Oscar Watch: Bad Education

Few actors had a better movie year as Hugh Jackman’s 2017 with two smash hits – Logan and The Greatest Showman. Yet despite the acclaim, Oscar didn’t honor him. In fact, his sole nod came five years prior in Les Miserables. Last year’s The Front Runner looked like awards bait, but it fizzled quickly.

Now we have Bad Education for possible consideration as it screened in Toronto. The comedic drama tells the true tale of a beloved New York school superintendent cheating the system. And Variety has called it Jackman’s best performance to date. Other reviews also praise his work in this effort from director Cory Finley. This is his sophomore film following 2017’s well regarded Thoroughbreds. Costars include Allison Janney (who did win in 2017 for I, Tonya), Geraldine Viswanathan, Ray Romano, and Alex Woolf.

I say possible consideration because Education has yet to land a distributor. However, that shouldn’t be a problem. The real question is whether this gets released in 2019. If so, I would expect a campaign to be mounted for its lead actor. And as I’ve said repeatedly in the past few festival days, that race is looking incredibly competitive. Unlike The Front Runner, I would anticipate some critics vying for his inclusion. It could be a long shot, but he’s in the large mix. A Golden Globe nod in Musical/Comedy might be more reachable. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Ford v Ferrari

Premiering at the Telluride Film Festival, James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari sped into the Oscar conversation this evening. The film recounts the story of the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans race with a cast headlined by Matt Damon and Christian Bale. Costars include Tracy Letts, Jon Bernthal, and Josh Lucas.

Early reaction suggests Ford is fast moving and a serious crowd pleaser with significant box office potential. There still seems to be uncertainty as to where Damon and Bale will be placed when it comes to lead or supporting. Both could go lead. If so, reviews suggest Bale is a likely nominee over Damon. If Bale goes supporting, he could provide competition for front runner Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood or whoever else rises up. The performance of Letts is also garnering raves. He could factor in if both stars are slated for Best Actor.

Apart from the performers, Ford stands a real shot at Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, and multiple tech nods. This would be Mangold’s first recognition for his direction after a 2017 nod for his Logan script and helming Reese Witherspoon to a gold statue in Walk the Line. Bottom line: Ferrari has the make of a real contender in awards season. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Best Year’s Ever

As one year turns to the next in short order, it got me thinking. What are some examples of actors and directors who had remarkable calendar frames over the past few decades? The guidelines are pretty simple – the individual must have had two (and in a couple of cases, three or more) pictures that made an impact during 19(fill in the blank) or 20(fill in the blank).

And wouldn’t you know it? My ruminations quickly turned into a lengthy list that I’ve paired down to a top 25. Let’s call this Best Year’s Ever and count down from #25 to #1!

25. Channing Tatum (2012)

It was a busy year for the performer to say the least. Tatum was in Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire, but three major roles made him the star he is today. There was the hit romance The Vow, hit comedy 21 Jump Street, and his signature and semi-autobiographical title role in the summer sleeper Magic Mike (also from Mr. Soderbergh).

24. John Travolta (1996)

Two years following his major comeback in Pulp Fiction and a year following his Golden Globe nominated lead in Get Shorty, Travolta’s hot streak continued with three hits: John Woo’s action thriller Broken Arrow and fantasy dramas Phenomenon and Michael.

23. Clint Eastwood (1971)

The last two months of 1971 were fruitful for the legend. In November, he made his directorial debut with the well-reviewed psychological thriller Play Misty for Me. This began a career of dozens of behind the camera works, including Best Picture winners Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby. In December, Eastwood starred as Dirty Harry which spawned his lucky cop franchise.

22. Sigourney Weaver (1988)

Weaver won two Golden Globes 30 years ago – Best Actress (Drama) for Gorillas in the Mist and Supporting Actress for Working Girl. She would be nominated for two Oscars as well, but come up short. All part of a remarkable decade that included Ghostbusters and Aliens.

21. Joe Pesci (1990)

Pesci won an Oscar for his unforgettable supporting work in Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas. That same fall, he was a burglar terrorizing Macaulay Culkin in the holiday classic Home Alone.

20. Kevin Spacey (1995)

Current scandals aside, there’s no denying Spacey was the movie villain of 1995. He won an Academy Award as (spoiler alert!) Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects and as a demented serial killer in Seven. Earlier in the year, he costarred with Dustin Hoffman and Morgan Freeman in  Outbreak and headlined the critically approved indie comedy Swimming with Sharks.

19. Nicolas Cage (1997)

Leaving Las Vegas awarded Cage his Oscar two years prior. By the summer of 1997, he was a full-fledged action hero with two blockbusters in the same month: Con Air and Face/Off.

18. Will Ferrell (2003)

Ferrell’s transformation from SNL favorite to movie star happened here with the spring’s Old School as Frank the Tank and in the winter as Buddy in Elf.

17. Morgan Freeman (1989)

The nation’s Narrator-in-Chief had a trio of significant roles nearly three decades ago – his Oscar nominated chauffeur in the Best Picture winner Driving Miss Daisy, a dedicated and stern principal in Lean on Me, and a Civil War officer in Glory.

16. Steven Soderbergh (2000)

The prolific filmmaker made two Best Picture nominees with Erin Brockovich and Traffic (he would win Best Director for the latter). Both surpassed the century mark at the box office and Julia Roberts won Best Actress for Brockovich and Benicio del Toro took Supporting Actor in Traffic.

15. Halle Berry (2001)

Ms. Berry had a revealing role in the summer action fest Swordfish. She then became the first (and thus far only) African-American to win Best Actress for Monster’s Ball. This was all sandwiched between XMen hits.

14. Hugh Jackman (2017)

Berry’s XMen cast mate Jackman retired his Wolverine character to critical and audience admiration with Logan in the spring. At the end of the year, his musical The Greatest Showman was an unexpected smash.

13. Leonardo DiCaprio (2002)

Five years after Titanic, the jury was still out as to whether DiCaprio’s leading man status would hold up. His roles in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York and Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can left little doubt. He’s been one of Hollywood’s most dependable stars since.

12. Francis Ford Coppola (1974)

In 1972, Coppola made perhaps the greatest American film of all time with The Godfather. Two years later, its sequel came with enormous expectations and exceeded them. Like part one, it won Best Picture. As if that weren’t enough, he made another Picture nominee in ‘74 with the Gene Hackman surveillance thriller The Conversation.

11. Michael Douglas (1987)

His signature role as greedy tycoon Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street won him an Oscar and gave him one of the most famous cinematic speeches ever. He also lit up the screen in the blockbuster thriller Fatal Attraction, which was the year’s second largest grosser.

10. Julia Roberts (1999)

She started the decade with a smash star making turn in Pretty Woman. Julia Roberts ended it with two romantic comedy summer $100 million plus earners: Notting Hill with Hugh Grant and Runaway Bride (which reunited her with Pretty costar Richard Gere). She’d win her Oscar the next year for Erin Brockovich.

9. Tom Cruise (1996)

1986 wasn’t too shabby either with Top Gun and The Color of Money. Yet it’s a decade later that serves as Cruise’s year with the franchise starter Mission: Impossible in the summer and Cameron Crowe’s Jerry Maguire, which earned Cruise a Golden Globe award and an Oscar nod. They were the third and fourth biggest hits of the year, respectively.

8. Sandra Bullock (2013)

Nearly two decades after her breakout role in Speed, Bullock had a banner 2013 alongside Melissa McCarthy in the summer comedy The Heat and her Oscar nominated turn as a stranded astronaut in the fall’s Gravity.

7. Sylvester Stallone (1985)

Sly was the undisputed champion of the box office (not to mention sequels and Roman numerals) in 1985, notching the second and third top hits of the year behind Back to the Future. They were for his two signature characters with Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rocky IV.

6. Robert Downey Jr. (2008)

A decade after all the wrong kind of headlines for his drug addiction, Downey Jr. pulled off perhaps the most impressive comeback in movie history. 2008 saw him as Tony Stark in Iron Man, the film that kicked off the MCU in grand fashion. Later that summer came Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder, which earned Downey a rare Oscar nod for a comedic performance.

5. Tom Hanks (1993)

There’s more than one year to consider for Hanks… 1995 (Apollo 13, Toy Story) comes to mind. Yet 1993 saw him with Meg Ryan in the now classic Sleepless in Seattle and winning an Oscar in Philadelphia as a lawyer diagnosed with AIDS. His status as a romantic and dramatic lead was solidified in a matter of months. A consecutive Academy Award followed in 1994 for Forrest Gump.

4. Mel Brooks (1974)

The director managed to make two of the most beloved comedies of all time in one year… Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. The two features combined contain some of the funniest scenes ever filmed.

3. Jennifer Lawrence (2012)

Already an Oscar nominee two years prior for Winter’s Bone, Lawrence’s road to superstardom was paved in 2012. In March came The Hunger Games, the year’s third top earner that spawned three sequels. In December came Silver Linings Playbook, where she won Best Actress.

2. Jim Carrey (1994)

In 1993, Carrey was known as a great cast member of Fox’s groundbreaking sketch show “In Living Color”. By the end of 1994, he was the most bankable comedic star in America as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber all hit screens.

1. Steven Spielberg (1993)

In a list filled with lots of choices, the #1 selection was rather easy. The highest grossing filmmaker of all time’s 1993 was astonishing. Dino tale Jurassic Park in the summer was a marvel technical achievement that began a franchise. At the time of its release, it became the largest grosser in history with the top opening weekend yet seen. Six months later, Holocaust epic Schindler’s List won seven Academy Awards (including Picture and for Spielberg’s direction).

I hope your New Year is your best yet, readers! Have a happy one…

Oscar Watch: The Front Runner

Director Jason Reitman debuted his newest feature at the Telluride Film Festival this weekend. It’s a venue that he probably has affection for. Both 2007’s Juno and 2009’s Up in the Air premiered in Colorado and went on to garner Best Picture nominations. On the other hand, his last feature to open there (2014’s Labor Day) saw its awards hopes dashed upon critical reaction.

This brings us to The Front Runner, which recounts Gary Hart’s failed 1988 Presidential campaign. Hugh Jackman plays him with Vera Farmiga as his wife. The buzz from Telluride includes some solid reviews, with some claiming it shares the vibe of Robert Altman’s 1970s works. However, not all write-ups have been raves.

This puts The Front Runner in a position of uncertainty. It could face an uphill battle for Picture or Director nods (as well as Adapted Screenplay). Jackman has only one Academy Awards nomination to his credit for 2012’s Les Miserables. He didn’t manage to score recognition last year for two high-profile roles in Logan or The Greatest Showman. Farmiga also has one nod to her credit courtesy of Reitman’s Up in the Air. Both are possibilities, but far from slam dunks in Actor and Supporting Actress.

Bottom line: let’s see how future buzz plays out, but The Front Runner might find itself on the back burner for Oscar chatter.

The film opens November 7 in the United States. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The Oscars Go “Popular”: An Analysis

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences dropped a rather big bombshell today with some announced changes to their Oscar telecast. First off, they’re claiming the show will now be just three hours (I’ll believe it when I see it). Additionally, some categories (I imagine numerous tech ones) will be announced live during commercial breaks and then edited into the show later. This probably won’t make the individuals in those races happy, but it should speed up the program.

However, the most noticeable and interesting change is the addition of a new category (something the Academy rarely does). The addition is described as “Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film”. No other details have been provided, but this would appear to be an attempt by the Academy to include blockbusters that haven’t made the cut in Best Picture.

So what does that mean? What is the criteria? That was not announced today and it will be fascinating to see what such criteria is. Could it be a particular gross… say over $100 million domestically? Could it be the number of the theaters a movie is released in? Time will tell and hopefully these details will be revealed shortly. It isn’t even immediately clear that these changes will all be in effect for the 2019 telecast, but I imagine they will be.

Even though nothing is totally clear at press time, that won’t stop me from speculating and asking, “What if this category had been in effect in previous years?”

Before that, let’s start with this year. If there is a Best Popular Film category in 2018, that greatly increases the chances of Marvel’s Black Panther and horror smash A Quiet Place getting nods. There’s also Mission: Impossible – Fallout (the most acclaimed entry in the franchise) or perhaps Avengers: Infinity War. Pixar will certainly see Incredibles 2 nominated in Best Animated Feature, but it could make a play here as well. And we still have fall releases like Mary Poppins Returns and A Star Is Born out there.

There will be plenty of speculation as to whether Black Panther will be the first superhero pic to nab a Best Picture nomination. There is little doubt it would be recognized in this new category.

It’s been discussed on this blog previously about the 2008 Oscars which omitted The Dark Knight in the Best Picture derby. That development was likely responsible for the Academy changing its rule of five nominated films to anywhere between five and ten. Yet it would appear the Academy still isn’t satisfied with major hits being included.

Let’s consider last year. Of the nine Best Picture nominees, only two grossed over $100 million – Get Out and Dunkirk. If the Popular Film category had existed a year ago, I imagine both features would have achieved double nominations. Assuming this new category contains five nominees (something not revealed yet), what would the other three have been? There’s plenty of blockbusters to choose from: Beauty and the Beast, Wonder Woman, It, Logan, Coco, The Greatest Showman, War for the Planet of the Apes, Wonder, and Baby Driver. 

Here’s my best guess of what a Best Popular Film slate would have looked like in 2017:

Dunkirk, Get Out, Logan, War for the Planet of the Apes, Wonder Woman

And I’m thinking Get Out would have won.

In 2016, you might have seen Deadpool and The Jungle Book as Popular picks.

In 2015, there could have been room for Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Straight Outta Compton.

2014? Perhaps Guardians of the Galaxy and Gone Girl. 

Heck, let’s go way back. Would Jurassic Park have won Best Popular Film in 1993? I don’t think so. I bet it would have gone to The Fugitive, which nabbed an actual Best Picture nomination.

Of course, there would have been years where Best Picture and Best Popular Film match. 1994 with Forrest Gump. 1997’s Titanic. 2000’s Gladiator. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2003.

Back to today. I would say this new category seems tailor-made for Black Panther. Does that mean its chances for a Best Picture nod are now diminished because voters figure it runs away with this? Perhaps. And that’s why I’m not too wild about this change at the moment. This has the potential to look like a desperate play by the Academy. At the least, it’s an acknowledgment that audience favorites and Academy favorites don’t often match.

That said, let’s see what the criteria is and I’ll judge from there. It’s a new era at the Oscars… one where Bumblebee stands a shot (however remote) at Oscar glory!

Todd’s FINAL 2017 Oscar Winner Predictions

Well… here we are. After months of prognosticating and speculating, the 90th Annual Academy Awards is upon us this Sunday. This post serves as my final predictions for what and who will emerge victorious in five days.

I am listing my predicted winner as well as my runner-up in case I’m not perfect… and I certainly won’t be. I’ll have reaction up Sunday night as to how I did and my general thoughts on the ceremony.

Until then – these are my FINAL Oscar Winner predictions:

Best Picture

Nominees:

Call Me by Your Name

Darkest Hour

Dunkirk

Get Out

Lady Bird

Phantom Thread

The Post

The Shape of Water

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

PREDICTED WINNER: The Shape of Water

RUNNER-UP: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Director

Nominees:

Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread

Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird

Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk

Jordan Peele, Get Out

PREDICTED WINNER: Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

RUNNER-UP: Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk

Best Actor

Nominees:

Timothee Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name

Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread

Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out

Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

PREDICTED WINNER: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

RUNNER-UP: Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread

Best Actress

Nominees:

Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water

Margot Robbie, I, Tonya

Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird

Meryl Streep, The Post

PREDICTED WINNER: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

RUNNER-UP: Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird

Best Supporting Actor

Nominees:

Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project

Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water

Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World

Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

PREDICTED WINNER: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

RUNNER-UP: Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project

Best Supporting Actress

Nominees:

Mary J. Blige, Mudbound

Allison Janney, I, Tonya

Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread

Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water

PREDICTED WINNER: Allison Janney, I, Tonya

RUNNER-UP: Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

Best Adapted Screenplay

Nominees:

Call Me by Your Name

The Disaster Artist

Logan

Molly’s Game

Mudbound

PREDICTED WINTER: Call Me by Your Name

RUNNER-UP: Molly’s Game

Best Original Screenplay

Nominees:

The Big Sick

Get Out

Lady Bird

The Shape of Water

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

PREDICTED WINNER: Get Out

RUNNER-UP: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Animated Feature

Nominees:

The Boss Baby

The Breadwinner

Coco

Ferdinand

Loving Vincent

PREDICTED WINNER: Coco

RUNNER-UP: Loving Vincent

Best Foreign Language Film

Nominees:

A Fantastic Woman

The Insult

Loveless

On Body and Soul

The Square

PREDICTED WINNER: The Insult

RUNNER-UP: A Fantastic Woman

Best Documentary Feature

Nominees:

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

Faces Places

Icarus

Last Men in Aleppo

Strong Island

PREDICTED WINNER: Icarus

RUNNER-UP: Last Men in Aleppo

Best Film Editing

Nominees:

Baby Driver

Dunkirk

I, Tonya

The Shape of Water

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

PREDICTED WINNER: Dunkirk

RUNNER-UP: Baby Driver

Best Cinematography

Nominees:

Blade Runner 2049

Darkest Hour

Dunkirk

Mudbound

The Shape of Water

PREDICTED WINNER: Blade Runner 2049

RUNNER-UP: Dunkirk

Best Production Design

Nominees:

Beauty and the Beast

Blade Runner 2049

Darkest Hour

Dunkirk

The Shape of Water

PREDICTED WINNER: The Shape of Water

RUNNER-UP: Dunkirk

Best Costume Design

Nominees:

Beauty and the Beast

Darkest Hour

Phantom Thread

The Shape of Water

Victoria and Abdul

PREDICTED WINNER: Phantom Thread

RUNNER-UP: The Shape of Water

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Nominees:

Darkest Hour

Victoria and Abdul

Wonder

PREDICTED WINNER: Darkest Hour

RUNNER-UP: Wonder

Best Visual Effects

Nominees:

Blade Runner 2049

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Kong: Skull Island

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

War for the Planet of the Apes

PREDICTED WINNER: Blade Runner 2049

RUNNER-UP: War for the Planet of the Apes

Best Sound Editing

Nominees:

Baby Driver

Blade Runner 2049

Dunkirk

The Shape of Water

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

PREDICTED WINNER: Dunkirk

RUNNER-UP: Blade Runner 2049

Best Sound Mixing

Nominees:

Baby Driver

Blade Runner 2049

Dunkirk

The Shape of Water

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

PREDICTED WINNER: Dunkirk

RUNNER-UP: Baby Driver

Best Original Score

Nominees:

Dunkirk

Phantom Thread

The Shape of Water

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

PREDICTED WINNER: The Shape of Water

RUNNER-UP: Dunkirk

Best Original Song

Nominees:

“Mighty River” from Mudbound

“Mystery of Love” from Call Me by Your Name

“Remember Me” from Coco

“Stand Up for Something” from Marshall

“This is Me” from The Greatest Showman

PREDICTED WINNER: “Stand Up for Something” from Marshall

RUNNER-UP: “This is Me” from The Greatest Showman 

And that leaves the following breakdown of number of wins for each picture:

4 Wins

The Shape of Water

3 Wins

Dunkirk

2 Wins

Darkest Hour, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Blade Runner 2049

1 Win

I, Tonya, Call Me by Your Name, Get Out, Coco, The Insult, Icarus, Phantom Thread, Marshall

 

Oscar Watch: Black Panther

The drumbeat began sounding loudly within recent weeks and today’s critical reaction to Marvel’s Black Panther is deafening. The Ryan Coogler directed superhero pic (out next Friday) with Chadwick Boseman in the title role sits at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 50 reviews thus far.

As you may have noticed, it’s only February. Prognosticating the movies that may get honored for next year’s Oscars is a tricky proposition at best. Yet Black Panther is worth the speculation for a variety of reasons. When it comes to drumbeats, there’s been a ramp up that a comic book adaptation (which have dominated the box office charts all century) has to get Best Picture notice soon. Ten years ago, The Dark Knight came close. In 2016, Deadpool emerged as a late contender. Last year, the same applied for Wonder Woman. And 2017’s Logan is the first superhero flick to get a Screenplay nod. None were nominated for the big prize.

It’s unknown what will transpire over the next year before the next Oscar nominations come out, but I feel confident with this prediction: Panther will be in the mix and not on the back burner for discussion. Already it appears that it will be one of the most critically acclaimed titles in its genre and it will almost certainly become a box office juggernaut.

If Panther manages a Picture nod, the love could extend to director Coogler and its Adapted Screenplay. The film seems to be a decent bet for a variety of tech nods, including Visual Effects, the Sound categories, and Makeup and Hairstyling.

Bottom line: the acclaim for Panther is here and may not go away come Academy voting time.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…