Lena Dunham gained notoriety through her HBO series Girls and five years after its conclusion, she’s brought her directorial effort Sharp Stick to Sundance. The comedy stars Kristine Froseth, Taylour Paige, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jon Bernthal, Scott Speedman, Tommy Dorfman, and Dunham herself.
Stick is measured at just 45% on Rotten Tomatoes and is one of the festival titles that drew a truly mixed to negative reaction. While Girls received plenty of Emmy nominations during its run, awards chatter is highly unlikely to materialize for Dunham’s cinematic project. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…
Going into 2021, Zendaya had already collected an Emmy for her leading role on HBO’s Euphoria and was known to moviegoers for her parts in the Spider-Man franchise and The Greatest Showman. She is the subject of my second write-up for performers who had a meaningful 2021 and it’s no coincidence that she’s the second that appeared in Spider-Man: No Way Home (currently breaking all pandemic era box office records). The first was Benedict Cumberbatch… and we might not be done yet with Home costars.
Her inclusion isn’t just due to her onscreen (and apparently offscreen) pairing with Spidey himself, Tom Holland. The actress/singer began the year garnering Oscar chatter for the Netflix drama Malcolm & Marie with John David Washington. While she didn’t ultimately nab an Academy mention, she was on the Critics Choice Awards radar for her acclaimed performance.
By summertime, she lent her voice to Space Jam: A New Legacy (voicing Lola Bunny). Her involvement with Warner Bros/HBO Max continued in the fall with the long awaited sci-fi epic Dune. It looks to be her first picture that will achieve plenty of award nominations and the sequel is already lined up for 2023.
And, of course, she capped it all off with her third appearance as MJ in the massive MCU series. Zendaya expanded her reach in 2021 as her films reached plenty of homes this year. My Year of posts will continue…
The Sopranos richly earned its reputation as a game changer that kickstarted a golden era of TV drama over two decades ago. James Gandolfini’s portrayal of Tony Soprano certainly deserves all the praise it got. The late actor’s work influenced so many antiheroes that followed on the small screen. You loved to hate him and kind of hated to love him, but he was a fully realized character that played out over six celebrated HBO seasons.
The main problem with The Many Saints of Newark, a prequel set in the late 1960s and early 70s, is that it’s difficult to fully realize those that populate it in just two hours. The hook drawing fans in is viewing Tony in his formative years. I couldn’t help but think of Star Wars episodes I-III (particularly The Phantom Menace). Did we really need to see Darth Vader as a precocious youngster? We catch glimpses of Tony’s journey to the dark side as he begins to abandon thoughts of a pro football career in favor of a Mafioso life. Yet the players around him don’t have time to breathe and that makes for a disappointing watch.
Many Saints (which translates to Moltisanti in Italian) begins in the tumultuous year of 1967 when Newark is in the midst of race riots. For the DiMeo crime family, they’re hoping for business as usual but the political strife keeps interfering. Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola) welcomes his gregarious father (Ray Liotta) and his gorgeous Italian bride (Michela De Rossi) back to the mainland. The organization’s enforcers include some familiar names from the show with more youthful faces: Junior (Corey Stoll), Sil (John Magaro), Paulie (Billy Magnussen) and Pussy (Samson Moeakiola). And there’s Johnny Soprano (Jon Bernthal), who’s nefarious activities are about to land him behind bars for a chunk of son Tony’s upbringing.
Played by William Ludwig in the ’67 portion and Michael Gandolfini (James’s real-life offspring) in the 70s, Tony is drawn to Dickie’s magnetism. With his father away and his deeply troubled mother Livia (Vera Farmiga, impressively adopting Nancy Marchand’s voice and mannerisms) not making life easy, we witness the seeds sown for Tony entering that thing of theirs.
Well… we kind of do. The screenplay (from show creator David Chase and Lawrence Konner) often focuses on Harold (Leslie Odom Jr.). He’s a low-level African-American employee of Dickie’s. The racial upheaval of the era causes him to develop his own little empire and that puts him at odds with the boss. Harold’s subplot is a fine example of one that could be fascinating given more time and context. Here it seems rushed and that includes an out of nowhere love triangle that seems forced to move plot points along.
Just as the older Tony housed multiple contradictions, so does Dickie. He fancies himself a good person, but his actions keep getting in the way. If Tony had mom issues, Dickie is chockfull of stepmom ones. And daddy ones. His most confessional relationship is with his dad’s identical brother Sally (also Liotta) who’s been locked up for years. Sally, in many ways, serves in the Dr. Melfi role from The Sopranos. He gets to hear the angst ridden thoughts of a crime leader who struggles with virtuous ideas while also being a madman.
Nivola gives an impressive performance as a character I ultimately didn’t care much about. As for Gandolfini, he’s the spitting image of his father and there are moments of wistful recognition in that (as well as short peeks at the rage). The script is littered with winking nods to the series past (or future I guess). Some are mildly fun while others come off as unneeded. The latter includes a surprise narrative structure that I won’t spoil. I left Newark appreciative of the rich experience that The Sopranos provided in its six course meal. The power dynamic of Dickie Moltisanti and Harold would be familiar in any Mafia tale. It’s just not as appetizing and it wasn’t enough to pull this viewer back in.
During its acclaimed eight year run on HBO, The Sopranos picked up 21 Emmys, 5 Golden Globe honors, and was named by Rolling Stone in 2016 as the greatest TV series of all time (a designation I wouldn’t argue with).
It has been 14 years since the show abruptly faded to black, but The Many Saints of Newark (out October 1 in theaters and HBO Max) serves as a prequel to the action. Set three decades before the New Jersey crime family made their way to the airwaves, Newark casts the late James Gandolini’s son Michael as Tony Soprano. Alan Taylor (a series vet) directs with creator David Chase cowriting. Costars include Alessandro Nivola, Leslie Odom Jr., Jon Bernthal, Corey Stoll, Billy Magnussen, John Magaro, Ray Liotta, and Vera Farmiga as Tony’s complicated mother Livia.
The film has screened at the Tribeca Film Festival and the review embargo is lifted. Based on its small number of write-ups, Newark stands at 80% on Rotten Tomatoes. Some critics are highlighting the performances of Nivola (as Tony’s mentor Dickie Moltisanti) and Gandolfini. However, I don’t believe what I’ve seen reaction wise indicates this will be an Oscar player in any category.
Bottom line: The Sopranos awards love will continue to rest with the TV branches of the Emmys and Globes. Don’t expect the Academy to make Newark a factor. My Oscar Prediction posts for the films of 2021 will continue…
For about a decade starting in the early 80s, the films of Barry Levinson were a magnet for awards nominations. 1988’s Rain Man won Best Picture and Levinson took directing honors. 1991’s Bugsy scored numerous nods including the aforementioned big races. The Natural and Good Morning, Vietnam earned acting mentions. Levinson received screenplay nominations for Diner and Avalon.
Over the past decade or so, the filmmaker’s most acclaimed titles have come on the small screen with several HBO movies. His previous big screen offering was the panned 2015 Bill Murray vehicle Rock the Kasbah.
Those fortunes could change with The Survivor, which has screened in Toronto. The black and white Holocaust drama tells the true life story of Harry Haft (Ben Foster). During his captivity at Auschwitz, he was forced to box fellow prisoners in order to survive. Costars include Billy Magnussen, Danny DeVito, Vicky Krieps, Peter Sarsgaard, and John Leguizamo.
Reviews from our neighbor up north have resulted in an 88% Rotten Tomatoes score. Not all the generally positive reaction are raves, but there’s one consistency. Foster is being heralded for his role. Despite praised performances in Hell or High Water and Leave No Trace, Foster has yet to capture the attention of Oscar voters. The actor reportedly lost a tremendous amount of weight for the part. That has been a recipe for making the ballot for plenty of winners and contenders including Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club) and Joaquin Phoenix (Joker) to name just two. The Best Actor race probably has two slots filled already with Will Smith (King Richard) and Benedict Cumberbatch (The Power of the Dog). Hopefuls are waiting in the wings like Denzel Washington (The Tragedy of Macbeth), Bradley Cooper (Nightmare Alley), and Leonardo DiCaprio (Don’t Look Up). There’s other performances from the fest circuit such as Phoenix (C’Mon C’Mon), Peter Dinklage (Cyrano), and Clifton Collins Jr. (Jockey) in the mix.
First things first. The Survivor needs to find a distributor and a 2021 release date to qualify. It will likely do so. The next question is how hard its eventual studio/streamer pushes for Foster. The Survivor is also a possibility in Cinematography, Makeup and Hairstyling, and maybe even Picture and Director if its gets the right push.
Bottom line: I’ve yet to even mention The Survivor in my weekly Oscar predictions. I doubt I’ll be projecting it yet for inclusion in the aforementioned categories, but I do suspect it will bubble up for the first time in other possibilities. My Oscar Prediction posts for the films of 2021 will continue…
As if Netflix doesn’t have enough competitors this Oscar season, a new one comes into the fold in the form of Malcolm & Marie. The drama comes from director Sam Levinson, who’s best known for creating the acclaimed HBO series Euphoria. Shot this year in COVID-19 times and hitting Netflix on February 5, the title characters are played by John David Washington and Euphoria star Zendaya (who earned a surprise Emmy last year for the series).
While the official review embargo is not up, social media reactions are out and they’re encouraging. Most of all, the buzz suggests a first Oscar nod could be coming for Zendaya. The general feeling (and one I concur with at press time) is that four slots could be filled already: Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman), Frances McDormand (Nomadland), and Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman). We now have another strong contender in the mix. I had yet to list her even in my top ten thus far and that will certainly change when my new estimates hit on Monday.
As for Washington, I’m far less certain. It all depends on just how hard Academy voters fall for the picture as a whole. If they do, Picture, Director, and especially Original Screenplay could be possibilities. If they don’t, the attention could focus solely on Zendaya. And there’s time for the chatter to increase with the extra two months before nominations are revealed.
Bottom line: Malcolm & Marie has immediately established itself as a player in Best Actress and maybe more. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
Riz Ahmed has seen his profile rise in recent years with roles in Nightcrawler, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and Venom. On the small screen, he is an Emmy winner for his work on HBO’s The Night Of. And now he could receive the attention of Academy voters with Darius Marder’s upcoming Sound of Metal.
The film casts Ahmed as the drummer of a band who begins to lose his hearing. Costars include Olivia Cooke and Mathieu Amalric. Metal first screened at the Toronto Film Festival over a year ago. Critics responded favorably with a 91% Rotten Tomatoes score with most of the reviews heaping praise on its lead.
It was recently announced that Amazon had picked up distribution rights. After a short theatrical run in November, it will be available for streaming in early December. Translation: expect an Oscar push for Ahmed. And it could work. At the moment, Best Actor appears less crowded than Actress. Beyond Anthony Hopkins in The Father (surefire nominee) and Delroy Lindo in Da 5 Bloods (likely nominee), the race looks wide open. Ahmed is an up and comer and with the right campaign, he could find himself in the mix. Two weeks ago, I had him listed 15th of 15 Actor hopefuls. Last week, that rose to 12th. On Thursday, I will whittle my contenders down to ten and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s listed.
Furthermore, the storyline to Metal could lend itself to a Best Sound nomination. This is the first year where Sound Editing and Sound Mixing are being combined into one race. While this category is normally reserved for big budget blockbusters and sci-fi material, I wouldn’t be shocked to see this make a legit play. Bottom line: Ahmed’s work and the sound techs have a shot here. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
Unique and formulaic are two terms mentioned in the descriptions for Concrete Cowboy, which has screened at the Toronto Film Festival. The drama marks the directorial debut of Ricky Staub. It casts Caleb McLaughlin of Stranger Things fame as a troubled teen sent to live with his father (Idris Elba), who’s part of a group of urban cowboys outside of Philadelphia. This is based on the Greg Neri novel Ghetto Cowboy. Costars include Lorraine Toussaint (who’s said to be a highlight), Jharrel Jerome (Emmy winner for HBO’s lauded When They See Us), and Method Man.
Some early reviews are very positive while others say it’s a familiar tale in an unfamiliar setting. Concrete is seeking U.S. distribution at the festival and it should have no trouble finding it. Finding awards chatter is another story as this doesn’t immediately jump out as a major contender. Stranger things have happened, but I don’t foresee it being much of a factor with Academy voters. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
When it comes to picking up hardware at awards shows for her acting, Regina King has been killing it lately. She’s won three Emmys for two different TV shows in the past half decade and may well win a fourth in a couple of weeks for HBO’s Watchmen. In 2019, King took Supporting Actress at the Oscars for If Beale Street Could Talk.
And now the Venice Film Festival has opened up real possibilities for her feature film directorial debut. One Night in Miami is based on the 2013 stage play by Kemp Powers, who adapted his own work here. It tells the fictionalized story of a real historical meeting involving Cassius Clay (before the name change to Ali) on the night he defeated Sonny Liston for the heavyweight title. The champ met with some other familiar names – Malcolm X, football star Jim Brown, and soul crooner Sam Cooke.
Reviews are out based on the Venice screening and Miami will be traveling to the Toronto Film Festival later this week. The verdict is strong so far with a 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Simply put, this feels like a legitimate contender for Oscar attention.
The acting placements will be interesting to watch. Of the four leading characters, conventional wisdom is that all four will contend in Supporting Actor. They are Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcom X, Eli Goree as Clay, Aldis Hodge as Brown, and Leslie Odom, Jr. as Cooke. The whole quartet is receiving raves, but I’d give it a slight edge for Ben-Adir to emerge out of the pack. If he does so, he would be the second performer nominated for playing X behind Denzel Washington for Spike Lee’s Malcolm X. If Goree were to emerge, he would also be the second actor recognized for playing Ali after Will Smith portrayed him in Michael Mann’s Ali.
Furthermore, a directing nod for King would make its own history as she would be the first African-American female to make the final cut (only five women have been nominated total in the Academy’s history). Powers could in the mix for his Adapted Screenplay and a Best Picture nod seems possible. Also of note: Odom performs a closing credits song titled “Speak Now” which is being mentioned as a probable contender in Original Song.
Bottom line: one night in Venice has upped the visibility for One Night in Miami to be a player on the circuit. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
Blogger’s Note (09/08): I am downgrading my original estimate from $4.3 million down to just $2.3 million. Simply put, this probably would have been better off going the streaming route.
Sony Pictures is hoping that a young audience will turn out for next weekend’s The Broken Hearts Gallery. The romantic comedy comes from first time director Natalie Krinsky and was originally scheduled for a July release before the COVID-19 pandemic altered the plans. Executive produced by Selena Gomez, it stars Geraldine Viswanathan (best known for Blockers and HBO’s Bad Education) and Dacre Montgomery (Billy from Netflix’s Stranger Things). Costars include Utkarsh Ambudkar, Molly Gordon, and Bernadette Peters.
I’m a bit skeptical that this has any breakout potential. Many similar pics in this genre are based on novels with a hoped for built-in audience. Gallery doesn’t have that advantage or much star power to lure its intended demographic into the multiplex. The best hope for Sony is that this crowd is simply starved for anything to go see.
I don’t believe that’ll be enough to get this over $3 million.
The Broken Hearts Gallery opening weekend prediction: $2.3 million