Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story

•May 25, 2018 • Leave a Comment

MV5BMjA3NTM3NDEyMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjgzNTE1NTM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_

It’s quite possibly the most difficult casting decision in recent cinematic history, and certainly one of the least enviable roles for any young actor to tackle: Han Solo. Oh yes, many a young lad has imagined himself as the charming and brash smuggler on playgrounds and in backyards all over the world, but to actually portray the character on screen is an entirely different task. Not only is the character among the most beloved in contemporary cinema, but it was also the role that catapulted Harrison Ford’s career into the stratosphere. So to think of anyone else in the part and further, to tell an origin story requires a huge leap of faith. Largely succeeding despite these intimidating odds, Solo: A Star Wars Story overcomes some narrative issues thanks to its talented and diverse cast of characters, ably shouldered by Alden Ehrenreich’s effortlessly charismatic performance.

Despite his adopted surname, Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) wasn’t always on his own. Living day to day in the slums of the planet Corellia, he has a girl in his life named Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). Together they hope to escape their downtrodden lives and explore the galaxy together. But that dream evaporates one day, when on the run from local gangs the two are separated, and Han has no choice but to enlist with the Empire in order to get offworld. Years later, Han finds himself caught in the grind of Imperial warfare, when he manages to catch a few fellow Imperial officers who don’t seem to be up to snuff. Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), Val (Thandie Newton), and Rio (Jon Favreau) are thieves in disguise, intent on stealing a cargo ship for a heist. Despite their best efforts to repel Han, he endears himself to them, especially when he proves himself in accidentally managing to free an imprisoned wookiee. Soon after, he’s whisked away on a series of misadventures where his skills, wits, and relationships will be put to the test.

Needless to say, Solo primarily succeeds or fails on the strength of the young man himself. Everybody has their own idea of what makes Han Solo a great character. Yes, there’s bravado and swagger, but Han is at his best when he’s way in over his head, and doesn’t quite know what he’s going to do next. That unpredictability is part of what makes him so exciting, but more importantly, his personal uncertainty is a vulnerability he always tries to keep from slipping through the cracks of that cocksure exterior. Alden Ehrenreich captures that essence of Solo to a tee. It’s not a Harrison Ford impersonation, and it never should be. There are glimpses of Ford here and there, but Ehrenreich never looks out of his depth, completely embodying the character on his own terms.

The rest of the ensemble around Ehrenreich unquestionably elevates the entire film. Perhaps no relationship is more integral to Han’s life than Chewbacca, and the rapport between the two is easily the best element of the film. Joonas Suotamo has been embodying the wookiee on screen since The Force Awakens, and has admirably filled Peter Mayhew’s shoes. He has a natural instinct for Chewie’s idiosyncrasies as well as his gentle heart. Naturally, another major character in Han’s life in Lando Calrissian, and while his role in the film isn’t quite as prominent as the marketing suggests, Donald Glover leaves an assured and suave impression.

Nearly all of the other characters in Solo are brand new to the Star Wars galaxy. Emilia Clarke has immediate chemistry with Ehrenreich, as the film quickly establishes them as a couple. While the development of Han and Qi’ra’s relationship goes into some half hearted directions, the sparks between the two are quite palpable. Phoebe Waller Bridge’s L3-37 is the biggest scene stealer of a film, a free thinking and morally outspoken droid, who also delivers some of the film’s biggest laughs. Tobias Beckett is the closest thing Han has to a mentor, but he often comes from a place of tough love. Harrelson’s unsentimental, straightforward guidance sets the tone for the way of life Han commits himself to, and the film admirably resists the temptation to patch its crew together as a makeshift “family.” Writers Lawrence and Jon Kasdan are cognizant that these characters are strictly hired professionals, so while there is occasional camaraderie, everyone is mostly out for themselves. It’s a necessary outlook in such a dangerous line of work, but it also comes at a personal cost.

The tumultuous production history of this film has been highly publicized, but thanks to director Ron Howard, the film feels completely of a piece. He stepped in to take over as director with mere weeks before the scheduled end of production, and yet he ended up reshooting the majority of the film for several more months. Howard has mostly had a reputation as a journeyman director, traversing through a number of different genres and stories over the decades, but never quite establishing a personal signature. Lately he’s been more kinetic in his filmmaking, and with a broad canvas like Star Wars, he gets to do some cinematic flexing. Despite the film’s lighter tone, Bradford Young’s photography is moodier than most other Star Wars films. The monochromatic color palettes inform the oppressive state of galactic affairs under Imperial rule, but Young also composes some striking imagery, especially during the film’s crackerjack train heist. There are multiple set pieces in Solo, but none are better than the reputation preceded Kessel Run. It’s the clear genesis of Han’s legendary stature, and every cinematic element operates at peak effectiveness. From the doses of humor, the chaotically organized visual effects, propulsive editing and sound design, and John Powell’s score recalling familiar cues and establishing new melodies, it’s a roller coaster of a sequence that genuinely lives up to the hype.

To be clear, much of Han’s story feels more expositional than progressive in Solo. There’s no doubt a thrill in seeing how Han’s reputation as a great smuggler began, even if his life never feels like it’s in jeopardy. That’s the more instructive thing about prequels, of course. It’s not a question of life or death, but rather the choices that characters make and how that shapes them as individuals. The third act of Solo gets a little convoluted and calculated in this regard, especially as a late in the game cameo by a major character poses an uncertain quandary moving forward. Nevertheless, on the whole, Solo is a highly entertaining and occasionally thematically compelling start to the lovable scoundrel.

Advertisements

Review: Avengers: Infinity War

•May 3, 2018 • Leave a Comment

MV5BMTc3Mjk2MjkzMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzY4MjkzNTM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,937_AL_

To their credit, what Marvel has done over the past decade has been pretty impressive from a long form storytelling perspective. They’ve taken a dozen of narrative strands and interweaved them with efficiency and occasional panache. Now they arrive at their culmination in Avengers: Infinity War, in which nearly all of these characters must face down against their greatest foe to date. While the film manages to strike a balance amongst its massive ensemble, its ominous foreboding of doom leads to nihilism rather than actual despair.

Despite sporting a movie poster with nearly thirty heroes on it, Infinity War is truly only about the villain: Thanos (Josh Brolin). Teased on and off since the end credits of the first Avengers, Thanos has the majority of the screentime in the film. Armed with the Infinity Gauntlet, he searches for the fabled Infinity Stones scattered across the universe. When he acquires them all, they will give him unlimited power, and with it, he plans to wipe out half the universe with a snap of his fingers. His reasoning for this is balance, as he came from a homeworld of Titan that exhausted its resources and only managed to survive by exterminating half of its population.

Naturally, the only thing standing in Thanos’ warpath are the Avengers, who team up with the Guardians of the Galaxy. Several subplots are in play here. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Peter Parker (Tom Holland) find themselves aligned with Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) in protecting the Time Stone. Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans) and the team of Avengers on the run take Vision (Paul Bettany) and the Mind Stone to refuge in Wakanda. The Guardians split up as Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) team up with Thor (Chris Hemsworth), while Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), and the others go in search of the Reality Stone.

It’s a lot to digest, but the film moves at a steady clip for running over 2 1/2 hours, and keeps every storyline balanced, even if most of the characters are limited to just a few lines of dialogue. However, the bigger issues here are the stakes. Yes, galactic destruction is on the line, but very few of the heroes have a prior history with Thanos himself, almost all of them only learning of him as the film progresses. Gamora has the most personal relationship to Thanos as his adopted daughter, and the arc between them is admittedly taken to compelling lengths. Tony is afforded something of an arc, coming to realize that his psychological trauma after the first Avengers came from the omens of Thanos himself. And in the opening scene, Thor is a firsthand witness of Thanos’ cruelty, setting him on a path of revenge and the only possible solution to defeating him. Hemsworth has the film’s most resonant scene midway through, as he solemnly takes stock of all that he has lost over the years, and acknowledging that he now has nothing left to lose. The rest of the ensemble is mostly a case of everyone supporting each other mostly out of loyalty, so while there are broad stakes, the personal stakes could have been bolstered.

There’s also an issue with Thanos himself. Marvel has had issues in the past with mostly forgettable villains, and while Brolin imbues Thanos with both towering presence and some surprising gravitas, there’s a bit of a missed opportunity in making him the anti-hero of the film. The plotting of Thanos’ quest to collect all the Infinity Stones is largely a case of busywork. Half of his search is extended to sending forth his lieutenants to retrieve the two stones that are on Earth. The rest of Thanos’ journey in the film is merely a matter of fighting our heroes a bunch at a time, and gaining another Stone. Only in one scenario is he truly tested in an unexpected matter, revealing vulnerabilities underneath his imposing exterior. Had a similar type of character testing experience been applied to each Infinity Stone he needed to acquire, then his arc in the film would have felt more layered and impactful, rather than inevitable.

This brings us to the film’s conclusion. Indeed, Thanos manages to gather all of the Stones after several bouts with the Avengers, and even in a moment where it seems that our heroes might grasp victory from the jaws of defeat, their fates are sealed with a single finger snap. Or are they? The film’s final minutes have a haunting air about them, as half of the ensemble find themselves disintegrating before each other’s eyes, ostensibly gone forever. But what is the true takeaway here? Yes, there’s something of a dire lesson here in that these heroes have paid consequences in not making difficult choices, whereas Thanos has, but it’s hard to imagine that this is the final outcome for those that perished. On the one hand, Marvel has become its own industrial complex, and forthcoming sequels imply that these heroes’ fates aren’t sealed. If that’s the case, then these deaths are rendered as a mere plot point rather than a truly traumatic conclusion. On the other hand, if these deaths are permanent, then these characters’ lives and deaths are meaningless. Their investment in this narrative was obligatory at best, and their passing comes with no sense of personal catharsis or sacrifice, other than perhaps a further motivator for the survivor of Thanos’ apocalypse. So in the end, while these films have their surface pleasures of entertaining spectacle and offer a few solid beats of character development, when it comes time to deliver on truly definitive, irrevocable stakes, one can’t help but sense Marvel pulling more punches.

Academy Awards 2018 Picks

•March 3, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Another year, another batch of Academy Award nominees, and this year arguably has the most versatile and diverse crop of films nominated to date. My predictions are below, aside from the three shorts categories.

 

BEST PICTURE

MV5BMjQ1OTYzMDc3N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjgyNDY4MjI@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_

Call Me By Your Name

Darkest Hour

Dunkirk – SHOULD WIN

Get Out – WILL WIN

Lady Bird

Phantom Thread

The Post

The Shape of Water

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

On the surface, Dunkirk is about as Oscar bait as it gets. Simply put, it’s about the inspiring perseverance of the human spirit in the face of impossible odds. That’s the thematic texture of so many Best Picture hopefuls over the last century. But in truth, Dunkirk is one of the very best examples of this idea because it absolutely earns it. Christopher Nolan’s film doesn’t arrive at its stirringly cathartic moments through sentimentality or speechifying. It puts the characters and audience through an absolute wringer of unbearable tension and existential terror, examining the near certainty of death in one of the most calamitous scenarios of WWII. We identify with the individuals who were at Dunkirk from the land, sea, and air on a primally empathetic level. We might not remember their names, but we certainly won’t forget their faces.

 

BEST DIRECTOR

MV5BNWQzMDIwNTItYTJkNy00NTk3LThjOGQtYmEwZTRjNDFkNWQ2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzc0ODA1MjM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_

Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk – SHOULD WIN

Jordan Peele, Get Out

Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird

Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread

Guillermo Del Toro, The Shape of Water – WILL WIN

After spending much of his career putting his stamp on several different genres, Christopher Nolan is an Oscar nominated director at long last. He’s left an imprint on the noir, the superhero, the supernatural, the heist, and in space, but his entire filmography feels of a piece because of his cinematic preoccupations. With Dunkirk, he has crafted a war film unlike any other, and it might be his finest directorial achievement to date. Marshaling a cast of hundreds, Nolan elicits resonant performances from dozens of his actors, be they veterans like Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance, or fresh faces like Barry Keoghan and Fionn Whitehead. Then consider the audacious structure of the film, in which three different timelines run on their own ticking clocks until they collide at the moment of greatest intensity. And if nothing else, Dunkirk is Nolan’s most technically confident film to date, spurring the very best work from his collaborators in every department. Nolan might have been long overdue for a directing Oscar nomination, but he’s been working like he’s already won several.

 

BEST ACTOR

MV5BMzk4NDI5NzI5NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDI3NjgxNDM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_

Timothee Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name

Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread – SHOULD WIN

Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out

Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour – WILL WIN

Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Wearing the mantle of “One of the Greatest Actors of All Time,” can ostensibly carry a sense of import to the degree of petrification, but in his assumedly final performance, Daniel Day-Lewis displays exactly why he has earned such accolades. In Phantom Thread, Day-Lewis collaborated directly with Paul Thomas Anderson in creating the exacting fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock. It’s a performance of microscopic precision, as Woodcock’s reputation in designing women’s fashion possibly even exceeds that of Day-Lewis’ as an actor. Here, every glance or gesture contains entire volumes of subtext, and when he speaks his carefully chosen words, they’re delivered with biting impact. While Day-Lewis never quite softens the man, his interior life steadily comes to the fore as his relationship with Alma grows increasingly thorny. Even though Woodcock’s tendencies are immensely strict, his sense of humor is not lost either, even if it operates in the realms of acidity and dismissiveness. Ultimately, Woodcock is perhaps the actor’s most insular yet vulnerable work to date. For an actor who has spent his entire career as a chameleon, his last role might be the closest he’ll come to revealing himself.

 

BEST ACTRESS

MV5BMzlkODdlYjEtY2E3Yy00NzcwLTg4NTUtOGNlMWJiMmViOTg3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDg2MjUxNjM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_

Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water – SHOULD WIN

Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – WILL WIN

Margot Robbie, I, Tonya

Saorsie Ronan, Lady Bird

Meryl Streep, The Post

Of the five nominees for Best Actress this year, Sally Hawkins has never quite held the distinction of leading lady. With The Shape of Water, she’s front and center, the unquestionable emotional heartbeat of Guillermo Del Toro’s historical fantasy. There’s a wealth of mystery, intrigue, suspense in the film, but the core is very much a classic love story between beauty and beast. While the creature work absolutely on par with Del Toro’s standards, it’s Hawkins’ deeply empathetic performance as Elisa Esposito that makes the romance work. As a mute, Esposito sees much of herself in the creature, largely isolated and misunderstood, so their bond provides both with a degree with self worth. Hawkins range of emotion here is truly moving, magnified by the wordless nature of the role, a testament to the idea that facial and physical expression always exceeds dialogue.

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

MV5BMjA0OTE1Njg0NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjQwMjQ2NDM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1503,1000_AL_

Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project

Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water

Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World – SHOULD WIN

Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – WILL WIN

There might be enough temptation to hand Christopher Plummer an Oscar for the sheer speed and efficiency with which he portrayed Paul J. Getty. Stepping in past the eleventh hour, Plummer replaced Kevin Spacey in the role mere days prior to the film’s canceled premiere. Within the span of a month, Plummer shot the entirety of his performance, which amounts to a good 20-25 minutes of screen time, but what’s even more impressive is that it’s now impossible to imagine anyone else in the role. Plummer’s Getty can’t exactly be pinned down to a single adjective, as it’s often tough to tell when his intentions are benevolent or malevolent. Plummer has a grandfatherly charm that masks an insatiable material greed and an apathy for anything else. He’s one of those actors who might be taken for granted because of his effortless nature, but thankfully the historic nature of his performance means nobody is likely to forget it anytime soon.

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

t-Laurie-Metcalf-Lady-Bird

Mary J. Blige, Mudbound

Allison Janney, I, Tonya – WILL WIN

Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread

Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird – SHOULD WIN

Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water

Laurie Metcalf is another actress who has primarily existed on the periphery of the film industry, mostly building her career in the television landscape. You wouldn’t know it though in her turn as Marion McPherson in Lady Bird. Her maternal presence is one of the most vital elements of the film, both encouraging and challenging her daughter as she navigates her final year of high school. Their relationship is often contentious, as Metcalf’s passive aggression plays off Saorsie Ronan’s snark and insolence beat for beat. And yet, the two often find truces in between their squabbles, and Metcalf casually communicates love and empathy without ever veering into sentimentality. The fact that the relationship between mother and daughter is so combative plays directly into the penultimate scene, where Metcalf’s seemingly unassuming performance earns the film’s most moving moments.

 

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Call Me By Your Name – WILL and SHOULD WIN

The Disaster Artist

Logan

Molly’s Game

Mudbound

PERLMAN: Look – you had a beautiful friendship. Maybe more than a friendship. And I envy you. In my place, most parents would hope the whole thing goes away, to pray that their sons land on their feet. But I am not such a parent. In your place, if there is pain, nurse it. And if there is a flame, don’t snuff it out. Don’t be brutal with it. We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster, that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to make yourself feel nothing so as not to feel anything – what a waste!

 

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

The Big Sick

Get Out – WILL WIN

Lady Bird – SHOULD WIN

The Shape of Water

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

LADY BIRD: I wish I could live through something.

MARION: Aren’t you?

LADY BIRD: Nope. The only exciting thing about 2002 is that it’s a palindrome.

MARION: Ok fine, yours is the worst life of all, you win.

 

CINEMATOGRAPHY

MV5BMTU5NTkwNTA2NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjQ5MjY2MzI@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,744_AL_

Blade Runner 2049 – WILL and SHOULD WIN

Darkest Hour

Dunkirk 

Mudbound

The Shape of Water

Roger Deakins has been an Oscar bridesmaid for far too long. The highly lauded director of photography has earned his fourteenth nomination this year, but has yet to actually win an Academy Award. The statue might not mean much in a career filled with exemplary work, but in truth, Blade Runner 2049 is one of his very finest achievements. Picking up the visual baton from a film as iconic as the first is no doubt intimidating, but Deakins wisely asserts his own sensibilities to the world of Blade Runner, rather than trying to mimic the 1982 original. His compositions are largely clean and unfussy, whether in compact interiors like Officer K’s apartment, or photographing the vast exteriors of Los Angeles. The color palette is as richly varied as the original, with a spectrum ranging from the earthy greys of the trash wastelands of San Diego to the shimmering golden reflections inside the Wallace headquarters, to the burnt orange haze enveloping Las Vegas. For a film following up on a rich world established thirty years ago, Roger Deakins makes every scene in Blade Runner 2049 feel like a new discovery.

 

COSTUME DESIGN

MV5BYTEyOGIwMTktZjkwNS00NjY4LTgxNTUtMDZlMTkwMjI1NjRhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTEzNjA2NzM@._V1_

Beauty and the Beast

Darkest Hour

Phantom Thread – WILL and SHOULD WIN

The Shape of Water

Victoria and Abdul

It might be a bit of a cheat to consider a film like Phantom Thread the presumptive favorite to win costume design when the wardrobe on display is the film’s raison d’être. Regardless, the designs are the immaculately befitting of both the primary characters in the film as well as the surrounding ensemble. There’s even a fashion show midway through the film to display all of the clothing crafted by Reynolds Woodcock. The man himself is no slouch when it comes to attire, and the designs of Woodcock’s suits by Mark Bridges are often reflective of his exacting personality. As the narrative begins to unravel its cyclical structure, the tone and textures of the costumes beautifully mirror the ever evolving state of Reynolds and Alma’s relationship.

 

FILM EDITING

MV5BMTYwNDE1OTYyNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzgyNDY4MjI@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_

Baby Driver

Dunkirk – WILL and SHOULD WIN

I, Tonya

The Shape of Water

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

War films tend to perform well in the editing category, as they’re often heavily cut with a wealth of coverage and editorial panache to spare. But no war film operates in the same register as Dunkirk. It’s one thing to crosscut across three different storylines, and it’s an entirely different challenge to parallel edit across three timelines. Granted, this structure wasn’t conceived in post production, as it was an inherent part of the script. Nevertheless, the editing unquestionably propels the film’s momentum. With minimal dialogue, the images here are paramount, and jumping from one timeline to the next is frankly a herculean effort on the part of editor Lee Smith. The tension is a constant from the first scene, and only ratchets further, as Smith makes visual sense of at least a dozen gripping scenarios. Seeing all three narratives converge in the film’s final act is a genuine tour de force, and a testament to following through on such a radical idea from conception to completion.

 

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

MV5BMjAxNTEzMTU5Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDgzODA1NDM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1498,1000_AL_

Darkest Hour – WILL and SHOULD WIN

Victoria and Abdul

Wonder

Transformative performances are often lauded with recognition, as physicality is a major element taken into account by the Academy. With Gary Oldman the odds on favorite to win Best Actor this year as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, one would be remiss in not also acknowledging the impressive prosthetics and makeup applied to the actor. Churchill’s appearance has long been iconic, and indeed, Oldman is utterly unrecognizable in the role, thanks to the impressive efforts of Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski and Lucy Sibbick. Of course, Oldman does a great deal with vocal and body language, but his exterior goes a long way in selling the British titan.

 

ORIGINAL SCORE

Dunkirk

Phantom Thread

The Shape of Water – WILL WIN

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – SHOULD WIN

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Earning his 51st nomination this year, it’s not as if John Williams needs more Oscars. But let’s not kid ourselves. Williams is the single most talented person working in the entire entertainment industry. With The Last Jedi he continues to expand upon his magnum opus, building upon themes established in The Force Awakens, touching on familiar aural passages, as well as composing fresh pieces that beautifully reflect the current installment’s expectation defying narrative. Horns clash between the themes of the Resistance and First Order, and trumpets herald the dawn of a new Rebellion. A piano gently reminds us of a General’s royal youth, and the strings hearken a deep connection between brother and sister. And there’s even some swing and jazz in Canto Bight, the best piece of diegetic music in the saga since the Mos Eisley cantina. John Williams might be 86 years old, but his creativity remains as youthful and vital as ever.

 

ORIGINAL SONG

“Mighty River,” Mudbound

“Mystery of Love,” Call Me By Your Name

“Remember Me,” Coco – WILL and SHOULD WIN

“Stand Up for Something,” Marshall

“This Is Me,” The Greatest Showman

The title itself “Remember Me” has a reflexive connotation to it, but what gives the song its true strength is its own journey in Coco. The film is very much about a family’s inextricable relationship to music, an arc from denial to an embrace. The song itself is first showcased as a major pop ballad, but as the narrative unfolds, there lies a deeper and more personal resonance. This type of reversal ties into the arc of not only the protagonist Miguel, but of his entire family, yet another example of Pixar’s storytelling ability to marry emotion with meaning.

 

PRODUCTION DESIGN

MV5BNDkxNzY5MjIxNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDg5NjUyMjI@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,744_AL_

Beauty and the Beast

Blade Runner 2049 – SHOULD WIN

Darkest Hour

Dunkirk

The Shape of Water – WILL WIN

Following up on a film that took science fiction production design to new heights is a tall task, but the work done in realizing Blade Runner 2049 is a genuinely stunning expansion. The fact that Denis Villeneuve’s film takes place thirty years after the original informs this visual advancement. Blade Runner 2049 wisely progresses from the first film’s 2019, as opposed to extrapolating from our current present. Some locations are reminiscent of those seen in the 1982 original, such as the streets of Los Angeles, or the underground prostitution rings. But even more striking are the new locations, such as Sapper Morton’s farm in the film’s opening, Deckard’s refuge in an abandoned Las Vegas casino, or the massive Sepulveda sea wall holding back the rising tides of the Pacific Ocean. All of these fit seamlessly into the world of Blade Runner 2049, and provide a vital sense of history to the narrative.

 

SOUND EDITING

star-wars-the-last-jedi-crait_8fb2f5e1

Baby Driver

Blade Runner 2049

Dunkirk – WILL WIN

The Shape of Water

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – SHOULD WIN

Without sound, images don’t have the same heft. In no series is this more true than in the galaxy of Star Wars, where an abundance of visual splendor means nothing without aural validity. It’s arguable that the Star Wars films have the best sound design and editing in film history, not only for the sheer volume of effects playing in each and every shot, but also for the variety of those sounds. Skywalker Sound veteran Matthew Wood has been involved with these films since the prequels, and in The Last Jedi he teams with Ren Klyce to add to the saga’s soundscape. All of the familiar blasters, explosions, and lightsaber effects are intact, no doubt, but there are a wealth of new sounds. There’s the soaring menace of Kylo Ren’s TIE Silencer, the chirping and squawking of the porgs, and even the stunning silence of a cataclysmic sacrifice in space. These are but a few of the contributions that give The Last Jedi its amazing scope.

 

SOUND MIXING

MV5BMzA0MWYwOWYtMjE3MC00ZWQ5LWI3ZDAtYzk0YzkxZjA0ZGY0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjUxMjc1OTM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,742_AL_

Baby Driver

Blade Runner 2049

Dunkirk – WILL and SHOULD WIN

The Shape of Water

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Dunkirk is the most immersive cinematic experience that Christopher Nolan has crafted to date. While the photography and editing play major roles, they’re only half the story. Nolan’s past films have taken some heat for their employment of sound mixing, often submerging dialogue in favor of sound design and score. Given that Dunkirk has so little dialogue (much of it perfunctory), this sound mix is much more robust. Here the mixers find the proper balance between the intensely layered sound design, and Hans Zimmer’s relentless score. There’s an abundance of aural elements to track across three different timelines, and the sound mix does a great deal to tie everything together as the film races to its thunderous climax.

 

VISUAL EFFECTS

MV5BZWM4OGNjNjEtNTdhNi00YzhkLThhZWEtMzQ3OTA4NjI4NzY0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDg2MjUxNjM@._V1_SX1319_CR0,0,1319,999_AL_

Blade Runner 2049

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Kong: Skull Island

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

War for the Planet of the Apes – WILL and SHOULD WIN

Computer generated characters have been involved in cinematic storytelling for only about two decades, but they have all essentially played supporting roles in their stories. War for the Planet of the Apes might be the first live action film to put its non-human characters at the forefront. The rebooted series has steadily given more screen time to its apes, and the final installment puts Andy Serkis’ Caesar front and center. The film is told completely from his point of view, and no visual effects house is better suited to showing his journey than Weta Digital. Their goal isn’t solely to recreate lifelike textures and digitally reciprocate a chimpanzee, which is nevertheless jaw dropping. More importantly, it’s about capturing the emotional truth of Andy Serkis’ deeply conflicted performance, and in this film they’ve arrived at their highest achievement to date.

 

ANIMATED FEATURE

MV5BMjQ4NzA3MzgzNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTEzMjMyNDM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,911_AL_

The Boss Baby

The Breadwinner

Coco – WILL and SHOULD WIN

Ferdinand

Loving Vincent

Despite the fact that Pixar has been a longtime regular in this category with eight previous victories, Coco would absolutely be a worthy addition to the studio’s winning legacy. It’s entirely in the wheelhouse of the studio with an imaginative premise, engaging characters, and a cathartic resolution. Director Lee Unkrich has been involved with Pixar since it began making animated features, serving as an editor on Toy Story. He imbues the narrative of the Day of the Dead and Miguel’s accidental journey into the afterlife with rich storytelling and eye popping visuals, but most importantly, tremendous empathy. Miguel discovering the secrets of his family history through music is about as equally personal and culturally attuned as any Pixar film has ever been.

 

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

MV5BMjEyNTk4NzQ4Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTA5NTE5MDI@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

Faces Places 

Icarus – WILL and SHOULD WIN

Last Men in Aleppo

Strong Island

Tapping into the zeitgeist is an unquantifiable quality that many films strive to have upon their releases. Few films could be as timely as Icarus, a documentary that begins with an effort to emulate Lance Armstrong’s doping test evasions, and ends up uncovering a foreign conspiracy. Director Bryan Fogel sought to replicate the same doping regimens that helped Armstrong cheat his way to six Tour De France victories. In his search, he was pointed to Grigory Rodchenkov, the man behind the state sponsored Russian doping program that had been active for decades. Their ensuing interactions end up creating a shockwave throughout the entire athletic community, and Rodchenkov potentially finds his own life at risk. It’s a genuinely revelatory documentary that more often works like a thriller, one with genuine real life stakes and outcomes, as Russia was eventually banned from the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang.

 

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

MV5BNzIyOTA0MjU3OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDQ4MTAzMjI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1498,1000_AL_

A Fantastic Woman – WILL WIN

The Insult

Loveless – SHOULD WIN

On Body and Soul

The Square

Continuing the theme of timeliness is a look into the harsh modernity of Russian life speaks volumes about the cyclical nature of family relationships. Andrey Zvyagintsev has been among the most prominent international filmmakers working this century, and his latest film Loveless is exactly as the title advertises. The film centers on a couple in the midst of a messy divorce and their neglected son who suddenly goes missing. Both parents are already knee deep in other relationships, and begrudgingly begin their search for their boy, a casualty of their apathy. Visually muscular, the film is nevertheless a tough watch, but perhaps a necessary bitter pill when examining its familial themes. Most illuminating is a scene in which the parents visit the boy’s maternal grandmother, who is equally dismissive and abrasive towards her own daughter. It’s admittedly difficult to generate sympathy for these characters, and yet these types of relationships and interactions are all too common in real life. And yet, as the relationship between the United States and Russia grows increasingly murky, perhaps the idea here is to forge a sense of empathy.