Oscar Predictions – Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie

I am in the process of finalizing my Oscar Predictions for the 95th Academy Awards which will be revealed Tuesday (my forecast is arriving on the blog either tomorrow or Sunday). Yet it’s already time to pontificate about the 96th since the Sundance Film Festival is underway in Park City, Utah.

Sundance is a known launching pad for documentaries that eventually contend for Academy glory. For the Doc competition in 2021, 3 of the 5 nominees were unveiled at the fest: winner Summer of Soul, Flee, and Writing with Fire.

One of the higher profile debuts is Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie, which recounts the actor’s skyrocketing career in the 80s and his Parkinson’s diagnosis. It comes from David Guggenheim. An Inconvenient Truth, his 2006 collaboration with Al Gore, was a Doc Feature recipient. 2010’s Waiting for “Superman” was a buzzy hit and 2015’s He Named Me Malala was shortlisted for Oscar but didn’t make the final quintet. Fun fact: the filmmaker is married to Elisabeth Shue, who costarred with his subject in the Back to the Future sequels. Fox, it should be noted, is scheduled to receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at this year’s ceremony.

Apple TV has distribution rights to Still. Early reviews are quite positive and it’s likely the streamer will mount a campaign. That said, a lot of docs focused on celebs garner plenty of ink and don’t end up becoming major players on the awards circuit. It’s too early to predict the future with this one. Time will tell if it’s still viable months down the road. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Greyhound

Tom Hanks is certainly no stranger to Oscar glory with back to back lead actor victories in the mid 90s for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump. He has a lengthy track record on the big and small screen with World War II stories including Saving Private Ryan (for which he received another nomination) and behind the scenes work with HBO’s acclaimed miniseries Band of Brothers.

His latest WWII saga is Greyhound, based on a novel by C.S. Forester and with a screenplay penned by Hanks himself. He stars alongside Stephen Graham and Elisabeth Shue in this recounting of the Battle of the Atlantic. The pic was scheduled to hit theaters in June, but its release was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Directed by Aaron Schneider in his first effort since 2009’s critically appreciated Get Low with Robert Duvall and Bill Murray, the reported $50 million production will instead be available on Apple TV beginning Friday.

The review embargo lapsed today and most write-ups are decent. Greyhound holds a 77% Rotten Tomatoes score. That certainly leaves it out of Private Ryan territory and likely leaves it out of contention for Oscar consideration (save for maybe a tech slot or two). So while, on paper, this seems like the type of picture Oscar would go for – its strange journey to the new streaming service probably won’t be an Academy favorite. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Death Wish Box Office Prediction

Bruce Willis is back on the big screen next weekend with Death Wish, a remake of the 1974 action pic that starred Charles Bronson. Coming from director Eli Roth, the pic costars Elisabeth Shue, Vincent D’Onofrio, Dean Norris, Kimberly Elise, and Mike Epps.

Willis will be in full vigilante mode and those familiar with Death Wish know it spawned numerous sequels of highly questionable quality. The star of the proceedings has been a bit of a stranger to multiplexes in recent years as many of his films have gone the direct to VOD route.

Competition is certainly there with Jennifer Lawrence’s Red Sparrow debuting against it and also making a play for R rated genre fans. That said, if Den of Thieves could pull in $15.2 million in January, I believe this could put up fairly similar numbers and perhaps a bit higher.

Death Wish opening weekend prediction: $16.6 million

For my Red Sparrow prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/02/21/red-sparrow-box-office-prediction/

Battle of the Sexes Movie Review

A glossy and often relevant retelling of one of the most famous matches ever, Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton’s Battle of the Sexes is centered on both the tennis court and the court of public opinion. Both matters are firmly on the focused mind of Billie Jean King (Emma Stone), the famed pro who was demanding equal pay for women in 1973 when the picture is set.

King and her fellow female players aren’t getting near that, so they start a league of their own, under the sponsorship of Virginia Slim cigarettes (it was a different time). Another player sees an opportunity to cash in on the publicity and that’s Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), a former champion now in his mid 50s who spends most of his time as a compulsive gambler (though he doesn’t see it that way). His challenge to King to meet on the court generated a divide among the sexes and many eyeballs on the eventual event – apparently about 90 million.

The court of public opinion doesn’t extend to gender issues. King is married to Larry (Austin Stowell) who helps run her fledgling empire. Yet when she meets free spirit hairdresser Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough), a romance quickly develops. King is smitten, but she knows it must stay in the closet to protect her career.

Battle of the Sexes tells this tale entertainingly and somewhat superficially. The themes of gender equality are ones that render four decades later. Stone has the most material to work with in her nuanced and strong portrayal of King. There’s not much nuance to Carell’s Riggs, though he’s certainly fun to watch.

The screenplay doesn’t delve too deep into his story, but Carell plays it well enough to avoid him becoming a total caricature. King seems to know Bobby isn’t quite the chauvinist louse he purports to be. The same cannot be said for Bill Pullman’s Jack Kramer, a prominent former pro turned announcer who doesn’t understand anything about women’s liberation. The pic is peppered with familiar faces in smaller parts, including Elisabeth Shue as Bobby’s wealthy and frustrated wife and Alan Cumming as the team’s outfit designer who quickly figures out Billie’s affair.

King would eventually earn the Presidential Medal of Freedom due to her advocacy for gay rights and equal pay. Sexes sees her at the advent of that life’s work. We see her drive as she tirelessly practices to beat a man at his game when so few think it’s possible. In fact, hearing Howard Cosell’s actual play-by-play during the game is both a treat and a stark reminder that it was a different era. We know eventually that King’s relentless work ethic will be applied elsewhere and for an even greater cause. Battle doesn’t delve overly deep into how she got there, but it serves up its replay of history admirably enough.

*** (out of four)