The Oscar Project
Happy New Year’s Eve Eve. We’ve made it to my top film of the year, but before I get to that, I do have to give a few honorable mentions that didn’t quite make the top ten. In no particular order they are:
#1 – Everything Everywhere All at Once
This movie truly is everything. I joined in the party a little later than most, but had to check it out after hearing the buzz online and through various podcasts and YouTube channels over the summer. It’s rare that there is so much buzz about a movie and it lives up to the expectations when you finally see it, but Everything Everywhere All at Once is one of those that does.
There were early comparisons of the film to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness in that they both deal with universe jumping heroes and we get to see multiple versions of many of the characters. Both have an interesting take on how these universes interact with one another and how the butterfly effect can create drastically different situations for characters that are at the core the same people. But where I had to elevate Everything Everywhere above Doctor Strange is in the characters themselves.
I wrote a few weeks back about my love for Ke Huy Quan as Waymond in this movie, but I really could have picked just about any of the actors. Michelle Yeoh is similarly wonderful as Evelyn and does an excellent job of carrying the film. She gets the opportunity to play a variety of characters across the many universes, something that must be so rewarding for an actor. The inclusion of Jamie Lee Curtis as the Wang’s IRS case agent Deirdre is hilarious and relative newcomer Stephanie Hsu as Waymond and Evelyn’s daughter Joy is a breath of fresh air who I hope to see in more prominent roles going forward.
Certain elements of this film are so absurd and hilarious that you can’t help but just laugh and be amazed at how someone could come up with such things. Scenes like Evelyne and Deirdre being in a romantic relationship, but also having hot dogs for fingers and the “everything bagel” that is threatening to destroy all existence are just a few examples. But my favorite sequence is the universe where Evelyne and Joy are just rocks. It is honestly one of my favorite movies scenes of the year, and shows how you can create amazing story moments on film without complex visual and audio effects. When you have a good story to tell, the presentation doesn’t have to be flashy.
It's interesting to me that we see trends in film over time. I recently listened to a podcast recapping James Cameron’s career ahead of the release of Avatar: The Way of Water and the hosts talked about trends in cinema from the late 1970s when Cameron was first breaking into the film industry. The late 70s were populated by sci-fi films like Star Wars, Blade Runner, and Alien. The 80s had several trends depending on if you’re looking at comedy or action. In the late 90s, we saw the rise of the disaster film, we’ve seen the rise of the superhero films and the extreme sequelization of Hollywood, and I think that we’re hitting a period where people are more open to independent movies with fresh viewpoints that can reach the masses through streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and others.
Similarly, Everything Everywhere All at Once arrived less than two months before Multiverse of Madness, and directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinart worried that other multiversal films like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse would detract from this film. Fortunately, their work stands on its own and stands out from the crowd, even as we move into what may ultimately be dubbed the decade of multiversal movies.
We have had some incredible movies this year, and I’m fortunate to have seen so many of them. I’ve mentioned a few times in recent weeks that I’ve seen more movies this year than I have in my life. It’s a bit exhausting at times to try and keep up with the amount of films coming out, between theatrical releases and streaming services, movies that have release date changes or are added to the release calendar at the last minute. Watching movies in 2022 has been an adventure in itself and I love being able to share my thoughts with you.
I want to wish you a very happy new year and look forward to bringing you new movie content in 2023 and beyond. I hope to see you at the movies soon!
I really can’t believe it’s just a few days before the end of the year already. This year has flown by and as I think I’ve watched more movies in 2022 than ever before, it’s been hard to pick my tops. In fact, I had my entire top ten set for these posts and then just as I was starting to write these, I had to reshuffle them completely to make a spot for today’s film.
#2 – Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
To say this film hit me on a personal level would be an understatement. I don’t usually get to personal on this site, but the beginning of this film features Geppetto’s loss of his son, something I too have dealt with in my life. The circumstances were quite different, but anyone who has experienced the loss of a child understands Geppetto’s grief in this moment and immediately sympathizes with him in a way many people can only imagine.
This opening sequence takes place during World War I, with the remainder of the film being set in the rise of Fascism in Italy and the lead up to World War II. The story of Pinocchio is one that everyone knows from childhood, likely based on the Disney animated classic from 1940 which was only the second animated feature from the studio, following Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. I was surprised to find that the story has been told in film nearly 20 times over the years, with three versions since 2019 and two just this year. I haven’t had a chance to watch the Disney live action version with Tom Hanks as Geppetto, but after watching Guillermo del Toro’s, I’m almost afraid to watch any other versions.
This film is absolutely gorgeous to look at. I will be very surprised if it doesn’t receive an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature with a strong potential to win the award. For me, one of the best things about well done stop motion animation is when the motion blends seamlessly and you begin to forget that what you’re watching is actually miniature animatics positioned one frame at a time. This film often takes you to that level, but doesn’t lose any of the story elements in being a stop-motion film. The story is front and center, the medium just happens to be one that takes incredible talent and dedication to pull off successfully.
The fact that this film was put out by Netflix makes it even more incredible to me. Yes, there was a short theatrical release earlier this year, but most people will only ever see it on a small screen in their living room. In today’s world, I feel like this is a double-edge sword. It’s wonderful that more people will get to see it because it’s readily available on a service most of us already have access to, but at the same time, seeing something this beautiful on a big screen, without the distractions of being at home, would be a truly magical experience.
When it comes to voices in this film, as with most animated films these days, the talent is top notch. Ewan McGregor takes a turn as Sebastian J. Cricket who narrates the story after taking up residence inside Pinocchio’s wooden body. David Bradley (who you probably know as Filch from Harry Potter) provides the voice of Geppetto while Ron Pearlman and Christoph Waltz play the villains, the Podestà and Count Volpe respectively. Rounding out the tremendous cast are Tilda Swinton as both the Wood Sprite who brings Pinocchio to life, and her sister Death who Pinocchio meets in the afterlife, Tim Blake Nelson as Death’s Black Rabbits, John Turturro as the village doctor, and Cate Blanchett as Spazzatura, Count Volpe’s monkey assistant, who tries to help Pinocchio at various turns throughout the story.
I mentioned above that this had a bit of a personal impact on me and to take that even further, I watched this with my teenage son. If you are a father and have a son, I would highly recommend taking this film in with that boy. It can obviously work with any kids, but I think some of the messages are best for fathers and sons, especially those in the pre-teen to teenage range. While Pinocchio is portrayed more as a young boy, the relationship between him and Geppetto goes through the trials and tribulations that many parents and children face as kids grow up and seek independence.
For fans of the Pinocchio story, all the main plot points are there, though they may look quite different than you’re used to. This is not your classic Disney version of the story. It’s definitely darker in tone, but I think it speaks to a universal need to love and be loved in return. The climax of the film brings the story around full circle, and if you don’t at least have a tear in your eye at the very end, I might question your humanity.
Go check out Pinocchio on Netflix today.
Today I’m giving you my number 3 film of the year, and it’s the last film on my list that I gave an 8 out of 10 rating (or 4 out of 5 stars for those using a star rating system). Unlike last year when I had three Marvel movies on my top ten (Eternals, Black Widow, and Spider-Man: No Way Home), this year I only had one that I was willing to include in my top ten.
#3 – Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
If you’ve read all of my year in review posts, you know that I wasn’t enamored with superhero movies in general this year. I devoted part of one whole post to my thoughts on several of them not living up to expectations. And while I didn’t include Black Panther: Wakanda Forever in my top 10 (it fell a bit too late in my viewing schedule but will be included in the honorable mentions) Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was by far the best Marvel movie to come out this year.
Maybe I’m a sucker for time/dimensional travel films (Inception is in my top 4 on Letterboxd, Back to the Future has always been a favorite, and don’t get me started on The Matrix) but even with everything else that has happened in the MCU across 30 films and multiple television series, Multiverse of Madness brought something new.
The film functions almost as a dual sequel. First it is a direct sequel to the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home that released last year. Heck, the credits scene from that film was essentially the trailer for Multiverse of Madness. But while the events of the films may initially be a result of Peter’s spell gone wrong, the film is also a sequel to the 2021 Disney+ show WandaVision. We get to see Wanda Maximoff in her full Scarlet Witch power in this film, and that is something people have been waiting to see for a long time since she was introduced to the MCU in the mid-credits scene in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
**some spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen the film**
There is so much to unpack in this film, and with any film about traveling to alternate universes or timelines, one of the best parts is seeing different versions of characters. We get multiple versions of Strange himself, something that was initially explored in last year’s animated What If…? series on Disney+. We also got to see at least one alternate version of Wanda and the film brings back Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordor, who we last saw in the credits scene from the first Doctor Strange film. The film introduces the character of America Chavez (played by Xochitl Gomez) and this was the perfect place to bring her into the MCU. Not only does it make sense for someone who is always jumping universes, but it also forces Strange to explore some aspects of fatherhood as he tries to protect her throughout the film.
And I can’t go away without talking about one of my favorite MCU characters of all time, Wong (Benedict Wong). Benedict Wong first came into my consciousness in the short-lived Netflix series Marco Polo, where he played the ruthless Mongol leader Kublai Khan. To go from that to playing a powerful sorcerer in the Marvel films (and shows) made me fall in love with him that much more. I love the direction that the MCU creative minds have taken with the character of Wong, and hope that we get to see him more and more throughout the next series of films.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the visuals of this film. The straight up creativity involved in creating the various worlds that Strange and Chavez explore is stunning. We get very different views of what city life would be like in alternate universes where humanity evolved differently. We get an incredible attack by Wanda on Kamar Taj. We get Zombie Strange! It had to be a herculean effort to keep all this stuff straight, and I credit director Sam Raimi for pulling it off. He even dropped in the worst kept secret of a cameo (you know Patrick Stewart’s voice) along with a few cameos I was completely surprised by when I saw the film in theaters!
In a year that didn’t wow me with superhero movies in general, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was the exception. I have high hopes for the next set of stories to come that will explore this wider multiverse, starting with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania in just under two months!
Hey movie fans. I am putting together a challenge for the calendar year 2023 to help you increase your movie watching and possibly discover some films you might not have considered before now.
I was inspired to do this based on a fun book I found online a few years ago called Everyone’s A Critic: 52 Week Movie Challenge (affiliate link). This fun book gives you 52 unique categories and tasks you with watching a movie from each category, one per week, for the full year. I have decided to turn that into a challenge here on my site and hope that you’ll join me.
If you want to purchase the book and follow along (affiliate link), you can certainly do that, but I will be putting together some simpler forms you can fill out if you want to keep track of some of your own notes on paper as we go along.
We’re getting down to the top few films I’ve seen from this year, and it was getting harder and harder to pick where each one would land on this countdown. Today’s fourth film on the list has already been talked about in at least one other Year in Review post and I think I’ll be watching it again in the near future, especially since it’s available on Netflix right now.
#4 – Bullet Train
What can I say? This film was just a ton of fun. I don’t think I had more fun watching a movie this year than I did when I sat down to watch Bullet Train (affiliate link).
This is an action comedy in the truest sense of the words. There are plenty of memorable characters, even if some of them don’t last long in the story. You can tell just from the trailers that Brad Pitt is having tons of fun playing Ladybug, the lead assassin tasked with boarding the bullet train in Japan and retrieving a case from one of the luggage racks. Pitt gets to be funny at times, other times an action star, and all while playing someone who is trying to get back into the swing of his job after some time off for reasons we never quite understand. Who can’t relate to that?
The rest of the cast is wonderful, and I personally love the interplay between the “twins” Lemon (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Tangerine (Brian Tyree Henry). Their scenes are some of the funniest moments in the film. Joey King is stunning in the role of Prince, the icy young woman on the train whose motives we don’t quite understand until the end. I also enjoyed Hiroyuki Sanada as “The Elder” who is on the train protecting his son and grandson. His character emotes a quite confidence which stands in stark contrast to Ladybug’s frantic energy.
On the surface, there isn’t much to this film and at the beginning, it can seem a bit chaotic with so many characters and storylines to keep track of. However, I like how the chaos of the story stars as the train leaves the busy city of Tokyo, and becomes clearer as the train itself leads to a more open part of the country and the darkness of night leads to the sunrise. The harsh neon lights of the city and the interior of the train are replaced by natural sunlight and motives become clear with the stories all weaving together to lead to a connected conclusion.
Visually the film is fun to look at. Staging fight scenes in the close quarters of a train is probably very difficult, but the filmmakers accomplish it well. Ladybug gets to fight against most of the other characters, but my favorite fight is with Tangerine as they sit in “the quiet car” of the train. Putting limitations on creativity like having to keep quiet while conducting a fight is one of the things that puts this film near the top of my list for the year.
I didn’t get a chance to read the book that the film is based on (affiliate link) before watching it, but it’s near the top of my reading list for the new year. I may revisit the film after reading the book to see how they compare.
In the end, this film landed so high on my top ten this year simply because of how much fun it is. It’s full of action, humor, and surprisingly, even some touching story elements about family. I highly recommend this for anyone and of course, it’s readily available right now on Netflix.
The rest of the posts in this series are all linked below.
I hope you had a wonderful Christmas holiday. I’m back with my top five films of the year and we’re kicking off the week with one of the most thought provoking films I saw this year.
#5 – Don’t Worry Darling
There was lots of buzz around this film when it was released in September. The trailers seemed to tell a few different stories about what was going on in the film, and then there was the whole bit about Harry Styles and Chris Pine’s relationship. Unfortunately, that landed the film as a bit of a dud once it did finally his theaters, but I think it got a bit of a bad rap.
The story is that of Alice (Florence Pugh) a devoted housewife to her husband Jack (Styles) who works for a top-secret company. The pair live in what appears to be an idyllic community on a cul-de-sac with their closest friends and colleagues. The group is led by their leader Frank (Chris Pine) and his wife Shelley (Gemma Chan) who both strive to maintain a sense of order within the small community nestled in a remote area of the desert.
Like Nope, my number six pick last week, Don’t Worry Darling is a beautiful film to look at. There is a wonderful sense of production design in the fifties-era aesthetic of the desert town. Everyone’s home is a bit unique, and each of the men drive a different brightly colored classic car to work when they leave in the morning. The costumes that the ladies don are reflective of the time period and the biggest spectacle at the center of the film comes when Jack is promoted at the company during a lavish dinner party at a music hall.
It's hard to write about this film without giving away the secrets behind it, but suffice it to say the idyllic setting depicted at the beginning of the film is one of the many lies of the story. Pugh’s Alice is a woman who starts to see things that don’t make sense in her life and begins to question everything about her very existence. Director Olivia Wilde weaves an intricate web of a story that has viewers guessing at the truth, much like Nope. The story is one of possibilities, but also leaves the viewer trapped in confusion, just like Alice herself.
Wilde publicly stated that the film was inspired by a combination of Inception, The Matrix, and The Truman Show all unique films in their own right. I definitely see elements of each of those in the story here and look forward to future repeat viewings, just as I have with those three films.
The rest of the posts in this series are all linked below.
Happy Friday and Happy Christmas Eve Eve. I hope you have enjoyed my first five films on the list of my top ten of 2022 so far and will come back for the top five next week. Today, I give you my number six film of the year.
#6 – Nope
I’m not sure if this will be a longer term trend, but this is the second year in a row I’ve had a film starring Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah (affiliate link) last year) in my top ten with this year’s Nope.
This film had so much hype, especially after the success of Jordan Peele’s previous films Get Out and Us (affiliate links). Peele is establishing himself as a horror stalwart in the industry, and I think it’s because he takes the idea of horror and gives it a fresh spin. Get Out was something no one had ever seen before, and it was a huge word of mouth hit in 2017, earning him an Oscar for the film’s original screenplay. Us was similarly acclaimed by critics, but perhaps a bit less so by fans, so when trailers started dropping for Nope, the internet was abuzz with anticipation for the film.
Nope takes the horror genre and shifts it a bit to the side, closer to an alien horror film. Kaluuya plays OJ Haywood, owner of a ranch that raises and trains horses for use in television and film. His siter Em (Keke Palmer) assists from time to time and when the ranch falls on hard financial times, the pair try to document a nearby UFO so they can sell the footage and save their ranch.
I love films about movies, especially when we get to see a part of movie-making that doesn’t normally get the spotlight. Animal trainers are something I don’t think I’ve ever seen as the focal point of any film or television show, so that makes Nope unique. But we also get the added layer of the character “Jupe”, played by Steven Yeun, who runs a theme park near the Haywood ranch, and is a former child TV star. We get several flashbacks to an incident in his past where a chimpanzee working on the show went wild during a taping and killed several members of the cast right in front of a young Jupe. They are things that might not appear to be related on the surface, but when you take the film as a whole, you start to see bigger connections.
The cast noted above is all wonderful. Kaluuya’s OJ is understated while Palmer’s Em is over the top, but in a natural way. The two siblings are polar opposites, but in a way that makes sense. Yeun’s character is a confident showman, but the way he plays it, you can tell there is some underlying trauma there from the incident described above.
One of the things that elevates this film for me is the beautiful cinematography. It is a film about film in a way, and as such it has to show you what film is capable of. The Haywood ranch is set in an arid canyon outside of Los Angeles, and the desert vistas captured in the film are stunning. We get to see the stark contrast of the brown and yellow desert of daytime against the bluish black desert of the night. Peele knows how to set the cameras in such a way that we see everything necessary, without giving away too much. We know in the back of our mind that there is some sort of UFO through most of the film, but the way it’s presented, there is always a shred of doubt until the final act.
I know some people say they don’t like horror films, because I used to be one of them. But I would urge anyone who loves movies and good stories to watch Nope (affiliate link) It’s almost too simple to put this film in a small box of “horror” and does it a disservice for those who would avoid it just because of that genre label.
The rest of the posts in this series are all linked below.
It’s time for a quick recap of the top ten films of the year so far. We’ve had an action prequel (Prey), an animated adventure film (The Sea Beast) and a sports documentary (The Redeem Team). Now it’s time to kick up the action a bit more with today’s #7 film of the year.
#7 Top Gun: Maverick
I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting to love this film as much as I did. The original (affiliate link) is such a classic that it was hard to believe that a sequel could come close to matching the appeal, especially some 36 years later.
After watching the film, along with some of the behind the scenes features about making the film, I can say that it matches the original. It captures the same feeling of following the coolest and best fighter pilots around as they train for something that might even be beyond their skills to achieve. What I like about this film is that there is almost a better end goal than in the original, giving it more of a feeling of forward progression throughout.
As expected, there are plenty of beats that reference back to the original film. Tom Cruise is the obvious connection, reprising his role as Maverick. Miles Teller plays Rooster, the son of Maverick’s old friend Goose from the first film, and Teller does a fantastic job looking and acting like he is a chip off the old block. We also get a cameo appearance from Val Kilmer, reprising his role as Iceman, rounding out the trio of characters we need to see from the first film. The rest of the cast is wonderful with the additions of Ed Harris, John Hamm, Jennifer Connelly, and a host of young talent making up the rest of the Top Guns.
But what you really want from a plane about the best fighter pilots in the world, is flying planes super fast, and we get plenty of that in Top Gun: Maverick. I would venture a guess that there is more footage of aerial training and combat in this film that the first one, and that’s a good thing. Improvements in camera technology meant that the production was able to strap the actors into real aircraft and surround them with small cameras able to capture their performances much better than shooting against greenscreen on a soundstage. When you see the characters in the pilot seat, it feels like they’re really there and that goes a long way to making this film believable.
In the end, this is an action movie with stories about love and friendship at its core, just like the original. That’s what made the original so successful and it works the same here. Based on the success of this sequel, do I think there will be more? Perhaps, but based on the interviews with Cruise, it seems like the story would have to be just right for him to keep making these films. But don’t rule out Top Gun 3 coming to a theater near you in 2027.
The rest of the posts in this series are all linked below.
We are only a few days away from Christmas, and the countdown of my top ten films of the year rolls on. Today’s film is my only documentary on the list this year, but totally worthy of the spot.
#8 The Redeem Team
The Redeem Team is one of those films I happened on while browsing through the films recently added to Netflix. I hadn’t heard anything about it prior to finding it there, but given how much I enjoyed The Last Dance a few years back, I figured this might be right up the same alley as that series.
I wasn’t disappointed.
The Redeem Team is very much a cousin to The Last Dance and if you have any interest in sports, especially professional and Olympic basketball, this is one you should give some time to. The film focuses on the 2008 USA Men’s Basketball team and the journey they took to return to Olympic prominence, after falling short of a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. While the 2004 team had some established stars, many of the players were up and coming stars like Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and of course LeBron James. They had yet to find championship success in the NBA but had high hopes of continuing the United States’ dominance in the Olympics.
So, after a disappointing finish, coming home from Athens with only a bronze medal, the core group of players were ready to return to the Olympics in Beijing and plant the United States firmly back on the top of the medal stand.
New Team USA coach, and longtime Duke coach, Mike Krzyzewski was brought in to lead the team and many wondered how this group of professionals would respond to a college coach. But the plan worked, and the team started to gel. James, Anthony, and Wade all returned to the team along with a number of other players, and Kobe Bryant was brought in to add his killer instinct to the team. Everyone came together under the same goal of bringing the US back to the top of men’s basketball and *spoiler alert* it worked.
The best part of this documentary was seeing the players relive this time of their lives. We are 14 years down the road from the events portrayed, and many of the players interviewed for the film have gone on to win multiple NBA championships, but they still talk about this period in their career fondly and appreciate the ability to represent their country on the world stage.
Unfortunately, we only get Bryant’s voice in archival interviews, but his presence in the film and on the team feels like just the right fit. It would be hard to tell the story of this team without any of his input, from the first game at the Olympics where he put his Lakers teammate Pao Gasol on the floor to the images from the team hotel at the end of the games where they celebrated Bryant’s birthday, with his toddler daughter Gianna in his arms.
The Redeem Team did what they set out to do, and this film tells that story so well. As with yesterday’s film The Sea Beast, The Redeem Team is available on Netflix, so check it out today!
The rest of the posts in this series are all linked below.
Today it’s time to reveal my #9 film of the year and it’s one I already talked about in my Biggest Surprises of 2022 post that kicked off this series.
#9 - The Sea Beast
I talked about this film a bit in the original post, but I want to expand on it a bit here. I have to start off with the absolute stunning visuals that elevate this film above most other animated titles I’ve seen this year. The color palette is broad, and because there is such a diversity of color, each one pops and stands out. A few years ago, Moana (affiliate link) stunned the world with the realistic looking water effects in that animated title, and I think The Sea Beast matches Moana in the quality of water visuals.
The story in this film is perfect for the audience and speaks to the importance of not judging anyone or anyTHING before you know enough about them. I recently saw a social media post that said something to the effect of “the most dangerous words in the company are ‘because we’ve always done it that way’” and that applies to the fictional nation portrayed in this film. As far back as they have recorded history, they have fought and hunted the sea creatures because they believed that they were evil and out to get them as they traded across the sea. But it takes a young mind, open to different possibilities, to see that it’s not the sea creatures that are the scourge, but the humans intruding on their territory and threatening them. The creatures are simply defending their territory.
The film is appropriate for this time when young people are looking at the leaders of the world and seeing things that have “always been done a certain way.” They wonder why and are seeing new ways of attacking old problems, often getting push back for those new ideas. Some viewers might dismiss this as a “woke” film since the lead character is a young girl of color, but I hope people will look beyond that to the greater message of the film.
As I mentioned in my Biggest Surprises post, the voice acting in the film is wonderful. Zaris-Angel Hator beings a wonderful energy to Maisie Brumble and is able to play off Karl Urban’s Jacob Holland very well. Jared Harris gets to sink his teeth into the villain role of Captain Crow and in a curious bit of connection, also co-starred with Hator in Morbius, (affiliate link) also released earlier this year.
In the end, The Sea Beast is a wonderful film for both children and adults. You can enjoy it with your kids, and maybe even talk about some of the bigger themes with older children. It’s easily accessible on Netflix, so there’s no reason to not watch it. If you’re looking for something to put on over the holidays, I highly recommend this film.
The rest of the posts in this series are all linked below.
I'm just a film buff who wants to watch great movies. Where else to find the best, than the list of those nominated by the Academy each year?