Daily Streaming Guide: March 18th Edition

Continuing on with my Daily Streaming Guide for worthy titles available on various services – let’s call today the Alex Garland Edition. He’s the director behind both science fiction titles that are highly worthy of a look:

Netflix

We begin with his intelligent 2015 effort about artificial intelligence – Ex Machina starring Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, and Alicia Vikander. Made for a reported lowly $15 million, this is the type of sci-fi that Stanley Kubrick probably would have been proud of. Machina even won the Oscar for Visual Effects over high-profile features like Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It also features one of the greatest out of nowhere dance sequences in cinematic history in my view.

Hulu

Garland’s excursion into high minded sci-fi continued with Annihilation, his 2018 follow-up. The visually stunning experience featuring Natalie Portman and Isaac (again) has themes that will stick with you post credits. And just like Ex Machina features a scene that floored me, so does this. The former involved dancing. The latter involves a human and a bear sharing the same voice. You’ll see what I mean. It’s terrifying and thrilling simultaneously.

I’ll be back at it soon, folks! Until then…

Annihilation Movie Review

In 2015, screenwriter and author Alex Garland announced himself as quite a special director with Ex Machina. With a visual style that drew fair comparison to Stanley Kubrick and a compelling story to go with it, that picture was one of the year’s highlights. There is no sophomore slump to be had with Annihilation, a challenging and eye-popping sci-fi experience that sticks with you after the credits roll (as did his first picture).

Lena (Natalie Portman) is a biology professor and Army vet whose husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) has been missing for a year after taking on a mysterious mission. He turns up one day after that disappearance, but doesn’t seem himself. A health scare causes him to be quarantined and causes Lena to search for answers. She finds some of them from psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh). It turns out Kane was part of a secret expedition to The Shimmer, a stretch of land that’s been evacuated and is undergoing government testing for bizarre activity within its perimeters. Many military personnel have entered it. Kane is the first to return.

Dr. Ventress and Lena figure out that some scientific experience may be better served to investigate The Shimmer, as opposed to military might. They assemble an all female squad that includes a physicist (Tessa Thompson), a paramedic (Gina Rodriguez), and a geologist (Tuva Novotny) to join them. Other than the doctor, the rest of the team is unaware of Lena’s familial connection to The Shimmer.

The world that these five women enter is a beautiful, eerie, and dangerous one. There are surprises to be found in The Shimmer – so much so that saying too much would enter spoiler territory. All of the characters that enter it have backstories that cause them to take on such a risky mission. Lena’s is an obvious one – to find out what happened to her husband. Some of the others are a bit more subtle.

Annihilation, like Ex Machina, has certain sequences that are stunning. There’s a scene involving a highly abnormal creature (you’ll know when you see it) that is truly tension filled and weirdly wonderful. The production design and look of The Shimmer is a triumph. Portman’s central character is a complicated one. She’s not just the concerned wife looking for answers. Lena has her own demons and they tie directly into her mission. That holds true for all of the women. Leigh and Rodriguez are particular standouts in their supporting work.

After Ex Machina, I certainly anticipated Annihilation to be a visually glorious experience and it is. Yet we’ve also seen Garland’s abilities to tell a tale packed with food for thought afterwards. Annihilation has something to say about rebirth, marriage, disease, depression, and more. You may not even realize it all until later. In the meantime, I remained transfixed on the unique world it created to explore those issues.

***1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Annihilation

Alex Garland’s Annihilation hits theaters tomorrow and the science fiction thriller has been subject to some glowing reviews. It stands at 88% currently on Rotten Tomatoes. The film is the follow-up to director Garland’s 2015 debut Ex Machina, which nabbed two Oscar nominations. Machina won for Visual Effects (which was a bit of a surprise) and got a nod for Original Screenplay.

Annihilation is based on a novel and would compete in Adapted Screenplay. It’s unlikely this would compete for the big prizes like Picture, Director, or any of the acting races. Visual Effects could be a different story as critics have taken notice of that aspect of its production. Like Machina, it could find itself a contender in that category.

That said, distributor Paramount doesn’t seem very confident with Annihilation. That’s despite the positive critical reaction. The picture appears unlikely to make much noise at the box office and one wonders if the studio will push it for awards consideration at all. With the February release date, it’s possible Oscar voters will have simply forgotten Garland’s sophomore effort come voting time. Time will tell.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

 

Annihilation Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note part 2 (02/20): I am once again revising my estimate. Now to $10.4 million

Blogger’s Note (02/15): I’m losing faith a bit for Annihilation debut. Revising down from $14.4 million to $12.4 million

Three years ago, screenwriter Alex Garland made his directorial debut with the acclaimed sci-fi pic Ex Machina, which garnered an Original Screenplay Oscar nomination and won for Visual Effects. Next Friday, his sophomore effort Annihilation debuts. Based on the novel from James VanderMeer, Natalie Portman stars in the $55 million production combining sci-fi, horror, and action elements. Costars include Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, and Machina lead Oscar Isaac.

While Annihilation is hitting theaters in the U.S., Canada, and China, it’s slated to roll out on Netflix in other international markets. Early critical buzz is pretty solid so far, but it could struggle to break out stateside. Audiences are likely to still be flocking to Black Panther, which will be in its second weekend of release (and doing its own annihilation of competitors).

Fans of Machina, the genre, and Portman may be enough to get this between $10 million on the low end and $15 million on the high end. I’ll project roughly in the lower end of that range.

Annihilation opening weekend prediction: $10.4 million

For my Game Night prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/02/14/game-night-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: The Florida Project

The first trailer was released today for The Florida Project, a coming of age drama that debuted at Cannes earlier this summer. It is director Sean Baker’s follow-up to his critically acclaimed 2015 feature Tangerine and early word for this Project is quite glowing as well. The pic was snatched up by A24 for distribution rights and it opens in limited release on October 6th.

Rotten Tomatoes currently has Florida at 100% and it stands a good chance at some 2017 Oscar recognition. A24 has proven itself to be a player over the last couple of cycles in the awards derby by distributing such titles as Ex Machina, Room, The Lobster, 20th Century Women, and most notably – last year’s Best Picture winner Moonlight. 

Early buzz here suggests a nomination may well be in store for Willem Dafoe. If so, it would mark his third nomination after 1986’s Platoon and 2000’s Shadow of the Vampire. Reviews suggest this is one of his finest performances. It’s not totally clear if he’ll be campaigned for in Lead Actor or Supporting, but the smart money is on the latter. I would also say it’s worth keeping an eye on the Original Screenplay category where Baker and co-writer Chris Bergoch could find themselves in the mix.

As for Best Picture, A24 would need one heck of a push to make that happen, but they’ve proven themselves before. For that reason, this Project is one to keep an eye on when it comes to nominations.

Oscars 2015 Reaction

Well – after months of prognosticating the nominees and the winners of the 2015 Oscars, the season officially came to a close last night. This was a truly unpredictable year at the Academy Awards and it bore out with my so-so performance at just 13/21 on predictions. There were some REAL surprises last night and plenty of races that went according to plan. Let’s break it down with my various takes on the telecast and the winners:

  • The three picture race for the top category was just that with Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight winning over presumed front runner The Revenant (which was my prediction). The journalistic expose won only one other category (Original Screenplay, which I correctly predicted) and it’s the first Best Picture winner to be victorious in only two categories since 1952’s The Greatest Show on Earth.
  • Speaking of history, expected recipient Alejandro G. Inarritu is the first Director to win (for The Revenant) twice in a row (2014’s Birdman) in 65 years.
  • The sixth time was finally the charm for Leonardo DiCaprio as he picked up a golden statue for The Revenant, as he was widely expected to.
  • The female acting competitions went according to plan: Brie Larson in Actress for Room and Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl in Supporting. Same goes for Foreign Language Film (Son of Saul), Animated Feature (Inside Out), Adapted Screenplay (The Big Short), and Documentary (Amy), even though I went with the upset pick of Cartel Land.
  • Sylvester Stallone was the heavy favorite in Supporting Actor for Creed, but the Academy instead went with Mark Rylance’s work in Bridge of Spies. This category has had a history of upsets (Alan Arkin in Little Miss Sunshine over Eddie Murphy in Dreamgirls circa 2006) and this is indeed another one.
  • It was a good night in the technical categories for George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road as it picked up six awards: Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Production Design, Costume Design, Editing, and Makeup and Hairstyling. It was nominated in Cinematography, but that went as anticipated to The Revenant. The big shocker in the tech categories was Ex Machina‘s out of nowhere win for Visual Effects. This truly was a massive upset as I would have picked it fifth to win over competitors Mad Max, The Revenant, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and The Martian.
  •  While Best Score went as planned to legendary Ennio Morricone for The Hateful Eight (for which he learned a long and deserved standing O), the Song category honored Sam Smith’s Spectre theme “Writing’s on the Wall” over expected winner “Til It Happens to You” by Lady Gaga from The Hunting Ground, just moments after her peformance was introduced by Vice President Joe Biden.
  • As for the show itself, Chris Rock’s handling of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy was handled with the edgy humor you’d expect from one of the greatest stand up comedians of all time. The telecast, per usual, was way longer than it should have been. The idea, however well intended, to allow winners to thank various people via a scroll at the bottom of the screen didn’t serve its intended purpose. Look for it to be gone next year. As solid as Rock was in his hosting duties, I couldn’t help but watch Louis C.K.’s brilliant introduction of the Best Documentary Short Subject race and hope that the Academy tabs him to host like… next year.

And there you have it! Another Oscar season that’s come and gone. Before we know it, I’ll be predicting the 2016 films and performers that could be recognized a year from now…

Todd’s 2015 Oscar Winner Predictions: Round 1

It’s been two days since the Oscar nominations came out, allowing some time to pass to digest what and who is being recognized. After numerous posts prognosticating the nominations, we now arrive at this question: What Will Win??

Today brings my initial round of guesses on the movies and performers that I believe will get their gold statues. I will definitely have a second and final round posted probably two to three days before the February ceremony.

Let’s get to it:

BEST PICTURE

First off, there are four selections that basically should be happy with the nomination: Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, The Martian, and Room. Mad Max: Fury Road is a major long shot. That leaves a three picture race and indeed it is. Between The Big Short, The Revenant, and Spotlight – this is truly a competitive category this time around. I’m currently giving the ever so slight edge to Spotlight, which has been considered the soft front runner for a while now. Be warned though: the other two are hot on its heels.

PREDICTED WINNER: Spotlight

BEST DIRECTOR

Tom McCarthy’s work in Spotlight could be honored with outside chances for Adam McKay (The Big Short) or George Miller (Mad Max). Lenny Abrahamson’s surprise nomination for Room succeeded in screwing up people’s predictions. He has no chance to win. Yet I’ll go with the Academy honoring Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s direction in The Revenant, just one year after he received the prize for Birdman.

PREDICTED WINNER: Inarritu

BEST ACTOR

We will make this simple: it appears that Leonardo DiCaprio is finally going to win a statue for The Revenant. He is the very heavy favorite and if he doesn’t emerge victorious, it would probably constitute the largest upset of the evening.

PREDICTED WINNER: DiCaprio

BEST ACTRESS

Like lead Actor, there is a front runner here with Brie Larson in Room. Unlike Actor, the possibility for an upset is real with both Charlotte Rampling (45 Years) and Saoirse Ronan. I’ll stick with Larson though. Cate Blanchett (Carol) and Jennifer Lawrence (Joy) seem like non factors.

PREDICTED WINNER: Larson

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

This was an incredibly difficult category to predict with about 12 performances in the running. Now that we know the nominees, this is a race ripe for an upset. Any of the five – Christian Bale (The Big Short), Tom Hardy (The Revenant), Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight), Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies), Sylvester Stallone (Creed) – are feasible recipients. Rylance has won some precursors, but like the Golden Globes, I’ll project that sentimentality wins out with Stallone standing center stage.

PREDICTED WINNER: Stallone

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

No major front runner here but Alicia Vikander had a great year with another heralded role in Ex Machina. I’ll predict her work in The Danish Girl eeks out a win over Rooney Mara (Carol), Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight), Globes winner Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs), and Rachel McAdams (Spotlight).

PREDICTED WINNER: Vikander

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Short and sweet here – Spotlight is the heavy front runner here and I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t win here. I’m much more confident in predicting a victory for it here than in Picture.

PREDICTED WINNER: Spotlight

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

The Martian or Room have outside shots, but this looks like a win for The Big Short.

PREDICTED WINNER: The Big Short

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Anomalisa has its hardcore fans, but Pixar’s Inside Out is the big favorite.

PREDICTED WINNER: Inside Out

BEST FOREIGN FILM

Easy pick. Son of Saul is a huge front runner. Mustang is the only completion.

PREDICTED WINNER: Son of Saul

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Amy, chronicling the career of the late singer Amy Winehouse, is the favorite. For now, however, I’m going with an upset pick in the form of Cartel Land.

PREDICTED WINNER: Cartel Land

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

The legendary John Williams could be in the running for his latest Star Wars score, but I’ll predict the Academy honors another legend: Ennio Morricone for The Hateful Eight.

PREDICTED WINNER: The Hateful Eight

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

Was very surprised to see “See You Again” from Furious 7 snubbed. To me, that would have been the main competition for “Til It Happens To You” from The Hunting Ground, performed by Lady Gaga.

PREDICTED WINNER: “Til It Happens To You” from The Hunting Ground

BEST SOUND EDITING

I believe these sound categories will come down to a battle between Mad Max and Star Wars, with The Revenant as a spoiler. For now, I’m splitting the difference.

PREDICTED WINNER: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

BEST SOUND MIXING

See above.

PREDICTED WINNER: Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Once again, I see this as a contest between Chewbacca and Max. I’ll give Max the slight edge.

PREDICTED WINNER: Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

This is another tough one with Mad Max maintaining a small edge over The Revenant and The Martian.

PREDICTED WINNER: Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

The Hateful Eight stands a chance here, as does Mad Max. However, I believe Emmanuel Lubezki will take home his third Oscar in a row for The Revenant.

PREDICTED WINNER: The Revenant

BEST EDITING

This race often matches Picture and could here with Spotlight. The Big Short, Mad Max, and The Revenant are in the mix. This is practically a coin flip for me right now so don’t be shocked if this changes.

PREDICTED WINNER: The Big Short

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

Only three nominees here and Mad Max and The Revenant are likely the only two winner possibilities.

PREDICTED WINNER: Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Sandy Powell could split her own vote between Carol and Cinderella. Mad Max and The Danish Girl are in the running, but I’ll go with Powell and her work in Carol.

PREDICTED WINNER: Carol

And there you have it! My first Oscar winner predictions.