Alternative Oscars

Just what we needed: Another awards show, am I right?

These awards, however, aren’t your usual fare. These awards are designed to recognize elements of cinema that don’t often get shout-outs, because it’s a lot easier to market an award called “Best Feature” than “Best Use of Pop Music in a Film”. Consider them a good-natured alternative to an awards season that often turns venomous: A celebration of the atomic and subatomic fragments of cinema that we often overlook, free of the politics of Oscar. Enjoy.

 TriStar Pictures

TriStar Pictures

Best Use of Pop Music in a Film

  • “Bell Bottoms”, Baby Driver
  •  “Brighton Rock”, Baby Driver
  • “Crash Into Me”, Lady Bird
  • “Immigrant Song”, Thor: Ragnarok
  • “Sleeping Bag”, I, Tonya

I decided not to include any original music written specifically for the film, which means we’re disqualifying the entire Coco soundtrack and the two Sufjan Stevens songs from Call Me By Your Name. Still, this year is loaded enough with great needle drops that their absence is barely felt. Yes, there are two nominees from Baby Driver, but how can you help but reward the Platonic ideal of the needle drop movie in this category? Out of the two, “Bell Bottoms” accompanied the more monumental achievement, and while it’s tough to deny Lady Bird’s appropriation of a classic Dave Matthews Band song as a sort of anthem, Edgar Wright’s opening car chase only looms larger the more you think about it, its majesty overshadowed only by the adrenaline rush it incites.

Winner: “Bell Bottoms”, Baby Driver

 Walt Disney Studios

Walt Disney Studios

Best Action Sequence

  • Opening car chase, Baby Driver
  • “La Llorona”, Coco
  •  Opening sequence, Dunkirk
  • Throne room duel, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  • No man’s land, Wonder Woman

2017 was a great year for visually innovative and striking action scenes, and our crop of five here all have some distinguishing factor that elevates them above your usual fists-and-guns fare. The closest to a conventional action set piece in this list is the no man’s land sequence from Wonder Woman, but the virtuoso filmmaking involved in the way the action moves from place to place is as pure a concentration of action movie genius as you’ll ever get. The “La Llorona” scene from Coco and the previously discussed opening car chase in Baby Driver get bonus points for creativity and some brilliant use of music, and Dunkirk’s opening scene is a master class in gritty, experiential cinema in the vein of Saving Private Ryan’s iconic opening salvo. Still, this imaginary statuette is going to a scene that managed to blend the balletic with the brutal into a transcendent medley: The throne room duel from Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Playing out as more dance than battle, the scene unfolds like an elegant piece of modern dance, crystalline and electric.

Winner: Throne room duel, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

 Universal Studios

Universal Studios

Best Genre Film

  • Bad Genius (Heist)
  • Get Out (Horror)
  • Okja (Sci-fi)
  • Split (Horror)
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Fantasy)

I’m going to give some love to an underappreciated Thai film that hasn’t gotten much notice on Western shores and throw Bad Genius a nomination, as it somehow makes an event as mundane as standardized testing into a tight, Ocean’s 11-esque heist thriller. The rest of our slate should be familiar to you, especially since we actually have an Oscar nominee in our midst. It feels a bit insufficient, to describe Get Out as simply a genre film, but so much of its power stems from its fluency with the tropes of the horror genre. It builds cathedrals out of B-movie tricks with such eloquence and joy. No offense to the other nominees, but this was never all that much of a contest.

Winner: Get Out

 Fox Searchlight Pictures

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Best Non-Human Character

  • Dante, Coco
  • Joi, Blade Runner 2049
  • Okja, Okja
  • Porgs, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  • The Specimen, The Shape of Water

Out of our five nominees for this category, only one even remotely exists in real life, so it’s a pretty interesting slate. Granted, Dante does turn into an alabrije(spirit guide) when it’s all said and done, but he’ll be judged here as a common dog. The rest of the roster includes a super-pig (Okja), a bird-hamster from a galaxy far, far away (Porgs), and an operating system (Joi), but they all feel too much like props or comic relief to really feel like complete characters. That leaves us with the Specimen from The Shape of Water, otherwise known as the Fish Man. Masterfully played by Doug Jones, the Specimen imbibes its memorable magic realism with a very humanistic and largely wordless performance that nonetheless feels oddly remarkable.

Winner: The Specimen, The Shape of Water

 Warner Brothers Pictures

Warner Brothers Pictures

Best Hero

  • Chris, Get Out
  • Lady Bird, Lady Bird
  • Mooney, The Florida Project
  •  Rey, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  •  Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman

It’s fitting in the year 2017 that our slate for this category skews largely female, with Get Out’s hapless but determined photographer Chris Washington being the lone exception. Lady Bird and Mooney may not be heroic in the traditional sense, but they are the lens through which we see their respective worlds. In their own personal dioramas, they function as makeshift heroes, and their trials feel every bit as monumental in the moment as the world-shattering stakes our last two nominees face. Rey, of course, is a lock for a nomination here every year she pops up in theaters, but she’ll have to settle for second place here. Diana of Thermyscira, otherwise known as Wonder Woman, nearly singlehandedly salvaged a town, a world, and an extended universe, while also serving as definitive proof that female-led superhero films are long overdue. You can’t get much more heroic than that.

Winner: Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman

 A24

A24

Best Ending

  • The Big Sick
  • Call Me By Your Name
  • The Florida Project
  • Get Out
  • Phantom Thread

This category is usually loaded with Oscar darlings, and this year is no exception. The Big Sick’s majestic button is a heart-warmer that hits you like a ton of bricks, while Phantom Thread’s masterful twist is the sort of thing that makes you want to watch the whole thing over again. Timothee Chalamet crying into a fireplace as the credits began to roll on Call Me By Your Name should be his Best Actor submission reel, but it’ll be settling for a very close third here. Both Get Out and The Florida Project have ending that absolutely leave you gobsmacked, but while the former pulsates with the frenetic chaos of its zeitgeist, the latter is tinged with a melancholy sort of innocence that keeps it rattling in your brain even weeks after the credits roll. I wish I could call it a tie, but let’s give it to The Florida Project by a hair. Mooney deserves a break, anyway.

Winner: The Florida Project

 Walt Disney Studios

Walt Disney Studios

Best Villain

  • Armitage Family, Get Out
  • Buddy, Baby Driver
  • Ernesto de la Cruz, Coco
  • Kylo Ren, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  • Vulture, Spiderman: Homecoming

Like Rey’s case, so long as there’s a Star Wars film coming out that year, you can etch Kylo Ren’s nomination in this category down in stone. He’s perhaps the most engagingly written and performed blockbuster antagonist of the past decade or so, and the latest installment only builds on his legend. The Armitage family is this year’s most menacing threat, and Buddy, Ernesto dela Cruz, and the Vulture all shade their role in with a humanism that makes their villainy all the more potent. We’re not short on worthy nominees, in other words. Still, Kylo’s arc manages to combine both the menace and the pathos into one satisfying whole. Every second he’s on screen, it feels like the gravity of the film changes. That’s the mark of an all-time villain.

Winner: Kylo Ren, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

 Sony Classic Pictures

Sony Classic Pictures

Breakout Performer of the Year

  • Daniel Kaluuya
  • Haley Lu Richardson
  • Kelly Marie Tran
  • Timothee Chalamet
  • Vicky Krieps

I’m going to pour one out for Beanie Feldstein, who is every bit the equal of everyone on that nominees list, and was the toughest cut I had to make in this entire exercise. Three of these performers should be household names by now, while the other two are arthouse darlings that give two of the year’s most underappreciated performances. While Haley Lu Richardson (Columbus) and Vicky Krieps (Phantom Thread) were being robbed of Best Actress nominations, Kelly Marie Tran was busy giving a winning performance and angering fanboys in The Last Jedi. Ultimately, though, this has to go to either Chalamet or Kaluuya, two Oscar nominees who’ve parlayed their success into cultural ubiquity. I’ll have to go with Chalamet by a hair, since he’s in two beloved films over Kaluuya’s one, but these two have come a long way since their prestige TV roots. I can’t wait to see what comes next for both of them, and for everyone else on that slate.

Winner: Timothee Chalamet

 A24

A24

Best Character

  • Casey, Columbus
  • Elio, Call Me By Your Name
  • Kylo Ren, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  • Lady Bird, Lady Bird
  • Reynolds Woodcock, Phantom Thread

This is a loaded group of characters, and I could populate a perfectly acceptable slate solely with characters I was forced to snub. Columbus didn’t get much attention beyond the indie crowd—who largely adore it—which meant that Haley Lu Richardson’s magnificently calibrated turn as the conflicted, restless small-town girl Casey was largely slept on. It gets its due here. We preached the gospel of Kylo Ren at length already not too far back, and Elio and Reynolds functions as the complicated fulcrums of their respective films: Two fragile men grappling with the vicissitudes of romance in vastly different ways. Everyone here has a solid case for taking the top spot here, but the more I think about it, the more Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson feels like the only correct answer. Every film character, by design, is a bit more Pinocchio than real life boy, but Greta Gerwig’s erstwhile cinematic proxy is so achingly close to feeling like a genuine, lived-in person that the film itself feels like reminiscing with an old friend. Lady Bird—rambunctious, jittery, and brimming with fantasies of something and somewhere else—is our vessel into that world, and will end up as one of cinema’s most indelible protagonists.

Winner: Lady Bird, Lady Bird

 Universal Studios

Universal Studios

Best Scene

  • Opening car chase, Baby Driver
  • The Sunken Place, Get Out
  • The grapefruit scene, Girls Trip
  • Car ride home, Lady Bird
  • Throne room duel, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The winners from our last two scene-based categories are also here, and we’ve given them enough love. Thus, let’s skip ahead to our other three contenders. Our lone Girls Trip nod goes to its most famous scene, which is an easy entry for the decade’s comedy pantheon. It has to be seen to be believed. Lady Bird’s opening salvo delivers some of the snappiest banter of any film this year, while also serving the crucial narrative purpose of introducing us to its two central characters, clueing us in on their relationships and personalities through meticulously crafted, naturalistic dialogue. On the first watch, it flows like running water, but on re-watches, it sparkles once you realize how perfectly its clockwork hums. Still, neither of these scenes feels as relevant and immediate as Get Out’s first visit to the Sunken Place, a metaphor for and image of helplessness that director Jordan Peele brings to life with startling, horrific clarity. When Chris slips from his chair and falls into the darkness, it felt zeitgeist-defining: A beyond perfect depiction of latent racism and its dehumanizing effect, a resonant masterstroke of virtuoso horror.

Winner: The Sunken Place, Get Out