A Most Violent Year Movie Review

JC Chandor’s A Most Violent Year finds our central character succeeding and struggling to achieve the American dream. It is a journey hampered by time, place, and competition. It is one helped by his own drive and tireless ambition and a genuine belief that he is always attempting to do the right thing.

That person is Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) circa New York City 1981. He owns Standard Heating Oil Company and he’s already taken it from a small operation to a growing one. The time and place troubles he faces is a metropolis plagued by high crime rates. His trucks are frequently being hijacked. The competition troubles comes from his suspicions that his rivals are responsible. And that attempting to always do the right thing business doesn’t mean an ambitious District Attorney (David Oyelowo) isn’t breathing down his neck.

Abel’s professional endeavors are assisted by two key individuals: his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) and his attorney (Albert Brooks) who seems to rarely give him good news. Anna is a fascinating character and Chastain’s performance only accentuates her. We are told she comes from a known family with a Brooklyn gangster father. We see flashes of ruthlessness in her that likely came from that upbringing. There are times when you wonder if Abel’s burgeoning yet troubled enterprise would run more smoothly (and probably with more bloodshed involved) if she were CEO.

We’ve seen plenty of crime dramas where our subject is a bad guy attempting to go good. Abel is more of a protagonist trying not to turn antagonist. Isaac is terrific. There are absolutely times where his acting reminds us of Pacino in the first Godfather. He’s a man surrounded by corruption, but with a moral compass that allows him to sleep at night.

For a movie called A Most Violent Year, we see little of it. A subplot involving one of Abel’s drivers (Elyes Gabel) provides some suspenseful and unexpected moments. There is thematically nothing very new here, but I welcomed this Sidney Lumet influenced character study and the first rate acting. Its early 80s NYC vibe doesn’t feel retro. More pleasingly, Year just feels like it could have made in 1981 when we would have watched it in old school VHS glory.

*** (out of four)

The Secret Life of Pets Box Office Prediction

Last year, Universal Pictures animation division had a lovely summer when Minions opened to $115 million with an eventual $336 million gross. The studio is hoping that luck strikes again with The Secret Life of Pets, out next Friday. The 3D animated tale features a voice cast led by Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Albert Brooks (pulling double duty this summer with Pixar’s smash Finding Dory), and many others.

Reviews have been kind as it stands at 83% on Rotten Tomatoes. Trailers and TV spots have been solid and it’s likely that plenty of their kids and their parents will tune in. One factor that could prevent it from topping – say – the $75 million opening of Zootopia earlier this year is the competition factor. While Finding Dory will be in its fourth week and slowing down, it should still get some repeat business. Spielberg’s The BFG will be in its second weekend. Still, I think it’ll come darn close.

That said, I expect Pets to fall somewhere in the range of $65-$75 million, which is a pretty common debut for a high-profile animated feature. The 9th through 19th top animated premieres have all started out with those numbers. My prediction puts it right outside the top ten at #11 – right between The Simpsons Movie and Shrek Forever After

The Secret Life of Pets opening weekend prediction: $73.7 million

For my Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates prediction, click here:


Finding Dory Box Office Prediction

Thirteen years after the original made a major splash at the box office, Finding Dory hits theaters next weekend and looks to reinvigorate a somewhat slumping marketplace. The Disney/Pixar release is, of course, the sequel to 2003’s now classic Finding Nemo. Director Andrew Stanton is back, as are the voices of Ellen DeGeneres and Albert Brooks. Plenty of other familiar faces make their voices heard here – Diane Keaton, Bill Hader, Idris Elba, Eugene Levy, Kate McKinnon, Ty Burrell, Ed O’Neill, and Dominic West among them.

The summer of 2016 has seen a host of sequels not matching up to their originals. Some of them have been family programming, like Alice Through the Looking Glass and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows.

It is highly likely that Dory will not suffer the same fate. In fact, the real question seems to be whether or not this will score Pixar’s largest opening weekend in its now 21 year history. That honor currently belongs to another sequel, 2010’s Toy Story 3, which debuted with $110.3 million. Dory is currently said to be tracking a bit above that. I believe it will surpass that number, but probably not by much (though with the sequelitis occurring recently, I do feel a touch of nervousness with this prediction). Still, if anything can break through – it’s this.

In order for it to score the second biggest animated premiere in history, it’d need to top the $115.7 million earned by last summer’s Minions. To get to #1, Dory would have to swim past the $121.6 million gross of Shrek the Third from 2007. It’s possible that it could achieve either one of those records.

I’ll predict Dory falls below Shrek and just above Minions to earn the #2 animated debut stateside and also set the Pixar record. That would go a long ways toward washing the bad taste out of the Mouse Factory’s mouths for Looking Glass and last fall’s The Good Dinosaur, which was the first Pixar title to lose money.

Finding Dory opening weekend prediction: $117.3 million

For my Central Intelligence prediction, click here:


Oscar History: 2011

For the Academy Awards, 2011 will forever be known as the year when a French black and white silent film came out of nowhere to win three major categories, including Best Picture. That would be The Artist and it picked up momentum over its rivals, becoming one of the more unlikely recipients of the prize in some time.

During that year, the number of Picture nominees was nine and it beat out The Descendants, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, and War Horse. 

As for some others I may have considered, my favorite film of the year was Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. Another personal favorite: David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Furthermore, the expanded list of nominees could have given the Academy a chance to nominate some of the better blockbusters that year: Rise of the Planet of the Apes or Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol for example.

The Artist‘s auteur Michel Hazanavicius would win Director over stellar competitors: Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris), Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life), Alexander Payne (The Descendants), and Martin Scorsese (Hugo). Again, Mr. Refn and Mr. Fincher would have made my cut.

The Artist love continued in Best Actor where Jean Dujardin took the prize over Demian Bichir (A Better Life), George Clooney (The Descendants), Gary Oldman in his first (??) nomination (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), and Brad Pitt (Moneyball).

I may have found room for Ryan Gosling’s silent but strong work in Drive or perhaps even Steve Carell in Crazy, Stupid, Love – in which he showed off real dramatic acting chops coupled with his comedic abilities for the first time.

Awards darling Meryl Streep took Best Actress for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher (no relation) in The Iron Lady. Othern nominees: Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), Viola Davis (The Help), Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), and Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn).

The Academy’s penchant for ignoring comedy was shown here as Kristin Wiig should have merited consideration for her megahit Bridesmaids.

Beloved veteran Christopher Plummer won Supporting Actor for Beginners over Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn), Jonah Hill (Moneyball), Nick Nolte (Warrior), and Max Von Sydow (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close).

Two others I may have made room for: Albert Brooks in Drive and especially the brilliant motion capture work of Andy Serkis in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Octavia Spencer was victorious in Supporting Actress for The Help over her costar Jessica Chastain, as well as Berenice Bejo (The Artist), Melissa McCarthy in the rare nod for comedy in Bridesmaids, and Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs).

Two other comedic performances worthy of consideration: Rose Byrne in Bridesmaids and Jennifer Aniston’s scene stealing work in Horrible Bosses. I also would have found room for Shailene Woodley in The Descendants.

And that’s your Oscar history for 2011, folks! I’ll have 2012 up in the near future.

Concussion Box Office Prediction

Tackling a topic that’s been in the forefront of sports news recently, Concussion opens Christmas Day, headlined by Will Smith. The pic focuses on the controversy with head trauma and the NFL, casting its star as the real life doctor trying to warn the multi-billion dollar organization of its effects. Costars include Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Albert Brooks, and Luke Wilson as Commissioner Goodell.

Reviews for Concussion have been mixed and it currently stands at 65% on Rotten Tomatoes. Smith could find himself in the mix for Best Actor at the Oscars and that exposure helps. The pic has been advertised frequently during sporting events on TV.

Yet that still might not add up to a big opening weekend. Competition is fierce for adults (Joy, The Big Short open against it) and its lack of major buzz could mean a debut in the low teens. The best hope for Concussion may be playing solidly over future weekends, which it may well accomplish.

Concussion opening weekend prediction: $13.8 million

For my Joy prediction, click here:


For my Daddy’s Home prediction, click here:


For my Point Break prediction, click here:


For my The Big Short prediction, click here:


New York Critics Go Caroling

In 2002, the New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC) went gaga over Todd Haynes’s drama Far From Heaven, bestowing it with their award for Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (Dennis Quaid), and Supporting Actress (Patricia Clarkson). Yet when it came time for Oscar nominations, none of those picks were reflected with the Academy.

Thirteen years later, could history repeat itself again for Mr. Haynes? It’s a worthy question as the NYFCC have showered love upon his latest project, Carol. The 1950s drama centering on a lesbian relationship won big at their ceremony today, taking Picture and Director. The Big Apple critics appreciation for Carol gives it a somewhat needed boost for its Oscar chances. When it screened at film festivals earlier this year, it seemed close to a lock for Picture recognition but its stock has waned some.

As I did yesterday with the National Board of Review’s selections, it’s important to show you how often each critics organization matches what the Academy ends up doing. With the NYFCC, 12 out of their last 15 selections for Best Picture (the ones in the 21st century) have gone onto Oscar nominations in the same category. The exceptions were the aforementioned Heaven, 2001’s Mulholland Drive, and 2006’s United 93.

The same 12/15 ratio extends to the Directing category in which winners were Academy snubbed. Besides Haynes, the others were Mike Leigh for 2008’s Happy Go Lucky and Kathyn Bigelow for 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty.

I believe it’s much more likely that Carol manages a slot in the Picture race come Oscar nomination time than Haynes himself, but we’ll see how that plays out well as my predictions continue to be updated on the blog.

As for the acting races – the NYFCC hit us with two surprises. The biggest was Supporting Actress where they selected Kristen Stewart for her work in the little seen Clouds of Sils Maria. While she’s been mentioned as a possibility, very few prognosticators (this one included) have picked her for a Oscar nomination. I still don’t see it happening, but this win does raise her profile for sure. It’s also worth noting that only 2 of the last 15 NYFCC recipients in this category haven’t received Academy attention (the aforementioned Clarkson for Heaven and Maria Bello in 2005’s A History of Violence). Even more surprising is that the NYFCC didn’t honor Rooney Mara’s work in Carol, since many consider her the most likely winner for the gold statue.

The other surprise was Best Actor, which went to Michael Keaton in Spotlight. The shocker was the category he won for because Mr. Keaton is being campaigned for in Supporting Actor and not lead. It’s highly likely that the Bat/Birdman will be recognized come Oscar time… just not in the race where the NYFCC feted him. Of note: three past winners in the 21st century didn’t get Oscar nods: Paul Giamatti in 2004’s Sideways and the last two recipients: Robert Redford for All is Lost and Timothy Spall as Mr. Turner.

Actress went to Saoirse Ronan for Brooklyn and her Academy nod seems pretty much assured. She joins Room‘s Brie Larson (who won the NBR yesterday), Joy‘s Jennifer Lawrence, and Carol‘s Cate Blanchett as front runners for award attention into the future. As with Actor, three winners out of the past 15 didn’t receive Academy attention: Hope Davis for 2003’s American Splendor, Sally Hawkins for 2008’s Happy Go Lucky, and Rachel Weisz for 2012’s The Deep Blue Sea. 

Supporting Actor went to Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies and he’s also a strong contender in the big race. It is worth noting that the NYFCC has actually picked five out of their last 15 winners that never made it to the Academy’s red carpet: the previously mentioned Quaid in 2002, Steve Buscemi for Ghost World (2001), Eugene Levy in A Mighty Wind (2003), Albert Brooks in Drive (2011), and Matthew McConaughey for Magic Mike and Bernie (2012).

Bottom line: a solid day for Carol and we’ll see if the momentum keeps up as my analysis for the 2015 awards season keeps rolling along…

Oscar Watch: Concussion

Last night at the AFI Film Festival, critics got their first look at Concussion – the eagerly awaited pic centering on the NFL’s policies regarding brain injuries. The film wasn’t ever really looked at as a major threat in Best Picture or Director (Peter Landesman) and that hasn’t changed. It’s so far received mixed notices and sits at 57% on Rotten Tomatoes. Supporting players like Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Albert Brooks are also unlikely to be factors.

Where Concussion does stand a very real shot at a nod is for its lead actor, Will Smith. Critics have specifically singled him out and it could well mean a third nomination for Big Willie after 2001’s Ali and 2007’s The Pursuit of Happyness. It also helps that this year’s Actor race doesn’t seem quite as competitive compared to the last couple of years. Others in the mix include last year’s winner Eddie Redmayne for The Danish Girl, Michael Fassbender for box office flop Steve Jobs, Matt Damon in box office bonanza The Martian, Michael Caine for Youth, Johnny Depp in Black Mass, and Leonardo DiCaprio in the as yet unseen The Revenant.

Considering that crowd, it’s pretty easy to see Smith finding himself in the fold, especially if Concussion does well at the box office. He may find himself among my predicted nominees for the first time when my third round of predictions hits next week. Concussion arrives in theaters on Christmas.

A Most Violent Year Box Office Prediction

JC Chandor’s A Most Violent Year was once looked at as a potential awards contender, but it didn’t quite pan out. The crime thriller set in early 1980s New York City has been a hit with critics (it boasts a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes). Yet it received exactly zero Oscar nominations.

The cast is filled with familiar faces including Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, and Albert Brooks. The picture has performed decently in limited release and expands nationwide tomorrow on a fairly low 818 screens. It’s difficult to see this breaking through and certainly Academy Awards nods would’ve assisted. The studio should feel great if this manages $5 million out of the gate, but I don’t see it happening.

A Most Violent Year opening weekend prediction: $3.4 million

Oscar Watch: A Most Violent Year

The Best Picture race took yet another turn today when the National Board of Review named JC Chandor’s early 80s set New York City crime thriller A Most Violent Year as its choice for film of the year. Chandor is the well-regarded director of both Margin Call and All is Lost. The picture stars Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, Albert Brooks, and David Oyelowo. Critical reception has been outstanding as it rates 93% on Rotten Tomatoes at press time.

How significant is a National Board of Review victory? Let’s go the stats as only two NBR winners in the last 25 years have not been nominated for Picture at the Oscars (1998’s Gods and Monsters and 2000’s Quills).

I have yet to include Year among my nine predicted nominees in past blog posts. That is highly likely to change when I do my next round of predictions (probably next week). While its nomination seems forthcoming, a win seems out of reach. Only eight of the last 25 years NBR winners have gone onto win the big prize and Year definitely seems well behind Boyhood, Birdman, The Imitation Game, and Selma (and maybe some others).

As for other nominations, JC Chandor has improved his opportunity for a directing nod, as have Oscar Isaac for Actor and Jessica Chastain for Supporting Actress. Chastain seems the most probable right now, due to the more crowded fields in the other categories. In fact, one of Isaac’s main competitors is his Violent costar Oyelowo (whose nod seems assured for Selma). The film could also sneak into the Original Screenplay derby, which is also a packed race.

Any way you look at it – A Most Violent Year improved its Academy opportunities today with the NBR’s activity.

Todd’s Oscar Predictions: ROUND TWO (October Edition)

This evening on the blog, we arrive at round two of my Oscar Predictions for the 2014 race, which will air in early 2015 with Neil Patrick Harris handling hosting duties. In late August, I made my initial round of predictions and two months later, much has changed and much has stayed the same. Unlike my first round, my second go round will include the races of Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Screenplay.

Let’s get to it, shall we? Here’s where I see the Oscar race right now in the eight major categories:

Best Adapted Screenplay

For my first crack at the Adapted Screenplay race, it’s probably safe to assume Gillian Flynn’s adaptation of her own bestseller Gone Girl will make the cut, as well as festival favorites The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything. I’m also safely (at the moment) including Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, even though no one has seen it yet. The fifth slot includes several contenders: Still Alice, Inherent Vice, Wild, Into the Woods, and American Sniper. No one has viewed Sniper yet, but its recently released trailer inspires hope.

Todd’s Current Predictions for BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

American Sniper

Gone Girl

The Imitation Game

The Theory of Everything


Best Original Screenplay

Richard Linklater’s Boyhood and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Birdman appear to be shoo-ins for inclusion. I’m also thinking Wes Anderson’s work for The Grand Budapest Hotel stands it best chance at a nod here. For the remaining two slots – I’m saying Foxcatcher and Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, for now. Other contenders include Mr. Turner, Top Five, Whiplash, A Most Violent Year, Selma, and Big Eyes.

Todd’s Current Predictions for BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY




The Grand Budapest Hotel


Best Supporting Actress

This race has changed quite a bit since my first round of predictions. I originally had both Emily Blunt for Into the Woods and Felicity Jones for The Theory of Everything listed here, but it’s since been announced their performances will fall into the Best Actress race. They’re out – along with Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King in Selma. The only two actresses from my initial predictions are Patricia Arquette in Boyhood (who’s a front runner) and Laura Dern in Wild. Added to the mix are Emma Stone in Birdman and Keira Knightley in The Imitation Game. Other possibilities for the fifth slot include Meryl Streep in Into the Woods, Jessica Chastain in Interstellar, Carrie Coon for Gone Girl, Sienna Miller in American Sniper, Julianne Moore in A Map to the Stars, Anna Kendrick in Into the Woods, Katherine Waterson in Inherent Vice, and Jessica Lange in The Gambler. I’ll go with Kristen Stewart as a surprise nominee for the acclaimed Still Alice.

Todd’s Current Predictions for BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

Laura Dern, Wild

Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game

Kristen Stewart, Still Alice

Emma Stone, Birdman

Best Supporting Actor

My first predictions didn’t include J.K. Simmons for his lauded work in Whiplash, but he could be considered the favorite at this juncture. Staying in are Edward Norton in Birdman and Mark Ruffalo in Foxcatcher and it’s tough to imagine them not being recognized. For the other two slots, I’m including Miyavi for his villainous role in Unbroken and Ethan Hawke for Boyhood. Left out from my first round: Domhall Gleeson (Unbroken), Logan Lerman (Fury), and Tim Roth (Selma). Other contenders: John Goodman for The Gambler, Tom Wilkinson for Selma, Albert Brooks for A Most Violent Year, Christoph Waltz for Big Eyes, Josh Brolin in Inherent Vice, Robert Duvall in The Judge, and Johnny Depp for Into the Woods.

Todd’s Current Predictions for BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Ethan Hawke, Boyhood

Miyavi, Unbroken

Edward Norton, Birdman

Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher

J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

Best Actress

Following my August estimates, the festival circuit anointed Julianne Moore as a likely front runner for playing an Alzheimer’s patient in Still Alice. I’m also sticking with initial predictions Amy Adams (Big Eyes), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl), and Reese Witherspoon (Wild). Since the announcement of her inclusion in this race and not Supporting Actress, Felicity Jones joins the fray for The Theory of Everything. Other possibilities: Jessica Chastain in A Most Violent Year (who made the cut in August), Emily Blunt for Into the Woods, Shailene Woodley in The Fault in Our Stars, and Hilary Swank for The Homesman.

Todd’s Current Predictions for BEST ACTRESS:

Amy Adams, Big Eyes

Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything

Julianne Moore, Still Alice

Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl

Reese Witherspoon, Wild

Best Actor

Just like last year, what a crowded field we have! The following quartet seem virtual locks for nominations: Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything), Michael Keaton (Birdman), and Steve Carell (Foxcatcher). The fifth slot is the real mystery. I originally had Joaquin Phoenix here for Inherent Vice, but I’m skeptical now. For now, I’ll replace him with Jack O’Connell in Unbroken. Other possibilities include Timothy Spall for Mr. Turner (who could easily find a way in), Bradley Cooper in American Sniper (same), Ralph Fiennes for The Grand Budapest Hotel, Ben Affleck in Gone Girl, Bill Murray for St. Vincent, David Oyelowo in Selma (depends on film’s success and critical reception), Oscar Isaac in A Most Violent Year, Matthew McConaughey for Interstellar (fact that he won last year hurts), Jake Gyllenhall for Nightcrawler (pic is probably too quirky and small), and Channing Tatum for Foxcatcher (Carell likely to steal his thunder).

Todd’s Current Predictions for BEST ACTOR:

Steve Carell, Foxcatcher

Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game

Michael Keaton, Birdman

Jack O’Connell, Unbroken

Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

Best Director

Only one change here as I’m taking Bennett Miller’s direction for Foxcatcher out and putting David Fincher’s work in Gone Girl in. I think the commercial and critical success of it and Fincher’s reputation as one of Hollywood’s best filmmakers gets him in (at press time). Those who could spoil my predictions: Clint Eastwood (American Sniper), Ana DuVernay (Selma), Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game), Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Mike Leigh (Mr. Turner), James Marsh (The Theory of Everything), JC Chandor (A Most Violent Year), and Rob Marshall (Into the Woods).

Todd’s Current Predictions for BEST DIRECTOR

David Fincher, Gone Girl

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman

Angelina Jolie, Unbroken

Richard Linklater, Boyhood

Christopher Nolan, Interstellar

Best Picture

As you may know, anywhere from 5-10 films can be nominated in the biggest category of them all. Since that system has been in place, nine pictures have been recognized every time. In August’s predictions, I predicted eight. And now – I’m going with nine. The MLK biopic Selma is the one I’ve removed. Don’t get me wrong – it could still easily make the cut, but no one’s seen it yet and it’s a question mark. Gone Girl and American Sniper enter the race in my opinion and this marks their first inclusion. Other films that could potentially make the cut (even though I say no at the moment): Mr. Turner, Whiplash, The Grand Budapest Hotel, A Most Violent Year, and Into the Woods.

Todd’s Current Predictions for BEST PICTURE

American Sniper




Gone Girl

The Imitation Game


The Theory of Everything