Welcome to the Second Annual Sacred Wall Awards! After spending the last few weeks looking at the worst of the worst and the best of the best, it’s time to break these films down to their base components, determining who were the best performers, the best directors, the best world-builders, and above all, what were the best scenes of the year. Which 2017 moment will go down in history with the Epilogue of La La Land and the Lemmon Scene from The Wolf of Wall Street? We’ll find out this and more in tonight’s festivities.
The following awards will follow a similar format to an Academy Awards ballot. I’ll start by presenting my Top Six for the four acting categories – five nominees and a Winner – as well as the best directors, screenplays, songs, and scores. After that, we’ll look at the best genre films, including two new categories: Best Superhero Film and Best Blockbuster (the latter rewarding the best studio tentpole separate from the superhero genre). Then we’ll reward the winners of the below-the-line technical awards, like Sound Design, Cinematography, and Editing. And finally, we’ll reward the personal awards: Ensemble, Use of Song, and Tear-Jerking Moments. This will lead us up to the top award of the night, the Twelve Best Scenes of 2017. For each award, I’ll offer up a brief description of my reasoning. It seems the host is just finishing up his opening monologue, so let’s return to the stage for the beginning of the Sacred Wall Awards, starting with Best Actor!
Best Actor in a Leading Role
- Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour: Gary Oldman gives a tour-de-force as the infamous Winston Churchill. Completely unrecognizable under the stellar makeup, Oldman transforms himself in body, mind, and soul to resemble the Prime Minister, balancing the nuance of a man under pressure with a man who can’t control his own ego and makes terrible decisions. However, when he channels that intellect and that rage into his undeniably otherworldly oratory abilities, it’s unlike anything else this year. It’s further evidence that Oldman is one of our greatest living actors.
- Jake Gyllenhaal – Stronger: In the first of his two nominations this evening, Jake Gyllenhaal is incredible as Jeff Bauman, a truly ordinary man made extraordinary by circumstances. Gyllenhaal truly captures the emotions of a man who doesn’t feel that he’s a hero, and doesn’t want to be a symbol, and yet is made one by an entire city that needs him to be Strong for their sake. He f*cks up and redeems himself time and time again, and the fiery humanity that Gyllenhaal brings to the role makes for one of the most memorable performances in years.
- Christian Bale – Hostiles: In a career that includes great performance after great performance, Christian Bale gives one of his very best as Captain Joseph Blocker, a horrifically racist son-of-a-b*tch who watches the world he’s learned be changed through forced circumstances with a dying enemy. As the two men traverse a godless terrain, we watch in Bale’s eyes, vocal delivery, and reflections as Blocker tries to redeem himself and find peace with a past he’d rather forget.
- Timothée Chalamet – Call Me By Your Name: Timothée Chalamet had a hell of a 2017, with his greatest performance coming in Call Me By Your Name. As a shy-but-cocky young intellectual who has spent his time reading, practicing music and chasing girls, he finds his world upended by the arrival of his father’s new graduate student. Controlled by his emotions but unable to express them, Chalamet delivers a master class in subtle acting by portraying his thoughts, emotions, and personality through subtle touches, conveying everything with the casual glance and longing touch. It’s a difficult job, and one that speaks to his talent, even at a young age.
- Kumail Nanjiani – The Big Sick: Playing yourself is never easy, and yet Kumail Nanjiani astounds as a younger version of himself going through the emotional journey of finding love, nearly losing it to disease, and trying to appease a family that he doesn’t agree with but doesn’t want to disappoint. He’s charming, he’s funny, he’s flawed, and he’s lovable – everything you need in a great rom-com lead.
- Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread: I mean, come on. He’s Daniel Day-Lewis, the greatest actor of all time. His role in Phantom Thread is the perfect way for him to go out – his own twist on the Heathcliff character. He brings a depth and a warm madness to his troubled genius, satirizing the genre with his classic 50s barbs. He’s funny, he’s romantic, and he’s perfect, and it is one of the year’s best performances.
Best Actress in a Leading Role
- Margot Robbie – I, Tonya: Margot Robbie is exceptional in what has to be one of the year’s hardest roles. Not only does she have to be heartbreaking, hysterical, infuriating, and sympathetic all at the same time, she has to play one of the most despised figures in modern history. Nevertheless, she plays Tonya perfectly, creating a Parker Posey-esque anti-heroine who represents everything America aspires to be as well as all of its worst traits boiled into one. Robbie relishes in every line delivery and sells the heartbreak, making for one of the year’s most indelible performances
- Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird: Saoirse Ronan emerges as one of our greatest actresses by playing the most difficult role of all: an honest portrayal of a teenage girl. She truly captures the wide range of emotions of our most awkward period – the love, the loss, the anger, the kindness, and the drama, all bundled into one fiery package of perfection. Every line out of her mouth is a hilarious dagger, laced with the perfect amount of sarcasm and humor for someone her age. She shines whenever she’s onscreen, and she draws the audience’s attention like a magnet. It is an incredible performance by an incredible actress.
- Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water: Hawkins is exceptional as the heart of The Shape of Water. Separated from humanity’s greatest tool – her ability to speak, Hawkins portrays a woman who has complete agency over her body and her mind, but unable to find someone to complete her soul. She is able to joke, mourn, and fight with just her looks, and it is truly remarkable. When she has her fight with Giles over the ethical treatment of the Asset, it possesses the emotional weight of a performer delivering a master class monologue. It’s the type of special performance that’s spoken about for generations to come.
- Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: Frances McDormand delivers a complete 180 from her performances in Fargo and Almost Famous, playing a broken woman with nothing to lose. The pain of a mother who has lost her child is palpable, and listening to her sardonically drip vicious insult after vicious insult is pure cathartic joy. She is not a likable protagonist – she’s the female version of the Phantom of the Opera, or Heathcliff. She’s a woman pushed past the point of human decency, lost in her hatred and unsure if she can return, and McDormand perfectly embodies a person we both pity and fear. Also, who can hate on a performance that delivers a line as perfectly delivered as the “Wake-Up Missouri Broadcast” monologue (not printed due to its horrifically NSFW nature)?
- Vicky Krieps – Phantom Thread: Man, talk about a breakthrough performance. Vicky Krieps burst onto the screen as the muse of Day-Lewis’ troubled genius. However, what could otherwise be a two-dimensional role is brought to life by Krieps’ genius, adding layers to a character just as troubled as her partner and just as determined to make it work. She’s so good in the film she even makes the act of pouring water feel like a statement.
- Emma Stone – Battle of the Sexes: Stone gives one of her best performances yet as Billie Jean King, the famous tennis player who struck a blow for gender equality. Stone plays King as a force of nature in her personal life while shy and struggling in private. Forced into a no-win situation by the well-meaning assh*le Bobby Riggs and the genial misogynist Jack Kramer, Stone breathes fire into one of the greatest athletes of all time.
Best Supporting Actor
- Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project: One of the two flat-out best performances of the year, Willem Dafoe is phenomenal as Bobby, the owner of a crappy motel outside Orlando. Dafoe walks the careful line required to play Bobby – he has to be stern and tough with the customers to keep them from becoming tenants and from generally abusing the system, but he’s also a warm-hearted person who looks after his wards and becomes the father figure they most likely lacked. Dafoe has a series of stand-out moments, from yelling at a young girl who’s spilling ice cream to chasing away a pack of birds (my favorite visual), but his best scene comes when he has to handle a perverted old man who is confronting the children without frightening them or their parents. Dafoe handles that scene with subtle grace and subdued anger, and it’s a perfect microcosm of what makes his performance sing.
- Jake Gyllenhaal – Okja: Most actors are incredible through subtlety, but every once in a while, someone gives a performance like Gyllenhaal as Johnny Wilcox in Okja. A balls-to-the-wall, zero f*cks given performance of going big or going home. Gyllenhaal feels like a cartoon character as he plays his evil, self-loathing parody of Steve Irwin, and it makes the performance a work of art. I don’t know how, or specifically why, he made those choices for movement, accent, or facial expressions, but damn it if I don’t remember it to this very day. He’s the reason you need to see this movie.
- Richard Jenkins – The Shape of Water: Jenkins is far from the heart of the film – he’s mostly the sidekick to Hawkins’ Elisa. However, he successfully proves why he’s one of Hollywood’s most reliable character actors in his portrayal of Giles. Serving as the story’s narrator and audience surrogate, we feel for him as a man who can’t fit in with the 1950s mentality that frowns on both his career (as an artist) and his lifestyle (he’s gay). The scene where he reaches out to the one person who gives him hope, only to see him as a virulent racist and homophobe is heartbreaking, and watching him bond with the creature afterwards is refreshing. It’s the perfect definition of a supporting performance: quiet, definitively in the backseat, and yet memorable all the same.
- Ray Romano – The Big Sick: Ray Romano in The Big Sick was the father of the year (sort of). He perfectly nailed the awkward back-seater whose marriage in on the fritz due to his own bad decision, who has settled into the realm of “bad dad jokes,” and who wants to be helpful and useful but doesn’t know how. Stuck in a foreign city with a man he barely knows while his daughter lies in a hospital comatose, Romano proves that he is a talented actor far beyond his role as a sitcom actor. He damn near steals the film.
- Will Poulter – Detroit: Undeniably the villain of the year, Poulter plays Officer Phillip Krauss with a perfect sociopathy. Poulter understands that just playing him as a “racist” or two-dimensional cartoon character would dampen the film’s ultimate goal, and so paints every scene with a troubling “logic.” Each decision wouldn’t make sense to any person with a soul, but watching Krauss make each decision feels intentional, calculated, and chilling. He’s shocking, he’s memorable, and he’s monstrous, and Poulter brings him to life in a way no other actor could.
- Oscar Isaac – Suburbicon: Sometimes a role is so good it can redeem a movie. Such is the case with Oscar Isaac in Suburbicon. The film trudges along at a slow pace, feeling fairly mediocre for most of its running time. However, for five brief minutes, Isaac shows up as some sort of sexy cross between Edward G. Robinson in Double Indemnity and Columbo. It’s fascinating to watch, and he and Julianne Moore exchange killer dialogue at a stunning rate. However, it’s Isaac that stands out, as his performance is so great it single-handedly saved the film from ruin. Honestly, the film should just have focused on his character all along.
Best Supporting Actress
- Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird: The other flat-out best performance of the year, Laurie Metcalf is perfect as Marion McPherson. Metcalf is the perfect embodiment of every mother, in all of her triumphs and all of her missteps, supporting her daughter through thick and thin, and yet constantly making passive-aggressive comments in her efforts, inadvertently crushing her daughter’s self-esteem. The two fight through their shared personalities, never forgetting their love for each other no matter how heated and personal their fights become. Metcalf relishes in her role’s dialogue, and whatever she doesn’t say, she sells through her looks and her expressions, the way only a true artist can. Laurie Metcalf has delivered a once-in-a-lifetime performance as our collective mother, and no performance this year outside of Dafoe can come anywhere near to touching her.
- Allison Janney – I, Tonya: On the other side of the motherly spectrum, Allison Janney. A vicious monster with a silver tongue, Janney relishes in her opportunity to blend her dramatic and comedic abilities as LaVona Harding, a woman determined to make her daughter a star through insults, assaults, and a general lack of emotion. Combined with a pet bird that she interacts with, and you have a work for the ages.
- Rosamund Pike – Hostiles: Rosamund Pike outshines her performance in Gone Girl with her role as Rosalie Quaid. From the opening scene where we watch her entire family get massacred, we watch Pike go along an emotional journey. The emotions on her face as she has a breakdown in Blocker’s camp are otherworldly, and a sequence where she shoots the murderer’s dead body in a daze is hauntingly memorable. And when the final scene arrives, where she shoots the racist, sexist ranch owner taunting her as “weak,” it’s a truly applause-worthy moment as her entire arc comes to a head. Pike has simply never been better than she is right here.
- Lesley Manville – Phantom Thread: There are few things I like more than a stuffy performances featuring great one-liners. For this reason, Lesley Manville’s role as Cyril Woodcock seems tailor-made for me. Selling everything about her role while maintaining a mystery, gliding on a magic carpet of side-eyes, approving nods, and lines such as “Don’t pick a fight with me, you won’t come out alive. I’ll go right through and you’ll end up on the floor.” We haven’t seen a role like this since Meryl Streep played Miranda Priestly. And I am here for it, as we all should be.
- Sylvia Hoeks – Blade Runner 2049: Sylvia Hoeks steals Blade Runner 2049 out from under names like Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, and Jared Leto. She plays Luv as a less complex but equally-fascinating version of Roy Batty. Perfectly content as a servant to Leto’s Niander Wallace, her goal in life isn’t to be free or follow her dreams; she simply wants to be the greatest Replicant in history. She’s so enjoyably childish that after winning a fight, she declares “I’m the best one!” with palpable glee. I loved her performance, and I love Hoeks for providing it.
- Tiffany Haddish – Girls Trip: And finally, the breakout performance of the year. Girls Trip only works as a comedy (it’s kind of basic otherwise) thanks to Haddish, her energy, and her line deliveries. Watching her is like watching a star being born, like Belushi in Animal House or McCarthy in Bridesmaids. She can make anything funny, from riding a bicyclist (not a typo) to her purchasing of absinthe. However, nothing tops her infamous “Grapefruit Scene,” an insane example of how far Haddish is willing to go for the joke. She’s funny, she’s lovable, and she steals the film.
- Luca Guadagnino – Call Me By Your Name: Luca Guadagnino demonstrates the clear command he possesses over his productions. Every detail feels perfectly selected, every scene masterfully constructed. His use of cinematography and editing feels nostalgically rendered, each image loaded with symbolism and richness. He coaches each actor to their greatest possible performance; the looks that Armie Hammer gives Chalamet throughout smolder with longing honesty, Chalamet’s tears throughout the finale haunt us long after the credits, and let’s not forget Michael Stuhlbarg’s final monologue. This is direction at its finest, the true heir to Fellini and Bertolucci, and a sign of a true visionary.
- Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk: Christopher Nolan continues to wow us with things we’ve never seen (or likely have never seen) before. With his deft craftsmanship and his keen eye for storytelling, he manages to transport us to the battlefield, putting us right in the middle of the horrors of World War II. He weaves over the beaches, into the boats, and up into the skies in what amounts to a directorial tour-de-force.
- Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water: Del Toro continues to amaze and astound us with his modern variations on fairy tales. This time around, he crafts a magical, whimsical story about forbidden love, being different in a time when it’s frowned upon, and standing up for the things that matter. All framed in a technically perfect little package, del Toro stands out as the year’s most visionary director.
- Denis Villeneuve – Blade Runner 2049: Once again Denis Villeneuve makes the list for his cinematic portraits. This time around, he creates a sci-fi masterpiece that surpasses its predecessor – itself considered one of the greatest of its genre. Villeneuve manages to mine the themes of the story to its very depths, while mixing in some stunning visuals and game-changing world building for good measure.
- Edgar Wright – Baby Driver: Edgar Wright dazzles in a feat the likes of which we’ve never seen before. Combining a taut comedy-thriller with a perfectly executed ballet of choreographed action, this might be the year’s flashiest direction. It’s a fabulous job by a fabulous director.
- Jordan Peele – Get Out: Jordan Peele stepped out of the comedy spotlight in order to show how talented he is at horror, too. Peele combines classic storytelling tropes, Lumet-esque social critique, and the best homages to horror history in order to tell a simple story in a wholly original, intelligent way. As a director, Peele uses deceptively simple techniques in order to craft the best story possible – and he succeeds.
Best Original Screenplay
- Lady Bird: This is the type of script I adore. You want comedy? Throw in some killer barbs for Lady Bird and her mother (I mean, just watch that opening car ride and try not to laugh). You want drama? Here’s a heartbreaking moment between a father and son, who aren’t even the film’s main characters. However, more than anything, do you want realism? How about an honest, captivating portrayal of coming of age in the new millennium, told by someone who lived it, and in such a universal way that everyone can relate, whether they’re a young girl in the Midwest (or in this case, Sacramento, which the film points out is California’s Midwest) or someone with that strange relationship with your mother where you show your love through elongated fights. This film checks all my boxes, and it easily wins the award for best script of the year.
- The Shape of Water: You should leave a film with a great original screenplay wondering, “How the f*ck did somebody think of that?” That’s definitely your response to The Shape of Water, a film which combines the monster movie, the heist movie, the fantasy movie, the romantic comedy, and the spy movie into one big jambalaya of perfection. This film is both highbrow commentary, midlevel fantasy, and lowbrow comedy. And it stands out because of its originality.
- The Big Sick: If Lady Bird is great because of how honest it feels, then The Big Sick is a f*cking miracle. The true story of how writers Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon met and got married, and how he navigated two families during a difficult time in his life (when she was in a coma) is an honest and real portrayal of love, both of our partners and of our families, and it feels incredibly fresh thanks to its use of romantic comedy tropes. This is a clever, fun, feel-good film.
- Get Out: As stated above, Peele’s deceptively simple horror-comedy provides a wholly original angle on the genre. Peele crafts an intelligent story that symbolically provides an inside look into race relations from an African-American’s perspective. It’s clever, it’s funny, it’s horrifying, and it transcends genre – all the signs of a great screenplay.
- Phantom Thread: Some of the best films get by on their dialogue. There’s nothing new or original in terms of Phantom Thread’s plot, but it feels fresh because there are a ton of killer lines for great actors to deliver, ranging from “Take the f*cking dress off, Barbara!” to Lesley Manville’s aforementioned warning. Each line is a testament to how great a writer Paul Thomas Anderson is.
- Brigsby Bear: Well, leave it to Kyle Mooney to avoid doing anything simply. In order to tell a story about the joy of the creative process and fan culture, Mooney crafts an odd fish-out-of-water non-fairy tale about a kidnapped boy and the brainwashing device he fell in love with. On top of great lines and a killer premise, Brigsby thrives on its genuine affinity for humanity – there are no villains here, just people trying their best, no matter how heinous their actions. It’s such a warmhearted film, with a warmhearted script.
Best Adapted Screenplay
- Call Me By Your Name: This is arguably one of the smartest scripts of the year. Not only does it have wonderful, flowing dialogue; not only does it have to capture the emotional tone of the book; not only does it have to help the actors understand the emotional weight they have to convey, it also has to capture a real, nostalgic type of love that the book captures so well. And sure, there were a few snips here and there (the peach scene is far worse in the book than it is in the movie), but they are all for the best. By cutting out voiceover and POV perspectives, the film allows us to put the pieces together ourselves, crafting a smart, beautiful story about the guesswork and emotional conveyance of love.
- The Disaster Artist: Arguably the most challenging acts of adaptation ever, The Disaster Artist had to find the right tone between comedy and drama to tell the story about one of the worst films of all time. Each line feels true to reality and true to the people that actually lived it, all while boiling down a decade-long saga into a relatively short film. It gives us an overview of the story without being a beat-for-beat version of the book, and it balances male relationship drama with the behind-the-scenes look many fans wanted.
- Blade Runner 2049: The best sci-fi script of the year, Blade Runner 2049 takes the story built in the original and evolves it in a believable way. The changes in society make sense in the wake of its predecessor, the themes of the novel and original film come across more clearly, and it somehow makes a complicated, philosophic concept feel deceptively breezy and understandable. It is one of the greatest writing accomplishments of the year.
- Mudbound: Dee Rees’ adaptation of the novel of the same name makes a lot of bold screenwriting decisions, and somehow makes them all work. By allowing each character to have an inner monologue, alternating consistently, the film allows each character to become three-dimensional and complex in their own right. And above all, the film dares to give us a hopeful ending, no matter the brutalities we’ve witnessed. This film is a parable, and like all great parables, it works its magic in the written form.
- The Beguiled: A rare example of something elevating the original work, Sofia Coppola’s newest edition of The Beguiled takes a sexist containment thriller, flips the POV, and cuts off the fat to explore privilege, chauvinism, and repression with a smart, taut, sexy screenplay that should be studied for years to come.
- Their Finest: The British know how to make a feel-good romp with great witticisms, and this is the perfect evidence of that. A wonderful little film about the period where women wrote the WWII propaganda films to provide women with more realistic characters and the efforts to make a rousing movie about Dunkirk (no relation) provides the laughs, tears, and romance that you want out of such a film.
Best Original Score
- Phantom Thread: Elegantly charming, sexily old-school, and classically tuned, Jonny Greenwood has crafted yet another perfect score, this time reflecting the Golden Age of Cinema as both a technique and a critique. It’s so classically beautiful it’s the piece I can’t stop listening to the most.
- Star Wars: The Last Jedi: John Williams continues to raise the bar, this time building on his classic themes while adding a melancholic, somber note to the series. However, while his new material is all remarkably strong, it is his little stings from the original that hit home the best – specifically “Trench Run” and “Luke’s Theme.”
- The Shape of Water: A weird, flowing little score, Alexandre Desplat has crafted a score with the right combination of whimsy, romance, and oddity in order to bring his strange little fairy tale to life
- Coco: An audible love letter to Mexican culture, the score here is alive and vibrant, just like the film it represents.
- A Ghost Story: For a sad, somber film about the meaning of life and art, it makes sense that the score is a hauntingly sad, somber reflection on those very things.
Best Original Song
- Mystery of Love – Call Me By Your Name: Arguably the most romantic song in years, Sufjan Stevens’ theme to Call Me By Your Name wistfully captures the nature and beauty of young love, in all of its magic, beauty, and mystery. The song feels simultaneously ageless and modern, like a memory of something that is yet to happen, and is worthy of being in conversation with “Falling Slowly” and “Mrs. Robinson” as pivotal songs for pivotal films.
- I Get Overwhelmed – A Ghost Story: Perhaps the most heartbreaking song on this list (ok, maybe that’s #3), “I Get Overwhelmed” feels haunting and melancholy in both its uses: as a song written by a young musician, or as the film’s capstone as the now-deceased musician relives a lost relationship through all of its ups and downs. It’s enough to make you rethink every single one of your decisions.
- Remember Me – Coco: “Remember Me” is that rare song that deserves to appear in the film forty times. Each adds another layer to an already-great song’s meaning. The first is a pastiche of 1930s artists. The second adds a layer of meaning to the song’s origin. The third will break your heart. And the fourth is a pleasant radio edition that blends all four versions. Personally, I’ll pick the third option any day of the week.
- This Is Me – The Greatest Showman: “This Is Me” is the type of breakaway hit that no one saw coming. Pasek and Paul return to their roots to do what they do best: provide an upbeat blend of pop and Broadway to make for a crossover hit. As sung by Keala Settle, the moment feels rightfully triumphant as the misfits march down the street with pride. The film has the audacity to edit in silence afterwards for an applause break, and quite frankly, I don’t blame them.
- Cut to the Feeling – Leap!: Apparently one of the best songs of 2017 was written for a small film from Canada. And while the film itself is underwhelming, the song feels like a triumph, both on its own and in the context of the film. Carly Rae makes the list on a technicality.
Best Animated Feature
- Coco: As you can tell, I like animated films that blend great stories, great voices, and great visuals. And no film was as gorgeous to look at this year as Coco. Another delectable journey by Pixar, Coco was a tribute to family, to the pain passed down amongst generations, and above all, to the country of Mexico. Sure, the plot was kind of predictable, but if a film is this predictable and still makes you weep uncontrollably for forty minutes straight, then you’re talking about a great film.
- The Lego Batman Movie: The cleverest film of the year, The Lego Batman Movie is a testament to the character by combining seventy years of pop culture into a 90 minute send-up. The voices are spot on, the dialogue hilarious, and it may go down as the greatest Batman film in history.
- Loving Vincent: Something of a modern telling of Immortal Beloved, Loving Vincent tells the story of the last days of Vincent Van Gogh from the perspective of those who were there. Utilizing real, hand-painted frames to evoke the artist’s style, the film stands out as a visually stunning treat.
- The Boss Baby: Look, The Boss Baby isn’t a masterpiece, but I dare you to find me a film as unique as The Boss Baby. It’s a weird, surreal post-modern masterpiece wrapped up in a mediocre story with bizarre animation. It’s the film version of those toilets in museums that have “WAR” written across them.
- Ferdinand: It’s a fairly routine story, but John Cena (BAM BADA BA!) gives the world’s nicest bull an interesting arc and a caring voice. It’s an interesting take on the classic story.
Best Documentary Feature
- Finding Frances: This year, the greatest documentary came in the form of an episode of surrealist comedy television. Nathan Fielder and Nathan For You gave us “Finding Frances,” an hour and a half departure from the show’s normal style. And while the normal shenanigans appear (in the form of “Mud 2” and a 57th High School Reunion), the final result is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Explorations of reality, the truth, the nature of “lost love,” and what love means in the modern era are all explored in a show designed to test what we know about the world around us. All I can say is that this is a glowing example of television, of documentary filmmaking, and of filmmaking in general.
- Faces Places: Famed aging documentarian Agnès Varda and photographer JR team up as a ceremonial passing of the torch as they explore the French countryside, meeting new faces and learning their life stories. It’s a touching tribute to the joy of life, made by a great director as a swan song.
- Jane: A beautiful reflection on the life of Jane Goodall, the film combines modern interviews and footage shot by Goodall’s late ex-husband to create a unique look at the life of science’s greatest modern figurehead. Entertaining sequences of chimps certainly don’t hurt.
- Strong Island: Yance Ford’s personal, emotional story about the death of his brother and the failure of the justice system examines not only a broken justice system that overlooks African Americans, but also looks at the inner workings of their community, from Ford’s mother to his own experiences as a transman.
- Last Men In Aleppo: A touching tribute to the White Helmets, the team of men who charge into the areas of Syria bombed by both their own government and the Russians. The film shows the inner workings of their heroic duties, and tragically ends the only way a film like this could: with the deaths of the heroes. It’s the perfect tribute to their sacrifice.
Best Horror Film: Get Out
In a year that pushed the boundaries on horror, including It Comes At Night and mother!, Get Out is more than a horror film. It is a satire, a comedy, a thriller, a statement, and a masterpiece, all in one. Both a tribute to thrillers like Halloween, Rosemary’s Baby, and Night of the Living Dead and a wholly original work of horror, the film uses top-notch writing, cinematography, sound, and editing to craft a frightening, socially conscious film that will live on as a classic of its generation.
Best Comedy Film: Lady Bird
Lady Bird stands out as one of the year’s funniest films. Mining reality and nostalgia for its jokes, it’s a film that finds humor in the writing of its author (the entire opening featuring an argument between mother and daughter is hysterical), the timing of music (the use of both “Crash Into Me,” “Everybody Says Don’t,” “Prayer of St. Francis,” and “Cry Me A River” all work as a punchline), or the characterization of its protagonists (“That’s hella tight”). It’s a film that can impeccably make you laugh one minute, cry the next, and do both at the same time. It’s easily the best comedy of the year, and maybe one of the best of the decade.
Best Superhero Film: Spider-Man: Homecoming
In a year that gave us Logan, Wonder Woman, and Thor: Ragnarok, Spider-Man: Homecoming stands out in the way it blends a few different storytelling techniques. It both returns to the roots of the character (Spidey’s funny! He’s a kid! He has to learn!) and proves his heroism (Peter actually goes on a hero’s journey in the film, something he hasn’t done since Spider-Man 2) while also giving the film an angle the genre often ignores. By utilizing the film’s high school comedy aesthetic, the film manages to stand out from the bunch as an original work of genre storytelling. Add in a good hero, a great sidekick, and a perfect villain, and you have one of the year’s best.
Best Blockbuster: Blade Runner 2049
Blade Runner 2049 pushes the boundaries of what a blockbuster can and should be. Every single dollar the filmmakers spent is put up on the screen, and unlike other big-budget extravaganzas, it actually has something intelligent to say to the audience. It gives the viewer themes worth considering, a story they can invest themselves in, sounds worth listening to, and sights worth seeing. It’s the type of film we want Hollywood to make, and the kind they usually don’t.
Best Sound Mixing: Baby Driver
The sound mixing in Baby Driver is otherworldly. The way it mixes the gunshots into the music, and the music into the dialogue, and matches it all up to the action is a work of art. No film has ever attempted something like this, and I’m not sure a film successfully will again.
Best Sound Editing: Dunkirk
While Dunkirk’s sound mixing left something to be desired (what the hell were any of them saying?), the sound editing is exactly as it should be. Each gunshot rings true with the threat of death, each clang of metal heightens our sense of fear of the approaching enemy. The roar of plane engines brings both fear and elation, and every explosion shatters our hearts. This is the type of film that sound editing is made for.
Best Production Design: Blade Runner 2049
Find me another film that looks like Blade Runner 2049. I dare you. Every setting takes you to a new location, from the great halls of a corporation to a decrepit Vegas museum to a great ocean-side dam. Each location makes you question what is computer-generated and what was actually built, and in the end, you don’t care. No matter where these locations come from, they continue to astound and delight us.
Best Cinematography: Dunkirk AND Blade Runner 2049 (TIE)
I abhor ties, but how can you choose between to highly different, highly influential works. On the one hand, you have Blade Runner 2049, a film that uses light and color and framing to create entire worlds the likes of which we’ve never seen, which proves once and for all (as if he hadn’t already) that Roger Deakins is a master of light and the greatest cinematographer of all time. On the other hand, you have Hoyte van Hoytema’s work on Dunkirk, which utilized revolutionary IMAX cameras to capture a specific time and place in history, where each swoop of the camera captures the scope of the picture and each close-up helps to put you right there on the beaches, creating a VR sense of realism. Both works are revolutionary, unique, game-changing, and choosing between them is simply impossible. Both films earn the award.
Best Costume Design: Phantom Thread
Obviously the film about a fashion designer is going to win the award for Best Costume Design. Phantom Thread is a delight to watch across the board, whether we are talking about the stunning dresses that Reynolds Woodcock designs for princesses and heiresses, the stylish and matronly attire of Cyril, and of course the wonderful suits and ties worn by Reynolds and the other males. I could live inside Reynolds’ bowtie for all eternity. This film is for clothes what Chef is for cooking – it all looks so good, you just want to live in this world forever and ever.
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Darkest Hour
I don’t know what else there is to say about this one. Gary Oldman is a skinny, hairy Brit, and the makeup team successfully transformed him into a short, fat, balding Churchill. He truly looks like the famous historical figure, and while his acting does most of the work, it takes a great makeup team to bring the transformation to 100%. Kudos to the team for pulling off this miracle only prefaced by Day-Lewis in Lincoln.
Best Film Editing: Baby Driver
No film has ever been edited as creatively as Baby Driver. I cannot stress how brilliant it is that the film, a slick, sexy action-comedy, managed to time everything – character movements, gunshots, a drifting car, and washing machines – to the beat of a variety of songs. This is the type of choreography reserved for musicals, and yet everything is timed in sync. This has never been done before, and yet it is both accomplished and accomplished perfectly. The editing here needs to be studied in film schools, because it is the perfect example of how editing can make or break a film, and watching the music and the visuals line up in unison is like watching a perfect marriage.
Best Visual Effects: Blade Runner 2049
Once again, I ask you to find me a film as visually awesome as Blade Runner 2049. The effects in this film take the cheap-but-innovative work of the original and age it by thirty years. The flying cars feel similarly inexpensive-yet-innovative, the image of a giant naked hologram speak to a decaying culture of artifice, and the look of holograms feels game-changing, both in the sense of a strange sexual surrogacy situation (the overlapping of characters is difficult to accomplish and yet feels refreshingly touching) and in the sense of a hilarious giant Elvis singing “Suspicious Minds” while a giant Marilyn Monroe poses seductively. This is a fantastical film of color and movie magic, and no film comes close to its innovative effects.
Best Ensemble: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Say what you will about Three Billboards’ script or direction or thematic material, one thing is for sure: every single member of the ensemble is at the top of their game. From the major performances of a next-level Frances McDormand, a deceptively great Woody Harrelson, and a pitch-perfect grotesque in Sam Rockwell to the minor performances of Caleb Landry Jones, Peter Dinklage and Lucas Hedges to the minor performances that steal the film in Darrell Britt-Gibson, Sandy Martin (as the perfect embodiment of how racism is both an inherited and environmental trait), and especially Samara Weaving, who has such a fantastic way of delivering lines and breaking tension as Penelope. Every single actor is delivering expert dialogue and playing off each other perfectly, creating a true small-town aesthetic that creates the world the film posits.
Best Voice-Over/Motion Capture Performance
- Doug Jones – The Shape of Water: Outside of Andy Serkis, Doug Jones is the greatest mo-cap actor ever. His performance as the Amphibious Man is heartbreaking, scared, loving, frightening, and adorable, all at the same time. He manages to make us care about him despite his appearance, just like The Beast and E.T. before him. It’s remarkable work, and easily the hardest performance of the bunch.
- Will Arnett – The Lego Batman Movie: Will Arnett is perfect at playing narcissistic tools in his shows and films, and his portrayal of Batman mirrors that. He delivers lines with aplomb, and makes his hero sympathetic, obnoxious, and funny, all at the same time. Shout out to when he responds to Robin’s “My name is Dick Grayson” intro with “Kids can be so cruel.” That’s how you deliver a punchline.
- Gael Garcia Bernal – Coco: Bernal is one of Mexico’s greatest actors, and his portrayal of grifter Héctor is easily the most heartbreaking of the bunch. His jokes are strong, but his best moments come when he reveals his emotional side (beaming over daughter Coco or expressing a yearning for his family). Try not to cry when he sings “Remember Me” to his young daughter before leaving her for the last time.
- Mark Hamill – Brigsby Bear: Hamill, the greatest voice actor of his generation, is mostly onscreen in Brigsby Bear. However, his work when he plays both Brigsby and the Sun Snatcher deserves a special mention. His work as Brigsby gives the hero the type of nostalgically heartwarming appeal that you remember in your childhood heroes. Meanwhile, his work as Sun Snatcher reflects the sense of mocking evil that makes his Joker one of the best. Even in the few minutes he has onscreen, he stands out as one of the year’s best voice acting performers.
- Frank Oz – Star Wars: The Last Jedi: The unexpected nature of Frank Oz’s return as Yoda in The Last Jedi helped make it one of the film’s greatest strengths. Returning to the trickster sage of Empire, Yoda passes on his wisdom to a lost Luke in the film’s most powerful moment, making every true fan weep with nostalgia.
Best Young Actor/Actress
- Brooklyn Kimberley Prince – The Florida Project: A modern day Tom Sawyer, Brooklyn Prince may annoy you in the film’s first few minutes with her wild, rebellious attitude, but even at the age of seven, she manages to fill the film with a sense of youthful nostalgia, earning our support and love, and breaking our hearts in the final moments as her world collapses. It’s a tour-de-force performance, and one of the best of the year, regardless of age.
- McKenna Grace – Gifted and I, Tonya: McKenna Grace is a future star. She wows in Gifted as a girl wise beyond her years, delivering a series of one-liners and demonstrating a variety of emotions that many actors far older haven’t mastered. On the other end of the spectrum, Grace gives a young Tonya Harding a sense of angry vengeance and helps establish a tone for the rest of the film (as well as the performance by Margot Robbie). It’s rare for an actress this young to give two masterful performances, and yet Grace pulled it off.
- Finn Wolfhard – It: Easily the best part of It, Finn Wolfhard makes Richie feel like a real, hilarious teenager, delivering awkwardly terrible jokes, inserting swear words where a real teenager would, and alternating between frightened and heroic. Wolfhard grabbing a bat and declaring “It’s time to f*ck up this clown” is the hardest I’ve ever clapped during a film.
- Dafne Keene – Logan: Keene steals Logan out from under Hugh Jackman. She plays Laura with a silent ferocity, accepting the mantle from Jackman the same way that Eastwood’s Man With No Name took the mantle from Alan Ladd’s Shane. She’s funny, fiery, violent, and sadistic – in short, the type of hero we want.
- Ahn Seo-hyun – Okja: Okja rests on the shoulders of young Ahn Seo-hyun. If we’re not convinced she cares about her super pig, then we won’t care. She’s likable in the beginning, funny in the middle, and tear-jerking in the end. It’s one of the year’s best young performances.
Best Use of a Song
- Bellbottoms – Baby Driver: I’ll say more about this below, but the use of “Bellbottoms” sets the tone for the rest of Baby Driver. Watching each beat of music, each line, and each drum solo sync perfectly to marching bank robbers, flapping windshield wipers, and drifting cars is true art.
- Love My Way – Call Me By Your Name: The image of Armie Hammer dancing drunkenly to “Love My Way” is already iconic, from the 80s sneakers to the looks that he casts at Timothée Chalamet (and vice versa). It’s one of the year’s funniest, sweetest, sexiest moments.
- The John Denver Five – Alien: Covenant, Free Fire, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Okja, and Logan Lucky: That’s right, five films used John Denver songs this year, to great effect. The reflective, bittersweet “Take Me Home, Country Roads” served as an ironically depressing dirge in Alien: Covenant, as a triumphant moment of unity in Logan Lucky, and as a poignant sendoff to a beloved character in Kingsman: The Golden Circle. Kingsman also uses “Annie’s Song,” which also appears to great comedic effect in Free Fire and Okja. I don’t know why Denver has had such a comeback, but I’m not against it at all.
- Come A Little Bit Closer – Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2: In a great act of music scoring badass action sequences, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 uses “Come A Little Bit Closer” to comedic effect, using the upbeat, romantic ditty to contrast the gorgeous violence playing out on the screen.
- The Chain – I, Tonya and Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2: Fleetwood Mac appear to demonstrate a coming shift in attitude surround Tonya Harding in I, Tonya as well as serve as a changing of the tide in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. Whichever use you prefer, one thing is for sure: “The Chain” is one of the year’s best used songs.
- Father Figure – Atomic Blonde: Underrated because of the impressive later sequence on the stairs, I personally love Atomic Blonde’s first major action sequence, where Theron hides her actions with George Michael’s “Father Figure” and perfectly times beating the sh*t out of the Soviets with a frying pan to Michael’s romantic ode. It’s one of the year’s best images.
Best Nostalgic/Tear-Jerking Moment
- The Entire Final Forty Minutes – Coco: An emotional roller coaster throughout, Coco continues to test your tear ducts with its tenacity, slowly amping up the catharsis with new twists until you just can’t take it anymore. It’s a great tribute to family, and one that will get tears out of the toughest individuals.
- Home Came For Them – Dunkirk: I’m not sure what gets the tears flowing – the look on Branagh’s face as he’s filled with hope or the image of the people risking their lives to save their brethren, but it’s a testament to heroism, and one that will make you cry.
- Christine Calls Her Mom – Lady Bird: Mothers aren’t told “Thank you” or “I love you” nearly enough, so watching Christine finally tell her mother the words she’s struggled with for years is enough to bring tears to your eyes.
- Running Away – The Florida Project: Is the ending of The Florida Project a triumphant escape? Is it a dream, ready to give way to depressing reality? Either way, watching Moonie try to run to a better life in Disney with her best friend will emotionally crush you.
- No Man’s Land – Wonder Woman: Both nostalgic and tear-jerking, the moment Wonder Woman stepped out of that trench in her costume and embraced her inner hero is everything female comic book fans have been waiting for, and to see it play out so perfectly feels truly astonishing.
- Kumail’s Family Says Goodbye – The Big Sick AND The Final Shot – Call Me By Your Name: Goodbyes are hard. So is coming to terms with unresolved feelings towards family, friends, and loved ones. So watching Kumail finally make amends with his family as they meet each other in the middle on their lifestyles is enough to make you cry (my favorite detail is “Your mother still isn’t talking to you. Goodbye forever. Also, call us when you get there so we know you’re safe.”) Similarly, watching Elio cry after learning of Oliver’s engagement brings back all the pain of our first heartbreak, and yet also a sense of acceptance. Both sequences capture the hardship of goodbye and the catharsis of moving forward in loving, moving ways.
Best Scene of the Year
- The First Robbery – Baby Driver: Every so often there’s a scene that completely changes the game of cinema. The opening of Star Wars. The first sweeping shot of the ship in Titanic. The chariot race in Ben-Hur. Now, we have the opening scene to Baby Driver. In truth, the sequence would probably make the list on its own – it’s a fascinating bank robbery, featuring daring escapes and the ultra-cool appearance of Jon Hamm, Ansel Elgort, Eiza González, and Jon Bernthal. However, what makes it #1, the type of scene that changes the game, is the way it was completely choreographed. Set to Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Bellbottoms,” we watch as the characters exit a car, rob a bank, and drive through the streets of Atlanta in perfect time to the song, all while Elgort’s Baby dances in the car. Each detail, from the slam of a door to the squeal of a tire, is timed perfectly to the song, in a sort of dance the likes of which we’ve never seen before. It is thrilling filmmaking, it is perfect direction, and it is the reason that the film won four top mentions tonight.
- The Final Shot – It Comes At Night: Easily the best final shot of a film I’ve ever seen, It Comes At Night goes out on the perfect final note, filled with melancholy, nihilism, and foreboding without saying a single word. It doesn’t need to – the slouched posture and depressed, greying faces say it all.
- Home Came For Them – Dunkirk: I don’t know what more I can add to the above description. Across the board, the execution here is perfect – the overbearing score beating down, the look of despair on the face of Kenneth Branagh which gives way for hope, and the swooping camera across the fleet of boats filled with the elderly, the women, and the outcasts who are willing to give everything to rescue their countrymen. It’s just cinematic perfection.
- No Man’s Land – Wonder Woman: Single-handedly the most important image of the year, even males in the audience (at least decent males) got chills when Diana, neglecting orders to do nothing and let innocent people die, casts off her cloak, puts on her tiara, and steps out of the trenches to face down the Germans, sword and shield in hand. Her original charge is triumphant, but for me, the money shot is when she finds herself in a room alone with the enemy and her superhero theme kicks in. After years of John Williams, Danny Elfman, and the Avengers, young girls got to see their own representative kicking ass to her own personal theme song. F*cking-a.
- The Human Ape – The Square: No moment this year was as hilarious, off-putting, or bizarre as The Human Ape in The Square. A send-up of method acting, performance art, and how far people are willing to let things go in order to protect their self-interest, The Square shows a room full of the artistic elite watching an artist who has gone full method in portraying an ape walk around a ballroom terrorizing people. The scene goes from hilarious to horrifying to somewhere in between, and it never once stops being memorable.
- Escaping the Ravager Ship – Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2: I’m a simple man. I like watching awesome action sequences set to music. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 provided that with Yondu and Rocket’s escape from the Ravager Ship. Set to “Come A Little Bit Closer” (which, yes), the film plays with lighting, choreography, and humor in a cool and unique way. Plus, that badass arrow, man. God, I loved this sequence.
- The Triple Axel – I, Tonya: This entire sequence is phenomenal, both as a mockumentary and as a climax to a sports film. The way it cuts between each character describing how difficult the move in question is (ranging from the coach’s straightforward sincerity to LaVona’s foul-mouthed additions) is brilliant, the payoff of the Heckler is marvelous (and fits with the film’s backstory on Tonya), and the actual execution triumphant. This isn’t just one of the best scenes of the year – this is one of the best sports sequences ever.
- The Baby Scene – The Fate of the Furious: The Fate of the Furious was only ok, but it was worth the price of admission if only because of the Baby Scene. My God, the Baby Scene. I mean, Jason Statham shoots and beats up a bunch of bad guys while holding a baby! And he cracks jokes to the baby! AND THE BABY RESPONDS TO THESE JOKES! These movies are a cartoon now, but I’m ok with that. In fact, I want the next movie to literally only be Jason Statham and the baby fighting crime. More movies need scenes like this.
- Auditions – Lady Bird: In a scene that just feels too real to ever be in a movie, the auditions for the Catholic school’s rendition of Merrily We Roll Along is a hilariously accurate depiction of high school theater. From the kid singing “Being Alive” to Lady Bird’s over-the-top version of “Everybody Says Don’t” to Julie’s shy-but-decent “Prayer of St. Francis,” every detail seems stolen from every high school, ever.
- The Chamber Room – Star Wars: The Last Jedi: This is hands-down the best fight sequence in a Star Wars After the amazing execution of Kylo Ren’s plan (complete with a vivisection and a perfectly-timed minor key “Hero’s Theme”), we watch as Kylo and Rey take on a room of First Order Guards. Not only is it expertly choreographed and gorgeous to look at (between the bright red walls and the glow of the lightsabers, Hollywood’s greatest weapon), the design of the fight best reflects what these films are supposed to be: fancy samurai films.
- The Staircase Fight – Atomic Blonde: A one-take wonder, Atomic Blonde pushed the boundaries of what action can and should be by utilizing real actors and gorgeously shaping the way they pummel each other. The action is expertly shot, and the fact the fighters get tired during the battle makes it feel more real, and thus more visceral. This is what a great action scene should look like, and it will likely be studied for years to come.
- You’ll Never Know How Much I Love You – The Shape of Water: A strange moment where all of the genres melt away and the characters express how they feel in the only way they know how: a black-and-white musical number. Equal parts sweet, longing, and ridiculous (the Sea Creature is wearing a tux and dancing), the moment is make-or-break for most audiences. For me, it was make.
Special WTF Mention: Pennywise the Dancing Clown – It: Because a film that served as a cultural touchstone across the U.S.A featured a scene where the villain, for no apparent reason, straight up does the hoedown. And we all let this happen and said, “Yeah, that seems right.”
Thank you to all of our wonderful nominees this year. You can watch the Twelve Best Scenes of the Year below (or at least those that have clips). This concludes the Sacred Wall’s film coverage for 2017! Tune in later this week for our coverage of this year’s music scene!
It Comes At Night
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
The Fate of the Furious
Lady Bird (Note: The Auditions Scene is not released on YouTube yet. Please enjoy the immortal City College scene in its place)
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
The Shape of Water