By Special Request: A Quarantine Movie Marathon

It is just four days into June as I write this, yet it seems as if the world’s been quarantined for about two years now. Even after COVID-19 infections level off (still a ways to go on that, methinks) and the police officers responsible for George Floyd’s death are brought to justice (again, still a ways to go, I think), we will continue to face an uncertain rest of the year. For one thing, hurricane season has already begun. For another thing, in April the government announced the existence of aliens, and I wouldn’t be surprised a whit if there was an actual landing. For yet another thing, the murder hornets are still on their way from the Pacific Northwest to the rest of the United States.

(GringoPotpourri note: I am both serious and joking in my comments about aliens and murder hornets. I mean really, what’s next?!)

At least there are streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime to pacify us. Movie theaters are closed, and sadly, I suspect that many of them will never open their doors again. The new golden age of television has given entertainment junkies much to binge watch – I recently finished season five of AMC’s “Better Call Saul,” and season three of Prime Video’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” I look forward to the next season of Prime’s “Jack Ryan,” and may tackle HBO’s “Chernobyl” in the meantime.

That being said, I am much more of a movie geek than a TV geek; if you’ve been following this blog for awhile, you surely know that. There is good content to be found online (or in other formats, such as DVD and Blu-ray; I subscribe to both regular and DVD Netflix). Below, in no particular order, is a sampling of ten films that I’ve watched since the COVID quarantine began. Since a part of believes that things are opening up too quickly, and that new cases will spike as a result, I’m sure we’ll be in this for some time to come. If you’re at loss for something to watch, and have diverse tastes like I do, you may find something that appeals to you from the following selections. Enjoy!

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Oscar 2019-20 – predicting the winners

For the second time in a row, the Oscars will be host-less. Last year, original host Kevin Hart, whose name had briefly become associated with homophobia, dropped out, lest the Oscar broadcast become besmirched in controversy. The end result was a leaner show, still long at three hours, 23 minutes, but a full hour shorter than the longest-ever Oscars, 2002’s four-hour, 23-minute snooze-fest.

Aside from the “Oscars so white” outcry that popped up again this year with just a single major-category nominee of color (the excellent Cynthia Erivo of “Harriet”), this year’s pre-show drama was decidedly low-key. I expect a show with lower-than-normal ratings, considering that many fans of “Joker,” the year’s most-nominated film, probably aren’t the target viewing demographic for the Oscars, and that last year had a much more mainstream slate of nominees but disappointing ratings nonetheless.

Here are my picks for the winners. Interestingly enough, this year’s acting categories each seem to have all-but-guaranteed winners, which is unusual. That being said, there are always surprises; last year, I was wrong on both Best Actor (Rami Malek for “Bohemian Rhapsody”) and Best Actress (Olivia Colman for “The Favourite”).

Mark your ballots!

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Top Ten Films of 2019

As I look back on the 2019 year in cinema, two thoughts come to mind. The first is that wow, I saw a lot of movies last year! The first few months of the year saw the release of “Us,” the sophomore film by “Get Out” director Jordan Peele, of “Captain Marvel,” straight out of the MCU, and of “Glass,” a miscalculated sequel to both “Unbreakable” and “Split,” if you can imagine such a thing. Later, we got the sentimental “Toy Story 4,” the ribald, “Superbad”-esque comedy “Booksmart,” and a quiet little think piece called “Avengers: Endgame.”

The second-half of the year gave us a few above-average horror films (“Doctor Sleep,” “The Lighthouse”) and a few below-average ones as well (“It Chapter Two,” “The Dead Don’t Die”). Finally, the end-of-year Oscar-bait bombardment gave us such diverse fare as “Richard Jewell,” a compelling true story by octogenarian Clint Eastwood, “Uncut Gems,” an intense thriller of sensory overload starring a better-than-usual Adam Sandler, and a slate of Netflix titles given the briefest of Oscar-qualifying runs, such as “The Two Popes,” which posited an imagined meeting between Popes Benedict and Francis.

Phew! I try to avoid seeing bad movies at the theater, and enjoyed most of what I sought out. A few films disappointed me, like the mis-marketed Mr. Rogers movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” and the Brad Pitt-starring “Ad Astra.” Still, there was much to like, and I tried to catch up via Netflix or Amazon Prime on anything that I may have missed in the theater. Good thing for those reward cards – lots of free popcorn!

Here are my picks for the Top Ten Films of 2019:

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Oscar 2018-19 – predicting the winners

It would seem that this year’s Oscars broadcast is something of a mess. As I write this, the 91st iteration of the show is still without a host, following the decision by original host Kevin Hart to drop out following the revelation that one of his stand-up routines from years ago contained homophobic content that he has since apologized for profusely, and many times over.

The decision by Hart to drop out comes just a few months after the Academy decided, after much outcry, to drop the category “Best Popular Film,” which it had considered adding to account for movies like “Black Panther,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Dark Knight,” and “Die Hard,” two films of which received token Oscar nominations for Best Picture and two of which did not. <SPOILER ALERT: “Black Panther,” one of the best superhero movies ever made – alongside 2008’s “The Dark Knight,” of course – will not win Best Picture.>

If the above controversy wasn’t enough, the Academy decided to shorten the show’s running time to under three hours. Best intentions perhaps, but their solutions were poorly thought out: don’t allow the Best Original Song nominees to sing, and pick four categories each year beginning this year to hand out at a separate event. This year’s sacrificial lambs: Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Live Action Short, and Best Makeup & Hair.

Heads rolled. After outcry by actors and filmmakers everywhere, it was “clarified” (read: redacted) by the Academy that those awards will be handed out during commercials but the acceptance speeches presented in full on live TV.

If four paragraphs about pre-show drama seems excessive, it is just that the Academy appears dumbfounded in terms of how to increase ratings. That being said, the most obvious solution – nominating a more diverse slate of movies – has already been achieved. Nominated films “Black Panther,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “A Star is Born” were all enormously popular, with “Panther” being the year’s highest-grossing movie. Foreign films such as “Roma,” road pictures like “Green Book,” and indie movies in the vein of “The Favourite” made the cut as well, so it would seem that, host or no host, three hours or four, there may be something for everyone at this year’s Oscars. Will the ratings reflect accordingly?

Here are my thoughts on the nominees, and my predictions on the winners. Although there is almost always one surprise among the winners, you should know that I correctly predicted all eight of last year’s major category winners. I hope to do so again.

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Top Ten Westerns

Have you ever seen “Tombstone,” that 1993, Kurt Russell-starring depiction of the events that led to the gunfight at the O.K. Corral? The movie, a box office smash, was the first of two films released within six months to introduce us to legendary marshal Wyatt Earp, his loyal brothers, and his sickly, but loyal, pal, Doc Holliday. It wasn’t taken seriously by critics, but I rewatched the western recently, and deem the general critical panning as unfair, especially considering that “Tombstone” is not only less boring but also more historically accurate than the Kevin Costner-starring “Wyatt Earp” that premiered six months later and that offered a different take on the events. And Russell, joined by a strong cast that included Val Kilmer (a scene-stealing Holliday), Sam Elliott, and Bill Paxton, turned out to be a natural for the genre.

After rediscovering “Tombstone” a few weeks ago, I followed up my recent viewing of that with one of “Bone Tomahawk,” a little-seen, 2015 indie that also starred Russell, and that combined the western and horror genres to gruesome and mostly good effect. While neither film was what one would consider high art, I enjoyed both of them more than Russell’s other 2015 western, the Quentin Tarantino-directed “The Hateful Eight.” And while the average film critic might cringe at that statement, I found Tarantino’s overlong oater to have better production values than story values.

As for Tarantino, he fared better in the genre with 2012’s “Django Unchained,” and I can’t help but think what a terrific film that would have been with better discipline and less of the director’s usual tendency for dialogue scenes to overstay their welcome. Do “Tombstone” or “Django Unchained” crack the genre’s top ten list? Not quite, though they might make the top 20. Before I talk about films 11-20, however, I must start with 1-10. Here, then, are my picks for the top ten screen westerns:

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And Yet Still Another Ten Good Horror Movies (#41-50)

I noticed something weird when re-reading last year’s blog post on this subject. I was ranking the 31st  40th-best horror movies when I realized that some of my rankings were way off. “Get Out,” which I ranked as #32, went on to win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay – a first for the genre. Surely it deserved a higher slot than #32. The film before it on this list, “It Follows,” though just three years old, remains wholly re-watchable, and its stylistic and tonal similarities to 1978’s “Halloween” make it, like “Get Out,” a high-water mark in horror cinema during the genre’s recent quality resurgence.

In hindsight, surely both of these movies should rank higher on this first-part list than, say, “The Cabin in the Woods,” a meta-horror comedy from 2012 that, while equally original, likely won’t age as well. I will posit that they should even rank higher than “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” which I enjoyed in the 1980’s but which rarely comes up anymore in discussions about great horror movies. And yet I ranked “Cabin” at #10 and “Nightmare” at #18. Of course, I hadn’t seen “It Follows” when I compiled the first two posts on the subject; and “Get Out” hadn’t even been made at that point.

What can I say? Like every other post on my site, I leave the written content as is (grammatical corrections notwithstanding). The content is what it is, and I’m certainly not the only critic – amateur or otherwise – to rethink a movie’s rank or rating after voicing his or her initial opinion about the film. With that being said, below is my latest list – the fifth in a series – of great horror movies:

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Comparing the “Mission: Impossible” films

Seven days into the theatrical release of “Mission: Impossible – Fallout,” the summer sequel and Paramount Pictures tent-pole is a certified hit. The Friday-Sunday opening release garnered $61.5 million in domestic ticket sales, a series-best and career second-best for star and producer Tom Cruise. Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an “A” rating, and critics have almost universally praised it as well. With so much goodwill surrounding the film, it seems hard to believe that Cruise was almost written out of the series after the third film, released in 2006, was considered something of a box office disappointment.

But even though his Hollywood star doesn’t shine quite as brightly as it did in the 1980’s and 90’s, his “M:I” movies now seem bomb-proof, with three mega-hits in a row, starting with the 2011 sorta-soft reboot, “Ghost Protocol.” And to his credit, he brings 200% commitment to whichever film he is shooting, even cinematic turkeys like “Jack Reacher” and “Rock of Ages.” (Well, maybe not to “The Mummy,” but the less said about that film, the better.)

Does “Fallout” live up to the hype? More on this several paragraphs down, but in a word: Yes. And as we near the second weekend of domestic release for the latest “Mission: Impossible” film, I thought I’d wax critical about the series as a whole. Oh, and you’ve been warned: There may be SPOILERS.

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Ten More Great Sports Movies (11-20)


Two years have passed since I composed my original top ten list on this subject, charting my picks for the ten greatest sports movies of all time. If you haven’t read the list you may want to check it out for some context against part two, below; otherwise you may wonder why, seemingly, such classics as “Raging Bull,” “Jerry Maguire,” and “He Got Game” aren’t mentioned. Remember, today’s list starts at #11, although that film, as you’ll read in just a moment, should have made my original top 10 list instead. Alas, hindsight is 20/20.

Here is a new ranking of ten more great sports movies (and a few more besides). Thanks for reading!

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Top Ten Marvel Films (So Far)

“Avengers: Infinity War” opens soon, and set a box office record a few weeks ago in terms of opening weekend pre-sale tickets…breaking the record set by none other than the previous Marvel film, “Black Panther.” Suffice to say, expectations are high.

If you are a MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) newbie with plans to see “Avengers: Infinity War” at theaters, count on being in over your head. By my count, there have been 18 films preceding this one, their stories ultimately interconnected, their protagonists’ fates intertwined. Even such seeming stand-alones as “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014) and “Ant-Man” (2015) tie in to the decade-long ramp-up of characters and events that began with 2008’s “Iron Man” and culminates in what looks to be a two-part battle for the fate of the universe.

Some Marvel films and characters – Deadpool, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four spring immediately to mind – exist in their own separate universes. But for the connected MCU mega-verse that is presided over by Nick Fury’s Avengers, audiences have gotten to enjoy an uneven, but mostly fun, cinematic ride. Here are my choices for the Top Ten Marvel Films (So Far):

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Oscar 2017-18 – predicting the winners

And so it is Oscar time once more. Last year’s host, Jimmy Kimmel, will be returning for his second at-bat, and the 90th annual Academy Awards show will be filled with stale jokes about the show’s running time, about the #metoo movement (no Harvey Weinstein nor Kevin Spacey in the audience, you can guarantee it), and about whether, as was the case last year when “La La Land” was erroneously declared the Best Picture winner, there will be any last minute envelope mix-ups.

Despite 2017 having been such a banner year for mainstream movies – and for superhero movies in particular – the slate of nominees is, some would say, disappointing in terms of its ordinariness. “Wonder Woman,” so empowering to women and so successful at the box office, walked away empty handed, even in the technical categories. “Thor: Ragnarok” was also snubbed across the board, as was “Lego Batman,” which didn’t even score a customary nomination for Best Animated Feature. “Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi” earned a few technical nominations, but the only true *hits* to receive above-the-line nods were “Dunkirk” and “Get Out.” (Okay, so “The Shape of Water” led the pack with 13 nominations, but its “R” rating and graphic nudity worked against it at the box office.)

Will “Dunkirk” or “Get Out” win, reminding audiences that the Academy is not out of touch with popular opinion after all…or will it be something much artsier – “Phantom Thread” perhaps? My gut tells me it will be none of the above. To learn more about those and other nominated films, check out the official Oscar website. For an educated guess on who will win, however, you can do worse than to keep reading the following paragraphs for my predictions.

(GringoPotpourri disclaimer: Although I’m no insider, I have seen all of the nominees mentioned below, and my batting average is well above .500. So there’s that.)

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