Oscar Watch – Alita: Battle Angel

James Cameron is no stranger to Oscar attention with Titanic winning Best Picture 21 years ago and Avatar picking up a slew of nominations in 2009. In two weeks, he serves as co-writer for Alita: Battle Angel along with Laeta Kologridis. It’s directed by Robert Rodriguez. The pic is based on a well-known series of cyberpunk graphic novels from Japan. Rosa Salazar voices the title character and provides motion capture work for her movements in this mix of live and CG action.

Reviews are out and they’re skewing negative, along with some positive here and there. The Rotten Tomatoes score is currently 44%. A lot of the critics are particularly picking apart the screenplay and that’s not an uncommon knock on Cameron’s writing.

Alita comes with a reported budget upwards of $200 million and it’s being seen as a potential costly flop stateside (foreign grosses could be a different story). While this clearly won’t contend for major categories in awards season, the state of the art visuals have been praised. And it’s worth noting that Cameron’s directorial efforts Aliens, The Abyss, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Titanic, and Avatar all won Best Visual Effects at the Oscars.

That said, there’s plenty of eye-popping blockbuster feasts on the schedule in 2019 (Avengers: Endgame and the next Star Wars included). With the possibility of negative buzz enveloping it, this may not even be a slam dunk in that category. In that sense, it could be similar to 2017’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, which also had poor word-of-mouth and missed out in its most obvious slot for recognition. If this manages a nod, the two Sound races are possible as well.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Best Year’s Ever

As one year turns to the next in short order, it got me thinking. What are some examples of actors and directors who had remarkable calendar frames over the past few decades? The guidelines are pretty simple – the individual must have had two (and in a couple of cases, three or more) pictures that made an impact during 19(fill in the blank) or 20(fill in the blank).

And wouldn’t you know it? My ruminations quickly turned into a lengthy list that I’ve paired down to a top 25. Let’s call this Best Year’s Ever and count down from #25 to #1!

25. Channing Tatum (2012)

It was a busy year for the performer to say the least. Tatum was in Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire, but three major roles made him the star he is today. There was the hit romance The Vow, hit comedy 21 Jump Street, and his signature and semi-autobiographical title role in the summer sleeper Magic Mike (also from Mr. Soderbergh).

24. John Travolta (1996)

Two years following his major comeback in Pulp Fiction and a year following his Golden Globe nominated lead in Get Shorty, Travolta’s hot streak continued with three hits: John Woo’s action thriller Broken Arrow and fantasy dramas Phenomenon and Michael.

23. Clint Eastwood (1971)

The last two months of 1971 were fruitful for the legend. In November, he made his directorial debut with the well-reviewed psychological thriller Play Misty for Me. This began a career of dozens of behind the camera works, including Best Picture winners Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby. In December, Eastwood starred as Dirty Harry which spawned his lucky cop franchise.

22. Sigourney Weaver (1988)

Weaver won two Golden Globes 30 years ago – Best Actress (Drama) for Gorillas in the Mist and Supporting Actress for Working Girl. She would be nominated for two Oscars as well, but come up short. All part of a remarkable decade that included Ghostbusters and Aliens.

21. Joe Pesci (1990)

Pesci won an Oscar for his unforgettable supporting work in Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas. That same fall, he was a burglar terrorizing Macaulay Culkin in the holiday classic Home Alone.

20. Kevin Spacey (1995)

Current scandals aside, there’s no denying Spacey was the movie villain of 1995. He won an Academy Award as (spoiler alert!) Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects and as a demented serial killer in Seven. Earlier in the year, he costarred with Dustin Hoffman and Morgan Freeman in  Outbreak and headlined the critically approved indie comedy Swimming with Sharks.

19. Nicolas Cage (1997)

Leaving Las Vegas awarded Cage his Oscar two years prior. By the summer of 1997, he was a full-fledged action hero with two blockbusters in the same month: Con Air and Face/Off.

18. Will Ferrell (2003)

Ferrell’s transformation from SNL favorite to movie star happened here with the spring’s Old School as Frank the Tank and in the winter as Buddy in Elf.

17. Morgan Freeman (1989)

The nation’s Narrator-in-Chief had a trio of significant roles nearly three decades ago – his Oscar nominated chauffeur in the Best Picture winner Driving Miss Daisy, a dedicated and stern principal in Lean on Me, and a Civil War officer in Glory.

16. Steven Soderbergh (2000)

The prolific filmmaker made two Best Picture nominees with Erin Brockovich and Traffic (he would win Best Director for the latter). Both surpassed the century mark at the box office and Julia Roberts won Best Actress for Brockovich and Benicio del Toro took Supporting Actor in Traffic.

15. Halle Berry (2001)

Ms. Berry had a revealing role in the summer action fest Swordfish. She then became the first (and thus far only) African-American to win Best Actress for Monster’s Ball. This was all sandwiched between XMen hits.

14. Hugh Jackman (2017)

Berry’s XMen cast mate Jackman retired his Wolverine character to critical and audience admiration with Logan in the spring. At the end of the year, his musical The Greatest Showman was an unexpected smash.

13. Leonardo DiCaprio (2002)

Five years after Titanic, the jury was still out as to whether DiCaprio’s leading man status would hold up. His roles in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York and Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can left little doubt. He’s been one of Hollywood’s most dependable stars since.

12. Francis Ford Coppola (1974)

In 1972, Coppola made perhaps the greatest American film of all time with The Godfather. Two years later, its sequel came with enormous expectations and exceeded them. Like part one, it won Best Picture. As if that weren’t enough, he made another Picture nominee in ‘74 with the Gene Hackman surveillance thriller The Conversation.

11. Michael Douglas (1987)

His signature role as greedy tycoon Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street won him an Oscar and gave him one of the most famous cinematic speeches ever. He also lit up the screen in the blockbuster thriller Fatal Attraction, which was the year’s second largest grosser.

10. Julia Roberts (1999)

She started the decade with a smash star making turn in Pretty Woman. Julia Roberts ended it with two romantic comedy summer $100 million plus earners: Notting Hill with Hugh Grant and Runaway Bride (which reunited her with Pretty costar Richard Gere). She’d win her Oscar the next year for Erin Brockovich.

9. Tom Cruise (1996)

1986 wasn’t too shabby either with Top Gun and The Color of Money. Yet it’s a decade later that serves as Cruise’s year with the franchise starter Mission: Impossible in the summer and Cameron Crowe’s Jerry Maguire, which earned Cruise a Golden Globe award and an Oscar nod. They were the third and fourth biggest hits of the year, respectively.

8. Sandra Bullock (2013)

Nearly two decades after her breakout role in Speed, Bullock had a banner 2013 alongside Melissa McCarthy in the summer comedy The Heat and her Oscar nominated turn as a stranded astronaut in the fall’s Gravity.

7. Sylvester Stallone (1985)

Sly was the undisputed champion of the box office (not to mention sequels and Roman numerals) in 1985, notching the second and third top hits of the year behind Back to the Future. They were for his two signature characters with Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rocky IV.

6. Robert Downey Jr. (2008)

A decade after all the wrong kind of headlines for his drug addiction, Downey Jr. pulled off perhaps the most impressive comeback in movie history. 2008 saw him as Tony Stark in Iron Man, the film that kicked off the MCU in grand fashion. Later that summer came Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder, which earned Downey a rare Oscar nod for a comedic performance.

5. Tom Hanks (1993)

There’s more than one year to consider for Hanks… 1995 (Apollo 13, Toy Story) comes to mind. Yet 1993 saw him with Meg Ryan in the now classic Sleepless in Seattle and winning an Oscar in Philadelphia as a lawyer diagnosed with AIDS. His status as a romantic and dramatic lead was solidified in a matter of months. A consecutive Academy Award followed in 1994 for Forrest Gump.

4. Mel Brooks (1974)

The director managed to make two of the most beloved comedies of all time in one year… Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. The two features combined contain some of the funniest scenes ever filmed.

3. Jennifer Lawrence (2012)

Already an Oscar nominee two years prior for Winter’s Bone, Lawrence’s road to superstardom was paved in 2012. In March came The Hunger Games, the year’s third top earner that spawned three sequels. In December came Silver Linings Playbook, where she won Best Actress.

2. Jim Carrey (1994)

In 1993, Carrey was known as a great cast member of Fox’s groundbreaking sketch show “In Living Color”. By the end of 1994, he was the most bankable comedic star in America as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber all hit screens.

1. Steven Spielberg (1993)

In a list filled with lots of choices, the #1 selection was rather easy. The highest grossing filmmaker of all time’s 1993 was astonishing. Dino tale Jurassic Park in the summer was a marvel technical achievement that began a franchise. At the time of its release, it became the largest grosser in history with the top opening weekend yet seen. Six months later, Holocaust epic Schindler’s List won seven Academy Awards (including Picture and for Spielberg’s direction).

I hope your New Year is your best yet, readers! Have a happy one…

RIP Bill Paxton

Sadly, this morning I write a post I didn’t expect to with the news that Bill Paxton has passed away at age 61. For even casual movie fans, Paxton was a very familiar face that starred and co-starred in blockbusters such as Aliens, True Lies, Twister, and Titanic.

Upon hearing the news of his death, I began to realize just how present he’s been in my movie watching existence over the last three decades plus. I first knew of him as Chet, the bullying older brother in Weird Science. If that is a guilty pleasure pic, his performance is one of the best pleasures in it. It’s a terrific comedic performance.

Just one year later, his role in Aliens stuck out in that fantastic sequel with one-liners like “Game Over, Man!” That same year, he starred in Kathryn Bigelow’s vampire cult classic Near Dark.

All told, Mr. Paxton has about a dozen DVDs and Blu-Rays sitting on my shelf. Like I said, he was truly a part of many of our collective filmgoing experiences from the 1980s on. He was alongside Tom Cruise just three years ago in the solid Edge of Tomorrow and was a rival tabloid cameraman to Jake Gyllenhaal in my favorite picture of 2014, Nightcrawler.

His TV credits include headlining HBO’s “Big Love” and just a few weeks ago, his CBS crime drama “Training Day” (based on the 2001 Denzel Washington film) premiered. His final movie will be The Circle with Tom Hanks and Emma Watson. It opens in April.

Other notable onscreen efforts range from Predator 2 to Tombstone to A Simple Plan and U571. Today I wish to highlight a trio of lesser known titles worth seeking out:

Two are from 1992. Trespass finds him and William Sadler as firefighters who find a treasure map that pits them against drug dealers Ice Cube and Ice-T. It’s great gritty fun. One False Move is an intense crime thriller from director Carl Franklin and written by Billy Bob Thornton. Gene Siskel named it as his favorite movie of that year and it is impressive.

Paxton turned to directing himself in 2001 with Frailty, an underrated and effective thriller where the actor plays a religiously fanatical father. I just watched it again recently and it made me wish Paxton had directed more.

What Bill Paxton did leave us with is his own treasure trove of performances to enjoy. He will be missed.