“In my culture, death is not the end. It’s more of a stepping-off point. You reach out with both hands, and Bast and Sekhmet lead you into a green field… where you can run forever.” These words that Chadwick Boseman spoke in his first appearance as T’Challa in Captain America: Civil War echoed in my memory while watching Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, a poignant and thoughtful reflection on the Black Panther legacy, what it means to people, and how we are expected to grieve and move forward when our king is no longer with us. Chadwick Boseman is gone. How is the Black Panther expected to survive without him?
After King T’Challa suddenly and unexpectedly passes away, the kingdom of Wakanda is left in a weakened, vulnerable state. The United Nations is after Wakanda and its precious Vibranium. Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) is struggling to balance her new life as a ruler and as a grieving mother. And while all of this is going on, a new threat emerges from the oceans: Namor (Tenoch Huerta), the king of the underwater nation of Talokan, who seeks war on the world for what the surface dwellers have done to his people. Now left to defend itself from both Talokan and the world, a new Black Panther must rise from Wakanda to protect the nation and its people.
It’s difficult to critique or even write about this movie without reflecting on what it was originally supposed to be. Before Chadwick Boseman tragically passed away from colon cancer in 2020, writer-director Ryan Coogler was knee-deep in writing the sequel and even completed a draft before Chadwick’s sudden passing. Coogler famously said after the fact that he “spent the last year preparing, imagining and writing words for him to say that we weren’t destined to see.” That’s the most heartbreaking part of all, knowing that Chadwick had a big part to play in this sequel that we’ll never get to see what could have been.
So when the movie feels like it’s supposed to be two separate movies, in a way, it’s kind of because they’re supposed to be. There are two intertwining narratives that are conflicting with each other in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. The first and stronger one is the fact that T’Challa has passed away and the nation of Wakanda is grieving for their fallen hero. The second is a geopolitical thriller about two warring nations and how they can peacefully coexist in the same world together. Both of these premises are strong enough to carry an entire movie on their own. Juggling both of these narratives at the same time in a lengthy two-hour and 40-minute runtime feels crammed.
But I don’t blame Coogler for how convoluted the movie feels. The fact is he and the rest of his creative team were thrust into a very uncomfortable position and had to make a difficult choice — continue telling the story of Wakanda without its hero, or let its legacy die alongside Chadwick Boseman? Ultimately, Coogler and the rest of the cast and crew decided that the Black Panther mantle was far too important to be left alone or forgotten, though maybe they should have taken some time to grieve and flesh out the script a little more when the loss wasn’t so raw to them.
One thing I will say is that the performances are powerful in this movie — quite possibly even more so than in the first movie. But that’s somewhat to be expected. After all, the entire cast isn’t so much acting as they are expressing their true feelings of loss and grief. While the rest of the world lost a king, a superhero, and an icon two years ago, the cast of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever lost a colleague, a mentor, and a friend. That pain translates beautifully and meaningfully into their performances. Even traditionally comedic actors like Letitia Wright, Danai Gurira and Winston Duke carry a much more somber, serious delivery with their lines. And Angela Basset was straight-up fierce as Queen Ramonda. She had a couple of truly powerful monologues in the film that was effective in expressing her strength, her resoluteness, and her sadness all at the same time.
Even the newcomers were just as impressive. Dominique Thorne (If Beale Street Could Talk, Judas And The Black Messiah) takes over for Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark as the new Ironheart, and while I was initially worried about how she would fit into this already packed story, she was a standout among the cast and gave the film some much-needed attitude and energy to help keep up the pace. And Tenoch Huerta especially crushed it as Namor. Far from the cheap one-dimensional supervillains Marvel is usually known for churning out, Namor is a much more complex, layered antagonist who is compelled to action not by world domination or destruction, but out of deep love, care, and protection for his people. He serves as an excellent foil to Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa, and it makes my heart hurt thinking of all of the great interactions we could have seen from these characters that we’ll never get to.
All in all, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is not as great as its predecessor. Then again though, it doesn’t need to be. While the film makes you feel the weight of Chadwick Boseman’s loss and the hollow, empty feelings that come with it, it’s also incredibly healing and reassures you that tomorrow will still come, even when the ones we love are no longer with us. Chadwick Boseman may be gone, but let us be grateful that the Black Panther continues to live on — not just in the people of Wakanda, but in all of us.
Nuh-uh, nope, nada, nonononono, goodbye, no thank you.
Mankind has a great interest in the unknown. That’s partly why we’ve always been fascinated with the phenomenon of extraterrestrial life and what’s out there in a larger universe. Is there life beyond our small planet? If there is, what is it like? Is it friendly? Fearsome? Frightening? Or violent? Whatever it is, we as a species don’t have the answers to those impossible questions. That’s why the possibilities of aliens excite us and terrify us at the same time.
In Nope, Jordan Peele tackles the alien genre in the unconventional way that only he knows how: with loads of thrills, dark humor, eerie, unsettling tension, and a butt-load of subcontext that will fly right over people’s heads. The biggest obstacle most alien sci-fi films face is being too predictable or similar to each other. Let me assure you that you won’t be able to predict a single thing that happens in Nope: not even what the aliens look like.
In this trippy sci-fi horror flick, Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer play OJ and Emerald Hayward, a brother-sister duo who trains and handles horses for film and television productions. But recently, they’ve been noticing some strange happenings around their ranch. Horses vanish in the middle of the night without a trace. The power cuts off randomly at times without any explanation. And one evening, OJ swears that he saw something move through the clouds. Now determined to get to the bottom of this mystery, OJ and Em outfit their whole house with security and recording equipment to capture… whatever it is they think they saw.
Ever since Jordan Peele released his Oscar-winning picture Get Out in 2015, fans have come to expect a few things from the acclaimed horror filmmaker. They expect his films to be highly unconventional and unpredictable. They expect high moments of stress, unease, and tension that make us feel anxious and on edge. They expect visceral, violent moments brilliantly building up to spontaneous moments of dark humor. And they expect his films to carry a deeper theme to them, whether it involves racism, prejudice, neoliberalism, feminism, or wealth inequality.
The best thing that can be said about Nope is that it retains Peele’s trademarks as a director. One of my biggest hangups with most horror movies is that they reveal their penultimate threat way too early so that by the time the climax arrives, it’s lost any and all effect of being fearsome or intimidating. The best horror movies masterfully obscure their villains so that by the time they are revealed, their actions leave an impact and give you a reason to remain afraid for the rest of the movie’s runtime.
Just like the shark in Jaws, Michael Meyers in Halloween, and the Xenomorph in Alien, Jordan Peele shows as little of the aliens as possible throughout the film. That’s because he understands that aliens in and of themselves are not what mankind as a whole fears: it’s what’s unknown about them. About where they come from, what they look like, and what they want from us. Nope asks those questions just like any other alien film does. The difference is once we’ve discovered the answer, we wish we could forget.
And this is a weird compliment for me to make because I don’t usually make it in my reviews, but the sound design in this film is… horrifying. The first time I heard what I thought was the alien’s voice, I thought “That was a weird creative choice to make.” When I realized what the sound actually was later on, it terrified me and sent shivers down my spine.
But while the film is a technical and a visual marvel, the script is unfortunately not as well-refined. For one thing, it lacks the depth and complexion as Peele’s previous works have. While both Get Out and Us had clearly-defined themes about racism, classism, and inequality, Nope is a lot more obscure with its message and portrayal. Which is fine with me: Us was just as subtle in its messaging and relied much more on implication rather than spelling everything out for its audiences. The difference is I understood everything Jordan Peele was trying to tell us at the end of Us. By the time Nope’s credits rolled, I had to piece everything together until I thought to myself “Wait, that’s it?”
Also, while the plot twist near the end of the film was wickedly clever and creative, the alien’s final form in the film is… kind of stupid. And unfortunately, the ending is even worse.
Looking back at Jordan Peele’s wildly successful filmography, Get Out and Us remains to be the greatest achievements of his young directing career so far. Nope lacks the same edge as his previous works do, but it’s still a lot of fun and brings something fresh and unexpected to the alien genre. Thanks to Jordan Peele, I’m never going to look at UFO sightings the same way ever again. I don’t know whether I should be thanking him or just say “Nope.”
Thor: Love And Thunder is Thor: Ragnarok gone wrong, a silly, spastic, stupid, and straight-up ridiculous experience that feels more like a satire of an MCU film rather than an actual MCU film. Thanks to this movie, Thor is the first superhero in the MCU to have four movies in his franchise. And if it succeeded at anything, it showed why most superheroes should just stick with three movies going forward.
Taking place well after the events of Avengers: Endgame, Thor: Love And Thunder picks up where everyone’s favorite blonde-haired thunder god (once again played by Chris Hemsworth) left off as he tries to discover who he is (as if he hasn’t already found out the answer to that question after eight movie appearances). But as he begins his journey of self-discovery (again), a vicious new enemy called Gorr the god butcher (Christian Bale) rises with one goal: to kill all of the living gods.
But wait! As he begins his violent quest, a new god emerges: specially Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) wielding Mjolnir. With two hammer-wielding thunder gods, the two Thors now have to team up to defeat Gorr and bring an end to his god-killing crusade.
When Thor: Ragnarok burst out onto the scene 10 years ago, director Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit, What We Do In The Shadows) boldly redefined Thor and his mythos, putting him through a compelling story where he lost his home, his powers, and his hammer and asking who the man behind Mjolnir is. Everything in that film worked to near perfection, from the colorful and eye-popping visuals to the deeply dramatic character moments to the gut-bustingly hilarious jokes. It was a great film back then and it remains one of the best MCU entries to this day.
The best thing I can say about Thor: Love And Thunder is that it replicates *some* of the inspiration behind Thor: Ragnarok. I specifically say “some” because while it possesses many of the same qualities, they’re used nowhere near as effectively as they were in Ragnarok. Still, Chris Hemsworth is as likable in the role as he’s always been, the visual effects are captivating at times, and Taika Waititi brings his usual humorous, lighthearted energy to a character that has typically taken himself way too seriously.
The problem is Taika has gone completely off of the deep end. While Thor: Ragnarok perfectly balanced its action, comedy, and drama, Thor: Love And Thunder flails about aimlessly without sense or direction, and most of its jokes repeat themselves and quickly become redundant. There are a pair of screaming goats introduced early on that I thought were funny at first, but by the 100th scream, they were giving me a migraine. There’s an odd love triangle between Thor, Mjolnir, and Stormbreaker and Thor gets the bright idea of easing tensions by… pouring beer over them. And the climax involves a ridiculous action sequence where kids are imbued with Thor’s lightning that allow them to fight an army of shadow monsters. That’s what you can expect to find in Thor’s fourth movie, ladies and gentlemen: superkids.
What of the rest of the cast? How do they handle in this mess of a movie? Well like everything else in Love And Thunder, their skill is technically present. The error lies in how they are used and misappropriated. Tessa Thompson was such a standout as Valkrie in Thor: Ragnarok, but here, she’s shoved to the side in favor of some forced humor and semi-hammersexuality. In the same vein, Natalie Portman is brilliant as Jane Foster, a powerful, fierce, and domineering woman who has fought for and earned the right to call herself Thor too. Yet she is also forced through an overly dramatic plot that feels emotionally manipulative and ends up negating all of the development we see her go through in the film.
But Christian Bale is the worst of all. Strictly speaking on performance alone, Christian Bale is downright chilling as Gorr, a menacing, slithery presence who feels like the monster that children find hiding under their bed. Between his creepy, eerie performance and a compelling, human motivation, Christian Bale’s Gorr had the potential to be one of the best villains in the MCU.
But potential does not equal reality, and Taika’s biggest error with casting Christian Bale is not using him enough. Out of the movie’s two-hour runtime, Gorr appears four, maybe five times tops. That’s not enough time to care for and get invested into a villlain’s plight. It’s barely enough time to get invested into a character at all. Because Christian Bale is so absent for most of the film, he ends up having the least impact out of all of Thor’s movie villains. I am not kidding when I say that Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith is a more memorable villain than Christian Bale solely because of his screentime. It’s such a shame, because you can see the effort that Bale puts into his performance. And in the end, it’s all left on the cutting room floor.
And if anything, that demonstrates the biggest flaw with Thor: Love And Thunder: it is wasteful. It wastes Chris Hemsworth’s and Christian Bale’s amazing performances. It wastes Jane Foster’s debut as the Mighty Thor. It wastes the Guardians Of The Galaxy, its jokes, and its visual effects. That’s ultimately what this movie is: a giant, pitiful waste.
Guys, I really can’t express this any more bluntly: Thor: Love And Thunder is terrible. The more I think about it, the more it enrages me. For every joke that landed, there were like five that made me groan in the theater. For every emotional moment that pulled at my heartstrings, there were three that felt cheap and unearned. And for every visually stunning and captivating sequence, there was another green screen-assembled mess that looked ungodly awful.
I make no exaggeration when I say this is my least favorite MCU film. There are certainly other films that are as badly written (including Thor: The Dark World and the recently released Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness), but they at least had some technical competency when it came to their editing, cinematography, and visual effects. Thor: Love And Thunder by comparison feels like it isn’t even trying. This is one movie that proves that lightning doesn’t strike in the same place twice.
The number “500” is significant for many reasons. For one thing, in Empire Magazine, they listed 500 movies as the greatest films of all time. In Tarot readings, the number “500” represents completeness: a sign that you have lived a fulfilling life and that it will only become more adventurous and exciting from here. Heck, at my current publication, we have a monthly section called “In 500” where readers can submit their own opinion columns in, yup, you guessed it, 500 words.
All my life, the number “500” has followed me in one elusive way or another. This month, the number “500” has a different meaning to me. As of this moment, I have published 500 articles on my website.
Yes, that includes the very same article you’re reading right now.
This is a very strange milestone for me because it’s one I never thought I would reach. Or perhaps more specifically, not one I would have reached on this website so soon.
When I started David Dunn Reviews in 2013, I launched this website as a way to express my thoughts and opinions on movies and entertainment when I couldn’t express them through other avenues. Before I even published my first byline on here, I was writing movie reviews under the notes tab on my Facebook page.
I’ll sometimes read through my old reviews, and they were… rough, to say the least. I both cringed and cackled as I went into long-winded monologues diving into director’s filmographies and characters’ comic-book origins, completely unaware that neither of them are relevant when talking about the quality of the film you’re reviewing. And man, the caps. All of the caps. I can’t tell you how many times I wrote words in all capitalizations whenever I was excited, WHICH NEEDLESS TO SAY, WAS WAY MORE OFTEN THAN IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN. After seeing it for the 50-millionth time, I can definitely see how my reviews might have been exhausting for my readers at the time.
But after joining my college paper, it didn’t take long for me to become a sharper, more concise writer. It definitely wasn’t without its own learning curves or creative differences, but after doing it enough times, my writing became more professional, polished, and easy to read. I still remember seeing some of the comments, with readers chiming in on how they wanted to see a particular movie because of my review, or laughing at one of my more scathing critiques.
But the proudest achievement of my college career remains to be winning Best Review in 2015 at the Texas Intercollegiate Press Association for my review of the DreamWorks animated film Home. My proudest line in that review was where I criticized the main alien race for having “the intelligence of a kumquat and the personality of a doormat.” And most importantly, I got rid of those blasted capitalizations.
I graduated from college a year later, which seemed scary at the time but eventually became something I adjusted to quickly. I started freelancing for every publication that I could (shoutout to MoviePilot) until I got my first official reporting gig for a local community newspaper. A year later, I was hired to work at a lifestyle magazine, which is the publishing job that I have always wanted.
This website — and the articles therein — is one of many reasons why I was hired. So in many ways, this website is a big part of my success to this very day.
I must admit, it hasn’t always been easy maintaining this website — especially during my first year out of college, where I was hopping from one freelance gig to another all while working my day job. But throughout it all, I maintained my love of movies and writing through every new release that came out. I kept reviewing movies whether they were good or bad. I continued my coverage of the Oscars even when writing my recap would take me well into early Monday morning. And every year, I kept ranking my favorite films of the year and sharing the movies that made the biggest impact on me — even those that didn’t make much money at the box office. Especially those movies.
Now don’t be mistaken — I am still not where I’m at in my publishing career where I thought I would have been. At this point in my life, I thought I would have been writing film reviews for either a newspaper or a magazine, hosting my own podcasts, and talking to movie stars and filmmakers on the red carpet. That dream as it stands has not yet come to pass, although I look back on my experiences interviewing Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Aaron Paul, and Vanessa Hudgens quite fondly.
But new dreams have taken its place that are bigger and better than I would have imagined. I’m still doing what I love, whether I’m writing for this website or for my magazine. I’m still watching movies, playing video games, and live-streaming on the weekends. And later this year, I’ll be marrying the love of my life. It’s crazy how fast and how hard life hits you, and I’m happy to say that, well, I’m happy at where I’m at in my life right now.
It certainly hasn’t always been that way. 2020 was a particularly rough year for this website since, you know, no new movies came out. Then in 2021, my mental health took a drastic decline to the point where I had to step away from this website for a time being.
What saved me and what pulled me out of my depression was, as always, the movies. Specifically, a 2021 musical comedy by Bo Burnham called Inside, which touched on issues such as depression, anxiety, and self-worth through a clever and creative lens of a comedian trapped inside his room during a pandemic. That film inspired me, made me feel seen, and made me feel less alone in a cruel, callous, and crumbling world that will probably burn up in the atmosphere a few years down the line. But I wasn’t the only one who felt that way, and seeing that film and the reactions to it reminded me that there were many others that felt the same way that I did. Indeed, I was way less alone than I could have ever realized.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m grateful. Grateful that I have this website. Grateful that I have my life. Grateful that I have you, my fellow readers, who keep coming back here to read my thoughts and opinions despite how infrequent they may be. This life of mine is not perfect, but whose life is? I find that the key to happiness is contentment: not in feeling disappointed in what we don’t have, but rather in feeling thankful for the things that we do.
And I am so, so thankful for you — for any click you made on my website, for any words that you took the time to read, for any comment you left (provided it wasn’t a smartass one), and for any laugh or emotion you experienced while reading my reviews. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you, thank you, thank you for being a loyal reader of mine. You’ve made writing 500 bylines on this website more valuable than you know.
Top Gun Maverick is a masterclass in epic blockbuster moviemaking, a fast-paced, enthralling, and wildly exciting sequel that achieved the impossible. This is a movie that has absolutely zero business being this good, let alone even existing in the first place. Yet not only is it a worthy successor to the 1986 classic: in many ways, it’s even superior. The famous catchphrase “the need for speed” is a massive understatement for a movie like this, and if it’s referring to anything, it’s probably my heart rate.
Taking place 36 years (yowza!) after the first movie came out, Top Gun: Maverick follows Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) long after his days at Top Gun. Now a test pilot for the Navy, Maverick is pulled back to Top Gun to train a new team of the program’s top graduates to fly a dangerous mission to bomb an unsanctioned uranium powerplant.
But there’s a complication thrown into the mix: his former wingman Goose’s son, Rooster (Miles Teller) is also part of the class, and Maverick fears he might be dooming Rooster to the same fate as his father. Now caught between the lines of friend and fighter pilot, Maverick needs to figure out how to train his recruits and prepare them to face impossible odds.
Let me get one thing immediately out of the way: I hate legacy sequels. Hate them, hate them, hate them. They rarely ever work, and even when they do, they usually rely too much on the classic movie’s appeal rather than their own. There are, of course, a few exceptions to this. Creed, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Blade Runner 2049 are the immediate examples that come to mind that stand alone as their own stories while at the same time honoring their source material. There are, however, way more examples of movies that merely wallow in their own nostalgia like tepid water without bringing anything unique or exciting to the table. Jurassic World, Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, and Space Jam: A New Legacy comes to mind as the biggest offenders. And don’t even get me started on Home Sweet Home Alone. There was nothing sweet about that dumpster fire of a film.
So when I heard that Top Gun was getting a sequel more than 30 years after the first one came out, my first thought was that it spelled out disaster. For one thing, Cruise is pushing 60, and you have to wonder how long his character Maverick could be flying before the government forces him to stay grounded. For another, its director Joseph Kosinski has an inconsistent track record (he previously directed Tron: Legacy, Oblivion, and Spiderhead), and I wasn’t sure how well he would handle yet another 30-year sequel. And lastly, Ehren Kruger penned the screenplay. Have you seen how awful the Transformers movies were? I rest my case.
Imagine my surprise, then, that when I went to see Top Gun Maverick, I was absolutely blown away in every single way imaginable. Top Gun Maverick isn’t just good: it’s great. It’s bloody brilliant, actually. It’s the type of raw, visceral, and lightning-fast moviemaking that is sorely missing in today’s blockbusters. While other movies are content with cashing in on their franchise name after editing a few of their best shots into the trailer, Top Gun Maverick pushes the limit to Mach 10 and doesn’t slow down until after the movie is over. Remember the stunt in Jackass 3D where Ryan Dunn is sitting behind a jet engine as it literally blows him out of his seat? You could replace that jet engine with Top Gun Maverick and achieve the same reaction.
Part of that is because of how the movie was filmed. Insisting that the film be as authentic as possible, Tom Cruise actually put the cast through a three-month boot camp to get them used to the aerobatics and G-forces while flying. That’s because during the film’s aerial dogfights, the cast members are actually in the planes filming themselves while in the air. This leads to action scenes that can only be described as legendary. When the pilots fire up their jet engines, you feel the impact blow against you. When their planes whizz past the screen, you feel the supersonic “boom” echo in your eardrums. And when they’re in a combat situation, you feel the bullets spark as they rip through the wings’ hull. There’s actually a scene where Maverick takes off in a plane and literally blows the roof off of a nearby shed. That scene wasn’t planned: he literally blew the roof off during the shot.
That type of authenticity really brings out the effect in the film’s aerial sequences and allows them breathe and come to life in their own way. But in that same vein, Joseph Kosinski does a brilliant job directing these actors and their performances from the ground. Since he obviously couldn’t be in the air with his cast while they were filming, he and his editing team had to review over 800 hours of footage after they landed. That’s as much as all three films in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy. Editing that had to be a nightmare, yet Kosinski and Eddie Hamilton make the whole film feel smooth and seamless: like a hot knife slicing through butter.
But the film isn’t just a technical marvel: it is also incredibly well-written and acted. This is especially surprising, because again, everything Ehren Kruger touches normally turns into cinematic poison. But I guess this screenplay, and Tom Cruise’s charm, is immune to it. That’s because at its heart, Top Gun Maverick is a story about trauma, loss, guilt, grief, and acceptance as this surrogate family learns to keep keeping on despite the most important people in their lives no longer being there. I was expecting this film to be a fun time at the movies. What I got was so, so much more meaningful than that, and that is perhaps the biggest surprise of all.
Top Gun Maverick is an unrivaled masterpiece — an epic, exciting, and action-packed dogfighting drama that puts you up in the air with the rest of its adrenaline-addicted pilots and asks you to buckle up for the ride. This is a movie that brilliantly utilizes nostalgia not as the destination, but as a vehicle for something much bigger, gripping and heart-racing. Just wait until it breaks the sound barrier.
Let this be a lesson to anyone working on the Marvel Cinematic Universe: if you’re going to come out with a sequel to one of the strangest heroes in your universe, maybe don’t wait six years to release it. Because at that point, not only do you run the risk of it becoming obsolete — you also threaten to have the whole thing crumble under the weight of its own expectations.
Enter Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness. In the span between its two movies, the MCU has debuted 18 new heroes, released six new TV shows, concluded the Avengers saga, and even released an entirely new Spider-Man trilogy to top it all off. So much has happened in the MCU that has affected so much already that it’s hard to release any sequel and have it stand alone as part of its own story. One might even argue that you can’t.
Sure enough, Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness fails in this sequelitis litmus test, a messy, sloppy film that is all over the place and trying to do way too much all at once. To properly understand this movie, not only have you needed to watch Doctor Strange, Avengers: Infinity War, andEndgame, but also “WandaVision,” “Loki,” Captain Marvel, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and even a few Fox-owned movie properties on top of all that. This is a film with the buildup of an Avengers movie and the payoff of a botched “What If…?” episode.
After he wiped the world’s memory of Spider-Man’s true identity in Spider-Man: No Way Home, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is trying to adjust to a world with neither Avengers nor Infinity Stones. But just as he begins to experience some sense of normalcy, he encounters a girl named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) who is being chased by monsters through several dimensions. Now determined to help this young girl, Doctor Strange enlists in the help Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) to defend her from the monsters of the multiverse.
Before I say anything else, I want to get one thing right out of the way: it was wonderful to see Sam Raimi return to the director’s chair. While most known for creating one of the best superhero movies ever with the likes of Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2, his filmography has taken him everywhere under the sun, from deeply disturbing horror movies like Evil Dead and Drag Me To Hell to wildly entertaining B-movie blockbusters like Darkman and Army Of Darkness. But with his last feature-length film coming out in 2013 with Oz The Great And Powerful, it’s been nine years since Sam Raimi’s last movie, 13 years since his last horror movie, and 15 years since his last superhero movie. One has to wonder how his directing chops have held up despite being away for such a long time?
The good news is that Sam Raimi’s still got it. More importantly, he still carries his own unique signature that Marvel thankfully allowed him to carry over into one of their most popular franchises. Combining the campiness of his Spider-Man movies with the horrifying imagery of Evil Dead, Sam Raimi creates a dark and disturbing world with Multiverse Of Madness that feels cursed just by the look and feel of it. There were quite a few times where his imagery was so bold, bloody, and grotesque that it actually made me squirm in my seat. There were several moments where characters were getting straight-up dismembered, contorting into twisted, uncomfortable shapes, and even horrifically burned alive.
I was genuinely surprised that Marvel allowed Sam Raimi to go as far as he did with the violence, and even more surprised that this movie didn’t get an R rating. But Raimi teeters the line just enough to where the film never crosses the line of being over-the-top or gory, though I can’t help but wonder how different the film might have felt if Raimi was allowed to go even further.
I also really like the film’s visual creativity, especially in scenes where Strange is traveling through the multiverse. There was one really trippy sequence where Strange is falling through multiple realities, from the prehistoric era to an evergreen paradise to even an animated world flooded with watercolors. The whole sequence was so surreal and outlandish that I felt like I was on acid while watching it. If someone did happen to wander into the theater while under the influence, I pray for their sanity because it might be broken by the time this movie is over.
That said, some of the movie’s visuals don’t work quite as well, and you especially notice it with a lot of the film’s newer characters. America Chavez’s dimensional portals are one instance where they look like firework sprites coming from your laptop’s screensaver. One character in the mid-credits scene is so shiny and pristine that she looks like a scrapped character from Eternals. And one villain has a third eye appearing on his forehead that looks so photoshopped that I couldn’t help but laugh while looking at it.
However, the worst sequence hands-down comes from one fight scene where two sorcerers are casting spells at each other using… musical notes. I’m not even kidding. They literally lift musical notes off of a page of sheet music and cast them at each other like a game of darts. I remind you, this is coming from a franchise that was once a major contender for visual effects at the Academy Awards. And here, they’re just throwing in a fight scene so silly and cartoonish that it feels like it’s a deleted scene from Disney’s Fantasia.
But I can forgive inconsistent visuals. What I can’t forgive is poor writing, and this is unfortunately where the film falters the most. Not only does Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness have one of the worst screenplays out of the entire MCU: I would argue it is the worst screenplay, bar none. Dead serious.
Sure, there are other screenplays that are childish, silly, stupid, half-baked, or even underdeveloped. Thor: The Dark World, Ant-Man, and Eternals are the immediate ones that come to mind. But even at their most basic levels, those movies demonstrate at least some understanding of their characters and what motivates them. Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness completely misunderstands the heart and souls of its characters, and it makes their actions in the film all the more unbelievable.
Imagine following Tom Holland throughout his six-movie arc, falling in love with his charm, his wit, his sense of humor, his intelligence, and his unwavering commitment to doing the right thing. Then all of a sudden in his seventh movie, he throws all of that out the window and starts going on a violent rampage across the city where he starts viciously murdering people in the most gruesome ways possible. That isn’t just a gross manipulation of his character: it’s a straight-up betrayal of his character, and it does a great disservice to him and the arc he’s built up over the course of the entire franchise.
There are multiple characters that are betrayed in a similar fashion in Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness. And it would be one thing if these were alternate versions of these characters in another universe. But they aren’t: they’re the original characters in the original MCU. That makes their mischaracterizations all the more worse, and it ruins the experience for anyone who has been passionately following their journeys for quite some time.
Oddly enough, there is another multiversal film in cinemas right now titled Everything Everywhere All At Once. Go and see it. Not only does it utilize its bizarre concept to its maximum potential, but it’s also one of the most creative and unique narratives to come out of cinemas in the past several years. The only way Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness even comes close to that potential is in another universe.
A blue speedster, a two-tailed fox, and a hot-tempered knucklehead.
There’s a general rule to film criticism, and that is to always remain objective. No matter what talent, studio, or subject matter is associated with your film, it’s the film critic’s job to separate all of that from the film and focus on the story it’s trying to tell. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an original idea or an adaptation of a 1990s video game. The quality is clear in either circumstance, and it’s the critic’s job to delineate what does and doesn’t work with the film they’re writing about.
Sonic The Hedgehog 2 is the kind of movie that makes you want to throw objectivity right out the window, the kind that makes you want to paint your face blue, put on your hedgehog ears, and throw your popcorn in excitement as your favorite speedster zooms through the theater. I must be honest, dear reader: I have no idea whether Sonic The Hedgehog 2 is, objectively speaking, good, bad, or brilliant. And more to the point, I don’t care. Sonic The Hedgehog 2 is a pure joy to experience, and observing it too closely defeats the purpose of watching a movie like this.
Taking place after the first movie which, surprisingly, was the last box office hit we got before theaters shut down in 2020, Sonic The Hedgehog 2 picks up right where the last movie left off with everyone’s favorite blue hedgehog Sonic (Ben Schwartz) living with the Wachowskis in Green Hills, Montana. After being banished to a Mushroom Planet in the last movie, Doctor Eggman (Jim Carrey) returns to Earth with a new ally, a red echidna named Knuckles (Idris Elba) who has an ax to grind against Sonic. But Eggman isn’t the only one with a new friend: a two-tailed fox named Tails (Colleen O’Shaughnessey) has also shown up to help Sonic fend off his new foes. Now equipped with an ancient map and the discovery of a powerful artifact called the Master Emerald, Sonic and Tails must team up to get to the Master Emerald before Eggman and Knuckles do.
Does this plot sound a little insane? Maybe, but some films benefit from a little insanity every once in a while. Sonic The Hedgehog 2 is definitely one of those movies. While the first movie was an enjoyable and adorable little introduction to the blue speedster, Sonic The Hedgehog 2 ups the ante by a thousand and asks fans to buckle up for the ride. It isn’t just that it’s more action-packed: it’s more everything. From the laughs to the drama to the excitement to the intrigue, Sonic The Hedgehog 2 is just more of what makes Sonic The Hedgehog, well, Sonic The Hedgehog. For casual fans whose surface-level knowledge is limited to knowing that Sonic’s fur is blue, Sonic The Hedgehog 2 is simply just more of what the first movie gave us. For longtime fans who have grown up with the franchise ever since his Sega Genesis days, Sonic The Hedgehog 2 gives dedicated fans everything they’ve ever wanted in a Sonic movie.
Oh I make no exaggeration when I say I was geeking out while watching this film. Nearly everything worked, from Sonic’s quick-witted comebacks to Tails’ ingenuity and invention to Knuckles’ hard-headedness and fisticuff-fueled rage. A few years ago, a movie about a talking hedgehog, two-tailed fox, and an overly-grumpy echidna might sound like a stupid idea to some studio execs. But thanks to the first movie’s success, Paramount saw how fans turned out for it, shrugged their shoulders, and said “Screw it, go for the nerdy nostalgia on this one Jeff!”
That was the best call the studio could have made for this movie, and director Jeff Fowler really leans in to these characters and what makes them so beloved in fans’ eyes. Here is a movie that, on every level, just gets why Sonic is adored by fans and succeeds in replicating that for the big screen. It isn’t just the fact that the creative team understands the in-game inspirations: it’s that they know the most essential foundations for these characters and leans into them all the way. Other recent video game adaptations like Uncharted or “Halo” misunderstand what made these franchises popular and adapts the wrong parts for their live-action outings. Sonic The Hedgehog 2 does not have that problem. In fact, one might argue that it perhaps relies too much on its source material. But if this movie’s biggest problem is being too faithful, then boy oh boy, is that a great problem to have.
My main gripe with this film is the same one I had with its predecessor, and that is the humans. They’re boring, they’re dumb, and they serve no purpose beyond adding some padding to the cast list. Thankfully most of the movie sidesteps the humans and focuses on the animals and their conflict with the robot mad scientist, but then the second act really focuses in on this stupid marriage subplot that dragged on for way too long and added nothing to the main story. I don’t know if the studio had some clause saying the humans needed a specific amount of screen time or if they thought a film couldn’t function without a more human presence, but either way it doesn’t work. Natasha Rothwell’s character in particular was the worst character in the first movie, and here she has a whole side arc dedicated to her that neither works nor is relevant for the movie she’s in.
Ultimately, my deep love for these characters and this franchise comes into direct conflict with my objectivity and my duty to appropriately critique this film. As a mere critic, I objectively believe this film is a fun time regardless of whether you’re a casual or a dedicated fan, and it’s definitely a shoo-in for families looking to distract their kids for an afternoon. But as a longtime fan who has followed this series ever since I was a child, Sonic The Hedgehog 2 gave me everything I ever wanted to see in a Sonic movie. So which inner voice do I listen to? Do I listen to the angel blue hedgehog on one shoulder, or the devilish film critic on the other?
Screw it. Objectivity or not, part of a film critic’s job is to also know what they like or don’t like: and I love this movie. Even with the forced human sideplots and gags, Sonic The Hedgehog 2 delivers on the action, the adventure, the humor, and the heart that has made this high-speed hedgehog so beloved in the first place.
Sonic The Hedgehog 2 is without a doubt the best video game movie ever released, and I am saying that with a straight face. Maybe that doesn’t mean much in a subgenre where there are more failures than there are successes, but hey, I’m celebrating the moment regardless. This is a year that has seen space marines, super soldiers, assassins, aliens, and treasure hunters take over the big screen, yet somehow the movie about a talking blue hedgehog, two-tailed fox, and red-hot echidna is the one that has taken off running. I hope it never slows down.
Puberty is a strange phenomenon to experience. When a caterpillar is born, it doesn’t imagine a life beyond its slimy little six-legged existence. But as it crystallizes and forms into a cocoon, its body begins to change, transform, and blossom into something new. It might have felt confusing, unnatural, maybe even a little frightening for that caterpillar at times. But when it emerges, it is something more fierce, beautiful, and free than it ever was before, and it is all the better because of it.
Turning Red portrays those same sensations and emotions of puberty through the eyes of a 13-year-old Chinese girl named Mei (Rosalie Chiang). Like all other teenage girls, Mei leads a very busy life. She’s a straight-A student who solves puzzles and mathematic equations just for fun. She has a group of girlfriends that love to fawn over high school boys and pop stars. And she has a strict and overprotective mother named Ming (Sandra Oh), who she works with after school in her family temple.
Her life stays relatively normal until one morning, she wakes up to discover that she has changed into a red panda. As her parents discover her transformation, she learns that her red panda form appears anytime she feels an intense emotion. Now faced with a solution to her red panda problem, Mei has to decide if she wants to get rid of her red panda forever or live with her new furry form for the rest of her life.
When it comes to its extensive filmography, Pixar is no stranger to telling stories about adolescence and growing up. Its most recent feature, Luca, was a literal fish-out-of-water story about a pair of sea monsters learning to feel comfortable with who they are, while Inside Out touched on the complexities of emotions and how all of them are equally relevant. Heck, the entire message surrounding the Toy Story series is all about growing up and how your childhood forms you into the person you become. So Pixar is not in unfamiliar or uncharted territory with Turning Red. In fact, one could argue that much of their success came from this very same subject and focus.
The biggest difference between all of those films and Turning Red, however, lies in its viewpoint. Most of the aforementioned films focused on childhood and adolescence through a general lens where both boys and girls could empathize and relate to it. Turning Red focuses specifically on the female perspective, and that makes it so, so unique in a sea of animated movies. It’s not often where you experience a movie where the main character is a 13-year-old girl, and even fewer where she’s struggling with issues revolving around puberty, growing up, and watching her body change in front of herself.
I also like how the movie touches on Mei’s complex relationship with her mother and her desire to constantly please her. Turning Red’s director, Domee Shi, is no stranger to developing intimate narratives surrounding children and their parents. Her Academy Award-winning short film, Bao, was a sweet and intimate little gem about a mother and her dumpling-shaped son, and Turning Red adopts many of the same emotional beats as that film did.
But again, the biggest differences lie in the emphasis on the female angle. In Bao, Domee focused on the strained relationship between a mother and her estranged son. Turning Red is about two generations of women going through the same issues and both offering a unique take on those issues. Like all wise parents, Ming offers a wealth of experience for Mei, a firsthand knowledge of what she is going through and how to get through it. Mei, however, offers a different viewpoint that the red panda isn’t a rabid beast or a monster to be tamed, but rather a part of herself that can be embraced instead of feared. Both perspectives are equally valid, but what I love is that the movie doesn’t provide a clear-cut right or wrong answer on the red panda dilemma and how Mei and Ming should respond to it. It only provides the right answer for them as individuals, and those answers are very different from each other.
Yet, the most touching part about all of this is that the red panda doesn’t affect Mei or Ming’s relationship with each other. Their paths may be different, but that doesn’t mean their love or feelings towards one another has to change. I find it incredibly moving that the film’s most powerful scene doesn’t involve red pandas or larger-than-life Chinese folklore, but instead simply revolves around a mother and her daughter sharing their life experiences with one another. They are, after all, both women. If anybody can understand what they have gone through, it’s themselves.
Turning Red is one of those rare little gems that challenges you not just as a viewer or as a movie fan, but as a person and as a constantly growing and evolving human being. Good movies keep audiences merely entertained or engaged throughout their run time, but genuinely great movies inspire new stories, emotions, characters, experiences, and thought-provoking ideas that stay with you long after you’ve left the theater. Turning Red does just that in a vibrant, colorful, and eye-popping anime art style that makes you want to get up, shake your tail feathers, and let out your inner red panda in a loud and triumphant roar.
Turning Red isn’t just a fun time at the movies: it’s a moving and monumental coming-of-age story that inspires growth, challenges your perspective, and transforms you into something bigger and better: just like its furry red heroine.
Umm… okay then. Guess we gotta talk about the Oscars.
Let’s start by saying that I had no idea what to expect going into this Oscar ceremony. Between the producers cutting eight categories from the live telecast to a couple of superfluous awards that served as half-hearted attempts to win over a mainstream audience to Amy “Joke Thief” Schumer being named one of the Oscar hosts, I was not expecting this to be a good ceremony at all. After all, the past few ceremonies have been struggling immensely with audience ratings and viewership. All of these ludicrous changes seemed like they were going to worsen the symptoms that were already there.
Well, I was half-right. While the technical categories were still minimized during the live telecast, they did have a small snippet play of the winners accepting their awards. So they weren’t so much “cut” from the ceremony as they were simply edited down for time, which still isn’t ideal, but I’ll take what I can get. The superfluous “fan-favorite” and “cheer moment” awards were also not highlighted as much as I feared they would be, briskly montaging through their winners and nominees before cutting straight to commercial. It was a surprisingly good use of time, didn’t take up too much space, and got to involve more movie fans in the voting process. Plus, Zack Snyder now gets to technically call himself a two-time Academy Award-winner, which he’s more than earned since the Academy shelved his cut of Justice League from any Oscar consideration for some arbitrary reason (God knows he deserves it more than The Power Of The Dog does).
Even the hosts were really good. Wanda Sykes’ wit and sassiness easily stole the show, with her tour through the Academy museum easily being the biggest highlight (the part where she pointed to an orc and called it “Harvey Weinstein” had me dying). Regina Hall was also really funny, pulling up all of the most attractive guys in the Dolby Theatre and saying she was going to administer a COVID test “with her tongue.” Even Amy Schumer had her charming moments, especially one hilarious bit where she dressed up as Spider-Man and shot silly string at the audience.
Dare I say it, this telecast was more fun than last year’s Academy Awards. That’s especially surprising considering how much behind-the-scenes drama was going on.
Let’s start with the good news: The Power Of The Dog lost 11 out of 12 of its nominations, including Best Picture. It more than deserved it too since it’s one of the most tepid and stale movies ever put in the running for Best Picture. How it got this far is beyond me, and I’m glad to see it bomb so precariously at the Oscars, even if my ballot suffered as a result of it.
Instead, the tender deaf family drama CODA took home the top prize at this year’s Academy Awards. This is surprising for a few reasons. For one thing, out of all 10 nominees, CODA was tied with Licorice Pizza for the least amount of nominations with three. This meant that in the grand scope of things, CODA had the most to overcome, especially with Dune and The Power Of The Dog sweeping across the nominations board.
For another thing, its director Sian Heder was not nominated for a Best Directing Oscar, and that hindered its chances even more. Sure, a Best Picture win wasn’t impossible (Green Book won Best Picture in 2018 despite also not receiving a Best Director nom), but considering eight out of the past 10 Best Picture winners were at least nominated for Best Director, it was nothing but an uphill battle for CODA. The fact that it persevered and pulled off a Best Picture win despite everything it was up against makes CODA’s victory all the more incredible.
Either way, congratulations to this amazing film and its heartfelt victory. I still feel like Dune was the most visionary out of all of the Best Picture nominees, and Tick, Tick… BOOM! and The Last Duel were still straight up robbed in this category. That doesn’t change how important CODA’s win was for the deaf community or how grateful I am to it for taking away the win from The Power Of The Dog. God, do I hate that film.
Best Director:Unfortunately, The Power Of The Dog did win one Oscar last night, and that was Jane Campion for Best Director. She didn’t deserve this award any more than Simon McQuoid deserved it for his Mortal Kombat remake, but like I already said, CODA’s director wasn’t nominated in this category anyway, so if The Power Of The Dog had to sneak in a win, I guess Best Director is most acceptable. I’m still infuriated over the fact that Denis Villeneuve wasn’t even nominated for Dune. He more than deserved to win, not to mention at the very least get nominated. A cinematic crime if there ever was one, and it unfortunately won’t be the last one the Academy ever commits.
Best Actor: This is where the ceremony gets really, really bizarre. To absolutely nobody’s surprise, Will Smith won Best Actor for playing Venus and Serena Williams’ father in King Richard, a win he absolutely deserved due to his sincere and deeply moving performance in that film. Unfortunately, absolutely nobody was paying attention to that moment or his speech because they were still reeling from when Will Smith slapped the bejeezus outta Chris Rock minutes earlier for joking about his wife’s hair loss, calling Jada Pinkett Smith “G.I. Jane.” Then Will Smith just strutted off, sat back down, and yelled at Chris to “Keep my wife’s name out of your f***ing mouth.”
Man. Talk about everybody hates Chris.
Now look, this is a very loaded moment, and I’m not going to even begin trying to unpack this because of all of the complex emotions tied into this. I will simply emphasize three truths. First of all, it was a bad joke on Chris’ part to make. A really, really, really bad joke. Jada had spoken publicly several times before about how much her hair loss has affected her and her well-being, so it was highly insensitive for him to make that remark without realizing how she or her husband might take it. Whether that joke was prewritten for the ceremony or if Chris made it up on the fly doesn’t matter. It was in poor taste, and Chris should have known better.
Second, Will Smith probably could have handled the moment a little better. Should he have? I admit I don’t know the answer to that. Or at the very least, I don’t know how I would have reacted if my wife and I were caught up in that same moment. Would any of us have? It was an idiotic comment to make, and in a flurry of rage, Will was blind to reason and self-control and acted solely based off of his instincts. His reaction was a very human one. Could he have potentially waited during a commercial break and confronted Chris then without involving the entire theater and the television audience? Again, I don’t know. It’s a difficult situation to get caught up in, and unfortunately, neither party is really free from blame.
Regardless of whether you see Smith or Rock primarily at fault, it doesn’t change the fact that this situation colored the rest of the ceremony in an awkward and uncomfortable way. After that very intense altercation, I couldn’t focus on Questlove’s moving speech about advocating for Harlem with Summer Of Soul. I couldn’t really tune in to Will Smith’s acceptance speech when he won his Oscar. I couldn’t even really celebrate CODA’s Best Picture win. All I could think about through the rest of the ceremony was that damn slap. It kind of took away from the rest of the evening and sadly kind of ruined the ceremony for me. That really, really sucks.
We’ll see in the coming days if the Academy decides to discipline Smith in some way for his actions. Regardless, I hope they don’t decide to revoke his Oscar. He’s worked way too long and too hard to have this honor taken from him now just because of one altercation. I hope the Academy can see past that and Will and Chris can come to some understanding afterward regardless.
Best Actress:As predicted, Jessica Chastain won Best Actress for her performance in The Eyes Of Tammy Faye. I’m happy she has finally earned an Oscar, especially after a long and illustrious career with credits including The Help, The Tree Of Life, Zero Dark Thirty, and more. But considering this is the same category where both Jodie Comer and Lady Gaga were robbed for their performances in The Last Duel and House Of Gucci, I’m too pissed about this category to properly celebrate her win. I guess I’m just grateful Nicole Kidman didn’t win for her half-hearted performance as Lucille Ball in Being The Ricardos. Still, what slim pickings we have for Best Actress this year guys.
Best Supporting Actor: This is easily my favorite win and moment out of the whole night. After playing the role of a loving father and husband in the drama film CODA, real-life deaf actor Troy Kotsur won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. It was a touching moment before Troy even stepped onto the stage to accept his award, with Youn Yuh-jung not only signing his name to himself but with the crowd also showing the “clapping” sign to show their support for Troy. Him dedicating his success to his father and to those who empowered him throughout his career was sincerely heartfelt and deeply touching to listen to. I’m not crying, I swear.
Best Supporting Actress:In the first acting Oscar of the night, Ariana DeBose won for her performance as Anita in West Side Story. She joins an elite club of actors winning Oscars for the same role, including Heath Ledger, Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Marlon Brando, and even Rita Moreno. Congratulations to Ariana for her much-deserved win. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
Best Animated Feature: No surprise here either: Encanto won Best Animated Feature. Again, I would have preferred the Oscar go to The Mitchells v.s. The Machines, but in a year where Luca, Flee, and Raya And The Last Dragon were all nominated, this was a spectacular year where all of the nominees were deserving of the win. I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again: the real winner here is the Best Animated Feature category overall. Congratulations to all of these amazing nominated films and their achievements.
Best Documentary: In the midst of all of the awkward Will Smith and Chris Rock drama, Questlove won his much-deserved Oscar for his restoration and revival of the Harlem Cultural Festival in Summer Of Soul. His film was the most deserving winner, especially when Val wasn’t even nominated in the first place.
Best International Feature:Drive My Car won this year’s international feature Oscar, and props to Ryusuke Hamaguchi for not letting the orchestra play him off stage. If the Academy can give Will Smith 10 minutes for his acceptance speech after clocking Chris square in the mouth, they can give Ryusuke Hamaguchi two minutes to thank his cast and crew.
Best Original Screenplay:I’m a little flabbergasted that Kenneth Branaugh’s Belfast won Best Original Screenplay over Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza, especially when his body of work has been more consistent and creative than Branaugh’s. Still, Belfast is some of his most genuine work yet, and I hope he writes more screenplays like it in the future. Congratulations to him and his upset win.
Best Adapted Screenplay:Just like how it stole The Power Of The Dog’s chances at winning Best Picture, so too did CODA seal its fate by winning the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. I’m still stunned that Sian Heder wasn’t nominated for Best Director, but at least she didn’t go home empty-handed and won an Oscar for her writing. Other Best Picture-winning directors aren’t so lucky (see Driving Miss Daisy, Gladiator, Chicago, etc.).
Best Cinematography:The first of many awards to not be televised live, Greig Fraser won for his stunning and captivating work on the science-fiction epic Dune. It’s criminal to imagine that we couldn’t see him accept his award live. If you want to support more of his work, check out The Batman in theaters. You’ll see more of Greig Fraser’s mesmerizing technique on display and you’ll get to see a hauntingly great superhero flick at the same time.
Best Film Editing:Joe Walker followed up Dune’s next technical feat by winning Best Film Editing. With credits that include Shame, 12 Years A Slave, Sicario, Arrival, and Blade Runner 2049, it’s hard to imagine it taking so long for him to win his first Oscar. But clearly his patience paid off for him. I can’t wait to see his work on Dune 2.
Best Makeup And Hairstyling: The Eyes Of Tammy Faye won best makeup. Is anybody legitimately surprised? Let’s just be grateful Coming 2 America didn’t win instead.
Best Production Design:Dune once again wins for its brilliant realization of Arrakis and its many warring factions. At this point in the ceremony, I’m losing my mind a little bit that Dune has won half of its technical awards and has yet to get a full spotlight moment during the main telecast. I’m grateful they weren’t outright cut from the ceremony, but I really can’t understate how stupid it was to edit these awards down from the main telecast. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Best Costume Design:It was split down the middle on this one between Cruella and Dune, and I’m glad I went with the popular vote on this one, because Cruella barely snagged it from Dune. Personally, I felt Dune had a stronger showcase of its outfits and costumes, but if Cruella were to shine in any category, costume design was its best chance to do so. At least Cruella’s outfits weren’t made out of puppies… yet.
Best Musical Score:While he couldn’t be there in person to accept his award, Hans Zimmer won his second Oscar for his hypnotizing score on Dune. His work on that film displays the very best of his talents. He couldn’t have won for a better score: not even Inception or The Dark Knight trilogy.
Best Original Song:It was a close call between Billie Eilish’s “No Time To Die” and Encanto’s “Dos Oruguitas”: and “No Time To Die” clinched it, in no small part thanks to Billie Eilish’s breathtaking performance. I’m just grateful that Billie Eilish can now cement herself among the all-time definitive James Bond singles. Imagine how maddening it would have been if Billie Eilish lost while Sam Smith won for their dry, drab, melodramatic single “The Writing’s On The Wall.” Thank God that didn’t happen and Billie Eilish can now call herself an Oscar winner. She more than deserves it.
On another note, Lin Manuel-Miranda had to unfortunately skip out on the Oscar ceremony due to an untimely positive COVID test from his wife. Pray for them as COVID hits a little closer to home for their family this week.
Best Sound:Dune again, obviously. This is the fifth Oscar the star-studded saga has won and the fifth one to get edited down from the ceremony. At this point, the eight category snubs are gradually becoming the Dune snubs and it’s royally pissing me off.
Best Visual Effects: FINALLY. After snubbing the picture all blasted night, Dune FINALLY got its moment to shine by winning in the Best Visual Effects category. It’s incredibly frustrating that it takes SIX Oscar wins to get TWO MINUTES of recognition for its hard-working artists and animators, but better late than never I guess.
With that, we come to the dreaded short categories. As with any other year, I’ve gotten most of these wrong save for Best Live-Action short for The Long Goodbye, which I didn’t realize until the ceremony that it was actually produced by Sound Of Metal actor Riz Ahmed, which now makes him an official Oscar winner. Good for him. I thought I’d have to wait much longer to see him win an Oscar, and here he is a year later proving me wrong just like that. Man, do I love it when a pleasant surprise comes my way.
With that, my final tally for this year’s Academy Awards is 17, which is a slight improvement over last year’s ceremony. Where will the Oscars go from here? Hopefully back to a regular telecast with all of the award categories included this time, and ideally with less slapping involved.
Is it just me, or are the Oscars feeling much less relevant than they used to be? I’m not talking about them being out-of-touch or frustrating. Good golly, if we had to stop the presses every year the Oscars got something wrong, they wouldn’t be running long enough to produce a single envelope. I’m talking about the Oscars themselves feeling like they don’t matter anymore. In the past, the Oscars felt like a monumental event, almost as epic and cinematic in scope as the movies themselves they were honoring. Nowadays, they feel arbitrary, complacent — even unimportant. No longer the pinnacle celebration of the movies like they once were, now… just another awards show. Is this what the Oscars have become? Is this what they are destined to be?
Every year, the Oscars have made one dumb decision after another that has confounded and confused audiences at the same time. This year, those dumb decisions come in two regarding what to cut and what to include in the telecast. For the first time in Oscar history, eight categories will not be announced live and will instead be pre-taped an hour ahead of the telecast, including film editing, makeup, original score, production design, sound, and the short categories.
I understand cutting the short categories: they’re lesser known than their feature-length competitors are and don’t have a widespread audience outside of Academy voters, so recognizing them through other avenues like the governor’s awards makes more sense. But what’s the excuse behind cutting the five technical awards? You’re shelving recognizing these pretty important artistic elements… just to save time? Are you kidding me?
And it would be one thing to scrap these technical awards if it meant dedicating that time to something more worthwhile, like either a larger presentation for the other awards or the In Memoriam segment. But nooooooo, instead, those awards are getting scrapped for more musical numbers, cringey comedy segments, and two new superlative awards: the Fan-Favorite Oscar and the Cheer Moment Oscar, which is basically the equivalent of the failed “Popular Film” category the Oscars have tried to introduce for several years now.
Which, by introducing these new categories, the Oscars create a new problem by trying to solve an old one. The issue viewers like myself have had with previous ceremonies is NOT the fact that there wasn’t a “Popular Film” category: it was that you didn’t include the most popular or most notable films of the year in the Best Picture lineup. You do not need to create a whole other category for movies like Spider-Man: No Way Home, Zack Snyder’s Justice League, Avengers: Endgame, Star Wars, Skyfall, or The Dark Knight trilogy. You JUST need to include them in consideration for larger awards like Best Picture. THAT IS IT. We are not asking for separate recognition. We are asking for equal recognition alongside the rest of the under-the-radar movies that are considered some of the best pictures of the year: because they ARE. This new move solves nothing and instead just creates more issues for the Academy Awards. Because you know, that’s something we need more of.
But like with any other Oscar ceremony, the biggest issues are not just with how they choose to present these awards on the small screen — it’s also with the individual winners they choose. Let’s hop into my predictions for the 94th Academy Awards and the biggest problems I have with this upcoming ceremony:
Best Picture:At this point, it’s pretty much a given that The Power Of The Dog will win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Not only has it been nominated the most out of the past five ceremonies with 12 nominations total, but it has also won nearly every Best Picture award this season from the Golden Globes to the BAFTAs. It’s rare that a film sweeps the entire awards season before losing the Best Picture Oscar at the 11th hour. In fact, the last time that happened was in 2019 when 1917 lost Best Picture to Parasite, and that instance was very much the exception and not the norm. I don’t expect that to happen again this year as The Power Of The Dog will inevitably win the highest honor of the night, just like it has been for the past two months.
Now, does it deserve to win Best Picture? Absolutely freaking not, and it’s very rare that I speak so definitively on a Best Picture nominee. With most other Oscar ceremonies, I usually try to see the Best Picture winner from the Academy’s angle and try to understand the value they see with a particular film. Even in ceremonies where I’ve blatantly disagreed with the Academy, I can at least appreciate certain aspects of the eventual winner. For instance, I find The Shape Of Water to be a beautiful and heartfelt tribute to forbidden love even if it is equally strange and bizarre in the same sentence. Green Book was your basic, by-the-books, feel-good anti-racist movie that succeeded in making its point, even if other movies made that same point better like with BlacKkKlansman and Black Panther. Even Nomadland, which I still profess is a bland and uneventful film, at least possessed some beauty between its sweeping score, cinematography, and subject matter.
The point is, I can find redeeming qualities in each of the Best Picture winners from the past few years if I try hard enough. I can’t find any such redeeming qualities in The Power Of The Dog, a film that is so comatose, boring, and painfully lifeless that to keep it on life support for this long can be considered cruelty. I make no exaggeration when I say I hate this movie and how little it rewards you for suffering through its two-hour runtime. I quite literally would prefer any other nominee win Best Picture over The Power Of The Dog. That includes Don’t Look Up, Drive My Car, West Side Story, and Being The Ricardos, a movie that isn’t even nominated for Best Picture but deserves it more than The Power Of The Dog does anyway.
But none of my animosity changes the fact that The Power Of The Dog is most poised to win Best Picture regardless. I’m praying that I’m wrong and some other more deserving film sweeps it under the rug. But until that actually happens, my skepticism has the better of me.
Best Director:Jane Campion won the Director’s Guild Award for The Power of the Dog, which inevitably means she will also win the Oscar for best film direction. Again, I quite literally would prefer any other nominee win in this category over her, including Steven Spielberg for West Side Story. But the DGAs have nevertheless spoken, which by extension means the Academy has also spoken. I’m still livid that Denis Villeneuve was not nominated for his captivating and stunning realization of Frank Herbert’s vision in Dune regardless. That snub alone speaks more to how out-of-touch the Academy Awards have become than Jane Campion’s eventual Best Director win ever will.
Best Actor: I’m split for Best Actor, perhaps more than any other category, because two of my most favorite performances of the year are in the running here: Will Smith for King Richard and Andrew Garfield for Tick, Tick… BOOM! They both have so much going for them. First of all, both of them have been nominated for best acting Oscars before, with Will Smith being nominated for Ali and The Pursuit Of Happyness and Andrew Garfield being nominated for Hacksaw Ridge. Second of all, both of them are playing real-life figures, with Smith playing Venus and Serena Williams’ father Richard and Garfield playing Rent musical legend Jonathan Larson.
But on a much more simple level, both really deserve the Oscar because their performances are just that dang good. Smith brings a vulnerability, a deep-rooted love, passion, and father’s heart to Richard Williams dying to see his little girls succeed, while Garfield plays the aspiring musician eager for more yet feeling like time is running out for him. This is a tough, tough race this year, but I’m going with the math on this one. Will Smith has so far won the Golden Globe, the Screen Actor, and the NAACP Image Award for his performance as King Richard. That makes him the safest bet to win Best Actor, and that’s the one I’m going with.
Your day will come soon, Andrew. In the meantime, be grateful that it literally took a Hollywood titan like Will Smith to stop you from winning Best Actor. It’s a privilege to lose to the best, and you definitely have that situation here with Will Smith and Andrew Garfield for this year’s Best Actor race.
Best Actress: On the other hand, Best Actress this year is a complete and utter crapshoot. Kristen Stewart, who was once considered a leading contender for her portrayal of Princess Diana in Spencer, has now faded into the background as she failed to earn both a Golden Globe and a Screen Actor nomination. Penelope Cruz doesn’t fare much better considering her nomination for Parallel Mothers was a shock in and of itself. And don’t even get me started on Nicole Kidman being nominated as Lucille Ball for Being The Ricardos. She shouldn’t even be nominated in this category, let alone potentially win.
That leaves Olivia Colman for The Lost Daughter and Jessica Chastain for The Eyes Of Tammy Faye. I haven’t seen either film, so my prediction in this category is intrinsically worthless either way. I’m going with Jessica Chastain simply because Colman has already won an Oscar for The Favourite while Chastain hasn’t won yet despite being nominated twice before. I’m still frustrated that Lady Gaga and Jody Comer were snubbed in this category regardless for their stellar performances in House of Gucci and The Last Duel. Both of them not being included here automatically makes this category less credible in my eye. Next.
Best Supporting Actor: Out of all of the races this awards season, few have been as interesting to watch take shape as Best Supporting Actor. First Kodi Smit-McPhee won Best Supporting Actor at the Golden Globes for his role as a soft-spoken son with a darker side to him in The Power Of The Dog. Then real-life deaf actor Troy Kotsur won the Screen Actor for playing a loving father and husband in the family drama CODA. Which of these actors will take home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor? My money is on Troy Kotsur for CODA. Authenticity usually gives you a competitive edge in the acting categories. In the case of Troy Kotsur, not only was he one of the most charismatic and heartfelt additions to CODA, but he’s also been a lifelong advocate for the deaf community throughout his 30-year acting career. Kodi Smit-McPhee might pull off a surprise upset win, but God, I don’t want him to. Give Troy Kotsur his Oscar, Academy. He deserves his moment to shine.
Best Supporting Actress: The one thing that seems to be universal about Steven Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story is that people LOVE Ariana DeBose as Anita. She deserves the affection, because not only did she take an iconic role that was once inhabited by Rita Moreno, but she somehow managed to bring her own life and passion to it and made it her own. She was a clear standout in the movie, and she definitely deserves all of the acclaim she has been getting for reviving this beloved character for a new age on the big screen.
Would it be a little redundant to give two different actresses an Oscar for the same role twice? Sure, but Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix both won Oscars for playing the Joker, so I’m not mad if Ariana wins an Oscar for the same role that made Rita Moreno an Academy Award winner as well. Go for Ariana DeBose on Best Supporting Actress, she’s a lock in this category.
Best Animated Feature: First of all, what a packed category this year. With any other given ceremony, the Oscar for Best Animated Feature is usually pretty straightforward to predict with one obvious standout clearing out the rest of the nominee pool (Toy Story 3, Frozen, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, etc.). That isn’t the case this year with an incredible lineup of nominees including Encanto, Flee, Luca, Raya and the Last Dragon, and The Mitchells V.S. The Machines. For all intents and purposes, any one of these amazing films could win Best Animated Feature on Oscar night, and all of them are equally deserving. I can’t really say that about any other year for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars, and that alone is an achievement worth celebrating this year.
That being said, I think Encanto is going to end up winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature this year. Not only is the animation beautiful, the characters lovable, and the music catchy and clever, but it is arguably the most popular and most talked-about film out of all of the animated nominees. That’s never a bad thing going into the Oscar race, especially when Disney and Pixar are involved.
While I personally would love to see either The Mitchells V.S. The Machines or Luca take home the Oscar this year, Encanto is not a bad pick by any means and arguably deserves the Oscar even more than other winners from the past few years. We’ll see what happens on awards night, but regardless of which film wins, the Best Animated Film category is the biggest winner at this year’s Oscars.
Best Documentary Feature: Looking past the Academy’s disrespectful snub of Val, there is one clear standout in the Best Documentary category this year, and that is Summer Of Soul. Beautifully restored in vivid picture and sound quality, Questlove brilliantly brings the Harlem Cultural Festival experience to the big screen in a way that no other film can. Were Val nominated this year, I would have been more split in this category. But since Summer Of Soul is the only true contender, that makes my choice for Best Documentary easy.
Best International Feature:Drive My Car. Not only is it also nominated in the Best Picture category, but its director Ryusuke Hamaguchi also received two other nominations for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. No other international feature nominee can say the same, so Drive My Car is a lock for this win.
Best Original Screenplay: More than any other nominee in the Best Original Screenplay category, the one thing you can say about Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza is how original it is. From its dreamy, euphoric sense of 70s nostalgia to its off-brand and awkward style of comedy, Licorice Pizza is quintessentially Paul Thomas Anderson and he succeeded in making it his own. Whether you like it or not is another thing entirely. Still, I find how personal and profound it is to be endearing in its own way. Kenneth Branaugh’s Belfast might pull an upset win, but considering it hasn’t won much since its original Best Screenplay win at the Golden Globes, I have to go with Licorice Pizza on this one.
Best Adapted Screenplay:The Power Of The Dog is probably going to win Best Adapted Screenplay as well, because why not? Sure, it wasn’t nominated at the WGAs this year. But then again, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm won adapted screenplay last year while The Father won at the Oscars, so maybe the WGAs mean diddly-squat nowadays. Either way, I’ll be actively rooting for any other nominee to win in this category besides The Power Of The Dog. Denis Villeneuve deserves to win for Dune solely because he was snubbed in the Best Director category anyway.
Best Cinematography:The first of many sweeps to come on Oscar night, Dune is the favorite to win Best Cinematography and easily deserves to win the most out of all of the nominees. Sure, Best Cinematography is a stacked category this year with Dan Laustsen, Bruno Delbonnel, and Janusz Kaminski offering stiff competition for their work on Nightmare Alley, The Tragedy Of Macbeth, and West Side Story respectively. But Greig Fraser made too good of use of his gorgeous, massive sceneries and masterfully immersed you in the death, destruction, and desolation of Arrakis. No other film this year came even close to reaching the visual achievement that Dune did, and Greig Fraser had a big hand in that and deserves the Oscar for it. If for some obscene reason Ari Wegner snabs Best Cinematography from him for The Power Of The Dog, I will lose my mind.
Best Film Editing:Dune again by a very, very, very long mile. While I questioned for a second if The Power Of The Dog bias would blind Academy Award voters to make the wrong choice, I think Dune is going to come out on top for a few reasons. For one thing, it has racked up the most best film editing honors so far this awards season (including Best Edited Feature Film from the American Cinema Editors). For another, Joe Walker has amazingly enough not won a Best Editing Oscar yet despite being nominated twice for 12 Years A Slave and Arrival. Tenure usually gives you a competitive edge at the Oscars, so it’s best to root for Joe Walker and Dune for Best Film Editing.
Best Makeup And Hairstyling: First of all, why on God’s green Earth is Coming 2 America nominated for Best Makeup and Hairstyling? The only film whose makeup looked sillier than that film was Norbit in 2007. What is it with Eddie Murphy and his movies constantly being nominated for best makeup year after year? Is he for some reason considered Meryl Streep in the makeup category? Is there a specific clause in his films that his producers need to pour a crapton of campaign dollars into the Oscars to score a makeup nomination? WHY IS COMING 2 AMERICA NOMINATED FOR BEST MAKEUP? WHY? WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY?!?!
Moving past that obscene and ridiculous nomination, the one film whose makeup job truly impressed me this year was The Eyes Of Tammy Faye. With Cruella, Dune, and House Of Gucci, you can still clearly identify each actor and tell them apart despite the makeup they’re wearing (including even Jared Leto’s turn as Paolo Gucci). But in The Eyes Of Tammy Faye, I couldn’t even tell that Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield were even in the film. Honest to God, when I saw Tammy Faye first appear on screen, I thought Bryce Dallas Howard was playing her, not Jessica Chastain. That type of makeup job is transformational, and that usually earns its makeup artists the Oscar.
Best Production Design: From its massive sets and sceneries to the intricate detailing on the ornithopters and carryalls, Dune builds an ingenious and imaginative world through its masterful production and set design. If we’re picking the leader in this category, Dune wins by a huge, huge margin, even alongside fellow competitors Nightmare Alley and West Side Story.
Could either one of those titles pick up an upset win in production design? It’s possible but unlikely, especially when you consider how much world-building Dune really did in that film. When it comes to production design, creating a world as immersive and immaculate as Arrakis usually brings home the gold (see Avatar’s Best Production win in 2010, Mad Max: Fury Road’s win in 2016, Black Panther’s win in 2019). I think Dune’s stunning production design will yield the same result for the science-fiction film on Oscar night.
Best Costume Design: It comes down to Cruella and Dune for this year’s Best Costume Design race. Considering fashion is one of the key elements behind Disney’s live-action remake/prequel to 101 Dalmatians, it’s no surprise that Cruella’s incredible and exotic outfits make it one of the biggest contenders for best costume design this year. Then again though, Dune’s wardrobe is arguably just as masterful with all of the variety and culture between all of the different outfits that the film’s many factions wore. It’s a tough one, but I have to go with Cruella solely because the costume design is literally baked into the film’s plot. Don’t be surprised if Dune ends up stealing this one too though.
Best Musical Score:I know Hans Zimmer previously won an Oscar for The Lion King in 1994, but few of his scores are as captivating and imaginative as Dune’s exotic chants and drum beats are. It’s been five months now since I’ve seen the film, and its haunting and beautiful melodies are still stuck in my mind. That makes Dune the frontrunner for the Best Original Score Oscar. I don’t see any other nominees winning this award, and frankly, none of them deserve it over Hans Zimmer anyway.
Best Original Song: First of all, props to all of the incredibly competitive nominees in this year’s Best Original Song category. With most other Oscar ceremonies, there is usually a clear frontrunner that takes home the Oscar gold. That isn’t the case this year, with this year’s nominees including Billie Eilish, Van Morrison, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Diane Warren, and freaking Beyonce. When BEYONCE is nominated for an Oscar and she’s considered the underdog, you know you have a competitive category in your hands. It honestly makes picking a winner so, so difficult, and the fact that Best Original Song is so unpredictable this year is honestly the best compliment I can give to all of its nominees.
That being said, we still need to predict a winner, and this year’s race comes down to Billie Eilish for “No Time To Die” and Lin-Manuel Miranda for Encanto’s “Dos Orugitas.” While I love the eerie, haunting, and tragic piano notes of Billie Eilish’s monumental James Bond overture, “Dos Orugitas” is a beautiful and heartbreaking melody about love, loss, growth, and moving on. I mean, have you even read the translated lyrics? The song alone is wonderful to listen to, but it’s the deeper meaning behind it that really shatters your heart while slowly mending it back together piece by piece.
I dunno. Either one has a really good shot at winning on Oscar night, but I’m going with my gut on this one and predicting that Lin-Manuel Miranda wins for Encanto. Feel free to flip a coin if you’re having a hard time choosing one or the other.
Best Sound:Dune, 100%, no questions asked. I know No Time To Die and West Side Story put up solid efforts, but there is no other film this year that carries the unique sounds and ambiances that Dune does. Even if this award was split into best sound editing and mixing, I would still advocate for Dune in both categories. That makes it a solid lock in my book, especially when it comes to the Best Sound Oscar.
Post-script: What the crap is The Power Of The Dog doing being nominated here? What did its impressive sound work entail? Benedict Cumberbatch playing the banjo?
Best Visual Effects: As visually spectacular as Shang-Chi and Spider-Man: No Way Home is, Marvel has not won a Best Visual Effects Oscar since 2004 for Spider-Man 2. It’s unreasonable to think that’ll suddenly change now, especially with the snubs of Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame from the Oscars’ most recent ceremonies.
Now Dune, on the other hand, has delivered a visual epic and odyssey unmatched by any other sci-fi blockbuster in the past few years, including even Avengers: Endgame. It may be considered sacrilegious by the comic book community to say that better visual effects exist outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it’s okay to say that in Dune’s case because it happens to be true. From the endless desert seas of Arrakis to the massive sandworms that burrow beneath them, every single frame of Dune immerses you in this dry, desolate, and desperate landscape that nobody can escape from. You never feel like you’re merely watching it: you always feel like you’re experiencing it.
Not only do I believe that Dune has a real shot at winning the visual effects Oscar — I even believe it deserves to win over the other nominees, including Shang-Chi and Spider-Man. If it doesn’t win, well then the Academy has truly lost all of its marbles. Luckily, I don’t think that’s happened to them… yet.
And as always, I’m completely clueless when it comes to the short categories since I’ve never watched any of the nominees. This year, I’m predicting Boxballet for Best Animated Short, When We Were Bullies for Best Documentary Short, and The Long Goodbye for Best Live-Action Short. Don’t ask my metrics for why I picked those. I literally just like their titles.
Do I even bother predicting the Oscars’ Fan-Favorite and Cheer Moment categories? Both of those “awards” are painfully bad efforts at connecting with mainstream movie audiences, and they both backfired in really awkward ways. When Camilla Cabello’s Cinderella has the potential to win an Academy Award, that category has officially lost any and all credibility whatsoever.
Regardless, I guess they are both still technically award categories anyway. So I’m going to predict Spider-Man: No Way Home wins the Fan-Favorite Award while Avengers: Endgame wins the Best Cheer Moment. They bloody well better win them too, especially since neither of them had a fair shot at winning an Oscar in their respective categories anyway.
Okay, I’m done with my predictions folks. I’ll see you on Oscar night… or maybe not. It is, after all, a school night.