Thursday, March 22, 2018

Best of 2017 (Part Two)

And the summary of my 2017 Moviegoing continues! Be sure to come back next week for the thrilling conclusion, including my favorite films of the year!

Best Adapted Screenplay
Atomic Blonde
Call Me By Your Name (WINNER)
Lady Macbeth
Molly's Game
Atomic Blonde comes up with an actual last-second reveal that manages to make sense - and even more so on a second viewing, which is no easy feat! It may have been motivated by the desire for a sequel, but the decision to only adapt the first half of It was the first good decision that team made, followed by the focus on the coming-of-age elements and liberal doses of humor - it's a very smart adaptation all around. There are a couple of scenes in Molly's Game where Aaron Sorkin falls into his worst tendencies, but no one can match his propensity for sparkling dialogue. Lady Macbeth is a lean, provocative take on the Russian novel, spare in dialogue but rich in meaning. James Ivory's work on Call Me By Your Name, though, is a sterling case study in how to adapt a novel - what to take out, what to leave in, how to capture the feeling of all that prose without all those words, and what to copy directly because it's absolutely perfect as is.

Best Original Screenplay
A Quiet Passion
Get Out (WINNER)
Lady Bird
It takes balls of steel to make something so staunchly allegorical and purposefully difficult as mother!, but Darren Aronofsky has them. The fact that the allegory is strong enough to stand up to multiple interpretations is the icing on the cake. A Quiet Passion has the wittiest dialogue of the year, and uses Dickinson's poetry sparingly and beautifully. BPM understands the personal nature (and personality) of politics better than most, and forges strong connections with more characters than any other film this year. Lady Bird's journey is both deeply personal and wholly universal, and the sharp dialogue feels so perfectly real, like distillations of conversations we've all had before. But nothing this year had the gobsmacking vision of Jordan Peele's horror-social satire hybrid Get Out, a whip-smart, highly quotable, instantly iconic vision that grabbed the zeitgeist by the throat and still hasn't let go. And great as the film is all around, everything that makes it great can be traced back to that killer screenplay and the ideas contained therein.

Best Supporting Actor
Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Armie Hammer, Call Me By Your Name
Barry Keoghan, The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Michael Stuhlbarg, Call Me By Your Name (WINNER)
Watch how Willem Dafoe's interactions differ between all the different denizens of the Florida Project, a whole unspoken history in every glance and sigh. I would watch a whole movie about his gruff but warm Bobby. Barry Keoghan is supernaturally creepy in Killing of a Sacred Deer, far and away the scariest antagonist of any film in 2017. Armie Hammer has the trickiest role in Call Me By Your Name, but he presents Oliver in all his contradictions, as a full, complete, thoroughly real person underneath the perfect veneer. And his voice-only work in the phone call at the end of the film is just... I can't. Sam Rockwell navigates a "problematic" arc in Three Billboards with aplomb, seeing the good in Dixon long before Mildred (and the audience) cares to, and parceling out glimpses into his internal life perfectly. Michael Stuhlbarg had quite a year in 2017, but nothing he (or anyone else, frankly) topped his work in Call Me By Your Name. Even beyond that justly lauded monologue, he does sterling character work off to the side of most scenes, my favorite being the mixture of emotions when he hears Oliver's news over the phone at the end of the film. It's a beautiful, perfectly pitched performance.

Best Supporting Actress
Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Elizabeth Olsen, Ingrid Goes West
Michelle Pfeiffer, mother! (WINNER)
Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water
Octavia Spencer is a hilarious audience surrogate in The Shape of Water, providing the release of some big laughs as she gets drawn into her best friend's harebrained scheme. Her salty demeanor goes a long way toward making her endless monologuing at Elisa palatable. Taylor Sloane is a huge fraud, and even if she herself is only intermittently aware of it, Elizabeth Olsen has her perfectly pegged, giving a brilliant performance in Ingrid Goes West. Lesley Manville is pure bliss in Phantom Thread, from that stiff, square-shouldered walk to the effortless shade she throws at Daniel Day-Lewis's Reynolds; she's the true power behind the House of Woodcock, and she makes sure everyone knows it. The role of the difficult-yet-loving mother has been through countless iterations over the years, but Laurie Metcalf's Marion is different from all the rest, and that's a testament to the actress's careful reading of the part. Her performance is so nuanced that even the smallest detail can feel seismic - witness the ever-so-slight change of expression as her daughter's new boyfriend tells her that she told him she lives "on the wrong side of the tracks" - magic. All the greatest actresses make the camera their accomplice and what an accomplice it is for Michelle Pfeiffer in mother! That face is still as gorgeous as it ever was, but Pfeiffer finds new ways to hold and contort it that feel entirely unsettling, accomplishing much of what the film's third act does with one single glance. Point blank: this character wouldn't work nearly as well in the hands of any other actress.

Best Leading Actor
Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name (WINNER)
Harris Dickinson, Beach Rats
James Franco, The Disaster Artist
Josh O'Connor, God's Own Country
Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, BPM
Watching Josh O'Connor thaw over the course of God's Own Country is riveting - it's hard to come by great male romantic leads these days, and he is one, as vulnerable as he is strong, as unafraid of that vulnerability as his character is afraid of it. What a find Harris Dickinson is, and what a marvel it is how he shows how Frankie's still waters run so deep. James Franco is always at his best when he can let his freak flag fly a little, and when given the opportunity to play a freak as huge as Tommy Weiseau, he mostly reels it in, to his and the film's benefit. Yes, it's a big performance, but it's also very well-modulated. And funny as all hell. Nahuel Pérez Biscayart gets to play a whole rainbow of emotions in BPM and nails every single one, painting a full portrait of a passionate life cut short. He draws attention even in this massive, perfect ensemble. Elio's arc in Call Me By Your Name isn't exactly new, but in Timothée Chalamet's hands, it feels like we're seeing it for the first time. He makes this very interior character accessible in just the right ways. And that ending, those last twenty or so minutes... pure perfection.

Best Leading Actress
Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Cynthia Nixon, A Quiet Passion
Florence Pugh, Lady Macbeth
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird (WINNER)
Frances McDormand paints a vivid portrait of rage and sorrow in Three Billboards, and is damn funny to boot. Mildred may be very much a creation, but in McDormand's hands her emotions never feel anything less than real. Cynthia Nixon's lyrical poetry readings are some of the most haunting of the year, and she sparkles throughout with the luminous inner fire of a great artist somehow both of her time and decades ahead of it. Some actresses have such wonderfully expressive bodies and faces that they don't need dialogue to communicate everything about their character. Sally Hawkins is one of those. I don't know where Florence Pugh came from, but her performance as Katherine in Lady Macbeth is a perfectly balanced tightrope walk - frightened and fierce, passionate and cold, strong yet fraying at the seams. It's a brilliant debut that should put her on everyone's radar and lead to only better things in the future. No performance this year looked as effortless as Saoirse Ronan's in Lady Bird, and few had a higher degree of difficulty. I'd say that everything was there in the script, but she adds even more layers of pride, restlessness, and various levels of confidence... not to mention how seamlessly she transitions from feeling one way about a person to feeling another way. It's a wonder of a performance, confirming Saoirse as the greatest actress of her generation.

Best Director
Olivier Assayas, Personal Shopper
Robin Campillo, BPM (WINNER)
Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
William Oldroyd, Lady Macbeth
Greta Gerwig's humane-ness comes shining through every frame of Lady Bird - the love for each and every character, no matter how small, is beautiful to see. On the complete opposite end of the scale from Lady Bird is Lady Macbeth, which William Oldroyd laces with pitch-black humor to help the austerity and viciousness of the material go down in as entertaining a way as possible without losing a bit of its power. Olivier Assayas has topped himself with Personal Shopper, nesting the year's best thriller sequences into an otherwise slow meditation on grief and dealing with loss, and strengthening both because of their proximity. Guillermo del Toro picked just the right tone for The Shape of Water, and guided the whole production toward realizing his vision near-flawlessly. The saying "write what you know" certainly applies to Robin Campillo, who worked with ACT UP Paris in his youth, but capturing such a patchwork quilt in such wonderful detail on levels both micro and macro is hard to do, no matter how close you are to it. That BPM never feels too full is incredible - that it forges such strong connections to its many characters is a miracle.


  1. Michael Stuhlbarg! He was robbed of an Oscar nomination. Love seeing wins go to Saoirse and Timothee to. I also like reading all the praise for BPM because I just got that in the mail from Netflix.

    1. UGH so excited for you to see BPM... I only hope I haven't built it up too much!

      Michael Stuhlbarg is the most robbed lol.

  2. I still have to see so many of these films but it is interesting how you chose different people for nominations and wins. I do plan on seeing many of your films mentioned here

  3. Great call on Get Out. Such a different animal it is.