Category Archives: The Scope

A Ducky Schwartz

It’s funny how fast and how hard life can come at you sometimes. A month ago, my parents and I were planning for when my Poppy and Grandy would fly over to visit us. That same weekend, my Grandy was admitted into the hospital. She died three days later from respiratory failure.

Joan Therese “Ducky” Dolinar was born June 25, 1936, in Chicago, IL to her parents John and Evelyn Cepek. She had three siblings: her brothers Phil and Jack and her sister Jeanette. She also had four of her own children, one of which was my mother. But even with a large family, she always had room to fit someone else into her inner circle. Whenever she met somebody new, she never hesitated to strike up a conversation and listen to other people’s stories. If she knew you long enough, she would bake you some kolaches or jelly cookies, maybe even sew a quilt or a blanket for you. Everybody was family to Grandy.

I can’t recall my earliest memory of her. They all blur together like a flurry of wonderful emotions rather than a series of sequential events. One of the earliest memories I remember was when I played on her Super Nintendo when I was a kid (yes, she was that cool of a grandma). I was playing the SNES version of Pinocchio when I ran into a flock of geese and they beat me up into a cloud of smoke. I couldn’t stop laughing at it, and I purposefully kept running back into the flock over and over again. Grandy would keep getting flustered at me for purposefully losing the game, and her frustration just made me laugh harder each time. I remember her throwing her hands up in the air, exhaling a deep sigh, and remarking to my mother “I don’t know what on Earth that boy is doing.”

That wasn’t my only memory of her. I would often play in her basement with her toys, most often with “Sesame Street” characters such as Burt, Ernie, Elmo, Big Bird, and Cookie Monster. I would also watch old cartoons down there as well, anything ranging between “Spongebob” and “Ed, Edd n Eddy.” She had a sewing machine down there that she would often use while I was playing, sewing another beautiful quilt, blanket, pillow, or anything else she felt like making. I didn’t realize this back then, but I felt like she would go down there to watch over me while she was quilting.

“Grandy” was by no means the only name I called her. Whenever I was five years old, we started watching those old Land Before Time movies that told the story of Littlefoot and his dinosaur friends. One character named Ducky had a huge affinity for a pterodactyl named Petrie and would often say his name in a joyful, high-pitched squeal. Grandy would mimic the same speech and giggle gleefully afterward. Eventually, we nicknamed her “Ducky” because of her cute imitation of the giddy character. We would often buy her joke gifts sans her nickname, such as plush ducks that quaked when you squeezed it and duck-themed gift cards. Ducky sometimes seemed mildly annoyed by it, but she eventually embraced the name as playfully as we did.

The rest of my time with her growing up went by in a flash. I remember small snippets of memories, like whenever we would play an old game called “Chicken Legs” where we had to match numbers together on domino tiles. I remembered when we traveled out to Lake Geneva in Wisconsin and spent a week in the condo during the summer and would swim, play on the boat, and eat delicious BBQ together. I remember when we would go out for ice cream and she would have to wipe my chin off, calling me a “messy boy.” I also remembered whenever we would watch classic movies together like Winnie the Pooh, Micky Mouse, Spider-Man, Star Wars, and several others while she sat on her couch, quietly and contentedly needling or reading.

One of my favorite memories of her was when we would play Farkel together. It was a game where you rolled six dice and tried to get patterns from ones, fives and three of a kind. Three sixes would get the most points, so we would often compete to see who would get the most sixes. Grandy would always plead with the dice to get her “her sixes,” and more often than not I would roll them before she would. She would often spread her arms out and lay her head down across the table, crying out “Noooo, my sixes! How could you do this to me???” Our games would often end up with one of us rolling on our seat in laughter.

One of the things I think I looked past in my childhood was how masterful Ducky Schwartz was in her sewing craft. I always knew she was a skilled seamstress. If any of my favorite shirts ripped or if my dog Dusty chewed a hole into one of my toys, she was prompt and reliable enough to sew it back together in one piece. Still, as I grew older I was mesmerized at how talented she really was. She would often make quilts unique to each member of her family and was extra special to them in one way or another.

My Poppy, for instance, is a big fan of the Chicago Blackhawks, and when they won their first Stanley Cup in four decades in 2010, she celebrated by sewing him a Chicago Blackhawks quilt made from various Blackhawks merchandise. Before I graduated high school, Grandy made my parents and I our own family quilt made from photos of some of our favorite trips together. Wherever she went, Grandy made sure that others experienced the same joys of quilting as she did. She was as good at making people smile as she was stitching a thread.

I couldn’t even begin to tell you how much my Ducky Schwartz meant to me – to my entire family and to the many families outside of our own. When I went to her funeral service, I was proud but not surprised to find that over a hundred people came to support Grandy and Poppy, and they shared stories and memories of Grandy and her little laugh-filled adventures with them. As I looked around the room of the funeral home, I can’t tell you how astounded I was to see all the people in there, all the lives she touched, and all the families she made despite not being related to them by blood. That was the person she was. Whether she knew you for a day or several years, your happiness mattered to her. I think that’s a quality more people need to learn to possess.

I don’t know how to describe the feelings I’ve felt since burying my Grandy several weeks ago. At times, it feels like she hasn’t left at all and I can feel her as if she’s standing right next to me. Other times, there’s a deep, gaping hole in my heart that feels like I could cry all the tears in the world and it still wouldn’t encapsulate how much I miss Grandy. But the one thing I’ve felt most through all of the ups and downs of mourning her is gratefulness. I’m so grateful to have had not just her, but all four of my grandparents for the past 26 years. I’m grateful to have experienced so much with her, to have loved her and to have shared a part of our lives with each other. I’m grateful that out of all of her flurry of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, I got to be one small piece of that giant and colorful puzzle. I’m grateful to have known her in her beautiful life because she’s given me something to aspire to, just like everyone else in our sprawling and loving little family.

I love you Ducky Schwartz. I’ll see you on Friday for Farkel.

Joan “Ducky” Dolinar

1936 – 2019

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Top 10 Non-MCU Movies

It’s here, at long last – the Endgame.

With the Marvel franchise going on 22 movies strong and counting, it seems impossible to think that an era is about to come to an end with Avengers: Endgame, which is releasing in theaters this weekend. I personally don’t believe it is the end. For one thing, Spider-Man: Far From Home is scheduled for release later this summer, despite Peter’s seeming demise in Avengers: Infinity War. Sequels for Black Panther, Doctor Strange, and Guardians of the Galaxy are also slated for production as well. And with Disney’s recent acquisition of 20th Century Fox, that gives Marvel a slew of new characters to bring into the fold of their cinematic universe, including the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and Deadpool.

Still, Avengers: Endgame does seem to be the big finale for a lot of big stars that have been attached to the series for a long time now. Samuel Jackson, for instance, has been attached to the series as Nick Fury ever since 2008, playing the one-eyed S.H.I.E.L.D. director a whopping nine times and counting. Chris Evans has been attached to the series nearly as long as Captain America ever since his first movie in 2011. And don’t even get me started on Robert Downey Jr., who has played Iron Man now 10 times for over 10 years.

It does seem like there will be a finality to Avengers: Endgame when it comes out this weekend – although how exactly remains to be seen. Still, if anything, let’s be grateful that we’ve gotten to go on this 20-plus movie journey together, alongside Earth’s mightiest heroes.

With that being said, let’s take a look back at some of Marvel’s best, leading up to Avengers: Endgame.

– David Dunn

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2018 Oscar Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

COURTESY: NETFLIX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COURTESY: SONY PICTURES

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

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

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

You disgust me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COURTESY: WARNER BROS. PICTURES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– David Dunn

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All The Oscars Are Closer

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– David Dunn

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Top 10 Films of 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. Crazy Rich Asians

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

9. Bohemian Rhapsody

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

8. A Quiet Place

SOURCE: Paramount Pictures

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

7. Upgrade

SOURCE: Universal Pictures

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

6. Christopher Robin

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

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

5. Mission Impossible: Fallout

CREIDT: Paramount Pictures

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

4. A Star Is Born

SOURCE: WARNER BROS. PICTURES

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

3. BlacKkKlansman

SOURCE: Focus Features

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

2. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

SOURCE: Sony Pictures

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

1. Black Panther

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

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

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

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


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

Special Prize: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

SOURCE: Focus Features

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

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

– David Dunn

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A Marvelous Legend

CREATIVE COMMONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Stan. For everything.

Excelsior,

– David Dunn

1922-2018

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Avengers Assemble: Top 10 Marvel Cinematic Universe Movies

If you had told me in 2008 that Iron Man would propel a cinematic franchise that’s made more money and movies than the Star Wars, Batman, and Harry Potter franchises, I would have laughed at you all the way to class. “How could that be?” I would’ve asked. “Marvel doesn’t even own the rights to its most popular character, Spider-Man!” A decade later, I’m eating my words, and I couldn’t be happier for it.

It’s amazing to see how far Marvel has come since then. Avengers: Infinity War is the 19th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and later this year, Ant-Man & The Wasp will be the 20th. That means Marvel has pumped out an average of two films every year since Iron Man’s release. The fact that Marvel has pushed out that many movies is impressive enough on its own. The fact that nearly all of them were as financially and critically successful as they were makes their feats all the more impressive. Before Marvel, Star Wars was the highest-grossing film franchise at $8 billion. The MCU has blown that away with a whopping $15 billion.

To say that Marvel has become successful at the movie business would be a severe understatement. It became successful, stacked billions of billions of dollars on top of it, threw on a cosplay, then break-danced in front of the movie theater like it was Flash Gordon. I would go so far as to say it’s the only considerable force at the box office. Even when you include Star Wars as competition, Walt Disney still owns both of those properties. So who else is there to offer serious cinematic competition at the likes of Disney?

With Avengers: Infinity War releasing past week and quickly on its way to grossing one billion dollars at the box office, it’s worth taking a look back at the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s best. So without further adieu, here are my Top 10 films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

– David Dunn

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‘The Shape of Water’ Swims Its Way Through The 90th Academy Awards

Well, at least they got the right envelope this year.

The 90th Academy Awards were held last night, and they were… uneventful, to say the least. The good news is Jimmy Kimmel was just as good at hosting as he was last year, and he peppered the ceremony with some of his much-needed humor to keep everyone chugging through the night. You’ve gotta admit, there’s quite some joy in seeing Ansel Elgort rushing into a Wrinkle In Time screening firing a hot dog launcher into the crowd, or seeing Guillermo Rodriguez waving Oscar flags around with The Shape of Water director Guillermo Del Toro (#GuillermoX2?)

Other times though, the night was mundanely routine. There weren’t a lot of surprising moments throughout the night, and nothing really eventful happened that seemed to set the 90th ceremony apart from other Oscar ceremonies.

Of course, there were your typical Oscar wins and snubs that happened this year, just like they do every other year. Most of them were ones you were already expecting.

Case in point:

SOURCE: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Best Picture: First of all, props to picking Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty to present for Best Picture again. They needed to redeem themselves from the envelop flub that happened during their first time presenting last year. You can bet that they both double-checked the envelope after that embarrassing mix-up, and rightfully so.

Now then, Best Picture. I was originally uncertain which picture was going to take home the evening’s most coveted award, mostly due to the lopsided confusion the category has faced in previous years. I ended up predicting Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri over The Shape of Water for two reasons. One: The Best Director winner has not simultaneously won the Best Picture award from the past several ceremonies. In fact, only three ceremonies from this decade found the same picture winning both awards at the Oscars. With already knowing that Guillermo Del Toro was going to win Best Director for The Shape of Water (see below for my reasoning), I felt that set up The Shape of Water at an odd disadvantage. Clearly I was mistaken.

Two: A science-fiction film has never won Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Not once. Not 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968. Not Star Wars in 1977. Not E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial in 1982. Not Apollo 13 in 1995. Not Avatar in 2009. Not Inception in 2012. Not Gravity in 2013.

Not a single one of these science-fiction films has won Best Picture during the Oscar’s entire 90-year history. None of them, that is, except for The Shape of Water.

Honestly, that’s my biggest frustration with its Best Picture win. It has nothing to do with its unusual or disorienting plot. It has nothing to do with the weird sea-creature-human-underwater sex scenes. It doesn’t even have anything to do with its awkward musical number that was randomly inserted halfway through the picture. It has to do with the fact that The Shape of Water succeeded in a category where 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, Apollo 13, and Inception all failed.

Quite a misstep, I must say. But it wouldn’t be the Academy’s first, and it definitely won’t be their last.

Best Director: Guillermo Del Toro unsurprisingly won Best Director, since he already won the DGA for The Shape of Water. I find him an incredibly gifted filmmaker, and am glad to see him win an Oscar in general (he deserved one back in 2007 when Pan’s Labyrinth wrongfully lost Best Foreign-Language film to The Lives of Others). Still, I stand by The Shape of Water’s mediocrity and its inability to connect with certain viewers. Del Toro’s acceptance speeches were literally the best things to come out of that absurdity of a movie.

Best Actor: Gary Oldman rightfully won for his performance as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour. How is this only his second nomination? Nevermind, the Oscars are for recognizing outstanding talent (or at least, I think they’re supposed to), and Oldman is a talent that has went unrecognized for a long time. A very well-earned congratulations to him. The Prime Minister himself could not have been more proud.

Best Actress: Frances McDormand won her second Oscar for her role in the small-town drama Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. It’s a very well-deserved win, even if it does overshadow Sally Hawkins’ talents in The Shape of Water. And with her speech paying tribute to her fellow female nominees as well as the importance of inclusion in Hollywood?

Ooph. Gentlemen, I think this goes without saying, but #TimesUp for us. I suggest you get out of the way before Mildred Hayes knees you in the scrotum.

Best Supporting Actor: Sam Rockwell won best supporting actor for his role as a racist cop in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. I’m still bitter that Bill Skarsgard wasn’t even nominated for his phenomenally creepy performance in the Stephen King thriller It. But whatever. Rockwell was the most worthy out of those nominated, and I was happy to see him enthralled at the announcement of his name. Congratulations to him regardless.

On another note, this is actually Rockwell’s first nomination in addition to his first win. Man, what are with the Oscars skipping over all of these phenomenal performers for so long?

Best Supporting Actress: Allison Janney won best supporting actress for her role as Tonya Harding’s mother in I, Tonya. Steer clear of this chick. Clearly, she is not one to mess with.

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Best Animated Feature: Coco won, obviously. I was excited to hear Oscar Isaac shout out “Viva Latin America!” before announcing Coco as the winner. This is a moment that the Mexican-American culture has been working hard a long time for, and this was a moment that was well-earned.

Best Documentary Feature: The documentary on Russian athletic doping Icarus beat out Face Places for Best Documentary. At least the Russians didn’t meddle in this election process (or, as much as we know of, at least).

Best Foreign-Language Feature: A Fantastic Woman won Best Foreign-Language film. Congratulations to Sebastián Lelio and the production team involved. Clearly the #TimesUp movement applies to more than just those who were biologically born a woman.

Best Original Screenplay: I was pleasantly surprised to find that I got this category wrong, as Jordan Peele beat out Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri with his film Get Out. Clearly, I underestimated the genius of his screenplay. Or rather, I underestimated the Academy’s capacity at appreciating his genius as much as his fans do.

Either way, I predicted this category wrong, and I couldn’t have been happier for it. Congratulations to Jordan Peele for his very-deserved first nomination and win. Tell me, Mr. Peele, have you decided on the name for the opposite of the “Sunken Place” yet?

Best Adapted Screenplay: Call Me By Your Name won Best Adapted Screenplay. It should have been Logan, but if you’re not going to fairly recognize the superhero genre, the next best choice is the LGBT crowd. Congrats to James Ivory for his hard-earned win, and here’s to hoping that Ryan Coogler is nominated (and wins) next year for Black Panther.

Best Film Editing: Dunkirk won. I’ve already explained why I felt Dunkirk’s editing was inferior to that of Baby Driver’s, but I’m not going to waste any more typing space over the subject. Congratulations to Lee Smith for the win regardless. At the very least, he made better filmmaking decisions than Christopher Nolan did.

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

Best Cinematography: FINALLY. ROGER DEAKINS WON BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY FOR BLADE RUNNER 2049. Took him freggin’ long enough. The guy has literally been nominated for my entire lifespan, for movies including The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, Kundun, O Brother, Where Art Tho?, The Man Who Wasn’t There, The Assassination of Jesse James, No Country For Old Men, The Reader, True Grit, Skyfall, Prisoners, Unbroken, and Sicario. He has never won once, until now. Congratulations, Mr. Deakins. Your Oscar is loooooooooooong overdue, but it’s better late than never.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Darkest Hour, obviously. Still wondering where It is, but in either case, congrats for putting the skinny English actor into the obtusely wide slacks of Winston Churchill. Now thanks to Kazuhiro Tsuji, actors will never have to put on weight for a role ever again!

Best Costume Design: Phantom Thread, the movie about costume design won best costume design. Fun fact: Mark Bridges won both best costume design and shortest acceptance speech at the Oscars, with his speech capping in at 37 seconds. That makes him one of the few double-winners for the night, making him the proud owner of another Oscar and a Jetski, courtesy of Jimmy Kimmel. Thanks, Jimmy!

Best Production Design: The Shape of Water. I still toss around in my head whether it was more deserving than Dunkirk or Beauty and the Beast was, but in either case, it did an outstanding job staying true to its wildly different sceneries regardless. I tip my hat to the set design by Shane Vieau and Jeff Melvin, which at the very least, was more pleasurable to look at than the film’s sex scenes were.

Best Musical Score: Again, Shape of Water wins. This is Alexandre Desplat’s second win, and the second time that he’s completely deserved the Academy Award for his creative and quirky soundtrack (although, to be completely honest, I could just give the award to John Williams for Star Wars every year and feel just as happy). Congratulations to Alexandre Desplat’s phenomenal composing. It’s one of the few awards that The Shape of Water was more than deserving in.

Best Original Song: Coco rightfully won for “Remember Me.” Great performance, but nothing is going to beat that moment in the film where Miguel quietly kneels down next to his grandmother in the shed and reminds her of her roots. Man, what a scene.

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

Best Sound Editing: Dunkirk won best sound editing. Duh.

Best Sound Mixing: Dunkirk, again.

Best Visual Effects: Surprisingly, Blade Runner 2049 beat out War for the Planet of the Apes for Best Visual Effects. While I am disappointed that the Planet of the Apes team continues to go unrecognized despite several years of outstanding work, I do acknowledge that Blade Runner 2049 looked fantastic and sported some of the year’s most skilled visual work, from the pixelated holographic body of Ana de Armas to the digital recreation of Sean Young’s character Rachael. Congratulations to John Nelson, Gerd Nefzer, Paul Lambert, and Richard Hoover. You brought Blade Runner back to life again.

And now on to the short categories, which surprisingly, I got most of them right this year. The Silent Child won Best Live-Action Short, while Heaven Is A Traffic Jam on the 405 won Best Documentary Short. Perhaps most surprising was that the fact that Kobe Bryant’s Dear Basketball won Best Animated Short, now making him both an NBA Champion and an Oscar-winner. Personally, I’m just frustrated that Kobe Bryant now has more Oscars than Alfred Hitchcock does. But what can you do?

With that, I have accurately predicted 19 out of the 24 categories this year, an improvement from the shabby 14 I picked from the previous year. See you guys next year, where my luck will inevitably propel me to get all 24 of them wrong.

– David Dunn

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2017 Oscar Predictions

The more I cover the Oscars, the more frustrating they become to me.

Oh, don’t get me wrong: I’ve always disliked the Oscars, long before I even started this website in 2013. That’s because they have consistently snubbed the most obvious winners ceremony by ceremony, almost for as long as the Oscars themselves have existed. Perfect example: how is it that Alfred Hitchock, the iconic director behind classics such as Rebecca, Shadow of a Doubt, Rear Window, Vertigo, North By Northwest, Psycho, and The Birds, has gone through his ENTIRE 50-year career and never won a single Oscar? Meanwhile, Edith Head has won eight Academy Awards. Who? My point exactly.

You would think that by this point, the Academy would wisen up and make more educated decisions in their awards and nominations. But no, if anything, they’ve gotten worse. 2016 famously had that #OscarsSoWhite controversy, where they embarrassingly snubbed the cinematic epics Beasts of No Nation, Creed, and Straight Outta Compton in their acting and picture categories. They had that clumsy envelope mishap last year during its best picture announcement for Moonlight. Not to mention that it has snubbed masterpieces such as Rush, The Dark Knight Rises, Catching Fire, Captain America: Civil War, and Patriot’s Day in all of its categories from the past several years. I completely understand these movies not getting nominated for best picture or director. But seriously, not even costume design?

This year, their snubbing is arguably at their worst yet. For one thing, they’re still refusing to fill all 10 of their best picture slots, capping it off at nine nominees. Why do they keep doing this? There’s no reason to be that disinterested in a potential 10th nominee. Either go all in with your slots, or wuss out and go back to five nominees so we can all go to bed sooner. Opening a potential tenth spot just to leave it empty is like flipping the middle finger to the fans behind Blade Runner 2049, The Big Sick, Logan, War for the Planet of the Apes, Baby Driver, and so, so many others. It’s disgraceful to the film community and it’s disrespectful to the passionate fans behind it. You might as well fill a Transformers movie in the tenth slot since you’re basically eliciting the same disgusted reaction from your viewers anyway.

But nevermind the empty 10th slot. This night is about the movies that are getting recognized: the so-called “best of the year.” It would be great if anybody has seen them. Call Me By Your Name, a coming-of-age romantic Italian drama, grossed the lowest of any best picture nominee at $25 million. The other coming-of-age drama Lady Bird performed better at $48 million, but it still pales in comparison to Dunkirk’s $500 million box office numbers. Phantom Thread didn’t even break its budget price, bringing in a measly $27 million against its production costs of $35 million. Why, then, is it nominated for six Academy Awards? Because Daniel Day Lewis is in it, I guess. Although oddly enough, that excuse didn’t work for Academy favorite Meryl Streep this time around, since her film The Post is only nominated for two awards this year. Is her time in the spotlight finally up? We can only hope so.

Regardless of my annoyances with the Academy’s nomination process, these are the movies we have to pick from, and the winners aren’t going to predict themselves. Let’s hop right into this year’s Oscar predictions.

SOURCE: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Best Picture: Predicting this category has become a crapshoot wheel of fortune for the Oscars. Half of the best picture winners from the past decade haven’t even won best director, and the rest of them have arrived to their best picture win through very strange methods. Argo won best picture in 2013 despite Ben Affleck not even being nominated for best director. 12 Years A Slave won best picture in 2014 despite Gravity sweeping the rest of the night. Spotlight won best picture in 2016 despite winning only one other award from the night for best original screenplay. And don’t even get me started on last year’s best picture mixup fiasco between La La Land and Moonlight.

The selection process for these best picture winners have become completely lopsided and unpredictable. Perhaps that’s why I’m struggling so much in my prediction for best picture this year. In previous years, best picture was usually the first category I checked off in my predictions. This year, it was my last. It’s seriously become that uncertain.

The best picture race this year has boiled down to two pictures: The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Most people believe that The Shape of Water is going to snag it, mostly because of its sweeping in the Producer’s and Director’s Guild Awards. I’m not convinced. For one thing, a science-fiction film has never won best picture in Oscar history. Not once. Not 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968. Not Star Wars in 1977. Not E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial in 1982. Not Apollo 13 in 1995. Not Avatar in 2009. Not Inception in 2012. Not Gravity in 2013. You want to talk about Oscars bias? Nominate a science-fiction film for best picture. It almost immediately dashes all hopes of a best picture win.

That being said, the genre that the Academy is consistently in favor of are dramas. Every single best picture winner from this decade has been a drama film, from The Hurt Locker all the way to Moonlight. This works in favor of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri because it is based in a realistic setting as opposed to The Shape of Water’s fantastical one.

I have no idea who is going to win best picture this year on Oscar night. The confusion from previous ceremonies has completely dashed my confidence in predicting this category. But if we’re basing our decision solely on trends repeated throughout Oscar history, then Three Billboards is the safest choice. I will be fuming if The Shape of Water becomes the first science-fiction film to win best picture over Star Wars.

Best Director: Guillero Del Toro won the DGA award, which means he’ll also win the best directing Oscar for The Shape of Water. I’d prefer it go to first-time writer-director Jordan Peele, whose horror-satire film Get Out was a clever and ingenious look at race culture and how neo-liberalism negatively impacts minority communities. However, Del Toro did deserve an Oscar years ago for Pan’s Labirynth and was wrongfully snubbed against Germany’s The Lives of Others. I guess this year will give him the recompense that he’s so desperately deserved this entire time.

Best Actor: No contest, Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour. Not only does it take a lot of talent and dedication to portray a historical figure as significant as Winston Churchill, but Oldman is another actor that the Academy has disregarded time and time again for the past several years. He didn’t even get his first nomination until 2011 for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. His win for Darkest Hour will make up for all the years the Academy has snubbed him.

Best Actress: While Sally Hawkins’ performance was the best thing to come out of Guillero Del Toro’s The Shape of Water, I highly doubt the Oscar will go to her, especially since a best acting award hasn’t gone to a non-speaking role since Jean Dujardin for the silent film The Artist in 2011. Since this is the case, I’m going to go with my runner-up option with Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Her strained performance as an grieving mother devastated by the loss of her daughter was beautifully poignant and tragic, not to mention that sassy spunk she threw around at anyone in her general direction. Her character was one of the most memorable figures to come out of cinema this past year. I will be infuriated if the Oscar is awarded to anyone else besides McDormand or Hawkins.

Best Supporting Actor: Forgiving the fact that Bill Skarsgard was unforgivably snubbed for his performance as the creepy titular monster in Stephen King’s It, we have a toss-up in this category between Sam Rockwell in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Williem Dafoe for The Florida Project. I’m going with Rockwell for Three Billboards. His performance as a spoiled, self-centered police officer who doesn’t deserve a badge or a gun was both wildly entertaining and intimidating. You couldn’t really predict what he was going to do next, whether he was jamming to his earbuds in the police station or throwing an advertising manager out of a two-story building. His wildcard of a character won me over, and I would be seriously surprised if the Academy decided to skip over him.

Best Supporting Actress: Allison Janney for I, Tonya. Not only does she look disturbingly immaculate compared next to Tonya Harding’s real-life mother LaVona Golden, but her genuinely tense and unfiltered presence fueled Tonya Harding’s drive throughout the picture. Boy, am I grateful that she’s not my mother.

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Best Animated Feature: While Loving Vincent was a beautiful love letter to Vincent Van Gogh and features over 65,000 frames of oil paintings on canvas, it’s very hard to see this film beating out Pixar’s Coco, especially when you consider how much today’s social climate is stacked against Mexican immigrants. I have to go with Coco for its representation and wonderful tribute to Mexican culture.

Best Documentary Feature: I was surprised to find that Jane and Step weren’t nominated for best documentary this year despite their outstanding performance during their theater run. But nevermind, I haven’t seen any of the nominees this year for best documentary anyway (shocking, I know!)

My first prediction for this category would have been Last Men In Aleppo. Not because I know whether the movie is any good or not, but only because it reminded me of Gary Johnson’s embarrassing “Aleppo” moment in 2016. Political blunders aren’t enough to hand out Oscars, however, but they are enough to hand out Raspberry Awards. With any luck, Johnson might soon be able to put “Razzie Award-Winner” on his resume.

My best guess is that Faces Places will win best documentary. The reason why is because the premise is that its filmmakers JR and Agnes Varda travel around France creating portraits of the people that they come across. I haven’t heard of a premise so heavily engrossed into its filmmakers since Banky’s Exit Through The Gift Shop in 2011. So for the sake of its immersion and first-person perspective, I’m going with Faces Places.

Best Foreign-Language Feature: I’ve heard nothing but good things about The Square, and early on in awards season it looked like it might sweep at the Oscars. But nah, if we’re predicting the winner solely based on relevance, I’m going with A Fantastic Woman. A film about a transgender woman mourning over the death of her husband while being alienated by his family could not be more pertinent in today’s hateful and divisive society. A Fantastic Woman? Indeed.

Best Original Screenplay: Another category with some fantastic frontrunners that’s hard to choose from. The Big Sick was a poignant and darkly humorous observation on the fragility of human life and how fleeting moments of happiness and love really are. Get Out was a creative and captivating horror-comedy on the impacts of white supremacy against minority communities. And Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was a tragic dramedy that profoundly elaborated on rape culture, police brutality, racism, and homophobia fantastically wrapped into one immediately moving package. All of these nominees are worthy contenders in this category. The question is who will be the winner?

A lot of eyes are on Get Out since Jordan Peele recently won the WGA award for best original screenplay. However, the WGA’s are not the most consistent when it comes to predicting this Oscar category, especially with last year’s mixup when Manchester By The Sea won against WGA winner Moonlight for best original screenplay, which in turn won against WGA winner Arrival for best adapted screenplay. How can Moonlight be nominated for both original and adapted screenplay, you ask? Great question. I wish I could give you an answer that made any sense.

Since this category is seriously confused to begin with, I’m going with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri as the winner for best original screenplay. It covers just as much ground as Get Out does, except it does it in a much more realistic, practical setting as opposed to the horrific confines of a white supremacist family’s mansion. No, I’m not saying the satirical tone works against Get Out’s favor. I’m saying Three Billboards is more believable than Get Out is, although that doesn’t make either of them any less important. I wouldn’t be surprised or upset if Peele ended up taking home the Oscar for Get Out, but my money is on Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. God help me if The Shape of Water ends up being the winner.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Let’s get one thing straight here: Logan deserves to be the winner of this category, hands down. Taking the superhero genre and flipping it on its head into a somber dystopian tragedy, Logan is one of those films that shows our iconic blockbuster heroes as older, crippled versions of their former selves, reflecting on their broken identities as they use the last of their days to give Logan’s daughter a chance at life. By every definition, it is one of the best films of the year and definitely one of the best superhero dramas of all time.

It deserves to win the Oscar for best adapted screenplay. It absolutely will not win it.

First of all, while it’s tonally different from the rest of the genre, it’s still technically classified as a superhero movie. That’s works against itself at the Oscars, because the only genre that the Academy is more biased against besides superhero movies are horror movies. A superhero film has never been nominated for best picture at the Oscars. Not once. Not Spider-Man 2 in 2004. Not The Dark Knight in 2007. Not even Wonder Woman or Logan this year.

The Academy just does not like to recognize superhero movies, plain and simple. That bias is exactly why Logan will not win best adapted screenplay at the Oscars. A sham, but not surprising with the Academy Awards involved.

However, there is one genre that the Academy loves to lap up, and that is LGBT dramas. The Imitation Game won best adapted screenplay in 2015, while the fantastic Moonlight also won best adapted screenplay last year. I haven’t seen Call Me By Your Name, but given the Academy’s recent track record with LGBT representation, I think it’s a safe bet for this year’s Oscar ceremony. Call Call Me By Your Name the winner for best adapted screenplay.

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

Best Film Editing: I’ll give Lee Smith this much credit: when we’re in the heat of battle in Dunkirk, the action flows effortlessly, and Smith does a great job cutting from shot-to-shot, giving us multiple perspectives at once while at the same time making the action fluid and coherent. The problem as I’ve outlined in my review is that the rest of the film’s assemblage is chaotic, nonlinear, and incomprehensible, jump-cutting from multiple different passages of time at once and overlapping their events one on top of the other. I don’t blame Smith for this as much as I do Christopher Nolan however, as this confusion was the creative decision he made through writing his screenplay. Fun fact: Nolan originally considered not writing a screenplay at all for Dunkirk. Appropriate, since he rightfully isn’t nominated for best original screenplay this year either.

Anyhow, back to editing. The rightful winners in this category are Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos for Baby Driver, as the way they timed their editing and Baby’s driving to the tunes of 1970 hits was clever, skillful, and captivating all at once. First-time nominees are less likely to win in this category, however, and this is both Machliss and Amos’ first Oscar nominations.

Smith, however, has been nominated twice before in previous ceremonies, once for Master and Commander: Far Side of the World in 2003 and once for The Dark Knight in 2008. Couple that with the fact that action films are a genre favorite in this category (Hacksaw Ridge won this award last year, and Mad Max: Fury Road won the year before that), and you have this year’s best film editing winner in Dunkirk.

Best Cinematography: Before Leonardo DiCaprio, cinematographer Roger Deakins was the most snubbed nominee at every single Oscar ceremony. He should have won with his first nomination in 1994 for The Shawshank Redemption, but he lost to John Toll for Legends of the Fall. He was nominated in 2007 for No Country for Old Men, but lost to Robert Elswit for There Will Be Blood. And he was nominated again in 2012 for the James Bond film Skyfall, but lost to Claudio Miranda for Life of Pi. He’s been nominated 14 times now and has never won once.

Enough is enough. If Roger Deakins doesn’t win this year for Blade Runner 2049, I’m going to flip a lid. I suspect I wouldn’t be the only one.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: The first time I saw a still of Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, I thought he had purposefully put on a lot of weight for the role. Turns out he just had a lot of prosthetic makeup on, and good gravy did it have me fooled. While Victoria & Abdul and Wonder also had some great makeup work, neither of them convinced me that their actors were entirely different people. So that settles it for me: Darkest Hour will take home the Oscar for best makeup and hairstyling. I’m still bitter that It wasn’t even nominated in this category, however.

Best Costume Design: It would be pretty pathetic if a film about a dressmaker didn’t win best costume design at the Oscars, now wouldn’t it? I loved the costumes in Victoria & Abdul, and the live-action Beauty and the Beast remake struck out in its visual design as well. But if Phantom Thread was going to win any award at the Oscars this year, it would be for costume design. So that’s the one I’m going with.

Note: Wonder Woman is missing in this category. I just needed to point that out.

Best Production Design: This is actually one of the tougher categories to predict this year, because the truth is I love all of the nominees here. Beauty and the Beast looked gorgeous in the design of its magnificent castle and its inanimate inhabitants, while Blade Runner 2049 magnificently recreated the bleak, dystopian future that we first got exposed to in the original Blade Runner 30 years ago. Both Dunkirk and Darkest Hour accurately depicted the WWII era, with Dunkirk going as far as to use real 1940’s British planes and seaboats for the film.

Nothing, however, visually encapsulated me like the colorful 1960’s designs of The Shape of Water’s city streets, the dark, opaque laboratories, or the dimly lit movie theater resting below Elise’s apartment. I’m split in this category because all of the nominees are equally outstanding, but if I picked the one that I recognized the most while watching, it’s not even a contest. The Shape of Water wins.

Note: Again, Wonder Woman is missing in this category.

SOURCE: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Best Musical Score: Alexandre Desplat won his first Oscar in 2014 for scoring The Grand Budapest Hotel, a quirky and loveable picture whose music perfectly matched the introverted tone that it was going for. This year he’s nominated again for scoring Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water, and his music beautifully captured the intrigue and mystery behind this underwater sea creature discovering his feelings for another mortal. His music is completely encapsulating every time you listen to it. For that reason, I have to go with The Shape of Water.

Another Note: Do I really have to spell it out for you at this point? WONDER WOMAN.

Best Original Song: If you didn’t cry during that moment in Coco where Miguel sang “Remember Me” to his Great-Great-Grand-Mama, I’m convinced you have no soul. It was a beautiful, simple song, one that pays respect to the Mexican-American culture and to remembering our heritage. I suspect there will be a lot of outrage if anything but “Remember Me” wins best original song, so I’m going to play it safe and go with Coco.

Best Sound Editing: Dunkirk, hands down. The first ear-screeching “BANG” that echoes in the theater hummed in my ears as if I had just dodged a bullet, and the rest of the film pays as much attention to the haunting sounds and noises of the battlefield. I remember very few films that were as masterful in their sound work as Dunkirk was, so I must advocate for its win in this category.

Best Sound Mixing: Dunkirk again. The way Christopher Nolan uses different sound effects in building up tension and unease in a scene is truly masterful, and the sound engineers did a fantastic work at incorporating all of the sounds together in the film. I do love Baby Driver for how it incorporates classic songs into its high-octane action and stunts, but if we take that film out as a possible upset win, the clear frontrunner is Dunkirk.

Best Visual Effects: Viewers were frustrated in 2015 when Christopher Nolan’s space exploration film Interstellar won the best visual effects Oscar over Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. This year will give them the recompense that they need. While Blade Runner 2049 and Star Wars: The Last Jedi sported some of the most visually spectacular moments of the year, nothing surpasses the visual effects team’s efforts behind the digital recreation of primate animals and their behavior in War for the Planet of the Apes. I can potentially see one of the other nominees possibly taking home this award in an upset win, but when I really think about it, no one else could be more deserving. War for the Planet of the Apes will win best visual effects.

On a side note, who on Earth thought it was a good idea to nominate Kong: Skull Island for this award? Did nobody see Wonder Woman? Beauty and the Beast? Thor: Ragnarok? Spider-Man: Homecoming? Alien: Covenant? Wolf Warrior 2? Boss Baby?

And finally we come to the forever-dreaded short categories, the nominees which nobody has seen, but for some reason are always expected to predict anyway. I’m just going to rattle off my answers and shove them out of the way. Dear Basketball, Heroin(E), and The Silent Child.

That’s all for me, folks. See you on awards night where I will no doubt be shaking my fist at Wonder Woman’s absence.

– David Dunn

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The Indie Spirit Oscars

SOURCE: MovieWeb

Have you heard about any of the Academy Award nominees? Yeah, me neither.

Like clockwork, the Academy Awards recently released their nominations for this year’s ceremonies. Unlike previous years where I wake up at my own leisure and read the nominees at my earliest convenience, I actually got up earlier the morning of the announcements and listened to the livestream on my way to work. Good gravy, are these people pretentious. The live-action shorts that played before the category announcements were so high-quality that they were better produced than many of the nominees themselves were. Can we recruit these people to make better films for these categories in future award ceremonies?

But never mind that, you’re not here to hear me gripe about the Hollywood elites. You’re wanting the breakdown on this year’s nominees. Let’s hop into it.

Leading the pack of best picture nominees this year is Guillermo Del Toro’s science-fiction romance The Shape of Water, a weird and uncomfortable movie about a fish creature falling in love with a woman. In hindsight, I passively admit that the film is mostly deserving of its 13 nominations. It is, after all, visually and aesthetically pleasing, and the creature himself has some of the most convincing effects I’ve seen in the past year. But I didn’t like the movie itself, feeling that it was too preachy and on-the-nose to be taken seriously. I do think Del Toro is very deserving of an Academy Award in general. His films Hellboy and Pacific Rim both pushed the boundaries in what could be achieved through visual storytelling, while Pan’s Labyrinth was a beautifully dark fantasy that put adult tragedies through the innocent eyes of a child (it’s actually one of my frustrations that film didn’t win best foreign language film at the 2007 Oscar ceremony). Will The Shape of Water be the film to break Del Toro’s losing streak? Possibly, but I can’t help but feel that parts of his earlier filmography are more deserving for an Oscar than The Shape of Water is.

The runner-up best picture nominee with the most nominations is Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, a World War II drama depicting the battles for French beaches, seas, and skies. Again, Christopher Nolan is a fantastic filmmaker: one of our generations best. But his earlier films are astronomically better compared to the sloppy, confused timeline that Dunkirk gave us. His first nominated film Memento was a mind-boggling and fascinating study of a decomposing mind, while The Dark Knight broke the boundaries between what we consider superhero movies and art. Inception is one of the greatest films this decade. Any one of these masterpieces could and should have been major contenders for best picture in previous ceremonies. Why is it suddenly that the lapsed, removed experience of Dunkirk is the one picture to suddenly give him a serious chance at the Oscars? Dunkirk is nominated for eight Academy Awards. It deserves five of them.

Side-note: In addition to Dunkirk’s best picture nomination, this is also the first time Nolan has been nominated for best director, merely getting only screenplay nominations in previous ceremonies. Regardless of what your opinion is on Dunkirk, can we at least agree that it is blatantly outrageous that this is Nolans’ first best director nomination?

Next is Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which places in this year’s ceremony with seven Oscar nominations. This is one picture you gotta look out for here, folks. It swept at both the Golden Globes and the Screen Actor Guild Awards, winning the highest prizes at both ceremonies. Its stars Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell are both serious contenders for this year’s acting categories. Writer-director Martin McDonagh has a strong chance at the best original screenplay award. I haven’t watched the film yet, but it’s been racking up wins this awards season like a Star Wars movie stealing the holiday box office. Keep your eyes focused on this one.

Two surprise nominees here that I wasn’t expecting: the biopics Darkest Hour and Phantom Thread, both starring Hollywood heavyweights Gary Oldman and Daniel Day Lewis. The surprise here isn’t that they’re nominated for best picture, but that they’re nominated for five other Academy Awards besides it. I figured those two pictures were shoo-ins in the acting categories due to the reputation of its leads. I didn’t expect them to also slip in to the production design, costume, makeup, and cinematography categories as well. If anything, this shows that this year’s ceremonies are not as predictable as they usually are, and they’ll really contain their own twists and turns that none of us were expecting. I’m genuinely excited to see how these two films will impact the best picture race on Oscar night.

SOURCE: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Also nominated for best picture is the coming-of-age drama Lady Bird, the gay romance film Call Me By Your Name, and the satire-comedy-horror picture Get Out. Out of all of the movies to be nominated for best picture this year, my favorite is easily Get Out. If you haven’t seen it yet, you absolutely need too. It’s one of the most creative films I’ve seen in years, making a provocative race commentary that is equal parts violent, scary, entertaining, and relevant to its intended audience. The fact that it’s nominated here not only for best picture, but also best director, actor, and screenplay makes my heart happy for writer-director Jordan Peele, who basically exploded onto the film scene with this directorial debut. One could only dream to have a year as successful as Peele did.

There’s one best picture nominee here that doesn’t belong. Not because it isn’t deserving, but because it isn’t fairly backed up by its other nominations: The Post. Don’t get me wrong, it absolutely deserves to be nominated for best picture. The journalism-drama tells the story of the Washington Post reporting team that broke the story on U.S. Government’s obscured involvement with the Vietnam War, which eventually developed into the Pentagon Papers expose. It very much is Oscar-worthy material. The issue is that it’s only nominated for one other award besides best picture, and that is best actress for Meryl Streep’s role in the film.

This isn’t the first time that this has happened in recent Oscar history. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was only nominated for best picture and best supporting actor for Max Von Sydow in 2012, while the Martin Luther King Jr. biopic Selma was only nominated for best picture and best original song in 2015. The worst of these offenses was Spotlight in 2016, which only won best original screenplay in addition to its best picture win. It is the only best picture winner in Oscar history to receive only two awards from the night.

This pity-nomination party has to stop in the Academy Awards. A film is not considered the best of the year for one actress alone, but for an assortment of cohesive elements that work together for the film. The director Steven Spielberg. The writer Josh Singer. The editor Michael Kahn. The cinematographer Janusz Kamiński. Streep’s co-star Tom Hanks. There was a lot of talent associated with this film, all of them equally deserving for attention as Streep was. Either give the film more nominations to support its best picture nomination, or don’t nominate it at all. There were plenty of other hard-hitting contenders that could have been nominated instead of The Post that have the nominations to back it up. Blade Runner 2049 with five nominations. Mudbound with four nominations. Baby Driver with three. You can make a case for any of these films and more to be nominated in the place of The Post due to its acting and technical nominees. Why on Earth are we giving out pity nominations for movies that can’t get more than two nominations from Academy board voters?

Overall, how do I feel about these nominations? Meh. They’re fine. I’m not really excited or maddened by their recognition here. They’re just kind of a passing mention of under-the-radar films to be aware of before you get to awards night.

I will say that, just like every year, there is obvious snubbing in categories where films did not deserve the disservice they received. You will notice, for instance, that Wonder Woman got zero nominations, despite being one of the biggest critical and commercial successes of the year. Detroit got zero nominations, despite its attention to detail and authentic depiction of such despicable events. The Stephen King horror film It got zero nominations, not even for makeup or supporting actor for its brilliant performance by Pennywise actor Bill Skarsgard. Good grief, even Logan got snubbed with Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart’s mesmerizing performances as old heroes reflecting on their broken selves (although it did impressively nab a best adapted screenplay nomination, the first superhero movie in Oscar history to ever receive such an honor).

But Academy Awards ratings have been consistently dropping, ever since its changes to the best picture category first proposed in 2010. Continuing to skip over mainstream films such as these is exactly why. Critics love the indie flicks that continue to surprise us in new ways, while moviegoing audiences love the occasional blockbusters that give them the escapism and entertainment that they need. It’s entirely possible to love and appreciate both of these kinds of films. Somebody please send the Academy the memo.

– David Dunn

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