Category Archives: Movie Previews

The Movies of Early 2022

You couldn’t have asked for a more topsy-turvy year than 2021 for the world of cinema.  Still reeling from the effects of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the movie theater industry was pretty much on the ropes even as venues were beginning to reopen after a full year closure.   But, through some good fortune, and even some unexpected support from meme stock traders,  movie theaters managed to avoid the Armageddon that many experts feared would befall the industry.  Things slowly began to return to business as usual, but there were still roadblocks in the way towards normalcy.  Hollywood still hedged their bets for most of the year, choosing to release their movies simultaneously across multiple platforms in order to off-set depressed box office numbers.  But, as the year went on, movie theaters stayed resilient and managed to show their overall worth.  Disney, the studio with the most high profile stakes in the market having their streaming platform also performing very well, gained a surprise hit with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021), which prompted them to abandon their hybrid release model in favor of the theatrical market for the rest of the year.  Warner Brothers, which made the boldest move of the year by releasing their entire 2021 slate on a similar release model on both streaming and theaters day and date, saw mixed results, with many of their film either underperforming or flat out bombing at the box office likely due to their availability on streaming.  And then the theatrical market ended the year on a triumphant note with Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) smashing records in a way that would be impressive even outside of a pandemic market.  There is a lot that the theater industry can feel happy about at the end of 2021, though business as normal hasn’t quite been achieved just yet.  It will be interesting to see what happens next in 2022, and which way the wind will blow after the previous year we’ve had.

It helps to take a look at what to expect in the months ahead in 2022.  For the first time in two years, the theatrical release schedule looks like it has settled in to a more stable outlook.  There’s no more uncertainty about if movies can make their release dates, even in the face of more Covid variants.  Like years before, I will be taking a look at the most anticipated movies of the early season of the year and give you my thoughts on which are the must sees, the ones that have me worried, and the ones that I believe are worth skipping.  Keep in mind, these are my first impressions based on the level of marketing these films have presented thus far.  I might be wrong about a few of these choices, and that has very often happened before.  Still, I’m confident about my choices here, and I hope they give you a good sense about what to expect in the upcoming months.  So, with all that, let’s take a look at the Movies of Early 2022.

MUST SEES:

THE BATMAN (MARCH 4)

Let’s start off with the usual super hero flick that always ends up on my must see lists.  With Marvel choosing to hold onto their next theatrical project for the summer, that leaves the Spring entirely for DC to launch their film free of competition.  What they have planned is yet another big screen reboot of their marquee comic book icon, Batman, marking the seventh big screen iteration we’ve seen to date (not counting the 60’s Adam West TV version).  Filling the cape and cowl this time is Robert Pattinson, a choice for the part that has received some mixed feelings thus far.  I have a bit more confidence in Mr. Pattinson, give his more risk-taking choices in roles as of late.  And the choice of him as the character seems pretty in line with the tone they are setting with this new version of the Batman story.  It’s clear that director Matt Reeves is channeling a sort of David Fincher aesthetic with this Batman, with the film looking very much like it’s pulled out of the same world as Se7ven (1995) or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011).  The supporting cast looks really interesting as well, with actors like Zoe Kravitz, Paul Dano and Colin Farrell portraying very grounded versions of Batman’s rogues gallery as Catwoman, The Riddler and The Penguin respectively.  The big question will be if the movie can offer anything different with regards to the Batman character that we haven’t yet seen before.  The movie especially has to distinguish itself in comparison to the Christopher Nolan trilogy, which had it’s own grounded take on the Batman mythos.  Given how well Matt Reeves was able to revitalize and legitimize the Planet of the Apes series a few years back, he should be able to make a new version of Batman that can stand well enough on it’s own, and in many ways could end up surprising us.  Thankfully, we don’t have to wait for two long for this one, and given that Warner Brothers has ended their streaming experiment of 2021, this will definitely be the kind of blockbuster entertainment that will help their studio make a splash again at the box office in a big way.

TURNING RED (MARCH 11)

Another sadly missing fixture in movie theaters over the last couple years has been Pixar Animation.  They unfortunately were saddled with having one of their movies open right at the beginning of the pandemic (2020’s Onward) and that ended up cascading into a whole shake-up for the studio as a whole.  The other planned 2020 release, Soul, skipped theaters entirely, receiving a streaming only premiere on Disney+.  And despite the fact that theaters were re-opened last summer in all the big markets, Disney still side-lined their next Pixar film Luca (2021) to streaming on Disney+, much to the chagrin of the people at Pixar.  Now, with the theatrical market stabilizing, Disney is allowing Pixar’s next film to play on the big screen finally, almost two years to the day since Pixar’s last big screen appearance.  The film they are making their return with looks like a nice light romp that will appeal to a broad audience.  Centering on a Chinese-Canadian pre-teen girl who succumbs to an ancient family curse that transforms her into a giant red panda seems to be in line with the kind of atypical storylines that Pixar is always attracted to.  It’s also interesting to see them take on a much more stylized, cartoonish style with this one, as opposed to some of their other films like Soul and Onward, which both opted for more grounded animation.  Turning red feels much more comic strip like in it’s style, and that feels like a nice change of pace for the studio.  Instead of focusing everything on the hyper details of the environment, this movie looks like it’s keeping things simplistic and focusing more on the complexities of the characters instead, which has always been a strong point for Pixar.  I feel like this is one of those movies that will probably offer up a lot more emotional depth than what we see in the hyperactive trailer, and in many ways, it’s something that we have sorely missed in a theater setting.  It’s been a long pandemic break for Pixar, but I’m hopeful that Turning Red brings them roaring back in a big way, and naturally with a big, red, roaring Panda.

EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE (MARCH 25)

Taking a break from the big studio entertainment, here we have a little indie film that is no less exciting as an upcoming attraction.  From the same team behind the equally bizarre movie Swiss Army Man (2016), we have this new film that centers around a Chinese immigrant in contemporary America that has some strange connection to a multiverse.  Swiss Army Man was a refreshingly original movie that managed to make it’s bizarre premise work for a full length feature, and I am very excited to see what the same twisted minds behind that movie can do for a follow-up.  I’m especially excited by what I see here, because this looks like a showcase for the amazing talent that is Michelle Yeoh.  The veteran Chinese actress has certainly been around for decades and always given stellar work on screen with everything from James Bond thrillers to Marvel comic book movies.  Here, she is front in center in a starring role that she far too often hasn’t been able to take advantage of.  This looks like a movie that is tailor-made for her, allowing her to play all sorts of different versions of the same character across multiple realities.  It even gives her a chance to show off some of her talents as a martial arts fighter, as she has shown before in movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000).  I also find it interesting who she gets to act opposite with in this movie, with veteran actors like Jamie Lee Curtis and James Hong by her side.  But, even more surprising is the actor playing her husband, Ke Huy Quan.  It may surprise audiences to know that he’s Short Round from the movie Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), as well as Data from The Goonies (1985), all grown up.  He hasn’t had a big screen role in years, so to see him here in a grown up role is quite a surprise.  But, this is certainly a movie designed to let Michelle Yeoh shine and I’m really excited to see what kind of weird and strange things this movie is going to give us.

THE NORTHMAN (APRIL 22)

Here’s another wild, bizarre cinematic offering from another celebrated outsider filmmaker.  Robert Eggers has made a splash in recent years with his very dark and cinematically daring horror films The Witch (2015) and The Lighthouse (2019).  Now, he is looking to take his unique voice into the realm of ancient world epics.  Here he is creating his own take on Viking sagas, with all the same bloody violent details and otherworldly connections to the spirit realm that you would hope to see in such a film.  Centered around a young Viking warrior seeking vengeance for his slain father, this looks on the surface to be a more conventional looking film from the guy who gave us something as unconventional as The Lighthouse.  And yet, the trailer still shows us that there will be indeed some wild, fantastical elements here as well, and that’s exactly what makes this movie so highly anticipated.  My hope is that Eggers manages to balance style with substance here, because it could prove to be a difficult tight rope to walk.  You definitely want it to be a rousing adventure film, but at the same time, you also want it to be a wild head trip as well, which Eggers has thus far excelled at.  It definitely helps that the cast is an interesting blend of unconventional players as well.  I’m going to be very intrigued to see how well Ethan Hawke and Nicole Kidman work as Viking royalty in this film.  The inclusion of Anya Tayor-Joy and Willem Dafoe are also exciting inclusions.  The success of the film will probably hinge on how well Alexander Skasrsgard   works in the lead role.  He certainly looks the part, thanks to his own Scandinavian roots, but it will be interesting to see if he can pull off the weirder Robert Egger elements of the story as well too in his performance.  My hope is that this movie fearlessly breaks out of conventionality and becomes the demented, ethereal Viking epic that we all hope it is.

DOWNTON ABBEY: A NEW ERA (MARCH 18)

Yeah, I know this movie is not for everyone’s tastes.  The second movie based on the long running TV series is very much a film made solely for those who were die hard fans of the show, and not much else.  But, I am one of those fans of the show and I am very excited for another big screen outing with this collection of characters.  Part of my excitement for this film is because of how well I thought the first Downton Abbey (2019) movie worked.  It didn’t try to break the formula too much to translate from the small to the big screen, and overall it did exactly what you would want a movie based on a show to do; extend the already storyline even more.  I’m glad to see that nothing has been wasted so far, with the same opulence of the show carried over, but with the added benefit of a widescreen canvas.  And the show’s creator Julian Fellowes has not lost sight of his ongoing narrative, justifying the continuing adventures of the wealthy Crawley family beyond what we saw in the show, without making the Series finale feel superfluous in the long run.  The always delightful ensemble cast has made their return, including some of the best character actors that have graced the big and small screens of Britain for decades, including Hugh Bonneville, Penelope Wilton, and Jim Carter among them.  And any reason to put Dame Maggie Smith back on the big screen is an opportunity that should never be wasted, ever.  My only hope is that this movie doesn’t waste the goodwill that was earned from the first successful big screen adaptation.  Sometimes a movie based on a TV show has maybe one good translation that it can possibly get away with; any more might seem desperate and unnecessary.  Still, enough was left open from the last film to justify more time with these characters, and a change of scenery as the family makes a trip to the French countryside could offer some nice new story opportunities.  As an unashamed fan of the show, I’m very much looking forward to yet another couple of hours in this world of Downton Abbey.

MOVIES THAT HAVE ME WORRIED:

DEATH ON THE NILE (FEBRUARY 11)

It’s been a rocky road for this film in wake of the pandemic.  Originally slated for a Fall 2019 release, it was pushed back due to the merger between it’s production studio Fox and Disney.  Then of course the Covid affected closures of the theater pushed the movie out of 2020, and then scandal plagued the film when one of it’s stars (Armie Hammer) was accused of sexual abuse, prompting a career backlash that has seen him lose numerous roles as well as his representation team.  Now, nearly three years after it wrapped filming, the movie is surprisingly going to make it’s way to theaters.  Some speculated whether it would see the light of day at all.  It would have been a shame if none of us had the chance to see it, as it is a star-studded follow-up to director Kenneth Branagh’s hit adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express (2017).  Just to give a sense of how long this movie has had to sit on the shelf, Branagh has made and released two more films since wrapping photography on Death on the Nile; the Disney+ fantasy Artemis Fowl (2020) and the Oscar-hopeful Belfast (2021).  This is a troubled production all around, and my worry is that audiences won’t be able to judge the movie properly on it’s own merits.  It’s really a sad unfortunate series of events that shouldn’t have to weigh on the movie, and yet I feel like it’s going to suffer as a result.  My hope is that the movie is good enough to shake off the bad mojo that has fallen it’s way.  The stellar cast, Armie Hammer not with-standing, should be a benefit.  At the same time, Branagh’s track record as director is hit or miss, and he this is honestly his first ever attempt at a sequel.  This movie could end up being a pleasant surprise, or a forgotten troubled film best swept under the rug.  My hope is for the former.

SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2 (APRIL 22)

Two years ago, I placed the original on my movies to skip list.  It looked like a movie just pre-destined to fail, especially after a highly talked about last minute re-working of Sonic’s design due to a fan backlash.  Surprisingly, the movie not only didn’t fail, it managed to succeed at the box office, just narrowly making a profit before the Covid shutdown.  One thing that really helped was the better than expected input of Jim Carrey as the villainous Dr. Robotnik, who really stole the movie away and elevated the film to make it better than it had any right to be.  So, for a movie that was doomed to be a laughing stock, it is now getting a sequel and people are excited for it.  I was a little more lukewarm on the movie, because it still was a formulaic waste of time, but I do acknowledge that it managed to avoid many of the pitfalls that should have tanked it entirely and I was pleasantly surprised by Jim Carrey’s hilariously demented turn as Robotnik.  It’s not out of the question for this series to have fans, and for them to be excited for a sequel.  I just am not entirely on board myself.  It is cool to see Jim Carrey returning, and leaning even more into the zaniness of the character.  It’s also nice to see the movie adding more elements from the video games into it’s story, including the introduction of Sonic’s rival Knuckles (voiced here by Idris Elba).  Maybe this movie can turn around my opinion entirely, and make me a fan of the series finally.  I’m far more intrigued by how the original managed to escape disaster and become a success given all the circumstances thrown it’s way more than I’m interested in the story itself.  Judging by the way the movie has been marketed so far, my opinion will probably remain the same afterwards.  Still, it is a step up from being on the Movies to Skip list, so that’s an improvement at least.

MORBIUS (JANUARY 28)

The only Marvel related property we are getting on the big screen this early movie season, and it’s not even from Marvel Studios proper.  Morbius is an off-shoot of what people have dubbed the Sony Spider-verse, which is all the Marvel characters that Sony Pictures maintains the rights to that are tied around the character of Spider-Man.  They are very loosely connected with the canon of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and in many ways might not be in the same universal canon at all.  This includes the Venom movies starring Tom Hardy as well as this film based on the vampiric super anti-hero known as Morbius.  The movie Morbius has likewise suffered an uncertain future thanks to the pandemic, moving around multiple times until landing on this unceremonious late January release date.  That alone may seal the fate of this movie, but I hope it ends up being more than that.  The problem with the film is that it may get crushed under the expectations that people now have with Marvel films, especially in the wake of the huge success of Spider-Man: No Way Home.  It also doesn’t help that the character is much lesser known outside of comic book fans, and that he is being played by Jared Leto, whose become a bit of a polarizing actor as of late. Hopefully, Leto brings more balance to this role than he did with his unhinged version of the Joker in DC’s Suicide Squad (2016).  And my hope is that this movie makes the best effort to justify Morbius as a stand alone character worth devoting a stand alone movie to; something that the Venom movies have yet to achieve despite Tom Hardy’s best efforts.  Still, this one is going to be a hard sell, and my worry is that Sony does not have the same kind of focus and care with these characters that Marvel Studios proper does.  We’ll see if they can buck the trend and make a surprisingly effective film on it’s own merits that doesn’t have to rely on it’s connection to Spider-Man to work.

FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE (APRIL 15)

Another film that has succumbed to unfortunate off-screen turmoil.  Though not affected badly by the pandemic, this movie unfortunately has had to overcome scandals that have diminished some of it’s key players.  For one thing, Wizarding World creator J.K. Rowling has come under fire for comments she has made that many have deemed transphobic, which has alienated the author from many of the fan base of her previous work.  And then there is the cloud of scandal that has surrounded actor Johnny Depp, who played the villainous role of Grindelwald in the previous Fantastic Beast movies.  It became so troublesome for the makers of this movie that they decided to make the drastic decision to recast the part of Grindelwald with Mads Mikkelsen instead.  But there’s an even bigger problem working against this movie; that nobody really cares for this Fantastic Beast series.  There are some fans to be sure, but Fantastic Beasts has failed to take off in the same way that the Harry Potter series that shares the same universe had before.  This, the third film in this series, carries on the continuing  story, but it seems like it’s carrying itself forward on the crutch of the Potter series much more now.  With Dumbledore (played as his younger self here by Jude Law) becoming even more of factor in the story, as well as the characters making their way to the Hogwarts school, it just seems like the Fantastic Beasts team is going out of it’s way to try to appeal to all of those Harry Potter fans out there instead of working harder to define it’s own identity.  Maybe this movie can turn around it’s bad fortune thus far.  I honestly think the recasting of Grindelwald is an improvement; Mikkelsen should have been playing the character from the outset.  But, given Rowling’s dogmatic hold on the narrative drive of this story, and little to indicate a deviation from it’s set course, we are likely just going to see more of a downward slide for this unfortunate wannabe series.

MOVIES TO SKIP:

MOONFALL (FBRUARY 4)

If you’ve been reading my blog consistently, you’ll probably know of my disdain for the movies of Roland Emmerich.  He has very much emerged as my least favorite filmmaker as of late, and Moonfall looks like his dumbest movie yet.  The ludicrous premise involves the moon being pulled out of it’s orbit and headed towards a collision with the Earth, and it’s up to a rag tag bunch of scientists and hot shot astronauts to avert the disaster and save the planet.  What really grinds my gears about Emmerich’s movies is just his disdain for common sense explanations in his plots.  He is constantly known for pushing pseudo-science, conspiracy theories and the like in his movies, and often throws basic physics out the window as well.  Not only that, his characters often fall into wooden archetypes and even worse, sometime ugly stereotypes.  All of that seems to be right in place again with Moonfall, a ludicrous sci-fi film that seems to have every bad instinct Emmerich is known for in full display.  The way he treats science in his movies has been laughable, and has often undermined the attempts to educate about real scientific principles.  God help us if he ever decides to do a pandemic movie.  I’m not holding out for a lot of hope with this one.  It just looks like Emmerich desperately trying to find his next Independence Day (1996) and once again failing miserably at it.  A definite hard pass.

UNCHARTED (FEBRUARY 18)

Movies based on popular video games are absolutely tricky to pull off.  Sonic the Hedgehog (2020) has been one of the rare exceptions of a hit movie that overcame the trend of terrible video game adaptions.  But, Sonic was a movie unburdened with having to adapt a deep, detailed storyline.  Sonic the Hedgehog the game is as simplistic as they come, so all they had to do was make a story that was just slightly more involved than a side-scrolling adventure.  It’s much harder to adapt a video game to the big screen that originally felt cinematic to begin with.  That’s the case with Uncharted.  The Uncharted video game series are very highly celebrated for their almost movie like quality of immersive storytelling.  They are often considered to be the Indiana Jones of video games.  Which is why it seems like a bad idea to make these films leap onto the silver screen.  A two hour movie can in no way compete with the 20-40 hours of gameplay that people devote to the narratives of these games.  And yet Sony (who conveniently also makes the PlayStation consoles that the Uncharted games play exclusively on) is banking on making that jump a reality.  They of course are utilizing their golden boy of the moment, Tom Holland (aka Spider-Man), to lead the film as the iconic hero Nathan Drake.  Though Holland is an impressively athletic and capable action star, he still comes off as a tad too young for the role, as the video game Nathan Drake has a few more years under his belt by the time we first meet him.  It also doesn’t help that Nathan’s beloved sidekick Sully is played here by Mark Wahlberg without the beloved character’s trademark mustache.  Sadly, what we are likely to see happen is a extraordinary, ground-breaking video game adventure be reduced to just an ordinary, run of the mill action movie.

MARRY ME (FEBRUARY 11)

Normally this kind of movie would just be ignored by me.  But for me, this one feels especially disappointing because of the inclusion of Owen Wilson here.  Last year, I saw Owen branching out as an actor and taking on more outside the norm roles.  He was especially effective in the Loki series on Disney+ and he also made a welcome return to working with his old friend Wes Anderson in The French Dispatch (2021).  Unfortunately, Marry Me finds him slinking back into the Rom Com trap that kept him from taking on good roles for many years.  It’s something that I think is really beneath him at this point in his career, and it’s sad to see him returning to that well once again.  The same can be said about Jennifer Lopez as well, whose coming off her best role in years with 2019’s Hustlers.  I don’t know why they want to go back to rom coms, when it’s clear that there’s a lot of still untapped potential for them as actors.  Hopefully, once they get this movie out of their systems, they’ll go back to more outside the box kind of roles, but for now, this is a movie that feels more like a step backward after a lot of forward momentum in both of their respective careers.

So, there you have my outlook of the early part of 2022.  For one thing, it’s nice to know that movie theaters are no longer on the brink of closure like they were this time last year.  A few movie theaters didn’t survive, but the vast majority managed to stick it out, and now there is no longer any uncertainty for at least the foreseeable future.  The theatrical industry still has a bit more rebuilding to do if it’s going to get back to it’s pre-pandemic levels, but the success of Spider-Man: No Way Home is still a positive sign that leaves us hopeful.  It definitely shows that the super hero genre is still a potent one for audiences, which is good news for something like The Batman.  Hopefully, in 2022, we see audiences gain a lot more confidence to venture out to see other genre films, especially with animated movies, musicals, historical epics, and the like which have all had a harder time regaining traction at the box office over the course of the last year.  2021 certainly brought some more life into the ailing theater industry, but it’s still not 100% back yet.  My hope is that we see movie theaters roaring back in 2022, as the pandemic continues to wane and become less deadly.  Movie theaters certainly need to up their commitment towards appealing to audiences.  The Netflix’s and Disney+’s of the world are not going away anytime soon, and they’re going to continue competing with movie theaters for years to come.  Hopefully, the adage of what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger applies to the theatrical market as well, and that movie theaters will hopefully come out of this pandemic better than they were before.  In any case, this is where we are at the beginning of a new year at the movies.  Happy New Year and let’s make 2022 a prosperous and safe one at the movies.

The Movies of Fall 2021

So, it wasn’t pretty, but we managed to get through a full Summer movie season after a year long pause due to the pandemic.  Over the course of the last four months, we saw a lot of hurdles thrown in the way of the theatrical market, but we also managed to see it persevere in surprising ways.  The rise of Covid cases due to Delta variant has been an unfortunate roadblock in the recovery of our world post-pandemic, and movie theaters are another sector of the economy feeling the pressure of this unfortunate situation.  Couple this with so many movies remaining in a state of limbo, with studios not sure whether they are going to risk putting them on screens in packed theaters, or playing it safe and releasing them on streaming.  Some movies, like Paramount’s Clifford the Big Red Dog and Sony’s Venom: Let There Be Carnage decided to just abandon the calendar completely, and try for next year instead.  Despite this, there were positive signs.  Universal’s Fast and the Furious sequel did deliver a solid box office opening after it’s year long delay, as did Marvel’s Black Widow, though both were near franchise lows for total box office.  And there was also the unexpected success of A Quiet Place Part II, which not only turned a massive profit for studio Paramount, but it also marked the first film to gross north of $100 million since the pandemic began, a major achievement that gave relief to a beleaguered theatrical industry.  Along with signs of strong box office hold even for movies available at the same time on streaming like Disney’s Cruella and Jungle Cruise, and there is plenty of good news coming out of this summer that gives cinema lovers hope for the coming months ahead.  Despite some lingering, persistent obstacles, the movie theater industry is slowly but surely starting to rebuild, and hopefully with the next round of movies, we’ll finally see something that resembles something close to normal.

Like my previous articles, I am going to be looking at the movies of the upcoming fall season through the prism of three separate categories: the must see movies, the movies that have me worried, and the ones I believe are worth skipping.  And like previous years, I could be completely wrong about a few of these.  I am largely basing my choices on how I am feeling about each movie based on the effectiveness of it’s marketing and the general buzz that has surrounded the film during it’s development.  You will also see a few familiar films spotlighted again here, since they were displaced holdovers from the pandemic affected delays of 2020.  Like this Summer, my hope is that all these movies manage to finally hit their release dates, Delta variant not withstanding.  So, without further ado, let’s look at the movies of Fall 2021.

MUST SEES:

DUNE (OCTOBER 22)

Perhaps no other movie coming out this Fall has more eyes on it than this highly anticipated new adaptation of the monumental Sci-Fi novel from Frank Herbert.  After a notably mixed movie version made by David Lynch back in the 80’s, a lot of people were hoping for a more faithful and ambitious cinematic retelling that would honor the epic scope of Herbert’s original text.  When beloved auteur Denis Villenueve decided to undertake the venture, people were very excited that Dune was finally going to get the movie it deserved.  And with an all-star cast involved, headlined by rising star Timothee Chalamet as Paul Atrades, it looked very much like Dune was going to do for the Science Fiction genre what Lord of the Rings had done for fantasy.  But, the pandemic put a giant sand worm sized roadblock in the movie’s way.  Originally slated for a Christmas release last year, Warner Brothers decided to put their big tent pole on hold for a full 10 months, instead giving Christmas Day to Wonder Woman 1984 in a limited theatrical and streaming debut.  Then, based on their Wonder Woman gamble, Warner Brothers decided to make their entire 2021 release schedule day and date releases in order to drive more traffic to their struggling HBO Max platform, including Dune.  This angered many filmmakers with films slated for release this year, including Villeneuve, whose grievance is entirely justified.  Just by looking at the visuals from the trailer, you can tell that this movie was designed from the ground up to be shown on a big screen.  Warner Brothers decision has looked increasingly short-sighted, especially in the wake of disappointing box office for In the Heights and The Suicide Squad, and many worry that the same fate may happen to Dune as well, which would hurt the long term goals for building a franchise around the movie, which would be especially devastating when you learn that this first film is only half of Herbert’s original story.  Please, see this one in a theater and show Warner Brothers that the future of cinema still belongs on the big screen.

ETERNALS (NOVEMBER 5)

Another 2020 outcast, the obstacles for this new Marvel film are not quite as severe as they are for Dune.  For one, Disney appears to be increasingly moving away from their day and date release options, due to strong holds of their titles at the box office and the threat of piracy that a simultaneous streaming release poses to repeat business for them.  They are already seeing good results from allowing 20th Century’s Free Guy play exclusively in theaters, and they are hoping to see the same happen with another Marvel release, Shang-Chi: Legend of the Ten Rings.  Depending on how well Shang-Chi performs, there is a good chance that this highly anticipated Marvel film will make it exclusively to theaters, which would be ideal as it looks like this was a movie meant for the big screen.  Having been delayed for a full year may have also had an upside for Eternals, as within the last year, it’s director Chloe Zhao went on to win a historic Oscar for Best Director for the movie Nomadland.  With a reigning Oscar winning director behind the movie, parent studio has an extra bit of prestige that it can sell this movie on, along with a staggering all-star cast that includes people as varied as Angelina Jolie and comedian Kumail Nanjiani.  What will be interesting to see is just how Chloe Zhao’s film-making style works with a more substantial budget.  Thus far, there has been strong buzz surrounding this one, with Marvel head Kevin Feige being especially impressed with what Zhao has done so far, particularly with her insistence on shooting with little to no visual effects and with real locations instead of sound stages.  Marvel already has had a good representation of allowing bold filmmakers to bring their own style to the Marvel Universe.  It will be interesting to see what they get from someone with some Gold already on her shelf.

SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME (DECEMBER 17)

Speaking of Marvel, they have another film lined up this Fall, made through a partnership with Sony.  Made remarkably in the middle of last year’s pandemic, this new entry in the Spider-Man franchise continues the current run with actor Tom Holland.  The film appears to pick up right where the last film, Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) left off, with an unmasked Peter Parker now having to live in a world where everyone knows he is indeed Spider-Man.  Because the attention is overwhelming, he seeks help from another Avenger ally, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who believes he can help Peter make everyone forget his secret identity.  Of course, plans go array and chaos ensues.  What is exciting about this new film is that it is the clearest sign yet of Marvel playing one of their most exciting cards in play; the Multiverse.  Already brought to imaginative life in the animated Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse (2018), and hinted at in the Disney+ shows Wandavision and Loki, the Multiverse opens up so many possibilities for the Marvel Cinematic Universe going forward.  Not only can it allow for many different variations of things we have already seen happen in the MCU so far, but it can even bring all the periphery Marvel films made before the formation of the MCU into canon.  This is very definitely the plan being set up in this film, as Holland’s Spider-Man is being confronted by the villain Doc Ock, who is the same Doc Ock from the Sam Raimi directed Spider-Man trilogy of the 2000’s, with Alfred Molina returning to the role after 17 years.  With hints of other returning  villains as well, like Jamie Foxx’s Electro and Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin, this could turn out to be an insane adventure, and even more excitingly though unconfirmed, Tom Holland may even be able to share the screen with his predecessors, Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield.  If that doesn’t happen, it will still be interesting to see how Spider-Man and Doctor Strange work together, creating a whole different character dynamic we have yet to explore.  No matter what, it’s sure to be a movie that most people will want to see play out, and especially on a big screen.

NO TIME TO DIE (OCTOBER 8)

Suffering perhaps the longest delay of the entire pandemic, the last Daniel Craig headlined James Bond film is finally coming to theaters.  This movie’s incredibly long gestation included multiple delays before the pandemic, with original director Danny Boyle leaving the project over creative differences, and also Daniel Craig taking an extra long time to decide if he wanted to return or not.  But, No Time to Die eventually ended up in the can and was ready for a spring 2020 release.  And then, you know what happened.  No Time to Die was in fact the canary in the coal mine that indicated just how bad things were going to be, as it was the first studio film to move off it’s release date, even after advance tickets had already been sold ( I got one reserved myself).  It further saw two more movies, going off it’s new November 2020 release date, and moving to April 2021 and then eventually October 2021.  For now, it appears that this release date will stick, even in the face of the Delta variant, and we’ll finally be able to see Daniel Craig’s swan song to 007.  Hopefully, the delay hasn’t tampered down anticipation.  It really does look like they’ve pulled out all the stops for this film, with the series seeing it’s first American director at the helm (Beasts of No Nation‘s Cary Joji Fukunaga).  The cast includes a lot of returning faces from across Craig’s tenure as Bond, including Christoph Waltz as 007 nemesis Blofeld.  It will also be interesting to see what new addition to the cast, Oscar winner Rami Malek, brings to the film as a mysterious villain.  Even with all the changes, the movie will surely deliver on all the globe-trotting high octane action that the franchise has been known for.  For one thing, I’m sure audiences will be thrilled to see this on a big screen, because it will be the last go around for an actor that has probably left the strongest mark on the character since maybe the late Sean Connery.  And after having to wait so long for this new movie, through all the delays, this final hurrah will hopefully be worth the long wait.

HOUSE OF GUCCI (NOVEMBER 24)

You really got to hand it to the ageless Ridley Scott.  At the time of this new film’s release, the legendary director will turn 84 years old, and not only does he have one movie coming out this Fall, he has two.  True, one of them is a delayed holdover from 2020, but even still, at a time when most of his contemporaries are entering retirement, he’s still churning out a movie a year.  This year in particular sees two of his most highly anticipated movies in years coming out a mere month apart.  The Last Duel certainly has a lot of exciting things about it, including the first script co-written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (who also co-star in the film) since Good Will Hunting (1997), and it’s a medieval set epic that is certainly familiar ground for the director.  However, it looks like the latter film, House of Gucci, that looks like it has the most promise, especially when it comes to Awards season.  Scott still has yet to take home a Directing award from the Oscars, despite several nominations, and with two heavy hitters in play this season, it might finally be his year.  The cast for this film is especially impressive.  Taking place in the cross section of the fashion world and the Italian mafia in the hedonistic 70’s and 80’s, the movie includes Adam Driver (who also appears in Last Duel) as the legendary designer as well as Lady Gaga as his ruthless wife Patrizia, a role that is already garnering a lot of Oscar buzz.  Though Jared Leto’s presence under layers of make-up is a little weird, it will still be interesting to see what he does with his own role.  In addition, we get plenty of hard hitters like Salma Hayek, Jeremy Irons, and Al Pacino in the mix, and it overall looks like a winning recipe for an awards season favorite.  Hopefully it allows for the legendary Ridley Scott to finally get his due recognition as one of the great filmmakers of all time, which I think he’s earned regardless of whether he has an Oscar or not.  Regardless, we get two exciting new films from the master this fall, and that in itself is a strong reason to get excited to return to movies again this season.

MOVIES THAT HAVE ME WORRIED:

GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE (NOVEMBER 11)

Yet another exile from 2020, we have the latest attempt to revive the Ghostbusters franchise for a new generation.  After the disastrous premiere of the 2016 reboot, Sony decided to look in a different direction with this new film.  In a surprising choice, they tapped Jason Reitman to direct, the son of the original film’s director Ivan Reitman.  And in difference to the 2016 version, Reitman decided to not reboot the story as a whole from the beginning, but instead continue on from what had been there before.  This new film takes place 30 years after the events of Ghostbusters II (1989), and follows the new adventures of the grandchildren of original Ghostbuster Egon Spangler (who was played by the late Harold Ramis).  When they find their grandads old gadgets in his middle of nowhere barn, they unexpectedly bring out the spectral chaos that he had spent years trying to combat.  What is interesting from the trailers we’ve received so far is that this film is tonally much different from it’s predecessors.  While the other Ghostbusters were often slapstick comedies with scary elements, this new film appears to be taking the mythos far more seriously and instead turns the series into more of an action adventure.  This could be both a good thing and a bad thing.  It at least is a nice change of pace from the horribly botched 2016 reboot, where the comedy was too broad and overwhelming (and just not funny) to work within this kind of premise, but at the same time, taking things too seriously could also be antithetical to the spirit of the original as well.  At the very least, with Jason Reitman carrying on the work that his father started, he has a credible case to take something like this with a more serious tone.  And it is nice to see so many of the original cast return to these characters that we love in more than just a glorified cameo.  But, the question remains; is it still Ghostbusters?  I a hoping for the best, but also dreading the worst.  Hopefully we get the former.

TOP GUN: MAVERICK (NOVEMBER 19)

It just seems like the time when Hollywood seems intent on reviving old franchises.  But unlike Ghostbusters, Top Gun hasn’t continued it’s story since the original in 1986.  Nearly 35 years later, Paramount and the original’s star Tom Cruise are bringing back the legendary daredevil pilot Maverick to the big screen.  This time Tom Cruise is bringing some of the tricks he learned from the Mission Impossible franchise to help up the ante in this long in the making sequel.  Instead of utilizing a mix of edited stock footage and character close-ups that helped to sell the illusion back in the original, Tom Cruise is instead shooting real actors in real planes, giving the movie a level of authenticity that we haven’t see yet in this franchise, nor in most other movies of it’s kind; except maybe Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk (2017).  That should almost certainly make the movie a must see, just to check out what I’m sure will be some remarkable flying scenes in the movie, including with Cruise himself right there in the cockpit.  That being said, is Top Gun really a movie worth sequelizing, especially after this many years.  I know that the original has a dedicated fan base and a lot of staying power in the pop culture.  But, you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone that would consider the movie an all time classic either.  The original movie is extremely cliched in it’s non-combat scenes, and the movie often is just as heavily mocked as it is celebrated.  It’s hard to say so far if this movie is likely to improve on the original, or fall into the same pitfalls.  At least we know that Tom Cruise is such a showman these days that the movie at the very least will be a spectacle on the big screen.  Here’s hoping that what he’s managed to refine over in his Mission Impossible franchise translates into something special for Top Gun.

THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS (DECEMBER 22)

Yet another franchise trying to regain it’s mojo after a long period of dormancy.  Unfortunately, where this franchise left off was not on the best of circumstances.  The then conclusion of the Matrix trilogy in late 2003, The Matrix Revolutions, divided audiences and critics, and fell well short of it’s box office goals.  It unfortunately has not shaken it’s reputation as a disappointing conclusion to a once promising franchise.  But, Warner Brothers and the creative team behind the trilogy are now attempting to try and shake off the sour taste of that disappointing third film with a brand new entry 18 years later.  This time, original creator Lana Wachowski is going solo on this film, with her sibling Lily sitting this one out.  It will be interesting to see if a single Wachowski can pull off the same kind of magic that made the original movie such a game-changer with a new generation.  On the plus side, she has two of the original stars, Keanu Reeves and Carrie Anne Moss returning to reprise their roles as Neo and Trinity; which is strange considering that both characters (spoilers) died in Revolutions.  Given how his career has been going as of late, with a surprising Renaissance to his names thanks to the John Wick franchise, Keanu isn’t really in need of a new Matrix movie, so coming back to it really is more of a sign of Mr. Reeve’s devotion to the series and his love of working with the Wachowskis.  The one question that lingers is if they will be able to translate the appeal of The Matrix to a new generation.  The original Matrix was such a product of it’s time, with so movies since copying it’s aesthetic and formula, and I don’t know if that Punk Noir style is going to carry over after nearly two decades out of the picture.  It helps that most of the people involved have decided to return, and we already know that Keanu Reeves still hasn’t outgrown these kinds of movies (in fact he may be even better prepped for them now).  One hopes that this movie can end the series on a more satisfying note, and maybe even open it up to a brighter future, but it will all depend on if some of that mojo is still there after so many years.

ENCANTO (NOVEMBER 24)

Usually I have nothing but high hopes for what’s coming next in the Disney Animation pipeline, but their next film Encanto (which marks their milestone 60th feature) has thus far left me unimpressed.  I hope that it’s just a case of tepid marketing thus far, because all we have to judge this movie by is this trailer, which gives only a vague sense of what this movie is about.  At the same time, I feel like Disney has been unfortunately unfair to the animation world during the course of the pandemic.  They appear to be playing favoritism on their end, by giving this and their last animated film Raya and the Last Dragon (2021) theatrical releases (albeit a hybrid one with Disney+ premiere access) and at the same time denying that honor for it’s last two Pixar films, Soul (2020) and Luca (2021), both of which went straight to Disney+.  Pixar is going to see a return to the big screen in 2022 with their dual releases of Turning Red and Lightyear, but even still it’s very suspect that Pixar’s parent company would deny them a chance to perform on the big screen while still granting their own in house films that honor.  For this long time Disney fan it leaves a sour taste in my mouth and unfortunately hangs a dark cloud over this movie, which I might have otherwise been looking forward to under different circumstances.  I hope more revealing marketing in the future helps to generate more enthusiasm for this movie from me.  It is certainly marketing itself on having new music from their current golden boy Lin-Manuel Miranda, which I can’t complain about.  And I’m sure that it will be lovely to look at with all of the usual high quality animation that Disney is known for.  I just wish that the corporate shenanigans behind the scenes wasn’t reflecting negatively on this film.  In truth, Disney should not be playing favorites with their different animation studios, because all of them have been putting out some of their best work ever in the last few years, and we should all have the chance to see the animators’ work on a big screen.  Hopefully next year, the playing field has been made level once again.

MOVIES TO SKIP:

WEST SIDE STORY (DECEMBER 10)

Never thought I’d be putting a movie directed by a legend like Steven Spielberg on this section, but it’s a sign of just how much I think this movie is a mistake.  I don’t know if the original West Side Story (1961) is in the class of “untouchable” movies that can never be remade, but it’s close.  There certainly can be a way to re-adapt the musical; Broadway has been doing that for years.  But from what I can see so far from this first trailer is that Spielberg is unfortunately just remaking the original movie over again with very little in the way of changes.  It is nice to see racially appropriate casting this time around, and the return of Rita Moreno, who won an Oscar for her performance in the original 60 years ago, is also very welcome.  But, what I don’t like is the fact that Spielberg has staged and shot this movie almost exactly like the original film directed by Robert Wise.  It’s never a good sign when a remake is too afraid to venture away from the original it’s deriving from.  All it does is remind you how great the movie was done the first time around and how unnecessary this remake is as a result.  We don’t even get any signing in this trailer, except for a melancholy rendition of “Somewhere” by Rita Moreno off camera, which does not bode well for what we’ll expect to see from the rest of the cast.  I know that Spielberg has been itching to do a musical for a long time.  I just wish he had chosen something new or um-adapted for the screen that he could really have given his own personal stamp on.  Instead, here he’s playing around with something that already feels like it belongs to someone else, and it looks like he’s playing it too safe by doing so much to remind us of a more classic movie.  It’s unthinkable that I am recommending skipping a Spielberg movie, but that just might be what happens with this potentially disastrous movie.  I hope I am wrong.

KING RICHARD (NOVEMBER 19)

It wouldn’t be a Fall movie season without a little Oscar bait.  And once again we are seeing Will Smith vying for the gold that he really seems to gunning for.  He has done some commendable dramatic work in the past, most notably as Muhammad Ali in the Michael Mann biopic Ali (2001), but a lot of his dramatic roles have also fallen flat over the years.  Here, he’s trying once again with a dramatic turn as Richard Williams, the father of pro tennis phenoms Venus and Serena.  Unfortunately, it looks like another case of Will Smith trying too hard.  One of the things that has made Will a movie star over the years has been his infectious charisma on screen, but one thing that has also gotten in his way has been his own ego.  That’s been reflected in his more dramatic roles where Will tends to want to show off a bit more instead of playing things more straight.  Try as he might, he can’t disappear into a role as well as other actors, and it can be distracting because all audiences can see most of the time is just Will Smith in a costume and make-up.  It’s also a problem that this movie is not particularly interesting as a sports biopic either.  It doesn’t make a lot of sense telling the story of the Williams sisters by focusing on their father instead.  The movie also faces another hurdle falling under the controversial choice by Warner Brothers to make their movies available in theaters and streaming at the same time, which as we have seen has made it harder for movies like this to find an audience.  We’ll see what affect Will Smith’s star power has on this film’s performance, but I would imagine it’s not going to be much in the long run.

DEAR EVAN HANSEN (SEPTEMBER 24)

This one I feel may put me in the minority, but I honestly don’t feel any good vibes about this one.  Set aside the fact that star Ben Platt (reprising his role from Broadway) appears too old to play a teenager in this movie, this movie also seems primed for release at the worst possible time.  Musicals in general are really beginning to fall into a slump, as evidenced by In the Heights face-plant this Summer.  Dear Evan Hansen was a massive Broadway hit, but what worked on the stage doesn’t always translate into film.  And I feel that’s what is in this movie’s future.  Director Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) doesn’t have previous experience with musicals, and it appears that he is making this film look like his other past movies.  That in turn may put off some of the musical’s biggest fans because a straight laced film adaptation will likely end up taking something that felt huge and grand on the stage and reducing it to something that feels small on the screen.  Very few musicals can effectively make the transition from stage to screen and it’s usually only a certain breed of grandiose productions that can pull it off.  Dear Evan Hansen is likely going to miss that mark and it will reflect poorly on the musical’s reputation.  Hopefully there’s an earnestness that can pull it through, but I highly doubt that this movie is going to effectively carry over the acclaim that the musical achieved on the Broadway stage.

So, there you have my thoughts on the upcoming movies of the Fall movie season.  And that’s only a handful of what to expect.  We are actually seeing an unprecedented year at the movies, as we’re getting movies made for this year as well as holdovers from last year hitting the theaters.  In addition to the movies I already spotlighted, there are new films coming from acclaimed directors like Edgar Wright, Guillermo Del Toro, and Wes Anderson in the coming months.  There’s also all the upcoming movies making it through the early Fall film festival circuit that may help us get more of a sense what to look out for as Awards season heats up.  And given that movies are more or less being firmly planted in the ground these days, it’s very likely that all the movies I spotlighted will indeed be fully shown to audiences this year, and on the big screen.  It’s especially gratifying to have a seasonal preview again where I’m not talking about something that is coming to Netflix or any other streaming channel in the coming months, although there will be those out there too.  But, if we keep doing what we can to stem the tide of this pandemic and finally put it to rest, these uncertain days about the fate of the theatrical market and it’s calendar of releases will become a thing of the past.  I’m hopeful that it can be done and that 2022 will find the domestic North American box office right back to where it stood per-pandemic.  2021 thus far has been tough going, but it’s one where we are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.  And thankfully, as we’ve seen in the unlikeliest of places, people are eager to return to the movie theaters, and the studios are becoming increasingly convinced that cinema is an essential part of their long term success.  Hopefully that becomes increasingly clear this upcoming fall, and that we no longer need to judge these movies based on how they perform in spite of the pandemic.  So, overall, I hope all of you have an enjoyable, and safe, time at the movies, because there is no better time to go back than now considering what we have on our plate this Fall.

The Movies of Summer 2021

It’s been quite a year. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States from March of last year, the future of theatrical releases remained seriously in doubt.  Theater closures moved release dates for nearly every film on the horizon, and that in turn made the return to normal business for the theatrical industry extremely dire.  Even the biggest chains were facing down the possibility of bankruptcy by year’s end, and for some others (like the beloved Arclight chain in Hollywood) the end did come.  But, as the tide of the pandemic is finally starting to recede, things are slowly beginning to settle in the world of film.  Release dates are no longer being pushed back; theaters that have been closed for close to or over a year are finally opening the doors; and most importantly people are making the return to movie theaters in big numbers as well.  Recovery will still take a long time to reach pre-pandemic levels, but the early signs are positive, and as more and more people get vaccinated and more restrictions begin to be loosened, the back end of 2021 could be very good for Hollywood.  Thanks to all the maneuvers and business deals made between the studios and the movie theater chains, we finally seem to be having a Summer movie season that looks as close to normal as we it can be.  Because of this, I  can finally return to my usual movie season previews that I have done for years prior, without the added “hopefully” title on top of it.  Quite a few of this summer’s movies were ones that were supposed to be released last year, but were pushed back to now, but things are now finally set in stone, so we will be seeing all the movies I spotlight here this Summer.  Like years before, I will be splitting the movies here into the ones that I believe are the must sees, the ones that have me worried, and the ones that I believe are worth skipping.  And even on the lower end, it may be a soft dismissal of the movies to skip, because in general I want to encourage people to go back to the movies, even if the movie in question is not a good one.  So, I am excited to finally bring back my full look at the movies of the Summer in this year of 2021.

MUST SEES: 

THE SUICIDE SQUAD (AUGUST 6)

Let’s start off with what for me is the most anticipated movie of the Summer.  Thanks to Warner Brothers’ controversial plan for simultaneous releases in theaters and on the HBO Max app, this is also one of the rare 2021 movies that is actually meeting it’s original release date as scheduled.  And as Godzilla vs. Kong has shown us, the split availability is not hurting box office one bit, so the future is bright for this film.  The circumstances that led to this movie are also fascinating, as it became possible after writer/director James Gunn was briefly let go by Marvel over some dug up offensive tweets he made in the past.  Not wanting to waste an opportunity, WB picked Gunn up and granted him the chance to play in the DC comics sandbox instead.  Gunn of course was delighted to jump on board and he immediately found the ideal franchise to bring his unique filmmaking style to; that of the Suicide Squad.  After the mixed reception of David Ayer’s 2016 film, Suicide Squad was in desperate need of a refresh, and there is no better fit for this franchise than James Gunn, who already has plenty of experience bringing a team of quirky misfits to the big screen in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy movies.  With his unique blend of humor and action, I am especially excited to see what James Gunn has in store for us with this rag tag team of DC rogues.  I’m especially happy that Gunn still brought along the best cast members from the first movie, including Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn and Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller, including introducing a whole bunch of new ones.  I guarantee that King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone) will be to this movie what Groot was to Guardians, and will become the breakout star character.  You’ve got to love the fact that the movie advertises itself as being from the horribly beautiful mind of James Gunn.  He will return to Marvel soon after to make a third Guardians movie, but for this brief moment in time, let’s all be grateful that he had the time to deliver the Suicide Squad movie that we all deserve.

BLACK WIDOW (JULY 9)

Now we have a film that has not met it’s release date multiple times.  With it’s original release set so close to the outbreak of the pandemic last year, this one has been moved around three times on the calendar since, moving to November 2020 initially, then again to May 2021, before finally landing on July 9, 2021.  But, with things the way they are now, Black Widow is unlikely to be moved any more.  As an extra insurance, Disney is also making this a premium access title on Disney+, so that they can still make the movie available to view just in case the movie theaters are not back to normal business by July.  For the movie itself, this reshuffle in the schedule has greatly changed it’s important role in the ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe.  This was originally supposed to be the movie that was going to launch Phase Four of the MCU, but as a result of the pandemic, that new launch point went to the Wandavision mini-series on Disney+ instead.  Hopefully that doesn’t change the viewing experience of this film too much.  It will be nice to see a Marvel title back on the big screen again, and with a movie devoted to one of the beloved original members of the Avengers team, who was long overdue for a film of her own.  I am interested in seeing how this movie works it’s way into the Marvel timeline, given what we know from the last Avengers’ film, and what it will add to the franchise as a whole.  This will be a nice showcase for Scarlett Johansson, who has been exceptional in the part for over a decade.  And the spy thriller style of filmmaking is another flavor of genre that will be interesting to see play out in the Marvel Universe.  I’m also interested in seeing the way that the new villain, Taskmaster, fits within this narrative.  Of all the pandemic effected movies, this is one that has been among the most eagerly anticipated, and now we finally will have our opportunity, with no more delays from now on.

LUCA (JUNE 18)

Unlike the other movies I mentioned, this one rather shockingly is not getting a theatrical release.  Disney is giving the other movies on it’s summer calendar the hybrid theatrical/streaming release, but not this one from their usually reliable Pixar Animation studio.  This one is going to stream on Disney+ for no extra fee.  It’s an odd choice, and one that already is understandably upsetting people within the Pixar ranks.  Pixar’s most recent movie, Soul (2020) also premiered solely on Disney+ without a theatrical release, but that choice was understandable given that America was hitting it’s deadly second wave of the pandemic during the holidays.  But with theaters reopening and performing better now, it’s a shame that they are not allowing a new film from Pixar to make it to the big screen.  I was saddened by the fact that I wasn’t able to see a movie like Soul the way it was made to be seen, on the big screen, and the same applies to Luca as well.  This movie, with it’s colorful palette and imaginatively designed characters, should be experienced in a theatrical setting to really fully appreciate.  Perhaps, based on Soul’s performance on Disney+ was strong enough to make the company feel like streaming was a better option (Soul did go on to win the Animated Feature Oscar this last week).  I just hope this is not the start of a trend.  Luca, like Soul, is a movie that deserves a theatrical release, and I hope Disney changes it’s mind in the coming months.  Even still, I’ll be watching it, because it does look like the usual appealing experience that Pixar delivers with every movie they make.  I just hope that Disney hears from the fans and the people at Pixar who are passionate about these movies and want to see them in a venue that captures to the true grandeur of these films, which honestly feels quite small when shown on a TV or laptop screen.

IN THE HEIGHTS (JUNE 11)

Another exile from 2020 making it’s new home in Summer 2021.  Originally slated for release last Summer, this movie may be one of the few films that benefitted from the circumstances that saw it moved into this year.  One, 2021 in general is a less crowded year at the box office, which is going to help this movie gain a spotlight it otherwise wouldn’t have had in 2020.  And second, this movie also is given a little extra assist in it’s premiere by a little thing called Hamilton.  This movie musical is based on the original Broadway production that had music written by an up-and-comer named Lin-Manuel Miranda.  The Broadway production became a huge, Tony-winning success, but a couple years later, Miranda would top himself with his career defining blockbuster, Hamilton, which turned him into an instant legend of the Broadway stage.  When the pandemic hit, and Broadway shut down at the same time as movie theaters, the world desperately needed something to fill that void.  Disney, who have been collaborating with Lin-Manuel on numerous projects, decided to move up a release of a taped version of Hamilton that they were saving for theaters later on and put it out on Disney+ to resounding success.  Because of that surprise early release, Lin-Manuel and company were suddenly able to have their work seen by an even wider audience, and that in turn has increased renewed interest in Lin-Manuel’s other work.  Being delayed an entire year actually benefits In the Heights now because so many more people are familiar with Miranda’s work and are more interested in seeing how this will translate to the silver screen.  From the looks of it, director Jon M. Chu appears to be bringing the an incredible visual flair to the musical, making the movie appear like a modern day West Side Story (1961).   We’ll see how well it manages to achieve it’s goal, but the circumstances couldn’t be better for it this year, because if there is one thing that the culture needs right now, it’s an uplifting musical extravaganza, just like what Hollywood used to make in better times.

THE GREEN KNIGHT (JULY 30)

In addition to the big summer tentpoles returning to the schedule, it’s also a time for some of the individual indie movies to also make a return to the big screen.  After a year of modest releases either on demand through digital retailers or in a handful of Drive-In theaters across the country, some of the mid-level movies that used to provide counter-programming to the bigger titles are finally returning as well.  Of course, some of the most eagerly anticipated ones are coming from a reliable independent studio like A24, which has one of the industry’s strongest track records at the moment.  One of the movies that they held onto in the pandemic shuffle that I have been eagerly anticipating, and one that I hoped at the time could have been an early contender in a reopened box office last year, is this weird little twist on Arthurian knights tales from auteur filmmaker David Lowery.  Lowery has been one of the most interesting artistic filmmakers of recent years, working in a multitude of different genres, including most surprisingly a remake of Disney’s Pete’s Dragon (2016).  Making a movie like this definitely still seems within character for the non-archetypal director, and I am very much interested in seeing what he does with the medieval setting and the classic story that has it’s roots in early English folklore.  It will definitely not be a movie for everyone, but even still A24 opted to not drop this movie onto streaming or premium on demand like they did with some of their other titles this last year.  They held onto this one, waiting to have it shown in theaters, which is a great sign of their confidence in how this movie will play.  It’s a movie that I’m guessing from this delay demands a big screen presentation, and that is why I am hopeful it will stand out as a must see movie for those of us who are eager to see something weird and unique on the big screen again.

MOVIES THAT HAVE ME WORRIED:

CRUELLA (MAY 28)

This one is a mixed bag in many ways.  Disney’s track record with live action remakes of their animated classics is not very good.  And the last time they attempted to tell a back story for one of their famous villainous characters (with a sympathetic eye no less) it resulted in Maleficent (2014), which was a creative misfire.  I’m especially worried about this one, because 101 Dalmatians is an all time favorite of mine in the Disney canon, and Cruella De Vil stands as one of the greatest baddies they’ve ever committed to the big screen.  I don’t want to see that legacy tarnished by a misguided cash grab.  101 Dalmatians has been turned into a live action film before, but it was one that skewed close to the formula, made changes when need, and featured an incredible star performance from a perfectly cast Glenn Close as Cruella.  It was also made at a time in the late 90’s when there wasn’t a remake craze at the Disney company like there is now, so it manages to stand alone perfectly fine.  This one, however, is following a trend and that’s what worries me about it.  So many of the recent Disney remakes completely forget what made the others so great and they instead just feel like mediocre re-treads that pale compared to the originals.  The things that do work in this movie’s favor is the fact that it is going way off book and is trying to tell it’s own story, divorced from the original.  The choice of director, Craig Gillespie, is an interesting one, as he previously brought the story of Tonya Harding to the big screen in the Oscar-winning I, Tonya (2017).  And it does seem like Emma Stone is putting her all into the role as well, which is a good sign.  I just hope that they don’t do any injustice to the legacy of the character and make her too sympathetic.  This is a villainess famous for wanting to make dog skin coats after all.  If it sticks to the depraved individual dueling against even more depraved individuals plotting that the trailer suggests, than it might work, but then again I’ve been tricked by Disney before.

JUNGLE CRUISE (JULY 30)

One other avenue that Disney has a spotty record with on the big screen is movies based on theme park attractions.  It did strike gold with Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, but it also misfired with The Haunted Mansion (2003), and even Pirates ran out of steam eventually.  So it seems weird that Disney is choosing to tap this mine again with a movie based on their Jungle Cruise attraction.  For anyone that has been to a Disney park, you’ll know that Jungle Cruise is one of the more leisurely rides in the park, without a whole lot of thrills to drive a movie plot from.  And yet, that’s just what they did.  In many ways, this movie appears like a reskinned version of their Pirates movies, with weird CGI monsters doing battle with the heroes.  The movie also seems like another Indiana Jones knock off, where the characters are travelling into more and more perilous situations in search for a mystical treasure.  So far, from the clips we’ve seen, Jungle Cruise just seems like too many other movies we’ve seen before.  And in the time that it was delayed from release last year to now, there has been almost no hype built for it, which is not a good sign.  The one thing that may turn into a positive for this movie is the chemistry between the two leads, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Emily Blunt.  These are two of the most charismatic movie stars working today, and their on screen interactions could be the movie’s saving grace in the long run.  I just hope that not too much is going to be resting on their shoulders as the movie seems to lack a lot of originality.  I’m sure that Disney is hoping some of that star power translates to a strong box office, because with a pandemic driven delay leading to many people already forgetting that this movie exist before it comes out, it’s already got a lot of trouble up ahead.

OLD (JULY 23)

This one has me worried more based on the overall track record that director M. Night Shyamalan has had over his entire career.  When he’s doing well, Shyamalan can deliver some of the most taught and original thrillers, like The Sixth Sense (1999), Unbreakable (2000) and Split (2016).  But when he’s not, he can make some of the most laughably awful ones as well like Lady in the Water (2006) and The Happening (2008).  More recently, he’s been doing much better both critically and at the box office, with the movies Split and Glass (2019) both performing well.  With this new film, he’s delivering another Twilight Zone style scenario that seems to be within his wheelhouse, with characters mysteriously aging rapidly on a secluded beach with no clear explanation.  My hope is that this movie brings out the best in Shyamalan’s instincts and not the worst.  It’s hard to tell from this brief preview, and already I have my worries.  The performances for one thing seem a little off, which to be honest has always been one of Shyamalan’s weakest aspects as a filmmaker.  You can only rely on professionals like Samuel L. Jackson, Joaquin Phoenix, or James McAvoy to carry the clunky dialogue so much.  This could indeed be another movie that falls under the weight of it’s own self-indulgence, but then again, M. Night has been doing a better job recently of keeping that under check.  My hope is that the intriguing premise is executed well enough that it helps lift the movie above Shyamalan’s shortcomings as a writer and director, because he still is a filmmaker with a lot of neat ideas that can still work if executed well.

FAST & FURIOUS 9 (JUNE 25)

For nearly 20 years now, I have tried my best to get into the Fast & Furious  movie franchise, and every time I just end up leaving underwhelmed by it all.  Maybe I am just not a car person.  The films in general are just a whole lot of noise and mayhem to me, with none of the emotional connection that would normally hook me in.  I’ll take the likes of Mission: Impossible and John Wick to satisfy me with over-the-top action.  What will be interesting to see is how this movie is going to perform at the box office.  I hate to say this about a movie franchise that I honestly don’t care for that much, but if there was any movie that will save the Summer box office this year, it’s probably going to be this one.  The fanbase for this franchise is loyal, and they are still very much eager to see it in theaters as well.  If I were to bet on the box office this year, either Fast & Furious or Black Widow will be the first movie to cross the $200 million mark in domestic box office since the start of the pandemic.  And if that happens, it will be a great moral booster for the theatrical industry as well as give movie studios confidence in the recovery of the market overall.  I’ll be grateful to the movie if it manages to do that, and even excel past expectations if possible.  But I’m also sure that I won’t have the same love for it that other people do.  Still, I am impressed with how well excitement for this movie has not waned in the last year, and that unlike Disney’s Jungle Cruise, people are still talking about it.  The addition of John Cena to the mix will be interesting, but they’ve put a lot of other actors that I admire into this franchise like Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, and it still didn’t grab me.  So, I am hopeful that this movie will be a boost of adrenaline to a desperate theatrical market in need of a hit, but I’m probably going to be underwhelmed by it just like all the ones that came before.

MOVIES TO SKIP:

SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY (JULY 16)

I’ve made my disdain for the original Space Jam (1996) very apparent on this blog before.  But, I did hold out for some positive signs about the up-coming sequel.  Honestly, they couldn’t do any worse than the original.  But, seeing this trailer, it’s presenting a whole bunch of other concerns that really have me worried again.  First of all, it just looks like a shameless cross promotion tool on Warner Brothers’ part to showcase all the different IP they have in their library.  Did I also mention that this movie is also premiering day and date on HBO Max, where a lot of the pop cultural references shown in the movie also can be seen on.  I do like some Iron Giant love, but it just seems like Space Jam went from shamelessly shilling Nike footwear to shamelessly shilling everything under the WB tent.  I was also hopeful for LeBron James, who has a better cinematic track record than his predecessor Michael Jordan does, whose still awkward and bland performance in the original movie is his one and only movie role.   But, LeBron so far is coming off just as flat as MJ.  And the CGI enhanced Looney Tunes are also not giving me much hope overall.  It remains to be seen if I dislike this movie as much as the original.  The first Space Jam is a monumentally flawed movie with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.  This one may be bad, but it could be so in a boring way, which would put it ahead of it’s predecessor, but we’ll just see.  Safe to say, I’m not holding too much hope for this to be a turn around for the series.  They should’ve just left it as a commercial for sneakers like it originally was.  I just hope Bill Murray had the common sense to say no this time.

THE HITMAN’S WIFE’S BODYGUARD (JUNE 16)

How this became a franchise I will never know.  The original movie wasted the talents of two usually great movie stars, Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson with an unfunny script and mediocre action.  And somehow it did well enough to warrant a sequel?  In this one they expand Salma Hayek’s cameo role from the original to a third lead, and add Antonio Banderas and Morgan Freeman to the mix.  I was underwhelmed by the original, and I have a feeling that the same will happen with this movie as well.  What really depresses me is that the movie has both Reynolds and Jackson in the leads, a combo that should’ve been ideal for some hilarious back and forth banter.  Instead, the original movie was about as stock as any other bland action movie.  If this movie wants to redeem this franchise, set these two loose, and Salma Hayek as well.  We know how great they can be off the cuff.  Sure, they shouldn’t have to carry a movie on their shoulders, but when you give them nothing to work with, just at least let them look like they’re having fun and allow them to use their instincts in a creative way.  Overall, I expect this movie to be just another average action flick that wastes it’s opportunity to be a comedic powerhouse.

SPIRIT UNTAMED (JUNE 4)

Once upon a time, when competing against their rival Disney, Dreamworks Animation did dabble briefly in the medium of traditional, hand-drawn animation.  They only made 4 films in that format, The Prince of Egypt (1998), The Road to El Dorado (2000), Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002), and Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (2003), before abandoning it after the success of Shrek (2001).  Of those four, I would argue that the most successful dramatically and artistically was Spirt, a beautiful Western themed adventure that took full advantage of the hand drawn format.  In the years since, the movie has gained a cult following, and even spawned a Netflix series.  This new film, however, comes from the main studio, which seems to be taking the story in a far more sanitized direction, geared solely towards younger audiences.  It’s a shame to see Dreamworks Animation move into a more pandering sensibility, and with a character from one of it’s most dramatic films in general.  The movie did retain the titular character’s original design, but it just looks weird in CGI form, and he fares better than the rest of the cast of characters.  If they wanted to sequelize the original, they should’ve stayed true to the grit of the original, which was a strong parable about the loss of the wilderness in America’s westward expansion.  This movie just seems to be hand waving all that off and just makes it a horse movie for kiddies.  Do yourself a favor, seek out the original (especially if it’s widescreen) and watch that instead.  It will remind you of a time when Dreamworks was really trying to prove something, instead of just resting on their laurels.

So, there you have it, a Summer movie preview that will hopefully, finally pan out for real.  Now I can finally talk about these movies with certainty about when they are going to be released.  The question marks about when and if these movies will see the light of day are no longer a problem.  I’m just hoping that the movie theater industry is able to return to normal business soon, so that all these movies can thrive and bring back confidence in the market again.  Sadly, we are going to likely see compromises made for the rest of the year, like the hybrid releases that the movie studios are using as an insurance policy.  I also highly doubt that we’ll reach the record breaking numbers like the ones that we saw throughout 2019, before the pandemic was even on the horizon.  I hope that the studios in the long term look at the theatrical industry as a worthwhile market to continue investing in.  I would especially like it if some of the upcoming movies do well enough that it will enable some of the fence-sitters to reconsider their release plans and move more movies to the big screen.  It will be a short window for something like Luca, but I am praying that Disney has a change of heart.  Thus far, from the few movies that have released in the Spring, there are a lot positive signs that point to a recovery.  Warner Brothers’ HBO Max gamble has not harmed box office one bit, and every major studio has stopped shuffling things around and in some cases are moving movies forward instead of backward.  Normal may still be a ways off, but we are going back to the movies finally, and people are realizing just how much they have missed.  Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and that’s what I think will help lead people back to the movie theaters.  There really is no substitute for the theatrical experience, and it’s an experience that is right now reminding people of better times.  It’s that allure that could indeed give movie theaters the bright future that it needs.

The 2021 Oscars – Picks and Thoughts

A most unusual year for movies deserves a most unusual awards season as well.  Like everything else we have done to help us weather the COVID-19 pandemic, the lead up to this year’s Oscars have been conducted remotely in an unprecedented combination of livestreams and health conscious ceremonies.  Thanks to online meeting apps like Zoom, most of the acceptance speeches of all the awards so far have been given from the respective winners’ living room rather than on a stage in front of peers.  Not ideal for anyone, but it’s allowed the awards this year to be delivered in a safe manner that helps protect all involved and helps to stem the spread of the deadly disease that we are still battling.  However, it does appear that the Oscars is still opting for an in person event rather than the Zoom enabled presentations that we’ve seen from the likes of the Emmys and the Golden Globes.  The way they are doing it, while still staying within the California state health guidelines is that they are conducting this year’s Academy Awards from two separate venues, allowing for enough social distance for the attendees.  One such place will be the traditional Dolby Theater which is the Oscars’ permanent home, and the other will be the historic Union Station in Downtown LA (a first for that location as an Oscar host).  Needless to say, this will be a very different Oscars than the one we are used to.  This is reflected in the nominated movies as well.  Because of the closure of movie theater for the majority of 2020, the field of nominated movies represents a more select group of indie and streaming titles.  One particularly positive result of this is that this is one of the most diverse group of nominees that the Oscars have ever seen, representing many underrepresented groups that otherwise are overlooked in more competitive years.

What follows is my usual picks and thoughts for each of the top categories at the Academy Awards.  In addition to breaking down each category, I also will include my choices for who I think will win, and who I think should win, because oftentimes my choices differ from the likely outcome.  These are for the leading categories of Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress and Screenplay (Adapted and Original).  Keep in mind, these are just my own opinions, and I could end up being way off in my picks come Oscar night (it happened last year).  So, let’s take a look at this exciting, and quite out of the ordinary group of nominees at this year’s Oscars.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Nominees: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer, Peter Baynham, Erica Rivinoja, Dan Mazer, Jena Friedman, Lee Kern, & Nina Pedrad, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm; Christopher Hampton & Florian Zeller, The Father; Chloe Zhao, Nomadland; Kemp Powers, One Night in Miami; Ramin Bahrani, The White Tiger

One thing that stands out is how Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, a film that is largely improvised, managed to sneak into an adapted screenplay nomination.  I’m not complaining, I just find it very interesting, and yes, appropriately funny.  Sacha Baron Cohen managed to pull of a miracle last year by not only making a sequel to his iconic breakout movie, but managing to make it just as big of a success, including more nominations than it’s predecessor.  And all the while shooting the film during a pandemic.  His near catastrophic stunts in the film are enough to earn this movie a special place in originality, but given that it’s a comedy and mostly improvised, it’s chances here are slim.  I haven’t seen White Tiger, and given the small amount of buzz around the film, a nomination seems to be it’s ultimate reward and nothing more.  What this category comes down to are two screenplays adapted from plays by their original scribes, and one literary adaptation by the director of the year’s biggest frontrunner.  Both One Night in Miami and The Father were late comers to this Oscar race, released at the tail end of the extended February deadline.  While Kemp Powers is getting deserved acclaim for his adaptation of his own play, his likely win as a co-director of the movie Soul in the animation category probably minimizes his chances here.  If Chloe Zhao has a big night with her likley front-runner status with Nomadland in multiple categories, it could give her momentum here.  But, I feel like the intricately plotted and experimental The Father is going to win here, as Florian Zeller deftly took his play off the stage and onto the screen with a flair that actually elevates the material for cinema.  Out of all these, my own personal favorite is the unconventional Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, because I feel like it’s the one whose best lines I’ll be remembering for many years to come, but for the sake of tradition, expect The Father to come away the likely winner her, unless Nomadland takes it in a sweep.

WHO WILL WIN:   Christopher Hampton & Florian Zeller, The Father

WHO SHOULD WIN: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer, Peter Baynham, Erica Rivinoja, Dan Mazer, Jena Friedman, Lee Kern, & Nina Pedrad, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Nominees: Shaka King, Will Berson, and Kenny & Keith Lucas, Judas and the Black Messiah; Lee Isaac Chung, Minari, Emerald Fennell, Promisng Young Woman; Darius Marder, Abraham Marder, and Derek Cianfrance, Sound of Metal; Aaron Sorkin, The Trial of the Chicago 7

This category really shows just how strong of a year this was for screenwriting.  In particular, all these movies touched upon some very relevant issues in their stories that no doubt resonated with Academy voters, whether it’s immigration, sexual assault, living with a disability, or just the fight against injustice.  I respect every one of the nominees here, but one stands out more than the rest.  It’s hard to cast aside the first time nominees in order to heap more praise on someone who has won an Oscar before, but this is about the screenplay itself and not the one who wrote it.  And my favorite screenplay for the entire year was The Trial of the Chicago 7 by Aaron Sorkin.  Yes, he already has one of the most stacked resumes in the business and already has won before (Adapted Screenplay for The Social Network in 2010).  But that Chicago 7 script just sings like no other I experienced last year.  The man just knows how to make captivating arguments flow off the page, and given how long he had this one gestating in development for over a decade, it’s probably his most polished script yet, and that’s saying a lot.  If the rest of the Academy doesn’t feel that way, I can see Emerald Fennell’s very provocative Promising Young Woman coming away with a win here.  It helps that she is also a directing nominee (one of two in this category, along with Lee Isaac Chung) and she already has a WGA win to back her up.  What could also work against Sorkin here is that Judas and the Black Messiah touches some of the same ground as it’s story does, with the trial being a backdrop element in it’s own story.  Whether or not Messiah splits some of the vote remains to be seen in relation to Chicago 7’s chances.  I still see Aaron Sorkin collecting a second Oscar here for his labor of love, but it’s a category that could end up favoring a new voice like the one Promising Young Woman offers and see an upset play out, depending on how the night goes.

WHO WILL WIN: Aaron Sorkin, The Trial of the Chicago 7

WHO SHOULD WIN: Aaron Sorkin, The Trial of the Chicago 7

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Nominees: Sacha Baron Cohen, The Trial of the Chicago 7; Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah; Leslie Odom, Jr, One Night in Miami; Paul Raci, Sound of Metal; Lakeith Stanfield, Judas and the Black Messiah

Sacha Baron Cohen hitched his wagon onto Chicago 7 all the way back when it was going to be a Spielberg film over a decade ago, always with the intent of playing notorious radical Abbie Hoffman.  The long wait paid off and he’s been recognized for his efforts here in this category.  However, a clear front-runner has emerged in this category and it’s Daniel Kaluuya for his stellar turn as Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah.  Kaluuya, fresh off his star-making turn in Get Out (2017), has dominated the Awards season so far, picking up a Golden Globe, SAG Award, and a BAFTA in the last month, all Oscar precursors.  All this would lead you to believe that he has this in the bag, but the Oscars threw a wild card into this category.  Kaluuya’s co-star, Lakeith Stanfield, was also nominated here (and only here), despite the fact that he had campaigned for a leading role Oscar.  Though Stanfield’s work is also nomination worthy, it’s strange that he got recognized here, despite playing the lead in the movie.  This has led many to worry that he may split votes away from what could have been an assured victory for Kaluuya.  But, with the other big wins he’s collected, Daniel Kaluuya seems to have momentum on his side, and it is certainly well earned.  Of all the performances, his is definitely the stand-out, and I can’t think of another performance from this year that was this commanding on screen.  Not to take away from what Lakeith and Sacha delivered, as well as the great work from first timers like Paul Raci and Leslie Odom Jr., who could possibly win in the Best Song category.  Kaluuya’s electrifying performance as Fred Hampton is the kind of performance that the Oscars are made for; one that is both big and intimate, showcasing the incredible range that the actor is capable of.  And I don’t see anything slowing his momentum down on Oscar night; not even the wild card that is his co-star.

WHO WILL WIN: Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah

WHO SHOULD WIN: Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Nominees: Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm; Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy; Olivia Colman, The Father; Amanda Seyfried, Mank; Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari

I love Glenn Close and I do want her to finally win an Oscar someday, but a win for her performance in Hillbiilly Elegy (one of 2020’s worst movies) would be an insult to her legacy as an actress.  She deserves recognition for something better that reflects just how great an actress she is, and not that pandering Oscar bait trash.  Thankfully, she is far from the favorite here.  The remaining nominees all come from much better films that are deserving of recognition.  Amanda Seyfried’s acclaimed turn as Marion Davies in Mank would be the kind of front-runner role in any other year where the Academy favors a nostalgic throwback to it’s own history, but she has surprisingly not built much momentum this year, much like the rest of the film.  Olivia Colman’s previous Oscar win for The Favourite (2018) probably dilutes her chances this year, though her role in the father showcases more of her dramatic talents than before.  The one who has surprisingly built a bit of momentum late has been veteran Korean actress Yuh-Jung Youn for her standout performance in Minari.  Playing the oftentimes naughty grandmother in the movie about Korean immigrants starting a farm in rural America, Youn is delightful to watch in the film, and is responsible for some of the movie’s most memorable moments.  A win for her would be deserved, and a wonderful recognition of her long standing career on the big screen that goes back decades.  However, if I were to pick a favorite her, I’d have to say the one who impressed me the most was Maria Bakalova in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.  Not only does she hold her own opposite a heavyweight comedian like Sacha Baron Cohen, oftentimes delivering just as many laughs playing Borat’s continually mistreated daughter, but she showed so much fearlessness taking on some of the more elaborate pranks in the film.  Her now notorious scene with the unsuspecting Rudy Giuliani in a hotel room deserves an accolade of it’s own.  So, Minari’s Youn will likely win here, but Bakalova impressed me the most, and a surprise win for her would be a well-deserved honor.

WHO WILL WIN:  Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari

WHO SHOULD WIN: Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

BEST ACTOR

Nominees: Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal; Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; Anthony Hopkins, The Father; Gary Oldman, Mank; Steven Yeun, Minari

It may be a little callous to say, but posthumous honors are a hard thing to vote against.  That’s the case with Chadwick Boseman’s nomination here for his lead performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; his first and only.  Boseman tragically passed away in August of last year after a long fight against cancer, three months before his final screen performance in Ma Rainey would premiere on Netflix.  Since then, he has been the odds on favorite to be honored with an Oscar for the role, and that has carried him through all the Awards thus far this Oscar season.  The Academy has awarded posthumous Oscars before in acting roles, first to Peter Finch for Network (1976) for Lead Actor and second to Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight (2008) in a Supporting Role.  Boseman looks to be the third posthumous winner of an acting Oscar, and it’s one that I cannot argue with.  Like the others, it’s an Oscar win that would’ve happened anyway, whether he was still alive or not.  It’s that good of a performance.  He takes command in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and delivers the performance of his life; even outshining his star-making work as T’Challa in Marvel’s Black Panther (2018).  So, there is no shame in honoring his memory with an Oscar win that pretty much sums up everything that made him the great actor that he was.  The remaining nominees are all very fine in of themselves, with veterans like Anthony Hopkins and Gary Oldman even delivering some of the best work of the already legendary careers.  But, it’s Boseman’s to lose, and an almost inevitable win here will likely lead to one of this Oscar’s most emotional moments, with Chadwick’s widow likely to accept on his behalf, as she has done all season.  It’s a fitting way to remember a talented life cut tragically short, and give him that special honor that will cement him as one of the icons of Hollywood.

WHO WILL WIN: Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

WHO SHOULD WIN: Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

BEST ACTRESS

Nominees: Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; Andra Day, The United States vs. Billie Holiday; Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman; Frances McDormand, Nomadland; Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman

Of all the acting categories of this year’s Oscars, this is the most wide open going into the final stretch.  All the precursor awards have gone to a different winner so far; Andra Day won the Golden Globe, Viola Davis won the SAG Award, Carey Mulligan the Critics Choice, and Frances McDormand  the BAFTA.  Poor Vanessa Kirby is the odd one out.  But, otherwise, it’s anyone’s to take home.  My feeling is that the ones carrying momentum into the final stretch are McDormand and Mulligan.  Frances could come away a winner if Nomadland has a big night and sweeps through all it’s categories, which would give her career Oscar number three; one short of the record (held by Kathrine Hepburn, who won four).  If not, I see Carey Mulligan, who was last nominated for An Education in 2009, taking home the Oscar.  Her performance is probably the most daring of the bunch, playing a vengeful woman getting revenge on men who have a history of sexually abusing women.  It’s certainly the kind of provocative, outside the ordinary kind of performance that does get noticed by the Academy from time to time, and it’s certainly a departure for Carey Mulligan as well, as she usually doesn’t take on these edgy kinds of characters often.  It’s also a lot more dynamic than Frances McDormand’s performance, which was intentionally formed around her as a personality, and doesn’t really display her range as much as her past wins have done.  While both actresses are deserving of recognition, I would like to see a different winner just for the sake of history possibly being made.  For one thing, I think Viola Davis’ performance as Ma Rainey was the most entertaining of the bunch, and secondly, a win for her would be the first for an actress of color since Halle Beary in 2001 for Monster’s Ball.  A Best Actress win for Davis, complete with Boseman and Kaluuya’s almost certain wins in their categories, and Yuh-Jung Yeon’s likely win in hers would mark the first time ever that all four acting awards went to people of color, which would be monumentally historic for the Oscars.  It remains to be seen if Oscar will be that bold, but Viola Davis is a strong contender, so it’s a good possibility.  More than likely, we’ll see Carey Mulligan win her first Oscar for her much talked about performance, but a historic night would be a great encapsulation of the progress made by this year’s Oscars overall.

WHO WILL WIN: Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman

WHO SHOULD WIN: Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

BEST DIRECTOR

Nominees: Lee Isaac Chung, Minari; Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman; David Fincher, Mank; Thomas Vinterberg, Another Round; Chloe Zhao, Nomadland

At this point in the race, this one looks like a sure thing for Chloe Zhao for her work on Nomadland.  She has won every precursor in the Directing category, including the Golden Globe and the DGA.  Few have ever won those two and then lost out on the Academy Award, although such a thing did occur last year when Bong Joon-ho upset Sam Mendes.  The same thing seems less likely for Ms. Zhao, as she has far less competition that would challenge her in the same way.  It would also be an historic win built upon an already historic nomination.  For the first time in Oscar history, we have more than one woman nominated for Best Director, with Emerald Fennell being the other nominee.  It’s a nice development after so many were upset by the lack of nomination for Greta Gerwig at last year’s awards.  If Zhao were to win, she would also be only the second woman to take that honor after Kathryn Bigelow, who won in 2009 for The Hurt Locker, and also the first woman of color and Asian woman to do so.  All those elements boost her chances greatly.  For me personally, while I am excited for what Chloe’s win could mean for the Oscars in general, I was not all that impressed with Nomadland overall.  It’s a really good movie to be sure, but it otherwise left me underwhelmed.  The movie that impressed me more than any in this category, from a directing standpoint, was David Fincher’s Mank.  Sure, it’s the most mainstream, Oscar-baity film in the group, but I was blown away by how closely Fincher was able to recreate the look and aesthetic of an old Hollywood movie, and to me that’s the most impressive thing I saw this year.  Nomadland by comparison is a more leisurely film, though with some beautiful photography.  I’m anticipating history made here, but my choices are based on what impressed me the most about the directors work, and once again I find David Fincher to be in a class all his own.

WHO WILL WIN: Chloe Zhao, Nomadland

WHO SHOULD WIN: David Fincher, Mank

BEST PICTURE

Nominees: The Father; Judas and the Black Messiah; Mank; Minari, Nomadland; Promising Young Woman; Sound of Metal; and The Trial of the Chicago 7

One sign of how unusual an Oscar season this has been, half of the nominated movies in this category were ones that I didn’t even see in the calendar year of 2020.  The extended deadline for the 2020 Oscars also meant that a lot of movies slated for year end release got pushed deep into the new year, with late February being the new cutoff.  The three movies that I did see in 2020, (Mank, Sound of Metal, and The Trial of the Chicago 7) did make my year end Top Ten List, so I’m happy they are nominated here.  As for the rest, their inclusions are also expected.  The only one that I don’t like in the bunch is Promising Young Woman, which I felt mismanaged it’s provocative and intriguing premise with a lacking execution.  Nomadland is good enough for a nomination, but I’m not entirely sold on it’s front-runner status.  And I think that Mank, Chicago 7, and Sound of Metal sadly couldn’t carry their momentum into the new year, and will likely end up settling for wins in the technical categories instead.  What I do feel might be a minor spoiler in this race, and is really what I think to be the best movie in the bunch, is little but powerful Minari.  I finally got to see this one in late January and was very much enchanted by it.  It missed my top 10 for 2020, but I can see it still hold on for a spot on my best of 2021 later this year.  It’s a beautifully told story about a family working against the odds to achieve the American dream, and I think it’s a powerful parable for this time in the U.S.A.  that we are living in, especially wit anti-immigrant and anti-Asian rhetoric on the rise.  Nomadland is undoubtedly the movie to beat, as it has dominated Awards season so far, but Minari is the one that felt had the most heart and it left a far bigger impression on me after I saw it.  Still, it wouldn’t surprise me if Nomadland not only takes home the top award, but comes through with a sweeping victory in multiple categories.  And it’s a win that wouldn’t necessarily upset me too much either.  It’s been a while since one movie has been able to run the table at the Oscars, and it would be nice to see a smaller film like Nomadland be that unexpected juggernaut.

WHAT WILL WIN: Nomadland

WHAT SHOULD WIN: Minari

In addition, here is my brief rundown of all the remaining categories based on who I think is likely going to win:

Best Cinematography: Mank; Best Animated Feature: Soul; Best Documentary Feature: Collective; Best International Feature: Another Round; Best Film Editing: Nomadland; Best Visual Effects: Tenet; Best Sound: Sound of Metal; Best Costume Design: Mank; Best Original Score: Soul; Best Original Song: “Speak Now” from One Night in Miami; Best Make-up and Hairstyling: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; Best Production Design: MankBest Documentary Short: A Concerto is a Conversation; Best Animated Short: Genius Loci; Best Live Action Short: Feeling Through

So, there you have my picks and thoughts for this unusual and unprecedented Oscars.  The fact that I am publishing this article in a weekend that I usually reserve for my Summer movie previews just shows how much this last year upended the norms.  And yet, the show goes on, and the Oscars (though later than normal) is still happening.  I have said many times before that the more diverse slate of nominees this year has been the best silver lining of this tumultuous season, and my hope is that this is reflected in the winners that we’ll see on Oscar night as well.  This is going to be an Oscars full of historic firsts galore, including in some of those “lesser” categories.  It is interesting to see what a year without blockbuster movies has done to the make-up of this year’s awards.  For one thing, this is an Awards season far more represented with movies that came to us via streaming, because for the most part, it was the only way movies could be seen last year.  Let’s see if the anti-Netflix bias that undercut the hopes for movies like Roma and The Irishman changes this year.  It could be the barrier buster that so many streaming platforms had hope for, because this was the year that the Academy had no other choice but to pay them more attention.  For me, as someone who follows along with Oscars history more than the average viewer, I am excited to see more of a sea change happen.  The change in venue and the more diverse slate of movies represented shows that the Oscars are evolving.  Sure, it’s to meet the needs of moving forward in the middle of a crisis, but my hope is that the Oscars builds upon these changes and just doesn’t make this Awards season a fluke.  More diverse films from different platforms, as well as a more representative body of nominees are a good thing for the future of the Academy Awards.  Necessity is the mother of invention, and to evolve to meet the needs of running this show under the cloud of a pandemic hopefully bears fruit for a more dynamic Oscars in the years ahead.  Let’s put on a good show Oscars, and hopefully next year, the good changes will be able to be a part of an Academy Awards that will feel a bit more like normal.

 

The Movies of Early 2021 (Hopefully)

Well, we did it everyone.  We made it to the year 2021.  After suffering through what will no doubt be described for a long time as one of the worst years in history, we are hopeful that the following year will be significantly better.  Of course, the changing of the calendar alone doesn’t mean much overall.  The dark cloud of 2020 is going to be hanging around us for some time still, and we are likely going to be seeing a lot more problems extend into the first couple of months of this year.  But, a light at the end of the tunnel is before us, with a new administration set to take office in the coming weeks and a vaccine starting to disperse out to the population.  It will take time, but we are beginning to take steps in the right direction.  One area that is still stuck in limbo however is the future of movie theaters in the United States.  Only a year after hitting all time highs in 2019, the theatrical industry spent most of 2020 on life support, with it’s future uncertain given the rising competition from streaming, which had a landmark year.  The recently signed into law stimulus bill will indeed provide help to independent movie theaters across the country, but the big chains which make up the dominant number of screens are still going to face a grim outlook in 2021.  AMC, the largest chain, has stated that their reserves of cash are going to run out sometime this month, making bankruptcy almost imminent.  And if AMC can’t pull itself out, it could cause a ripple effect across the entire theatrical industry as a result.  We may be seeing the after effects of 2020 play out for many years when it comes to Hollywood and it’s relationship with the theatrical market.  As of right now, it’s still uncertain if any of it will return back to normal.  And this is reflected in the wait and see position that the industry is taking with their planned releases over the next year.

As I’ve done for most of this year, I will be foregoing my usual breakdown of the upcoming movies in any given season, based on the “must sees” and the “ones to skip”, and instead just spotlight the important movies that have the best shot of getting released this year.  Unlike my last couple seasonal previews, which sadly never panned out like they were supposed to, I am going to instead focus on the movies that I believe are going to have the best shot of being released over the next few months, mostly through Winter and Spring.  A lot of these are still tentative dates that could shift once again like everything else from 2020, but there are a couple that are indeed set in stone thanks to convenient and still controversial hybrid releases in both theaters and streaming.  It remains to be seen if any of that will work, and it may also all depend on the state of the theatrical industry moving ahead through the rest of the year.  In any case, let’s take a look at the hopefully and finally set in stone movie releases of early 2021.

RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON (MARCH 5)

Let’s begin with one movie that will for certain meet it’s intended release date.  Disney’s latest animated feature was originally intended for a November 2020 premiere, but the decision was made early enough in the reshuffling of movies to give Raya and the Last Dragon a safe haven in Spring of 2021.  The move wasn’t that far off from where it had been, and it is coming out in the month of March, which has been beneficial to Disney films in the past (2016’s Zootopia for example).  Not only that, but it also allowed time for Disney’s new experimental release plans to play out, and help them learn what works and what doesn’t.  What we’re going to see from Raya is the first wide release from Walt Disney Pictures in movie theaters since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.  But, it will be part of a hybrid release similar to what Warner Brothers announced for all their 2021 films in a now notorious decision.  While Warner Brothers received pushback from it’s wide ranging decision, the announcement of Raya’s release was largely accepted, mainly because it’s the only one that Disney planned this for (so far).  It will be premiering on Disney+ the same day as theaters, in what looks like the same Premiere Access feature that they used for Mulan (2020).  It’s unclear if it’s an extra premium cost in addition to the subscription price, but the beneficial thing is that it does give more options to Disney to get their movie seen just in case the pandemic still hasn’t subsided.  And hopefully it works out not just in Disney’s favor, but also for the movie theaters playing it as well.  This looks like a nice big animated epic that would ideally play on a large screen, and the Southeast Asian setting looks unique and colorful.  I like that the Asian influence behind this movie is also reflected in it’s creative team, with a script from the writer of the hit Crazy Rich Asians (2018) and a cast that includes Star Wars’ Kelly Marie Tran and comedian Awkwafina.  Given Disney’s track record, it will hopefully be an early boost that the theatrical industry needs.

NO TIME TO DIE (APRIL 2)

Poor old 007.  One of the first inclinations of the severity of the year we were about to face happened when MGM and Sony suddenly pulled their hotly anticipated new Bond sequel off of the calendar.  It was the first domino to fall and set the standard for the 2020 theatrical year, where no major blockbuster managed to land it’s intended release.  No Time to Die, the 25th film in the long running James Bond franchise, is a significant film for the series in that it’s the first to be directed by an American (True Detective’s Cary Joji Fukunaga) and also the final franchise film starring Daniel Craig as 007 (his fifth overall).  The fact that we’ve seen been left to wait longer for the chance to see this turning point movie in this beloved franchise has only increased the anticipation of fans tenfold.  Unfortunately for MGM, they don’t have the financial stability to launch their own streaming service the same way that Warner Brothers and Disney has, so they’ve been left with the unfortunate position of having to wait for theaters to return back to normal in order to maximize box office returns that will offset the $200 million-plus budget they spent on this movie, or try to sell it off to another streamer at an astronomical price.  Since the former is not looking like a sure thing any time soon, MGM  did attempt to sell off their movie to Netflix for half a billion late last year.  Netflix of course scoffed and it’s unlikely that anyone else is going to match the same price.  Tentatively, we’re looking at an April release in theaters, which could again shift given the state of the market a few months from now.  MGM may even put their entire studio on the market again, with the hopes of another studio conglomerate with a foothold in streaming taking them in.  In all likelihood, I’d say we may be looking at another long wait for this next adventure for James Bond, which is a shame because it’s the kind of high adventure entertainment that we sorely need right now.

THE KING’S MAN (MARCH 12)

Another 2020 orphan, this film saw just as many delays as James Bond did las year.  The big difference is, being a 20th Century Pictures property, it has the benefit of being part of the Disney Company’s slate of releases, and has the benefit of a fall back plan with streaming, in case things don’t go well over these next couple months.  That being said, Disney and the former house of “Fox” are still committing to that early March release.  Perhaps it’s because that even though this is a franchise that has seen success in the past, it’s also one that has lowered expectations due to a lackluster performance in it’s last entry.  This new film seems to be something of a soft reboot of the franchise, still taking the spy thriller tropes and dressing it up in a high class gentlemen-ly  world, only this time it’s set in the distant past (World War I from the looks of it) with a completely new set of characters.  Director Matthew Vaughn is still behind the camera, but stars Colin Firth and Taron Edgerton are out, and it remains uncertain if the franchise can survive following this new tract.  Hopefully, a reboot is just what this franchise needs, after the bloated sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017) left many disappointed.  This one acts as an origin story of some kind, but it may also just be the launching point of where the series may go from here out.  It is nice to see actor Ralph Fiennes in a more heroic role after usually finding himself playing the heavy in most films.  And it will be neat to see this group of well-dressed super agents going up against historical figures such as Kaiser Wilhelm, Mata Hari, and Rasputin to name a few.  Whether or not Disney and 20th Century can stick to the March release date is uncertain, because as of now there are only plans for this to be in theaters.  If that option remains unavailable, they at least have more of a softer landing than James Bond does in finally getting released, whether it is later in the year, or on any of Disney’s streaming platforms.

JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH (FEBRUARY 12)

Though Wonder Woman 1984 was the first movie put out by Warner Brothers under their year long plan to release all their movies under the hybrid model, Judas and the Black Messiah may be the movie that tests the long term effects of this plan the most.  Originally set for an end of the year Awards season release, this likely Oscars bait film was moved off the calendar before being given this hybrid release in February, still making it eligible due to this year’s extended Awards deadline.  We knew that Wonder Woman would do very well in both formats, but it will be interesting to see what audiences choose with this movie.  Oscar films usually never light up the box office in their opening weekends, but instead they build success over time with word of mouth.  With this movie premiering on both HBO Max and in theaters the same day, it may indicate a shift in the release patterns for movies like this in the future.  Will movies get more buzz from playing on the small screen, or is it the big screen that will ultimately measure it’s success.  There’s no doubt that regardless of how the movie performs, it will still get Oscars attention.  If it wins any awards, it may even bring more eyes to the movie in general.  But, given the way it’s released, it might change the way these kinds of movies find an audience forever.  Gone will be those long tail success stories of those “little movies that could” which become a success over a protracted period of time.  In any case, it’s an exciting looking movie that definitely speaks to our time right now, and will certainly feature some monumental performances from actors Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield.  And the story of a mole planted by the FBI to spy on the activities of the Black Panther Party will no doubt spur some much needed conversation about the politics of race in America.  My hope is that the hybrid release of this movie doesn’t diminish the theatrical market that movies like this have thrived in before.  Movies like this especially are ones that should be experienced communally in a theater and not just alone in your living room watching the TV.

TOM AND JERRY (FEBRUARY 26)

Here we have another movie releasing under the hybrid plan from Warner Brothers.  But unlike Wonder Woman or Judas and the Black Messiah, this is movie where I don’t think the audience will be as evenly split over the different options.  My guess is that this movie is going to only succeed through one way or the other.  It may fail completely at the theatrical box office, but could do well on HBO Max instead, relieving audiences of the embarrassment of paying for a ticket.  On the other hand, it may be the kind of movie that justifies parents taking their children out of the home and to the theater, as the family options have been pretty scarce theatrically over the last year.  In either case, this movie is going to be yet another test for the hybrid model, but more in the case of seeing if a movie can sink or swim in this new world.  As a childless adult, I can tell you that my inclination is that this will be one to pass on, and it can be easy for me to just ignore it, or catch it on streaming if I’m ghoulishly curious.  But, for families that want something new to show their kids, this movie is certainly the kind of thing that will appeal to them, and maybe even convince them to go out to the theaters again.  It will be interesting to see how well it performs on both ends of it’s premiere.  I highly doubt this movie will be the one that saves cinemas in the end, but hey, I also underestimated Sonic the Hedgehog (2020) and that proved to be one of the year’s few box office hits.  The movie in general looks pretty bad, though I do appreciate that the animators of the titular duo are trying to emulate the style of the original cartoons.  It just feels wrong that they have to coexist with a live action world ala Roger Rabbit style.  I could be wrong about this movie, but I’m pretty certain that this will appeal solely to little children and almost nobody else.

A QUIET PLACE PART II (APRIL 23)

Another one of the early victims of the pandemic’s swift decimation of the theatrical industry, A Quiet Place II finds itself in a much different position to assert itself than it did a year ago.  This sequel to the surprise hit original finds actor John Krasinski returning to the director’s chair but not into his lead role from the first film, which given what happened in the movie makes sense (spoiler).  His real life spouse Emily Blunt returns with a more central lead role this time, continuing on in this horror narrative of survivors trying to live in a world inhabited by hearing sensitive monsters.  It will be interesting to see if the movie can repeat the success that the original enjoyed.  It is far more likely to do so in a critical sense, but, A Quiet Place Part II may also surprise at the box office as well.  As we’ve observed during these pandemic months, while the overall box office has remained very minimal due to the social distancing restrictions, one of the bright spots in the market has been movies from the horror genre.  Horror movies like Universal and Blumhouse’s Freaky (2020) were generally the top grossers at the box office, and they generated small but not terrible returns, which is pretty incredible given what movie theaters have been going through.  Given it’s late Spring release, which could be after a long down turn in virus infections due to the vaccine rollout, and a continued loosening of restrictions in the process, A Quiet Place Part II could be primely positioned to be the first box office hit of the year, and maybe even strong enough to save theaters in general.  It’s hard to say if this may happen, but horror movies have a great theatrical track record, and it just might be enough to make the movie a success.  Though the wait has been long, it might actually be fortuitous for A Quiet Place Part II in the end.

So, there you have my outlook on the movies that are going to roll out, hopefully, in this early part of 2021.  Some are certainly going to be released no matter what, like Raya and the Last Dragon as well as the handful of Warner Brothers titles, but others like No Time to Die and The King’s Man may unfortunately find themselves uprooted again.  The one good thing is that the pandemic that caused all the mayhem throughout 2020 is thankfully going to subside the further we head into 2021.  Hopefully, the movie theaters can bounce back too, but it will no doubt take time.  The last pandemic of this scale that we faced as a culture happened when movies were still in their infancy, and movie theaters were as big of an industry as they were back  then.  This was as close to an apocalyptic scenario for the movie theater industry as anything they have ever faced.  Not even the advent of television brought movie theaters to the brink like this, because even through all the competition before, movie theaters have never had to close their doors on this kind of scale.  The pandemic relief bill will certainly help the small chains and independent movie houses survive (which is great), but the large chains are still going to struggle for a while, and it may be the case that we’re going to see a much more diminished theatrical market for the next several years and maybe even forever.  It will certainly cause us to reconsider what a blockbuster hit will be in the future, as we may never hit the heights of say an Avengers: Endgame (2019) ever again.  None of the movies I mentioned are likely to be the movie that saves theaters, but some could do well enough to at least prove once again their value.  The year has only begun, and we still have a lot to learn about what the future holds, but hopefully the start of 2021 will at least give us a few things to be excited about and hopeful for as we begin to inch back to normal once again.

The Movies of Fall 2020 (Hopefully)

When I published my last movie season preview here in April, I knew that it was on the optimistic side and would’ve likely changed over the course of the summer.  Sadly, the worst case scenario played out.  2020 will be a historic year for the film industry, because for the first time in who knows how long, there was no Summer movie season.  Movie theaters remained shuttered for the entirety of what used to be the most profitable period of the year, and only now are some of them (not all) beginning to reopen for business here in America.  Some of my last summer movie preview covered movies that I was hopeful would make it to the big screen on time, and almost all of them failed to meet their original release date, with only Bill & Ted Face the Music (of all movies) actually sticking the landing.  For a movie fan like me who greatly prefers the big screen experience, it’s been a rough couple of months.  Not only am I seeing so many movies I’ve been excited for be pushed back months or even a year away from it’s original date, but some of the studios have just given up and dropped their movies off on streaming services.  I’ve already covered the boom of streaming content plenty during this pandemic, but I will add that my hope is that all these measures taken is just to get us through the crises of the moment, and that things will turn around soon, giving us a chance to return back to normal soon.  I feel bad for the people behind movies like Mulan and Tenet, as they are seeing their films roll-out in a less than desired way.  My hope is that within the months ahead, it will be safe to once again watch movies on the big screen, and that the movies of Fall 2020 don’t see the same disruptions in their roll-out that their Summer cousins endured.  Like my last preview, I am foregoing my usual categories, and instead just spotlighting the most notable movies coming out in the Fall season; hopefully with all of them managing to avoid any postponement.  Anything could change between now and New Years, but hopefully for these movies, we’ll still be enjoying them this Fall season.

DUNE (DECEMBER 18, 2020)

What was already one of the year’s most anticipated new films from the start still remains the most anticipated movie of this holiday season.  Based on Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi novel of the same name, Dune is a grand scale epic that people are hoping will be the movie that brings people back to the big screen in a major way.  Director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Sicario, Blade Runner 2049) will undoubtedly bring a bold artistic style to this film, and with major studio backing from Warner Brothers, this movie will almost assuredly demand a big screen presentation just to capture the immensity of it all.  This movie could very well be for science fiction what Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy was for fantasy.  The movie also boasts an impressive all-star cast that includes Timothee Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson, Jason Mamoa, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Zendaya, and Dave Bautista just to name a few.  For many fans of the book, this movie will also satisfy a long held desire for a faithful adaptation that feels truer to Herbert’s vision, after David Lynch’s failed 1984 version left much to be desired.  It’s going to be interesting if Warner Brothers can pull this off, but you get the sense already that they are hedging their bets.  Nearly 3 months out from the scheduled release date, and we still don’t have a trailer.  That’s unusual for a big movie of this kind, and it makes people wonder if this will be yet another big tent-pole pushed back to 2021.  Hopefully, the pandemic will have died down by Christmas and studios will feel confident in putting this and others like it on a big screen again.  But, without a viable vaccine available in time, and a threat of a second wave, it’s possible that we may have to wait a bit longer for Dune to make it’s big screen debut, if it indeed gets one.  All I can say is if the industry needed a big movie to help boost the theatrical market once again, this would indeed be the movie to do it.

BLACK WIDOW (NOVEMBER 6, 2020)

Marvel’s newest blockbuster was supposed to herald the beginning of the Summer 2020 movie season, as Marvel has done over the last decade on the first week of May.  However, plans changed quickly, and Marvel had to postpone like everyone else; missing out on that traditional slot that has always served them well.  However, unlike most other studios this year, Marvel was actually well positioned to adapt to the delay.  Because they plant their flags so far in advance in anticipation for their upcoming releases, all Marvel had to do was have each of their movies take one step backward to the next available slot.  As a result, Black Widow, which was supposed to come out May 1 is now coming out on November 6 instead, taking over the release date of their next film, The Eternals, which was pushed back to Marvel’s next available date, February 12.  At this point the Marvel brand is so strong that they can make moves like this without hurting their chances at the box office.  Black Panther already showed that they can perform just as well in February as any other time of year, so Eternals is still in a good position.  What also benefits Marvel is that they delay has allowed audiences to build up more of an appetite for a new Marvel movie, with last July’s Spider-Man: Far From Home coming a full year and a half before Black Widow.  That’s good for this new movie, which marks the starting off point for Marvel’s Phase 4 plans.  It will be interesting to see where Agent Natasha Romanoff’s long awaited solo film fits within the ongoing MCU storyline, given what we know of her fate from Avengers: Endgame (2019).   The movie also looks like a fresh departure from past Marvel movies, taking on a more grounded Jason Bourne-esque style and plot.  The inclusion of Black Widow’s “family” of fellow assassins, played by Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz and David Harbour also looks to make this a fun action movie as well.  Can Marvel keep the ball rolling into Phase 4?  Hopefully, we’ll get the chance to see this November.

SOUL (NOVEMBER 20, 2020)

You can always count on Pixar to get movie goers excited about what they have coming up next.  Unfortunately for the studio, they suffered a bad hit right at the start of this pandemic when they’re highly anticipated Spring 2020 release Onward suffered at the box office during it’s brief two week run before theaters started closing.  It failed to cross the $100 million mark, a first for Pixar, and was rushed quickly onto Disney+ in the hopes that it might help the new streamer gain more subscribers.  With the pandemic raging on through the summer, it became clear that Pixar’s second original film of the year, Soul, would not meet it’s June release date and a delay was quickly enacted.  Taking the release date from Disney Animation’s Raya and the Last Dragon (now set for Spring 2021), Soul is hoping to get a chance to bring Pixar back strong at the box office.  This new film comes from Pixar chief Pete Doctor, who has one of the best track records as a director so far at the studio, having made the likes of Monsters Inc. (2001), Up (2009) and Inside Out (2015).  With his fourth film, Doctor is delving into another high concept, which is what makes up a person’s soul.  Here, the story revolves around a jazz musician and music teacher (voiced by Jamie Foxx) who suddenly finds himself in an ethereal realm after an accident, stuck between the afterlife and the place where souls begin before life.  There he meets a soul named 22 (voiced by Tina Fey), who refuses to join the realm of the living.  It’s the kind of ambitious, multi-layered film that Pixar has built it’s brand around, and my hope is that we will get to see this movie presented beautifully on a big, wide screen.  The trailer gives the indication that this movie will be gorgeous to look at, and hopefully those high Pixar standards bear fruit.  Let’s just hope that the theatrical experience will be able to give us that chance to witness all that beauty in the best way possible.

NO TIME TO DIE (NOVEMBER 20, 2020)

The very first casualty of the 2020 pandemic, this newest entry of the long running James Bond franchise gave us the first real indication of the severity that this pandemic was going to have on Hollywood’s plans for the year.  The movie, marking Daniel Craig’s fifth and final turn as 007, was originally going to be released in April, an unusual time slot for the franchise.  With the delay, it has now moved in a traditional Fall release, which has always been what the Bond franchise has done before, so it seemed a natural move given the circumstances.  But it is interesting that when MGM and Sony moved their massive tent-pole to the Fall, the world had not really fully grasped how bad this pandemic was going to get.  Sure, we already saw China suffer through the outbreak during the winter, but here in North America, it still seemed remote.  The decision to move this film came as a shock, given how close to the release it was.  Tickets had already gone on sale (I bought mine, in fact) and were soon refunded.  But, as we now know, it was only the first domino to fall.  In hindsight, the Bond team did the right thing by postponing the film.  Hopefully, they won’t have to do it again.  This is another movie that definitely demands a big screen presentation, as most Bond movies are.  Considering that Craig is hanging it up as the iconic character after this makes the new movie all the more monumental, and it will help to generate excitement once it’s finally released.  Seeing old faces return, as well as new ones coming in for the first time, like Oscar winner Rami Malek’s enigmatic new villain, will be pleasing to many fans of the franchise.  Let’s hope that the long wait will be worth it, and that Craig’s Bond goes out with a big bang on the big screen.

WONDER WOMAN 1984 (OCTOBER 2, 2020)

You’ve got to hand it to Warner Brothers; they are committed to the theatrical experience for their big tent-pole films.  In addition to Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, they stated that Wonder Woman 1984 would be screened in theaters and they have stuck with that.  Whether or not theaters are going to be ready is another question.  Tenet is already getting a staggered release in markets across the world, with some theaters in North America getting it for the Labor Day weekend, while others in hot spot areas (which sadly includes California, where I live) will have to wait.  Hopefully, when Warner’s next big tent-pole comes out, more theaters will be open to present it.  But, October is readily approaching and it’s hard to say if we are going to be ready.  Having already passed on two Summer release dates, people are hopeful that Wonder Woman 1984 will be able to stick the landing this fall.  The highly anticipated sequel brings back Gal Gadot as the super heroine and the movie looks to deliver on the same blend of high octane action and charming character dynamics that the original 2017 film gave us.  Given the double threat of Pedro Pascal’s Max Lord and Kristen Wiig’s Cheetah, two of Wonder Woman’s biggest foes from the comics, this looks to be a movie that not only builds on the original, but also takes it to new heights.  Hopefully, Warner Brothers and DC’s high expectations are justified with their optimistic release date.  I enjoyed the last film very much, and I too have high hopes for the movie.  This could indeed be the movie that helps to bring movie theaters back to booming business, but given the dangers involved with the ongoing pandemic, it could prove to be a huge risk as well, and it’s asking a lot of the audience to put their health on the line in order to watch this in a theater.  Hopefully, the curve finally flattens before this movie makes it’s debut, but we’ll have to wait and see.

MANK (TBA FALL 2020)

With all this talk of the big tent-pole movies pushed back from the Summer and Spring, we can’t overlook the awards season films that also normally make their way to the silver screen.  The only question is, will they make it to the screen this year.  The entire rest of the 2020 movie calendar could still be in flux, and a lot of the movies put up for Oscar season might not even make it as scheduled.  Given that Academy Awards already decided to push back their deadline for consideration into February, there is less pressure to get these kinds of movies out onto screens before December 31.  Most of the Oscar season movies may now be coming out in January or February at the latest.  There are, however, a few movies vying for Awards consideration that will be released this year, and they are mostly the ones being made by streamers like Netflix.  In fact, Netflix has a few highly anticipated new movies from the likes of Charlie Kaufman, Ron Howard, Aaron Sorkin and maybe even the Coen Brothers if we’re lucky.  But, for me, the one that I’m looking most forward to is David Fincher’s new biopic called Mank.  The movie tells the story of screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz, who co-wrote the film Citizen Kane (1941).  The plot will detail the tumultuous history of that legendary film’s making from the point of view of Mankiewicz (played by Gary Oldman) and show how the pressures put on him from threats by the Hearst Corporation as well Orson Welles (Tom Burke) taking most of the credit, led to a short lived career for the now celebrated writer.  For movie lovers like me, this story is one that will make for a great cinematic experience, especially in Fincher’s hands.  We don’t much about the movie other than it’s cast and that it will be in black and white (a first for Fincher).  I hope that Netflix does screen this somewhere here in LA like they did for last year’s The Irishman (2019).  At least with Netflix behind this one, we know that it will be released without delay.  The only question now is when, and hopefully we get that answer soon and with an exciting trailer to go with it.

It will be interesting to see if these release dates do indeed pan out over the next few months.  I’m hopeful that we’ve gone through the worst of this pandemic and that movie theaters will be able to screen new releases in a safe manner.  That being said, it’s going to be a while before the business will be able to return back to normal.  With the digital only releases of Trolls World Tour, Scoob! and now Mulan, a precedent has been set for how studios can circumvent the movie theater industry with a premium On Demand model for release.  One hopes that it is temporary for the circumstances, but as of right now, the movie theaters need the studios support more than the other way around.  Now of course not every movie is going to benefit from streaming.  Disney suffered a loss by dumping the $140 million Artemis Fowl onto Disney+ instead of delaying it for theaters, but let’s face it, that movie was always doomed to fail, even with theaters open.  But, movie theaters are still in a desperate place, and a lot of hopes are riding on the movies set for this Fall.  Time will only tell what impact the deals the theater industry cut with the major studios, like the controversial one between AMC and Universal, will have on the future of the business.  If anything, this Fall season may be the one that makes or breaks the theatrical market forever.  Hopefully, the movies that I spotlighted here are big enough of a draw to help people return the movies.  I am cautiously optimistic, though I do understand that it will still be a tall order.  One thing that does give me hope is that I hear a lot of people lament about missing being in a theater during this time of year.  Being stuck in a home has run it’s course for many people, and they are eager to get back outside whenever they can.  I can see this whenever I’ve gone to Drive-In theaters here in LA.  They are almost always packed, which is a great sign for the theatrical industry.  It’s hard to know the future, but if what I’ve seen is any indication, the movie theater industry may not nearly as dead as we thought.

The Movies of Summer 2020 (Hopefully)

From the very first few weeks that I started this blog seven years ago, I had created a fixture on this site that I’ve continually returned to at nearly the end of every April.  That of course being my Summer movie preview, which has always been one of my most anticipated articles each year to write.  The Summer movie season over the last decade in particular has always been huge and worthy of spotlighting each year.   No matter what, I could always count on a four month span of Marvel kicking things off with a bang in the first week of May, then the mid summer entries that always ranged from something big and loud to intimate and though-provoking, and usually it would all end with sometimes worthwhile late surprises in August.  But, this year is going to be very different.  There is some belief that we may not even have a summer movie season at all.  After the entire slate of movies from the major studios had been moved off the calendar due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic this year all the way through the month of June, the movie landscape looked pretty bleak for a while.  As of now, there is a lot of doubt that the movie theater industry can recover from this unprecedented shutdown, though that hasn’t stopped the studios from still committing to theatrical releases for their major tentpole films.  The only question is, will audiences be ready to come back, after a substantial quarantine has forced us into remaining wary of large public gatherings.  Though the summer movie season has been cut at least in half, there are still remarkably some movies that are remaining scheduled for these upcoming months, at least for now.  It still might be touch and go for a few more weeks, and the studios might reconsider some of these upcoming dates, but there is hope that not only will we see the movie theaters open for business again, but with some noteworthy movies as well in order to get excited about.

Considering the unusual circumstances of this summer movie season, I am going to forego my format of this preview article that I have followed up to now.  So for this season only (I hope), I will not be looking at the movies based on what are the “must sees,” “the ones that have me worried,” or the “ones to skip,” simply because there aren’t enough to talk about.  Instead, I am just going to spotlight the most notable movies still on the schedule at this moment, and give my general feelings about them, uncategorized.  Keep in mind, these movies are not set in stone, and they could very well be moved off at any time, like so many from this Spring were all of a sudden.  One movie in particular on this preview was even on my Spring preview as well, showing just how crazy this change was.  In addition, I will provide trailers that have been made available.  My hope is that even with all the chaos that has gone on over the last few weeks, we are hopefully past the worst of it, and able to return to some bit of normalcy, including going to the movie theaters, and that these films in particular are enjoyed the way they were meant to be seen; on the grand silver screen.  So, with all that said, let’s take a look at what can hopefully be the movies of the  truncated Summer 2020 movie season.

TENET (JULY 17)

So much was taken off the schedule in the critical moments where a lockdown of the economy became not only a possibility, but a certainty.  Marvel, Pixar, James Bond, and DC all fell like dominoes, until we were left with the reality that movie theaters would remain closed with nothing new to show until at least July; nearly 4 whole months.  This is a huge disruption for the market to face, and it’s going to take something big to bring people back to the theaters.  Fortunately, we have a new film from Christopher Nolan on the way.  While there is the possibility that this movie could be pushed back too, Warner Brothers still hasn’t made that choice yet, which indicates some confidence that they have in this particular film.  Whether or not that translates into a strong box office is unclear, given that it’s going to need to depend on the audience feeling that theaters are safe at that point.  Their desire to keep this movie’s original scheduled theatrical date is likely due to the demands of director Nolan, who is a proud champion of the theatrical experience, and who certainly wants to push the medium to it’s limits in a way that cannot be replicated in a home theater.  In many ways, this is the right kind of movie to get audiences back in a big way, because of the way it demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible; especially if you’re watching the 70 mm IMAX version, the director’s preferred format.  But it will remain to be seen if audiences go for an original concept sci-fi espionage thriller.  I for one am excited, and will gladly pay to see this in a theater, especially after seeing the prologue attached to The Rise of Skywalker last Christmas.  The plot looks so intriguing, the cast led by John David Washington and Robert Pattinson look excellent, and the visuals are the typical Nolan-style mind-benders.  I hope this is the movie that opens the movie theaters back up in a big way, because it will devastate me to have to wait any longer for another Nolan epic.

WONDER WOMAN 1984 (AUGUST 14)

Though Warner Bros. did keep Tenet where it is, they still made a difficult move of their other major tent-pole for the year.  Thankfully, it didn’t get moved back too far.  Wonder Woman 1984 is the heavily anticipated sequel to the beloved original film that many credit for steering the DC ship back on the right course.  After a steady stream of hits including Aquaman (2018), Shazam (2019), and the Oscar-winning Joker (2019), DC is on a much stronger footing than it was in the pre-Justice League (2017) days, and we can all thank the lasso-wielding super heroine herself for that.  With Director Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot both returning, they look to continue the franchise with far more goodwill on their side, and it certainly looks like they are amping things up to even more epic levels.  The movie still sets itself up in the past, filling in the gaps between Diana Prince’s introduction to the outside world during the Great War and her time helping form the Justice League.  In particular, this movie takes us into the year 1984, which will no doubt exploit some of the current 80’s nostalgia that our culture seems to be indulging in at the moment.  The vibe of the trailer definitely reflects this, with an epic cover of New Order’s Blue Monday, but there’s still a lot of cool stuff to see for anyone whose a fan of the movies and the comics.  The introduction of two of Wonder Woman’s most iconic foes, Cheetah (played by Kristen Wiig) and Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) gives this movie a lot of exciting possibilities and it’s clear that Patty Jenkins is really upping the scale of the production as well.  I especially love Jenkin’s confidence that she has in her vision now.  After clashing so much with the Warner executives on the first film, it’s clear that this time she’s been given more free reign, and I’m excited to see what she can do with it.  Had we lost Wonder Woman in addition to a Black Woman movie this summer, it would’ve been really devastating, so thankfully she only had to make a short side-step and still give us something to look forward to much sooner.

MULAN (JULY 24)

Here is the movie that I mentioned that also made my Spring 2020 preview.  Of course, it didn’t make it’s original late March opening due to the lockdown orders falling a mere week before it was scheduled to start.  The lockdown was so unexpectedly abrupt in fact that Mulan had already had it’s red carpet premiere.  There are actually critics reviews that are floating online for a movie that is having to sit on the shelf at the moment over no fault of it’s own.  I am not one of those critics that got an advanced screening, so if this movie does make it to theaters, I’ll still be seeing it fresh.  In my original preview, I categorized this as one of my “movies that have me worried” picks, which is mainly due to my dissatisfaction with most of Disney’s recent live action remakes.  But right now, I am far more willing to be excited for this movie, just because Disney is still committed to a theatrical release for it, and it just might be the thing we need in order to be happy going to the movies again.  It may not change my mind much with regards to how I feel about most live action remakes from Disney, but given that this movie was indicating to us that it was trying harder to be it’s own thing rather than just a “cut and paste” copy is a pleasing sign.  I am intrigued by the supernatural element that they’ve added to this story, which in a way actually makes the animated original seem more grounded, and that had a talking dragon voiced by Eddie Murphy in it.  It’s gambling a little bit more with it’s story, and I see that as a good sign.  My hope is that they balance that with a compelling script and strong performances, and avoid all references to the original movie that will feel shoe-horned in.  If there was a chance for Disney to prove that they’re not just coasting on nostalgia, this would be the movie to do just that.  For Disney’s sake, let’s hope that moving this to a late July release will be exactly what was needed, because it’s all Disney has on the schedule until November.  Hopefully Mulan has what it takes to combat the disadvantages it’s been saddled with and bring honor to it’s Disney family.

THE SPONGEBOB MOVIE: SPONGE ON THE RUN (AUGUST 7)

If there was ever a certainty in cinema, it’s that animated films for the whole family almost always prove profitable.  That will no doubt be put to the test as another Spongebob Squarepants movie hits the big screen.  Spongebob is a decades long popular character whose made the jump to movies before.  And the timing for this movie couldn’t be more advantageous for him.  Though he also had to have his original release date pushed back from it’s original Memorial Day weekend opening, the move wasn’t too far up the calendar and in fact it puts Spongebob in a time of the year where he might not only thrive, but dominate as well.  With Pixar, Dreamworks, and other family oriented competitors off the table, this Nickelodeon produced feature has all the summer to itself to draw in crowds of kids and their parents back into theaters.  The movie is noteworthy for changing the aesthetic look of the series, going from hand-drawn 2D to CGI 3D, while still maintaining a consistent style.  I like how the animation still feels hand-crafted in a way, retaining a hand-drawn feel despite being rendered through a computer.  Most kids won’t even care, but from an animation stand-point, it is a bold artistic choice, and that’s saying something for a Spongebob Squarepants movie.  The sense of humor it retains from it’s television series will no doubt be a breath of fresh air after the months held up in our homes, and it’s lighthearted tone might help give us the pick-me-up that we all need after this crisis.  I’ll also very much enjoy seeing anything that has the audacity to cast Keanu Reeves as a “sage” brush.  If anything has a chance of turning a profit in this very much starved Summer movie season, it’s probably going to be the family friendly Animated feature, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, just as long as it does make us feel good about going to the movies again.

BILL & TED FACE THE MUSIC (AUGUST 21, 2020)

Speaking of Keanu Reeves, here’s another light-hearted feature starring the veteran actor that might just be what the doctored ordered for this summer.  After nearly 30 years, the third film in this series re-teams Reeves with his co-star and longtime real life friend Alex Winter.  Apparently the movie had been in the works off and on for years, with the script coming from the same writers of the original, even with the wildly different career trajectory that Reeves and Winter took.  Winter all but quit acting to become a prolific TV director while Reeves has gone on to become on of the biggest action movie stars in the world.  But this return to their stoner comedy roots seems to be the best thing for right now.  Reeves is at a point in his career where he’s not only riding a high with the John Wick franchise, but is also able to reflect back and poke a little fun at himself.  And the genuine chemistry that he has with Winter doesn’t seem to have dissipated over the years, and they both look to be very enthusiastic about this project.  The only question is, can it bring in not just long time fans, but also cross-over audience appeal.  I imagine that the movie most likely won’t be a huge expense for any studio if it makes it’s way into theaters (big if), and it could do audiences a lot of good not only in seeing these characters appear  together once again, but also in regenerating interest in the original movies as well, hopefully steering a whole new generation towards discovering them for the first time.  We’ll have to wait and see if the movie does make it to the big screen this summer.  This could honestly be one of those late summer surprises that catches us by surprise.  And if not, it’s at least will have been a worthwhile try for two longtime collaborators seeking to see if they are able to once again Face the Music.

THE GREEN KNIGHT (MAY 29)

I imagine that when movie theaters do open their doors once again (hopefully) that the timing will still leave them with little choices in big new releases; especially with the next scheduled blockbuster being Tenet in mid-July.  So what we are likely going to see in the first few weeks are either re-releases of blockbusters from years past, or small indie films like this one to help fill that void.  This film in particular would be a strong contestant, because even given it’s independent pedigree, it nevertheless looks ambitious.  Coming from indie darling David Lowery, who as made films as wildly varied as the avant garde A Ghost Story (2017), to a Disney remake with Pete’s Dragon (2016), to Robert Redford’s swan song The Old Man & the Gun (2018).  Now he genre hops again by adapting the Arthurian legend of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” with this equally weird vision.  Coming from the always provocative A24, this movie is exactly the right kind of weird theatrical experience that can carry word of mouth throughout the year, like the studio had benefited from in their remarkably strong 2019 slate, including Midsommar, The Lighthouse, and Uncut Gems.  I’m very interested to see what Lowery does with this literally ancient story and give his own voice into this genre that will really set a new standard.  It’s about time that we see the medieval fantasy genre given a fresh new look, and from a director who is proving to be as unconventional as any we’ve seen in quite some time.  It’s the right kind of movie to help fill that gap in time before theaters can enjoy the benefit of blockbuster entertainment again, and who knows, it might become something of a main attraction in it’s own right.

I know it’s not much, but these are the movies that stand out the most among the ones still scheduled for the truncated summer movie season.  Hopefully, we’ve flattened the curve to a point where we can safely gather in theaters once again and enjoy movies on a big screen, the way they are meant to.  It’s not really a question of if the theaters can reopen (most are managing to cope with the prolonged shutdown, even with the financial hit), but more about whether we can return to normal again.  Hollywood may be facing the reality that it’ll take some time for movies to make up the box office grosses that they’ve done in years past.  There is no doubt that because of the shutdown, 2020 will be one of the lowest box office years on record.  And even when business is reopened, we may be facing the unfortunate reality that movies like Tenet, Wonder Woman 1984, and Mulan may still under-perform.  I certainly hope that this isn’t the case, and that audiences do return in strong numbers, albeit still following the recommended safety guidelines in order to prevent any further spread.  I for one will only see the movie Tenet for the first time on a big IMAX screen and no where else.  My biggest worry is that the studios will be left with no other choice than to premiere their blockbuster films solely on demand, like Trolls World Tour just did.  Hopefully, we don’t get used to a new normal, and that the theatrical experience will endure long after this crisis is over.  Summer 2020 is mostly a loss, but what we’re going to see afterwards is a jam-packed Fall 2020 and a hopefully unaltered 2021 schedule.  It’s unusual having to change the way I preview the upcoming movies based on what’s happened, but it is what it is.  I’m just thankful that there’s going to be any movies coming this summer at all.  Let’s continue to remain optimistic, and when the time has come, please remember to support your cinemas.

The 2020 Oscars – Picks and Thoughts

Quite a departure from years past, this year’s race towards the Academy Awards has been greatly accelerated.  This has been due to a far more truncated season than normal.  Usually the Oscars are given a month long window to allow for plenty of campaigning and preparation, with the actual ceremony taking place on either the last week of February or the first week of March.  This itself was truncated even more than it had been before, as the Oscars would sometimes even take place almost as far into the year as Spring Break.  But, this year, the Oscars are reeling in the time frame even more by giving the Oscars it’s earliest ceremony date yet; coming in only a week after the super bowl.  From nominations to ceremony, the window for the studios to make their final push is at it’s most narrowest, and as a result, no real front runner has emerged; at least with the biggest award of the night.  The guild awards have given us some indication about how the rest of the night might go, but the biggest award is still anyone’s guess.  History has shown that the movie with the most nominations is the one that usually stands as the front runner, but that hasn’t been the case in recent years, and given that the most nominated movie this year (Joker) is also the most divisive one among critics and fans, probably tells us that the trend will not turn around any time soon.  But then again, this is the same Academy that awarded the heavily derided Green Book (2018) Best Picture last year, so I guess you really can’t put anything past them.  Like I have for the last several years, I will be sharing my picks for this year’s Academy Awards along with my thoughts on the top awards.  These will include my choices for who I want to see win and who I believe will win.  It’s an interesting year, and it will be interesting to see how it all plays out this Sunday.  So, without any more delay, let’s take a look at the nominees.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Nominees:  Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns (1917); Rian Johnson (Knives Out); Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story); Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood); Bong Joon Ho and Jin Won Han (Parasite)

Out of all the nominated categories this year, this one is the most wildly diverse, as far as genre types go.  You’ve got a war movie, a whodunit, a divorce drama, a showbiz flick, and a class satire.  Interestingly enough, this category is entirely filled with screenplays written by the directors of each selective film.  Though Sam Mendes’ inclusion here is deserved, his work is far more likely to be spotlighted in the directorial category (which I will get to later).  Three of the other nominees are represented here for screenplays that clearly display their own unique style.  Though not recognized elsewhere, Rian Johnson’s Knives Out screenplay is a wonderful example of breathing new life into a long dormant genre, and his nomination is also a nice vindication after his tumultuous tenure in the Star Wars franchise.  Noah Baumbach’s portrayal of a family coming apart through divorce is one of the most impressive, stripped down examples of writing that I have seen in recent years, with his Marriage Story script managing to capture so much honesty in how real people manage to navigate through a break up.  And then you have Quentin Tarantino delivering a screenplay in the way that only he can.  It may be one of his most meandering plots, but it’s also what makes the movie so fun to watch, as it becomes a window into the past, in which Quentin is clearly wanting to have fun with.  Much the opposite is Bong Joon Ho’s scathing indictment of class divisions with his film Parasite, which surprises with it’s ever changing plot twists that make it impossible to know what’s going to happen next.  It’s hard to know what the Academy likes better here.  Tarantino’s nostalgic script is likely to please older Academy members who lived through his recreation of Old Hollywood, but since he’s a two time past winner, his chances are slimmer this time.  And though I absolutely got absorbed into Baumbach’s no frills style of writing, it might be a little too quiet a movie for the Academy to honor.  That’s why I think Bong Joon Ho gets the edge here, and his win would certainly be historic for as the first ever winner from South Korea; and a rare foreign language win in a screenplay category.

Who Will Win: Bong Joon Ho and Jin Won Han, Parasite

Who Should Win: Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Nominees: Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit); Todd Phillips and Scott Silver (Joker); Greta Gerwig (Little Women); Steve Zallian (The Irishman); Anthony McCarten (The Two Popes)

This should be one of the most interesting categories to watch on Oscar night.  For one thing, it could be an indicator for how the night might play out, if either Joker or The Irishman takes this award.  While both screenplays are outstanding adaptations of their source materials, I believe that the Academy might actually view them as a bit too conventional for this year.  Instead, the choice may actually go to something a bit more groundbreaking.  And in this case, the front runner that has emerged is one that couldn’t have delighted me more.  My favorite movie from 2019 was undeniably Jojo Rabbit, which masterfully took it’s source material, the far more seriously crafted novel Caging Skies, and turned it into this delightfully goofy and satirical comedy about love overcoming hate.  Taika Waititi’s script is a masterwork in balancing tone, managing to still convey the horrors of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, while at the same time managing to have silly sight gags and hilarious one-liners in the same vein as a Mel Brooks or Charlie Chaplain comedy.  From top to bottom, this is one of the most delightfully eccentric screenplays in a long time, and is deserving of being honored by the Academy.  the only other screenplay that could stand in it’s way is a win for Greta Gerwig’s adaptation for Little Women.  Indeed, the fact that she breathed new life into a book that has been re-adapted many times is quite impressive, and in any other year that didn’t include Jojo Rabbit, I’d say that Gerwig would be the undisputed front runner here.  She may indeed come away victorious, after her perceived snub in the Best Director category, with this award as a consolation.  But, I think with his recent victory at the WGA awards that Taika is well on his way to winning this award, and it will be one that will leave this critic very delighted indeed.

Who Will Win: Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit

Who Should Win: Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Nominees: Florence Pugh (Little Women); Kathy Bates (Richard Jewell); Laura Dern (Marriage Story); Margot Robbie (Bombshell); Scarlett Johansson (Jojo Rabbit)

Out of all the acting categories, this one looks to be the most open.  With a SAG and a Golden Globe win already under her belt, Laura Dern has emerged as the front runner, with her celebrated turn as someone that I think members of the Academy are quite familiar with; a divorce lawyer.  Dern is Hollywood royalty, and she has been a celebrated actress for many years, so she has the weight of a distinquished career as a boost to her claim for the award.  Her performance in Marriage Story is a strong one, although I’d say of all the nominated performances in the movie, it’s the one that impressed me the least.  Though she is the front runner, I’d say that she hasn’t locked down the award like we’ve seen in the other categories, and this is the one that could be the surprise of the show depending on how the Academy votes.  So what challenge does she face.  Kathy Bates and Margot Robbie are not the strongest contenders here, so it comes down to Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh.  If Jojo Rabbit has a surprisingly good night, it might help boost Johansson (who’s a two time nominee at this year’s Oscars), and she would be deserving of the award.  Her character in Jojo is certainly a standout, and a wonderful showcase for Johansson’s talents in both comedy and drama.  But, if there was one that I think stood out even more, it would be Florence Pugh’s star making turn in Little Women.  In a movie full of heavy hitters (including Laura Dern), Pugh stands out, and does a remarkable job of giving a character not well liked within the original book a much more sympathetic and richer interpretation.  Also, given the year she had with leading performances in movies as diverse as Fighting With My Family and Midsommar, a win here would give Florence a solid vindication of her status as a top tier actress.  So, even though Laura Dern may be headed towards her long overdue Oscar, I wouldn’t count out a possible upset by Pugh either, which itself would be deserved.

Who Will Win: Laura Dern, Marriage Story

Who Should Win: Florence Pugh, Little Women

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Nominees: Anthony Hopkins (The Two Popes); Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood); Al Pacino (The Irishman); Joe Pesci (The Irishman); Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood)

Talk about a stacked category.  Every nominee here is a legendary movie star, with an enviable body of work across the board.  Even still, one has emerged as a front runner in this race, and not surprisingly, it’s the one guy who has yet to win his own award.  Brad Pitt has been nominated several times throughout the years, but has never managed to get the golden boy thus far.  That looks to change, as Pitt has swept through all the other awards this season and collected quite a few honors.  Unlike the other supporting category, I think this one is pretty much a lock for Brad.  It helps that he also has been accepting the award at each show by cracking a few jokes, both at his own expense and at those of his peers; all good natured.  The Academy likes honoring someone who can delight audiences, and Brad has been playing that part well, which is very much in line with the tone of his character in Tarantino’s movie.  Even still, is he deserving of the Award?  Though I enjoy his performance very much in the movie, and would be delighted to see him win the Award, it wasn’t the performance that impressed me the most out of this category.  Honestly, I was more blown away by Tom Hanks transformation into Fred Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, which is an impressive feat for an actor not known for doing imitations in his performances.  And I also have to spotlight the duo from The Irishman.  Al Pacino and Joe Pesci deliver two of the best performances of their legendary careers in the Scorsese epic, which is really saying something.  Though Pacino is working comfortably in his wheelhouse as Jimmy Hoffa, it’s Pesci who becomes the movie’s true revelation, playing against type as a reserved, methodical mafia don.  If anything, I’d like to see the Academy honor Pesci just for coming out of a lengthy retirement and delivering a new performance that strong.  Though Pitt will likely win here, and be deserved, I would still like to see one last honor go to a legend of Joe Pesci’s caliber.

Who Will Win: Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood

Who Should Win: Joe Pesci, The Irishman

BEST ACTRESS

Nominees: Charlize Theron (Bombshell); Cynthia Erivo (Harriet); Renee Zellweger (Judy); Saoirse Ronan (Little Women); Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story)

Out of all the categories, this is one of the most unexpected, with regards to who has emerged as the front runner.  After a long hiatus out of the spotlight, Renee Zellweger reemerged with a near unrecognizable transformation into legendary actress Judy Garland, with a performance that included the actress performing her own singing, which is no small feat given the kind of person she’s playing.  What’s surprising is not the fact that she has managed to be nominated for her performance, but the fact that she has dominated all the Awards so far.  The movie itself has not exactly been embraced by the critical community, who saw it as very unremarkable and conventional by biopic standards, although every has praised her performance.  Given that Zellweger has not headlined a new film in a while, it’s a shock that this kind of performance would bring her back so strongly, almost entirely unchallenged through awards season.  Is it an indication of a weak year for female performances.  I would say no, because her fellow nominees also delivered strong work.  Cynthia Erivo’s nomination marks the only representation of a person of color in the acting categories, and though like Zellweger’s Judy her film has been described as too conventional, she is still being praised for her own performance that elevates the rest of the movie.  Johansson’s performance in Marriage Story may very well be the best one, because of the emotional rawness of her acting.  While most of the nominees in this category come across as better than average for their conventional stories, Johansson delivers a performance that captures the most broad spectrum of emotions; delivering a character that feels so natural and relatable that you forget about the fact that it’s an actor reading from a script.  At the same time, Johansson’s performance may be too realistic for an Academy that values complete transformations like the one that Renee made into Judy.  It also helps that she’s playing a icon, which the Academy also seems to love honoring, as if vicariously honoring honoring that person as well.  So, even though I think that Scarlett delivered the most impressive performance out of this field, it is most likely that Renee Zellweger’s transformative turn will be the victorious one.

Who Will Win: Renee Zellweger, Judy

Who Should Win: Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story

BEST ACTOR

Nominees: Adam Driver (Marriage Story); Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory); Joaquin Phoenix (Joker); Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes); Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood)

The story of this category is less about who is nominated than it is about who wasn’t nominated.  The biggest snubs of this Awards season came in this category, with big contenders like Robert DeNiro and Adam Sandler noticibly left out.  The exclusion of Sandler in my opinion was the most egregious of them all, and I feel that it’s going to be one of those exclusions that the Academy is going to be kicking themselves for in the years ahead as the movie Uncut Gems will likely only grow in esteem.  With those noticible exclusions, it has made the race a far more predictible one, as one performance in particular has stood out.  From the moment Joker hit theaters, all anyone could talk about was how bold and groundbreaking Joaquin Phoenix’s turn as the iconic comic book villain was.  Much in the same way Heath Ledger had done a decade prior, Phoenix transformed himself both in body and persona to become this dark and twisted embodiment of undistilled evil.  Though the movie Joker has many detractor, you’ll find fewer people finding faults with Phoenix’s performance, which has been praised across the board.  And out of all the categories at this year’s Oscars, it’s the one that I find the most consensus with.  Phoenix will likely walk away with his first Oscar for his performance here, and it will be absolutely deserved.  If Sandler had been nominated, I feel like the race could have been tighter, but since that performance was left out, it’s all Joaquin and no one else.  I’d say the only possible challenger here would be Adam Driver for his likewise outstanding performance in Marriage Story, but he is clearly a distant second when stacked up against Phoenix.  It’s interesting that out of all the comic book characters that have dominated the box office over the last decade, the only one that the Academy has seemed to respond to has been the Joker, with the late Heath Ledger and soon Joaquin Phoenix both being honored for playing the role in their own ways.

Who Will Win: Joaquin Phoenix, Joker

Who Should Win: Joaquin Phoenix, Joker

BEST DIRECTOR

Nominees: Bong Joon Ho (Parasite); Martin Scorsese (The Irishman); Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood); Sam Mendes (1917); Todd Phillips (Joker)

Again, it’s another category marked by a noticible exclusion; namely the absence of a female director.  Given the strong showing of women directors this past year, it is unfortunate than none were recognized in this category, with Greta Gerwig being the most notable snub.  At the same time, it’s hard to argue that the five men nominated this year should be left out either.  Phillips may be the odd man out here, give that his movie is more driven by the strength of Joaquin Phoenix’s performance and not by his style of direction, which some have argued as being too derivitive.  The inclusion of two of the most influential filmmakers of all time is hard to overlook, as Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese delivered two of their most celebrated films to date.  In my mind, Scorsese’s The Irishman was one of the year’s most spectacular triumphs, encapsulating all the things that have made his career so legendary into one spectacularly crafted epic. But, whether it’s the fact that he’s a past winner and that there is a lingering anti-Netflix bias within the Academy, The Irishman sadly has not gained a lot of traction beyond the nominations.  So, it comes down to Bong Joon Ho and Sam Mendes.  Bong certainly displays a unique style that spans across so many tonal shifts within his movie, which probably will delight many Academy members.  But, if you were to look at a movie from a purely film-making standpoint, it’s hard to bet against Sam Mendes for his work on 1917.  Not only is he recreating a time period and a war setting, but he’s also shooting the entire movie to look like it’s all one unbroken shot.  It may not have the unpredictable-ness of Parasite, but 1917 is still a tour de force of what can be done with effective staging and unparalleled cinematography (done by the likely Oscar winner Roger Deakins), and Sam Mendes vision is film-making at it’s most grandest.  Though I have a soft spot for Scorsese’s Irishman, I feel like Mendes is going to ride that Director’s Guild win all the way to another Oscar.

Who Will Win: Sam Mendes, 1917

Who Should Win: Martin Scorsese, The Irishman

BEST PICTURE

Nominees: 1917; Ford v Ferrari; Jojo Rabbit; Joker; Little Women; Marriage Story; Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood; Parasite; The Irishman

And so we come to the big award of the year, and like many in recent years, it’s a hard one to predict.  The lack of a heavy front runner to steamroll through the competition in the vein of a Titanic (1997) or The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) makes this category a far harder one to handicap.  Given the complicated voting system that the Academy works with, and the larger number of nominees, there is a larger chance that really any of these nominees could emerge victorious.  Likely it will be down to a select few, especially the ones also nominated in the Directorial category.  The spreading around of Awards for the likes of Once Upon a Time… in HollywoodMarriage Story and Joker makes it less likely that those will win the top award, as their acting wins will be their high points.  Ford v Ferrari and Little Women most likely will pick up techincal awards and little else.  Sadly, The Irishman is the one that could sadly go home empty handed out of all these movies, which is a real shame given how good it is, but it’s also another indication of the Academy’s bias towards Netflix.  I for one, would love Jojo Rabbit to be the surprise sleeper and possibly spoil the race with an unexpected win, but it’s chances are slim.  In the end, it will come down to SAG winner Parasite and Golden Globe winner 1917.  A win for Parasite would certainly make history as the first foreign language winner for Best Picture, something which the Academy snubbed Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma (2018) of that honor at last year’s Oscar.  Unfortunately, it’s almost assured win in the International Film category might hurt it’s chances for Best Picture as it often has for other films.  In the end, I think 1917 is going to follow Sam Mendes almost certain Best Director win to a victory of it’s own, which would not be undeserved either.  Though my heart is with Jojo, I see this as a close race between Parasite and 1917, with 1917 having the slimmest of edges.  Thankfully, unlike last year’s Green Book debacle, all of this years nominees are actually deserving of recognition here, and it will be a satisfying win no matter who gets it.

Who Will Win: 1917

Who Should Win: Jojo Rabbit

As for all the remaining categories, here is my quick rundown of my picks for each one:

Cinematography: 1917; Film Editing: Ford v FerrariProduction Design: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood; Costume Design: Jojo RabbitMake-up and Hairstyling: Joker; Original Music Score: 1917Original Music Song: “I’m Going to Love Me Again,” RocketmanSound Mixing: 1917Sound Editing: 1917Visual Effects: Avengers: Endgame; Documentary Feature: American FactoryDocumentaty Short: Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl); Animated Feature: Toy Story 4; Animated Short: Hair LoveLive Action Short: Nefta Football ClubInternational Feature: Parasite

So, there you have my picks for the 2020 Academy Awards. Though the Awards are still a big deal for the industry, it’s become less reliable as an indicator of a movie’s staying power. What we’ve often seen is a progression where a movie will hit at just the right moment to ride that Oscar buzz wave towards a victory and then by the time the next awards season rolls around, that past winner is most likely completely forgotten about. The only winners that endure are the ones that are so good they last far beyond the awards themselves, or are the ones that are notorious for being unpopular winners. The Awards are far more of a barometer for the state of the industry at this particular moment in time than it is about how well the movies will stay in the public consciousness afterwards. If a great movie doesn’t win the award, it’s not a death sentence. Awards are fleeting, but a great film will always find it’s audience no matter what and a little golden statue has no effect on that at all. Still, for history’s sake, I still hold a lot of interest in the award itself. Thankfully this year all of the Best Picture nominees are movies that I at the very least enjoyed. Sure, I have my favorites, but if any one of the nine ends up winning, I will be content with that choice. There will certainly be a contingent of people out there who will likely raise hell if their movie doesn’t win, but just like every year before, we air our grievances and just move on to thinking about the movies that will be up for the Award next year. In all, I hope it’s a satisfying ceremony this Sunday, and that whoever wins will hopefully receive a warm reception. It may be the same old process every year, but for those of us who love film and the historical legacy it leaves behind, this is still an event we wait all year for and hope that it works out the way we want it to. Movies don’t need these awards in the long run, but a little reward at the end of the year never hurts either.

 

The Movies of Early 2020

This is a week of remembrance for everyone.  The decade is about to come to a close, and we are about to enter the uncertainty of the new era that faces us ahead; the 2020’s.  We already know a bit about what lies on the horizon cinematically, but much of the talk today is about what movies defined the last ten that we have lived through.  Looking back on just this year alone, we saw a record smashing year at the box office; mostly on the Disney side.  At the same time, more of a shake-up was happening on the distribution front, as both Apple and Disney launched their streaming services just in time for the holidays.  All the while, Netflix was upping their game by putting out an ambitious front of their own, releasing sure to be Awards season favorites with The Irishman, Marriage Story, and The Two Popes.  All in all, 2019 was a relatively strong year for film, which is going to make my year end list all the harder to compile next week, given that I’ll have to leave a lot of good stuff out.  I don’t know exactly where to rank the last year in relation to the decade itself either, but it was certainly up there.  For one thing, no matter what format you see it in (either streaming or on a big screen), it’s great to see a huge outpouring of new films coming from all corners of the industry.  Some are even taking bolder chances on themes and content, although there are some negative aspects to what the studios are putting out as well, particularly when it comes to molding these films for the international market, including censorship in some places.  There will be plenty of time to debate these things later, but for now I’m looking ahead at the immediate future, and seeing what awaits us in the months ahead.

Like all my past previews, I will be looking at a certain selection of films from the upcoming Winter and Spring months, and tell you which ones are the must sees, the ones that have me worried, and the ones to skip.  Each of these choices are based on my own level of anticipation for these movies, based on my responses to the effectiveness of their marketing, and just the general buzz that they carry with them.  Keep in mind, my predictions are informed, but not always accurate, as there are plenty of movies that can either take me by surprise or completely disappoint.  I also have included movie trailer embeds for context, so that you can see for yourself what movies I’m talking about, and perhaps help you form an impression of your own about the movie.  So, without any further ado, let’s take a look at the movies of the first season of the new decade in 2020.

MUST SEES:

NO TIME TO DIE (APRIL 10)

Good old double-O.  For a while this series was in limbo with regards to where it’s future might lie.  It seemed like the series couldn’t quite live up to the series high-point of Skyfall (2012), as the follow-up Spectre (2015) didn’t perform quite as well.  At the same time, this generation’s James Bond (an absolutely amazing Daniel Craig) was expressing doubts about returning for another feature, raising speculation about who might step into the role next.  Add to this a loss of a director (Danny Boyle) halfway through pre-procuction, and we have a lengthy five year gap between bond movies.  But, somehow things came together, and EON Productions managed to talk Craig into returning for one more film (his fifth overall as 007).  Now we finally have a new Bond movie to get excited for, and in a rare Spring release.  Craig, despite having now played the character over a 14 year period (the longest of any actor in the role, including Moore and Connery), still looks to be in top form here, picking up right where he left off, and though this will likely be his swan song as the character, he certainly doesn’t look like he’s taking it any easier.  It’s also going to be an interesting experience as this will be the first Bond film with an American in the directors chair; Cary Joji Fukunaga of True Detective fame.  In addition, the returning cast also brings a wonderful sense of continuity and teamwork to the series, and the addition of another double-O agent played by Lashana Lynch might offer some hints about where the future of the series might lie.  As long as the action is up to the already high standards that the series has set, with it’s special blend of nail-biting tension and sly humor, we should all expect this welcome return of Mr. Bond to be one hell of a fun ride, hopefully leaving us shaken, not stirred.

ONWARD (MARCH 6)

You can always rely on Pixar to deliver something entertaining.  Though the gimmick that the movie revolves around isn’t all that breakthrough (re-imagining modern society through an alternate reality; this time with fantasy creatures), the story it’s trying to tell still looks like it’s right up their alley, and likely to be as heartwarming as most of their other films.  This movie is likely going to hinge on the chemistry between the two leads, two elf brothers voiced by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt.  Certainly that’s the thing that the trailers have been pushing forward the most, which is refreshing in comparison to other like-minded animated films.  Most other animation studios want to sell you on the gimmick, while Pixar knows that they need to sell us on the story first.  There will certainly be plenty of jokes to be had with all the sight gags in this look at a modern suburban twist of classic fantasy tropes, but unless the story at it’s center doesn’t hook us in, the rest will feel hollow.  I do like how much of the focal point is on how the brothers deal with their father only appearing to them as a pair of legs, leading to a strange Weekend at Bernie’s (1989) vibe to much of the trailer.  Not quite the thing you’d expect from a Pixar film, but they are a studio constantly known for subverting expectations and finding that special element that tugs at our heartstrings by the end.  This is also a rare Spring release for the studio, so it will be interesting to see how well they perform outside of their normal mid-summer window.  No doubt with an intriguing premise like this one, an impressive voice cast by Pixar standards, and plenty of visual splendor typical of the studio’s lofty standards, this will almost certainly be another movie from the animation giant that will work it’s magic on all of us.

BIRDS OF PREY: AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN (FEBRUARY 7)

When Suicide Squad released in the summer of 2016, it received a decidedly mixed response.  While the movie had it’s fans, many more criticized it for it’s uneven execution and clearly compromised vision, which was only compounded by the already reviled response to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) earlier that same year; putting DC in a precarious place.  But, if there was anything to take away as a positive from Suicide Squad, it was Margot Robbie’s performance as Harley Quinn, which received almost universal praise.  Given that DC’s film slate has been on better footing recently, now is a good time to spotlight Robbie’s Harley Quinn even more, this time as the center of movie itself.  Birds of Prey gives us Harley Quinn separated from her relationship with the Joker (no longer played by Jared Leto) and setting out on her own, and becoming more of an anti-hero on her own (sometimes demented) terms.  Robbie is also more invested personally in this project, acting as the films producer as well, so this movie is going to grant her the creative freedom to tell Harley’s story the way she wants to, which should be exciting to see.  The titular team behind her is also great to see, as many of them are iconic DC heroes in their own right like Black Canary and Huntress, making their big screen debuts here.  It will also be interesting to see Ewan McGregor taking on the role of famed Batman villain Black Mask here.  DC’s been on a role recently, and though this is a follow-up to one of their more flawed outings, it is thankfully bringing that movie’s best element to the forefront and taking her to new, and better heights.  Let’s just hope that Harley has what it takes to keep DC’s momentum going.

ANTEBELLUM (APRIL 24)

Here’s an intriguing idea for a movie that I still don’t think I’ve completely comprehended fully yet.  I love that even though this movie trailer has provocative imagery within it, no doubt touching upon the horrors of slavery in the American South, we still don’t know what it all means.  Is there a time travel element to this story? Multiple Dimensions?  Is it all inside the protagonist’s head?  Everything is left thankfully vague, but it still is there to be provocative, which could make for a gratefully unique horror thriller.  We’ve already seen Jordan Peele successfully work themes of race and class divisions into his films, so it will be interesting to see it done here in a perhaps more somber and shocking way.  Peele’s films always have a running current of humor underneath all the horror elements, so it will be interesting to see if a more earnest and deadly serious take on the subject might work too.  Even without the sci-fi elements that will almost undoubtedly be explored in more detail within the film, there is a lot of horror to draw from in the real history of slavery in this country, and it could provide some really gut-wrenching moments in this movie.  I usually don’t find much to like in the genre of horror, since so much of it is recycled and not all that scary.  This movie at the very least has an interesting premise and potential based on it’s themes that could transcend the tropes of the genre, and provide a thriller that truly does crawl under your skin and takes you to some really dark places.  After all, there was no bigger hell on earth to millions of enslaved Americans than the Antebellum South.

DOLITTLE (JANUARY 17)

Hollywood has had a rocky relationship with the character of Doctor Dolittle.  The classic literary character first made his big screen debut in the 1967 movie musical, which nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox with it’s poor box office.  Many years later, Eddie Murphy would step into the role as the physician with a talent for talking to animals, but it would be in an adaptation that strayed as far away from the original source material as possible; carrying over only the name and the concept.  Now, we are getting perhaps the closest to a faithful adaptation of the original books as we’ve seen yet.  For one, it takes the character back to his Victorian roots, and it also delves far more into the globe-trotting exploits of Doctor Dolittle that were a major part of the books.  I for one am interested in this new adaptation for a variety of reasons.  One, this marks Robert Downey Jr.’s first big screen project after his epic departure from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it will be interesting to see him tackle a very different kind of character after leaving such a mark as Iron Man.  Two, from the trailers, I get this earnest, non-cynical vibe coming from this film, which reminds me a lot of the excellent Paddington movies, which are some of the best examples of family entertainment we’ve seen from the last decade.  And third, the movie includes a remarkable supporting cast playing all the animals.  If the movie can balance all these elements together, we might finally have a Dolittle movie that actually does justice to the character as he was originally conceived.  Earnest and inspiring films that appeal to all ages are hard to come by these days, so my hope is that this movie helps to fill that void perfectly.

MOVIES THAT HAVE ME WORRIED:

MULAN (MARCH 27)

Let’s face it; Disney’s recent trend of remaking their beloved animated classics hasn’t been their most shining jewel in their cinematic crown.  Yes, movies like Beauty and the Beast (2017) and The Lion King (2019) are box office hits, but they have been heavily panned by critics (like myself) for being just tired retreads of vastly superior films and are creatively bankrupt as a whole.  The one positive that I can say about the upcoming remake of Mulan is that it has some potential.  For one thing, I do like the fact that it’s taking itself much more seriously than most of the other Disney remakes.  It’s doing away with the musical score and more comedic elements in favor of a more down to earth retelling of the Chinese legend.  I know that some die hard fans are bemoaning the absence of wise-cracking Mushu in this film, but I think that the Eddie Murphy-voiced dragon of the original would feel very much out of place in live action.  Director Niki Caro (Whale Rider) seems to very much want to make this a epic adventure in the same vein as epic movies from Chinese auteurs like Zhang Yimou and John Woo, but with a bit of that Disney flair that helps to link it back to the Disney original.  And that’s what a Disney remake should be; something that compliments the original rather than try to copy it.  These movies should be their own thing, and Mulan seems to be on the right track.  But at the same time, I worry that Disney will try to force feed too many references to the original film that could squander this movie’s chance of standing on it’s own.  Also, the movie’s star Yifei Liu has received backlash (not unwarranted) for her pro-Beijing stance on the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, which could hurt Mulan’s chances for success.  Let’s hope that this is a movie with honor, and not with disappointment.

THE CALL OF THE WILD (FEBRUARY 21)

Now there is nothing wrong with wanting to make an ambitious retelling of Jack London’s classic adventure novel for the big screen.  And having Harrison Ford on board doesn’t help either, especially when he’s playing a grizzled frontiersman in the far north.  But where this movie starts to lose me is when it presents it’s featured canine.  For some odd reason, the filmmakers decided to forego casting a real dog in the role, and instead use a fully CGI hound instead.  This unfortunately becomes very distracting in the trailer, as the dog behaves in a way that a cartoon dog would, with facial expressions and exaggerated physicality.  That’s all fine if you’re making an animated movie, but this is a live action film with real actors and sets, and the mixture just doesn’t feel right.  I guess it’s no surprise that the movie is the live action directorial debut for Chris Sanders, who has worked up to now in animation (Lilo & Stitch over at Disney, and How to Train Your Dragon over at Dreamworks), so this  was probably his call because it’s a process of characterization that he’s more comfortable with.  It probably could be worse, like the uncanny valley animals in Disney’s Lion King remake.  I just believe that we’re going to have a hard time connecting with the story in this film, because that animated dog is going to pull us right out of the movie.  Maybe this is the filmmakers way of avoiding the controversy that may arise with regards to animal treatment, much like what happened with the movie A Dog’s Journey (2019) and it’s alleged mistreatment of it’s canine actors.  Even still, authentic animals in movies do make a difference, and there are ways to make movies work without endangering them.  The Call of the Wild could have found that balance too, but it seems to have gone to the other extreme, which itself is very distracting.

THE NEW MUTANTS (APRIL 3)

Here’s a movie that may be the most uncertain of the year.  The fact is, it’s very possible that this movie may not even get released at all.  This was perhaps the most affected film in the merger of Disney and Fox, as the movie was a product of the now defunct X-Men franchise that had run through the Fox Studio since the year 2000.  With Disney owned Marvel now back in charge of the X-Men characters, there was no place anymore for this horror themed take on the characters, and the movie was left in limbo with regards to it’s future.  Just to show you how long this movie has been stuck in cinematic limbo, the above trailer is from two years ago.  And in that time, the movie has been set for release multiple times and then pulled from the schedule at the last minute with no explanation.  Basically Disney owns a finished movie that’s not theirs and they have no idea what to do with it.  It can’t be a part of Marvel’s Phase Four plans, because that’s going to involve an entire reboot of the X-men characters, and this one is still tied with the old franchise.  So, despite it looking like the movie might finally see the light of day this April, it may come with zero buzz and quickly disappear from the multiplex, with Disney hoping that we’ll quickly forget about it and move on, with at least some modest box office.  That, or Disney might just dump it onto Hulu.  It’s too bad, because there is potential there, and the film has a fine cast of young actors like Split’s Anya Taylor-Joy, Game of Thrones’ Maise Williams, and Stranger Things’ Charlie Heaton.  Sadly, mega-mergers carry it’s own set of casualties during their process, and New Mutants is one of the more noteworthy ones we’ve seen out of the big Disney/Fox deal.

BAD BOYS FOR LIFE (JANUARY 17)

I don’t think it was ever possible, but I feel like this movie needs more Michael Bay in it.  After taking an extra long break in the series, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence return to the Bad Boy franchise, and is anybody really excited for this?  Sure, both Smith and Lawrence are in their element as these characters, and they do still have great chemistry on screen together that they haven’t been able to replicate elsewhere.  But, what also made the movies work before was the over-the-top flourishes that Michael Bay added to the series.  The original 1994 Bad Boys was Bay’s first theatrical film, and showcased many of his best elements as a visual story-teller, which he would subsequently lose and over-indulge in with future films.  The overblown sequel, Bad Boys II (2003) is almost so ludicrously over-the-top, that it somehow works in spite of itself.  Unfortunately, while this new movie does have fun banter between the two leads, it also lacks the Bay flourishes, instead coming across like a Bad Boys wannabe.  It’s hard to say what effect this may have as a whole on the experience, but sadly, the visual element coming from this trailer feels a bit flat by comparison.  Love him or hate him, Michael Bay has a visual style, and Bad Boys was one of the better uses of it.  Let’s just hope that Smith and Lawrence can pull things together and carry the series one more time.  They clearly look like they enjoy working together, so hopefully that translates into a fun time as opposed to another rehashed franchise that should have been left alone.

MOVIES TO SKIP:

SONIC THE HEDGEHOG (FEBRUARY 14)

After nearly making my Movies to Skip page from last fall, Sonic the Hedgehog was pushed back several months after what can be called the most disastrous trailer launch in recent memory.  Paramount faced immediate backlash after they premiered the original theatrical trailer last summer, which featured a horribly off model CGI version of Sonic.  This prompted the studio to do a complete, eleventh hour redesign of the character, which no doubt led to plenty of computer animators working long overtime hours in order to fix the clueless filmmakers’ initial mistake.  I do feel for those animators, because they didn’t need to do all this extra work in the first place since the director and the studio clearly don’t know what they are doing with this movie.  It’s another cliche-ridden cash grab on the nostalgia market, much in the same vein as Alvin and the Chipmunks and The Smurfs have been; ignoring all the past character lore and development in favor of a G-Rated romp that’s cheap and dumbed down to appeal to mass audiences.  The new redesign of Sonic is a vast improvement, a tribute to the overworked CGI artists who deserve better recognition, but it still can’t save this project from it’s innate blandness.  Even Jim Carrey’s casting as Doctor Robotnik feels off, as it’s just another zany character that feels like he’s tired of playing.  And given the horrible track record movies based on video games already have, I don’t think there will be much this movie can do to out run it’s inevitable failure.

TROLLS WORLD TOUR (APRIL 17)

It’s been a sad, slow decline for Dreamworks Animation.  The house that Shrek built was once the second most powerful Animation studio in the industry, dominating much of the 2000’s and putting both Disney and Pixar on notice.  But the 2010’s were far rockier for the studio, as they struggled to maintain an identity.  They started off strong with movies like How to Train Your Dragon (2010) and Megamind (2010), but numerous under-performers like Rise of the Guardians (2012), Home (2015), and The Boss Baby (2017) have tarnished the studio’s once glorious sheen.  Now, after seeing their founder Jeffrey Katzenberg leaving to start his own streaming platform called Quibi, Dreamworks almost appears to be throwing in the towel and just using their talents to hit a specific target audience; little children.  Trolls (2016) was the biggest clue to this new direction, a candy-coated musical aimed at children that not surprisingly was their only box office hit of the decade.  With Trolls World Tour, they appear to be further heading down that road, with another uninspired, mass-appeal product solely created to sell toys.  It wouldn’t be as egregious if Dreamworks was occasionally taking more risks like they used to.  In the same amount of time, both Disney and Pixar have upped their game, delivering provocative and engaging movies like Zootopia (2016) and Coco (2017), which while still appealing to children, were also able to deliver profound messages at the same time.  Trolls World Tour is just another diversion that kids may enjoy in the moment, but will eventually grow out of over time, and that’s a sad direction for Dreamworks Animation to take.

UNDERWATER (JANUARY 10)

It doesn’t take much to imagine what the pitch meeting was like for this one; it’s going to be Alien (1979), but at the bottom of the ocean.  I guess it’s not surprising that 20th Century Fox, the studio behind the Alien franchise took the bait and green-lit this film.  The movie looks to be following the Alien formula to the letter, and that’s what makes this trailer so frustrating.  You know exactly where it’s going.  I almost feel that the movie might have been better served if it strayed away from the sci-fi elements, and just became a survival film instead.  It may not be all that breakthrough, but a movie focused on survivors in a crippled deep sea research station could have provided some interesting moments.  But, no, we get monsters instead.  I find the cast here an odd mix too.  Never thought I’d see a movie with actors as diverse as Kristen Stewart and T.J. Miller sharing the screen.  In Stewart’s case, this movie almost feels like a step backwards in her career, as she’s been choosing more challenging roles lately.  For Miller, this is definitely par for the course.  And given that this movie comes out on January 10, it marks the first ever wide release of the new decade, which I hope is not a bad omen of how the next ten years will play out.  I imagine this will be a quickly forgotten film that hopefully has no lasting impact on the 2020’s.  Most movies dumped off in January usually are, and this one is just another in that chain of shame.

So, that’s how the start of 2020 will play out in the months ahead.  In comparison to years past, it’s a relatively light slate.  No Marvel, no projects from prestige filmmakers.  Given how ambitious 2019 was, this is understandable.  2020 is saving it’s heavy hitters for later in the year.  For now, I am looking forward to the return of James Bond to the big screen, with Daniel Craig putting in one final turn in the role, which he put a firm stamp on.  Likewise another Pixar film is always welcome to see.  There are also plenty of movies that could end up surprising out there.  The early Winter and Spring months have become more fertile ground in recent years to find surprises that might have otherwise been lost in the Summer and Awards season shuffles.  And speaking of Awards season, most of those last minute entries are going to expand nationwide in the following month, so there will still be plenty of quality entertainment to be had for the early part of the year.  Now that I have laid out what to look forward to in the first part of the next year, I’ll be spending much of January looking back at both the previous year, as well as the entire past decade.  You’ll see my two top ten lists in the upcoming weeks, with the 2019 Top Ten coming up shortly.  With all that said, I hope my preview has been a helpful one.  There’s a lot to look forward to, as well as a few disasters you might want to avoid.  And as always, have a happy new year and enjoy your time at the movies.

The Movies of Fall 2019

As the summer season comes to a close, a diagnosis of the state of the industry becomes more understood.  And what we’ve learned from the past three months is that one singular studio is dominating all the others; Disney.  With 4 of the top 5 box office grosses this year coming from The Walt Disney Company, they are clearly the undeniable champ of the summer movie season.  Though part of their continued dominance may be due to the fact that they are the only studio with the properties that are capable of bringing people out to the theaters.  Otherwise, most people are opting to stay home and stream their movies on their TV.  Other studios have been struggling to find the next big property that can compete against the Disney juggernaut, and they are coming few and far between these days.  Universal saw healthy results with their Fast & Furious spin-off Hobbs and Shaw, but their Illumination Animation release, The Secret Life of Pets 2, disappointed.  Warner Brothers barely got any traction with Detective Pikachu.    And Sony had to share a piece of the pie with Disney over their big hit, Spider-Man: Far From Home, which probably led to the un-amicable split that both companies made to their contract last week.  The change has been dramatic to the industry when it comes to what we can see at our local cinema, and it either comes down to huge tent-pole productions that only make a profit if they have the backing of a noteworthy brand (which is increasingly becoming monopolized by a single studio), or if it’s a small indie film that costs little and manages to find a modest profit after finding an audience.  Everything that used to fall into the middle is heading to streaming instead, and this could very much change the power dynamics in Hollywood for years to come.

But, with Summer behind us, it’s now time to look in the months ahead, which is Awards season. There are plenty of movies that we already know will be strong contenders for year end awards, but the fall festival, which includes Venice and Toronto, could offer up even more surprises that haven’t even been put on the radar yet.  In addition, we also have those holiday tent-poles to look forward to as well.  Like I’ve done in years past, I’ll be taking a look at some of the most noteworthy upcoming releases for the Fall movie season.  They’re broken up into the must sees, the ones that have me worried, and the ones that I insist are worth skipping.  It’s all based on my own response to the early buzz these movies are receiving in addition to how well the marketing is doing it’s job in promoting these films.  I could be wrong about a few of these, but I feel pretty confident about my choices here, and I welcome any surprises that might prove my first impressions wrong.  So, let’s take a look at the movies of Fall 2019.

MUST SEES:

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (DECEMBER 20)

This one is a no-brainer.  Perhaps the most anticipated movie of the year (excluding those from Marvel Studios) this is a movie that you could say is 40 years in the making.  Albeit, there have been several gaps in between, some as long as a decade or more, but Rise of Skywalker, the ninth mainline film in the entire Star Wars franchise, purports to be the final chapter in this ongoing story that began all the way back with A New Hope in 1977.  This “Skywalker Saga” includes the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy, and after The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, this will be the end of this sequel trilogy that began after the Disney acquisition of Lucasfilm.  One of the things that I have loved the most from these current films is that they’ve given one final go-around for the original cast that started it all, and this upcoming is no exception either.  Not only are we getting the final screen performance from Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa (taken from unused footage from Force Awakens) but we also get the return of Billy Dee Williams in the role of Lando Calrissian.  Apart from that, there seems to be a concerted effort on director J.J. Abrams’ part to bring everything full circle before the final chapter closes.  The nostalgia heavy trailer from last week’s D23 Expo seen above showcases moments from across the entirety of the series, and I believe that it’s setting us up for a film that both wraps up it’s own story-line, while also paying tribute to all the mythology that has come before it.  It’s going to be difficult to bring a franchise this important to cinema to a satisfying close, but from what I’ve seen so far, it appears that both J.J. and his cast and crew have definitely got their hearts in it.  And considering the implications as seen from the trailer, showing the revelation of “Dark Rey,” this is series that still has a few surprises left to reveal.

THE IRISHMAN (NOVEMBER 27)

I know that this is breaking my tradition of spotlighting movies coming soon to theaters, but considering how much bigger of a chunk Netflix is contributing to the industry these days, and also because a Netflix movie topped my best of the year list for 2018 (Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma), I figure that it’s about time to include the streaming giant on this preview as well.  This is also due to the fact that a Netflix original just so happens to be directed by Martin Scorsese, whose new film The Irishman looks so promising.  Here we find the legendary filmmaker in familiar territory, telling the story of a cross-section between politics and the criminal underworld, which seems like a natural for the man behind Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995).  In fact, the movie even includes many Scorsese regulars in the cast, including Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel, with Al Pacino acting for Scorsese for surprisingly the first time ever.  Scorsese may not have created the mafia film, but he certainly matured it and made it his own, so it’ll be interesting to see him return once again to this kind of movie.  It’s also an interesting story of speculative history; showing us the death and disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino) from the point of view of the man who allegedly pulled the trigger on him (DeNiro).  Hopefully, the Netflix connection doesn’t cloud the reception of this movie like it did for Roma last year.  Netflix is almost daring the Academy to ignore them this time, given how much pull the Scorsese name carries.  I always love to see what Scorsese has in store with every new movie, and whether it’s in theaters or streaming on Netflix, it will absolutely be a must see.

JOKER (OCTOBER 4)

Speaking of Scorsese, here we have a movie that owes a fair amount of it’s inspiration to the legendary director.  The movie looks to tell the backstory of the iconic villain from the pages of the DC comics, and it’s tone, look and even plot are all very Scorsesian.  It even has Robert DeNiro in a key supporting role, making the connection all the more apparent.  But, it all feels like a good fit for the clown prince of crime.  This is another in a smart, upward trend for the once struggling DCEU, where they are focusing instead on individual movies rather than building towards a cross-over event.  After the delightful Shazam, DC goes dark once again, which is really the only way to capture the menace of the Joker.  From the excellently constructed trailers, we get a real good sense of how much actor Joaquin Phoenix is pouring himself into this role.  He is already standing on the shoulders of great performances that have filled this role before (Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger) but Phoenix seems to bringing something even different to the role, which is this underlying sadness to the character.  Here we see a man driven to the edge by a steady stream of hardships and heartache, and through all that, we see the monster underneath boil up to the surface.  Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) comes very much to mind in this regard, but there’s also a fair amount of The King of Comedy (1983) at play here too.  How much this all plays into the DC mythos is unsure, and director Todd Phillips assured that this was going to be a very different Joker story than we’ve ever seen.  But, regardless, I think it will be worth seeing just for how unnerving and powerful Joaquin Phoenix’s performance might be.

KNIVES OUT (NOVEMBER 27)

After spending time in the Star Wars universe, director Rian Johnson returns to familiar ground with an earthbound murder mystery, with a sly sense of humor thrown in.  While the story itself may seem pretty basic for it’s genre, the cast assembled is something to behold.  Even in just the central family you have heavy hitters like Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, and Christopher Plummer just to name a few.  Plus, we get an investigative detective played by none other than James Bond himself, Daniel Craig.  These are the kind of ensemble casts in movies that garner their own attention, and it’ll be interesting to see how Rian Johnson utilizes them in his film.  This kind of movie seems more in line with the films he made in his early career like Brick (2005) and The Brothers Bloom (2008), so it’ll be interesting to see how much of an impact the work he did on Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) left on his directorial style.  Is he no longer in touch with his old techniques, or is he still capable of delivering on something less grand in scale but still distinctly his own creation.  My guess is that the plot of this movie is less consequential to the overall appeal of the film than the interactions between the actors.  And it will be interesting to see Johnson also work is a broader comedic style, since his films have tended to be a bit more on the grittier side up to now.  This is where the Star Wars influence may have been helpful to him as a director, because it’s allowed him to play around in different genres that he otherwise would have had a more difficult time transitioning into.  Regardless, this film still looks like a fun romp that uses it’s impressive cast well.

JOJO RABBIT (OCTOBER 18)

If there is one type of movie that I especially enjoy seeing it’s a satirical comedy, especially one that takes a very politically incorrect spin on a subject.  This one, from the demented mind of Taika Waititi, tells the story of a young boy in the Hitler’s Youth army during the height of Nazi Germany whose imaginary friend just so happens to be a happy-go-lucky version of the Fuhrer himself (played by Waititi).  Given the touchy subject of fascism and nazis, I applaud Taika for not holding any punches.  I’m of the belief that figures like Hitler and all his Nazi followers should be mocked rather than feared, because it robs them of their power.  I think people tend to be drawn to things that are not politically correct and that has been what has allured many people towards embracing more fascist ways of thinking in recent years, because it’s seen as more rebellious towards a politically correct society.  With this film, which shows the absurdity behind the Nazis and their ilk, Taika is in a way reclaiming politically incorrect humor for the anti-fascist side, and I think that is something absolutely worth celebrating.  This movie has all the sly, unforgiving humor of a Mel Brooks comedy, and like Brooks, Waititi seems very determined to put Nazis and fascists in their rightful, diminished place.  After all, the movie’s tagline is that it’s a satire that “goes to war on Hate.”  And just seeing Waititi in his Hitler costume alone is enough to put a smile on my face.  My hope is that Taika delivers the kind of comedy we need right now to effectively bring politically incorrect humor back to where it should be; in the service of combating hatred and injustice in the world.

MOVIES THAT HAVE ME WORRIED:

FROZEN II (NOVEMBER 22)

Let’s face it, one of the main reasons why Disney is a dominant force right now in entertainment is because of the surprise successes of movies like Frozen (2013).  The original was almost unstoppable at the holiday box office when it first released, and you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing the show-stopping number, “Let it Go”, someplace around you for months on end.  So, why am I worried about this one.  Well, it has to do with the expectations of having to recapture something that big for a second time, which sequels rarely do.  I had mixed feelings when it came to the original (admired the artistry, but was disappointed with the narrative), so my expectations are not astronomical.  But, I do admire the fact that this movie helped bring confidence back to Disney animation, which has led them to making more daring and ultimately satisfying animated films like Zootopia and Moana (both 2016).  An underwhelming sequel could unfortunately shoo people away from Disney animation, or even worse, make Disney become complacent again by retreating back to safe and predictable.  There are some positives to note about what I’m seeing in the trailer.  First of all, there seems to be more focus on telling Elsa’s side of the story, which is a good change of pace because I felt that she was the best character in the first Frozen, and was underutilized in favor of her more obnoxious sister; sorry Anna fans, but I could’ve used less of her in the movie.  Also, there seems to be more peril and adventure at the heart of this movie, which could help make it an exhilarating sit.  I just hope that they don’t rely too heavily on Olaf related slapstick.  Disney Animation needs to keep being daring, and it would help to see that in what is now their most bankable franchise.

AD ASTRA (SEPTEMBER 20)

On the surface, this should be a must see film.  A space-based adventure film with an intriguing premise, an all star cast, and an impressive looking production; all this seems like a movie that I would get easily excited for.  So, why am I not.  I think one thing that might be affecting my reception of this movie is the space film fatigue that we seem to be recently experiencing.  These types of movies started off strong with Alfonso Cuaron’s epic Gravity (2013), and continued on with Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (2014) and Ridley Scott’s The Martian (2015).  But with the underwhelming reception given to Damien Chazelle’s First Man (2018), it almost feels like the genre has crested and is beginning to wane again.  I feel like I’ve seen this movie before, and yet it’s completely different than any other one that’s been made.  I hope there’s more to it than just a ticking time clock towards stopping annihilation.  At least the trailer does leave some room for unknown secrets to be revealed.  But, the movie has to overcome the fact that it’s on the back end of a cinematic trend and it’s not really distinguishing itself right out of the gate.  Brad Pitt has recently been giving us some good leading man roles, and I certainly feel like he’s coming off some of his best work yet in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.  Hopefully we see the best of him in this role too.  And hopefully the movie gives us more in a visual sense than just another Space Odyssey wannabe.  We’re hungry for originals, and this could be that promising new thing, or it could just be more of the same.

DOCTOR SLEEP (NOVEMBER 8)

It’s always daunting to make a sequel to a beloved film, especially one that comes nearly 40 years after the original.  Working in Doctor Sleeps favor is the fact that author Stephen King himself wrote a book sequel to The Shining first, before there was even talk of a movie sequel.  With Doctor Sleep being a best seller, Warner Brothers now had the licence to revisit the property, but even with that, there are still risks with regard to how well that may play with The Shining’s die hard fans.  For many, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is an untouchable masterpiece.  Now, I feel that a sequel is possible if given the right approach, and Stephen King himself obviously found a story that satisfied him.  However, what worries me is just how much this movie adaptation of the book seems to be reliant on Kubrick’s version of The Shining.  For one thing, Kubrick’s film deviates wildly from the book, which caused a now famous rift between the director and the author.  This could lead to some narrative issues with Doctor Sleep, and I worry that referencing another film too heavily will only reflect badly on this new one as a result.  I will say that the casting of Ewan MacGregor as a grown up Danny Torrence seems pretty right.  And the director, Mike Flanagan has been responsible for some of the best recent horror films as of late, including some King adaptations as well.  But, he has rarely treaded on sacred ground like this, and it’ll take a lot of careful film-making to make this movie a worthy companion piece to the original Kubrick classic.  This movie must stand well enough on it’s own, otherwise all work and no play makes Doctor Sleep a dull movie.

GEMINI MAN (OCTOBER 11)

Director Ang Lee is one of this generation’s greatest filmmakers, and a remarkably versatile talent who seems to effortlessly jump from genre to genre.  But, if there is one area that he seems to struggle with, it has tended to be action movies.  He created a great artistic spectacle with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), but his adaptation of the Hulk (2002) was a muddled mess.  Now he finds himself working in the genre again, on a film that languished in development hell for over a decade.  Based on the marketing so far, this movie looks to be far from Ang’s artistic comfort zone.  It sadly comes across as another generic action flick, but relying very heavily on it’s hook; the de-aging effect on star Will Smith.  A few years ago, this might have been a breakthrough special effect, especially when the movie was in it’s earlier stages of development, but given that Marvel has already been using this technique for several years now (to sometimes impressive effect), it just no longer has the same impact.  Considering that the movie is hinging so much on this one gimmick, that Will Smith is facing off against a younger version of himself, makes me worried that it’ll ultimately be a let down.  I hope that Ang Lee’s skills as a filmmaker helps to elevate the material and makes this a movie that transcends it’s genre.  But, thus far, all we’ve got to go on is that somewhat uncanny valley image of a de-aged Will Smith, and for many, it’s either off-putting or not impressive anymore.

MOVIES TO SKIP:

TERMINATOR: DARK FATE (NOVEMBER 1)

You know we’ve been down this road before.  Every time they reboot the tired Terminator franchise, it ends up leading to a movie that further sinks the series into irrelevance.  This time, series creator James Cameron is said to be more involved, and that this one is truly the authentic sequel to the last great film of this series, Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1992).  However, we were also told that Cameron gave his approval to the last film in the series, Terminator: Genysis (2015), and that film was a convoluted mess that completely wrecked havoc on the franchise’s already complicated timeline.  I highly doubt this will be the movie that rights the ship.  Sure, it is nice that Linda Hamilton is returning to the role of Sarah Connor, and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s presence also helps to bring a sense of continuity (he’s also the only consistently good thing in this series).  But, the dour and uninspiring trailers don’t fill me with a lot of confidence.  It just seems like the franchise is regurgitating the same old cat and mouse chase element from all the other movies, with the heroes being hunted down once again by the same shape-shifting robots.  It was a novelty back in the late 80’s and early 90’s; now it just feels generic.  As much as James Cameron wants to keep this franchise going, I feel like it’s better to give it a rest and not try so hard to fix continuity that no one really cares about anymore.

MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL (OCTOBER 18)

If you weren’t sick of the Disney remakes already, here’s a sequel to their live action adaptation of Sleeping Beauty.  The first Maleficent (2014) was seen by many as the movie that started off this recent trend of remaking Disney’s animated classics, and it was also the one that started the trend of making them inferior to the original.  Despite a strong performance from Angelina Jolie as the titular dark fairy, the movie took the absolute wrong angle with the story by turning the iconic villain into something of an anti-hero.  Maleficent’s appeal as a villain is her almost operatic sense of maliciousness, and the fact that her villainy knows no bounds.  But by turning her into a sympathetic character in the first Maleficent, especially with making her the reluctant guardian of Princess Aurora, the movie undermines everything that made her iconic in the first place.  And now, Disney believes there is more to this story to tell, and it almost feels like they are completely disregarding their own character development between films.  Apparently, Maleficent breaks bad again here, really for no other purpose other than it’s what we associate her most with.  If you’re going to change a character like this all of a sudden, Disney, at least be consistent.  There’s a reason why people love Maleficent so much as a character, and it’s not just because of her iconic look.  She is “Mistress of all evil” for a reason.  There are times when a revisionist spin on a tale is appropriate, and then other times it spoils the appeal of what made the story so magical in the first place.  And I don’t like seeing the menace of Maleficent become so diluted in these movies.

MIDWAY (NOVEMBER 8)

Usually I look forward to a epic scale war picture, but it also depends on who the film is coming from.  Unfortunately, this one is from one of my most disliked filmmakers; Roland Emmerich.  The action film director has been on a downward slop over the last decade, and the fact that he wants to tackle a subject like the Battle of Midway makes me especially worried.  The World War II battle is an important turning point moment in the Pacific theater of the conflict, and it’s very much worthy of an epic scale production to bring it to life for modern audiences to witness.  However, it appears that Emmerich is just falling back on his impulses for spectacle rather than emotional involvement.  There are a lot of Pearl Harbor (2001) vibes going on with this movie based on the trailer.  The over-reliance on CGI, the unnecessary melodrama, and also the fact that it looks so uninspired.  Spielberg revolutionized the genre by putting the audience right in the middle of the action with Saving Private Ryan (1998) and more recently Christopher Nolan showed how to create scale without reliance on visual effects which helped to convey authenticity in Dunkirk (2017).  Emmerich’s track record with historical epics is not exactly encouraging.  He did make The Patriot (2000) nearly 20 years ago, which was cliched but effective, but since then 10,000 B.C. (2008), Anonymous (2011) and Stonewall (2015) have shown just how irresponsible he can be when working with history in his films.  What worries me the most is that the movie will end up dishonoring the memory of those who fought in the battle just so that he can indulge his unsubtle and bombastic tastes as a filmmaker.

So, there you have my outlook on the closing months of the year 2019.  Most likely, we are going to see the Disney company finish out strong like they have all year, riding on the sure bets of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Frozen II.  But there is still plenty of room for surprises.  I certainly don’t know what to expect from the awards race just yet, as many of the films that should emerge as front-runners at year’s end haven’t even been given set release dates yet.  Also, the emerging influence of Netflix will play a major factor, as they are about to debut an ambitious release schedule in the next few months, with The Irishman standing out as the premier attention getter.  Netflix will also see their first real challenge to their supremacy in the streaming market once Disney+ launches in November.  It will be interesting to see how streaming content will evolve once these two media giants begin to go up against each other, and how that may affect things at Awards time as well as at cinemas across the world.  Even so, there is still no shortage of exciting new releases coming in the months ahead.  I especially can’t wait to see how Star Wars wraps things up with their epic conclusion to the series.  Also, considering that I live in Los Angeles, where films are legally bound to screen for eligibility in Academy Awards consideration, I’ll still have the opportunity to watch all the Netflix movies on the big screen, which will give me the chance to judge effectively how they stack up with theatrical release films.  In the end it shouldn’t matter, but if it came between watching a movie in a theater or on my TV for the first time, I will always choose a theater first.  So, I hope that my preview has been helpful in spotlighting some noteworthy films that might interest all of you in the coming months.  Let’s hope that our holidays are full of fun times at the movies, no matter which way we end up watching them.