City of Lies Review

Brad Furman’s City of Lies, originally scheduled for 2018, was delayed and the reason why depends on what you read. It could be because the LAPD didn’t want it to come out based on their bad behavior with the case it involves. Or it could be due to recent bad behavior of its own leading man. City of Lies itself isn’t a bad movie. It just doesn’t doesn’t add a whole lot to a well covered story told in other mediums.

The film recounts the still unsolved homicide investigation of The Notorious B.I.G. thru the lens of Detective Russell Poole (Johnny Depp) and journalist Jack (Forest Whitaker). When the murder occurred in the spring of 1997 in Los Angeles, this was in the aftermath of the 1992 riots and the O.J. Simpson trial. It was also, of course, mere months following the killing of another rap superstar Tupac Shakur.

Based on Randall Sullivan’s book LAbyrinth, the picture puts forth the theory that LAPD officers were deeply involved in the plot to take out Brooklyn’s legendary rapper in conjunction with Death Row Records and its founder Suge Knight. Yet with the aforementioned events in Southern California, Detective Poole’s efforts to expose the corruption was buried.

For those with an interest in this nearly 25-year-old unsolved mystery, none of this is new information. It’s been told in various documentaries and novels. The two lead characters collaborate some 18 years after Biggie’s death. Poole’s earlier investigation (seen in flashbacks) has led to the downfall of his career and family life. Jack’s previous journalistic writings on the case posited mostly discounted speculation that Biggie ordered Tupac’s fateful ride on Las Vegas Boulevard. He’s preparing a 20 year retrospective of the murders and Poole’s hypotheses are increasing in their validity (despite the LAPD’s continued obstruction).

Depp and Whitaker are two actors who can chew scenery. Both of their performances here are more on the subtle side and they’re both solid. City of Lies, unfortunately too often, is a subdued record of an urgent subject. Late in the proceedings, there’s a scene where Biggie’s mother Voletta Wallace plays herself. It’s quite well-done and is a brief and powerful reminder of her unending search for answers. Had the individuals involved not been named Biggie and Tupac and Suge Knight, the pic would mostly feel no different than a typical episode of a police procedural. Ms. Wallace’s late appearance keeps us mindful of the real cost involved with justice delayed.

**1/2 (out of four)

Oscars 2020: The Case of Frances McDormand

The fourth contender is up in what has become the most fascinating competition at the Oscars (Best Actress) with Frances McDormand in Nomadland. If you missed coverage on the first three (Viola Davis in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Andra Day in The United States vs. Billie Holiday, Vanessa Kirby in Pieces of a Woman), they’re here:

Oscars 2020: The Case of Viola Davis

Oscars 2020: The Case of Andra Day

https://toddmthatcher.com/2021/04/09/oscars-2020-the-case-of-vanessa-kirby/

The Case for Frances McDormand

She’s starring in the Oscar favorite for Best Picture and Director with one of her most acclaimed roles. That’s saying a lot. Nomadland marks McDormand’s sixth nomination overall. She’s been nominated thrice in supporting for Mississippi Burning, Almost Famous, and North Country where’s she 0 for 3. However, in her previous Best Actress plays, she’s 2 for 2 with Fargo and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Just this weekend McDormand took the award at BAFTA and there is a 9/10 Oscar match from 2010-2019. Added to that is the history she would make. By taking three Best Actress honors, she would become only the second woman ever to do so (Katherine Hepburn received 4).

The Case Against Frances McDormand 

This is as unpredictable a race as it gets. While McDormand’s BAFTA is a sure sign that’s she in this, other precursors have not followed suit. Viola Davis is the SAG recipient. Andra Day took the Golden Globes and Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman) is the Critics Choice honoree. All stand reasonable chances and there could be a feeling that McDormand has been there and done that (twice). In an interesting stat, only one Best Actress winner in the 21st century has seen her film take the big prize (Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby).

The Verdict

The BAFTA vaults McDormand into even more serious consideration to take Oscar #3 in a race that seems to be coming down to the wire.

My Case Of posts will continue with Gary Oldman in Mank…

Oscars 2020: The Case of Thomas Vinterberg

Thomas Vinterberg’s direction of the Danish dramedy Another Round is my next Case Of post in that race. If you missed the previous ones covering Lee Isaac Chung (Minari), Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman), and David Fincher (Mank), they’re right here:

Oscars 2020: The Case of Lee Isaac Chung

Oscars 2020: The Case of Emerald Fennell

Oscars 2020: The Case of David Fincher

The Case for Thomas Vinterberg:

Another Round has emerged as the favorite to win Best International Feature Film at the April 25th ceremony and, just today, took the BAFTA for its version of that category. His nomination came as a pretty massive surprise so there’s clearly some voters with him on their minds…

The Case Against Thomas Vinterberg:

OK, now let’s real. The fact that his nod practically came out of nowhere means his winning changes are next to none. Most notably, Round was not nominated in Best Picture. In order for its director to take the gold, their movie kinda has to get a mention. Had it landed in the big race (or even star Mads Mikkelsen getting into Best Actor), this might be a more serious conversation.

The Verdict

Vinterberg making the final five cut is the victory. The other four filmmakers not named Chloe Zhao (Nomadland) are all far behind her. Vinterberg is the furthest.

My Case Of posts will continue with Frances McDormand in Nomadland…

2020 BAFTAs: The Nomadland Train Keeps Rolling

The road for Nomadland to Best Picture coronation at the Oscars keeps rolling today thanks to the BAFTAs (the United Kingdom’s version of the Academy Awards). Meanwhile, the Actor and Actress derbies got a bit more interesting while the supporting players continued its recent narrative.

Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland won Best Film and Director in what has become a common theme. However, Frances McDormand’s victory in Actress is her first major precursor in an Oscar race that has truly become a tossup. To break it down, the four significant precursors have all produced different results: McDormand for BAFTA, Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) at SAG, Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman) at Critics Choice, and Andra Day (The United States vs. Billie Holiday) at the Globes. Bottom line: it’s going to be quite a chore to make a final predictions for the Academy’s ceremony two weeks from today.

Chadwick Boseman’s work in Ma Rainey had swept all the precursors, but that was interrupted this afternoon by Anthony Hopkins in The Father. This is not a huge upset since Hopkins is British royalty. Yet it does establish him as the surefire runner-up to Boseman and a potential threat.

The supporting races followed the SAG path with Yuh-jung Youn (Minari) in Supporting Actress and Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah) continuing his sweep in Supporting Actor. Both can be considered favorites at the Oscars (especially the latter).

In the screenplay competition, The Father took Adapted over Nomadland in what could be a two picture race in two weeks. Promising Young Woman took Original honors (besting The Trial of the Chicago 7, which came up empty across the pond). Promising also took home Best British Film.

Unlike the other precursors, the BAFTAs cover most of the down ticket categories and I’ll simply say that all the victors below stand decent to very strong chances at repeating at the Oscars:

Animated Film: Soul

Documentary: My Octopus Teacher

Film Not in the English Language: Another Round

Cinematography: Nomadland

Costume Design: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Editing: Sound of Metal

Makeup & Hair: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Original Score: Soul

Production Design: Mank

Sound: Sound of Metal

Special Visual Effects: Tenet

My final Oscar predictions will be before you know it! Stay tuned…

Oscars 2020: The Case of Leslie Odom Jr.

Leslie Odom, Jr.’s performance as crooner Sam Cooke in One Night in Miami is my third writeup for Supporting Actor contenders at the Oscars. If you missed my first two covering Sacha Baron Cohen (The Trial of the Chicago 7) and Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah), you can find them here:

Oscars 2020: The Case of Sacha Baron Cohen

https://toddmthatcher.com/2021/04/07/oscars-2020-the-case-of-daniel-kaluuya/

The Case for Leslie Odom, Jr.:

It was a sterling 2020 for the performer with his critically hailed work as Cooke in Regina King’s Amazon Prime drama. This is in addition to reminding viewers of his heralded take on Aaron Burr in Hamilton (which drew new viewers in its Disney+ filmed version). He’s managed mentions in all the significant precursors (BAFTA, Globes, SAG, Critics Choice).

The Case Against Leslie Odom, Jr.:

This category has a major frontrunner with Daniel Kaluuya, who has cleaned up in the precursor action. Miami also fell short of expectations on Oscar morning by missing an anticipated Best Picture nod and recognition for King.

The Verdict

Anyone not named Daniel Kaluuya is not expected to make a trip to the podium this year.

My Case Of posts will continue with Thomas Vinterberg’s direction of Another Round…

DGA: The Zhaomentum Continues

The Directors Guild of America (DGA) is a pretty darn accurate predictor of who will win at the Academy Awards. In the past 20 years, the DGA and Oscar winners for Best Director have matched 17 times. It is worth noting that one of the 3 non matches was last year as Sam Mendes (1917) took DGA while Bong Joon Ho (Parasite) took the Academy’s gold.

Tonight the DGA held their ceremony and it went as expected with Chloe Zhao (Nomadland) emerging victorious. This goes along with her numerous critics groups prizes and the Golden Globe and Critics Choice Award. Anyone else being named this evening would have been a surprise and it’s further evidence that Zhao is the strong favorite for Oscar. If so, she will become the second female to do so after Kathryn Bigelow for 2009’s The Hurt Locker.

This is also more evidence that Nomadland itself is in the driver’s seat for Best Picture as the Academy’s ceremony is just 15 days away. Bottom line: the Zhaomentum continues and none of the other nominees appear capable of interrupting it.

Oscars 2020: The Case of Olivia Colman

My third Case Of entry for Supporting Actress hopefuls arrives at Olivia Colman in The Father. If you missed my first two posts for Maria Bakalova (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm) and Glenn Close (Hillbilly Elegy), you can find them here:

Oscars 2020: The Case of Maria Bakalova

Oscars 2020: The Case of Glenn Close

The Case for Olivia Colman

Colman has been a fixture on the awards scene in recent years including as the Queen on Netflix’s The Crown. She’s shown the ability to surprise prognosticators before. In 2018, Colman took Best Actress for The Favourite at the Oscars in an unexpected win over the favorite Glenn Close (The Wife).

The Case Against Olivia Colman

While her fellow nominee Close in no longer the anticipated victor, Colman seems to have longer odds this time around. She has been shut out in the precursors in favor of Bakalova and Yuh-jung Youn in Minari. It’s also hard to imagine her taking the gold if her costar Anthony Hopkins doesn’t in Best Actor (where Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is garnering the attention).

The Verdict

In this unpredictable Supporting Actress derby, it’s a strange thing with Colman. When I did my nomination predictions, I actually felt she was most likely to get a nod and least likely to win. I still feel that way.

My Case Of posts will continue with Leslie Odom, Jr. in One Night in Miami…

Oscars 2020: The Case of Anthony Hopkins

The work of Anthony Hopkins in The Father is my third Case Of post for the five Best Actor contenders. If you missed the first two for Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal) and Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), you can find them here:

Oscars 2020: The Case of Riz Ahmed

Oscars 2020: The Case of Chadwick Boseman

The Case for Anthony Hopkins

Nearly 30 years after winning Best Actor for his iconic role as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, the 83-year-old Hopkins is receiving some of the best reviews of his career for Florian Zeller’s Alzheimer’s drama. This is his sixth nod overall and his second in a row after last year’s supporting turn in The Two Popes. Hopkins is a beloved actor who has been seen a strong candidate in this race ever since it debuted at Sundance back in January 2020.

The Case Against Anthony Hopkins

Simply put: Chadwick Boseman. All major precursors have bestowed their honors on the late performer’s role in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. 

The Verdict

It’s hard to imagine Boseman not taking the gold at this point, but Hopkins and Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal) are looked at the only two potential spoilers. If Hopkins were to win BAFTA tomorrow, perhaps that will feed more speculation. However, Boseman is the heavy favorite.

My Case Of posts will continue with The Father costar Olivia Colman…

Oscars 2020: The Case of Vanessa Kirby

Vanessa Kirby in Pieces of a Woman is my third Case Of post for the five women vying in the seemingly wide open Best Actress race. If you missed my previous posts covering Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) and Andra Day (The United States vs. Billie Holiday), they’re here:

Oscars 2020: The Case of Viola Davis

Oscars 2020: The Case of Andra Day

The Case for Vanessa Kirby

Other than legions of The Crown viewers, many filmgoers have known Ms. Kirby primarily for action fare like Hobbs & Shaw and Mission: Impossible – Fallout. That changed in 2020 with acclaimed roles in the period piece The World to Come and especially with Pieces of a Woman, the Netflix drama that drew across the board raves for the actress. No frontrunner has truly emerged in this Best Actress competition and it actually feels like any of the five could win. She’s one of only two Oscar nominees in the BAFTA derby this weekend (alongside Frances McDormand in Nomadland) and she could take it.

The Case Against Vanessa Kirby

This marks Piece‘s one and only nod (Ellen Burstyn was a contender in supporting and didn’t make the cut). Barring a BAFTA victory, Kirby would go into Oscar night with zero significant precursor awards. Andra Day (The United States vs. Billie Holiday) took the Golden Globe. Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) got the SAG and Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman) achieved the Critics Choice prize. The film itself some mixed critical reaction.

The Verdict

Of the five hopefuls, Kirby probably ranks fifth in terms of getting it. Yet I can’t stress enough that it’s a crapshoot at the moment and anything could happen.

My Case Of posts will continue with Anthony Hopkins in The Father…

Oscars 2020: The Case of David Fincher

My Case Of posts for nominees at the 93rd Academy Awards reaches its third director with David Fincher for Mank. If you missed my previous two posts covering Lee Isaac Chung (Minari) and Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman), they can be found here:

Oscars 2020: The Case of Lee Isaac Chung

Oscars 2020: The Case of Emerald Fennell

The Case for David Fincher

For over a quarter century, Fincher has been one of the most acclaimed and commercially successful filmmakers on the scene. His pictures have received a collective 40 Oscar nods. However, he’s yet to win himself for his direction despite two previous nods for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Social Network. In other words, there’s an overdue factor at play.

The Case Against David Fincher

Despite Mank leading in terms of total nominations (10) at the upcoming ceremony, it missed out in key categories like Original Screenplay and Editing. Of the 8 Best Picture nominees, it actually has the lowest (83%) Rotten Tomatoes score. While Fincher has landed mentions in the significant precursors, he’s lost at each turn to Chloe Zhao for Nomadland and she stands as the heavy favorite to take the Academy’s gold.

The Verdict

He may be overdue, but expect that to continue for Fincher as Zhao may well have this race wrapped up.

My Case Of posts will continue with Vanessa Kirby in Pieces of a Woman…