Aaron’s Top 100 Movies (2020 Edition)

Recently I made a major change to how I rate films, doing away with half-stars altogether in favor of a simplified system with only 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 stars as an option. My hope is that by taking away the additional complication of half-stars, I will be able to more accurately rate films on the first go-around. It’s no secret that I struggle with hype and I often find myself using half-stars only to scale ratings back when the end of the year rolls around and I take another look at them. Additionally, and more importantly, I’ve come to thoroughly embrace the conversations that we have about film online in places like our Feelin’ Film Discussion Group and in person at work. What I desire is for the words in my written reviews, on my podcast, or spoken in conversation to tell you more about my feelings for a film than the number assigned to it. To that end, simplifying my ratings means if you want to understand what distinguishes films in a certain group (say my 4-star rating) from each other, you’ll have to actually read what I have to say or… gasp… ask me about them.

With this change came a mass re-rating project, and after completing that and noticing that I am 2.5 years removed from my last Top 100 list, this was the perfect opportunity to give it an update. As always is the case, gray hairs emerged during this painful process as I tried to distinguish between beloved films. As always, my list is ever-changing, but this serves as a current reflection of my personal cinematic taste – a snapshot view of the cinephile that I am at this moment in time. I hope that as you read through this list you might be able to learn a little about who I am as a person by seeing what type of stories I love the most.

Note: For the purposes of this list, any film with an asterisk (*) after it represents its series or trilogy and is only used in cases where all films of the series are rated as 5-star. The arrows and numbers after each title them are just a fun little addition that shows a film’s movement since the last edition of this list. You can see the previous editions here:

2017 Top 100
2018 Top 100

This is my list. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

#1 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring *  —  —
#2 The Princess Bride 3
#3 It’s a Wonderful Life 1
#4 Top Gun 11
#5 Before Sunrise * 4
#6 Casablanca 3
#7 La La Land  —  —
#8 12 Angry Men 4
#9 The Last of the Mohicans 7
#10 Interstellar 4
#11 Die Hard 46
#12 The Lion King 40
#13 Jaws 5
#14 The Dark Knight 7
#15 Jurassic Park 2
#16 Toy Story * 2
#17 Your Name. 41
#18 Raiders of the Lost Ark 1
#19 The Prestige 8
#20 Beauty and the Beast 44
#21 Star Wars 7
#22 The Shawshank Redemption 19
#23 Sleeping Beauty 15
#24 Black Hawk Down 46
#25 Full Metal Jacket 13
#26 The Sound of Music 10
#27 Memento 40
#28 Lawrence of Arabia 9
#29 Titanic NEW NEW
#30 National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 36
#31 The Wizard of Oz 11
#32 Children of Men 27
#33 Kill Bill * NEW NEW
#34 Singin’ in the Rain 11
#35 Groundhog Day 42
#36 Back to the Future 25
#37 The Departed 56
#38 Gladiator 13
#39 Mary Poppins 21
#40 The Social Network    
#41 The Nightmare Before Christmas 9
#42 Scream 1
#43 Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl NEW NEW
#44 Hell or High Water 36
#45 Terminator 2: Judgment Day NEW NEW
#46 My Neighbor Totoro 1
#47 Fast Five NEW NEW
#48 The Incredibles 28
#49 Lost in Translation NEW NEW
#50 Gone Girl NEW NEW
#51 Blade Runner 2049 * 41
#52 Forrest Gump NEW NEW
#53 Tombstone 3
#54 Fight Club 20
#55 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs NEW NEW
#56 Happy Gilmore NEW NEW
#57 The Fault in Our Stars NEW NEW
#58 The Rock NEW NEW
#59 The Bridge on the River Kwai 15
#60 Se7en 31
#61 Armageddon NEW NEW
#62 Young Guns NEW NEW
#63 Avengers: Infinity War NEW NEW
#64 The Great Gatsby NEW NEW
#65 Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade NEW NEW
#66 Alien 53
#67 Kubo and the Two Strings NEW NEW
#68 WALL*E NEW NEW
#69 Ex Machina 3
#70 Scott Pilgrim vs. the World 35
#71 The Avengers NEW NEW
#72 The Cabin in the Woods 12
#73 Pitch Perfect NEW NEW
#74 The Hunt for Red October NEW NEW
#75 Inception 48
#76 Creed NEW NEW
#77 Wreck-it Ralph NEW NEW
#78 Reservoir Dogs 10
#79 Little Women NEW NEW
#80 How To Train Your Dragon NEW NEW
#81 Almost Famous 51
#82 Friday Night Lights NEW NEW
#83 TRON: Legacy NEW NEW
#84 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban NEW NEW
#85 Crazy, Stupid, Love NEW NEW
#86 Gravity NEW NEW
#87 Les Misérables NEW NEW
#88 Hamilton NEW NEW
#89 Con Air NEW NEW
#90 The Empire Strikes Back 44
#91 10 Cloverfield Lane NEW NEW
#92 Reality Bites 23
#93 Rashomon 60
#94 Vertigo 70
#95 Moon 10
#96 Rocky NEW NEW
#97 First Man NEW NEW
#98 Passengers NEW NEW
#99 Whiplash 21
#100 A Star is Born (2018) NEW NEW
  • It’s not unlikely for films to enter/leave/re-enter this list, but any film that has dropped out at one point and come back on is still designated as “NEW” just to keep things simple.

Link to list on Letterboxd

Like it? Hate it? Think I’m crazy? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

What We Learned This Week: December 2019

END OF THE YEAR AND END OF THE DECADE EDITION

Forgive the awards season hiatus! I missed you all and I couldn’t let you go without a quick toast to the end of 2019 and the end of the 2010s!

LESSON #1: IT’S ALL CINEMA— Boy, did I miss one dismissive and hand-wringing soapbox after another with Martin Scorsese, one of the greatest directors of film history.  Rant after rant, click after click, retweet after retweet, boy did ole Marty start a fight.  I don’t mean to sound regressive like #AllLivesMatter versus the true need of something like #BlackLivesMatterbut someone needs to tell Mr. Scorsese that it’s all cinema, from every cheesy and trashy film to every astute and austere film.  That’s from Cats to The Irishman and everything in between. They are made by creators aiming for storytelling, entertainment, and expression.  They just do so to different degrees and for different audiences.  So, respectfully, Marty, STFU.  Because you do great work, I won’t sentence you to Lesson #2 like one of your peers.

LESSON #2: CLINT EASTWOOD CAN RETIRE NOW— Look, I adore Clint Eastwood’s work.  He is essential American cinema (there I go…) and has the legacy and hardware to prove forever.  But, gosh, is he slipping.  With each can he kicks down the road since American Sniper, he’s loosing a grip on the truthful side of his filmmaking to match the purposeful part. Honoring little notes of history is one thing with dramatic license.  Revising and degrading is another.  You crossed a line with Richard Jewell and the treatment of the late Kathy Scruggs, played by Olivia Wilde.  Go back to that sunset and porch rocker, Clint.

LESSON #3: PLEASE LET ADAM SANDLER TURN A NEW LEAF— Before Uncut Gems, I legitimately and truthfully had not watched an Adam Sandler movie in nine years.  I didn’t need Jack and Jill to give up on him and the repetitive manchild garbage he was making.  I had no regrets abstaining from his career.  Hot damn, though, did he supernova with Uncut Gems.  Please let this career resurgence be a true new trajectory and not a one time thing.  Don’t let him dangle a role of two like Eddie Murphy and go back to the low-hanging fruit garden.  He’s back and I want more.

LESSON #4: IT’S EARLY, BUT GRETA GERWIG REMAINS UNDEFEATED— That women knows how to make good films, period. After blazing bright with Lady Bird and all its crassness, she comes back with a PG-rated and spirited adaptation of Little Women that is an absolute delight.  It’s better than just a nod at girl power.  It’s rich and multi-layered art.  She has earned automatic watch status for whatever comes next for her.  And while we’re talking about Greta Gerwig, Dear Academy, don’t make the mistake the Golden Globes did and nominate more women like her for the excellence in their fields.

LESSON #5: ADAM DRIVER AND FLORENCE PUGH WILL BE THE STARS OF THE 2020s— Even with a big second half and huge 2019, I won’t call Adam Driver the star of this decade, but I have a good feeling he will be the star of the next one.  I’ll give this past decade to Leonardo DiCaprio, Bradley Cooper, Ryan Gosling, and Christian Bale before Driver, but few actors have his crossover appeal and towering potential right now.  Need proof?  Pick anything from this year, but especially Marriage Story.  Watch him win the Oscar to kick off his 2020.  As they say, the sky (and for him, the galaxy), is the limit.  His white-hot female equivalent is Florence Pugh who carried a tremendous 2019 with Fighting With My Family, Midsommar, and Little Women. She is a dual Oscar contender for those latter two roles and has Black Widow to start 2020.  We see many ingenues come and go, but, like Driver, her range across genres is formidable and will keep her around and successful for a very long time.

LESSON #6: THIS NEXT DECADE HAS UNKNOWN CHALLENGES AHEAD— The 2010s brought a swell of nostalgia regurgitation like we’ve never seen with peaks and valleys across James Bond, Star Wars, Star TrekMission: Impossible, Jason Bourne, the MCU, the DCEU, TransformersPiratesGhostbustersPlanet of the Apes, Rocky, Rambo, Despicable Me, Men in Black, The Terminator, Toy Story, Ocean’s 8, and every possible Disney re-imagining.  Try as the greedy studios may, surely the noise of all that cannot continue another decade.  Creative bankruptcy has a limit and it’s going to run out and crash hard.  The 2020s have the challenge of creating new properties and experiences because the old stuff won’t last forever.  With the close of a Star Wars saga and a massive MCU phase to finish 2019, we stand at the edge wondering what’s next and what can top what’s been done.  It can’t all be new Avatar movies.  Your decade, your move, Hollywood.  Give us something good.  In the meantime, we’ll be on the couching binging your streaming services.

 


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later) and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.  (#120)

Episode 206: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

We chat about the final film in the epic Skywalker Saga. Does it satisfy? Does it entertain? Do we want more? Just like this film, there is a lot stuffed into our conversation as we work through our conflicted feelings for Episode IX.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Review – 0:02:50

The Connecting Point – 1:38:14

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MOVIE REVIEW: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” faced a nearly impossible task: end one of the grandest, most-beloved ongoing stories of all-time in a way that would universally appeal to what has become a largely fractured, and always passionate, generation-spanning fan base. It was never going to succeed at this, and what happens within this final film will most certainly have fans divided once more. Much of the reason for mixed opinions will, naturally, come down to story decisions such as the answer to Rey’s parentage, the conclusion of Kylo Ren’s character arc, and the reasoning behind why Emperor Palpatine has reappeared to be woven into this final trilogy. In order to ensure the mystery remains for readers, all that I can really say on this front is that I emerged from my viewing of the film conflicted – appreciating some of the directions director JJ Abrams went while being both baffled and extremely frustrated by others. If you were hoping for a wrap-up that would be loved and praised by all, well, I can simply say that you’re not going to get your wish.

“The Rise of Skywalker” is a lot of movie. A lot, a lot. It’s nearly two and a half hours of non-stop, action-packed, exposition-filled, video game quests. I happen to enjoy the style of adventure video game progression that we see emulated and so I had quite a bit of fun with the planet-hopping escapades of Rey, Poe, and Finn. But I also can acknowledge that this will absolutely not be everyone’s cup of tea. Hard and fast editing cuts, the quick pace of new information being revealed, and frequent tying up of plot points made it hard to remember details upon exiting the theater. Even now, less than 24-hours since seeing the film, I couldn’t recount the plot trajectory to you without going back to look at my notes. Exciting and not without spectacle, but also very, very messy.

Things that worked the best for me were some emotional moments between main characters, a healthy dose of smartly included fan service (much of which makes sense for story reasons), and the way in which General/Princess Leia is sent off. One major thing that did not work for me was the details surrounding the reappearance of Emperor Palpatine, his motives, his level of power, and ultimately his place in this saga. Other elements that bothered me were the lack of defining set pieces to rival the greatest ones the series has offered and a story that feels like it was written specifically to cater to those who’ve expressed disappointment with “The Last Jedi”. It is very clear that this was not a three-part story arc planned out from the beginning, and the way in which this film treats its direct predecessor is pretty rude. The film also frequently creates high stakes only to undo them moments later, draining a much stronger potential emotional investment away. With regards to Palpatine, his inclusion has the unfortunate effect of altering the impact of certain events from Anakin’s past in ways I did not appreciate. And also he yells… often and loudly. The action, while quite nice to look at, never provided me the kind of unforgettable single scene that I was hoping for, like the Holdo Maneuver, taking down an AT-AT with tow cables, or the Millennium Falcon navigating an asteroid field against overwhelming odds. Just as with superhero films, the more frequently we see amazing action sequences in this universe, the harder it becomes to stand out from the crowd. 

“The Rise of Skywalker” is epic, though, without a doubt, and resembles a condensed mixture of all three original trilogy films, for better and worse. It features immersive, loud sound effects and another incredible score by John Williams, is beautiful to look at, provides opportunities for our heroes to shine, and lets us once again have a blast experiencing stories in a galaxy far, far away. There’s slightly more good than bad, but this is yet again a Star Wars film that will be debated for years (if not more) to come. Like many of the Millennium Falcon’s landings, JJ Abrams brings this nine-film saga to an end in a gloriously cinematic but messy crash. Not ideal, but also not fatal. It gets the job done.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

FF+ Disney’s D23 Expo 2019

For this week’s FF+ we take a look at some of the movie and TV news coming out of Disney’s D23 Expo 2019. We discuss new trailers, casting announcements, and some of the new details around how Disney’s streaming service Disney + will work.

 

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Music: City Sunshine – Kevin MacLeod

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FF+ The Curse of La Llorona, Little Woods, Okko’s Inn & The Rise of Skywalker

In this week’s episode of FF+, we have spoiler-free reviews of a new Conjuring Universe entry, a debut feature film starring Tessa Thompson and Lily James, and a new Studio Ghibli-esque anime. We also discuss episode three of the Jordan Peele produced reboot of The Twilight Zone. And lastly, we chime in with our thoughts on the first teaser trailer for Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker.

 

New For You 

The Curse of La Llorona – 0:01:26

Little Woods – 0:10:56

Okko’s Inn – 0:17:32

The Twilight Zone Episode 3: “Replay” –  0:27:33

 

Trailer Talk

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker – 0:39:04

 

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Music: City Sunshine – Kevin MacLeod

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What We Learned This Week: April 7-13

LESSON #1: MARK YOUR CALENDARS FOR NOVEMBER 12TH WITH PIXIE DUST AND MOUSE EARS— Circle the 12th of November on your calendar for the debut of Disney+, the entertainment giant’s new exclusive streaming service we’ve been hearing about for the better part of a year.  And, man oh man, did they announce a menu of old and new content that looks like the binder you get at The Cheesecake Factory.  The list is jaw-dropping. And that’s not even the best part. See Lesson #2.

LESSON #2: PRICE POINT ALWAYS WINS— The best part is the price. It’s a cool $6.99 per month with no ads and the future ability to bundle ESPN+, Hulu, and more.  $7 is a game-changing price. Even better, if you buy the whole year at once, it’s $69.99. That’s $5.83 per month. Excuse my language, but the smell and thundering rumble you hear is Netflix sh-tting bricks and staring down an $8 billion market value drop.  They just announced a price hike a few months back and now will be playing chicken against the company they relied on the most for top content.  Watch their member numbers begin to drop with the financials, but they knew this had to be coming. Their shift to developing their own unique branded content is how they will stand out.  No matter what, folks, I’ve been saying this now for years in this column. The price tag is always the biggest mover of an audience.

LESSON #3: STAR WARS WILL NEVER LET YOU FORGET ABOUT STAR WARS— Maybe this lesson should read: “Disney isn’t done because they’re never really done.”  In the words of Steve Jobs, Disney did their own “one more thing” this week with the head-exploding title reveal and first trailer for Episode IX at the Star Wars Celebration Convention in Chicago on Friday. Now officially called Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the gates are now open and the levees are broken for every theory, reaction piece, and clickbait column imaginable. I get it.  Grab those web traffic pennies where you can, publishers.

LESSON #4: [INSERT OBLIGATORY “TRAILERS ARE MANIPULATIVE” LECTURE FROM THE MOVIE CRITIC]— I’ve been saving this informational video for a while for a choice teachable moment.  The Rise of Skywalker is the perfect time.

Admittedly, much of this video doesn’t apply to Star Wars, but the misdirection and overhype have been proven before in this franchise. You know me. I’ll always say less is more.  Not just for trailers, but be a discerning news-and-trends consumer. Don’t overthink a movie before it gets here, especially one still eight months away.  If you want homework, go backward instead of forwards. Hop on the ambitious canonical rewatch schedule that is already in progress. Let history get you hyped instead of silly theories.

LESSON #5: THE SLOW DEATH OF PHYSICAL MEDIA CONTINUES— Through all this one-upmanship in the streaming world, the marketplace of discs has continued to fade.  We’ve reported in this column in February how companies like Samsung are halting the manufacturing of Blu-ray players, but we’ve never seen hard numbers of the perceived decline. This week, the MPAA hit us with those statistics in a wide-ranging report. Physical media sales are down a steep 50% in the last five years and the new 4K upgrades account for only 5.3% of business. That’s a niche, not a replacement the way DVD was to VHS a generation ago.  The kicker is that home entertainment spending was up 16% last year.  That’s digital sales and subscription services.

LESSON #6: LEARN SOME BETTER SCIENCE FICTION— Don’t let your science fiction taste and acumen stop at Star Wars and other big names. Dive into some headier things (and still plenty of blockbusters) with high critical regard.  Pick away at this Top 100 list from Business Insider and find some new films for your to-do list. Heck, maybe you’ll even watch one on a disc from a library.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a new member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over a year, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the special “Connecting with Classics” podcast program.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.  (#98)

What We Learned This Week: July 22-28

LESSON #1: YOU ARE THE CURATOR OF YOUR OWN SOCIAL MEDIA— Boy, oh boy, the lessons that spin out of the James Gunn dismissal and Twitter developments could fill this column for hours.  First, I must properly renew my applaud to our highly responsive and active Facebook group for the civil and engaging conversation when this story broke mere hours after WWLTW was already published for last week.  For me, the top lesson moving forward from all that happened is this one rooted in responsibility. Trolling or not and joking or not, celebrity or commoner, your name is assigned to your social media personas and presences. No one controls that content but you. There is no “must be the curator.” You “are” the curator. Act as if you are saying those words to people’s faces. Speak with context and think before you click the send button, because what you post leaves tracks. It doesn’t go away easily. You must control the message, from posted public content on down to privacy settings and who you allow in your circle. Get disciplined and clean up your act.

LESSON #2: HYPOCRISY IS A SHORT STEP AWAY FROM PRUDENCE— Though I may disagree with their firing, I get where Disney is coming from. They have an image to maintain, but they have turned a blind eye for years. Disney bankrolled Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax shingle for years. Robert Downey, Jr.’s legal rap sheet has more convictions than Gunn’s zero, but heaven forbid the fire their cash cow star.  Are we going to see revisionist history apologies or retroactive action on those two examples or that dozens of others? Not likely, which is why a studio like this turning over a new leaf is a good and prudent thing for the future, but it is still very damning when the past isn’t handled or at lest addressed.  This all could have been handled better without the caving to political wackos.

LESSON #3: DIRECTORS HAVE EARNED THE POSITION TO BE IN A FIGHTING MOOD— Even before the James Gunn headlines added butthurt political naysayers to the list of public enemies, the recent pushback against toxic fandom was already firing up talented filmmakers.  Before his own pickle, Gunn himself jabbed that hurtful fans of the bullying internet variety need to “go to therapy.”  Zack Snyder, and even Michael Bay, have never been shy about standing by their work.   Logan and Walk the Line director James Mangold, who recently threw his hat in the Star Wars ring by signing on to helm a Boba Fett standalone film, berated the buzz in a tweet that connecting the calls for blasphemy and emotional overload to the studios hiring “hacks” instead of bolder minds.  The same landscape not-so-jokingly “cured” Mission: Impossible series director Christopher McQuarrie from ever wanting to direct a Star Wars film.  In my eyes, these examples are not being thin-skinned against criticism.  These kinds of statements of strong words against the paying customers are rooted in demanding and respecting artistic integrity, something the selfish sect of moviegoers don’t properly understand.  I, for one, support the hell out of these public displays of spine.  I wish more did the same.

LESSON #4: GET OFF YOUR BUTT AND DO SOMETHING ACTIVE— This lesson is a combination of positive and negative recent examples surrounding the summer movie season.  The core message is to get out and have a physical outlet away from fantasy and escapism.  On one hand, the “get a life” and “go to therapy” clapbacks to the toxic fanboys is an indirect call to them to have something else fulfilling in life other than movies and entertainment.  Excellent counterexamples have appeared this summer at the movies between Tag and Uncle Drew and the idea of “play.” My Chicago colleague and Consequence of Sound film critic Clint Worthington richly outlined this psychology in highly recommended little editorial read published on Crooked Marquee.  I love the underlying messages from Clint’s article and the movie examples.  Put down the screens.  Get off the couch.  Get out of the movie theater air conditioning.  Go outside.  Get together with friends in person instead of virtually and have interpersonal activity and collaborative fun.  Simply put, go play.  It’s summer.  Get some exercise and get better juices flowing than those that come from sitting down and watching some thing you’ve seen a hundred times.

LESSON #5: THE DEAL IS DONE— The two largest official steps of have cleared in the deal of the century.  Shareholders of both 21st Century Fox and the Walt Disney Company approved the $71.3 billion takeover deal on Friday morning.  That follows the approval from the U.S. Department of Justice.  No more red tape exists, only transitional preparations.  Folks, the reality is official real.  It’s officially OK to start all that click-bait fan casting of Fantastic Four, X-Men, and more.  Deeply suspicious campfire rumors are bubbling up that substantial fix-up work may already be necessary on the two upcoming Fox/Marvel films The New Mutants and X-Men: Dark Phoenix. Uh oh.  We knew speedbumps were possible.  Hang tight.  It could be worse.  Could you imagine the kind of image and tone cleanup Marvel would have to apply to the DCEU if they bought Warner Bros.?!  Great googa-mooga!

 


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com where he is one of the 50 “Top Writers” in the Movies category.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over a year, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the special “Connecting with Classics” podcast program.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.

What We Learned This Week: June 17-30

LESSON #1: PRODUCER KEVIN FEIGE KNOWS WHAT HE’S DOING AND TALKING ABOUT— Marvel film producer czar Kevin Feige has been a busy man with the soundbites this summer, three of which I’ll feature this week.  Success has put him in a powerful place, but a man doesn’t get to that level without smarts and savvy.  First, I loved his sentiments on whether or not Marvel films should no longer be overlooked as Oscar contenders saying “I would much rather be in a room full of engaged fans.”  He knows that’s the true victory and how awards aren’t everything.  Second, he explained the new three-movies-per-year quota that Marvel is churning out, where he’s not sweating saturation and relishes the chance to expand on the multiple franchise that have been started.  His logic on the matter is solid.  Finally, he’s gained and earned wisdom through his work.  When he was asked about what the DCEU can do to improve their product, he respectfully pointed to Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie and called that the “paradigm by which we should all still follow.”  I love that use of “we” where he sees everyone striving for the same endearment.  Over and over, Kevin Feige is a guy who flat out “gets it.”  More studio heads should follow his mentality and steady patience.

LESSON #2: UNDER-PERFORMING MIGHT FINALLY HAVE CONSEQUENCES— I know I have long shouted from the soapbox that these blockbusters we see come and go are “too big to fail.”  They may not meet inflated financial expectations that studio execs shoot for on some wish list spreadsheet, but they always, always, always make money.  And because they never lose money, I never think a big studio is really going to dramatically change their ways.  We’ll see little course corrections, but never wholesale change.  As mentioned last time here on WWLTW, we’re teetering on that point with Warner Bros. on their third DCEU head with Walter Hamada bumping Geoff Johns after he replaced Zack Snyder.  That’s the DC mess.  I never fathomed big changes would happen at the juggernaut that is Disney controlling LucasFilm no matter the perception of backlash that makes little click bait headlines and social media rants, but it’s happening.  The spinoff Solo won’t really lose money, but its disappointing haul has slowed plans for more A Star Wars Story anthology films, which presses the pause button on upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi and Boba Fett films.  Mistakes were made with that film and its marketing and timing, but the surprising derailment is real.  Add to that the likely “firing” or “stepping down” (pick one) of Kathleen Kennedy at LucasFilm and you have real changes afoot.  What looked untouchable and unstoppable is reeling in its own way.  By the way, Kevin Feige is not going to take over LucasFilm, so calm those heart palpitations.

LESSON #3: MOVIEPASS MAY BE FAILING, BUT THEATER OWNERS STILL WANT YOUR BUSINESS— The caveat to that lesson title is that the theater owners want all of the business.  They don’t want to share the dimes you’re spending with with a middle-man service.  With MoviePass plugging more leaky holes in its business boat than it has dollar bills or hands, other companies want to fill that void.  Here comes AMC Theaters and their launch of their new “A-List” service.  Their pitch is up to three movies per week including any and all premium options including Dolby, IMAX, and 3D for $19.95/month.  No matter the provider or perks, price point is still the ultimate motivator.  $20 for as many as 12 premium movies a month sounds outstanding to me.  We’ll see if AMC can handle the financial gambles.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com where he is one of the 50 “Top Writers” in the Movies category.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties on a podcast every now and then  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on FacebookTwitter, and Medium.

 

 

What We Learned This Week: June 10-16

LESSON #1: STATISTICS DON’T LIE, SO WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO ABOUT IT— Riding the wave of examination and expansion for equality in the film industry, the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative from USC revealed the results of a very telling data study that examined the demographics of movie critics.  To no surprise to anyone paying attention, 78% of the reviews written on Rotten Tomatoes were done by white males.  The news of that data ignited plenty of torches and hushed excuses. At an awards show, Oscar-winning actress Brie Larson spoke wonderfully on those statistics, how they do not reflect the movie-going population, how critical exposure matters (just ask Colin Trevorrow or the notion further expanded by this strong piece in The Lily by Monica Castillo), and how some films are made for certain audiences beyond white males and that fair and matching reviews are needed.  She wasn’t a bit wrong, and I say that as a white male movie critic myself. There is room for more and room for better. The questions become what steps can be made to create a better balance.  One encouraging example is seeing both the Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals designate 20% of their press credential assignments to minorities. We can’t grow film critics on trees, but we can look deeper into the forest and grant more opportunities in that way.  That said, this is still a competitive field and talent still wins. If a minority critic can earn those gets and those publishing spots, more power to them. Competition raises everyone’s game.

LESSON #2: WHETHER WE LIKE IT OR NOT, MOVIES ARE A BUSINESS FIRST AND AN ART EXPOSITION SECOND— First Reformed star and upcoming Blaze director Ethan Hawke appeared and spoke at the Seattle International Film Festival accepting their annual Outstanding Achievement in Cinema award.  The buzziest outcome of that was his quote that movies are “an art form that’s completely eaten by business.”  I know this sparked a lively discussion in the Feelin’ Film Discussion Group on Facebook this week.  This longing for the art to shine over the monetary success comes up often and the wording of my lesson title is my usual reply to that topic or question.  From the day they started charging for tickets to see these things called movies, it was always from then on going to be about the business.  Once people made livings and livelihoods out of participating in this art form, those roots were going nowhere and now they’ve inflated to the millions and billions of dollars pumping through movies.  I know I’ve reached a point as both a mature movie fan and also an experienced consumer (make no mistake, we are all both) where I’ve become more selective with what I’m going to spend my money on and also more appreciative when I encounter something that stands out as the art form underneath the profit potential.  If we, as a collective movie-going public, ever needed to rebel against the business end to demand better from the art standpoint, the only way to do that is hit the industry in the wallet where it counts.  Don’t give garbage your money and every dollar given to a deserving piece of cinematic art supports their cause and future careers.  Indulge in this entertainment with that mindfulness and you’ll be a better viewer.

LESSON #3: DISNEY/STAR WARS WHINERS, BE THANKFUL YOU DIDN’T GET THE FULL GEORGE LUCAS— Likely still rolling in a Scrooge McDuck-level money pit filled with the billions of dollars he made selling off his properties, a George Lucas book quote made news this week because it shared what his post-Return of the Jedi sequels would have been based on.  Take a gander at his premise based on “a microbiotic world” and silly-sounding “Whills.”  Flawed as Episodes VII and VIII may be, if that stuff from Lucas sounds better than the compelling chapters of closure for old favorite characters competing with elevation of new characters from J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson, then I’m sorry.  You can’t be helped and your inflexibility ruins it for everyone (see last week’s WWLTW because now you sound like those a-holes that bully on social media).

LESSON #4: GET ONE THING RIGHT BEFORE STARTING ANOTHER— I don’t think anyone at Warner Bros. knows what they are doing or how to properly make up their mind, including new DC Films President Walter Hamada replacing comic-connected favorite Geoff Johns.  They now have two Joker-centered films coming down the assembly line, a Jared Leto standalone extending the current DCEU and a low-budget 1980s-set origin story take coming from The Hangover trilogy director Todd Phillips, producer Martin Scorsese, and starring Joaquin Phoenix.  Combine that with the reports that the upcoming Matt Reeves-directed The Batman will be a younger Batman likely eliminating Ben Affleck and you have to ask the WTF questions.  What’s going on here? Are we pushing forward post-Justice League or are we rebooting and trying again?  Both can’t exist credibly. Which one matters more?  Warner Bros. needs to pick a lane and stick with it.

LESSON #5: COMEDY IS THE MOST SUBJECTIVE FILM GENRE, PERIOD— An esteemed panel of film critics (including Scott Tobias, Bilge Ebiri, Brian Tallerico, and Amy Nicholson) collaborated for a list of the “50 Greatest Comedies of the 21st Century” for Rolling Stone magazine.  The results, topped by Christopher Guest’s Best in Show, could not be more all over the place between eclectic spirit and pretentious pandering.  The opening blurb of the article admits humor is a “seriously subjective topic.” Go right ahead and add the extreme hyperbole of “the most.”  This task was impossible without some criteria or metrics, which the list and article gleefully (and carelessly) neglect. The triggers for horror and even drama are so much more universal than the fickle tastes and randomness of comedy.  We may say laughs come easy sometimes but they don’t. Someone’s #1 film is going to be someone’s reviled trash of eye rolls or hate and everyone has an opinion.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson and also on Medium.com where he is one of the 50 “Top Writers” in the Movies category.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties on a podcast every now and then  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on FacebookTwitter, and Medium.