Oscar Watch: The Midnight Sky

Netflix’s slew of December releases that are potential Oscar contenders continues with George Clooney’s The Midnight Sky. The sci-fi drama stars its director as an Arctic scientist attempting to prevent a group of astronauts from their return to Earth due to environmental hazards. The roughly $100 million budgeted pic hits theaters in a limited fashion this Friday though most viewers will see it when it materializes on the streaming service on December 23rd. Costars include Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Tiffany Boone, Kyle Chandler, Demian Bichir, and Caoilinn Springall.

The review embargo lifted today and it is most certainly a mixed bag. The Rotten Tomatoes rating is at only 54%. Numerous critics have brought up recent and similar genre fare in comparison, including Gravity (which also featured Clooney), Interstellar, The Martian, and Ad Astra. Several of them say that Sky doesn’t measure up.

It has been 15 years since Clooney’s work behind the camera has significantly attracted Oscar attention with Good Night, and Good Luck. His last two directorial efforts, The Monuments Men and Suburbicon, were both critical and commercial disappointments. With a number of write-ups skewing so-so or even negative, it’s hard to envision Sky aiming for a Picture nod or for any of the actors involved to contend.

On the other hand, reviews do suggest this could be a factor in some technical races. Most notable of them is Visual Effects, Production Design, and Sound. There is also plenty of praise for the Original Score by Alexandre Desplat, a two-time winner for his work on The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Shape of Water. 

Bottom line: it will be a struggle for The Midnight Sky to reach the attention of voters in the major races, but it could still end up with close to a handful of nominations. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Nomadland

Ever since Nomadland was announced, it has been seen as a serious contender for the 2020 Oscars in multiple categories. This is Chloe Zhao’s follow-up to her acclaimed The Rider and it’s premiering all over the festival circuit this weekend (including Toronto and Venice) prior to its planned December 4th release. Based on reviews trickling out this afternoon, it’s living up to the hype.

The pic casts McDormand as a Nevada widow traveling the country in her van and critical reaction indicates it’s a tour de force performance from the two-time Best Actress winner. As you’ll recall, she took the gold statue in 1996 for Fargo and just three years back in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. It might seem early for such proclamations, but I’m confident enough to go on record. Frances McDormand is going to get a nomination for this. Obviously, there are plenty more films to be screened as far as her competition. This includes potential nominees like Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Amy Adams (Hillbilly Elegy), Kate Winslet (Ammonite), and Michelle Pfeiffer (French Exit), among others. We shall see how that plays out, but today’s reviews opens the door for a third McDormand victory. If that were to occur, she would be just the second leading lady to win the prize more than twice. Katherine Hepburn did so four times.

David Strathairn is the other notable actor to discuss. The veteran thespian has one nomination to his credit for Best Actor in 2005’s Good Night, and Good Luck. I have had him ranked at #2 (behind the late Chadwick Boseman for Ma Rainey) in my Supporting Actor estimates for the last two weeks. However, indications are that his role could be smaller than I originally figured. He could still get in, but I’m nowhere near confident. I suspect he won’t be at #2 when I update my projections next Thursday. Whether he’s in the top five remains to be seen (especially with multiple actors vying for spots in Mank, The Trial of the Chicago 7, and One Night in Miami).

Nomadland also seems bound for a Best Picture nod and Zhao is certainly in line for attention with her direction. She would become just the sixth female to compete in that race and she could have company in 2020 with Regina King for Miami. Expect a wider audience to know Zhao’s name shortly as she’s making 2021’s Eternals for Disney/Marvel. Adapted Screenplay appears to be a lock and the movie’s Score and Cinematography and Editing could also be noticed.

Bottom line: Nomadland has stood as a contender for some time. The buzz out today elevates it even more, especially for Zhao and McDormand. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

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…

 

Oscar Watch: Suburbicon

George Clooney’s directorial career has one Oscar bright spot in the form of 2005’s Good Night, and Good Luck which received six nominations, including Picture and Director. His other work behind the camera (2002’s Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, 2008’s Leatherheads, 2011’s The Ides of March, 2014’s The Monuments Men) haven’t fared as well on the awards circuit. With its Venice Film Festival, Clooney’s latest Suburbicon is looking like it will belong in the latter category.

The 1950s set crime comedy was penned by acclaimed directors Joel and Ethan Coen and early critical reaction indicates it has the feel of one of their efforts. However, reviews thus far are mixed with a current 60% Rotten Tomatoes score. Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, and Oscar Isaac are among the cast. Mr. Damon could have more of a good night and good luck come Oscar time with Downsizing, but I don’t look for Suburbicon to receive much attention come nominations time (perhaps some Golden Globe in the Comedy categories could surface).

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Money Monster Movie Review

A few years back, George Clooney revealed a list of his top 100 films released between 1964 and 1976. It’s an era he considers the best in the history of the medium and that’s certainly a valid hypothesis. In his impressive career, Clooney has appeared in movies that could have come out in that time frame. Good Night, and Good Luck and The Ides of March deal with themes of corporate corruption and dirty politics in ways that entries on his list did more often forty to fifty years ago. Titles like 1976’s Network and George’s all-time #1 All the President’s Men. Both of those features also deal with the positive and negative aspects of journalism and so does Money Monster. In 1976, 24 hour cable news didn’t exist yet. There were no programs like the one in the title where over-the-top host Lee Gates (Clooney) tells viewers how to invest their cash. Think Jim Cramer… except he looks like George Clooney.

Lee is set to tape his Friday show with his trusty director Patty (Julia Roberts) in his ear. Shortly after the cameras roll, Kyle (Jack O’Connell) crashes the set with a gun and explosive laden vest for Lee to don. His beef? He lost his life savings in a company that his now bomb strapped captive heartily endorsed. As millions of ciewees watch the situation live on TV, Monster becomes a rumination on the themes mentioned earlier.

That list Clooney made also correctly included 1975’s Dog Day Afternoon. Like that excellent effort, this is a real-time New York City hostage drama with humor frequently injected. Al Pacino gave one of his richest performances of his filmography in Afternoon and his riveting character made the tension substantial in it. That’s a problem here as the character of Kyle is neither fleshed out enough or believable enough to create any significant suspense. It’s not O’Connell’s fault really. He’s just written that way. And therein lies the film’s biggest drawback.

Often, Monster manages to coast on the considerable charms of its two leads and their nice rapport. We’ve seen plenty of pictures with this one’s “Wall Street is bad” theme but few with the star wattage. The quick running time (99 minutes) is a plus. This is never boring, though it’s credibility does dip in the third act.

The director, by the way, is an actress you may have heard of named Jodie Foster. She appeared in 1974’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and 1976’s Taxi Driver. They both also made that Clooney list. Money Monster probably won’t be listed on anyone’s all-time top 100 of anything. You may not regret investing a short amount of time in it, but there’s lists of similarly themed fare that’s far superior. Even this movie’s star did one.

**1/2 (out of four)