Tag Archives: Wonder Woman

March Madness of Movies: Introducing the Brackets

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

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

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

The four topics we ended up on are:

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

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

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

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

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

Best A24 Films

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

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

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

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

Best Superhero Villain of the 21st Century

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Big Budget Directing of the 21st Century

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

In Superhero Directing:

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

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

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

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

In Franchise Directing:

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

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

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

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

In Prestige/Original/Non-Franchise Studio Directing

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

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

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

In Animated Directing:

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

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

Best Cinematography Since 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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.

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.

Entertainment Studios/Courtesy

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

Top 10 DC films

Even though the superhero genre, with its cinematic universes and CGI moustache removal, feels like a modern invention, it’s worth remembering that DC films have been around since 1978, with the release of Richard Donner’s Superman. Since then, DC has left numerous, indelible marks on comic book filmmaking — the Academy Award-winning Suicide Squad, multiple sets of Bat-nips and this scene from Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, just to name a few. Oh, and The Dark Knight too. All jokes aside, DC’s filmography includes some of the best comic book adaptations of all time. Here are ten of them.

10. Superman

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Richard Donner’s Superman defined the superhero film and its sterling illustration of optimism, idealism and sacrifice on screen has yet to be recreated in a similar comic book property, and for good reason. The genuineness with which each actor portrays their character, the reverent aura beget by Donner’s steadfast direction and John Williams’ iconically melodious score all work in cohesion to portray the quintessential cinematic take on the Man of Steel. Make no mistake, Christopher Reeve is Superman, and from the moment he exits a revolving door clad in red, blue and yellow, no one can deny that the presence he exudes is inspiring beyond belief. While Zack Snyder and David S. Goyer might think that the character needs to be deconstructed and morally-conflicted to be interesting, Donner knows that Superman is captivating in how his selflessness is innate, ingrained in his very being and staunch at the expense of a normal life. Simply put, he’s Superman because he wants to be and not solely out of a sense of duty to his adopted homeworld. It may have been released in the ‘70s, but Superman is timeless. No matter when you watch it, “You’ll believe a man can fly.”

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

9. Superman II

Warner Bros./Courtesy

What presents more of a threat to the Superman than a villainous plot revolving around the California real estate market? Three revenge-driven Kryptonians, an escaped arch-enemy and an introspective dilemma between want and responsibility — that’s what. Despite the uphill battle it was fighting after the character’s first stellar outing, Superman ll differentiates itself from its predecessor by grounding the Last Son of Krypton while upping the narrative ante. Superman’s hard to empathize with, given the, y’know, God-like powers and such, but director Richard Lester (and Richard Donner with his, arguably, better cut of the film) captures the mortality of the character by stripping him of his abilities and reminding audiences what truly makes him so super. Combine such a personally conflicted performance by Christopher Reeve as a now de-powered Clark with the mad zealotry of Terence Stamp’s Zod, and the film beautifully depicts two sides of a moralistic spectrum. Returning favorites such as Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, Perry White and Eve Teschmacher round out one of the few great examples of a sequel done right.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

8. Road to Perdition

DreamWorks/Courtesy

Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, Daniel Craig, Stanley Tucci, Jennifer Jason Leigh, a young Tyler Hoechlin, director Sam Mendes and legendary cinematographer Conrad Hall? Road to Perdition is, surely, the most starry DC production ever.

Thankfully, it’s also one of the best. The film wisely uses everyman Tom Hanks against type as a ruthless mob enforcer seeking vengeance for the murder of his whole family, except for his young son played by Tyler Hoechlin. Like A History of Violence, the film asks the viewer to confront how violence becomes embedded within our families and, ultimately, creates the downfall of many people’s lives. Featuring Oscar-winning, exquisitely framed, lit and shot cinematography by Hall — this ended up being his last film prior to passing away — Road to Perdition is the most beautifully designed film on this list.

— Levi Hill

7. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

Warner Bros./Courtesy

As this list makes evident, there are more great Batman films than there are canonical Robins. The Nolan films are genius interpretations of classic characters, and the Burton films helped define what a cinematic Batman could be, but only one film on this list definitively represents a truly comic-accurate version of Batman; only one film here makes a deep dive into the psychology of the Dark Knight. That film, of course, is Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, the cinematic extension of the classic Batman: The Animated Series. The creative team from the television show, including Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, lend their iconic art style and mature storytelling to this film, which coalesce to dramatically redefine Batman’s origin story with heaping amounts of genuine pathos. Just as he’s making his first forays into vigilantism, Bruce Wayne finds true love in Andrea Beaumont (voiced by Dana Delany), and we see a Batman who is conflicted. “I didn’t count on being happy,” he says, as he crumbles in front of his parents’ graves. In this sense, the film pits past and present against each other, each vying to consume Batman. Thematically, this film is as rich as The Dark Knight, and arguably much more emotional — whereas most Batman films are content to let the Caped Crusader brood for the entire runtime, this film translates mere gloom to a nuanced, emotional sense of melancholy. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill voice Batman and the Joker, respectively, cementing their statuses as the definitive portrayals of both characters. Much has already been said about this film by more articulate fans than myself, so I’ll just link one of my favorite analyses here. Check it out, or better yet, just go watch this absolute gem of a movie.

— Harrison Tunggal

6. A History of Violence

New Line Cinema/Courtesy

Who would have thought that David Cronenberg’s best (arguably) and most humanistic (not as arguable) film would be an adaption of a graphic novel about the nature of violence? Yes, most of Cronenberg’s films tend to explore society’s obsession with violence, but typically with surreal trappings. For example, think of Videodrome’s satirical takedown of TV’s reliance on sex and murder to get audience’s invested, or the sex-crazed car crash survivors in Crash.

A History of Violence strips away most of the pretense, and focuses on how one small-town man who lives an upright life with his family can be haunted by violence. After a group of gangsters come to the town, threatening to hurt him or others, Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) acts without hesitation with a stunning amount of brutal violence, killing the gangsters before they harm any innocent bystanders. While heralded as a hero by the local community, what happens after, though, is the quick realization that Tom was a former gangster himself, with a deep past of horrific crimes that are going to catch up to him. Using the deeper ruminations of the source material, A History of Violence is likely the most mature DC-adaption yet.

— Levi Hill

5. The Dark Knight Rises

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Christopher Nolan’s final Batman film has received plenty of flack, but it’s hard, in retrospect, to feel as though the intense derision is fully warranted. We don’t view a film in a vacuum; The Dark Knight Rises followed not only arguably the greatest superhero movie of all time, but also one of the most influential films, period, of its era. The lens with which Rises has been viewed is different than most, the standards higher than most.

With that said, The Dark Knight Rises is an undoubtedly epic finale, expanding the scope and scale immensely while maintaining a firm grasp on the gritty realism that is thematically central to Nolan’s take. While The Dark Knight was more about Batman/the Bruce that’s behind the mask, this final installment places a raw Bruce front and center — and Christian Bale embraces the vulnerability and pain. This Bruce wants death; we can see the weight of his life on his tired face, and, when he finally can let go of the anger, it’s an immeasurably joyous feeling to see him at peace.

On top of all of that, The Dark Knight Rises deftly avoids the pitfall of bigger-but-emptier. The thematic idea behind Bane, a sort of re-emergence of the League of Shadows, but also a slight shift in its principles, is consistently engaging, and a layered look at the political manipulations that would allow for Bane to take over Gotham as he does. And while many complain about Tom Hardy’s voice, Bane is one of the better comic book villains of recent memory. Due mostly to Hardy, he’s physically intimidating unlike most antagonists we’ve seen, and his strange, almost Eastern European accent lends an aura of gravitas to the character too.

The detractors likely won’t sway too far from their positions, and that’s their right. But, no matter how flawed, The Dark Knight Rises still succeeds in capping the arc of the trilogy and of Bruce in a thematic and emotionally satisfying way, an absolutely massive and underappreciated accomplishment that few comic book trilogies, let alone trilogies in general, have accomplished.

— Kyle Kizu

4. Batman

Warner Bros./Courtesy

When it was first announced, 1989’s Batman received its fair share of skepticism from fans and general audiences alike. Can you blame them? The director of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and the lead of Mr. Mom (what a decade the ‘80’s was) aren’t the first duo to come to mind when bringing Batman to cinematic life. However, with a certain teaser trailer, Warner Bros. was able to bide time and assuage moviegoers that this was going to be a dark, epic take on the Caped Crusader: how right they were. From its visually resplendent gothic aesthetic to Danny Elfman’s classic, rousing yet somber score, Batman ‘89 established a filmic experience for the character like never before. Tim Burton’s sets a simultaneously adventurous and tragic environment, anchored with committed character work by Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson, which infuses the film with a larger-than-life attitude that’s both entertaining and narratively fulfilling. Burton and company don’t shy away from their comic book roots, but, at the same time, don’t simply execute fan service scene after scene. This is a movie where the Joker realizes his appearance is both an extension of his own subconscious identity and a tool with which he can shift the status quo in Gotham City. This is also a movie where the Batwing flies in front of and recreates the Bat Signal against the moonlight. This is Batman ‘89.     

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

3. Batman Begins

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Christopher Nolan’s first Batman film quickly became the landmark superhero origin story, and for good reason. Grounding Bruce Wayne in our world and committing to an intertwined idea of story, character, setting and theme — all living and breathing as one — Batman Begins is a gripping drama about grief, fear and justice. Applying his trademark sense of nonlinear structure to the beginning of the film, Nolan thoroughly impresses upon us one of the most three-dimensional characters the genre has seen, and proceeds to surround Wayne with nearly as equally defined supporting characters in Fox, Gordon and Alfred.

Batman Begins has influenced countless films after it, with many directly citing the film and Nolan in their approach. But what so many fail to understand is that the brooding darkness and gritty realism alone are not what make this film so special. It’s that both of those aspects are informed for what the story holds intrinsically. Bruce Wayne is just a man with no real powers, so of course his equipment would come from the military. He’s just a man with no real powers, so of course he would get bruised and beaten quite easily and extensively.

We’ve yet to get another origin story like it and it might be a while before we do.

— Kyle Kizu

2. Wonder Woman

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Just as Wonder Woman saved Batman from becoming bat-toast in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, her first solo film saved the DCEU (for the time being, at least) when it needed it most. Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman gives us a hero that kicks as much ass as Batman, and still embodies the sense of hope that defines Superman — a combination that made Wonder Woman the commercial and critical hit that the DCEU needed.

Essentially, Wonder Woman is a film about empowerment, and it’s downright inspirational, which, ironically, isn’t an adjective that’s often bandied about when speaking of superhero films. The immense impact of the film on younger viewers is already evident — you can click here to have your heart warmed, or just rewatch the film, or do both.

— Harrison Tunggal

1. The Dark Knight

Warner Bros/Courtesy

The Dark Knight is not only the best DC film of all time, but it’s also arguably the best superhero film of all time and one of the best films, in general, of all time.

On a craft level, the film is masterful. So often do all of the elements coalesce — the score, the editing, the sound design, the cinematography and more — to create astounding action sequences that leave us absolutely breathless, like the opening bank heist and the underground police chase.

But where The Dark Knight steps to the next level is in how its craft executes its story. The film has four main characters — Bruce Wayne/Batman, Harvey Dent, Commissioner Gordon and the Joker — and works them all into an immensely profound narrative of morality and sacrifice, especially in our post-9/11 society. We see our heroes manipulated by the Joker, and forced to bend their rules to stop him, but we also see that something is lost every time a rule is broken. The film has no hardline stance on morality, what’s just and what’s worth it, which ends up being for the better as it truly dimensionalizes these characters in ways that other films don’t. It also ends up making the Joker such an terrifying, effective and memorable villain.

Heath Ledger’s turn is one for the ages. It is the definition of transformation; every aspect of physical, verbal and mental performance is taken advantage of to leave us with a being that feels so abrasive, tangible and real — something made all the more stunning considering that the character is offered no backstory. Ledger’s Joker is the face of terror in the 21st century, and it’s one we won’t soon forget.

The Dark Knight is one of the great films of our time. It’s a film about a guy who dresses up as a bat, but it’s also a city crime drama as epic as The Godfather. It’s a superhero film that embraces the best of its genre, but also transcends it in every way imaginable.

— Kyle Kizu

 

Featured image via New Line Cinema/Warner Bros.

‘Justice League’ Review: A cleaner, but more jarring and hollow failure

On a storytelling level, Justice League is a better film than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It’s more cohesive, better paced and easier to follow. But it comes at a steep cost.

What the DCEU had gotten right up to this point — maybe not with Suicide Squad — was an investment in theme and how character and story both shape theme and are shaped by it. Batman v Superman is a mess of a film, but it’s an interesting story. It’s ideas of man vs. god, of the repercussions of Superman and the lengths to which Batman’s anger would take him in response, which feels like a continuation of Man of Steel, offers some semblance of narrative satisfaction.

Justice League, seemingly a continuation of Batman v Superman, a third film in this trilogy, is jarringly hollow in comparison. Superman’s death and Batman’s guilt are hardly investigated, and if they are, they’re parsed through in ways that don’t make sense with character; supposed steps taken in regard to those themes turn out to be more circumstantial, convenient and simple than actual elaboration on the story’s previous interests.

In essence, the film abandons what it was set up to be in order to be a cleaner film. It’s slightly, slightly understandable considering the position of Warner Bros. and DC, but it is such a disappointment. There’s nothing to latch onto in Superman’s character (surprise, he’s in the movie). He leans Christopher Reeve in tone, which, to some, might be exciting — but that’s not the Superman that’s been built in this universe. A short moment after his resurrection has the potential to take his character in a frightening, complicated direction, but that potential is quickly passed on and we get a one-dimensional figure that doesn’t even feel like a character.

The same can be said with villain. Batman’s visions of impending doom in the previous installment move nowhere with Steppenwolf, a monstrosity that falls flatter than the horrific CGI that creates him. He’s a typical, bland god-like bad guy spouting boring, cliched lines of fate for the “primitive beings” he’s fighting.

There aren’t many dimensions anywhere in Justice League. The Flash, while decently snappy comedic relief (which, itself, becomes tiresome), is barely two-dimensional. Aquaman’s motivations and backstory are washed over. Wonder Woman’s arc feigns at actual interest in the character — she’s dealing with the grief of losing Steve Trevor and the subsequent struggles she has with being a leader — but the timeline difference makes it difficult to swallow and, in horrifyingly gross fashion, the film sexualizes her and submits her to the filmmakers’ male gaze.

The only character that’s remotely fleshed out is Cyborg. His biomechatronic body has a brain of its own and he’s struggling to learn how to control it. But, considering that Ray Fisher gives a strong performance, it only ends up as disappointing that that arc is traversed here and not more thoroughly in a solo film.

It’s strange because one can almost feel that Justice League wants to be a cleaner movie. Too much of the plotting is expedited and, in turn, easy, leaving us with a lot that’s clean and digestible — until we realize that there’s no substance to any of it. But even in its attempts to be clean, it ends up as a messier looking film than most blockbusters in general. It’s embarrassing that we can tell where the reshoots are, not only narratively but visually. Literally, we see where actors are digitally inserted after the fact and where continuity is interrupted.

And Henry Cavill’s digitally removed mustache leaves his face as… by god, there’s no excuse.

Even the DCEU’s inarguably greatest element, its scores, halts dead with Danny Elfman’s work. We hear, perhaps, ten seconds of Wonder Woman’s theme before it never shows up again. We never hear Junkie XL’s Batman theme as Elfman opts to use his original one. We never hear Hans Zimmer’s Man of Steel theme. Elfman leaves us with nothing memorable about his score. The use of original themes don’t make  auditory sense for where the characters are meant to be, which, even worse, results in music that fails to serve the narrative on any level.

The film is cheap. It inserts quirky quips here and there to induce laughter that can, momentarily, help us forget its shortcomings. But even those quips wind up yanking us out of the film. They’re infuriating. They’re tonally imbalanced and out of character — especially for someone like Batman. The film also shoves in comic book references to help some of the comic book familiar folk look over its cheap nature, most of which will be missed by audiences not familiar and create no difference as none of the nods have narrative implications.

Some of the fight sequences work and work well. Characters are clear and distinguishable, and the overall battles are well shot in regard to spatial geography.

But it’s difficult to even want to talk about that with any layer of enthusiasm. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy notably lacked well-composed action, but they’re still some of the best superhero movies of all time because of their unparalleled execution of storytelling.

Cumulatively, Justice League is overbearingly cheap. It’s a middle finger to the audience, a “course correction” that does no correcting.

Grade: D+

 

Featured image via Warner Bros.

Trial: What is the best superhero musical theme of the DCEU?

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

This week’s question: What is the best superhero musical theme of the DCEU?

Writers: Harrison Tunggal and Kyle Kizu
Judge: Sanjay Nimmagudda

*Warning: Potential spoilers for ‘Man of Steel’ and for ‘Wonder Woman.’*

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Harrison’s argument:

As this video explains, Wonder Woman’s theme (AKA “Is She with You – Wonder Woman’s Theme”) by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL is basically a Led Zeppelin song — driven by a killer riff bound to become permanently lodged inside your brain, but in a good, “Kashmir” sort of way. The Wonder Woman theme accomplishes what any superhero score should — it represents the character. Wonder Woman is capable and incisive when necessary, a quality brought out by Tina Guo’s razor sharp electric cello riff. As DC overlord Geoff Johns said, Wonder Woman is the best fighter in the DC Universe, and her musical theme reflects this assertion. Simply put, her theme is badassery distilled in sonic form.

When Wonder Woman saves Batfleck in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and the cello riff kicks in, the audience can’t help but feel a jolt of adrenaline. The tune is used to similar effect when Wonder Woman takes out a room full of German soldiers in her solo film, Wonder Woman. In this sense, the Wonder Woman theme functions as an element of a film’s set piece — just as CGI (for the sake of this argument) contributes to the design of a set piece, so too does use of the Wonder Woman theme immediately raise the stakes of any conflict. Every time that Wonder Woman’s theme is used, it’s a jolting and exciting moment, one filled with the thrills that superhero films thrive on.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Of greater import, is the type of jolt that audiences feel when Wonder Woman’s theme is used. I’ll preface this by saying that other superhero themes are undoubtedly effective — John Williams’ Superman theme sounds hopeful, and Hans Zimmer’s Batman theme from The Dark Knight Trilogy is darkly pragmatic; both tunes capture the essence of the heroes they represent. But these superhero themes are merely effective, while the Wonder Woman theme is also affective. For the first time, a superhero theme sounds like a call to action. Wonder Woman’s theme is empowering, a source of energy that films featuring her draw on. It’s energy that is communicated to anyone listening to her theme.

Wonder Woman’s theme represents the character’s warrior persona, but the theme goes further, representing all facets of the character. Wonder Woman’s mantra is “It’s not about deserve. It’s about what you believe. And I believe in love.” The compassion that drives Wonder Woman is inherent in her theme — as “Is She with You” trades biting cello riffs for contemplative string melodies, the song invokes Wonder Woman’s great capacity for love, not just fighting. This sentiment is taken a step further in Rupert Gregson-Williams’ score for Wonder Woman, which alters the implied darkness of “Is She with You” to become a score driven by warmth and idealism.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Additionally, Wonder Woman’s theme is a landmark in film scores, just as Gal Gadot’s portrayal of the character is a landmark in cinema itself. We’ve heard Superman, Batman and Spider-Man represented through music before. But as an introduction to a new character, Wonder Woman’s theme is as significant as Gal Gadot’s performance.

If nothing else, Wonder Woman’s theme is hugely listenable as an individual track. In particular, Tina Guo’s metal cover of the theme will turn your daily walk to (insert something mundane here) into a heroic march into battle.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Kyle’s argument:

It’s a bit unclear what the specific Superman theme in Man of Steel is, but all signs point to “What Are You Going to Do When You Are Not Saving the World?” as the heart of the score’s character. Once that logistical step is taken, though, it’s difficult to think of any other theme as better. This one is just too moving on every level.

Hans Zimmer had an absolutely enormous task ahead of him in crafting an original theme for Superman. That of the 1978 film is iconic, injected into the veins of the character. But the choice to leave it behind was a smart one; it would be almost too camp in a contemporary film with the tone that Man of Steel aims for.

In brilliant manner, however, Zimmer actually doesn’t wholly deviate from that ‘78 theme. He takes the specifics notes of it, and leaves behind its aged sense of melody to adapt them for our contemporary understanding of it.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Zimmer is often at his best when at his most minimal. The end of “Time” from Inception is all that’s needed to make that case. With “What Are You Going to Do,” Zimmer starts with soft and gentle singular piano notes. It echoes the thematic structure of the film; at the beginning of the film, Clark Kent struggles with his strength, with holding so much power despite the gentleness of his core.

The film is all about Clark finding the synthesis of power and gentleness/kindness in a world that isn’t so kind. That synthesis begins with the introduction of the drums and the whirling strings as the piano notes become more forceful. Here, Zimmer’s adaptation of the classic notes find the same kind of awe-striking build and progression of the original. For about a minute and a half, the track almost feels like it’s searching — just as Clark in the middle of the film, despite coming upon his suit and past, is still searching for what it means to be Superman.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

And then the track explodes into wonder that even Wonder Woman’s theme can’t quite match. It’s fascinating what Zimmer does with layers. The layering, in terms of what instruments are being used, where they’re being used and how, is very similar to his work on The Dark Knight Trilogy, but the distinction is in tone. Zimmer is a master of tone and despite this track holding the same kind of bombast that much of his previous work does, there’s an unmissable, undoubtable sense of hope in “What Are You Going to Do.”

Yet, the track does not end with just two minutes of hopeful bombast. Somehow, Zimmer dives back to a sort of humble quietude before exploding yet again.

On purely a musical level, Superman’s theme is magnificent. It’s informed, in every sense, by character and, thus, is able to feed back into how character is shaped in the film.

That Zimmer’s work has become so utterly adored and embraced as this generation’s Superman theme — despite the film’s mediocre reception — is yet another testament to how well-executed and brilliant of a theme it is.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Harrison’s rebuttal:

Kyle, there’s no doubt that Hans Zimmer’s Superman theme is one of the great film scores of all time. The fact that his score can compete with the original John Williams theme is a huge testament to how well the new Superman theme represents the character. To my great surprise, the Superman theme does not actually give the listener the power of flight.

But Zimmer had a template to work from. He had a goal, to make music that embodies hope, but that goal was set by John Williams. In other words, a good Superman score had been done before. You even mention the fact that Zimmer took specific notes from Williams’ theme. While the Wonder Woman theme takes a page from Led Zeppelin, choosing the rock and roll aesthetic of that band was an original interpretation of the character, whereas the Superman theme was less distinctly an original interpretation. In short, it’s easier to choose John Williams as the template for a score, than it is to take Led Zeppelin as inspiration, and forge a new path for Wonder Woman.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Through crafting the Wonder Woman theme, Zimmer, Junkie XL and Tina Guo were treading new ground, and in doing so, all three artists made a contribution to the very character of Wonder Woman. Hans Zimmer redefined Superman, but that pales in comparison to doing the act of initial defining, which he, Junkie XL and Tina Guo did with the Wonder Woman theme. The character of Wonder Woman isn’t the same anymore, because of their work on her theme. There’s no way a comic book reader will open the pages of a Wonder Woman story, and not mentally hear her theme.

And while both the Superman theme and the Wonder Woman theme perfectly encapsulate their respective characters, the Wonder Woman theme has proven more malleable, and adaptable to various films. The Wonder Woman theme, biting and incisive in Batman v Superman was modified to reflect the more compassionate character we met in Wonder Woman. The essence of the theme remains the same, but structurally speaking, it can be modified to fit different films. In Justice League, Danny Elfman tweaks the theme — instead of an electric cello, the theme’s riff is played on horns, reflecting the epicness of the Justice League.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

In contrast, the Superman theme has proven less adaptable. It really only works in the context of Zimmer’s bombast. The fact that Elfman would turn to Williams’ original Superman theme for Justice League illustrates this fact — the sweeping majesty of Zimmer’s Superman theme has yet to work effectively in a non-Zack Snyder film.

Finally, I take issue with the need to stray from the “camp” of the Williams score. There’s nothing wrong with campiness, especially when it’s sincere, and if there’s one thing that’s essential to Superman, it’s that he’s a sincere, saving-cats-from-trees kinda guy. The Zimmer score might convey hope, but I would argue that before being a symbol of hope, Superman is primarily an emblem of goodness. In essence, Superman’s hopefulness stems from his capacity for being indiscriminately good, and that’s a concept that the Williams score captures more effectively.

Most importantly though, the Superman theme lacks the affect of the Wonder Woman theme. At the end of the day, the Wonder Woman theme is a source of empowerment. And while the character of Superman might have been a similar well of empowerment in the past, Wonder Woman has arguably become this generation’s Superman. It’s only fitting that her theme surpasses Superman’s.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Kyle’s rebuttal:

Harrison, you mention how Zimmer had a template, but that’s not any sort of knock. If anything, it’s a testament to the fact that Zimmer had to follow something so iconic — a daunting task — and still made something both informed by the original, but also distinctly its own. Most don’t even realize that it takes notes from the ’78 version, but everyone feels a renewed, modern sense of Superman. That’s a great achievement, not a knock in any way.

The Wonder Woman theme is, undoubtedly, awesome, but in it lies plenty of issues. You argue for its badassery. I can’t say anything against that. But I can say that the theme does less character work than you give it credit for.

Firstly, the theme uses the Man of Steel score. Between 3:25 and 4:10, there is a literal lift of Superman’s theme. Any sense of hope that “Is She with You?” builds for Wonder Woman’s character is marred by the fact that the only soft moment in the track is wholly define by Superman’s music. There’s no other sense of quietude that is its own.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Secondly, her theme isn’t malleable because it had to be adjusted for. Gal Gadot, herself, says that Batman v Superman got the character of Wonder Woman wrong. So, the character work that the theme does in that movie is off. Wonder Woman had to course correct. This sense of unending goodness in her character is more defined by Patty Jenkins’ direction and Gadot’s performance in her solo film than it is by the track that’s based in a movie where Wonder Woman gives up on mankind — something we now know she would never do.

Wonder Woman’s theme may be what people think of, but that’s only because no one had done it before. It’s easily possible that, hypothetically, another composer’s theme would be what people think of — because it’s the first.

It’s also arguably only so memorable because of its badassery. Plus, memorability does not mean superior. The feat of creating something that’s iconic on its own despite something so iconic coming before it is greater than creating a badass start. One can look to the rest of each character’s scores as evidence. I remember nothing of the rest of Gregson-Williams’ score other than a general notion of goodness. With Man of Steel’s score, I remember distinct tracks.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Since we haven’t seen Justice League yet, you can’t genuinely leverage it. Wonder Woman’s theme may be adapted, but we don’t really know how it functions in the film — perhaps poorly. The same goes for Elfman’s choice use the ’78 theme. He actually says he’s using it for a rather dark moment, and we don’t know how much Superman is in the movie and what exact Superman we’re getting (black suit or not), so we don’t know what the function is. We can’t make arguments based on what we don’t know.

I also think you misunderstand how I talk about “camp.” There’s nothing wrong with “camp.” But to think that it’s negative to stray from it for this new film — a film entirely different in tone both as a story, but also musically in that we literally don’t think in the same ways of melody anymore — doesn’t make sense to me. Zimmer did necessary work to modernize Superman and you even say that the score is one of the best of all time.

Finally, Wonder Woman may be this generation’s Superman. But that’s only true if we’re talking about the films. Man of Steel’s score perfectly evokes a contemporary sense of Superman. The movie might fall short elsewhere, but that doesn’t take away from the work that the theme does. So listen to it and adore it, even if they didn’t love the film. While Wonder Woman is a better film, Zimmer’s Superman theme transcends film.

Sanjay’s ruling:

Wow. First of all, I applaud both Kyle and Harrison for two holistic arguments that truly elevate the discourse surrounding movie scores to an extremely thought-provoking level. Harry, your assertions in exploring the malleability and nigh ubiquitous nature of “Is She with You?” is inspiring. Kyle, the depths to which you explore Zimmer’s intricacy in crafting a new theme for an iconic character is revering. If I could, I would call this a tie based solely on the eloquent, scrupulous analysis of these two tracks by the both of you, but in reading your rebuttals to one another and subsequently re-reading your original arguments, I think I’ve made a decision – albeit begrudgingly.

Harry, you mention how Wonder Woman’s theme is overtly affective. It impacts how the character’s perceived not only in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but also in the likes of her comic series, future movies and so on. You also mention that the song is not merely a song but rather a capsule that encompasses melodic allusions, character motivations and qualities as well. While I wholly agree with you on those points, I do have to concede that Kyle’s argument that creating a theme for a hitherto unseen character on film, while undoubtedly momentous, is a less daunting task than re-defining a cultural icon auditorily.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Why do I say this? Well as Kyle points out, in creating Superman’s new theme in Man of Steel, Zimmer was fighting an uphill battle. John Williams’ uplifting score from Superman ‘78 is deeply engrained in the cinematic and generalized cultural zeitgeist. Zimmer was always going to face the court of comparative public opinion, so he had to craft something both inherently, emotionally familiar yet distinctly different in execution so as to not do a disservice to the Last Son of Krypton while not simply riffing of his compositional predecessor. That’s a daunting task and seems much more likely to fail than establishing the tonal (pun intended) status quo for the Pride of the Amazons.

While I do not refute, at all, the waves “Is She With You?” has made since first appearing in 2016, and the detail that went into composing such an elegantly powerful song for the fictional embodiment of those qualities, I have to side with Kyle in that “What Are You Going to Do When You Are Not Saving the World?” (I’ve always thought that it should be ‘You’re,’ sue me) accomplishes all that and more, at least in my opinion, in spite of what came before it. It’s played over the end credits of the film, without even a glance at the character it encapsulates, and still manages to contribute the persona of Superman. I’m going to give this one to Kyle, but let’s be real here, both themes are always an auditory cue that something insanely badass is about to happen onscreen.

 

Do you agree with Sanjay’s verdict? Or would you have picked a different DCEU theme? Sound off in the comments.

Staff records:

Harrison Tunggal: 3-2

Levi Hill: 1-0

Kyle Kizu: 1-2

Sanjay Nimmagudda: 0-1

 

Featured image via Warner Bros.

Top 10 war films since 2010

Cinema thrives when it comes to war films. These are events that many regular civilians would never understand on any level other than statistics and classroom lessons. So, that’s where cinema’s job comes in — to transport us, to help us understand. And recently, war films have gone beyond that. But we don’t like to confine the genre to just those of generals, political machinations and battlefields involving some form of Western force. Those are outstanding, but war is more than that. War drags children into conflict in countries that can’t defend them. War is the deeply human and deeply empathetic look at those not necessarily fighting, but suffering — either those subject to enemies and without the ability to fight back, like Holocaust victims, or those struggling in the aftermath of what they’ve had to do, like PTSD victims. Even genre films, superhero or otherwise, have utilized war and wartime settings to comment, in immensely effective ways, on violence. So, let’s extend the perceived boundaries of the war film. Releasing this Friday, Oct. 27, Thank You For Your Service looks to do just that, mostly leaving the battlefield to extend Jason Hall’s investigation into PTSD that started with American Sniper. Who’s to say that that’s not as much of a war film as any? Here are our top ten war films, both traditional and subversive, since 2010:

10. First They Killed My Father (2017)

Netflix/Courtesy

While Beasts of No Nation and First They Killed My Father confront the topic of the child soldiers whose lives are consumed by the wars surrounding them, Angelina Jolie’s First They Killed My Father is unique in how it paints a portrait of a country’s history, and how it derives such a portrait from following its young lead (Sareum Srey Moch). Beyond being an affecting historicization of Cambodian history, it is a deeply beautiful film despite the horrors that it depicts — some of the dream sequences and the film’s multiple overhead shots transcend the vileness of war, suggesting that Cambodia’s own beauty as a country triumphs against the Khmer Rouge regime.

— Harrison Tunggal

9. ‘71 (2015)

Roadside Attractions/Courtesy

Yann Demange’s directorial debut is a breathtakingly intense look at more of a guerrilla war than a typical war, following the “Troubles,” a conflict which centered around Northern Ireland’s status as either a part of the UK or part of a united Ireland. And that’s what’s so special about this film — that you can feel that distinction from the opening scene. Demange’s construction of tone through editing and cinematography that build tension in the streets of Ireland is masterful. Similar to Dunkirk, ‘71 is almost a silent film, a chase film filled with frightening stakes. It’s one of the better war films of recent times because it succeeds in spades in portraying a region under duress, not from enemies outside, but from fellow people within.

— Kyle Kizu

8. Lincoln (2012)

Touchstone Pictures/Courtesy

With a little bit of make-up, a sizeable amount of screentime and a lot of method acting, is there really any role Sir Daniel Day-Lewis can’t play? In Lincoln, the prolific actor practically becomes Abraham Lincoln as the renowned and revered president navigates a unique time period within the context of the American Civil War — its final few months and the repercussions of its aftermath on American slavery. Helmed by Steven Spielberg in, arguably, one of his best films in the past decade, Lincoln takes an incisive look at the intricacies behind not only Lincoln himself, but the president’s impact on shaping the United States’ perception of race-based politics into the modern era. Not only does Spielberg’s direction manage to entertain through a sheer cinematographic fixation on the enigmatic and truly revolutionary mind of Abraham Lincoln, but the film’s incredibly talented supporting cast, including a possibly show-stealing performance by Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, ensures that the film goes down as one of the most compelling and meticulously recreated historical war dramas to ever appear on screen. There’s a sense of artistic passion that oozes from Day-Lewis’ portrayal of the strong-willed yet holistically perceptive Lincoln, one that envelops every scene he’s in (spoiler: with a name like Lincoln, it’s a lot of ‘em) but that never grows stagnant. Leave it to Day-Lewis and Spielberg to make a high school reading requirement into war cinema royalty.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

7. Wonder Woman (2017)

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Sure, on an instinctual level, Wonder Woman is a superhero film, but it uses its wartime setting as effectively as any other film on this list. The film posits that war is a product of man’s own destructive ways, and that it’s up to a woman to bring the compassion (and kickassery) that precipitates peace. If nothing else, the film’s argument makes it a unique entry in this list of war films, but the level of craft that director Patty Jenkins brings to Wonder Woman lends the film an edge that its peers lack — Jenkins does Zack Snyder action better than Zack Snyder, the production design alone is worth the price of admission and the “No Man’s Land” scene will go down in cinema history as one of the most inspiring moments ever filmed. Truly, where most war films claim to depict heroism, Wonder Woman defines the standard to which such heroism should be held. As Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot channels Christopher Reeves’ Superman to give audiences a figure of hope they can aspire to — she is the hero the world needs and the one it deserves. But in Wonder Woman’s words, “It’s not about deserve; it’s about what you believe. And I believe in love.”

Harrison Tunggal

6. War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

20th Century Fox/Courtesy

There may be less physical conflict shown in War for the Planet of the Apes than Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but the third Apes film is the first to truly be about war. Not every moment in war is physical conflict. Exemplified by Game of Thrones, war is often about the aura in the air and the disposition of every single person across vast regions, which, in War’s case, genuinely feels to be the entire planet. There is often silence in barren and broken landscapes that are strangely beautiful, and moments of harrowing communal strength in stake out locations. There are factions with warring ideologies, embodied by their leaders, and, most importantly, there’s a sense of history of what’s gotten us to this point. War for the Planet of the Apes holds all of that, and more, and is it arguable the most stunningly crafted of the trilogy. When it does come to physical conflict, it features some of the more viscerally abrasive battles of recent memory, especially the film’s opening. And it’s also host to some searing, haunting imagery akin to the Holocaust, as well as to any other conflict that involves mass imprisonment, such as the Japanese internment camps. War is one of the few war films, in general, to truly understand what “war” means, the implications of it, the often ignored visual and emotional impacts on both the small and wide scale, the ideological divide, the characters that perpetrate it and the characters that uphold the best of humanity — which, in this case, are the apes.

— Kyle Kizu

5. American Sniper (2014)

Warner Bros./Courtesy

American Sniper is a rorschach test of sorts. Some people see this film as a jingoistic piece of propaganda. Others see it as a sobering investigation into post traumatic stress disorder. It lands so high on our list as we mainly fall into the latter. While the film may not have a typical progression of narrative, we follow Chris Kyle, portrayed with unbelievable vulnerability by Bradley Cooper, through this growing sensory and emotional overload. Rather than use a typically inspirational score like Lone Survivor, American Sniper makes use of horrifying sound design that enhances the sounds of bullets and explosions. The film crafts this entrapment, most directly on his tours as gunfire rains down from all over and even hiding places are not so safe, but also in brief moments back in the U.S. as Kyle becomes entrapped in his own head. The brevity of his raw emotional moments shows just how much pressure and silence these soldiers dealing with PTSD feel like they have to put on themselves, making them all the more powerful — exemplified by the bar scene when Kyle arrives back to the U.S. without telling his wife and, when she calls, he breaks down and can only say “I guess I just needed a minute.” American Sniper is a war film that digs into you without you really noticing, so when you get to those points, you still feel all of what Kyle feels. It’s a necessary look at what war does to human beings.

— Kyle Kizu

4. Son of Saul (2015)

Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy

The Holocaust is a subject that is often focused on in World War II films. There have been a multitude of movies exploring the horrors and atrocities committed during this moment of history, with notable examples being the eight-hour documentary Shoah or the Best Picture winning Schindler’s List. The topic has been explored by filmmakers like George Stevens, Otto Preminger, Stanley Kramer, Vittorio de Sica, Quentin Tarantino and Paul Verhoeven. With all of these major filmmakers being vital and their films classics, it may be hard for anyone to feel that cinema needs to retouch one of the worst crimes against humanity ever committed. Yet, László Nemes’ directing debut Son of Saul might just be the most stunning from both a filmmaking and pathos standpoint. The film follows Saul (Géza Röhrig), who is a Jewish Sonderkommando, as he goes by his day-to-day activities, which includes the truly demoralizing jobs of being both the person who leads fellow Jewish people into the gas chambers, and then being the one who disposes their bodies afterward. One day, Saul sees a child — after the fact — that resembles what his son would have looked like. From here, the film plunges into the wearied psyche of Saul as he tries to find answers to where his son is, and if that boy was his son. Filming in mostly tight close-ups, Nemes and cinematographer Matyas Erdely create an extremely subjective view on the Holocaust, forcing the audience to rarely see the violence, but instead to hear it, to be surrounded by it, to be as closely immersed in this devastatingly tragic time as any film before it. It may be a grim film, but it’s about as important and courageous as film can get — showing that sometimes in the most dire of circumstances, we can regain our own humanity.

— Levi Hill

3. Beasts of No Nation (2015)

Netflix/Courtesy

Beasts of No Nation represents not just one country, but the many that suffer from the type of atrocities and conflict of war present in this film. And this is where writer-director Cary Joji Fukunaga pulls off a stunning feat of storytelling — we understand that this is the tragedy of many, but we get to know our characters so deeply and so vividly. We become so connected to this idea of a larger devastation because we get such intimacy with the singular devastation we see. Much of that comes from violence. The trauma that Agu (Abraham Attah) encounters is overwhelming in every way, something that we immediately recognize as far too much for a young child. And as Agu falls into his own head, we see the potential for what he can become in the film’s juxtaposition of him next to the Commandant (Idris Elba) — a broken man forced into fighting, addicted to fighting, but only for any semblance of individuality and not for the war’s cause. That’s what makes Beasts of No Nation such a vital war film. Not only is it gorgeously rendered with some arresting cinematography and some viscerally intense filmmaking, and not only is it a film that shows conflict outside of the Western world, but it’s so invested in its humanity, in the brutality that gets us to a point like that and in the psychology of the most psychologically vulnerable during wartime: children.

— Kyle Kizu

2. Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Columbia Pictures/Courtesy

Director Kathryn Bigelow has never been one to shy away from war in cinema. Whether it be her first foray into the genre with 2002’s K-19: The Widowmaker or 2009’s Oscar darling, The Hurt Locker, (which reminded Hollywood, yet again, directing isn’t just a boys’ club) Bigelow has proven time and time again that she is the female authority on war on the silver screen. Combine her directorial prowess in capturing the governmental manipulation behind contemporary conflict along with the moral ambiguity of modern politics and a tour de force performance from Jessica Chastain, and you have Zero Dark Thirty. How does one portray the relentless hunt for the leader of the militant organization that orchestrated the worst terrorist attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor? With an unwavering realism that produces a profound sense of patriotism that is simultaneously overpowered by a sense of conscientious repugnancy, Zero Dark Thirty earns its spot on this list not solely for the gripping fashion in which it fashions an intimate look at the minds integral behind the assassination of Osama bin Laden, but the staunch stance it takes in revealing how war affects those that aren’t on the front line, and what they, and we as a nation, are willing to sacrifice to win.

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

1. Dunkirk (2017)

Warner Bros/Courtesy

Statistically speaking, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is, hands down, the film MovieMinis has written most about, by a margin wider than the English channel itself. And for good reason — beyond simply being a great war film, easily one of the best of all time, it is still the best film of 2017 (the ball is in your court, Guillermo del Toro).

You can read all about Dunkirk’s merits as a film here, but as a war film specifically, Dunkirk’s brilliance comes from its comprehensive, thorough subversion of every war movie trope ever put on screen. No character in this film pulls out a photo of his girlfriend back home, we hardly ever see enemy soldiers firing away at our heroes and, quite remarkably, the film maintains its thrills without spilling a drop of blood. In terms of war films, Dunkirk is the anti-Hacksaw Ridge — a film about evacuation rather battle, the empirical engineering of tension over mere spectacle. In this sense, where most war films are happy to indulge in hyper-masculine violence or cliched patriotism, Dunkirk intends to achieve none of it, preferring to blaze a new trail for what a war movie could be. Unlike any other film in the genre, Dunkirk is a purely experiential film, aiming to put viewers on Dunkirk’s beaches, in the skies above it and in the waters of the English Channel. The film’s IMAX format, expert editing, earth-shattering sound design and reliance on practical effects remind us how the language of cinema is a mimetic one. Speaking of Dunkirk, one feels the compulsion to pontificate about how audio and visual immersion is a quality unique to cinema, but let’s face it, such immersion is unique to Dunkirk.

— Harrison Tunggal

 

Featured image via Keith Bernstein/Warner Bros.

When Harry Met Movies: First Impressions — Column

This site lists me as Associate Editor and Co-Chief Film Critic, but a more accurate title might be Executive Film Noob For Life. The Social Network is a film that I should probably watch instead of writing this column, while Seven Samurai and Mulholland Drive are films that I should watch before doing either of those things. I know that Citizen Kane is THE CITIZEN KANE of all films past, present and forthcoming, but don’t ask me to tell you why. I think it’s because there’s a snow globe of particular symbolic weight, but that’s the best I can do. Neither can I tell you anything about Fellini, other than that they’ve got great lunch specials and killer marinara.

In a vain attempt at regaining credibility — admitting that I haven’t seen The Social Network makes such a task more or less insurmountable — I’ll assure you that I can speak somewhat intelligibly about the beginnings of the French New Wave and Claude Chabrol’s La Beau Serge, but that’s only because I saw it for the first time two weeks ago in a film class. The week before that, I discovered Singin’ in the Rain and last Thursday I watched my first Alfred Hitchcock film (Rope).

The gaps in my knowledge of film might be many, but within them lies some degree of excitement — watching things for the first time is always special, particularly if it’s one of those (many) movies I should have seen by now. While everyone else gets to grin slightly at the familiar, decades-old dance numbers of Gene Kelly, I get to watch them with a wide, dumb smile. Similarly, there’s nothing like discovering and delighting in the macabre of Hitchcock, or the perennial freshness of the French New Wave. It’s like that scene from Wonder Woman, when Diana tries ice cream for the first time and tells the vendor that he should be proud of himself (Gene, Alfred, Claude, you all can take a bow).

I bet you wish you could remember the exact moments leading up to that first spoonful of ice cream, the unique joy during it and the “You should be proud of yourself!” after. I bet you wish you could recall the initiating thrills of Star Wars; what it was like to fall for a jump scare in Jaws — I certainly wish I did. Therein lies the upside to the admittedly wide gaps in my film knowledge. I get to preserve the memory of a first viewing more fully, to etch in my mind, in vivid detail, what it was like to fill those gaps.

Of course, not every movie goes down like a gob of Cherry Garcia, but even then, simply leaving the theater is an occasion to remember. The overwhelming relief that flooded me at the end of Transformers: The Last Knight (it was a press screening, so don’t get mad at me for paying for a ticket) is something I won’t want to forget anytime soon, especially since I suffered through its relentless quest of disorientation with one of my best friends from high school — fitting, since our years of secondary education and that franchise can be described with more or less the same words. Most recently, I’ll never forget the mad dash a friend and I made for a consolatory cup of ice cream after mother!, the way we both knew what we wanted as soon as we left the theater, and how I stumbled over my words as I ordered.

I’ve begun ranking movies as I see them, and recording where I saw them. If applicable, I write down the people I saw them with. Movies are an essential part of my life, and I want to remember, if not capture, the feeling of watching them for the first time. I have a lot to catch up on, but that’s not something to be ashamed of since there’s so much joy to be had in filling those gaps. It’s a task whose enormity does not preclude its own infinite capacity to delight, horrify or inspire.

‘When Harry Met Movies’ is a weekly column from Associate Editor and Co-Chief Film Critic Harrison Tunggal about movies that shape us and why we love them.

 

Featured image via MGM.

Redemption, redefinition and renaissance: When actors change their path

This Friday, Michael Keaton will appear in ‘American Assassin,’ and we are forever grateful that he is continuously gracing the big screen today. For a long while, Keaton seemed to be an actor of the past, someone stuck with the haunting specter of ‘Batman’ and ‘Beetlejuice.’ But in ‘Birdman,’ one of the most meta films of recent memory, a comeback tale informed by the past of the actual man himself, prompting the actor’s own comeback tale, Keaton returned to prominence. And that got us thinking.

There are so many brilliant stories of similar nature: actors who fell off the map only to gloriously resurface, actors who redefined themselves in entirely unexpected ways, actors who turned their careers around with that one special performance.

In honor of Michael Keaton, we posed the following question: What are your favorite redemption or redefinition acting stories? Here are our answers:

Channing Tatum — 21 Jump Street

Sony Pictures/Columbia/Courtesy

We almost all were aware of Channing Tatum prior to 21 Jump Street. He was the guy from the Step Up movies and one of the many charming male leads of a Nicholas Sparks adaptation, his being Dear John. There were rather judgmental notions of him, but it’s fair to say that, at that point, he hadn’t displayed particularly strong acting talent, and he hadn’t appeared, at least notably, in genres outside of romance and action.

But then came Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s comedy with Tatum and Jonah Hill — and an entirely new side of Tatum was unveiled, along with a massive hotbed of potential moving forward. Granted, Lord and Miller’s script and direction, the source material and Jonah Hill all provide much of the circumstance within which Tatum is able to shine. But it’s Tatum who, himself, also elevates Hill and the material. It’s the revelation of his intensely perfect comedic timing, of his pitch perfect rapport with an actor familiar with the genre that is so shocking from someone who hadn’t showed any indication of such. And, even better, it all comes with a film that works, a rated-R vehicle that can not only show off these comedic talents, but display them in their peak form.

Many may point to Foxcatcher for Tatum, which is undoubtedly a fascinating dramatic turn. But the build of the dramatic seemed to be more evident. 21 Jump Street through us all for a loop. It was perfect chemistry, almost as if one particle of unobtainium had a nuclear reaction with a flux capacitor — carry the 2 (of course) — changing its atomic isotoner into a radioactive Channing f*cking Tatum.

— Kyle Kizu

Steve Carell — Foxcatcher

Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy

When you’re casting the role of millionaire murderer and recluse John du Pont, one doesn’t think to gravitate toward an actor who’s played a regional manager of a paper company, a mid-life virgin or the world’s greatest villain or, in Steve Carell’s case, all three. Known worldwide for his comedic chops, the actor had begun delving into more dramatic parts in such films as Little Miss Sunshine and The Way, Way Back when he was cast in Bennett Miller’s biographical drama, Foxcatcher. As the psychologically and socially stunted du Pont, Carell sheds any hint of past comic stylings while commanding the screen with a somehow paradoxically timid yet forceful performance. In lieu of caricature, upon which, arguably, his career was founded, he crafts a portrayal of subtlety – both exuding and manipulating pathos for du Pont’s own unnerving ends. Though he was denied a Best Lead Actor ‘W’ at the 87th Oscars, Carell’s grace in transitioning from comedy to drama was not lost on his long-time and newfound fans alike. He made doing something really hard look easy as hell (that’s what she said).

— Sanjay Nimmagudda

Kristen Stewart — Clouds of Sils Maria

Sundance Selects/Courtesy

In Kristen Stewart’s defense, she actively resisted falling into a boring Twilight acting rut from the very first movie, with mixed results. The world may have seen her as lovably awkward Bella Swan for a good five years after she first swooned at Robert Pattinson, but Stewart herself never got that memo. Between starring in increasingly bad installments of the Twilight saga, Stewart started exploring indie roles in Adventureland and The Runaways. It took a few years after her final Twilight performance, however, for Stewart to really reinvent herself as one of the most surprising, talented young actors in Hollywood. The words “Kristen Stewart” and “Oscar buzz” would have seemed preposterous in 2012, but after a turn in Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria in 2014, those were the exact words on everyone’s lips. Since then, Stewart has re-teamed with Assayas in Personal Shopper, turned heads in Certain Women and Cafe Society, and has a long list of prestigious projects lined up (starring opposite Laura Dern in a JT Leroy biopic? Yes please.) It’s worth noting that Stewart has also thrown off the expectations that her early roles placed on her personal life — from adopting an androgynous personal styl  to speaking out about her sexuality. A recent hosting stint on SNL earlier this year prompted the iconic line, “I’m, like, so gay, dude.” You do you, Kristen.

— Kate Halliwell

Robert Downey Jr. — Iron Man

Marvel/Courtesy

Robert Downey Jr’s comeback might be partly responsible for the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and there are almost as many ramifications as there are MCU films. So that means something in the ballpark of 57,328,000 ramifications for the film industry. Obviously, not all of them are good — Universal threatened us with the Dark Universe, and studios’ focus on building cinematic universes takes resources away from mid-budget films. Whatever the long term consequences of the first Iron Man movie may be, RDJ’s comeback in that film heralded the modern age of comic book movies. He heralded it with the same all-in enthusiasm of a Stan Lee “excelsior!” Since this week’s question is about a favorite comeback acting story, I couldn’t respond with anyone besides RDJ, since his tenure as Iron Man has yielded the onscreen realization of my geek dreams, time and time again. Kevin Feige might be the mastermind of the MCU, but without RDJ’s first performance as Iron Man, I doubt we’d have gotten modern comic book gems like Deadpool or Wonder Woman. On a more personal note, my love for the MCU kickstarted my general love for film, so thanks RDJ, for bringing me into a world of blogging, trailer-analyzing, Oscar-predicting and pretentiousness.

— Harrison Tunggal

Featured image via Fox Searchlight.

Patty Jenkins signs historic deal to direct ‘Wonder Woman 2’

Patty Jenkins has officially signed on to direct Wonder Woman 2, which was first reported by Variety.

The sequel to the year’s second highest domestic grossing film, sitting at $410 million from US and Canada, which puts it in the 5th spot for highest domestic grossing superhero films of all time (only behind the two Avengers films and the last two Nolan Dark Knight films), is slated to hit theaters on December 13, 2019.

Not only will Jenkins direct, but she will also co-write and produce the second installment — two positions she didn’t hold with the first. The first had an all-male writing team of Allan Heinberg, Zach Snyder and Jason Fuchs. According to The Hollywood Reporter, while Jenkins made $1 million for directing Wonder Woman, she’ll make in the range of $7 to $9 million for duties on the Amazonian’s second solo feature. These numbers would make her the highest paid female director in history. According the same reports, Jenkins will also make significant backend, which comes from box office gross.

Jenkins had only signed on for one film, coming onto the project after Michelle MacLaren exited due to differences in vision with the studio, which is why Jenkins had to enter negotiations for a second in the first place. With the film becoming a box office smash and the first critical hit for the DCEU, when it desperately needed one, Jenkins then held a lot of negotiating power. The Hollywood Reporter reports that Jenkins asked for pay similar to that given to Zack Snyder when he signed on for a second film. Snyder directed Man of Steel, which released to lukewarm reviews, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which was critically smashed.

Gal Gadot will appear as Wonder Woman for the third time in the DCEU superhero team-up Justice League, which opens on November 17.

Featured image via Gage Skidmore.

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