The Producers Roll With Nomadland

In the previous decade, the winner of the Producers Guild of America (PGA) best motion picture ended up matching with the eventual Oscar recipient 70% of the time. So it’s no wonder that all eyes of prognosticators were on tonight’s ceremony. Would the PGA do anything to interrupt the narrative that Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland is a sturdy favorite to take the Academy’s gold?

The answer? No. Nomadland received yet another honor from the PGA to go with its Golden Globe for Best Drama, Critics Choice Award, and numerous regional group best pic designations. Had Minari or Promising Young Woman or The Trial of the Chicago 7 won, it might have created more suspense for the Oscar ceremony happening on April 25th. Yet the PGA victory is another arrow in the quiver for Zhao’s achievement.

If you’re another movie hoping to best Nomadland, the PGA and the Academy have differed three times in the last five years. In 2015, the Guild picked The Big Short over Spotlight. In 2016, it was La La Land instead of Moonlight. Last year – 1917 over Parasite. 

As for other races, Disney/Pixar’s Soul, as expected, took animated feature and it remains a major frontrunner at the big show. The documentary category went to My Octopus Teacher and that certainly puts it in serious contention in one month.

Bottom line: Nomadland is rolling and nothing may be able to stop it.

Oscar Watch: Raya and the Last Dragon

As we await the five nominated pictures in the 2020 Animated Feature race at the Oscars, a legitimate hopeful has already emerged for 2021. This Friday, Disney’s traditionally drawn Raya and the Last Dragon debuts in theaters and on Disney Plus. The action fantasy features a mostly Asian American voice cast including Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Daniel Dae Kim, Gemma Chan, Sandra Oh, and Benedict Wong. Directing duties are handled by Don Hall (whose Big Hero 6 landed an Academy nod in 2014) and Carlos Lopez Estrada.

Reviews are up and they’re very solid at 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. Unsurprisingly, Disney has been quite the player since the inception of the animated category back in 2001. As is often the case for the studio, the Mouse Factory may well compete against itself with Pixar’s Luca slated for release this summer. That will probably occur this year with Soul and Onward as likely nominees.

Bottom line: the critical reaction for Raya (even this early in the calendar) establishes it as a sturdy contender for recognition already. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Tom & Jerry To The Rescue (?)

An age old cat and mouse contest is widening the eyeballs of box office prognosticators and theater owners courtesy of Tom & Jerry. The mix of live-action and animation reboot of a cartoon dating back to 1940 premiered simultaneously in multiplexes and HBO Max yesterday. This is how Warner Bros. is handling all their product in 2021 as we have already witnessed with The Little Things and Judas and the Black Messiah (and soon Godzilla vs. Kong). Reviews for the pic are certainly not rosy with a current Rotten Tomatoes score of 23%. And with the uncertainty of the box office for nearly a year, expectations weren’t much either.

Let’s be clear: in non COVID times, Tom & Jerry heading toward a $13-$14 million opening would be considered pretty disappointing. How times have changed. When considering that millions of subscribers could simply cue it up from the comfort of home and with around half of theaters still shuttered, an estimated $12 million start is impressive. Should this number hold, it would mark the second biggest opening gross of the Coronavirus era (behind only Wonder Woman 1984).

That’s more than The Croods: A New Age managed over Thanksgiving and it legged out to over $50 million domestically. There’s no reason to think the iconic cat and mouse won’t do the same. This is also music to the ears of Disney as they prepare to release their animated Raya and the Last Dragon next weekend (along with a Disney Plus rollout).

However, this news really must be encouraging to theaters chains and owners. This is a sign that family audiences in particular will turn up for new product even if it’s available on the couch. As for material outside of that genre, the jury is still out and lots of attention should turn to the aforementioned battle of two other famous creatures (Godzilla vs. Kong) in one month. One thing seems clearer today: the outlook for theaters, while still in flux, got a little rosier.

Raya and the Last Dragon Box Office Prediction

A totally different kind of COVID test arrives in theaters March 5 with the release of Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon. It’s the latest traditionally animated feature from the Mouse Factory and it hits multiplexes and Disney+ on the same day. The fantasy adventure is co-directed by Don Hall (who made Big Hero 6 for the studio) and Carlos Lopez Estrada (maker of the decidedly non Disney pic Blindspotting). The predominately Asian-American voice cast includes Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Sandra Oh, Benedict Wong, and Alan Tudyk.

Raya marks the highest profile release of 2021 thus far on the big screen. The question is whether family audiences will mostly opt to shell out thirty bucks to watch it on the tube. All things considered – that’s probably less money than a night out for a clan of four to view it. And the Disney+ model is already familiar to subscribers with recent products such as Mulan and Soul.

In these uncertain pandemic days, it is difficult to find any real comps for opening weekend estimates. The Croods: A New Age debuted over Thanksgiving weekend and took in a better than anticipated $14 million over the five-day frame with nearly $10 million of it from the traditional Friday to Sunday portion. Yet that’s not exactly a reliable comp as Croods was a sequel to a well known property out during a holiday period. Still… this is Disney…

As I’ve said repeatedly with any box office guesstimates for nearly a year, we are in unpredictable territory. However, I’ll say Raya makes between $11-$14million and I’ll go a bit on the higher end of that range.

Raya and the Last Dragon opening weekend prediction: $13.2 million

For my Chaos Walking prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2021/02/24/chaos-walking-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: Soul

Disney/Pixar’s second 2020 release Soul has long been seen as their most viable Oscar contender over this spring’s Onward. Today’s buzz after it held the first screening at the London Film Festival confirms that. The jazz infused tale from Pete Docter and Kemp Powers is being called two familiar adjectives in the studio’s lexicon – heartfelt and crowd pleasing. Soul, after experiencing delays due to the COVID pandemic, is slated for a Disney+ debut on Christmas Day.

Featuring the voices of Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Questlove, Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs, and Angela Bassett, several reviews are already claiming it’s in the upper echelon of Pixar pics. Docter is no stranger to Academy love. All three of his directorial efforts – Monsters Inc., Up, Inside Out – were nominated for Best Animated Feature. The latter two emerged victorious and Up is one of three animated flicks to achieve a Best Picture nomination.

The question is not whether Soul will make the final cut in Animated Feature. It absolutely will and it’s absolutely the strong front runner to win. A better debate is whether this is the fourth animated effort to contend for the big prize. I don’t believe that’s automatic. Inside Out also garnered sterling critical reaction in 2015 and fell short of that achievement. However, Soul has solidified its position as a legit hopeful.

Additionally, expect Best Sound and the Original Score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to be in the mix. Bottom line: Soul helped it cause to play beyond Animated Feature. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Over the Moon

Glen Keane is a bit of a Disney legend having served as a character animator for classic titles including The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. He’s also no stranger to Academy attention. Three years ago, he won an Oscar alongside collaborator Kobe Bryant for the short film Dear Basketball. On October 23, Netflix debuts his feature length directorial debut Over the Moon. The computer drawn musical features the voices of Phillipa Soo, Ken Jeong, John Cho, and Sandra Oh.

Early reviews are pretty encouraging. That said, Keane’s most notable competition comes from his former employer. Disney/Pixar’s Soul (which just announced a Disney+ streaming bow on Christmas Day) is rumored to be special and it’s been the strong front runner for Animated Feature for some time. That hasn’t changed and the real question is what’s the current runner-up.

Over the Moon could be it, but I’m beginning to believe Wolfwalkers might be in second position based on its fantastic critical reaction. Bottom line: expect Moon to be in the final five for animated fare. A win is far less likely. Also look for its Original Song titled “Rocket to the Moon” to get some attention in that category. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

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