Rocketman Movie Review

Rocketman, the biopic of legendary piano man Elton John, exists in familiar territory. Yet it manages to do so in an often inventive fashion with a commanding performance by its lead. The pic is directed by Dexter Fletcher, who filled in on Bohemian Rhapsody when Bryan Singer was dumped. They share similar themes of a shy boy coming into his own as an eventual iconic music figure. Unlike Rhapsody, Taron Egerton quite capably and bravely provides the vocal work of the man he’s playing.

The opening finds Elton in a high place both literally and figuratively as he’s about to once again play to a sold out crowd. He’s also at a low in terms of multiple kinds of addiction. Finally asking for help via Alcoholics Anonymous, Lee Hall’s screenplay then provides the framework for flashbacks of his life. It begins with him as the pint sized Reginald Dwight in 1950s England. He’s ignored by his father (Steven Mackintosh) and treated with ambivalence by his mum (Bryce Dallas Howard). His discovery of the piano is a watershed moment. Reginald has natural talent but a laser focus on perfecting the craft.

His most significant encounter comes through Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell). He writes the songs and Elton provides the melodies. Bernie is often the only figure in his life who genuinely cares about the newly christened Elton. Fighting through timidity, the newly named vocalist gets loud on the mic and with his outfits. Fame, fortune, and drug addiction follow as they so frequently do.

Those plot points are as known as the lyrics to many Elton tunes. Lucky for us, this isn’t just about a musician. It’s a genuine musical with tightly choreographed numbers set to high energy bangers like “Saturday Night’s Alright” and “The Bitch is Back” and contemplative pieces like “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me” and the title track. It has the second best movie scene set to “Tiny Dancer”. It’s a tall order to top Almost Famous.

Elton’s love life and homosexuality are explored from an ill-conceived marriage to a woman to his turbulent romance with manager John Reid (Richard Madden). By the time “I’m Still Standing” rises over the speakers, I felt pretty satisfied with this journey through his career and road to sobriety. There’s certainly a theme of Elton forging through his issues and creating his own reality with his outlandish persona. He may not have written all of the words that skyrocketed him to superstardom, but he provided the unforgettable notes. Rocketman often succeeds at capturing them.

*** (out of four)

Best Supporting Actress: A Look Back

Today begins a new blog series where I’m looking back at five of the major Oscar categories from 1990 to the present: the four acting races and Best Picture. This is essentially the time period where I’ve closely watched and analyzed. My charge? Picking the three largest upsets in each said category and the three least surprising winners… a film or performer where it truly would have been a shock if they didn’t emerge victorious.

We begin with Best Supporting Actress and this is one in which there have been some genuine upsets over the past quarter century plus. Unlike some other races we’ll get to later, it was not a challenge to pick three unexpected winners.

The other agenda item here is I’m picking my personal selections for strongest and weakest overall field among the five nominees in the acting derby’s and five-ten for Best Picture.

For starters, here’s the list of women that won gold statues in the supporting race from 1990 to now:

1990 – Whoopi Goldberg, Ghost

1991 – Mercedes Ruehl, The Fisher King

1992 – Marisa Tomei, My Cousin Vinny

1993 – Anna Paquin, The Piano

1994 – Dianne Wiest, Bullets Over Broadway

1995 – Mira Sorvino, Mighty Aphrodite

1996 – Juliette Binoche, The English Patient

1997 – Kim Basinger, L.A. Confidential

1998 – Judi Dench, Shakespeare in Love

1999 – Angelina Jolie, Girl, Interrupted

2000 – Marcia Gay Harden, Pollock

2001 – Jennifer Connelly, A Beautiful Mind

2002 – Catherine Zeta-Jones, Chicago

2003 – Renee Zellweger, Cold Mountain

2004 – Cate Blanchett, The Aviator

2005 – Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardner

2006 – Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls

2007 – Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton

2008 – Penelope Cruz, Vicky Christina Barcelona

2009 – Mo’Nique, Precious

2010 – Melissa Leo, The Fighter

2011 – Octavia Spencer, The Help

2012 – Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

2013 – Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave

2014 – Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

2015 – Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

2016 – Viola Davis, Fences

2017 – Allison Janney, I, Tonya

I’ll begin with the least surprising winners. Truthfully, there are plenty of selections (and will be in each race) to pick from here. It’s normal procedure for the front runner to actually win. Here’s three that did just that:

3. Dianne Wiest, Bullets Over Broadway

Of the 28 recipients to choose from, note that 3 of them were under the direction of Woody Allen. None were surprise winners. That’s most evident with Wiest’s showcase work as an aging diva here. Her win here came just eight years following her Oscar winning role in another Allen pic, Hannah and Her Sisters.

2. Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls

Fans of the Broadway play this is based upon knew Ms. Hudson could have a legitimate breakthrough part here. She nailed it and her win was never in much doubt.

1. Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

Similar to Hudson’s victory, Hathaway’s casting as Fantine and her “I Dreamed a Dream” dramatic solo made her the odds-on favorite from the moment the project was announced. That never changed.

Now we get to the upsets and there were four to choose from. I could easily include Anna Paquin in The Piano, who became the second youngest winner when she beat out favorite Winona Ryder for The Age of Innocence. Here’s 3 I rank as even more surprising:

3. Marcia Gay Harden, Pollock

Harden had won no significant precursors and Kate Hudson was expected to have her name called for Almost Famous. She wasn’t even nominated for a Golden Globe or SAG.

2. Juliette Binoche, The English Patient

While the film itself was the anticipated winner for Picture (which it did), the Oscars were expected to select the legendary Lauren Bacall for her work in Barbra Streisand’s The Mirror Has Two Faces. Yet it was Binoche’s performance that was unexpectedly honored.

1. Marisa Tomei, My Cousin Vinny

For starters, comedic roles are rarely nominated and wins are even more unheard of. Tomei was a newcomer in a picture that wasn’t a factor in any other category. Her competition was a list of venerable actresses: Judy Davis (Husbands and Wives), Joan Plowright (Enchanted April), Vanessa Redgrave (Howards End), and Miranda Richardson (Damages). The victory here was so shocking that conspiracy theories emerged that presenter Jack Palance had accidentally read the wrong name. That’s been debunked, but Tomei’s trip to the stage remains one of Oscar’s largest jaw droppers.

As for the fields, I’m going with 1991 for the weakest link in the chain. I probably would have given the award to Juliette Lewis in Cape Fear. However, the group was not particularly strong:

Mercedes Ruehl, The Fisher King (Winner)

Diane Ladd, Rambling Rose

Juliette Lewis, Cape Fear

Kate Nelligan, The Prince of Tides

Jessica Tandy, Fried Green Tomatoes

For the strongest field overall, I went with 2004 when Cate Blanchett won for her portrayal of Katherine Hepburn in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator. The other nominees:

Laura Linney, Kinsey

Virginia Madsen, Sideways

Sophie Okonedo, Hotel Rwanda

Natalie Portman, Closer

And there you have it! I’ll have Supporting Actor up soon…

The Best Picture Coulda Been Contenders: 1990-2008

In 2009, the Academy underwent a change in the number of Best Picture nominees honored each year. The rule change allowed a fluctuation of five to ten nominees per year, as opposed to a finite five (all other categories stayed at that number).

As has been discussed on this blog, many felt the change was triggered by 2008’s The Dark Knight, the critically acclaimed comic book pic that was also highest earner of the year. It failed to a garner a Best Picture nod and the thinking was that it was time for more popular options to make it into the mix.

Since the change, the magic number has been nine nominated pictures in most years. This got me thinking: what if that rule had been in effect during prior years? What movies that failed to get a nomination would have certainly made it?

That brings us here. I have gone back to 1990 through 2008 and I’m listing two films from each year that I am confident would have made the shortlist. In selecting each title, here were some of the key indicators. If a Director was nominated for his work and the film failed to get nominated, that probably means it would have been included. Additionally, the screenplay races are a decent predictor of some titles that might have made the magic nine (or eight or ten). For reference sake, I am including the five movies that did get nominated.

So here goes! Two features from 1990-2008 that coulda and likely woulda been contenders…

1990

The Actual Nominees: Dances with Wolves (Winner), Awakenings, Ghost, The Godfather Part III, GoodFellas

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: The Grifters, Reversal of Fortune

1991

The Actual Nominees: The Silence of the Lambs (W), Beauty and the Beast, Bugsy, JFK, The Prince of Tides

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Boyz N The Hood, Thelma & Louise

1992

The Actual Nominees: Unforgiven (W), The Crying Game, A Few Good Men, Howards End, Scent of a Woman

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Malcolm X, The Player

1993

The Actual Nominees: Schindler’s List (W), The Fugitive, In the Name of the Father, The Piano, The Remains of the Day

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Philadelphia, Short Cuts

1994

The Actual Nominees: Forrest Gump (W), Four Weddings and a Funeral, Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show, The Shawshank Redemption

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Bullets Over Broadway, Three Colors: Red

1995

The Actual Nominees: Braveheart (W), Apollo 13, Babe, Il Postino, Sense and Sensibility

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Dead Man Walking, Leaving Las Vegas

1996

The Actual Nominees: The English Patient (W), Fargo, Jerry Maguire, Secrets & Lies, Shine

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: The People Vs. Larry Flynt, Sling Blade

1997

The Actual Nominees: Titanic (W), As Good as It Gets, The Full Monty, Good Will Huinting, L.A. Confidential

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Boogie Nights, The Sweet Hereafter

1998

The Actual Nominees: Shakespeare in Love (W), Elizabeth, Life is Beautiful, Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Gods and Monsters, The Truman Show

1999

The Actual Nominees: American Beauty (W), The Cider House Rules, The Green Mile, The Insider, The Sixth Sense

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Being John Malkovich, Topsy-Turvy

2000

The Actual Nominees: Gladiator (W), Chocolat, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Erin Brockovich, Traffic

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Almost Famous, Billy Elliot

2001

The Actual Nominees: A Beautiful Mind (W), Gosford Park, In the Bedroom, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Moulin Rouge!

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Black Hawk Down, Mulholland Drive

2002

The Actual Nominees: Chicago (W), Gangs of New York, The Hours, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Pianist

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Far from Heaven, Talk to Her

2003

The Actual Nominees: Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (W), Lost in Translation, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Mystic River, Seabiscuit 

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: City of God, In America

2004

The Actual Nominees: Million Dollar Baby (W), The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Ray, Sideways

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Hotel Rwanda, Vera Drake

2005

The Actual Nominees: Crash (W), Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Good Night and Good Luck, Munich

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Syriana, Walk the Line

2006

The Actual Nominees: The Departed (W), Babel, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, The Queen

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Pan’s Labyrinth, United 93

2007

The Actual Nominees: No Country for Old Men (W), Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, There Will Be Blood

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Away from Her, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

2008

The Actual Nominees: Slumdog Millionaire (W), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: The Dark Knight, Doubt

And there you have it! There will be a part II to this post. What if the rule change had never occurred? From 2009 until the present, what would have been the five nominated Pictures if only that number was allowed. Stay tuned…

 

Oscar Watch: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Another day, another entry in the Best Actress derby as Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has premiered at the Venice Film Festival. This time it’s Frances McDormand, starring in Martin McDonagh’s pic about a mother going to great lengths to find her daughter’s killers.

Early reviews suggest a strong and nuanced performance from McDormand, who won Best Actress 21 years ago for Fargo. She’s also been nominated three other times in Supporting for 1988’s Mississippi Burning, 2000’s Almost Famous, and 2005’s North Country. While Missouri could feasibly nab McDormand her fifth nod, it’s no slam dunk and that’s due to competition that has been discussed on the blog all weekend.

An interesting nugget from the Venice buzz surrounds Sam Rockwell, whose performance seems to be generating more word-of-mouth than Woody Harrelson’s in Supporting Actor. If Rockwell manages to land a nomination, it would be his first and looked at as long overdue by many.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Top 25 Best Movies (1990-2015): Nos. 10-6

This evening on the blog, we move to the top ten of my personal favorite 25 pictures of the past generation, from 1990 to now. Not an easy task for sure, but clearly all of these ten titles (top five coming tomorrow) are masterpieces in my book. Let’s get to it:

10. Seven (1995)

David Fincher’s run of terrific movies began with this gut wrenching serial killer tale with Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, and a deliciously sadistic Kevin Spacey. The final act of these proceedings represent some of the most intense moments on film I’ve ever witnessed.

9. Up (2009)

Over the last 20 years, the creme de la creme of family entertainment has come from Pixar with the Toy Story franchise, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Wall-E, Inside Out, and so on. To me, their absolute high point is Up. I wrote a post on the blog before discussing the sequence which shows the main character’s romance with his wife throughout her life. It’s one of the most beautifully constructed and emotional montages I’ve ever seen, period.

8. The Social Network (2010)

Back to David Fincher again and here we have his brilliant tale of the founding of Facebook that I contend will stand as one of the most important pictures to explain the time we live in.

7. Almost Famous (2000)

Cameron Crowe’s autobiographical tale of his youth spent at Rolling Stone magazine is one of the ultimate feel good experiences filled with great music and performances. The bus scene set to Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” is perfect and one of the best examples ever put to film about music advancing the story line.

6. Groundhog Day (1993)

In a career filled with amazing performances, Bill Murray is at his apex in this uproarious and also touching tale of one very long day. It is easily my favorite comedy of the last many years.

And that’ll do it for today and the top five will hit the blog tomorrow!

You Could See That Pierre Did Truly Love The Mademoiselle: My Blog Turns 1 Years Old!

It was a Thursday autumn evening one year ago when I was sitting at my computer and on a snap decision, I said to myself, “Screw it – I’m starting a movie blog. Right now.”

I had thought about it before, but obviously never acted on the notion. I knew two things: I seriously love movies. And I seriously love writing about them. That’s all I knew. I had no clue – none – on that Thursday night what the blog would be… other than it would be about movies. I wrote my inaugural post quickly and titled it My Love of Movies. This is what I wrote moments after that snap decision entered my head:

https://toddmthatcher.wordpress.com/2012/10/11/my-love-of-movies/

That same night, I wrote my second post, which was my first entry in my Movie Perfection series. This one is about 1995’s Seven. I have said before that the Movie Perfection posts are my very favorite to write:

https://toddmthatcher.wordpress.com/2012/10/11/movie-perfection-the-final-act-of-seven/

Since then my examples of Movie Perfection has expanded to a Raquel Welch poster leading Tim Robbins to glorious freedom in The Shawshank Redemption. The brilliantly edited sequence in Moneyball where we hear the crack of a baseball bat that signals validation for Brad Pitt’s character. Christian Bale hilariously turning into a music critic as he extols the virtues of Genesis, Huey Lewis, and Whitney Houston in American Psycho. A vehicle full of rockers and groupies coming together to the sound of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” in Almost Famous. The birth of Melissa McCarthy’s movie stardom as she tells Kristin Wiig to stop blaming the world for her problems in Bridesmaids. A letter written by Bradley Cooper to Jennifer Lawrence expressing his love for her in Silver Linings Playbook. An absolutely stunningly beautiful and emotional animated montage that chronicles a couple’s life together in Pixar’s Up.

One year ago, it’s hard to describe how terrific that evening was as I began the blog. Those who know me know my passion for film and writing. The fact that it took so long to bring that passion to a blog confounds me now. What took so damn long? Oh well – the point is, it exists now. And truth be told – I cannot imagine it not existing now.

I know it may sound cheesy, but it really does mean a lot to me that this blog has people reading it. Honestly, I can love doing it (and I do), but what’s the point if no one reads the damn thing?

A year ago in that first My Love of Movies post, I described the sense of wonder I experienced when viewing Pulp Fiction on the big screen for the first time. It’s what you hope for every time you go to the theater. Pulp Fiction is filled with moments that reiterate to me why I love movies. One scene is the famous John Travolta/Uma Thurman dance scene set to a rockin Chuck Berry tune. It is yet another example of Movie Perfection, as is nearly everything Quentin Tarantino does. I began this blog discussing the unforgettable title credit sequence set to Dick Dale’s “Misirlou” in Pulp Fiction. A year later, it comes full circle with that fantastic dance scene and Chucky Berry.

As I sit here on another Thursday autumn evening a year later, I am thankful for snap decisions. Mostly, I’m thankful to you for rewarding my snap decision. I started this little blog on a whim and truly wasn’t sure if I would love doing it or not. That is no longer a question in my head. It goes to show you never can tell. There’s a great lyric in that Chucky Berry song where Vincent Vega and Mia Wallace dance and that serves as the title of this anniversary post. “You Could See That Pierre Did Truly Love The Mademoiselle.” In this instance, I’m Pierre. This blog is The Mademoiselle. The readers of this blog are The Mademoiselle, too. Thank you.