You know what? There were a ton of really, really great films released in the last year. It didn’t really feel that way for a long time, what with cinemas opening and closing and opening and closing so much hardly anything had the chance to become a hit, not to mention the biggest non-starter of an Oscar season in decades. But as it came time to look back on the year that was, we found we had loads of movies to talk and enthuse about, far more than we had time to praise here.
Just like every year, we gave one award for each of the eight major Oscars: we care about most of the others (except for the fake awards like Best Original Song) but this post would be absurdly long if we picked those too. We each did out our personal nominees and then selected the winner by consensus, so the winners only come from films that both of us have seen and nominated, but we’ve each picked a personal runner-up regardless of whether the other has seen or nominated it. We also each gave a Special Achievement Award for something that doesn’t fit our other categories, and our first ever Career Achievement Award to a group of cinematic artists long overlooked by an industry that doesn’t deserve them.
You can see each of our full slates of nominees at the bottom of this post, which we strongly encourage you to check out if you’re looking for recommendations. This year really was rich with fantastic films, and we only got to award a small fraction of them.
BEST PICTURE – Titane
Ciara: “Titane is, to put it mildly, not for everyone. If you’re not the kind of person this film is made for, you’re going to hate it and think me, Dean and the Palme D’Or committee are irredeemable sickos. But if you are the kind of person this film is made for, strap the fuck in for the ride of your life. If you like sicko movies, don’t look up anything about it, don’t watch a trailer, just go watch it right now.
Titane is a mad, mad thing, making Julia Ducournau’s previous film, Raw, look like a pretty conventional coming-of-age movie by comparison. What if the boy and the car fucked in Christine? What if Gone Girl pretended to be some kid who disappeared twenty years ago? What if Tetsuo: The Iron Man was going through mother nature’s original body horror, pregnancy? What if in Toni Erdmann, she wanted to fuck her dad? Titane is all this and more. Psychotic-sexy and surprisingly sweet, it’s a shock horror with a heart. So at the risk of being labelled an irredeemable sicko: I loved it, I loved it, I loved it. Funny, gross, sad, and full of incredible performances. What more could you want? I don’t know, but Titane probably has that too.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Belfast – “What a year to be Branagh-pilled. It can be hard to articulate what is so great about Belfast because everything great about it is as obvious as breathing: it’s so sad and so funny, twisting those up together until you can hardly parse the difference. It’s use of colour in this black-and-white world. The juxtaposition of Belfast as this idyllic place – as a childhood memory – and as this terrifying, violent place. Plus: ‘it’s biological.’”
Dean’s Runner-Up: The French Dispatch – “Such a thoughtful, elegant and funny movie. A film about art, the love of art and the preaching of the love of art. A warm tribute to not just the New Yorker of Wes Anderson’s youth, but an entire half-patrician, half-populist sensibility of bringing curated slices of the world and its culture into people’s homes, dead and gone in a world where a little bit of everything all of the time is piped directly into our brains every day. It’s so exactingly composed, yet so delicate; so brisk and dry, yet so romantic; so sweet and uplifting, yet so melancholic. I really adore it.”
BEST DIRECTOR – Julia Ducournau for Titane
Dean: “We previously gave Julia Ducournau this award for her debut feature, Raw. A college horror film about a vegetarian becoming a cannibal after a hazing ritual, it was handily one of the weirdest, most provocative films of 2017. But Raw looks positively tame next to Titane, handily one of the weirdest, most provocative films of my lifetime, and maybe my favourite horror film now. The main character has sex with a car in the first twenty minutes and it wouldn’t make my list of the top ten weirdest things that happen in Titane. It’s a film so utterly off-the-wall that if I described its plot in detail, you would be forgiven for assuming I made it up as a surreal joke.
But it’s not just real, it fucking rules. It draws on the dual traditions of exploitation cinema and the European avant-garde to forge something transcendently new. Heightened and grounded all at once. Scene to scene, it can be shot like a music video, a mystery thriller or an absurd comedy, yet it all feels totally cohesive, with flair and style and vision expansive enough to accommodate not just shifting from one tone to another, but layering them on top of each other, over and over. It’s horrifying, hilarious and heartbreaking one after another and all at once. Literally every relationship in this film has the darkest psychosexual energy this side of de Sade, but it’s also tragic and touching. Hypererotic, melodramatic, perverse. Hideously beautiful and beautifully hideous. I could talk about this film forever, and I will. An honest-to-God masterpiece.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Steven Spielberg for West Side Story – “Making a musical so naturally plays to Spielberg’s strengths as a director – his ability to make films feel big most of all – that West Side Story makes it seem vaguely crazy that he hasn’t been making musicals for decades. There’s an incredible sense of movement in this film, from the rhythm of how they pass the paint cans around in an early sequence to the big song-and-dance setpieces. Masterpiece.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: David Lowery for The Green Knight – “Not to veer credit away from David Lowery while praising his directing, but I love how he engages with his influences in this film. The highway robbery scene inspired by Barry Lyndon, Alicia Vikander’s monologue about nature triumphing over mankind in response to Merlin’s monologue about mankind triumphing over nature in Excalibur (both partly shot, like The Green Knight, in Cahir Castle, in my hometown). And the Last Temptation of Gawain, where he sees a vision of his future if he walks away from his duty to die, but rejects it and chooses to face death bravely. A movie bold and brilliant enough to wear its inspirations on its sleeve and still shine in its own right.”
BEST ACTOR – Simon Rex as Mikey Saber in Red Rocket
Dean: “I’m trying to imagine telling myself at any previous point in my life that I would one day be furious – furious! – the dumb male lead from Scary Movie 3-5 was snubbed at the Oscars. But here we are. Simon Rex is electrifying as Mikey Saber, a washed-up porn actor who claims to have been doing really well in Los Angeles until recently hitting a run of bad luck that’s sent him crawling back to his hometown of Texas City, Texas to seek shelter with his ex-wife and her mother. He’s an instantly recognisable and familiar portrait of a kind of guy we’ve all encountered, a bullshitting braggart with no real accomplishments, eager to regale others with his tales of triumph and always quick with a story of how someone else (usually a woman) fucked it up for him.
Mikey is a vile, contemptuous, abrasively human portrait of a narcissist, someone incapable of relating to other people as anything but tools for him to use and then discard as he tries to hustle his way back to LA, and Rex plays him like a virtuoso. He’s particularly brilliant at striking the exact balance of charismatic and repulsive that makes him so gripping to watch. Like Howard in Uncut Gems, Mikey is a total scumbag and you certainly feel some schadenfreude on the very few occasions he suffers any consequences for his actions, but there’s still a thrill in being along for the ride with such a brazen con artist, to see if he can actually pull it off, the same way half the characters seem to give Mikey a chance just so they can have a front seat to him fucking it up. The scene where he’s trying to provoke his ex-wife into a fight so she’ll validate his decision to leave her again, and she won’t bite, so he just sort of lingers there, slowly backing into the hall, is one of the funniest and most acutely pathetic things I’ve seen on film in a while.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Cooper Hoffman as Gary Valentine in Licorice Pizza – “Licorice Pizza was Cooper Hoffman’s first film – his first role, to my understanding, of any kind – but he instantly seems every inch the seasoned pro. He’s preternaturally captivating and charismatic. And incredibly funny: his audition for the quick-change ad is a thing of beauty. I didn’t realise until after that he’s Philip Seymour Hoffman’s son, and realising that made me believe that acting is genetic.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Denzel Washington as Macbeth in The Tragedy of Macbeth – “There are so many different ways you can play Macbeth. Indignant and covetous, like Mifune in Throne of Blood; pathetic and cruel, like Jon Finch in Polanski’s Macbeth. Denzel pitches him as a world-weary stoic with a deep strain of moral cowardice. I think often of how his eyes droop and glaze over as he’s killing Duncan, like he’s trying to make himself dissociate, his dispassionate facade betrayed by his unwillingness to look his victim in the eye. Pleased to report Denzel is still one of the best in the business.”
BEST ACTRESS – Kristen Stewart as Diana Spencer in Spencer
Ciara: “There was never any doubt that Kristen Stewart would win this award. She disappears entirely inside the role: you watch her, and she is Princess Diana, plain and simple. And I don’t mean that it’s a good impression – although it’s a damn near incredible one – because no impression could be this full and deep and real. An impression would be of Diana, Princess of Wales, but Stewart is playing Diana Spencer: a woman who finds playing the role of Princess Diana so intolerably painful that it’s tearing her apart. Stewart plays Spencer, who plays the Princess even though it’s killing her, even though it’ll never be enough: not for the royal family, not for the palace staff, not for the paparazzi.
It would be easy, in lesser hands, for Diana in this film to just seem like a mad woman. But Stewart gives, among other things, one of the most lived-in, deeply felt performances of a mentally ill person I’ve ever seen. It’s often said that eating disorders are about control, and I’ve never been made to feel that as strongly as here: there’s no part of Diana’s life that she can control but what she vomits up. (Not even, during Christmas at the palace, what she eats.) The monarchy is an ornate prison, a surveillance state, and Stewart makes all that so palpable. But she’s never just her mental illness. The sweetest parts of the movie are the scenes she shares with her young sons. It’s these, perhaps, that elevate Stewart’s performance to something transcendent: her deep love for William and Harry colours even the most distressing psychological horror.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Caitríona Balfe as Ma in Belfast – “Caitríona Balfe’s performance is the heart and soul of Belfast: she creates a portrait of a mother in the early days of the Troubles that’s both vivid and authentic, with fear and love in a constant battle in her heart. The scene where she marches Buddy back to the shop mid-riot to make him bring the detergent back is incredible alone.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Alana Haim as Alana Kane in Licorice Pizza – “I know this is a bit of a cliché about first-time performers, but it is genuinely preposterous that Licorice Pizza was Alana Haim’s first acting role. Not just her first film, but her first role whatsoever, and she’s this good! To be so funny, especially, right off the bat. When she screams at Skyler Gisondo in the street for embarrassing her by refusing to pray before dinner in front of her rabbi father, or when she taunts Gary by talking dirty to a customer on the phone after he pesters her to sound sexier. She has the comic timing of a seasoned pro. I hope it’s just the first of many great performances.”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – Jeffrey Wright as Roebuck Wright in The French Dispatch
Dean: “Of all the charming characters assembled for the massive ensemble of The French Dispatch, none is quite as compelling – or compellingly-performed – as Roebuck Wright. Each of the film’s three major sections interprets a story from the final edition of the titular magazine: Roebuck’s portrays him getting caught up in a kidnapping-turned-hostage situation when he’s assigned to profile the legendary chef of a police precinct. He’s reciting the article from memory during a talk show interview some years later, and so Jeffrey Wright serves us Roebuck four ways: as an older man on the talk show, as the narrative voice of the article itself, as a character in the story of the article, and as a character in flashbacks external to the article.
Roebuck is an off-screen narrator far more than an on-screen character – though the roles blur, as he narrates directly to camera at the beginning, when he’s meandering through the precinct – and Wright’s voice performance is both captivating as narration and rich with subtle characterisation. Moments of particular warmth or weariness, the way he says ‘a magnificent city park pigeon hash’ and you can hear him smile as he lets the last word purr a little. But he’s even more tremendous on-screen, especially during his brief, impromptu monologue about why he’s written so much about food, about the solace and comfort it provided him in his solitary life as an American exile in Europe and a gay man in the 20th century.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Troy Kotsur as Frank Rossi in CODA – “There’s a bit in CODA where Troy Kotsur as Frank, the Deaf father of a hearing daughter, asks her to sing for him. He puts his hands against her throat so he can feel the vibrations: the closest thing to hearing her. I sobbed, and so much of that is Kotsur’s incredibly moving performance.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Ciarán Hinds as Pop in Belfast – “Ciarán Hinds is so good in Belfast, he made me well up every second time he was on screen. The warmth in his eyes and smile as he encourages, advises and comforts Buddy through the most turbulent, destabilising time of his young life and his first experience of love. The bit where he and Granny are on the couch with Buddy, and Pop starts singing ‘How to Handle a Woman’ from Camelot, then rises to his feet, walks around the coffee table, pulls a faux-reluctant Granny to her feet and dances with her. I have tears in my eyes just thinking of it.”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – Ariana DeBose as Anita in West Side Story
Ciara: “In the role that won Rita Moreno an Oscar, it would be easy for Ariana DeBose to seem like the poor cousin: good, sure, but paling in comparison. Instead, DeBose – previously best known for musical theatre, including as part of the original cast of Hamilton – is spellbinding. She has an incredible presence, irresistibly pulling you towards her even in this giant ensemble. Whenever Anita is not on screen, all the other characters should be asking ‘Where’s Anita?’
Damien Chazelle once said that the reason Gene Kelly will start dancing in a film isn’t to show off how great he is at dancing, it’s because he’s full of an emotion that cannot be expressed in any other way. DeBose is a great dancer, but when she dances in West Side Story it emerges totally organically: the way she moves her body has music in it even when there’s none on the soundtrack. She’s a great singer, too, but when she sings in West Side Story it’s with all the feeling and expression of her speech, like this really is a conversation she’s having. ‘America’ is, of course, her big showcase, and what a showcase it is. The way she twirls her skirt, the way she sings her lines like snappy comebacks instead of simple call-and-response. It’s tragic how few people went to see West Side Story, and they better make two musicals a year with DeBose in the lead to make up for it.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Mikey Madison as Amber Freeman in Scream – “With the Scream requel, Mikey Madison proved Once Upon a Time in Hollywood wasn’t a fluke, firmly establishing herself as the greatest ‘flailing around while on fire’ actor of her generation. Here’s to a hundred more films where she gets set alight.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Kathryn Hunter as The Witches and The Old Man in The Tragedy of Macbeth – “Kathryn Hunter plays between one and four characters in The Tragedy of Macbeth, depending on how you think about it. She primarily portrays the Witches, who the film interprets as something between a madwoman with multiple personalities and a triple deity like the Morrigan. She speaks in different voices, sometimes talking to herself as a single performer, sometimes talking to other versions of herself in triplicate. She screams and squawks, contorts her limbs, jerks her joints and twitches her muscles. It’s captivating. She also appears briefly as the Old Man who shelters Banquo’s son, so subtle and subdued you’d be forgiven for missing her and never wondering if he was the Witches too.”
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – Paul Thomas Anderson for Licorice Pizza
Ciara: “When I saw Licorice Pizza I kept thinking about Robert Altman’s Nashville: it’s not an intuitive comparison, because Nashville has a sprawling ensemble of dozens of characters, and Licorice Pizza is a small story about a teenage boy and a twenty-something woman who, among other things, start a waterbed company. But even though its story is that much smaller, Licorice Pizza feels as sprawling as Nashville, as totalising, capturing this whole swathe of time through this small sliver. I thought, too, of great Hal Ashby films: of Harold and Maude, obviously, but with the teenager in the Maude role, and of Shampoo, with its ‘bright, luminous present inevitably conceals a cloudy future’. It’s a love letter to a time long past, but one that understands that nostalgia has to hurt a little bit.
It’s also, and I cannot overstate this, so funny I choked. Wall to wall punchlines, from the witty repartee between Gary and Alana to hilarious minor characters, like the guy with the Japanese wife or Jon Peters being very insistent about how you pronounce Streisand. I think about Alana walking into the house in a bikini and her dad going ‘what the fuck’ once a week. It’s a screenplay that’s sunny and loose-limbed, romantic and nostalgic, having an equally good time bouncing through big setpieces and tiny character beats.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Prano Bailey-Bond and Anthony Fletcher for Censor – “Censor does end up as a didactic satire about the absurdity of the video nasty moral panic, but it’s a slowly-then-all-at-once reveal: Prano Bailey-Bond and Anthony Fletcher’s screenplay slowly deconstructs the censor’s viewpoint against a detail-rich backdrop – the miners’ strike is mentioned but ignored – before going balls to the wall video nasty in the final offing.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Paul Schrader for The Card Counter – “Call me a mark, but I’ve never not loved a Paul Schrader screenplay about a morally-troubled man with sleeping problems who decides to go somewhere he shouldn’t with a gun in the final act. William Tell, a professional gambler and ex-soldier who spent eight years in military prison for torturing detainees at Abu Ghraib, is one of Schrader’s most ingenious iterations on the figure of the insomniac worker that’s haunted his films from Taxi Driver and American Gigolo to Light Sleeper, Bringing Out the Dead and beyond. It’s a film that somehow manages to treat its darkest subject matter – the real torture of human beings – with the appropriate seriousness and gravitas, and still be funny, exciting and romantic.”
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Nicole Holofcener for The Last Duel
Dean: “The Last Duel is based on the true story of France’s last judicial duel: Jean de Carrouges challenges his ex-friend and rival Jacques de Gris to trial by combat after Jean’s wife, Marguerite, accuses de Gris of raping her. The film tells the story three times, first from Jean’s perspective, then de Gris’s, then Marguerite’s, but it isn’t – despite the many, many comparisons in reviews – very much like Rashomon. Rashomon is a film about lying, and the existential terror of living in a world where truth is not just disputed or unclear, but unknowable. Whereas one of the most fascinating things about The Last Duel is how far it goes in the other direction, how little credit it gives de Gris even when telling the story from his perspective, how obvious it is that he raped Marguerite. It’s not about the unknowability of truth, but whose truth is allowed to be spoken, believed, and ratified by reality.
Affleck and Damon wrote Jean and de Gris’s sections, while Holofcener wrote Marguerite’s, and each is brimming with great writing on their own terms and as alternate versions of each other. How both Jean and le Gris claim they said ‘Let there be no ill will among the servants of the king’ upon reconciling after an earlier dispute and the other replied ‘Well-spoken!’, while Marguerite remembers a supporting character actually said it to praise them both, and no one complimented him for his eloquence. But the best thing about this script is how much time it spends developing its core relationships, deepening them with the weight of history and grievance.”
Ciara’s Runner-Up: Alice Birch for Mothering Sunday – “The most underrated film of the year, Mothering Sunday has a stellar screenplay from Alice Birch (Normal People): some critics were put off by the complicated multiple timelines, but it flashes between its timelines, or even within different points in a single timeline, in a way that is incredibly evocative. It’s a film about grief and art, about the hole left after the war by all the dead boys and how that makes each death that comes afterwards all the harder. Fantastic stuff.”
Dean’s Runner-Up: Emma Seligman for Shiva Baby – “Emma Seligman turned her pretty good short cringe comedy about a sex worker who runs into a client at a shiva into a movie that’s a character study of a young adult underachiever’s relationship with her parents, a charming queer rom-com, a farcical anxiety-driven psychological horror film, and an even better feature-length cringe comedy about a sex worker who runs into a client at a shiva. So many vivid characters, such elegant escalation of the situational tension to its unbearable heights, each beat of the story arriving precise as clockwork without ever feeling contrived or forced. I can’t wait to see what she does next.”
SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT AWARD (DOCUMENTARY) – Final Account
Ciara: “Luke Holland’s documentary is made up of interviews with the living participants in the Third Reich, from SS officers to civilians. It’s a hard, haunting film, interrogating questions of responsibility and complicity that are still too often dodged. The interviewees have a wide range of perspectives on what they did – from those that are still avowed Nazis to one who, it seems, has reckoned in some serious way with the horrors he participated in – but what is most interesting, and cumulatively most distressing, are the abundance of people in the middle. I didn’t know what was happening. I knew what was happening but I didn’t take part. I took part but I was forced to.
The filmmakers’ careful, probing questions eviscerate all the excuses, many of which have filtered down into popular understanding of Nazism. A woman who lived in the village beside a concentration camp claims to have known nothing of what was happening there. Later in the same interview, another woman from that village describes the stench of burning bodies. Interviewees say they were not involved and then describe their involvement. Tripping over their story, contradicting what they’ve just said, to absolve themselves.
Final Account is extraordinary viewing. It is not just a great documentary about the Holocaust and other Nazi atrocities, but a great documentary about conformity and ideology, about how so many people could do these abhorrent crimes, could do them with a smile on their face. Holland, whose grandparents were killed in a concentration camp, died shortly after the film was completed. His film is an incredible legacy to leave behind.”
SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT AWARD (MAKEUP) – Justin Raleigh for The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Dean: “I don’t really give a shit about actors looking or sounding like real people they play in movies. Cole Porter looked like a mole rat and sang like an elderly woman, but Irwin Winkler in his genius cast six-foot crooning Broadway hunk Kevin Kline to play him in De-Lovely, and that movie rules. So trust that when I say the facial prosthetics worn by Jessica Chastain in The Eyes of Tammy Faye are brilliant, it’s not because they make Chastain look so much like the real Tammy Faye. They’re brilliant because of how they facilitate and enhance the film’s characterisation of Tammy Faye and her relationship with herself, her body and her perception of how others perceive her.
The real Tammy Faye’s face changed a lot over her life, from weight changes, from aging, and almost certainly from cosmetic surgery. The film doesn’t just depict this process in its interpretation of Tammy Faye, it builds it into her character and her arc. Excluded from her childhood church until she crashes a service to get baptised, Tammy has to fight all her life for respect, love and autonomy, and she gains as much as she loses. When everything else is slipping away, she holds even tighter to the one thing she can control: the face she puts on to confront the world. Justin Raleigh’s fantastic prosthetic work turns both the prosthetics and Chastain’s face into a canvas on which the filmmakers can paint their characterisation of Tammy in the same way that Tammy uses her face as a canvas for self-expression.”
CAREER ACHIEVEMENT AWARD – Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Chris Pontius, Ehren McGhehey, Dave England, Jason “Wee Man” Acuña and Preston Lacy for Jackass Forever
Dean: “The original crew of Jackass (minus Bam Margera, sorely unmissed) reunited for a fourth film this year. Jackass 3D felt like such a definitive ending to the franchise, it would be easy for Forever to seem gratuitous, regardless of its quality. Instead, it simultaneously has the the energy of getting the gang back together for one last heist and of one generation of lunatics passing a torch to the next. Johnny Knoxville is the Buster Keaton of his generation, unsurpassed as a comic stunt performer – just watch him soar out of that cannon – but he’s also, more importantly, the Johnny Knoxville of his generation. He has so much charisma, he could so easily keep it all to himself, but he always uses his glow to help his friends shine all the brighter. And everyone gets plenty of standout moments in the crew’s final outing.
Ehren puts his balls through so much punishment – including a punch from the man with the fastest recorded punch in history – that I genuinely don’t understand how he hasn’t been left smooth as Ken doll. Steve-O stumbles, dumbfounded, from the ruins of a port-a-potty that exploded beneath him in one scene and builds himself a gigantic dick by covering his own in live bees in another. Pontius quaffs a glass of pig cum completely unprovoked, five gallons of which will later be dumped on Dave England during what he thinks is a photo session. England sets up one of his classic ‘shitting in a disconnected toilet in public’ gags, this time at a yard sale, then gets launched off the seat and into the air by an inexplicable jet of water. Preston screaming as a tiny pair of motorised fists pummel his balls like a punching bag. Wee Man tied down in a cheap graveyard set as a live vulture eats raw meat from his naked body. I could go on and on. What a gift they gave us by getting together one last time.”