Top 10 Films of 2018, No. 10 – Black Panther

Black Panther is a superhero film produced by Marvel Studios based on the Marvel Comic character of the same name. Directed by Ryan Coogler and written by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, Black Panther tells the story of T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) as he becomes the new king of Wakanda, an isolated but technologically advanced African nation that is powered by a mysterious metal called vibranium. Soon after becoming Wakanda’s king and Black Panther, T’Challa is faced with an enemy (Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan) who challenges his reign, and he must rally both friend and foe among the nation’s tribes in an effort to secure the safety and longevity of Wakanda.

BP2I must confess at the outset that I am not a big fan of the live-action Marvel movies – I have only seen roughly half of the franchise’s films. But of the ones I have seen, Black Panther reigns supreme in the Marvel universe (sorry Guardians of the Galaxy). In fact, after my initial viewing, it quickly became one of my top five favorite superhero movies of all time. My lack of passion for most superhero movies (especially in the Marvel universe) is due in significant part to what I view as cookie-cutter plots and characters – yes, most of these films are very well acted and produced, but they generally involve low stakes and follow the same tropes that are trotted out in every predecessor. With Black Panther, the story is much more intimate, and unlike its Marvel counterparts, it has a truly distinct style and personality, both in terms of the plot and the characters.

BP5What sticks out the most for me in terms of Black Panther setting itself apart from most other Marvel films is its writer/director – Ryan Coogler was the perfect choice to be the film’s creative visionary. The 32-year-old filmmaker has built his budding career on the foundation of captivating stories about African-Americans – in his debut Fruitvale Station, Coogler created a thought-provoking sense of anger and heartbreak, and in Creed, he reinvigorated the Rocky franchise with storytelling that was simultaneously nostalgic and fresh. In Black Panther, Coogler takes his creative abilities to new heights, constructing a movie that fits the mold for a superhero movie (e.g., action, suspense, and triumph), while also bringing a certain intimacy and sensitivity to its plotline that induces a beautiful connection between the audience and the characters. Black Panther is a movie about identity, and this is, at its core, a product of Coogler’s imaginative excellence.

BP4As discussed above, Black Panther features some fantastic characters, which were brought to life by wonderful performances. In supporting roles, the film had many outstanding performances, including those from Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Martin Freeman, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, and Winston Duke. However, the standout supporting performance was delivered by Letitia Wright, who was magnificent as Shuri, T’Challa’s younger sister – Shuri is both spunky and fierce, and Wright’s superb performance helped land her the EE Rising Star Award at this year’s BAFTAs. Further, I enjoyed Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, but he didn’t blow me away. This is likely due to the fact that Michael B. Jordan simply stole the show – in fact, for his performance as the villain Killmonger, I believe Jordan should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Aided by a deep backstory that slowly becomes more evident and emotional as the film progresses, Killmonger became one of the greatest Marvel film characters of all time – this is due unequivocally to Jordan’s marvelous performance. Black Panther is rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture.

Black Panther trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjDjIWPwcPU

Academy Award nominations for Black Panther:

Best Picture (Kevin Feige, producer)

Best Original Score (Ludwig Göransson)

Best Original Song – “All the Stars” (Music by Mark Spears, Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, and Anthony Tiffith; Lyrics by Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, Anthony Tiffith, and Solána Rowe)

Best Sound Editing (Benjamin A. Burtt and Steve Boeddeker)

Best Sound Mixing (Steve Boeddeker, Brandon Proctor, and Peter J. Devlin)

Best Production Design (Production Design: Hannah Beachler; Set Decoration: Jay Hart)

Best Costume Design (Ruth E. Carter)

My Review of the 86th Academy Awards

Oscars Selfie

Well, this year’s Oscars have officially come and gone, and at this point, I am already excited for next year’s show.  But before I start preparing for another amazing year in film, I wanted to share my reactions of last night’s broadcast with all of you.  The Academy Awards has been known in the past to be utterly long and boring.  Although the show was still long (about 3 ½ hours), it was far from boring.  Ellen DeGeneres was an absolutely, hysterically entertaining host, and I would have zero problem if she was asked to host the show from here on out—her monologue this year was uproarious!  With the exception of only a couple, each of her jokes throughout the show were quite humorous and suitable for the Oscars, and even when she did toe the line of appropriateness, it still worked because it was done with Ellen’s trademark repartee.

This year’s Oscars had some tremendous moments, some not-so-tremendous moments, and some downright unforgettable moments, and I am pleased to share my reactions to all of the major highlights from a successful Academy Awards ceremony:

Best Moment: (12 Years A Slave wins Best Picture)

McQueen JumpingAs you all probably already know from my blog, 12 Years A Slave was by far my favorite film from 2013.  I have been hoping and praying that it would win Best Picture, and last night, it did!  In a night where Gravity took home seven Oscars, including Best Director for Alfonso Cuarón, it was gratifying that the Academy awarded its most prestigious honor to a film that I believe is one of the greatest of all time.  Both Brad Pitt and director Steve McQueen were graciously humble in accepting the award, and after the Academy flubbed last year by giving Argo the award, it was great to see them getting it right this time around. The best part of the acceptance speech, though, was when Steve McQueen began jumping around on stage in celebration of the victory.  Well deserved, Mr. McQueen.

Worst Moment: (John Travolta’s mispronunciation of Idina Menzel’s name)

Adele DazeemEvery presenter at the Oscars is presented with a guide to help them master the names of anyone they must introduce.  Despite this, Idina Menzel’s name is not all that hard to pronounce in the first place—it sounds just like it looks.  However, John Travolta found some way possible to dastardly butcher the Let It Go-singer’s name as she was introduced to perform.  His pronunciation for “Idina Menzel” was as follows: Adele Dah-zeem.  HUH????

Most Endearing Moment: (Acceptance Speech for The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life)

Clarke OscarsThe subject matter of this Short Documentary winner is Alice Herz-Sommer, the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor, and how music had given her optimism in life.  Ms. Herz-Sommer passed away at 110 years old, just one week ago.  While accepting the award, director Malcolm Clarke gave an undeniably endearing acceptance speech about this strong-willed, positive-minded woman and the impact she had on the entire filmmaking crew.  It was definitely a special moment last night.

Most Boring Moment (Bette Midler’s performance)

86th Annual Academy Awards - ShowLast year, my “Most Boring Moment” went to Barbara Streisand for her musical performance following the “In Memoriam” presentation.  Once again, this musical slot takes the cake for the most absolutely boring moment of the entire Academy Awards.  Bette Midler performed “Wind Beneath My Wings” following the “In Memoriam” slideshow, and it nearly put me to sleep.  For starters, Bette Midler simply does not have it anymore as a singer, at least not last night.  She was flat, unengaged, and dreadful, and the best part of her performance was when the music ended and she walked off of the stage.

WTF Moment: (Kim Novak presenting with Matthew McConaughey)

Kim NovakKim Novak is one of the most well known actresses of her generation, starring in incredible films like Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Joshua Logan’s Picnic.  Now, I understand Novak is in her early eighties, but her appearance last night was simply awkward in every sense of the word.  She rambled on and on in an extraordinarily incoherent manner, and she clearly was not on the same page with McConaughey; he had to continually pull her closer to the microphone, as well.  Also, when they attempted to announce the category for “Best Animated Short Film” in sync, it was a disaster—McConaughey said, “Best Animated Short Film,” while Novak said, “Best Short Animated Feature.”

Best Monologue Joke: (Poking fun at Jennifer Lawrence’s Oscar “fall” last year)

J-Law TripsAs everyone may know, last year, while walking to the stage to accept the “Best Actress” award, Jennifer Lawrence tripped and fell (pictured on the right).  This year, while exiting her car for the Red Carpet, Lawrence again tripped and fell.  Ellen started the joke off by saying that she was not going to bring up either fall or poke fun because it is embarrassing when people bring those sorts of things up in public—she then went on to bring each of them up in greater detail, and it was hilarious.  The best part was when Ellen followed up by saying, “if you win tonight, I think we should bring you the Oscar.”  Jennifer Lawrence seemed to get a good kick out of it, and it was most definitely the funniest of Ellen’s many entertaining monologue jokes.

Worst Monologue Joke (the Liza Minnelli diss)

lizaLiza Minnelli was in attendance with her siblings to honor the 75th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz, a film their mother, Judy Garland, starred in.  Ellen’s worst joke came when she pointed out that one of the best Liza Minnelli impersonators she had ever seen was in attendance (referring to Minnelli herself).  Then Ellen said, “good job, sir.”  Liza Minnelli did NOT look impressed.

Best Ellen Moment of the Night: (Tie: Celebrity Selfie and Pizza Delivery)

Ellen definitely brought a hip new aspect to the Oscars, and the show’s entertainment value benefited significantly from this.  At one point in the show, Ellen rounded up some of Hollywood’s most famous movie stars (and Lupita Nyong’o’s brother) to tweet a selfie in an attempt to break the record for most retweets, which the picture did indeed accomplish.  Ellen PizzaLater in the show, Ellen had a few boxes of pizza delivered to the Dolby Theater, and she spent a few minutes passing out slices to everyone.  Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kevin Spacey, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Christian Bale, Jared Leto, Harrison Ford, Kerry Washington, Martin Scorsese, and many others indulged in the Italian treat—Brad Pitt was actually extremely stoked for the occasion, loudly voicing to the pizza guy that he wanted pepperoni!  It was a hilarious interlude during the ceremony, and it was one that has never been seen before.

Best Acceptance Speech: (Lupita Nyong’o for Best Supporting Actress)

Lupita SpeechIn her film debut, Lupita Nyong’o won the Best Supporting Actress award for her role as Patsey in 12 Years A Slave.  She gracefully thanked the real-life Patsey and Solomon Northup for his amazing story.  She then, tearfully, thanked director Steve McQueen for the role, saying that being cast in this film was “the joy of [her] life.”  With every appreciative comment about the many people that helped her reach this milestone, she spoke kindly and eloquently, and her heartfelt acceptance speech was truly remarkable.

Best Musical Performance: (Pink singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”)

Pink OscarsDuring the Oscars, the Academy paid tribute to the 75th anniversary of “The Wizard of Oz,” and Pink performed a beautiful rendition of the infamous “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”  Pink is by far one of the most talented singers in the music industry today, and her vocals were incredible during this cover of Judy Garland’s signature song.  If it were not for Pink’s amazing performance, this award would go to Pharrell Williams for his “Happy” routine earlier in the broadcast, but Pink’s breathtaking command of the stage during this earnest performance is absolutely undeniable.

Review: My Ballot and Countdown

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Well, with another successful few weeks of blogging, we have finally reached the big day: the Academy Awards.  In preparation for tonight’s show, I am providing all of you with a review of my blog from these past couple of weeks.  This review includes all of the winners of the 10 categories in which I have seen each nominated film/performance and have subsequently blogged about, and it also includes my list of the “Top 15 Films of the Year.”

Get caught up on my picks, and feel free to look back over any of my past posts featuring much more in-depth commentary on each of these films and performances.  And make sure to tune into the 86th Academy Awards tonight at 7:30pm (CST) on ABC, live from the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles, CA.  Enjoy, everyone!

My Oscar Winners:

Best Picture: 12 Years A Slave

Actor in a Leading Role: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

Actor in a Supporting Role: Michael Fassbender (12 Years A Slave)

Actress in a Leading Role: Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

Actress in a Supporting Role: Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years A Slave)

Best Director: Steve McQueen (12 Years A Slave)

Best Film Editing: Joe Walker (12 Years A Slave)

Best Production Design: Catherine Martin and Beverley Dunn (The Great Gatsby)

Best Adapted Screenplay: Terence Winter (The Wolf of Wall Street)

Best Original Screenplay: Spike Jonze (Her)

Top 15 Films of the Year:

1. 12 Years A Slave

2. Short Term 12

3. The Hunt

4. Frances Ha

5. The Wolf of Wall Street

6. The World’s End

7. American Hustle

8. The Spectacular Now

9. Nebraska

10. Captain Phillips

11. Her

12. Philomena

13. Fruitvale Station

14. The Place Beyond the Pines

15. Dallas Buyers Club

Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 1 – 12 Years A Slave

12 1

12 Years A Slave is a film directed by Steve McQueen, with a screenplay by John Ridley.  The film is adapted from Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoir of the same name.  It tells the true story of when Northup was abducted and sold into slavery during the pre-Civil War era, despite the fact that he was a free man.

12 Years A Slave is an epic tale about the bitter reality of American slavery and the resilience one man had to withstand such brutal obstacles in order to one day reach his family again.  I have heard many great things about Steve McQueen’s filmmaking abilities, but prior to 12 Years A Slave, I had never personally seen any of his work.  But based purely on his effort here, the British director has made me a dedicated believer in his talented artistry.  McQueenThe subject of slavery in America has never been displayed on the silver screen before in such a straightforward, viciously honest nature, and when asked in an interview with Entertainment Weekly why there have not been more films in America about slavery, McQueen responded, “it’s a question it took a Brit to ask.”  McQueen gives Solomon Northup’s story justice on the screen and not by sugarcoating any part of this heroic story—he is candid at all times, no matter how atrocious the circumstances are.  McQueen has created one of the greatest films of all time, and this is the first time since The King’s Speech won for Best Picture that I have so deeply believed that a film deserves the Academy’s most coveted award.

This epic tale is packed with astoundingly crafted acting performances, and this is just another reason why 12 Years A Slave stands tall among the rest of 2013’s cinematic exports.  Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Solomon Northup, and his take on the real-life man is viscerally remarkable.  Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a SlaveThere are some horrifying scenes involving Ejiofor’s character, but he handles them with an experienced level of dignity.  Ejiofor admitted in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that he found the most brutal scenes the easiest to perform because “it allows for another level of legitimacy in the pursuit of someone’s story, somebody’s life.”  Ejiofor devoted the time and effort in preparing for this role with commitment and resolve, and for that, the story of Solomon Northup receives the respected amount of attention that it deserves.

Lupita Nyong’o also gave one of the most incredible performances of the entire year in her portrayal of Patsey, an iron-willed slave woman.  Her character is one of the more innocent figures in the film, but she has some of the harshest realities of pre-Civil War slavery, namely the sexual sadism she is subjected to from her slave owner.  lupitaNyong’o is a newcomer in Hollywood, but the performance she gives is more analogous to a veteran performer on the verge of a Lifetime Achievement award.  Her wisdom in terms of acting is beyond her years, and in this film, she gives a performance that will long be remembered as one of the best 2013 had to offer.  With every crack of the whip during her gruesome beating scene, Lupita Nyong’o becomes immersed even deeper into her character, and even though the scene is one of the hardest to watch, her realism knocks it out of the park.

The film’s other actors also give outstanding supporting performances, especially Paul Dano and Sarah Paulson.  fassbenderBut aside from Ejiofor and Nyong’o, no performance is more memorable than Michael Fassbender as the vicious slave-owner, Edwin Epps.  At first glance, the character seems blandly one-dimensional, but Fassbender’s exhaustive construction of the character brings out so many other previously unearthed qualities.  Ever since I first saw Fassbender in Inglourious Basterds, I knew he had a unique gift in regards to acting, but never before has he been so instinctive and appalling as he is in 12 Years A Slave.  If any other skilled actor were to take on the role of Epps, the film would probably still be a solid “A.”  But Fassbender’s terrific performance takes this movie to another level, and McQueen is most assuredly thankful for this collaboration.

All in all, this film is by far the best of the entire year.  It touches every single emotion a viewer could possibly have, and the acting is something to behold.  McQueen has beautifully created one of the most important films of modern cinema, and for that, it deserves every single honor available in this industry.  12 Years A Slave is rated R for violence/cruelty, some nudity, and brief sexuality.

12 Years A Slave trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z02Ie8wKKRg

Academy Award nominations for 12 Years A Slave:

Best Picture (Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen, and Anthony Katagas, Producers)

Best Actor (Chiwetel Ejiofor)

Best Supporting Actor (Michael Fassbender)

Best Supporting Actress (Lupita Nyong’o)

Best Costume Design (Patricia Norris)

Best Director (Steve McQueen)

Best Film Editing (Joe Walker)

Best Production Design (Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Alice Baker)

Best Adapted Screenplay (John Ridley)

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of the Year:

2. Short Term 12

3. The Hunt

4. Frances Ha

5. The Wolf of Wall Street

6. The World’s End

7. American Hustle

8. The Spectacular Now

9. Nebraska

10. Captain Phillips

11. Her

12. Philomena

13. Fruitvale Station

14. The Place Beyond the Pines

15. Dallas Buyers Club

Best Supporting Actress

Lupita Nyong'oLast year, each of the five women in this category had been previously nominated for at least one Academy Award, combining for a total of eight previous nominations and three Academy Award wins.  This year, however, the Best Supporting Actress category is made up of mostly Oscar rookies: Sally Hawkins, Lupita Nyong’o, and June Squibb are each receiving their first Academy Award nomination.  The other two nominees, Jennifer Lawrence and Julia Roberts, have combined for five nominations and two Oscar wins.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actress in a Supporting Role:

WINNER: Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years A Slave) 

In her first feature-length role, Lupita Nyong’o plays Patsey, a young slave in the South.  Although she is her master’s most productive slave, she is also the object of his sexual desire and physical abuse.  Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave takes an incredibly realistic look at the pre-Civil War era when slavery was prominent throughout the South, and while there are some incredibly powerful acting performances that set the film’s tone, none is more commanding than the 30-year-old Lupita’s.  Lupita 2There are times when you smile as Patsey enjoys some simple parts of life, such as making dolls out of cornhusks, but there are also times when you want to break down because of the evils being bestowed upon her by her master (Michael Fassbender) and his wife (Sarah Poulson).  The vast array of emotions I felt while watching this film were truly illuminated by Lupita’s remarkable debut performance.  Even though Jennifer Lawrence had another amazing acting performance in American Hustle, it is hard for me to pick against Nyong’o this year, and in my opinion, the rookie actress is very much deserving of Hollywood’s highest honor.  Nyong’o has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

2. Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)

In American Hustle, Jennifer Lawrence plays Rosalyn Rosenfeld, the unpredictable wife of the lead character, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale).  Irving and his mistress (Amy Adams) are forced by the FBI to help set up a sting operation in order to take down corrupt politicians in New York City, but Irving’s often boozed-up, sun-burnt, stay-at-home wife may threaten the entire job.  I will buy into any role Jennifer Lawrence takes on, becauseJennifer Lawrence no matter what character she might play, she has proven that it will be played with an unparalleled level of wit, enthusiasm, and tenacity, and this performance is no exception.  Lawrence is quickly becoming one of the most successful actresses in the entertainment business today, and this nomination marks the third time in the last four years that her roles have landed her at the Oscars; if she wins, she will be only the sixth performer to ever win back-to-back acting Oscars.  While her role as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games has helped garner her the title of “America’s Sweetheart,” Oscar-nominated performances like this one are cementing her place among the greatest young actresses in Hollywood.  Lawrence was previously nominated for Best Actress on two occasions: nominated for Winter’s Bone (2010) and winning for Silver Linings Playbook (2012).

3. Julia Roberts (August: Osage County)

In August: Osage County, Julia Roberts plays Barbara, the eldest daughter of the Weston family.  When Barbara’s father commits suicide, she ventures back home to northeastern Oklahoma to reunite with her two sisters, her aunt and uncle, and her pill-popping mother (Meryl Streep).  I have never been a big fan of Julia Roberts, and it has been since her Oscar-winning role in Erin Brockovich that I have been even remotely impressed with her acting abilities.  That being said, I was pleasantly surprised with her on-screen display inJulia Roberts this film.  If it were not for a couple extraordinary performances this year by Nyong’o and Lawrence, Julia Roberts may have found herself taking home her second Academy Award.  She is great throughout the entire film, and the highlight for me was her foul-mouthed argument with her mother and sister over a plate of fish.  Julia is in rare form in this film, and this performance has definitely reinvigorated my interest in her career.  Roberts was previously nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Steel Magnolias (1989).  She was also previously nominated for Best Actress on two occasions: nominated for Pretty Woman (1990) and winning for Erin Brockovich (2000).

4. June Squibb (Nebraska)

In Nebraska, June Squibb plays Kate Grant, the blunt, opinionated wife of Woody (Bruce Dern).  When Woody decides to journey to Nebraska in hopes of collecting a $1 million prize, Kate unsuccessfully attempts to convince Woody and his son (Will Forte) that it is allNEBRASKA a hoax and a waste of time.  This is my first encounter with Squibb as an actress, but she previously worked with Nebraska-director Alexander Payne on About Schmidt (2002).  I greatly enjoyed the black-and-white film and its simple, yet compelling plot, and one of the movie’s most obvious high points is Squibb’s character.  She curses at people and never shies away from arguing with her husband, and the single funniest scene in the film features Kate flashing the tombstone of one of Woody’s dead relatives.  The woman is a straight shooter, and I found her character extremely heartwarming and hilarious.  Squibb is the third oldest Best Supporting Actress nominee ever, and if she were to win the award, she would be the oldest acting winner of any kind in Oscar history.  Squibb has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

5. Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)

In Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, Sally Hawkins plays Ginger, the sister of the ex-socialite Jasmine (Cate Blanchett).  When Jasmine is essentially kicked out of the high-class world,Cate Blanchette Sally Hawkins Andrew Dice Clay she moves in with Ginger.  Woody Allen is the king of creating neurotic characters, and he did so again with Blanchett’s disturbed character, but the best part of the film for me was Sally Hawkins as Ginger.  As a lower middle class mother of two, Ginger is struggling to deal with her sister’s erratic behavior and her own on-the-rocks relationship with her boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale), and Hawkins delineates the character on the silver screen with particular brilliance.  I was pleased to see Hawkins receive a nomination, but unfortunately, the field is far too packed this year for her to take home a win.  Hawkins has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

Actresses snubbed in this category: Scarlett Johansson (Her) and Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street)