The Sunset Film Circle Honors Promising Young Woman


So, as we all know, December is typically the start of Awards Season but this year, things are up in the air.  With the Academy extending the eligibility window (don’t even get me started on how annoyed I am about that), a lot of critics groups have also pushed back their selection date.  For instance, the National Board of Review will not be announcing their picks until January.  The Golden Globe nominations will not be announced until February.  Things are going to be a bit messed up.

At the same time, some critics groups are still going to be announcing their picks for the best of the year in December, which is the way it should be.  (When it comes time for me to make my annual “best of” list, I will only be considering films that were actually released in 2020.)  With that in mind, the Sunset Film Circle is a new group that, earlier today, announced their picks for the best of 2020!

And here they are (winners in bold):

BEST FILM

Promising Young Woman 

(Runner-up: Mank)

 

TOP FILMS

The Father

The King of Staten Island

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Mank

Minari

Nine Days

Nomadland

Promising Young Woman

Saint Maud

Sound of Metal

 

BEST DIRECTOR

Lee Isaac Chung – Minari

David Fincher – Mank

Darius Marder – Sound of Metal

Florian Zeller – The Father

Chloe Zhao – Nomadland (Runner-up)

 

BEST ACTOR

Ben Affleck – The Way Back

Riz Ahmed – Sound of Metal

Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Winston Duke – Nine Days

Anthony Hopkins – The Father (runner-up)

 

BEST ACTRESS

Morfydd Clark – Saint Maud

Glenn Close – Hillbilly Elegy (runner up)

Viola Davis – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Vanessa Kirby – Pieces of a Woman

Carey Mulligan – Promising Young Woman

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Bill Burr – The King of Staten Island (runner up)

Bill Murray – On The Rocks

Leslie Odom Jr. – One Night in Miami

Paul Raci – Sound of Metal

Stanley Tucci – Supernova

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Amy Adams – Hillbilly Elegy (runner-up)

Zazie Beetz – Nine Days

Olivia Colman – The Father

Amanda Seyfried – Mank

Youn Yuh-jung – Minari 

 

BEST ENSEMBLE

Hillbilly Elegy (runner-up)

The King of Staten Island

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Minari

The Prom

 

BEST SCREENPLAY

The Father – Christopher Hampton & Florian Zeller

Minari – Lee Isaac Chung

Nine Days – Edson Oda

Promising Young Woman – Emerald Fennell (runner-up)

Sound of Metal – Derek Cianfrance & Darius Marder

 

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Gretel & Hansel – Galo Olivares

Mank – Erik Messerschmidt

Nomadland – Joshua James Richards (runner up)

Sound of Metal – Daniël Bouquet

Tenet – Hoyte Van Hoytema

 

BEST SCORE

First Cow – William Tyler

Gretel & Hansel – Robin Coudert

Minari – Emile Mosseri (runner-up)

Soul – Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross

Tenet – Ludwig Göransson

 

BEST BREAKTHROUGH

Kiera Allen – Run (runner-up)

Nicole Beharie – Miss Juneteenth

Joe Kerry – Spree

Orion Lee – First Cow

Jo Ellen Pellman – The Prom

 

SCENE STEALER

Michael Keaton – The Trial of the Chicago 7

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II – The Trial of the Chicago 7 (runner-up)

Gabourey Sidibe – Antebellum

Toby Wallace – Babyteeth

Wil Wheaton – Rent-A-Pal

 

DIRECTORS TO WATCH

Radha Blank – The 40-Year-Old Version

Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman

Rose Glass – Saint Maud (runner-up)

Edson Oda – Nine Days

Jon Stevenson – Rent-A-Pal

Lisa Marie’s Oscar Predictions for November


Oh, why not?

Here are my Oscar predictions for November!

If want to see how my thinking has evolved, check out my predictions of January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, and October!  You’ll probably notice that the main evolution in my thinking this month is that I’ve dropped Hillbilly Elegy from my predictions and I’ve added Meryl Streep because she gets nominated for everything.

Best Picture

The Father

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Mank

Minari

News of the World

Nomadland

One Night in Miami

Pieces of a Woman

Soul

Sound of Metal

Best Director

Lee Isaac Chung for Minari

David Fincher for Mank

Regina King for One Night in Miami

Florian Zeller for The Father

Chloe Zhao for Nomadland

Best Actor

Ben Affleck in The Way Back

Riz Ahmed in Sound of Metal

Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Anthony Hopkins in The Father

Gary Oldman in Mank

Best Actress

Viola Davis in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Vanessa Kirby in Pieces of a Woman

Frances McDormand in Nomadland

Meryl Streep in The Prom

Kate Winslet in Ammonite

Best Supporting Actor

Sacha Baron Cohen in The Trial of the Chicago 7

Chadwick Boseman in Da 5 Bloods

Richard E. Grant in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

Shia LeBeouf in Pieces of a Woman

Leslie Odom Jr. in One Night in Miami

Best Supporting Actress

Olivia Colman in The Father

Olivia Cooke in Sound of Metal

Saoirse Ronan in Ammmonite

Amanda Seyfried in Mank

Helena Zengel in News of the World

 

Belatedly, Here Are The Gotham Award Nominations!


The Gotham nominations were announced on Thursday and I totally missed them!

Seriously, that’s how crazy this year has been.

Anyway, with so much up in the air, it’s probably debatable how much anything can be gleaned about the state of the Oscar race from these nominations.  In fact, even in a normal year, the Gothams aren’t exactly known for being Oscar precursors.  However, they do honor worthy independent films and often, they encourage us to track down films that we may have otherwise missed.

Only film with a budget under $35 million were eligible for a Gotham nomination.  So, don’t look at this list and go, “OH MY GOD, WHERE’S MANK!?  WHERE’S TENENT!?”  They’re not eligible.

Anyway, here are the Gotham nominations:

Best Feature
“The Assistant”
“First Cow”
“Never Rarely Sometimes Always”
“Nomadland”
“Relic”

Best Documentary
“76 Days”
“City Hall”
“Our Time Machine”
“A Thousand Cuts”
“Time”

Best International Feature
“Bacurau”
“Beanpole”
“Cuties (Mignonnes)”
“Identifying Features”
“Martin Eden”
“Wolfwalkers”

Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award
Carlo Mirabella-Davis, “Swallow”
Rhada Blank, “The Forty Year Old Version”
Andrew Patterson, “Vast of Night”
Channing Godfrey Peoples, “Miss Juneteenth”
Alex Thompson, “Saint Frances”

Best Screenplay
“Bad Education,” Mike Makowsky
“First Cow,” Jon Raymond and Kelly Reichardt
“The Forty-Year-Old Version,” Radha Blank
“Fourteen,” Dan Sallitt
“The Vast of Night,” James Montague and Craig Sanger

Best Actor
Riz Ahmed, “Sound of Metal”
Chadwick Boseman, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
Jude Law, “The Nest”
John Magaro, “First Cow”
Jesse Plemons, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”

Best Actress
Nicole Beharie, “Miss Juneteenth”
Jessie Buckley, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”
Yuh-Jung Youn, “Minari”
Carrie Coon, “The Nest”
Frances McDormand, “Nomadland”

Breakthrough Actor
Sidney Flanigan, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always”
Jasmine Batchelor, “The Surrogate”
Kelly O’Sullivan, “Saint Frances”
Orion Lee, “First Cow”
Kingsley Ben-Adir, “One Night in Miami”

Breakthrough Series – Long Form
“The Great”
“Immigration Nation”
“P-Valley”
“Unorthodox”
“Watchmen”

Breakthrough Series – Short Form
“Betty”
“Dave”
“I May Destroy You”
“Taste the Nation”
“Work in Progress”

Lisa’s Oscar Predictions For October


The big news this month is that Respect will no longer be getting released in January.  It’s been moved back so drop it from your Oscar predictions.

Here are my current predictions.  Take them with grain of salt and all the rest.  The more and more I think about it, the more annoyed I am with the Academy extending the eligibility window.  With all of the biggest contenders delaying their opening for a year, that extension seems more and more silly.

To be honest, I’m starting to have my doubts whether the film industry, as we know it, will even exist in another year or so.  I think eventually, we’ll just have a propaganda industry with the government subsidizing Hollywood on the condition that Hollywood only make certain types of films.  It’s going to suck.  The worst part is that most of the people who should speak out against that sort of thing won’t.  So many critics have down the partisan rabbit hole that they’re now more concerned with keeping the politicians happy than with actually writing about movies.

After looking at these, please check out my predictions for JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMayJune, July, August, and September!

Best Picture

Da 5 Bloods

The Father

Hillbilly Elegy

Mank

Minari

News of the World

Nomadland

One Night in Miami

On the Rocks

The Trial of the Chicago 7

 

Best Director

David Fincher for Mank

Ron Howard for Hillbilly Elegy

Regina King for One Night in Miami

Spike Lee for Da 5 Bloods

Chloe Zhao for Nomadland

 

Best Actor

Tom Hanks in News of the World

Anthony Hopkins in The Father

Delroy Lindo in Da 5 Bloods

Gary Oldman in Mank

Steven Yeun in Minari

 

Best Actress

Amy Adams in Hillbilly Elegy

Viola Davis in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Vanessa Kirby in Pieces of a Woman

Frances McDormand in Nomadland

Kate Winslet in Ammonite

 

Best Supporting Actor

Sacha Baron Cohen in The Trial of the Chicago 7

Chadwick Boseman in Da 5 Bloods

Bill Murray in On The Rocks

Leslie Odom Jr. in One Night In Miami

David Strathairn in Nomandland

 

Best Supporting Actress

Glenn Close in Hillbilly Elegy

Olivia Colman in The Father

Saoirse Ronan in Ammonite

Amanda Seyfried in Mank

Helena Zengel in News of the World

Lisa’s Oscar Predictions for August


As this very strange year enters into the home stretch, it does seem like, almost despite itself, the Oscar picture is becoming a little bit clearer.  The Venice and Toronto film festivals have announced their lineups.  Theaters are tentatively reopening and, assuming that there isn’t a spike in moviegoers contracting the Coronavirus as a result, the majority of them could be reopen by December.  For all the talk about how this year was going to be the Streaming Oscars, it’s totally possible that, with the eligibility window being extended to February and assuming theaters don’t have to close again, the Oscars could, once again, be dominating by traditional theatrical releases.

Anyway, here are my predictions for this month.  Though the picture may have cleared a little, the year is still pretty uncertain so take these with a grain of salt.  I imagine, over the next month, we’ll see a lot of movies scheduled for that January/February window of eligibility.

Be sure to check out my predictions for January, February, March, April, May, June, and July!

Best Picture

Ammonite

Da 5 Bloods

The Father

Hillbilly Elegy

Minari

News of the World

Nomadland

Respect

Soul

West Side Story

Best Director

Paul Greengrass for News of the World

Ron Howard for Hillbilly Elegy

Spike Lee for Da 5 Bloods

Steven Spielberg for West Side Story

Chloe Zhao for Nomadland

Best Actor

Tom Hanks in News of the World

Anthony Hopkins in The Father

Delroy Lindo in Da 5 Bloods

Gary Oldman in Mank

Denzel Washington in The Tragedy of MacBeth

Best Actress

Amy Adams in Hillybilly Elegy

Viola Davis in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Jennifer Hudson in Respect

Frances McDormand in Nomadland

Kate Winslet in Ammonite

Best Supporting Actor

Chadwick Boseman in Da 5 Bloods

Richard E. Grant in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

Mark Rylance in The Trial of Chicago 7

Forest Whitaker in Respect

Steven Yeun in Minari

Best Supporting Actress

Glenn Close in Hillbilly Elegy

Natasha Lyonne in The United States vs. Billie Holiday

Saoirse Ronan in Ammonite

Meryl Streep in The Prom

Helena Zengel in News of the World

RIP, Chadwick Boseman


I’m beyond stunned.

Chadwick Boseman, who played Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall, and James Brown and who starred in Black Panther and had a key role in Da 5 Bloods, has died.  He was 43 years old and had been battling colon cancer since 2016.  He’s got one more film coming out later this year, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom for Netflix.

He was definitely a charismatic performer, a natural movie star along with being a good actor.  The loss of Chadwick Boseman will be felt for years to come.

Rest in peace.

Film Review: Avengers: Endgame (dir by the Russo Brothers)


(Minor Spoilers Below!  Read at your own risk.)

So, how long does the no spoiler rule for Avengers: Endgame apply?  There’s so much that I want to say about this film but I know that I shouldn’t because, even though it had a monstrous opening weekend, there are still people out there who have not had a chance to see the film.  And while this review will have minor spoilers because, otherwise, it would be impossible to write, I’m not going to share any of the major twists or turns.

I will say this.  I saw Avengers: Endgame last night and it left me exhausted, angry, sad, exhilarated, and entertained.  It’s a gigantic film, with a plot that’s as messy and incident-filled as the cinematic universe in which it takes place.  More than just being a sequel or just the latest installment in one of the biggest franchises in cinematic history, Avengers: Endgame is a monument to the limitless depths of the human imagination.  It’s a pop cultural masterpiece, one that will make you laugh and make you cheer and, in the end, make you cry.  It’s a comic book film with unexpected emotional depth and an ending that will bring a tear to the eye of even the toughest cynic.  By all logic, Avengers: Endgame is the type of film that should collapse under its own weight but instead, it’s a film that thrives on its own epic scope.  It’s a three-hour film that’s never less than enthralling.  Even more importantly, it’s a gift to all of us who have spent the last ten years exploring the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The film itself starts almost immediately after the “Snap” that ended Avengers: Infinity War and we watch as Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner, returning to the franchise after being absent in the previous film) finds himself powerless to keep his family from disintegrating.  After often being dismissed as the Avengers’s weak link, both Clint Barton and Jeremy Renner come into their own in the film.  As one of two members of the Avengers who does not have super powers, Clint serves as a everyperson character.  He’s a reminder that there’s more at stake in Endgame than just the wounded pride of a few super heroes.  When Thanos wiped out half the universe, he didn’t just wipe out Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, and Groot.  He also left very real wounds that will never be healed.

When the film jumps forward by five yeas, we discover that the world is now a much darker place.  When we see New York, the once vibrant city is now gray and deserted.  Our surviving heroes have all dealt with the Snap in their own way.  Clint is now a vigilante, killing anyone who he feels should have been wiped out by Thanos but wasn’t.  Thor (Chris Hemsworth) drinks and eats and feels sorry for himself.  Captain America (Chris Evans) attends support groups and, in one nicely done scene, listens as a man talks about his fear of entering into his first real relationship in the years since “the Snap.”  Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is living as a recluse and is still blaming himself.  Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) is now an avuncular, huge, and very green scientist.  Only Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) remains convinced that the Snap can somehow be undone.  She’s right, of course.  But doing so will involve some unexpected sacrifices and a lot of time travel….

And that’s as much as I can tell you, other than to say that the film takes full advantage of both the time travel aspects (yes, there are plenty of Back to the Future jokes) and its high-powered cast.  With our heroes — which, along with the usual Avengers, also include Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Rocket Racoon (Bradley Cooper) — hopping through time and space, we get a chance to revisit several of the films that led up to Endgame and it’s a thousand times more effective than it has any right to be.  Yes, one could argue that the cameos from Robert Redford, Tom Hiddleston, Hayley Atwell, and others were essentially fan service but so what?  The fans have certainly earned it and the MCU has earned the chance to take a look back at what it once was and what it has since become.

Indeed, Avengers: Endgame would not work as well as it does if it hadn’t been preceded by 21 entertaining and memorable movies.  It’s not just that the MCU feels like a universe that it as alive as our own, one that is full of wonder, mystery, sadness, and love.  It’s also that we’ve spent ten years getting to know these characters and, as a result, many of them are much more than just “super heroes” to us.  When Tony Stark and Captain America argue over whether it’s even worth trying to undo the Snap, it’s an effective scene because we know the long and complicated history of their relationship.  When the Avengers mourn, we mourn with them because we know their pain.  We’ve shared their triumphs and their failures.  Tony Stark may be a guy in an iron suit but he’s also a man struggling with his own demons and guilt.  Steve Rogers may be a nearly 100 year-old super solider but he’s also every single person who has struggled to make the world a better place.  As strange as it may be to say about characters known as Iron Man, Captain America, and the Black Widow, we feel like we know each and every one of them.  We care about them.

Needless to say, the cast is huge and one of the great things about the film is that previously underused or underestimated performers — like Jeremy Renner, Scarlett Johansson, Paul Rudd, Don Cheadle, and Karen Gillan — all finally get a chance to shine.  As always, the heart of the film belongs to Chris Evans while Robert Downey, Jr. provides just enough cynicism to keep things from getting to superficially idealistic.  Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo get most of the film’s big laughs, each playing their borderline ludicrous characters with just the right combination of sincerity and humor.  Of course, Josh Brolin is back as well and he’s still perfectly evil and arrogant as Thanos.  But whereas Thanos was the focus of Infinity War, Endgame focuses on the heroes.  If Infinity War acknowledged that evil can triumph, Endgame celebrates the fact that good never surrenders.

As Endgame came to an end, I did find myself wondering what the future is going to hold for the MCU.  A part of me wonders how they’re going to top the past ten years or if it’s even possible to do so.  Several mainstays of the MCU say goodbye during Endgame and it’s hard to imagine the future films without their presence.  It’s been hinted that Captain Marvel is going to be one of the characters holding the next phase of the  MCU together and, fortunately, Brie Larson is a quite a bit better in Endgame than she was in her previous MCU film.  Hopefully, regardless of what happens in the future, Marvel and Disney will continue to entrust their characters to good directors, like the Russo Brothers, James Gunn, and Taika Waititi.  (Wisely, Disney reversed themselves and rehired James Gunn for the next Guardians of the Galaxy film.  Of course, Gunn never should have been fired in the first place….)

And that’s really all I can say about Avengers: Endgame right now, other than to recommend that you see it.  In fact, everyone in the world needs to hurry up and see it so we can finally start talking about the film without having to post spoiler warnings!

For now, I’ll just say that Avengers: Endgame is a powerful, emotional, and entertaining conclusion to one of the greatest cinematic sagas ever.

Here’s The Trailer for 21 Bridges!


To be absolutely honest, the trailer for 21 Bridges looks pretty generic.  Everything about it — from the New York setting to the tough dialogue to the casting of J.K. Simmons as some sort of authority figure — looks like what you would expect from an action film in 2019.

Still, the film might be interesting because it features Chadwick Boseman in a role outside of the MCU.  Now, of course, Boseman made many non-MCU films before he was cast as the King of Wakanda.  He played everyone from Jackie Robinson to James Brown to Thurgood Marshall.  Still, for most people, Boseman is best known for playing T’Challa in Black Panther21 Bridges will give us a chance to see if the same audience that loved that film will follow Boseman over to a non-Marvel action film.

21 Bridges, which Boseman produced along with the Russo Brothers, will be released on July 12th.  The trailer is below!

 

Black Panther Dominates The Black Reel Nominations


The Black Reel Nominations were announced today, with Black Panther picking up a record 17 nominations!  Coming in second was If Beale Street Could Talk, which received 14 nominations while Spike Lee’s BlackKklansman received 11 nominations.

Here’s a full list of the nominees:

Outstanding Motion Picture
Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
Green Book
If Beale Street Could Talk
Widows

Outstanding Actor
Chadwick Boseman | Black Panther
Stephan James | If Beale Street Could Talk
Michael B. Jordan | Creed II
LaKeith Stanfield | ​Sorry to Bother You
John David Washington | BlacKkKlansman

Outstanding Actress
Viola Davis | Widows
Regina Hall | Support the Girls
Kiki Layne | If Beale Street Could Talk
Zoe Renee | Jinn
Amandla Stenberg | ​The Hate U Give

Outstanding Director
Ryan Coogler | Black Panther
Barry Jenkins | If Beale Street Could Talk
Spike Lee | BlacKkKlansman
Steve McQueen | Widows
Boots Riley | ​Sorry to Bother You

Outstanding Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali | Green Book
Brian Tyree Henry | If Beale Street Could Talk
Russell Hornsby | The Hate U Give
Michael B. Jordan | Black Panther
Daniel Kaluuya | Widows

Outstanding Supporting Actress
Danai Gurira | Black Panther
Regina King | If Beale Street Could Talk
Simone Missick | Jinn
Lupita Nyong’o | Black Panther
Letitia Wright | Black Panther

Outstanding Screenplay
Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
If Beale Street Could Talk
​Sorry to Bother You
Widows

Outstanding Ensemble
Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
If Beale Street Could Talk
​Sorry to Bother You
Widows

Outstanding Documentary
Amazing Grace
Hale County This Morning, This Evening
Minding the Gap
Quincy
Whitney

Outstanding Foreign Language/ World Cinema Motion Picture
Green Days by the River (Trinidad & Tobago)
Lionheart (Nigeria)
Rafiki (Kenya)
Vaya (South Africa)
Where Hands Touch (UK)

Outstanding Voice Performance
Mahershala Ali | Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Taraji P. Henson | Ralph Breaks the Internet
Brian Tyree Henry | Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Samuel L. Jackson | Incredibles 2
Shamiek Moore | Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Outstanding Score
Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
Creed II
The Hate U Give
If Beale Street Could Talk

Outstanding Original Song
“All the Stars” (Black Panther) | Kendrick Lamar & SZA
“I’ll Fight” (RBG) | Jennifer Hudson
“Love Lies” (Love, Simon) | Khalid & Normani
“Pray For Me” (Black Panther) | The Weeknd & Kendrick Lamar
“We Won’t Move” (The Hate U Give) | Arlissa

Outstanding Independent Feature
A Boy. A Girl. A Dream.
Jinn
Monsters and Men
Roxanne Roxanne
Yardie

Outstanding Independent Documentary
Basquiat: Rage to Riches
Lorainne Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/ Feeling
Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me

Outstanding Short
Funk Force | Desmond Levi Jackson
Hair Wolf | Mariama Diallo
Jump | Kofi Siriboe, director
The Tale of Four | Gabourey Sidibe, director
WTFIMH: What the F*ck Is Mental Health | Kofi Siriboe, director

Outstanding Emerging Director
Idris Elba | Yardie
Reinald Marcus Green | Monsters and Men
Rashida Jones | Quincy
Nijla Mu’min | Jinn
Boots Riley | ​Sorry to Bother You

Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Male
Daveed Diggs | Blindspotting
Winston Duke | Black Panther
Donald Glover | Solo: A Star Wars Story
Brian Tyree Henry | If Beale Street Could Talk
John David Washington | BlacKkKlansman

Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Female
Cynthia Erivo | Bad Times at the El Royale
Laura Harrier | BlacKkKlansman
Kiki Layne | If Beale Street Could Talk
Zoe Renee | Jinn
Letitia Wright | Black Panther

Outstanding First Screenplay
Blindspotting
Jinn
Monsters and Men
Roxanne Roxanne
Sorry to Bother You

Outstanding Cinematography
Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
If Beale Street Could Talk
Widows
A Wrinkle In Time

Outstanding Costume Design
Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
If Beale Street Could Talk
Sorry to Bother You
A Wrinkle In Time

Outstanding Production Design
Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
Green Book
If Beale Street Could Talk
A Wrinkle In Time

Lisa Reviews Avengers: Infinity War (dir by Joe and Anthony Russo)


(Warning: There are spoilers in this review.  They’re not necessarily huge spoilers but they’re there.  Read at your own risk.)

Avengers: Infinity War is a lot of things.  It’s big, it’s thrilling, it’s emotional, it’s colorful, it’s loud, it’s flamboyant, and, clocking in at two and a half hours, it’s occasionally a bit exhausting.  It’s overwhelming but it’s never boring.  It’s a nearly perfect example of pure cinema, where the story is less about what happens and more how it’s told. It’s a tribute to not just the Marvel Cinematic Universe but also to the audiences who have been flocking to each movie since Iron Man was first released way back in 2008.  Avengers: Infinity War is a pop art masterpiece, one that provides the first part of a climax to a saga that’s been unfolding for ten years.

In the days leading up to the release of Avengers: Infinity War, the main selling point was the assumption that this movie would feature every single character that’s been introduced as a citizen of the MCU so far.  Though the film comes close to including everyone, there are still a few characters who are notable for their absence.  Ant-Man and the Wasp are nowhere to be seen.  None of the Marvel Television characters show up, which is a shame because I’m sure Jessica Jones would have had some choice words about the potential end of the universe.  Two familiar SHIELD agents make a brief appearance, though you have to wonder where they were when New York and Wakanda were being invaded.

That said, all of the big heroes show up.  Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) flies into space with Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland).  Thor (Chris Hemsworth) teams up with Rocket Racoon and Groot (voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, respectively).  When Wakanda is attacked, Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Captain America (Chris Evans), The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), White Wolf (Sebastian Stan), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Rhodey (Don Cheadle), and Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) are all present to defend it.  Meanwhile, Vision (Paul Bettany) and Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) continue to pursue their odd relationship while Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) search for Gamora’s father, Thanos (Josh Brolin).

It’s a packed film and the fact that it works as well as it does is a testament to the power of perfect casting and movie star charisma.  At this point, we feel as if we know these characters.  We know that Tony Stark is going to be haunted by what happened the last time Thanos’s minions involved New York.  We know that Spider-Man is going to be desperate to prove that he belongs with the adults, just as we know that Dr. Strange isn’t going to be particularly impressed with anyone he meets.  Needless to say, some characters get more screen time than others.  Despite a good deal of the film taking place in Wakanda, Black Panther largely stays in the background.  I personally wish that both Natasha and Captain America had been given a bit more to do.  Considering just how talented both Anthony Mackie and Don Cheadle are, it’s a shame that neither one of them ever gets to do much in these films.  At the same time, Infinity Wars allows both Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany to come into their own and Chris Hemsworth again shows that he may be the most underrated star in the MCU.  I’ve read a lot of criticism of certain actions taken by Peter Quill towards the end of the film but actually, it’s exactly what you would expect his character to do in the situation and, up until that moment, Chris Pratt is a welcome presence.  It’s important to have someone around who appreciates good music and who can make you laugh, especially considering that Thanos is planning to wipe out 50% of the universe’s population…

Oh yes, Thanos.  After spending years lurking in the background, Thanos finally steps forward in Infinity War.  In fact, it can be argued that Avengers: Infinity War is actually much more of a Thanos film than an Avengers film.  While our heroes are continually spending the film trying to catch up to Thanos and reacting to his latest action, Thanos is always one step ahead.  Thanos is the one who steers the narrative and, for once, you really do believe that an MCU villain views the heroes as being mere distractions.  Thanos is the one on a quest and the film follows him through every step of his search.  In fact, the film’s most emotional moments belong to Thanos.  For all the death and destruction to be found in the film’s surprisingly dark narrative, Thanos is the only character to ever shed a tear.  Like all great villains, Thanos doesn’t view himself as being evil.  Instead, Thanos speaks very sincerely of his desire to bring balance to the universe.  The scary thing about Thanos isn’t that he claims that he’s being merciful when he slaughters millions of beings.  The scary thing about Thanos is that believes it.

Thanos, you see, is a bit of an intergalactic environmentalist.  As he explains it, the universe only has a finite number of resources.  By killing half of the universe’s population, he is ensuring that the other half will be able to survive in peace and harmony.  Most people would call Thanos’s actions genocidal but Thanos would probably say that he’s merely making the difficult decisions that others don’t have the courage or intelligence to make.  It may all sound rather far-fetched and melodramatic until you consider that, just last week, bureaucrats and doctors in the UK decided it would be better to starve a sick infant to death rather than allow his parents to take him to be treated in another country.  With his mix of narcissism and absolutely belief in his own moral certitude, Thanos is a far more familiar villain than a lot of viewers might want to admit.  As opposed to the forgettable villains who have appeared in so many MCU films, Thanos is a compelling and complicated figure.  It’s interesting to note that two of the best performances of the year so far were given by actors appearing as villains in MCU films, Michael B. Jordan in Black Panther and Josh Brolin in this one.

As befits the film’s subject matter, Infinity War is a sprawling film, one that skips from world to world.  The visuals are frequently spectacular, as are the many battles.  From the opening attack on New York to the final battles in Wakanda and in space, the action is non-stop and thrilling.  (It helps that, as opposed to some of the previous MCU films, it’s always clear who is fighting who and why they’re fighting.)  For me, though, the most memorable scenes are the scenes where Thanos looks and considers the worlds that he’s destroyed.  There’s a scene where an exhausted Thanos rests on a placid planet and it’s one of the strongest images in the history of the MCU.

I’ve been told that I shouldn’t worry too much about all of the characters who are killed over the course of Infinity War.  From what I’ve been told, it’s apparently something of a tradition in Marvel comics to kill off a bunch of recognizable characters and then have them come back to life an issue or two later.  And the fact that the sequel to Infinity War has already been filmed and is set to released next year leads me to suspect that nothing’s permanent.  I mean, if all of these people are really dead, there aren’t going to be many heroes left to make any more movies about.  That said, I still got far more emotional than I probably should have at some of the unexpected demises.  Especially … well, no.  I won’t say the name.  But seriously, it was upsetting.

2018 is shaping up to be the year of Marvel.  So far, Marvel has released two of the best films of the year.  To be honest, a film as huge as Infinity War shouldn’t have worked and yet, it does.  It’s a masterpiece of pop art.*

* For a totally different response to Avengers: Infinity War, check out Ryan’s review by clicking here!