Monday, December 28, 2020

Film Review: Wonder Woman 1984


Sexuality/Nudity Mature
Violence Acceptable
Vulgarity Acceptable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Mature

I am not difficult to please when it comes to superhero movies.  I love both the intense and thematically deep movies like Batman v. Superman and I thoroughly enjoy big, bold spectacles like Aquaman.  But I am not a simple shill for anything DC.  As anyone who read my review of Birds of Prey, I will not praise anything simply because it is from a brand I like.

These disclaimers are here because I've been strangely shocked by how Wonder Woman 1984 is being attacked from all sides of movie fandom for completely opposite reasons.  The long knives are out for this film.  In this review I am not here to defend or destroy, but to simply give you my honest opinion so that you can decide if you wanted to see it.

Wonder Woman 1984 takes place nearly 70 years after the events of the first Wonder Woman.  Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is still in action helping the innocent.  Her costume is shinier and her behavior is bolder, even though the world supposedly still has no idea she exists.  She befriends the lonesome loser Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) as they both work in the Smithsonian.  Barbara is tasked with cataloging a mysterious item that has also drawn the interested of slick businessman Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal).  Their lives converge and in the process Diana's dead love Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) returns to life.  

How all of this is occurs is something I will not spoil.  One of the things I enjoyed about this movie is that I had no idea what the plot was.  Nowadays, the trailers layout the entire three acts, but here, I did not know what the mechanism was that moved the story forward, and this was quite refreshing.

Since people have been attacking the film, I thought it would be best to start with the film's flaws.

The first is that the movie is not subtle in its themes.  Batman Begins had this same problem where the characters would often directly state the main lessons of the movie as the story unfolded.  There are a lot of speeches about truth and taking shortcuts to what you want.  This lack of subtlety also applies to key plot points.  In the middle of the second act we are introduced to a special suit of armor that Diana has and we are treated to a little bit of dialogue that very loudly points to its use in the final act.

The second is that WW84 often forgets that it is an action movie.  The film begins with two very entertaining action set pieces and there is really no action for about an hour.  The filmmakers instead decided to focus on developing the relationships of the characters.  A better movie could have done both at the same time like Aliens.

The third is that the movie has a lot of plot holes.  Some of the rules are inconsistent and there are some unexplored moral implications of Diana's early choices in the movie that people have pointed out as very questionable.  And while some things like the above-mentioned armor are set up too obviously, some, like the creation of the invisible jet, are not set up at all.

Some have criticized the movie as being too far on the political left, emphasizing feminist themes and using Lord as a stand in for Trump.  While the movie definitely takes a very clear female perspective of the world with a number of the men painted in very simple terms, I don't agree with this assessment.  Steve lets Diana take the lead but he is never portrayed as anything other than heroically masculine.  Some have criticized the movie as being too far on the political right, lacking in sufficient representation of marginalized groups and subordinating Wonder Woman to the men in the movie.  I don't see that either.  The movie simply lets the characters be the characters without having to highlight their group identity (besides the strong emphasis on the feminine perspective).  And it is true that Diana tries to inspire the men in the movie to be better, but she does so also with the women.

However despite these flaws, I loved this movie.

I've already watched it four times.

First of all, Patty Jenkins has an excellent eye for this world.  The opening shots of Themyscira are beautiful and exhilarating.  This sequel shifts in tone from the darker, dreary vision to one of bright lights and bold colors where Diana literally winks at the camera.  Even though there is a radical shift in aesthetic, it works because Jenkins leans into the fun of the scenes.  During an early sequence, a member of a band of robbers threatens the life of a child by hanging it over the edge of a drop.  This is so outrageous that even one of his compatriots shouts "What are doing?" and I could not help but chuckle.

And even though there should be a lot more action, when it occurs it is incredibly fun to watch.  I love the new and creative ways she uses the lasso, which looks much better in this movie than in the last.  The scenes that take place in the air are a joy to watch and actually do invoke a sense of wonder (pun intended).

Gadot has also greatly improved in the role.  I enjoyed her in the first film, but she is able to play the layers of emotion and experience much better now.  This movie gives her much more internal conflict to play that is head and shoulder beyond the naiveté of the first movie.  There is one scene that begins the third act where you watch as her body heals while her heart breaks and she does it fantastically.  Wiig is also much better in the role of Barbara Minerva than I thought.  She accomplishes with this role what Jamie Foxx failed to do in The Amazing Spider-Man 2.  Wiig plays Minerva like her typical SNL-style caricature humor.  But as she begins to awaken to the power inside her, you can see her interior transformation take place.  This is one of the reasons that the first hour feels longer, because the filmmakers wanted to show you this characters evolution (or devolution).  I was shocked that I completely bought her as a threat to Gadot's Diana.  Pascal's chews so much scenery as Lord that I'm surprised there is any left.  He goes whole hog into Max's insanity.  Pascal plays him as a man who is literally drunk with power.  Normally I would take this as a big negative.  But Pascal is somehow still able to make Lord sympathetic enough to keep interesting.  Pine also brings both his best dramatic and comedic skills to his Steve, making sure to pull as many laughs from his "fish-out-of-water" set up as possible while remaining the dramatic heart of the film.

While there are a number of plot problems as I noted above, Jenkins is able to add little touches throughout the film as emotional touchstones.  Early in the movie we see Diana's apartment.  Among the photos is one of her and Etta Candy (Lucy Davis) set in the 1950's as Etta is clearly aged.  This one little moment gave such a strong feeling of the sadness of Diana's life.  I'm so glad they got those original actors for those pictures because you can feel a sense of how they've moved on and Diana has been left behind.  She has the opposite problem of Steve Rodgers who jumped ahead to the present.  Diana has had to walk forward every second.  Jenkins also put in a very small moment in Lord's past where he is setting up his first business.  The shot is only a few seconds, but it made me feel so endeared to the character despite his horrid flaws that I rooted for him to change.

The movie also explores the classic hero dilemma that we saw in Superman 2 and Spider-Man 2.  After making the decision to become a hero and paying the price, the hero now has to face up to that cost and ask "What is my reward?"  Being a hero requires you to make the sacrifices necessary for the greater good.  Wonder Woman must not only face this moral crisis herself, but she needs to inspire others to be heroes too.  While violence is sometimes necessary, the first movie was about getting Diana beyond her juvenile idea about to end war with the sword.  This movie is about trying to get us to see beyond selfish desires of our lives to what is truly important.

Is this movie better than the first Wonder Woman?

I honestly am not sure.  

But I do know that I am enjoying watching Wonder Woman 1984 more that the first film.

And that is good enough for me.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Sunday Best: Catholic Skywalker Awards 2020 - BEST IN MOVIES

 With 2020 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.  But with the pandemic shutting down most of the theaters, pickings were slim.  This year I am doing two things I normally would not do:

1. Include movies that premiered on streaming platforms
2. Include 1917.  This movie technically came out in 2019, but it was not out for general release until January.  This may be a cheat, but I don't care.

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)



Before anyone complains that this is a stage production and not a film, allow be to be clear: this is a film that was slated for theatrical release.  It is filmed all on stage, but it uses several camera techniques that make this a distinctly film version of the stage musical.  As I wrote from my review:  From my review: 

"Disney was very smart to make this movie a "concert" version of the full stage musical instead a full cinematic film like 2012's Les Miserables.  I get the distinct impression that Hamilton would not translate to this style nearly as well.  The show has a deceptively simple set that actually contains hidden complexities to allow rapid scene changes.  The production design is a strange combinations of anachronistic and time-appropriate styles.  The costumes and props are all of the period, but the behavior, hairstyles, language all belong to the modern era.  There is a special kind of artificiality to live-theater that allows us to accept more readily a story's lack of reality.  Making this a cinematic endeavor would draw too much attention to the anachronisms...."

Also from my review:

I don't think there is a Broadway musical that has been more hyped than Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton.  When the touring production came to my city, the tickets were so ridiculously expensive that I missed out on seeing it.  So it was with great curiosity that I watched the movie on Disney+ a few days ago to see if it lived up to the the bar that it set.

And boy did it ever!

Hamilton is one of the greatest musicals of all time.  I would put it up there with Les Miserables, The Sound of Music, and The Phantom of the Opera.  It deserves all of its accolades....

The key to understanding this is that the primary purpose of any dramatic art, but most particularly in a musical, is that it must make you feel something deeply.  All other considerations must be secondary to the emotional impact of the musical.  And this is why Hamilton is a work of genius... 


Hamilton left me emotionally drained in a good way.  When it was over, I felt like I didn't just watch a musical, but that I had an experience.

And that is the highest compliment I can give a musical.

The Way Back

Sam Mendes - 1917

(from my review of 1917)

The film is completely locked into the perspective of our heroes.  Director Sam Mendes has done something truly incredible.  The movie is filmed to look like one singe continuous shot from start to finish.  There are no cut aways to the where the enemy is, there is no comforting cutting back and forth to different parts of the front.  The camera stays on our heroes and we almost never see more than what they can see.  I read one review that said the effect is that you feel like the third man on the mission.  That is absolutely the feeling you get.  You feel the claustrophobia of the trenches followed by the terror of No Man's Land.  Every inch of ground is an obstacle.  Behind every door could be lurking death.  The danger is all around, in front, behind, to the side, above, and below.

Normally, I would find the single-camera angle to be too gimmicky.  It would say to me that this was simply an exercise in showing off by a director who wants to dazzle us by his skills in using the camera.  I've talked to others who found this style distracting.  To be honest, the single-take structure often took me out of the movie.  But even though this usually is a detriment, it wasn't the case here.  When I did notice the camera work, it filled me with a sense of awe at the vision it took to put this movie together.  Sometimes this style prevents any real intimacy with the actors.  But Mendes is able to seamlessly move the camera into a quiet close up so that we can see the scared or haunted eyes of our heroes.  The camera passes by so much wreckage and destruction that you want to linger because you know that there are compelling stories behind the carnage.  But just like our heroes, we have to keep pressing forward or the mission will fail.

Christopher Nolan - Tenet
Ron Howard - Hillbilly Elegy
Aaron Schneider. -Greyhound
Gavin O'Connor - The Way Back

Chadwick Boseman - Ma Rainey's Black Bottom


There is much I don't care for about Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.  But I can see why actors would love to be in this movie.  it gives them a great deal of dramatic meat to bite into and chew the scenery in ways that would normally not work.  Boseman's performance as Leevee is utterly fantastic.  His character has a heart that is a black hole of self-centeredness that he covers with swagger.  But when the damn breaks, Boseman pushes Leevee to emotional depths that are so incredibly difficult to perform well without going over the edge.  Leevee is charming, funny, scary, detestable, and sympathetic, sometimes all at the same time.  And Boseman plays those contradictions wonderfully.

Normally I don't like to pull real life into the dramatic experience, but while I was watching, I could not help think about how Boseman was dying while he was making this film and he knew it.  The dramatic weight loss alone in him is shocking.  I could not help but think about how this actor's own mortality was weighing on him and yet he either puts that away or uses that experience to fuel his best performance in a career and life ended too soon.

Ben Affleck - The Way Back
George MacKay- 1917
John David Washington - Tenet
George Clooney - The Midnight Sky

Glen Close - Hillbilly Elegy

From my review of Hillbilly Elegy

Close is amazing in what I think is her best performance that I have seen.  Mawmaw is resolute but unsure and desperate.  She is overwhelmed but determined.  Close never turns her into an angelic or hickish caricature, even when having to deliver terrible lines about good Terminators and bad terminators.  She absolutely disappears into this performance.  


One of the other things that Close does that I respect is that she never judges Mawmaw.  In Avengers: Endgame you could feel how Mark Ruffalo had a bit of contempt for the classic Hulk character and part of his performance was a critique of that character's simplicity.  Close never does that to Mawmaw.  She never condescends while playing this very unrefined woman.  She is not a collection of outward stereotypical behaviors that you often see when people from this region are portrayed.  And because Close does this, her Mawmaw is so real that she feels like people I have in my own family.  Close completely commits to Mawmaw as a real person and in the magic of acting, she becomes real.

Charlize Theron - The Old Guard
Viola Davis - Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Rachel McAdams - Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
Gal Godot - Wonder Woman 1984

Glynn Turman - Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

One of the things I respect from an actor is when they are able to "Do nothing effectively."  I teach my students that "acting is reacting."  To be a truly effective actor, you have to exist as a real person in the moment.  Turman actually hooked me with a single reaction shot.  Throughout the movie, Turman is the voice of reason and conscience.  He dispenses common sense wisdom and he does so with the weariness of a man who has earned this wisdom through a life of bad choices.  You can see his frustration as he tries to impart this wisdom to Leevee.  Then after some gentle ribbing, Leevee bursts into a devastating monologue about the family tragedy that defined him.  During that monologue it cut to Turman's character as he listened.  His eyes were red and pained, his face a mask of horror and sympathy.  In those brief seconds, Thurman not only conveyed everything his character was feeling and the depths of sympathy he had, but he gave Boseman's character an added emotional boost that pushed the emotional thermometer even higher.  And that is what a great supporting actor does.

Robert Pattinson - Tenet
Dean-Charles Chapman - 1917
JK Simmons - Palm Springs
Leslie Odom Jr. - Hamilton

Amy Adams - Hillbilly Elegy

From my review of Hillbilly Elegy:
Adams continues to shine her talent.  Her Bev is infuriating and familiar in the way we've seen adults act like spoiled children because life did not turn out the way they wanted.  Her pain is selfish and self-centered, but it is still very real.  


There is a hollowness to her eyes during this performance that really shook me.  When she looks at the characters who love her, it's like she sees right past them to the thing that she wants from them.  It is always a little wild and it is scary in its violence.  It provides the perfect foil to Close's Mawmaw who looks deep into you with laser focus, cutting away the fluff of self-importance.  Adams gives us the face someone who has turned every person in her life into an object of gain and it is terrifying and heartbreaking to see.

Haley Bennet - Hillbilly Elegy
Phillipa Soo - Hamilton
Renee Elise Goldsberry - Hamilton
Lara McDonald - Artemis Fowl

Brad Ingelsby – The Way Back

Ingelsby could have written a simple sports movie that tied on-the-court victory to moral redemption.  But thankfully he chose to go a little deeper.  He still uses basketball as the a medium in which redemption occurs, but he was smart enough to not make it the means.  Affleck's Jack begins to learn responsibility and compassion because of basketball, but his problems cannot be fixed by simply winning a game.  Despite anything he accomplishes there, he still has to deal with the demons inside of his personal life.  But the movie never loses its connection to the sport and and what it represents.  Even in the final shots, basketball is the focus as the symbol of how this broken man has passed on both his virtues and his vices but is still striving to put his life back together.

Sam Mendes, Krysty Wilson-Cairns - 1917
Dan Scanlong, Jason Headley, and Keith Bunin - Onward
Christopher Nolan - Tenet
Tom Hanks - Greyhound

Wonder Woman: 1984

One of the fun aspects of the movie is how they use the makeup in both bold and subtle ways.  I particularly like the way it shows the slow fatigue in both Diana and Max as they are worn down.  I also love the way they use the makeup to help create the changing character of Barbara throughout the film.

The Old Guard
Artemis Fowl
Bill and Ted Face the Music



Even those who did not like this movie tend to be very impressed with how it was put together.  I have to say that I love how Nolan uses practical effects whenever he can.  In this movie, the simple effect of using a reverse mag can create wondrous shots that you would swear were conjured in a computer.

Artemis Fowl
Wonder Woman: 1984

Patrick Doyle - Artemis Fowl

This movie was not very good, but score elevated it higher than it would have been otherwise.  As always, Doyle gives us a moving and heroic score that gives us a glimpse into what this film could have been.

Wonder Woman:1984

Wonder Woman: 1984

I love the updated costume of the main hero that reflects the shininess of the era.  The costuming of all the characters does an excellent job of conveying not only the period in which it takes place but the personalities of the people inhabiting them.

Bill and Ted Face the Music

"It's Quiet Uptown" - Hamilton

This song is absolutely devastating emotionally and moved my wife to tears the first time she heard it.  In one song, it not only covers a great deal of emotional character work, but it uplifts in a way that shows the absolute power of mercy.

Below are the list of all the films of 2020 that I have seen, ranked in order of excellence:

The Way Back
Wonder Woman 1984
Bill and Ted Face the Music
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
Spencer Confidential
The Old Guard
The Wrong Missy
Hillbilly Elegy
The Midnight Sky
An American Pickle
The Lovebirds
Artemis Fowl
Enola Holmes
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Palm Springs
Birds of Prey

So that is my list and the conclusion of this year's Catholic Skywalker Awards.  


Saturday, December 26, 2020

Film Flash: Midnight Sky


15 words or less film review (full review to follow soon)

Well-directed, well-acted apocalyptic journey into sadness and darkness

Film Flash: Soul


15 words or less film review (full review to follow soon)

Despite my dislike of hippies and jazz, an enjoyable movie with Chestertonian wonder at life.

Film Flash: Wonder Woman 1984


15 words or less film review (full review to follow soon)

Unsubtle in theme, long lulls between action, but surprisingly fun, exciting, and enjoyable superhero sequel.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Merry Christmas 2020



I know that 2020 has been rough on all of us in so many ways.  For the last nine months we have been living in anxiety and isolation.  

But today is a reminder that the Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.  So, as Linus reminded us, these are the words that bring us hope this day:

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. 
The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.

The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.

For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.

And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Film Flash: An American Pickle


15 words or less film review (full review to follow soon)

Touching moments cannot save this movie too steeped in nastiness and politics.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Film Flash: Greyhound


15 words or less film review (full review to follow soon)

Short on character development, long on war-movie thrills, held together by Tom Hanks' charisma.


Film Flash: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom


15 words or less film review (full review to follow soon)

A depressing movie that wallows in nihilism, racism, and blasphemy.  Boseman will win an Oscar.

Monday, December 21, 2020

New Evangelizers Post: The Gift of Christmas Time



I have a new article up at  

A few years ago, I took a test to see what my “love language” is. Your “love language” means that this is the main way in which you give and perceive love with others. For some, their “love language” is doing kind deeds. For others, their “love language” includes affectionate words. When I did my test, it turned out I had two.

The first was quality time. I’ve always understood that time is life. We only have a limited amount of sand grains in the hourglass of our life. When they run out, they are gone. And every second that passes is one that you don’t get back. When you give your time to something, you give your life to something. I’ve always been of the mind that the person or thing we love the most will get most of our free time.

The second quality was gift-giving. I remember being with my wife (who was my girlfriend at the time) for our first Christmas as a couple. I was twenty-years-old and I had reached that age when you put aside childish things. This also includes Christmas presents. Standard gifts would be sweaters and the like. But on our first Christmas, she got me an action figure set of Luke Skywalker fighting Darth Vader in the Emperor’s throne room from Return of the Jedi. I was so enthused that I opened the gift right away and began to play with them as if I was 5-years-old all over again. I always remember that gift, not because she got me something fun or geeky cool. I remember because her gift was a sign of how much she understood me.

For me, gift-giving has always brought me great joy. I don’t mean to imply that I am heroically generous in any way. But I enjoy so much to see the happiness in another person’s face and voice when they receive a gift that tells them that they are known and understood, that someone knows their mind and heart enough to give them something that might be particular only to them.

Of course, gift-giving can easily get off track. How many of us get caught up in the commercialism of the season that Charlie Brown decried. I certainly do.

How many of us see gift-giving in terms of debt? Do we feel an obligation to get gifts in proportion to those who gift us? And do we become disappointed when the perceived value of the gift we get is less than the gift we give? I know I have been guilty of this, though I am ashamed to admit it.

And are there not some who use the gift to solidify their place in our small social hierarchies? Some use gifts to show off their wealth or their status.

A gift should be given in the truest sense of the word, meaning that it should be offered with no expectation of return. And the same should be done when we receive a gift that we do not expect. We should be gracious in taking it without thinking about how we look by comparison.

But in hard times like these, the exchange of material gifts may be difficult. I’ve had those I love dearly ask that we put aside the exchange of presents. While the part of me that has gift-giving as my “love language” feels great pain at this, it would be the kind and loving thing to honor this request.
But that doesn’t mean we still cannot give a Christmas gift.

As I wrote earlier, my other “love language” was quality time. And it got me thinking about the gift of that first Christmas: the gift of Christ Himself.

He Who The Universe Cannot Contain exists in the realms of eternity. But at Christmas, He entered into time. Born into a specific time, during the reigns of Emperor Augustus Caesar and King Herod the Great, Jesus took His first breath of our air and took the second-by-second journey of life that we all are on.

By entering into time, He blesses time. He makes it sacred.

How will we make a gift of time to others?

There is a great deal of distance that pulls us apart, and 2020 has made this much worse. We are yanked into different directions. And even when we are together, we are beholden to our distractions like our smartphones or our anxieties. Like many of you, distraction is one of the biggest impediments to my prayer life. I can sit in prayer for fifteen minutes while only giving God maybe a minute of undistracted attention. But when I recognize this distraction, I refocus my attention the best I can. While this is discouraging, the most important lesson I have received is not to abandon this time because it is of poor quality. A friend once said to me that 90% of prayer is showing up.

And I believe the same is true of love.

One of my favorite Thanksgiving sayings is “It’s not Thanksgiving dinner until it’s ruined.” Family drama around the table is nearly universal on some level. But we return time and again because beyond the friction there is the affection. We show up to show that we care.

Jesus showed up to this world to show us that He cares. Will we do the same?

Everyone needs to make the best decisions for their family’s safety, especially during this pandemic time. I know that my in-person holiday contact with friends and family will be extremely limited. But the wonderful thing about modern technology is that we have ways to reach out with video chats to see each other face-to-face. We don’t even need modern technology to reach out and touch someone with a phone call, a text, and email, or simply a letter. If there is ever a time to reopen lines of communication that have been lying dormant, Christmas time is it.

We can also volunteer ourselves for local charities. Monetary donations are good and noble. But the hands-on act of giving is good for the soul and gives us a more tactile connection to the active love we are called to live out.

And we must not forget how we communion with each other in spirit. The Communion of Saints also applies to us on some level. We can hold each other up in prayer and the mystery of God’s spiritual economy, those prayers somehow affect the lives of those for whom we pray. We can remember them by name to the Lord.

Finally, we can be with the Lord Himself at mass or at prayer. Jesus came to us so that there would be no barrier in us coming to Him. We can get caught up in the business of Christmas that we can forget to enter into His presence and adore Him as He was adored in that stable in Bethlehem.

And all of this requires a gift of time.

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Sunday Best: Catholic Skywalker Awards 2020 - BEST IN TELEVISION

 With 2020 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  Queen's Gambit, etc.  I am cheating a little by including Cobra Kai season 2 on this list.  Technically, the season premiered last year on YouTube, but since it came to Netflix this year and since 2020 has been a mess, I'm okay with including it.

Shows we watch:


This is Us
The Rookie
The Flash
Locke and Key
Star Trek Picard
The Mandalorian
This is Us
Cobra Kai

The Good Place
Bless this Mess
Space Force
Saturday Night Live
Brooklyn 99
Last Man Standing
Single Parents
Truth Seekers
Ted Lasso

Dancing with the Stars
The Amazing Race
Shark Tank
The Masked Singer
Tough as Nails
Floor is Lava

Best Drama:

The Mandalorian

One of the things I find annoying about television awards shows is that often the same shows win year after year.  I try not to do that with the Catholic Skywalker Awards.

But I had to give The Mandalorian the Best Drama for the second year in a row.

It was clear that this was going to be the winner part way through the season.  Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni not only fundamentally understand good storytelling, but they fundamentally understand Star Wars.  George Lucas created a space western with strong mystical/mythic themes and tones.  The show is consistently exciting and entertaining.  The eight episodes a season make the show tight, with episodes flying by in what seems like seconds.  And all the while, the characters are moving, changing, and deepening.  Each episode feels important because they have a lot of story to get through in not a lot of time.  The performances are also outstanding.  Who knew Bill Burr could act?!?  

And all of this was before the season finale.  The last 10 minutes of the finale were, in a word: Magic!

There hasn't been this much magic in Star Wars in years.  I cannot tell you how transported and elated I was by what this show gave us.  And all of it was built upon an emotional ending that I have rewatched several times and still moves me each time.

If there was ever a story that could rescue Star Wars from the pop culture dust bin and remind us why it holds the place it does in our collective hearts and imaginations, it's The Mandalorian.

-Cobra Kai
-Locke and Key
-The Flash

Best Comedy
The Good Place

From my review of the series:

I'll be honest, I have been putting of this review for a long time.  I found it difficult to put into words how I feel about this show.  And The Good Place is a show that has really affected me emotionally...

Speaking of the humor, I have never seen a show that did a perfect balancing act between high brow and low brow humor.  Many shows appeal to pure crudity like Married with Children.  Some try to stand on high wit like Frasier.  Some try to not go too broad or too sophisticated.  But The Good Place is a show of two extremes.  

It will build incredibly intelligent jokes based on Aristotelean ethics or Catholic moral principles like Double Effect in the Trolley Problem.  As a philosopher, I cannot tell you how good it is to watch a show that uses Kant, Hume, Nietzsche, St. Augustine, and St. Thomas Aquinas as setups and punchlines.  It even has some wonderfully insightful jokes.  For example, the neighborhood in the "Good Place" is filled with frozen yogurt shops.  Michael comments to Eleanor that humans coming up with frozen yogurt in place of ice cream is typical of our species.  He says "There's something so human about taking something great and ruining it a little so you can have more of it."  I laughed so hard at that line and spent days thinking about how insightful that is.  In another episode, Eleanor and Chidi end up somewhere called the "Medium Place" where it is neither good nor bad.  Here there is only one movie: Cannonball Run 2.  And I remember think that that movie so exquisitely medium.  It is not awful, but it is no way good.  

Objectively, I can say that the story moves at a wonderful pace.  There are exactly 52 chapters.  And unlike a lot of shows, once you leave the first season it feels like the story is going somewhere.  My big complaint with shows like The Walking Dead is that each season starts strong and ends strong, but the middle always feels like its spinning its wheels.  The Good Place feels like something momentous happens each episode that pushes the story in a new direction.  The end of each chapter left me desperate to find out what was going to happen to our characters....

The Good Place is a show that holds a special place in my heart.  That place is cemented by the emotional context in which I encountered it.  I don't know if it would have been the same if I had watched it at any other time.  Perhaps you will feel the same.  Perhaps you will not.

But at the very least, the show reminded me that as long as you have real, true love and friendship, you don't have to wait to die to be in the "Good Place."

Single Parents
The Simpsons
Bless This Mess
Ted Lasso

Best Actor in a Drama
William Zabka - Cobra Kai

Five years ago if you had told me that William Zabka would be getting an acting award from me for a Karate Kid sequel, I never would have believed you.  But oh my goodness, Zabka is amazing in this show.  You can tell that the actor understands what an opportunity this show is and he is putting every ounce of his talent and technique into the character.  His Johnny is so flawed and broken but he is trying to save himself by saving others.  Watching his conflict between son and his student is fascinating and frustrating.  He knows that he has to play Johnny as a person who is kind of a man out of time who is constantly confused by a world that has left him behind.  All he has to rely on is his will to survive.  Watch his performance when he talks to Miguel about how he abandoned his son or watch the chemistry he has with his former Cobra Kai pals.  This is a great performance and Zabka deserves all of the credit he gets for carrying this show.

Pedro Pascal- The Mandalorian
Nathan Fillion - The Rookie
Sterling K. Brown - This is Us
Milo Ventemiglia - This is Us

Best Actress in a Drama
Mandy Moore - This Is Us

Mandy Moore has won this award before and she has earned it once again with her performance as Rebecca Pearson.  She has makes it look easy.  She jumps between radically different ages in Becca's life and I am completely mesmerized.  I never question it or have my suspension of disbelief  broken.  And this year, she has had to play the horrible fear of a woman losing her memory slowly.  She is on a long road to a sad goodbye and we can see all of that depth of emotion play out in a mother who is trying to be strong for her adult children who are barely holding it together.  She continues to be fantastic.

Breck Bassinger - Stargirl
Melissa O'Neil - The Rookie
Cobie Smulders - Stumptown

Best Supporting Actor, Drama
Luke Wilson -  Stargirl

Luke Wilson grounds this series with his Pat Dugan.  Wilson is alternately goofy, serious, heroic, paternal, and frustrated.  His chemistry with Brek Bassinger is fantastic and the step-father/step-daughter relationship grows so organically that when it all comes to a head in the final episode, it feels right.  Wilson knows exactly how to play this part.  He takes the world he's living in very seriously, but also knows how to infuse the series with fun and humor.  Wilson has always been a very good actor and I'm glad that Stargirl is giving him a chance to shine in a series.

Jake Johnson- Stumptown
Ralph Machio - Cobra Kai
Jackson Robert Scott - Locke and Key
Xolo Mariduena - Cobra Kai

Best Supporting Actress, Drama
Emelia Jones - Locke and Key

The character of Kinsey is a difficult one to play.  She has all of the problems of an outsider teenager girl at a new school while being the survivor of a horrible family trauma and the supernatural horrors of her family home.  Watching Jones lose herself in Kinsey's distractions is frustrating but incredibly interesting.  As Kinsey slowly abandons her responsibilities you can't help but understand why even as you want to scream at her for using the people in her life to make her feel better.  As written, Kinsey could easily be completely repulsive.  But Jones makes it understandable that people are still drawn to her.

Darby Stanchfield - Locke and Key
Anjelika Washington - Stargirl
Susan Kelechi Watson - This Is Us
Melissa O'Neil– The Rookie

Best Actor, Comedy
Jason Sudeikis- Ted Lasso

I've written on this blog how playing evil is easier than playing good.  I think that is the reason why so many TV shows have their characters begin as selfish jerks.  It is easy to play someone who is lesser than you.  But Sudeikis plays Ted Lasso as a relentlessly kind person.  This could easily have been a one-dimensional caricature of virtue.  But Lasso is a fully realized character.  He is not flawless.  He is not a saint.  But he is someone who will always try to be as positive and uplifting as he can.  Sudeikis makes the sincerity seem real while adding depth.  But above all, he is funny.  Ted Lasso is a hoot with some of the best one-liners I've heard this year on television and Sudeikis' delivery is spot on.

Ted Danson - The Good Place
Dax Shepherd - Bless This Mess
Nick Frost - Truth Seekers
Steve Carell - Space Force

Best Actress, Comedy
Kristen Bell - The Good Place

As I wrote in my review for the series:

Bell is one of the few actors that can handle drama and comedy perfectly.  She is able to make Eleanor unlikeable and likable at the same time.  Just when you want to write her off, she shows some humanity.  And just when you think she's been redeemed, she falls a step.

Not only that, but it was incredible to watch the subtle changes she made in Eleanor over the course of the series.  There was real growth while she remained the core of the same character.  I don't think the show could have lasted without her at the helm and it convinces me more and more that she is someone who can do anything effectively.  

Hannah Waddingham – Ted Lasso
Lake Bell – Bless This Mess
Leighton Meester - Single Parents
AJ Michalka - Schooled

Best Supporting Actor, Comedy
William Jackson Harper - The Good Place

Chidi is alternately wise and neurotic, sage and silly.  Harper conveyed not only the intelligence of Chidi but also his horrible anxieties that were at the core of his character.  When he became nauseous with nervousness, he was able to produce that same effect in the viewer.  Even though he was the uptight intellectual, he was actually the every man that the audience connected with on the journey.  Harper proved his comedic chops with this role.  And his final speech to Eleanor about the ocean is heartbreaking.

Brad Garrett - Single Parents
Samson Kayo - Truth Seekers
Brett Dier - Schooled
Tim Meadows - Schooled

Best Supporting Actress, Comedy
Juno Temple- Ted Lasso

Temple's Keely Jones seems to be a superficial soccer groupie.  But as the show peeled back the layers, so did Temple in her performance.  In the first episodes, she is overly vulgar and sexualized, but as the story progresses you can see how she is a woman who has traded on her looks and sex appeal and coming to realize that the shelf life for these qualities is soon expiring in her.  Temple does a convincing British accent for an American and she fits right in with the overall culture presented.  While she does not evolve into a person of humility and chastity by the end of the season, we can see growth in the character, particularly in how expressive Temple is with her eyes.  When she goes back to see Roy Kent in the locker room during the final game, she is able to project a comforting sympathy that I would not have guessed from the first episode.

Kimrie Lewis - Single Parents
Pam Grier- Bless This Mess
Lennon Parham - Bless This Mess
Hayley Orrantia - The Goldbergs

Stay tuned next week for the Catholic Skywalker Awards for Best Movies of 2020