Oscar Watch: Gemini Man

Sporting a lowly 29% Rotten Tomatoes ranking prior to its October 11 release, Ang Lee’s Gemini Man is certainly no candidate for Best Picture recognition like the director’s previous works Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain, and Life of Pi. The sci fi action thriller casts Will Smith in an effects heavy experience where the actor plays an aging hitman who must battle a younger version of himself.

While it’s no surprise that the pic won’t contend for top line prizes, Gemini has always been eyed as a possibility for Visual Effects. The 3D high frame per second look is one employed by Lee in his last film Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. That drama was seen as awards bait before poor reviews sunk its viability.

Visual Effects nowadays is a race where there’s usually no shortage of contenders. In 2019, we have the upcoming Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in addition to The Irishman, The Lion King, Avengers: Endgame, and Smith’s own summer blockbuster Aladdin. I believe Gemini could still sneak in the category, but its own negative critical reaction might derail it. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

2018: The Year of Crazy Rich Asians

Over 16 years ago, My Big Fat Greek Wedding unexpectedly became the highest grossing romantic comedy of all time with its focus on culture and love. That chord was struck once again in the summer of 2018 with Crazy Rich Asians. Based on the bestseller by Kevin Kwan and directed by Jon M. Chu, Asians received rave reviews and audiences turned out to the tune of a $174 million domestic haul.

The film made a little history along the way by becoming the first major Hollywood studio production to feature a predominantly Asian-American cast since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club. This allowed for star making roles for leads Henry Golding and Constance Wu, as well as actress/rapper Awkwafina. For veteran Michelle Yeoh, best known to stateside moviegoers for Tomorrow Never Dies and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, her potential mother-in-law role garnered awards chatter.

Asians certainly achieved its status as the summer’s giant sleeper and is the largest earning rom com since 2005’s Hitch. It also changed the faces we normally see in the genre (like Greek Wedding) and that earns it a place atop the year’s major cinematic stories.

Crazy Rich Asians Movie Review

Crazy Rich Asians is a vibrant and colorful romantic comedy that’s fairly conventional in its genre trappings at times. However, it isn’t so traditional with the world it explores or with the faces populating the love story. It serves as a lovely advertisement for visiting Singapore – albeit with some locales that might require deep pockets to see. This works best by having the most important ingredient in that there’s legit chemistry between the two leads.

That would be Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), an economics professor in New York City and her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding). They seem to be living a nice life in the Big Apple when she accepts his invitation to accompany him to Singapore for a wedding. Rachel figures out soon that his family isn’t just wealthy, but they’re basically the Kennedy’s of their country. Or in some ways they’re the Kardashian’s, with plenty of Young’s living that kind of excessively lavish lifestyle.

This isn’t necessarily a Cinderella trajectory Rachel finds herself on. Nick’s mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) quickly decides she isn’t good enough for her beloved son. And there’s plenty of other women around who are jealous of her nabbing the nation’s hottest bachelor, who’s expected to move back home and take over the family business.

Based on a bestseller from Kevin Kwan and directed with energy by Jon M. Chu, Asians shows us a culture rarely seen in an American produced studio effort. In that way, it’s fair to make comparisons with 2002’s unexpected smash hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding. This also takes some time to show the culinary delights of the land, as well as gorgeous visual ones.

Similar to plenty of complicated love stories, there are elements of classism at the forefront. One subplot involves a cousin (Gemma Chan), a kindly socialite who’s “married under” what her elders anticipated. Her marriage serves as a preview for the problems that may lie ahead for Rachel and Nick.

Crazy Rich Asians gets a lot of mileage out of its far off destination. Wu and Golding make it gel. I expect both to get their own mileage career wise from their solid performances here. Yeoh, who stateside audiences know best for 007 flick Tomorrow Never Dies and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) is strong in a tricky part. She’s a bit of a villain with genuine intentions. The screenplay and her performance make it work. Rapper Awkwafina gets the zany best friend role to Rachel and does have some amusing moments.

The dazzling sights of Singapore are joyous to behold, but this is worth watching for the reason many in this genre are. I liked Rachel and Nick a lot and wanted to see them make it through the time-tested rom com challenges that come their way.

*** (out of four)

The Best Picture Coulda Been Contenders: 1990-2008

In 2009, the Academy underwent a change in the number of Best Picture nominees honored each year. The rule change allowed a fluctuation of five to ten nominees per year, as opposed to a finite five (all other categories stayed at that number).

As has been discussed on this blog, many felt the change was triggered by 2008’s The Dark Knight, the critically acclaimed comic book pic that was also highest earner of the year. It failed to a garner a Best Picture nod and the thinking was that it was time for more popular options to make it into the mix.

Since the change, the magic number has been nine nominated pictures in most years. This got me thinking: what if that rule had been in effect during prior years? What movies that failed to get a nomination would have certainly made it?

That brings us here. I have gone back to 1990 through 2008 and I’m listing two films from each year that I am confident would have made the shortlist. In selecting each title, here were some of the key indicators. If a Director was nominated for his work and the film failed to get nominated, that probably means it would have been included. Additionally, the screenplay races are a decent predictor of some titles that might have made the magic nine (or eight or ten). For reference sake, I am including the five movies that did get nominated.

So here goes! Two features from 1990-2008 that coulda and likely woulda been contenders…

1990

The Actual Nominees: Dances with Wolves (Winner), Awakenings, Ghost, The Godfather Part III, GoodFellas

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: The Grifters, Reversal of Fortune

1991

The Actual Nominees: The Silence of the Lambs (W), Beauty and the Beast, Bugsy, JFK, The Prince of Tides

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Boyz N The Hood, Thelma & Louise

1992

The Actual Nominees: Unforgiven (W), The Crying Game, A Few Good Men, Howards End, Scent of a Woman

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Malcolm X, The Player

1993

The Actual Nominees: Schindler’s List (W), The Fugitive, In the Name of the Father, The Piano, The Remains of the Day

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Philadelphia, Short Cuts

1994

The Actual Nominees: Forrest Gump (W), Four Weddings and a Funeral, Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show, The Shawshank Redemption

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Bullets Over Broadway, Three Colors: Red

1995

The Actual Nominees: Braveheart (W), Apollo 13, Babe, Il Postino, Sense and Sensibility

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Dead Man Walking, Leaving Las Vegas

1996

The Actual Nominees: The English Patient (W), Fargo, Jerry Maguire, Secrets & Lies, Shine

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: The People Vs. Larry Flynt, Sling Blade

1997

The Actual Nominees: Titanic (W), As Good as It Gets, The Full Monty, Good Will Huinting, L.A. Confidential

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Boogie Nights, The Sweet Hereafter

1998

The Actual Nominees: Shakespeare in Love (W), Elizabeth, Life is Beautiful, Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Gods and Monsters, The Truman Show

1999

The Actual Nominees: American Beauty (W), The Cider House Rules, The Green Mile, The Insider, The Sixth Sense

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Being John Malkovich, Topsy-Turvy

2000

The Actual Nominees: Gladiator (W), Chocolat, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Erin Brockovich, Traffic

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Almost Famous, Billy Elliot

2001

The Actual Nominees: A Beautiful Mind (W), Gosford Park, In the Bedroom, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Moulin Rouge!

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Black Hawk Down, Mulholland Drive

2002

The Actual Nominees: Chicago (W), Gangs of New York, The Hours, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Pianist

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Far from Heaven, Talk to Her

2003

The Actual Nominees: Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (W), Lost in Translation, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Mystic River, Seabiscuit 

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: City of God, In America

2004

The Actual Nominees: Million Dollar Baby (W), The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Ray, Sideways

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Hotel Rwanda, Vera Drake

2005

The Actual Nominees: Crash (W), Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Good Night and Good Luck, Munich

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Syriana, Walk the Line

2006

The Actual Nominees: The Departed (W), Babel, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, The Queen

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Pan’s Labyrinth, United 93

2007

The Actual Nominees: No Country for Old Men (W), Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, There Will Be Blood

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Away from Her, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

2008

The Actual Nominees: Slumdog Millionaire (W), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: The Dark Knight, Doubt

And there you have it! There will be a part II to this post. What if the rule change had never occurred? From 2009 until the present, what would have been the five nominated Pictures if only that number was allowed. Stay tuned…

 

Billy Lynn’s Long Oscar Plummet

 

Blogger’s Update (11/21): Final box office numbers for the film put it at just a $901,000 opening, adding more insult to injury.

When I began writing my Oscar Watch posts several weeks ago, the general consensus was this: Damien Chazelle’s La La Land (based on its festival screenings) was the front runner for Best Picture. It still is. Furthermore, there was a trio of unseen contenders to upset that notion: Martin Scorsese’s Silence, Denzel Washington’s Fences, and Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.

Silence has still yet to land any eyeballs on it and remains a mystery. Fences has held industry screenings and established itself as a player in Picture and several other races. Yet for Billy, the narrative has gone in a significantly different direction.

The war drama, based on a bestseller by Ben Fountain, looked to be a serious awards force on paper. After all, Lee has won the Best Director statue twice for 2005’s Brokeback Mountain and 2012’s Life of Pi. Both of those films were nominated for the grand prize but came up short. Two of his other efforts – 1995’s Sense and Sensibility and 2000’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon also nabbed Pic nods. Walk features an eclectic cast surrounding unknown Joe Alwyn in the title role that includes Kristen Stewart, Steve Martin, Vin Diesel, Chris Tucker, and Garrett Hedlund.

And it was being touted as a potential visual marvel as Lee and his effects crew were shooting it at 120 frames per second (think super duper HD). Then something happened on the march to Academy glory… people actually saw it.

The result? Many critics were not kind to it (it’s at just 41% on Rotten Tomatoes). Following its first festival exposure in New York, the Oscar fortunes took a tumble. Yet even after that, I still managed to keep it in my top 20 possibilities for a Picture nomination until yesterday. Why? On the chance that audiences would respond positively enough to it to keep it viable.

Well… that viability just took a nose dive this afternoon. Walk opened wide today and forecasts for the weekend have it grossing just $2-$3 million dollars. Let me translate: it’s bombing very, very badly.

One month ago, before anyone had seen it, Billy Lynn looked like it could receive multiple nominations come Oscar time. As of today, the highest likelihood is that it will walk away with zero.