Top 10 Films of 2018, No. 7 – Upgrade

Upgrade is a film, written and directed by Leigh Whannell, that is set in the not-so-distant future where autonomous cars dominate the roadways (in a much more technologically advanced fashion than anything currently existing, like Tesla’s autopilot system) and artificial intelligence far exceeds the likes of our modern-day Alexa or Siri. The film follows Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green), who spends his days refurbishing old muscle cars for high-end clients and listening to music on vinyl (such as the classic blues song “Smokestack Lightning” by Howlin’ Wolf) – he is “vintage” and proud of it. When Grey and his wife Asha (Melanie Vallejo) get into a car accident, a group of criminals kill Asha and leave Grey paralyzed. Grey is then offered a unique opportunity by Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson), one of Grey’s clients and a wealthy whiz-kid technology innovator. Eron offers to implant Grey with a biomechanical enhancement chip called STEM that will allow Grey full functionality of his body again. This quickly proves to be the miracle Grey was waiting for, but upon discovering a wealth of additional abilities that are afforded to him via STEM, Grey sets out on a revenge spree in the name of his wife to bring the men who killed her to some form of justice. Chaos ensues as STEM (voiced by Simon Maiden) begins taking more and more control over Grey’s actions.

Upgrade5I will point out for you now that Upgrade is not a cinematic masterpiece or a film that will go down in the history books as a “classic.” However, the movies finds itself in my personal Top 10 this year because it is visually stimulating and energetic and simply provides some of the very most fun I have had watching a movie this past year – that experience I had was worth the entry at No. 7. The movie is produced by Blumhouse Productions, a studio which has notably put out horror franchises like Insidious, Paranormal Activity, and The Purge – it has also produced the likes of Whiplash, Get Out, and 2018’s BlacKkKlansman.  Additionally, the writer/director has a rich background in horror, penning the scripts for the first three installments of the Saw franchise and all three Insidious films (the most recent of which he also directed). I recite the filmographies of Upgrade’s creative vessels to point out that in Upgrade, this vast horror/thriller acumen plays a central role in the film’s success.

UpgradeUpgrade consists of an interesting mixture of film genres that all come together spectacularly to form an exhilarating movie – it is equal parts science-fiction, horror, action, and thriller. (It also features a dose of an appropriate amount of humor, most notably via sarcastic and witty banter between Grey and the inner voice of STEM that only Grey can hear.) Although this movie highlights these elements of various genres in a way that builds upon tropes that you will have no doubt seen many times over in previous films, I assure you that Upgrade still feels new and refreshing. AngelicOrganicCoelacanth-size_restrictedThe movie is premised on the classic theme of “humans vs. robots,” and the technological advances depicted on screen are enjoyable, which includes characters with guns built into their arms, making for some action-packed shooting scenes. Whannell’s exploration of this theme is vivid and presents a world in which the rapid advancement of technology becomes increasingly dangerous. This is where Upgrade thrives the most – the film employs high-tech weaponry and artificial intelligence to tap into rousing scenes of adventure and gore, with the help of active cinematography and visually arresting action stunts/choreography.

upgradejuliThe film’s casting is also spot-on for a movie of this nature. Logan Marshall-Green is fantastic in his role as Grey, authentically depicting the character’s immense resistance to modern technology – Marshall-Green skillfully executes Grey’s sardonic dialogue and demeanor. Although only featured in a supporting role, I was notably impressed by Harrison Gilbertson’s performance as Eron Keen – Eron is eccentric to the point that it borders on creepy, and Gilbertson neatly portrays Eron’s tendencies to appear both vainly confident and frantically vulnerable. Upgrade is rated R for strong violence, grisly images, and language.

Upgrade trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9fXbkiKfmY

Top 10 Films of 2018, No. 8 – American Animals

American Animals is a dramatic crime film that is written and directed by Bart Layton. Based on real-life events, the film follows two friends – Spencer Reinhard (Barry Keoghan) and Warren Lipka (Evan Peters) – who plot to commit a heist of expensively rare books (including The Birds of America by John James Audubon) maintained at the library on campus at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky. What starts out more like a dare quickly turns into a dangerous reality as the boys (who eventually recruit two more guys to the team – Chas Allen, portrayed by Blake Jenner, and Eric Borsuk, portrayed by Jared Abrahamson) become increasingly fixated on the prospect of doing something daring and interesting with their lives.

AA1This movie is a thrilling experience, and the style in which it is presented is fascinating and adds significantly to its allure – the film is a hybrid that combines elements of dramatic narrative and documentary filmmaking in an exceptionally unique way. Throughout the movie, Layton skillfully mixes in interviews with the real-life characters, and these interviews aren’t in the form of archival footage – instead, Layton actually filmed new interviews with the real people behind the heist attempt and intercut those shots with the narrative being told. So essentially, the scenes starring Keoghan and Peters embody an incredibly well-crafted reenactment of the story being told through the documentary-style interviews. This technique was wildly intriguing, and it never once reached the point of being gimmicky. Layton employed this system of storytelling aptly as a way to better advance the plot and its rich themes of entitlement and delusion, and American Animals was a grittier film because of it.

AAAs far as the story itself, it is absolutely absurd. From the very start, the plan that Spencer and Warren hatch is utterly misguided and illogical. All four of the college kids involved in the scheme come from seemingly normal middle-class families, which only adds to the silliness of their heist attempt – influenced by Tarantino movies, these guys seem to just be looking for an adrenaline rush to spice up their lives with the prospect that it might provide some sense of meaning to their existence. The entire movie is a subtle referendum on entitlement, which makes the ultimate message so deep, despite the fun and entertainment that comes along with telling a heist story. As seen in the interview scenes, the real-life Spencer Reinhard and Warren Lipka recite the events with vast contradiction, leaving the audience to guess whether certain parts of the story ever really happened. It is an engaging tale of delusion, and Layton tells it well.

AA2The reenactment portion of the film features some impressive acting performances, particularly those of Keoghan and Peters. I have seen Keoghan in a few bit parts over the last couple of years, but he broke out in Yorgos Lanthimos’s 2017 film The Killing of a Sacred Deer – although I liked Keoghan much better in that film, where he was perfectly haunting and amusingly wicked, he is still a force in American Animals. He portrays Spencer’s apathy with precision. I was also thoroughly impressed by Peters’s performance as Warren. Despite the fact that the plan is initially concocted between both Warren and Spencer, it is Warren who pushes the heist forward at every step, including organizing a buyer for the rare books that are to be sold. Peters is remarkable in his depiction of Warren’s fixation on the heist, and his portrayal of Warren’s accompanying delusions of grandeur is spot-on. American Animals is rated R for language throughout, some drug use, and brief crude/sexual material.

American Animals trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yAhruSwum1c&t=34s

Top 10 Films of 2018, No. 9 – A Quiet Place

A Quiet Place is a horror film directed by John Krasinski and co-written by Krasinski, Bryan Woods, and Scott Beck. Set in a post-apocalyptic world that has been overtaken by mysterious blind creatures that attack their prey utilizing their acute sense of hearing, A Quiet Place follows the Abbott family as they live in silence in an attempt to survive.

Over time, the cinematic landscape has become more and more saturated with horror films, more so than most other genres. However, every so often, a movie comes along that injects something unique and refreshing into the genre, and I tend to gravitate to those remarkable adventures. For example, I really enjoyed the 2015 film It Follows, which didn’t really break the rules of traditional horrors films as much as it uncompromisingly set its own distinctive and memorable rubric for the genre. Further, in 2017, Jordan Peele’s Best Picture-nominated Get Out became the gold standard for mixing horror with invigorating social commentary. In the same vein as some of its noteworthy predecessors, John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place not only redefines what makes a film scary and suspenseful, but it breathes life into a premise that builds upon both classic elements of horror and an infusion of inventive plot devices.

AQP3In this film, sound is dangerous, noises breed vulnerability, and safety resides in silence. In that sense, A Quiet Place is similar to the 2016 horror film Don’t Breathe – however, in Don’t Breathe, only some of the movie utilizes silence as a plot point (i.e., the scenes in the blind man’s house), as the remainder of the film includes ordinary dialogue. This is what makes Krasinski’s filmmaking here so impressive – the central foundation of this post-apocalyptic world is that, from the get-go, noise is bad. Thus, Krasinski can’t use ordinary character dialogue to progress the story or create tension at any point – instead, he must rely on visuals and non-verbal cues. In this aspect, Krasinski was masterful in A Quiet Place. Using the silence as a tool, Krasinski constantly tugs at the audience’s nerves, creating an edge-of-your-seat adventure.  I also greatly enjoyed the fundamental theme of the story – as Krasinski explained, “The scares were secondary to how powerful this could be as an allegory or metaphor for parenthood. For me, this is all about parenthood.”

AQP1From an acting perspective, A Quiet Place is wonderful. In particular, I was thoroughly impressed with Emily Blunt and Millicent Simmonds. Blunt (Krasinski’s real-life wife) plays Evelyn, the mother of the family, and her performance was incredibly balanced and emotive. The scene that sticks out the most to me as evidence of Blunt’s fantastic acting is when Evelyn (who is pregnant and nearly full-term) must attempt to remain silent despite her contractions – it was definitely one of the tensest scenes in the movie. Simmonds was also tremendous as Regan, the eldest daughter of the family. Simmonds is deaf, which lends a great deal of authenticity to her portrayal of Regan, who is deaf in the film and wears a cochlear implant. Obviously Regan’s deafness plays a key part in the development of the story, and Simmonds’s performance packs some of the film’s most vital emotional punches. A Quiet Place is rated PG-13 for terror and some bloody images.

A Quiet Place trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WR7cc5t7tv8

Academy Award nominations for A Quiet Place:

Best Sound Editing (Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn)

Top 10 Films of 2018, No. 10 – Black Panther

Black Panther is a superhero film produced by Marvel Studios based on the Marvel Comic character of the same name. Directed by Ryan Coogler and written by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, Black Panther tells the story of T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) as he becomes the new king of Wakanda, an isolated but technologically advanced African nation that is powered by a mysterious metal called vibranium. Soon after becoming Wakanda’s king and Black Panther, T’Challa is faced with an enemy (Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan) who challenges his reign, and he must rally both friend and foe among the nation’s tribes in an effort to secure the safety and longevity of Wakanda.

BP2I must confess at the outset that I am not a big fan of the live-action Marvel movies – I have only seen roughly half of the franchise’s films. But of the ones I have seen, Black Panther reigns supreme in the Marvel universe (sorry Guardians of the Galaxy). In fact, after my initial viewing, it quickly became one of my top five favorite superhero movies of all time. My lack of passion for most superhero movies (especially in the Marvel universe) is due in significant part to what I view as cookie-cutter plots and characters – yes, most of these films are very well acted and produced, but they generally involve low stakes and follow the same tropes that are trotted out in every predecessor. With Black Panther, the story is much more intimate, and unlike its Marvel counterparts, it has a truly distinct style and personality, both in terms of the plot and the characters.

BP5What sticks out the most for me in terms of Black Panther setting itself apart from most other Marvel films is its writer/director – Ryan Coogler was the perfect choice to be the film’s creative visionary. The 32-year-old filmmaker has built his budding career on the foundation of captivating stories about African-Americans – in his debut Fruitvale Station, Coogler created a thought-provoking sense of anger and heartbreak, and in Creed, he reinvigorated the Rocky franchise with storytelling that was simultaneously nostalgic and fresh. In Black Panther, Coogler takes his creative abilities to new heights, constructing a movie that fits the mold for a superhero movie (e.g., action, suspense, and triumph), while also bringing a certain intimacy and sensitivity to its plotline that induces a beautiful connection between the audience and the characters. Black Panther is a movie about identity, and this is, at its core, a product of Coogler’s imaginative excellence.

BP4As discussed above, Black Panther features some fantastic characters, which were brought to life by wonderful performances. In supporting roles, the film had many outstanding performances, including those from Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Martin Freeman, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, and Winston Duke. However, the standout supporting performance was delivered by Letitia Wright, who was magnificent as Shuri, T’Challa’s younger sister – Shuri is both spunky and fierce, and Wright’s superb performance helped land her the EE Rising Star Award at this year’s BAFTAs. Further, I enjoyed Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, but he didn’t blow me away. This is likely due to the fact that Michael B. Jordan simply stole the show – in fact, for his performance as the villain Killmonger, I believe Jordan should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Aided by a deep backstory that slowly becomes more evident and emotional as the film progresses, Killmonger became one of the greatest Marvel film characters of all time – this is due unequivocally to Jordan’s marvelous performance. Black Panther is rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture.

Black Panther trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjDjIWPwcPU

Academy Award nominations for Black Panther:

Best Picture (Kevin Feige, producer)

Best Original Score (Ludwig Göransson)

Best Original Song – “All the Stars” (Music by Mark Spears, Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, and Anthony Tiffith; Lyrics by Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, Anthony Tiffith, and Solána Rowe)

Best Sound Editing (Benjamin A. Burtt and Steve Boeddeker)

Best Sound Mixing (Steve Boeddeker, Brandon Proctor, and Peter J. Devlin)

Best Production Design (Production Design: Hannah Beachler; Set Decoration: Jay Hart)

Best Costume Design (Ruth E. Carter)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role (2018)

The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actress in a Supporting Role:

WINNER: Emma Stone (The Favourite)

Emma 2

The Favourite is a film, set in England in the early 18th century, that follows the struggle between Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail Masham (Emma Stone) as they jockey for the attention and adoration of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman). Spoiler alert: You are going to hear a lot from me about The Favourite over the next couple of weeks in the lead-up to the Oscars – it was truly a pitch-perfect movie. And for all of director Yorgos Lanthimos’s stylistic vision and Deborah Davis’s and Tony McNamara’s snappy script, what makes this film truly sing is its three-headed monster of a cast – Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz. Both Stone and Weisz received nominations for Best Supporting Actress (beyond deservedly so), and their performances were my two favorite on the year – Stone breaks the tie in my mind, which is why she’s pegged as my pick in this category (although I would be perfectly okay with either actress taking home the gold). While Weisz’s Sarah is the established figure in Queen Anne’s inner circle, Abigail is the newcomer – Stone was born to embody this role within the film’s dynamic, as she adeptly navigates the precise contrast between Abigail’s simultaneous innocence and cunningness. Stone has always thrived with comedic material, and in The Favourite, that experience is too obvious to ignore – she is simply at her very best!

2. Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

WeiszAs mentioned above, if Rachel Weisz finds herself giving an acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress on Oscars night, I will not be displeased in the least – her performance as Sarah Churchill in The Favourite is just as flawless as Stone’s. While Stone’s Abigail is the rookie in the castle, Weisz’s Sarah is Queen Anne’s recognized confidante and advisor, as well as her trusted lover. When Abigail comes along and tries to steal Sarah’s cushy position right out from under her, Sarah resorts to psychological mind games out of uncompromising devotion to Queen Anne in an effort to retake her number-one spot (*Ludacris voice*) from Abigail. These characteristics are vastly different than Abigail’s, and Weisz (a seasoned actress with prior experience mastering the art of Yorgos Lanthimos’s idiosyncratic vision – i.e., The Lobster) is the perfect person to take on the challenge. Weisz emotes steeliness in a manner that sends chills up your spine, and her ability to effectively portray Sarah’s undying commitment to Queen Anne with shrewd resolve highlights a performance to be remembered.

3. Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)

KingSet in Harlem in the 1970s, If Beale Street Could Talk tells the complicated love story of its two African-American leads, Clementine “Tish” Rivers (KiKi Layne) and Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt (Stephan James), as Tish (newly pregnant) and her family fight to prove Fonny’s innocence after he is arrested and wrongfully charged with sexual assault. I had very high hopes for this movie, but Barry Jenkins’s follow-up to Moonlight did not quite hit the mark for me. Notwithstanding that fact, it is undeniable that Beale Street was chock-full of supreme acting performances – Layne and James were splendid as the two protagonist lovers, Teyonah Parris is stunning as Tish’s sister Ernestine, and Brian Tyree Henry is brilliant in his limited screen time as Fonny’s friend Danny. However, it is patently obvious that King steals the show as Tish’s mother Sharon. In a career that spans nearly 30 years (commencing with a staggering performance in 1991’s Boyz n the Hood), King has made her mark as one of the better actresses in Hollywood, and in this film, she accomplishes her greatest feat. Sharon is supportive of her daughter’s pregnancy and relationship with Fonny, but as that relationship is progressively threatened by Fonny’s arrest, King’s Sharon masters her position as a mother fighting for her family. In the scene where Sharon travels to Puerto Rico to question Fonny’s accuser, King’s acting prowess is on full display. She is determined, yet apprehensive, throughout the scene, desperate to prove Fonny’s innocence, but as the confrontation unravels, King captures the heartbreaking emotion of the scene with great ease and undeniable resonance.

4. Marina de Tavira (Roma)

TaviraIn Roma, a film set in the early 1970s in the Colonia Roma district of Mexico City that follows Cleodegaria “Cleo” Gutiérrez (Yalitza Aparicio), a live-in domestic worker, Marina de Tavira plays Sofía, the mother of the family that employs Cleo. Early in the film, the patriarch of the family, Antonio (Fernando Grediaga) leaves the family as his marriage to Sofía crumbles. Throughout the remainder of the film, she struggles to keep it together as she battles her heartbreak and loneliness (including a powerful scene where she gets angry with her kids as she desperately instructs them to write letters to their father about how much they love him and miss him). Although Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma is most definitely a film about Cleo, Sofía’s character arc marvelously adds to the substance of Cleo’s journey, epitomized by this quote from Sofía to Cleo: “No matter what they tell you—women, we are always alone.” Marina de Tavira handles this delicate role – one that requires a wide range of emotions, from pure bliss to unbridled misery – with dexterity and immense vulnerability. She is definitely a major part of the reason Roma is such a great film.

5. Amy Adams (Vice)

AdamsIn Adam McKay’s film Vice, Amy Adams plays the role of former First Lady Lynne Cheney, the wife of the lead character, former Vice President Dick Cheney. As I have waxed about on this blog many times before, Amy Adams is one of my very favorite actresses in the industry, and I am not confident I have ever seen a performance by her that wasn’t laced with quality of the highest order – in Vice, that adage rings true once more. The film is clearly about Bale’s Dick Cheney, but Lynne plays a crucial role just beneath the surface. When Dick gets kicked out of Yale and begins to lead a drunken life as a lineman, it is Lynne that gives him an ultimatum that then shapes the remainder of his career. And after one of Dick’s heart attacks, it is Lynne that hits the campaign trail in an effort to secure Dick the U.S. House of Representatives seat for Wyoming. Lynne is ambitious in her own right, and Adams portrays that unmerciful desire masterfully. Bale turns in the most transformative performance in the film, but Adams also plays an important part in keeping the Vice boat afloat at all times.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role (2018)

The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actor in a Supporting Role:

WINNER: Mahershala Ali (Green Book)

AliIn the film Green Book, Mahershala Ali portrays Don Shirley, the real-life African-American jazz pianist. The film follows Shirley on his 1962 concert tour through the Deep South, escorted by his Italian-American driver, Tony “Lip” Vallelonga. In light of the Jim Crow era setting, both men are thrust into a variety of racist issues throughout the tour, and the film tells the story of their personal journey and growth as they learn about life from each other. I enjoyed Green Book, but as many of you might know, it has been marred by controversy since its release – the debate revolves around Shirley’s family’s objections to the film and its screenplay, which was co-written by Tony Lip’s real-life son Nick Vallelonga. Despite the family’s issues with the depiction of Shirley and his relationship with Tony Lip, Ali admitted that in his performance, he did his best to honor the legacy of Shirley based on the information he had – and for me, that performance was impeccable. Although this controversy has dominated the headlines, it is nonetheless impossible to ignore the remarkable acting work of Ali – his mannerisms are nuanced, his emotions shrewdly portrayed, and his ability to impressively master Shirley’s fears and insecurities in light of the overt racism plaguing the nation in the early 1960s was unimpeachable. Mahershala Ali has evolved in the past few years into one of the most talented actors in the business, and if I had it my way, he’d walk away on Oscar night with his second Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in the past three years.

2. Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Richard-E-Can-You-1In Can You Ever Forgive Me?, a film about the real-life biographer Lee Israel and her attempt to invigorate her writing career by forging letters by famous celebrities and selling them for large amounts of money, Richard E. Grant plays the role of Jack Hock, a recent acquaintance of Israel who joins her in the exploitation of the fraudulent letters. In this film, Melissa McCarthy churned out probably the best dramatic acting performance of her career, but for me, Grant’s Hock stole the show. Despite not having a permanent home and appearing rather drifter-like, Jack Hock is flamboyantly lavish in his tastes and is as witty and charming as a character can be, making the film much more fun and entertaining. Mark Kermode, a film critic for The Guardian, summed up Hock brilliantly: “Jack seems to be in permanent performance mode, hiding his own insecurities behind a mask of bravado and bonhomie.” Despite being a recognizable face in the industry since his career-defining performance in his 1987 film debut Withnail and I, Grant has only ever been nominated for acting awards on a few occasions (and those were many years ago) – for his cleverly beautiful performance as Jack Hock, Richard E. Grant has justifiably reversed that history.

3. Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born)

rev-1-ASIB-06247_High_Res_JPEGIn A Star Is Born, Sam Elliott plays Bobby Maine, the manager for and older half-brother of singer Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper). To put it simply – Sam Elliott was phenomenal during his limited on-screen time in A Star Is Born. Although Bobby Maine is the personification of a “supporting” character, Elliott – a legend in the industry – deftly executed every second of his performance. Two scenes stick out the most for me that made Elliott’s portrayal of Jackson’s brother so incredibly memorable – (1) the argument between Jackson and Bobby over their father’s land, and (2) the moment Bobby pulls out of Jackson’s driveway after dropping him off towards the end of the film. In that latter scene in particular, the passion Elliott put into portraying Bobby’s flash of emotion as he backs out of Jackson’s driveway is worth the price of admission. With a film career that has spanned over five decades, it is awesome and well-deserved to see Elliott celebrating his very first Oscar nomination.

4. Sam Rockwell (Vice)

RockwellThe setup for Sam Rockwell’s portrayal in Vice is simple – he portrays George W. Bush, the 43rd President of the United States. All the acting buzz surrounding Vice centers predominantly on Christian Bale in the lead role of Vice President Dick Cheney. But for me, one of the most underrated aspects of the movie was Rockwell’s performance. With some fantastic work from the makeup department, Rockwell did look quite a bit like Bush, way more than Josh Brolin did in Oliver Stone’s 2008 biopic W. However, what is truly more impressive about his portrayal (which also bests that of Brolin’s) is Rockwell’s seamless embodiment of Bush in terms of accent, mannerisms, and speech pattern. Rockwell nailed Bush’s trademark Texas twang, and his first-rate acting abilities (which garnered him an Oscar win last year in this category for Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri) made this performance one to remember.

5. Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman)

DriverIn Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, Adam Driver portrays Det. Philip “Flip” Zimmerman, the Jewish partner of John David Washington’s lead character, Det. Ron Stallworth. As Stallworth, an African-American officer, slowly starts to infiltrate the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan via telephone (posing as a white man), Zimmerman is tasked with being Stallworth’s physical stand-in for in-person meetings with the KKK – as famed film critic Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun Times described it, “We’ve got a white cop impersonating a black cop impersonating a white supremacist.” Although BlacKkKlansman didn’t make it onto the list of my favorite movies from 2018, it still was an enjoyable experience with some superb acting, particularly by Washington. In terms of Driver, though, I found his performance to be simply “good” and “serviceable” – nothing extraordinary in my estimation. Truthfully, I thought his nomination should have gone to the likes of Timothée Chalamet (Beautiful Boy), Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther), or Nicholas Hoult (The Favourite) instead.

The Best Films of 2018 – Honorable Mentions (11-15)

Before I start revealing my ten favorite movies of the year later this week, I want to take some time to talk briefly about five fantastic films that just missed out on making my year-end list – here are my Honorable Mentions:

No. 11 – Sorry to Bother You

STBYSorry to Bother You is Boots Riley’s directorial debut, a dystopian dark comedy that follows Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a young African-American in Oakland working as a telemarketer at RegalView. After a veteran co-worker (Danny Glover) teaches Cash that the secret to success in this business is using your “white voice,” Cash quickly excels as he strives for the coveted promotion to “Power Caller.” All the while, Cash’s friends – and his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) – plot to unionize the RegalView workplace in an effort to protest for better working conditions, which creates conflict with Cash as he continues to climb the ranks as a Power Caller. Life as a Power Caller begins to slowly unravel, and when a corporate conspiracy exposes itself, Cash is left to make a vital decision about his life.

In this film, Boots Riley takes a very simple concept (i.e., character comes from nothing, character gets success, character faces moral conundrum that pits that success against true happiness) and turns it into one of the most entertaining and unique movies I have ever seen. The dialogue pops, the characters are amusing, the acting is impeccable, and the satirical themes are absolutely spot-on. Riley’s story is one that brilliantly examines the concepts of “white privilege” and “capitalism” through its darkly comedic tone, and the satire reminded me a lot of Mike Judge’s Idiocracy. However, Idiocracy made its comedy much more direct (and it really worked in that film), and after having seen both films, I much prefer Riley’s more natural comedic tendencies. This movie is a fantastic referendum on some very important social issues, and it just missed out on cracking my Top 10. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQKiRpiVRQM.

No. 12 – Roma

RomaRoma is a Spanish-language film directed, co-produced, written, co-edited, and shot by Alfonso Cuarón. Set in the early 1970s in the Colonia Roma district of Mexico City, the film (described as a semi-autobiographical story based on Cuarón’s childhood) follows Cleodegaria “Cleo” Gutiérrez (Yalitza Aparicio), a domestic worker who lives with and works for the family of Antonio (Fernando Grediaga) and Sofia (Marina de Tavira).

Roma is slow movie (like, really slow), and although this sort of movie doesn’t always work, the cinematic style of Roma undeniably impresses – this is predominantly because Cuarón is its creator. In Roma, Cuarón’s dialogue is poetically deliberate, his camerawork is stunningly cautious, and his pace is delightfully unhurried. The Oscar-winning filmmaker – who has written and directed an amazing collection of films, including Y Tu Mamá También, Children of Men, and Gravity – has developed a film in Roma that tells a story that is deeply genuine and features plot points that are both heartwarming and heartrending. Aparicio is utterly outstanding in the lead role of Cleo – as various life events cause Cleo to endure a wide range of feelings, including happiness, sadness, loss, helplessness, and hopefulness, you feel each and every one of them right along with her throughout the entire journey. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6BS27ngZtxg.

No. 13 – Isle of Dogs

Isle of DogsIsle of Dogs is a stop-motion-animated film by writer/director Wes Anderson. The film is set in a dystopian-version of Japan in the not-so-distant future where all dogs – following a canine flu outbreak – have been exiled to an unenviable island. Against that backdrop, the story follows a young boy named Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin) as he joins forces with a few dogs on the island – including Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray), and Duke (Jeff Goldblum) – to find his lost dog Spots.

At last, Wes Anderson is back – and by “back,” I mean “wow, Wes Anderson has finally returned to the wonderful storytelling and filmmaking that made me a fan of his in the first place.” I know Anderson’s last film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, was nominated for nine Oscars and won four of them, but I hated it – I found the story to be bland, the dialogue to be stilted, and the film as a whole to be too heavily reliant on Anderson’s signature style. But in Isle of Dogs, Anderson has won me back over – it is essentially a combination of the distinctive stop-motion-animated style that made Fantastic Mr. Fox so remarkable and the sweet, funny, and selfless depiction of childhood innocence that made Moonrise Kingdom one of my favorite movies of all time. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dt__kig8PVU.

No. 14 – Minding the Gap

Minding the Gap

Minding the Gap is a documentary by filmmaker Bing Liu. Filmed over the course of more than a decade, Minding the Gap chronicles the lives of Liu and his two friends, Keire Johnson and Zack Mulligan, with the common thread being their shared love of skateboarding. Although the movie starts out with this simple premise, it slowly evolves into a deep and emotional exploration of the lasting traumatic effects of issues relating to race, economic hardship, and domestic abuse.

For me, the best documentaries are those that make you think and make you feel in a unique way – Minding the Gap definitely checks those boxes with ease. One of the most intriguing parts of this film is the fact that the director is personal friends with his film’s subjects – but Liu pulls no punches. Instead, he examines the complicated lives of Keire and Zack with raw emotion and undeniable honesty, and it is this aspect of purity in Liu’s filmmaking that makes Minding the Gap so emotionally affecting. Despite the remarkable exploration of his friends’ lives, the highlight of the film was when Liu turned the camera (and the plot of the film) back onto himself and his own upbringing – what a moment! This film is currently streaming on Hulu, and I encourage everyone to go check it out – you will not be disappointed. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5Vm_Awe3bw.

No. 15 – Crazy Rich Asians

asians6.0Crazy Rich Asians is a romantic dramedy (directed by Jon M. Chu and written by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim) based on the bestselling novel of the same name, which follows Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), a Chinese American economics professor at NYU who travels overseas with her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) to meet his family. Unbeknownst to Rachel, Nick’s family turns out to be among the wealthiest in all of Singapore. Dating one of Singapore’s most eligible bachelors, Rachel finds herself having to fend off envious women within Asian high society. But the more imposing task for Rachel is vying for the approval of Nick’s domineering mother (Michelle Yeoh).

I will be honest – generally speaking, romantic dramedies aren’t my cup of tea. Unless they are done exceptionally well, I just can’t get into them. With all of that said, Crazy Rich Asians is definitely one of the best I’ve seen in the genre (ranking up there near my favorites, such as Love Actually and Crazy, Stupid, Love). Although I have not read the film’s source material, director Jon Chu’s vision in bringing this unique story to the screen was magnificent – this beautiful movie was the first from a major Hollywood studio in 25 years to feature an Asian director and a mostly Asian cast, all helmed by an Asian director. The story was refreshing, the visuals were colorful and arresting, and the movie’s cast of characters was absolutely entertaining – aside from the superb performances by the film’s leads, Awkwafina nearly stole the show as the wacky sidekick Goh Peik Lin, Rachel’s best friend from college. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQ-YX-5bAs0.

The Return of My Annual “Countdown to the Oscars” and Best Original Song and Score

Dolby TheatreLast year, after five consecutive Academy Awards seasons of active blogging here on The Reel Countdown, I was unable to devote any time at all to posting about the year in movies due to a very busy work schedule – in fact, my only post during the run-up to the Oscars last year was simply sharing my ballot and providing a ranked list of all the movies I had watched from 2017. However, I am thrilled to say that my annual “Countdown to the Oscars” is back (is this where I say “and better than ever”?), and I am looking forward to sharing my thoughts with you on the best in film from 2018 over the course of the next three weeks as we approach the 91st Academy Awards ceremony, which is set to take place on Sunday, February 24, 2019, at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California.

Since it has been a couple of years since I’ve blogged through an Oscars season, here’s a recap on the structure of posts you can expect to see on The Reel Countdown: (1) my “Top 10 Films of the Year” (including an “Honorable Mentions” post within the next couple of days, which will break down the five films that just missed out on cracking my list this year), (2) my own personal Oscars ballot (i.e., not a prediction of who will win but rather how I would vote if I had one) for some of the year’s major categories, based on this year’s nominees, and (3) a recap of the 91st Academy Awards ceremony, which will highlight the most noteworthy moments from the broadcast.

I am kicking off this year’s edition of The Reel Countdown with my ballot for the two musical categories at the Oscars – Song and Score!

My ballot for Best Original Song is as follows:

WINNER: “Shallow” from A Star Is Born – Music and Lyrics by Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando, and Andew Wyatt

rev-1-asib-trl-9090r_high_res_jpeg-1-_wide-3afaaddfb18a9a5732dbd6843e417c693a5949fb-s800-c85In my opinion, no original song better embodied the spirit of its film’s story arc this year than “Shallow,” a beautiful ballad performed as a duet in the film by Jackson Maine (played by Bradley Cooper) and Ally (played by Lady Gaga). The lyrics and musical composition are clearly stunning, but it is the chemistry of the film’s lead characters and their undeniable harmony on the song that truly make “Shallow” one of the film’s greatest assets. Needless to say, I was very excited to see the video pop up online this week of Lady Gaga bringing Bradley Cooper on stage at a Vegas concert to perform the song with her. I cannot wait to see these two light up the stage again on Oscars night – sign me up for any chance to see Gaga belt out her now-iconic “haaa-ah-ah-ah, haaawaah, ha-ah-ah-aaah” line!

2. “All the Stars” from Black Panther – Music by Mark Spears, Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, and Anthony Tiffith; Lyrics by Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, Anthony Tiffith, and Solana Rowe

3. “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – Music and Lyrics by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch

4. “The Place Where Lost Things Go” from Mary Poppins Returns – Music by Marc Shaiman; Lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman

5. “I’ll Fight” from RBG – Music and Lyrics by Diane Warren

 

My ballot for Best Original Score is as follows:

WINNER: Black Panther – Ludwig Göransson

Ludwig+Goransson+Los+Angeles+World+Premiere+pQZWs79_UlAlBlack Panther is obviously one of the best superhero movies of all time – the acting is superb, the story is unique and fresh, and writer/director Ryan Coogler’s vision is magnificent. But for me, the glue that held all of Black Panther‘s many incredible pieces together was Ludwig Göransson’s thrilling musical score. Göransson’s composition offers brilliance in all of the classical aspects of film scoring, but what sets Black Panther apart is his masterful incorporation of traditional African instrumentation and booming sounds influenced by today’s hip-hop (the latter of which comes as no surprise, considering Göransson is a frequent collaborator of rap’s inimitable Childish Gambino). The Black Panther score is truly magical!

2. Mary Poppins Returns – Marc Shaiman

3. If Beale Street Could Talk – Nicholas Britell

4. BlacKkKlansman – Terence Blanchard

5. Isle of Dogs – Alexandre Desplat

Fall Film Preview – 2018

We are nearly one month into my favorite time of the year for movies – the fall film season. Each year from September through December, most of the year’s heaviest hitters start making their way to the big screen in hopes of garnering an abundance of buzz for the Academy Awards – and indeed, Oscars success is generally tied to a fall release.  In fact, the last Best Picture winner that wasn’t released theatrically during the fall film season was The Hurt Locker in June 2009.  Which films will steal the show this fall? Only time will tell.  But in the meantime, here is my list of the films I am most looking forward to seeing over the course of the next few months!

No. 1 – First Man (October 12)

Film Title: First Man

First Man is a biographical drama that follows the story of Apollo 11’s famed mission to the Moon in 1969.  I am incredibly excited to see First Man due to the two men behind the direction and screenplay of the film – Damien Chazelle and Josh Singer, respectively.  Chazelle’s first two films (Whiplash and La La Land) have been some of the very best made in the past few years (in fact, Whiplash was my favorite film of 2014), and I have been patiently awaiting his next directorial endeavor.  This time, instead of penning his own screenplay, which he did for his first two films, Chazelle has employed a script by Singer, who won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Spotlight and was nominated for a Golden Globe last year for The Post.  Starring Ryan Gosling in the lead role as Neil Armstrong and The Crown’s Claire Foy as his wife, this film looks set to attract some serious Oscar buzz this fall. Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSoRx87OO6k&t=20s

No. 2 – If Beale Street Could Talk (December 14)

If Beale Street Could TalkIf Beale Street Could Talk, based on the 1974 novel of the same name, is a drama set in Harlem during the 1970s and follows an African-American family’s enduring spirit of love and humanity as they navigate a racially charged era in American history.  This film is Barry Jenkins’s follow-up effort to his Best Picture-winning drama Moonlight, and although the trailer does not give too much away, it is evident that Jenkins looks to passionately pull at the heartstrings of moviegoers everywhere once more – I cannot wait to see what he has in store this time. Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N4m3t3G3Zqc

No. 3 – Bad Times at the El Royale (October 12)

BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYAL

Bad Times at the El Royale is a thriller that follows seven strangers whose lives and dark secrets intersect at a rundown hotel in Lake Tahoe.  Bad Times is immediately intriguing due to its ensemble cast, which features the likes of Jeff Bridges, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, and Chris “Thor” Hemsworth.  But aside from this stellar group of actors, I am personally looking forward to this film due to its writer/producer/director, Drew Goddard.  The 43-year-old filmmaker has previously penned the scripts for Cloverfield, World War Z, and The Martian, but it was his directorial debut in 2012 with The Cabin in the Woods (Goddard also wrote the screenplay) that has me looking forward to Bad Times the most – the trailer reeks of Cabin-like imagery and obscurities (which is definitely a good thing), and I can’t wait to see if Goddard can capture that same rousing energy again.  Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7wzBVARwaU

No. 4 – Hold the Dark (September 28 – Netflix)

Jeffrey Wright in the new film Hold the Dark. Photo credit: Netflix

Hold the Dark is a thriller set against the backdrop of the Alaskan tundra, and it follows the aftermath of the mysterious death of a young boy by a pack of wolves. From an acting standpoint, this film brings together some of my current favorites in the game – Jeffrey Wright (Westworld), Riley Keough (Mad Max: Fury Road), and Alexander Skarsgård (Big Little Lies).  However, the factor that weighs most heavily in terms of my anticipation for the film is its director and writer – Jeremy Saulnier and Macon Blair, respectively.  Saulnier wrote and directed two of my favorite films from the past few years (Blue Ruin in 2014 and Green Room in 2016, both of which featured Blair as an actor), and Blair wrote and directed one of my favorite movies from last year, I don’t feel at home in this world anymore. All three of those films were thrilling and unique, and I expect nothing less from Hold the Dark.  Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFAwDO6b5KI

No. 5 – The Favourite (November 23)

The FavouriteThe Favourite is a drama (set in England in the early 18th century) that follows the struggle between Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) and her cousin Abigail Masham (Emma Stone) as they jockey for the attention and adoration of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman, aka the new QEII in The Crown).  The Favourite is the newest film by the inimitable Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos.  If you haven’t seen any of Lanthimos’s films yet, go watch the trailer for The Favourite ­– it will absolutely give you a taste of this man’s distinctive style. Lanthimos broke out among American audiences in 2015 with his film The Lobster – although the first act of that movie had me hooked, he simply couldn’t keep that momentum going for me throughout the entire film.  No matter – Lanthimos returned last year with The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which was thrilling, compelling, and darkly hilarious for its entire two-hour runtime.  Because of my deep appreciation for that film, I am very much optimistic that his newest endeavor will be a great achievement.  Trailer –https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqYlnvghV-U

No. 6 – Widows (November 16)

WidowsWidows is a thriller that tells the story of a group of women who attempt a heist after their criminal husbands are killed.  The uber-talented British filmmaker Steve McQueen is back with his first feature film since 12 Years a Slave, the Best Picture winner that I named my favorite film of 2013.  McQueen is such a unique storyteller, and if the critical success of his complete filmography (Hunger, Shame, and 12 Years a Slave) gives us any indication, Widows is sure to be a fantastic piece of cinema.  Oscar winner Viola Davis also stars as the lead, which is another reason this film is likely to impress. Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nN2yBBSRC78

 No. 7 – A Star Is Born (October 5)

A Star Is BornA Star Is Born is a musical drama about a country musician (Bradley Cooper) who discovers and falls in love with a young singer (Lady Gaga).  This iteration of A Star Is Born (which marks Cooper’s directorial debut) is the third remake to the original 1937 film (it was remade with Judy Garland and James Mason in 1954 and with Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson in 1976). Truthfully, the trailers for this film that have been playing repeatedly on TV lately have me hooked – I love the sound of the music, I love the apparent chemistry between the two leads, and I love the style in which it is shot.  And I am already buying into the hype surrounding Lady Gaga’s performance, simply based on what I can see from the trailer.  No one would doubt that Lady Gaga is a standout performer in general, not just as a singer, and I look forward to seeing her acting talents on the big screen in what has already been characterized by many in the industry as an early Best Picture darling.  Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSbzyEJ8X9E

 No. 8 – Outlaw King (November 9 – Netflix)

Outlaw KingOutlaw King is an epic historical film about Robert the Bruce, one of the most famous Scottish warriors and eventual King of Scotland.  David Mackenzie directed this film, which is the very reason that it is on my list.  Mackenzie’s previous two films both ranked in the top 4 on my year-end lists (I ranked Starred Up as my No. 4 film in 2014 and Hell or High Water as my No. 2 film in 2016) – based on that track record, I am obviously looking forward to his newest film.  I will admit that a couple of weeks ago, this film was trending toward the top of my most anticipated list – however, early critical reviews have not been jaw-dropping, which is why its position has slipped a bit here.  Regardless of those early reviews, I am still confident that Mackenzie will bring a quality picture to the big Netflix screen – his cast of Chris Pine (fantastic in Hell or High Water), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (wonderful in everything he touches), and Florence Pugh (a vision in last year’s Lady Macbeth) will surely add some definite firepower.  Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-G1BME8FKw

No. 9 – Welcome to Marwen (December 21)

Welcome to MarwenWelcome to Marwen is a dramatic film inspired by the true-life story of Mark Hogancamp, a victim of a brutal assault, who undertakes an enormous effort to build a miniature World War II village in his backyard in an effort to cope with the trauma he has endured.  Yes, this movie features a great cast, including Steve Carrell as Hogancamp. Yes, the film is directed by Robert Zemeckis, who always seems to turn in quality work, year after year.  And yes, the film’s mixture of live-action and animation looks incredibly unique and charming.  But for me, my anticipation for this film stems solely from my profound reverence for the 2010 documentary that it is based on, Marwencol.  When I first saw Marwencol, I was enthralled by Mark’s story and utterly fascinated by his artistry and imagination.  Marwencol is definitely one of my all-time favorites, and I hope that Zemeckis’s film provides a great companion piece to the documentary.  Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6dy7xQ8NeE

No. 10 – The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (November 16 – Netflix)

Buster ScruggsThe Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a western anthology film by the Coen brothers that features six separate chapters, each with its own cast.  I won’t lie – I have generally fallen out of love with the Coen brothers.  In terms of their directorial efforts, I really haven’t enjoyed many of their films from the past decade, outside of A Serious Man in 2009.  However, I continue to hold out hope that these cinematic visionaries can again replicate the success of their past hits (e.g., Raising Arizona, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men).  The trailer here has me genuinely intrigued by what the Coen brothers can do with the anthology concept, and given their established résumé in the business, I am willing to keep giving them chances.  Trailer –  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2PyxzSH1HM

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Creed IICreed II (November 21) – The sequel to Creed is set to follow Adonis Creed as he prepares for his next big fight – a bout against the son of Ivan Drago, the man that killed Adonis’s father in the ring so many decades ago.  I am always down for more from the Rocky universe, and I expect Michael B. Jordan to dominate the screen again in Round 2. Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cPNVNqn4T9I

Fantastic BeastsFantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (November 16) – The sequel to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them will follow Newt Scamander as he looks to take down Gellert Grindelwald, one of the wizarding world’s most powerful dark wizards.  The previews for this film have already revealed a return to Hogwarts, Jude Law as a young Albus Dumbledore, and the origin of Nagini – all of that is plenty to overcome the casting of Johnny Depp as Grindelwald.  I am very optimistic about this film, as I will always put my faith in J.K. Rowling and David Yates. Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bYBOVWLNIs

Mary, Queen of ScotsMary, Queen of Scots (December 7) – This historical drama tells the story of the “Rising of the North,” an infamous conflict that pitted two half-sisters, Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart, against one another in an epic struggle for power in England.  This film has a lot going for it.  First, Beau Willimon (creator of the Netflix hit House of Cards) wrote the script. Second, and most importantly, Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie star as Mary, Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I, respectively. Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnqjSgMU36U

Under the Silver LakeUnder the Silver Lake (December 7) – This is a neo-noir film that follows Sam (Andrew Garfield) as he searches the seamy depths of Los Angeles to solve the disappearance of Sarah (Riley Keough), a mysterious woman he met at an apartment swimming pool.  This movie is director David Robert Mitchell’s follow-up effort to 2014’s It Follows, an incredible film that re-wrote the rules of horror flicks.  Based on my love for It Follows, I have a lot of confidence in Under the Silver Lake’s potential.  Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mwgUesU1pz4

UPDATE: Sadly, it was announced on November 1 that Under the Silver Lake would be pushed back to an April 18, 2019 release, which does not bode well for the movie’s potential success.

ViceVice (December 25) – This biopic follows the political rise of former Vice President Dick Cheney.  This is the only film on this list that still does not have a trailer yet released, but that doesn’t mean I still don’t expect big things from it.  Adam McKay – the comedic genius behind Anchorman, Step Brothers, and The Other Guys – directs, but it is his directorial work on The Big Short that has me most pumped for this movie.  Christian Bale completely transformed his body (again – see The Machinist, American Hustle) to play Cheney, and one of my favorite actresses of all time (Amy Adams) is set to play Lynne Cheney. Trailer – NONE

UPDATE: The trailer for Vice was released less than a week after I posted this article. Needless to say, had it been available prior to this post going live, Vice would have been VERY high on this list!! Check out the trailer here: https://youtu.be/g09a9laLh0k

90th Academy Awards: My Ballot and Countdown of the Best Films of 2017

As you have probably noticed, my annual “Countdown to the Oscars” blog was a bit nonexistent this year – and by “a bit,” I mean completely!  Due to an incredibly busy work schedule over the past year, I have been unable to see quite the number of films I usually prefer to see or devote a chunk of time to blogging about them – next year I hope to get right back on the review train for a complete season of best-of-the-year blogging!  Nonetheless, with tonight’s Academy Awards quickly approaching, I still wanted to share with you my thoughts on the past year in film.

https---blogs-images.forbes.com-johnarcher-files-2018-01-BladeRunner2049CarSmoke.jpg?width=960.jpgAlthough I surely missed some movies this year that many have loved, such as Wonder Woman, War for the Planet of the Apes, and Coco, I was lucky enough to watch a large number of incredible films that made me laugh, made me cry, and certainly made me think.  Below, you will find my Top 10 Films of 2017, as well as a more complete ranking of each movie I watched from this past year at the end (45 in total).  As you will see below, my favorite film of the year was Blade Runner 2049 – visually arresting and cinematically stunning.

shapeAdditionally, you will find below my personal Oscars ballot for this year – per usual, it includes my ranking of each nominee in the fourteen categories in which I have seen each nominated film/performance.  This year, although it ranks as No. 3 on my list of the year’s best movies (the top two were not nominated for Best Picture), my pick for Best Picture is The Shape of Water.

So, check out my ballot and list of my favorite movies from 2017, and make sure to tune into the 90th Academy Awards tonight at 7:00pm (CST) on ABC, live from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, CA. Enjoy, film fans.

Top 10 Films of 2017

1. Blade Runner 2049
2. The Big Sick
3. The Shape of Water
4. Get Out
5. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
6. Good Time
7. The Disaster Artist
8. Call Me by Your Name
9. Wind River
10. Dunkirk

90th Academy Awards Ballot

Best Picture

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

Best Actor

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

Best Actress

  1. Frances McDormand – Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
  2. Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water
  3. Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird
  4. Margot Robbie – I, Tonya
  5. Meryl Streep – The Post

Best Supporting Actor

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

Best Supporting Actress

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

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

Best Original Screenplay

  1. Jordan Peele – Get Out
  2. Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani – The Big Sick
  3. Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor – The Shape of Water
  4. Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
  5. Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber – The Disaster Artist
  2. James Ivory – Call Me by Your Name
  3. Aaron Sorkin – Molly’s Game
  4. Virgil Williams and Dee Rees – Mudbound
  5. Scott Frank, James Mangold, and Michael Green – Logan

Best Original Score

  1. Alexandre Desplat – The Shape of Water
  2. Carter Burwell – Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
  3. Jonny Greenwood – Phantom Thread
  4. John Williams – Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  5. Hans Zimmer – Dunkirk

Best Cinematography

  1. Roger Deakins – Blade Runner 2049
  2. Hoyte van Hoytema – Dunkirk
  3. Dan Laustsen – The Shape of Water
  4. Bruno Delbonnel – Darkest Hour
  5. Rachel Morrison – Mudbound

Best Film Editing

  1. Sidney Wolinsky – The Shape of Water
  2. Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos – Baby Driver
  3. Jon Gregory – Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
  4. Lee Smith – Dunkirk
  5. Tatiana S. Riegel – I, Tonya

Best Production Design

  1. Dennis Gassner (Production Design) and Alessandra Querzola (Set Decoration) – Blade Runner 2049
  2. Paul Denham Austerberry (Production Design) and Shane Vieau and Jeff Melvin (Set Decoration) – The Shape of Water
  3. Nathan Crowley (Production Design) and Gary Fettis (Set Decoration) – Dunkirk
  4. Sarah Greenwood (Production Design) and Katie Spencer (Set Decoration) – Darkest Hour
  5. Sarah Greenwood (Production Design) and Katie Spencer (Set Decoration) – Beauty and the Beast

Best Sound Editing

  1. Mark Mangini and Theo Green – Blade Runner 2049
  2. Richard King and Alex Gibson – Dunkirk
  3. Julian Slater – Baby Driver
  4. Nathan Robitaille and Nelson Ferreria – The Shape of Water
  5. Matthew Wood and Ren Klyce – Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Best Sound Mixing

  1. Ron Bartlett, Dough Hemphill, and Marc Ruth – Blade Runner 2049
  2. Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker, and Gary A. Rizzo – Dunkirk
  3. Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin, and Mary H. Ellis – Baby Driver
  4. Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern, and Glen Gauthier – The Shape of Water
  5. David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce, and Stuart Wilson – Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Complete Ranking of Films Seen from 2017

1. Blade Runner 2049
2. The Big Sick
3. The Shape of Water
4. Get Out
5. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
6. Good Time
7. The Disaster Artist
8. Call Me by Your Name
9. Wind River
10. Dunkirk
11. I don’t feel at home in this world anymore.
12. Lady Bird
13. Lady Macbeth
14. The Work
15. Darkest Hour
16. Phantom Thread
17. I, Tonya
18. Molly’s Game
19. The Beguiled
20. I, Daniel Blake
21. Dealt
22. Baby Driver
23. The Girl with All the Gifts
24. The Meyerowitz Stories
25. The Post
26. Spielberg
27. Burning Sands
28. All the Money in the World
29. Berlin Syndrome
30. To the Bone
31. Brawl in Cell Block 99
32. Logan
33. Star Wars Episode VII: The Last Jedi
34. Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press
35. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
36. The Hero
37. The Florida Project
38. Unrest
39. Score: A Film Music Documentary
40. Roman J. Israel, Esq.
41. Beauty and the Beast
42. Oklahoma City
43. Split
44. Fifty Shades Darker
45. The Little Hours