Top 25 SNL Alumni Performances: Numbers 10-6

We have reached the top ten in my personal favorite performances from the dozens of Saturday Night Live alumni. Today’s list covers numbers 10-6 and if you missed my previous editions, you may find them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/06/21/top-25-snl-alumni-movie-performances-numbers-25-21/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/06/22/top-25-snl-alumni-movie-performances-numbers-20-16/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/06/24/top-25-snl-alumni-performances-numbers-15-11/

Let’s get to it!

10. Randy Quaid, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

Ahhh, Cousin Eddie. One of the funniest supporting characters in film history with Quaid’s performance as the black sheep of the Griswald family. He was great in Vacation as well, but his work in the Yuletide classic gets the nod. Quaid only appeared in one ill-fated season of the show from 1985-86.

9. Kristin Wiig, Bridesmaids (2011)

Wiig is one of the greatest SNL performers period and her first starring role was a blockbuster showcase for her immense talents. Her costar Maya Rudolph deserves a shout out for her performance as well.

8. Eddie Murphy, The Nutty Professor (1996)

Beyond his terrific work as Sherman Klump and Buddy Love, this update of the Jerry Lewis tale also finds the versatile star hilariously playing nearly every member of the Klump clan under Rick Baker’s amazing makeup work. This was deservedly a major comeback vehicle for Murphy.

7. Robert Downey Jr., Iron Man (2008)

People tend to forget that Downey was a cast member in the forgettable 1985-86 season that Quaid was a part of. There’s other performances that I could have included here (including other Avengers work), but I’ll give his first appearance in his signature role the attention it warrants.

6. John Belushi, National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)

This is the first breakout role for a SNL cast member and it’s absolutely one of the best with Belushi’s iconic performance as John Blutarsky (or Bluto). You can still find his photo chugging Jack Daniels in many a college dorm across the country.

We will reach the top 5 in short order! Stat tuned…

Last Christmas Box Office Prediction

The Yuletide rom com Last Christmas presents itself in theaters next weekend from Bridesmaids director Paul Feig. If you’re hoping it features the classic Wham! holiday track in its soundtrack, you’re in luck as it plays (as well as some unreleased songs by the late lead singer George Michael). Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding of Crazy Rich Asians fame headline. Costars include Golding’s Rich mother Michelle Yeoh and Emma Thompson (who co-wrote the script).

While its two leads don’t really have a track record opening a film, this should succeed in bringing in a female audience (and perhaps some fans of Mr. Michael). Even though the genres are different, this could premiere with similar numbers to Feig’s previous effort A Simple Favor ($16.1 million).

I’ll say that range is likely as Christmas hopes to leg out solidly in the weeks ahead.

Last Christmas opening weekend prediction: $16.9 million

For my Doctor Sleep prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/10/29/doctor-sleep-box-office-prediction/

For my Midway prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/10/31/midway-box-office-prediction/

For my Playing with Fire prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/10/31/playing-with-fire-box-office-prediction/

Can You Ever Forgive Me? Movie Review

The makers of Can You Ever Forgive Me? have more affection for its central character than she has for anyone other than her beloved cat. Director Marielle Heller and screenwriters Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty succeed in not making that decision seem like a forgery as they delve into what made Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) behave that way. Based on a true story, Lee is a New York loner in the early 1990s. She’s a writer of biographies whose best work is in the rear view. Her exasperated agent (Jane Curtin) advises her to explore other career paths.

That’s not in the cards for Lee. When she sells a handwritten note from her former subject Katherine Hepburn to go on the collectibles circuit, it dawns on her that it’s easy money. Unfortunately for her, she doesn’t have other pricey artifacts from celebrities lying around. So she forges them. The letters come from Noël Coward and Dorothy Parker, among others. This allows her to pay the rent. It also allows her a creative writing exercise that scratches her itch.

Lee’s partner in crime is Jack (Richard E. Grant), an aging and flamboyant drug dealer who gets through life due to his bright blue eyes. They share a love of alcohol and a lack of empathy for others. They never fully trust one another. Yet Jack comes closer to actually being liked occasionally by Lee over anything other than the feline persuasion.

We’ve seen how strong of an actress McCarthy can be, especially with her Oscar nominated turn in Bridesmaids. Her slew of headlining comedies that followed have sometimes wasted her talents. This is a different story. While there’s plenty of sardonic humor sprinkled throughout, this is her most dramatic turn. Lee is an unpleasant person to be around. Because of McCarthy’s considerable talents, she’s definitely not unpleasant to watch. She’s matched in quality by Grant, who’s terrific.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? is unique in that it doesn’t paint a criminal that’s particularly regretful of her actions. After all, it gives her a way to knock out any pesky writer’s block. The screenplay is clever in not over explaining Lee. We eventually see that much of her behavior comes from a deep place of loneliness. It’s telling that she only seems capable of focusing on subjects she never knew who came from a different era that she considers better. She can’t connect with potential women who could be partners or really anyone else. Lee does find a connection with Coward and Parker and makes their missives more entertaining. If only that kind of thing wasn’t illegal. However, it gives Lee Israel one final fascinating tale. And it’s at last about her.

***1/2 (out of four)

A Simple Favor Movie Review

Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) is the type of character who would be in the book club that reads something like A Simple Favor. Yet the cyclone level of twists in the story might only be thought up by someone like Emily (Blake Lively) after drinking too many of her patented mid afternoon dry martinis. Paul Feig’s satiric thriller is, alas, based on a novel by Darcey Bell that probably has been read in those clubs.

This takes the issues of female empowerment found in Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train (also from literary works) and casts a black comedic cloud over it. It occasionally risks collapsing under its sheer volume of plot turns. And somehow it rarely ceases to be a hoot with two dynamic lead performances.

We meet Stephanie on her daily vlog filled with cooking tips and child rearing tips. She’s a single mom whose husband died in a car accident along with her brother. Her instinct is to do it all, including hoarding over school parenting projects. She doesn’t blink when Emily, whose kid attends school with Stephanie’s, starts asking her to be an unpaid nanny. Emily has a hectic job as PR manager for a fashion designer, the already mentioned drinking problem, and has-been writer turned professor husband Sean (Henry Golding from summer smash Crazy Rich Asians). The two end up bonding with Stephanie deeming Emily her “best friend” (there’s a bracelet involved).

Then one day Emily vanishes and Stephanie’s daily posts become a darker (though always humorous) search for a missing person. Her protective nature draws her close to Sean, so much so that the authorities begin to question their motives. What follows is a relentless stream of genre clichés: insurance claims, alternate identities, unknown twins, and love triangles, just to name some. This is kitchen sink level stuff. It’s borderline exhausting, but you get the feeling that Feig and screenwriter Jessica Sharzer know it and are furiously winking. The director is known for his straight up comedies such as Bridesmaids, The Heat, and Spy. While this does venture into paperback adapted material, it does it with tongue in cheek planted wit. This is more in tone with 1998’s under appreciated Wild Things than something like Gone Girl.

Kendrick and Lively are the show here and their chemistry makes it work. Stephanie’s desperation for companionship is sold by Kendrick, who thinks she’s found someone special beyond her unseen blog watchers. She’s done so with Emily, whose back story is filled with too many secrets to keep track of (you will lose count). Lively has a ball revealing them. So do we once we realize keeping up with it all is secondary to its ridiculous and fun nature.

*** (out of four)

A Simple Favor Box Office Prediction

Director Paul Feig is best known for his comedies featuring Melissa McCarthy like Bridesmaids, The Heat, Spy, and Ghostbusters. He changes things up next weekend with the release of thriller A Simple Favor. It’s based on the debut novel from Darcey Bell released last year. The cast is headlined by Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, and Henry Golding (fresh off his breakthrough role in the summer blockbuster Crazy Rich Asians).

Favor could have the benefit of appealing to a female audience in the midst of more male-driven fare such as The Predator and White Boy Rick, which both open the same day. The current forecast is in the $12-$15 million area. I feel that Kendrick, Lively, and the intended demographic could cause this to debut on the high-end of that range and perhaps exceed it.

A Simple Favor opening weekend prediction: $17.9 million

For my The Predator prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/09/05/the-predator-box-office-prediction/

For my White Boy Rick prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/09/06/white-boy-rick-box-office-prediction/

For my Unbroken: Path to Redemption prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/09/06/unbroken-path-to-redemption-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: Can You Ever Forgive Me?

There have been numerous examples of comedic actors who go the serious route in hopes of getting some Oscar love. Yet Melissa McCarthy nabbed her Academy nomination early on for 2011’s Bridesmaids and did so for a role that relied on laughs. The Telluride Film Festival saw the debut of Can You Ever Forgive Me? over the weekend. And it raises the possibility of another nod for the actress. The dramedy tells the true life story of Lee Israel, an author who became known more for her forgeries than literary works.

Marielle Heller directs the Fox Searchlight production and early reviews suggest it’s a winner. In addition to McCarthy getting solid notices, critics have also praised the supporting work of Richard E. Grant as her partner in crime.

The studio behind Forgive could have a difficult task getting this recognized by Oscar voters if it doesn’t break through with its star’s fan base. However, the buzz out of Colorado suggests both actors have a shot at nominations. With Grant, Supporting Actor is the only acting race in my opinion that doesn’t have a definite nominee yet. So his chances could even be better than his more well-known costar.

Bottom line: Telluride has raised the possibility of the two principal performers here making the shortlist.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? opens domestically October 19. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Film Festival Season Approaches: The 2018 Hopefuls

We may be smack dab in the middle of the summer movie season, but Oscar season will be taking shape before we know it. This week, the organizers of the Toronto and Venice Film Festivals have unveiled lineups for the pictures that will be premiering at their events in a few weeks. Many of them are awards hopefuls.

To give you an idea of the importance of festivals when it comes to Oscar nominees, six of last year’s nine nominees premiered at some combination of Toronto, Venice, Telluride, New York, Sundance, or Cannes. Every Best Picture winner from this decade and beyond played at one of them. The last one that didn’t was The Departed back in 2006.

The months of September-December are the fertile ground for most nominated features. Last year, seven of the nine Picture nominees came out in that time frame. In 2016 – it was 8 out of 9.

Beginning in late August/early September, I will begin my weekly Oscar prediction columns. It works like this:

Late August/Early September – first posting of predictions in the categories of Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress

Months of September and October – weekly Oscar predictions column post covering those 6 categories, as well as Adapted Screenplay and Original Screenplay. For Best Picture, I will be ranking possibilities numbered 1-25. For other categories, it will be numbered 1-15.

Months of November through announcement of nominations – weekly Oscar predictions column covering every category involving feature films. For Best Picture, I will be ranking possibilities numbered 1-15. For other categories, it will be numbered 1-10.

While these posts are a month away, today I bring you 25 fall awards hopefuls that I suspect I’ll be mentioning frequently. Most of these are premiering at the high-profile quartet of upcoming fests (Venice, Toronto, New York, Telluride). Some aren’t, but could certainly be added to Telluride or New York especially (as they’re more known for surprise screenings).

Let’s get to it!

A Star is Born

The third remake of the musical drama marks the directorial debut of Bradley Cooper and features a potential showcase role for his costar Lady Gaga. Early word of mouth is already strong.

At Eternity’s Gate

He received a nomination for his supporting work last year for The Florida Project and Willem Dafoe plays Vincent Van Gogh in what could be another awards bait role.

**NO TRAILER AT PRESS TIME

Backseat

Expect Adam McKay’s follow-up to The Big Short to receive plenty of attention. Christian Bale is Cheney with Amy Adams as wife Lynne and last year’s Supporting Actor winner Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush.

**NO TRAILER AT PRESS TIME

Beautiful Boy

Steve Carell plays the father of a meth addict played by Timothee Chalamet, who was nominated last year for Call Me by Your Name.

Ben is Back

Lucas Hedges and Julia Roberts headline this family drama that premieres at Toronto.

**NO TRAILER AT PRESS TIME

Bohemian Rhapsody

Despite some behind the scenes drama in its filming, all eyes will be on Rami Malek’s work as Queen front man Freddie Mercury.

Boy Erased

Perhaps an even larger showcase role for Lucas Hedges is this drama where he plays a homosexual sent to conversion camp. Joel Edgerton directs and costars along with Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe.

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Melissa McCarthy received an Academy Award nomination with her breakthrough role in Bridesmaids. This drama about writer Lee Israel could muster attention for her yet again.

First Man

Director Damien Chazelle has seen both of his efforts (Whiplash, La La Land) nominated for Best Picture and he’s the youngest filmmaker to ever win Best Director. His third pic is a Neil Armstrong biopic starring Ryan Gosling. It opens the Venice Film Festival.

If Beale Street Could Talk

The follow-up to his Oscar winning Moonlight, Barry Jenkins directs this drama set in 1970s Harlem.

July 22

United 93 and Captain Phillips director Paul Greengrass brings his latest to Netflix and it focuses on the 2011 terrorist attacks in Norway.

**NO TRAILER AT PRESS TIME

Life Itself

Premiering at Toronto, this ensemble drama includes Oscar Isaac, Olivia Munn, Annette Bening, and Antonio Banderas.

Mary Poppins Returns

She’s already a contender for A Quiet Place and Emily Blunt could face competition from herself with Disney’s expected monster hit.

Mary Queen of Scots

They were both nominated for Best Actress last year and now Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie star in this historical drama about the title character and Queen Elizabeth I.

Old Man & The Gun

David Lowery directs Robert Redford in the true life tale of a prison escape artist. Sissy Spacek and Casey Affleck costar.

On the Basis of Sex

The documentary RBG could get noticed by the Documentary branch, as could this biopic which casts Felicity Jones as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Peterloo

Acclaimed British director Mike Leigh returns with this historical 19th century drama.

Roma

This Mexican family drama is Alfonso Cuaron’s first directorial effort since his acclaimed Gravity.

Suspiria

Call Me by Your Name maker Luca Guadagnino shifts gears for this remake of the 1970s horror classic. Don’t be surprised if this receives attention in some technical categories.

The Favourite

The Lobster director Yorgos Lanthimos is behind this historical drama featuring Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz.

The Front Runner

Jason Reitman directs this biopic of failed Presidential candidate Gary Hart with Hugh Jackman cast in the role.

**NO TRAILER AT PRESS TIME

The Sisters Brothers

John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, and Jake Gyllenhaal are among the cast in this Western from acclaimed French director Jacques Audiard.

Welcome to Marwen

Steve Carell stars in this unique looking drama from Forrest Gump maker Robert Zemeckis.

Widows

It’s been five years between projects for Oscar winning 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen. This heist thriller stars recent winner Viola Davis.

And there’s your very early preview of some titles to keep an eye on over the coming months. Those Oscar posts will start rolling out weekly in about a month! Stay tuned…

The Boss Movie Review

There’s a through line that’s marked a number of Melissa McCarthy vehicles since her Oscar-nominated turn in 2011’s Bridesmaids. Take the greatly talented comedic actress, give her a mostly unpleasant character, establish a backstory that makes her somewhat sympathetic, and hope audiences eat it up. These rules have generally applied to Identity Thief, The Heat, and Tammy. None of them have been terribly impressive due to weak material. This applies to The Boss as well.

Reuniting with her Tammy director Ben Falcone (who’s also her husband), McCarthy is self-made mogul Michelle Darnell. She’s a ruthless investor who sells out arenas with her take no prisoners business advice. Kristen Bell is Claire, her overloaded executive assistant who isn’t even allowed that lofty sounding title. When Michelle’s actions land her a short stint in Club Fed for insider trading, she’s back to square one and dependent on her old subordinate for lodging. That means crashing on the sofa in a crowded apartment with Claire’s young daughter (Ella Anderson). A trip with that child to a Girl Scout type meeting gives Michelle her first post felony money making idea: take Claire’s delicious brownie making skills, market them with a team of cute kids selling them, and work her way back up the corporate ladder.

Along the way, Michelle clashes with some of her new minions parents (most humorously with Annie Mumolo’s tightly wound Mom). These clashes even lead to an Anchorman style no holds barred brawl (Will Ferrell and Adam McKay are producers). The title character also deals with some of her own movie backstory demons. When she was young, Michelle bounced from one unhappy foster home to the next and has no sense or need in her view for family. Claire and daughter threaten to upset that apple cart.

There’s also the matter of her business rival  Renault, former lover and wannabe samurai Renault (Peter Dinklage) trying to shut her burgeoning brownie enterprise down. His character is as bizarre as he sounds, but the “Game of Thrones” star does throw himself into it with gusto. A superfluous subplot involves Claire trying to get her groove back with a kind co-worker (Tyler Lapine).

The Boss veers between wildly broad characters and physical comedy (which McCarthy and her stunt double are quite good at) and attempts at heart string pulling that falls flat. McCarthy’s abilities were proven nearly six years ago in one Bridesmaids scene where she told Kristin Wiig to get her act together. It was a brilliant scene that I suspect is responsible for that Oscar nod. Unfortunately, by now, McCarthy’s act is getting disappointingly familiar and the material she’s giving herself is forgettable.

** (out of four)

Oscar History: 2011

For the Academy Awards, 2011 will forever be known as the year when a French black and white silent film came out of nowhere to win three major categories, including Best Picture. That would be The Artist and it picked up momentum over its rivals, becoming one of the more unlikely recipients of the prize in some time.

During that year, the number of Picture nominees was nine and it beat out The Descendants, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, and War Horse. 

As for some others I may have considered, my favorite film of the year was Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. Another personal favorite: David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Furthermore, the expanded list of nominees could have given the Academy a chance to nominate some of the better blockbusters that year: Rise of the Planet of the Apes or Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol for example.

The Artist‘s auteur Michel Hazanavicius would win Director over stellar competitors: Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris), Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life), Alexander Payne (The Descendants), and Martin Scorsese (Hugo). Again, Mr. Refn and Mr. Fincher would have made my cut.

The Artist love continued in Best Actor where Jean Dujardin took the prize over Demian Bichir (A Better Life), George Clooney (The Descendants), Gary Oldman in his first (??) nomination (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), and Brad Pitt (Moneyball).

I may have found room for Ryan Gosling’s silent but strong work in Drive or perhaps even Steve Carell in Crazy, Stupid, Love – in which he showed off real dramatic acting chops coupled with his comedic abilities for the first time.

Awards darling Meryl Streep took Best Actress for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher (no relation) in The Iron Lady. Othern nominees: Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), Viola Davis (The Help), Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), and Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn).

The Academy’s penchant for ignoring comedy was shown here as Kristin Wiig should have merited consideration for her megahit Bridesmaids.

Beloved veteran Christopher Plummer won Supporting Actor for Beginners over Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn), Jonah Hill (Moneyball), Nick Nolte (Warrior), and Max Von Sydow (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close).

Two others I may have made room for: Albert Brooks in Drive and especially the brilliant motion capture work of Andy Serkis in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Octavia Spencer was victorious in Supporting Actress for The Help over her costar Jessica Chastain, as well as Berenice Bejo (The Artist), Melissa McCarthy in the rare nod for comedy in Bridesmaids, and Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs).

Two other comedic performances worthy of consideration: Rose Byrne in Bridesmaids and Jennifer Aniston’s scene stealing work in Horrible Bosses. I also would have found room for Shailene Woodley in The Descendants.

And that’s your Oscar history for 2011, folks! I’ll have 2012 up in the near future.

Spy Movie Review

After her terrific breakout role in 2011’s Bridesmaids, the filmography of Melissa McCarthy has nagged at me in one significant way. While her character in Bridesmaids was hilariously rough around the edges, what stood out was her innate likability. It’s a trait that was lacking in varying degrees in all her follow up work – Identity Thief, The Heat, and Tammy.

This situation is rectified in Spy, which teams McCarthy up for the third time with director Paul Feig after Bridesmaids and The Heat (they’ll collabo again next summer in the Ghostbusters reboot). Spy finds McCarthy playing more to her strengths and it’s a welcome sight. Yet it doesn’t totally mask that this effort is a fairly generic 007 genre spoof where the laughs are hit or miss.

McCarthy is Susan Cooper, a CIA analyst whose job consists mostly of assisting debonair agent Bradley Fine (a game Jude Law) by talking in his earpiece and helping him out of international intrigue jams. She’s head over heels for her assigned agent as well, which leads to a humorous fancy dinner scene with him where she’s a bit out of her element. Circumstances soon lead to Susan becoming a field agent responsible for tracking Rayna (Rose Byrne), who’s in possession of a nuke. Our newly minted spy must also work with rough and tumble agent Ford (Jason Statham, showcasing real comedic chops) who is far worse at his profession than he believes. His anecdotes about previous missions provide some of the larger laughs, such as when he had to reattach his arm with his other arm.

Spy follows the playbook of Bond spoof to a tee – various exotic locations, big and complicated action sequences, etc… McCarthy’s character, who gets to don various disguises, gives the actress the most she’s had to work with in a bit. The pic fits the bill as a lazy afternoon couch viewing experience and not much more.

One problem is that Feig has learned one unenviable trait from former colleague Judd Apatow. His movies are about 20 minutes too long and Spy’s premise doesn’t deserve the padded two hour running time. There is filler mixed with genuinely solid set pieces. Flaws aside, it’s nice to see McCarthy shine in a manner she’s not been afforded since her Oscar nomination for her standout part four years ago. I hope her material continues to improve.

**1/2 (out of four)