Tag Archives: Rian Johnson

Our Most Anticipated Movies of 2019

2018 was mind-boggling. Ever since Black Panther back in February, the year just held strong up through the final days with the likes Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. So it’s no small statement to say that 2019 might rival it. In less than a month, we’ll have Dan Gilroy’s Velvet Buzzsaw (on Netflix, no less), followed soon after by the trilogy capper for How to Train Your Dragon. And with Captain Marvel and Us in March, the year will quickly become overwhelming. And it’s not only big budget films, or genre pieces from recent American (and male) darlings. There’s a new Scorsese film, a new Kore-eda film, a new Rees film, a new Joon-ho film, a new Larraín film, and a new Denis film — as well as exciting documentaries and feature debuts we’ll hear about soon at Sundance. With all that said, we couldn’t pick only 10 for our most anticipated list. In fact, we couldn’t even stick with 20. Below these 20 are sets of 15 from us individually, as well as five more honorable mentions (for a total of 55). Inject 2019 into our eyes already:

20. The Truth

Directed by: Hirokazu Kore-eda (Shoplifters, After the Storm, Like Father, Like Son, Still Walking, Nobody Knows)
Written by: Hirokazu Kore-eda, Léa Le Dimna
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, Ethan Hawke
Release date: TBD
Hirokazu Kore-eda directing Ethan Hawke and Juliette Binoche is enough to start wondering if The Truth will bring the acclaimed filmmaker back-to-back Palme d’Or wins.
Levi Hill

19. Ford v. Ferrari

Directed by: James Mangold (Logan, 3:10 to Yuma, Walk the Line)
Written by: James Mangold, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, Jason Keller
Starring: Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Caitriona Balfe, Tracy Letts, Jon Bernthal, Noah Jupe
Release date: June 28, 2019
James Mangold has proven himself as a storyteller who understands the American spirit. Combine that with stylish Ferraris, racing and another Christian Bale transformation, and Ford v. Ferrari could be another piece of Mangold gold.
Kyle Kizu

18. Honey Boy

Directed by: Alma Har’el (Bombay Beach, LoveTrue)
Written by: Shia LaBeouf
Starring: Lucas Hedges, Shia LaBeouf, Maika Monroe, Noah Jupe
Release date: TBD (Sundance premiere)
Shia LaBeouf writes and co-stars with Lucas Hedges in a Sundance premiering semi-autobiographical film about a childhood actor (Hedges) and his relationship with his father (LaBeouf). The film should be a challenging, honest, painful, but ultimately touching exploration of how LaBeouf became who he is today.
LH

17. The Beach Bum

Directed by: Harmony Korine (Spring Breakers)
Written by: Harmony Korine
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Snoop Dogg, Isla Fisher, Zac Efron, Jonah Hill
Release date: March 22, 2019
For his follow-up to Spring Breakers, Harmony Korine kept his color-soaked stoner aesthetic and added A-list stars Matthew McConaughey (Moondog), Snoop Dogg (Lingerie), Isla Fisher (Minnie), Zac Efron (Flicker), and Jonah Hill (Lewis).
LH

16. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

TriStar Pictures/Courtesy

Directed by: Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Can You Ever Forgive Me?)
Written by: Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster
Starring: Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Chris Cooper
Release date: October 18, 2019
Can You Ever Forgive Me? felt like a film from a 20 year veteran. That it was Marielle Heller’s sophomore feature just shows how astounding she is. Pair her with an icon for another icon’s story, and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is set up to be an affecting journey.
— KK

15. Proxima

Directed by: Alice Winocour (Augustine)
Written by: Alice Winocour
Starring: Eva Green, Matt Dillon, Lars Eidinger
Release date: TBD
Proxima follows an astronaut as she trains her body and her mind for a year on the ISS. The psychology of astronauts is such an intriguing subject that’s often left behind in massive sci-fi stories, so to see the exciting Alice Winocour take on a more intimate angle — Winocour says the film will focus particularly on saying goodbye to family — with Eva Green will be such a treat.
KK

14. Toy Story 4

Disney/Courtesy

Directed by: Josh Cooley
Written by: Stephany Folsom, Will McCormack
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Laurie Metcalf, Michael Keaton, Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Patricia Arquette, Keanu Reeves
Release date: June 21, 2019
Initially, a fourth Toy Story movie was a head-scratcher, especially after the exit of Rashida Jones due to “creative” and “philosophical” differences with Pixar. But then came the hilarious promos, as well as the reports of how emotional the film was for all those involved. And the first three films arguably form the greatest trilogy of all time, so why doubt the franchise now?
— LH

13. Detective Pikachu

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Directed by: Rob Letterman (Goosebumps)
Written by: Nicole Perlman, Rob Letterman
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Ken Watanabe, Bill Nighy, Suki Waterhouse, Rita Ora
Release date: May 10, 2019
Ryan Reynolds might be an obvious choice after his (vocal) success with the wise-ass Deadpool, but that doesn’t make this adaption of the video game, featuring the adorable-looking Pikachu and other Pokemon, any less exciting. Think of it as a modern, pop culture heavy take on Who Framed Roger Rabbit?.
LH

12. Velvet Buzzsaw

Netflix/Sundance Institute/Claudette Barius/Courtesy

Directed by: Dan Gilroy (Roman J. Israel, Esq., Nightcrawler)
Written by: Dan Gilroy
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Toni Collette, John Malkovich, Daveed Diggs
Release date: February 1, 2019 (Sundance premiere)
Regardless of his second feature, Dan Gilroy directed an American masterpiece right out of the gate with Nightcrawler. It’s not only the slow, creeping relevance of the film or the incredible noir stylings, but Jake Gyllenhaal’s terrifying turn. The simple idea of them reuniting is tantalizing, but that it’s for a feature about the often terrifying and visually dazzling contemporary art world takes the anticipation through the roof.— KK

11. Little Women

Columbia Pictures/Courtesy

Directed by: Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird)
Written by: Greta Gerwig
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, Timothée Chalamet, Meryl Streep, Laura Dern, Bob Odenkirk
Release date: December 25, 2019
Through 2018, Little Women has seen the silver screen seven times. Take that, A Star Is Born. But it’s tough not to love the idea of Greta Gerwig adapting the story with her delicate, observant eye and such an outstanding cast after she made Lady Bird, one of the best American films of the 21st century.
KK

10. Midsommar

Directed by: Ari Aster (Hereditary)
Written by: Ari Aster
Starring: Will Poulter, Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper
Release date: August 9, 2019
Following up the critically acclaimed (and potential Oscar nominee) Hereditary is no small task. Yet, with A24’s backing, an exciting young cast, a Sweden setting, and another tale of horrific pagan cults, Midsommar has all the signs of another creep-fest by the already horror maestro Ari Aster. — LH

9. The Lion King

Disney/Courtesy

Directed by: Jon Favreau (The Jungle Book, Chef, Iron Man)
Written by: Jeff Nathanson, Brenda Chapman
Starring: Donald Glover, James Earl Jones, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Beyoncé, Alfre Woodard, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner, Keegan-Michael Key, John Oliver
Release date: July 19, 2019
There’s no doubt The Lion King will roar all competitors away from the box office, and take it’s rightful spot on the throne as the top grossing movie of 2019 next to Avengers: Endgame and Star Wars: Episode IX. So really, the only thing to hope for is that Jon Favreau takes enough risks to change some elements of the 1994 classic so that it’s not 100% a shot-for-shot CGI (instead of hand-drawn) remake. Other than that, this film is too big to fail. Hakuna matata.
LH

8. Uncut Gems

Directed by: Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie (Good Time)
Written by: Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie, Ronald Bronstein
Starring: Adam Sandler, Idina Menzel, Lakeith Stanfield, Pom Klementieff, The Weeknd, Kevin Garnett
Release date: TBD
Say what you will, but Adam Sandler is a good actor. Seriously. He’s made some stinkers, but for those who have charted his career, it’s clear that when he’s given an original script from an acclaimed filmmaker (Punch-Drunk Love, Reign Over Me, Funny People, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)), he brings real depth to his characters. So, who better then than the Safdie brothers — who helped American audiences further see all of Robert Pattinson’s post-Twilight talents — to usher in even more indie goodwill for “character actor” Adam Sandler? Plus, the Netflix special Adam Sandler 100% Fresh, showing Sandler at his funniest and most heartfelt, was the thing I rewatched most in 2018. If the Safdie brothers tap into Sandler’s uncanny balance of hilarity and tragedy, Uncut Gems might be a major critical and commercial leap for all involved.
LH

7. Lucy in the Sky

Fox Searchlight/Courtesy

Directed by: Noah Hawley (Legion, Fargo)
Written by: Brian C. Brown, Elliott DiGuiseppi, John-Henry Butterworth, Noah Hawley
Starring: Natalie Portman, Dan Stevens, Jon Hamm, Zazie Beetz, Ellen Burstyn, Colman Domingo, Tig Notaro
Release date: TBD
Between Black Swan, Jackie, Annihilation, and Vox Lux, Natalie Portman has offered some of the most complex, haunted characters of the past decade. With Lucy in the Sky, she’ll now examine the psychology of an astronaut (based on a true story) along with Noah Hawley, the creator of Legion, and likely further prove why she’s one of the absolute best actors of our time.
KK

6. Us

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

Directed by: Jordan Peele (Get Out)
Written by: Jordan Peele
Starring: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Elisabeth Moss
Release date: March 15, 2019
Get Out came out of nowhere to gross over $175 million domestically, receive four Oscar nominations (including Best Picture), and win Best Original Screenplay. Us won’t have the stealth factor that Get Out had. However, it’s apparent with Us that Jordan Peele is far more than the real deal. Even with what could have been a blank check and even more of a blank page to write and do whatever he wanted, he doubled down on the savage, if slightly funny, horror satire mode he worked to wonders with Get Out. While Us might not reach the box office or Oscar glory of Get Out, it could become, to us, an even more impressive and idiosyncratic horror masterpiece.
LH

5. Knives Out

Directed by: Rian Johnson (Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Looper, Brick)
Written by: Rian Johnson
Starring: Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Christopher Plummer
Release date: November 27, 2019
It was hard to believe as the cast for Knives Out came rolling in, with powerhouse after powerhouse lining up. That they were lining up to work with Rian Johnson, however, is no surprise. With Looper, Johnson gave us one of the best original sci-fi films of the past decade. And with The Last Jedi, he arguably gave us the best Star Wars film to date. Knives Out is said to be inspired by the murder mysteries of Agatha Christie, and will show us a side of Johnson we haven’t seen before.
KK

4. Ad Astra

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

Directed by: James Gray (The Lost City of Z, The Immigrant, Two Lovers)
Written by: James Gray, Ethan Gross
Starring: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, Ruth Negga, John Ortiz
Release date: May 24, 2019 (rumored Cannes premiere)
Ad Astra was a bit of an enigma for all of 2018, with a strange January 2019 release date and speculation that it’d open early in December (and in IMAX). So the anticipation is already running high, and for good reason. Gray is a methodical, classical kind of filmmaker that allows you to soak in a film’s world, and feel deeply for his characters. And as Bilge Ebiri wrote for Vulture, filmmakers can get a little more personal, risky, and expressionistic with space films. Throw in DP Hoyte van Hoytema (familiar to space already having worked on Interstellar), Brad Pitt, and the Plan B producing team, and Ad Astra might just be the original epic of the year.
KK

3. Star Wars: Episode IX

Directed by: J.J. Abrams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Super 8, Star Trek)
Written by: J.J. Abrams, Chris Terrio
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Kelly Marie Tran, Domhnall Gleeson, Lupita Nyong’o, Keri Russell, Richard E. Grant, Matt Smith, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Billie Lourd
Release date: December 20, 2019
Was Star Wars: The Force Awakens a bit safe? Sure. Did J.J. Abrams successfully relaunch the franchise after the unfathomable damage of the prequels with an exciting adventure filled with amazing new characters and hinting at themes that Rian Johnson would later fulfill? Undoubtedly. Besides Johnson, who better than to take on the monstrous task of closing out not only this trilogy, but likely also the story of the Skywalkers? And Episode IX, following Luke Skywalker’s death as well as the tragic real death of Carrie Fisher — who will appear via deleted scenes from the previous films — will be an especially emotional experience in a galaxy far, far away.— KK

2. Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Directed by: Michael Dougherty (Krampus)
Written by: Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields, Max Borenstein
Starring: Millie Bobby Brown, Vera Farmiga, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, Kyle Chandler, Bradley Whitford, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Ken Watanabe
Release date: May 31, 2019
Godzilla: King of the Monsters might not be in consideration for many people’s best-of-the-year list when 2019 comes to a close. And it’s possible that the film will be nothing more than monster-movie mayhem (and fun). Yet, when Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune came on during the first trailer, and Mothra spread her fluorescent wings under the neon blue, this lifelong Godzilla fan wiped tears from his eyes. Does the nostalgia for the memory of a four year old’s first experience with movie magic weigh heavy here? You betcha. But with the thrilling 2014 reboot from Gareth Edwards and the enjoyable (if forgettable) Kong: Skull Island, this franchise appears to understand that to win over our hearts, you just have to let some kaiju (Titans) fight. Long live the King.
— LH

1. Avengers: Endgame

Disney/ Courtesy

Directed by: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo (Avengers: Infinity War, Captain America: Civil War, Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
Written by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Josh Brolin, Karen Gillan, Don Cheadle, Bradley Cooper
Release date: April 26, 2019
Amidst all of the complaints of it being an incomplete story (debatable) and fans having trouble with their favorite heroes screwing up (it’s called character development, folks) and dying is the reality that Infinity War is an incredible apocalyptic journey that fully earns its crushing dread. Its pacing is pitch perfect. Its theme of the weight of one life versus billions is carefully handled throughout the entire film. And its writing brings together massive superhero personalities in a way that proves that these storytellers truly know these characters. So, not only is Avengers: Endgame the event film of 2019 — sorry Star Wars — but there’s also the very real and likely possibility that the Russos and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely will deliver another supreme epic that does right by the eleven years of investment in this universe. And if they delve into time travel, as well as the heart of Captain America — the character that the Russos have defined — Avengers: Endgame could wind up as exhilarating as any big budget epic in recent memory.
KK


Kyle’s Next 15:

15. Superpower Dogs

Directed by: Daniel Ferguson (Jerusalem)
Release date: March 15, 2019

14. Ammonite

Directed by: Francis Lee (God’s Own Country)
Written by: Francis Lee
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Kate Winslet
Release date: TBD

13. The Nightingale

Directed by: Jennifer Kent (The Babadook)
Written by: Jennifer Kent
Starring: Sam Claflin, Aisling Franciosi, Baykali Ganambarr
Release date: TBD (2018 Venice premiere, Sundance showing)

12. The Laundromat

Directed by: Steven Soderbergh (Logan Lucky, Magic Mike, The Informant!, Ocean’s Eleven, Traffic, Erin Brockovich, Sex, Lies, and Videotape)
Written by: Scott Z. Burns
Starring: Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, Matthias Schoenaerts, Antonio Banderas, Jeffrey Wright
Release date: TBD

11. Waves

Directed by: Trey Edward Shults (It Comes At Night, Krisha)
Written by: Trey Edward Shults
Starring: Lucas Hedges, Sterling K. Brown, Taylor Russell, Kelvin Harrison Jr.
Release date: TBD

10. Chaos Walking

Directed by: Doug Liman (American Made, Edge of Tomorrow, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, The Bourne Identity)
Written by: Charlie Kaufman, Patrick Ness, Lindsey Beer, John Lee Hancock, Gary Spinelli)
Starring: Tom Holland, Daisy Ridley, Cynthia Erivo, Mads Mikkelsen, David Oyelowo
Release date: March 1, 2019

9. Joker

Directed by: Todd Phillips (War Dogs, The Hangover, Old School)
Written by: Todd Phillips, Scott Silver
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Shea Whigham, Marc Maron, Brett Cullen
Release date: October 4, 2019

8. Newsflash

Directed by: David Gordon Green (Halloween, Stronger, Pineapple Express, George Washington)
Written by: Ben Jacoby
Starring: Seth Rogen, Logan Lerman
Release date: TBD

7. Captain Marvel

Directed by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck (Sugar, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Mississippi Grind)
Written by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Jac Schaeffer, Nicole Perlman, Joe Shrapnel, Anna Waterhouse
Starring: Brie Larson, Jude Law, Gemma Chan, Samuel L. Jackson, Lee Pace, Ben Mendelsohn, Annette Bening, Djimon Hounsou, Clark Gregg
Release date: March 8, 2019

6. Spider-Man: Far From Home

Directed by: Jon Watts (Spider-Man: Homecoming, Cop Car)
Written by: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers
Starring: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Jake Gyllenhaal, Marisa Tomei, Samuel L. Jackson
Release date: July 5, 2019

5. Fonzo

Directed by: Josh Trank (Chronicle)
Written by: Josh Trank
Starring: Tom Hardy, Linda Cardellini, Jack Lowden, Matt Dillon, Kyle MacLachlan
Release date: TBD

4. The Woman in the Window

Directed by: Joe Wright (Darkest Hour, Atonement, Pride & Prejudice)
Written by: Tracy Letts
Starring: Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, Julianne Moore, Brian Tyree Henry, Wyatt Russell, Anthony Mackie
Release date: October 4, 2019

3. Triple Frontier

Directed by: J.C. Chandor (A Most Violent Year, All Is Lost, Margin Call)
Written by: J.C. Chandor, Mark Boal
Starring: Ben Affleck, Pedro Pascal, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund
Release date: March 15, 2019

2. The Last Thing He Wanted

Directed by: Dee Rees (Mudbound, Pariah)
Written by: Dee Rees, Marco Villalobos
Starring: Ben Affleck, Anne Hathaway, Willem Dafoe, Toby Jones, Edi Gathegi, Rosie Perez
Release date: TBD

1. Apollo 11

Directed by: Todd Douglas Miller (Dinosaur 13)
Release date: TBD (Sundance premiere)

Levi’s Next 15:

15. The Dead Don’t Die

Directed by: Jim Jarmusch (Paterson, Only Lovers Left Alive, Broken Flowers, Mystery Train, Stranger than Paradise)
Written by: Jim Jarmusch
Starring: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloë Sevigny, Tilda Swinton, Steve Buscemi, Tom Waits, Caleb Landry Jones, Selena Gomez
Release date: TBD

14. Radegund

Directed by: Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life, The New World, The Thin Red Line, Badlands)
Written by: Terrence Malick
Starring: August Diehl, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Nyqvist, Bruno Ganz
Release date: TBD

13. Native Son

Directed by: Rashid Johnson
Written by: Suzan-Lori Parks
Starring: Nick Robinson, Sanaa Lathan, Margaret Qualley, Ashton Sanders, Kiki Layne, Stephen McKinley Henderson
Release date: TBD (Sundance premiere)

12. IT: Chapter Two

Directed by: Andy Muschietti (It, Mama)
Written by: Gary Dauberman
Starring: Bill Skarsgård, James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Jay Ryan, Isaiah Mustafa, James Ransone, Teach Grant, Andy Bean, Xavier Dolan
Release date: September 6, 2019

11. The King

Directed by: David Michôd (War Machine, The Rover, Animal Kingdom)
Written by: David Michôd, Joel Edgerton
Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, Robert Pattinson, Sean Harris, Thomasin McKenzie, Lily-Rose Depp, Tom Glynn-Carney
Release date: TBD

10. The Irishman

Directed by: Martin Scorsese (Silence, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Departed, Casino, Goodfellas, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver)
Written by: Steven Zaillian
Starring: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano, Jesse Plemons, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Jack Huston
Release date: TBD

9. The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

Directed by: Mike Mitchell (Trolls), Trisha Gum
Written by: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Matthew Fogel, Raphael Bob-Waksberg, Michelle Morgan, Dominic Russo
Starring: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Alison Brie, Margot Robbie, Jonah Hill, Nick Offerman, Channing Tatum, Tiffany Haddish, Will Arnett, Charlie Day
Release date: February 8, 2019

8. Parasite

Directed by: Bong Joon-ho (Okja, Snowpiercer, Mother, The Host, Memories of Murder)
Written by: Bong Joon-ho
Starring: Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-Jeong, Choi Woo-sik, Park So-dam
Release date: TBD

7.  How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

Directed by: Dean DeBlois (How to Train Your Dragon 2, How to Train Your Dragon, Lilo & Stitch)
Written by: Dean DeBlois
Starring: Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Kit Harington, Gerard Butler, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, America Ferrera
Release date: February 22, 2019

6. The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Directed by: Joe Talbot
Written by: Joe Talbot, Rob Richert, Jimmie Fails
Starring: Danny Glover, Finn Wittrock, Thora Birch, Tonya Glanz, Mike Epps, Tichina Arnold, Rob Morgan, Jonathan Majors
Release date: TBD (Sundance premiere)

5. Jojo Rabbit

Directed by: Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, What We Do in the Shadows)
Written by: Taika Waititi
Starring: Taika Waititi, Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson, Alfie Allen, Stephen Merchant, Rebel Wilson
Release date: TBD

4. The Lighthouse

Directed by: Robert Eggers (The Witch)
Written by: Robert Eggers, Max Eggers
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson
Release date: TBD

3. High Life

Directed by: Claire Denis (Let the Sunshine In, 35 Shots of Rum, Beau travail, Nenette and Boni)
Written by: Claire Denis, Jean-Pol Fargeau, Geoff Cox
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, André Benjamin, Mia Goth, Lars Eidinger
Release date: April 12, 2019 (TIFF premiere)

2. Dumbo

Directed by: Tim Burton (Big Eyes, Frankenweenie, Corpse Bride, Ed Wood, Batman Returns, Batman, Beetlejuice)
Written by: Ehren Kruger
Starring: Eva Green, Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Alan Arkin
Release date: March 29, 2019

1. Everything Everywhere All At Once

Directed by: Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert (Swiss Army Man)
Written by: Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
Starring: Michelle Yeoh, Awkwafina
Release date: TBD

Honorable mentions:

Ema

Directed by: Pablo Larraín (Jackie, Neruda, No)
Written by: Guillermo Calderón, Alejandro Moreno
Starring: Gael García Bernal, Mariana Di Girolamo, Santiago Cabrera, Mariana Loyola
Release date: TBD

Gemini Man

Directed by: Ang Lee (Life of Pi, Brokeback Mountain, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Sense and Sensibility, The Wedding Banquet)
Written by: Billy Ray, Christopher Wilkinson, Stephen J. Rivele, David Benioff, Andrew Niccol, Darren Lemke, Jonathan Hensleigh
Starring: Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen, Benedict Wong
Release date: October 4, 2019

Last Christmas

Directed by: Paul Feig (A Simple Favor, Bridesmaids)
Written by: Emma Thompson, Bryony Kimmings
Starring: Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, Emma Thompson, Michelle Yeoh, Rebecca Root
Release date: November 15, 2019

Long Day’s Journey Into Night

Directed by: Bi Gan (Kaili Blues)
Written by: Bi Gan
Starring: Sylvia Chang, Tang Wei
Release date: TBD (2018 Cannes premiere, 2018 TIFF showing, 2018 China premiere)

Men in Black: International

Directed by: F. Gary Gray (The Fate of the Furious, Straight Outta Compton, The Italian Job, The Negotiator, Set It Off, Friday)
Written by: Art Marcum, Matt Holloway
Starring: Tessa Thompson, Chris Hemsworth, Rebecca Ferguson, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Kumail Nanjiani
Release date: June 14, 2019

Featured image via Warner Bros.

The MovieMini Awards for the Films of 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of A24

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

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

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

Hooman Yazdanian

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

Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy

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

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

— Michelle Lee

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Focus Features

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

Fox Searchlight/Courtesy

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

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

Achievement in Costume Design: Mark Bridges — Phantom Thread

Image courtesy of Focus Features

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

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

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

Hooman Yazdanian

Runner-up: Jennifer Johnson — I, Tonya

Neon/Courtesy

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

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

Hooman Yazdanian

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

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

Best Documentary Feature: Icarus

Image courtesy of Netflix

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

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

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

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

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

— Hooman Yazdanian

Runner-up: Jane

Abramorama/Courtesy

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

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

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

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

Hooman Yazdanian

Runner-up: Daniel Kaluuya — Get Out

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

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

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

Hooman Yazdanian

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

Warner Bros./Courtesy

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

Fox Searchlight Pictures/Courtesy

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

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

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

Image courtesy of A24

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

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

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

— Levi Hill

Runner-up: Tatiana Maslany — Stronger

Roadside Attractions/Courtesy

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

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

Best Foreign Language Film: A Fantastic Woman

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

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

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

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

— Levi Hill

Runner-up: Loveless

Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy

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

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

— Levi Hill

3. Foxtrot
4. The Square
5. Raw

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

Best Animated Feature: Coco

Image courtesy of Pixar

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

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

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

— Sophie-Marie Prime

Runner-up: The Breadwinner

Gkids/Courtesy

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

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

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

Fox Searchlight/Courtesy

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

Hooman Yazdanian 

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

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

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

Fox Searchlight/Courtesy

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

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

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

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

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

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

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

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

STX Entertainment

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

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

Hooman Yazdanian

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

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

Achievement in Film Editing: Lee Smith — Dunkirk

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

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

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

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

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Mako Kamitsuna — Mudbound

Netflix/Courtesy

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

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

Achievement in Cinematography: Hoyte van Hoytema — Dunkirk

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

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

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

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Roger Deakins — Blade Runner 2049

Warner Bros./Courtesy

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

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Focus Features

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

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

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

— Sophie-Marie Prime

Runner-up: Hans Zimmer — Dunkirk

Warner Bros./Courtesy

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

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

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

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

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

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

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

Hooman Yazdanian

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

Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy

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

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

Hooman Yazdanian

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

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

Achievement by a Debut Director: Greta Gerwig — Lady Bird

Image courtesy of A24

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

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

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

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

Hooman Yazdanian

Runner-up: Jordan Peele — Get Out

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

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

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

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

Hooman Yazdanian

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

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

Best Original Screenplay: Greta Gerwig — Lady Bird

Image courtesy of A24

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

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

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

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

— Sophie-Marie Prime

Runner-up: Jordan Peele — Get Out

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Houston Cinema Arts Festival

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

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

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

— Levi Hill

Runner-up: Dee Rees, Virgil Williams — Mudbound

Netflix/Courtesy

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

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

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

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

Achievement in Directing: Christopher Nolan — Dunkirk

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

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

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

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

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

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Jordan Peele — Get Out

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

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

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

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

Hooman Yazdanian

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

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

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

Image courtesy of A24

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hooman Yazdanian

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

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

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

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

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

— Michelle Lee

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

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

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

— Michelle Lee

Runner-up: Daniel Day-Lewis — Phantom Thread

Focus Features/Courtesy

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

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

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

Hooman Yazdanian

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Neon

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

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

— Samantha Celentano

Runner-up: Saoirse Ronan — Lady Bird

A24/Courtesy

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

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

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

Hooman Yazdanian

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

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

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

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

— Samantha Celentano

Runner-up: Get Out

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

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

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

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

Hooman Yazdanian

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

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

 

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

Kyle Kizu’s Top 25 Films of 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Honorable mention: Columbus

Superlative Films/Courtesy

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

Honorable mention: Their Finest

Nicola Dove/STX Entertainment/Courtesy

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

Honorable mention: The Big Sick

Amazon/Courtesy

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

Honorable mention: Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

PBS/Courtesy

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

Honorable mention: Get Out

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

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

 

25. Okja

Netflix/Courtesy

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

24. The Post

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

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

23. Spider-Man: Homecoming

Marvel/Sony/Courtesy

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

22. Logan

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

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

21. Our Souls at Night

Netflix/Courtesy

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

20. The Shape of Water

Fox Searchlight Pictures/Courtesy

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

19. Lucky

Magnolia Pictures/Courtesy

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

18. The Breadwinner

Gkids/Courtesy

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

17. Molly’s Game

Michael Gibson/STX Entertainment/Courtesy

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

16. The Florida Project

A24/Courtesy

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

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

15. Phantom Thread

Focus Features/Courtesy

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

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

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

14. Kedi

Oscilloscope/Courtesy

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

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

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

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

13. The Lost City of Z

Amazon Studios/Courtesy

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

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

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

12Icarus 

Netflix/Courtesy

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

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

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

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

11. Jane

Abramorama/Courtesy

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

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

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

10. Lady Bird

A24/Courtesy

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

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

9. Loving Vincent

BreakThru Films/Trademark Films/Courtesy

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

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

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

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

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

8. Mudbound

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

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

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

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

7. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Lucasfilm/Courtesy

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

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

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

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

6. Hostiles

Entertainment Studios/Courtesy

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

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

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

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

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

5. War for the Planet of the Apes

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

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

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

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

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

4. Blade Runner 2049

Warner Bros./Courtesy

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

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

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

3. Call Me by Your Name

Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy

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

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

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

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

2. A Ghost Story

A24/Courtesy

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

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

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

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

1. Dunkirk

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

 

Featured image via Amazon Studios/Netflix.

 

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

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

Cinema of 2017 has reminded us that we’re still enough

“That’s enough.”

Two words spoken by a blind man to a young soldier returning home from a hellscape of endless gunfire and explosions. This young soldier, evacuated from a “colossal military disaster,” feels shameful for his cowardice, that he let his people down. But a blind man out late it the cold, handing blankets to these boys, speaks truth to what really happened.

This young soldier survived. And that’s enough.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

In a year that’s been hell-bent on breaking us, it’s difficult to feel as though we’re enough. Our hope that goodness will still prevail dims. Our attempts to steer our course back on track often feel futile. So, we need that reminder: that, maybe, survival is enough.

Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk leaves us with that lingering idea. But, in fact, it seems as though all of cinema in 2017 has been about some form, shade or side of the notion that we’re still enough.

That’s what stories are really meant to do — reinvigorate us when we’re low, open up new paths of thinking when we feel trapped, help us understand ourselves when we just can’t.

Love, and not just some passing idea of it, but true love, is hard to come by when we’ve been so numbed by hate. When we’ve been nearly forced to feel nothing so as not to feel so much negativity, it’s hard to feel as though we can seek love out.

But Call Me by Your Name reminds us that we’re still enough.

Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy

Through the soft, vulnerable, yet fiery passionate words of Mr. Perlman, we confront the fact that feeling, especially feeling the bad, is necessary to help us hold onto the reality of love, even when passed or lost. We’re reminded that we’re enough for love, that we deserve it in our lives and should never lose grasp of what it means. And for the LGBTQ+ folks who see themselves, this story has the chance to be powerful visibility and hold genuine truths that remind them that, despite the world that continues to subject them to hatred, their love is still enough.

Hatred does seem to be everywhere, though, and it’s difficult to avoid it with it so rampant. It’s difficult not to let hatred invade us, and it’s difficult to feel as though there’s a future without it in some shape or form, in ourselves or in others.

But Hostiles mends a bridge between hatred and empathy, and forces us to reconcile our differences and our pasts.

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In the face of true tragedy, hatred is overwhelming, but it can be overcome. As shown by the journey that Joseph Blocker and Yellow Hawk take together, hatred can be left behind by the realization that those that so many have deemed “the other,” in truth, share a simple goal: to live and survive. The film forces us to confront a genocide by white men, and to see a future where we protect survival. It takes us through hell and back, and asks us to reflect on hatred in our world today by positing that going through hell can lead to, instead of hatred, stronger bonds of understanding.

Not everyone suffers from direct hatred, though. So much of our society and so much of a certain sector of people’s internalized thinking are built to slowly prey on and subject others. That subjectification can be so difficult to combat because it is not only everywhere, but seemingly hidden everywhere. And it’s difficult to feel like you’re enough when you live in that world.

But Jordan Peele, with Get Out, sees a world where that base is broken, and its effects are overcome.

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

In a stunning moment, Chris picks cotton out of the chair he’s bound to and stuffs it in his ears to save him from the Armitages. America built itself on slavery, which left generational trauma. But Black folks have found so much in how they’ve overcome and how they’ve turned that history into power to fight the remnants of it. And it’s the very power that helps Chris that can help others cope, to find a similar power that reminds them that, in this world, they’re still enough.

There are many aspects of the institutions that must be reshaped, as the entire country and many parts of the world have confronted over the past few months of women, and men, breaking the silence on sexual harassment and sexual assault. It’s a poison that’s everywhere and we’re not finished breaking that silence. We likely won’t be for a long time, and to encounter such massive, widespread pain that feels neverending is difficult. It’s tough to feel like we’re enough to eradicate this problem.

But Wonder Woman envisions every woman as a warrior, and the rest of us as people that can aid in her fight.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

In the film, the evil of mankind — keyword “man” — is not caused by some spell and it’s not something that will just go away, either. Yet, through the everlasting hope and fight of Diana, we see that there is something better ahead. Patty Jenkins helps us see that, with love, we’re enough to counteract evil.

It will, however, take all of us, and that’s a tall order. This year has beaten us brutally, every part of us drained to some degree, which has made it hard to feel as though we’re enough to band together, to feel that we can exert that last breath to be a part of something bigger.

And that’s where Star Wars comes in.

Lucasfilm/Courtesy

Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi envisions a new type of hero, a hero that’s in every one of us, even and especially those who come from so little amidst galactic-sized oppression. We don’t need special parents. We don’t need to be on the front lines. We don’t need to always be attacking. What we need and what we all have, even in a small boy who sweeps stables, is a little bit of hope.

After the hellscape that was 2017, we survived. And right now, that’s enough. But that’s not all. Moving forward, we will continue our defiance.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

“We must expect another blow to be struck almost immediately.” But “we shall go on to the end.”

“We shall never surrender.”

We may feel small, like nameless and faceless people that history won’t remember if we do make it out. But Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk believes in the nameless, in the faceless, as that’s where heroics come from. Winston Churchill’s words were a rallying cry, but they’re far more powerful when read by someone for whom they were intended: a young soldier who just survived the unimaginable. That’s where heroics come from.

And cinema can remind us of that. Stories are a part of human history and have only become a bigger part of our lives because of their unending power. They remind us to feel, to love, to leave hate behind, to find strength in ourselves, both individual and collective — and not just the ones mentioned above. Films like The Shape of Water, Mudbound, Logan and, a bit more explicitly, The Post all carry a similar vitality.

Right when we needed it most, film of 2017 reminded us that we’re still enough.

 

Featured image via Warner Bros./Universal Pictures/Lucasfilm/Courtesy

Ranking the Star Wars films

Star Wars films hold the top two spots for the biggest opening weekends at the box office, and are two of only four films to have crossed $200 million in their debuts. While it doesn’t hold the record for the largest worldwide gross, Star Wars: The Force Awakens easily stands with the largest domestic gross, nearing $1 billion, where Avatar is nearly $200 million less and only three other films have ever hit $600 million. And Star Wars: The Last Jedi will very easily join this group, perhaps even beating Avatar’s domestic gross, in due time.

The financial success of Star Wars today is a testament to the power it’s built since 1977. Star Wars films define an entire generation, and have worked their way into not only everyday popular culture, but culture in general in ways that few other pieces of art, in general, ever have. The original trilogy pushed so many of those ‘70s children to become the next great filmmakers, or storytellers of any kind, even defining much of the non-Star Wars art we see today.

To say that Star Wars is special is an incredible understatement. George Lucas’ little $11 million film channeled something in people across the world for decades and certainly many decades to come, something that we may not ever fully understand.

What’s intriguing, though, is that, in our opinion, out of the nine films of the Star Wars universe, only three are truly great films. Then, there are four varying types of good, and two we don’t like to talk about. There’s no doubting these films’ significance in culture — yes, even the bad ones — but taking an analytical deep dive into how they work as movies and how they compare to one another is absolutely fascinating, and will likely be entirely controversial. But here we are, ranking the Star Wars films from worst to best:

9. Star Wars: Attack of the Clones

Lucasfilm/Courtesy

Well… what can we say about the worst Star Wars film and, honestly, one of the worst written (at least from a dialogue standpoint) big budget films? This is an actual line of dialogue in the film, played with utmost seriousness by Hayden Christensen’s Anakin to Natalie Portman’s Padme: “I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere.”

While Christensen gets a bad rapt for his performances in the last two prequel films, he’s not the main problem with Attack of the Clones. The issues really come from Lucas’ insistence to stay committed to (not great) CGI — instead of the practical effects that made the originals so memorable — and from his poor dialogue (not even the standout Ewan McGregor can make the dialogue sound believable) and overall plotting. While the film features some (necessary to stay awake) thrilling action sequences, Attack of the Clones is the closest thing to a total misfire within the Star Wars series.

— Levi Hill

8. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

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The prequels, as concepts, are brilliant, but Lucas’ elaboration on the concepts and his particular direction of the them are terrible. And Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, while not as terrible of a film as Attack of the Clones, represents the stink perhaps more potently.

The strange, boring political machinations embarrassingly bog down the plot. The performances of nearly every member are laughable, and even Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor, who, based on acting alone, do a decent job, cannot make up for the horrific dialogue. Much of the Star Wars mythology is damaged by concepts such as midichlorians as well as the over-indulgence in the idea of fate, something that was handled so well in the original trilogy. The style of the worlds and the action is so over-the-top and negatively diverting to a point where features such as lightsaber battles feel like some kind of sick joke. The CGI, while revolutionary at the time for what it could accomplish, is overwhelming and poorly used. And the film is genuinely racist in the many characters who are clear and offensive stereotypes.

As said before, the basic story concept of the prequels is fantastic. But the execution is so botched, so damaging to the universe, so terrible on a technical level that it’s no use to even make the case for the concept.

— Kyle Kizu

7. Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

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Say what you will about the prequels, but Revenge of the Sith is genuinely a good (not great) movie that gives some needed gravitas and weight to the prior two (near disastrous) additions to the Star Wars saga. Christensen is, thankfully, given his first chance to actually show off some depth as one of the most fascinating characters in Star Wars — Anakin Skywalker, aka Darth Vader and the father of Luke.

And dare I say, Ewan McGregor actually gives an awards worthy performance as the willing-to-do-good Obi-Wan Kenobi, who is also conflicted about is young padawan’s brewing dark side. The ending of Revenge of the Sith may be predictable — I mean, the first three films (or IV through VI) are where we’re headed — but that doesn’t mean the film is any less powerful when we see the final transformation of young Anakin Skywalker into Lord Vader.

— Levi Hill

6. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first standalone film, perhaps had to take the same approach as Star Wars: The Force Awakens, grounding us in the familiar — the mission of the Rebels that kicks of the events of A New Hope — before taking us where we’ve never been.

And the film kicks off with a fascinating question of morality and cost that this type of story requires, as we’re introduced to Cassian (Diego Luna) murdering a fellow Rebel for the sake of the mission. In fact, all of the characters add dimensions to who the people of this universe can be. Jyn (Felicity Jones) is our first reluctant hero, hiding due to the pain of her childhood. Chirrut (Donnie Yen) takes the Force-as-religion concept to a whole new level. Bodhi (Riz Ahmed) offers another take on the defector narrative. And K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) continues to expand on why droids are the most hilarious characters in Star Wars.

Director Gareth Edwards does an admirable job in setting up these morally ambiguous characters; it truly does feel like fresh ground. And Edwards also directs the hell out of action sequences, imbuing them with a wartime grit due, in part, to Greig Fraser’s stunning cinematography

But the film ultimately only goes so far, and that’s not enough. Jyn’s character arc is handled very sloppily as the film flips between careful development of a reluctant hero and sudden moments of heroism. While plenty of the battle on Scarif is outstanding, much of the specific retrieval of the Death Star plans, in the interior tower, feels lazily conceived and lazily executed. Finally, the film is too often hampered by fan service. Fan service doesn’t necessarily mean bad, but it ends up being so when it takes away from the efficiency and effectiveness of the film, such as much of the Darth Vader work and plenty of references.

— Kyle Kizu

5. Return of the Jedi

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There’s a darker, more thematically committed version of Return of the Jedi beneath the one we ended up getting. The confrontation between Luke, Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine is fittingly epic and a gripping payoff to the buildup that the first two installments set forth. The clash of these characters in one room, battling it out both physically and mentally, indulging deeply in the classically simple light vs. dark conflict, is pulled off with grace (in the original version, not the special edition re-release) and gravitas.

The characters of Han and Leia are also given new ground to explore, some of the action sequences are the epitome of Star Wars entertainment and Endor is rendered a visually dynamic new world.

But Endor is also where Return of the Jedi falls. It’s been said a thousand times, but Ewoks had no place in this film, or at least how they’re depicted serves little purpose. Essentially, director Richard Marquand offers the most kid-friendly version of Star Wars, and the most silly version. It’s a happy, joyous ending to our characters’ journeys, which is a nice note in retrospect. But there’s no reason that that note could not have been reached by taking the opportunity to conclude this story a bit more seriously.

— Kyle Kizu

4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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That Star Wars: The Force Awakens successfully revived such a monumental franchise buried in such monumental crap is an achievement in its own right, and genuinely a framework by which to judge the film. While the tone and story beats may feel familiar, they fluidly situate us into a galaxy decades removed with new types of characters. On closer inspection, JJ Abrams and co-writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt take an assured storytelling approach that, in its specifics, is rather different than the original Star Wars.

And those characters are exactly where The Force Awakens shines so brightly. Luke had stories of his parents that turned out to be lies. Rey has nothing, but Daisy Ridley gives her a lively vigor that so many can identify with and adore. Her performance is explorative and searching, and while her pain may be under the surface, we can detect it in her yearning for journey and purpose.

The defector origins of Finn (John Boyega) are an immensely fascinating starting point that immediately allow us to latch onto him, and Poe (Oscar Isaac) is truly the closest a Star Wars character has ever gotten to being as badass as Han Solo. Then there’s Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who is, essentially, a successful version of the young, manipulable, emotional, light-dark conflicted character that failed so spectacularly with Anakin Skywalker. And the context of his parentage and mentor renders him one of the better villains in recent blockbusters.

Throw in an actually committed Harrison Ford, a quieter, more subtle, but equally as brilliant score by John Williams and some traditional, refined filmmaking, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, despite its familiarities, is a welcome and entertaining entry that does work outside of itself that most of the other films didn’t have to.

— Kyle Kizu

3. Star Wars

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There would be no Star Wars without the original, which is, arguably, the most purely entertaining film and the most memorable from start to finish. From Alec Guinness’ Oscar-nominated turn as the wise and monologue-heavy Obi-Wan Kenobi, to the star-making turn from Harrison Ford, to the sheer imagination on display (seriously, holy shit), Star Wars (now called A New Hope) is a landmark moment in cinema. Not only did it help create the blockbuster era we are still experiencing (remaining the largest and most successful film franchise in the world), but it proved to be a real turning moment in film, where the rules felt like they could once again be broken down and built up again. George Lucas created a storytelling (and marketing) titan, and we are all indebted to the first film in the series. In fact, it wasn’t until The Last Jedi that a film was as willing to match this original’s unbridled ambition.

— Levi Hill

2. The Empire Strikes Back

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“No, I am your father!” declares Darth Vader in one of the most iconic of all cinematic moments, setting Empire Strikes Back as the standard bearer for the largest franchise in the world, but even more so as the de facto comparison that any sequel has to live up to. And not many do.

Both expanding on the Star Wars mythology and increasing the amount of spectacle, The Empire Strikes Back finds its true power in its intense focus on further developing the characters. We see Luke Skywalker struggle to find his place and temper his ambition. We see Han Solo become more than just a wisecracking sidekick and smuggler; we see him become a person who’s trying to do well for those he cares about. Then, Leia is given the required depth through her passion for the rebellion, her will to do well, even if challenging norms, all the while balancing her (odd, in hindsight) love triangle between Luke and Han.

While critically mixed during its day, The Empire Strikes Back stands rightfully at the top of most Star Wars rankings.

— Levi Hill

1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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Yes, it may be a tad premature to rank The Last Jedi, which just opened this past weekend, as the best Star Wars film yet. And, according to some fans, we may be crazy for even suggesting that this film is canonical. But here we are, with Star Wars: The Last Jedi easily topping our list.

What makes Episode VIII our pick as the best, though, is actually due to many of the reasons that other fans have written it off: that it breaks the rules, rewrites what “a Star Wars film” entails, puts an emphasis on humor and heartbreak and, ultimately, paints a political portrait that fits next to the anti-Vietnam/Nixon-era politics that George Lucas has said influenced the first film.

Because the film is still fresh in people’s minds and not-yet-seen for others, we’re going to keep plot details to a minimum. But essentially, much of the buildup from The Force Awakens veers into drastically different territory than what many expected. Yet, all decisions are in favor of the populist, “we the people” message Rian Johnson so thrillingly achieves with The Last Jedi. Even outside of just the message, though, The Last Jedi features some of the most engaging action sequences on the big screen, the most dynamic use of lightsabers and, for what it’s worth, the most badass final 45 minutes in a Star Wars film. For further elaboration on the film’s specific brilliance, read our full review.

Call us crazy, but yes, The Last Jedi is already the best Star Wars film.

— Levi Hill

 

Featured image via Lucasfilm.

‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ Review: A humanist, subversive, new kind of ‘Star Wars’ story

With Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the most signficant franchise in popular culture awoke from a deep slumber. However, it did so with a sense of familiarity that, while perhaps necessary, hurts the film in hindsight.

But Star Wars: The Last Jedi takes another necessary step, that of subversion of the very things that The Force Awakens hinged on. And in doing so, The Last Jedi breathes urgent purpose into the new trilogy, purpose it had yet to prove.

What’s immediately evident about The Last Jedi — through a nailbiter of an opening sequence, which includes an absolutely hysterical bit that tops Poe’s opening of “who talks first?” in The Force Awakens — is that this film is interested in people. While some large scale action films focus on the spectacle, writer-director Rian Johnson and cinematographer Steve Yedlin’s camera situates us with the fighting, the sacrificing and the dying that fuel those battles.

When it comes to his focus on our main characters, Johnson succeeds in giving them all heavy, deeply personal character arcs. Finn needs to learn how best to fight for the Resistance. Poe needs to learn leadership that thinks ahead of the enemy, that thinks of everyone that a potential failure in leadership might affect. And John Boyega and Oscar Isaac inject the same kind of charismatic vigor into their characters that made them so lovable in the first place.

But Johnson’s portrayal of Luke Skywalker, this mammoth figure in pop culture, is the film’s most dynamic feature. And that’s because Johnson takes him out of the familiar, out of what we know him to be. Essentially, Johnson dissects “the legend” of Luke Skywalker, questioning that title by focusing in on Kylo Ren’s turn to the dark side years prior while at Luke’s Jedi school. It gives Mark Hamill new space to explore, as a rehash of pure heroism would’ve failed to be profound, and Hamill offers up a hilarious, pained, tired and tender performance. Though the trilogy jumps decades, we still get to feel the weight of those decades because Hamill bares it tangibly and beautifully.

Johnson intertwines Luke’s arc with those of Rey and Kylo in a way that challenges Rey’s almost original-trilogy-Luke sense of purpose, and in a way that cuts straight to the heart of Kylo’s light-dark conflict. It’s a brilliant framework, as the film adds new layers to Kylo, not only in the context of his turn but in the context of his purpose moving forward. Adam Driver ingrains those emotions deep into his performance, rendering him as one of the more complex villains in large scale cinema.

The framework also places Rey at the forefront, mainly through her search for identity now that she’s been thrust into the world of the Force. The film’s answer is decidedly feminist, fitting into Johnson’s overall idea of who heroes are, and Daisy Ridley capitalizes on the material, delivering a performance that is, appropriately, searching, yet also gripping in its painful anger and raw vulnerability.

The film is truly an ensemble piece, even more so than most typical ensembles as there’s a sense of individualized growth within nearly every character. And the performances of the rest of the cast are wholly committed, including vibrant work by newcomer Kelly Marie Tran, a towering presence from Laura Dern and a brave turn by the late Carrie Fisher.

This is, however, where the film slightly falters, as it becomes, at times, too stuffed with so much character work happening at the same time and in different places, which impacts the film’s pacing. Certain moments, such as when the plot needs to catch up, happen too quickly or conveniently and other moments, such as those of thematic significance, feel a bit too drawn out. The film also has four acts, which is not unusual, but it requires an extremely careful sense of flow and progression, perhaps exemplified by The Dark Knight. And while the flow from the third act into the fourth isn’t terrible, it’s unbalanced.

But the film, despite its flaws, is genuinely stunning. Johnson choreographs action — both in space and on the ground — with such rhythmic intensity and fluidity, but also with an underlying grit informed by the film’s humanism. And the settings within which that action takes place are so singular and transfixing, often due to Rick Heinrich’s spellbinding production design and Steve Yedlin’s soaring and awe-striking cinematography, especially in his long shots. 

The story, while not perfectly executed, also holds beauty. As said before, this film is about people. And Johnson engages with the political, shedding light on the First Order’s impact on the poor and forgotten, on those that come from nothing but a little bit of hope. Fascinatingly enough, however, Johnson, while portraying the Resistance lovingly, doesn’t shy away from critiquing the larger notion of the “machine” of the Resistance.

But it’s those like Rose Tico (Marie Tran), someone who works alone in the dirty underbelly of a Resistance ship and is not really a part of any “machine,” who can embody a heroism in the face of tyranny that leaders of the Resistance have yet to fully understand. It’s heroes like Rey who can represent the greatest that hope can stand for.

In that sense, The Last Jedi is a new kind of Star Wars story. Along the way, the film challenges a lot of what we’re familiar with, especially in regard to the mythology of the universe. At points, the film almost feels satirical in how it critiques what we expect a Star Wars film to be.

Therein lies the film’s value. More of the same, especially in a wasteland of traditional, unengaging hero stories, would’ve been a shame. It was necessary for The Force Awakens, for that film to care about what we thought of it.

But The Last Jedi believes in a new kind of hero and, thus, a new kind of Star Wars.

Grade: A-

 

Featured image via Lucasfilm.

Top 10 science fiction films since 2010

With the release of the decades-in-the-making Blade Runner 2049 nearly upon us, the MovieMinis staff compiled a list of what we believe to be the best science fiction movies of the last several years. The genre has seen a bit of a resurgence in the past decade. Both big-budget and independent filmmakers have leaned on sci-fi as a means of approaching Hollywood from a new, daring angle. And while for every Interstellar there’s bound to be an unfortunate Battleship, there’s no denying that the good outweighs the bad (or, in Battleship’s case, the very, very bad). Without further ado, here are the MovieMinis picks for Top 10 Sci-Fi Films of the 2010s:

10. (Tie) Upstream Color

erbp/Courtesy

Shane Carruth will likely never get the mainstream credit he deserves, but, then again, even the cinephiles enraptured by his work have yet to agree on the meaning of either of his two sci-fi masterpieces: Primer and Upstream Color. Whether Upstream Color is more of an experimental exploration of a deteriorating relationship or, rather, an unsettling science fiction narrative about mind control and the unforeseen power of the natural world may still be up for debate. Yet, what is not up for debate is the technical brilliance and narrative abstraction working seamlessly together to create an uncommonly intelligent experience that expects the audience not only to be engaged, but to actively want to work for any semblance of an answer. If that isn’t a hallmark of the best sci-fi works across all mediums, then I don’t know what is.

— Levi Hill

10. (Tie) Snowpiercer

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Prior to the well-known Netflix film Okja, Bong Joon-ho started working with American actors on Snowpiercer, the adaptation of the French graphic novel La Transperceneige — and what he gave us is a science fiction film that the US film industry is not worthy of. While obvious in its commentary on the class system, the film is far more layered in that commentary, and that commentary is far more wide-reaching in scope, than it may let on. Not only deconstructing the upper class’ oppression of the lower class, Snowpiercer thoroughly dissects the idea of how flawed a rebellion can be and how malleable a the middle class truly is. And while that rebellion happens, always pushing forward, shot in stunning tracking profiles, the film focuses in on the two Asian characters who are always concerned with what’s outside of the train. In that, Joon-ho breaks down the barriers of the system, quite literally at points, to show that that’s not all there is.

All of that is simply the allegorical underpinnings of the story, which also features brilliant performances from Chris Evans, at perhaps his finest, and Tilda Swinton, in one of her most transformed roles. The action is breathtaking and the production design is integral, and feels organic, to the world that Joon-ho builds. Snowpiercer is inventive science fiction, in ways that both make the most of the storytelling style of the American system — a machine of forced, strict linearity — while also showing that perhaps the best kind of storytelling is that which can look outside of the system.

— Kyle Kizu

9. War for the Planet of the Apes

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There’s arguably more “war” in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes than in War for the Planet of the Apes, but therein lies the success of this trilogy-closer — War is a methodical, elemental and profound examination of conflict, rather than an outright staging of conflict. As a result, we see Caesar (Andy Serkis, giving the performance of his career) fall to depths previously unimaginable, so, when he rises, it becomes a triumphant moment for the character, the franchise and the entire genre. Speaking of genre, this film returns sci-fi to its allegorical roots — before mother! unveiled its own take on the Bible, War turned Caesar into a Mosaic hero leading the film’s spin on the Book of Exodus. Forget The Batman, Matt Reeves already has a perfect trilogy on his hands.

— Harrison Tunggal

8. Looper

Sony Pictures/TriStar Pictures/Courtesy

That Looper is Rian Johnson’s only jump into science fiction filmmaking, prior to his small gig of directing the upcoming 8th episode of the biggest franchise in the world, is bizarre when considering the good amount of the craft, skill and storytelling that he proved within the genre. Starring a nearly unrecognizable Joseph Gordon-Levitt and a wholly committed Bruce Willis — which is sadly rare these days — Looper takes a time-traveling high concept, that would work on its own storytelling premise, and wisely adds in a considerable amount of heart about the cycle of violence. The filmmaking ambition that Johnson illustrates with a third of the budget of most sci-fi blockbusters is exactly why there is an intense amount of hope behind the impending greatness of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

— Levi Hill

7. ex_machina

A24/Courtesy

Part psychological-thriller, part romantic drama and all science fiction, Alex Garland’s 2014 indie sleeper hit not only put actress Alicia Vikander on the map, but it also redefined the extent to which humanity can play an integral role in a cyborgian sci-fi film. By crafting a narrative centered around identity, autonomy and sentience on such a small scale, Garland elicits a much more personal chemistry between his three leads (Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac) that leads to more electric and shocking interactions over the course of the story. For a film to so fully resemble a character study that the existential debate it poses over technological consciousness becomes the least intriguing aspect onscreen (relatively speaking, of course) is not an easy feat, yet ex_machina accomplishes this in spades.  

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

6. Interstellar

Paramount/Courtesy

Interstellar may not be Christopher Nolan’s best work — that honor could be argued for Inception, The Dark Knight or even Dunkirk — but it is, after retrospection and consideration of the value of film as art, undoubtedly his most important. There are few films in recent memory, if any at all, that try to tackle our purpose, our mission, our existence as living beings on a massive scope, while still basing that investigation in the deeply personal quite like Interstellar does. Immediately throwing away the egocentric idea that the Earth is “ours,” Interstellar forces us to consider our place in the universe and asks what continued survival really means. Is the decimation of those on Earth worth the prolonged existence of humans as a species? Or is it our very connections, our very love that we create with one another that is the key to our survival, and thus cannot be thrown away? In proposing those questions, Interstellar utilizes perhaps the strongest, most imprisoning and debilitating antagonist not only in film, but in life: time. We’re all bound by time, intrinsic to our existence as three dimensional beings, and cannot stop the ever moving train of life that will lead us to inevitable death. With that, epitomized by Cooper leaving his family behind to go on his mission, the film asks: how do we reconcile ourselves with the fact of existence of billions of others, and how do we honor that reconciliation without truly abandoning those we love?

While it may not be the most well-made of Nolan’s films, it has various aspects that epitomize his greatest strengths as a storyteller. Nolan’s collaborations with Hans Zimmer reach their pinnacle with Interstellar, as Zimmer composes his most vulnerable and affecting score yet. Nolan’s work with actors is notably less involved than some other directors, as Nolan leaves a lot of the responsibility up to the actor to understand the character within the story first and foremost. With Interstellar, that understanding finds a symphonic unity with Matthew McConaughey, who turns in his most committed performance. And while Nolan may not be a subtle writer, his screenplays are always haunting in at least some regard. The goodbye scene between Cooper and Murph is an example of tragic poetics, as is the video message scene, both written with an intimacy, love and sense of human existence within the many questions he presents that all coalesce stunningly. And the potential of Nolan’s practical chops as a director are fulfilled in the action sequence — the docking scene should go down as one of the most triumphant, and brilliant composed, in science fiction history.

Interstellar, already with so many singular qualities, even further distinguishes itself in the genre of science fiction by not only basing itself in accurate science and legitimate theoretical astrophysics, but organically utilizing those elements within its narrative. The visuals of the wormhole and the black hole were created from genuine equations written by executive producer and notable astrophysicist Kip Thorne, which lends a sort of tangible credence to them (and even helped Thorne write two papers on scientific discoveries from the visual effects). And, in regard to the narrative, time is inherently connected to astrophysics, and Nolan’s use of time as a narrative device to score the tragedy of humankind, and specifically the tragedy of a father and a daughter, is overwhelmingly heartbreaking.

Interstellar presents the type of big questions, and ways of tackling them, that we should demand from science fiction films that venture out into space because few other films genuinely try to answer them, let alone propose them in the first place. Interstellar does both, and is not afraid to embrace the intimacy of our humanity either.

— Kyle Kizu

5. Arrival

Paramount/Courtesy

In Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, alien spacecrafts descend upon the earth, hoping to end the cycle of violence that has always withheld humanity from achieving its full potential as a species. The aliens arrived when the people of earth needed them most. Eerily, Arrival did the same for us, releasing in the US three days after the 2016 presidential election. To the millions of people to whom Donald Trump poses an existential threat, the film was a reminder to not lose hope — an affirmation that our baser human instincts don’t hold a candle to empathy and communication. To the rest of the country, the film was a warning that vitriol is never the basis for progress. It’s hard to think of a film more urgent than Arrival, harder still to think of one more beautiful and profound.

— Harrison Tunggal

4. Her

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Though less overtly “sci-fi” than most other films on this list, Spike Jonze’s Her is one of the most thoroughly, organically defined. The film is set in a near future where artificial intelligence exists and people have distanced themselves from each other even further, and the design of each and every single frame, which acts to set forth those notions, is breathtaking. From the wandering souls walking through a much larger Los Angeles (shot partially in China) to the stunning skyscraper-high apartments, Her is arguably as well built of a world as Mad Max: Fury Road, yet on the other end of the spectrum. But Jonze doesn’t simply present a new kind of world; he crafts characters that feel like genuine parts of that world. Joaquin Phoenix is brilliant as Theodore Twombly, and the simultaneous intense disconnect and vulnerable sincerity have remnants in today’s world, just brought to their extreme here. And the love story told — between a man and an artificially intelligent device — is one of the most tragically beautiful and heartbreaking ever put to film. Her is a true gem, one that only the mind of Spike Jonze could conjure up.

— Kyle Kizu

3. World of Tomorrow

Bitter Films/Courtesy

Watching the 16 minutes that comprise animator Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow, one feels as though every frame of it could inspire multiple film adaptations, novels aplenty and one or two television shows. The short film tackles capitalism, time travel, cloning, the evolution of the internet, mortality, the limitations of art, slavery, artificial intelligence, love (the love of sparkly rocks, aliens named Simon and clones named David, specifically), economic recessions and depressed poetry. But this isn’t to say that the film is incoherent — it is a delight to discover, and its endless invention is a joy to experience as it washes over the perplexed, awed viewer. As an older version of Emily explains the titular future world to her younger self, one begins to grasp the futility of explaining the foibles and idiosyncrasies of our own times to the more innocent people we were as toddlers. Futile as such an attempt might be, one can’t help but feel excited for the sequel Hertzfeldt has planned.

— Harrison Tunggal

2. Mad Max: Fury Road

Warner Bros./Courtesy

George Miller’s return to the franchise that he started way back in 1979 was the most welcome of returns. Who knew a four-quel that features endlessly bombastic sound and rapid-fire editing could be not only one of the best science fiction films this decade, but truly ever. Using the Mad Max mythology of Earth becoming a completely desolate wasteland and humanity becoming even more desolate in their compassion, Miller retools the story and setting to not only create a powerful environmental message against misunderstanding sustainability, but also a tale about the tyranny men preside over others, women in particular. Acting as a not-so-subtle allegory for triumphant women and the resistance against their male oppressors — which grows more relevant by the day under the current presidential regime — Mad Max: Fury Road is just a hell of a movie. In fact, in an era of blockbusters mostly devoid of risk and danger or even vision, Fury Road was the adrenaline needle, straight to the heart, that we needed — just to remind us that there’s no art form quite as emotionally exhilarating as cinema.

— Levi Hill

1. Inception

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Following the release of The Dark Knight, there must have been those who thought director Christopher Nolan had undoubtedly crafted his magnum opus with the comic book crime epic. That was, until Inception hit theaters. Conceptually daring in its coupling of the time-tested caper film with the more abstract and imaginative idea of transitory dreamscapes, Inception represents a paragon of contemporary science fiction cinema. From the kaleidoscopic manipulation of Wally Pfister’s beautiful cinematography to Hans Zimmer’s now iconic score (complete with brass fanfare), Nolan and his crew created a motion picture that has made a lasting impact on the cultural zeitgeist. When “your mind is the scene of the crime,” there’s a lot of room for interpretation on the inner workings of the human psyche, and Nolan’s idea to not only enter that arena but to incorporate his signature style of paradoxical large-scale intimacy lets players like Leonardo DiCaprio, Marion Cotillard and Tom Hardy to fully realize their character’s roles within a larger, engaging and cohesive script.  The methods through which Nolan tests the limits of his audience’s suspension of disbelief, and of reality itself, are grounded by a through line of realism so that whether it be the instantaneous degradation of a building or a slow-motion free fall off a bridge, the audience is kept captivated through and through. Inception will somehow make you feel simultaneously astounded, satisfied, confused and frustrated as you find yourself asking – was it all just a dream?

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

Honorable mentions: Guardians of the Galaxy, The Martian, Source Code, Gravity

 

Featured image via Warner Bros.

J.J. Abrams brought back to write and direct ‘Star Wars: Episode IX’

In a move that not many expected, but that seems as in line with Lucasfilm’s most recent decisions as any, J.J. Abrams, director of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, has been hired to direct the final installment of the new trilogy from a galaxy far, far away, announced via a press release on StarWars.com.

A week ago, Lucasfilm and previous director Colin Trevorrow parted ways. Trevorrow had been on the project for over two years and had written the screenplay with his writing partner Derek Connolly. But rumors began to surface, especially after the critical failure of Trevorrow’s The Book of Henry, that Trevorrow could be ousted. Last month, Jack Thorne, co-writer of the upcoming Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson and Jacob Tremblay film Wonder, was brought on to rewrite.

It seems as though the script will be overhauled, as Abrams has been tasked to write Star Wars: Episode IX with Academy Award-winning writer Chris Terrio. Terrio won the Oscar for the Ben Affleck-directed Argo, and has written scripts for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and the upcoming Justice League. Abrams co-wrote The Force Awakens with Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt.

In the days after Trevorrow departed the ninth episode, fans and critics offered up potential replacements. The internet seemed to come to a consensus that they wanted Ava DuVernay, director of Selma13th and the upcoming Disney film A Wrinkle in Time. Rian Johnson, director of eighth episode Star Wars: The Last Jedi, popped up in serious rumors, so much so that the director ended up explicitly saying that he had no plans to return.

But it was likely that Abrams was already hired, or at least just had to sign on the dotted line, by the time Lucasfilm came out to announce Trevorrow’s exit. This will be Abrams’ first film since The Force Awakens and he will produce through his production company Bad Robot.

In the press release, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy made this official statement:

“With The Force Awakens, J.J. delivered everything we could have possibly hoped for, and I am so excited that he is coming back to close out this trilogy.”

In an announcement on Twitter hours later, Lucasfilm has officially pushed back the release of the film from May 24, 2019, to December 20, 2019. The seemingly large script revision likely meant that production couldn’t start as early as Kennedy had hoped. Now, Abrams will have 27 months to complete the picture instead of 20 months, and the December release will fall in line with the releases of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. The film will now compete with the second weekend of Wonder Woman 2, which is set to release on December 13, 2019.

Featured image via Gage Skidmore.

Who should Lucasfilm hire to direct ‘Star Wars: Episode IX’?

With Colin Trevorrow exiting ‘Star Wars: Episode IX,’ who should Kathleen Kennedy and Lucasfilm hire to replace him? Our staff offers some suggestions:

Levi Hill (Deputy Editor and Co-Chief Film Critic) — Rian Johnson

Gage Skidmore/Courtesy

To me, this was a tough choice. Why? Because there are quite a few big-budgeted directors that I think could make one hell of a Star Wars movie. Take, for example, what Guillermo del Toro could do with a massive budget and the freedom of world-building that Star Wars has been able to conjure up. Yet del Toro is also an idiosyncratic director that, in my opinion, works best when working from his own deliciously imaginative script. Then, rumored directors or writers like Sam Esmail or Stephen Daldry wouldn’t be bad choices, with Esmail in particular being an intriguing prospect — due to his love for one of the greatest sci-fis of all time (Fritz Lang’s Metropolis) as well as showrunning for the smartest sci-fi (sort of) show on TV right now, Mr. Robot.

Also, who wouldn’t want to see Ava DuVernay follow up A Wrinkle in Time with the biggest franchise of all-time?

But all of that to me is superfluous, because as much as any of us want to see another director take on Star Wars, the answer is likely right in front of us — and it’s not a bad thing. Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi hasn’t even been seen by the public yet (and anyone, probably), but the film has already generated an immense amount of buzz from its one unbelievably beautiful and rousing trailer. To be fair, anything Star Wars related will generate buzz, but I know I’m not the only fan with the belief that the Johnson directed film could end up being the best in the entire series. But most importantly, Rian is an auteur that Lucasfilm has seemingly had no problems with on or off set. There have been no rumors about temperamental producers, slow-paced editors or wayward actors. That alone proves that Rian is passing in flying colors and that, to me, means he is the right and only choice to finish this highly touted new trilogy.

Kate Halliwell (Editor-At-Large) — Mimi Leder

Sarah E. Freeman/Courtesy

I’m not going to waste my time complaining about how male directors like Colin Trevorrow continue to fail upward in Hollywood, managing to turn flops like whatever The Book of Henry was into massive blockbuster deals, while talented female directors go to movie jail after just one underperforming film.

Okay, actually… just a quick rant.

Television is full of incredible female directors right now, many of which started in film and had to transition to TV after being shut out of opportunities in Hollywood. Since the news about Trevorrow broke, names like Ava DuVernay, Mimi Leder, Michelle MacLaren, Lesli Linka Glatter, Reed Morano and many more have been bandied about online — but how reasonable is it to think that a female director may actually get this job?

For my money, I’d give the film to Mimi Leder in a heartbeat. Whether crafting incredible shots on HBO’s The Leftovers or directing high grossing blockbusters like her 1998 film Deep Impact, Leder has been one of Hollywood’s most reliable directors for decades.

But let’s be real — it’s a pipe dream. Would someone like Leder, MacLaren, Morano or Linka Glatter absolutely slay this job? Of course. Do they deserve it? Absolutely. Will they actually get it? Not on your life.

When the untitled Han Solo film went through a similar director swap just a few months ago, the studio turned to Ron Howard — basically the safest, least inspired choice in the book. Press releases concerning Trevorrow’s exit have cited irreconcilable differences with Kathleen Kennedy and other producers of the film. Obviously, these directors aren’t getting the opportunities to do what they want with their Star Wars movies, no matter how inspired (or not) their vision may be. So as much as I’d like to see a female director take on Episode IX and show all of Hollywood what they’re missing, I’m selfish enough to want to keep my favorite female directors where they have the freedom to do what they want. And, for the most part, that’s on TV.

From The Handmaid’s Tale to HBO’s new (and incredible) The Deuce to Homeland and Breaking Bad, these ladies have proven themselves incredibly valuable in helping create and maintain the peak TV era. While Leder and others are still making movies — Leder’s upcoming Ruth Bader Ginsberg biopic starring Felicity Jones is set for 2018 — it’s TV where they can really strut their stuff.

So I’m not getting my hopes up. Give it to Howard, or Rian Johnson, or whatever white man will make the studios happy, if you must. I’ll be hanging with my girls at home on Netflix, HBO, Hulu, Amazon and wherever else they can truly do their thing.

Harrison Tunggal (Associate Editor and Co-Chief Film Critic) — Patty Jenkins 

Gage Skidmore/Courtesy

Do fired Star Wars directors become Force ghosts? Is this gif, this gif or this gif a better representation of the current state of Lucasfilm? Regardless, the production company behind the galaxy from far, far away continues to lose directors like Anakin loses limbs. A tentpole film losing its helmer is nothing new though, and somewhat analogously, Wonder Woman lost its first director, Michelle MacLaren, because of her creative differences with Warner Brothers. As we all know, Patty Jenkins replaced MacLaren and delivered one of the best superhero films of all time, suggesting that Jenkins knows how to cooperate with the demands of a studio. Whether Jenkins’ sock-folding can live up to Kathleen Kennedy’s high standards remains to be seen, but Jenkins has demonstrated an aptitude for storytelling within the rigid confines of an established universe. Hiring Jenkins would also allow her to close a trilogy hinged on Rey, a move that could make Rey even more inspiring and iconic than she already was. Just imagine the “No Man’s Land” scene but with the Force-wielding awesomeness of Rey. I want that scene more than Luke wants his power converters. Additionally, choosing Jenkins is a choice predicated on the assumption that Star Wars: The Last Jedi will be a darker film, just like The Empire Strikes Back. With that in mind, what was Wonder Woman if not a film that lifted its titular heroine from the darkness of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice? Jenkins’ Episode IX could do something similar, bringing Rey out of the darkness of The Last Jedi. If the tone of Wonder Woman was any indication, Jenkins can meld rollicking excitement and fun with darker moments of dramatic weight — if that doesn’t scream Star Wars, then I’m a trough of bantha fodder.

Kyle Kizu (Editorial Director) — Spike Jonze

aphrodite-in-nyc/Courtesy

I’m going to mutter the three words that doom anyone making a pitch for something/someone they know will likely fail to sell: Hear me out. If not for anything else, I’d want Lucasfilm to choose Spike Jonze simply because of the endless “wait, what the fu**?!” reactions on Twitter. But honestly, Jonze could do something wildly special with a Star Wars film. His four films are all intensely visual (as are all of his music videos) with Where the Wild Things Are showing that he can manage large scale CGI and Her displaying his absolutely masterful visual and stylistic rendering of setting (his Los Angeles is a quite distinct and singular futuristic vision). If he were to have the galaxy to play with, we could surely expect a captivating manifestation of bizarre — Star Wars needs bizarre — and utterly delightful imagination, the likes of which, after two merely decent visual Star Wars films, the franchise desperately needs. But visuals only matter so much and, thankfully, Jonze handles character with care and grace. With Her, the director offers one of the most tender, joyful and tragic character journeys of recent memory, and those three qualities are absolute must-haves when it comes to the final installment of any trilogy, let alone a Star Wars one. Jonze could dig deep into the vulnerable emotion of both the galactically massive, nearly 40 year journey of Luke, which might come to a close in Episode IX, as well as the intimate, explorative and raw discovery that is the journey of Rey unfolding before us. Now, the only thing that’s left to prove for Jonze is his ability to direct action, and I have an odd place in his career to point to. Spike Jonze has dabbled in feature films, music videos and documentaries. But he’s also directed skateboard videos. Yes, you read that right. Skateboard videos. And one particularly breathtaking shoot that handled intense choreography of action is the introduction to Fully Flared. Am I crazy? Maybe. But I think he could shoot the hell out of an explosive X-Wing dogfight and an epic lightsaber duel.

 

Do you agree with any of these choices? How would you have answered this week’s question? Sound off in the comments below.

Photos via aphrodite-in-nyc, Sarah E. Freeman and Gage Skidmore.

Feature image via Gage Skidmore.

25 Most Anticipated Films of Fall/Winter 2017

2017 has proven to be one of the best years for film in recent memory, and the hits are bound to keep coming in the fall and winter. It Comes At Night may have led us down a dark and unsettling path earlier this summer, but we will likely remain wholly unprepared for the brilliant discomfort of Yorgos Lanthimos’ upcoming film, The Killing of a Sacred Deer. (This film has been described as more agonizing than Lanthimos’ previous work, The Lobster, which came this close to showing a man blind himself with a steak knife. Let that sink in.) Regarding films that don’t require an immediate, consolatory hug upon viewing, Baby Driver was a fun joyride — a perfect forbear for the frenetic energy of Kingsman: The Golden Circle. And then there’s a little indie coming in December called Star Wars: The Last Jedi, a family drama about space people who should never have become parents.  

The following list represents the films that make us at MovieMinis spontaneously squee. But since the list only includes 25 films, it doesn’t truly represent the amount of squeeing we do. The cutting room floor is littered with heavy hitters such as Steven Spielberg’s The Post, as well as The Current War, which stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Thomas Edison and Michael Shannon as George Westinghouse. There are also Cannes darlings that didn’t make the cut (but which you should see anyway) such as Michael Haneke’s Happy End and Palme d’Or winner The Square. We feel a great pang of guilt for excluding Justice League (squee!).

Regardless, here are our 25 most hotly anticipated films from the remainder of the year.

25. mother!

Paramount/Courtesy

The illustrated posters of mother! were merely beautiful yet unnerving glimpses into the horror of Darren Aronofsky’s next film. Bring in the trailer and it seems as though the director is returning to the brilliance of the genre that he dabbled in with Black Swan. And if this film really will follow in that one’s footsteps, then audiences should expect committed and haunting performances from Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem, as well as a story with some of the most affecting scares since, well, Black Swan. Let’s just hope it appropriately contextualizes the relationship between a 27 year old and a 48 year old because, if it doesn’t, that might be more frightening.

— Kyle Kizu

24. Thor: Ragnarok

Marvel/Courtesy

Taika Waititi is easily one of the funniest filmmakers working today — just see here and here. His films bring loads of heart and even more laughs, something direly needed for Thor, a franchise whose second entry literally self-proclaims doom and gloom. Throw in Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett, the magic of Jeff Goldblum, a colorful Jack Kirby aesthetic and elements of Planet Hulk, and Thor: Ragnarok could be one of the best MCU entries to date. Oh, and in the last shot of the most recent trailer, Hulk goes toe-to-toe with Surtur the fire demon. In the immortal words of Ricky Baker, “Shit. Just. Got. REAL!”

— Harrison Tunggal

23. Suburbicon

Paramount/Courtesy

Suburbicon pulses with star power. The film is written by the minds of the Coen brothers, George Clooney (doing double duty as director) and his frequent collaborator Grant Heslov. If that isn’t enough, it stars Matt Damon, who invokes his Jason Bourne days by taking a fire iron to some poor thug’s face. The film also includes Julianne Moore (her third film on this list, she’s in Kingsman: The Golden Circle and Wonderstruck) and Oscar Isaac, whose mustache here deserves it’s own billing. Here’s to hoping that said mustache stays intact over the course of this darkly comic crime caper.

— HT

22. It

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Stranger Things, but a million times scarier. If that seems like an oversimplification of the upcoming Stephen King adaptation, it isn’t anything less than the utmost excitement condensed into seven words. Despite an initial rocky start (writer-director Cary Fukunaga left the project in 2015), It appears to deliver well-acted, visually stunning horror fare — such that will strike an existential fear of killer demon clowns into the hearts of a whole new generation.

— HT

21. The Meyerowitz Stories

Netflix/Courtesy

Welcome back, Adam Sandler. No, seriously. After a string of critically lashed Netflix comedies, here comes Noah Baumbach to remind us all, that when Sandler wants to, he can be one of the most emotionally affecting actors on the screen. Throw in Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson and the full support of Netflix, and The Meyerowitz Stories appears to be the first Netflix Oscar-contender that will gain traction among voters, audiences and critics when it releases in mid-October.

— Levi Hill

20. Coco

Pixar/Courtesy

Coco is a Pixar film. Need we say more? Well, we can. The film follows a young kid who dreams of becoming a musician and, through a spiritual connection with an ancestor, he enters the Land of the Dead. The trailer shows that the film will be a visual wonder, but the subject matter offers a look at Latino culture, one that mainstream cinema largely ignores. And with longtime Pixar veteran Adrian Molina stepping into the director’s chair alongside Pixar legend Lee Unkrich, Coco looks to be informed and genuine in its endeavors as well.

— KK

19. Mute

Netflix/Courtesy

Many may only think of Warcraft when they hear the name Duncan Jones, which is a shame because this is the director behind Moon and Source Code, two phenomenal sci-fi films. With Mute, Jones returns to the universe of Moon, but this time he takes us to the futuristic, seemingly Blade Runner-esque Earth within it. That tiny detail may be the biggest sign that this film could be special. Moon crafted such a thorough sense of society down on Earth, one that Jones has explored for years in planning for Mute, so the storytelling should be refined and invigorated.

— KK

18. Wonderstruck

Amazon/Courtesy

Todd Haynes’ upcoming Wonderstruck is based on the Brian Selznick novel of the same name, and the last time Selznick’s work was adapted for the big screen, the result was the Martin Scorsese stunner Hugo. With Selznick himself penning the screenplay, Wonderstruck seems poised to deliver a timeline-hopping, visual treat that will remind us of that which fills us with childlike wonder — film, museums and, if the trailer is to be believed, cool David Bowie covers.

— HT

17. Battle of the Sexes

Fox Searchlight/Courtesy

Sometimes talent alone can put a film on this list. Recent Academy Award winner Emma Stone, comedic (and now dramatic?) powerhouse Steve Carell, the co-directors of Little Miss Sunshine and the writer of Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours will bring us Battle of the Sexes. But that title, and the story behind it, makes this film about more than just talent — or maybe precisely about talent, that which is underserved. The story of tennis star Billie Jean King facing off against Bobby Riggs is an uplifting and landmark tale, with a whole lot of lively fun throughout, that could make for a wonderful and necessary statement in today’s landscape.

— KK

16. The Death of Stalin

IFC Films/Courtesy

Armando Iannucci may be the king of political satire, his time as Veep showrunner offering us some of the most gut-busting commentary on the current state of D.C. Pair him with the juicy material of the Soviet regime in the immediate aftermath of Stalin’s death — utilizing a bluntly British angle (they’re not even attempting Russian accents) — and you’ve got a comedy to die for.

— KK

15. Roman J. Israel, Esq

Columbia Pictures/Courtesy

Nightcrawler is aging like fine wine, with many critics and movie fans looking back at it as not only an absolutely brilliant movie, but also a significant independent film and a vehicle for one of the best performances of the 21st century from Jake Gyllenhaal. So any movie that writer-director Dan Gilroy does next is on a must-see list. Cue Roman J. Israel, Esq, a film where Denzel Washington has an afro and plays a snazzily dressed defense attorney.

— KK

14. Last Flag Flying

Amazon/Courtesy

Honestly, if there is one film on this list that just can’t go wrong (outside of the movies that have already premiered), it is Richard Linklater’s Last Flag Flying. Starring the dream-team worthy trio of Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell and Laurence Fishburne, the film is a years-after sequel to the Oscar-nominated, Jack Nicholson-led and Hal Ashby-directed The Last Detail. With that set-up, Last Flag Flying could potentially end up being the de facto critics favorite with Linklater’s humanist style mixed with the socially angry, if touching tale of three Navy vets coming to terms with the world they live in that Ashby knocked out of the park back in 1973.

— LH

13. Lady Bird

A24/Courtesy

Casual fans of indie cinema know Greta Gerwig as the magnetic star of films like Frances Ha, Mistress America and 20th Century Women, but those of us obsessed with the genre know that it’s behind the camera where she makes even more of an impact. After writing a number of successful indies, Gerwig will make her solo directorial debut this fall with Lady Bird. While not much is known about the plot, the film follows a high school girl (Saoirse Ronan) as she spends a year in Northern California. Joining Ronan is a heavy hitting cast of indie favorites that includes Timothée Chalamet, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts and Lucas Hedges.

— Kate Halliwell

12. Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Fox/Courtesy

Matthew Vaughn established himself as an action director extraordinaire with the first Kingsman — the film’s church scene now infamous as one of the most exhilarating fight sequences in recent memory. With that style, Vaughn’s dry British wit, the brilliant cast and brand new American territory to explore, The Golden Circle is set to be one of the most fun films of the fall — and sometimes, fun is all we need.

— KK

11. Molly’s Game

STX Entertainment/Courtesy

Aaron Sorkin is widely known as one of the great writers — of most mediums — of our time. The fact that Molly’s Game is written by him is enough reason to be excited, but the film is also his directorial debut, which elevates our hype tenfold. Even if the film isn’t good, it will be fascinating to see his visual style directly translated to the big screen. But it seems like there are too many pieces in place for this to be a dud — Jessica Chastain munching on Sorkin’s words is the dream performance we need.

— KK

10. Downsizing

Paramount/Courtesy

When every single one of your films (except your first) received Oscar nominations and endless critical heap, audiences will take notice when your next film comes out. And thus is the case with Alexander Payne, who, to this day, seems incapable of making a bad scene, let alone a bad movie. However, the science-fiction satire Downsizing, starring Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig, promises to be a marked difference from the traditionally very naturalistic stories Payne has told in the past. Yet, that’s what it makes it this writer-director’s most intriguing project yet.

— LH

9. Hostiles

Lorey Sebastian, Le Grisbi Productions/Waypoint Entertainment/Courtesy

Hostiles may not release this year as it currently doesn’t have a distributor, but it’s set to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in a bid for an acquisition. Made by Crazy Heart director Scott Cooper, the film stars Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Ben Foster and Timothée Chalamet, so it’s got a great chance of being picked up for an end-of-year release. And that team of talent is precisely why this movie is so salivating. Christian Bale is never anything less than entirely transformed, Rosamund Pike needs more roles after her Oscar-nominated, frightening turn in Gone Girl, Ben Foster is one of the most underrated actors working today and Timothée Chalamet is on the verge of breaking out with Call Me by Your Name later this year.

— KK

8. The Shape of Water

Fox Searchlight Pictures/Courtesy

The great Guillermo Del Toro returns to the big screen with The Shape of Water, which stars Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon and Michael Stuhlbarg. The film’s stellar trailer teased a sweet romance with sci-fi elements, but also raised the possibility that The Shape of Water is a secret Hellboy prequel centering on Abe Sapien. Even though Del Toro has since debunked those rumors, we’re still thrilled to see him combine the things we love about his filmography — fairy tales with a touch of the macabre and of course, amphibian men.

— HT

7. The Disaster Artist

A24/Courtesy

James Franco can never be faulted for producing/starring/writing/directing in a seemingly impossible amount of projects in one year. What he could have been faulted for in the past, though, is that each project he stood behind the camera on felt like an interesting misfire. Not anymore. With stunning, Oscar-potential raves out of SXSW, Franco seems to have found the perfect source material for his stylings: the best worst movie of all-time, Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. With Franco directing and, more excitingly, playing Tommy Wiseau on the set of The Room, The Disaster Artist promises a hilarious, if pointedly tragic real-life story of a failed artist. But really, we can’t wait to hear “YOU ARE TEARING ME APART, LISA!” again.

— LH

6. The Florida Project

A24/Courtesy

Sean Baker turned heads and took home awards with his 2015 film Tangerine, notably shot entirely on iPhones. He returns this year with The Florida Project, which follows a six-year old girl (Brooklynn Prince, this year’s Jacob Tremblay) and her adventures living in a run-down motel near Disney’s Magic Kingdoms. With Willem Dafoe and a host of talented newcomers rounding out the cast, this one is not to be missed.

— KH

5. Blade Runner 2049

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Getting another Denis Villeneuve film immediately after last year’s Arrival is already worth celebrating, but the fact that his upcoming project is a Blade Runner sequel (shot by Roger Deakins, no less) makes the occasion seem like Christmas — of the neon, steampunk, existentialist variety, of course. With Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford teaming up, the hype couldn’t be bigger for this film, which will hopefully answer the greatest question of our time — what happened to the other 2,047 Blade Runner sequels?

— HT

4. Call Me by Your Name

Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy

The trailer alone launched one thousand Armie Hammer crushes and caused us all to stop and consider spontaneous trips to Italy; the film itself might cause actual meltdowns (in the best way). Timothée Chalamet and Hammer star in Luca Guadagnino’s book-to-screen adaptation as two bisexual Jewish men who fall in love over the course of a sun-drenched summer. The film has drawn rave reviews from early festival screenings and has film buffs all over the world hungry for its November release. Peaches, anyone?

— KH

3. The Killing of a Sacred Deer

A24/Courtesy

Following the surprise Oscar nomination for the dark (twisted) comedy/science fiction fantasy film The Lobster, Yorgos Lanthimos and Colin Farrell return with an even more twisted, full-on psychological horror film. The early reviews for Sacred Deer, out of the in-competition bow at Cannes, promise that it will blend the calculated coldness of craft found in a Stanley Kubrick movie mixed with the cynical social commentary found in the best genre films. Add in the rising star Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk) as what appears to be the villain (but nothing is that simple in a Lanthimos tale) and the where-is-she-not Nicole Kidman as Farrell’s estranged wife experiencing horrific acts she has no fault in causing, and Sacred Deer promises to be the feel-bad movie of the Fall movie season.

— LH

2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Lucasfilm/Courtesy

You don’t hire director Rian Johnson to make a cookie-cutter Star Wars movie. The man behind Looper, Brick and two of Breaking Bad’s most daring episodes seems poised to deliver — dare we say — the best Star Wars entry of all time. Forget getting answers to questions we’ve had since 2015 (Is Rey a Kenobi? Is Snoke actually Sy Snootles? Will Luke get a haircut?). We just want another Rian Johnson movie.

— HT

1. Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson Fashion Film

Jürgen Fauth/Courtesy

Quite simply put, There Will Be Blood is one of the best films of the 21st century and Daniel Day Lewis’ performance in it is one of the best of all time. So, with Paul Thomas Anderson pairing up with DDL yet again for what is, apparently, DDL’s last performance ever, this film — rumored to be titled either Phantom Thread or Woodcock — will be a special one in the history of cinema, even if it’s not as breathtakingly affecting and engaging as TWBB (and, of course, it easily could be). Add in the rumors that the film is Fifty Shades of Grey if directed by Mike Leigh and we are more in than we’ve ever been for anything, honestly.

— KK

Featured image via Warner Bros.