In many ways writing a review for a movie like Stargirl is difficult. I didn’t love it. I didn’t hate it. It’s fine but there are a number of things about it that irritated me. If I didn’t have the binary requirements of rottentomatoes I would probably give it some form of meh but I must decide if it is good or bad so let’s talk about the pluses and minuses.
Before we start on the film I must own I was not a big fan of the book by Jerry Spinelli. I found it cloying and annoying but I know many loved the book. If you did, than you should love this movie. If, like me, you didn’t, than you will probably have mixed to negative feelings as they stick pretty close to the book (at least by memory. It has been a few years since I read it).
Anyway, Stargirl is about a young man named Leo Borlock (Graham Verchere) who becomes fixated on a new girl at school named Stargirl (Grace VanderWaal). Stargirl is your classic free spirit that sings with her ukulele (with no microphone!) at the school football games and wears weird clothes. She’s basically a manic pixie dream girl but in teenage form.
Like any MPDG Stargirl exists to help our male character come alive and get over his demons. She has no personal goals or ambitions. We learn almost nothing about her as a character. Is she a guardian angel? Is she an alien or some other kind of mythical creature? Maybe but she exists to help Leo be a better person and I dislike that in female characters. I am aware the tough girl trope can be just as cringeworthy but females are not there to pluck up our lonely males. It’s such a groan-worthy trope that I dislike.
That said, Stargirl has its heart in the right place. The film isn’t trying to make some grand statement on feminism or male/female relationships. They are just trying to make a movie about how a nice girl who see’s the good in people can make a difference. The film’s anti-bullying message is sweet and well done and should ring true to many teenagers.
I liked the chemistry between VanderWaal and Verchere and the supporting cast with actors like Giancarlo Esposito help make Stargirl more than the sum of its parts. The film also loves the Beach Boys just about as much as I do making the soundtrack very enjoyable.
Basically if you watch the trailer for Stargirl and it looks cute than you’ll probably enjoy it. If it looks super cringe-worthy than you probably won’t. It’s as simple as that. I’m in the middle on it but I think I was more annoyed than entertained.
One of my biggest laments in recent years is the practical abandonment of low budget live action films from the Disney Studios. Since The Queen of Katwe in 2016 (very underrated film) there has been almost nothing from the House of Mouse but remakes of their animated classics and you know how much I love those films…
However, one of the exciting things about Disney Plus is the studio now needs content badly and so by necessity they need to start up again making smaller live action films. So far they have released Noelle which was disappointing but passable. Then they had Togo, which turned out to be a delightful throwback to films like White Fang and Iron Will. I really enjoyed it!
Now we have their latest film Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made which may be my favorite of them all. Based on the books by Stephan Pastis, director Tom McCarthy of Spotlight fame has made a sweet, charming, funny film the whole family will love.
The film tells the story of an 11-year old boy named Timmy (played by the adorable Winslow Fegley) who lives in Portland and takes his detective agency very seriously. He has a home office, business cards and a giant polar bear sidekick that help him be ready to crack the toughest of cases. He’s even looking into the Russians and their conspiracy to ruin his school and the scary transition to middle school.
What makes Timmy Failure work so well is they take his character completely seriously. It’s not like the Diary of a Wimpy Kidmovies with over-the-top slapstick sequences (which can be fine). It’s so easy to write child characters as silly jokes but I remember as a kid getting so frustrated by that attitude. I had something to say and my own way of looking at the world, which adults did not care about. This movie cares about Timmy and his world.
I actually found myself tearing up on more than one occasion. Timmy is a really lonely kid and people like his teacher Mr Crocus played by Wallace Shawn don’t seem to even try to understand him. Much of his loneliness is compounded by his worries for his over-worked Mother played well by Ophelia Lovibond and his absent father.
Craig Robinson has a great scene where he talks to Timmy about adaptability and trying to be unselfish without losing yourself. Kyle Bornheimer is great as a meter maid who is dating Timmy’s Mom. These characters take him seriously and are interested in what he has to say. I loved that.
I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed Timmy Failure: Mistakes were Made. The script, performances, themes, all worked for me. I even enjoyed the cgi polar bear (there are no trained polar bears so cgi was a necessity). I really think you will enjoy watching it with your family and have a great discussion together about how we all deal with loneliness and achieve our goals. Check it out and let me know what you think
If you have been following this blog for any amount of time you know I am a tough critic when it comes to the Disney live action remakes. A few I like (Pete’s Dragon, Cinderella) but most are bland at best. However, there’s a special level of hatred in my heart for 2014’s supposed reinterpretation of Sleeping Beautycalled Maleficent. I hated pretty much every decision that film made, so you can imagine my hesitancy when they announced a sequel for this year, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. But I pride myself on keeping an open mind for EVERY film. So, I went to see it today, and left with surprisingly mixed feelings.
First, let’s talk about the positives. Maleficent: The Mistress of Evil is not a cash grab. It is obvious the creators tried their best to improve upon the original film in almost every way. To begin with, the production design is far better. The original felt like a bland CGI world I’ve seen a million times. In contrast, this film has beautiful cinematography and world building, which felt fresh and original. I particularly loved a long sequence in a nest where everything was monochromatic: filled with beautiful grays and whites woven as background for the bat-like Maleficent. Also, all of the costumes and make-up were stunning. Some of the best I’ve seen all year.
For the first act of the movie I was actually digging the film. It starts out as a fantasy version of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, which was weird and different. As opposed to the original, which felt like an apology and bastardization of Sleeping Beauty (especially the fairies! How dare they!), this film felt alive with its own lore and story. The acting was also much better especially from Michelle Pfeiffer and Elle Fanning who is actually given something to do as Aurora.
Unfortunately this is where my positives stop. Once we have our basic setup of Maleficent vs Pfeiffer the movie begins to falter. Where the dinner scene was surreal and strange, most of the remaining second half is a bland fantasy war movie. It reminded me of the war scene in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, which I hate, except it went on much longer. Despite being pretty, the story dragged, and Maleficent becomes a character who is acted upon more than she acts. Most of the time she is moping around waiting for other people to do things, so she can either sulk or acquiesce to their ideas.
I also was puzzled by the tone and audience Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (the title is so dumb by the way) is going for? The battle gets intense including a scene that is gas chamber-like for our heroes. I don’t think kids will find this entertaining nor are adults invested enough in the lore to be engrossed. I never watched Game of Thrones, but I know enough about it to spot the many times Hollywood has tried to capture the themes and aesthetics of that series, and this is definitely one of those films (there is even a long sequence with a dragon…)
It’s a real bummer because if they had kept the strange tone of the early scenes I could have had a surprise hit. I don’t even see why the war plotline is necessary? Why not have a movie about Aurora trying to plan a wedding with Maleficent and Pfeiffer bickering the whole time? That would have been amazing. As it is, we got a impressive looking war movie that loses its guts midway through.
I wanted to go fresh because I do appreciate the obvious attempt to improve upon the ‘Maleficent turning into the victim of a man’ nonsense of the original film, but that second half was too dull and derivative for me to recommend. Maybe give it a rental if curious? Otherwise, I’d say pass on this fairy story.
If you have been following this blog for a long time than you know I’m not the biggest fan of these Disney live action remakes. A few I have enjoyed (Mary Poppins Returns, Pete’s Dragon, Cinderella) but even when I enjoy them the overall movement away from animation is not my favorite. Plus, when it goes bad it goes really bad (Maleficent, Alice in Wonderland, Beauty and the Beast). So naturally when I heard about a remake of the Disney classic Aladdin I was pretty skeptical. I was made more skeptical when they hired director Guy Ritchie, who I have not been a fan of, to helm the project. Then the casting looked questionable (how do you replace Robin Williams, one of the great vocal performances ever?) and the trailers were uneven at best.
Nevertheless, I always try to set all that baggage aside and go into a movie with an open mind (otherwise why bother?). So what was the result of this live action Aladdin? I’d say it is a decidedly mixed bag. It’s not awful and it’s not a classic like the original. It’s squarely middle of the road entertainment. Nothing more, nothing less.
Let’s start with the positives. The best part about the film is the performances of Mena Massoud as Aladdin and Naomi Scott as Jasmine. They are not only good charismatic actors but they had great chemistry and are pretty decent singers. I really enjoyed the ‘One Jump’ sequence from Massoud and Scott has a power ballad called ‘Speechless’ that felt a little out of place musically but was still a pretty good, well sung piece (written by La La Land’s Pasek and Paul). I also thought they nailed the ‘A Whole New World’ because of their chemistry and good singing. It was everything I could have wanted in that sequence.
I also enjoyed Will Smith when he wasn’t the blue Genie that we know and love. My friend Jen, who attended the screening with me, said she thought he was playing the part of Hitch, acting as matchmaker between a nervous Aladdin and confident Jasmine. These scenes are funny and well produced. They even have Genie getting some of his own plotlines, which I surprisingly didn’t hate.
The trailers are also misleading on how devoted to the original the remake is. It is not a shot-for-shot remake, which many were afraid of, but instead, tries its own thing. The pacing could be a little tighter in spots but overall the story and script worked. Plus the Alan Menken music is always a treat.
Unfortunately I also had problems with this new version of Aladdin. The biggest fall in 2 camps: blue Genie sequences and the portrayal of Jafar.
Like I said, I enjoyed the scenes of Will Smith playing matchmaker and mentoring Aladdin as a normal looking version of himself. However, I did not like him as the blue Genie. First of all, he looked ridiculous with cgi that was only slightly better than the first trailer. That said, my biggest problem was they took all the funny out of these scenes. I wonder if they were afraid of fans comparing him to Robin Williams? Unfortunately their solution was to make ‘Friend Like Me’ and ‘Prince Ali’ flat and bland with hardly any jokes or energy to them. It felt like glitzy cruise ship renditions more concerned with checking off boxes instead of digging into a deep manic energy to make us laugh and smile. Also Will Smith doesn’t have a broadway style singing voice, so they should have embraced his more hip-hop style rather than produce weak versions of these iconic tunes.
My other problem with Aladdin is the portrayal of Jafar by Marwan Kenzari. He had a lot of the trappings of Jafar but the performance was very annoying and whiny. I’ve always thought of Jafar as a pretty bold but sniveling villain and this was just irritating. It also didn’t help that Iago as a live action character was window dressing instead of the comic relief that makes the animated Jafar so full of dry menacing wit.
I really struggled whether to go smile or frown worthy on this Aladdin. I’m about split down the middle on it but it so pales in comparison to the original animated classic that I’m not going fresh on this one. It’s not awful and has its charms, but I’d still say stay home and watch the original. Tough call but:
Overall Grade 5 out of 10
If you want to hear Stanford and I talk all about the original Aladdin check out our Talking Disney podcast episode:
This year the lead up to the Oscars has been more than a little bit of a mess. Whether it is an announcement for ‘best popular film’ category or the choice to not air categories like editing and cinematography. However, what has been relatively drama free is who will win the Best Animated Feature Film award. This is perhaps surprising as the 5 nominees are all very strong films yet a clear winner has emerged in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
Let’s start with the least likely to win,Mirai, from famed director Mamoru Hosoda. It’s actually a huge accomplishment for Mirai to be nominated, as it is the first non-Studio Ghibli film to receive such an honor (a designation very frustrating to those of us who loved snubbed films like Your Name and A Silent Voice). And fortunately it is not just a token nomination as the film is a sweet journey into childhood. Recently my friend David said it was ‘the most creative animated film he had seen this year’ and he hates anime!
Our next most likely contender to win Best Animated Feature at the Oscars comes from Disney in a rare Disney Canon sequel calledRalph Breaks the Internet. This sequel to 2012’s Wreck-it Ralph avoids the potholes of most sequels by giving us something entirely new and it worked for me even better than the original! I loved the evolution of Ralph and Vanellope’s friendship and how they had to accept each other in new ways. I loved the humor especially the princesses (which I didn’t think I’d like) and we even got a surprise Alan Menken song! Still because it is a sequel and the response to it was dampened a bit by the release of Spider-Verse, it is unlikely to win (although never count Disney out entirely!).
Coming up in 3rd place of most likely to win the Oscar is our stop motion animated offering from Wes Anderson,Isle of Dogs. Earlier in the year I speculated whether this was the most likely winners as the Oscars doesn’t tend to like sequels or animated superhero movies (and it has a long standing tradition of loving both Wes Anderson and stop motion). It’s such a sweet enchanting movie with incredible attention to detail. I love all of the dogs and the backgrounds are dazzling (the one pictured made out of pieces of glass is a particular favorite). However, the human sections aren’t as strong and some of the writing is a little clunky. Still, a delightful film from 2018 animation.
My prediction for the runner up for the Oscar this year is Brad Bird’s follow up to his 2004 superhero film, The Incredibles 2. I love this movie and in any other year this would be a clear favorite. It’s not only funny with terrific action but it is a treatise on how hard it is to be a parent. Even Edna Mode says it best: ‘parenting when done well is a heroic act’. The reason I don’t think Incredibles 2 will win is because it hasn’t won any awards prior to the Oscars. Spider-Verse has won every major prize from the Golden Globes to the BAFTA’s. It would take a very bold ballot to pick this film to win but it wouldn’t be the first time Pixar has surprised everyone (Brave…) if it did. Still it would be a big shocker if it won.
Finally, the clear favorite and most likely to win the Best Animated Feature Oscar is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. This isn’t just my opinion, but the opinion of critics, fans, and experts alike. In fact, there are a number of other publications out there that see Into the Spider-Verse as an incredible favorite. Like I said, it would be a huge shock if it didn’t win. It is not only a game changer for animated films and superhero movies, it also speaks to the Academy’s goals to honor diversity both on and off the screen. It honestly should have been nominated for Best Picture in my and many others opinions.
So what do you think of the animated Oscar race this year? Am I too bullish on Spider-Verse? Do you agree with me it has been a strong year for the category? What other predictions are you making for this year’s Oscars? I’d love to hear in the comments section.
Years ago I read an article which said at Disney “magic is made by optimizing the mundane.” I can’t think of a more perfect description of what Walt Disney tried to do in his career. For example, if we look at Disneyland: at its core is Main Street USA but it is executed in such a charming and idyllic way that it feels magical. I can’t think of any other corporate experience where I would enjoy sitting and taking in the ambiance like I do at Disneyland. What’s fascinating is I didn’t realize how much I missed this experience in Disney films until I walked out of Mary Poppins Returns. To say I was swept away in an experience of pure joy would be an understatement. It was true Disney magic and I LOVED it!
This is not to say I haven’t loved many recent Disney films. I lovedMoana, and Coco was my favorite film of last year, but there’s something different about Mary Poppins Returns. It truly does optimize the mundane by taking the trials and pressures of life and reminding the audience to ‘trip a little light fantastic’ and smile a little more through your struggles. It’s one of the most joyful and effervescent experiences I’ve had at the cinemas in a long time.
Obviously trying to make a sequel to the masterpiece that is Mary Poppins is a tall order and already I’m seeing many who are claiming this film is either too close the original or too far away. I thought they nailed the perfect balance of homage and newness. Emily Blunt is phenomenal as Mary. She gets that mixture of rigidity and whimsy just right (taking the mundane nature of child care and making it magical). She can also sing, which with recent Disney offerings like Beauty and the Beastisn’t always the case (it takes away from the escapism if the singing is bad).
Lin-Manuel Miranda is a delight as Jack, a lamplighter that could be seen as similar to Bert but he only has one job and he has a little bit of a budding relationship with now grown Jane (Emily Mortimer who is delightful). He gets the best song of the movie with ‘Trip a Little Light Fantastic’, and brings his broadway skills to all the choreography and jubilant musical sequences.
And speaking of music, the songs are such a delight. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack for weeks and it never fails to make me smile. Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman did such a great job paying homage to the original while writing new and catchy tunes for a new generation to love. ‘The Place Where the Lost Things Go’ is sweet and touching. ‘Turning Turtle’ is a fun little number featuring Meryl Streep in her small role. ‘Nowhere to Go But Up’ gives us Angela Lansbury and the whole cast floating away in a whimsical melody. ‘Underneath the Lovely London Sky’ immediately welcomes the audience to this magical, charming take on London. I love it!
The 2D animation sequences are also a complete delight. I don’t know what else to say about them except that I had a huge smile on my face while watching Emily, Lin and the kids dancing amongst 2D animated animals and flowers. It simply made me happy.
There is also a different message in Mary Poppins Returns than the original film. It has certain trappings that are the same like both involving a bank and a father but the take-away is quite different. In the original Mr Banks thinks he has everything figured out. He even sings about it in the ‘The Life I Lead’. Then Mary teaches him all that stuff he had neatly arranged means nothing and doesn’t last. Without a true bond with his children his life has no meaning. Mr Banks comes to this conclusion after hearing Bert’s advice in ‘A Man Has Dreams’ and as he goes to fly a kite with his kids happiness is promised the Banks family. (Again the ordinary task of kite flying made magical).
In this story, it’s a little different. Michael (Ben Whishaw who is wonderful in the role) has experienced great loss. Unlike his father he doesn’t think he has it all figured out. In fact, he knows he doesn’t. His wife has died and the house is going to be repossessed if they can’t find a bank share certificate from his father. He is reaching his rock bottom and I can relate to this more than the confident Mr Banks of the original film. He is a man in need of rescue, and he knows it. (Again, his father had no idea he was missing out on so much). This is when Mary Poppins comes along to help Jane and Michael (and the children too!) once again. As so often is the case in life, Michael’s friends and family come to help him through his trials and find happiness again. What a beautiful message.
But it is not a morose film. Quite the contrary. I can rarely recall a more joyous and optimistic film than Mary Poppins Returns. Sometimes life can get me down and it is Disney magic that often gives me that lift I need to try a little harder and keep dreaming. That’s what this movie reminded me of. It spoke to me of the joy of dreaming and how art can uplift even the most mundane of days.
I have not been a big fan of most of the Disney live action remakes. They feel cold and clinical and usually have bad singing. However, with Mary Poppins Returns I was transported in a triumph of music, dance, optimism and animation. I loved the costumes (Sandy Powell with another triumph), perfect production design, old fashioned score and pretty much everything else being great. I guess it could have been edited a bit more judiciously but I was fine with the length because I was enjoying myself so much. I’ve a feeling hard core Disney fans will appreciate this movie more than most, as it definitely feels like a movie Walt would have loved. It’s straight from the heart and pure Disney magic!
(This is the podcast Stanford and I did on the film and we were on the same page with it)
Anyone who has followed this blog since its start knows I am not as high on Wreck-It Ralph as most of the Disney fandom is. I think it is a harmless movie but not one of the greats as I often hear claimed. It gets stuck in Sugar Rush too long and the plot becomes fairly pedestrian. Naturally I was very worried when I heard they were making a rare canon sequel (only 2nd non-package film sequel) and even more concerned when it was all going to be online.
One of my issues with the original is it doesn’t fulfill the promise it makes to explore the arcade and see lots of worlds. Now for the sequel, they would be leaving the arcade all together for the internet? This seemed like a terrible idea and my worries grew stronger when I saw the Princess clip at D23 in 2017. I was also worried that the humor would be too Shrekian and based on parody as opposed to satire and story-based.
However, I always go into any film with an open mind, hoping to be dazzled, and fortunately my worries were relieved. I can confidently say that Ralph Breaks the Internet is a complete delight and better than its predecessor in nearly every way.
In the original film you have a story of a bad guy wanting to be good, which is fun, but it gets kind of lost in the shenanigans of Sugar Rush. Vanellope’s underdog story becomes more of the focus with a villain reveal that is very predictable (especially now when we’ve seen that trope so many times by Disney and Pixar).
The story in Ralph Breaks the Internet is a lot more subtle and nuanced. Ralph and Vanellope are friends and they love each other but that doesn’t mean they are the same. Vanellope yearns for newness and a chance to get out of Sugar Rush. On the other hand, Ralph likes things to stay the same, day in and day out. This is a conflict I can easily relate to as I am a same stuff kind of girl. I could eat the same things, wear the same clothes, do the same activities each day and be perfectly fine. I guess this is why I’m fine watching 95 Hallmark movies a year or reviewing 35 versions of A Christmas Carol. It’s just how my brain works. I related to this division between Vanellope and Ralph. You still love each other but you process the world differently.
As is easy to do, Vanellope and Ralph deny these differences for a long time not wanting to hurt the others feelings. Then a crisis happens in Vanellope’s game that forces them to go online to try and buy a steering wheel on Ebay. This pushes them to acknowledge their differences and learn to love each other in a new way. I found this much more moving and nuanced than the lesson of the original film. It’s easy to love someone who is the same as you. It takes a lot more work to love someone differences and all (in fact love them more because of those differences).
As is always the case with comedy, I suspect the humor will be the most divisive part of the Ralph Breaks the Internet. I actually ended up loving it. My worry was that the jokes would be parody and not part of the story but to my pleasure almost every joke is story-based. Whether it is Spamly or KnowsMore giving them directions or the Princesses helping Vanellope with her conflict with Ralph the humor was all part of moving the characters forward as opposed to just throw-away parody jokes.
While I still don’t love the kidnapped and enslaved joke in the princess scene, most of the other humor worked for me. I was particularly happy to see Ariel be lovingly showcased. She is kind of the leader of the girls and got most of the best laughs. There is even an Alan Menken song towards the end, which was a real treat! If you like the humor in Enchanted or Elf you will really enjoy this.
I also really enjoyed the scenes in Slaughter Race. The racing sequences were incredibly animated. The only ones better I can think of is from Cars 3. Gal Gadot does a good job playing the leader Shank and her bond with Vanellope is really sweet. They reminded me of the roughians and thugs from Tangled– rough on the outside but sweet on the inside. As she experiences this freer style of racing Vanellope realizes this is where she belongs, but she knows it will hurt Ralph to admit this. This is conflict I can relate to and that most people have experienced as they try and navigate long-term friendships.
While Vanellope is in Slaughter Race, Ralph gets an education on youtube. I loved the way they animated the users of the internet. It wasn’t cynical like The Emoji Movie. Most of the time the users were having a nice time and enjoying their time in whatever website was being portrayed. As things broke down they were upset but not as cynical as The Emoji Movie where the kids couldn’t communicate at all without their phones. Ralph meets a woman named Yesss who is an algorithm for determining trending videos. I related to all of this youtube (buzztube in the movie) as I am a youtuber. It showcased the highs and lows the medium offers. Ralph gets very excited as his gimmicky but harmless videos make enough money to purchase the steering wheel but then is hurt when he reads the comments and realizes he is a joke. Yesss tells him to never read the comments. While I am small and most of my comments are friendly, I can certainly relate to the toxic side. No matter how strong you are it can still sometimes sting. I appreciate the nuanced and balanced look at the internet Ralph Breaks the Internet showed.
I am hearing the ending is divisive but it worked great for me. Ralph is a character very resistant to change. He is giving into his fears and the virus he purchases magnifies those fears. As someone who is also resistant to change, I related to it. These are flawed characters who grow and learn. Isn’t that what we want in scripts? Plus, the tension and conflict was broken up by lots of humor, so it all worked for me. When Ralph and Vanellope learn to accept each other for who they are and come to a new deeper friendship I found it moving and a lovely growth arc for both characters.
It almost goes without saying that the animation is phenomenal. Unlike the original film where we spend 45 minutes in Sugar Rush, here we are zipped around to many different worlds and sites. I loved all of the world building and like I said the racing sequences were amazing! The voice work was also delightful. John C Reilly does a great job with Ralph. Sarah Silverman still isn’t my favorite but she’s servicable in this. I loved Gal Gadot and supporting voice work was all great including all the living princess actors (even Paige O’hara who had aged out of her role was brought back!).
Some may wish for more time with Felix and Calhoun but what we got from them was hilarious so I was satisfied. I even liked the post credits scene which played up on audience expectations and was very funny. I loved Ralph Breaks the Internet. It spoke to me more than the original. It had a more nuanced and powerful message. It was a lot funnier and the animation was better. (It even had a princess song!). I am seeing some mixed reactions from fans of the original, which is to be expected but I can only speak for myself and I thought it was a complete delight!
I never thought I would be saying this but I’d even be up for a 3rd installment!
Hello friends! So we have recently passed the half way point of the year in movie-going and I thought it would be fun to give you my picks for the best of 2018 so far. Around the Oscars I do something called The Rachies so you might just consider this a mid-year Rachies. Let me know what your favorites areBest Picture Live Action-
Paddington 2- As far as I’m concerned this film is perfectly executed. Funny, sweet, heart-warming and delightful.
Best Picture Animation
Incredibles 2– A delightful Pixar sequel that is both a well done superhero movie and a treatise on how hard it is to be a parent
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Charlie Plummer for Lean on Pete– This is a film that has really stuck with me and Charlie Plummer is phenomenal as a homeless teenage orphan who is traveling America trying to save a special horse. There are scenes in this film that broke me and I haven’t been able to shake from my brain. Devastating but emotionally true and a lot of that goes to Charlie Plummer. He’s going to be a huge star.
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Thomasin McKenzie for Leave No Trace– Teenagers are giving the best performances of the year (I could have also picked Elsie Fisher for Eighth Grade). I debated about picking Leave No Trace as my best of the year because it is a film I saw at Sundance and has stayed with me all these months later. I love everything about it and Thomasin is incredible in her role. It’s amazing to see her begin to lovingly question her father and make some very tough choices.
Best Supporting Actor-
Hugh Grant for Paddington 2- I was trying to think of another film I could showcase but there really was nobody else close as a supporting performance to Hugh Grant in Paddington 2. He is so funny and obviously willing to make fun of his own reputation as a bit of a foppish actor. In a near-perfect movie he was the stand out.
Best Supporting Actress-
Emily Blunt for A Quiet Place- this might be considered a lead by some but I’d say she is supporting to John Krasiniski’s lead. What she manages to do without making a sound is so impressive and when she is trying to birth that baby it is so tense my nails were digging into the arm rests. It was the most invested I’ve been in a horror performance in a long time.
Joshua James Richards for The Rider- I didn’t emotionally connect with this film the way I hoped I would but I still greatly admired it and thought it was stunning to look at. Richards and director Chloe Zhao have made the American prairie look both gorgeous and achingly lonely at the same time.
Best Production Design-
Adam Stockhausen for Isle of Dogs- I thoroughly enjoyed Wes Anderson’s quirky stop motion film but I loved the production design. The attention to detail was outstanding and I can’t wait to get the art book and find out how everything from the wall of glass to the Japanese political rallies were staged.
Sgt Stubby: An American Hero- This sweet little indie animated film about a dog in World War 1 I will continue to champion and try to get everyone I know to see it. It did so many things right that so many animated films fail to do. It doesn’t have the dog talk. It gets the tone just about perfectly down. It shows enough war to be meaningful without traumatizing children. It is not a ra ra America film nor is it shaming the troops in any way. It was so sweet and inspirational without being maudlin. I LOVED it!
Won’t You Be My Neighbor- In many ways the documentary about Fred Rogers doesn’t reinvent the wheel. It has talking heads who reminisce about the subjects life and his impact on the world like many have done before. However, in a world of Me Too where every famous man seems to disappoint finding out Fred Rogers was just about as great as you thought he was meant a lot. Watching this movie was a reminder to be a little kinder. To love a little bit more easily and to accept people for who they are. It was so well executed and just what I needed (I’ve seen it twice!)
Game Night- Maybe it is just coming from a competitive family that likes to play games but I thought this movie was hilarious. I loved all of the performances and thought the cast had great chemistry together. I loved Kyle Chandler playing this near-do-well but slick brother (I’m so used to him in dramas like Manchester By the Sea). I loved scenes like when Jason Bateman is trying to clean blood off a dog. It was so funny
(Game Night is rated R so it won’t be for everyone
Best Visual Effects-
Ready Player One- the best visual effects for my money go to the Steven Spielberg and the team behind Ready Player One. They made a lot of changes from the book (which I LOVE) but one thing they got right was the look and feel of the Oasis. It was so immersive and stunning. The kind of place I would like to go if I could with details filling up the screen. Each set piece contained surprises (and not just call outs but visually interesting and beautiful things). The segment at the Shining was incredible but the whole movie looked great
Some Other Quick Awards-
Most Overrated- Annihilation- looks pretty but is basically a creature scares movie pretending to be a pretentious treatise on life. It has no idea what it is trying to say as it lays one message down after another. Stupidity wrapped in smart clothing
(I also didn’t like Peter Rabbit, Upgrade, Set it Up, or The Party as much as most)
Most Underrated- I Feel Pretty- a throwback to Penny Marshall movies from the 90s that everyone took WAY too seriously. It had its heart in the right place, and I appreciated what it was trying to say. I laughed and thought it was overall very sweet.
Biggest End of Movie Letdown- Avengers: Infinity War. Most of this movie was pretty entertaining and well done but then they had the ending that tries to get me to believe that a major studio is actually killing off their brightest and newest talents. Give me a break. Most people were crying and it kind of ticked me off. I HATE when directors think I am stupid and I’m not stupid enough to believe that Marvel is killing off Black Panther. Ugh
(The last 30 minutes of Tully was also extremely disappointing and frustrating!).
Biggest Disappointment- Wrinkle in Time- I love the novel and Ava DuVernay had all the pieces to make something great but instead made something that was muddled, confusing and full of speechifying. All the spirituality of the novel is taken away in favor of sermons that looked like part of a yoga retreat video and Meg was told she was a warrior instead of figuring that out for herself and saving Charles Wallace from IT because she knew how important he was to God. What a waste!
(I was also disappointed in Early Man and Ocean’s 8 was just Ok when I was hoping it would be great)
Worst Movies So Far-
Lu Over the Wall- Made me physically nauseated. Spastic and all over the place. The parts that do work are a copycat of Ponyo.
White Fang- Exploitative animal violence in a film aimed at children was jarring and went on for way too long. Also the animation and voice acting was hit and miss.
Gotti- Terribly made in every way but also wants you to believe the mafia are the true victims of authorities who won’t stop hounding them!
Pacific Rim: Uprising- I hated every inch of this nauseating blockbuster full of stupid and irritating characters that would not shut up
Ophelia- the most ridiculous attempt to turn Hamlet into a feminist mantra you could imagine. I was dying trying to hold my laughter in.
For more of my thoughts on some indie films check out the podcast I did with my friend Orla Smith