Oscar Watch: Lucy in the Sky

Natalie Portman is an astronaut who seems to lose touch with reality when she becomes Earthbound again in Lucy in the Sky, which has screened at the Toronto Film Festival. And while many critics are praising her performance, their reception to the picture itself is having a problem.

Noah Hawley, who created the acclaimed TV adaptation of Fargo, makes his directorial debut with a supporting cast including Jon Hamm, Zazie Beetz, Dan Stevens, and Ellen Burstyn (who reportedly gets to spout some salty dialogue). As mentioned, Lucy did not fly in its rollout and it sits at just 31% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Portman is an Oscar winner from 2010’s Black Swan in addition to two other nods for Closer and Jackie. With tepid reaction to her latest, expect her nominations number to stay put at three. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Vox Lux Movie Review

Brady Corbet’s Vox Lux portrays a star who is born out of tragedy and she manages to keep milking it for a seemingly infinite time. Natalie Portman is that star and her work here is certainly memorable. Unlike her Oscar-winning turn in 2010’s Black Swan (which also explored the highs and lows of notoriety), this movie never quite earns being blessed by her committed performance. It drew me in for a while before getting lost in its own pretentiousness and, eventually, a feeling of meaninglessness. Maybe that’s the point Corbet is going for with his script as he ruminates on the vapid nature of pop celebrity. However, when the message is that the main character isn’t ultimately worth paying attention to, it’s tricky to get invested.

We meet Celeste as a 14-year-old in 1999, as played by Raffey Cassidy. She and sister Ellie survive a school shooting, leaving Celeste with a gunshot wound to the spinal area. Her recovery inspires her to write a ballad that strikes a chord with the nation. When it’s time to cut a full album, it’s in the aftermath of 9/11 when her lightweight dance pop recordings (courtesy of Sia) are the kind of throwaway ditties that fit the airwaves. These horrific events turn Celeste into a superstar and ultimately a diva.

Forty minutes in, the story flashes forward to 2017. Now 31 years old and now in the diminutive but fierce form of Portman, Celeste is prepping a comeback tour while attempting to rid herself of certain baggage. There’s an at fault car accident from a few years back that caused injury. And there’s the breaking news of the day – a terrorist attack in Central Europe where the assailants dressed as characters from one of her old videos.

Celeste deals with all this as she’s an absentee mom to her own teen, also played by Cassidy. Her girl is raised primarily by Ellie (Stacy Martin) and that sister relationship is strained to its limit. Jude Law is the manager who puts up with the frequent tantrums and rock star behavior while indulging in it himself.

For a while, Vox Lux is unique enough with its subject matter to inspire hope. That’s for about an hour when it seems to be generating its thesis on stardom and tragedy. I will say I dug Willem Dafoe’s intermittent ironic narration. In the second half, it’s mostly about watching Celeste’s out of control behavior. In the realm of musical tales, this runs out of fresh notes to hit. What helps is that Portman is terrific. She just never quite elevates this above being an occasional fascinating misfire.

**1/2 (out of four)

Best Actress: A Look Back

Back at it again with my look back at major Oscar races from 1990 to the present! We’ve arrived at Best Actress. If you missed my previous posts covering the Supporting performers, you can find them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/25/best-supporting-actor-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/20/best-supporting-actress-a-look-back/

As I did with those posts, I’m selecting my top 3 least surprising winners and top 3 upsets. I’m also giving you my personal pick for strongest and weakest fields from the past 28 years.

For starters, here’s the list of winners from 1990 to now:

1990 – Kathy Bates, Misery

1991 – Jodie Foster, The Silence of the Lambs

1992 – Emma Thompson, Howards End

1993 – Holly Hunter, The Piano

1994 – Jessica Lange, Blue Sky

1995 – Susan Sarandon, Dead Man Walking

1996 – Frances McDormand, Fargo

1997 – Helen Hunt, As Good As It Gets

1998 – Gwyneth Paltrow, Shakespeare in Love

1999 – Hilary Swank, Boys Don’t Cry

2000 – Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich

2001 – Halle Berry, Monster’s Ball

2002 – Nicole Kidman, The Hours

2003 – Charlize Theron, Monster

2004 – Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby

2005 – Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line

2006 – Helen Mirren, The Queen

2007 – Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose

2008 – Kate Winslet, The Reader

2009 – Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side

2010 – Natalie Portman, Black Swan

2011 – Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady

2012 – Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

2013 – Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

2014 – Julianne Moore, Still Alice

2015 – Brie Larson, Room

2016 – Emma Stone, La La Land

2017 – Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

When it comes to Best Actress, I must say it’s probably the race with the least amount of genuine upsets. Nearly every year, there’s a pretty strong front-runner and they win – even more so than in Actor and the Supporting players. Of many non-surprises, here’s my top ones:

3. Holly Hunter, The Piano

Hunter’s work as a mute piano player in Jane Campion’s period piece was the clear favorite over significant competition that included Angela Bassett in What’s Love Got to Do With It? and the previous year’s winner Emma Thompson in The Remains of the Day. 

2. Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich

One of Hollywood’s biggest stars had already received nods for Steel Magnolias and Pretty Woman and there was little question that Brockovich would earn Roberts her first and only (so far) trip to the Oscar stage.

1. Charlize Theron, Monster

Theron’s metamorphosis into serial killer Aileen Wuornos swept all precursors. The rest of the field was also fairly weak that year, making her the obvious victor.

And now the “upsets”…

3. Kate Winslet, The Reader

While not a surprise when she won Oscar night, the multi-nominated Winslet was expected for much of the year to get a nod for Revolutionary Road instead. Yet it was this Stephen Daldry drama that was selected instead.

2. Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose

This was a two-way contest between Cotillard and veteran Julie Christie for Away from Her, with many believing the latter had the edge. It didn’t turn out that way.

1. Hilary Swank, Boys Don’t Cry and Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby

This #1 comes with a caveat. It wasn’t much of an upset by the time Swank won her double Oscars. What’s interesting here is that she single-handedly denied two prime opportunities for the winless Annette Bening to get a statue for American Beauty and Being Julia. 

We move to the fields. For weakest field, I’m selecting 1994 when Jessica Lange won for the little-seen Blue Sky. Other nominees were Jodie Foster in Nell, Miranda Richardson in Tom&Viv, Winona Ryder for Little Women, and Susan Sarandon in The Client. 

Strongest group in my opinion goes to 2010 with Natalie Portman’s victorious role in Black Swan. The rest of that impressive field is Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right), Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole), Jennifer Lawrence’s first nomination in Winter’s Bone, and Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine).

Best Actor is next, folks! Stay tuned…

Oscar Watch: Vox Lux

Three years ago, director Brady Corbet took home the Best Director prize and Best Debut film at Venice for The Childhood of a Leader. In 2018, he’s back at the festival with his follow-up Vox Lux. Said to be a haunting tale of a pop music princess (Natalie Portman), early word of mouth is quite encouraging for Corbet’s second effort behind the camera. Some reviewers have commented that it’s a darker take on the same themes of another festival favorite, Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born. 

Portman’s work is said to be fantastic. Her costars include Jude Law, Raffey Cassidy, and Willem Dafoe (on narrator duties), but expect any awards chatter to go to its lead. Portman has been nominated three times already for 2004’s Closer, 2010’s Black Swan (for which she won), and 2016’s Jackie. It may not hurt that Oscar voters are aware of her performance in Annihilation earlier this year, which also earned positive notices.

One important point worth noting: Vox Lux has yet to secure U.S. distribution, so it’s possible this may not hit theaters stateside in 2018. However, based on reaction from Italy, I expect that to occur in short order.

Bottom line: International pop star Lady Gaga has likely made the short list in Best Actress for A Star Is Born. Natalie Portman could potentially join that short list playing an international pop star.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The Best Picture Wouldn’t Have Been Contenders: 2009-2017

A couple of days back on the blog, I speculated about what films in the 21st century would have been nominated for Best Picture prior to a rule change in 2009. As a refresher, nearly a decade ago, the Academy changed its Best Picture Nominees from a finite five to anywhere between five to ten. In that time frame, the magic number most years has been nine (it was actually a finite 10 for 2009 and 2010 before the fluctuation change). My recent post selected two pictures from 1990-2008 that I believe would have been nominated. You can find that post here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/08/03/the-best-picture-coulda-been-contenders-1990-2008/

Today comes the inverse of that column. What if the rule had never been altered? What if the last nine Oscar ceremonies honored just five features?

In making these picks, there’s obviously one extremely easy selection – the movie that won. In naming the other four, I’m looking at factors such as number of other nods it received. For instance, if a Director won that award for their work and the Picture went to something else, that director’s film is in.

So let’s get to it in this alternative Oscar universe. I’ll be reminding you all the pictures recognized and then showing my final five.

2009

The Actual Nominees:

The Hurt Locker (Winner), Avatar, The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, A Serious Man, Up, Up in the Air

Had It Been Five:

The Hurt Locker, Avatar, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, Up in the Air

2010

The Actual Nominees:

The King’s Speech (W), 127 Hours, Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit, Winter’s Bone

Had It Been Five:

The King’s Speech, The Fighter, Inception, The Social Network, True Grit

2011

The Actual Nominees:

The Artist (W), The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, War Horse

Had It Been Five:

The Artist, The Descendants, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris

2012

The Actual Nominees:

Argo (W), Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty

Had It Been Five:

Argo, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook

2013

The Actual Nominees:

12 Years a Slave (W), American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, The Wolf of Wall Street

Had It Been Five:

12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Gravity, Nebraska, The Wolf of Wall Street

2014

The Actual Nominees:

Birdman (W), American Sniper, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash

Had It Been Five:

Birdman, American Sniper, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game

2015

The Actual Nominees:

Spotlight (W), The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Room

Had It Been Five:

Spotlight, The Big Short, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant

2016

The Actual Nominees:

Moonlight (W), Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Manchester by the Sea

Had It Been Five:

Moonlight, Arrival, La La Land, Lion, Manchester by the Sea

2017

The Actual Nominees:

The Shape of Water (W), Call Me by Your Name, Darkest Hour, Dunkirk, Get Out, Lady Bird, Phantom Thread, The Post, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Had It Been Five:

The Shape of Water, Dunkirk, Get Out, Lady Bird, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

And there you have it with my posts on the “what if” Best Picture happenings in Oscar world!

mother! Movie Review

Darren Aronofsky’s mother! may leave you woozy, bewildered, and exhilarated and sometimes all within the same minute. It’s a film that many will despise for taking its Hollywood stars down this rabbit hole of Biblical allegories and celebrity culture mockery. Yet I’ll be damned if it wasn’t an experience to often behold, albeit not on the level as some of the director’s best works.

mother is Jennifer Lawrence, who lives in a remote sprawling home with her older husband who is known as Him (Javier Bardem). He’s a famous and acclaimed poet suffering from an acute case of writer’s block. She fills her days renovating their dwelling which we learned recently burned to the ground.

Their quiet existence is interrupted when a stranger known as man (Ed Harris) shows up at their door, claiming he thought the house was a bed and breakfast. mother’s natural and understandable instinct is to send him on his way. Him curiously invites him to stay. Shortly after, his wife credited as woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives. She’s a prying firecracker who rubs mother the wrong away while her husband’s health issues come to light. Their two sons join the joyless party as well and that’s when some tragic results occur. If you’ve noted I’m not saying the names of the characters, it’s for a reason. They don’t have them.

It’s a bit of a chore to discuss mother! without venturing into major spoiler territory. I’ll say this – their family drama has an ending. When Him and mother finally get the place to themselves again, she becomes pregnant and we flash forward to her due date approaching. This is when more people turn up. Lots of them.

What transpires after gives us multiple instances of WTF moments that also showcase Aronofsky’s remarkable visual style behind the camera. He’s a filmmaker unafraid to tackle religious themes (Noah was his previous effort) and mother! certainly bludgeons us with them. It also has plenty to say about fame and those who follow famous people, well, religiously.

By the time Him and mother’s “houseguests” number on the scale of innumerable, I found myself staring at the screen in disbelief at some of what’s onscreen. Part of this may be because a major studio clearly let their writer/director do whatever he wanted here. Another reason is Aronofsky’s technical skill at shooting what occurs within the home’s walls.

Lawrence often represents the audience here. She’s as confused as we are with her husband’s eagerness to welcome others in. In a typical horror flick (especially those of the haunted house variety), you’d be screaming for her to just get the hell out. You may do that here, but credit Aronofsky for going out of his way to explain why she doesn’t.

Black Swan, which stands at the director’s best along with Requiem for a Dream, shares certain themes. A drive for artistic perfection no matter the cost is a trait shared by Natalie Portman in her Oscar winning role and the character of Him. It takes us to even darker places here, but it didn’t leave me as satisfied as Swan. That one got Aronofsky awfully close to cinematic perfection. mother! doesn’t leave that kind of impression overall, but its scenes of expertly made depravity should leave his fans enthralled while it’s happening.

*** (out of four)

 

mother! Box Office Prediction

Darren Aronofsky’s mother! received quite the splashy debut at the Venice Film Festival over the weekend and stateside audiences will render their verdict on September 15th. Oscar winners Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem headline the psychological horror thriller with a supporting cast including Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kristin Wiig, and Domhnall Gleeson.

Critical reaction from mother! has been something to witness, with some reviews labeling it a masterwork from the Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan auteur. Other notices haven’t gone that far, but all seem to agree it will push the audience’s buttons with its out there approach. The pic stands at 82% on Rotten Tomatoes currently.

Here are the pluses as I see them when it comes to potential box office performance. First, it’s headlined by Jennifer Lawrence and that should be a draw for some. Second, the buzz surrounding it could create a “you have to witness this thing” for yourself type of vibe.

One minus is a considerable one. The It factor. The Stephen King adaptation is riding its own higher decibel wave of chatter and should still be garnering big grosses in its sophomore weekend. It could easily divert some moviegoers away from this.

I’ll predict mother! begins with a low to mid teens output and it’ll be fascinating to see how it progresses or regresses from there (its Cinemascore rating could be an interesting indicator).

mother! opening weekend prediction: $14.7 million

For my American Assassin prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/09/06/american-assassin-box-office-prediction/