The Daily Californian Arts Awards: Film of 2017

Merie Wallace / A24/Courtesy

Y

ou take a seat in an auditorium. Maybe you’re with some friends at a multiplex, checking out “It,” ready to get scared and then later laugh it off. Or maybe you take a seat alone at the local art house theater because you couldn’t convince anyone to join you in watching “The Killing of a Sacred Deer.” Regardless, the lights dim, the darkness is defied by the glowing screen — trailers first, but hopefully not too many — and then the film you’ve been waiting for. What is film if not light in darkness?

At least, that’s what the medium is supposed to be. Coming off the 2016 presidential election, the films of 2017 offered a sense of reprieve. And yet, the wave of allegations of sexual violence against powerful men in the entertainment industry (and beyond) raises the question: How can a medium so mired in abuse continue to function as a source of vitality? But it must. By continuing to break the institutional silence surrounding sexual violence and believing survivors, we’ll retain film as our source of light in 2018. The amount of change needed to remedy our institutions might appear overwhelming. The fact that it’s taken this long for such change to begin is shameful. But this change has begun nonetheless, and it will continue into the new year.

But this change has begun nonetheless, and it will continue into the new year.

Hopefully, such change will carve out the space that female filmmakers deserve. Besides being incredibly moving films in their own right, “Lady Bird” and “Wonder Woman” demonstrated that female filmmakers must be given platforms in order to continue paving cinema’s way forward.

Diverse filmmaking is what will carry 2018’s films into the future. This year alone, “Girls Trip” became the first Black-led film to cross $100 million at the box office. “Call Me by Your Name” is a formally exquisite, emotionally transcendent queer narrative that both dominated our awards and will likely win many awards to come. Most recently, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” continued to add characters of color to its galaxy, offering representation on the largest scale possible. These films, coupled with the films listed below, are the best of what the medium can achieve.

After all, film is but light in darkness.

— Harrison Tunggal

 

Best Motion Picture

lady-bird_scott-rudin-productions-courtesy-copy

Scott Rudin Productions/ Courtesy

Winner: “Lady Bird

Greta Gerwig’s coming-of-age dramedy “Lady Bird,” starring Saoirse Ronan, is a fiercely real masterpiece. It’s a nostalgic reflection on finally finding oneself at high school’s end only to feel lost again at the start of college. Above all, it provides a thoughtful homage to the complexity of mother-daughter relationships.


The film’s titular character is quick-witted and flawed in the way that every teenager — every person, rather — is. On her search for self-actualization, she treads on and very nearly trips over the people around her, including her mother and her
best friend. Beyond Lady Bird’s characterization via writer-director Gerwig’s instinctive script and Ronan’s authentic performance, these relationships add another layer to the film’s brilliant poignancy. This result is not only achieved because the relationships are relatable and realistic, but because the folks surrounding Lady Bird are each on their own paths to self-realization, including Lady Bird’s mother, first boyfriend and best friend.

What makes this film truly exceptional, however, is Lady Bird’s intimate — if at times turbulent — relationship with her mother. Gerwig’s script evokes a deep sense of each character’s internal qualms without overstating challenges or feigning perfection. Instead, Ronan and Laurie Metcalf’s shared scenes are understated, yet visceral. They stare directly at underlying socioeconomic quarrels and misaligned identities. For this depth and authenticity, “Lady Bird” is undoubtedly the year’s best film.

— Sophie-Marie Prime

Runner-Up: “Get Out

It was a service to the rest of the brilliant films released this year that “Get Out” made its debut in February of 2017, rather than later in the year — otherwise, it may very well have snagged several more wins across categories. Written and directed by Jordan Peele, the film is a visceral depiction of American race relations and a spin on the well-known “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” narrative. With brilliant dialogue and incredibly well-timed use of comedy, amplified by the performances of Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams, “Get Out” builds a palpable sense of tension that more than pays off at its peak moments.

— Sophie-Marie Prime

Notable Mentions:

  1. “Call Me by Your Name”
  2. “Dunkirk”
  3. “Blade Runner 2049”
  4. “The Big Sick”
  5. “Coco”
  6. “The Shape of Water”
  7. “The Florida Project”
  8. “The Beguiled”

Best Actor

Sayombhu Mukdeeprom / Sony Picture Classics / Courtesy

Sayombhu Mukdeeprom/ Sony Picture Classics/ Courtesy

Winner: Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name

At 22 years old, Timothée Chalamet is the youngest actor in this category. Yet Chalamet blew us away with his breathtaking performance as Elio, a professor’s 17-year-old son who embarks upon a passionate but short-lived romance with visiting graduate student Oliver (Armie Hammer). Chalamet is captivating — his entire performance is captured in close-up shots of his eyes. When he watches Oliver dance at an outdoor nightclub, or reflects on their relationship in the film’s final moments, Chalamet’s eyes tell a story his polyglot words cannot. They tell a story of pain, lust, anticipation, fear and — above all — self-discovery.

As Elio and Oliver’s relationship unfolds, Elio comes into his own, discovering what it is to feel for someone so much you long to become them, discovering what it’s like to love. Portraying a character deeply entrenched in his own thoughts and fears, Chalamet embodies Elio’s quiet awkwardness and sexual frustration stunningly in this breakout performance. Cinematic sex scenes showcase the chemistry between Hammer and Chalamet and Chalamet’s comfortable physicality, transforming the scenes from sexual to sensual. Undoubtedly, his incredible performance is just one of many to come.

— Rebecca Gerny

Runner-Up: Andy Serkis, “War for the Planet of the Apes

Andy Serkis’ motion-capture performance as the mosaic ape Caesar in “War for the Planet of the Apes” invites a particularly high degree of scrutiny, because Serkis is consistently framed in close-up. The emotiveness we see in Serkis’ face offers an intimate, personal tether to the titular war for Caesar’s soul. As Caesar is put through the ringer in this film — questioning his ability to lead the apes and his ability to let go — the close-ups allow the viewer to scrutinize Caesar’s eyes, which are more human than the film’s antagonists would care to admit. What do we find after this scrutiny? One of the best performances of the year.

— Harrison Tunggal

Nominations: Daniel Kaluuya for “Get Out,” Ryan Gosling for “Blade Runner 2049” and James Franco for “The Disaster Artist”


Best Actress

Scott Rudin Productions/ Courtesy

Scott Rudin Productions/ Courtesy

Winner: Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”

Saoirse Ronan plays the self-proclaimed “Lady Bird” in Greta Gerwig’s coming-of-age film of the same name. Ronan’s compelling performance is not a surprise; she was nominated for an Academy Award at age 13 for her performance in “Atonement.” Ten years later, she carries that same raw emotion and depth of character into “Lady Bird.” Ronan’s Lady Bird is a teenage girl from Sacramento, California yearning to go anywhere else. The driving force of the film, the relationship between Lady Bird and her mother (Laurie Metcalf), is heart-wrenching and memorable because of the gravitas both Ronan and Metcalf bring to the screen. Watching the film is a cutting, vulnerable experience. Ronan’s masterful performance perfectly portrays that strange mix of emotions faced when leaving home for the first time.

“I just wanted it to be special,” Lady Bird says in one scene in what ultimately becomes the thesis of Ronan’s performance. Sometimes, we’re so caught up in trying to make life mean something that we miss the meaning altogether — a message only Ronan could have made as memorable and effective in the role.

— Danielle Hilborn

Runner-Up: Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water

One of this year’s most emotional line deliveries isn’t even spoken aloud. In “The Shape of Water,” Giles (Richard Jenkins) says, “Oh, God, it’s not even human” to Elisa (Sally Hawkins), speaking of her romantic connection to a fish-man. Elisa, who is mute, signs back to Giles, “If we do nothing, neither are we,” her face awash with determination but tinged with sadness. The sheer torrent of emotion conveyed in this one moment speaks to the triumph of Sally Hawkins’ performance, for which she learned period-accurate American Sign Language. Hawkins perfectly renders a character who refuses to be voiceless.

— Harrison Tunggal

Nominations: Frances McDormand for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Brooklynn Prince for “The Florida Project” and Seo-Hyun Ahn for “Okja”


 Best Supporting Actor

Sayombhu Mukdeeprom/Sony Picture Classics

Sayombhu Mukdeeprom/ Sony Picture Classics

Winner: Michael Stuhlbarg, “Call Me by Your Name”

Known for his acuity in selecting potent roles within even more powerful films, Michael Stuhlbarg performs in not one but three incredible films this season. He’s a Russian scientist-turned-spy who values scientific beauty over political feuds in “The Shape of Water,” the then-executive editor of the New York Times, Abe Rosenthal, in “The Post” and he achieves his most emotional and stunning performance as Mr. Perlman in “Call Me by Your Name.” Perlman is a professor and father whose quiet support for his son’s first relationship is, in a word, tear-jerking.

Stuhlbarg brings an aged wisdom to the role, powerfully discussing ancient authors and sculpture with soft-spoken insights; he’s brilliantly juxtaposed against graduate student Oliver’s (Armie Hammer) harsh, loud, American swagger. Stuhlbarg’s presence on screen is always felt, if not heard, in quiet demonstrations of affection for his wife (Amira Casar) and inarticulable wonder at recently discovered ancient artifacts.

The climax of his performance is a perfectly composed monologue to his heartbroken son that is at once devastating and inspiring. Taken almost word for word from the film’s basis, the André Aciman novel of the same name, this speech will resonate in the heart and soul of everyone who has ever had a fleeting first love. Stuhlbarg delivers it brilliantly, knowing exactly what to say, perfectly playing the father we all wish we had.

— Rebecca Gerny

Runner-Up: Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”

In a film largely cast with nonactors, Willem Dafoe inevitably brings his star power to “The Florida Project.” With any other performer, this could have ruined director Sean Baker’s realist aspirations. But Dafoe disappears in his role as a motel owner, acting with methodical precision and impressive subtlety. Through his facial expressions and concerned voice, he conveys not only irritation and emotional pain, but also a deep tenderness. Given his impressive range, Dafoe is far from fairly acknowledged. How many other actors could play Jesus of Nazareth, the Green Goblin, Bobby Peru and a tortured Florida motel owner in one career?

— Jack Wareham

Nominations: Adam Driver for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Patrick Stewart for “Logan” and Sam Rockwell for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”


 Best Supporting Actress

Merrick Morton/A24/Courtesy

Merrick Morton/ A24/ Courtesy

Winner: Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”

Without Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird” would not be one of the year’s best films.

The dynamic between Metcalf’s Marion McPherson and her daughter Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) is the emotional crux of the film, their dynamic driving its plot and culminating in its most tear-jerking scenes. Often with just a flash of emotion, Metcalf develops a vivid complexity within Marion, transforming her into the film’s most well-rounded and realistic character in a cast populated by realistic characters. The roles she plays to a variety of people — as mother, wife and co-worker — make her truly, utterly tangible.

If Marion isn’t your mother, she’s a mother you’ve met. While she’s harsh, her reasoning is always made evident, be it through her verbal or nonverbal explanations. Metcalf provides a depth that mirrors humanity, both at its best and worst.

To say Metcalf is a critically acclaimed actor would be unnecessary — her impressive résumé and ever-expanding list of awards nominations speak for themselves. Instead, it’s the subtle tics that Metcalf imbues into her character that make her beautifully flawed and heartbreakingly human. Her character’s most subtle moments are what designate Metcalf as having given one of the year’s best performances.

— Caroline Smith

Runner-Up: Holly Hunter, “The Big Sick

While “The Big Sick” is an enchanting romantic comedy about the real-life romance between Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon (fictionalized as Emily Gardner), the film’s scene-stealing performance comes from Holly Hunter as Gardner’s mother, Beth. Hunter is at once fierce and confrontational while simultaneously loving and vulnerable. We’ll remember her outburst at the racist audience member during Nanjiani’s performance as much as we’ll remember the late-night, deeply sincere conversation she shares with Nanjiani about relationships.

Though “The Big Sick” is about relationships, its focus is not necessarily on the one between Nanjiani and Gordon. Its most profound moments come from Beth’s interactions with her husband Terry (Ray Romano) and with Nanjiani, and it’s Hunter who makes these scenes work so effectively.

— Kyle Kizu

Nominations: Tiffany Haddish for “Girls Trip,” Bria Vinaite for “The Florida Project” and Mary J. Blige for “Mudbound”


 Best Director

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

Universal Pictures/ Courtesy

Winner: Jordan Peele, “Get Out”

With “Get Out,” Jordan Peele delivered a directorial debut that will undoubtedly be remembered. Peele’s cinematic eye and narrative savvy shine through every moment of his film. Each frame is filled with historically significant and culturally loaded signifiers. From cotton and cereal to cell phone cameras and deer, the visual specificity of “Get Out” furthers the narrative’s twist as well as its irony — both of which intentionally leave specific audiences with a sour and self-reflective taste in their mouths.

“Get Out” is incredibly smart, and this is because of Peele’s meticulous construction of each scene. Under Peele’s direction, Daniel Kaluuya’s character, Chris, delivers a performance that is deeply affecting; his character transforms from patient to pushed beyond limits. What Chris discovers about his white girlfriend’s family is shocking only in its extremity. It communicates a poignant truth about racism on both systemic and individual levels.

“Get Out” highlights emotional labor, micro- and macro-aggressions, liberal white complicity and gaslighting, among other central themes. It’s profoundly disturbing and therefore profoundly effective, all thanks to Jordan Peele.

— Sophie-Marie Prime

Runner-Up: Greta Gerwig, “Lady Bird”

“Lady Bird” was, in every sense, personal. It wove into its very storyline pauses and breaks that perfectly imitated real life — raw, human, real life. It included arguments, glances and emotions that were too believable to be fictional. It told a simple story of the relationship between girl and city, girl and mother, that was so intimate the audience felt it was intruding at times. While the members of its brilliant cast deserve credit, the film would not have worked had it not been under Greta Gerwig’s incredible direction. Gerwig drew from her own experiences and her own relationships with her mother and her city when she wrote and directed the film. She carefully picked the moments in her life a larger audience would relate to, as well as the moments only her mother would understand. Every gorgeous element of this movie from its dialogue to its acting to its cinematography was not in the least dramatic or unnecessary. Every moment felt too “real” to not be real. Every sigh and every pan shot contributed to the film’s storyline; nothing was without its purpose. Gerwig’s direction proved itself to be the true star of “Lady Bird.”

— Anoushka Agrawal

Nominations: Christopher Nolan for “Dunkirk,” Denis Villeneuve for “Blade Runner 2049” and Edgar Wright for “Baby Driver”


 Best Ensemble Cast

Sayombhu Mukdeeprom/Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy

Sayombhu Mukdeeprom/ Sony Pictures Classics / Courtesy

Winner: The Cast of “Call Me by Your Name”

Best ensemble cast is not a small accomplishment, but rather a great feat that recognizes the success of the cast as a collective rather than as individuals. The cast of “Call Me by Your Name” transcends all expectations with meticulously comprehensive characters and dedicated, attentive actors who all fluidly interact. The moving parts of the film all serve as key components that come together to create a well-oiled, effortless machine.

Though the film is from the perspective of 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet), the nostalgia and exhilarating, nuanced narrative are driven home by the raw characters and their relationships with one another. Chalamet and Armie Hammer’s brilliant, sexy chemistry allows for the simultaneously devastating circumstances of first love. The witty, yet hauntingly poignant, father-son dynamic is emotionally calamitous in its pure honesty. The small yet profound cast solidifies the authenticity of this relaxed, provincial summer story set against an Italian backdrop.

Seemingly inconsequential roles largely contributed to the film’s powerful observations of coming-of-age romance. Central characters created on-screen connections that were visceral, touching and deeply evocative in the same breath, culminating in connections impossible to leave behind. Together, the cast of “Call Me by Your Name” created a world that was undeniably tangible, though its story was fiction.

— Maisy Menzies

Runner-Up: The Cast of “Lady Bird”

Saoirse Ronan’s turn as Lady Bird deftly captures the performativity of teenage behavior. The high schooler constantly tries on new façades with her peers before wiping them away during her blunt, capricious interactions with family members. But her lead performance wouldn’t possess the same ring without her ability to bounce off the supporting players. The ensemble possess a well-roundedness that would allow the camera to follow any one of them into films of their own. The rich performances are fractured across time by the story’s staccato rhythm, an integral interplay for the story’s examination of experience as an accumulation of interactions. When Lady Bird finally leaves her hometown for college, a sense of isolation slowly overwhelms both her and the audience, enriched by all the memories of each distinct person she’s left behind.

— Jackson Kim Murphy

Nominations: The cast of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” the cast of “Get Out” and the cast of “The Beguiled”


 Best Screenplay

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

Universal Pictures/ Courtesy

Winner: Jordan Peele, “Get Out”

Jordan Peele’s screenplay is a masterful commentary on race in America that simultaneously speaks to Peele’s astute familiarity with film genre and history. The film is rife with references to “The Shining” — nods that come in the form of both verbal and visual callbacks. This is the genius of Peele’s writing. The film is so compelling precisely because the screenplay relies on a combination of what is said and what is seen. Peele tells two different stories for much of the film — spoilers to follow.

Even as Rose (Allison Williams) expresses outrage at the cops’ racist treatment of Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), later revelations confirm the true reason for her objections as far more sinister. In one of the most haunting sequences, Peele portrays — what the audience later realizes to be — a slave auction. Without any explicit confirmation of what this scene represents, Peele relies on visual clues to point toward the more horrific implications of the event. All of these references combine to make a film that is eerily, unsettlingly familiar. When some of the more science fiction elements are stripped away, the film resembles classic horror stories or — even more troublingly — social phenomena in which every member of the audience has undoubtedly partaken.

— Danielle Hilborn

Runner-Up: Greta Gerwig, “Lady Bird”

Greta Gerwig has racked up screenplay credits for years, but with “Lady Bird,” her talented writing is finally given the mainstream platform it deserves. The social wit in “Mistress America” and personal reflections of “Frances Ha” combine to form a story that is at once touching and hilarious, peppered with details that seem almost too perfect, such as a guitarist (Timothée Chalamet) who rolls his own cigarettes and buries his nose in Howard Zinn books, even when he’s at parties. Drawing from her own life, Gerwig writes a narrative that is at once unique and completely relatable, providing one of the year’s best screenplays and most intimate instances of storytelling.

— Jack Wareham

Nominations: James Ivory for “Call Me by Your Name,” Rian Johnson for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch for “The Florida Project”


 Best Foreign Film

Magnolia Pictures/Courtesy

Magnolia Pictures/ Courtesy

Winner: “The Square”

Ruben Östlund’s “The Square,” which won the Palme d’Or at 2017’s Cannes Film Festival, is very likely the most comedic — yet uncomfortable — film released this year. It provides a rare experience in which uncontrollable laughter gives way to a profound disquietude; it’s a film in which the most random chimpanzee cameos and pointed social commentary go hand in hand. In this sense, Östlund’s film is an entirely singular vision. The film is a savage critique of the high art world and the modernity that bred its moneyed indulgences and near-sociopathic aloofness. Who could forget the film’s most memorable scene, when a performance art piece — a man miming an ape, shirtless and walking on crutches — crashes a gala dinner? It’s easy to see why the scene was plastered on posters and featured prominently in the film’s trailer. As the artist (Terry Notary) trolls one guest in increasingly extreme ways, the scene perfectly captures the film’s capacity to induce a unique brand of comedic discomfort. Throw in stellar performances from Elisabeth Moss as an American journalist navigating Östlund’s absurd high art world and Claes Bang as a modern art museum curator, and “The Square” easily earns its status as this year’s Palme d’Or winner.

— Harrison Tunggal

Runner-Up: “Baahubali 2: The Conclusion”

Absurd action, rapturous dances, transcendent romance and layered political intrigue are all stuffed into the overflowing cornucopia of spectacle and heroism that is “Baahubali 2: The Conclusion.” Many movies elevate decency to divinity, but this film is one about the allure of the divine itself and the impossible beauty it can exhibit. Director S.S. Rajamouli soulfully sculpts the space around the strength of both his characters and the natural world they inhabit. Through sheer po-faced conviction, this marathon of impossible feats slowly takes on the form of a sermon. Passionately told and blessedly devoid of self-consciousness, no other ostensible crowd-pleaser of 2017 could possibly compete.

— Jackson Kim Murphy

Nominations: “BPM (Beats Per Minute),” “First They Killed My Father” and “The Insult”


 Best Documentary

Cohen Media Group/Courtesy

Cohen Media Group/ Courtesy

Winner: “Faces Places”

Through fascinatingly oblique classics like “Cléo From 5 to 7” and “Vagabond,” Agnès Varda has gained a deserved reputation as one of France’s eminent directors. At age 89, she is still making films — the latest of which, “Faces Places,” is the product of her journey through rural France with young photographer JR. In many ways, this work reads like a career retrospective for Varda, with the expansive rural exploration of “Vagabond” and the vérité style of her 2000 documentary “The Gleaners and I.”

But “Faces Places” is also an enormous step forward for Varda. As she traverses France with JR, putting up large poster art in villages to the delight of locals, she reflects on how much she has aged and how she can feel death drawing near. When asked why she is looking forward to her moment of death, she remarks, as enigmatically as ever, “because that’ll be that.”

This film tugs at your heart, slowly strengthening its grasp. If “Faces Places” is the last film Varda makes, it is the perfect career send-off, a complete encapsulation of her photographic talent, relentless positivity and unflinching belief in the goodness of others.

— Jack Wareham

Runner-Up: “Rat Film”

Not for the squeamish, “Rat Film” begins with the promises of its title, examining our species’ relationship to that of the rat. From there, the flow of information begins to percolate through a plethora of subjects, from the philosophical implications of satellite mapping to the enduring horrors of discrimination in urban planning. The documentary is at once freewheeling and procedural, maintaining a tangential distraction typically reserved for following one Wikipedia hyperlink to another. But director Theo Anthony’s juxtapositions are too sneakily evocative to be random. Every dot may not connect, but the film leaves room for viewers to draw their own apocalyptic picture without succumbing to the ideological ambiguity of a Rorschach test. It’s a harrowing and goofy voyage, maintaining a degree of idiosyncrasy that other debut films rarely achieve.

— Jackson Kim Murphy

Nominations: “Ex Libris: The New York Public Library,” “City of Ghosts” and “Kedi”


 Best Animated Feature

Walt Disney Studios/Courtesy

Walt Disney Studios/ Courtesy

Winner: Coco

Everybody is a sucker for a kid-faces-the-world escapade that reflects the fearlessness of youth and the courage that comes from passion and dedication. This year, Disney/Pixar’s “Coco” delivers a perfect version of this story in a vibrant and colorful narrative.

“Coco” is the story of a young boy named Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) who wants to be a musician, though music is banned in his family. Finding himself in the land of the dead on Día de los Muertos after stealing a guitar, Miguel must team up with unlikely allies, learn about his family’s history and experience this traditional Mexican holiday in a new light in order to make his way back home.

While the film is visually stunning and filled with exciting action and obstacles, it is also a desperately needed, refreshing and personal Latinx narrative. The film is gorgeously representative of the sparkling and lively holiday; its familial narrative is an authentic one. Latinx culture has been underrepresented in American cinema, especially in youth-focused films. Now, Latinx youths have a story with which they can identify, and others can be exposed to this culture in a positive, fun light.

— Maisy Menzies

Runner-Up: “Loving Vincent

It’s almost unfair, but the sheer fact that “Loving Vincent” is an animated film made up entirely of paintings in the style of Vincent Van Gogh makes it one of the year’s most stunning. Each frame is its own masterpiece; the visual flow between frames is majestic.

But the film also possesses a beautiful narrative at its core. Following Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth) as he travels to deliver a letter written by the recently passed Van Gogh, “Loving Vincent” paints a loving portrait of the famous painter. In Roulin’s encounters with Van Gogh’s contemporaries — in which everyone has something different to say about him — the film unveils itself as a surprisingly profound story about mental health. No one really knew the struggles Van Gogh went through during his life; they just saw the pretty pictures.

— Kyle Kizu

Nominations: “The Breadwinner,” “The Lego Batman Movie” and “Cars 3”


 Best Cinematography

Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros Entertainment/Courtesy

Melinda Sue Gordon/ Warner Bros Entertainment/ Courtesy

Winner: Hoyte van Hoytema, “Dunkirk

If for nothing else, Hoyte van Hoytema wins this category for the sheer physical feat of hauling a 54-pound Imax 65 mm camera throughout the majority of shooting “Dunkirk.” Indeed, 70 percent of the film was shot using Imax film, a rarity in an age when digital photography dominates most blockbusters, and even rarer considering that Imax film cameras are massive, making them impractical and unwieldy for hand-held shots. Yet Van Hoytema and director Christopher Nolan’s dedication to the format led them to construct rigs that allowed Van Hoytema to carry the bazookalike camera through sandy beaches and waterlogged ships as if it were a typical handheld. Additional rigs allowed the filmmakers to strap the cameras to real planes. Real actors flew in real, period-accurate planes as a gargantuan camera rigged to a wing filmed them. Even when Imax cameras rendered dialogue inaudible during close-quarter scenes, Van Hoytema used a 65 mm camera, lending even the smallest-scale scenes an unparalleled sense of clarity and warmth.

The result is an immersive experience unlike any film before it, especially if viewed in an Imax 70 mm screening — that’s the analog equivalent of 18K resolution, projected (ideally) on a screen 76 feet tall and 98 feet wide. As Nolan put it, the film is like “virtual reality without the goggles,” with Van Hoytema’s cinematography putting us on the land and in the sea and air.

— Harrison Tunggal

Runner-Up: Roger Deakins, “Blade Runner 2049

Over the course of the nearly three hours of “Blade Runner 2049,” the audience is guided through a dizzying array of unique, awe-inspiring locales. Roger Deakins, the film’s cinematographer, manages to capture the feel of the original “Blade Runner” while still pushing the cinematography of the sequel beyond anything glimpsed in the 1982 film. One of the most compelling things about Deakins’ visuals is how tangible they feel. The scene in which K (Ryan Gosling) watches as a larger-than-life pink-skinned girl kneels to peer at him was largely filmed with CGI, but it seems impossibly real. Almost every shot plays with light and color that renders the film’s existence as a whole its most impressive attribute.

— Danielle Hilborn

Nominations: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom for “Call Me by Your Name,” Bill Pope for “Baby Driver” and Steve Yedlin for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”


Best Score

Julian Kilchling/Staff

Julian Kilchling/ Staff

Winner: Hans Zimmer, “Dunkirk”

Most audiences saw “Dunkirk” for director Christopher Nolan’s surgically-precise, practical approach to blockbuster filmmaking. But a massive portion of that audience was equally, if not more, excited to hear Hans Zimmer’s score. Having crafted iconic scores for “Pirates of the Caribbean,” the “Dark Knight” trilogy and “Interstellar,” Zimmer is easily the defining film composer of the 21st century, known for his bombast and incorporation of innovative sound elements. Such innovation reaches new peaks in “Dunkirk,” where the line differentiating music from sound design blurs through Zimmer’s incorporation of the Shepard tone, an audio illusion that gives the impression of ascending sound. The resulting tension is unlike anything before heard in film scores, especially in tracks such as “Supermarine,” which coils around the listener, constricting impossibly tighter with every passing bar.

Despite the score’s squealing sirens and the ticking of a phantom charge that is constantly threatening to go off, Zimmer’s work in “Dunkirk” is among his most emotionally resonant. When “Home” (composed with help from frequent collaborator Benjamin Wallfisch) cues the film’s evacuation scenes, Zimmer’s music fills the screen with swells of emotion. Nolan’s films are often labeled as cold. But with Zimmer’s music, how could they be?

— Harrison Tunggal

Runner-Up: Alexandre Desplat, “The Shape of Water”

“The Shape of Water” is a romance that sweeps viewers off their feet, and Alexandre Desplat’s score is a significant part of that effect. Every track in his score stands out — songs like the eponymous track bob and bounce like ocean water itself, as accordions and flutes interweave and wash over each other. More importantly, on tunes such as “Elisa’s Theme,” Desplat highlights the fairy-tale element of the film while also introducing director Guillermo del Toro’s signature darkness through tracks such as “Fingers.” In this sense, Desplat perfectly captures the ethos of the film, as described by Richard Jenkins’ character, Giles — “Tragedy and delight, hand in hand.”

— Harrison Tunggal

Nominations: Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch for “Blade Runner 2049,” Oneohtrix Point Never for “Good Time” and John Williams for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

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