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Monday, March 5, 2018

If I Ran the Oscars 2017

Best Sound Editing:
1. Blade Runner 2049
2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
3. Kong: Skull Island
4. Dunkirk
5. War for the Planet of the Apes

       Sound Editing is the literal sounds themselves, and the craft behind their creation. All the movies listed here are accomplished, but the textured nature of what Blade Runner 2049 does to your ears earns my vote.

Best Sound Mixing:
1. Baby Driver
2. Dunkirk
3. Blade Runner 2049
4. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
5. Wonderstruck

        Sound Mixing is all about audio levels and synchronizing. If you've seen the action-packed, soundtrack-indulgent wonderland that is Baby Driver, I probably don't need to explain any further.

Best Make-up and Hairstyling:
1. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
2. The Shape of Water
3. The Darkest Hour

        Sure, we're just gonna dust this one off from the last Guardians that came out and was robbed of this award in 2014. Water's Fish Man looks great, and as far as fat suits go, Darkest Hour's is top notch. But I'm headed to space with this one.

Best Costume Design:
1. Phantom Thread
2. Lost City of Z
3. Blade Runner 2049
4. The Beguiled
5. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

        Not only are Phantom Thread's costumes gorgeous and immaculate, but the whole movie would fall apart if they were any less tactile and sublime. The fabrics practically leap off the screen.

Best Special Effects:
1. War for the Planet of the Apes
2. Blade Runner 2049
3. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
4. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
5. Kong: Skull Island

         It feels like a retread handing this one to yet another Apes movie, especially when 2049's effects are so diverse and astounding, but War marks yet another giant leap in motion capture technology, Caesar never looking any less real than Woody Harrelson.

Best Original Score:
1. Phantom Thread
2. Dunkirk
3. Coco
4. The Shape of Water
5. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

        This one is honestly close for me, as the top four entrants all have strong cases to be the winner (sorry John Williams, I guess you'll just have to be content with your shelf full of Oscars). Water truly has a lovely, romantic score, and Coco's original songs give the movie its emotional core. In any other year, they might be the picks, but I have to narrow this one down to the two compositions that most influenced the way we watched their respective films. Hans Zimmer's ticking clock of a score ratchets up tension to almost unbearable degrees, but Johnny Greenwood's Phantom Thread numbers are a massage to the ears that add to the movie's lavish nature, and get the nod because I'd actually listen to them outside of the viewing experience.

Best Production Design:
1. Blade Runner 2049
2. The Shape of Water
3. Phantom Thread
4. Dunkirk
5. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

        As many shots as I like to take at The Shape of Water, its production design is truly jaw-dropping, and by far my favorite single element of the movie. That said, Blade Runner 2049 is one of the most impressively mounted futuristic epics you'll ever see, entirely too immense and atmospheric and beautiful to pass up.

Best Editing:
1. Dunkirk
2. Baby Driver
3. Lady Bird
4. John Wick Chapter 2
5. I, Tonya

        Shouts to Lady Bird, whose razor-sharp editing still hasn't gotten enough credit for propelling the film, but this one has to be a two-horse race. The action scenes in Baby Driver are kinetic and electric, but Dunkirk maintains momentum through nearly two hours while the intensity only rises. That doesn't happen unless you make the right cut just about every time out.

Best Cinematography:
1. Dunkirk
2. Blade Runner 2049
3. Lost City of Z
4. Good Time
5. Columbus

         Something feels wrong about not just handing Roger Deakins every prize ever, but as alluded to above, his stellar work on Blade Runner is almost difficult to untangle from the astounding production elements. A quick aside about my 3-5 picks, as none were ever even considered for Oscar: The lush jungles and shadowy hallways in Britain are more than enough to tickle the pupils in Lost City of Z, as are the hypnotizing symmetry of Columbus, and the neon-splattered madness of Good Time. But I'm going with the sheer feat of filming all of Dunkirk's war-time mania with the grandeur (and the hassle) that IMAX cameras provide. It has the literal look of a classic film.

Best Adapted Screenplay:
1. Last Flag Flying
2. Lost City of Z
3. Call Me By Your Name
4. Wonder Woman
5. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (yes, I know I'm cheating)

        I sneered on Oscar nomination morning when I saw the line-up of Adapted Screenplay nominees, especially the inclusion of The Disaster Artist, whose script is the main thing holding it back. Then I tried to make my own list, and... let's say I'm a little more sympathetic. This is a race between the top two (Wonder Woman would be higher if not for the entire Ares plot line), and while I enjoy the ambition and expanse of Lost City of Z, Last Flag Flying takes a tragic premise and finds a way to include humor, rage, nostalgia, and humanity. P.S. Sacred Deer is based on an ancient Greek myth. Fight me about it.

Best Original Screenplay:
1. Get Out
2. Phantom Thread
3. Coco
4. The Square
5. Lady Bird

        Never has a category been so stacked, and yet the winner so obvious. These are all tremendous feats of screen writing in such a wonderful number of different ways, but Get Out is a tight-rope act, mashing so many familiar yet oddly-fitting elements into a narrative that not only functions, but lodges itself into the brain of nearly everyone who sees it.

Best Ensamble:
1. Phantom Thread
2. The Florida Project
3. Lady Bird
4. Get Out
5. Good Time

        The only category I add every year because I simply can't make sense of why the Oscars wouldn't include it (notice I subtracted seven others), every movie here has tremendous performances from top to bottom. The untrained actors that constitute the bulk of The Florida Project's cast have the desired effect of making every single moment appear more like a documentary than a narrative film, but the three-headed monster of Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, and Lesley Manville simply cannot be beaten.

Best Supporting Actor:
1. Chris Pine---Wonder Woman
2. Barry Keoghan---Killing of a Sacred Deer
3. Lawrence Fishburne---Last Flag Flying
4. Michael Stuhlbarg---Call Me By Your Name
5. Benny Safdie---Good Time

         Let me be candid; the Best Supporting Actor crop from last night's ceremony was astonishingly bad. We're starting out fresh, and including Safdie's emotionally riveting portrayal of mental illness, Stuhlbarg's laid-back intellectual and his tear-jerking Oscar reel speech, and Keoghan's chilling sociopath. But Pine's work is Wonder Woman is the stuff that movie stars are made of; charming, funny, charismatic, sexy, and lovable enough to get the water works going as the film nears its conclusion. People tend to look past performances with this amount of inherent star wattage, but there are plenty of thespians who can get down and dirty with their 'craft,' and precious few who could pull this off. And yes, Fishburne is category fraud, but it's the kind Oscar commits all the time, so I'm running with it.

Best Supporting Actress:
1. Laurie Metcalf---Lady Bird
2. Lesley Manville---Phantom Thread
3. Michelle Pfiffer---mother!
4. Betty Gabriel---Get Out
5. Catherine Keener---Get Out

        Keener and Gabriel might have limited screen time compared to their combatants, but they each power a scene or two that will remain iconic for years to come. Pfiffer is just having a blast, seemingly the only one attuned to the gaudy nature of the film she's acting in. Manville is a lioness, controlling and commanding without ever raising her voice beyond a hush. But come on, this is Metcalf's award, one of the most believable and lived-in screen mothers we'll ever see, a mixture of tenderness and judgment that never fails to ring true.

Best Actor:
1. Daniel Kaluuya---Get Out
2. Daniel Day-Lewis---Phantom Thread
3. Robert Pattinson---Good Time
4. Steve Carell---Last Flag Flying
5. Claes Bang---The Square

        Bang is self-effacing and hilarious, yet maintains enough dignity to serve as our guide through his film's crazy world, while Carell's soft-spoken suffering would rather let his eyes and tone of voice lead us. Pattinson acts like he's wearing a jacket made of fire in Good Time, a rabid maniac of a performance that couldn't be better juxtaposed against Day-Lewis' exacting, ego-centric portrayal of pomp and circumstance incarnate. But similar to Pine, I can't help but be swayed by a movie star performance, Kaluuya's captivating presence and endless emotional range providing the key that unlocks Get Out.

Best Actress:
1. Vicky Krieps---Phantom Thread
2. Haley Lu Richardson---Columbus
3. Margot Robbie---I, Tonya
4. Sally Hawkins---The Shape of Water
5. Saoirse Ronan---Lady Bird

        Hawkins has always been a lively performer, and sticking her in her very own silent film showed us just home much expression she can wring out of her body and face. Robbie doesn't have to wring anything out; she's given an actor's dream of a canvas to work with, portraying a character through three+ decades of life without ever seeming false. Ronan and Richardson are playing young women at a crossroads, and carry with them all the elation and fear and desire that that entails... but what's that saying from The Wire? You come at the king, and you best not miss? Krieps goes toe-to-toe with one of the great actors of all time and doesn't even budge, a paramour at first just happy to be seen who slowly realizes all that she deserves, and just how to take it.

Best Director:
1. Christopher Nolan---Dunkrik
2. Sean Baker---The Florida Project
3. James Grey---Lost City of Z
4. Denis Villenuve---Blade Runner 2049
5. Jordan Peele---Get Out

        Playing in a decidedly smaller sandbox than his competition, Peele crafts a classic from the ground-up, shaping images and coaxing performances that will remain in the popular imagination until the end of time. Villenuve and Grey made all-out epics, the size and scope of their offerings just as spell-binding as the grace with which they execute their visions. They create world to venture into, while Baker takes something recognizable and dingy, but puts it through a kaleidoscope where there's beauty and fun residing right next to pain and compromise (and does so while guiding some of the year's best performances from untrained actors). They're all great, but none reached the purely cinematic level of achievement that Nolan did, crafting a war epic unlike any other, and holding audiences in a vice grip from start to finish.

Best Picture:
1. Dunkirk
2. Get Out
3. Lost City of Z
4. Blade Runner 2049
5. Phantom Thread
6. The Florida Project
7. Coco

        I like Oscar's tactic of nominating anywhere between five and ten films, and only wish they would use the entirety of the scale more often. These are the seven films that affected me most deeply from last year, wether it be emotionally (Coco and The Florida Project), intellectual (Get Out and Phantom Thread) or by the sheer majesty of cinema (Lost City of Z and Blade Runner 2049). But I will never forget how bafflingly intense my first exposure to Dunkirk was, and while its thematic or personal ambitions might not be as lofty as other films listed here, it is the dictionary definition of movie magic.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

2017 Oscar Predictions

Best Sound Editing:
1. Dunkirk
2. The Shape of Water
3. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
4. Blade Runner 2049
5. Baby Driver

Best Sound Mixing:
1. Dunkirk
2. The Shape of Water
3. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
4. Blade Runner 2049
5. Baby Driver

        Perhaps the least prestigious awards of the night simply because most folks at home can't differentiate between Editing (the creation of sounds), and Mixing (the way said sounds are synthesized into the movie), and judging by Oscar's identical line-ups in both categories, neither can the Academy. Dunkirk is loud, and it's a war movie; unless tonight is a three hour coronation of The Shape of Water, this is a safe bet.

Best Make-up and Hairstyling:
1. The Darkest Hour
2. Wonder
3. Victoria & Abdul

        Aging make-up seemingly always wins this category, and as the only film here with representation in more than one other category, Darkest Hour should take this one.

Best Costume Design:
1. Phantom Thread
2. Beauty and the Beast
3. The Shape of Water
4. The Darkest Hour
5. Victoria & Abdul

        Phantom Thread was always going to be a contender in this category, but then it was a surprise nominee in a slew of other categories. If they actively love a film about dress-making, doesn't this seem like a lock?

Best Special Effects:
1. War for the Planet of the Apes
2. Blade Runner 2049
3. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
4. Kong: Skull Island
5. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

        There are cases to be made for any of the top three, especially with Blade Runner 2049 showing up in so many other technical categories, but I'm going with the most amazing effects of the bunch, and assuming the Academy will too.

Best Original Song:
1. Remember Me---Coco
2. Mystery of Love---Call Me By Your Name
3. This is Me---The Greatest Showman
4. Stand Up for Something---Marshall
5. Mighty River---Mudbound

        Considering this is by far the worst award of the whole night, Original Song looks like a genuine race. This in Me is the sort of show-stopper they often like to recognize, but the two I have ranked above it come from much more beloved movies, and both prove integral to the narrative experience. As much as I'd love to see Sufjan Stevens with an Oscar in his hands, Remember Me is the life blood of the presumptive Best Animated Feature. Go with Coco, but don't bet the farm.

Best Original Score:
1. The Shape of Water
2. Phantom Thread
3. Dunkirk
4. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
5. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

        This isn't just a two-horse race of taste, but of ideology. There's the traditional front-runner, from a likely Best Picture winner, and the auteur pick, a lovely and odd offering from a lovely and odd movie. I'm going with Water, perhaps out of cowardice, but it would be no surprise to see Johnny Greenwood's Phantom Thread numbers pull away tonight.

Best Production Design:
1. The Shape of Water
2. Blade Runner 2049
3. Dunkirk
4. Beauty and the Beast
5. The Darkest Hour

       What a shame that Blade Runner 2049 had to go against such a juggernaut! There's hardly ever a Production Design favorite that's also the Best Picture favorite, and while the 2049 would likely walk away with this one in any other year, Water would too... and has 12 other nominations to bolster its case.

Best Editing:
1. Dunkirk
2. I, Tonya
3. Baby Driver
4. The Shape of Water
5. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

        Dunkirk and I, Tonya won their respective ACE prizes (editing guild), and the edge awards-wise always has to go to drama over comedy. Baby Driver also has its fair share of incisive cuts, and Shape of Water should be treated as a threat in all non-acting categories. The top four all have a chance, I'm just going with what the precursors told me. How Billboards got here is beyond my understanding.

Best Cinematography:
1. Blade Runner 2049
2. The Shape of Water
3. Dunkirk
4. Mudbound
5. The Darkest Hour

        It's not that I think snubbing Blade Runner 2049 would be injustice; it's that I think the Academy would think it was. Roger Deakins, one of the single greatest film craftsmen to ever walk this earth, has still never won an Oscar. I'm not sure that he cares, but I imagine many of the Academy's newer, younger members do. If it's still not his turn, you have to like one of the Best Picture heavyweights.

Best Foreign Language Feature:
1. A Fantastic Woman
2. The Square
3. Loveless
4. Of Body and Soul
5. The Insult

       The top two film listed here have garnered a whole lot of attention stateside; the later three have not. Is that enough to actually predict them over the others? Of course not! Don't listen to me. I'm valuing hype over all else, and since the pedigree of The Square should have made it the obvious frontrunner by now, the fact that it remains a toss-up of sorts has me leaning the other way. Again, please do not put any weight on this half-hearted prediction.

Best Documentary:
1. Icarus
2. Faces Places
3. Island Strong
4. Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
5. Last Men in Appelo

        I know even less about Documentaries than I do about foreign films, but I do know this; availability on Netflix pushes the needle in a big way. Faces Places is by far the doc I've heard most celebrated in the past calendar year, but Icarus might well have been better seen due to the aforementioned distinction. The last three on the list are fighting for scraps.

Best Animated Feature:
1. Coco
2. Loving Vincent
3. The Breadwinner
4. Ferdinand
5. The Boss Baby

        Listen, lots of people adored Loving Vincent, and it's always worth taking this category's token foreign nominee seriously... but how the hell does Coco lose this? Quite possibly the single biggest lock of the night.

Best Adapted Screenplay:
1. Call Me By Your Name
2. Mudbound
3. Logan
4. Molly's Game
5. The Disaster Artist

        As the only film on hand represented in the Best Picture category, Call Me By Your Name simply must be thought of as the odds-on favorite. That said, I keep waiting for Oscar to really dig into a streaming-service movie, and Mudbound marked their first-ever citation of a black woman in a writing category. There's an outside chance they make her their first winner as well.

Best Original Screenplay:
1. Get Out
2. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
3. Lady Bird
4. The Shape of Water
5. The Big Sick

        The presumptive Best Picture winner resides in this category... and has no goddamn chance. That's how absurdly stacked this line-up is this year, a bevy of options to suit anyone's taste. Lady Bird is almost universally adored, but might be too small and specific for the taste of this year's line-up. Smart money is on Billboards, a winner at the Golden Globes and BAFTAs that was disqualified from the Writer's Guild for (insert reason here). The winner of the aforementioned ceremony was Get Out, and I'm riding with it here; Billboards features too many questionable ethical outlooks and quandaries to top the brilliance of Jordan Peele's wunderkind script.

Best Supporting Actor:
1. Sam Rockwell---Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 
2. Christopher Plummer---All the Money in the World
3. Willem Defoe---The Florida Project
4. Richard Jenkins---The Shape of Water
5. Woody Harrelson---Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

         Sam Rockwell's role in Three Billboards is the literal center of the film's controversy, a character that captures the imagination of some while proving utterly repulsive to others. But we're too late now; if he were to be beaten, we'd at least have some semblance of a worthy challenger. Plummer has the hero angle after replacing Kevin Spacey in All the Money in the World, while Defoe receives passionate support in smaller circles, but Rockwell is a freight train at this point.

Best Supporting Actress:
1. Laurie Metcalf---Lady Bird
2. Allison Janney---I, Tonya
3. Lesley Manville---Phantom Thread
4. Mary J. Blige---Mudbound
5. Octavia Spencer---The Shape of Water

         Is this wishful thinking or an educated guess? Well... I hope both. Look, every year there are upsets in major categories; I dare you to find me a top 8 that went completely as expected. Yes, Janney has won nearly every precursor, and yes, I will look like an ass if I ignore all that just to come out on the other side being wrong, but Metcalf is just so clearly superior, and plays just as pivotal a role in a much more beloved film. Ever since last year's stunning Moonlight triumph, I can't help but look for moments like these, where there's just so much more heartfelt support for the underdog than the favorite. Call me a fool, but I'm rinsing out the tea leaves, dumping them in the compost, and going Metcalf.

Best Actor:
1. Gary Oldman---The Darkest Hour
2. Daniel Day-Lewis---Phantom Thread
3. Timothée Chalamet---Call Me By Your Name
4. Daniel Kaluuya---Get Out
5. Denzel Washington---Roman J. Israel, Esq.

        This has been Oldman's Oscar for So Damn Long. Many have touted Chalamet's chances, the youngest Best Actor nominee since 1939, but I for one can't really see him toppling multiple legends. The other legend in question is Day-Lewis, appearing in what is reportedly his final film role. That's not only probably untrue, but not a reason to give someone yet another Oscar, even if their competition is Gary Oldman in a fat suit.

Best Actress:
1. Francis McDormand---Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
2. Saoirse Ronan---Lady Bird
3. Margot Robbie---I, Tonya
4. Sally Hawkins---The Shape of Water
5. Meryl Streep---The Post

        McDormand is among the night's biggest frontrunners, an courageous manifestation of the movie's thornier themes. Robbie seemed like her most prominent competition in the early goings, her shape-shifting, multi-aged depiction of some one who was both real and larger than life, but the overwhelming love poured upon Lady Bird has me leaning towards Ronan as the spoiler. But seriously, bet McDormand

Best Director:
1. Guillermo del Toro---The Shape of Water
2. Christopher Nolan---Dunkirk
3. Jordan Peele---Get Out
4. Greta Gerwig---Lady Bird
5. Paul Thomas Anderson---Phantom Thread

        Guillermo has two very important things going for him; the Mexican master is widely regarded as one of the best filmmakers of this generation, and there's no obvious usurper to his crown. Nolan's towering achievement seems destined for Oscar to completely screw up, while Gerwig and Peele, superior as their accomplishments might be, are both first time directors, and will likely have to wait their turn. Pan's Labyrinth lovers can finally feel some solace tonight. And yes, incase you were wondering, that means the director of his generation is the also-ran in this bunch.

Best Picture:
        Welcome to the single most difficult Best Picture winner to predict of my adult lifetime (and yes, this includes the years I guessed Lincoln over Argo, Gravity over 12 Years a Slave, and La La Land over Moonlight). Before we get to any real analysis of the likely winner, let's drop four nominees out of contention entirely.
        Say what you will about The Post's timely subject matter; the testament to journalistic values wouldn't be here if not for the pedigree of the Streep, Hanks, Spielberg three-headed monster that brought it to middle-aged life. The Darkest Hour rode in on the coattails of the British voting body, and its ride ends here. Call Me By Your Name is beloved by many, but is simply too small and talky to take home the big one. Phantom Thread's nomination was a big surprise, which alone probably indicates that an invitation was its reward.
        Then we have Lady Bird and Dunkirk, both of which would be surprise winners, if not entirely unforeseeable victors. The former is a coming-of-age movie championed by many but likely too small in size, while the latter is a technical, sensory marvel that might appeal to multiple branches of the Academy while failing to produce genuine, long-lasting support as anyone's single favorite film of the year.
        Which leads us to our big three. Three Billboards has been seen (and continues to be seen in the eyes of many) as the front-runner, an inconsequential Golden Globes win parleyed into a massive showing at the BAFTAs, and tremendous support from SAG (you know... the actors... the Academy's most populated branch?). Support for the film cannot be doubted, and reaches across many sections of voters, but the uneasy race politics at the center of the film make it hard for me to see this as the winner of 2017, given how much the world around it has completely fallen apart. That's all without observing the movie's thunderously loud omission from the Best Director category.
        Then comes The Shape of Water, an odd-ball fantasy from a renowned filmmaker poised to take home the Best Director trophy. But the film is a technical marvel before an emotional, philosophical, or narrative achievement, neglecting to garner true passion from anyone who's seen it despite the eye-ball mastery of nearly every frame. More an amusement park ride than a proper story, Water is assured to gobble up tech categories, but I just can't bring myself to see it catching the white whale.
        And yes, ladies and gentlemen, that leads me to Get Out. As recently as a few months ago, I thought it would likely show up in Original Screenplay, and be a no show everywhere else. Then it appeared at all the major guilds, and suddenly became not only an obvious Picture nominee, but a Best Director and Best Actor recipient as well. If you're going to make the case that this is a ridiculous pick, please argue genre rather than the 'they're not going to give it to two black movies in a row,' angle. While Get Out is undoubtably a movie about race issues, Moonlight is about life and happens to be a life led by a gay black man. It's different, and besides, it's not like the academy huddles together and decides the message they want to send out as a collective.
        If there is something to take away from Moonlight's stunning victory over La La Land, it's that the academy's much-touted influx of young, female, and non-white voters has had as powerful an impact as we'd hoped. 774 new members were added last year alone, and in just the last three years, 39% of inductees were women (bolstering their percentage of the academy to a still-too-low 28%), and 30% were of color (13% of the academy, up from 8% as recently as 2015). Perhaps just as crucially, Oscar has started expelling members who no longer work in the industry after a certain period of time. I say all this not as a means of making the case for a 'black movie' or a 'female movie' but rather the case against movies like The Darkest Hour; the academy is too young and too diverse to pick those movies anymore. They had their time in the sun.
        There is simply no over-stating how unlikely last year's photo finish was. La La Land was a movie about Hollywood (always a favorite subject of voters), dusted off a largely dormant film genre, was a grandstanding technical feat, and featured two big name movie stars who were ready to take the mantle. Any movie would have a hard time toppling that, but Moonlight had no historical precedent whatsoever. Yes, it was black, and yes, it was gay, but don't get hung up on those as the only reasons that made it such a long-shot. It wasn't about war, it wasn't a biopic, and it wasn't about Tinseltown; it was about life as lived by people, a topic that never, ever, ever, EVER wins Best Picture (consult the list if you don't believe me).
        To expect fireworks again might be foolish of me, but it's not like last year was a small underdog coming up big, it was David besting Goliath in modern times. It was also, among critics and film buffs alike, the much more beloved movie, just as Get Out (and Lady Bird, for that matter) are decidedly more adored than Water or Billboards. The mountain that Moonlight had to climb to take the mantle makes Get Out's look like an ant hill; it was a box office smash, its big ideas are too unsubtle to miss, and its primary competition come in the form of a monster movie and a racist reclamation project. I know I'm picking the long shot, but after last year, I have a feeling/hope that we're moving towards a world where the Best Picture selection looks great in five years time, not completely foolish (looking at you, The Artist, The King's Speech, Argo...). Fingers crossed.

1. Get Out
2. The Shape of Water
3. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
4. Dunkirk
5. Lady Bird
6. Phantom Thread
7. Call Me By Your Name
8. The Darkest Hour
9. The Post

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Collin Elwyn's Top 40 Movies of 2017

39. *tie* Spider-Man: Homecoming and Thor Ragnarok 
        The Marvel machine keeps on humming, and while neither the new Spider-Man or Thor flicks reached the heights of their canon, they both serve as further proof as to the viability of their house formula, as well as their impeccable casting.

38. Mudbound
        A tale of woe set in the yesteryear south, Mudbound is a throwback to an old school style of grand, emotional filmmaking with a great performance from Jason Mitchell.

37. Wonderstruck
        I can't really see many children vibing with this Todd Haynes 'kid flick,' but the story of two deaf children divided by decades in an ever-changing New York tugs at heartstrings while its director remains as formally inventive as ever.

36. It
        More of a roller coaster than a standard movie, this September smash was perhaps the most fun film to watch in a packed theater of the entire year, going for a scare about every two minutes while the audience laps it up through their screams.

35. Song to Song
        Terrance Malick's latest was largely panned coming out of the festival circuit, and while I can understand how all the waxing poetic, rolling around of the ground, and sleeping with everyone in sight might turn off some viewers, I for one was taken with the sheer movie-star charisma of Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender, Rooney Mara, and Natalie Portman, as well as cinematographer Emmanuel Lubeski's electric trip through the Austin music scene.

34. Logan Lucky
        Steven Soderberg's return, nicknamed 'Ocean's 7-11,' is a silly, funny, and stylish tale of a perpetually unlucky pair of brothers (Channing Tatum and Adam Driver) attempting to pull off a big heist in the shadow of a local NASCAR event.

33. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
        American self-righteousness walks through a hall of fun-house mirrors in writer-director Martin Mcdonagh's latest dark comedy, featuring fiery performance from Frances McDormand as a mother who wants justice for her murdered daughter at any cost.

32. The Beguiled
        Another entry into Sophia Coppala's ongoing exploration of privilege, this remake stars Colin Farrell as a wounded Union soldier who is taken in by an all-female boarding house in the deep south, deriving both delight and intrigue from just how the likes of Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, and Elle Fanning react to his presence.

31. War for the Planet of the Apes
        Another Apes movie, another giant leap in special effects grandeur. Entirely straight-faced, and more of a prison movie than its explosive-sounding title might suggest, it's a somber capper to one of the better trilogies in recent times, and another stunning motion-capture performance by Andy Serkis.

30. Personal Shopper
        How's this for a movie premise; a young woman (Kristen Stewart) takes on the film's titular role for a famous model so that she can remain near to the place of her twin brother's recent death, waiting for a sign he promised to send from beyond. Kooky as the set-up may be, the film's of writer/director Oscar Assayas remain ever enigmatic, tucking secrets away in quite corners of rooms, and filling the screen with faux-gothic atmosphere.

29. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
         No one loves a sick joke more than writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos, and with the help of an ancient greek tragedy, he dreams up a hell of one to tell here. After befriending the doctor (Colin Farrell) who performed the surgery that his father never woke up from, a teenage boy (Barry Keoghan) casts a spell of sorts on his family, promising deterioration and death for all unless the MD kills one himself. It's darkly hilarious, gorgeously shot, and features a coming-out party of a performance from Keoghan.

28. The Post
         Another Oscar season, another Steven Spielberg politically-themed time capsule that's as sturdy as a wall. The Post does nothing to reinvent the wheel, but confidently tells the engrossing story of the Washington Post's decision to print the Pentagon Papers amid an avalanche of pressure coming from all sides, and features the rare Meryl Streep performance where we watch her become a lion, instead of just starting out that way.

27. Split
        M. Night Shyamalan's name hasn't exactly been synonymous with quality in the recent years, but he finally gets his mojo back with Split, a thriller about three young girls kidnapped and held hostage by Kevin (James McAvoy), a man who takes split personality disorder to a completely new level. It's tremendously trashy popcorn theater, and McAvoy bites into the challenge of playing 23 different people like he's an attack dog.

26. The Lego Batman Movie
        Up-ending the dichotomy established by The Dark Knight, this toy-told tale of the caped crusader features a Joker (Zach Galifianakis) hell-bent on evil-doing not as a means to torment Batman (Will Arnett), but rather to simply gain his respect as a peer. A sequel of sorts to 2014's The Lego Movie, this superhero-infused, blisteringly-paced edition features almost as many dazzling visuals and gut-busting punchlines as its predecessor.

25. The Shape of Water
        I still can't truly get behind the story of a mute janitor (Sally Hawkins) falling in love with a mutant man-fish in 1960's Baltimore, but it's every other element on hand that has the Academy singing this movie's praises. Director Guillermo del Toro oversees this ravishing spectacle, featuring incredible set design, gorgeous camera work, and songs and sounds that never fail to massage the ears.

24. The Big Sick
        Written by the couple upon which the film is based, The Big Sick tells the story of a comedian from Pakistan (Kumail Nanjiani, playing himself) who falls for an American girl named Emily (Zoe Kazan) while failing to tell her that his parents will only accept an arranged marriage. His plan to let her down easy implodes when Emily winds up in the hospital and put under a coma, forcing him to both grow and re-evaluate his choices. Sweet, smart, funny, and filled with great performances, it's the rare romantic comedy that has no problem dealing with issues greater than white people problems.

23. John Wick Chapter 2
        A complete and utter triumph of style over substance, John Wick Chapter 2 outdoes the original not by diverting from the formula, but rather by blowing it out to completely absurd extremes. After failing to make good on a marker that was given to him by... oh who cares? We're all just here to watch Keanu Reeves kick some ass and shoot some guns, captured with sleek, stylish mayhem shot, edited, and directed to pulse-pounding perfection.

22. A Ghost Story
        Floating along in near silence like the bed-sheet spirit that this movie calls a protagonist, A Ghost Story sees a young couple's romance ripped away by untimely death, resulting in the dead man's post-life presence quietly haunting the home of his former lover (Rooney Mara) even long after she's gone. A meditation on time, space, death, loneliness, and grief, writer/director David Lowry's film says a whole lot with the utmost minimum of words, and leaves a whole slew of mysteries in its wake.

21. I, Tonya
        Some have described I, Tonya as the Goodfellas of figure skating movies, and while that simply has to be true given the genre's limited canon, it gives entirely too much credit to the film's goons, and no where near enough sympathy to its protagonists. Intercut with reenactments of real interviews given by most of the key players in Tonya Harding's life story, the movie takes us on a journey through childhood to victory and eventually down into disgrace, relaying a whale of a (likely un-true) true story while affording Margot Robbie the role of a lifetime.

20. The Lovers
        The long-awaited feature film return of wildly underrated writer/director Azezel Jacobs, The Lovers tells the story of a husband (Tracy Letts) and wife (Debra Winger) both engaged in affairs and heading toward divorce when their affection for one another suddenly reappears, complicating matters for everyone. Brilliantly acted and cleverly constructed, it's a movie about the difficulty and pain of letting go of a long-time partner, no matter how toxic the relationship has become.

19. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
        Somehow most people's third favorite Marvel movie of the year, Guardians 2 is a ruckus time at the flicks, and might be every bit as beloved as the first were it not for lacking the original's freshness. It might as well have been renamed Daddy Issues: The Movie, but the cast is still winsome, the jokes still work, the soundtrack still kicks, and there are more than a few visual feats that have embedded themselves in my head for good.

18. Star Wars-The Last Jedi
        Many people's problem (including mine) with The Force Awakens was its complete and utter lack of originality, so leave it to the internet to take a hatchet to Rain Johnson's latest for trying something new. In a last ditch attempt to save the Resistance, our heros all go their separate ways and experience lively, eyeball-pleasing adventures that further their characters, but none more so than Rey (Daisey Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), a battle of wills that's quickly become the best in all of franchise film-making.

17. Call Me By Your Name
        In the sun-soaked Italian summer of 1983, a Jewish-American teenager named Elio (Timothée Chalamet) meets Oliver (Armie Hammer), a graduate student brought in by Elio's professor father (Michael Stuhlbarg) to study for a few months. A romance blossoms, sumptuously captured by cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, who forgoes all forms of camera trickery in favor if immaculate lensing and pitch-perfect lighting. Sensual and almost tactile, Call Me By Your Name has a visceral way of awakening your senses.

16. Baby Driver
        "What if you could turn a Fast & Furious movie into a musical?" wondered no one ever... that is besides writer/director/visual genius Edgar Wright. The tale of Baby (Ansel Elgort), a getaway driver forced to constantly listen to his earbuds in order to drown out a case of tinnitus (and whose musical selections shape just about every second of the film) and his attempts to exit the game. It's not exactly the deepest flick in the known universe, but Baby Driver is an absolute blast, clarifying, once again, that no one else on earth can make a movie quite like Wright.

15. Kong: Skull Island
        First off, let me just admit personal bias; Big Monster is among the cinematic itches I most frequently find myself in need of scratching, but the new Kong joint has a spirit all its own to admire. In a not-so-subtle Apocalypse Now-themed 1973, a tracker (Samuel L. Jackson) and a crew he assembles set forth to map out an island in the Pacific Ocean, only to find themselves prey to 1933's favorite giant ape. A mega-budget remake that treats itself like the goofiest of B-movies, the new Kong is big, gaudy fun from start to finish, and honestly gave me two or three of the biggest laughs I had all year.

14. mother! 
        While we're on the subject of me taking up for films that most cinephiles regard as poison, let's talk about mother! Darren Aronofsky's much-maligned horror/biblical allegory stars Jennifer Lawrence as the wife of a famous poet (Javier Bardem) who's suffering from writer's block until a pair of visitors (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer) show up to their largely isolated estate and shake things up. Yes, mother! is not as smart as it thinks it is, and no, this certainly isn't a movie for everyone, but I gobbled up almost every minute of it, from the stressful first passages to the spooky goings-on, and the utter madness of the climax.

13. Wonder Woman
        It's simple and rather small-minded to cherish Wonder Woman because it's the first superhero flick of the modern era with a female in the title role; the movie's sense of feminism is more philosophical and ethical than it is merely practical. Gal Gadot plays our hero, who travels from her mythical homeland of Themyscira to help vanquish evil in World War I. In many ways a throwback to the Superman movies of yore in its avoidance of either the darkness or tongue-in-cheek sarcasm that define modern superhero movies, Patty Jenkins' film takes time to explore both the ideological differences between men and women, and the manner in which a female who had never grown up in the shadow of patriarchy might greet the world. And then it also kicks some ass.

12. Last Flag Flying
        Richard Linklater's entire filmography has one unmissable theme running through it like life blood: time. Last Flag Flying tells the story of three Vietnam veterans (Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, Lawrence Fishburne) who, after decades apart, reunite in order to attend the burial of one of their sons, who was killed over in Iraq. While this synopsis might make the movie sound as straight-faced as possible, Linklater's script (co-written with Darryl Ponicsan) makes time for just about everything; reminiscence, laughter, pain, distrust, release, and even bawdy humor. Time has changed all these men, but some bonds (and resentments) can resurface in a heartbeat.

11. Good Time
        Some movies are defined by plot; the way all the information matters, characters are built up and fleshed out, and everything clicks together in the end. Good Time is that rare example of the complete opposite, a movie with all the sudden appearances and occurrences and departures that make up life. Not to say that the time we spend with Connie Nikas (Robert Pattinson) is exactly normal; after a failed bank robbery lands his mentally handicapped brother (Benny Safdie, who also co-directs) in jail, Nikas sets out on a nightlong quest through the underbelly of New York to find the money to set him free, abusing the trust of everyone he can find along the way. Splattered with neon amazement by cinematographer Sean Price Williams and featuring a career re-shaping performance by Pattinson, this is the 'feel bad' movie of the year, complete with queasy-making thoughts on race that linger just below the surface.

10. Colombus
        One of the year's smallest movies is also among its very best, a decade-and-a-half later spiritual sequel to Lost in Translation with all that movie's silence and mystery and life. In the surprising architectural wonderland of Columbus, Indiana, a young woman named Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) is giving up on her dreams to stay with her recovering addict mother. Into her life walks Jin, (John Cho) a Korean-born business type who proceeds to question her life choices while she inspects his. Stunning in its still compositions by cinematographer Elisha Christian, Columbus is a soft-spoken, emotional marvel, a sign of good things to come from first time writer/director Kogonada.

9. Lady Bird
        If you haven't let Lady Bird into your heart by now, I'm not exactly sure how you made it this far down the list. Marking Greta Gerwig's first foray into directing, the movie stars Saoirse Ronan as the titular teen, tracking her final year at a Sacramento Catholic school, and all the happenings therein. Loosely based on her real-life experiences, Gerwig fleshes out her characters with patient insight and wheel-deep empathy, from the boys that cross through Lady Bird's life (Lucas Hudges and Timothée Chalamet) to the friends, family, and faculty that inevitably shape a young person. But no one proves as important as her mother (Laurie Metcalf), the relationship between the two ringing true in a way we hardly ever get to see mothers and daughters on screen. Sharp, funny, poignant, and honest in its every move.

8. The Square
        You'd be forgiven for hearing that there is a two-and-a-half-hour long movie from Sweden about the art-house business, and expecting a rather dull affair, but in the hands of mischievous writer/director Ruben Östlund, this couldn't be further from the truth. Christian (Claes Bang) is the curator of a prestigious museum in Stockholm preparing to launch his next big exhibit when a thief pickpockets him, setting him on a quest for revenge with plenty of consequences, both personal and professional. More a collection of scenes than a proper narrative, The Square is strange, unsettling, thought-provoking, but above all absolutely hilarious. Playing out like an episode of Saturday Night Live as written and directed by the folks at the Criterion Collection, this is a blast of fresh air and oddity that I can't wait to see again.

7. Coco
        The gold standard that Pixar has established for themselves has put them in a bit of an undesirable situation, where even their good films are seen as lesser, and their bad ones are met with scorn. I have to tell you, the abominable, endless Frozen short that opens the film, paired with Coco's chaotic opening passages, had me worried as well, but I'm here to tell you that this one goes in the vault. Young Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) lives with his extended family of she-makers in Santa Cecilia, Mexico, but dreams of being a famous musician. After abandoning his family on Dia de los Muertos, Miguel suddenly finds himself in the ravishingly-animated land of the dead, and embarks on a journey to return home, learning more about his family lineage along the way. Heartening for its representation of both cultures and faces that animation so often ignores, Coco is a massage for both your eyes and ears, and has the most emotional conclusion of any movie I saw last year.

6. The Florida Project
        An ode to finding the beauty within the grim, writer/director Sean Baker's The Florida Project balances whimsy with despair in a way the feels completely original. Set in the economically devastated shadow of Orlando's Disney World, the near-plotless, utterly lifelike movie follows six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), a firecracker who stirs up all hell with her similarly aged and impoverished friends, her trouble-making largely supported by her rebellious young mother (Bria Viniate). Pitched as a modern day Little Rascals, Baker uses almost all untrained actors (with the notable exception of a fantastic Willem Defoe), causing his depiction of the lower class to seem less judgmental or condescending than it is celebratory and matter of fact. What might look like rundown apartments to our eyes become a candy-colored wonderland in Moonee's, all the bright shades of cheap paint telling lies of mirth and ease. Though not always easy to watch, The Florida Project is an essay in empathy, and a tribute to the troublemaker in all of us.

5. Phantom Thread 
        For writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson, considered by many to be the defining American cinematic voice of his generation, the most obvious way of looking at a thing is always the least interesting. Masquerading as a proper English period drama, Phantom Thread tells the story of Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), a London-based dressmaker in the 1950's with a fussy sensibility and an eye for detail. A chance encounter with a waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps) blossoms into a romance, but their dynamic becomes a push-pull of wills, each demanding something that the other is reticent to provide. A think-piece on the chasm between the way that men and women think and yearn, Phantom Thread also manages to be ravishingly beautiful in both sights and sounds, as well a laugh-out-loud funny. Much has been made about this being Day-Lewis' reported final performance, but his greatness is matched by both Krieps and Lesley Manville, forming a three-pronged power dynamic that never proves less than fascinating.

4. Blade Runner 2049
        It's certainly not difficult to see why Blade Runner 2049 flopped in early October, with its elongated runtime, molasses pacing, and over-reliance on pent-up demand for a sequel to a movie that came out more than three decades earlier. Don't let the naysayers fool you; the long-belated follow up to 1982's sci-fi classic is a towering achievement of aesthetics, mood, and spectacle. Tasked with hunting down and disposing of an older class of replicants in a future Los Angeles, 'K' (Ryan Gosling) discovers evidence that the cyborgs might have been able to reproduce, sending him on a quest for answers. Clocking in at 164 minutes, 2049 is an exercise in audience domination, director Denis Villeneuve employing languid pacing and moral quandary to force viewers into submission, where our brains become more alert, and our senses more enlivened. And while the plot twists and philosophical ruminations are more than worthy of praise, it's the world-building that sets this one apart, from immaculate production design, awe-inspiring special effects, and yet another masterclass from cinematography legend Roger Deakins, who might just finally win his long deserved Oscar tomorrow night.

3. The Lost City of Z
        Having banked only a meager 8.5 million at the US box office before seeming to fade into oblivion, the average movie-goer would be forgiven for having never heard of The Lost City of Z; it is, in every conceivable way, a movie out of its time. Set in the 1920's and based on real life events, the film follows Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), a British explorer sent on a mission to map the Amazons who comes across proof that civilized culture might exist within the enormous expanse, and dedicates his life to its discovery. Writer/director James Grey's movie is not only set in a time and interested in a subject that sees precious little exposure on modern day screens, but also carries itself like a David Lean epic from a time long since passed. This stayed nature and yesteryear paradigm might well have kept modern audiences away, but anyone with a love for the grandly mounted, unapologetically enormous adventures of olden cinema ought not miss this foray into the jungle, and all the softly whispered, gorgeously captured mysteries therein.

2. Get Out
        I'm not sure I've ever seen a movie trailer cause quite as much confusion as Get Out's did at the very start of 2017, prompting people to wonder whether this was a comedy, a horror flick, a social commentary, or if it was even a real movie. The answer, it turns out, is all of the above, especially the last one. A demented twist on the 60's classic Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, a young black man named Chris (an extraordinary Daniel Kaluuya) sets out for a weekend trip to meet his white girlfriend's affluent parents, and while things start out on an awkward foot, there's no predicting the length to which they descend. In his feature debut, writer/director Jordan Peele is already in complete command of the form, his movie proving ruthlessly efficient in the pacing of its story, and the building of its tension. The cast come up all aces as well, but the biggest takeaway here is one of the most brilliant, confounding scripts you've ever seen put to film, cramming all sorts of different mismatched genres into a blender and somehow never missing a step. Humorous, terrifying, and thought-provoking, Get Out is that rarest of things; a bonafide instant classic.

1. Dunkirk
        In a world where the film medium is increasingly relegated to comfortable home viewings with HD TVs and the ever-present temptation of the pause button, Dunkirk proved to be a monument to the magic of a theater-going experience. Stranded on the beach of the film's namesake, allied forces from Belgium, England, and France attempt an evacuation that involves the aid of soldiers and citizens alike. Many have decried writer/director Christopher Nolan's film for its near-complete avoidance of character development, but don't we have enough war movies where our heros are just 'fighting to get back home to my girl?' Dunkirk is a mercilessly visceral experience, putting viewers right on the front line as chaos abounds from all sides, an assault on the senses that quickens your pulse like you just ran a marathon. It's a film that finds the heroism in merely trying to survive and do your part, all while being sumptuously shot, exactingly edited, and intense enough to make your heart pop out of your chest. No, Dunkirk is not the thinking-man's movie of the year, but it is undoubtably the most cinematic experience of 2017, as well as Christopher Nolan's masterpiece.