The Power of the Dog Review

Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog is exceedingly gorgeous in its landscapes where New Zealand fills in for Montana circa 1925. It features four superb performances ranging from borderline or full throttle psychopaths to one character trying to keep a semblance of order on the remote cattle ranch setting. The score by Johnny Greenwood is haunting as each chapter ratchets up the tension. A lot of Power is indeed compelling, but I’d be untruthful if I didn’t say you have to comb through some laborious sections as well.

Based on a 1967 novel by Thomas Savage (where the themes were far more taboo than in 2021), we open with Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) declaring a need to protect his fragile mother Rose (Kirsten Dunst) at all costs. Widowed under tragic circumstances, she runs an inn frequented by cowboys and their bosses. When kindly ranch owner George Burbank (Jesse Plemons) comes into town, a rather unromantic bond is formed with Rose and they marry. This does not sit well with George’s opposite of kindly brother Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) who sees his new sister-in-law as an oppotunist. He also takes to mocking Peter, an effeminate aspiring surgeon.

When the dysfunctional new family reaches the cold Burbank estate (in temperature and atmosphere), Phil’s tormenting continues for the new houseguests. This leads to Rose’s alcoholism while George is a helpless bystander. Yet Phil’s own backstory, including a mentorship with a departed male figure known as Bronco Henry, hints that Peter’s presence may cut a bit too close to the bone.

An unwashed bully walking a tightrope of repression, Cumberbatch is given a scenery chewing role. And what scenery as we forget that Campion’s native New Zealand doesn’t really look like Montana. Dunst is a sorrowful figure who can’t play piano at a fancy party dinner that the Governor (Keith Carradine) attends. She can’t play the happy wife either and her union with George seems born out of convenience. Plemons is saddled with least developed character. All three are first-rate in the portrayals.

Smit-McPhee is the most intriguing of them all. Peter’s character is certainly ahead of his time given the era and it turns out he’s steps ahead of where we still the plot eventually turn.

I say eventually because the pacing of Power is a bit off. It takes awhile to ramp up. That’s made more tolerable by the beauty surrounding the ugly situation this quartet finds themselves in. The source material is over a half century old though it does feature a call for personal protective equipment that feels urgent. The catcalls greeting Peter in the near century old time are tragic but his response reaps narrative rewards. This Dog saves most of the bite for later. Getting there is ultimately worth it.

*** (out of four)

National Champions Box Office Prediction

Director Ric Roman Waugh switches from Gerard Butler action flicks to an inspirational sports drama with National Champions on December 10th. The basketball tale stars Stephan James, J.K. Simmons, Alexander Ludwig, Lil Rel Howery, Tim Blake Nelson, Andrew Bachelor, Jeffrey Donovan, David Koechner, Kristin Chenoweth, Timothy Olyphant, and Uzo Aduba.

Mr. Waugh most recently was behind the camera for Butler fests Angel Has Fallen and Greenland. His latest comes with a meager budget (a reported $9 million) and minimal buzz surrounding it. Originally slated for Thanksgiving weekend, it was pushed back two weeks.

If something like King Richard couldn’t swing a victory at the box office, that probably doesn’t bode well for this. I’ll project Champions struggles to make half its budget back (or even a third) in the opening weekend.

National Champions opening weekend prediction: $3.2 million

For my West Side Story prediction, click here:

West Side Story Box Office Prediction

NBR Delivers for Pizza

The National Board of Review bestowed their honors today for their finest of 2021 and they delivered it to Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza. The coming-of-age dramedy took Best Film and Director. The awards certainly solidify its status as a major contender in the Picture race at the Oscars. In the 21st century, only 3 of the 21 winners (2000’s Quills, 2014’s A Most Violent Year, last year’s Da 5 Bloods) did not manage to make the Academy’s cut. On the flipside, the victorious picture here usually doesn’t win. In this century it’s happened thrice (2007’s No Country for Old Men, 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire, 2018’s Green Book). So if we’re going by recent history, Pizza should get nominated but probably won’t take the gold.

This voting branch also names nine other movies in their Best Of rundown. Over the past five years, the number of NBR selections compared to Oscar BP contestants ranges between 4-7. In 2016, it hit the high mark at 7. There were six in 2017 and 2019, five in 2020, and just four in 2018. The other nine films in 2021 are Belfast, Don’t Look Up, Dune, King Richard, The Last Duel, Nightmare Alley, Red Rocket, The Tragedy of Macbeth, and West Side Story. From that list, I would say only Duel and Rocket seem like major longshots to get attention from the Academy. All others are feasible.

The biggest omission from NBR’s list is absolutely Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog, which I’ve had ranked at #2 in my BP standings for awhile. The solace for Dog is that two recent BPs (2017’s The Shape of Water, 2019’s Parasite) didn’t make the NBR ten. Other pics that missed NBR: Being the Ricardos, C’Mon C’Mon, CODA, House of Gucci, Mass, Spencer, and Tick Tick… Boom!

As for the actors – Will Smith (the Academy frontrunner) took Best Actor for his King Richard while costar Aunjanue Ellis won Supporting Actress. Both are widely expected to play in the Oscar race and either or both could win.

NBR did not choose Academy favorite Kristen Stewart for Spencer and opted for Rachel Zegler in West Side Story (her debut role). I had Zegler placed sixth yesterday in the crowded Actress derby, but she could be on her way to making the final five cut.

The wide open Supporting Actor derby favored Ciaran Hinds for Belfast. I am completely unsure what the Academy does in this race. This could forward a narrative that Hinds is more likely to receive Oscar attention than his costar Jamie Dornan (though they could both get in).

Screenplay races provided a couple of surprises. Pizza would have been the logical choice for Original, but NBR instead chose Asghar Farhadi’s A Hero. In Adapted, Joel Coen was selected for The Tragedy of Macbeth (which also took Cinematography). Most pundits (including myself) have Power of the Dog as the winner, but the category opened up on this platform since it missed the ten.

Lastly, the Animated, Documentary, and Foreign Language races all featured movies that could prevent Flee from taking any of the three prizes at the Oscars: Encanto, Summer of Soul, and A Hero. 

My blog posts on the state of the 2021 Oscar race will continue…

Oscar Predictions: Nightmare Alley

Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley is likely to be the final film screened that could contend for Best Picture at the 2021 Oscars. That happened tonight and its social media embargo has lifted. This is the filmmaker’s follow-up to 2017’s The Shape of Water, which won four gold statues including Picture and Director. A remake of a 1947 noir thriller, Alley has a cast filled with familiar faces led by Bradley Cooper and Rooney Mara (who are slated to contend in the lead races). The supporting cast includes Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Ron Perlman, Mary Steenburgen, and David Strathairn.

Reaction out tonight offers plenty of praise. Unsurprisingly, this is being lauded for its technical aspects. Production Design and Cinematography sound like shoo-ins (and might challenge Dune for the victories). Other down the line derbies such as Sound, Costume Design, Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, and Score (though that’s gotten awfully crowded) are feasible.

How about the big dances? Early word solidifies its opportunity to get a Best Picture nomination and for del Toro’s behind the camera work. I had it ranked 8th yesterday and my early hunch says that’s about right. There’s enough mixed buzz in reaction tweets to make me think it’s not a threat to win. Adapted Screenplay is probable.

As for the actors, Cooper and Blanchett are the recipients of the most acclaim. The former’s path will be fascinating to track. I had him ranked #1 in Supporting Actor for weeks before Licorice Pizza was unveiled. That race, as has been discussed on the blog, is wide open. His limited screen time in Pizza could cause him to miss there. The question is whether Best Actor is already too packed (Will Smith as King Richard, Benedict Cumberbatch in The Power of the Dog, Andrew Garfield for Tick Tick… Boom!, Denzel Washington in The Tragedy of Macbeth, Peter Dinklage in Cyrano, Leonardo DiCaprio for Don’t Look Up). Is there enough space for Cooper? Precursors will tell. Supporting Actress is also filled with hopefuls and Blanchett will also need some early love from either critics groups or SAG or the Globes. Best Actress is also overflowing and I don’t see enough Mara talk for her to be viable.

Bottom line: Alley helped itself. It might be the “last in” but I feel decent about a Picture nod and definitely tech competitions. Cooper and Blanchett are more of a mystery. My Oscar Predictions posts for the films of 2021 will continue…

West Side Story Box Office Prediction

Coming off screenings which indicate it should play in numerous Oscar categories, Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story sashays into theaters December 10th. Arriving a year later than anticipated due to COVID, the musical romance (based on the play from Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein, and the late Stephen Sondheim) stars Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler (in her film debut), Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, Rita Moreno, Brian d’Arcy James, and Corey Stoll. The $100 million project follows up on the 1961 classic that generated 10 Academy wins including Picture and Ms. Moreno in Supporting Actress. DeBose takes over that role and it could nab her a nomination. Same goes for Moreno (and possibly Zegler and Alvarez or Faist).

The pandemic related delay means this is Spielberg’s first behind the camera effort in nearly four years behind Ready Player One. Musicals are always a tricky proposition at the box office, but familiarity with the source material and the encouraging buzz should help. Movies geared towards adults have faced a tough road in these times, but House of Gucci proved the right project can bring in an older (and female) crowd.

It’s pretty common to see December offerings premiere with non-gaudy numbers and then leg out nicely over the season. This might be the case here. A debut of $20 million or higher seems a tad unlikely and I’ll project mid teens as the awards chatter could eventually get this Story close to its budget domestically.

West Side Story opening weekend prediction: $16.4 million

For my National Champions prediction, click here:

National Champions Box Office Prediction

2021 Oscar Predictions: December 1st Edition

As December dawns, the story of my latest Oscar predictions is West Side Story. Steven Spielberg’s remake of the musical has been in my ten Best Picture nominees for some time. However, the solid buzz emanating from screenings gives it a bump from #8 to #4. Additionally, Spielberg is now in my five for Director and that takes out Guillermo del Toro for Nightmare Alley. 

Speaking of Alley, we will have a far better idea of its viability later today when it gets its first look from critics and the social embargo is lifted. It’s fair to say that Alley is the final major contender to be unveiled and that makes an even clearer picture will be available for my next round.

In other developments:

    • While my five Best Actress picks remain the same, Rachel Zegler’s performance in West Side Story jumps from 10th to 6th.
    • The five slot in Best Actor shifts once again from Joaquin Phoenix (C’Mon C’Mon) to Peter Dinklage in Cyrano. 
    • Rita Moreno’s work in West Side Story puts her in the five for the first time (and top ten for that matter). If my prediction comes true, she could join costar Ariana DeBose (who plays the role for which Moreno won her Oscar sixty years ago). It would also make her the oldest nominee in Academy history. Ann Dowd (Mass) falls out of the 5.
    • The wide open Supporting Actor derby sees Jamie Dornan (Belfast) in and Jason Isaacs (Mass) out.
    • King Richard returns to Original Screenplay over C’Mon C’Mon, which goes from 3 estimated nods in my previous post to zero.
    • West Side Story makes the cut for Adapted Screenplay to the detriment of The Humans.
    • Flee drops from the #1 spot in Animated Feature with Encanto in. Yet it rises to first in Documentary Feature over The Rescue.

You can read all the developments below and I’ll be back at it next week!

Best Picture

Predicted Nominees:

1. Belfast (Previous Ranking: 1) (E)

2. The Power of the Dog (PR: 2) (E)

3. Licorice Pizza (PR: 3) (E)

4. West Side Story (PR: 8) (+4)

5. Dune (PR: 4) (-1)

6. King Richard (PR: 5) (-1)

7. Don’t Look Up (PR: 7) (E)

8. Nightmare Alley (PR: 6) (-2)

9. Being the Ricardos (PR: 9) (E)

10. The Tragedy of Macbeth (PR: 11) (+1)

Other Possibilities:

11. CODA (PR: 12) (+1)

12. C’Mon C’Mon (PR: 10) (-2)

13. Tick Tick… Boom! (PR: Not Ranked)

14. The Lost Daughter (PR: Not Ranked)

15. House of Gucci (PR: Not Ranked)

Dropped Out:

Spencer

Flee

Mass

Best Director

Predicted Nominees:

1. Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog (PR: 1) (E)

2. Kenneth Branagh, Belfast (PR: 2) (E)

3. Denis Villeneuve, Dune (PR: 3) (E)

4. Paul Thomas Anderson, Licorice Pizza (PR: 4) (E)

5. Steven Spielberg, West Side Story (PR: 7) (+2)

Other Possibilities:

6. Guillermo del Toro, Nightmare Alley (PR: 5) (-1)

7. Adam McKay, Don’t Look Up (PR: 6) (-1)

8. Joel Coen, The Tragedy of Macbeth (PR: 10) (+2)

9. Pablo Larrain, Spencer (PR: Not Ranked)

10. Asghar Farhadi, A Hero (PR: 9) (-1)

Dropped Out:

Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Flee

Best Actress

Predicted Nominees:

1. Kristen Stewart, Spencer (PR: 1) (E)

2. Nicole Kidman, Being the Ricardos (PR: 2) (E)

3. Olivia Colman, The Lost Daughter (PR: 3) (E)

4. Jessica Chastain, The Eyes of Tammy Faye (PR: 4) (E)

5. Jennifer Hudson, Respect (PR: 5) (E)

Other Possibilities:

6. Rachel Zegler, West Side Story (PR: 10) (+4)

7. Lady Gaga, House of Gucci (PR: 6) (-1)

8. Penelope Cruz, Parallel Mothers (PR: 7) (-1)

9. Alana Haim, Licorice Pizza (PR: 8) (-1)

10. Frances McDormand, The Tragedy of Macbeth (PR: 9) (-1)

Best Actor

Predicted Nominees:

1. Will Smith, King Richard (PR: 1) (E)

2. Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog (PR: 2) (E)

3. Andrew Garfield, Tick Tick… Boom! (PR: 4) (+1)

4. Denzel Washington, The Tragedy of Macbeth (PR: 3) (-1)

5. Peter Dinklage, Cyrano (PR: 6) (+1)

Other Possibilities:

6. Joaquin Phoenix, C’Mon C’Mon (PR: 5) (-1)

7. Leonardo DiCaprio, Don’t Look Up (PR: 7) (E)

8. Nicolas Cage, Pig (PR: 10) (+2)

9. Javier Bardem, Being the Ricardos (PR: 8) (-1)

10. Bradley Cooper, Nightmare Alley (PR: 9) (-1)

Best Supporting Actress

Predicted Nominees:

1. Caitriona Balfe, Belfast (PR: 1) (E)

2. Kirsten Dunst, The Power of the Dog (PR: 2) (E)

3. Aunjanue Ellis, King Richard (PR: 3) (E)

4. Ariana DeBose, West Side Story (PR: 5) (+1)

5. Rita Moreno, West Side Story (PR: Not Ranked)

Other Possibilities:

6. Ann Dowd, Mass (PR: 4) (-2)

7. Ruth Negga, Passing (PR: 6) (-1)

8. Judi Dench, Belfast (PR: 8) (E)

9. Marlee Matlin, CODA (PR: 10) (+1)

10. Meryl Streep, Don’t Look Up (PR: 9) (-1)

Dropped Out:

Nina Arianda, Being the Ricardos

Best Supporting Actor

Predicted Nominees:

1. Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Power of the Dog (PR: 1) (E)

2. Ciaran Hinds, Belfast (PR: 5) (+3)

3. Bradley Cooper, Licorice Pizza (PR: 3) (E)

4. Jamie Dornan, Belfast (PR: 6) (+2)

5. Richard Jenkins, The Humans (PR: 2) (-3)

Other Possibilities:

6. Jared Leto, House of Gucci (PR: 7) (+1)

7. Troy Kotsur, CODA (PR: 10) (+3)

8. Jason Isaacs, Mass (PR: 4) (-4)

9. Jon Bernthal, King Richard (PR: 9) (E)

10. J.K. Simmons, Being the Ricardos (PR: 8) (-2)

Best Original Screenplay

Predicted Nominees:

1. Licorice Pizza (PR: 1) (E)

2. Belfast (PR: 2) (E)

3. Being the Ricardos (PR: 3) (E)

4. Don’t Look Up (PR: 4) (E)

5. King Richard (PR: 6) (+1)

Other Possibilities: 

6. C’Mon C’Mon (PR: 5) (-1)

7. Mass (PR: 7) (E)

8. The Worst Person in the World (PR: 9) (+1)

9. A Hero (PR: 8) (-1)

10. Parallel Mothers (PR: Not Ranked)

Dropped Out:

Spencer

Best Adapted Screenplay

Predicted Nominees:

1. The Power of the Dog (PR: 1) (E)

2. The Lost Daughter (PR: 3) (+1)

3. Nightmare Alley (PR: 2) (-1)

4. West Side Story (PR: 7) (+3)

5. Dune (PR: 5) (E)

Other Possibilities:

6. CODA (PR: 8) (+2)

7. The Tragedy of Macbeth (PR: 6) (-1)

8. The Humans (PR: 4) (-4)

9. Passing (PR: 9) (E)

10. Tick Tick… Boom! (PR: Not Ranked)

Dropped Out:

The Last Duel 

Best Animated Feature

Predicted Nominees:

1. Encanto (PR: 2) (+1)

2. Flee (PR: 1) (-1)

3. The Mitchells vs. the Machines (PR: 3) (E)

4. Luca (PR: 4) (E)

5. Belle (PR: 5) (E)

Other Possibilities:

6. The Summit of the Gods (PR: 7) (+1)

7. Raya and the Last Dragon (PR: 6) (-1)

8. Ron’s Gone Wrong (PR: 8) (E)

9. Where Is Anne Frank (PR: 9) (E)

10. Vivo (PR: Not Ranked)

Dropped Out:

Charlotte

Best International Feature Film

Predicted Nominees:

1. A Hero (PR: 1) (E)

2. The Worst Person in the World (PR: 2) (E)

3. Drive My Car (PR: 4) (+1)

4. Flee (PR: 3) (-1)

5. The Hand of God (PR: 5) (E)

Other Possibilities:

6. Titane (PR: 6) (E)

7. I’m Your Man (PR: 7) (E)

8. Compartment No. 6 (PR: 8) (E)

9. Prayers for the Stolen (PR: 9) (E)

10. The Good Boss (PR: Not Ranked)

Dropped Out:

Memoria

Best Documentary Feature

Predicted Nominees:

1. Flee (PR: 2) (+1)

2. The Rescue (PR: 1) (-1)

3. Summer of Soul (PR: 3) (E)

4. Procession (PR: 6) (+2)

5. The Lost Leonardo (PR: 5) (E)

Other Possibilities:

6. Attica (PR: 4) (-2)

7. The First Wave (PR: 8) (+1)

8. President (PR: 7) (-1)

9. Ascension (PR: Not Ranked)

10. Becoming Cousteau (PR: 9) (-1)

Dropped Out:

Ailey

Best Cinematography

Predicted Nominees:

1. Dune (PR: 1) (E)

2. The Tragedy of Macbeth (PR: 3) (+1)

3. The Power of the Dog (PR: 2) (-1)

4. Belfast (PR: 4) (E)

5. Nightmare Alley (PR: 5) (E)

Other Possibilities:

6. West Side Story (PR: 7) (+1)

7. Spencer (PR: 10) (+3)

8. The French Dispatch (PR: 8) (E)

9. Licorice Pizza (PR: 9) (E)

10. Cyrano (PR: Not Ranked)

Dropped Out:

C’Mon C’Mon

Best Costume Design

Predicted Nominees:

1. Cruella (PR: 1) (E)

2. House of Gucci (PR: 4) (+2)

3. Spencer (PR: 2) (-1)

4. Dune (PR: 3) (-1)

5. West Side Story (PR: 6) (+1)

Other Possibilities:

6. Nightmare Alley (PR: 5) (-1)

7. Cyrano (PR: 8) (+1)

8. Licorice Pizza (PR: 9) (+1)

9. The French Dispatch (PR: 7) (-2)

10. Being the Ricardos (PR: Not Ranked)

Dropped Out:

The Eyes of Tammy Faye 

Best Film Editing

Predicted Nominees:

1. Dune (PR: 1) (E)

2. Belfast (PR: 2) (E)

3. West Side Story (PR: 4) (+1)

4. Don’t Look Up (PR: 3) (-1)

5. Licorice Pizza (PR: 5) (E)

Other Possibilities:

6. The Power of the Dog (PR: 7) (+1)

7. Nightmare Alley (PR: 8) (+1)

8. King Richard (PR: 6) (-2)

9. Tick, Tick… Boom! (PR: 10) (+1)

10. House of Gucci (PR: Not Ranked)

Dropped Out:

Being the Ricardos

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Predicted Nominees:

1. House of Gucci (PR: 1) (E)

2. Dune (PR: 2) (E)

3. The Eyes of Tammy Faye (PR: 4) (+1)

4. Spencer (PR: 4) (+1)

5. Cruella (PR: 3) (-2)

Other Possibilities:

6. Nightmare Alley (PR: 6) (E)

7. West Side Story (PR: Not Ranked)

8. The Suicide Squad (PR: 8) (E)

9. Being the Ricardos (PR: 7) (-2)

10. Licorice Pizza (PR: 9) (-1)

Dropped Out:

The Green Knight

Best Original Score

Predicted Nominees:

1. Dune (PR: 1) (E)

2. The Power of the Dog (PR: 2) (E)

3. Spencer (PR: 3) (E)

4. The Tragedy of Macbeth (PR: 6) (+2)

5. Nightmare Alley (PR: 4) (-1)

Other Possibilities:

6. The French Dispatch (PR: 7) (+1)

7. Don’t Look Up (PR: 5) (-2)

8. King Richard (PR: 9) (+1)

9. Cyrano (PR: 8) (-1)

10. Being the Ricardos (PR: 10) (E)

Best Original Song

Predicted Nominees:

1. “Be Alive” from King Richard (PR: 1) (E)

2. “No Time to Die” from No Time to Die (PR: 2) (E)

3. “Down to Joy” from Belfast (PR: 3) (E)

4. “Every Letter” from Cyrano (PR: 7) (+3)

5. “Just Look Up” from Don’t Look Up (PR: 5) (E)

Other Possibilities:

6. “Dos Oruguitas” from Encanto (PR: 4) (-2)

7. “So May We Start” from Annette (PR: 6) (-1)

8. “Here I Am” from Respect (PR: 8) (E)

9. “Believe” from The Rescue (PR: 9) (E)

10. “The Anonymous Ones” from Dear Evan Hansen (PR: Not Ranked)

Dropped Out:

“Guns Go Bang” from The Harder They Fall

Best Production Design

Predicted Nominees:

1. Dune (PR: 1) (E)

2. Nightmare Alley (PR: 2) (E)

3. West Side Story (PR: 3) (E)

4. The French Dispatch (PR: 4) (E)

5. The Tragedy of Macbeth (PR: 5) (E)

Other Possibilities:

6. Belfast (PR: 7) (+1)

7. Cyrano (PR: 8) (+1)

8. Spencer (PR: 6) (-2)

9. The Power of the Dog (PR: 9) (E)

10. House of Gucci (PR: 10) (E)

Best Sound

Predicted Nominees:

1. Dune (PR: 1) (E)

2. West Side Story (PR: 2) (E)

3. Belfast (PR: 3) (E)

4. Nightmare Alley (PR: 4) (E)

5. The Tragedy of Macbeth (PR: Not Ranked)

Other Possibilities:

6. No Time to Die (PR: 5) (-1)

7. Don’t Look Up (PR: 6) (-1)

8. The Last Duel (PR: Not Ranked)

9. A Quiet Place Part II (PR: 9) (E)

10. King Richard (PR: 8) (-2)

Dropped Out:

Tick Tick… Boom!

The Matrix Resurrections 

Best Visual Effects

Predicted Nominees:

1. Dune (PR: 1) (E)

2. The Matrix Resurrections (PR: 2) (E)

3. Eternals (PR: 4) (+1)

4. Don’t Look Up (PR: 3) (-1)

5. Godzilla vs. Kong (PR: 5) (E)

Other Possibilities:

6. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (PR: 6) (E)

7. Spider-Man: No Way Home (PR: 8) (+1)

8. Free Guy (PR: 7) (-1)

9. Nightmare Alley (PR: Not Ranked)

10. Finch (PR: 9) (-1)

Dropped Out:

The Suicide Squad

And that equates to these pictures generating these numbers of nominations:

11 Nominations

Dune

10 Nominations

Belfast

9 Nominations

West Side Story

8 Nominations

The Power of the Dog

6 Nominations

Nightmare Alley, The Tragedy of Macbeth

5 Nominations

Don’t Look Up, King Richard, Licorice Pizza

4 Nominations

Spencer

3 Nominations

Being the Ricardos, Flee

2 Nominations

Cruella, Cyrano, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, House of Gucci, The Lost Daughter

1 Nomination

Belle, Drive My Car, Encanto, Eternals, The French Dispatch, Godzilla vs. Kong, The Hand of God, A Hero, The Humans, The Lost Leonardo, Luca, The Matrix Resurrections, The Mitchells vs. the Machines, No Time to Die, Procession, The Rescue, Respect, Summer of Soul, Tick Tick… Boom!, The Worst Person in the World

The Lost Daughter Finds Gotham Love

The Gotham Awards, which honors independent pictures, held its annual ceremony tonight with category shifts, surprises, and ties. The NYC based event is not exactly seen as a reliable barometer of what will happen at the Oscars. However, it’s worth noting that since the Best Feature category was established in 2004, there’s only been three years (2007, 2008, 2018) in which none of the nominees made the Academy’s Best Picture cut. Four recent Gotham winners (Birdman, Spotlight, Moonlight, and last year’s Nomadland) ended up being the Oscar selection.

In 2021, none of the five nominees for the big race were listed in my latest Oscar estimates. In fact, none of the quintet were in my top 15 possibilities. That would be going against the grain for what Gotham typically produces and the big winner tonight is undoubtedly Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut The Lost Daughter (which hits theaters on December 17 and Netflix on New Years Eve). The psychological drama took the top prize over The Green Knight, Passing, Pig, and Test Pattern. I only foresee Daughter and Passing as having viable paths to a Best Pic nod and the former’s victory here gives it more exposure.

In addition to Best Feature, Daughter was honored for Breakthrough Director and Screenplay. I am confident an Adapted Screenplay nod from the Academy is coming its way.

As for those category shifts, the Gothams chose to eliminate gender distinction in the lead acting derbies. Yet, ironically, there was a tie bestowing the award for a male and female. That provided another statue for Daughter and its lead Olivia Colman (as her Best Actress chances are looking stronger each day). The male was a surprise with character actor Frankie Faison for The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain. You may know him best as orderly Barney in The Silence of the Lambs, but his lead role here got him attention over Joaquin Phoenix (C’Mon C’Mon). I wouldn’t count on Academy members taking notice.

This is the first year in which Gotham had a supporting race (also gender neutral) and it went to Troy Kotsur in CODA. This will feels a bit more significant as the scene stealer won over stellar competition like his costar Marlee Matlin and Ruth Negga in Passing. In an Oscar year where Supporting Actor is wide open, awards like this could propel Kotsur to make the final cut.

Elsewhere Flee took Documentary (it’s a likely shoo-in with the Academy) while Drive My Car helped its case in the foreign race over Titane and The Worst Person in the World. 

Bottom line: Daughter found a precursor in Gotham that should raise the profile as the Oscar folks are starting to pay attention.

Oscar Predictions: West Side Story

Sixty years ago, West Side Story emerged triumphant at the Oscars. The musical romance (adapted from the Broadway show by Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein and the recently departed Stephen Sondheim) won an astonishing 10 Academy Awards including Picture, Director, and both supporting races for George Chakiris and Rita Moreno.

On December 10th comes the long awaited remake from Steven Spielberg starring Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, and Ms. Moreno returning to the project that put the O in her EGOT. While the review embargo is still intact, screenings this evening have lifted the social media one. Early word indicates the new Story could be headed for numerous nods as well.

I’ve had this pegged in my ten Best Picture contenders for quite some time and the buzz gives me no pause to change that. Whether Spielberg makes the cut for his eighth directing nod (he’s won twice for Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan) is a bit more uncertain though it’s certainly possible. Like the 1961 original, its best shot at acting inclusion lies not with the leads. The studio isn’t even campaigning Elgort (this is likely due to some personal issues that surfaced last year). I wouldn’t completely count out Zegler (and she’s getting raves for her cinematic debut), but the Actress derby is packed with hopefuls. In Supporting Actor, David Alvarez could contend for the role that got Chakiris a statue. So might Mike Faist. The Supporting Actor competition appears wide open and if voters truly fall for the project as a whole, either could be swept in. DeBose in Supporting Actress is the most feasible performer that could make the final five in Supporting Actress (though that race has its share of legit contenders too). If so, she’d be up for the same part that nabbed Moreno her hardware. And it’s also possible that Moreno herself could make a play. Adapted Screenplay is also a question mark as screenplays for musicals sometimes face an uphill battle.

Down the line possibilities are plentiful: Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Production Design, and Sound. It could be up for any and all and it’s hard to imagine the last three not being close to shoo-in nominations. If all goes right – Story could match the 10 nominations from six decades ago. The most optimistic projection could put it at more. I’m most comfortable proclaiming Picture and at least three tech nods (and probably DeBose) get in. We’ll see if the chatter (and box office) in the coming days elevates this even more. My Oscar Prediction posts for the films of 2021 will continue…

Box Office Predictions: Weekend of December 3-5

While the COVID era has altered the release patterns of movies in significant ways, the first weekend of December is not that unique from what we’ve seen in pre pandemic times. It will be a quieter frame filled with the holiday leftovers and no newbies out in wide release. That could mean the top five will stay the same with one probable exception.

Disney has made a habit out of releasing their animated titles over the Thanksgiving frame and that resulted in Encanto topping the holiday charts. Looking at previous Mouse Factory premieres over the past several years, Coco dropped 46% in its second frame in 2017 while Moana fell 50% the year prior. I will basically split the difference with Encanto and that means a low teens gross.

That should be enough to keep it #1 over Ghostbusters: Afterlife, which may lose about half its audience in weekend #3. House of Gucci, after a solid start, might see a drop in the mid 40s and that should easily keep it in third. Eternals looks to hold the four spot.

The only change could be Clifford the Big Red Dog going back in the top five. While I have it experiencing a decline of over 50%, I suspect Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (after a disappointing debut) could plummet in the mid 60s and that would remove it from the high five.

Here’s how I see it going down:

1. Encanto

Predicted Gross: $14.1 million

2. Ghostbusters: Afterlife

Predicted Gross: $12 million

3. House of Gucci

Predicted Gross: $7.8 million

4. Eternals

Predicted Gross: $4 million

5. Clifford the Big Red Dog

Predicted Gross: $2.4 million

Box Office Results (November 26-28)

It wasn’t the bountiful harvest of Thanksgivings past, but audiences managed to turn up for two newcomers while mostly ignoring a third.

Encanto took in $27.2 million over the traditional Friday to Sunday portion of the weekend and $40.5 million since its Wednesday start. That didn’t reach my projections of $31.2 million and $46.5 million, respectively. The debut is only about half of what previous Disney animated features like the aforementioned Moana and Coco achieved. Yet it’s still the best animated opening in COVID times.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife held up well in second with $24.2 million, a bit shy of my $27 million prediction. The two-week total is $87 million as it looks to hit $100 million in the coming days.

Adult crowds finally turned up for something and they went gaga for House of Gucci. The Ridley Scott pic fashioned a third place showing with $14.2 million from Friday to Sunday and $22 million since Wednesday. That tops my estimates of $12.3 million and $19.8 million.

Eternals was fourth with $7.9 million. My guess? $7.9 million! The MCU adventure stands at $150 million.

The reboot Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City was badgered at the box office with just $5.3 million for the weekend and $8.8 million for the five-day. That falls well under my takes of $7.7 million and $11.7 million.

Holdovers outside the top five also couldn’t match my projections. Clifford the Big Red Dog was sixth at $5 million (I said $6.9 million). Total is $43 million. Will Smith’s Oscar hopeful King Richard is a bonafide disappointment theatrically. I thought it might have a meager decline in its sophomore outing, but it earned $3.2 million for seventh place. I said $4.8 million and the ten-day tally is a mere $11 million.

And that does it for now, folks! Until next time…

The Humans Review

You may not leave The Humans loving the time you spent with them, but there could certainly be glimpses of intimate recognition with the Blake’s. The sextet is gathered in the shabby and sparsely decorated Chinatown duplex of Brigid (Beanie Feldstein) and her boyfriend Richard (Steven Yeun). Visiting from Scranton for Thanksgiving are parents Erik (Richard Jenkins) and Deirdre (Jayne Houdyshell) along with the dementia addled matriarch Momo (June Squibb). The other daughter is Aimee (Amy Schumer), suffering from her own disease and a breakup that she’s not over.

Adapting his own Tony award winning play, Stephen Karam’s afternoon with this brood starts awkwardly like many Turkey Day gatherings. Erik complains about finances and sneaks off to corners of the apartment to check the score of the Detroit Lions game. That’s one sign something could be off as no one outside of the Motor City truly cares about that. Deirdre drops hints that Brigid and Richard should tie the knot while Dad insists their new abode needs a serious caulk. Aimee’s intestinal challenges keeps her frequently confined to the creaky second floor bathroom while surfing her ex-girlfriend’s social media. And, of course, too many alcoholic beverages are imbibed.

There’s a lot of chatter in The Humans about the significant life stuff occurring inside and outside the dingy walls. It’s also done with a pitch black humor that seems appropriate given a family’s familiarity with one another. There are sly digs about Deirdre’s weight and questionable email abilities, Brigid’s career mishaps, and Momo’s near catatonic state. Richard is the relative bystander trying to keep the meal timed. He seems more comfortable admitting past depression while the Blake’s stoic Midwestern background prevents that sort of forthrightness.

The seventh character is the apartment. The sounds and looks of New York City living are on full display. The walls that threaten to close in on themselves. A city with famous landscapes, but the couple residing in it are given a drab interior courtyard view. Kudos are due to the sound technicians and production designers.

As more secrets are divulged as the day wears on, they aren’t portrayed as the seismic events that a more histrionic pic would treat them. That’s a bit ironic considering the source material. This is an event that will likely happen next year and Erik will still pretend to care what the Lions are doing. No one is truly enjoying themselves in The Humans. Watching the misery is made tolerable by the company of actors playing them. Jenkins and his trading between concerned dad, boozy philosopher, and snarky houseguest is compelling. Schumer is playing against type with supreme unconfident tendencies. Squibb’s fleeting moment of clarity is both a triumphant and sad highlight. The let’s get through this hug that Feldstein and Yeun’s new couple share as the dour festivities kick off may produce a knowing smile.

That all said, I’m not sure The Humans would be nearly as worthwhile if not for Houdyshell. She is the lone holdover from Broadway and she’s magnificent and heartbreaking. The insults thrown Deirdre’s way are subtle much of the day. They are not so subtle when said by her family members when they think she’s out of earshot (something almost impossible in this setting). I wanted to hug her. That’s partly due to the slights she suffers, but I think I wanted to embrace the actress too for her terrific performance.

*** (out of four)