Best Actor: A Look Back

My look back at the major Oscar categories from 1990 to the present arrives at Best Actor today! If you missed my posts covering Actress and the Supporting races, you can find them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/31/best-actress-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/25/best-supporting-actor-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/20/best-supporting-actress-a-look-back/

As with those previous entries, I am picking the three least surprising winners of the last 28 years, along with the three biggest upsets. Additionally, you’ll see my personal picks for strongest and weakest fields overall.

As a primer, here are the winners from 1990 to now:

1990 – Jeremy Irons, Reversal of Fortune

1991 – Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs

1992 – Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman

1993 – Tom Hanks, Philadelphia

1994 – Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump

1995 – Nicolas Cage, Leaving Las Vegas

1996 – Geoffrey Rush, Shine

1997 – Jack Nicholson, As Good As It Gets

1998 – Roberto Benigni, Life is Beautiful

1999 – Kevin Spacey, American Beauty

2000 – Russell Crowe, Gladiator

2001 – Denzel Washington, Training Day

2002 – Adrien Brody, The Pianist

2003 – Sean Penn, Mystic River

2004 – Jamie Foxx, Ray

2005 – Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote

2006 – Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland

2007 – Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood

2008 – Sean Penn, Milk

2009 – Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart

2010 – Colin Firth, The King’s Speech

2011 – Jean Dujardin, The Artist

2012 – Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

2013 – Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

2014 – Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

2015 – Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

2016 – Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

2017 – Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Let’s begin with the three that I’m deeming as the non-surprise winners. Whittling this down to that number was a challenge. The double wins by Hanks and Penn and even last year’s winner Oldman could’ve easily been named here, too. Here goes…

3. Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman

The legendary thespian was 0 for 6 when it came to nominations and wins entering 1992. He picked up his 7th and 8th nods that year with his supporting role in Glengarry Glen Ross and lead role as a blind former colonel in this Martin Brest directed drama. By Oscar night, it was clear he was finally going to make that trip to the podium.

2. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Like Pacino, DiCaprio had been an Academy bridesmaid before… four times. His fifth nod for The Revenant guaranteed he’d finally be a winner against weak competition (more on that below).

1. Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

I could have named the Method actor’s victory in 2007 for There Will Be Blood as well, but his win five years later as the nation’s 16th President edges it out. From the moment the Steven Spielberg project was announced, Day-Lewis was the odds on favorite and it never changed.

Now – my selections for the upsets:

3. Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs

While it might seem an obvious win nearly 30 years later, Nick Nolte’s work in The Prince of Tides had nabbed him the Golden Globe. Additionally, there was some controversy about Sir Anthony’s inclusion in the lead race due to his approximate 16 minutes of screen time. This is truly evidence of a performance so towering that it couldn’t be ignored.

2. Roberto Benigni, Life is Beautiful

The Italian director/writer/actor was an underdog against competition that included Nick Nolte (once again) for Affliction and Ian McKellen in Gods and Monsters. Mr. Benigni seemed a bit shocked himself when his name was called, as he famously bounded exuberantly to the stage.

1. Adrien Brody, The Pianist

The smart money in 2002 was with Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt or Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York. Brody’s win was pretty shocking, as was the giant smooch he planted on presenter Halle Berry.

When it comes to overall fields, I’m going recent history with both. For strongest, I’ll give it to 2012. That’s the year Day-Lewis won for Lincoln. All other nominees were rock solid as well with Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables), Joaquin Phoenix (The Master), and Denzel Washington (Flight).

For weakest, I’m picking 2015. This is the aforementioned year of DiCaprio’s overdue win. The rest of the field, however, was a bit lacking. It consisted of Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), Matt Damon (The Martian), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), and Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl).

And there’s your Actor look back, folks! Keep an eye out for Best Picture soon as the final post in this series…

Downsizing Movie Review

Director Alexander Payne and his writing partner Jim Taylor enter new genre territory with Downsizing, but it’s filled with the themes found in their previous efforts. A central character searching for meaning in life, marital strife, and classism are on display. Unlike prior features, science fiction elements and a bigger budget are in the mix. This is a story loaded with intriguing prospects  that doesn’t lead to a totally rewarding whole.

A prologue shows the advent of a monumental discovery by Norwegian scientists – the ability to shrink humans to only five inches tall. The reasoning to do it is to save the Earth by significantly reducing pollution and overpopulation. Not all citizens who choose to go through the procedure are hardcore environmentalists. There’s also the added bonus that downsizing is a financial boon. Every dollar in big world translates to about a grand in the smaller one.

This is the primary reason why occupational therapist Paul (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristin Wiig) choose their new path. The Omaha couple agree to downsize and populate the colony of Leisureland. In Nebraska, they’re scraping by. They will be millionaires post op. A surprise happens on the way to the procedure. Paul goes through with it, but Audrey backs out and leaves him.

Lonely Paul must adjust to his tiny new surroundings and life. His eventual divorce agreement causes him to trade his Leisureland mansion for an apartment (albeit a pretty nice one). Up to this point, Downsizing is pretty nifty. The leadup and explanations of how this new world works are fascinating. There’s some prejudice involved with the full size humans meeting those about to become small. Should they get full voting rights, for instance? We also discover there’s nefarious governments that forcibly shrink their dissidents.

Further exploration of themes like these could have made a potentially rich experience. Downsizing goes a different direction. Paul’s upstairs neighbor is a party animal played with expected gusto by Christoph Waltz. It’s through this freewheeling character that Paul meets Ngoc Lan (Hong Chau), a Vietnamese political activist who was punished by that government. She’s an amputee and cleaning lady with a heart of gold. Ngoc Lan takes Paul to the slums of Leisureland where he begins to medically assist its poor residents. He also begins to fall for his companion.

The picture, at this juncture, largely abandons its sci fi leanings and concentrates on issues of self-worth, love, and political themes. Of course, all these things have been present in many great science fiction efforts. However, the tone of Downsizing is a shifty one. There’s moments of satire that aren’t biting enough and an earnestness that can come off cloying. That latter description could sometimes apply to Damon’s work. Payne has directed a number of actors to Oscar nominations. His lead here displays the same syrupy conviction in which he once bought a zoo. Chau is a different story. She creates a character whose backstory might have been really rewarding if shown onscreen. Unfortunately, Ngoc Lan eventually becomes just the love interest to the blander protagonist.

Payne and Taylor deserve a degree of credit for crafting this odd concoction. There’s some original thoughts here and some sequences are truly impressive, especially the downsizing procedure itself. That said, the emotional payoff the filmmakers are reaching for never quite reached me. There are moments in About Schmidt, Sideways, The Descendants and Nebraska that did so more often and with an appreciated higher level of subtlety. So while I admire Downsizing for some big ideas, the overall impact is smaller.

**1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Downsizing

Blogger’s Update (09/19/17) – What Venice giveth, Toronto and Telluride taketh away. Since my original writing of this post on 08/30, Oscar prospects for Downsizing have dimmed due to mixed reaction from the aforementioned festivals.

A major piece of the 2017 Oscar puzzle has come into focus today with the debut of Alexander Payne’s Downsizing at the Venice Film Festival. This picture has been circled on the calendar of Academy Awards prognosticators since it was announced. Why? For starters, this is Payne’s seventh directorial feature and his previous five efforts have all received Oscar attention. For 1999’s Election, Payne received a nod for Adapted Screenplay. 2002’s About Schmidt landed two nominations in the acting races for Jack Nicholson and Kathy Bates. 2004’s Sideways nabbed five nominations, including Picture, Director, and a win for Payne and writing partner Jim Taylor for Adapted Screenplay. 2011’s The Descendants also received five nominations, with Payne winning once again for Adapted Screenplay. His last film, 2013’s Nebraska, garnered six nominations including Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay. His last five movies have resulted in a total of seven acting nods.

So yeah… pretty much anything Payne puts out is an automatic Oscar contender. That does not look to end with Downsizing, his science fiction comedic drama that has drawn rave reviews out of the gate. It’s not out until December 22, but trade reviews are up and they’re glowing with praise. The Hollywood Reporter: “Big and beautiful” and arguably his best film. Variety: “playful, spectacular, mischievous, and audacious”. Interestingly, both reviews reference it as like as a live-action Pixar feature.

Downsizing has a highly recognizable cast that includes Matt Damon, Kristin Wiig, Christoph Waltz, Alec Baldwin, Neil Patrick Harris, Laura Dern, and Jason Sudeikis. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Damon in the mix for Best Actor, based on early word. Yet it’s a name you probably haven’t heard that you’ll soon become familiar with. Playing a Vietnamese refugee, Hong Chau has been singled out for her work and I’d venture to say she will be receiving a Supporting Actress nomination here.

Before today, Dunkirk was the only picture that I feel confident saying will receive a Best Picture nomination. Downsizing is now the second and it will probably land Payne directing and original screenplay (along with Jim Taylor) recognition. Beyond that – Cinematography, Editing, Production Design, and even Visual Effects categories are all feasible.

Bottom line: Downsizing just announced itself as a potential force this awards season. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Todd’s Top 10 Most Awaited Fall 2017 Movies

Well folks – summer is winding down and on the movie calendar, that means fall ushers in Oscar contenders, film festivals, and all kinds of other eagerly awaited releases! Today on the blog, I bring you my 10 most awaited pictures of the season. Getting the list down to that number wasn’t exactly easy, so I’ll cheat a bit and mention some that just “missed the cut”. They include sequels (Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Thor: Ragnarok), star vehicles like American Made with Tom Cruise and Roman Israel, Esq. with Denzel Washington, and Academy contenders like Battle of the Sexes, The Greatest Showman, Suburbicon, Darkest Hour, All the Money in the World, and The Disaster Artist.

Yet here are the ten that my personal movie calendar is most looking forward to (listed alphabetically):

Blade Runner 2049

Release Date: October 6

35 years after Ridley Scott made his landmark sci-fi pic, Sicario and Arrival director Denis Villeneuve enters this visually stunning world with Ryan Gosling, Jared Leto, and Robin Wright and Harrison Ford returning as Deckard.

Downsizing

Release Date: December 22

It may not be out until Christmas, but buzz will be out soon for this Oscar hopeful as it screens in Venice in just days. Alexander Payne’s fantastic filmography includes Election, About Schmidt, Sideways, The Descendants, and Nebraska. His latest is a sci-fi comedy/drama starring Matt Damon, Kristin Wiig, Christoph Waltz, Alec Baldwin, Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Sudeikis, and (get used to hearing this name) Hong Chau, who’s already garnering Supporting Actress talk.

NO TRAILER AT PRESS TIME

It

Release Date: September 8

Fall essentially kicks off with this adaptation of one of Stephen King’s greatest works. Trailers for It looks scary as hell and it could compete for both biggest September debut ever and highest horror opening of all time.

Justice League

Release Date: November 17

DC’s version of The Avengers has been the subject of shaky buzz, but I’m curious to see how Batman, Aquaman, The Flash, and others meld together. Oh… there’s another one in the form of Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, who just happened to headline the summer’s unexpected largest domestic hit (beating out other superheroes like the Guardians and Spidey).

mother!

Release Date: September 15

Darren Aronofsky’s latest looks to be in the vein of his Oscar nominated Black Swan and that’s a very good thing. Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, and Michelle Pfeiffer star and if this trailer is any indication, we’re in for something very intriguing.

Murder on the Orient Express

Release Date: November 10

Michelle Pfeiffer makes another appearance on this list as she’s part of an impressive ensemble embroiled in this adaptation of Agatha Christie’s famed novel. Kenneth Branagh directs himself in the lead as Hercule Poirot. Other familiar faces include Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, and Josh Gad.

The Papers

Release Date: December 22

As in the Pentagon Papers and the Washington Post‘s battle with the Nixon administration to release them. You think this one has Oscar bait potential? It’s directed by Steven Spielberg and stars Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks.

NO TRAILER AT PRESS TIME

Phantom Thread

Release Date: December 27

Here’s how little is really known about this project… we’re not even sure Phantom Thread is its title. What do we know? It’s master filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest and reunites him with his There Will Be Blood star Daniel Day-Lewis.

NO TRAILER AT PRESS TIME

The Shape of Water

Release Date: December 8

Visionary director Guillermo del Toro’s latest looks to be a visual and potentially dramatic winner judging from its trailer. Sally Hawkins and Michael Shannon star in this 1960s set tale of a woman’s friendship with a strange creature.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Release Date: December 15

Last, but oh so far from the least. Rian Johnson takes over directorial duties for the year’s most anticipated release with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) gaining significantly more screen time and Carrie Fisher making her final bow as Princess Leia.

And there you have it, folks! Let us look forward to a hopefully glorious autumn season…