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Oscars: 13 Deserving Contenders From 2017 So Far

As we rapidly approach 2017’s midway point, there are already a number of films that deserve to be remembered by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences when Oscar ballots go out at the end of the year. Academy voters notoriously have short memories, though it’s hardly their fault alone; studios are so obsessed with back-loading the year with prestige product that in the rush, earlier gems are often forgotten.

So we’re here to help. Perhaps members will take a moment to bear these contenders in mind before the awards season glut finally hits.

NOTE: This list spotlights films theatrically released to the paying public. There have been festival standouts that won’t hit theaters until the coming months, and a number would bear mentioning. Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler are all fantastic in Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected),” for example. And David Lowery’s vision for “A Ghost Story” makes for one of the greatest motion pictures of the year. But we’ll stick to what will hit theaters as of June 30 for this piece’s purposes.

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Best Picture: “The Big Sick”
Don’t dismiss it just because it’s the funniest movie of the year so far, it’s also the most heartfelt and intelligent. Willing to mix big issues with big laughs, the tone is held together perfectly by director Michael Showalter, the outstanding cast and an excellent script. (JR)
Other Standouts: “Baby Driver”; Get Out”; “Logan”; “Okja”

Best Director: Bong Joon Ho (“Okja”)
Netflix’s Cannes entry is a whole lot of movie, and a whole lot of vision. Director Bong Joon Ho dazzles with his deft kinetic touch while also pulling an impressive performance out of young lead Seo-Hyun Ahn to anchor the zany satire. But as ever, Bong proves a master of balancing tonal shifts, ultimately crafting a moving piece of work. (KT)
 Other Standouts: Sofia Coppola (“The Beguiled”); Michael Showalter (“The Big Sick”); Jordan Peele (“Get Out”); Trey Edward Shults (“It Comes At Night”)

Best Actor: Sam Elliott (“The Hero”)
The role of an aging star who never realized his greatness fits Elliott like a glove. It’s also a reminder of how underutilized he has been on the big screen. (JR)
 Other Standouts: Richard Gere (“Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer”); Daniel Kaluuya (“Get Out”); James McAvoy (“Split”); Kumail Nanjiani (“The Big Sick”)

Best Actress: Sally Hawkins (“Maudie”)
Hawkins is always excellent and reliable, but she outdoes herself portraying Canadian painter Maud Lewis. Crippled by arthritis, married to a rough fisherman (a great Ethan Hawke), Hawkins allows Maud’s joy to shine through. (JR)
 Other Standouts: Jessica Chastain (“The Zookeeper’s Wife”); Anne Hathaway (“Colossal”); Salma Hayek (“Beatriz at Dinner”); Rachel Weisz (“My Cousin Rachel”)

Best Supporting Actor: Patrick Stewart (“Logan”)
Let’s be honest; take away the superhero element and this would be an Oscar slam-dunk. Stewart’s portrayal of Charles Xavier in waning health with a broken mind will break your heart. (JR)
Other Standouts: Sharlto Copley (“Free Fire”); Ethan Hawke (“Maudie”); LilRel Howery (“Get Out”); Ray Romano (“The Big Sick”)

Best Supporting Actress: Betty Gabriel (“Get Out”)
Jordan Peele’s impressive directorial debut deserves a shout-out in virtually every category, but hopefully no one snoozes on Betty Gabriel’s unsettling work as a housekeeper trapped in “the sunken place.” She etches that inner turmoil across her face with such aplomb you simply cannot look away. (KT)
 Other Standouts: Laura Dern (“Wilson”); Holly Hunter (“The Big Sick”); Dafne Keen (“Logan”); Terry Pheto (“A United Kingdom”)

Best Screenplay: “Shimmer Lake”
Technically ineligible for Oscars as it didn’t receive a theatrical run, that doesn’t stop this twisty thriller from earning our consideration. What sounds like a gimmick — a crime drama told backwards — proves absolutely essential to telling a fascinating story. (JR)
 Other Standouts: “The Big Sick”; “Get Out”; “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore”; Split”

Best Cinematography: “Kong: Skull Island”
Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ simian sequel was a bit of a tonal omelette, but one element that gave it an unexpected level of iconography was Larry Fong’s striking photography. Sunburnt vistas and heat-rippled frames sometimes call back to “Apocalypse Now,” but more often they give the film its own intriguing visual identity. (KT)
 Other Standouts: “Alien: Covenant”; “The Beguiled”; “The Lost City of Z”; “Song to Song”

Best Costume Design: “Wonder Woman”
Speaking of iconography, one of the eye-popping elements of Patty Jenkins’ landmark superhero entry is the iconic image actress Gal Gadot strikes as the eponymous Amazon. But beyond Diana Prince’s well-known threads, there’s a whole array of dazzling outfits on the screen, from the battle gear of Themyscira to 1920s fashion and World War I attire. (KT)
 Other Standouts: “Beauty and the Beast”; “The Beguiled”; “The Great Wall”; “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”

Best Film Editing: “LA92”
Lest we forget, National Geographic’s Emmy-contending L.A riots documentary is also eligible for Oscar consideration this year. Last year “O.J.: Made in America” garnered some attention for its handling of tons of material, and hopefully reminded voters that documentary editing ought to be recognized. Reams of footage were assembled from countless sources to drive this particular version of the story, which was also covered elegantly by director John Ridley in “Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992.” (KT)
 Other Standouts: “Baby Driver”; “Get Out”; “Logan”; “Okja”

Best Production Design: “Beauty and the Beast”
It’s a tall order to match the stunning animation of the original film, but the “Beauty and the Beast” team pulled it off. Every ornate touch, from the Beast’s castle to the world of Belle’s village, was a visual feast. (JR)
 Other Standouts: “The Great Wall”; “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2”; “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”; “Wonder Woman”

Best Sound Editing: “Baby Driver”
Being something of a musical-slash-actioner, Edgar Wright’s latest owes everything to its soundtrack. But more than that, the precision with which sound is layered and cut to enhance the various tracks scattered throughout gives the film an innervating sense of propulsion. When there’s no sound, you’re desperate for it to scream back. (KT)
 Other Standouts: “Free Fire”; “John Wick: Chapter Two”; “Okja”; “Transformers: The Last Knight”

Best Visual Effects: “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2
It’s a pity we can’t throw “War for the Planet of the Apes” (July 14) in here, but more on that in due time. Marvel’s latest installment of the “Guardians” franchise doubles down on rendered environments. When you have a character who at times serves as the actual location (I guess you have to see the film to understand), the sky is the limit on VFX. (KT)
 Other Standouts: “Beauty and the Beast”; “Ghost in the Shell”; The Great Wall”; “Okja”

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