Oscar Predictions – Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody

On the eve of its premiere, the embargo for Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody finally lifted. For those not familiar, waiting until December 21st for critics to weigh in is not a good sign for awards possibilities. The biopic comes from Kasi Lemmons, who last directed Cynthia Erivo to a Best Actress nod for 2019’s Harriet. Then there’s the screenwriter Anthony McCarten. He’s a bit of an awards whisperer. His screenplays for 2014’s The Theory of Everything, 2017’s Darkest Hour, and 2018’s Bohemian Rhapsody resulted in Best Actor victories for (respectively) Eddie Redmayne, Gary Oldman, and Rami Malek.

That’s why I was a tad surprised that Somebody was MIA at film festivals and that there were no early reviews to generate buzz. Now it makes more sense. The Rotten Tomatoes score is a mere 41%. That said, some write-ups are singing the praises of Naomi Ackie as the iconic and troubled legend. I don’t think it would’ve been impossible for Ackie to make the five in Best Actress. At this juncture, only Cate Blanchett (Tár) and Michelle Yeoh (Everything Everywhere All at Once) have guaranteed spots in my opinion. Michelle Williams in The Fabelmans and Danielle Deadwyler for Till are probably in as well. The fifth slot could be Margot Robbie (Babylon), Viola Davis (The Woman King), Olivia Colman (Empire of Light), or a surprise.

It is probably too late for Ackie to be a factor. The Critics Choice and Globes skipped her and the Academy is unlikely to make her queen of the night. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Update (12/20): I am revising my prediction from $14.5 million to $11.5 million

Sony Pictures is hoping audiences wanna run to Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody when its drops December 23rd. The biopic of the legendary late singer stars Naomi Ackie as the title character with Stanley Tucci, Ashton Sanders, Tamara Tunie, Nafessa Williams, and Clarke Peters among the supporting cast. Kasi Lemmons (who last made the 2019 biopic Harriet) directs. Anthony McCarten wrote the screenplay. He’s no stranger to the genre having scripted The Theory of Everything, Darkest Hour and Bohemian Rhapsody.

Just last week, the film’s name was expanded to add “Whitney Houston” in front of one of her signature tunes. Perhaps Sony was nervous that awareness wasn’t high enough for the project. The marketing campaign doesn’t seem quite as robust as it could be. Its review embargo has yet to lift and Somebody skipped the autumn festival circuit. McCarten’s aforementioned works resulted in Oscar wins for stars Eddie Redmayne (Theory), Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour), and Rami Malek (Rhapsody). Ackie has yet to show up anywhere in the Academy’s precursors.

Even with the somewhat muted buzz, I still believe African-American and especially female viewers should turn out. This might result in a low teens beginning for the three-day gross.

Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody opening weekend prediction: $11.5 million (REVISED)

For my Puss in Boots: The Last Wish prediction, click here:

For my Babylon prediction, click here:

AFI Recap: Yes on Nope and Nope on Babylon

The American Film Institute (AFI) said yes to Nope and nope to The Whale and Babylon today as they named their top ten movies of 2022. Jordan Peele’s sci-fi horror tale was perhaps the biggest surprise of the bunch.

The AFI list, in the previous decade, typically gives us seven of the eventual Best Picture contenders at the Oscars. In other words, they’re worth paying attention to. Coupled with Wednesday’s National Board of Review selections, there’s much to discuss. First, here’s the full AFI Ten:

Avatar: The Way of Water

Elvis

Everything Everywhere All at Once

The Fabelmans

Nope

She Said

Tár

Top Gun: Maverick

The Woman King

Women Talking

It’s key to remember that only U.S. made pictures are eligible. That means titles like All Quiet on the Western Front, Decision to Leave, RRR, and The Banshees of Inisherin were not in the mix. However, Banshees received a Special Award similar to what eventual Academy hopefuls like Roma and Parasite nabbed.

I went 7 for 10 on my predictions. I correctly named Avatar, Elvis, Everything Everywhere…, The Fabelmans, Top Gun: Maverick, The Woman King, and Women Talking. I didn’t name Nope, She Said, and Tár. Instead I picked Babylon, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, and Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio. For She Said and Tár especially, these were important nods considering they missed NBR (as did Nope).

Let’s start with the films that made the AFI and NBR lists. I’m counting Banshees with its AFI Special Award shout-out and there’s six more: Avatar: The Way of Water, Everything Everywhere All at Once, The Fabelmans, Top Gun: Maverick, The Woman King, and Women Talking. This is a list you want to be on when it comes to an Oscar BP nom.

In the previous five years, ten pictures that made AFI and NBR were ignored by the Academy. They are 2017’s The Florida Project, Mary Poppins Returns, A Quiet Place, First Reformed, and Eighth Grade (all from 2018), Knives Out and Richard Jewell from 2019, Da 5 Bloods and Soul in 2020, and last year’s The Tragedy of Macbeth.

If history is our guide, at least one of the seven from 2022 will miss out. Looking at the list, The Woman King is probably most vulnerable. That said, I’ve yet it to include it in my Oscar ten and the stock is rising.

In the past five years, only five pics have missed AFI and NBR (including Special Awards) and received a BP nod from the Academy. They are Darkest Hour from 2017, Bohemian Rhapsody and Vice in 2018, The Father in 2020, and last year’s Drive My Car.

What about the movies that didn’t make AFI or NBR in 2022? That list includes Babylon, The Whale, Triangle of Sadness, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, All Quiet o the Western Front, and Decision to Leave. The last two weren’t eligible for AFI. Nevertheless this isn’t a list you want to be on though the outlook isn’t completely dire.

If history guides us again, 2 of the aforementioned 2022 titles could still get love from Oscar. Perhaps Monday’s Golden Globes nods will save some of them. There’s no doubt that Babylon and The Whale are looking shakier for Academy inclusion after this week. They need some attention from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

I’ll have my Golden Globe nominations recap up Monday and if you missed my predictions on them, you can find them here:

Updated Oscar predictions will be on the blog Tuesday!

Best Picture 2018: The Final Five


We have reached 2018 in my posts speculating on a specific piece of Oscar history. As awards followers are aware, 2009 saw the Academy expand the Best Picture category from five movies to ten. That lasted for two years and in 2011, it switched to anywhere from 5-10 with 8 or 9 as the magic numbers for several years. In 2021, the number reverted back to a set ten.

What if that hadn’t happened? What if the BP derby had stayed at a quintet? What pictures would have made the cut? If you missed my write-ups centered on 2009-17, they are linked at the bottom of the post.

2018 is a tricky year to winnow down. In fact, all 8 nominees have strong cases to make the final five. Only one thing is for sure. Peter Farrelly’s Green Book is one of the five considering it won Best Picture. It stands as one of the more surprising (and derided) victors in recent years. The race relations drama went an impressive 3/5 on its nominations – taking Picture, Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali), and Original Screenplay and missing Actor (Viggo Mortensen) and Film Editing.

So what of the other seven hopefuls? Here’s my speculation:

Black Panther

The only MCU flick (and for that matter comic book adaptation) to score a BP nom was Ryan Coogler’s phenomenon with Chadwick Boseman as the title character. Its seven nominations included three wins for Score, Production Design, and Costume Design.

Does It Make the Final Five?

No. Besides BP, the other six mentions were all technical. It missed directing, any acting inclusions, screenplay, and even editing. It’s hard to leave this out though that’s the case with everything here.

BlacKkKlansman

Spike Lee received his first and only Oscar for his adapted screenplay. That’s the only victory of the night among its six total nods as Lee did make the quintet for direction. The others were Supporting Actor (Adam Driver), Score, and Film Editing.

Does It Make the Final Five?

Had this not taken Adapted Screenplay, I’d leave this off. Yet that win has me (somewhat reluctantly) leaving it in.

Bohemian Rhapsody

Rami Malek was crowned Best Actor for his performance as Queen frontman Freddie Mercury in the biopic. Despite mixed reviews, Rhapsody was successful in four of its five noms. Picture is the only race it didn’t win as it took Actor, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Film Editing.

Does It Make the Final Five?

Yes. That 80% ratio solidifies it even without attention for the direction or screenplay.

The Favourite

The period piece from Yorgos Lanthimos tied all nominees with 10. The lone victory was an unexpected one as Olivia Colman took Best Actress over the favored Glenn Close (The Wife).

Does It Make the Final Five?

Yes. Despite the 10% ratio, it still led all contenders with key placements in Director, two Supporting Actress bids (Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz), Original Screenplay, and Editing.

Roma

Alfonso Cuaron was your Best Director in the Mexican drama that was the other picture with 10 nods. It also won Foreign Language Film and Cinematography while contending in Actress (Yalitza Aparicio), Supporting Actress (Marina de Tavira), Original Screenplay, both Sound competitions, and Production Design.

Does It Make the Final Five?

Yes and easily. The Netflix property was supposed to be the streamer’s first BP (they’re still waiting) and was favored before that Book upset.

A Star Is Born

Bradley Cooper’s version of the frequently remade melodrama achieved 8 nominations and one win for the director’s duet with costar Lady Gaga “Shallow” in Original Song. Both Cooper and Gaga were up for their acting as was Sam Elliot in Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay, Sound Mixing, and Cinematography.

Does It Make the Final Five?

No, but another tough call. Star‘s shine with voters seemed to dim as the season wore on. This is evidenced by it missing directing and editing.

Vice

This is a good time to point out that all 8 BP hopefuls won at least one statue. Adam McKay’s biopic of former Vice President Cheney (played by Christian Bale) took home the Makeup and Hairstyling award. Other noms were for the direction, Bale, Supporting Actor (Sam Rockwell), Supporting Actress (Amy Adams), Original Screenplay, and Film Editing.

Does It Make the Final Five?

No and I really struggled here. Vice landed mentions everywhere it needed to. The so-so critical reaction made it a tad easier to leave it out. Simply put, this could’ve been in over BlacKkKlansman or Bohemian, but I had to make the judgment call.

So that means my 2018 final five is:

BlacKkKlansman

Bohemian Rhapsody

The Favourite

Green Book

Roma

I’ll have my post for 2019 up soon! The 2009-17 write-ups are here:

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story Review

There is an ultrahigh funny consistency in Weird: The Al Yankovic Story before the hilarity frequency is turned down a notch as it plays on. Focused on pop’s most famous parody artist, it’s appropriate that the film is a sendup of the musical biopic genre. Director Eric Appel and Yankovic himself penned the screenplay which cheekily casts Daniel Radcliffe as the man with the accordion.

As a youngster, Al’s father (Toby Huss) would rather see his boy working in the factory (where they make mysterious “things”) than making songs. Mom (Julianne Nicholson) buys him the harmonious box organ behind Dad’s back. Soon a teenage Al is busted for experimenting with the instrument at a party (the accordion uproariously stands in for hard drugs) and he’s on his own. At college and with the encouragement of three roommates turned bandmates, he becomes the biggest pop star in the world with his spoof tracks.

Similar to Bohemian Rhapsody, we take a journey through the creation of “My Bologna”, “Another One Rides the Bus”, “Eat It”, and “Like a Surgeon”. These segments are more exaggerated (slightly) than those in Rhapsody. The latter tune is manifested through his whirlwind tryst with the ambitious and conniving Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood, doing a fine impersonation). As for his largest smash “Eat It”, the script cleverly insists it was Michael Jackson ripping off Al.

Radcliffe is a pleasure to watch (the real Al plays a music exec) as he makes the tragic rock star journey. There are cameos galore including Jack Black as a taunting Wolfman Jack and a noted late night host as Andy Warhol (pay attention). Rainn Wilson is Dr. Demento, the radio host who gave the Weird one his big break (no exaggeration).

When we reach a Hot Shots! level of silliness with Al going Rambo at Pablo Escobar’s birthday bash, it all begins to wear a bit thin. Most of the time this is as fun and irreverent as its subject’s creations. No bologna.

*** (out of four)

Elvis Review

Bad Luhrmann’s Elvis succeeds much in the same way that Bohemian Rhapsody did. Which is to say that it doesn’t always succeed, but it frequently captures the musical spirit of its subject impressively. Or maybe the magnetism of Elvis Presley or Freddie Mercury and lively performances from the actors portraying them is simply overpowering.

From Moulin Rouge! to The Great Gatsby and more, Luhrmann’s stylized productions have always flashed a bigger than life vibe. Mr. Presley is a sensible icon for him to cover. Austin Butler plays The King. Before he inhabits the role (and he does), we see the poor Mississippi youth who catches musical inspiration in two ways. One is the sacred in the gospel church. The other is more profane in the sweat drenched blues sessions nearby.

The melding of each eventually makes him the best selling solo artist of all time. Narrating that four decade long journey is Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), his corrupt and crafty manager. Their union is the rocky constant in a triumphant and turbulent career that includes the popularization of rock and roll to the masses. The two and a half hour plus biopic is told in a sometimes Forrest Gump style journey through history that somewhat clumsily brings the MLK and RFK Jr. assassinations into the fold. Of course, it also includes the known greatest hits and misses. Iconic wiggles. The close knit and cut short relationship with his mother (Helen Thomson). A hoped for James Dean style film career stalled. The marriage to younger Priscilla (Olivia DeJonge). Pills and guns.

Much of this is familiar territory for this genre. In fact, one could say Elvis’s trajectory is perfectly suited for it. A star is born. And the star’s light goes out too soon. Unlike the aforementioned Gump, Hanks is not among the strongest aspects. Buried in makeup that doesn’t make you forget it’s Hanks buried in makeup, his acting borders on cartoonish parody. If their relationship is meant to be the emotional core, the screenplay falters in that regard.

Where Elvis builds its momentum is in Butler’s dynamism. To offer that he’s  utterly convincing even in the live hip shaking portions says it all. Those sequences are rhapsodic and a wise use of Luhrmann’s overwhelming brand of storytelling.

*** (out of four)

June 24-26 Box Office Predictions

Blogger’s Update (06/23): On the eve of its premiere, I am revising my Elvis prediction from $42.6M to $35.6M. That still gives it the #1 slot over Top Gun: Maverick… barely.

In what should be an intriguing and potentially unpredictable weekend to close out the June box office, Baz Luhrmann’s musical biopic Elvis and critically lauded horror pic The Black Phone debut. You can peruse my detailed prediction posts on both of them here:

Elvis Box Office Prediction

The Black Phone Box Office Prediction

There’s plenty of possibilities for how the top 5 will look. While there’s no doubt about which quintet will populate the list, the order is up for grabs. I believe Elvis will open closer to the $51 million of Bohemian Rhapsody than the $25 million of Rocketman. That should be enough to earn it the title of Box Office King.

However, if it does premiere in the mid to late 20s range, the chances of a #1 start are considerably lower. We could legitimately see Top Gun: Maverick rise from 3rd to 1st. With a projected dip in the low to mid 20s, it should at least rise to 2nd place. That’s assuming current two-week champ Jurassic World: Dominion loses more than half its audience in its third go-round and Lightyear also sees a sophomore fall of around 55%. I’m assuming both.

And there’s the wild card that is The Black Phone. Horror titles often outdo expectations and with its aforementioned solid reviews, that could apply here. I’m sticking with a debut of just under $20 million and that would likely mean a fifth place reception.

Here’s how I envision perhaps the most fascinating box office weekend so far in the pandemic era looking:

1. Elvis

Predicted Gross: $35.6 million

2. Top Gun: Maverick

Predicted Gross: $34.8 million

3. Jurassic World: Dominion

Predicted Gross: $28.3 million

4. Lightyear

Predicted Gross: $23.2 million

5. The Black Phone

Predicted Gross: $18.6 million

Box Office Results (June 17-19)

In a major upset, Jurassic World: Dominion remained #1 for the second frame with $59.1 million. That’s stronger than my $54.8 million estimate as the threequel is up to $250 million in its first ten days. That’s $15 million under where predecessor was at four summers ago.

Jurassic‘s reign was unexpected because Disney/Pixar’s Toy Story spinoff Lightyear was widely anticipated to rule the charts. Instead it grossed $50.5 million for second place. That’s, ahem, $35 million under my projection of $85.5 million and less than half of what Toy Story 3 and Toy Story 4 made out of the gate. There’s plenty of think pieces out there for why Lightyear was a disappointment. It includes theories about politics, Disney Plus being the same day distributor for recent Pixar material, and the absence of Tim Allen as the voice of the title character. Any way you slice it, it’s a shocker.

Top Gun: Maverick continued its amazing run in third with $44.6 million – dropping a scant 14%. I was lower at $36 million. The biggest hit of the year (and of Tom Cruise’s career by far) is flying at $466 million as its domestic haul will reach $500 million shortly. As mentioned, if Elvis doesn’t reach my projection, it could see a return to the top spot. I wrote more about Maverick‘s unreal performance yesterday on the blog and it’s here:

Top Gun: Maverick – Lightyears Ahead of Expectations

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was fourth with $4.4 million compared to my $3.4 million take. The tally is $405 million.

The Bob’s Burgers Movie rounded out the top five with $1.1 million. I incorrectly had it outside the high five. It’s made $29 million.

I figured The Bad Guys would be fifth, but it was sixth with $1 million (I said $1.5 million)/ The overall take is $94 million.

And that does it for now, folks! Until next time…

Elvis Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Update (06/23): On the eve of its premiere, I am revising my Elvis prediction from $42.6M to $35.6M. That still gives it the #1 slot over Top Gun: Maverick… barely.

Warner Bros is betting that Elvis will get moviegoers all shook up when it hits theaters on June 24th. The extravagant musical comes from Baz Luhrmann, maker of Moulin Rouge! and 2013’s The Great Gatsby. Austin Butler, in a performance garnering some awards chatter, plays The King with Tom Hanks as The Colonel. Costars include Helen Thomson, Richard Roxburgh, Olivia DeJonge, Luke Bracey, Natasha Bassett, Kelvin Harrison Jr., and Kodi Smit-McPhee.

While Butler’s work has been lauded across the board, reviews for the film are a bit more mixed. It received a warm welcome at the Cannes Film Festival and it could certainly be an audience pleaser. The Rotten Tomatoes score stands at 77%.

The studio would love for Elvis to approach the earnings of Bohemian Rhapsody from 2018 (and maybe win some of the same Oscars). The Freddie Mercury biopic took in $51 million for its start with an overall domestic haul of $216 million. Coincidentally that’s the same figure that Gatsby made for Luhrmann’s personal best. WB is  hoping for a better beginning than 2019’s Rocketman, the Elton John tale which debuted with $25 million (with a $96 million eventual tally).

Obviously Elvis Presley is one of music’s biggest sensations ever and that could propel this to a premiere on pace with Rhapsody. Older moviegoers have recently proven they’re willing to venture out thanks to Top Gun: Maverick. 

I’m tempted to project this hits $45-50 million, but I’ll hedge a bit and say it fall a little shy of that.

Elvis opening weekend prediction: $35.6 million

For my The Black Phone prediction, click here:

The Black Phone Box Office Prediction

Oscar Predictions: Elvis

Will Elvis be in the building when the Oscars air next year? The eagerly anticipated Baz Luhrmann biopic has debuted at Cannes prior to its June 24th stateside bow. The splashy musical casts Austin Butler as The King with Tom Hanks (in some apparently memorable makeup) as Colonel Parker. Costars include Helen Thomson, Richard Roxburgh, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Olivia DeJonge, and Kelvin Harrison, Jr.

Luhrmann’s movies can attract wildly divergent opinions. Elvis is currently at 88% on Rotten Tomatoes. Yet it’s worth noting that the negative reviews are quite negative and the positive ones point out plenty of flaws. It’s not often you’ll read this, but Hanks’s work is drawing mixed buzz. He’ll need some coattail action to be a factor in Supporting Actor.

On the flip side, Luhrmann’s pictures also generate Academy mentions. His last four have done so. 1996’s Romeo + Juliet was nominated for Art Direction. 2001’s Moulin Rouge! was his most acclaimed title with 8 nods including Picture (though not Director). It was victorious in Art Direction and Costume Design. His less regarded 2008 follow-up Australia received a Costume Design nod while 2013’s The Great Gatsby landed wins for Costume Design and Production Design.

We are talking about Elvis so you have to assume Costume Design is easily in play. So are Production Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, and Sound. And, yes, Best Picture is a possibility. Whether or not it hits at the box office could move the needle one way or the other on the big race. If he couldn’t do so for Rouge!, I doubt Luhrmann gets his first behind the camera recognition.

One consistent thread in most of the reaction thus far compliments the performance of Butler. He is absolutely in the mix for Best Actor. Butler’s best hope is to follow in the footsteps of Rami Malek, who took home the gold stature for 2018’s Bohemian Rhapsody as rock legend Freddie Mercury. Or he could end up like Taron Egerton, who surprisingly was left off the final five in 2019 as Elton John in Rocketman. 

Bottom line: despite some grumbling, Elvis has at least established itself as a mover and shaker for the awards season. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: A Quiet Place Part II

Fourteen months after its scheduled release, A Quiet Place Part II looks to make noise at the box office when it debuts over Memorial weekend. John Krasinski’s horror sequel starring wife Emily Blunt was days away from release before the COVID-19 pandemic changed the world. The 2018 original was critically hailed and generated some Oscar buzz. However, it managed only a nod in Sound Editing (this was before Sound Editing and Sound Mixing were combined into one category). It lost to Bohemian Rhapsody. 

The review embargo lifted today. The general consensus is that AQPII nearly matches the quality of its predecessor, but not quite. This is evident in the Rotten Tomatoes score. Part I reached 96%. Part II sits at 90%. The chances of a Best Picture nomination seemed rather unrealistic anyway. This does not hold true for Best Sound where it could make a play. There is bound to be serious competition in the form of musicals like In the Heights and West Side Story and spectacles such as Dune and Top Gun: Maverick. 

Marco Beltrami’s score is getting some kudos (his work in the original received a Globe nod), but that could be a long shot as well. There is another higher profile race to mention. Millicent Simmonds, reprising her role as Blunt’s daughter, is being singled out. The deaf actress received raves for Part I and critics are saying her work here is a highlight. A Best Supporting Actress is not impossible, but there’s a major caveat.

It seems like an actress in a horror flick has been hyped up every year in recent times. This includes Toni Collette in Hereditary, Lupita Nyong’o for Us, and Elisabeth Moss in The Invisible Man. Yet the Academy seems to never take the bait. It is worth noting that Blunt won Supporting Actress at SAG for the original and then didn’t get in at the Oscars. Simmonds probably won’t make final cut though it’ll be worth monitoring the strength of this category in the months ahead.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…