‘Green Book’, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ rocks 91st Academy Awards

Several things were missing from the 91st Academy Awards. Surprisingly, one of those things was not an Oscars host.

Production was a train wreck before heading into the 91st Academy Awards. For one thing, there was no host scheduled for this year’s ceremony, marking the first time in three decades where the Academy Awards took place without a host. Then the Academy decided not to nominated Won’t You Be My Neighbor? for Best Documentary, which is the second dumbest snub the Academy has recently done next to not nominating The Lego Movie for Best Animated Feature. Perhaps the most foolish thing to have happened in the days leading up to the Oscars was deciding to award the Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing and Best Makeup awards during the commercials, only to promptly walk back that decision days later after severe backlash from the filmmaking community. As far as poor decision-making goes, the Academy Awards is second only to Bohemian Rhapsody’s production troubles – and that’s saying something.

Oddly enough though, the Oscars weren’t that awful this year. For one thing, the absence of a host did not bother me as much as I thought it would, as the telecast got to move on more quickly and I got to go to bed much sooner because of it. And also, the beginning of the telecast didn’t waste time with a long, unfunny opening monologue that we usually have to suffer through, but instead, we opened up on a headbanger with Adam Lambert and Queen performing a live tribute to Freddie Mercury. Can we open up all of our future Oscars shows like this? Pretty please?

But as per usual, the Oscars went on with their typical wins and snubs as they do every year. Some were a pleasant surprise to experience. Others weren’t. Let’s go through the rundown below and see how my predictions stacked up this year:

Best Picture: One of many surprises from the night, but certainly not the biggest. Green Book took home the highly-coveted award for Best Picture. I had believed that Roma or BlacKkKlansman merited better chances at winning the award, especially since both movies were also nominated for Best Director whereas Green Book wasn’t. Either way, I got this category wrong, but it isn’t the worst snub or upset from the night. Congratulations to the team who brought Tony Vallelonga and Don Shirley’s story to life of the big screen. Clearly this is one book that I need to check out.

Best Director: As expected, Alfonso Cuaron won the Academy Award for Best Director after winning the DGA award for Roma. This marks Cuaron’s fifth Oscar, as well as his second win for Best Director after 2013’s Gravity. I personally felt Spike Lee was more deserving of the award for BlacKkKlansman, but at this point it’s best to just let bygones be bygones. Congratulations to Cuaron for the win regardless. Now I’m just waiting for Guillermo Del Toro to win his inevitable second Best Directing Oscar for when his remake of Pinocchio comes out in 2021.

Best Actor: Rami Malek rocked the world, and the Oscar, with his performance as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody. His beautiful speech dedicating his success to the life of a gay immigrant rock star made everyone feel like champions.

Best Actress: Another unexpected win. After she was previously nominated six other times, I thought Best Actress was Glenn Close’s to lose for The Wife. Turns out she literally lost it as first-time nominee Olivia Coleman won for The Favourite instead. I certainly wasn’t expecting it, and I felt bad that Close had to lose the Oscar yet again. But at the same time, seeing Coleman bumbling up on the stage in shock was a joy to see, and it was nice to see an actress genuinely overwhelmed by them winning for a change. Congratulations to Coleman for her win. Here’s to hoping Close’s win will be around the corner very soon.

Best Supporting Actor: It’s always a pleasure to see Mahershala Ali up on-stage at the Oscars. It was great to see him up there a second time for his win for Best Supporting Actor in Green Book. Congratulations to him on his win. Still would’ve liked to have seen Michael B. Jordan up there being considered for Black Panther.

Best Supporting Actress: As expected, Regina King won Best Supporting Actress for If Beale Street Could Talk. Her tearful speech dedicating her success to her mother and to God was one of the best ways you could have opened up the ceremony. Congratulations to her and her well-deserved win.

COURTESY: SONY PICTURES

Best Animated Feature: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse beat out Incredibles 2 for Best Animated Feature. Much-deserved joy and congratulations to the Spider-Verse crew. They showed everyone that there’s a little bit of a hero in all of us.

Best Documentary Feature: Surprisingly, Free Solo beat out RBG for Best Documentary. This award also marked the first winner to be played off from the night, as the orchestra started playing as director Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi was mid-way through her speech. Sad, that the Academy won’t play off big-name actors like Rami Malek or Olivia Coleman, but they’ll play off smaller up-and-coming filmmakers trying to make a name for themselves. Either way, congratulations to the Free Solo crew for their win.

Best Foreign-Language Feature: As if it wasn’t obvious already, Roma won Best Foreign-Language feature. Cuaron hilariously mentioned later in the telecast that being up there “does not get old” after his multiple wins.

Best Original Screenplay: Green Book won Best Original Screenplay over The Favourite, essentially sealing its chances to win Best Picture. At least now Dumb and Dumber director Peter Farrelly can now call himself an Oscar-winner.

Best Adapted Screenplay: BlacKkKlansman won Best Adapted Screenplay, awarding Spike Lee with his first Oscar win after being snubbed for over 28 years. It was a joy seeing him hop on stage and getting giddy with the fact that the New York Knicks ended their 18-game losing streak that night. Clearly it was a great night for Spike, and it was wonderful to watch him experience it.

COURTESY: FOCUS FEATURES

Best Film Editing: For some ball-brained reason, Bohemian Rhapsody beat out BlacKkKlansman, Green Book and Vice for Best Film Editing, despite having more jarring jump-cuts in it than a Transformers movie. I know more than a few passionate fans in the film community that will be visibly frustrated by this win. I’m personally taking a moment to just breathe, remembering that Lee Smith won for Dunkirk in the previous year despite that movie being more incomprehensible than Bohemian Rhapsody was. Clearly this award is not all that it’s cracked up to be. The Academy better be careful before they lose credibility with the film editing community.

Best Cinematography: Alfonso Cuaron won Best Cinematography for Roma. At this point, Cuaron is just taking Oscars like Meryl Streep in the acting categories. Don’t you dare give them any ideas for a collaboration.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: As expected, Vice won Best Makeup and Hairstyling. It certainly didn’t win for best acceptance speech, as artists Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe and Patricia Dehaney stumbled through their speeches more clumsily than Donald Trump has stumbled through his Presidency. This category was the only time I advocated for a winner being played off of the stage.

Best Costume Design: Ruth Carter won Best Costume Design for Black Panther, making her the first African-American to ever win the Award. Her costumes were among the best things to stand out in the movie, whether it was with the Dora Milaje’s exquisite battle armor or Black Panther and Killmonger’s vibranium suits. Big, big, big congratulations to her for her landmark win. It was among one of the most deserved awards from the night.

Best Production Design: YES. BLACK PANTHER WON BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN. I was worried for a while that The Favourite was going to snag it, but ultimately, the most deserving nominee won out. Congratulations to Hannah Beachler and Jay Hart for the win. They were very deserving in their world-building of Wakanda.

COURTESY: WARNER BROS. PICTURES

Best Original Song: Lady Gaga won Best Original Song for “Shallow” with A Star Is Born. How could she not after that incredible duet with Bradley Cooper? Their performance on-stage still sends shivers down my spine. What a moment.

Best Musical Score: Incredibly, Ludwig Goransson outdid the rest of the nominees with his incredible beats and cultural vibes to Black Panther. This marked a monumental occasion for the Academy Awards, as Goransson is not only the first composer to win for a superhero movie – he’s also only the second to be nominated, with the first being John Williams for 1978’s Superman.

In other words, Goransson outdid John-freakin’-Williams. I have nothing else to add to that. Congratulations to Goransson and Black Panther for their success. Hopefully their win paves the way for other future superhero movies with equally fantastic soundtracks.

Best Sound Editing: Bohemian Rhapsody won Best Sound Editing. Again, this award should have gone to A Quiet Place for its masterful use of sound and suspense in the motion picture. But it’s equally skillful to time Freddie Mercury’s voice over Rami Malek’s during the Live Aid concert recreation, I suppose.

Best Sound Mixing: Just like with Best Sound Editing, Bohemian Rhapsody also won Best Sound Mixing. 

Best Visual Effects: Unbelievable. Un-freaking-believable. After 10 years of being snubbed by the Oscars over and over and over and OVER again, the Academy just couldn’t give Avengers: Infinity War its fair due and decided to give it to the boring and uneventful Louis Armstrong biopic First Man instead. I wouldn’t be so frustrated by this snub if the competition was tight between Infinity War and First Man. But, I mean, come on… has the Academy voters even SEEN Infinity War?!?!

COURTESY: WALT DISNEY STUDIOS MOTION PICTURES

COURTESY: WALT DISNEY STUDIOS MOTION PICTURES

Whatever, I’m done. It’s clear at this point that a bunch of DC fans sits on the Academy voters board. That’s the only explanation I can give for DC’s Suicide Squad winning an Oscar whereas all 20 MCU movies have not won a single Oscar ONCE. At least now I know not to give my hopes up for when Avengers: Endgame comes out later this year.

Finally, the biggest surprise of the night: I’ve gotten all the short categories right this year. Bao won Best Animated Short, Period. End of Sentence. won Best Documentary Short and Skin won Best Live-Action Short. My predictions on those was all pure guesses. Clearly the Oscar statuette looked down favorably upon my ballot this year.

And that’s all for this year’s host-less Oscars, folks. Thank you for tuning in, and I’ll see you next year when a new host takes over. Hopefully they won’t drop out again at the last minute like this year’s did.

– David Dunn

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2018 Oscar Predictions

I have a long and complicated love-hate relationship with the Academy Awards. Every year, they never cease to surprise, satisfy, disappoint, and frustrate me all at the same time. Remember last year when Roger Deakins finally won his first Best Cinematography Oscar for Blade Runner 2049 after being nominated a whopping 14 times? What about the year before that where there was the infamous Best Picture winner mix-up between Moonlight and La La Land? And don’t even get me started on the year when Sylvester Stallone lost Best Supporting Actor for Creed to Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies for simply putting on a more sour face than Stallone did.

Year in and year out, the Oscars issue their regular round of wins and snubs every time they host the Academy Awards, which I’m fine with. These are competitive awards, after all, and winners and losers are to be expected in every category. But at the very, very least, could you at least attempt not to snub the most deserving winner? I get being split in a category where Incredibles 2 and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse are nominated side-by-side, but then what’s the excuse for Bradley Cooper not even having a Best Director nomination for A Star Is Born? What, you needed to save room for a guy named Yorgos Lanthimos? Give me a break.

For this year’s Oscars, I’m expecting two things. One: that this will be the first Academy Awards to be conducted without an Oscar host in three decades. That’s thanks to Kevin Hart dropping out from the job in December after some homophobic tweets resurfaced from the comedian’s past. I get the outrage and the criticism that Hart rightfully deserved for his lewd and inappropriate comments, but did he have to drop out from hosting over it? For God’s sake, Seth MacFarlane hosted the Oscars in 2013. Who gets more offensive than that guy?

Two: A Star Is Born is going to lose in mostly every category, which is especially frustrating given how emotional and provocative that film was. Sean Penn echoed my thoughts exactly when he penned an essay to Deadline saying that A Star Is Born “brings people together without saccharine, sugar, or salesmanship.” I just like that he used the word “saccharine” correctly in a sentence. Can we just hand hosting duties over to him? Clearly, his head is in the right place.

What else am I expecting from this year’s ceremony? Let’s hop into my predictions for the 91st Academy Awards and find out.

COURTESY: NETFLIX

Best Picture: Best Picture is usually the easiest category to predict ahead of the Oscars, mostly because the Academy’s tastes are generally geared towards biographies and historical pieces. But this year, the Academy seems to have gone in a completely different direction from its usual nominees. Black Panther, for instance, is the first superhero movie to have ever been nominated for Best Picture. A Star Is Born is also nominated, which is irregular because the last time the Academy nominated a reboot for Best Picture was with Mad Max: Fury Road in 2016. And Roma? Completely out of left field. The last time a Foreign-language film was nominated for Best Picture was in 2012 with Amour. In total, 10 Foreign-language films have been nominated for Best Picture throughout Oscar history, but none of them have ever won. Not once.

Normally, I would predict a movie like A Star Is Born would win Best Picture given its massive impact and popularity with audiences everywhere. But its competition is stacked very heavily against itself this year with the likes of The Favourite and Vice, and it isn’t expected to win a lot of other awards this year.

Then again though, Spotlight also won very few Oscars during the 88th Ceremony, yet it still walked away with the highly-coveted Best Picture award from the night. So who knows? Maybe this category has just become bonkers in general.

My next best guess would be Alfonso Cuaron’s passion project Roma, a heartfelt and sincere movie about a family’s relationship with the children’s home maiden. And yes, I understand that a Foreign-language film has never won Best Picture before in Oscar history. The same thing was also true for science-fiction movies until The Shape of Water won Best Picture last year. In times like these, it’s best to play unpredictable just like the Academy does. So to Roma with love, I say it will win. 

Best Director: Alfonso Cuarón won the DGA award for Roma, which means he will also win the Oscar for Best Director. This will be Cuaron’s second win for Best Director, his first being from the 2013 science-fiction thriller Gravity.

I prefer it go to Spike Lee for his phenomenal work on the brilliant satirical race drama BlacKkKlansman, but I understand it can be perceived as an inflammatory picture and it won’t sit well with some voting members. I just wish the Academy wouldn’t play it safe as often as they do. It’s outrageous enough that Lee’s 1989 film Do The Right Thing wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture or Director at the 62nd ceremony. To continue to disregard him after the fact is straight-up robbery.

Side note: Why on Earth is Pawel Pawlikowski nominated for Cold War? That selection is more random than Solo’s nomination in the visual effects category. More on that here in a bit.

Best Actor: The matchup here is between Christian Bale for Vice and Rami Malek for Bohemian Rhapsody. Who will win it? The Vice President or the rock star? Dick Cheney or Freddie Mercury? The esteemed four-time nominated Oscar winner or the first-time freshman nominee? The race is very tight in this category, but I’m marginally placing my chips on Malek. His performance as Freddie Mercury was absolutely mesmerizing, and he essentially resurrected the iconic Queen singer for one last “We Will Rock You” on stage. The Oscar could really go to either actor on awards night, but for myself personally, I’m placing my bets on the underdog. I’d recommend flipping a coin if you’re having trouble deciding in this category.

Honorable mention goes to Bradley Cooper for his heart-stirring performance in A Star Is Born, which I find superior to both Bale and Malek’s performances but behind in the Oscars race. Six out of the past eight best acting winners were all for biographical movies, and since Cooper is playing an original character rather than imitating a real-life historical figure, that sadly puts him behind the pack in the race for Best Actor. That’s a real shame because Cooper was arguably the best part of A Star Is Born and his work deserves to be recognized. Maybe one day he’ll win the Oscar, but it’s not likely that it will be in 2019.

Best Actress: Glenn Close for The Wife. Not only has she been nominated six times before and has never won once, but her performance in The Wife has been widely acclaimed and is mostly considered to be the pioneering force behind the picture. Mind you I haven’t seen the movie, so I can’t compare it to the likes of Lady Gaga’s performance in A Star Is Born or Yalitza Aparicio’s in Roma. However, in terms of both stature and seniority, Close is the safe choice. Place your bets on her for Oscar night.

Best Supporting Actor: The night’s first biggest snub comes in the Best Supporting Actor category, where Michael B. Jordan is unforgivably skipped over for his mesmerizing and intimidating presence as the Black Panther villain Killmonger. What happened to the Academy? Ever since they awarded Heath Ledger the Oscar as The Dark Knight’s Joker in 2008, they’ve suddenly gotten cold feet when it came to considering other supervillains for best acting awards. It isn’t like Michael B. Jordan is undeserving of the recognition. At the very least, I would hope you would consider him more over the likes of Adam Driver from BlacKkKlansman.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m still happy Black Panther got nominated in seven other categories. I just feel that Jordan’s nomination should have been its eighth.

Now then, predictions. Mahershala Ali won the Oscar two years ago for his role as a reluctant drug dealer in Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight. The momentum behind Green Book seems to be carrying him well through Awards season, as he’s already picked up both the Golden Globe and the Screen Actor. Sure, it’s possible that someone like Sam Elliott or Sam Rockwell could pick it up for A Star Is Born or Vice, but it isn’t very likely. For that reason, I would suggest going with Ali for Green Book

Best Supporting Actress: Regina King for If Beale Street Could Talk. It’s possible that Amy Adams could pull an upset for playing Lynne Cheney in Vice, but it isn’t very probable considering how much King has dominated awards season so far. It’ll be exciting to see which way the Academy leans on Oscar night, but at the very least, let’s agree that it’s outrageous that Emily Blunt isn’t nominated alongside her Oscar-nominated kin for her skillful work in A Quiet Place.  

COURTESY: SONY PICTURES

Best Animated Feature: As much as the Academy has snubbed superhero fanfare in its ceremonies many years prior, the one category where the Academy has always been kinder to superhero movies is for Best Animated Feature. The Incredibles was among the first Pixar movies to win Best Animated Feature in the 2000’s, while Disney’s Big Hero 6 also marked itself as the first Marvel movie to win an Oscar in a best feature category.

Of course, this doesn’t make Incredibles 2 or Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse the automatic winners for this year’s ceremony. It does, however, give them a slight edge over its competition. The question now is which one will take home the gold? As a big Spider-Man fan, I love Into the Spider-Verse and have a preference towards its win. Incredibles 2, meanwhile, came to the theaters about 10 years too late, so I’m equally bittersweet and sour over its nomination as well. This could be my own bias speaking here, but I think Into the Spider-Verse has a real shot at winning the Best Animated Feature Oscar this year. If Spidey does pull off the win, it will be the Web-head’s second Oscar statuette right after his win for Best Visual Effects in Spider-Man 2: and it will be very well-deserved.

Best Documentary Feature: Since the only thing that Hollywood loves more than Ruth Bader Ginsberg is Meryl Streep, it would be foolish to think that any other nominee could possibly beat out RBG for Best Documentary. I’m still frustrated that the phenomenal Mister Rogers tribute Won’t You Be My Neighbor? wasn’t even nominated in this category. Mister Rogers was a good neighbor to you, Academy voters. And you repaid him by slamming the door in his face.

You disgust me.

Best Foreign-Language Feature: Roma. In every year that the Oscars has nominated a Foreign-language movie for Best Picture, that nominee has always gone on to win in the Best Foreign-Language film category. It would be lunacy to believe that precedent could possibly change now.

Best Original Screenplay: While Green Book won the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay and is technically in the lead for this race, I don’t think it will win, especially when you consider the fact that the Oscars and the Golden Globes haven’t matched up in the writing categories for the past few years. Instead, I’m predicting that The Favourite will win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. It’s nominated for 10 Oscars, after all. To think that it will walk away empty-handed on Oscar night is just blissful ignorance.

Best Adapted Screenplay: BlacKkKlansman. It’s a sodding shame in and of itself that this is the first year that Spike Lee has even received a Best Director nomination. To rob him of his win for Best Adapted Screenplay now would just be plain cruelty.

Best Film Editing: Normally I’d vote for the action movie when it comes to Best Film Editing, especially since the past three winners have all been for action movies (see Dunkirk, Hacksaw Ridge, and Mad Max: Fury Road). This year, however, there is an issue with that approach: there isn’t an action movie nominated. I guess you could argue that BlacKkKlansman has action in it, but the film is more of a dramatic political thriller than it is a blockbuster. I wouldn’t stake my chips on it.

Now Hank Corwin, on the other hand, is a master at jump cuts and quick cutaways, and his technique is evident in both of his nominated films The Big Short and Vice. This category is a toss-up just like so many others this year, but if I had to select the most reliable choice, I would choose Vice. Don’t be surprised if I get this category wrong this year, however.

Best Cinematography: Roma. Alfonso Cuaron’s cinematography was masterful on this project, whether it was with the gorgeous and captivating wide shots of Mexican scenery, or the intimate and personal close-ups of a family’s small life in their home.

Matthew Libatique deserves an honorable mention for his affectionate work on Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born, but the win is more or less locked in this category. If Roma deserves to win any Oscar this night, it would be for cinematography.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Vice. Transforming Christian Bale from the skinny Welsh that he is into one of the most controversial political figures of our time was no small feat to accomplish. I didn’t even recognize Bale the first time I saw him on the big screen as Dick Cheney. That immersion is too impressive to ignore and should not go unnoticed by Academy voters (although to be fair, Bale gaining 40 pounds for the role didn’t hurt the makeup artists chances much either).

Best Costume Design: Normally the period piece would be the shoo-in for this category, which in this case would make The Favourite the, uh, favorite to win. However, the Academy has recently backpedaled from period pieces at their ceremonies. Mad Max: Fury Road surprised everybody and won Best Costume Design in 2016, while the Harry Potter spinoff Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them won the year after. I didn’t think it was possible, but it seems the Academy is getting period piece fatigue. No category is more evident in this than it is in costume design.

With that context in mind, Black Panther seems to at the most significant advantage to winning Best Costume Design this year. It’s true that Sandy Powell is nominated twice here for The Favourite and Mary Poppins Returns. However, she was also nominated twice in 2016 and still lost to Jenny Beavan for Mad Max. Meanwhile, Ruth Carter incorporated African and Japanese cultures into her outfits for Black Panther, giving them a blended feeling of both tribalism and capability.

If Carter does win, not only will she be the first African-American to win Best Costume Design at the Oscars – she will also be the first African-American nominee. Either way, she has made significant strides in this year’s ceremony.

Best Production Design: Black Panther. If anything else wins, then Thanos didn’t wipe out enough of the universe in Infinity War. 

COURTESY: WARNER BROS. PICTURES

Best Original Song: As much as I love Kendrick Lamar’s lead single “All the Stars” from Black Panther, it is neither the strongest nominated song or the most relevant to the picture it’s nominated for. A Star Is Born’s “Shallow,” on the other hand, is both a powerhouse country ballad and an incredibly emotional tribute to the relationship of the film’s two stars. Lady Gaga was wrongfully snubbed several years ago when her sexual assault anthem “Til It Happens To You” lost to the mopey James Bond single “Writing’s On The Wall.” Her win for “Shallow” this year will be well-deserved and will make up for that indescribable snub. 

Best Musical Score: This is one of the more robust categories to predict this year because unlike previous years where the apparent winner stood out from the rest of the crowd, most of these nominees just kind of blend together. My favorite of those nominated is Ludwig Goransson for his tribalistic, Conga-like vibe for Black Panther, but I’m not foolish enough to believe he can win. After all, he’s only the second composer to be nominated for a superhero movie in over 40 years. The first to be nominated was John Williams for his iconic Superman theme in 1978, and even then he lost to Giorgio Moroder for Midnight Express. If John Williams couldn’t win the Oscar for a superhero movie, what do you think Ludwig Goransson’s chances are? Zilch.

Then there’s Alexandre Desplat for Isle of Dogs and Marc Shaiman for Mary Poppins Returns. Desplat and Shaiman have been nominated for a combined 17 times, and Desplat has already won twice for The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Shape of Water. I don’t think either of these veterans is going to win the Oscar this year.

That whittles it down to Terence Blanchard for BlacKkKlansman and Nicholas Britell for If Beale Street Could Talk. This is Blanchard’s first nomination despite his career being as long as Spike Lee’s filmography, while this is Britell’s second nomination after scoring the 2016 Best Picture winner Moonlight. This race is essentially a toss-up, but my money is on If Beale Street Could Talk. It’s sweet, soft violin melodies capture both the beauty and the tragedy of the story it’s telling. If it’s nothing else, its musical score is tender and sentimental. Moving melodies like it are sure to swoon Academy voters’ hearts.

Best Sound Editing: Ideally, the number of Oscars that First Man wins would be zero. Unfortunately, for however boring and placid the rest of the movie is, its sound editing is admittedly very well done and immerses you into Neil Armstrong’s plight more than anything else in the movie does. While I would prefer this award go to the mesmerizing and ingenious A Quiet Place, I think First Man is more poised to win Best Sound Editing. At least they got the sound effects right in the movie.

Best Sound Mixing: A Star Is Born. There’s no educated reason why I think it will win over the other nominees. I just love the movie.

Best Visual Effects: First thing’s first – why the blast is Solo: A Star Wars Story nominated here? That movie looked uglier than a squashed Ewok between Chewbacca’s armpits. I’ve made it no secret that I detest that movie with every fiber of my being, but the sheer fact that it got nominated over the likes of Aquaman, Mary Poppins Returns or Deadpool 2 is just baffling to me. Apparently if you’re a Star Wars movie, you’re in the clear for a visual effects nominations at the Oscars – even if you’re a BAD Star Wars movie.

Moving on to the real contenders. For several years now, Marvel has been continuously snubbed by the Academy over and over again in the visual effects category. The Avengers losing to Life of Pi in 2013. Doctor Strange losing to The Jungle Book in 2017. Don’t even get me started on the fact that Captain America: Civil War wasn’t even nominated altogether.

Time and time again, Marvel has been robbed of the visual effects recognition that they’ve so clearly deserved in the many years before. 2019 will be its year of recompense. Avengers: Infinity War is arguably the most visually dynamic of any MCU movie produced so far. From the luscious scenery to the brilliant rendering of Thanos’ gargantuan body, every attention is paid to detail with love and affection. I may be setting myself up for disappointment here, but I believe Infinity War has a real shot at winning the VFX Oscar this year – especially when its competition is Neil Armstrong, a video game, and a silly old bear from the Hundred Acre Wood. Fingers crossed on this one.

And as always, we now move on to the detestable short categories – the nominees which almost nobody has seen, but are regardless expected to predict anyway. I already saw Bao in theater when I went to go see Incredibles 2, so I’m picking that one for Best Animated Short solely out of familiarity. I have no idea what I’m doing for the other two categories, however, so I’m just going to throw out my decision based on the two most interesting titles: Period. End of Sentence. for Best Documentary Short and Skin for Best Live Action Short. Good luck to everyone else predicting these categories, along with everything else on Oscar night.

– David Dunn

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Ben Affleck Out As Batman

As the DC Extended Universe continues to dissolve into disarray, Ben Affleck confirmed that he would no longer be donning the cowl of the caped crusader.

The news came Wednesday afternoon when Deadline broke the story about Warner Bros.’ upcoming The Batman spinoff, which is going to be written and directed by War of the Planet of the Apes director Matt Reeves. Reeves joined the production in Feb. 2017 after Affleck previously abandoned the project as its former writer and director, and for a long time, it was rumored Affleck was considering leaving the role altogether.

Now Affleck has confirmed it over Twitter: he will not be Batman for the upcoming third reboot of the superhero.

“Excited to see ‘The Batman’ in summer 2021 and to see [Matt Reeves’] vision come to life,” Affleck tweeted along with a link to the Deadline story.

It remains to be seen whether the decision to leave the Batman role was Affleck’s or Warner Bros.’. The actor and the studio reportedly had several creative differences over the project when Affleck first took over as director in 2017, and since then Affleck has seemed increasingly disinterested in the role and the baggage that came with it (hey, look at DC fans’ reactions whenever Affleck was first cast as Batman. You’ll see what I’m talking about).

It’s also unclear whether Affleck is permanently vacating the role or is simply taking a break from it. Reeves’ version of The Batman is reportedly focusing on a younger version of Batman during the earlier days of his career, and one of his inspirations on the project is even Frank Miller’s “Batman: Year One.” At 46 years old, it would be very difficult to take Affleck’s features and make him look more like his 20’s, even with the strides we’ve made in de-aging special effects over the past several years.

Either way, I think Affleck stepping away from this role was a good move, both for himself and Warner Bros. It’s very clear that Affleck was getting drained from all of the superhero hype that comes with fandom culture, and it was evident enough in his run-of-the-mill performances in DC’s Suicide Squad and Justice League that the job was taking a toll on him. Taking a break from the role might give him the reinvigoration he needs to come back and do it even better in a future installment, or even walking away from it altogether will force Affleck and Warner Bros. to work on bigger, better things for themselves.

Either way, DC is in the market for its sixth Batman. I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to get tired of these reboots.

What do you guys think? Are you excited to see a new Batman in 2021, or do you think it was too soon for Batfleck to hang up his cape? Comment below, let me know.

– David Dunn

SOURCE: Deadline, Heroic Hollywood

All The Oscars Are Closer

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Finally. After several years of senseless snuffing, snubbing, and robbing of several deserving nominees, the Academy is finally starting to listen to its audiences.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released their nominees for the 91st Academy Awards Tuesday morning with the help of comedians Kumail Nanjiani and Tracee Ellis Ross. In previous years, I’ve had an undying cynicism towards the Academy and their pretentious grandstanding, with their nominations being so under-the-radar that it wasn’t even worth having a radar. This year, however, I find myself pleasantly surprised with the Academy not just for nominating more mainstream movies, but for also reaching outside of the box with genres that they usually don’t recognize during awards season.

Don’t get me wrong; the Academy is still very much focused on the Indie side of cinema. Its two Best Picture frontrunners, for instance, are also the ceremony’s least recognizable – The Favourite and Roma, both of which have 10 nominations apiece. The Favorite is an English drama about two cousins aiming to be the court favorite to Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman), while Roma is a Spanish drama about a housekeeper’s relationship to the children of a middle-class family. Not only are both of these movies the least underscored out of the Best Picture nominees – they are also the least seen. The Favourite has grossed a little over $43 million at the box office, while Roma has grossed slightly over $3 million (although to be fair to Roma, it is difficult to know its exact totals given Netflix hasn’t publicly released its viewership figures). Either way, The Favourite and Roma are the underdogs in their fight towards Best Picture. If they beat all the odds and somehow end up winning the night’s most coveted award, viewers’ first question is very likely to be “What movie?”

But unlike previous years where the Academy just waterboards the audience with obscure movies nobody has ever heard of, the Academy has actually made significant strides in nominating more mainstream pictures this time around. For instance, the runner-up for Best Picture is Bradley Cooper’s remake for A Star Is Born, which is essentially a live-action Lady Gaga concert that is well worth the price of admission. A Star Is Born has eight nominations and deserves every single one of them, though how many Oscars it will win on awards night remains to be seen.

Also nominated for eight Oscars is the political nail-biter Vice, which is basically an ego trip for either Christian Bale or Dick Cheney depending on whether you ask a Republican or a Democrat. I’m just sitting here wondering when Bale will be cast as Donald Trump for the inevitable biopic that will eventually be done about him.

The biggest surprise to come out of this year’s Best Picture nominees is Black Panther, which is nominated for seven Oscars in this year’s ceremony. Not only is it the first Marvel movie to ever be nominated for Best Picture, but it is also the first superhero movie to ever be nominated for Best Picture, period. It’s great to see Black Panther get the much-needed recognition that it so desperately deserves, though you have to wonder where the heck the Academy was when they were sleeping on the likes of Spider-Man 2, The Dark Knight or Captain America: Civil War? To say it was long overdue to put superhero movies in the running with other high-profile Oscar frontrunners is a substantial understatement.

Also nominated is the in-cheek satirical comedy-crime-drama BlacKkKlansman, which tells the true story of a black police detective successfully infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970’s. You might be frustrated to hear that despite writer-director Spike Lee’s long and successful career, this is only his first nominations for both Best Picture and Director. He was famously snubbed several years ago when his masterpiece Do the Right Thing was robbed of a nomination in virtually every category in the 1989 ceremony. The Academy did the right thing this year by giving BlacKkKlansman six nominations, including three for Lee himself for directing, writing, and producing.

Finally, the last two Best Picture nominees are both biopics about real-life musicians – Bohemian Rhapsody for Queen singer Freddie Mercury and Green Book for jazz pianist Don Shirley. Both are widely controversial movies that got several details wrong from both of their respective true stories. So obviously that makes them both deserving of their five nominations, including in the Best Acting categories.

This year’s ceremony didn’t get away completely unscathed from its usual snubs. A Quiet Place, for instance, got only one nomination for Best Sound Editing, even though you could have nominated it in just about every technical category and it would have been no less deserving. The sci-fi action-thriller Upgrade, the spy sequel Mission Impossible: Fallout, and the surprisingly endearing Crazy Rich Asians all got away with a collective zero nominations. And perhaps the most maddening, the compassionate Mister Rogers’ documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? wasn’t nominated for Best Documentary, with its snub matched only by the absence of Roger Ebert’s documentary Life Itself in 2015.

But overall, I feel better about this year’s nominations than I do in previous years. It shows that the Academy is trying to diversify its tastes when it comes to the nominations process, and they’re at least trying to reach out to other genres they usually don’t consider for their bigger awards. At the very least, let’s be grateful that this year isn’t a repeat of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy.

Now if only they could find someone to host the Oscars. I heard Jimmy Kimmel was free this year.

– David Dunn

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Top 10 Films of 2018

If I had to sum up 2018 in one word, it would be “surprising.”

Oh yes, 2018 was very much a surprise. How else would you describe the year? From the growing threat of climate change to the escalating mass shootings to the ongoing debate over the treatment of immigrants, many of the issues that plagued previous years seemed to carry over well into 2018. The death of notable icons such as Burt Reynolds and Stan Lee really seemed to pour salt on the wound on an otherwise bittersweet year.

But 2018 wasn’t all bad. In fact, I would argue that it’s a definite step up from the previous two years. For one thing, more women and people of color were elected into Congress than any year prior, making 2018 one of the most diverse House of Representatives ever. Guillermo Del Toro finally won an Academy Award for directing The Shape of Water, making him the third Mexican-American to win the Oscar for Best Director. And this year saw significant diversity breakthroughs in film as well, with Black Panther and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse sweeping at the box office, Love, Simon bringing enlightenment to the life of gay youth, and Crazy Rich Asians bringing some much-needed Asian exposure to a heavily whitewashed Hollywood.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that while 2018 was bad, it had some bright spots in it that gave me hope for the future. I hope progress continues in the years to come and we learn to look past the differences that divide us as a people.

Either way, the end of 2018 calls for a recap – and I’m actually excited to look back at my Top 10 Films of the year for a change.

A few things to go over before we hop into my Top 10. As a general disclaimer, only movies I have seen this year are eligible for consideration on my Top 10 list. Contrary to popular belief, I have not seen every film that was released this year, and it is very possible that I have missed one or two movies that may deserve to be on this list. For instance, I have heard nothing but praise for Alfonso Cuaron’s Spanish family drama Roma, and it even made Del Toro’s top five movies of all time. But since it was a limited release, I have not had the opportunity to watch Roma yet (and from the looks of it, many others haven’t as well considering that it’s grossed less than $2 million). For that reason, Roma and many others will not be on this list solely because I have not seen them.

Also keep in mind that this is not the end-all, be-all best movies of the year. This is my personal Top 10 favorite movies of the year. Because of this, many popular titles from the year won’t be on this list, and indeed many releases will be on this list that you will probably disagree with. For instance, Avengers: Infinity War was the highest-grossing movie of the year at $2 billion, a world-breaking record for cinema and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While I enjoyed Infinity War and gave it praise for reaching into bold new directions for the superhero genre, I felt the ending made it way too obvious that the movie’s repercussions are not permanent and will be undone by the time Avengers: Endgame rolls around later this year. But if you’re bothered by that exclusion, don’t worry – two other Marvel movies came out this year that I enjoyed more than Infinity War, and they’re both at the top of my list.

Either way, 2018 is over, and there’s a lot to go through before the new year. Let’s hop into my Top 10 films of the year, starting with…

10. Crazy Rich Asians

SOURCE: Warner Bros. PicturesA heartfelt and hilarious look into Asian culture that gives some desperately needed representation in the movie industry. When Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) gets invited by her boyfriend Nick (Henry Golding) to travel to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding, she quickly learns how affluent his family is and how high of expectations they have for her and Nick’s relationship. Now caught up in the whirlwind of family drama, Rachel needs to prove her worth to Nick’s family – a bunch of Crazy Rich Asians. The cast in this movie is exceptional, with Michelle Yeoh being straight-up chilling as Nick’s mother while hip-hop artist Awkwafina is responsible for a barrel of much-needed laughs to break up the drama. But the heart of this story lies with the intrigue and sensationalism of Chinese culture, and director Jon Chu knocks it out of the park with the style and pizzaz of Singapore while also demonstrating the high-strung personalities that can come with an insanely wealthy lifestyle. Yeah, the notes are a little too similar to the rest of the rom-com genre, but the chemistry of its leads is so infectious that its familiarities are easily forgivable. I added Singapore to my “travel destinations” list after watching this movie. Three and a half stars.

9. Bohemian Rhapsody

SOURCE: 20TH CENTURY FOXA dramatic powerhouse experience that doesn’t fail to rock you in theaters. Following the early days of singer Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) before he joined the British rock band Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody follows the highs and lows of Mercury’s career, from the release of Queen’s first album all the way to their iconic performance at 1985’s Live Aid benefit. For a movie that has had several production problems (including the absence and firing of its director Bryan Singer), not only does Bohemian Rhapsody persevere through its troubles; it actually makes it out as one of the most enthralling and enthusiastic pictures of the year. Director Dexter Fletcher brings a contagious and passionate vibrancy behind Bohemian Rhapsody, with each chapter in Queen’s story ratcheting up the energy and the excitement. Rami Malek is absolutely stunning in his portrayal as Freddie Mercury, with his smallest quirks mimicking Mercury so well that you couldn’t tell the difference between them if you had them side-by-side. A handful of historical inaccuracies hold this picture back from its full potential, but aside from its deviations from the real story, Bohemian Rhapsody embodies everything that is Queen – and Freddie Mercury. Three and a half stars.

8. A Quiet Place

SOURCE: Paramount Pictures

A masterful and creative exercise in horror cinema. John Krasinski directs and stars in this original take on the thriller genre where aliens have taken over the Earth and track their prey through the use of sound. Now on the run with his family, one father has to protect everything he loves and find a way to fend off these monsters for good. The sound editing and engineering are immaculate and detailed, with the smallest noises and most precise sounds subtly lending towards the film’s subversion. The cast is brilliant in its small scale, with one performance in particular by deaf child actress Millicent Simmonds being incredibly personal and vulnerable. Krasinski is equally outstanding in his directing debut as well, pulling the most significant reactions out of you from the most minuscule implications. An expert example of subverting the genre and proving that things don’t have to be constantly blowing up to be exciting. Three and a half stars.

7. Upgrade

SOURCE: Universal Pictures

A high-octane cyberpunk action-thriller that’s surprisingly relevant to the modern world. After witnessing his wife’s murder at the hands of four cybernetically-enhanced gangsters, Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) is left crippled and paralyzed from the neck down. But when his spine bonds to an AI chip called STEM (Simon Maiden), not only are his motor functions restored, but he also regains several new abilities, such as super speed and strength. Now fully bonded to STEM, Trace is ready to track down the men who killed his wife and make them pay for what they did. This movie is one part “Twilight Zone” episode, and another part Death Wish revenge tale, with its twists and turns so dizzying that it makes your head spin. Logan Marshall-Green is a powerhouse in the lead, and he does a great job controlling both the exasperated expressions of Trace and the automated, robotic responses of STEM. And the action is so fast-paced, bloody, and stylish that it outdoes many of the big-budget box office releases this year. A unique spin on the sci-fi and action genres that future franchises should take notes from. Four stars.

6. Christopher Robin

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

A beautifully poignant movie that flips through Christopher Robin’s life like the pages in a children’s book. After growing up and experiencing the harsh realities that life has to offer, Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) reunites with Winnie the Pooh (Jim Cummings) and the rest of his friends from the Hundred Acre Wood to learn that even though you grow old, you never have to stop being young at heart. Marc Forster directs this sweet childhood drama and brings the Hundred Acre Wood to life through the buoyancy and personality of its characters. The stuffed animals are realized through stunning computer animation that made them look so believable that they felt like a kid was playing with them in their bedroom. It’s a joy to have Jim Cummings reprise his role as Pooh Bear and Tigger, and their bumbling personalities meld well with McGregor’s stark seriousness. A magical movie that finds happiness in simple, everyday things; as if the things that bring us the most joy are not extraordinary, but rather quite ordinary albeit special to ourselves. Four stars.

5. Mission Impossible: Fallout

CREIDT: Paramount Pictures

Not only is this sixth installment superior to the original – it’s also the best entry in its franchise. Mission Impossible: Fallout follows Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) on the pursuit of an evil organization called “The Apostles,” trying to stop them from stealing plutonium and starting a nuclear war (what else would Ethan be doing?). While the plot is relatively straightforward and similar to its predecessors, the stunts and spectacles are pulled off with a conviction that makes them feel urgent and enthralling. From the opening firefight to the last spectacular struggle on a cliff edge, Fallout is a movie that racks up the tension with every passing minute: like a time bomb clicking downward. Tom Cruise himself seems incapable of slowing down for even a second in both the movies and real life, and the stunts he pulls off are so insane that you wonder how he has the motivation to keep eclipsing his last feat film after film? Fallout is the sixth movie in the Mission Impossible franchise, but it’s so hot-blooded and exciting that it feels like it’s the first in a breakthrough. Four stars.

4. A Star Is Born

SOURCE: WARNER BROS. PICTURES

An emotional musical drama that doesn’t sanitize or exaggerate the celebrity experience, but is merely honest and upfront about it. In this fourth remake to a long line of predecessors, A Star Is Born features Lady Gaga as Ally, an up-and-coming singer who works as a waitress simply to make ends meet. After a fateful encounter with a famous country artist named Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper), Ally learns to break out of her comfort zone and become the star she was always destined to be. Lady Gaga is absolutely breathtaking in her starring performance as Ally, spellbinding in her singing and incredibly affectionate in her acting. Her co-star and director Bradley Cooper is just as impeccable, not only portraying Jackson with passion and penance, but also guiding Gaga through the emotional range she needs in order to make her arc feel believable. And the music is completely sensational, immersing you like you just woke up right in the middle of a concert experience. An incredibly deep and profound movie that shows that these celebrities are not larger-than-life egomaniacs: they’re people, and their problems are just as real as yours and mine are. Four stars.

3. BlacKkKlansman

SOURCE: Focus Features

A story so absurd and outlandish that it could only be true. In the 1970’s, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is the first African-American police detective to join the Colorado Springs Police Department. When he finds a recruitment ad in the newspaper for the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, he calls the phone number and successfully poses as a white man who claims to hate blacks, Jews, Mexicans, and Asians. Now having successfully infiltrated the group, Stallworth is on a mission to expose the Klan for the evil, hateful organization that they are. Spike Lee returns to form in this picture that is one part biographical drama and another part in-cheek social commentary. Stallworth’s real-life story is translated to the screen in impressionable detail here, never failing to be politically challenging and even darkly humorous. The cast is equally exceptional, with Topher Grace giving a stunning portrayal of former Grand Wizard David Duke. In a time where racism and white supremacy continue to be normalized day after day, BlacKkKlansman could not be made in a more relevant age. Four stars.

2. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

SOURCE: Sony Pictures

Not only is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse one of the stronger Spider-Man films out there – it is also one of the best Marvel films to date and one of the best films of the year, period. In Into the Spider-Verse, Miles Morales’ (Shameik Moore) dimension is splintered into five separate realities, dropping Peter Parker (Jake Johnson), Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) and Spider-Ham (John Mulaney) into his dimension. Now he has to help get them home before all of their realities are lost forever. The animation is breathtakingly gorgeous, with the style mimicking the old-pop-art design of 1990’s comic books. The voice talent is impeccable, with Moore in particular outshining everyone as Miles Morales. And the screenplay is arguably the film’s strongest asset, bringing a maturity and poignancy to Miles’ story that you wouldn’t expect in a movie like this. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is one of those movies that very well could have been live-action, but the style and aesthetic of its animation is so beautiful that I wouldn’t have it made any other way. Four stars.

1. Black Panther

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Black Panther represents a watershed moment for African-American superheroes and Hollywood: a chance to really redefine what an action hero means to people and how they’re represented in mass media. In this follow-up to Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) becomes the King of Wakanda, a hidden African nation housing the Earth’s largest deposit of a rare metal called Vibranium. From there, he is called to defend his home from the likes of several villains, including the vicious Jabari chieftain M’Baku (Winston Duke), the conniving weapons smuggler Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) and the ruthless assassin Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan).

Writer-director Ryan Coogler creates a technically immaculate world in Wakanda, a highly-advanced society that feels removed from the rest of the world but also possesses its own breath and heartbeat in the same sentence. The costumes and makeup mimic the feel and tribalism of the ancient Congo tribes, while the production design evokes an Afro-futuristic setting that feels like its evolved years beyond any Western civilization. But the most profound thing about Black Panther is its themes of institutional racism and prejudice. In making its point humbly, it allows the message to be seen at its most transparently, while simultaneously not distracting from all of the superhero spectacle going on.

Black Panther is a surprising masterpiece. It’s a stylish action movie, an important social commentary, and a theatrical character drama that hits all of the right notes that it needs to all at once. It seems destined to become the most significant superhero movie from a long line of predecessors – and rightfully so. Four stars.


And lastly, this year’s special prize. Every year, I recognize one limited release film that did not get as much attention as many wide releases did, yet achieved more thematically despite their smaller viewership. This year, I felt the special prize deserved to go to a movie that people needed to see most. A movie that would change their outlook on life. A movie that would make you put a smile on your face, stick out your hand, and ask someone close to you…

Special Prize: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

SOURCE: Focus Features

In a year full of spite, division, hatred, animosity, and cruelty, we desperately needed to be reminded that there is still good in humanity that just wants the best for the next generation. Enter Mister Rogers’ Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, a fun, sweet, and heartwarming movie that welcomes its viewers with open arms and a big hug. Fred Rogers’ life story is represented faithfully here, as is his love for children, their parents, America, the world, people, and the body of Christ. The psychology and motivations for Mister Rogers is explored into incredible detail here, and you understand why Mister Rogers wanted so badly to reach as many families as possible through his iconic television show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” In an age where everyone has every reason to hate one another, Mister Rogers offers an alternative – tolerance and love. It’s a message we need to hear and understand more often, and I’m glad Mister Rogers was here to teach it to us. Four stars.

And that concludes this year’s Top 10 list for me, folks. I hope you had a great New Year, and 2019 brings you even more blessings that 2018 did.

– David Dunn

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A Marvelous Legend

CREATIVE COMMONS

Stan Lee was always recognized as the guy who wrote Spider-Man. Not the Fantastic Four. Not the Hulk. Not the X-Men, or Iron Man, or Doctor Strange, Black Panther, or the Avengers. “Nope,” he wrote in a foreword to one of his books. “It’s always ‘Aren’t you the one who wrote Spider-Man?’”

Stan had a theory for why he was recognized for Spider-Man more than any of his other heroes: it was because of his humanity. “He never has enough money,” Stan continued. “He’s constantly beset by personal problems, and the world doesn’t exactly applaud his deeds. In fact, most people tend to suspect and distrust him.”

“In short, he’s a lot like you and me.”

I don’t disagree with him. Long before I became absorbed into the world of Marvel, superheroes, villains, and amazing fantasies, I was just a kid on my elementary school playground, my daydreams limited only to the far reaches of my imagination. It was on that playground where I saw other kids going bam, pow, and ka-blooey with their colorful action figures, one of them wearing red and blue spandex covered in webbing and a spider symbol. I pointed to the figure, and I asked them “Who’s that?” The kids all laughed in unison. “That’s Spider-Man, dummy,” one of them piped to me. “You’ve never heard of him?”

I didn’t know about him then, but as the years passed I learned much more about him and became completely enamored by his story. I read the original comic where he made his debut appearance in 1962’s “Amazing Fantasy #15” and became heartbroken by the loss of his Uncle Ben, but touched when he realized his mistakes and promised to set out and be better. I felt excitement as I watched him battle incredible enemies such as the energetic Electro, the multi-metal-limbed Doctor Octopus, the ghastly Mysterio, the brutish Venom, and of course the menacing Green Goblin. I was crushed when I not only saw the love of his life, Gwen Stacy, killed on the fateful Brooklyn Bridge but killed by his own webbing no less when he tried to save her but accidentally snapped her neck. And I felt resolution years later when he found new love in the breathtaking Mary Jane Watson and had moved on to start a family with her.

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Spider-Man was my introduction to the Marvel universe, but when I learned how big and expansive it truly was, I was nearly overwhelmed. I quickly became absorbed by all of Stan Lee’s stories and learned about the many subjects that he touched upon. I read the Incredible Hulk and learned how dangerous it was to inhibit your emotions. I read about Daredevil and learned that your disability doesn’t define you, and in some ways, it can embolden you. I read about Doctor Strange and learned that when you lose one gift, sometimes it opens up a path to receive another. I read the X-Men and learned that our differences are nothing to be ashamed or afraid of. In many ways, it is our very strength and represents the best humanity has to offer.

Stan Lee’s superheroes and stories have touched many lives – my own included. It becomes nearly impossible not to become enamored by his stories, or the person who created them.

But the truth was Stan was not a superhero. Far from it. Throughout his life, there was much argument over how much of a hand he really had in his characters and for sometimes hogging the spotlight from his fellow co-creators. Comic book legend Jack Kirby, who co-created the Fantastic Four and the X-Men alongside Lee, even went so far as to claim that he’s “never seen Stan write anything.” And artist Steve Ditko arguably had just as much a hand in creating Spider-Man as much as Lee did. Yet, you might be surprised to find out that he also died earlier this year to a significantly lesser tribute.

And then there are the even further complications of his last years on Earth. In July 2017, Stan lost his wife Joan died due to stroke complications. In April earlier this year, The Hollywood Reporter published an expose on Lee suffering from elder abuse from several associates looking to gain control over his assets, including one Keya Morgan whom he filed a restraining order against in August. Later, The Daily Mail published a story claiming that Lee repeatedly sexually harassed the nurses that came to take care of him by asking them to join him in the shower, walking around naked, and requesting sexual favors. Then, just as quickly as the story broke, it faded from memory. I have no idea whether those rumors are true or not. I pray they are not.

I say all this not to tarnish his legacy, but to be honest about it. Stan was a comic-book visionary, a passionate storyteller and a gargantuan pop-culture icon. He will no doubt be among history’s greatest creators, not unlike Walt Disney with animation or Alfred Hitchcock with the movies. And like these men, he had a complicated legacy with his success – one that should not be ignored or skipped over. How people react to that context is up to them. All I can do is speak for myself, and I know for a fact that Stan Lee’s characters and stories have had a profound impact on my life and the person that I have become – regardless of the confused, flawed human being who is behind them.

I will say this: regardless of what you may feel of Stan Lee or his history, I hope you remember and appreciate his many contributions to the entertainment industry. His stories have been compelling, thought-provoking, and relevant to the real world. His characters have been memorable, dazzling, and relatable. And the impact he’s left on the comic-book and movie scene has been mighty, uncanny, incredible, spectacular, fantastic, even amazing.

Stan Lee has passed, but his heroes live on. They will always live on. I cried this weekend while revisiting Spider-Man 2, realizing that the most profound thing about Peter Parker wasn’t his spider powers, his wall-crawling, web-slinging, or his Spider-sense. It was the fact that he was a person, and despite his personal troubles and issues, he was always trying to do the right thing for everybody – despite not knowing them or what they go through themselves.

I hope as time passes, people will remember that sentiment. That with many gifts comes much giving. That with our many talents comes the duty of sharing it with others. And yes, the lesson that has stuck with me all these years and will carry me for many more – with great power comes great responsibility.

Thank you, Stan. For everything.

Excelsior,

– David Dunn

1922-2018

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“SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE” (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Sony Pictures

Spider-People of all colors, shapes and sizes.

Anyone can be Spider-Man under the mask. In Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, not only does it feature the first big-screen incarnation of an Afro-Latino Spider-Man: it also features a middle-aged Spider-Man, a Spider-Woman, a Japanese Spider-Girl, Spider-Nicolas Cage, and even a Spider-Pig. PETA had to appreciate the representation on that last one, although I’m not sure how they felt watching the Spider-Pig eating a hot dog.

Like the rest of the Spider-Man movies, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse features Peter Parker (Chris Pine) in the titular role. Unlike the previous movies, however, Parker is not the main star here – and he isn’t the only Spider-Man. In Into The Spider-Verse, Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is bitten by a radioactive spider and gets spider-powers all his own. While looking for the original Spider-Man to help him get acquainted with his newfound abilities, Miles stumbles upon the witty wall-crawler fighting the Green Goblin (Jorma Taccone) and the Kingpin (Liev Schreiber). In the middle of their fight, the Kingpin’s particle accelerator – a machine that can access alternate dimensions – goes off, killing Peter and splintering five different Spider-Person’s realities into Miles’ dimension.

There’s an older, chubbier Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) who is going through a mid-life crisis, there’s the rebellious rock star drummer Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld), a private-eye detective from 1930’s New York (Nicolas Cage), a Japanese school girl with her own robotic Spider-suit (Kimiko Glenn), and a spider who was bitten by a radioactive pig to become Spider-Ham (John Mulaney). All of these Spider-People must help Miles realize his true potential to become the Spider-Man that he needs to be. Because if they can’t help him, he can’t get them home – and then all of their realities will be lost forever.

One of the immediate things you notice about this movie is its animation style. I’ll admit I was hesitant when I first heard about this project. Superheroes are not known for being very prominent in the animation genre outside of The Incredibles or Big Hero 6. In the case of a blockbuster name as big as Spider-Man, who has found massive live-action success with the likes of Spider-Man 2 and Homecoming, an animated movie felt like it was short-changing the character’s potential. It would be like hearing Warner Bros. announce that the Justice League sequel was going to be animated. You would, very reasonably, wonder A) Why this is happening, and B) How does this do the characters justice?

Any doubt over Into the Spider-Verse, however, was immediately dashed when I saw the first few frames of this gorgeous animated superhero epic. One of the first things you recognize about this movie is how it mimics the old pop-art design of 1990’s comic books. The entire film feels and breathes of comic book euphoria, with the cell-shaded colors popping out of the screen as if it was from a comic book panel, character monologues appearing in caption boxes above their heads, and actions flashing in those “BAM!”, “SMACK!”, and “POW!” bubbles harkening back to Adam West’s days as Batman. I was surprised to find that in the movie’s more exciting moments, the action was so quick-paced and enthralling that I felt like I was watching one of the live-action Spider-Man movies. But even in the slower moments, the art was eye-catching, colorful, and beautiful to look at. This is one of the few movies where the animation not only works well for this type of story: it actually benefits it even more so than if it were in live-action.

And the voice talent here is simply incredible. Johnson and Cage are reliable in the two main versions of Peter Parker (no surprise there). I personally found myself more impressed by the younger names involved with this production. Steinfeld, who has been picking up speed lately in big projects including Bumblebee, Pitch Perfect 3, and The Edge of Seventeen, really puts her own spin on Spider-Woman, playing equal parts sassy, spunky, yet affectionate in cinema’s first female Spider-Man. John Mulaney was pitch-perfect casting for Spider-Ham, and he gave the movie some much-needed comedy without ever feeling corny or ham-fisted (snort). And Moore outshines everybody as Miles Morales, a kid who is growing into his own but doesn’t know how to stand out from a long line of spectacular Spider-People. His story of not fitting in and trying to find his place in this already packed world is one every kid can relate to – especially in a genre as overstuffed and overpacked as the superhero genre.

All of this is to say that the beautiful animation, the spectacular fight sequences, and the voice acting would have all gone to waste if the story was lacking. Luckily, the story is the strongest aspect of Into the Spider-Verse. Phil Lord, who is most known for 21 Jump Street and Lego Movie fame, wrote the film and co-produced it with his collaborator Chris Miller, and he brings a maturity and poignancy to Miles’ story that you wouldn’t expect in a movie like this. After all, this is an animated superhero movie. It would have been easy enough for Lord to write in a bunch of action sequences, take a paycheck, and call it a day.

That’s not what happened though. The people involved with Spider-Verse cares very deeply about Spider-Man. And when I say ‘Spider-Man,’ I don’t just mean Peter Parker. I also mean Miles Morales, Gwen Stacy, Peni Parker, Peter Porker, and all the other Spider-Men after that. All of them are quirky, weird, off-the-cuff, nimble, and have witty one-liners for days. But they all carry that same burden of power and responsibility with them. All of them are Spider-Man.

I loved Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Not only is it one of the stronger Spider-Man films out there – it is also one of the best Marvel films to date and one of the best films of the year, period. If I had any criticism, it would be that some of the plot holes in the movie are a little too noticeable to ignore (like how the particle accelerator can link Peter Parker to Gwen Stacy even though they have different strands of DNA). But these are minor complaints in an otherwise brilliant movie. For nearly 20 years, we have been getting the same Spider-Man with the same alter-ego, same origin story, same costume, same villains, and same expectations. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse opens the door to new possibilities and celebrates the differences that make each of us our own unique superhero.

I’ll end my review on a critical line that Peter tutors to Miles during the movie: “What makes you different is what makes you Spider-Man.”

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“A STAR IS BORN (2018)” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: WARNER BROS. PICTURES

Baby, I was born this way. 

When it comes to filmmaking, art typically imitates reality. But every once in a while in genuinely special cases, reality imitates art. In A Star Is Born, I’m not sure which is imitating which, and I sincerely mean that as a compliment. The story follows an up-and-coming singer, portrayed here by pop artist Lady Gaga, who falls in love, is forced out of her comfort zone, starts performing live, hits the big time, fulfills all of her dreams, and ends up with… nothing. Even though she’s now a big-time singer, celebrity, and star, she ends the film feeling just as broken, helpless, and human as she did when the movie began. I can’t help but feel Lady Gaga is channeling some of her real-life experiences as she portrays her character. Perhaps she’s channeling every star’s experiences?

The singer’s name is Ally, and in A Star Is Born she meets a famous country artist named Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) who is battling his own demons. The first shot we open on is him popping pills into his mouth before going on stage and playing to a crowd of loud, passionate fans. Later on, he jumps into his car, downs a bottle of vodka, and seems disappointed when he notices that it’s empty. He ventures his way into a nearby drag bar, where a passerby tells him that this might not be the place for him. “Does it serve alcohol?” Jackson remarks. “It’s my kinda place.”

It’s at this drag bar where Jackson meets Ally – and just like Jackson, our introduction to Ally sweeps us off of our feet. It was only a few minutes earlier when we saw her frustratingly taking out the trash at her second job as a waitress. To see her on stage now, singing “La Vie En Rose” in front of several cross-dressing attendants, was nothing short of breathtaking. I was reminded of when Edith Piaf sang the song herself in 1946 and found myself completely caught up in the moment. Judging from Jackson’s reactions, I can only reason that he was as starstruck by Ally’s performance as I was.

From there, their relationship grows, and so does our admiration for both of them. One of my biggest concerns going into this movie was how it might sensationalize the experience of stardom. So often do films hold celebrity figures high as larger-than-life superstars, forgetting that there’s a person behind the performance on stage. I haven’t seen the previous adaptations of A Star Is Born, but from my experiences watching other musicals such as Fame and Rock of Ages, I’m used to musicals patronizing the audience instead of simply being honest with them.

Thankfully, A Star Is Born doesn’t sanitize or exaggerate the celebrity experience. It actually does quite the opposite. One of the greatest things about this movie is that when Ally hits the big time and becomes a high-profile superstar, her personality doesn’t suddenly change into this vain, egotistical social maniac. In fact, she’s still very much the same awkward, uncomfortable, and innocently sweet girl she started as in the movie. The only difference now is that she’s singing in front of large crowds with colorful costumes, makeup, hairdos, and backup dancers instead of jeans and a T-shirt. It’s nice to see that type of humanism in a character, knowing that there’s still a person behind all of the bright lights, cameras, and photo shoots.

In that, Lady Gaga steals the show as Ally. I’ll admit I’ve never been the biggest fan of her. Her public antics such as the infamous meat dress have always screamed as attention-seeking to me, and her music video “Judas” was just straight-up reprehensible. Still, you can’t deny the talent Gaga possesses as an artist, and here I’m completely entranced by both her singing and acting abilities. Whenever she sings, she completely transports you to a different place – like you just woke up right in the middle of a concert experience. And yet she doesn’t hesitate in the more emotional moments either, expressing genuine affection, pride, vulnerability, and hurt in the moments where it really cuts you the deepest.

Oddly enough though, I don’t give her all the credit for her performance. I give half of it to her co-star and director Bradley Cooper. Cooper makes his writer and director debut with A Star Is Born, and after watching it, I’m desperately waiting for his follow-up. Not only does he guide Gaga through the emotional range she needs in order to make her character feel believable, but he’s just as impeccable in his own portrayal as Jackson Maine as well. This is a damaged, broken man we’re watching – a person who loves singing his life story to millions of adoring fans, but his story is one of guilt, pain, and regret. You sincerely pity this man and his situation, and you pray that he can lift himself out of it with the help of his love and partner in life. I applaud Cooper’s work here not just in his own performance, but for enhancing Gaga’s as well. If Lady Gaga is the center of the show, Cooper is the man behind it.

I thought long and hard about this movie, whether I found it to merely another entertaining musical drama or something deeper. I eventually found it to be especially profound when I realized just how human the movie felt. Its characters are not larger-than-life clichés, caricatures or satires, and it doesn’t aim for the empty sensationalism that can be entertaining for only so long. Out in the real world, another Ally and Jackson Maine are walking through life together. Their dreams are real. Their problems are real. And their love for each other is real. Yes, they hit some ugly, dark, and tragic patches along the way. But they grow stronger, and shine brighter, because of it.

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Marvel Legend Stan Lee passes away at 95 

COURTESY: JONATHAN ALCORN/BLOOMBERG

Marvel’s real-life superhero has passed away. 

Stan Lee, the comic book writer, editor, and publisher responsible for several Marvel Comics characters, passed away Monday morning. He was 95 years old. 

Working with notable comic book artists including Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, Lee helped launch several Marvel Comic icons throughout his career, including the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Hulk, Iron Man, the Avengers, Black Panther, Doctor Strange, and perhaps most notably Spider-Man. Even when he retired in 1972, he never stopped expanding his universe, becoming a public figure for Marvel and making cameos in several movies, including Avengers: Infinity War, Spider-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, Big Hero 6, and Mallrats. 

“I used to be embarrassed because I was just a comic-book writer while other people were building bridges or going on to medical careers,” Stan Lee previously told The Washington Post. “And then I began to realize: entertainment is one of the most important things in people’s lives. Without it they might go off the deep end. I feel that if you’re able to entertain people, you’re doing a good thing.”

Stan Lee was a beloved comic-book icon who had helped bring several heroes to life through the pages of his comic books and his movies. He will be deeply missed by all of his fans.

1922 – 2018 

– David Dunn 

SOURCE: The Hollywood Reporter, The Washington Post

“HALLOWEEN (2018)” Review (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Universal Pictures

40 years later…

The biggest issue with 2018’s Halloween is its title. This is the 11th Halloween movie, the fifth reboot, the fourth to feature Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee-Curtis), and the third sequel; but it’s also the third movie to be called merely Halloween. What, was it too good for a subtitle? I know you have one good film and nine awful ones Mike, but don’t try to re-write them out of existence. They still happened, and we still had to go through them. Even if you were fortunate enough that people forgot the rest of your franchise, what good does it do? Now you have three movies in the series all named Halloween. When this movie is released for home video, the studio would be wise to retitle all of the Halloween movies as Halloween: The Original, Halloween: The Reboot, and Halloween: The Sequel, just to save the audience from some much unneeded confusion.

Taking place 40 years after the events of the original Halloween (not to be confused with H20, which took place 20 years after the original before it was written out of continuity), this new Halloween features an elder Laurie Strode, still haunted by that night where Michael Myers (Nick Castle) hunted her and her friends several decades ago. Even though Michael is now behind bars, Laurie hasn’t stopped preparing for the worst that might happen. She trained her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) from birth to defend herself. She’s fitted her house with gadgets, security cameras, and traps around nearly ever corner. Not to mention that she has a weapon stockpile so big that the NRA would wet their pants.

Her paranoia is later validated when Michael breaks out during a prison transfer. Now on the loose during the one night of the year where Michael returns to wreak havoc again and again, Laurie needs to find her loved ones, keep them close, and protect them from the monster that wants her and her family dead.

With this being the 11th film out of a long and exhaustive franchise, you would expect things in Halloween to feel tired and overused. In a way, you wouldn’t be wrong. The nine films before Halloween 11 were all the same hack-and-slash nonsense that became so redundant that another knife swipe felt like another jab at our sanity. The Rob Zombie movies were especially the worst, with the gore, violence, and sex ticked up so much that it felt more like a metal head’s music than it did an authentic horror experience. Year after year, Halloween has done Michael Myers wrong so many times. Going into this movie, I was expecting it to be done wrong yet again for the ninth time.

The best thing I can say about Halloween 11 is that it is perhaps the best attempt yet at adapting what made Halloween so great in the first place. One of the things most of these movies miss is the act of subtlety. In the original Halloween, John Carpenter sent chills down our spine not through gruesome kills or bloody violence, but through slight-of-hand and anticipation. The thing that was so startling about the original Halloween was Michael Myers’ sudden, unexpected appearances: slightly standing out of frame, following a kid around a playground, his ominous figure eerily following oblivious teenagers throughout their bleak houses. Sure, when he murdered someone it was startling, but it wasn’t the scariest thing out of the movie: the terrifying part was not knowing when he was going to strike, or how.

Halloween 11 understands that subtlety and exercises it similarly, placing Michael in natural, believable environments where he can freely move in and out, killing anyone across his path. One of my favorite sequences in the movie was watching Michael just roaming in the neighborhood all while kids are trick-or-treating down the block. As the camera follows him down a driveway, past a backyard, into somebody’s kitchen, and out of frame when we hear someone’s exasperated gasps in between violent “thuds,” it’s incredibly unsettling to watch as Michael flourishes in his element. It brought me much joy to see Michael as I once knew him: as the methodical, pathological, emotionally-detached killer that was just seeking to murder as many people as he possibly could. Is director David Gordon Green copying Carpenter’s artistry in the 11th Halloween? Yes, but at least he’s copying him well.

I also like how Jamie Lee Curtis updates her portrayal of Laurie Strode here. While she was great in the original Halloween and did an excellent job in portraying Laurie’s innocence and terror, the rest of her filmography felt like a retread where she didn’t face much growth as a character. But with Halloween 11, she demonstrates a strength and conviction that feels like it grew from all of the years of post-traumatic stress that she faced in the wake of her friends being murdered by this unfeeling cretin. Seeing her scared, jumpy, and petrified from the startling image of Michael Myers, yet adamant in her mission to be free from him Michael is nothing short of inspiring. It was great watching that growth in her character and seeing her mature from the scared, helpless kid that she was 40 years ago.

As always, one of the dumbest things about these horror movies is the “pure evil” cliche, where its villain is so supernaturally evil that he has become the physical embodiment of it. Whatever happened to letting these characters just be murderous psychopaths and leave it at that?

Also, there is a character here who Laurie dubs as “the new Loomis,” who for lack of a better word is just… creepy. Whereas Loomis in the original movie had a sound understanding of Michael Myers and was appropriately disturbed by his being, this new Loomis is awkward, unsettling, and just feels out of place. It feels like he should be locked up in the ward right alongside Michael Myers.

These are all minor problems in the face of an otherwise solid horror movie. The majority of today’s horror pictures revert to an onslaught of violence and gore that results only in shock value and cheap thrills. Halloween is the breath of fresh air that understands buildup, not shock, is what amounts to the best scares in a horror movie. As this series continues to tack on more unnecessary sequels as it’s highly successful box office numbers seem to suggest, the sequels will do well to remember that sometimes less is more. We all have our demons. Imagine if yours was Michael Myers.

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