Oscar Predictions: Marcel the Shell with Shoes On

Over a decade ago, comedian Jenny Slate and director Dean Fleischer-Camp teamed up for the acclaimed animated short films Marcel the Shell with Shoes On. They were centered on a character that fits the description of that title. At Telluride over Labor Day weekend last year, the feature length version of their creation was screened to winning reviews.

Slated for release on June 24th via A24, Shell‘s vocal contributions (besides Slate and Fleischer-Camp) include Rosa Salazar, Thomas Mann, and Isabella Rossellini. The mockumentary also includes Conan O’Brien, Lesley Stahl, and Brian Williams playing themselves.

With a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes, Marcel could certainly turn the heads of Academy voters. It might come down to how serious a campaign its studio wages for it and how various Disney and Netflix animated works are received in the months ahead. Bottom line – Shell should be in the mix for the five Animated Feature slots and my Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: The Mitchells vs. the Machines

As we wait to hear the Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards this Sunday evening (hint: it’s Soul), we have a fresh possibility for the competition next year. Formerly titled Connected, Netflix premieres The Mitchells vs. the Machines on April 30. The computer animated sci-fi comedy comes from director Michael Rianda and is produced by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (the team behind 2019’s Oscar recipient Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and The Lego Movie franchise). Actors doing voice work include Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Eric Andre, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, Conan O’Brien, and Olivia Colman.

The Sony Pictures release was originally slated for theatrical release before the COVID-19 pandemic switched it to streaming. Reviews out today are nearly across the board positive with a current 96% Rotten Tomatoes score. It is early in the year and there’s eight more months of animated hopefuls to come. Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon is already out and could easily make the final cut. Pixar’s Luca (out this summer) is certainly one to keep an eye on. However, Mitchells has already established itself as a contender in the 2021 mix.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Summer 1988: The Top 10 Hits and More

We are in the midst of the blockbuster summer season of 2018. As I do every year on the blog, I’m recounting the summers of 30, 20, and 10 years ago with the top 10 moneymakers and other notable features and flops. We begin with 1988 and unlike the current 2018 crop that is dominated by big-budget sequels, it was surprising to find that there were a host of follow-up flops three decades ago. Sequels make up just 20% of the top ten here.

The seasons of 1998 and 2008 will be posted shortly, but here’s what what was happening 30 years ago at the cinema:

10. Bull Durham

Domestic Gross: $50 million

Writer/director Ron Shelton’s sports comedy came as Kevin Costner was experiencing a string of hits in the late 80s and early 90s. Considered one of the finest sports films ever made, it also featured showcase roles for Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

9. Rambo III

Domestic Gross: $53 million

The third go-round for Sylvester Stallone as John Rambo earned only a third of what Rambo: First Blood Part II achieved three summers prior and received mostly negative reviews. The star would revise the character 20 years later in Rambo.

8. Willow

Domestic Gross: $57 million

Ron Howard’s fantasy adventure (with a story conceived by George Lucas) was considered only a moderate success at time of its release and critical notices were mixed. It has since gone on to garner cult status.

7. A Fish Called Wanda

Domestic Gross: $62 million

This acclaimed heist comedy was an unexpected critical and audience darling with a screenplay from the legendary John Cleese. Both he and “Monty Python” cohort Michael Palin starred alongside Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Kline, in a rare comedic role that won an Oscar for Supporting Actor. Nine years later, the cast reunited for the less regarded Fierce Creatures. 

6. Cocktail

Domestic Gross: $78 million

Coming off his iconic role in Top Gun two years earlier, Tom Cruise propelled this bartender tale to major success despite poor reviews (even Cruise admitted it wasn’t so good years later). It did provide The Beach Boys with a big comeback hit in the form of “Kokomo”.

5. Die Hard

Domestic Gross: $83 million

It might be #5 on the list, but Die Hard is easily the most influential film of the summer of ’88. Rightfully considered the quintessential action movie, it served as a springboard for Bruce Willis’s film career and gave us an unforgettable villain in Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber. Four sequels and numerous knock-offs would follow.

4. Crocodile Dundee II

Domestic Gross: $109 million

Paul Hogan’s Aussie creation struck box office gold in 1986 when the first Dundee made $174 million and was an unexpected smash. The sequel didn’t measure up to the first commercially or critically, but it still managed to edge past the $100 million mark.

3. Big

Domestic Gross: $114 million

Tom Hanks earned his first Oscar nomination (several would follow) for Penny Marshall’s classic comedy about a teenager wanting to be an adult. It also earned an Original Screenplay nomination.

2. Coming to America

Domestic Gross: $128 million

Eddie Murphy was about the biggest box office draw in the world circa 1988 and this serves as one of his classics. There’s been long rumored plans for a sequel, but whether or not it ever materializes is a legit question three decades later.

1. Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Domestic Gross: $156 million

This landmark blending of live-action and animation from director Robert Zemeckis combined beloved characters from the Warner Bros and Disney catalogs, winning three technical Oscars. The title character would appear in some animated shorts in the following years, but a traditional sequel surprisingly never followed.

And now for some other notable features from the summer:

Young Guns

Domestic Gross: $45 million

This Western about Billy the Kid and his gang cast many of the hot young stars of the day, including Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips, and Charlie Sheen. A sequel would follow two years later.

Midnight Run

Domestic Gross: $38 million

Serving as Robert De Niro’s first major foray into comedy (blended with action), Midnight Run found him brilliantly cast alongside Charles Grodin in this effort from Beverly Hills Cop director Martin Brest. Its status has only grown in subsequent years.

And now we arrive at some of the pictures that didn’t fare so well and we have 5 sequels that couldn’t match the potency of what came before them:

The Dead Pool

Domestic Gross: $37 million

Clint Eastwood’s fifth and final appearance as Dirty Harry was met with mixed reviews and lackluster box office. It’s got perhaps the best supporting cast of the lot, however, including Patricia Clarkson, Liam Neeson, and Jim Carrey a few years before he became a phenomenon.

Big Top Pee-Wee

Domestic Gross: $15 million

While Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure earned $40 million and introduced moviegoers to Tim Burton, this sequel underwhelmed. Star Paul Reubens would, um, pick up notoriety three years later for another experience in a movie theater.

Arthur 2: On the Rocks

Domestic Gross: $14 million

The 1981 original earned Academy Award nominations and a fantastic $95 million domestic haul. By the time the sequel followed seven years later, audiences weren’t interested in the comedy starring Dudley Moore and Liza Minnelli.

Poltergeist III

Domestic Gross: $14 million

The franchise began in 1982 with acclaim and huge dollars. A sequel diminished those returns and by the time part 3 hit screens, crowds were tuned out. Tragically, Heather O’Rourke (who famously played Carol Anne) died months before its release at the age of 12.

Caddyshack II

Domestic Gross: $11 million

Part 1 was a comedy classic. Part 2 was anything but. Chevy Chase was the only returning cast member to return and there was no repeating the magic with Jackie Mason, Robert Stack, Randy Quaid, and Dan Aykroyd.

And finally…

Mac and Me

Domestic Gross: $6 million

A notorious bomb, this E.T. rip-off received plenty of ink on account of its awfulness. There is a silver lining, however, as Paul Rudd has hilariously incorporated it into segments on Conan O’Brien’s show over the years.

And there you have the summer of 1988 in a nutshell! I’ll be back with 1998 soon…

The Late Night Carousel and Jon Stewart

For longtime followers of my blog, you may know that I’m endlessly fascinated by the nowadays seemingly constant shifts taking place on late night comedy TV. This evening, we were informed of yet another seismic shift in the medium.

Some context: when I was very young, there was essentially only one late night talk show in town and it belonged to The King of Late Night, Johnny Carson – who hosted The Tonight Show for 30 years. Competitors such as Joan Rivers and Alan Thicke, among others, tried and failed to take him on. Only Arsenio Hall managed some success against him in the waning years of Johnny’s run.

Of course, for many years, it was the man who followed Carson that was seen as his obvious heir apparent upon retirement: David Letterman, whose innovative Late Night show followed Tonight. When Jay Leno (one of Dave’s favorite guests) began filling in for Johnny as he began to vacation more, the paradigm shifted. It was Leno who would succeed Johnny in 1992 amid much controversy. It prompted Letterman to move to CBS the following year. For two years, Dave would reign supreme as the new King of Late Night until Leno (with an assist from Hugh Grant who appeared immediately following his shocking arrest with a prostitute) became #1 for nearly two decades.

Oh… There’s more! The Letterman departure to CBS as Leno’s competitor left a void at the 12:30 Late Night slot that’d be filled with an unknown SNL writer named Conan O’Brien. And in yet another highly controversial media frenzy some sixteen years later, Leno would reluctantly “retire” and hand Conan the Cadillac that is 11:30 on NBC. It didn’t go as planned. Jay would end up with a 10pm nightly program that failed badly. Conan’s ratings couldn’t match what Leno brought in and NBC let him go with a reported $40 million payout. He would eventually end up at TBS where he remains today and Leno would return to The Tonight Show.

Oh… There’s more! When Conan did first jump to 11:30, it once again left a hole at 12:30am and SNL vet Jimmy Fallon was named. By 2014, Leno would once again depart (for good this time) and Fallon was moved up. In the year since Jimmy has taken over, it’s gone considerably better for him than Conan. Fallon has kept The Tonight Show at #1 over Letterman and ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel.

And of course Letterman announced his retirement that will take place in May after 33 years at Late Night and Late Show. His successor will be Stephen Colbert in September. Colbert, along with Steve Carell, Ed Helms, Rob Corddry, John Oliver and many others, owe their careers to one program and one man…

Jon Stewart. You knew I’d get there eventually, right? Of course that would be the news of the day. The man who’s hosted The Daily Show for 17 years announced he is stepping down this year as host. There is no doubt that Mr. Stewart, like Dave and Johnny before him, has forever changed American comedy and late night. It changed the way people thought about news and received it (especially among the coveted 18-49 audience demographic).

What some younger viewers might not know is The Daily Show existed before Jon Stewart. The first host was former ESPN anchor Craig Kilborn. He left to host The Late Late Show, the talk show airing after Letterman. Kilborn’s eventual departure paved the way for Craig Ferguson, who also announced he’s stepping down this year and that has set up James Corden to be the new host who will follow Letterman successor Colbert.

Most importantly, Kilborn’s Daily Show exit led to Stewart in 1999. You also may not be aware that this wasn’t Stewart’s first talk show. It was his second. His first aired on MTV and then in syndication and was canceled after two seasons. On his final show on that program, he nabbed his biggest guest: his comedy idol. A man named David Letterman.

Conan and Kimmel and Stewart were all Dave disciples, in the same way Letterman was a Johnny disciple. Yet Stewart brought something new to his iteration of “The Daily”. He turned it into must see TV very often. His political satire could shape people’s views on stories and politicians. As mentioned before, it provided his correspondents a platform to big things whether on film or the small screen.

There will be breathless speculation as to who will take over The Daily Show. Had Stewart made the announcement last year, my guess is John Oliver would be the easy choice. After all, he filled in for an extended period of weeks when Stewart took a sabbatical to make his directorial movie debut with Rosewater. Oliver did such a great job as guest host that HBO quickly snatched him for his acclaimed weekly Sunday evening program. He’s likely to stay put. So is Seth Meyers at Late Night, who succeeded Fallon.

My hunch is that Comedy Central will look to their current crop of Daily contributors which includes Jason Jones and Aasif Mandvi. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they go with their current longest tenured correspondent Samantha Bee, giving a much needed late night female face among the two Jimmy’s, Stephen’s, Seth’s, etc…

One thing is nearly certain: while Johnny Carson was not the first host of The Tonight Show and Jon Stewart was not the first Daily Show hosts, these two landmark television programs will always be linked to them, even as the Late Night carousel keeps spinning.

And here it is. Your Moment of Zen:


The History and Future of Late Night Talk Shows

On February 17, Jimmy Fallon will take over “The Tonight Show” chair that Jay Leno has held for two decades. Prior to that, Johnny Carson held the post for 30 years and set up the template for all who followed him. While 99% of my material on this blog has been focused on film, I have held a long fascination with the late night “TV wars” that has produced some serious high drama in the past.

When Johnny Carson announced his retirement in 1991, there was one question that leapt to the minds of TV watchers: Dave or Jay? That would be, of course, be David Letterman or Jay Leno. You see, Letterman had hosted the “Late Night” program that followed Johnny for nearly a decade when the King of Late Night announced he would be stepping down. Letterman grew up idolizing Johnny and many saw him as the heir apparent upon the King’s retirement. As much as Carson had set the example for all future hosts, Letterman would bring in his own ironic and self depreciating sense of humor that has been an undeniable influence on many others. For example, current ABC 11:30 host Jimmy Kimmel has made no secret of the fact that he worshipped Dave as a teen. And the influence of Letterman on Jon Stewart and Conan O’Brien is stronger than the influence of Johnny.

There was one thing preventing Letterman from obtaining the keys to the kingdom: Jay Leno. Both Letterman and Leno became known to the masses when they debuted their stand-up routines on Carson’s show in the 1970s. Leno would eventually become Johnny’s guest host when he was on vacation (which was frequently). And Leno’s time guest hosting went over well with audiences and with the NBC brass tasked with naming Carson’s successor. It should also be noted Leno was considered more of a “team player” than Letterman, who had a prickly relationship with network executives.

The decision was handed down that Jay Leno would become host of “The Tonight Show”. This did not sit well with Dave. Nor did it sit well with Johnny Carson, who did see Dave as his natural replacement. In May of 1992, Leno would taking over hosting duties while leaving Letterman to plot about his future. He would receive offers from ABC, CBS, Fox, and the syndicators but would ultimately choose CBS. In August of 1993, “The Late Show with David Letterman” premiered. He would defeat Leno soundly for two years until the summer of 1995 when Hugh Grant, fresh off a prostitution scandal, did Jay’s show. “The Tonight Show” would beat Letterman that night and for the next two decades. The Leno/Letterman feud was so well-publicized that a bestselling book by NY Times writer Bill Carter was released in addition to an HBO movie The Late Shift based on it.

Letterman’s departure created the need for NBC to fills its 12:30 slot. Lorne Michaels of “Saturday Night Live” fame was named executive producer of the program and he would turn to one of that show’s writers to host. Conan O’Brien was a complete unknown to the public when “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” was born. The show would debut to critical scorn and audience ambivalence. After a couple of years, Conan found his groove and the program became a hit.

As years went by, speculation mounted that Conan might jump at the opportunity for an earlier time slot on perhaps Fox or ABC. NBC didn’t want to let him go. In 2004, a deal was stuck with Leno where he would leave “The Tonight Show” five years later and O’Brien would become host. Jokes were made about the arrangement… five years later? That’s, like, forever! Then a funny thing happened. Leno continued his ratings lead over Letterman. NBC was making tons of money from the show with Jay at the helm. However, a deal (and the significant money involved) had already been signed. NBC would announce that Jay would host a nightly prime-time 10PM show that, well, was pretty much “The Tonight Show” an hour and a half earlier.

This would provide the background for one of the biggest television debacles of all time. Bill Carter would write another book about this whole fiasco. When Conan became the show’s host in May 2009, he would fall behind to Letterman (something Jay hadn’t experienced in 14 years). To add insult to injury, Jay at 10 o’clock was a ratings disaster and it couldn’t come close to competing with the network dramas that the other three networks were putting against it. Within months, Conan was out and Jay was back in. Questions abounded as to whether Leno would resume his lead over Dave. He did and it was almost as if the whole sordid Jay/Conan saga had never occurred.

The saga did, of course, create yet another opening for a “Late Night” host on NBC at 12:30 when Conan did leave to serve his ill-fated stint on “Tonight”. Once again Lorne Michaels would turn to an SNL alum and a much more famous one – Jimmy Fallon. He had served as a popular cast member on the show before leaving for an unsuccessful film career. By 2009, he was ready for his late night gig. After a shaky start, Jimmy found his groove too. And the same whisperings about Conan leaving for a better time slot that had caused Conan to take over were heard about Jimmy.

Last year, Leno would announce his retirement which cleared the path for Jimmy to become host next month. For the first time since the 1970s, “The Tonight Show” will be out of New York City (Carson started there before moving the program to L.A. and Jay and Conan would shoot from California).

February will begin to answer the following question: will David Letterman beat Fallon like he did Conan? It’s a legitimate question, but I would bet that Fallon will maintain the ratings lead that “The Tonight Show” had in Jay’s tenure. It could be a bit closer. Some of the older viewers who like Jay may go over to Dave… or may just go to bed. There’s also Jimmy Kimmel, who gets nice numbers over at ABC but is currently third and is likely to stay there.

There is also the very real competition that Comedy Central provides with its 11PM-midnight lineup that has Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show” and Stephen Colbert on “The Colbert Report”. There is Arsenio Hall in syndication, who made a return to late night after 20 years away. There is Conan O’Brien at 11 on TBS, where he landed back on his feet with a show that gets decent numbers – though much smaller than anything he saw on a network. There’s Chelsea Handler with her followers on E! In other words, late night is a much more crowded marketplace than anything Mr. Carson ever experienced when basically the whole country feel asleep to his show and talked about his monologue at the water cooler the next morning.

Yet again – Fallon’s ascension to “Tonight” leaves another hole at 12:30 and this time Lorne Michaels has put another well-known SNL vet to take over: Seth Meyers. He has done Weekend Update on the program for years and was an obvious choice to get the gig.

We now move from history to the future and this is where my own speculation became rampant. The question must now be asked: how long will David Letterman stick around? In April, he will be 67 years old. He’s hosted a late night talk show for nearly 32 years now – longer, by the way, than Carson. Dave just recently signed a contract that takes him through 2015. He’ll be coming up on close to 70 at that time. And there is no obvious candidate to replace him. If he does leave when his contract expires, this allows this late night follower the opportunity to speculate away on who it could be. Here’s some theories and I’ll explain my feelings on their likelihood:

1) Craig Ferguson. Prognosis: Doubtful. Scotsman Ferguson has hosted “The Late Late Show” following Letterman for almost nine years. While the show does pretty well, it has been consistently defeated by both Conan and Jimmy Fallon and probably will be behind Seth as well. It’s hard to imagine CBS giving their prime real estate to him seems like a reach and he may have to be content with being the 12:30 guy.

2) Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert. Prognosis: Shaky and Doubtful. As mentioned before, both guys host successful and critically acclaimed programs on Comedy Central. Also they’re both based out of New York (unlike Ferguson) and could slide right into the Ed Sullivan Theater. Though that might not be a plus as I’ll explain soon enough. Stewart was considered Dave’s natural successor before everyone realized Dave was going to stick around for quite a while. If Letterman had retired five years ago, I think the chances would’ve been excellent that Stewart would be hosting as we speak. Now, I’m not so sure. Stewart has gone into ventures recently including film directing. Plus – he’s got total creative freedom at Comedy Central on a groundbreaking show that wouldn’t fit the format of “The Late Show”. As time has marched on and Dave has stayed put, the chances of “The Late Show with Jon Stewart” have diminished in my view. As for Colbert, it seems even less likely. Main reason: Colbert plays a “character” on his program (mostly sending up news hosts like Bill O’Reilly) and that wouldn’t exactly translate to the CBS format either. If he were to take over, he’d probably have to be “himself” and not the brilliant creation he’s honed for years. I just don’t see it. Plus – if Stewart were to leave “The Daily Show” at any time – “Colbert Report” could move up to 11PM.

3) Conan O’Brien. Prognosis: Not gonna happen. There are some writers out there who’ve floated this possibility, but I would frankly be shocked if this went down. Conan couldn’t keep up with Letterman as “Tonight Show” host and I can’t see him beating Fallon or probably Kimmel either. He seems to be able to do whatever he wants at TBS and he’ll likely stay there until he hangs it up.

4) Seth Meyers. Prognosis: Hmmm – could happen. Seriously, this seems to be the most sensible scenario so far. Meyers will get at least nearly two years as “Late Night” host before Dave’s contract expires. If Meyers does a good job and posts solid ratings in his time slot, why wouldn’t CBS go after him once Letterman exits? For those who believes Seth’s loyalty to Lorne Michaels and NBC would keep him at 12:30 – the money CBS would offer and the earlier time slot could change that very quickly. Of course, if he fails on NBC at 12:30, it’s a moot point. However, I have a feeling he won’t.

5) Joel McHale. Prognosis: Could happen, too. McHale has hosted “The Soup” on E! for nearly a decade and made quite a name for himself. He looks the part of late-night host and has had plenty of experience in a somewhat similar format. Here’s another factor in his potential favor: when Jay Leno leaves, so does “Tonight” in California. As mentioned, Jimmy be live (not really) from New York. So will Seth. And so is Dave. That leaves only Jimmy Kimmel and Craig Ferguson (who I’ve said is unlikely to take over) on the West Coast. It would stand to reason that CBS might want their next “Late Show” host in L.A. and McHale is out there. I would put him on an even plane with Meyers and put them as the two frontrunners currently. One caveat: McHale stats on NBC’s sitcom “Community” and has said he may be more interested in being an actor. Again – the CBS contract offer could change those thespian aspirations.

6) Jay Leno. Prognosis: You never know! Think about it. Leno would be in his mid-60s if Letterman retires at the end of his contract. CBS could hold off on the big decision for a younger replacement by putting Jay in for three or four years. He’s been the #1 late night for nearly 20 years. And Jay is a notorious workaholic and made it clear that, once again, he really doesn’t want to retire. By the time of a Letterman departure, Jay may have already found himself another job but probably nothing could be more high-profile than this. Like I said, it’s not as crazy as it sounds.

7) And lastly – I’ll just throw a whole bunch of names out there that seem unlikely. If CBS decided to go the direction of staying in NYC and finding an older host to be more of a “caretaker” for a while before their found their ultimate replacement – perhaps Howard Stern or Jerry Seinfeld could surface. Of course, they’ll both be close to mid-60s and I have no idea whether they’d accept or not. What if CBS decided to break the mold and have a female compete against the Jimmy’s? It could provide interesting counter programming. If that were to occur, could names like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Ellen DeGeneres, or Chelsea Handler get in the mix? Again, no clue whether Fey or Poehler would have interest (I would think Handler would) and Ellen’s got a nice thing going with her daytime show. Finally, could CBS go with a total unknown like Conan was over two decades ago? Possible, but very doubtful. And there’s always the chance that Dave could just keep chugging along for years in which case I’ve just wasted over 2000 words of your time. I would say that Dave will leave at the end of 2015 or sign a one-year extension to get him the 2016 election cycle and retire.

All in all, the late night TV landscape over the past few decades has been an evolving and fascinating one and that will continue into the future.