Oscar History: 2014

Six years ago in Oscar history began an impressive two year run for filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu with Birdman emerging as the big winner of the evening. The film took Best Picture and Director over its major competitor – Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. This was a ceremony in which the largest category did have some suspense. Birdman took the prize over the aforementioned Boyhood and six other pics: American Sniper (the year’s top grosser), The Grand Budapest Hotel (marking Wes Anderson’s first and only Picture nominee), The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, and Whiplash. 

In this blogger’s perfect world, Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler would have been recognized. It was my favorite movie of that year so get used to seeing it pop up in this post. Other notable selections from 2014 left on the cutting room floor: David Fincher’s Gone Girl, Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer, and Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher. 

Mr. Miller did have the notable distinction of being nominated for Best Director despite his work not showing up in Best Picture (very rare these days). As mentioned, Inarritu took the gold over Miller as well as Linklater, Anderson, and Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game). Gilroy, Fincher, and Joon-ho might have warranted consideration in my view as well as Chazelle’s bravura debut in Whiplash. 

One could argue that Nightcrawler isn’t your prototypical Picture contender. However, Jake Gyllenhaal being left out of the five Actor contenders stands as one of the noteworthy snubs in recent history. It was Eddie Redmayne emerging victorious for The Theory of Everything over his closest competitor Michael Keaton (Birdman). Other nominees: the three C’s of Steve Carell (Foxcatcher), Bradley Cooper (American Sniper, picking up his third nomination in a row), and Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game).

There is a voluminous list of solid performances beyond just Gyllenhaal’s that were left wanting. It includes Ben Affleck (Gone Girl), Chadwick Boseman (Get On Up), Bill Murray (St. Vincent), David Oyelowo (Selma), Joaquin Phoenix (Inherent Vice), Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner), and Miles Teller (Whiplash).

In Best Actress, Julianne Moore triumphed for Still Alice after four previous nominations without a win. She took the honor over Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night), Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl), and Reese Witherspoon (Wild). Moore’s selection was one of the easiest to project as she’d been a sturdy frontrunner all season.

Looking back, how about Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow? Its action genre trappings probably prevented consideration, but she might have made my quintet. Amy Adams won the Golden Globe for Actress in Musical/Comedy, but missed here.

Another easy (and absolutely deserved) winner was J.K. Simmons in Supporting Actor for Whiplash over Robert Duvall (The Judge), Ethan Hawke (Boyhood), Edward Norton (Birdman), and Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher).

I will yet again mention Nightcrawler as I might have considered Riz Ahmed. There’s also Josh Brolin in Inherent Vice.

Boyhood nabbed its major race victory in Supporting Actress with Patricia Arquette. Other nominees were Laura Dern (Wild), Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game), Emma Stone (Birdman), and the always in contention Meryl Streep for Into the Woods.

As for others, I’ll start with (surprise) Rene Russo in Nightcrawler. Others include both Melissa McCarthy and Naomi Watts for St. Vincent in addition to Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year) and Katherine Waterston (Inherent Vice).

My Oscar History will continue soon with 2015 as Mr. Inarritu will dominate the director race yet again while the Academy chose to spotlight something in Best Picture!

Chaos Walking Box Office Prediction

The sci-fi adventure Chaos Walking, on its surface, seems to have a lot going for it. It’s based on a well regarded series of YA novels by Patrick Ness (who cowrote the screenplay). Doug Liman, maker of successful pics like The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and Edge of Tomorrow, directs. The two stars are instantly recognizable faces from recent franchises blockbusters: Daisy Ridley (Rey from Star Wars) and Tom Holland (the current Spider-Man). And Lionsgate ponied up a reported $125 million to make it.

Yet closer inspection reveals a different story as it opens next Friday in multiplexes. Chaos was originally slated for release all the way back in pre-COVID March 2019. Poor test screenings allegedly forced reshoots which were overseen by Don’t Breathe director Fede Alvarez. The pandemic has shifted the drop date once again from January of this year to early March.

Now it appears the high budget Walking is limping its way into theaters in already uncertain times. In addition to its stars, the supporting cast includes Mads Mikkelsen, Demian Bichir, Cynthia Erivo, Nick Jonas, and David Oyelowo. I’m not even confident that the awareness level of its existence is enough to bring in the intended audience. This has been looked at as a potential major flop for some time and I don’t foresee this exceeding any expectations upon release.

Chaos Walking opening weekend prediction: $3.9 million

For my Raya and the Last Dragon prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2021/02/23/raya-and-the-last-dragon-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: Wild Mountain Thyme

Despite a number of critically praised lead and supporting roles, Emily Blunt has yet to break through with Oscar voters. That certainly makes her one of the most high profile actresses yet to get a nomination. Other awards shows and critics groups (including SAG and the Globes) have feted her in pics including The Devil Wears Prada, The Young Victoria, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Edge of Tomorrow, Sicario, Into the Woods, The Girl on the Train, A Quiet Place, and Mary Poppins Returns.

Her time probably isn’t far off, but it doesn’t sound as if she’ll get there with Wild Mountain Thyme. The romcom set in Ireland is slated for release this weekend. It comes from director John Patrick Shanley (adapting his own play) and he was on the radar screen of the Academy over three decades ago with Moonstruck, in which he won Best Original Screenplay. Costars here include Jamie Dornan, Jon Hamm, and Christopher Walken.

The reviews out today are on the negative side and it currently sports just a 33% Rotten Tomatoes score. Simply put, any Oscar attention is highly unlikely to materialize. On the other hand, the Hollywood Foreign Press has nominated Blunt six times. If distributor Bleecker Street mounts a spirited campaign for her in the Musical/Comedy category, I wouldn’t count her out for inclusion. The Academy is a totally different story. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Palm Springs Movie Review

Maybe it’s possible that the idea of living the same day over and over again is just something that resonates during these strange COVID-19 times. Or maybe Palm Springs really is a fresh and highly satisfying take on the Groundhog Day concept. I think it’s the latter and what a pleasant surprise.

You cannot have this plot without thinking of the incomparable Bill Murray comedy. The concept has repeated itself in the action and horror genres with Edge of Tomorrow and Happy Death Day. Springs plays with the formula in unexpected ways. Another SNL alum headlines with Andy Samberg as Nyles. He’s the aimless boyfriend to younger Misty (Meredith Hagner) and he’s tagging along to her friend’s wedding in the title town. We realize quickly that something is really off with his behavior. It turns out that he’s already well along the way into his time loop and has been living this day repeatedly. This is the first realization that the screenplay from Andy Siara is playing by a different set of rules by dispensing with the origin story of Nyles’s Groundhog Day. This is a welcome change.

Sarah (Cristin Milioti, tough and sometimes vulnerable and terrific in this role) is the sister of the bride. She’s got character flaws equal to Nyles that aren’t because of the time loop. Yet that quickly changes when she joins him on the endless day. What follows is the duo attempting to figure out just what the heck is happening (the science fiction elements involve a mysterious cave and a goat).

They are occasionally joined in their adventure by another wedding guest Roy (J.K. Simmons, engaging as always) who got sucked into the vortex. It’s also possible that Nyles and Sarah are slowly – very slowly – falling in love. Or is it just that they only have each other in this untenable scenario?

The less said about how the plot rolls along the better. There are genuine revelations that I didn’t see coming, but it all fits into this clever version of a well-worn tale. This is the best Samberg has been on film and Milioti easily equals his work. We see this budding romance develop over many days, albeit the same one. As a credit to the whole team involved, it’s a lot of time well spent.

***1/2 (out of four)

2018: The Year of Emily Blunt

Emily Blunt has had a decade filled with acclaimed performances in high-profile features including Looper, Edge of Tomorrow, Sicario (she sat out its sequel this summer), and The Girl on the Train. In 2018, this rose to an even greater level with a pair of very different titles.

In April, Blunt headlined the horror pic of the year with A Quiet Place directed by her husband John Krasinski. Her role as an expectant mother trying to protect her unborn baby and other children from monsters drew critical raves. The film debuted to a stunning $50 million and took in $188 million domestically.

This month, she took on the iconic role made famous over 50 years ago by Julie Andrews in the Disney sequel Mary Poppins Returns. Reviews were mostly strong for it as well, especially for Blunt’s take on the British nanny. It, too, should leg out to a stateside gross approaching $200 million.

2019 is expected to be a quiet one for the actress while she’ll star alongside Dwayne Johnson in the summer of 2020 with the Mouse Factory’s Jungle Cruise. As for this year, it was anything but quiet for Ms. Blunt.

American Made Movie Review

American Made is fun while it lasts and the same can be said of the characters living through it for the most part. The film tells the true-life story of Barry Seal (Tom Cruise), a TWA pilot in the late 1970s who’s grown quite bored with his job. Early on, he creates turbulence on a flight just to break the monotony. Life perks up considerably when his services are utilized by the CIA to deal with Manuel Noriega’s Panamanian government and run guns to the Contras in what would become the biggest scandal of President Reagan’s administration. Seal’s shady interactions with the U.S. government aren’t the only item in his new job description as he starts a lucrative side business bringing cocaine back to the states from Columbia. This brings him front and center with Pablo Escobar (Mauicio Meija) and Jorge Ochoa (Alejandro Edda).

For most of Made‘s fast moving running time, Gary Spinelli’s screenplay creates a world where Seal is gloriously ambivalent as to the dangerous decisions he makes. He moves his family from Louisiana to the tiny town of Mena, Arkansas where the piles of money he’s earning is buried in the backyard and at new banks that miraculously pop up in the community. His wife Lucy (Sarah Wright) doesn’t ask too many questions, but she also makes it humorously clear that she doesn’t trust a thing her hubby is doing.

The tone of American Made can be slightly jarring if you really think about it. We’re dealing with real-life events that spawned real-life tragedies like illegal arms deals and the drug epidemic that swept the 1980s. However, that’s not on Seal’s mind or the picture’s for that matter. He’s too busy creating his own version of the American Dream and his journey through actual history casts him as a Forrest Gump like figure if Forrest had no moral compass.

For this decade, Cruise has mostly concentrated on starring in a mixed bag of action and sci-fi efforts. Made reunites him with his director from one of the better ones, Edge of Tomorrow. It also gives him one of his best roles in years and a true change of pace as far as material. Domhnall Gleeson is his CIA contact Schafer, who’s endlessly energetic about the chaos his agency is creating. One of the most memorable performances comes from Caleb Landry Jones as Seal’s creepy loose cannon of a brother-in-law. You may recognize him as the creepy loose cannon brother from Get Out and Jones has that character nailed in 2017.

American Made doesn’t necessarily bring much new to the table. Some of its story lines have been covered in much more serious works. Yet it’s got a lot of energy and it’s certainly entertaining, with Cruise’s presence a big factor as to why. By its conclusion, we’re aware that its central figure is creating his own turbulence again and he probably wouldn’t have it any other way.

*** (out of four)

American Made Box Office Prediction

Tom Cruise’s box office fortunes have taken a turn for the worse recently with two flops in less than a year – Jack Reacher: Never Go Back and this summer’s The Mummy. The star will attempt to turn that around next weekend with American Made.

The true life crime pic reunites Cruise with his Edge of Tomorrow director Doug Liman and finds him playing Barry Seal, pilot turned drug smuggler for the Medellin cartel in the 1980s. Costars include Sarah Wright, Domhnall Gleeson, and Jesse Plemons. Unlike his two previous pictures, Made is receiving positive reviews with a current 89% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

That positive word-of-mouth might help, but I could also see Made opening somewhat lightly with hopes of smallish declines in subsequent weekends. Unlike most of Cruise’s recent work, this isn’t an action or sci-fi project that audiences have become accustomed to seeing him in during recent years. Its box office potential should rely solely on his drawing power (which has waned) and the approving critical notices.

I’ll estimate that American Made generates a mid teens debut.

American Made opening weekend prediction: $15.5 million

For my Flatliners prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/09/21/flatliners-box-office-prediction/

The Mummy Movie Review

The Mummy is many things to Universal Pictures and it has many conflicting tones to go along with it. The film shares the name of franchise of the Brendan Fraser flicks started in 1999 and little else. Most importantly, it’s the premiere title of the studio’s planned Dark Universe series which will bring back invisible and wolf men and Frankensteins and their brides.

Perhaps that’s why The Mummy can often seem like a preview of what’s to come. Based on this initial offering, the Dark Universe and its grand designs to bring back the classic monsters of Universal’s past is iffy but not without some occasional charms.

A prologue tells the tale of Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), Egyptian royalty primed to rule her land. Family complications alter that course so she goes on a murderous rampage which results in her mummification. Her story is buried for centuries until present day.

That’s when Nick Morton, a former soldier still in Iraq to pillage treasure with his comedic sidekick (Jake Johnson) inadvertently unearth the Princess’s tomb. Our title character has serious cursing skills and uses them on Nick and others. Thus begins an attempt to destroy her and get Mr. Cruise back to his normal self.

The screenplay makes the decision to make Nick a bit of an anti hero. He’s a slight jerk who’s in it for himself for a good portion of the running time. There are shades of Cruise’s character in Edge of Tomorrow, a better film to be sure. It allows this movie star a chance to be funny at times, a little cowardly, and it’s kind of fun to watch Cruise play it.

What the script doesn’t do is provide any development to his archeologist love interest and investigative partner Jennifer (Annabelle Wallis). We’re told the two shacked up a couple of nights before we meet them, but their connection is pretty much non existent. As mentioned, it’s sometimes a hoot to see Nick as a louse. When the screenplay tries to get us to care about his feelings for Jennifer, it falls flat.

For that matter, the lovely Boutella isn’t much of a scary villain. Sidekick Johnson has a few humorous bits, but gets lost in the shuffle mostly. There’s not much time for character development sans Cruise’s take on his part. Russell Crowe is here as Dr. Jekyll so we know he gets to have some duality in his role. His performance is just fine, though one suspects his real opportunities will come later in this universe.

This Mummy works best when it goes campy – something I wouldn’t have guessed. A number of moments going for intentional chuckles work. However, the studio has much to set up and allowing director Alex Kurtzman and his slew of writers go full out camp doesn’t happen. This creates an uncomfortable mix of horror, adventure, and the aforementioned and often successful self parody. Much of The Mummy is filled with action sequences that are indistinguishable from other summer blockbusters (though a zero gravity plane crash is nifty). We don’t really care about what’s happening because Universal seems in a hurry to get to the next monster mash. Yet I’ll be figuratively damned if I didn’t enjoy some of it.

**1/2 (out of four)

RIP Bill Paxton

Sadly, this morning I write a post I didn’t expect to with the news that Bill Paxton has passed away at age 61. For even casual movie fans, Paxton was a very familiar face that starred and co-starred in blockbusters such as Aliens, True Lies, Twister, and Titanic.

Upon hearing the news of his death, I began to realize just how present he’s been in my movie watching existence over the last three decades plus. I first knew of him as Chet, the bullying older brother in Weird Science. If that is a guilty pleasure pic, his performance is one of the best pleasures in it. It’s a terrific comedic performance.

Just one year later, his role in Aliens stuck out in that fantastic sequel with one-liners like “Game Over, Man!” That same year, he starred in Kathryn Bigelow’s vampire cult classic Near Dark.

All told, Mr. Paxton has about a dozen DVDs and Blu-Rays sitting on my shelf. Like I said, he was truly a part of many of our collective filmgoing experiences from the 1980s on. He was alongside Tom Cruise just three years ago in the solid Edge of Tomorrow and was a rival tabloid cameraman to Jake Gyllenhaal in my favorite picture of 2014, Nightcrawler.

His TV credits include headlining HBO’s “Big Love” and just a few weeks ago, his CBS crime drama “Training Day” (based on the 2001 Denzel Washington film) premiered. His final movie will be The Circle with Tom Hanks and Emma Watson. It opens in April.

Other notable onscreen efforts range from Predator 2 to Tombstone to A Simple Plan and U571. Today I wish to highlight a trio of lesser known titles worth seeking out:

Two are from 1992. Trespass finds him and William Sadler as firefighters who find a treasure map that pits them against drug dealers Ice Cube and Ice-T. It’s great gritty fun. One False Move is an intense crime thriller from director Carl Franklin and written by Billy Bob Thornton. Gene Siskel named it as his favorite movie of that year and it is impressive.

Paxton turned to directing himself in 2001 with Frailty, an underrated and effective thriller where the actor plays a religiously fanatical father. I just watched it again recently and it made me wish Paxton had directed more.

What Bill Paxton did leave us with is his own treasure trove of performances to enjoy. He will be missed.

Summer 2015 Movies: The Predicted Century Club

The 2015 Summer Movie Season officially kicks off two weeks from today when Avengers: Age of Ultron blasts into theaters. It will compete for the largest domestic opening of all time (where it needs to beat its predecessor) and is highly likely to be the season’s highest earner. That got me to thinking – while Ultron is poised to gross $500 million or higher, it’s been the $100 million mark that studios still like to brag about. This prompted me to look at the past five summer flick seasons and how many pictures reached that milestone.

In 2010, it was 13 movies that reached the mark: Toy Story 3, Iron Man 2, Twilight Saga: Eclipse, Inception, Despicable Me, Shrek Forever After, The Karate Kid, Grown Ups, The Last Airbender, The Other Guys, Salt, Robin Hood, and The Expendables.

Things improved in 2011 with 18 films reaching the century club: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, The Hangover Part II, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Cars 2, Thor, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Captain America: First Avenger, The Help, Bridesmaids, Kung Fu Panda 2, X-Men: First Class, The Smurfs, Super 8, Horrible Bosses, Green Lantern, Bad Teacher, and Cowboys and Aliens.

The low mark was the following year in 2012 with just 12: The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spider-Man, Brave, Ted, Madagascar 3, Men in Black 3, Ice Age: Continental Drift, Snow White and the Huntsman, Prometheus, Magic Mike, and The Bourne Legacy.

Yet the high mark came the following summer in 2013 with 19: Iron Man 3, Despicable Me 2, Man of Steel, Monsters University, Fast and Furious 6, Star Trek Into Darkness, World War Z, The Heat, We’re the Millers, The Great Gatsby, The Conjuring, Grown Ups 2, The Wolverine, Now You See Me, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, The Hangover Part III, Epic, Pacific Rim, and This is the End.

2014 dipped with 14: Guardians of the Galaxy, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Maleficent, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Godzilla, 22 Jump Street, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Neighbors, Lucy, The Fault in Our Stars, and Edge of Tomorrow. 

That averages out to 15 pictures earning $100M plus per summer over this decade.

So where do I have 2015 matching up? Not breaking records, but in good shape. My predictions for the year’s $100M earners is 16 and they are as follows (in order of release date): Avengers: Age of Ultron, Mad Max: Fury Road, Pitch Perfect 2, Tomorrowland, San Andreas, Spy, Jurassic World, Inside Out, Ted 2, Magic Mike XXL, Terminator: Genisys, Minions, Ant-Man, Trainwreck, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, and Fantastic Four. 

Of course, there’s always sleepers. And there’s others that I could have predicted but think will fall short: the Reese Witherspoon/Sofia Vergara comedy Hot Pursuit, horror remake Poltergeist, the film version of Entourage, the Adam Sandler video game inspired action comedy Pixels, the Vacation reboot, and the NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton are among them.

As predicted, summer 2015 should see its number of century club inductees on the slightly high end without reaching the heights of 2013. And as always, you’ll see box office predictions every Saturday from me on each and every one of ’em!