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…
The deeply troubled agoraphobic Anna Fox (Amy Adams) has a habit of avoiding reality in The Woman in the Window by chugging a bottle of wine and distracting herself with classic old movies. This is her way of not dealing with the story unfolding around her. There are times where I could relate as those vintage pictures would provide a better escape than what happens here for the most part.
Directed by Joe Wright (Atonement, Darkest Hour),Window is based on a 2018 novel by A.J. Finn. It features quite a list of Oscar winners (Gary Oldman, Julianne Moore) and actors you may think have won them (Adams, Jennifer Jason Leigh). The screenwriter Tracy Letts is a Pulitzer winning playwright. With that level of talent involved, one would think Window would rise above the histrionic Hitchcockian “homage” that it is. Mentioning Mr. Hitchcock might be too complimentary. This shares many similar plot points to 2016’s The Girl on the Train, which was also based on a book meant to be read on an airplane or the beach you rush to after the flight. You could easily call this The Girl on the Painkillers.
Dr. Fox is a child psychologist whose condition has kept her confined to her Manhattan apartment. In addition to her binge drinking/movie watching, she spends most of her day spying on neighbors. The new ones across the street are the Russell family – businessman Alistair (Oldman), wife Jane (Moore), and teen son Ethan (Fred Hechinger). Or maybe not. After the wife and boy visit her, Anna suspects some abuse is occurring in the household. The mystery deepens when Jennifer Jason Leigh shows up as Alistair’s spouse. Maybe the abundance of Anna’s medication is causing hallucinations. Our voyeur tries to enlist the NYPD, led by Brian Tyree’s Henry detective, and her basement tenant (Wyatt Russell) to assist with her amateur sleuthing. There’s also the matter of Anna’s only family. She’s separated from her husband (Anthony Mackie) and they have a young daughter. They turn up in flashback form and saying much more would enter spoiler territory.
The Woman in the Window contains plenty of twists that might have worked in paperback form. The treatment by Wright and Letts is a tonally frantic one. This is primarily a melodrama that begs to be taken seriously from time to time. Some of the performers seem in on it as Oldman, Moore, and Hechinger got the memo to overact wildly. Yet this never reaches its apparent goal of being a genuine guilty pleasure. That’s too bad because the behind the camera personnel and cast in front of it deserved better. Many of those examples are contained in Anna’s cinematic collection in her brownstone where less spellbinding developments are transpiring.
On paper, at least, Joe Wright’s The Woman in the Window has a whole lot of Oscar connections in it. The psychological thriller stars Amy Adams, recipient of six nominations who’s never won (she’s considered well overdue for a victory). Costars include Academy winners and nominees such as Gary Oldman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Julianne Moore in addition to Anthony Mackie, Wyatt Russell, and Brian Tyree Henry. Screenwriter Tracy Letts has a Pulitzer Prize to his name. And Wright has seen two of his efforts (Atonement, Darkest Hour) nab Best Picture nods.
Window hits Netflix today after originally being planned for a fall 2019 premiere via 20th Century Fox. It was pushed back to May 2020 due to reshoots and the COVID-19 pandemic. The pic was finally snatched up by the streamer, foregoing a theatrical release. So there’s the question of whether this is even eligible for the Oscars since it’s not hitting the big screen. Not that it matters.
Word of mouth over the past several months has not been kind and the just lapsed review embargo confirms that. The Rotten Tomatoes score is a troubling 27% with many critics calling it a poor Hitchcock ripoff. Despite the many participants with a nexus to awards attention, Window appears more likely to garner Razzie mentions than anything at the big dance.
One of the most eagerly awaited Oscar contenders premiered today at the Venice Film Festival and it seems to have only elevated its status. Noah Baumbach’s MarriageStory is receiving rave reviews as it explores the dissolution of the union between Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver’s characters. It currently stands at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Baumbach’s sole Academy nod came for his Original Screenplay for TheSquidandtheWhale in 2005. A second recognition in that race seems assured. The auteur, who based the script on his own divorce from actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, also stands an excellent shot at his first directing nomination and the picture itself is likely to make the cut among the 5-10 nominees in the biggest race of all.
As for the performers, Marriage is the rare film that could see nods in all four acting categories. Johansson has remarkably never the beneficiary of an Academy nomination, despite four Golden Globe calls for her work. Expect that to change in what’s being called a career best. Driver appears in line for his second Oscar nod in a row after last year’s supporting turn in BlacKkKlansman. In the supporting races, look for Laura Dern in Supporting Actress. As for Supporting Actor, both Ray Liotta and Alan Alda are possibilities and it will be interesting to see which one of them grabs momentum.
Bottom line: look for this Marriage to be a storyline throughout awards season. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
After a debut at the Telluride Film Festival that garnered mixed reactions, White Boy Rick is out in theaters next weekend. Directed by Yann Demange, it tells the true crime story of 14-year-old Richard Wersche Jr. (Richie Merritt) who became a FBI informant and drug kingpin in Detroit in the 1980s. Matthew McConaughey plays his father with a supporting cast that includes Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bel Powley, Bryan Tyree Henry, Rory Cochrane, Bruce Dern, and Piper Laurie.
As mentioned, festival reaction wasn’t overwhelmingly positive and Rick currently stands at 63% on Rotten Tomatoes. Had the film managed to generate awards buzz, my estimate might be slightly higher than it is. I believe this could struggle to hit double digits out of the gate for a so-so debut.
White Boy Rick opening weekend prediction: $8.7 million
Ahead of its stateside bow in just two weeks, WhiteBoyRick has premiered at the Telluride Film Festival. The 1980s set crime pic tells the true story of Richard Wershe Jr. (played by newcomer Richie Merritt), who became a drug kingpin and FBI informant at age 14 in Detroit. Matthew McConaughey plays his father with French director Yann Demange (maker of the acclaimed 2014 indie ‘71) behind the camera.
WhiteBoyRick was never exactly looked at as a major Oscar contender, but it was a curiosity as to whether its two main actors could receive attention. McConaughey is just five years removed from a gold statue for DallasBuyersClub. While some early reviews have commended him and Merritt, there’s been an overall mixed to negative vibe from critics.
Bottom line: This should be a total non-factor when it comes to Academy Awards chatter.
The film opens September 14. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
There’s a moment in GoodTime where Robert Pattinson takes a brief respite from the chaos around him to watch an episode of “Cops”. The rest of the 100 minutes show our main character’s overwhelmed thief and those around him engaging in activities that might land them on the long running program. They do keep their shirts on, but their level of criminal sophistication is on that low bar level.
The hand-held camera work from the aforementioned TV show is present as well. Yet brothers and directors Ben and Josh Safdie employ plenty of other creative touches to create a crime flick far more interested in style not substance. The film’s title could only be described as ironic as no one’s time here is that. It’s frenzied and panicked. And almost everyone here is up to no good.
Connie (Pattinson) is a two-bit crook in New York City with a mentally challenged brother Nick (played by co-director Ben Safdie) that he’s overprotective of. We begin with Connie breaking him out of a therapy session and taking him to a bank robbery gone wrong. Nick gets arrested and thus begins a night long odyssey of Connie trying to bail him out.
That journey involves all sorts of vile types that match Connie and some that he takes advantage of. His erratic older girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh) belongs in the former category. A sixteen year old girl (Taliah Webster) whose grandmother’s apartment he hides out in is more the latter. Connie also unexpectedly teams up with fresh out of jail alcoholic low life Ray (Buddy Duress), who manages to be a more clueless delinquent than our main subject.
For a stretch, GoodTime mostly succeeds due to Pattinson’s commitment, a pulsating electronic score from Oneohtrix Point Never, and a couple developments in the crazy night that are surprising. Bringing Connie to a bizarre amusement park to retrieve acid and cash is an admirable left turn. So is a journey into Ray’s backstory of an idiotic first day out of the slammer.
Eventually it grows tiresome. There’s been plenty of crime tales with no one to root for, but these characters can’t manage to sustain the time worth spending with them. The Safdie brothers have plenty of impressive visual flourishes. Maybe next time the storyline will be a better time spent with bad people. It happens occasionally here, but not enough. I’ve watched “Cops” marathons with similar types that held my interest longer.
In 2015, screenwriter and author Alex Garland announced himself as quite a special director with Ex Machina. With a visual style that drew fair comparison to Stanley Kubrick and a compelling story to go with it, that picture was one of the year’s highlights. There is no sophomore slump to be had with Annihilation, a challenging and eye-popping sci-fi experience that sticks with you after the credits roll (as did his first picture).
Lena (Natalie Portman) is a biology professor and Army vet whose husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) has been missing for a year after taking on a mysterious mission. He turns up one day after that disappearance, but doesn’t seem himself. A health scare causes him to be quarantined and causes Lena to search for answers. She finds some of them from psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh). It turns out Kane was part of a secret expedition to The Shimmer, a stretch of land that’s been evacuated and is undergoing government testing for bizarre activity within its perimeters. Many military personnel have entered it. Kane is the first to return.
Dr. Ventress and Lena figure out that some scientific experience may be better served to investigate The Shimmer, as opposed to military might. They assemble an all female squad that includes a physicist (Tessa Thompson), a paramedic (Gina Rodriguez), and a geologist (Tuva Novotny) to join them. Other than the doctor, the rest of the team is unaware of Lena’s familial connection to The Shimmer.
The world that these five women enter is a beautiful, eerie, and dangerous one. There are surprises to be found in The Shimmer – so much so that saying too much would enter spoiler territory. All of the characters that enter it have backstories that cause them to take on such a risky mission. Lena’s is an obvious one – to find out what happened to her husband. Some of the others are a bit more subtle.
Annihilation, like Ex Machina, has certain sequences that are stunning. There’s a scene involving a highly abnormal creature (you’ll know when you see it) that is truly tension filled and weirdly wonderful. The production design and look of The Shimmer is a triumph. Portman’s central character is a complicated one. She’s not just the concerned wife looking for answers. Lena has her own demons and they tie directly into her mission. That holds true for all of the women. Leigh and Rodriguez are particular standouts in their supporting work.
After Ex Machina, I certainly anticipated Annihilation to be a visually glorious experience and it is. Yet we’ve also seen Garland’s abilities to tell a tale packed with food for thought afterwards. Annihilation has something to say about rebirth, marriage, disease, depression, and more. You may not even realize it all until later. In the meantime, I remained transfixed on the unique world it created to explore those issues.
Alex Garland’s Annihilation hits theaters tomorrow and the science fiction thriller has been subject to some glowing reviews. It stands at 88% currently on Rotten Tomatoes. The film is the follow-up to director Garland’s 2015 debut Ex Machina, which nabbed two Oscar nominations. Machina won for Visual Effects (which was a bit of a surprise) and got a nod for Original Screenplay.
Annihilation is based on a novel and would compete in Adapted Screenplay. It’s unlikely this would compete for the big prizes like Picture, Director, or any of the acting races. Visual Effects could be a different story as critics have taken notice of that aspect of its production. Like Machina, it could find itself a contender in that category.
That said, distributor Paramount doesn’t seem very confident with Annihilation. That’s despite the positive critical reaction. The picture appears unlikely to make much noise at the box office and one wonders if the studio will push it for awards consideration at all. With the February release date, it’s possible Oscar voters will have simply forgotten Garland’s sophomore effort come voting time. Time will tell.
Blogger’s Note part 2 (02/20): I am once again revising my estimate. Now to $10.4 million
Blogger’s Note (02/15): I’m losing faith a bit for Annihilation debut. Revising down from $14.4 million to $12.4 million
Three years ago, screenwriter Alex Garland made his directorial debut with the acclaimed sci-fi pic Ex Machina, which garnered an Original Screenplay Oscar nomination and won for Visual Effects. Next Friday, his sophomore effort Annihilation debuts. Based on the novel from James VanderMeer, Natalie Portman stars in the $55 million production combining sci-fi, horror, and action elements. Costars include Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, and Machina lead Oscar Isaac.
While Annihilation is hitting theaters in the U.S., Canada, and China, it’s slated to roll out on Netflix in other international markets. Early critical buzz is pretty solid so far, but it could struggle to break out stateside. Audiences are likely to still be flocking to Black Panther, which will be in its second weekend of release (and doing its own annihilation of competitors).
Fans of Machina, the genre, and Portman may be enough to get this between $10 million on the low end and $15 million on the high end. I’ll project roughly in the lower end of that range.
Annihilation opening weekend prediction: $10.4 million