The Mule Charges Into Oscar Contention

A bit of an awards season surprise turned up today when Warner Bros announced that Clint Eastwood’s The Mule will be out on December 14. The film casts Eastwood in the true story of a World War II vet who becomes a courier for Mexican drug cartels at age 80.

The Mule marks Eastwood’s first turn in front of the camera since 2012’s Trouble with the Curve. It’s the first time he’s directed himself since 2008’s hit Gran Torino. While it’s been a little while since he’s acted, he has been churning out directorial efforts every year. It’s no accident that every time he does, Oscar chatter follows.

Over the past quarter century plus, Eastwood has seen a number of his pictures win and be nominated. In 1992, Unforgiven won Best Picture and Director. Twelve years later, Million Dollar Baby was a surprise late addition to the awards season calendar (as this is). It also won Picture and Director. Additionally, Mystic River, Letters from Iwo Jima, and American Sniper all received nods in the big race.

Just last year, The 15:17 to Paris was assumed to be another possibility for inclusion for consideration. It ended up coming out in February of this year and was a commercial and critical failure. Paris is nowhere on the radar screen for Academy chatter this year.

Will The Mule be a different story? Another Million Dollar Baby that alters the Oscar race? While we’ll have to wait for buzz and reviews (there’s not even a trailer yet), some signs point to no.

There’s already rumors that Warner Bros is looking at this as more of a commercial venture  than one they will focus on for awards campaigning. The studio already has a very serious contender on its docket with A Star Is Born. Speaking of, Eastwood’s costars here include Bradley Cooper (director and star of Born) as well as Dianne Wiest, Michael Pena, Laurence Fishburne, Taissa Farmiga, and Alison Eastwood.

Even if Warner doesn’t see this as their largest Academy player, we will see if critics and audiences feel differently. One thing is for sure – we have another movie to keep an eye on in 2018.

The Best Picture Coulda Been Contenders: 1990-2008

In 2009, the Academy underwent a change in the number of Best Picture nominees honored each year. The rule change allowed a fluctuation of five to ten nominees per year, as opposed to a finite five (all other categories stayed at that number).

As has been discussed on this blog, many felt the change was triggered by 2008’s The Dark Knight, the critically acclaimed comic book pic that was also highest earner of the year. It failed to a garner a Best Picture nod and the thinking was that it was time for more popular options to make it into the mix.

Since the change, the magic number has been nine nominated pictures in most years. This got me thinking: what if that rule had been in effect during prior years? What movies that failed to get a nomination would have certainly made it?

That brings us here. I have gone back to 1990 through 2008 and I’m listing two films from each year that I am confident would have made the shortlist. In selecting each title, here were some of the key indicators. If a Director was nominated for his work and the film failed to get nominated, that probably means it would have been included. Additionally, the screenplay races are a decent predictor of some titles that might have made the magic nine (or eight or ten). For reference sake, I am including the five movies that did get nominated.

So here goes! Two features from 1990-2008 that coulda and likely woulda been contenders…

1990

The Actual Nominees: Dances with Wolves (Winner), Awakenings, Ghost, The Godfather Part III, GoodFellas

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: The Grifters, Reversal of Fortune

1991

The Actual Nominees: The Silence of the Lambs (W), Beauty and the Beast, Bugsy, JFK, The Prince of Tides

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Boyz N The Hood, Thelma & Louise

1992

The Actual Nominees: Unforgiven (W), The Crying Game, A Few Good Men, Howards End, Scent of a Woman

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Malcolm X, The Player

1993

The Actual Nominees: Schindler’s List (W), The Fugitive, In the Name of the Father, The Piano, The Remains of the Day

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Philadelphia, Short Cuts

1994

The Actual Nominees: Forrest Gump (W), Four Weddings and a Funeral, Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show, The Shawshank Redemption

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Bullets Over Broadway, Three Colors: Red

1995

The Actual Nominees: Braveheart (W), Apollo 13, Babe, Il Postino, Sense and Sensibility

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Dead Man Walking, Leaving Las Vegas

1996

The Actual Nominees: The English Patient (W), Fargo, Jerry Maguire, Secrets & Lies, Shine

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: The People Vs. Larry Flynt, Sling Blade

1997

The Actual Nominees: Titanic (W), As Good as It Gets, The Full Monty, Good Will Huinting, L.A. Confidential

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Boogie Nights, The Sweet Hereafter

1998

The Actual Nominees: Shakespeare in Love (W), Elizabeth, Life is Beautiful, Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Gods and Monsters, The Truman Show

1999

The Actual Nominees: American Beauty (W), The Cider House Rules, The Green Mile, The Insider, The Sixth Sense

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Being John Malkovich, Topsy-Turvy

2000

The Actual Nominees: Gladiator (W), Chocolat, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Erin Brockovich, Traffic

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Almost Famous, Billy Elliot

2001

The Actual Nominees: A Beautiful Mind (W), Gosford Park, In the Bedroom, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Moulin Rouge!

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Black Hawk Down, Mulholland Drive

2002

The Actual Nominees: Chicago (W), Gangs of New York, The Hours, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Pianist

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Far from Heaven, Talk to Her

2003

The Actual Nominees: Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (W), Lost in Translation, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Mystic River, Seabiscuit 

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: City of God, In America

2004

The Actual Nominees: Million Dollar Baby (W), The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Ray, Sideways

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Hotel Rwanda, Vera Drake

2005

The Actual Nominees: Crash (W), Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Good Night and Good Luck, Munich

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Syriana, Walk the Line

2006

The Actual Nominees: The Departed (W), Babel, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, The Queen

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Pan’s Labyrinth, United 93

2007

The Actual Nominees: No Country for Old Men (W), Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, There Will Be Blood

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: Away from Her, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

2008

The Actual Nominees: Slumdog Millionaire (W), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader

The Two Coulda Been Contenders: The Dark Knight, Doubt

And there you have it! There will be a part II to this post. What if the rule change had never occurred? From 2009 until the present, what would have been the five nominated Pictures if only that number was allowed. Stay tuned…

 

Oscar Watch: The 15:17 to Paris

For much of 2017, there was speculation that Clint Eastwood’s true life terrorism pic The 15:17 to Paris could become a late entry into the Oscar race. It didn’t materialize and it was slated for an opening this Friday. I found it a bit curious that the review embargo didn’t lift until two days prior to its debut.

We may now know why. Early critical reaction to Paris has been rather negative. The film casts the three real life heroes (Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos) who thwarted a 2015 French train attack alongside more familiar faces including Jenna Fischer, Judy Greer, and Tony Hale.

Eastwood has, of course, been no stranger to Oscar glory with 1992’s Unforgiven and 2004’s Million Dollar Baby both winning Best Picture and Director. In the 21st century,  Mystic River, Letters from Iwo Jima, and American Sniper were nominated. His projects often merit Academy chatter and this one did until now.

The 15:17 to Paris seems destined for zero awards attention. That also means Jaleel White (TV’s Urkel who from “Family Matters” appears) will not receive his first Oscar nomination.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar History: 2006

Rocky over Taxi Driver. Ordinary People over Raging Bull. Dances with Wolves over GoodFellas. These are all examples where, in hindsight, pictures directed by Martin Scorsese and the auteur himself probably should have received Oscars wins and not just nominations. In 2002, Scorsese’s Gangs of New York was seen as a Best Picture frontrunner until Chicago stole its thunder. The same held true two years later with The Aviator until Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby had a late surge and took the prize. By 2006, Scorsese was undoubtedly the most acclaimed director whose films had never won the gold statue. And neither had he.

This would finally come to an end with The Departed, his crime thriller that won Best Picture and this kicks off my 2006 Oscar History.

The other four nominees were Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu’s Babel, Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Feris’s Little Miss Sunshine, and Stephen Frears’s The Queen. The voters got it right. The Departed was the Best Picture of the year.

As for other pictures I would’ve considered: Alfonso Cuaron’s terrific Children of Men, Guillermo del Toro’s visual feast Pan’s Labyrinth, the Ryan Gosling drama Half Nelson, and Todd Field’s Little Children. And for an outside the box pic – why not Casino Royale, which brought the Bond franchise back in grand fashion and ranks as my 2nd all-time 007 pic after From Russia with Love?

Scorsese, as mentioned before, would win Director over Inarritu, Eastwood, Frears, and Paul Greengrass for United 93. Once again – my list would’ve found room for Cuaron and del Toro.

In the Best Actor race, Forest Whitaker expectedly won for his performance as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. Other nominees: Leonardo DiCaprio for Blood Diamond (many thought he’d get nominated instead for Departed), Ryan Gosling for Half Nelson, Peter O’Toole for Venus (his final nomination), and Will Smith for The Pursuit of Happyness.

Once again, my ballot might’ve listed Daniel Craig for his electric take on James Bond. Others to consider: Clive Owen (Children of Men), Aaron Eckhart (Thank You for Smoking), or Matt Damon’s work in The Departed.

No surprise in the Best Actress race as Helen Mirren’s work as Queen Elizabeth II was honored in The Queen over Penelope Cruz (Volver), Judi Dench (Notes on a Scandal), Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada), and Kate Winslet (Little Children).

That’s a strong Actress category, but I would’ve also had Natalie Portman’s fine performance in V for Vendetta included.

The only true surprise at the 2006 Oscars occurred in the Supporting Actor category where Eddie Murphy’s acclaimed work in Dreamgirls was expected to win. Instead the Academy honored Alan Arkin’s performance in Little Miss Sunshine. Other nominees: Jackie Earle Haley (Little Children), Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond), and Mark Wahlberg (The Departed).

Instead of Wahlberg, many believed it would be Jack Nicholson for Departed that received the nomination. I was cool with it – considering Nicholson had already won three times before and this marked Wahlberg’s first nod. Other names I would have possibly included: Steve Carell (Little Miss Sunshine), Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada), Michael Sheen (The Queen), and for his brilliant comedic work – John C. Reilly in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

Jennifer Hudson had the distinction of being the first “American Idol” contestant turned Oscar winner with her lauded role in Dreamgirls – winning out over Babel actresses Adriana Barraza and Rinko Kikuchi, young Abigail Breslin from Little Miss Sunshine, and Cate Blanchett in Notes on a Scandal.

My list would have absolutely included Shareeka Epps with her fabulous work in Half Nelson and probably Vera Farmiga in The Departed.

And that’s your 2006 Oscar history! I’ll be back soon with 2007 where another beloved director (s) would take home their first Oscar gold.