Those of you following the Shaun Talks Movies brand know that back in February I hyped up a big-time episode called "The Shaunies." It was my end-of-year film awards in which I highlighted fifteen different categories of film and named winners in each category. Right now, we are exactly halfway through 2016, and I thought it would be fun to take a look at the current front-runners in each of those categories. Below you'll find a breakdown of my current thought-process with the best films of the year, and I break down each category and talk about runners-up and the like. Take a look and see what the best of the first half of the year has been. Enjoy!
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Last year's winner was the predominantly practical effects juggernaut Mad Max: Fury Road, but so far in 2016, we've been treated to a slog of CGI sensation. I seriously considered throwing a bone to Hardcore Henry for this category (but more on that in a moment), but I finally had to go with the groundbreaking technology utilized in Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book. The film itself is a so-so adventure tale spun around a series of vignettes that ultimately left me wanting more from certain characters, but when you take a step back and remember that the only real practical effect is Neel Sethi's Mowgli, it's an incredibly world-building experience. From the detail of the jungle to the animals' individual hairs, The Jungle Book sets a new bar for computer generated imagery.
Although Natasha Braier's stellar work with The Neon Demon nearly pulled the lead here, I still was most impressed by the Go Pro-style camera work in Hardcore Henry. When people tell you that this movie is unlike anything you've ever seen, believe them. I fear that the success of this film will generate a slew of copycats in the near future, but for now, I am perfectly content with the frenetic energy that the three-person cinematographer team of Fedor Lyass, Pasha Kapinos, and Vsevolod Kaptur were able to put forth. I don't foresee Hardcore Henry making much of a splash by the time the Shaunies come around next year, but I still want to throw a little love now while I can.
BEST ORIGINAL SONG
For the time being, I'm going with a John Carney three-peat and giving the edge to the song "Drive It Like You Stole It" from Sing Street. Carney's films have won Shaunie awards on two previous occasions: in 2007 for Once ("Falling Slowly") and in 2014 for Begin Again ("Lost Stars"). A month ago, this would have been a runaway favorite to nab the win at the Shaunies next year, but a little-seen film called Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping came into my life, and there are two songs from that film - "I'm So Humble" and "Finest Girl" - that make a strong case for being the best original song of the year.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Until a few days ago, the Original Score category had a few different films jockeying for position as we hit the midway point of the year; however, a little film called The Neon Demon changed all that when Cliff Martinez created an absolutely beautiful score that perfectly sets the tone for the Los Angeles-based arthouse horror flick. Some of those runners-up include films like Green Room, The Nice Guys, and Midnight Special, and at this point, all of those movies have a legitimate shot at nabbing Shaunies nominations. Cliff Martinez and The Neon Demon, however, currently takes the cake, and seeing as Richard Vreeland nabbed mid-year and Shaunies wins for his score of It Follows last year, there's a strong possibility this one might see glory come February.
BEST VOCAL PERFORMANCE
I was very much on the Idris Elba train, championing his role as the evil Shere Khan in the aforementioned Jungle Book, but after seeing Finding Dory, I think that Ed O'Neill's Hank has a shot at being the first character in an animated film to win a Shaunie in this category since 2010. Hank is allegedly a character that Pixar has had wandering around for years, and it wasn't until Finding Dory that they were able to get the character just right. He's a perfect foil for Dory, and if they continue with the slew of sequels, I think we could very well see a "Finding Hank" film in the near future. He definitely gave us the backstory for it.
BEST YOUNG STAR
There have been a slew of great performances from young actors so far this year, and although none of them quite measure up to the incredibly high bar Jacob Tremblay set in 2015 for his performance in Room, there are still a few frontrunners to consider. On the outside looking in, we have Harvey Scrimshaw, who plays the eldest son in The Witch, as well as Ferdia Walsh-Peelo who leads the way through Sing Street. Both of those young men bring quite a bit of emotion to their respective roles, but no one was as much a standout as Angourie Rice in Shane Black's The Nice Guys. She stands toe-to-toe with acting giants like Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe and manages to be the most consistent of the bunch, handling herself in a madcap film noir caper alongside the best of them. It's a daring performance that might be a little mature for her age, but Rice manages it perfectly and steals every scene she's in.
BEST DIRECTORIAL DEBUT
Part of me wanted to throw this to Dan Trachtenberg, who helmed the bizarre 10 Cloverfield Lane, but considering someone else (namely, Damien Chazelle) did most of the groundwork for that film before leaving to work on another picture, I can't quite give Trachtenberg all of the credit. There have been quite a few first-time directors so far this year, but the one truly standout film from the bunch has to be Robert Eggers's New England horror flick, The Witch. Horror in the 21st century too often settles for schlocky jump scares, but Eggers showed us that traditional, suspense-based horror can still be terrifying. The Witch is an original tale that left me wanting for more, and I only hope that Eggers will bring us back to this seed of evil for another go-around.
This category is currently a bit up in the air as I don't really have a true standout, but if I had to give it to any movie right now, I'd have to say opstar: Never Stop Never Stopping simply for the sheer magnitude of big-name cameos they managed to pull into the fray. When the principal cast already offers a stellar set of performances and you then guarantee that I'll be seeing a who's who of the current music industry, I might as well be handing you my money left and right. It's just a shame that so few people showed up for Popstar, which I thought was one of the better comedies to hit theaters so far this year. A few other films - such as The Invitation, The Witch, Green Room, and Hail, Caesar! - should also be considered for this particular category.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
So far, no single supporting actress has truly stood out amongst the rest, and the de facto lead has to go to Kate Dickie and her performance in The Witch. She brings quite a bit of emotion as the mother of a family succumbing to the devil's charms, although her effective time on screen is mostly limited to the second half of the film. A few other honorable mentions include Alia Shawkat in Green Room, Emayatzy Corinealdi in The Invitation, Kirsten Dunst in Midnight Special, and Léa Seydoux in The Lobster.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
On the flip side, the supporting actor race already seems to be heating up. After seeing Hardcore Henry, I was ready to pencil Sharlto Copley in for his first Shaunie win despite having some stiff competition from the likes of Jack O'Connell in Money Monster and Laurence Fishburne in Standoff. Then I saw Sing Street, and Jack Reynor blew me away as the elder brother who lives and breathes for rock and roll. For most of the film, he remains a steadfast anti-authority figure set on teaching his little brother about the history of music, but for a few moments here and there, we get to see Reynor's character break down and delve into an emotional side that I didn't expect to see. It's a great performance and one that really hit home with me as I watched the movie.
Like the supporting actor race, the run for best actress has one clear-cut favorite: Sally Field in Hello, My Name Is Doris. Playing an elderly woman working amongst a field of twenty- and thirty-somethings would be interesting enough, but when you add in the idea that Doris is starting to fall in love with one of those younger men, you have the exact ingredients for a dramatic comedy in the 21st century. While there may have been stronger dramatic performances from the likes of Mary Elizabeth Winstead (10 Cloverfield Lane), Imogen Poots (Green Room), and Elle Fanning (The Neon Demon), the wonder and love that Field brings to her Doris is tangible and real, and it lets her stand head-and-shoulders above her competition.
This was a difficult race to call even this early in the year. We saw Ryan Gosling give a near career-best performance in The Nice Guys. Colin Farrell played against type in The Lobster. The late Anton Yelchin was phenomenal in Green Room. And Ben Foster became Lance Armstrong in The Program. However, John Goodman's performance in 10 Cloverfield Lane was one of the more terrifying portrayals I've seen in quite some time. For most of the film, you truly wonder whether his character is a genuine savior or a cold-hearted killer, and Goodman's ability to toe that line helps craft the character and the story. It's been a while since we've seen Goodman this good, and here's to hoping he continues that roll with his next few films.
Two screenplays jumped ahead of the pack so far this year, and both of them happen to be twists on the classic film noir style. It took a lot of time to choose between The Nice Guys and Zootopia, but I ultimately choose the latter. While Shane Black did a fantastic job bringing The Nice Guys to life, the world-building of Zootopia is really what helps set it apart. Writers Jared Bush and Phil Johnston did a wonderful job of creating a fully-realized world that plays well with our current technologies and sensitivities. The film also takes a direct look at racism and its effects in society through the guise of a children's film. I believe that of all Disney's recent animated features, Zootopia will have some of the strongest staying power in the public zeitgeist because of the importance of the film's message. At least, that's my hope.
The director race could go any which way at the particular juncture, but I'm going to give the current edge to Karyn Kusama after she crafted a fantastic low-budget thriller in The Invitation. The film bounces back and forth constantly, letting the audience try to solve the mystery of just what's going on at this dinner party while the characters try to figure it out themselves. It's a taut and engaging film, and Kusama definitely deserves the edge this early in the year; however, a number of other directors definitely deserve early recognition as well. Jeff Nichols put forth another great film in Midnight Special, and Jeremy Saulnier continued his strong streak with Green Room. Yorgos Lanthimos gave us his first English-language film with The Lobster, and Nicolas Winding Refn put forth a strangely fascinating feature with The Neon Demon.
Like the mid-year awards of 2015, there isn't quite a clear-cut favorite for the best picture of the year so far. I currently have eight films vying for position, and some of the honorable mentions include films like The Wave, The Lobster, and Midnight Special. Some of the immediate runners-up have to be The Witch, The Nice Guys, The Invitation, and Sing Street, but I ultimately have to give the early edge to Disney's Zootopia. As I mentioned before, the film puts forth a fantastic screenplay that really brings the audience into the storyline, and the great vocal cast does a wonderful job in crafting likable and relatable characters. Last year's early nod went to Ex Machina which ultimately landed a Best Picture nomination at the 2015 Shaunie Awards, where it lost to Mad Max: Fury Road. Can Zootopia remain at the top of the list through the rest of the year? We'll just have to wait and find out.