The Top Guns

The Oscars unveiled its 2023 nominations this past week, joining the previously announced award nominees lists from the major unions of craftspeople that make movies (Note: DGA, WGA, SAG, PGA, among so many others).

The work and the films run the gamut from big budget and big box-office to micro-cost and little-to-speak-of in the way of tickets sales.  They also stretch from the extremely well reviewed to the mixed or even disliked.

Now streaming on Peacock!

This is nothing unusual and as it should be.   

AND…  If you’d like to hear our totally unvarnished take on this year’s Oscar contenders, as well as marvel with us over how it is that Riz Ahmed and Allison Williams, this year’s genetically gifted announcers, can still manage to look that good at 5:30 in the morning, click here for all the hot takes we have and then some.

Shameless self-promotion, to be assured, but also informative, fun and a bit bitchy.

Still, I do have one small but definitely full-on bitchy bone to pick over what is and what is not required for great screen storytelling these days.

Top Gun: Maverick has been judged one of five BEST adapted screenplay nominees by BOTH the Oscars AND my own Writer’s Guild of America this year. 




I don’t care how much $$$$ it made or the fact that it seems to be credited with single-handedly reviving the domestic box-office at brick and mortar multiplexes post-pandemic.

There are financial awards for that, not to mention attention from NATO.


The latter would be the National Association of Theatre Owners, not the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.  That last one is a world peacekeeping organization vs. the former, whose job it is to keep the nation’s movie theatres open and its owners at peace.

Note:  Top Gun: Maverick DID NOT save the world.

Beach football didn’t save the world??

Unless the only world you know is the movie business.

Perhaps that’s the problem.

Hey, there is nothing wrong with big, broad blockbuster entertainment.  And there is nothing wrong with big, broad blockbuster entertainment being nominated for awards.

When they are deserved.

Shade, Chair! Shade!

But if you are talking about basic storytelling 101 in the blockbuster arena, at its most essential and most basic there are the GOOD GUYS and the BAD GUYS.

Yet in Top Gun: Maverick, this box-office behemoth of a sequel to a blockbuster from the wretched excess decade of the eighties, we don’t even know who the bad guys are because the writers are too scared, too lazy or likely too worried to tell us.

Tom Cruise’s Maverick is tapped to choose and lead a small group of elite fighter pilots (Note: Think Cruise and his buddies thirty plus years ago) to stop __________________ from enriching uranium, which can presumably, in turn, give THEM, the _________________, a nuclear bomb(s).

But who is THEM???

Who are THEY?  Who is __________________?  The ENEMIES?  THE…..BAD GUYS?

The best we are given is the general term rogue nation.

and here I thought the real enemy was Miles Teller’s mustache

Except no rogue nation can fit the definition of what country or powers are being even vaguely suggested, even if you take into account the very, very few clues provided in the screenplay/film. (Note: For a breakdown of the evidence, here is one excellent analysis, much better than we could do here).

So, well, whom are we rooting against and why are we invested in this mission in this award-nominated screenplay?

Okay, okay, I know. It’s because we want Tom Cruise to win.  Always.

I’m really not sure

Well, some of us.

But from a STORYTELLING point of view in a war movie, don’t we need to know WHO IS THE ENEMY?????? 

That is, aside from logic. 

Of course, right.   A major reason we don’t know is international box office potential.  The forces behind Top Gun: Maverick don’t want to offend any nations, or nationalities, or inanimate objects, rogue or not, for risk of denting their profits with any type of political firestorm or cultural cancellation. 


And at a $1.44 BILLION in ticket sales worldwide, including $744 million in foreign territories OUTISDE the U.S, who can argue with that strategy.

But…is it AWARD WORTHY dramatic writing?

It depends on what you are giving the award for.

Et tu Jon Hamm??

To whit, Top Gun: Maverick is now the FIFTH highest grossing movie of all-time, soaring past the original Black Panther.  The latter film, a worldwide phenomenon, grossed $1.347 billion in total, $647 million from the US and almost $700 million from overseas.

And it had a ton of discernible villains, not only from within Wakanda, its own country, but even from the U.S.

Best Marvel villain ever — no questions at this time.

Not to mention, its current Oscar nominated sequel, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, has SPECIFIC ENEMIES from ALL OVER the UNIVERSE.

That is because the people behind the Black Panther movies know how to BOTH tell a good story AND respect their audience.

See, blockbusters can be artistically interesting and don’t HAVE to play it vague and safe.

If the filmmakers and the studio decide that is what they are going to do.

I said what I said!

What is surprising is that a very large group of Hollywood writers in both the Motion Picture Academy and the Writers Guild have drank their employers’ Kool-Aid and chosen to keep everything they know about great dramatic screenwriting away from their ballots in favor of their hoped for bloated bank accounts.

I would like to attribute it to solely a large group of white male Hollywood writers over 50 whom long for the glory days, when they could imagine themselves as digital Tom Cruise, or even simply employed by the likes of Simpson and Bruckheimer.

But then I realize I am one of those white male 50+ voting writers.

Oh god I’ve become a Taylor Swift lyric

And among my biggest nightmares would be to wake up resembling anything akin to the fictional Maverick or the digital and/or real life version of that particular movie star.  Or in the employ of any two producers making any Simpson-Bruckheimer type product.

So that answer is way too easy.

Instead, I attribute it to a much more realistic view of what’s happened to corporate artists worldwide since time began, especially in Hollywood.

As your bank account rises you have to work like hell to prevent your work and your taste and your voting opinions on anything from going into the toilet.

And that requires the kind of effort and determination that far too few of us are still willing to suit up for.

Lady Gaga – “Hold My Hand” (from Top Gun: Maverick)

Adieu ’22

I avoid ever saying this is the worst about anything because to me that is tempting fate.  

Invariably life will answer you back with, really, then try this, and you will find yourself wishing and dreaming and hoping of what you once thought was the worst because in retrospect you had no idea how truly “worst” things could get.

Somehow it can still get worse

All that being said, 2022 was by no means a STELLAR year.

If it wasn’t the WORST, and clearly it wasn’t in case life is listening, it was by no means the BEST.

I will cop to the fact that it was better than sitting quarantined at home in an infinity number of Zoom chats, as we were in 2020 and large swaths of 2021.  It was also preferable to the morning after Election Day 2016 or that time in 2006 when Crash won the Oscar for best picture over Brokeback Mountain (Note:  March 5th, somewhere between 8 and 9pm PST, to be exact.  Not that I hold grudges.  Much). 


I watched Black Panther: Wakanda Forever the other night and I quite enjoyed it.  Or let’s say, it hit home with me and I wasn’t bored, which is more than I can say for the majority of critic’s darlings this year (Note:  I still want my 12 hours back for Tar and the other 18 that I devoted to _____fill in the blank___).

Side Note:  What is it with the length of movies this year, anyway?  Why has more become more, and even more be determined to be even better??

Me, after I finish Babylon

Nevertheless Wakanda.  At two hours and 41 minutes it is actually four minutes longer than Tar but to me plays like a short film by comparison.

And I guess that is the real point.

Taste, like life, or even year-end recaps and annual 10 best lists, is really all about point of view and perspective. 

For me, Wakanda summed up a several year period of loss and gave us a comic book blueprint about moving on.  If it wasn’t the best film of the year, and certainly it wasn’t even though that’s a pretty low bar, it certainly was one of the most relevant.

More Angela in 2023, please

What do you do when the world, as you understood it, disappears?  How do you survive when one of the people closest to you dies?  How do you move on when your hero (or heroes) disappears and your moral compass is gone? 

And what actions can you take when there is no one left to lead you but yourself and deep down you know you are nowhere near up to that task?

Wakanda answers that question in a reassuring, old-fashioned way.  That, of course, none of us are by ourselves if we’ve ever loved and lost because the memory of that person, or the good that once was, is always inside of us.  We merely need to go deep down and feel the joy, through the pain of what once was, and use it and all we experienced as the basis for a new path that we create for ourselves to move forward. 

A kind of moral, even informational, blue print, if you will.

Whoa, Chairy. That’s deep!

I heard some politician or theologian this year talk about the history of social movements as a relay race that one runs in during their time.  You advance the cause as far as you can and then pass the torch on to the next generation, in hopes that they can go even further   

The race never ends but neither does the spirit of anyone that has come before you, despite the inevitable losses.

That’s the way we move on and carry on and certainly it’s all far above the pay grade of anyone trying to summarize 2022. 

Except, clearly, some people.


The horrific invasion of the Ukraine by Russia began in Feb. 2022 and continues through this very moment and beyond. Yet Volodymyr Zelensky, a former actor with little political experience, unlikely leads a shockingly strong and still standing Ukraine, and was just voted Time Magazine’s Man of the Year. 

Dressed in fatigue colors and armed with the ability to stay charismatically on message as bombs drop all around him, Zelensky has somehow risen to fill a leadership gap in the world by merely stepping up in a moment.  No more so then when he addressed the U.S. Congress a few weeks ago and proclaimed that the billions in military aid we are giving to Ukraine should not be seen as “charity” but an “investment” for freedom and all of our futures.

True courage

What could read like political tripe played as exactly the opposite merely because it was the truth and was said with conviction and a little bit of humor.  And it got him a standing ovation from the vast majority of blue AND red politicians in the chamber.  Not to mention the world.

To make a cheap comparison to movies – which is cheap because they are NOT real life despite what we think – it’s what happens when an actor so totally inhabits a role that the effect is undeniable.  Austin Butler in Elvis and Brendan Fraser in The Whale.  Michelle Williams in The Fabelmans and Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All At Once.  Four high points of many low points overall in 2022 cinema.

… and the rocks. Of course, the rocks.

Actors, in particular, often get their moments in the unlikeliest of roles and/or in the strangest of times.  And many of them, like many of us, never hit that jackpot in quite the way they or we imagine they would.

Nevertheless, we all continue running the race, as the mere fact of you reading this proves.  And that is at least one other great thing about 2022.  We are all still running.

I could tell you The Bear and Wednesday and Smiley brought me the most fun on streaming platforms in the past 12 months, and that the Jan. 6th hearings were clearly the smartest and most interesting thing on network television but what would that prove?

… that you’ve been thinking about this dance for a month?

I can confess that re-watching select films on Turner Classic Movies this year probably gave me more pleasure than any other 2022 release (Note:  I marveled at Paris Blues (1961), a perfectly imperfect movie, and cried once again at Jacques Demy’s classic Umbrellas of Cherbourg) but who really cares.

It’s even less important than admitting that I loved Mary Rodgers’ autobiography Shy a lot more than the 2014 Pulitzer Prize winning novel All The Light We Cannot See, which I tried reading over the summer but never finished because there is only so much description of items in a room (Note: Meaning, not much) that I can bear. 

This feels right

That fact is even less surprising than publicly stating I listen to almost none of the new songs and albums that made it onto music critics’ 2022 top ten lists (Note: I can’t anymore with Taylor Swift, and Beyoncé, though they and their admittedly oversize talents, should live and be well). 

Oh get over it!

Still, in fairness I must state that I do love me some Brandi Carlisle and was really, really, really disappointed that the forever young and forever cool indie rock group, Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs, had to bow out of the season finale musical guest spot on Saturday Night Live because one of them was ill.

They should live and be well (Note: When did I turn into my great-grandmother?) through 2022 and beyond, too. 

As should we all and then some for what a new, potentially fabulous year could have on the horizon.  Or not.

No pressure, 2023.   At All.

Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs – “Spitting Off the Edge of the World”