Tag Archives: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Ranking the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

The Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to be a phenomenon that can’t quite properly be described — 10s of superheroes and 17 films all wrapped into the same overarching story that will soon culminate with the third and fourth Avengers movies. Film hasn’t seen anything like it.

Such a universe is ripe to produce some of the most purely entertaining and wonderful blockbusters of contemporary cinema. These are heroes that, with the biggest budgets, can be fully realized and, with talented filmmakers, delivered in movies that will stick with us just as many of the best blockbusters of the 70s and 80s did for the generation prior.

But that kind of system also needs careful planning and execution, meaning, unfortunately, that some of its films feel rather by the books and safe.

Truly, the quality of MCU films is a wide spectrum. So, it only seems right to determine how each one compares to the others. Here are our rankings of the MCU films:

17. Thor: The Dark World

Jay Maidment/Marvel/Courtesy

The worst film in the MCU is downright dreary. How dreary? The third act is set in London. Not dreary enough? The word “dark” is in the title, so I guess it must be just like “The Dark Knight,” or something like that. It’s not all bad though. We get introduced to an important Infinity Stone that nobody will remember after the credits roll, multiple characters say the word “Svartalfheim” and we get to dream about what a Patty Jenkins-directed “Thor” movie would’ve been like.

— Harrison Tunggal

16. Iron Man 2

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It’s almost as though the thematic concerns of Iron Man 3 should’ve been the central idea of Tony Stark’s second film, as it’s hard to really find the value of Iron Man 2. Is it meant to reassert that Stark is a rebel and will do what he wants? That’s not worthy of a film. Is it meant to realize the consequences of Iron Man’s existence? It doesn’t pull that off well at all. Is it meant to develop Stark’s character? It doesn’t seem too concerned with genuinely doing that. With all of those uncertainties, and the fact that the action feels like a video game played by an amatuer, Iron Man 2 is a shame. Thankfully, Robert Downey Jr.’s charisma and Black Widow’s introduction are enough to find something to latch onto, but there’s so much that could’ve been done that isn’t. Perhaps, though, the value of Iron Man 2 is that it let those interesting questions be answered by films that could actually do something with them.

— Kyle Kizu

15. The Incredible Hulk

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It’s hard to pull off a Hulk film. We need a character study of Bruce Banner, of the consequences of his alter ego and the effects it has on his psyche and his loved ones, but there’s only so much you can do there and for so long before audiences get agitated because they just want to see Hulk smash. The character’s predicaments are both the fault of the character as well as of how audiences are conditioned in this day and age. With that in mind, The Incredible Hulk deserves credit for what it does do. The film and Edward Norton’s performance do good by and more with the character than most other MCU films, and the fight between the Hulk and Abomination is popcorn entertainment manifested. But the film delves into the excessive, into the over-the-top without being aware of it and never quite finishes the arc that it lays out for Banner. It’s a movie you watch once, but just so you can be in the know for the rest of the MCU.

— Kyle Kizu

14. Avengers: Age of Ultron

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Avengers: Age of Ultron is bloated. It attempts to remain very Joss Whedon-esque, but it also tries to do too much with the thematic aspects of Ultron and Tony, the setup of events down the line and the introduction of too many new heroes. It’s concept and attempt at something singular, at something that continues to expand on this idea of the repercussions of superheroes are undeniably commendable. But the film is poorly paced, almost mischaracterizes and misuses its villain as more of a whiny kid of Tony’s than a true mirror image, problematically handles the character of Black Widow and ends with yet another over-the-top, excessive, incoherent final act. It’s not a bad film, but it is absolutely a glaringly missed opportunity.

— Kyle Kizu

13. Thor

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Thor is a ridiculous character, a literal God full of Shakespearean quips and with rather two-dimensional traits and motivations. His first movie tends to embrace those aspects, finding humor in his fish-out-of-water situation and being nearly self-aware of the camp nature of Thor. Chris Hemsworth is also rather good in the role, and placing the story in a small town is a refreshing starting point that humanizes this massive superhero personality. But that’s reaching for things in a film that is otherwise boring and unengaging, and doesn’t do that much with the character. It’s serviceable, but only just that.

— Kyle Kizu

12. Ant-Man

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It’s hard not think about what Edgar Wright would’ve given us had he remained the director of Ant-Man, which is really a testament to the fact that, no matter how fun and funny the final product is, it feels like it’s missing something. The villain seems like a ripoff of Iron Man’s and the family troubles of Scott Lang are genuinely never gripping or emotional. But, as said before, Ant-Man is some great superhero entertainment, and, sometimes, that’s all that’s needed. Scott Lang’s family may be one-dimensional, but Lang himself is rendered lovable by the perfect casting choice of Paul Rudd. The history of the Ant-Man and of Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) lend a sense of depth that drives this story along, and Evangeline Lilly stands toe-to-toe with Rudd as a kickass supporting character. Thankfully, Ant-Man also takes advantage of the visual possibilities of the superhero. While logically frustrating at points, the many action scenes, epitomized by the final showdown on a toy train set, are hilarious, dynamic and informed. While Wright might have doubled down on sensibilities such as those, the final product is not wholly missing of them and, for that, Ant-Man is more than worth it.

— Kyle Kizu

11. Doctor Strange

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In Doctor Strange, Benedict Cumberbatch is pitch-perfect as the titular Sorcerer Supreme, and director Scott Derrickson really leans into the gonzo, acid-trip visuals of the source material. For once, it’s a film that deserves to be seen in 3-D. As a bonus, Doctor Strange stands out with its truly inventive, time-bending finale, whereas most Marvel films get flack for uninspired third act battles. Still, the film’s origin story is a bland one, taking a page (this literally happens within the first three minutes) from Iron Man.

— Harrison Tunggal

10. Thor: Ragnarok

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Thor: Ragnarok has a lot going for it — some of the best visuals in the MCU, the debut of the franchise’s greatest character (“Hey man, I’m Korg.”) and the Planet Hulk-inspired story that Marvel fans have been waiting for. Still, the film ultimately misses the opportunity to truly humanize Thor, suffering from a script that could have used just one more draft. Nevertheless, the film launched director Taika Waititi and his unique brand of humor into the mainstream, which is more than we could have ever asked for. Werewolves not swearwolves, y’all.

— Harrison Tunggal

9. Captain America: The First Avenger

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Captain America: The First Avenger lacks the thematic complexities that the second and third film have. But does that really matter? This film didn’t have to be complex. Rather, it simply had to nail the character of Steve Rogers and solidify his values, and in that, The First Avengers succeeds in spades. The two Guardians of the Galaxy films take the first two spots, but the first Cap film is right behind them as an MCU film with a whole lot of heart, finding that basis in a moving, heart-filled performance by Chris Evans. Juxtaposed next to Cap, we get one of the better villains in Red Skull, who is as simply evil as Cap is simply good. While, on visual and story levels, the film could’ve been more engaging, it’s a perfectly fine superhero picture, and we’ll take it.

— Kyle Kizu

8. Iron Man 3

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Iron Man 3 gets more flak than it deserves. It may have upended expectations and completely diverted from the comics, but are those really points of genuine criticism of the film itself? The film is not without faults — it’s villain doesn’t hold as much weight as it should, it’s handling of Piper is as questionable as it is commendable and it’s paced strangely. But it’s one of the more fascinating character studies of the MCU, questioning who Tony Stark really is without the suit. We see him dealing with PTSD and a loss of power, which is where a film in the trilogy had to go to make the most out of Tony. On that basis, and considering some of its distinguishable visual flare, Iron Man 3 is a worthy entry.

— Kyle Kizu

7. Marvel’s The Avengers

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It’s hard to deny that The Avengers is just a damn good movie. But the MCU has plenty of them, and Joss Whedon’s first team-up picture doesn’t age as well as one would think. The final battle feels less engaging than it should, Loki isn’t that interesting of a villain here and much of the narrative progression is a bit standard with the stakes between the heroes falling flatter as years pass. But there still remains the pure joy of seeing these characters on screen together for the first time, the unmatched world-building of a forming alliance and system of superheroes, the humanity within each character and the vibrant chemistry between them. It’s host to some of Marvel’s pitfalls, but it’s also representative of the best of Joss Whedon — with little of his worst — making it one of the more entertaining films of the MCU. And really, that’s all an Avengers film needs to be.

— Kyle Kizu

6. Captain America: Civil War

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The third Captain America film continues the brilliant thematic approach that started in the second. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo somehow make a film that is equal parts a story about Captain America, a story about Iron Man, a story about government repercussions to the simple existence of heroes and just one hell of an action flick. Where this film suffers is in the sense of stakes involved — as much of an unbelievably fun sequence the airport fight is, it was never going to end with anything drastic. But it makes up for it with some of the best filmmaking of the whole of the MCU, further solidification of both Captain America and Iron Man as two sides of the heart and soul of the Avengers and a sense of storytelling intelligence that the MCU could use more of.

— Kyle Kizu

5. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 may not be the best Marvel film, but it is easily the most emotional. As Starlord/Peter Quill meets his father (but not necessarily his daddy), Ego the Living Planet (Kurt Russell), he must come to grips with who he really cares about, and must set aside his own pride in the process. As with the first installment, this film is all about family, but it ratchets up the emotional stakes to heights previously unseen in the MCU. Vol. 2 is an unabashed, two-eye-cry movie, one that requires as much Kleenex as it does popcorn.

— Harrison Tunggal

4. Iron Man

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The film that started it all, Iron Man remains one of the best executed outings of the MCU. Tony Stark is a difficult character to pull off, but Jon Favreau and crew follow an efficient, polished and engaging path to informing the origins of a billionaire dealing with the guilt of his corporate creations. The mirror between Obadiah and Tony is salient, and Robert Downey Jr.’s performance perfectly nails the spirit of the character. But simply seeing Iron Man in action for the first time will forever remain one of the most badass moments in the superhero genre.

— Kyle Kizu

3. Spider-Man: Homecoming

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There hasn’t been a Spider-Man film that’s gotten the character right since 2004’s Spider-Man 2 — that is, until Spider-Man: Homecoming. While Tobey Maguire was great, those films were never convincing as true examinations of a high school Peter Parker (Maguire was nearly 30). But with Tom Holland and a John Hughes-esque approach, Homecoming gives us that examination, and then some. As much as it is a film about Parker truly becoming Spider-Man and accepting superhero responsibilities as it is a film about him dealing with the pains and responsibilities adolescence and leaving youth behind, Marvel’s first solo Spidey film is a gem. Hilarious, sweet and as fun of a ride as any other, Homecoming proves that the webslinger is in good hands.

— Kyle Kizu

2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Zade Rosenthal/Marvel/Courtesy

As Marvel developed, they realized that, to get the most out of these films, they ought to make use of sub-genres that fit best with the specific superhero at play. And with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Marvel takes a page out of the political thriller, resulting in the most dynamic and engaging portrayal of a singular hero since, at the time of release, The Dark Knight. As informed by the character’s origins as it is expanding on those very themes, the second Captain America film asks the kind of questions, not just of Cap, but of the world that’s been created, that superhero films need to start asking to remain genuine — on a very human basis, but also on a post-9/11 level, what are the costs of these systems and is this all worth it? Not just that, but The Winter Soldier is also host to the MCU’s most visceral and exhilarating action sequences. It’s the epitome of blockbuster excellence.

— Kyle Kizu

1. Guardians of the Galaxy

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Marvel’s biggest risk wound up being its most wonderful, brilliant reward. As we approached the film’s release, nearly everyone was harping about how a movie with a talking raccoon, a giant tree, an angry buff dude, a green lady and a typical asshole could work. But, by embracing those very bizarre, weird and lovely personalities not just on an individual level, but in how they would mesh among a family, co-writer/director James Gunn struck gold, offering the most memorable characters in the universe. While its story may fall a bit bland like most of the MCU films, Guardians of the Galaxy proves that character, theme and humor — accompanied by visual flare that accentuates all of that — can do wonders in regard to storytelling, and that heart is, perhaps, the most important aspect of them all.

— Kyle Kizu

 

Featured image via Marvel/Sony.

2018 Oscar Predictions: Best Visual Effects

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Kong: Skull Island are just happy to be here, two films that weren’t expected to receive nominations.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi comes from the massively popular ILM (Industrial Light & Magic). The visual effects studio is one of the most revered in the industry, and the award can become a rather political one, meaning that a studio like this will certainly pull its fair share of votes.

War for the Planet of the Apes did seem like the frontrunner for a long time, it being the third of the Planet of the Apes trilogy that has been widely recognized for its performance capture elements, but that has also gone without an Oscar to this point. War was the film that was supposed to right those wrongs. And while it’s not foolish to predict the film, as it did win significantly at the Visual Effects Society awards, another contender has come in strong recently.

Blade Runner 2049 had a very strong showcase at the visual effects bakeoff prior to nominations being handed out, something that could stick with voters. It also just recently won the BAFTA Best Special Visual Effects award. The Visual Effects Society does have significant weight, but it did award each of the first two Planet of the Apes films while the Oscars went the other way. BAFTA may have gotten it wrong in a Planet of the Apes year when it went with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2 instead of Hugo, but it did correctly predict Interstellar‘s victory over Dawn. So, BAFTA may be the place to look to this year to figure out which film will win the Best Visual Effects Oscar.

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

Will win: Blade Runner 2049
Could win: War for the Planet of the Apes
Should win: War for the Planet of the Apes
Should’ve been nominated: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

 

Featured image via Warner Bros.

Box Office Report: ‘It’ eats new releases ‘American Assassin’ and ‘mother!’ to remain on top in second weekend

Monster hit It once again took home the top spot at the box office, drawing in an estimated $60 million this past weekend, bringing the domestic total of the Stephen King adaptation to $218.71 million. With many weekends still left to devour, It already stands as the eighth largest domestic grossing film of the year and will jump past The Fate of the FuriousLogan and Despicable Me 3 to the fifth spot by the end of next weekend. By the end of its run, the film could challenge Spider-Man: Homecoming, which brought in $1.875 million this weekend to hit $330.26 million domestically, and even, if it has as strong of legs as it seems rearing up to, the $389.8 million of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

New releases took the second and third spots of the weekend. The Michael Keaton-starring action film American Assassin racked up an estimated $14.8 million domestically. On a $33 million production budget, the film looks like it might just make its money back, needing to reach about $70 million worldwide to turn a profit.

Darren Aronofsky’s art house horror film mother! struggled at the box office, only making an estimated $7.5 million, likely due to an incredibly unmarketable story (and thus, poor trailers), a shifted release date and divisive reception from both critics and fans. With word of the intense reactions to the film spreading, it would be hard to imagine it fairing any better relatively next weekend. On a $30 million production budget, Aronofsky’s latest is shaping up to lose money. It’ll need strong international showing to prove otherwise.

The Reese Witherspoon romantic comedy Home Again took home an estimated $5.33 million in its second weekend, bringing its domestic total to $17.13 million. The film will turn a profit on its $12 million production budget, likely ensuring that many more cookie cutter studio rom-coms will continue to be made.

Wind River is turning out to be one of the more successful independent films of the year, catching an estimated $2.55 million in its fourth weekend wide, during which it has stayed between the 7th and 3rd spot — the middle of the pack.

Finally, Dunkirk incredibly maintains a top ten spot for the ninth weekend in a row — the entirety of its release — pulling in an estimated $1.3 million to shoot its domestic total up to $185.14 million. It seems like Christopher Nolan’s war film will pretty much, by the end of its run, match the domestic take of Interstellar, which made $188 million in US and Canada markets. Worldwide, Dunkirk is pushing $510 million, currently sitting at $508.34.

All films will have trouble doing similar relative business next weekend due to the releases of Kingsman: The Golden CircleBattle of the Sexes and Stronger. Hopefully, the order will be more interesting then.

*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 Warner Bros.

Box Office Report: ‘It’ feeds on box office, floats to largest horror opening record with $117+ million

Box office tracking once again severely underestimated a film’s potential, with It blowing away initial $50 million predictions to make an estimated $117.15 million this weekend, according to Box Office Mojo. Other estimates have pushed as far as $125 million.

Not only is this a massive win for the film, but it puts It among the top of the entire year and, in certain categories, of all time. With $117.15 million, It‘s opening weekend will outgross that of Spider-Man: HomecomingWonder WomanThe Fate of the Furious and Logan (not combined). At the moment, the Stephen King adaptation, directed by Andy Muschietti and starring Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise the Dancing Clown, only stands behind Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Beauty and the Beast, and should stay in the top 10 openings of 2017 once the year is over.

That number also marks the largest September opening ever by nearly $70 million (and possibly more so if the actuals turn out to be $125+ million) and the largest opening for a horror film ever. It falls just short of the largest R-rated opening, which belongs to Deadpool at $132.4 million.

On merely a $35 million production budget and with upwards of $60 million taken internationally, It has already made it’s money back, and then some. A sequel is in the works, but New Line Cinema (a label of Warner Bros.) will be very comfortable financing the next chapter, and perhaps offering it a larger production budget.

The weekend’s #2 is a sharp fall off from It, as Home Again, the Reese Witherspoon romantic comedy, grossed an estimated $9 million. That marks almost a $110 million difference between first and second place.

After three weekends at the number 1 spot, The Hitman’s Bodyguard falls to #3, taking an estimated $4.85 million. Despite less than favorable critical ratings, the film, made for $30 million, is massively successful.

Wind River continues a very solid run after expanding wide, with its domestic total exceeding $25 million, assuredly making its money back.

Finally, after releasing in every market, Dunkirk will soon wrap up its theatrical run. It stayed in the top 10 this weekend, landing #8 with an estimated $1.95 million. Its $183 million domestic total nears Interstellar‘s $188 million, and has a chance at passing it. The film should also reach $500 million worldwide, currently standing at $492 million, which already distinguishes it as the largest grossing World War II film of all time (not adjusted for inflation).

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

Featured image via Warner Bros.

The Summer Oscars: The Best in Movies of Summer 2017

No one is going to fight for last summer. It was a horrific time for movies, blockbuster after blockbuster failing both financially and critically, and the few indie gems that did come out being ignored. While its best film, Hell or High Water, is undeniably magnificent, the list falls off steeply after that. So when it came to this summer, many were hesitant. Would the studio continue to crank out garbage? Unfortunately, it did, with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and Transformers: The Last Knight both continuing a disgusting trend. But unlike last summer, for every stink pile this summer, there was a brilliantly entertaining crowdpleaser. For every horribly messy embarrassment, there were two or three films that showcased some of the most masterfully artful filmmaking of recent memory. Despite it being one of the worst periods for the box office, this summer’s movies themselves, as many have said, represent one of the best seasons we’ve had in a long time. In May, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and The Lovers hit on both ends of the cinematic spectrum in lovely fashion. As June rolled around, It Comes At NightThe Big SickBaby Driver and The Beguiled showcased why relatively smaller films are where we should invest our interest. But let’s also not forget about the wondrously historic event that was Wonder Woman. In July, blockbusters found life again, as Spider-Man: Homecoming reinvigorated the web-slinger, War for the Planet of the Apes capped off one of the best trilogies of all time and Dunkirk stunned as an overwhelming cinematic achievement that perhaps only Christopher Nolan could’ve made. Indies didn’t stop either, with A Ghost Story haunting us to this day, Girls Trip stomping on everyone’s pre-conceived notions and Atomic Blonde kicking everyone’s ass as women have this summer. A dip may have expectedly come in August — it’s almost unavoidable — but within the bad were gems like Ingrid Goes WestLogan LuckyWind River and the arresting, John Cho-starring (more please!) Columbus.

It’s been shocking to watch this summer unfold, great movies releasing almost weekly. Top 10 lists of this season rival those of the entirety of last year. So, to combat this strange idea that films not from the fall should be left on the cutting board when it comes time for awards season, we at MovieMinis thought to award the best of summer 2017 so that they may have their fair share of the spotlight:

Best Original Screenplay: Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani — The Big Sick

Amazon/Courtesy

Comedies had fallen flat. Great romcoms were almost non-existent. Then, The Big Sick showed up and not only gave us more from the genre than we’ve had in a long while, but genuinely brought out the best that it could offer. And it all starts with its absolutely pitch perfect script. Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon based The Big Sick in the true story of their romance, and it’s easy to immediately feel the truth at the core of the film, which features such emotionally resonant scenes that hinder on what a character says and what another doesn’t — the film being, on a whole, about communication and perspective. Gordon and Nanjiani give thorough perspective to each character in the film, something that most films in general don’t do. Kumail, Emily, Emily’s parents, Kumail’s parents and Kumail’s friends are all written with a care for independent motivation and given actual arcs that are fulfilled. And all of this is outside of the comedy, which is perhaps its best feature. While, these days, most jokes in films feel forced, The Big Sick is all about natural humor, humor that feels informed and plays off of the film’s themes of perspective and culture. Truly, The Big Sick‘s script is wholesome. But if we were being honest, it deserves this award if only for that 9/11 joke.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: David Lowery for A Ghost Story

Bret Burry/A24/Courtesy

A Ghost Story‘s screenplay reportedly hovers around 30 pages. Many know that the “one page, one minute” concept is a mostly incorrect generalization, but to have 30 pages turn into 90+ heart-wrenching minutes is a feat, a feat because writer-director David Lowery somehow finds a harrowing, haunting truth with very few words. It’s not surprising, considering that the film is essentially a showcase of minimalism on all levels, but each line of dialogue, each crafted scene, in setting and progression, hold the weight of the human condition — our fight against time. The characters are defined with a tragic tenderness. The supernatural concept is executed so organically. While most of the film becomes about the visual, it’s the written word that conceives such a thing, and it’s hard not to be wholly moved by the simple and profound written word of A Ghost Story.

— Kyle Kizu

Nominees:
3. Trey Edward Shults — It Comes At Night
4. Bong Joon-ho, Jon Ronson — Okja
5. Christopher Nolan — Dunkirk

Honorable Mention: Kogonada — Columbus

Best Adapted Screenplay: Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves — War for the Planet of the Apes

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

The most recent Planet of the Apes trilogy is led by one of the best film characters of all time, Caesar (Andy Serkis), and that is a huge credit to the screenplays behind the films. In the best of them all, War for the Planet of the Apes, the script plunges Caesar to his lowest point, and it is nothing less than riveting. Despite the regality that emanates from him, he is brought to a crushing point of desperation — exacerbated by the menacing, if sympathetic Colonel (Woody Harrelson). Ultimately though — and this is perhaps the most defining trait of this Apes franchise — Caesar’s downfall makes him yet more human in the eyes of the viewer, and more importantly, his arc by the end of the film feels rewarding and earned. Over the course of three films, Caesar has transformed from a mere pet into an epic hero of biblical proportions — a legendary Mosaic figure that thenceforth enriches and informs the history of the apes. Then of course, War’s script maneuvers tone expertly — showing us the harrowing depths of Caesar’s fall, but also taking moments to inject much-needed levity through Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) and franchise mainstay Maurice (Karin Konoval). Such a script makes War the capper to one of the great film trilogies of all time, a sentiment echoed by 20th Century Fox’s plans for a major awards campaign.

— Harrison Tunggal

Runner-up: Sofia Coppola — The Beguiled

Ben Rothstein/Focus Features/Courtesy

There are two wars in Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled. One is obvious— the film follows a school of women and young girls in the Confederate south as they nurse a Union soldier back to health. The other is far more subtle; it wages beneath the surface, simmering behind genteel manners, flirtatious glances and courteous dinners. Coppola’s script rises to the challenge of the particular setting, imbuing those infamous Southern manners with surprising malicious underpinnings. Even Colin Farrell’s charming Union soldier comes across as harmless on paper, but it’s the nonverbal threats accompanying his every word that leave the audience on the edge of their seats. News that Coppola was adapting the original 1971 film came with both criticism and anticipation, but in the end, the script is one of her all-time best. Talk about nailing an ending.

— Kate Halliwell

Nominees:
3. Erik Sommers, Chris McKenna, Christopher Ford, Jon Watts, John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein — Spider-Man: Homecoming
4. Alice Birch — Lady Macbeth
5. Allan Heinberg, Zack Snyder, Jason Fuchs — Wonder Woman

Honorable Mention: Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham — The Glass Castle

Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role: Holly Hunter — The Big Sick

Amazon/Courtesy

Holly Hunter has always been a reliable character actor, winning an Oscar in 1993 for Jane Campion’s The Piano. However, it has been awhile since she gave a performance that dominated the critics circle and awards season talk. Well, thanks to her touching, humorous and scene-stealing turn in The Big Sick, it appears that she is about to enter those conversations again, and maybe even dominate them.

In the film, Hunter plays Beth, the mother to Zoe Kazan’s character Emily Gardner whose sudden medical condition puts her into a coma. From here, Emily’s ex-boyfriend, Kumail Nanjiani (playing himself) feels like he has to stay bedside to Emily throughout this ordeal, despite Beth’s wishes for him to keep his distance. At first, Beth’s character seems like the stereotypical, stuck-up mom who doesn’t believe anyone will know her daughter better than her. Yet thanks to both Hunter’s acting and Nanjiani’s writing, the film slowly reveals the depths of character that have made Beth such the stern mother she is. While she may live an upper-middle class life, saying her life has been easy is a miscalculation of her tics. Being the performance behind some of the most tear-jerking scenes in the movie (and since the movie might be the biggest tear-jerker of the year so far), Hunter won us over. Look for major awards talk to come her way this year.  

— Levi Hill

Runner-up: Rooney Mara — A Ghost Story

A24/Courtesy

No one does repressed grief quite like Rooney Mara. From her turn as a restrained, lovestruck shopgirl in Carol, to Lisbeth Salander’s trademark subdued fury, Mara has built a career on her ability to speak volumes with a single look. A Ghost Story marks a return to form for Mara, who is genuinely devastating as a grieving wife haunted by her recently deceased husband. Mara is as understated as always, and again she’s enormously effective. Pain flickers across her face, then it’s quickly replaced with a sort of emptiness, a numb realization that things will never return to the way they were before. Mara has reached a point in her career where perfection is expected, and as such, her performance in A Ghost Story will most likely miss out on any awards season recognition. Even so, it’s comforting to know that performances like these are just another film for Mara. We can look forward to many more understated, brilliant turns to come.

Just perhaps not ones that involve eating an entire pie.

— Kate Halliwell

Nominees:
3. Tiffany Haddish — Girls Trip
4. Tilda Swinton — Okja
5. Kirsten Dunst — The Beguiled

Honorable Mention: Zoe Kazan — The Big Sick

Achievement in Costume Design: Jeffrey Kurland — Dunkirk

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Dunkirk may not jump out as a film with amazing costume design. And that’s exactly why it’s such an achievement. Costume designer Jeffrey Kurland didn’t have the uniforms in hand to simply recreate. Each garb had to be handcrafted with the character’s definition ingrained in each thread. Upon close inspection, what may have initially looked like an endless see of brown becomes an indicator of what kind of soldier each one is. For Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), his uniform is overwhelming and big, a sign of his youth and inexperience. Alex (Harry Styles) wears, as some may not have noticed, a slightly different uniform (people have connected his character and his regiment to Scotland), one that fits tighter and is more controlled, indicative of his higher status. But the singularity of uniforms wouldn’t have been enough to sell the look of this film. Dunkirk is about being there. It’s about feeling as though you’re on the beaches, as though you’re being bombed by German planes. It’s about the feeling of being stuck. And the costumes had to be designed with this gritty, dirty, sweaty sense of desperation, of being washed over by ocean water, of being stranded for a week and beaten down into the streets and sand.

But the costumes are also about the civilians who came across on boats. The sweaters have already been raved about humorously on social media. But the 40s English attire truly does inform the story. These are ordinary men thrust into an operation far greater than anyone may handle, and the humble simplicity in a hand-knitted red sweater truly does impact the film and call to the “Dunkirk spirit” as much as the soldiers’ wear and tear does.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Stacey Battat — The Beguiled

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Period dramas tend to seem like a boring choice when it comes to costume design recognition, but the pastel evening gowns and crinkled crinolines of The Beguiled are too fabulous to ignore. In one particularly memorable scene, Kirsten Dunst’s sexually repressed Southern belle comes to dinner in a ruffled, revealing gown that ostentatiously shows off her best assets. Her attempt at wooing Colin Farrell’s charismatic Union soldier is just as unsubtle as the gown itself. Instead, he’s more interested in Elle Fanning’s far younger seductress, who is all blushing cheeks and fluttering eyelashes in a series of flowy white gowns. Nicole Kidman presides over the chaos as a stern, commanding governess. She’s nearly always clothed in imposing high-necked gowns, excepting the already infamous “Bring me the anatomy book!” scene, where she’s literally up to her elbows in blood. What a waste of a gorgeous nightgown.

— Kate Halliwell

Nominees:
3. Holly Waddington — Lady Macbeth 
4. Cindy Evans — Atomic Blonde 
5. Lindy Hemming — Wonder Woman

Honorable Mention: Annell Brodeur — A Ghost Story

Achievement in Production Design: Nathan Crowley — Dunkirk

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Similar to its costumes, Dunkirk doesn’t jump out as a film with stunning production design. In actuality, it’s not meant to be one. The production design, much like every other craft aspect of the film, acts in service of immersion, in service of the visceral, tangible, largely physical experience. Shooting on the real beaches of Dunkirk came with a big problem: part of the central setting, the mole, had been destroyed. And thus, production designer Nathan Crowley was tasked with recreating it, with building a pier that’s been, alongside the soldiers, the blunt victim of unforgiving waves and, more terrifyingly, dive-bombers. As Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) and Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) run down the breakwater, squeezing between soldiers and traversing blown off portions over only planks, the mole feels and, most importantly, looks alive, like a character bracing alongside the soldiers.

The sets of ship interiors and exteriors during attacks, of a stronghold in the city and of the equipment and vehicles on the beaches are designed with that same gritty, worn down aura and historical accuracy. These sets are complex and extensive, built to invoke claustrophobia. Crowley also makes use of portion sets and cardboard cutouts for backgrounds, extending the view of soldiers endlessly, capturing the scope of 400,000 men.

But where the film engulfs us next is in its design of its planes, recreating Spitfires through redesigns of other planes. The dogfight sequences are some of the most stunning of Dunkirk, and the fact that real planes are used, interiors and exteriors designed with pinpoint precision, does wonders for the main goal of the film: transporting us there.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Aline Bonetto — Wonder Woman

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In the first act of Wonder Woman, we feel a sense of awe not yet felt within the DC Extended Universe, as we explore the island of Themyscira, where Wonder Woman was brought up by the Amazons. The architecture and culture of Themyscira is reminiscent of the ancient Greeks, but unique enough to fascinate and intrigue viewers, and that’s a credit to production designer Aline Bonetto. Of course, her work in designing the drabness of London and the battlefields of World War I are admirable, but her work in designing Themyscira is truly praiseworthy. She carves out a space within the DCEU that’s bright and majestic, and it leaves us nothing less than wonderstruck.

— Harrison Tunggal

Nominees:
3. David Scheunemann — Atomic Blonde
4. James Chinlund — War for the Planet of the Apes 
5. Scott Chambliss — Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Honorable Mention: Hugues Tissandier — Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling: John Blake, Jay Wejebe — Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

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The makeup in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is nothing short of pristine. The stunning makeup on the colorful aliens Yondu (Michael Rooker), Drax (Dave Bautista) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) were carryovers from the first Guardians film, but this time, John Blake, Jay Wejebe and their team created an entire race of aliens covered in a gold sheen — the Sovereign. These aliens look like walking Oscars, which could be somewhat prophetic given the team’s excellent work in this film. If that weren’t enough, the film also puts a spotlight on the Ravagers, a motley crew of scarred, deformed space pirates, which put the onus on the makeup team to create a variety of hardened alien thieves. In particular, the film’s joke about Taserface (Chris Sullivan) wouldn’t have worked had it not been for an appropriately tasered face. Even though Star Wars: The Last Jedi might throw this makeup team’s chances at Oscar glory for a loop, they deserve every bit of praise for this list of summer awards.

— Harrison Tunggal

Runner-up: Shandra Page, Tony Ward, Mia Goff, Natalie Christine Johnson — The Beguiled

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Rarely does hairstyling get as much recognition as makeup, but the work of the hair team of The Beguiled is as integral to the film as every other craft department. With the film’s themes and concepts, of sexual attraction, of a deconstruction of the male gaze, of a community of women separated from the warring country, and with the historical setting, the hairstyling had to be pitch perfect. And it is. The younger children all hold a sense of curiosity and innocence within the larger scale of events. Nicole Kidman emanates a regal authority, fitting her position as head of the house. Elle Fanning’s hairstyling evokes the explorative sexuality that is centric to the film’s story, as is the quiet and repressed core of Kirsten Dunst’s character, whose hair reflects her journey of attempting to break free from a community she doesn’t feel as though she truly belongs to. On an aesthetic sense, the hairstyling is beautiful. But because of the fact that it serves the story so thoroughly, it deserves endless recognition.

— Kyle Kizu

Nominees:
3. Jessie Eden, Sasha Grossman — It Comes At Night 
4. Laura Morse, Christine Blundell — Wonder Woman 
5. Sian Wilson — Lady Macbeth

Honorable Mention: Lesley Vanderwalt — Alien: Covenant

Achievement in Cinematography: Hoyte van Hoytema — Dunkirk

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It was hard to imagine Christopher Nolan without his longtime cinematographer Wally Pfister. But after Interstellar, it became hard to imagine Nolan not working with Dutch-Swedish lenser Hoyte van Hoytema for the foreseeable future. And their collaboration on Dunkirk shows just why Hoytema may be Nolan’s greatest partner. From the breathtaking first image to the mesmerizing penultimate shot, Hoytema’s work represents the pinnacle of cinema, especially in its IMAX 70mm form. As what’s been said time and time again with Dunkirk‘s craft categories, the main goal of the cinematography is for immersion. And it does that unlike any film truly has. Utilizing the IMAX camera like a go-pro, Hoytema places us as a soldier on the beach, ducking for cover, racing to the departing boats, shaking at the shockwaves of bombs. Through the cinematography, we inhabit a space on the small civilian boats, thrown around by waves. We inhabit a space below deck on navy destroyers, nearly drowning after being downed by a U-boat. We inhabit a space in the air, peering through the scope, veering left and right, laboring as we try to shoot down the German ME 109s. These are camera angles that haven’t been fully realized until this film, with Hoytema and the team inventing rigs to place cameras where they’ve never been before.

On a technical level, the work is astounding. At first, it might not seem as artistic as his cinematography on Interstellar. But Hoytema is perhaps more subtly artful in his rendering of Dunkirk. Like the shot above, there’s this breathtaking sense of scope, this arresting design of the mise-en-scene that tones the look of Dunkirk with a trapped claustrophobia amid one of the largest and most important events of the 20th century. And at the end, the wandering camera almost finds a tranquility unexpected with a film like Dunkirk. Farrier’s (Tom Hardy) Spitfire, gliding with the soldiers below and the city in the background, is truly a shot for the ages, a quiet one that allows us to breathe after all of the overwhelming movement. It’s cinematography that represents the best that cinema can offer, that fights for the medium, both of the film format and of film in general, with something purely visual.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Andrew Droz Palermo — A Ghost Story

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If Dunkirk showcases the best that cinematography can offer on the large scale, then A Ghost Story offers the best of cinematography on a small scale. Andrew Droz Palermo’s work truly shows an artist in tune with every thematic level of the art. With A Ghost Story, we’re meant to project our emotions onto the titular ghost, and Palermo rightfully lingers, hangs and frames shots in ways that overwhelm — especially in the framing of uninterrupted still shots — to a point where it’s impossible not to find a profound emotion, or ten, within the eyes of the ghost. But Palermo also excels in movement, his tracking in particularly. There’s this haunting, majestic, almost mythic poetry as we slowly follow the ghost, wholly crafting the film’s spirituality and invoking just what the film needed to become truly great: making us, the viewer, a ghost ourselves.

— Kyle Kizu

Nominees:
3. Philippe Le Sourd — The Beguiled
4. Bill Pope — Baby Driver
5. Michael Seresin — War for the Planet of the Apes

Honorable Mention: Elisha Christian — Columbus

Achievement in Film Editing: Lee Smith — Dunkirk

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Dunkirk performs an illusion: the Shepard tone. You may think I’m talking about the score. I’m not. The score performs the illusion too, but Dunkirk, the film itself, is structured in a way that replicates the effects of the typically musical anomaly — something Christopher Nolan intended while writing the screenplay. It’s a massive, difficult task to weave together three storylines that not only are all constantly rising in tension, but also play out on different timeframes. Before jumping in, outside of those complex aspects, Lee Smith is incredibly calculated when crafting action scenes. The Spitfire sequences have been raved about for their realism, and credit must be given to Smith for how fluid and steady the progression of each dogfight is. And right before the soldiers are dive-bombed by German planes, Smith lingers on reaction shots, of eyes wandering up to the sky at the source of noise, masterfully building suspense. But Smith has done these and similar things before, his work on the grander scale of Dunkirk being what truly solidifies this as his and Nolan’s greatest collaboration yet — a monumental feat when considering their work on Inception. Despite jumping backward and forward in time, there’s never a sense of imbalance in the film’s momentum. Each thread feels as though it’s still progressing, even when it’s treading water we’ve been through before — often thanks to careful revelations of dramatic irony. And as the film builds, the structure does too. As expected, the three timelines meet at a singular moment. But instead of simply crashing them together, Nolan and Smith play the climax out of order as the threads seem to try to find each other. There’s a great sense of disorientation, a purposeful one to tone the chaotic, senseless and harrowing event happening before their (and our) eyes, but the scene never loses focus or coherency — a quality that all the best edited films have. The climax plays out of order, but it plays so masterfully that out of order feels somehow more organic, an intangible sense of filmic cohesion, just as the entirety of Dunkirk is, due to how the film is put together.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss — Baby Driver

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While Dunkirk is a monumental feat in film editing, Baby Driver isn’t as far off as one would assume. Blending the tap and dance sound mixing of a classical musical, with more ferocity of any heist scene featured in Fate of the Furious, Baby Driver would not be as successful of a film as it is without the incredible, crisp editing that Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss pull off. Edgar Wright’s films always feature bravado filmmaking, with wipe pans, dual screens, long tracking shots and practically anything else the cinematic genius can think of, and only editors with the most amount of precision could bring all of the visual and aural synchronization together. So while this might be our runner-up for Best Editing, don’t be surprised if the film manages an ACE nomination later this year.

— Levi Hill

Nominees:
3. David Lowery — A Ghost Story
4. Sarah Flack — The Beguiled
5. Matthew Hannam, Trey Edward Shults — It Comes At Night

Honorable Mention: Meeyeon Han, Yang Jinmo — Okja

Achievement in Sound Editing: Richard King, Michael W. Mitchell, Randy Torres — Dunkirk 

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If we had to pick the most important technical aspect of Dunkirk, which would be an entirely unfair and borderline impossible task, the one that would be the most understandable to point to is sound, both editing and mixing.

Editing is the crafting of sounds and, in Dunkirk, it’s often specific sounds that add the most to the suspense. The incoming wane of the German planes’ horns is truly horrifying, as is the bombs’ explosions, which find a terrifyingly earthy, subsurface sound as they lift sand and soldier into the air.  When we’re in the interior of planes, the rumble of metal adds to a sense of immersion, to a sense of fear and anxiety in the smallest of spaces. And with the approach of Nolan, to remove the face of the enemy, bullets are louder, more jarring and more affecting. They pierce, whether it be through skin or sand or wood or metal, with a jolting, invasive, bodily ping. Dunkirk is meant to be a suspense film, and the specific sounds of war, sounds that real Dunkirk veterans have said are louder than the actual event, are crafted here with their fullest effect.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Will Files — War for the Planet of the Apes

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In the rebooted Planet of the Apes trilogy, we see some of the most realistic special effects of all time, but the CGI wizardry wouldn’t hold up if not for excellent sound editing. The sound editing of War for the Planet of the Apes completes the film’s masterful CGI illusions, connecting our expectations of ape sounds with the visuals onscreen. We are convinced that the apes onscreen are grunting, shuffling about in the snow and fighting in a realistic way. Additionally, the sounds of war — the opening and closing battle scenes in particular come to mind — are immersive, putting us on the ground alongside Caesar and his apes. War films are often recognized for their sound editing, and in these awards, War for the Planet of the Apes is no different.

— Harrison Tunggal

Nominees:
3. Choi Tae-young — Okja
4. James Mather, David Mackie, Nina Norek — Wonder Woman
5. Shannon Mills, Guillaume Bouchateau — Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Honorable Mention: David Acord, Addison Teague, Lee Gilmore — Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Achievement in Sound Mixing: Mark Weingarten, Unsun Song — Dunkirk

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Sound mixing is how all of the sounds are brought together to create an atmosphere. And, quite evidently, Dunkirk has an auditory atmosphere fit for a horror film. No, truly. Dunkirk‘s sound mixing is in the vein of horror films. Think to the bombing of the hospital boat. As the giant ship’s metal moans as the boat tips into the wood of the mole, a voice can be heard screaming repeatedly, its body being crushed. Body’s jump off into the water, each splash toning the already terrifying scene that’s featured gunshots riddling the pier and bombs exploding on the boat.

The mix overwhelms us into a transfixed terror, hosting obviously physical elements within those attacks. But it also is subtly physical, working on every layer, literally, to render the beach, boats and air tangible. The wind and splashing waves almost feel like they hit us, constantly sitting behind the dialogue, reminding us of the setting. The wisp of the air, rattle of the Spitfire’s cockpit and masks of the pilots render dialogue as muffled and communication as difficult, as it would be in its reality. Dunkirk‘s sound mixing can transition from desperate voices drowning within the interior of a ship to massive explosions on its exterior with such fluidity while also maintaining the chaos of the situation. And that’s the true purpose of sound mixing, to become physical and to inform the story. With Dunkirk, there’s almost no movie at all without the horror that the mix provokes.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Kasper Pedersen, Al Green, Mary H. Ellis, James Peterson — Baby Driver

Sony Pictures/Courtesy

Sound will always be one of the most underrated aspects of film, especially sound mixing. Where sound editing can tend to favor bombast, as sound editing represents the actual sounds we are hearing, mixing has to favor subtlety. Mixing is how the sound designers bring together all of the disparate sounds to create one perfect aural mix.

And honestly, it doesn’t get much better than what can be heard in Edgar Wright’s summer masterpiece Baby Driver. Featuring a booming soundtrack, with tight editing of car chases and heist scenes in sync with the sound, the Baby Driver mixing team had their work cut out for them. Imagine having to combine a rollicking Bellbottoms song, with the faint singing and air drumming of Ansel Elgort (in-tune with the music), with a souped-up muscle car’s engine running, all the while in the distance a heist with sirens and shooting is taking place. Sound like a doozy? Well, that’s just the first scene in a film filled to the brim with impeccable craft in the audial categories.  

— Levi Hill

Nominees:
3. Chris Duesterdiek, Erin Michael Rettig, Shawn Holden — War for the Planet of the Apes
4. Michael L. Barnett — A Ghost Story
5. Chris Duesterdiek, Danny Michale, Park Jong-kun — Okja

Honorable Mention: Ronnie Mukwaya — Wonder Woman

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

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If one were to travel back in time to 1968 and show Charlton Heston War for the Planet of the Apes, one could undeniably convince him that the film was made using real ape actors (Hell, you could convince me that the film was made using actual apes). Of course, one would cause irreparable harm to the space-time continuum, possibly precipitating an actual simian hegemony, but that’s beside the point. The fact is, the visual effects in War (and the trilogy it belongs to) are utterly groundbreaking. Great CGI is nothing new, but the way the rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise is predicated on photo-real apes is nothing short of extraordinary. These films need their apes to look believable, or else there’s no way an audience could invest in its characters, and it works — in the faces of these apes, we see genuine human emotion. The words “movie magic” get thrown around too casually to wholly represent the peak craftsmanship involved in creating this franchise’s apes, but one does feel a sense of wonderment at seeing something as totally unique and powerful as the CGI in War.

— Harrison Tunggal

Runner-up: Scott Stokdyk, Joe Letteri — Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

STX Entertainment

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets initially looked like a visual risk, seemingly bordering on muted overuse of CGI that could fall flat and become forgettable. Thankfully, the film evades that pitfall, so much so that it almost makes up for the unengaging story and one dimensional characters. And that’s because, in a way, the visual effects do impact the story. The beings and objects that the CGI in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets creates are distinct. Worlds are rendered with attention to detail, not just aesthetically, but societally, as civilizations are visually crafted with systems, practices and purpose. That’s what takes the visual effects to the next level. They’re stunning and beautiful to look at, generating imagery that only a visual master like Luc Besson and an expert visual effects team could’ve concocted — aliens are neither replicants of humans nor are they so wildly complex — and making use of color in distinct and attractive ways. But the visual effects also serve to world-build, or in this case, universe-build, and they’re taken to the next level for it.

— Kyle Kizu

Nominees:
3. Matthew Crnich, Ray McMaster, Doug Spilatro, Christopher Townsend — Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
4. Jeon Hyoung Lee, Jun Hyoung Kim, Mike F. Hedayati, Erik De Boer — Okja
5. Viktor Muller, Bill Westenhofer, Loeng Wong-Savun — Wonder Woman

Honorable Mention: Theodore Bialek, Lou Pecora, Dominik Zimmerle — Spider-Man: Homecoming

Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role: Mark Rylance — Dunkirk

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Similar to his Oscar-winning Bridge of Spies turn, Rylance’s performance in Dunkirk is incredibly understated, with perhaps even less screen time. In the film’s aftermath, one quickly realizes that it’s the work of an actor who informs every bit of himself, physically and vocally, with why his character is the way he is. Truly, the aftermath, both at the end of the film and after audiences have left the theaters, is where Rylance’s performance holds the most weight.

Within Dunkirk, Rylance plays a civilian committed to crossing the channel, even in dire circumstances, and a man with a fascination for the RAF’s planes. But pay close attention to the dialogue after his boat, the Moonstone, full of rescued soldiers, dodges one final attack before making its way back to England, and Jack Lowden’s Collins asks Rylance’s Mr. Dawson how he knew the maneuvers to evade the German plane. Mr. Dawson says that his son was in the RAF before Peter, the son that we’ve known, reveals that he had a brother who died three weeks into the war. Mr. Dawson says, “I knew he’d see us through,” before tending to a shaking, terrified soldier (Cillian Murphy). In that moment, and after that specific line and that specific image, we pause, our breaths almost taken away.

The exposition, about the engines of Spitfires, delivered with a comforting admiration, becomes highly personal. The recurring fatherly moments — both in image (his heartbreaking nod to Peter after a tragic reveal) and in dialogue (his collected yet commanding presence when organizing a hectic rescue) — portray a character so defined and so thoroughly realized that, in repeat viewings, it’s difficult not to be in awe of Rylance as a performer.

But finally, one moment stands out. As Collins’ plane crashes into the water, Peter tells his Dad that he didn’t see a parachute and that the engine was out. Mr. Dawson doesn’t respond. Peter repeats. Mr. Dawson steers his boat firmly ahead. Peter repeats again, adding that the pilot is probably dead. Finally Mr. Dawson flings around, yelling, “Damnit Peter, I hear you!” He glances back. “Maybe he’s alive.” His volume lowers to a heartbreaking reserve. “Maybe we can help him.” It’s a moment that comes before the revelation, and is powerful when first seen. But in learning of his dead son, one who flew with the RAF, this moment transforms. His yells and his desperation are in an image of his son. In that moment, Mr. Dawson is trying to save the son that he couldn’t, and Rylance uses every ounce of his physical emotion to find that truth.

Dunkirk is an overwhelming spectacle, a film more about the event and the mass of people than purely individuals. Many have said that the near nameless, near faceless characters are simply there, without much emotion. But imagine Dunkirk without Rylance’s Mr. Dawson. It’s really difficult. Imagine Mr. Dawson as played by someone other than Rylance. It’s almost impossible. Rylance plays the most pivotal role in the film. Mr. Dawson is the core, the heart, the father — a character with actual inspiration from Christopher Nolan’s late father — that guides this picture’s emotions along a harrowing journey. It’s Rylance who sees us through.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Ray Romano — The Big Sick

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In The Big Sick, Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) meets Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano), the parents of his ex-girlfriend, Emily (Zoe Kazan), who falls into a coma. Despite Beth and Terry’s initial dismissiveness toward Kumail, he still decides to have lunch with them in the hospital cafeteria. As if things couldn’t get any more uncomfortable, Terry almost immediately dials the awkward levels to precipitous heights: “So, uh. 9/11. . .” Nevertheless, Terry develops a close bond with Kumail over the course of the film, and Ray Romano gets the chance to showcase his iconic comedy chops, while diving into his best dramatic role. Romano’s delivery relishes the awkwardness of Terry’s situation, but underneath it, there’s a tenderness and sincerity that The Big Sick depends on, and makes it all the more endearing and emotional.

— Harrison Tunggal

Nominees:
3. Michael Fassbender — Alien: Covenant
4. Chris Pine — Wonder Woman
5. O’Shea Jackson Jr. — Ingrid Goest West

Honorable Mention: Steven Yeun — Okja

Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score): Hans Zimmer — Dunkirk

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Many weren’t sure what to expect with Dunkirk‘s score, unsure of how legendary composer Hans Zimmer could expand his already endlessly experimental career after voiding percussion and crafting his most emotional score with Interstellar. But somehow, with Dunkirk, Zimmer goes further, composing music that serves the film in an entirely different way. Here, Zimmer seemingly avoids musicality entirely, instead enhancing the soundscape of the film infinitely by adding to it. The center of the score is the tick of a watch, representing the urgency and immediateness of time. The tick is overbearing at times, ramping up tenfold, invading our bodies and digging its way into our heads. Much of the score’s lower sections are made up of sounds that feel as though they’re remnants of the battle itself, as though they’re the creaks of boats, the wanes of the ocean against a ship’s metal or the explosions of bombs. There are certain horror inspirations, with the biting strings of violins, the moan of the bass, the constantly and quickly fluctuating volume of a high pitched, auric screech. The beginning of Home sounds as though it’s been plucked straight out of a horror film.

As mentioned before, Zimmer makes use of the Shepard tone, a musical illusion that sounds like it’s constantly rising in tension. For a film based in suspense, tension and terror, such an illusion has immense effect, the pieces often becoming so filled with energy that’s then released in climactic fashion during the attack sequences.

But even despite the fact that Zimmer strays from typical musicality, he still manages to compose some career best work. In particular, The Oil represents everything utterly magnificent about Zimmer. Like pieces from Interstellar and The Dark KnightThe Oil starts incredibly low in volume and thin in layers. Playing at the climax of the film itself, The Oil builds in layers and volume consistently for six straight minutes, adding literal rise to the illusion of rising, before exploding into its own climax just as the film does. With this, the piece then becomes a serious, overbearing manipulation of the mind and the body, which initially sounds unpleasant, but, when watching the film’s climax, grabs hold of the eyes in ways that the climax couldn’t without the piece and in ways that cinema strives for.

And all of this comes without discussion of the film’s most emotional and most musical element: the influence of Edward Elgar’s Nimrod. Portions of it can be heard in Home, beautifully encapsulating the “Dunkirk spirit” as the civilian boats arrive. But none is more moving than Variation 15, a variation on Nimrod composed by Benjamin Wallfisch and produced by Zimmer, which plays at the end of the film. There’s something “unbearably moving” about it, as Christopher Nolan himself says in regard to Nimrod. And the piece does just that. The events at Dunkirk were a “military disaster” as Winston Churchill put it. But there’s “a victory inside this deliverance,” and it is exactly Variation 15 that renders not only the journey of the characters as triumphant, but Zimmer’s score and Dunkirk itself as well.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Daniel Hart — A Ghost Story

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Whether it’s the grating strings that herald Whatever Hour You Woke, or the warm, embracing melody of a single violin on Post Pie, Daniel Hart’s score for A Ghost Story never relents in its uncanny power to haunt the listener. The sense of introspective melancholy found in any of the score’s tracks lingers with the listener, until — especially through the defining track, I Get Overwhelmed — a swell of emotion becomes inescapable, maybe even cathartic in a powerfully ethereal way. A Ghost Story asks its viewer to project emotions onto the titular lonely specter, but Hart’s score amplifies those emotions, making them profoundly affecting in myriad ways. Resultantly, listening to Hart’s score is its own singular experience, one that exists beyond the confines of the film itself. Just put it on at night, maybe even fall asleep to it, and see what it tells you.

— Harrison Tunggal

Nominees:
3. Michael Giacchino — War for the Planet of the Apes

4. Brian McOmber — It Comes At Night
5. Oneohtrix Point Never — Good Time

Honorable Mention: Michael Giacchino — Spider-Man: Homecoming

Performance by an Ensemble Cast: The Big Sick

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Where the potential for brilliant ensemble work in The Big Sick started was with the script, as Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani wrote each character with a genuine emotional arc. But that would’ve been for only so much had the roles not been cast to utter perfection. Kumail plays himself, which could’ve turned out poorly for the film. But he allows for a vulnerability that speaks to the reality of the story while other playing-themselves-stunts might’ve avoided such an aspect. Zoe Kazan, playing Emily, gives herself over to the role, also finding a vulnerability, except with the perspective of her character, which makes for a performance that feels singular and truthful. Romano and Hunter, playing Emily’s parents, play off of each other impeccably well, nailing the key traits of character that allow for a back and forth rhythm that elevates the importance of their relationship and role within the story as well as the comedy that they provide. The same goes for Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff, playing Kumail’s parents, who bring an opposite perspective, but an equally dynamic chemistry. Throw in Bo Burnham basically playing himself (which is a good thing!) and supporting characters that each feel like their own person, and The Big Sick is the type of ensemble that doesn’t come around that often.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Okja

Kimberly French/Netflix/Courtesy

Every member of Okja’s ensemble cast is essential, bringing new dimensions and nuances to the film. Of course, there’s Ahn Seo-hyun, who gives the film its beating heart, and the obvious standouts like Tilda Swinton, bringing her unique brand of weird humor, and Jake Gyllenhaal, who adds to the zaniness by giving a performance that is essentially a Joker audition. Though he doesn’t have much screen time, Giancarlo Esposito also lends the film his trademark cool. The cast comprising the Animal Liberation Front brings their A-game too, as Paul Dano and Lily Collins play determined, uncompromising activists. Steven Yeun arguably gives one of the best performances in the film, since he is playing a distinctly Korean-American character, one that is essential in developing the theme of linguistic boundaries, and how systems of power play into them. Every character in Okja is rich and specific in detail, and only through a stellar ensemble cast can the film’s characters be truly realized.

— Harrison Tunggal

Nominees:
3. Dunkirk
4. Baby Driver
5. The Beguiled

Honorable Mention: Spider-Man: Homecoming

Achievement in Directing: Christopher Nolan — Dunkirk

Melina Sue Gordon

While many may still hold that The Dark Knight or Inception are better films, few will argue that Christopher Nolan’s direction of Dunkirk isn’t the best of his career, which is seriously saying something. The film has been awarded so many categories above precisely because of how every aspect of this film is working at full power and with full force, something that comes together under the guidance of one of the true auteurs of our time. Dunkirk is Nolan’s most cinematically ambitious film, utilizing the IMAX film format like it never has before and turning to visual elements of film, and away from dialogue and conventional story, to craft a piece of art that is wholly and purely cinematic, that can only exist as a piece of cinema. Nolan’s guiding hand paces the film to craft unmatched tension and structures the film to capitalize on and make the most of the historical event as well as to continue his investigation into time. It is at once Nolan’s most experimental film, the film that deviates the most from his typical style and expands his purview, while also being perhaps the most “Nolan” film we’ve gotten so far. His composition of action sequences, grounded in the physical, tangible reality of practical sets and practical effects, represents a technical genius on par with Alfonso Cuarón and George Miller, directors of similarly gigantic cinematic achievements. But his handling of theme, that of time, invoked by the film’s structure, elevates him above being purely a masterful technician. Nolan, showcased perhaps most efficiently and thouguhyl by his direction of Dunkirk, is a masterful storyteller.

Runner-up: David Lowery — A Ghost Story

Bret Burry/A24/Courtesy

A Ghost Story is obviously a very personal story to David Lowery, and sometimes, because something’s personal, it fails to be translated and executed in a way that resonates with audiences. And yet, there’s so much care offered to each frame, to each performance, to how each aspect of production, from technical to emotional, coalesces into the singularity that is A Ghost Story — a tale about grief that is as human as any film you might think of. Lowery’s direction, how he holds on to scenes, how he paces and progresses the narrative and how he forces the viewer to confront the film, is sublime. But his job as a director perhaps becomes elevated by how he works with his team and how he opens up to suggestion. The film initially was structured much more linearly until Shane Carruth came in to help edit. The film also lacked the song I Get Overwhelmed and how that song is intimately connected to the characters until Daniel Hart, who created the song, suggested it. Lowery’s personal vision doesn’t fail because he allows others in on it. A Ghost Story is not the sign of a typical “auteur,” but of someone who knows that in order to craft his deeply personal message, it has to become about the collaboration between everyone. And in that way, under that type of direction, A Ghost Story is a fully realized story about the weight of time.

— Kyle Kizu

Nominees:
3. Edgar Wright — Baby Driver
4. Bong Joon-ho — Okja
5. Trey Edward Shults — It Comes At Night

Honorable Mention: Matt Reeves — War for the Planet of the Apes

Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role: Florence Pugh — Lady Macbeth

Roadside Attractions/Courtesy

It was a summer of nasty women. In an attempt at viral marketing, the team behind The Beguiled rolled out a summer campaign that dubbed its leading ladies “vengeful bitches.” While the term certainly fit, an unassuming summer indie ended up making Sofia Coppola’s scheming Southern belles look positively docile. Lady Macbeth, starring Florence Pugh, was the feminist, “burn the patriarchy” movie of the summer. In the beginning, it’s a tired tale; Katherine (Pugh) is married off to an older man in what is quickly revealed to be a loveless marriage. Unlike similar period dramas, however, Katherine is no damsel in distress. She makes the jump from blushing bride to cunning psychopath in the blink of an eye, manipulating everyone in the household as her plan comes to fruition. It’s a star-making performance for Pugh, who shot the film at 19 and currently sits on the precipice of becoming Hollywood’s newest ingenue.

— Kate Halliwell

Runner-up: Ahn Seo-hyun — Okja

Netflix/Courtesy

None of Okja’s jabs at the meat industry, animal rights activism and the violence condoned by capitalism would hit hard without the audience’s investment in the relationship at the film’s core — the friendship between Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) and Okja. Since Okja is a CG creation, Ahn deserves praise for being able to act alongside a stuffed animal (later replaced with a CG super pig). She wrings heaps of emotion from us, as she frolics with Okja in the woods of her home, and as she descends into a hellish meat packing plant to save her friend. Ahn is one of the best child actors working today, and she has an undeniably bright future ahead of her.

— Harrison Tunggal

Nominees:
3. Aubrey Plaza — Ingrid Goest West
4. Charlize Theron — Atomic Blonde
5. Gal Gadot — Wonder Woman

Honorable Mention: Nicole Kidman — The Beguiled

Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role: Andy Serkis — War for the Planet of the Apes

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

War for the Planet of the Apes, despite the grandeur and bombast implied by the title, is an intimate character study. As a result, the film relies heavily on closeups of character’s faces, more so than its two predecessors, and Andy Serkis (Caesar) rises, like he’s never done before, to that challenge. Serkis should have been nominated for awards for his pioneering motion capture work long ago, but detractors claim that CGI gives him an unfair advantage. No matter where you stand on this issue, it’s undeniable that War is predicated on Serkis’ performance. The computer wizardry behind Caesar needs to start somewhere, and Serkis provides expressions that could stand on their own. If the film isn’t evidence of the man’s talent (It is!) just look at this. We knew Serkis could deliver an extraordinary breadth of emotion from the previous films in the Apes franchise, but War considerably widens that breadth. Through the film’s close-ups, the camera lingers on the pain, weariness and sometimes joy that Caesar feels, and those emotions are extremely palpable. In particular, when Caesar is reunited with his loved ones, we see a character defined by his composure break down completely, and Serkis’ performance is powerful enough to move us to tears. Serkis truly deserves every amount of praise that comes his way, and hopefully, come fall, Academy voters won’t tune out such praise.

— Harrison Tunggal

Runner-up: Joel Edgerton — It Comes At Night

A24/Courtesy

It Comes at Night is a film that revels in ambiguity, and that extends to Joel Edgerton’s performance as Paul, a man trying to protect his family amid a viral apocalypse. In many ways, the ambiguity in the film shows how difficult it can be to trust other people, and Edgerton’s performance is nuanced enough to suggest varying degrees of morality and maybe something sinister too. He claims to have been a teacher, but how does he know how to efficiently dispose of a body, let alone shoot with tip top accuracy? Edgerton’s facial expressions don’t give us any answers, intentionally keeping us in the dark. There’s a certain weight to the character that Edgerton brings too, a grounded sense of power that gives every yell and deep stare a harsh resonance, and that’s the brilliance of his performance.

— Harrison Tunggal

Nominees:
3. Robert Pattinson — Good Time
4. Kumail Nanjiani — The Big Sick
5. Woody Harrelson — The Glass Castle

Honorable Mention: John Cho — Columbus

Best Motion Picture of the Summer: Dunkirk

Warner Bros./Courtesy

From the very beginning of Dunkirk, especially if viewed in IMAX 70mm, we are immersed, moved and affected on every sensory level in ways that virtual reality could only dream of. As showcased by its various technical awards, Dunkirk is a film that begs to be seen theatrically, that fights for the art form of cinema as it’s truly and only a cinematic experience. It’s host to action sequences that we almost never get, realistic and bracingly physical scenes that truly transport us to the beaches of Dunkirk, to the boats on the channel and to the air above, realized by artists, on every level, working toward their full potential. Its structure is experimental and, through perfect execution, almost groundbreaking, opening up a new space in how one experiences a film and how a filmmaking crafts a tense and utterly transformative story. But then there’s the sense of theme within the film that elevates it, a theme that Christopher Nolan’s been obsessed with investigating since the start of his career: time. Time works in the film to add to suspense. But it also works in building perspective, to capture scope and to evoke humanity. Dunkirk is wrapped in terror, horror, fear and more, but there’s a through-line of humanity, how all of those intense and overwhelming emotions come directly from our humanity, something Nolan approaches with empathy. In its final minutes, toned triumphantly, Dunkirk solidifies itself as more than just a technical achievement. It’s a film that represents everything that film stands for, in the theatrical, cinematic experience, both on a sensory level, but also on a deeply emotional, resonant and empathetic level as well.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: It Comes At Night

A24/Courtesy

In It Comes at Night, indie-cinema-savior A24 and budding horror visionary Trey Edward Shults team up to deliver a sparse, Lynchian slow-burn of a horror-thriller, one where nightmares bleed into reality to create an inescapable sense of fear and dread. Such fear is merciless and it easily devours even the most moral of people, so when the film postulates this sentiment, a lurch in the gut becomes inevitable. Never mind the ambiguity surrounding the identity of the titular “it.” Ignore the divided opinions between critics and audiences. This film warns us that untethered, insidious fear will be our doom, and it’s a warning that needs heeding now more than ever.

— Harrison Tunggal

Nominees:
3. A Ghost Story
4. The Big Sick
5. War for the Planet of the Apes
6. Baby Driver
7. Wonder Woman
8. Okja
9. Good Time
10. The Beguiled

Honorable Mention: Columbus

 

A Note: We at MovieMinis feel a need to take into account sexual harassment and assault when relevant to films. ‘A Ghost Story’ is one of those films where a conversation must be had in order to be responsible writers, journalists and human beings. Casey Affleck was accused of sexual harassment while making the film ‘I’m Still Here.’ The cases were settled out of court. We will not, nor will we ever, act as the court, but we will and must believe the women that took cases up with him because it is necessary — as so few victims of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape are believed in the first place. This past of Casey Affleck has influenced many viewers of ‘A Ghost Story’ in deeply negative and painful ways, so we must make clear that our recognition of the film is not in support or endorsement of him. We denounce those actions and we must confront the reality that ‘A Ghost Story’ will always be affected by his presence. In our decision to recognize the film, we aimed to fully avoid Affleck and hoped to look at the achievements of the other people who made undeniably excellent contributions to the film. While ‘A Ghost Story’ should never be looked at as wholly separate from Affleck, we feel as though there’s a way to both celebrate the work of certain artists while also not ignoring the problems that arise with his involvement. We hope we’ve been responsible and we stand with survivors and victims. 

Featured image via Warner Bros.