Tag Archives: Mark Rylance

The MovieMini Awards for the Films of 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of A24

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

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

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

Hooman Yazdanian

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

Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy

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

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

— Michelle Lee

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Focus Features

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

Fox Searchlight/Courtesy

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

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

Achievement in Costume Design: Mark Bridges — Phantom Thread

Image courtesy of Focus Features

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

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

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

Hooman Yazdanian

Runner-up: Jennifer Johnson — I, Tonya

Neon/Courtesy

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

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

Hooman Yazdanian

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

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

Best Documentary Feature: Icarus

Image courtesy of Netflix

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

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

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

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

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

— Hooman Yazdanian

Runner-up: Jane

Abramorama/Courtesy

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

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

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

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

Hooman Yazdanian

Runner-up: Daniel Kaluuya — Get Out

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

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

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

Hooman Yazdanian

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

Warner Bros./Courtesy

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

Fox Searchlight Pictures/Courtesy

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

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

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

Image courtesy of A24

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

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

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

— Levi Hill

Runner-up: Tatiana Maslany — Stronger

Roadside Attractions/Courtesy

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

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

Best Foreign Language Film: A Fantastic Woman

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

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

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

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

— Levi Hill

Runner-up: Loveless

Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy

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

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

— Levi Hill

3. Foxtrot
4. The Square
5. Raw

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

Best Animated Feature: Coco

Image courtesy of Pixar

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

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

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

— Sophie-Marie Prime

Runner-up: The Breadwinner

Gkids/Courtesy

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

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

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

Fox Searchlight/Courtesy

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

Hooman Yazdanian 

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

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

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

Fox Searchlight/Courtesy

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

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

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

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

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

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

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

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

STX Entertainment

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

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

Hooman Yazdanian

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

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

Achievement in Film Editing: Lee Smith — Dunkirk

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

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

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

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

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Mako Kamitsuna — Mudbound

Netflix/Courtesy

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

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

Achievement in Cinematography: Hoyte van Hoytema — Dunkirk

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

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

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

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Roger Deakins — Blade Runner 2049

Warner Bros./Courtesy

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

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Focus Features

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

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

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

— Sophie-Marie Prime

Runner-up: Hans Zimmer — Dunkirk

Warner Bros./Courtesy

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

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

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

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

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

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

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

Hooman Yazdanian

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

Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy

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

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

Hooman Yazdanian

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

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

Achievement by a Debut Director: Greta Gerwig — Lady Bird

Image courtesy of A24

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

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

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

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

Hooman Yazdanian

Runner-up: Jordan Peele — Get Out

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

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

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

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

Hooman Yazdanian

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

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

Best Original Screenplay: Greta Gerwig — Lady Bird

Image courtesy of A24

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

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

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

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

— Sophie-Marie Prime

Runner-up: Jordan Peele — Get Out

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Houston Cinema Arts Festival

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

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

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

— Levi Hill

Runner-up: Dee Rees, Virgil Williams — Mudbound

Netflix/Courtesy

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

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

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

Achievement in Directing: Christopher Nolan — Dunkirk

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

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

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

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Jordan Peele — Get Out

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

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

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

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

Hooman Yazdanian

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

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

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

Image courtesy of A24

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hooman Yazdanian

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

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

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

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

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

— Michelle Lee

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

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

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

— Michelle Lee

Runner-up: Daniel Day-Lewis — Phantom Thread

Focus Features/Courtesy

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

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

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

Hooman Yazdanian

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Neon

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

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

— Samantha Celentano

Runner-up: Saoirse Ronan — Lady Bird

A24/Courtesy

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

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

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

Hooman Yazdanian

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

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

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

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

— Samantha Celentano

Runner-up: Get Out

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

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

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

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

Hooman Yazdanian

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

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

 

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

Kyle Kizu’s Favorite Scene of 2017: The Oil — ‘Dunkirk’

It’s hard to know where and how to start writing about the climax of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. There is so much going on, not only in what’s happening on screen, but also in how everything builds to that point — and that doesn’t even take into account that much of the scene jumps around in time. That it all works, that it all coalesces into an absolutely mesmerizing sight of overwhelming intensity is beyond astonishing.

I define the climax as everything that happens once Hans Zimmer’s “The Oil” starts playing and until it stops. So, that starts right after the little ships arrive, when those on the Moonstone first see the destroyer bombed, and ends when Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) is finally pulled up onto the Moonstone as it flees the water on fire.

The climax folds the three storylines on top of each other, amplifying the tension that they’ve individually held throughout the first two-thirds of the movie and producing pure exhilaration immediately. The whole film is essentially crafted as a climax, so this moment is the climax of the climax. It’s almost unfair.

The most effective work the sequence does is a bit subtle, but it’s present from its very first shot: there’s a constant negotiation between the intimate, personal perspective and the massive event, full of masses of people.

As the Moonstone approaches the bombed destroyer, we, through the camera, stand on the boat with them, seeing the huge army ship go down far off in the distance. It’s a raw, human, gripping perspective, the framing of the destroyer through the front window of the Moonstone as terrifying and transfixing for us as it is for Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), whose distraught face we cut to.

The sequence then cuts to shots of the masses of soldiers loading onto the little ships from the beaches. The shots are strangely tranquil, nearly still and holding longer than most shots do, allowing the pure process of the evacuation, and how truly massive it is, to sink in without romanticizing it.

The rest of the sequence is much of the same. If we get, for example, a perspective shot from behind Tommy as he swims through the water to try to find safety on the destroyer, only to realize that it’s sinking — a 12 second shot, which is far longer than most action shots — we get a shot of the tens of soldiers trying to find their way off, sliding down the side of the ship or jumping off before getting trapped underwater.

There are multiple intimate perspectives throughout the sequence: that of Tommy, the Moonstone and Farrier. And there are multiple large scale portions: the soldiers loading from the beach, the soldiers on the sinking destroyer, the soldiers in the water and the soldiers loading onto the boats near the destroyer.

We, the viewer, are disoriented on multiple occasions, seeing the destroyer sink at the beginning of the scene from the Moonstone’s perspective before jumping back in time to see it again from Tommy’s — not to mention that we saw it sink from Farrier’s perspective earlier in the film.

It’s all jarring and chaotic — frantic, desperate bodies filling the screen as they fight to survive. And Hans Zimmer’s “The Oil” only makes it more so, leveraging the Shepard Tone, the illusion of rising tension, while also actually adding layers and volume as the music builds to its own climax. The piece feels invasive, as though it’s taking control of our own bodies, throwing them into the water and forcing them to fight too.

It’s so chaotic because it’s meant to be. It’s so chaotic because the filmmaking is not. Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography is all-encompassing, immersive, breathtaking and, as said before, perspective-based, placing us into the water, onto the boats and within the cockpit. The sound design is absolutely haunting, a brutalist atmosphere of bodies splashing in water, creaking ships, gunfire, explosions and, most impactfully, screaming voices. The editing is almost balletic, cutting with intensity, but also with fluidity at each turn, rendering the entire sequence into a beauty of movement both in-frame and between frames. And the structural give-and-take is stunning — particularly at the sequence’s climax, when Farrier stops the German bomber only for it to crash into the water and cause the fire, and at the sequence’s release, when a soldier’s life is violently taken in the midst of crackling fire just as Tommy’s life is saved as he’s revealed as the soldier being dragged alongside the escaping Moonstone.

Even with all that’s been said, it’s hard to feel as though I’ve done the sequence justice. There are so many intangible, particularly visual layers to it that can only be absorbed by watching it. I hope that I’ve been able to unpack some aspects of it. But what I’ve written this all for, anyway, is for you to revisit it, for you to give it another watch.

 

Featured image via Warner Bros.

Trial: Who is the best movie villain of the year so far?

*Trials is a weekly series in which two writers tackle a proposed question or task. After they’ve written their opening statements, the writers will offer rebuttal arguments against the other’s and for their own, and a third writer will come in to make the verdict.*

This week’s question: Who is the best movie villain of the year so far?

Writers: Harrison Tunggal and Kyle Kizu
Judge: Levi Hill

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

Harrison’s argument:

Easily, the best villain — or rather, villains — of the year comes from Jordan Peele’s Get Out. The Armitage family function as terrific movie villains in every conceivable way. They offer thrills that more than justify the price of an admission ticket, but also transcend the entertainment value of a masterfully crafted horror film.

The Armitages hold up a mirror to our society in the most affecting way possible, presenting us with a clan of white liberals that are as destructive as any MAGA-branded, outed racist and as insidious as Freddie Krueger. Sure, maybe Dean (Bradley Whitford) would have voted for Obama for a third term, but the way he drives the point home is more like a nervous tic designed to hide a deep-seated undercurrent of racism, rather than anything remotely approaching sincerity. It’s a feeble attempt at preserving the illusion of white racial innocence, an illusion that is outed as soon as the Armitages host their party — less of a party, and more of a montage of barbed microaggressions.

And if it wasn’t obvious that the Armitages are innately and intensely harmful, then they reveal themselves as outright monsters when they enact their body-snatching plan, trapping Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) in the Sunken Place while they perform their heinous operation. Jordan Peele has been direct in naming the Sunken Place as a metaphor for the silencing of Black voices, while the Armitages’ body-snatching operation is a literal takeover of Black bodies.

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

Though I can’t know what it’s like to view Get Out as a Black audience member, it is clear that Peele’s film is a cinematic expression of racial anxiety — one made from a uniquely Black perspective. This expression of racial anxiety is effective, by and large, because of the Armitages, and the writing behind them.

Going beyond the abstract, the Armitages are an example of compelling villains, particularly Rose (Allison Williams). When she gets found out, she resorts to attempting to seduce Rod (Lil Rel Howery), a truly despicable moment in a film filled with them. She also tries to use her whiteness to pin the violent third act on Chris. Thankfully, it doesn’t work, but it once again exemplifies the depths of depravity that define Rose. Jeremy’s (Caleb Landry Jones) overbearing masculinity and Missy’s (Catherine Keener) hypnotic tea cup only add to the villainy.

Ultimately, the Armitages represent a villain we’ve never seen before. As white liberals, the Armitages are a far-cry from Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), or the snarling Epps (Michael Fassbender), which allows them to lend nuance to conversations about race, making them significant in the pantheon of film. Confronting racial anxieties has become ever more important — this country’s leadership is exacerbating such anxieties, rather than soothing them and finding solutions to them. Therefore, it is up to us to shoulder that burden, and films like Get Out — through its nuanced villains, among other aspects — can point us in the right direction.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Kyle’s argument:

While it’s an especially on-brand choice, I believe that my pick for the best villain of the year so far is the right one: “the enemy” from Dunkirk. We’ve seen “the enemy” in countless pictures before — flaunted with their symbol, uniform and leader. But we’ve never seen them quite like this. In Dunkirk, “the enemy” is faceless, a haunting spectre that terrorizes the British soldiers like the shark does to the beach goers in Jaws. And in that sense, “the enemy” is all the more frightening for it. Not only is there a sense of realism to the approach — as the real soldiers themselves almost certainly lacked any visual — but it also allows Christopher Nolan to get creative.

The main visual we do have are the ME 109 planes, and there’s something about how they’re realized that’s more terrifying than if we were also in their cockpits. They pop up of nowhere, coming “out of the sun.” They follow determinedly, with an unstoppable motivation, a horrifying monster always on our soldiers’ tails, and they hold equal terror in their evasion, a villain just out of grasp.

But with any other visuals taken away, Nolan turns to the other sensory aspects, mainly sound. The sound design of Dunkirk almost feels as though it’s for a horror film, which leads to some seriously horrific scenes of destruction and death. As eyes wander into the sky and bodies start to scramble or duck for cover, the hard cut to the approaching dive-bombers, their intimidation horns sounding out, is literally arresting and utterly transfixing.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

And their impact is devastating, with bombs lifting sand and soldiers into the air and gunshots splintering and riddling the wood of the mole as man after man takes cover.

“The enemy” terrifies even simply with its guns. Bullets pierce without origin, with a purpose solely to murder. The opening scene as soldier after soldier falls and, when Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) makes it over the fence, the gate is blown apart by countless bullets stands next to the Dutch ship scene where three gunshots inject endless fear into the soldiers below as two of the most frightening in the film.

And that’s exactly where “the enemy” becomes more than just a faceless villain. Below deck of the Dutch ship, and on deck of the Moonstone with the Shivering Soldier (Cillian Murphy), our men start to tear each other apart, absolutely terrified by the thought of murder. “The enemy” invokes a fear of annihilation, a fear that digs into our characters’ bones and causes them to turn on each other — the only direct uses of “German” being directed at our own allies. While the sounds are scary as all hell, and would alone be almost enough reason to win, it’s the effect that “the enemy” creates here that puts them over the top. Without ever being seen, they get into the minds of our heroes and almost pull them apart.

We’ve all been granted far too omnipresent, omniscient views of “the enemy” in countless films before. Dunkirk’s rendering is one of the first that shows us how real soldiers likely saw them. And we all know who they are and what they stand for, so seeing them in this light is refreshing and, truly and immensely, far more terrifying.

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

Harrison’s rebuttal:

First and foremost, Kyle, your undying love of all things Nolan will never cease to draw my utmost respect and admiration. Additionally, before I make my points, I would like to emphasize that my rebuttal is not intended to detract from the validity of “the enemy” as a movie villain, nor as a real-world source of evil. I am in no way saying that Nazis are less terrifying than the Armitages — both represent terrible evils that must be stamped out with the utmost vigor.

While I admire Nolan’s creativity in showing characters reacting to “the enemy,” I will assert that the uniqueness of the Armitages in cinema makes them the more significant villain. Jordan Peele doesn’t show us images of overt racism, but rather tries to impart a deeper understanding of the fears and anxieties of Black people by showing us villainous white liberals — people that seem harmless enough, but would reject such a deeper understanding, which only intensifies the aforementioned fears and anxieties.

Both Nolan and Peele show us new takes on villains we’ve seen before, but I would argue that Peele gives us new dimensions to a conventional racist antagonist, whereas Nolan removes dimensions from his Nazi antagonists. Again, this is not a criticism, just an observation — I mean, Nolan doesn’t give them faces or names. Nolan streamlines his antagonists, distilling “the enemy” into one thing —  the sense of fear they cause.

In contrast, Peele gives the Armitages many different angles of deplorability — the privilege that Rose embraces, the objectification of Black people that all of the Armitages are guilty of, and the denial of a Black person’s consciousness that is the Armitages’ ultimate goal. Solely in regard to the films, the Armitages represent a wider swath of villainy than “the enemy.”

Finally, the Armitages are a deliberate exercise in scathing social commentary. While “the enemy” is as relevant today as they were in 1940, Dunkirk doesn’t deliberately position its antagonists as social commentary. “The enemy” exists in the film to escalate tension, but does little else, unlike the Armitages in Get Out. As such, Get Out has the better villain, on the basis that the Armitages antagonize Chris, while also serving the film’s satiric and symbolic ends.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Kyle’s rebuttal:

Similarly to your rebuttal, it’s difficult to argue against how good of villains the Armitages are. Get Out is truly a landmark film and the unforgiving, scathing, honest and raw depiction of the damage that white liberals, apparent allies, cause is deeply nuanced in regard to how Jordan Peele writes and directs them. It’s a deeply needed portrayal within cinema. So, in rebutting, my framing is to simply show how “the enemy” is a better villain, not how the Armitages are worse.

I have to address the comment about how Nolan removes dimensions from “the enemy” because that’s exactly why they’re so phenomenally impactful. We know what “the enemy” stands for. We know the absolute atrocities that they committed and we’ve been beaten over the head with depictions of their deplorable ideology.

Thus, when Nolan removes those dimensions to focus in on a singular aspect, it actually enhances “the enemy” in ways that only reduction could. Dunkirk focuses on the visceral, invasive physicality of “the enemy” and its devastation. The film shows us images of death, tactics of intimidation — the “We surround you” papers are breathtaking in how much evil three words exude despite their simplicity — and effects of fear like we’ve never seen them before. So, because we already know the nuance, or lack thereof, of who “the enemy” is and what they represent, showing them in this light is actually a grander, more impactful and more horrifying rendering of them than we’ve gotten before.

It’s like Jaws, but if the shark were a Nazi. It’s like a Nazi shark. I mean, come on.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

As I said before, the Armitages are terrifying villains. And I don’t want to argue with how Peele depicts them — it’s an approach that does its job and does it so well that it becomes deeply resonant in today’s world. I think, in purely cinematic terms, their tracks could’ve been laid a bit more methodically. I don’t mean this to undermine how abrasive and jarring white people’s microaggressive statements are, but it feels as though, in terms of cinematic crafting of villains, they might have even been more effective with a more paced out progression.

It’s difficult to argue that Get Out isn’t clearly more of a social commentary than Dunkirk is, but I do think that Dunkirk has a very subtle political idea that goes along with not naming “the enemy.” In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Mark Rylance posited the idea that the Germans have been villainized enough in regard to the Nazis. They’re a country with guilt hanging over their heads and, more importantly, they’re a country that’s moved on from that evil while it’s in America where, somehow, neo-Nazis now hold a world stage. In that sense, not naming “the enemy” becomes more empathetic and all encompassing as it’s not a people that the soldiers were fighting, but rather an ideology. The soldiers were fighting fear and hatred, and that is something still relevant today.

Levi’s Verdict:

As the second edition of Trial, or the Kyle vs. Harrison show, I once again had the dubious honor of having to choose between two wonderful arguments. Yet, instead of masking who I think is the winner, like I did last time, I will just come out and say that Harrison, once again, wins in a tough battle. Reading the rebuttals of both, I feel that this edition offered much more succinct arguments from both sides. Both promoted their arguments and neither attempted to bring down the others. That is a testament to the strength of both writers and the ideas behind both.

Kyle’s argument about how “the enemy” revolutionizes how we typically see war villains is true. It did. And Nolan’s Dunkirk is a stunning achievement. The way that it’s the ideology being fought — a violent, pretty much unseen force — is a frightening metaphor for how those violent, deep-rooted ideologies can pervade at any time. It’s quite like the shark in Jaws, as Kyle mentions, but with real ideological fervor and fear. Hatred and fear still persist today — both nameless and faceless.

But to me, the tangible reality of Get Out’s villains, the Armitages and white liberals, are a far too pertinent villain of today.

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

Peele’s film magnifies the anxieties regarding the way African Americans are viewed within society — with their voices silenced, with their bodies sexualized and glorified, with their minds traumatized — and the film confronts both openly racist and subtly racist white people and their causation in the way society problematically operates today. Because of the fact that Get Out puts a face to the ideologies and spends time letting the audience get to know the fake-good intentions of the Armitages, only to show their truly monstrous and manipulative plans, Peele makes a specific, yet wide critique of white people in America.

Ideologies scare us all. But a face to the ideology scares us just a little more.

Winner: Harrison Tunggal

 

Do you agree with Levi’s verdict? Sound off in the comments for which villain you think is better, or if you would’ve chosen another one entirely.

Featured image via Universal Pictures.

The Summer Oscars: The Best in Movies of Summer 2017

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

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

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

Amazon/Courtesy

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

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: David Lowery for A Ghost Story

Bret Burry/A24/Courtesy

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

Honorable Mention: Kogonada — Columbus

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

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

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

— Harrison Tunggal

Runner-up: Sofia Coppola — The Beguiled

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

— Kate Halliwell

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

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

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

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

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

— Levi Hill

Runner-up: Rooney Mara — A Ghost Story

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

Just perhaps not ones that involve eating an entire pie.

— Kate Halliwell

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

Honorable Mention: Zoe Kazan — The Big Sick

Achievement in Costume Design: Jeffrey Kurland — Dunkirk

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Stacey Battat — The Beguiled

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

— Kate Halliwell

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

Honorable Mention: Annell Brodeur — A Ghost Story

Achievement in Production Design: Nathan Crowley — Dunkirk

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

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Aline Bonetto — Wonder Woman

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

— Harrison Tunggal

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

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

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

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

— Harrison Tunggal

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

Honorable Mention: Lesley Vanderwalt — Alien: Covenant

Achievement in Cinematography: Hoyte van Hoytema — Dunkirk

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Andrew Droz Palermo — A Ghost Story

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

Honorable Mention: Elisha Christian — Columbus

Achievement in Film Editing: Lee Smith — Dunkirk

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

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

— Levi Hill

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

Honorable Mention: Meeyeon Han, Yang Jinmo — Okja

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

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

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

— Harrison Tunggal

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

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

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

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

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

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

— Levi Hill

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

Honorable Mention: Ronnie Mukwaya — Wonder Woman

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

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

— Harrison Tunggal

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

STX Entertainment

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Ray Romano — The Big Sick

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

— Harrison Tunggal

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

Honorable Mention: Steven Yeun — Okja

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

Warner Bros./Courtesy

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

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

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Daniel Hart — A Ghost Story

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

— Harrison Tunggal

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

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

Honorable Mention: Michael Giacchino — Spider-Man: Homecoming

Performance by an Ensemble Cast: The Big Sick

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

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Okja

Kimberly French/Netflix/Courtesy

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

— Harrison Tunggal

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

Honorable Mention: Spider-Man: Homecoming

Achievement in Directing: Christopher Nolan — Dunkirk

Melina Sue Gordon

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

Runner-up: David Lowery — A Ghost Story

Bret Burry/A24/Courtesy

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

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

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

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

— Kate Halliwell

Runner-up: Ahn Seo-hyun — Okja

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

— Harrison Tunggal

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

Honorable Mention: Nicole Kidman — The Beguiled

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

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

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

— Harrison Tunggal

Runner-up: Joel Edgerton — It Comes At Night

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

— Harrison Tunggal

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

Honorable Mention: John Cho — Columbus

Best Motion Picture of the Summer: Dunkirk

Warner Bros./Courtesy

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

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: It Comes At Night

A24/Courtesy

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

— Harrison Tunggal

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

Honorable Mention: Columbus

 

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

Featured image via Warner Bros.