Shoulda Been Oscar Contenders: Denzel Washington in Philadelphia

My latest Shoulda Been Oscar Contenders post completes a trio of supporting actors that warranted attention in 1993. That was an already impressive year in that category with Tommy Lee Jones winning for The Fugitive. The other nominees: Leonardo DiCaprio (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape), Ralph Fiennes (Schindler’s List), John Malkovich (In the Line of Fire), and Pete Postlethwaite (In the Name of the Father). The other performers mentioned in previous write-ups were Val Kilmer for Tombstone and Sean Penn in Carlito’s Way. 

My final contestant is Denzel Washington in Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia. The AIDS drama, of course, gave Tom Hanks his first Best Actor win of two in a row (taking the prize the next year for Forrest Gump). There was little doubt at that time that Hanks would walk away with the gold and his acceptance speech remains an Oscar highlight.

That makes it even more confounding that his costar didn’t get more chatter. Washington was already a victor in supporting four years earlier for Glory. In 1992, he nabbed a Best Actor nod for Malcolm X. He would take Best Actor eight years later for Training Day and has been nominated three times since. However, the legendary actor’s role as Hanks’s reluctant attorney was critical to the success of the film and in many ways equaled the performance of the lead.

Keep an eye out for future posts of hopefuls that didn’t make the cut on the blog soon!

News of the World Review

In the filmography of Tom Hanks that intersects with Paul Greengrass, he was the Captain then and he is the Captain now in their collaborations. The first was 2013’s Captain Phillips and I still harbor a grudge that the multiple Oscar winner and nominee didn’t pick up another nod for it. His final scene in Phillips as he’s in shock over the real life events in which he barely survived was reason enough for further awards consideration. That movie left me floored. News of the World left me satisfied as Hanks once again gives a commanding performance with a newcomer costar who is his equal.

This time around, Hanks is Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd. Set in 1870 amidst gorgeous Western scenery, Kidd is a former Confederate soldier traveling the American South. He earns his living schlepping from town to town and reading the latest newspaper stories to an attentive crowd. The happenings of Washington D.C. (led by President Ulysses S. Grant who Southerners aren’t exactly fond of) are hundreds of miles away. Yet 150 years now, they might as well be on Mars. The film doesn’t dwell on these struggling towns digging their way out of the Civil War, but that history is always present underneath the surface.

Kidd’s solo journey is interrupted when he happens upon a young girl Johanna (Helena Zengel). Her blonde hair and blue eyes indicates her German heritage, but her Native American garb tells a different background. She speaks the language of a tribe and it is revealed that her original family and those who raised her after their demise have perished as well. A double orphan, Kidd reluctantly accepts the responsibility of returning Johanna to her surviving family that she’s never met. Kidd’s own familial history is gradually revealed.

Thus begins an episodic quest where the language barrier between the two leads isn’t the only complication. There are also ex-soldiers who try to purchase Johanna and that leads to Kidd entering into battle a half decade after the war’s end. There are rough stops on the speaking tour that put the wild in the west. And, being that it’s Tom Hanks leading the horse drawn wagon, there’s a fundamental decency in his interactions with his copilot and a paternal instinct that kicks in.

News of the World is, quite simply, a rock solid picture. We know Hanks will turn in exemplary work and he does. The performance of Zengel is the surprise and is one of the best child performances in recent memory. She says more with an expression than plenty of actors do in a monologue. It has become cliche to call Hanks the Jimmy Stewart of his time, but it’s so true. There are times when I could imagine Stewart playing this part in something from the 1950s or 60s. That old fashioned vibe is a contrast to Greengrass’s earlier catalogue that includes the Bourne franchise, United 93, and Captain Phillips. Those pictures had a fierce urgency to them. World is more laid back, but with frequent reminders of the violent atmosphere permeating the post War era.

Hanks could read the phonebook and it would draw interest. Telephones didn’t come around until 1876 so his tales off the printed page do just fine. He also has a worthy partner in Zengel and top notch work from his director and crew.

***1/2 (out of four)

Here Today Box Office Prediction

It’s been quite some time since Billy Crystal starred in a major theatrical release and that changes on May 7th with Here Today. The comedy finds him as a veteran writer who forms a friendship with a singer played by Tiffany Haddish. Costars include Penn Badgley, Laura Benanti, and Anna Deavere Smith. Crystal also serves as cowriter and director (this is his first big screen effort behind the camera duty since 1995’s Forget Paris). And it has been nearly a decade since he headlined a multiplex offering (2012’s Parental Guidance).

Stage 6 Films decided to go against a streaming premiere and Here Today will roll out on a rather small screen count of approximately 1000. That certainly limits its box office potential, but that’s not all. Older audiences who are fond of Crystal’s work will need to turn out with the hope that some of Haddish’s fanbase will as well.

The marketing campaign has been rather low-key and even moviegoers with an interest may simply wait until it is available for home viewing. With the minor number of screens, I’ll say this struggles to reach out $2 million.

Here Today opening weekend prediction: $1.5 million

For my Wrath of Man prediction, click here:

Wrath of Man Box Office Prediction

Wrath of Man Box Office Prediction

Jason Statham stomps back into multiplexes on May 7th with Wrath of Man. The revenge action thriller marks his fourth collaboration with Guy Ritchie who directed him in Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, and Revolver. Costars include Holt McCallany, Jeffrey Donovan, Josh Hartnett, and Scott Eastwood.

The MGM release finds Statham trying to carry a picture to solid grosses. In recent years, he’s mostly been seen in the role of Shaw in the Fast and Furious franchise and its spin-off. If you go back to 2013’s Homefront that primarily relied on his star power, it resulted in an opening weekend just south of $7 million. Wrath could manage to exceed that.

Wrath could post grosses in the range of recent Liam Neeson genre fare like Honest Thief and The Marksman, which both started with earnings in the $4 million range. I’ll give it a fairly significant bump from that since venues are in a better spot than when those flicks premiered.

Wrath of Man opening weekend prediction: $8.3 million

For my Here Today prediction, click here:

Here Today Box Office Prediction

April 30-May 2 Box Office Predictions

It’s been a long time coming since my weekly top 5 box office predictions (the middle of March in 2020 to be precise), but I am happily returning to the format today! As proven by the larger expected debuts of Mortal Kombat and Demon Slayer over the previous weekend (as well as the huge returns for Godzilla vs. Kong), it is time to get back in the game!

There is only one new wide release this Friday and it’s the fright flick Separation. To view my detailed prediction post for it, click here:

Separation Box Office Prediction

Horror movies always have the opportunity to outdo expectations, but I’m not anticipating much here. My $2.3 million estimate puts it in a battle with Godzilla vs. Kong for the #3 spot and I’ll give the iconic monsters an edge.

The story of last weekend was seeing two pics (Kombat and Demon) gross over $20 million in their starts. You have to go all the way back to January 2020 for the last time we saw two newbies debut north of that. Kombat made off with $23.3 million (ahead of my $17.5 million forecast) while Demon took in $21.1 million (considerably more than my $10.7 million projection).

I do foresee both of them having precipitous drops in their sophomore frames. Godzilla vs. Kong, for instance, fell a steep 57% in its second outing and I believe the dip for Kombat could be over 60%. As for the anime hit Demon, that’s a genre in which stateside audiences may have rushed to view it. A drop around 70% would not be a surprise. That means no movie may top $10 million as we close April out.

That said, signs of a box office reemergence are all around and it is with pleasure (for the first time in over one year) that I give you my top 5 estimates for the weekend ahead!

1. Mortal Kombat

Predicted Gross: $9.1 million

2. Demon Slayer

Predicted Gross: $6.2 million

3. Godzilla vs. Kong

Predicted Gross: $2.9 million

4. Separation

Predicted Gross: $2.3 million

5. Raya and the Last Dragon

Predicted Gross: $1.6 million

Shoulda Been Oscar Contenders: Sean Penn in Carlito’s Way

Continuing with my new series covering performances that could have warranted some Oscar attention, I move to my second post in the Supporting Actor race of 1993. The first one centered on Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday in Tombstone. As a reminder, the actual five nominees were a strong grouping with Tommy Lee Jones emerging victorious for The Fugitive. The other nominees: Leonardo DiCaprio in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Ralph Fiennes for Schindler’s List, John Malkovich for In the Line of Fire, and Pete Postlethwaite for In the Name of the Father. 

Another notable performance for that derby: Sean Penn in Brian De Palma’s Carlito’s Way. Almost unrecognizable as a sleazy coked up lawyer with an unforgettable hairdo, Penn managed to steal scenes from Al Pacino’s title character. Had his work been included here, it would have marked his first nod. Two years later, he achieved that with Dead Man Walking. Four more nominations (all in Best Actor) would follow with two victories in 2003’s Mystic River and 2008’s Milk as well as 1999’s Sweet and Lowdown and 2001’s I Am Sam. 

Yet his rare supporting turn alongside Pacino would have been fine with me for a sixth mention – even with the solid competition nearly three decades ago.

My Should Been Contenders posts will continue with another sturdy supporting turn from 1993…

2020 Oscars Reaction

For a while, it didn’t look like this would be the case… but there were surprises to be had at the 93rd Annual Academy Awards and it wasn’t just about the winners. I didn’t expect Glenn Close to shake her groove thang to the late 1980s classic “Da Butt” by E.U., but it happened and it was pretty darn funny. I certainly didn’t expect Best Picture not to be the last category announced, but it happened in what turned out to be a poor decision. Memo to the Academy: make the biggest race of all the final one. It’s not that complicated.

There were also some unexpected twists in the categories themselves. Let’s get this out of the way: I went 13/20 in my picks. You won’t hear me bragging about that statistic. Until the final few minutes of the program (which did manage to run just a tad long), it started to seem like Nomadland might not be the big winner of the evening. It got there with expected wins in Picture and Chloe Zhao in Director (becoming the second woman to ever nab that prize). The surprise victory was Frances McDormand in Actress. By doing so, she became only the second performer to take that race three times (Katherine Hepburn did it on four occasions). McDormand won over my prediction of Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman. Most prognosticators who didn’t pick Mulligan went with Viola Davis in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. 

Nomadland led all films with 3 wins. We had six others with two: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom in Costume Design and Makeup and Hairstyling (correctly picked), Soul for Animated Feature and Score (got that right), Sound of Metal in Sound (yes) and Editing (where I incorrectly had The Trial of the Chicago 7), Mank in Production Design (bingo) and Cinematography (where I had Nomadland), Judas and the Black Messiah with Daniel Kaluuya in Supporting Actor (a no-brainer) and Song (where “Fight for You” was an upset victor and where I had “Speak Now” from One Night in Miami).

And then there’s The Father. Of the 8 Best Picture nominees, it was the only one that I had leaving empty-handed. Instead it took Adapted Screenplay over Nomadland. And then the late speculation of an Anthony Hopkins win over Rainey‘s Chadwick Boseman came to fruition. This really wasn’t a big shocker as Hopkins had just nabbed the BAFTA and this seemed like a genuine possibility. The decision of the producers to save Best Actor for last as opposed to Best Picture seems like they wanted to end on a dramatic note with Boseman getting the posthumous award. That backfired as Hopkins was named and he wasn’t even on video to accept. P.S. – it was Trial of the Chicago 7 that turned out as the lone BP nominee that left with zero hardware.

In other races, Promising Young Woman took Original Screenplay and Another Round won International Feature Film as expected. Same with Tenet in Visual Effects. In one of the better acceptance speeches of the night, Yuh-jung Youn emerged as Supporting Actress in Minari. I picked Time as somewhat of a spoiler choice in Documentary over My Octopus Teacher, but Octopus stood tall.

The team behind this year’s ceremony obviously had their work cut out for them. I appreciate that they mostly met the time limit. Beyond Yuh-jung, Another Round filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg and Chloe Zhao gave standout acceptance remarks. This ceremony itself won’t be too well remembered despite some best efforts… perhaps other than (and I didn’t think the post would end like this) Glenn Close and her surprise dance moves.

Breakdown of wins are as follows:

3 Wins

Nomadland

2 Wins

The Father, Judas and the Black Messiah, Mank, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Soul, Sound of Metal

1 Win

Another Round, Minari, My Octopus Teacher, Promising Young Woman, Tenet

That’s all for now and thank you for following me all along the way in these many months of 2020 Oscar speculation!

Separation Box Office Prediction

Open Road Films hopes to reunite horror fans with theaters by way of Separation on April 30. William Brent Bell, maker of The Devil Inside, The Boy and its sequel Brahms: The Boy II, directs with a cast featuring Rupert Friend, Mamie Gummer, Madeline Brewer, and Brian Cox.

Luckily for prognosticators, there is a recent comp with The Unholy. It opened over Easter weekend with $3.2 million. Somewhat surprisingly, despite poor reviews and a mediocre C+ Cinemascore grade, that horror flick has experienced meager declines in subsequent weekends.

Separation doesn’t seem to have much buzz going for it either, but it should debut with a bit less than its genre counterpart. I’ll put it just over $2 million.

Separation opening weekend prediction: $2.3 million

Shoulda Been Oscar Contenders: Val Kilmer in Tombstone

1993 was an exceptionally strong year in the Supporting Actor category with five worthy nominees in the mix: Leonardo DiCaprio in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Ralph Fiennes for Schindler’s List, Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive, John Malkovich for In the Line of Fire, and Pete Postlethwaite for In the Name of the Father. Jones would ultimately walk away with the prize.

However, there are three other performances that come to mind in that particular year and they will be showcased in my next Shoulda Been Contender posts. It starts with Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday in Tombstone. Nearly 30 years later, you may not remember that there were two competing Wyatt Earp pics happening. Lawrence Kasdan’s Wyatt Earp with Kevin Costner and Dennis Quaid was the 1994 summer release that was a potential Oscar contender and blockbuster. It turned out to be neither. Tombstone, released in December 1993, wasn’t so eagerly anticipated.

Yet audiences liked what they saw when it debuted. It was a rock solid action western with Kurt Russell in the commanding lead as Earp. It become a high earner and remains an enduring favorite with moviegoers. As good as the picture is, Kilmer’s work was great with endless quotable lines and character quirks. Having already made a name for himself in Top Gun, Willow, and his uncanny impression of Jim Morrison in The Doors, Kilmer’s Holliday may still stand as his most memorable role. And that deserves mention in a year full of notable supporting turns.

As mentioned, I’m not finished with this category in 1993. Stay tuned…

Oscar Watch: The Mitchells vs. the Machines

As we wait to hear the Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards this Sunday evening (hint: it’s Soul), we have a fresh possibility for the competition next year. Formerly titled Connected, Netflix premieres The Mitchells vs. the Machines on April 30. The computer animated sci-fi comedy comes from director Michael Rianda and is produced by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (the team behind 2019’s Oscar recipient Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and The Lego Movie franchise). Actors doing voice work include Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Eric Andre, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, Conan O’Brien, and Olivia Colman.

The Sony Pictures release was originally slated for theatrical release before the COVID-19 pandemic switched it to streaming. Reviews out today are nearly across the board positive with a current 96% Rotten Tomatoes score. It is early in the year and there’s eight more months of animated hopefuls to come. Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon is already out and could easily make the final cut. Pixar’s Luca (out this summer) is certainly one to keep an eye on. However, Mitchells has already established itself as a contender in the 2021 mix.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…