Tag Archives: Sam Claflin

The Best in Film of Spring 2018

By the end of the year, it’s rather easy to fall into the overwhelming consensus/narrative of what films and performances deserve Oscars. It’s often mostly made up of films that come out in the last four months of the year, with a few from the first eight months — but those had to be more than exceptional.

As that trend continues, it becomes more and more necessary to take the time to really explore the great work across crafts below and above the line from the beginning of the year. And so far, between the months of January and April, film has offered brilliance in so many regards, within both tiny independents and massive blockbusters.

Here is our breakdown of the best in film of Spring 2018:

Best Supporting Actor

Winner: Paul Bettany — Journey’s End

Nick Wall/Good Deed Entertainment/Courtesy

Journey’s End becomes so unnerving so quickly because of the specific tension that it evokes: of composed, orderly men slowly crumbling from the inside at the doom of war approaching. And while Sam Claflin offers the film’s most expressive, explicit performance, Paul Bettany nails that tension with subtle grace. His character’s initial calm and almost fatherly presence is impossible not to latch onto, making it all the more tragic to watch as even he starts to break down — a destabilization of his eyes and rockiness in his slowly suffocated breath. Bettany clearly controls every minute with a clear sense of the story’s path, anchoring the film as the events spiral out of control.

Runner-up: Hugh Grant — Paddington 2
3. Michael B. Jordan — Black Panther
4. Chris Hemsworth — Avengers: Infinity War
5. Jesse Plemons — Game Night

The Next 5
6. Ed Helms — Chappaquiddick
7. Alessandro Nivola — Disobedience
8. Shia LaBeouf —Borg vs. McEnroe
9. Anton Yelchin — Thoroughbreds
10. Simon Russell Beale — The Death of Stalin

Best Makeup & Hairstyling

Winner: Camille Friend, Joel Harlow — Black Panther

Marvel/Disney/Courtesy

Some may argue that Avengers: Infinity War is above Black Panther in this regard, simply because of the number of characters in makeup and the different styles of makeup. But this distinction shouldn’t be for the most work. In fact, Infinity War, even in aspects beyond makeup, bases a lot of itself in what’s come before.

Where Black Panther clearly stands out is in both its innovation and the world-building that the makeup and hair work accomplishes. The makeup is prevalent, but not overt. The prosthetics are integrated into the world-building. The hair is distinct and varied, wound into other design elements perfectly.

Runner-up: Deborah Rutherford, Brian Sipe, Janine Rath — Avengers: Infinity War
3. Kimberly Kimble, Allan A. Apone, Anita Brabec, Geno Freeman — A Wrinkle in Time

The Next 3
4. Tristan Versluis, Sian Grigg — Annihilation
5. AnnaCarin Lock — Borg vs. McEnroe
6. Lesley Noble, Conal Palmer, Roseann Samuel — Journey’s End

Best Costume Design

Winner: Ruth E. Carter — Black Panther

Marvel/Disney/Courtesy

From a design standpoint, Black Panther is one of the most deeply felt films in the past number of years. Crafts are brilliant across the board, but it’s Ruth E. Carter’s costume design that pops the loudest and brightest.

The film not only features a wide variety of styles of a new world — from armor, to daily wear, to royal dress — and a wide variety of material distinctly from that world, but also informs each costume as a clear, storied product of Wakanda. That the costumes are also incredibly beautiful is a testament to the mastery of Carter.

Runner-up: Paco Delgado — A Wrinkle in Time
3. Suzie Harmen — The Death of Stalin
4. Judianna Makovsky — Avengers: Infinity War
5. Anushia Nieradzik — Journey’s End

The Next 5
6. Lindy Hemming — Paddington 2
7. Alex Bovaird — Thoroughbreds
8. Caroline Errington — Chappaquiddick
9. Kicki Ilander — Borg vs. McEnroe
10. Odile Dicks-Mireaux — Disobedience

Best Sound Editing

Winner: Daniel Laurie, Shannon Mills — Avengers: Infinity War

Marvel/Disney/Courtesy

Avengers: Infinity War has the seemingly requisite barrage of guns and explosions. And these sounds are executed rather effectively and with blunt force.

But where Infinity War‘s sound editing shines is in the supernatural elements, such as those surrounding the infinity stones. The ear-ringing electricity present whenever Thanos gains a stone renders them magical, majestic and worthy of the power they end up displaying. And the sounds of the stones used in battle fully inform the mind-boggling visual effect they have. The film is truly galactic, and the sound editing follows suit.

Runner-up: Richard Hymns, Gary Rydstrom — Ready Player One
3. Benjamin A. Burtt, Steve Boeddeker — Black Panther
4. Glenn Freemantle, Niv Adiri — Annihilation
5. Stephen Griffiths, Andy Shelley — Journey’s End

The Next 5
6. Erik Aadahl, Brandon Jones, Ethan Van der Ryn — A Quiet Place
7. Wayne Lemmer, Christopher Scarabosio — Isle of Dogs
8. Malte Bieler, Emma Present — Pacific Rim: Uprising
9. Dominic Gibbs, Luke Gentry — Tomb Raider
10. Al Nelson, Andre Fenley — A Wrinkle in Time

Best Sound Mixing

Winner: Michael Barosky, Brandon Proctor — A Quiet Place

Paramount Pictures/Courtesy

A Quiet Place is a film that tells its story primarily through sound. Within that distinction, the sound’s force is primarily in its mixing.

The calculation of not only when to drop, for example, a creak in the wood, but also of how loud to make the creak is supremely effective throughout. And the overall composition of the mix, beginning steeped in eerie quietude and then slowly introducing brutal, jarring sounds, is some of the best craft work of any type this year. But the mixes most impressive accomplishment is how it informs the physical human situation in the film. With the mix, we feel the horrifying physical strain of the characters throughout, and invest in their story because of that.

Runner-up: Juan Peralta, Tom Johnson, John Pritchett — Avengers: Infinity War
3. Niv Adiri, Michael Clayton, John Skehill, Ian Tapp — Annihilation
4. Dan Johnson, Bryn Thomas — Journey’s End
5. Steve Boeddeker, Peter J. Devlin, Brandon Proctor — Black Panther

The Next 5
6. Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson — Ready Player One
7. Wayne Lemmer, Christopher Scarabosio — Isle of Dogs
8. Hans Møller, Henric Andersson — Borg vs. McEnroe
9. Andrew Stirk, Johnathan Rush, Drew Kunin — You Were Never Really Here
10. Christopher Boyes, Willie D. Burton, Lora Hirschberg — A Wrinkle in Time

Best Supporting Actress

Winner: Jennifer Garner — Love, Simon

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

During the first two acts of Love, Simon, Jennifer Garner’s presence is notably felt, her warmth and charisma delightful.

What elevates Garner so high, though, is a scene rather similar to Michael Stuhlbarg’s shining moment in Call Me by Your Name — yet Garner distinguishes this as her own. We strain at Simon’s conflict throughout the film, and are devastated when it turns south. What makes his situation worse is that he seems so alone. So, when Garner’s character offers him some words of comfort, not only is Simon allowed to breathe, but we are too. But it took Garner’s full emotional investment in the scene, as she emanates a distinctly motherly wisdom. Garner delivers the monologue carefully, necessarily so, but offers a raw vulnerability at the same time; much of the final third’s stability is based in this moment and the work it does.

Runner-up: Gina Rodriguez — Annihilation
3. Letitia Wright — Black Panther
4. Rachel McAdams — Game Night
5. Geraldine Viswanathan — Blockers

The Next 5
6. Andrea Riseborough — The Death of Stalin
7. Millicent Simmonds — A Quiet Place
8. Zoe Saldana — Avengers: Infinity War
9. Tessa Thompson — Annihilation
10. Sally Hawkins — Paddington 2

Best Production Design

Winner: Hannah Beachler, Jay Hart — Black Panther

Marvel/Disney/Courtesy

Some franchises get sequels, and even after a second film, their worlds still feel flat, uninspired and without life.

Black Panther is the exact opposite. Within the first act, the world of Wakanda lives vibrantly, and a huge reason for that is the production design. Like the costumes, the variety of designs, how informed each feel and how each build a specific aspect of Wakanda is a testament to the production design’s accomplishment. The throne room has the hallmark of superhero royal design, and yet, it is distinctly of Wakanda. And Shuri’s lab is as badass and visually exciting as any set throughout the MCU.

To make it plain and simple, look at how the sets of Wakanda are realized at the end of Captain America: Civil War and throughout Avengers: Infinity War. The difference is day and night.

Runner-up: Gary Williamson, Cathy Cosgrove — Paddington 2
3. Mark Digby, Michelle Day — Annihilation
4. Adam Stockhausen, Paul Harrod — Isle of Dogs
5. Jeffrey Beecroft, Heather Loeffler — A Quiet Place

The Next 5
6. Kristian Milsted, Libby Uppington — Journey’s End
7. Charles Wood, Lesley Pope — Avengers: Infinity War
8. Cristina Casali, Charlotte Dirickx — The Death of Stalin
9. Gary Freeman, Raffaella Giovannetti — Tomb Raider
10. Naomi Shohan, Elizabeth Keenan — A Wrinkle in Time

Best Visual Effects

Winner: Dan DeLeeuw, Jeff Capogreco, Varun Hadkar, Doug Spilatro — Avengers: Infinity War

Marvel/Disney/Courtesy

The visual effects of Avengers: Infinity War are simultaneously a synthesis of the MCU and a grand expansion of it. We get our (brief) moment of Hulk. We get Iron Man in full action. We get Dr. Strange and Wong channeling their magic. We get Spider-Man slinging through New York. We get the Guardians going galactic.

But we also get each hero visualized in new situations, using new weapons/suits/powers in new settings. The scope is pushed to the max as Iron Man’s suit evolves in its capabilities, as Dr. Strange is pitted against powers he hasn’t faced, as Spider-Man is taken into space, as Thor gets an axe to replace his hammer. The scope is pushed to the max as the new worlds we see — Titan, Nidavellir, Vormir — begin to paint a brilliant universe that’s been devastated by an approaching apocalypse.

Certain moments are visual effects wonders, many of them on Titan. Thanos bringing down the moon on Iron Man is indescribably transfixing, and the Avengers taking on Thanos to try to remove his gauntlet is a masterful orchestration.

And this all comes without mention of the performance capture work. Where Andy Serkis and crew innovated with the Planet of the Apes trilogy, the team on Infinity War extends that. The children of Thanos are interesting visual pieces, Ebony Maw perhaps the most. But Thanos is clearly the visual effects star. Thanos’ stature, his palpable physicality, which turns into palpable dread for our heroes, is key to the film’s success, and his rendering is brilliant.

Runner-up: Roger Guyett, Grady Cofer — Ready Player One
3. Andrew Whitehurst — Annihilation
4. Nikos Kalaitzidis, Richard McBride — A Wrinkle In Time
5. Geoffrey Baumann, Stuart Lashley, Doug Spilatro — Black Panther

The Next 5
6. Jim Berney, Peter Chiang, Caleb Choo — Pacific Rim: Uprising
7. Scott Farrar — A Quiet Place
8. Rupert Davies, Andy Kind, Peter McDonald, Carlos Monzon, Glen Pratt — Paddington 2
9. Matt Sloan, R. Christopher White — Maze Runner: The Death Cure
10. Thrain Shadbolt, Colin Strause, Erik Winquist — Rampage

Best Film Editing

Winner: Jonathan Amos, Mark Everson — Paddington 2

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Paddington 2 gets nearly everything right. Its characterization is pitch perfect, its tone enchanting. Some of its sequences are simply magical.

And one of the most significant contributing factors to those aspects working as well as they do is the film’s editing. Montage sequences are put together with grace and energy akin to Wes Anderson films, some of them evoking the spy genre in both a genuine and lightly satirical way. The pacing never falters, the film running along briskly throughout. And cuts are leveraged so affectingly, perhaps most powerfully toward the film’s end. The overall piece of Paddington is as delectably crafted as a marmalade sandwich.

Runner-up: Barney Pilling — Annihilation
3. Jeffrey Ford, Matthew Schmidt — Avengers: Infinity War
4. Christopher Tellefsen — A Quiet Place
5. Alex O’Flinn — The Rider

The Next 5
6. Joe Bini — You Were Never Really Here
7. Tania Reddin — Journey’s End
8. Debbie Berman, Michael P. Shawver — Black Panther
9. David Egan, Jamie Gross, Gregory Plotkin — Game Night
10. Jonathan Alberts — Lean on Pete

Best Cinematography

Winner: Bradford Young — Where Is Kyra?

Paladin/Courtesy

Before Bradford Young exposed the deep shadows of a galaxy far, far away, he utilized shadows to dig deep into the psychology of those in poverty. Where Is Kyra? is incredibly and literally dark throughout, and gets darker as the film goes. And Young’s detail in those shadows evokes so much about the despair of poverty. But Young also utilizes the close-up to profound effect. Many of the shots of Michelle Pfeiffer’s face are jarring, but necessarily so, in that they allow a raw, quiet look at her state of mind. And when things get desperate, the uncomfortable angles of close-ups, like in the image above, only further transport us emotionally.

Runner-up: Laurie Rose — Journey’s End
3. Trent Opaloch — Avengers: Infinity War
4. Joshua James Richard — The Rider
5. Rob Hardy — Annihilation

The Next 5
6. Rachel Morrison — Black Panther
7. Barry Peterson — Game Night
8. Charlotte Bruus Christensen — A Quiet Place
9. Triston Oliver — Isle of Dogs
10. Tom Townend — You Were Never Really Here

Best Original Score

Winner: Geoff Barrow, Ben Salisbury — Annihilation

Paramount Pictures/Courtesy

The music of Annihilation stood out even before the film released, with that signature sound sticking in people’s minds and sites even writing articles pinpointing when it popped up.

But the fact that the score stands out is not what makes it so good. The shimmer is as equally horrifying as it is beautiful, and Barrow and Salisbury’s score replicates that, even instills that in the film. The electronic buzz is both paralyzing and dazzling, especially in the final act, as the piece “The Alien” renders the sequence on of the most stunning of recent memory.

And yet, the score also utilizes acoustic guitar in stark contrast, crafting an atmosphere of melancholy that perfectly delivers on the film’s rumination on mental pain.

Runner-up: Ludwig Göransson — Black Panther
3. Jonny Greenwood — You Were Never Really Here
4. Alexandre Desplat — Isle of Dogs
5. Marco Beltrami — A Quiet Place

The Next 5
6. Hildur Guðnadóttir, Natalie Holt — Journey’s End
7. Cliff Martinez — Game Night
8. Carlo Virzì — The Leisure Seeker
9. Dario Marianelli — Paddington 2
10. Alan Silvestri — Avengers: Infinity War

Best Original Screenplay

Winner: Chloé Zhao — The Rider

Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy

The Rider may feature plenty of dialogue that presents its themes up front. But that seems purposeful, as the film is really about the performative of that explicitness as well as the simple, but profound structure/progression of events.

Zhao’s script is gentle, but that allows the story to become rather forceful in its entirety. By its end, those simple, explicit lines of dialogue mean much more than they did at the film’s start.

Runner-up: Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, John Krasinski — A Quiet Place
3. Brian Kehoe, Jim Kehoe — Blockers
4. Mark Perez — Game Night
5. Cory Finley — Thoroughbreds

The Next 5
6. Taylor Allen, Andrew Logan — Chappaquiddick
7. Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, Kunichi Nomura — Isle of Dogs
8. Ronnie Sandahl — Borg vs. McEnroe
9. Andrew Dosunmu, Darci Picoult — Where Is Kyra?
10. Jonathan Bernstein, James Greer — Unsane

Best Adapted Screenplay

Winner: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole — Black Panther

Marvel/Disney/Courtesy

While Michael B. Jordan’s performance as Erik Killmonger is good, most of the powerful impact of the character comes from how he’s written — the dialogue of the character, his arc and the themes that his character touches on.

Writers Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole compose the character of Killmonger with staggering real world weight, but they also envision an entire new world of Wakanda stunningly. The idea of Wakanda as a thriving African nation because it has not been colonized is a fantastic start. Then, evoking isolationism as the country’s guiding theory and taking that into conflict with the responsibility such a nation might have to the ancestors of slaves/those colonized is so indescribably fascinating.

And despite what some others might suggest, this kind of thematic investigation could’ve only come through a superhero film. That Coogler and Cole’s script reaches that potential is the sign of its brilliance.

Runner-up: Paul King, Simon Farnaby — Paddington 2
3. Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely — Avengers: Infinity War
4. Alex Garland — Annihilation
5. Lynne Ramsay — You Were Never Really Here

The Next 5
6. Andrew Haigh — Lean on Pete
7. Simon Reade — Journey’s End
8. Armando Iannucci, David Schneider, Ian Martin — The Death of Stalin
9. Sebastián Lelio, Rebecca Lenkiewicz — Disobedience
10. Elizabeth Berger, Isaac Aptaker — Love, Simon

Best Director

Winner: Paul King — Paddington 2

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Paddington 2 hits all the right notes. It is simultaneously a magical children’s film and a thought provoking film for adults, nailing a balance of charming storytelling and thematic heft. It is a play on spy films while also indulging in the genre. It is a wonder of costume design, visual effects, production design, music and multiple other crafts. And it’s acted to perfection.

Sometimes, a film that succeeds in so many areas doesn’t necessary coalesce into a successful whole. But Paddington 2 does. While Paul King may not be directly responsible for certain aspects of brilliance in the film, he is responsible for the compilation of those aspects into a single piece of art — the resulting film. And for that reason, King’s directing job deserves endless praise.

Runner-up: Alex Garland — Annihilation
3. Anthony Russo, Joe Russo — Avengers: Infinity War
4. Ryan Coogler — Black Panther
5. Chloé Zhao — The Rider

The Next 5
6. John Krasinski — A Quiet Place
7. Lynne Ramsay — You Were Never Really Here
8. Saul Dibb — Journey’s End
9. Andrew Haigh — Lean on Pete
10. Kay Cannon — Blockers

Best Ensemble

Winner: The Cast of Avengers: Infinity War

Marvel/Disney/Courtesy

The simple presence of so many lovable characters, characters we’ve come to care about over a decade, did not necessarily mean that the ensemble of Avengers: Infinity War would work. An ensemble needs on screen chemistry in the situations of its specific film, and they need to, as a whole, contribute to the themes of the films. Thankfully, the dozens of significant characters in Infinity War come together to continue the MCU’s run of infectious ensembles. The back and forth, especially between characters meeting for the first time, is spectacular, both in comedic moments such as those between Thor and the Guardians, as well as in dramatic moments such as those between Tony Stark and Doctor Strange. Finally, the interactions between the Avengers and Thanos are dreadful moments worthy of the six year anticipation of the villain’s arrival.

Runner-up: The Cast of Black Panther
3. The Cast of The Death of Stalin
4. The Cast of Game Night
5. The Cast of Paddington 2

The Next 5
6. The Cast of Blockers
7. The Cast of Annihilation
8. The Cast of Journey’s End
9. The Cast of Love, Simon
10. The Cast of Chappaquiddick

Best Lead Actor

Winner: Charlie Plummer — Lean on Pete

A24/Courtesy

Charlie Plummer’s performance in Lean on Pete is, in terms of how the character is evoked, rather similar to Timothée Chalamet’s in Call Me by Your Name — understated, and more powerful because of it.

In Lean on Pete, Plummer’s character Charley is guarded. His mom is gone. His dad is a drunk. He’s on his own — until he meets aging racing horse Lean on Pete. Plummer plays on that shell that Charley creates so well, utilizing his eyes as the main windows into who he really is, as the rest is mostly protection. There’s a gentleness and tranquility in Charley, but as he’s tested, Plummer evokes the risk of that gentleness turning sour in the transitions of reserved physicality to sudden panic. Plummer says everything through how little he does, rendering the most emotional moments where he doesn’t necessarily do anything so powerful because of his acting prior to those moments.

Runner-up: Joaquin Phoenix — You Were Never Really Here
3. Sam Claflin — Journey’s End
4. Jason Clarke — Chappaquiddick
5. Josh Brolin — Avengers: Infinity War

The Next 5
6. Brady Jandreau — The Rider
7. Nick Robinson — Love, Simon
8. Chadwick Boseman — Black Panther
9. John Krasinski — A Quiet Place
10. Sverrir Gudnason — Borg vs. McEnroe

Best Lead Actress

Winner: Michelle Pfeiffer — Where Is Kyra?

Paladin/Courtesy

Where Is Kyra? is a bracing film about poverty, but it needed an actress that could bear it all for the investigation. And Michelle Pfeiffer goes above and beyond. Her full emotions are underneath the surface, but her desperation is clear to see. Much of the plot traps her character into more and more difficult situations, and Pfeiffer embodies that trapped feeling, injecting into the physicality of her performance, specifically the muscles in her face. She delivers small outbursts so powerfully, but, just when we think we’ll finally see a full outburst of emotion, Pfeiffer contains it all into a simple, devastating look. Pfeiffer’s work is the epitome of harrowing, and it’s a performance we won’t soon forget.

Runner-up: Emily Blunt — A Quiet Place
3. Claire Foy — Unsane
4. Natalie Portman — Annihilation
5. Rachel McAdams — Disobedience

The Next 5
6. Anya Taylor-Joy — Thoroughbreds
7. Rachel Weisz — Disobedience
8. Olivia Cooke — Thoroughbreds
9. Alicia Vikander — Tomb Raider
10. Helen Mirren — The Leisure Seeker

Best Picture

Winner: Black Panther

Marvel/Disney/Courtesy

A “Best Picture” is a film that transcends the medium as powerfully as possible. That doesn’t mean it’s the “best” film and that doesn’t mean it has to be everyone’s favorite. A “Best Picture” has a sort of intangible quality to it that everyone, no matter if they think it’s the “best” or if it’s their favorite, can feel anyway.

So far in 2018, that film is indisputably Black Panther. Superhero films don’t get much celebration. Oftentimes, it makes sense. But in some cases, it’s incredibly sad, as superhero films can evoke ideas, emotions, themes, representation and much more in ways that other films can’t. Black Panther is a pinnacle of that in many regards. Its themes are precisely transcendent, in that they leverage the genre to make profound statements through a hypothetical, extremely imaginative, but always truthful lens.

The fact that there is legitimate argument that Black Panther is also the “best” film only solidifies its place. Ryan Coogler’s storytelling is bravely raw, but also expertly composed. And the design elements of the film and how they contribute to the film’s story represent the best of what film can do.

Hopefully, by the end of the year, no one forgets Black Panther‘s achievement.

Runner-up: Paddington 2
3. Annihilation
4. Avengers: Infinity War
5. The Rider
6. A Quiet Place
7. Journey’s End
8. You Were Never Really Here
9. Lean on Pete
10. Blockers

The Next 5
11. Game Night
12. Chappaquiddick
13. Disobedience
14. The Death of Stalin
15. Thoroughbreds

 

Voting contributions from Hooman Yazdanian.

Featured image via Marvel/Disney/Paramount Pictures/Warner Bros./Good Deed Entertainment.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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

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

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

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

6. Hostiles

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

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

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

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

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

5. War for the Planet of the Apes

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

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

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

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

4. Blade Runner 2049

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

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

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

3. Call Me by Your Name

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

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

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

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

2. A Ghost Story

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

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

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

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

1. Dunkirk

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

 

Featured image via Amazon Studios/Netflix.

 

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

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

Trial: Pitch the Obi-Wan Kenobi ‘Star Wars’ standalone film

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

This week’s task: Pitch the Obi-Wan Kenobi Star Wars standalone film.

Writers: Kyle Kizu and Harrison Tunggal
Judge: Levi Hill

Lucasfilm/Courtesy

Kyle’s pitch:

Fans have wanted a standalone Obi-Wan Kenobi film for years now. But the deep crave for one seems to always brush over one fact: it’s going to be incredibly difficult to pull off. Casting anyone other than Ewan McGregor would be a publicity nightmare, so let’s operate under the assumption that he’ll return for the role. And with McGregor aging 10+ years since the prequels, it’d be wildly difficult to sell Kenobi as younger than he is in The Phantom Menace. All of this means that the only period of time a film could work with is the roughly 20 years between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope — most of which are spent on Tatooine.

The film would obviously be a contained one, and would be much more interesting if entirely on Tatooine. It doesn’t have to be a massive epic in the vein of The Force Awakens or Rogue One. In that light, and considering that, technically, Stephen Daldry isn’t officially signed on to direct just yet, I would shift to Their Finest’s Lone Scherfig. With her most recent film, Scherfig shows an adept ability at implying scale while remaining intimate, as Their Finest is relatively contained, but the sense of World War II is still deeply felt. That sensibility could translate to an Obi-Wan film in which the aura of the galactic struggles are still present amid a story bound to a single planet. And Scherfig also could nail Kenobi’s snark and humor, qualities very present in her film, specifically with Bill Nighy and Sam Claflin’s characters — two actors that could be brought in here.

As for the story, and the themes accompanying, I feel as though it’s necessary to maintain what is perhaps the heaviest influence on the franchise: the Empire as the Nazis. After the surfacing of neo-Nazis in the U.S., the film could prove profound in today’s age while also being loyal to the timeless, very Star Wars-esque good vs. evil story. Much of what Obi-Wan Kenobi would be doing on Tatooine is watching over and protecting a young Luke, but the story could also introduce problems of the Empire ravaging villages across the planet while Kenobi attempts to shelter women and children in a similar manner to the many heroes that helped people during the Holocaust. Think The Zookeeper’s Wife meets Schindler’s List meets Star Wars. And in Their Finest, Scherfig deals with the war in which Nazis took action, meaning she’ll be familiar with these ideas.

The film could almost be an underground story, featuring world-building of much more depth than A New Hope, really making Tatooine feel like a planet with a fully informed environmental/societal system of living — something that no Star Wars film has yet truly done.

Luke wouldn’t even really need to be in the film that much, functioning as merely a named presence — perhaps just “the boy” — which could make an ending in which Luke does appear, one in which Kenobi accidentally encounters him and is forced to introduce himself as “Ben,” incredibly exciting.

Harrison’s pitch:

Any Obi-Wan film without Ewan McGregor is bound to invite the ire of Star Wars fans across the galaxy. Likewise, such a film that isn’t titled High Ground: A Star Wars Story would be a massive missed opportunity. Thus, High Ground (okay, maybe a different title), starring Ewan McGregor, opens in the small town of Anchorhead, on the planet Tatooine. Fulcrum (John Cho) is a swashbuckling rebel spy going through a black market weapons deal, which is interrupted when Imperial forces descend on the town. Fulcrum is the sole rebel survivor, who is saved when the forces of Gallus the Hutt (voiced by Idris Elba) — larger than Jabba and capable of walking via robotic spider legs —  completely destroy the Imperial presence. However, Gallus takes Fulcrum hostage, and effectively seizes control of the town. Even though Anchorhead is safe from the Empire, it isn’t safe from Gallus, who begins extorting money from residents, brutalizing them in the process.

This is where we find Obi-Wan Kenobi, living a spartan lifestyle. He watches over young Luke Skywalker and the Lars homestead, while attempting (though failing) to communicate with the Force ghost of Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson). He just can’t tap into the Force like he could before, especially since he found out that Anakin lived on, and became Darth Vader. He is a man plagued by the specter of failure.

However, his life changes when he is approached by Fendis Beed (Élodie Yung), one of the most notorious bounty hunters in the galaxy, who is hired to save Fulcrum. Kenobi refuses, insisting on keeping a low profile. But when Gallus takes Owen Lars (Joel Edgerton) as ransom for not paying his dues, Kenobi joins Fendis to free Owen and Fulcrum. During the mission, Kenobi is torn between toppling the violent Hutt regime (and creating the power vacuum for an Imperial presence) and allowing Gallus to terrorize the people of Anchorhead. He ultimately embraces his heroic former self, and alongside Fendis, Fulcrum and Owen, he frees Anchorhead from the grasp of Gallus, drawing his lightsaber and using the Force for the first time in years.

Still, Kenobi’s heroic actions have allowed the Empire to settle in the nearby Mos Eisley without fear of Gallus’ forces, and for that, he can’t help but feel great guilt. In a moment of catharsis, he finally communes with Qui-Gon Jinn, who assures him that saving Anchorhead was the action of a true Jedi Master. Jinn tells Kenobi not to fear the looming presence of the Empire, as he will give him the training necessary to better protect Luke and to become the ultimate defender of Tatooine.

Lucafilm/Courtesy

Kyle’s rebuttal:

Your story is fully fleshed out, as I expected. It’s engaging, action-packed and ripe for character exploration of Obi-Wan. It also brings in actors that I could only dream of in a Star Wars film. John Cho?! I’m in. However, I wish you went further with investigating the character of Obi-Wan. There’s so much moving in your pitch before we reach Obi-Wan that by the time we do, it almost feels like there’s not enough time for him specifically. The idea of him holding on to immense guilt is pitch perfect and necessary, especially after what he went through in the prequels. But I fear that, with the layered plot you set forth, we would only get the surface level of those emotional concerns, which leads me to my next problem.

While reading through your pitch, I was engaged, but I was questioning what might the value of this story be to the larger idea of Star Wars. I think that if you sell Obi-Wan’s character journey more thoroughly, we could feel this sense of history, fate and interpersonal relationships of Star Wars on a whole, which could make the moment when Obi-Wan sacrifices himself in A New Hope even more profound than it already is. But right now, I don’t really feel that when reading your pitch. You definitely have notions of it in there, but there’s more work to be done for it to be fully realized because, right now, I don’t know if this film would be, in the larger picture, as satisfying and valuable as it could be.

I feel as though my thematic concerns make up for the lack of plot, as plot can be built more easily around theme, while theme is more difficult to insert into an established plot. And with prevalent imagery akin to the Nazis, an evil force we’re beginning to struggle with again today, and a deeply intimate, contained and harrowing journey for Obi-Wan as well as for the people in crises at the hands of the Empire — at the hands of deranged nationalism — my idea for an Obi-Wan standalone film both works on its own terms while also contributing to the grander narrative of the universe.

Harrison’s rebuttal:

First and foremost, major props for suggesting a Star Wars film that functions as political allegory. Even more props for putting Lone Scherfig in the director’s chair. I thoroughly enjoyed her work in Their Finest, and I couldn’t agree more about her strengths — she can balance intimacy and scope like Anakin balances the Force. But for an Obi-Wan film, I don’t want an epic scope at all, implied or otherwise. An Obi-Wan film should be as intimate a character study as possible, and I think the scope that you implied would detract from that intimacy.

More specifically, I don’t think the Empire should figure heavily into another spinoff, since stormtroopers have been cannon fodder for Rogue One and (presumably) for the Han Solo film. Additionally, since the First Order is essentially a re-branded version of the Empire, we will have gotten seven total films that feature the Empire as the overarching antagonist. Many fans have complained that the Disney-era of Star Wars hasn’t dared to expand its universe, and making the Empire the antagonist of an Obi-Wan film would only further this problem. My film sidesteps this issue by making Gallus the Hutt and his army of scum and villainy the primary antagonists. Even though Gallus was inspired by the comic book character Grakkus, it would allow for the familiar iconography of the Hutts, while expanding the canon of the film universe.

Most importantly though, your film lacks emotional resonance. We know Obi-Wan is a hero, so I think a subversion of our expectations — a broken man who doesn’t believe in himself, and can’t even use the Force properly — is more interesting. My film ratchets up the emotional impact by having Obi-Wan reluctantly return to heroics, before finally communing with the Force through his contact with Qui-Gon Jinn. Qui-Gon represents the specter of failure that haunts Obi-Wan — he failed to save Qui-Gon, he failed to kill Anakin and he failed the entire Republic. Qui-Gon’s appearance to Obi-Wan to validate his actions and offer consolement would be one of the most emotional moments in all of Star Wars canon.

Ultimately, I believe that my film does more to expand the universe while offering emotional stakes that we haven’t seen fully realized since The Empire Strikes Back.

Lucafilm/Courtesy

Levi’s verdict:

First off, both ideas are perfect, and if there was a way to find a happy medium between the two, a balancing of the Force, let’s say, then I think all Star Wars fans would see a standalone masterpiece. However, as in most lightsaber duels, someone will inevitably win and the other ends up missing a limb, but able to fight another day. So let’s just hyperspeed into this thing, like the Millennium Falcon…

Thematically, reading Kyle’s pitch, it just felt right. The power of Star Wars movies, and really genre films at large for that matter, is their ability to have social commentary about political machinations. It’s not a hidden truth that the Empire is meant to represent the Nazis, and the Rebels are meant to represent anyone with the decency to stand up to them. Thus, having a film almost explicitly laying out that good vs. evil dichotomy, under those terms and having them stand in for today, is a brilliant move. Also, Lone Scherfig, while not an obvious choice, is literally a perfect choice. Their Finest balances humor, action and drama with the best of movies — all elements that have made Star Wars the most endearing franchise in the world.

With that being said, though, Harrison is my winner. The amount of Star Wars lore he’s able to fit into his pitch, along with the incredible casting (EWAN MCGREGOR, JOHN CHO, IDRIS ELBA AND ÉLODIE YUNG TOGETHER!!!), as well as having a perfect character arc for the one-and-only Obi-Wan just felt right. Both Kyle and Harrison were right in making the films have a more intimate scale, because truly, how many more Death Stars and countless Stormtroopers can we see destroyed before Star Wars finds something a tad more original. But where Kyle focused on the theme, and rightly pointed out Harry’s lack of theme and potentially too jam-packed story, I think Harry’s rebuttal ultimately was the deciding factor for me.

To see Obi-Wan struggle with a crippling inability to use the force and with the guilt of his (in)action only adds immense depth to his character. And assuming Star Wars: The Last Jedi shows an equally down-and-out Luke, there could be some interesting thematic parallels regarding the pressure of being the Jedi tasked with saving the Rebels and destroying the Empire. Or, if Rey does end up being a Kenobi, is she destined to follow in the same tracks as her ancestor?

Regardless of plot details for sight unseen films, Harrison’s Obi-Wan standalone is both an emotionally resonant tale of one of Star Wars most loved icons, as well as a perfect set-up for Rogue One and A New Hope.

Winner: Harrison Tunggal

 

Do you agree with Levi’s verdict? Sound off in the comments for which pitch you would’ve chosen, or if you have a pitch of your own.

Featured image via Lucasfilm