The Best in Movies of Spring 2017

LOGAN
Ben Rothstein/Courtesy

T

 he first third of the year has been criticized time and time again as the worst season for movies. The Oscar contenders have nationwide runs in January, but those are technically still movies of the last year. The rest of January — notoriously referred to as a dumping ground for studios — is filled with a bunch of crap.

While the number of great movies is undoubtedly weaker — there’s no arguing that, really — spring, in any year, is actually host to plenty of gems, both hidden and right in front of our faces. From January to April, 2016 saw the releases of “Deadpool,” “The Witch,” “Zootopia,” “10 Cloverfield Lane,” “Eye in the Sky,” “Midnight Special,” “Green Room,” “Everybody Wants Some!!” and “The Jungle Book” — a mix of phenomenal blockbusters and overlooked independents. 2017 is truly no different.

We’ll admit that not all deserve awards, but each of these movies contribute something great to the world

February ended with the landmark film “Get Out.” March kicked off with the now all-time great comic book movie “Logan.” And numerous other fantastic films, or films that featured outstanding performances, kept us coming back to the theater when many expected to have to wait until summer for the industry to really get going.

Some spring movies of the past have had the staying power to last — 2016’s “Zootopia” won Best Animated Feature and 2014’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” received nine Oscar nominations. But not all of them get their fair share of praise at the end of the year. We’ll admit that not all deserve awards, but each of these movies contribute something great to the world — whether that be a bunch of laughs, a moving tale that helps us find our own strength or a direct impact on pressing issues in our society. And those don’t deserve to be forgotten.

— Kyle Kizu

Best Motion Picture


Winner: “Get Out”

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Universal Pictures / Courtesy

“Get Out” is as shocking as it is entertaining, an intensely compelling film that creeps into one’s consciousness and stays there long after the credits stop rolling. Jordan Peele (in his directorial debut) ingeniously bridges racial satire and psychological horror, infusing comedic moments into the increasingly suspenseful narrative; what starts out as a conventional meet-the-parents tale unravels into something far more terrifying. Every line of dialogue in the script is cleverly woven into the story and serves multiple purposes — as hilarious and cringe-worthy as the lines of casual racism may be, they contribute to the unease and exhaustion that make the Armitage residence feel so strange. The film constantly subverts viewers’ expectations and leaves them with several questions about intention, trust and morality. Above all, Peele never shies away from authentic issues of race, addressing matters ranging from microaggressions to police brutality. His blunt depiction of modern anti-Blackness reminds us that, perhaps, the evils of racism are not all confined to the world of the Armitages — they permeate our own lives as well.

— Anagha Komaragiri

Runner-up: “Logan”

The comic book movie landscape is one that typically favors broad appeal, and unfortunately, this often comes at the sacrifice of a unique vision. “Logan” turns this expectation on its head by becoming one of the few comic book movies to transcend its own genre. It uses the trappings of a Western to delve into themes of legacy and family, and it yields profoundly emotional results. Until Robert Downey Jr. makes a gritty “Old Man Tony” film for Marvel Studios, the sole inhabitants of comic book movie Elysium will be “The Dark Knight” and “Logan.”

— Harrison Tunggal

Nominees:

  1. “Colossal”
  2. “The Lost City of Z”
  3. “The LEGO Batman Movie”
  4. “I don’t feel at home in this world anymore.”
  5. “Raw”
  6. “Their Finest”
  7. “Kedi”
  8. “John Wick: Chapter 2”

Best Lead Actor


Winner: Hugh Jackman, “Logan”

LOGAN

Ben Rothstein / Courtesy

When Hugh Jackman announced that “Logan” would be his last outing as Wolverine, the hearts of comic book movie fans around the world collectively shattered. Jackman has been playing Logan since 2000 and has consistently approached the character with a nuanced complexity that is incredibly rare in superhero films. In “Logan,” Jackman stretches the depth of the character and of his own acting ability — diving into the rageful spirit that makes Logan at once both intensely exciting and devastatingly tragic. There’s something new about the Wolverine that we haven’t seen before; he’s broken and vulnerable, almost pathetically so. It’s this new weakness that makes the savage, bloody fight sequences all the more powerful. The movie itself defies the long tradition of X-Men films to come before it with its style and tone, which serves as a magnificent vehicle for Jackman to tackle the darkest corners of Logan’s character. Not even the gritty, rough exterior Logan possesses could cover up the sheer passion Jackman has for this role. His performance in “Logan” is the perfect swan song, one that moviegoers will appreciate for years to come.

— Shannon O’Hara

Runner-up: James McAvoy, “Split”

An actor playing multiple personas in a creepy way could describe an Adam Sandler movie, or it could be describing James McAvoy’s genuinely terrifying turn in “Split.” For this category, it’s definitely the latter, and McAvoy pulls off a truly stunning feat. Each of the personalities he portrays is distinct, down to tics and the way his eyes glower. The true accomplishment of his performance, though, is the empathy he elicits from the viewer. His character is never truly a villain, and that complexity is a credit to McAvoy.

— Harrison Tunggal

Nominees:

  1. Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”
  2. Jim Broadbent, “The Sense of an Ending”
  3. Charlie Hunnam, “The Lost City of Z”

Best Lead Actress


Winner: Anne Hathaway, “Colossal”

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Neon / Courtesy

In “Colossal,” Anne Hathaway plays Gloria, who’s more than a little down on her luck at the start of the film. She’s an alcoholic, unemployed and her soggy crumpet of a boyfriend dumps her because of it. Soon, however, Gloria realizes that she is in control of a massive monster that has appeared in the middle of Downtown Seoul, South Korea. In this sense, Gloria is a character that is dropped into a world-altering situation, while still battling demons of her own. Unfortunately, “Colossal” isn’t a film that is particularly Oscar friendly, but yet, Hathaway is still given a role that allows her to truly shine. She navigates Gloria’s alcoholism in a frank manner, while still allowing her comedic timing to bring moments of levity in a film that isn’t afraid to get dark. “Colossal” hinges on its main character and her ability to connect with the audience, and luckily for us, Hathaway gives one of the year’s best performances.

— Harrison Tunggal

Runner-up: Kristen Stewart, “Personal Shopper”

Kristen Stewart seems to play the same character over and over: a girl whose insecurities are laid bare and who is not known for her sophistication. But in “Personal Shopper,” Stewart taps into a level of introspection where suspense, terror and immense grief meet in the character of Maureen. The film follows her alone, so Stewart’s performance literally carries the film, the emotional weight of which she embodies is quite compellingly. Her brooding performance captures Maureen’s internal conflicts regarding the loss of her brother and her own sense of purposelessness. In this role, Stewart demonstrates her often-underestimated ability for subtlety and grace.

— Sophie-Marie Prime

Nominees:

  1. Melanie Lynskey, “I don’t feel at home in this world anymore.”
  2. Garance Marillier, “Raw”
  3. Gemma Arterton, “Their Finest”

Best Supporting Actor


Winner: Patrick Stewart, “Logan”

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Ben Rothstein / Courtesy

Many forget that Patrick Stewart has been playing Professor X as long as Hugh Jackman has been Wolverine. But let’s not forget the figure who helped guide Logan and the rest of the X-Men on their respective journeys, a figure who ends his time in the role in utterly hilarious and heartbreaking fashion.

In “Logan,” we find Professor X cut off from the world, held up in a large silo-like structure and cared for by Logan and Caliban. He’s suffering from Alzheimer’s, which causes unpredictable spells of destructive telepathic force. He’s also got his most irreverent sense of humor yet. And Stewart captures all of it.

Stewart conveys the crushing pain of an extremely difficult stage in his life. He’s able to pull off a foul-mouthed sense of humor with wondrous comedic timing and then in the very next moment, pull at the hearts of every viewer with his lost, searching eyes. Professor X has tried everything to protect his family, especially Logan, and Stewart embodies a deep sense of history to the character in this last film. The performance is as moving as Jackman’s, but with a comedic edge on top of it. And Stewart captures Professor X’s final monologue, a rumination on friendship, family, fatherhood and more in regard to this grand, 17-year journey he’s shared with Logan, with deep truths. “Logan” is, undoubtedly, a swan song for two.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Bill Nighy, “Their Finest”

In “Their Finest,” Bill Nighy is essentially playing a part of himself. Ambrose Hilliard is an aging actor, in his sixties but seeming older. This connection, this reality that could’ve potentially been one for Nighy allows the still-prestigious actor to find a truth in the character. Nighy portrays Hilliard’s emotional insecurities and how he hangs on to the past convincingly, and one of the final scenes, in which Hilliard comes to help Gemma Arterton’s Catrin, is rousing precisely because of Hilliard’s arc. But what makes this performance a genuine highlight in the British actor’s career, though, is the comedic timing Nighy brings. He perfects the self-absorbed, yet endlessly charming nature of Hilliard that makes the character one of the more memorable of the year.

— Kyle Kizu

Nominees:

  1. Lil Rel Howery, “Get Out”
  2. Elijah Wood, “I don’t feel at home in this world anymore.”
  3. “Beat” Takeshi Kitano, “Ghost in the Shell”

Best Supporting Actress


Winner: Dafne Keen, “Logan”

LOGAN

Ben Rothstein / Courtesy

It’s hard to imagine anyone stealing the spotlight from Hugh Jackman’s performance in “Logan,” his last go at the role, but Dafne Keen gives Wolverine a run for his money — and she’s only 12 years old. Keen’s character packs a captivating punch: Laura hardly speaks, but she’s fearless, fiercely loyal and full of blistering rage. Keen’s character remains unpredictable and mysterious because she delivers such a subtle performance, made even more impressive by the fact that “Logan” is her first feature.

Like Logan, Laura is a mutant with claws in her hands and feet. She survived early years in a facility where mutant children such as she were being groomed and weaponised as assassins. Her superhuman healing powers mirror unwavering resilience.

Keen captured the nuanced complexity of Laura’s tragic past as well as her boundless bravery; her vulnerability clinches the most powerful scene of the film. Laura is clever, headstrong and determined, all of which make her an ideal superheroine for young girls — and Keen perfectly embodies her brilliance.

— Sophie-Marie Prime

Runner-up: Allison Williams, “Get Out”

In “Get Out,” Allison Williams plays Rose, the oh-so-innocent white girlfriend who insists on bringing Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) home to meet her parents. Williams fits the multifaceted role to a tee, from her loving reassurance of Chris’ welcomeness to her utter shock and panic toward her parents’ endeavors. The film’s biggest reveal rests on her shoulders, and Williams pulls it off with slick, terrifying precision; she presents viewers with two different sides of Rose with equal believability, making her the film’s darkest, most disturbing secret.

— Anagha Komaragiri

Nominees:

  1. Rebecca Ferguson, “Life”
  2. Mckenna Grace, “Gifted”
  3. Sienna Miller, “The Lost City of Z”

Best Director


Winner: Jordan Peele, “Get Out”

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Kevin Edwards / Courtesy

“Get Out,” Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, is unquestionably a masterpiece. Peele manages to incorporate a catalog of visual hints that provide a historical foundation and narrative suspense throughout the entire film. From the clever cover-up of scars that would trigger suspicion to the color coordination of Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose’s (Allison Williams) party outfits to look like the American flag, “Get Out” is rich with symbolism and self-reflexive irony. This is tough to accomplish without crossing the line into gimmick territory — but Peele achieves it with biting poignancy.

Under Peele’s direction, actors give performances that go from comforting and familiar to suspect and horrifying. Subtle lines of dialogue, props in the set or aspects of costuming give this film an acute sense of self-awareness of its mission — Peele’s mission — and coming across brilliantly. The film is a masterclass on metaphorical imagery and production design (among many other cinematic techniques), not to mention a sublime realization of the director’s vision. With “Get Out,” Peele achieves a level of detail and nuance unlike any other genre-bending horror film we’ve ever seen.

— Sophie-Marie Prime

Runner-up: James Mangold, “Logan”

James Mangold’s job directing “Logan” is nothing but astounding. The final film for Wolverine has been lauded for its transcendence of genre, making use of features of the Western to create an emotionally brutal and profound end, and the guidance and success of that vision can be attributed to Mangold. His control of action is supremely masterful — each fight sequence is chaotic and bloody, with various lines running at once, and yet, we absorb and understand everything. And the themes of legacy and family are on full display but never overdone. We feel a history in these characters, their bonds made tangible, and Mangold sells a final act for the ages.

— Kyle Kizu

Nominees:

  1. Nacho Vigalondo, “Colossal”
  2. James Gray, “The Lost City of Z”
  3. Julia Ducournau, “Raw”

Best Original Screenplay


Winner: Jordan Peele, “Get Out”

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Universal Pictures / Courtesy

The reason why Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” is so effective goes back to its foundation — the screenplay. Peele has made a name for himself with his brilliant, satirical writing on “Key & Peele,” so his command of comedy is no surprise. But his sharp sense of horror, and how he blends that genre with comedy, is at the forefront of “Get Out.” The allegory of race and racism works so well not only because of the biting, bruising dialogue, but also because of how Peele constructs the story. Each step subverts the horror genre while also building a commentary that places sadly hidden aspects at the images’ forefront — microaggressions are manifested and literalized, subtle ignorances are made glaringly clear and more.

Great comedy writing already deserves massive praise, but horror writing that is directly of the times makes a piece of art boundless. The fact that some of the events of the film’s world are so absurd, but still are extremely palpable and truthful in their essence boils down to how Peele tells the story. While most others on this list won’t make it to the year-end awards, Peele, with his original screenplay, is the one that has the best shot.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Nacho Vigalondo, “Colossal”

“Colossal” is truly one of the most original films in recent memory and that is a credit to its writer and director, Nacho Vigalondo. His premise is a remarkably inventive one — what happens when a woman realizes that she is controlling a massive monster? Where Vigalondo shines is using that premise to produce smart social commentary about our relationship with the technology we have become so dependent on. Vigalondo also shows his writing skills through the film’s well-balanced tone — there are plenty of laughs, but just the right amount of darkness, too. Vigalondo is a filmmaker with a truly, ahem, colossal future ahead of him.

— Harrison Tunggal

Nominees:

  1. Macon Blair, “I don’t feel at home in this world anymore.”
  2. Julia Ducournau, “Raw”
  3. Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick, “Life”

Best Adapted Screenplay


Winner: James Mangold, Scott Frank and Michael Green, “Logan”

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Ben Rothstein / Courtesy

“Logan” is a true testament to allowing filmmakers to control their entire vision. In writing their screenplay, Mangold, Frank and Green seemingly never had to compromise what they hoped to do, which allowed them to tell an entirely moving tale of loss, love and the passage of time. Each character is given a sense of great emotional weight, and their arcs are grand, sweeping and fully realized — achievements of the writers in the construction of their story. The dialogue is not only hilarious, but imbues an idea of a grand past behind our heroes. They’ve been through so much, and have grown and changed in ways that only a long life can result in. And the choice of such little dialogue for Laura, X-23, is to be commended, not only for its informed basis, but also for the way in which the writers characterize her outside of her dialogue.

The three also command their sense of imagery with class. While Mangold may have been the one to visualize the Western features, and how those add depth to the characters, as director, all three writers offered the starting points by which Mangold could do so. The desolate landscapes,  brutal action and that haunting, utterly hauntingly beautiful final image are conceptions of the writers.

— Kyle Kizu

Runner-up: Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern and John Whittington, “The LEGO Batman Movie”

Calendar Man? Check. The Condiment King? Check. A cohesive story about the essentiality of family, told through the eyes of Batman? Of course. The writers behind “The LEGO Batman Movie” gave us a true gem of a superhero film, which combined the smart-but-kid-friendly style of “The LEGO Movie” with the subversiveness of “Deadpool.” The Merc with a Mouth might have lampooned superhero films in general, but “The LEGO Batman Movie” took thorough, savage jabs at every piece of Batman lore at its disposal. The result is an adapted screenplay sizzling with humor and glowing with heart.

— Harrison Tunggal

Nominees:

  1. Gabby Chiappe, “Their Finest”
  2. James Gray, “The Lost City of Z”
  3. Guy Hibbert, “A United Kingdom”

The winners, runner-ups and nominees were voted on and chosen by the Daily Californian Arts & Entertainment staff.

Contact the Daily Cal Arts Staff at [email protected].