Oscar Watch: The Peanut Butter Falcon

After premiering last weekend in limited release to pleasing box office results, The Peanut Butter Falcon is generating buzz among audiences. The dramedy centers on a boy with Down syndrome (Zack Gottsagen) who dreams of becoming a pro wrestler and his unique journey to get there. The impressive supporting cast includes Shia LaBeouf (experiencing an indie career resurgence with this and Honey Boy), Dakota Johnson, John Hawkes, Bruce Dern, Jon Bernthal, and Thomas Haden Church. It marks the directorial debut of Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, who also penned the screenplay inspired by the tale of Huckleberry Finn.

When Falcon debuted earlier this year at the South by Southwest Festival, it picked up an Audience Favorite prize. The Rotten Tomatoes score stands at 96%. Could Academy voters take notice?

In order for that to occur, the pic will really need to take off with crowds in coming weeks and the jury is still out. I would say it stands an outside shot at an Original Screenplay nod, but competition could be brutal. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar History: 2012

It’s been quite some time since I’ve done an Oscar History post (about two and a half years) and I’m at 2012. It was a year in which Seth MacFarlane hosted the show – fresh off his comedy smash Ted. Here’s what transpired in the major categories with some other pictures and performers I might have considered:

The year saw nine nominees for Best Picture in which Ben Affleck’s Argo took the top prize. Other nominees: Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook (my personal favorite of the year), and Zero Dark Thirty. 

Many Wes Anderson fans would contend that Moonrise Kingdom should have made the cut. And I could certainly argue that The Avengers (perhaps the greatest comic book flick and the year’s biggest grosser) was worth a nod.

The nominations in Best Director were a huge surprise at the time. While Argo won the top prize of all, Affleck was not nominated for his behind the camera efforts. It was the first time since Driving Miss Daisy‘s Bruce Beresford where an Oscar-winning Picture didn’t see its filmmaker nominated.

Instead it was Ang Lee who was victorious for Life of Pi over Michael Haneke (Amour), David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook), Steven Spielberg (Lincoln), and Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild).

In addition to Affleck, it was surprising that Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty) was not included. And I certainly would have put in Tarantino for Django.

The race for Best Actor seemed over when the casting of Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln was announced. And that’s exactly how it played out as he won his third Oscar over a strong slate of Bradley Cooper (Playbook), Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables), Joaquin Phoenix (The Master), and Denzel Washington (Flight).

The exclusion of John Hawkes in The Sessions could have been welcomed, but I’ll admit that’s a solid group.

Jennifer Lawrence won Best Actress for Silver Linings over Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark), Emmanuelle Riva (Amour), Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts), and Naomi Watts (The Impossible).

Again, no major qualms here. I did enjoy the work of Helen Mirren in Hitchcock (for which she did get a Golden Globe nod).

Supporting Actor was competitive as Christoph Waltz won his second statue for Django (three years after Inglourious Basterds). He was a bit of a surprise winner over Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln. Other nominees: Alan Arkin (Argo), Robert De Niro (Playbook), and Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master).

Here’s a year where there’s a lot of others I thought of. Waltz won, but I think the work of Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson in Django was equally impressive. There’s Javier Bardem as one of the greatest Bond villains ever in Skyfall. Or John Goodman’s showy role in Flight. As for some other blockbusters that year, how about Tom Hiddleston in The Avengers or Matthew McConaughey in Magic Mike? And my favorite comedic scene of that year was due to Giovanni Ribisi in Ted…

In Supporting Actress, Anne Hathaway was a front-runner for Les Miserables and there was no upset. Other nominees: Amy Adams (The Master), Sally Field (Lincoln), Helen Hunt (The Sessions), and Jacki Weaver (Playbook).

Judi Dench had more heft to her part as M in Skyfall that year and I’ll also give a shout-out to Salma Hayek’s performance in Oliver Stone’s Savages.

And there’s your Oscar history for 2012! I’ll have 2013 up… hopefully in less than two and a half years!

Oscar Watch: Leave No Trace

Eight years ago, director Debra Granik had a breakout success with Winter’s Bone. The drama set in the Ozarks was a critical darling that earned four Oscar nominations: Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actor for John Hawkes, and Actress for an unknown at the time by the name of Jennifer Lawrence.

There’s been a lengthy break between projects for Granik and her latest just hit theaters in limited fashion over the weekend. Leave No Trace tells the tale of a veteran (Ben Foster) with PTSD raising a teenage daughter (Thomasin McKenzie). It premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival to similar acclaim that Bone received. With over 90 reviews on record, the Rotten Tomatoes score is 100%.

Could the Academy take notice of Trace? It could be a long shot, but I wouldn’t discount the possibility. Critics have particularly praised McKenzie here and if Bleecker Street mounts a campaign for Actress or (more likely) Supporting Actress, she could be another relative unknown whose work is acknowledged under Granik’s direction.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Movie Review

In 1996, Frances McDormand brilliantly crafted her signature role with Fargo and earned a well deserved Oscar for it. Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri gives the actress another part that’s right up there in terms of one she’ll be remembered for. Like Fargo, it’s a picture involving grisly crimes with a comedic sensibility set to charcoal. Unlike her Marge Gunderson from 21 years past, Mildred Hayes displays the opposite of the former’s sunny disposition in the midst of tragedy.

There’s good reason for it. Her daughter was brutally raped and murdered seven months ago. Frustrated with the lack of progress in the case and the small town police force investigating it, she plunks down some cash for a trio of billboards on the remote road leading to her home. These signs clearly express her displeasure, particularly with Sheriff Willoughby (Woody Harrelson). The local news media takes notice, as do Ebbing’s residents. The majority of them view it as an unnecessary stunt.

Mildred is a woman on a mission to get answers and her narrow focus puts her at odds with the Sheriff. A lesser screenplay may have made Willoughby a local yokel. Yet he’s written as a multi-layered man with Harrelson expertly portraying him. If there’s a law enforcement figure to root against, it’s Sam Rockwell’s Dixon. He’s known for racist tendencies and a general lack of skill in his job. And even McDonagh’s script takes him in unexpected directions that make him far from a caricature.

The promise that celebrated Irish playwright McDonagh showed with his debut In Bruges ebbed a bit with his follow-up Seven Psychopaths. The third time is easily the darkly charming triumph of his cinematic career. Billboards takes you in unforeseen directions not unlike what Fargo accomplished.

Much credit is due to the casting. McDormand, Harrelson, and Rockwell all give nomination worthy performances. The superb acting filters to the supporting players – from Mildred’s temperamental ex-husband (John Hawkes) and his dingbat 19 year-old girlfriend (Samara Weaving). Lucas Hedges is their exasperated son, left mourning his sister and seeing the constant reminders of her death to and from home. Caleb Landry Jones is memorable as the poor guy who must approve Mildred’s messages. He’s been a standout twice before this year with Get Out and American Made. Peter Dinklage turns up as a used car salesman with an eye for our heroine. Sandy Martin’s makes the most of her limited screentime as Dixon’s mama. We certainly see where he gets his lesser traits from.

Three Billboards is special. I was truly taken with its ability to be hilarious and touching simultaneously. It doesn’t allow its main characters to be simple. The screenplay is too intelligent to play them as wholly virtuous or completely evil. Everyone here has rough edges and questionable intentions and the desire to do good in their own way. Watching it all play out is riveting and one of the year’s greatest experiences.

**** (out of four)

Oscar History: 2010

In my ongoing series of Oscar History posts, we arrive at what happened during the year 2010. This was quite a strong year for movies and, unlike other years, I can’t really quibble with the ten pictures that were nominated.

I can, however, differ with what won: Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech. While this was a very solid and entertaining picture, I would have definitely put at least three of the other nominees above it: Black Swan, Inception, and my favorite of the year, The Social Network. Other nominees were 127 Hours, The Fighter, The Kids Are All Right, Toy Story 3, True Grit, and Winter’s Bone. 

Picture/Director matched up as Tom Hooper’s work in King’s Speech would win over Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), Joel and Ethan Coen (True Grit), David Fincher (The Social Network), and David O. Russell (The Fighter). I may have found a spot for Christopher Nolan’s visually striking work in Inception. 

The love for The King’s Speech continued in Best Actor as Colin Firth was honored for his portrayal as King George VI. He triumphed over Javier Bardem (Biutiful), Jeff Bridges (True Grit), Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network), and James Franco (127 Hours). It’s worth noting that Franco co-hosted the Oscars that year with Anne Hathaway. It wasn’t too memorable.

While his supporting players were showered with love, Mark Wahlberg was snubbed for his anchoring performance in The Fighter. Others worthy of mention: Leonardo DiCaprio in either Inception or Shutter Island and Robert Duvall for Get Low.

Natalie Portman was a bit of a no-brainer pick for her tour de force work in Black Swan in the Actress race, beating out Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right), Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole), Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone), and Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine).

I was a little surprised to see Bening’s Kids lead costar Julianne Moore left out. Franco’s co-host Anne Hathaway would’ve been a solid choice for her fine work in Love and Other Drugs. The Oscar voters rarely honor comedy, but they could have here with Emma Stone in her hit Easy A, as well.

Supporting Actor honored Christian Bale as Mark Wahlberg’s drug addicted brother in The Fighter. The other nominees were John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone), Jeremy Renner (The Town), Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right), and Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech).

I might have found room for either Andrew Garfield or Justin Timberlake in The Social Network. And keeping the snubbed comedy theme going, here’s an outside the box mention: Rob Corddry for his hilarious work in Hot Tub Time Machine.

The Fighter also won in Supporting Actress with Melissa Leo, who edged out her co-star Amy Adams. The other nominees: Helena Bonham Carter in The King’s Speech, Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit, and Jacki Weaver in Animal Kingdom. The voters could have certainly nominated either Mila Kunis or Barbara Hershey for their roles in Black Swan.

And that’s your Oscar History of 2010, my friends. We’ll get to 2011 soon…

Everest Box Office Prediction

And now – for this week’s trickiest box office prediction. Baltasar Kornakur’s disaster drama Everest, led by an impressive cast and mountain set action sequences, debuts in IMAX theaters this Friday. Its reported roll out is on approximately 500 of the large format screens. When the pic premiered at the Venice Film Festival, solid reviews followed and it stands at 82% on Rotten Tomatoes. The marketing campaign has been pretty busy and it doesn’t hurt that familiar faces like Jake Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Sam Worthington, Robin Wright, and Keira Knightley are among the cast.

What makes this prediction difficult is how it’s being released. Everest doesn’t open “wide” until Friday, September 25th. However, 500 IMAX screens is nothing to sneeze at and higher ticket prices involved with that format could up the grosses. The only other film to debut on a limited IMAX run before a wide release was nearly four years ago when Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol did the same. It made $12.7 million on 425 screens.

Let’s be clear: Everest is highly unlikely to achieve the grosses of Ghost Protocol, which is part of a hugely successful and known franchise. There’s also the competition factor: adult viewers may be checking out Black Mass with younger viewers taking in Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials. Still, I expect that Everest could reach a gross in the high single digits this weekend before its wider release that follows.

Everest opening weekend prediction: $8.6 million

For my Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/09/10/maze-runner-the-scorch-trials-box-office-prediction/

For my Black Mass prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/09/10/black-mass-box-office-prediction/

For my Captive prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/09/11/captive-box-office-prediction/