Oscar Watch: Wolfwalkers

Disney/Pixar isn’t the only entity with a sterling track record in the Best Animated Feature race at the Oscars. Irish outlet Cartoon Saloon has seen all three of their features nominated in the category. In all these instances, their product lost to a film with Disney and Pixar stamped on the credits.

Saloon’s fourth title is the environmentally conscious adventure Wolfwalkers, which screened at the Toronto Film Festival over the weekend. It is Saloon’s third collaboration with filmmaker Tomm Moore (who co-directs alongside Ross Stewart). His 2009 effort The Secret of Kelis scored a nod and lost to Up. Follow-up Song of the Sea fell short to Big Hero 6. The studio’s third feature – 2017’s The Breadwinner – made the final five with Coco emerging as the victor.

Early reviews from Toronto indicate that Wolfwalkers is another winner and it seems bound for nomination #4 for the Saloon. The pic is slated for stateside distribution later this year via Apple TV. Yet Pixar awaits with the impending release of Soul, which is currently seen as the favorite to take the gold.

Bottom line: Cartoon Saloon should make it 4 for 4 in Best Animated Feature. Beating the Mouse Factory looks to be its ongoing challenge. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Nomadland

Ever since Nomadland was announced, it has been seen as a serious contender for the 2020 Oscars in multiple categories. This is Chloe Zhao’s follow-up to her acclaimed The Rider and it’s premiering all over the festival circuit this weekend (including Toronto and Venice) prior to its planned December 4th release. Based on reviews trickling out this afternoon, it’s living up to the hype.

The pic casts McDormand as a Nevada widow traveling the country in her van and critical reaction indicates it’s a tour de force performance from the two-time Best Actress winner. As you’ll recall, she took the gold statue in 1996 for Fargo and just three years back in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. It might seem early for such proclamations, but I’m confident enough to go on record. Frances McDormand is going to get a nomination for this. Obviously, there are plenty more films to be screened as far as her competition. This includes potential nominees like Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Amy Adams (Hillbilly Elegy), Kate Winslet (Ammonite), and Michelle Pfeiffer (French Exit), among others. We shall see how that plays out, but today’s reviews opens the door for a third McDormand victory. If that were to occur, she would be just the second leading lady to win the prize more than twice. Katherine Hepburn did so four times.

David Strathairn is the other notable actor to discuss. The veteran thespian has one nomination to his credit for Best Actor in 2005’s Good Night, and Good Luck. I have had him ranked at #2 (behind the late Chadwick Boseman for Ma Rainey) in my Supporting Actor estimates for the last two weeks. However, indications are that his role could be smaller than I originally figured. He could still get in, but I’m nowhere near confident. I suspect he won’t be at #2 when I update my projections next Thursday. Whether he’s in the top five remains to be seen (especially with multiple actors vying for spots in Mank, The Trial of the Chicago 7, and One Night in Miami).

Nomadland also seems bound for a Best Picture nod and Zhao is certainly in line for attention with her direction. She would become just the sixth female to compete in that race and she could have company in 2020 with Regina King for Miami. Expect a wider audience to know Zhao’s name shortly as she’s making 2021’s Eternals for Disney/Marvel. Adapted Screenplay appears to be a lock and the movie’s Score and Cinematography and Editing could also be noticed.

Bottom line: Nomadland has stood as a contender for some time. The buzz out today elevates it even more, especially for Zhao and McDormand. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Mulan

After its theatrical release was scrapped due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Disney’s live-action version of their 1998 animated tale Mulan is set to stream on Disney+ beginning tomorrow for a fee of $30. With a reported budget of around $200 million, this is certainly one of the highest profile features to ever (if ever) hit the PVOD circuit.

Over the past decade, the Mouse Factory has made billions of dollars with this sub genre of bringing their well-known drawn properties to a human scale. And there’s already a history of these pics garnering technical nominations at the Oscars.

The review embargo for Mulan lapsed on the eve of its release and reaction thus far is mostly on the positive side. Niki Caro’s remake is generating praise for its action sequences and overall visuals. Some of the reviews are a bit less kind. The Rotten Tomatoes meter is currently 73%. That’s a marked improvement over last year’s Aladdin (57%) and The Lion King (52%). Yet it falls short of the highs of The Jungle Book (94%) or Cinderella (84%). It’s actually right in range with 2017’s Beauty and the Beast, which scored 71%.

Let’s take that trip down memory lane for Disney’s output in this genre, shall we? In 2010, Alice in Wonderland won both Art Direction (now Production Design) and Costume Design and was nominated for its Visual Effects. 2014’s Maleficent also received a nod for its costuming and that happened a year later with Cinderella. In 2016, The Jungle Book was victorious for its Visual Effects. Beauty and the Beast received nominations the next year for Production Design and its costumes. Christopher Robin got a Visual Effects nod in 2019. And last year, The Lion King picked up a Visual Effects mention while Maleficent: Mistress of Evil was nominated for Makeup and Hairstyling.

You’ll notice that none of these pictures landed attention in the major categories and I don’t expect that Mulan will change that. When it comes to down the line nominations, I do expect this will contend in Production Design and Costume Design especially. Visual Effects and Makeup and Hairstyling are also possibilities and maybe even Cinematography. And there’s also the matter of Best Original Song. Christina Aguilera, who sang the track “Reflection” over the end credits 22 years ago, has composed some original works here. She recently put out the single “Loyal Brave True” and it certainly could contend.

Bottom line: Mulan is unlikely to be the first live-action Disney remake to compete for the big prizes, but it should carry on the tradition of its technical achievements being noticed. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Box Office Predictions: August 28-30

***Blogger’s Note (08/27/20): My prediction for Mutants is up from $4.9M to $6.9M

For the first Monday in nearly six months, I have meaningful box office predictions and results to report! As the movie watching world is aware, upstart Solstice Studios was first out of the gate with a wide theatrical release over the weekend. Russell Crowe’s Unhinged was the test case. The results are pretty encouraging as the thriller took in $4 million on just north of 1800 screens.

This is a tad below my $4.6 million projection, but it’s a sign that audiences are at least amenable to returning to multiplexes. We don’t have to wait long until the next experiment. It comes this weekend with The New Mutants, which was originally slated to hit screens in 2018. The latest title in the X-Men franchise has a troubled past and Fox (now owned by Disney) doesn’t seem to have much confidence with it. My detailed prediction post on Mutants can be found here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/08/19/the-new-mutants-box-office-prediction/

As you can see, I question whether it can make over $5 million. I think lots of casual filmgoers aren’t even aware it exists in the same universe as Wolverine, Mystique, Professor X, and Magneto.

For the second weekend of Unhinged, I anticipate a smallish drop-off percentage wise. We have witnessed this in other territories as patrons are taking their time to sample the new product in a COVID-19 world. I’ll say a 31% dip sounds about right.

It will take an undetermined amount of time before my weekend predictions look like they did pre-COVID. Yet they’re back and here’s how I foresee the top two this weekend:

1. The New Mutants

Predicted Gross: $6.9 million

2. Unhinged

Predicted Gross: $2.8 million

The New Mutants Box Office Prediction

***Blogger’s Update (08/27): On the eve of its premiere, I am increasing my prediction for The New Mutants from $4.9 million to $6.9 million. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the release dates for scores of high profile feature films over the past several months. Yet in the case of The New Mutants, its series of delays has become a punchline in Hollywood that far preceded current world events. The film is the latest in the X-Men franchise and it seems 20th Century Fox has absolutely no confidence with it. It’s finally hitting screens after an original planned unveiling in (get this!) April 2018.

Mutants introduces new characters to the X-Men fold in what was originally planned as a potential trilogy. Josh Boone, best known for making The Fault in Our Stars, directs. The cast includes Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Alice Braga, Blu Hunt, and Henry Zaga. Marketed more as a horror flick than comic book adaptation, reports out over the past two years indicate that its studio were not pleased with the final product.

After getting bumped from the spring of 2018, this was pushed to February 2019 and then August 2019 and then April 2020 (this was all during Disney’s acquisition of Fox). After the COVID situation hit, Disney/Fox finally settled on the late August output. Mutants will be closely watched as it is the second American theatrical wide release after Unhinged. 

Prior to COVID, the prospects for Mutants seemed doomed and that hasn’t changed. The X-Men franchise hit a low point in 2019 with Dark Phoenix. Its $32 million debut was easily the lowest of the series (no other X pic had premiered below $50 million). Mutants will blow that record out of the water. For starters, there’s the challenges facing any wide release at the moment (limited theater capacity, major markets still closed, etc…). I also suspect many casual moviegoers simply have no idea that Mutants even exists in the X-Men Universe.

I do not have a screen count for Mutants at press time, but I’m assuming it’s similar to the 2000 theaters that will greet Unhinged this weekend. If that holds, I’m not even confident that Mutants gets above $5 million in its first weekend. Disney and 20th Century Fox seem to be dumping this and I believe audiences will respond in kind.

The New Mutants opening weekend prediction: $6.9 million

Oscar Watch: The One and Only Ivan

Disney’s streaming service combines humans and familiar faces voicing creatures this weekend with the release of The One and Only Ivan, based on the 2012 children’s book by K.A. Applegate. Directed by Thea Sharrock, the family friendly fantasy features Bryan Cranston, Ramon Rodriguez, and Ariana Greenblatt in front of the camera. Stars including Sam Rockwell, Angelina Jolie, Danny DeVito, Helen Mirren, Brooklyn Prince, and Chaka Khan (!) lend their voices as gorillas, elephants, and dogs.

In what is now a familiar story on this blog, Ivan was intended for theatrical release last Friday before the COVID-19 pandemic altered the plans. It is now hitting the Disney+ service this weekend. Why an Oscar Watch post for this unlikely contender? Fair question as even a Visual Effects nod is probably a long shot. Reviews out today are decent, but not overwhelmingly positive with a current 64% Rotten Tomatoes score.

There is, however, a solid shot for Ivan to come under Academy consideration and that’s with Original Song. It was announced this week that Diane Warren has written the track “Free” that will play over the end credits. Performed by Charlie Puth, the song is another possibility in a lengthy list of Warren’s works that could vie for a nomination.

Diane Warren has been nominated in the Original Song race 11 times over four decades. This began with “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” from 1987’s Mannequin and runs through last year with “I’m Standing with You” from Breakthrough. In between, we have massive hits like Celine Dion’s “Because You Loved Me” from Up Close and Personal and the Aerosmith ballad “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” from Armageddon in the 90s. Despite the multitude of nods, Warren has never made the trip to the podium.

I doubt that “Free” would earn her the win, but a 12th nomination is certainly feasible. It remains to be seen how this particular category will play out in the coming months. Billie Eilish’s title track for the upcoming 007 adventure No Time to Die will likely make it in the final five.

Bottom line: Original Song could mark the one and only nod for Ivan next year. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Mulan Gets a Plus

Disney surprised a lot of box office commentators like myself to begin the week with major news about Mulan. The live-action adaptation of their 1998 animated feature, directed by Niki Caro, was intended to hit theaters on a worldwide scale on March 27th. This was, of course, just a couple of weeks after the COVID-19 pandemic forced closures of chains across the country.

Since delayed three more times, the Mouse Factory announced this afternoon that the tentpole feature will instead debut on the Disney+ streaming service on September 4. This allows lots of kids and their parents to view it over Labor Day weekend… at a cost of $30. While we have seen numerous pictures go the route of streaming as opposed to theatrical release in the past few months, Mulan is by far the most high profile.

The top brass at Disney made it clear that this is a one-off pattern. There was certainly no further announcement that their Black Widow (delayed from May) would follow suit. The news makes for a fascinating holiday weekend to monitor as Christopher Nolan’s Tenet is currently scheduled for select cities in cinemas at the same time.

Depending on how well Mulan performs on the small screen (and it certainly could), one must wonder what that means for other big pics that were supposed to be released by now. To name a few – there’s No Time to Die, A Quiet Place Part II, Top Gun: Maverick, and Wonder Woman 1984.

It may not change anything, but Disney’s Monday bombshell feels like a potential sign of more unexpected pattens to follow. After all, the idea that Mulan would be a streaming debut would have sounded unfathomable pre-COVID. Time will tell, but those anticipating Mulan won’t have to wait long if they’re willing to fork over a premium price.

Summer 2000: The Top 10 Hits and More

As I do every summer on the blog, I am looking back at the cinematic seasons of 30, 20, and 10 years ago and recounting the top ten hits, other notable pics, and some misfires. A week ago, I covered the summer of 1990 (when we all were “ghosted”). If you missed it, you can peruse it here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/07/18/summer-1990-the-top-10-hits-and-more/

Today brings us to the dawn of the new century. What struck me is that there weren’t a whole lot of outright flops, but the ones that were are rather significant bombs. Let’s take a trip down memory lane of 2000 and were we not entertained?!?!

10. The Patriot

Domestic Gross: $113 million

Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger teamed up with disaster flick specialist Roland Emmerich for this Revolutionary War era drama that managed to just achieve blockbuster status and barely top its reported $110 million budget stateside.

9. Big Momma’s House

Domestic Gross: $117 million

Negative reviews couldn’t prevent this Martin Lawrence comedy from nearly quadrupling its $30 million budget and spawning two eventual sequels. 30% also happens to be its Rotten Tomatoes score.

8. Nutty Professor II: The Klumps

Domestic Gross: $123 million

Eddie Murphy’s sequel to his 1996 hit certainly didn’t get the reviews of its predecessor, but it fell only $5 million short of the domestic gross of part 1 and introduced superstar Janet Jackson as his new love interest. Part 2 also greatly expanded Eddie’s work as other members of the Klump brood. As you can see from numbers 8 and 9, it was a big summer for comedians in fat suits.

7. Dinosaur

Domestic Gross: $137 million

The prehistoric Disney animated adventure is not one of their most talked about titles in recent decades, but it was still a profitable venture that grossed nearly $350 million worldwide.

6. What Lies Beneath

Domestic Gross: $155 million

Despite mixed reviews, Robert Zemeckis’s Hitchcockian thriller starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer landed big with audiences. Its filming schedule is a memorable one. Zemeckis was shooting Cast Away with Tom Hanks and there was a long break in filming so its star could shed weight and grow his long beard. It was enough time for the director to fit in Beneath. 

5. Scary Movie

Domestic Gross: $157 million

The summer’s biggest comedy was a Scream spoof from filmmaker Keenan Ivory Wayans. Shot for less than $20 million, it spawned four sequels and became its own franchise.

4. X-Men

Domestic Gross: $157 million

I recently wrote about the 20th anniversary of X-Men here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/07/14/x-men-at-20-a-look-back/

That post talks about its significant impact on the comic book genre that has dominated the 21st century.

3. The Perfect Storm

Domestic Gross: $182 million

Wolfgang Peterson’s fact based disaster drama with George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg was not much of a hit with critics, but crowds were swept up in the waves.

2. Gladiator

Domestic Gross: $187 million

Ridley Scott’s historical action drama kicked off summer 2000 and made a global superstar out of Russell Crowe and provided a juicy supporting part for Joaquin Phoenix. The film became an Oscar darling – winning Best Picture and Crowe taking Best Actor. This is the rare summer popcorn pic that achieved awards glory.

1. Mission: Impossible 2

Domestic Gross: $215 million

This sequel cruised to the top spot of earners for the season. Now that there’s been six editions in the franchise, this John Woo directed experience is generally (and rightfully) considered the weakest of the bunch. Yet that didn’t prevent huge grosses.

And now for some other notable features:

Chicken Run

Domestic Gross: $106 million

This still stands as the highest grossing stop-motion animated feature of all time and it doubled its budget domestically. A sequel is in development, but it was recently announced that lead voice Mel Gibson will not be part of the proceedings.

Gone in 60 Seconds

Domestic Gross: $101 million

Despite poor reviews, Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie’s remake of the 1970s heist pic still zoomed (barely) past $100 million and was a solid performer overseas.

Me, Myself & Irene

Domestic Gross: $90 million

The Farrelly Brothers reunited with their Dumb and Dumber star Jim Carrey for this comedy that earned mixed reaction. This was nowhere near the hit that the brothers had two years earlier with their runaway success There’s Something About Mary, but it still made money.

Space Cowboys

Domestic Gross: $90 million

Clint Eastwood guided this “old guys in space” tale alongside Tommy Lee Jones to a very respectable gross and decent critical reaction.

Hollow Man

Domestic Gross: $73 million

Paul Verhoeven’s take on the H.G. Wells novel starred Kevin Bacon and earned a Visual Effects Oscar nomination (losing to Gladiator). While it didn’t make its budget back stateside, it ended up doubling its price tag when factoring in foreign markets. A direct to video sequel followed.

Shaft

Domestic Gross: $70 million

Samuel L. Jackson took over the iconic private dick role from Richard Roundtree (who costarred here) in this sequel from the late John Singleton. Christian Bale memorably plays a villain here. Another sequel followed in 2019 and it was an outright flop.

Bring It On

Domestic Gross: $68 million

Made for only $11 million, this teen cheerleading comedy was an unexpected hit that gave Kirsten Dunst and Gabrielle Union a boost in their careers. Five direct to video sequels followed as well as a stage musical.

The Cell

Domestic Gross: $61 million

Despite so-so reviews, this twisty supernatural thriller with Jennifer Lopez easily topped its $33 million budget. It has continued to have ardent admirers including the late Roger Ebert, who awarded it four stars.

Coyote Ugly

Domestic Gross: $60 million

This tale about saloon life with Piper Perabo and John Goodman managed to take in over $100 million worldwide against a $45 million budget and has become a cult favorite since.

The Original Kings of Comedy

Domestic Gross: $38 million

A stand-up comedy pic grossing this much in theaters is notable. Spike Lee directed Bernie Mac, Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, and Cedric the Entertainer and audiences turned out.

As I mentioned, the total bombs aren’t plentiful here. However, they’re notable:

The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle

Domestic Gross: $26 million

A pet project of Robert De Niro, this loose take on the 1960s animated series grossed a third of its budget domestically and was quickly forgotten.

Titan A.E.

Domestic Gross: $22 million

20th Century Fox had a big failure here at the start of the 21st century with this animated sci-fi tale with Matt Damon as a leading voice. The price tag was reportedly around $90 million and it made just $36 million worldwide.

Battlefield Earth

Domestic Gross: $21 million

Based on a work from Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, audiences and critics savaged this sci-fi tale with John Travolta. It won a then record 7 Golden Raspberry Awards and was mocked relentlessly for its poor quality.

And that does it, folks! I’ll have 2010 recounted on the blog in the coming days…

Paramount Changes

And the release dates keep shifting due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier today, Disney announced sweeping changes to their future slate of projects (affecting Mulan and the Star Wars and Avatar franchises) and I covered it here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/07/23/mickey-mouse-blinks/

That follows word from Warner Bros. on their shifting of Tenet, which I covered here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/07/20/tenet-falls-back/

Now it’s Paramount’s turn. There were a number of changes announced this evening, but I’ll cover the two most significant. Tom Cruise’s return to one of his signature roles was originally slated for July 12th of this year. If you think about it, it would almost surely be the #1 or #2 movie in America right now in an alternate universe. The long gestating sequel was then pushed back to December 23rd. And now its release has been delayed nearly a full year with an expected date of July 2, 2021.

A Quiet Place II was right around the corner when COVID hit with a March 18th premiere. The virus changed that plan to a Labor Day rollout. This sequel is now scheduled for April 23, 2021 – postponing its release by over a year from its intended landing.

It’s fair to say that this week has seen the most heavy hitters fall back. And as we’ve learned in 2020, expect plenty more changes and adjustments ahead.

Mickey Mouse Blinks

Today marked even more release shifting in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and it’s a lot of news of Disney. The Mouse Factory, to no one’s surprise, has moved their live-action remake of Mulan from August 21st to that date we’re all growing accustomed to… (say it together now) TBD.

That’s not all. Two of the studio’s biggest franchises saw their anticipated sequels, spin-offs, and reboots pushed back one year. The as yet untitled next episodes of Star Wars will not begin until December 2023 (with follow-up pics now slated for 2025 and 2027).

James Cameron’s four (yes, four) sequels to Avatar are delayed yet again. Part two is now pegged for December 2022 with parts 3, 4, and 5 now planned for December 2024, 2026, and 2028.

And… that’s not all. Kenneth Branagh’s Death on the Nile (his follow-up to Murder on the Orient Express) has been pushed back two weeks from October 9th to October 23rd of this year (we’ll see it that holds). Mr. Branagh has already seen a COVID change a few weeks back when his critically reviled Artemis Fowl scrapped its theatrical bow in favor of a Disney+ debut.

Some other developments: Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel changed from Christmas 2020 to October 2021. Wes Anderson’s eagerly awaited (and potential Oscar contender) The French Dispatch saw its October 2020 premiere altered to… (say it again) TBD.

This follows the announcement from Warner Bros. earlier this week that Christopher Nolan’s Tenet (long seen as the first real COVID test for theaters) is now a TBD property after its hoped for August rollout. After the Tenet news, the ball was passed to Mulan. Not anymore.

Now the paradigm shifts again… to Disney. One could say that the MCU’s Black Widow is now the first massive blockbuster scheduled to debut on November 6th. Let’s see if it stays that way in our new cinematic universe.