Best Actor: A Look Back

My look back at the major Oscar categories from 1990 to the present arrives at Best Actor today! If you missed my posts covering Actress and the Supporting races, you can find them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/31/best-actress-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/25/best-supporting-actor-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/20/best-supporting-actress-a-look-back/

As with those previous entries, I am picking the three least surprising winners of the last 28 years, along with the three biggest upsets. Additionally, you’ll see my personal picks for strongest and weakest fields overall.

As a primer, here are the winners from 1990 to now:

1990 – Jeremy Irons, Reversal of Fortune

1991 – Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs

1992 – Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman

1993 – Tom Hanks, Philadelphia

1994 – Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump

1995 – Nicolas Cage, Leaving Las Vegas

1996 – Geoffrey Rush, Shine

1997 – Jack Nicholson, As Good As It Gets

1998 – Roberto Benigni, Life is Beautiful

1999 – Kevin Spacey, American Beauty

2000 – Russell Crowe, Gladiator

2001 – Denzel Washington, Training Day

2002 – Adrien Brody, The Pianist

2003 – Sean Penn, Mystic River

2004 – Jamie Foxx, Ray

2005 – Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote

2006 – Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland

2007 – Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood

2008 – Sean Penn, Milk

2009 – Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart

2010 – Colin Firth, The King’s Speech

2011 – Jean Dujardin, The Artist

2012 – Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

2013 – Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

2014 – Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

2015 – Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

2016 – Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

2017 – Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Let’s begin with the three that I’m deeming as the non-surprise winners. Whittling this down to that number was a challenge. The double wins by Hanks and Penn and even last year’s winner Oldman could’ve easily been named here, too. Here goes…

3. Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman

The legendary thespian was 0 for 6 when it came to nominations and wins entering 1992. He picked up his 7th and 8th nods that year with his supporting role in Glengarry Glen Ross and lead role as a blind former colonel in this Martin Brest directed drama. By Oscar night, it was clear he was finally going to make that trip to the podium.

2. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Like Pacino, DiCaprio had been an Academy bridesmaid before… four times. His fifth nod for The Revenant guaranteed he’d finally be a winner against weak competition (more on that below).

1. Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

I could have named the Method actor’s victory in 2007 for There Will Be Blood as well, but his win five years later as the nation’s 16th President edges it out. From the moment the Steven Spielberg project was announced, Day-Lewis was the odds on favorite and it never changed.

Now – my selections for the upsets:

3. Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs

While it might seem an obvious win nearly 30 years later, Nick Nolte’s work in The Prince of Tides had nabbed him the Golden Globe. Additionally, there was some controversy about Sir Anthony’s inclusion in the lead race due to his approximate 16 minutes of screen time. This is truly evidence of a performance so towering that it couldn’t be ignored.

2. Roberto Benigni, Life is Beautiful

The Italian director/writer/actor was an underdog against competition that included Nick Nolte (once again) for Affliction and Ian McKellen in Gods and Monsters. Mr. Benigni seemed a bit shocked himself when his name was called, as he famously bounded exuberantly to the stage.

1. Adrien Brody, The Pianist

The smart money in 2002 was with Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt or Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York. Brody’s win was pretty shocking, as was the giant smooch he planted on presenter Halle Berry.

When it comes to overall fields, I’m going recent history with both. For strongest, I’ll give it to 2012. That’s the year Day-Lewis won for Lincoln. All other nominees were rock solid as well with Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables), Joaquin Phoenix (The Master), and Denzel Washington (Flight).

For weakest, I’m picking 2015. This is the aforementioned year of DiCaprio’s overdue win. The rest of the field, however, was a bit lacking. It consisted of Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), Matt Damon (The Martian), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), and Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl).

And there’s your Actor look back, folks! Keep an eye out for Best Picture soon as the final post in this series…

Red Sparrow Movie Review

Jennifer Lawrence teams up with her Hunger Games director Francis Lawrence once again with Red Sparrow. This spy thriller could rightfully be called The Somber Games. To put it in Red Bull terms, there are times when Sparrow could use some wings.

While Lawrence gives a solid performance, the film never quite strikes a satisfying balance between wanting to be a little trashy and wanting to take itself as stone faced seriously as every character who inhabits it.

Here we have Jenny from the Red Block – with the star playing Dominika. She’s a well-known Russian ballerina whose career is cut short in a freak injury. Unable to care for her ill mother (Joely Richardson) or make ends meet, her high-ranking government official uncle (Matthias Schoenaerts) offers her an ultimatum. Dominika is to become an employee of the Foreign Intelligence Service and extract information from suspects by any means possible.

This brings her to an intensive training course called State School 4 or as she later coins it – Whore School. It’s an apt description as most of the methods taught by its headmaster (Charlotte Rampling) involve seduction. Her training soon puts her in close contact with CIA agent Nash (Joel Edgerton) as he knows the true identity of a Russian mole.

Based on a 2013 novel by Jason Matthews, Red Sparrow follows the spy flick playbook of frequent double crosses and surprising character reveals. Unlike some recent entries in the well-worn genre, it’s bursts of violence are hardcore and it’s filled with sex. Dominika is tasked with always staying a step ahead of her mostly male coworkers and marks. That almost always involves their uncontrolled libido.

Director Lawrence and Jennifer Lawrence deserve some credit for making this pretty interesting for the first hour or so. The pic is not short on style and watching Dominika first adapt to her new reality has some entertaining and unexpected pleasures at first.

After a while, however, Red Sparrow struggles as it devolves into more familiar torture scenes and unsurprising “surprises”. Unlike Atomic Blonde with Charlize Theron (a much better genre experience), there’s hardly any sense of fun here. The Lawrence’s seem convinced that the dour happenings are enough to sustain a 140 running time. Not quite.

**1/2 (out of four)

Red Sparrow Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (02/28): I am revising my Red Sparrow down from $19.5 million to $17.5 million

Red Sparrow, out next Friday, reunites Jennifer Lawrence with her director for the last three Hunger Games installments Francis Lawrence. The spy thriller casts the star as a Russian spy with a supporting cast that includes Joel Edgerton, Matthew Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Jeremy Irons, and Mary-Louise Parker.

The 20th Century Fox release was originally scheduled for November of last year before the March push back. Reviews have been a bit mixed as it stands at 63% on Rotten Tomatoes at press time.

Lawrence has certainly had her share of massive hits. She’s also had some under performers as of late, including Passengers and mother! Competition is a factor here. Black Panther should still be ruling the charts and Death Wish with Bruce Willis opens directly against it and will try to capture the attention of actions fans.

I could see Red Sparrow performing similarly to another recent female led spy flick, last summer’s Atomic Blonde with Charlize Theron. It opened to $18.2 million. I’ll put this just a touch higher due to Lawrence’s drawing power, but still under $20 million.

Red Sparrow opening weekend prediction: $17.5 million

For my Death Wish prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/02/21/death-wish-box-office-prediction/

Justice League Movie Review

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was a bit of a mess and it earned its reputation as such in many ways. However, I found myself seemingly in the minority of those who sort of dug it. Where it failed – it failed significantly. That includes the casting of Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor with his manic and bizarre take on the iconic villain. There were some narrative choices that were questionable. Yet when BvS worked, I felt it worked well and that included Ben Affleck succeeding as Batman.

Justice League is less cluttered. Zack Snyder, directing this DC Universe for the third time, captains a tighter ship with a shorter running time than what’s preceded it… and nearly all recent comic book adaptations for that matter. It is, of course, Warner Bros venture into Avengers territory. There’s a somewhat lighter tone that we first saw in the summer’s Wonder Woman stand-alone feature. The inclusion of The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Aquaman (Jason Momoa) contribute to that. So does the fact that the unusually somber Superman (Henry Cavill) who brooded through much of Man of Steel and BvS is absent much of the time.

As you’ll recall, Superman was dead and buried at the BvS conclusion. Justice League opens with the world missing him and crime on the rise. Batman is doing his level best, but he needs a squad. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is still dealing with the loss she experienced in her own movie, but she’s game to help. They recruit the newbies only glimpsed upon in BvS: The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). It is their mission to thwart the Earth dominating plans of Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds), a motion capture evil alien. The League incorporates their powers to do so, but they know they must resurrect the Big S to complete the task.

The Avengers had the advantage of having introduced several of its core characters in separate entries. That doesn’t hold true here for half of the Justice League. Miller provides some decent comic relief, Momoa has a memorable moment or two and Fisher’s backstory is a bit blah. Their inclusion feels a little rushed and a little watered down.

Curiously the villain issue of BvS, while highly disappointing, was at least fascinating to witness in a rather bad way. Here the character of Steppenwolf isn’t really interesting at all. Many of these comic book adaptations have suffered the most from bland baddies and this is another.

League finds time to bring back Alfred (Jeremy Irons), Lois Lane (Amy Adams), and Clark’s mama (Diane Lane) in limited fashion. J.K. Simmons turns up briefly as the previously MIA Commissioner Gordon. It is Gadot who shines brightest, which is no surprise considering her rock solid solo spotlight just months prior.

In essence, Justice League feels ordinary too often. It’s got the same flaws as others in the genre. It has the same bright spots with certain performances. There’s action sequences that impress and others with dodgier CG. Call me crazy, but I admired BvS often for its occasional audacity and untidiness. With Justice, it joins a league of plenty others like it.

**1/2 (out of four)

Justice League Box Office Prediction

The DC Cinematic Universe has reached Marvel Cinematic Universe territory as Justice League debuts next weekend. The reported $300 million production brings many of the company’s comic book creations together as it hopes to have the largest opening of the fourth quarter of 2017 until Star Wars hits next month.

In March of 2016, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice brought Superman (Henry Cavill) and Batman (Ben Affleck) together for the first time. Now they’re joined by Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller), and Cyborg (Ray Miller). And, oh yes, there’s Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), who just happened to star in her own summer 2017 pic that surprisingly turned out to the season’s biggest blockbuster ($412 million). Man of Steel and BvS director Zack Snyder is behind the camera once again. Other costars include series returnees Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Jeremy Irons, and the introduction of J.K. Simmons as Commissioner Gordon. Expect some other familiar faces to pop up too.

Batman v Superman opened to a terrific $166 million a year and a half ago. However, poor reviews and mixed word-of-mouth meant a heavily front loaded gross. It ended up with $330 million. If nothing had happened in the interim, it may be a legitimate question as to whether some moviegoers are primed to see these characters again. The fantastic reception earned by Wonder Woman should help (there could be a sizable female audience who go to this simply to see Gadot’s character so quickly again).

That said, I don’t expect League to get close to that BvS number in its first three days. In fact, it could compete for biggest comic book adaptation debut of the month since Thor: Ragnarok posted $122 million this past weekend.

I believe it will just get there and probably post a premiere in line with another DC property – summer 2016’s Suicide Squad, which made $133 million for its start. I’ll put it just a bit under that.

Justice League opening weekend prediction: $128.4 million

For my Wonder prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/11/08/wonder-box-office-prediction/

For my The Star prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/11/08/the-star-box-office-prediction/

Assassin’s Creed Box Office Prediction

Based on the video game franchise that’s been going strong for nearly a decade, Assassin’s Creed hits theaters over the long Christmas weekend. The action adventure pic, with its reported budget of at least $130 million, will hope to bring in gamers who’ve been plying its many iterations over the past few years. Michael Fassbender headlines with a supporting cast that includes Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson and Charlotte Rampling. Justin Kurzel, who directed Fassbender in last year’s Macbeth, is behind the camera.

20th Century Fox is hoping that weak numbers from video adaptations (Warcraft is a recent example) doesn’t apply here. Audiences looking for some action do have more choices over the holiday frame as Rogue One will be in its second weekend (and very likely still atop the charts) and Passengers with Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt also debuts. Still, Creed should have enough of a built-in following for it to reach high teens to low 20s over the four-day portion of the weekend and high 20s from its Wednesday bow.

Assassin’s Creed opening weekend prediction: $19.8 million (Friday to Monday), $28.1 million (Wednesday to Monday)

For my Passengers prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/12/14/passengers-box-office-prediction/

For my Sing prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/12/14/sing-box-office-prediction/

For my Why Him? prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/12/14/why-him-box-office-prediction/

For my Fences prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/12/14/fences-box-office-prediction/

High-Rise Movie Review

Ben Wheatley’s HighRise is less a movie about plot than its theme. Based on a 1975 novel by J.G. Ballard, this parable about classism uses the title structure in dark and devious ways to show that its inhabitants are not best left to their own devices. Set in the year that the source material was penned, we can practically detect the stale cigarette smoke odor and lord knows what else in the fibers of its shag carpeting. However, the subject matter is timeless and familiar.

The newest tenant of the London 40 story building where we spend the bulk of our time is Dr. Robert Laird (Tom Hiddleston). He moves to this property built by famed architect Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons), who lives on the rooftop penthouse with bodyguards, an entitled wife, lush gardens, and a white horse. The decadence of the property dilutes with each floor. If you’re up high, there’s costumed parties where the doctor is out-of-place. The lower dwellings are crowded and dirty with parties that are just as lively, if not wilder (it is the seventies after all). Our lead character is in the middle range – 25th floor to be precise. Dr. Laird becomes acquainted with both sides. He strikes up a fling with a single mom (Sienna Miller) right above him. Below him, he befriends the pregnant wife (Elisabeth Moss) of the unhinged Richard (Luke Evans), who begins to document the increasingly more unhinged happenings at the property.

Royal’s creation is built with indoor pools, gyms, and a supermarket. There’s little reason for the tenants to venture elsewhere and even the good doctor finds reasons not to go to work. The mix of all societal types together descends into violence, squalor, orgiastic violence, and orgiastic squalor. It’s not pretty to look at most of the time and yet it’s often hard to look away. Some of that credit belongs to a director in Wheatley who’s clearly a talent and some impressive cinematography and art direction. The cast is first rate as well, with Hiddleston leading the way in another role in which he shows some morality mixed with the opposite.

The problem with HighRise is that once you get the message of what it’s trying to say (it’s hard to miss), it mostly just repeats itself. The images are often both beautiful and hideous to behold. I would be lying if I said I felt it equals a wholly satisfying experience. The irony is that this may be the exact type of picture where the “higher floor” cinephile types may exaggeratingly extol its virtues. The “lower floor” moviegoing types (those who just wish to have an entertaining time) may wish they were anywhere else but this building. The “middle floor” types may find themselves, well, in the middle. My apartment may have been on the 25th floor, too.

**1/2 (out of four)