Oscar Watch: Velvet Buzzsaw

Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival just before its Friday debut on Netflix is Dan Gilroy’s latest picture Velvet Buzzsaw. The horror satire reunites the writer and filmmaker with his Nightcrawler lead Jake Gyllenhaal in a film said to mercilessly mock the world of art critics and collectors. Several movie critics seem quite impressed. Others are more mixed. The current Rotten Tomatoes score is 82%. Costars include Toni Collette, Gilroy’s spouse and frequent collaborator Rene Russo, and John Malkovich (who must have office space at Netflix with this, Bird Box, and Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile).

Reviews suggest Buzzsaw could be quite polarizing. It may have a tough time breaking through with Oscar voters nearly a year from now. That said, both of the director’s previous works nabbed one nomination. 2014’s Nightcrawler was recognized for its Original Screenplay. In my view, it should’ve received more nods than that (especially Gyllenhaal). 2017’s Roman J. Israel, Esq. saw Denzel Washington garner a lead actor spot.

If Velvet has enough strong boosters, another screenplay nomination isn’t totally out of the question. Yet there’s a long road ahead to see whether that’s a possible outcome. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Best Actor: A Look Back

My look back at the major Oscar categories from 1990 to the present arrives at Best Actor today! If you missed my posts covering Actress and the Supporting races, you can find them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/31/best-actress-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/25/best-supporting-actor-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/20/best-supporting-actress-a-look-back/

As with those previous entries, I am picking the three least surprising winners of the last 28 years, along with the three biggest upsets. Additionally, you’ll see my personal picks for strongest and weakest fields overall.

As a primer, here are the winners from 1990 to now:

1990 – Jeremy Irons, Reversal of Fortune

1991 – Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs

1992 – Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman

1993 – Tom Hanks, Philadelphia

1994 – Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump

1995 – Nicolas Cage, Leaving Las Vegas

1996 – Geoffrey Rush, Shine

1997 – Jack Nicholson, As Good As It Gets

1998 – Roberto Benigni, Life is Beautiful

1999 – Kevin Spacey, American Beauty

2000 – Russell Crowe, Gladiator

2001 – Denzel Washington, Training Day

2002 – Adrien Brody, The Pianist

2003 – Sean Penn, Mystic River

2004 – Jamie Foxx, Ray

2005 – Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote

2006 – Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland

2007 – Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood

2008 – Sean Penn, Milk

2009 – Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart

2010 – Colin Firth, The King’s Speech

2011 – Jean Dujardin, The Artist

2012 – Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

2013 – Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

2014 – Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

2015 – Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

2016 – Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

2017 – Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Let’s begin with the three that I’m deeming as the non-surprise winners. Whittling this down to that number was a challenge. The double wins by Hanks and Penn and even last year’s winner Oldman could’ve easily been named here, too. Here goes…

3. Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman

The legendary thespian was 0 for 6 when it came to nominations and wins entering 1992. He picked up his 7th and 8th nods that year with his supporting role in Glengarry Glen Ross and lead role as a blind former colonel in this Martin Brest directed drama. By Oscar night, it was clear he was finally going to make that trip to the podium.

2. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Like Pacino, DiCaprio had been an Academy bridesmaid before… four times. His fifth nod for The Revenant guaranteed he’d finally be a winner against weak competition (more on that below).

1. Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

I could have named the Method actor’s victory in 2007 for There Will Be Blood as well, but his win five years later as the nation’s 16th President edges it out. From the moment the Steven Spielberg project was announced, Day-Lewis was the odds on favorite and it never changed.

Now – my selections for the upsets:

3. Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs

While it might seem an obvious win nearly 30 years later, Nick Nolte’s work in The Prince of Tides had nabbed him the Golden Globe. Additionally, there was some controversy about Sir Anthony’s inclusion in the lead race due to his approximate 16 minutes of screen time. This is truly evidence of a performance so towering that it couldn’t be ignored.

2. Roberto Benigni, Life is Beautiful

The Italian director/writer/actor was an underdog against competition that included Nick Nolte (once again) for Affliction and Ian McKellen in Gods and Monsters. Mr. Benigni seemed a bit shocked himself when his name was called, as he famously bounded exuberantly to the stage.

1. Adrien Brody, The Pianist

The smart money in 2002 was with Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt or Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York. Brody’s win was pretty shocking, as was the giant smooch he planted on presenter Halle Berry.

When it comes to overall fields, I’m going recent history with both. For strongest, I’ll give it to 2012. That’s the year Day-Lewis won for Lincoln. All other nominees were rock solid as well with Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables), Joaquin Phoenix (The Master), and Denzel Washington (Flight).

For weakest, I’m picking 2015. This is the aforementioned year of DiCaprio’s overdue win. The rest of the field, however, was a bit lacking. It consisted of Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), Matt Damon (The Martian), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), and Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl).

And there’s your Actor look back, folks! Keep an eye out for Best Picture soon as the final post in this series…

BlacKkKlansman Movie Review

Spike Lee mixes laughter with anger in the truth is stranger than fiction tale BlacKkKlansman. While it takes some liberties with historical accuracies (set seven years earlier than when its events actually transpired), there’s no mistaking Lee’s connecting of the then with the now. He’s not a subtle filmmaker and this finds him in his feisty and stylish element.

It’s 1972 and we know that from the strategically placed Nixon re-election signs. There’s also discussions on who’s a better movie hero – Superfly or Shaft? Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is a rookie cop hired as the first black officer in Colorado Springs. His superiors assign him to go undercover at a civil rights rally to monitor behavior. That leads Stallworth requesting a more unconventional operation, especially for the era. He wishes to infiltrate the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, a group whose actions are more worthy of keeping tabs on. The color of his skin obviously presents a challenge. So while he establishes a relationship with Klansmen over the phone, it’s fellow detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) who joins them.

The main characters of the local Klan organization are the untrusting Felix (Jasper Paakkonen), the too trusting Walter (Ryan Eggold), and trusted to be always drunk Ivanhoe (Paul Walter Hauser). Stallworth’s telephone skills eventually put him in touch with Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace). It so happens that the Klan’s targets could involve Stallworth’s love interest Patrice (Laura Harrier), the president of the black student union.

BlacKkKlansman is a police procedural for much of its running time with numerous excursions in grander issues. There’s a wonderfully edited sequence going back and forth between two very different rallies discussing the same subject – D.W. Griffith’s incendiary 1915 epic The Birth of a Nation. While this is set 46 years ago, the screenplay explores that time over 100 years ago in riveting fashion. It also touches on the present day in Charlottesville with fierce urgency.

There are times when Lee is saying that little has really changed. Washington (whose voice in particular resembles his father Denzel’s) shows himself to be a promising performer. Some of the biggest laughs come from his phone banter with the clueless Duke. Driver’s character has perhaps the most interesting story arc. He’s a non-practicing Jew who’s at first ambivalent about his assignment. His disgust with the people he’s infiltrated with soon matches that of Stallworth. The romance with Patrice is a bit underwritten, but it’s a minor quibble.

Tonal shifts are abundant here. It serves less as a distraction than a message that humor can be found through the pain of racism and the characters who display it. The images of Charlottesville also show both rallies in that event and it’s a heart wrenching scene. BlacKkKlansman, through light and dark moments, is a stark reminder of our past and present that is Lee’s own rallying cry.

***1/2 (out of four)

Oscar History: 2012

It’s been quite some time since I’ve done an Oscar History post (about two and a half years) and I’m at 2012. It was a year in which Seth MacFarlane hosted the show – fresh off his comedy smash Ted. Here’s what transpired in the major categories with some other pictures and performers I might have considered:

The year saw nine nominees for Best Picture in which Ben Affleck’s Argo took the top prize. Other nominees: Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook (my personal favorite of the year), and Zero Dark Thirty. 

Many Wes Anderson fans would contend that Moonrise Kingdom should have made the cut. And I could certainly argue that The Avengers (perhaps the greatest comic book flick and the year’s biggest grosser) was worth a nod.

The nominations in Best Director were a huge surprise at the time. While Argo won the top prize of all, Affleck was not nominated for his behind the camera efforts. It was the first time since Driving Miss Daisy‘s Bruce Beresford where an Oscar-winning Picture didn’t see its filmmaker nominated.

Instead it was Ang Lee who was victorious for Life of Pi over Michael Haneke (Amour), David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook), Steven Spielberg (Lincoln), and Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild).

In addition to Affleck, it was surprising that Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty) was not included. And I certainly would have put in Tarantino for Django.

The race for Best Actor seemed over when the casting of Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln was announced. And that’s exactly how it played out as he won his third Oscar over a strong slate of Bradley Cooper (Playbook), Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables), Joaquin Phoenix (The Master), and Denzel Washington (Flight).

The exclusion of John Hawkes in The Sessions could have been welcomed, but I’ll admit that’s a solid group.

Jennifer Lawrence won Best Actress for Silver Linings over Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark), Emmanuelle Riva (Amour), Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts), and Naomi Watts (The Impossible).

Again, no major qualms here. I did enjoy the work of Helen Mirren in Hitchcock (for which she did get a Golden Globe nod).

Supporting Actor was competitive as Christoph Waltz won his second statue for Django (three years after Inglourious Basterds). He was a bit of a surprise winner over Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln. Other nominees: Alan Arkin (Argo), Robert De Niro (Playbook), and Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master).

Here’s a year where there’s a lot of others I thought of. Waltz won, but I think the work of Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson in Django was equally impressive. There’s Javier Bardem as one of the greatest Bond villains ever in Skyfall. Or John Goodman’s showy role in Flight. As for some other blockbusters that year, how about Tom Hiddleston in The Avengers or Matthew McConaughey in Magic Mike? And my favorite comedic scene of that year was due to Giovanni Ribisi in Ted…

In Supporting Actress, Anne Hathaway was a front-runner for Les Miserables and there was no upset. Other nominees: Amy Adams (The Master), Sally Field (Lincoln), Helen Hunt (The Sessions), and Jacki Weaver (Playbook).

Judi Dench had more heft to her part as M in Skyfall that year and I’ll also give a shout-out to Salma Hayek’s performance in Oliver Stone’s Savages.

And there’s your Oscar history for 2012! I’ll have 2013 up… hopefully in less than two and a half years!

Mile 22 Box Office Prediction

Mark Wahlberg is back in action mode and reuniting with director Peter Berg next weekend in Mile 22. The action thriller finds the star as the head of an elite CIA unit and the supporting cast includes John Malkovich, Lauren Cohan, Iko Uwais, Ronda Rousey, and Lee Chae Rin.

This is the fourth Wahlberg/Berg collaboration and it’s the first not based on real life events after Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon, and Patriots Day. Distributor STXfilms is hoping this will be the start of a new franchise with a TV series and sequel reportedly in development.

That, of course, could all depend on how this performs. The budget is only $35 million, which is quite low for a summer action release. Looking at other similar material from Wahlberg, Mile 22 would love to achieve the $24 million earned by something like 2012’s Contraband. Yet it could debut with something closer to the $14 million made by 2007’s Shooter. The $27 million made out of the gate five summers ago by 2 Guns is a reach in my opinion… that had the Denzel factor.

I’ll say a mid to high teens gross is the most likely scenario, meaning Mile won’t achieve the marker contained in its title.

Mile 22 opening weekend prediction: $16.7 million

For my Crazy Rich Asians prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/08/07/crazy-rich-asians-box-office-prediction/

For my Alpha prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/08/07/alpha-box-office-prediction/

BlacKkKlansman Box Office Prediction

***Blogger’s Note II (08/09/18): My estimate is once again increasing – from $7.6M to $9.6M

**Blogger’s Note (08/08/18): I have revised my estimate from $5.6M up to $7.6M

The latest Spike Lee joint is the first in a while that comes with Oscar buzz and widespread  critical acclaim when BlacKkKlansman debuts next weekend. The true life crime flick about an African-American detective infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and was instantly a highlight. Its Rotten Tomatoes score stands at 96%.

The cast includes John David Washington (son of Denzel), Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace, Corey Hawkins, Paul Walter Hauser, and Harry Belafonte. Jason Blum and Jordan Peele serve as producers. The awards buzz could give this a shot at performing decently as it opens on approximately 1500 screens.

One comp that BlacKkKlansman might want to avoid is Detroit, which opened around the same time last year to disappointing results. That pic made $7.1 million in its first wide release frame on about twice as many screens.

This seems to garnering more buzz, however. I’ll say Mr. Lee’s latest manages between $5-6 million.

BlacKkKlansman opening weekend prediction: $9.6 million

For my The Meg prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/07/31/the-meg-box-office-prediction/

For my Slender Man prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/07/31/slender-man-box-office-prediction/

For my Dog Days prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/07/31/dog-days-box-office-prediction/

The Equalizer 2 Box Office Prediction

Denzel Washington is back in action mode when The Equalizer 2 is released next weekend. In his decades long career filled with numerous hits, this is actually the first ever sequel for the star. Antoine Fuqua is back directing and it’s the fourth collaboration between two after 2001’s Training Day (for which Washington won an Oscar), 2014’s The Equalizer, and 2016’s The Magnificent Seven. Costars include Melissa Leo, Pedro Pascal, Ashton Sanders, and Bill Pullman.

When it comes to the action genre, few actors are as bankable as Denzel. The first Equalizer, which is based quite loosely a 1980s TV show starring Edward Woodward, made $34.1 million for its start and ended up at $101 million overall domestically. Two years later, The Magnificent Seven took in $34.7 million out of the gate and $93 million total. Nearly all of Washington’s titles in the genre in the past decade or so have achieved mid 20s or more in their premieres.

While The Equalizer 2 may face a challenge scoring a #1 opening over a very different follow-up (Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again), a high 20s to possibly low 30s roll out seems quite achievable.

The Equalizer 2 opening weekend prediction: $26.8 million

For my Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/07/10/mamma-mia-here-we-go-again-box-office-prediction/

For my Unfriended: Dark Web prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/07/11/unfriended-dark-web-box-office-prediction/