Oscar Watch: Judas and the Black Messiah

I continue with my Oscar Watch posts for pictures sending screeners late in the season and we arrive at one with real potential – Shaka King’s Judas and the Black Messiah. The Warner Bros production hits theaters and HBO Max simultaneously on February 12. It stars Lakeith Stanfield as an undercover FBI informant tasked to take down Black Panther head Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya).

While the review embargo is still intact, social media reactions are available today. They point to a feeling many had when the first trailer debuted months ago in that Judas could nab several nominations come Oscar morning. In particular, Kaluuya’s performance (being campaigned for in Supporting Actor) is being highly praised. This would be his second nomination behind his lead work in 2017’s Get Out. His inclusion in the supporting field appears not only likely, but he could win. I could foresee a narrative in which Sacha Baron Cohen (The Trial of the Chicago 7) and Kaluuya vie for the prize and this storyline could play out until April.

Stanfield is in the Best Actor mix, but his final five status is much more questionable. Like Best Actress in 2020, lead actor may already have four performances that are “in”. That would be Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal), Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Anthony Hopkins (The Father), and Delroy Lindo (Da 5 Bloods). The fifth slot could be a toss-up between several performers including Kingsley Ben-Adir (One Night in Miami), Mads Mikkelsen (Another Round), Gary Oldman (Mank), and Steven Yeun (Minari). Today’s buzz suggests adding Stanfield to that list is warranted.

Same goes for Supporting Actress with Dominique Fishback as several posts are highlighting her work. This year’s lineup appears in flux and there’s room for last minute surprises in that particular field. She will be one to keep an eye on.

As for Best Picture, Judas has been kept out of my predicted nine until word of mouth was available. When my estimates are updated on Thursday, it could well make its initial appearance. King’s direction is also on the table for final five status. Several down the line races are possible including Cinematography (also being mentioned a lot), Editing, Production Design, and Original Song (with a composition by H.E.R.). Warner Bros seems to know it has a real hopeful on its hands as this has been added to the Sundance schedule later this month.

Bottom line: the social media reaction indicates critics aren’t betrayed by Judas and it has officially announced its way into Academy consideration. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The Gothams Have a Cow

2020’s first precursor to the big show arrived today with the Gotham Awards nominations. The group which honoring independent pictures with budgets of $35 million and under made a little history too. All five contenders for Best Feature are made by female directors: Kitty’s Green The Assistant, Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow, Eliza Hittman’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland, and Relic from Natalie Erika James.

The tight controls on eligibility (and some major studios didn’t submit their Oscar hopefuls) makes it tricky to prognosticate how these nods compare to what the Academy may do. This has always been the case. That said, in the previous decade, at least one Gotham Feature nominee almost always gets a Best Picture nod. In fact, from 2014 to 2016, the Feature winners (Birdman, Spotlight, Moonlight) matched the Oscar winner. Last year, Marriage Story was the sole nominee at Gotham to make the Academy’s cut. In 2018, there were none. Three years ago, both Call Me by Your Name and Get Out got Oscar love.

First Cow led with the most nods and had itself a very good morning. However, its Oscar prospects are iffy while Nomadland looks to be the nominee that will almost certainly get recognition from the Academy (it could even win). The other three nominees are likely non-factors. We did not see another major picture from a female director with One Night in Miami make the final five, though Kingsley Ben-Adir did score a Breakthrough Performance nomination. Also left off: Minari, which seems to be rising in the Oscar chatter.

In the acting races, there were some high profile snubs particularly with Best Actress. Since this category’s inception in 2013, only one winner has matched up with Academy’s selection (Julianne Moore in Still Alice in 2014). In the previous year, none of the five women got Oscar recognition. In every other year, there’s been at least one.

The Gotham Actress hopefuls this year are Nicole Beharie (Miss Juneteenth), Jessie Buckley (I’m Thinking of Ending Things), Carrie Coon (The Nest), Frances McDormand (Nomadland), and Yuh-Jung Youn (Minari). Only McDormand seems destined for the Oscars in lead actress while Youn could show up in Supporting Actress. What is a bit surprising is the number of Gotham eligible performers who appear to be likely Oscar contenders who missed out here. That list includes Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman), Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman), and Michelle Pfeiffer (French Exit). I wouldn’t read too much into it, but it’s worthy of mention.

In Best Actor, Chadwick Boseman picked up his first posthumous mention for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. He is joined by Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal), Jude Law (The Nest), John Magaro (First Cow), and Jesse Plemons (I’m Thinking of Ending Things). Some eligible actors with Oscar hopes that missed out include Winston Duke (Nine Days) and Steven Yeun (Minari). The same could be said for Bill Murray in On the Rocks, though he would compete in supporting with the Academy.

Bottom line: while the Gothams aren’t a reliable barometer for what happens months from now, it does give a fun glimpse at what could follow. Today’s actions unsurprisingly solidify Nomadland and could give a slight boost to Cow. My weekly Oscar predictions will be updated tomorrow so stay tuned!

A Marvel Cinematic Oscar History: Best Actor

I was rewatching Avengers: Endgame over the weekend and it once again struck me how many famous actors are in that thing. I mean… seriously. It’s rather amazing. This got me thinking and yes, current world events may have given me an opportunity to do so:

Just how many performers that have been in Marvel Cinematic Universe entries have won Oscars or been nominated for Oscars? I knew the number would be high, but the answer still astonished me. In fact, you have to back to 1981 for a year where no actor that eventually appeared in the MCU didn’t receive a nomination.

If you count Marvel’s next two pictures (Black Widow, The Eternals) and then count the 23 movies prior that started in 2008 with Iron Man, it encapsulates 110 acting nominations and 20 wins! I am not yet putting Christian Bale in there though he’s rumored to be playing the villain in the fourth Thor flick. I’ll wait for confirmation on that. If you did count Bale, the numbers go to 114 nods and 21 Academy victories.

Due to this research, I’m writing 4 blog posts dedicated to each acting race and we begin with Best Actor:

The leading man category makes up 33 out of the 110 nominations with 6 wins. The victorious gentlemen are as follows:

Jeff Bridges, the main baddie in Iron Man, won in 2009 for Crazy Heart

William Hurt, who appeared in The Incredible Hulk and other MCU titles, took Best Actor in 1985 for Kiss of the Spider Woman

Anthony Hopkins, aka Thor’s Dad, was stage bound in 1991 for his iconic role as Dr. Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs

Ben Kingsley, who sparred with Tony Stark in Iron Man 3, is a 1982 recipient in the title role of Gandhi

Michael Douglas, who appeared in both Ant-Man pics, was Best Actor in 1987 for Wall Street

Forest Whitaker, who costarred in Black Panther, took gold in 2006 for The Last King of Scotland

Aside from the winners, here are the other 27 Actor nods:

Iron Man himself, Robert Downey Jr., for 1992’s Chaplin

Terrence Howard, who was in the first Iron Man, for 2005’s Hustle & Flow

Jeff Bridges scored two additional nominations for 1984’s Starman and 2010’s True Grit

Edward Norton, who was Hulk before Mark Ruffalo, for 1998’s American History X

William Hurt, like fellow winner Bridges, also landed two other nods for 1986’s Children of a Lesser God and 1987’s Broadcast News

Don Cheadle, who replaced Terrence Howard in Iron Man 2 and more, for 2004’s Hotel Rwanda

Mickey Rourke, the villain in Iron Man 2, for 2008’s The Wrestler

Anthony Hopkins, following his Lambs victory, was nominated twice more for 1993’s The Remains of the Day and 1995’s Nixon

Tommy Lee Jones, from Captain America: First Avenger, for 2007’s In the Valley of Elah

Jeremy Renner, aka Hawkeye, for his breakthrough role in 2009’s The Hurt Locker

Robert Redford, who was in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, surprisingly only has one acting nod for 1973’s The Sting. He is, however, a twice nominated director and won in 1980 for Ordinary People 

Bradley Cooper, Rocket in Guardians of the Galaxy, has been nominated thrice with no wins: 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook, 2014’s American Sniper, and 2018’s A Star Is Born

Benedict Cumberbatch, aka Doctor Strange, for 2014’s The Imitation Game

Chiwetel Ejiofor, also in Doctor Strange, for 2013’s 12 Years a Slave

Sylvester Stallone, who popped up in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, for his signature role in 1976’s Rocky

Michael Keaton, the villain in Spider-Man: Homecoming, for 2014’s Birdman

Matt Damon, who had a memorable cameo in Thor: Ragnarok, is twice nominated for 1997’s Good Will Hunting and 2015’s The Martian

Daniel Kaluuya, Black Panther costar, for 2017’s Get Out

Laurence Fishburne, supporting player in Ant-Man and the Wasp, as Ike Turner in 1993’s What’s Love Got to Do With It

Jude Law, from Captain Marvel, for 2003’s Cold Mountain 

Whew. And there you have it. I’ll be back at it shortly with the Best Actress nominees who got their Marvel on!

Oscar Watch: Falling

As the Oscars honoring the best of 2019 are set to air in two weeks, today brings the first of many Oscar Watch posts for 2020. Does that seem impossibly early? Not when the Sundance Film Festival is in full effect this weekend in Utah. For decades, the fest has served as a launching pad for Oscar contenders such as Little Miss Sunshine, Precious, Boyhood, Whiplash, Manchester by the Sea and Get Out, to name a few. It is worth noting that last year’s selections (with the exception of some documentaries) failed to get Academy attention. This included such high profile titles as The Farewell, Luce, and The Report. 

We begin with Falling, a family drama that marks the directorial debut of Viggo Mortensen (who also cowrote the screenplay). The actor has been nominated for three acting Oscars in the past for Eastern Promises, Captain Fantastic (which also debuted at Sundance), and Green Book. Early reviews suggest he’s got a winner on his hands. With the right distribution and campaign, Mortensen could find himself in the awards mix again.

Interestingly, critical reaction seems more focused on Mortensen’s costar Lance Henriksen. The 80-year-old character actor has appeared in hundreds of films. Some of those notables include The Terminator and Aliens. Perhaps a spirited campaign could materialize to nab Henriksen a Best Actor nomination.

Bottom line: it’s too early to know for sure, but Falling looks like a potential player a year for now with Henriksen’s work in particular. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Lance Henriksen and Viggo Mortensen appear in Falling by Viggo Mortensen, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Brendan Adam-Zwelling.nnAll photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or ‘Courtesy of Sundance Institute.’ Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

 

Queen & Slim Box Office Prediction

In what’s being called a current take on Bonnie and Clyde, Universal is hoping that moviegoers take a trip with Queen & Slim over the long Thanksgiving weekend. The romantic thriller stars Daniel Kaluuya (of Get Out and Black Panther fame) and newcomer Jodie Turner-Smith as a new couple on the run after a minor traffic stop goes wrong. Melina Matsoukas, who’s won Grammys and MTV Video Music Awards for her work with Beyonce and Rihanna, makes her feature film debut. Costars include Bokeem Woodbine, Chloe Sevigny, and Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

The pic debuted last week at the AFI Fest to very positive reviews. Yet despite the current 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating, this has yet to achieve any significant awards chatter. That could hinder its box office potential. Queen is already being called a potential cult hit. However, cult hits often take some time to achieve that status.

Opening on Wednesday, I believe this will have a five-day take in the high single digits to low double digits as it hopes for word of mouth to carry it along.

Queen & Slim opening weekend prediction: $6.9 million (Friday to Sunday); $10.1 million (Wednesday to Sunday)

For my Knives Out prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/11/20/knives-out-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: Queen & Slim

The Los Angeles based AFI Fest is the last major calendar year opportunity for Oscar hopefuls to strut their stuff and there’s always a few premieres to go along with it. In 2019, that includes Clint Eastwood’s Richard Jewell and The Banker with Samuel L. Jackson and Anthony Mackie. The opener is Queen & Slim from director Melina Matsoukas, who’s been known for her visionary music videos for Beyonce and Rihanna.

Slim centers on a couple (Daniel Kaluuya of Get Out fame and newcomer Jodie Turner-Smith) whose first date becomes intertwined with a police brutality incident. Early critical reaction is strong and it stands at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Indications are that this could turn into a cult hit and perhaps even a real one, with an insightful and politically charged screenplay from Lena Waithe. She’s known primarily for acclaimed TV projects Master of None and The Chi.

Despite the praise, Oscar attention could be… well, slim. Anything arriving this late in the game would need to be a game changer for Picture visibility and some reviews are positive but with some reservation. Turner-Smith is garnering a lot of chatter, but it could be a leap to think she’ll factor into an already crowded Best Actress race.

Bottom line: look for Queen to become a conversation piece upon its November 27th release. I’m just not confident that will include talk about Academy nods. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Us Movie Review

Any fears of a sophomore slide are quickly dispelled by we the audience in Us, Jordan Peele’s follow-up to his blockbuster cultural milestone Get Out from 2017. That Oscar nominated debut defied genre. Yes, it was sort of a horror flick but it brought in a racial subtext that got crowds talking. I believe Get Out gets better with every viewing and I suspect this will too.

Us, in some respects, is more of a traditional fright fest in comparison to the auteur’s first feature. There’s more jump scares, and more overall freak out moments. Yet there’s a whole lot of allegorical treatment on (yes) race, but also class and the concept of nature vs. nurture. Peele’s second pic furthers the notion that he’s an immensely talented filmmaker with lots to say. Us also leaves more up for interpretation than Get Out. It’s messier and that’s not really a criticism.

Lupita Nyong’o is Adelaide, the matriarch of the Wilson family. She’s married to the slightly goofy Gabe (Winston Duke) with two young children Zora and Jason (Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex). We first meet Adelaide in flashback circa 1986 as a little girl accompanying her parents to the beach in Santa Cruz. She wanders into a funhouse where she encounters a hall of mirrors. Instead of only seeing her reflection, she encounters her scary doppelgänger. The event literally leaves her speechless for an extended period of time.

We flash forward to over three decades later with her brood and they’re vacationing at their lake house in the same area. She’s talking now and has tried her best to repress that childhood event. The family meets up with their wealthy, boozy, and snobby friends (Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker) at the same beach. Soon enough, Adelaide is unable to bury what happened in 1986.

It turns out that doppelgänger (named Red) is back and she brings along sadistic doubles of the whole family to terrorize them. Red (naturally also played by Nyong’o) speaks in a genuinely hair raising whisper. Referred to as The Tethered, the versions of Gabe and the two children are also creepy and with murder on their minds. This is the section of the film where the gory action kicks into overdrive.

Without spoiling the rest, Us goes about answering the questions of why characters have these bloodthirsty counterparts. It’s horror, it’s government conspiracy, it’s very funny at times. The use of music (from the terrific Mike Gioulakis score to inventive spins of classic hip hop hits “I Got 5 On It” and “F*** The Police”) is expertly placed.

Lupita Nyong’o, in her dual role, is terrific. Switching between a mom in protection mode of her rather normal family to a mom orchestrating that normal family’s demise, it’s quite a role to pull off and she certainly does. Actors in this genre rarely get awards attention and the Supporting Actress winner from 12 Years a Slave deserves it. Duke (and Moss and Heidecker) bring the comic relief.

In some respects, I look at Us as the Unbreakable for Peele if Get Out is his The Sixth Sense. Why the M. Night Shyamalan comparison? Sixth Sense was a massive hit that also nabbed a Best Picture nod. Unbreakable was his breathlessly awaited next movie. It was appreciated by some and confounded others by not being as easily accessible. Those same issues apply to Us. However, just as the reputation for Unbreakable grew with time, I suspect that will hold true for Peele’s second turn. I don’t know if I’d say Us quite matches the potency of Get Out, but I think it could on subsequent screenings. For my first viewing, it definitely provided a whole lot to appreciate as this director continues to show he’s a force behind the camera.

***1/2 (out of four)

Ma Box Office Prediction

Blumhouse Productions continues its output of ultra low-budget horror pics that could see impressive returns next weekend with the release of Ma. Made for a tiny reported budget of $5 million, Oscar winner Octavia Spencer is cast as a homicidal veterinary aide terrorizing a group of teens. Ma reunites its star with her director from The Help, Tate Taylor (whose last effort was The Girl on the Train). Costars include Juliette Lewis, Diana Silvers, Luke Evans, McKaley Miller, and Missi Pyle.

The studio has been down this road before with blockbuster efforts like Get Out and Happy Death Day. I don’t expect Ma to reach their levels. While there’s no direct genre competition, Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Rocketman could divert eyeballs elsewhere. Yet this could certainly triple or quadruple its budget out of the gate with an African-American audience and a teenage crowd.

Ma opening weekend prediction: $17.2 million

For my Godzilla: King of the Monsters prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/05/23/godzilla-king-of-the-monsters-box-office-prediction/

For my Rocketman prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/05/23/rocketman-box-office-prediction/

Us Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (03/19/19): The upgrade has happened from $48.8 million to $56.8 million

Next weekend we will find out if lightning strikes again for director Jordan Peele with the release of Us. The horror pic is Peele’s eagerly awaited sophomore effort and follow-up to his 2017 debut Get Out. That film rode a cultural wave of excitement and critical raves that resulted in a Best Picture nomination and an Oscar for Peele for his original screenplay.

Perhaps not since M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable (his feature after The Sixth Sense) have we seen a movie that can sold mostly on “from the director of…”. Us centers on a family being terrorized by a brood that appears to be different versions of themselves. The cast includes Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, and Tim Heidecker.

Any fears of a sophomore slump were eliminated this past weekend when Us screened at South by Southwest. Reviews are strong with 100% currently on Rotten Tomatoes. Get Out exceeded opening weekend projections two years ago when it made $33 million for its start and legged out considerably to $176 million.

Us doesn’t have the benefit of unknown expectations. Peele’s name and some seriously effective trailers have prognosticators thinking this will exceed the first weekend of Get Out. Whether it experiences the smallish declines from weekend to weekend is a better question as Us should be more front-loaded with its earnings.

I’ll say mid to high 40s is where this lands with $50 million certainly being a possibility.

Us opening weekend prediction: $56.8 million

Oscar Watch: Us

The South by Southwest festival is in full swing this weekend and the most eagerly awaited film premiere has occurred. That would be Us, Jordan Peele’s follow-up to 2017’s Get Out.  The horror thriller is out domestically on March 22.

Early reviews are quite encouraging as it currently stands at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Could this follow in the footsteps of Peele’s debut effort? As you may recall, Get Out premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2017 to red-hot buzz. It would end up grossing $176 million stateside and garnering four Oscar nods, including Best Picture. Peele won the gold statue for Original Screenplay.

Initial consensus for Us suggests it’s scarier than Get Out, though some reviews don’t quite put it at the level of Peele’s first pic. I’ll say that if Us can resonate with audiences in a manner similar to Out, it could find itself in the Oscar conversation (especially Original Screenplay). And it might be worth keeping an eye on Lupita Nyong’o in lead actress as an outside possibility.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…