Can Rocketman Contend?

Something struck me as I was preparing my weekly Oscar predictions that will be up on the blog later today. At this late October date in 2018, Bohemian Rhapsody was about to open. Reviews had trickled out and advance word of mouth was quite mixed. The Freddie Mercury biopic ended up at just 61% on Rotten Tomatoes. Yet it turned out to be a box office phenomenon with a $51 million debut and $216 eventual domestic gross.

Looking over my weekly projections from a year ago, Rhapsody wasn’t even in my top 25 possibilities for Best Picture. And Rami Malek was listed at #6 in Best Actor, just on the outside looking in. He ended up winning. It also emerged victorious in Editing, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing. The only race in which it was nominated for and didn’t win was Picture. Bohemian Rhapsody, despite its middling critical reaction, was bestowed with four gold statues and that’s more than any other movie last year.

This brings us to Rocketman. The Elton John biopic premiered in May at the Cannes Film Festival just prior to its summer rollout. Reviews were stronger (89% on RT). However, while it was a solid performer financially at $96 million, those aren’t rhapsodic numbers. Maybe it came out too early in the year because Oscar prognosticators (including me) are not seeing it as much of a factor in the awards derby.

Still I can’t help but wonder if we’re shortchanging it considering the Academy love for Bohemian. I currently only have Rocketman slated for nods in both Sound races and Original Song (the Elton and Taron Egerton duet “(Im Gonna) Love Me Again”).

I don’t think it has much of a chance at the moment to break into the Best Picture race (it’s not in my top 15). Taron Egerton is at #7 (even behind Malek at this point a year ago) on my chart. I do ponder, though, whether there’s an outside shot that Rocketman could still be standing as the dust settles.

Oscar Watch: Atlantics

Back in May, the Senegalese supernatural drama Atlantics received the Grand Prix prize at  Cannes. The picture marks the directorial debut of Mati Diop and she is the first African-American woman to have a feature compete in the annual French fest. The Grand Prix is essentially second place at Cannes and it came in behind Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite, which has already established itself as the front runner for this year’s newly coined Best International Feature Film at the Oscars.

Atlantics is just Senegal’s second entry for Academy consideration. The first was 2017’s Felicite, which made the list of top ten submissions but didn’t end up getting into eventual nominated five. In this particular race in 2019, there are 93 movies eligible for inclusion. This December, that will be whittled down to ten with half of them eventually making the cut come announcement morning.

With a 93% Rotten Tomatoes score and the Cannes seal of approval, Atlantics stands a very real shot being recognized among the nominees. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: A Hidden Life

In his near half century as an acclaimed director, Terrence Malick has only made ten features and his latest is the World War II era drama A Hidden Life. The Fox Searchlight pic debuted early this summer at the Cannes Film Festival and has continued to Toronto before its December release.

Some critical reaction indicates it could be an awards player while other reviews haven’t been quite as effusive. The Rotten Tomatoes score is at 74%. Malick has seen two of his works attract Academy attention in the last two decades with 1998’s The Thin Red Line and 2011’s The Tree of Life. Both received Picture nods and nabbed direction calls for Malick.

With Jojo Rabbit garnering a heavily mixed response in Toronto, perhaps Fox (now owned by Disney) could shift its marketing focus to Life. I wouldn’t count their campaign abilities out, but this will definitely need a strong push to contend. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Portrait of a Lady on Fire

After premiering in its home country in May at the Cannes Film Festival, the historical love story Portrait of a Lady on Fire will make its North American debut at the Toronto Film Festival shortly. It marks the fourth directorial feature for Céline Sciamma and it made a splash with its European rollout. Set in 1770, Portrait centers on a forbidden romance between a would be bride and the woman commissioned to paint her portrait.

It won the Best Screenplay award at Cannes and currently has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film was acquired by Neon and Hulu for stateside distribution later this year. It stands an excellent chance at being France’s official selection for the Best International Feature category at the Academy Awards. Based on its sizzling buzz, its inclusion in that race is a strong possibility. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Box Office Prediction

Director Quentin Tarantino and star Leonardo DiCaprio both return to the silver screen for the first time in three and a half years with the release of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood next weekend. Set in the late 1960s, Mr. Tarantino’s latest casts DiCaprio as a washed up TV actor with Brad Pitt as his longtime stunt double. The sprawling supporting players include Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Kurt Russell, Damian Lewis, the late Luke Perry, Damon Herriman, Mike Moh, Zoe Bell, and Al Pacino.

When Hollywood premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May, it did so to reviews expected of its director. The Rotten Tomatoes score is at 92% and it could attract Oscar attention. The teaming of DiCaprio (in his first role since his Oscar winning turn in The Revenant) and Pitt and the many Tarantino followers certainly have given this a high profile.

In order to achieve its maker’s largest all-time three day start, Hollywood would need to top the $38 million made by Inglourious Basterds ten years ago. However, that’s a bit of a misnomer. 2012’s Django Unchained opened over Christmas and took in $30 million from Friday to Sunday. Yet it made $63 million over its expanded holiday rollout.

The range here is pretty wide. It’s feasible that Hollywood doesn’t quite reach that high 30s threshold. I think it gets there with a just a few hundred thousand to spare.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood opening weekend prediction: $38.7 million

Summer 1989: The Top 10 Hits and More

In what has become tradition on this little blog of mine, the summer season brings us a lot of nostalgia on the silver screen. In the present, that means a slew of sequels and remakes and reboots coming on a near weekly basis. For these purposes, it means taking a look back on the movie summers of 30, 20, and 10 years ago.

As has been written in previous years, I’m listing the top ten hits as well as other notable pics and some flops. One thing is for sure about 1989. It will forever be known as the summer of the Batman and that blockbuster influenced what has become the predominant genre of the 21st century.

A recap of 1999 and 2009 will follow soon, but we start with what audiences were watching three decades ago.

10. Uncle Buck

Domestic Gross: $66 million

John Candy had one of his most notable headlining roles in this John Hughes family friendly comedy that also introduced the world to Macaulay Culkin. No sequel followed, but a short-lived TV series did.

9. Turner & Hooch

Domestic Gross: $71 million

Shortly before Tom Hanks started collecting Oscars and doing primarily dramatic work, he was still known for comedy in the late 80s. This one teamed him with a dog in a buddy comedy that followed the similarly themed with K9 with Jim Belushi from three months earlier. This one made a bit more cash.

8. When Harry Met Sally

Domestic Gross: $92 million

Rob Reiner’s romantic comedy (scripted by Nora Ephron) is considered one of the genre’s landmarks. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan headlined with a diner scene that has become quite iconic.

7. Dead Poets Society

Domestic Gross: $95 million

Robin Williams seized the day and an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of an unorthodox English teacher in Peter Weir’s film, which also nabbed a nod for Best Picture.

6. Parenthood

Domestic Gross: $100 million

Ron Howard’s dramedy sported an ensemble cast with Steve Martin and a crowd pleasing vibe. This is a rare pic that spawned two TV shows. The one from 1990 flopped while the 2010 version ran six seasons. Parenthood marks appearance #1 in the top ten for Rick Moranis.

5. Ghostbusters II

Domestic Gross: $112 million

The eagerly awaited sequel to the 1984 phenomenon was a disappointment critically and commercially when considering the original’s $229 million haul. That said, it gives us appearance #2 for Rick Moranis. A direct sequel will follow in 2020.

4. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids

Domestic Gross: $130 million

And we reach the trifecta for Rick Moranis as Disney had an unexpected smash hit here. It stood as the studio’s largest grossing live-action feature for five years. Two less successful sequels followed.

3. Lethal Weapon 2

Domestic Gross: $147 million

Of the four action comedy pairings of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, part 2 stands as the franchise’s top earner. This one threw Joe Pesci into the mix with sequels that followed in 1992 and 1998.

2. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Domestic Gross: $197 million

While Harrison Ford’s third appearance as his iconic character didn’t match the grosses of Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981, it did earn more than 1984 predecessor Temple of Doom. Pairing Indy with his dad played by Sean Connery, the character wouldn’t make it to the screen again until Steven Spielberg and Ford teamed up again 19 years later.

1. Batman

Domestic Gross: $251 million

As mentioned, 1989 was dominated by Tim Burton’s take on the Caped Crusader. While the casting of Michael Keaton in the title role was controversial upon announcement, it turned out quite well (as did Jack Nicholson’s turn as The Joker and a funky Prince soundtrack). Three sequels and multiple reboots followed.

And now for some notable pictures outside of the top ten:

The Abyss

Domestic Gross: $54 million

James Cameron was riding a high after The Terminator and Aliens when he made this sci-fi aquatic adventure. Known just as much for its difficult production as its Oscar winning visuals, it had a mixed reaction that has grown more positive through the years.

Weekend at Bernie’s

Domestic Gross: $30 million

Turns out corpses are hilarious in this low budget comedy that turned into enough of a hit that a sequel followed four summers later.

Road House

Domestic Gross: $30 million

It may not have had critics on its side or been a huge success originally, but Patrick Swayze’s turn as a midwestern bouncer became a serious cult hit subsequently.

Do the Right Thing

Domestic Gross: $27 million

A cultural milestone, Do the Right Thing served as the major breakout for Spike Lee and was named by numerous critics as the greatest film of 1989.

sex, lies, and videotape

Domestic Gross: $24 million

Winning the Cannes Film Festival, Steven Soderbergh’s provocative debut helped usher in a wave of independent films that followed in the 90s.

It wasn’t all success stories in the summer of 1989 and here’s some that failed to meet expectations:

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Domestic Gross: $52 million

Captain Kirk himself directed this installment after Leonard Nimoy made its two well received predecessors. This one was met with ambivalence and stands at the second lowest earner of this particular Trek franchise.

The Karate Kid Part III

Domestic Gross: $38 million

In 1984, the original made $90 million and the 1986 sequel made $115 million. Three summers later, moviegoers had tired of Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita in their signature roles. Yet TV watchers are currently tuned to a series reboot with Macchio back as Daniel.

Licence to Kill

Domestic Gross: $34 million

Timothy Dalton’s second turn as 007 was a stateside flop and is the lowest grossing Bond flick when adjusted for inflation. Its star would never return in the role and the six year gap that followed when Pierce Brosnan reinvigorated the series with Goldeneye stands as the lengthiest gap in its near 60 years of existence.

Lock Up

Domestic Gross: $22 million

Sylvester Stallone had plenty of hits during the decade, but this one casting him as a tortured convict wasn’t one of them.

Casualties of War

Domestic Gross: $18 million

Brian de Palma was coming off a massive hit with The Untouchables, but this Vietnam War drama with Michael J. Fox and Sean Penn didn’t find an audience.

Pink Cadillac

Domestic Gross: $12 million

Three summers later, Clint Eastwood entered Oscar territory with Unforgiven. This action comedy with Bernadette Peters is one of his forgotten efforts and stalled with critics and crowds.

I hope you enjoyed this look back on the 1989 summer period and I’ll have 1999 up soon!

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…