Hello! So, as I semi-explained before, the goal of the fifties is to make a sort of halfway-through-the-year progress report of all the films you’ve seen and what you’d want to commemorate if you had ballot to cast, especially since plenty of films released before the fall aren’t really considered in that way for one reason or another. Not all categories have five nominees, though most do, and several contain runner-ups (alphabetically listed) to boot. Only Foreign Film isn’t listed. I’m very, very thrilled to be posting this, and even more so thinking about how this list will and will not change as the year goes on. The bottom of the page will have screencaps of the films I’ve seen for this ballot but, now that we’re here, let’s begin!
- After the Storm: This is how you treasure a family you cannot help but repel, and earn second chances you are doomed to trip over
- Get Out: Flaunts its jokes, its anger, its horror, refuting subtlety in favor of building itself towards confrontation with its characters and its audience
- Last Men in Aleppo: Its mere existence feels dangerous and sparking with energy, fully putting us in the viewpoint of people fighting for their lives
- The Lost City of Z: Keeps track of a journey that’s pulsing and present, even as it changes on itself, and on where it’s going
- My Entire High School….: The funnest little slice of a film I’ve seen, visually resplendent, bristly about friendship and growing up
- Raising Bertie: I’ve only had peripheral experience with people in these situations; how valuable it is to see these stories up close, and handled so well
- The Salesman: Astonishingly light in handling the ordeals of its characters, wearing its themes with ease and deepening with every viewing
- Starless Dreams: Fully sees the lives of these girls, what got them there, and where they could possibly be heading, on a personal and systemic level
- Whose Streets?: Our streets; captures the rise of history and keeping track of the people bravely making it happen
- Your Name: You can’t see where it’s going till its final scene but carries you through with empathy and resourceful plot navigation
Runners-Up: Not the hardest list to make, and I’m in love with my ten, but leaving off Atomic Blonde and Casting JonBenet still stings a little.
- Sabah Folayan & Damon Davis, Whose Street?: Assembling their footage like pros from innumerable sources, finding emotional toil in doing the right thing
- James Gray, The Lost City of Z: So rich in examining Percy’s life and those around him, blending modern and classical methods in truly epic scale
- Hirokazu Kore-eda, After the Storm: Offering full portraits of his characters and their lives, handling thorny subjects with sensitivity
- Mehrdad Oskouei, Starless Dreams: Astonishingly gentle in examining the lives of these girls, showing full humans instead of criminals or victims
- Jordan Peele, Get Out: For accruing so many tones and tenors with unsettling ease, gaining more force by refusing to hide his targets or his methods
Runners-Up: Margaret Byrne’s, Faras Fiyyad’s, and Kitty Green’sdifferently heroic documentary work on Raising Bertie, Last Men in Aleppo, and Casting JonBenet, and Asghar Farhadi’s and David Lietch’s takes on potboilers operating universe apart with The Salesman and Atomic Blonde are an equally commendable set of directorial achievements.
- Ashleigh Cummings, Hounds of Love: Whose delinquent ids, poignantly honest pain, and surprisingly powerful will give the film a reason for being; refusing to bond with Evelyn
- Dafnee Keen, Logan: For steely expressions, animalistic fury, and alarming directness, standing tall in a cultural boom of murder children
- Melanie Lynskey, I Don’t Feel At Home….: Owns that madcap tone while balancing the comedy and the ache of every scene; managing a tricky arc while playing a normal woman
- Cynthia Nixon, A Quiet Passion: For prickly intellect and dexterity, handling Davies’ dialogue like a pro as she hold Dickinson under an illuminating, painfully true light
- Kristen Stewart, Personal Shopper: Makes every twitch, stammer, glance count with barely corked rage, terror, and contagious anxiety, with hardly a screen partner
Runners-Up: Taraneh Alidoosti in The Salesman, who does sterling work alongside Shahab Hosseini as a conflicted and heartbreakingly plausible woman.
- Hiroshi Abe, After the Storm: Because that gentle, paternal charisma keeps this increasingly unreliable character so valuable to us, the film, and his family
- Shahab Hosseini, The Salesman: As casual in his characterization as Abe is, but of a stabler man taking an even bigger fall, lashing out at those he cares for
- Charlie Hunnam, The Lost City of Z: For standing by Percy’s jungle obsession, caring about and using the people in his life to further that quest
- Hugh Jackman, Logan: Expanding the Murder Dad trope from Prisoners in heightened tones; keeping Logan’s rage and depression in boldfaced check; naturalizing an inevitable arc
- Channing Tatum, Logan Lucky: Convinces us a doting father, a loyal sibling, and a criminal mastermind, in that cool, low key style
Runners-Up: You are more than willing to swap out Tatum and Jackman for Steve Coogan’s spin on mental illness and narcissistic victim complexes in The Dinner, and Kumail Nanjiani’s tenderly comic and heartfelt rendering of himself in The Big Sick if you want to. I might.
Best Supporting Actress
- Holly Hunter, The Big Sick: For the ways she warms towards Kumail and her husband without betraying the flames she held against them to begin with, funny when it counts
- Kirin Kiki, After the Storm: Cheerily knows her family better than they know themselves with sad self-awareness; delineating relationships with astute physicality
- Melanie Lynskey, XX: Elevates the best film in XX’s anthology with neurotic warmth and exhaustion, keeping a sympathetic hold on the audience throughout
- Sienna Miller, The Lost City of Z: For the grace of period and of Gray, and the deep love she has towards her husband, soured by her painful longing to join him
- Allison Williams, Get Out: Topping that Cassavetes in Rosemary’s Baby arc without bleeding her hand, believable with her affections and liberal awakenings
Runners-Up: Is a performance in a short film in an anthology even eligible? If not, there’s always Betty Gabriel in Get Out, giving the year’s most terrifying close-up, one-take performance, and Ella Rumpf in Raw, who probably would’ve made the list if I felt confident in my memories of her grubby, anxiety-inducing work that I wish I could’ve revisited before publishing this list.
Best Supporting Actor
- Jake Gyllenhaal, Okja: Hilariously self-pitying with unexpected outlandishness in rendering the fraying, washed-up superstar hovering on the film’s edges
- Farid Sajjadi Hosseini, The Salesman: That ailing, shamed frailty; inhabiting the film’s most despicable character with pathetic gentleness, making Emad’s decision that much harder
- Lil Rel Howery, Get Out: The friend you want and need, hilarious and moving without trying to make himself respectable
- Angus Macfayden, The Lost City of Z: Because the scale of this man’s pomposity outstrips expectation at every turn, but his sussing of Percy isn’t wrong
- Ray Romano, The Big Sick: So compelling as a character we never really know even as his relationships are hilariously, painfully palpable
Runners-Up: Luke Evans might have ended up here for his charismatic, physically and vocally adept take on top-dog narcissisms if I hadn’t felt so ill my second trip through Beauty & the Beast I had to leave the theater. LaKeith Stanfield wins some points too for his quietly, discordantly unsettling cameo in Get Out.Patrick Stewart may have shown up if another tour of Logan hadn’t betrayed so many stretch marks, but his final outing as Professor X is still a commendable one.
Best Original Screenplay
- After the Storm, Hirokazu Kore-eda: A slice of life about the life you want and the life you get, fleshing out its characters while denying them arcs
- The Big Sick, Kumail Nanjiani & Emily V. Gordon: Messy like a life is, especially one dealing with a mess like this, finding specific and uncommon beats for a rom-com and for a film, period
- I Don’t Feel At Home…., Macon Blair: Aware of its own low stakes and scope without diminishing its lead’s crisis amid a strangely wound structure
- Okja, Bong Joon-ho: Handles an ever-evolving tone, pointed satire, and colorful characters with shocking ease; suggesting by the end it’s all arbitrary
- The Salesman, Asghar Farhadi: A tale of shell-shocked wives and husbands seeking vengeance for semi-noble reasons; perfectly refracted through Miller
Runners-Up: It feels wrong to leave off Jordan Peele’s script forGet Out, which has such ingenious dialogue and tackles a tougher, more ambitious target by the end than by its start, but the structure of it didn’t exactly wow me, especially once Chris starts actually Getting Out. Maybe another run-through will convince me? Either way, props to Peele, and to Dash Shaw’s deliriously fun, plausibly high schooled (within this film’s reality), and often unpredictable My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea.
Best Adapted Screenplay
- Atomic Blonde, Kurt Johnstad: Not the main attraction, but twisty and fun with a plot that’s rewarding if you look for it, delicious with spy tropes either way
- The Beguiled, Sofia Coppola: Carved into Coppola’s take on antebellum delusions and psychosexual manipulation, less messy than ‘71 but carries that bloody build
- The Lost City of Z, James Gray: Properly epic, credibly ever-changing, compressing Percy’s life while finding innumerable riches throughout the years
- Their Finest, Gaby Chiappe: Saggy middle, yes, but charming buildup and characters culminates in an affecting final third
- Your Name, Makoto Shinkai: Maybe too long but emotionally potent, carrying its conceit with aplomb and crazy swerves while filling out the worlds of both leads
- After the Storm: For uniform lightness of tone and crisp delineation from a sprawling cast, keeping personalities consistent as we learn their histories
- The Big Sick: No one’s a joke, and no one’s infallible either, everyone standing by their character’s take on difficult events
- Get Out: Because everyone’s boldly in sync with Peele’s demands while adding their own flavors, funny and terrifying and in on it all
- My Entire High School….: For teenage snark, angst, and sweetness; adult caring and regret; apocalyptic terror; operating within a limited vocal range
- The Salesman: That everyone plays such clearly and swiftly drawn people rather than just ideas makes Farhadi’s conflicts even tougher to bear
Runners-Up: I Don’t Feel At Home…., whose cast works wonders with a tone that has to operate between the dangerous, the mundane, and the truly odd; and The Lovers, whose characters are so charming and full of history after a half hour of nothing you wonder if it was shot in sequence, and what took this captivating cast so long to show up.
Best Film Editing
- After the Storm, Hirokazu Kore-eda: For letting familial relationships and new discoveries unfold themselves at the character’s pace, allowing gaps to fill themselves
- Atomic Blonde, Elísabet Ronaldsdottír: A trip with action film timing while nailing comic-book interludes, slowing and stopping with fascinating rhythm
- Casting JonBenet, Davis Coombe: For tragicomic inflections, interweaving personal testimonies that bristle against each other, keeping track of its subjects
- The Lost City of Z, John Axelrad & Lee Haugen: Refuses great beginnings or climaxes in favor of continuation, keeping an even hand, plus the year’s sexiest match cut
- Whose Streets?, Christopher McNabb: Jumping between professional, newsreel, handheld, and cell phone footage, makes this portrait even more valuable and feeling multiply authored
Runners-Up: Sarah Flack’s careful measuring of time in The Beguiled; Marion Monnier’s blotting of scenes in Personal Shopper; Hayedeh Safiyari’s unexpected vantage points and remarkable character beats in The Salesman; and Makoto Skinakai’s accenting of his own scripted swaps and reveals in Your Name
- Atomic Blonde, Jonathan Sela: Delicious framing of fight choreography and comic-book blocking, handling neons as easily as interrogation-room dinge
- The Beguiled, Philippe Le Sourd: The power of candlelight excursions and daylight toils are the film’s most reliable sources of tension; gives real stakes to shifting dynamics
- Dunkirk, Hoyt Van Hoytema: Traps its characters in their environments while miraculously keeping score of the world and people around them
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Henry Braham: Because the film’s exuberant color wouldn’t work without managing the frame so carefully; has great fun with the setpieces/numbers
- The Lost City of Z, Darius Khondji: Keenly with Gray’s love of golds and yellows, but so lushly mixed with greens and properly grandiose
Runners-Up: Michael Seresin’s frequent moving lensing of War for the Planet of the Apes, for handsome apes and attention to detail, finding potent, impactful imagery in their quest for survival.
Best Original Score
- Dunkirk, Hans Zimmer: For unrelenting tension without repeating past achievements, refusing to let the audience think these characters are ever safe
- Get Out, Michael Abels: The song of every sinister smile; unrelenting and undeniably potent, like you’re about to get stabbed by a harp
- The Lost City of Z, Christopher Spelman: Keeping the film’s operatic yet temporarily restrained sensibilities; always in continuum, and gorgeous to boot
- My Entire High School…., Rani Sharone: Malleable and moody; the soundtrack to the best video game you’ve never played
- Okja, Marco Beltrami: Accents the film’s shifting tones and making them easier to swallow; adventurous, then zany, then stomach-churningly awful
Runners-Up: One of the few lists I’d truly be happy to keep for the rest of the year, but still, props to Hanaregumi’s scoring of After the Storm, finding soft Margaret-style interludes that perfectly match its tone; Tyler Bates’ work on Atomic Blonde, which dazzles but maybe dazzles better as a soundscape; and Michael Giacchinofor War for the Planet of the Apes, who came the closest and may make it on later for the way it practically carries the whole enterprise like a silent film for long stretches, even if it is over-scored.
- Atomic Blonde, Jonas Jansson & co.: An amazing (diegetic!) soundtrack in tandem with a jam of a score, unsubtle but swings between the calm and the storm (of fists)
- Dunkirk, Richard King & co.: Because who needs dialogue when the whole world is crashing around these people, creating unbearable sonic claustrophobia
- Get Out, Trevor Gates & co.: Horrific spoon-on-tea cup action as affecting as the gulf of the sunken place, mixed with an unsettling score and painful thunks
- My Entire High School…., S. Henshaw & R. Price: Because the soundscape is almost as satisfying as the array of art styles, keeping it zany in fatal crisis
- War for the Planet of the Apes, Will Files & co.: As much variety in bombs and bullets as apes’ cries and the sounds of fingers on palms
Runners-Up: Jan Pasemann’s endless soundscape of All These Sleepless Nights, making it even harder to tell if this project is “real” or not, keeping up its only unique thread.
Best Production Design
- Alien: Covenant, Chris Seagers: For all the weird nooks, crannies, and mad scientist laboratories in Fassy’s cave; the spaceships look pretty great too
- Atomic Blonde, David Scheunemann: Plausibly 80’s, plausibly Russian, all heightened into a reality where the film can exist without spinning out of control
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Scott Chambliss: For Ego’s insane spaceship, palace, and dioramas; golden, remote-controlled pod operators that look like arcade games
- The Lost City of Z, Jean-Vincent Pouzos: For the way the jungle creeps in Percy’s homes as much as it does his mind; for colonist’s huts, native shacks, and strange opera stages
- My Entire High School.…, Dash Shaw: Delightfully rendered in such a very teenaged aesthetic, as perfect a compliment to the variety of styles as everything else
Best Costume Design
- Atomic Blonde, Cindy Evans: For dressing Charlize to the nines in clothes that give her room to kick ass, doing equally right by Boutella and McAvoy
- The Beguiled, Stacy Battat: For conveying dignity and desperation of character through cut and fabric, in day-to-day and formal wares; Kirsten’s spinster-at-30 dresses
- The Lost City of Z, Sonia Grande: Pinning class, rank, and character details onto the men’s breasts; Sienna’s dresses and hats
- Personal Shopper, Jurgen Doering: For all the impossibly chic looks Maureen buys for her invisible boss; the slick array of jackets she sports on a lower but sturdy budget
- Wonder Woman, Lindy Hemming: For genuinely practical armor on the Amazons; Doctor Poison’s mask; the renderings of style icon Diana Prince and superhero icon Wonder Woman
Runners-Up: Katarzyna Lewinska for The Lure, for all the glorious, punk-loving reasons I’m throwing laurels at the makeup; and Catherine Georg for Okja, for crisply-dressed eco-terrorists, corporate glam, and a lovely little red coat.
Best Documentary Feature
- Casting JonBenet: So adept about communities, and how public crises are inevitably refracted through individual ones without suspicion or invalidation
- Last Men in Aleppo: Dangerous and vital, for the director, for his subjects, and for us, chronicling the actions of real life heroes
- Raising Bertie: These are the American lives that deserve eight million op-eds, sensitive with subjects trying to stay above water
- Starless Dreams: That it finds so many textures and spots of light only makes the oppressiveness of their situation harder to watch
- Whose Streets?: Diary of a living, breathing moment, one that rewards its audience while demanding more than just viewership
Best Visual Effects
- Alien: Covenant: Because the film’s most consistent scare is the slimy skin of the fetal Xenomorphs, making that final form all the more terrifying
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: The sheer visual pleasure of so many saturated colors is as bold to superhero films as Logan’s finality; Never steps into Wonderland garishness
- My Entire High School….: Such a deliciously realized combination of mediums working in tandem that I fell in love instantly
- Okja: For making that damn pig the cutest creature on the silver screen in years, so vividly realized you could smell it, feel it, cherish it
- War for the Planet of the Apes: Perfecting the art of digitally rendering genetically engineered apes, evolving and improving as much as the virus wiping out humanity
Apologies to whoever I’m supposed to credit here. Supervisors? Studios? Who knows. Either way, well done folks.
- Hounds of Love, Hayley Atherton: For grubby kidnappers and horrific bruises that indicate the passing of time and the suffering of Vicki without prurience
- The Lost City of Z, Nana Fischer (?): For making the aristocrats look so glamorous, the wear of the jungle so exhausting, individualizing native tribes without exoticizing
- The Lure, Artist Currently Unknown: For 80’s punk-rock glamour specific to each character’s style and each band’s look, keeping these fishes rocking to their own beat
Runners-Up: Beauty and the Beast, for eccentric townsfolk and grooming their leads so romantically, though I can’t tell if making Dan Stevens’s prologue prince into Hedwig Robinson is a plus.
Special Acknowledgements to….
- A Cure for Wellness, which falters in the beginning but whose second half is the most deliciously mad experience at the theaters this year
- The Dinner, so astonishingly flabby and uneven but brings it together and cuts to the core of a lot of horrific white delusions and entitlements
- Oh, Hello! On Broadway, because I had no idea if a filmed play on Netflix counts at all, but it’s a riot and I recommend the hell out of it
- The Void, with creatively disgusting monsters and astonishing practical effects in a time where all that seems in the past