Tag Archives: Previews

The Movies of Early 2024

2023 was a strange year for the movies.  I don’t think anyone saw the outcome of this year coming, especially not myself.  This year saw many once dominant forces at the box office fall off hard; from Marvel, to DC, to Indiana Jones, to Fast and the Furious, to Mission: Impossible.  This summer would have been one of the most disastrous on record had it not been for the unlikeliest of saviors; the unexpected box office power duo of Barbie and J. Robert Oppenheimer.  But the biggest story of the past year was undoubtedly the behind the scenes labor battles that shook up the industry for nearly half a year.  The Writer’s Guild of America went on strike in early May and the Screen Actors Guild followed them to the picket line soon after in July, creating the largest strike period in Hollywood history.  For six months, Hollywood was ground to a halt as the studios and the unions dueled over the direction of the industry’s future.  Thankfully, the unions came out victorious, receiving fair deals that achieved most of the goals that they desired to have on their new contract, chief among them protections from AI and revised residual compensation reflective of the growing streaming market.  However, because the studios unnecessarily dragged their feet on making this new deal with the unions, it created a six month backlog in production that unfortunately is going to be felt throughout Hollywood for years to come.  The studios as a result are pushing back even more of their upcoming releases because of this delay, which is already giving more headaches to film distributors and theaters, who themselves are still in recovery mode post-pandemic.  It was a year overall of a lot of pain for the industry, as studios had to reconcile with the fact that their big push into streaming was not panning out like they expected and that they had neglected to fairly compensate their talent with fair share of that expansion, leading to an overall downturn in quality across the industry.

2024 is expected to be a year of re-building for many of the studios as they re-assess their futures.  Disney for the most part is taking the first half of the year off as they moved their Spring releases of Snow White and Pixar’s Elio to 2025.  Given how their 2023 went, with a string of disappointments, it’s probably for the best that they hedge their bets in order to regather their strength.  Warner Brothers and Paramount are even considering a merger in order to salvage their fortunes after wasting billions on chasing fortunes on streaming.  Because of last year’s strike, we are seeing a much less robust Spring season this year, as most films that were supposed to come out in the months ahead have been pushed back to accommodate for the backlog created by the strikes.  Some of the movies coming out in Early 2024 are even movies that were supposed to come out in 2023, but were unable to meet their release because the strike prevented the cast from assisting in the promotion of the films, which did have an effect on the overall box office of this Fall’s slate.  Still, there are enough movies to talk about in the early part of this upcoming year.  Like always, I will be discussing the must sees, the movies that have me worried, and the movies to skip of the early film season.  These previews are purely my own takes based on the level of buzz and effectiveness I see with the marketing, and my predictions can be off sometimes when all is said and done (and oftentimes have).  So, with all that said, let’s take a look at the Movies of Early 2024.

MUST SEES:

DUNE: PART TWO (MARCH 1)

Without question the must see movie of Early 2024, and possibly all of the year itself.  This is a movie that we should have already seen already, but because of the strike Warner Brothers decided they couldn’t have this movie make it’s November 3rd release date without the all-star cast there to help with the marketing.  Sadly, this took the highly anticipated second chapter to the Oscar-winning original out of awards contention for this year.  If this movie released on schedule, who knows how different the Awards season chatter would be right now.  Still, thankfully it’s a movie that we are still getting anyway and hopefully the extra four months will be worth the wait.  Denis Villeneuve’s Dune (2021) was an unexpected triumph of cinema when it first released, managing to gross over $100 million at the box office even in a still pandemic affected market and despite Warner Brothers misguided day and date theatrical and streaming release strategy at the time.  The film also managed to snag an impressive four Oscars in the technical categories, and was nominated for Best Picture, which thankfully ensured that this second part would be greenlit.  It seems short-sighted now that the studio didn’t film these movies back to back ala Lord of the Rings, as the first film only covers half of Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi masterpiece.  But, Villeneuve now gets to complete the story, and it looks like he’s done so in spectacular fashion.  The movie definitely demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible, and I’m sure it’s going to dominate like no other in IMAX.  What I’m looking forward to are the newest additions to the cast, including Florence Pugh as Princess Irulan, Austin Butler as Feyd-Ruetha, and the legendary Christopher Walken as the Emperor.  And with Wonka doing well at the box office right now, Timothee Chalamet has some box office wind in his sails leading up to the release of this film.  Here’s hoping Denis Villeneuve sticks the landing with his monumental sci-fi epic.

CIVIL WAR (APRIL 26)

Alex Garland is without a doubt one of the most unique voices to emerge in science fiction writing over the last couple decades.  Starting off with writing films like 28 Days Later (2002), Sunshine (2005) and Dredd (2012), Garland in the last decade has started to work behind the camera as a director and has shown equal prowess as a visionary filmmaker as well.  His unique voice has tackled common sci-fi tropes in interesting new ways, like examining the dangers of AI run amok in Ex Machina (2015), or looking at an alien invasion unlike any we’ve seen before on the big screen with the trippy Annihilation (2018).  His newest film is much less out of this world science fiction and more of a speculative, future history story that sadly feels all too relevant to our time.  Civil War showcases what a wartime conflict would look like in modern times if it broke out in the United States.  This is certainly the most ambitious project that Alex Garland has taken on to date (same with the studio making it, A24).  But the interesting angle that Garland is going with in this movie is seeing the conflict through the eyes of war correspondents.  This angle is a smart one to take because it allows the movie to remain grounded in a believable reality as it puts the audience right in the middle of the conflict.  It’s not a movie concerned about the sides being taken, but rather gives us a look at the ugliness of war, transposed into a place that hasn’t seen conflict on it’s soil since the last Civil War.  Having war correspondents be the witnesses of this conflict is also smart, because it helps the movie remain focused on it’s story rather than getting bogged down in world-building, which most other Hollywood blockbusters would fall victim to and get cluttered.  Hopefully Garland is able to deliver on the promise of this premise.  It will be interesting to see the responses to this film, considering that we are about to enter another contentious and divisive election cycle that by all accounts will be ugly.  Perhaps Alex Garland is giving us the wake-up call that we need to understand the dark path we are headed towards, given who we might put into office.

GODZILLA X KONG: THE NEW EMPIRE (APRIL 12)

I know this is a weird one to pick, but sometimes it doesn’t hurt to include a little junk food in the diet.  Legendary Pictures’ Monsterverse has gone through a bit of an evolution over the last decade, and one that I think has worked out for the better.  The big problem that I had with the Gareth Edwards directed Godzilla (2014) that launched this franchise was that it took itself too seriously.  The best part of the movie was always when the titular King of the Monsters showed up, but sadly those moments were few and far between.  Instead, the movie had us following the human characters, who were all sadly generic and uninteresting, despite being played by some great actors.  The introduction of King Kong into this franchise with Kong: Skull Island fared better because it gave us the audience more of what we wanted; more time with the central monster and more definable personalities among the human characters.  When we finally got the team up film we were promised with Godzilla vs. Kong (2021), Legendary seemed to finally have the winning formula, and that was to embrace the sillier side of this franchise.  What matters at the end of the day with these films is that we get to see the two iconic monsters share the screen and that the movie knows to let all the other stuff like character development and plot melt away.  In other words: just let them fight.  Godzilla vs. Kong was a nice bit of cheesy fun that we desperately needed after the worst of the pandemic.  Thankfully, it looks like the people at Legendary Pictures are sticking with the formula and still leaning into the sillier side of this franchise.  You can tell that by introducing a new pink color power set for Godzilla that this franchise is in no hurry to get this franchise grounded back into reality, and that is a bit refreshing.  I know Godzilla purists are going to complain, especially after the release of Toho’s acclaimed Godzilla Minus One.  But, given the lack of true entertainment in this early part of the year, it will be nice to have at least one movie that understands it’s limits as pure popcorn entertainment and rolls with it.

MICKEY 17 (MARCH 29)

This movie releases in a mere matter of months, and yet we still know so little about it, or seen anything other than a 30 second teaser released over a year ago.  But, there is still a lot to be excited about with this upcoming film.  For one, it’s the first film directed by Oscar-winner Bong Joon-ho after his history making Parasite (2019) became the first film ever not in the English language to win Best Picture.  Also netting a Best Director win for himself, Bong Joon-ho garnered a lot of attention in the last couple years with regards to what he would do next.  Interestingly, he has decided to not make another film in his native Korean language like he did with Parasite.  Instead he’s making a film in English, which is not new for him, considering that he’s done it before with Snowpiercer (2014) and Okja (2017).  What is especially exciting is that his newest film is also a return for him to the science fiction genre.  His last foray into pure science fiction was Snowpiercer, which was in my opinion one of the best sci-fi films of the last decade.  What we know of the plot is based on what we know of the source material; the novel of the same name by Edward Ashton, which involves cloning and deep space exploration.  But, what isn’t known is what Bong Joon-ho will bring to the story with his own vision.  It’s also a good sign that he is working with a very outside of the box thinking kind of leading man with Robert Pattinson.  Pattinson has taken on many quirky roles in the past, so it will be interesting to see how well he works under Bong Joon-ho’s direction.  Hopefully more information and another trailer releases for this movie soon, because it will be interesting to see what a unique filmmaker like Bong Joon-ho does with the confidence that a fresh Oscar win gives him going into his next project.

THE BOOK OF CLARENCE (JANUARY 12)

When you attempt to satirize religion and scripture in any way, you better be prepared to walk through a gauntlet of eggshells.  But, if you manage to find that right balance, you can come up with some truly legendary comedy, as Monty Python and Mel Brooks have shown us in the past.  Writer and director Jeymes Samuel takes aim at the time period of Jesus Christ, but it looks like he wisely avoids turning Christ into the target of his punchlines.  Instead, what it looks like he’s doing with The Book of Clarence is to make a statement about modern day Influencer Culture by putting it within the context of a biblical time period.  Here we see the titular Clarence become jealous of Jesus’ clout, and he attempts to scam his way into becoming the Messiah so that he can emerge beyond Christ’s shadow.  It’s an interesting angle that could also extend a critical eye towards organized religion, which itself is built upon the show boating and scamming that is synonymous with influencer culture.  It’s uncertain exactly what angle Jeymes Samuel is going to go with in his film, but it certainly looks like there’s going to be some hilarious situations that satirize the things we know from scripture and that time period.  It definitely looks like Samuel is drawing inspiration from Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979) with some of the tone, and I hope he’s ready for some of the firestorm that may erupt in response to this movie.  Jeymes already delivered an interesting deconstruction of the American Western with The Harder They Fall (2021), framing it through a Black American perspective (and it features one of the most hilarious visual gags I’ve seen in recent memory).  Hopefully he delivers the same kind of intelligent satirical eye to this story with a biblical center.

MOVIES THAT HAVE ME WORRIED:

GHOSTBUSTERS: FROZEN EMPIRE (MARCH 29)

Try as they might, Hollywood has yet to match the one of a kind magic that was the comedy/horror masterpiece called Ghostbusters (1984).  Over the last 40 years, there have been sequels and multiple reboots, but nothing has yet to come close to the original, and it’s probably the case that nothing ever will.  The 1989 sequel has moments, but lacks the same novelty and focus.  The 2016 remake is a textbook example of how not to re-start a franchise as it courted controversy that it was not prepared to tackle, and sadly it negatively impacted the chance to bring true inclusivity into the casting of the franchise.  Jason Reitman, son of the late Ivan Reitman who directed the original classic, decided to bring his own voice to the franchise and pick up where his dad left off.  His 2021 reboot was different in tone, taking the lore and story a bit more seriously than past efforts, which is honestly closer to the original vision of the franchise’s co-creator Dan Aykroyd.  But, even though it was a marked improvement over the 2016 version, it still was a movie that relied too heavily on nostalgia for the past.  Seriously, we’re just going to rehash Gozer again as the main threat?  Jason Reitman’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife still did well enough to get a sequel greenlit by Columbia.  Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire does earn some points by trying something different; with the Big Apple being threatened by an ice storm brought upon by a supernatural force.  It’s also interesting that they managed to get everyone back, not just from the last film, but even the legacy actors as well (even the always elusive Bill Murray).  Still, I feel this is a franchise that still has a lot to prove in order to find it’s way out of the shadow of the original classic.  It’s been 40 years and still nothing so far convinces me that Frozen Empire will be the movie that will justify a whole new generation of Ghostbuster movies to get excited about.

ARGYLLE (FEBRUARY 2)

Talk about over-exposure.  The above trailer seems to be attached to every movie playing at the multiplex at this very moment, so if you are someone like me who visits movie theaters on a regular basis, this trailer has been played ad nauseum for several months now.  Now, that doesn’t mean that the end result could end up being terrible, but the fact that Universal and Apple Studios are flooding the market with advertisement for this film is not a good sign either.  The latest film from Matthew Vaughn comes as new territory for the director, but still working within a genre he has a lot of experience with.  Vaughn has spent the last decade building up the Kingsman franchise and this is his first original film in a long time.  There are positive and negative signs for this movie based on Vaughn’s recent track record.  For one thing, he has demonstrated a knack for taking actors not typically known for appearing in action movies and giving them a stand out action set piece that changes everything you thought you knew about them.  The now famous one shot church fight scene with Colin Firth in Kingman: The Secret Service (2015) was a perfect example of this.  In Argylle, it looks like he’s doing the same with his leads, Sam Rockwell and Bryce Dallas Howard, both of whom you wouldn’t expect to see in elaborate action set pieces.  At the same time, Vaughn’s track record has been a bit spotty.  His sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017) was a disappointing mess that sqaundered all of the goodwill of the first movie, and though it was a bit better, the prequel titled The King’s Man (2021) still couldn’t course correct well enough to salvage the waning franchise.  Hopefully Matthew Vaughn is able to get his mojo back with Argylle, but given the zealous marketing campaign so far, I’m not seeing a lot of positive signs.

KUNG FU PANDA 4 (MARCH 8)

At least one thing works in Dreamworks Animation’s favor this spring.  They no longer have to share the box office with their indsutry rival Pixar, Disney has moved their previously planned Spring 2024 release of Elio to Summer of 2025.  Still times are troubled for Dreamworks Animation.  The studio has failed to generate the same kind of energy at the box office that it once did in the last decade.  2023 was an especially rough year for all of the Animation titans.  Disney’s Wish (2023) failed to ignite over the Thanksgiving weekend, and Dreamworks saw it’s two 2023 releases, Ruby Gilman: Teenage Kraken and Trolls Band Together both underperform expectations, the former becoming the lowest grossing film in the studios’ 25 year history.  It’s a sad result given that they ended the previous year on a high note with their best film in years with Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (2022).  Thankfully for Dreamworks, their next film on the release calendar is the fourth film in one of their most resilient franchises.  Jack Black returns as the lovable Po the Panda and in this adventure he is facing off against a shape-shifiting villain voiced by Viola Davis.  While the Kung Fu Panda films have always been well-animated, they’ve been a little inconsistent when it comes to story.  In my opinion, I thought the first one was alright, I loved the second one, and thought the third one was bland and forgettable.  Thus far, this fourth film really lacks anything new or interesting to hook me back in.  Maybe long time fans will be more interested than me, but for me a film franchise on it’s fourth round needs to have something more interesting than a new villain of the week to justify it’s existence.  Puss in Boots: The Last Wish was a movie sequel that really went above and beyond what was called for with it, and to see Kung Fu Panda just revisiting the same routine just feels uninteresting to me.

LISA FRANKENSTEIN (FEBRUARY 9)

This is one of those movies that could honestly go either way.  We could be witnessing the birth of a new cult classic in horror comedy, or it could be an embarrassing dumpster fire that bodes ill for all involved.  One of the red flags is that it’s written by Diablo Cody.  Cody, an Oscar-winner for Juno (2007) has in the past had a bad habit of using cringey slang words in her dialogue that make her scripts sound way out of touch with the age groups that she’s trying to connect with.  But, when used well, she can write some very funny and excessive genre films, particularly in this horror comedy mode.  One of the interesting things about Lisa Frankenstein is that it marks the directorial debut of Zelda Williams, daughter of the late great Robin Williams.  A movie like this is a big swing for a first time director, but it looks like a bold statement as well to signal that Ms. Williams is ready to put her voice out there as a filmmaker.  One thing that might be a plus for the movie is that it looks like the kind of film that Tim Burton used to make but no longer does, and thankfully Zelda Williams is coming in to fill that void.  The whole tone of the movie also seems to be refreshingly tougne in cheek, which hopefully doesn’t spoil the movie as a whole, as some horror comedies sometimes lack the right amount of laughs or scares to work as well as they should.  One thing that I do like in the trailer is that the main lead, Kathryn Newton, is really aiming for the fence with her performance; vamping it up in a deliciously comical way that could go a long way in making this movie work.  It all comes down to the execution, and hopefully all of these talented ladies pull it off and knock ’em dead.

MOVIES TO SKIP:

MADAME WEB (FEBRUARY 14)

Given the disappointing year that they experienced, Marvel is sitting out most of the next year with only one official MCU title getting released in 2024; the eagerly anticipated Deadpool 3.  While disappointing to fans, this is honestly a much needed break that Marvel desperately needs in order to recalibrate and get their mojo back.  Sadly, it seems like Sony Pictures didn’t get the memo with their own licensed Marvel films in the Sony Spider-verse.  In 2024, Sony is set to release at least 3 films all connected to their fledgling Spider-Man adjascent cinematic universe, all mostly centered around some of the webslinger’s rogues gallery of villains.  In the summer we get a movie devoted to Kraven the Hunter (2024), which was pushed back from a fall release this year during the strike, and in Fall 2024 we get the third film in the Venom franchise, starring Tom Hardy.  But before all that, we get this movie devoted to one of the most obscure Spider-Man characters in the Marvel canon.  Madame Web tells the origin story of the mystical being central to the multiversal storylines of which Spider-Man is a part of.  There’s not much to say about this movie other than it representing Sony really scrapping the bottom of the barrel in order to fill out their, I guess you can call it “Venomverse.”  Sadly, apart from Tom Hardy’s quirky performance and the stellar animated Spider-Man films, nothing about the Sony produced Spider-verse films have stood out.  Madame Web’s agressive blandness is not going to convince anyone that Sony is on their right track with their franchise, and considering that it’s the same studio responsible for the train wreck that was Morbius (2022), it’s highly likely that this movie is only going to compound the already dire state that comic book movies are in right now.

MEAN GIRLS (JANUARY 12)

Truth be told, this was never my kind of thing to begin with, but even still, a movie like this feels doomed and unnecessary.  Basically it is adaptation of a Broadway musical version of the original 2004 film.  While I’m sure that long time fans of the original will be excited to see this, I also think that it’s likely going to disappoint a lot of people too.  For one thing, it’s just rehashing a story we already know, but doing so 20 years after the fact.  A lot of the things that felt fresh and relevant in the original are going to feel dated in 2024.  Also, the movie is attempting to adapt a musical made for the stage, but still film it like the original film.  I have a feeling it’s going to take away some of the pagentry of live performance that most musicals benefit from, and make the dance and song numbers feel awkward.  That’s what happened with the very unpleasant Dear Evan Hansen (2021) film, and I am already getting the same uncomfortable vibe from this trailer.  Can pros in the cast like Jon Hamm and Tina Fey pull this movie out from that unfortunate association, or are we looking at another Evan Hansen fiasco.  Unfortunately, I’m seeing a lot of parallels so I imagine we are in for another bad musical experience.

THE BEEKEEPER (JANUARY 12)

What the hell happened to David Ayer.  The action movie director was on the rise in the early 2010’s with two acclaimed movies back to back; the cop drama End of Watch (2012) and the WWII action flick Fury (2014).  When he was next given the offer to direct Suicide Squad (2016) for DC, it appeared that David Ayer was on the track for big things.  But even despite seeing Suicide Squad earn a healthy box office return, many thought his adaptation of the comics was severly lacking and uneven.  It didn’t help that his follow-up, the critically panned Bright (2017) for Netflix, also failed to live up to expectations.  Since then, David Ayer has sunk down to being a B-movie director once again, with his 2020 film The Tax Collector performing poorly even by pandemic standards. His next film looks to be continuing his slide down into further irrelevancy, as he is working on yet another Jason Statham vehicle that looks nothing more than another paycheck movie that the star can sleepwalk through.  One would hope that David Ayer can find that special project that can once again help him climb back into the upward career trend that he once enjoyed, but sadly this movie does not look the kind of movie to reverse those fortunes at the moment.

So, there you have my preview of the movies coming out in Early 2024.  It’s going to be a quiet start to the year, with very few studio driven releases of note.  Definitely Dune: Part Two is the movie that is going to dominate most of the conversation this Spring if it lives up to the high expectations that we have for it.  It’s just a shame that a grandiose movie like that had to be a victim of the studios’ mismanagement of their response to the strikes.  A lot of the missing presence of big films during these next few months is largely due to the studios misreading the situation and thinking that they could wait out the unions in order to squeeze them into negotiating towards lower terms on the deal.  It didn’t work, and now the studios have few films to show off and boost their quarterly profits in the early part of next year.  The only ones who seem to be moving forward into the next year without disruption to their schedules are the indie producers like A24, because they did the right thing and negotiated fair deals with the unions independent of the big studios, allowing them to continue production while the rest of the industry was shut down.  So, it’s going to be an overall quiet season where the movies that really shine will likely be the smaller, independent films.  Still, there are bigger movies that are certainly out there to see.  Because they’ve decided to take a time out to regroup throughout this opening part of the year, Disney is actually using this time to right a cinematic wrong and allow the three Pixar films that went straight to streaming during the pandemic (Soul, Luca, and Turning Red) to finally have full theatrical releases as a make-up to the one division in their company that defied the slump and overcame a bad start to become a sleeper hit with last year’s Elemental.  My hope is that 2024 is a healing year for Hollywood, which has gone through a rough couple of years both through circumstances they couldn’t control (the pandemic) and through a force that they should’ve handled better than they did (the strikes).  And then hopefully after that, we’ll see the industry booming again in 2025.  For right now, I hope my preview has given you a good sense of what to expect in the next couple of months.  Here’s hoping for a good start to 2024 at the movies even with all the turmoil that the last year has carried over into it.

The Movies of Fall 2023

We are near the end of another Summer movie season, and it’s one that had an outcome that I don’t think anyone expected.  At the top of the summer season, I’m sure many prognosticators of the movie industry believed that the Summer season was going to be dominated by tried and true franchises that have carried Hollywood to glory in the past.  These included of course new movies from Marvel, Pixar, Transformers, Fast and the Furious, DC, Mission: Impossible, and Indiana Jones.  From the beginning of the Summer, it seemed like Hollywood was going to hit it big with their heavy hitters.  Unfortunately for most, it was a season flooded with disappointments.  The performances of this Summer’s box office was defined by a string of movies that either performed well under expectations to just downright flopping.  Marvel did about as well as expected with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, and their co-production with Sony Animation, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-verse outperformed expectations.  But, other films like Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, Fast X, and Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning – Part One, could not make up for their extravagant costs with sub-par box office.  And then there is the case of DC’s The Flash, which is going to go down as one of the biggest flops in box office history, possibly costing Warner Brothers to suffer a quarter of a billion shortfall on that film alone.  But, the summer was also defined by another odd occurrence that actually proved to be a savior for movie theaters.  The “Barbenheimer” phenomenon will absolutely go down as one of the craziest “out-of-nowhere” things to happen in Hollywood ever.  Both Barbie and Oppenheimer were entering the Summer season with no one expecting much of them, but online communities took notice of the odd counter-programming that each offered with the same release date and decided to turn it into an event.  Thanks to this, both films are now set to become the biggest box office successes of the year, with Barbie now well above a billion globally, and Oppenheimer likewise is climbing the charts in a way that a three hour R-rated biopic shouldn’t.

One other unfortunate thing that has also defined this summer season is the ongoing strike by the WGA and SAG-AFTRA unions.  Even after 3 months of picketing, it looks like neither side is willing to budge, and it is beginning to deeply affect the industry as a whole.  It’s likely that some of the soft box office numbers for this season is due to the lack of publicity that the studios is missing out on with their actors joining the picket lines.  The lack of traction in the negotiations are also affecting the upcoming release schedules in the near future, as movie and show productions right now have been put into a months long freeze.  Because of this, the studios are pushing back movies into next year, much to the frustration of movies fans.  Believe me, when I was gearing up to write this preview for the Fall Movie season, it was going to look a lot different, as one of my most anticipated Must See films, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: Part Two, was suddenly pushed back to March of next year by Warner Brothers.  It makes me wonder if any of the films that I still have on this preview will be bumped to next year as well.  Hopefully, a fair deal is struck soon and the films we still have set for this Fall still make it to theaters on time.  In any case, here is my preview of the films of Fall 2023, broken into my Must Sees, the Movies That Have Me Worried, and the Movies to Skip.  Keep in mind, these choices are just based on my early impressions based on the film’s marketing and general advance hype.  My predictions don’t always pan out (I really underestimated Barbie this summer), but I hope it’s helpful for all of you for what to expect in the upcoming months.  So, let’s take a look at the Movies of Fall 2023.

MUST SEES:

KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON (OCTOBER 20)

If there has been a streaming provider that has navigated the waters of the streaming “gold rush” wisely, it has been Apple.  The entertainment wing of the tech giant is not as financially strained as the other major Hollywood studios, given that they are funded by the biggest corporation in the world.  But, Apple has also chosen their projects wisely; opting for quality over quantity.  The Apple TV+ library of content may not be robust, but they have thus far gained notoriety for award winning productions, including the first ever Best Picture win for a streamer (2021’s CODA).  This year, Apple Studios is making it’s biggest push ever into mainstream success with a pair of highly anticipated epics from two Hollywood legends.  Not only that, they are giving these movies wide theatrical runs before they move to streaming; a strategy that I hope catches on.  First, there is Martin Scorsese’s new epic based on the best-selling historical novel of the same name from author David Grann.  Killers of the Flower Moon looks like another ambitious exercise for the legendary filmmaker; taking his expertise in exploring the seedy underworld of organized crime, but filtering it through the lens of the American Western.  This film about the Osage Nation murders in 1920’s Oklahoma looks to be gritty and multi-layered exploration of greed and violence that Scorsese is the undeniable master of.  Given the already strong buzz out of the Cannes Film Festival where it premiered, it looks like Scorsese has another winner on his hands.  The director unlike many of his other contemporaries has been more embracing of streaming, as his last film The Irishman (2019) released through Netflix, and I think it’s because streaming platforms have allowed him more creative wiggle room than the established Hollywood studios have given him.  Hopefully the near 3 1/2 hour runtime doesn’t scare off audiences; maybe Oppenheimer’s success could be a good sign.  But with a cast that includes two of Scorsese’s favorites (Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert DeNiro), plus a potentially star-making turn for Lily Gladstone, and supporting performances from heavy hitters like Jesse Plemons, John Lithgow, and recent Best Actor winner Brendan Fraser, this should very much be a movie that is going to light up the screen and show that Scorsese in deed is not losing any of his edge.

NAPOLEON (NOVEMBER 22)

Here we have Apple Studios other big epic gamble for this Fall season.  It’s quite the flex that not only are we getting a new Scorsese film from Apple this year, but also a new Ridley Scott film as well.  Scott has been hit or miss over the last decade, but when he’s got a project that works to his strengths (lavish period production values and epic scale battles) he definitely delivers.  His last historical epic, The Last Duel (2021), while not a financial success still was a winner with critics and it showed that he indeed has some of the old Gladiator magic left in his arsenal.  For his lavish biopic of the notorious French general turned emperor, Scott re-teams for the first time in over twenty years with his Gladiator star, Joaquin Phoenix.  Phoenix has been on a roll lately with his Oscar-winning turn in Joker (2019) as well as a collection well received notices in indie films from A24 like C’mon C’mon (2021) and Beau is Afraid (2023).  Phoenix is certainly the ideal choice to take on this larger than life historical figure and it will be interesting to see what he and Scott bring to the film in telling his story.  Naturally, you can expect this movie to have some incredible visuals, which is expected of a filmmaker with the resume that Ridley Scott has.  Apparently, this has been a long in the making project for Scott, who has been circling this project for decades.  It’s probably why he was intent on working with Apple on this, because they were likely less concerned about the cost than other studios.  That way Scott could make the film grittier and harder hitting than the usual PG-13 he’s been required to deliver in the past.  And thankfully like Killers of the Flower Moon, Apple is giving Napoleon a full theatrical run, partnering up for distribution with Sony Pictures (Moon is released through Paramount).  That way, we’ll be able to still see good old fashioned Ridley Scott directed epic battles on a huge screen, like we always should.

THE MARVELS (NOVEMBER 10)

Marvel Studios managed to hold it’s own in a very unforgiving Summer for most franchises.  Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.3 did about as well as many people hoped, though it wasn’t anything record-shattering.  And despite being looked at as a box office disappointment, this February’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’s $476 million worldwide gross is something that I’m sure most other studios wish they had right now.  Even still, there are troubling signs for Marvel that they are still grappling with.  The Phase Four line up that wrapped last year with Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022) didn’t sizzle at the box office like past Phases of Marvel, and critically the studio is suffering from far less enthusiasm than before.  The box office numbers are solid, but not exceptional, and it seems like Marvel is becoming a victim of their own astronomical success.  At the core of their problems seems to be that they are over-stretched, with too many plates being served with not enough ingredients; something that is only being compounded with the multiple projects exclusive to Disney+.  Even still, Marvel movies are still events that warrant attention, and this sequel to the hit movie Captain Marvel (2019) has an interesting element that helps it to stand out.  This film is the first to incorporate central characters that were already established in the Marvel Disney+ series line-up; in this case Ms. Marvel (Iman Vellani) from the show of the same name, and Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) from Wandavision,  joining to team up with Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) herself.  Thankfully for Marvel, these two characters are from two of the more successful and critically acclaimed Disney+ shows, so their inclusion here is likely more of a benefit than a hinderance.  Captain Marvel is certainly a divisive film amongst fans, but with so much of the world and character building out of the way, this sequel has the benefit of actually letting the story stand on it’s own.  Director Nia DaCosta has stated that her film is going to be more geared toward a looser, more emotional character driven side, which might be a good change of pace for Marvel after a string of formulaic exercises.  And given that Dune: Part Two’s move has opened up a bunch of large format screens for the movie, it might be the box office hit that Marvel needs to recharge it’s momentum.

DISNEY’S WISH (NOVEMBER 22)

The animation landscape has shifted pretty dramatically.  Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks, once the hallmark brands of the industry have struggled post-pandemic to gain back the family audiences that once turned them into reliable box office power houses.  In the meantime, upstart Illumination has enjoyed back to back monster hits like Minions: The Rise of Gru (2022) and The Super Marion Bros. Movie (2023), and Sony Animation hit both critically and at the box office with Across the Spider-Verse.  Some are saying that these once powerful brands days are numbered, but I don’t think it’s the studios that are the problem, but more that family audiences are more inclined to go back to the theaters for something they know will entertain their kids than something they are not sure about.  Minions, Mario and Spider-Man all succeeded because they already had built in audience awareness.  Original animated films unconnected to built in franchises are what audiences are struggling to embrace.  Disney’s Encanto (2021) was thought to be a box office disappointment, but a few months later, we were all signing about not talking about Bruno. This year, Pixar’s Elemental (2022) likewise also found it’s audience slowly over time, turning around their box office fortunes from costly flop to sleeper hit.  The films aren’t the problem, it’s getting audiences confident in the studio brand again to make them take their kids to the theater instead of waiting for streaming.  Disney’s Wish is such a movie that could achieve this by having the studio return to their strengths from past films.  It’s a musical fairy tale, which has always been Disney’s strongest suit.  It’s also experimental in it’s art style, emulating hand painted cel animation in 3D computer animation, which owes a bit to the Spider-Verse influence.  Having recent Oscar-winner Ariana DeBose on board voicing their new Disney princess is another plus.  And given that this is their release for the 100th anniversary, Disney is also likely to put in some meta elements centered around the story point of the wishing star in the film, like a cameo or two.  Disney’s had mixed results post-pandemic with their string of original films, but Wish might have the right mix of originality and familiar elements to help make it a new animated classic that brings the legendary studio back to the top.

NEXT GOAL WINS (NOVEMBER 17)

Taika Waititi has been one of the most prolific comedic filmmakers as of late, with a very enviable track record to back that up.  One of his movies, Jojo Rabbit (2019) was in my opinion not just one of the best comedies of the last decade, but also one of the best movies period.  He’s also been a key voice in the Marvel Studios stable of directors, having re-invented the Thor franchise with Thor: Ragnarok (2017).  His follow-up, Thor: Love and Thunder (2022) was much more divisive, though I found myself not minding it too much.  His next upcoming film, however, finds him returning to his roots as an early comedy filmmaker.  The common thread through most of Waititi’s films is an appreciation for lovable losers, and that’s the theme at the core of this film.  In Next Goal Wins, he is telling the story of the Samoan National Football team, which historically had the worst score ever in international competition; losing 31-0 to Australia.  Despite mining all the comedic potential of how bad this team can be, there is a warm human story to be told here as well, about a community often looked down upon by the rest of the world and how they manage to remain bonded together through adversity.  It’s also a lot about how an outsider, namely the new head coach played by Michael Fassbender, learns more about the essence of the game by seeing the literal worst players in the world find so much fulfilment by being on that field as a team.  Taika is so masterful at balancing those moments of hilarity with heart and hopefully this film carries over some of that great mix of both that he so expertly weaved into Jojo Rabbit.  From the trailer alone, we can definitely see that at the very least there will be some pretty hard laughs in there.

MOVIES THAT HAVE ME WORRIED:

WONKA (DECEMBER 15)

Well, with Dune: Part Two off of the 2023 calendar, this is actor Timothee Chalamet’s one and only chance to deliver a hit this season at the box office.  This film is going to be fairly controversial in many ways.  It is taking a beloved literary and film classic and attempting to tell a back story that I don’t know if anyone was clamoring that much for.  Here we are getting the story of how Willy Wonka came to be the eccentric “candy man” that we all know from the classic Roald Dahl tale, delivered as a big musical extravaganza.  It’s not the first time that this story has been revisited before on the big screen.  Tim Burton famously brought his own vision to the famous story, but unlike this film, Burton’s version was it’s own thing, acting more as a unique adaptation of Dahl’s novel, and less of a re-make of the beloved 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory starring Gene Wilder.  This film, however, is deliberately tying itself to that original film version, and that may be a risky thing to do correctly.  First of all, Chalamet has some very big shoes to fill, as Gene Wilder’s performance as Willy Wonka is viewed by many as iconic and without comparison.  Johnny Depp’s version of Willy Wonka very much fell short compared to Wilder’s performance, and that’s the same kind of harsh scrutiny that is about to come Chalamet’s way.  Chalamet is also not known as a song and dance performer, so he is going to have to disprove a lot of naysayers out there.  On the plus side, this film is being directed by Paul King, the man behind the beloved Paddington films, and this kind of movie is something that very much plays to his strengths.  Hopefully the team behind this film can make it stand well on it’s own, but given the pedigree of story they are working with, the bar is going to be set pretty high.

A HAUNTING IN VENICE (SEPTEMBER 15)

You’ve got to hand it to Kenneth Branagh; he is a persistent filmmaker.  His adaptations of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot mysteries has become a little franchise that could on it’s own despite some heavy obstacles along the way.  2017’s Murder on the Orient Express became a modest hit at the time, but it’s follow-up Death on the Nile (2022) was a pandemic and scandal plagued production that limped into theaters in early February and was quickly dismissed.  It’s surprising that after all that Branagh was still able to keep going with the continuation of these films, and do so as quick as he did.  At least this time around, his film is not being dogged by pandemic delays or one or two problematic actors in the cast.  A Haunting in Venice, the third film in this Poirot franchise, seems to be playing it more safe after Death on the Nile; modest in scale with less of an all-star cast than previous movies.  Even still, Branagh is still making some surprise choices in his casting of this movie, with performers as diverse as Jamie Dornan, Tina Fey, and newly crowned Oscar winner Michelle Yeoh in the cast, alongside with himself returning as the “world’s greatest detective.” What is interesting though is the big shift in tone.  For this movie, Branagh is far more leaning into horror movie tropes, which is a departure from the tone this series has had up to now.  Is it something that may breathe new life into this series of movies, or is it a doomed “hail mary” play that likely won’t capture any cross over appeal.  I certainly don’t think that Branagh’s making a straight up horror movie here, but then again it could end up being surprisingly dark comparatively for this kind of movie.  Thus far, this Poirot franchise has been a mixed bag, and never quite as exciting as the trailers have made it out to be.  But, I’m willing to see if a fresh approach actually does something good here.  Branagh has demonstrated his capability of being an experimental and venturous filmmaker before.  Maybe it might be interesting to see him explore a darker side.

POOR THINGS (DECEMBER 9)

This is the kind of movie that honestly go either way for me.  I have in the past responded to films from Yorgos Lanthimos in very opposite ways.  I distinctly hated his 2015 film, The Lobster, but I loved his 2018 film, The Favourite.  It seemed to me so unbelievable that I could have such polar opposite opinions to movies from the same director like that, but I guess he’s just that kind of filmmaker.  I feel like this new film of his will likely drive me to either extreme as well.  It is certainly a movie that is going to take some risks, and likewise challenge it’s audience.  It’s hyper-stylized, and I almost think that this might be a bad thing, especially considering that production design on this film feels a bit too much like AI generated art for some tastes.  One thing that could indeed be the film’s best element is the cast.  Emma Stone, who worked well with Lanthimos in The Favourite, takes the spotlight here and seems to be relishing the opportunity to go weird with this Frankenstein-like origin to her character.  Mark Ruffalo also seems refreshingly oddball, which is a nice departure for him, and I do get a laugh out of his awkward reading of the line “Oww” in the trailer.  And of course, if you are going to go weird with your movie, casting Willem Dafoe is always a good choice.  One other thing that I think works in Lanthimos’ favor is that he’s once again working with another writer’s script (The Favourite’s Tony McNamara) which I think is the winning formula.  I find Lanthimos’ own screenplays to be too self-indulgent, so I think he works better adapting a screenplay that is not his own, because his strengths better lie in his direction.  We’ll just have to see if this film falls on the Best or Worst list by the end of the year.

AQUAMAN AND THE LOST KINGDOM (DECEMBER 20)

Most of the major film studios are having a bad year, but DC is having an extraordinary bad year.  The aforementioned The Flash is a box office flop for the history books, and the other entries from the DCEU franchise that includes Shazam: Fury of the Gods and Blue Beetle have not faired any better.  Before James Gunn takes the reigns of the future of the DC cinematic universe, there is one film left from the old regime that is still in the pipeline.  Aquaman (2018) was surprisingly the biggest box office success of the DCEU era, becoming the only film of that franchise to gross over a billion worldwide.  One thing that worked to it’s advantage was that it was able to coast on the wave that was the peak year for the super hero movie genre, 2018, which also saw the likes of Black PantherAvengers: Infinity War, and Ant-Man and the Wasp all making big money at the box office.  Sadly for Aquaman, the heydays of that money train are over, and it’s been especially rough for DC.  It also feels like the movie is doomed even before it hits theaters, not just because of the shake-up in management of DC, but also from the news that the movie has had to go through multiple re-shoots, all of which have ballooned the already high budget of this movie.  Is there anything that can help this Aquaman sequel avoid the same terrible fate of the rest of DC’s 2023 slate.  On the plus side, Jason Momoa is still a generally liked movie star, as opposed to the “star” of The Flash, and his star power could still conceivably help carry the film.  Also, Warner Brothers is remarkably as of right now still sticking with the Christmas holiday release date for this movie.  If Dune: Part Two was acceptable to push to the Spring but Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom was not, it must show a level of confidence that Warner has in this film; at least that’s the hope.  We’ll have to see if DC is going to close this chapter right, or if it’s the final pathetic nail in the coffin of the doomed DCEU.

MOVIES TO SKIP:

THE HUNGER GAMES: THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS & SNAKES (NOVEMBER 17)

If there is something that the last Summer season has shown us, it’s that reviving long dormant film franchises is not a winning formula anymore.  Indiana Jones and Transformers learned that the hard way, and I think that the same is likely going to happen to The Hunger Games franchise as well.  In the early 2010’s, Hunger Games was certainly a force to be reckoned with, but once it got into the latter entries in the series, the fuel was definitely starting to run out, and now The Hunger Games no longer feels culturally relevant anymore.  Still, the people at Lionsgate seem to think that there is more to mine from this property and that’s why they are adapting this prequel to the original series.  This to me seems like a big mistake because one, Hunger Games is no longer the power house that it used to be, two, just by knowing the events of the original films we know how this movie will end, and three, the series’ central heroine Katniss (whom was the main thing that hooked in fans from the beginning) is not involved in any way.  Basically, this movie is trying to lure audiences back on the concept and the world alone, which I don’t think is enough to bring audiences on board.  For the original films it was the characters, and in particular Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as Katniss that became the big draw.  There are some heavy hitters on board here, like Viola Davis and Peter Dinklage, but I don’t see them drawing back any of the series’ past fans.  For a series that already had a short shelf life, I feel like this will be a quickly forgotten chapter.

TROLLS BAND TOGETHER (NOVEMBER 17)

I mentioned before that Dreamworks, along with Disney and Pixar, have had a rough time lately at the box office.  But, unlike the other two studios which has bright spots on the horizon with original concepts and experimentation, Dreamworks’ future slate looks pretty unremarkable with more formulaic sequels for the foreseeable future.  This is even despite having their best film in years last Winter with Puss in Boots: The Last Wish.  This summer, they had their biggest failure with Ruby Gilman; Teenage Kraken, and up next on the slate is the third film in their tepid Trolls franchise.  The first Trolls (2016) was a modest if unremarkable box office success, and their follow up, Trolls World Tour (2020) got sidelined from theaters altogether by the pandemic, sending it straight to streaming.  This film looks like it’s just a repeat of the formula and not adding anything substantial artistically or thematically to the franchise, which is something that the best sequels should do (Puss in Boots; The Last Wish being a shining example).  Like the other movies, this film seems more geared towards selling an album than making a memorable film, and it’s unfortunately another sign of Dreamworks losing it’s edge as one of the hallmark names in animation.

EXPEND4BLES (SEPTEMBER 22)

Speaking of another franchise that has lost it’s potency over the years, we are now getting another Expendables movie, nearly 9 years after the last one.  The original concept when this franchise was started was fun enough, with Sylvester Stallone assembling a team made up of some of the most legendary action movie stars all in one movie; including having himself, Schwarzenegger, and Bruce Willis share the screen for the first time.  Two more sequels added even more star power like Jean Claude Van Damme, Mel Gibson, Antonio Banderas, and even Harrison Ford to the roster.  But, time eventually ran out, and a lot of those movie stars either fully retired, or became less interested in returning.  So now it’s just Stallone, Jason Statham and whatever C-Lister they can rope in left.  Part of the appeal of this series is now gone, and it just looks like a tired retread of a now irrelevant series.  Of the cast, only Statham has any real star power left, and even here it seems like he’s phoning it in.  Probably better to have left this team retired.

So, there you have my outlook of the Fall 2023 movie season.  Given the uncertainty brought on by the ongoing stalemate of the dual strikes hitting Hollywood right now, I fear that this will be a movie season that will see a lot of movies struggle at the box office.  Given the dramatic move of Dune: Part Two this week, it seems worrying that no breakthrough is expected anytime soon.  The studios are shamelessly trying to shift blame to the striking talent, but the writers and actors don’t have the power to move movies off of their release dates; that’s entirely on the studios.  I don’t know if they are intentionally doing this as a ploy to weaken the union’s position in the eyes of the audience, or if they are that dependent on star power to sell a movie to audiences.  None of this is deterring the solidarity of the unions, and if anyone is hurt in the crossfire, it’s the movie theaters themselves.  They have had to fight tooth and nail to keep afloat through the pandemic era, and now they are once again in a panic by the effects of strike.  Unlike the pandemic which was a global crisis, the economic impacts of this stalemate in the strike negotiations is entirely a self-inflicted wound for Hollywood.  Had the studios just come forward with a fair deal that took into consideration the things that are important to all their creative workers, they wouldn’t be in the precarious position they are in now.  The unions are not asking for a whole lot (less than 1% of the studios yearly profits) and yet the studios’ greed has ended up costing them billions.  I hate to go off on a rant like this, but sadly we are seeing pettiness on the part of Hollywood executives spoiling what could have been a stellar year at the box office.  Hopefully the whole thing gets resolved soon so that we don’t see any more of our most anticipated movies get pushed further back.  Hopefully there are some good surprises that come out of the Fall festival circuit that helps to make the upcoming awards season interesting.  And with all this considered, let’s hope the Fall Movie season of 2023 makes us happy and eager to go back to the movies again.

The Movies of Summer 2023

The first third of the year is coming to an end with the hot summer months upon us in a weeks time.  So far, the late winter/early spring movie season has provided us with some answers about the state of the theatrical market so far in the year 2023.  Predictions about this year being one of booming recovery for the theatrical business has proven correct as ticket sales at the box office are booming.  They still haven’t reached the pre-pandemic heights of 2019, but they are very much on their way to getting back to where things should have been.  One of the most pleasing results has been many of the studios second guessing their exhibitions plans for their slate of movies, and films that were once slated for streaming, like New Line’s Evil Dead Rise (2023) that came out this month, or DC’s Blue Beetle (2023) releasing this summer, are now getting full blown theatrical roll outs instead.  Streaming studios like Amazon and Apple are even committing to theatrical releases now for the foreseeable future.  This is very good news for a market that only a couple years ago was on life support during the pandemic.  Certainly, streaming is not a dying market under these new circumstances, but when studios are seeing movies like The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023) grossing a billion dollars worldwide in less than a month, you can see why they are starting to believe there is money to be made once again on the big screen.  Sure, there are the movies that failed to live up to expectations this year too, like Marvel’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023) and DC’s Shazam: Fury of the Gods (2023), but the positive signs are out-numbering the negative ones, and the forecast looks good not just for a good Summer movie season, but a great one.

Like all the years past, I will be looking at the movies of the up-coming Summer movie season.  These include my picks for the Must Sees, the Movies that Have Me Worried, and the Movies to Skip.  My choices here are based on my own level of enthusiasm for the movies spotlighted here and are not a forecast for how I think these movies will perform in the months ahead.  My predictions have turned out to be wrong before, because movies often have a way of surprising us and that’s why I like discussing them here.  My choices on these previews basically stem from how well they are being marketed, as well as the general level of hype that has followed them through their journey towards their releases.  Keep in mind, there are a lot of movies coming out in the months ahead, and if I leave a bunch out, it’s because of the limited amount that I allow in this article, and not because the movie isn’t worth discussing.  So, with all that said, let’s take a look at the Movies of Summer 2023.

MUST SEES:

INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY (JUNE 30)

This will likely be the most discussed film of the Summer season.  Movies in the Indiana Jones franchise have been few and far between since their 1980’s heyday.  After a near 20 year absence, producer George Lucas and director Steven Spielberg brought Indy back to the big screen in 2008 with the fourth entry Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  Unfortunately, Crystal Skull was a divisive film that left the fanbase very disappointed, though the movie has it’s defenders (which I’m not ashamed to say I am one of).  Longtime fans of the series lamented the fact that their beloved franchise ended on such a sour note, and the fact that Dr. Jones’ actor Harrison Ford was getting into his senior years made the likelihood of another film to correct the situation was very slim.  However, with Disney taking over Lucasfilm in 2012, they also inherited the Indiana Jones brand with it, and they were not just going to sit on a property that valuable.  Plans were already drawn up for another film, but the question remained; would Harrison Ford want to play Indy one more time?  To the delight of everyone, he said yes.  When this movie comes out, Harrison will be 80 years old, which is a pretty old age to be taking on a challenging role like Indiana Jones.  But it appears that the movie is accounting for that.  This is a movie centered around an aging adventurer who, to his misfortune, is being sucked into another adventure.  One positive sign is that the reigns of this franchise have been given over to director James Mangold, who has before delivered a poignant swan song to a long time cinematic icon with the movie Logan (2017).  If anyone can deliver a beautiful capper to the Harrison Ford era of Indiana Jones that can please all audiences, it’s him.  And Ford, despite his age, does look like he’s back in fine form for this film.  The return of series mainstay John Rhys Davies as Sallah is another good sign, as well as new additions to the cast like Mads Mikkelsen and Phoebe Waller-Bridge.  Let’s hope the final adventure for Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones is the stuff of legend.

OPPENHEIMER (JULY 21)

There are few people who can drive audiences to the movie theaters solely on his name alone.  Christopher Nolan is one of those filmmakers, and this summer we are getting his latest big screen epic.  This is his first film since his departure from his previous home studio Warner Brothers after the public feud over the release of his last movie Tenet (2020) during the pandemic.  Universal quickly swooped in to get the rights to his next highly anticipated project, which is a movie that seems right up his alley.  It seems only natural that the filmmaker known for his big, IMAX screen sized spectacles would want to make a movie about the creation of the atomic bomb.  In particular, Nolan is interested in the man who made the atomic bomb, Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, here played by Cillian Murphy, Nolan’s most frequently spotlighted actor.  One of the most exciting things about this movie is that it finds Nolan working with a historical event again, which he did a remarkable job of recreating with his movie Dunkirk (2017).  He also has assembled an impressive cast for this film.  One of the best things that after standing out in so many scene-stealing supporting performances in other Nolan movies, Cillian Murphy is finally taking the lead part, and so far he looks to be making the most of the assignment.  He’s also got plenty star studded support for the likes of Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Emily Blunt, Florence Pugh, Gary Oldman, and so many more in this film.  But, the thing we will most likely be lining up for this movie for is in seeing the big IMAX screen moments that Christopher Nolan is famous for.  Supposedly, his team found a way to recreate an atomic blast solely through practical effects and without the aid of CGI.  That’s something I am dying to see how they pull it off.  The trailer is wisely leaving that explosive moment unseen for now, with teases towards what it might appear like.  For this one, you can bet that I am going to be watching it on the biggest screen possible; giving what can only be described as the closest thing to witnessing a real atomic explosion without the destruction that entails.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – DEAD RECKONING PART ONE (JULY 12)

It has been said that over the last year that Tom Cruise is the man who saved the movie theater industry.  Though you can’t say that he did it single handedly, as James Cameron also had a hand with his blockbuster Avatar: The Way of Water (2022), but there is no doubt that Cruise’s Top Gun: Maverick (2022) was an instrumental film in helping to bring audiences back to the cinemas in a big way.  The over a billion dollars made on that film alone was a huge boon for the Summer box office from last year, and remarkably, Cruise did it without what is considered his marquee franchise.  This year, however, we do get the next installment of Tom Cruise’s most prized franchsie, Mission: Impossible, and it does indeed look like he is continuing his track record of upping the ante with each new film.  Like Christopher Nolan, Tom Cruise is a stickler for capturing as much in the camera as he possibly can without having to rely on visual effects.  And in each of the Mission: Impossible movies, Cruise performs most of his own stunt work.  One thing that he tries to do in each movie is to have at least one stunt that has never been attempted before, and each one is more death-defying than the last.  He’s climbed the tallest building in the world, held onto the side of a plane as it takes off, and climbed under the body of a helicopter as it was hovering in mid air.  For this film, the standout stunt involves Cruise running a motor cycle off a cliff; a stunt so complex that Paramount Pictures released a theatrical teaser spotlighting the making of this stunt just on it’s own.  It’s a fair assessment to say that Tom Cruise has helped to save the movie going experience because every movie he makes now demands to be seen on the big screen; no exceptions.  While Top Gun: Maverick had it’s own impressive action sequences, I do think Cruise saves his best work for the Mission: Impossible franchise, and it will be interesting to see how big this new installment will be.  Considering that this is the first of a two part story arc, it would appear that this is a go for broke cinematic experience that Cruise is gearing us up for, and I certainly can’t wait.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3 (MAY 5)

Now let’s talk about the movie that is set to kick off the Summer movie season in a week’s time.  This highly anticipated movie almost didn’t happen, and it’s road to reality had to clear a few unexpected hurdles.  First off,  director James Gunn suddenly found himself fired from the project in it’s early days after right wing provocateurs tried to cancel him because of his left wing views with a revelation of decade old inappropriate jokes.  Marvel’s parent company Disney later realized their mistake and a few months later invited Gunn to come back to the project.  However, in that time James had already crossed over to rival DC Films, and had accepted the directorial reigns of their newest Suicide Squad film.  Still, Gunn did want to close the book on the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise that he shepherded to success his own way, so he did agree to return once his obligation to DC was complete.  However, things got delayed again because of the pandemic, and Gunn continued to develop more for DC as a result, including the acclaimed series Peacemaker.  Eventually, Warner Brothers and DC were so pleased with James Gunn’s work, that he is now being given the keys to the kingdom, masterminding the entire slate of projects coming up in the foreseeable future for DC.  So, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 will be something of a swan song for Gunn’s time at Marvel.  Thankfully, it looks like both Marvel and Gunn are making the most of it with a film that looks to close the book in an emotionally satisfying way.  It’s hard to tell if this is the end for any of these characters in the MCU, but it definitely looks like the end for this team, and hopefully the movie delivers on a satisfying conclusion to the journey that they have been on together.  I also hope that the movie still maintains that weird Gunn sensibility that helped to distinguish the movies from all the other Marvel films.  Avengers may be Marvel’s crown jewel, but Guardians has been a bright shining diamond right alongside it, and let’s hope the trilogy keeps that gem shining bright in it’s final chapter.

SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDERVERSE (JUNE 2)

When Sony Animation released their film Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse back in 2018, it was a breathe of fresh air for animation.  In an era dominated by the likes of Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks, and Illumination, Spiderverse was a massive game-changer because it was unlike any other animated movie we had seen before.  With this unique hybrid of 3D computer animation and a hand drawn, comic book aesthetic, Spiderverse was the most monumental shift in animation style that the industry had seen since Toy Story (1995) kick started computer animation.  Now, all the other studios are attempting to incorporate the Spiderverse style into their own films.  Most notably Dreamworks incorporated the style into their recent Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (2002), and it resulted in the struggling studio’s best film in over a decade.  It also looks like the same style is being utilized in other upcoming movies like Nickelodeons’ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem and Disney’s Wish.  But, amidst all that, it looks like Sony is continuing to build upon what they already accomplished with their first Spiderverse film.  The animation in Across the Spiderverse looks incredible and even more wild than what we saw in the first movie.  It also offers up an interesting continuation of Miles Morales’ story, as he finds himself in a whole world filled with other Spider-Men.  It’s great to see key mulitversal friends returning like Spider Gwen (Halie Steinfeld) and Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), and the introduction of an antagonistic Spider-Man 2099, Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac) is an exciting addition.  My hope is that this section of the Spider-Man cinematic universe continues to surprise much like it’s predecessor did, maintaining the same level of humor and drama that made that film so special.  It will also be interesting to see if there is any crossover that happens in this film with it’s MCU counterpart, given that they are also playing in the Multiverse as well.

MOVIES THAT HAVE ME WORRIED:

THE LITTLE MERMAID (MAY 26)

There are plenty of things that have me worried about this upcoming remake of Disney’s animated classic.  First, and most obviously, Disney has a pretty dismal track record with their live action remakes.  For every good one that they manage to make (Cinderella, Pete’s Dragon) they have a dozen more that are utter failures (Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Pinocchio).  It’s hard to tell which side The Little Mermaid will ultimately fall on, but the odds aren’t good.  Secondly, I worry about the backlash that may result from this film.  The movie already has created a firestorm because of the casting of an actress of color in the role of Ariel.  The racist comments that have surrounded the film online have been ugly thus far, and I worry that it will only get worse once the movie is out, especially if the movie ends up not being good like so many of Disney’s other remakes.  The last thing I want to see are racists and misogynists feeling emboldened because of a film staring a woman of color in a leading role failing to succeed at the box office.  So far, very little is giving me confidence that this film will break Disney’s losing streak with these remakes.  The most disturbing part are the realistic depictions of characters like Sebastian, Flounder, and Scuttle.  Didn’t Disney learn the lesson from The Lion King that photo realistic looking animals in their remakes don’t emote the same way that their cartoonish counterparts do, and it just ends up ruining the emotion of the story as a result.  The one thing that does give me hope is Halle Bailey in the role of Ariel.  It doesn’t matter what skin color she has; as long as she plays the part well, she can succeed in this role.  And from the trailer, she definitely has the perfect singing voice for the part.  Her powerful rendition of “Part of Your World” is prominently featured in the trailer, and boy does she sound fantastic.  Hopefully Disney can pull it off, but there are still a lot of factors working against them here.

THE FLASH (JUNE 16)

Normally, this movie would have been a definite must see.  Not only is it the first big screen film centered around one of the most famous comic book super heroes, the Flash, but it also features plenty of nostalgia driven treats that many genre fans have been eagerly awaiting for years for.  So, why is there a big cloud of uncertainty around this film.  The issue has to do with the star of the film, Ezra Miller.  In the years leading up to this film’s release, Miller has been caught up in numerous scandals that have not only caused them to lose their position as the Flash as well as involvement in the DC comics plans in the future, but they are also likely going to be facing future jail time for a crime spree that perhaps sullied their name in the business forever.  Through all that turmoil, it’s any wonder that this movie is getting released at all, especially in light of Warner Brothers pulling the plug on Batgirl which wasn’t plagued by scandal.  It’s perhaps because so much money was poured into this movie beforehand (to the tune of over $200 million) that DC couldn’t just make up for cancelling it without suffering a huge loss (even after tax breaks).  At the same time, insiders within the industry who have seen it, including new DC head honcho James Gunn, have been singing it’s praises.  In all likelihood, this movie may end up being one of the best superhero movies ever made, but in getting it out into theaters, it may also unfortunately enrich the profile of Ezra Miller, who by all accounts we’ve seen so far is a fairly rotten person.  One plus for this film is that it marks the return of Michael Keaton into the role of Batman, 30 years after he last wore the cape and cowl.  That alone might make the movie worth supporting.  In any case, here’s hoping all the insider hype is real and that the whole Ezra Miller situation won’t end up ruining the experience.

BARBIE (JULY 21)

One thing that can definitely be a mine field when it comes to the Summer movie season is the high concept comedies based on a popular brand.  Coming to theaters this year is a live action comedy centered around the Barbie doll.  It’s hard to tell so far if this is a concept that will have any legs (so to speak) as a blockbuster film.  The movie has a stacked cast behind it, with Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling leading the way as Barbie and Ken, and it even has enlisted acclaimed director Greta Gerwig to bring the concept to life.  The movie trailer gives off some Lego Movie vibes, which can be a good or bad thing.  The good thing is that we’ve seen something like this work before with Lego, where a movie managed to successfully take the toy brand and build a compelling story around.  The bad thing is that Barbie may not be a brand that is compatible with the kind of humor needed to make a movie like this work.  It’s colorful and seems to play around with the Barbie legacy to be sure, but can that be sustained through a full movie.  And my worry is that it might be too big of a swing for someone like Greta Gerwig to take.  She’s excelled so far with smart, female driven dramas like Lady Bird (2017) and Little Women (2019), but with Barbie, she may have sadly been saddled with an unfortunate commercial driven project that might stifle her creative sensibilities.  I hope I’m wrong, and that her sharp witted creative voice comes through in this movie and elevates it beyond just the concept itself.  It certainly looks like the cast is committed to the act, especially Gosling who looks like an affably dim Ken.  Here’s hoping that this one is lively fun time, and not a waste of creative talent in the pursuit of easy money based on name recognition.

HAUNTED MANSION (JULY 28)

One thing I’ll say about this one is that it can’t do any worse than the horrible Eddie Murphy headlined original form 2003.  For a while, the failed Haunted Mansion adaptation put a stop to Disney seeking to build other franchises around their most popular theme park attractions.  Released mere months after the surprisingly successful Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), The Haunted Mansion bombed horribly, and afterwards Disney just put their efforts on expanding the Pirates franchise, until that inevitably ran it’s course too.  But, it looks like they are once again beginning to dip their toes again in more theme park adaptations.  An adaptation of Jungle Cruise (2021) did reasonably well enough in a pandemic effected theatrical environment to give Disney confidence in the potential, and once again they looked at giving the Haunted Mansion a second chance.  Now, it’s not the first time they’ve attempted a re-start to this franchise.  For years, Guillermo Del Toro wanted to do his own adaptation as he has been a big fan of the ride since childhood, and it’s clear it has left an impression on his own Gothic cinematic style.  But, for whatever reason, that version stalled and instead the job went to director Justin Simien.  Simien considers himself a devoted fan of the ride too, and he was once a Disneyland cast member during his college years, so he’s not coming at this material from an outsider position.  The only question is, can he faithfully adapt the ride into a film.  The thing that gives me pause is the jokey nature of this trailer.  Haunted Mansion certainly doesn’t need to be a serious film, as the ride itself features it’s own fair share of gags sprinkled within the spooky atmosphere.  But, go too far with the comedy, and you end up with what the original 2003 version gave us, which was neither scary or funny.  That being said, the film does have a strong cast including Rosario Dawson, Owen Wilson, Lakeith Stanfield, Danny DeVito and newly crowned Oscar winner Jamie Lee Curtis as Madame Leota.  Here’s hoping it’s a swinging wake and not dead on arrival.

MOVIES TO SKIP:

TRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE BEASTS (JUNE 9)

One thing that I hate to see is a franchise fall back into bad habits after finally getting things on the right track.  The Transformers franchise, after a long time, managed to finally shake off Micheal Bay as it’s chief creative force.  Under his watch, which stretched across 5 films, the franchise just became an incoherent mess, with nothing but loud, destructive mayhem as it’s chief characteristic.  But, once Bay left the series behind, the franchise decided to go a different route with the spin-off prequel Bumblebee (2018).  And the result was the best Transformers movie ever.  It was great to finally see a character driven movie made within this franchise that actually put one of the Auto-Bot heroes front and center as opposed to the obnoxious human characters and give him a heartwarming story to humanize him.  The movie also went out of it’s way to make the character animation of the Transformers look much better than the did before, with the character models of Bumblebee and Optimus Prime actually looking more like their original animated versions from the 80’s.  Sadly though, Bumblebee didn’t perform well at the box office, being outshined that holiday season by DC’s Aquaman (2018), and it looks like the Transformers franchise is going back to the Michael Bay style with their newest film, sacrificing character development for action set-pieces.  I hope I’m wrong, and that the Bumblebee effect managed to influence the franchise for the better, but given what the trailer is selling, it looks more like they are recycling more of the old Bayhem tricks in order to reclaim what they think made the franchise in the first place.

FAST X (MAY 19)

Truth be told, I’ve never gotten into the Fast and the Furious franchise, and the few attempts that I’ve made to give the series a chance have always left me cold and indifferent.  I don’t see anything about this 10th installment that convinces me that things will be any different.  The problem for me is that the franchise just seems to be bloated now with a packed to the gills cast that’s been built up through the whole franchise.  Not only are they not thinning the herd, but they are even bringing back characters once thought to be dead.  And I seriously don’t care about any of it at all.  The one thing that could be entertaining for me with this film is the addition of Jason Momoa as the new villain, because he has enough charisma to make things fun and interesting.  But given that the cast is so big at this point, even including legendary actresses like Rita Moreno and Helen Mirren in the mix, I don’t see how any of them can stand out and still leave room for anything interesting to happen in the story.  My guess is that this film will absolutely pail in comparison to what we are likely going to see from the Indiana Jones and Mission: Impossible movies this Summer, which are both master classes in action filmmaking.  Over the course of ten films in a twenty year span, I have yet to be wowed by this franchise and I don’t see anything thus far in Fast X that will win me over.

RUBY GILLMAN: TEENAGE KRAKEN (JUNE 30)

When I first saw this trailer, I thought that it must be from one of those fledgling, up-and-coming studios that try to make a name for themselves with quirky animation and bizarre concepts.  I was shocked to learn that this was the next film up from one of animations’ vanguard brands, Dreamworks.  I know Dreamworks has been struggling as of late, having fallen way off from it’s Shrek fueled heydays.  But, just this last holiday season, they delivered their best film in a long while, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, which gave hope that the studio was finding it’s magic again.  It is hard to believe that a sequel to a spinoff to a franchise that has long become dormant would become a box office and critical hit like that, but The Last Wish showed strong legs at the box office and showed that Dreamworks could still deliver the goods.  Sadly, this looks like a step backward for them.  I imagine that this is based on a popular YA series, but it seems like a project that is ill suited for a studio like Dreamworks.  They should be putting their efforts into bolder animation like that found in The Last Wish, instead of chasing after the tween market.  Considering that this is coming out weeks after the far more interesting Pixar film Elemental (which just nearly missed my Must See list), I worry that it’s just going to undermine Dreamworks reputation even further in comparison right at the moment when they seem to be finding their way again.  Hopefully it may be a surprise, but it looks so generic from watching this trailer that I don’t see a positive outlook for this one.

So, there you haver my preview of the Summer 2023 season at the movies.  Given that I left off something as big as the new Pixar film off of my shortlist of Must Sees tells you that this is going to be a stacked Summer season.  I’m certainly hoping for a lot of good things with the movies that are coming out this Summer, like seeing Indiana Jones and the Guardians of the Galaxy getting the royal send-offs they deserve as franchises.  I hope that The Little Mermaid manages to break the bad habits of Disney remakes and hopefully avoids the toxic backlash that I fear is coming it’s way.  I hope that Tom Cruise yet again wows us with things we’ve never seen before, nor dare try ourselves, on the big screen.  And I hope the promise of Christopher Nolan’s visual representation of an atomic blast on an IMAX sized screen is just as monumental that I hope it will be.  There are also a lot of other movies that I hope get some positive attention on the big screen as well this year that are the big blockbuster draws.  One of those is the new Wes Anderson movie, Asteroid City.  Also, my hope is that the predictions for this year at the box office prove true and that we will see theater business return to the levels we witnessed prior to the pandemic.  The last two years have seen sporadic box office highs, but this year we will hopefully see success across the board, with every studio (majors and minors) getting strong returns on their investment.  It’s safe to say that this is one of the strongest line-ups of movies we’ve seen in a while, so it’s likely that movie theaters will have one for the record books once the Summer season is over.  If the robust business seen so far in this first term of 2023 is any indication, bolstered by the likes of Mario, Ant-Man and John Wick, the forecast should prove to be true.  The theatrical industry was battered by the pandemic, but like a Phoenix from the ashes, it is alive again and will hopefully live strong for a long time to come.

The 2023 Oscars – Picks and Thoughts

The time has come again.  With 2022 standing as a recovery year for the film industry after the subsiding of the Covid-19 pandemic, the same sort of return to normalcy is also happening with the biggest Awards show of the season.  The Oscars, after spending the last couple years in a later to early spring time slot, is now settling back into it’s late winter placement, creating a much tighter frame for Awards season to build momentum for any certain movie.  But, apart from scheduling, the make-up of these Oscars are also looking more like Awards seasons of the pre-pandemic past, and then some.  For the first time in a long while, the year’s top grossing movies are contending in the Best Picture race; those films this year being Top Gun: Maverick (2022) and Avatar: The Way of Water (2022).  Neither has a snowball’s chance in hell of winning, but still it’s a good sign that the Academy is beginning to recognize that it’s in their best interest to acknowledge that blockbuster films beloved by the masses are deserving of these honors too.  Apart from those two films, the overall race this year is a very interesting collection of different kinds of movies that typically are overlooked by the Academy; a good sign of different attitudes taking hold within the Academy ranks.  It will remain to be seen if the actual award winners reflect those changing attitudes, or if the Academy will still default towards their safe bet choices.  Like in years past, I will be taking a look at the top eight categories (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay, and Adapted Screenplay) and give you my thoughts as well as my pair of picks; those who I think will win, and those who I think should win.  Keep in mind, I’m an amateur when it comes to picking winners with a so-so track record, and my own biases certainly come into play, so don’t put any money on my choices here.  I will say that I make these picks having seen all the nominated movies, so I at least come to this with an informed mind.  With all that said, let’s take a look at the nominees for the 2023 Academy Awards.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Nominees: Edward Berger, Lesley Paterson and Ian Stokell, All Quiet on the Western Front; Rian Johnson, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery; Kazuo Ishiguro, Living; Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, Christopher McQuarrie, Peter Craig and Justin Marks, Top Gun: Maverick; Sarah Polley, Women Talking

Pretty easy to dismiss off the bat is Top Gun: Maverick.  Even the most die hard fans of the movie will admit that the blockbuster film’s best asset was not it’s screenplay.  And there is no doubt that it will be well represented in the technical awards categories.  Usually every year, one of the blockbuster movies sneaks into a screenplay competition, and this was the one for this year.  Rian John follows up his nomination for Knives Out (2019) with another nod here, and his satirical sleuth sequel is definitely the kind of smart and twisty script that the Academy loves.  Unfortunately, being the only nomination for that film probably hurts it’s chances here.  Novelist Ishiguro gets his first nomination for screenwriting here, but it’s for a movie that many acknowledge is not as strong as the Japanese original made by Akira Kurosawa.  What I think has the advantage in this race is Sarah Polley’s Women Talking.  It’s a screenplay where the dialogue is the driving force of the movie, as the whole film is essentially a prolonged debate between women deciding whether or not to leave their Mennonite colony after years of abuse.  The themes of the film will probably resonate strongly with Academy voters as well, given the political climate and the reckoning over the last few years with regards to the #MeToo movement.  Polley is certainly deserving of the honor, but my own favorite in this category is the one film nominated not in the English language.  The screenplay for All Quiet on the Western Front breathes new life into the nearly century old anti-war novel and really brings the harrowing horrors described on the page to terrifying life.  But what is special in the movie is the way it expertly humanizes it’s characters and makes every moment they share on the battlefield all the more agonizing.  On top of that, it expertly weaves in the ticking clock of signing the armistice treaty that ultimately ends WWI.  I’m sure that Sarah Polley will be the victor here, given her victory already at the WGA awards, but if All Quiet has a good night overall in the other categories, it could be a surprise spoiler here, and one that I would be happy to see win as this was indeed one of my favorites of the year.

Who Will Win: Sarah Polley, Women Talking

Who Should Win:  Edward Berger, Lesley Paterson and Ian Stokell, All Quiet on the Western Front

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Nominees: Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Everything Everywhere All at Once; Martin McDonagh, The Banshees of Inisherin; Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner, The Fablemans; Ruben Ostlund, Triangle of Sadness; Todd Field, Tar

One of the big narratives that has emerged out of this Oscar season is the dominance of Everything Everywhere All at Once.  The film that came out in theaters in March, around the same time as the Oscars last year, and stuck around in people’s minds long enough to lead all other Awards nominees, is not only not loosing steam going into Oscar weekend, but it also seems to be gaining momentum.  The film, if it keeps this up, could be one of the biggest winners at the Oscars in recent memory and this could indeed be one of their pick-ups in an overall successful night.  The Daniels (Kwan and Scheinert), as they are known in the industry, have already picked up the WGA award (a strong precursor), so they are likely to do the same at the Oscars barring any surprise upsets.  It’s overall a strong category, as each screenplay is for a film nominated for Best Picture.  My favorite film of the year, The Fablemans, is recognized here, but it’s a screenplay that may be too middle of the road for the Academy this year; though it is interesting that this is Spielberg’s first screenplay nomination in 45 years, the last being for Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).  A possible spoiler here could be Martin McDonagh’s pitch black comedy The Banshees of Inisherin, which I would certainly agree is one of the cleverest scripts of the year.  But, it’s also very bleak compared with the rest, which is why the Academy may overlook it.  However, my pick here would be the screenplay that took the longest to write.  Todd Field supposedly worked on the script for Tar over a 12 year period, refining it multiple times until it became the intricate character study that the final film became.  Of the nominees here, it’s the least showy script, playing much more with subtleties of character, but like his two other films In the Bedroom (2001) and Little Children (2006), the brilliance of Tar is in the unexpected and ruthless turns it takes.  So, if Everything Everywhere has a big night, expect it to win here, but Tar for me would make for the most satisfying of upsets.

Who Will Win:  Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Everything Everywhere All at Once

Who Should Win:  Todd Field, Tar

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Nominees: Barry Keoghan, The Banshees of Inisherin; Brendan Gleeson, The Banshees of Inisherin; Brian Tyree Henry, Causeway; Judd Hirsch, The Fablemans; Ke Huy Quan, Everything Everywhere All at Once

As we get into the acting categories, let’s get the most sure thing out of the way.  This one is Ke Huy Quan’s to lose.  All the way through Awards season, Quan has been the favorite for this award, not just for the great performance he gave in Everything Everywhere All at Once, but also because of the incredible narrative of his own real life comeback story.  He was a child actor in the 1980’s, best known for playing Short Round opposite Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), but he quit acting as a teenager because of the lack of good roles for Asian actors in Hollywood at the time.  After over 30 years out of the spotlight, working mostly behind the camera with stunt choreography, he was inspired to return to acting after having seen the hit film Crazy Rich Asians (2018), which was a movie that he believed showed him that there were better opportunities now for Asian actors in the business.  He miraculously landed a role immediately upon returning, and his return has been met with universal praise across the board.  Thus far, he has been a darling of the awards season, bringing people to tears with his heartfelt acceptance speeches, and there is little doubt that he’ll also be doing the same on the Oscar stage.  The Academy loves a comeback story, and his is one of the most inspiring in recent memory.  Are there any spoilers in this race.  The only ones I can think of might be the duo of actors nominated here from Banshees of Inisherin;  Barry Keoghan and Brendan Gleeson, who like Quan are first time nominees here.  They both give great performances, but they also don’t have the comeback story factor putting wind in their sails.  I for one will absolutely be happy to see Ke Huy Quan win, and not just because of my fandom for Temple of Doom.  His performance is clearly the standout in this category, and it will be a wonderful cap to an improbable comeback story that has defined his road to Oscar.

Who Will Win:  Ke Huy Quan, Everything Everywhere All at Once

Who Should Win:  Ke Huy Quan, Everything Everywhere All at Once

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Nominees:  Angela Bassett, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever; Hong Chau, The Whale; Jamie Lee Curtis, Everything Everywhere All at Once; Kerry Condon, The Banshees of Inisherin; Stephanie Hsu, Everything Everywhere All at Once

We go from the surest thing to the category that is probably the most open-ended.  The supporting actress race is interesting for a variety of reasons.  One, the nomination of Angela Bassett is historic because it’s the first acting nomination ever for a film from Marvel Studios; a big feather in the cap for the brand which has been trying hard and coming up short over the years in getting the Academy’s attention.  For a while, Bassett also looked like the favorite in this race, but fellow industry veteran Jamie Lee Curtis is coming on strong in the last couple of weeks, buoyed by her win at the SAG awards.  Both Angela Bassett and Jamie Lee Curtis have storied careers over many decades working in Hollywood, and a win for either would be a strong acknowledgement of their contributions to cinema over the years.  But, neither are a sure thing either, as there is the opportunity for an upset here as well.  Jamie Lee Curtis’ co-star Stephanie Hsu may not have the same stacked resume, but her performance in Everything Everywhere All at Once is the one that stands out a bit more in the film, and is far more layered and experimental than many of the other nominees here.  But my own personal choice would be Kerry Condon for her tragi-comic performance in The Banshees of Inisherin.  Here clear-minded character in that movie is a wonderful counterbalance to the understated lunacy of her male co-stars, and she especially excels at making her character feel fully human and lived in as part of the film.  It’s hard to say which way the category will go, but if Everything Everywhere All at Once has a huge night, it might lift the tide in Jamie Lee Curtis’ favor, given her career up to now, and she’ll be deserving too.  It’s honestly better to be an established movie star in this category this year than a fresh newcomer, and that’s something that could put either Bassett or Curtis on top in the end.

Who Will Win: Jamie Lee Curtis, Everything Everywhere All at Once

Who Should Win: Kerry Condon, The Banshees of Inisherin

BEST ACTOR

Nominees: Austin Butler, Elvis; Bill Nighy, Living; Brendan Fraser, The Whale; Colin Farrell, The Banshees of Inisherin; Paul Mescal; Aftersun

Interesting thing to note, everyone in this category is a first time nominee, which is surprising for some given that actors like Colin Farrell, Brendan Fraser and Bill Nighy have been around in the movies for decades.  As of right now, one of the fresher faces is carrying the momentum going into Oscar night.  Austin Butler is following in the footsteps of other past winners in this category who won for playing a famous figure in a biopic.  In this case, he is looking to be the odds on favorite for his transformative performance playing “the King” himself, Elvis Presley in the Baz Luhrmann directed film Elvis (2022).  Don’t get me wrong, he is amazing in the movie and clearly the highlight of that film by a wide margin.  But, like most awards given to actors for playing famous figures in entertainment, is the academy really rewarding the performance, or the transformation.  I honestly feel like Austin Butler will win her, but for all the wrong reasons.  The Academy are just suckers for performances that are imitations, and it sadly leads to more original performances that are more deserving getting overlooked in the process.  Case in point, I feel like the buzz around Butler’s Elvis transformation is going to take away from the absolutely groundbreaking work done by Brendan Fraser in The Whale (2022).  Fraser, like Ke Huy Quan in the supporting category, is having a triumphant comeback story unfolding this year, after returning from a long hiatus with a renewed sense of what he wants to be as an actor.  His performance in The Whale, completely disappearing into the persona of a dying 600 pound man, is one for the ages, and I would love it if it gone the due recognition from the Academy.  We’ll see if the Oscars can break out of it’s comfort zone and help give Fraser’s comeback story a powerful benchmark with an Oscar win, but we’ve also seen this scenario play out before, and it’s likely they’ll go with the safe pick of Austin Butler for his noteworthy but still standard performance as Elvis.

Who Will Win: Austin Butler, Elvis

Who Should Win: Brendan Fraser, The Whale

BEST ACTRESS

Nominees: Ana de Armas, Blonde; Andrea Riseborough, To Leslie; Cate Blanchett, Tar; Michelle Williams, The Fablemans; Michelle Yeoh, Everything Everywhere All at Once

This category certainly drew some controversy immediately after the nominations were announced.  Andrea Riseborough’s out-of-the-blue nomination took everyone by surprise, and the unlikelihood of her inclusion in this category even drew speculation of unlawful campaigning on her behalf that led to her nomination.  The probe turned up no wrongdoing, but unfortunately Ms. Riseborough’s nomination is unfairly tainted by the controversy that surrounds it; with even more controversy surrounding it because it came with the exclusion of Actresses of color in this category, including Viola Davis for The Woman King (2022) and Danielle Deadwyler for Till (2022).  But, Riseborough has little chance of winning here, as the category is pretty much a two woman race going into the final stretch.  Cate Blanchett came into Oscar season as an early front runner, with her virtuoso performance as the titular figure in Todd Field’s Tar.  Her character, Lydia Tar, is a fascinating figure all the way through the movie and it’s an utterly original kind of performance from the legendary performer; fearlessly taking on a character that in many ways is hard to like as she sinks deeper into self-destruction throughout the movie.  But, in recent weeks the groundswell of support for Everything Everywhere All at Once has also lifted up it’s star Michelle Yeoh to being a potential spoiler in this race.  If Yeoh wins, it would be historic as she would be the first Asian actress to ever win the Oscar for a Leading Role, and that would be a landmark too good for the Academy to pass up.  Still, Blanchett is an icon in Hollywood, and many consider her performance in Tar to be her best yet.  She may still yet be the victor, but I would love to see history made with Michelle Yeoh this year.  I’ve loved her work since seeing her in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), and all the way through Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) and many other great performances.  We’ll see how mighty Everything Everywhere All at Once’s dominance is at the Oscars.  Despite having liked the movie Tar more, I still would love to see Michelle Yeoh win the Oscar here, just because her performance is the more dynamic of the two, and I also like seeing history made at the Oscars.

Who Will Win:  Cate Blanchett, Tar

Who Should Win:  Michelle Yeoh, Everything Everywhere All at Once

BEST DIRECTOR

Nominees: Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Everything Everywhere All at Once; Martin McDonagh, The Banshees of Inisherin; Ruben Ostlund, Triangle of Sadness; Steven Spielberg, The Fablemans; Todd Field, Tar

One would expect the Daniels to be triumphant here given that they have picked up the lions share of past Awards this season, including the indicative DGA award.  That’s quite the feat for a team that is only on their second feature film (the first being Swiss Army Man).  It’s also not unusual for the award to be shared by two individuals; it’s happened twice before in 1961 with West Side Story (Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins) and 2007 with No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen).  If Everything Everywhere All at Once has a monster of a night, this will be an easy one to call.  Is it the one that I choose.  I do love what the Daniels have done and their win would be a great boost for filmmakers that work outside of the studio system with visions that cannot be so easily pigeon-holed within this industry.  But, given my own bias here, my own favorite runs contradictory to that idea as he is the most insider-y of Hollywood insiders; Steven Spielberg.  The Fablemans was my favorite movie of the year and Spielberg’s direction was the work that impressed me the most of any movie this last year.  It is amazing how well Spielberg’s style works so well in even telling the personal story of his own life.  All of Spielberg’s trademarks are there in the movie, and it takes on a whole different level knowing that the film is a self-portrait.  Another worthy alternative in this category is Todd Field, whose subtle work on Tar shows that he hasn’t lost any of his directorial talent in the 16 years he was absent behind the camera.  So, I do expect the Daniels to win here, but I also would love to see my favorite movie win something at this Oscars, and I feel Spielberg is the best shot it has in the ceremony as a whole, and I would indeed love to see a possible upset here, but it’s highly unlikely, and it’s not like Spielberg hasn’t won here before.

Who Will Win:  Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Everything Everywhere All at Once

Who Should Win:  Steven Spielberg, The Fablemans

BEST PICTURE

Nominees:  All Quiet on the Western Front; Avatar: The Way of Water; Elvis; Everything Everywhere All at Once; The Banshees of Inisherin; The Fablemans; Top Gun: Maverick; Triangle of Sadness; Tar; Women Talking

Some interesting developments this year in the Best Picture race.  Not only are the two highest grossing movies of the year represented, but this also shows a shift from trends in recent years that favored movies from streaming platforms.  Only one movie on this list (All Quiet of the Western Front) was made by a streaming producer; Netflix in this case.  All the others were made for theatrical distribution.  During the pandemic years, up to half of the nominees had been streaming exclusives, which shows just how much the dynamic has changed in favor of the theatrical model.  I personally think this is a strong field, mainly because 5 of the 10 nominees made it onto my list this year.  Of all of these, I of course would like to see my favorite movie of the year, The Fablemans, take home the top honor, though I do recognize that this is now a long shot prospect.  Everything Everywhere All at Once has had the strongest legs I’ve seen in the Oscar race in very long time.  Typically, the movie that earns the most nominations at the beginning of the race loses momentum by the time that the awards are given out, but that doesn’t seem to be happening with Everywhere, as it is sweeping up the precursor awards left and right.  A full guild award sweep is always a strong indicator that the same film will win Best Picture here, but stranger things have happened before to “sure things” in the past (La La Land for example).  We’ll have to see how much the Academy’s ranked choice voting system plays a factor, and if some of the older Academy voters are able to wrap their heads around the weirdness of Everything Everywhere.  I do expect that Everything Everywhere All at Once has enough goodwill behind it to get past the goal line, and the question will not be so much if it can will, but how big of a win will it have throughout the ceremony.  More traditional Oscar films like Fablemans or Tar, or even Elvis could play spoiler, but safe money is on Everything winning the night overall.

What Will Win:  Everything Everywhere All at Once

What Should Win:  The Fablemans

And now to quickly run down all the other categories with my picks for what and who I think will win:

Best Cinematography: All Quiet on the Western FrontBest Film Editing: Everything Everywhere All at OnceBest Production Design: ElvisBest Costume Design: Elvis; Best Sound: Top Gun: MaverickBest Make-up and Hairstyling: The WhaleBest Original Score: Everything Everywhere All at Once; Best Original Song: “Naatu Naatu” from RRR; Best Visual Effects: Avatar: The Way of WaterBest Documentary Feature: Navalny; Best Documentary Short: Stranger at the GateBest Animated Feature: Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio; Best Animated Short: The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse; Best Live Action Short: Le Pupille; Best International Feature: All Quiet on the Western Front

So there you have my picks for the 2023 Oscars.  In the Best Picture race, I can definitely say that I had a positive reaction to each of the nominees, with 5 in particular making my Top 10 for the year.  Those 5 will certainly be the ones that I’ll root for at this year’s ceremony.  One thing to look out for is if Everything Everywhere All at Once is picking up a lot of Awards early in some of the down ballot categories.  This will give an indication of how much momentum it took into the final stretch of the voting, and if it looks as good as it has in the last couple of weeks, we might see the biggest Awards winner in this ceremony in a long time.  It won’t be Titanic (1997) or The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) big, but given how light Best Picture winners have been lately (like last year’s CODA with just three wins) a night with a movie winning as many as 5-6 or more would be great to see.  Since it’s March release last year, Everything Everywhere All at Once has been the talk of Hollywood ever since, and it would be natural if it swept all the way to the top of the pack at this years Oscars, considering how much it stuck with so many people.  For the most part, I hope this is a year where the Academy Awards gains a bit of it’s respectability back.  The last couple years have been defined by missteps and controversy.  Sadly the only thing that people remember about the last Oscars was the slap that Will Smith gave presenter Christ Rock on stage; a disgusting act that sadly overshadowed the show overall.  It should be a ceremony that looks more like Award shows of the past, with Covid protocols no longer needed to keep people in the Dolby Theater spaced apart.  One thing I’m definitely looking forward to is how RRR‘s (2022) show-stopping dance number “Natuu Natuu” gets translated onto the Oscar stage.  If it’s even remotely like what we saw in the movie, we are in for a good show come Sunday.  Here’s hoping for a good Oscar ceremony that sees deserving and even historical wins, as well as a general positive improvement in the audience interest in the awards overall.  And of course, let’s look forward to seeing what may show up at the Oscars a year from now after all the movie premieres lined up in the months ahead.

The Movies of Early 2023

The year that was 2022 has come to a close, and once again we have seen another year where the movie industry has been thrown upside down in ways that many people would not have expected at the beginning of the year.  Though still off from pre-pandemic levels, 2022 saw a strong return of business to movie theaters, buoyed by the holiday 2021 hold-over of Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) in early January, the mid-Spring successes of DC’s The Batman (2022), Uncharted (2022) and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022), and of course the summertime phenomenon that was Top Gun: Maverick (2022), ultimately closing out strong with James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water (2022).  At the same time, the streaming market for the first time showed some cracks in their near flawless sheen for the first time, with Netflix seeing it’s first ever subscriber contraction, which led to a general slow down across the board in the blue sky outlook of the whole streaming craze.  While the beginning of the year promised big things for the streaming giants, the end of the year finds many of them starting to tighten their belts and re-thinking their futures.  In addition, two of the biggest movie studios went through tumultuous upheavals that could also cast a cloud over the next year.  Disney resorted to the drastic firing of their CEO after a disastrous quarterly misstep in their economic performance, and Warner Brothers completed their merger with Discovery Media by cancelling multiple projects across their media empire, including a few in the can films like Batgirl.  Certainly, Hollywood is a much different place now than it was a year ago, with a lot of uncertainty going into the next year.  One of the things that no doubt is going to need to be figured out in 2023 is how the studios will be able to balance their output in both theaters and on streaming, and where they’ll be able to get their money’s worth out of the performance from both with their catalogue of titles.

Before I continue to look back on the year that was 2022 (please wait one more week before I publish my Top 10) it’s time to check out what’s coming up in the early part of 2023.  Like my other movie previews, I will be taking a look at the Must Sees, the movies that have me worried, and the Movies to Skip.  I am by no means the best handicapper (I underestimated Top Gun: Maverick last year) so take my assessments with a grain of salt.  My thoughts are generally on how anticipated these movies are based on the early hype and the effectiveness of the marketing, when it comes to my own tastes anyway.  There could be a lot of surprises in store, so I am looking forward to seeing how this all plays out.  So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the Movies of Early 2023.

MUST SEES:

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA (FEBRUARY 17)

The Ant-Man franchise has up to this point been the runt of the litter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  While the movies are good, the franchise has been largely been mildly received by audiences and has been only successful enough to justify it’s existence, with Ant-Man’s more important adventures taking place in the Avengers movies.  By comparison, the Ant-Man franchise is low stakes and more geared towards laughs.  But, that looks to change with this third film in the franchise.  The stakes are much higher as Ant-Man, the Wasp, and their family end up stuck in the Quantum Realm, a mini-universe existing underneath our own.  The Quantum Realm has been involved in past films in the MCU, mainly in the Ant-Man films and playing a crucial part in the plot of Avengers: Endgame (2019), but here in Quantumania, we are getting the chance to fully explore it for the first time.  This film launches off what Marvel is calling their Phase 5, and it’s kind of surprising that they would give such an Avengers level event to a character like Ant-Man, who for the most part has been one of Marvel’s more affable characters.  But, at the same time, it seems appropriate because the Ant-Man movies thus far have been leading it’s hero to a moment like this, as playing around in the Quantum Realm no doubt has it’s consequences.  It will be interesting to see how Paul Rudd plays his character in this new tone for his story.  The visual representation of the Quantum Realm also looks stunning as well, with epic scope that we certainly have not seen in any Ant-Man movie thus far.  But what is going to be most significant about this movie is that it will introduce us to the next big bad of the whole MCU; the successor to Thanos as you will.  That character is the multi-dimensional tyrant Kang the Conqueror, played with menacing energy by rising star Jonathan Majors.  Majors has already played a variant of Kang in the Loki Disney+ series named “He Who Remains,” but this will be his full debut as the full blown iconic comic book villain, and it will be exciting to see what he does with the part.  Big things are in Marvel’s future, and it’s certainly exciting to see them help elevate their Ant-Man side of the universe in the process.

CREED III (MARCH 3)

Speaking of upcoming movies with Jonathan Majors in it, we get the third installment of this franchise spin-off of the Rocky series.  While the original Creed’s director Ryan Coogler has been busy building the majestic world of Wakanda over at Marvel, the Creed franchise has surprisingly remained strong on it’s own.  The sequel Creed II (2018) managed to avoid the sophomore slump and held it’s own both critically and at the box office.  Now, we get the third installment, with the film’s star Michael B. Jordan for the first time pulling double duty behind and in front of the camera.  In his feature directorial debut, it seems fitting that he would take on this role in the franchise as his predecessor Sylvester Stallone also directed a couple films in the franchise, on top of writing the screenplay for the original Rocky (1976).  Jordan has been a steadfast believer in this franchise since day one, so I definitely believe that the franchise is in good hands with him at the helm.  And one of the best story choices that him and his team seemed to make is crafting a new adversary who has a past history with Adonis Creed; a one time surrogate brother who’s shady past has built up years of resentment.  All of this will no doubt lead to a volatile show down in the ring, which is where the Rocky and Creed movies have always excelled at leading up to.  Jonathan Majors is a perfect choice to play this role, being a perfect match for Michael B. Jordan both physically and as a performer.  Quantumania will no doubt showcase Major’s acting chops, but Creed III will show both his accomplished acting as well as his incredible physicality.  One thing this trailer doesn’t show us however is what has happened to Rocky Balboa.  I know it’s not his franchise anymore, but you do hope that the movie does give a shout out to the Italian Stallion.  Stallone certainly is still around and can still pop in for a cameo.  We’ll see what the movie has in store for us, and I hope the Rocky question will have a satisfying answer.  But, there is no doubt that Michael B. Jordan and Jonathan Majors will be giving us one hell of a show once the gloves are on and the bell has rung.

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4 (MARCH 24)

Thus far one of the most exciting series of action films to have come out of the last decade has been the John Wick series.  And surprisingly, even 3 films in, the franchise has yet to run out of steam.  That’s pretty impressive for a franchise that is mostly just stunt work and gun fight choreography.  What this series has managed to do so well thus far is build upon it’s world with each installment; constantly raising the stakes while at the same time doing some incredible world-building around it.  It’s been fascinating to see more layers being added to this underground society of assassins and hit men, all with their own codes, network of bureaucracy, and even currency.  And at it’s center, a fascinating figure in John Wick (played by a career best Keanu Reeves).  Now, we continue the adventures of Mr. Wick, the man you call to kill the boogeyman, who has vendetta to settle with the High Table itself that betrayed him.  For the most part, the plot itself doesn’t matter, and that’s what’s refreshing about this series.  It’s just an excuse to set up the next mind-blowing fight scenes that honestly are works of art from the standpoint of stunt coordination.  The fact that Keanu Reeves is still putting himself physically into these kinds of on screen fights as an actor pushing 60 is really impressive, and it gives Tom Cruise some competition.  But, a hero is only as good as the opponent he faces, and in this one, martial arts movie legend Donnie Yen has joined the already stacked cast.  It will be fun to see what the John Wick team does with his talents as an on screen stunt performer.  Returning cast members Ian McShane and Laurence Fishburne are also pleasing to see here.  But of course, it all comes down to Keanu Reeves and what he is able to bring to the table.  Can Keanu continue to keep up the pace of the series up with yet another adventure with John WickAs long as he keeps making these movies fun, there is little doubt that this will be a rollicking good time.

SHAZAM: FURY OF THE GODS (MARCH 17)

Alas, this looks likely to be a relic of a Cinematic Universe that no longer exists over at DC.  As the comic book giant re-assesses it’s cinematic future amid the shake-up at Warner Brothers, with Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn now taking creative control of the DC universe plans, what was once known as the Zach Snyderverse era of the DCEU is now dead.  2023 will see the last remnants of that cinematic universe roll out into theaters, including the very troubled Flash movie in the summer and an Aquaman sequel in the Fall.  But first up, we get this sequel to what was honestly one of the bright spots of the dour Snyderverse years at DC.  When Shazam (2019) first came out 3 years ago, it managed to strike that right balance between big action spectacle and charming goofy comic book wonder that DC had honestly struggled to find in most of their DCEU movies.  It was honestly the kind of movie that DC comic book movies should have been over the last decade and sadly was too little too late to salvage what ultimately was an unsalvageable mess.  Thankfully, the movie did well enough to warrant a sequel, with much of the original team still in tact.  Zachary Levi and Asher Angel both return as the young man Billy Batson and his super-powered form.  It also looks like the original film’s refreshing sense of humor is translating over, as well as it’s earnestness.  While so many of the Snyderverse DC movies were serious to fault, Shazam was the one film that seemed to understand that it was a comic book movie first and foremost and it fully embraced the silly side of comics that all that entails.  It will be interesting to see how the movie works in the new foes played by Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu, and how the movies is able to build off the last Shazam storyline.  As long as it doesn’t lose sight of what made the first film work in the first place  this will hopefully close out this chapter of the character Shazam on the big screen in a good way.

COCAINE BEAR (FEBRUARY 24)

This could either be one of the dumbest ideas for a movie, or one of the greatest.  Based on an actual recorded incident, the movie’s title pretty much tells us what we’re in for here.  It’s a wild bear that accidently consumes a bunch of cocaine.  And this movie basically speculates on what kind of chaos would ensue as a result.  For the most part, the trailer gives us a pretty good idea of the tone that the filmmakers are seeking with this scenario; pretty much using the premise for violent and gory slapstick comedy.  The film does boast a pretty interesting cast, many not really known for broad comedy.  This includes the late Ray Liotta, in what is likely his last film role, shot before his untimely death earlier this year.  As long as the movie understands that it can’t be taken seriously under any means, and just sticks with the absurdist tone, it might actually work.  There is a danger of them straining one joke over an entire movie and robbing it of it’s effectiveness.  What I think may be key to getting this movie right is the way that the human characters are portrayed.  If they seem to remain broad, cartoonish caricatures like they seem to be in the trailer, it could make the movie as a whole a lot funnier.  It’s all about who’s falling victim to this cocaine crazed bear and how silly their bloody deaths may end up being.  The talent involved could be the key to that, as there are some quality comedic performers here, including the grossly underrated character actor Isaiah Whitlock Jr., with his pitch perfect line reading, “Man, you f$%#ed.”  Hopefully, Cocaine Bear makes good on the promise of it’s premise and delivers something that we rarely see on the big screen these days; a good laugh out loud comedy.

MOVIES THAT HAVE ME WORRIED:

THE SUPER MARIO BROS. MOVIE (APRIL 7)

This movie in particular has one major aspect to worry about.  On the surface, there looks to be a lot going right for this movie.  Adapting the legendary video game series is a daunting task, but the movie looks visually dazzling with characters on model and the attention to detail at a very impressive level.  So, why are people worried about this movie.  Because thus far, people are concerned that the role of the titular plumber himself may have been miscast.  Chris Pratt is no stranger to doing voices in animated films, including his charming roles in The Lego Movie (2014) and Pixar’s Onward (2020).  But, his voice just seems like an obvious mismatch for the role of Mario.  Mario has for many years been voiced in the video games by vocal artist Charles Martinet, who gave Mario a high pitched, Italian accented voice that is very distinctive.  In this case, it looks like Illumination Animation and Nintendo are chasing after a bigger name for the role instead of finding the right voice for the character.  To be fair, the rest of the cast is filled with name actors, but for some of those, like Charlie Day playing Luigi and Jack Black playing Bowser, there seems to have been more effort into getting the voices to match the character they are playing.  For Chris Pratt as Mario, there seems to be far less effort.  Mario just sounds like every other character that Chris has played in movies.  His voice can work in animated films, but the characters he has played have often been better geared towards his strengths.  Hopefully the samples of his performance that we have heard so far are not indicative of the whole movie.  The film does look like it is doing justice to the distinctive visuals of the iconic Nintendo franchise.  Let’s just hope that they have done right by their marquee character as well.

DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS: HONOR AMONG THIEVES (MARCH 31)

Attempting to launch a new franchise is always tricky, especially in what seems to be a dying genre on the big screen like the Fantasy epic.  The days when the likes of The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter ruled the cinemas are long over, so it’s odd that one the most notable titles in nerd all of nerd culture is attempting to step in now to begin it’s own big screen franchise.  Dungeons and Dragons of course is a decades old table top role playing fantasy game that continues to be popular with nerds everywhere, but has yet to cross over into mainstream popularity.  A failed attempt to start-up a cinematic franchise was made in 2001, just a week after The Lord of the Rings launched into cinemas, with a laughably bad movie adaptation starring Jeremy Irons and Marlon Wayans.  You would think that would deter any other attempts, but it looks like Paramount Pictures is going to make a go at it.  One thing that does work in the movie’s favor is it’s atypical cast.  The film includes actors as varied as Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Rege-Jean Page, and Hugh Grant.  Chris Pine can certainly carry a big action epic with a lot of charm as he demonstrated in the Star Trek series.  In general, it seems like the movie is going for a bit of a Guardians of the Galaxy in a fantasy realm feel, which can be a good thing if done right.  I haven’t played D&D myself, so I’m not all that familiar with the lore of the world in the game and cannot attest to the accuracy in which it’s being portrayed in this film.  My hope is that the characters and the sense of fun that we potential for in this trailer carries through into the final film, and at the same time, hopefully it manages to translate the game without disgracing the fanbase that holds the game very dear.  It’s a treacherous world for making a new kind of fantasy epic, so let’s hope this film is up to the quest.

KNOCK AT THE CABIN (FEBRUARY 3)

It’s always a flip of the coin when it comes to the movies of M. Night Shayamalan.  The director who very much likes his puzzle box, Twilight Zone style thrillers, either makes some great films like The Sixth Sense (1999), Unbreakable (2000) and Split (2016), or he makes some truly terrible movies like The Village (2004), The Happening (2008) or After Earth (2013).  Despite a lot of hatred leveled his way, he has still managed to press on and continue to make movies his way with his own voice, for good and bad.  It’s hard to know which way his next film, Knock at the Cabin will fall.  There is some promise in the premise, but the execution could end up making the film fall short.  Shayamalan tends to overwrite his movies, or make the line readings of his actors feel strange and off.  One of the that is promising in this movie is the presence of Dave Bautista.  Bautista has been one of the most surprisingly versatile actors in recent years, capable of comedic performances in movies like Guardians of the Galaxy and the recent Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022), as well as dramatic turns in movies like Blade Runner 2047 (2017) and Dune (2021).  Psychological thrillers is something we have yet to see him wrap his muscular arms around until now, so it will be interesting to see how well he works under the direction of Shayamalan.  He certainly brings the right intensity that could work for the role.  Shayamalan is working with a wide range of themes here; religious zealotry, same sex relationships, apocalyptic signs, etc.  All of it may again be beyond his grasps as a director, but it will be interesting to see him try to make the experiment work.  Shayamalan can often frustrate his viewers, but when he does finally manage to make one of his films work, it can be quite the big screen journey.  Let’s hope that it’s one of those kinds of Shayamalan movies.

M3GAN (JANUARY 6)

The first official movie week of 2023 starts off with a movie that is either going to hit it big with audiences, or is going to flounder in it’s own absurdity.  M3gan’s biggest charge against it is that it’s not terribly original.  We are basically just looking at a Child’s Play  for the digital age.  The trailer pretty much leads us towards expecting things to go exactly like they did when it was Chucky the doll causing mayhem.  To the movie’s credit, the doll faced M3gan is an effectively creepy design.  It’s movements, which are more human like as the movie goes on do have a creepy factor too.  But, the movie has a lot more to prove beyond that, which unfortunately from the trailer looks like your standard slasher fare.  Coming off what was actually a banner year for horror movies, with films like X, Pearl, Barbarian, and Smile all earning both critical praise and healthy box office, M3gan needs to show it’s more than just another creepy doll movie and put 2023 on a good start when it comes to the kind of horror movies that can bring back audiences in droves.  Chucky is one of the most famous horror movie icons, so it’s going to be tough to make this new character stick out against his legacy on the big screen.  It can be done, but given that this is a January release, a notorious dumping ground for movies that studios want to bury, the odds are that this movie is likely not going to be the next great horror classic.  But, it could also be a surprise as well, so we’ll just have to find out next week what side of the coin M3gan ends up landing on.

MOVIES TO SKIP:

PLANE (JANUARY 13)

Oh Gerard Butler, why do you make it so easy to lower our expectations.  Butler for a while now has contented himself to being in low budget action flicks with increasing absurdity to their plots.  There have been some bright spots on his resume like Greenland (2020) and Copshop (2021), but for the most part he has been in tough guy action mode since starring in Olympus Has Fallen (2013) nearly a decade ago.  This new film finds him playing an airline pilot who gets caught up in a kidnapping plot with Filipino guerilla war lords, and he must team up with a convicted convict that his plane assigned to transport in order to survive and save the other passengers.  Combine this with one of the most laughably generic titles, and you get what will likely be the year’s most absurd action film, and not in a good way.  Butler continues to phone in these kinds of performances, which is too bad because the good movies that I gave examples of before show that he can still be a good actor when he wants to commit.  But, movies like this are more of what he seems more comfortable acting in, and it’s a a career trajectory that I don’t think does him any favors.  There’s a chance this could be one of those so bad it’s good kinds of movies, but chances are it’s exactly the kind of bad we’d expect from Gerard Butler.

80 FOR BRADY (JANUARY 6)

It’s sad when you see some of the greatest actresses to have graced the silver screen reach their paycheck collecting phase during their twilight years.  That’s the case with this screwball comedy that seems especially late to the party, as it’s glorifying quarterback Tom Brady when he was still in a New England Patriots uniform; something that is already outdated by a couple years.  Not only that but the title is wrong for these particular actresses.  Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are indeed in their eighties, at 85 and 83 respectively, but Sally Field is still under the bar at the age of 76 and Rita Moreno is remarkably still acting at a spry 91.  I love all of these actresses based on their years of great performances, with 3 out of the 4 being Oscar-winners, but man is this kind of movie well beneath their talents.  The sight of a blonde, botoxxed Jane Fonda is also very unsettling to see as well.  This is clearly a movie aimed at the over 60 crowd and no one else (maybe a few die hard Brady fans).  Otherwise, this is a wayward hard pass that goes completely out of bounds for me.

SCREAM VI (MARCH 10)

As if this franchise hasn’t already wrung out it’s last bit of mojo left, now we get the 6th film in the franchise.  The reason this movie is likely going to flounder is because it’s the first without series mainstay Neve Campbell.  Every movie up to now has centered around the character of Sidney Prescott, including the last one which was released only just last year.  That’s a pretty quick turnaround for the franchise, and I doubt this series has the kind of creative juices to take this premise out for yet another spin.  The truth is, the franchise ran out of surprises after the second film, to where even series creator Wes Craven could no longer maintain the suspense factor anymore.  It’s just the same thing over and over again; people killed by a knife wielding murderer in a ghost-face costume, while the survivors offer up some meta commentary about horror movie tropes while they happen to them.  We all know the formula by now, and the filmmakers just seem content to rehash them again.  Without Neve Campbell’s central presence, does this series have anything left to distinguish itself with.  My guess is not.

So there you have my thoughts on the upcoming movies of the first four months of the year.  Unlike last year, which was seeing some of the lingering effects of the pandemic years affecting the number of movies available for release, this year looks to be a far more robust one at the cinemas.  March in particular looks like the Spring Break seasons of old, with big studio titles coming out every week that month.  Not only that, but there’s a Marvel movie in February, which should definitely give late Winter box office a needed boost.  But, it’s the Summer season that looks even more jam packed.  I’ll cover it more once the Summer season gets closer, but we should expect big things from the returns of franchises like Guardians of the Galaxy and Mission Impossible, as well as the next big epic from Christopher Nolan, and Harrison Ford’s one last adventure as Indiana Jones.  For these Spring months, we’ll get a good sense of how the rest of 2023 will play out.  One thing that seems to be certain is that movie theaters will see it’s best post-pandemic year yet, just based on the quantity of movies that are coming to theaters in the next year.  Hopefully this helps to increase business to a point where it convinces the studios that the movie going experience is alive and well and the best possible place to see a return on their investment on their big tent-pole movies.  With the streaming platforms in a bit of a flux, this is certainly the time for the cinematic experience to re-affirm itself.  Let’s hope for a lot of good things to happen in 2023, both on the big screen and in the real world itself.  I hope this preview gives you all a good idea of what’s ahead, and may all of you have a lot of fun watching movies in the next year.

The Movies of Fall 2022

In the summer of 2022, we saw what a tentpole movie season could look like in the aftermath of a pandemic.  The result was positive, but still a mixed bag in many places.  For one, we saw healthy box office across all the months of this Summer thanks to some high profile releases, as well as from some unexpected indie hits.  One thing I’m sure no one expected was the gravity defying success of the movie Top Gun: Maverick (2022), which easily became the biggest success of Tom Cruise’s lengthy career as well as the undisputed champion of this summer.  One of the holdovers from the pandemic, the movie finally released two years after it’s initial planned release date, performed well from the start, and then just stuck around after many others faded over the Summer.  Even right now, there are still showings of Top Gun: Maverick available all over my local market, and it’s the last full week of the Summer.  Apart from Top Gun, which now stands as one of the highest grossing movies of all time domestically, Marvel continued it’s win streak with solid returns on Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) and Thor: Love and Thunder (2022).  Baz Luhrmman flexed his cinematic muscles with his Elvis (2022) biopic, carrying it to a solid $145 million gross.  And other franchises like Jurassic World and Minions continued to show solid strength even in a pandemic effected market.  But, there are still signs of worry for theaters.  While the big blockbusters performed well, there was a severe lack of diversity in the amount of movies available to see in the theater.  Animated movies like Pixar’s Lightyear (2022) and DC’s League of Super Pets struggled against heavy competition, and once reliable genres like horror and comedy were almost non-existent.  And with uncertainty about the economy and inter-studio shake-ups like the one that’s going on at Warner Brothers right now, with dates being pushed back again, you can see how movie theaters know that they aren’t out of the woods yet, even with a re-bounding summer season.

Now we come to the Fall movie season, which presents to us a whole different kind of crop.  The kind that is put up for end of the year awards.  We’ll still get our usual big budget blockbusters coming out around the holidays, including stuff from Marvel and DC, as well as highly anticipated sequels, like the long awaited return of director James Cameron to the world of Avatar.  But what usually ends up defining the months ahead are the movies that we don’t know that much about yet; the ones coming out of the film festival circuit.  Sundance and Cannes have already seen some of their honorees make it to the local film markets, but in the next month we also have the Venice and Toronto International Film Festivals about to commence, both major bellwethers for what may become the Awards season favorites.  Overall, there is indeed a lot to look forward to in the next few months.  Like my previews in the past, I will be looking at the movies that I believe are going to be the must sees, the ones that have me worried, and the ones that I say are worth skipping.  Keep in mind, I have been off in the past, so my bets are not ones that should be banked on.  These are first impression takes, ones that I have going into the months ahead based on my feelings with regards to how well the movies are selling themselves to me.  My opinions on these movies could change and often have.  But for now, let’s dive in and take a look at the Movies of Fall 2022.

MUST SEES:

BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER (NOVEMBER 11)

There are quite a few movies to be excited for this Fall season, but I don’t think there will be as many eyes on them as this one.  The follow-up to the groundbreaking Marvel super hero film Black Panther (2018) has had to contend with a lot of problems over the last couple years.  Chief among them is the tragic and devastating loss of actor Chadwick Boseman, the Black Panther himself, from his tough and private battle with cancer.  His death sparked an outpouring of grief and support from fans across the spectrum of the comic book fandom across the world.  Though Marvel was left with a difficult circumstance, they nevertheless chose to honor their fallen hero Chadwick and decided against re-casting the part.  Though it’s understandable, it does raise a big question; how do you make a Black Panther sequel without Black Panther in it?  Thankfully, writer/director Ryan Coogler returns to answer that question.  He may have been one of the beneficiaries of the pandemic related delay in production, because it may have given him the time necessary to figure out the next chapter moving forward in this story.  As we can see in the trailer, the movie will take time out to properly honor the memory of King T’Challa and the actor who played him, but it also promises that another big adventure is about to unfold.  As we see, all the other familiar faces are returning, including Lupita N’yongo, Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Winston Duke, Danai Gurira, and Martin Freeman.  But the inclusion of a well-known adversary known as Namor, The Sub-Mariner is especially exciting for comic book fans, as Namor is a long time fan favorite who has yet to make his big screen debut until now.  And it seems like Coogler is indeed doing with this movie what a great sequel should do, which is expand the world of this story.  It’s not just a story about the Black Panther, but of the Kingdom of Wakanda itself, and all the rich tapestry of people and places it entails.  That’s likely what awaits us with Wakanda Forever, but as the final frame also promises, at some point someone will don the Black Panther mantle and bring the Vibranium claws out.  The mystery of who that will be is one thing I’m sure all of us will be eagerly awaiting.

GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY (DECEMBER 23)

You’ve got to hand it to Netflix some times, they know when to grab a hold of a valuable property when they see one with potential.  In this case, they managed to secure the franchise rights to a brand new series that took the movie world by storm.  Released during the holidays in 2019, Rian Johnson’s modern day update of the Agatha Christie whodunit formula became a surprise success, and really the last great sleeper hit in the pre-pandemic era of the box office.  Made on a relatively small scale but nevertheless featuring an enviable all-star cast, Knives Out (2019) went on to gross an impressive $300 million worldwide, and all but guaranteed Johnson a chance to spin-off his mystery into a franchise.  What shocked many in the industry was the fact that Netflix managed to become the ones granted the opportunity, with Rian Johnson getting a big payday out of it, with the option to make not one but two sequels.  Like adaptations of Agatha Christie mysteries in the past, Rian Johnson is keeping the tradition of a rotating casting familiar faces in the roles, including Edward Norton, Ethan Hawke, Kathryn Hahn and Dave Bautista to name a few, while still having his eccentric sleuth being the one connecting thread; in this case, Daniel Craig as Detective Benoit Blanc.  Given that Craig has ended his legendary tenure as James Bond with last year’s No Time to Die (2021), it’s good to see him carry on with yet another successful franchise in which he can flex his acting chops.  What is special about this series is that Rian Johnson manages to perfectly take an old fashioned formula, mix it with his own unique irreverent voice, and transforms it into a witty and relevant satire that helps to breath new life into a genre that otherwise would have died out.  It’s a great counter to the increasingly formulaic comic book movies that dominate the big screen today.  One hopes that Netflix possibly will see the box office potential in this too.  Netflix needs to fix their own economic woes, and that hopefully will help lead them to puts this movie out in theaters on a much wider release than we usually see from them.

STRANGE WORLD (NOVEMBER 23)

Walt Disney Animation has usually done quite well over the lucrative Thanksgiving holiday weekend.  From classics like The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), and Aladdin (1992) to recent hits like Frozen (2013) and last year’s Encanto (2021), they’ve managed to string together quite a few wins in this part of the release calendar.  Now, their latest film shows them taking their animation tools into a story that really is quite different from anything that we’ve seen from Disney before.  Strange World is not a fairy tale musical, but rather a full blown sci-fi adventure.  That could be a risk for Disney, given that their pedigree is much stronger with the former, but it looks like they are treating this new film with a great amount of care and attention; at least when it comes to the visuals.  It’s hard to describe what this movie is supposed to be about, other than our central group of explorers find themselves in a trippy, alien world.  Not much information is given apart from that.  Is the world intergalactic, or is it on the microscopic quantum scale?  At the very least, it looks like Disney wants to keep that part of the movie a mystery, and instead they are choosing to sell us on the imaginative visuals.  I think that it also helps that they open a trailer with a retro callback to B-movie science fiction of years past, which may give us a good sense of the tone that Disney wants to set with their film.  I for one really am intrigued by what I’ve seen so far.  There is a lot of imagination put on screen thus far, with an alien ecosystem that feels unlike anything that I’ve seen in any other movie.  The one thing that I hope delivers even more in the final film is the character story itself, which hopefully doesn’t get overwhelmed by the visuals.  Given that Disney Animation has been on a hot streak lately, even with their pandemic affected releases like Raya and the Last Dragon (2021) and Encanto, it wouldn’t surprise me if they continue to deliver the goods here as well.  The only question is, will audiences used to fairy tale musicals from Disney go for something completely out of the ordinary.

THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN (OCTOBER 21)

Now for something a little bit more outside the blockbuster landscape.  Writer/Director Martin McDonugh has over the last decade or so become one of the unique storytellers on both the screen and the stage.  He is a master at dark comedy, and that is evident through his three films as a director so far: In Bruges (2008), Seven Psychopaths (2012) and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017).  With his fourth film, he returns to his Irish roots with a deep black comedy that seems to feels Irish right down to it’s bones.  Reuniting his two In Bruges co-stars, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, the movie shows the break-up of a lifelong friendship that happens for no discernable reason.  What makes McDonaugh’s dry humor work so well is the full committed sincerity of his actors, and the fact that the laughs come from an unexpected mean spirited place.  These characters don’t know that they are funny, but the circumstances of their narrative are absolutely absurd.  I love how much Colin Farrell’s character is distressed by the fact that his best friend doesn’t like him anymore, and how that pushes him to an almost infantile demeanor.  McDonugh is also great at writing cutting insults, something that he especially likes giving to an actor as deadpan hilarious as Brendan Gleeson.  What I’m especially interested in seeing is how unpredictable this movie may end up being.  Adapted from a play that McDonugh failed to bring to the stage, this story may in fact be better suited for the screen, because it allows the genuine Irish locales to give even more weight to the film.  Thus far, McDonugh has made my end of the year Top Ten with all three of his movies, so I’m hoping for a four-peat.  In any case, I just like a movie where the screenplay itself is just as much of a star as the talent that performs it, and that’s something that I’ve found consistently true with Martin McDonugh’s work.

GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S PINOCCHIO (NOVEMBER 2022)

It’s a common occurrence to see similar movies release in short succession of each other.  Very rarely do you see two adaptations of the same exact story made at the same time.  But this Fall, we are getting not one, but two versions of Pinocchio, released to streaming by two of the market’s biggest giants.  One is a live action adaptation by Disney of it’s classic 1940 animated film, starring Tom Hanks in the role of Geppetto.  The other is a stop motion animated film from the creative mind of Guillermo Del Toro, who brings his own unique style to the age old story.  No surprise which one I’m more excited for.  While I am a life long fan of Disney, I don’t like everything they make, and in particular I’ve been pretty down on their live action remakes of their animated classics.  While what I’ve seen so far of their Pinocchio remake is far from the worst I’ve seen, it also convinces me that it will be vastly inferior to the original classic.  Guillermo Del Toro on the other hand is doing something much different with his version of the story.  For one thing, it features stylized animation done through stop motion animation that is greatly more appealing than the photo-realism that Disney’s version is trying to capture.  It also looks like Del Toro is exploring the themes of the original story more deeply, which the cricket character (here voiced by Ewan McGregor) tells us that it’s a story that we think we know, but really don’t.  You can always count on Guillermo Del Toro to not shy away from some of the darker elements of the story.  It will definitely be an interesting experiment because it’s the visionary director’s first ever foray into animation as a filmmaker.  And unlike the Disney film, which is going straight to Disney+, this one is getting a brief theatrical run from Netflix, so that will be welcoming as Del Toro’s work really deserves to be seen on the biggest screens possible.  So, while I do hope Disney’s version is better than advertised, I’m pretty certain that the little wooden boy that is going to be more worthwhile to see bright to life is this one.

MOVIES THAT HAVE ME WORRIED:

BLACK ADAM (OCTOBER 21)

A few months ago, I may have been a bit more optimistic about the prospects of this film.  Now, given the recent drama that has been going on with DC parent company Warner Brothers Discovery, there is a bit of a dark cloud surrounding this movie.  Even the looming October release date could be called into question.  We are in the midst of a time when a studio will just flat out cancel a nearly $100 million movie just for the tax right off, and that has created a bit of chaos behind the scenes over in the DC wing of the studio.  We were also supposed to be getting the Shazam sequel this Christmas, but that has now been pushed back to March of next year, and the Aquaman sequel has been pushed as far back as December of 2023.  So, right now, DC’s future is in limbo as a new regime begins to reassess it’s direction, which could very easily render this film irrelevant in the grand scheme of DC’s bigger picture.  What this movie has going for it is that it is done and in the can and ready to hit cinemas.  It also doesn’t have the behind the scenes baggage that is plaguing the also ready for release Flash movie, which doesn’t even have a release date currently.  The other saving grace is the film’s star Dwayne Johnson.  Having a marquee star like him, currently one of the most bankable in the world, at it’s center is definitely going to help bring in audience once it’s released.  It’s also a positive sign that Dwayne is very much invested in this project as well.  This has been a passion project for him for years, as he’s been wanting to play Black Adam on the big screen for well over a decade.  That dream is now a reality, and hopefully it translates into the actor giving even more weight to his performance.  The only question is can Black Adam carry a film all by himself apart from all the other well know DC heroes.  Also, in the comic books, Black Adam is mostly cast as a villain, so it will be interesting to see if they smooth out any of the darker elements of his character to make him the star of his own movie.  Let’s hope that things do work out for this film, as there are a lot of unknowns going on right now at Warner Brothers.  With a charismatic star at it’s center and an earnest committed approach, we can certainly feel some hope for this roguish super powered anti-hero.

AMSTERDAM (OCTOBER 7)

Sometimes there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.  While on the surface this movie looks like a slam dunk of a cinematic treat, it may also be far lesser than the sum of it’s parts.  The movie comes from David O. Russell, his first feature in seven years, and it features his usual slew of eccentric characters played by some heavyweight talent.  What’s interesting about this film is that it finds Russell working in a period story.  It’s not is first time making a period film, as American Hustle was set in the 1970’s, but here he’s going nearly a century back to Prohibition era America, which will make it interesting to see how Russell’s typical witty banter plays in this setting.  He certainly has put together a stacked cast for this film, including some of his favorites like Christian Bale and Robert DeNiro, as well as newcomers to his stock company like John David Washington and Margot Robbie.  The trailer certainly highlights the irreverent tone of the movie, but it also reveals what may be some of the film’s weakness.  I’m concerned that the story at the center of this movie may not be interesting enough to carry this cast and David Russell’s dialogue.  To boil it down, David O. Russell has all the ingredients to make a hefty meal, but perhaps too much thrown into the recipe may end up spoiling the taste.  I could be wrong, and this movie may end up being one of the most enriching experiences of the year.  I’m just concerned because in the past, Russell has often been at his best when he’s reigned in and telling a smaller focused story, like The Fighter (2010) or Silver Linings Playbook (2012).  Overall, the cast does look good and pretty game for the story they are telling.  I’m especially liking the kind of performance that Christian Bale is putting into this movie, as humor has not exactly been something that he’s had the opportunity to showcase in many films.  I hope for the best, but I’m also hedging my expectations on this one.

DON’T WORRY DARLING (SEPTEMBER 23)

Another film where the results may fall short of ambition.  This, the second film from actress turned director Olivia Wilde, is very much a different kind of film to undertake as a sophomore effort.  Wilde’s first film was the high school comedy Booksmart (2019), which was well received by audiences and critics alike.  Here she’s taking on a psychological thriller with social commentary undertones as her follow-up.  While nothing about her work thus far tells me that she can’t also succeed at making a film like this too, I worry that this movie may be one that falls into the style over substance category.  The movie definitely carries a lot of mid-century period detail with it, and it looks visually sumptuous.  But the story itself seems a bit more elusive, at least from what I’ve gathered from the trailers so far.  I know that movies like these like to keep things close to the chest with regards to potential plot twists, but from what we’re being sold so far, the movie just comes off a little derivative.  We’ve seen too many thrillers like this before, where the tranquil suburban life is not what it seems and hides a darker underbelly, from The Stepford Wives (1975) to David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986).  My worry is that this movie is going to squander a potentially thought provoking theme with a less than enthralling story.  That being said, there could be things about the movie that may end up being surprising.  My hope is that there is a worthwhile mystery at the center.  And the positive thing to take from the trailer is that there is likely going to be some solid performances throughout, including the ever reliable Florence Pugh and an especially creepy Chris Pine.  Olivia Wilde is a filmmaker that still has time to prove herself beyond just her first film, and hopefully this movie shows that she has a varied and versatile voice.

PUSS IN BOOTS: THE LAST WITCH (DECEMBER 21)

It’s unfortunate to see a name in animation like Dreamworks fall off like it has.  Once the mightiest competitor to animation champions Disney and Pixar, Dreamworks now isn’t even the most valued animation studio within it’s own conglomerate, as parent company Universal seems to be favoring Minions creators Illumination Animation more these days.  Still, Dreamworks is continuing to churn out more films each year.  Sadly, most of them are sequels or spin-offs of past glory, themselves also seeing diminishing returns over time.  It’s unfortunate for the studio that gave us instant classics like Kung Fu Panda (2008) and How to Train Your Dragon (2010).  This holiday season they are releasing yet another sequel that itself was spun off from a spin-off.  Puss in Boots (2011) carried on where the Shrek franchise left off, focusing entirely on the scene stealing feline voiced by Antonio Banderas.  What is interesting since the original film was released is that animation as a whole has stylistically very much changed.  It’s diverted away from the more photo-real look of what the Shrek movies were trying to accomplish back in the 2000’s and early 2010’s.  Now, animation has steered much more into more hyper-stylization, and that seems to be reflected in the animation found in this sequel.  While the character models still feel the same as before, the animation style seems to have adopted this paint-like look.  In many ways, it looks like Dreamworks is using this as a test to see if they can do this kind of computer animation style that looks hand drawn and story-book like.  It reminds me very much of the revolutionary animation found in Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse (2018), which while computer animated still made the movie look like a comic book come to life.  It will be interesting to see how this works for Dreamworks with this Puss in Boots sequel.  It may cry of desperation of a studio trying to play catch up, or it could be the shot of adrenaline that they desperately need.  My hope is for the latter, because Dreamworks firing on all cylinders, making new original films, is a good thing for all of animation.

MOVIES TO SKIP:

AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER (DECEMBER 16)

It’s hard for me to look so negatively on a movie that will likely be one of the biggest hits of the season, if not the whole year.  But, there are a lot of red flags I see awaiting the release of this long awaited Avatar sequel.  For one thing, I think the long gestation cycle that James Cameron goes through when making his movies may have worked against him this time.  It’s fine when the big gaps between his films are with films as varied as Titanic (1997) and Avatar (2009).  But this time, he waited 13 long years to make a sequel, and one has to worry if that was to long of a wait.  For a sequel, it helps to strike while the iron is hot, and that may have passed a long time ago for Avatar.  People aren’t really talking about it anymore like they used to.  When the first film arrived, it was at the right time, because it was revolutionary with it’s performance capture animation for the alien Na’vi and 3D photography that sparked a short lived revival of the format in cinemas.  But, in the 13 years since, the nature of the business has changed.  Sadly, it looks like James Cameron hasn’t as the new trailer reveals a return to the same world and story that feels not unlike what we’ve seen before.  From a storytelling standpoint, screenwriting has never been Cameron’s strong suit, as he’s excelled much more behind the camera.  But, with the sequel doing really nothing as groundbreaking as the first, are audiences going to care at all.  I honestly think that this could turn into one of the year’s biggest flops, as Avatar fever likely has died down over the last decade.  And yet, then again, we just saw a Top Gun sequel 35 years in the making dominate the summer box office, so who knows.  Still, I was lukewarm on the original Avatar, and I’ll likely stay that way with the sequel.

TICKET TO PARADISE (OCTOBER 21)

You want to see two A-list stars make assess of themselves in order to get a free vacation.  Well this is the movie.  It’s unfortunate that the reuniting of two big name actors like Julia Roberts and George Clooney, last seen sharing the screen in Ocean’s Twelve (2004), comes in this mediocre and derivative romantic comedy; a genre that in itself is on life-support in the cinemas.  You just know that these actors could do a lot better than to play bickering divorced parents, but somehow they are here.  The only explanation for this movie being made with these two big names is because it allowed both actors to have what is essentially a paid vacation to the tropics.  I get it.  The pandemic was rough and actors will take any reason to get out into the wild, even if it means taking part in a subpar comedy.  But, you would expect this of the likes of Adam Sandler and company, and not actors who we know can do a lot better.  Even Adam Sandler is challenging himself more now as an actor post-Uncut Gems (2019).  One hopes that the natural charisma of these two stars can get something out of this tired premise.  Otherwise we’re basically paying money to watch millionaire vacation videos.

SHE SAID (NOVEMBER 18)

There is certainly a story to be told about the beginning of the #MeToo movement and how it brought down serial rapists and harassers in the highest levels of power over the last few years.  Unfortunately, I don’t think this is the movie that is going to do it justice.  The movie follows the New York Times reporters that broke the Harvey Weinstein scandal.  While the expose was crucial to the beginning of the movement, I feel like this movie is going to sadly whitewash the things that led to people like Weinstein to be able to get away with their crimes for so long; mainly the compliance of the media and the Hollywood establishment in covering up the scandals.  There have been other key stories that have emerged from Me Too, with the more insidious story being the cover-ups over the course of decades.  With this movie taking the All the President’s Men (1976) approach to this story, focusing on the journalists, I feel like it’s going to unfairly minimize the people who really should be at the heart of the story, which are the victims themselves.  Using the outsider perspective of the journalist piecing together the conspiracy behind the scandal I worry will diminish the horrific nature of what went on, which is the story that really should be told, or even a look at the inner-workings of the multi-faceted machine that Hollywood employed to keep scandals out of the spotlight.  The nature of the fact that Hollywood is crafting it’s own spin on this time in history is to be taken with a lot of salt because it would appear that they are trying to soften their own complacency in the culture that created the likes of Weinstein.  What I hope the movie does is use it’s narrative wisely and shed light on the power structures that seeped into the culture of Hollywood, and is still present in many other avenues of power like corporate boardrooms and in the halls of government.  Unfortunately, this looks like a procedural that is mostly just going to give us surface level drama.

So there you have my outlook at the movies of Fall 2022.  It may seem pretty light generally because most of the really anticipated movies that we are likely going to see this fall don’t even have set release dates or trailers yet.  We probably won’t have a clearer picture of the Awards season until after the Film Festival circuit has wrapped up.  But what we do know is that there are going to be some big releases in the future from some of the most prestigious names in the business.  Steven Spielberg is wrapping production on his auto-biographical film The Fablemans.   We also have new films from Oscar winners Sam Mendes (Empire of Light), Damien Chazelle (Babylon) and Alejandro G. Innaritu (Bardo).  And while the general box office is still in recovery mode, the upcoming months will likely see theaters filled with more movie choices than most of the previous months of the year put together.  That’s one thing that the theater industry is hoping for, which is a refreshed crop of more movies to choose from.  It’s not really coming from Hollywood so much, as the studios are struggling right now to assess the shaky future of streaming in the wake of less than stellar numbers of new subscriber.  Not to mention, we’re also going to be seeing the fallout of Warner Brother’s chaotic re-alignment under new management, which has put the calendar over the next few months into an unstable blender.  It will be interesting to see what plays out.  Can James Cameron indeed reclaim the box office crown again?  What will be the sleeper movie in this year’s Oscar race?  Can the box office finish out 2022 strong?  That’s all to be seen in the months ahead.  The one thing that we can feel good about is that the movies on the big screen look like they are here to stay, and one hopes that they will reach the same heights again.  I hope you have found this preview helpful.  So, go out, watch a movie, and have a fun fall season.

The Movies of Summer 2022

After a couple of years of unclear outlooks on the once mighty pillar of the cinematic calendar, the Summer movie season is finally starting to settle back into a more of what remember them being like in the past.  The summer season is once again launching in the first week of May, which of course Marvel Studios has planted their flag on.  There are also big releases planned for Memorial Day and Fourth of July weekends, which have also been big draws for the box office.  That isn’t to say we are 100% back to where we were pre-pandemic.  Some movies are still finding themselves being pushed back; a residual after effect of the backlogged calendar that we’ve had from the pandemic delays.  One film this summer in particular has been waiting two years to be released, which is the Tom Cruise action sequel Top Gun: Maverick; a movie that premiered it’s first trailer all the way back to Super Bowl 2020.  This all leads to a summer movie season that does look a bit better and more traditional than those during the pandemic, but is still pretty light in terms of the numbers of high profile tent-pole movies being released.  This is probably due to the fact that even though movie theaters are doing much better now, they still haven’t brought back all audiences back.  The older crowd as well as art house film fans have still been reluctant to return, as evidenced by the softer box office numbers seen for more grown up, R-Rated fare.  Thus far, the only types of movies that have managed to carry their weight at the post-pandemic box office have been the ones that cater to the key 18-45 demo: in particular, the still dominant super hero movies.  We saw just this spring Warner Brothers and DC’s The Batman (2022) have a stellar debut, and that was largely due to the genre’s resilience and it’s strong connection with the demographic it’s appealing to.  What should be encouraging to Hollywood right now is the return of healthy box office for family entertainment, as evidenced by the success of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022).  That gives hope that we’ll see continued growth at the summer box office over the next few months.

Like years past, I will be spotlighting some of the upcoming summer movies that I think will be impactful, for better and for worse.  Of course I’ll be breaking them down into the movies that I believe will be the must sees, the ones that have me worried, as well as the ones that I believe are worth skipping.  Keep in mind, these are based on my own level of interest in these movies, mainly due to the effectiveness of their advertising as well as my own pre-existing preferences, so I may not get a lot of these movies right by the end of the Summer.  But, I stand with my choices here, and my hope is that the ones I’m most excited for live up to the hype and that the one’s I’m less enthusiastic for end up being better than I expected.  So, let’s get underway and take a look at the Movies of Summer 2022.

MUST SEES

THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER (JULY 8)

Unequivocally the movie I am most looking forward to this Summer, and perhaps for the entire year as well.  When he took the reigns of the Thor franchise with the game-changing Thor: Ragnarok (2017), director and writer Taika Waititi managed to finally find the full potential in the character of Thor within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  The Thor movies up to that point had been heavy and melodramatic, but Taika completely flipped the script and turned the “Strongest Avenger’s” narrative into a far more humorous one; and it worked brilliantly.  I feel like Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios realized midway through the creation of the MCU that Thor actor Chris Hemsworth had this natural knack for comedy, and that it was best to lean more into that for the future installments of his cinematic adventures.  That’s why they brought in a comedic genius like Taika to lend his own unique voice to their Cinematic Universe and it was a match made in heaven.  Now after the success of Ragnarok, and the subsequent Avengers films that followed it, we are getting the fourth Thor solo film, and it looks like Taika is picking up right where he left off.  What’s especially interesting here is that the movie is bringing back Natalie Portman to the franchise, reprising the role of Thor love interest Jane Foster, who was benched unceremoniously in Ragnarok.  Her return is very welcome, especially given that she’s going to follow the comic book story-line of her character here, and gain the power of Thor herself.  For one thing, it’s good that they are finally resolving that story thread and two it’s a beloved plot from the  comic books that fans are excited to see realized here.  It’s also nice to see Tessa Thompson return as Valkyrie (a fan favorite), and the inclusion of the Guardians of the Galaxy is also exciting.  But the most intriguing for me is something that the trailers haven’t shown yet and that’s the presence of the villainous Gorr, The God Butcher, whose going to be played by Oscar winner Christian Bale.  Seeing Bale, yet another Batman in the MCU is especially exciting and I cannot wait to see how his performance fits within the tone of the rest of the movie.  Also, this is Taika Waititi’s first project after winning his Oscar for writing Jojo Rabbit (2019), one of my favorite movies in recent memory.  I have high hopes for Taika and company to deliver a rollicking good time this Summer with Love and Thunder.

LIGHTYEAR (JUNE 17)

It’s unthinkable to think that there hasn’t been a Pixar film that has played in theaters since the pandemic began.  Onward, which had it’s box office window cut short by the lock down, was the last one and that was all the way back in March 2020.  Pixar has still been releasing movies, but they have been going straight to Disney+ as streaming exclusives.  I feel bad that movies like Soul (2020), Luca (2021) and Turning Red (2022) were not seen the way they were meant to be seen by the majority of audiences.  Thankfully, The Walt Disney Company, Pixar’s parent company, seems to have regained confidence in the Pixar brand on the big screen, as Lightyear marks the triumphant return of the cinema.  It probably helps that this is a movie that is a spin-off of sorts from the most prized series in the Pixar library (Toy Story) and this movie can benefit from name recognition to bring in audiences.  This movie follows a re-imagining of the Buzz Lightyear character.  As Disney has stated, this is not the same character from the Toy Story movies.  This is the “real life” character that the toy Buzz was based on.  It’s a roundabout way of justifying the existence for this movie, but I’m still interested.  With a different Buzz comes a different voice actor, and here he is played by none other than Captain America himself, Chris Evans.  What I’m hopeful in seeing with this movie is an adventure that uses known elements of the Buzz Lightyear lore and fully realizes them in a way that allows for this movie to stand alone apart from Toy Story.  I’m happy to see a re-imagining of Buzz Lightyear’s in universe arch nemesis Emperor Zurg making an appearance, and looking appropriately menacing.   The film does look like it’s leaning far more into the action adventure side, with of course the typical humorous bits that we all love from Pixar.  After a long absence from the big screen, it makes sense that a film like this, with it’s ambitious scale and bombastic action, would be the ideal movie to bring the studio back where it belongs.

DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS (MAY 6)

Kicking off this summer season (less than a week from this writing in fact) we of course have the usual Marvel Studios entry.  The slot this time goes to the Sorcerer Supreme himself, Doctor Strange, once again played by Benedict Cumberbatch.  Given that the MCU is now deep into it’s multi-versal phase, this movie is primed for big things after the spectacular success of Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) last December, which also touched on the multiverse, as did the Disney+ shows Wandavision and Loki.  This movie in particular has a lot of potential, because for the first time, a Marvel character is venturing across the borders of the multiverse, and there’s been a lot of speculation and excitement about what or who we may see.  The trailer has already given us one confirmation with the unmistakable voice of Patrick Stewart being heard, who of course could be no one other than Charles Xavier, making him the first X-Men character to appear in the MCU continuity.  There are so many rumors about potential cameos beyond that, most of which may not even be close to true in the end, but we already have seen Marvel bring together three generations of Spider-Man on screen together, and we’ll be getting Charles Xavier in this film, so who knows what they have up their sleeve.  One thing that has me excited is that this film is being directed by Sam Raimi, whose history with this genre is pretty monumental, having been the guy who first brought Spider-Man to the big screen with Tobey Maguire.  He’s also an iconic filmmaker when it comes to the horror genre, and this is definitely the tone that Marvel seems to be leaning more into with this sequel.  My only hope is that whatever crazy, fan service  stuff Raimi and Marvel have geared up for us, that the story-line itself isn’t sacrificed along the way.  I feel like there’s going to be some strong emotional elements throughout, especially with Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch.  And seeing each actor bringing many different types of differences to their characters across the different universes will be pretty exciting.  Let’s all hope the Doctor still manages to remain strange.

NOPE (JULY 22)

You know whenever Jordan Peele has a new movie coming out it is bound to start up a conversation.  He did so magnificently with his directorial debut, the Oscar-winning Get Out (2017), which used the horror genre as a brilliant examination of race relations in America.  He also turned the home invasion sub-genre on it’s head with his follow-up, Us (2019).  Now it looks like he’s about to bring his own unique voice to the alien invasion genre.  And where he’s going to go with it is anyone’s guess.  I get the feeling that the less we know about this movie going into it the better.  One thing that will be interesting to see is Jordan Peele re-uniting with his Get Out leading man, Daniel Kaluuya, himself now an Oscar winner for Judas and the Black Messiah (2021).  Also, a first time collaboration with Keke Palmer will be interesting to watch.  More than anything, I’m interested in seeing how Peele works his voice into this kind of movie.  Will it be yet another examination of race like his previous work, or is he going to be doing something much different with Nope.  Visually the movie looks very haunting in it’s imagery.  There’s a lot of interesting uses of silence and lighting to delivery a spooky quality in what we see in this trailer.  Also the location is an interesting choice, on the outskirts of Los Angeles within a horse ranch used for movies.  It seems like Peele is not only tapping into his inner Hitchcock with this film, but also his inner Spielberg, with Close Encounters of the Third Kind I would imagine being a heavy influence.  But, whereas Spielberg’s film was hopeful, this one seems pretty ominous.  Regardless if you are into these kinds of horror movies or not, there’s no doubt that Jordan Peele taps into some really provocative material whenever he puts a movie out, and it’s something that really helps to elevate the horror genre as a whole.  It’s rare when you see a movie a movie with a message that still appeals to a mass audience in the way that his movies do.  We don’t quite know what to expect with this movie just yet, but not knowing is honestly it’s best selling point right now, so let’s hope Jordan Peele makes the wait worth it.

BULLET TRAIN (JULY 29)

One thing that you always hope for in the summer movie season is an original film not tied to any franchise that breaks out and becomes a fresh new hit.  If there was ever a movie this Summer that had the best shot at accomplishing this feat it would be Bullet Train.  The latest from director David Leitch, who has directed many recent classic action movies like John Wick (2014), Atomic Blonde (2017), and Deadpool 2 (2018), this action film brings together an impressive cast of actors to do exactly what audiences would love to see them do; beat the shit out of each other.  Given how brilliantly Leitch’s films are choreographed when it comes to the stunt pieces in his action scenes, you can expect to see some pretty inventive, adrenaline infused moments throughout this movie, especially with the new gimmick of staging them on a high speed bullet train in Japan.  But it’s not only the stunts that this movie is looking to spotlight.  The all-star cast is one of the most impressive to date in one of his movies, featuring the likes of Brad Pitt, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, and Michael Shannon to name a few; all of whom have action movie credits, but not to the very hands on degree that Leitch has his actors involved in the stunts.  Much like what he did with Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron before, David Leitch tries to put as much of the real actor in the action scenes, only resorting to body doubles when absolutely necessary.  It’s going to be interesting to see how well this cast works with that kind of level of personal involvement.  I also like the setting of this film, set in the neon infused, sleek and colorful Japanese backdrops.  Given that Leitch’s movies have tended to skew darker in the past, this change in light and color should be an interesting exercise for him.  I’m just hoping that the movie maintains the same kind of blend of action and humor that we’ve seen in the likes of John Wick.  Given that this movie is not a franchise film and is taking on an original idea, lets hope that it does it’s best to stand out and hopefully become that original, stand-alone hit that studios really need right now.

MOVIES THAT HAVE ME WORRIED:

JURASSIC WORLD: DOMINION (JUNE 10)

When Universal revived their dormant Jurassic Park franchise in 2015 with Jurassic World, a lot of people were rightfully skeptic.  The two sequels to the 1993 original were panned pretty much across the board, and it became pretty clear then that nothing could really come close to topping that.  However, Jurassic World proved to be a surprising entry into the franchise.  Though still nowhere near as good as the original, it was still monumentally better than the other sequels, and it launched to record breaking box office as well.  A large part of that was due to Jurassic World’s star Chris Pratt hitting a career high-point immediately following the success of Guardians of the Galaxy (2014).  This of course led to a follow-up sequel, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018), which unfortunately did not carry over the same kind of success in story-telling that it’s predecessor did.  In fact, Fallen Kingdom may very well be the worst film in the entire franchise so far.  Dismantled by some of the lamest and most bafflingly bad story choices anyone’s ever seen in any of these film, a lot of people thought this might be the end of this franchise.  But, strong box office in it’s opening secured another film, and in this one, it looks like Universal Pictures is pulling out all the stops.  In addition to the Jurassic World cast being carried over, including Pratt and co-star Bryce Dallas Howard, they are also linking this movie back to the original series by bringing back the original trio of stars: Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum.  Now, I love all three of those actors, and I am excited to see them playing these iconic roles again, but I’m also worried that by having them all there in a movie that might be just as bad as Fallen Kingdom that it could end up tarnishing the legacy of the original.  I’m hoping that’s not the case and that returning director Colin Treverrow actually manages to put the franchise back on track again.  But, if Dominion doesn’t deliver, it might finally be time to let this franchise go extinct.

ELVIS (JUNE 24)

You never know what you’re going to get with a director like Baz Luhrmann.  He’s made a career out of making flashy, stylized movies that have often polarized audiences.  I’ve been known to both hate (Australia) and admire (The Great Gatsby) his movies, so I too am not sure what to think when I hear of a new project of his.  I will say he is choosing an interesting subject for his new film, and it’s one that actually fits within his tastes as a director.  Because his style is often akin to the kind of filmmaking that we see in music videos, it makes sense that he would want to tell the life’s story of one of the most legendary musicians that ever lived; Elvis Presley.  Given Elvis’ famously flashy style on stage, the match with Baz Luhrmann makes sense.  What I still have reservations over with this film, however, is the fact that it looks like Luhrmann is trying to fit the whole life and career of Elvis into one movie.  To me, this is always a problem with failed biographies; that they try to span such an extensive length of time and the story just becomes a bullet points presentation of a famous person’s life without ever finding the character underneath that made them the special person that they were.  The best biopics  are the ones that zero in on a specific, defining chapter in one’s life, and that helps them to stand out as the subject of the story.  My hope is that Luhrmann never loses sight of the humanity of his subject, and there are good signs to be found here.  One of them is the casting of Austin Butler, who very much looks and sounds the part of the music icon.  If anything helps to make this movie soar, it will be the strength of his performance.  I don’t know quite what to make of Tom Hanks performance as Colonel Tom Parker just yet.  Between the fat suit and the southern drawl, this could either be a colorful performance from Hanks, or an embarrassing one.  This is Tom Hanks we are talking about (who became celebrity Covid patient zero during the making of this movie) and his track record gives me hope.  This could indeed be one of the most crowd pleasing movies of the summer, or another over-stuffed mess from a very unsubtle filmmaker.  My hope is for the former and that those blue suede shoes dance to box office success.

TOP GUN: MAVERICK (MAY 27)

This has been a long road to the big screen for this Tom Cruise headlined sequel.  Not only is it coming out a lengthy 36 years after the original, but it also had to endure sitting on the shelf for two extra years since it’s original release date was cancelled because of the pandemic.  Paramount clearly wanted to wait on this one until the conditions were right for it to have the best opportunity for maximum box office.  They may have been right in doing so, but there are still some lingering question marks related to this film.  One is the question of whether or not this movie needs to exist.  Like I said, the original movie was nearly 4 decades ago, and yes, Tom Cruise has held up pretty well over the years, but what ever audience this movie clicked for back in 1986 has probably aged along with it, and I don’t know of too many younger audiences clamoring to see this.  Two, the fact that the original movie isn’t exactly a masterpiece itself.  Sure it’s got a dedicated fanbase, but it’s more because they love the movie for how dated and lightweight it is.  When your most famous scene is the shirtless beach volleyball sequence, it’s probably a sign that your movie is not a particularly deep film.  That being said, this is movie sequel that seems to be more geared to who Tom Cruise is now, which means it’s a lot more focused on the on screen action.  Picking up from what he’s been doing with the Mission Impossible franchise, Cruise is upping the ante with Top Gun: Maverick as well.  Instead of cutting between grounded close-ups of his actors in the cockpits and second unit aerial coverage shot separately, Cruise is putting himself and his fellow actors in the air with real fighter planes.  These moments in the movie, shot with IMAX cameras to boot, have an air of authenticity now that the original movie didn’t, and that in itself could be the movie’s best selling point.  I just hope that the story surrounding it is an improvement as well.  There’s a lot of years in between these movies, so Cruise has a lot to improve here.  Thankfully, he’s a risk taker, and my hope is that it leads to this being an adrenaline rush of a movie that stands up to his increasingly higher standards.

DC’S LEAGUE OF SUPERPETS (JULY 29)

When translating comic book stories to animation, there could be many bad ways to go, but also plenty of great opportunities.  One of the best examples is Sony Animation’s Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse (2018), which was not only a great comic book animated movie, but probably one of the greatest animated movies of all time.  Surprisingly, DC has not really delved into animation very much with their extensive catalogue of characters to chose from.  They also belong to Warner Brothers which once upon a time had one of the most storied animation departments in all of Hollywood.  Now we finally have an animated movie from DC Comics and the subject they chose was the Justice League’s pets.  Honestly, not really the most exciting choice, as it seems that this movie is gearing itself more towards the family audience rather than the typical super hero genre fans.  That’s not to say that it could end up being bad.  It’s just that I don’t think there is too much enthusiasm for a movie based on Superman and Batman’s pet dogs.  That being said, the animation is colorful if a tad bit on the generic looking side.  And the movie has an impressive voice cast behind it, led by Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart as Krypto and Ace, the pet dogs of Superman and Batman respectively.  The heroes themselves are also being voiced by John Krasinski and Keanu Reeves, and the prospect of Reeves voicing Batman is enough to get me in the theater.  We’ll have to see if this movie is too cute for it’s own good or if it does justice to it’s comic book origins.  Hopefully there are more creative bits in this movie that help it stand-out, because when Into the Spiderverse has raised the bar as high as it is, you can’t just pander to the general audiences tastes, you’ve got to make something that truly is “super.”

MOVIES TO SKIP:

MINIONS: THE RISE OF GRU (JULY 1)

Speaking of lackluster animated movies that fall well under the bar, I have to confess that I have never really cared for the Despicable Me franchise at all.  Even more so, I find the minions characters to be obnoxious and pointless.  I know I’m not the target audience for these movies, and that little kids really love the minion characters.  It’s honestly been the thing that has propelled the franchise to billion dollar success at the box office.  Even still, why do we need to keep rehashing this franchise over and over again.  It’s just a cash grab at this point, as the minions franchise really has no other artistic value.  While the Pixars, Disneys, Laikas, and Dreamworks of the world diversify their libraries with new and fresh ideas i between all their sequels, Illumination has just done two things for most of their time in existence; Dr. Suess adaptations and Minions movies.  There are Secret Life of Pets and Sing as well, but that’s only four franchise in the span of 15 years for Illumination.  Pixar had nearly 10 distinctively original movies made in that same time frame.  I’m just expecting more of the same from this Despicable Me spin-off.  Illumination certainly knows how to target their demographic, but they do so in sacrificing any real diverse growth in their output.  Between Lightyear and Super-Pets, there will be much better choices to take your kids to this summer.

FIRESTARTER (MAY 13)

We seem to be in a period of time where Hollywood wants to revisit the catalogue of titles from the mind of Stephen King and update them to modern day.  Some have turned out better than the original, like the two adaptations of IT, but there have been some that turned out pretty forgettable (Pet Cemetery) or downright terrible (The Stand mini-series).  My worry is that this will be one of the latter.  The one good thing is that Blumhouse is making this one; a first for them with regards to Stephen King adaptations, though I may be wrong.  At the very least you know that it won’t be too over done with visual effects or pandering jump scares.  At the same time, they are adapting one of the lesser King novels, which was also the basis for a rather not-scary adaptation from 1984 starring a very young Drew Barrymore.  And it looks like time still hasn’t helped the story out.  It still feels pretty ridiculous and not at all scary.  One hopes that Blumhouse, which has a pretty solid track record of updating old horror titles in interesting new ways, but this I think might be one fire that doesn’t ignite for them.

PAWS OF FURY: THE LEGEND OF HANK (JULY 15)

What has me worried about this movie is more than just the lackluster looking animation.  It’s the fact that this seemingly innocuous, low budget animated movie for kids is a loose adaptation of one of the greatest comedies ever made; Blazing Saddles (1974).  You heard that right.  Apparently done with the blessing of Mel Brooks (who also lends his voice to the movie), this movie takes the same premise and transposes it to feudal Japan with a cast of animal characters.  What I don’t understand is why the movie is not called Blazing Samurai like it is in other parts of the world.  It probably has to do with the fact that it’s merely taking the story of it’s famous comedy origin, but is not including any of it’s hard edged humor.  How could it?  Blazing Saddles is beloved for it’s irreverent and raunchy comedy, which does not fit well in a family film.  The only thing I think crossed over is the famous farting scene, which I guess is ageless.  But, while Blazing Saddles was sharp witted in it’s commentary on racism in the old west, I get the feeling that Paws of Fury is going to play it safe and not touch upon the harder edges that gave it’s predecessor the perfect level of raucous laughter.  And given the need for that film’s original message in today’s age, it’s not a good thing to see an animated movie water it down to appeal to all audiences.

So, there you have my outlook on the movies of the upcoming Summer movie season.  There are of course the usual suspects arriving, like more from Marvel, as well as big franchises like Jurassic World.  It’s also going to be nice to see a Pixar movie available in wide release in theaters again.  But, there is also room for an unexpected hit out there as well.  One hopes that movies like Elvis and Bullet Train are able to defy expectations and prove that a non franchise movie can stand out even amongst the bigger names.  Still, compared with previous years before the pandemic, the Summer 2022 calendar is a bit lighter than where it was before.  There’s still a bit more rebuilding to do to get the movie theater industry back up to it’s pre-pandemic levels, and we are certainly closer now than we were since this time last year.  The delays seem to have died off and the competition from streaming isn’t quite as tough as it was before.  With the recent troubles facing Netflix, it seems like the theater industry may possibly be back in competition with pulling in audiences in their direction.  More people want to venture out now and feel more confident in their safety now that the worst of the pandemic is over.  It’s being reflected in the growing box office totals that we’ve seen so far this year.  In 2021, we didn’t have a single movie gross over $100 million until after Memorial Day weekend with A Quiet Place Part II (2021).  So far this year, we already have three, and there are plenty more to come just in the next month, with Multiverse of Madness and Top Gun: Maverick just around the corner.  What I imagine happening over the course of the next few months is a big return by audiences to the movie theaters, delivering the kinds of numbers we have seen in years before, and that will hopefully spill over into the Fall, as well as into the following year.  So, I hope my preview has been helpful and that everyone has a good and entertaining Summer at the movies.

The 2022 Oscars – Picks and Thoughts

Oscar season is always a fun time for film lovers, because it’s a great spark for discussion about what our favorite movies of the last year have been, and who’s deserving of the end of the year accolades.  There’s rarely any 100% concensus on every category of film, but the talk and buzz is always something that becomes enjoyable for fans of cinema.  We all love drama, and the narratives that follow these awards are always something that creates interest.  This year, however, the Academy Awards has found itself in a pretty highly publicized drama of it’s own, and it’s not particularly good.  Coming off of the last year which saw a mild rebound of the theatrical market post-pandemic, the Academy was hoping to bring things back to normal, returning once again to their home turf of the Dolby Theater in Hollywood after a controversial side show at last year’s ceremony over at Los Angeles’ Union Station.  That show’s anti-climatic finale cemented an already shattered year for Hollywood and the hope was that this year would be a return to normal again.  They were even bringing back the tradition of hosts at the awards show.  But, then the Academy made the controversial announcement that they were going to split off several categories from the main show, and present them off camera before the main ceremony as a means of tightening the notoriously long running show to a more network friendly run time.  This especially upset many within the industry, and with good reason, because most of the cut categories are for technical achievements, which only further magnifies the image of Hollywood being an elitist place that favors the celebrities over the working man.  The Academy has made it known that this is largely due to a mandate brought on by the network airing the broadcast (ABC), and I don’t doubt that as the case, but it’s a mandate that they are following through with and it’s an unfortunate move that I believe further dismantles what has made the Oscars the beloved institution that it’s been for nearly a century.  A lot of other important figures in Hollywood, including prominent filmmakers and performers have also voiced their displeasure about this too.  The only question is, are the Academy members listening and are they willing to dismantle more of themselves in favor of maintaining their network profile.

Besides all that, I am writing my annual picks and thoughts about this year’s Oscars, focusing on the major categories of screenwriting, acting in both lead and supporting roles, direction, and of course Best Picture.  For each category, I will share who I would like to see win each award, as well as the person or persons who I think is mostly likely going to win; which don’t always match up with my personal choices.  I will also provide a quick rundown of my picks in all the remaining categories as well.  So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the 2022 Academy Awards, and see who should win and who will win.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Nominees:  Kenneth Branagh, Belfast; Adam McKay and David Sirota, Don’t Look Up; Zach Baylin, King Richard; Paul Thomas Anderson, Licorice Pizza; Eskil Vogt and Joachim Trier, The Worst Person in the World

It’s interesting that three of the nominees here are for movies that take heavy inspiration from real life.  The other two are generally groundbreaking in their own right.  Adam McKay once again takes his satirical eye to a controversial subject; this time being climate change denialism, with a star studded movie that has been for the most part divisive.  Still you’ve got to admire McKay for the hutzpah to take on such a controversial subject with humor as his weapon.  Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World is interesting for it’s fresh spin on romantic comedy trope, and manages to make a statement in Hollywood even beyond the language barrier.  Still, I feel like the true life stories are favored in this category.  King Richard has it’s fans, but the screenplay is a mostly by the numbers biopic that doesn’t exactly scream out as the best original script of the year.  That’s why this category this year comes down to two beloved film director’s who made deeply personal films derived from their own life’s story.  Kenneth Branagh took his experience of growing up in Belfast, Northern Ireland during “The Troubles” and crafted this emotional story about the horrific events seen through the eyes of a child.  And while Paul Thomas Anderson did base the story of Licorice Pizza on the real life events of his friend, producer Gary Goetzman, he also put a lot of his own personal experience of growing up into his love letter to the San Fernando Valley.  Both films are enriched by that personal investement by their respective authors.  What I believe is going to happen is that the Oscars is going to reward Kenneth Branagh with the Oscar, which remarkably will be the veteran actor and director’s first, because his screenplay has something more profound to say.  Deserving, but, for me the more playful, daring, and creative work was Anderson’s Licorice Pizza, which to me is the very definition of an original screenplay.  I feel it’s going to be a tight race, but a Branagh win won’t be an insult.  I just favor the unconventional over the conventional when it comes to writing something original for the screen.

WHO WILL WIN: Kenneth Branagh, Belfast

WHO SHOULD WIN: Paul Thomas Anderson, Licorice Pizza

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Nominees: Sian Heder, CODA; Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe, Drive My Car; Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve and Eric Roth, Dune; Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Lost Daughter; Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog

This is a category that I believe will be the biggest bellweather of the night for the Oscars.  CODA is the movie with the wind in it’s sails right now, having picked up big wins at the SAG and PGA awards, two indicators of Oscar season momentum.  Many believe that it could have a chance of upsetting the early favorite in the race, The Power of the Dog, which had a strong start at the Golden Globes but has since lost some of it’s momentum, but it’s not over until it’s over.  If CODA wins this award earlier in the night, it’s probably the best indicator yet that their underdog surge has come to fruition.  But, never underestimate Jane Campion.  She won her first Oscar back in 1993 for her Original Script for The Piano and she’s remained a critical darling ever since.  Seeing her win another in the Adapted field will be quite a full circle achievement for a veteran of her caliber.  Her screenplay is also my favorite here, as the movie itself was my actual favorite overall in 2021.  I certainly want to see The Power of the Dog win big at this year’s awards, though I do recognize that the likelihood is becoming less likely as the ceremony gets closer.  If Power of the Dog wins, it means it’s going to run the table, but if CODA wins, the upset is more likely.  However, I think there’s another scenario that could also happen that might take everyone by surprise.  There’s a good possibility that Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car could sneak in at the last minute.  A lot of people, particularly in writing circles, absolutely love this movie, and there is precedent for a foreign language movie winning the Oscar before (most recently Parasite).  Since the writing block of Academy voters is the one that determines this category, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if this movie beats the odd.  If there was any chance of a surprise win at this year’s Oscars, this is where I believe it may happen.

WHO WILL WIN: Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe, Drive My Car

WHO SHOULD WIN: Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Nominees: Ariana DeBose, West Side Story; Aunjanue Ellis, King Richard; Jessie Buckley, The Lost Daughter; Judi Dench, Belfast; Kirsten Dunst, The Power of the Dog

This category is the one that pretty much is a foregone conclusion going into the Oscars final stretch.  It’s pretty much even odds that Ariana DeBose is going to collect her gold statuette for her star making performance as Anita in Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of West Side Story.  The story around this likely win itself is it’s own beautiful narrative.  DeBose went from a relatively minor performer from Broadway to landing this important role in a big Hollywood musical from one of the industry’s most revered directors, to possibly winning an Oscar for playing a character that also carried another actress to a win sixty years prior in the original, which was Rita Moreno, who also appears in the new film alongside DeBose.  That’s a true Hollywood story if I’ve ever heard one, and a win for DeBose is something I can’t argue against.  Out of this field, her performance is the most dynamic and attention grabbing.  She really is the highlight in an already stellar musical, and it’s even more impressive that she managed to shine so brightly even under the shadow of Rita Moreno’s legacy, without tarnishing the glow of what Moreno also brought to the role. It’s hard to see anyone else in this category even coming close to having a shot at the award.  I certainly feel the runner up is Kirsten Dunst for her performance in The Power of the Dog.  I’m biased of course, but Dunst delivered her best performance yet as the tortured wife and mother in Jane Campion’s Western.  Buckley also gives a brave performance in The Lost Daughter and Aunjanue Ellis is by far the best part of the fairly conventional King Richard.  And Judi Dench is of course Dame Judi, a legend as always.  But, there is always at least one category that features a clear favorite, and this year it’s DeBose, who quite rankly is deserving of that front-runner status.  If she doesn’t come away with this award, it’s the upset of the night.  Really interesting that this role in particular, Anita in West Side Story, has launched not one but two Oscar winning performances.  The extra special thing for Ms. DeBose is that she is going to have the legendary Mrs. Moreno there to bear witness to this great achievement as well, a real gift across the history of the Oscars.

WHO WILL WIN: Ariana DeBose, West Side Story

WHO SHOULD WIN: Ariana DeBose, West Side Story

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Nominees:  Cirian Hinds, Belfast; J.K. Simmons, Being the Richardos; Jesse Plemons, The Power of the Dog; Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Power of the Dog; Troy Kotsur, CODA

Now we go to a category that’s a bit more competitive, though in recent days it seems to be less likely so.  When the race started many believed that this was going to be a race between veteran character actor Cirian Hinds for his touching portrayal of the grandfather in Belfast and Kodi Smit-McPhee for his multi-layered performance as a masculinity challenging youth in The Power of the Dog.  Smit-McPhee’s Golden Globe win, along with numerous critical honors, seemed to be running away with the race, until the sudden emergence of CODA’s late in the race surge.  Leading that momentum is deaf actor Troy Kotsur’s performance as the patriarch of a hearing challenged family, trying hard to connect with his daughter (the only one who can hear among them) as she is trying to live out her dreams on her own.  Kotsur has been a darling of the awards season since it started, managing to be affable while signing his acceptance speeches through his interpreters.  And he’s managed to collect quite a few awards thus far, including the all important SAG award, a very strong bellweather.  This late season momentum is enough I think to place Troy in the status of favorite in this race.  Of all of CODA’s potential wins, this one seems the most likely to happen, and it’s not an undeserving award either.  His performance is certainly the film’s highlight, and a win for him would certainly be historic as well; being the first deaf actor to win and the second performer overall (the first being his CODA co-star Marlee Matlin for Children of a Lesser God in 1986).  However, if it were my choice, I would still favor Kodi Smit-McPhee for his much more nuanced performance.  There’s so much weight in The Power of the Dog’s story that hinges on his role, and he’s a large reason why that movie resonates as well as it does, especially with the revelations towards the end.  So, Kotsur seems to have managed to pull ahead late in this race, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Smit-McPhee manages to close the gap as well and wins in a photo finish.

WHO WILL WIN:   Troy Kotsur, CODA

WHO SHOULD WIN:  Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Power of the Dog

BEST ACTRESS

Nominees: Jessica Chastain, The Eyes of Tammy Faye; Kristen Stewart, Spencer; Nicole Kidman, Being the Ricardos; Olivia Colman, The Lost Daughter; Penelope Cruz, Parallel Mothers

This could definitely be the category where me and the Academy part ways the most on.  Ever since I first saw the movie in theaters, I have been unequivocally Team Stewart for her incredible work as Princess Diana in the movie Spencer.  It’s my favorite performance of the year, across all categories.  I was just so thoroughly impressed with how she managed to take this iconic figure in world history and remove all the tabloid driven speculation about the person we all thought she was, and allowed us to see Diana as just a human being, with character traits and humanity that most of us had never even considered before about her.  Not only that, but she also perfectly captured Diana’s manuerisms and accent, to the point where she’s s comfortable in the character that you forget you’re watching a performance and are just observing a life.  Unfortunately, the awards season hasn’t been kind to Kristen Stewart.  She had been all but shut out previously in other awards shows, until she managed to land a surprise nomination here.  Given that she did manage an invitation to the big dance, it gives me hope that her presence here changes the whole dynamic of the race, including possibly taking the award home completely.  Sadly, her long absence in the other races may have boosted the chances of her competitors, though it’s a race that still remains pretty wide open.  Both Olivia Colman and Penelope Cruz have good chances with their critically acclaimed roles.  However, I feel like the Academy more likely will fall back on their tendency to honor performances where the actress transforms themselves into someone completely different.  You’d think that favors Stewart, but her transformation was much more subtle.  The favorites here are likely Jessica Chastain for her transformation into televangelist Tammy Faye and Nicole Kidman for her transformation into Lucille Ball.  I like both actresses, but these are not subtle performances from either, and are sadly overshadowed with some rather distracting make-up work.  Overall, I think Chastain has the slight edge because she has yet to win the award yet, but my hope is that Stewart has was it takes to pull off the upset, so that the true best performance wins.

WHO WILL WIN:  Jessica Chastain, The Eyes of Tammy Faye

WHO SHOULD WIN:  Kristen Stewart, Spencer

BEST ACTOR

Nominees:  Andrew Garfield, Tick, Tick..Boom!; Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog; Denzel Washington, The Tragedy of Macbeth; Javier Bardem, Being the Ricardos; Will Smith, King Richard

Here is another category that up to now is still pretty wide open.  One has to think that Will Smith is emerging as the front runner thanks to his wins at the SAG awards and the BAFTAs.  But, it might be less to do with his performance and more to do with him personally.  Will Smith is well regarded within the industry and of course is a A-list movie star in the eyes of fans across the world.  A lot of the momentum behind him seems to be derived from the belief that this is a career honor for him, and not so much a reflection of the quality of his performance.  Because, when you look at his work in King Richard, it really isn’t anything special.  It’s not a cringe, un-worthy performance by any means, but it’s also just a standard biopic style performance as well where Smith just puts upon a different voice and mannerisms, but never quite disappears into the character.   If you want to honor a big star like Will Smith, it should be for a role that better shows his range as an actor, like the Academy should have done with his work in Ali (2001).  By strange coincidence, Smith is also going up against the man he lost to the first time around, Denzel Washington, who this year took on the challenge of Shakespeare and to no one’s surprise absolutely conquered it in a great example of a major star expanding into a challenging role.  However, as much as I love both of those actors, my love for The Power of the Dog still breaks through.  I honestly feel that Benedict Cumberbatch gave the best performance by an actor this year.  His deeply complex character of Phil Burbank is one of those movie characters that I feel people are going to be discussing for years to come, like Daniel Day-Lewis’ Daniel Plainview from The Will Be Blood (2007).  And it’s a character that’s all about hiding behind a performance, which adds extra complexity onto Cumberbatch’s work, as he had to find this tragic element underneath this loathsome character that ultimately makes understand the  deep scars that inspire his cruel actions.  Cumberbatch, unfortunately has been largely shut out by the awards, despite being consistently nominated, as the momentum has been more consistent for the movie itself.  That’s why I feel like the Academy is more inclined this year to honor one of it’s shining stars in a win that is more reflective of a career rather than an individual piece of work.  And don’t get me wrong, I’ll be fine with the idea of Oscar winner Will Smith, but I feel like the performance that is going to withstand the test of time is the one that doesn’t win this year.

WHO WILL WIN:  Will Smith, King Richard

WHO SHOULD WIN:  Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog

BEST DIRECTOR

Nominees:  Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog; Kenneth Branagh, Belfast; Paul Thomas Anderson, Licorice Pizza; Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Drive My Car; Steven Spielberg, West Side Story

Here’s a category where I and the Academy are likely to be perfectly in sync on.  There is little doubt that Jane Campion is the heavy favorite here.  She has won all the bellwether awards leading up to the Oscars, and it will be a shock if she doesn’t come away a winner here.  It helps that the competitor who might have put up the biggest challenge to her, at least on a sense of cinematic scale point, isn’t even nominated; Denis Villeneuve for Dune.  If there was anyone who might challenge her for the award out of the nominees, it would be Steven Spielberg for West Side Story.  Spielberg certainly delivered a remarkably well crafted musical, something that indeed was a departure for him, and his nomination here makes for an incredible benchmark as he has now been nominated for the award in 6 different decades.  Interesting to note, Steven Spielberg’s first Oscar win for Schindler’s List (1993) had him in competition with Jane Campion, who was nominated for The Piano (1993).  Now, nearly 30 years later, these two veterans are competing again, but this year it’s Ms. Campion with the edge.  And it’s wholly deserving too.  She came back from a long absence to craft this remarkably nuanced and visually striking revisionist Western.  I’m still amazed how well she used her native New Zealand to create a sense of rural Montana, and make her movie feel expansive while at the same time intimate.  She also boldly manages tone in her movie, and delivers what I think is one of the greatest twist endings in recent memory.  Her win this year would also be a groundbreaking moment, as it will be the first time the Oscars has honored two women directors in consecutive years; last year’s award of course going to Chloe Zhao for Nomadland (2020).  There’s still a long way to go before there’s parody in the ratio of women directors that have won against the men, but, it will be great to see one of the pioneer women filmmakers finally get her due recognition.

WHO WILL WIN: Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog

WHO SHOULD WIN: Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog

BEST PICTURE

Nominees:  Belfast; CODA; Don’t Look Up; Drive My Car; Dune; King Richard; Licorice Pizza; Nightmare Alley; The Power of the Dog; West Side Story

The Academy is back to nominating 10 films again, which is welcome after a number of years where the number has fluctuated and has led to some noteworthy exclusions that have angered many movie fans.  There’s some interesting stories at play in this awards season.  One is West Side Story emerging as another awards season favorite almost exactly 60 years to the day after the original film swept the awards in 1962.  However, I don’t see it repeating that same feat, except in the Supporting Actress category.  I also expect that Dune is likely going to come out of this year’s Oscars with the most overall awards, without winning Best Picture, thanks to it’s strong presence in the technical awards, which I’m sure it will win a majority of.  Some unlikely entries here like Nightmare Alley and Drive My Car are also pleasing to see, because it shows the Academy being more generous to films outside the typical Oscar bait types, such as genre flicks like Alley and the growing international market represented by Drive My Car.  However, the story going into the final stretch of Oscar season is the surprisingly competitive race between CODA and Power of the Dog.  No one could have foreseen the late surge of CODA in this race, given it’s recent pickups in the Guild awards.  One thing that might explain it is that it’s a feel good movie and that’s something that Hollywood is really cherishing right now after a rough couple of years.  However, the thing that works against it is that it doesn’t have many opportunities to rack up many awards throughout the ceremony.  It’s got good chances at Screenplay and Supporting Actor, but the lack of a nomination in most other categories keeps it from being a powerhouse, especially without a Directing nomination.  That’s where I see The Power of the Dog having the advantage, and I think that Jane Campion’s almost certain win will give the movie what it needs to cross that finish line.  I always get nervous when my favorite movie of the year ever has a shot at winning Best Picture, because it almost always leads me to disappointment.  Since the year 2000, my favorite movie of the year and Best Picture have only lined up 3 times (2003 – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, 2006 – The Departed, and 2014 – Birdman).  Sometimes it even leads me to an especially frustrated year, when the masterpiece Roma lost out to the very overrated Green Book in 2018.  CODA is not a bad movie like Green Book, but I feel that it’s not in the same caliber of filmmaking as the more daring The Power of the Dog.  My hope is that the Academy will award the film that is more groundbreaking rather than the movie that made them feel better.

WHO WILL WIN:  The Power of the Dog

WHO SHOULD WIN:  The Power of the Dog

And now, let’s take a look at all of the remaining categories.  And yes, I believe that all of these should be present on television for everyone to see.

Best Cinematography: The Power of the DogBest Film Editing: Dune; Best Production Design: DuneBest Costume Design: CruellaBest Sound: DuneBest Make-up and Hairstyling: The Eyes of Tammy FayeBest Original Score: The Power of the DogBest Original Song: “Dos Oruguitas”, Encanto;  Best Visual Effects: DuneBest Documentary Feature: Summer of SoulBest Documentary Short:  Three Songs for BenazirBest Animated Feature: EncantoBest Animated Short: Robin RobinBest Live Action Short: Ala Kachuu – Take and RunBest International Feature: Drive My Car

So there you have my picks for the 2022 Academy Awards.  Keep in mind, I’m almost never perfect when it comes to picking the winners in all the races, because often personal bias gets in the way.  I have my favorites to be sure, but there are some years when the winners are so clearly set, and yet still not my favorites.  Even still, there are almost certainly going to be surprises throughout the night.  One thing that we learned from last year is that no one other than the accountants at Price Waterhouse knows what’s in those envelopes; not even the producers of the show.  We learned that the hard way as the Oscars producers from last year mistakenly moved the Best Actor category to the end of the show, believing that the night would end on the almost certain posthumous honor for Chadwick Boseman in what would’ve been a very emotional moment.  Instead, the name of Anthony Hopkins was announced instead, and he was a no show, with presenter Joaquin Phoenix put in the awkward position of closing the night out with accepting the award in his honor and then leaving the stage on that anti-climatic note.  Hopefully, the Academy learned their lesson from that, but at the same time, they are also making other mistakes to fix problems that don’t exist.  The exclusion of the technical categories is not the problem that audiences have with the Academy Awards; it’s that the Academy has become increasingly insular and has ignored many of the films that audiences more often favor.  Too often the Academy picks out films that fit within a certain type (the Oscar Bait movies if you will) and they exclude the films that actually have a lasting impact long after the awards are over, such as genre flicks.  There have thankfully been some films in recent years that have broken down that wall; 2019’s Parasite being a perfect example.  But I’m increasingly concerned that the Academy is more concerned with their ratings than they are with actually having the Awards mean something.  Cutting out the technical awards is an especially insulting move, because those awards are the ones won by the people who represent the average Hollywood crew member; the person that can inspire those watching the ceremony to believe that they too can rise through the ranks of the industry and collect their Oscar someday.  To take that out in favor of granting more screen time to the celebrity elite is a terrible message to send.  The Academy really needs to reconsider it’s priorities and maybe examine if network broadcast is not the best place for them to be.  Simulcasting would be a better option, so that those of us who want to see all the categories can do so online live before the primary broadcast begins, thereby still allowing the behind the scenes people to still get their time in the spotlight.  In any case, I hope that the Oscars are given out to those most deserving of the honor and that overall this represents a very happy return to the Oscars we all know and love, right there in the Heart of Hollywood.  And with that, let’s have a good Academy Awards and an exciting race towards the ceremony next year.

The Movies of Early 2022

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

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

MUST SEES:

THE BATMAN (MARCH 4)

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

TURNING RED (MARCH 11)

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

EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE (MARCH 25)

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

THE NORTHMAN (APRIL 22)

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

DOWNTON ABBEY: A NEW ERA (MARCH 18)

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

MOVIES THAT HAVE ME WORRIED:

DEATH ON THE NILE (FEBRUARY 11)

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

SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2 (APRIL 22)

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

MORBIUS (JANUARY 28)

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

FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE (APRIL 15)

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

MOVIES TO SKIP:

MOONFALL (FBRUARY 4)

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

UNCHARTED (FEBRUARY 18)

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

MARRY ME (FEBRUARY 11)

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

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

The Movies of Fall 2021

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

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

MUST SEES:

DUNE (OCTOBER 22)

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

ETERNALS (NOVEMBER 5)

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

SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME (DECEMBER 17)

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

NO TIME TO DIE (OCTOBER 8)

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

HOUSE OF GUCCI (NOVEMBER 24)

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

MOVIES THAT HAVE ME WORRIED:

GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE (NOVEMBER 11)

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

TOP GUN: MAVERICK (NOVEMBER 19)

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

THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS (DECEMBER 22)

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

ENCANTO (NOVEMBER 24)

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

MOVIES TO SKIP:

WEST SIDE STORY (DECEMBER 10)

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

KING RICHARD (NOVEMBER 19)

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

DEAR EVAN HANSEN (SEPTEMBER 24)

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

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