Oscar Predictions: Occupied City

Steve McQueen’s Occupied City, based on buzz out of Cannes, may not be the best documentary we’ll see in 2023. It certainly sounds like it’s the most documentary. Clocking in at about four and a half hours, it tells dual stories of Amsterdam from its Nazi occupation in WWII and its last few years during the pandemic.

A decade ago, the filmmaker’s 12 Years a Slave was crowned Best Picture (while McQueen himself lost the directorial race to Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity). His lone theatrical follow-up is 2018’s Widows. McQueen’s anthology series Small Axe from 2020 was critically heralded on the small screen and the historical drama Blitz with Saorise Ronan is on the way.

The plaudits for his body of work hasn’t fully extended to City. The Rotten Tomatoes meter early on is 67%. A common complaint is its length and stodginess. I don’t see this occupying one of the five spots in Documentary Feature a few months down the road. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

Beau Is Afraid Box Office Prediction

After a sizzling limited release last weekend, Ari Aster’s Beau Is Afraid expands to just under 1000 screens this Friday. A mix of many genres from the director known for horror pics Hereditary and Midsommar, Joaquin Phoenix stars as a paranoid man on odyssey while dealing with severe mommy issues. Costars include Patti LuPone, Nathan Lane, Amy Rogers, Kylie Rogers, Parker Posey, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Hayley Squires, Michael Gandolfini, Zoe Lister-Jones, and Richard Kind.

Some critics have been quite kind and it sits at 74% on Rotten Tomatoes. Others have called the three-hour opus a slog and predicted that general audiences are likely to have strong negative feelings. Beau scored $320,000 on just four screens days ago for a per theater average of $80k. It’s not surprising that it performed splendidly in NY/LA.

Beau faces more challenging prospects as it plays between the coasts. While it will probably have the third best screen average behind The Super Mario Bros. Movie and Evil Dead Rise (though the average could top that one), a gross between $4-5 million is likely.

Beau Is Afraid expanded opening weekend prediction: $4.4 million

For my Evil Dead Rise prediction, click here:

For my Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant prediction, click here:

Oscar Predictions: Beau Is Afraid

A24 just hit the Oscar jackpot with Everything Everywhere All at Once and they have another multi-genre family opus opening in limited release this Friday. Beau Is Afraid is the third feature from writer/director Ari Aster behind acclaimed scary flicks Hereditary and Midsommar. With a $35 million budget, this is the biggest budget yet for the distributor. The three hour episodic mix of mommy issues, satire, and horror is headlined by Joaquin Phoenix with a supporting cast including stage legend Patti LuPone, Nathan Lane, Amy Ryan, Kylie Rogers, Parker Posey, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Hayley Squires, Michael Gandolfini, Zoe Lister-Jones, and Richard Kind.

The review embargo has just lifted and the reactions are all over the place. A 75% Rotten Tomatoes score is the number at this early stage. There are some recurring thoughts among the write-ups. One is that Aster takes gigantic swings. Some pay off. Some don’t. Another is that he’s perhaps given too much freedom this time and that the runtime is exceedingly long. There are comparisons to Charlie Kaufman and numerous mentions of Freud. You also get the impression that plenty of moviegoers will strongly dislike it. The word unhinged pops up in more than one synopsis.

It could be telling that Beau skipped the film festival circuit and opted for this spring release. A24 might suspect they don’t have an awards player (though you could correctly point out that Everything Everywhere came out around the same time). That said, they might opt to throw their serious campaigning behind the upcoming Past Lives (which drew raves at Sundance). While Phoenix is drawing praise for his performance, it could be a tall order for him to nab a Best Actor nod. Perhaps this fall’s Napoleon gives him a better shot. Some critics have singled out LuPone, but apparently her actual screen time is limited.

Beau will undoubtedly have its ardent supporters and fierce detractors. That could be a mix that doesn’t result in significant Oscar buzz. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

Oscar Predictions: Past Lives

Past Lives is the debut feature film from Celine Song and it premiered at Sundance over the weekend to a rapturous reception. The romantic drama stars Greta Lee and Teo Yoo with critics praising their work in the A24 effort.

Some reviews are already claiming it will end up as one of 2023’s finest and the Rotten Tomatoes score is 100%. Its studio may choose to kick off a Minari or Everything Everywhere All at Once style campaign (both were and/or are nominated for Best Picture).

Sundance brought to light the possibility of Past Lives being a legit awards player even this early in the process. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

Oscar Predictions: You Hurt My Feelings

Director Nicole Holofcener reunites with her Enough Said star Julia Louis-Dreyfus for You Hurt My Feelings, which has screened at Sundance. The comedy is drawing satisfactory notices in Utah with a 95% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Look for distributor A24 to mount an awards campaign as the year rolls along.

Enough Said was able to nab Louis-Dreyfus a Golden Globe Best Actress nod in Musical/Comedy and that could certainly occur again. She stands the best chance among costars that include Tobias Menzies, David Cross, Amber Tamblyn, Michaela Watkins, Arian Moayed, and Owen Teague.

Holofcener is already an Academy nominee for cowriting the adapted screenplay for 2018’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? I wouldn’t count on a second writing mention. While critics are being kind, this has the feel of a Globe Predictions post with its lead’s chances. My Oscar Predictions posts will continue…

December 16-18 Box Office Predictions

Theaters owners are counting on Avatar: The Way of Water to save them from drowning in red ink following the second lowest box office frame of 2022. James Cameron’s long in the making sequel is the only new release out and you can peruse my detailed prediction post on it here:

With Oscar buzz (like the 2009 original) and solid reviews, Water could potentially surface with the largest premiere of the year. To do so, it would need to surpass the $187 million that Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness achieved in May. Considering the runtime of over three hours, it may fall a bit short of that. My projection has it behind Multiverse and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever for the third heftiest ’22 haul and the 18th highest debut of all time.

Speaking of Wakanda, it will finally fall to second after five weeks atop the charts. Fellow holdovers Violent Night, Strange World, and The Menu should all slide a spot as well. All of these returnees experienced small declines this weekend, but may dip a tad more due to Avatar overtaking multiplexes.

Here’s how I see the top 5 shaking out:

1. Avatar: The Way of Water

Predicted Gross: $173.1 million

2. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Predicted Gross: $5.5 million

3. Violent Night

Predicted Gross: $4.9 million

4. Strange World

Predicted Gross: $2.6 million

5. The Menu

Predicted Gross: $1.9 million

Box Office Results (December 9-11)

As mentioned, it was a sluggish time in theaters as Avatar is on deck to make a splash. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever made it a handful of weekends in first place with $11.2 million. That’s on pace with my $10.6 million prediction as the MCU sequel is up to $409 million.

Violent Night remained in second with a sturdy 35% drop at $8.7 million, in line with my $8.5 million take. The Yuletide shoot-em-up has grossed $26 million in ten days.

Disney’s flop Strange World was third with $3.7 million compared to my $3.1 million estimate. Overall tally is just $30 million.

The Menu was fourth with $2.7 million (I said $2.8 million) for $29 million total.

Devotion rounded out the top five with $2 million. I went with $1.7 million and the aviation drama is at $17 million.

Finally, there was a bit of good news in a bad weekend. A24’s The Whale, in which Brendan Fraser is expected to vie for the Best Actor Oscar, achieved 2022’s best per screen performance. In only six venues, it earned approximately $360k. That $60k average tops Everything Everywhere All at Once, which previously had the year’s strongest average at $50k. It expands across wider on December 21st.

That’s all for now, folks! Until next time…

Pearl Review

Every place other than home is where our demented dreamer wants to be in Pearl, Ti West’s prequel to X. Whereas the predecessor was set in 1979 and paid loving homage to the grime of 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, this basks in the glow of The Wizard of Oz and other Golden Age works. Shot in New Zealand back to back, X and Pearl are vastly different experiences. They do share a setting where unspeakable gore occurs.

They also share Mia Goth. Unlike in X, she inhabits the screen from open to close. You will recall her from X as the elderly tormentor of a porn flick crew shooting on her property (Goth also played a drug addled starlet from the one day shoot that ends prematurely). As just Pearl here, we see her in 1918. The Great War is raging and that’s where her husband Howard is. She’s young, vibrant, and fantasizes of being a starlet herself. Pearl resides at the farm with her no nonsense German speaking mom (Tandi Wright) and sickly father (Matthew Sunderland). Her dreams of becoming a chorus girl are played out in the barn in front of the animals and their little bleating hearts.

We know from X that Pearl’s psychological issues are likely to kick into high gear. West and Goth (who cowrote the screenplay) still manage to take us in unexpected and stimulating directions. When Pearl meets a bohemian projectionist (David Corenswet) working at the local cinema, it arouses her desire to not be in Kansas anymore. **Side note: I don’t believe this is actually set in Kansas, but it could be with all those cornrows.

While Mom vehemently disapproves, Pearl hears of an audition opportunity to join a traveling troupe. We arrive there following family squabbles that lead our title character to see her dance tryout as her only means of escape. X was an ensemble piece. Pearl is a Goth show and she wows. From that aforementioned audition to a dinner table confession with her sister-in-law (Emma Jenkins-Purro, looking as petrified as the audience), this is perhaps the trippiest lead horror performance since Toni Collette’s in fellow A24 fright fest Hereditary. You don’t wanna take your eyes off her, including during the closing credits.

While X and Pearl do indeed share that farmland, I found the latter to be more rewarding overall. The director and lead are having a ball as they inject some darkness into the Technicolor brightness. It usually feels like they are giving the best of what they have.

***1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Predictions – Puss in Boots: The Last Wish

If you’d told me in the spring that Puss in Boots: The Last Wish was better suited for an Animated Feature Oscar nomination than Disney’s Lightyear or Strange World, I might’ve questioned your awards prognosticating abilities. With its embargo lifted prior to the December 21st theatrical bow, this appears to be the case.

The DreamWorks Animation sequel is being praised as equal to or better than the 2011 predecessor. You may remember that it’s originally a spin-off from the massive Shrek franchise. Joel Crawford (who last made The Croods: A New Age) directs as Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek return to voice the title kitty and his love interest. Other performers behind the mic include Harvey Guillén, Florence Pugh, Olivia Colman, Ray Winstone, John Mulaney, and Da’Vine Joy Randolph.

Early reviews have this at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and that’s beyond the 86% that the first Boots earned (we are still at under 10 write-ups so it could come down). The aforementioned Shrek from 2001 is actually the first movie to win the Academy’s animated prize. In 2004, Shrek 2 was nominated but lost to Disney’s The Incredibles. The third and fourth tales of the jolly green monster didn’t make the cut. However, Puss in Boots was among 2011’s quintet. Rango took the gold.

This is a strange year in the Animated Feature race. Of Disney’s trio of hopefuls, only Turning Red appears safe for inclusion. The frontrunner is Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio from Netflix. The steamer’s Wendell and Wild and My Father’s Dragon could also get in. We have A24’s Marcel the Shell with Shoes On and The Bad Guys (also from DreamWorks). I haven’t had Puss in Boots: The Last Wish in the top 10 of possibilities. After seeing the initial reaction, it definitely will make that jump. When I update my projections on Thursday, it could even enter the high five. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

2022 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Best Picture Race

My deep dives into 6 high profile Oscar races reaches the top one with Best Picture. If you missed my posts on Director and the four acting competitions, you can find them here:

At this early November period from 2019-21, here’s how accurate I was with my BP forecast. Three years ago, I correctly called 8 of the 9 eventual nominees. That includes the winner Parasite, 1917, Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Little Women, Marriage Story, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The ninth hopeful was Joker and it was listed in Other Possibilities. In the wildly unpredictable 2020, I was right about 5 of 8 with two months left in the calendar – Nomadland (which won), The Father, Mank, Minari, and The Trial of the Chicago 7. Judas and the Black Messiah was named in Other Possibilities while Promising Young Woman and Sound of Metal were not yet in my top 15. In 2021, the Academy went back to a set number of 10 BP nominees. I rightly identified 7 of the 10 with Belfast, Dune, King Richard, Licorice Pizza, Nightmare Alley, The Power of the Dog, and West Side Story. The film that emerged victorious – CODA was not yet predicted but in Other Possibilities. So was Don’t Look Up while Drive My Car wasn’t among the 15.

Moving to 2022 – I can’t recall a year where four sequels were viable for inclusion. That’s where we stand at the moment. The top grosser of the year is Top Gun: Maverick and I do believe the Academy will reward it for bringing older audiences back to multiplexes (and of course for its quality). In a few weeks, we’ll have a better idea about Avatar: The Way of Water. I’m not ready to vault into my ten, but that could change soon. Knives Out missed out on BP in 2019 so I’m skeptical for Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. And while Black Panther made the lineup in 2018, Wakanda Forever seems like a stretch despite the solid buzz. Nevertheless it’s not crazy to think that 40% of the BP players could be sequels.

On the non-sequel front, we begin with The Fabelmans. Steven Spielberg’s autobiographical coming-of-age tale has been listed at #1 for weeks on the blog. Only one of the filmmaker’s works – 1993’s Schindler’s List – has won BP. Shakespeare in Love was a surprise recipient in 1998 over the favored Saving Private Ryan. Nearly 30 years later, Fabelmans could have the credentials to be the second.

However, the frontrunner at this stage often doesn’t cross the finish line and Spielberg’s latest feels like a soft frontrunner. I could easily envision a scenario where the voters go outside the box with Everything Everywhere All at Once. A24’s multi-genre pic achieved wide acclaim and did great business at the box office. While spring releases rarely make the journey all the way through the awards calendar, Everything could buck that trend.

Other spoilers include The Banshees of Inisherin and Women Talking, which both garnered kudos at film festivals and will have their ardent admirers. I believe that logic also applies to Tár and The Whale though I don’t see either having a shot to win. And we are still waiting to see if Damien Chazelle’s Babylon is as viable as its pedigree suggests (we’ll know in a few days when it screens).

It’s become more common for an international feature film to get in and the two most likely to do so are All Quiet on the Western Front (which might just be Netflix’s most serious hopeful) and Decision to Leave. The reviews for Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Bardo should leave it out (it might not even make the separate international race).

While Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is the favorite to be Best Animated Feature, I don’t see it breaking into the big dance. It’s probably the only animated title with any sort of chance.

The festival circuit always lessens the viability of some pics. In 2022, I would put the following on that list: Empire of Light, The Son, and Armageddon Time.

The Academy could choose to honor some moneymakers like Elvis and The Woman King (though putting Maverick in could check that box). Till may only show up in Best Actress for Danielle Deadwyler. And it’s tough to know what to make of the upcoming Emancipation considering it’s led by Will Smith (who has some, um, recent history with the ceremony).

Bottom line: there is a lot of uncertainty about BP. I feel fairly confident about The Fabelmans, Everything Everywhere, Women Talking, The Banshees of Inisherin, Top Gun: Maverick, Tár, and The Whale (more than others with that one). We’ll know about Babylon shortly so that leaves two spots. I could definitely see a sequel or a foreign flick jumping up. For now, the 9th and 10th entries go to Triangle of Sadness and She Said. Expect movement as the weeks roll along.

Best Picture

Predicted Nominees:

1 . The Fabelmans (Previous Ranking: 1) (Even)

2. Everything Everywhere All at Once (PR: 2) (E)

3. Babylon (PR: 3) (E)

4. Women Talking (PR: 4) (E)

5. The Banshees of Inisherin (PR: 5) (E)

6. Top Gun: Maverick (PR: 6) (E)

7. Tár (PR: 7) (E)

8. The Whale (PR: 8) (E)

9. Triangle of Sadness (PR: 9) (E)

10. She Said (PR: 12) (+2)

Other Possibilities:

11. All Quiet on the Western Front (PR: 11) (E)

12. Decision to Leave (PR: 10) (-2)

13. Avatar: The Way of Water (PR: 14) (+1)

14. Elvis (PR: 13) (-1)

15. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (PR: 15) (E)

Stay tuned for estimates on all the races coming up soon!

2022 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Best Actor Race

My detailed look at six of the top Oscar categories – Picture, Director, and the four acting derbies – arrives at Best Actor. If you missed the posts covering the supporting races, you can find them here:

At this late October/early November stage of forecasting in the previous three years, my picks in the lead acting competitions have been more accurate than the supporting ones.

In 2019 at this juncture, I managed to correctly identify four of the five eventual nominees: winner Joaquin Phoenix (Joker), Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), Adam Driver (Marriage Story), and Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes). The fifth was Antonio Banderas in Pain and Glory and he was listed in Other Possibilities.

Three of five was the story in 2020 and 2021. Two years ago, I had The Father‘s Anthony Hopkins (who won), Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and Gary Oldman (Mank) pegged with Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal) and Steven Yeun (Minari) as possibles.

You may remember that Will Smith took gold last year for King Richard. I had him correctly called with two months remaining on the calendar. Same with Benedict Cumberbatch in The Power of the Dog and Denzel Washington for The Tragedy of Macbeth. Andrew Garfield (Tick, Tick… Boom!) was mentioned in Other Possibilities. Javier Bardem (Being the Ricardos) had yet to enter my top ten.

Had a certain slap heard around the world not occurred, it’s totally possible that Will Smith (Emancipation) might be listed in my top 5. However, with his current ban from attending the ceremony, I question whether he could make a return to the ballot so quickly after the controversy. Therefore he’s not in my top 10. We’ll see if the reviews (coming soon) change the dynamic.

We do have a frontrunner and that’s Brendan Fraser in The Whale. Since its Venice and Toronto fest bows, he’s drawn raves. This is also a comeback narrative that the Academy should fall for. I’ve had Fraser listed in 1st for several weeks and I see no reason to change that.

There are two viable runners-up in Colin Farrell (The Banshees of Inisherin) and Austin Butler (Elvis). I’ve been switching them in 2nd and 3rd place over the past few posts. Farrell is 2nd because I think Banshees stands a better shot at a BP nod. You have to go back to 2009 and Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart) where the Best Actor recipient’s movie didn’t achieve BP inclusion. If Elvis makes the big dance – an argument could be made that Butler is Fraser’s most serious competition to shake the race up.

After those three names, it could be a free for all for the final two slots. The only other performer I had listed in 1st place other than Fraser was Hugh Jackman for The Son. This was before it premiered at the festivals and garnered middling reviews. Now the question is whether Jackman gets in at all.

Someone who has fared well on the fest circuit is Bill Nighy for Living. Sony Pictures will need to mount a spirited campaign, but they’re good at that kinda thing. I’m starting to feel better about Nighy than Jackman.

Diego Calva is the biggest remaining question mark for Babylon. Screenings coming up in two weeks should help answer his viability. There’s a pair of indie performances that could bubble up if critics groups assist – Paul Mescal for Aftersun and Jeremy Pope in The Inspection. One possible hindrance for both of them is their movies are both A24 and that studio could be distracted with crowning Fraser. We could see foreign film leads Song Kang-ho (Broker) and Park Hae-il (Decision to Leave) make a play.

Netflix is apparently going in on a spirited campaign for Adam Sandler in Hustle. I have a hard time seeing that pan out (especially since he couldn’t get in for Uncut Gems). The streamer could also focus on Christian Bale (The Pale Blue Eye) or Adam Driver (White Noise). Bale also has Amsterdam, but it failed with critics and audiences.

Finally… there’s Tom Cruise. A three-time nominee, it’s been 23 years since he was in the mix. And a little pic called Top Gun: Maverick was easily the largest blockbuster of his career and the runaway hit of 2022. I’m not ready to put him in my five. I wouldn’t be shocked if he ends up there.

Here’s my current state of this race:

1 . Brendan Fraser, The Whale (Previous Ranking: 1) (Even)

2. Colin Farrell, The Banshees of Inisherin (PR: 2) (E)

3. Austin Butler, Elvis (PR: 3) (E)

4. Bill Nighy, Living (PR: 4) (E)

5. Hugh Jackman, The Son (PR: 5) (E)

Other Possibilities:

6. Diego Calva, Babylon (PR: 6) (E)

7. Tom Cruise, Top Gun: Maverick (PR: 7) (E)

8. Jeremy Pope, The Inspection (PR: 8) (E)

9. Adam Driver, White Noise (PR: 9) (E)

10. Paul Mescal, Aftersun (PR: Not Ranked)

Dropped Out:

Song Kang-ho, Broker

Best Actress is up next!