Tag Archives: Holly Hunter

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

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

8. Mudbound

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

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

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

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

7. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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

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

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

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

6. Hostiles

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

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

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

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

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

5. War for the Planet of the Apes

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

A24/Courtesy

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

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

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

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

1. Dunkirk

Warner Bros./Courtesy

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

 

Featured image via Amazon Studios/Netflix.

 

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

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

Independent Spirit Award nominations: Analysis and predictions

While it may still be a long time before we get the 2018 Oscar nominations — with all of the guild and critics prizes yet to come — the cinematic gods blessed us with arguably an even more interesting set of films: the Independent Spirit Awards.

Unlike the Oscars, which always tend to be predicated on what studio spends the most for its films to garner nominations and eventual wins — assuming the quality of the film is mostly there too — the Independent Spirit Awards almost always go for an eclectic crop of nominees. For example, the highly acclaimed, but rarely seen The Rider receiving nominations for Best Feature over a film like Mudbound and for Best Director over Greta Gerwig with Lady Bird.

While submissions and snubs are abound in any awards show, the Indie Spirit Awards do their job in providing a wealth of options that have both broke out in the mainstream (Get Out, Lady Bird, Three Billboards), masterpieces waiting to be released after a hugely successful festival run (Call Me by Your Name, I, Tonya) and underseen but deserving gems (The Lovers, Columbus, Beach Rats).

Below you will find an analysis of the main categories, with way-too-early predictions in each category for what may win come March 3rd, 2018.

 

Best Feature:

Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy

Call Me by Your Name
The Florida Project
Get Out
Lady Bird
The Rider

Analysis: Anyone of these films are quality enough to win, all being festival favorites throughout the year. And four of them (Call Me by Your Name, The Florida Project, Get OutLady Bird) are legitimate contenders for Best Picture nominations.

With that being said, once seeing how the whole field looks, it appears that there are truly only two threats for the win here: Call Me by Your Name and Get Out. The Rider was stronger than anyone expected, picking up Best Feature, Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Editing nominations. Lady Bird was great across the board, but missed out on a Best Directing nom, showing a potential weakness for the win. The Florida Project received a Best Feature and Best Director nom, but missed out on Best Supporting Actor for Oscar front-running Willem Dafoe, as well as Best Editing, Best Screenplay, and Best Cinematography. All of these missed noms show an overall weakness that The Florida Project has (or just how highly competitive indies were this year).

Nonetheless, if Get Out and Call Me by Your Name are the frontrunners and thus the titans of the field, then there honestly aren’t two better options. Get Out is one of the highest grossing indies of all time, as well as, still, one of the best reviewed of the year. It’s a film from first-time director Jordan Peele that goes straight for the jugular of white liberalism and the hidden racialized beliefs that persist within society. The film is a savage satire on the institutions and ideas that stigmatize and oppress minorities. Balancing horror, comedy, mystery, thriller, drama and practically everything in between, Get Out remains the event film of the year when it comes to creating relevant and necessary discussion about America’s past and present race relations.

Call Me by Your Name may be more modest in its aims. However, there may not have been a more sensual screen realization of the aching, painful first love a young person goes through. Where most films about a homosexual relationship feature societal pressure and punishment for their non-conforming relationship, such as the tribulations the characters face in Moonlight or Brokeback Mountain, Call Me by Your Name instead allows the pain to come from two lovers that know their time together is running out. With excellent performances from Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer, Call Me by Your Name makes you feel the ching lust, the heavy desire, the impending heartbreak that these two young men face. Directed by Italian maestro Luca Guadagnino, Call Me by Your Name is a queer masterpiece, but a universal one too.  

Will win: Call Me by Your Name
Could win: Get Out
Should win: Call Me by Your Name

 

Best Director:

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

Jonas Carpignano, A Ciambra
Luca Guadagnino, Call Me by Your Name
Jordan Peele, Get Out
Sean Baker, The Florida Project
Benny and Josh Safdie, Good Time
Chloé Zhao, The Rider

Analysis: Every nominee here is absolutely deserving, yet, it was interesting to see the field expanded to six nominees, and one of them wasn’t Greta Gerwig’s 400 Blows-esque debut with Lady Bird. Nonetheless, if Benny and Josh Safdie got in over her, for their subtle exploration of white privilege in America within their very-not-subtle bad decisions heist thriller, then so be it. Their urban, gritty descent into madness with a stunning, Indie Spirit-nominated Robert Pattinson might actually be a threat to win here due to Good Time being so strong in every other category — landing a Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Editing and a worthy yet fully unexpected Supporting Actress nomination.

But who am I kidding? Like above, there are really three, but more likely two nominees that can win. Sean Baker has a chance, due to The Florida Project moving nearly everyone who sees it, but this will be a Guadagnino versus Peele showdown. And both are incredibly deserving. While it appears that the beauty of Call Me by Your Name would be a likely Best Feature winner, the intensity and relevancy of Get Out will make it hard to be ignored for the Best Director award.

Will win: Jordan Peele, Get Out
Could win: Sean Baker, The Florida Project or Luca Guadagnino, Call Me by Your Name
Should win: Jordan Peele, Get Out

 

Best Female Lead:

Fox Searchlight/Courtesy

Salma Hayek, Beatriz at Dinner
Frances McDormand, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Shinobu Terajima, Oh Lucy
Regina Williams, Life and Nothing More

Analysis: This category is a prime example of what makes the Independent Spirit Awards so special. We have three women who are potential Oscar nominees (and maybe even winners), and three women who likely will be ignored by most critics and guild prizes, despite being entirely worthy. Regina Williams, Shinobu Terajima and Salma Hayek all give arguably their career best in films that were all greatly reviewed, and, in the case of Beatriz at Dinner and Life and Nothing More, showed strength in multiple categories.

But truly, this is a Robbie or Ronan or McDormand win, who showcase some of the best lead performances of the year, regardless of gender. Robbie continues to dazzle audiences by going against type, as funny, but twisted real-life figure skater Tonya Harding in the pitch black comedy biopic I, Tonya. Frances McDormand brings a bruised humanity to Three Billboards, upstaging great performances from Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson and John Hawkes. The film is an angry examination of the lack of urgency of police in certain situations, as well as a pitch-perfect character study of the women and police involved in an unsolved murder and rape case. McDormand gives one of her all-time best, which by her standards, says a lot about the masterful Martin McDonagh film.

Then, there is Saoirse Ronan, giving her career best in Lady Bird — a film in which she deftly balances being both an intelligent teenager with large ambitions, as well as a naive young woman figuring out life as she goes. Featuring moments comical and entirely moving, especially when in scenes with her screen mother Laurie Metcalf, Ronan is a real threat to be the major winner for Lady Bird.

Will win: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Could win: Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Should win: Honestly, all of them are excellent.

 

Best Male Lead:

Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy

Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name
Harris Dickinson, Beach Rats
James Franco, The Disaster Artist
Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
Robert Pattinson, Good Time

Analysis: It’s hard to call a race over when each nominee is incredible, but this one, for all intents and purposes, is likely over.

James Franco gives his best performance yet, in the moving, hilarious and ultimately tragic The Disaster Artist, a film about the making of the worst film of all time, The Room. Then there’s Robert Pattinson’s masterfully manipulative Connie in Good Time — another career best and potential dark horse Oscar candidate. Daniel Kaluuya carries what is shaping up to be one of the awards season heavy hitters, deftly playing a victim and a person unwilling to be subjected to the horrors that white culture thrust upon him.

Ultimately though, Timothée Chalamet will walk away with the award. Whether you love or just like Call Me by Your Name, there’s no doubting the raw lead performance from the 21-year-old Chalamet. There’re a few scenes in this film where Timothée sells the lies that his character tells to loved ones, but also the hidden truths that are found in body language. One of the last scenes in the film, which is nothing shorter than at least a five-minute close up, on nothing else but Timothée’s face, will surely be a scene that people will be haunted by as they leave this masterful, beautiful, exhilarating film about the passion and pain of first love.

Will win: Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name
Could win: James Franco, The Disaster Artist
Should win: Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name

 

Best Supporting Female:

Holly Hunter, The Big Sick
Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Lois Smith, Marjorie Prime
Taliah Lennice Webster, Good Time

Will win: Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Could win: Holly Hunter, The Big Sick or Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird or Lois Smith, Marjorie Prime
Should win: Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

 

Best Supporting Male:

Nnamdi Asomugha, Crown Heights
Armie Hammer, Call Me by Your Name
Barry Keoghan, The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Benny Safdie, Good Time

Will win: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Could win: Armie Hammer, Call Me by Your Name
Should win: Any of the five are incredible.

 

Best Screenplay:

Lady Bird
The Lovers
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Get Out
Beatriz at Dinner

Will win: Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Could win: Get Out or Lady Bird
Should win: Lady Bird

 

Best First Screenplay:

Donald Cried
The Big Sick
Women Who Kill
Columbus
Ingrid Goes West

Will win: The Big Sick
Could win: Ingrid Goes West
Should win: The Big Sick

 

Best Cinematography:

The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Columbus
Beach Rats
Call Me by Your Name
The Rider

Will win: Call Me by Your Name
Could win: The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Should win: Columbus

 

Best Editing:

Good Time
Call Me by Your Name
The Rider
Get Out
I, Tonya

Will win: Get Out
Could win: Call Me by Your Name
Should win: Good Time or I, Tonya

 

John Cassavetes Award:

A Ghost Story
Dayveon
Life and Nothing More
Most Beautiful Island
The Transfiguration

Will win: A Ghost Story
Could win: Dayveon or Life and Nothing More
Should win: A Ghost Story

 

Best Documentary:

The Departure
Faces Places
Last Men in Aleppo
Motherland
Quest

Will win: Faces Places
Could win: Last Men in Aleppo
Should win: Faces Places

 

Best International Film:

A Fantastic Woman
BPM
Lady Macbeth
I Am Not a Witch
Loveless

Will win: A Fantastic Woman
Could win: Loveless
Should win: A Fantastic Woman

 

Featured image via Universal/Sony Pictures Classics/A24.

Opinion: Why I value ‘Batman v Superman’ more than a film like ‘Thor: Ragnarok’

*Spoilers for ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ and ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’*

To be necessarily clear, Thor: Ragnarok is a far better film than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. There is no debate. But that’s not the question here.

The question is of value — something that’s rather subjective and, thus, changes from person to person. In regard to both of these films, I personally see a difference in what value they add to the superhero genre, and in what value they hold as films in general. There’s no doubting that Thor: Ragnarok has great value if only considering the fact that more people now know who Taika Waititi is. The film is also stunning to look at, a visually beautiful and coherently composed comic book movie — a rarity among the miles of grey muck that have become a staple in the very universe that I’m about to make a case for.

But when thinking about which film I value more, I quite easily gravitate to Batman v Superman. Again, to be clear, it’s not a good film. It’s a perfect example of sloppy storytelling. But I find myself hooked by the story Batman v Superman wants to tell more than the story Thor: Ragnarok does. The third Thor film is rather clean, generally well-executed storytelling — yet I feel so little depth in its ideas. With Batman v Superman, I’ve yet to mine all of the intricacies behind its ugly mask.

Thor: Ragnarok is not without its share of fascinating ideas. Introducing Hela as Thor’s sister and revealing that Odin did not come to Asgard in peace, but rather as a conqueror, present brilliantly complex conflict for both the story and for Thor, our main character. Smashing Thor’s hammer in the first act is a necessary kind of superhero deconstruction, asking who this character is without his most powerful weapon. And using biblical and immigrant imagery, to the tone of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, sets up the climax to be gripping and emotional.

But Ragnarok gets lost in its second act and fails to execute what it wants to do with its third. The planet of Sakaar has the ingredients to carry the story’s thematic concerns along through the film’s middle — a dictator who subjects his people to Roman-like arena death battles while most live in poverty. It had the chance to be a mirror to Asgard and to help Thor learn what he must to be able to come back and dethrone Hela.

But the film’s greatest asset, its comedy, also washes over this potential. While moments such as Thor and Hulk bantering in Hulk’s room or Korg being the one of the most hilarious characters in the MCU are entertaining, they’re given too much time. The film tips overboard in its improvisation without considering what that might do to the development of the story and to the arc of Thor.

To be brutally honest, I feel as though the second act flatlines in hindsight. It’s fun, but once we get to the third act and realize that Thor has to defend his people, take down Hela and make the choice to leave Asgard behind, we realize that the second act wasn’t enough — not even close to enough. Thor taking on Hela should’ve held so much more weight; this is his sister and, if he can love Loki like a true brother, he should be much more conflicted about Hela. It shouldn’t feel as though we’re watching Thor “beat” her, but more so overcome this part of his family that naturally leans toward ruling rather than leading. Thus, the thematic imagery at the end, of the people of Asgard fleeing across the bridge, doesn’t hit home emotionally.

In essence, I find only so much value in Thor: Ragnarok as a superhero film. It’s hilarious, but even the jokes fall flat once the story does.

While the way in which it tells its story is muddled, on a conceptual level, I see a consistency of interest in what Batman v Superman wants to do throughout its entirety.

The opening does so much work, driving home the character motivation of Bruce Wayne with harrowing, 9/11-esque visuals. It perfectly juxtaposes the two characters and sets up the dynamic between Batman and Superman — a man and a god.

Throughout the film, in every layer, this is what’s at stake. Bruce Wayne fears the power of a god, that, at any moment, this god could wipe out millions of lives. Each moment with Bruce Wayne is gripping as his character traverses an arc of growing anger. On the other hand, Superman grapples with the fact that he’s provoking so much fear. He’s a character who believes in good and is challenged when he sees that his efforts for good don’t inspire more of it in mankind. Some have contended that Zack Snyder’s portrayal of Superman goes against who the character is and, to be fair, I’m not aware of who exactly the character is in the comics. But there’s a logic to the direction of his character in this world that Snyder created.

This tension is extended to Holly Hunter’s Senator Finch and to Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, as both are concerned with the same thing — Superman’s power — but tackle that concern in different ways. Luthor’s backstory, having a German father who “had to march in a parade and wave flowers at tyrants,” which is heavy with implications, informs this intensely vengeful distaste for a figure with such tyrannical potential. Seeing Luthor force this god to his knees by threatening his humanity — his mother — is the kind of superhero imagery I want; it’s visually brilliant on an aesthetic level, but even more so because of its thematic level.

In regard to Superman’s humanity, Batman v Superman’s climax, the Martha moment, is horrendously executed. It’s terrible, and there’s no defending how it was portrayed. But it’s unfair to write off the concept there as equally terrible because it’s consistent with the story’s development. The only way Bruce can overcome his anger for Superman is to see him as Clark, to see him as a human being. So while the execution is poor, the idea is admirable. And to have man actually best god is even more admirable.

And, once Batman and Superman have reconciled, to then have man and god face the devil — Doomsday, who is created by man — is another sign of thematic consistency, and becomes even more engaging when it’s god who sacrifices himself for a mankind that never truly believed in him.

It may sound like I’m touting Batman v Superman as a brilliant movie, but I’m not. I’m simply admiring the deep fascination and care it has for story and character, regardless of how bad its storytelling is. That’s where the difference is for me. In Thor: Ragnarok, I see adept storytelling, but so much less care for character and story. While its execution is cleaner, it feels more hollow.

In essence, I’m admiring ambition. I value the attempt of Batman v Superman more so than the success of Thor: Ragnarok. I want superhero films that genuinely want to do something great with its characters.

 

Featured image via Warner Bros.

Eight great female director/actress duos working today

Recurring partnerships between directors and actors are a long standing Hollywood tradition. Even the casual movie-goer probably recognizes the more famous duos by now: Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio, Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, Christopher Nolan and Michael Caine, Wes Anderson and Bill Murray.

Some male directors also work repeatedly with the same female actress, often referred to (somewhat creepily) as their “muse.” Pedro Almodovar has done five films with Penelope Cruz, for example, and the Coens keep working with Frances McDormand again and again (she is married to Joel Coen, though, so this one makes sense.)

But in reading about these partnerships, female directors are rarely, if ever, mentioned. We’ve compiled a list of the best female director/actress duos working today, from Sofia Coppola and Kirsten Dunst to The Wachowski sisters and Doona Bae.

Talk about girl power.

Sofia Coppola/Kirsten Dunst

Columbia Pictures/Courtesy

The magical connection between Sofia Coppola and Kirsten Dunst began in 1999 with The Virgin Suicides, continued in 2006 with Marie Antoinette, and most recently resurfaced this year in The Beguiled. (Not to mention her short cameo in The Bling Ring.) Most directors may not see Dunst as a period piece muse, but Coppola saw the potential there before almost everyone else (for more of Dunst’s pitch-perfect period work, check out season 2 of Fargo.) Coppola and Dunst may not have anything else lined up at the moment, but it’s only a matter of time— and we can’t wait for their next dark, dreamy, pastel-colored partnership.

Lisa Langseth/Alicia Vikander

Gus Kaage/Courtesy

Anyone who has only seen Alicia Vikander’s English-language work is missing out on some of her best performances to date. The Oscar-winning actress got her first few leading roles thanks to Swedish director Lisa Langseth, who cast Vikander in Pure and Hotel long before she caught the Tulip Fever. This year, Langseth reteams with Vikander for Euphoria, the director’s first English-language film, also starring Eva Green and Charlotte Rampling.

Kelly Reichardt/Michelle Williams

Tribune News Service/Courtesy

Williams has worked with Reichardt three times to date, in Wendy and Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff, and Certain Women. Just as Reichardt is known for her subtle, quietly emotional films, Williams has built a career on understated but poignant performances; in other words, they’re a match made in movie heaven.

Ava DuVernay/Oprah Winfrey

Paramount/Courtesy

Leave it to Ava DuVernay to choose the one and only Oprah Winfrey as her partner in crime. DuVernay first cast Oprah in her Oscar-nominated film Selma, and directed her again in the upcoming adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time. Oprah and Ava are also partners off-screen; DuVernay’s TV series Queen Sugar debuted on OWN (the Oprah Winfrey Network) last year, and it’s still going strong. DuVernay also notably uses all female directors for the series, and primarily hires women of color.

Nicole Holofcener/Catherine Keener

Tribune News Service/Courtesy

Holofcener and Keener are a standout duo on this list due to the fact that Keener has been in every single movie Holofcener has ever made — five films by now, and more in the works. From 1996’s Walking and Talking to 2013’s Enough Said, Holofcener and Keener have an unprecedented female director/actress partnership. According to an interview with Variety, the two met at the gym, while Keener was on the StairMaster.

Gillian Robespierre/Jenny Slate

A24/Courtesy

From their first outing together in Obvious Child, it was clear that Gillian Robespierre and Jenny Slate are a creative match made in heaven. It takes a lot to make abortion funny, but Slate’s wacky and relatable sense of humor mixed perfectly with Robespierre’s lightning quick script and canny direction. The duo teamed up again this year for Landline, an ode to New York in the ‘90s, which follows Slate’s character as she discovers her father’s infidelity. Both films are similar in tone, if not in plot, and both films have proven that Slate and Robespierre’s creative personalities go hand in hand. Here’s to many more witty, sneakily heartbreaking collaborations.

Jane Campion/Holly Hunter

Sundance TV/Courtesy

Campion and Hunter first teamed up for The Piano in 1993, which won Hunter the Oscar for Best Lead Actress, as well as Campion for Best Original Screenplay. Despite the success of their first outing together, it took twenty years for the duo to reteam — this time on the small screen. Campion’s Top of the Lake, which just aired its second season, follows a female detective (Elizabeth Moss) as she returns to her New Zealand hometown to spend time with her dying mother and solve a missing persons case. When casting mysterious, androgynous cult leader GJ, Campion told Radio Times that she immediately thought of Hunter. “ [She was] this enlightened character, who is kind of wild and fierce and crazy and astute. I thought Holly would be perfect, because she’s got an unusual strength of character. She likes to take a risk.” Top of the Lake may not have won Campion and Hunter the kind of recognition they got for The Piano, but both seasons have aired to critical raves and a burgeoning cult following.

Lilly and Lana Wachowski/Doona Bae

Netflix/Courtesy

The Wachowskis have gone through a lot of personal changes in the past few years, as both Lilly and Lana have come out as transgender women. Their work, however, has remained characteristically inclusive, ambitious, and outright bonkers. From Cloud Atlas to Jupiter Ascending and Netflix’s popular series Sense8, the Wachowskis have worked with Korean actress Doona Bae three times to date. As muses go, Bae has to be one of the more badass on this list; her action scenes as Sun in Sense8 were some of the best on television, and we can only hope that the Wachowski sisters see fit to give her a lead role in their next inevitable team-up.

Featured image via Paramount.

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

Focus Features/Courtesy

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

Warner Bros./Courtesy

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

Warner Bros./Courtesy

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

Marvel/Courtesy

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

Focus Features/Courtesy

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

Warner Bros./Courtesy

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

A24/Courtesy

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

Warner Bros./Courtesy

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

Sony Pictures/Courtesy

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 

Warner Bros./Courtesy

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

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

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

Warner Bros./Courtesy

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

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

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

Warner Bros./Courtesy

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

Amazon/Courtesy

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

Warner Bros./Courtesy

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

A24/Courtesy

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

Amazon/Courtesy

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.