How “The Batman” finally made me love Batman

I’ve never really ~gotten~ Batman. And this isn’t even a Marvel vs. DC thing – I’ve really liked Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash and Green Arrow portrayals before. I just never thought Batman was that interesting of a character. So when it was announced that The Batman was coming (the tenth live-action appearance of the character since 1989 played by the sixth new actor), I was skeptical to say the least.

I’ll admit I don’t have the longest history with Batman. I never read comic books growing up or watched any of the animated series. I’m pretty sure my first cinematic Batman experience was Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. Since then, I’ve gone back and watched the Tim Burton and Joel Shumacher’s films from the 80s and 90s. And boy are they a mixed bag.

Part of my problem with Batman is that he never feels like the main character of his own stories or even the most interesting part. He’s always been upstaged by his villains. What comes to mind first when you think about The Dark Knight? Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker. Tom Hardy’s Bane is the most talked about aspect of The Dark Knight Rises. Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer and Danny DeVito steal the show right out from under Michael Keaton in Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns. Even the much-maligned Shumacher movies had actors turning in memorable villainous performances, like Jim Carrey’s Riddler or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze.

So I’d never been able to connect to Batman and Bruce Wayne as a character or found a way to fully invest in his journey.  

Until now.

Copyright: Warner Bros.

Matt Reeves’s The Batman stars Robert Pattinson as the titular caped crusader. Something about this version finally clicked for me. This Batman is the youngest we’ve ever seen him in a movie, and maybe that’s part of what works so well. He’s still figuring things out and learning to balance the Bat with Bruce. The film also leans more heavily into Batman’s skills as a detective than most other movies which gives us a new layer to Bruce that we haven’t seen much before.

In The Batman, Bruce Wayne feels like a real character. He’s a loner that doesn’t really seem to like people but is driven (initially) by this unquenchable thirst for vengeance against the criminals of Gotham. And he’s such a weirdo – the guy puts on sunglasses inside while eating breakfast because the sun is too bright. He’s also still clearly haunted by his past, so it doesn’t feel like much of a stretch for this Bruce to dress up in a bat costume and go out hunting criminals at night.

Since this is a younger Batman than we’ve seen before, he’s still learning and making mistakes. This gives him the opportunity to have an actual character arc with growth throughout the movie. At the beginning, he introduces himself to criminals as “Vengeance.” Even people he’s rescuing aren’t sure he’s not going to hurt them too. Batman’s journey through this movie shows him the different choices he must make to fully set himself apart from villains like Riddler – to make himself a symbol of hope, not fear.

One of the reasons that emotional journey works so well is because of Robert Pattinson. He’s incredible in this movie. The acting he does just with his eyes is chill inducing. The design of his mask allows his eyes to stand out so distinctly and be used for maximum impact.

Another excellent choice Pattinson makes for his Batman is his Bat-voice. We’re all familiar with Christian Bale’s capital-A Acting choices he made with his deep Bat-voice so much so that it became a meme (I bet good money you can hear him yelling “Where is she!?” or “Swear to me!” right now). Pattinson certainly makes a change between the way he speaks as Bruce Wayne voice and Batman, but it’s not so gruff or jarring. He still sounds human and is generally soft-spoken as Batman, keeping a level of humanity under the mask.

Another one of my favorite parts of The Batman was the design of Gotham, which is a perfect mix of real-world and comic book vibes. There are clear New York similarities (a Times Square-esque area and Gotham Square Garden), but it’s not clearly an existing city like the Gotham of the Dark Knight trilogy. And while I love the gothic look of Burton’s Gotham, it clearly feels like a studio set most of the time.  

And speaking of gothic vibes, Wayne Manor in The Batman is a gothic dream. The little we see of Bruce’s home is breathtaking. It matches the aesthetic of Pattinson’s Batman and I hope we get to see more of it in future movies.

The design of Batman himself is the best I’ve ever seen. The Batsuits of the 80s and 90s were clearly too rubbery, and even Christian Bale’s Batsuits never really felt like it fit in his world. (Honestly, the Batsuit that Ben Affleck’s Batman wears in the Snyderverse is pretty good.)

Pattinson’s Batsuit feels tactical and realistic while still having a homemade feel. The suit is covered in pockets to store tech and he clearly stashes part of his suit in a backpack he wears when riding his motorcycle, which is just a great detail. But my favorite detail about this Batman is the black eye makeup Bruce puts on underneath his mask. Seeing the makeup smeared on his face after he takes the mask off gives another level of realization that Bruce is just a guy putting this suit on every night, making him simultaneously relatable and something apart from the rest of us.

Copyright: Warner Bros.

But the true scene-stealer of this Batman’s arsenal is his instantly iconic Batmobile. It’s intimidating and terrifying – perfect to strike fear in the hearts of Batman’s enemies. The way the Batmobile is introduced and used in The Batman feels more in line with a horror movie and the chase sequence that follows is masterful.

Pattinson’s Batman is surrounded by a phenomenal supporting cast. The update to the Riddler in The Batman has created maybe one of the most terrifying villains ever put in a superhero movie? He’s modeled after the real-world Zodiac killer with shades of other serial killers and online extremists. And Zoe Kravitz perfects the femme fatale nature of Catwoman, slinking in and out of Batman’s mission with her own goals and desires.

Copyright: Warner Bros.

But like I said before, this is truly Batman’s story. He is the central character and Pattinson brings such a weight and presence any time he’s on screen. So thank you, Robert Pattinson and Matt Reeves, for finally helping me ~get~ Batman.

Top 10 favorite movies of 2021

The world slowly tried to crawl back to a sense of normalcy in 2021, despite COVID and her variants continuing to rampage across the globe. Movie theaters and studios were desperate to get new movies in front of people, and this year’s releases really did not disappoint. With so many movies being delayed last year, 2021 was overflowing with great stories, from major blockbusters to indie dramas.

Here are my top 10 movies released in 2021: 

  1. Barb and Star Go to Vista del Mar
Credit: Lionsgate

What more can I say about Barb and Star? Sometimes you watch a movie that connects with you on such a personal and spiritual level that you can’t put it into words. This movie is 107 minutes of pure serotonin. Kristin Wiig and Annie Mumolo are perfect as these middle-aged Midwestern gal pals. Masterpiece.

  1. West Side Story
Credit: 20th Century Studios/Amblin

Only Steven Spielberg could remake a beloved classic Oscar-winning musical and somehow make it better. His West Side Story is phenomenal. It builds out the world of the story, adds depth to side characters to make them feel more significant and highlights the class and racial tensions that existed in the original story but somehow feel more relevant today. And despite never having directed a musical before, Spielberg really knows how to direct a musical. Every song is staged so beautifully and the talented cast shines.

And what a cast it is! Rachel Zegler (in her first film role ever) is the true standout. She embodies Maria completely and is a joy to watch. Ariana DuBose and Mike Faist also knock it out of the park as Anita and Riff. This movie is full of energy – the songs are just as iconic as they always have been, and there’s enough homage to the original while still feeling fresh and new.

  1. Dune
Credit: Legendary Pictures

DUUUUUUUUNE. Good grief, what a movie. Based on the foundational 1960s sci-fi book, Dune is the story of Paul who arrives on a new planet with his family to mine a precious resource called spice. Chaos ensues between Paul’s family, the natives of this new world and the planet’s former rulers while Paul begins to discover his true destiny.  

Dune is a massive and expansive sci-fi experience. Coming off other bangers like Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, director Denis Villeneuve has solidified his position as the master of high-concept science fiction. Dune is a visual feast – even if most of the movie takes place in varying shades of desert brown. The cast is truly magnificent, and the Hans Zimmer score is unlike anything I’ve heard before. The continuation of this story cannot come soon enough.  

  1. C’mon C’mon
Credit: A24

This movie stole my heart. It’s about an uncle who volunteers to look after his 9-year-old nephew while his sister is out of town for a few weeks and how they learn from each other. C’mon C’mon is such a beautifully simple story, but it’s the most human and heartfelt movie I saw all year. I have a nephew that’s almost 3 right now and I would do absolutely anything for him, so this movie felt personally made for me. Joaquin Phoenix is fantastic, but Woody Norman completely steals every scene as Jesse. He’s delightful.

The movie also has an interesting subplot where Joaquin Phoenix’s character goes around to different cities and interviews kids about their thoughts and feelings about life and the future. The perspective children have of what the world is and what it could be is always fascinating to hear.

  1. The French Dispatch
Credit: Searchlight

2021 was the year I fell in love with Wes Anderson. He has such a unique style and vibe to his movies that I’ve become obsessed with. His latest movie, The French Dispatch, feels like the most Wes Anderson-movie while still being a unique undertaking. It centers on a small New Yorker-style magazine in Paris and visually presents its latest issue through three feature stories all distinct from each other.

All the hallmarks of a Wes Anderson movie are there, but the structure of the movie keeps you on your toes and never lets you get bored. The cast is overflowing with some of the most talented actors of our time, many of whom show up just for a few moments to steal the show and then disappear. It’s truly a wonderful experience and unlike any other movie you’ll see this year.   

  1. CODA
Credit: Pathe/Apple

CODA, which stands for Child of Deaf Adults, is the story of Ruby, the only hearing member of her family, and her struggle between duty to her family’s business and her dreams of becoming a singer – something her family can never fully appreciate. Since she is the only one in her family who can hear, she feels an additional weight to stay and be an interpreter between them and the people living around them.

So many young people struggle to balance their duty to family and their desires to be their own person and follow their dreams. CODA puts that familiar story through a lens that is not often seen on screen. Our world was designed for hearing people, so even the smallest glimpse at a family like the one in CODA can really change your perspective. And there’s so much love in this family – it’s a beautiful story about love, letting go and being true to yourself. 

  1. Licorice Pizza
Credit: MGM/Bron

I’m fascinated by “hang out” movies – the kind of movies where on the surface you can say “this movie is boring, there’s no plot…” But you’d be wrong. Movies like Licorice Pizza are such great vibe movies. They allow you to settle in and just exist with these characters. Licorice Pizza follows a high school student and child actor as he chases success and the attention of a young woman and how their lives change as they grow together.

The movie is also set in the early 1970s, so the costumes and music featured are a joy to behold. 2021 had a number of first-time actors that truly crushed their performances – like Rachel Zegler in West Side Story – and the two leads of Licorice Pizza, Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman, are also at the top of that list. They’re captivating, real and so fun to watch.  

  1. Judas and the Black Messiah
Credit: Warner Bros.

It’s hard to believe this movie came out this year. It came out early enough to be nominated for a handful of Oscars – Daniel Kaluuya even won Best Supporting Actor for his incredible performance. But to watch this movie in 2021 is a little haunting because of how relevant its story and themes still are today. Judas tells the story of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton (the “Black Messiah”) and the undercover FBI agent charged with infiltrating his ranks and bringing him down (“Judas”). It’s a powerful story anchored by Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield’s stellar performances.

  1. The Mitchells vs. the Machines
Credit: Netflix

No, I did not put this movie in my top 10 just because it has my name in the title. But it certainly didn’t hurt.

The Mitchells vs the Machines is the latest animated movie from the team behind Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and The Lego Movie. The animation style is so unique and often chaotic, but it supports the insanity of the Mitchell family and the situations they find themselves in (the Furby scene is a masterpiece).

It’s an animated movie that works well for adults as well as kids, especially when it looks at the way technology has affected our lives – for good and for bad. But the movie’s heart shines as well. Mixed in with the robot apocalypse plot is the story about a family who’s learning how to grow together and understand each other as their kids get older. The zany robot antics are fun, but the family is what makes this movie click and elevates it to another level.

  1. The Power of the Dog
Credit: Netflix

It’s difficult to explain The Power of the Dog – it’s one of those movies where the less you know about it going in, the more you’ll get out of it. The Power of the Dog is a slow-burn western set in 1920s Montana and follows a family as they explore love and power dynamics. The movie winds through twists and turns, keeping you guessing and building anxiety until its shocking final moments.

Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons and Kodi Smit-McPhee lead this cast and all four of them give knock-out performances – each one of them could possibly be nominated for Oscars this year.

Top 10 favorite movies I watched for the first time in 2021

Man, I love movies. There are so many incredible stories that have been told. Discovering a new favorite movie is an indescribable feeling. From true masterpieces to cult classics, I have so many movies left to see, but I’m slowly filling in the gaps.

I have a lot of older movies still to see, either because I wasn’t alive when they were released or I wasn’t interested in them growing up because they weren’t The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Harry Potter or released by Disney.

So here are 10 of my favorite movies I watched for the first time in 2021:

1. Streets of Fire (1984)

I am obsessed with Streets of Fire. It’s everything to me. I’ve always been a sucker for 80s movies and this one is possibly the crown jewel – a beautiful disaster.

Streets of Fire is a 1980s pop-rock musical set in a strange, alternate reality that looks like both the 1980s and 1950s. A biker gang led by Willem Defoe kidnaps popstar Diane Lane and her ex-boyfriend – who has the personality of a plank of wood – must rescue her and deal with her annoying, sleazy manager (the incomparable Rick Moranis). It’s truly a sight to behold. But the songs are completely amazing. It is the dumbest, most fun 90 minutes you’ll have watching a movie.

2. Fargo (1996)

Set in the desolate frozen wasteland of…North Dakota and Minnesota, Fargo tells the story of a kidnapping gone wrong and the police chief determined to find the truth. Fargo is a dark delight and a great surprise to watch. Everyone goes 110% on the Midwestern accents here, and I could listen to seven more hours just of these characters talking to each other.

The movie is driven by a trio of powerhouse performances from Frances McDormand, William H. Macy and Steve Buscemi that really take this comedy to the next level. Even surrounded by kidnappings, criminals and murder, there’s a wonderful midwestern charm in Fargo (and the surrounding cities that feature in the story).

3. The Adventures of Tintin (2011)

As I made my way through Steven Spielberg’s filmography this year, The Adventures of Tintin was certainly the biggest surprise. Spielberg’s only animated movie is an expertly crafted adventure movie and feels like a spiritual sequel to Spielberg’s own Indiana Jones movies. Based on the famous comic strip, the story follows young investigative journalist Tintin and Captain Haddock as they search for a lost treasure. There are great laughs, fantastic action sequences, dramatic reveals and a dog sidekick. What more could you want?

The team that made this movie is truly insane too: produced by Peter Jackson (director of The Lord of the Rings), music by John Williams, and a script by Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim and Baby Driver) and Steven Moffat (Doctor Who and Sherlock).

4. The Before trilogy (1995, 2004, 2013)

Relationships can be hard, beautiful, messy and wonderful. The Before trilogy explores stages of relationships over an 18-year period. These movies are breathtaking and incredibly engaging – even if the plot of all three mostly involve two characters connecting through conversation.

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy star in the trilogy, and it’s easy to forget they’re acting most of the time. You believe in these characters and want them to find happiness. Their story begins in Before Sunrise when they meet on a train and spontaneously get off in Vienna to spend the day together. It’s so simple, yet the main characters are so complex and interesting, connecting through shared experiences and learning through their differences.

Two sequels, Before Sunset and Before Midnight, each come nine years after the previous installment. I won’t spoil how the story unfolds, but the Before trilogy is a beautiful journey through time and love, showcasing the highs and lows of relationships and the balance between the reality and hope of living a life together.  

5. Sunset Boulevard (1950)

“All right, Mr. DeMille…I’m ready for my closeup.”

There’s something so mesmerizing about classic Hollywood. Sunset Boulevard shows both the glory and darkness of the early days of the industry. Former silent movie star Norma Desmond looks to make her grand comeback to talking pictures with the help of a young screenwriter. Full of questions about pride, jealousy, success, relevancy and holding onto the past, Sunset Boulevard is truly one of the greatest movies of all time.

6. Pride & Prejudice (2005)

Two movies on my list come from the Kiera Knightley-led period drama hall of fame. Knightly is the undisputed queen of the genre, and Pride & Prejudice is one of her best. Based on the famous Jane Austen novel, it’s one of the greatest stories ever told, and Knightley and the rest of the cast bring such a joy and warmth to the story.

Matthew Macfayden’s Mr. Darcy is almost cartoonishly cold at the beginning, but the way he slowly thaws thanks to Knightley’s Elizabeth Bennet is truly wonderful. So much can be said by a look or the flex of a hand. And the world surrounding these two is just as delightful, from the gruff but supportive father of five girls, to the nervous suitor, to the rebellious younger sister. All told with the most gorgeous sets, costumes and locations you’ve ever seen.

7. My Cousin Vinny (1992)

What an incredible movie. I know Joe Pesci made his name in serious mob and gangster movies, but his comedy roles are some of my favorites (see also: Home Alone). My Cousin Vinny is one of his best performances, starring as a lawyer (barely) from Brooklyn who gets called down to Alabama to help his cousin and his friend who were wrongly arrested for murder.

Pesci is great, as is the Karate Kid himself, Ralph Macchio, but the true star of this movie is Marissa Tomei. Her final courtroom scene is one of the greatest moments captured on film and one of the most deserved Oscar wins of all time.

I love that this is set in Alabama, and the fish-out-of-water/culture clash tropes work spectacularly and provide plenty of laughs.

8. Atonement (2007)

Have two people ever been as attractive in a movie than Kiera Knightley and James McAvoy are in Atonement? This incredible love story draws you in immediately and had me hooked the entire time. Also in the Kiera Knightley period drama hall of fame, Atonement is full of longing, drama, the library scene and a tiny Saoirse Ronan. For those who are not familiar with this story, you can’t be prepared for the ending. I won’t spoil anything, but I couldn’t stop thinking about this movie for days after I watched it.

9. Almost Famous (2000)

I’ve always loved the 1980s, especially the music, but after watching Almost Famous, I think I love 1970s music just as much. This movie is wonderful but watching it for the soundtrack alone is worth it. Good grief, there are some incredible songs in this movie, including a transcendent Elton John moment.

In Almost Famous, an aspiring teenage music journalist gets the opportunity of a lifetime to travel around with a rock band. During his time with the group, he becomes friends with the members and some of their groupies, getting a front-row seat to the bright and dark moments of a life on the road. Patrick Fugit, Billy Crudup and Kate Hudson are fantastic in their lead roles and there are a number of surprise guest appearances throughout. I really love this movie.

10. Speed (1994)

Sometimes all you need is Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock and a bus that can’t slow down to have a heck of a good time, right?

But in all seriousness, this might be the pinnacle of 90s action movies?

How I learned to watch horror movies

For most of my life I’ve been staunchly been anti-horror movie. I find no entertainment in being scared – the “adrenaline rush” people say they feel from a jump scare activates my fight or flight that usually just turns into panic and anxiety. I have historically avoided scary movies, haunted houses and horror-adjacent events during the month of October for pretty much my entire life.

But over the past couple of years as I’ve expanded my movie horizons and filled important in gaps in my movie history, I could only avoid horror movies for so long. Sure, I had seen a handful of horror movies over the years – I watched The Shining and the Scream movies with some friends in college, but I wasn’t ready to fully dive in at that point.

So since spooky season is once again upon us, here are some tricks I’ve learned in teaching myself to appreciate and even enjoy horror movies.

1: It’s just a movie!

You hear this argument a lot when horror experts are trying to convert a new fan. It certainly won’t always work, but one thing that has worked for me is understanding more about how movies are made. As I’ve slowly become more film literate, I can enjoy a movie on two levels: the story it’s telling and the mechanics behind the camera. I can see directing choices, notice editing, cinematography, and other behind-the-scenes details. I’ve found it’s helpful to focus on those details sometimes when watching a scary movie as it takes away some of the mystery and atmosphere of the plot itself. It reminds you that it’s just a movie, not something that can happen in real life.

This can be especially easy in a lot of older horror movies, because characters within these movies stereotypically make terrible choices that no rational human would and decisions that lead them directly in the path of the villain. So point those bad decisions out. Yell at the characters on the screen. Tell them how dumb they’re being. It makes you feel smarter than they are and make you believe you wouldn’t do those same things if you were in their position.

2: Know what you’re getting yourself into

Like any good horror movie final girl going into the climactic confrontation with the villain, it’s best to be prepared. Knowing what to expect can help soften the blow of jump scares or other intense scenes. Don’t be ashamed to read the Wikipedia synopsis of a movie before you start.

Listen to the music too. Often, the soundtrack will either get very quiet or start to become louder and more intense before a big jump scare or big reveal.  

And there’s safety in numbers. Watching horror movies with friends who have seen them before can help because they’ll let you know when the scariest moments are coming up and can help make fun of character decisions with you.

3: Know your limits

“Horror” is a broad movie genre and there are a bunch of sub-categories that can be more accessible to those who don’t like traditional horror films. Start with something that you may not even realize is a horror movie, like Jaws, Gremlins, Little Shop of Horrors or The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Or go even easier with Disney’s Halloweentown or Hocus Pocus. There are plenty of tame horror movies you can dip your toe into without having to jump into the deep end with something like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

There’s a ton of great horror comedies that balance out the scares with hilarious moments. This sub-genre has especially gotten popular in recent years and is one of my favorites. Movies like Zombieland, Ready or Not, Happy Death Day and The Babysitter give you enough horror moments but lean heavily on comedy to lighten the mood.

The Scream series is a perfect starting point for non-horror fans. It’s scary, but not overwhelmingly so. It has plenty of comedic moments too and the series is built on picking apart traditional horror tropes and how horror movies work. It keeps the audience aware that they’re watching a movie while still enjoying the story it presents.

4: Timing and balance

For me, there’s no better time to watch a horror movie than like 11 a.m. on a Saturday. After it’s over, you have all day long to watch seven or eight episodes of The Office or Schitt’s Creek, crank up You’ve Got Mail, Thor: Ragnarok or watch Barb and Star go to Vista Del Mar for the 14th time. It always helps to have a palette cleanser to settle your nerves or put your mind in a more comfortable place after a scary movie. 

One positive about horror movies is that a lot of them are not super long. Especially some of the classics from the 70s and 80s – they’re only like an hour and a half. So there’s plenty of time to watch something else to balance out your emotions afterward.

And if needed, keep the lights on and the curtains closed when you’re watching a scary movie.

And if all else fails, no one will judge you for locking your bedroom door that night when you go to bed.

Space Jam: A New Legacy of “hey, I understand that reference” movies

Space Jam: A New Legacy is not a good movie. And let’s be honest – for all the nostalgia that millennials have for the original Space Jam, it wasn’t a great movie either. But compared to the sequel, the original is nearly The Godfather.

Now, not every movie has to be The Godfather. But Space Jam 2 is bad in ways that just feel lazy and cheap.

In nearly every aspect, Space Jam 2 just a 2-hour long commercial for HBO Max. The movie is designed to be incredibly meta and self-aware, but it doesn’t do that well at all. Instead, it spends the majority of its runtime showing off all the properties Warner Bros. owns. It packs in Looney Tunes, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, the Justice League, The Wizard of Oz, Mad Max Fury Road, The Matrix and even Casablanca. And that’s not even counting the background references during the basketball game.  

Of course, movies referencing other movies is not a new concept. Iconic movie lines are referenced all the time – from Empire Strikes Back’s “I am your father” to Wizard of Oz’s “We’re not in Kansas anymore.” Every Pixar movie has a reference to another one of their own movies. Even the Looney Tunes have showed up in other movies before. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? famously featured both Looney Tunes and Disney animated characters.

Credit Touchstone/Amblin

And movies like Shrek feature new takes on well-known fairy tale characters (often made famous by Disney) and reference movies from The Lord of the Rings to The Matrix.

But Space Jam 2 is part of a new genre of “multiverse” movies. It’s the idea – sparked by the interconnectedness of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – that everything exists in the same sandbox and can interact with each other.

Two other recent examples of the “multiverse” movie are Ready Player One and Ralph Breaks the Internet. Both of these movies use the multiverse concept much better than Space Jam 2, although neither are perfect.

Credit Warner Bros.

In Ready Player One, the world in 2045 revolves almost completely around an immersive virtual reality game. The real world has gotten so bad that players use the game as an escape from actual reality. The plot focuses on players searching for an Easter Egg within in the game placed by the creator, James Halliday. Players that solve the clues based on Halliday’s life will find the egg and gain full control over the virtual world. It’s part Tron, part Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Halliday himself was someone who retreated from the real world and immersed himself in pop culture – notably from the 1980s and 90s. So the game (and the movie) is packed with references to classics like Back to the Future, Buckaroo Banzai, The Iron Giant, Gundam, Godzilla, Jurassic Park, Chucky and more.

The movie mostly gets away with packing in references by connecting them to Halliday and his game, which drives the plot. The best example is in the middle of the movie when the main characters must search through a virtual version of the Outlook Hotel from The Shining because that movie played an important role in Halliday’s early life.

Credit Warner Bros.

On the other hand, there’s always a bit of a disconnect between the movie references and the rest of the world within the movie. The question of why so many teenagers in 2045 are this knowledgeable and obsessed with pop culture from the 1980s and 90s lingers throughout. Other references are just there for the fun of it. Sure, it’s a blast to watch the Iron Giant and Gundam fight Mechagodzilla, but they don’t really add much to the story other than a coolness factor.

Overall, Ready Player One gets by with their movie references because they’re used in interesting ways. The movie has a lot of other issues in terms of the plot and some of its themes and messages, so the references can often help gloss over those to bring more enjoyment to the viewers.

Ralph Breaks the Internet is an interesting case. It’s a sequel to Wreck-It Ralph, which already featured a small, early version of the multiverse idea by having video game characters from different games interact. It even had cameos from famous characters like Sonic the Hedgehog and Pac Man. And with the sequel taking place in the internet, companies like Facebook, Google, YouTube, eBay and Amazon are featured, but mostly in a way that just makes the internet world feel real.

Credit Disney

However, so much of the marketing for Ralph Breaks the Internet focused on the scenes where the character Vanellope meets the Disney Princesses. It’s a very self-aware and meta moment, but it’s such a small scene compared to the rest of the movie. But they certainly pack in everyone they can in this short sequence – from C-3PO to Grumpy to Groot.

And sure, it’s fun to see all the princesses hanging out together and every line they say is a pun or reference to their most famous moments, but more importantly, this scene actually plays a role in Vanellope’s journey. The princesses help her start to consider what it is she really wants – whether it’s to get her home game fixed or to move on and have new adventures.

Ralph Breaks the Internet focuses on the two main characters and how relationships change through growing up and growing apart. And the Disney-verse sequence, as self-serving as it is, helps move that story forward.

Now, for Space Jam 2. In this world, all of the characters and properties Warner Bros. owns exist together in the “serververse” (gross), literally the computer servers in the basement of their studio. Lebron James and his son are brought into the serververse (ew) by an algorithm named – for real – Al G. Rhythm. Al challenges Lebron to a basketball game for…some reason and then banishes Lebron to Looney Tune world.

Credit Warner Bros.

Lebron and Bugs Bunny then have to travel throughout the serververse (why) to find the rest of the Looney Tunes, visiting the animated Justice League, Austin Powers, The Matrix, Mad Max Fury Road, Game of Thrones, Casablanca and a Wonder Woman comic book. And most of these aren’t used in a remotely interesting way. The Looney Tunes characters are just inserted into existing footage from most of these movies.

And I cannot get over including something like Casablanca in this movie. What child will recognize this or care what it is? I guess WB is expecting kids who grew up with the original Space Jam are now old enough to know about more movies so they’ll understand the Casablanca reference? Truly a mystery to me.

Credit Warner Bros.

So then other stuff happens and we finally get to the climactic basketball game. Al G. Rhythm invites the entire WB serververse (ugh) to watch the game, and we get split-second shots of King Kong, the Iron Giant, the Mystery Machine, the Flintstones, Yogi Bear and Boo Boo, freaking Jabberjaw, and hundreds of other “characters” (extras in bad Halloween costumes) un the background like Jack Nicholson’s Joker, Jim Carrey from The Mask, the Night King from Game of Thrones, the guys from A Clockwork Orange(??) and more.

Credit Warner Bros.

And they all just…watch the game. Literally just there in the background to be Easter Eggs and for viewers to scan the crowd and go, “hey, it’s [that guy] from [that thing]!” In no way, shape or form do they impact the story at all. And then they’re just…gone once the game is over.

Space Jam: A New Legacy will most likely not be the last movie of its kind. In a world where recognizable characters and name brands are the new movie stars, studios will probably take this approach again to ensure audiences watch their products. Ready Player One and Ralph Breaks the Internet show that there are at least slightly more interesting ways to do that, but I think it’s a dangerous trend.

Instead of watching Space Jam: A New Legacy, go watch one of the much better and more interesting movies referenced in it instead.

Top 5 movies of the year so far

Movies are back, baby! As the world slowly crawls out of the dark hole we all lived in during 2020, movie theaters are opening back up and trilled for audiences to experience movies again. The back half of this year will be packed with huge movies – FOUR MCU movies, F9, The French Dispatch, Space Jam 2, Jungle Cruise, The Green Knight, The Suicide Squad, Dear Evan Hansen, West Side Story, Dune, Top Gun: Maverick and more!

But the first half of 2021 has seen some fantastic releases already. Here are my top five movies of the year so far (and a shoutout to two of the best 2020 movies that only got wide releases this year):

Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar

Credit: Lionsgate

From the stars and writers of Bridesmaids, Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar is more than just a movie – it’s an entire experience. I’ve watched this movie four times already in 2021. No movie has given me everything I never knew I needed more recently than Barb & Star. The way I fell in love with these two middle-aged, Midwestern best friends and their trip to Florida has brought me so much joy. It’s absolutely insane, pretty stupid at times, but completely hysterical and wonderful. I won’t spoil some of the best cameos, but this movie has everything – from a singing Jamie Dornan to an Austin Powers-style villain to teaching me what culottes are.

Bo Burnham: Inside

Credit: Netflix

During the pandemic, comedian Bo Burnham wrote, directed, filmed, produced, edited and starred in this new “comedy” special all by himself. The result is one of the most incredible pieces of art to come out of the pandemic era (only beaten by Taylor Swift’s albums). I literally could not take my eyes of the screen for this entire special. Featuring Burnham’s signature wit and cutting lyrics, it’s labeled as a “comedy” special, but this made me think more about life, purpose and my own existence more than anything I’ve seen in a long time. I’m the same age as Burnham, so his critique and analysis of what it’s like growing up on the internet feels personally targeted to me. It certainly won’t be for everyone, but Inside is something I’ll be thinking about for a while.

In the Heights

Credit: Warner Brothers

Movies were gone for a long time during the pandemic. So to see a movie on an IMAX screen with hundreds of people dancing in unison to incredible music blasting in my ears nearly brought tears to my eyes. In the Heights, based on the Broadway smash from Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, tells the story of a block in New York City’s Washington Heights, largely populated by Latino and Latinx immigrants and their descendants. Anthony Ramos truly shines in the lead role – everyone is great, but it’s really his story. The movie has some phenomenal show-stopper numbers and one of the most heartbreaking moments right smack in the middle. You’ll want to jump up and dance along with this movie.

Judas and the Black Messiah

Credit: Warner Brothers

Judas and the Black Messiah may be forgotten by the time the end of the year rolls around because it came out so early and already competed in this year’s Oscars (even winning Best Supporting Actor for Daniel Kaluuya’s incredible performance). But to watch this movie in 2021 is a little haunting because of how relevant its story and themes still are today. Judas tells the story of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton (the “Black Messiah”) and the undercover FBI agent charged with infiltrating his ranks and bringing him down (“Judas”). It’s a powerful story anchored by Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield’s stellar performances.

The Mitchells vs the Machines

Credit: Netflix

Sometimes you don’t truly appreciate your family until you’re all being threatened by a robot apocalypse. The Mitchells vs the Machines is the latest animated movie from the team behind Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and The Lego Movie. This movie has a frantic and electric energy throughout with some incredibly funny action moments (the Furby scene is a masterpiece). It’s an animated movie that works really well for adults as well as kids, especially when it looks at the way technology has affected our lives – for good and for bad. But the movie’s heart shines as well – the family dynamic, especially the generational conflict between children and their parents, is fantastic. Plus, their last name is Mitchell, which is a personal delight for me.

And special shout out to Minari and Nomadland for being two of the best movies from last year. I didn’t get to add them to my Best of 2020 list because they hadn’t been released wide until after I made it. Both movies are beautiful stories about achieving the American Dream from often overlooked groups of Americans.

What are some of your favorite movies you’ve seen so far in 2021? What are you most looking forward to in the second half of the year?

Predicting the 2021 Oscars

What a year for movies it’s been. With movie theaters shut down for most of 2020 and major blockbusters and other highly anticipated movies delayed, the film industry certainly faced a reckoning. But through all that, some truly fantastic movies still debuted. And with so many movies being released through streaming services this year, I’ve seen more Oscar nominees than ever before.

With the Oscars coming up this weekend, I thought I’d make my final predictions for the biggest categories. Let me know what you think!

Best Picture

© 20th Century Studios

The Father
Judas and the Black Messiah
Promising Young Woman
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7

Who should win: The crop of Best Picture nominees this year includes some truly remarkable movies, even if most people haven’t seen a lot of them. Minari is my personal favorite and one that I’ll certainly revisit more than others on this list. Judas and the Black Messiah is based on a true story that feels more relevant today than ever before. The Father was probably the most surprising movie on this list that I loved a lot more than I thought I would. But Nomadland is an experience that’s hard to describe. It’s both sad and hopeful, small and vast, individualist and collective. It’s gotten a lot of love already this year, and I think that momentum will push it to Oscar glory.

Who will win: Nomadland

Best Director

© 20th Century Studios

Thomas Vinterberg – Another Round
David Fincher – Mank
Lee Isaac Chung – Minari
Chloé Zhao – Nomadland
Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman

Who should win: Lee Isaac Chung created a story so simple yet so universal and fully draws you into the heart of every character and every scene in Minari. Emerald Fennell on the other hand created a much sharper movie that challenges audience expectations and leans into the uncomfortable and unpleasant nature of its story. But Chloe Zhao makes Nomadland feel epic in scope, from its huge landscapes to the tender looks at the people living this life. 

Who will win: Chloe Zhao, Nomadland

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Riz Ahmed – Sound of Metal
Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Anthony Hopkins – The Father
Gary Oldman – Mank
Steven Yeun – Minari

Who should win: This is really a strong category. Riz Ahmed gives his all as a heavy metal drummer who begins to lose his hearing, and his journey through frustration and anger is fully engaging. Anthony Hopkins is truly heartbreaking as a father battling with dementia, and you really feel the fear, confusion and anger that brings. Steven Yeun is so full of hope and optimism as he begins his new life with his family and always makes you feel like his dreams are possible. But Chadwick Boseman is absolutely electric in Ma Rainey. He commands your presence in every word, every line and every monologue he says. I already miss him so much.

Who will win: Chadwick Boseman

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Credit: Courtesy of Focus Features

Viola Davis – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Andra Day – The United States v. Billie Holiday
Vanessa Kirby – Pieces of a Woman
Frances McDormand – Nomadland
Carey Mulligan – Promising Young Woman

Who should win: This category includes two powerhouse actresses who have won Oscars for their performances in the past – Viola Davis and Frances McDormand – and three first-time nominees. Viola Davis is amazing in everything, and her performance as Ma Rainey really brings life to the story and elevates it beyond a filmed version of a play. Frances McDormand has such an interesting role in Nomadland – part traditional storytelling and part documentarian as she shares the screen with non-actors playing slightly fictionalized versions of themselves. Both Davis and McDormand have a strong case to win Best Actress, but I think Carey Mulligan’s powerful and haunting performance in Promising Young Woman will put her over the top.

Who will win: Carey Mulligan

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Sacha Baron Cohen – The Trial of the Chicago 7
Daniel Kaluuya – Judas and the Black Messiah
Leslie Odom Jr. – One Night in Miami
Paul Raci – Sound of Metal
Lakeith Stanfield – Judas and the Black Messiah

Who should win: Another category full of memorable performances – Leslie Odom Jr. is fantastic as Sam Cooke and Paul Raci brings a naturalism and gravity to his role in Sound of Metal. Both Lakeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya are outstanding in Judas and the Black Messiah – Stanfield so thoughtful and understated, Kaluuya both bombastic and sensitive. Daniel Kaluuya seems to have this one wrapped up this season.  

Who will win: Daniel Kaluuya

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Maria Bakalova – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Glenn Close – Hillbilly Elegy
Olivia Colman – The Father
Amanda Seyfried – Mank
Yuh-jung Youn – Minari

Who should win: This is an interesting category this year, and one of the few spots where we could see an upset. For a movie starring Sacha Baron Cohen in his iconic role as Borat, Maria Bakalova is a true scene-stealer in her role as Borat’s daughter. She brings a comedic innocence to the movie that helps balance some of the wilder aspects. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Olivia Coleman heartbreakingly portrays a daughter whose father is slowly succumbing to dementia. Coleman is great in everything (I’m enjoying her run as Queen Elizabeth in The Crown right now). And Amanda Seyfried is one of the true bright spots in Mank, a movie that otherwise is shockingly boring. But Yuh-jung Youn is incredible in Minari and is one of the heartbeats of the whole movie. I think she has an edge to win this award.

Who will win: Yuh-jung Youn

Best Animated Feature Film

Over the Moon
A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

Who should win: Soul is definitely the frontrunner here, and rightfully so. It’s another Pixar classic that works just as much for adults as it does for kids. Onward is another great Pixar entry, but certainly more standard in terms of the story it’s telling than Soul. Wolfwalkers was a personal favorite this year – the animation style is so unique and enchanting to look at and its story, while familiar, has a lot of heart and excitement.

Who will win: Soul

Best Adapted Screenplay

© 20th Century Studios

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
The Father
One Night in Miami
The White Tiger

Who should win: It seems like there were a lot of movies based on plays that came out last year – One Night in Miami, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and The Father included. I thought One Night in Miami and The Father both did a great job making their stories feel cinematic. Nomadland, though, weaves a story together through real experiences full of hope and opportunity.

Who will win: Nomadland

Best Original Screenplay

Credit: Courtesy of Focus Features

Judas and the Black Messiah
Promising Young Woman
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7

Who should win: What a year to tell the stories of The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Judas and the Black Messiah. The parallels from those events to the world today are often haunting. I think Judas tells a better story than the Chicago 7, but people love to love Aaron Sorkin. Sound of Metal is a great immersive story, and Minari is both beautiful and heartbreaking, a universal story everyone can empathize with. Promising Young Woman is more biting and showier than the other stories nominated here, and certainly makes a good use of dramatic twists while raising a lot of questions to consider once the movie ends.

Who will win: Promising Young Woman

Best Original Score

Da 5 Bloods – Terence Blanchard
Mank – Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross
Minari – Emile Mosseri
News of the World – James Newton Howard
Soul – Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, Jon Batiste

Who should win: I’ve seen all the movies nominated in this category except News of the World – and honestly, only the scores for Soul and Minari made an impression on me. Minari’s score is absolutely gorgeous, but the way Soul creates two completely different sounds – from the jazz standards of the “real world” to the ethereal soundscapes of the soul world – is outstanding.

Who will win: Soul

10 favorite “underrated” movie soundtracks

I’ve been obsessed with movie soundtracks pretty much as long as I’ve loved movies. According to my most recent Spotify Wrapped, “soundtrack” was the genre I listened to the most in 2020 and three of my top five artists were movie composers. There’s something about the way a score can add emotion, tension, excitement, joy or heartbreak to a movie. Plus, they’re perfect for studying, writing papers, or working.

I grew up in arguably one of the golden ages of movie soundtracks –the early 2000s gave us The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Star Wars prequels. These were all foundational in discovering my love of movie soundtracks. One of my favorite parts about watching new movies is discovering new soundtracks – even “bad” movies can have great soundtracks.  

So I’ve picked 10 of my favorite movie soundtracks that I consider “underrated” because they don’t get the same hype as scores from John Williams or Hans Zimmer or they’re not part of big franchises with iconic themes as recognizable as Star Wars or Harry Potter.

1. How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

Score by John Powell

Right off the bat, I can barely count this as an “underrated” score because I have personally raved about it to as many people as I possibly can. I absolutely cannot get enough of this score. It has an epic depth and richness that feels exciting and new every time. So many moments in the score are so remarkable – “Test Drive” is one of the greatest soundtrack moments in movie history, “Romantic Flight” is gorgeous and “Forbidden Friendship” has an unbelievable feel-good quality. The score compliments the world created in the movie and enhances the characters and their relationships – especially Toothless and Hiccup (smarter people than me have detailed about the genius of their themes together). And the scores for the second and third Dragon movies are just as good.

2. First Man (2018)

Score by Justin Hurwitz

Justin Hurwitz is quickly becoming one my new favorite composers. Working with director Damien Chazelle, Hurwitz has also created the scores for Whiplash and La La Land. His score for First Man perfectly balances the intimate personal life of Neil Armstrong with the epic scope of the first moon landing. It’s impossible to hear the bombast of tracks like “Apollo 11 Launch” and “The Landing” and not get chills while tracks like “Karen” really make you feel the heartbreak that underlies much of Neil’s journey. The use of some vintage instruments gives the score a classic feel and the perfect soundscape to one of the most iconic moments in history.

3. 1917 (2019)

Score by Thomas Newman

One of the roles a movie soundtrack can play is heightening the tension of a scene. The score for 1917 does this perfectly throughout the entire movie by slowly cranking up the tension bit by bit until it explodes in its epic finale, as heard in “Sixteen Hundred Men”. The movie was filmed to look like one long continuous shot, a decision that supports the immediacy of the mission and immerses the audience with the characters. The score is crucial in building tension as the main characters cross enemy lines and face constant obstacles as they make their way to their destination. And by the end, you’re right there running alongside, praying for victory.

4. The Goonies (1985)

Score by Dave Grusin

The Goonies score is probably the most truly underrated score on this list. It’ so much fun and a perfect coming-of-age adventure soundtrack. The opening action music in “Fratelli Chase” is such an earworm, there’s a classic 80s sounding motif for the story’s mystery, and the main Goonies theme is surprisingly heartfelt and full of longing. This score has plenty of excitement and a good amount of “Mickey Mousing” (timing musical stings to action happening on the screen) that is popular in media targeted toward younger audiences. There are even nods to classics scores like Psycho, Superman and 1930s Errol Flynn movies.  

5. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)

Score by Harry Gregson-Williams

The Narnia series followed in the footsteps of fantasy giants like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings in the early 2000s. While not as well-received or popular as the others, the Narnia series has some gorgeous soundtracks. One of my favorite moments in the soundtrack is “From Western Woods to Beaversdam,” which perfectly blends the curiosity, adventure and magic of this world. It’s amazing the range of moods this soundtrack covers, from a World War II battle sequence, to the evil White Witch, the regality of Aslan, the horror of the Stone Table and the joy of Father Christmas, but it beautifully makes them all feel like part of the same world. By the time you get to the end, you’ll believe that it’s “Only the Beginning of the Adventure.”

6. Princess Mononoke (1997)

Score by Joe Hisaishi

The scores of the Studio Ghibli films are just as iconic as the stories themselves. Joe Hisaishi has composed the scores for most of the Ghibli catalog and every single one is stunning. Hisaishi has found the sweet spot between traditional Japanese music and Western music to create something that is so unique and magical. Princess Mononoke is my favorite Studio Ghibli movie and the score expertly supports the epic and mythical nature of the story from its opening moments. Mononoke is one of the darker Ghibli movies, so the score includes plenty of menacing cues as well that can truly be unsettling. It’s a remarkable soundtrack from beginning to end.

7. Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)

Score by Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson

Sometimes there’s nothing better than a classic action movie score. Kingsman was a surprise success in a number of ways, including the soundtrack. The score supports the tone of the film by taking influences from classic spy movies, like James Bond or Mission: Impossible. The main theme is bold and heroic, exactly what the main characters deserve – and it’s on full display multiple times throughout the movie, but especially in the heart pounding action scenes like “Skydiving” and “Calculated Infiltration.” It’s hard to listen to this soundtrack without making whatever you’re doing feel 100 times more epic.

8. Knives Out (2019)

Score by Nathan Johnson

Another crucial role of a movie score is to set the tone or mood of a scene or the entire movie. The score for Knives Out does this from the first note. It immediately sounds like a mystery and reinforces the gothic vibe of the Thromby house. The score relies heavily on strings, which may remind audiences of another classic mystery/thriller that only used strings in its score – Psycho. The Knives Out score maintains its tone while following the reveals and twists throughout the movie, balancing the outlandish characters with the suspense of a true mystery.

9. Little Women (2019)

Score by Alexandre Desplat

The vibes of this soundtrack are immaculate. Much like the movie itself, it feels both classic and modern, a sound that’s on full display in tracks like “Dance on the Porch.” Fittingly, the score mostly relies on strings and piano, giving the sound a more “feminine” character (brass usually sounds more “masculine”), one that enhances the warm, chaotic, and strong familial bond of the sisters. The soundtrack fuels the passion of Jo’s writing, the heartbreak of Beth, the tenderness of Marnie and the love that blossoms among all the characters. It’s certainly a delightful feel-good score.  

10. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Score by Alan Silvestri

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has an interesting relationship with its film scores. By now, everyone can recognize the main Avengers theme, but solo franchises have not always kept their musical themes consistent. Having continuity in a franchise’s film score makes the world within the movies feel unified and can be used to heighten emotion in big moments. The music from the first Captain America movie is one of the best from the early MCU, especially the main theme. It’s a pitch perfect sound for the iconic hero. It’s another solid action score, especially in tracks like the “Howling Commando’s Montage.” The emotions hit home by the time you get to the end with “This is My Choice” – and bringing these themes back for Cap’s final moments in Endgame never ceases to absolutely wreck me.

Are you a fan of movie soundtracks? If so, what are some of your favorites? I hope these have inspired you to listen to more!

‘The Fast and the Furious’ is a bonkers franchise… and I absolutely love it

I’ve invested in a lot of movie franchises in my lifetime. From Star Wars, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings to Mission: Impossible, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and even Twilight and Transformers.

And if you look at the highest grossing movies of the 21st century, that list is almost completely dominated by these franchises. But there’s one franchise featured on that list that I’ve been ignoring, until now: The Fast and the Furious franchise.

There’s been eight Furious movies in the past 20 years and one spinoff, with at least three more movies planned. The seventh and eighth movies each made over a billion dollars at the box office!

So I decided it was finally time to see what being fast and furious was all about.

Universal Pictures

And you know what?

I freaking loved it. The Fast and the Furious series is one of the most ridiculous series of films I’ve ever seen, but somehow it all works and it’s an absolute blast. It unlocked a specific piece of my dumb “bro brain” that couldn’t get enough of the increasingly excessive car chases, stunts and explosions. The evolution of the series from street racing to spy/heist action blockbusters is truly impressive to watch.

The series gets points off the bat for having one of the most diverse main casts of any major contemporary franchise, especially in the later movies once the team is solidified. White Boy Paul Walker is our initial point-of-view character, but there’s representation for Black, Asian, Hispanic and female characters.

Likewise, all but two Fast and Furious movies have been directed by non-white directors. Justin Lin, a Taiwanese American, has directed four of the movies, and F. Gary Gray and John Singleton, Black directors behind the iconic 1990s movies Friday and Boyz n the Hood, respectively, have each directed an installment.

The action is really what drives (lol) this series, and the best Fast and Furious movies make a point to rely predominately on practical stunts, which makes a huge difference in the quality of the action, especially as it gets crazier as the series progresses (even when physics doesn’t seem to work like it does in the real world). You’ll see things you could never have imagined in these movies.

And beneath all the cars falling from planes, tanks and submarines, there’s a strong heart and soul to these movies. Family is a major theme in the franchise, especially the found family these characters create together. A lot of the movies end with the characters sitting around a table, saying grace and enjoying a meal together.

That said, the series isn’t perfect. Pretty much every movie features a party or race scene to show off scantily clad women, with some shots just focused on butts. The first four movies even show shots of two women kissing to…prove that the party is wild, I guess? And there are some “jokes” or lines that don’t really hold up anymore.

But overall, you almost can’t go wrong with any one of these if you’re looking for a fun couple of hours. So here are some of my thoughts about each movie:

The Fast and the Furious (2001)

Universal Pictures

The first movie introduces us to our main characters, Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel). Brian is an undercover cop who infiltrates the world of Los Angeles street racing and Dom’s crew because they’re hijacking 18-wheelers full of – wait for it – Panasonic DVD players. 2001, man. Dom’s crew includes his girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster).

This movie is Point Break with cars instead of surfing. It’s honestly shocking how average and normal this movie feels knowing where the series goes in the future. There’s some casual misogyny and toxic masculinity and a street race Woodstock-type event called Race Wars that feels incredibly uncomfortable when anyone says the name out loud. Brian and Dom come to a begrudging respect and part ways. It’s fine and just fun enough to justify it as the launching point for a multi-billion-dollar franchise.

Rating: 5/10

2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

Universal Pictures

This movie is so dumb in the best way. It has to be one of the most iconic titles in the history of filmmaking. 2 Fast takes Brian (who is no longer a cop) to Miami where he teams up with his childhood friend Roman Pierce (Tyrese Gibson) and undercover agent Monica Fuentes (Eva Mendes) to bring down a shady generic bad guy.

The dialogue in this movie is majestic. Tyrese uses the word “breh” in almost every line and poor Paul Walker just sounds so…white. 2 Fast marks the first appearances of Roman Pierce and Tej, played by rapper Ludacris. The chemistry between Paul Walker and Tyrese really holds the movie together, as does the final chase that includes Tyrese yelling “EJECTO SEATO, CUZ” as he literally ejects his passenger out of the car. And then Tyrese and Paul Walker ramp a car through the air to land onto a yacht.

Rating: 6/10

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

Universal Pictures

Tokyo Drift introduces us to a whole new cast of characters and is the first in the series to go international. “High school student” Sean Boswell (Lucas Black, who looks about 35) is sent to Tokyo to live with his Navy father after causing too many problems at home. There, he discovers the world of Tokyo drift racing. We’re introduced to Han (Sung Kang), the best character, and Lil Bow Wow is there driving a van painted like the Incredible Hulk. The plot has something to do with the Yakuza.

The opening chase of this movie includes a girl offering herself as the “trophy” to the winner of the race and it just made me so sad for her. Lucas Black, who grew up in Alabama, has the thickest Southern accent in this movie and it sticks out so strong against the other main characters. Oh, and Han dies. That’s important later. Vin Diesel does show up for a cameo at the end of the movie saying he knew Han.

Rating: 3/10

Fast and Furious (2009)

Universal Pictures

This is the transition movie between the street racing style and the more action-packed spectacles the series will become. It’s great to have the main cast return here – Dom, Brian, Mia and Letty all return. However, Letty gets killed (supposedly) in the first act, kicking off the rest of the plot as Dom tries to get revenge for her death. The relationship between Dom and Brian really clicks here. Brian now works for the FBI, so there’s a familiar dynamic between the two as they begin to truly respect each other.

Other than that, the plot involves a drug lord and trafficking drugs through tunnels under the border. There are some fun action sequences, including one chase through Los Angeles where Brian literally apologizes to his car before jumping it off the side of a road. This movie also features the debut of a pre-Wonder Woman Gal Gadot as Gisele!

Rating: 6/10

Fast Five (2011)

Universal Pictures

Fast Five is the Avengers of the Fast and Furious franchise and it is the best one. It brings together all our main and supporting characters introduced in the previous four movies: Brian, Dom, Letty, Mia, Roman, Tej, Han and Gisele. The team plans a heist to steal $100 million from a corrupt businessman in Rio de Janeiro and escape the law one last time. Fast Five also introduces us to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Luke Hobbs, the government agent tracking the team down.

This movie is basically Mission: Impossible meets Ocean’s 11 with fast cars. It’s insane and one of the most fun movie experiences I’ve had. The action scenes in Fast Five are unparalleled. The movie opens with a train sequence that includes a truck crashing into the side of a moving train and Brian and Dom driving a car off a cliff and jumping into a river and surviving. In the final act, the team steals the safe with $100 million in it and DRAGS IT THROUGH THE STREETS behind two cars and USING IT AS A WEAPON to crash the police following them.

The chemistry between the core team is fantastic here – Roman and Tej have some great one-liners, Han is the coolest as always, and Brian and Mia find out Mia is pregnant!

Rating: 8/10

Fast and Furious 6 (2013)

Universal Pictures

The sixth installment has Hobbs recruit Brian, Dom and their team to take down a crew of mercenaries led by Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). The surprise twist, though, is that Letty is alive! And working with Shaw? And has no memory of Dom or her life before the accident from Fast and Furious?

At this point in the series, we’ve transitioned from Point Break with street racing to pretty much a full-fledged superhero franchise. The team faces an actual TANK and brings down a massive plane on the runway. At one point, Dom literally jumps out of his car, flies through the air, catches Letty mid-air and lands on a car on the other side of the road, and they’re both fine.

This movie finally closes the loop on Han in Tokyo Drift and introduces us to the next Big Bad – Owen Shaw’s brother, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham).

Rating: 6/10

Furious 7 (2015)

Universal Pictures

Paul Walker died in 2013 halfway through filming on Furious 7, so this is Brian’s final appearance in the series. Maybe it was having watched all of these movies within a week, but I got really emotional at the end?? I think the movie did a fantastic job wrapping up his character and giving him the send-off he deserved.

After the events of Fast and Furious 6, Deckard Shaw enacts his revenge against Brian and Dom for what they did to his brother. Having already killed Han in Tokyo, he comes after the rest of the team as they rescue a hacker named Ramsay (Game of Thrones’ Nathalie Emmanuel).

Also, Brian and Dom’s team DROPS CARS OUT OF A PLANE and parachutes them down onto a mountain road to ambush the convoy carrying Ramsay. AND Brian and Dom drive another car through the air between THREE SKYSCRAPER TOWERS (“Cars don’t fly!!”). Bonkers stuff, but great fun.

Rating: 7/10

The Fate of the Furious (2017)

Universal Pictures

I hope whoever suggested naming this movie “F8 of the Furious” meant it as a joke at first and got a massive raise or promotion. It’s genius.

Fate introduces us to the villainous Cipher (Charlize Theron), who blackmails Dom to work for her, so the Hobbs and the rest of Dom’s team must stop them. They are also forced to partner with Shaw, much to their disgust.

This movie is just as wild as the previous few, but almost bursts the insanity bubble for me. Plus, so much of the plot is based on hacking and has characters saying things like “hack them all” and typing furiously (lol) on computers like that has any meaning. We do get Scott Eastwood here to fulfill the white boy quotient and a delightful cameo from Helen Mirren.

Rating: 5/10

Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw (2019)

Universal Pictures

This one was pretty disappointing. The Rock and Jason Statham are obviously having a blast, but the villain (Idris Elba) is a cybernetically enhanced mercenary? It barely felt like a Fast and Furious movie and gave no explanation why Hobbs wouldn’t have called Dom or the rest of the team to help.

Rating: 4/10

So what do you think? Have you seen the Fast and Furious movies or have I convinced you to give them a shot? I’m officially a fan and can’t wait for F9 (hopefully) later this year.

Top 10 movies of 2020

Well, 2020 happened. It was a weird year for everyone, but especially for the movie industry. With theaters shut down, most big blockbusters postponed their releases. The Oscars are even postponed for two months later than usual. But without blockbusters dominating the box office and pop culture this year, some truly special and unique movies were able to shine. Movies that aren’t your typical action or adventure experiences. In fact, some of the best movies of the year I saw tackle some really big questions, issues and themes. They can be difficult to watch at times, but they help us grapple with these questions ourselves and take stock of our world, and that makes them even more important.

Here are my top 10 movies of 2020:

  1. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Gorgeous, breathtaking, magnificent, captivating, spectacular. I’m cheating a little bit here since this movie technically had its world premiere in 2019, but it wasn’t released wide in the US until 2020. The story of this movie is so simple: an artist is hired to paint a portrait of a wealthy young woman for her upcoming wedding. But their relationship grows into something much more than artist and subject and the slow burn quickly erupts into a fiery passion. So much is done with so little in this movie, with stolen glances between the two main characters saying more than most lines of dialogue. The set design, cinematography and costumes are incredible. There’s so little music within in the film that when it does show up it’s shocking. And there’s literally one line of dialogue spoken by a man in the whole movie. The less you know about this going in, the better you’ll appreciate it, but I couldn’t recommend it more.

2. Soul

Have you ever seen a movie that just makes you want to appreciate the world and life more? Because that’s what Soul did for me. There’s so much to love in this movie – from the absolutely gorgeous animation of the “real world” and the weirdness of the soul world to the existential nature of what life means and how we can all live fulfilled lives. The trademark Pixar humor is there, especially in the second act that was perfectly hidden from all the trailers, and the expected emotional gut punch is one of the studio’s strongest. Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey are fantastic in the lead roles, but the supporting cast truly shines throughout. And the music – both the vibey sounds of the soul world to the energetic jazz – is just outstanding and really becomes a character of its own.

3. Sound of Metal

Courtesy of Amazon Studios

If you lost something that was integral to who you are and how you identify yourself to the world, you’d go to any length to hold on to your identity. In Sound of Metal, heavy metal drummer Ruben slowly begins to lose his hearing, and we watch him fight to hold on to himself, grieve at what he’s lost and slowly learn how to live in his new reality. This movie is both heartbreaking and deals with anger, grief, fear and acceptance. Riz Ahmed is fantastic in the lead role and really brings the audience along through every emotion. Partnered with Ahmed’s performance is the fantastic sound design of the movie, which allows the audience to “hear” what Reuben hears. And we don’t get subtitles for characters using sign language until Reuben learns enough to understand what others are saying. The final shot of this movie is incredible.

4. Palm Springs

Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

This is such a fun movie. Palm Springs takes the classic Groundhog Day time loop setup and refreshes the idea by having two people living the same loop together. Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti are absolutely wonderful and expertly balance the humor and “no consequences” mindset of the early time loops with the exhaustion and despair of feeling like they’ll never get out. There’s some really fun twists as the story unfolds, and the finale takes a surprisingly metaphysical turn and gets pretty wild, but it’s a blast throughout.

5. Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Let’s get this out of the way at the beginning: this is a movie about abortion. High-school student Autumn travels from rural Pennsylvania to New York City with her cousin to get an abortion after an unplanned pregnancy. At no point in this movie is abortion glorified or celebrated – instead, it shows the mental toll it can take on a woman and the difficulty she must go through to make a decision like this. The silences in this movie speak volumes and it’s filled with so much empathy that you want to jump into the screen and tell Autumn that everything’s going to be okay. It’s a heartbreaking movie, but extremely powerful, and one that is necessary to discuss.  

6. Boys State

Every year, thousands of high school boys descend on state capitals across the country to participate in a mock-government program called Boys State (there’s also a Girls State – gotta keep those boys and girls separate!). This documentary follows the 2018 Texas Boys State in all its horror and glory. The first 20 minutes of this legitimately felt like a documentary about a cult. Boys State is hyped up for these boys like it’s bigger than the Super Bowl or the most important job interview they’ll ever have. The movie follows four participants as they learn the political process and play the game. Some of them only want to play to win – and will do absolutely anything to do so. But there are others who genuinely want to connect with people and seek power to make positive change. And to see the effects that the current political climate (even in 2018) have on potential leaders of tomorrow is… concerning. Even in a mock situation, some of the things these boys do to win is unnerving. However, there are a few rays of light and I found myself inspired by some of the boys and was able to feel both concerned and hopeful for our future.

7. Da 5 Bloods

The Vietnam War defined a generation and changed the world, but for many who were there, the war never ended. Da 5 Bloods follows a group of Black American Vietnam veterans who return to the country to search for a forgotten treasure and say their final goodbye to a fallen soldier. A lot of this is hard to watch, and rightfully so. It shines a light on some of the darker flaws of American history – the Vietnam War, racism and civil rights, PTSD and the treatment of veterans. This was one of Chadwick Boseman’s final film performances before he died, and even as he was undergoing cancer treatments, he was an absolute force of nature in his few scenes here. The rest of the main cast is also incredible, but Delroy Lindo and Jonathan Majors give the best performances out of the bunch.

8. Wolfwalkers

This movie has everything I love – beautiful, unique animation, Irish accents, folklore and mythology, and magic. A young hunter comes to Ireland with her father who has been tasked with wiping out a threatening wolf pack, but she meets a girl in the woods who shows her that the wolves are not as dangerous as they may seem. Wolfwalkers tells the familiar story of enemies becoming friends through a new understanding of each other and seeing the world through each other’s eyes. There’s a real heart to this movie that pulls you in through its humor and some of the darker moments. It’s a story about relationships – between enemies, friends, and parents and children. There’s also a strong environmental message about learning to coexist with nature and not only to control it.

9. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

The one major studio superhero movie we got this year came from DC and Harley Quinn. Birds of Prey is a delightfully weird breath of fresh air. Margot Robbie clearly loves playing Harley, and she shines in the role. She has made Harley one of the true stars of the DC movie universe. The rest of the cast is fantastic too – my personal favorite is Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Huntress, full of angst and anger. Ewan McGregor gives his all as the villainous Roman Sionis and looks like he had a blast doing so. The story structure is just as chaotic as the movie’s title, but it works well for Harley’s vibe. And the action scenes are absolutely incredible – particularly the climactic battle in the fun house.

10. Promising Young Woman

Believe women. In Promising Young Woman, a young woman makes it her mission to get revenge on men take advantage of women. She’s driven by a tragedy from her past and can only find solace in making sure no other woman goes through what happened to her best friend. Carey Mulligan is electric in the lead role, and the men she encounters are all expertly played by men known for being the “nice guys” in other movies and shows, done purposefully to make the audience even more uneasy. The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous throughout. Promising Young Woman is about revenge, yes, but it’s also about grief, trauma and male privilege. I don’t think I blinked or breathed during the entire final act of this movie. Believe women.

And the ranking of all the other 2020 movies I watched:

11. Emma.
12. Kajillionaire
13. The Invisible Man
14. First Cow
15. Trial of the Chicago 7
16. I’m Thinking of Ending Things
17. One Night in Miami…
18. The Assistant
19. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
20. Bad Education
21. Onward
22. Swallow
23. Shirley
24. Mank
25. Bill & Ted Face the Music
26. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
27. Happiest Season
28. Tenet
29. Miss Americana
30. The Lodge
31. Shawn Mendes in Wonder
32. Black Bear
33. The Old Guard
34. David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet
35. Wonder Woman 1984
36. Enola Holms
37. Prom
38. The Devil All the Time
39. The Lovebirds
40. The Boys in the Band
41. The Half of It
42. The Hunt
43. Sonic the Hedgehog
44. Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey
45. To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You
46. The Babysitter: Killer Queen
47. Godmothered
48. The New Mutants
49. Holidate
50. Scoob!
51. The Witches
52. The Princess Switch: Switched Again
53. Mulan
54. The One and Only Ivan
55. Trolls World Tour
56. Christmas on the Square
57. The Kissing Booth 2