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The 10th Annual Munchie Awards; or 2017 in review

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It's Oscar Sunday and I'm bored at work, so that means it's time for me to undercut the Oscars yet again in the 10th Annual (!) Munchie Awards, where I look back on the year in film. Looking back on it, it was a very good year, with several films coming out that will probably be in consideration for my personal all-time favorites.

As per usual, let's get the business end of the show over right at the beginning! Unfortunately, I failed to see enough documentaries to give them their own category, so 2 of them are folded in. My favorite films of 2017:

15. Wonder Woman
14. Good Time
13. Wind River
12. The Post
11. Faces Places
10. I, Tonya
9. Coco
8. Lady Bird
7. Dunkirk
6. Get Out
5. Call Me By Your Name
4. Phantom Thread
3. The Big Sick
2. The Florida Project
and....

This was such a strong year that, literally, the top 9 films were all in strong contention for the top spot. So I had to think a little harder about the films that had the greatest impact on me when i saw them. The top 6 were especially powerful for me, because I actually felt kind of altered by them - they changed my perception, which is what good art can do. This was truly a great year in the movies. However, the most profound film I saw in 2017 was the documentary I Am Not Your Negro. It's a mild cheat - it debuted in 2016 for Oscar contention, but wasn't released widely till February. Seeing as how it was unfindable last year, it gets its honors this year. Track down this masterpiece! Using the words of author James Baldwin, narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, this film is a deeply passionate, evocative, almost transcendent examination of the violent history of racism in the 20th century. As the examination progresses, the direct lines between the violent racism of the civil rights era and the modern day struggle become deeply, painfully clear. At once painful, devastating, clever and inspiring, this is a film not to be missed. Track down this masterpiece!

Honorable mentions were plenty this year:The Shape of Water which may win Best Picture today, was in the #16 spot. Beautifully made, but didn't make me feel much. Mudbound was a welcome foray into prestige filmmaking by Netflix. There was a lot of very fun fare too that almost made it by virtue of being just fun Ė LEGO Batman, Thor: Ragnarok, and The Disaster Artist were more hilarious than they had any right to be Ė but they just missed, especially in a year when films like The Big Sick and Lady Bird showed that hilarity can always be accompanied by deeply moving narratives.
Best Actor
And the nominees are:
Timothee Chalamet in Call Me By Your Name
Bryan Cranston in Last Flag Flying
Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread
Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out
Kumail Nanjiani in The Big Sick
Robert Pattinson in Good Time

Noticeably on the outside looking in is Gary Oldman, who was fine as Winston Churchill and will almost certainly win an Oscar today, but I was not moved by this performance much. It was very much an elaborate impression with elaborate makeup. There were deeper performances this year. But this award was pretty much decided during the closing credits of Call Me By Your Name, during which Timothee Chalamet proves that less actually IS more. He gives the most captivating performance Iíve seen in years. Iíve never seen an actor so young appear to have so much command over his craft. And the last shot Ė 5 minutes of the truly sublime.
Best Actress
Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Brooklyn Prince in The Florida Project
Margot Robbie in I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird
Daniela Vega in A Fantastic Woman (Una Mujer Fantastica)

Special shout-out to two actresses Iíd actually never seen before, Brooklyn Prince Ė a little force of nature whose performance recalls Quevanzhane Wallis from Beasts of the Southern Wild Ė and Daniela Vega Ė a transgender Chilean actress who gives a brilliant, commanding performance. But in a twist, this award goes to a performance in a film I disliked a great deal. Well done, Frances McDormand, for rising above a problematic screenplay to give a performance of complex fury. She salvages this movie in a way Iím not sure any other actress is capable of. She gives the performance of a tornado, personified, and breathes life into a character who so easily could have been cartoonish.

Best Supporting Actor

Willem Dafoe in The Florida Project
Jake Gyllenhaal in Okja
Armie Hammer in Call Me By Your Name
Richard Jenkins in The Shape of Water
Sam Rockwell in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Michael Stuhlbarg in Call Me By Your Name

In sharp contrast to his co-star, Sam Rockwell, who is doing some of his best work, cannot fully salvage his character from being a laughable cartoon. Also, shout out to Jake Gyllenhaal who, though surrounded by 5 actors giving performances of profound empathy, gives a madcap comedic performance as an awful, self-absorbed nature show host in Okja that brought me great joy. But I think Iím going to value empathy a little higher this year and give the award to perhaps my favorite performance of the year period Ė Willem Dafoe in The Florida Project. This is the definition of a lived-in character Ė though we only get little hints a glimpses of his backstory, Dafoeís performance makes us believe we know him inside and out. Though his character spends the majority of the film bossing people around, he is easily the most sympathetic character on screen this year.

Best Supporting Actress

Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird
Holly Hunter in The Big Sick
Leslie Manville in Phantom Thread
Tilda Swinton in Okja
Tiffany Haddish in Girls Trip
Allison Williams in Get Out

Whew, this is the toughest category to cull down to 6. This was a year of outrageously good performances. Allison Janney and Octavia Spencer just missed the cut because I felt like their performances were actually a little unchallenging for them Ė Iíve seen them play those notes before. Mary J. Blige and Carey Mulligan from Mudbound were also right there, but I was kind of dispirited by the film. Instead what we have, totally accidentally, are 6 performances in films with strong comedic elements to them. Special congrats to Tilda Swinton, who has to be the most Munchie-nominated actress, historically, and Tiffany Haddish for committing cinematic larceny and totally stealing her entire film (seriously Ė I canít remember anything about that film that does not directly involve her character). But the WINNER has to be Holly Hunter. For some reason, Laurie Metcalf is getting more attention for her similar strong maternal character, but I thought that Holly Hunter breathes so much life into the stressed, frightened mother in The Big Sick that makes her the most memorable performance in this category for me.

Best Director

Paul Thomas Anderson for Phantom Thread
Sean Baker for The Florida Project
Luca Guadagnino for Call Me By Your Name
JR and Agnes Varda for Faces Places
Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk
Jordan Peele for Get Out

Another tough, tough category to make a shortlist for. I donít know if Iíve ever had a Best Picture winner not even in the shortlist for Director, but it was that kinda year. Greta Gerwig and Denis Villanueve did such delightful and energetic work in Lady Bird and visually stunning work in Blade Runner 2049, respectively, that itís hard to leave them out. These are 6 pieces of film that reflected such meticulous care, vitality and uniqueness that they couldnít be ignored. They all made films that I donít think anyone else could have made. If I were grading on a curve, it would have to be Jordan Peele, who made something that just gave no indication of being someoneís debut directorial effort. It was masterfully made and full of rewards for those willing to examine it closely. Heís surrounded by established and experienced auteurs and the fact that itís one of the 2 or 3 best directorial efforts is astounding. But I was truly blown away by the scope, the production and the innovation of Dunkirk, directed by Christopher Nolan. The word that comes to mind when discussing this film is ďachievement.Ē Itís a different kind of war movie Ė not told through dialogue and prolonged battle sequences, but through visuals, character actions and reactions, tension, dread and anticipation. Itís truly an experience and a colossal leap forward in filmmaking.

And thatís the year! 2017 was a year of upheaval for me, moving across the country and such, so I had more films than usual (about 20) that I really wanted to see but was unable to make the time for, so I regret missing out on lovely sounding fare like Columbus, Loving Vincent, A Ghost Story, Ex Libris, and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, among many, many others. Iíll try to do better this year J. Feel free to comment and enjoy 2018 in film!

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