Oscar Predictions: Raymond & Ray

Ewan McGregor and Ethan Hawke are half brothers who reunite at the funeral of their bad father in Raymond & Ray. The dramedy comes from Rodrigo Garcia, who directed Glenn Close to a Best Actress nod in 2011’s Albert Nobbs. Most recently, he helmed Close and Mila Kunis in the drug abuse drama Four Good Days. His latest premiered at the Toronto Film Festival ahead of its October 21st Apple TV streaming debut. Costars include Maribel Verdu and Sophie Okonedo.

Reviews here are perfectly split down the middle at 50% on Rotten Tomatoes. It came and went at the Canadian fest with little fanfare and scant awards buzz. Expect that to be the case moving forward. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

Oscar Predictions: Master Gardener

Despite penning the screenplays for Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, Paul Schrader somehow never got an Oscar nomination until his script for 2018’s First Reformed. That was the sole nod for that acclaimed effort as Schrader’s direction and Ethan Hawke’s central performance didn’t make the cut. Last year’s follow-up The Card Counter wasn’t an Academy player at all despite some decent critical reaction.

Schrader’s newest crime thriller is The Master Gardener which has premiered at Venice. Joel Edgerton stars as a horticulturist with a dark past. Sigourney Weaver and Quintessa Swindell costar. While there’s plenty of praise for Edgerton, the Rotten Tomatoes meter is at a middling 58%. If Counter (with an 87% RT score) couldn’t make a dent in the awards chatter, Gardener won’t either. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

The Black Phone Review

Joe Hill inherited his father Stephen King’s ability to blend the scary and supernatural with everyday adolescent fears. The Black Phone, based on Hill’s short story, takes place in 1978 when Mr. King was writing his masterpieces. 13-year-old Finney (Mason Thames) and his foul mouthed and tough cookie little sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw) have their Daddy issues. Played by Jeremy Davies, Terrence is a widower who drinks himself to sleep and can turn aggressive on a dime. He seems haunted by his wife’s death. She had dreams that were psychic visions. These abilities are inherited by Gwen and Terrence wants her to avoid mom’s nightmarish end.  Father and daughter have an abusive encounter where McGraw’s utterly convincing terror provides the scariest scene in a film about a child serial killer.

That serial killer is The Grabber (Ethan Hawke), who masquerades as a magician. In the Denver suburb where the action takes place, the villain has snatched five young boys already. Finney becomes the sixth. Captive in a dank basement, a disconnected black phone is mounted on the wall. The Grabber claims it doesn’t work, but it operates as a mouthpiece for past victims. Between the rotary device and Gwen’s insights, Finney hopes to escape with those methods of assistance.

The source material was a brisk 30 pages and The Black Phone does sometime struggle with the considerable expansion. You’re best off not thinking about logic too much. This is a fairly simple concept greatly accentuated by two very effective performances by Thames and McGraw. Hawke, who starred in director Scott Derrickson’s satisfying Sinister, provides some creepy support but it’s the kids who bring the most shine to this dark material. This filmmaker knows how to generate suspense and he gets the combination of paranormal and horrific activities right enough of the time.

*** (out of four)

June 24-26 Box Office Predictions

Blogger’s Update (06/23): On the eve of its premiere, I am revising my Elvis prediction from $42.6M to $35.6M. That still gives it the #1 slot over Top Gun: Maverick… barely.

In what should be an intriguing and potentially unpredictable weekend to close out the June box office, Baz Luhrmann’s musical biopic Elvis and critically lauded horror pic The Black Phone debut. You can peruse my detailed prediction posts on both of them here:

Elvis Box Office Prediction

The Black Phone Box Office Prediction

There’s plenty of possibilities for how the top 5 will look. While there’s no doubt about which quintet will populate the list, the order is up for grabs. I believe Elvis will open closer to the $51 million of Bohemian Rhapsody than the $25 million of Rocketman. That should be enough to earn it the title of Box Office King.

However, if it does premiere in the mid to late 20s range, the chances of a #1 start are considerably lower. We could legitimately see Top Gun: Maverick rise from 3rd to 1st. With a projected dip in the low to mid 20s, it should at least rise to 2nd place. That’s assuming current two-week champ Jurassic World: Dominion loses more than half its audience in its third go-round and Lightyear also sees a sophomore fall of around 55%. I’m assuming both.

And there’s the wild card that is The Black Phone. Horror titles often outdo expectations and with its aforementioned solid reviews, that could apply here. I’m sticking with a debut of just under $20 million and that would likely mean a fifth place reception.

Here’s how I envision perhaps the most fascinating box office weekend so far in the pandemic era looking:

1. Elvis

Predicted Gross: $35.6 million

2. Top Gun: Maverick

Predicted Gross: $34.8 million

3. Jurassic World: Dominion

Predicted Gross: $28.3 million

4. Lightyear

Predicted Gross: $23.2 million

5. The Black Phone

Predicted Gross: $18.6 million

Box Office Results (June 17-19)

In a major upset, Jurassic World: Dominion remained #1 for the second frame with $59.1 million. That’s stronger than my $54.8 million estimate as the threequel is up to $250 million in its first ten days. That’s $15 million under where predecessor was at four summers ago.

Jurassic‘s reign was unexpected because Disney/Pixar’s Toy Story spinoff Lightyear was widely anticipated to rule the charts. Instead it grossed $50.5 million for second place. That’s, ahem, $35 million under my projection of $85.5 million and less than half of what Toy Story 3 and Toy Story 4 made out of the gate. There’s plenty of think pieces out there for why Lightyear was a disappointment. It includes theories about politics, Disney Plus being the same day distributor for recent Pixar material, and the absence of Tim Allen as the voice of the title character. Any way you slice it, it’s a shocker.

Top Gun: Maverick continued its amazing run in third with $44.6 million – dropping a scant 14%. I was lower at $36 million. The biggest hit of the year (and of Tom Cruise’s career by far) is flying at $466 million as its domestic haul will reach $500 million shortly. As mentioned, if Elvis doesn’t reach my projection, it could see a return to the top spot. I wrote more about Maverick‘s unreal performance yesterday on the blog and it’s here:

Top Gun: Maverick – Lightyears Ahead of Expectations

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was fourth with $4.4 million compared to my $3.4 million take. The tally is $405 million.

The Bob’s Burgers Movie rounded out the top five with $1.1 million. I incorrectly had it outside the high five. It’s made $29 million.

I figured The Bad Guys would be fifth, but it was sixth with $1 million (I said $1.5 million)/ The overall take is $94 million.

And that does it for now, folks! Until next time…

Oscar Predictions: The Black Phone

After helming critically appreciated genre titles The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister (as well as the first Doctor Strange), Scott Derrickson is back in the horror lane this weekend with The Black Phone. Based on a short story by Joe Hill, the supernatural tale began garnering solid buzz when it premiered at Fantastic Fest last fall. Ethan Hawke is the most recognizable name in a cast that includes Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Jeremy Davies, and James Ransone.

Scary movies always face an uphill battle for awards attention. Despite its 100% Rotten Tomatoes score, I don’t foresee Phone dialing up a Best Picture nod. On the other hand, particular acclaim has been afforded to its young costars Thames and McGraw. In order for them to grab any buzz in the supporting fields, the film’s box office reception would need to be fantastic. While I’ve got it performing well, I am not envisioning it reaching that kind of level. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

The Black Phone Box Office Prediction

After ringing up lots of positive reception last fall at Fantastic Fest, the supernatural horror pic The Black Phone arrives in theaters June 24th. Based on a short story by Joe Hill (son of Stephen King), Scott Derrickson directs. His biggest blockbuster is 2016’s Doctor Strange, but he’s a veteran of the genre including helming The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister. His lead from the latter – Ethan Hawke – stars as a serial killer. Costars include Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Jeremy Davies, and James Ransone.

In September 2021, Phone garnered serious buzz at the Austin fest. While some reviewers nitpicked pacing issues, the Rotten Tomatoes score is 100% with particular praise for its young performers Thames and McGraw. With a reported budget of under $20 million, this should be another profitable venture for Blumhouse. That production company is used to turning a tidy profit for many of their titles.

During the COVID era, frightening tales were generally immune from negative box office effects. I would look for Phone to earn its price tag back during the first weekend.

The Black Phone opening weekend prediction: $18.6 million

For my Elvis prediction, click here:

Elvis Box Office Prediction

The Northman Box Office Prediction

Robert Eggers is an acclaimed director with two critical darlings (The Witch, The Lighthouse) to his credit. His third project is considerably bigger in scale with The Northman, out April 22nd. Budgeted at a rather shocking $90 million, the  Viking epic stars Alexander Skarsgard with a supporting cast including Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Bjork, and Willem Dafoe.

Just like with his first two efforts, reviews are on the side of Eggers with a current 88% Rotten Tomatoes score. Yet I’m not seeing a marketing effort from Focus Features that inspires confidence (especially considering that price tag). The Witch is the director’s largest earner with $25 million. The Lighthouse took in $10 million. This should top both of them domestically, but certainly not by as much as its studio is hoping for.

If something like Ambulance couldn’t manage a gross north of $10 million, I’m skeptical that The Northman will. I realize it’s not an apples to apples comparison, but they’re both action oriented pictures with no nexus to known IP.

Perhaps I’m feeling generous in that I’ll say The Northman manages to barely squeak into double digits (with low confidence).

The Northman opening weekend prediction: $10.3 million

For my The Bad Guys prediction, click here:

The Bad Guys Box Office Prediction

For my The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent prediction, click here:

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent Box Office Prediction

Oscar Predictions: The Northman

To call The Northman a box office gamble is an understatement. This is a fantasy bloodbath about Vikings (budgeted at a reported $90 million) from a filmmaker known for low-budget (though beautifully shot) horror tales. Robert Eggers directs with a cast led by Alexander Skarsgard and supporting players consisting of Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Bjork, and Willem Dafoe. Its Oscar prospects are iffy as well.

Ahead of its April 22nd stateside bow, the review embargo is lifted. Like 2016’s The Witch and 2019’s The Lighthouse (the director’s previous movies), this is garnering solid reviews at 88% currently on Rotten Tomatoes. Whether audiences take to it is yet to be determined.

Critics are particularly praising some of the tech aspects. Costume Design, Production Design, Sound, Visual Effects, and Cinematography could all be in play come awards time. Three years ago, The Lighthouse received a Cinematography nod for Jarin Blaschke and he returns behind the camera. For The Lighthouse, Willem Dafoe likely came close to a Supporting Actor nod. I don’t envision any of the cast vying for acting prizes in the third Eggers effort.

Bottom line: don’t expect The Northman to be up for Best Picture or in other major categories. Down the line races could be another story… or it could just as easily end up like 2021’s The Green Knight and come up empty-handed. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

The Card Counter Review

For a filmmaker who always focuses on loners, it stands to reason that Paul Schrader’s newest picture is about playing cards. That’s not really what The Card Counter is ultimately about as the emotional damage inflicted upon the man at the poker and blackjack table is the real story.

William Tell (Oscar Isaac) follows the archetype of many a Schrader creation. Emotionally distant and more comfortable on his own, he spends considerable time in casinos across the nation. Tell, as the title suggests, knows how to count them. He also knows when to fold them. Tell could cash in big, but prefers modest winnings and even more modest motels (where he covers all the room’s decor in plain white sheets that he provides). His existence seems to suggest not wanting to be noticed at all.

William’s orbit expands when he happens on a global security convention during a gambling spree and meets Cirk (Tye Sheridan). They share a connection. Cirk’s father is deceased ex-military who was present at Abu Ghraib. So was Tell. The speaker at the conference is Major John Gordo (Willem Dafoe), who’s now a private contractor. He escaped any blame for the horrific actions overseas. Tell did not and flashbacks show us the subhuman conditions he witnessed, participated in, and was incarcerated for. In Cirk, our card counter attempts to help a troubled soul by winning him some some cash and paying off debts. Tell enlists La Linda (Tiffany Haddish, going for no laughs), a players manager on the mission.

From Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver to Ethan Hawke’s pastor in First Reformed, Isaac’s Tell fits the mold of the auteur’s central figures. These are damaged figures tired of what the world have to offer while making last ditch attempts to help another troubled soul. The problem with The Card Counter is that there’s not much in this example that we haven’t witnessed before from the same author. Most distressing is that the players around Tell simply aren’t compelling. In Schrader’s Light Sleeper (see that one), Susan Sarandon provided a captivating counterpart to Willem Dafoe’s lonesome drug dealer. Haddish’s character is barely written and her late inclusion as a love interest seems forced. So too is the case with Sheridan’s mopey apprentice. Dafoe’s character here hints at a fascinating backstory that’s unexplored.

Isaac’s performance, as we’ve come to anticipate, is quite good. Yet his tale isn’t nearly as gripping as others in the director’s previous works. We catch a glimpse of Tell’s training as a torturer and it is riveting and brief. With First Reformed, Schrader is righteously angry at political events. In that predecessor, it involved the Earth’s destruction via environmental means. In The Card Counter, it’s the hell on Earth that Tell witnessed in an Iraqi prison.

The screenplay offers not enough exploration of its universe. Had Schrader delved into the redundant and seedy world of casino dwellers more deeply, perhaps it could have paid off. After all, few writers have succeeded better in their other scripts penning depraved figures. The plot just never seems to properly call its ideas to fruition and the result feels unfinished. That’s rare when Schrader is at the table and it makes The Card Counter all the more disappointing.

** (out of four)

Oscar Predictions: The Guilty

Despite numerous critically acclaimed performances, Jake Gyllenhaal has but one Oscar nomination to his credit in Supporting Actor for 2005’s Brokeback Mountain. On October 1, his crime thriller The Guilty streams on Netflix. Based on a heralded 2018 Danish pic, it has premiered at the Toronto Film Festival over the weekend.

Early reviews are decent at 73% on Rotten Tomatoes. Interestingly enough, some claim viewers may like it more if they haven’t seen the superior original. The Guilty is helmed by Antoine Fuqua, who directed Denzel Washington to a Best Actor win and Ethan Hawke to a Supporting Actor nod in 2001’s Training Day. Hawke costars here along with Riley Keough, Christina Vidal, Eli Goree, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Paul Dano, and Peter Sarsgaard.

In 2014, Gyllenhaal was snubbed (in the opinion of many, including this blogger) for Nightcrawler. More recently, the Academy bypassed his leading roles in Nocturnal Animals and Stronger. The Toronto verdict indicates that nomination #2 probably isn’t coming with The Guilty. My Oscar Predictions posts for the films of 2021 will continue…