Tag Archives: Black Panther

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COURTESY: SONY PICTURES

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

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

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

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

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

COURTESY: FOCUS FEATURES

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

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

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

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

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

COURTESY: WARNER BROS. PICTURES

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

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

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

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

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

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

COURTESY: WALT DISNEY STUDIOS MOTION PICTURES

COURTESY: WALT DISNEY STUDIOS MOTION PICTURES

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

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

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

– David Dunn

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2018 Oscar Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

COURTESY: NETFLIX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COURTESY: SONY PICTURES

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

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

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

You disgust me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COURTESY: WARNER BROS. PICTURES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– David Dunn

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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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“BLACK PANTHER” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Long live the king.

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. It has all of the elements that makes any Marvel film a great one. It has passionate performances from its talented cast members. Smart character development that makes our heroes’ choices meaningful and consequential. Not to mention its spectacular action sequences that pretty much guarantees it an Oscar nomination year-in-and-year-out. But what makes Black Panther particularly special is the significance of its diversity; its emboldening of marginalized communities by giving them a platform to say what they’ve been trying to say all of these years. It’s one thing to be simply entertained by a superhero movie. It’s another thing entirely to be impacted by the experience and take it with you long after you’ve left the movie theater. Or in this case, Wakanda.

Taking place after the character’s debut in Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther now finds T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) as King of Wakanda, a hidden African nation housing the Earth’s largest deposit of a rare metal called Vibranium. After losing his father T’Chaka (John Kani) and sparing his killer at the end of Civil War, T’Challa believes that the worst is behind him and he can now focus solely on governing his people.

He is sorely mistaken.

For one thing, M’Baku (Winston Duke) and the Jabari tribe are in strong opposition to T’Challa’s rule, and he’s committed to challenging him for the throne at all costs. Weapons smuggler Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) rears his ugly head once again, as he has an violent history with Wakanda for constantly stealing plots of Vibranium from them. And a shady assassin who goes by “Killmonger” (Michael B. Jordan) has an eerie obsession with the Black Panther and a hidden agenda he has regarding Wakanda and its people.

Black Panther achieves so much on so many levels that it’s hard to pick where exactly to start. I’ll begin with the writer and director Ryan Coogler, who has achieved ground-breaking strides here both visually and aesthetically for this film. Coogler, who gained attention in his earlier years for helming the biographical picture Fruitvale Station and the Rocky spinoff Creed, creates a technically immaculate world in Wakanda, a highly-advanced society that feels removed and secluded from the rest of the world, but also possesses its own breath and heartbeat in the same sentence. The costumes and makeup evoke the feel and tribalism of the ancient Congo tribes from Africa, a culture which at least partially helped inspire the “Black Panther” comic books, while the production design evokes an Afro-futuristic setting that feels like its evolved years beyond any Western civilization could have in a hundred years. And the action? Spectacular. Whether Black Panther is fighting without his armor in a Wakandan waterfall, or pursuing Klaue through one speeding car to another, the action is fast-paced, enthralling, and engaging. I haven’t felt this excited in a superhero film since The Dark Knight in 2007. Yes, I am saying this with The Avengers and Captain America: Civil War in mind as well.

But it’s not just the production itself that’s so impressive: it’s also the story that Coogler crafts here, a humble fable about a king wanting to do the right thing, but is haunted by the sins of his ancestor’s past. One of my concerns going into this movie was how Coogler was going to handle the race element of the picture. Was he going to ignore it altogether and focus solely on the superhero aspect? Or was he going to put so heavy an emphasis on it that the movie became a social statement instead of an action blockbuster? The answer is neither. Like Iron Man, The Dark Knight, and Captain America: Civil War, there are heavy themes underlying the film’s subtext, but it is not what compels the film itself forward. What makes this film a great one is that it is a character drama first, and a social allegory second. The themes of institutional racism and prejudice is as a consequence of the character’s actions throughout the film. It is not the action itself. In making its point humbly, it allows the message to be seen at its most transparently, while at the same time not distracting from all of the superhero spectacle going on.

It would be a crime if I did not mention the film’s outstanding cast. They are the best of any MCU movie so far, hands down. Everyone is so spectacular in their roles, so humane and believable in their interaction with each other that I could dedicate an entire article to talking about each performer individually. I would easily campaign for the film to receive a Screen Actor’s Guild Outstanding Cast nomination, if the SAG Awards didn’t play so much to their bases to begin with.

Boseman, of course, kills it as T’Challa. He was great in Civil War a few years ago, and he’s just as great as he is now. Yet interestingly enough, my favorite characters from the movie are its antagonists, which serve as a sort of remedy to the villain problem Marvel has been facing for a long time now. Duke, for instance, succeeds in playing a dryly charismatic bear in M’Baku, and he’s so boorish that I would love to just give the guy a big hug, were it not that he could crush me in one muscle reflex. Serkis is so wild and over-the-top as Klaue, yet that just makes him all the more fun and fascinating of a character to watch. We usually have the most fun in Marvel movies seeing the heroes and villains duke it out over highly-rendered green screen action sequences. I find it interesting that Serkis was just as fun to watch ranting in an interrogation room as much as he was firing his arm cannon at his enemies.

The best of these performers, however, is Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger. Part of what makes his performance so mesmerizing is that you don’t really expect a villainous performance out of the guy to begin with. He was one of the super-powered teenagers in Chronicle, Oscar Grant III in Fruitvale Station, and Apollo Creed’s son Adonis in Creed. He’s not really known for playing cruel or malicious characters. Yet, that’s exactly what makes his performance as Killmonger so compelling. It’s the fact that he’s coming from a very human place with it, and his motivations against the Panther make sense and are relatable on a personal level. He is easily one of my favorite villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He would have been number one, if Tom Hiddleston’s Loki didn’t occupy my top spot.

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. I’ve given four-star reviews for multiple MCU movies in the past, including Iron Man, The Avengers, Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, and Thor: Ragnarok. I would recommend all of these movies solely based on how fun they were alone. Black Panther is the first to be truly profound outside of its Blockbuster value. It is the bridge where art meets entertainment.

No, Black Panther is not the first black superhero to be adapted to the big screen. That title belongs to Todd McFarlane’s Spawn in 1997. Like the Wakandan king himself, however, it seems destined to become the most significant from a long line of predecessors. And rightfully so.

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“CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” Review (✫✫✫✫)

A war of humans, not heroes. 

I’m going to make a bold claim here. Captain America: Civil War is the best MCU movie to be made to date.

I know, I know, I’m probably a little overzealous when I say that. Except that I’m not. I’m fully aware of what its competition is. There are two other Marvel movies that I can compare Captain America: Civil War with. Those two are Iron Man and The Avengers. All three of them are exciting, suspenseful, nail-biting, eye-widening entertainment that are just as fun and memorable as they are emotional and meaningful. They’re not just great superhero dramas. They’re great human dramas.

But Captain America: Civil War is especially unique to even these entries. How? The biggest reason is because it isn’t formulaic. In Iron Man and The Avengers, we had our heroes, our villains, and they went at each other like rock-em sock-em robots. Granted, there’s deeper insight and perspective than just the two-dimensional hero/villain foreplay, but you can’t deny the framework that’s there. There’s a clear cut good guy and bad guy, as there is in most superhero movies.

But that black-and-white sense of morality isn’t well defined in Captain America: Civil War. In fact, there isn’t really an established sense of right and wrong in the picture, just characters whose ideals and values clash violently with each other. You can argue that there is a quote-unquote “villain” in the movie, but he’s more of a viewer than an active participant to the conflict involved. If we have to go by titles in this movie, what we have then is hero against hero, Avenger against Avenger, and friend against friend. The ensuing action is nothing else but thrilling, thought-provoking, mind-blowing, and heartbreaking.

In this sequel to both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron, Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America (Chris Evans) leads a new team of Avengers, consisting of Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Vision (Paul Bettany) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). After an international event involving the Avengers ends in high casualties, General Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) and Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) step in to introduce the Sokovia Accords, which states that the Avengers would no longer be a private organization, but instead will be employed and assigned missions by a United Nations panel.

There are two perspectives to the Accords. On one hand, the Accords would give a new level of accountability to the Avengers. They would be restricted in where they could go and what they could do, and the public casualties in turn could be lessened. Plus, the Avengers would now get paid for all of their superheroing. On the other hand, this could put a level of control and interference on the Avengers that would prevent them from doing the most good. Plus, being assigned to report to a panel leaves them vulnerable for manipulation, forcing them to do things that they wouldn’t otherwise.

Iron Man leads the side that’s for the Accords: Cap leads the side that’s against it. But regardless of both sides, there’s another player in the field whose looking to manipulate both sides to his advantage. And neither side realizes it until its too late.

The second Marvel movie to be directed by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo and the fourth to be written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, Captain America: Civil War is a superhero movie ripe with context, a movie that asks uncomfortable questions that we would much rather remain unanswered. Just like how The Winter Soldier related its plot to today’s world of government control, survaillance, and corruption, Civil War also relates to real-world issues that appeals just as much to reality as they do to fantasy.

Take, for instance, the introduction of the Sokovia Accords. These documents, much like the connection between S.H.I.E.L.D. and H.Y.D.R.A. in The Winter Soldier, presents the theme of government interference and how those implications affect our world. Yes, the Accords would impose an element of control and responsibility over the heroes, but at what cost? This is a situation where civil liberties are being traded for security, and the question is raised on whether its a good trade or not. Juxtaposing this idea of control in between our heroes raises very important questions: questions that are startlingly resemblant of our world abundant with government surveillance and manipulation.

But the movie doesn’t suffer under its philosophical weight. This is still one of those fast-paced, funny, exciting Marvel movies that you’ve come to love. It’s just now a fast-paced, funny, exciting action movie that has deeper insight and drama than the previous entries did. The issues involved draw us deeper into the film’s conflict and to each of the outcomes that these characters face.

There are two of these characters that I haven’t mentioned yet. One of them is the rebooted Peter Parker/ Spider-Man, who is played here by Tom Holland as opposed to the recently discontinued Andrew Garfield. Holland’s appearance in the film is brief yet significant, and while he doesn’t serve a role as important as the others, his charisma, immaturity, and innocent charm makes him for a very entertaining and memorable character, one who sticks out in my mind just as much as Captain America and Iron Man. To be rebooted in just two years time is definitely too soon, and part of me wonders how well Garfield would have done if he had been given the same opportunities as Holland was. That doesn’t take away from the fact that Holland still wins us over and sticks out in our minds just as strongly as Garfield and Toby Maguire does. He makes me very excited to see what’s in store for him for his eventual return in Spider-Man: Homecoming.

The other character is T’Challa, a.k.a. the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman). If there is a neutral side in this conflict, it is in T’Challa, although at one point he does fight on Iron Man’s team. He’s so great because unlike Iron Man or Cap, his perspective is the most human out of the other players. He is the citizen Cap and Iron Man are fighting to protect. He is the one that faces the most casualty out of any of the other players. This natural perspective into the film is so important, because it demonstrates an investment that isn’t coming from another superhero: it’s coming from the victim of both sides of the conflict. That pain and confusion is so important to understand Captain America: Civil War not just as a Marvel movie, but as a complex drama on its own two legs.

The performances, the action, the visual effects, and the direction all accumulate masterfully, and the Russo brothers demonstrate a better understanding of their characters than they did in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. What we have left, then, is an unchallenged masterpiece, a moral dilemma packaged as a superhero blockbuster that excites us just as much as it challenges us. Iron Man and The Avengers both challenged themselves morally and ethically, but not so much to the point where it’s entire plot was founded around it. There was still a right or wrong in those movies. There isn’t in Captain America: Civil War, and that makes it just as compelling as it is entertaining. The one downside to this film’s success: now the Russo brothers have to follow this up with Avengers: Infinity War. I don’t know how they’re going to do it. I would personally guess that they can’t do it. But I’ve been wrong before.

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