Category Archives: Top Ten Lists

Top Ten Movies Based on TV Shows

When television first emerged onto the scene in the post-War years, it shook up the entertainment world in a big way.  While it did pose an existential threat early on to the theatrical model of film distribution, it also in many ways made movies a whole lot better.  The mid-century disruption of television led the movie studios towards an era of innovation, hoping to coax away people from their TV sets with the spectacles of widescreen film and surround sound speakers; the kind of things that at the time you could only experience in a theater.  Eventually, a balance was struck where movie theaters were able to thrive even with the competition of television.  What television brought was the opportunity for studios to tell long format stories through serialized programs.  Over time, television shows had just as much of a cultural impact as the movies, and became a mighty pillar of the industry that generated enormous profits along the way.  The proliferation of media went even beyond that with the advent of cable television and the emergence of the likes of HBO, FX and AMC on the scene; creators of shows that very much feel cinematic.  But, the movie industry would continue to prosper, and in some cases they would inspire hit television series spin-offs, such as The Odd Couple or M.A.S.H.  What is definitely fascinating is the flip side of that; when a show inspires a film.  There are several instances when a series makes the big leap from the small to the big screen, and how much of a stylistic change that can be.  Working with a bigger canvas, sometimes the story or aesthetic of a series transforms the property into something very different than what we are used to.  There have been many failures in that translation to the big screen, but sometimes the marriage of cinema and television does work out and creates a film not just worthy of it’s place alongside the show that inspired it, but also is able to stand on it’s own as a great movie.  What follows are my top ten picks for what I think are the best movies based on television shows that have been made so far.


21 JUMP STREET (2012)

Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller

It should be noted that before this movie came out, nobody had any interest in seeing it.  We had been bombarded with a ton of bad movies based on television shows in the years leading up to this, most of them just nostalgia bait that never justified their existence on the big screen.  On the surface this just looked like another one, re-worked into a comedy vehicle for actors Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill.  So it was surprising once we saw the actual movie that it turned out to be a smart and hilarious meta commentary on the very notion of cheap nostalgia cash ins.  It helps that the movie was made by the same guys who turned what could have been a lazy toy commercial into one of the best animated movies of the decade with The Lego Movie (2014).  The team of Lord & Miller are just masterful at making movies that shouldn’t exist work extremely well.  21 Jump Street really bears very little resemblance to the more dramatic show that it is based on, basically just using the premise as a springboard for the comedy, but the movie goes above and beyond just easy fish out of water jokes about two undercover cops posing as teenagers at a high school.  It is very self aware that it is a nostalgia cash grab, and it leans into that meta aspect to some hilarious results.  Jonah and Channing also have incredible comedic chemistry in the film.  Given that the movie had a lot of things going against it, especially with the fact that it was based on an early 90’s drama that most audiences today have little knowledge of, it is refreshing to see how well Lord & Miller subvert our expectations at every turn.  But, even fans of the series do get some shout outs, especially given that two of the original cast members of the show, Johnny Depp and Peter DeLuise, have surprise cameos (which the movie also puts a hilarious subversive spin on).  Given that too many TV shows to movie translations miss the mark by just banking on their nostalgia, it’s nice that one such movie calls that out and has some fun with it in the process.



Directed by Trey Parker

One of the most common small screen to big screen translations that we see are from the medium of animation.  If an animated show is popular enough in the pop culture, it almost certainly makes the leap to the movie theaters.  Some of the times, it’s a show that gets translated from animation to live action, such as with The Flintstones (1994) or Transformers (2007).  But more often we’ve seen animated shows cross over with their animation style in tact, just beefed up with a cinematic budget.  In most cases, the movies just are just another episode taken to cinematic length.  This includes movies based on popular properties like Rugrats, Spongebob Squarepants, or The Simpsons.  Most of the time, these movie adaptations come out after the original run of the show is over, but a couple of these movies will make it to theaters even while they are still on the air on television.  And in the case of South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, it came out very early in the show’s run.  South Park was a mere 3 seasons into it’s run when show creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone created this movie based on the show.  And yet even with that brief amount of time under their belt, they managed to create one of the best TV to cinema leaps ever.  The movie is far more ambitious than anything they had ever done on the show up to then (or even since), becoming a full blown musical with an epic scale story line, and all the while still maintaining the same raunchy, subversive appeal that the show was beloved for.  The movie is a prime example of how a TV series adaptation brings out the full potential of what it can do on the big screen.  And even 25 years later, with the show still running on the air to this day, this is still the pinnacle of South Park for many.  Most of the jokes still hit today, and some feel even more relevant than ever.  Also, you’ve got to love any movie musical that brought out classic tunes like “Blame Canada” and “Uncle F$%#a” to the world.  There are a lot of great movies based on classic animated shows, but none hit quite as hard as South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut still does all these years later.



Directed by Penelope Spheeris

One of the most prolific shows to have spawned countless movie adaptations over the years has been Saturday Night Live.  The long running sketch comedy series has shepherded the rise of many comedic talents over the years, and with them they have also popularized many of the characters that these comedy actors have created.  Unfortunately, Saturday Night Live’s track record of success has been spotty.  It’s hard to take something that worked in a 5-7 minute sketch and expand it out into feature length.  And a lot of time it becomes a bridge too far, as you can really feel the premises stretch to their breaking point in so many of these SNL movies.  There are three adaptations that did buck the trend and became comedy classics in their own right.  One is the underrated MacGruber (2010), another is the classic The Blues Brothers (1980) which the first such SNL sketch to jump to the big screen, and the last one is what I think is the best of the bunch, Wayne’s World.  While so many of the SNL movies seem to be dragged down by too much adherence to back story, Wayne’s World in many ways was more free to develop into whatever it wanted to be.  The original sketch was just a parody of a low budget cable access show made in a basement.  The appeal wasn’t so much in who these characters were, but what they were.  Mike Myers and Dana Carvey perfectly maintain the appeal of their characters Wayne and Garth, and the movie builds around them and their show, allowing freedom to tell a story that doesn’t have to stick so strictly to formula.  As a result, we get a movie that is clever and creative, with fourth wall breaking jokes, hilariously cartoonish situations, and a surprising amount of heart as well.  What’s more, it’s a movie that actually feels like it adds something to the world of these characters, rather than just resting on the laurels of their familiarity from the show.  It’s something that sadly far too many other Saturday Night Live movies have forgotten to do.  It’s a movie that knows it’s playing in a bigger sandbox, and it makes the most of it while giving the characters the chance to grow along the way.  Party on.



Directed by David Zucker

Sometimes a movie adaptation becomes so popular that it will even eclipse the TV series that it was based on, to the point where you even forget that the TV show existed in the first place.  The comedy team of Jim Abrahams and Jerry and David Zucker created a short lived comedy series called Police Squad after their success with the movie Airplane (1980).  The show ran a short 6 episodes i during the spring of 1982 before getting prematurely cancelled.  Though it’s run was short, the episodes that did air were given critical acclaim, as the show maintained the same hilarious visual gags that made Airplane an all time classic comedy.  A few year later, Abrahams, Zucker and Zucker re-pitched their Police Squad brand as a movie, retaining their star Leslie Nielsen and fleshing out the premise into a feature length story.  The result was a smashing success, leading to what many consider to be a comedy classic on the same level as Airplane.  Leslie Nielsen is in his best element as Lt. Frank Drebin, perfectly accentuating the hilarious sight gags with his no nonsense stoicism, something that he also brilliantly applied in Airplane.  The movie also fleshes out the cast with some talented supporting players that also nail the right tone; including George Kennedy, Priscilla Presley, Ricardo Montalban Nancy Marchand, and yes even O.J. Simpson (back when he wasn’t on trial for murder).  The comedy in these movies works is because everyone plays things straight amidst all the absurdity, with Nielsen hitting the mark exactly.  In the end, the failure of the Police Squad series proved to be a good thing, because it inspired this comedy classic into being, though I strongly recommend seeking out the original show too, which surprisingly still holds up even against the movies.  For Leslie Nielsen and the team behind the movie, this would be a hard act to maintain, as their comedic formula lost it’s potency over time.  This original Naked Gun is still the best the best of them all as it hits the right notes with the greatest frequency.



Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld

While a lot of the show to movie translations tweak with the formula a bit, a lot of them still maintain a familiarity with what we already know from the original source.  Then there are movies based on television shows that completely reimagine them entirely.  Though the movie adaptation of The Addams Family owes a fair bit to the original comic strip that the series was based on, you can’t help but notice the DNA of the television show in the movie as well; especially with the use of the catchy theme song complete with the snapping fingers.  The movie is a wonderful re-imagining of the spooky themed comedy series, maintaining it’s tongue-in-cheek macabre sense of humor, while at the same time taking advantage of the cinematic medium to up the visual aesthetic.  Visually, the movie owes a lot of inspiration to the movies of Tim Burton, who surprisingly was not involved in the making of this film, with cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld making an impressive debut as a director.  Ironically, 30 years later Burton would take his own shot at adapting The Addams Family by turning it back into a series with his hit spin-off Wednesday for Netflix.  What makes this adaptation really shine is the perfect casting of all the classic characters.  Raul Julia and Angelica Huston are just the ideal choices to play Gomez and Morticia Addams respectively.  Christopher Lloyd also makes for a wonderfully manic Uncle Fester.  But the movie’s absolutely dead on casting choice was a very young Christina Ricci as Wednesday Addams.  Her chilling deadpan delivery has left a lasting mark on the character, and her performance is the reason why the character has become so popular over the years.  The movie definitely ups the ante of the macabre aesthetic that never quite felt as spooky in the show, but it still remembers to stay true to it’s comedic roots, and it is a hilarious movie throughout, owing a lot to the talented cast that understood the assignment.  It’s definitely a case where the movie really took the full potential of cinema to deliver something new, mysterious and spooky with this familiar family.



Segments Directed by John Landis, Joe Dante, Steven Spielberg, and George Miller

This adaptation of the classic anthology series unfortunately has a dark cloud of controversy hanging over it.  The film was a combination of four different stories adapted from individual episodes of the award winning anthology from acclaimed writer Rod Serling, with each segment given to some of the biggest movie directors of the time.  The segment that sadly has the bad reputation is the one directed by John Landis, who was fresh off of his success with comedies like Animal House (1978) and The Blues Brothers.  His segment features actor Vic Morrow playing a bigoted businessman who is transported into the middle of several crises where he must suffer through the same injustices that the people he professes to hate have gone through.  One such moment involves a recreation of a battle in the Vietnam War, and Morrow’s character must help two young Vietnamese children to safety.  Sadly, during the filming of this scene, a malfunction with a prop helicopter caused it to crash on Vic Morrow and the two children he was carrying with him, killing all three instantly.  It’s one of the most notorious on set accidents in movie history, and it’s something that has clouded Landis’ reputation ever since, given the lax safety standards on set that were discovered later.  They were able to finish the film without the star, and it is an otherwise dark side note to an otherwise excellent big screen adaptation.  Fittingly, the Landis portion is the least interesting of the segments, and Spielberg’s is wonderfully whimsical but perhaps a bit too bright for this kind of movie.  Where the movie really shines is in the more horror themed segments from Joe Dante and George Miller.  Dante’s re-imagining of the “It’s a Good Life” episode is especially weird and disturbing in all the right ways and is definitely the highlight of the movie.  And George Miller’s re-make of “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” is elevated by an incredible unhinged performance by John Lithgow in the role famously played by William Shatner in the original series.  The movie had the unenviable task of taking one of the most iconic and influential shows on television and giving it a cinematic make-over, and thankfully these talented filmmakers were able to bring their own imaginative spins to help make it worthwhile.



Directed by Brian De Palma

Brian De Palma was no stranger to adapting a hit series  into a movie before he tackled this movie based on the classic spy thriller show.  In 1987, De Palma put his own spin on the acclaimed Prohibition Era set crime show The Untouchables.  And while that movie was an excellent adaptation on it’s own, his more longer lasting legacy in translating a show for the big screen came with this adaptation of the show Mission: Impossible, which ran from 1966-73.  The interesting thing about this movie is that it is in the continuity of the show, integrating the main character from the show (Jim Phelps), but putting him in charge of a new team.  Out of this, a new lead character was created in Ethan Hunt, a character molded specifically for a movie star named Tom Cruise to play.  The great twist with this movies is that (spoilers) Jim Phelps, the previous main character, is revealed to be the villain this time around; an interesting subversion on the original premise.  That twist is probably why the original actor who played Phelps (Peter Graves) refused to appear in this movie, but award winning actor Jon Voight fills the role perfectly in his place.  There’s no denying, this was a vehicle first and foremost for Tom Cruise to shine, which is not surprising given that he’s also the producer of the film.  Brian De Palma does do a great job of taking the iconic elements of the show (the gadgetry and the famous face masks) and giving them a cinematic flair.  He also does a masterful job of staging the action scenes as well, with the break-in to a sensory security room via rope suspension being one of the most iconic ever put on screen.  Though Brian De Palma left after one film in the series, he still left a strong foundation on which Cruise and his team have continued to build over the years, creating one of the greatest action franchises in history.  It’s definitely a case where the movie takes the premise of the show and brings it to it’s full potential, and is even not afraid to take some creative risks in order to rewrite the history of the show itself.  It’s definitely a mission worth choosing to accept.



Directed by James Frawley

The Muppets throughout the 1960’s and 70’s were a television institution.  The felt made puppets created by Jim Henson and his company had two hit shows airing at the same time, with The Muppet Show being a primetime hit on network TV, as well as Sesame Street being a beloved program for younger audiences on public broadcasting.  So it wasn’t at all surprising that the Muppets would eventually make it to the big screen.  The only question was, what kind of movie would they make.  The Muppet Movie in some ways is an origin story of how the characters got their start in showbiz.  We start off with Kermit the Frog (played by Henson himself) and his friend Fozzie the Bear (Frank Oz) taking a road trip cross country to make their break in Hollywood.  Along the way, they meet up with all of the familiar faces we know from The Muppet Show.  In a nice meta joke, they also run into Big Bird, whose heading in the opposite direction to New York to start his own show on public television.  It’s a great way to build a movie story around familiar characters without having to adhere to the format of the show they came from.  One thing that the movie does carry over from the show is the many celebrity cameos sprinkled throughout the movie, with icons such as Mel Brooks, Bob Hope, Richard Pryor, and even Orson freaking Welles showing up at the end.  By the movie’s end, we see the Muppets given their big break, and it’s easy to see how the famed Muppet Show would have been a continuation of their story.  The movie is itself very iconic, with the Paul Williams penned song “The Rainbow Connection” becoming something of an anthem for the Muppet brand.  And of course this would lead to a series of loosely connected Muppet movies over the next several decades.  Most of them are excellent in their own right, but the fact that they made it to the big screen is because of how well this movie set the standard going forward.



Directed by Nicholas Meyer

If there is a brand that can definitively say it’s the most popular brand to have even come from television, Star Trek can make a very strong claim.  The sci-fi series created by Gene Rodenberry may have lasted only 3 seasons, but it’s legacy is enormous in the history of television.  It has created one of the largest and most devoted fan bases in pop culture and has spun off a whole bunch of hit television series based within the same universe.  About a decade after it’s original run, the series had grown so popular through years of re-runs that it convinced Paramount Pictures to pursue a big screen adaptation of the series.  Bringing back the full original crew of the starship Enterprise, the movie was a big budget spectacle, intended on giving the sci-fi brand the same cinematic appeal as other classics of the genre like Star Wars (1977) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).  Unfortunately, director Robert Wise didn’t understand the fundamental basics of what made the show work in the first place, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) was a disappointing bore that alienated fans and turned away audiences.  Still, Paramount was eager to still make it work.  Nicolas Meyer was brought in to re-work the franchise for a sequel.  What he ended up doing was create a movie that indeed lived up to the legacy of the show while at the same time giving it a worthy cinematic upgrade.  What’s even better is that it picks up as a continuation of an on-going storyline from the series, bringing in Ricardo Montalban to reprise his role as the villainous meta-human Khan, with a performance now considered iconic to most Trek fans.  The Wrath of Khan really does feel like the true successor to the original series.  It rewards long time fans with a return of a classic villain and at the same time delivers moments that elevate the Star Trek franchise as a whole, including Shatner’s iconic guttural scream of  “Khaaaaan” and Leonard Nimoy’s tear-jerking final moments after Spock’s sacrifice.  This was the movie that truly resurrected Star Trek and helped to turn it in not just a force on television, but on the big screen as well; a legacy that continues to this day.



Directed by Andrew Davis

While a lot of hit movies have been inspired by television series, only one can lay claim to have been so good that it got a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars.  The Fugitive is a classic in every sense of the word, taking the premise of the original hit series that ran from 1963-67, and updating it with a pulse pounding adaptation.  The story of wrongfully convicted Dr. Richard Kimble became one of the must see event shows of it’s time, and the final episode is still to this day one of the most seen in television history; on par with the finale of M.A.S.H.  It took nearly 30 years for a big screen adaptation to happen, and by that time there was enough separation from the source series to help make this film feel like a fresh new thing.  The movie wisely cast Harrison Ford as Richard Kimble, a role that perfectly utilizes his intensity as a performer while also feeling different enough from his work as Han Solo and Indiana Jones in the past.  It was the kind of meaty dramatic role that Harrison Ford really wanted to show his acting chops with, and he delivers a great performance overall.  But, the movie is made even better with the scene stealing performance of Tommy Lee Jones as Samuel Gerard, the top cop in charge of hunting Richard Kimble down.  Jones strikes the perfect balance between intensity and absurdity, with a whole movie’s worth of great one-liners.  The role would even win Tommy a well deserved Oscar for Supporting Actor.  Of all the movies based on television shows, this one feels like the one that strives the most to be a great movie, and for the most part it succeeds.  It’s another case where the film is so iconic it eclipse the show it was based on, and that show was an icon in it’s own day too.  There are moments in this movie that are just thrillingly cinematic, including Ford’s dive off of the top of a dam, which is the movie’s most iconic scene.  So many adaptations of television shows try perhaps a little too hard to break free of their small screen roots.  This adaptation is definitely a case where the story was calling for a great big cinematic re-telling and the filmmakers managed to craft a film that transcends any size screen.

One of the things that I noticed in putting this list together is that the success rate of creating a big screen adaptation of a television series is found more often on the comedy side.  It would seem that comedies lend themselves better to a feature length expansion.  It’s probably because comedies tend to be more stand alone stories with every episode, meaning that a movie fits in better with the continuity of a show by just being a longer episode.  Dramas on the other hand are serialized for the most part, which can be difficult to condense into a two hour length for the big screen, or to expand upon in a re-imagining.  The best dramatic adaptations of television shows are the ones that usually just take the premise and start with a fresh new take, kind of like what we saw with The Fugitive.  Because telling stories for television and for cinema are so different, it is often difficult to make that transition work.  Movies don’t break for commercial, and television shows have to adhere to more standards and practices than movies do.  They very much are two different formats for telling a story, so a lot of things are going to have to change in translation.  Still, there are a number of cases where it has worked and payed off immensely well.  Star Trek and Mission: Impossible are both cinematic franchises that have stood well on their own even with the television shows still standing out within the pop culture.  And in some cases, great movies can rise out of even the most trivial of inspirations seen on television, like Wayne’s World managing to become a hit comedy movie based on a short sketch from a weekly variety show.  The continuing blurring of the lines between television and cinema in the age of streaming is making the definitions of a small screen to big screen adaptation change as well.  At some point, a cinematic adaptation of a television series will not seem as much of a reward as it has been in the past, but more of an inevitability.  Even still, as seen with some of the examples on this list, there have been some great films that owe a lot to their success to the foundation that was made for them on television beforehand.  Great stories always find a way to capture an audience, and as we’ve seen it’s not so much the size of the screen that matters, but rather the strength of the story that comes through and entertains us and makes these classics endure in any format.

Top Ten Movies of 2023

The year that shook up Hollywood has come to a close, and the movies that defined it were certainly a far different band than usual.  The year of 2023 will probably be less remembered for it’s movies and more for the behind the scenes drama that played out for all of us to see.  The labor strikes that brought the industry to a halt were undoubtedly the defining moment of the year, with Hollywood having to confront the realities of it’s future, with the creatives asserting their concern over the disproportionate wealth distribution based on the profits made from streaming as well as the threat of AI taking over the work done by real people in the cinematic arts.  The studios dragged their feet on the negotiations, and the results of that refusal to meet the reasonable demands of the guilds will ripple through the industry for years to come.  As a result, the usually jam packed late season Awards push feels a bit lighter this year than in the past, as many films got pushed back into the next couple years in order to fill that void created by the strikes.  Even still, a lot of movies still managed to make it to the theaters, and overall box office was up compared to last year (though still lagging behind the pre-pandemic numbers).  A large part of that was due to some unexpected hits, like the unusually high response to video game movies like The Super Mario Bros Movie and Five Nights at Freddy’s and of course the whole “Barbenheimer” movement.  This year also showed us that once dominant box office brands like Marvel, Fast And the Furious, and Transformers are not so quite as resilient as we thought.  To mark the start of 2024 at the movies, it is time to close the door on the year before as I share my picks for the Top Ten movies of the year, as well as my bottom Five.  This was a difficult year to be honest, as I did have a good sampling of movies to choose from, but there wasn’t that one that rose above all instantly like I had seen in past years.  The race to number one for this year was honestly a photo finish, as a couple films made solid arguments to be up there.  But, I have compiled my final numbers based on some last minute re-watches.

Before I make my countdown of the Top Ten, here are a few movies that nearly made my list, and I strongly recommend that you see them too because they are all worth watching: American Fiction, Air, All of Us Strangers, Creed III, Dumb Money, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, A Haunting in Venice, The Iron Claw, Killers of the Flower Moon, John Wick Chapter 4, The Little Mermaid (2023), The Marvels, Priscilla, Shazam: Fury of the Gods, Showing Up, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, and Wonka.  So, with all that, let’s take a look at my picks for the Top Ten Movies of 2023.



Directed by Ava DuVernay

It’s a very difficult trick to turn an essay into a drama.  But Ava DuVernay managed to make that work in her new feature adapted from the book “Caste:  The Origin of Our Discontents” by journalist and author Isabel Wilkerson.  Part biography, part video essay, DuVernay’s wide-reaching film is a captivating exploration of the roots of everything from racially motivated murders, to the rise of fascism, to the class divisions that still exist today in places like India.  DuVernary has a strong background in documentary filmmaking, with her Oscar-nominated 13th (2016) standing out as a great example of a non-fiction film that had the immediate visceral impact of a narrative film.  Here she does the opposite just as effectively, showing a dramatization of real peoples lives all weaving together to feel as informative and provocative as a documentary would.  The movie takes us through the steps of building a thesis and finding the facts to support that argument, and does so in a grounded and un-sensationalized way that you really feel like you are on this road of discovery with the author herself, piecing the truth together with her.  Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor gives a fantastic performance as Isabel Wilkerson, perfectly conveying her curiosity and intelligence on screen.  Ava DuVernay also does an incredible job of weaving together multiple vignettes of all the historical evidence that Isabel uncovers along the way, with strong attention to period detail from multiple time periods and varying cultures.  I was lucky to have caught this on a brief awards qualification run here in Los Angeles before it goes nationwide in a couple weeks.  For someone like me interested in history and the dots that are connected with the present that help us to understand the issues of our time a lot better, this movie was an eye opening experience.  It is also a strong reminder of how good Ava DuVernay is at making thought provoking cinema, with this being her strongest and most original effort yet.



Directed by Matt Johnson

One of the most unusual film trends of the last year was the surprisingly robust number of movies based on the history of corporate brands or products.  There was the movie Air, which showed how Nike landed Michael Jordan and changed the history of sportswear.  Apple released the movie Tetris, which showed how the game of falling blocks was able to escape the clutches of the Soviet Union.  And Flaming Hot, showed how a janitor was able to introduce the most popular flavor of Cheetos to the world.  While each one had their own interesting story to tell, the all still had one thing in common; it all lead to a happy outcome.  But there was one movie based on the history of a product that worked a little differently and in the end tells a much more compelling story.  Blackberry of course shows the history of the rise of the famous handheld device that at one time was the most widely used electronic accessory in the world.  But what makes the movie Blackberry so great is that it also shows the flip side of that story, chronicling the inevitable downfall of the corporation that was ahead of the curve until it wasn’t.  The standout in this movie is Glenn Howerton of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia fame, playing one of the most explosive corporate sharks ever on screen.  His magnificently unhinged performance is dynamite in this film, and much of the thrill of this movie is seeing just how far off the deep end he will go.  His volcanic performance is perfectly balanced off of Jay Baruchel’s understated performance as the mechanical genius who built the original device, but lacked the foresight to help him pivot when the market shifted.  It’s nice to see success stories play out on film, but it’s also fascinating to watch a company implode and fall off based on a series of terrible decisions.  The movie as directed by Matt Johnson, who also plays a key supporting role in the film, does a fantastic job of showing each and every bad choice that these corporate figures made, and it’s a captivating and often funny fall from grace, especially going in with the hindsight of where Blackberry ultimately ended up.  And in a year where these corporate brand stories wanted us to feel inspired by the adversity of their success, it was nice to see Blackberry remind us that corporate failure is another story worth telling, and in many ways is a far more honest look at the way the world works.



Directed by Greta Gerwig

The movie that saved the Summer 2023 box office, along with a certain 3 hour drama based on a nuclear physicist.  We are going to be studying the peculiar phenomenon that was “Barbenheimer” for years to come, but regardless of how unexpected the moment was, there was one thing that certainly played a part in making the unlikely double feature as big a deal as it was; both movies were very good.  In fact, they were among the years best, and were deserving of their box office riches.  The biggest movie of them all, Barbie, could be considered yet another brand based movie to go along with the others that I mentioned, but it’s different because this was wasn’t a movie about the history of the doll.  Director and co-writer Greta Gerwig used the iconography of the Barbie doll line to tell a much different kind of story.  Through this high-concept fantasy story where Barbie journeys from Barbieland into the real world, Greta crafts this surprisingly nuanced exploration of themes about feminism, patriarchy, the corporatization of gender ideals, and identity itself.  And she does so with an incredible sense of humor along the way.  I absolutely love the way that Greta and her co-writer and real life partner Noah Baumbach dissect the “battle of the sexes” attitude that prevails through much of our culture and explains how Barbie herself has played a factor in it, while at the same time having fun with the whole Barbie “pink-colored” iconography.  Margot Robbie really shines as “stereotypical” Barbie, with a surprisingly heartfelt character exploration along the way.  She is also matched perfectly with Ryan Gosling’s hilarious take on Ken, easily the funniest performance of the year.  Ken’s show-stopping musical number may be the best single cinematic sequence of 2023.  And what I also love is that this movie really silenced the annoying “go woke, go broke” chorus, as this undeniably “woke” movie ended up being the biggest moneymaker of the year.  And for that alone, Barbie  is a genuine winner.  Greta Gerwig, with only her third feature as a director, made history this year, and did so without compromising her voice or her courage to speak her mind.  And the fact that she made it so much fun along the way shows that she will be a filmmaking force to reckon with.  And that’s good Kenough.



Directed by Bradley Cooper

Perhaps the most Oscar-baity of all the movies on this list, this sumptuous biopic of famed composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein is nevertheless a magnificent cinematic experience.  The movie has been in the works for over a decade, initially started as a directorial vehicle for Martin Scorsese, then passed along for time to Steven Spielberg, before eventually being picked up and completed under the direction of Bradley Cooper, who also plays Bernstein in the film (Spielberg and Scorsese still contributed as producers).  Working behind the camera for the second time after 2018’s A Star is BornMaestro is Cooper’s more audacious effort as a filmmaker, showing him taking more creative chances and playing around with form to create a truly dynamic portrayal of his subject’s life.  The movie is beautifully shot, almost re-creating with perfect detail the look of the kinds of movies that would have been made during the time periods in which the movie takes place.  The movie showcases 3 different time periods in Bernstein’s life and they all feel like time capsules of cinematic style; the formative years of the 1950’s in beautiful black and white, the transformative 1970’s in a muted color palette, and the twilight 1980’s in bold, primary colors.  Bradley’s performance as Bernstein may take some getting used to, because it’s definitely a more caricatured part for him, but he does a fine job of creating Bernstein as this creative force on screen.  The highlight of the film, however, is Carey Mulligan in the role of his wife, Felicia, in yet another performance that shows everyone just how transformative Mulligan can be in any role, proving she is one of the best of her generation.  Seeing where she takes this character in the movie is profound and at times heartbreaking, and she commands every moment.  I also love that Bradley Cooper forgoes any original musical score, and instead uses Bernstein’s own music to carry the film.  I saw this movie at the newly remodeled Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, and the acoustics of that storied venue made the music used in the movie all the more magnificent.  Hopefully people are able to get that same feeling on their own home system, as this Netflix made film is not widely screened in theaters.  It may be old fashioned in an Oscar bait kind of way, but it is the best kind of Oscar bait as well.



Directed by Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson is, and continues to be an uncompromising filmmaker.  His films have become increasingly stylized with an aesthetic that can definitely be said is all his own.  But, this kind of artistic styling also makes him an acquired taste for many audiences.  Thankfully, I enjoy most of his work, though my opinion of his films varies more so on the strength of his storytelling than his visual flair, which I like consistently in every film.  I’m very happy to say that Asteroid City is one of his best narrative films in years on top of being one of his most visually inventive.  The movie has this Inception like structure where the narrative plays out for us in different layers of reality.  We see the story of a quiet desert town that has a peculiar encounter with extra-terrestrial life, which Anderson casts in a bright, colorful, almost story book like palette.  And then we see that the whole thing is a stage show, which it’s own creation is being dramatized through a TV recreation.  This Russian doll style of layered storytelling makes for a compelling experience and it’s one of Anderson’s richest films to date because of that; almost like he’s dissecting the very art of storytelling itself and examining how experiences in life find their way into art.  All the while, Anderson makes the whole thing charming and more importantly hilarious along the way, in his typical dry sort of way.  He brings back a lot of his frequent stable of actors (though noticeably absent one Bill Murray), and he even perfectly incorporates some first timers into his weird little world, like Tom Hanks, Maya Hawke, and Matt Dillon.  And of course as typical with the best of Wes Anderson movies, the best entertainment to be found is seeing all the little details that he throws into the backgrounds of each scene; some of which may take extra viewings to catch.  It’s refreshing to see Wes Anderson still finding new interesting ways to tell his stories, while at the same time maintaining his unique visual style.



Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

Like I said in my preview of the Fall 2023 movies, the arrival of a new film from Yorgos Lanthimos can often be a flip of the coin depending how you respond to it.  For me personally, I have experienced both extremes.  I have found myself hating one of his films (The Lobster) as well as loving one of his films (The Favourite).  Thankfully with his newest film Poor Things, I found myself in the latter camp.  Yorgos created what might be very well the most unique movie of the year.  Honestly, I don’t think there has been any movie that looks like this one, or is even thematically like this one.  It really is in a class of it’s own.  Yorgos re-teams with his Favourite leading lady Emma Stone and creates this wonderfully quirky spin on Frankenstein with a visual flair that defies explanation.  Stone is remarkable as a new brain in a woman’s body experiencing life anew, and creating chaotic results in her wake.  One of the things that I think has really helped Yorgos Lanthimos as a filmmaker has been teaming up with screenwriter Tony McNamara, whose writing style meshes with Yorgos’ visual style perfectly.  McNamara, who also wrote The Favourite as well as the Hulu series The Great, just has this way of making shocking and vulgar statements in his script sound as classy as an English garden party, and there are some laugh out loud whoppers that come out the mouth of Emma Stone in this movie.  I was worried about the odd visual style of the movie, thinking it looked a little too close to terrible AI generated art, but seeing it in context makes it all feel more appropriate for the movie.  The art direction is meant to have this dream like quality, like how a child would perceive the world they have barely begun to experience.  Yorgos’ trademark fish eye wide angles also perfectly encapsulates the weirdness of the visuals.  The whole thing has a very Kubrickian sense of detachment that really helps to spotlight the world-building.  Couple this with Emma Stone’s fearless work as well as some wonderfully goofy supporting performances from Mark Ruffalo and Willem Dafoe, and you’ve got another winner for the increasingly interesting Yorgos Lanthimos.



Directed by Jonathan Glazer

In stark contrast with the flights of fantasy of some of the other movies I’ve spotlighted on this list, this newest film from Jonathan Glazer (Under the Skin) is shockingly earthbound in a way that will haunt you long after.  The movie shows us the day to day life of a family in an observational kind of way.  Only this family happens to be that of the commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp, Rudolph Hoss (played in the movie by Christian Friedel).  We experience the lives of the people living near the worst horrors of the Holocaust, and the most shocking thing about the movie is how closed off their world is from the one we know is just over the walls.  We see the Hoss family having normal family dinners, walking through their garden, or playing in their pool.  What Jonathan Glazer brilliantly showcases in his film is the banality of evil that the Nazis were capable off.  We know what is going on beyond the walls, but the movie never shows us, completely staying within the bubble that the Hoss family has created for itself.  Their world is quiet and calm, but you get this un-ceasing sense of the horrors that go unseen.  Smoke is constantly rising over the horizon; there are faint gunshot blasts in the distance; every morning the gardeners blow ash off of the flower beds; and then there is the unsettling faint roar of a furnace chimney that can be heard constantly throughout the film.  It’s amazing how Glazer is able to convey the horrors of the Holocaust without us seeing it.  It’s a bold artistic statement that really speaks to us in the present day, as so many of us willfully close off ourselves to crimes against humanity even though we know it’s still happening.  Glazer uncomfortably reminds us that it’s all too easy to pretend that these things aren’t happening, even when it’s literally right next door.  The movie is masterfully crafted, especially with it’s sound design, and features unsettlingly real performances, with a special shoutout to Sandra Huller who plays Commandant Hoss’ wife, who was also great this year in the Palm d’Or winning Anatomy of a Fall.  The Zone of Interest is an unsettling experience, but one that is essential to understanding the depths of evil that any human being is capable of.



Directed by Emerald Fennell

With her sophomore film, Emerald Fennell has crafted one of the most twisted movies in recent memory, and it’s a theatrical experience that I certainly will never forget.  Initially, Emerald lulls the viewer into believing that the movie she is making will be a satire about the idle rich who make up what remains of the British aristocracy, as a commoner named Oliver Quick (an unforgettable Barry Keoghan) is brought into their good graces.  And then, Emerald turns the movie on it’s head and it becomes something else completely.  Honestly, this movie goes into some wild left turns, and I admired the audacity of Emerald Fennell for taking this movie into places that I feel most other filmmakers would’ve been too scared to go.  Just when you think the movie has reached the limit of good taste, Fennell will leap across that line and relish the chaos that comes after.  What really helps this movie from going too far off the deep end is the stellar performance of Barry Keoghan, who is proving to be one of the most interesting, and as this movie proves, one the bravest actors out there.  He creates this fascinating character in Oliver Quick who becomes this vampiric presence in the halls of the titular manor house, Saltburn; bringing a whole new understanding to the rebellious phrase “eating the rich.”  The actors playing the naïvely rich Catton family are uniformly perfect, with Rosamund Pike and Richard E. Grant being especially memorable as these upper class twits who nail every line of Fennell’s wonderfully playful script.  The movie is also a visual wonder, shot in the claustrophobic Academy aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (which has surprisingly made a comeback in recent years), giving each frame this almost portrait like quality.  I definitely understand that this is going to be a movie that will divide audiences, with a lot of people likely turned off by the gross excesses Emerald Fennell throws at us.  But for me, it was an experience that I was on board for.  Watching this movie with an audience also enhanced my experience, especially when it gets to the most shocking moments.  I’m certainly intrigued to see what other twisted tales Emerald Fennell will be spinning in her next film, because this was definitely something of a second feature.



Directed by Christopher Nolan

Yes, no shock that a Christopher Nolan movie would make my end of the year Top Ten, given that he shows up here so frequently.  The other half of the “Barbenheimer” phenomenon, Nolan’s epic biopic of the “Father of the Atom Bomb” is also one of the unlikeliest box office successes in recent memory.  A three hour long, R-rated biopic about J. Robert Oppenheimer was not something that you would instantly say would be a near billion dollar grossing movie at the worldwide box office, but that’s the miracle that was pulled off this summer; with a little boost from Barbie.  This is the highest grossing movie of Christopher Nolan’s storied career not connected to Batman, and it shows that Nolan can indeed deliver box office success purely on his name alone.  This now puts him in the same league of the likes of Spielberg, Tarantino, and Scorsese, and that’s a good club to be in.  As a film, Oppenheimer may be in fact the most purely impressive directorial effort of the year.  Nolan uses every trick he has learned up to this point to create a vast epic that honestly shouldn’t have worked as well as it does.  We don’t just merely get the story of the creation of the atomic bomb itself, which does make for a harrowing middle section.  Nolan creates this complex narrative structure that plays around with his favorite narrative tool (time) and intertwines Oppenheimer’s greatest achievement with the ups and downs of his life before and after.  Carried by a stellar lead performance by Nolan’s favorite actor Cillian Murphy and supported by a mind-blowing all-star cast and Ludwig Goransson’s fluctuating heartbeat of a music score, the movie never lags in all of it’s 3 hour run time.  I remember writing a lukewarm review back in July, stating that I would need to simmer a bit longer on the movie to fully appreciate, including getting a second or third view.  That second view, which thankfully was still in IMAX, made the difference, and it probably was because I wasn’t sitting too close to the screen this time around.  I now consider this to be in the league with Nolan’s best movies, including Dunkirk (2017) and Inception (2010).  Especially on the technical merits alone, this is Christopher Nolan at his finest and possibly the movie that finally earns him the long overdue Oscar.

And finally my number one movie of 2023 is…..



Directed by Alexander Payne

Quite the change in pace from Oppenheimer and Saltburn.  It was honestly a close three way race for the top this year, but ultimately I was warmed over by the cozy charm of Alexander Payne’s latest.  The director behind About SchmidtSideways, and The Descendants makes a triumphant return to form with this easy going comedy about a couple of lovable losers who are stuck with other over the holiday season.  What I think this movie has above all the others on this list for the year is what I think is the year’s best screenplay, a feature writing debut for longtime TV writer David Hemingston.  On top of being a great comedic script with some of the year’s best one liners, it also has some of the best character driven moments of the year, which makes the talented cast really shine.  Paul Giamatti gives a career best performance as the cranky history teacher Paul Hunham, which is saying quite a lot given his remarkable career.  He is also perfectly matched with newcomer Dominic Sessa as the troublesome student he has to share his lonely days with at a snowed-in private New England boarding school.  And they are of course accompanied by a heartbreaking performance by Da’Vine Joy Randolph as a grieving school cook in what I think is the odd on favorite performance to win Best Supporting Actress at this year’s Oscars.  But this movie is special specifically because of the care Alexander Payne put into his direction.  This movie is not just a throwback to it’s time period; Payne even made it to look like a film of it’s time period.  You could swear you were watching a long lost classic of the 1970’s if it weren’t for the contemporary actors in it.  From the way that Payne blocks his shots, to the soft dissolves in his scene transitions, to even the subtle hint of dust and scratches on the film stock (which is remarkable for a digitally shot film).  Given that the film takes place during Christmas time, I can definitely see this becoming a Holiday classic over time.  But it earns my top spot for this year because of all the movies that I saw this year, this had the best re-watch value, with Oppenheimer obviously being the closest match.  I just love a movie that I know right away I will be seeing again and again for years to come.

And now that we’ve gone through the best of the year, it’s time to go through the worst.  Here are my bottom five Worst Movies of 2023.

5. FIVE NIGHTS AT FREDDYS – While the video game that this movie is based on has some genuine value as a horror experience, none of that managed to translate over into film.  This adaptation is a bland and ultimately non-scary experience that just looks goofy adapted to live action.  I didn’t find the animatronic characters frightening and the jump scares were too telegraphed to be effective.  Plus the twist ending is one you could see coming miles away.  Sadly, because this movie was a huge box office success, we are doomed to endure a bunch of sequels in it’s wake.

4. THE FLASH – This was overall a bad year for comic book movies in general, with only the Guardians of the Galaxy and Miles Morales defying the downward trend.  As bad as Marvel’s box office results were, they were nothing compared to DC’s historically bad run.  But, even though all their movies flopped, it didn’t mean the movies themselves were garbage; except one.  The Flash was the poster child for everyting wrong with the DC Universe, with a muddled adventure into the multiverse that makes Marvel’s looks coherent by comparison.  All of the off screen troubles of star Ezra Miller were no help to this movie, but even divorced from that, they were still bad and at times unwatchable as the titular hero.  Michael Keaton’s return as Batman was welcome, but ultimately wasted.  And then there was the messy CGI multiverse finale that did not sit well with me over time, and it just felt unethical in the long run considering it’s low bar pandering and questionable use of deceased actors.  It’s the kind of movie that definitely justified the end of the DC Snyderverse.

3. REBEL MOON: PART ONE – A CHILD OF FIRE – Speaking of Zack Snyder, here we have his lame attempt at launching a brand new franchise of his own.  At times, Snyder can create a neat looking visual, but he has just gotten worse as a storyteller over time.  Rebel Moon is pretty much exactly the same as every other space opera you’ve seen before, and almost a borderline plagiarize of Star Wars at times.  Even the die hard Snyder stans are having a hard time warming up to this film, because it just has nothing to latch onto.  Snyder has in many ways overcome Michael Bay as the most style over substance filmmaker in Hollywood, and this is the clearest example of his shortcomings as a filmmaker.  I don’t see how Part Two, which premieres in the Spring is going to improve on any of this.  I hate the worldbuilding.  I hate the characters.  I just wonder if Netflix feels that they got their money’s worth.

2. EXPEND4BLES – Why anyone thought this was a good franchise to dust off is beyond me.  All of the charm of the Sylvester Stallone led team up of classic action movie stars is gone.  In fact, of the main set of all stars, only Stallone returns here.  Schwarzenegger having the good sense to say no is not something I’d think would have happened, but there you go.  Jason Statham is clearly in paycheck mode, and somehow this movie thought adding Megan Fox to the team was exactly what the franchise needed in order spice up the box office, which by the way hit a new franchise low.  Very likely this will be the end of this franchise, which had it’s promise in the early run, but very much well over-stayed it’s welcome.

And the worst movie of 2023 is…..

1. HYPNOTIC – Unquestionably the dumbest movie I saw all year, and a very tragic low point set by director Robert Rodriguez.  In what I assume is Rodriguez’s attempt at an Inception like plot, Hypnotic tries to make a villain (played by William Fichtner) who uses hypnotism as a weapon intimidting.  Later on, the movie takes some left turns that just become increasingly stupid, and the movie isn’t helped out at all by some of the worst CGI effects of the year.  Rodriguez likes to do a lot of his filmmaking in house at his Austin, Texas based studio, but here we see him try to pull off a little more than he can handle and it shows the limitations of his home base operation.  What’s worse is the waste of talent on screen, including Ben Affleck giving a noticeably disinterested performance and the usually reliable William Fichtner playing the lamest of movie villains.  Rodriguez can and has done better, and it’s sad to see him wasting his time on a Christopher Nolan wannabe project like this.  I’ll even take another Machete sequel over this any day.

And there you have my choices for the best movies of the year.  It was a competitive year, as I didn’t immediately have that one movie that just leapt to the front immediately like in years past, such as Jojo Rabbit in 2019 or The Fablemans from last year.  Ultimately, I’m satisfied with the placements that I made, and The Holdovers and Oppenheimer were pretty much 1a and 1b in the running.  What I found to be especially pleasing is that three of my choices this year were films directed by women; a best yet showing on my annual list.  While none of them reached the top, having three a near third of my list represented by women (Emerald Fennell, Greta Gerwig, and Ava DuVernay) is a strong sign of the growing impact that female directors are beginning to have in Hollywood.  In fact, the year’s box office crown was won for the first time ever by a female directed movie (Barbie of course) and Greta Gerwig has the distinction of being the first woman to solo direct a billion dollar grossing film.  There’s certainly a lot more ground to make up still in the gender disparity in Hollywood, but this year gave us some very important milestones that hopefully leads to some real change in the industry.  Overall, despite all of the problems that Hollywood has had in 2023, it still left us with some great and important movies.  I just hope that the ripple effects of the labor strikes don’t lead to a relatively empty 2024.  For the sake of the theatrical industry, which is still in recovery mode post-pandemic, we really need movies that really motivate audiences to go out to the cinemas.  Apart from March’s Dune: Part Two, it’s hard to see ahead to any big movies that will serve that purpose.  Hollywood’s likely going to be going through some things in 2024 as it readjusts.  Overall, I just hope that the movies we do get are worthwhile.  We may even luck out and see something out of the ordinary like Barbenheimer happen, though that’s a phenomenon that Hollywood just can’t manufacture.  In any case, let’s all have a good time at the movies in 2024.

Top Ten Most Gruesome Disney Villain Deaths

One thing that has been the hallmark of the success of Disney Animation are the characters.  Over their 100 years, the studio has grown it’s roster to include hundreds of classic characters that have found their place in the hearts of generations of fans, from Mickey Mouse onward.  And while there are groupings of characters that standout more than others, I think that the most surprising fanbase to have popped up over the years has been the ones for the Disney Villains.  The Villains sometimes have even been the main attraction, remembered far more than the rest of the films they inhabit, and that’s perhaps because just by their very nature they are out-sized personalities that command every moment they are on screen.  In addition to being scene-stealing presences in their movies, the Disney Villains also can become more legendary by just how big of an exit they are given.  Because Disney has catered to a family friendly audience for most of it’s existence, they often shy away from violent imagery, and that’s largely the reason why they rarely enact violent ends for their villains.  Most of the time the villain receives their comeuppance through karmic retribution or ending up in prison for their crimes.  But, there are villains whose evil deeds are so great that a violent end does justify itself.  And in some cases, Disney says farewell to their villains in a surprisingly dark and graphic way; by their standards anyway.  With Halloween around the corner, and continuing on my look at Disney during their 100th anniversary, I decided to list what I think are the most gruesome villain death scenes from Disney movies.  I’m excluding their entirely live action films, so no Star Wars or Marvel since they could fill their own lists, but I will include villain deaths from films that have both live action and animation, as well as include films from Pixar Animation as well.  So, here are my picks for the Top Ten Most Gruesome Disney Villain Deaths.




Certainly the “Mistress of All Evil” would have a death scene that was iconic in it’s own way.  The reason I don’t have her higher is because the thing that ultimately dooms her is nothing extraordinary with regard to fantasy storytelling.  The valiant Prince Phillip does exactly what any hero in a fairy tale does; he saves the kingdom by slaying a dragon.  Perhaps what makes the scene so iconic is not the kill shot, as much of a bullseye as it is, but the whole scene that leads up to it.  Maleficent calls upon all of her magical tricks to prevent Phillip from breaking her curse on the kingdom, in a tour de force sequence that shows Disney at it’s absolute best.  However, it is when she transforms into a dragon that the scene reaches another level.  You really feels the odds stacked up against the hero, with the villain seeming to be unstoppable.  And that’s what makes the defeat of Maleficent all the more satisfying by the end, because it all feels like a great evil has been vanquished.  The only downside is that the actual plunge of the sword into Maleficent’s heart comes at us a tad bit anti-climatic, though it is significant in the fact that we see a rare instance of on-screen spilled blood in a Walt era Disney movie.  It is still a strong moment in the movie, with Maleficent’s pained scream, even in her dragon form, feeling like the roar of an otherworldly demon.  Of course, even as the life goes out of her, Maleficent still attempts one final kill as she snaps at Phillip one final time before falling to the ground.  It’s not the most creative way for a Disney villain to go out, but the sequence it’s a part of is still an all-time masterwork of animation, and that certainly earns a place for it on this list.


SCAR from THE LION KING (1994)


Scar is an interesting case of a villain who succumbed to the consequences of his own misdeeds.  His whole evil scheme was to take power through the regicide of his brother the king and his nephew.  To do so, he made a pact with the hyenas, giving them free reign over the Pridelands, his kingdom, and as a result he disrupted the food chain (or Circle of Life) as they call it that made the kingdom prosper and drove it into ruin.  There’s a Arthurian element to this story, where the return of the good king brings prosperity to the land once the bad king is driven out, and the makers of The Lion King borrow greatly from those kinds of legendary tales, as well as quite a bit of Shakespeare.  Certainly the thing that makes Scar such a great villain to hate is his lack of morals.  He is someone who will do anything to gain power, and that’s what makes his inevitable downfall all the more satisfying.  He is also a petty character as well, willing to throw anything in his way in order to survive.  That’s ultimately what leads to his downfall.  His nephew Simba easily overpowers him to reclaim his throne, but to buy himself an out after being cornered, Scar claims to Simba that he only acted the way he did because of the hyenas, saying it was their idea.  Simba of course doesn’t buy it, but he grants Scar mercy by condemning him to exile.  Scar, ever the petty one, attacks Simba when his defense is down, but ultimately he is no match and Simba sends him off the summit of Pride Rock in a steep fall.  Scar survives, but he finds himself surrounded by his hyena minions, who just happened to overhear him throwing them under the bus.  The hyenas have also been starving because of the shortage of food under Scar’s reign.  So, we see Scar’s evil schemes come full circle as he ultimately is undone by the very thing he empowered.  Of course Disney spares us the graphic details, playing out Scar’s end through shadows, but it’s obvious to us the grisly end that Scar meets, and it’s one that is significantly satisfying for such a weaselly manipulator who only cared about himself.


HOPPER from A BUG’S LIFE (1998)


Hopper was an early Pixar movie villain that proved to be surprisingly brutal and dark for a family film.  The leader of a gang of grasshoppers who bully a colony of ants is not above using violent ends to not just get his way, but to also make his point.  One particularly dark moment involves Hopper crushing two of his minions to death under a mountain of food after they challenge his reasoning for demanding tribute from the ant colony.  It also is interesting to note that Hopper is the only Pixar villain voiced by a real life monster named Kevin Spacey.  Which makes it all the more satisfying that Hopper is one of the few Pixar villains who is done in by the end of the movie.  But, of course, the creative minds at Pixar are not going to kill off their dark and sinister bad guy in any ordinary way.  One of the few weaknesses that Hopper has as a character is his crippling fear of birds, which is something that the resourceful hero of the ants, Flik, takes advantage of.  He convinces the colony to build a replica bird as a defense against the grasshoppers, and while it works initially, Hopper eventually gets wise to the artifice.  However, this misconception that the ants have built a bunch of fake birds ends up leading to Hopper’s downfall, because during the final climax of the movie, Flik leads Hopper to a real birds nest and the villain doesn’t realize he’s been tricked until it’s too late.  Hopper’s demise is both hilarious in execution as well as a bit terrifying.  We know he’s about to be eaten alive, horrific as it sounds, but the ones doing the devouring are the cutest little baby chicks Pixar has ever animated; a nice little spin that the animators made to give it that extra bit of satisfying comeuppance.  It’s that mix of cute baby animals and Hopper’s helpless screams of terror put together that makes this villain death scene so memorable, and a brilliant way to make a gruesome death feel consequential but not out of place in a colorful movie like A Bug’s Life.




There’s a complaint that Disney tends to kill most of their villains off in the same way, which is to have them fall from a great height, making it a bit of a cliché.  The truth is that even though it does show up multiple times in Disney animation, it is an overall effective way to have the villain meet their end in a G-rated film; it’s bloodless and it doesn’t involve the heroes actively dealing a killing blow to the villain, thereby maintaining their purity of character.  A lot of Disney villains meet their end this way; Gaston, Professor Ratigan, Mother Gothel.  But it is perhaps Judge Claude Frollo’s fall from a high place that stands as the most memorable.  Not only is he falling from the balcony of the Notre Dame cathedral, but he is plunged head first while grabbing onto a very heavy stone gargoyle sculpture towards the square down below, which we know from earlier in the film has been covered in a layer of molten iron that the hero Quasimodo poured down to ward off invaders.  You’ve got to believe that it was not a pleasant end for Frollo.  Frollo is far and away one of the most vividly portrayed evil characters in any Disney movie.  His pious hypocrisy makes him an especially hateable presence in the film, and the fact that he’s a bit of a sadist is another layer to his villainy that makes him all the more potent.  That’s why his death scene has this satisfying and ironic karmic sense to it.  He believes he’s got the heroes, Quasimodo and the gypsy Esmeralda, cornered and he triumphantly holds his sword up high, quoting scripture by saying, “He shall smite the wicked and plunge them into the fiery pit.”  But, of course fate has other plans, as Frollo’s footing gives way.  Amping up the symbolism of the moment, the filmmakers had the gargoyle that Frollo is clinging to life to transform into a terrifying hell beast, indicating where Frollo is headed to in the next life.  It’s operatic and perhaps a little too heavy-handed, but still a satisfyingly gruesome end to one of Disney’s most evil human monsters.




You wouldn’t think that Disney would take out their villain in a violent way during it’s early years, let alone in their first feature film ever, and yet they did just that.  Snow White and the Seven Dwarves pushed the boundaries of what could be done with the animated medium, and it’s interesting that Disney did not hold back when it came to creating a terrifying presence in their villainous Evil Queen.  Everything about the character is dark and foreboding, even during her regal scenes in her castle.  Once she transforms into her peddler woman form, she is the stuff of nightmares, with her gnarled fingers and buggy eyes.  As sweet and light as the rest of the film is, the Queen casts a dark shadow whenever she appears.  It’s to Walt Disney and his team’s credit that they remained true to the dark nature of the character, and it’s likely why they also chose to make her comeuppance in the story all the grander once it comes.  The moment Snow White bites the poison apple, it’s almost like nature itself has come apart, as the Queen’s triumphant laughter is punctuated by the sudden flash of a raging storm.  As she makes her way back to her castle, she finds that the Seven Dwarves are hunting her down.  She escapes them by climbing up a mountain slope, only to get cornered on a cliffside.  A precariously balanced boulder nearby gives her one final weapon to stop the Dwarves, and she tries to push it down their way, hoping to crush them.  In a real deus ex machina moment, her evil intent is stopped by a lightning strike right at her feet.  It crumbles her ledge away, causing her to fall to her death (it all started here).  To make the death even more gruesome, the boulder she intended to crush the dwarves with ends up toppling in her direction after she falls off screen with a final helpless scream.  It is amazing that even in their first animated film they managed to make their climax feel this monumental, and the Evil Queen’s over-the-top death scene really set the bar high for Disney afterwards.  It almost seemed like they were afraid to go as big as they did afterwards, because another Disney villain wouldn’t die on screen until Maleficent 22 year later.  Nevertheless, it is one that still remains memorable over 80 years later and is still a somewhat shocking moment for a Disney movie given when it was made.




Keeping in the same tradition of Hopper from A Bug’s Life, the main adversary of the Incredibles family also has a death scene that is both gruesome and hilarious at the same time.  Earlier in the film, the Incredibles’ go-to outfit designer Edna Mode makes it clear that she has one primary rule: No Capes!!  The reason for this is because though capes are an aesthetically pleasing and traditional part of a superhero’s overall presentation, it can also become a hazard depending on the situation.  The movie demonstrates this with a hilarious montage of different super heroes over the years who have had their cape get snagged on something or causes their wearers to get pulled into harm like they were lassoed in by a rope.  The Incredibles creator Brad Bird (who also voiced Edna Mode) brilliantly pays off this gag late in the film’s climax with the villain Syndrome being killed off by what else, his cape.  The great thing about this pay off is how sneakily Brad Bird brings it back into the movie.  Syndrome’s cape is not exactly a prominent feature of his costume, so we forget it’s there most of the time.  But once Syndrome is thwarted after Mr. Incredible throws his car at the villain’s hover plane, he is thrown back towards one of the plane’s jet turbines, and all of a sudden we are acutely aware of the cape.  It’s a hilarious way to finish off this villain, who certainly has earned this karmic death after the years of slaughtering super heroes to build better weaponry, but also at the same time when you think about it, it is also horrific in it’s own way.  What happens to the human body when it gets sucked into a turbine engine is pretty gruesome.  The movie spares us the blood and horror of it, instead showing the fireball aftermath, but we can still imagine what happened.  Given the gruesome nature of it, as well as the perfect punchline to a running joke throughout the movie, this is certainly the best villain death to have come from Pixar Animation.


CLAYTON from TARZAN (1999)


Tarzan is definitely one of Disney’s more action oriented films, so more on screen violence is to be expected.  This also leads to one of the more explicitly violent villain deaths in all of Disney Animation.  Clayton is not a particularly original villain.  His kind of trigger happy gentleman explorer type is just basic stock villainy for a lot of films similar to this one, both in animation and live action.  He still works as formidable foe for Tarzan in the movie, and is give a wonderfully boisterous vocal performance by legendary British character actor Brian Blessed.  But during the film’s climatic confrontation, Disney shockingly pushes the limit for what they can get away with in a G-rated film with the way Clayton meets his demise. He chases Tarzan into the treetops with his shotgun fully loaded.  Tarzan and him skirmish for a bit, before Tarzan manages to disarm him.  Tarzan could end the fight by pulling the trigger, but he proves he’s the bigger man by not sinking to Clayton’s brutal level and he smashes the gun to pieces.  Clayton then resorts to using his machete to lunge with murderous intent at Tarzan.  The fight ends up culminating in a tangle of vines, which Tarzan has a natural advantage in.  With his knowledge of the natural barrier that the vines provide, he manages to entangle his foe in the foliage.  But, the still bloodthirsty Clayton tries to hack his way out, not knowing that one of the vines has roped around his neck.  Tarzan tries to intervene, but Clayton cuts one vine to many and begins to fall.   After a quick freefall, we see the last vine attached to Clayton go taut.  We don’t see explicitly what happened, but a quick lightning flash shows the shadow of Clayton’s lifeless dangling body hanging off screen.  This is one moment where Disney gets the closest to not leaving anything to the imagination, and it is a shockingly brutal end for the villain.  It fits with the tone of Tarzan as a whole, which is among the more mature Disney animated movies, but even still compared to all the other Disney villain deaths, the fact that it is so grounded in reality makes the moment feel all the more shocking overall.




One of the most memorable Disney Villain divas should absolutely have a death scene as over-the-top as their personality.  Ursula the Sea Witch gets hers through one of the craziest turn of events seen in any Disney film ever.  After gaining her rival King Triton’s crown and trident, Ursula commands enormous power over the ocean.  She enacts her malice by growing to giant size and creating a chaotic storm.  Ariel the mermaid and the love of her life Prince Eric get swept into the maelstrom of Ursula’s creation, but the swirling water also dredges up ship wrecks from the ocean floor.  Eric manages to climb aboard one of these wrecks that has reached the surface and using his seafaring skills, he manages to steer it in Ursula’s direction.  Ursula is distracted by her focus on killing Ariel, and doesn’t see the ship making it’s way toward her, with the decayed bow having now become a nice pointy end.  She only notices a half second before and the sharpened bow cuts right into her.  The colossal Ursula has been completely impaled from front to back, and she quickly melts away as the life leaves her, leaving a smoky pool behind on the water’s surface.  It’s been told by the filmmakers that Ursula’s confrontation with Ariel and Eric was more low key in early versions of the story, and it was actually Disney Animation chief at the time, Jeffrey Katzenberg, who told them to make the climax a lot bigger, saying in his words, “I need it to be more Die Hard.”  And I guess they took it literally, because they made the climax bigger by making Ursula bigger.  But, given the enormity of her personality to begin with, this climax just fits the character a lot better.  In a strange way, this seems like the way Ursula would have wanted to go out; in spectacular fashion.  And kudos on Disney for once actually not taking the safe route and minimizing the gory details.  It’s a violent end, but one that is appropriate for this kind of classic villain.




Of all of the films made by Disney Animation, the darkest by design was their fantasy epic The Black Cauldron.  Made at a time when Disney was desperately trying to re-invent themselves in what was known as their Dark Age, The Black Cauldron was a far more violent and adult-oriented movie.  It was also the first time Disney received a PG Rating.  The shift in tone didn’t work out, as the movie was a financial flop that almost killed the animation department at the studio.  But, there have been elements about the movie that have helped it to gain a cult fanbase over the years.  One of them is the very memorable villain, The Horned King.  The Skeletal faced adversary is far and away one of the most terrifying characters to ever appear in a Disney animated film, or any animated film for that matter.  And of course, with a villain this terrifying and with so many evil deeds done in his wake, the comeuppance that he faces in the climax has to be as fittingly as gruesome as he is.  Given that The Black Cauldron was made in a moment in time when Disney felt unencumbered by the need to keep things family friendly, they decided that the Horned King’s death had to be a shocking one, and boy did they deliver.  Once the spell he has casted on the Cauldron begins to reverse itself, all of the magic begins to return back to the cauldron in a powerful black hole like vortex.  The Horned King tries to evade the pull of the Cauldron, but it overpowers him.  He makes one final desperate cling to life at the Cauldron’s rim, but the force begins to peel the skin off of the King’s bones.  The Horned King is violently torn apart piece by piece as the Cauldron consumes his essence and he is finally obliterated in one final violent explosion.  I don’t think you’ll find a more visibly gruesome villain death in any other animated Disney movie.  The Black Cauldron wasn’t afraid to take it’s story into violent places and show it all on screen, and that was evident by the visually explicit way that the Horned King meets his end.




Sure this is not a canonical Disney Animated movie, but the Disney Animation studio did work on this and Judge Doom is technically a cartoon character, so that makes this a Disney Villain death.  And the reason why he has managed to top this list is because I don’t think any other Disney Villain has had their life ended in a more gruesome and violent way than how Judge Doom meets his end.  The main villain of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is definitely one of the most terrifying characters ever put on screen (played brilliantly by Christopher Lloyd) and that’s true even before we see his final form.  At one point with his climatic battle with the heroic Eddie Valiant, Doom appears to have met his end under the crushing power of a cement roller.  But, we soon learn that he was a cartoon the whole time, wearing a rubber mask disguise to appear human.  When he regains his shape, we see the terrifying red eyes now poking through the mask, creating a sight that drove terror into this writer as a child every time.  But, much like other villains on this list, Judge Doom falls victim to his own hubris, and is killed off by his own invention.  Doom had created a liquid mixture of Turpentine, Acetone and Benzine (all paint removers) to melt cartoon characters out of existence.  His master plan was to destroy all of Toontown (home of all the cartoon characters) with the nasty mixture, but Valiant manages to turn the tables of the maniacal judge and causes a spill of the substance to shoot out in Doom’s direction.  Judge Doom slowly melts down into the green colored pool, all the while screaming “I’m melting” in a nod to the Wicked Witch’s similar fate.  You really get the sense that Judge Doom went out painfully in the end, and it’s fitting given the sadistic way that he put a cute little cartoon shoe through the same fate earlier in the film.  Even as much as he deserved what came to him, there is this incredible sense of grimness in seeing a character just melt away into nothing, especially knowing just how painful each second of it would have been.  That’s why Judge Doom’s death scene is the darkest and most gruesome that Disney has ever put on screen.

Disney certainly doesn’t go dark and violent often, but as we’ve seen in some of the cases above, that when they do they make it memorably visceral and even sometimes graphic.  Of course, some of the most memorably evil baddies get grandiose exits, like Maleficent and Ursula.  But, at times Disney may even throw in a shockingly violent end to even a lesser villain.  The example of Clayton in Tarzan shows how they’re not afraid to give a vividly violent death to a more grounded character who left a lesser impact.  And there are of course the examples of the Horned King and Judge Doom, where Disney made use of the added freedom of a PG rating to show a bit more violence on screen.  Whatever the case, there definitely are rules that Disney still sticks with when it comes to how they give their villains a comeuppance that either leaves them dead or not.  For one thing, I notice that when a villain dies in a Disney movie, it’s mainly because they had already taken a life beforehand, and ending up dead themselves is just karmic retribution.  That’s definitely the case with on screen murders committed, like with Judge Doom, Scar, Frollo, Hopper, Clayton and the Evil Queen, or those implied off screen like with Maleficent, Ursula, the Horned King, and Syndrome.  Another rule that Disney applies is that their heroes can’t kill their villains unless it is a last act necessity.  That’s why so many villains meet their end through their own hubristic mistakes in Disney films, hence why a fall from a high place is so commonly used.  It’s always interesting to see Disney take more creative routes in dealing with their villainous characters, even when it means showing them mercy in the end.  Not every villain needs to meet a terrible fate, and as much as people like to see a big violent end for these characters, the movie doesn’t need it always to have a satisfying conclusion to a story.  For this list, it does offer up some interesting insights into how a company like Disney tends to handle darker moments within their movies, and it shows that they can go surprisingly hard when it comes to giving their Villains a violent and gruesome death.  They were even capable of doing so even in Walt’s time, with the Evil Queen’s three fold comeuppance in Snow White.  For this spooky time of year, I hope this was an interesting look into the different times Disney took a risk and gave their Villains a really hardcore exit out of their movies; even to some very shocking levels.

Top Ten Moments From Disney Animation… So Far

The Walt Disney Company is unlike the other big studios that make up Hollywood.  While the likes of Universal, Warner Brothers, and Paramount built up their brands with their stables of stars and filmmakers, Disney came to prominence a different way.  They had their own stars, but they weren’t dashing leading men or entrancing leading ladies; they were cartoons.  Begun a century ago in the back of a tiny law office in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, The Disney Brothers studio was born and out of that tiny back room grew one of the most powerful media empires the world has ever known.  Now the Disney Company has expanded to include other valuable brands like Star Wars, Marvel, 20th Century Studios, as well as having a major foothold in theme parks and even it’s own cruise line.  But, even with all that growth, Animation is still at the core of the studio.  The character of Mickey Mouse undoubtedly was responsible for making Disney what it is, but what has also come to define Disney over it’s 100 years are their historic milestones that pushed the medium of animation further.  Not every invention in animation can be credited back to Disney, but they are responsible for mainstreaming innovations.  It was going to be inevitable that someone would attempt a feature length animated film, but it took the initiative of Walt Disney and his artists to actually take that first step, even when many in the industry thought he was crazy.  Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937), their first feature film, sparked a revolution in the art of animation, and all that followed for Disney can be attributed to that success.  In the 85 years since Snow White, the Disney Animation Studio has produced 61 feature films, with the upcoming Wish (2023) marking their 62nd this November.  This group of films has come to be known as the Disney Canon; an official grouping of films linked  back to Snow White and meant to stand apart from all the rest of the films made at Disney.

In the Disney Canon, there are six distinct eras; the Golden Age (1937-42), the War Years (1943-49), the Silver Age (1950-67), the post-Walt Dark Age (1968-88), the Disney Renaissance (1989-2004) and the Digital Age (2005-present).  From all of these names, you can imagine the different shifts the Disney company went through, and the movies released in these eras are very much reflective of that.  The Golden, Silver, and Renaissance years were times of incredible growth and prosperity for Disney, whereas the War Years and the Dark Age were very disruptive.  But even during those disruptive years, Disney still produced a lasting classic every now and then, like The Three Caballeros (1945) in the War Years, and Robin Hood (1973) in the Dark Ages.  Looking over all of the Disney Canon films, it really is interesting to see the evolution of animation playing out before you as each film is it’s own time capsule.  And in many of the films, there are moments that remain iconic no matter what age it is.  These are the moments that stick with us for years afterwards and they are also the moments that have come to define the Disney name in the pop culture.  What follows is what I think are the Top Ten Moments from Disney Animation that have appeared so far throughout the years.  I’m drawing solely from the Disney Canon and at 9 decades and 61 films worth of material to go through, there are some tough choices about what to leave in and out.  So, with all that said, here are the Top Ten Disney Animation far.



Disney is most well known for their lavish, Broadway style musical numbers and slapsticky cartoon hijinks.  What they are less well known for is staging epic battle scenes.  Sure, there have been climatic one-on-one battles, but a harrowing battle featuring armies numbering in the hundreds is something very out of character for them.  That’s not to say they couldn’t do it; all they needed was the right story.  They eventually found such a story with the Chinese legend of Mulan, the girl who impersonated a man in order to join the army.  The movie Mulan does an admirable job at building a captivating story around it’s heroine, but where the film really excels as a work of animation is in it’s staging of it’s more epic moments.  The film made use of the studio’s new innovative computer enhanced animation tools, which included the ability to fill a scene with literally hundreds of characters with a crowd simulator.  The most amazing use of this tool is found in a harrowing battle scene on the slop of a mountain.  Drawing inspiration from filmmakers such as David Lean and Akira Kurosawa, this battle against the Huns showcases a level of scale and scope never seen before in a Disney animated film, or any animation up to that point in fact.  You really get the sense of the overwhelming odds on screen, as the villainous Shan-Yu leads the charge down the slope, followed by all of his soldiers spilling over the crest on horseback in a seemingly unending horde.  Impressive as the effect is, the movie also gives us a surprising twist as Mulan uses her quick witted thinking to defeat the enemy single handedly, by launching a cannon at the mountaintop, causing an avalanche.  To this day, even with all the advances in computer animation, this scene still manages to wow, mainly because of the epic way it is staged.  You really get the sense of scale that Disney’s animators were trying to go for, and as a result, it shows that they could do so much more than just the cartoon stuff.



The movie that sparked the beginning of Disney’s Silver Age is also one of the more grounded of the era.  Sure, talking mice is a fanciful touch, but Cinderella’s dilemmas are much more grounded in reality than the typical Disney fairy tale narrative.  Our heroine is not under some curse, or is the key to solving a magical riddle.  She is a poor soul being tortured and humiliated in her own home by a wicked Stepmother and her vain step-sisters.  Where the fairy tale element of the story comes in is at the moment Cinderella hits her lowest point; after the step-sisters have torn her dress to shreds, preventing her from attending the Royal Ball.  As she loses all hope for happiness, that’s when the Fairy Godmother arrives and works her magic.  The whole scene that follows is pure Disney magic, as the Fairy Godmother gifts her a full royal entourage out of all the animals in the garden and a magnificent carriage out of a pumpkin.  Set to the memorable tune of “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo,” the whole sequence is a delight, but it reaches it’s high point when the absent minded Fairy Godmother finally remembers that Cinderella is in need of a dress.  And the moment Cinderella’s dress forms out of the rags of the old one may just be one of the most iconic single moments in animation ever.  Drawn by the iconic animator Marc Davis, one of Disney’s notable Nine Old Men, this moment really shows you what animation is capable of in contrast to any other form of filmmaking.  Any live action effect, especially in that time, couldn’t effectively do the same as what animation was capable of in realizing that moment, from the swirling of magic dust all around her to how the dress itself forms fluidly from the rags that Cinderella is wearing.  And it’s an iconic dress as well, complete with the all important glass slippers.  It may not be one of Disney’s flashiest moments, but it is one of the most magical.



The Digital Age of Disney Animation is one that is still trying to find it’s identity compared to eras of the past, and for many die hard Disney Animation fans, they have a harder time finding things to love about computer animation when contrasted with the hand drawn films.  But there are certainly moments that are too good to ignore from this period in time, and one of the most iconic naturally comes from the biggest hit of this era.  The movie Frozen is noteworthy in the Disney Canon for a lot of things, but the moment that everyone remembers in the film is the show-stopping musical number “Let it Go.”  After fleeing her kingdom and finding herself in exile in the chilly mountains that border those lands, Queen Elsa resolves to cast aside the fear and self-loathing that caused her to hide her ice-based power for so long.  In doing so, she finally gives herself the motivation to “let it go” and take her power to the extreme without any inhabitations.  The song itself is quite the uplifting number, but the sequence definitely reaches it’s high point when Elsa begins to create a palace of ice on the mountain peak.  Shown in an incredible one shot, we see the foundations of the palace rise right out of the snowy slopes, followed by the cathedral like walls and then finally in a magnificent snowflake chandelier.  The way the virtual camera floats through this whole sequence is what really makes the scene special, putting us right in the middle of the magic.  And even after that breathtaking tracking shot, we get another magical moment as Elsa uses her power to change her royal garb into a icy blue and white gown.  Out of all the movies of the Disney Digital Age, this is the moment that still rings out as iconic almost a decade later, and it easily stands as one of the most memorable in the Disney Canon.



It would be wrong to overlook an iconic moment from the movie that started it all.  When Walt Disney first proposed to make a feature length film at his studio, many in Hollywood thought he was crazy.  “Disney’s Folly” is what they called it, and there were several in the industry that believed it was impossible to hold an audience’s attention for more than the average 7-10 minutes when it came to animation.  But, Walt Disney persisted, believing quite rightly that this was the future of the medium.  His team of animators pushed themselves to innovate and take animation in a direction that could believably support such a monumental project.  In the end, they managed to go above and beyond, with Snow White not just showing that a feature length animated film was possible, but that it’s story could rival anything told in live action.  The animators really got a sense of how successful they were when they attended the film’s premiere at the Carthay Circle Theater in Los Angeles.  At the climax of the film, Snow White is put into a death like sleep by a poisoned apple given to her by her step mother, The Queen, in the disguise of a hag.  The Seven Dwarves eventually chase down the Queen, who receives her comeuppance falling off a high cliff, but they return home believing their beloved Snow White is slain.  They chose not to bury her, instead placing her in a glass coffin in the forest, where the Prince pays her a visit to share his own grief.  He gives her a kiss, and this act magically revives the sleeping Snow White, leading to a triumphant celebration.  What struck the animators at the premiere was that they were seeing members of the audience, including A-List stars, openly weeping in the theater.  One of Disney’s animator’s, Ward Kimball, recalled the moment in amazement, realizing that what the audience was crying at was just a stack of drawings.  This showed that Disney transcended the medium of animation and could tell a story as captivating as any other made in Hollywood.  These were no longer just drawings; they were fully fleshed out characters whose stories could make you forget that you were watching a cartoon.



Sometimes the most magical moments in Disney movies don’t have to have actual magic.  Sometimes it can be something as simple as a Spaghetti and Meatball dinner.  That’s the case with this iconic moment from Lady and the Tramp.  The movie is one of Disney’s more grounded films, with a simple love story told from the point of view of dogs.  Lady is a cocker spaniel from a nice neighborhood, while Tramp is a mangy mutt from the rough side of town.  Circumstances bring them together, as Tramp helps Lady remove a muzzle forced on her by a  cruel new caretaker.  Still far from home and afraid to return, Lady needs some guidance, so Tramp agrees to show her around town.  Eventually they arrive at Tony’s Restaurant, one of his favorite haunts where the namesake owner is always happy to give him a handout.  Upon seeing that Tramp this time has company, Tony has the idea to give the two more than just scraps.  Tony gives them a full spaghetti dinner, complete with candlelight ambiance and Tony and his assistant Joe giving them a musical serenade.  In the real world, this would all be absurd, but in the hands of Disney’s animators it becomes one of the most romantic moments in cinema history.  The song, “Bella Notte” is itself a beautiful tune, and it perfectly sets the tone for the scene.  Of course the iconic moment that everyone remembers is when Lady and Tramp both start to chew and swallow the same strand of spaghetti, causing their heads to be pulled closer together until they lock lips.  Lady bashfully looks away and Tramp gallantly pushes a meatball closer to her.  The moment is so subtle and beautiful, and one of the most sublimely romantic moments ever put on film.  And it’s all the more remarkable that they are doing this with dogs as the main characters.  It’s a far more mature take on finding love than the standard fairy tale love at first sight.  Here, we see love bloom in the most unexpected way, and it’s a moment that still continues to delight many years later.



The Disney Renaissance marked a high point for Disney Animation.  After languishing in the Dark Ages of the post-Walt Disney years, Animation made a triumphant return with the release of The Little Mermaid (1989).  Of the Disney Renaissance films, none was bigger than The Lion King, a film that truly showed that Disney had grown bolder in it’s storytelling during this transformative era.  The Lion King was epic in scale, showcasing the vast wilds of the African savannah in a majestic tapestry of beautiful naturalistic animation.  It very much was a Disney film in the grand tradition that came before, but it also was innovative in a lot of other respects.  Computer animation had been coming a long way through the other films prior in the Renaissance Era, but in The Lion King, they created one of the most complex scenes that had ever been done in animation.  With the intent of killing both the king and his son in one fell swoop, the deceiving villain Scar lures his nephew Simba into a trap, unknowing of the peril he’s about to get into.  Simba is brought into a canyon where a huge herd of wildebeests are forcibly chased into, creating a stampede in which Simba is right in the path of.  The moment is truly terrifying, as the Disney animators used for the first time a duplication software that allowed them to create a limitless amount of wildebeests, making the horde heading Simba’s way to be an overwhelming force.  It’s the same software used in the battle from Mulan, but here it’s even more impactful.  When the wildebeests begin to crest over the ridge of the canyon, you get the feeling of dread of an oncoming storm, and the filmmakers punctuate that moment with a simulated smash zoom onto Simba’s terrified face.  Simba’s father Mufasa does eventually save him, but he’s overwhelmed by the sheer force of the wildebeest’s size and numbers.  Scar of course sabotages Mufasa’s escape, and it leads to one of the few on screen deaths in a Disney animated movie.  Though The Lion King has it’s fair share of iconic scenes, this is the one that has come to define the movie as an all time classic.



The Lion King may have been the most epic scale film of the Disney Renaissance era, but for the most action packed scene of this Age, you’d have to watch the movie that preceded it.  Aladdin is a magnificent ode to Golden Age Hollywood, with it’s incredible mix of high adventure, iconic music, and a general sense of campy fun.  In the most harrowing part of the film, Aladdin, deemed the “diamond in the rough,” is sent to retrieve a magical lamp from the Cave of Wonders.  The cave itself is vast and treacherous and Aladdin eventually finds the lamp high on a pedestal above a subterranean lake.  He takes the lamp, believing the worst is over, until he sees his monkey companion Abu trigger the self-destruct trap of the cave.  Massive boulders fall from the ceiling and the lake turns from water to lava instantly.  With the help of the Magic Carpet, Aladdin and Abu have a means to escape, but the lava lake magically follows after them in a fearsome tidal wave.  The flight through the cave itself is the moment that sets this scene apart.  While Aladdin and Abu are still hand drawn, their environments were completely rendered in computers, creating a 3D environment so complex it became immersive.  Sure it looks graphically primitive today; coming across just slightly more complex than a CD-ROM era video game, but in the early 90’s, this was ground-breaking.  Disney’s CGI team apparently looked to flight simulators, such as the one found in the Star Tours ride at Disneyland, for inspiration for this sequence, and it shows.  The flight through the cave definitely feels like you are on a ride with the characters, and it was a brilliant way to use computer graphics in a traditional animated film, helping them to do things that never had been seen before.  And it also fits well within the film’s whole general sense of fun.  Aladdin is a film full of moments that boldly pushes the limits of animation, and the Cave of Wonders sequence is where you especially see the film take things to it’s wildest and most edge of your seat potential.



Moving to a completely different tone in Disney Animation, there is one other thing that the studio has excelled at and that’s pulling at the heartstrings of it’s audience.  There are some definite heart-breaking moments in their movies, like the aforementioned death of Mufasa in The Lion King, or the reunion scene of Dumbo and his mother in Dumbo (1941).  But, if there was ever a moment in a Disney movie that left a scar on the hearts of generations of children, it’s the fate of Bambi’s Mother in the film Bambi.  Throughout the movie we are told of the ominous threat of “man” in the forest.  The incredible thing about the film is that you never once see a single human being, at yet their foreboding presence is felt throughout.  The only trace they leave in the film is the sound of a gunshot.  And that sound itself plays a very key role in the moment that defines this film.  On a seemingly normal morning, Bambi’s mother leads him to a fresh patch of grass they can feed on in the midst of a snowy field.  As they feast, the “man” theme begins to creep into the score.  Bambi’s mother’s sense flare up, and she tells her son to quickly run to shelter.  Bambi runs ahead, with his mother motivating him onward, and then “bang.”  Bambi makes it to the shelter unharmed, but he made it alone.  He heads back out just as a flurry of snow begins to fall, calling for his mom.  After a fruitless search, Bambi runs into the Great Prince of the Forest, his father, who sadly confirms his worst fear, that he won’t be seeing his mother anymore.  This was a shockingly harsh moment for a Disney film to have, especially in it’s early days.  Unlike so many of their other films, this one delivered a harsh truth about the real world.  Bambi’s mother was not going to come back through any type of magic; she was just gone and never coming back.  A lot of children probably learned a lot about mortality and dealing with grief from this moment in the film.  Disney has a history of tugging at heart-strings, but none broke our heart as much as this moment did.



The Silver Age of Disney came at a time when Hollywood was changing as a whole, embracing big widescreen epics as the answer to the rise of television.  Disney likewise embraced the widescreen medium as well, applying it to animation in innovative ways.  Lady and the Tramp was the first official widescreen film for Disney, but it was shot in that format in a last minute change-up, with much of the compositions on screen not really designed for the full wide frame.  Their follow-up, Sleeping Beauty would on the other hand be designed for widescreen from the get go.  And there are some incredible moments that beautifully utilize the full dimensions of the wide frame.  Of course, the one that stands out the most is the climatic battle at the end of the film, between Prince Phillip and the Mistress of All Evil herself, Maleficent.  The movie’s climatic battle, which sees Maleficent transform into a massive fire-breathing dragon, has become something of a gold standard for epic climaxes in other Disney movies.  You can see the battles against Jafar as a giant cobra in Aladdin and against Ursula as a giant version of herself in The Little Mermaid having been inspired by the battle against Maleficent’s Dragon in this movie.  It is a harrowing climax to a sequence that had already seen Phillip and the good fairies escape from giant rolling boulders, fireballs from the sky, and a forest of razor sharp thorns.  And the widescreen frame makes it feel even more grandiose, especially if you see this on a big screen.  The use of color in this scene also helps to heighten the tension, as the sky turn from somber grey to bright yellow as Maleficent’s inferno engulfs the whole scenery.  The dragon is only on screen a short while, but every second she’s there it is memorable.  The image of Prince Phillip tossing sword against a lunging dragon across the bright yellow sky is by itself a still image as great as any medieval work of art, and a perfect showcase of Disney Animation at the peak of it’s power.



All of the moments on this list left a lasting impression in it’s own way on both the film they were in as well as the era that they represented.  But there is a moment in Beauty and the Beast that exemplifies all of the tricks of the trade that Disney had built up to that moment in time all working together to create a truly pure cinematic moment that just stands above all in animation.  Set to the melody of the title song, Beauty and the Beast brings the film to another level as the two characters make their way to the ballroom.  Aladdin and The Lion King both had incredible moments that showcased incredible integration of CGI into traditional animation, but none were as sublime as what they accomplished with the ballroom scene in this film.  The way that the camera sweeps across the floor with Belle and the Beast and then shoots up into the ceiling is breathtaking, as is the spiral downward from the chandelier back down to the floor.  The moment is both complex and subtle at the same moment.  The computer animation team knew they could create even more dynamic camera movement, like they would eventually with the Cave of Wonders in Aladdin, but here it’s restrained enough to wow us, but also feel natural in it’s sweep.  The scene after all is meant to be romantic.  The camera’s trek in a way mirrors the balletic movement of the dancing duo.  And the integration of the traditionally animated characters into this three dimensional space is impressive, even by todays standards.  Here we see animation taken to it’s cinematic power.  It’s interesting to note that the filmmakers were unsure that they could pull the scene off, and even had a back up plan called the “ice capades” version, where Belle and the Beast would dance in complete darkness with a spotlight following them.  Thankfully the rendering of the 3D Ballroom worked out, and we have this iconic moment presented in it’s full glory.  Beauty and the Beast was the first ever animated film nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, and it probably helped that this iconic wow moment left so many audiences so enchanted by the film.  It may not have been the most exciting scene in a Disney film, but it is definitely the scene that showcased the animation studio working all of the knowledge of their long history of innovation into a pure cinematic moment.

So, there you have my picks for the most iconic moments in the first 100 years of Disney animation.  There were certainly many other moments that I wish I could’ve included, like the “Hellfire” sequence from The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), the Wizards Duel from The Sword in the Stone (1963), The Sorcerer’s Apprentice casting his first spell in Fantasia (1940), the Pink Elephants from Dumbo, Ariel hitting her high note with a wave crashing behind her in The Little Mermaid, the Big Ben fight in The Great Mouse Detective (1986), the flight to Neverland in Peter Pan (1953), and the escape from Monstro the Whale in Pinocchio (1940) to name a few.  Suffice to say, there is a proud legacy of iconic cinematic moments that have come out of the Disney Animation studio.  The moments that stand out the most however are the ones that surprise us the most, like the Ballroom from Beauty and the Beast, or the Spaghetti Dinner from Lady and the Tramp.  The death of Bambi’s mother is also one where the sheer brutality of that moment hits incredibly hard, making it memorable in a way that transcends the artform and makes us consider the morale meaning behind what we saw in that moment.  And of course, there are those moments that we remember because they just felt magical, like the moment when Cinderella gets her stunning ball gown.  Disney Animation just has that special ability to connect with their audience, and it’s managed to stay strong through a tradition of excellence and imagination that goes all the way back to when Walt and his tiny team of animators were working out of that back room in Los Feliz.  Hopefully that spirit of innovation and imagination continues to remain strong going into their second century.  For now, we have a long legacy of exceptional animated art from the most storied animation studio in the world, with a canon of films 61 one strong and growing.

Top Ten Disney Songs

If you were to cobble together many of the greatest songs to ever feature in works of cinema, a pretty good chunk of them will likely have been from a Disney movie.  The Disney Company has assembled one of the most renowned songbooks ever, with newer hits being added to it’s catalog constantly.  On more than one occasion, Disney has been praised for saving the movie musical from irrelevance, and that’s in large part due to the fact that so much of their songs are written by many of the titans of musical theater.  From the early days of Tin Pan Alley songsmiths brought into the halls of Disney like Frank Churchill and Oliver Wallace, to pop chart songwriters like the Sherman Brothers, and then later Broadway veterans like Howard Ashman, Alan Menken, Stephen Swartz, Robert Lopez and Lin-Manuel Miranda, the pool of talent that Disney has assembled over the years is staggering.  And with all that, we have been given some of the most memorable songs ever written for any medium.  For many people who grew up with Disney movies, every lyric is written into our hearts and we can sing-a-long at the drop of a hat without even having to look up the words.  How many people have gleefully clocked out at work while whistling “Heigh-Ho” or gone swimming while having the words “We’ve got no troubles, life is the bubbles, Under the Sea,” rolling around in their head.  Disney movies have provided us with the foundation for the soundtrack of our lives, and it’s a musical legacy that continues to build upon itself year after year.

With The Walt Disney company reaching it’s 100th anniversary, I thought it would be fun to mark the occasion with a series of lists throughout the year.  Piggybacking off my last list in October with the best Disney Villain Songs, I thought it would be worthwhile to look at my favorite Disney songs in general.  My choices will likely be different than others, so please don’t be offended if I left one of your favorites out.  There are a lot of great songs to choose from, and many that don’t make my list are still pretty valid choices for anyone else.  Before I begin my list, I do want to point out that I am limiting the choices to films made solely by Walt Disney Pictures.  That means any song written for another branch of the Disney company, such as Pixar Animation or the Disney Theme Parks, won’t be on this particular list (though they are noteworthy songs and deserving of their own separate lists which I may someday get to).  I will however consider songs from Disney movies that are outside of the Animation canon, including a couple of their live action entries.  To give a spotlight to some of the songs that nearly missed my list, here are some of the titles listed in chronological order: “Someday My Prince Will Come” from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937), “Zip-a-Dee-Do-Dah” from Song of the South (1947) “Bibiddi Bobbidi Boo” from Cinderella (1950), “Belle Notte” from Lady and the Tramp (1955), “Once Upon a Dream” from Sleeping Beauty (1959), “I Wanna Be Like You” from The Jungle Book (1967), “O-de-Lally” from Robin Hood (1973), “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid (1989), “Beauty and the Beast” from Beauty and the Beast (1991), “A Whole New World” from Aladdin (1992), “What’s This” from The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), “Zero to Hero” from Hercules (1997), “Reflections” from Mulan (1998), “Son of Man” from Tarzan (1999), “Almost There” from The Princess and the Frog (2009) and “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana (2016).  If many of those songs missed the list, then you know I’ve had to make some tough exclusions to get to the following ten.  With that, let’s take a look at my Top 10 Favorite Disney Songs.



Music by Alan Menken; Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz; Sung by Tom Hulce

One thing to note is that you’ll be seeing quite a bit of the Disney Renaissance represented on this list.  This time period had a particular effect on me, as it was the era that I grew up with, which made me not just a passionate Disney fan, but a fan of cinema in general.  And it was also an era that was noteworthy for it’s revival of the Disney musical.  Long dormant in the post-Walt years, the musical came back with a vengeance in the Renaissance years, with movies like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin all adding dozens of new songs to the already legendary Disney songbook.  The latter Disney Renaissance years were a bit more spotty when it came to musicals, but a few films did stand out.  One of the most noteworthy films during that time, particularly for it’s music, was The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  It was a big gamble for Disney to try to adapt Victor Hugo’s grim medieval novel into a G-Rated musical but somehow they managed to do it.  One thing that really helped in making Hunchback’s musical score work is that it leaned in to the darker tone of the story and went into a far more epic territory than past Disney musicals.  It’s a score heavy in choirs and pipe organs, and a much fuller orchestral sound.  The songs for the most part match the heaviness of the subject matter (except for the misplaced Gargoyles tune).  Included is one of the greatest villain songs, “Hellfire” which I already spotlighted in my last list.  The film also contains one of the grandest “I Want” songs in the Disney canon. “Out There” is the titular Hunchback Quasimodo’s expression of wanting to live out of the shadows and in the world like everyone else after being hidden away in the towers of the Notre Dame Cathedral.  Longtime Disney composer Alan Menken builds the song from a quiet lamentation to a rousing crescendo by the end in a melodic journey that just hits with a powerful bang.  The lyrics, written by future Wicked creator Stephen Schwartz are heartfelt, and it’s remarkable that the voice of Quasimodo, Tom Hulce, had the kind of range to pull a song like this off.  Most famous for playing Mozart in Amadeus (1984), Hulce was not exactly known for his singing voice, so to hear him hit those high notes as gracefully as he does in this song was quite a welcome surprise.  For many Disney fans, this song has taken on a life of it’s own outside of the movie, becoming an anthem for marginalized people throughout society, especially the LGBTQ community.  That’s what makes this an especially important song in the whole Disney songbook overall.


LET IT GO from FROZEN (2013)

Music and Lyrics by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez; Sung by Idina Menzel

Apologies for putting this earworm back into your head.  When this song first landed during the release of Frozen in the Fall of 2013, it became a monster hit the likes of which we hadn’t seen since the heydays of the Disney Renaissance.  Much like how The Little Mermaid brought back the Disney musical for a long dormant period, so did Frozen; though The Princess and the Frog managed to be a mild success a couple years prior.  But Frozen was the movie that solidified the Disney musical in the Digital Age, as Disney’s computer animated films had yet to fully embrace the genre up to that point.  Calling upon Broadway vets like the Robert Lopez and his writing partner and wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez, who had achieved success prior on Broadway with shows like Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon, Disney had the kind of musical talent to really bring back that quintessential Disney sound into their movies once again.  Based on the Hans Christen Andersen fairy tale The Snow QueenFrozen by it’s very nature cries out to be a throwback to the Disney musicals of the past like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, but with the modern sensibilities of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.  A lot of the songs are peppy tunes, like “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” or “Love is an Open Door.”  But it’s the power ballad of “Let it Go” that put Frozen firmly on the map, and even someone like me who is lukewarm on the movie itself cannot deny the effectiveness of this tune.  I think the key to the success of the song is the one who performs it; Broadway vet Idina Menzel whose impressive voice takes this song to it’s fullest potential.  “Let it Go” much like Hunchback’s “Out There” is another passionate expression of self worth and the desire to live as one wishes without judgement, which is why it’s been embraced by modern audiences in a big way.  Sure, it may have been overplayed over the last decade, but it’s one of Disney’s biggest hits for a reason, and one that cannot be denied a place on anyone’s list.



Music by Sammy Fain; Lyrics by Sammy Cahn; Sung by the Jud Conlon Chorus and The Mellowmen Quartet

The post-War Disney Silver Age was a time period when Disney had finally found it’s groove again after years of making propaganda and package features during WWII.  In that time, they created a fair amount of classics, many with the same traditional musical qualities that put Disney on the map in it’s early years.  Cinderella was a grand emotional romance, while Alice in Wonderland (1951) was a whacky, surreal trip, each with songs that gave the story the needed melodies that they needed.  Sleeping Beauty even did the impressive trick of adding lyrics to the melodies of Tchaikovsky’s nearly century old at the time ballet score.  But perhaps the song that stuck out the most from this period was from the movie that was least like a traditional musical.  Disney’s Peter Pan featured a number of songs, but they are for the most part nondiegetic within the context of the story.  Case in point, the film’s most famous song “You Can Fly.”  The song isn’t even sung by the characters, but rather spoken word delivered in rhyme, that is until the characters actually begin flying.  Then the chorus takes over and the song properly begins.  What is so special about “You Can Fly” is that it perfectly captures the sensation of flight through it’s melody.  The tempo constantly changes from slow to fast, with peaks and valley, giving that feeling of gliding through the air.  It’s a wonderfully uplifting tune throughout, with the Sammy Cahn lyrics that feeling a nursery rhyme, like “Take the path that moonbeams make; if the moon is still awake.  You’ll see it blink it’s eye.  You Can Fly! You Can Fly! You Can Fly!”  This song is one that Disney still features prominently in their songbook, and it’s definitely one of those cross generational hits that still impacts many years later.  Whenever people go on the Peter Pan ride in any of the theme parks, most will get that special feeling of whimsy as the sensation of flight takes them upon hearing this song again during the ride.  One of the definite classics, and a good example of a great song coming from a movie that doesn’t have to adhere to the traditional musical form.



Music by Matthew Wilder; Lyrics by David Zippel; Sung by Donny Osmond

Mulan is another of those late Renaissance Disney movies that began to move further away from the traditional Disney musical formula.  It had songs, but they mostly seemed second tier to the story that was being told.  The songs in Mulan for the most part are pretty forgettable, apart from the ballad “Reflections” and the song spotlighted here, which may be one of the all time catchiest tunes in Disney history.  This training montage tune is a motivational work out song on the level of an “Eye of the Tiger” and something you wouldn’t expect in a Disney musical.  And yet, it’s perfect for a movie like this.  Mulan’s story isn’t a fairy tale like other Disney movies, but rather a ballad about a woman who impersonates a man in order to fight in the army in place of her ill father.  Making this into a musical meant Disney had to rethink what kind of songs would be here, and this Rocky style motivation song not only fits the movie perfectly, but it elevates the movie itself.  Anyone who was lukewarm on the movie before this song had to have been feeling juiced up by the end as this is a fantastic motivational song.  And to sing this Asian influenced song about a Chinese Folk Legend you of course turn to; Donny Osmond?  Truth be told, despite the mismatch in cultural representation, Osmond does deliver a spirited performance of this song, hitting all the notes perfectly.  One other major surprise is that this song was written by Matthew “Never Gonna Break My Stride” Wilder; a pop music obscurity who somehow managed to deliver an all time great tune for Disney.  I know a few Disney fans who have this on their workout playlist (I might be one of those people too).  Mysterious as the dark side of the moon, this is one of the unexpectedly greatest Disney songs ever.



Music and Lyrics by Robert and Richard Sherman; Sung by Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke

You definitely can’t talk about the Disney Songbook without mentioning the Sherman Brothers.  The Boys, as Walt Disney affectionately called them, were responsible for a string of hits for the Walt Disney company during it’s peak period during the 1960’s.  The contributed songs to animated hits like The Sword in the Stone (1963) and The Jungle Book (1967), as well as famous theme park melodies like “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” and “It’s a Small World.”  But what they are most celebrated for is their collection of classic tunes from Walt Disney’s magnum opus film musical, Mary Poppins. Poppins is widely considered to be one of the greatest movie musicals of all time; in the same league as classics like West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965).  The Sherman Brothers crafted a collection of unforgettable tunes based on the different adventures of the magical nanny created by P. L. Travers, and each one can be considered an all time great on it’s own.  There’s the Oscar winning “Chim Chim Cheree,” the elegant “A Spoonful of Sugar,” the rousing “Step in Time,” and the soulful “Feed the Birds” (Walt’s personal favorite).  But if I were to choose a favorite, it would be the song devoted to the longest word in the English language.  “Supercalifragilisticexpilalidocious” is Mary Poppin’s at it’s most playful, taking the extra long nonsense word and having fun with it.  This is the kind of song to easily put a person in a lighter mood, and it is quite amazing how the Sherman Brothers managed to make such a long word so easy to sing.  Add in the playfulness of Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke’s performances, each delivering infectious enthusiasm into their singing.  The staging of the song itself is also memorable, with the seamless integration of live action actors in an animated environment which still impresses to this day.  Andrews and Van Dyke’s synchronized dance routine also is perfectly matched in this sequence as well.  The Sherman Brothers made an indelible mark on Disney’s musical legacy, and this song is a great demonstration of their talents creating something practically perfect in every way.



Music by Alan Menken; Lyrics by Howard Ashman; Sung by Jerry Orbach and Angela Lansbury

The height of the Disney Renaissance in terms of classic musicals can arguably be found with Beauty and the Beast.  This is the Disney machine in full swing, with show tunes that can find a home easily on the Broadway stage, which did in fact happen a couple of years later with a Broadway adaptation of this film.  There are definitely a lot of great songs in this movie, including the fantastic opening number “Belle,” the hilarious villain song “Gaston,” as well as the Oscar-winning title number.  But for me, the highlight of the film is it’s biggest show-stopping number; a song that represents everything great about a Disney movie musical.  “Be Our Guest” is a song that feels very much like a throwback to the musical numbers of Old Hollywood, particularly the ones choreographed by famed musical director Busby Berkeley.  Most Disney songs tend to lend support to the action of the film, but this one definitely is here to put on a show.  The animation in this scene is spectacular, with very clear nods to the Busby Berkeley, as the plates and silverware dance and spin across the screen.  It’s also a tour de force for two legends of the Broadway stage; Jerry Orbach, who plays the Maurice Chevalier inspired candelabra Lumiere, and Angela Lansbury as the warm hearted teapot Mrs. Potts.  Also making this song a classic is the brilliant lyrics by Howard Ashman.  A master of word play, Ashman puts together some incredible lines in this song, including underscoring a can-can with phrasing like “Course by Course, one by one, til you shout ‘enough, I’m done.’  Then we’ll sing you off to sleep as you digest.”  it definitely brings new meaning to dinner and a show.  All the songs are great in Beauty and the Beast, but this was definitely the one that kids like me and I’m sure quite a few adults were humming as they left the theater.  As an adult, the familiarity with the classic Hollywood musicals of old adds even more delight to this musical sequence.  It puts it’s service to the test, and all of us are all very much happy to be a guest to this tune every time we hear it.



Music by Alan Menken; Lyrics by Howard Ashman; Sung by Robin Williams

You couldn’t ask for a more perfect marriage of song and performer.  People have tried to take on this song in other re-tellings of this story, including Will Smith in the live action remake.   But no one has come close to capturing the exuberant energy of Robin Williams performance of this song.  “Friend Like Me” is the song that showcases everything that the magical Genie is capable of as he tries to convince Aladdin of the potential of the wishes he can grant.  In typical Disney fashion, the song is a tour de force of what animation can do, which is boundless.  I do wonder what led to the all the imaginative transformations that the Genie undertakes; where they all conceived from the beginning, or did they take inspiration from the different voices that Robin Williams slips into in his performance.  I like to think that the animators were following Robin’s lead, because the man was so much of a real life cartoon himself.  I imagine that when they hear him put on the voice of a French waiter for one lyric, the animators had no other choice than to do exactly what the performance is telling them, and there’s the Genie on screen with a stereotypical stuffy French waiter complete with a pencil thin moustache.  The bridge of the song where Robin Williams does a Cab Calloway scat routine must have also been fun to animate to, especially with the oversized hands dancing along.  Again, Howard Ashman’s clever word play is put to amazing use, including finding a way to work the word Baklava in there.  Sadly, this was Ashman’s final project, as he passed away from AIDS during the making of Beauty and the Beast, with his work on Aladdin only half finished.  Thankfully “Friend Like Me” survived into the finished film, and it represents the master songwriter at the height of his talent.  Menken’s big band jazz infused scoring also brings a great amount of energy to this song.  If there ever was a song worthy of an applause sign, which the Genie comically flashes at the end of the song, this is definitely it.  It’s songwriting, animation, an vocal performance all working together to create a perfect blend of just unmatched fun.  A wish well granted.



Music by Alan Menken; Lyrics by Howard Ashman; Sung by Jodie Benson

That’s three in a row for team Menken and Ashman, showing just how influential they were to the Disney songbook.  An interesting backstory, before they came to Disney, the musical duo worked off Broadway on underground hit musicals like Little Shop of Horrors.  For a time, Ashman tried to make a Broadway debut with composer Marvin Hamlisch on a little musical called Smile.  In that musical, there was an “I Want” song called “Disneyland,” sung by an up-and-coming performer named Jodi Benson.  I don’t think anyone at the time knew that the songwriter of that tune would one day write songs that would actually play for real in Disneyland, and that the singer would become one of the most celebrated Disney princesses.  Smile was a Broadway flop, but Disney took notice and brought Ashman and his friend Alan Menken into their fold hoping that they would revive the long dormant Disney fairy tale musical.  They not only rose to the occasion, but they created one of the most beloved musical scores of all time.  “Under the Sea” may be the Oscar-winning tune, but I think the song that best embodies the spirit of this film the most is “Part of Your World.”  This is the gold standard of all the “I Want” songs in the Disney canon, which has become a staple in most of the musicals made since.  Much of the power of this song comes from Jodi Benson’s heartfelt performance as Ariel.  For a character described so much for having the most beautiful voice in all the ocean, she doesn’t disappoint.  Remarkably, this song almost didn’t make it into the movie, as studio exec Jeffrey Katzenberg almost excised it because he thought it slowed the movie down.  Thankfully directors Ron Clements and John Musker and especially Howard Ashman pleaded their case passionately to keep the song in and thank god it worked, because the movie wouldn’t have worked without it.  It’s a song about chasing a dream, and you can’t help but feel a chill as Ariel reaches out to the surface world as she hits that high note; a tour de force on Jodi Benson’s part.  Whozits and Whatzits galore, this song has everything that makes a Disney song great.



Music by Leigh Harline; Lyrics by Ned Washington; Sung by Cliff Edwards

A song that is so intrinsically linked to all things Disney that it’s the first thing you hear in everything Disney film, playing over the company’s opening logo.  This song has become the anthem of the Walt Disney Company and has remained so for over 80 years since the original release of Pinocchio.  Disney’s first feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves had it’s fair share of classic tunes, but “When You Wish Upon a Star” is a song that carries so much universal meaning beyond it’s place in the film it came from, and it’s amazing that Disney found that kind of song in only it’s second feature film.  “When You Wish Upon a Star” in many ways is the Disney company’s mission statement, a call to keep dreaming even if that dream is far away like a star.  The Disney company has from the very beginning been focused on creative thinking, something that Walt Disney valued as essential to his company.  And it’s something that he wanted to inspire in everyone who watched one of his movies or visited one of his parks.  The cycle of creativity is what he saw as essential to building the future of his company, and it’s why he held up the message of a song like “When You Wish Upon a Star” as a key part of his company’s mission; wish upon your dreams, and make the impossible, possible.  There’s a little naivete in there to be sure, but it’s still something that resonates about the song itself.  Though it’s been covered many times over the years, I don’t think anything has matched the soulfulness of the original Cliff Edwards rendition.  Edwards, who voiced Jiminy Cricket in the movie, wasn’t typically known for soulful songs like this; often singing more light-hearted fare with a ukulele, which earned him the nickname “Ukulele Ike.”  But there is no doubt that his performance of the song is iconic, giving it the heartfelt weight it deserves.  If there was ever a song deserving of being the fanfare for all things Disney, this is it.  It’s a song of inspiration, and who knows how many of the other songs on this list were written by writers who were inspired to wish upon a star in their youths when they saw Pinocchio for the first time.  Like a bolt out of the blue, this song has an immeasurable legacy as part of the Disney Songbook.



Music by Elton John; Lyrics by Tim Rice; Sung by Carmen Twillie and Lebo M

If there was ever a song to rival, and perhaps even exceed the impact of “When You Wish Upon a Star” in the Disney library, it might be the song that kicks off the biggest film they ever made.  “Circle of Life” is a movie that stands for so much of New Disney as “Star” stands for much of Old Disney.  The movie The Lion King was mostly dismissed by much of the Disney brass at the time as a B-picture project worked on the side amidst it’s more ambitious projects like Aladdin, Pocahontas (1995) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996).  It was the only movie of that era not scored by mainstay Alan Menken (with Hans Zimmer instead filling that role), and instead of turning to Broadway talent to compose the songs, they went to pop star Elton John instead.  Sure, Elton John had Broadway lyricist Tim Rice to guide him through, but for the pop singer writing musical numbers for an animated film (one set in Africa no less) was a uncharted territory for him.  Thankfully he rose to the challenge, creating some of the most memorable songs in the Disney library as a result.  Of the five main tunes in the film, there is no doubt that the most powerful one is the song that opens the film.  “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” may have netted the Oscar, due to it being a radio friendly love ballad that Elton John excelled at, but over time “Circle of Life” has become the song that’s been seen as the greater achievement.  So much so, that I don’t think it has any rival in the whole of the Disney songbook.  It’s a song that commands attention like the regal namesake of the film.  A large part of the song’s power comes from that spectacular opening note, provided by the choir director Lebo M.  That primal “Naaaaaaaaah” set against the rising of the sun is a hell of a way to open a movie, let alone a song.  The remaining part of the song keeps that spiritual feeling high, with Carmen Twillie’s passionate performance carrying the weight of the song through.  Once Disney executives saw the finished song in it’s entirety for the first time, I think they may have changed their mind about calling The Lion King a B-Picture.  I for one cannot find any other song from Disney that impresses me more than this one.  It really is the finest bit of music ever captured in animation.  “When You Wish Upon a Star” will certainly always stand as the company’s anthem, and it’s well earned.  But “Circle of Life” with all of it’s epic glory may be the high point of any musical sequence ever in a Disney movie.  Mighty as a lion’s roar, this is the song that demands and receives the respect that it deserves.

So, there you have my choices for the greatest songs from Disney Movies.  There are so many great ones out there and it was hard to thin the herd down to just 10.  Surprisingly, I left a lot of the Oscar winners off of my list.  Of the 10 I listed here, only “When You Wish Upon a Star” and “Let it Go” came away with the gold the year they premiered.  Some of these songs were instant hits, while others like “Out There” and “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” have had to build their esteem over time.  But, there is no doubt that they have contributed to an amazing assortment of songs that span across the 100 years of Disney’s history.  There are a lot of amazing songs even in forgotten movies from Disney’s past as well, as well as songs that may have been overshadowed originally by other tunes and have only come into their own over time.  If there is one thing that the great Disney musical songs have in common, it’s that they stick with you for years after hearing them.  More than just being unforgettable earworms, they are songs that are easily accessible to audiences of all ages.  You don’t have to work very hard to remember all the lyrics, because in some cases the songs utilize clever repetition of the main theme.  Songs like ‘Be Our Guest,” “Under the Sea,” “Hakuna Matata,” “Heigh Ho,” and “You Can Fly” are by design meant to be easy to sing along to.  I know a lot of children of the 80’s and 90’s like myself were introduced to these songs through Sing-A-Long video tape compilations.  Most re-releases of these movies on DVD and Blu-ray also include subtitled lyric tracks for just that purpose as well, and sometimes they’ll even put sing-a-long versions of the movies in theaters.  While there is definitely a commercial aspect of the perpetuity of the Disney Songbook, it cannot be denied that many of these songs are indeed masterful works of music.  The Disney musical has seen many different lives and faces, and there is little doubt that the catalog of songs to come from the century old company will continue to grow.  Hopefully I’ve spotlighted a few that will indeed bring back some memories for many of you.  Have a wonderful musical time with this playlist I provided for you, and hopefully your dreams will come true wishing upon that star.

Top Ten Movies of 2022

With having come and gone, naturally we have to look back at the year that was when it came to the movies we watched.  Movie theaters in general saw improved business, but it still lagged behind pre-pandemic levels.  What is definitely surprising is that Hollywood toward the end of the year just seemed to abandon the fall season.  There were very few tentpoles released in the Fall, and awards fare didn’t seem to fill that gap like they had in years past.  If not for Avatar: The Way of Water (2022) and Marvel’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022), this would’ve been the worst Fall season since the start of the pandemic.  But, thankfully, the year 2022 did start off strong, with better than expected box office for Winter releases like Uncharted (2022) and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022), as well as a strong reboot for DC’s The Batman (2022).  But what really stunned people this year, and provided a good sign for the future of theatrical releases, were the strong word of mouth performances of many different sleeper hits throughout the year.  In the Spring, the A24 surrealist action flick Everything, Everywhere, All at Once (2022) became the biggest all time grosser for the beloved indie lable and a must see in a quiet box office field.  Then in the summer, we saw the complete domination of Top Gun: Maverick (2022), a movie that makes Paramount Pictures seem very wise now for keeping it on the shelf for 2 years until movie theaters were back to normal business.  A sleeper hit even found it’s way into the very depressed Fall season, with the horror film Smile (2022) managing to stay atop the box office in a way that few horror movies do.  Overall, despite the studio’s hesitancy to recommit, there is plenty of evidence that the theatrical market is alive and well, but is in desperate need of more product.  But, to get a good perspective on the year of 2022, it’s time to take a look at the highs and lows of the year in cinema by listing my top 10 best and 5 worst movies of the year.

This last year, I managed to break the 100 films in a theater mark, a new personal best for me.  It was a lot of movies to go out to the cinemas for, and it doesn’t even include the ones I saw on streaming as well, which are also eligible for this list.  It was hard dwindling down my lists to the 10 you’ll see below.  Keep in mind, my list is only the films that I saw within the calendar year of 2022; anything new that I saw in the last week doesn’t count, but they could be eligible for next year’s list.  Before I delve into my top 10 favorite movies of 2022, let me list off a few that almost made my list and that I would recommend seeing: Armageddon Time, The Batman, Benedicton, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Bullet Train, Emily the Criminal, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio, The Inspection, The Menu, The Northman, Thirteen Lives, Triangle of Sadness, Top Gun: Maverick, and Turning Red, Violent Night and Weird: The Al Yankovic Story. Now that we’ve narrowed things down, let’s take a look at my choices for the Top Ten Movies of 2022.



Directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert

It certainly seemed like a year to explore concepts of a multiverse on the big screen.  Marvel was taking their stab at it with their sequel Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022), but in that film the most they explored within the multiverse was maybe three or four dimensions.  Another film, made on a fraction of the budget of Doctor Strange, on the other hand took the multiverse adventure concept and ran with it.  Coming from the same duo of oddball directors behind the film Swiss Army Man (2016), Everything, Everywhere, All at Once was absolutely a movie that lived up to it’s title.  It’s remarkable watching this movie and seeing how much the Daniels were able to milk this multiverse concept with an A24 budget and still make it feel huge and epic in the process.  It’s a movie where every kind of movie comes into play as well, with cinematic inspirations as varied as the movies of Wong Kar-Wai and Ratatouille (2007). The only reason I don’t have it higher is because at times the movie feels a little too much and nearly buckles from the relentless motion of it’s universe jumping.  But, what manages to hold this movie together are the performances from it’s cast.  In particular, this is movie has a career best turn from Michelle Yeoh, one of the greatest actresses of her generation who is now finally getting her due recognition because of this film.  She is also perfectly complimented in her role by a breakout return to film for Ke Huy Quan (Short Round from Temple of Doom as he was most well known for before this movie).  Stephanie Hsu, James Hong, and Jamie Lee Curtis also deliver exceptional work, especially in witnessing them play so many different versions of the same people across the multiverse.  Honestly, Marvel should take note from how this movie managed to make the multiverse work on screen as they build towards their Secret Wars endgame.  There really was no other film like this all year, and it’s great to see a film fit so much interdimensional mayhem into what is ultimately an intimate family drama at the end of the day.  Everything, Everywhere, All at Once manages to find the cosmic within the struggles of one family in a single day and it’s a spectacular ride along the way.



Directed by Jordan Peele

Top Gun: Maverick may have dominated the summer at the box office, and certainly it deserved all the success that it got.  But for me, this was the highlight of the Summer 2022 season for me.  Jordan Peele, in his third directorial effort, changed things up a bit and instead of digging into his horror bag of tricks like he used for the movies Get Out (2017) and Us (2019), this time he decided to test his skills at science fiction.  And the results are his most skillfully directed film yet.  Here, Peele goes more monster movie, and it felt like a nice return to the paranoia monster flicks of the 70’s and 80’s, like Jaws (1975) or The Blob (1988).  Of course there is always a subtext when it comes to Peele’s movies, and in this case it’s about the pursuit of fame that often puts people at risk to themselves and others.  There is a wonderful metaphor woven into the story, with the film cutting back to the past where a chimpanzee rampaged on the set of sitcom in the early 90’s.  In it, we see the folly of trying to control the un-controllable, and it contrasts perfectly with an extreme case involving this UFO terrorizing the characters in this film.  The UFO itself is one of the most original and terrifying movie monsters in recent memory, especially when it’s lurking silently in the shadows.  It also is a perfect examination of the fringes of the Hollywood dream machine; focusing on people chasing that elusive glory.  A disillusioned movie horse trainer, his out spoken hustler of a sister, a failed sitcom star still looking for that big showstopper, a grizzled cameraman seeking that one perfect shot, and a Fry’s Electronics security expert who’s just a little too nosey.  Peele manages to make all these characters shine as they try to survive the unknown terror in the skies.  This is also a big leap forward for Peele as a director, as Nope  really shows him going for grand spectacle for the first time.  It helps that he’s working here with Christopher Nolan’s frequent collaborator, cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, because this movie looked spectacular on an IMAX screen.  Whatever Jordan Peele’s got next for us, my hope is that he continues to challenge himself with more variety of stories like this one, because it turns out he’s got the skills to tackle all kinds of different genres with his own unique style.



Directed by Darren Aronofsky

Everything you have heard about Brendan Fraser’s Oscar-worthy comeback role is true.  Fraser’s performance really goes beyond just the physical transformation from all the prosthetic applications to have him appear as a 600 pound man.  He creates a character that genuinely feels authentic and personable; giving depth and empathy to the character that doesn’t feel like awards bait at all.  His character, named Charlie, is a fascinating mix of contradictions; intelligent but also clueless about what’s best for himself, opinionated but also a bit of a sap, and also willing to see the best in people even while he is slowly destroying himself.  Fraser captures all of this with a great amount of subtlety, and quite literally disappears into the role.  The film may be polarizing to many; with some seeing the film as exploitive and depressing, and I totally understand that feeling.  This is not an easy movie to watch, as the movie doesn’t shy away from the more grotesque realities of Charlie’s state of life.  But, this has always been part of director’s Darren Aronofsky’s style.  Almost every movie he has made has put his audience at unease at some point.  From his debut with Pi (1998) to Requiem for a Dream (2000), to more recent movies like mother! (2016), he has pushed the boundaries of what audiences will accept before they are repulsed.  Even more conventional movies of his, like Black Swan (2010) and Noah (2014) had elements that shocked and bewildered audiences.  The Whale continues that tradition, but Aronofsky balances it with a tender sense of humanity involved, something he also excelled with in The Wrestler (2008).  Everyone will no doubt praise Brendan Fraser’s performance, as they should, but opinions on the movie will likely fall between the love and hate variety, and I found myself in the former.  This is perfect marriage of a great performance finding the right director and it resulted in a fascinating character study of a subject that cinema is often too afraid to depict on screen.



Directed by S. S. Rajamouli

There’s a phrase where sometimes for something to garner the right amount of attention, it has to be so good that it can’t be ignored.  For a long time the second biggest film industry in world was the one coming from the country of India, which over time earned it the nickname Bollywood.  Indian films were certainly successful in their part of the world, but too often they’ve been looked down on as a niche market here in America.  That was until this year when Bollywood hitmaker S.S. Rajamouli released his most ambitious film yet: RRR, which is short for Rise, Roar, Revolt.  RRR without a doubt is the most insane, grandiose, and earnest action film to have come across American cinemas in some time, and Hollywood would ignore it to it’s own peril.  The movie really does have everything; elaborate action sequences with insanely staged stunts, moments of high tension, romance, bromance, lions, tigers, bears, and a couple of spectacular song and dance routines to round it out.  It’s so much movie, thrown into a blender and tossed back out seeing what’s sticks with the audience.  And yet, even at 3 hours in length, there is not one frame of this movie that is wasted.  The movie definitely benefits from the infectious chemistry between it’s two main characters, Raju and Bheem (played by Ram Charan and NTR Jr. respectively), who pull off some of the most insane action moments you will ever see, including one moment where Bheem uses a motorcycle as a club to knock out British soldiers.  The movie remarkably is based on the lives of two real life freedom fighters from the Indian liberation movement, but the movie is not at all concerned with historical accuracy.  It’s like a Bollywood Braveheart (1995), except this one is aware of how historically inaccurate it is and doesn’t care.  In the end, it’s all about making a movie that is just fun to watch from beginning to end, taking no chances with subtlety, and just going with whatever feels awesome, no matter how ridiculous it may be.  Perhaps it’s time for Hollywood to look harder towards what they are brewing in Indian cinemas right now.  RRR is that breakout movie that has to be seen to be believed, and thankfully it’s a movie that earns every laugh, tear, and cheer along the way.



Directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu

One of the big themes this year it seemed was film directors becoming introspective about their careers, their upbringings, and about the art of cinema itself.  This was definitely felt in Damien Chazelle’s look at Hollywood of the Silent Era in Babylon, which looked at cinema’s beginnings.  There were also films like Armageddon Time (2022) which weren’t about the movies per say, but did include autobiographical details based on the childhood of director James Gray, as well as another movie that I’ll get to later.  But perhaps the most unique of these movies about the movies this year was the one by two time Oscar winner Alejandro G. Inarritu.  Bardo finds the director taking a more Fellini-esque journey through several ideas and thoughts that no doubt have been on his mind.  The film flows through different states of reality and hyper-reality, with the director’s avatar, a Mexican documentarian named Silverio, moving dream like through different vignettes that contemplates on issues like artistic integrity, immigration, war, colonialism, being a seen an outsider in the country you live in and a sell out in the country you were born, and many more.  To some, the movie may come across and meandering and self-indulgent, but I found myself enjoying the journey that Inarritu took me on.  It’s weird in all the best ways, and features many of the director’s trademark cinematic tricks.  It’s very much a companion piece with his Oscar-winning Birdman (2014) which was one of my favorite movies of the last decade, though with far less of a direct line for his audience to follow.  There are some hauntingly beautiful moments in this movie, including the opening scene with a shadow cast against a desert landscape, as well as a spectacularly staged party scene in a Mexican night club.  He also does take the movie into some very personal areas that also take you by surprise, like an imagined conversation with his father where we see Silverio’s body reduced to that of a boy but his head still remaining the same in a strange but thought provoking image.  It’s definitely not a movie for everyone, and I seem to be one of it’s few champions, but Bardo was a cinematic journey that I could accept for all it’s eccentricities.



Directed by Martin McDonough

McDonough has been an accomplished writer and director both on screen and on the stage.  For most of his career, he has been one of the best scribes when it comes to capturing a very Irish sensibility in his stories and characters, at least on the stage.  His movies on the other hand have gone to places like Bruges, the outskirts of Hollywood, and the American Midwest with the small town of Ebbing, Missouri.  Now, with his fourth cinematic outing, he finally comes home on the big screen and focuses his sharp witted writing on the Isle of Ireland.  In particular, he tells the story of a friendship gone sour on the remote island of Inisherin.  The movie reunites McDonough with his two In Bruges (2008) leads, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, both of whom are excellent in this movie.  McDonough, in all his movies, has been exceptional in crafting darkly humorous situations with characters so colorfully absurd that you can’t help but be transfixed towards seeing just how far they’ll succumb to their own shortcomings.  There’s a great examination of how simple misunderstandings can snowball into far dire consequences, and it’s very entertaining to watch Farrell’s simple minded farmer slowly come to the realization that his unhealthy attachment to companionship may be a destructive force in the lives of those around him.  McDonough’s script is very well constructed, knowing when to use humor at the right times without breaking the dark tone of the movie.  The movie is also quite beautiful to look at, with McDonough giving the magnificent Irish countryside the pastoral splendor that it deserves.  And Farrell and Gleeson are an unforgettable pair that balance each other perfectly, with plenty of character subtleties coming from every line reading that they give.  It’s not easy to make an audience laugh one second and then make them horrified in the next, but The Banshees of Inisherin walks that tightrope with finesse, and it shows that Martin McDonough is probably one of the most accomplished and unique writers working today.  And here, we see him finally bringing that darkly comic Irish sensibility back to it’s roots in a very memorable way.



Directed by Todd Field

Todd Field is a filmmaker that certainly takes his time between movies.  It’s been 16 years since he last stepped behind the camera, with the drama Little Children (2006), but he has now finally returned with a new film that takes a look at the downfall of an individual in the world of music.  The movie is much more than an examination of cancel culture though.  It’s a truly immersive character study of a person who’s experiencing the collapse of her own reputation primarily through her eyes, with the downfall being surprisingly swift and thorough.  The movie also wisely doesn’t take a stance on whether the character of Lydia Tar is deserving of this quick dismantling of her life.  There are times when we sympathize with her in the way she is blindsided by the severity of the attacks on her and in her often cogent arguments in her defense, but then there are other times when we witness just how nasty a monster she can sometimes be to people, and we understand that she may be due for a comeuppance by the end.  Todd Field expertly guides us through the whole journey that we take with the character, delightfully peeling back every layer over the course of the movie’s 2 1/2 hours.  And to the movie’s credit, it knows when to take it’s time to build towards that catharsis.  At the center of the storm, of course, is a masterful performance from Cate Blanchett, here at the height of her powers.  She is fascinating to watch in this movie, perfectly constructing this larger than life character that has conquered the world of orchestral music at the very beginning, only to end up begging for any job she can get by the end.  Lydia Tar may be 2022’s most memorable character overall, and it will almost certainly earn Blanchett many more awards to put on her mantle.  Todd Field, who has also only directed three films total in his entire career, really establishes himself as a master filmmaker with Tar, and it makes you wonder why he doesn’t do this more often.  Hopefully, he won’t take so long to deliver his next film, because with the visually beautiful and superbly written treat he delivered this year, he has shown that his talent as a filmmaker has only improved over time.



Directed by Dean Fleischer Camp

It’s surprising that the best animated feature of the year didn’t come from any of the usual suspects like Disney, Pixar or Dreamworks.  Nor did it come from a very valiant effort by Guillermo Del Toro with his Pinocchio, which just barely missed my Top 10 this year.  No, the best animated movie of the year came from A24, making it’s first ever family film.  Make no mistake, this is still an A24 film, complete with it’s atypical premise and style that defies genre conventions.  This mockumentary style film uses stop-motion animation to tell the story of a andromorphic snail shell with a single eye and the titular red shoes.  It’s a very simply animated movie, with characters created from household objects that have gained sentience and live in the small corners of human homes.  Marcel is our subject and he is a delightful creation.  Voiced by SNL alum Jenny Slate, Marcel is soft-spoken but outgoing, and immediately endearing.  The movie does a fantastic job of constructing the world of this character, looking at a commonplace location like a suburban home through the eyes of a tiny creature, and giving a simple house the feeling of being this expansive world, much like what the Toy Story movies did.  And like a documentary, the movie gives the sense we are observing this world and this life without pandering to sentimentality.  The low-key animation has it’s own surprises too, especially in the subtle ways it presents personality through just a look or a movement from Marcel and his grandmother (voiced by Isabella Rossellini).  There are plenty of silly moments that generate a well-deserved laugh, like when Marcel has to deal with human scale things like phones, or taming his full sized pet dog.  The movie also genuinely knows when to elicit emotion in the right moments.  But, overall, it’s Marcel as a character that is going to win people over with this movie.  Based on YouTube shorts from 10 years ago, the movie managed to expand it’s world and concept to full length without ever sacrificing it’s charm and it comes down to the character at it’s center who remains an endearing guide through it all.  It’s great to see even small scale animated features like this manage to satisfy on so many levels, even with competition from the big studios who honestly had strong contenders this year too like with Turning Red and Puss in Boots 2.  Definitely step into the world of Marcel and see just how mighty this little guy can be on the big screen.



Directed by Edward Berger

This of course isn’t the first adaptation of this story.  The original novel by German novelist Erich Maria Remarque was picked up by Hollywood immediately after it’s publication in 1929, and was turned into a groundbreaking movie.  All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) was only the third film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and is widely considered to be the first truly great movie to take home that top honor.  Now, nearly a century later, another film adaptation of this classic piece of anti-war literature has been undertaken, but this time, it’s by the country of it’s origin; the nation that lost the war in the first place.  That kind of perspective brings a whole new dimension to the story and the result is one of the most harrowing war movies in recent memory.  This movie goes to even more brutal depths in depicting the horror that was the Great War, even more so than the recent acclaimed 1917 (2019).  What the movie really does well is put you right there on the battle field and gives you the sense of the unrelenting terror that each of these soldiers must of felt each and every day on the front lines of this costly war.  It also does a great job of establishing the inhumanity of war, and how it takes passionate young men and breaks them down into nothing.  A powerful early moment illustrates this perfectly, as bloody uniforms are pulled off the dead, then washed and mended, and handed off to the new batch of recruits who are oblivious that they are putting on recycled combat uniforms.  Apart from a small supporting role from Daniel Bruhl (who plays Baron Zemo in the Marvel Universe), the cast is filled with fresh faced newcomers, which adds to the everyman aspect of their character.  They perfectly convey the despair and desperation that must have come from being relentlessly shot at in that War.  This is, in my opinion, the best war movie since Saving Private Ryan (1998) and one of the most powerful anti-war movies I have ever seen.  Being a Netflix film, it’s unfortunate that too many people aren’t likely to see this on a big screen, but if it is available, I strongly recommend it.  Absolutely powerful cinema, and one of the most unforgettable movie experiences of the year.

And finally….



Directed by Steven Spielberg

You know, in the 20-plus years that I’ve been keeping track of what my favorite movie of the year has been, not once has Steven Spielberg ever made it to the top spot, until now.  It seems fitting that the movie that finally did it was the one where Spielberg tells his own life’s story.  The Fablemans is a movie about falling in love with the movies, and focusing that passion into a creative drive that leads to a career in filmmaking.  As someone who has tried my best to follow in those same footsteps, there is so much to like in this film.  But it’s not an indulgent movie either.  Sure Steven Spielberg is drawing inspiration from his own life, but the movie isn’t entirely about him either.  Telling the story of the Fableman family, a fictionalized version of Spielberg’s own, the movie is just as much about the mother and father as it is about Steven’s own stand-in.  While we see the blossoming of a young man finding his passion in making movies, we also see the dissolution of his parent’s marriage taking place, and how that has an effect on everyone.  Michelle Williams and Paul Dano perfectly encapsulate the opposing personalities of the two parents, with the mother being a free spirit creative and the father being a mild mannered but also naïve man of science and innovation.  Spielberg treats these depictions of his parents with great love and care, but isn’t afraid to depict the faults in their character that led to the ultimate break-up of their family.  Overall, Spielberg’s style ends up perfectly suiting his own life’s story, and it’s interesting how the Spielbergian trademarks play out in this very personal story.  The movie also features probably my favorite final scene of any movie in recent memory, which shows the Spielberg surrogate Sammy Fableman reaching the point of meeting one of his heroes.  With Spielberg delivering the expected deft direction, and an intelligent and heartfelt screenplay by Steven and his co-writer Tony Kushner, as well as great work by Spielberg mainstays like cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and the legendary composer John Williams, this was the best cinematic experience I had all year.  Turns out Spielberg at his most personal delivers Spielberg at his very best.

And now, let me quickly run down the 5 worst movies of the year.  There were some movies not found on this list that were objectively worse made, but these were the 5 movies that left me personally the least satisfied at the movies.  So, let’s take one last look before I can officially put these movies behind me.

5. JURASSIC WORLD: DOMINION –  I should have known better than to put my hopes up with the return of the original stars from Jurassic Park (Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum) to this franchise.  All three are wasted, as more time is still given to the blander new characters from Jurassic World (2015) and it’s sequel Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018).  It’s just slightly better than Fallen Kingdom, but not by much, and it clearly shows that any creative momentum this franchise has had in the past has certainly become extinct like the dinosaurs.

4. BABYLON – Damien Chazelle’s new flick is one of the clearest examples of trying too hard that I’ve seen from a studio film chasing after Oscar gold.  This three hour behemoth is trying to wrap it’s arms around something in it’s depiction of Silent Era Hollywood, but in the end it just feels hollow.  The characters are never truly interesting, or really likable, and it seems at times like Chazelle is getting desperate by adding shock value to some of the more debaucherous moments.  The ending especially ticked me off, because it’s just blatantly stealing from the ending of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights (1997), except they swapped out Doc Ock with Spider-Man.  If you want to see a better movie romanticizing a bygone era in Hollywood that also stars Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie, watch Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) instead.

3.  PINOCCHIO (2022) – Rest assured, this is not the vastly superior stop-motion film made by Guillermo Del Toro.  This is sadly yet another spot taken up by a Disney live action remake of one of the animated classics; something that has become all too common on these worst of the year lists.  Like most of the other Disney remakes of late, this one fails to make the fundamental case as to why it needs to exist in the first place.  It doesn’t improve on the original film at all and in fact is very insulting to the Disney classic as it shoehorns in contemporary jokes, like that awful Chris Pine pun, that betray the spirit of the story.  The usually reliable Tom Hanks seems pretty lost in his attempt to portray Geppetto, and this marks another career low point for director Robert Zemeckis.  The dismal reception this received, even in direct to streaming on Disney+, hopefully sends a message to the new Disney regime that we are growing tired of these pointless remakes.

2. THE GRAY MAN – The closest you’ll get to seeing actual money burn cinematically.  Since the Russo Brothers signed their exclusives deal with Netflix, they’ve brought some of their Marvel contacts over to start-up new action franchises on their own.  They made the action film Extraction (2020) with Chris Hemsworth, and the drama Cherry  (2021) with Tom Holland over at Apple.  This year, they got Netflix to spend a whopping $200 million for this, quite frankly, boring James Bond wannabe that didn’t even register in the top 5 most watched movie premieres on the streamer this year.  Marvel alum Chris Evans delivers a campy villainous turn, but that isn’t enough to make this movie even remotely close to entertaining.  It’s a pure paint by numbers spy flick, but with a colossal waste of money and talent behind it.

And the worst movie of 2022 is…

1. MOONFALL – No big shock, a Roland Emmerich movie made my bottom spot for the year.  Even by the already low standards of Roland Emmerich movies, this was a whole new level of stupid.  Some may argue it falls into the so bad it’s good category, but it was just bad all around for me.  The premise is absurd, with the title pretty much telling you all you need to know, and when you learn why the moon is falling, it makes the dumb idea even dumber.  Anyone with even a middle school level of understanding of how physics work will be pulling their hair out watching this movie.  How can the gravitational pull of the Moon lift giant chunks of the Earth itself up into the air, but not a car that’s driving across it?  Good actors like Patrick Wilson and Halle Berry are clearly just here to collect paychecks, and they’re giving nothing at all to work with.  If you keep falling for the same mistake of continuing to invest money into yet another Roland Emmerich action flick, you certainly deserve to live with the consequences of those actions.  This was supposedly the most expensive independently financed movie off all time, and to no ones surprise except maybe the clueless financiers, one of the biggest money losers of the year.  A definite low point for 2022.

So, there you have my choices for the best and worst of 2022.  There were definitely some bright spots, and I actually had a difficult time figuring out who would take that final 10 spot, as there was a lot of near misses this year.  Clearly the moment I walked out of the theater watching The Fablemans, I knew it was the movie to beat, and two months later, it still beat all challengers to stay #1.  There were definitely some surprises that I discovered as I was preparing this list.  Particularly with how well movies like RRR and Nope stuck with me all through the Summer and to the end of the year.  Same with Everything, Everywhere, All at Once, which was a Spring release.  It shows that not all the best movies of the year come out in the final 3 months of Awards season.  The best ones are the  movies that stick with you all the way to years end, no matter how much distance that is.  That’s always been my metric.  Some of my favorites here are probably on the worst list for others, like what I’ve seen in some cases with Bardo and The Whale.  That’s the great thing about seeing everyone’s list, because there are sometimes examples where a critic may be the sole champion for one particular movie that meant a lot to them, but for no one else.  After seeing over a hundred movies over the last year in the cinemas, as well as through streaming, I feel confident that I did my homework this year and had an extensive list of choices to definitely make an informed list of movies this year.  Hopefully those of you who have read this far will find this end of the year list helpful.  With all that, let’s hope for a good year ahead at the movies, and that next year’s list will be strong one as well.

Top Ten Disney Villains Songs

Like many other Halloween seasons, I’ve spotlighted some of the best villains to have graced the silver screen over the years.  I’ve been especially interested in examining the rogues gallery of Disney Animation in particular, mainly because these are the bad guys that I grew up watching as a child and they for me, and a lot of other children like me, left a major impression.  I was especially fortunate to have come of age during the heralded Disney Renaissance of the late 80’s and early 90’s, and with this new crop of instant classic animated features, we were also treated to a whole new group of iconic baddies.  That’s not to say the old timers were forgotten either; they just had more bad company.  But what really sets the Disney Villains apart from most other great movie villains is that they often come with their own theme song.  The Disney Villain songs are often among the best in the whole Disney Songbook.  And I’m sure that they are especially fun for the songwriters to pen, given that you can finally let loose and indulge the dark side a bit to bring some vitriol into the lyrics.  When at their best, a Disney Villain song can be operatic and foreboding but also at the same time subversively campy.  Over the years, Disney has collected quite a few great tunes that are perfect examples of this formula.  Not all of them have to be dark; quite a few are actually quite silly and fun to sing along to.  But what makes the great Villain songs iconic is in how it best sets up the persona of the villain.  It’s in these songs that we learn what makes these characters tick; what motivates them.  We also see how they view themselves, often with vanity and lack of self-awareness.  And the best villain songs are also the ones that firmly establishes these characters’ place within the story and why they will be such a major obstacle to our heroes.

For this article, I’m listing my choices for the Top Ten Disney Villain Songs.  For this, I’m not just limiting it to the canonical animated films; some of the other Disney properties small and large are eligible too, including animated films from other studios within the company.  The only rule is that it has to be a song original to the film that it is in.  What is interesting is that not every villain song is sung by the villain.  It can be sung about them by another character, and those count as well.  Unfortunately some of the greatest Disney villains like Maleficent of Sleeping Beauty (1959) and Lady Tremaine of Cinderella (1950) never get their own songs despite their respective movies being musicals.  And then there are others like Sher Khan from The Jungle Book (1967) and Jafar from Aladdin (1992) who do both get to sing, but only as a part of another character’s song.  There are quite a lot of villain songs to choose from, but what I picked here is what I think represents the best examples of what a Villain song should be, and how much importance it has in the grander history of Disney Animation.  So, let’s sit back and listen to the Top Ten Disney Villain songs.



Music and Lyrics by Don Raye and Gene de Paul; Sung by Bing Crosby

Here’s a case of a Villain song that’s sung about the said menace and not by him.  Honestly, how could he sing, he has no head.  What is interesting about the Headless Horseman song is that it was rarity for it’s time in Disney movies.  Villain songs weren’t a mainstay of Disney movies yet.  The Wicked Queen didn’t have a song in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937), nor did any of the trio of villains in Pinocchio (1940).  But, as Walt Disney was beginning to reinvent his studio in the Post War years, he was much more inclined to make music an important feature in his story, even with the villainous characters.  The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949) was the last of the package features of Disney’s post-war period; a cost saving measure that allowed Disney to release feature length films without having the expense of making feature length stories.  As the title would suggest, this film contained adaptations of the classic stories The Wind in the Willows (with it’s lead character Mr. Toad) and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (with the character of Ichabod Crane).  The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving is one of the foundational texts of American Fiction literature, so it was going to be interesting to see how Disney would adapt this gothic tale in it’s own style.  When it comes to the iconic Headless Horseman himself, Disney did a pretty remarkable job in bringing him to life, because he is genuinely terrifying.  What helps to set up his memorable presence at the conclusion of this film is the song that establishes his terrifying mythology.  For a story set in colonial America and with a terrifying monster as it’s subject, it’s odd that the Disney songwriters would use contemporary swing music for the style of this song.  And yet it works.  It probably helps that one of America’s most iconic singers, Bing Crosby, was tasked with giving the tune it’s unique sound.  It’s got a catchy beat, but there is kind of a spooky undertone to the whole song which guides it and makes it work as a pretext to the ghostly Horseman we meet later.  This song is one I would see presented on Disney Channel Halloween specials all the time, so I especially associate it with this time of year.  So don’t try to figure out a plan, you can’t reason with a headless man.



Music by Frank Churchill; Lyrics by Ted Sears; Sung by Dorothy Compton, Mary Moder and Pinto Colvig

We of course can’t talk about Disney Villain songs without mentioning the original.   During the early 1930’s, Walt Disney helped to grow his burgeoning studio with a series of one-shot short cartoons to run alongside his enormously popular Mickey Mouse series.  These were called the Silly Symphonies.  They were short stories often centered around music, but also based on familiar fables and fairy tales.  These shorts were often more ambitious in their artistry, and it’s where Disney had his team experiment and refine the tools they would need to eventually make feature length films.  Without question, the most popular of these Silly Symphonies was a short based on the fable of The Three Little Pigs.  But even more famous than the short itself was the song that was written for it about it’s memorable antagonist, the Big Bad Wolf.  In another example of a song about a villain and not sung by him, “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf,” is a very simple song about facing down the menace in front of you and staying strong, though with a sense of naivete.  The titular pigs first sing the song as a taunt, shirking off the danger of the wolf and devoting themselves to oblivious playtime.  But, as the wolf blows down both of the first pigs’ homes of straw and wood, they eventually escape to the third pig’s house of bricks.  Then they sing the song again but this time, it’s a song of defiance.  This resonated with audiences who were going through the Great Depression at the time.  As much as the Big Bad Wolf of the Depression was going to push them down, Americans were going to pick themselves up again.  “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” transcended it’s place in the story and became a rallying cry of resilience in a hard time for this country.  Because of that, it became Disney’s first ever chart topping hit.  It’s especially remarkable that a villain song would be the first tune to actually do that for the Disney Company, which of course would not be the last.  No matter how small or simple a villain song may be, if it connects with it’s audience, it can become a part of the culture itself.



Music and Lyrics by Randy Newman;  Sung by Keith David

One of the more recent classic villain songs comes from this noble attempt by Disney to restart up their traditional animation unit in an era of computer animation dominance.  Naturally, they turned to the formula that worked so well during the Renaissance years; classic fairy tales with Broadway sized musical numbers.  With The Princess and the Frog, they shook things up a bit, setting the famous fairy tale of the Frog Prince in 1920’s New Orleans, and centering around their first African American princess, named Tiana.  Because this was a New Orleans set story, naturally the music had to be jazz influenced.  Bringing over Pixar mainstay Randy Newman to write the score and songs, they found that unique Cajun country sound and worked it into every melody in this story, including of course for it’s Villain song.  The antagonist for this version of the story is a Voodoo practicing Witch Doctor and conman named Dr. Facilier, played with gusto by veteran actor Keith David.  He makes his grand entrance into the story by ensnaring Prince Naveen into making a devil’s bargain and thereby turning him into a frog.  And his introduction is of course through song.  The jazz influence is especially felt in this tune, feeling very much in the same class as the big band music of Cab Calloway.  The song “Friends on the Other Side” really does feel like a spiritual cousin to the jazz music of old time cartoons, like the Fleischer studios shorts that were often dark and creepy in their own way; which Calloway in fact contributed music to as well.  Keith David, who’s not really known as a singing performer, manages to belt out this complex song with remarkable skill.  The animation also does a great job of making this a big show stopping number, even working some of Cab Calloway’s swaying and strutting into Dr. Facilier’s dance moves.  With this, Disney showed that even though the Renaissance era formula was not as resilient as it once was they could still deliver a Villain song that stood up well with the best of them.



Music and Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda; Sung by Carolina Gaitan, Mauro Castillo, Adassa, Rhenzy Feliz, Diane Guerrero, and Stephanie Beatriz

Is it possible to write a Villain song for a character that isn’t a villain.  Furthermore, is it possible to make that same song a record-breaking hit.  Well, that’s what actor and songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda found out when he wrote this latest Disney mega-hit earworm.  In the story of Encanto, we follow the story of the magical Madrigal family.  They are a family celebrated for their gifts and are closely knit unit, but there is one part o f their family history that they wish to erase; the eldest son of the family, Bruno.  As we learn in the film, Bruno is not malevolent figure but rather misunderstood outcast who is sadly shunned by his own family for no good reason.  But, we learn that later on in the story after the Madrigal family air their grievances in this ensemble tune.  They each share their bad experiences that resulted after hearing the oracle like prophecies that Bruno gathered through his powers.  It all makes Bruno seem like this mischievous agent of chaos, but in reality it’s a projection of their own anxieties coming to the forefront and they are just scapegoating the messenger for making them miserable.  But, in the tradition of great Disney Villain songs, this song establishes a more foreboding tone and does so with one of the catchiest beat in a Disney movie in quite some time, thanks to the talents of the award winning Miranda.  This song became a surprise hit for Disney, even surpassing the record-breaking success of Frozen’s “Let it Go.”  Sure Disney can still make a hit song, but it rarely these days is it the film’s ‘villain” song and even much less a ensemble one at that.  But, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” is that rare exception and it’s easy to see why.  It’s catchy, it sets the right tone, and it’s a great centerpiece to the message to the story, which is to not judge something on it’s surface level.  With all that it’s a hard thing to say no to Bruno, no, no.



Music by Alan Menken; Lyrics by Howard Ashman: Sung by Jessi Corti and Richard White

Proof that not all Villain songs need to be dark and menacing.  Like this one, it can be a fun, foot tapping romp of a song.  We don’t see the darker, murderous aspects of Gaston’s character until the latter half of the movie.  Up to this song, Gaston is just a town jock who mistakenly believes that he’s the right person for the most beautiful girl in town; our heroine Belle.  After being rejected by her, Gaston sulks in his tavern, and is only uplifted once his lackey LeFou begins to sing his praises.  The whole song basically one big ego trip for the villain, but like all the other songs in the movie, it’s exceptionally catchy and well-written.  You really have to admire the creativity on lyricist Howard Ashman’s part to fill so many funny lines into every part of the song.  It’s especially a special trick to work the word expectorating into a song, but he managed to do it.  And I’m sure everyone has repeated the most laugh out loud line, “Every last inch of me is covered with hair.”  Still, the song does a good job of establishing Gaston as a foe worth fearing.  He’s vain and he’s strong, which is a dangerous match.  After the light hearted part of the song finishes, the movie takes a turn when Belle’s father warns of her imprisonment in the Beast’s castle, coming across as a raving lunatic in that tavern setting.  After Maurice is kicked out, Gaston begins to contemplate a plot to incarcerate the old man as ransom for Belle’s affections, and the song starts up again with a whole different context to Gaston’s character in it’s reprise.  This is a perfect example of character building within a villains song, where a villain’s true nature emerges through how the song is used as part of the story.  Before we see Gaston as a local town hero; afterwards we see him as the schemer he really is.  Even still, it remains that rare jovial villains song, and a perfect fit for the character himself.  Broadway performer Richard White does an especially great job of belting out this song with the gusto that a blowhard like Gaston would want to be heard with.  In the pantheon of memorable Disney villain song performances, no one sings as hard as Gaston.



Music and Lyrics by Danny Elfman; Sung by Ken Page

Looking outside the canonical Disney animated films for a moment, there is one unmistakable classic villain song from this stop-motion film about the collision of two holidays.  From the mind of Tim Burton, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a story about the denizens of Halloweentown, a community of creatures associated with the holiday, who all decide that they want to participate in Christmas time as well, all spear-headed by their ruler the Pumpkin King, Jack Skellington.  Though scary on the outside, the citizens of Halloweentown are not mean spirited and cruel.  That is except for the boogie man who has been exiled out of town, Oogie Boogie.  When Jack Skellington believes he has granted Santa Claus an overdue holiday of his own, he in actuality has sent him off to be tortured by the malicious Oogie in his underground dungeon.  Oogie Boogie is a very minor character in the story overall, appearing for the first time very late in the film, but boy does he make the most of his limited screen time.  Composer Danny Elfman’s score for the film is distinctly within his style, similar to the work he had done for other Tim Burton films like Beetlejuice (1988) and Edward Scissorhands (1989), only now as a full blown musical.  And though the Elfman sound is present in every song, he still manages to experiment a little with style, especially when it comes to Oogie Boogie.  Given the giant sack of bugs’ proclivity towards gambling, Elfman gave his song a speak-easy jazz club sound, and it’s a perfect match for the character.  It also helps that St. Louis-bred Broadway performer Ken Page gives a boisterous performance as the character, very similar to the Cab Calloway sound that Dr. Facilier was also inspired by.  Of the songs that Danny Elfman wrote for the film, you’d have to imagine that this was one of the more fun ones to write.  And for a villain with very little to do in the movie as a whole, you couldn’t have asked for a better villain’s song to announce his presence in the grandest way possible.



Music and Lyrics by Mel Leven; Sung by Bill Lee

The classic 101 Dalmatians is not a musical, but it still contains two original songs.  One of those songs just happens to be about the movie’s iconic villainess, Cruella De Vil, and naturally just like it’s subject, it is one of Disney’s all time greats.  Another one of those songs that’s about the villain and not sung by her, “Cruella De Vil” is a great example of using a song to establish everything that makes your villain as memorably mean as they can be.  Worked into the story by the fact that the titular Dalmatians’ owner, Roger Radcliffe, is a songwriter by trade, this song is a perfect accompaniment for the scene that introduces Cruella into the movie in a memorable way.  Roger makes no illusion about his distaste for Cruella through all the devious, venomous lyrics of his impromptu song, probably as a means of teasing his beloved wife Anita who is still associated with the fashion diva, but the subject matter does manage to live up to song that’s about her.  The introduction scene has the song as bookends to Cruella’s introduction, with the melody playing throughout, and it’s one of the great Disney villain intros of all time.  Cruella flies through the scene in a smoke filled fury, like a hurricane sweeping through the Radcliffe home and it perfectly establishes her chaotic nature right away.  And with the song there as part of that scene, the character and her tune are linked forever.  It’s a nice representation of post-War British pop music as well, the kind of sound that would define the culture of that period before Beatle-mania would shake things up again.  Even so many years after it was first heard, this song is still a favorite, often re-mixed and performed anew by musicians and singers of all ages.  Cruella De Vil is a character that remains one of the all time great Disney villains and it’s fitting that the song that follows her legend around also remains popular to this day.



Music by Elton John; Lyrics by Tim Rice; Sung by Jeremy Irons and Jim Cummings

The Lion King has one of the most iconic and ground-breaking musical scores of any Disney film, so it’s only natural that it’s villain’s song would be among the best too.  Scar, the power-hungry uncle of our main hero Simba, is certainly one of the darker villains in the Disney canon.  It’s not exactly easy to write a song for a character whom we know has murder as an intent in his master plan.  You can’t make the song too entertaining because it might make the character too likable.  In the movie, they manage to give the right tone to Scar’s villain song, “Be Prepared.”  It’s catchy, but also foreboding.  You can’t really get much darker than bringing in fascist style imagery as Scar’s army of hyenas march past him like it’s out of a Leni Riefenstahl film.  But it works perfectly in establishing just how much of a threat Scar would be as a king.  Elton John and Tim Rice do a perfect job of making the style of a villain’s song work in the African-influenced sound of the entire film’s score, especially with the percussion beat.  They are also not afraid to bring a little bit of camp into Scar’s performance of the song as well; this is a Disney villain song after all.  It is also a song that is perfectly matched with the vocal performance of Jeremy Irons in the role of Scar.  The actor is a talented singer, but he’s not really known that well for that talent as an actor.  Here, he was allowed to show how much rhythm he could get out of that natural gravelly voice of his, and it’s perfectly attuned to this type of song.  It’s especially effective the way he growls out the title “Be Prepared” in the way a lion would roar it.  Unfortunately, Iron’s range couldn’t quite hit the high notes in the final part of the song, so veteran voice actor Jim Cummings (who also played the hyena Ed in the film) was called upon to match Irons performance as best as he could to complete the song.  It’s honestly pretty seamless, and I didn’t even know that the voices change in the song until many years later.  In the movie, the staging also reaches very Broadway levels of spectacle, with the green glow of the geysers giving the whole number an eerie feel.  It’s a great match of voice, music and staging put together for one of the quintessential Disney villain songs in the whole songbook.  So, be prepared for this classic to be talked about for a long time.



Music by Alan Menken; Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz; Sung by Tony Jay

By far and by a mile this is the darkest villain song Disney has ever had in one of their films, and probably the darkest in the songbook as a whole.  It’s only fitting that it comes from one of Disney’s darkest villains; Judge Claude Frollo.  For a lot of people, it seemed like a fool’s errand to try to take Victor Hugo’s medieval gothic tale and turn it into a musical with a happy ending.  But Disney managed to do their best with it, and still maintain some of the book’s darker elements in tact.  Frollo is the one character that feels most aligned with the original tone of the novel in this adaptation, and remarkably the team of Menken and Schwartz were able to give him a song that fit with his character.  The pious, unforgiving and deviously minded tyrant is certainly not an easy character to write for, so what do you have him singing about.  What Menken and Schwartz stumbled upon was a crisis of faith that roils inside of the character, as he believes he is doing God’s work on Earth, and yet he lusts for a woman who is from the gypsy race that he has deemed to be unholy in the eyes of God.  In the movie, we see his inner turmoil boil over into some heavy demonic imagery as faceless red robed figures encircle him in a dark room illuminated by fire.  This haunting imagery goes beyond what we’ve seen in most other Disney movies, descending into a really gothic and macabre vision of what Frollo’s hellscape may be like.  “Hellfire” really stands out as a song not just for that kind of imagery, but also for the tour de force vocal performance of Tony Jay.  The veteran voice actor manages to achieve remarkable range with that deep baritone of his, even hitting that killer of a high note at the end.  His vocal performance as Frollo beforehand was already an iconic one for a Disney villain, but this villain song takes him immediately into legendary status.  You can tell that the filmmakers were really testing their boundaries with this villain song, and they probably ended up being surprised by just how far the Disney execs actually let them go.  And like all the best Villain songs, it firmly establishes the soul of the character it’s about, and with Frollo we really reach as close to the depths of darkness as Disney has ever gone before.  “Hellfire” is Disney at it’s very darkest, and that is something that truly makes it’s presence in this movie, and as part of the Disney songbook as a whole, truly iconic.



Music by Alan Menken; Lyrics by Howard Ashman; Sung by Pat Carroll

If you are looking for just that one song that encapsulates every that is great about a villain song, look no further than the one that comes from the dastardly sea witch, Ursula.  “Poor Unfortunate Souls” has it all; a great melody, genius lyrics, a killer vocal performance and an important place with the story it’s a part of.  This really is the gold standard of great Disney villain songs, and it’s fitting that it came as part of the movie that helped to launch the Disney Renaissance.  Alan Menken and Howard Ashman had refined their talents on Broadway before coming to Disney, but even before that they belonged to the same Baltimore area art scene that produced the likes of edgy, maverick filmmaker John Waters.  And by being in that circle, they became friends with drag performer Divine, who would end up being a major influence on the character of Ursula.  While Ashman was writing the lyrics to this song, I wonder if he was imagining how Divine would look singing this same tune on stage.  Divine passed away before the movie completed, so she never got that opportunity, but this tribute does live on.  Not only is is operatic and Broadway like in it’s sound, but you can hear Menken and Ashman working a bit of burlesque into the song as well, which is perfectly suited for a show off character like Ursula.  But what really makes this song iconic is the vocal performance by the late, great Pat Carroll.  The actress and comedian was not a natural singer, but you wouldn’t know that by the absolute commitment she brings to her performance here, much of which she imitated from Ashman’s own rendition in his demo tape, including the ad-libs like “innit.”  But what is amazing is how the song goes from quiet and sultry in the beginning to big and operatic by the end, and Pat does not miss a beat.  It’s a song that like all the others in the movie The Little Mermaid announces that Disney is back with a vengeance.  “Poor Unfortunate Souls” remains a popular tune 30 years later, and it’s a special favorite for drag performers who understand the song’s history and inspiration behind it.  And it of course does what all the best villains song do; shine a spotlight on it’s villain.  Ursula is obviously the kind of villain who deserves the best, and it didn’t cost much; just a voice.

So, there you have the ten best Disney villain songs in my own opinion.  I definitely tried to weigh how much each song meant to the films they come from, and how well they stand out in the whole history of the Disney songbook.  It’s surprising to see how some songs from the early days of Disney still resonate so many years later.  The song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” is not just an icon of Disney movies, but of the culture as well, as it became a rally cry for Depression effected Americans.  The songs for Cruella De Vil and the Headless Horseman have also withstood the test of time, with the Headless Horseman song even being a Disney Halloween staple.  But of course, it’s the Renaissance era songs that resonate the most, as the Broadway influence became much more intertwined with the music of Disney Animation.  Ursula, Gaston, Scar and Frollo have each been elevated in the Disney rogues gallery not just by their dark deeds but also by these iconic songs that shine a spotlight on them within the story.  It’s just too bad that as Disney has moved away from the musical formula, it has also made the Villains song less of a presence as well.  I think one of the reasons “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” became such a big hit as it was may have been due to the drought of memorable villain songs that had come before it.  There are other interesting villain songs that I left out of my list, like “The Elegant Captain Hook” from Peter Pan (1953), “The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind” from The Great Mouse Detective (1986) and “Shiny” from Moana (2016), and Disney has produced many other spooky themed song that don’t necessarily categorized as a villain song, like the Haunted Mansion’s “Grim Grinning Ghosts.”  Needless to say, Villain songs are a valuable category all to themselves in the great Disney songbook, and these tunes are especially popular during this spooky time of year.  I hope you found my choices interesting and well placed.  I hope some of your favorites are here as well.  So, have a festive Halloween this year and like the tunes sung on this list put a little spell on you.

Top Ten Movie Theaters Around Hollywood

Today we are all used to going to the movie theaters at any numerous multiplex location in our area; most likely attached to malls or any other retail/dining complex destination.  But, this wasn’t always how movies were presented to the public.  Once upon a time, movies were distributed to locations across the country that operated out of single screen venues.  Often these movie theaters of the past were old town halls or music venues that were converted into movie theaters once the artform began to mature into the cultural institution that it is today.  The number of screens depended on the size of the community, but the venues themselves were big and spacious, dwarfing the amount of seating per screen at most movie theaters today.  During the height of the studio system, new movie theaters began to spring up alongside these converted old music halls, and it created a flourishing of what became known as the Movie Palace.  Not only did these movie theaters flourish during this time, but the owners put a great amount of investment into making them opulent and works of art on their own.  But, the Paramount decision that broke up the studio system in the 1950’s also disrupted the revenue stream that kept many of these palaces alive.  Over time, it just wasn’t economically sound to continue rolling out movies slowly to these single screen venues.  Soon, the multiplex became the preferred theatrical model for Hollywood, and the movies palaces slowly died out across the country, many being demolished or returning back to their previous status as a concert venue.  Still, there are many movie palaces of the glory days of Hollywood that have managed to survive, either through community support, heritage protection status, or generous funding from wealthy investors.  You can find many of these movie palaces sprinkled throughout the country, but perhaps the biggest concentration of them anywhere can be found right in the heart of Hollywood itself.

Hollywood is more than just the center of the movie industry.  It is a destination of it’s own, drawing in visitors from around the world.  The heart of tourism in Hollywood is naturally the street that gave the industry it’s namesake; Hollywood Boulevard.  There you’ll find the Hollywood Walk of Fame as well as famous haunts of the Hollywood Elite like Crossroads of the World, The Roosevelt Hotel, and Musso & Frank’s Bar and Grill.  But of course the biggest draw in Hollywood is the collection of iconic movie theaters that line up along Hollywood Blvd, as well as on the side streets of Vine, Highland, and Sunset.  There were many more theaters that used to line these streets of the past, but the survivors that still operate today continue to be a big draw and are among the most famous movie theaters in the world.  These movie theaters also are where the biggest film premieres take place, with A-list talent riding up Hollywood Blvd. in their limos quite frequently throughout the year.  No wonder the Dolby Theater, home of the Academy Awards, was built in this same neighborhood.  But, Hollywood Blvd. is not the only place around Hollywood that has managed to retain their own legendary movie palaces.  There are other great one of a kind movie theater experiences found across Los Angeles connected to the Golden Age of Hollywood, and are still very popular among the local Angelino community.  What follows is my list of the top 10 theater experiences in the Greater Hollywood area.  I have seen at least one movie in all of these theaters, so I’m basing my choices on personal insight.  For a theater to make it on my list, it has to be a singular unique venue.  It can be part of a theater chain and have an adjoining smaller screen connected to it, but the theater must be currently operational or in the process of being renovated for film screening purposes, solely used for movie screenings, and independent of other theaters of it’s kind.  So no legendary closed theaters of the past like the Carthay Circle or the Pacific, or a converted venue like the Pantages or Avalon Theaters, which have long since been used for performances instead of film.  So, let’s take a look at the best movie theaters around the heart of Hollywood.



Location: West Lost Angeles, Santa Monica, Blvd.

The Nuart Theater may be the most outlying theater in the vicinity of Hollywood within the Los Angeles city limits.  It’s far out near Santa Monica in the Sawtelle neighborhood, literally right next to the 405 freeway that crosses by it.  One would say that it’s as far away from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood as you can get for an independent movie house in LA.  So, what makes it so special.  Over time, the Nuart has used it’s outsider status to become a haven for Avant Garde and revolutionary cinema.  The movie theater started out like any other movie palace of the past, opening in 1929 on the Santa Monica Blvd. stretch that marked the final leg to the ocean of the historic Route 66.  Naturally, being on the thoroughfare that many beach goers were taking to reach those famous coastal waves, the Nuart attracted a younger crowd, and likewise their line-up of movies catered to their cinematic tastes.  In the counterculture 60’s and 70’s, the Nuart played host to many experimental films that were emerging from some of the industry’s most renegade filmmakers.  Filmmakers like John Waters, David Lynch, and many other indie darlings were instrumental fixtures here during their rise as filmmakers.  The theater has changed hands numerous times, but despite the change of management, it has still retained it’s art house cred within the community and in Hollywood in general.  It’s probably best known today for it’s late night screenings, including it’s long tradition of the interactive screenings of the cult hit The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975).  Renovated extensively in 2006, the Nuart still retains it’s independent spirit while still keeping up with the most advanced technology, helping to give viewers the best possible experience with movies that fall outside of the Hollywood norm.



Location: Beverly Hills, Wilshire Blvd.

The Music Hall has certainly one of the most storied histories among the local theaters in Hollywood.  As the name suggests, it wasn’t always a movie theater.  It operated as a venue for live entertainment and studio for radio and television since it’s opening in 1936 and up to 1956, when it made it’s conversion to  movies.  Like the Nuart, it specialized in art house cinema, becoming an especially popular place for foreign imports.  It operated for over 40 years under the local Laemmle chain, until the lease was up in 2019, and the landlord began exploring other options for the building that the theater is attached to.  Laemmle decided not to extend their lease and it looked like the longtime Beverly Hills fixture was going to close for good.  However, a trio of Laemmle theater veterans decided to form their own management company to pick up the lease in order to keep the theater open independently.  This new team of Luis Orellana, Lauren Brown and Peter Ambrosio were given a one year lease plus a renewal option to reestablish the theater and show that it could operate on it’s own.  For a while, it looked like the Music Hall was saved.  Then, only 5 months after the lease was set, the Covid-19 pandemic shut down movie theaters across the country.   This was a devastating blow to the new managements plans.  They were able to generate some revenue from movie streaming on their website as well as opening up their lobby to concession and merchandise sales, but these were paltry compared to the money lost from no ticket sales.  Thankfully, the lease was given an extension and the theater did re-open in March of 2021.  It continues to run art house movies on it’s three screens.  The theater’s main theater, the 200 seat Auditorium 3 is the best preserved part of the theater that represents how it appeared in it’s early days.  Though a small operation, it’s nevertheless an important fixture in the historical footprint of cinema in the Los Angeles area, and with it’s dedicated management team, it’s one that is dedicated to preserving the theatrical experience for years to come.



Location: Westwood Village, Broxton Ave.

If you’ve seen a movie theater appear in a Hollywood set movie, chances are it was this one.  The Bruin Theater definitely has movie star looks to it, with it’s striking art deco façade.  But, it’s actually not anywhere near Hollywood itself, instead being situated far off in Westwood, near the UCLA campus, taking it’s namesake from the university’s mascot.  It’s been a fixture of Westwood since it’s opening in 1937 and is seated on the corner of Broxton and Weyburn Avenues, right across the street from it’s larger sister theater, the Fox Westwood Village Theater.  The Bruin has a single level cascade style auditorium with a large screen capable of running everything from 35 to 70 mm.  It’s a popular venue for movie premieres in the area, especially from the nearby 20th Century studio lot.  But, what is interesting is that the Bruin has often appeared frequently in movies itself.  Filmmakers such as John Frankenheimer, Robert Redford, and Paul Schrader have all used the Bruin as a location in their film.  Most recently, Quentin Tarantino featured the Bruin in his period film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019), with Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate stopping by it to watch a movie that she herself starred in.  Today, it still runs blockbuster films and is a favorite for the local student population from UCLA.  Having been operated by Regency Theaters since 2010, the theater still maintains it’s art deco style and looks pretty much the same as it did when it first opened.  It’s most defining feature is the blue and gold neon marquee out front, reflective of the universities school colors, as well as a shining example of mid century design that invokes the golden age of Hollywood.  The spherical marquee alone makes this one of the most picturesque landmarks in the area, but the theater that is housed inside it, which still maintains it’s own art deco style, is also something that should not be missed.



Location: Fairfax, Beverly Blvd.

Speaking of Quentin Tarantino, we can’t talk about local Hollywood theaters without mentioning the one that the famed director owns an operates himself.  The building that it is housed in dates back to 1929, but it wasn’t used as a theater until the 1950’s.  Being a little out of the way from the heart of Hollywood, the Beverly Cinema specialized more on independent cinema, namely cheap grindhouse movies.  Hence why this particular theater was so special to local aspiring filmmaker Quentin Tarantino.  The theater over time ran into financial hard times during the 1980’s, resorting at one point to being a porno theater.  As Tarantino began to gain clout in the movie industry, he sought to help out the struggling theater and spent much of his money helping to subsidize it.  After the owner of the theater passed away, Tarantino jumped in and saved the theater from closing, purchasing it outright in 2007.  The New Beverly Cinema as it has since been called now presents a series of screenings curated by the director with one key requirement; that it must be screened with real film.  As Tarantino has said in his mission statement for the Beverly: “As long as I’m alive, and as long as I’m rich, the New Beverly will be there, showing double features in 35mm.”  And that’s exactly what has happened.  The theater has been renovated from it’s once duplex layout to a full single auditorium, and has become a favorite venue for film stock purists like Mr. Tarantino.  The theater even holds special event screenings, with live discussions with filmmakers, including Tarantino and his closest friends.  It’s a specialized venue where one is able to see classic films screened in the traditional style, but every now and then visitors may been even treated to a special showing of a first run movie, as long as it’s shown on film.  It’s certainly a living tribute to the dedication of one prominent film fan who not only wants to preserve the experience of watching a movie, but to also maintain the uniqueness of the places in which the movies are seen.



Location: East Hollywood, Sunset Drive

On the far eastern edge of Hollywood is this single screen gem that has been a fixture of the nearby Los Feliz community.  It’s outsider status among the movie palaces in the Hollywood area has helped to keep it unique in character from the rest.  In particular, it has managed to remain a beautifully maintained time capsule of the movie palaces of early Hollywood.  Built from the ground up in 1923 solely for the presentation of movies, The Vista is a beautiful art deco infused venue with Egyptian inspired interiors.  The mix of old and new blends perfectly into a stunning palace for the movies.  Like the Bruin, the Vista has itself appeared in a number of movies, probably most famously playing the part of the movie theater in the prologue of Wes Craven’s Scream 2 (1997).  It went through it’s hard times in the 70’s and 80’s, at one time screening adult films for a while.  But, it was picked up by the Landmark Cinemas chain and was renovated heavily in the 1990’s, helping to bring the theater back to it’s old glory.  However, the Vista faced a huge crises when the Covid-19 pandemic hit.  It left the Landmark chain in significant trouble, and in 2021 when the rest of the theater market was finally beginning to re-open, the Vista remained closed.  The marquee out front still read the words “To Be Continued,” but that remained significantly in doubt as Landmark began downsizing after the blow of the pandemic.  It was soon revealed that Landmark was putting the theater on the market, which left many movie fans worried, especially if the property fell into the hands of a developer with no intent on preserving the theater, instead choosing to demolish it in favor of upscale retail or housing.  To everyone’s delight a buyer came forward with the intent of not only preserving the theater, but also bringing it back to it’s former glory.  And that buyer is of course, you guessed it, Mr. Quentin Tarantino.  Upon buying the property, Tarantino also started an extensive refurbishment of the whole theater, costing in the range of $6 million.  Unlike the New Beverly Cinema, which runs a curated program of classic movies, Tarantino still intends to have first run movies play at the Vista like they had before, although his prerequisite of film stock presentations will still be in place.  The theater is expected to finish it’s remodel in the next couple months and hopes to open to the public late 2022 or early 2023.  One hopes that under Tarantino’s management the Vista will have a bright future ahead of it.



Location: Westwood, Broxton Ave.

Located right across the street from the smaller Bruin, the Westwood Village theater dwarfs all others in the Hollywood area.  Seating nearly 1,500 people, it’s the single largest movie theater in Los Angeles by capacity.  With two levels of seating, audiences throughout the venue will have a perfect view of the enormous screen, capable of presenting film in the largest formats available, other than IMAX.  Apart from the size of the venue, it’s also noteworthy for it’s skyscraping tower above the marquee.  The 170 foot tower has been the centerpiece of the Westwood skyline since the theater first opened in 1931, and it looks pretty much the same as when it was first built.  Not only has it been an iconic structural feature, but it’s also contributed to the marquee presentations of several films that have played there, with the spacious façade of the tower’s front view displaying large promotional banners and posters over the years.  At night, the white tower stands out illuminated by spotlights, becoming an eye-catching sight for locals and tourists alike.  Inside, the art deco influence remains about the same from the early days of the theaters history.  In many ways, it’s the big brother equivalent of the nearby Bruin Theater.  Inside, they look very similar, but the Westwood Village is just grander in scale.  It’s an especially popular theater for the Hollywood elite.  Not only is it visited my many movie stars that live in the area, but it’s also a popular venue for movie premieres as well.  Some filmmakers such as Christopher Nolan and Paul Thomas Anderson have often cited the Westwood Village to be one of their favorite theaters in the world, which is pretty high praise.  Like the Bruin, it’s also a popular hangout of the local UCLA student body, and it’s often where many of them will catch the latest blockbuster film, with the Bruin usually the better option for smaller, independent films.  With it’s striking exterior and it’s immense scale, the Westwood Village certainly stands as the most striking example of the movie palace boom at it’s very peak, showing the presentation of film at it’s most epic scale, and setting the bar high for others like it.



Location: Hollywood, Hollywood Blvd.

Here is the granddaddy of them all.  The Grauman’s Egyptian is the single oldest movie theater on Hollywood Boulevard that is still standing.  Tucked away at the end of a courtyard in an alcove off of Hollywood Blvd, this venue is about to reach it’s century mark.  Opened in 1922, this Egyptian themed theater has been a landmark for Hollywood throughout the years.  In many ways, this was the theater that sparked the movie palace craze, with it’s attention to thematic architecture as a part of it’s appeal to audiences.  Not only was the theming apparent from the outside, with the concrete walls carved to look like the ancient ruins of an Egyptian temple, complete with hieroglyph paintings and statues of Egyptian pharaohs, but the interior featured columns modeled after those found in Egypt and an ornate sunburst ceiling fixture inspired by art found in ancient Egyptian tombs.  It was a magnificent architectural wonder for it’s time and a gem in the rising boom of movie palaces spreading across the heart of Hollywood.  While most of the theaters around the Egyptian went away over the years, the classic icon managed to stay afloat.  It remained a popular theater for many visiting Hollywood over the years.   But, hard times in the 80’s led to it’s closing in 1992.  Thankfully, it’s historical landmark status saved it from demolition and in 1996 American Cinematheque bought the theater with the provision of renovating it.  Controversially, the theater was gutted of many of it’s ornate fixtures, most of which had fallen under disrepair over the years due to neglect.  Thankfully, the forecourt was restored to it’s original glory.  American Cinematheque maintained the renovated theater for 20 years, using it as a special venue for classic film screenings and discussions.  But, in 2018, another interested party came in to purchase the theater for themselves; streaming giant Netflix.  The purchase was finalized in 2019, with Netflix still allowing American Cinematheque permission to program screenings at the theater in addition to their own events.  A renovation was planned as well, though it was delayed by a year due to the pandemic.  The Egyptian is still in the middle of that extensive overhaul, which will include restoring the interior back to it’s original ornate beauty, and the hope is to have it open by the end of the year in order to have it open for the 100th anniversary.  Let’s hope that Netflix gives the old theater the fresh update it deserves and continues to make it a must see landmark in the heart of Hollywood.



Location: Hollywood, Hollywood Blvd.

The El Capitan is another survivor of the decline of classic movie palaces across the country and in Los Angeles.  The venue was first opened in 1926, situated right across the street from where another icon would eventually emerge on Hollywood Boulevard, the Chinese Theater.  Unlike the other theaters in the area, the El Capitan doesn’t stick out like with an iconic façade.  It instead is tucked behind an office building, with it’s marquee entrance stretching out to the street.  From the outside, it’s kind of an unassuming and even ugly structure, but looks are deceiving.  On the inside you will find one of the most ornate and stunningly beautiful screening rooms in all of Hollywood.  The interior is a beautiful mix of art deco and gothic combining into a wall to wall ambiance that in some ways may even overshadow what you are seeing on the screen.  The theater has gone through many ups and downs over the years.  It closed briefly in the 1930’s due to the effects of the Depression, and then re-opened as the Hollywood Paramount, eventually ending up in the ownership of United Artists thereafter.  It’s final independent owners, Pacific Theaters, ended their ownership in 1989, and the El Capitan fell into disrepair while sitting empty.  Then, in 1991, the theater re-opened under a new owner, the Walt Disney Company, who restored both the name and the theater itself to it’s original glory.  It held it’s first premiere, The Rocketeer (1991) following the remodel and since then it has been Disney’s home for all of it’s world premieres, showcasing everything from their animated features to the latest Marvel and Star Wars films.  Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige even chose the El Capitan as the venue to showcase to an excited crowd the then future Phase 3 plans for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Whether you’re a Disney fan or not, the El Capitan is still a landmark theater well worth checking out.  Not only does it give you a beautiful look at the ornateness of old Hollywood movie palaces, but it even has maintained another fixture of old Hollywood that most other theaters have removed over the years; a classic theater pipe organ, which is still played by a trained organist before select shows.  Here you’ll have the best combination of the old and new Hollywood together; classic theater ambiance combined with Disney’s unparalleled theatricality and state-of-the-art presentations of the biggest new blockbusters.



Location: Hollywood, Sunset Blvd.

A personal favorite of mine and for many Los Angeles locals, the Cinerama Dome is a venue unlike any other in the world.  The youngest theater on this list by quite a stretch, it opened in 1963 as a venue custom built to present the new widescreen film format known as Cinerama.  Cinerama was known for it’s immersive curved screen presentation, and what better way to spotlight that then to make the structure that the theater is housed in visually spherical itself.  Situated near the corner of Hollywood and Vine, a short distance from the heart of Hollywood, the Cinerama Dome is unique for being the largest concrete geodesic dome in the world.  The interior is a masterwork of mid-century design, with a sweeping curtain covering the length of the screen end of the auditorium and the whitewashed underside of the dome illuminated in the glow of golden light.  Behind the curtain is the largest screen of it’s kind, an 85 foot wide curved behemoth that brings epic grandeur to anything that screens on it.  It opened to the world with the premiere of Stanley Kramer’s epic comedy It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), and has since hosted everything from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), to Apocalypse Now (1979) to several Star Wars and Titanic (1997).  In 2002, property developer Decurion added onto the Cinerama dome by opening a large multiplex called the Arclight behind it.  The Arclight and Cinerama Dome combined became a favorite for movie fans across Los Angeles, often rated at the top of all the movie theaters in the city.  But, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, it brought an abrupt end to the Arclight as a Hollywood fixture.  The operators of the Arclight, Pacific Theaters, did not survive the lockdown and filed for bankruptcy in April of 2021.  Fans of the theater were devastated and were concerned for the future of the property.  The Dome itself is a protected landmark, but the Arclight structure behind it is not, and people were worried a new owner would end up gutting the property.  Thankfully, Decurion managed to maintain ownership of the Arclight property even after selling off all the other Pacific Theater assets, and moves are being made to re-open the theaters again soon as a re-christened Cinerama Hollywood.  One hopes that nothing other than the name will change, as the Arclight and the Cinerama Dome were the best in the business to begin with.  When it finally, hopefully, re-opens, it is an essential theatrical experience that cannot be missed.  Quite simply, this theater is the most unique theatrical experience of them all in Hollywood, and the place where the movies go to be the grandest they can be.



Location: Hollywood, Hollywood Blvd.

The crown jewel of Hollywood.  The Chinese Theater is not just the most famous movie theater in Hollywood, or Los Angeles, or the United States, but probably the world entire.  It’s striking façade is just as iconic as the Hollywood Sign or the Griffith Observatory as a landmark in the Los Angeles region.  Upon opening in 1927, it took the crown of the King of Hollywood Movie Palaces and has never relinquished the crown since in almost 100 years.  Founded by Sid Grauman, who also owned the Egyptian and El Capitan theaters for a time in the early days of Hollywood, the Chinese Theater is an integral part of the history of Hollywood.  This is especially true thanks to the tradition that still remains present in it’s courtyard.  It’s said that when silent movie actress Norma Talmadge accidently got her heeled shoe stuck in wet cement in the new theater’s courtyard in 1927, it inspired Sid Grauman to start a tradition of movie stars leaving hand and shoe prints in cement as a permanent tourist attraction to bring more people to the theater.  The tradition continues to this day, with footprints of all eras mixed in across the courtyard of the theater, from John Wayne to Judy Garland, to even Star War’s C-3PO.  Inside, the Chinese inspired décor continues, leading to a gargantuan, ornate auditorium.  The theater was extensively remodeled in 2013, sinking the seating floor several floors down in order to give the venue stadium style seating while still maintaining the ornate walls and ceiling of the original theater.  The deeper floor to ceiling depth also allowed the Chinese to be converted into an IMAX theater, with a taller screen size that’s capable of supporting the large format.  To this day, the Chinese Theater is the centerpiece of activity in Hollywood.  No other landmark is more visited or photographed.  Special events still are present there like movie premieres and also film festivals, like the Turner Classic Movies one that I attend every year.  Certainly, no trip to Hollywood is complete without at least seeing the Chinese Theater.  It is an icon in every way, and the pinnacle of the Hollywood movie palace experience.

There is no doubt that Hollywood is not just the heart of the movie industry, but also the best place to watch movies in a theatrical setting as well.  It is home to the best and most famous movie theaters in the world, and offers both locals and visitors the best chance of feeling connected more personally to the movies as well.  These are the theaters that the movie stars and filmmakers call home as well.  In the case of the New Beverly, Lumiere Music Hall and Vista Theaters, it is indeed the ambitious public display of dedicated fans of the cinematic experience that keep these places running.  I’m sure that there are plenty of movie palaces across the country that are as well preserved and well maintained and lovingly operated as those found in Hollywood.  But there is no place in the world where you’ll find so many of these theaters so closely concentrated in one place.  And I’m just spotlighting the ones in the vicinity of Hollywood, as there are plenty more scattered throughout the Southland, including in Downtown LA as well as communities like Santa Monica and Pasadena, each with their own storied histories.  I have certainly spotlighted the major landmarks like the Chinese and the Cinerama Dome, but I also wanted Nuart and the Vista to get their due respect as well, as they are also a crucial part of the movie theater centered history of Hollywood.  Living near Hollywood as I have for the last decade, I have been privileged to visit each of these unique venues, both small and large.  They really tell you a story of what made Hollywood what it is today, showing how a lot of work went into making the theaters themselves part of the presentation.  You just don’t get the same kind of feeling watching a movie in a standardized multiplex, though it’s still preferable to watching a movie on the couch at home.  I do watch most of my movies at a multiplex, which themselves are grand in scale here in Los Angeles, but for special occasions, I will make an effort to see a film at the El Capitan or the Chinese, and hopefully again someday soon at the Cinerama Dome.  If there is a unique movie palace in your area, or a small boutique arts cinema, please support them, because they don’t all have the historical protections that the ones here in Hollywood have.  One-of-a-kind cinemas are something worth protecting, and the glory of the ones found here in Hollywood are great examples of what makes movie theaters so special to all of us.

Top Ten Moments from Pixar Animation… So Far

Nearly 40 years ago, a small little software start-up in Silicon Valley named Pixar began experimenting with graphic design using computers to create three dimensional imagery.  While they were not the first to use computers to create graphics, they were however the first to apply the technology to the art of animation.  Moving beyond just simple shapes and patterns, Pixar began to design images that could move and even have personality.  This was proven especially well in the 1986 short Luxo Jr., where they took a computer modeled digital puppet of a desk lamp (an ordinarily inanimate object) and made it not only come to life, but with personality as well.  Luxo Jr., that simple test run of Pixar’s animation capabilities has gone on to become the mascot of one of the most revered and groundbreaking studios in animation ever since.  With their award winning and acclaimed shorts gaining increasing attention in the field of animation, Pixar took on some high profile investors to help boost them even further, including big names like George Lucas and Steve Jobs.  Eventually, their ambitions rose leading them to take on the biggest challenge yet; to create a feature length computer animated film.  It’s not at all surprising that the ones who helped Pixar achieve that dream was Disney Animation.  Disney themselves had undertaken the same risks that Pixar did in it’s early days, and given that Disney has long been a forward thinking studio when it comes to emerging technology, it was particularly wise of them to bring Pixar into the fold before they would grow into a competitor.  While Disney has still maintained their own in house animation studio, they have still managed to let Pixar grow alongside it, seeing it become one of the most beloved brands in all of animation history.  In 1995, the two studios launched the groundbreaking film Toy Story, changing the face of animation forever, and today, Pixar reaches a major milestone with their 25th feature film.

Turning Red makes it’s debut this week on Disney+, an unfortunately limited release affected by Disney’s post pandemic strategy of releases.  It’s too bad that the occasion of Pixar’s 25th film is being platformed in a way that is not ideal for the best possible experience.  This is also the third film in a row from Pixar to be debuting on streaming instead of in theaters, after Soul (2020) and Luca (2021), which leads many to wonder if Disney is intentionally mistreating their Pixar brand in favor of their own, as both Raya and the Last Dragon (2021) and Encanto (2021) did get theatrical releases.  Some would argue that a streaming release is more beneficial in this day and age, but there’s still debate over that.  Unfortunately, for many who prefer the theatrical experience, they are being robbed of a choice and it seems like Pixar is being singled out as the fall guy here for Disney’s internal corporate shuffling.  But, enough of my soap box ranting.  It is indeed a huge milestone to make for Pixar animation, and it’s worth looking back on all the things that has made Pixar the beloved studio that it is today.  What really has defined Pixar the most over the years is their incredible mastery over story.  Each Pixar to be sure is visually daring and groundbreaking, but it’s the emotional connection that they make with audiences that has endeared them to multiple generations.  They have managed to make us laugh out load one minute and then be brought to tears in the next.  It’s not surprising that so much effort is put into the story development first before each of their movies goes into animation, because they know that story is the heartbeat of their brand.  And what they really excel at are creating what we know as a Pixar moment; one that tears at our hearts or warms it pure joy and sometimes awe.  Below, I have selected what I think are the most iconic and memorable moments from the first 25 films in the Pixar canon.  Only the main lineup of full length movies here, so no shorts or spin-offs.  And these aren’t particularly all the saddest moments or the funniest, but moments that I think helped to define Pixar as the kings and queens of animation that they are today.  So, without further ado, let’s look at the best moments from Pixar Animation…so far.



By the time that Monsters Inc. came around, Pixar had already established itself as a studio that excelled at world building.  They showed us the lives of toys that come to life when the humans are not watching in Toy Story (1995) and Toy Story 2 (1999), and they also showed us the world from the perspective of the insect world with A Bug’s Life (1998).  With Monsters Inc., they showed us an alternate world where monsters lived the same kind of lives as ordinary humans.  Up until then, this kind of world building was really unique in animation, utilizing an almost unprecedented amount of detail in the backgrounds to subtly suggest how the world of the monsters is both familiar and alien at the same time.  But, Pixar was not just satisfied in making their world of the monsters feel plausible and lived in.  They wanted to really show what they were capable of with the advances they had made in their medium.  One of the most interesting concepts they created in the film was the idea of trans-dimensional doors that allow the monsters to enter the world of humans.  These doors simply are modular door frames that can be carried of once it’s usefulness is complete, which then raised the question for the filmmakers; where do those doors go.  The answer was a cavernous vault with crisscrossing rails to transport the doors on an assembly line.  It’s here that the filmmakers also wisely chose to set the climax of their story, giving the movie an extra bit of epic grandeur.  As we see Mike and Sulley and lil’ Boo fly across this massive repository, it showed just how far Pixar had some in such a short time.  Here they were able to blow us a way with creating an environment on a scale unseen before with literally thousands of moving parts all being showed at once.  In addition, it also gives the climax of the movie a roller coaster style adrenaline rush as the characters fly from door to door, and even through the dimensions between.  It’s a finale that set the bar high and really took Pixar to a whole different level.



We go from one of Pixar’s grandest moments to one of it’s sillier, but no less memorable, moments.  Finding Nemo is a film built around a whirlwind of emotions, ranging from the tragic opening scene, to the harrowing escape from a swarm of jellyfish, to the hilarious attempts at escaping from a fish tank.  But, where most of the love for this film comes from is the brilliant comedic chemistry of it’s two leads; the neurotic clownfish father Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) and the absent-minded but good natured Dory (voiced by Ellen Degeneres).  Most of the film’s adventures are built around the situations that this unlikely pair finds themselves in, and the comedy is derived from their Abbott and Costello like banter.  While there are many hilarious moments to speak of, the movie hits a high point with the hilarious moment that Dory tries to demonstrate her ability to speak whale, which she may or may not really have.  While Ellen Degeneres’ vocal performance here is without a doubt hilarious, fearlessly diving into what whale speak might sound like with low pitch droning, it’s the fact that the movie gives the time to let this bit play out that makes it all the funnier.  Most animated movies would hesitate devoting such a lengthy amount of their runtime to something like the vaudeville routine here between Dory and Marlin, but the film’s director, Andrew Stanton, wisely lets his two veteran comics deliver in that moment and plays the hilarity out to the fullest, allowing it to get funnier the longer it goes on.  It also still fits as part of the progression of the story, because the scene also builds tension as a whale slowly approaches them from behind and ends up catching them in it’s expansive mouth; which we soon learn was to help them safely to their destination.  It’s a scene that really demonstrates Pixar’s confidence in storytelling, and knowing exactly to let a good funny scene breath to full life.



Now we go from one of Pixar’s funniest moments to one of it’s most heartbreaking.  Seems fitting that a movie where the main characters are the embodiments of our inner emotions would also be an emotional roller coaster itself.  Taking place mostly in the mind of a twelve year old girl named Riley, we follow her emotions as they take a journey through all of it’s inner workings in order to return to the central headquarters and set things back in motion after it’s all gone haywire.  The emotions taking that journey in particular are Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith); polar opposites to be sure.  On their road, they run into Riley’s semi-forgotten imaginary friend named Bing Bong (voiced by Pixar regular and favorite Richard Kind).  Now Bing Bong is certainly a character meant to give the movie another comical foil to bring laughter to the audience.  What the movie manages to remarkably do is garner an emotional attachment to the character as well.  This becomes especially clear at a point in the story where both he and Joy fall into a part of the Riley’s mind where memories go to be forgotten forever, with no chance of escape.  Not only are they stuck there, but Bing Bong finds that he is slowly starting to fade being in that dark abyss as well.  The duo do manage to find an escape aboard a rocket powered red wagon, but they can’t both make it out together.  Seeing the stakes at play, Bing Bing bails out, allowing Joy to escape.  Because of this, Bing Bong is doomed to be forgotten and he fades from existence before our eyes, but not before advising Joy to take Riley “to the moon” for him.  In that moment right there, Pixar managed to do something that you’d never think possible; to shed a tear for a character named Bing Bong, an elephant trunked creature made of cotton candy that cries candy.  But that just shows how good Pixar is at making us care about the stories they tell and the characters they bring to life, no matter how silly they are.



Wall-E may very well be the most ambitious movie in the Pixar canon, at least conceptually.  Taking place in the far future where humanity has left the Earth behind as an unlivable trash heap, we are introduced to a lone trash collecting robot that has lived alone for centuries on the planet and over time has developed a personality of his own.  Once he meets a probe robot named Eve who has ventured to Earth in search of sustainable plant life (a sign that Earth’s toxicity is waning and capable of supporting human activity again) Wall-E begins an adventure that leads him out into the cosmos.  Along the way, he also develops a kinship with Eve, which blossoms into deep affection between the two.  This highly unusual but nevertheless endearing love story hits a high point after Wall-E finds himself floating in space, propelled by a fire extinguisher.  Eve, who is self-propelled, playfully follows beside him, and their gliding through space turns into an elegant dance around the massive spaceship.  Made even more romantic by the Thomas Newman score, this is one of the most elegantly beautiful sequences ever put in any animated film, let alone Pixar.  And it’s all the more remarkable because these are characters that are limited in expression and voice, and yet full of personality.  There’s an especially hilarious and heartwarming moment when Eve and Wall-E touch each other’s heads and a little spark slashes; the robot equivalent of a kiss.  Wall-E’s lucid reaction afterwards is especially endearing.  Who knew that simple robots could create one of the most romantic couples in animation history?  Couple this with outer worldly animation and you’ve got the makings of one of Pixar’s most elegantly sublime moments.



When Pixar brought in legendary animation director Brad Bird into their stable, they knew he would bring something bold and cutting edge to their next project.  The Iron Giant auteur took his long in development idea of a family of super heroes and crafted Pixar’s most groundbreaking film yet.  You can tell that Pixar took a great leap forward in terms of staging with The Incredibles; with the scale of action going much further than we’ve seen before in animation.  Bird stages his scenes like an action movie in the vein of a Mission: Impossible film (something that would also be in Brad Bird’s future), but with the boundless potential that computer animation can allow him.  This is especially shown off to it’s extreme in the sequence involving the super speedster Dash and his harrowing escape from the villain’s henchmen.  Dash, the 10 year old middle child of the super powered Parr family, has spent much of the film being held back by his concerned mother, who has kept him from running at his fullest speed in order to help conceal their identity.  But, as the family attempts to infiltrate the villain’s lair in order to save the father, Mr. Incredible, the limits are gone, and we finally see just how fast Dash can run.  The scene is an absolute tour de force of animation, with the medium reaching an epic scale unlike anything seen before.  And what is especially great is how Brad Bird builds the momentum of the action in the scene, really amping up the excitement for the viewer.  There’s also some great subtle character moments in there as well, like the look of joy on Dash’s face when he realizes he can run on water for the first time.  This is an especially good scene to show off as a tech demo for computer animation, because of all the moving parts involved.  And what is especially special about this scene was that it showed that computer animation could indeed be as dynamic as anything live action could make, and even more so.  For a movie that already had plenty of great action set pieces, this is one that really raised the bar high for what animation could do, and it still is a thrilling ride all these years later.



What other studio out there would dare to have the climax of their movie hinge on the preparation and eating of a meal in a fancy restaurant.  Once again from the mind of Brad Bird, the story of a rat named Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt) who wants to become a gourmet chef in Paris naturally would end on an unconventional note.  But it’s a moment that so perfectly encapsulates the story that they want to tell.  Ratatouille is a story about artistic pursuit, and not letting one’s background be an obstacle towards creating authentic moments of genius.  For much of the movie, there has been this looming threat of a food critic named Anton Ego (voiced marvelously by the legendary Peter O’Toole), whose become this ruthless gatekeeper over the standard of quality dining in the city of Paris.  Impressing him seems like an almost insurmountable challenge, and it’s made even more harrowing when the cook in question is a rat.  But in a moment that is just pure brilliance, Remy the rat cooks up the titular dish, which his fellow cooks are uncertain about because Ratatouille is considered a peasant dish in French circles.  But, with a confidence in his abilities, he send the dish to Ego’s table.  Ego takes one bite and the movie suddenly flashes us back to Ego’s childhood, where we see his mother cheer him up by cooking the same meal.  It then brings us right back to present day with Ego looking gobsmacked.  It’s hilarious, but it also perfectly brings the movie full circle.  The dour critic has his guard taken down because he finally found a meal that reminds him of why he loves food in the first place.  It’s the way that Brad Bird reveals all this information in just a few quick seconds that makes this moment so resonant.  We’ve all had that moment that touched our souls and made us fall in love with something, and it’s hilarious to see it so sharply realized in a quick cut-away gag.  Only Pixar would end their movie on that kind of note, and it’s a testament to their capabilities as storytellers.



One of the other great talents of the story teams at Pixar is their ability to tell so much story within a brief amount of time, even in the span of one musical number.  This was especially well demonstrated in their third film; the sequel to their first feature Toy Story.  In Toy Story 2, the pull-sting cowboy doll Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) meets for the first time other toys that were part of the same line of merchandise that he came from.  One of them is a perky, yodeling cowgirl named Jessie (voiced with great zeal by Joan Cusack).  While Jessie is full of life and spunk, we do see a lot of pain in her character as well, which we soon learn more about when she finally reveals to Woody where she came from.  The movie shifts to a backstory told entirely through song (written by Randy Newman, and performed by Sarah McLaughlin) where we see the events of Jessie’s life played out in montage.  We see her living a happy life as she’s played with by her owner; a little girl named Emily.  Eventually Emily grows up, and forgets about Jessie, who spends years alone under the bed, un-played with.  Then, when Emily is in adulthood she finds Jessie, and the little doll briefly finds happiness again, thinking that she’s been reunited with her beloved companion.  But, to her great disappointment, she soon learns that she’s being dropped off to a second hand donation box, abandoned by the one she thought would love her forever.  In one somber song sequence, Toy Story 2 gives us a harrowing tragic story that could’ve stood on it’s own.  It works brilliantly as a moment in this film because it echoes the anxieties that Woody himself was having in that moment, worried that his owner Andy would soon leave him behind too.  This moment is definitely a significant one in Pixar history because it’s arguably their first tear-jerking moment; something that they would go on to create many more of.  Of course, Pixar wouldn’t have had the confidence to continue making these emotional, heart-string tugging moments in their films had this one not landed so well in the first place.  Pixar certainly knows how to deliver a good cry in their movies, and it’s with Jessie’s emotional journey that we saw them earn that moment for the first time.


REMEMBER ME from COCO (2017)

Another moment that gave audiences a good cry in the theater, Pixar’s Coco hits it’s most emotional note at the climax of it’s story.  For most of it’s run time, Coco had been an imaginative romp through a world reflective of the traditions of the holiday Dia de Los Muertos, celebrated throughout the nation of Mexico and many other Latin American countries.  Through the brilliant imaginations of the artists at Pixar, we see the Land of the Dead as this vibrant society, where ancestral souls live on, embodied as colorful skeletal versions of their past selves.  We follow along with a young boy named Miguel (voiced by newcomer Anthony Gonzalez), who must find his way back to the living after having a curse placed on him.  Along the way, he meets a vagabond soul named Hector (voiced by Gael Garcia Bernal), and learns that if Hector doesn’t find a way to get his long lost daughter to remember him, he will fade from the land of the dead into oblivion, in what is called the Final Death.  Through a variety of circumstances, Miguel soon learns that Hector’s daughter is actually his great grandma Coco, who’s in the final stages of dementia.  Miguel, knowing full well how much it matters to make Coco remember, returns home with a renewed sense of setting things right in his family.  Up until this point, Miguel was acting in his own self interest in pursuing his dream to become a famous musician.  But in the film’s climax, he sings not for himself but for his Mama Coco, to bring her back from the abyss and in turn help keep his ancestor Hector from fading away completely.  It’s an emotional gut punch, especially for those with loved ones who have been lost to Alzheimer’s and dementia.  Seeing the life come back into Coco’s eyes when Miguel sings to her is such a powerful moment, with a song that is perfectly titled “Remember Me.”  Who knew a song sung between an old lady and a young boy would hit such an emotional wallop, but that’s what makes this one in Coco such great scene and one of the absolute high points of Pixar’s film legacy.



It wouldn’t be right to make a list of the greatest Pixar moments and not mention the movie that started it all.  When Toy Story first came out in theaters, there was little certainty that it could actually work.  At that time, hand drawn animation from the likes of Disney was dominating the marketplace, especially after the success of The Lion King (1994) just the year before.  Computer animation was still a novelty, and also pretty primitive.  Sure, Jurassic Park (1993) proved that you could make computer animation appear life-like, but an entirely animated world was something altogether unproven.  But like Walt Disney had done with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937) all those years ago, the artists at Pixar set out to prove the naysayers wrong and to do so, they put all their focus on getting the story right first and foremost.  When you look back on Toy Story today, there are certainly things about it that really don’t date well, like the environmental textures and primitive human models that look very Barbie doll-like compared to what we have now.  But, what does still work very well is the amount of personality that was put into the animation of the main toy characters.  Woody and Buzz Lightyear still feel like fully fleshed out characters even by today’s standards, and while later Toy Story movies have refined the character models with better detail over the years, they still reflect the rock solid blueprint set by the original film.  If there really was anything that made Pixar the powerhouse that they are today, it’s that first glorious moment when we see the toys come to life for the first time.  It’s in that moment that Pixar announced itself to the world and showed that they could indeed make the impossible possible at their studio.  That’s something that has carried them along with each subsequent film thereafter; the belief that they can breath life into these pixels on a computer screen and make us care for them.  Like Disney before them, Pixar showed that their medium was just as cinematically relevant as any other, and it all it started with is making us believe that toys can come to life and that their stories could make us laugh and cry too.


MARRIED LIFE from UP (2009)

While Toy Story broke new ground and movies like Coco, Inside Out, and Toy Story 2 could bring us to tears, the most perfect display of everything that Pixar excels at encapsulated in one sequence is found in the movie Up; a simple story about an old man and his journey aboard a balloon suspended house.  The story of Carl Fredrickson (voiced by the late great Ed Asner) is an imaginative romp taking us to the skies and into the otherworldly wilds of the South American tepui mountaintops.  But, what most people remember the most about Up is not the adventure itself, but the story that leads up to the main events.  In the movie’s prologue, we see young Carl meet a spunky little girl named Ellie.  The two make a quick bond, and then the movie cuts ahead to their wedding day.  From there, Carl and Ellie’s adult lives are played out in a montage, set to the incredible Oscar-winning score of Michael Giacchino.  We are shown the married life of these two soulmates in a scant six minutes, and yet their story is in itself a full three act narrative with the same highs and lows of a full length feature.  We see the joy of starting a life together, the lows of learning of their infertility, the dreams of their hope to one day going on an adventure of a lifetime as well as the many speedbumps that prolong that dream.  It’s all perfectly displayed with not a single spoken word.  Director Pete Doctor includes some brilliant touches to help show the passage of time, like the many different times that Ellie adjusts Carl’s tie, that helps to make the montage flow gracefully along.  And then of course comes the gut punch when time catches up to the couple and Ellie’s life passes at the close of the montage.  In a brilliantly staged sequence like this, we see everything Pixar has perfected as cinematic storytellers, and remarkably this is how they chose to start the movie.  Thankfully the rest of the film doesn’t waste let down the high bar set by this emotional opening.  When you can tell a whole life’s story in a short little montage, and have the audience still feel invested and emotionally wrecked by the end, you know you’ve hit a very high standard as storytellers.  This scene alone is already studied in film schools as a demonstration of perfect brevity in storytelling and montage filmmaking.  And from the moment it first premiered, this became the high water mark that every emotionally resonant moment to come from Pixar has been judged against; some meet the challenge (Coco) others fall way short (Brave).  There’s no doubt that when Pixar can break your heart with a short story about a happy marriage from beginning to end in a montage shorter than the end credits, it’s a sign of them coming to the full peak of their cinematic possibilities.

So, there you have my choices for the greatest moments in Pixar’s first 25 feature films.  You’ll notice that the pattern of the list highlights Pixar’s uncanny ability to bring their audience to tears.  I don’t think that their plan is to upset their audiences.  The fact that most of us end up crying at their movies is because they are just so good at making us care about their characters and their stories; and some of the best stories out there often involve a little bit of heartbreak.  That’s definitely true of the moments from Up, Inside Out, Toy Story 2 and a few more that I didn’t include on this list.  But there’s also the triumphant moments that hit us very hard as well.  Ratatouille’s triumphant breaking down of Ego’s cynical shell for example, or Woody and Buzz falling from the sky with “style,” in Toy Story, or even just a sweet little button to end the movie on like Sully reuniting with Boo at the end of Monsters Inc.  What I especially like about Pixar is that they don’t pander to their audience; and when they do, it’s often from their worst films (the Cars franchise).  I like how their stories are always challenging their audience to think, and they often leave us guessing how things will turn up in the end.  That’s why so few of their films are binary, good vs. evil narratives.  Somethings the obstacle that stands in the characters way are their own flaws, which they overcome through their journey.  Marlin learns to not be so over-protective in Finding Nemo; Lightning McQueen learns that you can be the better man by not winning the race in Cars (2006); Joy learns that sometimes you need a good cry in order to feel happy again in Inside Out.  Pixar has mastered the ability to tell complex stories in a way that doesn’t talk down to it’s audience, no matter what age they are.  That’s why they have become the vanguard of animation over the last four decades, and will likely continue to be in the years ahead.  My hope is that their parent company Disney learns that these movies should be shared on the big screen alongside their presence on streaming.  These are films that become even more magical when experienced with a whole audience of people.  As shown here, they are some of the greatest storytellers in cinema today, and here’s hoping the next 25 movies stand just as strong as the first.

Top Ten Movies of 2021

From where the year 2021 started to where we are now is in many ways more of the same, but in other ways it was also a big change.  This is certainly something that has been felt at the movies.  When the year began for me, I was continuing the same pattern of film going that I had spent most of 2020 doing; mainly finding open theaters where I could.  Here in Los Angeles, movie theaters remained closed for the first two months, and it was also the case statewide, so even driving to a movie theater on a day trip was impossible.  All I had were the local drive-ins, which is where I went on almost a weekly basis to catch the last minute Oscar films that were slowly being rolled out, even in the wake of the pandemic.  Then, finally, after a full year of closure, my local area movie theaters reopened in early March 2021.  And since then, I’ve been making up for lost time like crazy.  Thankfully my AMC A-List membership is still valid, and I made good use of it all year long.  It took a while for things to actually look like normal again at the movie theaters, as many of the bigger films were holding off until the Summer, but once they did start coming, it was a deluge.  2021 was in fact a record breaking year for me as a movie-goer, as I saw more movies in a theater this year than I have in any year prior; which is quite remarkable when you consider this is coming right after a year long pandemic lockdown.  I think it’s probably due to my enthusiasm for being back in a theater setting, and also the fact that the theatrical schedule was very jam packed this year.  Not only were we getting the movies planned originally for 2021, but we were also getting all the exiles from 2020 that had found a new home on the schedule this year.  Suffice to say, I had a lot of movies to go through in order to make my end of the year list here.  It’s quite a year when filmmakers that I adore like Steven Spielberg, Wes Anderson, James Gunn, Guillermo Del Toro and Edgar Wright all had excellent movies this year and still didn’t make my list.  It’s just shows that this was a year full of riches, but in many ways, it was the experience of being back in movie theaters that made 2021 feel so rewarding.

Here are a few of the movies that I found noteworthy, but fell just outside my top ten: Annette, Benedetta, The Card Counter, Drive My Car, Don’t Look Up, The Father, The French Dispatch, The Green Knight, In the Heights, Judas and the Black Messiah, Last Night in Soho, Nightmare Alley, No Time to Die, Nomadland, One Night in Miami, Raya and the Last Dragon, The Suicide Squad, Spider-Man: No Way Home, The Tragedy of Macbeth, and West Side Story (2021).  And with that, let’s take a look at the movies that I believe were the Top Ten of 2021:



Directed by Sean Baker

The films of Sean Baker thus far have carried a consistent theme up to now.  He seems to be attracted to characters that live on the fringes of paradise, showing the underbelly of American society while also at the same time finding the beauty in those small stories that the rest of us often look the other way from.  In Tangerine (2015), we follow the story of Transgender hookers making it through a hard night on the outskirts of Hollywood.  In The Florida Project (2017), we follow the story of a little girl and her messed up mom living in a slum just beyond the boundaries of Walt Disney World in Florida.  With Red Rocket (2021), Baker turns his sights to the misfit denizens of Texas City, Texas; a tiny oil-refinery town that most people would drive right past and not stay a second longer.  Like those two other films, Sean Baker brilliantly brings you into this often ignored world with his authentic American neo-realism, making you forget that you are watching a movie and instead makes you feel like you’re ease-dropping.  And that at times can become uncomfortable, but still entirely fascinating.  What really carries this movie through is an unforgettable performance from a revelatory Simon Rex, playing a washed up porn actor trying to worm his way back into his past life.  Rex manages to walk that tight rope between making his huckster character thoroughly repulsive while at the fascinating to watch.  The movie also works a subtle political allegory into the story of Rex’s Mikey Saber, having the film take place during the rise of Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election, and drawing parallels between the dual sleazy con men; obviously one at a much smaller scale.  At the same time, Baker creates this remarkably charming pastoral of Americana on the fringes, casting his film with bright colorful sunshine and vibrant colors.  And it also makes surprising thematic use of N’Sync’s “Bye, Bye, Bye,” as a through line in the story.  Another strong American parable from one of our quietly subtle master directors.



Directed by Ridley Scott

2021 proved to be a surprisingly strong year for films about medieval times.  Some of that had to do with movies that were holdovers from 2020, but it was still a year of riches for the sub-genre.  We got the surreal The Green Knight (2021) from director David Lowry, which turned the classic poem into a surreal work of art.  Paul Verhoeven tapped back into his sensationalist provocative style with his film Benedetta (2021), which was about lesbian nuns in a medieval French convent, one of whom also lusts for Jesus.  And then the year closed out with Joel Coen (flying solo this time without his brother and longtime filmmaking partner Ethan) reimagining The Tragedy of Macbeth in an abstract, monochromatic art film.  All were interesting in their own way, but I feel like the one that stood out the most was the extravagant drama put together by the always bigger than life Ridley Scott.  The Last Duel has all the pagentry and epic scope you’d expect from the man who made Gladiator (2000), but there is surprisingly a lot more to this movie than production design.  It is also a provocative examination of justice with regards to the aftermath of a sexual assault.  Scott breaks from a conventional narrative structure and tells the story of a French noblewoman who broke her silence to accuse her rapist publicly and hold him accountable through three different points of view.  Borrowing from Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950), The Last Duel shows us the same story three time, but each one from a different perspective (the lady, the man who raped her, and the lady’s husband).  Each story offers up an interesting examination of what the truth really means, and it’s interesting how each character is viewed differently in each version.  Each of the film’s stars (Matt Damon, Adam Driver, and especially Jodie Comer) magnificently capture the different subtleties of character, while still keeping the through line interesting.  The movie also marks the first screenwriting collaboration between Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (who also has a juicy supporting role) since Good Will Hunting (1997), with contribution from Nicole Holofcener as well.  It’s a remarkably strong statement of a film for the #MeToo moment in our society, and it shows that even into his eighties, Ridley Scott can still deliver a film that is both epic and provocative at the same time.



Directed by Edson Oda

Going from a big movie to a very small one, but still one with very big ideas.  I was probably one of only a handful of people who saw this movie during it’s brief run in theaters last summer, but I’m absolutely glad I did, because it became this unexpected discovery.  This small indie, which was picked up at Sundance in 2020 right before the advent of Covid, had probably the most original story premise that I saw all year.  It’s about a bureaucrat (played by Winston Duke) living in a stage of pre-life, and his job is to select from a group of a dozen candidates a person who will get to live.  All the others he doesn’t chose will cease to exist entirely.  And he must do so in the titular nine days.  It kind of treads the same ground as Pixar’s Soul (2020), but does so in a very stripped down and even more emotionally weighty way.  The focus is not on the potential souls waiting to be chosen for life.  It’s on the person who has to carefully make that decision.  It’s a real introspective film in the best possible way.  The movie asks us what the purpose of living is meant to be; are we using the time given to us to it’s fullest potential.  The movie’s most heartwarming moments come when our main character has to let each of the unselected souls go, but not before granting them one wish before they disappear.  The way he and his assistant (played by Benedict Wong) put together these wishes are especially imaginative and touching.  The movie also features some strong performances from the various and different candidates, including Bill Skarsgard, Tony Hale, and Zazie Beetz.  Beetz’s character is an especially interesting wild card who definitely makes the most of her nine days and even makes Duke’s bureaucrat reconsider his own outlook on life.  I love the little world-building that this movie undertakes, making this fantastical concept feel believable while at the same time feeling intimate in that kind of indie film way.  It’s a movie that really has a character all it’s own, and manages to grasp big concepts in a way that feels natural to it’s small scope.  Trust me, it’s a movie well worth seeking out and getting lost in.  It might even make you look at the world and your own place in it a very different way, and hopefully show you how much life and the time we spend should be valued.



Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

The forever daring P.T. Anderson returns to his San Fernando Valley roots with this new, personal ode to the Los Angeles of his youth.  It’s definitely a welcome departure from Anderson’s recent slate of heavier themed films like There Will Be Blood (2007), The Master (2012), and Phantom Thread (2017), and is more akin to his earlier work like Boogie Nights (1997) and especially Punch-Drunk Love (2002).  It also sees him returning to an episodic narrative as well like Magnolia (1999), except with a through line following an unconventional love story.  At the center is our destined couple, one a brash young child actor named Gary (played by Cooper Hoffman) whose hustling his way to his next big idea, and the other a dazed and confused young woman whose almost 10 years his senior named Alana (played by Alana Haim) who he has somehow has managed to coax into tagging along on his adventures.  And from there, Anderson takes us on an often comical journey through a bygone era in the Southland.  The different ups and downs of their relationship helps to fuel the film’s most memorable moments, and the movie offers a very comical look at youth in a community driven by opportunity.  Like most of Anderson’s movies, he puts an incredible amount of work into crafting a look and feel of the period in which his movies are set, and Licorice Pizza feels especially authentic.  From the use of time capsule locations, to the period costuming, to the perfectly chosen needle drops, this is a movie that really transports you back to 1970’s Los Angeles.  And being a San Fernando Valley resident, it’s especially rewarding to see places I’m familiar with show up in this movie.  Both Hoffman (taking over from his late father Phillip Seymour Hoffman as an Anderson leading man) and Alana Haim play their respective roles to perfection, especially the firecracker performance that Ms. Haim puts in.  The supporting cast of notable names are also on point as well, especially a scene-stealing Bradley Cooper as notorious Hollywood producer Jon Peters.  It’s definitely a movie personally connected to Anderson based on his own life, and it’s a joy seeing this loving tribute to the other side of Hollywood so lovingly brought to life.



Directed by Lee Isaac Chung

As a consequence of the chaotic year that was 2020, most of the movies that ended up being the front-runners for that year’s Oscars were not widely available to view until later in the awards season, spilling over into Winter of 2021.  Because the Oscars were delayed until late April, it extended the qualifying runs up to the end of February last year, and that’s when I was able to see most of the 2020 Best Picture contenders.  And it was a few: The Father, One Night in Miami, Promising Young Woman, and the eventual victor, Nomadland.  And while many of them were excellent films, the one that stuck with me all through the rest of the year was this delightful little drama about a Korean immigrant family trying to start a farm in rural Arkansas.  Though I didn’t mind the Chloe Zhao directed juggernaut of Nomadland winning the top award at the Oscars, this was without a doubt my favorite pick of the bunch, and I feel it’s worth spotlighting again as this was technically a movie that was released widely this year and should be on a best of the year list.  I just adored this family drama, and it’s mainly due to the wonderful characters that are a part of it.  Steven Yeun is fantastic in his Oscar-nominated role as the downtrodden patriarch of the family, trying his best to set roots for his family in a part of the country where they definitely stick out.  But the real stand outs in the film are the little boy and his mischievous grandma.  Alan S. Kim perfectly captures this precocious young kid stuck in between two worlds as a first generation Korean American.  And Yuh-Jung Youn absolutely shines in the role that won her an Oscar as the often vulgar old dowager of the family.  Lee Isaac Chung, who based the movie largely on his own upbringing, injects this beautiful humanity into the film, and manages to avoid sensationalizing the underlying politics of the film.  It could’ve been so easy to mishandle this kind of immigrant story and inject too much of a broader worldview into it.  Instead, Chung keeps the story earthbound, and that helps the themes resonate all the more.  It’s a real testament that even with all the many films that I saw this year, this contender from last year’s Oscars that I saw all the way back in February managed to still make my best of the year list after so many months.  That’s a mark of a really good film.



Directed by Pablo Larrain

Both a true life drama, and also a sort of anti-biopic, this interesting new film from the director of Jackie (2016) takes another historically fated iconic woman from recent history and creates an imagined look what a day in her life might have been like.  Showing a fateful Christmas weekend for the one time Princess of Wales, the movie creates this unforgettable and oftentimes harrowing examination into the personal life of Princess Diana.  While the movie is extraordinary in it’s lavish and yet earthbound visuals, what sets this film apart is the unconventional and outside the box casting of Kristen Stewart as Diana.  Going into this movie, Stewart would seem to be among the least likely choices to play such an iconic historic figure, and yet, she absolutely nails it in the end.  There are even some points where the resemblance is uncanny.  She get the voice right, the walk, and even the upward glance stare.  It’s without a doubt one of the best performances of the year (if not the best) and will almost assuredly net Kristen at least her first Oscar nomination.  But, even without that performance, the movie would have still been an excellent production overall.  I love the way that director Pablo Larrain uses very wide angle lenses to make the hallways of Sandringham Palace feel even more isolating for Diana.  There’s also this very interesting subtext throughout the movie, with Diana constantly being haunted by the spectral memory of Anne Boleyn, whose ultimate fate feels like an omen for Diana’s future, an idea which drives the current princess to some deep despair.  And yet, even through the sometimes oppressive gloom, the movie manages to surprise with moments of true joy, especially when Diana is with her two sons, William and Harry.  Even though we all know Diana’s full story, and almost every facet of her life has been examined throughout the media, this movie still manages to craft a story that shows a side of her as a character that we haven’t seen before, or at the very least never considered.  It also, despite all the gloom, manages to find a happy ending for this ultimately doomed figure, and even more surprisingly it involves KFC chicken.  One of the most surprisingly emotional character studies of the year.



Directed by Enrico Casarosa

Tragically, because of the on-going effects of the pandemic, most people were unable to watch this movie the way it was intended; on a big screen (a practice that sadly is still affecting Pixar films).  But, whether on a big or small screen, this was one of the most entertaining and delightful films of the year.  Pixar again delivers with this charming coming-of-age tale of two young sea monsters hoping to make their dreams come true in the human world.  The movie of course makes the most of it’s “what if?” scenario, which has been a thing that the master filmmakers at Pixar have always excelled at.  But even by their own high standards, Luca is especially effecting and inspiring in it’s narrative.  The friendship at the heart of the story, between Luca (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) and his more adventurous companion Alberto (voiced by Jack Dylan Glazer), is what really drives the story to delightful ends.  The movie’s montages of them trying to emulate human activity, like riding a Vespa, and failing badly, are some of the film’s most charming moments.  At the same time, the movie also becomes surprisingly inspirational.  Whether it was intended this way or not, the movie works very well as an allegory for queer youth coming to terms with their identity and wanting to motivate the world around them to accept them for who they are.  Pixar may not have set out to make a movie like that to begin with, but they’re not opposed to that interpretation either and have in retrospect quietly given the idea their approval.  It is already being heralded within the LGBTQ community, so I think it’s only a matter of time before this becomes a future officially acknowledge queer themed movie.  Regardless, it’s another triumph for Pixar, with a genuinely charming story and imaginative visuals, which owe a bit of inspiration to the films of Hayao Miyazaki.  Hopefully, one day, this movie gets a big screen revival, but until then, for this year it’s another definite winner for Pixar Animation.



Directed by Michael Sarnoski

I may be a bit biased on this one, because this is a film that both takes place and was shot in my home state of Oregon.  But even if it wasn’t, I still would’ve loved everything about this surprisingly emotional and unconventional film.  It’s also surprising that I’m finding myself putting a film starring Nicolas Cage into my top 3 for the year, but that’s where we’re at.  This is a remarkably well crafted and unpredictable movie that manages to balance humor, genuine pathos, and even a little bit of suspense into a brilliantly observed character study.  It’s also a bit of an art-house John Wick (2014) in that Nicolas Cage’s character is a man with a past whose layers are peeled back as the plot progresses.  It doesn’t turn violent like the Wick movies do, but it does do the same interesting trick of introducing it’s main character as one thing and over the course of the movie reveal him to have had a whole different kind of life before hand.  The movie even throws some wild card, subculture surprises at us, including an underground fight club made up of waiters and dishwashers.  Nicolas Cage delivers what may be his most nuanced performance ever, and certainly his best in a very long time.  I love the fact that even as he ends up getting more beat up and bloody as the movie goes on, he still commands respect and authority from the culinary world that he once inhabited.  It’s a movie that also finds the absurdity of the high end culinary world to be a especially potent target, but at the same time, it also gives us an appetizing look at the art of cuisine.  The film could have easily been derailed by a less subtle approach to it’s world-building, and thankfully the filmmakers keep this movie grounded and maintain it’s humanity.  Like the character that Nicolas Cage plays in the movie, there are so many layers of this film to unravel, and I’m sure many are going to end up finding a movie they didn’t expect to see going into this film.  Who knew a movie about a feral wild man of the forest trying to find his stolen truffle pig would garner up one of the year’s most rewarding cinematic experiences.



Directed by Denis Villeneuve

A thankful return to the kind of provocative, big screen spectacle that we were sorely missing throughout the pandemic.  Denis Villeneuve had long wanted to adapt Frank Herbert’s seminal Science Fiction epic novel to the big screen, and boy did he not waste his opportunity.  Surely, the David Lynch directed 1984 adaptation has it’s fans, but this is the movie that really does the writing of Frank Herbert justice.  Denis Villeneuve does for Dune what Peter Jackson did for J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, which is bring it to it’s fullest cinematic potential.  You can tell that Denis had been planning the shots in his head for years, maybe even decades prior.  There is an ambition of vision here that really helps to make the story leap off the page like never before.  Once thought to be an un-filmable book, as evidenced by the messy Lynch film, Villeneuve has managed to make all the bizarre and surreal elements of Herbert’s novel work on screen here.  Or at least half of the novel, as Warner Brothers made the short sighted decision to let Villeneuve break the story into two films, but did not plan to shot both back to back; a foolish decision in light of the movie opening in a challenging pandemic marketplace.  Thankfully, it did well enough to greenlight Part Two, but it seemed uncertain for a time.  The movie has some of the most amazing visuals seen all year; perfectly capturing the awe inspiring sights of the world of Arrakis.  The all star cast likewise lives up to the hype; with Timothee Chalamet leading the film perfectly in the difficult role of Paul Atredes.  Josh Brolin, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac and Jason Mamoa are also stand outs.  More than anything, it’s seeing an ambitious cinematic treatment of an often mishandled source material done right that makes this film one of the years best.  And it makes me hopeful that studios will continue to treat these kinds of properties with respect instead of focusing on the marketability of these properties.  Hopefully, Dune does for science fiction what The Lord of the Rings did for fantasy on the silver screen.  More importantly, it showed that indeed there are some movies best savored on the biggest screen possible and that’s hopefully something that we’ll see more of, which will hopefully bring audiences back to the cinemas.

And now, my choice for the best movie of 2021 is…



Directed by Jane Campion

Jane Campion has not directed a feature film in over 12 years, but you wouldn’t know that after seeing this movie.  She steps back into feature filmmaking effortlessly with what is probably her most refined film yet, and certainly her best since her Oscar-winning The Piano (1993).  In this revisionist Western, she gives us an interesting examination into the nature of toxic masculinity.  Perfectly embodied through an incredible performance by Benedict Cumberbatch (probably his best work yet), we see a cowboy whose crafted this harsh masculine shell around himself to hide his own insecurities about his own identity, and this in turn make him a tyrannical presence in the lives of those around him, especially his put upon little brother (played by Jesse Plemons) and his new sister-in-law (played by Kirsten Dunst).  It’s only when he meets his new nephew-in-law (played by Kodi Smit-McPhee) who displays more feminine traits, that we seen the hard veneer start to crack around this character, which lead to some shocking confrontations along the way.  Of all the movies that I saw this year, none were as finely crafted from beginning to end as this was. Campion remarkably manages to substitute her native New Zealand for rural Montana, and you would never know the difference.  The movie is also perfectly edited, without an ounce of fat on the story at all.  It also features some truly memorable moments, like one of the most unnerving musical duets you will see in any movie.  The musical score by Johnny Greenwood is also one of the best of the year.  It’s just the movie that hit all the right notes for me this year, and even still offered up surprises that I wasn’t expecting at all.  It’s good to see Jane Campion continuing to mesh her provocative voice with these often sanctified genres.  Seeing her especially breaking down the mythic representation of a rugged cowboy and showing the dangers of masculinity without balance is a lesson that we especially need explored through cinema.  The film is a gorgeous, extremely well acted and shot ode to the Western genre that is not afraid to explain that the myths that were borne out of it are not something we should continue to idolize in modern society today.  A thorough and undisputed triumph.

So there you have my choices for the top ten films of 2021.  Of course, any examination of the best of the year is not complete without the counterpoint.  So, of course, I have my choices for the Bottom 5 of 2021 below.  Here’s a brief rundown of my least favorite movies of the year:

5. WAREWOLVES WITHIN – This uninteresting Edgar Wight-wannabe film from video game producer Ubisoft believes itself to be more clever than it really is.  Like I mentioned beforehand, the movies of Edgar Wright are far more witty and balanced as a mixture of comedy and horror.  This one just regurgitates a lot of obvious, low hanging fruit puns and sadly even descends into stereotypes of gay people and middle American rednecks.  You would think the bar would already be low for a movie based on a little known video game, but this one managed to find a way to sink even lower.

4. THE NIGHT HOUSE – Probably the single dullest movie that I saw all year.  What could have been an interesting twist on a haunted house storyline instead turns into a mediocre waste of talent.  I get the feeling that even the filmmakers didn’t know what the ultimate mystery was going to be either.  Is the house haunted by ghosts? Demons?  Is it all an elaborate hoax or just in the heroine’s head.  The movie’s frustratingly vague ending just seems to say that all the above are true, which shows that indeed nobody knew what this movie was supposed to be about.  It’s just spooky for spooky sake, and that in no way is scary.  Consider more effective scary movies from this year like A Quiet Place Part II or Malignant, and make a hard pass on this unsatisfying failure of a horror movie.

3. EARWIG & THE WITCH – This one is especially painful, because it comes from one of the greatest animation studios in the world; Japan based Studio Ghibli.  After becoming legends in the anime industry, this film marked their first ever foray into full computer animation.  And boy did it not work out.  There’s just something about the Studio Ghibli style that does not translate to 3D animation.  Couple this with a painfully mediocre and unimaginative story and one of the most insufferably annoying main characters ever as well.  The good news is that Studio Ghibli founder, the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, is once again breaking his retirement and making another film, and it will thankfully be hand drawn, traditional animation.  Maybe Studio Ghibli can one day make 3D animation compatible with their house style, but man oh man was this experiment an absolute failure.

2. SNAKE EYES: G.I. JOE ORIGINS – Another failed attempt to launch this franchise off the ground.  Instead of going for a full G.I. Joe team-up, this one decides to focus solely on one of the most iconic characters from the brand.  And yet, they found nothing interesting at all with the character to justify a full length movie.  It especially seems like a wasted opportunity for actor Henry Golding, whose headlining a film for the first time here.  The usually charismatic Crazy Rich Asians star just seems lost and unmotivated here.  Not to mention that for the majority of the movie, his character is selfish and narrowminded.  Why should we be rooting for him?  Some shoehorned G.I. Joe lore thrown into the mix can’t do much to elevate this movie beyond genre clichés.  If the G.I. Joe franchise was on life support before, this was the flatline that almost assuredly doomed it forever.

And the worst movie of 2021 is…

1. DEAR EVAN HANSEN – The past year gave us some great examples of how to adapt a musical for the big screen right.  From Warner Brother’s In the Heights, to Spielberg’s West Side Story, to the double whammy of Lin-Manuel Miranda productions Tick, Tick, Boom, and Encanto.  This misguided adaptation of an award winning stage musical is a text book example of how not to adapt a musical.  For one thing, the movie made the wrong choice in casting the original Broadway Evan Hansen, Ben Platt, to reprise his role.  Platt is now way too old to play the part of a teenager and his presence here acting alongside more age appropriate actors just gives this movie an overall creepy feeling.  And then there’s director Stephen Chbosky’s matter of fact style of filmmaking, which removes any and all spectacle that a movie musical should have.  And then there’s the inherent problem with the musical itself in that Evan Hansen is just a very hatable character to begin with.  What he does over the course of the story is pretty much emotional terrorism, injecting himself into the loving arms of a grieving family based on a lie, just to make himself feel better.  Maybe the earnestness plays better on a stage, but in this film adaptation, it just feels creepy and infuriating.  An absolute disaster of a musical adaptation, and pretty much the most overall worst experience I had at the movies this year; and that’s saying a lot given that a pandemic is still making movie-going a hassle.  Bye, Evan Hansen.

So, there you have my choices for the best and worst of 2021 at the movies.  It was honestly a harder list to put together this year, just because of the quantity of movies that I managed to see this year, as well as the fact that my viewing habits changed dramatically as movie theaters were finally starting to reopen after a year of closure. In some ways, I feel like this is going to be one of those years where I’ll be reassessing some of these movies again as the year go bye, as some films probably left a different impression on me just because of the times we are living in.  My hope is that going into 2022 that we see continued stability in the theater going experience, which already is being challenged as new variants are keeping the end of this pandemic from being in sight.  Already we are seeing movies being pushed back again, or being sent to streaming, all because uncertainty is on the rise again.  Thankfully, with vaccinations and masking becoming mandatory in most places, I think we’ll avoid another theater shut down like we saw in 2020.  It’s just going to take a while to get audiences back to feeling comfortable again for all types of movies; not just the super hero ones which seem to be doing alright.  I think by the summer we’ll see more normal box office again, and hopefully the pandemic will have seen it’s final massive wave by that point.  In any case, it’s good to have a contentious year like 2021 behind us now, and more importantly, it’s nice to see a calendar that no longer is packed with the remnants of all the pandemic exiles that were clogging up the system.  This will likely be one of the most normal looking years at the movies that we’ve seen in a long while, and my hope is that it offers up plenty of worthwhile entertainment, as well as a few surprises along the way.  Anyway, thank you for reading and have a great 2022 at the movies.