St. Vincent Movie Review

“Don’t worry , it’s going to get better.”

It’s a line stated in Theodore Melfi’s debut feature in St. Vincent and it applies to our central characters here. Bill Murray is Vincent MacKenna, a grumpy, gambling and alcoholic swilling curmudgeon who begrudgingly befriends his new neighbor boy Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). The boy’s mother Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) is a recent divorcee who’s working hard to make ends meet and this allows Vincent to become Oliver’s unconventional babysitter. Soon enough Oliver is learning some things not being instructed by his kindly Catholic school instructor (Chris O’Dowd). He even meets Vincent’s “lady of the night” friend Daka (Naomi Watts), a pregnant hooker with a Russian heart of gold. Luckily young Oliver assumes she has a night job.

There is a lot more, however, to Vincent than his personality and demeanor suggest. He’s desperately trying to care of his Alzheimer’s ridden wife who resides in a care facility. Vincent is a war hero. The central and sweet concept of the film is simple: don’t judge a book by its cover. Also, embrace your flaws but try to do some good. At one point, Daka expresses to Vincent: “You always lose. You should be comfortable by now.”

Vincent and Maggie are both experiencing losing streaks. Yet they’re both trying. McCarthy breaks from her traditional persona and sass here. The role of Maggie is an understated one and she plays it well. This is more vulnerable and sensitive than we’re used to seeing her. She gets to shine in one scene where she confesses her problems to the faculty at Oliver’s school and McCarthy nails it. Naomi Watts takes what is mostly a cliched and familiar part and manages to turn it into a winning performance. Lieberher is key. We often see where a child actor can dampen proceedings with sub par acting. Not here. The kid is just fine.

St. Vincent is a formula movie for sure. We know where the screenplay is eventually headed. Subplots involving the school bully and a custody battle are by the numbers. Don’t worry though. St. Vincent is solid enough and gets better. While the aforementioned performers deserve some credit, let’s get real. Bill Murray is a national treasure. He’s an incredibly gifted actor comedically and dramatically. He gets to exhibit both qualities in large doses here. Director/writer Melfi fashions a template for Murray to play in that’s quite good. Murray makes it near great.

***1/2 (out of four)

Todd’s Final Oscar Predictions!

Well here we are! Oscar nominations will be announced tomorrow morning and this is my sixth and final round of predictions for nominees in the eight major categories. For my final predictions, I’ll list the predictions as well as others that could potentially make the cut. Here’s what changed the most: I have finally gotten on the Nightcrawler bandwagon and am now predicting a number of nominations for it. Tomorrow – I”ll have my reaction post up and pontificate on where I went wrong and right.

As you may know, the Best Picture race (unlike all others) can list anywhere from 5-10 nominees. I finally settled on nine… which is the same number of films nominated each year since that system was put into place. And without further adieu – Todd’s Final Oscar Predictions:

Best Picture

Birdman

Boyhood

Foxcatcher

The Imitation Game

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Nightcrawler

Selma

The Theory of Everything

Whiplash

Other Possibilities: American Sniper, Gone Girl, Unbroken

Best Director

Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel

Ana DuVernay, Selma

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman

Richard Linklater, Boyhood

Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

Other Possibilities: Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), Clint Eastwood (American Sniper), David Fincher (Gone Girl), Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler), Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher)

Best Actor

Steve Carell, Foxcatcher

Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game

Jake Gyllenhall, Nightcrawler

Michael Keaton, Birdman

Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

Other Possibilities: Bradley Cooper (American Sniper), Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel), David Oyelowo (Selma)

Best Actress

Marion Cotillard, Two Days One Night

Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything

Julianne Moore, Still Alice

Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl

Reese Witherspoon, Wild

Other Possibilities: Amy Adams (Big Eyes), Jennifer Aniston (Cake)

Best Supporting Actor

Robert Duvall, The Judge

Ethan Hawke, Boyhood

Edward Norton, Birdman

Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher

J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

Other Possibilities: Josh Brolin (Inherent Vice), Tom Wilkinson (Selma)

Best Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year

Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game

Emma Stone, Birdman

Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

Other Possibilities: Laura Dern (Wild), Rene Russo (Nightcrawler), Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer), Naomi Watts (St. Vincent)

Best Original Screenplay

Birdman

Boyhood

Foxcatcher

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Nightcrawler

Other Possibilities: The LEGO Movie, A Most Violent Year, Selma

Best Adapted Screenplay

Gone Girl

The Imitation Game

Inherent Vice

The Theory of Everything

Whiplash

Other Possibilities: American Sniper, Wild 

And there you have it, folks! We’ll see how smart (or dumb) I am tomorrow morning!!

Birdman Movie Review

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Birdman has plenty to say about the current mega-blockbuster movie culture that we live in and have for some time. The screenplay (by the director along with Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., and Armando Bo) puts in its two cents regarding the power that critics have, which is highly debatable in the Internet culture. Ironically, while Inarritu and his team may share a disdain for them, it is likely the rave reviews and Oscar buzz Birdman has received that will grant it a larger audience than expected. Yet, ultimately, this picture will be remembered as a story of an actor trying to make a comeback while giving its actual star one humdinger of a real one.

That would be Michael Keaton in the kind of part that most actors dream about and never get to play. He’s Riggan Thomson, an aging celebrity known to the world for his role as Birdman in a series of wildly popular comic book flicks from two decades ago. As you can gather, this is not much of a stretch for Keaton himself who brought Batman to the masses a quarter century ago. In the present day, he’s directing, writing, and starring in a Broadway play based on a Raymond Carver short story. He sees it as an opportunity to make himself relevant again and yet he’s haunted by his famous alter ego. The production of the play is a mess, which reflects Riggan’s personal life. He employs his fresh out of rehab daughter (Emma Stone) as his assistant. One of his actresses is his girlfriend (Andrea Riseborough), who may or may not be carrying his child. His ex-wife (Amy Ryan) turns up from time to time. Riggan makes life difficult for his lawyer and “best friend” (Zach Galifianakis). And his main co-stars (Edward Norton and Naomi Watts) are action packed with emotional issues.

Birdman shows us an actor on the edge of sanity who is grappling with this massive undertaking of the play and dealing with his wilting fame. He feels like he’s doing something of utmost importance while those around him may not see it that way. The screenplay doesn’t shy away from humorously but honestly ribbing the healthy egos that actors are often known for displaying. Norton’s character could perhaps be based on himself, if you believe the gossip about how difficult he is to work with in real life.

While the pic pokes its dark humor from time to time at the superhero genre craze, it cheekily employs three actors who’ve been a part of them: Keaton, Stone (Gwen Stacy in Spider-Man), and Norton (The Incredible Hulk). And while Inarritu could feel those movies are just visual fluff, Birdman itself is a technical marvel, so to speak. There is a visual trickery to make the film seem like one long continuous take and the result from Emmanuel Lubezki’s camerawork is often hypnotic.

The supporting cast is uniformly top-notch. Every performance is rock solid and every actor gets their moments to shine. Let me there be no doubt though – this is Keaton’s show. People who describe themselves as “movie people” (pretentiously or not) all seem to have a Keaton affinity. Part of it could be that he’s the original Caped Crusader in the blockbuster area. Same goes for Beetlejuice. We’ve never seen him like this, but I believe we always suspected he was capable of this kind of amazing performance. Here, Keaton must balance portraying several alter egos and it’s a joy to witness.

Birdman is not necessarily a movie for the masses. Its pitch black humor could fall flat with some while others will deem it too inside baseball. The ending may be perfect to some viewers, but it took one step too far into unnecessary ambiguity for my taste. There’s a terrific scene when Riggan tells off The New York Times theater critic (Lindsay Duncan). On one hand, he feels liberated telling her what he really thinks of her high-mindedness and misguided sense of self importance. On the other, he’s terrified of her negative review. This explains Riggan’s character in a way – looking for liberation where he may not ever find it and scared as hell the whole time. That probably describes the way a lot of actors truly feel and Birdman drives that point home in an original, often funny, and constantly interesting ways.

***1/2 (out of four)

St. Vincent Box Office Prediction

Well, Thursday is considerably later than I do most of my box office predictions (Sunday is the day), but we need to make an exception this week. It wasn’t until this afternoon that the theater count was released for St. Vincent, out tomorrow. The comedy/drama stars the incomparable Mr. Bill Murray with a supporting cast featuring Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, and Chris O’Dowd.

St. Vincent played the film fest circuit earlier this fall and is said to be an audience pleaser. It’s been in limited release in major cities for the last two weeks. Critics have been mostly kind and it holds a respectable 74% on Rotten Tomatoes. The announcement of the screen count was a bit of a surprise: 2,282 which certainly classifies it as a wide release. This could serve as effective counter programming to this week’s other newbies, horror flick Ouija and Keanu Reeves actioner John Wick. Females could end up being a large percentage of its opening weekend audience, in addition to die-hard Murray aficionados.

That said, I still don’t believe this manages to crack the top five. An opening in double digits is certainly possible, but I believe it’ll fall under that for a sixth place debut.

St. Vincent opening weekend prediction: $8.6 million

Todd’s Early Oscar Predictions: Best Supporting Actress

As the fall movie season officially gets underway, that means a host of Oscar contenders will be opening between September and December, with many of them screening at upcoming film festivals – including Toronto, Telluride, New York, and Venice. What does that mean? My first round of Oscar predictions has arrived at the blog!

You may say it seems too early to start predicting Oscar nominees? This is true… to a point. At this same time last year, I did my first early predictions. In today’s first category – Supporting Actress – those predictions yielded three out of the five nominees, including Lupita Nyong’o from Twelve Years a Slave, the eventual winner. For followers of my blog, you’ll know that I’ll be consistently refining and updating my predictions until nominations are announced in early 2015.

Today – we begin with Supporting Actress. Tomorrow: Supporting Actor. Sunday: Actress. Monday: Actor. Tuesday: Director. Wednesday: Picture.

We’ll keep it simple for the early predictions. I will just list my round of five that I’m currently predicting along with a subsection of other possible nominees. Enjoy!

Todd’s Early Best Supporting Actress Predictions

Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

Emily Blunt, Into the Woods

Laura Dern, Wild

Carmen Ejogo, Selma

Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything

 

 
Other Possible Nominees:

Jessica Chastain, Interstellar

Jennifer Garner, Men, Women, and Children

Anne Hathaway, Interstellar

Anna Kendrick, Into the Woods

Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game

Vanessa Redgrave, Foxcatcher

Maya Rudolph, Inherent Vince

Emma Stone, Birdman

Katherine Waterston, Inherent Vice

Emily Watson, The Theory of Everything

Naomi Watts, St. Vincent

Oprah Winfrey, Selma

That’s all for now, folks! I’ll be back with my early guesstimates for Supporting Actor tomorrow…

 

Oscar Watch: Birdman

Today the Venice Film Festival kicked off and immediately there is major Oscar news to pass along in the form of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Birdman, which opens domestically on October 17th. The film was already considered a potential Academy Awards contender and its premiere more than solidified that status. Early reviews are fantastic.

The advance word today has put me in the unique position of making some rare declarative statements in late August, considered very early in the Oscar season when most contenders have yet to be seen. However, based on the buzz emanating from Italy – I give you these all but guarantees:

Birdman will be nominated for Best Picture

Its director Inarritu will be nominated for Best Director

Its star Michael Keaton will be nominated for Best Actor

The comedy/drama comes from acclaimed director Inarritu, whose other efforts include Amores perros, 21 Grams, and Babel (which was nominated for multiple Oscars in 2006). Besides his directing nomination, expect him and his cowriters to be recognized in the Original Screenplay category.

Birdman focuses on an aging actor best known for playing a superhero… a role Michael Keaton seems tailor made for. And the reviews suggest this is Keaton’s finest role yet. He seems a shoo-in to earn his second Best Actor nomination… some 26 years after his first for Clean and Sober.

As for supporting players, costars Edward Norton and Emma Stone appear to be strong possibilities in the Supporting Actor and Actress races, though their nominations don’t seem quite as assured as Keaton’s. At least not yet. It would mark Norton’s third nod after 1996’s Primal Fear and 1998’s American History X and the first for Stone.

Birdman becomes the third 2014 release that are highly likely to compete in the biggest race of all – Picture. The other two: Boyhood and Foxcatcher and you can read my detailed posts on each of them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2014/07/12/oscar-watch-boyhood/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2014/05/19/oscar-watch-foxcatcher/

Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel could find itself in the mix as well, but it’s inclusion is currently more up in the air:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2014/03/06/oscar-watch-the-grand-budapest-hotel/

Next week – I’ll be posting my first predictions in all six major categories for the Academy Awards. You can bet Birdman will be featured prominently.

Todd’s Top Ten Most Eagerly Awaited Fall 2014 Movies

The summer of 2014 is heading towards its closure and that means school, football, and the Fall Movie Season is ahead of us! As many know, the months of September through December is when studios typically save up their major Oscar contenders and that is certainly the case this year. As for what’s been released pre-fall, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is the only shoo-in for a Best Picture nomination (it could win too) while Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel currently has a decent shot.

This brings us to my personal top ten most anticipated films being released in the final four months of the year. Some of my choices are Oscar hopefuls while others are not. I’ll get to my first round of inappropriately early Academy Award nomination predictions very soon on the blog. In the meantime, here’s the pics that this blogger is most looking forward to:

10. St. Vincent

Release Date: October 24

This comedy/drama had me at the actor headlining the cast: Bill Murray. He plays an irresponsible war veteran who befriends a young boy. Melissa McCarthy and Naomi Watts costar. If it’s good, expect Oscar buzz for Mr. Murray and Ms. Watts in the Supporting Actress race.

9. The Interview

Release Date: December 25

When Seth Rogen and James Franco have teamed up, it’s led to two hilarious comedies: Pineapple Express and This is the End. Here’s hoping the trend continues where they play two journalists given the task of assassinating Kim Jong-Un.

8. Big Eyes

Release Date: December 25

Tim Burton has seemed to be on autopilot lately with lackluster pics like Alice in Wonderland and Dark Shadows. This could change that in the true life tale of a man (Christoph Waltz) who fraudulently claims credit for his wife’s (Amy Adams) bestselling paintings. Oscar buzz could follow if this one if it delivers.

**No trailer released at press time

7. Birdman

Release Date: October 17

Not a biography of the tattooed Miami Heat player – rather Birdman stars Michael Keaton in what could be a huge comeback role. He plays an actor most known for playing an iconic superhero, which shouldn’t be much of a stretch. Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone, and Zach Galifinakis round out the ensemble and it’s directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who brought us 21 Grams and Babel.

6. Dumb and Dumber To

Release Date: November 14

Whether or not the return of Harry (Jeff Daniels) and Lloyd (Jim Carrey) nearly 20 years after the iconic original works is an open question, but you can be damn sure I’ll be in the theater to find out.

5. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1

Release Date: November 21

Catching Fire improved upon an already first-rate original in the franchise so I’m pumped to see the series continue. It also serves as one of our final opportunities to see the great Philip Seymour Hoffman.

4. Inherent Vice

Release Date: December 12

Anytime Paul Thomas Anderson makes a film, it’s noteworthy given his filmography includes Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood, and The Master. This private detective tale stars Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, and Reese Witherspoon.

**No trailer released at press time

3. Foxcatcher

Release Date: November 14

Director Bennett Miller has seen both his features, Capote and Moneyball, earn Best Picture nominations. Advance word is that this will as well. The true story of John du Pont’s (Steve Carell) obsession with a pair of wrestlers (Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo) is generating Academy Award chatter for all three actors.

2. Gone Girl

Release Date: October 3

One of the very best directors working today David Fincher adapts Gillian Flynn’s bestselling murder mystery novel. Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike (in a role likely to earn Oscar buzz), Tyler Perry, and Neil Patrick Harris star.

1. Interstellar

Christopher Nolan has given us the acclaimed Dark Knight trilogy and Inception. In his latest, recent Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey is tasked with no less than saving the world. Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, and (of course) Michael Caine costar. Expect amazing visuals at the very least.

And that’s my top ten, folks. See you at the movies!