Sunday, December 31, 2017

Sunday Best: Catholic Skywalker Awards 2017 - BEST IN MOVIES

With 2017 coming to a close, it is time for us to choose what the best entertainment of the year was.  And just as the Academy Awards have their "Oscars", so too the Catholic Skywalker Awards have their "Kal-El's"

 I have gone through as many movies as possible this year. There were several that I missed and so was unable to place. 

Below are a list of movies that are NOT on this awards page because I had not gotten a chance to see them.

Lady Bird
The Star
The Post
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
All the Money in the World

So of the movies  I've seen this year, here are the winners:

(My appreciation and judgment of a film should not be taken as a recommendation. Choosing to watch any of these films is the reader's responsibility)



This movie came out so early in the year that I expected some other movie in the remaining months to overtake its spot at best movie of the year.

But none ever did.

Everything about this movie is different than what you commonly expect from a movie like this.  Even the title strips away everything away from the character until all you are left with is his barebones identity.

(from my film review of Logan)

There isn't another super hero movie like Logan.

This movie is sober, contemplative, visceral, and heartbreaking in a way I haven't seen in this genre before....

The most important thing to understand about this movie going into it is that it is actually less of a superhero film and more of a classic Western.  Logan is the hard-travelling hero who has lived too long and seen too much killing....

The violence in this movie is more graphic and emotional than any other X-Men film.  As someone who grew up with the comics, this is was how I always imagined Logan cutting loose.  And while it at first as the same vicarious thrill as watching Deadpool or John Wick, after a while the graphicness of the violence gets to you, which I think is part of Mangold's point.  We've reveled in Wolverine's ability to cut his enemies to shreds over the last 17 years.  Now we get to feel what that does to a person's soul.  And yet the action sequences are still enough keep you on the edge of your seat.

One of things I loved most about the film was its depiction of simple, ordinary love.  There is a moment in the movie where our three main characters spend the night with a farmer family.  Mangold fills the scenes around the dinner table with such humor and warmth that part of you wants to leave all of the violence and just settle in.  This family is depicted as faith-filled, hard-working, and trying to get by in life with larger forces arrayed against them...

[It is on this point that I want to spend a little more time.  One of the things that elevates this movie is the focus on the quiet love mentioned above.  The scenes with Logan and Charles are so touching especially upon repeat viewing  because the only thing bonding these men together is the love they have for each other.  And when all is said and done, Logan comes to learn that the only happiness in this world that can be found is through love.  That message does not come off as cheesy or overly sweet.  Instead it is the hard-fought truth underneath all the darkness.]

Logan is powerful and emotional film that has stayed with me in my mind and my heart long after watching it.  When so many movies disappear from our consciousness like smoke, the solid and strong Logan is something to treasure.

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
Murder on the Orient Express
Justice League
The Greatest Showman

James Mangold - Logan

(from my review of Logan)

  Director James Mangold films the movie with all of grand, deserted landscapes that you would see in a Western: wide-open vistas empty with potential.   There is significant motif regarding the movie Shane and the parallels are clear without feeling too preachy.

Mangold also gives us a story that is filled with tension and dread.  From the moment the main quest begins, a deep and pervasive sense of unease fills the movie.  Unlike most superhero movies, there tends to be excitement with little surprise.  But you get the strong sense from Logan that disaster and tragedy are lurking around every corner and our heroes may not come out on top.

Rian Johnson - Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
Zack Snyder - Justice League
Patty Jenkins - Wonder Woman
Christopher Nolan - Dunkirk

Hugh Jackman - Logan

Jackman is something of a revelation in this movie.  After playing this part for 17 years, you would think that he would be on autopilot like Clint Eastwood towards the end of the Dirty Harry franchise.  But Jackman brings not only his best performance as the character and his movie performance to date.

And Jackman makes you feel every painful step of the journey with frustration and fear.  He plays Logan no longer as the hunter but the hunted, scrambling just to stay alive long enough for even his most modest dreams to come true.  We see it in every pained step and in how he wrestles with his internal pain.  Jackman doesn't waste a second of screen time in making us feel everything Logan is going through and desperately wanting him to come out of it all right.  Watching him go from the pits of despair to finding one last moment of pure joy was something I will always remember about his performance.

Andy Serkis - War for the Planet of the Apes
James McCavoy - Split
Kenneth Bragnagh - Murder on the Orient Express
Hugh Jackman - The Greatest Showman

Daisy Ridley - Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

There is a lot of debate regarding the quality of The Last Jedi.  And while I fall on the side of its supporters, that shouldn't take away from my recognition of how wonderful Ridley's performance is.  First of all, we cannot overlook the physicality needed to pull of the role believably.  She shows remarkable control and agility in this regard.

But Rey is still the lynchpin of this new trilogy and the story can only work if we are invested in her journey.  And Ridley does not take a false step in her performance.  She wrestles with bewilderment, frustration, hope, joy, despair, hatred, disappointment, and hope all with great believability.   Some have complained that the character is a Mary Sue, meaning that she is an idealized female character who never does anything wrong.  I will leave it up to my readers to decide this for themselves.  But Daisy Ridley burns with an intense fire that boils over when needed.  For me, the best moment was watching Rey confront the apparent truth about her parentage.  You can see the interior journey taking place in her eyes before she even speaks a word.  And that speaks to her excellence as a performer.

Emma Watson - Beauty and the Beast
Gal Gadot - Wonder Woman
Charlize Theron - Atomic Blonde
Anya Taylor Joy - Split

Mark Hamill - Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

(from my review of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi)

In terms of the performances, they are fantastic.  Hamill's turn here as Luke might be the best acting performance given in any Star Wars movie.  He is layered in pain, regret, and cynicism, but they have not completely removed the hopeful hero underneath.  At times he comes off as wise as Yoda and then as wide-eyed and lost as he was in the originals.  I couldn't help but feel a kindred connection as I have grown into an adult and at times I feel like I've learned from the lessons of my years but I still sometimes feel as lost as a child.  Hamill adds layers of depth to everything he does and I would not be surprised if he received an Oscar nomination for his effort.

(end quote)

And to me one of the most iconic moments for Luke Skywalker will be that simple shoulder brush.  Some found it cheesy. But the way Hamill did it you could see that it was part of a performance by Luke.  It was done to play into the legend that he had been trying to escape.  This was not the act of a braggart but the act of a seasoned master goading his immature opponent.  All of this done without a word and done with great depth in Hamill's performance.

Patrick Stewart - Logan
Ezra Miller - Justice League
Michael Keaton - Spider-Man: Homecoming
Fynn Wolfhard - IT

Dafne Keen - Logan

Even on multiple viewings I am amazed at the performance that Keen gives.  It is almost terrifying and monstrous how she is able to embody the rage of the tiny terror she plays.  And at the same time her moments of child-like innocence do not feel at all false.  She is a young girl who wants to be a hero but whose temper tantrums could end up killing someone.

(from my review of Logan)

Keen is amazing as Laura.  Most child actors get a bit of a pass from me because they are young and should not be held to the same standards as fully trained adults.  But Keene is mesmerizing in her role.  Every look, every action, every pose conveys so much emotion and character that she seems to be someone three times her age. 

Zendaya - The Greatest Showman
Kaya Scodelero - Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Daisy Ridley - Murder on the Orient Express
Michelle Williams - The Greatest Showman

Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunga, and Gary Dauberman – IT

Some people think that adapting a screenplay from a book is much easier than coming up with an original story.  While there is some truth to that, there are also some horribly difficult hurdles that an adapter must overcome.  And with a book like IT, which has a main ensemble of seven young characters who navigate hundreds of pages of horror and adventures, it must have seemed like a Herculean effort to cut that down to a manageable size and still maintain strong characters and the structural core of Stephen King's book.

And these writers did it.  They were able to capture quickly and effectively the essence of each of the characters and what narrative space they would fill in the story while making sure the movie did not get too bogged down and episodic.  They were able to balance the nostalgia factor along with making the story seem fresh and new.  And most importantly, they seemed to capture the essence of horror and discovery that children of that time felt as they faced the monstrousness of adulthood.

Rian Johnson - Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
James Mangold and Scott Frank - Logan
Michael Green - Murder on the Orient Express
Emily V. Gordon and Jumail Nanjiani - The Big Sick

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Tbe Last Jedi is a wonderful technical achievement and no one does alien creatures like the Star Wars universe.

Thor: Ragnarok
Justice League


Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Justice League almost got this award, but the poor CGI on the main villain gave The Last Jedi the slight edge.  Compare the work on Steppenwolf in Justice League to the work on Snoke in The Last Jedi and you will see what I mean.  The ethos of this new trilogy has been to rely on practical effects when possible.  But when they use CGI, as they did with Snoke, it looked amazing.

Thor: Ragnarok
Justice League
Beauty and the Beast

Danny Elfman - Justice League

This may be the first year that John Williams was nominated for this award and did not win.  What gave Elfman the edge was his use of classic superhero scores from previous films.  If he had merely aped them for Justice League, then it would not have been a big deal.  But Elfman was able to twist and manipulate the scores to take them to new emotional places.  And for that blending of originality with tradition, Elfman gets this award.

Mark Mothersbaugh - Thor: Ragnarok
John Williams - Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
Justin Paul and Benj Pasek - The Greatest Showman
Benjamin Wallfisch - IT


"The Greatest Show" - The Greatest Showman

There are so many songs from this movie that I wish I could award.  There isn't a bad song in the bunch.  But the one I found myself singing after the lights came up was this opening and closing song.  And the way they use it in that opening and closing to complete the narrative and thematic loop... genius.


Justice League

Zack Snyder understands that superheroes need super costumes.  They need something that is big bold and muscular that will give us the impression of an idealized heroic figure.  And not only did he bring those over with him from his previous films but he gave us knew, unique costumes in Flash and Aquman and many others.

Thor: Ragnarok
Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
The Greatest Showman

Below are the list of all the films of 2017 that I have seen, ranked in order of excellence:

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Catholic Skywalker Awards 2017 - BEST IN TELEVISION

With 2017 coming to a close, it is time for us to choose what the best entertainment of the year was.  And just as the Academy Awards have their "Oscars", so too the Catholic Skywalker Awards have their "Kal-El's"

To reiterate:  the reasons for choosing a Superman statue as it's award, and not something from Star Wars are 3-fold:

1.  The Catholic Skywalker Awards will cover movies, television, and comic books.  Superman is an icon for all three.
2.  The pose he has here, revealing his inner hero, is symbolic of the revelation of truth and beauty that we should find in all good art.
3.  It's a statue I actually own, so I can use this photo on my blog.

(My appreciation and judgment of a TV show should not be taken as a recommendation. Choosing to watch any of these films is the reader's responsibility)

And now we here at Catholic Skywalker would like to celebrate the best in Television this year.

There are a lot of wonderful (so I'm told) programs out there that, unfortunately, time has not permitted me to see suck as The Defenders, Ozark, The Punisher, Runaways, etc.

Shows we watch:


Big Bang Theory
Kevin Can Wait
Me, Myself, and I
The Middle
Satruday Night Live
Brooklyn 99
The Mayor
Last Man Standing

This is Us
Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency
The Flash
Doctor Who
The Walking Dead
Legends of Tomorrow
Stranger Things
Amazing Race
Dancing with the Stars

Best Drama:

Stranger Things

A number of people have said that this current season of Stranger Things is not as good as the first. 

They are correct.

But it is still the best TV show right now.

Admittedly this season had two missteps: the 11-centric solo episode and the very uninteresting Jonathan/Nancy storyline.  But even at its worst, the show is still immensely entertaining.

While the show is filled with nostalgia, that is only the icing on the cake, not the substance.  The story is still about these average/extraordinary people who have to deal with an extraordinary problem. 

One of the things that this series does well is create unexpected character depths where normally there would be paper-thin templates.  Last year we saw this especially with Steve Harrington.  This year we see it in others.  Bob should be a dopy goof.  Murray should be a paranoid con man.  Dr. Owens should be a heartless monster.  But the show plays with tropes and expectation not for the sake of simple misdirection.  They build up the characters to create a richer narrative.

And this turn into the unexpected led to some great moments, not the least of which is the pairing of Steve and Dustin for much of the story.  They create such an unlikely bond that it cannot help but draw you in.  Also watching the love triangle develop between Lucas, Max, and Dustin was a real delight that mirrored early school crushes.

At the same time the show expanded its mythology in a way that felt organic from the last season while completing an entire story arch this season.  All the while the show has been infused with some of the best child acting on television today.

Thematically, I love how they tie the coming of age difficulties in with the overarching supernatural plot. 

If this show can maintain this level of quality for its entire run, it may be in the rankings for one of the greatest of all time.

-Doctor Who
-This is Us
-The Flash

Best Comedy
Last Man Standing

I only discovered this show less than a year ago and it is now off the air. 

Even so, it's last season still had some incredibly big laughs and big heart.  

One episode I particularly loved is when Mike realizes that his adult children have stopped going to church and this was a problem that needed solving.  One of the reasons this episode worked so well was that it wasn't the expected sermonizing you might find in other television shows.  Instead, he had his daughters take ownership of their place in the church and this brought them closer to their faith.

However, good values do not a great sitcom make.  The show had to deliver on the laughs, which it did.  The laughs were wonderfully found in the constant tension between Mike and everyone else.  It was great to see jokes made at the expense of people of every kind of political stripe and philosophy.  No one was spared ridicule and that makes for a fertile field of joke telling.  This show will be missed.

The Big Bang Theory
The Simpsons
The Middle
The Goldbergs

Best Actor in a Drama
Martin Freeman - Sherlock

You might think that this award should go to the actor playing the title character.  But not this time.  This year, Martin Freeman stole the show playing a man dealing with such volotile and contradictory emotions.  


Watching Freeman's Watson slowly have his integrity softened and then to be brought to the brink of absolute despair and hatred only to be brought back by the ghost of the one he lost.  He loves Sherlock but he needs a place to put his anger and the unfairness of his loss.  While at the same time Watson deals with the guilt of wanting to cheat on his wife.  This leads to one of the best dramatic performances I've seen on television:

On top of this, I love how Freeman acts with his entire body when dealing with any situation.  Watch how he uses his hands to express his guilt and rage or his posture to show is hesitation.  This is the work of a seasoned actor who deserves accolades.

Peter Capaldi - Doctor Who
Milo Ventimiglia - This is Us
Benedict Cumberbatch - Sherlock
Andrew Lincoln - The Walking Dead

Best Actress in a Drama
Millie Bobby Brown - Stranger Things

Though she is not given a lot to say, Millie Bobby Brown steals every scene that she is in.  In fact, the degree of difficulty for someone of her age to portray a character this enigmatically and charismatically is quite remarkable. 

Eleven is such an interesting character because she carries with her a deadly maturity that you begin to forget that she is still a child.  In fact, she is more innocent in many ways than most children her age.  Brown is able to convey believably both extreme contradictions in her personality to great effect.

And do not discount the difficulty of making us believe that she has these extraordinary powers.  Yes the special effects do help, but she sells it with her complete commitment to her performance so that we see believe the power radiating off of her.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead - Fargo
Mandy Moore- This is Us
Amanda Abbington - Sherlock
 Pearl Mackie Doctor Who

Best Supporting Actor, Drama
Jessie L. Martin - The Flash

Jessie L. Martin's performance on this series has long been a highlight of this show.  But it has never been more evident as his Joe West begins to feel the tight grip of desperation to save his daughter as the clock ticks down.

He made the fear and despair palpable to watch and felt everything he did as the gravity of the moment arrived.  All the while Martin has been playing a character struggling to maintain a normal life in such strange circumstances.  He strives to be the voice of common sense and reason while doling out his fatherly insights.  And this season we've watched as he struggled with letting go of that role and letting his kids grow up. 

And of course he is able to play the comedy moments perfectly.  That look on his face when he found out he was going to be a father again... priceless.

Justin Hartley - This is Us
Sterling K. Brown - This is Us
David Harbour- Stranger Things
Jeffrey Dean Morgan - The Walking Dead

Best Supporting Actress, Drama
Sian Brooke - Sherlock

You could chalk it up to a trick of makeup, but it was amazing to me that this actress could appear as multiple characters in the same episode and I was unable to pick up on this fact.  Sian completely morphed into whatever dramatic shape that the scene needed and began hiding in plain sight.

Not only this, but she was able to match acting chops with Cumberbatch and Freeman, who are also at the top of their game.  She was able to convey genius and insanity with the perfect blend of charisma and horror.  

Chrissy Metz - This is Us
Emily Brett Rickard - Arrow
Susan Kelechi Watson - This is Us
Melissa McBride– The Walking Dead

Best Actor, Comedy
Tim Allen - Last Man Standing

It would be easy to write off Tim Allen's performance as a one-note curmudgeon.  And while that is what we find in much of his character, Allen knows how to the play the part pefectly as a man out of step with everyone else and not caring a fig about it.

His Mike Baxter does go on his rants, but it his reactions that make the most comedy.  When he responds to something he considers insane, the simplest eye squint or nose wrinkle illicits big laughs.  

On top of this, he is still able to infuse Baxter with some real paternal affection.  If not, then all of the times he acts tenderly towards his family would fall completely flat.  Instead Allen plays the part all too familiar in many families of the father who seems out of step with his children but would do anything for them.

Jim Parsons - The Big Bang Theory
Johnny Galecki - The Big Bang Theory
Neil Flynn - The Middle
Jeff Garlin - The Goldbergs

Best Actress, Comedy
Patricia Heaton - The Middle

(The following last year's award, which Heaton also won.  All of it still holds up)

Frankie Heck is one of the most infuriating mothers on TV because she embodies all the foibles of suburban moms.  She is constantly a person who thinks the grass is always greener on the other side.  She builds up family events in her head more than they should.  And she never gives 100% of her effort to anything.  

And what makes Heaton's performance so wonderful is that despite all of this, we love her.  She gives Frankie a real relatable heart.  All of her faults are only exaggerated versions of the faults that most of us lower-middle class Americans experience.  

And unlike her character on Everybody Loves Raymond, Heaton has wild mood swings and is the unstable one in the family.  This season has been particularly fun watching her twist inside as she seethes about Axel's dim-witted girlfriend and then ride the emotional seesaw of her fractured relationship with him.

At a time when many actors in sitcoms begin phoning in their performances (I'm looking at you Jason Segel in How I Met Your Mother), Heaton is just hitting the gas.

Wendy McLendon-Covey – The Goldbergs
Kaley Cuoco – The Big Bang Theory
Nancy Travis - Last Man Standing
Lea Michelle - The Mayor

Best Supporting Actor, Comedy
Marcel Spears - The Mayor

One of the things I love about picking up new shows is the discovery of new talent.  The Mayor is a fairly decent show, but Marcel Spears is fantastic in it.  He delivers his lines with the quick wit of a Marx brother but does so with the innocence of a Shirley Temple.  Perhaps that last sentence was a bit hyperbolic, but Spears is able to take mediocre jokes and give them such unexpected life and personality that he is the real breakout of this series.

Christopher Sanders . - Last Man Standing
Kunal Nayar - The Big Bang Theory
Terry Crews - Brooklyn 99
Simon Helberg - The Big Bang Theory

Best Supporting Actress, Comedy
Molly Ephraim - Last Man Standing

Ephraim's Even Baxter used to be a one-note caricature.  And to be sure Ephraim played the part to the end with incredibly broad humor.  But over the years she stood out as the primary Baxter daughter whose storylines helped carry the show.  Ephraim could pull off complete vapidity only to call us back to some real pathos underneath it all.  Her chemistry with Christopher Sanders' Kyle as two idiots in love, brought some of the series best jokes.  To this day, my wife and I still giggle at their "turtle kiss" bit.  And that is a testament to her complete commitment to the character.

Haley Orrantia - The Goldbergs
Melissa Rauch - The Big Bang Theory
Yvette Nicole Brown - The Mayor
Mayim Bialik - The Big Bang Theory

Stay tuned next week for the CatholicSkywalker Awards for Best Movies of 2017