Not-Oscars 2017

Welcome to another Not-Oscars, where I call out the year’s best craft and performances, including plenty of good work that was not nominated by the Academy. In many years, this list feels pressing to correct some of the Academy’s egregious blunders. This year, I’m pretty happy with the crop of nominees in every category.

The Academy’s voting body has been shaken up a bit, and you can tell. Last year brought wins for Moonlight, Mahershala Ali, and Viola Davis, plus plenty more diversity amongst the nominees. Davis was due, but it’s easy to imagine Moonlight not even being nominated a few years ago.

This year is bound to be a little less daring. The acting frontrunners are all white, two from a film that purports to deal with American racism but forgets to include any people of color in the conversation. It’s not a great look for the Academy in this current moment. Get Out has had to carry the diversity mantle pretty much on its own this year — but it’s a different kind of awards movie, one that doesn’t play nice or pretend things are all better now. It may get votes from the most rebellious Oscar voters, but this year most Academy members prefer to celebrate diversity through the safe distance of a metaphor, with the deaf woman in love with a merman in The Shape Of Water. In a year where every choice seems to say something about our politics, the only thing enough of us can agree on, I guess, is that interspecies romance is totally fine.

It’s still a promising year for progress at the Oscars. Rachel Morrison is the first female nominated for Best Cinematography, while Greta Gerwig is in the race for writing and directing Lady Bird. Many of the Best Picture nominees are female-led, including those most likely to win Best Picture. A movie starring a trans woman is likely to win Best Foreign Language Film, and a gay love story is nominated for Best Picture and a favorite to win Best Adapted Screenplay. “Brutally honest” Oscar ballots reveal plenty of problematic thinking from some voters, but at least the lineup of nominees this year is about right. It may take a bit more time for the actual winners to consistently follow suit.


The Lost City Of Z — James Gray


Call Me By Your Name — James Ivory
Blade Runner 2049 — Hampton Fancher and Michael Green
Stronger — John Pollono
Molly’s Game — Aaron Sorkin



I, Tonya — Steven Rogers


The Square — Ruben Östlund
Lady Bird — Greta Gerwig
Get Out — Jordan Peele
Rift — Erlingur Thoroddsen

Molly’s Game is what we expect from Aaron Sorkin, but this time with a female protagonist. It’s even more satisfying to see his typical blunt, whip-smart protagonist be a woman, especially in the year Harvey Weinstein was booted out of Hollywood. The story of Boston Marathon bombing victim Jeff Bauman, Stronger could have easily been a treacly affair, humming with thoughtless patriotism. Instead, it dares to question the hero worship of mass murder survivors with its flawed protagonist. Blade Runner 2049 has pretty spare dialogue, but its story was the perfect continuation of the 1982 classic, with imaginative flourishes at every turn. Call Me By Your Name is a faithful adaptation of a beloved novel with a difficult task — the book’s sensuality is perfectly translated to screen without going overboard. Rift is an original mix of gay drama and horror tropes, keeping psychological horror of all kinds at the forefront. Get Out brilliantly satirizes the kinder, gentler racism many people still encounter today, even from die-hard liberals. Lady Bird is a beautiful memoir (or semi-memoir), alighting on so much without calling attention to any of it. The Square is fucking hilarious, a comedy with a very unique tone.

As for my winners, I went with James Gray’s The Lost City Of Z screenplay, adapted from a book that alternated between Percy Fawcett’s exploration and a present day story. Excising the modern “way in” was the right way to go for the movie, and the script never hits a false note. In ways, I, Tonya is a lot more of an adapted screenplay than an original one — lots of the dialogue comes from real interviews — but its approach to the biopic is so fresh and invigorating, breaking rules all over the place just as its heroine would.


Denis Villeneuve — Blade Runner 2049


Darren Aronofsky — mother!
James Gray — The Lost City Of Z
Kathryn Bigelow
 — Detroit
Craig Gillespie I, Tonya

Honorable Mentions:
Paul Thomas Anderson — Phantom Thread
Greta Gerwig — Lady Bird

I’m so excited to see what Greta Gerwig does next. Lady Bird is a phenomenal debut, though I have a feeling she’s only just beginning to show us what she can do. Paul Thomas Anderson is forever one of my favorite auteurs, and Phantom Thread is a uniquely elegant affair that could only come from the master. I could easily add another five or ten great directors to this list this year. But the five directors I liked most grappled with challenging material. Craig Gillespie’s visual style worked in perfect synchronicity with Steven Roger’s screenplay, making I, Tonya a socially relevant ton of fun that can be rewatched over and over. (Trust me.) Kathryn Bigelow brought her trademark verisimilitude to truly tough material in Detroit, and as usual, got some flack for not staying in her “corner.” Her film is horrifying, but so important — the fact that it made people uncomfortable is just as it should be. James Gray harkens back to David Lean’s epics for The Lost City Of Z, creating a film that feels like it was made then, with the vision of now. The last few scenes are truly haunting. Darren Aronofsky went for broke with mother!, a devil-may-care exploration of nature, religion, celebrity, maternity, and misogyny that couldn’t possibly be more striking. He immerses us in the experience of his female protagonist, which exhilaratingly moves from unsettling to nightmarish to all-hell-breaks-loose.

Of course, I had to give this one to Denis Villeneuve, who was tasked with making a long-anticipated sequel to one of the most revered science fiction films of all time. I expected Blade Runner 2049 to share more in common with lame sci-fi reboots like RoboCop or Total Recall than the 1982 original. Instead, Villeneuve captures the spirit of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner entirely, from the jaw-dropping production design to the ponderous story, leaving us as Scott did with more questions than answers. I never expected any sequel to be so good.


Algee Smith — Detroit


Timothée Chalamet — Call Me By Your Name
Daniel Kaluuya — Get Out
Jake Gyllenhaal — Stronger
Charlie Hunnam  The Lost City Of Z

Honorable Mentions:
James Franco — The Disaster Artist
Daniel Day-Lewis — Phantom Thread

Daniel Day-Lewis is terrific, of course, but his performance turns out not to be the anchor of Phantom Thread. I fell hard for James Franco’s oddball Tommy Wiseau, a great synthesis of star and subject. For my picks, though, I needed Charlie Hunnam in there, as The Lost City Of Z was the first time I’d thought of him as a viable leading man — he sells this tortured explorer. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Stronger didn’t take off as it should have, and this was a difficult role; once again, he deserves more credit than the Academy is giving him. Daniel Kaluuya’s lead performance in Get Out jumped out at me right away — he lets us know exactly what Chris is thinking at all times, without a word. I’m tempted to say a star is born in Timothée Chalamet, but I don’t want to jinx him, so let’s just say I’m looking forward to his next few roles.

The performance that really grabbed me by the heart this year, though, was Algee Smith as the emotional anchor of Detroit. The character’s passion for music carried through so well that I really, really wanted to see Larry Reed become a star, even though this isn’t that kind of movie. The third act tries to fit a lot of material into a short amount of time, but it’s Smith’s performance that allows Detroit to stick the landing.


Margot Robbie — I, Tonya


Saoirse Ronan — Lady Bird
Daniela Vega — A Fantastic Woman
Jessica Chastain — Molly’s Game
Jennifer Lawrence — mother!

Honorable Mentions:
Kristen Stewart — Personal Shopper
Sally Hawkins — The Shape Of Water

“Nevertheless, she persisted” could be the mantra for so many great 2017 film protagonists, including the women on the list.It’s a stacked race, forcing me to leave out some deserving names. Sally Hawkins nails a challenging role in The Shape Of Water, convincing us that she’s deaf and in love with a fish, and we never question either. That can’t be easy. Kristen Stewart shows her unlikely post-Twilight indie star power in another Olivier Assayas movie, and she’s riveting. Ultimately, I couldn’t leave out Jennifer Lawrence for spending much of mother! in hysterics. She’s given very little of a character to play and still manages to carry the movie. Jessica Chastain proved she was more than a match for Sorkin’s rapid-fire dialogue, making her the best Sorkin lead since Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network. Daniela Vega fascinates in A Fantastic Woman as a trans woman taking on her deceased partner’s callous family; the story can feel too on-the-nose for audiences already familiar with trans issues, but the fiery Vega keeps us hooked. Saoirse Ronan continues to convince me that there’s nothing she can’t do — I wasn’t sure if I’d buy her as a typical bratty American girl, but I fell in love with her.

No performance by a man or woman in 2017 hits the same height as Margot Robbie’s Tonya Harding, however. The movie wouldn’t work if Tonya were less dynamic. We don’t exactly like her, but we still want her to come out ahead because we can see how hard she’s fighting. I suspected Margot Robbie was a star the first time I saw her knockout performance in The Wolf Of Wall Street, and I, Tonya makes it official. Let’s hope she keeps getting roles worthy of these chops — keep your hands off her, DC. She can do so much better.


Michelle Pfeiffer — mother!


Allison Janney I, Tonya
Sienna Miller The Lost City Of Z
Laurie Metcalf Lady Bird
Elisabeth Moss The Square

Honorable Mentions:
Miranda Richardson — Stronger
Tatiana Maslany — Stronger

David Gordon Green’s Stronger stars Jake Gyllenhaal in a very physical performance. Tatiana Maslany is his girlfriend, struggling to remain sympathetic while he works out his anger at losing his legs. Miranda Richardson is his very Boston mama, a bit misguided but trying her best, in a year of complicated mothers. Elisabeth Moss stretches her comedic muscles as The Square‘s indignant one night stand, and she’s marvelous. Laurie Metcalf is getting raves as Lady Bird‘s prickly mom, who never says or does quite the right thing, yet we sense that intent is there all the while. Sienna Miller elevates the typical “supportive wife” character several notches, giving us plenty to chew on as we exit the theater. Allison Janney’s twisted mother in I, Tonya is laugh-out-loud hilarious, but the performance really got under my skin in her quietest moments. When she realizes she just chucked a knife into her daughter’s arm; as she watches her daughter skate at the Olympics on TV with an inscrutable expression; her final betrayal of Tonya — it’s all golden.

But one mother in 2017 was the mother of them all. Damn, it’s good to have Michelle Pfeiffer back on the big screen. Her role in mother! is on the small side, but our eyes are glued to her sassy, boozy troublemaker in every moment. I loved mother!, but it’s short on characters who are believably human. The unpredictable Pfeiffer makes us forget we’re watching an allegory. Her arrival is the moment Aronofsky’s offbeat horror film hooked me.


Terry Notary — The Square


Sebastian Stan I, Tonya
Willem Dafoe The Florida Project
Paul Walter Hauser I, Tonya
Armie HammerCall Me By Your Name

Honorable Mentions:
John Lithgow — Beatriz At Dinner
Bob Odenkirk — The Post

The Post has a powerhouse cast across the board, but Bob Odenkirk ends up being the most dynamic character in the film. I would have easily watched a version of the movie that’s all about him. John Lithgow perfectly embodied the slimy rich dick we’re all too familiar with in 2017. He’s unabashedly hatable. Armie Hammer’s cool reserve makes Elio work for that romance in Call Me By Your Name. He’s well worth falling in love with, especially while dancing to the Psychedelic Furs. Paul Walter Hauser steals scenes in the already over-the-top I, Tonya as Harding’s delusional bodyguard. You could fault him for being too funny, except that it’s all true. Here’s hoping we see him become a leading man in comedies. Willem Dafoe is so deserving of an Oscar win for his soulful work in The Florida Project. Working mostly with non-professional actors, he’s the film’s emotional anchor without sticking out as “the movie star.” I can’t imagine the movie without him. Sebastian Stan plays 2017’s most true-to-life toxic male, an insecure abuser who flushes his wife’s life down the toilet without a second thought. The character is despicable, but Stan finds the human in Jeff Gillooly. We can see how he sees himself as a misunderstood hero, even though we know he’s a pathetic jerk.

The most riveting supporting performance of the year, however, comes from Terry Notary in The Square. He’s only in one scene and has no dialogue, but he definitely gets our attention. He’s played apes before in the new The Planet Of The Apes series and Kong: Skull Island, with CGI assistance. In The Square, there’s no makeup or special effects to aid the performance. He’s animalistic and terrifying.


Get Out


Blade Runner 2049
Call Me By Your Name
Marjorie Prime

It’s impossible to fit every performance I admired into the above categories this year, so here’s one that calls out the casts stacked with great talent all-around (but few Oscar nominations to show for it). It’s hard to classify Marjorie Prime‘s central performances as lead or supporting, as the film’s origins as a stageplay give all four equal consideration. Geena Davis, Tim Robbins, Jon Hamm, and Lois Smith have to carry the entire film — it’s really nothing but their performances, and they have a lot of complicated stuff to play. Call Me By Your Name is nominated for Chalamet, but Michael Stuhlbarg and Amira Casar enrich the film as Elio’s vibrant, loving parents, while Esther Garrel captivated as his would-be girlfriend. I would kill for an Italian dinner with these characters. Detroit‘s cast had a harrowing job, in depicting police brutality and wrongful killing against innocent victims. From Will Poulter’s callous racist cop to John Boyega’s conflict security guard, it’s all handled just right. Blade Runner 2049 was sold on its male leads, with Ryan Gosling ably stepping into the leading man role, Harrison Ford emoting more than we’ve seen him do lately, and Jared Leto’s curiously syncopated villain. What was surprising, however, was how many fascinating, fleshed out female characters it had, populated with a very international cast. Cuba’s Ana de Armas is spellbinding as Joi, a character we’re never sure that we can trust; Israel’s Hiam Abbas is Freya, a passionate leader of replicant rebels; Canadian Mackenzie Davis is Mariette, a playful prostitute; Switzerland’s Carla Juri plays a lonely photographer, trapped behind glass due to weakened immunity; the Netherlands’ Sylvia Hoeks is the stone cold killer Luv, who displays traces of humanity at the outer edges; and American Robin Wright commands as Lieutenant Joshi, who will go to any length to ensure that the world stays in order. Most of these actresses I was unfamiliar with, and each one blew me away in this movie.

But there’s so much excellence in casting in Get Out. Kaluuya is the perfect lead, but Allison Williams — who probably embodies “basic bitch” better than any other actress — is a riot as his oh-so-progressive girlfriend. Bradley Whitford makes a compelling antagonist even before he’s outright evil, trying so hard to prove he’s “down” with Chris’ blackness. The warm, low-key Catherine Keener is cast against type as a villain with terrifying power. Unnerving supporting turns from Lakeith Stanfield, Betty Gabriel, and Marcus Henderson as victims of whatever’s happening here keep us guessing at what, exactly, is “off” here. Most of the core cast keeps the tone of the film from getting too silly, keeping Get Out as real as it needs to be to pack some punch.


Blade Runner 2049 — Roger Deakins

All These Sleepless Nights — Michal Marczak & Maciej Twardowski
RiftJohn Wakayama Carey
mother!Matthew Libatique
A Ghost StoryAndrew Droz Palermo

Clearly, I was drawn to some pretty moody photography this year. A Ghost Story’s square frame is striking, and nearly every frame of the film is haunting. The camera really captures the character’s loneliness and sadness — which is incredible when you remember that this is Ben Affleck’s brother under a bedsheet. Mother! kept us in Jennifer Lawrence’s POV, or on her face, for almost 100% of the movie, really selling the trauma and claustrophobia of the story’s descent into darkness. On what must have been a small budget, Rift made the most of its remote Icelandic location, providing plenty of suspense and an overall sense of foreboding indoors and out. All These Sleepless Nights is a docudrama shot like a movie, with some of the most intimate and exciting camerawork I’ve ever seen in a nonfiction film.

As for my top pick? Duh. Anyone who does not think Blade Runner 2049 has the year’s best cinematography should check themselves into an insane asylum immediately. Every frame of the film is a work of art.



Phantom Thread — Johnny Greenwood


Blade Runner 2049 — Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch
The Lost City Of Z
— Christopher Spelman
A Ghost Story — Daniel Hart
Get Out — Michael Abels

Get Out uses an African influenced soundscape as we rarely hear one, creating a scene of primal foreboding despite the modern, upper middle class setting. A Ghost Story‘s haunting score is superb throughout, but particularly epic in time-travel sequences. It matches the deep, dreary thoughts we can’t help but have while watching it. The Lost City Of Z captures the expansive, intangible nature of the jungle, haunting Percy Fawcett even when he’s back home, constantly pulling him and us back on his quest. The 2017 score I’ve listened to most is Blade Runner 2049, which matches the film in its brutal beauty — it’s hard, hard, hard, with fleeting emotional moments.

But my winner is the Oscar-nominated Phantom Thread. Johnny Greenwood’s lush, distinct score establishes the film as something a little… different. It’s both elegant and enigmatic, sounding both classical and defiant at once. Hearing it played live by the LA Philharmonic cemented it as my pick this year.


Jessica Chastain — Molly’s Game


Margot RobbieI, Tonya
Vicky KriepsPhantom Thread
Daniela VegaA Fantastic Woman
Saoirse Ronan — Lady Bird



Jennifer Lawrence & Javier Bardem — mother!


Daniel Kaluuya & Allison Williams Get Out
Margot Robbie & Sebastian Stan I, Tonya
Harris Dickinson & Madeline Weinstein Beach Rats
Emma Watson & Dan Stevens — Beauty And The Beast



Michael Stuhlbarg — Call Me By Your Name


Tracy Letts Lady Bird
Steve Carell Last Flag Flying
Harrison Ford Blade Runner 2049
Claes Bang The Square



Amira Casar — Call Me By Your Name


Holly Hunter The Big Sick
Edie Falco — Landline
Lois Smith Marjorie Prime
Sean Young Blade Runner 2049

nicole-kidman-killing-sacred-deer.jpgWORST MOTHER

Nicole Kidman — The Killing Of A Sacred Deer


Catherine Keener Get Out
Allison Janney I, Tonya
Maryana Spivak Loveless
Frances McDormand Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri



Javier Bardem — mother!


Colin Farrell The Killing Of A Sacred Deer
Kevin Costner Molly’s Game
Dustin Hoffman The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected)
Charlie Hunnam The Lost City Of Z



John Lithgow Beatriz At Dinner


James Franco The Disaster Artist
Christopher Plummer All The Money In The World
Daniel Day-Lewis — Phantom Thread
Robert Pattinson Good Time



Laurie Metcalf — Lady Bird


Margot Robbie I, Tonya
Jessica Chastain Molly’s Game
Brooklynn Prince The Florida Project
Salma Hayek Beatriz At Dinner


Calvin — Life


Catherine Keener Get Out
Will PoulterDetroit
Tilda Swinton & Jake GyllenhaalOkja
Jon Hamm Baby Driver



Call Me By Your Name — “Visions Of Gideon”


A Ghost Story — “I Get Overwhelmed”
Blade Runner 2049 — “Suspicious Minds” / “Can’t Help Falling In Love”
The Greatest Showman — “Never Enough”
The Square — “Genesis”

Best Of Film 2017

Rest Of Film 2017

The Not-Oscars 2016

The Not-Oscars 2015

The Not-Oscars 2014

The Not-Oscars 2013




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