The ‘Harry Potter’ reboot, JK Rowling, and when you know you’ve moved on

When I was 9 or 10 years old, I could name all 150 original Pokemon in order practically from memory. The original Pokemon movie (Mewtwo Strikes Back) was one of the most important movies in my young life. My dad even took me to Atlanta to see the touring Pokemon Live! stage show, and I wore that soundtrack out on my portable CD player. 

But today there are more than 1,000 Pokemon out in the world, and I can confidently remember the names of maybe 20 characters. 

Sometimes you just move on from something that once meant the entire world to you. 

This month, Max (formerly HBO Max – which is a whole different mess) announced a Harry Potter reboot was officially in the works. The streamer has already declared a decade-long commitment to a TV series that promises to be even more faithful to the original books than the record-breaking film series from the 2000s. 

Even though I had my issues with the film adaptations, I gave them my whole heart and saw every single one on opening night – even dragging my whole youth group out during mission trips in Texas and staying out for midnight premieres of the final two films. When Deathly Hallows – Part 2 ended, me and my friends sat there in the theater devastated that the thing we loved had finally come to an end. It was like a family member had died. 

When those films were coming out, I remember announcing to anyone who would listen how much better this series would be as a television show that could dedicate a full season to each novel, providing enough time to visually represent every word on the page, including plots and characters that had been cut from the movies. 

But now that dream is becoming a reality, I just don’t care. 

Maybe as an aging millennial, I’ve grown even more attached to and defensive of the film series. Being the same age as Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint and growing up alongside them during our formative years is something I can never replicate.

I spent years after the books and movies ended trying to get as close to Hogwarts as I could – I visited the Universal Studios park right after it opened and dragged my parents all the way to London on a pilgrimage to the Harry Potter Studio Tour along with a number of actual filming locations from the movies. 

But maybe it’s that since 2011 I’ve become a different person. I’ve experienced more of the world and seen the highest highs and lowest lows that humanity has to offer. I’ve learned how to empathize with people who will live vastly different life experiences than I could ever imagine. 

I certainly have a broader and more diverse perspective on the kinds of movies that are made and the types of stories that can be and should be told. In 2011, if a movie wasn’t part of a franchise like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and the emerging Marvel Cinematic Universe, I really wasn’t interested. But since then, I have learned to watch and appreciate every genre of movie, from 1930s slapstick comedies to gritty 1970s dramas to 2010s elevated horror. 

And as I’ve changed, the Harry Potter franchise has changed. In 2016, Warner Bros. attempted to launch the next chapter of the Wizarding World with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The first installment was a solid movie and genuinely a fun time, but the series has seen disappointing diminishing returns in each successive movie as it’s been weighed down by complicated storylines and overstuffed plots. 

But then there’s JK Rowling. For more than a decade, she was one of the most important people in my life. Her words had a foundational impact on my morality and personality. When I was in sixth grade, we had to write a letter to one of our heroes, and I wrote to JK Rowling. And to my surprise “she” wrote back to me – and even sent a “signed” photo! I thought she hung the moon.

It was clear after Harry Potter ended that Rowling didn’t quite know how to let go of the world that made her a household name. She quickly launched the Pottermore website that allowed her to share more details and histories of the Wizarding World that millions around the world – including myself – desperately craved. 

Eventually, the evolution of Pottermore and Rowling’s Twitter account led to answers being given for questions no one ever asked, like how wizards at Hogwarts used to go Number 2 on themselves in the middle of the hallways and then just use magic to clean themselves up before the castle installed indoor plumbing. At some point, we can know too much about anything. 

Rowling continued to use her platform, especially Twitter, to offer her opinions on a wide variety of topics, many that didn’t even concern her fictional creation. 

In recent years, she has become infamous for her controversial stances on the transgender community. In particular, she has denied the validity of transgender women and has been belligerent in her responses to those who try to educate or engage with her.

For someone whose signature work is full of themes like equality, love, friendship, acceptance, freedom and diversity, it’s extremely baffling and disappointing for Rowling to have drawn such a hard line in the sand on this subject. For years, I watched Harry, Ron and Hermione learn to appreciate and accept the differences of those they came in contact with, be they house elf, goblin, centaur, giant, half-blood, pure-blood, Muggle-born, Hufflepuff or Slytherin. So for their creator to be so close-minded is such a disappointment. 

I am a cisgender man and will never fully understand the experiences that transgender individuals go through. But from the perspective and philosophy I have developed throughout my life – a lot of which has been based on the themes of the Harry Potter series – I fully support the trans community and their desire to live their authentic lives as long as they search for happiness and don’t bring harm to others. 

So between my disappointment and dismay at Rowling’s beliefs, the shambles of the Fantastic Beasts series, and my own personal growth and education, I feel like I’ve moved on from Harry Potter and the Wizarding World. 

The final death knell for this reboot series – on a base production standpoint – is that the announcement video and promotion so far have used the original John Williams theme and the visual of the movies’ Hogwarts castle. Especially with the theme parks in Orlando and Japan designed to match the film series, how much can you change the iconography to make something new without undoing the legacy and physical manifestations of what has already come before? 

I wish the reboot series well only in that I know the new child actors will be scrutinized and watched like hawks from the second they’re announced, and I hope they are protected, appreciated, and showed the love that millions around the world have for the characters they will be chosen to portray. 

I will always be grateful for the time I have spent at Hogwarts and the lessons Harry, Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, Hagrid, Sirius, and so many other characters have taught me, but now it’s time for me to move on, take that knowledge and find new places to learn, grow and challenge myself even more, all while trying to leave a positive impact in my wake. 

Predicting the 2023 Oscars

With the 95th Oscars coming up on Sunday, it’s time to make my final predictions on some of the night’s biggest categories. Everything Everywhere All at Once is on a roll right now and looks poised to take home a number of statues, but the only constant of the Oscars is chaos, so who’s to say what will actually win on Hollywood’s biggest night.

Best Picture

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

Should Win: This is honestly a great set of Best Picture nominees. All but two of these are in my personal Top 20 of the year (Triangle of Sadness barely missed the cut at 22, and Elvis was a bit too messy for me, so it landed quite a bit lower). I would honestly be totally happy with five of these movies if they were to take home the top prize. The Fabelmans and Everything Everywhere All at Once are my two favorite movies of the year, so my heart goes with both of them.

Will Win: Given the trajectory it’s been on so far in awards season, this is Everything Everywhere All at Once’s to lose.

Best Director

Martin McDonagh, The Banshees of Inisherin
Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert, Everything Everywhere All at Once
Steven Spielberg, The Fabelmans
Todd Field, Tár
Ruben Östlund, Triangle of Sadness

Should Win: Again, my heart is split between The Fabelmans and Everything Everywhere All at Once. I would love for Steven Spielberg to take this simply for the power of directing his own story. And there’s one shot from The Fabelmans that I have yet to stop thinking about.

Will Win: I think the Daniels will come out on top here (and what a great win it will be for Birmingham native Daniel Scheinert!).

Best Lead Actor

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

Should Win: The Best Actor race has been a three-way tie between Austin Butler, Colin Farrell and Brendan Fraser. But Paul Mescal’s performance in Aftersun is so understated yet haunting that he should be as much in the conversation, if not win.

Will Win: Brendan Fraser has the heart of Hollywood right now, but the Oscars love a transformation, so I think Austin Butler will win for his complete dedication to becoming Elvis Presley.

Best Lead Actress

Cate Blanchett, Tár
Ana de Armas, Blonde
Andrea Riseborough, To Leslie
Michelle Williams, The Fabelmans
Michelle Yeoh, Everything Everywhere All at Once

Should Win: Undoubtedly the most talked-about category of the year, with the inclusion of Andrea Riseborough and Ana de Armas (and the exclusion of Viola Davis and Danielle Deadwyler), Best Actress has really been a two-horse race between Cate Blanchett and Michelle Yeoh. Blanchett is sensational as Lydia Tar, so much so that nearly everyone thought she was based on a real person at first. This award should almost be guaranteed to be hers.

Will Win: Michelle Yeoh is everything and expertly carries the audience through the weird and chaotic understanding of the multiverse as she transforms from an unassuming laundromat owner to a hero to her family. She deserves this award and I fully expect her to win.

Best Supporting Actor

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

Should Win: This is probably the most locked-down category of the ceremony already. Ke Huy Quan should, will and deserves to win this award. I do want to shout out Barry Keoghan, who is equally hilarious and heartbreaking in Banshees.

Will Win: No one has had more fun on the awards show circuit this year than Ke Huy Quan. His comeback story is so heartwarming and he has such a winning personality you literally can’t root against him. From Short Round and Data to Oscar winner, here he comes.

Best Supporting Actress

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

Should Win: The way Stephanie Hsu has been mostly overlooked this awards season is truly baffling. In a movie starring Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan and Jamie Lee Curtis, Stephanie Hsu still finds a way to stand out and nearly steal the whole show. For her to win an Oscar would be extraordinary and I would be thrilled. Another Banshees shoutout to Kerry Condon, because she is wonderful in her role as well.

Will Win: Angela Bassett seems poised to win the first acting award for an MCU movie, and it would be well deserved. She has to grieve onscreen as a character and an actor and delivers some powerhouse scenes. (And I’m sure the MCU would love some positive recognition after a year of struggling to maintain momentum.)

Best Adapted Screenplay

All Quiet on the Western Front
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Top Gun: Maverick
Women Talking

Should Win: I’ve adored both of Rian Johnson’s Benoit Blanc mysteries – Knives Out is one of my favorite movies of all time and Glass Onion was another unique story with plenty of twists and turns. In my heart I would love for Rian Johnson to be recognized. And everything about Top Gun: Maverick is astonishing, especially how they continued the story from the original while introducing compelling new characters and building a thrilling conclusion.

Will Win: I’m going with Women Talking for this category. Based on a novel, it manages to present complex and contrasting perspectives in a way that’s easy to follow and mix in a number of difficult topics. It also does an excellent job of balancing that fine line between feeling like a stage play and a more cinematic experience.

Best Original Screenplay

The Banshees of Inisherin
Everything Everywhere All at Once
The Fabelmans
Triangle of Sadness

Should Win: Not to sound like a broken record, but the way Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner were able to tell the story of Spielberg’s own childhood – the good and the bad – was outstanding. I’ll also give a shout out to Tar for tackling some complex issues like power and cancel culture in its script and doing so in a way that made it stick in your head long after the movie ended.

Will Win: As outlandish and complicated a concept like the multiverse can be, Everything Everywhere All at Once is surprisingly easy and engaging to follow. And in the center of all the wackiness, the movie is really a story about parents and children, relationships and learning to understand and respect each other.

Best Animated Feature Film

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
Marcel the Shell With Shoes On
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish
The Sea Beast
Turning Red

Should Win: This is an incredible lineup for Best Animated Film. Marcel the Shell is an icon and one of the most gentle, charming and heartfelt movies of the year. Puss in Boots shocked us all and breathed new life and energy into a franchise thought to be long dead. My pick for this though is Turning Red, an absolute joy of a film that creatively and delicately tackles puberty, the strain and growth in parent-child relationships, and early 2000s boy band mania.

Will Win: The Pixar brand still has a strong hold in this category, so Turning Red has a good shot, but I think the love for Guillermo del Toro will put his adaptation of Pinocchio – a beautiful, fascinating take on the well-known story – on top.

Best Original Score

All Quiet on the Western Front, Volker Bertelmann
Babylon, Justin Hurwitz
The Banshees of Inisherin, Carter Burwell
Everything Everywhere All at Once, Son Lux
The Fabelmans, John Williams

Should Win: Personally I think John Williams should always win when he’s nominated, and I do really love the quiet, longing nature of The Fabelmans score.

Will Win: Babylon is not the same movie without Justin Hurwitz’s loud, bombastic, pulse-raising score. It gives the movie life and amplifies the chaotic nature of the early days of cinema. Hurwitz is quickly becoming one of my favorite current film composers and I can’t wait to hear what he does next.

Top 10 most anticipated movies of 2023

A new year brings a whole new slate of movies to be excited about. As studios finally start catching up after the impacts of COVID, we should be in for new spectacles, fun, heartbreak and joy.

Here are 10 of the movies I’m most excited about this year:

  1. Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

I was never a Dungeons & Dragons kid growing up, so I’m coming to this as an outsider with no expectations of fidelity or references to the source material. But that first trailer just looks so fun, how could you not be excited for this? The cast looks incredible, and its directed by the team behind the brilliant and underrated Game Night, so I’m hoping for a fun night at the movies with this one.

In theaters March 31

  1. How Do You Live?

Hayao Miyazaki has created his own brand of movies that are immediately identifiable, and his Studio Ghibli has produced some of the greatest animated movies of all time, including My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away. Miyazaki is coming out of retirement to make what could be his last film with How Do You Live? There’s always an abundance of beauty and heart – often with a touch of sadness and melancholy – in Miyazaki’s films, so I expect nothing less from this movie as well.

  1. Scream VI

The Scream franchise has quickly become one of my favorites – each entry is fun, surprising, and finds new ways to subvert and provide commentary on the horror and slasher genres. Scream VI will be the first entry to take the story outside of Woodboro and to New York City, which I’m sure will give a fresh look and vibe to this franchise. Scream is definitely a great entry point for people who don’t like horror movies, so I definitely suggest you give them a try!

In theaters March 10

  1. Oppenheimer

Christopher Nolan is still one of the few directors who can get people to the theater based on name recognition alone. A Nolan movie will always bring spectacle and a complex storytelling that general audiences can typically follow. They will be big and loud, and often see time manipulated in unique ways. Oppenheimer will tell the story of the creation of the atomic bomb during World War II and the man behind it. It’s an interesting topic for Nolan to tackle, but I’m always excited to see what he does, from favorites like Inception and Interstellar to ones that didn’t quite connect with me, like Tenet, so I know this will be an experience not to miss.

In theaters July 21

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3

The MCU has struggled to regain its footing post-Endgame and needs to find some cohesion to point us toward the end goal that is racing toward us in Secret Wars. But the Guardians of the Galaxy movies have never disappointed me, so Vol. 3 is sure to be full of laughs and heart. Still the greatest surprise to come out of the MCU, the Guardians are a true family. Director James Gunn and the cast have already discussed a finality to the Guardians’ story in Vol. 3, so it has the potential to be one of the most emotional MCU films to date.

In theaters May 5

  1. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning, Part 1

The Mission: Impossible franchise has indeed done the impossible – continuing to get better with each new film (post-Mission: Impossible II). The most recent instillation, 2018’s Fallout, is one of the best action movies of all time. Tom Cruise has never been more dedicated to trying the most insane stunts on camera (that will almost certainly get him killed one day), but I for one can’t wait to see what he tries next. And following the success of Top Gun: Maverick, I have no doubt audiences will be ready to see Cruise on another whirlwind adventure once again.

In theaters July 14

  1. Dune: Part 2

I’d argue that 2021’s Dune had the best sci-fi/fantasy worldbuilding and design since Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. It was truly an epic in its scale and storytelling. It’s hard not to just stare with your mouth hanging open at the majesty of it all. Part 2 will cover the second half of the 1960s novel, and though I don’t know what will happen or where the story will go, I will be on the ride, excited to see what this universe has to offer.  

In theaters November 3

  1. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was a jolt of energy to animated movies, shocking the world. It was revolutionary with its animation style, humor, action and heart, and breathed new life into the idea of who Spider-Man is and could be by introducing us to Miles Morales. Across the Spider-Verse seems like it’s going to take even bigger swings in its concepts and storytelling, opening up the multiverse even further. The bar is set so high for this sequel, but I have faith it can meet and surpass our expectations. And I’m excited to see how it does that.

In theaters June 2

  1. Asteroid City

I know next to nothing about this movie, but I am officially a card-carrying member of the Wes Anderson fan club, so I’m in. It’s set in a desert town in the 1950s, which will be a new, Western vibe for Anderson. Every single one of Wes Anderson’s movies is a visual feast and he’s gotten even more stylized in his most recent films, so I cannot wait to see what he comes up with here. I love when directors have a group of actors that show up in many of their movies, and Wes Anderson is one of the greats with that: regulars like Jeff Goldblum, Jason Schwartzman, Willem Dafoe, and Adrien Brody will return for Asteroid City. And some exciting new faces will appear in their first Anderson movie, like Tom Hanks, Steve Carell, Scarlett Johansson, and Margot Robbie. Give it to me now.

In theaters June 16

  1. Barbie

Never in my life would I think I’d be this excited about a Barbie movie, but I mean, come on! Just look at that trailer! This looks truly unhinged and I cannot wait to see how it all works. Greta Gerwig has made two absolute bangers with her two previous films, Little Women and Lady Bird, so I have full confidence this will be a sight to behold. And that cast? Margot Robbie, my guy Ryan Gosling, Simu Liu, Issa Rae, Ncuti Gatwa, Kate McKinnon, and more! It’s going to be insane and I will be seated opening night for it all.

In theaters July 21

Top 10 movies of 2022

In my opinion, 2022 was a pretty great year for movies. I was able to see 77 movies released this year, and overall, I had a great time. From the highs of movies like Top Gun: Maverick and Avatar: The Way of Water to the confounding choices made in Morbius and Disney’s live-action Pinocchio, it certainly wasn’t boring, and there were more than a dozen movies I truly loved. 

So without further ado, here are my top 10 movies of 2022: 

  1. Glass Onion
Credit: Netflix

One of my favorite movies of all time is 2019’s Knives Out, so I had high expectations for this sequel. And I’m delighted to report that it lived up to those expectations. Glass Onion is bigger and bolder than Knives Out, with outlandish characters and even more twists and turns. And somehow it’s even more of an indictment of the uber rich than the first film was. I laughed out loud and was glued to the screen for the entire runtime. Daniel Craig is living his best life returning as Benoit Blanc, but Janelle Monae absolutely steals the show. 

Rian Johnson sure knows how to make a good movie and he has plans for at least one more mystery story, but I would watch 1,000 more Benoit Blanc movies. Glass Onion is an absolute blast from beginning to end. 

  1. Nope
Credit: Universal Pictures

Jordan Peele has become the premier director for high concept psychological thrillers, and Nope is certainly his most ambitious movie yet. He finds the perfect balance between not quite a horror movie but capturing the ability to keep you at the edge of your seat. 

It’s easy to see the connections to early thrillers and sci-fi stories like Spielberg’s Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but Nope updates the framework while finding time to investigate how society deals with trauma and our obsession with documenting every moment of our lives in a social media world. It’s truly a movie for our time and one you don’t want to miss.

  1. Aftersun
Credit: BBC Film/PASTEL

As I’ve gotten older, stories about the relationships between families, especially parents and kids, have started to hit me harder – and I’m just an uncle. Aftersun is told as the memory of a young girl going on vacation with her father. The movie doesn’t spell out too many specific details about the main characters, but it gives the audience enough glimpses to piece together the dynamics and history between them. 

The movie will certainly feel slow to many viewers, but once you reach the final 10-15 minutes and some of the major breadcrumbs finally fall into place, the full emotional weight just washes over you – and I walked out of the theater unable to think about anything besides this movie for hours afterward. 

  1. The Banshees of Inisherin
Credit: Searchlight Pictures/Film4 Productions

What do you do when a friendship has run its course and you’re no longer on the same page? The Banshees of Inisherin takes that question and shows how it can affect both sides of a broken relationship. At times hilarious, and at other times heartbreaking, Banshees transports you to 1920s Ireland and asks you to weigh the impacts of being nice for the sake of not hurting anyone’s feelings or bluntly breaking something that doesn’t work anymore. And on top of that, it asks you what is worth sacrificing in the name of legacy. It’s an interpersonal conflict that takes over a whole community, taking the story to a shocking place, but one worth taking. 

  1. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On
Credit: A24

After becoming a viral YouTube sensation in the 2010s, Marcel the Shell’s feature film debut is 90 minutes of pure, wholesome joy. Marcel takes you on a journey where you learn to  overcome your fears, find where you belong, and be comfortable with who you are. Presented as a mockumentary, it’s literally impossible not to fall in love with Marcel and have a deep emotional investment in his search for his family. This tiny shell begs us to ask what is important to us, appreciate what we have in our lives, and give into the laughter and tears that life brings us all. Hilarious and heartfelt, you don’t want to miss this. 

  1. Tár 
Credit: Focus Features

In a lot of ways, Tár is the opposite of Marcel the Shell. Tár is a complex examination of power and its corruptive tendencies. At the top of the classical orchestra world, the morally gray Lydia Tár is confronted with accusations of misconduct that threaten to bring her world crashing down. It’s much more thoughtful and complicated character study than a straightforward #MeToo story could be, especially as it’s told from a female’s perspective. 

Cate Blanchett is truly sensational in the central role, making you root for and against her at different times throughout the story. She’ll almost certainly win Best Actress at the upcoming Oscars. Tár will certainly leave you thinking about it and how you process its events for hours after it ends. 

  1. RRR
Credit: Lyca Productions/DVV Entertainment

There’s still no movie like RRR that I’ve seen in a very long time. In its three-hour runtime, this historical fiction centered around two Indian revolutionaries during British rule in the early 1900s is an action epic, a musical, a buddy comedy, an inspirational revolution saga, and a myth-building masterpiece. 

It’ll pump you full of adrenaline and leave you emotionally and physically exhausted by the end of this marathon. The visuals are stunning, the action is unmatched, and the story transfixes you from beginning to end. 

  1. Top Gun: Maverick
Credit: Paramount Pictures/Skydance Media

Still the best movie theater experience of 2022, and probably the best since 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, Maverick is truly the winner of 2022 and the savior of the theatrical movie experience this year. Tom Cruise made us believe in the power of movies again and Maverick truly is a thrill ride burstin with outstanding action, enjoyable characters and a surprisingly strong emotional core. 

This is the movie I’ve rewatched more than any other this year, and every time I have to remind myself to release the tension in my neck and shoulders during every action sequence. And Maverick finally perfected the legacy sequel formula that expertly balanced nostalgia with a fresh story all on its own. And that main Top Gun theme still rips 30 years later. 

  1. The Fabelmans
Credit: Amblin Entertainment

It shouldn’t be shocking for me to have a Spielberg movie on my top 10 list, but I absolutely adored The Fabelmans with all my heart. It’s a slightly fictionalized retelling of Spielberg’s own childhood, how he fell in love with movies, and the story of his parents’ divorce. For someone as integral to the last half century of movies, it’s certainly a story worth telling.

The movie is so sincere and sentimental, but in a way that doesn’t feel sappy or like it’s beating you over the head. It shows us the power of film, how it can reveal truths we can’t see on our own, and how we can love our families even through the complicated relationships we have with them. John Williams delivers another emotional banger of a score in a film that feels so specifically personal to Spielberg yet with an ability to connect with anyone who loves movies.

  1. Everything Everywhere All at Once
Credit: A24

Still the best movie of the year. The most interesting, the most creative, the most visually stunning, and the most emotionally cathartic. 

Our world is an overwhelming place where we’re all trying our best to survive, so how chaotic and stressful must the multiverse be? And at what point does so much matter that nothing ends up mattering? At the end of the day, we have to be grateful for what we have and who we have in our lives and do what we can to make our piece of the multiverse a better place. These are the themes at the core of EEAAO, but told in a way that is accessible, thought-provoking, and reflective for everyone.

Honorable mentions:

  • Babylon
  • Avatar: The Way of Water
  • Cha Cha Real Smooth
  • Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
  • The Northman
  • Turning Red
  • The Batman
  • See How They Run

What were your favorite movies of 2022? Let me know what you think!

Five movies I’m most excited for this fall and winter

The summer movie season is usually the apex of each year, bursting with blockbusters, explosions, action, and celebrities. This year, though, the only real winner of the summer was Top Gun: Maverick. And deservedly so! But outside of Mav, the summer didn’t have nearly the impact it usually does.

But moving into the fall and winter, it looks like we’re going to be blessed with what promises to be some truly remarkable movies. Oscar campaigning will unofficially begin, with awards hopefuls released in full force to get attention and buzz before awards season officially kicks off at the beginning of next year.

And I, for one, could not be more excited. Three of my favorite filmmakers are releasing new movies this fall, what could possibly be the best MCU movie since Avengers: Endgame is coming out, and a bunch of other exciting movies that should provide for an interesting season.

So here are the five movies I’m most excited about for the rest of the year:

  1. The Fabelmans

I’ve already made it very clear that Steven Spielberg is my favorite director of all time, so I’m obviously going to be excited for anything he does. Coming off a successful adaptation of West Side Story, The Fabelmans will be Spielberg’s most personal film yet. Based on his own childhood, it will tell the story of a boy who discovers a love of movies while navigating through complicated family dynamics.

The trailer alone already proves this will be full of Spielberg qualities – full of wonder and maybe a little bit of over-the-top cheesiness. And I cannot wait.

In theaters this Thanksgiving.

  1. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Rian Johnson’s Knives Out is one of my favorite movies ever, so I was initially nervous of the decision to turn it into a franchise, with two sequels announced by Netflix a few years ago. But after seeing the trailer – and this incredible cast – I’m so excited for this.

Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc is back, along with his iconic Kentucky drawl, but this time he’s in Greece. And honestly that’s all I need and want to know. If it’s anywhere near Knives Out, this will be an absolute blast.

On Netflix December 23.

  1. Babylon

Damien Chazelle is another director that I absolutely love. His last three movies – First Man, La La Land, and Whiplash – are all certified bangers. And now he’s coming back with Babylon, a story set in the early days of Hollywood and its many indulgences. The cast is huge and wonderful, led by Margot Robbie, Diego Calva and Brad Pitt.

Again, I don’t know much about this movie (and I really don’t want to), but I love Chazelle’s past work and I love movies about the early days of Hollywood. So sign me up for Babylon.

In theaters technically Christmas Day, but in wide release on January 6, 2023.

  1. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

The sequel to Ryan Coogler’s Oscar-winning Black Panther was always going to have a lot to live up to, given the massive worldwide success and cultural phenomenon the first movie turned out to be. But with the tragic loss of Chadwick Boseman, Wakanda Forever must pull off the seemingly impossible. The sequel must mourn the loss of its title character (and the actor who so elegantly embodied the role) and present a worthy successor to the mantle of the Black Panther. On top of that, it plans to introduce two new characters that will help shape the future of the MCU – Namor the Sub-mariner and Riri Williams, Ironheart.

Only in the hands of returning director Ryan Coogler do I trust this to work. And if done well, it will be incredibly emotional, cathartic and thrilling to see.

In theaters November 11.

  1. Don’t Worry Darling

On its own, Don’t Worry Darling seemed intriguing enough, but the real-world dynamics between the cast and director Olivia Wilde have skyrocketed this movie on every must-see list. For those of you who don’t follow entertainment news and gossip, I beg you to google an article or video explainer of the chaos that has been the Don’t Worry Darling press tour. It’s like nothing we’ve seen in a long time.

Putting that chaos aside, Florence Pugh – the star of Don’t Worry Darling – is one of my favorite actors working right now. And I loved Oliva Wilde’s last movie, Booksmart. So yes, I will be first in line to watch this – mostly because of the external drama, but the movie itself should be a wild ride, too.

In theaters September 23.

Why ‘A Bug’s Life’ is Pixar’s most underappreciated masterpiece

In 1995, Pixar burst onto the scene with one of the greatest animated movies of all time, Toy Story. Nearly 30 years and 26 films later, the studio is still a leader of animated storytelling, responsible for some of the most iconic animated movies of all time and a success ratio unmatched by nearly any other studio, with a roster that includes Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Wall-E, Ratatouille, Inside Out, Coco, Turning Red and more.

But that track record had to start somewhere. One great movie is a victory, but two great movies is a trend and sets a precedent. Three years after Toy Story, Pixar released its second feature film, A Bug’s Life – the studio’s most underappreciated masterpiece.

Out of Pixar’s first 10 years, A Bug’s Life is tragically the only movie released during that time that has not been developed into a franchise. Even so, it is foundational to the Pixar formula, planting the seeds (pun intended) of the visual ingenuity, emotional core and style of humor the studio would become famous for.

Credit: Disney/Pixar

A Bug’s Life is a gorgeous movie to watch. The way the film brings the audience down to the level of an ant and shows us what the world looks like from that perspective is incredible. Light is especially fascinating from that point of view – seeing it filtered through blades of grass and clovers and the soft neon glow that is found underground in the ant colony – just breathtaking. And the level of detail in Pixar movies has always been admirable, but in A Bug’s Life it really comes into its own. You could spend hours going through the city sequence frame by frame and find incredible details of what certain buildings are made out of or how the bugs live in this world.

The character designs are also instantly iconic. The look and design of the bugs still holds up today. The blues and purples of the ants, the shimmer on Dim’s back, Gypsy’s wings, and even the flakes of Molt’s skin are all stunning. And these characters benefited from the computer graphics more so than some characters in Toy Story because they didn’t have to look like people. Go back and look at Andy from the first Toy Story – he’s terrifying. Bugs were easier to create because they weren’t trying to look hyper realistic.

Credit: Disney/Pixar

It may not be evident on first watch, but A Bug’s Life – like most Pixar movies – deals with some pretty heavy and complex themes. Flik is an ant unlike any other – he’s innovative, forward thinking and regularly questions the status quo. His individualism causes friction between him and the rest of the colony until it nearly tears them apart. His journey, and his journey together with Princess Atta, searches for a balance between his individualism and innovative spirit with the traditions of a longstanding society. It highlights the importance of understanding the differences in each other and finding your place where you can be fully appreciated.

Likewise, the circus bugs struggle with being appreciated, especially from P.T. Flea. That disappointment leads them to their fateful meeting with Flik and their adventure to Ant Island. The culture clash that occurs between the circus bugs and the ants shows how differing perspectives can still come together and work as one. Both the circus bugs and the ant colony come to recognize the importance of community, whether it’s your true family (i.e., the colony) or the family you choose (i.e., the circus).

Community is also the key to defeating the movie’s villains, Hopper and his gang. In the climax, Flik is able to remind his colony of the power they hold when they work together – something he had to relearn himself throughout the movie. Only then are they able to overpower Hopper and scare away the rest of the grasshoppers. The ants defeat the grasshoppers not solely through physical force, but by coming together and working together as one.

(There’s certainly a reading of this movie that’s a bit more explicitly socialist – the working class overturns the ruling class/oppressors – but I don’t have time to get into all that.)

Finally, there’s the most direct and repeated theme in A Bug’s Life: “Pretend it’s a seed, okay?” Flik first introduces this idea early in the movie to the young Princess Dot, who is frustrated that she can’t fly yet or do anything important. Flik tries to explain how she’s still a seed (but it’s a rock), but with time, patience and growth, she will blossom into a giant and powerful tree. It’s a reminder that we all still have growing and learning to do, but we all have the potential for greatness.

The seed returns later after Flik has been kicked out of the colony and Dot has to convince him to come back to save them. Again, she uses the seed (well, it’s a rock) to remind Flik of the potential he has and what he can become if he returns to save the colony.

Credit: Disney/Pixar

The seed/rock runner is also one of the funniest jokes of the entire movie. And A Bug’s Life is packed full of humor, especially genius bug puns. From the very first scene, we’re introduced to this bug humor when a leaf falls (foreshadowing!) into the line of ants and they immediately panic, thinking they’ll never find their way back.

The city sequence is bursting with hilarious bug puns, from the mosquito ordering an “O positive” Bloody Mary at the bar to the slug reacting to salt in his food. And everything Richard Kind does as Hopper’s bumbling brother Molt is hysterical. Even small, one-off moments that can be easy to miss never fail to make me laugh, like that one kid ant who clearly doesn’t want to be in Mr. Soil’s play and delivers his lines with such distain.

And the bloopers! A Bug’s Life was the first of only three Pixar movies (Toy Story 2 – the best Toy Story – and Monsters Inc. are the others) to have bloopers during the end credits that act as if the characters are real actors who forget their lines, make mistakes, and have cameras, directors and boom operators behind the screen. And they’re hilarious.

While the humor is easy to find in A Bug’s Life, that notorious Pixar emotion doesn’t hit you over the head quite as hard as future movies do. There’s no “When She Loved Me” song like in Toy Story 2, no tearful goodbye to Bing Bong like in Inside Out, and certainly no sequences like the openings of Up or Finding Nemo.

But that doesn’t mean that the emotion isn’t there at all. I dare you to watch the scene after Flik returns to the colony and Hopper crashes the bird and tell me you don’t get emotional. Flik finally stands up to Hopper and simultaneously puts the grasshoppers in their place and inspires his colony (including the circus bugs) to rise up against them: “Ants don’t serve grasshoppers! It’s you who need us! We’re a lot stronger than you say we are… And you know it, don’t you?” Chills. Every time.

Likewise, in the final moments of the movie, the colony finally recognizes Flik’s talent and what he has done for them, so they break out into applause to thank him. While this is emotional in isolation, when you remember that this same colony broke out into applause earlier in the film because they were thankful Flik was leaving…that’s called growth, y’all. It’s powerful.

Credit: Disney/Pixar

I could go on and on and on about A Bug’s Life. It’s one of the most foundational movies in my life. I was 8 years old when it came out and every frame is burned into my head forever. To this day, I still get excited any time I see a praying mantis or a stick bug in the wild. I may not be quite as soft on ants anymore, but Flik, Atta and Dot are like family.

So I could go on about how genuinely thrilling the circus bugs’ rescue of Dot from the bird is; I could go on about the fascinating portrayal of gender and gender roles through Francis and the Blueberries; I could go on about the iconic and legendary voice cast; I could go on about the incredible Randy Newman score that has been stuck in my head since 1998…but I won’t.

Hopefully this has been enough to convince you that A Bug’s Life is truly a masterpiece. Revisit it if you haven’t in a while and enjoy a story about overcoming fear, being true to yourself, the importance of community and finding your place in this world. While other Pixar movies may be more famous these days, A Bug’s Life does not deserve to be forgotten. I certainly won’t let it.

Kids on Bikes: freedom and nostalgia from ‘E.T.’ to ‘Stranger Things’

When Stranger Things first premiered in 2016, it was hailed as the pinnacle of 80s nostalgia. Sure, it was set in 1983, had an iconic Stephen King-inspired opening credits, and was packed with a soundtrack of 80s classics. But what really made the show feel so perfectly in tune with that nostalgic feeling? I’d argue it was the way it leaned into the best sci-fi subgenre: “Kids on Bikes.”

Credit: Netflix

Bikes have been part of movie storytelling for decades and are often connected to kids, going all the way back to 1948’s The Bicycle Thief. But in the 1980s, the Kids on Bikes genre was truly born. And as with all great things, its origins lie with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

Undoubtedly the most iconic image from E.T. (and of all film history) is Elliott’s bike flying in front of the moon. It’s so iconic, it became the logo of Spielberg’s production company Amblin. Bikes are essential to the story of E.T., especially in the finale. And the legacy of E.T. cemented many of the traits of a Kids on Bikes story that would follow for decades to come.

Credit: Universal/Amblin

The 1980s were full of legendary installments of Kids on Bikes movies, like The Goonies, Explorers, and The Lost Boys. These movies further embedded Kids on Bikes stories within the adventure, supernatural, and science fiction genres. Most Kids on Bikes stories in the years to come would continue this trend.

Another milestone in the Kids on Bikes history is 1986’s Stand By Me. This incredible Rob Reiner film brings in the second-most important aspect of the genre: nostalgia. The story of Stand By Me is told as a flashback to 1959 from the perspective of an older version of one of the main characters. Looking back to the past becomes a crucial piece of the Kids on Bikes genre.

Nostalgia also played a major role in the few Kids on Bikes stories from the 1990s, like 1993’s The Sandlot. Like Stand By Me, The Sandlot is a nostalgia story, set in 1962. Other notable 90s Kids on Bikes stories include My Girl and Now and Then, which both use the nostalgia element of the genre while staying away from sci-fi.

Fast forwarding to the 2010s, nostalgia for the 1980s and 1990s reached an all-time high in the entertainment industry, so it’s no surprise then that Kids on Bikes stories have seen an incredible resurgence in recent years. The three biggest and purest examples of recent Kids on Bikes stories are 2011’s Super 8, 2016’s Stranger Things and 2017’s adaptation of Stephen King’s IT. All three of these stories expertly combine the sci-fi or supernatural elements with the nostalgia. More specifically, these stories are all set during the years when the Kids on Bikes genre was first formed.

Now the elements of a Kids on Bikes story are easy to notice once you’ve seen a few. As previously mentioned, most of these stories are firmly set in science fiction, supernatural, or adventure genres. All good sci-fi or supernatural stories act as metaphors for real-world experiences, and Kids on Bikes stories use aliens or monsters as metaphors for adolescence, growing up, and overcoming fears of the unknown. The kids in IT have to overcome their personal fears and traumas to defeat Pennywise, for example. And the main character in Super 8 learns to move forward through the grief of losing his mother.

Another element of Kids on Bikes stories is the unbalance in intellect between the main kid characters and their parents. Adults in these stories are either blissfully unaware of what their kids are doing or too distracted to notice. Elliott’s mom in E.T. doesn’t realize that her children are walking around with an alien covered up with a bedsheet on Halloween – even after taking their picture. Mike and Nancy Wheeler’s dad on Stranger Things literally could not care less about what is happening with his kids; by Season 4 he’s still wishing everyone would get out of his house and leave him alone. And all but one of the parents in The Goonies only show up in the movie’s final scene.

Credit: Warner Bros./Amblin

But the most important theme in a Kids on Bikes story is what the bikes themselves represent: freedom, possibility, and opportunity. Bikes in these stories allow the kids to have a sense of autonomy (aided by oblivious parents) and the ability to explore or investigate the strange things happening in their town. No matter when a Kids on Bikes story is set, that first taste of freedom and yearning to see the wider world is universal. That’s what I love about these stories – finding your place in the universe, discovering who you are, venturing out on your own and testing your limits, and maybe finding out that there’s something out there greater than you.

Credit: StudioCanal/Film4

Stranger Things will soon come to an end with Season 5, and with it, the end of a major era in the story of the Kids on Bikes genre. I have no doubt the genre will endure and continue to evolve – movies like 2011’s Attack the Block are already doing that, but that sweet spot of nostalgic 80s sci-fi will always hold a special place in my heart.

Top 6 movies of 2022 so far

It’s insane that we’re already halfway through 2022, yet here we are. It finally feels like movie theaters are climbing their way out of the pandemic hole and there are plenty of incredible movies to display. From franchise hits to original surprises, here are my top 6 movies of 2022 so far:

  1. Everything Everywhere All at Once

Move over, Doctor Strange, you’re not the only multiverse in town this year. Everything Everywhere All at Once follows Evelyn, a Chinese American laundromat owner and her family as they are swept away into an adventure to save the multiverse. Along the way, they discover the importance of family, love, acceptance, and a universe where everyone has hot dogs for fingers.

One of the most surprising movies in my recent memory, EEAAO really leans into the endless opportunities a multiversal story provides. The cast of this movie is spectacular, but Michelle Yeoh is a powerhouse, perfectly balancing the wackiness with the emotional core.

  1. RRR

A three-hour marathon of historical fiction centered around two Indian revolutionaries during British rule in the early 1900s, RRR (Rise, Roar, Revolt) is an action epic, a musical, a buddy comedy, an inspirational saga, and a mythologic masterpiece.

It’s difficult to put into words what it’s like to watch this movie. I was transfixed. Movies like RRR make you fall in love with cinema all over again. The visuals are breathtaking, and it has so much adrenaline and emotion throughout – in some ways it’s exhausting, but it also revs you up and makes you want to fight a tiger after it’s over.

  1. Top Gun: Maverick

Leave it to Tom Cruise to save movie theaters and perfect the legacy sequel. I like the original Top Gun well enough, but Maverick is astonishingly good. It fully embodies the spirit of the original while catching up with the original cast, introducing likable new characters you can emotionally invest in, and telling a simple, self-contained story. And with more than a billion dollars at the box office already, it’s clearly the most crowd-pleasing movie of the year.

The advancements in camera technology easily elevate the action sequences in Maverick over the original film – well, that and Tom Cruise’s unquenchable thirst to find ways to potentially kill himself filming practical stunts and effects. The aerial sequences are stunning, and I had to consciously remind myself to relax and release the tension throughout my body because they were so gripping. The need for speed is alive!

  1. The Batman

I’ve already written at length about how this movie finally made me understand and love Batman and how he finally felt like the main character of his own movie. I love the vibe and tone of The Batman, and Robert Pattinson’s emo-style Bruce Wayne realistically feels like a guy who would put on a bat suit and fight crime at night. Zoe Kravitz’s captivating Catwoman and Paul Dano’s truly terrifying Riddler perfectly complement Pattinson’s energy and lend believability to the residents of Matt Reeves’s Gotham.

  1. The Northman

The first half of 2022 has delivered some fantastic new action movies, and The Northman is one of the best. The entire movie vibrates with a primal brutality through a story that feels elemental and mythic.

Based on the same Scandinavian legend that inspired Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Northman is a story of revenge. Stunning visuals accompany our hero on his journey through love, horror, victory, and defeat. The action is loud, ruthless, and propulsive. It’s a visual feast and the core revenge plot is full of twists and surprises that makes for a thrilling watch.

  1. Cha Cha Real Smooth

Growing up is hard, and your 20s are an especially weird time. Writer, director, and star Cooper Raiff   perfectly portrays that awkwardness and what it’s like to learn some harsh truths about the real world in Cha Cha Real Smooth. Raiff plays Andrew, a recent college graduate who moves back home and navigates his way through friendships, family, and hopeless romance.

Normally I’d only do a top 5 list, but I loved this movie so much so I couldn’t leave it off. Andrew is clearly a dumb, often selfish, and undriven 22-year-old, but he has a compassionate heart for the people he grows to care about. Dakota Johnson is mysterious and captivating, but the real breakout is Vanessa Burghardt, who plays Johnson’s daughter with autism. The cast combined with Cooper Raiff’s style of dry humor that sits right in my sweet spot makes this an instant favorite.

‘Top Gun: Maverick’ and what makes a good legacy sequel

If you had told me at the beginning of the year that one of the best movies of 2022 would be a sequel to Top Gun, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. I like the original Top Gun well enough in a cheesy, product of the 80s kind of way, but it’s certainly not one of the masterpieces of cinema history. But Top Gun: Maverick is objectively a great movie.

The latest in the current trend of legacy sequels, Top Gun: Maverick may have finally cracked the code. It’s a thrill ride from beginning to end with the perfect balance of callbacks to the original while introducing new characters and stories.

If you’re not familiar, legacy sequels are movies that are set and released a decade or more after an original film or franchise. In many ways, a legacy sequel is a soft reboot, giving you connection to what came before while setting up new heroes. Think Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Creed, or Blade Runner 2049. They’re built on a strong foundation of nostalgia but with the opportunity to take these stories to new places and fill out the worlds our favorite characters inhabit.

Another major element of legacy sequels is the return of beloved characters and actors from the original work. Tom Cruise returns in Top Gun: Maverick, Sylvester Stallone returns as Rocky in Creed, Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum return in Jurassic World: Dominion, Jamie Lee Curtis returns in Halloween, and Harrison Ford returns in The Force Awakens, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Blade Runner 2049 (Ford really is the franchise king, isn’t he?). These returning characters often act as mentors to the new faces – one of which is often the child of an original character – that are brought in to lead the franchise.  

So what do we really want from a legacy sequel? Ultimately, we want a good story that brings us back to a world we love. The biggest hurdle legacy sequels have is a proof of concept – what has happened to these characters or this universe in the past 10, 20, or 30 years that makes this a story worth telling? Or what new perspective can you bring to this franchise? Outside of that, it needs its own story to tell. It can’t feel like a retread of the original movie or get bogged down by callbacks to references from the past. A legacy sequel should be able to stand next to the original, not in the original’s shadow.

Credit: Paramount/Skydance

In Maverick, the legacy aspect of the story centers around Rooster, Goose’s son, who is now a Top Gun graduate as well. We learn there is a tense history between Rooster and Maverick, not only because of Goose’s death, but because of events that happened between films. For me, that’s an interesting proof of concept and a story worth telling. How does Maverick reconcile his lingering guilt over Goose’s death with his mission directive and strained relationship with Rooster? These questions hang heavy over an otherwise simple story: develop a team capable of completing a seemingly impossible mission (lol).

But then look at something like Space Jam: A New Legacy. While having “legacy” in its title, it completely fails at being a legacy sequel. The Looney Tunes are the only character that return from the original movie, but it’s almost as if the Space Jam never happened. There’s no nostalgia, callbacks or continuation of that story. A New Legacy is more interested in being a 2-hour commercial for Warner Bros.’ IP catalogue than a true legacy sequel to Space Jam.  

Legacy sequels must also compliment the tone of the original story and feel like they take place in the same universe. Maverick does this perfectly. The opening of the movie is nearly identical to the original, dropping us right back into the vibe from the 80s. It’s a world where the sun is somehow always at golden hour and adults play sports on the beach in jeans. And the rest of the movie matches Top Gun’s overly machismo tone while natural updating areas that may not have aged as well.

Now take Ghostbusters: Afterlife. This legacy sequel has such a stark tonal shift from the first two Ghostbusters movies that it doesn’t feel like it exists in the same world. Afterlife takes itself so seriously, putting too much weight on the mythology of the series and not leaning into the comedic tone of the original. The original characters are spoken about like they’re godlike figures, not just four average guys. And the original cast’s appearance in the movie is nothing more than a glorified cameo with a gratuitous CGI resurrection of Harold Ramis that offers nothing to the story.

Legacy sequels are made in the first place because audiences have such a love and connection to the original stories. That’s why legacy sequels have to walk such a fine line between references to, recreations of, or remakes of iconic moments or storylines. Maverick certainly has its fair share of callbacks to the original Top Gun, from the way Maverick gets to Top Gun, the surprise instructor, the tension between two top pilots, the beach sports scene and even “Great Balls of Fire.” But the way Maverick uses these callbacks puts them in a new light and uses them to tell its own story.

Other legacy sequels have leaned too hard on recreating moments or plot points from the previous movie. Coming 2 America reuses many of the same jokes from the first movie. Jurassic World has the same general structure as Jurassic Park but increases the tension by including thousands of tourists. And the final act of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is eerily close to a copy-and-paste of the Death Star attack in A New Hope, complete with trench run. These references and recreations alone don’t make a legacy sequel bad, but it’s such a fine line to tread between honoring the past and moving the story forward in a natural, exciting way.

Legacy sequels are here to stay, at least for a while, it seems. Good legacy sequels stand confidently next to their original, letting us check in with beloved characters and introducing us to new favorites. Often they’ll make us appreciate the original movies in a new way. Top Gun: Maverick certainly does this and sets a new bar for legacy sequels. Tom Cruise is doing his part to save movie theaters and you should too by going to see Top Gun: Maverick!

Top 10 favorite Spielberg movies

If you walked up to any random stranger on the street and asked them to name a movie director, I’d bet 9 out of 10 would say Steven Spielberg. The most commercially successful director in the past sixty years, he single-handedly invented the modern blockbuster and has produced some of the most iconic movies of all time. He’s even responsible for the PG-13 movie rating when the second Indiana Jones movie and Gremlins (which Spielberg produced) were deemed a little too dark and intense for kids.

It may sound like a boring answer, but Spielberg is by far my favorite director. He’s proven to be an expert at both crowd-pleasing blockbusters and thoughtful, historical dramas. While not every single one of his movies is a hit, he always finds a way to inject the stories he tells with heart. And no one is better at exuberant adventure stories than him. The burst of emotion in all Spielberg’s movies are heightened by the otherworldly soundtracks from John Williams, who has scored all but five of Spielberg’s movies.

Ranking my favorite Spielberg movies is an almost impossible task – the top three below could honestly be in any order – but here are my 10 favorites from the legend himself:

  1. Jurassic Park (1993)
Copyright Universal Pictures, Amblin Entertainment

Jurassic Park is a perfect movie. The thing that stands out most nearly 30 years later(!!) is how incredible the special effects still are. Those dinosaurs look real. That skill, combined with a wonderful cast, make this movie hum with excitement from beginning to end. The way the movie so seamlessly transitions from the wonder and awe of an adventure movie to a horror movie – it’s easy to see the DNA (no pun intended) of Jaws in Jurassic Park, particularly in the deployment of the T-rex. The initial T-rex attack in the rain is one of the single greatest sequences in film history.

The characters in Jurassic Park mean the world to me. Tim is one of my favorite child characters ever, from his never-ending questions to his “do-you-think-he-saurus” jokes to his sad “I threw up” after the T-rex attack. I love Lex’s computer skills and the way she shakes the Jell-O when the raptors show up in the kitchen. Laura Dern’s Dr. Sattler is an icon and Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm is the internet meme that keeps on giving.

And yes, that John Williams score is masterful.

  1. Jaws (1975)
Copyright Universal Pictures

What is there to say about Jaws that hasn’t already been said? It’s one of the most important movies of the past 60 years, creating the template for summer blockbusters that we still follow today. The way Spielberg teases the shark (along with the iconic John Williams theme) before the big reveal never ceases to amaze. Jaws is a horror movie that you don’t realize is a horror movie, but it perfectly escalates the tension in the first half of the story and creates an air of fear and anxiety among the characters and the audience.

You’re always going to need a bigger boat.

  1. E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982)
Copyright Universal Pictures, Amblin Entertainment

No movie has more consistently made me cry on every rewatch than the last 10-15 minutes of E.T. I have such a strange history with this movie – I watched it as a kid, but my sister was so terrified of E.T. that we never watched it again, so it didn’t make a big impression on me. Then I remember going on the E.T. ride at Universal Studios, which left a surprisingly strong impression in my mind.

But watching E.T. again as an adult, especially after fully recognizing my true love of movies from the 1980s, something just clicked. This story about a sad, lonely boy and a scared, lonely alien finding and learning to understand each other pulls at your heartstrings in just the right way. It’s a story about finding your place in the universe, family and home.

Like Jurassic Park, E.T. expertly and subtly switches genres from coming-of-age adventure, through a horror detour and ending up as an escape movie. It’s wonderful. And shoutout to Henry Thomas, whose performance as Elliot is superb.

E.T. telling Elliot “I’ll be right here” in the finale just completely breaks me every single time.

  1. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Copyright Paramount, Lucasfilm

The first four movies on this list are all certified masterpieces. The Indiana Jones franchise perfected the adventure movie, gave Harrison Ford a second spot on the greatest movie characters of all time list, and is responsible for yet another iconic John Williams movie theme.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is packed full of humor, action and horror with memorable villains, the incomparable Marion Ravenwood and the Ark of the Covenant. It’s timeless and classic, feeling connected to both Casablanca and modern-day superhero movies.

Indy would be Spielberg’s first and (other than The Lost World) only franchise he’d return to, and it’s easy to see how much he loved these characters and this world.

  1. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Copyright Columbia Pictures

Spielberg followed up his story about the horror below us in Jaws with the possibilities above us in Close Encounters. Like E.T. a few years later, the aliens in Close Encounters did not come to Earth for invasion, but rather communication. The mystery unfolds slowly in the first half of the movie with sequences both awe-inspiring (Barry opening the door to the alien lights) and hilarious (Neary throwing plants inside his kitchen window).

By the time the main characters reach Wyoming, the action quickens until the world seems to stand still during the “conversation” with the mother ship. John Williams’ score plays such an integral role in the finale that unites humanity and the aliens in perfect harmony.

  1. Schindler’s List (1993)
Copyright Universal Pictures, Amblin Entertainment

Schindler’s List is clearly not a “fun” movie to watch, but it’s probably the most important movie Spielberg ever made. I almost didn’t include it on my list because it’s not necessarily a favorite, but it is undeniably one of the best movies Spielberg has ever made.

The true story of a man who saved over a thousand Jews from the Nazis during World War II, Schindler’s List is harrowing. I personally haven’t watched it since high school, but there are images that I can still recall because of how powerful they are.

It’s essential viewing for anyone.

  1. Catch Me If You Can (2002)
Copyright DreamWorks Pictures, Amblin Entertainment

The wildly true story of a teenage conman, Catch Me If You Can thrives on the electric energy of its two leads, Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks. It’s a thrilling cat-and-mouse game that hides a deep loneliness and sadness within its main character. While he’s running from the law, DiCaprio’s Frank Abagnale is also clearly running from himself. Spielberg expertly strikes the balance between the Frank’s antics and his personal struggles.

Like so many of Spielberg’s movies, Catch Me If You Can is about family, especially complex families. It’s exciting and dramatic, somber and entertaining.

  1. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Copyright Paramount, Amblin Entertainment

In some ways, Saving Private Ryan is a companion piece to Schindler’s List. Also set during World War II, Saving Private Ryan shows the horrors of war and the impact on those sent to fight in it.

It goes without saying at this point that the opening D-Day sequence completely revolutionized war movies. Spielberg puts the audience in the middle of the chaos and just lets it play out around us. Once you’re out of breath and exhausted from the cacophony, we follow a tired crew sent out on a rescue mission. Saving Private Ryan shows the value of a single life and brings a world war to a personal level.

  1. The Adventures of Tintin (2011)
Copyright Paramount, Amblin Entertainment

Spielberg’s only animated feature, The Adventures of Tintin is a delightful adventure that feels like a spiritual cousin to Indiana Jones. Based on the Tintin comics, the movie follows the titular hero and an old sea captain in search of a lost treasure.

Tintin uses a mix of motion capture and computer-generated animation, but the movie finds the perfect balance between realism and keeping the cartoonish look of its characters. Unlike other motion capture movies like The Polar Express, there’s a fluidity to the characters’ movement and not so much of an uncanny valley in their expressions.

The action in Tintin is superb. In particular, there’s an extended one-shot chase sequence that’s spectacular to watch. It’s clear Spielberg reveled in the opportunity to make an animated movie with complete freedom of where he could place his camera. Tintin is certainly one of Spielberg’s most underrated movies, so definitely give it a watch.

  1. West Side Story (2021)
Copyright 20th Century Studios, Amblin Entertainment

I’ve already talked about how much I love Spielberg’s West Side Story remake. The updates made to the source material elevate the story and supporting characters, the cast is sensational, the choreography is mesmerizing, and just about every other aspect of the movie is outstanding.

Only a director like Spielberg could direct his first musical as his 33rd movie and make it look so easy and also direct a remake of a classic, award-winning musical and somehow make it better. He knows how to capture and highlight the choreography and emotion in each scene. From the dance hall scene to “America,” each song is a highlight.

Honorable mentions:

Although I’ve listed my 10 favorite movies already, I just had to shout out a few more.

A.I.: Artificial Intelligence is a surprisingly deep story about humanity and love that is driven by an outstanding Haley Joel Osment performance. Minority Report is one of the best action movies I’ve ever seen and has such a unique look and vibe throughout. The Terminal is another spectacular Tom Hanks performance and a much more emotional journey than you’d expect.