Sunday, January 21, 2018

The 8th Annual Jarmo Awards

*HERE BE SPOILERS: the capsules for these awards occasionally discuss significant plot points, so be aware.*

That's right, everyone, it's time for the 8th Annual Jarmo Awards! For those who are new to the site, the Jarmos are like the Oscars, but with a few different categories and significantly less hoopla. This year features plenty of noteworthy achievements, some that will be familiar and some that have gone unheralded throughout the awards season. These are my personal favorites from 2017, based on what I viewed, so feel free to chime in in the comments and tell me why I'm completely wrong.

And...look, I know I say this every year, but if any of the winners want to come claim their reward, let me know and I will put something together for you. No one has done it yet, so come be the first! It's exciting! You'll have a bullshit entertainment award that no one else has!

BEST ACTRESS


Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird

Runner-up: Gal Gadot, Wonder Woman
Finalists: Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water; Jennifer Lawrence, mother!; Daisy Ridley, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Saoirse Ronan is very easily among the best actors working today, which she proves with her wondrous performance in Greta Gerwig's directorial debut Lady Bird. Ronan has been turning in great work for years now, going back to her surprising Oscar-nominated turn in Atonement ten years ago. But Lady Bird McPherson is sneaky-best performance to date; I note "sneaky" because Ronan makes it look so effortless. Ronan makes all of Lady Bird's glorious contradictions come to life: a headstrong attitude that is as performative as it is honest, from her insistence that everyone call her "Lady Bird" (for no reason other than it's what she wants to be called) through her slippage between the theater kids and the popular girls. Ronan absolutely sells the idea that this is a young girl who thinks she knows exactly who she is yet constantly tries on different personas; she is, in other words, a teenager on the precipice of adulthood. And Ronan embraces that messiness in her performance. It's hard to believe Ronan is only 23; there are so many more great performances ahead of her.

BEST ACTOR


Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out

Runner-up: Hugh Jackman, Logan
Finalists: Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name; James McAvoy, Split; Kumail Nanjiani, The Big Sick

Horror performances, in general, don't get enough respect: too often characterized as just screaming and panic, the best reveal layers of character that aren't on the page and create a palpable sense of dread that the character might not make it to the end of the film (Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween and Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby immediately come to mind). But even among great horror performances, Kaluuya's work in Get Out stands out as one of the genre's best. As Chris, the boyfriend brought to his white girlfriend's (Allison Williams) home to meet her parents, Kaluuya never overplays his character's incredulity at the barrage of microaggressions he weathers from Rose's seemingly well-meaning parents (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener). It's a performance that many people of color have called completely relatable, and Kaluuya wisely lets those moments sit on their own. Once the third-act reveal shifts the dynamic of the guest and his hosts, however, Kaluuya's performance maintains everything we already know about the character while shifting into his new role as "Final Girl" (to borrow Carol Clover's infamous term). Kaluuya, previously magnetic in small roles in films such as Sicario, fully deserves more leading roles in the future after earning his place in the Horror Acting Hall of Fame.

More winners after the jump.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS


Allison Williams, Get Out

Runner-up: Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Finalists: Holly Hunter, The Big Sick; Catherine Keener, Get Out; Lea Seydoux, It's Only the End of the World

If you've seen Get Out, you know the most famous scene featuring Williams: the bowl of Froot Loops with the glass of music, "I've Had the Time of My Life" playing over headphones, with Williams' calm demeanor the purest evidence of the sociopath that was always lurking underneath. There's so much more to Williams' performance, though. The frustration she demonstrates with the police officer that demands that Chris (Kaluuya) show his ID even though he was not driving their car. The way she sympathizes with Chris whenever he vents about her parents' microaggressions. Her encouragement for Chris to stop smoking. All of these little moments make her Rose seem completely harmless (which supposedly influenced director Jordan Peele's decision to cast her in the role). But the piece de resistance of Williams' performance is the ever-so-subtle change in her expression and demeanor as she dangles her car keys in the third act twist, a remarkable transformation from ally to villain that only Williams could pull off. The reveal just would not work the same way without Williams in the role, and her work deserves to be mentioned among the year's best.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR


Ray Romano, The Big Sick

Runner-up: Mark Hamill, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Finalists: Michael Fassbender, Alien: Covenant; LilRel Howery, Get Out; Michael Keaton, Spider-Man: Homecoming

Ray Romano doesn't get enough credit as an actor. Romano's always had a hangdog quality to his persona, projecting a goofy cover to what is a likely damaged soul. His long tenure on Everybody Loves Raymond frequently hinted at this, but it's never been fully explored (in film, at least) to the extent that The Big Sick provides him. While Kumail Nanjiani is unquestionably the heart of the film, and Holly Hunter the necessary vinegar, Romano's Terry serves as a foil for Nanjiani's Kumail. A worried father with long-dormant emotional baggage coming to the surface, Romano hints at the depths of Terry's regrets and disappointments while maintaining a warm and humorous presence. His misguided attempt to talk about 9/11 with Kumail is one of the film's comic highlights, bolstered by the well-intentioned cluelessness Romano lends the scene. It's not a particularly showy performance, but it sticks with you, much like the film itself.

BEST CAMEO APPEARANCE/LIMITED ROLE


Michael Stuhlbarg, Call Me By Your Name

Runner-up: Laura Dern, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Finalists: Will Oldham, A Ghost Story; Lakeith Stanfield, Get Out; Samara Weaving, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Hear me out for this one: the reason Stuhlbarg is here rather than Supporting Actor is because, as a whole, he has limited screentime, and the bulk of his performance rests on a single monologue at the film's climax. But what a hell of a monologue it is, and a hell of a performance as well. Stuhlbarg is a warm presence throughout the film, but just distant enough from the action to seem like he is oblivious to his son Elio's (Timothée Chalamet) blossoming relationship with his research assistant Oliver (Armie Hammer). Yet toward the film's end, when Oliver has departed back to the United States, it is Stuhlbarg's Mr. Perlman who sits down with his son and reveals that not only was he aware of the relationship, but that he hopes the pain of this heartbreak doesn't leave Elio jaded and numb to love. It's hard to imagine the monologue as written by James Ivory coming from another actor, so warm, tender, heartbreaking, and revealing is Stuhlbarg's performance of it. In a single scene Stuhlbarg sums up the hope of every parent dealing with their child's first broken heart, the regret of previous choices, and the revelation that our parents exist outside of their children. That Stuhlbarg conveys all of this in hushed, comforting tones is all the more reason to laud his work.

BEST BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE


Zendaya, Spider-Man: Homecoming

Runner-up: Kelly Anne Tran, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Finalists: Beanie Feldman, Lady Bird; LilRel Howery, Get Out; Pom Klementieff, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Marvel superhero movies tend to be all about their heroes, who are often charming and magnetic enough to hold the screen on their own (Chris Hemsworth eventually got there). This should be especially true of Spider-Man: Homecoming, headlined by genetically-engineered charm machine Tom Holland as Peter Parker. Yet the actor who stole every scene she was in was Zendaya, perhaps previously best known as the star of Disney Channel's K.C. Undercover. Her Michelle is sarcastic and witty, scoring the film's biggest laughs and admirably taking the piss out the young hero. She also proves to be even more of star than Holland, commanding attention every time she's onscreen. And as the film reveals her initials to be "MJ," it appears the filmmakers realized that she deserves a much bigger role in future films. Here's hoping she's not limited just to the Spider-verse.

BEST ENSEMBLE


Lady Bird

Runner-up: Mudbound
Finalists: Coco, The Disaster Artist, Get Out

Greta Gerwig assembled quite a cast for her feature debut. I've already rhapsodized about Saoirse Ronan above, and noted on my top 10 list how great Laurie Metcalf is as Lady Bird's mother. But Tracy Letts provides a warm presence as Lady Bird's softy father, while Jordan Rodrigues and Marielle Scott are fine as her brother and his live-in girlfriend, respectively. Beanie Feldman (fun fact: she's Jonah Hill's sister) is a terrific discovery as Lady Bird's best friend, while Lucas Hedges and Timothée Chalamet are excellent as her paramours. Even the smaller roles in this film are expertly acted, such as Lois Smith as the school's guidance counselor and Stephen McKinley Henderson as the drama teacher. It's hard to argue with a collection of actors like this, all of them perfectly in tune with Gerwig's vision for the film.

BEST DIRECTOR


David Lowery, A Ghost Story

Runner-up: Dee Rees, Mudbound
Finalists: Darren Aronofsky, mother!; Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird; Rian Johnson, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

This was, by far, the most difficult category for me to decide: these five could easily be expanded to include Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape of Water), Edgar Wright (Baby Driver), James Mangold (Logan), Jordan Peele (Get Out), Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk), Agnieszka Smoczynska (The Lure), Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name), and Nacho Vigalondo (Colossal). And the truth is, everyone listed here has a compelling case to win (I actually did consider a multi-way tie). Ultimately, however, Lowery gets the nod for making this strange little film feel at once expansive and intimate. Working with director of photography Andrew Droz Palermo, Lowrey manages to make a man in a bedsheet one of the year's most sympathetic characters. What's most impressive is how Lowrey, serving as his own editor, manipulates time in the film: holding on M (Rooney Mara) for what feels like a small eternity while she eats a whole pie in a fit of grief, with the ghost barely noticeable in the background, only to skip decades in a single cut. Lowrey manages to squeeze what is possible the entire history of the universe - past and future - into just over 90 minutes, and all within a single geographic location. That it all seems so seamless is a testament to Lowrey's immense talent and vision.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY


Logan; story by James Mangold, screenplay by Scott Frank, James Mangold, and Michael Green (based on characters in Marvel's X-Men comics and Frank Miller and Steven McNiven's Old Man Logan books)

Runner-up: Call Me By Your Name; screenplay by James Ivory (adapted from the novel by André Acimen)
Finalists: The Lure; screenplay by Robert Bolesto (inspired by Han Christian Andersen's fairy tale "The Little Mermaid"); Mudbound; screenplay by Virgil Williams and Dee Rees (adapted from the novel by Hillary Jordan); Star Wars: The Last Jedi; written by Rian Johnson (based on characters created by George Lucas)

Logan had a ton of material to draw on. In addition to Miller and McNiven's famed comic book series Old Man Logan, the film had to build on three previous X-Men films and two previous Wolverine films, not to mention the three X-Men First Class films in which the character cameos. This is to say, much of the film's strengths derive from Jackman's 17 years of work as the character, and as evidenced above in his runner-up spot in Best Actor, Jackman delivers one of the finest performances of his career. But so much of this also comes from the screenplay, which not only cohesively cherry-picks the necessary elements from this franchise's wildly convoluted timeline but also finds time to interrogate the very legacy of these characters as myths and heroes (a feature it shares with fellow finalist The Last Jedi). Frank, Mangold, and Green craft a film that functions as both a superhero film and a revenge Western, balancing thrilling action with the most ruminative moments ever granted to this franchise (and possibly any superhero movie, period). And on top of all of this, the film works well as a stand-alone story, which is increasingly rare in which every film promises a new "universe." Hopefully future superhero films will follow its example.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY


Get Out; written by Jordan Peele

Runner-up: Lady Bird; written by Greta Gerwig
Finalists: The Big Sick; written by Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani; Colossal; written by Nacho Vigalondo; The Shape of Water; story by Guillermo Del Toro, screenplay by Guillermo Del Toro and Vanessa Taylor

This category, like Best Director, was also very close: any of these five films would have made a fine winner. But Peele gets the nod for Get Out for crafting a horror film that comments on very real horrors without stepping too far away from reality. Sure, there's a bit of the supernatural at work in the film, particularly the secret the Armitage family hides in their basement. But the power of Peele's screenplay is how he integrates the "subtle" racism of white liberals and everyday microaggressions into the framework of a traditional horror film, where the monsters hide in plain sight and perhaps don't even realize how monstrous they actually are (or at the very least can't admit it). The film never comes across as a lecture, however, turning on its own mysteries in ways that are chilling and entertaining in equal measure. That's no easy task, but Peele pulls it off with merited confidence. I look forward to what he does next.

BEST USE OF MUSIC


The Shape of Water ("You'll Never Know")

Runner-up: Baby Driver (all songs)
Finalists: Atomic Blonde ("Father Figure"), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 ("Come a Little Bit Closer"), Lady Bird ("Crash Into Me")

I know, I know, the music in Baby Driver was basically the film's entire reason for existing, and I actually surprise myself in giving it only the runner-up spot. But if you've seen The Shape of Water, you'll understand why I choose this moment, which left me breathless in the large auditorium at Asheville, NC's Fine Arts Theatre (support your local theaters, everyone!). The scene is the only one in which Elisa (Sally Hawkins) speaks, singing in the voice of Alice Faye for her signature song, "You'll Never Know" (itself a Best Original Song Oscar winner in 1943, from the film Hello, Frisco, Hello). The film shifts to a black-and-white musical number, with Elisa and her amphibious beau dancing like Ginger Rogers with the Creature from the Black Lagoon, a starry-eyed dance with the right balance of romance and grotesquerie (though let it be said: Doug Jones has some moves). It's a scene that truly surprises within the context of the film, which gave it the slight edge as the best use of music in a year full of great candidates for that title.

MOST (PLEASANTLY) SURPRISING FILM


Split

Runner-up: Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Finalists: Alien: Covenant, Colossal, Spider-Man: Homecoming

Eighteen years ago, M. Night Shyamalan burst onto the scene with The Sixth Sense, a surprising (and surprisingly effective) ghost story that became a box office smash and anointed its creator as "the next Spielberg." Nine years ago, Shyamalan's career appeared to be in the tank, as the disastrous release of The Happening transformed the director into a punchline about easily-telegraphed twists and hubristic self-indulgence. So coming into 2017 with "Shyamalan made a good movie" was hardly the expectation, yet Split made that phrase a reality. Anchored by a committed, brilliant performance by James McAvoy, the film concerns a man with 23 personalities kidnapping three young girls (including Anya Taylor-Joy) as a 24th personality begins to emerge. It's a ripping B-movie premise, and Shyamalan plays it as such, letting the actors cut loose in their performances and bringing in Betty Buckley as Kevin's (McAvoy) psychiatrist. An awkward, last-second decision to tether the film to Shyamalan's 2000 feature Unbreakable aside, the film showed that Shyamalan could still spin a fun yarn, Taylor-Joy continues to be a rising talent, and McAvoy is not afraid to commit to an insane role. Who would have thought?

MOST DISAPPOINTING FILM


It's Only the End of the World

Runner-up: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Finalists: The Beguiled, Contemporary Color, Okja

Quebecois director Xavier Dolan earned his reputation as a wunderkind with his first feature, 2009's I Killed My Mother, which he made at the age of 19. His films were confident and stylized, applying a music video aesthetic to narratives of desire and rebellion (it should come as no surprise that he directed Adele's "Hello" video). Before the film's bow at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival (where it won the Grand Prix, essentially second-place), Dolan described It's Only the End of the World as his first film "as a man." If this is his maturity, perhaps adolescence suited him better. An exercise in unhappy family squabbling, the film centers on Louis' (Gaspard Ulliel) return home to inform his family that he is dying. Old wounds, however, prevent him from relaying this information, as various members of the family rehash old arguments and lash out to create new ones. It's all well-acted, especially by Marion Cotillard, Lea Seydoux, and Vincent Cassel, but it lacks substance: it's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? without any real stakes. Dolan's decision to shoot the entire film in tight close-ups only hinders the dramatic tension, since it prevents the audience from fully understanding the impact of the arguments and accusations on all of the characters. Especially coming on the heels of Dolan's best film, Mommy, It's Only the End of the World aims for a bang, but only manages a whimper.

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