Captain Marvel

Marvel Studios

I keep going back on my promise to quit superhero movies (or at least to quit reviewing them). I first broke my self-imposed moratorium with Black Panther last year and was rewarded mightily. Black Panther proved that not all superhero movies were going to be overly bombastic, mind-numbing testosterone fests, so I felt a bit better about making a new promise right then: only go to superhero movies that look interesting.

Which brings us to Captain Marvel.

I’ll be totally honest with you. I had never even heard of Captain Marvel before. I’m not nor have I ever been a comic book person, but at least I had heard of characters such as Captain America, Thor, the Hulk and Spider Man. But this Captain Marvel was a complete unknown to me. And even though I enjoyed the heck out of Black Panther, the whole Avengers saga has been totally lost on me. I watched Avengers: Infinity War just because I wanted to be in on the conversation, but I found it to be another cookie-cutter piece of CGI brain noise. With the exception of Black Panther and the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie, I can truly take or leave the Avengers and all their iterations. But when it was announced that Marvel Studios was casting a woman to play the originally male titular superhero and Avenger Captain Marvel, I was intrigued. And when it was then announced that the woman who would play her would be Brie Larson, I was in.

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So, that happened….

Olivia Colman winning the 2019 Oscar for Best Actress for The Favourite

The 91st Academy Awards promised us a train wreck but gave us—for the most part—a pretty good ride instead.

Here’s my recap of the moments I remember the most, good and bad.

The start of the show was a little rocky, in my opinion. The performance by Queen, fronted by Adam Lambert, was fine but a little more dull than I was expecting or hoping for. I know that’s a tough room to play, but the whole thing seemed too low energy to me. It was the first time a rock band had played the Oscars and maybe we’re seeing why. What made things worse was when the show then cut to a standard “welcome to the Oscars” package, featuring voiceover narration and footage from the red carpet with standard shots of celebrities waving to the camera, it seriously felt like the People’s Choice Awards, not the Oscars. The show was in serious danger of grinding to a halt. This is the gaping hole that was left by not having a host and I felt like they failed miserably to fill it. There was no edge, no spark, no genuine excitement at the top of the show. Thankfully, though, the producers inserted the traditional movie montage here and it righted the ship. The montage is always my favorite part of the show, so maybe I’m biased, but I watch the Oscars to celebrate

Best Supporting Actress winner for “If Beale Street Could Talk” Regina King
movies, so these montages which celebrate the past year in film always give me goosebumps. And then, with the first presenters, I could feel the show back to steaming full speed ahead. Maya Rudolph, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey arrived to present the first award, but, before they did, they essentially delivered a host-type monologue and it was fantastic.

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How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

DreamWorks

It’s rare enough to have a sequel be as good or better than the original, but for a movie to actually have two sequels that are worthwhile is rarer still. When the original How to Train Your Dragon film came out in 2010, it was a huge hit, and a critical success (98% on Rotten Tomatoes). Then, when the sequel came out in 2014, all of those who loved the first were naturally skeptical and nervous—usually these endeavors end up being pure money grabs lacking any creativity or ingenuity—but, lo and behold, the sequel did almost as well at the box office and with reviewers, still cracking the coveted 90% mark on Rotten Tomatoes (final rating on RT was 92%). There were many fans of these movies that felt it still never got the love it deserved though, playing second fiddle to the bigger, more marketed and flashier Pixar and Disney animated movies of the last 10 years. Well, now maybe with the final movie in what can now officially be called a trilogy, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World may finally bring the much-beloved films some much-deserved attention. Let’s not continue to ignore these wonderful films the way we are ignoring the similarly excellent Paddington movies.

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Free Solo and Cold War

Oscar season comes at you so fast, it’s impossible to see everything during the two month window at the end of the year. Because of this, I usually need January and February to catch up on some that I missed, and this year has been no different. I recently finally got to seeing two critically-acclaimed movies that I had missed, both nominated for Oscars: Free Solo (nominated for Best Documentary Feature) and Cold War (nominated for Best Foreign Film, Best Cinematography and Best Director). Here are my thoughts on each.

FREE SOLO

Little Monster Films

“Free solo” is a rock climbing term that defines a climb that is done without any safety ropes or harnesses. It literally means man vs. mountain and it is the most dangerous and difficult way to climb anything, let alone one of the most challenging rocks in the world. The film Free Solo chronicles the attempt by world-famous American rock climber Alex Honnold to free solo El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, which would make him the first and only person to ever do so. If you’re thinking this is a National Geographic-type movie that is all about man vs. nature, you’re right. But what totally shocked me is how much more there is to it. It is a psychological study, a celebration of life, an homage to Earth’s beauty and power, but, more than anything, it is an riveting story that grabs you from the beginning and takes you on a harrowing but incredible journey that competes with any of the dramas created in Hollywood.

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The Oscars, They Are A Changin’… My Thoughts on All That’s Happened So Far

The Oscars are less than three weeks away. It’s been quite a tumultuous Oscar season (and it’s not over yet), but, even with all the drama, I’ve found myself uninspired to write about it. Until now. There is a rumor going around about a change the Academy is making to the telecast that finally is enough to get my blood boiling—but more about that later. First, let’s sum up what’s happened this season so far:

First, back in August, the Academy, out of the blue, tweeted an extraordinary declaration which sent the Film Twitter world on fire: “New award category — We will create a new category for outstanding achievement in popular film. Eligibility requirements and other key details will be forthcoming.” While there WERE no more details forthcoming, everyone assumed two things: 1) this addition was done as a pre-emptive maneuver to save face IN CASE Black Panther didn’t get a Best Picture nomination (it did), and 2) it was done to try to improve ratings (the 2018 Oscar telecast was the worst-rated in history). Backlash was swift and fierce—so swift and fierce, in fact, that the Academy then reversed itself and said the Popular Movie Oscar was on hold—for now. But the damage had been done. It was the first shot across the bow for all of us who love the Oscars and sometimes forget that it’s still a television show and that means ratings rule all. And, just as pink slips usually follow a terrible earnings report for a company, the worst ratings ever were destined to prompt some major changes in the telecast—and traditions—we have come to love. While we were able to get the Academy to withdraw from their first bad ratings-driven decision, there is only so much the little guy can do when the winds and waves of change are this powerful. The Oscars are a business. It has never been as apparent as this year.

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Oscar Nominations Reactions

The nominations for the 91st Academy Awards were announced this morning and, as Julia Roberts’s character in Notting Hill says, “there are things to say.”

WHAT I’M HAPPY ABOUT:

Annapurna Pictures

Regina King—Best Supporting Actress nominee for If Beale Street Could Talk:
As one of my favorite actors, Regina King deserves every award on the planet, so I was thrilled to see her earn a much-deserved nomination for her delicate and passionate performance in If Beale Street Could Talk. This journeywoman has been in the business and delivering great performances for so long, it’s about time she gets the attention she so richly deserves.

Melissa McCarthy—Best Actress nominee for Can You Ever Forgive Me?:
People might forget that she was nominated before, for her supporting performance in Bridesmaids, which put her on the map. But, in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Melissa McCarthy shows us all a different side and, much like what Robin Williams did in The World According to Garp, this brilliant comic performer showed that she has many talents, including dramatic acting. This was one of my favorite performances of the year.

Netflix

Yalitza Aparicio—Best Actress nominee for Roma:
Only the fourth Latina to ever garner a Best Actress nomination, Aparicio, a newcomer to acting, is nominated for her first film role ever.

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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Sony Pictures

I’ve always envied the people who were lucky enough to see the original Star Wars in the theatre when it was first released in 1977. What it must have been like to experience it for the first time, as a blank slate, to be blown away by the inventiveness , the entirely new universe that George Lucas created, not to mention the special effects and other technological cinematic breakthroughs it heralded. It was a watershed film in the history of cinema, a touchstone in time for the medium and the business. And to have been someone lucky enough to have experienced it first-hand—well, that’s a feeling I’ve always longed for.

Well, last night I came pretty close to it. The new animated feature, Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse is—and let me make sure to say this exactly the way I mean to—LIKE NO OTHER MOVIE YOU HAVE EVER SEEN. It may not herald a new technology, but what it does do is use existing technologies in ways I’ve never seen before. If you think movies are stale and tired and that nobody does anything new anymore, I beg you to see Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse and tell me if you still feel the same way.

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My Top 10 of 2018

1. THE FAVOURITE
Gorgeous and wicked, Yorgos Lanthimos’s masterpiece is a tour de force behind and in front of the camera.

2. PADDINGTON 2
Another sequel that’s better than the original, which is impossible because the original was so good. Pure happiness.

3. ROMA
A dreamscape that breathes in every frame and reveals a mastery of the medium.

4. CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?
Tender but brutal, the kind of movie that reminds me what a great screenplay can do.

5. BLACKKKLANSMAN
A top-of-his-game Spike Lee joint that sizzles with humor and a biting social commentary.

6. BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE
A moody and magnificent trip down a cinematic rabbit hole.

7. ISLE OF DOGS
Another reminder that there is nobody like Wes Anderson and I’m not even sure we deserve him.

8. LOVE, SIMON
The freshest breath of air in movies in years. And long overdue.

9. THE DEATH OF STALIN
A timely political satire that is as hilarious as it is brilliant. A masterclass.

10. GAME NIGHT
The best time I had at the movies all year.

Mary Poppins Returns

Disney

One of the things that I love about this time of year is how imagination is the driving force of most of the traditions. This is the season for children, and allowing them to indulge in and explore their imaginations is the best part of the holidays. So, even though the end of the year in Hollywood is dominated by movies vying in the Oscar race, it is also the perfect time of year for a movie that plays to and embraces the notion of fantasy and imagination, especially in children. And there is no better example of that than Mary Poppins Returns, the new remake/retread of the Julie Andrews classic from 1964. I know some of you may think there is no need for a remake of a movie that was already perfect, but I promise you: there are worse things in this world than two Mary Poppins movies. Especially when they are both this good.

Now don’t get me wrong. The original Mary Poppins was legendary. Nominated for 13 Oscars (winning 5), it was the pinnacle of success in the 1960’s for the burgeoning Walt Disney film studio, and launched the career of a young actress named Julie Andrews (a year before The Sound of Music), winning her only Oscar for Best Actress. It was groundbreaking in terms of special effects and was the first major movie to combine live action with animation. So why mess with perfection? Because Disney can—they have the rights and the money to do it—and because they found a way to make a wonderful movie. It may be far from perfect or groundbreaking the way the original was, but the world is still a better place with it in it.

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If Beale Street Could Talk

Annapurna Pictures

Writer/director Barry Jenkins has a soft touch. His 2017 Best Picture-winning film, Moonlight, was a quiet and intimate look at one man’s life, as he comes to accept who he is in the world and within himself. While other black filmmakers take a more political or activist approach to their filmmaking, Jenkins chooses to get his point across in quieter and more poetic ways. His follow-up to Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk, while more overtly contextual than Moonlight, is another intimate and moving portrait of one family—more specifically, one black family in Harlem in the early 1970s.

If Beale Street Could Talk is adapted by Jenkins from the James Baldwin novel of the same name. When I was in high school, I fell in love with Baldwin’s poetry. His poems struck such a chord with me—his use of language and ability to express emotion revealed to me what power literature can have. He was an activist, but, for me, he was always a poet, a master of language, first. Jenkins does a beautiful job of weaving both sides of Baldwin in this film, as it is a quiet work of rage, a poetic story of injustice and a haunting portrait of the black experience in America.

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