Oscar Watch: What They Had

A week from today, Bleecker Street releases What They Had in limited fashion. The film marks the directorial debut of Elizabeth Chomko (who also wrote the script) and centers on a family dealing with a mother diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It premiered at Sundance back in January and features a cast including Hilary Swank (two-time winner for Boys Don’t Cry and Million Dollar Baby), Michael Shannon, Blythe Danner, Robert Forster, Taissa Farmiga, and Josh Lucas.

Early reviews have been positive and it stands at 92% on Rotten Tomatoes. That said, critical reaction likely isn’t strong enough to make this a player in Best Picture. What They Had could struggle generally to get noticed at all. Its best chances aren’t with Swank or Shannon, but with Danner and Forster. For them to get noticed, the picture will need to at least break through with audiences to a certain degree. That could be a tall order in the midst of more high-profile contenders.

Bottom line: while this is generating solid reviews, Had is a long shot for Academy attention. My Oscar watch posts will continue…

2018 Weekly Oscar Predictions: October 11th Edition

Back at ya with my weekly Oscar predictions! Here’s some tidbits that have transpired over the past seven days:

  • While the official review embargo has not lifted, Bohemian Rhapsody has screened and early word-of-mouth is out. Reaction for this film itself seems mixed and it has caused the Freddie Mercury biopic to drop to 25th in my BP rankings and out of my Original Screenplay possibilities. On the other hand, chatter about Rami Malek’s performance is terrific. For the first time, he enters my top 5 predicted Actor nominees, knocking out Willem Dafoe’s work in At Eternity’s Gate. One thing seems certain: the lead actor race is looking very crowded at the moment.
  • Speaking of that category, it was confirmed that Stephan James from If Beale Street Could Talk will be campaigned for in that category (I’ve had him listed in Supporting previously).
  • In Best Actress, I have switched Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born) back to #1 over runner-up Glenn Close in The Wife. This appears to be a close contest between the two at the moment.
  • There is still uncertainty about category placement for the three women of The Favourite. Some chatter has Emma Stone as the obvious Actress candidate along with Olivia Colman. Everyone seems to agree that Rachel Weisz will land in Supporting Actress. For now, I’m keeping Colman in Actress with Stone/Weisz in Supporting, but changes could happen.
  • Also in Supporting Actress, I am now listing Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk) at #1 over Claire Foy (First Man).
  • Widows is just on the outside of my predicted nominees in a number of races including Picture, Actress (Viola Davis), and Supporting Actor (Daniel Kaluuya). I feel it will get nominated for something and I am including it in Adapted Screenplay over First Man.

And with that, let’s get to it!

Best Picture

1. A Star Is Born (Previous Ranking: 1)

2. Roma (PR: 2)

3. First Man (PR: 3)

4. The Favourite (PR: 4)

5. Green Book (PR: 5)

6. BlacKkKlansman (PR: 6)

7. If Beale Street Could Talk (PR: 7)

8. Black Panther (PR: 8)

9. Vice (PR: 9)

Other Possibilities:

10. Widows (PR: 11)

11. Can You Ever Forgive Me? (PR: 10)

12. The Mule (PR: 15)

13. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (PR: 16)

14. Boy Erased (PR: 12)

15. Crazy Rich Asians (PR: 14)

16. Mary Queen of Scots (PR: 13)

17. On the Basis of Sex (PR: 17)

18. Mary Poppins Returns (PR: 19)

19. Leave No Trace (PR: 23)

20. At Eternity’s Gate (PR: 20)

21. The Sisters Brothers (PR: 21)

22. Eighth Grade (PR: 25)

23. Beautiful Boy (PR: 22)

24. The Front Runner (PR: 24)

25. Bohemian Rhapsody (PR: 18)

Best Director

1. Alfonso Cuaron, Roma (PR: 1)

2. Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born (PR: 2)

3. Damien Chazelle, First Man (PR: 3)

4. Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman (PR: 4)

5. Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite (PR: 5)

Other Possibilities:

6. Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk (PR: 6)

7. Peter Farrelly, Green Book (PR: 7)

8. Adam McKay, Vice (PR: 8)

9. Joel and Ethan Coen, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (PR: 14)

10. Ryan Coogler, Black Panther (PR: 9)

11. Marielle Heller, Can You Ever Forgive Me? (PR: 10)

12. Clint Eastwood, The Mule (PR: 13)

13. Steve McQueen, Widows (PR: 11)

14. Josie Rourke, Mary Queen of Scots (PR: 12)

15. Joel Edgerton, Boy Erased (PR: 15)

Best Actor

1. Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born (PR: 1)

2. Christian Bale, Vice (PR: 2)

3. Viggo Mortensen, Green Book (PR: 5)

4. Ryan Gosling, First Man (PR: 4)

5. Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody (PR: 6)

Other Possibilities:

6. Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate (PR: 3)

7. Robert Redford, The Old Man & The Gun (PR: 7)

8. Clint Eastwood, The Mule (PR: 8)

9. Steve Carell, Beautiful Boy (PR: 11)

10. Ethan Hawke, First Reformed (PR: 10)

11. Hugh Jackman, The Front Runner (PR: 14)

12. Lucas Hedges, Boy Erased (PR: 9)

13. Stephan James, If Beale Street Could Talk (PR: Not Ranked)

14. John David Washington, BlacKkKlansman (PR: 13)

15. Ben Foster, Leave No Trace (PR: 12)

Dropped Out:

John C. Reilly, The Sisters Brothers (PR: 15)

Best Actress

1. Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born (PR: 2)

2. Glenn Close, The Wife (PR: 1)

3. Olivia Colman, The Favourite (PR: 3)

4. Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me? (PR: 4)

5. Yalitza Aparicio, Roma (PR: 5)

Other Possibilities:

6. Viola Davis, Widows (PR: 6)

7. Saoirse Ronan, Mary Queen of Scots (PR: 8)

8. Felicity Jones, On the Basis of Sex (PR: 7)

9. Julia Roberts, Ben Is Back (PR: 11)

10. Toni Collette, Hereditary (PR: 10)

11. Nicole Kidman, Destroyer (PR: 9)

12. Emily Blunt, Mary Poppins Returns (PR: 13)

13. Carey Mulligan, Wildlife (PR: 14)

14. Kiki Layne, If Beale Street Could Talk (PR: 15)

15. Keira Knightley, Colette (PR: 12)

Best Supporting Actor

1. Mahershala Ali, Green Book (PR: 1)

2. Sam Elliot, A Star Is Born (PR: 3)

3. Timothee Chalamet, Beautiful Boy (PR: 2)

4. Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me? (PR: 4)

5. Sam Rockwell, Vice (PR: 5)

Other Possibilities:

6. Daniel Kaluuya, Widows (PR: 6)

7. Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman (PR: 7)

8. Michael B. Jordan, Black Panther (PR: 8)

9. Steve Carell, Vice (PR: 9)

10.  Armie Hammer, On the Basis of Sex (PR: 13)

11. Russell Crowe, Boy Erased (PR: 10)

12. Nicholas Hoult, The Favourite (PR: 12)

13. Tim Blake Nelson, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (PR: Not Ranked)

14. Brian Tyree Henry, If Beale Street Could Talk (PR: Not Ranked)

15. Bradley Cooper, The Mule (PR: Not Ranked)

Dropped Out:

John C. Reilly, Stan and Ollie

Jason Clarke, First Man

David Tennant, Mary Queen of Scots

Best Supporting Actress

1. Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk (PR: 2)

2. Claire Foy, First Man (PR: 1)

3. Emma Stone, The Favourite (PR: 3)

4. Rachel Weisz, The Favourite (PR: 4)

5. Amy Adams, Vice (PR: 5)

Other Possibilities:

6. Natalie Portman, Vox Lux (PR: 6)

7. Michelle Yeoh, Crazy Rich Asians (PR: 8)

8. Marina de Tavira, Roma (PR: 10)

9. Nicole Kidman, Boy Erased (PR: 7)

10. Sissy Spacek, The Old Man & The Gun (PR: 9)

11. Margot Robbie, Mary Queen of Scots (PR: 11)

12. Dianne Wiest, The Mule (PR: 15)

13. Thomasin McKenzie, Leave No Trace (PR: 13)

14. Rachel McAdams, Disobedience (PR: 12)

15. Kathy Bates, On the Basis of Sex (PR: 14)

Best Adapted Screenplay

1. BlacKkKlansman (PR: 1)

2. If Beale Street Could Talk (PR: 2)

3. A Star Is Born (PR: 3)

4. Can You Ever Forgive Me? (PR: 5)

5. Widows (PR: 6)

Other Possibilities:

6. First Man (PR: 4)

7. Leave No Trace (PR: 7)

8. Crazy Rich Asians (PR: 8)

9. Boy Erased (PR: 9)

10. Mary Queen of Scots (PR: 11)

11. Black Panther (PR: 10)

12. The Hate U Give (PR: Not Ranked)

13. Disobedience (PR: 12)

14. Beautiful Boy (PR: 13)

15. Wildlife (PR: Not Ranked)

Dropped Out:

The Sisters Brothers

The Mule (Moved to Original Screenplay)

Best Original Screenplay

1. Roma (PR: 2)

2. The Favourite (PR: 1)

3. Green Book (PR: 3)

4. Vice (PR: 4)

5. Eighth Grade (PR: 5)

Other Possibilities:

6. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (PR: 6)

7. First Reformed (PR: 7)

8. The Mule (PR: Not Ranked – moved from Adapted)

9. A Quiet Place (PR: 10)

10. On the Basis of Sex (PR: 9)

11. Private Life (PR: 11)

12. At Eternity’s Gate (PR: 8)

13. Mid90s (PR: Not Ranked)

14. Stan and Ollie (PR: 15)

15. Capernaum (PR: Not Ranked)

Dropped Out:

Hereditary

Bohemian Rhapsody

Ben Is Back

Halloween Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (10/12/18): A week before its premiere, I’m revising my estimate up from $67.2 million to $75.4 million

Next weekend, the latest Halloween entry arrives in theaters and this one does so with a twist. While this is the 11th installment in the 40-year-old franchise, it ignores everything that happened in parts 2-10 and serves as a direct sequel to the 1978 John Carpenter classic. Jamie Lee Curtis returns as Laurie Strode with Nick Castle (the original Michael Myers) donning the mask once again. David Gordon Green, known for pics as varied as Pineapple Express and last year’s Boston Marathon drama Stronger, directs and is co-writer along with comedic actor Danny McBride. Blumhouse Productions is behind this and they have proven themselves as masters of making low-budget horror flicks hugely profitable ventures (the price tag is only a reported $10 million). Costars include Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, and Will Patton.

This is actually Curtis’s fifth time playing her iconic character when including Halloween II, 1998’s Halloween: H20, and Halloween: Resurrection. Just pay no mind to anything that happened to her in those follow-ups. The release date timed for the actual holiday and the return of the series best known player has created some serious buzz. So did its screening at the Toronto Film Festival where it premiered to solid reviews (Rotten Tomatoes is currently at 85%).

Add all that up and Halloween appears primed to scare up big business. The current record holder for biggest horror debut of all time belongs to last year’s It at $123 million and that mark seems unattainable. However, this seems poised to top 2018’s The Nun, which premiered with $53 million. I believe a mid 70s gross is where Laurie and Michael will stake their claim, which would give it the second highest October debut behind Venom. 

Halloween opening weekend prediction: $75.4 million

Box Office Predictions: October 12-14

A trio of newcomers open this weekend and face the considerable challenge of dislodging Venom and A Star Is Born from the top two spots. They are Damien Chazelle’s man on the moon tale First Man starring Ryan Gosling, family friendly sequel Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, and Drew Goddard’s pulpy thriller Bad Times at the El Royale. You can peruse my detailed prediction posts on each of them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/02/first-man-box-office-prediction/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/03/goosebumps-2-haunted-halloween/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/03/bad-times-at-the-el-royale-box-office-prediction/

My mid 20s estimate for First Man will likely put it in third place, unless the second helping of Goosebumps manages to exceed expectations. If not, that newbie should place fourth with mid to high teens.

I’m not expecting much from the El Royale, despite mostly positive reviews. I believe it may only manage sixth place behind the third weekend of Smallfoot.

As for #1, that could get interesting. Venom easily scored the best October debut of all time (more on that below) while A Star Is Born met expectations. The second weekend drop for them could be quite different. While Venom could dip 60% or more, Star could see a fall in the smaller range of 30-35%. Assuming First Man doesn’t surpass projections, this could set up a close battle for first place among the returnees.

And with that, a top 6 take on the weekend ahead:

1. Venom

Predicted Gross: $31.2 million

2. A Star Is Born

Predicted Gross: $28.3 million

3. First Man

Predicted Gross: $23.5 million

4. Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween

Predicted Gross: $17.3 million

5. Smallfoot

Predicted Gross: $8.9 million

6. Bad Times at the El Royale

Predicted Gross: $8 million

Box Office Results (October 57)

Despite overwhelmingly negative reviews, comic book pic Venom with Tom Hardy obliterated the October opening record with $80.2 million. That gross exceeds the previous holder (Gravity) by nearly $25 million. It easily blew away my $62.5 million prediction. Even though a healthy drop seems probable this weekend, Sony has to be over the moon with this performance in a feature that is expected to start a franchise.

Bradley Cooper/Lady Gaga’s Oscar contender A Star Is Born got off to a rousing beginning in second with $42.9 million. While this is a bit under my $48.6 million estimate, it’s already made back its budget and looks to leg out solidly over the next several weeks. Counting its Tuesday and Wednesday special previews, it’s made $44.2 million.

Smallfoot was third in weekend #2 with $14.4 million. I was close at $13.6 million. The animated feature has grossed $42 million overall.

Night School fell from first to fourth with $12.5 million (I said $12.7 million) for a two-week total of $46 million.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls rounded out the top five with $7.3 million, on pace with my $7 million forecast. It’s earned $55 million thus far.

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

A Star Is Born Movie Review

Theatrically speaking, A Star Is Born is a tale as old as time as this is the third remake of an original that hit screens over eight decades ago. The framework remains the same in the story of love, addiction, and celebrity. To his considerable credit, Bradley Cooper finds a way to inject some life into this melodramatic musical journey. He does so with his own work in front of the camera and his direction of his costar. It feels odd to claim this is a star making performance from Lady Gaga, who happens to be one of the biggest pop stars on the planet. While we knew her amazing vocal abilities and showmanship, this picture proves she’s an equally impressive actor.

Cooper is Jackson Maine, a country rock star with a severe alcohol addiction. He’s already well-established in his field and selling out stadiums. One night his restless spirit after a gig leads him to a drag bar. Actually it’s more his desire to find a place that serves drinks. In that unlikely establishment is where he discovers Ally (Gaga). She waitresses there and she’s the only non queen allowed to belt out tunes like “La Vie en rose”. Jackson is smitten with her voice and with her.

Their chance encounter is where Ally’s star is born and what transpires in the first half is a thrilling whirlwind for her and the audience. This section provides the most satisfying moments. She’s whisked all over the country with her new mentor and love interest. Cooper’s direction and the screenplay from him, Eric Roth, and Will Fetters manages to match Jackson’s energy in the picture’s pacing. As Ally begins to branch out of his shadow to more pop friendly (and far less soulful tracks) with the help of a British manager (Rafi Gavron), Jackson’s deeply rooted issues become more pronounced. While the second half here provides more dramatic heft, it also does so with more familiar themes. Ally’s storyline curiously becomes less compelling as her beau spirals out of control.

Sam Elliot is Jackson’s much older brother and manager, who serves as a complicated father figure (and vocal inspiration). In Cooper’s performance, he drops his voice a couple octaves and his reported extensive vocal training pays off. This doesn’t feel like an actor trying to masquerade as a singer. His work here is remarkable in every facet. We know Gaga hardly needs that kind of training. It’s expected that she’ll nail her songs and she does. Yet she also proves herself to be a natural actress and her emotional range matches her more experienced counterpart. The supporting cast also includes two famed comedians with Dave Chappelle turning up briefly as an ex-musician who’s happily left the business and Andrew Dice Clay as Ally’s chauffeur father.

The chemistry of the two leads is the reason the latest Star often shines, especially early on. To borrow the title from Gaga’s debut album, the film’s beats become more traditional when it moves to the dark side of the fame monster. So while we have a well-worn narrative before us, Cooper and his muse succeed in making this worth taking another look at.

*** (out of four)

Chappaquiddick Movie Review

“We tell the truth. Or at least our version of it.”

This is perhaps the central line uttered by Senator Ted Kennedy (Jason Clarke) in John Curran’s Chappaquiddick. It recalls the events that took place in the summer of 1969 that resulted in the drowning death of Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara) with the Senator at the wheel. This is a tale of power potentially interrupted as Ted is the last living brother of America’s royal family. Unfolding just months after Bobby’s assassination during his Presidential campaign, the youngest Kennedy is seen as a contender for the highest office in the land in 1972.

His brother’s death indirectly leads to the film’s events as Ted organizes a reunion of the “Boiler Room Girls”, a group of female staffers that worked on Bobby’s bid for the White House. New Jersey native Mary Jo is one of them and her fateful car ride with Ted becomes the subject of endless speculation on the same weekend where Neil Armstrong first stepped foot on the moon. The accident isn’t reported by the world-famous driver until eight hours following its occurrence. The screenplay from Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan hypothesizes that Kennedy’s truth about it is indeed his own, with details like alcohol consumption conveniently omitted and a concussion and needless neck brace advantageously added.

The deception extends to patriarch Joseph Kennedy Sr. (Bruce Dern). He can’t speak due to a debilitating stroke, but he can still mobilize a crisis control team at short notice. This includes former Secretary of Defense Bob McNamara (Clancy Brown) and family speechwriter Ted Sorensen (Taylor Nichols). The conscience of the piece is Kennedy cousin Joe Gargan (Ed Helms), who accompanies Ted and Massachusetts District Attorney friend Paul Markham (Jim Gaffigan) to rescue the deceased passenger when it’s far too late. Gargan is a member of the Kennedy clan, though he doesn’t fully recognize the extent they will go to in protecting their brand.

Any movie recounting the days of Chappaquiddick and its aftermath will be looked at through a political lens. Ardent supporters of its central character will likely take issue with some theories put forth here, including Ted’s original thought to claim Mary Jo was driving. So while the leanings of some viewers could be tainted by that, Chappaquiddick is primarily a procedural about a tragedy caused by someone with extraordinary influence. When Kennedy goes to the small island’s office of the police chief to give a hastily written statement, he immediately enters and sits behind the chief’s desk in his chair. It’s a minor detail, but not an insignificant one in showing the power structure involved here.

Chappaquiddick doesn’t shed much unique light on the well-researched event, but it’s held together by a strong performance from Clarke. His Ted is one in constant conflict and not just with the details of the drowning. He is a man of apparent destiny whether he wants it or not or whether his father even believes he deserves it. A sharp turn derails those ambitions to a certain degree. In this version of it, the filmmakers don’t let Kennedy off the hook.

*** (out of four)

Oscar Watch: The Happy Prince

The Happy Prince hits stateside screens in limited fashion this Wednesday. Having originally premiered at Sundance earlier this year, this is a biopic of Irish playwright Oscar Wilde and it’s a passion project for director/writer/star Rupert Everett. American audiences may still remember him best as the BFF to Julia Roberts in 1997’s My Best Friend’s Wedding, as well as roles in An Ideal Husband and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. 

In addition to Everett playing Wilde, the supporting cast includes Colin Firth, Emily Watson, and Tom Wilkinson. Reviews have been mostly kind and its Rotten Tomatoes score is currently at a decent 72%. That’s probably not enough, however, for Prince to be an awards player in any category and it has yet to pop up on the radar screen in any significant way.

Bottom line: don’t expect Prince to find its way into contention. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…