Oscar Watch: Lucy in the Sky

Natalie Portman is an astronaut who seems to lose touch with reality when she becomes Earthbound again in Lucy in the Sky, which has screened at the Toronto Film Festival. And while many critics are praising her performance, their reception to the picture itself is having a problem.

Noah Hawley, who created the acclaimed TV adaptation of Fargo, makes his directorial debut with a supporting cast including Jon Hamm, Zazie Beetz, Dan Stevens, and Ellen Burstyn (who reportedly gets to spout some salty dialogue). As mentioned, Lucy did not fly in its rollout and it sits at just 31% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Portman is an Oscar winner from 2010’s Black Swan in addition to two other nods for Closer and Jackie. With tepid reaction to her latest, expect her nominations number to stay put at three. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Best Actress: A Look Back

Back at it again with my look back at major Oscar races from 1990 to the present! We’ve arrived at Best Actress. If you missed my previous posts covering the Supporting performers, you can find them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/25/best-supporting-actor-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/20/best-supporting-actress-a-look-back/

As I did with those posts, I’m selecting my top 3 least surprising winners and top 3 upsets. I’m also giving you my personal pick for strongest and weakest fields from the past 28 years.

For starters, here’s the list of winners from 1990 to now:

1990 – Kathy Bates, Misery

1991 – Jodie Foster, The Silence of the Lambs

1992 – Emma Thompson, Howards End

1993 – Holly Hunter, The Piano

1994 – Jessica Lange, Blue Sky

1995 – Susan Sarandon, Dead Man Walking

1996 – Frances McDormand, Fargo

1997 – Helen Hunt, As Good As It Gets

1998 – Gwyneth Paltrow, Shakespeare in Love

1999 – Hilary Swank, Boys Don’t Cry

2000 – Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich

2001 – Halle Berry, Monster’s Ball

2002 – Nicole Kidman, The Hours

2003 – Charlize Theron, Monster

2004 – Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby

2005 – Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line

2006 – Helen Mirren, The Queen

2007 – Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose

2008 – Kate Winslet, The Reader

2009 – Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side

2010 – Natalie Portman, Black Swan

2011 – Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady

2012 – Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

2013 – Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

2014 – Julianne Moore, Still Alice

2015 – Brie Larson, Room

2016 – Emma Stone, La La Land

2017 – Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

When it comes to Best Actress, I must say it’s probably the race with the least amount of genuine upsets. Nearly every year, there’s a pretty strong front-runner and they win – even more so than in Actor and the Supporting players. Of many non-surprises, here’s my top ones:

3. Holly Hunter, The Piano

Hunter’s work as a mute piano player in Jane Campion’s period piece was the clear favorite over significant competition that included Angela Bassett in What’s Love Got to Do With It? and the previous year’s winner Emma Thompson in The Remains of the Day. 

2. Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich

One of Hollywood’s biggest stars had already received nods for Steel Magnolias and Pretty Woman and there was little question that Brockovich would earn Roberts her first and only (so far) trip to the Oscar stage.

1. Charlize Theron, Monster

Theron’s metamorphosis into serial killer Aileen Wuornos swept all precursors. The rest of the field was also fairly weak that year, making her the obvious victor.

And now the “upsets”…

3. Kate Winslet, The Reader

While not a surprise when she won Oscar night, the multi-nominated Winslet was expected for much of the year to get a nod for Revolutionary Road instead. Yet it was this Stephen Daldry drama that was selected instead.

2. Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose

This was a two-way contest between Cotillard and veteran Julie Christie for Away from Her, with many believing the latter had the edge. It didn’t turn out that way.

1. Hilary Swank, Boys Don’t Cry and Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby

This #1 comes with a caveat. It wasn’t much of an upset by the time Swank won her double Oscars. What’s interesting here is that she single-handedly denied two prime opportunities for the winless Annette Bening to get a statue for American Beauty and Being Julia. 

We move to the fields. For weakest field, I’m selecting 1994 when Jessica Lange won for the little-seen Blue Sky. Other nominees were Jodie Foster in Nell, Miranda Richardson in Tom&Viv, Winona Ryder for Little Women, and Susan Sarandon in The Client. 

Strongest group in my opinion goes to 2010 with Natalie Portman’s victorious role in Black Swan. The rest of that impressive field is Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right), Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole), Jennifer Lawrence’s first nomination in Winter’s Bone, and Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine).

Best Actor is next, folks! Stay tuned…

The Best Picture Coulda Been Contenders: 1990-2008

In 2009, the Academy underwent a change in the number of Best Picture nominees honored each year. The rule change allowed a fluctuation of five to ten nominees per year, as opposed to a finite five (all other categories stayed at that number).

As has been discussed on this blog, many felt the change was triggered by 2008’s The Dark Knight, the critically acclaimed comic book pic that was also highest earner of the year. It failed to a garner a Best Picture nod and the thinking was that it was time for more popular options to make it into the mix.

Since the change, the magic number has been nine nominated pictures in most years. This got me thinking: what if that rule had been in effect during prior years? What movies that failed to get a nomination would have certainly made it?

That brings us here. I have gone back to 1990 through 2008 and I’m listing two films from each year that I am confident would have made the shortlist. In selecting each title, here were some of the key indicators. If a Director was nominated for his work and the film failed to get nominated, that probably means it would have been included. Additionally, the screenplay races are a decent predictor of some titles that might have made the magic nine (or eight or ten). For reference sake, I am including the five movies that did get nominated.

So here goes! Two features from 1990-2008 that coulda and likely woulda been contenders…

1990

The Actual Nominees: Dances with Wolves (Winner), Awakenings, Ghost, The Godfather Part III, GoodFellas

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: The Grifters, Reversal of Fortune

1991

The Actual Nominees: The Silence of the Lambs (W), Beauty and the Beast, Bugsy, JFK, The Prince of Tides

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Boyz N The Hood, Thelma & Louise

1992

The Actual Nominees: Unforgiven (W), The Crying Game, A Few Good Men, Howards End, Scent of a Woman

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Malcolm X, The Player

1993

The Actual Nominees: Schindler’s List (W), The Fugitive, In the Name of the Father, The Piano, The Remains of the Day

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Philadelphia, Short Cuts

1994

The Actual Nominees: Forrest Gump (W), Four Weddings and a Funeral, Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show, The Shawshank Redemption

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Bullets Over Broadway, Three Colors: Red

1995

The Actual Nominees: Braveheart (W), Apollo 13, Babe, Il Postino, Sense and Sensibility

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Dead Man Walking, Leaving Las Vegas

1996

The Actual Nominees: The English Patient (W), Fargo, Jerry Maguire, Secrets & Lies, Shine

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: The People Vs. Larry Flynt, Sling Blade

1997

The Actual Nominees: Titanic (W), As Good as It Gets, The Full Monty, Good Will Huinting, L.A. Confidential

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Boogie Nights, The Sweet Hereafter

1998

The Actual Nominees: Shakespeare in Love (W), Elizabeth, Life is Beautiful, Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Gods and Monsters, The Truman Show

1999

The Actual Nominees: American Beauty (W), The Cider House Rules, The Green Mile, The Insider, The Sixth Sense

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Being John Malkovich, Topsy-Turvy

2000

The Actual Nominees: Gladiator (W), Chocolat, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Erin Brockovich, Traffic

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Almost Famous, Billy Elliot

2001

The Actual Nominees: A Beautiful Mind (W), Gosford Park, In the Bedroom, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Moulin Rouge!

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Black Hawk Down, Mulholland Drive

2002

The Actual Nominees: Chicago (W), Gangs of New York, The Hours, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Pianist

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Far from Heaven, Talk to Her

2003

The Actual Nominees: Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (W), Lost in Translation, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Mystic River, Seabiscuit 

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: City of God, In America

2004

The Actual Nominees: Million Dollar Baby (W), The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Ray, Sideways

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Hotel Rwanda, Vera Drake

2005

The Actual Nominees: Crash (W), Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Good Night and Good Luck, Munich

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Syriana, Walk the Line

2006

The Actual Nominees: The Departed (W), Babel, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, The Queen

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Pan’s Labyrinth, United 93

2007

The Actual Nominees: No Country for Old Men (W), Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, There Will Be Blood

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Away from Her, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

2008

The Actual Nominees: Slumdog Millionaire (W), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: The Dark Knight, Doubt

And there you have it! There will be a part II to this post. What if the rule change had never occurred? From 2009 until the present, what would have been the five nominated Pictures if only that number was allowed. Stay tuned…

 

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Movie Review

In 1996, Frances McDormand brilliantly crafted her signature role with Fargo and earned a well deserved Oscar for it. Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri gives the actress another part that’s right up there in terms of one she’ll be remembered for. Like Fargo, it’s a picture involving grisly crimes with a comedic sensibility set to charcoal. Unlike her Marge Gunderson from 21 years past, Mildred Hayes displays the opposite of the former’s sunny disposition in the midst of tragedy.

There’s good reason for it. Her daughter was brutally raped and murdered seven months ago. Frustrated with the lack of progress in the case and the small town police force investigating it, she plunks down some cash for a trio of billboards on the remote road leading to her home. These signs clearly express her displeasure, particularly with Sheriff Willoughby (Woody Harrelson). The local news media takes notice, as do Ebbing’s residents. The majority of them view it as an unnecessary stunt.

Mildred is a woman on a mission to get answers and her narrow focus puts her at odds with the Sheriff. A lesser screenplay may have made Willoughby a local yokel. Yet he’s written as a multi-layered man with Harrelson expertly portraying him. If there’s a law enforcement figure to root against, it’s Sam Rockwell’s Dixon. He’s known for racist tendencies and a general lack of skill in his job. And even McDonagh’s script takes him in unexpected directions that make him far from a caricature.

The promise that celebrated Irish playwright McDonagh showed with his debut In Bruges ebbed a bit with his follow-up Seven Psychopaths. The third time is easily the darkly charming triumph of his cinematic career. Billboards takes you in unforeseen directions not unlike what Fargo accomplished.

Much credit is due to the casting. McDormand, Harrelson, and Rockwell all give nomination worthy performances. The superb acting filters to the supporting players – from Mildred’s temperamental ex-husband (John Hawkes) and his dingbat 19 year-old girlfriend (Samara Weaving). Lucas Hedges is their exasperated son, left mourning his sister and seeing the constant reminders of her death to and from home. Caleb Landry Jones is memorable as the poor guy who must approve Mildred’s messages. He’s been a standout twice before this year with Get Out and American Made. Peter Dinklage turns up as a used car salesman with an eye for our heroine. Sandy Martin’s makes the most of her limited screentime as Dixon’s mama. We certainly see where he gets his lesser traits from.

Three Billboards is special. I was truly taken with its ability to be hilarious and touching simultaneously. It doesn’t allow its main characters to be simple. The screenplay is too intelligent to play them as wholly virtuous or completely evil. Everyone here has rough edges and questionable intentions and the desire to do good in their own way. Watching it all play out is riveting and one of the year’s greatest experiences.

**** (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Blade Runner 2049

24 hours can change the dynamic considerably at this time in the Oscar season. When I made my weekly Oscar predictions yesterday, Richard Linklater’s Last Flag Flying was ranked 8th in my Best Picture possibilities with Blade Runner 2049 outside at #13.

Yesterday, support for Flag wavered a bit with a mixed critical reaction stemming from the New York Film Festival. On the other hand, Blade has sharpened its chances with reviews coming out this morning. Denis Villeneuve’s continuation of Ridley Scott’s classic sci-fi pic from 35 years ago is drawing raves (it’s at 97% currently on Rotten Tomatoes). The word “masterpiece” has been thrown around by some critics.

Bottom line: its chances for a Best Picture nomination have risen dramatically. Just last year, Villeneuve’s Arrival scored eight nominations, including Picture and Director. That could happen here again. While I doubt any of the actors (including Ryan Gosling and the return of Harrison Ford in the role of Deckard) will hear their names called, there are other races in play. This includes Adapted Screenplay, Production Design, Editing, both Sound categories, and Visual Effects (where it will almost certainly be named).

And then there’s Cinematography. Again, a nomination for its cinematographer Roger Deakins seems virtually assured. If so, it will mark his 14th nomination. The list of films he was nominated for? The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, Kundun, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Man Who Wasn’t There, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, No Country for Old Men, The Reader, True Grit, Skyfall, Prisoners, Unbroken and Sicario. Number of wins? 0. There’s definitely a feeling that Mr. Deakins is long overdue for his gold statue and the 14th time could be the charm.

When I made my box office prediction for 2049 earlier this week, I compared my $44.1 opening weekend estimate to Mad Max: Fury Road from two years ago. As of this morning, I’m thinking the opportunity is there for it to come close to Fury‘s 10 Oscar nominations too.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Another day, another entry in the Best Actress derby as Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has premiered at the Venice Film Festival. This time it’s Frances McDormand, starring in Martin McDonagh’s pic about a mother going to great lengths to find her daughter’s killers.

Early reviews suggest a strong and nuanced performance from McDormand, who won Best Actress 21 years ago for Fargo. She’s also been nominated three other times in Supporting for 1988’s Mississippi Burning, 2000’s Almost Famous, and 2005’s North Country. While Missouri could feasibly nab McDormand her fifth nod, it’s no slam dunk and that’s due to competition that has been discussed on the blog all weekend.

An interesting nugget from the Venice buzz surrounds Sam Rockwell, whose performance seems to be generating more word-of-mouth than Woody Harrelson’s in Supporting Actor. If Rockwell manages to land a nomination, it would be his first and looked at as long overdue by many.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Top 25 Best Movies (1990-2015): Nos. 15-11

Onto part three of my personal top 25 motion pictures of the past 25 years and we’re at numbers 15-11. Here they are:

15. Fargo (1996)

The Coen Brothers have been responsible for so many fabulous movies over the last 30 plus years. This violent charcoal black comedy that earned highly deserved Oscars for Frances McDormand and its screenplay is the best one of the bunch.

14. The Fugitive (1993)

There’s been a whole lot of action thrillers based on old TV series, but nothing like this one. Andrew Davis’s thrilling adaptation of the 1960s show with Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones is a perfect example of this genre at its absolute peak.

13. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

David O. Russell has arguably been putting out the finest films of this ongoing decade and Playbook is the highlight with grade A performances from Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert De Niro in a career resurgent part. The last scene of the movie is perfect.

12. Nixon (1995)

Whether or not it’s historically accurate is a legit argument. What’s not is that Oliver Stone’s take on the Nixon life and presidency is a brilliantly made story of the corruption of power. It tackles the subject on a level close to that of Citizen Kane and Anthony Hopkins is marvelous as the 37th POTUS.

11. Heat (1995)

Michael Mann teaming with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino for a sprawling L.A. based crime thriller. It’s even better than it sounds and the coffee shop scene that pits its generation’s two signature actors together for the first time is movie lover heaven.

And there you have it… we’ll enter the Top Ten tomorrow folks!