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.

Predicting the 2022 Oscars

The Oscars are here again! 2021 ended up being a pretty great year for movies and a lot of the nominees are some of my favorites from the past year. From blockbusters like Dune to small, heartwarming dramas like CODA, the Best Picture lineup is surprisingly good.

I’m certainly no expert, but I’m putting myself out there and predicting some of the biggest categories before the awards are handed out.

Best Picture

Credit: Netflix

Don’t Look Up
Drive My Car
King Richard
Licorice Pizza
Nightmare Alley
The Power of the Dog
West Side Story

My pick: Honestly I love a lot of the movies that are nominated this year. With the exception of two or three, I’d be happy with any of them winning. But my heart is with West Side Story, CODA and Dune.

Who will win: The Power of the Dog seems unstoppable, but CODA has had a huge surge recently. My head says Power of the Dog, but my heart says CODA.

Best Director

Credit: Netflix

Paul Thomas Anderson (Licorice Pizza)
Kenneth Branagh (Belfast)
Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog)
Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (Drive My Car)
Steven Spielberg (West Side Story)

My pick: Again, my heart is always with Stephen Spielberg. He’s undeniably a master at what he does, but for West Side Story to be his first musical ever? And it’s as good as it is? Truly incredible.

Who will win: Jane Campion directed an incredibly tense slow burn with a final act full of twists and mystery.

Best Actress

Credit: Searchlight Pictures

Jessica Chastain (The Eyes of Tammy Faye)
Olivia Colman (The Lost Daughter)
Penélope Cruz (Parallel Mothers)
Nicole Kidman (Being the Ricardos)
Kristen Stewart (Spencer)

My pick: Oscar Winner Kristen Stewart sounds pretty great. Her performance as Princess Diana is engrossing, compelling, and a little uncomfortable.

Who will win: This is one of the big categories that seems to still be a little up in the air. Olivia Coleman is an awards darling these days (and rightfully so), but Jessica Chastain certainly did the most acting as Tammy Faye, so I think she’ll pull away with a win here.

Best Actor

Credit: Warner Bros.

Javier Bardem (Being the Ricardos)
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Power of the Dog)
Andrew Garfield (Tick, Tick … Boom!)
Will Smith (King Richard)
Denzel Washington (The Tragedy of Macbeth)

My pick: Andrew Garfield really had a great year in 2021. His performance as Jonathan Larson in Tick, Tick…Boom! is sensational. He learned to sing for the role and gives each scene such energy and manic creativity.

Who will win: Will Smith has been the frontrunner for this category ever since King Richard first premiered. I think all of Hollywood wants him to win and recognize him for all the work he’s done. Plus, he does a great job in bringing humanity to an odd and often frustrating man.

Best Supporting Actress

Credit: 20th Century Studios

Jessie Buckley (The Lost Daughter)
Ariana DeBose (West Side Story)
Judi Dench (Belfast)
Kirsten Dunst (The Power of the Dog)
Aunjanue Ellis (King Richard)

My pick: I’d give all the Oscars to West Side Story if I could, and Ariana DeBose is a perfect Anita. But I also have to shoutout Aunjanue Ellis. For all the big, loud and bold choices Will Smith Makes as Richard Williams, Ellis’s portrayal as his wife Brandy is much quieter and more reserved. She nearly steals the show out from under Will Smith and was by far my favorite part of King Richard.

Who will win: Ariana DeBose seems the most deserving of an Oscar from West Side Story. She’s phenomenal and I will be thrilled when she wins.

Best Supporting Actor

Credit: Apple

Ciarán Hinds (Belfast)
Troy Kotsur (CODA)
Jesse Plemons (The Power of the Dog)
J.K. Simmons (Being the Ricardos)
Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Power of the Dog)

My pick: Kodi Smit-McPhee gives a subdued, quiet and nuanced performance in Power of the Dog that really only makes sense in the final few minutes. Your eye stays on Benedict Cumberbatch and Kirsten Dunst, while Kodi lurks in the background to give you an unexpected punch in the heart.

Who will win: I absolutely adore CODA, and Troy Kotsur’s performance as the deaf father of a hearing child is simultaneously heartwarming and heart breaking. I’m so excited that these incredible deaf actors are finally getting the recognition they deserve.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Credit: Netflix

Drive My Car
The Lost Daughter
The Power of the Dog

My pick: I’ve never read the original Dune book, but just looking at how big it is on my shelf is intimidating, so the fact that this world was so expertly displayed on screen and set up in a way that made sense to audiences is remarkable. It’s a big swing for a big budget blockbuster, and it lands so well.

Who will win: The Power of the Dog certainly has momentum here, but I think The Lost Daughter might come from behind and take this one home.

Best Original Screenplay

Credit: Bron, MGM

Don’t Look Up
King Richard
Licorice Pizza
The Worst Person in the World

My pick: Belfast is an intimate family drama set against the background of a war and expertly balances the light and dark moments. And The Worst Person in the World is a wonderful new look at romance and how messy life and growing up is. I’d love either of these two winning.

Who will win: I wouldn’t be surprised if Belfast wins, but I’m going to say Licorice Pizza takes this category.

Best Animated Feature

Credit: Netflix

The Mitchells vs. the Machines
Raya and the Last Dragon

My pick: I loved all these nominees in this category. Disney has really upped their game with movies like Encanto and Luca that have so much heart and don’t conform to the traditional beats of storytelling (neither one has a traditional villain). BUT – The Mitchells vs. the Machines is one of the best movies of last year. It’s chaotic, exciting, hilarious, relatable and full of depth and emotion.

Who will win: I’m honestly not sure with this category – it could be a neck-and-neck finish between Encanto, Luca and The Mitchells, but I’m going to put my bets on The Mitchells vs the Machines.

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?