I think the Oscars have conditioned me for disappointment. Every year, I tune in eagerly to the nominations announcement waiting to see who is in the running, only to face one baffling snub after another. Knives Out missing out on a Best Picture nomination in 2020. Da 5 Bloods getting skipped over in nearly every category in 2021. Denis Villeneuve being snubbed a very much-earned Best Director nomination for Dune just last year. Every year, I wait and wait and wait for the Oscars to get it right, only to be met with confusion, frustration, and mind-boggling disappointment every single time.
For the first time in five years, that disappointment never came. In fact, this was probably one of the best Oscar nominations I’ve seen in quite some time.
Now don’t get me wrong, there were still plenty of snubs from this year’s nominees. Robert Eggers’ The Northman was overlooked in all of the categories, as well as Adam Sandler’s heart-pounding basketball drama Hustle. Perhaps most bafflingly, Jordan Peele’s eerie sci-fi horror film Nope got a resounding zero nominations. Seriously? Not even one for cinematography? Film editing? Production design? Visual effects? Even sound?
So yeah, snubs are still aplenty, but for the most part, the Academy got it right this year. Now there’s a sentence I’d never thought I’d type.
At 11 nominations total, Daniels’ genre-bending masterpiece Everything Everywhere All At Once is this year’s biggest contender with four acting nominations, a Best Director nomination, and a Best Picture nomination. The film deserves every single nomination it has received and then some, with the only categories it was notably absent in including makeup and visual effects. Still, even with those snubs, it practically swept all of the major categories and has solidified itself as a for-sure contender on Oscar night.
At nine nominations apiece, the next biggest Best Picture contenders include the German anti-war film All Quiet On The Western Front and the Irish tragicomedy The Banshees Of Inisherin. The surprising thing here isn’t the fact that both are so closely tied to Everything Everywhere All At Once. The surprising thing here is that All Quiet On The Western Front is nominated as many times as it is. Originally thought to be a front-runner in the International Film category, it’s now considered a leading contender in the Best Picture category as well, especially with additional cinematography, visual effects, and adapted screenplay nominations.
Following closely behind those two films, however, is Baz Luhrmann’s bedazzling musical biopic Elvis. Austin Butler was obviously a shoo-in in the acting category, and it’s probably the film’s best chance to win an Oscar as well. But I wouldn’t call it a done deal. After all, Austin still has to contend with Brendan Fraser in The Whale, and I question if there’s any performance that could potentially overtake his. Although bafflingly, The Whale did not receive a Best Picture nomination despite also securing makeup and Best Supporting Actress noms for Hong Chau.
From there, the Steven Spielberg biopic The Fabelmans secured seven nominations, including Best Picture. Spielberg obviously got nominated multiple times up and down the ballot, from director all the way to original screenplay. Yet, the biggest surprise to me was Judd Hirsch’s inclusion under the supporting actor category for Sammy’s excitable circus Uncle Boris. His scene was one of my favorites from the whole film, and he did a really brilliant job showing how art can make us feel whole while simultaneously ripping us in two. He was easily one of the film’s most standout actors and created a big impact despite his small screen time. I’m really glad he was nominated, even though his chances to win are extremely slim.
Following The Fabelmans with six nominations apiece are the tragic psychological drama Tar and the heart-racing action sequel Top Gun: Maverick. These are two very different films finding success on two very different sides of the ballot, with Top Gun: Maverick sweeping in most of the technical categories while Tar secured screenplay, actress, and directing noms. The interesting thing is seeing what they aren’t nominated for. Tar was noticeably overlooked in the music and production design categories, while Top Gun: Maverick was wrongfully snubbed under cinematography (actually, the entire cinematography category has gone down the crapper. But there will be time to talk more about that later).
After that, Avatar: The Way Of Water fits in comfortably as the eighth Best Picture nominee, securing additional nominations under the sound, production design, and visual effects categories. While it is a technical and emotional powerhouse of a film, I don’t really expect it to be a major contender in most categories with the notable exception of visual effects, which is fine. After all, the first movie won three Academy Awards and even earned James Cameron another Best Director nomination. If The Way Of Water even comes close to the first film, it will have been a success. Besides, at over $2 billion, it’s the highest-grossing movie of 2022. It’s not like it needs the extra hardware.
Behind Avatar: The Way Of Water is the Swedish satire Triangle Of Sadness, which has secured screenplay and direction nominations aside from Best Picture. Besides that, I gotta be honest: I’ve never heard of the movie. The only thing I know about this film is that its poster features an older woman throwing up gold. Aside from that, I’ve got nothing. Needless to say that there will be few people rooting for it on Oscar night.
And finally, the last Best Picture nominee is Women Talking, a monumental little film about a group of women who band together to defend themselves from vicious attacks in their colony. What’s perplexing about this film isn’t the fact that it’s nominated for Best Picture: that much is to be expected for a film of this subject matter. What’s perplexing is that it only secured one other nomination in the adapted screenplay category. How many times do we have to go over this, Academy? A film cannot be considered Best Picture-worthy for one element alone. Selma wasn’t Best Picture-worthy just because of the song “Glory,” and The Post wasn’t Best Picture-worthy just because of Meryl Streep. Neither can Woman Talking stand on its own just for its screenplay. Seriously, would have killed you to give the movie a supporting actress nomination? Production design? Costumes?
I could pick apart other grievances I have with the nominees this year, like how The Batman astoundingly missed a Best Original Score nomination, while The Woman King was overlooked in every category Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was nominated in despite being superior in nearly every way. But for the most part, I’m surprisingly pleased with the nominees we have this year. For once, Academy Award voters prioritized the films that deserved the most recognition and lifted up the artists that we might have missed last year. Let’s hope they keep that momentum going into the Oscars ceremony on March 12.
Man, what a year 2022 has been. So much happened in my life in such a short timeframe that it doesn’t feel like it’s been just one year, but several. This year, I not only got engaged and married within the span of just seven months — I also put many miles on my soul from Colorado all the way to Cancun, got to party with my best friends during my Bachelor party in Oklahoma City, started my own Twitch channel, and moved into a new apartment with my wife — twice. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again —2022 was probably the busiest year of my life, but it was simultaneously also the most joyous. My wife and I will no doubt look back on this year fondly as we reflect on the precious memories we made together, all while taking a much-deserved break.
But incredibly, my major life milestones weren’t the only positive things to come out of 2022. To my surprise, the movie theaters also yielded the best lineup of films we’ve seen in quite some time. Normally when we have a really great year in movies, it’s pretty common for the next year or two to be slightly subpar or underwhelming by comparison. After all, when 2019 graced us with the likes of 1917, Parasite, Jojo Rabbit, Knives Out, and Avengers: Endgame all in the same year, are we really surprised that 2020 bombed out as royally as it did? Granted, the pandemic didn’t make things any better, but when Nomadland and Mank are considered your best films of the year, you have a serious problem.
With 2021 being such a great comeback for the movies, I mistakenly thought that 2022 would drop the ball a little bit and yield a weaker slate of cinematic releases. Not so. If anything, it upped the ante as it released several great movies that we can return to admire time and time again. Last year was famously the first time I released my Top 21 Movies of 2021, and this year, I could have easily done a Top 22 list if I so chose. I didn’t because, frankly, that Top 21 list wiped me out more than the Snyder Cut did, and I don’t think readers would be interested enough to stick around for an exasperating Top 22 list anyway.
In either case, these are my 10 favorite films of 2022, and there are a few things to go over before we hop into everything. As per usual, I have not seen every film made this year despite my best efforts to do so. You will not find Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees Of Inisherinon this list because it received such a limited release that I completely missed its run in theaters, and you will also not find Damien Chazelle’s Babylon on this list either since it was released so late into the year. Most upsetting is the fact that The Whale will not be considered for this list because for some reason, Darren Aronofsky decided that a tragedy about an obese gay man trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter was the perfect movie for the family to watch this holiday season. How many times do I need to reiterate this to filmmakers out there — STOP. RELEASING. MOVIES. IN DECEMBER. Unless it’s another Star Wars, Marvel, or Avatar movie, we aren’t watching it. Most of us are too busy Christmas shopping, or in my case, getting married.
Speaking of my favorites, let’s start this list off with this year’s special prize. Back in pre-COVID times, I recognized one limited-release film that did not get as much attention as many wide releases did, yet achieved more emotionally despite its smaller viewership. “Smaller” is definitely the keyword here, especially since this year’s special prize winner is…
What’s there to say about this precious little gem that squeaked past everyone’s attention this year, much like its titular star? Based on a series of animated shorts co-created by Jenny Slate and Dean Fleischer Camp in his feature-length debut, Marcel The Shell With Shoes On follows a sentient shell living life in an abandoned Airbnb home with his Nana Connie (Isabella Rossellini). Funny, poignant, quirky, and heartfelt, this lighthearted little film beautifully illustrates how we are all a small part of a constantly expanding and greater world. But just like Marcel, our size isn’t what matters — it’s the friends we meet, the experiences we create, the adventures we have, and the memories we share that make life worth living. Marcel The Shell With Shoes On proves that just because you aren’t that big doesn’t mean that you leave a small impact. Marcel is just the miniature-sized hero everyone needed this year, and you’ll quickly learn to fall in love with him (and his shoes) over and over again.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s hop into the 10 best movies I’ve seen in 2022, starting with…
In an age where Batman has been done and redone over and over again (this is the fifth big-screen iteration we’ve seen in 10 years), Matt Reeves’ The Batman manages to feel wholly unique, original, and captivating — as dark and ethereal as David Fincher and as daring and dramatic as Alfred Hitchcock. While his Bruce Wayne isn’t as refined as Christian Bale or Ben Affleck, Robert Pattinson’s Batman is the greatest we’ve ever gotten on screen, beautifully illustrating a tortured man haunted by his grief and trauma. Paul Dano plays an excellent foil to Pattinson’s Batman as the Riddler, a Zodiac-esque serial killer who sees himself as the only cure to the corruption poisoning Gotham City. Never before has Batman felt so grounded in a film. Yes, that even includes Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Three and a half stars.
A glorious, riveting, and heart-pounding historical epic that makes you feel the power behind the Dahomey Amazons. Gina Prince-Bythewood returns to direct her first feature-length production in eight years since 2014’s Beyond The Lights, and if The Woman King succeeded in anything, it showed us why she should be hired to direct more blockbusters. Great scripting, amazing cinematography, a moving score by Terence Blanchard, brilliant fight choreography, and some of the best performances of the year are all featured in this sprawling narrative about the evils of slavery and colonialism. Viola Davis, as always, is a dramatic powerhouse in every scene she’s in. The Woman King may not be the most historically accurate blockbuster out there, but it is definitively the most compelling and empowering. Three and a half stars.
A snazzy and stylish tribute to the King of Rock and Roll and the best biopic of the year. Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!, The Great Gatsby) brings his traditional flair and pizzazz to Elvis’ iconic story, with the elaborate sets, lightning-quick cutaways, and eye-popping costumes matching the high energy of the King’s larger-than-life shows. But the real scene-stealer here is Austin Butler. He delivers a passionate, mesmerizing, and unquestionably authentic performance as Elvis Presley that you never doubt for a second. Much like Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln or David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr., Butler channels Elvis perfectly to the point where you can’t even tell whose voice you’re hearing when he sings. An engrossing and absorbing historical drama that you can’t help falling in love with over and over again. Three and a half stars.
A vibrant, colorful, and eye-popping animated gem that makes you want to get up and let out your inner red panda in a loud and triumphant roar. Directed by Academy Award-winning animator Domee Shi, this fantasy family film tells the story of a 13-year-old girl named Mei, whose family is cursed with turning into red pandas when they feel intense emotions. Turning Red exemplifies the best of Pixar storytelling: equally emotional and heartfelt as it is funny and entertaining. The animation adopts an anime art style that works perfectly for the story it’s trying to tell, and the characters are just as infectious and lovable. 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. Four stars.
A compelling and captivating underdog story neatly wrapped into a heartfelt tribute to the sport of basketball. Adam Sandler is following up from his flawless Uncut Gems role to deliver yet another phenomenal dramatic performance as Stanley Sugerman, a scout for the Philadelphia 76ers who dreams of becoming a coach. Real-life Toronto Raptors player Juancho Hernangomez portrays up-and-comer Bo Cruz, and his chemistry with Sandler is so great that his acting ability is never brought into question. This is Rocky for basketball if the perspective was shifted to Mickey, and you’re invested every bit as you watch these two nobodies hustle for something bigger than themselves. A genuinely great basketball drama where Sandler’s deep love of the sport can be felt in every dribble, every pass, and every slam dunk. Four stars.
A wildly exciting, action-packed and fast-paced 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. Taking place 36 years (yowza!) after the original movie came out, Tom Cruise suits up once again as the hot-headed fighter pilot Maverick in a new aerial adventure with Goose’s son, Rooster (Miles Teller). Top Gun: Maverick proudly displays the moviemaking magic that is sorely missing in today’s blockbusters. The aerial dogfights are out of this world and make you feel the G-forces with every maneuver. The stakes are established very well and the tension gradually builds up into the climax with heart-racing execution. And Tom Cruise and Miles Teller are at their very best, with their chemistry embodying the heart and soul of this movie. A masterclass in blockbuster moviemaking that achieved the impossible. Four stars.
A raw, visceral, and violent revenge tale that explores just how deep mankind’s depravities truly go. Based on the Scandinavian legend, The Northman tells the story of Amleth (Alexander Skarsgard), a Viking warrior who swears to kill his uncle after he decapitates his father and kidnaps his mother. This blood-soaked fable has some of the most brutal and unflinching action scenes out of the whole year, with many of the battle scenes matching the scope and scale of historical epics like Braveheart or Gladiator. Director Robert Eggers (The Witch, The Lighthouse) builds a brilliantly dark and ethereal world whose lore feels much bigger than what we see here. And the performances are simply breathtaking, with Skarsgard and Anya Taylor-Joy delivering some of the film’s most tragic and heart-piercing moments. A bold, monumental, and powerful Nordic legend that feels destined to be echoed throughout time. Four stars.
Far from the gaudy and horrific remake that Disney+ released earlier this year, Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio takes a more mature, true-to-life approach on the beloved fairy tale to bring us a mesmerizing stop-motion masterpiece that is as ingenious and creative as it is heartfelt and emotional. After his son Carlo dies as a casualty of war, woodcarver Gepetto (David Bradley) creates a wooden puppet in an effort to revive him. But when the spirit of the woods (Tilda Swinton) resonates with Gepetto’s grief, she brings the puppet to life and names him Pinocchio (Gregory Mann). This is a remake that breathes new life into the Pinocchio mythos, pulling from history and real life in a way that feels original while staying true to the source material. The stop-motion animation is also the most beautiful and eye-catching out of the whole year, with Del Toro reportedly shooting over 160,000 frames to make the animation feel seamless and alive. A genuinely beautiful and captivating retelling of this classic story that will make you see Pinocchio in a whole new light. Four stars.
A gorgeous, stunning, and visually spectacular sequel that expands the Avatar lore in new ways that makes it feel much bigger and grander than ever before. After the Na’vi successfully pushed back the human invasion 10 years ago, the Sky People have returned to retake Pandora — and this time, they have their sights on the Toruk Makto, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington). This is a sequel that builds on the legacy of Avatar while not feeling repetitive or redundant from the first movie. The new cast of characters are as lovable as the old ones are, with Sigourney Weaver’s Kiri feeling the most majestic and awe-inspiring out of all of them. The movie’s themes of environmentalism and industrialism are as relevant as ever, with a few heart-wrenching scenes adding to the emotional weight of this story. And the visual design is simply breathtaking, with the underwater sequences revealing a whole new world living and breathing beneath the surface of Pandora. Before going in to see this movie, I was hesitant to say Avatar even needed a sequel. Now, I can’t wait for the third, fourth, and even fifth installment of this constantly expanding franchise. Four stars.
And finally, my favorite film of 2022. Talk about a sleeper hit. When I originally saw the trailer for this movie, I thought it was one of the weirdest trailers I ever saw and immediately wrote it off. When I finally gave it a chance and watched it, it was one of the greatest experiences I ever had in the movie theater and made me feel a wealth of emotions all at once. This movie is spellbinding. This movie is transcendental. This movie is…
Never before have I seen a movie so chaotic, so random, so haywire, bonkers, bizarre, and utterly insane, and yet work as brilliantly as it does. Michelle Yeoh stars as Evelyn, a laundromat owner who is dissatisfied with life and her silly, hopelessly optimistic husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) and her rebellious daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu). But when a menacing force called the Jobu Tupaki seeks to destroy the multiverse as we know it, Evelyn needs to connect with alternate versions of herself to build the skills she needs to defeat Jobu Tupaki and save the multiverse. This is a film that sounds complex and confusing, but at its heart, tells a simple story about family, fulfillment, and finding happiness no matter where you are in the universe. Michelle Yeoh does a brilliant job as its central character, but really, the whole cast is superb in playing all of their alternate selves, especially Ke Huy Quan and Stephanie Hsu, who at times feel like different characters entirely. The whole film is a brilliant fusion of genres ranging from action and martial arts to horror and sci-fi. Yet what amazes me is not the mixture of tones, but rather how flawlessly and seamlessly it all blends together in a cinematic collage of genres. A brilliant deconstruction of nihilism that teaches us that the most important thing you can do in the multiverse is love, be compassionate, and be kind. Four stars.
Thank you all for joining me for yet another Top 10 list and yet another great year at the movies. Whatever 2023 brings, I look forward to experiencing it with all of you and hope you have just as amazing a year as I did. I love you all, and I’ll see you at the movies.
Life feels like it’s been moving fast-forward for us both recently. Just a month ago, we were standing at the altar reciting our vows to each other through our paced breaths and racing heartbeats. A week after that, we went on our first trip out of the country to our honeymoon in Cancun, where we swam in the crystal-clear blue oceans, played with dolphins, and drank more tequila than either of us had any business consuming. A week after that, we went head-first into our first holiday season as a married couple, juggling time between both of our families’ houses. Even now after we have winded down from all of the presents and egg nog, we head into 2023 as different people from who we were earlier this year. If life was moving any faster for us, we’d be parents before Valentine’s even came around.
So much has happened so quickly in the past few months that I don’t want to lose these feelings of joy and happiness, or lose sight of why I fell in love with you in the first place. That’s why before the new year comes around and we once again get wrapped up in the busyness of our everyday lives, I wanted to take a moment to pause, breathe, and simply express everything I’ve felt about you for a while now. No cameras, no calendars, no wedding plans — just you and me.
Our paths crossed through the most generic, millennial way possible — through Bumble. I remember the state of mind I was in before I came across your face. It was Nov. 7, 2020, and after a ridiculous, abysmal year filled with COVID-19, social isolation, economic disaster, police brutality, ongoing social division, and one of the most vitriolic and toxic election cycles in recent memory, I was left feeling depressed, lonely, and angry at the state of the world and how far we have fallen as a country. Mind you, this was also the one-year anniversary of breaking up with my then-girlfriend of two years, totaling my car, and saying goodbye to my grandmother before she passed away.
By all accounts, I was not in a good state of mind — quite possibly the worst I was ever in.
In truth, I don’t even remember much of why I downloaded Bumble in the first place. I think I needed a distraction more than anything else, and swiping left and right gave me something to do other than doomscrolling through Twitter or playing “Spider-Man” for like the 80th time. But then I came across your profile, and I saw your bright, beautiful eyes, your warm, inviting smile, and your red hair that burned as brightly as the sun. You were simply stunning, but I saw something else in you even deeper than that. You radiated like no light I had ever seen before.
I didn’t find out until our first coffee date that light didn’t come from an Instagram filter: it came from you. You were exactly everything I had hoped you were: bright, beautiful, kind, radiant, compassionate, funny, sociable, and powerfully empathetic. To this day, I still don’t know what quality of yours entranced me the most. Was it your bright red hair? Your gorgeous smile? Your beaming personality that shone through every word and every laugh?
You told me that you were a behavioral therapist for a developmental clinic in Dallas and worked with children who were on the Autism spectrum. Knowing that I too was on the spectrum worried me and made me wonder if I was the right fit for you. After all, I knew firsthand how difficult individuals on the spectrum could be. After a long day’s work dealing with children still learning who they are, would you want to come home to a man still learning to do the same?
You assured me quickly that my being on the spectrum didn’t scare you or make you feel any differently about me. In fact, you told me “All I see is David, and I’m really enjoying him.” I can’t tell you how liberating that felt to me. All my life, I felt shackled by who I was — by my tunnel-visioned way of thinking, my social awkwardness, and my inability to connect with others. But just like you do with all of your children, you made me feel less like these are inherent negative qualities of myself and more like personal obstacles that I too can overcome. You truly are the only one who ever made me feel free from myself, just as you do for so many other young souls daily.
The next year with you was spent in absolute bliss. I truly do not remember spending a single bad day with you. Whether we were going out to the movies, on spontaneous shopping trips to Target, skipping town for weekend adventures, or just staying in for a quiet, relaxing night at home, everything just felt right with you.
There was never a moment where I questioned us or where we were headed. You became my new home, and I have never felt more secure than when I am with you.
That’s not to say last year was an easy year for either one of us. From personal family tragedies to work-related stresses to that blasted snowmageddon, 2021 was a year of many challenges for us both. Yet, what inspired me most through it all was not the lack of adversity, but rather how you being there made everything easier for me. Through your cute and infectious little laugh to your sweet and sentimental touch to your deep care and compassion, you made every hardship a little easier, every burden a little lighter to bear, every loss a little less devastating. You have and continue to get me through so much on a daily basis. I only hope I do the same for you as you do for me.
Funny enough, my favorite quote that makes me think of you is in, what else, the 2002 Spider-Man film, where Peter finally tells Mary Jane what he truly thinks of her. Because when he describes his emotions, they are all too real for how I feel about you:
“The great thing about MJ is… when you look into her eyes and she’s looking back in yours, everything feels… not quite normal. You feel stronger and weaker at the same time. You feel excited, and at the same time, terrified. The truth is, you don’t know what you feel except you know what kind of man you want to be. It’s as if you’ve reached the unreachable, and you weren’t ready for it.”
It’s for that exact same reason that I wanted to marry you. You not only make me a better man every day. You make everyone around you want to be the best person they can be — because you empower them to be.
In Matthew 5:16, Jesus commanded his followers to shine their light onto the world: “That they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in Heaven.” Every day, it’s easy to see that your light is the brightest one there is. Truthfully, the world would be a much better place if more people like you were in it.
So as we head into our first year of marriage and the rest of our lives, I just want to say that I am so, so proud of and thankful for you. You excite me, you empower me, you strengthen me, you embolden me, and you inspire me more than any movie, any filmmaker, any actor, any character or any superhero ever could. That’s because unlike these larger-than-life heroes like Luke Skywalker, James Bond, Spider-Man, Harry Potter, or Frodo Baggins, you are real. And you can make anyone feel like they can fly.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, my beloved Meagan Dunn. I can’t wait to spend eternity with you.
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.
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.
I’m starting to think that the Oscars are no longer meant for me. Every year, the Academy Awards makes one confounding decision after another that shocks audiences and makes them flare up at their nostrils. Bohemian Rhapsody winning Best Film Editing. Green Book winning Best Picture. Even during last year’s ceremony, the late Chadwick Boseman lost Best Actor for his amazing performance as an overzealous jazz musician in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom to Anthony Hopkins’ heart-wrenching performance in TheFather. Don’t get me wrong, both performances were amazing, but come on guys.
Even the nominations get stranger with each passing year. Last year, the overbearingly long black-and-white drama Mank received 10 nominations despite how dull, boring, and lifeless that film was. This year is keeping with the trend by awarding The Power Of The Dog with 12 nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and a whole slew of technical nominations and way too many acting nominations. Out of all 12 nominations, The Power Of The Dog deserves maybe four: Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, and Best Acting nominations for Benedict Cumberbatch and Kodi-Smit McPhee. It definitely does not deserve Best Sound. Its Hollywood couple Jesse Plemons and Kristen Dunst definitely do not deserve Best Supporting Actor nominations. And there is no way in HELL that the movie deserves Best Film Editing for refusing to shave even 15 minutes off of its exasperating 2-hour runtime. But sure, let’s just give it as many nominations as Lincoln and The Revenant because the studio paid enough money to Academy board voters. Whatever.
Now the second most-nominated Best Picture nominee, Dune, is a vastly better picture and actually earns the majority of its nominations. From visual effects to cinematography to film editing to music to costume, makeup, sound, and set design, Dune is an audio-visual odyssey unmatched not only by any other film the past year, but by several films from the past several years. To say it is a science-fiction masterpiece is a massive, massive understatement. It has earned every nomination it has amassed and deserved to sweep away the competition on Oscar night.
The biggest frustration behind Dune isn’t what it is nominated for, but rather what it isn’t nominated for. Despite how many nominations it has racked up, Dune’s director Denis Villeneuve is noticeably absent in the Best Director category, which is especially bewildering given how many recent blockbuster movie directors were recognized for their outstanding technical achievement in previous years (see Sam Mendes for 1917, George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road, Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity). What on Earth was the Academy thinking? Here is one of the most unique, creative, and immersive cinematic experiences of the last decade, and instead of giving director Denis Villeneuve his due, they instead decided that it was more important to give Steven Spielberg his 19th nomination despite already winning Best Director twice. Give me a break.
Speaking of Steven Spielberg, his remake of the classic musical West Side Story earned seven nominations right alongside Kenneth Branaugh’s Belfast, including Best Sound, Best Costume Design, Best Cinematography, Best Original Song, and a slew of Best Acting nominations, including one for supporting actress Ariana DeBose. I have no problems with these individual nominations themselves, and it is nice to see Kenneth Branagh get a Best Directing nomination after not receiving one for over 30 years since his director debut Henry V. I just really, really, REALLY hate that Spielberg is nominated in the same category. Even if you gave West Side Story one less nomination, it still would have tied for the fourth most nominations out of all the Best Picture nominees. Did Spielberg really have to take the Best Director nom away from Denis Villeneuve? Really?
At six nominations, King Richard is the second Best Picture nominee to miss out on a Best Director nomination, but it more than makes up for it in other categories. Besides Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Song, and Best Film Editing, co-stars Will Smith and Aunjanue Ellis both locked in nominations for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress. Both actors gave some of the best performances of the year and are more than deserving of their respective nominations, though I can’t help but feel Will Smith has a better chance of winning due to his sheer star power.
The next three surprises come in Nightmare Alley, Drive My Car, and Don’t Look Up. The big surprise with these isn’t just the fact that they secured four nominations a piece: it’s the fact that all three secured Best Picture nominations despite the fact that they were all considered dark horses before even entering the Oscar race. I wouldn’t expect too many wins though. With most of its nominations stacking up in the technical categories, that inevitably means Nightmare Alley and Don’t Look Up will be going head to head against Dune, and I just don’t see them winning that matchup (although Drive My Car does have solid chances winning in the Best Foreign Language film category).
The last two Best Picture nominees are underdogs that stand really good chances at winning in either of their categories. With Licorice Pizza and CODA securing Best Original Screenplay nominations and respective Best Director and Supporting Actor nominations, these two films’ windows are limited, but they’re hard-hitting contenders in their categories. It would not be much of a stretch to imagine Licorice Pizza winning in all three of its categories next month, especially when you remember Spotlight’s Best Picture win from 2015.
And in other ways, there were actually many small wins in this years Oscar nominations. For one thing, all 10 of its Best Picture slots were filled up this year, and that hasn’t happened at the Academy Awards since a full decade ago. Tick, Tick… BOOM! was nominated twice for film editing and Best Actor for Andrew Garfield, and that’s two more nominations that I wasn’t even expecting, so I was pleased about that. And of course, the biggest movie of the year Spider-Man: No Way Home earned a much-deserved visual effects nomination, which is more than you can say about other movies like Captain America: Civil War, The Dark Knight Rises, Thor: Ragnarok, etc.
But don’t get it twisted: there were still way more snubs this year than there were supposed to be. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights got a resounding zero nominations, which is especially surprising given all of its incredible costumes and set design. House of Gucci got snubbed in the acting categories, even Lady Gaga for her amazing turn as one of the most coldly calculated villains in recent memory. But the most maddening snub comes with Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel, which got a resounding zero nominations across all the categories. That includes best adapted writing, cinematography, set design, costume design, editing, music: even its star Jody Comer got completely overlooked in both of the acting categories. The fact that The Last Duel and House of Gucci received Razzie nominations for Ben Affleck and Jared Leto’s performances only add insult to injury.
We’ll see how everything pans out on Oscar night, but at the moment I am feeling very unenthused about this year’s ceremony. As I say year after year, the Oscars should be about recognizing the biggest achievements in film: about honoring the best movies of the year and how they moved and changed us. This year’s ceremony seems to be about taking those nominations away from those deserving films and giving them to The Power Of The Dog instead.
It’s funny how differently people can experience the same thing. When 2021 ended, thousands of people swarmed the internet as they celebrated the end to yet another quote-unquote “horrible year.” “Good riddance 2021!” some online commentators quipped. “Thank God that’s over with,” others remarked. My favorite comment had to be one person saying that 2021 was “2020 Part 2.” Geez, tell me you hated a year without telling me you hated a year.
And you know, as bad as 2021 was, I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was as awful as everybody was saying it was. Don’t get me wrong: it was still insufferable, with various morons still pushing conspiracy theories about masks, COVID-19, the vaccine, the 2020 election, and everything else in between. But when you compare it alongside how arduous, painful, and mind-boggingly stupid the past five years have been, 2021 felt relatively… normal? At least when compared to the likes of 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and of course, the accursed year of 2020.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that compared to the last decade, 2021 felt like a step in the right direction, if ever so slightly. And the biggest step of improvement we’ve seen this past year was easily with the movies. While 2020 saw many movie releases get canceled, rescheduled, or removed from theaters left and right, 2021 saw a steady release of fantastic movies throughout the whole year, including many that were originally supposed to come out in 2020.
That’s why for the first time on this website, I won’t be doing a top 10, a top 15, or even a top 20 list for the year. For one time and one time only, I will be ranking my Top 21 Movies of 2021.
I’m expanding my best-of list this year from 10 movies to 21 for a few reasons. One is because, as you might remember, I obviously didn’t do a top 10 list last year, so doubling my list this year only seemed fair given how many more movies came out in 2021. Another reason is that as I started building out my list, I noticed that a lot of my favorite movies were getting knocked out of my top 10, and I still wanted to recognize them in some way.
But more to the point, I just feel like 2021 deserved the extra love. It had the difficult task of rebounding from the trash year we got in 2020, and even with big box-office successes in No Time To Die and F9, the film industry still hasn’t quite recovered financially from 2020. Nevertheless, these filmmakers, actors, and artists have given us great films to admire over the past year, and I want to give them their fair due despite the challenging time we’re living through.
Few disclaimers to go through as per usual. First of all, this list is obviously my opinion, and some of the opinions I have will frustrate you. I know critics have said The Power Of The Dog and The Green Knight were mesmerizing cinematic masterpieces that deserve to be lavishly praised until the end of time, but I’m sorry to say that both of those movies sucked and neither one will be appearing on my list.
Simultaneously, despite how many more movies I’ve seen this past year, many still slipped past my radar. You won’t find Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story here, especially since it had the gall to come out during the same month as Spider-Man: No Way Home. You will also not find Belfast on this list either despite the amazing things I’ve heard about it. Perhaps most disappointingly is the fact that I didn’t get to see Licorice Pizza before the year ended, and that’s especially ironic given how many Paul Thomas Anderson films I’ve brushed up on this year, including Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and There Will Be Blood.
And lastly, this will also be the first of my best-of list that will not have any honorable mentions, mostly because it’s 21 FREAKING MOVIES. There doesn’t need to be any honorable mentions this year. All of these movies were amazing.
Okay, enough with the intro. Time to hop into my favorite 21 films of 2021, starting with…
A sleek, sexy, and stylish account of the Gucci family and the wealth and power that drives them to do horrible things. Ridley Scott directs a stunning all-star cast in this thrilling crime-drama including Jeremy Irons, Al Pacino, and who my girlfriend calls Adam “Daddy” Driver himself. The standout performances belong to Jared Leto, who disappears into the biggest Italian idiot alive in Paulo Gucci, and Lady Gaga, whose ice-cold demeanor gives her an edge so chilling that she could be mistaken for a mob boss. As someone who couldn’t give two rips about the Gucci brand name and family, House Of Gucci kept me engaged and interested in a way that few films have this year. That alone is an accomplishment in of itself. Three and a half stars.
A lively and joyous celebration of family, love, and Latin America. This Walt Disney fantasy tells the story of the Madrigals, an incredible family endowed with supernatural abilities and a sentient home they affectionately refer to as their “Encanto.” But when their abilities and their home begin to collapse, the Madrigals need to rely on their powerless granddaughter Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz) to save them. This endearing little delight warms both heart and soul, bursting with personality and a deep appreciation of Colombian culture. Disney’s animation is as lush and beautiful as ever, and Mirabel is an endearing little underdog that’s easy to love and root for. Like its main hero, Encanto shows how powerful we can be, even in the moments where we feel powerless. Three and a half stars.
A stunning, spectacular showstopper of a film that leaves just as much an impact as its real-life singer did. Jennifer Hudson commands the screen as Aretha Franklin in this rousing biopic about her life. First-time director Liesl Tommy tells a provocative story about Aretha and how she changed the course of the music industry forever. But the movie isn’t just about her hit singles and chart-breaking records: Respect also shows the darker, more grim sides of Aretha’s life that she had to persevere through. And Hudson gives one of the best performances of her career, shining with as much life and vibrancy as she did in her Oscar-winning role in Dreamgirls. A powerful testament to the Queen of Soul and the millions that she inspired. Three and a half stars.
There’s absolutely no reason why Zack Snyder’s Justice League should work as well as it does, let alone even exist in the first place. Yet despite studio interference from Warner Bros. and the general stigma surrounding remakes, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a comprehensive and fully realized vision of these characters that comic book fans have come to love. This four-hour epic brings weight to these character’s arcs and decisions, and every moment the film builds up to feels earned and intentional. Yeah the movie does feel a little bloated, but I’d rather a longer, denser narrative that fully believes in itself rather than a shorter, more diminished experience for everybody. If Warner Bros. has any sense, they’ll announce a sequel as soon as possible. Three and a half stars.
Pixar knocks it out of the park yet again with this sweet and sincere little gem of a movie that shows people to not be afraid of what makes them different. Director Enrico Casarosa pulls from his childhood experiences to tell a literal fish-out-of-water story about a pair of sea monsters trying to fit in to a small town on the edge of the Riviera. The animation is colorful, vibrant, and beautiful, feeing like a luscious blend of Finding Nemo and The Little Mermaid’s art styles. Dan Romer’s blissful soundtrack shines with serenity, with its melodies moving you to the tunes of its sweet strings and accordions. A beautiful and simple little story that serves as a heartfelt love letter to Italian culture and childhood. Three and a half stars.
A biting satire on the current state of politics and how all of the division can do nothing but harm us. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence star as a pair of astronomers that sound the alarm on a comet hurdling toward the Earth. But instead of unifying the public to divert the comet’s trajectory, America’s leaders instead trivialize the threat and pretend it doesn’t even exist. Writer-director Adam McKay uses the comet as an allegory for climate change, but the metaphor is so flexible that it can apply to several issues, including COVID-19. The all-star cast is equally impressive, with Leonardo DiCaprio in particular shining during a rant akin to Peter Finch’s “I’m mad as hell” speech in Network. A highly critical look at our nation’s political discourse that feels less and less like fiction the more it goes on. Three and a half stars.
An eerie, captivating, and unsettling psychological thriller that dives deeply into the lust and greed that drives men to commit heinous, sinful acts. Bradley Cooper stars as an ambitious carnie who wants to take his act across the world. But as he gets involved more and more with the wrong people, his life turns into a downward spiral that spins out of control. Guillermo Del Toro crafts a brilliant and ingenious world fueled by tricks, deceptions, and theatricality. The production design by Tamara Deverell is mesmerizing, and Dan Laustsen’s cinematography is straight-up hypnotic with its expansive, wide photography. But it’s Del Toro’s vision that makes Nightmare Alley sizzle with its own intrigue and implication. An atmospheric neo-noir drama that reveals the monsters that live in men. Three and a half stars.
A wicked, wacky, and wildly entertaining redemption for both The Suicide Squad and James Gunn. In this standalone sequel to the 2016 supervillain film, The Suicide Squad follows Amanda Waller as she assembles a new crew of misfit villains for a dangerous mission, including Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), and Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian). This violent, over-the-top action flick subverts your expectations at every imaginable turn, with unique, funny, and endearing characters stealing your heart in between all of the hot-blooded action. Newcomer Daniela Melchior in particular shines as the pure-hearted thief Ratcatcher, and casting Sylvester Stallone as the talking King Shark was a stroke of pure genius. The Suicide Squad is James Gunn and DC at their best. Four stars.
An imaginative and awe-inspiring animated fantasy that moves and flows with the feel of a live-action epic. Chronicling the legend of five clans from the ancient land of Kumandra, the film follows a warrior princess named Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) and the water dragon Sisu (Awkwafina) on their quest to banish the evil Druun spirits and save their home. The animation is Disney at its best, with characters’ lightning-quick action and reflexes driving the plot forward with vigor and enthusiasm. The caliber of the voice cast is equally talented, with Kelly Marie Tran shining the most as a young adventurer torn between her grief, guilt, and her desire to trust others. An exciting, funny, and heartfelt adventure that shows that it’s never too late to do the right thing. Four stars.
A bold deconstruction of the James Bond mythos that portrays him not as a generic action hero, but as a tragic character trapped in a cycle of violence and self-ruinous choices. Daniel Craig plays Bond one last time in his rawest and most human portrayal yet, showing who the man behind the license to kill is when he isn’t 007. Director Cary Joji Fukanaga makes every action sequence feel fast-paced and impactful, raising the stakes and the tension every minute that passes. Yet the most incredible thing about No Time To Die is how it shows Bond reacting to a world shifting and changing all around him. It’s funny how the movie is called No Time To Die, because by the time the end credits rolled, all we can think about is how James Bond lived. Four stars.
An electrifying musical experience that breathes with its own heartbeat and life. In his feature-length directorial debut, Questlove assembles never-before-seen archival footage of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival and masterfully restores it with a crisp and clear picture quality that makes you feel like you were really there, with featured artists including Sly Stone, Gladys Knight, and Stevie Wonder. But it isn’t just a simple concert film: Questlove contextualizes a lot of the concert-going experiences through the lens of racial unrest in the late ’60s. For many, the Harlem Cultural Festival wasn’t just a musical event: it was a powerful statement for freedom, civil rights, and equality, one that The Summer Of Soul embodies proudly. Four stars.
A vibrant, colorful, and beautiful love letter to immigrants, Puerto Rico, and America itself. Creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu team up to bring Lin-Manuel’s musical debut to the big screen, and it’s bursting with so much soul and energy that at times it makes your heart stop. The music is infectious upon first listen, with the actors singing and rapping with such articulation that it rivals the intricate lyricism of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s very own Hamilton. The film is lined with an impressive all-star cast, with Anthony Ramos in particular shining in the lead as Usnavi. But the cultural statement the film makes is the most powerful, telling audiences to not be ashamed of where you come from, who you are, and what dreams you are pursuing. You’ll fall in love with In The Heights so much that you’ll never want to leave. Four stars.
One of the most inventive, funny, charismatic, and heartfelt animated films of the year, and it isn’t even by Disney or Pixar. Sony Pictures knocks it out of the park yet again with this witty and wacky science-fiction comedy about a dysfunctional family fighting a robotic takeover. Developed by the same creative team behind Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, The Mitchells V.S. The Machines’ animation style is razor-sharp with stunning watercolor quality, flawlessly replicating a visual aesthetic similar to a children’s storybook. But the animation is only half of the puzzle. The other half lies in writer-director duo Mike Rianda and Jeff Rowe, who craft an incredibly sweet and sincere story about family, fatherhood, and following your dreams. The Mitchells V.S. The Machines is an animated smash hit that pops with its own style, pizzazz and personality. Four stars.
A wonderful and moving tribute to the biggest legends in tennis history and the family that rooted for them all the way there. Will Smith stars as Venus and Serena Williams’ father in this dramatic retelling of their journey to becoming tennis champions. I initially thought it was weird that a movie about Venus and Serena would focus on their father rather than themselves. But to my surprise, the movie isn’t about Venus, Serena, or Richard — it’s about the Williams family and how their love and dedication to each other propelled their daughters to unimaginable success. Everyone was amazing in this picture, from Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton as Venus and Serena to Aunjanue Ellis as their mother. But Will Smith steals the show in one of his most passionate performances to date — maybe even his best ever. The best family drama of the year that hits you right in the feels and in the heart. Four stars.
A gritty, bleak, and violent recount of a rivalry between two knights and the woman caught up in the middle of it all. In one of his best historical epics since Gladiator, Ridley Scott directs an all-star cast including Matt Damon, Adam Driver, and Ben Affleck as he tells a true story about two men’s cold-blooded conflict that eventually leads into one of the last duels in human history. Ridley Scott guides his viewers through the plot’s many perspectives, masterfully building up the stakes so you understand where every character is coming from. But the real surprise is newcomer Jodie Comer, who delivers a performance so firm and immovable that she steals the spotlight from the film’s bigger stars. A layered and intricate narrative that keeps its viewers engaged until it arrives at its pulse-pounding, heart-racing conclusion. Four stars.
A hard, harrowing, and haunting portrayal of black America and the man who tried to lead his people to liberation. Daniel Kaluuya plays Black Panther Party chairman Fred Hampton in his final years leading up to his eventual betrayal by FBI informant Bill O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield), who infiltrated the Black Panthers to gain Fred Hampton’s trust. Director Shaka King crafts a compelling, mesmerizing thriller from the pages of the Lucas Brothers’ intricate screenplay, eerily recounting the events of late 1960s Chicago and the racial and political divisions that laid deep within. But it’s Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield who steal the show, with Stanfield playing a tortured, conflicted character torn between two different worlds while Kaluyya embodies the fierce revolutionary fighting for his future. An intense and layered narrative that leaves you feeling hollow, yet hopeful by the end. Four stars.
Yeah, the marketing was horrible, the trailers were released way too late into the year, and this film was plagued with more leaks than the R.M.S. Titanic. Still, despite all of its promotional pitfalls, Spider-Man: No Way Home lives up to every single impossible expectation fans had for it. Tom Holland is the best that he’s ever been as Spider-Man, offering a gripping, mature, and emotional performance in a role filled with depth and complexion. Spider-Man’s all-star villains also make a triumphant return, with Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin being the most chilling and unnerving out of all of them. Trading the jokes and the quippy one-liners for compelling human drama, No Way Home is the most realized version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Spider-Man to date. A beautiful and heartfelt celebration of Spider-Man’s cinematic legacy. Four stars.
A heartfelt love letter to Jonathan Larson and the amazing legacy that he left behind. Andrew Garfield plays the Tony Award-winning playwright long before “Rent” became the Broadway hit that it is known as today. In his feature directorial debut, Lin-Manuel Miranda make an impact as he flawlessly replicates Larson’s style in this emotional and hard-hitting rock musical about the life of a struggling artist aspiring to be more. All of the songs in this smash hit were posthumously written by Larson himself, giving the movie a layer of authenticity that few films possess. Garfield especially shines in arguably one of his best performances ever, portraying a musician filled with love and passion even as everything crumbles all around him. In a world full of derivative, soulless musicals, Tick, Tick… BOOM! explodes with its own personality and life. The last melody will leave you in tears. Four stars.
The grandest, rawest, most epic cinematic event of the year. Based on Frank Herbert’s classic science-fiction saga, Dune tells a galactic story about warring factions fighting over the desert planet of Arrakis, which carries the most valuable asset in the universe: the spice. Director Denis Villenueve (Arrival, Blade Runner 2049) creates an engrossing and absorbing experience that immerses you in a way no other film has to date. This is a film that makes you feel the harsh sun beating down on you, the dry desert air as it parches your mouth, the heat from explosions radiating off of your body. The cinematography, the editing, the music, the visual effects: even the sound design helps create a flawless experience unmatched in its presentation. But the characters and the setting are just as fleshed out as the rest of the production is, weaving a dense and complex narrative that guides you through every twist and turn. The best blockbuster we’ve seen this decade, and we haven’t even gotten to the sequel yet. Four stars.
A deeply personal and profound dedication to cinema and the powerful emotions that they make us feel. Using camcorder footage recorded by Val Kilmer and stored away in his personal achives for several years, Val stunningly captures Val Kilmer’s entire life from his early childhood to his later years long after his blockbuster career. The film feels surprisingly vulnerable, showing sensitive and intimate moments from Val’s life that are very hard to show on camera. But that’s the life that Val and directors Leo Scott and Ting Poo wanted to show — not the celebrity in front of the movie cameras and red carpets, but rather the father, husband, and son resting at home watching as his life passes him by. On the surface level, Val is a simple film about the life and career of the star behind Top Gun, The Doors, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, The Heat, Tombstone, and many more. But on a much deeper level, Val is about loving unconditionally, sharing our stories passionately, and expressing our truths fearlessly. A brilliant, brilliant little gem of a picture that you owe yourself to experience at least once. Four stars.
And finally, my number one movie of the year. A lot of people are not going to understand my favorite film of 2021. A lot of people are going to be shocked. A lot of people are going to be surprised. A lot of people are going to be very, very confused. Quite honestly, there will be many people who will strongly disagree not just with this title placing at the top of my list, but this title placing on my list at all. All I can say is that this is hands-down the best experience I had at the movies this year and it isn’t even particularly close. And that is…
Where do I even begin with this one? After taking a five-year hiatus, Bo Burnham returns to comedy in this feature-length project that he wrote, shot, directed, performed, and edited while we were in the middle of one of the most unprecedented events in human history. The film is brilliant in Bo Burnham’s traditionally dark comedic style, breaking down complex issues into clever and witty lyrics that remain poignant and thoughtful, yet equally self-deprecating and entertaining. My favorite of his songs are “How The World Works” where he debunks social misconceptions with the help of a sock puppet, “All Eyes On Me” where he portrays mental illness in a heart-wrenching symphony of sorrow, and “Welcome To The Internet” which portrays the internet like a millennial supervillain that aims to take over every intimate, personal, and chaotic moment out of your whole life. The visuals are equally striking, with Bo playing with color and lighting in a unique way that makes each sequence pop with its own stylistic appeal. I especially liked the visual sequences of “FaceTime With My Mom” and “White Woman’s Instagram,” both of which mimic the shapes of a smartphone and Instagram posts.
But these elements alone make Inside merely an amusing experience. What makes it special is its emotional complexity, looking at deeper issues such as anxiety, depression, and suicide and how the pandemic worsened the symptoms that were already there. More than any other film released last year, Bo Burnham’s Inside made me feel seen, heard, and validated for the emotions that I experienced in 2020. Fear. Frustration. Loss. Loneliness. Regret. The soft-spoken sympathy that Bo Burnham provides here is quietly empowering — a sort of silent solidarity that reminds us all that it is okay to not feel okay.
Inside moved me and changed me in ways no other film has — not just from this past year, but from the past several years. It broke through my writer’s block, inspired me to stay creative, and encouraged me to keep doing what I love just because it makes me happy. I really can’t understate how significant of an accomplishment that is. I’ve never experienced something as deep and powerful as Inside before, and I doubt I will experience anything like it ever again. Thank you, Bo Burnham, for bringing us this mesmerizing masterpiece. You’ve given us all something to believe in. Four stars.
Thank you to all of the amazing filmmakers, actors, and studios that brought us these amazing movies in 2021. Here’s to 2022 and hoping that we continue to look toward the future.
It’s always easier to focus on the negatives, especially during a decade as dismal and pathetic as the 2020s. While 2021 generally feels like an improvement over the previous year, that’s only because it didn’t have as many unprecedented events as 2020 did. But don’t get it twisted — most of the things that were wrong in 2020 continued into 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic continued to rage on, misinformation kept spreading on the internet like wildfire, and millions of Americans still refuse to admit that the 2020 election was not stolen. That doesn’t even include all of the celebrities that we have been losing left and right, including Betty White, Sidney Poitier, and Bob Saget. I thought this was 2021, not 2016.
Even the movies suffered. While there were generally more movies released this year compared to 2020, that by extension does also means that we have seen more bad movies come out than usual. That’s why for the first time on this website, I will be covering my 10 least favorite films of 2021.
I’ve never published a worst-of list before for several reasons. One reason is because I usually don’t see that many bad movies in a given year, and definitely not enough to make a bottom 10. Another reason is because I generally don’t like spending more energy on a film that has already wasted enough of my time. But perhaps more simply, I just like focusing on the positive more. Even during a year as catastrophic as 2020, I love looking back and reflecting on the movies that made me feel the most throughout the year. After all, year-end lists should be about celebrating the year’s biggest accomplishments — not beating down its biggest failures one last time.
But I’m doing a worst-of list this year for many different reasons. One reason is that, unlike most other years, I actually have seen a lot of bad movies, which made filling out a bottom 10 list much easier. But more importantly, these abysmal films should serve as a call of action to all filmmakers out there — a general guideline on what not to do when making a movie. After all, the pandemic is still going strong, and the box office still hasn’t fully recovered from 2020. If there is ever a time for movies to justify their existence, it’s now. The movies on this list just simply didn’t do that.
So without further adieu, here are my 10 least favorite films of 2021, starting with…
Just as soon as the quality of video game movies was beginning to pick up with the likes of Detective Pikachu and Sonic The Hedgehog, here comes the newest reboot of Mortal Kombat to remind us all that at the end of the day, video game movies just suck. Mortal Kombat is lined with a massive all-star cast, with Hiroyuki Sanada’s Scorpion, Joe Taslim’s Sub-Zero, and Josh Lawson’s Kano being among the most memorable characters. And when the action is fast and free-flowing, the movie is at its most fun and exciting. Unfortunately, its script is straight-up nonsense, with one character after another dropping into the plot to offer their trademark fatalities before being violently removed from the story. It also doesn’t help that the film rests squarely on Lewis Tan’s shoulders, because he’s so bland and unappealing in the lead that he makes Jean Claude-Van Damme look like a good actor. Hopefully the sequel will be better, because until then, Mortal Kombat’s mediocrity is its biggest fatality. Two stars.
A failed fusion of genres if I’ve ever seen one. The Harder They Fall starts with a disclaimer saying that while all of the characters are real, the story that they’re in is fictional. Glad they clarified that, because the story is absolutely unbelievable in every sense of the word. This revisionist hip-hop western blatantly rips off Quentin Tarantino in a desperate bid to mimic the success of Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight. But what those movies had in wickedly clever dialogue, humor, and character is everything that The Harder They Fall lacks. The characters are dumber than a sack of potatoes, throwing themselves into needlessly dangerous situations just because the screenplay calls for it. At two hours and 19 minutes, the movie drags on at a glacial pace and does not pick up until the third act. And the movie predictably leads exactly where you thought it was going to go: into a larger-than-life shootout that they could have just jumped into an hour earlier. The Harder They Fall could be considered a misfire if the gun was ever loaded in the first place. One and a half stars.
A dull, boring, and lifeless film that thinks filling a movie with an overabundance of gunfights and sharp snapshots of the hero’s jawline can replace a clear and coherent story. In this prequel to Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six, Michael B. Jordan plays John Kelly, a Navy SEAL who seeks vengeance after his pregnant wife is murdered by Russian mercenaries. Michael B. Jordan is as intense as always, but the premise is so shamelessly generic that you could copy and paste the screenplay from other and better movies. It doesn’t help that the editing is so choppy that it leaves you dizzy while watching it, with characters coming into and out of the narrative so frequently that you forget who’s who by the time you arrive at the film’s confused and incomprehensible ending. Without Remorse is the third time Hollywood has tried to reboot Tom Clancy’s characters for the big screen, and it’s such a disappointment that I’m okay with never seeing another Tom Clancy production ever again. That includes the Splinter Cell movie that’s currently stuck in development hell. One and a half stars.
Contrived, convoluted, and unbearably cliche, The Little Things commits the most cardinal sin the movies should never do: it wasted our time. Denzel Washington and Rami Malek star as a pair of detectives tracking down a serial killer that’s rampaging through Las Vegas, and they uncover secrets that will haunt the rest of their lives forever. Washington and Malek are fine in the movie, and Jared Leto offers a chilling portrayal as one of the movie’s bigger suspects. But by and large, this is a movie that collapses under the weight of its own ambitions, with the plot having absolutely zero idea where it wants to go or how it wants to get there. The final straw comes with the movie’s conclusion, which ends on a note so flat and disappointing that it renders the whole film completely pointless. The Little Things just reinforces that you can make a bad movie from a good script, but you can’t make a good movie from a bad script. One and a half stars.
An unbelievably moronic and insipid film that throws logic right out the window in exchange for mindless action sequences and poorly-rendered CGI. Chris Pratt plays a high school biology teacher who gets wrapped up into a futuristic war between aliens and mankind as he becomes humanity’s last hope to yadda yadda yadda, blabitty, blabitty, blah. This time travel plotline is so cliche and has been done and redone several times over to the point where it just feels stale. Chris Pratt is likable enough, but when the action kicks in, all of his charisma is forgotten as the messy visual effects take over. This could have been an interesting movie about family, fate, and the inevitability of time. Instead we get yet another silly action movie that ends with the hero literally punching aliens that could eat him in two seconds. One and a half stars.
The worst superhero movie of the year by a long, long mile. Tom Hardy and Woody Harrelson go head-to-head in this symbiotic matchup between two of Spider-Man’s biggest supervillains, Venom and Carnage. But what could have been a dark and exciting exploration into both of these characters’ psyches just turns into yet another generic actionfest. Tom Hardy is great as both Eddie Brock and Venom, but the movie throws its strongest asset right out the window by splitting them up for most of its runtime. Woody Harrelson doesn’t fare much better, pathetically whining about how not being loved enough as a child drove him to become a mass murderer. The action is fine and the post-credit scene was exciting at the time, but after it led to nothing in Spider-Man: No Way Home, the post-credit scene became just like the movie itself: utterly pointless. One and a half stars.
A film that thinks it is way, way, WAY smarter than it actually is. Anthony Mackie produces and stars in this film about an android lieutenant leading his new pupil through the front lines of war, but in the process, they both get wrapped up in this nuclear conspiracy that could destroy the world. Mackie is fine in this film, but unfortunately, he is not playing the lead. That role is fulfilled by “Snowfall” actor Damson Idris, and he’s so sickeningly flat and generic that I would rather Steven Seagal play his part. The movie flip-flops between themes relating to violence, drone warfare, and technology, but it’s way too distracted and doesn’t know how to focus up and make an impact with one central message. A spastic, haphazard, brainless mess that blew up in its own face. One star.
A bizarre, off-putting, and deranged experience that has no point, no identity, and no sense of self. Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard co-star in this musical about a comedian and opera singer starting a family together when they have a daughter who is made entirely out of… wood? Driver and Cotillard’s talents are completely wasted as their characters dance aimlessly from one scene to the other. The music, meanwhile, is just straight-up garbage. I’ve watched multiple musicals this past year, and I could not recall a single note or lyric from this picture. The plot is straight-up nonsense as director Leos Carax drags you through one pointless scene after another. And by the time you reach its strange and confusing ending, I wanted nothing more but to wipe this film from my memory as soon as possible. A wasteful, mindless picture that I wish I never heard of. Half a star.
Yet another sequel/reboot that nobody asked for nor wanted. Space Jam: A New Cashgrab comes 25 years after Michael Jordan teamed up with the Looney Tunes in the original movie. LeBron James is taking the lead this time around, and man oh man is he going for the Razzie on this one. This is an awful, soulless, lifeless husk of a film that has not one original thought or idea in it. LeBron has zero heart in his performance beyond the paycheck and it shows in his delivery that feels like he’s line reading. The Looney Tunes have no point or reason for being in this story beyond the fact that this is supposed to be a Space Jam sequel. The cameos and Easter eggs are obviously manipulative and the costuming and production design is worse than a YouTube video. There were two scenes that were funny. The rest of the movie deserves to be blown up by Acme dynamite. Half a star.
And finally, my most hated film of the year. This film was so awful that I quite literally could not watch it all in a single sitting. I had to divide it up into 15-minute increments, and it was still the least pleasurable experience I had at the movies this year. This movie was cringey. This movie was torturous. This movie was…
Never again. Don’t ever let this sh*t happen again. Even when Home Alone stopped releasing movies in 1997, none of its sequels ever measured up to the original, with each new installment becoming sequentially worse one after the other. Now here comes Home Sweet Home Alone, and it’s so rotten to the core that it makes the rest of the franchise look enjoyable by comparison. Archie Yates, who previously played the lovable Yorki in Jojo Rabbit, is straight-up unbearable as this spoiled little brat whose biggest hangup is that his family isn’t paying him enough attention. Ellie Kemper and Rob Delaney play the couple trying to break into his home, and these two are so stupid they could mistake dog poop for chocolate fudge. Not a single character in this movie is either remotely appealing or intelligent, and they all get caught up in slip-ups so silly and slapstick that even Adam Sandler would think it’s too much. Home Sweet Home Alone embodies everything wrong and exploitative with modern-day Hollywood, and for that reason it is the worst film of 2021. This film deserves its zero stars, and I would give it less if I could.
And that’s it for my first (and hopefully last) worst movies list of the year, folks. Tune in next week as I break down my favorite films of 2021, my first yearly best-of list in… two years? God, 2020 sucked.
To say that Spider-Man was an important part of the foundation of superhero cinema is a severe understatement. In many ways, he paved the way for many superhero films to come after, including Daredevil, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America: even The Avengers.
Today Spider-Man continues to pave new paths forward, whether its Andrew Garfield and his quick-witted, off-brand sense of humor in the Amazing Spider-Man movies or Miles Morales crashing into other multiverses in Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse. Now Tom Holland is doing his own multiverse-crashing in Spider-Man: No Way Home, a movie that is bigger and bolder than anything we’ve ever seen from Spider-Man in the movies yet.
WARNING: This will be a very spoiler-filled analysis of Spider-Man: No Way Home. If you have not seen Spider-Man: No Way Home yet, don’t read this article. I have a shorter, spoiler-free review you can read here. You have been warned.
When Spider-Man: No Way Home begins, we think the premise speaks for itself. The whole world now knows that Peter Parker is Spider-Man, his family and friends’ lives are ruined just because they know him, Peter enlists in the help of Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to try and make the world forget his secret identity only for it to go horribly, horribly wrong in every way that it can. Now all of these villains from other Spider-Man movies are pouring into Peter’s universe trying to kill him. The whole plot seems pretty straightforward… until it isn’t.
One of the most brilliant aspects of this movie is easily its villains. For years, Sony has struggled to reboot Spider-Man’s villains as successfully as they did with Tom Holland’s Spider-Man. After all, Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina already gave us the definitive versions of Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies. Even in the unpopular Spider-Man 3 and Amazing Spider-Man films, Thomas Hayden Church, Rhys Ifans, and Jamie Foxx also delivered excellent portrayals of Sandman, Lizard, and Electro respectively. How could the MCU possibly hope to reboot these characters and make them feel more realized than their previous iterations?
Well, they don’t. The genius move that No Way Home pulls is bringing all of these villains into the MCU while retaining the original essence that made them excellent characters in the first place. When Doc Ock reappears on the bridge after Peter’s spell goes haywire, he remains driven by madness and tragedy like he was in Spider-Man 2. Lizard is more animalistic and savage in his reappearance and has reverted to an even more reptilian state since The Amazing Spider-Man. And when Electro and Sandman surface at the power plant, their respective themes blossom into nostalgic bliss as they lash out in confusion at this new world they stumbled onto. When these villains are reintroduced, we not only don’t have to waste time with their backstories since we already know them: we’re able to quickly cut to the chase and get to the heart of this story.
And what exactly is this movie about? Mercy. When these villains are brought into the fold, Doctor Strange tells Peter that they all die fighting their respective versions of Spider-Man. So by sending them back to their world, they would essentially be dooming them to their deaths. By imposing this moral dilemma, the movie is introducing a conflict much more interesting than the usual punching and acrobatics you’re using to watching in most superhero movies. Instead it asks if you could save the life of a total stranger, would you?
Now if it were me or any other cinematic cynic out there, my response would be to hit the button, say “adios” to these loonies, and then sleep like a baby afterwards. But Peter is better than most people and believes in second chances, even for people that don’t deserve them. That’s why he’s committed to helping these people, even if they are quote-unquote “bad guys.”
This fundamental difference leads Peter to one of the most interesting fights in the movie — not against another villain, but against Doctor Strange himself, who sees this issue more like a cosmic inevitability rather than a moral question that has to be answered. Pitting their ideals against each other was one of the more interesting moments of the movie, and seeing them fight against each other in the upside-down physics of the the Mirror dimension made excellent use of each other’s abilities.
And the way Spider-Man beats Strange is just so darn clever, using his geometry smarts to spin a web and trap Doctor Strange inside his own spell. To see this kid who used to need a hand from Iron Man now overcome the Sorcerer Supreme himself shows just how much the character has grown over the years and how much he can stand on his own without needing help from another Avenger.
Peter and his friends resolve that the only way to send these villains back home without killing them is by curing them of their abilities so they’re less of a threat to their own Spider-Men. He starts by replacing Doc Ock’s inhibitor chip, placing him in control of his arms rather than the other way around. Then he puts a power dampener on Electro that will revert him back to normal.
Peter begins to move on to curing the other villains when a sinister persona emerges from the deep recesses of Norman Osborn’s mind: the Green Goblin. Willem Dafoe’s return to this character was one I was most looking forward to, not just because this is his first time playing the role in 20 years, but also because his costume design looks starkly different from his last big-screen appearance. I knew from the trailers that he wasn’t going to have his iconic mask from the original Spider-Man movie. The question I was left with was how well that would work for the film overall? Would he be as terrifying, as loathsome, as unsettling a presence as he was in the first movie, or would he just be stuck feeling like wimpy old Norman Osborn?
Well surprisingly, the omission of his mask actually added to his portrayal. When the Goblin reveals himself, Willem Dafoe’s twisted, sinister expression emerges from Norman’s warm and friendly face, his sick and disturbing laugh echoing from behind his throat. It reminded me of that scene from the original Spider-Man where Norman was talking to himself in the mirror. It also reminds the audience that the thing to fear most about the Green Goblin isn’t his suit, his glider, his pumpkin bombs or even his mask: it’s his bloodlust and his vicious capacity for violence.
Peter and the Goblin fight, and man this fight is hard to watch: easily the grittiest and most brutal fight out of the entire Homecoming trilogy. Goblin is throwing Peter through walls, Peter is frantically punching him in the face, only for the Goblin to maniacally laugh at his feeble attempts to stop him.
Then at the very end of the fight, Goblin does the most shocking thing of all: he kills Aunt May. He summons his glider, stabs May in the back, and even chunks a pumpkin bomb at her for extra measure. And before May collapses in Peter’s arms, she passes on that iconic line “with great power comes great responsibility” before she dies.
This scene is so great for so many reasons. One is because Willem Dafoe’s performance as the Goblin is just so frightening and sadistic. He genuinely feels like the Green Goblin from the comics, the one that hates Peter so much and desires nothing more than to hurt him in the deepest and most personal ways possible. The fact that he specifically targets May just to hurt Peter makes him feel that more nefarious as a villain. In many ways, Dafoe’s performance as the Goblin here outdoes previous adaptations of the character. That does, by the way, include his appearance in the original Spider-Man.
But on a deeper level, this is a much more significant character-defining moment for Peter. By uttering that iconic line moments before she dies from a villain born from Peter’s mistakes, she becomes the catalyst for his growth as Spider-Man. She’s essentially become the MCU’s Uncle Ben, which is why I’m okay if he’s never referenced again in future Spider-Man movies: because Aunt May’s death has now become Peter’s main motivation for continuing his crusade as Spider-Man, not Uncle Ben.
But right at Peter’s lowest moment, two new contenders enter the fray: Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man. You see, Strange’s spell also summoned them into this universe alongside their respective villains, and it’s their words that push Peter to keep going. After all, they’ve been at the same hopeless place Tom Holland’s Peter is at right now. If anybody understands what he’s feeling, it’s them.
Long rumored to appear in No Way Home, I can’t tell you how exciting it was to finally see Tobey and Andrew suit up as Spider-Man again after hanging up the mask for over seven years. We learn a lot about both Peters after their stories concluded in Spider-Man 3 and Amazing Spider-Man 2. Tobey Maguire’s Peter married MJ and grew a life with her while juggling his double-life as Spider-Man. Andrew Garfield’s vigilantism took a darker, more violent turn after he failed to save Gwen Stacey in his last movie.
But the important thing to take away from both of these Peter’s monologues is their wealth of experience. It isn’t just their fates that we’re interested in: we’re invested in their words of wisdom and what they can pass on to Tom Holland’s Peter during his time of need. I love the fact that some of my favorite moments in this movie aren’t high-stakes action of fight sequences: they’re character-building moments between the three different Spider-Men. Their dialogue and chemistry with each other just feels so natural, like three brothers meeting up together after a long time apart.
It really demonstrates that each of these actors brought something unique and distinct to their respective portrayals of Spider-Man, and none of them have deserved the animosity they’ve received from Spider-Man fans over the years. They’re all special in their own ways, and I hope No Way Home finally helps fans realize that.
I also really like that despite each of these actors having their own moment in the film, neither Tobey or Andrew steal the spotlight from Tom Holland’s Spider-Man. This is, after all, still his movie, and it is his arc that we’re invested in. Tobey and Andrew are more like mentors to Tom Holland, and they fit perfectly as the most important supporting cast members in the movie.
The three Spider-Men collaborate to cure the remaining villains as they set a trap on the Statue of Liberty. Electro, Sandman, and Lizard appear as the three Spider-Men duke it out against their respective villains. Sandman and Lizard are both turned back into their normal human selves, Doc Ock shows up and helps the remaining Spider-Men cure Electro, and the two Peters share a heart-to-heart with the villains, telling them that they never wanted them to die and only ever wanted to help them. Andrew Garfield even experienced a full-circle moment saving MJ from a fatal fall, redeeming himself from his failures in Amazing Spider-Man 2.
Then Green Goblin shows up again and nearly ruins everything. He blows up the box that Strange used to contain the spell, allowing the multiverse to break open and have an infinite number of Spider-villains pour into their universe. Tom Holland’s Spider-Man and Goblin fight again at the base of the statue, brutally trading punches as they’re committed to killing each other. Tom’s Spider-Man ends up webbing Goblin in place as he lands one blow after another, then in a fit of rage, picks up the Goblin’s glider, ready to end his life.
Only he doesn’t kill him. As he brings down the glider, Tobey’s Peter jumps in the way and stops Tom’s Peter from landing the killing blow. As they struggle against each other for a moment, Tom slowly eases himself and sets the glider down, only for Goblin to stab Tobey in the back at the last second.
This is yet another great full-circle moment that speaks to the hearts of these characters. Tom’s Peter is still in a state of grieving, and in a moment of weakness, gives in to his hate to try and kill his greatest foe. Tobey’s Peter steps in to stop him, giving him this piercing, firm gaze that tells Tom’s Peter that he has to be better than this. And in a throwback moment to the very first Spider-Man, Goblin stabs Tobey’s Peter in the back, something he tried to do the last time they faced off. It shows in a very powerful moment that not only is doing the right thing sometimes hard to do: in many ways, it can also backfire on you in very personal ways. But taking the right path is often not the same thing as taking the easiest path: that’s what makes taking it so virtuous and noble.
Andrew throws Tom the anti-Goblin serum and they succeed in injecting it, effectively killing the Goblin while still saving Norman’s life. But the Goblin’s damage has already been done, and the villains are beginning to pour into their universe. So Peter does the only thing he can do: he asks Doctor Strange to make everybody forget Peter Parker ever existed. By doing this, he sends both of the Spider-Men home, the villains go back to their respective universes, and the multiverse is saved from collapsing.
But in the same stroke, both MJ and Ned forget everything they ever experienced with Peter, and the following montage is probably the most tragic moment out of the whole picture. Because you see Peter approaching the coffee shop MJ is working at, rehearsing his lines, ready to reconnect with them after they’ve lost all memory of him. But when he sees that she has a cut on her forehead from his battle on the Statue of Liberty, he forgets the whole plan and walks away. Loving her has only put MJ in harms way every time he suits up as Spider-Man. If keeping her out of his life means she’s safe, that’s a small price to pay for Peter: even if it means he ends up all alone.
This is what I love most about this movie, and really what most of these Spider-Man movies have been missing since the original Sam Raimi films. More than any other movie in the Homecoming trilogy, more than most other movies in the MCU, Spider-Man: No Way Home shows the sacrifice that comes with being a hero. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, Spider-Man was having fun web-zipping around the city as an excitable teenager, while in Spider-Man: Far From Home he needed to step up and stand on his own as the world wrestled with its mightiest heroes being gone. No Way Home is the first movie in Tom Holland’s trilogy where it shows the true cost of being Spider-Man. Aunt May said it best in Spider-Man 2 where she says that sometimes being a hero means giving up the thing we want the most: even our dreams.
There are some things that don’t work quite as well in the movie. For instance, Sandman and Electro’s costume designs aren’t as interesting alongside their supervillain counterparts, with Thomas Hayden Church looking like a literal CGI sand man while Electro looks as generic as an electrical worker. Some of the movie’s multiversal logic also doesn’t hold up that well, especially when you begin to question when these villains specifically got pulled from their universes. Because if they got pulled moments before their deaths, then Peter’s actions in this movie could end up meaning nothing anyway.
There was also a post-credits scene involving Tom Hardy’s Venom that was just straight up DUMB, and I do mean it with the all caps. Here was Venom: Let There Be Carnage, teasing Venom’s appearance in No Way Home and what it could mean for Venom in the MCU. Then not only does the movie decide not to use him at any capacity: they decide to send him back without any further interaction. If you weren’t going to use him in the movie, then what on Earth was the point to teasing him in Venom: Let There Be Carnage? Couldn’t you have just cut both credit scenes from those movies, shave down the run time, and save the audience the frustration?
Aside from those irritations, Spider-Man: No Way Home shows Peter at his most human: his most flawed, fallible, and vulnerable. By the end of the movie, Peter gives up everything he cares about most: his Aunt May, his best friend, his true love, even his literal identity. Yet he gives it all up anyway just to do the right thing. Because at the end of the day, that’s what being Spider-Man is all about. It’s not about the webs, the cool Stark suits, the wall-crawling or the amazing adventures. It’s about wielding great power, and bearing the responsibility and the sacrifice that comes with it.