“Top Gun: Maverick” wasn’t made for awards season.
The continued adventures of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell from 1986’s “Top Gun” hoped for some sweet Summer ticket sales.
That’s not where the story should end.
Film critics, who often like but rarely love populist fare, rallied behind “Maverick.” The film earned an eye-popping 96 percent “fresh” rating, along with a 99 percent score from general audiences. (For perspective, the original “Top Gun” has a 58 percent “rotten” rating from critics)
That cultural uniformity is rare these days. We’re more accustomed to seeing sizable splits between the two groups.
This brings us to the 2023 Oscars.
Next year’s ceremony faces sizable headwinds, from declining ratings to a public fed up with the broadcast’s woke makeover. The Oscars don’t matter, culturally, like they once did, and the movies up for the night’s biggest award rarely draw a crowd.
Consider the box office receipts for the last six Best Picture winners (according to BoxOfficeMojo.com):
- CODA: N/A (Apple TV+ release)
- Nomadland: $3.7 million (impacted by pandemic)
- Parasite: $53 million
- Green Book: $85 million
- The Shape of Water: $63 million
- Moonlight: $27 million
None came close to the $100 million mark. And many runner-up films earned much less.
The last Best Picture winner to fully unite critics and audiences? “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” ($378 million) nearly 20 years ago.
It’s about time more box office hits crashed the Oscar party. And few are as worthy as “Top Gun: Maverick.”
The film offers a near-perfect amalgam of action, nostalgia, heroism and heart. Tom Cruise’s Maverick appears at the end of his military career when an old chum pulls one final string for him.
He’s tasked with training a talented, but raw, group of Top Gun pilots for a dangerous mission. They must swoop in under the radar to eliminate a uranium site operated by an unknown government.
Yes, “Maverick” continues the franchise trend of keeping the bad guys as vague as possible. Geopolitical gamesmanship isn’t the point. It’s about honor, sacrifice and humility.
— Top Gun (@TopGunMovie) October 27, 2022
Director Joseph Kosinski (“Oblivion,” “Only the Brave”) keeps the aerial sequences as tight and realistic as possible. There may be some CGI trickery afoot, but the sensation is organic, not contrived. (The Blu-ray edition boasts of the film’s “practical” roots, and it shows)
Maverick’s enduring bond with Iceman, granted off-screen gravitas given co-star Val Kilmer’s cancer fight, offers a double dose of nostalgia and pathos. Their scene together, brief but electric, reminds us “Maverick” isn’t calorie-laden popcorn fare.
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Cruise remains an underrated actor who never comes close to phoning in a performance. Kilmer, subdued but plugged in, makes the sequence a Kleenex clutcher.
Then again, the movie’s strength falls back on the characters and their respective journeys, not just the IMAX-friendly action. Maverick knows his flying days are nearly over, but he wants to go out on his own terms. His unresolved grief over losing his wingman, Goose (Anthony Edwards), gives the sequel a big, beating heart.
Maverick’s tricky relationship with Goose’s son, Rooster (Miles Teller, outstanding), adds another emotionally rich layer to the story.
It’s why “Top Gun: Maverick” shouldn’t get a Best Picture nomination as a desperate ploy to lure viewers back to the Oscars telecast.
The sequel earned it.
It’s also the kind of movie Team Oscar should be celebrating. It connects to the common man and woman, doesn’t deliver unnecessary woke bromides and finds everyone at the top of their professional game.
The Academy expanded the Best Picture category from five to up to 10 slots in recent years, but some of the resulting nominees are nominated in spirit only. They didn’t stand a chance of winning the night’s top honor.
The film also deserves strong consideration for Cruise (Best Actor), along with Kosinski (Best Director) and various tech categories (Editing, Sound Design…).
If “Top Gun: Maverick” crashes the 2023 Oscar party we may see some start taking the gala seriously again.
The film’s Blu-ray edition lets us behind-the-scenes of the film’s elaborate production.
“I wasn’t ready to make a sequel until we had a special story worthy of a sequel,” Cruise says in one of several Blu-ray extras, “Cleared for Take Off.” That sounds like Movie Star blather, but “Maverick’s” existence backs up his claim.
The cast members endured rigorous training before they hit the skies, and we see them going through their paces with expertly-shot footage.
They’re all game, if a bit frightened, of what’s to come. And that makes sense. They endured harrowing water-based training, G-force exposure and more before they could recreate the film’s flight sequences.
“Breaking New Ground” reveals up to six cameras were used in the various planes to grab the necessary footage. And Cruise’s passion for flying gets a close-up via “A Love Letter to Aviation.”
“It truly is the kind of movie they don’t make anymore,” Christopher McQuarrie, the longtime Cruise collaborator and “Maverick” co-screenwriter says.
That’s all the more reason Oscar voters should invite “Top Gun: Maverick” to the Academy Awards ceremony in 2023.