Category Archives: The Scope

Shoulda, CODA, Woulda: How The 94th Academy Awards Was A Knockout

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. 

Unfortunately, this is still the Oscars, and every year brings its own variety of shocking surprises. After previous ceremonies where Best Picture winners got mixed up, a Korean film took home the top prize, and an In Memoriam segment where the Academy disrespectfully sped through it like it was trying to skip a cutscene, I thought I had seen it all. 

I was wrong. I was so, so, so very wrong. 

SOURCE: Apple TV

Best Picture:

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.

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

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.). 

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

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. 

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

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. 

– David Dunn

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2022 Oscar Predictions

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:

SOURCE: Netflix

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.

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios

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.

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

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.

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

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?

SOURCE: Sony Pictures

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.

– David Dunn

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The Power Of The Nominations

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 The Father. 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). 

SOURCE:

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.

SOURCE: 20th Century Studios

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. 

– David Dunn

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Top 21 Films Of 2021

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…

21. House Of Gucci

SOURCE: Warner Bros.

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. 

20. Encanto

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios

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.

19. Respect

SOURCE: United Artists

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.

18. Zack Snyder’s Justice League

SOURCE: Warner Bros.

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. 

17. Luca

SOURCE: Pixar Animation Studios

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. 

16. Don’t Look Up

SOURCE: Netflix

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.

15. Nightmare Alley

SOURCE: Searchlight Pictures

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. 

14. The Suicide Squad

SOURCE: Warner Bros.

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.

13. Raya And The Last Dragon

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios

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.

12. No Time To Die

SOURCE: United Artists Releasing

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.

11. Summer Of Soul

SOURCE: Searchlight Pictures

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.

10. In The Heights

SOURCE: Warner Bros.

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.

9. The Mitchells V.S. The Machines

SOURCE: Netflix

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.

8. King Richard

SOURCE: Warner Bros.

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.

7. The Last Duel

SOURCE: 20th Century Studios

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.

6. Judas And The Black Messiah

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

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.

5. Spider-Man: No Way Home

SOURCE: Sony Pictures

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.

4. Tick, Tick… BOOM!

SOURCE: Netflix

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.

3. Dune

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

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.

2. Val

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…

1. Inside

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.

– David Dunn

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The 10 Worst Films Of 2021

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…

10. Mortal Kombat

SOURCE: Warner Bros.

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.

9. The Harder They Fall

SOURCE: Netflix

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.

8. Without Remorse

SOURCE: Amazon Studios

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.

7. The Little Things

SOURCE: Warner Bros.

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.

6. The Tomorrow War

SOURCE: Amazon Studios

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.

5. Venom: Let There Be Carnage

SOURCE: Sony Pictures

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. 

4. Outside The Wire

SOURCE: Netflix

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. 

3. Annette

SOURCE: Amazon Studios

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. 

2. Space Jam: A New Legacy

SOURCE: Warner Bros.

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… 

1. Home Sweet Home Alone

SOURCE: Disney+

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.

– David Dunn

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The Spectacular Spoiler-Man

SOURCE: Sony Pictures

It’s amazing to look back on how much Spider-Man has grown over the past couple of decades. In 2002, it was hard to imagine Spider-Man making his leap to the big screen while retaining the same sense of awe, wonder, and inspiration that he did in the comics. Yet not only did Spider-Man become one of the biggest blockbuster smashes of all time: it also spawned multiple sequels, two distinct reboots, an epic cinematic crossover with the Avengers, and even an Academy Award-winning animated film

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? 

SOURCE: Sony Pictures

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?

SOURCE: Sony Pictures

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.

SOURCE: Marvel Studios

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.

SOURCE: Sony Pictures

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.

– David Dunn

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Inside Our Insecurities

It’s amazing how universal the language of loneliness can be. When COVID-19 came to our front door last year and forced all of us to socially distance from one another, a lot of us found ourselves staying indoors isolated from any human connection whatsoever. This has led to many of us being trapped not just inside our homes, but inside our thoughts, our emotions, our insecurities, and ultimately everything about our very being. I got to know David Dunn very well during my time quarantined with him last year, and I can tell you with utmost confidence that I don’t like him very much. I still don’t.

In Inside, Bo Burnham also finds himself locked in with himself (or at the very least, a caricature of himself) and struggling with the same emotions many of us experienced last year.  In this new Netflix special, Bo writes, shoots, edits, directs, and performs everything all by himself inside of his apartment for a whole year to stop himself from “putting a bullet” into his head. Creating is no longer merely a source of enjoyment or fulfillment for him. Instead, it has become a literal means of survival, or at the very least, an attempt at some semblance of sanity or well-being. 

I’m taking a break from my self-imposed hiatus to talk about Inside for a number of reasons. One is because I relate closely with the subject matter Bo explores here, and another is because I know Bo is a funny and introspective entertainer that evaluates deep and complex ideas and enjoys savagely deconstructing them for his viewers. But perhaps most simply, I genuinely felt inspired to talk about Inside. It’s funny how for the past year, I felt my reviews contributed nothing of significance to the general public during a pandemic, an election, and a racial and cultural reckoning that’s been long overdue. I still don’t, but I at least understand a lot of what is being explored in this film, and I think that’s worth talking about. 

When Inside opens up, we see Bo’s younger self walk into his apartment, which is surprisingly a seamless transition from the ending of his last comedy special Make Happy five years ago. After the title screen, we see a gradual progression from the pale, baby-faced Bo we’re used to seeing into his older, bearded, lethargic self that sings about how exhausting menial tasks such as getting up and sitting down have become for him. Then in his first musical number “Comedy,” he reflects on how pointless joking seems in a time like this to the sounds of artificial laughter echoing in the background. His first words feel the most helpless: “I wanna help to leave this world better than I found it, and I fear that comedy won’t help, and the fear is not unfounded.” 

It’s not even five minutes into the special, and we’re already fully immersed into the sentiment of what it was like living through 2020. The rest of the film is like that, observing deep social issues through the personalized lens of one guy locked inside his room for a full year. I think it’s funny how many films released last year tried to cheaply cash in on the COVID-19 pandemic, whether it was unbearable romantic comedies like Locked Down or the grossly manipulative horror film Songbird. Yet with Inside, Bo beautifully portrays what it was like living through 2020 better than any other film has so far.  

It’s hard to know where to start with Inside, because so much of it is just so clever, ingenious, and original. Obviously, one of Bo’s most distinguishable elements as an artist is his music, which has always been equal parts funny, catchy, memorable, insightful, and incredibly entertaining. But while his quirky piano melodies and clever lyrics have always been his strongest suit as a performer, Bo is operating on a whole other level with Inside. He experiments and toys with multiple musical styles and genres throughout the film, whether it’s with the jazzy pizzaz of “Unpaid Intern,” the ’80s workout tunes of “Problematic,” or the folksy guitar strums of “That Funny Feeling.” Musically speaking, Bo is at his most versatile here and has never been better. 

But it isn’t just his musical styles that stand out: his lyrics are equally mature, oddballish, and incredibly thought-provoking. In the innocent, adolescent sounds of “How The World Works,” Bo dispels of societal misconceptions with the help of a sock puppet facing an existential crisis, while in “30” he laments on growing older and becoming the quote-unquote “boomer” that he used to make fun of. One of the very best songs in the film is “Welcome To The Internet,” where he parodies the internet in a performance that can only be described as a millennial James Bond villain and monologues how he aims to take over every intimate, personal, chaotic moment of your whole life. The most eerie and sinister line comes in the chorus, where Bo asks “Could I interest you in everything all of the time?” 

Surprisingly one of the most standout elements of this special is the visuals. I know, I know, a film shot entirely in one room over the course of a year doesn’t sound like it would be that eye-catching. But Bo makes excellent use of the space he’s confined to, composing captivating, sharp, and visually stimulating shots more so than even some filmmakers do on big-budget movie sets. During “FaceTiming With My Mom,” the dark blue hues of his room nicely complement the isolated feeling of being locked inside as the framing shrinks to the 16:9 ratio resembling a smartphone. Meanwhile in “Problematic,” the saturated oranges and reds shine vibrantly like a workout video, with a sweaty Bo riding on an exercise bike asking his viewers to “hold him accountable.” 

The most visually impressive sequence lies in “White Woman’s Instagram,” where he hilariously parodies social media tropes inside of the 360:360 squares you’d normally see on Instagram. Not only is the song funny enough on its own, but the images and shots you see here accurately recreate some of the same photos you might see on Instagram. I’m not even kidding. Whether it’s latte foam art, an avocado, or a stunning light display, every image he captures could be pulled from the film and published on Instagram, and nobody would question it. It is that distinct and on-point. 

All of these elements make Inside an entertaining comedy special, but not necessarily a unique one. What truly makes Inside stand out is its tone and emotional complexity. Throughout the picture, Bo visibly struggles with his isolation, anxiety, and depression, and this is further emphasized in the mood between cuts. During the musical numbers, the room is brightly lit up, the colors and their hues are shimmering and shining, and Bo seems genuinely happy, or at least entertained, while playing his piano and singing. But in between the music and skits, Bo is noticeably more solemn, somber, and sluggish: like it’s a challenge for him to even breathe sometimes.

I’ve seen this type of behavior before in myself last year. Whenever I was on Zoom calls, hopping onto daily FaceTime sessions, talking on the phone, or filming in front of my camera, my room and face was lit up with the same vibrancy and life that was on Bo’s. But whenever the cameras were shut off and I sat in my dark room scrolling through Twitter or Facebook, I felt a tightening around my chest like the world was closing in around me and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I feel like many people experienced this sensation last year, and Bo brilliantly recaptures the essence of that emotion with stunning detail… quite possibly because he went through that too.

The film’s most powerful moments come in the lead up to his second to last single “All Eyes On Me,” where Bo collapses into tears as he experiences a full-on mental and emotional meltdown. During the song, Bo asks us to pray for him in a mesmerizing symphony of sorrow, where he reveals he had struggled with panic attacks his whole life and was just getting better right before the pandemic hit last year. Again, I relate way too closely with this. Not only have I suffered from my own panic attacks as well, but I was just getting serious about seeking professional help last year before the pandemic shut everything down. The last verse most captures my emotional state last year: “You say the whole world’s ending? Honey, it already did.” 

Finally in his last single “Goodbye,” Bo reflects on how much he’s changed over the last year and how he can never go back to who he once was. As I saw his younger, friendlier, familiar face fade into the grimy, unkempt appearance of a man as emotionally drained as he was exhausted, I cried as if I was saying goodbye to a dearly beloved friend I had known my entire life. I feel like in a way, Bo was saying goodbye to his old self in the song as he comes to realize he’s now a different person at the end of it all. Truthfully, the same thing happened to me last year too. I doubt any of us came out of 2020 being the same person we were at the beginning of it.

And throughout the whole special, you’re rooting for Bo to step outside, just once: to have the sun shining on his face, free from that crummy, dark, claustrophobic room, just trying to live his life one day — one breath — at a time. I am going to spoil it for you by saying he never does go outside. Instead, there’s a filmed bit where he steps outside to a spotlight shining on him and the sounds of applause cheering for him, but when he tries to go back inside, he panics when he discovers that he’s locked out while the audience laughs at him and his misery. The final shot is him watching this scene from his projector, and while the audience is laughing, he lets out a small smile from the corner of his mouth. 

For some reason, I find this ending to be a much more fitting, much more powerful ending for the film rather than some melodramatic conclusion where he epically flings the door open and leaves his room forever. And the reason why is because it completely fits his character and where he is at by the end of the film. Throughout the picture, Bo struggles with his identity, his self-worth, and how he sees himself. After all, when the world is on literal fire outside of your home, how small and insignificant must you and your struggles feel compared to all of the misery and suffering going on outside of the world? But by the end of the film, Bo has come closer to a place of acceptance and self-realization. While there are things about himself he may never like and he may never get over, he has grown to be more comfortable — more aware — of himself, so much so that he can even utter out a small laugh at himself and not feel insecure for doing so. 

To me, that’s more encouraging and sincere than a theatrical, over-the-top Hollywood ending ever could be. That shows growth. That shows progress. That shows hope that not only one day Bo may be truly comfortable with himself, but that he can one day maybe live his life free of the anxiety and panic that has plagued him for so long. Hope that one day, he may be able to step outside and not be afraid of doing so. 

– David Dunn

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Lost In The World

“I don’t like my mind right now. Stacking up problems that are so unnecessary. I wish that I could slow things down. I wanna let go, but there’s comfort in the panic.”

– Chester Bennington

First of all, I wanted to thank my readers for sticking with this website for as long as you have. Since 2013, I’ve been writing reviews on this website because I love talking about the movies and sharing my experiences with others. It has never been easy for me to connect with people on a personal level, and the movies have always helped me break through some of those social barriers I’ve always had. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you for following me and for always being interested in my opinions on the movies. Your support is what has kept me going all of these years.

Secondly, I want to apologize for all of the inactivity you’ve seen on my website for the past year. Since the pandemic hit in March last year (God, it feels so good to refer to 2020 as “last year”), I was under the impression that I would be able to publish content on my website like never before. For once in a rare occasion, I was not bound by the release schedules of new movies coming out or the cycling of unwanted sequels, remakes, and reboots pouring into movie theaters. I had even more freedom to watch and review whatever I wanted from home. A smarter critic, or a more stable one, would have leapt at the opportunity to invest in themself and their portfolio.

I began with a decent-ish start. I reviewed one of the best movies released last decade, a Spanish film by Alfonso Cuaron called Roma, revisited The Invisible Man and Sonic The Hedgehog, finally got to review the emotionally-stirring Spike Lee epic Malcolm X, and even got to follow up on his newest release Da 5 Bloods. And just last month, I got to write a spoiler-filled review of Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Man, that was fun.

I reviewed a few films throughout the year, but nowhere near as many as I wanted to. There were way more films I watched last year that I couldn’t review, among them including Onward, The King of Staten Island, The Devil All The Time, Tenet, The Outpost, The Social Dilemma, John Lewis: Good Trouble, and The Trial Of The Chicago 7, which I labeled my favorite film of 2020.

And when I say that I couldn’t review them, I really do mean that I couldn’t review them. I’ve struggled with writer’s block in the past, whether I’m writing for my own website or for publications outside of it, but 2020 delivered writer’s block like I’ve never dealt with before. I don’t even know what caused it. Maybe I wasn’t feeling inspired. Maybe I felt intimidated by the blank page in front of me. Or maybe I was just tired. God knows 2020 gave me more than a few reasons to feel that way.

This is a strange sensation I feel, and it makes me feel trapped in a way I have never experienced before. In past years, no matter what I was going through, I could always turn to the movies to help me escape from my own reality and immerse myself into another’s. No matter whether I was dealing with issues in my academics or jobs, a dramatic breakup, anxiety attacks, or the death of my grandmother, the movies were always there to help me break away from my own experiences and empathize with someone else’s. Having the privilege to experience that and share that with others is easily one of the greatest gifts I have ever had. No feeling comes close to connecting to someone else through your words and your shared experience in the theater together.

2020 sullied that experience for me for a number of reasons. For one thing, the shut down of movie theaters affected me much more than I expected it to. Whenever theaters closed and everyone stayed cooped up at home, I thought the movie-watching experience would just be a change of scenery. I was grossly mistaken. The theater has another level of immersion to it — the lights dimming, the stereo sound swelling up around you, the screen lighting up in bright and vivid colors as the music crescendoed into its first dramatic note. Whenever you’re in the movie theater, you’re genuinely immersed into the film, its characters, and the story that they go through. It doesn’t become just a movie at that point: it unfolds with a life of its own.

But at home on my couch, you notice that life, that vibrancy, is diminished. Not gone by any means, but diluted into a smaller experience. You notice how the TV screen captures fewer details of the film on it, the sound on the speakers not popping with the same impact, the plumbing and the pipes making sounds around you, your neighbors yelling next door, and the kids shouting outside while they’re playing. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m abundantly grateful we were even able to stream movies at all from home this year. If I had to pick between streaming and not having movies, I’m picking streaming no questions asked. Regardless, there’s no denying that streaming is a different experience from watching movies in a theater. It’s like going from an amazing four-course meal at a luxurious steakhouse to eating at Red Lobster.

Also, different platforms limit access to some of these movies for families that have one streaming service or another. For instance, Soul and the live-action Mulan remake streamed exclusively on Disney+, while Wonder Woman 1984 is on HBO Max. Da 5 Bloods, The Outpost, and The Devil All The Time, meanwhile, were all streaming exclusively on Netflix, and subscription cancellations surged eight times since that whole Cuties fiasco earlier last year. Can you imagine how pointless it would have been to review The Trial of the Chicago 7 a month after several hundred people canceled their subscriptions and can’t even watch the damn thing?

That’s not even getting into the myriad of other horrible, horrible issues the nation was dealing with, including thousands dying from the dreaded pandemic, record unemployment numbers, an economic recession, millions of evictions, food banks under crisis, ongoing cases of police brutality, the resulting protests and riots, and a hotly-contested presidential election where people to this day still refuse to acknowledge that Donald Trump lost and would rather believe in illogical conspiracy theories alleging the election was rigged. Seriously, out of the thousands of issues plaguing this year, who honestly gives a rat’s ass what score a snobby movie critic gave a film on RottenTomatoes?

I guess what I’m trying to say is that 2020 discouraged me in a way I had not experienced before — in a way to where it froze my muscles, wiped my mind blank, and erased the words I was ready to pour out onto the page. That hurts. More than anything else from that crummy, crummy year, being unable to express myself through my reviews was a loss I’ve experienced unlike no other this year. It’s robbed me in ways I didn’t even think I could be robbed.

Now please don’t get me wrong — I understand just how much of a first-world problem this is, especially during a pandemic. If I had to pick between being sick with COVID-19, being unemployed, evicted, homeless, or hit a creative dead zone, I would pick the situation I currently am in now. I’m not a fool. I know without a doubt that circumstances could be worse, and indeed, they may even be down the road. But nevertheless, I’ve lost an important piece of myself in 2020. Coming to that realization is a pain I hope few have to experience.

What does this mean for me and my website going forward? I’m not quite sure. With movie theaters reopening and more and more people getting vaccinated, some people are letting their guard down thinking life is returning back to normal. I for one am not as confident. Although I am fully vaccinated, 60% of the country is still unvaccinated, while in Texas it’s 65%. I’d feel terrible if someone caught COVID-19 from going to see a movie I recommended, or even worse, died from it. Either way, I don’t feel comfortable resuming my movie reviewing like everything is all normal again, because the truth is it isn’t. Not even close.

Besides, I feel like 2021 needs to be more about myself than it needs to be about my portfolio. I need to re-discover my love of writing, invest in my physical and mental health, and re-learn to appreciate movies on their own terms rather than trying to hyper-analyze them all the time. Writing is not my job: it is my passion, and it needs to stay that way. Because of this, I feel like the healthiest thing for me to do at this point is to step away from my website and focus on more urgent priorities that require my attention at the moment.

Understand that this doesn’t mean I am quitting publishing altogether. You’ll still see my byline in Southlake Style magazine and The Waxahachie Sun, and maybe even a video or two on my YouTube page. And a few months down the road if everything truly does go back to normal, maybe I’ll start regularly posting on this website again. Until then, I feel like I need to take the pressure off of posting on here and prioritize myself and my emotional health. It’s something I’ve put off for a long time now and I’ve finally reached a point to where I can no longer ignore it.

Thank you so much for understanding dear reader, and thank you as always for keeping up with me and supporting my website. I’ll be back as soon as I am able, and whenever that happens, I look forward to sharing the cinematic experience with you as I always have.

See you all at the movies.

– David

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Why I Left The Republican Party

Leah Millis/Reuters

I’ve debated for a long time whether or not I wanted to write this piece. After the four-year nightmare of the last administration, a heavily contested presidential election, and an insurrection that killed five people and threatened our democracy, I needed to step away from politics for a minute to take care of myself and give myself the mental and emotional break that I needed. But after toiling the past few years in my head the last few months, I can no longer be silent. I have to express myself freely here, even if it is just for my own sake.

The first time I became interested in American politics was during the 2008 presidential elections. Back then I identified as a constitutional conservative, and I was rooting for John McCain to win the presidency. There were many reasons why I identified as a conservative back then. For one thing, most of my favorite presidents were all Republicans, including my number one favorite president Abraham Lincoln. For another thing, the Republican Party had a long history of promoting liberty and fighting oppression, and I was especially disgusted by the Southern Democrats’ sordid history with slavery. And for another more simple reason, I just agreed with their platform more. Whether it was regarding free trade, taxes, supporting the police and military, and general social causes, I more closely aligned with Republican policies and thought it led to a stronger nation more than the Democrats’ identity-driven politics did.

But more than anything else to me, the Republicans genuinely seemed to be more interested in free speech and open debate with others they disagreed with, while the Democrats were more inclined to bullying and mocking their political opponents just because they thought differently than they did. I found that kind of repression and belittling to be disrespectful and pointless. If you’re trying to convince me of your argument, you’re never going to get there by calling me names or by treating me with hostility. That’s a piss-poor way to get me to like you, let alone to try and understand your viewpoint.

I genuinely believed all of this in my heart of hearts until Donald Trump secured the Republican nomination in 2016. To me, there was no part of him that behaved like a true conservative, even less so a president. For one thing, I found his policies to be egregious and excessive even by conservative standards. While we needed border security, I thought the wall was a stupid and wasteful idea and there were better ways to protect our country than by building a giant brick that immigrants could either swim, dig, walk, or climb their way around. I also knew that Mexico was not in a million, billion years going to pay for it, and people who genuinely believed that were either foolish, willfully ignorant, or quite possibly both. His flip-flopping on the issues was also quite concerning, as he couldn’t clearly dictate whether he was pro-choice or pro-life, would accept refugees or deport them all, or protect LGBT communities or discriminate against them. Hell, he even struggled with accepting or rejecting endorsements from the KKK. At least with Hillary Clinton, Gary Johnson, and Jill Stein, you knew where they stood on the issues and could confidently vote for or against them. Donald Trump was more inconsistent than Paul Ryan, and that’s saying something.

But the worst part of his campaign to me was his conduct. From encouraging violence at his rallies to blatantly disrespecting war heroes to mocking a disabled reporter to the thousands of disparaging remarks he’s made about women, including in the now-infamous Billy Bush tape, there was no part of Donald Trump that embodied the decency and the respect that I believed Republicans were capable of. I thought Democrats could be rude and condescending, but Donald Trump was so rotten to the core that he pushed me away from the Republican Party and made me even consider voting for Clinton. In the end I didn’t vote for either major party candidate because, in my view, neither of them deserved the presidency. I still question whether or not that was the right decision to make.

Against all of my better wishes, Donald Trump won the election and became president. And unbelievably enough, I had hope for his presidency. I had thought that imbued with the high power and responsibility of the Oval Office, he would elevate himself to the White House’s standards and be the president that all of America needed. I vastly overestimated his capabilities. From his lies to his racist dog whistles to his multiple emolument violations to his two impeachments to his draconian immigration policies to his inhumane and heartless family separations to his shitty, shitty, SHITTY response to the coronavirus, there was no bottom for how low Donald Trump and his presidency could sink. It’s like he dug himself a 6-foot grave and then kept digging, and digging, and digging, digging, digging, digging, digging, digging, digging, and digging until he popped his Oompa Loompa face out on the other end of the Earth and emerged from China (or Chiy-nah, as the former president likes to pronounce it).

But to me, all of that wasn’t even the worst part of his presidency. Not even close. Because at every turn, at every tweet, at every stupid, cruel, and incompetent decision he made, at every jab at his critics, at every broken precedent, at every disrespectful swipe at his constituents, at every racist, sexist, homophobic statement, at every spit in the face to our constitution and our union, Republicans stood by Donald Trump, defended him, and absolved him of any responsibility or accountability. It’s one thing to support a particular policy a president supports and advocates for. It’s another thing entirely to enable bad, abhorrent behavior and spoon-feed excuses to the baby-in-chief year after year after year after year. It’s like they jumped into the 60-foot grave with the disgraced ex-president and happily started digging along with him. 

When Donald Trump obstructed an FBI investigation into his campaign’s contacts with Russia at least 10 times, Republicans supported him by saying the investigation was purely political, despite the fact they all supported a lengthy investigation into Benghazi that resulted in zero arrests or convictions.

When Donald Trump attempted to cancel DACA and jeopardized over 800,000 Dreamers’ lives, Republicans defended it as “good politics” and used it as a scapegoat to try and build the wall.

When Donald Trump was accused of sexual assault by 25 different women, Republicans tried to switch the conversation to Joe Biden’s eight allegations while simultaneously dismissing all of Trump’s accusers as liars and political opportunists.

When Donald Trump separated over 5,000 families and deported over 500 children’s parents, Republicans blamed the Obama administration despite the fact that it wasn’t their policy and that we have seen the attorney general’s memorandum to prove it.

When Donald Trump shut down the government three times due to his own ignorance and refusal to work with Congress, Republicans blamed their Democratic peers despite their numerous attempts towards bipartisan solutions.

When Donald Trump called Africa and Haiti “shithole countries,” compared immigrants to animals, quoted segregationist George Wallace, told four congresswomen of color to go back “from which they came,” and said there were good people “on both sides” of Charlottesville, Republicans argued he was taken out of context and didn’t say those things that he did.

And when Donald Trump’s clumsy, incompetent, idiotic response to COVID-19 cost us over 584,000 lives and counting, Republicans deflected to Obama’s epidemic responses despite the fact that Donald Trump lost 46 times more lives in one pandemic than Obama did in four epidemics.

For me, there was no last straw when it came to Donald Trump’s Republican Party. It was more like they dumped the wheelbarrow of all of its straws, set it on fire, then ripped the wood from the barrow and threw it into the fire to keep it burning. Then they detached the wheels and handles and burned that shit too before they threw the bolts in as well. But if I had to pick a last flaming disaster when it came to Donald Trump and his Trumplicans, it would have to be the 2020 election and their subsequent response to it.

Because if you paid attention to Donald Trump’s rhetoric, behavior, and actions at all over the last six years, none of what happened with the 2020 election’s outcome came as a surprise to anyone. Everything, from Trump’s refusal to concede, to whining that the election was stolen from him, to claiming without proof that the Democrats cheated, to demanding that Republicans overturn the election to launching a God-damned attack on the Capitol, all of it is in line with who he is and how he behaves. And that is, in a few words, childish, immature, repulsive, sickening, and deplorable.

What is surprising is how many Republicans supported his efforts to overturn the election — indeed, continued to support him even after his supporters attacked the Capitol. Shortly after the attack had ended, 147 Republicans voted to overturn the election and the will of the American people. After the certification of the votes, 240 Republicans voted not to convict Trump for inciting a riot onto the Capitol despite all of their empty condemnations of his behavior. Around 45 percent of them then said they supported the Jan. 6 insurrection, voted to oust Rep. Liz Cheney for refusing to say the election was stolen, and then voted against creating a commission to investigate the facts surrounding the attempted coup. Indeed, if Donald Trump were to announce his run for the 2024 GQP nomination today, 66 percent of these idiots would support him again despite everything he did to try and usurp our democracy. That’s how beyond decency, reasoning, and common sense most of these Congressional Republicans have become.

I don’t know what changed with the Republican Party. I genuinely don’t. I don’t know how they’ve gone from resisting tyrants during our country’s founding to now suddenly worshipping one in their own party. I don’t know how they’ve gone from advocating for limited government to now being perfectly okay with authoritarian government as long as it fits their agenda. I don’t know how they go from supporting legal immigration to criminalizing it, from saying all lives matter to only some lives matter, from claiming to be pro-life to suddenly not giving a rat’s ass about other lives the minute they leave the womb. I don’t recognize this party at all from the one I grew up with. More terrifyingly, I wonder if it ever existed at all or if I was fooled into thinking it was ever anything other than what it actually is.

To me, the modern-day Republican Party is not one of fiscal responsibility, limited government, legal immigration, liberty, independence, free speech, pro-life, or even “family” values. It is the party of embracing lies and conspiracy theories over truth and reality. It is the party of making the rich richer and the poor poorer. It is the party that celebrates cruelty and isolationism over unity and progress. It is the party of intolerance that will bully you and yell “fuck your feelings” if your views don’t line up 100% with theirs. It is the party of hypocrisy and double standards that will hold their political opponents to the strictest standards while simultaneously giving themselves a free pass on breaking every precedent in the book. It is the party that cares when Bill Clinton gets a blow job but doesn’t even bat an eye when Donald Trump obstructs multiple investigations, tries to overturn an election, and incites an attack on the Capitol.

That is why I no longer identify as a Republican or as a conservative. Today’s Republican Party does not stand for American values, if they ever stood for them at all. They only stand for Donald Trump and their own reelection prospects. At this point, I not only refuse to support or endorse any Republicans in future elections: I actively advocate that the modern-day Republican structure needs to be torn down brick by brick until only moderates and Never-Trumpers are left. Anything less than complete and utter obscurity for them will continue to threaten our nation now and into the future.

To be clear here, I have not abandoned all conservative beliefs entirely. I still believe that capitalism is a healthier economic model than socialism is, I’m still a full supporter of the second amendment, and more than anything else, I still believe in the importance of free speech and expression. And if Republicans behaved differently over the last few years and refused to exalt one man over our country, our constitution, and our union, then maybe I wouldn’t feel as strongly about them as I do today. But the modern-day Republican Party no longer represents decency, civility, or indeed anything resembling even an inkling of bipartisanship, if it ever did at all. Instead of reinforcing moderates like Liz Cheney, Justin Amash, and Mitt Romney, the Republican Party instead celebrates the far-right conspiracies of Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, and Marjor-Pain-In-The-Ass Taylor Greene. I refuse to entertain or consider a party that won’t hold its more radical members accountable for their own actions. That is not a political party at work there. That is a cult.

I have one last thing I’d like to say before I wrap this up. Years ago when Donald Trump secured the Republican nomination, I was concerned that he would poison and pollute how people see the conservative movement — that he would harm the Republicans’ image and he would poorly represent the party. Now he has become the perfect representation for what it is today, and that saddens me more than anything I can even express.

I used to be afraid that Donald Trump would destroy the Republican Party. Now I’m afraid that he didn’t.

– David Dunn

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Snyderfest 2021

SOURCE: Warner Bros.

Spoiler warning ahead for Zack Snyder’s ‘Justice League.’ Seriously. You’ve been warned.

Can a filmmaker’s vision be fully translated to the big screen 100%? When their final product is released in theaters, are we watching their vision as originally intended, or are we watching an amalgamation of the director’s vision, the studio’s stipulations, and the fans’ expectations all at once? In Zack Snyder’s Justice League, we face an unusual circumstance where all three converge into one without interfering with the other. The result is a groundbreaking four-hour epic that challenges the very fabric of what superhero movies are and what they can be. It’s safe to say that there is no other film quite like it out there, and it’s highly likely there will never be another one like it in the future, unless Warner Bros. decides to come out with a six-hour cut of Justice League 2 or something.

If any film has ever had a troubling production, it was Justice League. Before the movie was even released in 2017, Zack Snyder suddenly exited the film halfway through production and Avengers director Joss Whedon was hired to finish rewrites and post-production in his place. The reasons for Zack’s sudden departure are still heavily up to speculation. Some say Warner Bros. was dissatisfied with Snyder’s intentions and forced him out to go in a different direction. Others feel that Snyder left due to his daughter Autumn committing suicide. More likely than not, Zack’s reasonings for leaving were probably a combination of all of his problems, both personal and professional.

Either way, Joss Whedon ended up rewriting and reshooting a good chunk of the film, ending up with what viewers call The Joss-tice League. And surprisingly enough, it ended up being just as bad as Batman V. Superman was. The colorization was way too bright, the tone was jarring and did not flow well at all, this awkward humor persisted throughout the movie, and Zack Snyder’s grounded and edgy tone seriously clashed with Joss Whedon’s fun and light-heartedness.

Say what you will about Batman V. Superman (and there is plenty to say about it): at least you can say it is one man’s whole and complete vision of what he thought a Batman and Superman movie was supposed to be. The theatrical cut of Justice League didn’t even feel like a movie: it felt like a strangely amalgamated Frankenstein’s monster of four different movies crammed into one. Nobody knew what it was supposed to be, let alone how we were supposed to feel about it. So yes, while Batman V. Superman and Justice League are both failures, at least Zack Snyder owned both his strengths and shortcomings with Batman V. Superman. You didn’t know who to blame for Justice League’s outcome, and that was the worst part of it all: it didn’t feel like it really belonged to anyone.

So when news came out that some of Zack Snyder’s original footage was still out there and just needed to be edited together, fans rallied around the director demanding that Warner Bros. #ReleaseTheSnyderCut. And I’ll be honest, whenever that news originally came out, I thought it was nonsense. After all, filmmakers’ passion projects go unfulfilled all the time, from Guillermo Del Toro’s At The Mountains Of Madness to Martin Scorsese’s Frank Sinatra. Zack Snyder’s situation wasn’t particularly unique, so why would he get the chance to remake his own movie when so many other filmmakers were never afforded their own chance?

Well never underestimate the power of the fans. After Gal Gadot, Ben Affleck, and Ray Fisher also came out in support of the so-called “Snyder Cut,” Warner Bros. finally caved in and provided an additional $70 million to fund Zack Snyder’s original vision of the movie. The result is a four-hour film split up into six parts, and whatever you were expecting, I guarantee you that it’s better.

SOURCE: Warner Bros.

The film starts in an eerie and ominous tone, quite different from the innocent cell phone footage of Henry Cavill’s CGI mustache in the theatrical cut. After Doomsday kills Superman at the end of Batman V. Superman, Superman’s final breath sends out a shockwave across the universe, illuminating everyone that, as Lex Luthor puts it, “the God is dead.” This is already a much better opening than the theatrical cut because it sets the tone of what to expect from the movie. While the original opening of Superman talking to these kids was clunky and hokey, this opener is much darker and foreshadows what’s coming to the planet. It’s a fantastic reintroduction and it really informs the audience why Batman (Ben Affleck) feels the need to assemble a team in Superman’s place.

There are other noticeable changes to other character’s intros too. Aquaman (Jason Mamoa) vanishes into the sea like Batman vanishes into the night, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) rams through terrorists in London like she’s Supergirl, Cyborg (Ray Fisher) is given a lengthy backstory into how he became a metahuman, and Flash (Ezra Miller) hilariously saves some girl from a truck collision while simultaneously scoring a job as a dog walker. They’re funny, dramatic, intriguing, and sometimes heartfelt introductions that really set up who these characters are and who they’re supposed to be. While I missed a few of the scenes from the original cut here or there, most of these reintroductions are an improvement over the theatrical cut.

At last, we are reintroduced to the film’s big baddie Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) as he arrives in Themyscira to steal one of the sacred Mother Boxes from the Amazons. In my original review, I pointed out how badly Steppenwolf was originally developed, both in his character and his visual effects. He looked like an awful Playstation 3 boss that you had to fight, and his character was about as fleshed out, serving as a carbon step-in for the big baddie we really wanted to see (more on that later). Here, he stands on his own not as a smirking villain, but as a vicious bull powering through his enemies like he’s seeing red. He hacks Amazons and Atlanteans left and right with his battle axe, he throws horses like he’s tipping cows over, and when he’s shot with arrows, his armor snaps them off like a snake shedding its skin. It’s such a great reintroduction for the character, and unlike his original debut, he has an actual presence that you can feel and are more fearful of. The fact that this mammoth answers to an even bigger threat makes him all the more terrifying.

SOURCE: Warner Bros.

One of the biggest changes between the theatrical cut and the Snyder cut is the inclusion of Darkseid (Ray Porter), Steppenwolf’s master and ruler of Apokolips. While his role in this new cut is minor and Darkseid doesn’t have many lines, he is a prominent, powerful presence that chills you to the bone. His first appearance is in the flashback where his armada fights the old Gods on Earth, a role Steppenwolf originally fulfilled in the theatrical cut. The fight is so brutal, violent, and unflinching that it felt like you were watching one of the epic battles in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. His other appearances throughout the film are just as terrifying, whether he’s giving a cold-blooded speech to Steppenwolf, destroying the world in a Knightmare vision, or just eerily staring at our heroes through a portal to Apokolips. The last line he says in the movie is the most chilling: “Ready the Armada. We will use the old ways.” The flashback sequences already show us what the “old ways” are, and they aren’t pretty.

By the time we reach the halfway point, Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, and the Flash just came together to fight Steppenwolf for the first time beneath Gotham Harbor. And surprisingly enough, this is one of the few scenes that I felt was done better in the theatrical cut. For one thing, Flash is much more confident in the Snyder cut, whereas in the theatrical release he questioned himself and was much more hesitant to fight. That was when Batman stepped in and told him to save one person, and when Flash asks what then, Batman responds “You’ll know.” It’s a great exchange and a great character-building moment for both of these heroes. Unfortunately, Snyder decided to cut that out in exchange for more action. I’m happy to watch it, but it just feels less fulfilling than the theatrical cut did.

Also, the scene on a technical level just has some weird changes that doesn’t make sense. When Cyborg enters Batman’s Knightcrawler, the theatrical cut presents him in clear view, while the Snyder cut obscures his appearance through a broken windshield. Even if that is his view, wouldn’t it be more clear to cut to his perspective inside the cockpit rather than outside of it? Also when Flash speeds up and taps Wonder Woman’s sword to her in slow motion, he did that in the theatrical cut because she was being attacked by Parademons, whereas in the Snyder Cut he’s doing it just because she’s falling. That was a strange omission from Snyder because the theatrical cut showed there was a purpose for tossing her the sword, while in the Snyder cut it was just unnecessarily for the sake of style.

But then we come back at the Batcave, and yet another scene is performed better in the Snyder cut: resurrecting Superman. While in the theatrical cut the decision to resurrect Superman felt forced, the decision here feels much more weighty and consequential, like the heroes are playing fire with forces they barely understand. And even right before Superman is resurrected, Cyborg gets a startling vision of a future that might come to pass from Superman’s resurrection. Wonder Woman is dead. Darkseid murders Aquaman in Atlantis. Superman grasps onto Lois’ charred body. And after Darkseid gently places his hand on his shoulder, Superman can be seen hovering over a crumbled Justice Hall as Darkseid’s armies siphon the Earth. It is a chilling moment and provides a dark connotation to a moment we were expecting to be uplifting from the movie.

SOURCE: Warner Bros.

And surprisingly, everything surrounding Superman’s arc is done beautifully in the film. From his death, to Lois and Martha’s grief, to his resurrection, to fighting the Justice League, to revisiting his family farm, to re-embracing his Kryptonian heritage, everything regarding Superman’s return felt monumental and meaningful. I was surprised by this, because the death and return of Superman is actually one of my most hated arcs in the comic books, even more so in Batman V. Superman. Here his return feels like a new tomorrow: a coming of hope the heroes weren’t expecting but so desperately needed. Again, a creative decision that felt incredibly underwhelming in the original cut is breathed with new life in this version.

Cyborg’s dad Silas (Joe Morton) dies in Zack Snyder’s version, and to be honest I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I like Whedon’s version how he’s alive at the end and he and his son make amends and work towards rebuilding their relationship together. The ending even pays homage to Cyborg’s traditional look in the comics, and you know I always love a good Easter egg. On the other hand, I do like how it adds to Cyborg’s tragic arc in the film and emphasizes just how much he’s lost in his life. In truth, both versions work well and neither one is done poorly. I think it just comes down to personal preference depending on which ending you like more.

We then arrive at the film’s climax, and holeeeee crap are the stakes raised. Batman is shredding through Parademons, Wonder Woman and Aquaman are fighting Steppenwolf, Flash is building up speed, Superman pops in out of nowhere to lay the literal smackdown against Steppenwolf, and Cyborg is connecting to the Mother Boxes desperately trying to stop them from unifying. But close to the film’s finale, something unexpected happens. The Mother Boxes unify, they incinerate the planet, and Darkseid portals to Earth. The Justice League loses.

And then, right before everything is lost and the Earth is destroyed, Flash runs beyond the speed of light, reverses time, and stops the Mother Boxes from unifying. Flash literally undoes their loss. He saves the world.

I love this sequence for a number of reasons. For one thing, the score by Junkie XL is epic and moving and really swells into the emotion of the moment. For another, Ezra Miller’s performance is phenomenal and he does a great job showing off his dramatic chops aside from his usual comical lines. But one of the things I love most about this sequence was just how unexpected it was. It’s so rare for a superhero movie to show our heroes losing, even rarer to have one of them undoing that loss mere seconds later. It was such a cinematic moment, and eons better from having Flash save one family before awkwardly muttering “Dostoyevsky” in the theatrical cut.

SOURCE: Warner Bros.

Finally after Cyborg separates the Mother Boxes in an emotionally moving moment where he acknowledges that he is neither broken nor alone, Aquaman, Superman, and Wonder Woman unite to give Steppenwolf a much-deserved decapitation. Then the film wraps up mostly in the same way the original did: with the heroes going their separate ways, having their own adventures, only uniting at the Justice Hall when they are needed.

Interestingly enough, the film’s weakest moments come in its last hour, which doesn’t behave so much like it’s part of the movie as much as it is additional content included under the DVD extras. The brief exchange between Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) and Deathstroke (Joe Manganiello) has a few different lines in it. The Knightmare sequence, while more ominous and forbearing than it previously was in Batman V. Superman, is equally irrelevant (although I did like Jared Leto’s return as Joker quite a bit).

The jarring inclusion of Martian Manhunter (Colin Powell) is the most perplexing. He appears twice in this movie, and in both scenes he feels like he doesn’t belong in either of them. In his first appearance, he’s masquerading as Martha Kent (Diane Lane) while having a heart-to-heart with Lois Lane (Amy Adams) about Clark’s death. This was a very human moment — one of the best in the film — and it did a great job talking about loss, grief, and the importance of moving on. Having such a raw and real moment interrupted by an alien shapeshifting from Martha was so out of place and robbed the scene of whatever sincerity it had. Did it ruin the moment? I don’t think so, because regardless of the would-be Martha, the words still meant something to Lois anyway. But it does change the implication of the dialogue, and that bothers me more.

In the second scene, Martian Manhunter appears on Bruce’s balcony warning him of Darkseid’s arrival, but Bruce’s reaction is so underwhelming that it feels less like he’s reacting to meeting an alien and more like he’s annoyed that some homeless guy walked up onto his house unannounced. His nonchalant “Can I help you?” feels so casual that it sounds like somebody is asking him for directions rather than warning him that the literal planet is at stake.

SOURCE: Warner Bros.

Overall if I had to describe Zack Snyder’s Justice League in one word, it would be “self-indulgent.” It’s indulgent in its action, it’s indulgent in its characters, it’s indulgent in its visual effects, its comic book lore and universe, and more than anything else, it’s overly indulgent in Zack Snyder’s vision of these characters and how they’re supposed to be. Then again though, maybe what this movie needed was a little more indulgence. While Warner Bros. and Joss Whedon were strictly thinking about the commercial landscape, Zack Snyder’s Justice League genuinely feels like a labor of love and deep fulfillment of a dream he’s always had. It’s rare to find filmmakers that believe in their projects as much as Zack Snyder does his own. And while many of his films lack refinement or coherency, you can’t take away the deep appreciation he has for his work and his characters.

I am confused by the #RestoreTheSnyderverse movement, which asks that Warner Bros. continue to follow the storyline being pursued in Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Aren’t they already? Of the six upcoming films being released by Warner Bros., five of them are in the DC Extended Universe, including The Suicide Squad, Black Adam, The Flash, Aquaman 2 and Shazam! 2. Sure a Justice League sequel isn’t on the books, but it would be a simple thing to add it back to the slate. All you would have to do is kill off Cyborg’s father in between movies, and you’re back on track with the same continuity. So maybe the hashtag shouldn’t be #RestoreTheSnyderverse as much as it should be #ReleaseJusticeLeague2. Either way, it’s confusing and doesn’t lend much to the conversation at hand.

So which movie is better? The theatrical cut or the Snyder cut? In my opinion, the Snyder Cut is vastly superior, even if some of Whedon’s better lines and scenes were cut out. Still, we’re witnessing a special moment with the Snyder Cut’s development and release. This is the first movie, in a very long time, where the filmmaker, the studio, and the fans all converged into one very special moment they got to share with each other. More than anything else, I’m happy that Zack got to fulfill his dream and his vision of the Justice League: it’s a privilege many, many other filmmakers don’t get to experience very often.

Four years ago, I started my Justice League review paying tribute to Autumn, and I will end this article by doing the same thing. Zack Snyder’s Justice League gets three stars out of four. Autumn Snyder gets four. So does Zack Snyder.

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