*(with apologies to legendary rapper KRS-One)

Several years ago, I changed the name of this blog from “Mild-Mannered Newspaperman” to “Bridge Over Troubled Opinions” in an attempt to look at the moderate side of every issue.

But the 2016 presidential campaign and the subsequent political and social ugliness seen in President Donald Trump’s first year and a half in office has made me abandon that endeavor. Because there’s one extreme I’m NOT going to play nice with:

White supremacy.

Back in April, a disturbed man (not naming him, sorry) wearing only a jacket, fired his military-style semi-automatic rifle in a Waffle House restaurant, killing four patrons (all black, incidentally). He was stopped from doing further damage by James Shaw Jr., who disarmed the gunman despite being weaponless. Shaw later raised funds for the funerals of the dead and even shunted money offered to himself personally off to other causes. He’s a bonafide hero.

But this meme right here.

Prefaced with hashtags #PoliceLivesMatter, #ThinBlueLine, the Twitter writer — we’ll call him the Twitt — has this to say:

“James Shaw Jr., 29, was able to overpower and disarm the Waffle House Shooter with his bare hands. Think about that next time a liberal tries to tell you that police officers shouldn’t feel threatened by an ‘unarmed’ black man.”

There is a TON of racist nonsense to unpack here.

First of all, I have to wonder if this a Russian troll rather than an actual American conservative. A USA Today study found that most of the Facebook ads bought by Russian meddlers focused on stoking racial division. Is this Twitter handle part of that effort as well?

Because if it isn’t, it’s not a good look for whatever portion of conservative White America this Twitt represents.

Is this a tacit admission that these white folks are so utterly bitchmade that they can’t so much as defend themselves unless they’re armed to the teeth?

And does the same go for police officers? One would hope not, that our protectors would be made of sterner stuff. But then one reads part of former cop Darren Wilson’s testimony on how much smaller and powerless he felt next to 18-year-old Michael Brown, whom he shot dead on that Ferguson, Missouri, road in 2014.

Oh, and look at how the Twitt threw “unarmed” in quotation marks, as if to suggest a black man is NEVER unarmed or undangerous as long as he has two free hands. I guess this is why we’re shot and killed by police at a higher frequency than white suspects.

Finally, and most perniciously, the Twitt wants to ascribe the ability of this hero, Mr. Shaw, to fight off a killer, to every single black man in the nation. As though we are all made from the same cloth.

There’s nothing more racist than to take one solitary person’s actions and assume — or recommend one should assume — that an ENTIRE PEOPLE are the same.

The Twitt here has done it backward. One needs to look at the history and actions of an entire people and culture. Then one must look at how that culture is shaped — and then see where in the spectrum a solitary person’s actions rest.

That’s one of the things I’ll be doing with this blog, going forward, when warranted: looking at how America’s culture of white supremacy affects us all. And affect us all it does.

Advertisements

 

Stan Lee, 1922-2018.

Stan “The Man” Lee is dead.

I’ve been bracing myself to write those words for years now. The effusive frontman of Marvel Comics and co-creator of most of its most enduring heroes had been ailing for the past year and finally, at age 95, he left this life.

To say he affected my life is something of an understatement.

My first comic book that I can remember owning is The Amazing Spider-Man #198 (vol. 1) in the late 1970s. Nearing his milestone 200th issue, the hero appeared to be running a gauntlet of sorts, having just been beaten senseless by the Kingpin. After a brief recuperation at a hospital, he continued his quest to get to the bottom of his Aunt May’s death (!) only to run into the villain of the month: Mysterio, master of illusion.

Thus began in earnest a lifelong love of the comic book artform (one that my mom regrets to this day. But sorry-not-sorry, Ma — there was no way I was ever NOT going to be a comic book fan. “The Electric Company” saw to that). And although Lee didn’t write this comic — he hadn’t been a hands-on scribe of Spidey for nearly a hundred issues by then — it was his creations and, more importantly, his vision that captured my imagination.

Though Lee goes down in pop-culture history as the creator of Spider-Man, Black Panther, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Avengers, Doctor Strange, Ant-Man, Thor, the Hulk and more, it’s more accurate to say he co-created them, with artist collaborators Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko bearing at least equal credit for their respective hands in the characters’ genesis. Some argue that they were responsible for nearly all of it and Lee simply took the lion’s share of the glory.

I wouldn’t doubt that’s true. But what Lee brought to it all was his new brand of sophistication to superhero comics that turned then-upstart Marvel Comics into the industry leader that forced the older, more established DC Comics to up its game in a rivalry that continues to this day.

Here’s a key passage from that very first Marvel Comic that made such an impression on an 8-year-old Khari:

I do believe this was the first time I ever encountered the words “anonymous” and “anonymity.” But more than that, the doctor’s speech introduced the concept of justice and troubled times, things with which I, in my rather idyllic home life, was unconcerned.

Stan Lee’s successors (in this case, series writer Marv Wolfman) had completely bought into his vision of creating fantastical stories with clear connections to real-world themes and problems. And so the genre and medium only grew more sophisticated.

———

For more than half my life, I wanted to be a comic book creator. Now well into my adulthood*, although that dream has subsided almost completely, I remain a great lover of the art form and of vast universes of comic book creations. And I will remain so into I slip into eternity to meet the creator of the real universe.

 

* (my alleged adulthood, if trollmeister Bill Maher is any authority. Maher gained a bit more notoriety for suggesting that we’re all fools for mourning Lee and that we should have outgrown comic books ages ago. But what Maher doesn’t have a clue about is how comics, superhero or otherwise, have grown up along WITH us. And Stan Lee’s influence is fairly directly responsible for sparking the medium’s march to maturity.)

Dr. Ford is me

2018/09/28

Written for Facebook on Sept. 28, 2018, during the height of the Supreme Court confirmations. Backdated and saved here for posterity, I guess.

#metoo
#whyididntreport

So there are some folks out there wondering why Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is only now coming forward with her allegations against Supreme Court justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Why not at any point earlier in his career? Why is there no proof?

I think I understand why. Because Dr. Ford is me.

I, too, had an encounter with a dude named Brett K. in the 1980s. Mine wasn’t nearly traumatic as hers: It was just the two of us in an empty middle school classroom and was more weird and embarrassing and “What the ___ IS this?” than anything. And our family moved away about two weeks later so I didn’t even have to have awkward eye contact later.

But I didn’t say ANYTHING about this moment to ANYONE until maybe about 10 years ago, and then only to immediate family. The past 12 or so hours is the first time I’ve mentioned it since. And I have no intention of talking further about it.

However. If my Brett K’s name came up as the guy named to take a lifetime position on the most powerful body in government, you’d best believe I might consider sending a letter about him.

Even though I have no proof, that it’d just be “he said, he said.”

Maybe Kavanaugh didn’t do it. But in my experience, the guilty tend to belligerently deny as fiercely as the innocent do. And while we should adhere to the “innocent until proven guilty” adage, this isn’t a trial. His life won’t be destroyed by not being on the Court. If he’s innocent, he will be OK.

TL;DR … Neither I nor Dr. Ford have proof but a similar thing happened to me so I get her — and I see why she came forward now.

I ran across this collection of fan art on Facebook the other day. The artist, a NeoArtCore on DeviantArt, did a cute series of female versions of Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Thor Odinson and Bucky Barnes. Each is an astounding rendition of the MCU characters.

I cycled through them eagerly, looking for the biggest MCU hero of all, Black Panther. But I was to be disappointed.

I have so many questions.

Why is she … not black? She’s barely even tan. Did the artist give up? Or does he simply not know how to render a dark-skinned African? Or, worse, does he not even care to?

I later visited the artist’s site. It is almost entirely made up of beautiful cheesecake pix like these, to the tune of about 200 images.

NONE of them are African women. NONE are even dark-skinned.

It’s hard to describe how off-putting this is. This artist has put in countless hours perfecting his craft and yet couldn’t muster the will to illustrate ONE dark-skinned woman for even this one time.

ONE.

TIME.

And I have to ask: Is this anti-Black racism? I find it hard to come to any other conclusion. Because again, there is no lack of skill.

Only lack of will.

Some time back around Memorial Day, President Trump suggested that NFL players who kneel during the national anthem maybe ought to leave the country. An old colleague reposted the story.

SCREENSHOT 1:

Lauren1

We’re used to 45 tossing this kind of tone deaf red meat on the floor for his base. But… someone did agree with him. I may have been … triggered.

SCREENSHOT 2:

Lauren2

I reacted pretty aggressively. Immediately, she tried to tone police me as she does the NFL players, chastising me for my ALL CAPS shouting, while repeating her call for protesters to leave America for a place without freedom to protest.

SCREENSHOT 3:

Lauren3

I let her get away with it this time, sort of, and continued in calmer fashion going forward.

SCREENSHOT 4:

Lauren4

I also offered a bit of potential education: a screenshot of 20+ unarmed black people who died in police interactions. ‘Cause, you know, sometimes people just don’t know what they don’t know, like that guy in early February who thought Black Panther was a superhero based on the political party. So I offered her a chance to fill that gap in her knowledge.

SCREENSHOT 4a (detail):

Lauren4a

Unfortunately, just like that guy, Lauren here didn’t care to investigate, as indicated by her dismissive response a little while later: The protesters aren’t fighting for anything, just complaining, she said.

SCREENSHOT 5-6:

Lauren5

Lauren6

^^^THIS question right here. It’s key. Why should we consider respect for the flag more important than liberty and justice? Her answer is decent but disingenuous because, as I point out, protests fit neatly into the box she proscribes for change.

SCREENSHOT 7:

Lauren7

I decided to unpack her latest reply a bit because she was on some NON-THINKING NONSENSE.

SCREENSHOT 8:

Lauren8

But here we come to the crux of it…

SCREENSHOT 9-10:

Lauren9

Lauren10

And there it is, ladies and gentlemen. I pointed out that unless it’s your person or your property, you can’t unilaterally deem disrespect. Yet she does, repeatedly, while discounting others’ equal freedom to decide. The protests are bad because she says they are and no one else’s view matters. She is the arbiter of all things.

This is white supremacy at its most cognitively dissonant.

Lauren is part of my old colleague’s FB circle, so I imagine she’s probably a decent sort and pleasant person. But she is completely bound up in white supremacist thinking in ways she can’t even fathom.

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.”

— 2 Corinthians 13:5

20170706_130133

“This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.”

I have always loved this little patriotic song, even before I learned of its roots as a sarcastic rejoinder to its mawkish forebear “God Bless America.” But as this post’s title suggests, I’m liking it for a deeper reason this Independence Day.

A member of a nerd group I belong to wrote an article (“How to Celebrate Independence Day When You’re Feeling Less Than Patriotic”about the discomfort black Americans feel at celebrating July 4. Our history in this country has been one not of liberty and justice but, too often, fraught with constraint and unfairness. And despite the past 50 years of freedom in the nearly 400-year history of our time in the New World, there remain a lot of enduring effects of the bondage that characterized the bulk of that history.

I thought about it; how would I celebrate?

How SHOULD I?

My answer:

I don’t know how best to celebrate the Fourth of July other than rest in the knowledge that everything great about America is due to the efforts of we whose ancestors survived the Middle Passage.

  • The 13 colonies? Built on our backs. Even though the northern colonies rid themselves of the crutch of chattel slavery (to keep poor white workers from having to compete with unpaid slave labor), they still used the money made from it to build their industrialization and raked in more from earnings made by the South.
  • The first martyr in the revolution? A black man, Crisps Attucks, was leader of the group killed in the Boston Massacre.
  • The Civil War? A cynical power struggle and land grab for both sides until Africans in America ennobled it because it was literally a fight for our freedom.
  • Honest Abe Lincoln’s anti-slavery efforts were sparked and spurred by his correspondence with one Frederick Douglass, former slave and by then one of the world’s leading abolitionists.
  • The first Memorial Day for American soldiers was held by black people, not white Americans, who now revere the holiday.
  • The land of the free and home of the brave? All men are created equal? It was all wind until the civil rights movement stood up to America and said, “PROVE IT.” This, after two world wars fought abroad and a full century after our supposed emancipation.

 

The founding fathers had a good idea, but it, like most everything else folks crow about while praising this nation, would be nothing but empty hypocrisy built on a blood-soaked pile of theft, oppression and genocide but for us.

So I will celebrate the truth that, in all frankness, we whose ancestors survived the Middle Passage and all that followed have more right to call the United States of America our country than anyone. Its greatness is to our credit, not to our oppressors and their enablers.

This land is our land.

(A final note: Unless you are directly descended from indigenous peoples, don’t dare tell us to go ANYWHERE else. You don’t have the moral right.)

Bye, auntie

2018/06/27

“Hey, Auntie.”

This line in the middle of the blockbuster film “Black Panther” always gets a laugh from the audience, especially from those of us in the African American diaspora. It’s usually spoken with warmth and affection and not with the sneering tone of an Erik Killmonger.

Aunties are special.

Mattie Brown 1941-2018

Eloise “Weezie” Crockett 1949-2017

Exactly two years ago Monday, it was.

We were sitting there in my aunt Mattie’s suburban Cincinnati home, enjoying her always amazing hospitality after our latest Sampson family reunion. With me was my other aunt, her younger sister Eloise, joking about figuring how to use her new smartphone and, as usual, sharing embarrassing stories about her nearest big brother, my dad, growing up.

I really did not think it would be the last time I saw them both. But it was.

Exactly two years later, as I write this, I’m leaving Aunt Mattie’s funeral services, only about 14 months after Aunt Weezie’s too-soon death in April 2017. Aunt Cora passed away in 1992; all three of my dad’s sisters are gone.

———

I was unable to attend Aunt Eloise’s funeral, just days after her 68th birthday. I suppose that’s why it’s taken this recent tragedy for me to try coming to terms with her loss by writing. She suffered from diabetes and heart problems for many years and in the end it was the former that got her.

“Weezie” was the fun aunt. She was always telling a funny story or making a gentle joke. The role of creating levity often falls to the youngest member of a family and she was my dad’s only junior.

Kind of a free spirit, Aunt Weezie enjoyed single living for what seemed like a good while before finding love with “Crockett” — yes, I somehow pretty much only know her husband by his last name. Aunt Eloise lived in Los Angeles and we just didn’t see her that often and him even less. She also rather insisted on generally calling him Crockett, probably because it was funny.

Aunt Eloise and Uncle Crockett had a little girl in the late 1980s, Michelle, who remains the youngest of our grandpa’s grandkids by an average of a decade and a half. The baby of the family had the baby of the family. (I joked with Michelle this weekend that she’s finally about to be an actual grownup once she turns 30 in August.)

I’d give a lot to hear that chuckle of hers again. But I’ll have to wait until we meet again in heaven.

———

While seeing West Coast resident Aunt Weezie was a rare treat, Aunt Mattie was a more frequent sight. The middle daughter of the six, Mattie (not short for Martha or anything else) lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, for the entirety of my memory

I have a lot of memories where Aunt Mattie is concerned.

I remember she was so kind. I can’t recall so much as a cross word from her. Instead, she had a way of delivering a gentle rebuke that made one think changing your ways was simply the right and reasonable thing to do.

I remember her being so neat. It never seemed like it took her any effort to maintain an immaculate home. This is not an ability shared by her nephew. At all.

i remember her being a fantastic mom who raised my favorite cousins: slightly younger Scott, who shared our boyhood love of Star Wars, comics, etc., and his big sister Flo, who I just adored.

And, of course, Mattie was a super auntie and I was clearly her favorite nephew. I BELIEVE THAT. (The truth is that she was the kind of person who makes you feel like you’re the most important person in the world to her when she interacted with you.)

But my enduring memory of Aunt Mattie is this one from one of our Sampson family reunions — either 2014’s or 2016’s. It was the banquet event. We Sampsons were yapping away as usual among ourselves as she stood to speak. She had no microphone — the equipment was having problems — but she said she wouldn’t need it. Instead, without so much as raising her voice, she simply stood there and made a simple statement: If you want to hear, you’ll listen. And then she waited.

And that whole room quieted down. It’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.

I don’t recall what she talked about (she really could have used that mic) but the occurrence itself has stayed with me. The power and wisdom in that tiny, barely 5-foot-tall frame was earned and honed across a long career as a second-grade teacher.

Aunt Mattie succumbed to a recurrence of breast cancer in early June. She was 77.

I still often refer to her in present tense, not because I’m somehow in denial but because the best part of her lives on with her Lord and savior Christ. What’s past: the sin forgiven and paid for by the cross. Even a soul as good and beautiful as hers needed redeeming. So do we all.

But make no mistake: There are few souls as good and beautiful as my aunts Mattie and Weezie.

With the Marvel Cinematic Universe mere days from marking its 10th year of movies and its 18th in the series, “Avengers: Infinity War,” it’s high time I revisited what’s become my favorite franchise of all.

Back in 2016, I wrote about Marvel Studios’ then-baker’s dozen films and their highlights and nadirs. Go read those, then come back here. Or, if you want to get on with this current post, here’s a little recap of the chronology of the MCU’s feature releases:

  • Iron Man [Spring 2008]
  • The Incredible Hulk [Summer 2008]
  • Iron Man 2 [Spring 2010]
  • Thor [Spring 2011]
  • Captain America: The First Avenger [Summer 2011]
  • Marvel’s Avengers [Spring 2012]
  • Iron Man 3 [Spring 2013]
  • Thor: The Dark World [Fall 2013]
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier [early Spring 2014]
  • Guardians of the Galaxy [Summer 2014]
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron [Spring 2015]
  • Ant-Man [Summer 2015]
  • Captain America: Civil War [Spring 2016]

 

And now, on with the new entries to my recounting:

Doctor Strange [late 2016]

Another origin story, this intro was competently done. But for some viewers, including me, it was also an entry in the franchise where the formula began to wear thin.  And then there’s the whitewashing controversy surrounding the Tilda Swinton casting. Add to that a generally uninspired villain, and you have an MCU film that doesn’t stumble but doesn’t dazzle, either.

Low moment: When you really realize “It’s like ‘Iron Man,’ but with MAGIC this time!”

High moment: “I’m here to bargain.” That whole sequence saves this movie, to be frank.

———

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 [Spring 2017]

You can read what I thought about this one upon release here. Franchise-wise, this installment is disposable fun but maybe also unnecessary. It’s not nearly the sophomore slip that “Age of Ultron” was for the central Avengers series, though.

Low moment: When a gag got extended a bit too far. It happens ALL THE TIME in this film, but nowhere quite so much as when Yondu massacres his mutinous crew. I got the point in the first 30 seconds, thanks

High moment: Baby Groot dancing over the credits and opening fight sequence

———

Spider-Man: Homecoming [Summer 2017]

The product of a deal between Marvel/Disney and Sony, which has owned the film rights to Marvel’s flagship character for nearly two decades, “Homecoming” is a none-too-subtle attempt to integrate Spidey into the established MCU. Unfortunately, IMO, it’s had to erase a key part of Peter Parker’s character to work — that his chief motivation for wearing the suit is his guilt over his uncle’s death. Making him a pup eager to impress Tony Stark does him a bit of a disservice. It’s still an effective effort, though, and continues Marvel Studios’ unbroken streak of solid, enjoyable popcorn movies. It also deserves a great deal of credit for its very diverse cast reflecting New York’s actual population.

Low moment: Stark of all people having to give Parker the responsibility speech.

High moment: “You must be Peter.” That’s great writing to lead up to this moment that surprises and yet feels completely natural.

———

Thor: Ragnarok [Fall 2017]

I wrote about this one here on the blog. And after a second viewing, it is solidly higher in my personal ranking than the other two Thor films I also loved. But some viewers thought the humor quotient was far too high for a story that should be pitch dark.

Low moment: One joke too many amidst the destruction of Asgard.

High moment: “Choose your next words carefully.” Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie is FIERCE

———

Black Panther [early 2018]

Marvel Studios has gone its entire filmography without making a truly bad film and made a lot of very good ones. But only a few could be called great.

Black Panther is the greatest. It manages to elevate the franchise in every single way but one* and is the single most successful comic movie in history — and No. 3 among all films, period, box-officewise.

I wrote about BP for work here. I’ve wanted to write about it a lot more but have realized I need to delve into it like I did with my Life Lessons from The Empire Strikes Back series in 2010. So watch this space for an eventual deep dive into Wakanda.

*Low moment: So the CG of the final duel wasn’t great, true. (But no one really cares that much about CG, post-“Avatar”)

High moment: Too many to pick. But forcing myself to choose, I’d say the minor key version of the King/Ancestor theme during Killmonger’s dream sequence. It’s a level of musical sophistication not seen at all in this entire franchise until now and it’s emblematic of the sheer excellence of BP from top to bottom.

 

Avengers: Infinity War [2018]

A decade containing a dozen-and-a-half features have all led up to this: the first movie that will really feel like a Marvel Universe-spanning crossover. I have no idea how the Russo brothers have pulled this off. But I’m looking forward to seeing if they did it.

 

On a Black Panther-focused Facebook group, a number of questions about the current title penned by acclaimed author Ta-Nehisi Coates were posed. His run on the comic is NOT widely acclaimed. Here were my responses.

___

Q. Are you a fan of Coates’ work?

A. In a word, no. He’s a good world builder and I rather like the wordiness of his writing, but the world was built already. He doesn’t have a good sense of pacing. He does too much in the margins despite all the talkiness.

Q. Where do you want Coates to take the franchise?

A. I want him to write some cool superhero comic starring the man with the plans A through H. It’s taken two years of his run to even begin to feel like Panther is that guy. This is in stark contrast with every other writer of the character for the past two DECADES.

Q. How can Coates improve his work?

A. • Shorter arcs, please. The better he gets at writing tighter, the better he’ll be.
• More exposition. It’s rather intolerable that Shuri’s been back for a year of comics and we STILL don’t really know what all her new abilities are. Like, that’s basic superhero trope, exploring the new powers.
• More T’Challa. The thing about Marvel’s solo books is that they get into the title character’s personal life away from the city/world/universe/multiverse-shaking events and into some of the mundane (with smaller scale super-problems to deal with) and — this is MOST important — into the lead’s head.

How much better would the first issue have been had we gotten to see Wakanda as the Golden City for a minute? THEN, suddenly, we see the Renzi-Sparked turmoil? What if we got to see T’Challa dealing with the unthinkable happening in his nation instead of his lieutenants doing it off-panel?

We needed that moment we saw in the “Captain America: Civil War” movie where Tony Stark is confronted at the elevator by Alfre Woodard’s character. But Coates was too much a neophyte writer to do that.

Q. Can Coates improve? Give your thoughts.

A. He HAS improved somewhat. There are moments of brilliance, such as his use of Dr. Eliot “Thunderball” Franklin. The recent “three steps ahead of his friends” bit. But there’s his distrust and apparent deep disbelief in the very idea of Wakanda, the fabled Afrofuturistic vision of what might have been for the continent if not for imperialism and tribalism.

I think Coates is trying to write a T’Challa who is a far greater king than his predecessors. I think he wants BP to be the one who is NOT the colonizer/imperialist that Coates’ newly retconned Wakanda was. But, y’know, why tear down the nation to build Panther up?

I’m a ride-or-die Panther fan, so I will keep reading despite my misgivings. If only maybe to troll it LOL

___

Since writing this a month ago, both I and Coates have seen the spectacular “Black Panther” film directed by Ryan Coogler, and I suspect that both of our perspectives on the character of Black Panther and Wakanda have been somewhat transformed. But only time will tell if it leads to a better Panther comic.

In the meantime, writer Evan Narcisse appears to be using the world-building Coates did on the main title to write one of the potential all-time great BP stories in his “year one” styled “Rise of the Black Panther” chronicling T’Challa’s early days as Wakanda’s monarch. The first two issues of the six-installment series are excellent.

It’s that time again: When I briefly veer from viewing popcorn movies and such in favor of what the Academy likes. And then I rank the Best Picture nominees myself.

The nine this year are:

Call Me By Your Name
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
and
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

 

9.

Call Me By Your Name
A summer-love story between a teenager (Timothee Chalamet) and his father’s assistant (Armie Hammer) set in early 1980s Italy, it’s The Gay Movie that always shows up in this or the acting categories. But while this film is similarly themed to last year’s winner, “Moonlight,” it’s not even in its league. Though beautiful, CMBYN has a weak conflict that literally bored me nearly to sleep.

Every year I’ve done this review, there’s the film that simply wasn’t half as good as the rest, and this is it for this installment. 3 stars.

8.


Darkest Hour
This biopic about Winston Churchill is selected pretty much solely due to Gary Oldman’s amazing performance as the WWII-era prime minister of Britain (for which he won the Best Actor award). The movie itself rather spins its wheels a little bit. It’s never bad or boring but seems somewhat needless at times. 3 stars.

7.


Phantom Thread
Daniel Day-Lewis plays a fastidious postwar England dressmaker who tends to fall for his models, including the latest played by (Vicky Krieps). Though it’s the sort of tired Oscar bait film that usually appears among the Best Picture offerings, PT manages to transcend its staid … what’s the word … boundaries? Dunno … to become a tale that haunts. 3 stars

6.


Lady Bird
This quirky little film about a high school senior (Saoirse Ronan) with a prickly relationship with her critical mom is an artful bit of fun. Part self-discovery story, part hometown love letter and part early-’90s period piece, it kinda meanders. But it’s so enjoyable that I didn’t care. 3 stars

5.


The Post
This film about the Washington Post newspaper’s 1971 decision to publish the then-still-top-secret Pentagon Papers might look like a pointed jab at today’s politics, but in truth it is in every way merely a period piece. Featuring a crack ensemble cast led by Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep as, respectively, the editor-in-chief and publisher of the paper, this movie serves as an important reminder of the power and responsibility of a free press.
That said, as riveting as it can be and despite my professional affinity for the theme, it’s not otherwise exceptional filmmaking. 3.5 stars

4.


Dunkirk
In this WWII epic, director Christopher Nolan returns to the timebending, wheels-within-wheels storytelling approach he used in earlier films “Inception” and “Memento.” The result makes what would be a standard war film into a more riveting and challenging affair. Perhaps even more impressive is that Nolan made it PG-13 and it doesn’t feel softened or sanitized at all. 4 stars

3.


The Shape of Water
A mute janitor (Sally Hawkins) befriends The Asset (Doug Jones), a mysterious being held captive at a secret government facility in this excellent film. Known for his playfully quirky pop-horror fare, director Guillermo del Toro makes perhaps his first grown-up movie with this Cold War sci-fi thriller romance that delivers on all those descriptors without collapsing into a puddled mess.
Essentially “E.T.” starring the Creature From the Black Lagoon as a Cold War spy drama/love story, this is a surprise contender for Best Picture. It’s an impressive piece of work all around. And yet, it’s lacking a little something in the end that holds it down from the top of my list. (But it won Best Picture and Best Director.) 4 stars.

(tie)

1.


Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
This smoldering noir drama works better than the super-clunky title. Frances McDormand is brilliant as a single mom who makes a bold statement to call fresh attention to her daughter’s death. What happens next, no one is ready for. At once cathartic and troubling, it’s almost the best film of the lot this year. But it bobbles its ending just enough to lose out on its uncontested place atop my Oscar rankings. 4.5 stars

1.


Get Out
Things go awry when an African American man (Daniel Kaluuya) is invited to meet his white fiancee’s parents in what’s been called the biracial child of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and “The Stepford Wives.”

I’m amazed and delighted that the Academy remembered to honor this film that debuted so long ago (February 2017). Its take on the themes of race are uncommon fodder for movies and it adeptly plays with conventions of the horror genre. In the end, its final act felt a tad too conventional for me, but man, was it satisfying. And with it truly being the most memorable of 2017’s Best Picture nominees, it shares space atop my list. (It also garnered a Best Screenplay award.) 4 stars.

 

That does it for my Oscar party. We’ll see March 4 which film takes the trophy. (The Academy has never picked my favorite in the now four years I’ve done this. I don’t care.)

March 26 EDIT: I’ve made post-Oscars notes on what the big winners were