Oscar Watch: Respect

When I did my first ranked Oscar predictions in the Best Actress race on August 27, 2020 – I had Jennifer Hudson’s portrayal of Aretha Franklin in Respect ranked fifth. The biopic ended up getting delayed due to COVID. Now it’s out on Friday (August 13). My initial two weeks of Academy rankings for 2021 has had Hudson pegged in fourth while not including the film itself in the 25 possibilities for Best Picture.

The review embargo lifted this evening and… well, I might be onto something. The prevalent theory has been that Respect could be a one race player in the major categories. This is similar to what we saw two years ago when Renee Zellweger took Best Actress as Judy Garland in Judy and last year when Andra Day was nominated for The United States vs. Billie Holiday. 

Early critical reaction is mixed though Hudson is being widely praised. It was 15 years ago that the former American Idol singer won gold in Supporting Actress for her show stopping work in Dreamgirls. She hasn’t been on the Academy’s radar since. Respect, as anticipated, could easily change that. Nothing in the write-ups indicates this will a Picture hopeful. Same goes for the supporting cast. I have had Audra McDonald in the lower rungs of possibilities in supporting for the past two weeks. Don’t expect to see her name when I update my forecast on Thursday.

Costume Design is another possibility, but don’t be surprised at all to see Hudson as the lone representation here. And that’s far from guaranteed. There’s a lot of leading performances yet to be seen that could contend: Jessica Chastain (The Eyes of Tammy Faye), Jodie Comer (The Last Duel), Penelope Cruz (Parallel Mothers), Kirsten Dunst (The Power of the Dog), Lady Gaga (House of Gucci), Nicole Kidman (Being the Ricardos), Frances McDormand (The Tragedy of Macbeth), Kristen Stewart (Spencer), and Rachel Zegler (West Side Story) are just some. Emilia Jones (CODA) and Renate Reinsve (The Worst Person in the World) represent two turns already seen that could find themselves in the mix.

Bottom line: Hudson is absolutely more than just a little bit of a factor in this race, but we have to see what transpires over festival season and the rest of the year. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Respect Box Office Prediction

15 years after her Oscar winning supporting turn in Dreamgirls, Jennifer Hudson is Aretha Franklin in the biopic Respect. Out August 13, the film marks the directorial debut of Liesl Tommy. The supporting cast includes Forest Whitaker, Marlon Wayans, Audra McDonald, Marc Maron, Tituss Burgess, and Mary J. Blige.

Hudson is hoping for some additional awards respect for this high-profile turn. Originally slated for a Christmas 2020 release, the pic was delayed due to COVID. Sporting a reported $55 million budget, it is now coming out around the same as the Chadwick Boseman led James Brown bio Get On Up. It opened to $13.4 million back in 2014. Will the Queen of Soul movie manage to match The Godfather of Soul’s?

With Delta variant challenges, I’m a little skeptical. My hunch is that Respect falls just a little bit under $10 million as it hopes future positive word-of-mouth keeps it around in subsequent weekends.

Respect opening weekend prediction: $8.5 million

For my Free Guy prediction, click here:

Free Guy Box Office Prediction

For my Don’t Breathe 2 prediction, click here:

Don’t Breathe 2 Box Office Prediction

Joker Movie Review

When Batman ruled the summer three decades ago, Tim Burton’s take on the Caped Crusader was deemed too dark by some. That seems quaint now with the harder edged comic book adaptations that have come our way recently and it especially applies to Joker. This stand-alone origin pic from Todd Phillips wears its influences overtly with Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver being the most obvious. It’s a grim tale focused on mental health in which Joaquin Phoenix dominates every frame of celluloid he’s in and that’s pretty much every moment. Much of the time, we are simply waiting for his character to snap. The tension is palpable as his involuntary cackles provide the soundtrack. Heath Ledger might still be the best Joker, but this film has the most Joker. And Phoenix runs a somewhat close second.

It’s 1981 in a gamy Gotham City and Arthur Fleck is a clown for hire with hopes of becoming a stand-up. He gets a load of meds from the government that don’t seem to stem the tide of a slow boiling rage (with a makeup infused smile, of course). He dreams of killing it (in the humorous sense) on a national talk show hosted by Robert De Niro’s Murray Franklin. Arthur watches the show with his ailing mother (Frances Conroy), whose screws may also not be fully tightened. And there’s a fledgling romance with a single mom (Zazie Beetz) whose apartment inhabits the same floor of a dingy high rise.

Joker is centered on classism almost as much as Arthur’s derangements. Among our central character’s first criminal acts involves a trio of WASPy Wayne Enterprise employees. This is just as billionaire Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) is exploring a Mayoral run and the eventual Bat Dad might have some surprising connections to the eventual Bat nemesis. Some have accused Joker of romanticizing the man. I didn’t see it that way, but there’s certainly a sense of the have nots sticking it to the haves.

We have grown accustomed to high tech and CGI infused violence in this genre. Not here. The bloodshed is sudden, in your face, and occasionally shocking. Just like in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, Phoenix undergoes a metamorphosis by losing a ton of weight. Arthur looks as sick as his mind is. Like Ledger in The Dark Knight, it’s hard to take your eyes off him as he dances, laughs in a disturbing elevated pitch, and heads toward the breakdown. This is Joaquin Phoenix’s demented sandbox to play in and I dug the opportunity to witness this darkness without a dawn in its sights.

***1/2 (out of four)

Joker Box Office Prediction

Opening wide in theaters amidst controversy regarding its violence and fresh off a surprise Golden Lion victory at the Venice Film Festival, Joker is unleashed next weekend. Donning the makeup once worn by Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, and Jared Leto, this stand-alone and hard R rated DC Universe pic casts Joaquin Phoenix in the title role as Batman’s most legendary villain. And like Ledger before him in The Dark Knight, our multiple Oscar nominee here is garnering Oscar buzz for his work. Todd Phillips (best known for the Hangover trilogy) handles directorial duties with a supporting cast including Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Marc Maron, and Bill Camp.

As mentioned, Joker made quite a splash overseas when it premiered in Venice. Critics have mostly been on board and it sits at 76% on Rotten Tomatoes. There’s awards chatter and an equal amount of ink about its potential adverse influence on audiences. This is certainly not a picture flying under the radar. No other movie studio chose to open anything against this Warner Bros potential juggernaut.

Forecasts range all the way up to $100 million or over with most below that mark. In order to set the all-time October opening record, this will need to set one achieved just last year with Venom ($80.2 million). It should have no issue representing a personal best for Phoenix, which is 2002’s Signs at $60 million. As for Phillips, his highest start is The Hangover Part II at $85.9 million.

I believe all the buzz surrounding this (both positive and negative) could propel Joker to a record setting weekend on all fronts mentioned.

Joker opening weekend prediction: $89.6 million

Oscar Watch: Joker

Comic book movies arrive in quick order these days, but not many draw comparisons to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. Such is the case with Joker, the breathlessly anticipated stand-alone DC Universe title featuring Joaquin Phoenix in the title role. It has premiered at Venice Film Festival ahead of its October 4 stateside release. Early critical reaction portrays this as a grim, sometimes terrifying, and often brilliant experience. And Phoenix’s work is being called masterful.

You’ll recall that it was just over a decade ago that Heath Ledger posthumously won an Oscar in The Dark Knight as the same iconic villain. Based on word from Venice, there seems to be a strong possibility that Phoenix will receive his fourth nod for his acting (Supporting for Gladiator, lead in Walk the Line and The Master). Even with a high profile costar like Robert De Niro, I suspect all the acting chatter will be directed to the head clown.

Joker could prove to be a massive box office success and that might increase its chances for a Picture nod, direction for Todd Phillips, and the Adapted Screenplay. Bottom line: don’t be surprised if Phoenix becomes the second actor to get Oscar love for this character. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…