2019 Midyear Oscar Report

We are officially at the midpoint of this thing called 2019 and that means a midyear Oscar report is before you today on the blog. First things first: as awards watchers already know, the bulk of the eventual nominees will come your way in the second half of the year. It will likely be festivals such as Toronto and Venice that produce their initial screenings.

We have, however, already had Cannes and Sundance producing first looks at some contenders. The most high profile is Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which is out July 26 but debuted in the French Riviera. The celebrated auteur’s ninth feature immediately became a player in Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Leonardo DiCaprio (Actor), Brad Pitt (probably Supporting Actor), and Margot Robbie (Supporting Actress), as well as down the line tech races.

Cannes also served as the launching point for two contenders in the newly termed Best International Feature Film. They are Pedro Almodovar’s Pain and Glory and Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, which won the Palme d’Or. With Glory, expect lots of chatter for its star Antonio Banderas to receive his first nod in Actor.

As for other possibilities in the lead Actor derby, we have Taron Egerton’s portrayal of Elton John in Rocketman. If Rami Malek could take home the gold last year for Bohemian Rhapsody, it’s certainly feasible that Egerton will have his supporters. Cannes also debuted  the horror pic The Lighthouse with raves for Willem Dafoe. And though it’s a reach, there could be a push for Robert Downey Jr. to garner recognition for his decade plus embodiment of Tony Stark/Iron Man in Avengers: Endgame.

When it comes to Endgame, I would anticipate talk for a Picture nod, especially after Black Panther became the first comic book pic to get one last year. At this juncture, I’ll say it gets plenty of chatter and no nomination. Yet that paradigm could shift.

Sundance gave us the true life political drama The Report. That pic features both Adam Driver and Annette Bening in roles that drew acclaim. It’s out stateside in late September and is one to keep an eye on.

2019 has produced numerous female lead performances that could all be classified as dark horse contenders. The list includes Lupita Nyong’o (Us), Julianne Moore (Gloria Bell), Awkwafina (The Farewell), Elisabeth Moss (Her Smell), Elle Fanning (Teen Spirit), Florence Pugh (Midsommar), and Jessie Buckley (Wild Rose).

Despite its disappointing box office grosses, Olivia Wilde’s coming of age comedy Booksmart might be considered in Original Screenplay. Same goes for The Farewell ahead of its release in a couple weeks.

For Best Animated Feature, Toy Story 4 looks to be a slam dunk for a nomination and that also holds true for How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. Already released titles such as Missing Link and The Secret Life of Pets 2 are likely on the outside looking in.

As for documentaries, keep an eye on Apollo 11, The Biggest Little Farm, and Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story By Martin Scorsese. I would say Apollo is a strong contender for inclusion.

And that’s your report, ladies and gentlemen! Get ready for a whole bunch of Oscar speculation in the second half of the year…

Avengers: Endgame Movie Review

**There’s really no way to write a review of Avengers: Endgame without some minor spoilers. You may wish to read this post viewing…

The word “epic” can be overused by those who review movies like me, but it unquestionably applies to Avengers: Endgame. It’s epic in its running time (none of the other 21 MCU pics run three hours) and epic in the number of well-known thespians reprising their superhero and villain characters. It doesn’t seem feasible that so many characters could manage to coexist in this vast universe without seeming like a gimmick. If you happen to think predecessor Infinity War was overcrowded, you’ll get whiplash here. Truth be told, there are moments when this borders on playing like a greatest hits reel based on what’s preceded it during the last eleven years.

Yet Endgame figures out a rewarding way to stick the landing and honor the dozens of faces that we’ve spent billions of dollars visiting since 2008. At the conclusion of Infinity War, bad guy Thanos (Josh Brolin) had collected his precious Infinity Stones and decimated half the intergalactic population into dramatic looking dust particles. What’s left is mostly the core of the OG Avengers – Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). There’s others as Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) is the sole surviving Guardian of the Galaxy. And we have the two notable characters that were MIA last summer – Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd).

One might think this whole saga might be about the original band and some newer friends taking on Thanos. You would be wrong. Endgame has plenty of time bending tricks up its endless story arch sleeves. The first is an unexpected resolution that comes very early. However, that climax is just a set-up to further complications.

This is indeed a time travel movie in which the screenwriters almost sheepishly concede the contrived nature of such a device. The survivors set upon a course of multiple back in time ways to retrieve the Stones and bring back their loved ones. It doesn’t happen overnight and the lengthy nature of the plan coming together provides funny and poignant moments. Tony is off the grid with his beloved Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) and a new addition. Bruce is in full Hulk mode, but kindler and gentler. Thor is rounder and drunkenly grappling with his losses. Hawkeye is a full-blown vigilante. When the gang revs up their figurative DeLoreans, it gives us a chance to revisit lots of MCU personnel. And it’s a LOT of former players. Some are genuinely surprising. During this lengthy stretch, the film walks a fine line of not devolving into nostalgic sugar shock amidst the action sequences. By the final act, it rises above it.

We know the battle scenes will be well choreographed and well-directed (with the Russo Brothers handling duties once again). The final one is rather jaw dropping with the mixing of so many known quantities. Thanos is one of the stronger villains in MCU history and he remains so here, though there’s nothing fresh to add about his character. His daughter Nebula (Karen Gillan), on the other hand, continues her evolution as a fine addition to the roster.

The comic relief comes more from Thor as opposed to Ant-Man or Rocket and Hemsworth is up to the task. Captain America and Black Widow are given their emotional moments that we’re invested in from their backstories. To this writer, it’s Tony who’s always been the damaged beating heart of this franchise. The Marvel Cinematic Universe simply wouldn’t exist as it is without Downey Jr.’s brilliant work. That’s never changed. The quality of the movies he’s appeared in has. His performance has always been fantastic. If we’re ranking, I would put Endgame as an overall experience just under the first Avengers in 2012 and Infinity War. I can’t promise that thinking about all the shifting time plot points might raise as many questions as answers. I won’t deny that its emotional payoff is real and we have Downey and an amazing group of technicians bringing these comics to life to thank for it.

***1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Watch – Avengers: Endgame

Last year, Marvel’s Black Panther became the first comic book pic to score a Best Picture nomination. While it didn’t win, it took home three gold trophies from its seven nods. This weekend, box office records are highly likely to break with the release of Avengers: Endgame. The 22nd MCU title had its review embargo lift hours ago… try to your best to avoid spoilers.

The verdict? A 98% Rotten Tomatoes score thus far. Some critics are going as far as saying it’s the best overall entry in the massive franchise. Others write ups, while positive, don’t go that far. One thing seems certain as Endgame is classified as an epic experience.

Could lightning strike two years in a row for Marvel with Academy voters? Here’s the advantage: this fourth Avengers saga is seen as the culmination of not just its three predecessors, but also the many other pictures MCU blockbusters over the past 11 years. That lifts its chances for recognition as Oscar could see this as an “atta boy” for the whole series.

That said, I’m doubtful. The first three Avengers flicks garnered a grand total of two nominations. The 2012 original and last year’s Infinity War both received Visual Effects nods. Neither won. The middle child (2015’s Age of Ultron) got no love. Last year, Disney was undoubtedly more focused on getting Black Panther recognition and they succeeded. In 2019, they could put together a more robust campaign for Endgame.

A third calling in Visual Effects is probably inevitable, but anything else from the Academy is questionable and maybe even doubtful. Yet I wouldn’t totally count out some Disney marketing campaign magic. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Avengers: Endgame Box Office Prediction

This current massively successful phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe draws to a close next weekend with the release of Avengers: Endgame. There’s an excellent chance that it achieves the largest opening weekend gross of all time with the grand finale. Endgame follows up directly with last summer’s Avengers: Infinity War, which is the current record holder with $257 million.

Anthony and Joe Russo return in the directors chairs with a core group of familiar heroes battling Josh Brolin’s Thanos. They include Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, Chris Evans as Captain America, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, Brie Larson as Captain Marvel, Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk, Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man, and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye. That’s just scratching the surface, by the way. The events (spoiler alert if you’ve been in a year-long coma) of Infinity War dissolved numerous other beloved characters into dust including Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther, Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange and the majority of the Guardians of the Galaxy (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista) save for Bradley Cooper voicing Rocket. It’s quite likely you’ll see them again. And also in the roles we’ve seen them in before… there’s Gwyneth Paltrow, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Tessa Thompson, Don Cheadle, Jon Favreau, Anthony Mackie, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, and Evangeline Lilly. Oh… and Letitia Wright and Sebastian Stan and Tom Hiddleston.

Whew. Back to the numbers crunching. When early tickets went on sale a couple of weeks ago, Endgame smashed every record in sight. Its YouTube trailer views are off the charts. Audiences know this is the culmination of what we’ve paid billions of dollars for over the past decade plus. Yes, there’s a three-hour runtime which is unprecedented for the MCU.

I have a feeling that won’t matter when it comes to reaching a premiere level we’ve yet to witness. No other movie is daring to compete against it and most holdovers will be earning $10 million and less. In other words, multiplexes will clear a ton of real estate for this.

Initial estimates put Endgame around $250 million, but the buzz has this inching upwards. I believe that’s a correct assumption. While I don’t believe this will hit $300 million (as the rosiest projections suggest), a gross just north of $285 million seems feasible. If it achieves that mark, the endgame here will indeed set records.

Avengers: Endgame opening weekend prediction: $289.6 million

The Depths of Hellboy

Over the past year and change, the superhero genre has been flush with massive successes such as Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Aquaman, Captain Marvel, and current box office champ Shazam!, which has dutifully met expectations. The upcoming Avengers: Endgame is looking to set the all time opening record in two weeks. Something was bound to eventually get lost in the shuffle and that turned out to be Hellboy this weekend.

The film rebooted the Dark Horse Comics franchise that debuted in 2004 with Guillermo del Toro behind the camera and Ron Perlman as the horn clad anti-hero. A 2008 sequel, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, built on the grosses of its predecessor.

Neil Marshall took over directorial duties for the new Hellboy with David Harbour of “Stranger Things” cast as the title character. All along the way, the marketing campaign seemed curiously muted. It was as if Lionsgate might have known they had a dog on their hands. And they did. The review embargo didn’t lift until late this week. Rotten Tomatoes has been ripe with bad critical reaction with a 15% score. CinemaScore audiences haven’t been kind either with a lowly C rating.

On Sunday, the initial results have Hellboy in third place with just $12 million. Not only is that behind the second frame of Shazam!, it’s after the debut of the Regina Hall comedy Little. To put that in perspective, the 2004 Hellboy made $23 million out of the gate. The Golden Army took in $34 million. For both of those films, the opening weekends represented a hefty chunk of the overall earnings. In the case of the second installment, it fell hard in its sophomore frame due to another comic boom sequel premiering called The Dark Knight. With its toxic word of mouth, I expect this version to tumble at least 60% in weekend #2 and probably more.

If there’s any silver lining for the studio, it’s that the reboot cost a reported $50 million. That’s certainly low on the scale for this genre. Yet we can be sure this iteration of the character is a one-off. And we’ve found out what the depths of Hellboy are on a financial level and it’s not pretty.

Aquaman Movie Review

In movies nowadays, the superhero genre has become so popular that a rule now applies to well-known thespians. You can play a hero or then you act long enough to see yourself become the villain. Or vice versa. Patrick Wilson was a good guy in Watchmen and now he’s a bad guy in Aquaman. Willem Dafoe was the key villain in SpiderMan, but he’s an ally to the title character here. As for Nicole Kidman, she was Bruce Wayne’s love interest in Batman Forever. Now she’s Aquamom.

This is all in a feature-length experience that HBO’s “Entourage” treated with humor. The thought back then… who would really buy this comic book creation in his own two-hour saga? Director James Wan’s weird but often endearing take ups the ante by padding nearly an extra half hour. It sorta works. It does by knowing that it’s silly most of the time despite occasional meanderings into thinking it belongs in Lord of the Rings territory. While it doesn’t, some of the battle scenes approach that grandeur.

We’ve seen Aquaman before in the DC Extended Universe. He was introduced briefly in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (which I still think is a little better than its reputation) and his role was expanded in the sub par Justice League. He gets the whole origin treatment here. In 1985, the Queen of Atlantis names Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) washes up on shore after a storm in Maine. She makes the acquaintance of the local lighthouse keeper (Temuera Morrison) and Splash style romantic sparks fly. Leaving her King hubby behind underwater, Atlanna and her new flame bear a son named Arthur and that little tyke eventually becomes the heavily tattooed punk rockish muscle man embodied by Jason Momoa.

As we witnessed in the previously mentioned pics, Momoa’s Aquaman becomes a mysterious superhero above water when not chugging beers with Dad. Atlanna, on the other hand, is long gone after being hunted down by her husband’s henchmen and returning below the surface so her new family isn’t harmed. She’s said to be dead.

Soon enough, Arthur is pressured to see Atlantis for the first time. His half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) is hell-bent on becoming the ruling Ocean Master. That means the destruction of Earth is on his to do list. Mera (Amber Heard) is the daughter of an Atlantean  King (Dolph Lundgren) allied with Orm. She disagrees with her father and along with Arthur’s old mentor (Willem Dafoe), they attempt to recruit our hero to become the King himself.

The family drama is a very familiar plot point in most movies in the genre – no matter which cinematic universe it takes place in. This is no exception. Orm is the Loki to Aquaman’s Thor, but he’s not near as memorable. Mera is the love interest and she has some humorous moments due to her unfamiliarity with our land. Those light moments reminded me of Gal Gadot’s acclamations to her fresh surroundings in Wonder Woman. And while we’re talking similar plot themes, this will remind you of Black Panther from time to time.

There’s only so much you can accomplish with this well-worn origin stuff, but James Wan conjures up a visually vibrant tale with an engaging lead. Momoa’s Aquaman is a bit of a Hulk like creation who seems impervious to harm. Frankly, the tension is a bit watered down because it seems like he could swat Orm off like a fly. Yet the action sequences are effective when they’re not too weighed down in confusing CG mayhem. The best one takes place in Italy when all the players remain dry. Aquaman is worth the watch, despite its flaws, as it builds plenty of worlds we’ll see again and with more details. This uses what seems like a record of title cards to tell us where we are as the plot moves along. Unlike other films where we might see “St. Louis” with The Arch in frame, they’re necessary here. Most of the places we visit come with acceptable levels of entertainment value.

*** (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Captain Marvel

The MCU appears poised to have another blockbuster on their hands this weekend with the release of Captain Marvel. Reviews were embargoed for a little longer than usual for the multi billion dollar franchise, but they’re out and critical reaction has been fairly solid. The Brie Larson led pic stands at 84% currently on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s just a percentage point behind last year’s Avengers: Infinity War – while nowhere near the 97% achieved by Black Panther.

It was, of course, Panther that became the first superhero flick to nab a Best Picture nomination from the Academy. That won’t happen here. The storyline as far as this MCU title’s awards chances is the same as most of them and that’s Visual Effects.

Nine MCU entries have nabbed nods in Visual Effects. Interestingly, none of them have won. Competition this year will be stiff. There’s another franchise effort (Avengers: Endgame) that likely has a better shot. That’s in addition to expected players such as the next Star Wars, The Lion King, and Alita: Battle Angel, to name just some.

Bottom line: Captain Marvel will bring audiences in. Awards chatter is more of a reach. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…