Beyond the Oscars: Pick your own Academy Awards categories!

Although I always enjoy hearing what films are nominated for the Academy Awards each year, I often like to joke that my personal favorite movies of the year typically don’t get mentioned until the more technical categories, like “best visual effects.” ? So, just for fun, I made up some of my own categories for awards I’d like to give out for 2017. I’d love to hear what imaginary awards you might like to hand out, as well!

Best superhero: Wonder Woman

Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman was introduced back in 2016’s “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” where she lit up the screen and stole just about every scene she was in. Her solo debut movie, released in 2017, was one of my favorite movies of the year and one of my favorite superhero movies, period. Gadot brought the perfect mix of strength, courage, compassion, and kindness to the role, in a film that managed to be action packed and emotionally powerful. The scene where Wonder Woman fights her way across No Man’s Land still moves me, no matter how many times I’ve seen it. Although the DC Cinematic Universe hasn’t quite found its footing overall, Wonder Woman remains a shining star.

Best villain: Kylo Ren

Although fans are still debating how they felt about “The Last Jedi,” something I’ve heard most people agree on is that Episode VIII did a great job adding layers of complexity to Kylo Ren, and turning him into a surprisingly sympathetic character. Strip away the explosive anger, and you’re left with the still-conflicted Ben Solo, who has been warped and tormented by Snoke and is still struggling with the weight of his past (and his legacy as a Skywalker). His dynamic with Rey and falling out with Luke were the strongest parts of the movie for me. I have no idea how Episode IX will end, but I hope it gives us a satisfying arc for Kylo. Props to Adam Driver for really selling this character. I’d also like to give a “best villain – honorable mention” award to Michael Keaton’s Vulture in “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”

Best surprise hit: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

I was highly skeptical about the “Jumanji” sequel, “Welcome to the Jungle.” Did we really need a sequel more than 20 years later that updated the original’s board game concept to a video game? It turns out that yes, we did! “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is a surprisingly fun, feel-good family adventure film that turned out to be just as funny as the trailers promised and has really blown up at the box office, mushrooming into a huge hit. Jack Black as the avatar of a social media obsessed teenage girl was a highlight in a film with lots of humorous moments. Though it didn’t make my list of top favorite movies of the year, I sure had a blast watching this one and definitely want to see it again on DVD.

Best underrated: Blade Runner 2049

I hesitated to select the “Blade Runner” sequel as “best underrated” film, because it seemed to be quite well received within the geek community. However, it only earned $92 million domestically on a production budget of $150 million. Which is a real shame, because it’s a beautiful, thought-provoking film. Director Denis Villeneuve gives us both gorgeous visuals and a thought-provoking story that lingered with me long after I left the theater. It asks challenging questions about humanity and reality, and it feels fresh and forward-looking while also honoring the film that came before it. I hope more people will give it a chance on home video.

Best scene (tie): No Man’s Land from Wonder Woman and Snoke’s throne room fight in The Last Jedi

I loved both these scenes and just couldn’t choose between them! I mentioned the No Man’s Land scene from “Wonder Woman” previously; it’s just such an empowering moment that captures who Wonder Woman is and what she stands for. She isn’t afraid to put herself in danger to help people in need, and her bold act of courage ends up inspiring the other soldiers to join the charge. My other favorite scene this year was the fight in Snoke’s throne room, after Kylo unexpectedly offs the supreme leader and forms a (temporary) alliance with Rey. It was super awesome to see Rey and Kylo fighting Snoke’s guards back to back, and I love what a surprise this twist was.

Best soundtrack: Baby Driver

There were quite a few good film soundtracks in 2017, and I ended up buying several of them. However, the best use of a soundtrack in a film was definitely Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver.” The soundtrack is as much a character as the actual people in this slick, stylish heist film. Wright uses the music to perfectly punctuate both his action sequences and quieter character moments. Wright obviously loves music as much as his main character, “Baby,” does, who uses music both as a way to drown out his tinnitus caused by a childhood accident and as an escape from the life of crime he’s trapped in.

Best ensemble cast: Stranger Things Season 2

The second season of “Stranger Things” was a fun and spooky follow-up to the well-loved first season on Netflix. Though I loved the mystery and all the plot twists, my favorite part of the series is just watching the characters. The young actors playing the core group of young friends — Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Will — are some of the best (and most authentic) child actors I’ve seen. It’s easy to buy them as four smart, fun-loving friends in the ’80s. While the kids are the heart of the show, there are plenty of other great actors in this series: Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers; David Harbour as Jim Hopper; Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven; Sean Astin as Bob Newby; and too many others to list. It’s such a great ensemble cast.

Best comeback: Arrow Season 5

The fourth season of the CW superhero show “Arrow” seemed to be widely regarded as the weakest in the series, and the show appeared to be losing steam, especially following a mixed response to season 3. However, for the loyal fans who stuck it out, season 5 was a strong payoff that featured one of the series’ strongest villains and solid character development that let Stephen Amell show off more of his acting range. Prometheus was a fascinating villain and a more than worthy foe for Oliver Queen, played with twisted perfection by Josh Segarra. It’s a shame that so far “Arrow’s” sixth season hasn’t been able to capitalize on the momentum from season 5 as well as it could have. Still, I’m glad we got what we got with season 5, which is one of my favorites in the series.

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