Are the Oscars Important? Should You Care?

halle and denzel

I love the Oscars. Though I disagree with their choices more of than not, I absolutely love the time of year we have come to refer to as “Awards Season.” And why wouldn’t I? The months leading up to the ceremony make up the one time of year in which everyone is talking about movies. I spend an unhealthy amount of time reading people’s thoughts on “Film Twitter”, and even more time listening to movie podcasts, but Awards Season is when people in the real world start talking about movies. This is the time when movies leap out of my cell phone screen, when movies abandon my headphones and step into the real world. This is when movies feel real. Only in February can your Uber driver tell you how disappointed he was by The Shape of Water. I love that, but that’s just me.

It would be an understatement to say that not everybody loves the Oscars as much as I do. There is no question that the vast majority of people on this Earth don’t give a shit about which Hollywood star does or does not win a golden statue. So let’s limit ourselves to people who are into movies. There are people, like me, who are into this whole Oscar thing. Then there are those who will dismiss the Oscars saying they are silly and meaningless because they rarely award the actual best movies of the year. Finally, there is a group who will say that the Oscars are everything that’s wrong with movie culture. There is a certain amount of truth in these people’s opinion, but I find that their arguments seldom take into account a full picture of the role the Oscars play in movie culture. With those people in mind, I will attempt to answer a couple questions I’ve asked myself many times: Are the Oscars important? And more pressingly: Should you care?

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: of course the Oscars are silly. For ninety years they’ve been handed out, mostly existing as a tool for Hollywood to promote itself. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences was created in the twenties with two purposes in mind: First, to clean up Hollywood’s image as a town of vice and immorality in the eyes of the movie-going public. And second, to work as a mediator in labor disputes. At the time, the big studio heads were worried about workers who had begun to unionize. They feared what would happen if writers, directors, and God forbid, actors did the same. These unions needed busting. Enter the Academy Awards, which perfectly served the Academy’s purposes: They presented Hollywood in the most favorable light possible, while giving out golden statues that would hopefully be enough reward to keep employees from wanting to form an union.

The experiment was partially successful. The union-busting aspect didn’t take. Unions were established, and let’s just say they didn’t get along wit the Academy. But the awards-giving aspect of the experiment was a success. I guess everybody loves a good trophy because even when the unions and the Academy were at each other’s throats, the Awards were never cancelled. Instead, they thrived. The public loved to see pictures of their stars hanging out together. Later, they could hear them giving speeches on the radio, and even better, accepting their awards live on television. The self-promotion worked. Winning and Oscar was a big deal. It’s hard to imagine in our days of superhero franchises, but there was a time when Oscar-winning dramas such as Rain Man, On Golden Pond, and Forrest Gump ruled the box office.

The cultural impact of the Oscars has receded quite a bit since then. There is no way Lady Bird will defy the latest Star Wars movie at the box office, but if there is enough talk about the possibility of it winning Best Picture, then that can do a lot to boost its box office. In fact, the movie has already made more than 45 million dollars (not bad for a movie that cost 10 million to make). Similarly, it’s hard to picture movies like Brokeback Mountain, Juno and The Revenant becoming the big hits that they were without the Oscar buzz that built around them. The fact of the matter is that Oscar talk can still generate box office results, and this is one of the very few reasons why movies like this get made anymore. With all this in mind we can answer the first part of our question. “Are the Oscars important?” I guess it depends on your definition of “important”, but for Hollywood, they are definitely a big deal.

Now, on to the second part: “Should we care?” To a lot of people, judging art (in this case movies) as if they were athletes in a competition is not only silly, but offensive. It’s true that engaging with a movie solely based on its potential to win Oscars is an incredibly limited way of engaging with art, and I would be the first to admit that there are some truly horrible corners of the internet in which movies are measured that way exclusively. But is there something to gain out of comparing movies against each other? People love being judgy, and they have been comparing art for a long time. The earliest form of what consider drama, Ancient Greek comedies and tragedies, were pitted against each other in a competition called the “City Dionysia.” It was a festival that lasted several days. On the last day, they gave out awards for the Best Playwright (or Poet), and later, for the Best Actor. Could one argue, then, that competitive art is some sort of inherent human urge?

What went on in the “City Dionysia” isn’t that different from what happens in the South of France every year at the Cannes Film Festival. The most prestigious film directors in the world fight to get a spot in the Official Competition line-up, which allows them the chance to win the coveted Palme D’Or at the festival’s closing ceremony. The Palme, like the Oscar, immediately raises the profile of the winning film. There are many things to critique about Cannes (just like there are many things to critique about the Oscars), but I doubt many cinephiles would say the film community would be better off without Cannes. It’s hard enough to generate any interest in foreign art films, so one doesn’t even want to imagine how dour the situation would be without the pomposity of Cannes.

In a world that is growing less and less interested in cinema, both Cannes and Oscar serve increasingly similar purposes. They keep interest alive for the kind of movies that can no longer generate interest by themselves. Perhaps you find all this self-promotion nauseating, and decry the fact that both the Oscars and Cannes put too much focus on the movies that are out now, and could potentially win awards, forgetting about the rich history of cinema. In that case, it would be worth mentioning that the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences is a very big sponsor of film restoration, having helped to preserve and restore 800 movies, including Hollywood classics, documentaries, shorts, and experimental films. It’s also worth noting that these preservation programs are largely funded by the money that flows into the Academy thanks to the popularity of the Oscar ceremony.

I don’t think it would be a stretch to say most people don’t know about this restoration program, and that if nothing else, the labor the Academy puts into preserving the art-form is enough to justify its existence. However, I think the polemic I’ve encountered most often regarding the Oscars is not whether they should exist, but how they should go about their business. The other day I was talking with a friend of mine about the fact that James Franco did not get a Best Actor nomination. We both assumed he didn’t get it, at least partially, because of the sexual misconduct accusations that surfaced after he won a Golden Globe earlier this year. Now, my friend understood the logic behind voters not wanting to nominate him, but he wondered if denying an artistic achievement because of personal or political reasons was in keeping with the spirit of the Oscars. “Shouldn’t it be about the art?”

It’s a question I have thought a lot about and have come to answer with a resounding “no.” It is not about the art. Judging art in this manner is, like I said before, profoundly silly. Most Best Picture winners are regarded as mediocre films just a couple decades after they win, and eventually forgotten by everyone except Oscars obsessives (when is the last time you heard of Cavalcade or Gentleman’s Agreement?) We all have subjective reactions to art, so pretending that we can quantify and measure the effectiveness of a movie is futile. Even if we wanted to judge the Oscars exclusively based on “the art”, it would be impossible to do so. The Oscars cannot award the “Best Picture” because there is no such thing.

Here’s what the Oscars can do, though. They can shine the spotlight on movies, performances, directors, writers, producers, and craftspeople who wouldn’t get much attention otherwise. They can put movies with tiny budgets on the same stage as gigantic Hollywood spectacles. They can insist, year after year, to devote part of an expensive televised show to awarding documentaries, foreign, and short films. Even more importantly, they can put young up-and-coming talent in the same room as the most powerful and respected Hollywood veterans.

Last week, this year’s nominees came out to what is called the Annual Oscar Nominee Luncheon. An event that is meant to give the nominees a primer on what to do during the ceremony and how to deal with their speech, but is mostly just an excuse for all this people to hang out together for an afternoon. Every year, a “class photo” of all the nominees is taken. It’s one of my favorite moments of the awards season. Looking at the picture, you can see titans Steven Spielberg, emerging actors like Daniel Kaluuya, and pioneering technicians like Rachel Morrison (the first female cinematographer to be ever nominated for an Oscar) standing side by side. Mingling. Getting to know each other. Maybe planning to work together in the future.

The last time I encountered the question of “shouldn’t it be about the art” was during the years of the #OscarSoWhite campaign. Back then, people complained that the Oscars failed to nominate a single person of color in any of the four acting categories. And other people reacting saying that it “should be about the art” and not about a person’s skin color. I’m a little embarrassed that it’s taken me this long to fully develop my thoughts on this matter, but here it goes: The “awarding the best art” part of the Oscars is complete bullshit. What’s not bullshit is the opportunities that can come a person’s way after they become an Oscar nominee. This is why it’s beyond important to nominate women, racial minorities, and members of the LGBTQ community. So they can be part of the conversation. So they can get work. This is how you will be truly trying to elevate the voices that haven’t been heard before. This is how the Oscars can actually “be about the art.”

Oscar’s Moral Licensing: Are We Back to the “Old Days” After a Historic Year?

moral licensing

Moonlight’s victory at last year’s Academy Awards was both shocking and historic. Not just because of any confusion involving Faye Dunaway opening the wrong envelope, but because history tells us that Moonlight isn’t the kind of movie that wins Best Picture. We’re talking about a poetic coming-of-age story about a gay man written and directed by a black man and starring an all-black cast. None of those words describe your typical Best Picture winner. As recently as five years ago, it would’ve been impossible to picture a movie like Moonlight becoming the big Oscar winner of the year. And yet, it happened. In that moment, it seemed like anything was possible. Were we witnessing the beginning of a new era for Hollywood? Maybe not. Looking at the movies likely to take home hardware at this year’s Oscar ceremony, I can’t help but think of a woman named Elizabeth Thompson.

Elizabeth Thompson is the subject of the very first episode of  Revisionist History, a podcast hosted by non-fiction author Malcolm Gladwell dedicated to “history’s overlooked and misunderstood moments.“ In this first episode, Gladwell talks about The Roll Call, a 1874 painting by Thompson which the first painting by a woman to ever be exhibited by the British Royal Academy of Arts. The Roll Call was a total sensation, attracting large crowds both at the Academy’s show in London and on its tour across the country. The painting’s success seemed to signal the beginning of a long and bright career for Elizabeth Thompson. Many assumed she would be the first woman to be admitted into the Royal Academy. That didn’t happen. She didn’t get enough votes to join the Academy. She kept submitting, but her work was never again selected for exhibition. After a while, she stopped painting. And that was that.

Gladwell explains what happened to Thompson using a social psychology term called “moral licensing.” The official explanation of the term goes like this: “past good deeds can liberate individuals to engage in behaviors that are immoral, unethical or otherwise problematic. Behaviors that they would otherwise avoid for fear of feeling or appearing immoral.” Now, there is nothing strictly immoral about giving an award to one actor over another, but I do think the term applies -in a softer interpretation of its definition- to the way this year’s awards season is shaping up.

Let me explain: because the Oscars did something historic last year when they awarded Moonlight, they feel like they have the moral license to not vote for certain movies this time around. So maybe Oscar voters won’t vote for Get Out, because a “black movie” already won last year. Maybe they won’t vote for Call Me By Your Name, because a “gay movie” won last year. It’s like not feeling bad for not giving the change in your pocket to a homeless person, because you gave a quarter to another panhandler earlier in the day. Or like when Kathryn Bigelow won the Best Director award for The Hurt Locker, but wasn’t even nominated for Zero Dark Thirty a couple years later (this year, Greta Gerwig became the first woman to be nominated since Bigelow’s win – eight years later!). You do something good, then you don’t feel bad about doing something… less good.

The way this concept has most clearly manifested itself in this year’s awards is not in the movies that are losing, but the movies and performances that are winning. After the Golden Globes, the Critics Choice Awards, and the Screen Actors Guild Awards, a group of front-runners has solidified itself in the acting races. Looking at these winners -not at the actors, but at the characters they’re playing- one is confronted with a foursome of of loud, un-PC, angry white people. Is this just a coincidence? Or is this Hollywood’s way of reacting to the controversial issues that have defined the industry for the last couple years. What are voters trying to say? “Enough of Oscar so White and #MeToo! We will award whoever we want to award!”

Allison Janney, front-runner in the Best Supporting Actress race, was spotted wearing a pussy hat at the Women’s March in Los Angeles, but you’d be more likely to find her I, Tonya character at a Trump rally. Janney’s an incredible actress, and I would normally be thrilled that she’s about to win an Oscar. But then I look at the role that’s winning her all these trophies and I wonder if I saw the same movie everyone else did. She plays Tonya Harding’s abusive mother in a cartoonish performance that’s fifty percent spitting out politically incorrect one-liners and fifty percent chain-smoking. The character is so one-note that even the one scene in which she shows a hint of vulnerability is undercut by her own selfishness.

Another similarly tough character is played by Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, in which she stars as a mother seeking revenge for her teenage daughter, who was brutally raped and murdered. It’s easy to read that log-line and imagine Three Billboards to be the perfect movie for the Time’s Up movement, but after watching the movie, I doubt writer-director Martin McDonagh is interested in female empowerment. A lot happens in Three Billboards, but little of it makes sense. The movie moves from one shocking revelation to the next, complicating its plot while abandoning any interest it has in its characters’ interiority. McDormand’s character’s “complex” moments include a lot of swearing, poorly motivated arson, and kicking a teenage girl in the crotch. 

It’s ironic McDormand is leading the Best Actress race, because the movie is most interested in the bigoted cop played by Sam Rockwell who, also ironically, is most likely to win the Supporting Actor award. Rockwell’s moronic Officer Dixon is introduced to us as a bad cop known in town for harassing and brutalizing black people. He’s the one who gets an arc, as he suddenly -thanks to script contrivances- gains a conscience and seeks redemption. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this redemption arc, until you surround it with a movie that shows no interest for the woman whose rape and murder incites the action, or the many black characters who only enter the narrative when they can serve as obstacles to the white characters’ goals.

Finally, the race for Best Actor is led by Gary Oldman, who stars in Darkest Hour playing Winston Churchill; and this combination might prove double problematic. Churchill is, of course, one of the biggest conservative icons in history. Darkest Hour covers Oldman under layers of latex to present Churchill as a cooky but effective leader, who gains the courage to stand up to the Nazis by talking with the common folk while riding the underground in a scene that I’m sure is 100% historically accurate. Darkest Hour obviates Churchill’s more controversial moments as a leader, but it has another potentially controversial figure in Gary Oldman himself. That is, if voters decide to pay attention to the actor’s history of physical abuse and controversial statements.

The common denominator among these characters seems to be a lack of regard for political correctness. A bad mom, an angry woman, a racist cop, and an unorthodox leader. All white. All loud. All obnoxious. Doesn’t it seem curious that voters are gravitating toward this set of performances? Is it just that they are taking them at face value without examining further? Or is it that they’re identifying with these (older) white people who don’t seem to fully know what to do with their surroundings? Are these Hollywood folks being threatened by a world that is changing around them? By a world that would give Best Picture to Moonlight?

We won’t know until the first week of March. And even if these four acting races go the expected route, there is still room for surprises in other categories. Most Oscar Experts (if such a term exists) agree that this year’s Best Picture race is the most wide open race we’ve had in a very long time. And it is worth remembering that the Academy has changed the demographic of its membership considerably in the last couple years, thanks to an initiative sparked by the Oscar So White campaign. Estimates say that these new members account for 25% of the membership. That is huge. The Academy is now younger and more diverse than ever. So maybe we will see a year of “moral licensing.” Or maybe Get Out will win Best Picture. Only time will tell.

Coco Awards 2017


It’s become a beloved tradition (don’t ask me by who), for me to list my favorite achievements in acting, directing, writing, and other crafts of cinema. This is all basically an indulgent fantasy of what I would pick, were I in charge of the Oscars, but a fun one. I hope. Anyway, below are my choices for 2017. And if that’s not enough for you, you can hear me talk more about my choices with my good friend Rachel Wagner both in Podcast form and on Youtube.

Best Picture

Lady Bird (dir. Greta Gerwig)
“Don’t you think they are the same thing? Love and attention?” The question, posed by Sister Sarah Joan (Lois Smith) to Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan), is one of those lines that perfectly encapsulate the theme of the movie they’re in. What makes Lady Bird great, however, is that it is not content to say what it’s about, it wants to be what it’s about. Lady Bird shows attention to all its characters, to the details of their lives, to their stories. I can’t think of a more generous, tender, and profound moment than when Gerwig cuts from Lady Bird consoling her ex-boyfriend Danny to her mother, at work, doing the same for a depressed man. This movie is full of love.


This was a good year for movies. I wrote a whole post on my favorite movies of the year, which you can read right now if you click here.

Best Director

Sean Baker (The Florida Project)
I like to spread the wealth, because why have a Best Director category if you’re just gonna give it to the one that directed the Best Picture? I want to single out Sean Baker as someone with an impossible task. A movie about a young girl living in poverty? Are you kidding me? This is a recipe for maudlin disaster. Instead, Baker goes into unexpected places. His young protagonist is loud, rude, and angry. She is an honest child in an honest situation. That extends to the loving but frustratingly angry mother, the kind but restrained hotel keeper, and almost every person that shows up in this gem of a film.


  • Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird): For a most welcome kind of auteurism. Every single frame in the movie is confidently hers. No need to underline or bold.
  • James Gray (The Lost City of Z): For classicism and patience, for searching for the sublime and not finding an answer. For a miraculous ending.
  • David Lowery (A Ghost Story): For vision. For having a crazy idea, following it all the way to the end of the world, and pulling it off.
  • Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie (Good Time): For crafting a flawless movie. Not an ounce of fat, not a misplaced hair, every cliche applies to this machine.

Best Actress

Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird)
Lady Bird is great because it strikes the exact perfect balance in order to make the best movie possible out of Greta Gerwig’s screenplay. There simply wouldn’t be a right balance without Saoirse Ronan, who makes it all look effortless, as she casually gives the best performance of the year. Critic Tim Brayton describes it best: “When the script says that Lady Bird should be tugging on our sympathy, Ronan [makes] her hard and alienating; when the script wants her to be a witty quipster, Ronan [shows] the frantic work Lady Bird has to do in order to seem like she’s not collapsing from stress and fear all the time.” This is the work of a virtuoso at the top of her game. At 23 years old, who knows what the limit is for Ronan’s talent.


  • Regina Hall (Girl’s Trip): For a performance that’s an argument for stardom. She laughs, she cries, she carries the film, and makes it all look effortless.
  • Vicky Krieps (Phantom Thread): For playing on so many levels, everything enigmatic about Alma opens up on further examination (and multiple viewings).
  • Rebecca Spence (Princess Cyd): For warmth and depth, and such a felt woman. She deserves to break big and get offered every available script.
  • Meryl Streep (The Post): For a performance to rival her best work, for understated choices, for that glorious silence before she goes “let’s do it”.

Best Actor

Robert Pattinson (Good Time)
I’ve never been a big Robert Pattinson fan, not even in his artsier projects. This year, however, this was the year of Pattinson. First, he was totally affable and understated as a bearded explorer in The Lost City of Z, and then he delivered what might very well be the performance of his career in Good Time. My problems with Pattinson were always his insistence in intense, big acting. He leaves all of that behind in order to play a low-life whiteboy from Queens who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. His performance is unstoppable. It’s all about action first and thinking later. There’s no room for histrionics, and that’s exactly what the movie needs.


  • Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread): For going out with a bang. An incredibly prickly man, full of line readings that will do down in history.
  • Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out): For holding one of the best movies of the year together. The way he uses his eyes alone should make him a star.
  • Adam Sandler (The Meyerowitz Stories): For loss, anger, sadness, all ingredients in the regular Sandler formula, re-mixed into outstanding work.
  • Ben Stiller (Brad’s Status): For the best work of his career. He’s been playing white men in crisis lately, but never going as ugly and honest as here.

Best Supporting Actress

Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird)
She plays the protagonist’s mother, and the performance is so layered there is really no simple way to describe the character. I’ve heard people refer to her as “overbearing”, “conflicted”, even as a “bad mother.” None of those descriptions -especially the last one- make the character, or the performance, any justice. There is so much going on behind Marion McPherson’s harsh façade, and Metcalf lets us in on it through a most graceful performance. “I just want you to be the best version of yourself”, she tells her daughter. “What if this is it?” asks the girl. The mother shoots her a look. And what a look it is. There are no words, yet Metcalf says more about her character she might as well have written a novel about her. With one look.


  • Tiffany Haddish (Girls Trip): For filthy hilarity and an earnest, warm heart. A masterful balancing act if there ever was one.
  • Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread): For providing a staggering and unpredictable foe to Daniel Day-Lewis, with limited screen-time and rigorous restrain.
  • Michelle Pfeiffer (Mother!): For understanding what kind of movie she’s in and hitting straight for the fences. La Pfeiffer reigns supreme!
  • Taliah Lennice Webster (Good Time): For turning a one course meal into a banquet, giving us so much about her character through honest and detailed behavior.

Best Supporting Actor

Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project)
Imagine having the range of Willem Dafoe? He’s played everyone from a murderous vampire to Jesus Christ. He has played villains, sidekicks, buffoons. But there is one thread that stretched through all of his performances. A sort of melancholy that hides behind his angular face and comes through his big blue eyes. It’s that soft pain of recognizing the dangers and injustices in the world, even when you can’t do much about it. In The Florida Project he plays a motel manager who is simultaneously an antagonist and a guardian to the poor people trying to scrape by in the outskirts of Orlando. He brings in so much humanity to the role it may very well the brightest moment of his career.


  • O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Ingrid Goes West): For being charming as fuck. A breath of fresh air and low-key empathy in a very frantic film.
  • Rob Morgan (Mudbound): For the most soulful look you’ll ever see, for a quiet passion that makes him the heart of the film.
  • Ray Romano (The Big Sick): For a thoughtful and heartfelt performance, as loving and warm as the movie. Raymond can act y’all!
  • Michael Stuhlbarg (Call Me By Your Name): For the power of kindness and softness, and the way he sells that flowery monologue like nobody’s business.

Best Ensemble Cast

(Jonathan Banks, Mary J. Blige, Jason Clarke, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Mitchell, Rob Morgan, Carey Mulligan)
The great thing about Mudbound‘s structure is that every major character gets a spotlight shone on them at one point or another (especially during the first half). It can feel like a disjointed ensemble at first, since we’re bouncing off from one character’s perspective to another’s. Being inside someone’s head and then seeing them from the outside can be disorienting. However, once the table setting has been done, and we’ve learned who each of these players is… Well, that’s when the magic starts happening. Suddenly every glance, movement, comment says volumes about each character. It’s a worthy set-up, and this amazing cast relishes in the payoff.


  • The Beguiled: For an incredible cast of veteran and young actresses, who give personality to even the smallest roles. And you can do worse than Colin Farrell as the sole male.  
  • Get Out: Because virtually every performance in this movie is memorable, everyone gets a chance to shine, and they take it.
  • Lady BirdBecause how could a movie as generous as this one work without a masterful ensemble at both comedy and drama?
  • The Meyerowitz Stories: Because through chaos, bounciness, and stillness, these people evoke all the frustrations of interacting as a family.  

Best Original Screenplay

Get Out (Jordan Peele)
One cannot help but commend a movie that manages to capture the zeitgeist not just because of its topicality, but because it’s so damn good. Peele’s biggest accomplishment is being able to take a bunch of horror influences (Rosemary’s Baby, The People Under the Stairs) and remix them into something that functions like a perfect pop culture machine. It’s hard to find true originality and energy in the three-act template of mainstream Hollywood, but once in a while comes someone who can grab that template and take it to the bank.


  • Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig): For a screenplay so fully committed to finding the point of entry into every characters’ humanity. A humanitarian effort, if you will.
  • The Meyerowitz Stories (Noah Baumbach): For giving into the comedy, diving into silliness in order to find pathos. And for juggling adventurous structures.
  • Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson): For the most bizarre romantic comedy I’ve ever seen. For remaking Fifty Shades of Grey as a prestige picture.
  • Princess Cyd (Stephen Cone): A wonderful script throughout, but I come back endlessly to Rebecca Spence’s monologue in the kitchen. What a piece of writing.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Mubound (Dee Rees, Virgil Williams)
My favorite thing about this screenplay is its use of narration, a device that is usually used a crutch, but is essential to the success of this movie. The proper plot doesn’t really kick in until halfway through the movie -when the two sons come home from the war. The entire first half is dedicated to get us to know every one of the main players intimately. Narration from six different characters is how this is achieved, by making us stand in their shoes, see the world from their perspective. That’s the only way we can truly understand the dynamics at play between these two conflicted families.


  • The Beguiled (Sofia Coppola): For a remake that turns the focus from heinous revelations into one about observation and behavior.
  • Frantz (François Ozon): Remixing Lubitsch, changing perspectives and diving right into the melancholic crevasses of the original.
  • Hermia & Helena (Matías Piñeiro): More inspiration than adaptation, but a movie with a unique and worthy vision of Shakespearean romance in the 21st century.
  • The Lost City of Z (James Gray): An old-fashioned movie with a progressive heart, a way of talking all its own, and a mythical structure.

Best Animated Film

World of Tomorrow Episode Two: The Burden of Other People’s Thoughts
The first World of Tomorrow -animator Don Hertzfeldt’s first foray into digital animation- is nothing short of a miracle. The brilliant short film takes the musings of a sedated futuristic clone and clashes them against the nonsensical freedom of her four year old past self. This second installment goes even further, looking not at how we might interact with the dehumanizing technologies of the future, but how we hold on to the fondness memories of the past. Equal parts hilarious and heart-breaking, this sequel is more experimental, more densely stuffed, and harder to grasp than the original. But none of that makes it any less rewarding.


  • The Breadwinner: Beautifully animated drama, walks such a fine line between whimsy and horrific tragedy. Impressive in tone and theme.
  • Your Name: Goes a bit too deep into science fiction for me, but a lovely body-swapping story about knowing the person you fall in love with.  

Best Cinematography

The Lost City of Z (Darius Khondji)
Director James Gray and cinematographer Darius Khondji have become great collaborators. Their first movie together, The Immigrant, culminated in one of the most overwhelmingly beautiful final shots of any film. Then, they decided to top themselves with The Lost City of Z. But it’s not just that the last image we see in this movie is incredible, the whole journey through the Amazon is a unique spectacle. It’s the kind of detailed, beautiful photography that takes into account the true majesty of the landscape. And the final section of the movie, before that wondrous last shot, in which the explorer’s last journey turns into a fire-lit dream is nothing if not magical.


  • The Beguiled (Philippe Le Sourd): Life has left this house. Everything is dull, damp, humid. Women hiding in the shadows of a decrepit fortress.
  • The Florida Project (Alexis Zabe): The ugliest buildings, in the most beautiful light. How can you find visual elegance without making poverty look fun?
  • A Ghost Story (Andrew Droz Palermo): A movie of images. It’s all about placing a white sheet with two holes amid time and space.
  • Good Time (Sean Price Williams): Close-up on the face. The protagonist isn’t stopping and neither are we. But don’t worry, wide shots tell the truth.

Best Production Design

Wonderstruck (Mark Friedberg)
I am still sad I couldn’t love Wonderstruck as much as I wanted. The movie can never fully rise past a disastrous screenplay, but every technical aspect of it shines bright in my memory. None of them more than the production design, which recreates New York in the roaring twenties and the run-down seventies. Both times are reproduced with intense love and care. And if that weren’t enough, Mark Friedberg tops himself with an unbelievable diorama-like montage toward the end of the film. One of the most purely beautiful sequences I saw all year.


  • Atomic Blonde (David Scheunemann): For an East Berlin that feels decrepit, dull and yet excitedly dangerous. A sea of grey that pops with neon.
  • Call Me By Your Name (Samuel Deshors): I heard that this basically shot in Guadagnino’s house. I’m just here to say the guy has great taste.
  • A Cure for Wellness (Eve Stewart): The most art directed movie of the year, and boy am I glad about it. The Creepiest Beautiful Budapest Hotel.
  • Downsizing (Stefania Cella): Because everything’s just a little off. A reminder that the scale of the world is not the one we know.

Best Costume Design

Phantom Thread (Mark Bridges)
This is a movie about a fashion designer, so of course the costumes are going to look great. But Phantom Thread is a cagey movie, about characters who aren’t willing to open up about themselves and their feelings. We learn a lot about them through their costuming choices. The outdated red dress Alma wears to her first date, the ridiculous vest-over-pajamas Reynolds wears to a frustrating dinner, and the incredible white collar shirt and black dress Alma wears in her final fantasy are all indicative of these hermetic characters’ inner lives.


  • Atomic Blonde (Cindy Evans): Give me Charlize pulling up her turtleneck. Give me McAvoy’s giant coat. Give them to me every single day.
  • The Beguiled (Stacey Battat): Dressed in their best clothes, impressing a man who is an enemy. Southern decadence perfectly reflected.
  • Call Me By Your Name (Giulia Piersanti): It’s all about the shorts! And the big sneakers! And the colors! The eighties without screaming.
  • The Post (Ann Roth): The golden caftan is the obvious standout, but it’s the most written about costume choice of the year for a reason. “caftan as superhero cape.”

Best Editing

Good Time (Ronald Bronstein, Ben Safdie)
How can one truly judge a movie’s editing without knowing what was left in the cutting room floor? One can only turns toward a movie’s rhythms, how it uses its pace and its length. It’s easy to be impressed with the editing in a movie as propulsive and tense as Good Time. The movie follows its problematic protagonist relentlessly through a night of bad mistakes. I am, however, also impressed by the times when the movie pumps the breaks. The beginning and the end, when we spend time with the other Nikas brother, and see how the rhythms of their lives are different, and affect each other.


  • Faces, Places (Maxime Pozzi-Garcia, Agnes Varda): The magic of Varda’s movies lies in the editing bay. Bonus points for making JR so likable.
  • Get Out (Gregory Plotkin): There is nothing more satisfying than a well-edited horror, especially one that puts unsettling moods over loud scares.
  • Hermia & Helena (Sebastián Schjaer): Cutting back and forth from location and stories, creating confusion and play. Cinema becomes a game.
  • The Meyerowitz Stories (Jennifer Lame): Her experiments with Baumbach are developing a structural and rhythmic style of their own. Unique work.

Best Original Score

A Ghost Story (Daniel Hart)
The key to a great movie score is a great theme. Daniel Hart’s main theme for A Ghost Story is simply perfect. During the course of this small budget epic through the afterlife, the score is re-interpreted as a melancholy tune, a romantic love song, and a rousing spiritual crescendo. The way in which Hart finds new depths and permutations to his music is ideal for a movie that keeps re-inventing itself, opening itself up bit by bit until it dares to try and capture a whole universe inside itself. The second half o this movie is guided by the score. That’s a feat.


  • Good Time (Daniel Lopatin): Eighties high octane synths that keep up the tempo. After all, this movie can never stop.
  • The Lost City of Z (Christopher Spelman): Appropriately mysterious and atmospheric, while still feeling like a classical score.
  • Okja (Jaeil Jung): So expansive, from guitars idly strumming to a staccato horn section racing with itself. It’s big and adventurous.
  • Phantom Thread (Jonny Greenwood): A new side of Greenwood, so sweeping and romantic. The opening section of the film is all his.

Best Sound

The Lost City of Z
In a movie about a British explorer searching for new life in the depths of the Amazon, the sounds of Victorian England and the most remote nature blend in unexpected ways. The movie opens with Amazonian drums that turn into the fanfare of a British hunting party. What are the sounds of this jungle? They’re not wholly realistic, they feel like a dream, or a fantasy. Everything is so quiet, and yet, there is a thin veneer of unsettling awareness. That is not the life the explorer used to know. That he might encounter whatever he is looking for at any moment.


  • Get Out: Because there are no jump scares in this movie, just a constant build-up toward dread. That tea cup is the most memorable sound of the year.  
  • John Wick: Chapter 2: Because John Wick lives in a cartoonish world, and the sound effects reflect that with the most extreme -often funny- choices.  
  • Okja: Okja is one of the best virtual characters of the year, and everything she does is emphasized through sound choices. Sound sells reality.  
  • Phantom Thread: This movie sounds like no other, toying with us and the line between cruelty and romance. Buttering toast is second only to that teacup.  

Best Makeup and Hair

Atomic Blonde
Atomic Blonde is a movie of extremes. It doesn’t take place in late-eighties East Berlin as much as it takes place in the Platonic Ideal of late-eighties East Berlin. Everything is turned up to eleven, carefully designed to perfection. There are two basic things that make up should achieve in every movie: make its stars look good, and alter their look through seamless effects. Charlize Theron has never looked better than she does in this movie. And you will believe the woman is going through intense physical strain whenever she scratched, cut, or lands a punch in the face.


  • Battle of the Sexes: Contemporary wigs lack the necessary frizziness to conjure the seventies. Not here. The styles might be obvious, but the texture was there.  
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2It’s just a bunch of painted faces, but boy am I in love with the color palette of this brightly colored skins.
  • Phantom Thread: In a movie about a prickly trio playing games with each other, a single hair out of place says loads about the contender.

Best Visual Effects

It’s hard to truly judge the achievements of visual effects artists in a time when our effects-driven movies are inundated in oceans of computer generated imagery. It all starts to look the same after a while, which makes the creation of Okja -the genetically modified super-pig at the center of Bong Joon-ho’s movie- stand out as the great visual achievement of 2017. You’ll believe super-pigs exist! Not just because the thing looks very photorealistic, but because of the personality and detail that the animators put in making this creature come to life.  


  • DunkirkPractical effects forever. They wanted us to feel like we went to war, and I’m pretty sure we did.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2: I still come back to that flying red pen scene, and let’s not forget about the all-color psychedelic look of this movie.
  • Mother! Say what you want about the movie’s themes, but that last third of total chaos is nothing if not a feat of film making.   
  • Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets: Best effects or most effects? One visual wonder after another is just one of this movie’s pleasures.