Oscars 2019: The Case of Brad Pitt

My Case of posts for Oscar nominees hits our final nominee in Best Supporting Actor – Brad Pitt for Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood:

The Case for Brad Pitt

One decade after Inglourious Basterds, his first collaboration with Tarantino, Pitt is in the Oscar mix for the fourth time. For his acting that is. His first nod came nearly a quarter century ago in this category for 12 Monkeys and that was followed up by two lead nominations for 2008’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and 2011’s Moneyball. While he is 0 for 3 in the performance department, he does possess an Oscar as a producer on 2013’s Best Picture recipient 12 Years a Slave. It would appear the fourth time is the charm. Pitt has picked up all the significant precursors, including SAG, the Globes, BAFTA, and the Critics Choice. All other nominees here are heavyweights, but Pitt has been the favorite for some time. To add to that, his acceptance speeches over the past few weeks have been wildly entertaining.

The Case Against Brad Pitt

Quite frankly… I’m struggling. He is simply the massive front runner. That said, there have been upsets in recent history in Supporting Actor, including Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies) over Sylvester Stallone (Creed) in 2015.

The Verdict

Expect Pitt’s star quality and self deprecation to be on full display when his name is called on Sunday evening.

My Case of posts will continue with Margot Robbie in Bombshell!

2019 Oscar Nominations Reaction

Well, folks, the Oscar nominations were out bright and early this morning. Per usual, there were some genuine surprises and omissions that will have Twitter buzzing right up until the ceremony February 9th.

Readers of the blog know that I spend months trying to put the puzzle together on who and what will be nominated. My results today? Out of the 109 predictions made, 88 of them came to fruition. In the eight biggest categories, there were four that I got all nominees correct… including Best Picture. Truth be told, I’m pretty pleased with my results!

Before we break it down race by race, some general comments. As for movies that had a disappointing wakeup call, there were numerous entries that had possibilities in the major categories and beyond. Those left on the cutting room floor include Booksmart, Dolemite Is My Name, The Farewell, Uncut Gems, and Us. Another movie barely left standing was Rocketman. I had it pegged for five nominations, but it managed just a single mention in Original Song.

For the films that did make it in, Joker scored the most nominations (somewhat of a surprise) with 11 followed by The Irishman, 1917, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood with 10 apiece.

With some of my analysis here, you’ll see strong indications on what my winner forecast might be. Expect that post to be up a couple of days before the ceremony.

And with that, let’s break it down!

Best Picture

The Nominees: Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, Marriage Story, 1917, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Parasite

How I Did: 9/9 (!)

Analysis: For Oscar prognosticators, just getting the correct number of films that are nominated is an accomplishment. It can fluctuate anywhere between 5 and 10. Nine felt correct for some time and I’ve had these ones predicted for several weeks. As for a winner, I feel six of them have at least decent to strong shots. I’m nowhere near ready to crown a victor.

Best Director

The Nominees: Bong Joon-Ho (Parasite), Sam Mendes (1917), Todd Phillips (Joker), Martin Scorsese (The Irishman), Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)

How I Did: 4/5

Analysis: It was Phillips riding the Joker wave over Greta Gerwig for Little Women. Like Picture, this race feels wide open and it could come down to Joon-Ho vs. Mendes.

Best Actor

The Nominees: Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory), Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), Adam Driver (Marriage Story), Joaquin Phoenix (Joker), Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes)

How I Did: 4/5

Analysis: With so many contenders in the running, going 4 for 5 here feels like more of an accomplishment that naming the Best Pic nominees. It was Pryce getting a slot over Taron Egerton in Rocketman. Banderas and Pryce are first time nominees. It looks like Phoenix could sweep awards season and that gives him his first win.

Best Actress

The Nominees: Cynthia Erivo (Harriet), Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story), Saoirse Ronan (Little Women), Charlize Theron (Bombshell), Renee Zellweger (Judy)

How I Did: 5/5 (!)

Analysis: 100% here and like Best Actor, there’s a strong front runner with Zellweger. If so, she’d pick up her second statue after being named Supporting Actress for 2003’s Cold Mountain. 

Best Supporting Actor

The Nominees: Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood), Anthony Hopkins (The Two Popes), Al Pacino (The Irishman), Joe Pesci (The Irishman), Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)

How I Did: 5/5 (!)

Analysis: What a list of legends we have here! There’s some interesting tidbits to share. Every nominee here has won an Oscar. Yet it’s been some time since most were nominated – Pesci since 1990 for GoodFellas, Pacino since 1992 for his double nod with Scent of a Woman and Glengarry Glen Ross, Hopkins since 1997 (Amistad), and rather shockingly, Hanks… who has his first nomination since 2000 with Cast Away. Pitt, on the other hand, is the most recent nominee for his acting (2011’s Moneyball). However, he’s the only one of the five to never win the Oscar for his performances (he does have an Oscar for producing 2013’s 12 Years a Slave). Got all that? And here’s the last word on that… Pitt seems destined to join their company in February as a winner.

Best Supporting Actress

The Nominees: Kathy Bates (Richard Jewell), Laura Dern (Marriage Story), Scarlett Johansson (Jojo Rabbit), Florence Pugh (Little Women), Margot Robbie (Bombshell)

How I Did: 4/5

Analysis: Now we get to the first genuine shocker and that’s Jennifer Lopez not being nominated for Hustlers. Bates takes her spot. Lopez was generally seen as close to a sure thing for recognition and I’ve had her listed at #2 behind Dern for weeks. This only helps Dern for her first podium walk.

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Nominees: The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, The Two Popes

How I Did: 5/5 (!)

Analysis: This has looked like the final five for a while now and this could represent the best chance for a major win for The Irishman. That said, I wouldn’t count Jojo or Joker completely out.

Best Original Screenplay

The Nominees: Knives Out, Marriage Story, 1917, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Parasite

How I Did: 4/5

Analysis: No love for The Farewell here with 1917 getting in. Tarantino is a soft favorite over Marriage Story and Parasite. 

Best Internation Feature Film

The Nominees: Corpus Christi, Honeyland, Les Miserables, Pain and Glory, Parasite

How I Did: 3/5

Les Mis, Pain, and Parasite were automatics. The last two spots were tricky to forecast and I had Atlantics and Those Who Remained instead. Honeyland pulled off a notable achievement by being named here and in Documentary. Bottom line: this is the easiest race of them all to project. It’s going to be Parasite. 

Best Animated Feature

The Nominees: How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, I Lost My Body, Klaus, Missing Link, Toy Story 4

How I Did: 4/5

Analysis: Next big surprise as Disney’s Frozen II was frozen out with Klaus taking the spot. Toy Story 4 is the favorite, but I don’t discount the possibility of an upset here (with Dragon and Body as potential spoilers).

Best Documentary Feature

The Nominees: American Factory, The Cave, The Edge of Democracy, For Sama, Honeyland

How I Did: 3/5

Analysis: The documentary branch is always unpredictable and that proved accurate this morning. Apollo 11 and One Child Nation were the two I had in over The Cave and The Edge of Democracy. Netflix’s American Factory (the first doc from Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company) appears to be the leader of the pack.

Best Cinematography

The Nominees: The Irishman, Joker, The Lighthouse, 1917, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

How I Did: 4/5

Analysis: I had Ford v Ferrari over Lighthouse. This looks to be a win for 1917. 

Best Costume Design

The Nominees: The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

How I Did: 3/5

Analysis: Surprises here with Dolemite Is My Name and Rocketman being ignored in favor of The Irishman and Joker. I even thought the two I predicted had real shots at winning. This one could be between Women and Hollywood. 

Best Film Editing

The Nominees: Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Parasite

How I Did: 4/5

Analysis: Now this one is interesting! I had Hollywood in and not Jojo. Why is Editing important? Of any category at the Oscars, a nomination here means a lot to the eventual Best Picture winner. The last movie to win the big prize and not be nominated for Editing is 2014’s Birdman. And that’s really an asterisk since it was filmed in one long continuous shot (though the same basically holds true for 1917). Before that, the last Best Picture winner recipient to not score a nod here? You have to go all the way back to 1980’s Ordinary People. In other words, the snub for Hollywood here could mean something. Perhaps it will be an outlier. Yet I feel it’s key for ballot guessers to know that only two BP winners haven’t been recognized here in the past 40 years…

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

The Nominees: Bombshell, Joker, Judy, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, 1917

How I Did: 3/5

Analysis: Hollywood and Rocketman out and Maleficent and 1917 in. Expect this to be the sole win for Bombshell.

Best Original Score

The Nominees: Joker, Little Women, Marriage Story, 1917, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker 

How I Did: 5/5 (!)

Analysis: Back to perfection! Joker has gotten the precursor love, but 1917 is a threat.

Best Original Song

The Nominees: “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” from Toy Story 4, “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” from Rocketman, “I’m Standing with You” from Breakthrough, “Into the Unknown” from Frozen II, “Stand Up” from Harriet

How I Did: 3/5

Analysis: This category is a head scratcher. I had “Spirit” from The Lion King and “Glasgow” from Wild Rose in over the Toy Story and Breakthrough tracks. This should be a contest between Elton John’s Rocketman tune and the Frozen song. However, both films were significantly snubbed in other categories as mentioned above. The one thing I do know… this branch clearly loves tracks that begin with the letter I.

Best Production Design

The Nominees: The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, 1917, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Parasite

How I Did: 4/5

Analysis: Had Little Women over Parasite. This could definitely be a W for Hollywood.

Best Sound Editing

The Nominees: Ford v Ferrari, Joker, 1917, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

How I Did: 4/5

Analysis: Had Avengers: Endgame over Joker. In both sound races, this should be between Ford and 1917.

Best Sound Mixing 

The Nominees: Ad Astra, Ford v Ferrari, Joker, 1917, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

How I Did: 3/5

Had Rocketman and Skywalker over Astra and Hollywood. See Sound Editing above.

Best Visual Effects

The Nominees: Avengers: Endgame, The Irishman, The Lion King, 1917, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

How I Did: 5/5 (!)

Analysis: I’m glad this category is last alphabetically so I can end on a high note! I lean Lion King, but that could change.

And that does it for my nominations recap! As stated, expect winner predictions shortly before February 9th!

 

Best Picture: A Look Back

A few weeks ago, I posted look backs at major categories at the Oscars from 1990 to the present. I’ve covered all four acting races and if you missed it, you can peruse them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/11/04/best-actor-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/31/best-actress-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/25/best-supporting-actor-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/20/best-supporting-actress-a-look-back/

In each post, I review what I’d classify as the three least surprising winners, as well as the three biggest upsets. And I select what I believe are the strongest and weakest overall fields.

Today on the blog, we arrive at the Big Daddy – Best Picture. It’s important to remember that hindsight doesn’t come into play here. For instance, Forrest Gump won the top prize in 1994. Since then, many believe fellow nominees Pulp Fiction or The Shawshank Redemption should have won. Yet the Gump victory was not an upset at the time. Same goes for 1990 when Dances with Wolves bested GoodFellas.

Let’s begin with a reminder of each winner since 1990:

1990 – Dances with Wolves

1991 – The Silence of the Lambs

1992 – Unforgiven

1993 – Schindler’s List

1994 – Forrest Gump

1995 – Braveheart

1996 – The English Patient

1997 – Titanic

1998 – Shakespeare in Love

1999 – American Beauty

2000 – Gladiator

2001 – A Beautiful Mind

2002 – Chicago

2003 – Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

2004 – Million Dollar Baby

2005 – Crash

2006 – The Departed

2007 – No Country for Old Men

2008 – Slumdog Millionaire

2009 – The Hurt Locker

2010 – The King’s Speech

2011 – The Artist

2012 – Argo

2013 – 12 Years a Slave

2014 – Birdman

2015 – Spotlight

2016 – Moonlight

2017 – The Shape of Water

We start with my three least surprising winners:

3. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)

Peter Jackson’s final entry in the acclaimed trilogy seemed due for a win after the first two installments were nominated, but lost to A Beautiful Mind and Chicago. This was as much a recognition for the entire franchise and by 2003, it was obvious the Academy would move in that direction.

2. Titanic (1997)

James Cameron’s epic was plagued with rumors of a troubled shoot and the possibility seemed real that it could be a costly flop. The opposite occurred as Titanic became the highest grossing motion picture of all time upon its release. It seemed clear that Oscar love would follow.

1. Schindler’s List (1993)

Capping an amazing year which saw Steven Spielberg direct Jurassic Park over the summer, his Holocaust feature Schindler’s List became the undeniable front-runner at its end of year release. Winning all significant precursors, this was a shoo-in selection.

Now to the upsets. In my view, there were four very real ones and I had to leave one out. That would be 1995 when Braveheart emerged victorious over the favored Apollo 13 and Sense and Sensibility. Yet there’s 3 others that I feel top it.

3. Moonlight (2016)

La La Land appeared ready to pick up the gold after its filmmaker Damien Chazelle and lead actress Emma Stone had already won. And it looked like the script was being followed when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway actually announced the musical as Best Picture. Perhaps Oscar’s largest controversy followed as the wrong envelope was given and the Barry Jenkins effort Moonlight had actually won. Correct envelopes or not, the Moonlight victory was still unexpected given the La La momentum.

2. Shakespeare in Love (1998)

All eyes were on Spielberg’s World War II epic Saving Private Ryan to win as Spielberg had already picked up his second statue for directing. Shakespeare rewrote that script and few saw it coming.

1. Crash (2005)

Here is perhaps the most surprising BP winner in history. Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain was the strong favorite when the Paul Haggis race relations drama took it. Even presenter Jack Nicholson looked shocked when he read the envelope.

And now the fields. That’s a bit tough because just under a decade ago, the Academy switched from five finite nominees to anywhere between five and ten (nine being the most common). For weakest, I’m going with 2011 when there were 9. While there’s some quality picks like The Artist, The Descendants, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, and The Tree of Life – I feel even some of them might have missed the cut in stronger years. And I think that certainly applies to Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, and War Horse.

For strongest, I will go with the aforementioned 1994. Pulp Fiction and Shawshank are indeed two of the most impressive cinematic contributions in recent times. Winner Gump and other nominees Quiz Show and Four Weddings and a Funeral filled out the slate.

And that does it, folks! Hope you enjoyed my look back at Best Picture in modern times.

Best Supporting Actor: A Look Back

Continuing on with my look back at the major categories from 1990 to the present at the Oscars, we arrive at Best Supporting Actor! If you missed my post regarding Supporting Actress, you can find it right here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/20/best-supporting-actress-a-look-back/

As I did with that blog entry, I’m picking the top 3 least surprising winners (performers who essentially sailed right through awards season) and the 3 biggest upsets in each race. I am also selecting the strongest and weakest fields overall.

As a primer, here are the 28 actors whose support earned them a golden statue:

1990 – Joe Pesci, GoodFellas

1991 – Jack Palance, City Slickers

1992 – Gene Hackman, Unforgiven

1993 – Tommy Lee Jones, The Fugitive

1994 – Martin Landau, Ed Wood

1995 – Kevin Spacey, The Usual Suspects

1996 – Cuba Gooding Jr., Jerry Maguire

1997 – Robin Williams, Good Will Hunting

1998 – James Coburn, Affliction

1999 – Michael Caine, The Cider House Rules

2000 – Benicio del Toro, Traffic

2001 – Jim Broadbent, Iris

2002 – Chris Cooper, Adaptation

2003 – Tim Robbins, Mystic River

2004 – Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby

2005 – George Clooney, Syriana

2006 – Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine

2007 – Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men

2008 – Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

2009 – Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

2010 – Christian Bale, The Fighter

2011 – Christopher Plummer, Beginners

2012 – Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained

2013 – Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

2014 – J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

2015 – Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

2016 – Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

2017 – Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 

There are plenty to choose from as far least surprising winners, but here’s my top ones:

3. Gene Hackman, Unforgiven

Clint Eastwood’s Western picked up a slew of awards on Oscar night and Hackman’s inclusion in that race was never really in doubt. It was his second statue after winning Best Actor 21 years previously for The French Connection.

2. Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

It was director Christopher Nolan giving numerous awards speeches on behalf of the late Ledger, as his work playing the iconic villain swept all precursors as well. This remains not only the only win in the omnipresent superhero genre in the 21st century, but the only nomination.

1. Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men

Like Ledger, Bardem created a bad guy for the ages in the Coen Brothers Oscar-winning picture. He picked up all the precursors as well for his role.

And now the upsets!

3. James Coburn, Affliction

There was clearly no front-runner in 1998 as a different actor was honored in each preceding awards show. Ed Harris took the Golden Globe for The Truman Show, Billy Bob Thornton (A Simple Plan) was victorious at the Critics Choice Awards, Robert Duvall’s role in A Civil Action was honored at SAG, and Geoffrey Rush (Elizabeth) was the BAFTA recipient. Surely one of them would win the Oscar, but it instead went to Mr. Coburn.

2. Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

In 2015, the general consensus was that Sylvester Stallone would punch out the competition in his signature role for Creed. That would have been quite a feat after Rocky took Best Picture in 1976 – nearly four decades prior. Yet it didn’t materialize when Rylance made the trip to the podium.

1. Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine

Along the same lines, Eddie Murphy was the strong favorite for his rare dramatic work in Dreamgirls. With Jennifer Hudson as a sure thing for Supporting Actress (which did happen), the musical looked safe for a supporting sweep. The Academy surprisingly went another route by honoring Arkin.

And now to the fields overall and choosing a strongest and weakest. For the least impressive of the bunch, I’m going with 2011. Here were the nominees:

Christopher Plummer, Beginners (winner)

Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn

Jonah Hill, Moneyball

Nick Nolte, Warrior

Max Von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

When it comes to best overall field, I chose 1993. This is the year that Tommy Lee Jones got the gold in The Fugitive. That’s a rare acting win for an action flick. It was deserved in my view and the other four nominees were very strong as well. They were:

Leonardo DiCaprio, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

Ralph Fiennes, Schindler’s List

John Malkovich, In the Line of Fire

Pete Postlethwaite, In the Name of the Father

Furthermore, I could keep going with other deserving actors that year, including Val Kilmer in Tombstone and Sean Penn for Carlito’s Way. 

The next trip down memory lane will be Best Actress and it will be up soon!

Oscar Watch: Mid90s

Jonah Hill has two Oscar nominations to his credit in Supporting Actor for 2011’s Moneyball and 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street. Now the actor broadens his horizons this fall with Mid90s, his directorial debut which he also wrote. It has premiered at the Toronto Film Festival.

Based on early reactions from critics, Hill has made an impressive first feature behind the camera. The coming of age dramedy stars Sunny Suljic, Lucas Hedges (who’s everywhere this awards season with Boy Erased and Ben Is Back), and Katherine Waterston.

While reviews are solid, Mid90s doesn’t look like Best Picture kind of material for Academy voters. It’s best chance could be recognition for Hill in the Original Screenplay race.

Bottom line: while this looks poised to kickstart a second career for its maker, Oscar chatter could be hard to come by.

The film opens October 19 domestically. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The Best Picture Wouldn’t Have Been Contenders: 2009-2017

A couple of days back on the blog, I speculated about what films in the 21st century would have been nominated for Best Picture prior to a rule change in 2009. As a refresher, nearly a decade ago, the Academy changed its Best Picture Nominees from a finite five to anywhere between five to ten. In that time frame, the magic number most years has been nine (it was actually a finite 10 for 2009 and 2010 before the fluctuation change). My recent post selected two pictures from 1990-2008 that I believe would have been nominated. You can find that post here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/08/03/the-best-picture-coulda-been-contenders-1990-2008/

Today comes the inverse of that column. What if the rule had never been altered? What if the last nine Oscar ceremonies honored just five features?

In making these picks, there’s obviously one extremely easy selection – the movie that won. In naming the other four, I’m looking at factors such as number of other nods it received. For instance, if a Director won that award for their work and the Picture went to something else, that director’s film is in.

So let’s get to it in this alternative Oscar universe. I’ll be reminding you all the pictures recognized and then showing my final five.

2009

The Actual Nominees:

The Hurt Locker (Winner), Avatar, The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, A Serious Man, Up, Up in the Air

Had It Been Five:

The Hurt Locker, Avatar, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, Up in the Air

2010

The Actual Nominees:

The King’s Speech (W), 127 Hours, Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit, Winter’s Bone

Had It Been Five:

The King’s Speech, The Fighter, Inception, The Social Network, True Grit

2011

The Actual Nominees:

The Artist (W), The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, War Horse

Had It Been Five:

The Artist, The Descendants, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris

2012

The Actual Nominees:

Argo (W), Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty

Had It Been Five:

Argo, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook

2013

The Actual Nominees:

12 Years a Slave (W), American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, The Wolf of Wall Street

Had It Been Five:

12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Gravity, Nebraska, The Wolf of Wall Street

2014

The Actual Nominees:

Birdman (W), American Sniper, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash

Had It Been Five:

Birdman, American Sniper, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game

2015

The Actual Nominees:

Spotlight (W), The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Room

Had It Been Five:

Spotlight, The Big Short, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant

2016

The Actual Nominees:

Moonlight (W), Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Manchester by the Sea

Had It Been Five:

Moonlight, Arrival, La La Land, Lion, Manchester by the Sea

2017

The Actual Nominees:

The Shape of Water (W), Call Me by Your Name, Darkest Hour, Dunkirk, Get Out, Lady Bird, Phantom Thread, The Post, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Had It Been Five:

The Shape of Water, Dunkirk, Get Out, Lady Bird, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

And there you have it with my posts on the “what if” Best Picture happenings in Oscar world!

Molly’s Game Movie Review

At its best, Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue is cinematic music. Like many distinctive screenwriters icluding Mamet and Tarantino, he has an unmistakable style. There’s a zippy and often whip smart quality present. We heard that melody in The Social Network and on “The West Wing” and large parts of A Few Good Men, The American President, Charlie Wilson’s War, Moneyball, and Steve Jobs. On occasion, there are heavy-handed and slightly preachy notes in his wordy tunes.

We know what we’re getting in a Sorkin screenplay. An unknown until now is how he performs behind the lens and Molly’s Game answers it. The frequent highs and more infrequent lows of his writing are present here. And he pleasingly proves he’s got some style in the director’s chair, too.

The film is based on the real life story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), who went from a wannabe Olympic skier sidelined by freak injury to underground poker syndicate magnate. It’s an improbable yarn where truth is indeed stranger than fiction. Following her slopes related incident, Molly travels to L.A. and soon finds herself as assistant to a rich on paper and sleazy real estate developer (Jeremy Strong). He seems far more concerned with his high stakes poker game that involves celebrities and the West Coast wealthy – all male. Molly starts out basically holding their money. That doesn’t last long as her intellect soon has her running the show.

This puts her in constant contact with an unnamed movie star played by Michael Cera. A quick look at the facts of Bloom’s true events would put Tobey Maguire as the actual actor. Sorkin’s screenplay doesn’t dwell on the famous names that real Molly came in contact with, as apparently the subject’s book this is based on didn’t either. I will say this. If half the stuff about Maguire (err Cera’s character) is accurate, he’s not exactly your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

It also puts her in proximity with far worse types than bratty leading men. There’s the Mob, in Italian and Russian form. And that’s where it all gets truly dangerous. These individuals provide a risk to her personal safety, as do the drug fueled measures she takes on her own to keep the business rolling in celebrity, Mafia, and trust fund kid cash.

Molly’s Game is told in flashback as our central figure’s legal troubles mount. Idris Elba is her skilled and sympathetic lawyer. Kevin Costner is her hard charging dad – a therapist who is always seeking perfection from his daughter. It’s their dynamic that turns out to be the key one here and provides a window into Molly’s behavior. In some ways, it’s a relationship we’ve seen countless times onscreen before and this doesn’t add much freshness.

That said, when Sorkin’s writing is at its best, it’s an entertaining sound. Molly’s Game gives us plenty of long exchanges between particularly Chastain and Elba that qualify. We’ve seen the world of closed-door poker (in the solid Rounders for example) before, but not often. The writer/director frequently excels at displaying this fast-paced universe that just a minor segment of the ultra rich are privy to.

Chastain is present in nearly every frame and she provides another electric performance as a strong female getting it done in a male dominated universe. Elba offers sturdy support. Even though Costner’s subplot is the most routine, he adds some depth in the third act as the complicated dad.

Those familiar with Sorkin’s word games will find plenty to enjoy here. It doesn’t rise to the level of The Social Network, mind you. It does comfortably give me confidence that his dialogue works just fine with him also wearing the director’s hat.

*** (out of four)