The Tribeca Film Festival, cofounded by Robert De Niro and celebrating its 20th year, kicked off this weekend with the premiere of one of 2021’s highest profile documentaries. Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain recounts the life and tragic 2018 death of its chef, author, TV host, and renowned traveler title subject. The film comes from Morgan Neville and he’s had a hit or miss relationship with Oscar voters.
Neville’s 20 Feet from Stardom from 2013, which told the tale of background singers working for musical legends, won Best Documentary Feature at the big show. His two follow-ups were both acclaimed and each missed the final five nominated selections from the Academy. 2015’s Best of Enemies, focused on the relationship between political commentators William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal, was shortlisted for the category but didn’t hear its name called on nomination morning. In 2018, one of the biggest snubs was Won’t You Be My Neighbor? not garnering attention.The director’s bio about the legendary Mister Rogers was a box office smash as far as docs are concerned. It was considered a shoo-in for a nod with a chance to win. Yet that never materialized.
Early reviews for Roadrunner indicate that Neville has fashioned another engrossing look at a familiar television presence. However, trying to guess what the Academy’s branch of documentary voters will do is consistently a tricky proposition. Expect this pic to be on the radar screen for inclusion, but whether it makes the cut is uncertain. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
While not all the right notes are consistently played in Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, it’s the performance of one beloved actor playing one beloved children’s show host that makes it worthwhile. The film isn’t as much about Mister Rogers as it is the feelings he gives people through his demeanor and work. Portrayed by Tom Hanks, it’s an impeccable casting choice to witness.
Neighborhood is set in 1998, as Mister Rogers is introduced to Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), Esquire. Not an attorney, but he’s a prolific writer for Esquire magazine. Lloyd, who lives in New York City with his wife (Susan Kelechi Watson) and infant son, typically deals with weighty issues in his journalistic articles and in his family life. He’s got a strained relationship with his father (Chris Cooper), who left Lloyd’s now deceased mother when he was a boy. When Lloyd attends his sister’s third wedding, the toxic father/son dynamic is on full display. The last thing the writer wants is a puff piece assignment and he believes he’s got one with a profile of the iconic Rogers.
Lloyd flies to Pittsburgh where the public access program is taped and thus begins a dialogue with Rogers that will far exceed his 400 word assignment. Esquire wants a short piece dealing with heroes while Lloyd wants to dig deeper. When Mister Rogers sees his profiler suffering, he chooses to dig deeper as well.
Inspired by a true story, there’s still a feeling that Lloyd’s daddy issues are far from new territory. Rhys’s performance is adequate, but a bit diminished next to an icon playing an icon. Those looking for an examination of the life of Rogers may come away disappointed. Luckily the solid documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? covers that ground. We do see the puppets, the sweater change, and most importantly, the warmth that the host effortlessly exuded. The script deserves some credit for not falling too far down a sentimental rabbit hole. In this story, Mister Rogers isn’t perfect, but he’s darn close.
That goes for Hanks. Sometimes the obvious casting decision is the correct one and here’s an example. We attribute some of the same qualities with the two-time Oscar winner. This is why sarcastic Twitter posts about Hanks being a nightmare in real life are met with immediate eye rolls or chuckles. Mister Rogers was a comfort to millions and watching Hanks play him feels the same.
The Case of posts for the pictures, directors, and performers nominated for this year’s Oscars brings us to our first Supporting Actor player – Tom Hanks for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Let’s look at the pros and cons for the legendary actor:
The Case for Tom Hanks
Well, he’s Tom Hanks. His work as beloved TV host Mister Rogers in Neighborhood brings him his sixth Oscar nod. He famously won back to back for Best Adtor in the 1990s with Philadelphia and Forrest Gimp, in addition to being nominated for Big, Saving Private Ryan, and Cast Away. Hanks is one of the most recognizable and appreciated movie stars in the world. Voters just witnessed him giving a touching and funny lifetime achievement speech at the Golden Globes.
The Case Against Tom Hanks
You might be surprised to learn that his nomination from the Academy is his first in 19 years. He was bypassed for such performances as Road to Perdition, Charlie Wilson’s War, Captain Phillips (I’m still salty about that snub), Saving Mr. Banks, Bridge of Spies, Sully, and The Post. In other words, Oscar voters may feel the two gold statues on his mantle are sufficient. As for the picture itself, Hanks’s inclusion in Supporting Actor is the sole nomination as Neighborhood couldn’t break out anywhere else with the Academy. While he snagged Globe and SAG mentions, he lost both to Brad Pitt from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
While it’s good to see Hanks back in the mix, all signs point to this award winding up in Pitt’s neighborhood this year.
Up Next in my Case of posts… Kathy Bates in Richard Jewell!
Tom Hanks dons the iconic red cardigan next weekend in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. The feel good drama casts the double Oscar winner as childrens host Mister Rogers, just one year after Won’t You Be My Neighbor? became one of the highest grossing documentaries of all time. Marielle Heller (who directed Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant to Academy nods last year in Can You Ever Forgive Me?) is behind the camera. Matthew Rhys stars as a journalist doing a story on Rogers with Susan Kelechi Watson and Chris Cooper in the supporting cast.
Since Day debuted at the Toronto Film Festival a couple months back, solid buzz followed and its current Rotten Tomatoes score stands at 97%. It appears probable that Hanks will receive his first Oscar nomination (in Supporting Actor) since 2000’s Cast Away. The aforementioned 2018 doc likely helps its visibility, as does casting one of our biggest movie stars as one of America’s most beloved figures.
There is the matter of Frozen II, which could siphon some family audiences away. Beautiful also arrives on the pre Thanksgiving long frame and some filmgoers may simply choose to spend time in this neighborhood at that time.
While I do believe a premiere of over $20 million (maybe even $25 million) is feasible, I’ll say high teens with weekends of strong holds ahead is the play.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood opening weekend prediction: $18.6 million
Mister Rogers isn’t the only PBS star getting the silver screen treatment this fall as DowntonAbbey hits theaters next weekend. Based on the acclaimed drama about an aristocratic British clan in the 1920s, the film picks up after the series finale from 2016. Julian Fellowes, creator of the program which aired stateside on the public access channel, did the screenplay. Michael Engler directs with numerous cast members returning including Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter, Elizabeth McGovern, Matthew Goode, Penelope Wilton, and Maggie Smith.
Abbey had lots of dedicated followers to go with its multitude of Emmys and they should be curious to see the saga continue. While some could choose to wait and watch the family on the small screen like they’re accustomed to, I suspect a sizable amount will turn up in the cinema.
I was surprised to see this is set to premiere on over 3000 screens. That puts it in contention to compete with Rambo: LastBlood and AdAstra as the weekend’s highest grossing newcomer. My estimate of just over $20 million puts it just ahead of Mr. Stallone and ahead of Mr. Pitt.
DowntonAbbey opening weekend prediction: $20.8 million
ABeautifulDayintheNeighborhood is one of the highest profile titles to debut in Toronto prior to its November 22 stateside rollout. From Marielle Heller (who directed Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant to nods in last year’s CanYouEverForgiveMe?), it follows a journalist (Matthew Rhys) doing a story on legendary children’s show host Mister Rogers. And the film casts Tom Hanks, perhaps America’s most beloved actor, in the part.
Early reviews have keyed in one his work and he’s said to be terrific. Critical reaction has also cleared up any category placement confusion. Hanks is supporting here and would be nominated as such with Rhys likely going lead. A two-time winner for Philadelphia and ForrestGump with three other nods under his belt, Hanks surprisingly hasn’t heard his name called since 2000 for CastAway (I’m still sore he was snubbed for 2013’s CaptainPhillips). He’s never been nominated outside of the lead actor race.
Neighborhood could certainly change that. As for Best Picture, I’m skeptical it gets in despite reviews saying it’s a tear jerking audience pleaser. The focus could rest solely on its very famous costar. One of the shocker snubs in 2018 was the exclusion of Won’tYouBeMyNeighbor? (about Rogers) from Documentary Feature. Academy voters could rectify that a bit in 2019. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
Opening in limited fashion this weekend is one of the year’s more hotly anticipated documentaries – Won’tYouBeMyNeighbor? Focused on the life of Mister Rogers, whose public access children’s program spanned decades and inspired generations of youngsters, it premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival to wide acclaim. Its Rotten Tomatoes score sits at 97% currently.
The Oscar pedigree for it is evident as its director Morgan Neville won Best Documentary Feature in 2014 for 20FeetFromStardom. Neighbor, like the recent RBG, is the rare doc that has legitimate box office breakout potential due its familiar subject matter. That said, the documentary branch of the Academy is an unpredictable lot. Last year’s Jane, for instance, covered a much appreciated figure, was looked at as a front-runner in some circles, and ended up without a nomination.
Yet don’t surprised to find this on the short list of inclusions come next year. Interestingly, the story of Rogers could find itself in the Oscar mix for two years in a row. 2019 brings YouAreMy Friend, a biopic starring Tom Hanks as the sweater clad host.