Oscar Predictions: Emily the Criminal

Emily the Criminal played Sundance back in January and it’s out in limited fashion on August 12th. The directorial debut of John Patton Ford, the crime drama seems to be a showcase for Aubrey Plaza’s title character. Critics have taken notice in their praise of her work. The film itself stands at 93% on Rotten Tomatoes. Costars include Theo Rossi, Megalyn Echikunwoke, and Gina Gershon.

Joining a list that includes Ingrid Goes West, The Little Hours, and Black Bear, none of Plaza’s acclaimed indies have managed to seriously break her into the awards conversation. It’s highly doubtful this one does the trick either, but one suspects a high profile role will come along soon that might do so. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

Oscar Predictions: Best Sellers

Michael Caine, the legendary 88-year-old Brit, has had a unique Oscar history. He’s 2 for 2 with victories when nominated for Supporting Actor (1986’s Hannah and Her Sisters, 1999’s The Cider House Rules). Yet Caine is 0 for 4 when up for Best Actor (1966’s Alfie, 1972’s Sleuth, 1983’s Educating Rita, 2002’s The Quiet American).

This weekend, his dramedy Best Sellers is out via streaming services. It casts him as a cantankerous author adapting to the industry in the 21st century. Lina Roessler directs with a supporting cast including Aubrey Plaza, Scott Speedman, and Cary Elwes.

While Caine is receiving solid notices for his performance, the picture itself is garnering mixed takes. The Rotten Tomatoes meter stands at 61%. Due to this, it’s a safe bet that the star won’t be contending for a 7th nod with the Academy. I suppose the Golden Globes (if they happen this year) are a slight possibility in the Musical/Comedy race, but that could also be a crowded field due to a high number of genre selections in the former. My Oscar Predictions posts for the films of 2021 will continue…

Black Bear Review

I’m not entirely sure I’d call Lawrence Michael Levine’s Black Bear a totally satisfying experience, but it features a heckuva lead performance and I’m still trying to figure out of its puzzle of a plot. This is an arthouse movie about characters involved in arthouse filmmaking. They’re self-indulgent, needy, usually drunk or stoned, and they often have fascinating conversations and arguments with each other. There is also the distinct possibility that none of what we’re witnessing is actually happening. I’m not sure. And I think that’s the way Levine intended it.

Aubrey Plaza is Allison, a former indie actress turned director. She’s got writer’s block and retreats to a secluded lake house in the Adirondacks to refuel. Or maybe not. Solitude is not her primary goal as the property is inhabited by struggling musician Gabe (Christopher Abbott) and his pregnant wife Blair (Sarah Gadon). They’re far from a perfect couple as they constantly bicker about big subjects like gender roles and whether Gabe is still actually in the music business (she’s not sure 53 cent royalties qualify). During their boozy evening together and with even the expectant Blair imbibing, Allison reveals some details about her life. Or maybe not as we begin to suspect this could all be her way of dismantling an already disgruntled couple’s marriage. A more conventional movie would have this build into a thriller about a romantic triangle.

That is certainly not the direction Black Bear follows. Without divulging too much, the picture is divided in half. The second portion involves the making of a movie where roles from the previous hour are reversed. When we are in the first part, Plaza is basically playing a variation of other roles we’ve seen her in. She’s deadpan, dry, and mostly unbothered by her strange surroundings. It particularly bothers Blair that she can never tell when Allison is being serious or funny. When the switch flips midway through, we see a damaged and emotional wreck slugging and swigging her way toward a hoped for artistic breakthrough. Her performance is remarkable to behold.

Black Bear is often pitch black in its comedy. Abbott’s Gabe goes from hapless hubby to over-the-top auteur over the course of the proceedings. The screenplay’s treatment of him as director is pretty brutal with his self seriousness and crew members around him that are forced to take him seriously. His dichotomous part is challenging as well and he pulls it off.

There’s a moment early on when Allison tries to explain her process for writing and coming up with ideas. In short, she can’t. She mumbles about finding something meaningful to happen. In the second part of this experience, we see the lengths of artists trying to achieve something meaningful. They might be misguided in their methods, but I think Levine is both satirizing and celebrating how anything gets made or written at all. Or maybe not. Maybe there’s just a half formed idea that keeps getting interrupted by a furry animal that comes out of nowhere and you have to start all over again.

*** (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Black Bear

Lawrence Michael Levine’s Black Bear premiered long, long ago in something called January 2020 at the Sundance Film Festival and became available for streaming this weekend. The drama casts Aubrey Plaza as a filmmaker looking for inspiration in dangerous places and many critics are calling it her finest performance to date. Costars include Sarah Gadon and Christopher Abbott.

The Rotten Tomatoes score stands at a sturdy 87%. Plaza is having a nice year as reviewers also praised her supporting work in the recent holiday rom com Happiest Season. That said, I have discussed how competitive Best Actress is numerous times here. Black Bear probably isn’t high profile enough to earn its star her first Oscar nod, but she’s certainly earning her critical bonafides as of late. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Happiest Season

Hulu looks to have a holiday hit on their hands when Happiest Season holds its streaming debut on November 25th. The rom com stars Kristen Stewart as her character embarks on a holiday outing with the family of her girlfriend (Mackenzie Davis). Problem is, said girlfriend hasn’t yet come out to said family. Clea DuVall directs with a supporting cast including Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Dan Levy, Victor Garber, and Mary Steenburgen.

The review embargo lifted today and the results indicate a winner. Its Rotten Tomatoes rating stands at 93%. Particular praise has gone to a trio of performances: Stewart, Plaza, and Levy (who’s having quite a year with his multiple Emmys for Schitt’s Creek). When it comes to Oscar, however, I am skeptical that Season has any impact (potentially similar to another acclaimed Hulu comedy Palm Springs).

The Golden Globes, on the other hand, could be a different story. The pic could contend in the Musical/Comedy race, but I especially think Stewart could be recognized in Best Actress. Ms. Stewart has had a number of critically appreciated roles in her post Twilight years. A nod in the Musical/Comedy category would mark her first Globes mention. Oscar may have to wait for another season. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Child’s Play Box Office Prediction

While the iconic products that come to life in Pixar’s Toy Story 4 look to dominate the box office next weekend, another cinematic toy and a far more demented one returns to theaters with the reboot of Child’s Play. Remaking the 1988 cult classic that spawned six sequels, demonic doll Chucky slashes his way back into multiplexes for the first time in almost 15 years. While Brad Dourif voiced Chucky for over three decades, Luke Skywalker himself Mark Hamill now takes over. Aubrey Plaza, Gabriel Bateman, Brian Tyree Henry, and Tim Matheson are among the cast with Lars Klevberg directing.

Despite all the follow-ups, the first Play still remains the highest earner of the franchise at $33 million ($72 million adjusted for inflation). The last two installments of the series (2013’s Curse of Chucky and 2017’s Cult of Chucky) went straight to the On Demand/DVD route. This is the studio’s hope for solid returns at the theatrical level.

1998’s Bride of Chucky achieved the biggest opening of them all at $11.8 million. The new Play should be able to top that and I’ll predict a high teens start is where this lands.

Child’s Play opening weekend prediction: $17.6 million

For my Toy Story 4 prediction, click here:


For my Anna prediction, click here:


Ingrid Goes West Movie Review

“Where’s my phone?”

Those three words, in today’s age, are enough to send collective shivers down most of our spines. They’re our lifeline to everything and everyone. In Matt Spicer’s darkly funny Ingrid Goes West, those words have a considerably more sinister meaning when uttered by its central character Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza). We may feel useless without our devices. Yet it provides her with her only feeling of usefulness and takes that in uncomfortable directions.

Ingrid is a lonely and mentally disturbed figure who finds solace through Instagram scrolling and fixating on certain profiles. We first find her ❤️ing the endless wedding posts of someone we assume is her friend. When she crashes said wedding (these things happen in real-time nowadays) and frighteningly confronts her for not being invited, it turns out they’re not really connected at all.

The second part of the title comes into play when Ingrid’s next fixation is Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen), a Venice Beach native who’s essentially a professional Instagram poster. Ingrid uses her inheritance from her mom’s death to move across the country with the idea of making her acquaintance. It works and it takes a dognapping  to do it. She actually does befriend Taylor and her starving artist hubby (Wyatt Russell).

There’s not an action taken here by Ingrid that isn’t directly a result of her considerably loneliness and need for friendship, no matter how fake or manufactured it is. Her Batman obsessed landlord (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) becomes a love interest, but only for Ingrid’s self-serving purposes. The character of Taylor’s brother (Billy Magnussen, memorable here) is a sleazy loose cannon, but he’s the only one that manages to see Ingrid for who she is.

Spicer and his co-writer David Branson Smith have certainly concocted a screenplay for its time. While there are laughs present, Ingrid goes into Single White Female territory (that quarter century old pic is name checked).

Plaza is a gifted performer who seems to be in a constant state of ambivalence in many of her roles. Ingrid gives her an opportunity to show a more varied range of emotions. She creates a character that is sympathetic to a point, but she also serves as good reminder to not talk to strangers. Even on Instagram.

The film also cleverly shows what we all kind of already know. These social media platforms are a way to create yourself in many instances and not be yourself. In the conclusion of Ingrid Goes West, our title character has a rare moment to be herself. That might be a moment of triumph in many pictures. In this jet black comedy, we’re left uncertain just how well or badly that could go.

*** (out of four)

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates Movie Review

We have seen numerous takes on the raunchy wedding comedy and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is, well, another one. A grouping of actors who’ve done the genre in considerably better work before on film and television, the pic is stale and uninspired. It even wastes its gorgeous Hawaiian locale in a way that Forgetting Sarah Marshall didn’t.

The title characters are actual people – the Stangle Brothers – whose life story inspired the events that take place here. Dave (Zac Efron) and Mike (Adam DeVine) lead an aimless and hard partying existence while running a liquor business. We’re not really shown many of their wild exploits. In fact, Dave seems like a somewhat well-adjusted and dull dude. Mike, with DeVine’s performance unsuccessfully attempting to ape a younger Jack Black, is more of an annoyance.

Brothers Stangle are called in by mom and dad when their little sister Jeanie (the coolly named Sugar Lyn Beard) is about to tie the knot. They’re asked to bring dates with the idea that they’ll be less prone to make a scene. So they put out an ad on social media which catches fire, culminating with appearing on Wendy Williams’s show.

When they finally choose their matches, it’s the equally aimless and wild duo of Alice (Anna Kendrick) and Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza). The girls are in it for the free vacay with Alice having the additional motivation of getting over recently being left at the altar. They try to act like good girls but bad things happen across the ocean.

What follows is a buffet of sex and drugs humor that does precious little to differentiate itself from other bawdy buffets we’ve been served up before. One central theme – “Hey, these gals are just as self-absorbed as the dudes!” – doesn’t add much. Like their male counterparts, Kendrick and Plaza have shined in superior material but can’t elevate this stuff. I don’t know what actually occurred or not in this story that bills itself as “sort of” true. I do know that I probably wouldn’t have wanted to hang with the real people and know for sure there’s not enough laughter in the 99 minutes watching others play them.

*1/2 (out of four)

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates Box Office Prediction

Next Friday brings us Zac Efron’s third raunchy comedy of the year after Dirty Grandpa and Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising. Neither one of them did particularly well and I’m not convinced that will change here with Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. The R rated rom com costars Adam DeVine and Anna Kendrick (who made both Pitch Perfect features together) and Audrey Plaza (seen with Efron in Dirty Grandpa).

The pic could benefit from really being the only straight up comedy out there in the marketplace besides Central Intelligence (which will be winding down in weekend #4). Having said that, its best hope might be falling somewhere in between Neighbors 2‘s $21 million opening and Grandpa‘s $11 million start. The summer release slot should at least get it slightly above the latter, which premiered in the January dead zone. I expect a so-so debut while Mike and Dave hope for a more happily ever after existence on the small screen.

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates opening weekend prediction: $13.5 million

For my The Secret Life of Pets prediction, click here:



Dirty Grandpa Box Office Prediction

Not a Johnny Knoxville sequel to Bad Grandpa, Robert De Niro and Zac Efron get into some raunchy R Rated hijinks with Dirty Grandpa, out next Friday. The two stars have had some successes in the comedy genre, most recently with Efron in Neighbors.

Aubrey Plaza and Zoey Deutch costar in this tale of De Niro and about to be married grandson Efron letting loose on spring break. The January release date raises some red flags and the trailers for it are, frankly, not encouraging. This should reach nowhere near the level of Neighbors or De Niro’s hits like Meet the Parents or Analyze This.

A fair comparison point could be De Niro’s Last Vegas, which opened to $16.3 million in fall 2013. Yet that had the benefit of possibly bringing in an older crowd due to the teaming of him with Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Kline.

I’ll estimate that Dirty Grandpa limps to a opening in the mid teens.

Dirty Grandpa opening weekend prediction: $14.6 million

For my The 5th Wave prediction, click here:


For my The Boy prediction, click here: