Oscar Watch: Dream Horse

Euros Lyn’s Dream Horse debuted nearly a year and a half ago at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival to solid buzz. Over this past weekend, it finally opened domestically with a soft box office imprint. The sports dramedy casts Toni Collette in the true story of a Welsh horse breeder with Damian Lewis and Owen Teale in the supporting cast.

The Rotten Tomatoes meter is 90% and critics are especially effusive in their praise for its lead. This is to be expected as Collette has turned in numerous fine performances over the past quarter century. However, this has surprisingly resulted in just one Oscar nomination in Supporting Actress for 1999’s The Sixth Sense. This is despite lead and supporting turns that could have been on the awards radar including Muriel’s Wedding, About a Boy, Little Miss Sunshine, Hereditary, and Knives Out.

There is definitely a narrative that the actress is long overdue for her second nod. With this particular feature, it’s likely to get lost in the shuffle. Luckily for Collette, she still has a role later in 2021 with Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley and it will certainly get a long look from voters.

Bottom line: it’s just a matter of time before Collette gets a return trip to the red carpet after two decades. Dream is unlikely to be the horse that carries her there. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: A Quiet Place Part II

Fourteen months after its scheduled release, A Quiet Place Part II looks to make noise at the box office when it debuts over Memorial weekend. John Krasinski’s horror sequel starring wife Emily Blunt was days away from release before the COVID-19 pandemic changed the world. The 2018 original was critically hailed and generated some Oscar buzz. However, it managed only a nod in Sound Editing (this was before Sound Editing and Sound Mixing were combined into one category). It lost to Bohemian Rhapsody. 

The review embargo lifted today. The general consensus is that AQPII nearly matches the quality of its predecessor, but not quite. This is evident in the Rotten Tomatoes score. Part I reached 96%. Part II sits at 90%. The chances of a Best Picture nomination seemed rather unrealistic anyway. This does not hold true for Best Sound where it could make a play. There is bound to be serious competition in the form of musicals like In the Heights and West Side Story and spectacles such as Dune and Top Gun: Maverick. 

Marco Beltrami’s score is getting some kudos (his work in the original received a Globe nod), but that could be a long shot as well. There is another higher profile race to mention. Millicent Simmonds, reprising her role as Blunt’s daughter, is being singled out. The deaf actress received raves for Part I and critics are saying her work here is a highlight. A Best Supporting Actress is not impossible, but there’s a major caveat.

It seems like an actress in a horror flick has been hyped up every year in recent times. This includes Toni Collette in Hereditary, Lupita Nyong’o for Us, and Elisabeth Moss in The Invisible Man. Yet the Academy seems to never take the bait. It is worth noting that Blunt won Supporting Actress at SAG for the original and then didn’t get in at the Oscars. Simmonds probably won’t make final cut though it’ll be worth monitoring the strength of this category in the months ahead.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Antebellum

In addition to her successful music career, Janelle Monae has transitioned nicely into the cinematic universe over the past few years. In fact, her three highest profile supporting performances – Moonlight, Hidden Figures, Harriet – have all garnered Oscar attention and nominations for her costars.

So it stood to at least wonder if her first major starring role could accomplish the same. The horror pic Antebellum was slated to hit theaters in April. Like so many other features in these COVID times, that plan was scuttled and it’s now set to debut on streaming services on September 18th. From directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz, it casts Monae as both a modern day author and a slave in the era of the Underground Railroad. The supporting players include Eric Lange, Jena Malone, Jack Huston, and Gabourey Sidibe.

There’s been a recent trend of actresses being lauded for their work in this genre. Both Lupita Nyong’o (Us) and Toni Collette (Hereditary) likely just missed inclusion in the final five for Best Actress in 2017 and 2018, respectively. The review embargo for Antebellum expired today and it certainly doesn’t appear as if Monae will join that club. The Rotten Tomatoes score is a meager 36% and several critics are calling this is a misfire.

Bottom line: while Monae’s involvement in projects has captured the attention of awards voters, she’ll need to wait for her turn as the focus. This one isn’t it. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: I’m Thinking of Ending Things

For over two decades, Charlie Kaufman has been one of the most celebrated screenwriters in the business. His original written works have resulted in a nomination for 1999’s Being John Malkovich and a win for 2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Kaufman picked up an Adapted Screenplay nod for 2002’s Adaptation. Additionally, his direction of the stop-motion tale Anomalisa in 2015 brought in a Best Animated Feature nomination.

Kaufman’s name on a project immediately brings awards buzz and his latest effort is I’m Thinking of Ending Things, which debuts on Netflix September 4th. Described as anti-romance and a horror flick, it marks the auteur’s third film behind the camera. Based on the 2016 novel by Iain Reid, Things stars Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette, and David Thewlis.

The review embargo lapsed today and it currently stands at 88% on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s a fine number, but some of the critical reaction mirrors 2008’s Synedoche, New York (Kaufman’s directorial debut). Hailed as a masterpiece by some with others calling it a bleak misfire, Things appears headed for a polarized mix and that will likely translate to Oscar voters.

As for the performers, it does appear Plemons would contend in lead actor (this was more uncertain previously). Several critics have compared his performance to that of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s in Synedoche. I have trouble envisioning him being a major contender here (though his supporting work in the upcoming Judas and the Black Messiah gives him another potential shot at a first time nod). Buckley got some chatter for her breakout role in last year’s Wild Rose. I feel her chances are a bit stronger than her costar, but the Best Actress race looks like it could be crowded in 2020. Despite many heralded performances, Collette has only received one Oscar nomination and it was over 20 years ago with The Sixth Sense. There could be a groundswell of support for her to be recognized, especially after many felt she were snubbed for 2018’s Hereditary. She may have the best chance for inclusion, but it too feels like a reach at the moment.

I’m thinking that Ending Things will contend in Adapted Screenplay and it certainly could be recognized there. We will have to see how this fall’s other heavy hitters land to see how full that race is. Even with some negative reaction, voters have shown their appreciation for Kaufman before and they may again. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: A Midyear 2020 Report

It might be hard to fathom, but we are at the midpoint of this experience we call 2020. As COVID-19 and social issues dominate the landscape, the cinematic world has necessarily taken a backseat to the times. The Academy recently announced that the Oscars will be delayed until April 2021 and that movies premiering in January and February of that year will be eligible for consideration. This is in addition to previous notice that streaming pictures that forgo a theatrical release will also be able to nab nominations at that ceremony.

Since theaters have essentially been shuttered since March and with several festivals (the normal breeding grounds for awards hopefuls) either canceled or significantly modified, a midyear report on Oscar contenders is, to put it mildly, challenging.

Yet… here goes! As awards followers already know, the bulk of serious contenders aren’t  typically released until fall anyway. In fact, the earliest release of the nine Best Picture nominees last year was Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which came out in late July. The remaining 8 had autumn and winter dates.

The Sundance Film Festival from January did give us some potential contenders. Florian Zeller’s The Father was acclaimed and it could score nods for previous winners Anthony Hopkins in lead actor and Olivia Colman in Supporting Actress. The biographical tale of feminist icon Gloria Steinem finds several actresses playing her at different ages. Julianne Moore and Alicia Vikander (they also both have gold statues) are among them and could be potential nominees. Previous nominee Carey Mulligan garnered solid reviews for Promising Young Woman. 

And there’s Minari. The South Korean family drama starring Steven Yeun won the Jury Prize and Audience Award at Sundance. I wouldn’t sleep on its chances with the right marketing push from its studio A24. That same studio has the 19th century set indie First Cow, which also has its ardent admirers. They would need to make a major push in order for Oscar to notice it.

For movies that have actually come out, the Jane Austen inspired Emma saw positive notices for lead Anya-Taylor Joy. Ben Affleck got some of the best reviews of his career with the basketball drama The Way Back. Pete Davidson’s starring debut in The King of Staten Island drew mostly praise. And Elisabeth Moss starred in the hit The Invisible Man and it’s a possibility she could be recognized even though acting nominations in horror flicks are rare. Neither Toni Collette (Hereditary) in 2018 or Lupita Nyong’o (Us) last year could pull it off. Moss could also be recognized for Shirley, a drama that debuted at Sundance and is already available via streaming.

Then there’s Netflix’s Da 5 Bloods from Spike Lee. The director saw his last picture, BlacKkKlansman, receive numerous nominations and win Adapted Screenplay. I would posit that Bloods stands the best chance at multiple nods including possibly Picture and Director. Delroy Lindo (though it’s not clear whether he’d be campaigned for in lead or supporting) seems highly likely to be recognized. And if he’s campaigned for in Best Actor (which he probably should be), it could open the door for Clarke Peters or Jonathan Majors to make the cut in supporting.

In other races – Pixar’s Onward could compete in Animated Feature, though Disney could save their muscle for the upcoming Soul. Look for Emma to nab a Costume Design nod.

And we shall leave it there for now, folks! As readers of the blog know, expect more Oscar Watch posts to come your way as titles screen. Typically it’s late August when I start my weekly predictions and hopefully that’s a tradition that can be kept in this crazy thing we call 2020…

Oscar Watch: The Invisible Man

Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man, updating the H.G. Wells novel and classic 1933 film, debuts Friday. With 90% currently on Rotten Tomatoes, the word-of-mouth should propel the pic to quite visible box office numbers. In doing so, Invisible should break a streak of underperforming horror titles in recent months.

Much of the praise from reviewers is centered on its lead Elisabeth Moss. The Emmy winner for The Handmaid’s Tale garnered a small amount of Oscar buzz in 2019 for Her Smell that never came to fruition. I look for this to be the third year in a row where an actress garners buzz for a scary movie. In 2018, it was Toni Collette in Ari Aster’s Hereditary. In 2019 – Lupita Nyong’o for Jordan Peele’s Us. Both performers received a few wins from the critics groups. They both failed to get nods come Academy time.

This will likely be the case for Moss as well, but expect lots of speculation that she could make the cut before she doesn’t. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Doctor Sleep

When it was released nearly 40 years ago in theaters, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining was not considered the landmark horror classic that it is today. In fact, the film received zero Oscar nominations. It did score two Razzie nods. That ceremony celebrates the worst in moviemaking each year. Both Kubrick and Shelley Duvall as the terrified wife of Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance were singled out for their (apparently) subpar work.

That seems hard to fathom these days with its standing as one of the genre’s best. This weekend comes Doctor Sleep, the sequel to both Stephen King’s 1977 novel and Kubrick’s picture. Reviews are mostly solid, but not across the board and the Rotten Tomatoes score is at 78%.

Truth be told, Sleep was never expected to be an awards player and reaction so far hasn’t done anything to alter that. There is one potential, if unlikely, exception. Critical buzz has heaped praise on the supporting work of Rebecca Ferguson, who’s said to steal the show as a cult leader with psychic powers.

A performance being recognized in the horror space is quite rare. Just last year, there were numerous calls for Toni Collette to get Best Actress attention in Hereditary. It never happened. Ferguson absolutely needs critics groups to bestow her with wins in order to get anywhere on Academy voters radar. If that occurs, she may have a small shot. If so, she would be the sixth performer Oscar nominated from a King adaptation: Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie in Carrie, Kathy Bates (who won for Misery), Morgan Freeman for The Shawshank Redemption, and Michael Clarke Duncan in The Green Mile.

Bottom line: Ferguson needs a whole lot of outside help to be a factor in the Supporting Actress derby and I wouldn’t count on it. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Midsommar Movie Review

Ari Aster has, as the Swedish might say, bollar. Look it up and I suspect you’ll agree. His sophomore effort Midsommar is another cult movie. I don’t mean that in the traditional sense of a picture outside the mainstream that has a devoted following, but that applies too. Aster makes stuff about actual cults and the rituals they participate in. He makes horror movies without the jump scares we’ve grown accustomed to. That applied to his debut Hereditary, which stuck with me more powerfully post credits than this did. Midsommar sometimes fails at the delicate line of laughing at it rather than being creeped out by it. I can’t help but be impressed at the filmmaker’s gusto for trying, however.

Just as in Hereditary, the storyline is focused on grief and a lead female character experiencing it. College student Dani (Florence Pugh) is dealing with a horrific tragedy involving her mentally unbalanced sister and a murder suicide that tears her world apart. Boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) seems ill equipped to console her. A mysterious trip to a remote commune in Sweden to decompress seems to be as viable a distraction as any. So off they go with Christian’s roommate Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), who grew up in the far off location. They’re joined by other flat mates Josh (William Jackson Harper), who is centering his thesis on the excursion and the constantly vaping Mark (Will Poulter), who seemingly just thinks he’s in for a fun summer getaway. Not even a little bit.

Bizarre sex, hallucinogenic drugs, and disturbing deaths involving rocks roll before our often unbelieving eyes over the next two and a half hours. That’s a lot of running time to spend with these demented country folk. Aster has no qualms about slowing things down and daring us to take it all in. The scenery is beautiful. This is a rare horror film that basks in the daylight. There’s no darkness to shroud the rather infrequent gore.

Midsommar is ultimately about Dani dealing with her stages of grief and stages of a relationship on the fritz. Pugh proves herself up to the task in displaying the range of emotions that the role requires. Reynor has to bare a lot as well, both literally and figuratively. No performance quite rises to the impeccable work of Toni Collette in Hereditary. There are sequences that do succeed in giving us a severe sense of the heebie jeebies. Perhaps the most garishly impressive is early when we witness Dani’s family disbandment.

I suspect Midsommar will find its cult of admirers who declare it brilliant. Others will refuse to buy into what it’s selling. There are stretches where it’s a challenge to accept Dani and Christian wouldn’t have just headed for the hills when they realized what they were getting themselves involved in. I’m more middle of the road when considering its overall impact and that’s at least a couple notches below where Aster’s first cult flick grabbed my attention.

*** (out of four)

Midsommar Box Office Prediction

Arriving smack dab in Hollywood’s version of midsummer is Ari Aster’s Midsommar next week. The horror pic is the filmmaker’s sophomore effort after his critically acclaimed debut Hereditary from last summer. Centered around a pair of couples who attend a mysterious Swedish festival that occurs every 90 years, the creepy flick stars Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, and Will Poulter.

Like Hereditary, Aster’s follow-up has garnered strong critical reaction with a current Rotten Tomatoes score of 96%. Last June, Hereditary started off with $13.5 million with an eventual $44 million domestic gross. Reviewers liked it more than audiences did and word of mouth suggests that could apply to Midsommar.

It’s out on Wednesday to capitalize on the long July 4th holiday frame. A potential comp could be 2014’s Deliver Us From Evil, another scary title that opened over the same weekend. Evil took in nearly $10 million for the traditional Friday to Sunday period with $15 million when adding Wednesday and Thursday. I’ll say Midsommar falls a bit under those numbers.

Midsommar opening weekend prediction: $7.8 million (Friday to Sunday); $13.2 million (Wednesday to Sunday)

For my SpiderMan: Far From Home prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/06/25/spider-man-far-from-home-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: Midsommar

Midsommar is director Ari Aster’s eagerly awaited follow-up to his acclaimed debut Hereditary from last year. The filmmaker stays in the horror genre for this tale of two couples visiting a mysterious Swedish festival that only occurs every 90 years. Cult like scares follow.

The pic has screened ahead of its July 5 stateside bow and critics are once again singing Aster’s praises. It stands at 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, while some reviews point out audience reaction could be quite mixed (like his first effort).

This particular genre is usually ignored by Oscar voters. A groundswell of support began to gather in 2018 for Toni Collette’s lead role in Hereditary. The female lead here, Florence Pugh, has also gotten raves for her work. Yet if Collette couldn’t get in, it probably doesn’t bode well for this lead actress. Furthermore, Lupita Nyong’o could garner attention for her work earlier in 2019 for Jordan Peele’s sophomore flick Us.

Bottom line: if Hereditary couldn’t get on the Academy’s radar, don’t expect Midsommar to do so. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…