Predicting The 2020 Golden Globes Nominations

BEST MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA:

The Irishman

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Expected to be an awards season frontrunner, The Irishman should pick up plenty of nods here, and it would be a huge surprise if it missed out on Best Picture.

 

Marriage Story

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This and The Irishman are probably the two closest things to “locks” in this category, with Noah Baumbach’s divorce drama expected to break into the awards race in a big way.

 

1917

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Stellar early reviews have pretty much cemented Sam Mendes’ World War I epic as an awards contender to be reckoned with.

 

Ford V Ferrari

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A based-on-a-true story crowd-pleaser with well-liked stars, strong reviews and solid box-office, Ford V Ferrari (yes, I’m using the American title for my awards coverage) definitely ticks a lot of boxes for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

 

Joker

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Joker is currently something of a question mark when it comes to awards season. Will voters embrace it, or will it prove too controversial? It’s hard to say right now. But I think the Golden Globes will help determine whether the movie is clicking with awards bodies or not. I’ll take the “no-guts-no-glory” route and say it gets in.

OTHER POSSIBILITIES:

Little Women

The Two Popes

A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood

Waves

Bombshell

Avengers: Endgame (hey, I can dream!)

 

BEST MOTION PICTURE – MUSICAL OR COMEDY:

Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood

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You can go on about whether or not it can be considered a “comedy” for as long as you like, but the bottom line is that this is where Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood is being submitted for consideration. The Globes tend to like Tarantino, so this one is a no-brainer.

 

Jojo Rabbit

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Initial reviews out of film festivals were mixed, but overall critical reception towards Taika Waititi’s World War II satire has grown much more positive since its official release, and its People’s Choice win at TIFF solidified it as an awards contender. Expect it to be Hollywood‘s biggest competition here.

 

Rocketman

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The HFPA love musicals, so expect to see some love for this unconventional take on the music biopic. Star Taron Egerton will likely pick up a nod as well.

 

Knives Out

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Rian Johnson’s postmodern whodunnit has earned rave reviews since its TIFF premiere, and just opened to impressive box office numbers. Don’t be surprised if it shows up here.

 

Cats

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Even if Cats turns out to be as dreadful as its meme-worthy trailers are making it out to be, it will still get nominated at the Golden Globes. The Hollywood Foreign Press will do anything to get Taylor Swift on the red carpet, after all. The film has yet to screen for the press, but I’m willing to bet they’ll screen an unfinished cut for the HFPA before the voting deadline is up. They won’t pass up an opportunity to show it to the only awards body that’s practically guaranteed to eat it up.

OTHER POSSIBILITIES:

Booksmart

Dolemite Is My Name

Hustlers

Shazam!

Long Shot

Yesterday

 

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA:

Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)

Adam Driver (Marriage Story)

Jonathon Pryce (The Two Popes)

Robert De Niro (The Irishman)

Antonio Banderas (Pain & Glory)

 

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA:

Renée Zellweger (Judy)

Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story)

Saoirse Ronan (Little Women)

Charlize Theron (Bombshell)

Cynthia Erivo (Harriet)

 

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE – MUSICAL OR COMEDY:

Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood)

Eddie Murphy (Dolemite Is My Name)

Taron Egerton (Rocketman)

Daniel Craig (Knives Out)

Seth Rogen (Long Shot)

 

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE – MUSICAL OR COMEDY:

Awkwafina (The Farewell)

Constance Wu (Hustlers)

Beanie Feldstein (Booksmart)

Charlize Theron (Long Shot)

Jennifer Hudson (Cats)

 

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MOTION PICTURE:

Brad Pitt (Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood)

Al Pacino (The Irishman)

Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood)

Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit)

Tracy Letts (Ford V Ferrari)

 

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MOTION PICTURE:

Laura Dern (Marriage Story)

Margot Robbie (Bombshell)

Jennifer Lopez (Hustlers)

Thomasin McKenzie (Jojo Rabbit)

Annette Bening (The Report)

 

BEST DIRECTOR – MOTION PICTURE:

Martin Scorsese (The Irishman)

Bong Joon Ho (Parasite)

Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood)

Sam Mendes (1917)

Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit)

 

BEST SCREENPLAY – MOTION PICTURE:

The Irishman

Marriage Story

Parasite

Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood

Jojo Rabbit

 

BEST MOTION PICTURE – ANIMATED:

Toy Story 4

Frozen II

How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

Abominable

The Addams Family

 

BEST MOTION PICTURE – FOREIGN LANGUAGE:

Parasite

The Farewell

Pain & Glory

Les Miserables

Portrait Of A Lady On Fire

 

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – MOTION PICTURE:

Thomas Newman (1917)

Alexandre Desplat (Little Women)

Hildur Gu∂nadóttir (Joker)

Randy Newman (Marriage Story)

Michael Giacchino (Jojo Rabbit)

 

BEST ORIGINAL SONG – MOTION PICTURE:

“Into The Unknown” (Frozen II)

“(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” (Rocketman)

“Stand Up” (Harriet)

“Speechless” (Aladdin)

“Beautiful Ghosts” (Cats)

Le Mans ’66 Review: Fast & Furiously Entertaining

THE PLOT: Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) tasks American car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and maverick British driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) with constructing a car that will allow his company to challenge Ferrari at the “24 Hours Of Le Mans” race in 1966.

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REVIEW: You don’t have to be a motor enthusiast to enjoy Le Mans ’66 (weirdly changed from the superior US title of Ford V Ferrari), a pulse-pounding, hugely entertaining David/Goliath story that works wonders with familiar ingredients.

Right from the opening sequence, which follows Matt Damon’s Carroll Shelby taking part in the titular race in 1959 before he is forced to retire from racing for health reasons, director James Mangold (Logan, Walk The Line) does an excellent job of creating exhilarating, thrillingly-crafted racing sequences, from the editing to the sound design. However, the human drama is just as compelling.

Damon gives a strong performance as Shelby, but its Christian Bale as British driver Ken Miles who stands out. His relationship with his son (an excellent Noah Jupe) provides the movie with its heart, and Bale delivers another impressively committed performance as a family man who, despite promising his wife early on that he will stop racing, cannot resist getting back behind the wheel. Meanwhile, Tracy Letts proves to be a scene-stealer as Henry Ford II, while Caitriona Balfe is unfortunately given little to do beyond the usual “worried wife” tropes.

The script crackles with humour and engaging dialogue. Despite its two-hour runtime, the film moves at a reasonable pace, building up to a thrilling climax that should entertain racing fans, and even those who aren’t overly invested in the sport.

FINAL VERDICT:

A terrific underdog story that more than makes up for familiarity with thrilling race sequences and strong performances.

RATING: 8.5/10

 

The Irishman Review: Another Masterful Mob Drama From Scorsese

THE PLOT: Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), an ageing mob hitman, reflects on his time in the mafia, including his time with Pennsylvanian crime boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino).

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REVIEW: For film fans, any new Martin Scorsese picture is an event, though The Irishman is a particularly exciting one. This ambitious, three-and-a-half-hour gangster epic sees the director reunite with Robert De Niro for the first time since 1995’s Casino, while also bringing in De Niro’s fellow Goodfellas star Joe Pesci, as well as Al Pacino (who has somehow never worked with Scorsese before now).

The basic premise – following its protagonist in a life of organised crime over the years – will certainly be familiar to Scorsese’s fans, as he’s explored it before in Mean Streets, Casino and, of course, Goodfellas. But The Irishman is more than a mere “greatest hits” collection for its director and stars – it’s a fresh and compelling study of familiar themes.

All three leads are exceptional. De Niro is the best he’s been in years, giving a quietly mesmerising performance as Frank Sheeran, a war veteran-turned truck driver who becomes involved with the mafia in the 1950s, and eventually rises in the ranks. Al Pacino is given the flashier part as union leader Jimmy Hoffa, and he enthusiastically sinks his teeth into it, bringing plenty of energy to the role without ever becoming too cartoonish. Still, it’s Joe Pesci who delivers the standout performance. He plays Russell Bufalino, the head of the northeastern Pennsylvania crime family who first sets Frank off on his journey. The character is essentially the polar opposite of the unpredictable livewire Pesci played in Goodfellas, but no less terrifying: “nice old man” one minute, quietly sinister the next. The film belongs to these three men, but there are also memorable turns from Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano and Anna Paquin (who only has one line of dialogue, but speaks volumes with her facial expressions).

Digital sorcery has “de-aged” the actors so they may portray their characters over multiple decades. The effect is not entirely seamless, but thankfully never becomes distracting.

Steven Zaillian’s script, crackling with memorable dialogue and dark humour, coupled with typically brilliant work from Scorsese’s longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker, ensures that the pacing does not feel too slow despite the epic 209-minute runtime.

For much of said runtime, The Irishman is more or less what you’d expect – a compelling, and very entertaining return to the genre that Scorsese made a name for himself with. But in its final stretch, it becomes something unexpected and powerful – a melancholy, thoughtful meditation on death, regret, and the consequences of our actions. It is during this section that De Niro delivers some of the finest work of his career, and Scorsese handles it all masterfully.

FINAL VERDICT;

Featuring a trio of stellar performances from Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, The Irishman is a funny, compelling and surprisingly moving gangster drama that proves Martin Scorsese still has fresh things to say about life in the mob.

RATING: 9/10

Dolemite Is My Name Review: A Welcome Return To Form For Eddie Murphy

THE PLOT: The story of Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy), a comedian who rose to fame in the 70s with his swaggering alter-ego “Dolemite”.

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REVIEW: Having spent much of the 2000s focusing on PG or PG-13 efforts, Eddie Murphy makes a triumphant return to the kind of R-Rated comedy that he made a name for himself with in the 80s and 90s with Craig Brewer’s Dolemite Is My Name, a highly-entertaining biopic of comedian-musician-actor Rudy Ray Moore.

The story is a familiar one, focusing on an underdog who rose from nothing and found unexpected success. But thanks to Murphy’s charisma, and a script from Ed Wood writers Larry Karazewski and Scott Alexander that combines heart with humour, Dolemite Is My Name manages to stand out from similar rags-to-riches tales.

You don’t have to be familiar with Moore to enjoy this one, though the basic gist is that it follows him as he creates what would become his signature character – a foul-mouthed, larger-than-life pimp named Dolemite – and, after enjoying some success with his albums and stand-up routines, decides to try and bring the character to the big screen. The odds seem stacked against him – partly because he doesn’t really know much about the filmmaking process – but Moore perseveres nonetheless.

In some ways, the movie brings to mind James Franco’s (also excellent) The Disaster Artist, which told the story of Tommy Wiseau and his infamously-terrible 2003 drama The Room, though Moore was definitely more “in on the joke” than Wiseau was while making his movie. Murphy is the best he’s been in years, and the supporting cast – including Keegan-Michael Key, Craig Robinson and quick cameos from Chris Rock and Snoop Dogg – are equally game. Standouts include Wesley Snipes, having a ball as the film-within-a-film’s director/co-star, and a breakout turn from Da’Vine Joy Randolph, who provides the story with an extra dose of heart.

Costume designer Ruth Carter, who just won an Oscar for her work on Black Panther, should expect to find herself back in the race for her terrific work here, as she nails the outlandish costumes Moore dons for his act as well as the period details of the film’s setting.

Dolemite Is My Name is a ton of fun from start to finish – both for Eddie Murphy fans, and those who enjoy a good underdog story.

FINAL VERDICT:

Funny, well-acted and not without heart, Dolemite Is My Name provides Eddie Murphy with his best role in some time – and he rises to the occasion.

RATING: 8/10

My Favourite Films: Vol. 5

 

 

Roman Holiday

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Released: 1953

Director: William Wyler

Cast: Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck, Eddie Albert, Hartley Power, Margaret Rawlings.

Audrey Hepburn became a star thanks to her Oscar-Winning performance in this 1953 charmer about a princess who, while on a tour of European capitals, escapes her guardians to explore Rome free from the restrictions of her busy schedule – she soon encounters American reporter Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck), who sees the opportunity for an exclusive interview, and accompanies her around the city. It isn’t long before the two start to fall for each other. Peck and Hepburn’s impeccable charm, Dalton Trumbo’s witty screenplay and its unusually bittersweet ending have helped Roman Holiday endure as a classic romantic comedy.

Oscars: Best Actress (Audrey Hepburn), Best Motion Picture Story and Best Costumes.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Eddie Albert), Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction and Best Editing.

 

Mary Poppins

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Released: 1964

Director: Robert Stevenson

Cast: Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, David Tomlinson, Karen Dotrice, Matthew Garber, Glynis Johns, Ed Wynn, Arthur Malet.

Disney’s live-action films are not always as well-remembered as their animated classics, but Mary Poppins is easily one of their best films. It made a star out of Julie Andrews, and has endured as a classic film for all ages in the decades since it came out. Andrews is the titular character, who is hired as a nanny to the children of the uptight George Banks (David Tomlinson), and makes it her mission to repair the family’s fractured bond, using her magic. On a recent re-watch, I was struck by just how funny it is – the script is full of witty lines, delivered with impeccable timing by the cast. Andrews is brilliant as the stern, but caring protagonist, who views herself as “practically perfect in every way”, Tomlinson is a deadpan delight as Banks, and Dick Van Dyke charms as happy-go-lucky chimney sweep Bert (despite his admittedly awful cockney accent). The songs are wonderful, from Chim Chim Cher-ee and A Spoonful Of Sugar to Feed The Birds and Let’s Go Fly A Kite, and the final act is genuinely touching. There’s only one word to describe it – Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Oscars: Best Actress (Julie Andrews), Best Song (“Chim Chim Cher-ee”), Best Special Effects, Best Score and Best Editing.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Costumes and Best Sound.

 

The King Of Comedy

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Released: !983

Director: Martin Scorsese

Cast: Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Sandra Bernhard, Diane Abbott,

A few eyebrows must have been raised when it was announced that Martin Scorsese’s next film following the uncompromising Raging Bull would be a comedy about a wannabe comedian, but The King Of Comedy is actually just as darkly thought-provoking as the director’s more seemingly “serious” work. Robert De Niro stars as Rupert Pupkin, a deluded loser who is obsessed with becoming a stand-up comic. He begins stalking his idol, talk-show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis, playing against type), with the intention of getting a spot on his show, but Langford wants nothing to do with him – unfortunately, Rupert is not about to take “no” for an answer. De Niro’s performance is often very funny, but is also just as disturbing and unsettling as his portrayal of an unstable sociopath in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. Rupert will stop at absolutely nothing, no matter how illegal, to get his time in the spotlight, his obsession driving him to further extremes as the film goes on. This portrait of an entitled, toxic fan resonates more than ever in the modern age. Misunderstood on its release, The King Of Comedy has rightly been reassessed as one of Scorsese’s finest films.

No Oscar Wins/Nominations

 

Amélie

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Released: 2001

Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Cast: Audrey Tautou, Mathiu Kassovitz, Serge Merlin, Isabelle Nanty, Clotidle Mollet, Artus de Penguren, Rufus.

Amélie is a prime example of feel-good filmmaking at its finest. Set in Paris, this is the simple story of a naïve and sweet-natured young woman (Audrey Tautou) who makes it her mission to help those around her, while also finding love herself. Refreshingly devoid of cynicism, this film is every bit as endearing and likeable as its appealing central character, whom Tautou imbues with an irresistible charm. A surprise success in America (unusual for a subtitled Foreign-Language film), Amélie is the kind of purely enjoyable charmer we could use more of in these troubled times.

Oscar Nominations: Best Original Screenplay, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography and Best Sound.

 

Adaptation

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Released: 2002

Director: Spike Jonze

Cast: Nicholas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Tilda Swinton, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Brian Cox, Cara Seymour.

Hot off the success of Being John Malkovich, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman was tasked with writing an adaptation of Susan Orlean’s non-fiction book The Orchid Thief. Finding himself struggling with Writer’s Block, Kaufman ended up going in an unexpected direction with his screenplay – the film ended up being a satire focusing on Kaufman’s struggle to turn the book into a script, with elements of The Orchid Thief intertwined. The result is quite possibly one of the most meta movies ever made. Nicholas Cage gives one of his best performances as the fictionalised version of Kaufman, and also stars as the writer’s (fictional) twin brother Donald (who, in the film, also writes screenplays, but is more content to settle for formulaic thrillers than his brother). Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Orlean is heart-wrenchingly vulnerable. Chris Cooper is a hoot as the eccentric John Laroche, subject of Orlean’s book. The last act of the film goes in a very different direction from the one you’re expecting – but when you go back and analyse its themes, you realise just how genius this choice is. Clever, funny and brilliantly original, Adaptation will certainly resonate with anyone who’s ever experienced writer’s block.

Oscars: Best Supporting Actor (Chris Cooper).

Oscar Nominations: Best Actor (Nicholas Cage), Best Supporting Actress (Meryl Streep) and Best Adapted Screenplay.

 

Scott Pilgrim Vs The World

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Released: 2010

Director: Edgar Wright

Cast: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Jason Schwartzman, Ellen Wong, Anna Kendrick, Allison Pill, Johnny Simmons, Mark Webber, Aubrey Plaza, Brie Larson, Chris Evans.

What do you get when you mix one of my favourite filmmakers (Edgar Wright) with some of my favourite graphic novels? Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, Wright’s adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s brilliantly bizarre Scott Pilgrim series. Brimming with inventive insanity and visual style, the film follows Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), a 22-year-old slacker who falls in love with the mysterious Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). But if he is to continue dating her, he must first defeat her seven evil exes – among them, a super-powered vegan (Brandon Routh), and a hotshot movie star (Chris Evans) who has an army of stunt-doubles – in video-game style battles. Full of visual comedy, fun action sequences and memorable performances, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is Edgar Wright at his best.

No Oscar Wins/Nominations.

 

American Hustle

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Released: 2013

Director: David O. Russell

Cast: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, Louis CK, Michael Peña, Robert De Niro.

Inspired by the “Abscam” operation of the 1970s American Hustle is a funny, perfectly-cast and enormously entertaining crime dramedy from David O. Russell. Christian Bale (near-unrecognisable) and Amy Adams are, respectively, Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser, a pair of con artists who are caught by ambitious FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), and forced to participate in his sting operation involving a New Jersey mayor (Jeremy Renner). Every performance in the film is brilliant, from Bale’s transformative turn as Irving to a scene-stealing Jennifer Lawrence as his unpredictable wife. It helps that Russell’s witty, engaging script gives the actors a set of fascinating characters to work with, and his handling of an ensemble cast is as impeccable as ever.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Christian Bale), Best Actress (Amy Adams), Best Supporting Actor (Bradley Cooper), Best Supporting Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), Best Original Screenplay, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design and Best Editing.

 

The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Released: 2014

Director: Wes Anderson

Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Adrien Brody, Saoirse Ronan, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, F. Murray Abraham, Tom Wilkinson, Jason Schwartzman, Léa Seydoux, Owen Wilson, Mathiu Amalric.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is perhaps the most “Wes Anderson” Wes Anderson movie that ever Wes Anderson-ed. The director’s signature visual style and knack for memorably quirky characters is on full display in this stylish, funny and poignant romp about a hotel concierge (Ralph Fiennes) and a lobby boy (Tony Revolori) who get caught up in a plot involving a stolen painting. The film features an almost absurdly star-studded cast including Anderson regulars like Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum and Tilda Swinton, though it’s ultimately Fiennes’ show, as he proves to be a comic revelation as the sophisticated yet profane M. Gustav. In addition to its sumptuous production design and Anderson’s meticulous direction, this is one hell of a funny movie, packed with quotable lines and inspired visual comedy. And yet, as with many of his films, it’s also not without heart, particularly in the central dynamic between its two lead characters.

Oscars: Best Score, Best Makeup & Hairstyling, Best Costumes and Best Production Design.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography and Best Editing.

 

Lady Bird

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Released: 2017

Director: Greta Gerwig

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Lucas Hedges, Tracy Letts, Beanie Feldstein, Timothée Chalamet, Stephen Henderson, Lois Smith, Jordan Rodrigues.

At first glance, Lady Bird doesn’t seem like anything particularly new – a comedy-drama about a teenage girl (Saoirse Ronan) during her senior year of High School – but Greta Gerwig’s first solo directorial effort has more than enough charm, intelligence and emotional resonance to stand out in the pantheon of coming-of-age films. Our main character, Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a strong-willed teenager on the cusp of adulthood. As she navigates her final year at school, the film focuses on her relationship with her mother (Laurie Metcalf), who loves her daughter, but often clashes with her. Ronan gives her best performance to date, giving us a character who may not always be likeable, but is never less than relatable, while Metcalf is equally terrific. The screenplay bursts with Gerwig’s trademark wit, as well as heart and a host of memorable supporting characters. Lady Bird is a good example of a film that takes old themes, and makes them feel new through its storytelling and characters – it promises great things for Gerwig as a filmmaker.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Saoirse Ronan), Best Supporting Actress (Laurie Metcalf) and Best Original Screenplay.

 

Avengers: Endgame

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Released: 2019

Director(s): Joe & Anthony Russo

Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Karen Gillan, Bradley Cooper, Don Cheadle, Josh Brolin, Brie Larson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Zoe Saldana, Tessa Thompson and basically everyone who’s ever been in a Marvel movie.

11 years ago, Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark first uttered the words “I am Iron Man”, and kickstarted a franchise that led to solo films for heroes like Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and others, before they were all brought together in 2012’s The Avengers. The Marvel Cinematic Universe just continued to grow from there, introducing Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), and the Guardians of the Galaxy to consistent critical and box-office success. Avengers: Endgame ties together the 21 films that came before it in a 3-hour culmination that, almost miraculously, completely lives up to the hype. It’s full of clever callbacks to the other films, mixed with hilarious comedy, thrilling action (the climax is insane in the best way possible), and an emotionally satisfying story that brings character arcs full circle, and should bring tears to the eyes of longtime fans. I normally would not include a movie so recent on one of these “favourite films” posts, but watching Endgame for the first time was easily one of the best experiences I’ve had in a cinema, and it holds up 100% to re-watches. In short…it’s a marvel.

Oscar Wins/Nominations: We don’t know yet, because the year isn’t over.

 

 

 

Judy Review: Renée Zellweger Is Terrific As Judy Garland

THE PLOT: A look at the later years of legendary entertainer Judy Garland (Renée Zellweger) as she arrives in London to perform a series of sold-out concerts.

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REVIEW: Much like last year’s Stan & Ollie, Judy is a backstage look at the later days of a beloved entertainer – in this case, Judy Garland. While Rupert Goold’s film doesn’t exactly do anything new with biopic formula, it still offers a heartfelt and engaging portrait of one of showbiz’s most tragic figures.

At the centre of it all is Renée Zellweger as the titular performer, struggling to pay off her debts and desperate to prove herself fit for full-time custody of her children. She reluctantly signs on to perform for several weeks at London’s Talk Of The Town nightclub while she struggles with her addictions and embarks on an ill-fated romance with Finn Wittrock’s Mickey Dean.

Doing her own singing, Zellweger certainly impresses during the on-stage sequences – she doesn’t sound exactly like Garland, but what makes it work is that she doesn’t try to – she’s focused on delivering a good performance rather than simply mimicking Garland. She’s equally strong in quieter moments, such as a touching late-film telephone conversation between Judy and her daughter (Bella Ramsey).

Throughout, flashbacks are interspersed to Judy’s teen years (the young Garland portrayed impressively by Darci Shaw), showing how the studio rigidly controlled virtually every aspect of her life – be it her weight or her social life – and effectively robbed her of the chance to have a normal childhood. These scenes may not reveal much that Garland’s fans won’t already know, but manage to resonate nonetheless.

Of course, much of this is stuff we’ve seen in plenty of other entertainment biopics over the years – Judy definitely doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but Garland’s inherently moving story still makes for compelling drama.

FINAL VERDICT:

While admittedly conventional, Judy still offers a satisfying tribute to its subject driven by a committed performance from Renée Zellweger.

RATING: 7/10

The Final Trailer For “Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker” Has Arrived

42 years ago, Star Wars blasted its way into cinemas, and captured the imaginations of moviegoers worldwide. This December, the Skywalker Saga will come to an end in Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker – the full trailer has just been released, and it looks pretty awesome.

As expected, we don’t get too many specific plot details from this trailer – but there are plenty of cool moments and shots to keep us excited. I’ve got so many questions – how has Palpatine returned? Is 3PO going to die? Are Rey and Kylo Ren teaming up once more? We’ll have to wait until December to find out.

Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker releases December 18, 2019.

Zombieland: Double Tap Review: A Lightweight, But Fun Reunion

THE PLOT: Ten years after the events of the first film, Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) are still travelling across the zombie-infested landscape, encountering some new allies, and a new, deadlier breed of zombies.

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REVIEW: 2009’s Zombieland was a pleasant surprise, putting a fresh spin on old zombie-movie tropes with a likeable cast, funny script and a celebrity cameo for the ages. 10 years on, director Ruben Fleischer has reunited with the original stars for the belated follow-up Zombieland: Double Tap. Long-awaited comedy sequels can often be cause for worry, but fear not: while no masterpiece, this is a rare example of a comedy sequel that delivers.

In the decade that has passed since the undead took over the world, our ragtag group of heroes have stuck together, looking for a place to call home. They haven’t changed much since we last saw them, but the world has evolved in a few ways – there are now multiple types of zombies, with “Homers” being the ones who are so dumb they are barely even a threat, and “Ninjas” being the ones that can sneak up on you at any moment.

The main plot is set in motion when Breslin’s Little Rock, tired of being treated as the child of the group now that she’s entering adulthood, runs off with a hippie (Avan Jogia) she meets on the road, prompting the rest of her makeshift family to go after her. It’s lightweight stuff, but at a brisk 99 minutes, Zombieland: Double Tap mostly succeeds at recapturing what made the original work – not least the chemistry between the leads.

Eisenberg, Harrelson, Stone and Breslin (even if the latter is separated from the others for much of the runtime) are as effective a comedic quartet as they were the first time around – Eisenberg’s neurotic, rule-obsessed Columbus plays off Harrelson’s zombie-killin’ badass Tallahassee and Stone’s sarcastic Wichita with zest. However, the MVP this time around is a new addition to the cast: Zoey Deutch. As perky, none-too-bright valley girl Madison, she pretty much steals the show, getting many of the best lines, and making for a wonderfully charming presence.

As with most sequels, the freshness of the original film can’t be recaptured. There are a few recycled gags here and there, and not every joke lands. Still, as predictable as much of it may be, the script boasts more of the first movie’s self-aware humour, and more often than not, the results are funny.

As Zom-Coms go, this one is no Shaun Of The Dead, but it still delivers what I could have reasonably hoped for from a Zombieland sequel, and that’s more than you can say for most long-awaited follow-ups to comedies. And be sure to stay seated at the end for what may be the greatest mid-credits sequence…ever?

FINAL VERDICT:

It may not be as fresh or surprising as its predecessor, but Zombieland: Double Tap is still a solid sequel that retains what made the original so fun.

RATING: 7/10

“The Batman” Has Found Its Catwoman

With Matt Reeves’ The Batman, the latest cinematic take on Gotham’s caped crusader, set to begin production fairly soon (either late 2019 or early 2020), we should expect a few big casting announcements over the next few months. Last night, we got confirmation that actress Zoë Kravitz (Big Little Lies, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald) has been cast in the role of Selina Kyle/Catwoman.

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Kravitz joins Robert Pattinson, who was confirmed to be cast as Batman over the summer. It has also been heavily rumoured that Jeffrey Wright is in talks to play Commissioner Gordon, while Jonah Hill is in contention for either The Penguin or The Riddler.

Catwoman and Batman’s relationship is a complicated one, as they have been love interests and enemies at different points in time. Given that The Batman is being described as a noir-driven detective story, it seems likely that the character will serve as the “femme fatale”, and may act as both an ally and foe to the title character, who will reportedly be going up against quite a few villains in the film. Kravitz is the latest actress to take on this role, following in the footsteps of Julie Newmar, Lee Meriwether, Eartha Kitt, Michelle Pfeiffer, Halle Berry and Anne Hathaway. Interestingly, Kravitz has actually played this character before – providing her voice in 2017’s The LEGO Batman Movie.

The Batman is scheduled for release on June 25, 2021.

Analysing The Best Supporting Actress Race Post-TIFF

TOP FIVE CONTENDERS:

Laura Dern (Marriage Story)

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Playing the fast-talking divorce lawyer who represents Scarlett Johansson’s character, Laura Dern has been singled out as a scene-stealer by many critics who’ve seen Marriage Story. It would not be a surprise to see her take home the gold come Oscar night.

 

Jennifer Lopez (Hustlers)

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Hustlers was the surprise hit of TIFF, earning rave reviews many of whom praised Jennifer Lopez’s performance as the best of her career. It might not seem like the kind of role the Oscars have historically gone for, but the buzz surrounding her really is getting difficult to ignore.

 

Margot Robbie (Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood)

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For all the controversy surrounding her relative lack of screentime, I would still argue that Margot Robbie’s work as Sharon Tate is worthy of a nomination – that she makes such an impression without many lines of dialogue should only be taken as a testament to her performance. And I still think she stands a pretty good chance at being nominated, especially if voters really love the film.

 

Zhao Zhuzhen (The Farewell)

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There’s been much (well-deserved) buzz surrounding Zhao Shuzhen’s touching performance as “Nai Nai” in The Farewell, and while non-English language performances from actors who aren’t well-known overseas can face an uphill battle, that didn’t stop Marina De Tavira from earning a surprise nom for Roma.

 

Thomasin McKenzie (Jojo Rabbit)

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It’s definitely not a lock, but Thomasin McKenzie has earned a lot of praise for her work in Jojo Rabbit, which was catapulted into the awards race following its TIFF People’s Choice win. It’s entirely possible that the Leave No Trace breakout could make it into the conversation.

 

OTHER POSSIBILITIES:

Scarlett Johansson (Jojo Rabbit)

Nicole Kidman (Bombshell)

Octavia Spencer (Luce)

Meryl Streep (Little Women)

 

 

 

Every Big-Screen Portrayal Of The Joker Ranked

The most iconic villain in the history of comic-books. The Clown Prince of Crime. Batman’s arch-nemesis. The Joker has gone through many portrayals throughout the decades, and here I will rank every cinematic interpretation of the character thus far – including the most recent.

 

7. Jared Leto

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In the build-up to Suicide Squad‘s release, much noise was made about Jared Leto’s intense “method acting” on set – which involved going to such extremes as sending his co-stars used condoms – and the trailers built up his performance enough to generate interest in this new portrayal of the iconic villain. But ultimately, Leto only appears onscreen for about ten minutes, and fails to live up to the hype when he does show up. Leto’s tattooed, “gangsta” take on the character feels less like a menacing psychopath and more like Ace Ventura if he was a pimp. Also, a word of advice: nothing screams “look at me! I’m edgy!” than tattooing the word “damaged” on your forehead.

 

6. Cesar Romero

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Batman is typically known for being dark and brooding, which is what makes the 1960s television show, and its film adaptation, stick out among the many incarnations of the character – it refuses to take itself seriously, embracing the sillier side of comic books with great enthusiasm (what other version of the caped crusader would carry around a “shark-repellant bat spray” in case of a very specific shark-related emergency?). As such, this version of The Joker is not exactly a sadistic criminal mastermind, but rather a mischievous prankster prone to fits of giggles. Romero’s performance is so manic that he definitely works best in small doses, but you can’t say he’s not doing what’s being asked of him.

 

5. Zach Galifianakis

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This Joker is also a more lighthearted take on the character – understandably, since he’s in a kids film. LEGO Batman‘s Joker prides himself in being Batman’s “greatest enemy”, but is devastated when he learns that his foe does not think of him that way, and there is nothing “special” about their relationship as a result. This portrayal of the pair’s dynamic as a metaphor for one-sided relationships leads to one of the film’s most inspired running gags, and Galifianakis has a lot of fun with his voice performance.

 

4. Jack Nicholson

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Jack Nicholson’s Joker is basically a darker take on Cesar Romero’s – closer to the murderous clown we’re familiar with from the comics, but still goofy and cartoonish. Also like Romero, Nicholson’s performance is a lot – sometimes too much, with his constant bursts of manic laughter. Still, he’s clearly having a blast in the role, and makes for a solid foil to Michael Keaton’s Batman.

 

3. Mark Hamill

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When most people hear the name “Mark Hamill” they think of the heroic Luke Skywalker from Star Wars. But Hamill is also famous for providing the voice of The Joker in the Batman animated series from the 1990s, also reprising the role in feature films such as 1993’s Mask Of The Phantasm. Funny without neglecting what makes him so scary, Hamill proved to be an unexpected but inspired casting choice, and would go on to voice The Joker in numerous animated Batman adventures over the decades.

 

2. Joaquin Phoenix

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Joaquin Phoenix’s take on the character explores the events that led to him becoming The Joker in the first place, as failed comedian Arthur Fleck is slowly driven insane, and lashes out against society. Phoenix is chilling in every scene, as we start out with sympathy for Arthur before it eventually becomes impossible to root for him. He also boasts what may be the most haunting “Joker laugh” of all.

 

1. Heath Ledger

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If you had told people in the early 2000s that the guy from 10 Things I Hate About You and A Knight’s Tale would give us the definitive portrayal of The Joker, they’d have called you crazy. Even after his Oscar-nominated turn in Brokeback Mountain, fans were skeptical that Ledger could pull it off – but oh boy, did he prove them wrong. Ledger absolutely dominates every frame he’s in, completely disappearing into the role and giving us one of the most menacing and memorable movie villains of the century (and, if we’re being honest, of all time). All the more terrifying for his unpredictability, Ledger’s Joker is not given a backstory, motivated solely by a desire to “watch the world burn”. This Oscar-Winning performance remains the defining role of the late actor’s tragically short career, and one of the best comic-book casting choices of all time.

Joker Review: Joaquin Phoenix Is Haunting In This Unconventional Take On “Batman” Lore

THE PLOT: A gritty take on the Batman mythos in which Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) a failed comedian disregarded by society, begins a slow descent into madness, as his increasingly violent actions send him down the path that will lead to him becoming The Joker.

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REVIEW: Who’d have thought a comic-book movie from the guy who made The Hangover trilogy would cause so much controversy? You’ve probably heard a lot about Joker in the last few weeks – since its premiere at the Venice Film Festival, debates have raged over whether or not this origin story for Batman’s iconic nemesis is too condoning of its main character’s violent actions, or if the wrong people will view it as a call to riot.

These concerns are not entirely unfounded, and are honestly understandable. Far from your typical comic-book film, Joker is dark, disturbing and definitely not for everyone in the way it handles its themes – but it remains a fascinating and often gripping piece of filmmaking with a truly incredible central performance.

This performance comes from Joaquin Phoenix, the latest actor to take on the role of one of the most famous villains in the history of comics. Of course, this being an origin story, it’s a different side to The Joker than we’ve seen in previous portrayals – when we first meet him, he is Arthur Fleck, a failed comedian with a mental illness who lives with his mother in the crime-ridden Gotham City. At first, we are sympathetic towards him, as he is shunned by society at nearly every turn – but as his actions grow more and more extreme, our sympathy fades. Phoenix is utterly brilliant – pitiful yet terrifying, with a laugh that’s sure to haunt you. He should absolutely be in the Best Actor conversation when awards season rolls around.

There’s no question watching this film that director Todd Phillips was inspired by the work of Martin Scorsese – in particular, it feels like a mixture of Taxi Driver and The King Of Comedy, the former because of its examination of a disturbed individual lashing out against society, and the latter because it’s a tale of a wannabe comedian driven to dangerous extremes (just to further highlight the parallels, it even brings in that film’s star Robert De Niro as a talk show host named Murray Franklin).

The film is not condoning of Arthur’s actions, though it is easy to see why some would fear that certain sections of the audience would try to paint him as a hero – the kind of “incels” who lurk in the darkest corners of the internet, insisting that Tyler Durden is the “true hero” of Fight Club, or cheering on the behaviour of Jordan Belfort in The Wolf Of Wall Street. Sadly, people like this do exist – though it is certainly not the film’s intent to glorify Arthur’s crimes, and I do not believe it paints him in a positive light.

The gorgeous cinematography and striking production design make this a beautiful film to look at, while the haunting score by Hildur Guðnadóttir is among the year’s best. Admittedly, some of the supporting cast is underutilised, with Deadpool 2‘s Zazie Beets saddled with a fairly underwritten role, and If Beale Street Could Talk‘s Brian Tyree Henry getting little more than a cameo.

Nonetheless, while Joker is not a perfect film, and I could understand the problems some may have with it, I found it to be an engrossing, thought-provoking character study, and an interesting twist on the comic-book movie genre.

FINAL VERDICT:

Joker will not be for everybody, and that’s OK – while not perfect, it still offers a compelling portrait of a monster created by the society he lives in, and features a masterful performance from Joaquin Phoenix.

RATING: 8/10

The Farewell Review: A Moving Story Of Family, Culture And Grief

THE PLOT: Billi (Awkwafina), a headstrong young Chinese-American woman, learns that her beloved grandmother (Zhao Shuzhen) has terminal cancer. She returns to China with her parents, but must wrestle with the family’s decision to not tell their matriarch about her diagnosis, as they instead plan a fake wedding as an excuse to say their goodbyes.

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REVIEW: “Based on an actual lie” reads a title card at the start of The Farewell, which is indeed inspired by a real-life experience of writer-director Lulu Wang, whose family, as per Chinese custom, chose to keep her grandmother in the dark when they discovered she was terminally ill. Having previously recounted the story on the podcast This American Life, Wang then made it the basis for her second feature film, a moving and beautifully-acted examination of cultural divides and familial dynamics.

At its heart is the relationship between lead character Billi, who left China for America with her parents at a young age, and her grandmother “Nai Nai”, who stayed back home but keeps in touch with her granddaughter regularly. Awkwafina, having broken out in Hollywood last year with her comedic turn in Crazy Rich Asians, is a revelation as Billi, her first dramatic role. While most of her family accepts the decision to keep the diagnosis from Nai Nai, Billi is more conflicted, having spent much of her life in America, where such a choice would be unheard of. The rapper-turned-actress sells every minute of it, confirming her status as one of Hollywood’s most exciting new stars.

Zhao Shuzhen is equally terrific as Nai Nai, playing her with the right amount of tenderness and warmth, while also bringing plenty of humour to the role. Her chemistry with Awkwafina makes the interactions between Billi and Nai Nai all the more touching.

Wang’s screenplay touches on a lot of Chinese traditions that may be unfamiliar to those unfamiliar with the culture, but its central themes of family and home will resonate with all. And despite the sad subject matter, this is often a funny film as well, deriving as much humour from the cultural gaps between Billi and some of her relatives as it does emotion from its set-up.

FINAL VERDICT: 

The Farewell explores resonant cultural and familial themes with heart, humour and honesty, while also showcasing Awkwafina’s dramatic talents.

RATING: 9/10

 

Analysing The Best Supporting Actor Race Post-TIFF

 

TOP FIVE CONTENDERS:

Brad Pitt (Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood)

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As cool-as-hell stuntman Cliff Booth, Brad Pitt pretty much steals Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood, and currently looks like the frontrunner in this category. The fact that he’s going to abstain from campaigning probably won’t hurt his chances too much – in fact, it might ironically end up helping him.

 

Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood)

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Believe it or not, it’s been close to two decades since Tom Hanks was last nominated for an Oscar. However, we have reason to believe this nomination drought will come to an end this year, as his portrayal of Children’s Television icon Fred Rogers is earning him some of his best reviews in a while. Marielle Heller’s last film, Can You Ever Forgive Me? earned acting nominations for Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant, and it looks like she’ll do the same for Hanks this year.

 

Sterling K. Brown (Waves)

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A lot of the performances in Waves are getting praised by critics, though the one who’s walked away with the most Oscar buzz is Sterling K. Brown as a stern patriarch trying to hold his family together. The This Is Us star is no stranger to awards, with a Golden Globe and two Emmys to his name already, so perhaps this is his ticket to the Academy Awards. You can already tell what his Oscar clip is going to be based on the trailer.

 

Al Pacino (The Irishman)

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Tom Hanks hasn’t been nominated since 2000, but Al Pacino has gone 27 years without an Oscar nom, since his overdue win for 1992’s Scent Of A Woman. With reviews for The Irishman looking pretty damn great so far (and plenty of praise for Pacino’s performance) that looks set to change very soon.

 

Jamie Foxx (Just Mercy)

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Just Mercy is not looking like the major Oscar contender some may have hoped for despite overall positive reviews, but Jamie Foxx still has a pretty good shot at a Supporting Actor nomination as a wrongfully convicted Death Row inmate – he’s been singled out in a lot of the reviews, and appears to have the showier role than the more understated Michael B. Jordan, which may work in his favour. Right now, he is the film’s best shot at a nomination.

 

OTHER POSSIBILITIES:

Alan Alda (Marriage Story)

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Alan Alda is certainly getting a lot of praise as the Divorce Attorney representing Adam Driver’s character in Marriage Story, though I’m not feeling quite as much buzz as I am for Driver, Johansson and Laura Dern. If the movie really plays well with the Academy, Alda could get in. For now, I’m counting him as an outside possibility.

 

Willem Dafoe (The Lighthouse)

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As I’ve said before, I suspect this movie may be too weird for some Academy voters, though Willem Dafoe is having something of an awards resurgence at the moment, earning back-to-back nominations for The Florida Project and At Eternity’s Gate in 2017 and 2018.

 

Robert Downey Jr (Avengers: Endgame)

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I would love for this to happen. It would be so cool to see Robert Downey Jr’s work as Tony Stark/Iron Man over the last decade honoured this way. Ultimately, it’s a long shot, but Disney will certainly put a campaign behind him – likely for Supporting, as the Best Actor race is just too crowded.

 

Anthony Hopkins (The Two Popes)

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Johnathon Pryce seems to be getting most of the praise for The Two Popes, but his co-star Anthony Hopkins – who plays Pope Benedict opposite Pryce’s Francis – could easily snag a nomination as well.

 

Joe Pesci (The Irishman)

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Two actors nominated in the same category for the same film is certainly not unheard of – it happened last year with Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz for The Favourite, and the year before that with Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Joe Pesci is also earning a lot of acclaim for his work in The Irishman, and given that this is his first big role in a while, the Academy may be willing to throw him some sentimental votes.

Ad Astra Review: Brad Pitt Is Terrific In James Gray’s Sci-Fi Epic

THE PLOT: Astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) embarks on a journey across the solar system in search of his father (Tommy Lee Jones), who disappeared thirty years ago on a mission that now threatens the universe.

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REVIEW: The trailers for Ad Astra may make it out to be a fairly traditional sci-fi blockbuster. However, the actual film is much more meditative and introspective than such a description would imply – James Gray’s film is a leisurely-paced, thoughtful piece of sci-fi, and one that features a terrific turn from its leading man.

As the quiet, reserved astronaut Roy McBride, Brad Pitt delivers a moving and mesmerising performance that’s some of the best work of his career. Between this and his equally terrific turn in Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood, he’s certainly been having quite a year.

Set in the near future, the film opens as a mysterious series of “surges” starts hitting the Earth, threatening all of life. Finding evidence that the surges are in some way connected to the “Lima Project” – an expedition led by astronaut Clifford McBride 16 years prior to search for intelligent life in space – the US Space command sends our hero, Clifford’s son, on a mission to try and make contact with his missing father, and hopefully stop the surges.

Gray has cited The Heart Of Darkness as a partial influence, with a number of scenes that draw parallels to Apocalypse Now. The outer space scenes are complemented by Hoyte Van Hoytema’s beautiful cinematography, and Max Richter’s resonant score.

While not devoid of action, much of the film moves at a patient, unhurried pace, as Roy’s voiceover muses over his mission and what he’ll do should he find his father. The emotional beats are well-handled – a mid-film monologue by Roy is beautifully acted by Pitt, and the father-son story at its core carries plenty of emotional weight.

The final 15 minutes or so have a couple of issues, in addition to one or two leaps in logic, but on the whole, Ad Astra is a treat for those who enjoy introspective sci-fi – mainstream audiences may not wholly embrace it, but it’s reassuring to know that films of this kind can still get made.

FINAL VERDICT:

Led by a fantastic performance from Brad Pitt, Ad Astra explores some interesting themes with intelligence, atmosphere and emotional resonance.

RATING: 8/10

Analysing The Best Actress Race Post-TIFF

 

TOP FIVE CONTENDERS:

Renée Zellweger (Judy)

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A past Oscar winner who hasn’t been in many major movies as of late returning with a biopic of a beloved real-life figure for which she’s earning a lot of praise? Indeed, Renée Zellweger already has quite an awards narrative for Judy, in which she portrays iconic actress, singer and all-around star Judy Garland. Reviews for the film itself have been pretty good, though not “stellar”, but Zellweger – who does her own singing – has been met with acclaim for her performance, and given how much the Academy likes a comeback, and portrayals of real-life people, she may have emerged as our Best Actress frontrunner.

 

Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story)

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Scarlett Johansson has never been nominated for an Oscar before, but her performance as one half of a divorcing couple in Marriage Story is likely to change that. Much like co-star Adam Driver, she’s been getting “career-best” notices from critics, who are already pointing to her as a top contender for Best Actress.

 

Saoirse Ronan (Little Women)

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Saoirse Ronan’s last collaboration with Greta Gerwig led to possibly the best performance of her career thus far, and a well-deserved third Oscar nomination. The trailer for Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women promises yet another strong performance from Ronan, this time as lead character Jo March. This role netted Winona Ryder a Best Actress nomination almost 25 years ago, and it’s not hard to imagine it could do the same for Ronan.

 

Awkwafina (The Farewell)

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It remains to be seen if The Farewell can crack the Best Picture race, but Awkwafina’s chances at a Best Actress nomination are still looking pretty good. The rapper-turned-comedian’s first dramatic performance has been winning over critics since the movie premiered at Sundance.

 

Cynthia Erivo (Harriet)

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Overall, Harriet looks like it won’t be the across-the-board Oscar player some may have hoped – reviews were fairly mixed, with many finding it too formulaic, but Cynthia Erik’s performance as the iconic freedom fighter of the title garnered wide praise – just enough to keep her in the top five for now.

 

OTHER POSSIBILITIES:

Felicity Jones (The Aeronauts)

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This one is pretty unlikely – critics were mostly positive on Tom Harper’s inspired-by-truth adventure, but not to the point where I could see it showing up at the Oscars aside from a few technical noms. Still, enough reviews singled out Felicity Jones for her to be at least a possibility.

 

Lupita Nyong’o (Us)

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As both the mother trying to protect her family, and the doppelgänger hunting her down, Lupita Nyong’o is chillingly brilliant in Us, and should absolutely be in the awards conversation. Performances in genre films usually face an uphill battle to be recognised by major awards, but I’m still holding out hope that Nyong’o can go the distance.

 

Meryl Streep (The Laundromat)

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Reviews were largely mixed for Steven Soderbergh’s satirical look at the Panama Papers scandal, but Meryl Streep earns a spot on the “contenders” list by virtue of being Meryl Streep.

 

Charlize Theron (Bombshell)

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Jay Roach’s Bombshell follows the women who came forward accusing Fox News founder Roger Ailes (portrayed by John Lithgow) of sexual harassment. Theron plays Megyn Kelly. Nobody’s seen it, and the trailer didn’t show much, but Theron is a very talented actress, and the film’s subject matter does have extra resonance in a post-Me Too era, so if it delivers, Theron could get in.

 

Alfre Woodard (Clemency)

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Alfre Woodard received critical acclaim for her performance as a Death Row Prison Warden in this Sundance-winning drama. Whether she gets nominated depends on how hard the distributor is willing to campaign for her.

Analysing The Best Actor Race Post-TIFF

My Post-TIFF Oscar Predictions continue, and now it’s time to take a closer look at what’s already shaping up to be a pretty stacked Best Actor race…

TOP FIVE CONTENDERS:

Adam Driver (Marriage Story)

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Adam Driver is one of the most consistently great actors working today, and many critics have hailed his work in Marriage Story as some of his best to date. He plays a theatre director whose marriage to an actress is falling apart, leading to a divorce. It’s very possible that Driver, who picked up his first nomination last year for BlacKkKlansman, could find himself taking home the gold on Oscar night.

 

Antonio Banderas (Pain & Glory)

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Nominations for performances in Foreign Language films aren’t necessarily common, but they do happen. Given the Academy’s soft spot for movies about filmmakers, Antonio Banderas’ moving and understated turn as an ageing director reflecting on his life could well end up earning the Spanish actor his first nomination. It would certainly be deserved.

 

Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood)

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Four years after finally winning that elusive Best Actor Oscar for The Revenant, Leonardo DiCaprio looks to find himself back in the race for his performance as a fading TV star trying to make it in Hollywood in Tarantino’s latest. The actor’s charisma is on full display, though he also brings enough vulnerability to the role to make the character believable – the scene where he starts to tear up on noticing similarities between himself and the past-his-prime protagonist of the book he’s reading might be some of his best work.

 

Johnathon Pryce (The Two Popes)

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Johnathon Pryce earned very strong reviews for his portrayal of Pope Francis (to whom he does bare quite a resemblance) in this Netflix drama. He’s has never been nominated before, so maybe this is his year. It’s also worth noting that the film’s screenwriter is Anthony McCarten – the man who wrote three of the last five films to win their star a Best Actor Oscar. If this streak continues, maybe Pryce should start making room on his shelf…

 

Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)

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While Todd Phillips’ origin story for the iconic Batman villain has not been without its detractors, Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of the character has been earning plenty of buzz, and could plausibly net him his fourth nomination. Should he get in, he’ll be the second actor to receive an Oscar nomination for playing this character – 11 years after Heath Ledger won posthumously for his performance in The Dark Knight.

 

OTHER POSSIBILITIES:

Robert De Niro (The Irishman)

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If the Academy really goes for The Irishman, then Robert De Niro could plausibly receive a nomination for his first collaboration with Martin Scorsese since Casino. His last nomination was in 2013 for Silver Linings Playbook.

 

Taron Egerton (Rocketman)

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If Rocketman had been released later in the year – and also not so soon after another actor had won for playing a glam-rock icon – then Taron Egerton’s impressive turn as Elton John might have had a better shot. As it stands, he’s certainly in contention, but the competition will probably drown him out.

 

Michael B. Jordan (Just Mercy)

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Michael B. Jordan is one of those actors who you know is going to get an Oscar nomination some day – but while Just Mercy, in which he stars as real-life Human Rights Lawyer Bryan Stevenson, was pretty well received at TIFF, it did not earn quite enough buzz to be considered a major Oscar contender – in a year with so many in contention for Best Actor, it may be hard for Jordan to get in.

 

Eddie Murphy (Dolemite Is My Name)

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It’s been a long time since Eddie Murphy was last in a major movie, but now he’s back – his new film is a comedic biopic of famed blaxploitation entertainer Rudy Ray Moore. The film, along with Murphy’s performance, was widely praised at Toronto, though a crowded field (and a lot of other contenders for Netflix to handle) probably hurts his chances – still, a Golden Globe nomination seems likely.

 

Robert Pattinson (The Lighthouse)

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It’s not 100% clear how The Lighthouse stars Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson will be campaigning, but I’m hearing rumblings that Pattinson is going lead, and Dafoe is going Supporting. I’d say the movie might be too “weird” for some voters, but Pattinson has certainly earned a lot of praise for his performance.

 

Adam Sandler (Uncut Gems)

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Yes, THAT Adam Sandler. Before you call me crazy, it’s important to note that when he’s not starring in his usual “Adam Sandler comedies”, he can be a legitimately compelling, charismatic and interesting actor (see The Meyerowitz Stories for a recent example). His performance in Uncut Gems, the Safdie Brothers’ follow-up to Good Time, has earned a lot of praise from critics who saw it at the festivals. It does seem like the kind of movie that won’t appeal to everyone, but it’s not hard to imagine him at least getting some love at the Indie Spirit awards.

 

 

 

Analysing The Best Picture Race Post-TIFF

The Venice, Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals have come and gone, which means it’s time for me to start rolling out the next wave of Oscar predictions. I’ll be covering the major categories during the week starting with the big one – Best Picture.

TOP TEN CONTENDERS:

Marriage Story

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Up to now, Noah Baumbach’s only Oscar nomination has been for Best Original Screenplay (for The Squid & The Whale). That’s expected to change soon, as his latest film, Marriage Story, is earning near-universal praise out of the major festivals. It focuses on an unfolding divorce between a theatre director (Adam Driver) and his actor wife (Scarlett Johansson). Both Driver and Johansson are earning some of the best reviews of their careers, and are expected to earn nominations as well as Laura Dern, in a supporting role as the fast-talking lawyer who represents Johansson’s character.

 

1917

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Sam Mendes’ World War I drama, reportedly presented as one continuous shot, has yet to actually screen, but the talent on both sides of the camera is impressive, with a cast full of highly-regarded actors like Benedict Cumberbatch and Kenneth Branagh, as well as composer Thomas Newman (who has yet to win an Oscar despite 14 nominations) and cinematographer Roger Deakins working behind the scenes. If it lives up to expectations, expect to see it show up.

 

Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood

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Quentin Tarantino has plenty of fans within the Academy (two of his last three films were nominated for Best Picture), and Oscar voters love movies about movies, so Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood has a lot going for it in terms of awards prospects. Strong reviews and likely support in below the line categories like production design and cinematography will probably boost its chances even more.

 

Waves

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I’m kicking myself right now. At the start of the year, I released my first set of 2020 Oscar predictions, and had Trey Edward Shults’ Waves on my predictions – I figured it could be that one contender which sneaks up and surprises us. I eventually chickened out and took it off the list when the time came for my second round of predictions, but it seems that was a mistake – the film screened at Telluride and Toronto, and was met with rave reviews and plenty of Oscar buzz. Should’ve stuck with my gut. Following “a suburban African-American family” as they “navigate love, forgiveness and coming together in the aftermath of a loss”, the movie is expected to be a strong contender for Best Picture in addition to a few other categories.

 

The Irishman

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Recently debuting its first trailer, Martin Scorsese’s latest gangster epic stars Robert De Niro as an ageing mafia hitman who may have been involved with the killing of Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). Nobody’s seen it yet, but we’ll have more of an idea of its chances when it premieres at the New York Film Festival in a few weeks – until then, the fact that its a Scorsese picture is promising enough.

 

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

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Tom Hanks stars as beloved children’s television host Fred Rogers in Marielle Heller’s follow-up to Can You Ever Forgive Me? It follows a cynical journalist (Matthew Rhys) who has his outlook on life changed when he’s assigned to write a profile on Rogers. This pitch sounds like it could be cloying and sentimental, but reviews out of Toronto suggest that Heller’s film is more nuanced and thoughtful than you may expect – and Hanks is earning widespread praise for his performance.

 

Parasite

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Snowpiercer and Okja director Bong Joon-Ho’s satirical thriller, which won the Palm D’or at Cannes back in May, is continuing to pick up raves left and right from critics. After Roma earned ten nominations and a win for Best Director last year, it’s certainly not implausible that a Foreign-Language movie could sneak into the lineup this year.

 

Ford V Ferrari

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James Mangold’s look at Ford’s struggle to beat Ferrari at the 1966 Le Mans race is earning very positive reviews out of Telluride and Toronto, and could certainly be a player in the technical categories as well as Best Picture. It’s not a lock per se, but it’s in a pretty good position at the moment.

 

Little Women

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Greta Gerwig directs this latest adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel, with an impressive cast that includes Saoirse Ronan, Meryl Streep, Timothée Chalamet and Florence Pugh among others. The trailer looks good, and Gerwig proved her talent as a director with Lady Bird, so this is one to look forward to.

 

Jojo Rabbit

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Reviews for this World War II-set anti-hate satire from Taika Waititi were fairly divided (if mostly on the positive side), but the fact that it won the TIFF People’s Choice Award – usually a pretty reliable Oscar predictor – means you should still keep an eye on it in terms of your predictions, even if not everyone was won over by its quirky approach to its themes. Besides, it would be pretty cool to see a Taika Waititi film nominated at the Oscars.

 

 

OTHER POSSIBILITIES:

Avengers: Endgame

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It’s still a long shot, but it would be great if the Academy chose to nominate Avengers: Endgame. Much like The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King (which won Best Picture along with ten other Oscars), this is the conclusion to an epic blockbuster franchise that has become a massive part of pop culture, and the fact that it manages to satisfyingly wrap up narrative threads from across 21 previous films is a pretty insane achievement. At the very least, Alan Silvestri’s score should be in contention.

 

Cats (god help us all…)

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I’ll be honest: I don’t think this is going to happen. I just cannot imagine the Academy being able to take this movie seriously outside of the production design. But they do love Tom Hooper, so there’s no telling what could happen.

 

The Farewell

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Its mid-summer US release date and mostly-unknown cast will serve as a challenge, but The Farewell has been receiving rave reviews since its Sundance premiere, and if A24 can mount a strong enough campaign, it could definitely make its way into the Best Picture race.

 

Joker

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Reviews out of the festivals for this unconventional take on DC comics lore have largely been positive, and it won Venice’s prestigious Golden Lion – though it has not been without its critics. It might be a bit controversial for Best Picture, but Joaquin Phoenix’s critically-acclaimed turn as the titular villain could well be a Best Actor contender.

 

The Two Popes

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One of the more surprising hits to come out of the festivals was The Two Popes, which follows Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) and his future successor Francis (Johnathon Pryce) as they attempt to “find common ground to forge a new path for the Catholic Church”. Between Marriage Story and The Irishman, it’s possible that Netflix will have too much on their hands to deal with, but a warm critical reception is enough to make this a possibility.

 

Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker

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Like Endgame, this is the conclusion to a long-running story – in this case, the Skywalker Saga – and if it lives up to the hype, it’s possible that the Academy will want to honour the franchise as a whole. It probably depends on the competition, but don’t count this one out.

Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit” Wins People’s Choice At TIFF

The Toronto International Film Festival has wrapped up, and announced the winner of its coveted People’s Choice Award: Taika Waititi’s anti-hate satire Jojo Rabbit.

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What’s interesting about this win is that the film was fairly divisive following its premiere, with plenty of critics deeming it one of the year’s best, and plenty others taking issue with its handling of its subject matter (though it is worth noting that the positive reviews currently outweigh the more negative ones overall).

The film is a satirical comedy about a young boy in Hitler’s youth camp (newcomer Roman Griffin Davis) who finds his naïve patriotism challenged when he befriends a young Jewish girl (Leave No Trace‘s Thomasin McKenzie). Waititi himself also has a role as the boy’s imaginary friend – a goofier version of Hitler himself. It’s certainly a tricky topic, and while not all critics were won over by the end result, it still had plenty of fans – including, it seems, the audiences who voted at the end of the festival.

So what does this mean for the film’s Oscar chances? Only one film this decade has won this award and not been nominated for Best Picture, but will this one prove too divisive? It’s hard to say. Nonetheless, I am very much looking forward to Jojo Rabbit – I love Waititi’s other work, and I’m seeing plenty of positive reactions from reviewers I trust. Look out for my Oscar predictions during the week.

Pain & Glory Review: A Movingly Personal Effort From Pedro Almodóvar

THE PLOT: Filmmaker Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) reflects on his life, and the choices he’s made over the years.

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REVIEW: Pain & Glory is a personal film for Pedro Almodóvar. This semi-autobiographical, 8 1/2-style look at an ageing filmmaker looking back on his life and career is clearly pulled from the director’s own memories, resulting in a stylish and often moving film which should prove very satisfying to the Spanish auteur’s longtime fans.

Our lead character is Salvador Mallo (Banderas), a celebrated director who has not made anything in years, and is currently besieged by back pains and other mysterious ailments (such as frequently choking whenever he eats). He decides to reconcile with the star of his recently-remastered first film (Asier Etxeandia), having fallen out with him during production.

Their reunion leads to Salvador being introduced to heroin, and from here, he begins to reflect on his life – there are many flashbacks to his childhood, living in  a cave house with his mother (Penélope Cruz), while the present-day Salvador also reunites with a former lover (Leonardo Spargaglia).

Banderas, who deservedly won the Best Actor award at Cannes back in May, gives a mesmerising, contemplative performance that should not be forgotten come awards season. Understated, soulful and honest, his performance will stick with you long after seeing the film.

Almodóvar’s screenplay avoids veering into melodramatic territory with humour, and, as the second half of the title would suggest, enough “glory” to counteract the “pain” its protagonist is going through. Its clever final shot put a huge grin on my face as the credits started to roll.

FINAL VERDICT:

Beautifully-shot and emotionally resonant, Pain & Glory finds director Pedro Almodóvar and star Antonio Banderas at the top of their game.

RATING: 9/10

My Favourite Movies Of 2019 (So Far)

Since we’re more than halfway through the year, here are my personal favourite movies of 2019 so far.

 

12. Long Shot

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A charming and likeable rom-com that also has a thing or two to say about sexism and modern politics, Long Shot is a great showcase for stars Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron.

 

11. Spider-Man: Far From Home

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Spider-Man’s second solo outing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a funny and heartfelt High School movie that also boasts plenty of entertaining superhero action – and in addition to serving as a nice epilogue to the Infinity Saga, it also sets the stage for the MCU’s future.

 

10. Shazam!

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The DCEU is usually associated with doom and gloom, but its latest (and best) instalment continues the franchise’s recent tonal course-correction with a funny and charming Superman-meets-Big story bolstered by a perfectly-cast Zachary Levi.

 

9. Apollo 11

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This compilation of brilliantly-remastered footage from the historic Apollo 11 mission in 1969 makes for an interesting and inspiring documentary on one of the great human achievements of the 21st century.

 

8. Rocketman

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Elton John gets the biopic he deserves in the form of Dexter Fletcher’s rousing and colourful musical Rocketman. Star Taron Egerton gives an excellent performance as the glam-rock icon, while the subject’s music is cleverly utilised in a series of energetic and impressively mounted song-and-dance numbers.

 

7. John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum

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Keanu Reeves’ third outing as the badass hitman John Wick is the series’ best entry yet, a relentless and fast-paced action-thriller full of impressive fight choreography and insane set pieces. Bring on Chapter 4.

 

6. Toy Story 4

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Sure, the Toy Story trilogy could have ended with the third instalment, but it’s really a miracle that Toy Story 4 is as good as it is – funny, heartfelt and stunningly animated, with a story that provides a satisfying new adventure for Woody and Buzz, while introducing great new characters like Tony Hale’s existential-crisis-suffering “Forky” and Keanu Reeves’ stuntman Duke Caboom.

 

5. Us

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Two years after Get Out took us all by surprise, Jordan Peele returns with a second directorial effort that solidifies his position as one of the most exciting voices in modern cinema. Following a family who find themselves terrorised by their own sinister doppelgängers, this clever and gripping horror-thriller should spark plenty of conversations after the credits roll. Lupita Nyong’o’s dual performance should be in the awards conversation.

 

4. Booksmart

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Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever are straight-A students who decide to finally indulge in one night of rule-breaking in Olivia Wilde’s hilarious and heartwarming directorial debut, one of the biggest surprises of the cinematic year so far. A clever script and appealing leads make this one of the freshest coming-of-age comedies in a while.

 

3. Eighth Grade

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I’m counting this one as 2019 (despite the fact that I usually go by US release dates) because it didn’t came out until late April where I live, so I wasn’t able to put it on my 2018 list. This insightful look at a young girl’s final week of middle school is, by turns, funny, heartbreaking, cringeworthy and ultimately hopeful – and at the centre of it all is a wonderful breakout performance from Elsie Fisher.

 

2. Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood

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Featuring Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt at the top of their game (as well as Margot Robbie’s excellent portrayal of Sharon Tate), Quentin Tarantino’s vision of Hollywood in 1969 is a hugely entertaining look at a bygone era.

 

1. Avengers: Endgame 

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Paying off more than a decade’s worth of storytelling in a truly satisfying fashion is no easy task, but Avengers: Endgame accomplishes just that – amidst all the blockbuster action, it also finds the time to wrap up character arcs in ways that are clever, surprising, and often emotional. Marvel’s epic superhero blockbuster balances action and humour with genuinely compelling character work, and culminates in a truly magnificent climax that’s everything a fan could wish for.

 

Also deserving of mention is Captain Marvel, a highly entertaining introduction to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s latest hero (portrayed by a charismatic Brie Larson). I wish I could have included this, partially as a middle-finger to the internet trolls who have been trying to take it down for months, but consider it the unofficial number 13.

Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood Review: Tarantino’s Brilliant Love Letter To Hollywood’s Golden Age

THE PLOT: In 1969 Hollywood, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a fading TV star, and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), his longtime stunt double, struggle to make it in a changing film industry.

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REVIEW: Quentin Tarantino has never made a secret of his passion for cinema. Throughout his filmography, he’s included allusions to the many great films that inspired him in his work (and, in Inglorious Basterds, cinema is essentially what defeats the Nazis). It was only a matter of time before he made a movie all about Hollywood itself, and it comes in the form of his ninth (and supposedly penultimate) film Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood, a hugely entertaining stroll through 1960s Hollywood as it probably never was.

Like many of Tarantino’s movies, there isn’t necessarily a linear “plot”, but the majority of the film follows Rick Dalton (DiCaprio), the former star of a western television series called Bounty Law, who is now trying to make it as a big-screen actor. Almost always by his side is Cliff Booth (Pitt), his loyal stunt double and closest friend. They are essentially guides in a long, leisurely nostalgia trip through the final year of Hollywood’s golden age, recreated through stunning production design, and a soundtrack peppered with hits from the era.

It boasts a pretty star-studded cast, though most of them are essentially fun cameos, such as Al Pacino’s small but entertaining appearance as Rick’s agent. DiCaprio, returning to the screen for the first time since his Oscar win, is as charismatic and watchable as ever, while Pitt radiates coolness as the easygoing Cliff (who has a rather sketchy past).

Much has been made of Margot Robbie’s relative lack of dialogue as Sharon Tate, who was infamously murdered by the cult of Charles Manson (to say how exactly this chapter in history plays into the main story would be too spoiler-y). While it is true that Robbie is only in a few scenes, she is wonderful whenever she is onscreen, particularly during a weirdly mesmerising sequence that sees her watching one of her own films in a theatre.

The structure of the film essentially amounts to a series of vignettes set in Hollywood during this time period – one involves Cliff getting into a fight with Bruce Lee (Mike Moh), while another sees Rick on set of his latest TV gig. It’s a long film, and may test the patience of some viewers, but Tarantino’s fans accustomed to his storytelling style should find plenty to enjoy.

FINAL VERDICT:

Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood delivers a well-crafted ode to a bygone era, featuring terrific production values, a sharp script and excellent performances from its impressive cast.

RATING: 9/10

Hobbs & Shaw Review: Big, Dumb, Over-The-Top Fun

THE PLOT: A spinoff of the Fast & Furious franchise starring two popular characters from those films – tough lawman Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and criminal Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), who are forced to work together to stop a cyber-genetically enhanced terrorist (Idris Elba), who is after a deadly virus stolen by Shaw’s sister (Vanessa Kirby).

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REVIEW: When The Fast & The Furious, essentially Point Break set in the street racing world, was first released in 2001, few could have imagined that it would spawn a blockbuster franchise that’s still going on after 8 instalments and almost two decades. Yet that’s exactly what it did, gradually switching gears from small-scale crime films about street racers to increasingly over-the-top, knowingly preposterous action extravaganzas involving an ever-growing ensemble cast, globe-trotting plots and absolutely no attention paid to the laws of physics.

Hobbs & Shaw is the franchise’s first spinoff, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s fan-favourite federal agent Luke Hobbs, and Jason Statham as the series’ bad-guy-turned-anti-hero Deckard Shaw. After the two displayed entertaining chemistry in the franchise’s last instalment, a movie centring around them was soon announced, and it’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect at this point – big, loud and completely, utterly ridiculous, but still fun.

The Macguffin that forces the pair to work together is a deadly virus stolen by Shaw’s sister Hattie, She’s soon hunted down by Idris Elba’s superhuman terrorist Brixton, forcing our mismatched protagonists to join forces, protect Hattie and save the world.

It’s a knowingly overblown premise, and the reason Hobbs & Shaw works at all is because it never takes itself too seriously. You’ll need a fairly high tolerance for cheeky one-liners, as they make up much of the interplay between the leads. These lines are often appropriately cheesy (“I’m what you call an ice-cold can of whoop-ass” says Hobbs early on), but delivered with full commitment from Johnson and Statham, whose chemistry more often than not elevates the proceedings.

But the two men are not alone here, as Vanessa Kirby steals the show from them on a couple of occasions. Badass, funny and charismatic, she has the makings of an up-and-coming action star, while Idris Elba has a blast as the villain.

As is to be expected with this series, the action is gleefully, unabashedly ludicrous. David Leitch, known for co-directing the original John Wick, as well as helming Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2, does a typically solid job with the fight sequences, and bigger, explosion-filled set-pieces, and injects all the carnage with just the right amount of self-awareness.

However, the film’s length could have used some trimming. The last half-hour, while it does contain some fun action, feels tacked-on, especially since it’s preceded by a set-piece which could honestly have been the finale. As a result, it starts to drag as it nears its end, but for the most part, Hobbs & Shaw is a good time – it won’t leave you thinking about the meaning of life, but it delivers exactly what it promises.

FINAL VERDICT:

Hobbs & Shaw delivers the over-the-top, high octane thrills Fast & Furious fans have come to expect, while solid work from Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham and Vanessa Kirby keeps things consistently entertaining.

RATING: 7/10

My 25 Favourite Movie Scenes (3-Year Anniversary Post!)

Moviebuffstuffsite is three years old this week! To celebrate, I’ll be counting down some of my personal favourite moments in cinema. I’ve put them in order of when the films were released, because it was too hard to rank them.

 

THIS LIST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SOME OF THE FILMS DISCUSSED

CONTEXT WILL BE PROVIDED FOR THE SCENES WHEN NECESSARY, BUT IF THE SCENE DISCUSSED IS SELF-EXPLANATORY ENOUGH, I’LL JUST DESCRIBE WHAT HAPPENS, AND SAY WHY IT’S GREAT.

 

The Ending (City Lights, 1931)

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CONTEXT TO THE SCENE: The film has revolved around Charlie Chaplin’s “Tramp” character attempting to raise money so he can help a blind flower girl (Virginia Cherrill), with whom he has fallen in love, afford an operation that will restore her sight. Through a series of escapades, he eventually manages to get her the money – but how will she react when she realises her benefactor is not a rich man, like she had thought?

THE SCENE: The Tramp comes across the girl, no longer blind, but back selling flowers on the street as she always does. Not yet recognising him, the girl kindly offers the Tramp a fresh flower, which he accepts. As she gives it to him, she recognises the feel of his hand, and realises who he is. After a tense moment, during which we are not certain how she will react, she pulls his hand to her chest, and we fade to black as a smile comes over the Tramp’s face.

WHY IT’S GREAT: This is one of the most perfect endings in all of cinema. The Tramp, and the audience, are terrified of how the girl may react when she learns the truth of his situation – will she still love him? Will she be disappointed? So when she pulls his hand to her, it’s a relief to both the character and the viewer, and packs an emotional punch. The range of emotions Chaplin communicates with his facial expressions – fear, uncertainty, hope, and finally, joy – is some of his absolute best work.

 

La Marseillaise (Casablanca, 1942)

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THE SCENE: Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid) leads the crowd at Rick Blaine’s (Humphrey Bogart) bar in a rousing performance of the French national anthem La Marseillaise, in defiance of the Nazi officers present.

WHY IT’S GREAT: This is actually a key moment for Rick as a character – the “go ahead” nod he gives Victor as he starts encouraging the patrons at the bar to join him marks the first time that he really picks a side, after having strived to remain neutral up to then.

 

“I’m Ready For My Closeup” (Sunset Boulevard, 1950)

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CONTEXT TO THE SCENE: Faded silent film star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) is convinced that her fans are still awaiting her big-screen comeback, and has been attempting to use struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) to write the film that will do this for her. However, when Joe tries to leave her, Norma kills him.

THE SCENE: The next day, Norma’s home is filled with cops and reporters, who have discovered what happened to Joe. By this stage, Norma has suffered a complete mental breakdown, and convinces herself that the reporters are cameramen and that she is actually on the set of her imaginary comeback film. Her servant Max (Erik Von Stronheim), who has been enabling her delusions all this time, plays along, and calls “Action!” as Norma dramatically descends the staircase, declaring “Alright, Mr. DeMille – I’m ready for my close-up!”

WHY IT’S GREAT: For all her narcissism and obsession with the past, it’s hard not to pity Norma Desmond – she truly believes that there’s a devoted audience out there, clamouring for her return to the movies, and her actions in the movie all stem from her desire to mount a triumphant return that will never be. After she is driven over the edge, and kills Joe, there’s no turning back for her – she simply descends further into her fantasy, resulting in the haunting final image of her advancing towards the camera, staring at the audience as she makes a dramatic speech to a film crew that isn’t there.

 

Terry’s Speech In The Car (On The Waterfront, 1954)

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CONTEXT TO THE SCENE: Dockworker Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando), was once a promising boxer until his brother Charley (Rod Steiger), under the instructions of gangster Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb), told him to throw the fight which could have made his career.

THE SCENE: Charley needs to keep Terry from testifying against Friendly in order to save his brother’s life. However, as they argue, Terry angrily reminds Charley of how he betrayed him all those years ago in a monologue that has become one of cinema’s most famous speeches.

WHY IT’S GREAT: “I could’a had class! I could’a been a contender! I could’ve been somebody…instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it!”. The whole speech on its own is already powerful, but its Marlon Brando’s heartbreaking, Oscar-winning performance that makes this one of the most moving scenes in cinema history.

 

“Well, Nobody’s Perfect” (Some Like It Hot, 1959)

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CONTEXT TO THE SCENE: After witnessing a mob hit, two male musicians – Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) – disguise themselves as women, and hitch a ride with an all-girl band to escape to safety. Jerry/Daphne becomes the object of millionaire Osgood Fielding’s (Joe E. Brown) affections.

THE SCENE: As the characters flee their pursuers, “Daphne” tries to explain to Osgood why “she” cannot marry him. “I’m not a natural blonde!” he says. “I smoke!” “I have a terrible past!” “I can never have children!”. But when Osgood responds to each with some variation on “I don’t care”, Jerry gives up, rips off his wig, and admits “I’m a man!” Unfazed, Osgood replies, “Well, nobody’s perfect!” as the film fades to black.

WHY IT’S GREAT: Unexpected, hilarious, iconic, ingenious…all these words can be used to describe Some Like It Hot‘s brilliant ending. The last response anyone expects from Osgood upon learning the “woman” he has been wooing is really a man is for him to simply shrug it off, but that’s the genius of it – the deadpan line delivery, the perfect expression on Jack Lemmon’s face as we fade to black…it’s a flawless conclusion to Billy Wilder’s comic masterpiece.

 

The Stargate (2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968)

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THE SCENE: Astronaut Dave Bowman is pulled into a vortex called a “Star Gate”, experiencing a number of strange things which culminate in him becoming a “Star-Child”, who gazes upon the Earth.

WHY IT’S GREAT: The last act of Stanley Kubrick’s science-fiction masterpiece is some of the trippiest stuff ever committed to celluloid – through stunning visuals and sound design, we are taken on a surreal journey with Dave as he hurtles through the Stargate, rapidly ages, and finally becomes the “Star-Child” – perhaps representing the next phase of human evolution, given the film’s overall themes. It’s open to many interpretations, but one thing’s for sure: it’s pure cinema.

 

Baptism Murders (The Godfather, 1972)

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THE SCENE: The baptism of Michael Corleone’s (Al Pacino) newborn daughter is intercut with scenes of the Corleone family’s assassins carrying out the murders of other New York dons.

WHY IT’S GREAT: It’s pretty clear what the point of this (controversial) sequence is – to contrast the religious atmosphere of the baptism with the shocking violence of the Corleone family’s business. Michael tells the priest that he renounces Satan, even though his people are carrying out mob hits as he speaks. The brilliant editing and strong storytelling make this another great scene in a film that already has many.

 

“You Talkin’ To Me?” (Taxi Driver, 1976)

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THE SCENE: Mentally unstable taxi driver Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) practices his “tough-guy” act in front of a mirror, drawing a gun out from under his sleeve, and repeating the phrase “you talkin’ to me?” to his reflection.

WHY IT’S GREAT: This is another scene whose greatness is partly down to the actor performing in it. The camera focuses on De Niro the whole time, as he delivers that iconic line, and threatens the imaginary person standing in front of him. Famously improvised by De Niro, the scene is a fascinating peak into Travis’ psyche – he hasn’t quite gone over the edge here, but he’s close.

 

“I Am Your Father” (Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, 1980)

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CONEXT TO THE SCENE: Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has come to Cloud City to rescue his allies from Darth Vader (James Earl Jones and David Prowse) and his forces. This leads to a confrontation between Luke and Vader.

THE SCENE: Vader corners Luke, telling him to join his side. He tells Luke that “Obi-Wan never told you the truth about your father”. Luke says his mentor told him enough – he told him that Vader killed him. But then Vader drops a bombshell – “No” he says. “I am your father”.

WHY IT’S GREAT: This twist is a classic example of how to brilliantly subvert expectations in a big-screen blockbuster. The revelation that Darth Vader is in fact Anakin Skywalker rather than his killer, as we were told by Obi-Wan Kenobi in the first movie, serves as not only a shock for Luke and the audience, but also adds a new layer of emotional heft to the story – the seemingly black-and-white “good vs evil” story becomes clouded as Luke becomes determined to find the good left in his father, and Vader struggles between his loyalty to the empire and his unwillingness to actually kill his son.

 

“Funny, how?” (Goodfellas, 1990)

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THE SCENE: After Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) shares a humorous story, his fellow mobster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) tells him he’s a “funny guy”. Tommy appears to take offence at this, getting angrier and angrier – until he laughs it off, revealing he was just messing around.

WHY IT’S GREAT: What starts as a scene about a guy sharing a funny story over a dinner table becomes something much more tense and stressful, as the unpredictable Tommy appears to take Henry’s compliment the wrong way – “Funny, how?” he asks. “Funny like a clown? Like I amuse you?”. When he eventually reveals he’s just trying to freak Henry out, it comes as a relief – though Henry and the viewers are already pretty shaken.

 

Welcome To Jurassic Park (Jurassic Park, 1993)

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THE SCENE: John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) reveals to his guests that he has bred real-life dinosaurs on the park he has created.

WHY IT’S GREAT: Giant CGI creatures are commonplace in blockbusters these days, but for audiences in 1993, the sight of these digitally-created dinosaurs was something to behold. And even today, the scene retains its power – the reveal of the Brachiosaurus is brilliantly done, the awed reactions of the characters are fun to watch, and the special effects have held up surprisingly well.

 

Cuban Pete (The Mask, 1994)

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CONTEXT: Shy bank clerk Stanley Ipkiss (Jim Carrey), has discovered a mysterious mask that turns him into what is essentially a superhero with the powers and personality of a cartoon character. His antics lead to him being wanted by the police, who corner him outside a park.

THE SCENE: Surrounded by a squad of police officers, Stanley’s alter-ego (dubbed “The Mask”) devises an absurd and unusual way to get out of the situation – he launches into a song-and-dance performance of the song Cuban Pete, and even manages to coerce all the cops to join him as he dances.

WHY IT’S GREAT: I mean, I couldn’t not include a scene from my favourite movie (which celebrated its 25th anniversary on Monday), now could I? This is one scene that never fails to put a smile on my face. It’s unexpected, brilliantly absurd, and hilarious no matter how many times I watch it. The icing on the cake is when all the present cops start cheerfully dancing along to the character’s performance, while the exasperated Lt. Kellaway tries to snap them out of their trance.

 

Andy’s Escape (The Shawshank Redemption, 1994)

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THE SCENE: Having spent 19 years digging a hole in the wall of his cell at Shawshank State Penitentiary, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) finally puts his escape plan into action, finally making his way to freedom.

WHY IT’S GREAT: OK, so maybe it’s a bit of a cheat that a film which takes such an unflinching look at life in prison has an uplifting ending in which the protagonist escapes…but it’s damn near impossible not to get the feels when Andy, after trudging his way through “500 yards of shit”, finally makes it to freedom after all the years he’s spent in Shawshank.

 

Ezekiel 25:17 (Pulp Fiction, 1994)

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THE SCENE: Hitman Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) recites his favourite Bible verse to a man before killing him.

WHY IT’S GREAT: Simply put, this is all down to Samuel L. Jackson’s line delivery. He can make almost anything sound badass, and honestly, who wouldn’t want the last thing they ever heard to be him declaring “…and you shall know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee!”?

 

Batman Interrogates The Joker (The Dark Knight, 2008)

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CONTEXT TO THE SCENE: The Joker (Heath Ledger) has been terrorising Gotham City, and his men have now kidnapped District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart).

THE SCENE: Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale) interrogates the captured Joker to find out where Dent has been taken. But The Joker is a difficult man to break.

WHY IT’S GREAT: This scene gives us one of the greatest hero-villain dynamics since Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter. Bale does a very good job as the caped crusader, but this scene – much like the whole film – really belongs to Ledger. Unpredictable, scary and weirdly mesmerising, his Joker is a fascinating creation. We watch as he argues that the people of Gotham’s morals are “a bad joke…dropped at the first sign of trouble”, and that he is “not a monster…just ahead of the curve”. And as he gradually tests Batman’s patience, the hero is driven dangerously close to breaking his one rule – to not kill anyone – and thereby, proving The Joker’s twisted worldview right. He ultimately doesn’t, but this scene brilliantly shows how The Joker can get inside people’s heads, even someone like Batman.

 

Carl & Ellie’s Life Together (Up, 2009)

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THE SCENE: A wordless montage of protagonist Carl Fredricksen’s life with his wife Ellie. We see their wedding day, their attempts to start a family, and the many setbacks they encounter in their efforts to raise money to fulfil their shared dream of seeing Paradise Falls in South America – but just when Carl finally manages to obtain the tickets, Ellie falls ill and dies soon after.

WHY IT’S GREAT: Up is a great film throughout, but this sequence is like a masterpiece short film on its own. Through visuals alone, we witness the highs and lows of the couple’s married life, whether it’s the morning routine of Ellie helping Carl with his tie, or Carl comforting her after they discover they can’t have children. And in the montage’s final minutes, we watch as Ellie dies just as Carl had come close to realising the dream they’ve shared since childhood. Pixar have given us their fair share of emotional scenes, but this is easily their most heartbreaking – and one of the most moving sequences in cinema. And let’s not forget Michael Giacchino’s Oscar-winning score, which complements the visuals perfectly.

 

Opening Scene (Inglourious Basterds, 2009)

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THE SCENE: In France in 1941, French dairy farmer Pierrier La Padite (Denis Ménochet) and his family are sheltering a Jewish family in their home. One day, they are visited by Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), a German SS officer whose knack for locating Jewish people in hiding has earned him the nickname “the Jew Hunter”. Acting friendly and cheerful on the surface, Landa discusses his reputation, and gradually confirms that he knows La Padite is hiding “enemies of the state” in his home, threatening to harm his family unless he co-operates.

WHY IT’S GREAT: Inglourious Basterds is full of nail-bitingly suspenseful scenes, and its opening is a perfect example. It’s slow-burning, lasting nearly 20 minutes, but the longer it goes on, the greater the tension becomes. La Padite (and the audience) can see that Landa’s calm, polite demeanour is an act, and that he suspects the farmer’s family knows more about the missing Dreyfuss family than they are letting on, but the calculating Landa keeps up his facade nonetheless – creating a sense of tension that is close to unbearable for both the viewer and the character of La Padite. This tension continues to build, until Landa eventually manipulates La Padite into giving up the family’s location, and killing them all except the eldest daughter, who escapes. The scene works as well as it does because of Tarantino’s excellent dialogue and Waltz’s brilliant, deservedly Oscar-winning performance.

 

“So Long, Partner” (Toy Story 3, 2010)

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THE SCENE: Andy (John Morris) passes his childhood toys on to young Bonnie (Emily Hahn) before he departs for college. He and Bonnie play with the toys one last time before he leaves. As Bonnie goes inside briefly, Woody (Tom Hanks) watches as Andy’s car drives away into the distance, marking the end of an era for him and the rest of the toys.

WHY IT’S GREAT: This is no longer the ending to the Toy Story franchise as a whole (though thankfully, Toy Story 4 managed to produce another satisfying, fitting conclusion), but it is the ending to the story that provided the emotional arc for the first three – Woody’s devotion to his owner Andy. The prospect of Andy getting older and eventually departing for college was brought up in Toy Story 2, but becomes reality in Toy Story 3, and watching Andy play with his beloved childhood toys one last time before getting into his car and driving away is as moving as the opening scene in Up. Woody’s line, “So long, partner” is the perfect, bittersweet way to close off the movie.

 

The Avengers Assemble (The Avengers, 2012)

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CONTEXT TO THE SCENE: Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), have been brought together by the organisation SHIELD to defend Earth against an alien attack led by Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), though for much of the movie, they’ve struggled to work together.

THE SCENE: Finally putting aside their differences, the team reunites in New York to face Loki’s army. As they finally begin working as a true team, we are shown a 360 degree shot of them standing united, ready to take on this threat together.

WHY IT’S GREAT: Given all the characters involved, an Avengers movie was a risky proposition. Even after Marvel released five solo movies (from 2008’s Iron Man to 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger) in order to establish the main characters and their backstories before they all came together, there was no guarantee that they could pull it off. And yet, they did – and in this moment, where the team finally stands together after having been at odds for much of the film, fans finally got to see the sight they had dreamed of: their favourite superheroes sharing the spotlight on the big screen.

 

Peter Quill Dancing (Guardians Of The Galaxy, 2014)

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CONTEXT TO THE SCENE: Intergalactic outlaw Peter Quill, or “Star-Lord” (Chris Pratt) has been sent by his employer/father-figure Yondu Udanta (Michael Rooker) to steal a mysterious, valuable orb from a tomb on a desolate, destroyed planet.

THE SCENE: As Quill makes his way across the planet’s destroyed surface, an ominous mood is built up. But when Quill actually enters the tomb, he puts in earphones, switches on his Walkman cassette tape, and starts dancing to Redbone’s Come And Get Your Love as he makes his way to the orb.

WHY IT’S GREAT: This scene is a perfect way to begin the movie for so many reasons. After a pretty depressing prologue which shows us how a young Quill lost his mother, this sequence is where director James Gunn firmly establishes the irreverent, hilarious tone of the rest of the film. It also serves as a perfect introduction to the character of Peter Quill – from his attachment to his cassette tape to his somewhat immature personality, and Chris Pratt sells it all perfectly. If there were any doubts about how Marvel would be able to handle such an obscure, quirky comic on the big screen, they were put to rest as soon as Quill started dancing.

 

Church Fight (Kingsman: The Secret Service, 2015)

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CONTEXT TO THE SCENE: Harry Hart (Colin Firth), a spy for the British agency “Kingsman”, attends a meeting at a Hate Church group in Kentucky, searching for information on the plans of the sinister Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson). Unbeknownst to him, Valentine has ensured that everyone present there has one of his special SIM cards which, when activated, will send out a signal that will drive them and everyone near them into a homocidal rage.

THE SCENE: Valentine activates the SIM cards, and everyone at the meeting (including Harry) goes crazy, brutally attacking each other in over-the-top, extremely violent ways. Due to his spy training, Harry manages to come out on top, emerging as the sole survivor.

WHY IT’S GREAT: This is one of my favourite action scenes of the decade. Unfolding at a frenetic pace, and filled with some of the craziest and most hilariously exaggerated violence seen on screen in the last few years, it’s a brilliantly directed and edited piece of action filmmaking that certainly isn’t for the faint of heart, but still serves as a standout moment in this highly entertaining spy spoof.

 

Another Day Of Sun (La La Land, 2016)

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THE SCENE: We open on a scene of L.A traffic jam. Suddenly, the people waiting in their cars break out into song, each singing about their ambitions, and the reasons they moved here in the first place.

WHY IT’S GREAT: Right off the bat, La La Land makes it clear what we’re in for: a joyous, full-hearted modern spin on the classic musicals of Hollywood’s golden age. Set to Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s catchy original song Another Day Of Sun, the scene transforms what began as a scene of traffic jam into a full-blown song-and-dance number (edited to appear like a single shot) full of life, bright colours and impressive choreography. When I saw this scene for the first time in the cinema, I already knew I was going to love this movie.

 

Darth Vader Attacks (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, 2016)

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CONTEXT TO THE SCENE: The rebels have received the empire’s plans for their “Death Star” weapon, and are trying to escape with them.

THE SCENE: As the rebels try to escape their ship when it is intercepted by imperial forces, they find themselves trapped when the door gets stuck. Then, the lights go off, and a familiar sound of heavy breathing is heard. A red lightsaber ignites in the hallway, revealing Darth Vader, who tears mercilessly through the rebel forces as he advances towards them.

WHY IT’S GREAT: Watching this scene in the theatre for the first time was just an incredible experience. I was excited to see how Darth Vader would be used in Rogue One, but I was more or less expecting it to just be a glorified cameo – nothing too major. And for much of the runtime, it seemed I was right – but then, in its final moments, the movie delivered what may be the most badass scene in the whole franchise. In this short, but oh-so-awesome sequence, we watch the greatest movie villain of all time reaffirm that title by tearing his way through rebel forces, deflecting their blasts with his lightsaber and taking no prisoners. Instantly, all memories of his infamous cry of “noooooo!” from the end of Revenge Of The Sith are washed away – when the Imperial March kicks in towards the end of the scene, it feels like the movie sending a message of “you don’t mess with Darth Vader!”.

 

The Snap (Avengers: Infinity War, 2018)

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CONTEXT TO THE SCENE: The titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) has been relentlessly searching for the six “Infinity Stones”, with which he can wipe out half of all life in existence – thereby, brining “balance” to the universe, as he sees it. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) tries to kill Thanos just as he gets the final stone – but he does not succeed.

THE SCENE: Thanos snaps his fingers, activating the stones, and teleports away. Immediately, half of all living creatures in the universe turn to dust. This includes some of the film’s heroes: Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan); T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman); Groot (Vin Diesel); Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie); Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen); Mantis (Pom Klementieff); Drax (Dave Bautista); Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt); Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch); and finally, Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland).

WHY IT’S GREAT: There was never any doubt after Infinity War was released that the heroes who turned to dust in this scene would be revived in Avengers: Endgame, and indeed they were – but even with that knowledge, this was still a pretty ballsy way to end a gigantic superhero blockbuster. I knew going in that we’d be saying goodbye to some characters, but my expectation was that the film would end with the Avengers still standing strong, and ready for their final confrontation with Thanos, in spite of a few casualties. It never occurred to me that the final moments would see them watching in horror as their teammates and loved ones vanished before their eyes, while the survivors stand around, barely able to comprehend their defeat. With no music, we watch as Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) sees his longtime companion Groot disappear; as Wanda Maximoff turns to dust while she mourns her lost love, Vision (Paul Bettany); as young Peter Parker begs to be saved before he succumbs to the effects of the snap and fades away. By the time the credits roll, the characters have experienced the greatest defeat of their lives – and one that has completely changed the world they live in by the time the next one takes place.

 

Avengers Assemble Once More (Avengers: Endgame, 2019)

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CONTEXT TO THE SCENE: Five years after Thanos erased half the universe’s population, the remaining Avengers discover a way to reverse his actions. Immediately after Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), uses the recovered Infinity Stones to bring back those who were lost, the team are suddenly attacked once more by their nemesis.

THE SCENE: Just when all seems hopeless, the heroes who died in the snap, but were just revived by Hulk, arrive to assist the team. Once all the reinforcements have arrived, Captain America (Chris Evans) calls out “Avengers…assemble!” and leads them in a charge against Thanos’ army.

WHY IT’S GREAT: This is the moment the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, from the first Iron Man in 2008 to this one in 2019, had been building up to up to that point. In this scene, every surviving Avenger – be it Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, Tom Holland’s Spider-Man or Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord – is standing united, alongside supporting characters like Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Korg (Taika Waititi), and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Alan Silvestri’s brilliant score plays triumphantly as more heroes arrive to help, heightening the emotional heft of the scene. And then, we reach the film’s coolest moment: Chris Evans’ Captain America summons the hammer Mjiolnir to his hand, says the line “Avengers Assemble” (a phrase commonly used in the comics, but never actually said in the films up to that point), and the army of superheroes charges towards their enemies while the Avengers theme music plays. Epic, emotional, thrilling and satisfying – this is how you pay off 11 years of blockbuster storytelling.

 

The Lion King Review: Remake Can’t Roar As Triumphantly As The Original

THE PLOT: Mufasa (James Earl Jones), the lion king of the African Pride Lands, is killed by his evil brother Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Scar tricks Mufasa’s young son Simba (JD McCrary) into blaming himself for what happened, and exiles the young cub. Years later, the adult Simba (Donald Glover) must learn that he cannot run away from his past, and return home to face his uncle.

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REVIEW: Disney is seemingly intent on giving every animated classic in their back catalogue a live-action update. Just this year, we had new versions of Dumbo and Aladdin, while the last few years have seen the release of Beauty And The Beast, The Jungle Book, Cinderella and many more. Of course, the main reason these remakes exist is because they make an insane amount of money, but they don’t always have to be bad ideas – Pete’s Dragon, arguably the best of the bunch (and, depressingly, one of the less profitable) worked so well because it offered a totally new spin on the original’s story. The Jungle Book also succeeded because it retained some of what people loved about the 1967 version while also adding enough new elements to stand on its own. The problem is that most of the remakes don’t add anything new, at least narratively. The Lion King is a good example, as this update of the studio’s 1994 classic looks great, but can’t really justify its existence outside of being a technical showcase.

Calling this movie “live action” would be inaccurate, because there are no actual real people or settings on screen. It’s more of a photo-realistic CGI remake, and the visual effects really are an impressive achievement. The opening sequence, a practically shot-for-shot recreation of the original film’s iconic beginning, is stunningly animated, with animals that would not look out of place in a nature documentary.

But this also comes at a cost – the characters are so realistic-looking that it makes them less expressive than their cartoon counterparts. The lions have the same facial expressions whether they’re angry, happy or scared – and yes, it’s more realistic, but it loses the vibrancy and personality of the original as a result.

For the most part, the voice cast is well chosen. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Scar may not have quite the same level of theatricality that Jeremy Irons originally brought to the role, but he still gives him plenty of menace, and makes for an appropriately intimidating presence. Donald Glover is a pretty good fit for Simba, once you get past the initial weirdness of hearing his singing voice coming from a realistic-looking lion.

But without question, the MVPs of this one are Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon the meerkat and Pumbaa the warthog respectively. Rogen isn’t the best singer in the world, but the charm he displays in his voiceover performance more than makes up for this, and Eichner steals scenes as Timon (his rendition of the song The Lion Sleeps Tonight is one of the film’s most charming and memorable moments).

The songs are also well done for the most part. Again, the photo-realistic style means the sequences can’t be staged quite as energetically as before, but the cast cover them well, and the music is as catchy as ever. It’s hard to go wrong with Donald Glover and Beyoncé (who voices Simba’s love interest Nala) singing Can You Feel The Love Tonight, though the inexplicable decision is made to have this song performed in a scene set during the daytime in spite of its title. I even liked the new version of Be Prepared (reimagined as more of a military speech with a bit of singing towards the end) more than most people seem to.

But again, the problem with this movie, as with so many of Disney’s recent remakes, is that it just goes through the motions of its source material, seemingly afraid to deviate too far from it. Jon Favreau is a very talented filmmaker, and he did an excellent job with the aforementioned remake of The Jungle Book, so it’s slightly baffling that he doesn’t really leave any kind of stamp on this one, which ultimately feels like a product.

FINAL VERDICT:

Visually stunning, but narratively workmanlike, this Lion King succeeds more as a tech demo than as a film.

RATING: 5/10

Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase 4!!!

It’s here, guys. We finally have our first look at Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe now that Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home have concluded the first three phases. The announcement was made during the company’s Hall H panel at San Diego Comic-Con yesterday. I don’t think this is the full slate of the fourth phase, since there are some other films we know are coming that aren’t mentioned, but there’s still plenty to be excited about. Let’s look at what’s in store.

 

MOVIES:

May 1, 2020: Black Widow

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Director: Cate Shortland

This was no surprise, as a Black Widow movie has been a long time coming, and is already filming. Scarlett Johansson will, of course, reprise the role of Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, who has become a fan-favourite Avenger despite not yet having her own film until now. We now know that the film will be set in between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War (it couldn’t be set after Endgame, since Black Widow sacrificed herself to save Hawkeye in that movie), and will take place in Budapest, where Natasha reunites with a character from her past named Yelena Belova (portrayed by rising star Florence Pugh). The villain will be comic-book character “Taskmaster”, and the cast also includes Rachel Weisz and Stranger Things’ David Harbour.

 

November 6, 2020: The Eternals

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Director: Chloé Zhao

Chloé Zhao, acclaimed director of The Rider and the upcoming Nomadland, helms this blockbuster about a group of immortal beings living among humanity. The cast includes Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Salma Hayek, Bryan Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff and Don Lee.

 

February 12, 2021: Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings

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Director: Destin Daniel Cretton

Black Panther was groundbreaking for being the first mainstream superhero blockbuster with an almost all-black cast. Now, in 2021, we’ll be getting Marvel’s first Asian-led superhero film with Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings. The titular character will be played by newcomer Simu Liu, while Tony Leung will play the villainous Mandarin (a character teased in Iron Man 3), and Awkwafina will also star.

 

May 7, 2021: Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness

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Director: Scott Derrickson

Benedict Cumberbatch will return as the sorcerer supreme in this sequel to 2016’s Doctor Strange, which director Scott Derrickson has teased will be “the first scary MCU film”. Interestingly, it was also confirmed that another MCU character will be in this movie – Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), who previously appeared in the last three Avengers movies, as well as Captain America: Civil War. Considering her powers, I can only imagine how cool it will be to see her join forces with Doctor Strange. Plot details weren’t confirmed, though we can presume it will also feature the return of Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo, who was teased to be one of the villains of the sequel at the end of the first film.

 

November 5, 2021: Thor: Love And Thunder

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Director: Taika Waititi

Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi will return for the god of thunder’s fourth solo outing in the MCU. Chris Hemsworth will return, as will Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, and presumably Waititi himself as Korg. But in an interesting development, it was also revealed that Natalie Portman will reprise her role as Jane Foster from the first two Thor movies – and she’ll even become the female Thor. We don’t know exactly how that will happen yet, but it should be interesting – and I’m just really excited to see Waititi direct another Thor film.

 

Another confirmed film with no official release date: Blade 

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Director: Unknown

In an awesome and unexpected surprise, Marvel also revealed that they will be bringing the character of Blade – a half-human, half-vampire warrior – into the MCU. The character was previously given his own trilogy starring Wesley Snipes before the MCU even got started, but this reboot will star two-time Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali in the title role. Ali is a great actor, and will no doubt be amazing as this character, so I’m hyped.

 

OTHER MOVIES WE KNOW ARE COMING THAT WERE NOT DISCUSSED AT THE PANEL:

Spider-Man 3 – Sony is in charge of marketing the Spider-Man MCU movies, so that’s probably why this one wasn’t mentioned. Nonetheless, the cliffhanger ending of Spider-Man: Far From Home definitely means we’re getting another one, and I could see this one being released in Summer 2021, sandwiched between Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness and Thor: Love And Thunder.

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3 – Director James Gunn confirmed on Twitter that a third Guardians Of The Galaxy film is indeed coming in Phase 4, but he needs to finish work on DC’s The Suicide Squad first. Guardians 3 will most likely release in 2022, and will finish the stories of Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon and the others. Thor was also speculated to make an appearance, though the announcement of Love And Thunder for 2021 probably makes that less likely.

Captain Marvel 2 – Brie Larson will indeed return as Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel at some point in the MCU’s future, and 2022 seems likely for this one.

Black Panther 2 – What, you think Marvel won’t be eager to make a sequel to one of their most commercially successful films, as well as the first one to earn a Best Picture Oscar nomination? Black Panther 2 will certainly be coming at some point (probably 2022), and will presumably address how the events of Infinity War and Endgame have impacted Wakanda.

Fantastic Four – Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox means that Marvel have regained the movie rights to their original superhero team, who have not yet had a movie worthy of their iconic status. That will hopefully change when they’re brought into the MCU. Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige did confirm that a new Fantastic Four film is on the way, though that’s all we know for now.

X-Men – Feige also mentioned that “the mutants” (i.e, the X-Men) will be coming to the Marvel Universe at some stage, though we don’t know when or how. Either way, it’s cool to know that this is happening.

 

DISNEY+ TV SHOWS:

Disney’s upcoming streaming service Disney+ will also debut new TV shows set within the Marvel Universe, which will reportedly be more connected to the movies than the recently-cancelled Netflix shows. Here’s what to expect.

Fall 2020 – The Falcon And The Winter Soldier

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The first of these shows will be The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, focusing on Captain America’s allies Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). When Cap retired at the end of Endgame, he appointed Sam as his successor, which the show’s new logo alludes to by including the Captain’s iconic shield. This series will also see the return of Captain America: Civil War villain Zemo (Daniel Brühl), who it appears will be donning a costume that more closely resembles his look from the comics.

 

Spring 2020 – WandaVision

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Before she appears in Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness, Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch will feature in this series that also stars Paul Bettany as Vision, the artificial intelligence android with whom she developed an unusual romance. The elephant in the room here is that Vision died at the end of Infinity War, though perhaps because he’s an android, there will be a way to bring him back that could not be done with a fully human character. In addition, Teyonah Parris will appear as Monica Rambeau – a character who appeared as a little girl in the 1990s-set Captain Marvel. Presumably, this will set her up for a role in Captain Marvel 2, whenever that arrives.

 

Spring 2021 – Loki

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Loki was another character who died during the events of Infinity War, though we already know how he’s going to return here: at one point of Avengers: Endgame, the heroes travelled back to 2012 New York, and unwittingly allowed the god of mischief to escape custody with the tesseract. As The Hulk explained in that film, changing the past doesn’t affect the future, but it does create a parallel timeline, so this show will effectively take place in an alternate reality from the rest of the MCU. Tom Hiddleston will return as Loki.

 

Summer 2021 – What If…?

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Speaking of alternate realities, this animated series will basically explore what would have happened if certain events in the MCU had gone differently – for example, what if Peggy Carter had taken the Captain America serum instead of Steve Rogers? It should be an interesting project.

 

Fall 2021 – Hawkeye

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Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye may have retired from being an Avenger at the end of Endgame to spend more time with his family, but it seems his adventures are not quite over, and will be explored in this series. Renner will return as the character, who will apparently be mentoring Kate Bishop, his protégé in the comics.

 

WHAT ELSE COULD ALL THIS MEAN?

We Probably Won’t Get Another Film With “Avengers” In The Title, But There’ll Still Be Crossovers.

Let’s face it: how could you possibly top Endgame in terms of narrative scale and sheer spectacle? You can’t, really. So I don’t think Marvel will give us another Avengers-titled film. Instead, they’ll focus on smaller-scale storytelling rather than building up to another big payoff, and crossovers will mostly consist of Civil War-like events where other characters show up in one hero’s solo movie (like Scarlet Witch in Doctor Strange 2). And you know what? I’d be cool with that. It would allow Endgame to feel even more special, since it would make it the last Avengers movie.

 

The Narrative Scope Will Expand Even More With The TV Shows

There have been TV shows set within the MCU before, but the events of those shows are almost never referenced by the movies. Apart from the character of Jarvis appearing in Endgame and being played by the same actor who portrayed him on Agent Carter, the movies never seemed to interested in addressing the events of Jessica Jones or Luke Cage. However, it appears that the Disney+ shows will have more direct connections to the franchise’s big-screen outings, meaning the narrative scope is about to get even bigger than ever.

 

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m very excited about this lineup. The future of the MCU is looking as bright as ever.

 

 

My First Set Of 2020 Golden Globes Predictions (Don’t Judge Me)

Awards season starts in just a couple of months, and I traditionally release my first set of Golden Globes predictions during the second half of July. So…here they are!

 

BEST MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA:

1917

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This drama from Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Skyfall) follows two young soldiers during a single day in World War I. It’s said to be edited to look like a single, unbroken shot (like Birdman), and has plenty of talent on both sides of the camera – the cast includes the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong and Colin Firth, while the cinematography is being done by Roger Deakins, and the score by Thomas Newman.

 

Nomadland

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Acclaimed indie filmmaker Chloé Zhao directs this drama about a woman in her sixties (Frances McDormand) who loses everything in the Great Recession, and “embarks on a journey through the American West”. There’s no official release date yet, but it seems poised for a festival debut, and my gut is telling me this could be an underdog contender.

 

The Irishman

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We have yet to see a trailer for Martin Scorsese’s latest crime drama, but the fact that it’s a Martin Scorsese movie is enough to inspire confidence. Using digital effects to “de-age” the cast during parts of the film, it’s an ambitious project for sure, but one that will hopefully pay off.

 

Marriage Story

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Noah Baumbach’s new film, reportedly titled Marriage Story (though that may just be a working title) centres around a divorcing couple played by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. Baumbach’s films are normally submitted in the “comedy” category here, but the Globes have a pretty loose definition of genres. In addition, word on the street is that Netflix is very confident in this one, and aim to put a big campaign behind it, so they might opt to go for the supposedly more “prestigious” drama category.

 

Ford V Ferrari

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James Mangold’s latest film is about Ford’s efforts to beat Ferrari at the 1966 Le Mans race in France. Matt Damon is the engineer in charge of creating a car capable of challenging their opponent, while Christian Bale is his driver. Mangold has a solid history, so there’s definitely reason to be hopeful for this one.

OTHER POSSIBILITIES:

Little Women

Just Mercy

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

Harriet

The Farewell

Us

The Goldfinch

Avengers: Endgame

 

BEST MOTION PICTURE – MUSICAL OR COMEDY:

Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood

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I can’t say for sure if this one will be submitted as a comedy, though reviews out of Cannes have described it as a dark comedy. In any case, Quentin Tarantino’s latest earned highly positive reviews out of the festival, and is expected to be a contender.

 

Jojo Rabbit

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Taika Waititi’s films are deservedly well-loved by critics and audiences, though his previous works like What We Do In The Shadows and Hunt For The Wilderpeople were not nominated at the Golden Globes, presumably because they weren’t quite high-profile enough. However, Waititi has gained more attention now thanks to his Marvel blockbuster Thor: Ragnarok, which should give his latest project, a World War II satire, an advantage if it lives up to the rest of his filmography.

 

Rocketman

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The Golden Globes love musicals, so Dexter Fletcher’s highly entertaining Elton John biopic should certainly be in play here. Expect nominations for the film, and its star Taron Egerton.

 

Booksmart

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Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut may not have made as much money as it should have, but hopefully the Hollywood Foreign Press Association will show it the love it deserves. It’s one of the year’s best comedies so far, so there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be in contention.

 

Cats

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I know. I know. This movie looks awful. But the thing about the Golden Globes is that they’ll often salivate over a musical starring celebrities, regardless of quality. The more big names they can get onto the red carpet, the better. So this film is more or less a lock.

OTHER POSSIBILITIES:

Yesterday

Shazam!

Long Shot

Late Night

Fighting With My Family

Last Christmas

 

BEST ACTOR – DRAMA:

Michael B. Jordan (Just Mercy)

Antonio Banderas (Pain & Glory)

Robert De Niro (The Irishman)

Adam Driver (Marriage Story)

Tom Hardy (Fonzo)

 

BEST ACTRESS – DRAMA:

Cynthia Erivo (Harriet)

Frances McDormand (Nomadland)

Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story)

Lupita Nyong’o (Us)

Saoirse Ronan (Little Women)

 

BEST ACTOR – MUSICAL OR COMEDY:

Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood)

Taron Egerton (Rocketman)

Seth Rogen (Long Shot)

Himish Patel (Yesterday)

Zachary Levi (Shazam!)

 

BEST ACTRESS – MUSICAL OR COMEDY:

Jennifer Hudson (Cats)

Emma Thompson (Late Night)

Charlize Theron (Long Shot)

Beanie Feldstein (Booksmart)

Kaitlyn Dever (Booksmart)

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:

Brad Pitt (Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood)

Al Pacino (The Irishman)

Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit)

Christian Bale (Ford V Ferrari)

John Lithgow (Fair & Balanced)

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:

Laura Dern (Marriage Story)

Margot Robbie (Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood)

Thomasin McKenzie (Jojo Rabbit)

Annette Bening (The Report)

Meryl Streep (Little Women)

 

BEST DIRECTOR:

Sam Mendes (1917)

Chloé Zhao (Nomadland)

Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood)

Martin Scorsese (The Irishman)

Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit)

 

BEST SCREENPLAY:

Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood

The Irishman

Marriage Story

Jojo Rabbit

Ford V Ferrari

 

 

 

 

 

Belated Post On That Horrifying “Cats” Trailer

I was away this week, and therefore unable to make any posts. But now I’m back, and can talk about the trailer which terrified countless souls who watched it. No, not the It: Chapter 2 trailer – I’m talking about the one for Tom Hooper’s upcoming adaptation of the hit musical Cats. Watch the trailer below, but be warned: it may haunt your nightmares tonight.

I…don’t know what to say. It’s immediately clear that the decision to use “digital fur” technology to turn the actors into the titular felines was a misguided one, as the cats here look seriously creepy. Sure, using only makeup and costumes might have looked silly on film, but at least it wouldn’t have looked like this:

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Or this:

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Or…THIS:

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I’ll admit, I’ve never seen the show, and maybe it works on stage. But stage shows and films are different mediums, and not all hit plays translate well to the screen. And if this trailer is anything to go by, this movie might just end up being a classic example of that.

The best thing to come out of this trailer were the reactions on Twitter. Here are some highlights:

But perhaps nobody could sum it up better than an actual cat:

 

 

Top 25 Superhero Movies (Ranked In Order Of Release)

Superhero movies are arguably the most popular genre of film at the moment. Here, I will discuss what I consider to be the 25 best, most important and most influential entries in the genre. I found ranking them extremely difficult, so I’ve made the decision to list them in order of when they were released instead.

 

Superman (Richard Donner, 1978)

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The 1966 Batman television show starring Adam West did help give superheroes popularity beyond the pages of comic-books, but that show was also an intentionally ridiculous and tongue-in-cheek parody of the source material. It was not until Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman movie that filmmakers started to take the genre seriously. It is true that not all of this film has aged well – the rather silly scene where he turns back time by reversing the rotation of the Earth is prime example – but there’s no denying its importance to the genre, and the impact it had on so many on its release. Christopher Reeve nails both of the main character’s personae – the heroic Superman and the mild-mannered Clark Kent – and Gene Hackman seems to be having a ball as the arrogant criminal mastermind Lex Luthor. And who doesn’t immediately think of Superman when they hear John Williams’ classic theme?

SUPER-MOMENT: The first time Superman takes flight. In that moment, an entire generation believed a man could fly.

 

Batman (Tim Burton, 1989)

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Superman was the first major blockbuster to portray superheroes in a sincere, non-ironic way, but it was still a lighthearted adventure, in keeping with the optimistic spirit of the character. Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman took things a step further, ditching the goofy spirit of the popular 60s show and returning the dark knight to his, well, dark roots. With a marketing campaign that arguably helped invent modern blockbuster hype, the film was a huge financial success, and helped cement the caped crusader as a cultural icon. Despite initial controversy surrounding his casting, Michael Keaton proved to be an inspired choice for Batman, while Burton brought a striking aesthetic to the setting of Gotham City. It’s not a perfect film, but it is an entertaining and important one.

SUPER-MOMENT: When Batman officially announces himself in the opening scene. Keaton’s delivery of the line “I’m Batman” is perfect.

 

The Mask (Chuck Russell, 1994)

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As some of you may know, I’ve often cited this as my personal favourite film, so it probably shouldn’t be surprising to see this make the list. Jim Carrey stars as a timid and pushed-around bank clerk who discovers a mysterious mask that gives him reality-bending powers and the wacky personality of a Tex Avery cartoon. It’s not long before his antics get him in trouble with both sides of the law. Carrey’s comic persona is put to perfect use here, while the jazzy soundtrack, memorable side-characters and quotable script add up to a widely entertaining ride.

SUPER-MOMENT: There aren’t really that many traditional “superhero” moments here, so I’ll just go with the scene where he gets an entire group of police officers to join him in a song-and-dance routine of the song Cuban Pete. It’s one of the zaniest moments in the movie, and also one of the funniest.

 

Unbreakable (M. Night Shyamalan, 2000)

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M. Night Shyamalan’s follow-up to his Oscar-Nominated The Sixth Sense is a different take on the superhero movie, one which is not an action film, but rather a quiet, character-driven drama about a man slowly realising he is a real-life superhuman. Released in 2000, shortly before the first X-Men movie really kickstarted the comic-book movie craze, Unbreakable was ahead of its time. Bruce Willis is David Dunn, a security guard who, after surviving a devastating train accident without any physical harm to speak of, realises he is actually incapable of getting sick or injured. Samuel L. Jackson gives one of his best performances as a mysterious comic-book expert with easily-breakable bones who firmly believes in the existence of superheroes. Not a success at the time of its release, Unbreakable has deservedly been re-evaluated in recent years, and is rightly recognised as one of Shyamalan’s best films – if not his absolute best.

SUPER-MOMENT: Having officially accepted that he is indeed a super-hero, David heads out in a green rain poncho to put his abilities to use. He does so by rescuing a family from a sadistic home invader.

 

Spider-Man 2 (Sam Raimi, 2004)

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2002 saw the release of Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man film, which finally gave fans of Marvel’s beloved wall-crawling hero a big-screen treatment of his classic origin story. The movie was a critical and commercial hit, but Spider-Man 2 proved to be the rare sequel which surpassed its predecessor. Frustrated by how his double-life as Spider-Man is interfering with his personal life, Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker decides he’s done being Spidey, but as his late Uncle Ben said in the first film, “with great power comes great responsibility”. Spider-Man 2 features a strong villain (Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus), compelling character drama and a story that expands on the themes of the first movie in the way a sequel should. It’s the best instalment of Sam Raimi’s original trilogy.

SUPER-MOMENT: The famous sequence where Spidey fights Doc Oc on a train, then uses his powerful webs and strength to keep it from crashing.

 

The Incredibles (Brad Bird, 2004)

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One of Pixar’s absolute best films, this animated masterpiece is a flawless balance of fun superhero action and family comedy. When “Supers” are forced to go into hiding as a result of the damages caused by their efforts to save the world, Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson), once known as “Mr. Incredible”, accidentally ropes his whole family back into the hero game when he becomes targeted by a sinister plot. Hilarious, heartwarming and full of great characters, The Incredibles is worthy of its titular superlative.

SUPER-MOMENT: When Dash realises he can run on water. It’s a small moment, but the delighted giggle he lets out on his discovery never fails to put a smile on my face.

 

Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan, 2005)

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After Tim Burton’s first two dark, gothic Batman films, Warner Bros. decided to turn the series into a more effective merchandising machine, hiring Joel Schumacher to bring a lighter, more brightly-coloured (and toy-friendly) aesthetic and tone to the movies. This resulted in the much-maligned Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997). But in the early 2000s, the studio decided to try and revive the franchise once more, and Christopher Nolan was brought in to direct the reboot. Nolan created a gritty, grounded Batman origin story which reminded audiences what made the character so cool and compelling to being with. Christian Bale gives a strong performance as the title character, while Nolan’s stylish direction proved a good fit for DC’s iconic hero.

SUPER-MOMENT: When we first see the Batmobile in action. On seeing it for the first time, Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon mutters “I’ve gotta get me one of those…”.

 

Iron Man (Jon Favreau, 2008)

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Marvel may have had some of the most iconic superheroes in comics history, but they hadn’t had much luck in bringing them to the screen, and late-90s bankruptcy forced them to sell the film rights to many of their most well-loved characters like Spider-Man (who went to Sony Pictures) and the Fantastic Four (who got a less-than-stellar film adaptation from 20th Century Fox). With Iron Man, they took quite a gamble – making a film about one of their more B-list heroes with a star whose box-office appeal seemed to have died down. And yet, it worked. Iron Man gave Robert Downey Jr what has become the most iconic role of his career, as he completely owns the role of Tony Stark/Iron Man, and from this surprise hit emerged the hugely successful Marvel Cinematic Universe, which brought iconic heroes like Captain America and The Incredible Hulk to the big screen in movies set within the same continuity. For that reason, Iron Man is one of the most important blockbusters of the 2000s, and it still holds up today – witty, action-packed and led by Downey Jr’s hugely charismatic performance.

SUPER-MOMENT: Tony breaking superhero convention by revealing his identity to the press at the end of the movie, confirming that “I am Iron Man”. He’s never played by the rules before, so why start now?

 

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (Guillermo Del Toro, 2008)

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Guillermo Del Toro’s follow-up to his first Hellboy movie is another example of a sequel that improves on the (already pretty solid) original. Ron Perlman continues to own the titular role of a sarcastic demon raised as a defender against paranormal threats, while Del Toro’s knack for striking visuals and worlds is on full display. Shame we never got to see the third film in what would have been his trilogy.

SUPER-MOMENT: Obviously if I had to choose the best overall moment in this movie, it would be the scene where Hellboy and Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) get drunk and sing along to Can’t Smile Without You. But as for the best superhero moment? That may have to be Hellboy fighting off an elemental “Forest God”, while also protecting a baby that’s been briefly separated from its mother.

 

The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)

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Look up any “best superhero movies ever” list, and chances are The Dark Knight will be included. Christopher Nolan’s sequel to Batman Begins is often considered the definitive Batman film, and there’s a good reason for that. Pitting the caped crusader against some of his greatest physical and psychological tests, it is ultimately a smart, gripping crime epic that happens to star Batman. But the real star here is Heath Ledger. The Australian actor (who tragically died the year the film was released) is simply astonishing as Batman’s iconic arch-nemesis The Joker, owning every single scene he’s in, and deservedly winning a (posthumous) Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, the only time someone has ever done so for a comic-book movie. There’s not much I can say about The Dark Knight that hasn’t been said before, but one thing is for sure: all doubts that superhero movies could actually be intelligent and mature were quickly put to rest by this film.

SUPER-MOMENT: Batman’s decision to take the blame for the actions of Harvey Dent/Two-Face (Aaron Eckhart), so Gotham City can go on believing their “white knight” was a hero to the end. He knows full well that if the people learn the truth about what happened, then The Joker will have won “the battle for Gotham’s soul”.

 

X-Men: First Class (Matthew Vaughan, 2011)

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20th Century Fox’s first two X-Men movies were hits with critics and fans, but X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine left much to be desired. First Class is not a complete reboot, but it is a prequel to the other films exploring the first meeting between Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy) and his eventual arch-nemesis Erik Lensherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender). Thanks to Matthew Vaughan’s stylish direction and an impressive cast, this movie successfully returned the franchise to its former glory, and remains one of its best instalments.

SUPER-MOMENT: Magneto approaching some of the former Nazis who took everything from him as a child in a bar and exacting revenge on them. It’s really more of an “anti-hero” moment, but it’s undeniably a standout scene, thanks to the suitably intense music and Fassbender’s mesmerising performance.

 

The Avengers (Joss Whedon, 2012)

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From 2008 to 2011, Marvel fans were treated to Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. These five solo films, each set within the same universe, culminated in the ambitious blockbuster that was The Avengers, which served as a sequel to all of them that brought together the protagonists of each for the crossover event comics fans had only dreamed of seeing. Miraculously, it lived up to the hype, benefiting hugely from the delightful chemistry between its cast and a script that gives them all moments to shine. The Marvel heroes have shared the screen in several subsequent adventures, but that doesn’t diminish the magic of when we first saw them fighting side-by-side.

SUPER-MOMENT: When the team, finally putting aside their differences, stand united against Loki’s army, with Alan Silvestri’s Avengers theme playing in the background. The 360-degree shot of Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) standing together was enough to bring tears of joy to countless Marvel fans.

 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Joe & Anthony Russo, 2014)

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Following the events of The Avengers, Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers/Captain America struggles to find his place in the modern world, while getting caught up in a sinister conspiracy. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is not just one of the best superhero movies ever made, but one of the best action movies – directors Joe and Anthony Russo stage many thrilling, edge-of-your-seat set pieces in service of a story that pays tribute to the paranoia thrillers of the 1970s. Evans has always proved a terrific fit for Captain America, and this is no exception, as he stays true to the character’s old-fashioned, idealistic spirit while also making him cooler than anyone thought possible. Supporting him are Scarlett Johansson, reprising her role as Black Widow from The Avengers, Anthony Mackie making his MCU debut as Sam Wilson/Falcon, and Samuel L. Jackson as the mysterious SHIELD director Nick Fury. This is a film that deepens its protagonist by challenging his core values in a modern world, and also makes for a thrilling, twisty and hugely entertaining espionage thriller.

SUPER-MOMENT: Steve gets into an elevator with a group of fellow SHIELD agents who he quietly deduces are double-agents preparing to attack him. After a long, uncomfortable silence, Steve calmly says “before we get started…does anyone want to get out?”, and with that, a fight ensues. Despite being outnumbered, Steve overpowers his attackers, and makes a badass escape.

 

Guardians Of The Galaxy (James Gunn, 2014)

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Marvel have taken quite a few risks over the years, and Guardians Of The Galaxy is a good example. Based on a quirky, little-known comic and directed by indie filmmaker James Gunn, it seemed like an odd choice for a big-screen blockbuster set within the Avengers canon, but boy did it work. Introducing fantastic new heroes to the Marvel universe – Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) – while also exploring the cosmic side of the franchise’s ever-expanding mythology, it turned out to be hilarious, heartfelt, action-packed and fuelled by a killer soundtrack.

SUPER-MOMENT: Groot sacrificing himself to shield the others in the climax, and consoling his friend Rocket by assuring him “We…are…Groot”. Well said, Groot. Well said.

 

Captain America: Civil War (Joe & Anthony Russo, 2016)

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The Avengers brought Earth’s mightiest heroes together, but Captain America: Civil War finds their alliance threatened by political interference in their activities, causing a rift between allies Captain America and Iron Man. In addition to the great character drama and strong ensemble, Civil War features some of the best action scenes in the MCU, particularly the iconic airport battle, and perfectly balances a potentially crowded slate of heroes, both familiar faces like Cap and Iron Man and fresh blood like Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and the MCU’s version of Spider-Man (Tom Holland, who gives the best on-screen portrayal of the wall-crawler to date).

SUPER-MOMENT: Really, I could choose any number of moments from the airport scene, as it contains some of the most satisfying fan-service moments in the MCU. I’m going to have to go with the moment where Spider-Man – shown in his iconic costume for the first time – swings in and makes an entrance by stealing Captain America’s shield.

 

Logan (James Mangold, 2017)

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Hugh Jackman’s performance as Wolverine in the first X-Men movie was what made him the global superstar he is today. 17 years later, after continuing to be a highlight in the franchise, his time as the character had come to an end, and he went out with a bang. Logan distinguishes itself from other superhero movies by essentially being a gritty western about a guy who has superpowers. It’s a violent, emotional and very well-acted sendoff for the Wolverine character that in many ways feels more like a drama that other films of its kind. And Jackman’s performance is among his very best.

SUPER-MOMENT: Logan sacrificing himself to protect young Laura (Dafne Keen) and the other mutant children from the men hunting them down. His act of selflessness ensures the future of his kind.

 

Wonder Woman (Patty Jenkins, 2017)

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Something you may have noticed about the list up to now is that it’s been rather male-dominated. That’s because for a long time, studios were under the (ridiculous) belief that audiences didn’t want a female-led superhero movie. People kept citing the critical and commercial failures of 1984’s Supergirl, 2005’s Catwoman and 2005’s Elektra, and Hollywood seemed to think female superheroes would only sell if they were supporting characters or part of an ensemble (like The Avengers’ Black Widow, who’s just as worthy of a film as her male peers). But all doubters were proven wrong by the massive success of Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, which won over critics, broke Box-Office records, and finally made studios realise that, yes, there’s an audience for great female-driven blockbusters. Led by a wonderful (no pun intended) performance from Gal Gadot, and assured work from Patty Jenkins behind the camera, Wonder Woman is one of DC’s very best films.

SUPER-MOMENT: Diana/Wonder Woman fearlessly charging across “No-Man’s Land”, deflecting enemy bullets as she goes, an empowering moment that solidifies her spot in the hall of superhero fame.

 

Thor: Ragnarok (Taika Waititi, 2017)

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The first two Thor movies aren’t really among the best instalments in the MCU, but Thor: Ragnarok certainly is. Ditching some of the self-seriousness of the other two and putting more of an emphasis on comedy, New Zealand director Taika Waititi crafts a hysterically funny and visually stylish sci-fi romp that turned its titular character into one of the Marvel Universe’s most entertaining heroes. It also introduced great new characters like badass warrior Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), scene-stealing rock-like alien Korg (Waititi) and the hilarious Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum doing his Jeff Goldblum thing).

SUPER-MOMENT: Thor, summoning the full force of his power, landing on the Bifrost bridge and tearing through Hela’s army while the Led Zeppelin Immigrant Song plays in the background.

 

Black Panther (Ryan Coogler, 2018)

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Black Panther is a significant movie for its genre, as it is the very first superhero movie to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. Comic-book movies with black leads had been done before (Blade, for example) but Black Panther was the first major superhero release to feature a predominantly black cast, and take heavy inspiration from African culture. Introducing a new setting to the Marvel Cinematic Universe – the futuristic utopia of Wakanda – it follows T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman, reprising his role from Captain America: Civil War), who must step up as the leader and protector of his people following his father’s death. Full of great characters and resonant themes, it became an instant cultural phenomenon, and one of the most successful films of 2018.

SUPER-MOMENT: T’Challa, believed to have been killed in ritual combat by challenger to the throne Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), returns home and triumphantly declares “I never yielded – and as you can see, I am not dead!”.

 

Avengers: Infinity War (Joe & Anthony Russo, 2018)

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The first half of a two-part epic that would unite all the heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe against the mad Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin), Avengers: Infinity War had such a large cast of superheroes that in retrospect, it’s almost a miracle that it works so well. Featuring a thrilling, perfectly-paced and action-packed plot, Infinity War handles its many narrative threads superbly, and achieves a perfect tonal balance as well. There’s plenty of comedy, as Avengers like Iron Man and Doctor Strange finally cross paths with the Guardians of the Galaxy, but also dramatic weight as conflicts set up in the previous Marvel movies start to pay off. For all its many characters, the most compelling of all is the villain – in many ways, this is his movie, as writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and actor Josh Brolin make Thanos a legitimately interesting – and intimidating – character with more humanity than you might expect.

SUPER-MOMENT: Thor landing in Wakanda with Rocket and Groot and wasting no time before he unleashes his full might on Thanos’ army. It’s easily the character’s finest moment.

 

Deadpool 2 (David Leitch, 2018)

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The first Deadpool was a surprise hit, proving that R-Rated superhero movies could indeed be successful, and finally giving its title character – a foul-mouthed, self-aware anti-hero who’s well aware that he’s a fictional character – the big-screen treatment he deserved. Inevitably, a sequel soon followed. Deadpool 2 features more of what made the first one so fun, but with a bigger budget, it’s also able to go further with them. There’s more crazy action scenes, more of Deadpool’s signature meta humour, and more fan-favourite characters like Cable (Josh Brolin). Like its predecessor, part of the reason it works so well is thanks to star Ryan Reynolds, who is a truly perfect fit for the role of the titular motormouthed mercenary.

SUPER-MOMENT: Domino (Zazie Beets), has the unusual superpower of being incredibly lucky. At first, Deadpool laughs this off as not being a real power, but as we soon see, her ability to make everything work out in her favour actually makes for one of the movie’s most creative action sequences.

 

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (Peter Ramsay, Rodney Rothman and Bob Persichetti, 2018)

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Currently, the rights to Spider-Man are shared by Marvel and Sony. With the former handling the adventures of his current live-action incarnation, the latter needed to do something different to avoid confusion among audiences – so their most recent stab at the property is (a) animated, and (b) focused on another comics character to take on the titular mantle named Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) while Peter Parker (voiced here by Jake Johnson) is a supporting character/mentor figure. The result far surpassed expectations – Into The Spider-Verse is a clever, funny, fast-paced adventure that understands its beloved hero, and boasts a unique animation style that truly resembles a moving comic-book. A success with both critics and audiences, the film was awarded an Oscar for Best Animated Feature.

SUPER-MOMENT: Miles taking a “leap of faith” off a tall building, before swinging confidently through the city, finally mastering his abilities and truly becoming Spider-Man.

 

Shazam! (David F. Sandberg, 2019)

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DC’s attempt to replicate Marvel’s shared film universe got off to a rough start, though they’ve noticeably been having more success with their solo films than their crossovers lately – Batman V Superman and Justice League may have been disappointments, but Wonder Woman was excellent, Aquaman was more entertaining than it had any right to be, and Shazam! is their franchise’s best instalment yet. Easily the most lighthearted film in this “DC Extended Universe”, Shazam! follows a foster kid (Asher Angel) who gains the power to become an adult superhero (Zachary Levi) by saying the word “Shazam” (think Big with superpowers). The film isn’t afraid to lean in to the silliness of that premise, resulting in a funny, charming and delightful movie featuring a great lead performance from Zachary Levi, who proves more than capable of convincingly handling the “child in a grown man’s body” persona.

SUPER-MOMENT: Billy allowing all his foster-siblings to summon his powers, and they all start working together in the final battle. One of my friends accurately described this scene as being a better Justice League movie than the actual Justice League movie.

 

Avengers: Endgame (Joe & Anthony Russo, 2019)

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Avengers: Endgame ties together the previous 21 movies from the first eleven years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe into one emotional, surprising, action-packed and overall stunning blockbuster that ends the first era of the MCU while paving the way for further adventures. Following the Avengers trying to reverse the devastating events of Infinity War‘s conclusion, it’s as perfect a culmination to over a decade’s worth of storytelling as a fan could wish for. Full of great surprises, emotional payoffs and great performances from its stacked cast, Endgame is like a love letter to the fans who’ve stuck with these movies since the beginning. I love this movie 3000.

SUPER-MOMENT: As every surviving hero comes together and stands against Thanos and his army, Captain America, armed with his signature shield and Thor’s hammer, yells “Avengers…assemble!” (the first time that classic phrase from the comics is uttered in the movies), and the entire army of Avengers charges into battle. Every time I think about that scene, I get goosebumps.

 

Spider-Man: Far From Home (Jon Watts, 2019)

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The most recent movie on this list might just be my favourite Spider-Man movie to date. Picking up after the events of Avengers: Endgame, it follows Peter Parker as his plans to take a vacation with his friends are disrupted by the emergence of a mysterious new threat. With great new characters like Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio, and plenty of hilarious comedy, it’s a fitting epilogue to Endgame, and a great solo adventure in its own right.

SUPER-MOMENT: (SPOILERS) – Peter using his Spider-Sense (now hilariously referred to as his “Peter Tingle”) to detect and dodge the drones Mysterio is using to create his illusions.

 

Spider-Man: Far From Home Review: Does Whatever A Sequel Can

THE PLOT: 8 months after the events of Avengers: Endgame, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) goes on a school trip to Europe with his classmates, hoping to take a break from Spider-Man duties. However, during the trip, he is approached by former SHIELD director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and a new super-powered individual named Quentin Beck/Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) who need his help for an important mission.

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FIRSTLY, DON’T READ ON IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN AVENGERS: ENDGAME. PLOT POINTS FROM THAT FILM WILL BE DISCUSSED HERE.

REVIEW: In many ways, Spider-Man: Far From Home is as much an epilogue to Avengers: Endgame as it is a sequel to 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming. It deals with the fallout of the events of the former film, specifically the death of Tony Stark/Iron Man, who has been a major part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe since its beginning. Tony’s presence is felt throughout the movie, but this is, of course, Spider-Man’s film. It’s about how Peter Parker (Holland, as likeable as ever) deals with the pressure of people expecting him to be “the next Iron Man” when all he wants to do is be a normal teenager for a while.

He seems to get his chance when his school organises a class trip to Europe, during which Peter hopes to confess his feelings for classmate MJ (Zendaya). Unfortunately, the duties of being a superhero aren’t something you can easily run away from, and Peter finds himself approached by Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, who wants him to help his new ally Quentin Beck/Mysterio fight a group of “elemental” monsters who have come to Earth.

As with Homecoming, director Jon Watts manages a satisfying balance of superhero action and high-school comedy. It’s great watching Peter and Mysterio take on these otherworldly threats, but it’s just as entertaining to see Peter awkwardly attempt to tell MJ how he feels about her, with Holland and Zendaya making for an appealing pair. Jacob Batalon reprises his hilarious role from Homecoming as Peter’s friend Ned, and is just as delightful as before.

Comic-book fans will also be excited for Mysterio’s big-screen debut, and he does not disappoint. His powers are brought faithfully and stunningly to life onscreen, and Gyllenhaal is terrific in the role.

It’s hardly surprising that Tony Stark’s death plays such a huge role in Peter’s emotional arc here, as the two characters shared a close mentor-student relationship. Peter can hardly go anywhere without seeing some tribute or shrine to the late Iron Man, and the character’s legacy also factors into the story in other unexpected ways.

Occasionally, the story can feel a little loosely-structured, but Spider-Man: Far From Home is still largely delightful from start to finish, and it opens the door for plenty more outings in the MCU. And be sure to stay in your seats for what might just be the two best post-credits scenes in any Marvel movie ever.

FINAL VERDICT:

Both a fun and charming Spidey solo adventure and a fitting epilogue to the events of Endgame, Spider-Man: Far From Home is a hugely entertaining start to a new chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

RATING: 8/10

My Awards For The First Half Of 2019

It’s July, which means we have officially completed the first half of 2019. So with that in mind, I’m going to reveal my personal awards for the best films and performances of the year so far.

I AM INCLUDING EIGHTH GRADE, BECAUSE IT DIDN’T COME OUT HERE UNTIL APRIL, WHICH WAS PAST THE DEADLINE FOR MY 2018 AWARDS. OTHERWISE, U.S RELEASE DATES ONLY.

BEST PICTURE:

Avengers: Endgame

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The conclusion to Marvel’s epic, 11-years-in-the-making Infinity Saga lived up to the hype in pretty much every way. It was funny, thrilling, packed with action, did justice to its many characters, and wrapped up some of their stories in a way that brought a tear to my eye. It’ll be hard for anything to top this as my personal favourite movie of the year.

RUNNER-UP: Eighth Grade. Bo Burnham’s funny, poignant and insightful tale of a young girl trying to make it through her final week of middle school is a remarkably honest portrait of growing up.

 

BEST DIRECTOR:

Joe & Anthony Russo (Avengers: Endgame).

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Tying together 22 films’ worth of storytelling in one film is no easy task, but that’s what the Russo Brothers do here. Balancing multiple character arcs and story threads in a cohesive and entertaining way, they’ve accomplished something truly impressive with Endgame. 

RUNNER-UP: Jordan Peele (Us). With only his second feature, Peele is proving himself to be an immensely talented filmmaker, from his stylish use of music here to the visual flare and sense of tension he brings to the table.

 

BEST ACTOR:

Taron Egerton (Rocketman)

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With his portrayal of Elton John, Taron Egerton gives his best performance to date. Charismatic and energetic, he’s also hugely impressive during the musical sequences which showcase his strong singing voice. He’s also excellent during the later, more intense scenes showing John struggle with his addictions.

RUNNER-UP: Zachary Levi (Shazam!). The whole film rests on his ability to convincingly portray a 14-year-old in a grown man’s body, and he proves more than up to the task, giving a delightfully funny and charming performance.

 

BEST ACTRESS:

Lupita Nyong’o (Us)

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Lupita Nyong’o actually gives two incredible performances in Us – as Adelaide Wilson, the mother trying to protect her family, and as “Red”, her doppelgänger who is out to kill her. Nyong’o is brilliant in both roles, ensuring that you’ll be scared for her and scared of her at the same time.

RUNNER-UP: Elsie Fisher (Eighth Grade). In a breakout performance, she’s remarkably natural and convincing as a shy and introverted 13-year-old approaching the end of eighth grade.

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:

Robert Downey Jr (Avengers: Endgame)

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Robert Downey Jr has been playing Tony Stark/Iron Man in the Marvel Universe since 2008, and Avengers: Endgame marks his last time playing the character. Downey’s emotional, committed performance is a perfect send-off for this beloved character, much like Hugh Jackman’s final turn as Wolverine in Logan. 

RUNNER-UP: James McAvoy (Glass)Regardless of your feelings on the movie, it’s hard to deny that James McAvoy, reprising his role as Kevin Wendell Crumb (and his many split personalities) from Split, is fantastic. Slipping effortlessly from persona to persona, he steals every single scene he’s in.

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:

Billie Lourd (Booksmart)

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As the quirky, eccentric Gigi, Billie Lourd provides some of the biggest laughs in Booksmart, with her scenes proving to be highlights of the film. She damn near steals the show from the (also excellent) leads.

RUNNER-UP: Goose the Cat (Captain Marvel). OK, OK, OK. I know that a cat is technically not “acting” in a movie, but simply being a cat. And I’m also aware that Goose was probably portrayed by multiple cats. But that doesn’t change the fact that those cats were the MVPs of the movie, and deserve recognition.

 

BEST SCREENPLAY:

Eighth Grade

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Sometimes funny, sometimes heartfelt and often uncomfortable (the car scene, anyone?) Eighth Grade‘s screenplay beautifully captures the turmoil of growing up.

RUNNER-UP: Us. Like Get Out, the multi-layered Us has deeper meanings and small details which should allow it to merit repeat viewings.

 

BEST NEW CHARACTER OF THE YEAR:

Forky (Toy Story 4)

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Only Pixar could make me relate to a plastic spork. An arts-and-crafts project made by young Bonnie, Forky does not understand his existence, and insists that he is “trash”. In many ways, we are all Forky.

RUNNER-UP: Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame).The MCU’s latest hero is a promising addition to the Avengers lineup, thanks to the charm and charisma of Brie Larson.

More Dream Casting For An MCU Fantastic Four

Two years ago, I wrote about my picks for who should play the Fantastic Four in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I went with Chris Pine, Carey Mulligan, Zac Efron and Dwayne Johnson. Of course, now that Disney owns Fox, we can say with confidence that the original Marvel super-team will indeed be brought into the franchise in a few years, so I revised my picks, and came up with some alternate choices as well. No particular reason. I just wanted to.

 

REED RICHARDS/MR. FANTASTIC: John Krasinski

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There are a number of reasons for this. He can pull off “nerdy”, but also has action-hero chops (having just headlined Amazon’s Jack Ryan series). The Reed Richards in recent Fantastic Four comic books actually rather looks like him. And mostly importantly, he said he wants to do it! He’d be perfect.

 

SUE STORM/THE INVISIBLE WOMAN: Emily Blunt

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No, it’s not just because she’s married to John Krasinski in real life (although that should certainly benefit their on-screen chemistry). The Fantastic Four’s dynamic is often likened to that of a traditional family, in which the warm, responsible Sue Storm is like the mother figure. Blunt could pull that off, while also making her badass, engaging and funny when she needs to be.

 

JOHNNY STORM/THE HUMAN TORCH: Alden Ehrenreich

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Young, good-looking and charismatic, Alden Ehrenreich definitely has what it takes to play The Human Torch. Not only does he look the part, but the character of Johnny Storm is a bit of a cocky charmer, which Ehrenreich’s performance as a young Han Solo has already proved he’s capable of portraying.

 

BEN GRIMM/THE THING: Terry Crews

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The role of Ben Grimm requires someone who can be tough, but also sweet, balancing a gruff exterior with a heart of gold, so Brooklyn 99 star Terry Crews (who also has the perfect build for the character) is an ideal choice. It’s also easy to imagine the catchphrase “it’s clobbering time!” in his voice.

 

DOCTOR DOOM: Adam Driver

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I don’t think Doctor Doom should be the main villain of the first MCU Fantastic Four movie – I say introduce him in a post-credits scene, then have him officially debut in the sequel. Still, as one of the most popular villains in Marvel Comics history, he has to appear at some point, and I believe Adam Driver is the right actor to do the character justice. He’s a compelling on-screen presence, and is no stranger to blockbuster villains thanks to his role as Kylo Ren in Star Wars. 

 

THE SILVER SURFER: Ryan Gosling

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This is another character who would be better off introduced in a later film rather than the team’s MCU debut, but when The Silver Surfer does join the MCU roster, Ryan Gosling would make an excellent choice. He’d be perfect for the fairly introspective nature of the character, capable of conveying plenty of emotions through a single quiet gaze.

Toy Story 4 Review: Pixar Does It Again

THE PLOT: A couple of years after the events of Toy Story 3, Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), the current owner of Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and their friends, creates a new toy named Forky (Tony Hale), who she becomes attached to. When Forky is lost during a family road trip, Woody sets out to bring him home – and on the way, he is reunited with his lost love Bo Peep (Annie Potts).

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REVIEW: Making a perfect film is hard. Making a perfect sequel to a perfect film is even harder. And making TWO perfect sequels to a perfect film is about as hard as it gets. Yet that’s exactly what Pixar accomplished with the first three Toy Story movies, giving us an exceptionally rare case of a trilogy with three equally amazing instalments. And given that Toy Story 3‘s perfect ending seemed to wrap up the story beautifully, the idea of a Toy Story 4 understandably made a lot of us nervous. Could even Pixar keep up that level of quality across four films? Would a new instalment spoil the emotional conclusion of the last one? As it turns out, we were fools for ever doubting them. While one could argue that Toy Story 4 wasn’t strictly “necessary”, it remains a wonderful continuation of this story that lives up to its three predecessors.

We pick up a couple of years after Andy passed his toys on to Bonnie before departing for college at the end of Toy Story 3, and see that Woody, once the leader of the gang, is struggling somewhat to find his role in their new situation – Bonnie isn’t totally attached to him in the way Andy was, so his sense of purpose is not as certain as it was in the previous films. Then along comes Forky, an arts-and-crafts project made out of a plastic spork by Bonnie during her first day at Kindergarten. He becomes sentient like the other toys, but does not completely understand his existence – he insists that he’s “trash”, not a toy, so Woody becomes a mentor figure to him, trying to explain to Forky what a toy’s job is supposed to be. When Forky gets separated from the gang during a road trip, Woody finds himself on a new adventure during which he meets new and familiar faces.

Some of the original cast are somewhat under-utilised, with John Ratzenberger’s Ham, Wallace Shawn’s Rex and Joan Cusack’s Jessie getting a bit sidelined, but it’s still fun to see the characters again. Tom Hanks gives a heartfelt vocal performance as Woody, whose arc gives the movie the opportunity to explore new themes rather than retread the messages of the first three, Tim Allen is once again delightful as Buzz Lightyear, and Annie Potts’ Bo Peep gets much more depth than she did in the others due to her expanded role.

The new additions to the cast are just as memorable. It may have seemed like an odd choice to centre the film around a spork undergoing an existential crisis, but Tony Hale brings an endearing innocence to Forky that gives his scenes a sense of sweetness. The antagonist, a doll named Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) is more complex than you’d expect. Comedy duo Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele are typically hilarious as a pair of stuffed animals named Ducky and Bunny, and Keanu Reeves steals scenes as stuntman action figure Duke Caboom.

It almost goes without saying that a Pixar film is going to be visually impressive, but the animation here really is a testament to how far the medium has come. The backgrounds are stunningly rendered and the characters extraordinarily expressive.

As with the first three, there’s an excellent balance between hilarious gags and heartfelt emotion. There are plenty of laughs to be had here, and while the last ten minutes may not make you cry quite as hard as, say, the opening montage in Up (or indeed, the final moments of Toy Story 3), they should still bring a tear to your eye, especially if you grew up with these characters like I did.

In the end, Toy Story 4 is as good as it could have been, and much better than the cash-grab some had feared. It’s a worthy addition to a great series, a fun chance to revisit beloved characters, and also a thoughtful meditation on existence and finding your place in life (y’know – for kids!).

FINAL VERDICT:

Heartfelt, funny and beautiful to look at, Toy Story 4 is a delightful fourth instalment that’s worthy of the Toy Story name.

RATING: 9/10

 

Top 12 MCU Heroes

Last year, I ranked my 12 favourite villains from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now that Avengers: Endgame has come and gone, I decided it was time to do the same for my favourite heroes in the franchise. So without further ado, here are my picks for the MCU’s 12 best heroes.

 

12. Rocket Raccoon

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Portrayed By: Bradley Cooper (Voice) and Sean Gunn (Motion-Capture)

Film Appearances: Guardians Of The Galaxy, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame.

The result of illegal genetic experimentation, Rocket Raccoon makes up in attitude what he lacks in size. Sarcastic, cynical and crafty, Rocket has a tendency to annoy his fellow guardians of the galaxy with his arrogance and snarky attitude, but he cares about them deep down – in Endgame, he admits that he considers them the only family he’s ever had.

Best Moment: Perched atop his plant-like accomplice Groot, Rocket is given a gun by fellow guardian Drax. A grin spreading across his face, the raccoon responds with “oh…yeah“, and starts shooting at whoever has the misfortune to attack him. Look, it’s a gun-toting raccoon – what more do you need?

 

11. Doctor Stephen Strange

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Portrayed By: Benedict Cumberbatch

Film Appearances: Doctor Strange, Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.

Talented, but self-centred surgeon Stephen Strange loses the use of his hands in a devastating car accident. His subsequent quest for healing leads him to a mysterious school run by “The Ancient One”, who trains sorcerers in the mystic arts. Strange soon becomes a defender against dark forces who threaten our reality. On typically charismatic form, Benedict Cumberbatch gives Strange a deadpan sense of humour, and his interactions with Iron Man in Avengers: Infinity War are a delight.

Best Moment: Trapping the evil Dormammu in an endless time loop unless he agrees to his “bargain” of leaving the Earth alone in exchange for freedom. It’s a creative way to defeat the villain that refreshingly doesn’t involve fighting a faceless CGI army.

 

10. Clint Barton/Hawkeye

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Portrayed By: Jeremy Renner

Film Appearances: Thor, The Avengers, Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Endgame.

In the first Avengers movie, Hawkeye was considered by fans to be the least memorable member of the team – apart from the fact that he spends much of the film being mind-controlled by Loki, his main claim to fame is that he’s good with a bow and arrow. What could he possibly bring to this superhero team? But in Age Of Ultron, Clint really comes into his own as a character. His sharp sense of humour and determination to protect his family give us a better sense of his personality, and the fact that we see him interact with the others more makes him feel like much less of a hanger-on. By Endgame, he’s become more than worthy of sharing the spotlight with his fellow Avengers.

Best Moment: His speech to Wanda Maximoff in Avengers: Age Of Ultron. “The city is flying, and where fighting an army of robots, and I have a bow and arrow. None of this makes sense” he says. “But I’m going out there because it’s my job…it doesn’t matter what you did, or what you were…if you step out that door, you’re an Avenger”. It has to be one of the best “hero speeches” in the MCU.

 

9. T’Challa/Black Panther

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Portrayed By: Chadwick Boseman

Film Appearances: Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.

The heir to the utopian African nation of Wakanda, T’Challa made his debut in Captain America: Civil War, before he went on to star in his own film, which was significant for being the first MCU movie with a black lead. More serious than some of the other, quippier Marvel heroes, T’Challa is still hugely compelling thanks to Chadwick Boseman’s excellent performance. Watching him learn from the mistakes of his predecessors to become a better leader to his people makes for one of the most engaging character arcs in the Marvel universe.

Best Moment: His decision to not let his desire for vengeance consume him and spare Zemo’s life in Captain America: Civil War marks a key moment in his character evolution, as he spent much of that movie driven purely by revenge.

 

8. Peter Parker/Spider-Man

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Portrayed By: Tom Holland

Film Appearances: Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.

Tom Holland is the third actor to take on the role of Spider-Man this century, but he’s also the best of the bunch, as he captures what made Peter Parker such a beloved character in the comics to begin with – for all his powers and gadgets, he’s ultimately a normal teenager at heart, and the greatest battles he fights are the everyday ones he goes against in school. Holland’s endearing, funny performance deservedly made him a star, and I look forward to seeing him swinging back onto screens in next month’s Spider-Man: Far From Home.

Best Moment: His introduction in Captain America: Civil War, when he meets Tony Stark for the first time and is recruited as an Avenger. In just a few minutes, we learn plenty about his character, and he establishes himself as the best on-screen Spidey yet.

 

7. Scott Lang/Ant-Man

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Portrayed By: Paul Rudd

Film Appearances: Ant-Man, Captain America: Civil War, Ant-Man And The Wasp and Avengers: Endgame.

A small-time thief with a heart of gold, Scott Lang is a lovable goofball who finds himself recruited by scientist Hank Pym to help steal back his high-tech “shrinking suit” before it gets into the wrong hands. Though he may have seemed like a silly basis for a movie at first, Scott instead turned out to be a funny, likeable and charming hero thanks to the considerable charisma of Paul Rudd.

Best Moment: Turning into “Giant-Man” in Captain America: Civil War. In addition to how cool the moment is, it’s made even better by the hilarious “evil laugh” Rudd lets out when he does it.

 

6. Bruce Banner/The Hulk

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Portrayed By: Edward Norton in The Incredible Hulk, and Mark Ruffalo in all subsequent appearances.

Film Appearances: The Incredible Hulk, The Avengers, Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.

End-Credits Scene Appearances: Iron Man 3 and Captain Marvel.

Bruce Banner first appears in The Incredible Hulk, where he’s portrayed by Edward Norton. Norton’s take on the character was perfectly serviceable, but also fairly bland. However, the character started to significantly improve in The Avengers, when Mark Ruffalo took on the role and gave him more of a personality. Over the course of the MCU, we watch Banner attempt to wrestle the two sides of his personality – the nerdy scientist Bruce Banner and the big, green monster he becomes when angry – before he finally solves the problem in Endgame by fusing the Hulk’s body with Banner’s mind. Though he only has one solo movie in the MCU, Banner continued to gain popularity among fans through his appearances in the Avengers movies and Thor: Ragnarok, and it’s not hard to see why.

Best Moment: His declaration that “I’m always angry” before he turns into the Hulk and punches the Leviathan in the first Avengers, which is followed immediately by the now-iconic shot of the heroes standing together. It’s the kind of moment that makes you want to jump out of your seat and cheer.

 

5. Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow

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Portrayed By: Scarlett Johansson

Film Appearances: Iron Man 2, The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.

End-Credits Scene Appearances: Captain Marvel.

Since her debut in Iron Man 2, Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow has deservedly become one of the MCU’s most popular characters. A former Russian spy who now works for SHIELD, Natasha is one of the founding members of the Avengers, and while she does not yet have her own movie (something that is expected to change next year), she proves to a highlight of the films she does appear in, thanks to a layered and engaging performance from Scarlett Johansson.

Best Moment: Her fight with Justin Hammer’s goons in a corridor in Iron Man 2. This is the moment where she firmly establishes herself as a force to be reckoned with, barely flinching as she fights off her enemy’s minions.

 

4. Peter Quill/Star-Lord

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Portrayed By: Chris Pratt

Film Appearances: Guardians Of The Galaxy, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.

Taken from Earth as a boy following the death of his mother, Peter Quill is cocky and maybe a little immature, but still a good person at heart. Described by actor Chris Pratt as a cross between Marty McFly and Han Solo, Quill is an intergalactic criminal who’s rarely without his beloved cassette tape, and soon becomes one of the galaxy’s unlikeliest defenders. Though one of the MCU’s funniest heroes, Quill is also not without his share of touching moments, with Pratt managing a perfect balance of comedy and pathos.

Best Moment: During the opening moments of the first Guardians Of The Galaxy, where he dances to Redbone’s Come And Get Your Love while making his way to a valuable orb he’s about to steal. It’s unexpected, funny and instantly sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

 

3. Thor Odinson

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Portrayed By: Chris Hemsworth

Film Appearances: Thor, The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World, Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.

End-Credits Scene Appearances: Doctor Strange.

Thor started out as one of the franchise’s more boring heroes. Sure, he had a couple of cool moments, but his stiff personality and pompous Shakespearean lingo worked best when contrasted with the rest of the heroes, and he was often overshadowed by other characters in his own movies. But then along came Thor: Ragnarok. Director Taika Waititi gave the character a complete makeover, finally playing to actor Chris Hemsworth’s strengths by ditching Thor’s self-seriousness in favour of a laid-back sense of humour. The change turned out to be for the better, as Thor instantly became one of the most entertaining Avengers. He went on to become one of the coolest parts of Infinity War, and stole every scene he was in in Endgame, having finally found his footing as a character.

Best Moment: Without question, Thor’s most badass moment is when he arrives in Wakanda in Infinity War, yells “bring me Thanos!”, and unleashes the full force of his power onto his foe’s army. I still get goosebumps every time I watch it.

 

2. Steve Rogers/Captain America

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Portrayed By: Chris Evans

Film Appearances: Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.

End-Credits Appearances: Ant-Man and Captain Marvel.

With his undying optimism and strong commitment to his morals, Captain America could have ended up as a bland hero, but somehow ended up being not just one of the most engaging characters on this list, but one of the coolest. Chris Evans, channelling Christopher Reeve in Superman, is perfectly cast, making him enormously likeable and delivering his many rousing speeches in a way that’ll send shivers down your spine. Known as “Cap” by his teammates, Steve is a natural-born leader who is willing to risk it all for the greater good, and if you knock him to the ground, you can be sure he’ll get back to his feet and declare “I could do this all day”.

Best Moment: In Avengers: Endgame, when he proves himself worthy of lifting Thor’s hammer Mjiolnir, a moment that caused the theatre I saw the movie in to burst into applause.

 

1. Tony Stark/Iron Man

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Portrayed By: Robert Downey Jr

Film Appearances: Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.

End-Credits Appearances: The Incredible Hulk.

A self-described genius, billionaire, playboy and philanthropist, Tony Stark may not be the most humble person in the world, but his growth over the last eleven years has made for the most compelling character arc in the MCU. He begins as a reckless and carefree party animal, but eventually evolves into a responsible leader, mentor, husband and father, determined to protect his loved ones at all cost – though he retains his wisecracking nature, rarely resisting the opportunity for a snappy one-liner. All this is played flawlessly by Robert Downey Jr, in probably the best superhero casting choice of all time. Nailing Tony’s humorous nature and his moments of vulnerability, Downey is always 100% committed throughout his nine appearances in the MCU (ten if you count his post-credits cameo in The Incredible Hulk), and while we’ll miss seeing him in character as Tony Stark, the character’s sendoff in Avengers: Endgame could not have been more perfect.

Best Moment: I’m going to cheat slightly by picking three, though there is a connection between all of them. At the end of the first Iron Man movie, Tony tells the press “I am Iron Man”, breaking the tradition of superheroes keeping secret identities. At the end of Iron Man 3, he repeats that line as he comes to the realisation that he’s more than just a suit of armour. And in Endgame, he says it one last time before he sacrifices himself to save the universe. The line is used in a different context in each moment, but they all track Tony’s evolution as a person, and the last one brings him nicely full-circle.

 

Honourable Mentions:

James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle)

Nebula (Karen Gillan)

Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen)

Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson)

Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Brie Larson)

 

The “Now You See Me” Franchise: My Personal Guilty Pleasure

Guilty pleasures. We’ve all got ‘em – maybe it’s something you know is bad that you love watching so you can laugh at it. Or maybe it’s something you unironically enjoy despite its flaws. Not every film can be Citizen Kane, and sometimes you just need to sit back and watch something a little trashy – something that you can have a good time with even if you know it’s not Shakespeare. For me, these are the Now You See Me movies – a series currently consisting of two films following a group of magicians calling themselves “the Four Horsemen” who use smoke and mirrors to pull off bank heists, then reward their audiences with the money during their performances, Robin Hood style. They are silly, cheesy and often implausible, but they appeal to me nonetheless. So here, I will explain what is is about these movies that I enjoy so much – and why, despite knowing they aren’t high art, the Now You See Me franchise is a personal guilty pleasure for me.

 

THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

 

A Fun Concept That Doesn’t Take Itself Too Seriously

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I enjoy a good heist movie. I also, for reasons I can’t fully articulate, have a weird soft spot for movies centred around magicians (Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige is a favourite of mine). So already, it’s not hard to see why Now You See Me is right up my alley – it’s a movie about magicians pulling off heists!

The first film kicks off by introducing us to the central four magicians – there’s Jesse Eisenberg as cocky showman J. Daniel Atlas; Woody Harrelson as wisecracking mentalist Merrit McKinney; Isla Fisher as skilled escape-artist Henley Reeves; and Dave Franco as amateur street performer/con-man Jack Wilder. They are all contacted by an anonymous individual who we eventually learn works for “the Eye” – a shadowy organisation who are said to protect the secrets of real magic.

In order to be initiated into the Eye, the four of them must pull off three incredible acts in different cities around the world during which they steal money from banks or other institutions that have cheated their clients, and give the money to their audience. The public adores them – the FBI, not so much. And so, begins a twisty game of cat and mouse.

As you can probably gather from that description, these movies aren’t trying too hard to remain grounded in reality, what with their shadowy organisations and impossible heists. If you’ve seen the movies, you know the routine: the Horsemen will perform some incredible trick, and only later will we get an explaination for how they pulled it off. A lot of these tricks and explanations are outlandish, involving huge mirrors, hypnosis and a whole lot of elaborate planning, but what makes it work (for me, anyway) is that both films proudly embrace their own goofiness. They know when they’re being absurd, and are often willing to lean into it.

 

An Effortlessly Watchable Cast

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Something you may have noticed already based on the information I’ve given you is that these movies have pretty star-studded casts. In addition to the four horsemen themselves, you’ve got Michael Caine as the owner of an insurance company who gets his just desserts as a result of the Horsemen’s actions, Morgan Freeman as a smug “magic debunker” who is out to expose the group, and Mark Ruffalo as Dylan Rhodes, the FBI agent sent to catch them who – SPOILER – eventually turns out to be the mastermind behind the whole thing, and an agent of the Eye. Now You See Me 2 expands the roster with Jay Chou, Lizzy Caplan (whose character replaces Fisher’s, due to the latter’s pregnancy), and Daniel Radcliffe.

The appeal of this series is heavily indebted to the talent and charisma of its stars. Some of the most entertaining sequences in both simply involve the Horsemen exchanging banter, their chemistry often on-point. Standouts are Eisenberg, who gives Atlas a cocky charm; Harrelson, acting as comic relief; Ruffalo, successfully making a potentially bland character engaging; and Freeman, who is usually the one describing – in great detail – how the magicians pulled off their tricks, but has the superpower of being able to easily sell even the most expository dialogue. The key here is that pretty much everyone onscreen seems to be having a ball, which certainly boosts the entertainment factor.

 

Slick, Fast-Paced And Stylish

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These movies are not for everybody, as evidenced by the mixed critical reception they received. And look, I get it: they require serious suspension of disbelief, which is bound to annoy some viewers. You don’t need to tell me that they are a classic case of style over substance. But that’s something I can usually forgive if I’m really won over by said style – and in this case, I am.

Take the scene in Now You See Me 2 where the Horsemen are attempting to steal an all-important computer chip which they have attached to a playing card, and attempt to conceal it from the security guards. As they are being padded down, the camera follows the card as it is stealthily slipped from horseman to horseman, in a sequence that, however physics-defying it may be, is an absolute blast to watch.

With their slick visuals, jazzy scores and fast pacing, these are the kinds of movies I would probably stick with if I came across them on TV. They’re proudly goofy, stylishly-produced pieces of popcorn entertainment that probably won’t win over everyone, but work like a charm on me. For me, it’s like watching a good magic trick – I know I’m being bamboozled, but I can’t help being swept up by the flash and razzle-dazzle on display. So sue me.

X-Men Franchise Ranked

With Dark Phoenix, the X-Men franchise has come to an end (OK, maybe The New Mutants is “technically” still part of the franchise, but is that movie even going to come out at this stage?). So now, here is my full ranking of the long-running series’ 12 instalments.

 

12. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

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After the original X-Men trilogy ended, the plan was to do an “X-Men Origins” series focusing on the early years of some of the characters. Naturally, the first one was set to centre on the series’ most popular character, that being Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. His early life has the makings of a great film, but X-Men Origins: Wolverine ain’t that film. The movie commits a fatal prequel sin, that being that it fails to really explain what shaped Logan/Wolverine into the character we know him as, rushing through the centuries of war he went through, and only really giving us the origins for (a) his metal claws and (b) his jacket. There are plenty of other problems too – the CGI on the claws is appalling (there’s no reason for a movie from 2009 to have worse effects that a movie from 2000), and the way the movie treats the character of Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds, before he got the chance to play the character right in his own film) is just wrong on so many levels – why would you take a character known for his wisecracking personality and sew his mouth shut? After this movie, the whole X-Men: Origins concept was scrapped, and the planned Magneto film became X-Men: First Class.

BEST MOMENT: The opening credits montage of Logan and Victor Creed/Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber, who’s actually rather good) going through various wars throughout the centuries is pretty cool, and honestly might have made for a better movie overall.

 

11. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

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During the mid-to-late-2000s, it seemed there was some kind of curse on superhero movie trilogies where if the first two were really good, the third one would wind up a disappointment (Spider-Man 3, anyone?). The concept behind X-Men: The Last Stand, the third instalment in the original trilogy, is an interesting one: a “cure” for mutations is discovered, dividing the mutant community between those who believe it to be their only hope, and those who are insulted by the notion of having to be “cured”. Unfortunately, the movie itself fails to live up to that concept. Cyclops, a major character from the first two films, gets killed in the first 30 minutes, and his death barely makes an impact on the other characters. Another main character, Rogue, gets sidelined for much of the movie, meaning that when her arc reaches its resolution, it does not feel earned. The Dark Phoenix saga does not get the treatment it deserves. And the less said about “I’m the Juggernaut, BITCH!”, the better.

BEST MOMENT: The introduction of Kelsey Grammer’s Beast, largely because Grammer proves to be a pretty inspired choice for the role. Who knew a big furry Frasier was all this movie needed?

 

10. X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)

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Oh look, another poor handling of the Dark Phoenix storyline. The latest and probably last instalment in the series is a well-acted but ultimately underwhelming conclusion that mostly just revisits themes from the other movies without ever really adding anything new. Especially coming on the heals of Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Endgame, a near-masterclass in how to conclude a long-running story, this just doesn’t feel like the grand finale it should be. It also doesn’t do much to help the series’ already-confusing timeline.

BEST MOMENT: The final scene finds James McAvoy’s Charles and Michael Fassbender’s Erik playing yet another game of chess (something the two frenemies are seen doing a number of times in the series to represent their duelling ideologies), and finally making peace in a scene that wraps up their arcs nicely.

 

9. X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

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Imagine casting one of the best actors working today in your movie but giving him nothing to do other than walk around looking like some Power Rangers villain spouting generic dialogue. Sadly, that’s just what this movie does – while the immensely talented Oscar Isaac does everything he can, bringing a legitimate sense of menace to the character of En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse (an iconic villain from the comics), his talents are wasted on a script that fails to do justice to either the character or the actor. The movie as a whole isn’t terrible in all fairness – there are some cool moments, the acting is solid, and a sequence involving Michael Fassbender’s Magneto in the woods is legitimately powerful. But with its familiar plots beats and recycled elements from the other movies, this one felt like an end to the hot streak the franchise had been on recently. It’s a firmly middle-of-the-road entry that could have been better.

BEST MOMENT: It’s got to be the scene where Quicksilver (Evan Peters) uses his super-speed to rescue all the students at an exploding X-Mansion during a slo-mo scene set to Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams. While it’s not the first time we’ve seen Quicksilver do something like this in the franchise, the scene is still a ton of fun, and Peters seems to be having a ball throughout. (Side note: I am also fond of the moment where Erik meets Apocalypse for the first time and greets him with a perfect “who the fuck are you?”).

 

8. The Wolverine (2013)

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Anything would have been a step-up after Origins, but this spinoff – which finds Wolverine on a solo adventure in Japan – is a legitimately solid showcase for the character that should prove more satisfying to his fans. For the most part, it’s an engaging action-drama about a nearly-invincible man confronted with morality for the first time, until its final act becomes a generic blockbuster where Hugh Jackman fights an elderly Japanese man in a robot suit. Still, the first two thirds of the movie are very enjoyable, making this a solid addition to the X-Men canon.

BEST MOMENT: The ludicrous but fun action set-piece on top of the speeding bullet train, one of Wolverine’s finest and most badass on-screen moments.

 

7. X-Men (2000)

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Before Iron Man, before Batman Begins, before even Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, there was X-Men, the superhero blockbuster which proved once and for all that there was an audience for these films, and they didn’t have to star the most mainstream heroes to be hits. And you know what? It actually holds up pretty well. With a lean narrative that doesn’t overstay its welcome, the film does an admirable job of setting up the world of the franchise, where super-powered individuals called “Mutants” are known and feared by the general public, who treat them with hostility and suspicion. It also made a Hollywood star out of Hugh Jackman, then a largely-unknown Australian actor who immediately became synonymous with the character of Wolverine because of this movie. Jackman is perfectly cast, making him impossibly cool and engaging to watch. It’s no wonder he became the series’ frontman. As a start to a long-running franchise and a standalone film in its own right, X-Men is a fun time.

BEST MOMENT: This movie’s best moment has to be the sequence where Jackman’s Wolverine is first introduced. Immediately, all doubts that Jackman was a great choice for the role could be put to rest, as he dominates every frame he’s in with his sheer presence, and instantly proves that he understands what makes the character so popular.

 

6. X2: X-Men United (2003)

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As all sequels should, X2: X-Men United expands on the themes and characters of its predecessor, in addition to upping the ante in terms of action. Introducing new characters while maintaining an impressive focus on the core ones like Wolverine, Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and their archenemy-turned-temporary ally Magneto (Ian McKellen). The film continued to show what comic-book movies could be capable of, making it one of the most important movies in the series.

BEST MOMENT: The film opens with a bang, as teleporting mutant Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) makes an attempt to assassinate the President of the United States, resulting in a thrilling action scene that visualises the character’s powers in a way that could only be possible through cinema.

 

5. Deadpool (2016)

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I have to admit, I do have reservations about the Deadpool movies being considered part of the X-Men canon since they are ultimately spoofs of the superhero genre where the other films are straight-up superhero films. Nonetheless, they are considered part of the series, so I guess I have to include them. That said, Deadpool is a lot of fun. Perfectly capturing the snarky, self-aware tone of the comics in all their R-Rated glory, the movie is over-the-top, violent and unabashedly cheeky, with Ryan Reynolds (in a deservedly Golden Globe-nominated performance) proving once and for all that this is the role he was born to play. Sure, the villains are as weak as any cookie-cutter antagonists from the very films this one mocks, and the pacing can be a little off, but for the most part, Deadpool is pure goofy gory fun.

BEST MOMENT: The opening action scene where Deadpool makes a surprise attack on his enemies in their car. It perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the movie, from the over-the-top violence to the fourth-wall-demolishing humour.

 

4. X-Men: Days Of Future Past (2014)

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X-Men: Days Of Future Past unites the original and new casts of the X-Men franchise for a hugely enjoyable time travel adventure adventure that does raise a few questions about the timeline of the series, but remains a blast all the same. It’s got some of the best acting in the franchise (James McAvoy and Jennifer Lawrence being standouts), as well as thrilling action sequences and a script that impressively balances a crowded ensemble.

BEST MOMENT: Days Of Future Past‘s standout scene – and one of the best scenes in the whole franchise – sees the young, 1973 version of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) encountering his future self (Patrick Stewart), who gives him the pep talk he needs to restore his confidence. It’s a surprisingly moving scene elevated by McAvoy’s phenomenal work as the younger Charles (not enough people talk about how great he is in this movie).

 

3. X-Men: First Class (2011)

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After The Last Stand and Origins, it seemed the X-Men movies had run out of steam. But then Matthew Vaughan came along and gave new life to the franchise with First Class, a prequel set in 1962 revealing how Charles Xaver/Professor X and Erik Lensherr/Magneto (played in the originals by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen but here by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) met and became allies, before their differing ideologies eventually make them enemies. It’s the best instalment in the franchise that actually has “X-Men” in the title, with stylish direction from Matthew Vaughan, striking visuals, and excellent performances all-around – the best of all being Michael Fassbender, whose portrayal of a young Magneto is nothing short of, well, magnetic.

BEST MOMENT: Any scene with Fassbender in it is great, but the scene where he enters a tavern in Argentina to confront the former Nazi soldiers who took his mother away from him when he was a child and exacts his revenge on them (“let’s say I’m Frankenstein’s monster…I’m looking for my creator”) still gives me chills.

 

2. Deadpool 2 (2018)

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Deadpool 2 is that rare thing – a comedy sequel that actually surpasses its predecessor. With the success of the first film having proven that audiences were willing to embrace the tone and style of the Deadpool character, the filmmakers were able to go all-out with the sequel, doubling down on the over-the-top action, self-referential humour and fourth-wall breaking that made the first movie so much fun. Ryan Reynolds is once again perfect as the titular character, but he’s not alone – Deadpool 2 also brings in great new characters like Josh Brolin’s time-travelling badass Cable, Zazie Beets’ cooly charismatic Domino and Julian Denninson’s troubled mutant kid Russell. On top of that, it features one of the best end-credit scenes in cinematic history.

BEST MOMENT: After Deadpool has assembled a team of mutants called X-Force, they all jump from a helicopter to begin their first mission, only for most of them to die horrible deaths in one of the movie’s most shocking and hilarious surprises. I especially love how Deadpool isn’t even really that torn up about it – he just winces a bit and moves on with his life.

 

1. Logan (2017)

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I really went back and forth between Deadpool 2 and Logan for the top spot, but I ultimately had to go with the latter. In a lot of ways, I can’t really think of Logan as being part of the X-Men franchise because of how grounded it is in comparison to the others. But on its own terms, Logan is an excellent movie. Far more of a character piece than an action movie, this one finds Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine at a low point in his life – his instant healing ability isn’t what it used to be, and the “Adamantium” metal that runs throughout his body is slowly poisoning him. Jackman gives one of the best performances of his career, but its hard to label this as entirely his show when he’s supported by Patrick Stewart’s heartbreaking turn as a deteriorating Professor X, and a startling young Dafne Keen as Laura, the young mutant girl they are trying to protect. In addition to its emotional storyline, this is also the first Wolverine movie to embrace the violent nature of the character in the comics, resulting in the R-rated outing for Logan that fans have wanted for years. Logan also made superhero movie history by earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, paving the way for Black Panther to become the first superhero film to receive a Best Picture nomination the following year. It may not be the most uplifting X-Men movie, but Logan is still a bold, unique and emotionally satisfying send-off to the character of Wolverine.

BEST MOMENT (SPOILERS): As Logan lies dying on the ground with Laura crying over him, he does his best to comfort her. Then, with a small smile, he whispers “so this is what it feels like”, as the once-invincible mutant experiences death, and is finally free of his suffering. Then, we are shown Laura burying him, and adjusting the cross on his grave to resemble an X. A beautiful and moving way to end Logan’s story.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix Review: Fox’s Final “X-Men” Film Can’t Quite Rise From The Ashes

THE PLOT: In 1992, the X-Men are sent on a rescue mission in space, during which one of their own, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) becomes imbued with mysterious powers that transform her into the all-powerful Phoenix. As she wrestles with her demons, her actions threaten to tear the rest of the team apart.

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REVIEW: Released in 2000, the first X-Men movie helped to prove that comic-book movies didn’t have to feature Batman or Superman to be successful. In addition to paving the way for other highly successful superhero franchises, the movie also launched its own series – one that has seen its fair share of highs and lows, with some great entries like First Class and Logan and disappointments like The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Now, with Disney having bought 20th Century Fox, this particular franchise is coming to an end. The next time we see a film that has X-Men in the title, it will more than likely be a complete reboot set within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So while I wish I could say Dark Phoenix is a satisfying conclusion to the long-running franchise, the truth is that this is a disappointingly workmanlike entry in a series that feels as though it’s run its course.

As per usual with the X-Men movies, the cast is this film’s strongest asset. Sophie Turner is solid as Jean Grey, while James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender remain as committed as ever as Charles “Professor X” Xavier and Erik “Magneto” Lensherr. But not everyone is served as well – Evan Peters’ Quicksilver, a highlight of the two previous films he was in, is frustratingly underused here. And much like how Apocalypse took the hugely talented Oscar Isaac and saddled him with a generic, underdeveloped villain role, Jessica Chastain is given hardly anything memorable to do as a mysterious individual looking for Jean.

A lot of the problems from other recent X-Men movies are present here as well. Starting with the 1962-set First Class, each instalment has been set roughly a decade after its predecessor. That means that this one, set in 1992, is supposedly 30 years after the events of First Class, even though the characters hardly seem to have aged a day (and also that James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender will look like Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen in a mere 8 years?).

This isn’t the first time these movies have attempted to adapt the iconic Phoenix storyline for the screen. 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand used it as a subplot, but failed to do it justice. When Days Of Future Past allowed the series’ timeline to be rewritten, it was an opportunity to right some of the franchise’s past wrongs, but Dark Phoenix still stumbles in its efforts to adapt this beloved storyline – though for different reasons.

A major problem is that we haven’t had enough time to really get to know this version of Jean Grey yet. She was first introduced in a supporting role in Apocalypse, so we haven’t really seen much of her relationships with the rest of the team (outside of Tye Sheridan’s Cyclops), which means the story doesn’t pack the emotional punch it should.

Even some of the characters we have gotten to know in the other movies don’t quite feel like themselves – Charles has become more of an egotistical jerk since we last saw him, and while this sets him up for an arc that could have been interesting, it gets resolved too easily as we approach the final act.

This series isn’t exactly known for its incredible attention to continuity, with even some of the best instalments containing plot elements that contradict things from the others. Dark Phoenix doesn’t exactly do much to fix this – apart from the fact that it gives a new origin for Jean’s Phoenix powers when she already appeared to have them in Apocalypse, it also ignores a plot detail from a previous film which creates a pretty gaping plot whole in that movie retroactively (I can’t say anymore without giving away spoilers).

For all this, there’s little in Dark Phoenix that’s outright appalling. The actors do what they can with the material. The action sequences are largely passable. The pacing never really drags, and Hans Zimmer composes another impressive score. The problem isn’t that this movie is an unwatchable disaster, but that it doesn’t have enough memorable elements to stick out among the other instalments in the series.

Perhaps nothing sums this up better than Magneto’s arc. Fassbender has brought undeniable presence to the role since his excellent first outing as the character in X-Men: First Class, but when Apocalypse came around, it became clear that the writers were out of new directions to take his character – his constantly-switching allegiances are just getting predictable. “You’re always sorry, Charles” he says at one point. “And there’s always a speech – but nobody cares”. Unfortunately, he may be on to something.

FINAL VERDICT:

X-Men: Dark Phoenix closes out Fox’s franchise with an instalment that’s never a complete disaster, but still suffers from the same problems that have plagued the series’ recent instalments.

RATING: 4/10

Rocketman Review: A Highly Entertaining Musical Biopic

THE PLOT: A musical about the breakthrough years of musician Elton John (Taron Edgerton), focusing on his childhood, his early successes, and his struggles with various addictions.

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REVIEW: Rocketman is not the first biopic of a British musical icon to be released in the last 12 months. Last October saw the release of Bohemian Rhapsody, which told the story of Queen’s Freddie Mercury, and, despite a mixed reception, went on to be a box-office hit, and won 4 Oscars. Given that Rocketman‘s director Dexter Fletcher was also brought on to finish Bohemian Rhapsody after the firing of the scandal-laden Bryan Singer, comparisons between the two are inevitable. Bohemian was fun and enjoyable (and bolstered by an excellent leading performance from Rami Malek), but ultimately formulaic, not really breaking the conventions of its genre. For this reason, Rocketman is the better film, as it plays around with biopic tropes in a way that makes it stick out from other films of its kind.

That’s not to say its storyline doesn’t hit some of the beats we’re used to seeing in these films – we see his troubled childhood, his rise to fame, and his struggles with drugs and alcohol abuse. What is new is the way it tells the story: this is a full-blown musical, where the characters actually break into song-and-dance numbers rather than only using its subject’s music during concert sequences. Fletcher is able to get inventive with this, resulting in fantasy sequences where John and his audience seemingly levitate off the ground during a performance of Crocodile Rock, or he actually blasts off and explodes like a literal rocket as he sings the titular song.

Another unique aspect of this movie is its R-rating, which allows it to be a warts-and-all account of John’s personal life, from his drug use to his sexuality (“I have fucked everything that moves” he declares at one point).

Edgerton, who does all his own singing, is terrific, with a performance that’s charismatic, vulnerable and showcases his strong singing voice. Elsewhere, Jamie Bell is excellent as John’s songwriting partner Bernie Taupin, as is Bryce Dallas Howard as Elton’s cruel mother and Richard Madden as his calculating manager (and, for a time, lover) John Reid.

Even if it does occasionally dip into biopic formula, Rocketman is still highly entertaining, and even touching in parts. It’s likely to be a big crowdpleaser, and should certainly please Elton John’s fans.

FINAL VERDICT:

Dexter Fletcher’s stylish direction and Taron Edgerton’s committed lead performance help make Rocketman a colourful and energetic musical that does justice to its real-life subject.

RATING: 8/10

Booksmart Review: A Teen Comedy With Intelligence, Heart And Laughs

THE PLOT: Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), a pair of studious best friends, decide to attend a high school party for the first time on the eve of their graduation – what follows is the wildest night of their lives.

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REVIEW: Female-led coming-of-age comedies are experiencing something of a renaissance at the moment. In just the last couple of years, we’ve seen the release of Kelly Fremon Craig’s The Edge Of Seventeen, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird and Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade. Now, we have Booksmart, Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, deservedly earning high praise since its premiere at the SXSW Film Festival earlier in the year, which also serves as proof that the “one last night of fun before we graduate” rite-of-passage sub-genre – which has provided the template for teen movies from American Graffiti to Superbad – still has fresh stories to tell.

Molly and Amy are high school seniors who have been close friends since childhood. They’re likeable, funny and good students, but because they’ve devoted so much time to their academic work, they’re seen as pretentious by their peers. That doesn’t really bother them until Molly learns that their classmates who spent a lot of time partying also found the time to study and get into impressive colleges as well. Now, fearing that they’ve been doing it all wrong, she ropes Amy into a plan to experience one night of wild partying before their high school years are over. “Nobody knows we’re fun!” she despairs. Needless to say, things don’t go entirely to plan.

Again, it’s not necessarily the most innovative-sounding premise on paper, but Wilde imbues it with such energy and inventiveness that it easily sticks out among other films of its kind. She instantly establishes her own distinctive voice with the film’s stylish, snappy editing and clever use of its hip-hop soundtrack.

As Molly, Beanie Feldstein is appealing, charismatic and displays excellent comic timing, while also allowing the character to be flawed due to her tendency to be a bit of a control freak. As Amy, Kaitlyn Dever is just as funny and likeable, while also giving her a heartbreaking vulnerability. Their chemistry is on-point, and the clever dialogue gives them plenty to work with.

There’s a rich supporting cast as well, including a hilarious Billie Lourd as a kooky party girl who seems to show up everywhere the characters go, and brief but funny cameos from Will Forte and Lisa Kudrow as Amy’s parents.

As per usual with this genre, there’s plenty of raunchy humour to be found, with jokes about masturbation, drugs and a hilariously cringe-inducing scene involving porn. But beneath all that, there’s genuine intelligence and heart to be found – specifically in Amy’s storyline. She’s lesbian, but the film isn’t her coming-out story, as she’s been out for two years by the time it begins. Instead of being her “defining” character trait (which would have made her feel like a token gay character), it simply serves to add extra depth to both her and the story. Wilde handles it excellently.

When the pathos comes, it feels earned, as Molly and Amy find their friendship tested during the night. Their dynamic is so appealing that it’s heartbreaking to watch them fight, which is largely down to more great work from Feldstein and Dever. There’ll doubtless be plenty more of these “cusp-of-adulthood” teen comedies to come in the future, but Booksmart has proved that there are still interesting directions to go with the genre.

FINAL VERDICT:

A terrific debut for director Olivia Wilde, Booksmart puts a clever modern twist on a well-trodden genre.

RATING: 8.5/10

Post-Cannes Update On 2020 Oscar Predictions

The Cannes Film Festival has wrapped up and the Jury have handed out their awards. So because I’m unbelievably nerdy, I just had to jump at the opportunity to share my updated predictions for this year’s Academy Awards.

BEST MOTION PICTURE OF THE YEAR:

Nomadland

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This one is a bit of a question mark because we don’t know for sure if it’s coming out in 2019. However, IMDb currently has it listed as being in “post-production”, so unless it’s confirmed otherwise, I’ll predict it for this year – it seems like a safe bet for a fall film festival debut. Directed by Chloe Zhao, whose last film The Rider was a massive critical success (and who will next direct Marvel blockbuster The Eternals), the film stars Frances McDormand as “a woman in her 60s who, after losing everything in the Great Recession, embarks on a journey through the American west, living as a van-dwelling modern-day nomad”. Zhao has plenty of critical support, so I think this could be the underdog contender that most people don’t see coming. It would also be nice to see a film directed by an Asian woman receive recognition from major awards.

 

1917

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The pedigree behind this one (said to follow two young soldiers during a single day in World War I) is impressive – it’s directed by Sam Mendes, shot by Roger Deakins, scored by Thomas Newman (who, amazingly, has never won despite 14 nominations) and has a cast that includes Mark Strong, Richard Madden, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, and others. Currently filming, and set for release at Christmas, this could be a big contender.

 

Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood

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Quentin Tarantino’s latest has earned highly positive reviews out of Cannes. Set in 1969, during the final years of Hollywood’s golden age, it follows fading TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff (Brad Pitt) as they try to make it in a changing film industry, while the infamous Manson family murders which claimed the life of actress Sharon Tate (played here by Margot Robbie, in a widely praised performance). Whether Tarantino plays around with history as he did with Inglorious Basterds remains to be seen by those of us not lucky enough to attend Cannes, but the reviews have been great, and the Academy loves movies about the movies, so this one is a strong contender.

 

The Irishman

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Martin Scorsese’s latest, a gangster epic about mob hitman Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), has been in development for some time, due to extensive VFX work needed to de-age the film’s cast during the early sequences. It boasts a talented cast and legendary director, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to see this one here. No official release date has been set, though rumour has it it’s aiming for October.

 

Ammonite

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Like Nomadland, this movie is not officially confirmed for 2019 – in fact, it’s currently listed as being a 2020 release, but it doesn’t actually have a set date, and has already wrapped filming, so it’s possible it could manage to sneak in at the end of the year. Kate Winslet stars as real-life Fossil hunter Mary Anning, and Saoirse Ronan is a young woman with whom she develops a romance. Director Francis Lee previously helmed the critically acclaimed God’s Own Country, and it boasts a hugely talented pair of leads, so this one could certainly be in the conversation whenever it comes out.

 

Ford V Ferrari

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This fact-based drama from James Mangold (Walk The Line, Logan) follows a team of engineers led by Carrol Shelby (Matt Damon) and British driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) as they work on a car that will allow Ford to compete with Ferrari at the Le Mans race in 1966. Reaction to footage screened at cinemacon was enthusiastic, and there’s talent on both sides of the camera. Could be one to watch out for.

 

Jojo Rabbit

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Comedies about the Nazi regime are a risky proposition, but if anyone can pull one off, it’s Taika Waititi. Hot off the success of his blockbuster Thor: Ragnarok, Waititi’s new film, set for an October release, follows a boy in Hitler’s youth camp (Roman Griffin Davis) who must confront his naïve patriotism when he learns his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is harbouring a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their home. Oh, and he’s got an imaginary friend who’s basically a goofy version of the infamous dictator himself, and this imaginary friend will, of course, be played by Waititi. In the wrong director’s hands, this kind of premise would be a cause for worry, but Waititi’s previous work has shown him to be a smart filmmaker who can handle comedy and pathos. It also has Fox Searchlight behind it, and they are one of the most successful studios of this decade in terms of the Oscars (with Best Picture winners like The Shape Of Water, Birdman and 12 Years A Slave, in addition to nominees like The Favourite, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Brooklyn and The Grand Budapest Hotel).

 

Little Women

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Greta Gerwig’s latest film following Lady Bird is an adaptation of Louisa May-Alcott’s classic Little Women. It’s a story that’s been adapted for screen countless times, but that didn’t stop A Star Is Born from receiving a Best Picture nom, and Gerwig has already proved herself to be a hugely talented filmmaker.

 

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

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Marielle Heller’s follow-up to the fantastic Can You Ever Forgive Me? stars Matthew Rhys as a cynical journalist whose outlook on life is changed when he’s assigned to write a profile on children’s television host Fred Rogers, who was known for his warm, optimistic personality, and is played, naturally, by Tom Hanks. It’s sure to be sentimental as hell, but Heller is a good director, Hanks is obviously an appealing star, and in these hard times, perhaps the story of Mr. Rogers is exactly what we need (he was the subject of documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbour?, which failed to receive a nomination last year to the disappointment of many).

 

Rocketman

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Premiering at Cannes to very positive reviews, this musical about Elton John could definitely be a contender if it makes a splash at the Box Office (it probably won’t make quite as much as Bohemian Rhapsody due to its R-Rating, but it could still be a big hit). Taron Edgerton has been widely praised as the man himself, as has director Dexter Fletcher’s unconventional take on the music biopic (which presents John’s story as a full-blown musical using his songs).

 

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN DIRECTING:

Chloé Zhao (Nomadland)

Sam Mendes (1917)

Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood))

Martin Scorsese (The Irishman)

Greta Gerwig (Little Women)

 

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE:

Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood)

Robert De Niro (The Irishman)

Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood)

Antonio Banderas (Pain & Glory)

Taron Edgerton (Rocketman)

 

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE:

Cynthia Erivo (Harriet)

Frances McDormand (Nomadland)

Kate Winslet (Ammonite)

Awkwafina (The Farewell)

Lupita Nyong’o (Us)

 

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:

Brad Pitt (Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood)

Al Pacino (The Irishman)

Joe Pesci (The Irishman)

John Lithgow (Fair & Balanced)

Timothée Chalamet (Little Women)

 

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:

Saoirse Ronan (Ammonite)

Margot Robbie (Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood)

Annette Bening (The Report)

Scarlett Johansson (Jojo Rabbit)

Meryl Streep (Little Women)

 

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:

Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood

Ammonite

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

The Farewell

Us

 

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:

Nomadland

The Irishman

Jojo Rabbit

Ford V Ferrari

Little Women

 

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM:

Toy Story 4

How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

Missing Link

Frozen 2

Farmageddon: A Shaun The Sheep Movie

 

OTHER BEST PICTURE POSSIBILITIES:

Avengers: Endgame

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I’ve already written my article explaining why this movie at least has a chance. I’m still not QUITE ready to put it in the official Best Picture predictions, but I really hope it can get in (especially after the deserved success of Black Panther).

 

Us

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It really pained me to take this movie out of my Best Picture predictions, but I fear that not enough people are talking about it in terms of awards anymore, which could hurt its chances. This, of course, is not definite, and it’s still entirely possible that it makes a resurgence at the end of the year and gets nominated (it could even be back in my predictions later in the year). For now, we’ll see. I am leaving Lupita Nyong’o in my Best Actress predictions because I just don’t have the strength to take her out yet.

 

The Farewell

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Lulu Wang’s dramedy about a Chinese family who learns their beloved matriarch is dying earned rave reviews from Sundance, and star Awkwafina is a potential Best Actress contender. However, a small film like this with a summer release and no big-name stars may struggle to go all the way in terms of Best Picture. It depends on the campaign studio A24 puts behind it.

 

Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker

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Like Endgame, this will be the conclusion to the story of a beloved saga, so maybe it can use that as its campaign narrative? The last two Star Wars episodes were well-received by critics (even if audiences were incredibly polarised by The Last Jedi), and the return of Force Awakens director JJ Abrams is a good sign. We’ll keep an eye on this one as far as awards are concerned.

 

Parasite

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This is the latest film from Snowpiercer director Bong Joon-Ho, and was just awarded the Palm D’or at Cannes. Korean cinema is not often recognised by the Academy, but this could be the film to change that – reviews have been stellar, and it will almost certainly be the country’s submission for Best Foreign Film (or Best International Film, as it’s now called). Perhaps it could also get a screenplay nom and maybe even Picture? We’ll see.

 

The Lighthouse

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The Witch director Robert Eggers’ new film is a two-hander starring Willem Dafoe and new Batman Robert Pattinson. It earned acclaim from critics, and though it may strike some as too strange for the Oscars, the performances of the two leads could end up in the conversation.

 

A Hidden Life

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Terrence Malick’s new film is his best-reviewed movie since his last one that had Life in the title. It has also had its share of detractors, with some finding it overlong and indulgent, but the general consensus is that this story of a real-life conscientious objector is a return to form for the Badlands director. Maybe it could be in the conversation?

John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum Review: Violent, Absurd, And Hugely Entertaining

THE PLOT: Having killed member of the “High Table” on Continental grounds, legendary hitman John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is declared “excommunicado”, and must fight for his life with nearly every assassin in the world out to get him.

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REVIEW: Few would have guessed that 2014 action-thriller John Wick would spawn such a highly successful franchise prior to its release, but that’s exactly what it did. Boasting stylish action, an unexpectedly fascinating, comic-book style mythology (taking place in a world where a secret society of assassins exists among us) and one of the coolest movie protagonists of the decade, it spawned one previous sequel, a planned TV spinoff, and even two Fortnite skins. John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum is the franchise’s latest instalment, and also the best.

We pick up where Chapter 2 left off – our titular character has been given a one hour head-start before he’s officially made “excommunicado”, and turned into a target for assassins everywhere for breaking the rules of the High Table. In this universe, literally anyone – be it a passer-by on the street, a taxi driver, or even a homeless person – could in fact be a member of this underground world of assassins, out to kill John for the bounty on his head. But, being the guy who’s said to have killed three men using one pencil, Mr. Wick has a few tricks up his sleeve to survive.

In terms of action, Parabellum is probably the most relentless of the three. Our hero is pursued at every turn, leading to the kind of stylishly-choreographed, visually impressive, beautifully over-the-top action sequences fans of this series have come to expect – three instalments in, watching Keanu Reeves brutally kill whoever is foolish enough to attack him somehow hasn’t lost its entertainment value.

We also explore more of the world this is set in – a visit to Angelica Huston’s “The Director” reveals more about Wick’s past, while Halle Berry’s Sofia, an old ally of John’s, proves to be as much as a badass as he (and just as protective of her canine companions).

This is probably the funniest instalment in the series too – it’s definitely not a comedy, but there is a kind of deadpan sense of humour to certain scenes, as if the movie knows when its being ludicrous, and is letting you know that without getting overly tongue-in-cheek.

John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum is not some kind of thought-provoking cinematic masterpiece, but as entertainment for those looking for a good action movie, it definitely delivers – I’ll certainly welcome John Wick: Chapter 4.

FINAL VERDICT:

Stylish, unapologetically ridiculous and thoroughly entertaining, John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum is another round of gloriously violent fun for fans of the franchise.

RATING: 8/10

Is “Avengers: Endgame” An Oscar Contender?

Last August, when the Academy announced their (eventually axed) popular film category, I wrote an article making the case for why Marvel’s Black Panther could still get a Best Picture nomination. The new category didn’t end up going ahead, but my suspicions were still proven correct: Black Panther did indeed become the first superhero movie to be nominated for Best Picture, and it even ended up winning three other awards (Score, Costumes and Production Design). So now, here I am again, pondering the Oscar chances of Marvel’s most recent blockbuster – the insanely successful Avengers: Endgame. Can it follow in the footsteps of Panther? There’s a lot to discuss here, so let’s get down to it.

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Firstly, do I think Avengers: Endgame SHOULD be nominated for Best Picture? Yes, I do. You can disagree if you want, but I believe it absolutely deserves to be in contention: this is the culmination of a 22-film saga that, whether you’re a fan or not, has become a major part of modern pop-culture, and it’s a damn good one at that, with satisfying emotional payoffs, thrilling action sequences and excellent work from a star-studded ensemble. That’s why, in my opinion, it should be nominated. Now, whether it WILL get in is a more complicated question, and one I can’t really have a definite answer to, but let’s see where its strengths and weaknesses lie in terms of awards season.

The box office and critical reception certainly won’t hurt it. At the time of writing, it’s the second highest-grossing movie of all time, and could even end up dethroning Avatar for the number one spot. Reviews were hugely positive, earning it a whopping 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, so it also has critical support.

It would be easy to start by comparing the movie to Black Panther, since that was the movie that broke the Oscars’ superhero curse. But really, Panther was in the conversation for different reasons than Endgame – they’re both excellent movies, but the former got in partly because of how it captured the cultural zeitgeist in ways few blockbusters could, and partly because it had considerable support from voters in below-the-line categories like Costume Design and Production Design. The latter is generating buzz because it’s an epic and satisfying conclusion to the story of a blockbuster franchise that’s captured the hearts of cinema-goers worldwide.

It’s difficult to say how far that “end of a saga” narrative can take you. It didn’t work out so well for Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part II, which couldn’t quite go all the way despite hugely positive reviews and the immense popularity of the franchise it concluded. But on the other hand, there’s also The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King, which actually WON Best Picture in addition to ten other awards.

Endgame will need to pick up support in other categories to make it into Best Picture, so let’s look at where else it has a chance. Visual Effects is virtually a lock – it’s the category where Marvel films tend to get recognised, and the effects here are certainly worthy of recognition. The Sound Editing and Mixing categories are not out of the question either. Editing could also be in play (it’s not easy to make a three-hour movie that rarely feels its length), and Alan Silvestri’s score deserves to be in contention (his score for Avengers: Infinity War actually made the shortlist last year, so this is a possibility). Those are the technical categories where it certainly stands a chance.

And as for the above-the-line categories? Well, it would need to garner a LOT of love to get a Best Director nom for the Russos (not even Black Panther managed that for Ryan Coogler), and the same goes for Screenplay. It’s best shot at an acting nomination is Robert Downey Jr, who actually has a pretty solid narrative for the campaigners to push – nominating him would be a good way to recognise the work he’s done in this role over the last 11 years, tracking his character’s evolution from cocky playboy to selfless hero. In addition, he has a moment that could easily be used when they’re showing clips of the acting nominees, that being the scene where he breaks down after returning to Earth in the beginning. The main question, of course, will be whether to push him for lead or supporting. Personally, I feel supporting would be a smarter choice, as he might have a better chance there. I’m not saying a nomination for him is a lock, but it’s not impossible.

As always, support from the major precursors will probably be important here. It’s actually pretty likely that it will get recognition from the Producers Guild, since they are far more willing to honour superheroes and blockbusters than the Academy (examples: Wonder Woman and Deadpool). The Critic’s Choice Awards may also give it a boost if they choose to nominate it. A Best Ensemble nomination at the SAG Awards is plausible, considering the gigantic cast. And then there’s the Golden Globes. Keep in mind, Inception, Mad Max: Fury Road and Black Panther all started their awards-season journeys by picking up nominations for “Best Motion Picture – Drama” at the Globes. Meanwhile, other critically-acclaimed blockbusters such as The Dark Knight and Logan, which did not get nominated for this award, were also not nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. It feels like once a movie like this gets a Golden Globe nomination for Best Drama, it becomes harder for the Academy to ignore it. There’s no telling right now whether the Globes will go for Endgame, but its chances will get a massive boost if they do.

Ultimately, all of this is little more than speculation – we still have more than half a year to go before Endgame‘s Oscar chances become apparent. I’m still not QUITE ready to place it in my official predictions for Best Picture. However, taking everything I’ve already said into account, I certainly don’t think it’s impossible that it could earn a nomination, and will list it as a strong contender for now. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Long Shot Review: Seth Rogen And Charlize Theron Are A Great Pair In This Charming Rom-Com

THE PLOT: At a party, recently unemployed journalist Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) meets his childhood crush Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron), now the US Secretary of State who is planning to run for president. In need of a speechwriter, Charlotte decides to hire Fred, and before long, a romance develops between the two.

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REVIEW: Goofball loser meets a woman seemingly out of his league and sparks fly. It’s been a template for countless rom-coms over the years, and Long Shot is the latest example – but though it has its share of romantic comedy tropes, Johnathon Levine’s smart and likeable romance-satire still has plenty to offer.

Seth Rogen’s Fred Flarsky is a journalist who quits his job in anger after learning that the newspaper he writes for has been bought by a corrupt media mogul (an almost-unrecognisable Andy Serkis), and eventually finds new work as speechwriter for Theron’s Charlotte Field, a highly influential political figure who was also Fred’s babysitter when he was 13 and she 16. Before long, it’s clear that there’s something between these two.

A rom-com lives and dies on the chemistry between its two leads, and Long Shot gets a pair of winning performances from both its stars. Rogen has played the likeable loser a few times in his career, but his goofy charm proves hard to resist, and Theron gets a chance to show off her often undervalued comic timing (she’s priceless in a scene where Charlotte finds herself called in to deal with a hostage negotiation while on ecstasy). O’ Shea Jackson Jr also steals plenty of scenes as Fred’s best friend.

In addition to its appealing central love story, the movie also has some things to say about modern politics – the current president in the film (a hilariously dopey Bob Odenkirk) is a former actor who once played the president on a successful television show (which would have seemed absurd had it not literally just happened in Ukraine). One scene finds Charlotte lamenting how, as a woman in politics, “if I’m angry, I’m hysterical, if I raise my voice, I’m a bitch”. Serkis’ character is essentially a takedown of real-life figures like Rupert Murdoch.

The laughs come at a satisfying rate, with some jokes that may not appeal to those who don’t enjoy crude humour, but are nonetheless clever and funny for the most part, and with a number of memorable lines throughout the script.

No, it doesn’t reinvent the wheel as far as rom-coms are concerned, but it doesn’t need to – Long Shot has enough charm and smarts to stand among the more memorable entries in the genre in recent memory.

FINAL VERDICT: 

Long Shot provides a satisfying blend of political commentary and romantic comedy – and serves as an excellent showcase for its two hugely appealing leads.

RATING: 8/10

Robert Pattinson Is Batman

All the speculating can finally come to an end – Warner Bros appear to have found the actor who will succeed Ben Affleck as Batman, and it looks like it’ll be Robert Pattinson.

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Keep in mind, it may not be 100% official just yet (he’s atop of a shortlist that also includes Nicholas Hoult), but it definitely seems more than likely that Pattinson will be the latest actor to take on the role of the caped crusader. And you know what? I think this is a great choice.

Obviously, fanboys will inevitably freak out, as Pattinson is currently best known for his role in the infamous Twilight movies, and despite the fact that he’s turned in many critically-acclaimed performances in multiple other films over the years, the internet seems content to judge him solely based on his association with that franchise.

Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time the fan community has overreacted to an actor being chosen to play Batman – Michael Keaton’s casting as the character in 1989’s Batman was met with much uproar, and he did a great job. Likewise, many (including, I must admit, myself) were skeptical about Ben Affleck taking on the role in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, but while that movie had plenty of problems, he ended up being the best part of it. Bottom line: you haven’t made it as Batman until news of your casting has made man-babies cry.

Here’s why I think this is a good choice: I could easily buy him as the billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, he has the acting chops to pull of the tortured aspects of Batman’s personality, and at 32, he’s young enough to carry the franchise for a few years.

Should Pattinson indeed sign on for the role, and if he does a good job (which I think he could), then this could also be the kind of high-profile role that finally allows him to move past his reputation as “the Twilight guy”. I, for one, would be very interested to see his take on the character.

The 12 Most Emotional Moments From “Avengers: Endgame” (Spoilers)

I saw Avengers: Endgame again last weekend with some friends. Even though most of us had seen it already, we still found ourselves reduced to emotional messes by the end, a testament to how invested we’ve been in these characters through the years – and how brilliantly the film brings many of their arcs to a close. Here, I’m counting down the 12 most emotionally affecting scenes from Marvel’s superhero epic.

SPOILERS FOLLOW (BUT GIVEN THAT IT’S NOW THE SECOND HIGHEST-GROSSING MOVIE OF ALL TIME, YOU’VE PROBABLY SEEN IT ALREADY):

Continue reading “The 12 Most Emotional Moments From “Avengers: Endgame” (Spoilers)”

Updated “Star Wars” Film Ranking

Happy Star Wars day, everybody! Given that it’s May 4, I decided it would be an excellent time to release my personal ranking of all ten films in the franchise so far.

 

10. Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

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Each episode in the Star Wars saga begins with text (the “opening crawl”) serving as a prologue to the events of the film, giving context as to what’s going on in this galaxy far far away. The opening crawl to this movie, which was the first instalment in the “prequel trilogy” (hence “Episode I”) reads “turmoil has engulfed the galactic republic. The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute”. Yep. The 1977 original opened with text telling of an epic battle between a rebel alliance and a galactic empire with a planet-destroying “Death Star”, and this movie opens with talk of trade disputes and taxation. It was around this moment that some fans started thinking “I’ve got a bad feeling about this”. Sadly, The Phantom Menace doesn’t get much more exciting from there. The pacing is slow, and the story unfocused. The characters are nowhere near as engaging or memorable as the ones from the original trilogy. All the talk of trade disputes and politics does not mesh well with the cartoony antics of Jar-Jar Binks. It does feature one awesome fight scene involving Darth Maul (the coolest character in the film, who only gets about five minutes of screen time), but overall, it’s a dull and disappointing start to the prequel trilogy which hasn’t gotten much better after 20 years.

BEST MOMENT: Again, the “Duel of the Fates” lightsaber battle between Darth Maul (Ray Park), Qui-Gon (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) is easily the best part of the movie. The sight of Maul’s double-edged lightsaber is cool, and the score by John Williams is excellent.

 

9. Episode II: Attack Of The Clones (2002)

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“I don’t like sand. It’s coarse, and rough and irritating, and it gets everywhere”. This, ladies and gentlemen, is an example of what passes for romantic dialogue in Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones. While I personally think The Phantom Menace is a slightly worse film overall, Attack Of The Clones has probably the worst dialogue in the series (“I’m haunted by the kiss that you should never have given me…”). Much of the runtime is focused on the romance between Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christiansen) and Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman), which is hurt by the fact that there’s no romantic chemistry in sight between the two, and both actors (Christiansen in particular) are clearly struggling with the groan-worthy lines they have to read (not to mention the fact that Anakin is…kind of a creep). Sadly, this is a case of George Lucas prioritising special effects over an engaging story.

BEST MOMENT: There aren’t a lot of great moments, but it is still pretty cool to see the Jedi standing together on Geonosis, since it’s the first time in the series that we actually get to see them in battle together.

 

8. Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi (1983)

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Let me clarify something: there is a massive leap in quality from Attack Of The Clones to Return Of The Jedi. Despite its low ranking on the list, Jedi isn’t a bad film – it’s just nowhere near as good as the other two instalments in the original trilogy. It’s a well-acted, action-packed and overall satisfying third instalment, but it still makes some choices that keep it from greatness – like having the powerful forces of the galactic empire be taken down by a bunch of teddy bears (I don’t hate the Ewoks, but they would have been better served as cute little background creatures rather than characters with a key role in the plot). Still, there’s enough good stuff on display for it to work – the opening act where the heroes must rescue Han Solo (Harrison Ford) from Jabba’s palace is fun, and the inner struggle of Luke (Mark Hamill) as he tries to find it in him to fight his own father makes for some solid drama. It’s an uneven film, but an enjoyable one nonetheless.

BEST MOMENT: When Luke enters Jabba’s palace, he’s somewhat different from the last time we saw him – he’s calmer, confident, and more controlled. He’s now a true Jedi master, and it’s fascinating to see how he’s grown in between movies.

 

7. Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith (2005)

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The Phantom Menace and Attack Of The Clones left a bad taste in our mouths, but thankfully, George Lucas managed to close out the prequel trilogy on a satisfying note with Revenge Of The Sith. It definitely has issues, most of which centre around the character of Anakin. Hayden Christiansen is given some of the worst dialogue in the movie, and his performance suffers greatly as a result, which can undermine the drama of the later sequences in which his friends and family must come to terms with his turn to the dark side. There are also some scenes which are hard to take seriously now because of all the memes they inspired (though to be fair, that’s no fault of the movie). However, the good ultimately outweighs the bad in this one. The lightsaber duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) is legitimately awesome, the pacing is greatly improved from the previous two prequels, and the emotional stakes feel higher. A massive improvement over its two predecessors.

BEST MOMENT: Definitely the battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin. It’s well-directed, emotionally charged, and John Williams’ music just makes it even more awesome.

 

6. Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017)

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No matter what I say about this movie – positive or negative – I’m bound to piss off at least one section of the fanbase, so thank god nobody reads this blog. Some fans absolutely adore this movie, and others absolutely despise it. Where do I stand? Well, I don’t think it’s the franchise-changing masterpiece its fans say it is, or the franchise-killing disaster its detractors say it is. I’ll start with the negatives: killing Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) without giving him any backstory or telling us how he came to power is just a lazy and unsatisfying decision from a storytelling perspective, and the misguided “Canto Bight” storyline fails to engage (despite the considerable charm of actors John Boyega and Kelly Marie-Tran). However, there are also positives: it features excellent performances from Adam Driver and Mark Hamill, Rian Johnson’s directing is commendable (the cinematography is some of the best in the series), and the risks that do pay off really pay off (I am a firm defender of Luke Skywalker’s arc in this film). Also, this movie gave us the Porgs, which I am forever grateful for.

BEST MOMENT: I may not have been a fan of Snoke’s death, but the moment that follows it – a gorgeously-shot and well-choreographed fight scene between Rey, Kylo Ren and the Supreme Leader’s guards – is one of the best action scenes in the series.

 

5. Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

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Yeah, that’s right: Solo is in my top five Star Wars movies. This origin story for the character of Han Solo (played here by Alden Ehrenreich) is not the most necessary film in the franchise, nor is it the most thematically rich, but it’s a fun, highly entertaining sci-fi adventure, which is far better than it had any right to be. Alden Ehrenreich is a charismatic lead, Donald Glover is just as good as the young Lando Calrissian, and the story is fast-paced and entertaining. It also doesn’t get enough credit for legitimately expanding on the Star Wars universe by giving us a closer look at the criminal underworld that was only glimpsed briefly in the other films – which is exactly what these spinoffs should be doing.

BEST MOMENT: While it’s pure fan service, I’m a fan of the Darth Maul cameo at the end. Apart from being a cool “woah!” moment, it also sets up some intriguing possibilities for future Star Wars spinoffs.

 

4. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

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The world wasn’t exactly clamouring for an entire film about how the rebel alliance got their hands on those Death Star plans, but the first Star Wars anthology film still managed to be a compelling and often thrilling ride that ranks among my favourite instalments in the series. Not every character is that memorable (the three that make the biggest impressions are Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso, Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Îmwe and Alan Tudyk’s K2SO), and the CGI Peter Cushing is a bit weird-looking, but this is the first Star Wars film that really feels like a war movie where the central conflict is more complicated that a straightforward “light side vs dark side” scenario. The heroes are not perfect people, and one of them even points out to another that if they follow orders they know are wrong, they are no different from the Stormtroopers.

BEST MOMENT: Rogue One‘s best scene comes in its final minutes – Darth Vader tearing his way through rebel forces is possibly his most badass moment to date, and left me practically hyperventilating when I first saw it in the theatre.

 

3. Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)

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This is the one that started it all. The film that changed the movie industry forever. The original Star Wars (since retitled as Star Wars Episode VI: A New Hope due to being chronologically the fourth instalment) still holds up remarkably well today – after 42 years, it continues to capture the imaginations of audiences around the world with its terrific characters, action-packed story and groundbreaking special effects that honestly don’t look half bad even today. It earns its reputation both as a landmark for filmmaking and as a hugely entertaining start to an insanely successful franchise.

BEST MOMENT: The climax in which Luke destroys the Death Star is unsurprisingly one of the most iconic scenes in Star Wars. After Han and Chewie (the late Peter Mayhew) swoop in at the last minute to provide Luke with a clear shot at the planet-sized weapon’s one weak point, the plucky farmboy fires at his target, and destroys it, winning the battle for the rebels.

 

2. Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)

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The Force Awakens does get some criticism for borrowing heavily from A New Hope. Admittedly, this is true – a lot of the plot points and story beats will be familiar to longtime fans. However, on its own terms, the film works wonderfully. It’s a thrilling, funny and emotionally satisfying return for the franchise that introduces great new characters, while making good use of the old ones (especially Han Solo), and acts as a great start to the Sequel trilogy. I still remember sitting in the theatre and having a huge smile on my face for much of the runtime, satisfied to be enjoying a great Star Wars movie once again, and it’s held up to multiple rewatches in the years since.

BEST MOMENT: In one of the funniest moments in the franchise, Finn (John Boyega) tells Han they can “use the Force” to figure out a way of rescuing Rey and stopping the Starkiller base, and an incredulous Han responds “that’s not how the Force works!”.

 

1. Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

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There’s a reason The Empire Strikes Back is at the top of so many Star Wars rankings, including this one. After the surprise success of the original Star Wars in 1977, a sequel was inevitable, and the resulting film is not afraid to take the story in dark directions, even ending on a rather bleak note. It expands on the characters and their relationships, most notably in the romance that develops between Han Solo and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), explores new corners of the universe not shown in the first film, and has deservedly become the template for all sequels to come. From the thrilling action-sequence with the Imperial Walkers on the ice planet Hoth to the shocking final twist, this is not just the best Star Wars movie, but one of the greatest sequels – and indeed, films – of all time.

BEST MOMENT: Darth Vader’s revelation to Luke – “No, I am your father” – is deservedly one of the most iconic twists in film history. It certainly blew my five-year-old mind the first time I saw it.

Eighth Grade Review: Bo Burnham’s Wonderful And Relatable Coming-Of-Age Tale

THE PLOT: A shy 13-year old girl named Kayla (Elsie Fisher) tries to make it through her last week of eighth grade before she moves on to High School.

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REVIEW: Throughout Eighth Grade, the protagonist records videos for her Youtube channel in which she gives advice on being yourself and gaining the confidence to put yourself out there. The problem, as we see, is that she herself finds it difficult to follow her own advice – the shy, introverted Kayla rarely speaks a word at school, and struggles to make friends. Her life is a seemingly endless string of embarrassments and the anxieties modern teens (and in some cases, teens of every generation) find themselves facing. Comedian Bo Burnham’s directorial debut, deservedly showered with praise on its release in the US last summer, is a piercingly honest and insightful depiction of one 13-year old’s disastrous final week of eighth grade.

At the centre of it all is a startlingly natural performance from star Elsie Fisher, who nails the awkwardness in Kayla’s attempts to interact with her peers, but also makes her funny, relatable and thoroughly likeable. Every “like” and “uh” in her sentences is perfectly placed (Burnham’s script does an excellent job of crafting realistic teen dialogue). In short, she’s a terrific find.

Kayla’s final week of middle school involves a party at a “cool” kid’s house that leaves her crushingly humiliated, and a scene in a car that’s as terrifying as any horror movie, but it’s not all bad. She befriends a somewhat quirky boy (Jake Ryan, incredibly charming), gets a tour of her future High School from an enthusiastic older kid (Emily Robinson), and her father (Josh Hamilton, giving an enormously likeable and moving performance) supports her every step of the way, even when she’s less than willing to open up to him. It’s a collection of highs and lows – just like real-life adolescence.

It’s an incredibly funny film as well, full of witty, often relatable dialogue, and excellent use of cringe-comedy (the adults trying to act “cool” by dabbing and insisting that sex education is “gonna be lit“).

The film also provides insightful commentary on the smartphone era – Kayla and her classmates are often seen on their phones or computers, even during conversations, though Burnham is not necessarily looking at them with “kids today” cynicism. He’s simply depicting something that plays a big role in the lives of today’s youth, but he’s not strictly condemning social media. It’s a balanced and honest portrayal of this aspect of the modern world.

Whatever generation you come from, everyone has had to go through some form of what Kayla does in this movie, and Eighth Grade manages to be specifically about 21st century teenagers, while offering universal themes that anyone can relate to. It’s a hugely accomplished debut from a promising filmmaker.

FINAL VERDICT:

Eighth Grade offers an honest and insightful depiction of being a teenager in the modern world driven by a smart script and fantastic performance from Elsie Fisher.

RATING: 9/10