Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Catholic Skywalker Awards 2019: BEST IN MOVIES

With 2019 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.


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)



I struggled with choosing this to be the best movie of the year.  The main reason is that I honestly did not enjoy the experience of watching it.  The movie is dark in a way that is unsettling.  The onscreen violence is not anything that I haven't seen and worse in theaters.  But the movie acts as a dark mirror to human society and says something very pessimistic about the human condition.  It reminded me of watching Apocalypse Now and all that the movie tried to say about the darkness of the human heart.

Having said that, I could not withhold the award for best picture because of the utter mastery that went into making this film.  The acting, directing, and writing were in perfect harmony to create this dark masterpiece.  Everything about the movie works to its utterly devastating ends.  Todd Philips made a movie that took the character seriously and told a story that transcended the genre.  The point it is trying to make, while dark, is not a complete condemnation of human beings.  But it does reflect the evil that is there.  And though hard truths are difficult to face, they can be told with incredibly artistry, which is what you find in Joker.


Avengers: Endgame
Star Wars: Episode IX- The Rise of Skywalker
Little Women
Richard Jewell

Todd Philips - Joker

(from my review of Joker)

  Philips, along with cinematographer Lawrence Sher and Production Designer Mark Friedberg,  deserve a great deal of credit for creating such an amazing atmosphere film.  Gotham is an oppressive 1970's hell hole from which there appears to be no escape.  All beauty and safety are removed from the film and it forces you into the claustrophobic landscape that slowly turns you a little mad too.  Philips makes the movie intentionally ugly, but endlessly fascinating. 


What Philips did here was create a completely realized world where everything was working to mold the character into the monster that he was becoming.  The film was like a cocoon waiting for the horror to emerge that was slowly gestating in the grime, much, and indifference.


Greta Gerwig - Little Women
Clint Eastwood - Richard Jewell
JJ Abrams - Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker
Russo Brothers - Avengers: Endgame

Joaquin Phoenix - Joker

(from my review of Joker)

Much has been written about Phoenix's performance and it is not hyperbole.  It is the best acting I have seen all year and as of now I cannot imagine anyone more deserving of an Oscar.  A lot of people have focused on Phoenix's facial expressions and laughs.  And to be sure, he has masterful technique on display in these areas.  His expression can go from helplessness to demonic with subtle speed.  And his voice carries with it both pain and menace.  But what kept captivating me was his body language.  Watching him slowly awaken the monster within was captivating.  Phoenix played it out methodically and horribly with the way he carried himself.  Arthur's evil and violence became his armor against the cruel world that hurt him.  Phoenix makes every move, every gesture, every word count.  I would often use the word "mesmerizing" regarding Heath Ledger's take on the Joker in The Dark Knight.  I would use the same language to describe Phoenix.  But whereas Ledger's Clown Prince of Crime was a supremely confident mastermind, Phoenix's Joker is a man who is nothing but a ball of rage at the powerlessness he feels in life and acts out like short-fused monster.  


Robert Downey Jr. - Avengers: Endgame
Leonardo DiCaprio - Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood
Shia LeBeauf - The Peanut Butter Falcon
Adam Driver - Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

Saoirse Ronan- Little Women

Ronan is one of the rare child actresses that has continued to grow in her craft on film.  As much as I hated Lady Bird and Hanna, she was fantastic in those movies and she is also amazing in this one as well.  I love the way that she plays contradicting emotions at the same time.  Her performance as Jo allowed us to see the character as bold and shy, tender and harsh, loving and spiteful sometimes all at the same time.  Towards the end she gives a speech about how she is made for more than love and you can see her frustration that wants more than to be the stereotypical romantic, but she cannot deny the ache in her heart.  And later when she receives news that is heartbreaking to her but joy to others, she plays both passions so perfectly that my heart broke for her.


Jillian Bell - Brittany Runs a Marathon
Florench Pugh - Fighting with My Family
Dakotah Johnson - The Peanut Butter Falcon
Daisy Ridley -Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

Brad Pitt- Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood

Brad Pitt has been a star for a long time, and a fine actor.  But I will be honest, I never quite understood the iconic status that he has filled since the middle 1990's.  But after seeing this movie, it all made sense to me.  He is a classic star in the mold of Steve MacQueen, Humphrey Bogart, and John Wayne but with greater versatility, which is on display here.

(from my review of Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood)

Pitt is perhaps the biggest winner from this film.  I've known and enjoyed him as an actor for many years, but this was the first movie where I finally understood the X-factor that Pitt has.  His Cliff is coolness personified.  Men will want to be him and women will want to be with him.  He is capable without being arrogant.  He is overlooked without being resentful.  He is pure masculinity, especially when he stands in contrast to the hippies in Manson's cult who despise him.  Pitt makes everything look so effortless, but you can feel the skill and star-power he harnesses for this part.


Tom Hanks - A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Kulvinder Ghir - Blinded by the Light
James McVoy - Glass
Oscar Isaac - Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

Florence Pugh - Little Women

From my review of Little Women:

But the real standout is Pugh.  Her performance as Amy is worth of an Oscar.  The transformation she goes through from childhood to womanhood is so stark, but feels so natural.  She captures the unfiltered immaturity of youth perfectly with her face, her voice, and her body language.  Watching her run awkwardly after Jo and Laurie repeating how Jo promised that she could go ice skating with them is a scene that is stuck in my head because Pugh completely embodied the complete lack of self-awareness of a child.  And then this is contrasted with the poised and sophisticated woman that she turns into where every word, gesture, and tone of voice is measured and controlled.  All the while she endears you to Amy even at her worst.


Margaret Qualley - Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Lena Headey - Fighting with My Family
Scarlett Johannson - Avengers: Endgame
Mollie Miles - Ford v. Ferrari

Richard Curtis and Jack Barth – Yesterday

This movie beat out others in its category because of its utter originality.  Not only is it a story the likes of which I have not seen, but it incorporated the Beatles music in a way that did not feel forced.  The music helped shape the story and take it to some truly unexpected places.  While the romance track was easy to follow, the resolution of the magical Beatles music was not.  The real emotional climax comes towards the end when our hero Jack is given a revelation that reminds us that while fame and money are something many desire, what we really want is a happy life.  And it seems like stardom and happiness are often mutually exclusive.  This is best illustrated in the scene I mentioned where Jack sees that the price the world has paid for losing the Beatles music may be the best thing that ever happened to one man.  Beautifully written. 


Todd Philips and Scott Silver - Joker
Marie Brenner and Billy Ray- Richard Jewell
JJ Abrams and Christ Terrio- Star Wars: Episode IX- The Rise of Skywalker
Greta Gerwig - Little Women

Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

One of the things I appreciate the most about JJ Abrams aesthetic is that he wants to make things as tangible as possible, relying on makeup even when most people would use CGI.

Avengers: Endgame
Spiderman: Far From Home


Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

As already mentioned, JJ Abrams ability to blend real locations with special effects helps to ground the visual storytelling and makes the emotional connection stronger.  This is what gives this an edge over Avengers: Endgame.

Avengers: Endgame
Spiderman: Far From Home

John Williams - Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

I loved how John Williams brought together so many different themes to tell the emotional story of this movie.  I was especially delighted how they used his full rendition of the Star Wars theme in the final battle.  That moment made me feel like a little kid again seeing Star Wars for the first time.

Alexandre DeSplat - Little Women
Alan Silvestri - Avengers: Endgame
Benjamin Walifisch -  SHAZAM!


Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

The costume designs for this were an improvement over The Last Jedi and continued to make each character look distinct with a very clear understanding of the Star Wars fashion style.

Avengers: Endgame
Spiderman: Far From Home

Below are the list of all the films of 2019 that I have seen, ranked in order of excellence:

Avengers: Endgame
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker
Little Women
Richard Jewell
Toy Story 4
Spider-Man: Far from Home
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
The Lion King (2019)
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Fighting with My Family
Blinded By the Light
Captain Marvel
The Peanut Butter Falcon
Jumanji: The Next Level
Ford vs. Ferrari
Godzilla: King of the Monsters
The Upside
Angel Has Fallen
Brittany Runs a Marathon
El Camino
Rambo: Last Blood
It: Chapter 2
Isn't It Romantic
The Public
Late Night
All Is True
A Marriage Story
Ad Astra
Long Shot

Stay tuned soon.  As this is the end of the 2010's, I will soon be revealing my BEST OF THE DECADE list.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Catholic Skywalker Awards 2019 : BEST IN TELEVISION

With 2019 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 such as The Expanse, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, etc.

Shows we watch:


Jack Ryan
This is Us
The Rookie
The Flash
The Orville
Veronica Mars
The Walking Dead
Game of Thrones
Stranger Things

Big Bang Theory
Bless this Mess
Perfect Harmony
Saturday Night Live
Brooklyn 99
Last Man Standing
Single Parents

Dancing with the Stars
The Amazing Race
Child Support
Shark Tank
Th Masked Singer
Mental Samurai 

Best Drama:

The Mandalorian

Up until a few weeks ago, I thought that Game of Thrones had this award.  I was not expecting The Mandalorian to be as good as it is.  There are so many reasons why this has been the best series of the year, but here are just a few of the reasons:

1. Visual Storytelling:  "Show, Don't Tell" is the principle of good storytelling and The Mandalorian always fell back to this idea.  So much of the show is without any dialogue and we come to understand the characters by what they do more than what they say and the camera tells the story.  Think about this: Baby Yoda has become one of the most beloved characters in all of TV in this last year and he never says a word.
2.  Primal Themes:  Star Wars works when it touches on the universal truths.  Here, we see the universal struggle of moral duty.  The Mandalorian does not want to be Baby Yoda's protector, but he has no choice: his conscience will not let him do otherwise, even if it means his death.  And not a lot of dialogue needs to be said.  You just feel it.
3.  Length:  This show does a good job of not drawing things out too much.  If they the show needs only 38 minutes, they don't give it filler like you find in shows like Jack Ryan (which is half filler).
4.  Fan Service:  This is often looked at as pandering.  But in this case, it simply demonstrates that this is a show made for fans by fans.
5. Action:  The action scenes on this show have been incredibly exciting and I found myself on the edge of my seat.
6.  Casting: The very odd casting choices (Bill Burr?) seemed strange at first, but they give the show a flavor and character that would be missing otherwise.  I forgot how charismatic Carl Weathers can be.  And Pedro Pascal's performance needs special praise for being able to give us a strong senes of his character without showing his face.
7. Magic:  Star Wars should make you feel something magical is happening.  One of the problems with Rogue One was that it was too cynical.  Here, we have a dark anti-hero who must learn to become a true hero.

All of these reasons and more make it the best show of the year.

-Game of Thrones
-The Orville
-Veronica Mars
Stranger Things

Best Comedy
The Big Bang Theory

The Big Theory was able to do what few shows get to do: plan for the end.  The final season wrapped up the character arcs for most everyone while giving us some strong laughs along the way.  Usually when a show lasts this long, people begin to feel like it wears out its welcome.  And to be sure, the final season was not the funniest.  But it was still funnier than most shows and the cast and crew were still working hard.  The finale closes the loop on this group centered around Sheldon.  His final speech reminded us that we got to watch these characters grow in men and women, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, and all the while keeping strong the bonds of friendship.  To this day, I still watch this show whenever I can on reruns.  You don't need to unravel the mystery of why this show remained for over a decade.

Single Parents
Bless This Mess
The Goldbergs

Best Actor in a Drama
Kit Harrington - Game of Thrones

Jon Snow has always been the heart of a sometimes heartless how.  Kit Harrington has always been good at showing us the struggle of being a good man in a horrid world.  But this season, he took it to an entirely different level.  The final episode has some of his finest acting.  I have watched his final scene with Emilia Clarke several times and I love the way that he lets his emotions off the leash while always staying in control with a strong technique.  You believe his struggle and how even he doesn't know what his final decision will be until it happens.  He is horrified by the choice and it is amazing to watch.

Pedro Pascal- The Mandalorian
John Krasinski - Jack Ryan
Seth MacFarland- The Orville
Milo Ventemiglia - This is Us

Best Actress in a Drama
Kristen Bell - Veronica Mars

Kristen Bell has always been a great actress.  Coming back to Veronica Mars could be seen as a step backwards, but she continued to plum the depths of this character.  She tries so hard to be cynical, but the crushing pain of her life is that she deeply hopes for the happy ending that never comes.  Her pessimism pushes away the people in her life.  Bell is able to play her with all of her horrible flaws while never repelling us as the audience.  She always conveyed Veronica's sharp wit and intellect, but now we can see the years of experience both help and hurt her life.

Mandy Moore - This is Us
Emilia Clarke- Game of Thrones
Millie Bobbi Brown - Stranger Things
Cobie Smulders - Stumptown

Best Supporting Actor, Drama
Jason Dohring- Veronica Mars

Especially when you compare Dohring's early performances as Logan, it is amazing to see what he does with his character this season.  He was a wild beast, whose dangerous temper helped attract Veronica.  She tamed him into a tiger purring in her hand, which seems to make Veronica less interested.  Dohring shows us that caged beast lurking beneath the surface as he holds him in with calm military discipline.  You feel the tragedy he perceives in that becoming a better man, Veronica doesn't think she's good enough for him.  His love and frustration are evident in every scene they share and he plays the contradictions beautifully.

Jake Johnson- Stumptown
Sterling K. Brown - Game of Thrones
Jesse L. Martin - Stranger Things
Jeffrey Dean Morgan - Stranger Things

Best Supporting Actress, Drama
Maya Hawke- Stranger Things

I was impressed by the level of restraint used by Maya Hawke as she played Robin.  She begins as a smart-alec co-worker to Steve, in many ways the opposite of his former flame, Nancy.  She seems self-possessed, confident, and not at all needy.  As the show continues and the layers peel away, it was so fascinating to watch her vulnerability get to the point where she could share with Steve her deepest secret.  It is a tender moment of vulnerability that is very well-acted.  And all along the way, her chemistry with Joe Keery is both endearing and hilarious.

Maise Williams- Game of Thrones
Penny Johnson Jerald- The Orville
Susan Kelechi Watson - This Is Us
Meilissa O'Neil– The Rookie

Best Actor, Comedy
Taran Kiliam- Single Parents

As the overly involved single father, Kiliam's Will Cooper could easily be a one-note stereotype.  And to be sure, Kiliam is not afraid to go from broad comedy.  He knows how to play to his strengths.  But he also able to extract a lot of laughs with the simplest change of facial expression or shift in the tone of his voice.  On top of that, Kiliam has given us strong glimpses of his ability to tone things down into quite, reflective moments that show nuance and subtlety.

Jim Parsons - The Big Bang Theory
Dax Shepherd - Bless This Mess
Johnny Galecki - The Big Bang Theory
Jeff Garlin - The Goldbergs

Best Actress, Comedy
Lake Bell - Bless This Mess

The "fish out of water" trope keeps coming back because it is a gold mine for comedy and Lake Bell has hit the motherload.  Her urban transplant to rural Nebraska is someone who is constantly out of her depth.  What makes Bell stand out is that she is willing to swing for the fences and try the strangest things in order to get a laugh.  One of the funniest things I have seen her do is talk out of her nose in order to not let an unwanted guest understand what she is saying.  This kind of insane energy helps make this show as funny as it is.

Wendy McLendon-Covey – The Goldbergs
Kaley Cuoco – The Big Bang Theory
Leighton Meester - Single Parents
AJ Michalka - Schooled

Best Supporting Actor, Comedy
Ed Bagely Jr. - Bless This Mess

The key to Ed Begley Jr.'s performance is his complete commitment.  His Rudy is a character that is so insane that he would be unbelievable without Begley Jr.'s dedication.  He understands the often overlooked principle of comedy that "Serious is funny."  As Rudy, he takes every line as seriously as if he was reciting a line from Hamlet or The Godfather, even though often what he is saying is insanely ridiculous.  In one scene he comes up with codenames for he and Lake Bell's Rio.  He says he is "Potato 1" and she is "Potato 3."  When she asks what happened to "Potato 2," he looks at her with the most dire seriousness and says, "You don't want to know."  It was one of the funniest deliveries I have seen all year.

Brad Garrett - Single Parents
Kunal Nayar - The Big Bang Theory
Brett Dier - Schooled
Simon Helberg - The Big Bang Theory

Best Supporting Actress, Comedy
Mayim Bialik- The Big Bang Theory

I have praised Bialik's portrayal of Amy on The Big Bang Theory on this blog.  While she started off her tenure on the show a bit stiff, she developed Amy into a fully realized character.  In the final season, we see her deal with strange struggle of now being Sheldon's wife while the two compete for a Nobel Prize.  She consistently had some of the best line deliveries on the show and was also able to play the dramatic parts without it taking us out of the comedy.  She will be one the characters that I will miss the most.

Kimrie Lewis - Single Parents
Melissa Rauch - The Big Bang Theory
Pam Grier- Bless This Mess
Lennon Parham - Bless This Mess

Stay tuned tomorrow for the Catholic Skywalker Awards for Best Movies of 2019