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…

Oscar Watch: Roman J. Israel, Esq.

The reaction to the film itself was mixed, but Denzel Washington has increased his chances for an eighth Oscar nomination for Roman J. Israel, Esq. The legal drama is director Dan Gilroy’s follow-up to his acclaimed 2014 pic Nightcrawler (which is one of my favorite movies of the last few years). Colin Farrell and Carmen Ejogo costar.

As mentioned, reviews from its Toronto Film Festival screening have not all been positive (it’s at 71% currently on Rotten Tomatoes). Yet critics have singled out Denzel’s work here. His inclusion in Best Actor might be its only chance at Academy recognition. Gilroy could land an Original Screenplay nod (as he did for Nightcrawler), but that race is already looking busy.

Mr. Washington has won twice – for Supporting Actor in 1989’s Glory and lead in 2001’s Training Day. Just last year, he probably came very close to getting his third for Fences (he lost to Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea).

In my intital round of predictions last Thursday, I had the performer playing the title character here ranked 15th. He’ll be ranked higher in the second round on Thursday.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

2016 Oscars Reaction

Well… then! Who expected that ending at the Oscars?? One that involved Bonnie and Clyde, Leonardo DiCaprio, wrong envelopes, and a mild Best Picture upset! Yes, the jokes about that already infamous finale to the 89th Annual Academy Awards deserves the endless tweets about M. Night Shyamalan coming up with it and Steve Harvey being off the hook for his Miss Universe gaffe.

All in all, it was a fairly unpredictable night even up until that wild conclusion. My predictions went 14 for 21. Expect for Picture, I did get all the high-profiles race right: Damien Chazelle (La La Land) for Director, Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea) for Actor, Emma Stone (La La) for Actress, Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) for Supporting Actor, Viola Davis (Fences) for Supporting Actress, Moonlight for Adapted Screenplay, and Manchester for Original Screenplay. Animated Feature Zootopia and Foreign Language Film The Salesman were also rightly called. Down the line categories that I got right: Original Score and Song (La La and “City of Stars” from that film), Production Design and Cinematography (La La), and Visual Effects (The Jungle Book).

I whiffed on Documentary – O.J.: Made in America was the front runner and won over my upset pick I Am Not Your Negro. Others: Sound Editing (Arrival instead of Hacksaw Ridge), Sound Mixing (Hacksaw instead of La La), Makeup and Hairstyling (Suicide Squad over Star Trek Beyond), Costume Design (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them over Jackie), and Editing (Hacksaw over La La).

And, of course, Best Picture, where La La Land won for about two minutes before the Academy’s producers pointed out a mistake and that Moonlight actually won.

The evening started on a happy note with Justin Timberlake dancing his way into the auditorium to his hit “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” from Trolls. Jimmy Kimmel did a decent job hosting for the most part. Some bits worked better than others. I enjoyed the group of tourists unknowingly being brought to the theater and his endless ribbing of Matt Damon. The candy and cookies falling down to the audience felt a little old hat. The In Memorium package was a little tough with the legends lost this year and props to Jennifer Aniston for mentioning the passing of Bill Paxton as news had just broke that morning.

Did the show feel long? Of course. It always does, but for those that stuck around… yowza! That was an Oscar ending that will not soon be forgotten.

Todd’s 2016 Final Oscar Winner Predictions

OK folks, this is it! For months, I have been pontificating on who and what will be nominated at the 89th Annual Academy Awards that air this Sunday evening. It’s time for the final predictions on the winners.

As readers of the blog know, there’s been plenty of analysis and we’re going to keep it simple for this final predictions post. Here’s my winners in all the feature film categories. I’ll have a post up Sunday night with my thoughts on how I did and the show itself…

Best Picture: 

La La Land

Best Director:

Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Best Actor

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Best Actress

Emma Stone, La La Land

Best Supporting Actor

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Best Supporting Actress

Viola Davis, Fences

Best Adapted Screenplay

Moonlight

Best Original Screenplay

Manchester by the Sea

Best Animated Feature

Zootopia

Best Foreign Language Film

The Salesman

Best Documentary Feature

I Am Not Your Negro

Best Cinematography

La La Land

Best Costume Design

Jackie

Best Film Editing

La La Land

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Star Trek Beyond

Best Original Score

La La Land

Best Original Song

“City of Stars” from La La Land

Best Production Design

La La Land

Best Sound Editing

Hacksaw Ridge

Best Sound Mixing

La La Land

Best Visual Effects

The Jungle Book

Todd’s Updated 2016 Oscar Winner Predictions

Good Sunday all! 15 days from today, the Oscars will air and for the next three Sundays, I’ll be giving you my take on where I see each category standing. This means my winner prediction and each nominee listed in order of likelihood to take their prize.

My final predictions will post on Sunday, February 26 prior to the broadcast the next day. Let’s get to it, shall we?

BEST PICTURE

1) La La Land

2) Moonlight

3) Manchester by the Sea

4) Hidden Figures

5) Lion

6) Arrival

7) Hacksaw Ridge

8) Hell or High Water

9) Fences

BEST DIRECTOR

1) Damien Chazelle, La La Land

2) Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

3) Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

4) Denis Villeneuve, Arrival

5) Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge

BEST ACTOR

1) Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

2) Denzel Washington, Fences

3) Ryan Gosling, La La Land

4) Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic

5) Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge

BEST ACTRESS

1) Emma Stone, La La Land

2) Natalie Portman, Jackie

3) Isabelle Huppert, Elle

4) Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

5) Ruth Negga, Loving

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

1) Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

2) Dev Patel, Lion

3) Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water

4) Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

5) Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

1) Viola Davis, Fences

2) Naomie Harris, Moonlight

3) Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures

4) Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

5) Nicole Kidman, Lion

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

1) Moonlight

2) Lion

3) Hidden Figures

4) Fences

5) Arrival

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

1) Manchester by the Sea

2) La La Land

3) Hell or High Water

4) The Lobster

5) 20th Century Women

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

1) Zootopia

2) Kubo and the Two Strings

3) Moana

4) My Life as a Zucchini

5) The Red Turtle

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

1) The Salesman

2) Toni Erdmann

3) Land of Mine

4) A Man Called Ove

5) Tanna

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

1) I Am Not Your Negro

2) O.J.: Made in America

3) 13th

4) Fire at Sea

5) Life, Animated

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

1) La La Land

2) Moonlight

3) Arrival

4) Lion

5) Silence

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

1) Jackie

2) La La Land

3) Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

4) Florence Foster Jenkins

5) Allied

BEST EDITING

1) La La Land

2) Moonlight

3) Arrival

4) Hacksaw Ridge

5) Hell or High Water

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

1) Star Trek Beyond

2) Suicide Squad

3) A Man Called Ove

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

1) La La Land

2) Arrival

3) Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

4) Hail, Caesar!

5) Passengers

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

1) La La Land

2) Lion

3) Moonlight

4) Jackie

5) Passengers

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

1) “City of Stars” from La La Land

2) “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana

3) “Can’t Stop The Feeling!” from Trolls

4) “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” from La La Land

5) “The Empty Chair” from Jim: The James Foley Story

BEST SOUND EDITING

1) La La Land

2) Hacksaw Ridge

3) Arrival

4) Deepwater Horizon

5) Sully

BEST SOUND MIXING

1) La La Land

2) Hacksaw Ridge

3) Arrival

4) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

5) 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

1) The Jungle Book

2) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

3) Doctor Strange

4) Kubo and the Two Strings

5) Deepwater Horizon

Next Update will be Be Sunday!

Manchester by the Sea Movie Review

Blogger’s Note: It is difficult to properly review Manchester by the Sea without some spoilers. If you wish to go into the movie completely fresh, I would suggest waiting until post viewing to read.

Writer/director Kenneth Lonergan knows that sometimes the most effective and emotional moments in film come from hearing what is not said. Sometimes the interactions between characters aren’t most dramatic when everything is laid on the table, but when they can’t find the words to express their feelings. We witness that in his latest picture Manchester by the Sea. This is a subtle tale of grief with some truly fine acting. Most pleasingly, Lonergan doesn’t over do it with subject matter  and that would’ve been the easy route to go. The New England residents he writes of are experiencing unimaginable sadness, yet they grieve in their own way that rings authentic.

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a Massachusetts janitor who seems to keep to himself. Even the everyday banter of his clients is a chore for him to listen and respond to. His dull existence is interrupted by news that his brother (Kyle Chandler) has died of a heart attack. He returns home to the title town with the task of informing his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) of his father’s death. The mom (Gretchen Mol) is out of the picture – miles away and apparently an unreliable alcoholic. To Lee’s rather unpleasant surprise, he is named guardian to Patrick.

The pic alternates between flashbacks and present day as we see that Lee once had a fun loving relationship with his nephew. We also see his own family existence with wife Randi (Michelle Williams) and three young children. It’s far from perfect but it seems relatively happy. Lee does drink too much and it’s an error on his part that causes their home to burn down. Randi survives. The children do not. With their world turned upside down, the marriage dissolves and Lee relocates.

His return years later finds him alternating between semi-parenting Patrick through his own tragedy and being ambivalent. This is not with long and drawn out passages of dialogue about feelings and death, but through observing both of their journeys as they process their losses. Some of it is done through humor, as Lee navigates how to respond to Patrick’s two girlfriends.

As mentioned, the Big Scene moments that other more heart string tugging screenplays might dwell on are absent here. The camera hangs back when Patrick is delivered the news of his dad’s passing. His mother’s substance abuse problems are handled in a single shot. We don’t see the chaos that ensued with Lee and Randi’s divorce. Most powerfully, the eventual confrontation between them isn’t lengthy, but it packs a gut punch by what isn’t said.

Lonergan makes us care about these people, flaws and all. The actors playing them accentuate it tremendously. This is probably the best performance of Affleck’s career. Hedges is completely believable as the teen dealing with all the drama in his own way. Williams has limited screen time but makes the most of it, especially in the aforementioned scene with Lee.

Manchester by the Sea holds us in its grip as we take in its lovely East Coast scenery. They say New Englanders aren’t the type to be overtly expressive in their emotions and that’s the case here. We may not always hear what they’re thinking, but this script and these performers convey it. And that’s says a lot.

***1/2 (out of four)

2016 SAG Awards Predictions

The final major awards ceremony before Oscar takes place tonight on TBS and TNT as the 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards airs. These awards and winners are voted by fellow thespians, so the races are a bit different in the sense that there’s no Best Picture per se. Instead it’s Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture and the five nominated pictures contains one rather glaring omission: La La Land, even though it’s the front runner at the Academy Awards.

We do have the other acting races we’re accustomed to, as well as Outstanding Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture. Let’s break each category down one by one with my predicted winners for this evening.

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture 

Nominees: Captain Fantastic, Fences, Hidden Figures, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight

Predicted Winner: Moonlight

Analysis: The recipient here could solidify its status as Most Likely to Win Best Picture at the Oscars if La La doesn’t. I’ll predict the SAG voters give the edge to Barry Jenkins acclaimed drama over Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester, just like the Globes did.

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role

Nominees: Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea), Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge), Ryan Gosling (La La Land), Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic), Denzel Washington (Fences)

Predicted Winner: Casey Affleck

Analysis: The five nominees match five for five with the Academy. Affleck has received the lions share of precursors thus far and I expect that to continue here. Washington is the only other possibility.

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role

Nominees: Amy Adams (Arrival), Emily Blunt (The Girl on the Train), Natalie Portman (Jackie), Emma Stone (La La Land), Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins)

Predicted Winner: Natalie Portman

Analysis: Yes, I’m going for the minor upset here as Stone is the likely front runner. Only the two of them and Streep match the Oscar nods, as SAG honored Adams and Blunt instead of Isabelle Huppert (Elle) and Ruth Negga (Loving).

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role

Nominees: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight), Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water), Hugh Grant (Florence Foster Jenkins), Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea), Dev Patel (Lion)

Predicted Winner: Mahershala Ali

Analysis: A win by either Bridges or Patel wouldn’t surprise me, but Ali has picked up a lot of critics prizes. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, surprise Globe winner for Nocturnal Animals, isn’t present here.

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role

Nominees: Viola Davis (Fences), Naomie Harris (Moonlight), Nicole Kidman (Lion), Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures), Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea)

Predicted Winner: Viola Davis

Analysis: Another exact match with Oscar and I expect the same result – a win for Ms. Davis. Anything else would be a surprise.

Outstanding Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture

Nominees: Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Hacksaw Ridge, Jason Bourne, Nocturnal Animals

Predicted Winner: Hacksaw Ridge

Analysis: This is a tough one as either of the comic book flicks could win. Still, I’ll go with the only nominated Best Picture at the Oscars. By the way, why Nocturnal is present here baffles me.

And there you have it! Happy watching tonight…