All the Old Knives Review

I’ve watched sharper spy games than All the Old Knives, but it’s a durable diversionary thriller with a solid spark between its two leads. From Danish filmmaker Janus Metz Pedersen, Chris Pine and Thandiwe Newton are coworkers and lovers who break up over a seized flight (that old chestnut).

Some explanation is warranted. In 2012, CIA officer Henry Pelham (Pine) is in an office romance with analyst Celia Harrison (Newton). Stationed in scenic Vienna (this a lovely looking picture), the seizure and tragic ending of the hijack leads to suspicions that someone on the team leaked intel to the terrorists. Perhaps it’s Harry or maybe it’s Celia. There’s also higher ups played by Laurence Fishburne and Jonathan Pryce.

In 2020, Harry’s got a few more gray hairs while Celia is married with kids in California. She’s far removed from government employment while her ex is still investigating the near decade old case. This brings the pair together in a near deserted fancy restaurant for an interrogation or a bubbly fueled rekindling… or both.

Knives slashes back and forth between these events as twists fill up as frequently as the former couple’s wine glasses. Surprisingly light on action, the screenplay might get drowned out if there wasn’t adequate chemistry between the stars. Luckily there is and it was enough to keep me guessing. Pine missed the mark once as a better known CIA agent in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. This one hits the target more often.

*** (out of four)

 

Oscar Predictions: Lucy and Desi

At last weekend’s Oscars, Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem were both nominated as Lucy (as in Lucille Ball) and Desi (as in Arnaz) for Being the Ricardos. We could see the couple/sitcom stars represented at next year’s ceremony in documentary form.

Lucy and Desi premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January and is now available for streaming on Amazon Prime. It was directed by another famed TV comedienne – Amy Poehler. Reviews stand at 93% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Docs about notable entertainment subjects often fail to garner the attention of Academy voters. Recent omissions from the five nominees in the race include Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (Mister Rogers) and Julia (2021’s feature about Julia Child). Despite the pleasing critical reaction, I suspect Lucy and Desi could suffer the same fate. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

Oscar Predictions: Being the Ricardos

Nicole Kidman and Aaron Sorkin could be in line for their respective fifth acting and writing nods at the Oscars with Being the Ricardos. The biopic, out December 10 in limited fashion before its Amazon Prime premiere December 21, centers on Kidman’s Lucille Ball and Javier Bardem’s Desi.

After generating some casting controversy ink for its leads, an early screening this weekend has been met with positive social media reaction. It indicates Kidman has a better chance at making the top five in Best Actress than I originally anticipated. If so, this would mark her fifth nod overall after winning 19 years ago for The Hours (the others were in lead with Moulin Rouge! and Rabbit Hole and supporting for Lion).

Bardem’s inclusion could be a less likely scenario though not impossible if voters fall hard for the pic. A Supporting Actor victor for 2007’s No Country for Old Men, he’s a two-time Actor contestant with Before Nights Falls and Biutiful. 

In a Supporting Actor race that’s seemingly wide open, J.K. Simmons (playing William Frawley) could be back seven years after his gold statue for Whiplash. Same goes for Nina Arianda’s Vivian Vance though it is worth noting there’s several viable possibilities in Supporting Actress.

As for the writer/director, I’d say Sorkin’s original screenplay has a far better shot at making it than his behind the camera work. That’s similar to his trajectory last year when his penmanship of The Trial of the Chicago 7 received a nomination. He’s thrice been up before with his screenplays for The Social Network (where he won), Moneyball, and Molly’s Game. 

Last and certainly not least, the Academy often falls for fare about its own industry and a Best Picture nod is not out of the question. I’ve yet to list Ricardos in my top 15. Look for that to change on Thursday when I update and you can certainly anticipate its quartet of actors to rise. My Oscar Predictions for the films of 2021 will continue…

Oscar Predictions: The Tender Bar

George Clooney’s The Tender Bar opens in limited release this December before its premiere on Amazon Prime in early January. The coming-of-age drama set in the 1970s and 80s screened at the London Film Festival over the weekend. Early reviews indicate a warm hearted tale that is unlikely to play in the highest profile races like Picture and Director.

Its famous director wooed Oscar voters 16 years ago with his second effort Good Night, and Good Luck. Scoring six nods (including Picture and Director) and winning none, it’s been slim pickings for Clooney’s behind the camera efforts ever since. 2011’s The Ides of March nabbed a sole Adapted Screenplay mention while last year’s The Midnight Sky made the cut in Visual Effects.

As I see it, The Tender Bar could play in two categories. The first is the screenplay adapted by William Monahan. He’s no stranger to Academy attention as he won in 2006 for his penmanship of Martin Scorsese’s The Departed. Inclusion there is less likely than for one of its performers.

That would be Ben Affleck. Another leading man turned writer/director, Affleck has a deep history with Oscar voters that has nothing to do with his acting. In 1997, his Good Will Hunting script with Matt Damon won. Fifteen years later, he directed and produced (hence a second trophy) Best Picture winner Argo. Surprisingly, he didn’t get a spot for his direction.

With a cast featuring Tye Sheridan, Lily Rabe, and Christopher Lloyd, the initial critical praise is being heaped upon Affleck. That’s in addition to some kudos for his supporting work in The Last Duel (out this weekend). Mr. Affleck has been on the radar screen before for his performances – think Hollywoodland, Argo, and last year’s The Way Back. Yet he’s never made the dance. As of now, the Supporting Actor derby for 2021 looks wide open. I’d go as far to say there’s no guaranteed nominees (though Jamie Dornan in Belfast and Richard Jenkins in The Humans look probable). I’ve had Bradley Cooper (Licorice Pizza) listed at #1 for two months, but we still don’t know if his role is meaty enough to truly contend.

This could all contribute to Affleck finally getting some Academy TLC. That said, he’s been in the mix before and come up shy. My Oscar Prediction posts for the films of 2021 will continue…

Oscar Predictions: The Mad Women’s Ball

Stateside audiences may know Melanie Laurent best as Shosanna in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, but the French actress has been directing in her native county for a decade now. Following Adopted (2011) and Respire (2014), her latest is The Mad Women’s Ball and it is streaming on Amazon Prime as of yesterday.

Laurent costars in the thriller that premiered days ago in Toronto. Costarring Lou de Laage and Emmanuelle Bercot, Ball currently has a 77% Rotten Tomatoes score. That’s under her predecessor Respire (93%). I’m not so sure France will even submit this for the Academy’s consideration in International Feature Film and this appears unlikely to find its way on ballots in any other categories.

My Oscar Prediction posts for the films of 2021 will continue…

Oscar Predictions: The Electrical Life of Louis Wain

Benedict Cumberbatch is primed to receive his second Best Actor nod (after 2014’s The Imitation Game) for his work in Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog. It screened at Venice this week, but it’s not the only title headlined by the star.

The other is The Electrical Life of Louis Wain where Cumberbatch plays the real life title character of the English artist known for his cat drawings. Will Sharpe directs and the supporting cast includes Claire Foy, Andrea Riseborough, Sharon Rooney, and Toby Jones. It hits theaters in mid October with an Amazon Prime streaming premiere in early November.

Early reviews are mixed. I don’t anticipate this getting any life with awards voters in any category. Bottom line: Cumberbatch should get a tuxedo or two or three ready for next year. And it will be for Dog and not the one about the guy known for cats. My Oscar Prediction posts for the films of 2021 will continue…

Oscar Predictions: Cinderella

Critics don’t seem overly charmed with the latest version of Cinderella, which hits Amazon Prime this weekend after slipping out of a theatrical release. The musical rom com casts singer Camila Cabello in the title role with a supporting cast including Idina Menzel, Minnie Driver, Billy Porter, and Pierce Brosnan. Kay Cannon writes and directs.

The Rotten Tomatoes score is currently 45%. However, the would-be princess’s new iteration could at least make a case for some awards chatter. That would be in the category of Costume Design (where critical reaction doesn’t mean a whole lot). The better reviewed Disney live-action retelling from 2015 scored a nod there. However, I would say it’s chances are fairly slim. Cruella already has a reserved spot in all likelihood. And then there’s hopefuls such as The French Dispatch, House of Gucci, West Side Story, Dune, and The Last Duel (to name a handful).

Cinderella‘s shots don’t quite end there. Cabello recently debuted an original song “Million to One” for the soundtrack (which mostly consists of contemporary covers of tracks such as Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” and Queen’s “Somebody to Love”). This is another race where the level of forthcoming competition could determine its viability.

Bottom line: Cinderella could find its way into two categories, but I wouldn’t bet on it. My Oscar Prediction posts for the films of 2021 will continue…

Oscar Watch: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

Ahead of its September 17th bow on Amazon Prime, the musical drama Everybody’s Talking About Jamie has premiered at Outfest this weekend. Based on a London stage play, Jamie centers on a 16-year-old (Max Harwood) who dreams of becoming a drag queen.

Early reviews are positive. Yet I’m not picking up a vibe where Academy inclusion is much of a possibility. In the three Thursdays where I’ve done my weekly predictions, I thought supporting player Richard E. Grant stood the greatest chance at a nod. Three years ago, Grant nabbed a nomination as Supporting Actor for Can You Ever Forgive Me? (losing to Mahershala Ali for Green Book). However, critical praise is mostly focused on young lead Harwood. I’ve had Grant listed at #7 in possibilities. Don’t be surprised if he drops out entirely when I do my updates in five days.

So could Harwood get in? Doubtful as I see plenty of upcoming hopefuls in Best Actor. Where Jamie could show up is Original Song. The film mixes tracks from the stage with a new one titled “This Was Me”. That could be where Amazon really focuses its campaign.

Bottom line: while critics are being kind – I wouldn’t expect a whole lot of Oscar voters to be talking about Jamie a few months down the road. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Val

Despite acclaimed performances in The Doors, Tombstone, and others, Val Kilmer has never been on the radar screen of awards voters. He’s also appeared in blockbusters like Top Gun, Batman Forever, and Heat, but his career faded in the late 90s after reports of him being difficult to work with became more prevalent. This week at the Cannes Film Festival, a documentary which Kilmer mostly shot himself could kick off an unexpected career resurgence (that and this fall’s Top Gun: Maverick). Val debuts in theaters on July 23 before its Amazon Prime streaming premiere on August 6.

Directed by Leo Scott and Ting Poo, this is a look at the performer’s life onscreen and off and it’s primarily derived from Kilmer himself being a prolific amateur videographer. Early reviews indicate it’s a unique and often moving portrait of a complicated figure. It stands at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Will the documentary branch of the Academy take notice? It’s certainly possible. After all, Hollywood in general digs features about their own. Val, from initial buzz, sounds like a fascinating one. And it could finally put its subject in the Oscar chatter. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Annette

Vive la France!

The film community (and Oscar prognosticators like yours truly) are experiencing another return to normalcy today as the Cannes Film Festival kicked off today. The French fest is starting two months later than we are accustomed to, but it’s in-person and showcasing at least a handful of potential awards contenders.

The 2020 Cannes experience, before its cancellation, was supposed to feature Leos Carax’s Annette. The acclaimed auteur makes his English language debut in this musical headlined by Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard. Early reviews are up and they indicate this will be a polarizing picture. The Rotten Tomatoes meter is at 85% for the moment.

Driver stars as a comedian (nearly all critics compare his character to Andy Kaufman) in a bad romance with Cotillard’s opera singer. This sounds like a meaty and memorable role for Driver. I’ll let you read about what he’s doing during a particular number called “We Love Each Other So Much”. Buzz indicates Cotillard (a Best Actress winner in 2007 for La Vie en Rose and nominee in 2014 for Two Days, One Night) may not have enough of a role to compete for a third recognition. If so, it would probably come in Supporting Actress. Some reviews have praised Simon Helberg’s supporting role. The Big Bang Theory costar likely came close to a nod for 2016’s Florence Foster Jenkins. This would have to generate a lot of love for him to be a factor.

That leaves Driver and his biggest 2021 competition could be himself. He will appear this autumn in not one, but two eagerly awaited Ridley Scott directed hopefuls. This includes a possibility at Supporting Actor in The Last Duel and especially in the lead derby for House of Gucci. If the latter doesn’t become a serious contender, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him gather his third try at gold in the past four years. Driver nabbed a supporting mention for 2018’s BlacKkKlansman and the following year in the lead with Marriage Story. 

There could be numerous potential slots for its original songs which were composed by rock band Sparks (they’re subject to an appreciated documentary out now made by Edgar Wright). Initial attention includes numerous shoutouts to opening tune “So May We Start”.

Some of the raves indicate that the Cannes crowd may eat this up more than the Academy. Expect the chatter to include some pining for its inclusion in the ten Best Pic finalists and others saying it has no place there. Amazon Studios, which will put this in theaters August 6 and on their streaming service two weeks later, will need to mount quite a campaign for it to make the cut.

Bottom line: hey, festivals are back and I’m loving it! Not everyone is loving Annette, but there’s enough admirers early on to keep it on the radar. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…