Tag Archives: Logan

March Madness of Movies: Introducing the Brackets

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

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

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

The four topics we ended up on are:

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

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

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

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

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

Best A24 Films

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

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

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

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

Best Superhero Villain of the 21st Century

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Big Budget Directing of the 21st Century

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

In Superhero Directing:

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

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

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

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

In Franchise Directing:

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

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

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

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

In Prestige/Original/Non-Franchise Studio Directing

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

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

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

In Animated Directing:

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

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

Best Cinematography Since 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

Netflix/Courtesy

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

20. The Shape of Water

Fox Searchlight Pictures/Courtesy

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

19. Lucky

Magnolia Pictures/Courtesy

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

18. The Breadwinner

Gkids/Courtesy

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

17. Molly’s Game

Michael Gibson/STX Entertainment/Courtesy

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

16. The Florida Project

A24/Courtesy

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

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

15. Phantom Thread

Focus Features/Courtesy

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

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

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

14. Kedi

Oscilloscope/Courtesy

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

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

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

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

13. The Lost City of Z

Amazon Studios/Courtesy

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

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

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

12Icarus 

Netflix/Courtesy

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

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

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

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

11. Jane

Abramorama/Courtesy

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

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

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

10. Lady Bird

A24/Courtesy

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

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

9. Loving Vincent

BreakThru Films/Trademark Films/Courtesy

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

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

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

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

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

8. Mudbound

Netflix/Courtesy

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

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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

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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

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

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

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

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

2. A Ghost Story

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

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

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

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

1. Dunkirk

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

 

Featured image via Amazon Studios/Netflix.

 

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

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

Shoulda Been A Contenda: Films that deserved awards recognition

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

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

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

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

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

Kedi (Best Documentary)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philip Glass — Jane (Best Original Score)

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

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

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

Dafne Keen — Logan (Best Supporting Actress)

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

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

Jason Mitchell — Mudbound (Best Supporting Actor)

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

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

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

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

Vicky Krieps — Phantom Thread (Best Lead Actress)

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

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

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

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

Christian Bale — Hostiles (Best Lead Actor)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blade Runner 2049 (Best Picture)

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

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

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

 

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

Top 10 underappreciated performances of 2017

Each year sees hundreds of new films, many of them filled with great performances. But as the year wraps up, the conversation around performances often becomes too focused on those that end up competing for awards, and those that many feel should be competing for awards.

With those hundreds of films, however, there are, genuinely, hundreds of performances that are worthy of praise, and it is the job of us film writers to make sure that they are given their fair share.

Here are our top 10 underappreciated performances of 2017:

10. Kirsten Dunst — The Beguiled

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The explicit emotions in The Beguiled come from Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman. And Elle Fanning is rather good too in defining another, more youthful space, complimented by the other young actresses around her. But Kirsten Dunst adds a layer that no other player does.

Throughout, in quiet moments where Dunst’s eyes do much of the work in how softly expressive they are, we get a sense that the character is depressed and emotionally weathered due to the situation of being stuck during the war. The material allows Dunst to be both explorative and harrowingly frozen, and her performance evokes that grander scope of the war, specifically from the perspective of women.

— Kyle Kizu

9. Cillian Murphy — Dunkirk

Warner Bros./Melinda Sue Gordon/Courtesy

To many, Dunkirk is not necessarily a character-driven film, propelled more so by the visual experience. But we’d like to push back on that notion. Mark Rylance is usually the stand-out in conversations, his character being, truly, the emotional center and guide of the film.

Yet, perhaps the more haunting performance comes from Cillian Murphy as The Shivering Soldier. Murphy’s job is deceptively physical. Rylance’s Mr. Dawson describes him as shell-shocked, which is easily taken for granted. However, under close observation, Murphy is doing so much to sell that role. There are so many small moments that would’ve taken away so many layers from the film were they not there, such as toward the end when Murphy’s character cowers in fear at one last incoming German plane and has to be escorted inside the ship by Mr. Dawson.

And then, quite clearly, there’s his outburst toward the middle, which is one of the most tragic displays of the terrors of war in the entire film. While the editing does fascinating work, cutting from his character days prior, the immense panic is so palpable because of, again, Murphy’s physicality and precisely how that physicality pushes the panicked words out of his character.

— Kyle Kizu

8. Colin Farrell — The Killing of a Sacred Deer

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Writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos and actor Colin Farrell followed up the wonderfully unique The Lobster with The Killing of a Sacred Deer and, once again, have a darkly comedic — mostly dark — movie on their hands. It’s hard not to think of Funny Games when watching it.

Farrell, who’s making a career of starring in small-scale films, is excellent in this one as Steven, a father and doctor faced with a harrowing decision: kill one of his children or his wife, or they all die. Farrell plays the obvious horror of the situation convincingly. As an audience, it’s hard not to side with him at first — after all, this seems random, sadistic even. But as the plot unveils, so too does Steven’s brashness and, beyond that, his cowardice.

Perhaps helped by his experience with Lanthimos’ scripts, Farrell delivers the lines perfectly, without his tongue too firmly planted in his cheek. There’s certainly humor in his deadpan performance, but there’s realism too. There’s shock, pain and denial. Beyond all, Steven has a seeming desire to end conversations as quickly as possible, before we learn too much about him.

— Hooman Yazdanian

7. Woody Harrelson — The Glass Castle

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It’s funny because we’d argue that Woody Harrelson had a better performance than the one that got him an Oscar nomination. In plenty of his roles, it’s often simply just ‘Woody being Woody,’ which is, by no means, a bad thing. He’s one of the most enjoyable actors in the business when he’s simply just Woody.

Yet, in The Glass Castle, Harrelson is magnetic and truly crafts a character that extends beyond the man behind it. There’s much of the trademark Woody here, his gigantic personality fitting right into the character of Rex. But there’s an added layer of the character’s self-loathing, his eccentric beliefs and his great love for his family that Harrelson works into every scene. And when they come to the surface, such as when Rex tells his daughter Jeannette, a child, that her burn scar is not ugly or when he voices his regrets in life to her, now an adult, Harrelson heartbreakingly channels and brings out the emotional truth of such a complexly flawed, yet deeply feeling man.

— Kyle Kizu

6. Ryan Gosling — Blade Runner 2049

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Ryan Gosling’s performance in Blade Runner 2049 was perhaps too spot on. He seamlessly disappears into the role as Agent K, a replicant Blade Runner whose mental and emotional stability is slowly challenged throughout the entirety of the film’s 164 minutes. Granted, there’s plenty of character work being done in the music and editing, but Gosling absolutely nails the expressionless faces and soft line delivery that hint at so much more going on underneath. In that regard, two scenes stand out in particular: K approaching the furnace in which he hid his toy horse, suggesting that his memories may be real, and K meeting Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri) for the first time where she does confirm that the memories are real. In both, Gosling says next to nothing, but optimizes his eyes, body and facial muscles to render those character moments utterly haunting. And as the film wraps up, and it’s revealed (spoilers) that K was not Deckard’s child, but simply had the memories of Deckard’s real kid, we see a change in K’s eyes that evokes such profound tragedy.

Gosling’s performance is subtle. And his casting may have been too perfect for his turn to be appreciated to its fullest; the man is simply too good looking and his behavior too charmingly composed that it wouldn’t be a stretch if he was revealed, in real life, to be an android.

But he is truly doing so much work in every frame, every close-up, and the film rests entirely on him pulling it all off.

— Kyle Kizu

5. Dafne Keen — Logan

Ben Rothstein/20th Century Fox/Courtesy

There’s often an age bias when judging child performances in relation to those of adults, which becomes all the more frustrating when one deserves to stand tall next to the actors that eventually receive awards. And this year, Dafne Keen fits right into that unfortunate circumstance in regard to her nearly unbelievable turn in Logan.

Next to one of Hugh Jackman’s greatest performance, Keen holds her own in every regard. Her ferocity is untamed, but distinctly human. Her chemistry with Jackman is fluid and dynamic, as she even takes hold of scenes with him, such as the one in the car when she lists the names of her friends that are in danger. For much of her screentime, Keen has no dialogue, but she lends a searching quality to Laura that perfectly underscores the growing relationship between her and Logan.

Too many take for granted that the ending relies so heavily on her nailing the monologue from Shane. But Keen is emotionally raw and brave in the moment, both paving beautiful space for her character moving forward and allowing such perfect, profound reflection on the life of Logan, which was a monumental task considering that Jackman’s character had been present for seventeen years before Keen showed up.

— Kyle Kizu

4. Beanie Feldstein — Lady Bird

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Most of the hype surrounding the performances in the much-beloved Lady Bird has been around the leading daughter-mother combo of Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) and Marion (Laurie Metcalf). But Beanie Feldstein ensures Julie, Lady Bird’s best friend, still stands out.

Feldstein strikes an emotional nerve, stealing scenes and believably delivering what may be the film’s most powerful line: “Some people aren’t built happy, you know?” She balances this moment with savvy comedic timing and a take on love and jealousy in friendships that resonates deeply. As Lady Bird is clearly about to get in trouble at the assembly, Julie’s face contorts with concern and she clutches the bleacher seats, all in the midst of a fight with her best friend. Lady Bird and Julie’s conversation about where they’ll be after high school are believable and familiar, like peering through a window at every friend group’s conversations in the waning months of high school — it’s no surprise that Feldstein and Ronan apparently became close friends in real life.

In a year of worthy additions to the pantheon of cinematic best friends (here’s looking at you, Lil Rel Howery), Feldstein’s Julie may be the very best.

— Hooman Yazdanian

3. Harry Dean Stanton — Lucky

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Harry Dean Stanton, who sadly passed a few weeks before Lucky released, is just an absolute delight in the film. And it’s quite touching to see where the film goes thematically in regard to Stanton’s character. The titular Lucky is coming toward the end of his life and he must deal with the passage of time. Through that material, Stanton is riotously hilarious and equally as moving. Lucky is often alone, going through his daily routine, but Stanton eats up the physical space around him whether that be through his quirky physicality or his sarcastic, sassy comments. But even when the character is saying nothing and everything is quiet, Stanton conveys a rumination on life that pushes the film’s scope beyond what many might expect. It’s characterization that only comes from a masterful actor, and it’ll be difficult to forget his weird, hilarious, tragic, captivating final moments as he comments on the universe: “Blackness… the void!”

— Kyle Kizu

2. Robert Redford — Our Souls at Night

Netflix/Courtesy

The quiet Our Souls at Night was ignored on, essentially, every level. But the film is outstanding, precisely because of how quiet it is. That’s where it finds its emotional drive, in the soft and tender moments.

So many of those moments come from Robert Redford as Louis Waters. The film picks up with him late in his life, and it’s slowly revealed that he’s had quite a long and often sad journey. We’re never offered flashbacks, but Redford still shoulders the weight of that past beautifully. We hear about things that happened to Louis and, through Redford’s small glances and brief words, we can see how all of that has informed who he is now, how all of that has crafted this quiet life we get to observe. In the most emotional scenes, all Redford needs to do is break his composure for a split second, and our hearts nearly shatter. It’s unbelievable work from the legendary actor, much of it being quite difficult to capture in words.

— Kyle Kizu

1. Betty Gabriel — Get Out

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

Betty Gabriel, who plays Georgina in Jordan Peele’s standout directorial debut Get Out, was a revelation. Gabriel’s Georgina, the Armitages’ housekeeper, is often at the crux of the film’s drama and tension, her face revealing more than words ever could, hinting at the central twist and the societal influence behind it.

Gabriel displays the textbook example of how to portray a “conflict within.” Her mannerisms stand out from the moment we see her on screen. Clearly, something is off. Is she evil? Has she been hypnotized? Is she trying to provide a warning? All these contradicting motivations are played perfectly and, somehow, simultaneously by Gabriel.

It’s impossible to keep our eyes off of her for the rest of the movie, whether when she brushes her hair or jump scares Chris (Daniel Kaluuya). Her most famous scene, where she cries, smiles, laughs and exudes terror — again, all at once — is masterful.

Gabriel seemingly came out of nowhere in Get Out (her previous biggest role was in another social thriller, The Purge: Election Year) but she ended up stealing scenes and producing a true standout performance in one of 2017’s very best films. Yet, no one — at least on the awards circuit — seems to have noticed.

— Hooman Yazdanian

 

Sophie-Marie Prime participated in voting for this list.

Featured image via 20th Century Fox/Warner Bros./Magnolia Pictures/A24.

Analyzing the Oscar Nominations

The Academy never fails to surprise or disappoint and, this year, they did both to varying degrees. Here are some of the notable takeaways from the nominations announced this morning:

Most nominated:

The Shape of Water earned 13 nominations to take the spot as the most nominated film of the year. It held on in categories such as Best Costume Design and Best Film Editing, where there was heavy competition, and pushed through into Best Supporting Actress with Octavia Spencer when it seemed that she was just beyond the edge.

The second most nominated film is Dunkirk, recognized in eight categories. The film was always a craft/technical juggernaut, and it showed up as such in Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Production Design and Best Cinematography. But the film also confirmed itself as one in the top of the pack, landing Best Director and Best Picture nominations.

A phantom contender:

Focus Features/Courtesy

While most expected nominations in Best Lead Actor for Daniel Day-Lewis and Best Costume Design for Mark Bridges, Phantom Thread was justly nominated in Best Original Score for Jonny Greenwood, Best Supporting Actress for Lesley Manville, Best Director for Paul Thomas Anderson and Best Motion Picture. Anderson films doesn’t always click with the Academy, as The Master was limited to just acting nominations and the director was only nominated in the category once before for There Will Be Blood. The same can be said about Jonny Greenwood who, despite turning in brilliant work on those previously mentioned films as well as Inherent Vice, had never been nominated before.

Firsts:

These nominations provided plenty of firsts, both for individual artists as well as in Oscar history.

  • Rachel Morrison became the first woman to be nominated in Best Cinematography.
  • Logan became the first superhero film nominated in a writing category.
  • At 88, Christopher Plummer is the oldest acting nominee.
  • Among firsts for many in their career — such as Greenwood, actresses Margot Robbie and Mary J. Blige, actors Timothée Chalamet and Daniel Kaluuya and debut directors Greta Gerwig and Jordan Peele — perhaps the most notable first comes to a veteran. Christopher Nolan, director of landmark films such as MementoThe Dark Knight and Inception, earned his first Best Director nomination.
  • Dee Rees became the first Black woman to be nominated in Best Adapted Screenplay and joined Suzanne de Passe (Lady Sings the Blues) as the only Black women nominated for screenwriting.
  • Mary J. Blige became the first person ever nominated for a performance and for an original song in the same year, for the same film.
  • Netflix picked up its first non-documentary Oscar nominations with the four that Mudbound received.

Netflix/Courtesy

A year to celebrate women (but we can still do better):

Over the last fourth of 2017, culture began shifting as the world finally began talking — genuinely talking — about not only sexual assault and harassment, but other women’s rights areas such as equal pay, representation and opportunities.

Female filmmakers, particularly, have been championed and today, the Academy nominated Greta Gerwig in Best Director, making her the fifth woman to ever be nominated.

That stat is embarrassing and shameful, that there have been so few, but Gerwig’s inclusion here is rightful recognition of her beautiful accomplishment this year and, hopefully, another key moment in lifting up female filmmakers. Gerwig should not have to embody the entire movement, as that would be unfair, but the nomination is still something that will and must extend beyond the awards ceremony.

Gerwig doesn’t even have to, if one looks below the surface. Women have producing credits on six of the nine Best Picture nominees, and are recognized in, beyond Best Director, both writing categories, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Animated Feature, Best Documentary Feature, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup & Hairstyling, Best Original Song, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design and Best Sound mixing — as noted by journalist Mark Harris.

Merie Wallace/A24/Courtesyy

And while Dee Rees did not get her fair share of talk for the Best Director category and the film was omitted from Best Picture, Mudbound still showed up with four nominations, and its players also made history.

Only more change will come.

Other stories of note:

While they may not have been firsts or records, these following stories, culturally, in Oscar history and just as awesome occurrences, are of note:

  • Jordan Peele became both the third person to ever be nominated in Best Picture, Best Director and one of the writing categories for their first film, and the fifth Black person to be nominated in Best Director. Get Out released back in February and many thought, at the time, that it could compete in Best Original Screenplay and not much else. But its critical, financial and cultural success proved to hold and hold true as the year wrapped up, and the film continued to show up throughout the awards season.
  • James Franco had been predicted in the Best Lead Actor category by plenty of experts, most thinking that the allegations unveiled in the LA Times article arrived too late in the voting process — there were only two days left — for him to be left off. But Franco did end up missing, which may have been due to the allegations, the competition of other actors or, the more likely scenario, a combination of both.
  • At 22, Timothée Chalamet is the youngest Best Lead Actor nominee since 1939.
  • Christopher Plummer was announced to replace Kevin Spacey in All the Money in the World in early November. He then shot his part between November 20 and November 29. Weeks later, he was nominated at the Golden Globes. And today, a few days over two months since Plummer stepped on set, he has an Oscar nomination. The turnaround of that is one of the most mind-boggling stories of its kind.

Sony Pictures/Courtesy

Surprises:

A ‘surprise’ can usually be determined by how much love a certain film or artist got or by how many ere predicting it to show up. They can be individual or general. Here are the many:

  • Both Call Me by Your Name supporting actors missed out. Armie Hammer received plenty of buzz out of Sundance and seemed to maintain it for the first two thirds of the year. Then, Michael Stuhlbarg took over once the film came to more festivals and released to the public — likely due to his transfixing, heartbreaking speech at the end of the film. But both were passed over. The scenario wasn’t unheard of, as the same happened at the Screen Actors Guild, but many were hoping that the Academy would take a different path.
  • Most things Phantom Thread, as said before.
  • I, Tonya did not show up as strongly as many had suggested it would. As 2017 came to an end and Oscar voting got underway, there was a lot of buzz about how the film was picking up steam. And the evidence was there, with the film earning nominations at the WGA and PGA, and at other craft guilds such as makeup & hairstyling. But it seemed as though Phantom Thread got in instead.
  • Darkest Hour turned up much better than expected. The film was one of the most talked about out of the late August/early September film festivals, but seemed to have sunk as the season shaped up. There was never any doubt about Gary Oldman or Best Makeup & Hairstyling, but the film held strong in other craft categories, making it into Best Costume Design, Best Cinematography and Best Production Design. It also showed up in Best Picture, shocking many that thought that I, TonyaThe Big Sick and Mudbound were ahead of it.
  • Victoria and Abdul‘s nominations are, perhaps, on the more boring end of ‘surprise.’ The film earned nods in Best Costume Design, ahead of films like The Greatest Showman and Murder on the Orient Express, and in Best Makeup & Hairstyling, ahead of supposed strong contenders I, TonyaBright and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
  • This may not be the most evident surprise to most, but, in the Best Visual Effects category, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Kong: Skull Island showing up was not what buzz suggested. This branch holds a contender showcase, often regarded as the “bakeoff,” where each on the shortlist offers a presentation on the visual effects of their film. Word from the bakeoff pointed to OkjaThe Shape of Water and Dunkirk as the films that would fight for the final two spots. That none of them made it in is surprising.

Netflix/Courtesy

  • In the Best Documentary Feature category, two heavyweights ended up falling off — City of Ghosts and JaneCity of Ghosts was nominated at the Directors Guild and Jane won the documentary award from the Producers Guild.
  • Finally, many expected Martin McDonagh to show up in the Best Director category. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri had just won the SAG Best Ensemble award and McDonagh was nominated by the DGA. The DGA and the Oscars don’t always line up, but, with the film’s supposed (and now defunct?) frontrunner status, many thought that Peele or Gerwig would fall before he did.

Snubs:

‘Snub’ is a word that’s thrown around far too often. I adhere to a rather strict definition of what a snub really is. Granted, much of this is subjective, but I believe that a snub occurs when a film or artist left off is, in the majority opinion, of better quality than at least one of those nominated. With that definition in mind, here is a list of what the snubs of this year might be (as there will be disagreement on what’s been deemed of better quality in the majority opinion):

  • Mudbound missed out on a Best Picture nomination, and many believe that it may be due to the Netflix label, which might still be frowned upon by a significant portion of industry voters and might have caused some to even ignore the picture all together. That seems to be the only logical reason because the film is absolutely breathtaking and regarded as one of the best films of the year.
  • The Best Foreign Language Film category is hard to suggest there’s a ‘snub’ in because so few see all of the shortlisted films, so this one is based mostly on critics and the awards season. Israel contender Foxtrot emerged from the Venice Film Festival as one of the most talked about and acclaimed foreign films of the year, picking up a few awards from the festival. It won the category at the National Board of Review, and has a MetaCritic score only beaten by A Fantastic Woman.
  • As mentioned above, Jane won the PGA documentary award, making it more than a little bizarre for the film not to even be nominated.
  • Also pointed to above, Victoria and Abdul didn’t really strike many as a Best Makeup & Hairstyling nominee. The snub doesn’t come in any specific film’s exclusion, but in a variety of options instead of the Judi Dench picture.
  • Another point talked about, Michael Stuhlbarg was a critical and audience favorite. The industry respects him, and Call Me by Your Name was apparently a very strong contender in many places. It seemed strange to think that the film would only earn one acting nomination, for the newcomer lead Chalamet. So, Stuhlbarg was expected and wanted. And he deserved a nomination. The performance is lived in in every way, quiet but impactful in similar (but also opposite) ways as Best Supporting Actress nominee Lesley Manville. But what Stuhlbarg had was one of the most stunningly performed scenes of the year — the speech at the end of the film. The scene is the most talked about from the film (if not the one that’s a little more peachy) and in a year when hate was so rampant, its empathy seemed all the more powerful. How the Academy opted for Woody Harrelson, who is no better than ‘Woody being Woody’ in Three Billboards, is beyond us.

Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy

  • We would like to formally apologize to Octavia Spencer. We have nothing against you or your performance. You are a brilliant actress, one of the best. But we would certainly call the exclusion of actresses such as Hong Chau, Holly Hunter and Tiffany Haddish — perhaps Hunter in particular due to her momentum and popularity leading up to today — snubs. Spencer is good in the role, but, let’s face it, she’s not anything more than that.
  • Our final snub is one that stings because of the history that comes along with it. Three years ago, the Academy shockingly and ridiculously omitted The LEGO Movie from Best Animated Feature. And this year, while not as shocking, they ridiculously omitted The LEGO Batman Movie. What got in instead? Ferdinand and The Boss Baby. It’s not even up for debate.

Takeaways:

The Oscar nominations are often a bit diverting from what the awards season had built up until that point. While other awards, such as those from the major guilds, point to potential outcomes at the Oscars, the Oscar nominations can change those narratives. Here are the takeaways from the nominations:

  • Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is not the frontrunner (to be clear, though, it never was). It’s still in contention — especially with that SAG Best Ensemble win and a Best Film Editing nomination — but missing out in Best Director is a bit crushing. Argo recently pulled off a Best Picture win without a Best Director nomination, but it seems rather unlikely for Three Billboards to do the same. McDonagh would almost certainly need to win the DGA award to craft similar momentum for the film.
  • Dunkirk is holding on in Best Picture and Best Director, thanks in part to McDonagh falling off. As awards season shaped up, Christopher Nolan’s WWII film seemed to flatline — not as a contender, but as a serious contender. But that nomination in Best Director ahead of a supposed frontrunner film’s director gives Nolan and the film a much needed boost. It’s main obstacle is that it is much more obviously a technical/craft contender. Without a nod in Best Original Screenplay, Dunkirk will probably lose out on Best Picture. But, just recently, The Revenant showed that a film can still contend, and contend up until the last moment without a writing nomination. Even if it does lose there, a win at the Directors Guild wouldn’t be surprising and would give Nolan further momentum toward possibly beating Guillermo del Toro.

Melina Sue Gordon/Warner Bros./Courtesy

  • The Shape of Water might have made up for its lack of a SAG Best Ensemble with its 13 nominations. It needed the acting nominations and safely made its way into Best Original Screenplay. And it showing up throughout the technical/craft categories shows its wide strength (every voter from every branch gets to vote on Best Picture). But this seemed to be the narrative for La La Land too, that it could make up for missing out of a nod for SAG Best Ensemble. We all know how that turned out, so let’s just say that things are still up in the air.
  • Get Out and Lady Bird are still fighting for Best Picture. Had one of them gotten a Best Film Editing nomination, the narrative would be stronger, but both making it in for Best Director is key. If the WGA award for Best Original Screenplay goes to either of these, they could pick up even more steam. And if one of them wins Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars, even if the film miss out on winning Best Director, lookout for the one that does to take the night — as Spotlight and Moonlight did the same.

 

Featured image via Fox Searchlight Pictures.

4 brilliant performances from actors under 15 years old

Unfortunately, young actors often stick out in films. It’s hard to blame anyone in those situations; these actors are usually out of their comfort zone in such a highly demanding atmosphere, and it’s difficult for directors to truly direct someone so young.

But children are so integral to stories, adding layers that are wholly missing in stories all about adults. So, it’s a wondrous delight when a film features a great performance from a young actor. They’re few and far between, and take extreme talent from both the actor and the storytellers.

In honor of the acclaim that 7-year-old actress Brooklynn Prince is receiving for her turn in Sean Baker’s The Florida Project, which is currently in theaters, the MovieMinis staff is taking a look at some of its favorite young actor performances of recent times, from actors under 15 years old.

Dafne Keen, Logan (2017) — 10/11 years old

Ben Rothstein/20th Century Fox/Courtesy

Logan might be billed as Hugh Jackman’s movie, but Dafne Keen steals the show as a young clone of Logan, X-23. She matches Jackman’s trademark intensity in every way, snarling and stabbing just like Wolvie in his prime, maybe even better (she does have those rad foot claws after all). Don’t believe it? Just check out her screen test with Jackman. More than that though, Keen is able to showcase impressive dramatic chops throughout Logan. The film’s ending, though emotional already, is predicated on Keen’s command of the scene. The way she responds to Jackman on an emotional level is stunning to behold — we really do believe that a young girl is losing the father she just recently connected with, and Keen ensures that not a dry eye is left in the theater. Her quoting of the final lines from Shane as she stands over Logan’s grave is easily the most poignant moment in the X-Men franchise. Between Dafne Keen, Millie Bobby Brown from Stranger Things and Ahn Seo-hyun from Okja, would it be too much to ask for an Avengers-style team-up of pint-sized, kickass actresses? Hell, set it in the X-Men universe. 20th Century Fox, the ball is in your court.

— Harrison Tunggal

Abraham Attah, Beasts of No Nation (2015) — 12/13 years old

Netflix/Courtesy

Beasts of No Nation is an intense film that presents a harrowing picture of war-torn Africa and the many child soldiers thrust into performing horrific acts. It’s a heart-breaking portrait of the violence committed and the dehumanization these children experience, but the film wisely puts the film’s quietly building emotional wallop on the shoulders of newcomer Abraham Attah. Attah, as a young boy who saw his family die at the hands of an invading war within his hometown, portrays the full character arc of innocence gone awry, to hate-filled violent monster, all the way back to a boy reconciling the loss he has experienced in a short time. It’s a tricky arc for any actor, let alone one who had never acted before. Yet Attah is perfect, and while was shunned by the Oscars, rightfully won the Best Actor award at the Independent Spirit Awards.

— Levi Hill

Mackenzie Foy, Interstellar (2014) — 13/14 years old

Warner Bros./Paramount/Courtesy

Without an amazing performance from Mackenzie Foy, Interstellar potentially collapses in on itself like a forming blackhole. Murph is the heart and soul of the film, the source of both its human vulnerability and its human strength. Her spark, vibrancy in a time of dust storms and food shortages is invigorating. Foy embodies all of that, from the upbeat tempo of her line delivery, to the subtle lift of her eyebrows when adventure calls. Yet, so much of that comes out of the character’s love of her father. As much as she is capable and willing to be independent, her father is her role model and her rock during such difficult times. Thus, his leaving is the greatest of betrayals.

And in that goodbye, a scene of immense tragic poetics, Foy is stunning. She has to traverse so many emotions, from quiet vulnerability to raw desperation to subtle hope to heartbreaking anger. In response to “I’m coming back,” her delivery of the line “when” shatters us. And as she runs out of the house, calling out for her father as he drives away, her tears shatter us.

It’s difficult to truly see how important Foy’s performance is at first. But she genuinely is the basis off of which Jessica Chastain works, granting each of Chastain’s most emotional moments even more weight because of how much we became invested in Murph as a child. And all of the immensely moving moments of Cooper’s guilt are just that much more moving because we found such a strong connection between him and Murph at the beginning of the film. Interstellar is about a father and a daughter, a relationship that defines the veins of the film, a beating heart that doesn’t beat without the brilliance of Mackenzie Foy.

— Kyle Kizu

Jacob Tremblay, Room (2015) — 8 years old

A24/Courtesy

In a film that focuses on psychosexual abuse, familial ostracization and guilt-induced suicidal tendencies, it’s hard, if not impossible, to perceive even a glimmer of hope in the wake of such trauma. Yet somehow, Jacob Tremblay gives an inconceivably optimistic performance in Lenny Abrahamson’s Room. As Jack, Tremblay represents the only tether to humanity for the perpetually-victimized Ma (Brie Larson) — the crux of the film’s emotional weight rests on the duo’s shoulders. Tremblay masterfully combines elements of precociousness, curiosity and an indelible level of courage to convey an uneasiness of the unknown, of a world outside the eponymous room, while remaining a pillar of strength for his overwhelmed mother. Larson’s performance relies a great deal on her onscreen son’s presence, and Tremblay somehow intimately commands each scene he’s in not through long-winded dialogue or overt acting, but, rather, restrained emotion. The level of his abuse, of his victimization is just beneath the surface of his wonder with the outside world, and Tremblay hints to it but never reveals it until the moment’s right. It would’ve been easy for a child’s performance to disrupt the rhythm of a such delicately-written melancholic narrative, but when said performance actually acts as the emotional core, you can’t help but be minutely unnerved and immensely impressed.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

 

Featured image via A24.

2018 Oscar Predictions: Best Adapted Screenplay

When nominations were announced, this category was a two horse race between Call Me by Your Name and Mudbound, with a dark horse contender in Molly’s Game. But the awards season and the precursors have really clarified exactly who the winner will be.

James Ivory has picked up the WGA award, the BAFTA award, the Critics’ Choice award and the USC Scripter award — all of them being major precursors.

So, while a win for Mudbound would be very deserved and very exciting, this is entirely Ivory’s to lose.

The Nominees
Dee Rees, Virgil Williams — Mudbound
James Ivory — Call Me by Your Name
Aaron Sorkin — Molly’s Game
Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber — The Disaster Artist
James Mangold, Scott Frank, Michael Green — Logan

Will win: James Ivory — Call Me by Your Name
Could win: Dee Rees, Virgil Williams — Mudbound
Should win: James Ivory — Call Me by Your Name
Should’ve been nominated: Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves — War for the Planet of the Apes

 

Featured image via Sony Pictures Classics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured image via Warner Bros.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured image via Warner Bros.

Ranking Christopher Nolan’s 10 films

Pretty quickly, one realizes that Christopher Nolan has never made a “bad” movie. Some have been a bit more divisive than others, but even then, none have failed financially or critically, or in the eyes of the public. His lowest rated film on RottenTomatoes, at 71%, is Interstellar, a film many, including myself, consider their favorite of all time. So then, a list of this type comes down to being about the good and the great, which makes it all the more exciting, but all the more difficult to truly nail down rankings. Some films have impacted culture unlike most movies in general, while others are some of the most impressively crafted pieces of art of our time, even if they lack similar cultural impact. But after long deliberation — and I must make note that these are what I think are his best, not my favorite, as that is a whole other list — I’ve come to a ranking I feel comfortable with:

10. Following

Following

Zeitgeist/Syncopy/Courtesy

Following is a fantastic film, and it’s still #10. The main reason for that is that it seems like here, Nolan was out to prove himself, which rendered the film as more of a showcase for what was to come than a full film in and of itself. And yet, Following is built on such an intriguing structure that really does show that Nolan is a singular storyteller. With impressive performances and sharp technical composition on a microscopic $6,000 budget, the neo-noir is a debut that one can return to and still discover more in every time.

9. Insomnia

Al Pacino Insomnia

Summit/Warner Bros/Courtesy

Insomnia has sparked a lot of discussion from Nolan fans about whether or not it really is a “Nolan” film. It’s the only one he doesn’t have a writing credit on, although Nolan was involved in later drafts of the script. But, perhaps in result of the scripting situation, it’s the only film of his that doesn’t seem to have as sharp of a story as others.

Yet, when one really looks at Nolan’s career, it becomes quite simple to place Insomnia as a vital step within it. The film falls in line with his investigations into the validity of truth and what that means for his protagonists. And, even though its executed in a different way, Insomnia also creates a fascinating exploration of time — not only through Detective Dormer’s haze of insomnia, but also through his aging career. There may not be enough “pop” for some people’s liking, but with great performances from Al Pacino and Robin Williams as well as a crime intrigue that would explode over the rest of his career, Insomnia is an astonishingly good film to be at #9.

8. Batman Begins

Batman Begins

Warner Bros/Courtesy

Batman Begins revolutionized not only the superhero genre, but the blockbuster genre as well. To this day, many still reference the movie as inspiration for their gritty, realist take on whatever film they’re making.

And it is just that spectacular. The way Nolan slips through periods of time to craft the growth and development of Bruce Wayne from his youth through to his decision to build the identity of the Batman is structurally ingenious and some of the best “origin” work there is. Batman Begins truly does take the Caped Crusader and put him in a light that he was always meant to be under.

But there are two reasons that it stands lower. The film struggles in its third act, reverting to a bombastic (in a not so good way) mess of a climactic battle that seems so out of place for Nolan. It also feels as though, here, Nolan is still searching for the true feel of the world. The color palette changes rather jarringly between this installment and the next, and some of the more fantastical elements seem fit in a Burton film, not a Nolan one.

7. The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises

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The Dark Knight Rises seems to get the most flack out of all of Nolan’s films, and it’s not for no reason. The final installment of his Batman trilogy does crumble, in ways, under its massive ambitions. Plot holes are a bit more prevalent than they’ve been with Nolan, and some deus ex machinas pop up here and there.

But it’s difficult to not be impressed by his grand vision. While some films present a grand ideology as a mask and never expand upon it, The Dark Knight Rises carries its societal complexities through its 165 minutes with full force — seemingly because the film is in the vein of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

The ideology is muddled for some, but the scope is undeniable. With inspiration from the Dickens novel, and in simply keeping with Batman tradition, the city of Gotham is a living and breathing character unlike it ever has been before.

And as a third and final installment, The Dark Knight Rises also closes Bruce Wayne’s arc in such a resonant and fulfilling manner. Even with its imperfections, the film ends his journey in an equally epic and intimate manner, a feat most trilogies struggle accomplish.

6. Memento 

Guy Pearce Memento

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Memento, the film that truly placed Nolan on the map, will forever remain a stunningly iconic piece of cinema — it’s already being referenced and utilized in film schools as a representation of structure, editing and the evolvement of the noir genre.

And all praise is wholly earned. While some may call Nolan’s structures “gimmicks,” it’s near impossible to do so with this picture. Running backwards and forwards at the same time, the film expertly crafts both its neo-noir mystery and grittiness as well as what many experts call a perfect representation of the experience of someone with anterograde amnesia — pulled off with razor sharp editing and a visual grasp that really is the immediate maturation of Nolan as a masterful storyteller (thanks to his first collaboration with Wally Pfister).

But the elements would only add up to so much were it not for the film’s ending, which is such an unnerving and affecting idea of the self and of the self’s reality. In that sense, Memento is the first of Nolan’s films where there’s not a single wasted moment, not a single wasted frame.

5. Inception

Inception

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Inception is a cultural phenomenon, which is such a bizarre statement when one really thinks about it. This is an original, scifi blockbuster with nearly an hour and a half consisting solely of expositional dialogue, and the other hour being a time-bending, crosscutting maze.

Nolan, however, as a storyteller, captured the zeitgeist precisely because of those elements. The exposition functions as the most thorough and fascinating world-building of Nolan’s career, while never slowing down the film’s pacing because it’s interwoven with stunning visual innovation and illusion that play right back into that world-building.

As for that last hour, it’s simply a masterclass in filmmaking, specifically in editing, but also in terms of evoking theme. It functions as a Bond-esque heist thriller, which is badass in and of itself, but it also leaves a mark on viewers that they can’t shake — their realities turned upside down and questioned.

And all of that comes without mention of Leonardo DiCaprio in yet another fully committed role, and composer Hans Zimmer also at his most culturally iconic. On a good day, Inception could break the top 3, but what ends up placing it at #5 is that, upon return viewings and close inspection, such a slick film contains some rough edges. Nevertheless, Inception will last a lifetime.

4. Interstellar

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To be clear, Interstellar is my favorite of his. But it’s difficult not to find the objective weaknesses in the movie. A few expositional scenes are not entirely necessary. Some of the thematic ambition is tonally off mark, or simply too gigantic for its own means.

But Interstellar lives with an earnestness that some sadly ignore. In Matthew McConaughey’s Cooper, there’s such an intense drive of hope and for progress, delivered with such vividness and verve and evoking a sense of humanity’s innate nature for exploration — something the film needed to not completely collapse in on itself.

And the film is, quite obviously, Nolan’s most emotional work to date as well. While some complain about the aspect of love, they seem to unjustly wash over the absolutely remarkable aspects of it. Cooper saying goodbye to Murph is a scene of tragic poetics, written with a beautiful tenderness, filmed with a raw intimacy and acted so genuinely. And Cooper watching his kids grow up through 21 years of video messages is a scene that truly cannot be described. In that moment, story transcends the dimensions of film and taps into something purely human — we’re all tragic victims of time.

(And how science and love function together in that ending, after repeat viewings, of which I’ve had many, makes complete sense in respect to the dimensions that some just may not understand.)

Accenting such work, Hans Zimmer taps into a humanity he had never reached before either, resulting in his most affecting score to date. And both Zimmer and Nolan combine to craft gripping, jaw-dropping action sequences that mark Interstellar as a representation of what cinema should strive for visually.

Sure, it’s not his most well-told or well-executed story. But there’s something to be said about what Interstellar means as a piece of art, as a statement on humanity and humankind. Most will write that aspect off, but when art reaches for that, reaches that high, it becomes more important for it, and Interstellar is Nolan’s most important film thus far.

3. The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight

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If it’s not for Inception, Christopher Nolan will be remembered for The Dark KnightBatman Begins may have revolutionized superhero films, but Nolan’s second Batman installment re-revolutionized it, while revolutionizing cinema in general.

First and foremost, The Dark Knight features one of the most terrifying and haunting performances of all time in Heath Ledger’s Joker. The best performances happen when an actor embodies a character, when an actor lives in a character’s bones and blood so thoroughly that they cease to exist as themselves in those moments. And Ledger strikes on that singularity of acting. The Joker is perhaps the most iconic villain in cinematic history, but credit must also be given to Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan.

With The Dark Knight, the Nolans fully realize the potential of Batman, Gotham city and the world they occupy, and ingeniously inject ideas of contemporary, post-9/11 society into the film to do so. The Joker’s mantras are fear and nihilism, manifested through terror threats. Gotham City, vulnerable, aching and scared because of its history, are the terrified. But the Nolans execute these scenes with perfection. The terror isn’t in the terrifying event itself, but in its anticipation. That’s where the epicness of The Dark Knight lies, within its thorough and unsettling sense of fear on a city-wide scale.

And those elements are completely dependent on how The Dark Knight functions as a crime drama, specifically on a human level. Some complain that Bruce Wayne is really the third most prevalent character of the film, and I wouldn’t disagree, but I would retort that that’s because, while Batman Begins is Bruce Wayne’s story, The Dark Knight is Batman’s story. The tragic fall of man necessary to crime dramas are found within Batman, Jim Gordon and, most obviously, Harvey Dent. All three are tested in ways that question their moral center and break their moral codes. The trio’s chemistry is dynamic and lively, grand and intimate. In that sense, The Dark Knight really does earn its comparisons as the contemporary version of The Godfather.

If the film had the efficiency and pacing of Batman Begins and a more overt necessity of Bruce Wayne, not as his own character, but as a necessary duality of Batman like The Dark Knight Rises, then The Dark Knight nears complete perfection. It stands slightly away from that, but there’s something to be said about how it handles the top of Bruce Wayne’s character arc. It is undoubtedly another cultural phenomenon, and a step forward for film altogether, and that matters for so much.

2. The Prestige

Christian Bale The Prestige

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For a long time, The Prestige went under-appreciated by most. But the film has aged unbelievably well, with many critics ranking it as Nolan’s best prior to Dunkirk‘s release. The Prestige will never match the cultural recognition of almost all of Nolan’s films. But it was, for a long time, his most perfectly crafted. Think the perfection, on all levels, of Memento, and intensify it.

The structure is informed, an illusion itself that defines the DNA of the film. There is no other way of telling this story. The shifts in time not only set up the deception, but thoroughly color and accent the rivalry — one of the best in contemporary film.

And that’s where The Prestige steps above Memento and, in turn, above most others: how its characters inhabit such its perfectly crafted world. The chemistry between Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale, in regard to their hatred and despise of one another, is electric. Jackman is at his career best, owning his character’s desperation and obsession with an aura of truth that he only comes close to again in Logan. Bale’s performance is less overt, but just as impressive, with him having to convey a subtle truth about his character that builds just as much depth.

As said before, it all comes back down to the pitch perfect execution of their machinations. But it’s as the film wraps up, as the film pulls off its own “prestige,” that we begin to recognize how each frame that came before knew of its place, of its meaning — not one frame wasted. Some have strangely chided the film’s ending, but what’s built to in those final moments is really what the entire story was setting up thematically.

Oh, and did I mention that David Bowie (RIP) plays Nikola Tesla and is so good?

The Prestige has been the best of Nolan as a storyteller and a filmmaker for so long. But there’s just one aspect that’s let it sink, just one factor that keeps it away, and rightfully so, from the #1 spot.

1. Dunkirk 

Dunkirk 1

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It feels quite wrong for Nolan’s “best film” to not be a blockbuster, to not be a grand spectacle, and, truly, that’s what places Dunkirk above the rest. Its The Prestige-level of storytelling but in the massive scope that Nolan has always aimed for. Following was a showcase for his talents, and 19 years later, they’ve been fully realized.

Parring down dialogue and plot, not in response to critics, but in line with what the story calls for, Dunkirk features a method more refined than in any of Nolan’s other work. The film starts with a simple goal, of immersion, and branches out its impact from there.

The immersion starts with a capitalization of the IMAX 70mm format unlike any of his previous outings. Sound, cinematography, editing, setting, scale and the pure massive image on a true IMAX screen all coalesce and augment one another in ways that cinema should aim for visually. Cinema is about the image and, especially with this method, Dunkirk ends up being Nolan’s most cinematic endeavor.

But through immersion, he builds tension. His time-bending structure avoids gimmickry, evoking ideas of perspective and truth, but also serving as a literal experiential manipulation to manufacture the most intense action of his entire career. There’s such a viscerally invasive sense of suspense that grasps your spine and doesn’t let go for 106 minutes, only made more affecting by an entirely in-tune Hans Zimmer and his anxiety-inducing, rising, unforgiving score that makes use of the exact same manipulation to generate tension.

And, through the perfection of craft on all levels, through a singularity of filmmaking in all aspects, the film succeeds thematically as well. Each technical and more methodical choice seems to enrich theme, and that’s the way it should be.

Dunkirk is about the nameless, the faceless. It’s about the terror of war and the perspective of all of those involved in the action of this massive of event, while also digging down on a distinctly, intimately human level too. It’s about the disjointedness and senselessness of war and how that affects the humans involved, fair or not. But, finally, it’s about togetherness. Even with the disparate truths of experience between the soldiers in the air, the soldiers on the beaches and the civilians on the sea, Nolan builds a togetherness. He builds character, story and meaning through action, some moments more subtle than others, but all evoking what’s so special about the event and its aftermath: the “Dunkirk spirit.”

Dunkirk will never reach the cultural impact or significance of most of Nolan’s films. It couldn’t. But in its efforts of purely cinematic storytelling, on the big screen, and, on quite a new level for Nolan, what it means in regard to history and how it builds its truth, Dunkirk is something we haven’t gotten before, even with Nolan, and something we could only get with him in the future.