refined filmmaking talent. The move, alone, into heavy sci-fi is fascinating; Ad Astra will follow an “Army Corps engineer (Brad Pitt) [searching] across the galaxy for his father (Tommy Lee Jones), who had disappeared on a mission to find alien life 20 years prior.” The concept sounds harrowing, like the perfect opportunity for more gripping traditional storytelling in such a visually wondrous setting. Shot by Hoyte van Hoytema (Her, Interstellar, Dunkirk) and produced by Plan B Entertainment team Pitt, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner (12 Years a Slave, Selma, The Big Short, Moonlight), Ad Astra is shaping up to be an absolute heavyweight production, and one that will surely have a limited release in December 2018 to compete for awards or change its official release date to late 2018.

— Kyle Kizu

9. Widows

Chris Cheung/Courtesy

Directed by: Steve McQueen

Written by: Gillian Flynn, Steve McQueen

Starring: Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez, Carrie Coon, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Jon Bernthal, Daniel Kaluuya

Release date: November 16, 2018

Seriously, though, look at this cast — including the now Oscar-winning Viola Davis, she’s-everywhere Carrie Coon, the very underrated Michelle Rodriguez, the reforming-back-into-drama Liam Neeson, the breakout Get Out star Daniel Kaluuya, and the multi-faceted and always interesting Colin Farrell — and tell us you’re not excited. Throw in Steve McQueen, the director of the Best Picture-winning 12 Years a Slave — who, to us, in only three films, has proved to be one of the most exciting directors today — and Gillian Flynn, the author and adapting screenwriter of Gone Girl, and Widows might just be the most prestigious film coming in 2018.

— Levi Hill

8. Solo: A Star Wars Story

Lucasfilm/Courtesy

Even with all of the production troubles that Solo: A Star Wars Story has gone through, this film is still an entry in the Star Wars franchise, which is, perhaps unfairly, enough to anticipate it anyway. To be fair to the film, Alden Ehrenreich is a wonderful choice to play a young Han Solo — his performance in Hail, Caesar! a testament to his talent — and the rest of the cast is filled with major players, Donald Glover being a badass choice for young Lando Calrissian. Co-writer Lawrence Kasdan deserves a lifetime of trust after writing The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark and, while a seemingly safe choice, Ron Howard is by no means a bad director. We’ll be there opening night.

— Kyle Kizu

7. Annihilation

Paramount Pictures/Courtesy

Directed by: Alex Garland

Written by: Alex Garland

Starring: Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez

Release date: February 23, 2018

Alex Garland stunned with his feature debut Ex Machina, which is already being hailed by most as one of the best sci-fi films of the 21st century. The film was not only written with careful, complex intelligence, but it was also directed with visuals that matched the story’s intrigue. To see Garland venture into sci-fi yet again, especially into what seems to be horror-sci-fi, considering that he’s also written 28 Days Later and Sunshine, is salivating. Based on a beloved novel and with a star-studded cast, Annihilation is, despite its shift to a February release date, a film that we cannot wait for, and one that we know, at least, will be a visual treat.

— Kyle Kizu

6. The Irishman

The Peabody Awards/Courtesy

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Written by: Steve Zaillian

Starring: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Jesse Plemons, Anna Paquin, Ray Romano

Release date: 2018, currently filming

While Bright might have been Netflix’s first foray into big budget filmmaking, Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman looks to be the first unqualified success into big budget filmmaking. Starring Scorsese regulars from his ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s heyday, like Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel, and featuring the gangster narrative trappings Scorsese has made classic after classic in, The Irishman seems to be Scorsese doing everything he loves, and Netflix’s willingness to allow Scorsese an unchecked or unquestioned vision might just convince more filmmakers to follow in his footsteps.

— Levi Hill

5. First Man

Gage Skidmore/Courtesy

Directed by: Damien Chazelle

Written by: Josh Singer, Nicole Perlman

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jon Bernthal, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler

Release date: October 12, 2018

With La La Land, Damien Chazelle ventured to the stars metaphorically and musically. So, it was only appropriate that he make a movie that actually visits the stars. Re-teaming with Ryan Gosling, Chazelle will direct the story of Neil Armstrong. The character work should be fantastic, not only on an acting and directing side, but also based in great writing as Chazelle is directing a script from Guardians of the Galaxy co-writer Nicole Perlman and Spotlight and The Post co-writer Josh Singer. But no matter the story, after two spectacular films in a row, anything Chazelle does is something to look forward to.

— Kyle Kizu

4. Incredibles 2

Pixar/Courtesy

Directed by: Brad Bird

Written by: Brad Bird

Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Catherine Keener, Bob Odenkirk

Release date: June 15, 2018

14 years in the making (and not a moment too late), Incredibles 2 is the latest in Pixar’s fairly recent string of sequels to its critically-acclaimed films. As we catch up with the Parrs immediately after the conclusion of The Incredibles, hopefully we’re treated to answers of some of the first film’s long gestating questions such as: “What are the limits of Jack-Jack’s powers?” or “Will Edna Mode ever officially get back into the super heroic fashion business?” but most importantly, “Where WAS his super-suit?”

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

3. Black Panther

Marvel/Courtesy

Directed by: Ryan Coogler

Written by: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole

Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, Daniel Kaluuya, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Sterling K. Brown

Release date: February 16, 2018

Housing a sterling directorial record comprised of 2013’s harrowing Fruitvale Station and 2015’s uplifting and invigorating Creed under his belt, Ryan Coogler enters the ever-expanding comic book genre with the newest, and arguably most exhilarating, solo film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Black Panther. While Captain America: Civil War solidly introduced T’Challa into an eclectic world beset by self-aware robots, mirror dimensions and wall-crawlers, Coogler’s Black Panther has distinguished itself so far by its fixation on the racial and cultural foundations at the core of the character. With trailers scored to the beat of RTJ and Vince Staples, a cast primarily made up of people of color and ideas like afro-futurism, monarchic injustice and the relationship between heritage/identity in play, it’s not physically possible to articulate how hotly we’re anticipating this cinematic landmark.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

2. Isle of Dogs

Fox Searchlight Pictures/Courtesy

Directed by: Wes Anderson

Written by: Wes Anderson

Starring: Bryan Cranston, Scarlett Johansson, Greta Gerwig, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray

Release date: March 23, 2018

Wes Anderson has become one of the most idiosyncratic working directors, but, also, one of the most successful. His last film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, was his biggest box-office success, as well being his first film to gather not only an Oscar nomination for Best Picture,  but win multiple craft awards.

Adding new faces like Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, Greta Gerwig, Courtney B. Vance and Scarlett Johansson next to Anderson regulars like Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum and Frances McDormand, Isle of Dogs takes Anderson back to stop-motion animation, where he’s scored an Oscar nomination for Fantastic Mr. Fox. Yet unlike Fox, Dogs looks to be a darker, if still charming tale.

Set in a near apocalyptic, dystopian future, Isle of Dogs premise is fascinating: all dogs of Japan are cast away to a deserted island due to a “canine flu” that has wiped away a good portion of the population. The young son of the Japanese president wants to get his dog back, though, so against all of his family’s wishes, he makes an epic journey to the island to get his trusted companion back. Along the way, the young boy is aided by fellow dogs.

With Anderson’s typical blend of whimsy, and potential heartache, Dogs looks to be a story that will surely make us all weep over the animals that give their lives to us.

— Levi Hill

1. Avengers: Infinity War

Marvel/Courtesy

Directed by: Joe Russo, Anthony Russo

Written by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chadwick Boseman, Chris Pratt, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Zoe Saldana, Josh Brolin, Tom Holland, Elizabeth Olsen, Tom Hiddleston

Release date: May 4, 2018

It’s all been building up to this, the arrival of Thanos to Earth. Ever since 2012, we’ve been waiting for that big purple guy in the post credits scene of Marvel’s The Avengers to show up. We saw glimpses of him in Guardians of the Galaxy and during the mid-credits scene of Avengers: Age of Ultron. And now, he’s here.

But he’s also arriving to a vastly different landscape than what was there in 2012. Both Iron Man and Captain America have seen fascinating character development throughout their trilogy of films, culminating in last year’s Captain America: Civil War. The Guardians of the Galaxy crew will finally join our heroes in the fight, crossing paths with our other galactic and now, apparently, hilarious hero Thor. Spider-Man and Black Panther are welcome additions to the team, with the former being a wonderfully interpreted younger version of Peter Parker and the latter being a badass, refreshing, layered hero from a different background that we will see more of in our #3 on this list, prior to Infinity War’s release. And while more female-led films need to come, Infinity War will bring together the many powerful women of Marvel: Black Widow, Gamora, Mantis, Nebula, Scarlet Witch, Okoye and, hopefully, Valkyrie.

As the trailer for Infinity War showed, this film has been 10 years in the making and it’s hard not to be swept up in the epic culmination of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a phenomenon in modern cinema. Each film, alone, has been anywhere from modestly enjoyable to the pinnacle of blockbuster filmmaking, and Infinity War is the climax of everything. While there are other event films coming out in 2018, this is the event film, the film everyone will be talking about.

And we’re hopeful for it. There may be upwards of 30 — yes, 30 — characters in this film. But jumping over from Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War are directors Joe and Anthony Russo, as well as screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and if anyone can handle this massive undertaking, it’s them.

Some major characters will surely die, which is devastating, but also ups the stakes massively and takes Marvel to a darker place that they’ve been far too afraid to explore.

Our heroes’ fight will be a valiant one to the end, the epitome of epic and an absolute treasure on the big screen.

— Kyle Kizu

 

Honorable mentions:

As said above, there are too many intriguing films coming out in 2018 to just list our top 25. We struggled to cross films off, so we felt that we had to mention many of the hardest ones to cut, compiling a list that, itself, would be a great top 25.

After delivering the best male lead performance of 2017, Timothèe Chalamet will be back, garnering an equally heavy role as a recovering meth addict with Steve Carell playing his father in Beautiful Boy. Denis Villeneuve’s brilliant Sicario will, strangely, receive a sequel with Soldado, which sees the return of Josh Brolin, Benicio del Toro and writer Taylor Sheridan. Lynne Ramsay’s Cannes-premiering You Were Never Really Here, which already has outstanding reviews and won Joaquin Phoenix the Best Actor award at the French film festival, will finally screen in Spring 2018. Steven Spielberg will take on the “holy grail of pop culture” with Ready Player One. David Robert Mitchell, writer-director of It Follows, will team up with A24 for an underbelly Los Angeles-set neo-noir starring Andrew Garfield. Terrence Malick will return to the setting of war in his, apparently, more traditional film Radegund — that is, if he finishes his edit when expected, which is never expected. Gareth Evans, director of The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2 — deemed two of the best action films of the 21st century — will shift over to English language film with the religious cult drama Apostle, starring Dan Stevens and Michael Sheen.

We could go on and on throughout the whole list because each one genuinely is something we’ll be first in line to see. From David Lowery following up A Ghost Story with Old Man and the Gun, to Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie facing off in Mary, Queen of Scots, to Drew Goddard directing for the first time since The Cabin in the Woods with Bad Times at the El Royale, to two extraordinarily talented female directors in Jennifer Kent and Michelle MacLaren both making films titled The Nightingale, to Marielle Heller following up The Diary of a Teenage Girl with Can You Ever Forgive Me?, to performance capture master Andy Serkis stepping behind and in front of the camera for Jungle Book, to Terry Gilliam’s decades-in-the-making The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, these honorable mentions should still be on everyone’s radar.

 

Beautiful Boy

Soldado

You Were Never Really Here

Ready Player One

Under the Silver Lake

Radegund

Apostle

Fahrenheit 451

Halloween

Venom

Black Klansman

Maya

The Beach Bum

Mary, Queen of Scots

Old Man and the Gun

Bad Times at the El Royale

Mary Poppins Returns

The Nightingale (Michelle MacLaren)

The Nightingale (Jennifer Kent)

The Favourite

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

Jungle Book

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Destroyer

Outlaw King

 

Featured image via Marvel/Disney/Paramount/Universal.

Top 10 DC films

Even though the superhero genre, with its cinematic universes and CGI moustache removal, feels like a modern invention, it’s worth remembering that DC films have been around since 1978, with the release of Richard Donner’s Superman. Since then, DC has left numerous, indelible marks on comic book filmmaking — the Academy Award-winning Suicide Squad, multiple sets of Bat-nips and this scene from Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, just to name a few. Oh, and The Dark Knight too. All jokes aside, DC’s filmography includes some of the best comic book adaptations of all time. Here are ten of them.

10. Superman

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Richard Donner’s Superman defined the superhero film and its sterling illustration of optimism, idealism and sacrifice on screen has yet to be recreated in a similar comic book property, and for good reason. The genuineness with which each actor portrays their character, the reverent aura beget by Donner’s steadfast direction and John Williams’ iconically melodious score all work in cohesion to portray the quintessential cinematic take on the Man of Steel. Make no mistake, Christopher Reeve is Superman, and from the moment he exits a revolving door clad in red, blue and yellow, no one can deny that the presence he exudes is inspiring beyond belief. While Zack Snyder and David S. Goyer might think that the character needs to be deconstructed and morally-conflicted to be interesting, Donner knows that Superman is captivating in how his selflessness is innate, ingrained in his very being and staunch at the expense of a normal life. Simply put, he’s Superman because he wants to be and not solely out of a sense of duty to his adopted homeworld. It may have been released in the ‘70s, but Superman is timeless. No matter when you watch it, “You’ll believe a man can fly.”

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

9. Superman II

Warner Bros./Courtesy

What presents more of a threat to the Superman than a villainous plot revolving around the California real estate market? Three revenge-driven Kryptonians, an escaped arch-enemy and an introspective dilemma between want and responsibility — that’s what. Despite the uphill battle it was fighting after the character’s first stellar outing, Superman ll differentiates itself from its predecessor by grounding the Last Son of Krypton while upping the narrative ante. Superman’s hard to empathize with, given the, y’know, God-like powers and such, but director Richard Lester (and Richard Donner with his, arguably, better cut of the film) captures the mortality of the character by stripping him of his abilities and reminding audiences what truly makes him so super. Combine such a personally conflicted performance by Christopher Reeve as a now de-powered Clark with the mad zealotry of Terence Stamp’s Zod, and the film beautifully depicts two sides of a moralistic spectrum. Returning favorites such as Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, Perry White and Eve Teschmacher round out one of the few great examples of a sequel done right.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

8. Road to Perdition

DreamWorks/Courtesy

Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, Daniel Craig, Stanley Tucci, Jennifer Jason Leigh, a young Tyler Hoechlin, director Sam Mendes and legendary cinematographer Conrad Hall? Road to Perdition is, surely, the most starry DC production ever.

Thankfully, it’s also one of the best. The film wisely uses everyman Tom Hanks against type as a ruthless mob enforcer seeking vengeance for the murder of his whole family, except for his young son played by Tyler Hoechlin. Like A History of Violence, the film asks the viewer to confront how violence becomes embedded within our families and, ultimately, creates the downfall of many people’s lives. Featuring Oscar-winning, exquisitely framed, lit and shot cinematography by Hall — this ended up being his last film prior to passing away — Road to Perdition is the most beautifully designed film on this list.

— Levi Hill

7. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

Warner Bros./Courtesy

As this list makes evident, there are more great Batman films than there are canonical Robins. The Nolan films are genius interpretations of classic characters, and the Burton films helped define what a cinematic Batman could be, but only one film on this list definitively represents a truly comic-accurate version of Batman; only one film here makes a deep dive into the psychology of the Dark Knight. That film, of course, is Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, the cinematic extension of the classic Batman: The Animated Series. The creative team from the television show, including Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, lend their iconic art style and mature storytelling to this film, which coalesce to dramatically redefine Batman’s origin story with heaping amounts of genuine pathos. Just as he’s making his first forays into vigilantism, Bruce Wayne finds true love in Andrea Beaumont (voiced by Dana Delany), and we see a Batman who is conflicted. “I didn’t count on being happy,” he says, as he crumbles in front of his parents’ graves. In this sense, the film pits past and present against each other, each vying to consume Batman. Thematically, this film is as rich as The Dark Knight, and arguably much more emotional — whereas most Batman films are content to let the Caped Crusader brood for the entire runtime, this film translates mere gloom to a nuanced, emotional sense of melancholy. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill voice Batman and the Joker, respectively, cementing their statuses as the definitive portrayals of both characters. Much has already been said about this film by more articulate fans than myself, so I’ll just link one of my favorite analyses here. Check it out, or better yet, just go watch this absolute gem of a movie.

— Harrison Tunggal

6. A History of Violence

New Line Cinema/Courtesy

Who would have thought that David Cronenberg’s best (arguably) and most humanistic (not as arguable) film would be an adaption of a graphic novel about the nature of violence? Yes, most of Cronenberg’s films tend to explore society’s obsession with violence, but typically with surreal trappings. For example, think of Videodrome’s satirical takedown of TV’s reliance on sex and murder to get audience’s invested, or the sex-crazed car crash survivors in Crash.

A History of Violence strips away most of the pretense, and focuses on how one small-town man who lives an upright life with his family can be haunted by violence. After a group of gangsters come to the town, threatening to hurt him or others, Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) acts without hesitation with a stunning amount of brutal violence, killing the gangsters before they harm any innocent bystanders. While heralded as a hero by the local community, what happens after, though, is the quick realization that Tom was a former gangster himself, with a deep past of horrific crimes that are going to catch up to him. Using the deeper ruminations of the source material, A History of Violence is likely the most mature DC-adaption yet.

— Levi Hill

5. The Dark Knight Rises

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Christopher Nolan’s final Batman film has received plenty of flack, but it’s hard, in retrospect, to feel as though the intense derision is fully warranted. We don’t view a film in a vacuum; The Dark Knight Rises followed not only arguably the greatest superhero movie of all time, but also one of the most influential films, period, of its era. The lens with which Rises has been viewed is different than most, the standards higher than most.

With that said, The Dark Knight Rises is an undoubtedly epic finale, expanding the scope and scale immensely while maintaining a firm grasp on the gritty realism that is thematically central to Nolan’s take. While The Dark Knight was more about Batman/the Bruce that’s behind the mask, this final installment places a raw Bruce front and center — and Christian Bale embraces the vulnerability and pain. This Bruce wants death; we can see the weight of his life on his tired face, and, when he finally can let go of the anger, it’s an immeasurably joyous feeling to see him at peace.

On top of all of that, The Dark Knight Rises deftly avoids the pitfall of bigger-but-emptier. The thematic idea behind Bane, a sort of re-emergence of the League of Shadows, but also a slight shift in its principles, is consistently engaging, and a layered look at the political manipulations that would allow for Bane to take over Gotham as he does. And while many complain about Tom Hardy’s voice, Bane is one of the better comic book villains of recent memory. Due mostly to Hardy, he’s physically intimidating unlike most antagonists we’ve seen, and his strange, almost Eastern European accent lends an aura of gravitas to the character too.

The detractors likely won’t sway too far from their positions, and that’s their right. But, no matter how flawed, The Dark Knight Rises still succeeds in capping the arc of the trilogy and of Bruce in a thematic and emotionally satisfying way, an absolutely massive and underappreciated accomplishment that few comic book trilogies, let alone trilogies in general, have accomplished.

— Kyle Kizu

4. Batman

Warner Bros./Courtesy

When it was first announced, 1989’s Batman received its fair share of skepticism from fans and general audiences alike. Can you blame them? The director of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and the lead of Mr. Mom (what a decade the ‘80’s was) aren’t the first duo to come to mind when bringing Batman to cinematic life. However, with a certain teaser trailer, Warner Bros. was able to bide time and assuage moviegoers that this was going to be a dark, epic take on the Caped Crusader: how right they were. From its visually resplendent gothic aesthetic to Danny Elfman’s classic, rousing yet somber score, Batman ‘89 established a filmic experience for the character like never before. Tim Burton’s sets a simultaneously adventurous and tragic environment, anchored with committed character work by Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson, which infuses the film with a larger-than-life attitude that’s both entertaining and narratively fulfilling. Burton and company don’t shy away from their comic book roots, but, at the same time, don’t simply execute fan service scene after scene. This is a movie where the Joker realizes his appearance is both an extension of his own subconscious identity and a tool with which he can shift the status quo in Gotham City. This is also a movie where the Batwing flies in front of and recreates the Bat Signal against the moonlight. This is Batman ‘89.     

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

3. Batman Begins

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Christopher Nolan’s first Batman film quickly became the landmark superhero origin story, and for good reason. Grounding Bruce Wayne in our world and committing to an intertwined idea of story, character, setting and theme — all living and breathing as one — Batman Begins is a gripping drama about grief, fear and justice. Applying his trademark sense of nonlinear structure to the beginning of the film, Nolan thoroughly impresses upon us one of the most three-dimensional characters the genre has seen, and proceeds to surround Wayne with nearly as equally defined supporting characters in Fox, Gordon and Alfred.

Batman Begins has influenced countless films after it, with many directly citing the film and Nolan in their approach. But what so many fail to understand is that the brooding darkness and gritty realism alone are not what make this film so special. It’s that both of those aspects are informed for what the story holds intrinsically. Bruce Wayne is just a man with no real powers, so of course his equipment would come from the military. He’s just a man with no real powers, so of course he would get bruised and beaten quite easily and extensively.

We’ve yet to get another origin story like it and it might be a while before we do.

— Kyle Kizu

2. Wonder Woman

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Just as Wonder Woman saved Batman from becoming bat-toast in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, her first solo film saved the DCEU (for the time being, at least) when it needed it most. Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman gives us a hero that kicks as much ass as Batman, and still embodies the sense of hope that defines Superman — a combination that made Wonder Woman the commercial and critical hit that the DCEU needed.

Essentially, Wonder Woman is a film about empowerment, and it’s downright inspirational, which, ironically, isn’t an adjective that’s often bandied about when speaking of superhero films. The immense impact of the film on younger viewers is already evident — you can click here to have your heart warmed, or just rewatch the film, or do both.

— Harrison Tunggal

1. The Dark Knight

Warner Bros/Courtesy

The Dark Knight is not only the best DC film of all time, but it’s also arguably the best superhero film of all time and one of the best films, in general, of all time.

On a craft level, the film is masterful. So often do all of the elements coalesce — the score, the editing, the sound design, the cinematography and more — to create astounding action sequences that leave us absolutely breathless, like the opening bank heist and the underground police chase.

But where The Dark Knight steps to the next level is in how its craft executes its story. The film has four main characters — Bruce Wayne/Batman, Harvey Dent, Commissioner Gordon and the Joker — and works them all into an immensely profound narrative of morality and sacrifice, especially in our post-9/11 society. We see our heroes manipulated by the Joker, and forced to bend their rules to stop him, but we also see that something is lost every time a rule is broken. The film has no hardline stance on morality, what’s just and what’s worth it, which ends up being for the better as it truly dimensionalizes these characters in ways that other films don’t. It also ends up making the Joker such an terrifying, effective and memorable villain.

Heath Ledger’s turn is one for the ages. It is the definition of transformation; every aspect of physical, verbal and mental performance is taken advantage of to leave us with a being that feels so abrasive, tangible and real — something made all the more stunning considering that the character is offered no backstory. Ledger’s Joker is the face of terror in the 21st century, and it’s one we won’t soon forget.

The Dark Knight is one of the great films of our time. It’s a film about a guy who dresses up as a bat, but it’s also a city crime drama as epic as The Godfather. It’s a superhero film that embraces the best of its genre, but also transcends it in every way imaginable.

— Kyle Kizu

 

Featured image via New Line Cinema/Warner Bros.

2018 Oscar Predictions: Best Lead Actor

It seemed as though Gary Oldman was going to win Best Lead Actor for his role as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour all the way back when the first photo of him in full makeup released. And as the film released at festivals, nearly every critic suggested that it was his time.

Then, Timothée Chalamet and Call Me by Your Name came. Chalamet picked up nearly every single critic group award. But as the industry awards started coming, the momentum shifted back to Oldman, with him winning the BAFTA award and the SAG award. And with him also winning the Critics’ Choice award and the Golden Globe, it’s difficult to choose anyone other than him.

Chalamet did win a Best Lead Actor award as recent as last night at the Indie Spirit awards. And it’s terribly sad that that might be where it stops for him. His performance is clearly the best of the bunch.

Oldman might’ve had a more serious contender had Christian Bale been nominated for Hostiles, as age bias couldn’t play a role there. Had Hostiles been acquired by a better distributor sooner, Bale would’ve put up a fight.

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

Will win: Gary Oldman — Darkest Hour
Could win: Timothée Chalamet — Call Me by Your Name
Should win: Timothée Chalamet — Call Me by Your Name
Should’ve been nominated: Christian Bale — Hostiles

 

Featured image via Focus Features.

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.

Christian Bale is a Western cavalryman in first ‘Hostiles’ trailer

Christian Bale and writer-director Scott Cooper have reteamed, after Out of the Furnace, for the upcoming Western Hostiles, which follows Captain Joseph J. Blocker (Bale) as he reluctantly escorts a Cheyenne chief (Wes Studi) and a grieving woman (Rosamund Pike) through hostile territory. The film premiered this weekend at Telluride Film Festival to incredible acclaim, with The Hollywood Reporter and Variety saying that Bale could be a very strong Oscar contender for his performance. Riding that buzz, Hostiles has dropped its first trailer, released through Deadline Hollywood.

Hostiles finds itself in a very unique position this fall, currently without a distributor, which may be why the trailer landed with Deadline instead of being released through a film company online. The film accompanied a tribute to Christian Bale’s career at Telluride, which started the buzz of who might acquire the title — with companies such as Annapurna (new to distribution), Sony Pictures Classics and Netflix rumored as in the mix. But Variety says that Telluride isn’t particularly a festival where titles get picked up and suggests that there won’t be any official news until, at the earliest, Toronto International Film Festival, where the film is set to screen next on September 11.

With a trailer dropping, it seems as though the film is eyeing a 2017 release, considering that, with the Oscar buzz, it would be a strange move to release a trailer now and then wait over a year to release it next fall. A distributor would have to act fast to put together a marketing campaign that can get enough people in the theater to then realize that awards potential. And it also seems, with the subject matter, that 2017 is the prime window for a release, as the film deals with themes of hatred, racism and reconciliation, and can compare to today’s times, as talked about by Scott Cooper in Variety’s film podcast Playback.

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

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