Tag Archives: Previews

The Movies of Fall 2018

The Summer of 2018 has passed us by, and looking back on these last few months, we see many interesting results that give a different perspective on the movie industry right now.  For one thing, this summer was a period of both great success for the film industry, but also great turmoil.  On the positive side, box office reached record highs this summer, bolstered by the likes of Marvel’s Infinity War and Ant-Man and the Wasp, as well as the record-breaking Incredibles 2 and the monstrous Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.  But, this was also a summer of huge shake-ups in Hollywood that is likely going to effect the way movies are made in the future, and also with how they are seen.  The continued rise of Netflix is putting pressure on the movie theater industry, and this summer we saw the beginnings of a whole different look for Hollywood.  The enormous merger of Disney and Fox cleared it’s biggest hurdle and will become a reality in the next year, increasing the likelihood of a competitive on demand to take on Netflix with a catalog of properties bolstered by two major studios.  To combat the rise of streaming only content, movie theaters embraced the idea of adding subscription plans to their ticketing service, though the company that pioneered the concept, MoviePass, has barely made it through this summer intact and will likely crash and burn in the near future.  This is an industry in transition, and it’s fascinating to watch this happen in real time, with sweeping changes happening much faster now than any era before.  It only makes the next few months ahead even more exciting as Hollywood’s evolution continues to unfold, and especially with Awards season about to begin.

Like previous previews I’ve written in the past, I will be spotlighting movies coming out in the fall months ahead that fall into three categories: the must sees, the movies that have me worried, and the ones that are worth skipping.  These are my own preconceptions of the following movies, based on my own level of enthusiasm for each movie based largely on how well they are being sold, and also based on my own thoughts regarding my interest in their potential.  I’m not always the best handicapper, so these aren’t predictions for how well these movies are going to perform both critically or at the box office.  Some of these could turn out to be incredible surprises, or crushing disappointments.  Or, they could end up being exactly what I thought they’d be.  So, with all that, let’s take a look at the Movies of Fall 2018.

MUST SEES:

FIRST MAN (OCTOBER 12)

Of course, with any Awards season, you will see a big push from the major studios to put their own prestige film into the race, and that leads to new additions to one of my favorite genres in filmmaking; the historical epic.  This tried and true genre of film has always wielded some of the most impressive movies from Hollywood over the years, if not always awards contenders.  This year, Universal and Dreamworks look to make their claim with this space based epic centered around the life of Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon.  Movies that have centered around the glory days of the space race have done generally well over the years, from The Right Stuff (1983) to Apollo 13 (1995).  But, it’s surprising that it has taken this long for Hollywood to make a movie about the original moon landing of the Apollo 11, in addition to portraying the roles of the men who accomplished it, Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.  Finally seeing this story make it to the big screen is one thing, but it’s also interesting that the movie is coming from director Damien Chazelle.  Only on his third feature, the still young director is coming off of his success from directing the musical La La Land, which is quite the jump of genre.  I for one am intrigued to see how well he handles the shift.  He does have a great eye for visuals, and some of those shots of the moon landing do look impressive (which will be especially true for the select scenes shot specifically for IMAX).  I also like the fact that it seems that he’s going for a first hand perspective here, showing all the details from Armstrong’s point of view, especially with all the scary potential for catastrophe that this mission could’ve faced.  Chazelle’s carrying over his La La Land leading man, Ryan Gosling, who seems like a perfect fit for the private, reserved Armstrong.  I love when Hollywood shoots for something big and important, and this ode to mankind’s giant leap will hopefully be a worthwhile one.

RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET: WRECK-IT RALPH 2 (NOVEMBER 21)

Disney has rarely returned to the well with sequelizing their animated features; at least in theaters.  But, when they do, it’ usually for a film that’s deserving of a follow-up.  Such is the case with this sequel to their surprise hit, Wreck-It Ralph (2012).  The original had a lot of fun with playing around with the concept of characters from one video game jumping into another, and they made good use of all the cameos from gaming icons to fill out the background of their movie; including the now iconic Villain support group scene.  But, as we see in this trailer, the makers of Wreck-it Ralph are not just going to repeat the same old formula.  They are instead opting to expand Ralph’s world further, bringing him out of the arcade and into the world wide web.  The idea could run the risk of dating this sequel in our present, unlike the appeal of the  first which drew on our nostalgia for video games of yesteryear.  But, it seems like Disney is doing something clever here, by putting the jokes squarely on themselves.  With a sequence devoted to Ralph (once again voiced by John C. Reilly) and his companion Vanellope (Sarah Silverman, also returning) taking a trip to Disney’s own website, the movie has a great opportunity to create some hilarious meta-humor.  Key among them is the now much talked about sequence involving Vanellope meeting the Princesses.  I watched the entire sequence at the D23 Expo last year, and I can tell you there is a lot more there that most people haven’t seen yet, and it’s all hilarious.  It will also be interesting to see how the movie addresses the down side of the internet as well, which can’t be avoided and might prove to be a strong antagonistic story point.  New characters played by Taraji P. Henson and Gal Gadot also look to add some extra flavor to this universe, and I’m eager to see if this sequel is able to live up to it’s predecessor and possibly even surpass it.

AQUAMAN (DECEMBER 21)

In the wake of what has become of Zack Snyder’s DC Universe, culminating in the disappointing Justice League from last year, it seems that there is little to be hopeful for in the house that Superman built.  And yet, there’s something about this Aquaman trailer that has me excited.  I think that the most pleasing thing about it is that it is very colorful.  Gone are the muted, drab colors of the Snyder films, and instead we get a look at the undersea world that is full of bold, bright colors that create this lush visual canvas of the undersea world.  And then there is Jason Momoa’s performance as the titular superhero.  Easily one of the highlights of Justice League, Momoa clearly loves playing this role and his sense of fun is infectious.  It helps to believe in the integrity of the character you are playing, especially when it’s a character that has long been mocked as ridiculous in comic book circles.  From this trailer, it’s clear that Jason Momoa loves this character, and that he wants to make him not only stronger, but kind of a badass as well.  It’s also clear that director James Wan wants to meet the challenge of this film as well.  Known mostly for horror flicks like The Conjuring (2013), Wan is branching out into new territory with Aquaman, and it seems like he’s doing so by embracing the comic book elements fully.  Many of the scenes in the trailer look like they could’ve come right off the pages of a comic, including some rather epic shots both above and below the waves.  And another great sign of Wan’s appreciation for the medium is in how well he has translated Aquaman’s nemesis, Black Manta, to the big screen.  Most other filmmakers would have done away with Black Manta’s bulky helmet, but Wan brings it to life in all it’s glory, knowing very well that it’s iconic and it defines the character.  Let’s hope that like Wonder Woman, this Aquaman movie helps to elevate it’s titular hero, and brings the DC universe back to where it should be.

BOY ERASED (NOVEMBER 2)

It wouldn’t be the Fall season without a little Oscar-baiting fare thrown in the mix.  And while some are your usual independent, socially conscious drams that usually will not be widely seen by the public, there are some that are noteworthy and are worthy of spotlighting, even if they don’t end up getting the big awards.  This film in particular appeals to me for obvious reasons.  One, it’s another in a very positive trend in Hollywood of embracing movies that tackle LGBT themed issues and bringing them to a wider audience and making them mainstream.  Two, it’s the first “Hollywood” film to ever address the very real problem of queer youth being forced into gay conversion therapy, a widely discredited practice perpetuated by religious fundamentalists that is akin to psychological torture in some cases.  It’s something that we haven’t seen dramatized in a mainstream film before and I think that it’s about time that some light is shed on this issue.  The movie is written and directed by actor Joel Edgerton, who also plays the pastor in charge of this conversion camp, and he seem to have brought a very passionate and human perspective on this subject, both critiquing the practice while at the same time trying to understand the people who are a part of it, both with the victims and the perpetrators.  I love the fact that the movie seems to be as interested in the story of the parents as well as the boy at the center of the film (played by rising star Lucas Hedges).  It shows that their struggle is just as complex, and it’s smart on Edgerton’s part not to make religion itself the boogeyman of this movie, but instead show how people can be easily misguided in pursuit of their faith.  I hope that this movie presents a compelling examination of this all too real problem, and gets a real conversation started on the matter.

MARY POPPINS RETURNS (DECEMBER 19)

It’s always a big risk to make a sequel to a classic movie, especially when a good many years or decades have passed in between each movie.  Disney is now planning to do just that with one of their most iconic films, following up on the original which was made a whopping 54 years ago.  The original Mary Poppins (1964) is a universally beloved classic, with fans spanning several generations.  Making a sequel to a movie like this is certainly a risk, but it seems like Disney is doing their best to honor that legacy while at the same time making this movie stand well enough on it’s own.  The casting of Emily Blunt as the iconic nanny is a smart choice.  She has the same manner of cadence to her performance as Julie Andrews from the original, and Ms. Andrews has already blessed the choice of casting with her seal of approval.  I also like the change in time period for this film, as we find Mary revisiting the Banks children grown up into adulthood and with children of their own.  It’s a time period that has already gone through two world wars, which would put Mary’s advice and expertise into a different perspective altogether.  While this movie hasn’t hinted at any musical sequences yet, it’s likely that we’ll hear a bunch of new songs here, and it helps that Emily Blunt is a talented singer in her own right, and will be backed up by Broadway icon Lin-Manuel Miranda as her co-star.  The movie also has an impressive supporting cast, including Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Emily Mortimer and Ben Whishaw, plus it will also see iconic veterans joining in like David Warner, Angela Lansbury, and yes even Dick Van Dyke.  It may never be able to top the original, but with a top notch production like this, it can at least work as a fine complimentary piece to it’s legacy.

MOVIES THE HAVE ME WORRIED:

VENOM (OCTOBER 5)

One of the pleasing things about the brokered deal between Sony and Disney to share custody of the Spider-Man franchise was that it helped to bring organization to the often out of control series and helped the character effectively integrate into the already established MCU.  The result was a fresher, younger webslinger played by Tom Holland, who made great appearences in Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, while also starring in his own acclaimed Spider-Man: Homecoming.  A peaceful solution benefited both parties.  However, it seems like Sony still wanted to make the most of their exclusivity with the Spiderverse characters, and they continued to push through projects that were already in development before Spider-Man made his return home to Marvel Studios.  The first of these is this movie that centers around the fan favorite Spider-Man villain, Venom.  Unfortunately based on this trailer, Sony seems to still be stuck in their Amazing Spider-Man universe plans that should’ve been given up once the character was recast.  It’s unclear if this movie even exists in the same universe, which could be problematic if fans are clamoring for an eventual meet-up between the character, which might not happen.  Also, the CGI heavy trailer also doesn’t give us much to grab onto either.  The one bright spot is the casting of Tom Hardy in the titular role.  It helps to have a quality actor in the role, and his muscular build is closer to what’s required for the character, especially after how miscast slim Topher Grace was as the character in Spider-Man 3 (2007).  Hardy is also no stranger to playing comic book heavy’s, given his iconic work as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises (2012).  I hope he gives enough of a good performance to make this movie worth the effort, otherwise Sony is only going to complicate things further with an already dissatisfied fanbase who wants to see all their superheros coexisting together.

CREED II (NOVEMBER 21)

When the first Creed hit in 2015, it defied many expectations.  It revived the long dormant Rocky franchise and not only did it become a box office hit, but it even earned Sly Stallone himself an Oscar nomination for his return to the iconic role.  Now, we are getting a sequel, which is not at all surprising as the story was open ended enough to warrant one, and the first movie itself was a continuation of the Rocky storyline itself.  The downside, however, is that this movie is being made without the visionary behind the original, director Ryan Coogler.  Coogler of course made history this year with his blockbuster film Black Panther over at Marvel, which made him unavailable to direct this sequel.  One would have hoped that MGM would’ve held out a little longer to allow Coogler more time to bring his input into the sequel, and continue the story his way.  But, that’s not what happened, and this new Creed comes to us from an entirely different team.  Stallone apparently is more involved behind the camera this time around, including having a pass at the script.  It’s not too much of a worry, since Stallone did write the original Rocky (1976) himself, but his track record with the rest is a little shaky.  On the plus side, the entire cast returns, including Stallone and Michael B. Jordan, and the movie does venture into the territory that we all expected this story to go, with Jordan’s Adonis Creed taking on the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren, who’s also reprising his role).  It works thematically, because the first film was all about the young boxer rising out from under the shadow of his famous father, and this movie allows him to confront the other demon that haunts his family’s name; the tragic death of Apollo Creed.  I hope that the movie lives up to this potential, but without Coogler’s crucial involvement, I have my worries.

FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD (NOVEMBER 16)

It appears that Hollywood just can’t get enough of J. K. Rowling’s Wizarding World.  Seven years after the final film in the Harry Potter franchise premiered, the universe that Ms. Rowling created still has enormous legs, and that was enough to convince Warner Brothers to invest in this spinoff series that unlike the Potter films does not come from a literary source.  The Fantastic Beasts franchise marks a departure for the acclaimed writer, as she takes upon the duties of screenwriting herself.  The new films are set within the same world, but centers on different chatacters as well as a puts it in a different time and place; specifically America during the Roaring 20’s.  The first film was honestly just okay; neither anything spectacular, nor a complete disaster.  To be honest, it was a better franchise launch than Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), and we saw how that franchise improved over time, which bodes well for the potential that this Fantastic Beasts can possibly have.  But, what we’ve seen so far from this follow-up makes me worried about the direction that the studio is taking with the franchise.  Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) did well at the box office, but not spectacular, which was enough to cause concern at Warner.  So, already, they are drawing heavily from the Potter well again.  The Hogwarts school features very prominently in the trailers, which tells me that the studio desperately wants to remind audiences that this takes place in the same world as the beloved and profitable franchise.  This unfortunately lessens the chances of this franchise being able to stand apart on it’s own, and possibly might even make it feel superfluous and unnecessary as a result.  The franchise should be allowed to be it’s own thing, and I worry that studio interference might cause it to suffer as a result.

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (NOVEMBER 2)

Speaking of movies plagued by behind the scenes interference, we have this high anticipated musical biopic about one of the greatest rock bands of all time.  The first major problem that this movie faced was the firing of it’s original director, Bryan Singer.  Singer’s departure was originally described as due to creative differences, but it’s since been hinted that the studio removed him from the project because of personal issues, many of which are not pretty damaging.  Whatever the case, actor Dexter Fletcher stepped in and directed the remainder of the film, though Singer still gets the full credit because of DGA rules.  The other behind the scenes issue that’s come to light is the alleged micro-managing that the surviving band members have been conducting during the making of this movie.  This includes their insistence on downplaying significant parts of their history, including front man Freddie Mercury’s homosexuality and his tragic battle with AIDS, which ultimately led to his untimely death.  This issue in particular led to actor Sasha Baron Cohen abandoning the role of Mercury early on, because he felt it was disrespectful to the icon’s memory.  All these backstage problems could potentially result in a disjointed and underwhelming film, which would be a shame given the subjects involved.  That being said, what does look promising is Rami Malek’s performance as Freddie Mercury.  Even if the rest of the movie suffers, it’s still likely that he will be a powerhouse in the role; potentially even Oscar worthy.  My hope is that the movie lives up to it’s potential and that all the problems behind the scenes doesn’t effect the power of this story and the image of it’s iconic subject.

MOVIES TO SKIP:

THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS (NOVEMBER 2)

Disney has been pretty hit or miss with their live action fantasies.  The ones that usually end up being the worst are the films that stress production design and costuming over story and emotion.  This retelling of the Nutcracker story, popularized in the Tchaikovsky ballet, looks like yet another over-produced mess in the same vein as Alice in Wonderland (2010), Maleficent (2014) and Beauty and the Beast (2017)all style and no substance.  The even more insulting aspect is the fact that the subtitle indicates that Disney expects this to do well enough to spawn a franchise.  I highly doubt that this will happen since I feel very little enthusiasm out there for exploring the world behind the story of the Nutcracker.  Even quality actors in the cast like Helen Mirren and Morgan Freeman doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence either, because all of them look lost and confused in the above trailer.  One sign of things being a little off is the fact that Disney had to switch directors halfway through production, with Joe Johnston taking over from Lasse Hallstrom.  That’s almost never a good sign, and as we saw with Solo: A Star Wars Story earlier this year, a change in the director’s chair won’t always fix a troubled movie.  I could be wrong, and this movie could turn out to be a visual, charming feast, but given the baggage that this movie is bringing along with it, we’re more likely to get sour berries than sugar plums this holiday season.

THE GRINCH (NOVEMBER 9)

You would think that Hollywood would learn that some stories are better told with brevity.  Dr. Seuss’ classic 1957 storybook is not a very long read, and was translated perfectly through animation by Chuck Jones with his 1966 holiday special, which ran at a very tight 25 minutes in length.  That would prove to be just the right amount of time with this story, because any attempts to bring it to feature length have proved disastrous.  Ron Howard’s 2000 film was an outright mess of a movie, filling the gaps inbetween Seuss’ text with a bunch of random filler that didn’t add anything  worthwhile and in some cases, particularly the crude humor and painfully unfunny schtick from Jim Carrey, were insulting to the tone of the original book.  But, that was live action; you would think that it might work better in animation.  Unfortunately, Illumination Animation’s upcoming adaptation looks like it’s straying even further from the source material.  Not once in the trailer do you hear anything  remotely close to Seuss’ distinctive, rhythmic style of writing, and instead recasts the iconic character into the same kind of situations that you would find in the studio’s marquee franchise, Despicable Me.  Illumination’s track record with Seuss adaptations, Horton Hears a Who (2008) and The Lorax (2012), has been pretty shoddy, so my guess is that this new take on the Grinch will likely fall under the already low bar.  I didn’t think you could do any worse than the 2000’s Grinch, but it appears that Illumination found a way.

ROBIN HOOD (NOVEMBER 21)

Did we really need another retelling of the legend of Robin Hood?  It was less than a decade ago that Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe took their shot at this age old story, and it failed miserably as well.  I would think that it could possibly work if the movie offered an interesting new spin on the tale, like Guy Ritchie take on Sherlock Holmes (2009).  But, sadly, this looks as generic as anything else in this tired genre.  Even Guy Ritchie couldn’t breathe new life into the medieval swashbuckler recently, as was the case with last year’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017), which this new Robin Hood bears an uncanny resemblance to in tone.  The one saving grace that could come from this movie is the cast, including rising star Taron Egerton in the title role, as well as convention breaking Jamie Foxx in the role of Little John.  But they will have to overcome quite a lot to pull this movie up in a time when audiences are frankly tired and disinterested in this kind of movie now.  There is such a thing as adapting a story that is too familiar, and the truth is there is nothing new that Robin Hood could bring us that we haven’t already seen a million times before.

So, there you have my outlook for the upcoming fall season in cinema.  Mostly, I focus on the expected blockbusters, but what is really special about the next few months is the unexpected surprises that emerge without much fanfare.  These are usually the movies put up for Awards consideration late in the season, and they usually don’t get talked about much until they suddenly appear on everyone’s radar.  More than likely, what might end up being the big awards favorite of the season is one that I would’ve never thought to have singled out for this preview, because it has either not been fully advertised yet, or it’s one that I don’t full know how to judge just yet.  It’s no surprise that the last few Best Picture winners have never shown up in any of my previews, and that’s because their momentum really ramps up further down the line.  Even still, with the movies I’ve spotlighted here, I hope that it helps make some of you aware of what to expect in the months ahead.  One interesting thing I noticed is the lack of a major entry from either Star Wars or Marvel, two of the brands that have dominated this season as of late.  For now, Marvel is keeping things tightly guarded until next year when Captain Marvel and the next Avengers are released, and Star Wars already filled the annual quota with Solo earlier this summer.  So the victors of this fall season will be very different than in years past; good news for DC and Aquaman.  Regardless of the results, I just hope that everyone has a great time at the movies in the next few months.  Whether it’s the weather or the elections that get you down in the following days, the warm embrace of a good movie is enough to lift us up, inspire us, and make us embrace the things that we love.

The Movies of Summer 2018

You’re probably thinking that this is a little early for my yearly summer preview.  We’re in the middle of April and the official start to the Summer movie season is still two weeks away.  Well you can thank Marvel for that.  Probably as a precaution to stay ahead of spoilers as they roll out their movie worldwide, Marvel decided to move up their premiere date for Avengers: Infinity War a week earlier than their usual first week of May window.  So, the summer’s most anticipated film, and probably the most anticipated movie of the year (let alone the decade), is now scheduled for the last week of April, which is usually a dead zone for movie releases.  Of course, Infinity War will change that easily with what is expected to be a record breaking weekend, but unfortunately, it changes my own schedule for articles on this blog.  For one thing, do I even still consider Infinity War a Summer movie at all, or a late Spring one?  Considering that the whole month of May is considered part of the Summer season according to Hollywood, I guess one extra week doesn’t change much at all.  Regardless, Marvel is going to build upon a year that they have already dominated up to now.  Black Panther now stands as the third highest grossing movie of all time, as well as the highest grossing super hero movie in general, which is all the more remarkable considering that it opened in February.  It once again shows that with the right amount of planning and hype (and a little luck) any part of the year can produce a record setting blockbuster film.  Even as Black Panther’s run is starting to finally settle, other movies are filling it’s place with some solid box office performance.  Recent hit A Quiet Place is demonstrating once again the consistent working model of low budget, smartly crafted horror movies generating strong box office returns.  Really, the only disappointments so far have been sequels like Pacific Rim: Uprising and reboots like Tomb Raider, which doesn’t bode well for an upcoming Summer season chock full of the same.

Like previous years, I will be breaking up this preview into three categories; the movies that I believe are must sees, the ones that have me worried, and the ones to skip entirely.  I will give my thoughts based on my own preconceptions of the movies based on the effectiveness of their marketing, as well as just my overall enthusiasm regarding each one.  Remember, I don’t always have the best batting average when it comes to handicapping these movies, so some of these movies may turn out to be better than I anticipated, or worse.  My hope is for the better.  I will also embed trailers to each film to give you a little visual sample of what I’m writing about as well.  So, without any more delay, here is my outlook for the movies of Summer 2018.

MUST SEES:

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (APRIL 27)

Like I stated earlier, the decision to move this movie’s release up a week creates a debate as to whether it is a Summer release or not.  Because I still want to spotlight this movie, I’m going to still classify it as a Summer release film, one because it’s Marvel, and two, we were already pushing the boundaries before by including the month of May.  And this isn’t just any Marvel movie; this is “THE” Marvel movie.  The one that all the others before it were leading up to.  The whole purpose of having the shared Marvel Cinematic Universe was to eventually have that one day when all the various pieces would come together as one into a single, giant sized event.  We got part of that with the first two Avengers flicks, but those team-ups will seem small when compared to this.  This movie is going to have every single established character that has appeared in the last 18 films made by the studio all sharing screen time together, and that alone makes this a historic production.  Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, and also the Guardians of the Galaxy, they are all here.  Needless to say, this is a movie that we’ve long awaited.  From the moment Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury showed up in Tony Stark’s compound and told him about the Avenger Initiative in the first Iron Man (2008), there has been a plan in place at Marvel Studios, further reinforced by the introductions of the all powerful Infinity Stones and the mad Titan searching the cosmos for them, Thanos (Josh Brolin).  Every Marvel movie up to now, even the recent Black Panther, has laid the groundwork for Infinity War to happen, and this comes as the culmination of 10 years worth of planning and execution that has yielded one of the most prolific franchises in movie history.  Let’s hope that this movie lives up to the unprecedented level of anticipation that proceeds it, and given Marvel’s record so far, it’s hard to think that they won’t have something special ready for us this year.  They are clearly confident enough to give it to us a week early so let’s assemble Avengers.

DEADPOOL 2 (MAY 18)

Speaking of Marvel super heroes, it’s time to revisit the “merc with the mouth.”  Deadpool 2 comes quickly on the heels of the surprise hit from 2016, with Ryan Reynolds once again returning to the role that he has made all his own.  The first Deadpool was a breath of fresh air in a genre that was starting to grow stale at the time, with it’s irreverant sense of humor and constant fourth wall breaks that really turned the super hero film on it’s head.  My hope is that the same crazy spirit that lifted the first movie will carry over into the second.  The trailers are already doing a good job of selling the humor in the new film, with jabs taken at everything from the X-Men franchise, to cinematic universes, to even The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2005).  Creative differences led to the original director Tim Miller leaving this project, but the reigns were given over to the team behind the thrilling John Wick franchise, so hopefully the movie is able to maintain a level of fun that feels consistent.  One major plus for this movie is the inclusion of the character Cable (Josh Brolin once again, who’s about to have one hell of a Summer season), who looks to be a great foil for Deadpool to work his looniness off of.  As I’ve written about the movie before in past reviews, Deadpool was a shot in the funny bone that the superhero genre desperately needed at the time, and it’s success has been definitely earned.  A sequel is definitely not out of the question, since there is so much more to lampoon in the genre going forward, and DP is sure to have plenty more adventures to come, which should become interesting once Fox is incorporated into Disney, and Deadpool has the opportunity to finally mingle with all of Marvel’s other characters, whether they like it or not.

INCREDIBLES 2 (JUNE 15)

Sticking with this Summer’s notable streak of super hero movies, we finally have the long awaited sequel to Pixar’s Oscar-winning classic, The Incredibles.  Incredibles 2 comes to the big screen after a 14 year gap, the longest so far in Pixar history, narrowly eclipsing Finding Dory’s 13 years.  Pixar takes their time to revisit their past successes, but when they do, it usually is worth the wait.  The positive thing going for this sequel is that it sees the return of director Brad Bird to the world of animation, after a decade long side track into live action film-making which garnered mixed results; the thrilling Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011) and the underwhelming Tomorrowland (2015).  Here he gets to revisit the narrative that turned him into a household name in the first place, and share the continuing adventures of the super powered Parr family.  A lot of fans have said for a long time that if there was ever a Pixar movie that was deserving of a sequel, this was the one, and thankfully the studio has finally got around to it.  The premise seems to be a worthy follow-up to the original, with both Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl trying their best to live a normal domestic life while at the same time trying to save the world as super heroes do.  This time around, we find Mr. Incredible left with the responsibility of running the household on his own, which should lead to some very funny situations, especially with baby Jack-Jack’s out of control powers becoming a problem.  Couple that with new villains and returning allies like Samuel L. Jackson’s ultra-cool Frozone, and this should be as thrilling a ride as the original was.  Let’s just hope that even after 14 years, this movie is still able to find the heart that made the first one so endearing, which shouldn’t be too hard as Pixar is renowned for it’s ability to constantly play to the best of our emotions.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT (JULY 27)

Stepping away from super heroes for a moment, let’s take a look at another franchise that has shown some remarkable legs for so many years.  This sixth entry into the Mission Impossible franchise returns Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt back into another harrowing mission to save the world, only this one might be his last.  Cruise has always demonstrated a sense of fearlessness in most of his movies, often choosing to perform his own stunts most of the time, and the Mission Impossible movies are where he likes to show off his skills the most.  And Tom Cruise need to return to favorable ground after the disaster that was The Mummy last year.  The series has recently seen a bit of a resurgence thanks to the success of critically acclaimed entries like Ghost Protocol (2011) and Rogue Nation (2015).  Fallout seems to be closing up this second trilogy by picking up right where Rogue Nation left off, and seeming to hint that many of the dangling story-lines surrounding Mr. Hunt are about to be closed for good.  It’s hard to say if this is Tom Cruise’s last go around, but he certainly looks to still be in top form again here.  It’s clear that these Mission impossible movies are his favorites among all the action films he’s made, and in particular, he really likes to use them as a showcase for some truly insane stunt work.  It’ll be hard to top climbing the Burj Khalifa or riding on the outside of real plane on take off from the previous films, but Cruise notably did break his ankle for real on one stunt for this movie, showing that he indeed is not willing to slow down.  His regular team mates also return, including Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg, though notably the film is missing Jeremy Renner (who was probably busy on Infinity War).  Thankfully, Man of Steel’s Henry Cavill seems to be filling this gap effectively.  Let’s hope that even after 6 total films that this is still a mission worth accepting.

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (JULY 6)

Now it’s back to super heroes again.  What can I say, Marvel is having a banner year with Black Panther and Infinity War, so it feels right to feel optimistic about anything they put out right now.  The first Ant-Man overcame a troubled production that saw the departure of it’s original director, Edgar Wright, and ended up becoming a modest success in the end.  Though far from Marvel’s best work to date, Ant-Man still managed to do just enough right in order to warrant a sequel.  It’s a bold move to make this their follow-up to Infinity War for this summer, but hopefully it’s a sign that Marvel has confidence in their little hero.  One notable thing about this sequel is that it finally introduces the Wasp into the Marvel universe, played here by Evangeline Lilly, who is a long time fan favorite from the comic books.  Paul Rudd of course returns as the titular Ant-Man, and his character was no doubt boosted by his very beloved cameo in Captain America: Civil War (2016), which introduced his Giant Man phase in spectacular fashion.  Not much else is known about this movie apart from what the trailer has shown us, but it looks like they are playing around with the size changing mechanics a whole lot more, which could be interesting to see play out.  I also like seeing Michael Douglas returning in the mentor role of original Ant-Man Hank Pym, and the revelation that the original Wasp is also going to factor into the story, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, is also something worth getting excited about.  Without a troubled production this time around to weigh the release down, Ant-Man and the Wasp is hopefully one more Marvel sequel that builds upon an already good thing.

MOVIES THAT HAVE ME WORRIED:

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (MAY 25)

What’s there to really worry about with a new Star Wars movie.  The world’s most popular film franchise is enjoying a Renaissance period right now, with The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and The Last Jedi all becoming enormous box office successes.  And this new film is focused on one of the series’ most popular characters, delving finally into his mostly mysterious backstory.  So, why am I worried about this one.  Well, sadly this movie has been plagued by nothing but bad press for the last couple of years; pretty much from the time the movie started production.  The original directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie), were let go after a creative dispute over the tone of the movie with Lucasfilm worrying that it strayed too far from the Star Wars formula.  The casting of relative newcomer Alden Ehrenreich in the iconic role of Han Solo also left many people scratching their heads, since he doesn’t really look or sound anywhere close to Harrison Ford.  Couple this with many expensive 11th hour re-shoots and many people are worrying that this might be the movie that derails the resurgence that the franchise has enjoyed these last couple years.   The prospects don’t look good for the movie, but then again the Star Wars name will still help it make a lot of money.  It’s the worry that the movie may tarnish that same name in the process that still hangs heavy over it.  The plus side is that veteran director Ron Howard is helping to guide this movie past the finish line, and the film does have an impressive cast besides Ehrenreich that will be interesting to watch, like Woody Harrelson and Game of Thrones Emilia Clarke.  Most people are excited to see a return to the big screen for fan favorite Lando Calrissian, with Donald Glover filling Billy Dee Williams big shoes.  It remains to be seen if this movie can pull off a comeback and continue the Star Wars hot streak, but more than any film in this series before, this is the one that has to clear the most roadblocks.

SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO (JUNE 29)

The sad thing about sleeper hits in Hollywood is that it makes studios believe that they can turn what little success they got into bigger success by franchising something that wasn’t really built for a franchise.  The first Sicario (2015) was a brilliant and taut thriller that ended up making it’s way to the top of my best of the year list for that year.  But, it was a movie that was more about it’s characters than the subject matter and the setting, that being the border drug war between Mexican cartels and the Feds of the United States, and the movie concluded on such a perfect note that any more to the story would have diluted the power of everything that came before.  But, it appears that Sony believes there is more to mine out of this property, and have manufactured a sequel without the original director (Denis Villeneuve) and with far more emphasis on the action set pieces.  My worry is that the movie is going to forget what made the original so perfect, which was largely the level of restraint that Villeneuve utilized to maximize the impact of the brief action sequences, and instead just turn this into another generic and bloated action movie that contains lots of violence and no soul.  Then again, there are some positives that do still intrigue me about this sequel.  Despite loosing the director, the movie does retain the original screenwriter (Taylor Sheridan), who since writing Sicario has been on a role with other acclaimed scripts like Hell or High Water (2016) and Wind River (2017).  Stars Josh Brolin (again) and Benicio del Toro are also returning, and Del Toro’s return is crucial, because his character from the original is one of my favorite movie characters in recent memory.  Hopefully, this is more than just a studio cash grab and that it’s able to live up to it’s exceptional predecessor, but even still, we’ve seen Hollywood indulge too much in a good thing before, and ended up spoiling something special in the process.  I just don’t want to see that happen to Sicario too.

JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM (JUNE 22)

A couple years ago, I also included the first Jurassic World in my “worry” list, believing that it was going to be just another lame studio reboot of an already diminished franchise.  Surprisingly, I found myself actually liking the movie in the end.  While it was no where near as good as Spielberg’s 1993 original classic, it was still the best Jurassic Park sequel that we had yet seen, and it did spectacularly well at the box office, becoming one of the highest grossing movies of all time.  So, naturally there is going to be a sequel, as Universal is striking while the iron is still hot.  But, given how much Jurassic World was already stretching the franchise thin by rehashing already overused tropes that were already established in previous films, it really leaves you wondering what else the franchise still has left to offer.  The trailer unfortunately shows a whole bunch of story-lines being crammed together; a volcanic catastrophe, dinosaurs getting sold at auction, genetic experimentation gone wrong, and it just makes it look like this movie might turn into one confused and jumbled mess.  The already thinly drawn characters from World are returning, but Chris Pratt’s star power could help make his scenes at least enjoyable.  Also I cringe at the pandering inclusion of Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Ian Malcolm as a means of tying this film in with the original.  At least the studio brought on a legit good director to guide this sequel with J. A . Bayona, who made my top film of 2016 (A Monster Calls).  My hope is that he can bring something worthwhile out of this, but considering that I’m getting some strong The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) vibes from this trailer (which is the worst film in the series), I am once again worried about where this franchise is headed.

CHRISTOPHER ROBIN (AUGUST 3)

This is an unusual Summer release.  If you’ve been reading my blog these last few years, you’ll know that I have mixed feelings with regards to Disney’s recent frenzy of live action remakes of their classic animated films.  I liked Cinderella (2015) and Pete’s Dragon (2016) quite a bit, and I tolerated most of The Jungle Book (2016), but I hated Maleficent (2014) and absolutely loathed last year’s Beauty and the Beast.  So you can understand why I might be a little weary of a live action movie centered around Winnie the Pooh.  Now, to be fair, this is less of remake and more of a re-imagining.  The story shows the titular Christopher Robin now fully grown up and with a family of his own being revisited by Pooh after who knows how many years.  There could be some interesting story possibilities to mine out of this scenario, especially with how different Christopher must seem to Pooh as an adult and how that might clash with the bear’s view of the world.  The danger is that, like most of Disney’s other recent remakes, the filmmakers might end up mining too much from the original animated cartoons hoping to capitalize on our familiarity instead of forging new ground and creating something original that can stand on it’s own.  The fact that this is a more or less original story is a positive sign, but there’s not much else that this trailer is telling us.  The movie can’t just rest on a saccharine sweet reunion between old friends; there should be some pathos there as well.  I’m not going into this movie expecting to hate it, but it’s got to show me that there’s a justification for a new take on Winnie the Pooh on the big screen.  Some reverence for the past is fine, and I like the fact that they retained long time voice actor Jim Cummings in the role of Pooh, but like most other movies, it’s best when we are treated to something new.

MOVIES TO SKIP:

MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN (JULY 20)

Seriously, a sequel to Mamma Mia (2008).  The original was already one of the most critically panned musicals to come out in the last decade; why bother making another?  Sure it has a fan base, but not a very big one.  Not only that, but the sequel leaves out one of the biggest drawing factors of the first movie, which was Meryl Streep in the headlining role.  Her character is deceased this time around, leaving a big hole in an already sunken pit.  If you can’t tell, I’m not a fan of this musical or movie.  What may have played well on the stage died horribly in a lamely executed film adaptation, even with Meryl’s participation.  Without her returning (at least in a lead role), what else is there to be excited for in this film.  The real kicker though is that it’s clear that the filmmakers are so devoid of new directions for this story that they are just going back in time and showing us the origins of Meryl’s character, played by Cinderella’s Lily James in flashbacks.   I was probably never going to see this movie at all to begin with, but my hope is that even those of you out there with any bit of curiosity will take a long look at this sequel and recognize that it is a studio cash grab and nothing more.  At a time when movie musicals are struggling and needing a La La Land (2016) like reinvention, the last thing we need is a franchise that’s just rehashing old tracks like an overused karaoke machine, which this movie very clearly is.

ALPHA (AUGUST 17)

Not only does this movie have the disadvantage of having one of the most overplayed movie trailers in the last year, due to the fact that it’s release has been pushed back numerous times, but it also has to put up with the controversy surrounding it’s casting choices.  Hollywood is already facing backlash in many instances of white-washing their films by casting white actors in roles meant for minorities, and here we have a big budget studio film that again falls into that same misguided territory.  The movie is set thousands of years ago during the last ice age, and shows the beginnings of what would be the domestication of canines as companions for early humans.  The premise could be intriguing, but you can’t help but be distracted by the fact that the human characters, who are supposed to be indigenous tribal people, are all being played by Caucasian actors.  Now, the movie could get around that fact by placing their setting in a prehistoric Eurasian context, but the inclusion of creature that are native to North America like buffaloes indicates that this casting is clearly out of line with real history, and again shows Hollywood’s reluctance to extend representation to Native performers in many mainstream films.  Even apart from this controversy, the movie just looks bland, especially compared to other recent survival in the wild films like the more visually interesting The Revenant (2015).  The fact that the studio has had trouble finding an appropriate release date shows that there isn’t much to hope for with this one.

TAG (JUNE 15)

I originally thought that this trailer was a joke, like that fake Crocodile Dundee reboot staring Danny McBride that turned out to just be an ad for Australian tourism.  But, no, this is an honest to goodness real movie, and I honestly would rather watch another Crocodile Dundee.   We’re seriously so devoid of new ideas that Hollywood is now making an action comedy based around the game of tag.  Sure, the cast that includes Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Ed Helms, and Hannibal Buress is impressive, but I just can’t get over the lameness of the premise.  It’s not a good sign when the movie’s tagline states, “we’re not kidding” showing that even they know that this is a hard sell.  The trailer doesn’t give me a lot of confidence either.  It seems like they are trying to aim for a Wedding Crashers (2005) or The Hangover (2008) kind of vibe here, but those movies had more of a grounded reality to them to make their hi-jinks funny.  Here, you have to swallow a lot of disbelief to think that a game of tag has these kind of stakes to it.  And yeah, I know that it’s supposed to be based on a true story, but even with that, this look less like a fun romp and more like a ploy for cheap laughs.  I’m far less inclined to believe that this movie will tag me with a surprising amount of laughs, and I’ll more than likely want to avoid the game altogether.

So, there you have my look at this Summer’s upcoming releases.  Surprisingly, this is kind of a soft field for what is typically a packed season.  It’s like everyone is steering clear of big hitters like Infinity War and Incredibles 2, with large gaps of several weeks filled with not much other than smaller indies and standard studio fillers.   The month of August in particular is devoid of any real buzz-worthy tent-pole films, which is surprising given how recent movies like Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and Suicide Squad (2016) have shown it to be fertile ground too.  Is this a sign that Hollywood is not as enamored with the Summer months like they used to be, considering that blockbuster films are now appearing in all parts of the year?  It might be more likely that this Summer season is just a little less full than past years, as it’s been shown that packing a blockbuster into every week of the season isn’t going to necessarily generate record breaking results.  Next year could be very different, depending on what moves the studios make based on this year.  The unexpected success of Spring and Winter films is certainly having an impact, and parts of the year that looked like the only place to gain box office traction once may not be seen as such in today’s market.  But, even still, a monster production like Avengers: Infinity War is still going to set many Summer season box office records without any doubt, and several other films this Summer, like Incredibles and Jurassic World will also likely hit it big.  So, even though it starts earlier than usual, thanks to Marvel, this should still be a typically strong summer, and I’m happy to have shared my thoughts with you about it, even as they come earlier than normal.  Here’s to sun and fun at the movies these next few months.

The 2018 Oscars – Picks and Thoughts

This year’s Academy Awards follows up what many would consider one of the most tumultuous in the history of the industry.  Forget about the winners and losers at the box office, what really shook the walls of Hollywood was the far reaching scandals that dominated much of the headlines.  Numerous careers, including some high profile power players in Hollywood, were destroyed overnight and for a lot of them, it was for a good reason.  2017 was a year of reckoning for Hollywood after many years of trying to keep things under wraps and just moving on like it’s nothing.  No doubt it has left a deep impact on the entertainment business, and there were plenty of casualties along the way (for good and bad), but the conversation needed to be made and change had to happen.  This Oscar’s, we will hopefully be witnessed to a more aware and responsible Hollywood, and the controversy will certainly be touched upon over the course of the evening, as previous award shows this season have shown.  It remains to be seen if those same feelings manifest in the way that the Academy voters have cast their ballots this year.  There certainly are a number of movies nominated this year that hit on topical social issues, like Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Steven Spielberg’s The Post, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird, Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name, and most certainly Jordan Peele’s Get Out.  But what I find fascinating about this line up of Best Picture nominees is how it demonstrates clearly something that  discussed in last week’s article, which is the growing divide between old Hollywood and new Hollywood.  In the 9 nominees, you can see choices that represent the previous held notions of what traditionally makes up an Oscar film (Dunkirk, Darkest Hour, The Post, Phantom Thread) and choices that contradict the traditional notions (Call Me by Your Name, Get Out, Lady Bird, The Shape of Water, and Three Billboards).  As a result, we now have one of the least predictable Best Picture lineups in recent history, and as last year has shown, it’s anybody’s race.

As in previous years, I will be taking a look at the top categories of Adapted Screenplay, Orignal Screenplay, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Actor, Actress, Director and Best Picture.  I will argue my choices for who will likely win and who I would like to see win, which sometimes lines up.  And with that, let’s take a look at this year’s nominees.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Nominees: James Ivory (Call Me by Your Name); Scott Frank, James Mangold and Michael Green (Logan); Aaron Sorkin (Molly’s Game); Dee Rees and Virgil Williams (Mudbound); and Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (The Disaster Artist)

This is the perhaps the most interestingly diverse category at this year’s Oscars; at least in terms of the movies represented.  You have a historical, literary adaptation in Mudbound, a memoir adaptation that is loosely tied to it’s source and might have well been an original screenplay if it weren’t based on real life like Molly’s Game, a farcical retelling of the making of the worst movie ever with The Disaster Artist, a tender queer romance with Call Me by Your Name, and even a comic book adaptation with Logan.  While many of these nominees are commendable for a variety of reasons, and I’m especially happy to see a little love sent The Disaster Artist’s way after being snubbed in other categories, this category is leaning very clearly towards a particular favorite.  Call Me by Your Name has emerged as the front runner and it’s hard to argue.  It handles it’s subject matter in such a delicate way and gives it a universal resonance for today that I don’t think it would have had at any other time.  Couple this with the fact that the script was written by a living legend in Hollywood who has yet to win an Oscar.  89 year old James Ivory is best known as one half of the Merchant Ivory team that made a name for itself creating lush period dramas that were particularly popular with Oscar voters in the past, such as A Room with a View (1986), Howard’s End (1992) and The Remains of the Day (1993).  Though retired from directing, Ivory still managed to craft an exceptional screenplay with a tender love story between two men at it’s center that really feels remarkably in tune for our times.  I still find it subversively delightful that someone close to 90 years of age sat down and wrote out the now notorious “peach scene” into a script.  It’s a long overdue honor for a legendary filmmaker and deserving given how well it hits a cultural nerve for today’s audiences.

Who Will Win: James Ivory, Call Me by Your Name

Who Should Win: James Ivory, Call Me by Your Name

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Nominees: Jordon Peele (Get Out); Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird); Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon (The Big Sick); Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor (The Shape of Water); Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

This category more or less falls into line with the usual suspects as opposed to this year’s adapted nominees.  Though diverse in genre, all the movies here have one thing in common, which is that they are all personal creations from each of their creators.  Whether they are semi-autobiographical like The Big Sick or Lady Bird, or making a bold statement like Get Out or Three Billboards, or is a passion project from an acclaimed auteur like The Shape of Water, each one has a clear personal story attached to it.  This is also the category where the Academy is likely going to make it’s own acknowledgement of the cultural issues of the day.  With that in mind it’s likely that Three Billboards and Get Out are the movies that have the best chance of winning in this field.  But, which issue wins out in the end.  Get Out delivers a daring message about race relations in America that takes left turns that you probably would’ve never expected and is certainly on a structural aspect the most original script in this bunch.  But Three Billboards tackling of sensitive issues like sexual abuse, freedom of expression, and gender discrimination make it a far more timely film in this category.  While Martin McDonagh’s screenplay is delightfully un-PC and thoroughly original in concept, his handling of these touchy issues is somewhat less graceful, and it makes me think that Jordan Peele has the edge here with his more on-point Get Out.  And while I do admire the work that both men put into their writing, my own personal preference goes to Greta Gerwig’s more subtle work with Lady Bird.  With her screenplay, Gerwig delivers one of the most natural feeling character studies in recent memories.  All the other nominees are driven more by their well designed plots, but Gerwig paints a portrait, transporting us into her character’s lives and letting us feel at home with them.  It’s the least “movie” script of the bunch and that’s why I like it the best of the bunch, even if it’s chances are slim.

Who Will Win: Jordan Peele, Get Out

Who Should Win: Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Nominees: Allison Janney (I, Tonya); Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird); Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread); Mary J. Blige (Mudbound); and Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water)

The Supporting Actress category is an interesting line-up this year because of the pedigree involved.  Usually this award is distinguished by a collection of up-and-coming talent or by standout performances from seasoned veterans.  This year is interesting, because apart from previous winner Octavia Spencer, the category is filled with first time nominees who have been noteworthy in places other than the big screen.  Lesley Manville, a mainstay in her native England both on stage and in indie dramas, delivered a standout performance in Phantom Thread, managing to even upstage Daniel Day-Lewis at some points remarkably.  And R&B recording artist Mary J. Blige managed to earn an acting nod for her tender work in Mudbound, while also getting a Best Song nod at the same time (an Oscar first).  But, it’s a pair of two acclaimed TV veterans that are leading the pack this year; Allison Janney and Laurie Metcalf.  Allison Janney, a multi-Emmy winner for her work on The West Wing series has emerged as a front runner, playing the very rough edged mother of Tonya Harding in I, Tonya.  It’s a showy performance that allows Janney to chew as much scenery as she desires and still feel genuine to the role.  There’s no doubt that Allison makes the best out of the role and she is a delight to watch in the movie; especially when she’s interacting with a pet parakeet on her shoulder.  However, it’s Laurie Metcalf’s more reserved performance as another cinematic mother that won me over more this year.  Her performance as the over-bearing, but dedicated mom to the Saoirse Ronan’s titular character in Lady Bird is a beautiful representation of every nuanced acting ability that Metcalf has honed on television ever since her early Roseanne days and forward.  While it is a close call, I think that Allison Janney’s more bombastic performance probably appealed more to Academy voters and that’s while she’ll win, although Metcalf’s long esteemed body of work might make a good case for her as well.

Who Will Win: Allison Janney, I, Tonya

Who Should Win: Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Nominees: Christopher Plummer (All the Money in the World); Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water); Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri); Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project); and Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

The most striking thing about this category was the surprise inclusion of Christopher Plummer for his performance as J. Paul Getty in Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World.  For those who followed industry news last year, it was widely publicized that Ridley Scott re-shot multiple sections of his movie in order to remove disgraced actor Kevin Spacey from the role of Getty and replace him with Plummer instead.  Even more amazing was the fact that it was done only a month away from the film’s premiere date.  So, it is quite shocking to see such a late addition to a movie earn recognition from the Academy.  I like to think that Plummer is just that good of an actor, but I think his nomination has more to do with the story behind his casting.  Even still, he is highly unlikely to win this year.  For right now, early predictions put Sam Rockwell at the head of the pack, with his acclaimed but also controversial role as a racist cop seeking redemption in Three Billboards.  Rockwell is a highly respected actor in Hollywood, having worked in a variety of beloved roles over the years, without ever getting recognition from the Academy.  This year seems set to rectify that, but controversy over the movie’s handling of his character has raised questions leading up to the rewards.  The character’s problematic racism is never really addressed in a meaningful way in the film, and that’s making a lot of critics unsettled with honoring it with an Oscar win.  But, I would argue that it’s a fault of the screenplay and not the actor, who still delivers a strong, nuanced performance.  But, as much as I like Rockwell, my personal favorite is Willem Dafoe in the criminally underappreciated The Florida Project.  I want this beautiful, little seen film to have some recognition, and Dafoe’s exceptional performance as a downtrodden hotel manager is the only shot it has.  Rockwell will probably still be victorious, but a surprise win for Dafoe would delight me to no end, and would be very much deserved.

Who Will Win: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Who Should Win: Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project

BEST ACTRESS

Nominees: Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri); Margot Robbie (I, Tonya); Meryl Streep (The Post); Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water); Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird)

One question has undoubtedly arisen ever since the beginning of this year’s Oscar season; can anyone beat Frances McDormand for Best Actress?  Perhaps the biggest lock of this year’s nominees, McDormand looks almost certain to win her second career Academy Award in this category; the first of course for her now iconic performance in the Coen Brothers’ masterpiece, Fargo (1996).  And it is a win that she by all means will have earned.  From the first moment we saw the trailer for Three Billboards, it was clear that this was a role tailor made for Frances to knock it out of the park, and that she did.  She perfectly balances the emotional toil that her infuriated maternal figure goes through along with the laugh out loud “give ’em hell” in-your-face personality.  It’s hard to balance comedy and tragedy in a single role, and Frances McDormand does it so effortlessly.  Among the other nominees, I can’t see any other that quite rises to that same level, despite all of them being very good.  Margot Robbie’s very physical performance as disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding is a definite standout, and any other year, she would be a runaway favorite.  Another strong contender is Sally Hawkins who delivers a passionate and completely wordless performance as the mute female lead of The Shape of Water.  Her character is probably the most nuanced of the group, because there are so many layers of performance that she has to work through, and she makes a tremendous transformation in the process.  But, it’s hard to ignore the force of Frances McDormand’s work this year and I believe that the Academy will feel that same way.  She is a beloved part of the acting community and her performance in Three Billboards is without a doubt one of the greatest of her esteemed career, almost guaranteeing her a second career award.

Who Will Win: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Who Should Win: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BEST ACTOR

Nominees: Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread); Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out); Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.); Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour); and Timothee Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name)

 On the surface, this would look like another category that appears locked up, but maybe not as much as Frances McDormand for Best Actress.  For right now, the favorite to win is Gary Oldman for his role as legendary British national figure Winston Churchill.  The chameleon like actor has made a name for himself playing a wide variety of roles where he completely disappears into character and can play just about everyone and everything.  His performance as Churchill is no exception, and frankly shows the actor at his very best.  Even through the heavily applied make-up to transform him closer to the famously rotund world leader, he still gives off a commanding presence helping his performance feel authentic and true to the real person.  He chews the scenery in the best way possible and has a magnetic pressence in every scene he is in.  It’s hard to believe that such an esteemed and multi-faceted actor like Oldman is coming into this Awards with only his second nomination ever (the first being for 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy).  It feels like this is both an acknowledgement of his whole body of work thus far, as well a honor given to the strength of the performance itself.  The only thing that I can see spoiling Gary Oldman’s win is a possible upset by young, up-and-comer Timothee Chalamet.  The Academy does love honoring a breakthrough performance every now and then, and Chalamet’s heartfelt work in Call Me by Your Name feels like something that appeals to the Academy.  It’s not the first time that the Oscars went with a newcomer over an established veteran who was long overdue (2014’s Best Actor category for example, where Eddie Redmayne won over Michael Keaton).  But, despite how strong and deserving Chalamet may be in this category, it seems unlikely that the Academy will miss this oppurtunity to honor Oldman with a long overdue award.  Chalamet still has a long career ahead of him, and a nomination this year itself is going to lead to a lot of bigger and better things.

Who Will Win: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Who Should Win: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

BEST DIRECTOR

Nominees: Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk); Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird); Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water); Jordan Peele (Get Out); and Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread)

This is a difficult category for me to make a personal choice for.  The front-runners, Christopher Nolan and Guillermo del Toro, are two of my favorite working directors and they just so happened to direct my top two favorite movies of last year.  It’s also remarkable that it took the Academy this long to finally give them a nomination despite their exceptional bodies of work even before this year.  Nolan in particular was often seen as the poster boy for being criminally overlooked by the Academy after snubs for his acclaimed work on The Dark Knight (2008) and Inception (2010).  The category this year is especially significant for being filled with many first time nominees, with only Paul Thomas Anderson being the one who has been here before.  Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig both received deserved nominations for their first ever films as directors, but this is a year where that still favors more established creators.  Guillermo del Toro seems to have the edge with his previous wins at the Golden Globes and Driectors Guild, both clear bell-weather precursors to an Oscar win.  But, I think that Christopher Nolan’s work in Dunkirk could manage an upset victory in the end, because his film is probably the best showcase of the craft of directing in this category.  Dunkirk is a tour de force of filmmaking from beggining to end, showing off really the pinnacle of what the medium of film can do with so many in camera tricks accomplished without the aide of visual effects.  Given that the category of Directing is voted upon for the most part by other directors, it would seem hard to ignore what Nolan accomplished with Dunkirk.  But, even still, Del Toro has already built up a steady lead with his wins so far, and if he wins, it is not undeserving either.  The Shape of Water is a purely Del Toro film, carrying all the trademark elements that he has refined throughout his celebrated career and it would be very pleasing to see the Academy recognize that as well.  Regardless of who wins, it will be a deserving honor for one of the industry’s best talents working today.

Who Will Win: Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

Who Should Win: Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk

BEST PICTURE

Nominees Call Me by Your Names; Darkest Hour; Dunkirk; Get Out; Lady Bird; Phantom Thread; The Post; The Shape of Water; and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

This is a significantly different year than what we saw at the last Oscars.  It seemed like the Best Picture of 2016 was without a doubt going to be the heavily favored La La Land, until it wasn’t.  That unpredictable result seems to have cast a shadow over this year’s nominees, because everyone now seems weary of picking an outright favorite now that it’s possible that anything can win.  There are some that are certainly rising to the top more than others, but it seems like every week since the nominations were announced there is a new front runner emerging.  To complicate things, people are also trying to make sense of this year’s race by returning to previous established notions of the Academy.  Some say The Shape of Water is the favorite because it has the most nominations, but recent years have shown that not to be a guarantee.  Three Billboards won the SAG ensemble award, and because most Academy members are actors, it must be the favorite, but that’s not always true either.  Then there’s Get Out, which some people might think has a definite chance because it’s message is timely and the Academy likes to make a have something to say about the current political climate.  But, as I wrote in last weeks article, the Academy has a strange way of changing it’s attitude towards previously conceived notions of itself and going in a wildly different direction than we expected.  That’s why there is no clear front-runner this year and this is really an Award up for grabs.  My own choice of course would be the movie that I picked as my favorite of the year, Dunkirk, which could possibly sneak in there and win too, despite the fact that it would appear the safest choice in the group.  It helps to have a lot of other wins in the lower categories too, which could help Dunkirk, but the movie that is in better position to sweep through multiple awards is The Shape of Water.  A win for that too wouldn’t upset me, because it was my second favorite film of the year, and it would be a deserved victory for genre flicks, which the Academy tends to ignore.  But, we at this point have no choice but to guess which way the Academy will go.  My guess is that Del Toro’s certain win for Directing will help carry The Shape of Water past the goal line, but anyone’s guess right now is as good as mine.

Who Will Win: The Shape of Water

Who Should Win: Dunkirk

In addition to looking over the top categories of the year, here is my quick rundown of the remaining categories at this year’s ceremony, with my picks:

Best Animated Film: CocoBest Cinematography: DunkirkBest Costume Design: Phantom ThreadBest Sound Mixing: Dunkirk; Best Film EditingDunkirkBest Sound Editing: DunkirkBest Visual Effects: War for the Planet of the Apes; Best Make-up an Hairstyling: Darkest HourBest Production Design: The Shape of Water; Best Original Song: “Remember Me” from CocoBest Musical Score: The Shape of WaterBest Documentary: Faces PlacesBest Foreign Language Film: The SquareBest Documentary Short: Heroin(e); Best Live Action Short: DeKalb Elementary; Best Animated Short: Dear Basketball

So there are my picks for this year’s Academy Awards.  At the end of a tumultuous year that we witnessed in Hollywood, it seems only fitting that the year end Awards accolades should also reflect that same kind of level of uncertainty.   What pleases me is that the Academy is making an effort to really broaden it’s perspective and favor some not so easy choices for awards consideration now.  I don’t think that movies like Get Out or Lady Bird would’ve ever made the cut in previous years, and the embrace of more genre flicks like The Shape of Water is a good sign of the Academy waking up to broader cinematic voices.  Even with all that said, my personal favorite is unfortunately the most typical “Oscar-friendly” film in the bunch.  Dunkirk certainly falls into the historical epic category that the Oscars have always fawned over, but it’s a changing world and something like it, which would have been a clear front-runner before, now seems to be almost too safe.  Regardless, the Academy is making the right move in bringing in more diverse voices into their membership, and that is helping to make it possible for more daring and groundbreaking movies to get the recognition they deserve.  Whether or not this year is a reflection of change in the Academy, we’ll have to wait and see, but even still, there will be a lot of deserving winners at this year’s Awards. There’s not a single movie in the Best Picture category that I didn’t like, which is a good sign, and 6 of the 9 made my top 10 list for last year.  I hope that my favorite film can pull through and win, but I’m used to seeing that not be the case.  And usually it won’t matter in the end, because great movies live on forever, while Oscar wins usually tend to be forgotten.  The Oscars are more or less a grade card for the industry over the previous year in film, and with that, it acts as a fascinating documentation of where our culture stands at the moment, and provides a fascinating snapshot of Hollywood that we can look back on years from now.  That’s why I love the Oscars so much as a film history buff, and it’ll keep me coming back to it year after year.

The Movies of Early 2018

With 2017 coming to a close, I find that something interesting has happened over the course of the last year in the film industry.  I’m not talking about the rampant sexual abuse scandals that have come to light, nor the fact that Disney is buying up everything in Hollywood.  No, what fascinated me this year is how we’ve seen a dramatic change in box office patterns from season to season.  The summer, traditionally the biggest box office period of the year, saw it’s worst season in a decade this last year.  But at the same time, we saw record breaking numbers happen in what is traditionally the off season, particularly the spring.  Riding the wave of surprise hits like M. Night Shaymalan’s Split, Jordan Peele’s Get Out, and the second chapter of the John Wick franchise, late Winter and early Spring of 2017 gave the year an enormous head start that helped to soften the blow of the disappointing summer.  Couple this with a strong March, which is typically a strong month for early box office, we soon learned that the first quarter of the year no longer is a dumping ground for Hollywood’s leftovers, but instead could be a season that could hold it’s own against the rest of the year.  And looking ahead at the releases coming up at the beginning of 2018, I think that it is worth it to take a look at what’s to come just like I have for the last few years with Summer and Fall releases.  So, this is my first ever look at the movies of Winter and Spring 2018.  Considering that the next four months leading up to Summer covers two seasons, I’m calling this Early 2018, since that covers the entire block of releases into one category.

Like previous previous that I have written, I will be taking a look at the movies that I think are the Must Sees, the ones that have me worried, and the ones that I believe are worth skipping.  I have also included links to trailers above each preview, allowing all of you to get a sense of the movies being discussed.  Keep in mind, these are just my early impressions, based on my level of anticipation for each movie.  I have been known to handicap some movies incorrectly based on first impressions before, so don’t feel like these are absolute infalible opinions.  Pretty much I am basing my thoughts on how well these movies are being marketed, as well as my own personal enthusiasm for what they are bringing to the table in the cinemas this upcoming season.  So, with all that established, let’s now take a look at the films of Early 2018.

MUST SEES:

READY PLAYER ONE (MARCH 30)

No director has shaped pop culture more in the last half century than Steven Spielberg.  The creator of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Jurassic Park (1993) has left so many cultural touchstones behind that have become sacred to film nerds and casual viewers all over the world.  But, the couple decades have found Spielberg working more comfortably in a different field of cinema, that being the historical dramas, which also display his remarkable talent as a filmmaker.  Many of his fans do appreciate his recent work, but many also want to see the Spielberg of old return and deliver a rousing, blockbuster adventure the likes of which they had grown up with.  And while he tried to return to that mode slightly with 2016’s The BFGReady Player One seems to be a far more ambitious return to form for Spielberg.  This inter-textual, nostalgia heavy action thriller is adapted from the novel of the same name by author Ernest Cline (who also co-adapts the screenplay), and it’s no surprise that Cline’s novel pays tribute to all things pop culture; from movies, video games, television, you name it.  So it’s only fitting that this ode to our childhood nostalgia should be brought to the big screen by one of the architects of so much of our childhood.  It’s certainly been a while since we’ve seen something this playful from Spielberg, and my hope is that the legendary director lets loose with this one.  Releasing mere months after his most recent flick The Post (which was remarkably shot, edited and released after he finished shooting Ready Player One) it really shows just how unparalleled he is as a film-making machine.  If anything, One is a movie that not only demonstrates a return to the director’s playful side, but also a thorough acknowledgement of the impact he has left behind on all of cinema, and my hope is that it will be a rousing celebration of both in the end.

BLACK PANTHER (FEBRUARY 16)

Of course, I can’t spotlight an upcoming release calendar without talking about what Marvel Studios has for us next.  After making his memorable debut in Captain America: Civil War (2016), King T’Challa of Wakanda (better known as the superhero Black Panther) finally gets his own movie, and it looks to be yet another jewel in Marvel’s crown.  Marking their first ever Winter release, Marvel has taken great care to make their first film centered on a black super hero as worthwhile as it possibly could be.  One very promising aspect about this movie is that Marvel gave the reigns over to director Ryan Coogler, who delivered an astonishing reboot of the Rocky franchise with his critically acclaimed Creed (2015).  Despite being new to the super hero genre and to big budget film-making as a whole, Coogler looks to have delivered some already impressive results based on what we’ve seen from the trailer.  I’m very interested in seeing how well star Chadwick Boseman does at the center of this movie.  His performance in Civil War was one of that movie’s highlights, so it’ll be interesting to watch him perform now that he’s in his own movie.  He’s also got the support of a stellar supporting cast including Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira, The Hobbit’s Martin Freemanas well as some fierce looking foes played by Coogler’s reliable regular leading man Michael B. Jordan as well as Andy Serkis (appearing on screen in person for once, without motion capture).  Black Panther is also given the coveted position of being the final lead up to Marvel’s long awaited Infinity War, which launches the summer season in May.  Given the stellar year that Marvel had in 2017, Black Panther should continue the hot streak that the studio is currently enjoying, as well as give us a long awaited premiere for a super hero who that is long overdue.

A WRINKLE IN TIME (MARCH 9)

For a long time, fans of the beloved sci-fi YA novel by author Madeleine L’Engle have wanted to see a big screen treatment that did justice to the source material.  After many years of development, Disney is finally making that a reality with their mega-budgeted adaptation.  Directed by Ava DuVernay (Selma), the movie has an ambitious visual look to it, and features an impressively diverse cast.  Of course DuVernay has given a role to her longtime patron Oprah Winfrey, playing an immortal god-like celestial (you think she might be typecast) alongside Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon and sitcom star Mindy Kaling.  Add to this Star Trek’s Chris Pine and newcomer Storm Reid, and you’ve got a talented group adding many colorful characters to this beloved story.  It will be interesting to see how well DuVernay does with the source material, given it’s sometimes very perplexing details about time travel and multiple dimensions.  Some fans of the novel might be put off by the changes made to the story in order to modernize it and bring it into the present day.  Ava DuVernay is still an impressive emerging talent in the field of direction, and I’m sure that she’ll surprise a few people with her work here.  What pleases me about the assignment that she’s been given here is that it’s another sign of a very welcome change in the industry.  Following in the footsteps of last year’s Wonder Woman, A Wrinkle in Time is yet another example of giving a massive budget to a female director and seeing it pay off.  My hope is that many more women are given the reigns of blockbuster features in the future because as Ava DuVernay and Wonder Woman‘s Patty Jenkins have demonstrated, they are just as capable of delivering the goods as any of their male contemporaries.

ISLE OF DOGS (MARCH 23)

Wes Anderson’s style may not be to everyone’s tastes, but their is no doubt that he is one of the most unique filmmakers of this generation.  With a visual style all his own, he has managed to tell a whole variety of stories over his career, including a soap opera about an affluent dysfunctional family (The Royal Tenenbaums), an absurd adventure with an underwater explorer (The Life Aquatic), a love story between two naive preteens (Moonrise Kingdom), and a colorful murder mystery in a luxurious resort (The Grand Budapest Motel).  While most of his films are eccentric and over the top, he has mostly managed to fulfill his visions in the live action medium,  But what is surprising is how well his style translates over into the animated medium.  His 2009 animation debut, Fantastic Mr. Fox, was my pick for the best film of that year, and I am pleased to see him return to animation once again with next year’s Isle of Dogs.  Working with stop motion, Anderson’s style continues to offer plenty of eye-catching treats, and I’m pleased to see his take on Japanese culture.  There are definite reverential calls to the works of Japanese masters like Kurosawa and Ozu in Anderson’s film here, but it still feels distinctly like one of his own movies.  Again, he still fills out the voice cast with an impressive line-up, including some of his returning regulars like Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Edward Norton, and Jeff Goldblum, and also debuts his first collaboration with Bryan Cranston, who plays the lead dog here.  My hope is that this becomes yet another classic from Wes Anderson, and at least I hope it stands well alongside Mr. Fox as part of his efforts in animation.  No doubt, this movie will stand out amongst all other movies this Spring given that it’s a Wes Anderson flick, which are unlike anything else you usually see on the big screen anyway.

LOVE, SIMON (MARCH 16)

This one of course interests me because of the subject matter.  Love, Simon gives us the coming of age tale of a closeted gay teenager struggling with finding a way to open up and embrace his sexuality.  While this has been ground treaded upon before in many independent films, here we’re finally seeing a major studio (Fox, and now by extension Disney) actually bringing this story to the mainstream, which is a very positive sign of the times.  While there is only bits of the story we can gather from the trailer, what pleases me about what we’re seeing from this movie is the very realistic depiction of the anxiety that young gay people go through as they try to work out how to live openly.  I myself understand it all too well, as it took me an extra long time to finally come out to my friends and family.  What few films have actually shown is that the hard part of coming out is not the fear of how society will treat you, nor how your family will respond, but the fact that once you make the announcement to the world, everything about your life will change; including how other people will act around you as well as the new expectations that will be laid upon you.  And this is a change that some gay people face more than others.  Not every queer individual is from the same mold, and those who struggle the most are the ones who don’t fit the expected definitions of a typical gay person.  It’s that fear of dramatic change that hung over me the longest time, even though it turned out in the end that I had nothing to fear, as things changed very little.  That’s the kind of narrative that I hope Love, Simon tackles, because it’s an issue that’s worth attention.  The movie already looks to have a clever spin on things, including a funny montage of an alternative reality where straight teens come out to their families.

MOVIES THAT HAVE ME WORRIED:

PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING (MARCH 23)

On the one hand, I should be pleased that the woefully underrated Pacific Rim is getting a sequel.  And for the most part, the results look good in this trailer.  The visual effects are about on par with the first movie, and the designs of the Jaegers and Kaiju monsters look to be unchanged.  The movie also has returning cast members like Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, and Rinko Kikuchi as their selective characters from the first film, and the addition of Star War’s John Boyega as the son of Idris Elba’s character from the first movie is also inspired casting.  My one worry about this is that the movie is being made without the guiding hand of it’s original creator, Guillermo Del Toro.  The visionary director’s film was such a breath of fresh air in the summer blockbuster field, and helped Hollywood steer away from Michael Bay style mayhem that was sadly starting to clutter and carry the sci-fi action thriller genre down.  But, with Del Toro not behind the directors chair this time, I worry that the movie is going to lack the charm and cleverness that made the original stand out.  Pacific Rim was so distinctly the work of it’s creator, and it will be hard to capture that same kind of balance of action and humor that is so essential to his style of direction.  My hope is that the franchise has strong enough legs to carry on without Del Toro behind the wheel, and that Uprising serves as a welcome companion to the classic original.  Hopefully it does not devolve into a mess of special effects and bland characterizations like so many other summer blockbusters and uninspired sequels fall into.  If it does, it will be a waste of something special that came before it.

ANNIHILATION (FEBRUARY 23)

Speaking of my worry of good things being wasted, here we have the second directorial effort of screenwriter turned director Alex Garland.  Garland has been one of the most heralded Sci-Fi writers of this generation, having written such acclaimed scripts for 28 Days Later (2002), Sunshine (2007), and Dredd (2012).  In 2015, he made his directorial debut with the beloved Ex Machina, which showed that he indeed was just as talented behind the camera.  But, the thing that made Ex Machina work so well was it’s restraint, featuring more psychological tension as a motivating factor in the story rather than any bombastic action sequences.  It was thriller more for the mind than the eyes.  With Annihilation, his second feature, he’s exploring a scenario of evolution run amok within a dimensional anomaly.  This unfortunately looks to be more of an action driven movie than Ex Machina was, and my worry is that this is going to make this movie less captivating as a result.  Ex Machina left us chilled through the sheer brilliance of it’s expertly paced tension.  Maybe it’s just the way the trailer is edited, but it looks like the movie is positioning itself to be more of a fast-paced action thriller, which would be quite the dramatic shift for a director like Garland.  Maybe he can pull it off, but I feel like I’m going to miss the subtlety of his previous work.  Also, I worry that this could become one of those style over substance kinds of movies, as the visuals seem to be the highlight of this trailer, with little details given about what exactly this is all about.  Here’s hoping that Alex Garland continues to display his best qualities as a director and doesn’t turn into a one it wonder like so many promising cross over artists before.

THE 15:17 TO PARIS (FEBRUARY 9)

There’s no doubt that Clint Eastwood is one of the finest film directors we’ve ever seen.  His natural, uncluttered style is something that most other filmmakers try to emulate, but few are actually able to accurately copy.  But, Eastwood over time has fallen into periods of complacency as a director, though his skills behind the camera has never wavered.  Recently, he’s become most comfortable with adapting stories ripped straight from the headlines, sometimes with mixed results.  His American Sniper (2014) proved to be a remarkably well crafted war flick, but his recreation of the “Miracle on the Hudson” news story, Sully (2016), was far less captivating and was perhaps a little too soft of a human story to devote a feature length movie to.  Here, Eastwood tells the story of the thwarted terrorist attack on a French commuter train, where three off duty American soldiers risked their lives to stop the attack.  The story itself is not undue for cinematic treatment, but I feel that it’s still too fresh a story to devote a serious retelling without more perspective involved.  Also, here Clint Eastwood makes the risky choice of casting the real life people in the same roles, recreating their traumatic experience, alongside a cast of other actors.  Now, it is undeniable that these men are true heroes, and should be praised as such.  But, they are also not professional actors, and the trailer kind of hints at their somewhat awkward attempts at giving a performance in this film.  Hopefully, Eastwood is a good enough director to get great performances out of anybody, but my worry is that he may have sacrificed the effectiveness of the story by honoring the heroes too much in putting them in their own movie.

RAMPAGE (APRIL 20)

Honestly, there are only two ways for this movie to go; it could end up being really, really stupid or really, really awesome.  History is definitely not on it’s side, because there has been nothing but bad luck that has fallen every movie based on a video game to date.  Based on the classic arcade game of the same name, this movie has a giant gorilla, wolf and alligator battle each other in an urban setting, leaving unimaginable destruction in their path.  It seems like the least likely candidate for a big screen adaptation considering the simplicity of it’s premise, and yet the makers of this movie have somehow found a way to do it.  It still looks like generic monster movie mayhem that leaves little impression, but the movie does have some saving graces in it.  First and foremost, it does feature Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in the lead, who as we have seen has managed to bring charm and charisma to even the most thankless of roles.  This movie also re-teams him with the director of the surprisingly non-sucky disaster flick San Andreas (2015), so this new collaboration could prove to be just as unexpectedly effective.  Chances are it won’t, but it may prove to be a movie just silly enough to be entertaining.  And if it succeeds at that, it will be light years better than pretty much every other video game movie that has ever been made.

MOVIES TO SKIP:

FIFTY SHADES FREED (FEBRUARY 9)

It’s unbelievable that we’ve been subjected to three of these movies, let alone one.  What makes me cringe even more than the subject matter is the audacity of the marketing campaign to proclaim that this is the “final chapter of the worldwide phenomenon.”  This is no Hunger Games.  It’s just a smut filled soap opera that treats it’s audience like idiots, while at the same time being brain-numbingly stupid as well.  Not since Twilight (2008) have we seen a studio so shamelessly exploit the popularity of it’s equally dumb source material in the laziest ways possible, just to titillate their target audience in the most blatant way.  There are no redeeming qualities in this series (except maybe in Dakota Johnson’s sometimes self-aware performance) and the only blessing we have now is that it is going to disappear from the cinemas forever after this trilogy caper.   But even still, I pity anyone who chooses this as a Valentine’s Day date movie.  This kind of shallow romanticism between two beautiful but naughty white people is becoming really boring fare at the box office.  Seek out something far more romantic like last year’s The Big Sick, which did such a better job of conveying romance on the big screen.  This one, and the others that came before it, are to romance what Transformers are to action; all gloss, no shine.

PETER RABBIT (FEBRUARY 9)

Don’t you hate that feeling when you see Hollywood take a beloved literary classic and try to jazz it up and make it hip and modern for what they think a contemporary will find more appealing.  That’s the feeling that I believe a lot of fans of Beatrix Potter’s classic tale of a mischievous rabbit are feeling right now as they see what Sony Pictures have done with Peter Rabbit.  This adaptation looks and feels nothing like the original story and instead portrays the classic character as party animal who rises up as the champion of his woodland friends.  The movie clearly misses the point of the original story, which is the hubris of the mischievous, over-confident rabbit, whose bad habits leads him into trouble with the fearsome Mr. McGregor.  Here, the movie puts him and McGregor (played by Domhnall Gleeson) at odds with hi-jinks more at place within a Home Alone movie.  This is clearly a movie aiming solely at younger audiences who obviously have little connection with the original story, and it just makes the whole thing exploitative as a result.  This story is beloved by people from many generations, and to see this film exploit the story for a lame set of pratfalls and sophomoric humor is quite the insult to their childhood memories.  Not to mention that the animation itself is really terrible, sacrificing charm for realistic textures, which add nothing to the appeal of the character.  This is why some stories are better left on the page.

RED SPARROW (MARCH 2)

There are a variety of factors working against this movie.  One, the femme fatale spy thriller genre seems to have fizzled out pretty quickly.  Everything we’ve seen from this short lived cinematic trend has been underwhelming and feeling like desperate The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011) wannabes.  And given the disappointment of last year’s Atomic Blonde, it’s a sub-genre on it’s last legs, the like of which Red Sparrow seems little capable of redeeming.  Second of all, Jennifer Lawrence seems to be all wrong for this role.  She’s capable of holding her own in action flicks like The Hunger Games (2012) and X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), but for her to take on the role of a Russian ballerina turned rogue assassin, it seems like a bit of a stretch even for her.  The movie also looks very uninspired as a spy thriller, seeming far too derivative of visuals from better movies like Dragon Tattoo.  One thing that makes me see this movie as a wasted opportunity is the fact that the plot seems so similar to the comic book origins of Marvel’s Black Widow character.  I wonder if this script might have been served better if it had been re-purposed as an origin film for the popular Avenger, giving fans of the character the stand alone film that they’ve been longing to see.  Regardless, this movie carries little interest for me, and will probably leave the theaters quickly leaving the minimalist of impressions.

So, there you have my outlook on the upcoming months ahead.  It’s clear that the months of January, February, March and April are quickly becoming their own thing within Hollywood’s yearly cycle more than they ever have been before, and are no longer considered just an afterthought by the industry.  2018 is especially giving us a promising start to the year with what I have spotlighted in this article.  I especially want to see what Steven Spielberg has up his sleeve with his ambitious Ready Player One.  Also, Marvel’s Black Panther looks to keep their hot streak alive with it’s very impressive production.  It’s also neat to see so many movies coming from top tier talent like Clint Eastwood, Wes Anderson, and Alex Garland this early in the year, showing that we don’t have to wait until years end to see some prestige film-making.  My only hope is that the early part of the year doesn’t end up carrying the burden of leading into a disappointing summer, like what happened last year.  Let’s hope for the industry’s sake that 2018 marks a positive year for the industry in general, through all seasons.  In any case, I hope my guide has been helpful and that some of you will discover some worthwhile movies to watch in the months ahead.  It’s great to know that we no longer have to wait until the Summer and the Fall to see the best that Hollywood has to offer.

The Movies of Fall 2017

Another summer season for Hollywood is now in the books.  And with it, another indication of the kinds of trends that are defining the industry at this moment.  In general, there is a concern that box office is down across the board, as this was one of the quieter summer seasons on record.  But, at the same time, this was critically one of the most celebrated summer seasons in recent memory.  There were some critically panned turkeys this Summer, but there was a stretch near the middle of the summer where most of the new releases were getting the kind of glowing reviews that are normally reserved for Oscar season.  Certainly, we got that with Christopher Nolan’s new epic scale masterpiece, Dunkirk, but other recent releases like War for the Planet of the ApesBaby Driver, and a host of well received superhero films all managed to deliver both critically and at the box office.   But, what this summer also revealed was the changing tastes of the average movie goer.  Previous stalwarts of the industry like Pirates of the Caribbean and Transformers showed serious signs of fatigue this year, as both franchises produced their lowest grossing entries yet.  The same was also true for marquee names like actor Tom Cruise (The Mummy) and Ridley Scott (Alien: Covenant).  What’s even more surprising though is the resilience of the Superhero genre.  At a time when serious concerns were being raised about Comic Book adaptations loosing their luster and impact, the genre not only bounced back, they had a banner year.  Marvel continued their hot streak with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming, but I think everyone was more surprised by the fact that DC not only finally got one right this year, but also won the summer with their acclaimed cinematic debut of Wonder Woman.

With the summer over, it is now time to look ahead at the very anticipated fall season, with it’s own expected high expectations.  Here we have more tent-pole features, along with many anticipated independent oddities, as well as your usual Oscar-bait fare.  Like I do every year, I will be taking a look at a sampling of this Fall’s upcoming releases and choose among them what I think will be the must sees, the ones that have me worries, as well as the ones to skip.  A few of them are to be expected, but there are a few others that might surprise you.  I also want to stress that this is just my opinions based on my early impressions of these films based on their levels of hype and effectiveness of their marketing.  I have gotten some of these wrong before, but regardless, I try my best at handicapping the months ahead.  So, with all that said, let’s take a look at the Movies of Fall 2017.

MUST SEES:

STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII – THE LAST JEDI (DECEMBER 15)

Once again, Star Wars is the year’s most anticipated release.  And with good reason.  The success of both The Force Awakens and Rogue One has propelled the franchise into the stratosphere these last couple years, and in many ways it was all just a warm up for this.  If history has proven anything, especially when it comes to Star Wars, it’s the middle chapter that becomes the most intriguing part of the story.  Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) is still widely considered to be the crown jewel for the Star Wars franchise, and many believe that it’s still the high water mark for the series as a whole.  Just like how The Force Awakens took considerable inspiration from the first Star Wars film, A New Hope, many speculate that The Last Jedi will act as the spiritual successor to Empire; helping to raise the stakes and take the ongoing story into darker territory.  Whether or not it does that is the question, but there is still much to be excited about with this upcoming episode.  One, we see the return of Mark Hamill in the role of Luke Skywalker; not just relegated to a last minute cameo like he had in The Force Awakens, but a full integral role in this film.  We also will see the late Carrie Fisher in her final film role, with her scenes completed just shortly before her tragic untimely death last year.  And the further adventures of our new favorite characters like Rey, Finn, BB-8, and Poe will be enough to make us all eager to see this.  Also, the fact that acclaimed director Rian Johnson (Looper) is given charge of this new chapter is also a positive sign, because he seems to be a perfect fit for this franchise.  Let’s just hope that all involved are able to deliver something special, and not be detered by the enormous pressure to live up to what has come before.  As long as the journey is worth it, we will always continue to return to that galaxy far, far away.

THOR: RAGNAROK (NOVEMBER 3)

And just like Star Wars, we have yet another Marvel feature to be excited about for the holidays.  The third entry in the Thor franchise sees the God of Thunder facing a challenge of a different kind, and that’s being stripped of everything that has made him what he is.  As we see in the trailer, he is cast out of his homeland, Asgard, by a powerful new enemy, Hela the Goddess of Death, who manages to destroy Mjolnir, the hammer which gives Thor much of his power.  In ancient Norse, the term Ragnarok literally means “the end of all things” and you would expect a film with that for a title would take on an apocalyptic and somber tone.  But, that’s not Marvel seems to have done.  Instead, Thor: Ragnarok is more colorful and humorous than any film we’ve seen in the series to date.  And this approach exemplifies exactly what has made Marvel so resilient as a film company.  It’s their ability to defy expectations, anticipate changing audience tastes and alter course when needed, all the while still going full steam ahead with their Cinematic Universe plans.  After complaints were made about the more somber second entry in the Thor series, 2013’s The Dark World, Marvel seemed to take that to heart and re-imagined what could have been a darker film into something much lighter.  Not that this film is going to feel out of place in the series.  If anything, it’s the shot in the arm that the series needed.  I like where this series is going with it’s more colorful direction.  Seeing Thor and the Hulk working together also has a lot of potential in the story.  And the addition of Cate Blanchett as the Goddess Hela is also worthy of the price of admission itself.  And if there’s anything clear we can see from this film so far, it’s that it’s far truer to it’s comic book origins than anything we’ve seen before from this series.

COCO (NOVEMBER 22)

Pixar, once the most dominant name in animation for over a decade, has fallen on hard times recently.  Sure, most of their movies still deliver at the box office, but they are not quite the critical darlings that they once were.  Many people have claimed that their abundance of sequels in recent years has ended up diluting the brand and alienated audiences.  It doesn’t help that the recent Cars 3 was one of the summer’s biggest flops.  So, how does it look for Pixar’s future going into their next feature.  The answer, so far, looks pretty good for them.  If there is one thing that Pixar still excels at, it’s the quality of their animation, and their new film Coco is quite a beauty.  Using the Mexican holiday of Dia de los Muertos as their inspiration point, Pixar has crafted a very visually appealing film, both in it’s more subdued moments and in it’s more spectacular moments.  I got to glimpse some more extended scenes from this feature at Disney’s D23 Expo, and what I saw made me confident that Pixar has another winner on their hands.  The visual designs of the Land of the Dead alone are spectacular and I can’t wait to see them fully explored in the finished film.  The coming of age story for the young protagonist, Miguel, also is something that will give the movie a strong heart at it’s center.  My hope is that the failure of Cars 3 doesn’t loom large over this film, because I want Pixar’s brand to carry the same weight that it once did again.  There was a time when every new Pixar release became something to look forward to.  Hopefully, Coco will be the kind of Pixar movie that will make us excited once again to see what they’ll have for us next; even if it is a sequel to The Incredibles (2004).

KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE (SEPTEMBER 22)

Thankfully, we don’t have to wait too long for this.  The first film in this series, Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015), was a fun, irreverent surprise that kinda snuck under the radar and quickly became a cult hit.  This sequel seems to be doing what the best kinds of second chapters do and that’s to broaden the world in which these characters live in.  What I liked so much about the first movie was it’s world building.  Director Matthew Vaughn, taking his cue from Mark Millar’s comic series, presented this interesting look into this secret organization of suave, well-dressed killing machines and did so in a very exhilarating and tongue-in-cheek way.  It plays upon all the spy movie tropes, and manages to hilariously poke fun at them too.  This sequel takes it a step further, and introduces the Kingman to their counterparts across the pond; the American Statesmen.  This opens the door for so many possibilities for this franchise, both in terms of action and humor.  Vaughn, who has yet to make a movie that I didn’t enjoy watching on some level, did such a great job with the first Kingsman, and I’m very happy that he stuck around to create this follow-up.  I especially love his cast choices for the Statesmen; with Channing Tatum, Pedro Pascal, and Jeff Bridges seemingly perfect for these good-ol-boy archetypes.  Returning cast members Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, and Colin Firth also look to be a lot of fun here.  And I’m really intrigued to see how Julianne Moore functions as the new big baddy for the Kingmen.  As long as it retains the same level of fun as the first Kingsman, I am definitely on board for this sequel.

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (NOVEMBER 10)

This, for anyone wondering, is the little indie film that has me the most excited in the coming months.  There are plenty of other films from independent filmmakers with strong pedigrees that are coming in the months ahead, like Darren Aronofsky (Mother), Alexander Payne (Downsizing), Todd Haynes (Wonderstruck), Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape of Water), and even an untitled one from Paul Thomas Anderson; many of which could end up on my best of the year list.  But this is the one that sticks out to me looking at the upcoming release calendar.  For one, it’s the third feature film from writer/director Martin McDonagh, whose last couple films, In Brudges (2008) and Seven Psychopaths (2012) have been some of my favorite movies in the last decade.  Secondly, McDonagh’s style is so unique, in the way he builds his characters and constructs his plots, that it makes everything he does so unexpected.  I also enjoy the way he uses humor in his movies, often taking it to the extremes in terms of taste and use of graphic imagery.  Lastly, this premise seems so well suited for his sensibilities, and I am intrigued to see where he takes it.  With a grieving mother becoming so dissatisfied with the actions of law enforcement looking into the murder of her daughter that she in turn becomes a menace to society herself seems like a story that is ripe for so much humor and drama combined.  Frances McDormand especially looks to be in her element as the mother in question, and much of the best stuff in the trailer is seeing her be as pushy and offensive as possible.  McDonagh hasn’t let me down yet, and I hope that he has delivered another quirky masterpiece this Fall.

MOVIES THAT HAVE ME WORRIED:

BLADE RUNNER 2049 (OCTOBER 6)

Sometimes a movie should just stand on it’s own, instead of sparking an ongoing franchise.  What made Blade Runner (1982) such a beloved film over the years was the fact that it was unlike anything else we had seen before or since.  Ridley Scott’s futuristic neo-Noir is still regarded as one of the greatest sci-fi flicks ever made and has over time been regarded as one of the best films ever as well, to some.  Needless to say, making a sequel 35 years after the fact would seem to be a big risk to take, and yet that’s what we’re getting in little over a month.  Thankfully, the movie has a solid team behind it.  It’s being directed by Denis Villeneuve, who after making Sicario (2015) and Arrival (2016) back to back, is on somewhat of a hot streak and this kind of project seems to be in capable hands with him.  The film also stars heavyweight like Ryan Gosling, Robin Wright, and Jared Leto in new roles, while also bringing back original star Harrison Ford to reprise his iconic role as Rick Deckard.  Also, Ridley Scott is helping to guide the project along as producer, giving the whole thing his seal of approval.  And yet, even still, there is a worry that this film may not live up to the lofty expectations that it’s predecessor has set.  It’s hard to make a sequel to what many regard as a masterpiece, especially so many years after.  Blade Runner was also a product of it’s time, and it’s going to be hard to take it’s visual and tonal aesthetic and make it appeal to a whole different generation.  But then again, maybe I underestimate the talent behind this project.  My hope is that this is a long awaited sequel that doesn’t reflect badly on it’s predecessor and ruins 35 years of legacy that it has built up.  At the very least, it does already look very pretty, but then again most copies tend to be.

JUSTICE LEAGUE (NOVEMBER 17)

This should have been the movie that was going to be the most anticipated release of the year.  But, due to a mismanaged launch of the DC Cinematic Universe, there is a lot less certainty surrounding this flick.  Thankfully, Justice League is coming off the the heels of the critically acclaimed box office smash that was Wonder Woman, DC’s first real winner in their Cinematic Universe plan, and people are finally now hopeful that things are turning around for the League.  Unfortunately, this is still a Zack Snyder-directed feature, and his previous flick Batman v. Superman proved to be a low point for DC.  Yeah, I know that Joss Whedon was brought in late to do re-shoots after Snyder dropped out for personal reasons, but for the most part, this will still be the work of one of Hollywood’s most divisive filmmakers.  The pleasing thing to see in this movie is a more humorous tone with the character interactions, coming especially from Jason Momoa’s Aquaman and Ezra Miller’s Flash.  I also like the renewed focus on Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, which is not surprising seeing as how she has single-handedly saved the DC Universe this summer at the box office.  But, at the same time, the trailers might be showing us all the humor there is in the film, and the rest will still be the messy Zach Snyder overkill that sunk BvS.  The visual aesthetic still seems too dour for a comic book movie, and there’s still a heavy presence of over-the-top CGI mayhem.  But, Wonder Woman indicated that DC might have learned some lessons and that hopefully extends over into Justice League.  Given that a lot is riding on this new film for everything that is to follow with DC comic adaptations going forward, let’s hope that those lessons took hold, and quick.

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (NOVEMBER 10)

On the surface, this looks like a film that seems to have it all.  A prestigious director, a dream all-star cast, lavish production value, and a literary source that is acclaimed as one of the greatest novels of it’s kind.  But, at the same time, I feel like this movie almost seems to be too good to be true.  This may be due to the very awkward way that it is being marketed.  Establishing all the main characters in one long shot is an interesting visual idea, but the use of pop song to underscore the trailer (Imagine Dragon’s Believer) comes off as a little bit pandering.  It’s as if the makers of this film are worried that younger audiences won’t find anything interesting about this Agatha Christie mystery.  The movie also has the disadvantage of being a remake, or at least not the first go around with this material.  Sidney Lumet directed a famous Oscar-winning version back in 1974, with an equally impressive all-star cast as well.  So, Kenneth Branagh’s new version in general has the handicap of being seen as too old-fashioned and too familiar to ever appeal to modern audiences.  And yet, even still, this has some potential to be a worthwhile film in the end.  Branagh is no slouch as a director, and he has assembled a great cast here; including Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Daisy Ridley, and Penelope Cruz just to name a few.  And the production values do seem top quality from the trailer.  I just wish that the marketing behind it didn’t have to resort to deceptive pandering tricks in order to bring a wider audience.  The mystery is good enough on it’s own to warrant attention.

THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE (SEPTEMBER 22)

Sometimes there is such an issue as too much of a good thing.  In the last couple of years, Warner Brothers Animation and the Lego Company have defied expectations, and have crafted not one but too movies around the plastic toy bricks that have defied expectations.  Both The Lego Movie (2014) and The Lego Batman Movie (2017) have hit their mark, and become instant classics as both comedies and as animated adventures.  Now, we are getting our third Lego feature and it hopes to carry on the goodwill that it’s predecessors have already built up.  But, there lies a problem.  Is this too much too soon for the Lego franchise?  It was only a couple months ago that we got the Lego Batman Movie, which doesn’t give us a lot of time to digest on that before the next course comes in.  The other problem is that unlike Batman, the rest of the world is not as familiar with the Ninjago brand from Lego.  This movie could have an identity problem as some audiences could be confused as to how this film fits in with the other two.  So far, the Lego franchise has benefited from it’s clever sense of humor and exceptional animation style, but unless this new feature adds anything new to the mix, it may end up leaving audiences cold and tired of the franchise as a whole.  And that’s not good for a series that was just beginning to win over a lot of new fans.  My hope is that it lives up to the two previous Lego movies, but if not, it will be a prime example for Hollywood to not count all their chickens before they’re hatched.

MOVIES TO SKIP:

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN (DECEMBER 25)

You just know from looking at a movie that it’s not going to live up to the sum of it’s ambitions.  That seems to be the case with this overblown musical retelling of the life of circus founder P. T. Barnum.  Barnum is a fascinating figure, but I don’t think that this lavish, reverential musical is the way to put the controversial showman into perspective.  Also this musical just feels too overproduced for it’s own good.  This kind of musical is the thing that would have worked a decade ago in the wake of such film musicals as Moulin Rouge (2001) and Chicago (2002), but now seems to be out of style once again after the success of La La Land (2016).  What La La Land did was to modernize the classic musical, and work it into a contemporary story of lost love and broken dreams set against the backdrop of unforgiving life on the outskirts of Hollywood.  It subverted the genre while at the same time reinventing it.  The Greatest Showman seems to be a holdover from a pre-La La Land era that showed up a little too late to be relevant on it’s own.  Ironically, it shares the same songwriters as La La Land, which may be the only thing going for it.  Otherwise, there just doesn’t seem to be a lot here that could turn out to be interesting.  We know that both of it’s stars, Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron can sing, but it might be a musical that wastes their good talent.  Also, given that Circuses are on the outs right now, with Barnum’s own show closing shop after a century, this is not the ideal time for this movie.

FLATLINERS (SEPTEMBER 29)

Here’s a movie with no illusions as to what it will eventually be; it just looks dumb as hell.  And not in a redeeming way.  A remake of a rather forgettable 1990 thriller from Joel Schumacher, this movie seems purely intended to bring in the millennial crowd and throw a bunch of jump scares their way.  Setting aside the ridiculous premise, this movie just seems indistinguishable from many other like minded thrillers, and like so many of them thinks that it is more thrilling than it actually is.  The presence of good actors like Ellen Page and Diego Luna in the cast doesn’t help much either, because they both look disinterested here.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this was just a paycheck role for most of the cast.  It’s the kind of movie that just gets made by Hollywood in order to keep this forgotten title and premise alive (ironically speaking) and out of some cinematic purgatory.  The original may have some cult following, but I doubt any of those fans are clamoring for an update to the original.  It was silly then, it continues to be silly now.

DEATH WISH (NOVEMBER 22)

Speaking of ill-advised Hollywood remakes, we get this new take on a 70’s Charles Bronson action thriller.  The original Death Wish was a product of it’s time, when inner-city crime was viewed as a nationwide epidemic, fermented by unfair economic divisions and widespread corruption on the part of law enforcement.  In that era, the late 1970’s, it was conceivable that a character like Paul Kersey would emerge, taking the law into his own hands when the old law could no longer be trusted.  But, that was then; this is now.  In an era when gun violence and tensions between cops and civilians are dominating the headlines, this kind of premise of an honorable vigilante is not just dated, but discouraged with good reason.   Remaking this movie now is not just a bad idea, it’s kind of reckless.  The last thing we should be doing is romanticizing the idea of this kind of character, because doing so can lead to many other people thinking that they need to enact their own sense of “justice” their own way, and that’s the kind of thing that can lead to some very bad consequences.  For the most part, it just looks like the film was made to exploit an old franchise and give a starring role to Bruce Willis that fits his own patented persona.  But, given how times have changed, this isn’t the kind of story that will play just as well in our current state of affairs.

So, there you have a brief outlook at the months ahead.  What excites me the most is seeing how the Oscar race shapes up by years end.  There are a lot of usual suspects from some of our most acclaimed filmmakers, but the ones I enjoy the best are the little surprises that come out of nowhere.  I’m sure that no one expected a little seen indie that was dumped into theaters in late October last year called Moonlight would walk away as Best Picture the following Spring.  I’m sure the Academy itself didn’t even expect that.  It’s unexpected things like that which makes the Fall movie season so interesting.  It’s where everything comes into focus and indicates to us just how the year will be defined cinematically.  So far, the year has been pretty good, if not record breaking at the box office.  The Spring proved to be surprisingly strong, and despite a sluggish start with duds like Alien: Covenant and The Mummy, the Summer also gave us a lot to be happy about.  I’m sure one thing that will talked about for a long time is how Wonder Woman broke all the rules of Hollywood and set a new high standard for DC in the competitive Super Hero market, but also opened the door for female filmmakers in general, showing that they are just as capable of delivering spectacular results with bigger budgets.  My hope is that the Fall season continues to deliver solid entertainment that’s well in line with what has come before.  2017 may have seen a dip in box office, but that’s not a sign of bad quality.  It’s been a good year in general from an entertainment standpoint, and my hope is that the rest of the year doesn’t let us down.

The Movies of Summer 2017

With a week to go before the Summer movie season gets underway, it makes sense to look over the year so far to see what the upcoming months will have to follow up on.  This year’s Winter and Spring movie seasons have been remarkably strong, both critically and financially.  Usually associated as being Hollywood’s dumping ground, we saw the early months of 2017 marked with some surprising quality efforts from unlikely places.  We got a shocking twist upfront when M. Night Shaymalan finally made a movie that everyone liked with Split.  Jordan Peele of Key & Peele fame made a remarkable directorial debut with his controversial thriller Get Out, which earned raves upon release that are usually reserved for Oscar nominated fare.  The Lego Batman Movie gave us even more hilarious fun with it’s plastic brick built world.  There was also solid thrills in movies like John Wick 2  and Kong: Skull Island and Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine was given an effective sendoff in the acclaimed Logan.  Ironically, the movie I liked the least from the first half of this year ended up being the highest grossing overall; the still loathsome Beauty and the Beast remake from Disney, which has grossed over a billion worldwide as of this writing.  Overall, it’s a solid start to the year, and one hopes that the upcoming summer season, where Hollywood makes room for their big guns, manages to keep the momentum going.  Like years before, I will be looking at the months ahead and tell you which movies are my Must Sees, the movies that have me worried, and the ones that I recommend you skip entirely.  Keep in mind, these are just my initial thoughts about the movies based on my expectations and how I respond to their marketing.  There could be some surprises and/or disappointments out there, and I admit that I’m not the best handicapper.  So, with that, let’s look at the Summer of 2017.

MUST SEES:

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 (MAY 5)

Let’s start this look at the summer by spotlighting how it’s going to begin.  Again, Marvel Studios is showing that they own this opening spot in the month of May, which has been so lucrative for them before with blockbusters like both AvengersIron Man (2008), and Captain America: Civil War (2016).  This year, they are launching the Summer with the sequel to one of their absolute best films.  Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) was a surprise hit when it debuted, taking a relatively obscure comic and turning it into a phenomenom thanks to a stellar directorial effort from James Gunn and star making performances from it’s cast.  The same team returns intact to take on another adventure, and the trailers are promising us more of the same, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  Guardians stands out from the rest of the Marvel field and it’s strengths are worth elaborating on in a sequel, including stuff like hilarious banter between the characters, colorful worlds to explore, and a world-class retro soundtrack.  I’m especially excited to see the new faces added to the mix, especially the perfectly cast Kurt Russell as the father of Guardian member Peter “Star-Lord” Quill.  Making a sequel to such a beloved first outing is going to be difficult no matter what, with everyone’s expectations now up so high.  I have faith that James Gunn, Christ Pratt and the rest can pull off something special with this.  Even if it’s not as good as the first, most of us will still appreciate it if it at least leaves us entertained.  And one thing’s for sure, that Baby Groot is going to be everywhere this Summer, so buy those toys now before they’re gone.  Marvel’s win streak should comfortably continue with these Guardians in place.

DUNKIRK (JULY 21)

Christopher Nolan’s name at this point in his career is synonymous with the word “epic.”  Every film he makes now is big in scale and scope, and it’s to his credit that he continually focuses his vision onto many varied subjects, giving solid diversity to his body of work.  He revolutionized the super hero genre with his Dark Knight trilogy;  he explored the cosmos with Interstellar (2014); and he even delved into the endless possibilities within the human mind with Inception (2010).  With his newest film, however, he’s doing something very different, and that’s giving us a historical account of a harrowing event from World War II.  The Siege of Dunkirk is an interesting subject for Christopher Nolan to take on, though one that you would hardly expect.  The real life story is not one that’s about conflict, but instead about survival.  Half a million British soldiers were surrounded by German forces, trapped in the titular coastal town with the sea as their only window of escape.  Miraculously, most of the soldiers made it to safety in one of the greatest rescue efforts in modern history.  The scale of the event is probably what drew Nolan to the project, providing another opportunity for him to work with large format cinematography such as IMAX, which he’s used to great effect before.  My hope is that, like most of his other films before, he manages to balance the human emotion amidst all the spectacle.  More than anything, I’m just intrigued to see a director of his caliber working within this kind of genre.  This is sure to be one of the most epic scale war films ever made, and my hope is that it also stands as one of the best.  Anytime Christopher Nolan stands behind the camera, it signifies something eventful; something which few directors can do nowadays.

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (JULY 7)

I know that a lot of you out there are probably sick of Spider-Man movies by now, especially now that it’s going into it’s second revival after the previous one fell flat.  But, the truth is, this may actually be the first “real” Spider-Man movie we’ll have seen on the big screen; not one that’s made by outside studio forces, but a true honest to goodness adaptation of the comics from Marvel themselves.  After getting the rights to the character back from Sony in a profit sharing deal, Marvel has quickly worked the webslinger into their Cinematic Universe, and he managed to already delight audiences again with his brief appearance in Captain America: Civil War.  Now, with his own film, Marvel is making the smart decision to not go all the way back to the beginning and start with another origin story, instead choosing to create a new story with an already established Spider-Man.  Tom Holland returns, and he looks to be just as charismatic here as he was in Civil War.  It works to the films benefit that here we’re finally seeing an actual teenage Peter Parker that’s truer to the comics than the late-20’s actors who have stepped into the role before.  The inclusion of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony “Iron Man” Stark is also a great inclusion for this film.  But, what makes me most excited is the casting of Michael Keaton as the villainous Vulture.  What a casting coup for Marvel, managing to to get cinema’s first Batman and having him cross the aisle, away from DC, to play a Spider-Man villain.  That alone is worth seeing, and Keaton looks so perfectly menacing in the part.  Overall, it should indeed be a very welcome homecoming for Marvel’s friendly neighborhood webslinger.

DETROIT (AUGUST 4)

Director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal have had a pretty good and lucrative collaboration over the last decade.  They both won Oscars for their landmark war drama The Hurt Locker (2009); a historic win in Bigelow’s case.  They then followed that up with a comprehensive historical account of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty (2012), an acclaimed and cntroversial film in it’s own right.  Now, the two have turned their attention to another interesting subject; the 1968 riots that tore apart the city of Detroit during one of the most heated periods of the Civil Rights movement.  Bigelow’s intense, documentary like style could be a great fit for this subject, putting us right into the thick of the event, helping us to see what it was like to live through such a moment in time.  Not only that, but with the tumultuous time that we are living in now politically, and with tensions between civilians and law enforcement growing even higher, this could be a very timely history lesson as well.  My hope is that Bigelow and Boal applies their no-nonsense style of story-telling to this subject and gives us a captivating and intense experience, allowing us to see an unfiltered look at American history.  The inclusion of Star Wars‘ John Boyega as a central character also looks promising, as the up-and-coming actor is due for a quality lead role outside of the big franchsie.  Historical films usually are a hard sell during the summer; especially ones that take on such a touching subject matter.  But, this one looks to be in some capable hands.

BABY DRIVER (JUNE 28)

Another director who manages to garner attention every time he puts a new movie out is Edgar Wright.  After a disappointing development cycle on the movie Ant-Man, where he famously parted ways with Marvel over creative differences, Wright returns with a new spin on the heist genre.  Instead of relying on his usual collaborators Simon Pegg and Nick Frost to fill out the cast, he’s instead going in a different direction, working with a largely American cast and focusing far more on an action style rather than a comedic one.  Sure, it’s still carries some of Wright’s trademark sense of humor, but what this movie is also showcasing is an added sense of creativity in the action set pieces.  This is Edgar Wright moving beyond the realm of parody and finding new footing in the high octane action world; an area that he may actually prove to be a natural at.  While he is trying new things, my hope is that some of Edgar Wright’s trademark visual flair, which he refined throughout his Cornetto trilogy, manages to translate over, and this stylish trailer has me believing that it did.  The supporting cast in this film also looks impressive, with Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm making an impression as two seasoned criminals, and Kevin Spacey as always commanding the spotlight whenever he’s on screen.  Hopefully the fresher faced leads (Ansel Elgort and Lily James) can hold their own against these veterans.  At the very least, it will be interesting to see Edgar Wright work out of his element in a promising new field of film-making.

MOVIES THAT HAVE ME WORRIED:

WONDER WOMAN (JUNE 2)

To be honest, I am cautiously optimistic about this one.  Sure, DC has been not very effective in launching their ambitious cinematic universe.  Batman v. Superman; Dawn of Justice was a convoluted mess, and Suicide Squad, while not a terrible film, did alienate DC even more from comic book fans with it’s messy execution.  Now, with Justice League on the horizon, DC desperately needs a solid hit in their stable, hitting the mark with both fans and critics.  And believe me, a lot of us want this to go well, because Wonder Woman is a superhero you don’t want to see cinematic-ally ruined.  On the plus side, Gal Gadot’s appearance as the titular hero in Batman v. Superman was one of that movie’s more positive aspects, and it did make me interested in seeing a full feature devoted to the character.  The trailers so far have done a fine job showing off the spectacle of Wonder Woman’s world, from the sumptuous locals of her island paradise home to the murky war zones of Europe during the Great War.  My hope is that the film manages to escape the studio interference that plagued it’s two predecessors and manages to define itself by it’s own merits.  This will be the first time that a female superhero has been featured in her own film, something that DC managed to do first before Marvel, so a lot is at stake with how well this feature performs.  Again, DC’s track record of late has tampered down many of our expectations, but hopefully this will be the film that finally rights the ship for DC.  Otherwise, the Justice League they’ve been so eager to form will be doomed before it even starts.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES (MAY 26)

Fourteen years ago, Disney did the unthinkable and managed to turn a film based on one of their theme park attractions into a box office and critical success.  Largely thanks to Johnny Depp’s charismatic performance as Captain Jack Sparrow, we had one of the unlikliest of franchise born.  Unfortunately, it’s a franchise that also has lost a lot of it’s luster.  The two follow-up sequels (Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End, which were shot simultaneously) did succeed at the box office, but were considered too convoluted in their plots to be considered better than the first film.  2011’s On Stranger Tides brought the franchise even lower, feeling unnecessary and frankly rather boring as a whole.  Now, Captain Jack returns for what might be one final gasp to save this tired franchise.  There is some hope behind this film project.  Acclaimed Norwegian directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, who won raves for their sea based adventure Kon-Tiki (2012), have taken over the reigns of this franchise, and have promised to put more emphasis on in camera stunts over CGI extravagance.  The casting of Javier Bardem as the villainous Captain Salazar is also a good thing, and I’m pleased to see Geoffrey Rush returning as my favorite character in the series, Barbosa.  On the other hand, Depp’s schtick as Jack Sparrow may have worn out it’s welcome over the years, and it might be time to put the character finally to rest.  I hope that this is an adventure worth taking, but my worry is that it’s one ride that no longer thrills.

ALIEN: COVENANT (MAY 19)

Ridley Scott has certianly never been a director to rest on his laurels.  Even into his late 70’s, he is still continuing to churn out film after film, working in all sorts of different genres.  His new feature finds him on familiar ground, returning to the franchise that he helped to launch back in 1979 with the iconic Alien.  In 2012, he tackled the franchise again, only this time exploring the origins behind the titular monster with Prometheus.  Prometheus received a mixed reception from fans and critics, some calling it too self-indulgent and not exciting enough to carry the Alien franchise into another chapter.  I for one was okay with the movie; it was neither a franchise highlight, nor was it one of it’s lowpoints.  It was a perfectly serviceable sci-fi picture.  Scott returns now with what is possibly meant to be the linking piece between Alien and Prometheus in Alien: Covenant.  My worry however is that after the two previous films, is there anything left for Scott to explore with this franchise.  It seems like this movie is just retreading the same things we’ve seen before; watching each of the cast members being picked off one by one by the dreaded Xenomorph.  It was terrifying in the first Alienwhen Scott was breaking new ground, creating genuine scares that would influence a whole generation.  Now, with too many tools at his disposal, I don’t know if Scott can do that again.  At least he was able to let the atmosphere make Prometheus stand on it’s own.  With Covenant, it just feels like we’ve seen this all before.

CARS 3 (JUNE 16)

It pains me to have to put low expectations on something from the Pixar studio, but I am less optimistic about their entry this summer.  Truth be told, I thought the first film in the Cars franchise was a pretty good flick.  Not Pixar’s best, but still a pleasing feature with a unique visual aesthetic.  Unfortunately, Cars 2 holds the distinction of being Pixar’s first real failure.  After a decade of nothing but glorious raves for all their movies, Cars 2 was panned across the board as both visually and narratively lackluster.  The main problem is that it took the focus away from the first film’s central character Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) and shifted it to the obnoxious supporting character Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy), putting him into a nonsensical spy movie plot.  It seems that the filmmakers recognized the faults of the previous movie, and have sought to right the course of the series by putting Lightning McQueen back into the spotlight, but is it really necessary any more.  It felt like his character arc was complete in the first film, so I don’t see what more they need to do with this franchise.  My guess is that they’re going for a “one last hurrah” kind of story-line with this one, which to be honest may not be so bad for this series.  It makes more sense than Mater the Spy from Cars 2.  My hope is that Pixar doesn’t drop the ball with this one like they did the second time around, but again, maybe this is a franchise that’s better left off the track.  For a studio as groundbreaking as Pixar, their efforts are placed elsewhere than trying to put a new coat of paint on a busted old car.

MOVIES TO SKIP:

TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT (JUNE 23)

For some crazy reason, Michael Bay’s increasingly moronic and over-stuffed Transformers franchise still manages to keep going.  Sure the franchise made a little improvement with the last film by swapping out Shia LaBeouf with Mark Wahlberg in the lead role, who is far more likable, but that was the only positive in the bloated mess that was Age of Extinction (2014).  The franchise now reaches it’s fifth entry, and I am struggling to find anything left worth caring for in this series.  The franchise resembles the original source cartoon and toy line very little now, and it still annoys me that the Transformers themselves are little more than supporting characters in a movie that’s supposed to be about them.  What we’ve gotten instead is Michael Bay throwing every cinematic indulgence that fits his fancy, and it makes all of his movies (especially these ones) nothing but convoluted messes.  What astonishes me about this one, however, is that he managed to wrangle in Anthony Hopkins for a role in the movie.  Hopkins, who is arguably one of the greatest actors of his generation, is too good to be in something like this, so I don’t know what kind of magic Michael Bay worked to bring him on board.  It might just be interesting to see how Sir Anthony does in this feature, but if it means that I’ll have to sit through nearly three hours of Michael Bay overkill just to get to his scenes, I don’t think it will be worth the effort.

THE MUMMY (JUNE 9)

In another desperate attempt to formulate a cinematic universe on the level of Marvel’s multi-franchise success, Universal Pictures has dug into their collection of movie monsters to build a collective universe around, to not as expected results.  Their first attempt was the very bland Dracula origin story, Dracula Untold (2014), which released to indifference with audiences and critics.  Now, it’s the Mummy’s turn to generate some heat in order to make their universe plans come to fruition.  The makers of this film did manage to land Tom Cruise is a key lead role, as well as Russell Crowe in the role of Dr. Jekyll (yeah, Jekyll meets the Mummy; wrap your head around that logic), but it doesn’t make the film feel any more interesting.  Like Dracula Untold, this movie just feels more like a studio mandate than an actual interesting story worth telling.  I think that it is worth revisiting The Mummy as a story again, but when it’s tied to this cynical cash grab attempt by a studio, it feels less exciting overall.  I would rather see something artistic done with the Mummy character, like a period piece or a more straight-foward horror remake.  This just feels bland, boring, and a waste of time.

THE EMOJI MOVIE (JULY 28)

Proof that not every cultural fad needs to be turned into a movie.  Now, truth be told, people scoffed at the idea of The Lego Movie (2014), and that film turned out to be a classic.  But, what benefited Lego was a witty script that did a brilliant job of entertaining while never feeling like a feature length commercial, effectively just turning the product into a cinematic tool rather than a marketing one.  This, however, looks to be nothing like that.  I’d say that The Emoji Movie has more in common with the recent Angry Birds movie from 2016, which felt like a rushed film project made to purely capitalize on a cultural craze while it was still popular.  I honestly don’t know where they can go with this project, and the trailer only indicates to me that all this movie is going to do is present a trivial story with a steady string of obvious visual puns.  Of course, visual puns are what emoji’s are all about, but no one wants to see a feature length film that does that.  Better to delete this unnecessary film out of any and all conversations in the future.

So, there you have my outlook on the Summer months ahead.  I’ll be sure to give you my thoughts on the big titles as the season goes along, starting with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, which I plan to review next week.  Hopefully all my must sees are worthy of the hype surrounding them, but also I would like to see a few of the ones that worry me exceed my expectations and end up being better than I anticipated.  I’m pretty confident about where all these movies stand, but there have been years in the past when I’ve been way off.  In any case, my hope is that the movies this summer not only perform well, but actually stand out as exceptional cinematic achievements as well.  We’ve already seen some strong showings from the opening months of this year, so 2017 is already off to a good start.  I absolutely want to be dazzled by Marvel’s expanding cinematic universe with Guardians and Spider-Man, as well blown away by Christopher Nolan’s unparalleled vision with Dunkirk, and be genuinely entertained by new efforts from the likes of Edgar Wright and Ridley Scott.  At the same time, my hope is that some of the smaller fare this summer manages to shine through as well.  It’s always worthwhile to see the next Ex Machina (2015) or Swiss Army Man (2016) shine through amidst all the noise of the summer season.  In any case, I hope all of you have as much fun at the movies this Summer as I will.  Let’s hope that all of us won’t be disappointed in the end.

The 2017 Oscars – Picks and Thoughts

With the contentious year of 2016 behind us now, we finally come to this final week of Awards season, with the Academy Awards handed out on Sunday; putting a final statement on the year that was, cinematically speaking.  There was some good things to come out of this awards season.  After two years of controversy surrounding the lack of diversity in the artists and films nominated for the top awards, this year’s Oscars ended up being one of the most diverse in recent memory.  Four of the nine Best Picture nominees centers on characters of color, and each of the acting categories features at least one non-white actor among the nominees; three alone in the supporting actress category.  There was also the interesting inclusion of Mel Gibson, recognized in the Best Director category for his film Hacksaw Ridge, after years of being shunned by the rest of the Hollywood community for his previous toxic behavior.  But, if there has been a dominant story throughout this whole Awards season, it would be everything La La Land.  The Damien Chazelle directed musical has steamrolled through this season, seemingly untouchable in it’s front-runner status from the moment it first premiered.  When the nominations were announced in January, La La Land made history by tying All About Eve (1950) and Titanic (1997) for the most nominations ever at 14 total.  Depending on how the ceremony goes in a couple days, the movie could have a viable shot at breaking the record for most wins as well, although that could be a tall order for such an independent film.  Like previous years, I will share my picks and thoughts over the top categories of screenwriting, acting, directing, and Best Picture, and tell you who I believe will win, and who I think should win.  So, let’s shine up those Golden Boys and look at this year’s nominees.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Nominees: Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water); Damien Chazelle (La La Land); Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou (The Lobster); Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea); Mike Mills (20th Century Women)

I should point out that one of my picks for the worst films of 2016 is represented here (The Lobster) and thankfully it has no shot in winning, so we can quickly dismiss that one.  This category basically comes down to three top choices.  Taylor Sheridan is currently one of screenwriting’s rising stars, with his nominated script for Hell or High Water coming hot off the heels of his celebrated work on last year’s Sicario (2015).  His screenplay for High Water is a beautifully restrained portrait of the underbelly of the modern American frontier, and features some of the year’s most memorable characters as well.  But, Sheridan’s script is overshadowed this year by the more favored films that are also vying for dominance in the Best Picture category.  If this category is any indicator for how the night will go, Damien Chazelle’s screenplay for La La Land could ride the sweeping wave and add to that movie’s stellar awards total.  But, that’s only if La La Land has the momentum on it’s side, and that could be dying down after too much hype from the last month or so.  If La La Land doesn’t win this category, then the most likely winner would be Kenneth Lonergan for his tone perfect screenplay for Manchester by the Sea.  Lonergan is a highly regarded screenwriter, but he’s never won up to now, so this might be his long anticipated victory year.  And it would be a deserving win, because I don’t think any other script this year was as precisely tuned and full of sweet surprises.  If anything stands in La La Land’s way, it will be this veteran’s long overdue triumph.

Who Will Win: Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

Who Should Win: Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Nominees: Eric Heisserer (Arrival); August Wilson (Fences); Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi (Hidden Figures); Luke Davies (Lion); Barry Jenkins and Tarrell Alvin McCraney (Moonlight)

This is an interesting category this year, because every screenplay here ended up becoming a nominee for Best Picture.  And with La La Land and Manchester by the Sea dominating in the Original category, this one is far less predictable.  August Wilson took the unenviable task of re-imagining his stage play for the big screen with Fences, but the end result proved to be surprisingly effective.  Eric Heisserer’s Arrival is the most cerebral of the nominees here, but it’s also the one that is perhaps too restrained for it’s own good.  Luke Davies’ Lion is emotional, but inconsistent.  And the Hidden Figures screenplay is an engaging, if perhaps too conventional for this category.  Which leaves the screenplay for Moonlight, which very much looks like the front-runner here.  The only thing that might stand in it’s way is the often unconventional structure of it, and the fact that it leaves a few things unresolved by the end.  But, judging it against the others, it’s those imperfections that make it the far more exciting script in this category.  No other screenplay here or in the other category is as daring as Moonlight.  It’s subject matter is unique and relevant, and it features some of the most elegant character development we’ve seen all year.  The fact that it doesn’t restrict itself to conventional screenwriting standards helps it to stand out from the bunch, and that’s why it is deserving of the award.  The story behind the script also helps to elevate it’s status, as it was a passion project for many years for director Barry Jenkins, who poured years into the writing of this screenplay.  It’s the little indie movie that could, and the kind of success story that Hollywood loves to award.

Who will Win: Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight

Who Should Win: Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Nominees: Viola Davis (Fences); Naomie Harris (Moonlight); Nicole Kidman (Lion); Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures); Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea)

Of all the acting categories this year, this is the one that is pretty much a lock.  Viola Davis, a much beloved actress of film, theater and television is almost certain to win this award on Oscar night, and it will be an award that’s very well deserved.  Her performance is heartbreaking and powerful in the film Fences; more than holding her own against Denzel Washington and then some.  But, her front runner status here has become somewhat controversial because many people view her role in Fences as more of a lead role rather than a supporting one, making it seem unfair to relegate her to the supporting category.  It’s a complaint that I see a lot of validity to, because not only is putting her performance in the supporting column here minimizing a performance that honestly could hold it’s own in the Best Actress category and give Ms. Davis an even higher honor for the year, but putting her in this category makes it unfair for the other nominees, whose performances are more traditionally of the supporting kind, and likewise feel much smaller to hers by comparison.  But, that’s Oscar politics for you.  The studio submitted Viola for the supporting actress category because they believe it will give her an easier road to victory, and it looks very much like that will be the case.  Of all the remaining nominees, the one performance that could spoil Davis’ night could be Michelle Williams for her short but sweet performance in Manchester by the Sea.  The always reliable Williams has one scene in particular that is particularly emotionally raw and captivating, and any other year it would have assured her an Oscar win.  But, if Viola Davis doesn’t win this year, it will be the night’s biggest upset.

Who Will Win: Viola Davis, Fences

Who Should Win: Viola Davis, Fences

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Nominees: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight); Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water); Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea); Dev Patel (Lion); Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals)

This category is also facing the same complaints as the supporting actress category.  Dev Patel’s nomination for the film Lion seems oddly placed in the Supporting category, especially since he is the lead in that particular film.  However, unlike Viola Davis in the Supporting Actress category, Patel is not a favorite in his own field, despite giving a deserving performance.  The category as a whole is actually a pretty competitive one.  Jeff Bridges may be the least likely to win, mainly because he’s the only past winner, and the performance is more or less a parody of himself (albeit a great one).  I’m really happy to see one of my favorite character actors, Michael Shannon, nominated this year, as he is often criminally under-appreciated in Hollywood.  And Lucas Hedges delivered a solid, star-making role in Manchester by the Sea, though a win for the first timer is highly unlikely.  No, the winner this year is looking more and more likely to be Mahershala Ali for his standout performance in Moonlight.  Ali, who has had a solid year overall with starring roles on critically acclaimed TV shows like House of Cards and Luke Cage, and supporting appearances in movies like Hidden Figures, has the momentum based on a body of work to back up his performance in the movie.  The acting in Moonlight is solid from top to bottom, but it’s Mahershala who stands out as the drug dealer turned surrogate father for the film’s main character.  Even though it is brief, his presence is felt throughout the film, even when he’s not there anymore.  Hollywood loves these kinds of powerful performances, and it’s enough to make Ali stand out from the field.

Who Will Win: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Who Should Win: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

BEST ACTRESS

Nominees: Isabelle Huppert (Elle); Ruth Negga (Loving); Natalie Portman (Jackie); Emma Stone (La La Land); Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins)

The odds makers are looking at Emma Stone as the favorite in this category.  Her singing and dancing performance certainly shows her versatility as a performer, and it’s that kind of varied role that the Academy responds very strongly to.  At the same time, in between the singing and dancing, Emma doesn’t really do any more stretching as an actor.  The character is more or less close to her own persona, or at least the kind of character she usually plays in most movies.  I thought she showed more passion in her nominated performance from Birdman (2014) a couple of years ago.  Not to say she is terrible in La La Land, nor undeserving.  I’m just not so certain about her front-runner status.  Certainly, it’s better than Meryl Streep’s nominated performance.  Sometimes the Academy honors Mrs. Streep for some especially stellar work, and then other years, it seems like she’s shoehorned in just so they can throw more glory her way.  The latter seems to be true this year, especially considering other actresses like Amy Adams were left out.  But, even despite my gripes, Emma Stone looks to benefit from the momentum that La La Land is enjoying this awards season.  Of the nominees here, I think the strongest performance actually came from the most reserved nominee, Ruth Negga, whose tender performance in Loving is one that sadly has gone unheralded.  Another thing I would like to see is veteran actress Isabelle Huppert receive an award, given her very challenging role in the French thriller Elle.  Tough call, but my wish is to see underdog Negga come away a champion here, even though it looks like a near lock for Stone.

Who Will Win: Emma Stone, La La Land

Who Should Win: Ruth Negga, Loving

BEST ACTOR

Nominees: Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea); Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge); Ryan Gosling (La La Land); Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic); Denzel Washington (Fences)

At the start of the race, Casey Affleck looked like a clear favorite in this category for his pained and emotional performance in Manchester by the Sea.  And it’s a front-runner status that I completely agree with.  Of all the nominees, Affleck gave the best performance of the year.  It’s rich, heartfelt, and feels 100 percent authentic, which is a hard trick to pull off even for the best actors out there.  Unfortunately, Casey’s personal life has gotten him into trouble recently, and it’s the kind of controversy that casts a dark cloud over the fine acting that he does.  With accusations of abuse leveled on him only weeks before the awards, it has led many to believe that the Academy might shun his nomination and vote for another nominee in order to avoid any blow-back their way.  But, if they do so, I think it would be the wrong move.  Affleck’s work should stand on it’s own, and if it is indeed the best performance of these nominees, then it should be recognized as such.  It wouldn’t be the first time someone with a questionable personal life has been honored by the academy (Roman Polanski, Woody Allen).  But, it appears that the once sure thing for Affleck is now fading away, and one of the other nominees now has a better shot at winning.  My guess is that veteran Denzel Washington has the best opportunity to come away a winner here; picking up his third career Oscar, and sharing one alongside Viola Davis in the same film.  Ryan Gosling could also sneak in, if La La Land‘s night goes better than expected.  But, one of two things is more likely; either Casey manages to win despite the controversy, or he loses to a beloved Hollywood icon like Denzel.

Who Will Win: Denzel Washington, Fences

Who Should Win: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

BEST DIRECTOR

Nominees: Damien Chazelle (La La Land); Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge); Barry Jenkins (Moonlight); Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea); Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)

Like many years before, this category usually lines up with the winner of the Best Picture category, and with La La Land favored so heavily, it also seems reasonable to think that it’s director, Damien Chazelle, is favored here as well.  If he wins, he would be, at age 32, the youngest Best Director winner in Oscar history, beating out Norman Taurog (Skippy) by a couple months.  That’s quite an achievement no matter what way you look at it.  His direction on La La Land is also the most audacious of the bunch; combining nostalgic old Hollywood musical numbers with a very small scale love story.  Those musical numbers alone show his great talent as a filmmaker and his willingness to take chances.  However, his direction is also the most inconsistent of the ones nominated.  While some of his direction choices are bold, there are just as many others in that film that could have been better, and it keeps La La Land from truly soaring like it should.  Of the other nominees, the other top contenders who could reasonably unseat Chazelle are either Lonergan or Jenkins.  Gibson, whose troubled personal life has kept him at a distance from Hollywood, should take this nomination alone as a positive sign of his recovery.  Lonergan’s direction on Manchester is beautiful in it’s straight-forwardness, but he’s more likely to be honored for his screenplay, which better represents his genius.  Jenkins on the other hand displayed beautiful, lyrical direction with his Moonlight, and it represented some of the best film-making of the year.  Audacious, but without the pitfalls that plagued La La Land.  Still, it’s unlikely Damien the boy wonder is going to come away empty handed here, and in turn, he will make history.

Who Will Win: Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Who Should Win: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

BEST PICTURE

Nominees: Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Manchester by the Sea, and Moonlight

At this point, with momentum that has carried it all the way through the awards season without dissipating, it’s no longer a question of can La La Land can win the top award, but rather how big of a win is it going to have.  It already tied the most nominations in history.  My prediction is that it will fall short of the record number of 11 Oscars (held by Ben-Hur, Titanic, and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King), but will still win close to 9 or 10 total, which is still a staggering number in any year.  Of course, it will fall under the complaint of being an ego stroking film about Hollywood that the Oscars always seem to fawn over, but that’s the Oscars choice to make.  At least for the Academy, La La Land has proven to be a success with all audiences, so they have that cover.  But when compared with the rest of the nominees, does it really stand that much taller.  I have to say, the Oscars fared pretty well this year with their nominations.  There’s not a single film in this category that shouldn’t be there, and four of the nine nominees were on my best of the year list (Manchester, Moonlight, Hell or High Water, and La La Land).  But, La La Land is not my favorite of the bunch, and if I were to choose from these nominees, I would give the award to Manchester by the Sea.  It was my third favorite film of last year, and since my #1 and 2 are not in this category, Manchester gets it by default.  It’s also the most consistently strong of the nominees, but it’s strongest chance of succeeding will be in the screenplay field.  Of the remaining nominees, the very beloved Moonlight probably has the closest chance of sneaking past the La La Land onslaught and pulling the upset; but it’s chances are minimal.  Plan on seeing La La Land walking away the big winner in this Oscar ceremony.  It’s really only a matter now of knowing if the Academy decides to spread the wealth a little more during the ceremony, or just heap all the praise onto this musical hit, giving it a more prestigious place in movie history.

Who Will Win: La La Land

Who Should Win: Manchester by the Sea

So, there you have my picks for the top awards of this years Oscars, as well as my predictions based on how the odds look at this moment.  Like years before, I also have my rundown of all the remaining categories on the Oscar ballot:

Best Animated Feature: ZootopiaBest Cinematography: La La Land; Best Film EditingLa La Land; Best Production Design: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them; Best Make-up and Hairstyling: Star Trek BeyondBest Visual Effects: The Jungle BookBest Sound Mixing: La La LandBest Sound Editing: Hacksaw RidgeBest Costume Design: La La LandBest Original ScoreLa La LandBes Original Song: “Audition” (The Fools Who Dream) from La La Land; Best Foreign Language Film: The SalesmanBest Documentary Feature: 13thBest Documentary Short: 4.1 MilesBest Live Action Short: TimecodeBest Animated Short: Pear Cider and Cigarettes

So, there you have my predictions and thoughts on this year’s Academy Awards.  In general, I am pleased with the nominees this year.  Some of my favorite films like A Monster Calls and Deadpool were left out, but it’s understandable given those two films more genre based roots.  While La La Land’s pack-leading momentum is not at all surprising, the sheer force of it has been kind of odd.  How did this independently made, small scale, sugary sweet musical with only two lead roles filled with actors not known for their singing and dancing get this close to being a record shattering Oscar favorite.  Some of the explanation may come from the Academy’s sometime ridiculous infatuation with it’s own industry, which also led The Artist  and Argo  to victory.  But, I would also argue that the current political climate in America today is also a motivating factor in La La Land’s success.  With a city and industry reeling from a disappointing result in last year’s election, and an uncertain future lying ahead for everyone, La La Land became a pick-me-up movie that both Hollywood and the country at large needed.  It is movie as medicine, and though the film itself is bittersweet in it’s tale of underdog artists struggling to balance life with their dreams, it nevertheless filled that gap that people everywhere wanted to fill after the struggles of 2016.  So, it will remain to be seen how much La La Land will take away from this year’s ceremony; and if the Academy will be generous to leave some for the rest.  In any case, it really won’t matter in the end, because if it wins 10, or 14, or no Oscars, La La Land as well as all the other winners at this year’s Awards will always be around and hopefully audiences in the future will view both winners and losers as worthwhile entertainment and see that, cinematically speaking, 2016 wasn’t such a bad year.

The Movies of Fall 2016

small movie theater

Another summer has come and gone for Hollywood and these last couple, slow weeks of the season offers us some time to look back and examine the state of the industry as we transition into the fall.  This summer, unfortunately, is more notable for it’s failures rather than it’s successes.  Little was talked about the enormous success of films like Captain America: Civil War or Finding Dory and that’s only because we expected those movies to do well, and those expectations were met.  Instead the overall trend of this summer was a severe lack of any breakout hits.  Most of this year’s movies either were par for the course, or failed miserably.  We saw some notable flops with Disney’s Alice Through the Looking Glass, Fox’s Independence Day: Resurgence, and Paramount’s Ben-Hur, and some underperforming results from previously strong franchises like X-Men: ApocalypseJason Bourne, and Star Trek Beyond.  And then there was the brouhaha surrounding the controversial Ghostbusters remake that just left everyone sour by the end; the media, the audiences, the unfortunately chastised cast members, everybody.  Ghostbusters underwhelming box office is really emblematic of the downside of hype, where too much talk of a movie can often kill it’s chances of having a chance to develop it’s own identity and in turn it makes us the audience grow weary of a film before ever having seen it.  This summer seems to represent a growing trend towards audience apathy, where some of the more reliable pathways towards blockbuster success just don’t work anymore and audiences’ tastes have changed dramatically.  That, or they’re just so sick and tired of sequels, remakes and reboots.  It’s a concern for Hollywood that not only affects the summer, however, as the fall season carries it’s own kinds of pressures.

While not as reliant on blockbuster films, the fall is nevertheless a major season for the industry.  On one level, you have massive movies set to roll out during the Holidays, while at the same time, this is also when Hollywood positions it’s Awards season fare for the best exposure.  It’s an interesting balancing act that Hollywood must do every year; getting the right amount of hype for their tent-pole holiday films, while at the same time trying to prevent their prestige flicks from getting lost in all the shuffle, so that they’ll be remembered by Awards time next year.  We are now about to begin the Fall 2016 season, and like previous years, I will be running through all of the movies that I believe will be the must sees, the ones that have me worried, and the ones that I’m certain are worth skipping.  Of course, these are my early predictions based upon the level of marketing and hype I have seen from each film.  I’m not the best handicapper, but I try my best, and my track record is improving of late (all my summer predictions this year proved to be accurate, especially my movies to skip).  In addition, I will also be including the movie trailers for each film I discuss, so you all can witness what I’m talking about and make your own mind up whether each is worth seeing or not.  Hopefully, I will give all of you a nice overview of what to expect in the months ahead; especially if it’s a film that might be flying under your radar.  And with that, let’s take a look at the upcoming movies of the Fall of 2016.

MUST SEES:

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (DECEMBER 16)

I’m pretty sure that this is going to be a pattern for the next couple of years.  Just like last fall, my most anticipated movie for the season was the relaunch of Star Wars with the incredible The Force Awakens.  Now, releasing exactly a year later, we are getting yet another Star Wars movie that I am completely psyched for.  But, unlike The Force Awakens, which was a continuation of the main saga itself (taking place 30 years after Return of the Jedi), Rogue One marks the beginning of something very different for the franchise; and one that is incredibly exciting as well.  This is the first in what will be an endless string of spin-off movies taking place within the same Star Wars universe.  This is a great idea, because I believe that there is so  much more to explore within this franchise world, and these Star Wars Stories offer up so many possibilities.  Of course, there has to be some ties to the original series, and I like the choice of story that they made to start this off with; showing us the history of the Death Star and the rebel spies who were responsible for stealing it’s blueprints away from the Empire.  The cast for this one looks solid, including recent Oscar nominee Felicity Jones as the mysterious Jyn Erso, as well as some other notable players like Forrest Whitaker, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Mads Mikkelsen, and Ben Mendelsohn as a very flashy Imperial villain.  Also, the tease of Darth Vader making a return here alone is enough to get me excited for this.  My hope is that Rogue One shows us the limitless potential for more stories in the Star Wars universe and that each one is able to stand on it’s own outside of the main saga.  This could be the start of something very good for both Star Wars and cinema in general, but at the same time, I just hope it stands as an engaging journey on it’s own.

DOCTOR STRANGE (NOVEMBER 4)

Just as reliable right now as the Star Wars brand at the box office is Marvel’s cinematic universe.  Seemingly indestructible at this point, Marvel is still riding high after the success of the huge mash-up brawl of heroes seen in this summer’s Captain America: Civil War.  So what do they do for an encore?  They introduce a new hero into the universe, that’s what they do.  Dr. Steven Strange has been one of the most high profile characters from the comics to not yet have his own movie, and this year he finally makes his long overdue debut, played by Benedict Cumberbatch no less.  It’s surprising that Marvel would approach such a high profile actor to take on the role, given how they’ve often sought out fresher faces in the past (or ones in need of a new career path like Robert Downey Jr.).  But with the iconic cape on his back and sporting the recognizable beard, Cumberbatch looks very much like he was tailor made for the role and I’m excited to see how well he does.  Doctor Strange is a different kind of character altogether from the rest of the Marvel superheroes; working primarily in the world of supernatural, as opposed to the worlds of science and the interstellar that the other Marvel films exist in.  I think that makes this an intriguing new entry for the Marvel universe, because it offers a different shade within their spectrum of storytelling; making this instantly it’s own thing within their universe.  I like the Inception style visuals that convey the multi-dimensional magic that Strange and his peers command.  This promises to be one of this season’s most visually striking films and hopefully it still maintains that same level of fun and excitement that we’ve come to expect from Marvel at this point.  Let’s hope that this universe still has room for yet another superhero worth caring about.

MOANA (NOVEMBER 23)

Disney Animation is enjoying some of their best years right now since their Renaissance heyday of the early nineties.  Of course, Frozen (2013) stands as their juggernaut smash hit, but they’ve also seen success with Wreck-It Ralph (2012) and Big Hero 6 (2014) as well.  And earlier this year, they made a fortune off of what I consider to be their best film in this post-Renaissance period overall with Zootopia, a movie that is only getting better and more relevant since it’s Spring release.  With this track record, a lot of pressure is put on Disney’s next feature, and I think they’ve got another special one coming in the form of Moana.  This new fairy-tale set within the Polynesian culture looks like a visually stunning treat, and it has the benefit of a great team behind it.  The film is directed by John Musker and Ron Clements, two long time Disney Animation veterans with a legendary track record.  They are the ones responsible for some of the studio’s biggest hits of the past like The Little Mermaid (1989) and Aladdin (1992), as well as the valiant attempt to bring hand drawn animation back with The Princess and the Frog (2009) which sadly didn’t accomplish it’s goal.  Here, the duo attempt their first CGI animated film, and hopefully it works out for them.  The animation from the trailer looks impressive, as did the little bit of footage that I saw at last year’s D23 Expo.  Having the always entertaining Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as part of the voice cast doesn’t hurt either.  Hopefully, this continues Disney’s hot streak and gives these long time veterans another classic worthy of their legacy at the studio.

ARRIVAL (NOVEMBER 11)

Here we have one of the more intriguing new films coming this fall.  There are a number of factors that make this something that I’m eagerly waiting to watch.  One, director Denis Villeneuve’s previous film Sicario topped my list of the Best Movies of 2015, so I’m interested in seeing what he does for a follow-up.  And two, the premise of this one looks very provocative.  Sort of like a darker take on Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), this is a movie about the struggles of trying to understand recently encountered alien life and finding ways to communicate with them.  The drama from this premise seems to be drawn from the delicate balancing act that the characters must go through in order to speak with the alien race and bridge the language gap, otherwise one misstep could lead to our world’s destruction.  I like the fact that this is a film about avoiding conflicts through an exchange of knowledge and working through differences by avoiding easily triggered misunderstandings.  Like Sicario and some of Villeneuve’s previous work, this is a very visually striking movie.  The alien ships have a unique feel to them that doesn’t seem like they’ve been rehashed from other sci-fi movies.  And like Villeneuve’s other film’s, the tone feels very dark, making this look like another movie that’s going to challenge the comfort level of it’s audience, and in a good way.  With the foreboding alien ships, the threat of destruction if we don’t act correctly, and a neat sense of global scale, this looks like an Independence Day for the smart set.  In addition, it looks like another strong showpiece for actress Amy Adams, who I sometimes feel doesn’t gets enough credit for her talent as a dramatic performer.  Hopefully she’s served well by this movie.

THE FOUNDER (DECEMBER 16)

One thing that has pleased me a great deal in the last few years is the resurgence of Michael Keaton’s film career.  Having appeared in the last two Best Picture Oscar winners, the former Dark Knight is an actor once again in demand, and it’s well deserved.  My hope is that this win streak keeps on going and gives him another shot at Oscar gold.  This film may not go that far, but it still looks like an amazing showcase for Keaton’s talents.  This story about the ruthless business man who turned a small California based burger stand into a worldwide franchise called McDonald’s looks like a movie tailor-made for the actor.  Even without his involvement, this is a little known back story to one of the world’s largest corporations that I’m really intrigued to learn more about.  Michael Keaton is not unfamiliar with playing scoundrels on film, but it will be interesting to see if he can pull off the delicate balance between being both loathed and admired within the same role.  This will probably be a more performance driven film than anything, as it does look like your standard biopic fare, so it may not be on everyone’s radar.  But, as someone who’s enjoyed Michael Keaton’s work since childhood, my hope is that this becomes yet another standout role for him and continues his hot streak at the movies.  It’ll also be interesting to see if this will change our collective image of the McDonald restaurant as a whole.  Probably not, but it will be an interesting history lesson nonetheless.

MOVIES THAT HAVE ME WORRIED:

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM (NOVEMBER 18)

Consider me cautiously optimistic about this one.  Let’s face it, nothing is ever going to replicate the enormous success that was the Harry Potter series.  But, author J.K. Rowling still believes that there is more to explore in the world she has created and that’s the purpose behind Fantastic Beasts.  The question is whether or not we’ll find this new chapter as interesting as the adventures of the boy wizard.  There are some things that excite me about this film.  For the first time we are seeing what the Wizarding World is like across the pond here in America, albeit in a different time period.  This opens up new angles to explore within Ms. Rowling’s universe, and hopefully it’s as intriguing as the many years we spent around Hogwarts with Mr. Potter.  The cast for this one also looks interesting, with Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne playing the key role of Newt Scamander, a magical zoologist searching for creatures of all kinds for his research, as well as other interesting new cast members like Colin Farrell, Jon Voight, Kathrine Waterson, Ezra Miller and Ron Perlman all involved.  Rowling also marks her screenwriting debut here, which could be a blessing or a curse for this movie, depending on the result.  Rowling has never written a film script prior to this, which could be questionable, but no one knows this universe better than her, so it could prove to be alright in the end.  Also, director David Yates, who oversaw the last half of the Potter franchise, returns for this flick, so the movie is still in good hands.  This could prove underwhelming given what’s come before, but hopefully it ends up becoming a classic just like it’s predecessors.

THE BIRTH OF A NATION (OCTOBER 7)

The timing couldn’t be worse for this particular film right now.  Believe me, I am very interested in seeing this movie, and may end up liking it in the end.  But, unfortunately this is a movie that has left me and a lot of other people worried due to real life controversies plaguing those involved with the film’s making.  Telling the story of a slave revolt led by a literate slave and preacher named Nat Turner in the Antebellum South, this was a passion project for the film’s director and star Nate Parker.  It’s a little known part of American history that deserves a film to spotlight it for a new generation, especially at a time when racial tensions are on the rise, and that’s something that makes me very eager to see this film for what it is.  I also like the fact that Nate Parker takes his title from the racist silent film of the same name from D.W. Griffith, sort of turning that on it’s head as well.  The only problem now is that the movie has recently been clouded by controversy, and not for the content of it’s story.  Accusations of rape have recently resurfaced around Nate Parker, dating back to his years in college.  Whether these accusations are valid or not, it will still affect the reception of this film and that’s unfortunate.  A movie should be able to stand on it’s own, but as we’ve seen in the past, it’s hard for audiences to unload their already established views on the filmmaker in order to take their work at face value.  A lot of hope was put on this film as an Award season favorite, and now it’s uncertain whether this movie will stand out from the shadow of Nate Parker’s past.  Hopefully the work will speak for itself, but then again, time will tell.

HACKSAW RIDGE (NOVEMBER 4)

Speaking of movies trying to survive outside the dark shadow cast by it’s creator, we have this war epic made by Mel Gibson.  Gibson hasn’t directed a feature since 2006’s Apocalypto, and this also marks his first directorial effort since his now infamous career implosion, involving anti-Semitic remarks during a drunk driving arrest and his profane leaked phone calls to an ex-lover.  Of course, no one is more to blame for his troubles than Mel himself, but there are many of us out there that wishes the old Mel could find his way back and make great movies again.  This could be that movie, with an intriguing story behind it about the only conscientious objector to ever be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor after saving the lives of 75 soldiers during the Battle of Okinawa.  Pvt. Desmond Doss’ harrowing story is the right kind of inspiring, non-controversial narrative that can help gain Mel some of his audience back, but is it enough?  My worry is that this might be too conventional a movie for the once risk-taking filmmaker.  I would rather see Mel return back to the hard edge material that he had explored with films like Braveheart (1995) and Apocalypto, but then again, he’s probably not in the situation where he’s allowed to take those chances again; at least not yet.  I want to see Mel come back in a big way, and hopefully a lot wiser.  The movie does look beautiful, and Andrew Garfield looks like a good match for the role of Pvt. Doss.  Let’s hope that this is a movie that withstands the scrutiny of it’s association with it’s controversial creator.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (SEPTEMBER 23)

Even the fall season is not exempt from Hollywood’s reliance on remakes and reboots.  Here we have a remake of the John Sturges 1960 Western original of the same name, this time directed by action movie director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day).  Now, you’re probably wondering why I don’t show as much contempt for this remake as I did for Ghostbusters.  The simple reason is because the original Magnificent Seven was itself a remake, of one of my favorite movies no less; Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954).  The fact that it’s getting remade again is less insulting to me, because it’s a story that has been done many times before, and overall was handled pretty respectfully.  But, even still, it is a remake and not an original idea, which still tempers my expectations of this project.  I do like the cast though, with Denzel Washington filling the boots worn previously by Yul Brynner in the 1960 version, and Takashi Shimura in the original Japanese classic.  I also like the presence of the ever charismatic Chris Pratt, still riding high after the success of Jurassic World (2015) and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014).  The question now is whether or not this remake has anything new to add to the storyline, or for that matter to the Western genre as a whole, which has been pretty dormant in recent years.  If it just comes off as a standard cliched Western, then it’s not going to click with audiences.  But, if it takes a familiar story and characters and experiments a little with the formula, it might make this remake worthwhile.  The Old West is in need of fresh blood, and hopefully good stories stay strong over time.

MOVIES TO SKIP:

TROLLS (NOVEMBER 4)

Oh, what happened to you Dreamworks Animation?  A couple years ago you were one of the leading forces in the world of animation, right alongside Pixar.   With hits like Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, and How to Train Your Dragon, you were pushing the medium forward and appealing to audiences of all ages.  But after a string of failures and disappointing returns on some of your marquee franchises, things have been looking grim for you.  Add to this the recent acquisition by Comcast and the departure of your founder Jeffrey Katzenberg from the company, it is now an uncertain time for you.  Sadly, the next thing coming in your future is a movie like Trolls.  This is a film that clearly looks like the product of an animation studio that has given up.  Instead of making movies that appeal to all demographics, Dreamworks is now just aiming for just younger audiences with this way too cutesy film.  Based on the brightly follicled toy line of the same name, this looks like an over-glorified, 90-minute toy commercial and nothing more.  And given the inclusion of a number of recording artists in the film, making up most of the voice cast as well, this also looks like a desperate attempt to sell a soundtrack album in addition to toys.  Dreamworks used to be above this shameless kind of audience pandering and it’s sad to see them reduced to such a state.  I hope that they can someday get back to making classics like Dragons again, because Trolls looks like a deep decent into mediocrity for a once powerful studio.

ASSASSIN’S CREED (DECEMBER 21)

Hollywood keeps making many of the same mistakes year after year, and one of those is usually their foolish attempt to try to turn a video game into a movie.  Not that I believe it can’t be done; it’s just that none of the many attempts at it has ever worked.  We are once again seeing Hollywood trying to bring a video game to life with Assassin’s Creed, a stealth adventure game from publisher Ubisoft, who are also involved in the making of this film.  I’ll give it this; the filmmakers are putting a lot of effort into this one, with a substantial budget and an all-star cast behind it.  Unfortunately, everything I’ve seen about this movie tells me that it is doomed to fail just like all the adaptations before it.  Not even the talent of Michael Fassbender can save this one.  The action looks generic, the gritty visual design looks cold and this movie also has the disadvantage of trying to replicate a game experience within a 2 hour run-time.  The reason why games like Assasssin’s Creed work is because they allow the player to move through the story at their own pace and absorb the world their characters’ exist in.  A movie can’t do that and I worry that Assassin’s Creed is going to try to do too much with too little.  The director, Justin Kurzel has some talent as a filmmaker, but he’s working in a medium that hasn’t been kind and I worry that this will be yet another cast-off sent to the heap of bad video game movies.

INFERNO (OCTOBER 28)

The appeal of this series is something that I just don’t get.  Based on Dan Brown’s collection of pulpy mystery novels, this series centered around the character Robert Langdon hit the big screen first with the maligned but profitable The DaVinci Code (2006), and continued with the less successful Angels and Demons (2009).  Both starred Tom Hanks as Langdon and were directed by Ron Howard, and neither film represented the best work from either.  The movies, like the books, think they are more clever and provocative than they really are, and in the end just end up being boring.  The DaVinci Code in particular was one of the most over-hyped movies in recent history and I still don’t see what all the fuss was about.  Angels and Demons was a tiny bit better, but was still a snoozefest overall.  Here, Hanks and Howard return for a third installment and it looks like just more of the same, which doesn’t bode well.  I highly doubt that three movies in this will be a series that finally takes hold for me.  Honestly, as far as a Tom Hanks picture worth seeing this fall, I would rather go with Sulley.  This merely feels like an obligation for the respectable actor and director, and nothing more than that.

So, there you have my outlook on the upcoming fall season.  I think that it’s pretty safe to say that this will be a season once again dominated by Star Wars hype, but I am hopeful that some surprises will be in store as well.  Of course, I only touched upon a handful of movies that will be releasing in the next few months.  Most of the films that have yet to come onto my radar just yet are some of those small indie movies that usually get their attention around Awards time, and I will hopefully try to keep up with them as best as I can.  Naturally, this season usually is a strong one for the animation medium, so I’m sure that movies  like Moana will perform well.  The same could be said about it’s competitors Trolls and Illumination’s Sing, but I doubt those will get the same kind of love from critics.  Keep in mind, these are just my initial thoughts before the season begins.  A lot of things can change over the next few months, and some of these movies can possibly exceed my expectations, or fall short of them.  If anything, I hope that this preview has been a helpful one to you my readers.  It’ll be interesting to see how your reactions to these films line up or differ from my own.  This crazy year is almost at it’s end, so let’s hope that it finishes strong at the box office and gives us some fresh entertainment that we will want to carry with us onward into the years afterward.

The Movies of Summer 2016

cinerama dome

In the 3 years that I have been writing this blog, I have yet to see a summer movie season that has felt exactly the same overall from year to year.  Some years we see ambitious roll outs from the major studios, and then other years, we see a significant roll back as the production companies decide to hold off on big gambles.  And in recent years, it has become more and more common to see blockbuster movies outside of the summer season.  2016 is no exception.  As I write this, the year has already had 3 different films with opening weekends over the $100 million mark (Deadpool, Batman v. Superman, and The Jungle Book) and Summer hasn’t even begun yet.  Couple this with 3 movies already having grossed over $300 million domestic and 2016 is beginning to look like a record breaking year.  This hot streak looks to continue into the weeks ahead, as Marvel gears up their annual summer entry, along with ambitious releases from their competitors (DC/Warner and 20th Century Fox).  Sequels and remakes of course will dominate the field again, but I’m also intrigued to see how some of this summer’s independent fare will perform.  After all, last summer also gave us movies like Ex Machina which while not a huge moneymaker, it still stood out long enough among the big boys to be awarded by year’s end.  That’s usually what makes the Summer season so compelling in the end; not the big tentpoles, but the little surprises, even when they come in huge packages like Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) or Pacific Rim (2013).

As I’ve done before every Summer Movie season, I will be sharing with you my choices for the must see attractions of the coming months, as well as the movies that have me worried and the ones that I know will stink.  While I believe my picks are sound as I write this, keep in mind, I’ve never been all that good at handicapping these things.  In years past, I predicted that Tomorrowland (2015) was going to be a great movie and that Edge of Tomorrow (2014) was going to be a terrible one.  Of course, neither prediction panned out like I thought it would.  At the same time, some of these are safe bets, and others could end up being complete surprises.  I’ll certainly be interested in seeing how this season progresses.  Can Marvel continue it’s hot streak with Captain America: Civil War? Can DC revive it’s image with Suicide Squad?  What could end up being this year’s unexpected hit, or which one will be the most notorious flop?  Time to look over the Summer of 2016 schedule and see what’s ahead.

MUST SEES:

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (MAY 6)

Let’s begin right where this Summer season launches with the next big Marvel movie release.  The Disney owned studio has dominated this weekend in recent years, with Avengers 1 and 2 opening to record-breaking numbers as well as Iron Man 3 (2013).  This year, Cap gets the prime spot, though of course he’s not alone in this third film in his standalone series.  The impressive cast includes pretty much every Avenger character we’ve seen to date, minus Thor and The Hulk, who will get their own separate movie next year.  Not only that, but this film will also mark the debut of Black Panther into the Marvel stable (played by Chadwick Boseman) as well as the triumphant re-introduction of Spider-Man into the Marvel Universe (here played by newcomer Tom Holland).  With a cast like this, you could just as well call this Avengers 2.5.  But, Avengers moniker or no , this still looks like an amazing film just based off of the trailers alone.  Really, I don’t blame Marvel for wanting to use their entire cast to the maximum even outside of the marquee Avengers franchise. The action scenes look top notch and the cast feels as comfortable in their roles as ever, especially Chris Evans as Captain America and Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man.  Certainly, in the wake of the mess that was Batman v. Superman, this will be Marvel’s example of how to do the formula right.  You could learn something from this Zack Snyder; pay close attention.  Hopefully, this won’t be a sign of overkill for the Marvel Studios and that their winning streak will continue as they push forward into their Phase 3 plan.

SUICIDE SQUAD (AUGUST 5)

Speaking of DC Comics, they have their own film for this Summer season.  After the disappointing results of Batman v. SupermanSuicide Squad has an opportunity to turn things around in this cinematic universe and they can do that with a movie that hopefully has a lot more fun with it’s premise, instead of feeling like a cynical mandate.  And I honestly feel like this movie has set the right tone needed for DC.  Under the expert hand of director David Ayer (End of WatchFurySuicide Squad feels looser and more geared towards entertainment than other DC films.  The question is whether it can stand well on it’s own, or is merely just trying too hard to copy the vibe off of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.  Honestly, if they are trying to be the DC version of Guardians, I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing.  One thing that gets me excited about this film is it’s cast of characters.  If there’s one thing that DC does have over Marvel, it is their stronger “Rogues Gallery,” and here’s a movie that focuses entirely on just them.  Will Smith appears to be a good choice for Batman villain Deadshot, and it’s certainly been a while since I’ve been excited for any Smith film.  Plus, we are finally seeing the big screen debut of Harley Quinn (played by Margot Robbie), a comic book favorite that’s long been overlooked.  Jared Leto’s new take on the Joker also looks intriguing, and I’m happy that he’s doing his own thing with the character and not just rehashing Heath Ledger’s iconic version.  Overall, my hope is that this will become the tone-setter for DC going forward.  If DC wants to get the rest of us excited for their bold plan for a cinematic universe, it better be all of that.

FINDING DORY (JUNE 17)

Before Marvel had it’s stellar run, it was Pixar Animation Studios that had the best track record in Hollywood.  They’ve experienced a few pot holes as of late, both critically (Brave) and financially (The Good Dinosaur).  But, they are also riding a wave of goodwill from their beloved Inside Out, which was a dominant force in last year’s box office.  This year, they are releasing this sequel to their 2003 blockbuster hit, Finding Nemo.  It’s been quite a gap in time for this sequel to be released 13 years later, but Pixar has made it work before.  There was an eleven year gap between Toy Story 2 (1999) and 3 (2010), and a twelve year gap between Monsters Inc. (2001) and Monsters University (2013).  One of the bonuses for this sequel however is that it’s being directed by Nemo’s original creator, Andrew Stanton.  Unlike the others, which had the reigns handed over to newer teams, Stanton is bringing back his own vision for where the story will go; one that hopefully expands on the world instead of rehashing it.  After his disappointing foray into live action with John Carter (2012) this will be a homecoming for the director and the trailer clearly shows that the trademark Pixar heart and humor is still intact.  Ellen DeGeneres is of course returning as Dory (honestly, it wouldn’t be the same without her) as well as Albert Brooks as Marlin.  New cast members voiced by Ed O’Neil, Ty Burrell and Kaitlin Olsen also look to be welcome additions.  It may have been a long time for Pixar to make a return to the sea to rediscover these characters, but hopefully the wait will have been worth it.

STAR TREK BEYOND (JULY 22)

This new entry in the rebooted Star Trek franchise should be an interesting one.  After two successful films since it relaunched, this series is now faced with having to redefine itself under new direction.  Director J.J. Abrams helped to bring the Star Trek brand up to date, but he’s been absent for the last few years, bringing that same cinematic magic to the other iconic Sci-Fi franchise, Star Wars.  In his place, Paramount Pictures tapped Fast and the Furious helmer Justin Lin to take over, which is no small order.  Abrams left big shoes to fill, and people worried that a filmmaker of Lin’s ilk might push for too much action in the series and not enough of the excellent character development that the Abram’s films were lauded for.  The stunt heavy trailer didn’t alleviate much doubt among some fans, and the Beastie Boys theme only solidified some of the worries that this movies was heading in a very non-Trek direction.  I for one feel that there’s still a lot to look forward to with this movie.  For one thing, the cast is still intact and true to character.  As long as the movie still keeps the character dynamics that have long been a part of the franchise the same, then I don’t think a little extra action would hurt the series at all.  Plus, the script for this entry is being co-penned by Simon Pegg, who’s also returning to the role of Scotty, and given his admiration for the series as a whole, I think this new direction for the series might turn out better than expected.  There may be a new Captain at the helm, but the Enterprise is still boldly heading into that final frontier the way it should be, and hopefully it will continue to do so.

X-MEN: APOCALYPSE (MAY 27)

Speaking of a franchise that has had to constantly reinvent itself, the X-Men franchise gives us their eighth entry this summer.  You would think that a long running series like this would have lost steam by this point, but X-Men is riding strong goodwill right now thanks to the success of their last film, Days of Future Past, which was not only the most critically praised entry in the series, but also the most profitable.  One thing that has helped this franchise out is the return of Bryan Singer to the director’s chair.  Having started the franchise way back with the first film in 2000, Singer made his return with Days of Future Past and has solidified his status as the best fit for the direction of this franchise.  His fourth X-Men film takes on one of the most beloved story-lines from the comic book series, and that’s the arrival of the titular heroes’ greatest threat; the god-like uber mutant known as Apocalypse.  Some fans have complained that the visual representation of the character is too much of a departure from his comic image, but I feel that the look of the character is less important than how he’s used in the final film.  Singer has done well in this franchise before, so I trust his judgment with the changes made to the costumes, as well as to the overall story.  I love the fact that he cast a quality actor like Oscar Isaac to the iconic role (having had a great 2015 appearing in both Ex Machina and Star Wars).  All of the other actors are returning as well, and hopefully their story-lines continue to bear fruit for this long running series.  It certainly appears to have the earth-shattering epic scope attached that’s befitting of the term apocalyptic.

MOVIES THAT HAVE ME WORRIED:

THE BFG (JULY 1)

Now, here we have something that on paper should sound amazing. Steven Spielberg, arguably the greatest filmmaker of his generation, taking on an adaptation of a Roald Dahl classic.  And to be honest, I’m actually very excited to see this movie regardless, because I feel like this is a movie adaptation long overdue.  The only thing is, I have a couple reservations that keeps me from being 100% enthusiastic about this.  For one thing, though Spielberg has been responsible for some of the greatest movies ever centered around children and child-like wonder, it’s been well over 25 years since he last ventured into this kind of story-telling.  And his last attempt at it was Hook (1991) which felt a little muddled and tonally confused in comparison to something like E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982).  Also, the CGI heavy visual presentation makes me worry that the film may not feel authentic in the way it should.  The BFG demands a subdued and magical tone to it’s story, and my worry is that too much CG eye candy might spoil the experience.  But, on the plus side, Spielberg is working from a script by the late Melissa Mathison, who also wrote E.T.  This will be their final collaboration so hopefully it will be a dignified swan song for the legendary screenwriter.  And despite my misgivings of CGI, I will admit the animation of the titular giant does look good (with a voice by recent Oscar winner Mark Rylance).  Hopefully after 20 years telling grown up stories, Spielberg can return to seeing the world through the eyes of a child again, and that it will be just as magical as before.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS (JUNE 3)

This is a strange direction that this franchise has taken.  A couple years back, you might remember that I added the first film to my “movies to skip” preview.  So, why am I upgrading the sequel into this year’s purgatory?  Because, judging by what I’ve seen in the trailers, this is actually one of the few cases where pandering to fan service may actually be a good thing.  The first film was rightly criticized for taking too many liberties with the premise and visual style of the Ninja Turtles, becoming more of a generic action thriller cash in than anything.  This time around, it looks like the filmmakers behind this actually were taking into account what die-hard fans of this Turtles have been asking for, and they are delivering the goods this time around.  It seems like every element from the popular animated series and toy-line that many people from my generation had grown up with has made it into the film; whether it be the van that shoots out manhole covers from the front to the inclusion of fan favorite minions Bebop and Rocksteady.  My own favorite character, Casey Jones (played by Arrow’s Stephen Amell) is also here too.  The only thing that keeps me from being too excited for this is the fact that it’s still a Michael Bay production.  But, unlike Bay’s Transformers franchise, which just treats it’s fan-base like idiots, this franchise is actually treating it’s fans more seriously and are listening to what they want, and that in the end is a step in the right direction.

JASON BOURNE (JULY 29)

It’s been a long eight year gap since we’ve seen Jason Bourne on the big screen.  The series hit a high point with it’s third film, The Bourne Ultimatum (2008), and the finale of that movie felt like a fitting final chapter in the groundbreaking action franchise’s run.  Unfortunately, Universal Pictures wanted to keep the series going, even though it’s star Matt Damon had stepped away.  The result was that we got a Jason Bourne-less sequel called The Bourne Legacy (2012), starring Jeremy Renner in the role of another spy unconnected with the title character, and the overall movie turned out to be a pointless retread of familiar ground.  Now, Matt Damon has returned to the role, but has the franchise already run out of steam to the point where even he can’t bring it back?  My hope is that there is still some juice left in this franchise to make another sequel necessary.  The return of director Paul Greengrass is a good sign, as is the addition of Tommy Lee Jones to the cast.  The only thing is that Ultimatum was such a high water mark and Legacy was such a boring disappointment that I worry that this series should be better left alone than continued.  Honestly, I don’t know if there is anything left to explore with the character.  And there is so many other Bourne clones in cinemas now, that I don’t think a new one will stand out like the original trilogy did years ago.  But, then again, I may be underestimating what Greengrass and Damon can do, and hopefully this will be one spy worth seeing again.

BEN-HUR (AUGUST 19)

Remakes are a tricky sell in Hollywood, especially when they take on beloved classics.  This summer, we are getting a modern re-telling of the classic Ben-Hur.  The original from 1959 is considered by many to be one of the crown jewels of Hollywood’s Golden Age of the 1950’s; an unmatched epic scale production that still inspires filmmakers today.  Certainly one of those inspired by the movie had to be Russian filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch) who is taking on the risky challenge of adapting this story himself.  I’ll give him this, it’s a decision that takes a lot of guts to do.  Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone can truly recapture the wonder and scope of William Wyler’s masterpiece, but it will be interesting to see someone try.  Can this movie work as a remake of the classic film?  Probably not.  Can it do an adequate job of retelling of Lew Wallace’s classic story?  Maybe.  There are some interesting visual ideas seen in the trailer; though it looks like too many other Gladiator wannabes we’ve seen over the years.  The inclusion of Morgan Freeman in the cast also has me intrigued.  Still, I’m sure that too much self-indulgent eye candy may spoil this film’s presentation, especially in the famous chariot race that was so remarkably staged in the original classic.  But, even despite this, I don’t exactly hold Ben-Hur up as this untouchable work of art, so I’m still interested in seeing if any new take on it might turn out something at least interesting.

MOVIES TO SKIP:

GHOSTBUSTERS (JULY 15)

Now here’s a remake that I have not one shred of faith in.  Let me be clear, I don’t object to the casting of female actors in the roles.  That’s an idea that absolutely could have worked if given the same amount of care as the original.  No, what I object to is the heavy handed slapstick that they’ve added.  The original Ghostbusters (1984) is a masterpiece of character driven, understated, dry witty humor that was perfectly in tune with it’s cast that included Bill Murray and the late Harold Ramis.  This remake seems to think that all they need to get a laugh is to rely on shtick and physical gags.  This is not what made Ghostbusters a classic in the first place.  The original also had the great juxtaposition of genuine scary elements mixed in with the sarcastic one-liners.  This remake almost feels restrained and lazy.  Seriously, they’re lowering themselves down to another Exorcist reference.  The overly used CGI doesn’t help either, because it only adds to the artificiality of it all.  Maybe the cast will try their hardest to be funny, but unless they get the tone right, this remake is doomed to fail.  And I hold the original up in such high regards that I feel any attempt to piggy back on it’s legacy is pretty much doomed to fail as well.  Sadly, with the talent involved, this is going to be a disaster that will hurt and I worry that this will end up tarnishing the good name of a comedy masterpiece.  No, just no.

INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE (JUNE 24)

Here we have a sequel coming to theaters after an extremely long absence; 20 years in fact, almost to the day.  Roland Emmerich’s 1996 original was a true phenomenon, breaking box office records and revolutionizing the use of CGI graphics and cinematic scale into the Summer blockbuster for it’s time.  It also spotlighted actor Will Smith, turning him into a bankable star overnight.  At the same time Independence Day was also big and dumb, but in a nice goofy way, just as long as you didn’t take it too seriously.  Unfortunately, over time Roland Emmerich has lost some of the playful goofiness of his earlier work and has now turned into a director that rehashes the same old tricks, only with less of a sense of humor attached.  His movies (like 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow) have only gotten dumber and too self-important, and sadly it looks like he’s bringing that same sense of storytelling back to the film that made him famous.  Independence Day: Resurgence just looks like all the worst Emmerich tropes all rolled up into one; wooden characters, self-important aggrandizing, and excessive CGI-assisted disaster porn, all without the knowing self-aware humor that made the original tolerable.  The absence of Will Smith is noticeable too.  Sadly, Jeff Goldblum might not be able to save this movie alone.  It’s a big bloated sequel that is perhaps a decade too late and from a director who’s clearly lost his ability to have some clever, winking fun.

ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS (MAY 27)

Disney seems determined to adapt all of their animated classics into live action and so far the results are mixed.  Some have been excellent (Cinderella), some just okay (The Jungle Book), and others have been outright terrible (Maleficent).  But certainly the one that missed the mark the most was their 2010 adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, directed by Tim Burton.  The film was a mess of tone and characterizations that felt nowhere close to the spirit of the animated classic, or even the original Lewis Carroll novel.  So, why is it getting a sequel?  Oh yeah, it made over a billion dollars worldwide, despite the poor reviews surrounding it.  Even still, this follow up doesn’t indicate to me a step in the right direction.  Instead it just looks like more of the same things that made the original so disappointing; overused CGI, an unnecessary grim tone, a poorly written script, Johnny Depp doing another weird hammy performance, and a severe lack of insight into what the story is actually about.  The only thing I did like from the original was Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen, and I’m glad to see her return here.  Also, Tim Burton is sitting this one out, with The Muppet Movie (2011) director James Bobin taking his place, which could be helpful.  But, even still, there’s not much hope I see here, even with the addition of Sasha Baron Cohen to the cast, who might be in a ham acting duel with Johnny Depp for most of the movie.

So, there are my predictions for this summer season.  Hopefully, there will be a lot to praise this year, and nothing to overall complain about.  Certainly, the over reliance on sequels during this time of year is discouraging, but when the franchises still enough mojo left in them to be worthwhile (like Captain America and X-Men), I really can’t complain.  This is still the time of year for Hollywood to flex it’s muscles, and given the already stellar start that 2016 has seen, it will be interesting to see if this summer can continue the trend.  It’s really fascinating to see the way that audiences go to the movies now, where these seasons don’t really matter as much like they used to.  A blockbuster can now find it’s audience in the dead of winter, like Deadpool managed to earlier this year.  At some point, we’ll be seeing an opening weekend north of $100 million in every month of the year at this rate.  Even still, the Summer Movie Season has it’s own special draw and hopefully we’ll have a standout on this year.  I’ll certainly be getting my fair share of entertainment as I try my best to review as many of these big releases over the next few months.  But, then again, it’s the thing that never changes for me at the movies whether I’m writing about it or not.  I hope you all find worthwhile entertainment at the movies this summer too and that this guide was helpful overall.

The 2016 Oscars – Picks and Thoughts

The Awards season has come to a close and all that’s left is the big ceremony awarding the industry’s biggest honor; The Academy Award.  Like every year, every one (including myself of course) debate over who will win and who we think will win, and often there is little consensus and often times some bitter disputes.  Regardless of who walks away with the award, we all have to agree that history will ultimately prove what’s a good movie or not and that the awards are more or less just fancy get-togethers for industry insiders to pat each other on the back and give out glorified trophies.  And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of that.  The only reason why the Oscars become a big deal is because we the public have given it the weight that it has.  Like everything else in life, we want to see every year marked by a definitive champion, whether it is in sports or in this case, culture.  The Oscars have become the industry’s barometer of the status of movie-making, and whether or not you view it as on point or out of touch depends on your own tastes in movies.  This can also lead to the Oscars becoming a hot button issue for social political issues, because of that value we put on it as a touchstone of our popular culture.  Certainly, the #OscarsSoWhite campaign generated in the last month since the nominations were announced wouldn’t be so controversial if there hasn’t been so much value put on the Awards itself by our culture.  Regardless of the validity of the controversy, it will be a perfect tee up for host Chris Rock, who I hope delivers a hilarious routine in response.  Like every year, I will share with you my picks for the awards, including who I believe will win and who I want to see win in the biggest categories.  So, let’s begin…

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Nominees: Matt Charman and Joel & Ethan Coen (Bridge of Spies); Alex Garland (Ex Machina); Pete Doctor, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley, and Ronnie del Carmen (Inside Out); Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer (Spotlight); and Jonathan Herman, Angela Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge, and Alan Wenkus (Straight Outta Compton)

Strangely enough, given the complaint of the lack of diversity in the acting categories, this year’s selection of screenplay nominations couldn’t be more diverse; at least in terms of genre types.  You have your straight forward historical drama (Bridge of Spies), an animated film (Inside Out), an in depth look at the journalistic process (Spotlight), a cerebral sci-fi experience (Ex Machina) and a biopic about rappers (Straight Outta Compton).  Overall, I think that many of these choices are deserving, and I’m pleased that the unappreciated Compton and Ex Machina made the cuts.  As of right now, the clear front runner in this category is the highly detailed and politically charged Spotlight.  While Spotlight‘s status as a Best Picture front-runner has diminished in the last couple months, due to shut outs at the Golden Globes and other early industry indicators, the momentum for awarding it’s screenplay hasn’t, especially after a Writers Guild award win.  Is it deserving of the honor.  I believe that that the work put into it, which must have been years in the making just for the research, helps to make it worthy of the award.  But, at the same time, the movie itself lacked any real drive, which keeps it from being my favorite.  It’s fascinating, yes, but the characters lacked definition and the momentum was shaky throughout.  For a screenplay that resonated more for me, I would say that Ex Machina was the standout in this category.  Straight Outta Compton and Inside Out were both entertaining in their writing too, but Ex Machina was the one that really made me think about it long after I saw it.  It’s a brilliant, understated work from accomplished writer Alex Garland.  So, Spotlight will clearly win, but Ex Machina I think will be my dark horse in this race.

Who Will Win: Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, Spotlight

Who Should Win: Alex Garland, Ex Machina

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Nominees: Charles Randolph and Adam McKay (The Big Short); Nick Hornby (Brooklyn); Phyllis Nagy (Carol); Drew Goddard (The Martian); and Emma Donoghue (Room)

Here we find the more traditional nominees for Best Screenplay, all classical dramas, with one major exception.  Each is admirable in it’s own right.  I particularly liked Phyllis Nagy’s understated but poignant gay romance in Carol, a screenplay that could have easily sensationalized it’s subject and wisely chose not to.  I also admire Drew Goddard’s The Martian, which managed to make science interesting as well as fun, which is sadly missing in so many Hollywood films today.  Also, a lot of praise is due to Emma Donoghue for adapting her own novel in such an effective way.  But, for my favorite, I would have to go with the odd man out, and that’s Adam McKay and Charles Randolph’s The Big Short, and thankfully, this one has emerged as the clear front-runner.  What makes it a stand out is the unconventional presentation of the entire screenplay, taking a dry, heady subject like the factors that led to the Housing Market crash and making it accessible to the audience, while at the same time finding the absurdest humor in it all and being able to tell a story with compelling characters.  It’s a remarkable balancing act that the writing team should be awarded for.  Of all the nominees in this category, and out of all the movies nominated in general, I believe that this will be the one that will gain in stature long after the awards are over, and will probably turn into an important movie in the long run, just based on the way it informs us of such a chaotic time in our history and tries to move us towards seeing that it never happens again.  In addition, it would be a special subversive treat to see the man behind Anchorman and Talladega Night walk away this year with an Oscar to his name.  The Big Short is a brilliant and monumental satire and it will be absolutely deserving of it’s award.

Who Will Win: Adam McKay and Charles Randolph, The Big Short

Who Should Win: Adam McKay and Charles Randolph, The Big Short

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Nominees: Christian Bale (The Big Short); Tom Hardy (The Revenant); Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight); Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies); and Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

One thing that you usually see happen at the Academy Awards is the awarding of an Oscar to a seasoned veteran after a long drought or a career completely devoid of any previous nomination.  Sometimes it’s done through an honorary award, but other times it comes in the way of a late career win for sometimes a lesser film.  It’s usually known as a “legacy win” and this year that may fall in this category as the front-runner has long been action film icon Sylvester Stallone in Creed.  Now, some people may be put off by the idea of giving Stallone an Oscar, but those same people may not have seen the movie Creed either.  I certainly wouldn’t mind if Stallone won this year; one, because Creed is an excellent movie and deserving of recognition, two, Stallone gives a touching heartfelt performance, and three, it makes for a great story that Stallone would win an Oscar late in his career for the same role that made him an icon in the first place.  Certainly, Stallone could’ve been awarded for worse, and I think an Oscar here is not only deserved, but maybe even due for the man behind Rocky Balboa.  Now, would he be my personal choice.  Sadly, there is a great field behind Stallone this year, and any other year I would say that each of them could win.  Rylance and Ruffalo are both solid in their roles, and Bale give a delightfully twisted performance in The Big Short.  But my favorite would be Tom Hardy, who really transformed himself for his role in The Revenant and delivers what I think to be the most compelling performance overall.  Also, this category is up in the air for me because my favorite performance of the year (Benicio del Toro in Sicario) wasn’t nominated.  Out of the bunch, Hardy would be my choice, but if Stallone does win, I won’t complain either.  It’s his time to be the champ.

Who Will Win: Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Who Should Win: Tom Hardy, The Revenant

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Nominees: Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight); Rooney Mara (Carol); Rachel McAdams (Spotlaight); Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl); and Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)

Out of all the acting categories in this year’s Oscars, this is the one that feels the least decided.  Many of the early awards have been split this year, with the likeliest front-runners being Kate Winslet and Alicia Vikander.  Vikander has the benefit of being seeing as the “it girl” of the year, having appeared in many high profile projects last year including Ex Machina and Guy Richie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E.  Finishing the year with the acclaimed The Danish Girl helped to garner her even more attention and the Oscars usually bestow these Supporting awards to fresh new faces like her.  On the flip side, Kate Winslet is a much beloved Hollywood veteran, having been  nominated several times and won Best Actress prior, and her performance in Steve Jobs is one of her most interesting roles yet, making her a viable front-runner too.  It’s a hard one to choose, but I think Alicia Vikander’s blockbuster year gives her a slight edge, though I would love to see Winslet win just so the under-appreciated Steve Jobs gets some recognition.  But at the same time, neither has locked this up and both could even be overcome by a surprise winner here, which any of the other nominees could end up being.  Out of that group, my surprise pick is also my favorite in the bunch, and that’s Jennifer Jason Leigh’s gonzo performance in Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight.  It’s not out of the realm of possibility; Tarantino has delivered actors to Oscar wins before.  Also, Leigh is a beloved workhorse who’s long gained respect in the industry and her performance is definitely the category’s most unusual and daring.  So, Leigh may not be the odds on favorite, but she would make the most spectacular of spoilers in this open race.

Who Will Win: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

Who Should Win: Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight

BEST ACTOR

Nominees: Bryan Cranston (Trumbo); Matt Damon (The Martian); Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant); Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs); and Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)

If there was ever a category this year that was a lock, this would be it.  After so many years of being nominated and walking away empty handed, despite being one of the most successful actors of his generation, Leonardo DiCaprio will finally win an Oscar this year.  Sometimes people complain that actors who get snubbed for so many years and then finally win usually get it for a lesser performance in a lesser film.  I don’t think that’s this case with DiCaprio this year.  Sure, I wouldn’t call his work in The Revenant to be my absolute favorite performance of his (that would be his incredible performance in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street), but considering all the other nominees in this race, I would clearly say that he does give the best single performance of the bunch.  It becomes especially apparent that he’s deserving of the award when you learn of all the physical hurdles that he had to go through during the filming of The Revenant, and denying him an Oscar once again after all that passion and pain may be a little cruel in the end.  He’s a deserving front-runner and my own clear choice for the award overall.  Now, is there anyone in this category who could be a potential spoiler, and would they dare come up to accept in the face of the the backlash that could come from loyal DiCaprio fans everywhere.  I would say the only ones who come close would be Matt Damon for his surprisingly charming and humane performance in The Martian, and also Bryan Cranston for Trumbo, just for his beloved standing in the acting community.  But, don’t count on any spoilers.  It’s Leo’s year and it’s been a long time coming.

Who Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Who Should Win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

BEST ACTRESS

Nominees: Cate Blanchett (Carol); Brie Larson (Room); Jennifer Lawrence (Joy); Charlotte Rampling (45 Years); and Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)

This is another race that appears to have been locked up already, but I wouldn’t say that it as strongly decided as DiCaprio for Best Actor.  The front-runner here is Brie Larson, who has surprise everyone so far by becoming the unexpected front-runner in a category with so many high profile names.  And, she has certainly deserved the praise since being nominated, because it’s a performance that does stand out among the rest.  Playing a kidnapping victim who has lived in isolation for many years in a locked shed in the harrowing film Room, Larson’s role could not have been easy and it’s a great achievement to see her pull it off in the film.  Her performance was also helped a lot with the support of her young co-star Jacob Tremblay, who sadly wasn’t nominated.  If she wins as she is predicted to, it will be deserved and it hopefully will elevate her status in the industry and lead to more challenging roles that will make good use of her talent.  But, is she my pick for the award.  Though I admire her performance, I would say that the one who left more of an impression on me in this category was actually Cate Blanchett in Carol.  Yeah, it seems a little unfair to choose the seasoned, multiple Oscar winner to once again be the best in the category, but that’s just a sign of how good she is.  Her performance in Carol is more heartfelt and more interesting than all the rest, and that’s a sign of someone who has a full command of their art-form.  Brie Larson may have had the most challenging role, but Blanchett had the more resonant performance, which made it stand out more for me.  Even still, a win for Larson will be well deserved and recognition for an under-appreciated film like Room that deserves more of an audience than it has received so far.

Who Will Win: Brie Larson, Room

Who Should Win: Cate Blanchett, Carol

BEST DIRECTOR

Nominees: Adam McKay (The Big Short); George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road); Alejandro G. Inarritu (The Revenant); Lenny Abrahamson (Room); and Tom McCarthy (Spotlight)

It’s hard to believe that of all the directors working in the industry today, that the one who’s best positioned to win the coveted Directing award two years in a row is Alejandro G. Inarritu.  But, as early indicators have piled up, that certainly seems to be the case.  Once a maverick, small scale film director of indie darlings like 21 Grams (2003) and Babel (2006), Inarritu has completely transformed himself as a filmmaker, making far more ambitious projects and delivering the best back to back set of masterpieces since Sidney Lumet made the duo of Dog Day Afternoon (1975) and Network (1976) simultaneously forty years ago.  Having won last year for Birdman (2014), Inarritu has surprisingly emerged as the front-runner again for the ambitious epic The Revenant, and his win would be only the third time in Oscar history that a director has won back to back; the last one being Joseph L. Mankiewicz for A Letter to Three Wives (1949) and All About Eve (1950).  Is it an honor he deserves.  Absolutely.  The Revenant really is a tour-de-force of direction and one of the most incredible achievements in film-making this year.  I think it helps that Inarritu’s only other credible competition from last year (Ridley Scott for The Martian) didn’t receive a nomination, which makes his road to a win less of a challenge.  The only spoiler that I could possibly see in this category is George Miller for Mad Max.  Miller, like Inarritu, showcased the highest form of film direction seen this year in his movie as well, working under equally harsh conditions, and a win for him could also be an acknowledgement of his cherished legacy.  But, I think it’s safe to say that Alejandro is going to defend his title successfully and become the unlikeliest of two-time winners in Oscar history.

Who Will Win: Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant

Who Should Win: Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant

BEST PICTURE:

Nominees: The Big Short; Bridge of Spies; Brooklyn; Mad Max: Fury Road; The Martian; The Revenant; Room; and Spotlight

So, of all the categories at this years Oscars, it’s surprising that the biggest one of them all is also the least predictable this year.  Unlike in years past, when one or two front-runners will have emerged at this point, we don’t have a clear favorite.  Yeah, some of the nominated movies have no chance and are more likely to pick up awards in other categories (Room and Bridge of Spies), but at least half of the nominated movies this year do have legitimate shots at winning this year.  So, how do I think this year’s race will go.  My belief is that the Oscars tend to go for the movie that has the best chance to be a multiple winner in other categories and that has usually been large epic films.  That’s why I think The Revenant will ride the coattails of the assured wins in the Best Actor and Directing categories towards collecting Best Picture.  Is it deserving of that honor.  I think so.  It was my choice for the third best movie of the year in my top ten list, and my favorite film of the year (Sicario) wasn’t nominated, so I have less of an interest in who wins this year as opposed to last year when my favorite (Birdman) was nominated and won.  Unfortunately, I can’t say it’s my absolute pick for the award, because The Martian was also nominated, and I ranked that higher than The Revenant.  Sadly, without a Directing nomination, The Martian is out of the race, but had it had a chance, I would have picked it over The Revenant.  Complaints have also been made that The Martian is too commercial and crowd-pleasing to deserve a win, which is silly because why should the ability for a movie to entertain it’s audience be considered a negative.  As it stands, out of the films that have a chance, I would favor The Revenant and I believe it will win.  Although, The Big Short winning would make an interesting finish to the night, as would a complete curve-ball if Mad Max: Fury Road snuck up and took it.  It’s an unpredictable year and it probably works out for the best that the most suspenseful race is the one that’s saved until the very end.

Who Will Win: The Revenant

Who Should Win: The Martian

So, there are my picks for this years Academy Award winners, as well as my own personal favorites.  In addition, I would also like to run down all my picks for the other awards of the night:

Best Animated Feature: Inside Out (no contest); Best Cinematography: The RevenantBest Film Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road; Best Production Design: Mad Max: Fury Road; Best Make-Up and Hairstyling: The Revenant; Best Visual Effects: Star Wars: The Force Awakens; Best Sound Mixing: The Revenant; Best Sound Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road; Best Costume Design: Cinderella; Best Original Score: The Hateful EightBest Original Song: “Writing’s on the Wall” from Spectre; Best Foreign Language Film: Son of Saul; Best Documentary Feature: Cartel LandBest Documentary Short: A Girl in the RiverBest Live Action Short: Shok; Best Animated Short: World of Tomorrow

So, those are my picks for this year’s Oscars.  Am I going to be pleased or angered by how it turns out.  Well, because my favorite movie of the year was left out, I have less of a vested interest in who wins the big award, but at the same time, I value some more than others.  And one good thing this year is that unlike the previous year I walked away liking each of the Best Picture nominees; I still don’t get why so many people fell in love with a terrible film like The Theory of Everything last year, and worse yet, that it managed to steal an Oscar away from Michael Keaton.  It was a good year for movies and I’m glad the nominations reflected that.  I just wish that they spread their net further and nominated more deserving films like CreedSicario, and Straight Outta Compton.  Maybe then they might have avoided the controversy that fell their way.  They expanded their number of nominees several years ago for the reasons of being more inclusive, so I don’t get why we were limited to seeing only 8 nominated films this year.  Regardless, I hope that the show itself is worthwhile.  They couldn’t have picked a better host for the ceremony this year than Chris Rock, and my hope is that he doesn’t hold back.  If ever there was a year for the Academy to be grilled and mocked by it’s host, this would be it, and he just might get away with it too.  In time, we’ll probably forget about all the controversy and the films themselves will carry their own legacy far beyond what the awards will actually mean for them.  For me, I just like seeing the process unfold and looking at all the new names that join the ranks of Oscar winner.  It’s why I watch in the end.