Oscar History: 2014

Six years ago in Oscar history began an impressive two year run for filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu with Birdman emerging as the big winner of the evening. The film took Best Picture and Director over its major competitor – Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. This was a ceremony in which the largest category did have some suspense. Birdman took the prize over the aforementioned Boyhood and six other pics: American Sniper (the year’s top grosser), The Grand Budapest Hotel (marking Wes Anderson’s first and only Picture nominee), The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, and Whiplash. 

In this blogger’s perfect world, Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler would have been recognized. It was my favorite movie of that year so get used to seeing it pop up in this post. Other notable selections from 2014 left on the cutting room floor: David Fincher’s Gone Girl, Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer, and Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher. 

Mr. Miller did have the notable distinction of being nominated for Best Director despite his work not showing up in Best Picture (very rare these days). As mentioned, Inarritu took the gold over Miller as well as Linklater, Anderson, and Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game). Gilroy, Fincher, and Joon-ho might have warranted consideration in my view as well as Chazelle’s bravura debut in Whiplash. 

One could argue that Nightcrawler isn’t your prototypical Picture contender. However, Jake Gyllenhaal being left out of the five Actor contenders stands as one of the noteworthy snubs in recent history. It was Eddie Redmayne emerging victorious for The Theory of Everything over his closest competitor Michael Keaton (Birdman). Other nominees: the three C’s of Steve Carell (Foxcatcher), Bradley Cooper (American Sniper, picking up his third nomination in a row), and Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game).

There is a voluminous list of solid performances beyond just Gyllenhaal’s that were left wanting. It includes Ben Affleck (Gone Girl), Chadwick Boseman (Get On Up), Bill Murray (St. Vincent), David Oyelowo (Selma), Joaquin Phoenix (Inherent Vice), Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner), and Miles Teller (Whiplash).

In Best Actress, Julianne Moore triumphed for Still Alice after four previous nominations without a win. She took the honor over Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night), Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl), and Reese Witherspoon (Wild). Moore’s selection was one of the easiest to project as she’d been a sturdy frontrunner all season.

Looking back, how about Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow? Its action genre trappings probably prevented consideration, but she might have made my quintet. Amy Adams won the Golden Globe for Actress in Musical/Comedy, but missed here.

Another easy (and absolutely deserved) winner was J.K. Simmons in Supporting Actor for Whiplash over Robert Duvall (The Judge), Ethan Hawke (Boyhood), Edward Norton (Birdman), and Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher).

I will yet again mention Nightcrawler as I might have considered Riz Ahmed. There’s also Josh Brolin in Inherent Vice.

Boyhood nabbed its major race victory in Supporting Actress with Patricia Arquette. Other nominees were Laura Dern (Wild), Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game), Emma Stone (Birdman), and the always in contention Meryl Streep for Into the Woods.

As for others, I’ll start with (surprise) Rene Russo in Nightcrawler. Others include both Melissa McCarthy and Naomi Watts for St. Vincent in addition to Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year) and Katherine Waterston (Inherent Vice).

My Oscar History will continue soon with 2015 as Mr. Inarritu will dominate the director race yet again while the Academy chose to spotlight something in Best Picture!

James Bond: An Oscar History

Of the six actors to have played the most famous spy in cinematic history, only one of them has ever been nominated for an Oscar. That would be, of course, Sean Connery and he was victorious in 1987 for his supporting work in The Untouchables. It is worth noting that the last two Bonds (Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig) have Golden Globes nods in the Musical/Comedy category for The Matador and Knives Out, respectively.

With the recent death of Sir Connery, this got me thinking… how many actors from the nearly 60 year old franchise have been recognized by the Academy? And how much Oscar attention has the series itself received? For the first question, it was rather limited until Craig took over the role. For the second question, 9 out of the 24 official 007 entries have managed to get on awards voters radar screens. So let’s break it down, shall we?

Goldfinger (1964) was the third feature in the franchise and it marked the first nomination and win for the Bond catalogue. The pic took the Best Sound Effects trophy. One year later, Thunderball won for its Visual Effects. Connery’s final official appearance in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever resulted in a nod for its sound.

When Roger Moore took over the part, his debut saw the first theme song nominated courtesy of Paul McCartney’s title track to 1973’s Live and Let Die. There would also be song nods for both The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and For Your Eyes Only in 1981. Spy would mark the first Bond flick to score multiple mentions with its score and art direction. And Moore’s 1979 space opus Moonraker was nominated for its visual effects.

George Lazenby’s one-off appearance in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Timothy Dalton’s two 1980s pictures, and the 1990s-early 2000s four film Pierce Brosnan run yielded zero Oscar mentions. Same goes for Craig’s first two outings Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. 

So it had been over 30 years since a Bond adventure had been recognized on Oscar night when 2012’s Skyfall landed a franchise record 5 nominations. It won two with Adele’s theme song and its sound editing. The other nods were Score, Sound Mixing, and Cinematography. The song love would continue with 2015’s Spectre when Sam Smith won for his tune.

Add that up and we have 15 total nominations for the series and 5 wins.

We move to the thespians and their fortune at the big show. As mentioned, before the recent run of Craig titles, it was a bit limited. In fact, the number of actors who are Oscar nominees from the Craig run nearly equals everything that came before it. Giancarlo Giannini appeared in Casino and Quantum and he was a Best Actor nominee in 1975 for Seven Beauties. Ralph Fiennes (otherwise known as M) is a double nominee for Schindler’s List and The English Patient. Naomie Harris (or Moneypenny) achieved a Supporting Actress mention for 2016’s Moonlight. Albert Finney showed up in Skyfall and he was nominated five times in his long career. Craig’s original “M” was Judi Dench and she dates back to the Brosnan era. She’s a one-time winner with 6 other nominations.

That’s just the good guys. In the Craig era, the villains come with serious awards cred. Javier Bardem from Skyfall had taken Supporting Actor five years earlier in No Country for Old Men and is a two-time Best Actor nominee for Before Nights Falls and Biutiful. Christoph Waltz (Spectre) is a double Supporting Actor winner with Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. And the next pic – the oft delayed No Time to Die – has Rami Malek as its main baddie. In 2018, he gave his acceptance speech for Bohemian Rhapsody. 

Going back to the beginning, From Russia with Love featured Lotte Lenye (a 1961 nominee for The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone) and Robert Shaw (nominated three years after Russia for A Man for All Seasons). And that’s actually the extent of performers from the Connery era nominated for Oscars… sort of. The legend did return to the role in 1983’s Never Say Never Again, though it is not considered part of the “official” catalogue. It does boast three Academy players with Klaus Maria Brandauer (Out of Africa), Max Von Sydow (Pelle the Conquerer and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), and Kim Basinger (Supporting Actress recipient for 1997’s L.A. Confidential).

Telly Savalas costarred with Lazenby in Secret Service and he was nominated seven years earlier for his work in Birdman of Alcatraz. In the Moore era, there’s just Topol. He’s best known his nominated work in Fiddler on the Roof and he costarred in For Your Eyes Only. In the Dalton double feature, we have Benicio del Toro as he was a henchman in Licence to Kill. Over a decade later, he would win Supporting Actor for Traffic and get another nod for 21 Grams. Things picked up a bit with Brosnan. In addition to Dench, a trio of actresses were on their way or had already achieved nominations. Halle Berry co-headlined Die Another Day one year after winning Actress for Monster’s Ball. Minnie Driver had a small role in Goldeneye and would have her breakout part (along with Supporting Actress inclusion) two years later with Good Will Hunting. And Rosamund Pike was also in Die Another Day a decade plus before her Actress nod for Gone Girl. 

A final word. Not one of the 24 released 007 features has achieved any acting, directing, writing, or picture nominations of its own. Skyfall probably came the closest as some prognosticators wondered whether it could be the first to nab a Picture nod. It didn’t materialize, but its five nominations indicate it might have come the closest. Indeed, Daniel Craig’s time as Bond has seen him costar with the most Academy friendly costars. Let’s see if the next performer to play the iconic spy gets to act alongside that same kind of pedigree.

Oscar Watch: Mank

For two months now, I have had David Fincher’s Mank ranked at the top of the Best Picture contenders and that was with zero buzz about its quality. Why? The biographical drama, which tells the saga of Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) and his battles with the bottle and the making of the film, sounded like Oscar bait from its announcement. Fincher is, of course, a heralded filmmaker who’s seen two of his pictures (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network) nab Best Picture nods. Neither won, but many (including this blogger) feel that Network should have done so over The King’s Speech a decade ago.

Ahead of its November 13th limited theatrical bow and December 4th Netflix streaming debut, Mank screened for critics yesterday. While the official embargo has yet to lapse, reaction is out. And it confirms that Fincher’s first pic in six years (since Gone Girl) should score plenty of nominations. As I’ve estimated for several weeks, you would be smart to bet that this will receive the most mentions on nomination morning.

Let’s break them down. Picture and Director appear to be foregone conclusions at this juncture. Gary Oldman is highly likely to get his third Best Actor nomination. That said, after winning just three years ago for Darkest Hour, I don’t foresee a victory. On a side note, the Best Actress winner from 2017 (Frances McDormand for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) also looks like a locked in nominee in 2020 for Nomadland. Amanda Seyfried appears poised for her first nomination in Supporting Actress in her role as Marion Davies. Supporting Actor is more murky. While Charles Dance as William Randolph Hearst could sneak in, the race is quite crowded. I wouldn’t count on Dance or costars Tom Pelphrey or Arliss Howard getting in over the considerable competition. Many come from the same streaming service like the cast of The Trial of the Chicago 7 (most notably Mark Rylance and Sacha Baron Cohen) and the late Chadwick Boseman in Da 5 Bloods. 

The screenplay is solely credited to the director’s deceased father Jack. An Original Screenplay nod is inevitable with the biggest competition so far being Aaron Sorkin for Trial. The tech race possibilities are plentiful: Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Production Design, Original Score (from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross), Sound, Makeup and Hairstyling. All in all, Mank could conceivably hit about a dozen nominations.

Now let’s get serious. Could it win Best Picture? Some early buzz suggests it might be too geared toward cinephiles and not a mass audience to achieve that. I’m not so sure. I would say the same could be said for recent winners like The Artist and Birdman. Hollywood loves features about its own industry and this might be the granddaddy of them all considering the subject matter. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mank is still listed in first place when I update my guesstimates next Thursday. I am confident it will never fall below the upper echelon. As for Fincher, he may well be in line for a Director victory and that’s even if Mank doesn’t win the biggest prize. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: I Care a Lot

Six years ago, Rosamund Pike burst onto the Oscar scene with her revenge minded femme fatale in David Fincher’s Gone Girl. Since then, it’s been quiet on the nomination front. There have been a smattering of pics designed to possibly get her back in the mix – A United Kingdom, A Private War, Radioactive. None have been able to do so.

Pike’s latest showcase is J Blakeson’s thriller I Care a Lot, which screened over the weekend at the Toronto Film Festival. It casts her as a sketchy legal guardian who gets mixed up with criminals. Costars include Peter Dinklage, Eiza Gonzalez, Chris Messina, and Dianne Wiest.

The few reviews out have resulted in a 100% Rotten Tomatoes score, though some critics are more effusive than others. There is some talk that it’s Pike’s best performance since Gone Girl. Yet as I explained in my previous Oscar Watch post (regarding Naomi Watts in Penguin Bloom), Best Actress looks competitive in 2020. And like with Bloom, the distributor that picks Care up will need to mount a spirited campaign. It’s not impossible, but competition might be too steep for Pike to get noticed. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Radioactive

In 2014, Rosamund Pike received her first and only Oscar nomination for David Fincher’s  Gone Girl. The British actress has since appeared in a string of Indies that have garnered some critical kudos with scant awards attention. These titles include 2016’s A United Kingdom and 2018’s A Private War.

In the biographical drama Radioactive from director Marjane Satrapi, Pike portrays Nobel prize winning physicist Marie Curie. The film originally played at last year’s Toronto Film Festival and is now available for streaming today on Amazon Prime. It’s received generally positive reviews and stands at 69% on Rotten Tomatoes. Even the write-ups gearing more toward the negative praise Pike’s performance.

Gone Girl was a blockbuster and that helped the actress nab her Academy nod. The other projects just never broke through enough with mainstream audiences to get on the awards radar screen. That may well certainly apply to Radioactive as well. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: The Way Back

Ben Affleck has certainly had a fascinating history with Oscar voters. He’s a double winner who has never been nominated for the profession he’s known best for. In 1997, Affleck (along with Matt Damon) took home the Best Original Screenplay trophy for Good Will Hunting. Fifteen years later, his directorial effort Argo was named Best Picture and as a producer, he picked up his second Academy Award. However, he’s one of the few filmmakers whose project was victorious in the biggest race while he was snubbed in the directing category.

This Friday, Affleck stars in Gavin O’Connor’s basketball drama The Way Back. Playing a coach battling addiction problems, some early reviews are calling it his finest performance to date. The Rotten Tomatoes score is at 85%. O’Connor’s previous sports related picture, 2011’s Warrior, nabbed Nick Nolte a Best Supporting Actor nod.

In addition to being ignored for Director with Argo, Affleck also failed to garner a Best Actor nod. As mentioned, he’s yet to pick up recognition in that space. There was some buzz he could get a nomination alongside his Gone Girl costar Rosamund Pike in 2014, but it never materialized.

Could The Way Back change that? Doubtful. The release date is awfully early and box office prospects don’t look too encouraging. Affleck could get a second bite at the apple in December with Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel. That historical drama features the actor in a supporting role alongside Damon and Adam Driver. Affleck cowrote the screenplay and we could see another example of his writing skills being noticed as opposed to his own performance. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Widows Movie Review

Like Michael Mann’s Heat over two decades ago, Steve McQueen’s Widows is a heist movie more concerned with the personalities of the people planning them. The similarities don’t stop there. It’s got a sprawling cast with many familiar faces and an overall somber tone. This is a genre marked mostly by its entertainment value. Heists are fun onscreen with the numeric Ocean’s being the highest profile recent examples.

Unlike Heat, its central planner doesn’t pull these crimes because he’s great at it and doesn’t have a personal life. Here it’s the personal lives that lead to the planning in the first place. And in this one, it’s “she’s”. Veronica Rawlings (Viola Davis) works for the Chicago Teachers Union and is married to career thief Harry (Liam Neeson). What I’m about to write isn’t exactly a spoiler considering the title. Harry and his crew have a job go awry and they’re all killed. Besides Veronica, the widowed women include business owner Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), abused spouse Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), and new mom Amanda (Carrie Coon).

Their mourning period is disrupted by their husband’s past illegal dealings. Windy City crime lord Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) was ripped off by them and he’s ready to collect. He’s running for an alderman spot against corrupt politico Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell). Mulligan fancies himself a man of the people and lives close to the dilapidated neighborhood he wishes to represent. He might as well live on another planet. Manning wants to enter government life to get away from a life of crime, but seems to understand that they go hand in hand in this transactional and blood soaked Chicago.

Veronica, Linda, and Alice are put in a desperate spot. A clue left behind by Harry leads them to plan a robbery of Mulligan’s dirty money while trying to keep his political opponent off their backs (Amanda chooses to not to participate). Mulligan and Manning have enforcers on their team. The former’s is his controlling and ruthless father (Robert Duvall). The latter’s is his henchman (Daniel Kaluuya), who’s sadistic and seems to genuinely enjoy his works of depravity.

There are many subplots in Widows and McQueen manages to pull it off in mostly satisfying fashion. Some work better than others. The relationship of Veronica and Harry is a complicated one that’s given emotional heft by a shared loss. The same can be said for Alice’s character. She’s been a victim her whole life it seems. There’s an empowerment element with her that makes her perhaps the easiest character to root for. Rodriguez’s story has less meat on the bones. They pick up another conspirator in Belle (a memorable Cynthia Erivo), a driven woman who serves as the driver.

You’ll not be surprised to find the performances are first-rate, particularly Davis, Debicki, and Kaluuya (there’s not a mediocre one in the bunch). The score, editing, and cinematography are also noteworthy. McQueen wrote the script along with Gillian Flynn, known for her twisty works like Gone Girl. She’s created compelling female characters there and elsewhere and she does so here. If there’s an issue, it’s that her proclivity for twists reaches a tad too far with one (which I won’t spoil). I found it unnecessary and you’ll likely recognize what I’m referring to upon viewing.

And Widows is worth viewing as it gives us some characters you want to follow. There’s nothing remarkable about the heist they’re trying to pull. The acting and technical work often does fit that description.

*** (out of four)

A Simple Favor Movie Review

Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) is the type of character who would be in the book club that reads something like A Simple Favor. Yet the cyclone level of twists in the story might only be thought up by someone like Emily (Blake Lively) after drinking too many of her patented mid afternoon dry martinis. Paul Feig’s satiric thriller is, alas, based on a novel by Darcey Bell that probably has been read in those clubs.

This takes the issues of female empowerment found in Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train (also from literary works) and casts a black comedic cloud over it. It occasionally risks collapsing under its sheer volume of plot turns. And somehow it rarely ceases to be a hoot with two dynamic lead performances.

We meet Stephanie on her daily vlog filled with cooking tips and child rearing tips. She’s a single mom whose husband died in a car accident along with her brother. Her instinct is to do it all, including hoarding over school parenting projects. She doesn’t blink when Emily, whose kid attends school with Stephanie’s, starts asking her to be an unpaid nanny. Emily has a hectic job as PR manager for a fashion designer, the already mentioned drinking problem, and has-been writer turned professor husband Sean (Henry Golding from summer smash Crazy Rich Asians). The two end up bonding with Stephanie deeming Emily her “best friend” (there’s a bracelet involved).

Then one day Emily vanishes and Stephanie’s daily posts become a darker (though always humorous) search for a missing person. Her protective nature draws her close to Sean, so much so that the authorities begin to question their motives. What follows is a relentless stream of genre clichés: insurance claims, alternate identities, unknown twins, and love triangles, just to name some. This is kitchen sink level stuff. It’s borderline exhausting, but you get the feeling that Feig and screenwriter Jessica Sharzer know it and are furiously winking. The director is known for his straight up comedies such as Bridesmaids, The Heat, and Spy. While this does venture into paperback adapted material, it does it with tongue in cheek planted wit. This is more in tone with 1998’s under appreciated Wild Things than something like Gone Girl.

Kendrick and Lively are the show here and their chemistry makes it work. Stephanie’s desperation for companionship is sold by Kendrick, who thinks she’s found someone special beyond her unseen blog watchers. She’s done so with Emily, whose back story is filled with too many secrets to keep track of (you will lose count). Lively has a ball revealing them. So do we once we realize keeping up with it all is secondary to its ridiculous and fun nature.

*** (out of four)

Widows Box Office Prediction

Widows is Steve McQueen’s follow-up to 2013’s Oscar winning 12 Years a Slave and it boasts an impressive cast and its own awards buzz. Viola Davis headlines the heist thriller alongside Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, Carrie Coon, Robert Duvall, and Liam Neeson.

Opening next weekend, the film sits at 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. It could potentially contend in Best Picture, Actress (Davis), Supporting Actor (Kaluuya) and its Adapted Screenplay from Gone Girl and Sharp Objects writer Gillian Flynn. So how will that translate to box office bucks?

I believe the likelihood is that Widows will succeed in appealing to action fans and manage to bring in a sizable female audience. Yet it should also be the type of performer that experiences solid holds from weekend to weekend and not necessarily have a huge opening. Mid teens appears to be the correct forecast for its start.

Widows opening weekend prediction: $15.8 million

For my Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/11/06/fantastic-beasts-the-crimes-of-grindelwald-box-office-prediction/

For my Instant Family prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/11/07/instant-family-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: A Private War

In a Best Actress race that is growing crowded, the Toronto Film Festival gave us yet another possibility with Rosamund Pike in A Private War. The film focuses on the true life story of Marie Colvin, a war journalist killed in Syria in 2012. Matthew Heineman directs and he’s best known for his documentaries, including the Oscar nominated Cartel Land and last year’s City of Ghosts. Jamie Dornan and Stanley Tucci costar.

The picture itself is getting mixed to positive reviews, but critics are heaping praise on Pike’s work. Four years ago, she was nominated for Gone Girl. Its distributor will need to mount a serious campaign for Pike to nab her second nod. That could be a tall order with more high-profile projects in the mix.

Bottom line: Pike could find herself in the mix, but it’s a bit of a long shot.

A Private War opens domestically on November 2. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…