Oscar Watch: Summer of Soul

Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson has had a sterling career with his rap group The Roots and as Jimmy’s Fallon’s Tonight Show bandleader over the years. He can now add acclaimed documentary filmmaker to his resume with Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised). The film focuses on the Harlem Cultural Festival, a series of concerts featuring the likes of Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight & The Pips, and Sly and the Family Stone that took place in the summer of 1989. That also happened to be the season of another festival named Woodstock.

Soul premiered at the Sundance Film Festival to massive acclaim and ended up taking that festival’s Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize. The doc hits theaters and Hulu streaming this Friday. More reviews have come in and it stands at 97% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Will the Sundance love translate to Oscar voters? Every time I write about documentaries in these posts, I must point out the Academy’s branch in that category is notoriously unpredictable. Oftentimes, the most hailed and popular docs don’t make the cut. I suspect distributor Fox Searchlight will give this a major push and that could put it over the edge. That said, projecting the pics of this genre which make it in is always a tricky proposition. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Run Review

**There’s really no proper to review Run without some spoilers, so consider yourself warned.**

Cinematic logic dictates that no matter carefully the villain in a thriller strives to cover up their crimes, they will save a newspaper article in a fairly convenient location that exposes their vicious deeds. Same goes for opened mail that was meant for someone else. These time tested cliches are in Aneesh Chaganty’s Hulu pic Run, the director’s follow-up to his well regarded Searching from 2018. And there are additional moments in the efficient 89 minutes of screen time that are straight out of its Genre 101.

That said, Run has some things going for it. We open with Diane Sherman (Sarah Paulson) giving birth prematurely to her daughter whose survival in question. Flash forward 17 years later and Chloe (Kiera Allen, making her film debut) is alive, but in a wheelchair and experiencing various other illnesses. It’s time for the homeschooled teen to eagerly leave the nest for college which Mom appears cool with. Not so fast.

It takes little time for the screenplay to establish that a Munchausen by proxy situation could be happening. For those who haven’t consulted their medical journals lately, the question is whether Diane is purposely keeping her actually health child sick and confining her to their Washington farmhouse. The casting of Paulson, known for playing whackos, is a solid clue.

Run is elevated by its lead performances. We know what to expect from its known actress and Paulson plays this Mommie Dearest to the hilt. However, it’s Allen who shines. Chloe is certainly a character to be pitied, but she’s also much smarter and resourceful than your average daughter in distress.

As mentioned, the mechanisms of the storyline do cover familiar ground as Chloe tries to wheel or (maybe) walk far away from this matriarchal mayhem. Diane would have been wise to invest in a paper shredder as she tries to cut off Chloe’s access to the outside world. Yet Run earns points with a genuinely strong and sympathetic heroine and a final twist that confirms she is still a step ahead of her captor.

*** (out of four)

Oscar Watch: The United States vs. Billie Holiday

As the latecomers for awards consideration are getting their industry screenings, the Oscar picture is becoming a bit more clear for several contenders. In the case of The United States vs. Billie Holiday (hitting Hulu on February 26), the verdict is not encouraging. The biopic of singer Billie Holiday has yet to have its official review embargo lifted, but word of mouth indicates many think this is a misfire.

The pic comes from director Lee Daniels, whose 2009 effort Precious picked up six Academy nominations and victories in Supporting Actress for Mo’Nique and its Adapted Screenplay. Based on early buzz, the only performer with any shot of recognition is Andra Day in the title role for Best Actress. The supporting cast that includes Natasha Lyonne, Trevante Rhodes, Garrett Hedlund, and Da’Vine Joy Randolph appear to be non-factors.

As I have discussed on the blog previously, Best Actress is a crowded field with four likely slots filled: Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman), Frances McDormand (Nomadland), and Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman). The fifth spot does appear up for grabs and some pundits have lauded Day’s work as a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing experience. However, I find it more plausible that the Academy could go for anyone from Zendaya (Malcolm & Marie) to Michelle Pfeiffer (French Exit) to Sophia Loren (The Life Ahead), to name just three. Last week, I had Day in the mix at #5. Expect her to drop when I release my new estimates this Thursday.

Down the line races such as Production and Costume Design (and perhaps Makeup and Hairstyling) could be possibilities here, but I have a hunch Holiday could also be blanked come nomination morning. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Happiest Season

Hulu looks to have a holiday hit on their hands when Happiest Season holds its streaming debut on November 25th. The rom com stars Kristen Stewart as her character embarks on a holiday outing with the family of her girlfriend (Mackenzie Davis). Problem is, said girlfriend hasn’t yet come out to said family. Clea DuVall directs with a supporting cast including Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Dan Levy, Victor Garber, and Mary Steenburgen.

The review embargo lifted today and the results indicate a winner. Its Rotten Tomatoes rating stands at 93%. Particular praise has gone to a trio of performances: Stewart, Plaza, and Levy (who’s having quite a year with his multiple Emmys for Schitt’s Creek). When it comes to Oscar, however, I am skeptical that Season has any impact (potentially similar to another acclaimed Hulu comedy Palm Springs).

The Golden Globes, on the other hand, could be a different story. The pic could contend in the Musical/Comedy race, but I especially think Stewart could be recognized in Best Actress. Ms. Stewart has had a number of critically appreciated roles in her post Twilight years. A nod in the Musical/Comedy category would mark her first Globes mention. Oscar may have to wait for another season. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Palm Springs

Hulu gave us a nice surprise this weekend with the release of Palm Springs, a refreshingly clever take on the Groundhog Day concept from director Max Barbakow and screenwriter Andy Saria. I wrote my review of it yesterday and you can find it here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/07/10/palm-springs-movie-review/

The sci-fi comedy originally debuted at the Sundance Film Festival and reviews have been impressive (to the tune of a 95% Rotten Tomatoes rating). Starring Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti, the RT score for Springs easily eclipses that of The King of Staten Island at 72%. The latter has been mentioned for potential awards attention – albeit in a long shot fashion.

So could this even more acclaimed pic be a contender? Unlikely, but you never know in this highly unusual 2020. If Springs were to vie for any prize, I feel Original Screenplay would be its best hope. The story could be different when it comes to the Golden Globes. That’s where the genres of Drama and Musical/Comedy are divided. Depending on the competition coming in the last half of this long year, both Samberg and especially Milioti (in a breakout role) could at least be on the minds of Globes voters.

I know one thing. Based on my very positive reaction to it, I think it should at least be considered. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The Oscars Go Streaming

The COVID-19 pandemic has obviously changed the operation of movie theaters for the past two months and that looks to continue into the foreseeable future in many states across the nation. For someone who has a blog that focuses on a lot on Oscar forecasting, this has raised numerous questions. The primary one is: could there really be an Oscar telecast for 2020 pictures next year if there’s little product being released? And I certainly don’t think Sonic the Hedgehog or Birds of Prey will sweep the ceremony in February 2021.

A significant part of the answer to that question was revealed today. The Academy, after an internal Zoom conference, announced that streaming and VOD product will indeed be eligible for Oscar consideration. You may ask – weren’t Netflix and other streamers already being nominated? After all, 2019 saw Best Picture and/or acting nods for The Irishman, Marriage Story, and The Two Popes. Well, not really. The previous rule was that each streaming entry had to screen in Los Angeles for a one week awards qualifying run. That rule (at least for 2020) has been abolished.

So what does that mean? The uncertainty surrounding the opening of theaters could mean a lot more features hitting Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and any other VOD platforms. We have witnessed this already with Trolls World Tour landing on small screens when it was supposed to hit multiplexes. That’s not all. Just yesterday, Judd Apatow’s latest comedy King of Staten Island starring Pete Davidson skipped its theatrical run and opted for a June VOD date. The Lovebirds, which reunites Kumail Nanjiani with his The Big Sick director Michael Showalter, arrives May 22 on Netflix. The Seth Rogen comedy An American Pickle will now premiere on HBO Max.

With today’s announcement, I suspect we could see many Oscar contenders (especially lower budget ones) make the streaming move. And with the uncertainty regarding film festivals like Cannes, Venice, Toronto, and Telluride (typically the launching pads for such content), this could be the easiest way to get such features to the masses around the same time frame.

My Oscar coverage, when it’s available, will continue here!

Daily Streaming Guide: April 3rd Edition

Today’s Streaming Guide focuses on an Oscar nominated period drama that is available for viewing via Hulu:

1998’s Gods and Monsters is responsible for introducing many American filmgoers to the work of Ian McKellen before he became a household name shortly thereafter with the X-Men and Lord of the Rings franchises. He’s cast as director James Whale, most known for his horror classics Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. Set in the 1950s, Whale is aging and medically fragile and under the care of Lynn Redgrave’s nurse. Brendan Fraser (in rare dramatic work) costars as a young gardener who befriends Whale and is the object of his affection.

Monsters deservedly garnered Academy nominations for McKellen and Redgrave and won Best Adapted Screenplay. It’s worthy of a look.

That does it for now, folks! Until next time…

Daily Streaming Guide: April 1st Edition

Today’s Streaming Guide give us a mid 1980s comedic adventure that was an unexpected  blockbuster at the time and is available via Hulu:

Romancing the Stone was not expected to be a success at the time of its release. From director Robert Zemeckis, Michael Douglas had yet to establish himself as a bankable leading man. The pic casts him as a petty smuggler who assists Kathleen Turner’s romance novelist searching for her kidnapped sister in Colombia. Danny DeVito memorably costars as one of the kidnappers. Critics and audiences alike gave it the stamp of approval.

Stone, influenced by the Indiana Jones series, marked Zemeckis’s first major hit. Many would follow including Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Forrest Gump. The Douglas/Turner/DeVito trio would reunite for a sequel the next year with the less effective The Jewel of the Nile. They would join forces in 1989 for The War of the Roses, the black comedy directed by DeVito that is also well worth a look.

That does it for today, folks! Until next time…

Daily Streaming Guide: March 29th Edition

The Streaming Guide today starts with a bold picture that defies genre explanation from 2018 and it’s currently available on Hulu:

Sorry to Bother You is one of the most audacious directorial debuts in recent memory from  Boots Riley, most known for his contributions to the world of hip hop. It is a daring race relations comedy and drama with an unmistakable point of view on capitalism. Sorry is also a romance, a tale of unions, and it manages to somehow incorporate science fiction elements with human and horse hybrids. That’s right… if you’re looking for something wholly original to view, this fits the bill. The cast includes Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Armie Hammer, and Danny Glover.

For my second pic (also via Hulu), I turn to 2017’s I, Tonya. From Craig Gillespie, it recounts the sordid saga of the 1994 Winter Olympics attack on figure skater Nancy Kerrigan. Margot Robbie earned an Oscar nod for her portrayal of rival Tonya Harding and Allison Janney took Supporting Actress gold as her wildly eccentric mother. Seek out ESPN’s 30 for 30 doc about the subject and watch I, Tonya as an added bonus.

And that does it for today, folks! Until next time…

Daily Streaming Guide: March 23rd Edition

Today’s Daily Streaming Guide brings us a must watch for horror fans who like a little comedy and irreverence spliced in!

2012’s The Cabin in the Woods is streaming on Hulu. What begins as a seemingly run-of-the-mill scary pic about college students being terrorized in a cabin takes all kinds of unexpected and often humorous turns. The film is cowritten by Joss Whedon and a month after its release, he struck box office gold with the first Avengers. This is directed by his colleague Drew Goddard (making his debut) with a cast includes Thor himself Chris Hemsworth, Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford doing sublime work, and genre legend Sigourney Weaver in a small yet pivotal role.

Cabin wasn’t a big hit at the multiplexes, but it’s deservedly achieved cult status since. I find it to be one of the wildly entertaining flicks of its kind in recent times.

That’s all for now, folks! Until next time…