Oscar Watch: American Hustle

This fall’s American Hustle, directed by David O. Russell, may be the definition of a surefire Oscar contender.

The six well-known stars of the picture – Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Robert De Niro – have a combined seventeen Oscar nominations and four wins. Of the six, five of them received nominations in films directed by David O. Russell:

Bale won Supporting Actor for The Fighter

Adams was nominated for Supporting Actress for The Fighter

Cooper was nominated for Actor for Silver Linings Playbook

Lawrence won Actress for Silver Linings Playbook

De Niro was nominated for Supporting Actor for Silver Linings Playbook

By the way, Russell’s last two pics (The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook) were nominated for Best Picture. Russell himself got Best Director nominations for both titles. Beyond his American Hustle actors, it’s also worth noting that Russell directed Melissa Leo to a Supporting Actress win for The Fighter and Jacki Weaver to a Supporting Actress nomination for Silver Linings Playbook. That’s an incredible seven acting nominations in Russell’s last two pics.

Here is the plot outline from the studio:

The Untitled David O. Russell Project is based on the true story of a notorious financial con artist (Bale) and his mistress/partner in crime (Adams), who were forced to work with an out of control federal agent (Cooper) to turn the tables on other con artists, mobsters, and politicians. At the epicenter of the entire tale, is the passionate and volatile leader of the New Jersey state assembly (Renner) who is also the local hero and mayor of impoverished Camden.

And just today, the trailer for the film was released. Bottom line: it looks terrific.

If Russell stays on his winning streak and the top-notch cast delivers, you could see all of them in the mix for potential Oscar nominations. Clearly, its December release hints that the studio feels that way too. Furthermore, this appears to be the type of film that may not only compete for a Best Picture nomination, but be talked about as a likely Best Picture winner. Stay tuned!

July 30 in Movie History: Todd’s Birthday Edition

Well, there are couple of things significant about July 30th:

1) It’s my birthday!

2) Today will mark the 300th blog post since I started this little adventure last October.

Therefore, it felt appropriate to track July 30th in Movie History and reveal some pictures that were released on this historic (my birth) day, as well as those in the movie industry that are probably telling their friends and family that they share a b-day with yours truly.

My birthday seems to have something going on with Richard Gere as 1982’s hit romance An Officer and a Gentleman was released:

As was Runaway Bride in 1999, a.k.a. the other movie with Richard Gere and Julia Roberts:

In 2004, M. Night Shyamalan began his decade long slide with The Village, a pic that received lukewarm reviews (I actually kinda liked it):

Also on that date in 2004 came the well-received stoner comedy Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle:

As for comedies that weren’t well-received, there’s 1993’s Mel Brooks disappointment Robin Hood: Men in Tights 

As for contributors to the film industry that share their day of birth with me, how about Mr. Arnold Schwarzenegger?!?!?!

When it comes to directors, there’s Christopher Nolan! You know, the guy that reinvigorated the Batman franchise?

In the character actors category, it’s Jean Reno. You’ll recognize him from a lot of movies, but his starring role in 1994’s Leon: The Professional is one of his most noteworthy.

There’s Vivica A. Fox, who played Will Smith’s stripper significant other in Independence Day and had a memorable fight with Uma Thurman in Kill Bill: Volume 1:

And Tom Green, who headlined one of the most critically reviled comedies ever, Freddy Got Fingered:

So there’s some July 30th Movie History for you! However, I think we can all agree on the biggest event that happened on this date. You’re reading him. Oh, who am I fooling? It’s this guy:

And on that note, I want to truly thank you for reading my blog as it reaches 300 entries so far! I look forward to the next 300 and beyond.

Box Office Predictions: August 2-4

This weekend sees the release of two new pictures as the Denzel Washington/Mark Wahlberg action flick 2 Guns opens against The Smurfs 2. This could be a real battle for top spot and you can find my predictions for both movies below:



If both titles don’t measure up to my predictions, there’s a small chance last weekend’s champ The Wolverine could retain the top spot. The pic had the lowest opening of any of the six X-Men titles in the franchise so far. Earning $53 million, The Wolverine was in the same ballpark as 2011’s X-Men: First Class, which debuted with $55 million. That pic then dropped 56% in its sophomore frame and I look for the new Logan adventure to drop roughly the same.

Rounding out the top five, I look for audience and critical favorite The Conjuring to continue to hold nicely (especially for a horror flick) and Despicable Me 2 to continue its terrific run.

Since Smurfs 2 opens on Wednesday, I believe that will allow 2 Guns to nab the #1 spot for the weekend, even though Papa Smurf and friends should have a solid debut, based on my projections.

And with that, my predictions for the weekend’s top five:

1. 2 Guns

Predicted Gross: $28.9 million

2. The Smurfs 2

Predicted Gross: $25.7 million ($38.2 million projected five-day gross)

3. The Wolverine

Predicted Gross: $24 million (representing a drop of 54%)

4. The Conjuring

Predicted Gross: $12.4 million (representing a drop of 45%)

5. Despicable Me 2

Predicted Gross: $10.3 million (representing a drop of 38%)

That’s all for now, folks! Don’t forget to go to http://www.boxofficeace.com to play along with me and make your own predictions! I’ll have updates on the Facebook page throughout the weekend with final results Sunday.

2 Guns Box Office Prediction

Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg headline the action flick 2 Guns opening Friday. The pic will attempt to continue the trend of solid performing genre titles for Mr. Washington and also try to reverse a rather disappointing 2013 for Mr. Wahlberg so far.

As for Denzel, let’s take a look at the opening weekends for his last four action pics, shall we?

Safe House: $40.1 million

Unstoppable: $22.6 million

The Book of Eli: $32.7 million

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3: $23.3 million

You can see that 2 Guns is most likely to perform somewhere between $20-$40 million. The biggest opener, Safe House, debuted better than expectations last year and that’s certainly a possibility here. However, it also wouldn’t shock me to see 2 Guns open in the same range as Unstoppable and Pelham (low to mid 20s).

As for Wahlberg, he has followed up last summer’s smash comedy Ted with a pair of lackluster 2013 titles: Broken City and Pain and Gain. His teaming with Washington certainly marks the best opportunity for a hit this year.

Honestly, this is a tough one. Adult audiences might be primed for an action title with dependable stars that isn’t based on a comic book. I believe 2 Guns performing somewhere in the high 20s to low 30s is the most likely scenario.

2 Guns opening weekend prediction: $28.9 million

For my prediction on this week’s other newcomer, The Smurfs 2, click here:


The Smurfs 2 Box Office Prediction

The Smurfs make their return to the multiplex this Wednesday in Smurf 2: Smurf Harder, the eagerly awaited sequel to the 2011 hit. OK, it’s just called The Smurfs 2.

The original from two summers ago, based on the popular animated series, grossed $35.6 million in its opening three-day weekend and went on to earn an impressive $142 million domestically. This time around, Sony has decided to open the pic on a Wednesday, banking on a solid five-day gross. This strategy didn’t work out so great for the summer’s last kids flick, Turbo, which has posted fairly lackluster numbers.

The only question here is: did family audiences like the original enough for the sequel to receive robust business? The answer is probably yes. A five-day gross of over $40 million would not be surprising, but I’ll predict it goes just a bit below that. Still, The Smurfs 2 should earn enough dough for the inevitable sequel, Smurf Hard with a Vengeance.

The Smurfs 2 opening weekend prediction: $25.7 million (Friday to Sunday) and $38.2 million for the five-day opening

For my prediction on this week’s other newcomer, 2 Guns with Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, click here:


That film, by the way, features no Smurfs that I’m aware of.

Box Office Results: July 26-28

Logan (a.k.a. Wolverine) has run into a bit of trouble at the box office this weekend as The Wolverine, the sixth installment in the franchise, had a less than expected opening. The pic earned an estimated $55 million opening, quite a bit less than my $67.4M projection. This puts The Wolverine‘s opening right in the same range as 2011’s X-Men: First Class, which debuted to $55.1M in the summer of 2011. Frankly, it’s safe to assume 20th Century Fox expected more. We’ll see how it holds up next weekend, but this debut will be looked at as a disappointment.

Last weekend’s #1, The Conjuring, held up very well (especially for a horror flick). It dropped to second with $22.1 million. My projection? $22.1 million! Gold star for Todd!

Animated features populated the third and fourth slots. Despicable Me 2 was #3 with $16 million (I projected $14.6M) and Turbo was #4 with $13.3 million (I projected $13.8M). Grown Ups 2 rounded out the top five with $11.5 million, a bit higher than my $10.2M estimate.

The critically acclaimed indie drama Fruitvale Station expanded to over 1000 screens and posted a decent $4.6 million, lower than my generous $6.7M projection. Meanwhile, a couple of indie comedies expanded over the weekend as well. The Way, Way Back with Steve Carell grossed an OK $3.3 million, higher than my $2.7M projection. The To-Do List underwhelmed with $1.5 million, lower than my $2M projection.

And there’s your results! Be sure to check the blog later today for my projections for next weekend’s new entries: the Denzel Washington-Mark Wahlberg action pic 2 Guns and the sequel we’ve all been waiting for, The Smurfs 2!

Only God Forgives Review

In the fall of 2011 came a picture that I liked a lot when I saw it in the theater and have since grown to love. That would be Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, and Albert Brooks. The unconventional action thriller has a strangely wonderful hypnotic feel that I responded very positively to. Its occasional bursts of graphic violence and its absolutely terrific musical score accentuated an entirely unique film watching experience. It’s among my favorite pictures of the 21st century.

Needless to say, when I heard about director Refn and star Gosling reuniting for Only God Forgives, the pic immediately became one of my most anticipated titles of 2013. The film has had a rather bizarre journey to audiences since then. Currently it’s playing in the arthouse circuit on a limited number of movie screens. However, the decision was also made to simultaneously release it on Video On Demand and services like Vudu. I watched it through Vudu in the company of my own home. Just a month or so ago, I would have definitely told you I’d see it theatrically. The fact that Only God Forgives is not getting much of a wide release at the multiplex indicates a lot of skepticism from the studio. While Drive posted decent box office numbers, audiences didn’t respond well to it. It’s easy to understand why. Drive is not a mainstream picture (though its got quite a cult following).

And Only God Forgives is even less mainstream. Furthermore, it’s receiving mostly negative reviews and was booed a couple of months ago at the Cannes Film Festival (reports also suggest some attendees awarded it a standing ovation).

Shot on location and taking place in Bangkok, the pic actually has a pretty straightforward plot. Gosling plays Julian, a drug dealer who also runs a boxing club with his brother Billy. When Billy brutally murders an underage prostitute, a badass police lieutenant (Vithaya Pansringarm) allows the murdered victim’s father to exact revenge on Billy. When Julian is presented with this information, he chooses not to retaliate because of his late brother’s despicable actions. That is, at least, until Julian and Billy’s crime lord mother Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) rolls into Bangkok determined to hold all those responsible for her first-born son’s demise accountable. Along the way, we find out some rather disturbing details about the family dynamic between Julian, Billy, and their violent mother. To say Julian has Mommy (and Daddy) issues would be quite an understatement.

For those who have seen Drive, though, you know that plot is really secondary compared to Refn’s use of visual images, bursts of violence and placement of musical score. That holds true for Only God Forgives as well. First, the score by Cliff Martinez is absolutely stunning (he also scored Drive). The cinematography by Larry Smith is dreamlike and effective (he worked with Kubrick on Barry Lyndon, The Shining, and Eyes Wide Shut in various capacities). Like Drive, the violence comes often unexpectedly and is quite graphic (be warned).

What’s the main difference between Drive and Only God Forgives? To me, Drive felt like it had a soul due to the relationship between Gosling and Mulligan’s characters. Forgives does not. Julian’s character does have an underwritten connection with a prostitute Mai (Rhatha Phongam), but it goes nowhere other than a rather memorable scene where the couple go to dinner with Mama Crystal.

Only God Forgives basically just feels like an exercise in style with little to no substance. Gosling barely speaks in the picture (it makes his Drive character seem like a blabbermouth) and while his performance is serviceable, he doesn’t have much to do work with. Scott Thomas has by far the most colorful character and she mostly succeeds in not going too far over the top.

From a technical point of view, there is much to be admired about the film and I still will anticipate future Refn projects to a high degree. That said, Only God Forgives is a bit of a disappointment. If you didn’t respond well to Drive, don’t even bother with this. For those who did, you may feel let down like I did but still consider it a worthwhile experience watching a talented director display his individual and often exciting style.

**1/2 (out of four)