Oscar Predictions: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Get those pens (not pencils) ready for one nominee in the Animated Feature race at the 96th Academy Awards. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is out this weekend. The sequel to 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is drawing similar reactions to its predecessor. That means some serious raves as it currently stands at 95% on Rotten Tomatoes (on par with the 97% for part 1).

In December 2018, Into upended the animated category. Any hope that Incredibles 2 or Isle of Dogs held for taking the prize fell by the wayside upon its release. That happened late in the calendar for the first Spidey. We are not even at the midpoint of 2023 and Across has established itself as the strong frontrunner. Pixar’s Elemental, which drew so-so chatter from Cannes, may even struggle to make the final cut of five nominees.

Across is guaranteed a slot and is a huge threat to win no matter what follows in the next few months. It is only the first half of two sequels as Beyond the Spider-Verse follows in March of next year. You can safely assume it might be a hopeful for the 97th Academy Awards.

As for other competitions, I suppose Adapted Screenplay is feasible if Sony were to make a dedicated push. Critics are also pointing out the visual effects. Yet animated titles struggle to get noticed in that particular derby. It’s more likely this will stick to Animated Feature and it could very well stick the landing. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse Box Office Prediction

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse swings into multiplexes on June 2nd and hopes to start the month off on a high note. The animated sequel is the follow-up to 2018’s Into the Spider-Verse, which drew widespread critical acclaim resulting in a Best Animated Feature Oscar. It also grossed nearly $200 million domestically and $384 million worldwide.

There’s a trio of directors in Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson. Shameik Moore is back behind the mic as Miles/Spidey. Other performers voicing additional versions of the hero and other characters include Hailee Steinfeld (back as Spider-Woman), Brian Tyree Henry, Luna Lauren Velez, Jake Johnson, Jason Schwartzman, Issa Rae, Karan Soni, Daniel Kaluuya, Oscar Isaac, Greta Lee, Shea Whigham, and Andy Samberg.

Parts 2 and 3 of the franchise were assembled at the same time. Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse is slated for March 2024. In December 2018, part 1 started out with $35 million before legging out impressively to a $190 million stateside haul. Achieving a rare A+ Cinemascore rating, it stands to reason that audiences should be pumped for the sequel.

In the summer (as opposed to December), tentpoles are expected to post a gigantic opening immediately. Some forecasts have their projection as rosy as $120 million. That’s certainly possible, but I’ll temper expectations a bit and say $90-100 million is probably where this Verse starts.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse opening weekend prediction: $96.4 million

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Vengeance Review

After writing and directing episodes (and of course costarring) in The Office, B.J. Novak turns his triple threat talents to his big screen debut Vengeance. This dark comedy takes his Big Apple journalist Ben Manalowitz and bobs him into the Texas waters of Whataburgers, guns, and football. That’s where liking the wrong college gridiron squad is enough to get your car blown up (something that’s very believable to this reviewer typing this in Columbus, Ohio).

We meet Ben on the East Coast having a vapid conversation at a party with a guy named John played by none other than John Mayer. They extol the virtues of being single along with proper text etiquette for a late night booty call. His detachment to commitment is evidenced by the way he saves women in his phone. For example, there’s “Brunette Random House Party”. This eventually causes confusion because Ben can’t remember if that listing refers to a hookup from a casual gathering or a dark haired girl from an event put on by the publishing giant.

One of the entries is Abby Shaw. Ben hasn’t seen her for a little while and one night (while in bed with the aforementioned Random), he gets a call that she’s dead. Not only has she passed, but her brother Ty (Boyd Holbrook) suspects murder. And there’s no ifs, ands, or buts as Ben is expected to travel to Abby’s home Lone Star state for the funeral. The Shaw family, from sassy grandma to a little brother called El Stupido (he’s not offended because he doesn’t speak Spanish), were led to think their guest was her serious boyfriend. The Shaw clan also assumes Ben will be up for finding and extending Texas style justice to the killer.

Ben makes the trip for business and not revenge reasons as he believes this could make an intriguing and profitable podcast. His producer Eloise (Issa Rae) agrees. She reasons that dead white girls always sell. It’s not until Abby’s demise that Ben starts to learn about his former fling and maybe even care about her. He needs to figure out whether she was offed or if it was the opiate overdose that was offered as an official explanation. This means talking to the locals who are constantly quirky and consistently armed. Sometimes it feels like Novak’s screenplay has its characters act opposite of their caricatures for a quick and cheap chuckle.

One exception is Ashton Kutcher’s record producer where Abby was cutting demos. He has two big scenes and shines in both. The first is when the movie is on an upswing. The second occurs as this is collapsing under the weight of its admirable ambitions with an ending that rings false.

This isn’t a real story – it’s about how a faceless legion of podcast listeners will react to these characters (never mind that they’re actual people). At least that’s how Ben and his producer approach Abby’s demise. The script is filled with many fascinating ideas about divisions in the country represented by the lead’s New Yorker in this desolate setting. Novak doesn’t quite manage to bring it together though there’s plenty of genuinely funny dialogue and setups along the way. By the third act, his character’s actions defy believability.

Vengeance may eventually serve as our recording of a first time director somewhat clumsily finding his way. The targets hit are mostly in the comedic space while those with heftier themes tend to misfire. There’s times when I wanted to give the filmmaker a Texas sized toast for the attempt. When the script’s less effective elements pop up… well, bless his heart for trying.

**1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Predictions: Vengeance

B.J. Novak is known to most folks for his in front of the camera work on NBC’s The Office. You may not know he also served as a director, writer, and producer for the beloved show. His theatrical debut is the comedic mystery Vengeance and it’s out in theaters this weekend.

The filmmaker stars in the pic that premiered in June at the Tribeca Film Festival. Novak’s costars include Boyd Holbrook, Dove Cameron, Issa Rae, and Ashton Kutcher.

Reviews are solid and it sits at 84% on Rotten Tomatoes. This doesn’t, however, appear to be the type of effort that would garner awards chatter. My guess is it’ll also slip through the cracks with HFPA voters for the Golden Globes (in the Musical/Comedy races). My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: The Lovebirds

In 2017, comedian Kumail Nanjiani had a breakout hit with The Big Sick, a dramedy based on his real life experiences with his wife. An unexpected box office success, the pic even managed buzz for a Best Picture nomination and for Holly Hunter in Supporting Actress. Neither nod materialized and the film’s sole nomination was for its Original Screenplay.

The rom com/murder mystery The Lovebirds teams Nanjiani with his Sick director Michael Showalter once again. It’s out on Netflix today after Paramount moved it to streaming service from an April theatrical date due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the pic is generating fairly decent reviews (66% on Rotten Tomatoes) and praise for the chemistry between leads Nanjiani and Issa Rae, the critical reaction doesn’t approach that of Sick (with its 98% Tomato meter). Bottom line: don’t expect the Lovebirds to gather any passion to fly before the radar screen of awards voters. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The Coronavirus and The Movies

Let me start by stating the obvious – with COVID-19 or the Coronavirus dominating the worldwide news cycle, its impact on the moviegoing public is very far from the most important story. However, this is a blog focused on the world of film and especially the box office.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has touched the cinematic universe this week and beyond. The major news in this space began a couple of days back when the latest James Bond pic No Time to Die was delayed from April 10th until November. Producers made no secret that Coronavirus was the reason. For a tentpole release of this stature to get delayed opens up the real possibility of others that could follow. On a smaller scale, the Dave Bautista comedy My Spy was pushed from next Friday to mid April.

News continued yesterday as the South by Southwest Festival in Austin was canceled. Scheduled to begin on March 16, SXSW serves as a launching pad for dozens of features and documentaries. In 2020, this included such high profile titles as David Lowery’s The Green Knight, Judd Apatow’s The King of Staten Island with Pete Davidson, and Michael Showalter’s The Big Sick follow-up The Lovebirds starring Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae.

We will see what the future brings as outside factors are certainly influencing how studios and festival organizers make decisions.

The Photograph Box Office Prediction

Looking to bring in viewers for the four-day Valentine’s Day/President’s Day frame, the romantic drama The Photograph debuts in theaters this coming weekend. From director Stella Meghie, the pic features Issa Rae, Lakeith Stanfield, Chelsea Peretti, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Lil Rel Howery, and Courtney B. Vance.

The Photograph comes from Will Packer Productions, which has had a series of lower budget hits that include thrillers like No Good Deed and comedies such as Girls Trip and Night School. This genre is somewhat new territory to them.

Three years back, Meghie directed Everything, Everything – a younger skewing romantic tale which took in $11.7 million over three days. I believe a strong African-American audience could get this over that given the extra day of grosses.

The Photograph opening weekend prediction: $17.4 million

For my Sonic the Hedgehog prediction, click here:


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For my Downhill prediction, click here:


Little Box Office Prediction

Borrowing its plot themes from comedies such as Big and 13 Going on 30, the Will Packer produced pic Little debuts next weekend. Regina Hall stars as an overworked tech mogul who’s transformed into a teen version of herself. That 13-year-old self is played by Marsai Martin (of TV’s “Black-ish”) and the young actress holds an executive producer credit here (making her the youngest person ever to do so). Tina Gordon directs and Issa Rae, Justin Hartley, and Rachel Dratch costar.

Mr. Packer’s previous studio efforts like Girls Trip have turned into profitable ventures. Little hopes to bring in a sizable African-American audience and the chances of this over performing are real.

A gross in the mid to high teens is certainly feasible, but I’ll project low teens is where this ends up.

Little opening weekend prediction: $14 million

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