Welcome to The Mundane Adventures of a Fangirl

I consider myself a Fangirl. What does that mean, you ask? A "fanboy" in the most common understanding is a hardcore fan of 'genre' based entertainment in particular. In my case - science-fiction and comic book based movies and television. Because I'm a chick - it's fangirl, not fanboy. There you have it! I am a big movie fan, however, not necessarily a 'film' fan. And now - I have the forum to present my opinions to the public! These will mainly be movie reviews -that will always be my opinion - repeat OPINION. Just what I think, and in no way do I present my opinion as fact. I hope you enjoy and maybe it will help you decide what to see at the movie theater this weekend!

Monday, March 18, 2019

Movie Review: Captain Marvel (PG13 – 124 minutes)

In Marvel Comics, Carol Danvers first appeared in March of 1968.  She first became the superhero Ms. Marvel when her DNA fused with that of Dr. Walter Lawson who was actually a Kree scientist named Mar-Vell.  Over the years, she fought for equal pay for equal work, was socially progressive, and became a symbol of the feminist movement.  Eventually she shifted off “Ms.” And went to her Air Force rank of Captain.  I am most familiar with her from the animated Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes series, in which she swiftly established her skill and power, becoming a formidable ally and member of S.W.O.R.D.

In this 21st movie in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), we are introduced to Vers (pronounced ‘Veers’), a Kree warrior who appeared on their planet, Hala, six years ago with no memory of who she was or what she was doing. Plagued by dreams, she spends her time training with her commander, Yon-Rogg, for various Star-Force missions in the ongoing Kree/Skrull war.  The Skrulls are a race of shapeshifters, and the Supreme Intelligence (which, of course, is the Artificial Intelligence in charge of the Kree empire) decides to send Vers off with her squad to rescue their informant before the Skrulls get ahold of him and the information he’s collected.  The mission starts off pretty well, the Star-Force heads in while the Accusers wait above, ready to bomb the planet out of existence.  They stumble into an ambush, the Skrulls grab Vers, and they begin poking around in her brain to find details about possible light-speed travel.  What they find opens up her memories about her life as an Air Force pilot on earth, sending all of them on a crash course for 1995 earth where she meets a younger Nick Fury and does some adventuring with him, Maria Rambeau (yes, she has a daughter named Monica), and Goose the ‘cat’. 

I won’t say anything further than that, because I really loved this movie and it’s worth you checking it out.  Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, it has a great sense of adventure and fun, and is certainly a great stand-alone origin movie to the MCU.  The front half moves a little slow, as it is mostly exposition and research. However, once the action really kicks in, the movie is fast and fun, and Carol really steps into her own as the most powerful character in the MCU. Get ready Thanos.
  • Brie Larson has already done an exceptional job stepping up into the role of the next leader of the upcoming few phases of the MCU, taking over from Chris Evans the off-screen duties of visiting fans and battling Nazis on Twitter.  Social Activism is not required from the actors in the MCU, but it does speak to the quality of people they hire for these movies when their values seem to naturally align with their character’s values.  Larson is wonderful as Danvers, all cocky self-assuredness with just the right amount of doubt caused by the memory loss.  She wants to be the best, whether that’s a Star-Force fighter, or an Air Force pilot. Once she realized she’s been held back for most of the movie, the moment she sets herself free and steps into her full potential is absolutely magic and Larson plays it just perfectly.  I wanted Katee Sackoff in this role for years, but Larson has completely won me over.  We didn’t see Agent Brand in this movie, so perhaps Sackoff can step into that role.

  • Samuel L. Jackson seems to be having the time of his life playing a younger Nick Fury. He gets to hang out as Captain Marvel’s sidekick, helping her figure out her past. Also, his scenes with the cat are wonderful.

  • Ben Mendelsohn continues his run as ‘villain of the moment’ by playing Talos, the head of the Skrull unit we see in this movie. He manages to give Talos just enough layers to stay interesting and engaging, and wow, the makeup is stunning.  After seeing Skrulls for years in comics and animated shows, I never thought they would make it to the screen, because they are ridiculous looking, but he did an amazing job.

  • Jude Law plays Yon-Rogg, Vers’s trainer and commander.  He’s fairly insistent that she learn to control her emotions in order to become a great warrior.  He does a good job of being incredibly patronizing for the majority of the movie. 

  • Annette Bening plays Dr. Wendy Lawson (see what they did there?), as well as the image that Vers sees when she interacts with the Supreme Intelligence (you see whoever you most admire).  Bening gets to play a lot of fun angles in this, and really seems to be having a great time.

  • Lashana Lynch plays Maria Rambeau, and the scene where she gets to remind Carol of who she used to be brought me to tears. Everyone needs friends who always have your back and are strong when you are at your weakest, helping you recover.

  • Clark Gregg brings Agent Coulson back to the big screen in a much younger and inexperienced version. It was an absolute joy to see him.

  • Gemma Chan played Minn-Erva, another member of the Star Force who doesn’t particularly care for Vers.  Yes, it would have been cool for her to have a bit more to do.

  • Additional Star Force teammates are played by Rune Temte (Bron-Char), Algenis Perez Soto (Att-Lass) and Chuku Modu (Soh-Larr).

  • Djimon Hounsou returns as Korath the Pursuer, and we get to see him here with the Star Force, prior to starting work for Ronan and his fanatical Kree off-shoot adventures when we run into them in Guardians of the Galaxy, which is set a number of years later.
  • Speaking of which, Lee Pace returns as Ronan the Accuser, here working with the rest of the Accusers, doing questionable things. I am hoping the Captain Marvel sequel allows us to see what happened to him between this movie and Guardians.

Overall, I absolutely loved it. It’s so much fun and has some great action.  There are some powerful women in it, and it certainly has some feminist themes, but in what I would consider a supportive and subtle way.  She’s flawed, she’s human, and that’s her greatest strength.

9 out of 10 – fantastic, but the more I see it (I'm on three times already), the higher I want to give it.  The digital de-aging looks pretty good, but some of the CGI here and there was iffy.  The practical stuff was amazing, the hand to hand combat was great. Also, points for the 90s music soundtrack, and for making me feel nostalgic about Blockbuster.  I used to spend a lot of time there – pretty sure I still have my card.

Yes, there’s a mid-credits scene tying it to Avengers: Endgame – which you knew would happen because the mid-credits scene of Infinity war was Fury beeping Marvel.  We have just over a month to wait to find out what happens once she gets that page and heads back to earth.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Movie Review: Isn’t It Romantic (PG13 – 89 minutes)

As I have said many times, romantic comedies are the one genre of movie that I believe should be completely predictable and stick to their prearranged layout: couple has meet-cute, they’re happy, some sort of drama ensues, they split, then one of them has a large overly enthusiastic demonstration of passion that causes the other to return, and they live happily ever after.  Now, I’ve always wanted one of them to end with a woman being happy and single, but that’s just not part of the trope.

Isn’t It Romantic revolves around Natalie, an architect working in New York City. She’s living in a crappy apartment and struggling with presenting her ideas to the new client at her firm while dealing with her best friend who seems to be into her, an assistant who is addicted to rom-coms (which she hates), and her neighbor across the hall who gets booty calls all the time.  After spending a full day explaining to her assistant how crappy rom-coms are, and listing all the stereotypical aspects of the movies, she gets mugged, hits her head, and wakes up in a hospital in a fantasy rom-com version of her life.

She’s in a much bigger and better apartment, and the neighbor is now her beyond-gay-stereotype best friend who is always down to help out and do a makeover.  The neighborhood is now lovely and brightly colored with no trash anywhere, and at the office, she and her assistant are now rivals – because in any rom-com, if there is more than one woman working in an office, they are mortal enemies.  She is suddenly the most desirable creature around, and the new client falls for her, determined to sweep her off her feet.  At first, she attempts to fight against it, but realizing she is trapped, she decides to go with it to get to the end of the story and get home.  Two musical numbers, a surprise wedding, and plenty of drama later, she gets a happy ending by realizing she is all she needs.
I was not expecting anything from this movie, so I was pleasantly surprised!  It’s fun, it’s fast, it’s silly, and very entertaining.  The cast seems to really enjoy everything they are doing.  Director Todd Strauss-Schulson does a good job of layering in plenty of tropes, but honestly I think they could have gone even further with them.  I almost wonder what it would have been had it been directed by Adam Shankman – which would have probably meant a few more musical numbers.  The cast was fantastic:
  • Rebel Wilson stars as Natalie, and is best in roles like this – hapless, but also completely in control.  She is bound and determined to master this sudden nonsense, and her delivery and performance is hilarious.

  • Adam Devin plays Josh, her best friend, and the chemistry between he and Rebel is reason enough to see this. Also, another reason I wanted them to have several more musical numbers. They are fantastic together. I definitely needed outtakes and bloopers over the end credits, as I am sure they improv with one another a great deal.

  • Liam Hemsworth plays Blake, the new client.  He is the perfectly silly version of the ‘perfect guy’ from all the rom-coms.

  • Priyanka Chopra plays Isabella, and put her years of Bollywood experience to great effect as the ‘perfect woman’ who suddenly shows up to woo Josh, making Natalie suddenly realize she is jealous and may have feelings for Josh.

  • Betty Gilpin plays Whitney, Natalie’s assistant and friend.

  • Brandon Scott Jones plays the neighbor Donny, who really steals all the scenes he is in.

  • Jennifer Saunders has a brilliant cameo as Natalie’s mom, convincing her that rom-coms are trash, and life never works out that way.

Overall, the movie is charming, fun, silly, and plenty entertaining.  I expected nothing, and was delighted by the result. 

7 out of 10 – definitely worth a rental on a rainy afternoon.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Movie Review: How to Train Your Dragon, The Hidden World (PG - 104 minutes)

The first How to Train Your Dragon was released in 2010, and really struck a chord with me. I had not read the books, but really loved the movie.  It tells the story of Hiccup, a young Viking from Berk who is not at all like his father and their clan of dragon-hating Vikings (who all sound Scottish).  Hiccup is failing his dragon-killing courses, and accidentally stumbles across an injured Night Fury dragon while wandering one day.  While bonding with the dragon, who he names Toothless, he learns a great deal about them and starts to excel at his courses. He then uses that knowledge to get his people to change their way of thinking, and begin working with dragons.
In the second movie, the people of Berk have begun bonding with and riding the dragons.  Hiccup and Toothless are exploring and charting the world as Hiccup gets closer to his love Astrid and his father prepares to name him as successor.  He and Toothless accidentally discover a secret dragon ice cave, and battle a warlord looking to build a dragon army.  Hiccup loses his father, gets named chief, finds his mother, and defeats the warlord as Toothless becomes the Alpha of all the dragons in Berk.  Many a tear was shed at this movie as it is really heavy in most parts.

That catches you up and prepares you for the last movie in the series, The Hidden World.  Hiccup is doing his best to ‘rule’ Berk as Toothless keeps the dragons in line but the village is full of dragons and there is little to no room for anyone or anything.  This is complicated as Hiccup and his riders keep bringing back additional dragons anytime they rescue them from poachers, which is what they spend most of their time doing.

A new enemy, Grimmel, arrives on the scene, famous for having killed all the other Night Furies in existence.  His sights set on Toothless, he does some threatening and posturing, enough to make Hiccup think it’s time to set off and find the ‘Hidden World’, a place where the people of Berk can live with their dragons, free from being hunted by anyone else.  Grimmel sets loose a Light Fury, a female dragon that completely distracts Toothless, and lets him get an advantage in hunting down the people and dragons of Berk.  Hiccup and Astrid begin to realize that perhaps they were not meant to live with dragons, and everyone would be safer if they said good-bye.

That sounds like a spoiler, but it isn’t – all the trailers have been stating that is what is happening in this movie. I went in prepared with a box of tissues next to my popcorn, considering how much the last one made me cry. I will say – it’s not nearly as heavy as the second.  It is touching, and moving, but it has a really happy ending.  Director Dean De Blois continues the amazing visuals in this movie from the others in the series, and it is just absolutely stunning. The world is lush and gorgeous, and the flight scenes make you wish you had your own dragon.  I really appreciated the scenes of just Toothless and his lady friend. I am always impressed with how expressive Toothless is (he looks like my cat, which is part of why I spent so much time crying at the last movie), and the scenes without any humans were lovely, because the communication between the dragons was so clearly expressed.  Toothless and the Light Fury are so enchanting, I felt like I didn’t really need any of the other characters!

  • Jay Baruchel is back as Hiccup, older, wiser, and a much better fighter this time around. He’s still a little overwhelmed by suddenly becoming chief, but he’s doing his best to lead his people.  The performance is wonderful, gentle, and relatable.

  • America Ferrera gives Astrid her fighting spirit as well as her loyalty and dedication to Hiccup. She's a perfect match for him, keeping him focused on the issues at hand.

  • F. Murray Abraham joins the cast and makes Grimmel arrogant and near-unbeatable. He's a bit like those horrific trophy hunters that you just want to see get eaten.

  • Cate Blanchett returns as Valka, Hiccup’s mother who suddenly reappeared in the second movie. She’s in this one to provide guidance, and – for some unknown reason – an object of flirtation between two of Hiccup’s friends. That was bizarre and unnecessary.

  • Gerard Butler has some flashback scenes as Stoick, Hiccup’s father.

  • Craig Ferguson returns as Gobber – the blacksmith who functions as Hiccup’s conscious and father-figure.

  • Jonah Hill plays Snotlout, Christopher Mintz-Plasse plays Fishlegs, Kristen Wiig plays Ruffnut (who has a hilarious scene where she annoys her captors into letting her go), and Justin Rupple plays Tuffnut (instead of T.J. Miller, who had done it in previous editions).

  • Kit Harington plays Eret, son of Eret, who is there to share exposition about Grimmel and what he’s done in the past.

The movie is exceptional, beautiful, touching, and fun. It’s the perfect ending to this wonderful trilogy.  Side note, I saw this opening weekend. In the row behind me, a woman had brought four young children, all seeming to be under the age of 4. None of them watched any of the movie, preferring to yell and scream at one another the whole time.  Listen, yes, it’s a kids movie, but it is a little more complicated than most with a great deal of fairly complex storytelling.  Maybe don’t take the really young ones to this one – if not for their sake, for the sake of everyone else in the theater.

9 out of 10 – absolutely wonderful.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Movie Review: Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

The first Lego movie came out in 2014, and ended with the introduction of the little sister’s Duplo block creatures as they landed in the older brother’s carefully orchestrated Bricksburg. 
Since that time, Bricksburg has become an apocalyptic wasteland where everything is no longer awesome. People spend their time brooding and fighting the alien invaders when they appear, hoping to fend off “momageddon”.  Emmet, the ‘hero’ of the first movie, is still the same happy-go-lucky person, enjoying his time in the apocalypse as much as possible, greeting his friends, drinking coffee, and building dream houses for he and Lucy.  The Justice League (complete with Momoa Aquaman) heads off to fight the aliens but never returns. 

One day, a new alien appears, and everyone hides inside Batman’s lair.  The emissary kidnaps all of Emmet’s friends, forcing him to head into space to find and save them.  Along the way, he teams up with Rex Dangervest to defeat the Queen of the Sis-tar system, Watevra Wa’Nabi, who is about to marry Batman.  Batman was at first against the idea, but as soon as the Queen mentions she’s more into Superman anyway, he’s suddenly very into her.  I loved this bit – it’s just so hilarious.

Directed by Mike Mitchell, the movie is as fast-paced as the original, with superfast throw away jokes and one-liners. There’s plenty for both adults and kids.  The songs are equally entertaining, especially the “Catchy Song” used as a brainwashing tool. 

  • Chris Pratt plays both Emmet and the new arrival Rex Dangervest, who is really just a compilation of various Chris Pratt characters.

  • Elizabeth Banks is back as Wyldstyle, and I really loved the scene where someone asked her why Emmet was the ‘special’ of the last story if she did most of the work.

  • Will Arnett is back as Lego Batman, who admits to having been off on his own adventures. 

  • Tiffany Haddish joins the cast as the space queen, who is absolutely not evil. She's so not evil she has a song about how not evil she is!

  • Stephanie Beatriz plays the emissary, General Mayhem, who comes to take everyone to a matrimonial ceremony in the Sis-tar system.

  • Alison Brie is back as Unikitty, Nick Offerman returns as MetalBeard, Charlie day is back as Benny, and Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill return as Superman and Green Lantern.  None of them have any major scenes this time around, instead settling for hilarious bits here and there.

  • Maya Rudolph plays the kids’ mom this time around, insisting the Legos go into storage after stepping on a brick for the umpteenth time and getting tired of the kids (Finn and Bianca) fighting about whose Lego sets go where.  These scenes about siblings and their Legos really hit me right in the heart.  Stop making me cry in the theater Lego movie!

Overall, the movie is incredibly entertaining, and definitely worth checking out. 

8 out of 10 – yes, that song will get stuck inside your head.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

2018 Year in Review

Great News, Everyone!  It’s time for my annual year wrap-up more-detailed-than-necessary list of the movies the Academy Awards think you should see, with a follow up of what I think you should see, followed by the list of movies I personally did not like from last year.  Because, let’s face it, sometimes it’s more fun to talk about the movies you didn’t like!

Here are the top twenty from the Academy – again, pulled from who got the most nominations, thank goodness for Excel Pivot Tables.  Blurbs are from IMDB. Currently, I have seen 7 of these 20, with plans to see at least three or four more, which will bring my total over 50%, which is pretty impressive for me!  As per usual, I've included the Honest Trailer from Screen Junkies when available - do yourself a favor and subscribe to their hilarity.  

1.       Roma – 9 nominations – “A year in the life of a middle-class family’s maid in Mexico City in the early 1970s.” Directed by Alfonso Cuaron.  I know this is on Netflix, and I have no excuse for not having watched it yet, but I haven’t been particularly motivated to see it. I know that it being in black and white is not enough of a reason to hold off, but I’m also still holding a grudge against Cuaron for how much I hated Children of Men, even if Prisoner of Azkaban was great.  He’s my nemesis on my list of nemeses who have no idea they are my nemeses.

2.       The Favourite – 9 Nominations – “In early 18th century England, a frail Queen Anne occupies the throne and her close friend, Lady Sarah, governs the country in her stead. When a new servant, Abigail, arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah.” Director Yorgos Lanthimos.  I saw this, and I did not care for it.  A lot was made of the fact that it stars three female leads, impressive for any film, and especially impressive in awards-season fare. However, each of them are such terrible, evil, self-involved characters that it’s tough to care about the story.  I mean, the two ladies are literally at war for the Queen’s attention.  I also did not care for the cinematography or the score.  I will say that Oliva Coleman’s performance was pretty incredible. Not my cup of tea, and that’s okay – because according to this movie that cup of tea is poisoned, resulting in a fall off a horse and a week in a brothel.  

3.       A Star Is Born – 8 nominations – “A musician helps a young singer find fame, even as age and alcoholism send his own career into a downward spiral.” Directed by Bradley Cooper. I will probably watch this at some point, but this is the fifth cinematic version of the story. Lady Gaga is great, and really talented, so it’s nice to see that acknowledged.  We’ll see what the academy thinks of the rest.  Cooper is also on my list of nemeses, not for any good reason - after all, he was on Alias. I think I have started to suffer from BCoops over-exposure, and that’s not his fault, but that doesn’t mean I won’t blame him for it. Shallow is a great song, but I found myself preferring the performance of it from the Grammys last week - sans Cooper.

4.       Vice – 8 nominations – “The story of Dick Cheney, an unassuming bureaucratic Washington insider, who quietly wielded immense power as Vice President to George W. Bush, reshaping the country and the globe in ways that we still feel today.” Directed by Adam McKay.  I found Vice to be very similar to McKay’s Big Short.  It is extremely interesting and gives some insight behind the scenes of stories and scenarios that you are already aware of. Fantastic performances along with a chilling story. Essentially Cheney Palpatined most of that administration.  

5.       Black Panther – 6 nominations – “T’Challa, heir to the hidden but advanced kingdom of Wakanda, must step forward to lead his people into a new future and must confront a challenger from his country’s past.” Directed by Ryan Coogler.  In any other year, this would have been my favorite movie, but it just happened to come out the same year as Infinity War.  It’s exceptional from top to bottom. The story, the acting, the action, the costumes, the score, the songs, the entirety of the execution, it’s all amazing.  Chadwick Boseman is great as T’Challa, but he is outshined (outshone?) by the surrounding characters, especially all the exceptional ladies of Wakanda.  I believe it’s better crafted than any of the other best pic noms, and I want it to win – but in this particular situation, it really is an honor to be nominated. Maybe the stiffs in the academy are finally starting to see that big-budget superhero movies can also be quality films?  I won’t hold my breath on that one.

6.       BlacKkKlansman – 5 nominations – “Ron Stallworth, an African American police officer from Colorado Springs, CO, successfully manages to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan branch with the help of a Jewish surrogate who eventually becomes its leader. Based on actual events.” Directed by Spike Lee. This is the first time Spike Lee has been nominated as director, which seems insane.  Moving from his former muse Denzel to Denzel’s son, this movie is different, upsetting, and stylized. 

7.       Bohemian Rhapsody – 5 nominations – “The story of the legendary rock band Queen and lead singer Freddie Mercury, leading up to their famous performance at Live Aid.” Directed by…well… it’s awkward. It was directed by Bryan Singer until he got into some fights with star Rami Malek as well as having some attendance issues during work days. He was asked to not return and the movie was finished by Dexter Fletcher. Honestly, it’s been said it’s too ‘sanitized’ and ‘movie-fied’ a version of the Freddie Mercury and Queen story.  I went in knowing it would not be accurate, and I enjoyed it.  But I can honestly say it’s not a better movie than most of the other nominees.  However, Malek’s performance was fantastic.

8.       Green Book – 5 nominations – “A working-class Italian-American bouncer becomes the driver of an African-American classical pianist on a tour of venues through the 1960s American South.” Directed by Peter Farrelly, yes, one of the Farrelly brothers. Loosely based on a true story, and taking its name from the Green Book, a travel guide that was made for African-American travelers in the 50s and 60s so they would know safe places to stay where they would not be attacked or killed – my great grandmother’s house is listed as a place to stay in Marion, Indiana.  Mahershala Ali continues to be amazing, but the movie is not a comedy, so please stop lying to us about that. 

9.       First Man – 4 nominations – “A look at the life of the astronaut, Neil Armstrong, and the legendary space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969.” Directed by Damien Chazelle.  I haven’t seen this because it sounded incredibly boring to me. Ryan Gosling plays Neil Armstrong during the lead-up to his famous moonwalk. Is it really that good, or is Chazelle still riding his La La Land favoritism?

10.   Can You Ever Forgive Me? – 3 nominations – “When author Lee Israel falls out of step with current tastes, she turns her art form to deception.” Directed by Marielle Heller. The movie tells the story of how desperate people can be to attain and maintain success.  With quietly powerful performances from Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant. 

11.   Cold War – 3 nominations – “In the 1950s, a music director falls in love with a singer and tries to persuade her to flee communist Poland for France.” Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski. This is up for best foreign movie out of Poland as well as regular best picture. Another black and white entry telling a story I have little to no interest in.

12.   If Beale Street Could Talk – 3 nominations – “A woman in Harlem embraces her pregnancy while she and her family struggle to prove her fiancĂ© innocent of a crime.” Directed by Barry Jenkins.  Jenkins follows up Moonlight with this interpretation of the James Baldwin story detailing young love in the face of prejudice and false imprisonment. I haven’t seen this yet, mainly because it just seems so incredibly heavy – it will take some doing to be in the right mindset.

13.   Mary Poppins Returns – 3 nominations – “Decades after her original visit, the magical nanny returns to help the Banks siblings and Michael’s children through a difficult time in their lives.” Directed by Rob Marshall.  I did not care for the original Mary Poppins (yes, I know, blasphemy), so I had no interest in seeing this one. Can Disney come up with some new stories? No? They’re just going to keep revisiting everything they’ve already done, whether through live-action remakes of their animated stories or with unnecessary sequels? Okay, fine.

14.   Isle of Dogs – 2 nominations – “Set in Japan, Isle of Dogs follows a boy’s odyssey in search of his lost dog.” Directed by Wes Anderson.  My guess is if you like Wes Anderson’s movies, you’ll like this one too.  A little different in that it is stop-motion, and not one of his standard looks-like-a-play movies, but still very much a Wes Anderson movie.  Also, why is it set in Japan?

15.   Never Look Away – 2 nominations – “German artist Kurt Barnert has escaped East Germany and now lives in West Germany, but is tormented by his childhood under the Nazis and the GDR-regime.” Directed by Florian Henckle von Donnersmarck. Another foreign movie, this sounds super difficult and I will not be seeing it.

16.   RBG – 2 nominations – “The exceptional life and career of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who has developed a breathtaking legal legacy while becoming an unexpected pop culture icon.” Directed by Julie Cohen, Betsy West. This is the documentary, not the movie called “On the Basis of Sex”, which was recently released. Odd how sometimes the documentary and fictionalized docu-drama come out the same time. I caught part of this on CNN the other night, and man, RBG is a hell of a lady. Also – the song, written by Diane Warren and performed by Jennifer Hudson is pretty great.

17.   Ready Player One – 2 nominations – “When the creator of a virtual reality world called the OASIS dies, he releases a video in which he challenges all OASIS users to find his Easter Egg, which will give the finder his fortune.” Directed by Steven Spielberg. I read the book prior to seeing the movie, which was a mistake, because I was then very disappointed by the movie. The look was very slick, the pop culture references abound, and the action is good, but the story is choppy and loosely connected to the source material.

18.   The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – 2 nominations – “Six tales of life and violence in the Old West, following a singing gunslinger, a bank robber, a traveling impresario, an elderly prospector, a wagon train, and a perverse pair of bounty hunters.” Directed by the Coen brothers. I have no opinion here as I am still on my not-watching-anything-by-the-Coens-ever kick, so I don’t care what this is about. They are definitely on my list of nemeses.

19.   A Quiet Place – 1 nominations – “In a post-apocalyptic world, a family is forced to live in silence while hiding from monsters with ultra-sensitive hearing.” Directed by John Krasinski.  An unlikely success on several levels, I haven’t seen it yet because I was worried about being too scared, but I will definitely check it out. Are we ready for a Fantastic Four reboot with Krasinski and Blunt yet?

20.   Avengers: Infinity War – 1 nomination – “The Avengers and their allies must be willing to sacrifice all in an attempt to defeat the powerful Thanos before his blitz of devastation and ruin puts an end to the universe.” Directed by the Russo Brothers.  Somehow, the Russos managed to take a villain hinted at for the last 10 years and make him the center ‘hero’ of this story. Brolin’s performance and the exceptional effects make Thanos a compelling villain with a motivation you can almost understand. Almost…

There you have it, that’s what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences thinks are the best films from 2018. I agree with a couple, but again, I mostly prefer ‘movies’ to their ‘films’.  Here are my personal top flicks – not the best quality (definitely not the best quality!), but the ones I enjoyed the most from 2018:

1.       Avengers: Infinity War – Again, let the Russos direct everything. I loved how this movie wasted no time. It started immediately at the end of the previous movie in the MCU and was completely made for fans. If you had invested the time to see every one of the preceding 18 movies, this was incredibly rewarding. However, if you hadn’t, you could still enjoy this adventure.  The action was exceptional, the comic moments fantastic (I could watch other heroes meet the Guardians over and over) the emotional weight was real, and the end is the first time I have ‘heard’ that level of silence during the credits of an MCU movie. I cannot wait for Endgame, and though I know we’re going to lose some who have been with us since the beginning, it’s going to usher in the next set of chapters in a bold and beautiful way.  Captain Marvel is out March 7th.

2.       Black Panther – Not just a great superhero movie, not just a great MCU movie, but a great movie.  And, while it is all those things, not enough can be said about the representation and how much it matters.  Yes, there have been black superheroes before, but this movie was filled with black heroes, heroines, and villains, and young black kids can finally see themselves in all the roles on the poster. Yes, that does matter, and yes, it is an important layer that just continues to add to the excellence of this movie.

3.       Ant Man and the Wasp - “As Scott Lang balances being both a Super Hero and a father, Hope van Dyne and Dr. Hank Pym present an urgent new mission that finds the Ant-Man fighting alongside The Wasp to uncover secrets from their past.” Directed by Peyton Reed.  Thanos may have been epically tearing through the majority of the universe on side of globe, but on the other, Scott Lang is just trying to be a good dad.  A simple tight story, introducing the Wasp and letting Evangeline Lilly kick some ass was just fantastic, and really hilarious.

4.       Spider-Man: Into the SpiderVerse - “Teen Miles Morales becomes Spider-Man of his reality, crossing his path with five counterparts from other dimensions to stop a threat for all realities.” Directed by Bob Persichetti and Peter Ramsey. I’m not sure I can remember the last time I had an animated movie on my ‘best of’ list, but this movie is exceptional!  Miles is the perfect representation of a kid with sudden powers who wants to do what he can to help, but doesn’t know how.  Guidance from multiple Spider-People from multiple ‘verses helps him along. Nicholas Cage as Spider-Man Noir was perfect casting, and the Stan Lee cameo made me weep.  Charming, sweet, touching, and action-packed, the movie is just fantastic. And yes, I'm aware that makes the top four movies on my list Marvel flicks.

5.       Crazy Rich Asians. “The contemporary romantic comedy, based on a global bestseller, follows native New Yorker Rachel Chu to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s family.” Directed by Jon M. Chu.  In the same way that Black Panther was incredibly important for representation, so was this movie.  On top of that, it’s hilarious and sweet. Plus, the sets and fashion is outstanding!  We all want to walk down flooded aisles during our wedding ceremonies now.

6.       A Simple Favor. “Stephanie is a single mother with a parenting vlog who befriends Emily, a secretive upper-class woman who has a child at the same elementary school.  When Emily goes missing, Stephanie takes it upon herself to investigate.” Directed by Paul Feig. Difficult to describe and strangely compelling, this movie was a surprise for me. Anna Kendrick is charming as a woman searching for his missing friend, and between this and Crazy Rich Asians, Henry Golding should be the next James Bond.  The style, the music, and the fashion add to this crazy story to make a really interesting movie.

7.       Mission: Impossible Fallout. “Ethan Hunt and his IMF team, along with some familiar allies, race against time after a mission gone wrong.” Directed by Christopher McQuarrie.  Tom Cruise continues to give everything he has to these movies. Honestly, I can’t even begin to tell you the plot, and I’m not sure the story was that great, but man, the action was exceptional, and finally we seem to have found a good spot for Henry Cavill.  He should play a villain more often!

8.       Bumblebee. “On the run in the year 1987, Bumblebee finds refuge in a junkyard in a small Californian beach town. Charlie, on the cusp of turning 18 and trying to find her place in the world, discovers Bumblebee, battle-scarred and broken.” Directed by Travis Knight.  In case like me, you gave up on the Transformers franchise just before the last movie, go ahead and get back into it with this fantastic flick.  I loved the 80s soundtrack, and Bumblebee as he fights to get his memory back and protect his new friend. Also – I loved when he tried not to destroy things in the house, but did anyway. Why is he so damn cute?  That’s rhetorical, because the answer is ILM. 

9.       Creed II. “Under the tutelage of Rocky Balboa, heavyweight contender Adonis Creed faces off against Viktor Drago, son of Ivan Drago.”  Directed by Steven Caple Jr. Rocky IV was my favorite of the Rockys, so I was thrilled that this brought back Drago and introduced son of Drago.  Dolph Lundgren has a quiet, haunted vibe in this that makes you wonder what happened to his character after Rocky beat him years ago.  Michael B. Jordan continues to give Adonis Creed likeability even when he’s making poor decisions, like running into fights he’s not ready for. Rocky told you you’re not ready – listen to him!  Also, did we ever learn if Rocky got the city to come fix that streetlight?

10.   Solo: A Star Wars Story. “During an adventure into the criminal underworld, Han Solo meets his future co-pilot Chewbacca and encounters Lando Calrissian years before joining the rebellion.” Directed by Ron Howard. I loved parts of this movie, and hated some other bits.  The parts I loved were the parts with Han and Chewie, and the introduction to Lando (Gambino Lando was damn near flawless), and Lando’s cape closet.  CAPE CLOSET! Plus the reintroduction of Maul to the cinematic Star Wars universe. Please, let Dave Filoni direct a sequel that brings together all the scoundrels and bounty hunters we know as Jabba sends everyone after some sort of macguffin.

11.   Widows. “Set in contemporary Chicago, amid a time of turmoil, four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities, take fate into their own hands, and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.” Directed by Steve McQueen.  Initially, I was a little disappointed by this move, as I went in expecting an action movie, and it is definitely a drama.  Viola Davis is fantastic as a woman who will do what is necessary.  Colin Farrell is the perfect slimy politician.  I wanted a little more for Michelle Rodriguez to do, and it’s tough to not be swayed by the latest Liam Neeson nonsense, but overall, it’s very interesting and well crafted.

12.   Game Night. “A group of friends who meet regularly for game nights find themselves entangled in a real-life mystery when the shady brother of tone of them is seemingly kidnapped by dangerous gangsters.” Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein.  Expecting nothing from this movie really helped.  Jason Bateman is always great, and the idea that game-night attendees mistake a real kidnapping for a fake kidnapping does result in hilarity.  And, it features the same dog actor as number 11, Widows.

13.   Deadpool 2. “Foul-mouthed mutant mercenary Wade Wilson (aka Deadpool), brings together a team of fellow mutant rogues to protect a young boy with supernatural abilities from the brutal, time-traveling cyborg, Cable.” Directed by David Leitch.  Not as good as the first one, but still pretty damn great, this movie is directed by the stunt master behind the John wick movies.  Watching Wade attempt to assemble his own team is great, and Brolin adds another Marvel baddie to his list.

14.   Venom. “A failed reporter is bonded to an alien entity, one of many entities who have invaded Earth. But the entity takes a liking to Earth and decides to protect it.” Directed by Ruben Fleischer.  Listen, I know this wasn’t great, and you have to get past the fact that the origin is all wrong, and the giant CGI mess of a battle at the end.  But, once you are past all that, it’s pretty entertaining. Tom Hardy is a great choice as Brock, the back and forth between he and the symbiote are fun, and the scenes of Venom just Venoming around the city are fantastic.

15.   Peppermint. “Five years after her husband and daughter are killed in a senseless act of violence, a woman comes back from self-imposed exile to seek revenge against those responsible and the system that let them go free.” Directed by Pierre Morel.  This movie is very simple, very straightforward.  Woman seeks vengeance for her murdered family. Period.  It’s like one of those 80s action movies. Nothing fancy, but you never get enough of seeing the bad guys get it.

16.   The Meg. “After escaping an attack by what he claims was a 70-foot shark, Jonas Taylor must confront his fears to save those trapped in a sunken submersible.” Directed by Jon Turteltaub.  I have read two books in the Meg series (yes, it’s a series of books), and I was looking forward to seeing Jason Statham battle the giant prehistoric shark. It is absolute nonsense, and could have actually been even sillier, but still – everyone in the cast is well aware what they are making, and Statham is having a blast putting some of that Olympic-level diving skill to use.

17.   Rampage. “When three different animals become infected with a dangerous pathogen, a primatologist and a geneticist team up to stop them from destroying Chicago.” Directed by Brad Peyton.  Really, this should be tied for 16 with The Meg, as it’s a very similar deal.  I can never argue with a movie that does not lie to you about what it is.  This movie is the Rock versus giant mutated animals who want to destroy Chicago. It’s terrible, it knows it’s terrible, but hey, it’s entertaining while it is happening.

A pretty strong list, if I do say so myself. Any one of those would provide an entertaining popcorn filled afternoon.  Shifting gears, here is the list of the movies I did not like. Hated is a strong word, but I hated these.

1.       Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom. “When the island’s dominate volcano begins roaring to life, Owen and Claire mount a campaign to rescue the remaining dinosaurs from this extinction-level event.” Directed by J. A. Bayona.  Holy shit, this was a steaming piling of crap.  Why did we fall in love with the original Jurassic Park? The dinosaurs, and the magic of seeing them on their island. The first sequence of this movie sets fire to the island, causing many of the dinosaurs to die in horrific terrible ways. It was so incredibly traumatizing, I really could not get into the rest of the movie – which then involved bringing some captured dinosaurs to a mansion where they were auctioned off to criminals and warlords as weapons. The hell with this.  After Jurassic World, which I enjoyed – I wanted a sequel with no people as Blue negotiated her way around the island, just dinosaur action. Blue makes it through this movie, and seems to rule over a small desert town at the end, so who knows what is going to come next.  At least the dinosaurs still look amazing.

2.       Robin Hood. “A war-hardened Crusader and his Moorish commander mount an audacious revolt against the corrupt English crown in a thrilling action-adventure packed with gritty battlefield exploits, mind-blowing fight choreography, and a timeless romance.” Directed by Otto Bathurst.  Okay, IMDB is lying to you with that blurb. The fight choreography was far from mind-blowing, and the romance was not timeless as the two seemed to have no chemistry and felt like they could barely stand one another.  No one was asking for another Robin Hood movie, and while Taron Egerton and Jaime Foxx are great, they are not great in this.  The story was nonsense, the action poor, and the set pieces confusing. There’s a mine, with miners.  When has there ever been a mine in any Robin Hood story?  It’s all just so unnecessary.  Also, Alan Rickman set the bar completely out of reach with his Sheriff of Nottingham, and while Kevin Costner’s accent is…let’s just say curious…that movie was almost flawless.  Stop trying to make another Robin Hood movie.

3.       The Happytime Murders. “When the puppet cast of a 90s children’s TV show begin to get murdered one by one, a disgraced LAPD detective-turned-private eye puppet takes on the case.” Directed by Brian Henson.  I feel like this one had the potential to be really funny, but felt like it wanted to earn that R rating and so sacrificed some of the comedy to the dirty-ness.  I appreciated the fact that there were outtakes over the end credits that showed that the muppeteers were having a blast making this, so good for them. Also, the sequence where Melissa McCarthy gets high on maple syrup and then gets in a fight with some muppet gangsters was hilarious, but that was the only part I found really funny. The rest wandered from awkward to gross.

4.       Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald. “The second installment on the Fantastic Beasts series featuring the adventures of Magizoologist Newt Scamander.”  Directed by David Yates.  Listen, I was a casual fan of the Harry Potter movies, and the first Fantastic Beasts was good.  But this just felt like a mess that tries to incorporate a whole lot of backstory about characters who were either not mentioned before or were connected from the other series. I kept feeling like I should have read the book first so I knew who all these people were, but there was no book for this one.  The creatures were lovely, and they looked amazing, but the rest of it was just too much. And can we all just collectively agree we are over Johnny Depp at this point? He’s definitely on my list of nemeses.

5.       Spy Who Dumped Me. “Audrey and Morgan are best friends who unwittingly become entangled in an international conspiracy when one of the women discovers the boyfriend who dumped her was actually a spy.” Directed by Susanna Fogel.  This is one that is on my worst list due to wasted potential. The idea could have been funnier than it was, and I feel like it was perhaps a little over-scripted. Hire more comedians, and let them improv a little more.  Kate McKinnon is funny, Mila Kunis is funny, and together they were funny, but the movie still fell a little flat. 

That’s it, an exhaustive summary of last year in my opinion (just my opinion – certainly not stating any of this as facts!).  Did I miss anything? We will see what the Academy thinks on Sunday, February 24th.  It will be tough, there’s no host, and they keep saying they are not going to televise some of the major categories, so who knows what is going to happen!