The MCU Awards: Celebrating 3 Phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

On the dawn of the culmination of what could perhaps be argued as the decade’s biggest cinematic event, I want to take a little trip back through memory lane as I dissect the past eleven years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and honour the cream of the crop that this great franchise has provided for us. (This entire blog post was created to soothe the ache of this year’s Oscars, so Academy Awards eat your heart out!)

For this little awards ceremony, I’m going to be discussing ten categories, somewhat similar to a lot of the categories at the Oscars. The line-up is: 

  • Best Picture
  • Best Direction (forgoing the ‘director’ moniker considering several movies are directed by the same people)
  • Best Performance By A Male Actor
  • Best Performance By A Female Actor
  • Best Screenplay
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Costume Design
  • Best Visual Effects
  • Best Score

Speaking frankly, I don’t know a lot about what designates good sound design since I saw most of these films in the cinema, so all sound seems like good sound to me in there. That’s why those categories are noticeably missing. I should probably educate myself more about that. My to-do list continues to stack up. 

So in order to have a good structure (and to make sure you read until the end), I’m going to start from the bottom and work my way up. Starting with Best Score and ending with the big one: Best Picture. 

(Disclaimer: All the awards listed hereinafter are produced using my opinion only. All critical/audience responses shall therefore be ignored. Feel free to fight me and tell me why I’m wrong. This has been a PSA.)

Best Score 

The nominees are: 

  • The Avengers
  • Avengers: Infinity War
  • Black Panther
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • Thor Ragnarok

And the winner is: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Runner up: Avengers: Infinity War

Honestly, I might have just picked this because of Henry Jackman’s ‘Winter Soldier’ character theme. It’s haunting, distinctive, and really adds a lot of tension to one of the film’s main ‘villains’. Another thing I want to note is that the track ‘Natasha’ echoes similar sounds and chords, which shows the similarities between the two characters and how they were manipulated into becoming weapons rather than humans, but then ‘Natasha’ introduces softer piano sounds and creates a more tender tone, which really hits home the characterisation. It’s a perfect accompaniment to the film and really lifts the already amazing material. It’s also my go-to MCU score when I want to write.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo
Composer: Henry Jackman

Best Visual Effects

The nominees are: 

  • Ant-Man and the Wasp
  • Avengers Infinity War
  • Doctor Strange
  • Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2
  • Thor: Ragnarok

And the winner is: Doctor Strange

Runner up: Avengers: Infinity War

I originally picked Infinity War for this award but, after writing about why, I realised that the main things that I loved about the effects (besides how good the Thanos CGI is) was the Doctor Strange fight against Thanos. Then I looked into it a bit more and decided that Doctor Strange was the worthy winner. The Dark Dimension and Mirror Dimension shots alone make this the obvious choice, and the Inception-esque street sequences are a beauty to watch. Derrickson really worked at making this look unique visually and I applaud him for that. 

Doctor Strange (2016)
Directed by Scott Derrickson
Director of Photography: Ben Davis

Best Costume Design

The nominees are: 

  • Black Panther
  • Captain Marvel
  • Doctor Strange
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Thor: Ragnarok

And the winner is: Black Panther

Runner up: Guardians of the Galaxy

I mean, is this any surprise? It just took home the actual Academy Award for Best Costume Design, and it’s easy to see why. There’s one shot/sequence which solidified this for me and it’s the ritual combat scene, where a plethora of tribes are assembled to watch the fight and they could have made it a throwaway shot but costume designer Ruth B. Carter used it to highlight the diverse styles and patterns of the tribes, which has an impact on the cultural significance of the film as well as to show the scope of Wakanda, it’s just beautiful world-building.

Black Panther (2018)
Directed by Ryan Coogler
Director of Photography: Rachel Morrison

Best Cinematography 

The nominees are: 

  • Avengers: Infinity War
  • Black Panther
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2
  • Thor: Ragnarok

And the winner is: Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2

Runner up: Black Panther

The latter half of the MCU is packed with gorgeous cinematography, mainly because Kevin Feige started to take chances with lesser-known directors and their visions for the movies. One of these was James Gunn, who created two movies that have an immense following, both inside and outside of the MCU. Despite the controversy surrounding his firing (and subsequent re-hiring) from the third Guardians movie, it can’t be denied that Gunn along with his DP on the film, Henry Braham, one-upped his first outing with one of the best colour palletes in recent memory, everything is so vivid and distinctive, the colours pop and they actually have significance too within the narrative and also creating tone and atmosphere in relation to character. This one shot tells you everything you need to know: 

Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2 (2017)
Directed by James Gunn
Director of Photography: Henry Braham

Best Screenplay

The nominees are:

  • Avengers: Infinity War
  • Black Panther
  • Captain America: Civil War
  • Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2
  • Iron Man

And the winner is: Captain America: Civil War

Runner up: Iron Man

Balancing several weighty themes, more characters than the MCU had experimented with at this point, and differing ideologies that create the root of the movie, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely had a colossal task on their hands to create something that’s interesting in terms of entertainment and thematically. And they pulled it off in a way that nobody expected. Their dialogue is still fresh, character-appropriate, and the humour also mostly works. Their scene writing is a particular highlight, particularly their incorporation of Sharon’s monologue where she paraphrases the late Peggy Carter (and Cap from the comics). It really works in the changed circumstances and it really gives Steve some conflict in the movie’s first act.

Best Performance by a Female Actor 

The nominees are:

  • Danai Gurira in Black Panther
  • Scarlett Johansson in Captain America: The Winter Soldier 
  • Brie Larson in Captain Marvel
  • Elizabeth Olsen in Avengers: Age of Ultron
  • Zoe Saldana in Avengers: Infinity War 

And the winner is: Zoe Saldana in Avengers: Infinity War

Runner up: Brie Larson in Captain Marvel

I honestly could’ve picked any of these five and given you a good reason why. Gurira brings a lot more to the screen than her role suggests, Johansson gives us a completely new side to a character we’ve already seen, Larson articulates the confusion of identity flawlessly, and Olsen brings vulnerability to someone with immense power and a muddled sense of what to do with it. But Zoe Saldana gives such a great performance in Infinity War as the daughter of the protagonist/villain, Thanos. Her heartbreak is so evident, but her character has her walls up so high around Thanos that her face becomes a mixture of so many different emotions. And the Vormir scene? The dawn of her realisation? It’s effortless and perfect. And I have never felt something so deeply as her arc in Infinity War so, for that, she gets this award.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo
Director of Photography: Trent Opaloch

Best Performance by a Male Actor 

The nominees are: 

  • Josh Brolin in Avengers: Infinity War 
  • Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man 3
  • Chris Evans in Captain America: Civil War
  • Michael B Jordan in Black Panther
  • Michael Keaton in Spider-Man: Homecoming 

And the winner is: Josh Brolin in Avengers: Infinity War 

Runner up: Michael B Jordan in Black Panther

Okay, let me say something that is perhaps a little controversial.

Infinity War wouldn’t have been HALF as good without Josh Brolin as Thanos. We’ve seen Thanos a couple of times within the MCU’s post-credits gimmick and, as someone as who wasn’t familiar with the Infinity Gauntlet narrative from the comics, I never understood what his role was until the approach of Infinity War. I’ve seen people genuinely agree with Thanos and that’s how you know it’s a good performance. Because Thanos’ intentions are understandable but his methods are completely wrong, and Brolin sells every minute of it. His scenes with Gamora are particularly notable, but his interactions with Iron Man are something to behold too. There’s a method to the madness, and Brolin tries his best to sell us empathy. The fact that it’s a CGI character makes it so much better, because Brolin’s mo-cap could only cap so much (bad joke) and he, out of nowhere, turns in perhaps the best performance of the MCU so far. Excited to see what he brings to Endgame.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo
Director of Photography: Trent Opaloch

Best Direction

The nominees are: 

  • Ryan Coogler for Black Panther
  • Jon Favreau for Iron Man 
  • James Gunn for Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2
  • Anthony & Joe Russo for Avengers: Infinity War 
  • Joss Whedon for The Avengers

And the winner is: Anthony & Joe Russo for Avengers: Infinity War

Runner up: Ryan Coogler for Black Panther

It was difficult not to pick Ryan Coogler for his mesmerising work on Black Panther, but whenever I think about how cautious I was about Infinity War being good, I have to give it to the Russo brothers. I mean, they took 70+ characters and several different locations and stories and made them…cohesive? What I thought was going to be an overcrowded mess became an engaging, surprisingly well-paced entry into the universe. The action is well-directed too, containing some of my favourite MCU fight sequences (the Thanos vs Doctor Strange battle on Titan). The combination of the Guardians and Avengers worked better than I expected. Basically, I love Infinity War and the Russos exceeded my expectations at almost every turn. Sure, a lot of beloved characters got less screen-time and development than we would’ve liked, but that was Part 1…Part 2 will surely reverse that.

Best Picture

The nominees are: 

  • Avengers: Infinity War
  • Black Panther
  • Captain America: Civil War
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • Captain Marvel

And the winner is: Captain America: The Winter Soldier 

Runner up: Avengers: Infinity War

Surprised? Given the three-in-a-row sweep by Infinity War of the bigger categories above, you’d have thought that would’ve clinched it, right? But this award is basically just my favourite MCU movie, which has been Winter Soldier for 5 years now. I think it’s a masterpiece, the Cap movie we so desperately needed (even though Cap 1 was perfectly fine). It’s an achievement in CBMs for what is does for genre, blending them to create tones that not only work, but work brilliantly. The superhero movie/spy thriller was a perfect combination. The elevator action scene is perfection. And it completely set a great trajectory for Black Widow, a character who needed this movie as much as it needed her. Anyway, I love Captain America, I love this movie. 

The fact that I’ve even gotten enough material to write this post shows the absolutely magnificent scope of this cinematic universe, something that was incomprehensible just over a decade ago. 21 (soon to be 22) movies in 11 years? Unheard of. And the fact that they’re all at least decent? Ludicrous. I appreciate this feat of filmmaking and want to thank everyone involved for what they’ve brought to us. It’s been one hell of a journey and I cannot wait to see how it ends. 

I’d love to hear from you guys about what you agree or disagree with. Everyone has a personal preference that’s completely different and that’s what makes cinema so interesting. Comment your opinions or tweet me @Jamie_Carrick_ and let’s talk about this universe!! 

Avengers Endgame hits UK cinemas April 25 and US cinemas April 26

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