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.


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.

Read moreFree Solo and Cold War

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.

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

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.”


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.


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.

Read moreOscar Nominations Reactions

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.

Read moreSpider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

My Top 10 of 2018

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

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

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

Tender but brutal, the kind of movie that reminds me what a great screenplay can do.

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

A moody and magnificent trip down a cinematic rabbit hole.

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

The freshest breath of air in movies in years. And long overdue.

A timely political satire that is as hilarious as it is brilliant. A masterclass.

The best time I had at the movies all year.

Mary Poppins Returns


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.

Read moreMary Poppins Returns

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.

Read moreIf Beale Street Could Talk



I was most definitely in the minority on writer/director Adam McKay’s last movie, The Big Short. I found it to be overly ambitious and bizarre, but most of the world loved it, including the Academy, which nominated it for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Directing and Best Adapted Screenplay, which it won. McKay’s latest effort, Vice, is no less ambitious, but I have a weird feeling the Academy won’t embrace it the way it did its predecessor.

Like The Big Short, Vice takes on a big subject in our modern world and looks at it through a cynical and somewhat satirical lens. McKay likes to revel in irreverence, skewering people in power who make decisions that affect everyone and assailing their motivations. The Big Short was a study in cause and effect—motivation (greed) was clear and the result of actions (economic collapse) was played out. However, in Vice, McKay takes a somewhat different approach to his subject, as not only are the motivations of his subject unclear, but the effects of those motivations are reduced to a sidebar. It’s a weird dynamic, but, somehow, still works.

Read moreVice

Mary Queen of Scots

Working Title

It was hard to watch Mary Queen of Scots so soon after The Favourite. They are completely different stories, and set four generations apart, but they are both about Queens of England and are movies that are unabashedly female-driven. But, other than the fact that both movies also have gorgeous costumes, this is where the similarities end. While The Favourite was bold, beautiful and brilliant, Mary Queen of Scots was dreary and disappointing. Although they both feature incredible performances, if you are looking for a royal treat, one is definitely more sumptuous than the other.

On paper, Mary Queen of Scots is a movie that should be awards-worthy. It stars two of Hollywood’s brightest female stars, Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie. Both of them already have Oscar nominations under their belts and I’m sure everyone involved in this production was expecting more awards love for this prototypical Oscar bait period piece from the same production company that produced last year’s Oscar darling, Darkest Hour. [Sidebar: when you use “From Working Title, the producers of Darkest Hour” to advertise the movie, you know they are really reaching] But they forgot something: a good movie is more than one or two great performances. In fact, while we’re talking about Darkest Hour, you can say the same thing about that movie, which was Gary Oldman and nothing much else.

Read moreMary Queen of Scots

Anna and the Apocalypse


Ok, so nobody wanted to go see Anna and the Apocalypse with me, so I went to this British zombie teen musical by myself. Yes, you read that right: British. Zombie. Teen. Musical. Quite a mixture. (Maybe I get now why nobody wanted to see it with me). But I was intrigued by the wonderful trailer I saw for the movie, so I had to go, but I really had no idea what to expect. And what I got was an fresh and spirited take on some massively familiar genres—and ones you don’t often see together. So, let’s break it down:

Anna and the Apocalypse is set in a small town in England at Christmastime. At first I thought it would be like Shaun of the Dead, another British zombie movie that’s REALLY British, but there’s really nothing that makes Anna and the Apocalypse stand out as specifically British, other than the dismal and dreary weather. There also is a weird mish-mosh of accents among the main characters: British, Irish, Scottish, American—not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it just added to the already-weird dynamic of this movie.

Read moreAnna and the Apocalypse