La La Land Movie Review

Damien Chazelle has figured out innovative ways to marry music with film in a way that no other director has dared try in the 21st century and it permeates every frame of his sophomore feature La La Land. Let’s go back for a moment to the final scene of his masterful debut Whiplash. It culminated in a virtuoso drum performance from Miles Teller showing his skills from his dictatorial instructor J.K. Simmons that left a collective smile on the audience’s faces. That frown upside down feeling is immediately resurrected in the opening sequence here, as dozens of citizens stuck in L.A. traffic burst into a gleeful song and dance number. The message is loud and clear: writer/director Chazelle has been given the freedom to make a full-on old Hollywood style musical and he doesn’t shy away from the leeway.

Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress who works on the Warner Bros lot as a barista as she hustles from one despairing audition to the next. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a jazz pianist who’s playing restaurants and pining to open his own club as he laments the  demise of the genre he adores. The two meet briefly and not romantically on that aforementioned Southern California freeway and keep bumping into each other. It takes them awhile to recognize that they adore one another. In Chazelle’s world, that elevation of their courtship involves some amazingly choreographed numbers. A particular highlight is one that occurs at the famed Griffith Observatory.

La La Land tracks the couple as their professional lives rise and fall. Mia is determined to get her one woman play off the ground. Sebastian joins a jazz fusion band led by John Legend and even though he’s not wild with their sound, it’s a steady paycheck. The picture coasts for a good portion of its running time on its harmonious relationship of the leads.

Yet real life eventually causes the needle to skip on their joyous record of happiness. It is then that those issues Mia and Sebastian experience allow the two actors playing them to stretch their dramatic chords. This is the third time Gosling and Stone have been together on screen (the others being Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad) and their chemistry is already well established and rock solid. There’s a final audition scene involving Stone in which she left the crowd silent with her voice.

When we reach the third act, the decades old Hollywood rules in this genre of happily ever after don’t necessarily apply. Chazelle fashions a what if segment that is both inspiring and a bit heartbreaking, all while keeping us in tune with the boldness of taking something old and making it new. And you’ll be smiling again when the fade out occurs.

***1/2 (out of four)

Todd’s Weekly Oscar Predictions: December 29th Edition

We have reached my final Oscar predictions post of 2016! There will be likely be four more posts: 3 Thursday editions (January 5, 12, 19) and a final one on Monday, January 23rd before the nominations are revealed on Tuesday, January 24th.

Per usual, I’m listing 20 Best Picture possibilities and ten in all the other categories.

Let’s get to it, shall we?

Best Picture

Predicted Nominees

1. La La Land (PR: 1)

2. Manchester by the Sea (PR: 3)

3. Moonlight (PR: 2)

4. Fences (PR: 6)

5. Lion (PR: 4)

6. Silence (PR: 5)

7. Arrival (PR: 7)

8. Hidden Figures (PR: 9)

9. Hacksaw Ridge (PR: 8)

Other Possibilities

10. Hell or High Water (PR: 10)

11. Loving (PR: 11)

12. Nocturnal Animals (PR: 14)

13. Sully (PR: 12)

14. Jackie (PR: 13)

15. 20th Century Women (PR: 15)

16. Florence Foster Jenkins (PR: 17)

17. Patriots Day (PR: 16)

18. The Jungle Book (PR: 18)

19. Captain Fantastic (PR: 19)

20. Zootopia (PR: Not Ranked)

Dropped Out:


Best Director

Predicted Nominees

1. Damien Chazelle, La La Land (PR: 1)

2. Barry Jenkins, Moonlight (PR: 2)

3. Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea (PR: 3)

4. Martin Scorsese, Silence (PR: 4)

5. Garth Davis, Lion (PR: 6)

Other Possibilities

6. Denis Villeneueve, Arrival (PR: 5)

7. Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge (PR: 7)

8. Denzel Washington, Fences (PR: 8)

9. David Mackenzie, Hell or High Water (PR: 9)

10. Tom Ford, Nocturnal Animals (PR: 10)

Best Actor

Predicted Nominees

1. Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea (PR: 1)

2. Denzel Washington, Fences (PR: 2)

3. Ryan Gosling, La La Land (PR: 3)

4. Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge (PR: 4)

5. Joel Edgerton, Loving (PR: 7)

Other Possibilities

6. Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic (PR: 6)

7. Tom Hanks, Sully (PR: 5)

8. Michael Keaton, The Founder (PR: 8)

9. Andrew Garfield, Silence (PR: 10)

10. Adam Driver, Paterson (PR: 9)

Best Actress

Predicted Nominees

1. Emma Stone, La La Land (PR: 1)

2. Natalie Portman, Jackie (PR: 2)

3. Amy Adams, Arrival (PR: 3)

4. Annette Bening, 20th Century Women (PR: 4)

5. Meryl Streep. Florence Foster Jenkins (PR: 6)

Other Possibilities

6. Isabelle Huppert, Elle (PR: 7)

7. Ruth Negga, Loving (PR: 5)

8. Jessica Chastain, Miss Sloane (PR: 8)

9. Emily Blunt, The Girl on the Train (PR: Not Ranked)

10. Taraji P. Henson, Hidden Figures (PR: 9)

Dropped Out:

Hailee Steinfeld, The Edge of Seventeen

Best Supporting Actor

Predicted Nominees

1. Mahershala Ali, Moonlight (PR: 1)

2. Dev Patel, Lion (PR: 2)

3. Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water (PR: 4)

4. Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea (PR: 3)

5. Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals (PR: 5)

Other Possibilities

6. Hugh Grant, Florence Foster Jenkins (PR: 7)

7. Ben Foster, Hell or High Water (PR: 6)

8. Issey Ogata, Silence (PR: 8)

9. Mykelti Williamson, Fences (PR: 9)

10. Kevin Costner, Hidden Figures (PR: 10)

Best Supporting Actress

Predicted Nominees

1. Viola Davis, Fences (PR: 1)

2. Naomie Harris, Moonlight (PR: 2)

3. Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea (PR: 3)

4. Nicole Kidman, Lion (PR: 4)

5. Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures (PR: 5)

Other Possibilities

6. Greta Gerwig, 20th Century Women (PR: 7)

7. Helen Mirren, Eye in the Sky (PR: 8)

8. Janelle Monae, Hidden Figures (PR: 6)

9. Felicity Jones, A Monster Calls (PR: 10)

10. Molly Shannon, Other People (PR: 9)

Best Adapted Screenplay

Predicted Nominees

1. Moonlight (PR: 1)

2. Lion (PR: 3)

3. Fences (PR: 2)

4. Arrival (PR: 4)

5. Silence (PR: 5)

Other Possibilities

6. Nocturnal Animals (PR: 7)

7. Hacksaw Ridge (PR: 6)

8. Loving (PR: 9)

9. Hidden Figures (PR: 8)

10. Sully (PR: 10)

Best Original Screenplay

Predicted Nominees

1. Manchester by the Sea (PR: 1)

2. La La Land (PR: 2)

3. Hell or High Water (PR: 3)

4. Captain Fantastic (PR: 4)

5. 20th Century Women (PR: 5)

Other Possibilities

6. The Lobster (PR: 6)

7. Jackie (PR: 7)

8. Toni Erdmann (PR: Not Ranked)

9. Zootopia (PR: 8)

10. I, Daniel Blake (PR: Not Ranked)

Dropped Out:

Eye in the Sky

Florence Foster Jenkins

Best Animated Feature

Predicted Nominees

1. Zootopia (PR: 1)

2. Kubo and the Two Strings (PR: 2)

3. Moana (PR: 3)

4. The Red Turtle (PR: 4)

5. My Life as a Zucchini (PR: 6)

Other Possibilties

6. Finding Dory (PR: 5)

7. The Little Prince (PR: 7)

8. April and the Extraordinary World (PR: 8)

9. Your Name (PR: 10)

10. Sausage Party (PR: 9)

Best Documentary Feature

Predicted Nominees

1. I Am Not Your Negro (PR: 1)

2. O.J.: Made in America (PR: 3)

3. 13th (PR: 2)

4. Gleason (PR: 5)

5. Life, Animated (PR: 6)

Other Possibilities

6. Cameraperson (PR: 4)

7. Fire at Sea (PR: 7)

8. The Eagle Huntress (PR: 8)

9. The Ivory Game (PR: 10)

10. Weiner (PR: 9)

Best Foreign Language Film

Predicted Nominees

1. Toni Erdmann (PR: 1)

2. The Salesman (PR: 2)

3. Land of Mine (PR: 3)

4. A Man Called Ove (PR: 5)

5. The King’s Choice (PR: 6)

Other Possibilities

6. My Life as a Zucchini (PR: 4)

7. Paradise (PR: 8)

8. Tanna (PR: 7)

9. It’s Only the End of the World (PR: 9)

Best Cinematography

Predicted Nominees

1. La La Land (PR: 1)

2. Moonlight (PR: 2)

3. Silence (PR: 3)

4. Arrival (PR: 4)

5. Nocturnal Animals (PR: 7)

Other Possibilities

6. Lion (PR: 5)

7. Hacksaw Ridge (PR: 6)

8. Jackie (PR: 8)

9. The Jungle Book (PR: Not Ranked)

10. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (PR: 10)

Dropped Out:

Hell or High Water

Best Costume Design

Predicted Nominees

1. Jackie (PR: 1)

2. La La Land (PR: 2)

3. Allied (PR: 4)

4. Love & Friendship (PR: 3)

5. Florence Foster Jenkins (PR: 5)

Other Possibilities

6. Silence (PR: 8)

7. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (PR: 7)

8. Rules Don’t Apply (PR: 9)

9. Live by Night (PR: 6)

10. Alice Through the Looking Glass (PR: Not Ranked)

Best Film Editing

Predicted Nominees

1. La La Land (PR: 1)

2. Moonlight (PR: 2)

3. Arrival (PR: 3)

4. Hacksaw Ridge (PR: 4)

5. Silence (PR: 6)

Other Possibilities

6. Manchester by the Sea (PR: 10)

7. Lion (PR: 5)

8. Hell or High Water (PR: 8)

9. Sully (PR: 7)

10. Jackie (PR: 9)

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Predicted Nominees

1. Florence Foster Jenkins (PR: 1)

2. Star Trek Beyond (PR: 2)

3. Deadpool (PR: 4)

Other Possibilities

4. Suicide Squad (PR: 3)

5. A Man Called Ove (PR: 7)

6. The Dressmaker (PR: 5)

7. Hail, Caesar! (PR: 6)

Best Original Score

Predicted Nominees

1. La La Land (PR: 1)

2. Lion (PR: 4)

3. Moonlight (PR: 2)

4. Florence Foster Jenkins (PR: 3)

5. Jackie (PR: 6)

Other Possibilities

6. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (PR: 5)

7. Hidden Figures (PR: Not Ranked)

8. Hacksaw Ridge (PR: 7)

9. The BFG (PR: 9)

10. The Jungle Book (PR: 10)

Dropped Out:


Best Original Song

Predicted Nominees

1. “City of Stars” from La La Land (PR: 1)

2. “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana (PR: 2)

3. “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” from La La Land (PR: 4)

4. “Drive It Like You Stole It” from Sing Street (PR: 8)

5. “Runnin” from Hidden Figures (PR: 5)

Other Possibilities

6. “Letters to the Free” from 13th (PR: 3)

7. “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” from Trolls (PR: 7)

8. “The Rules Don’t Apply” from Rules Don’t Apply (PR: 6)

9. “The Great Beyond” from Sausage Party (PR: 10)

10. “I’m Still Here” from Miss Sharon Jones

Best Production Design

Predicted Nominees

1. La La Land (PR: 1)

2. Jackie (PR: 2)

3. Arrival (PR: 3)

4. Silence (PR: 4)

5. Rules Don’t Apply (PR: 9)

Other Possibilities

6. Allied (PR: Not Ranked)

7. Hacksaw Ridge (PR: 5)

8. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (PR: 7)

9. Live by Night (PR: 6)

10. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (PR: 10)

Dropped Out:

The Jungle Book

Best Sound Editing

Predicted Nominees

1. Hacksaw Ridge (PR: 1)

2. La La Land (PR: 3)

3. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (PR: 2)

4. Sully (PR: 4)

5. Deepwater Horizon (PR: 6)

Other Possibilities

6. Arrival (PR: 7)

7. Patriots Day (PR: 8)

8. Allied (PR: Not Ranked)

9. The Jungle Book (PR: 5)

10. Captain America: Civil War (PR: Not Ranked)

Dropped Out:


Doctor Strange

Best Sound Mixing

Predicted Nominees

1. La La Land (PR: 1)

2. Hacksaw Ridge (PR: 2)

3. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (PR: 3)

4. Arrival (PR: 5)

5. Deepwater Horizon (PR: 4)

Other Possibilities

6. Sully (PR: 7)

7. Allied (PR: 8)

8. Patriots Day (PR: 9)

9. The Jungle Book (PR: 6)

10. Deadpool (PR: 10)

Best Visual Effects

Predicted Nominees

1. The Jungle Book (PR: 1)

2. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (PR: 2)

3. Arrival (PR: 3)

4. Doctor Strange (PR: 4)

5. The BFG (PR: 6)

Other Possibilities

6. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (PR: 5)

7. Captain America: Civil War (PR: 8)

8. Kubo and the Two Strings (PR: 7)

9. Passengers (PR: 10)

10. Deepwater Horizon (PR: 9)

That leaves us with the following nomination breakdown:

14 Nominations

La La Land

8 Nominations

Moonlight, Arrival

6 Nominations

Manchester by the Sea, Lion, Silence

5 Nominations

Hacksaw Ridge

4 Nominations

Fences, Jackie, Florence Foster Jenkins

3 Nominations

Hidden Figures, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

2 Nominations

20th Century Women, Hell or High Water, Nocturnal Animals, Moana, Deepwater Horizon

1 Nomination

Loving, Captain Fantastic, Zootopia, Kubo and the Two Strings, The Red Turtle, My Life as a Zucchini, I Am Not Your Negro, O.J.: Made in America, 13th, Gleason, Life, Animated, Toni Erdmann, The Salesman, Land of Mine, A Man Called Ove, The King’s Choice, Allied, Love & Friendship, Star Trek Beyond, Deadpool, Sing Street, Rules Don’t Apply, Sully, The Jungle Book, Doctor Strange, The BFG.

That’ll do it for now. See ya with the predictions next year!


A Monster Calls Box Office Prediction

When J.A. Bayona’s A Monster Calls debuted in September at the Toronto Film Festival, it did so to solid buzz and even some awards chatter. Much of that talk seems to have dissipated from nearly four months ago and the pic may struggle to find an audience when it opens wide next weekend.

Based on an acclaimed 2011 novel by Patrick Ness, Calls mixes science fiction elements with tearjerker family drama in this tale of a monstrous creature helping a young boy deal with his grief. Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Lewis MacDougall, and Liam Neeson (voicing the title character) star.

As mentioned, most reviews have been encouraging (it’s at 89% on Rotten Tomatoes). Yet I wonder what segment of the movie going public will turn out for this. The film was originally scheduled for an October stateside debut before being pushed back. Sci-fi genre fans have had plenty to feast on lately and Underworld: Blood Wars opens against it. A female crowd that might get drawn in by the family drama angle could be put off with the mystical elements. The early January release date doesn’t inspire much hope that Focus Features has tremendous confidence in it.

Festival word-of-mouth aside, I’ll predict A Monster Calls struggles to reach  a mid single digits reception. At least director Bayona can take comfort that his next feature, 2018’s Jurassic World sequel, will likely gross at least 50 times what this might in its opening weekend.

A Monster Calls opening weekend prediction: $3.4 million

For my Underworld: Blood Wars prediction, click here:

For my Hidden Figures prediction, click here:

Hidden Figures Box Office Prediction

An Oscar hopeful expands to wide release next Friday when Hidden Figures rolls out across the country. The true tale of three women (Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae) who were instrumental in the NASA space program in the 1960s has garnered critical praise (92% on Rotten Tomatoes) and is said to be quite the crowd pleaser. Theodore Melfi directs with Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, and Mahershala Ali in the supporting cast.

Over the Christmas weekend, Figures figured an impressive $838,000 gross on just 25 screens. That’s a strong $33K per screen average. The pic stands a decent shot at a Best Picture nomination come Oscar announcement time and Octavia Spencer could also receive a Supporting Actress nod.

As I see it, the chances for this to over perform are mathematically greater than the alternative. 20th Century Fox is hoping to attract a sizable female and African American audience and they’ll likely be successful. I believe Figures could even outdo Underworld: Blood Wars, which opens the same day. I’ve got that one pegged at $17.6M. I’ll put this one over it for what would be a #2 debut.

Hidden Figures opening weekend prediction: $19.3 million

For my Underworld: Blood Wars prediction, click here:

For my A Monster Calls prediction, click here:


Nocturnal Animals Movie Review

Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals is centered on a woman living in a fancy world surrounded by her own boredom and regret at certain life choices. The film is an often fascinating mash-up of Hitchcock, a little De Palma inspired Hitchcock, and most surprisingly, a West Texas crime tale that looks and feels like this year’s earlier Hell or High Water. We also have a more conventional tale of a romance gone astray and the emotions involved with that. It’s a concoction that sometimes is a little messy, a tad campy at moments, veers in tone shifts, and is also directed a fashion designer who seems to know exactly what he wishes to fashion.

L.A. art gallery owner Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) is living a wealthy life in an unhappy marriage and a career she’s grown to believe is purposeless. One day, she receives a manuscript. It’s from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) that she was only married to for a couple years around college. The novel grabs her. It’s the aforementioned High Water looking story of a remarried Edward on a West Texas road trip with his wife and daughter when they are terrorized by bad guys led by a disheveled and effectively menacing Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Their encounter takes a dark and tragic turn and soon Edward is teaming up with a ranger (Michael Shannon, in a terrific performance) to deal with its aftermath.

The story cuts back and forth between the actions of Susan’s ex-flame’s West Texas narrative (is it real or not?) and her unhappy life on the West Coast. We also witness the courtship of them in college. This juxtaposition creates an often dream like quality (a little David Lynch thrown in for good measure) and it’s rather intoxicating. We basically get to know everything we need to know about Susan’s character in a great short scene with Laura Linney as her debutante mom. Other key characters and their motivations don’t become clear until later.

Nocturnal Animals looks gorgeous as you might expect from a designer that Jay-Z made a song about. The cinematography is stunning and the musical score is often reminiscent of something we’d hear in an old Hitch pic or perhaps De Palma homage. There are moments that recall Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon in plot had that movie actually succeeded. Tom Ford wears his influences proudly and unabashedly in his sophomore effort. It’s anything but boring.

***1/2 (out of four)

Underworld: Blood Wars Box Office Prediction

It’s the fifth film in a franchise that began over 13 years ago and Underworld: Blood Wars also has the distinction of being the first new wide release of 2017. Kate Beckinsale returns in the role of Selene in this latest chapter of these vampire diaries with Theo James, Tobias Menzies, and Charles Dance among the supporting cast.

Reviews haven’t been strong and it currently stands at just 11% on Rotten Tomatoes. Not that it really matters. The 2003 original posted a franchise best 31% on the aggregator site and yet every entry in the series has debuted to over $20 million. Let’s take a trip down Underworld premiere lane, shall we?

Underworld (2003) – $21.7 million

Underworld: Evolution (2006) – $26.8 million

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009) – $20.8 million

Underworld Awakening (2012) – $25.3 million

Note that all the previous flicks opened within three years of one another and that there’s been a five-year gap for Blood Wars. That delay may not bode well for it continuing the plus $20M streak alive. While the franchise clearly has a following, I’ll predict the lay-off gives Underworld #5 a mid to high teens debut for a series low.

Underworld: Blood Wars opening weekend prediction: $17.6 million

For my Hidden Figures prediction, click here:

For my A Monster Calls prediction, click here:

2016: The Year of Casey Affleck

Nearly a decade ago, Casey Affleck received a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. It was that same year in 2007 that he starred in his brother Ben’s well-received directorial debut Gone Baby Gone and appeared for the third time in Oceans Thirteen as part of that blockbuster trilogy.

Since then, Affleck’s career has been a mix of smaller flicks like Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and Out of the Furnace with supporting roles in studio fare like Tower Heist and Interstellar. He also made a strange excursion into directing with the Joaquin Phoenix “documentary” I’m Still Here.

His 2016 started rather unremarkably with two pics that came and went – The Finest Hours and Triple 9. Yet it was that same time early in the year that word came out from Sundance about Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan’s drama about grief and family. And the word was quite impressive.

At the close of 2016, Manchester stands as a serious awards contender with its star assured a nomination for Best Actor. It is likely it will come down to Affleck and Denzel Washington (Fences) for the win. The former has already picked up a number of critics prizes for his most acclaimed role thus far. He closed out the year by hosting the “Saturday Night Live” Christmas show, including a very amusing bit involving Dunkin Donuts.

The Sundance Film Festival next month will showcase Affleck’s next project – A Ghost Story alongside Rooney Mara. Who knows what that will bring, but it certainly kickstarted a supremely lauded year for Affleck this year.