Oscar Watch: Luca

Two days ahead of its streaming debut on Disney Plus, Pixar’s latest comedic fantasy Luca has seen its review embargo lifted. It marks the feature-length directorial debut of Enrico Casarosa (who’s done story artist work on some of the studio’s pics) and has a cast voice cast that includes Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Maya Rudolph, and Jim Gaffigan.

Set in the Italian Riviera, the coming-of-age tale is taking the same distribution route as last year’s Soul by passing multiplexes for home viewing. In 2020, Soul was seen as the sturdy frontrunner for Best Animated Feature and that narrative never changed. That Pixar effort sported a 95% Rotten Tomatoes score and ended up winning gold at the Oscars. The path for Luca could be trickier.

Its Tomato meter currently sits at 89% and while that’s quite good, many critics are saying Luca is not in the upper echelon of Pixar fare. I would say the question is not whether Luca gets nominated (it will), but whether it wins. The score by Dan Romer also has a shot in that race. Disney already has another entry from this spring that could make the final five in Animated Feature (Raya and the Last Dragon), but Luca would have an edge. However, there’s also The Mitchells vs. the Machines from Netflix and it should serve as major competition for the top prize. This is in addition to films slated for the second half of 2021 (remember the names Flee and the Mouse Factory’s own Encanto).

Bottom line: You can never count out Pixar. Luca will likely hear its name included when the Animated Features contenders are named. Its victory presents a more challenging path than Soul experienced. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The Woman in the Window Review

The deeply troubled agoraphobic Anna Fox (Amy Adams) has a habit of avoiding reality in The Woman in the Window by chugging a bottle of wine and distracting herself with classic old movies. This is her way of not dealing with the story unfolding around her. There are times where I could relate as those vintage pictures would provide a better escape than what happens here for the most part.

Directed by Joe Wright (Atonement, Darkest Hour), Window is based on a 2018 novel by A.J. Finn. It features quite a list of Oscar winners (Gary Oldman, Julianne Moore) and actors you may think have won them (Adams, Jennifer Jason Leigh). The screenwriter Tracy Letts is a Pulitzer winning playwright. With that  level of talent involved, one would think Window would rise above the histrionic Hitchcockian “homage” that it is. Mentioning Mr. Hitchcock might be too complimentary. This shares many similar plot points to 2016’s The Girl on the Train, which was also based on a book meant to be read on an airplane or the beach you rush to after the flight. You could easily call this The Girl on the Painkillers.

Dr. Fox is a child psychologist whose condition has kept her confined to her Manhattan apartment. In addition to her binge drinking/movie watching, she spends most of her day spying on neighbors. The new ones across the street are the Russell family – businessman Alistair (Oldman), wife Jane (Moore), and teen son Ethan (Fred Hechinger). Or maybe not. After the wife and boy visit her, Anna suspects some abuse is occurring in the household. The mystery deepens when Jennifer Jason Leigh shows up as Alistair’s spouse. Maybe the abundance of Anna’s medication is causing hallucinations. Our voyeur tries to enlist the NYPD, led by Brian Tyree’s Henry detective, and her basement tenant (Wyatt Russell) to assist with her amateur sleuthing. There’s also the matter of Anna’s only family. She’s separated from her husband (Anthony Mackie) and they have a young daughter. They turn up in flashback form and saying much more would enter spoiler territory.

The Woman in the Window contains plenty of twists that might have worked in paperback form. The treatment by Wright and Letts is a tonally frantic one. This is primarily a melodrama that begs to be taken seriously from time to time. Some of the performers seem in on it as Oldman, Moore, and Hechinger got the memo to overact wildly. Yet this never reaches its apparent goal of being a genuine guilty pleasure. That’s too bad because the behind the camera personnel and cast in front of it deserved better. Many of those examples are contained in Anna’s cinematic collection in her brownstone where less spellbinding developments are transpiring.

** (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Spirit Untamed

In 2002, the horse drawn animated adventure Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron managed a Best Animated Feature nomination (ultimately losing to Spirited Away). Nearly two decades ago, the pic received mostly positive reviews with a 70% Rotten Tomatoes rating and decent box office. Since then, a Netflix series focused on the main character led to Spirit Untamed, which opens in theaters today. It features the voices of some familiar faces like Jake Gyllenhaal and Julianne Moore

So how are its odds to race to awards voters ballots? Not good. Untamed has mostly stalled with critics and its Tomato meter is a mere 44%. We already have solid contenders to make the final cut (Raya and the Last Dragon and The Mitchells vs. The Machines) and there’s plenty more on deck for the second half of the year including the soon to be released Luca from Pixar.

Bottom line: I can’t imagine Dreamworks Animation will mount a spirited campaign for this one. Gyllenhaal’s only equestrian related Oscar contender should remain Brokeback Mountain. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Spirit Untamed Box Office Prediction

All the way back in 2002, the animated horse adventure Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron debuted over Memorial Day weekend and performed fairly well. With Matt Damon voicing the title character, the pic galloped to a Best Animated Feature Oscar nod and a $73 million domestic gross. A Netflix spin-off series has aired since 2017 and Spirit Untamed is a joint venture between Universal and DreamWorks to bring the character back to the big screen. Elaine Bogan and Ennio Torresan Jr. co-direct with a voice cast that includes Isabela Merced, Jake Gyllenhaal, Marsai Martin, Mckenna Grace, Julianne Moore, Walton Goggins, and Eiza Gonzalez.

I will confess to not knowing how popular the streaming series is, but it seems to me that 19 years is a long break between theatrical releases. That could certainly be a nagging problem as to Spirit‘s potential. Additionally, some family audiences might still be checking out Cruella in its sophomore frame.

Untamed stands no shot at reaching what its predecessor accomplished. I’m even skeptical that it reaches $5 million out of the gate and will go a bit under that.

Spirit Untamed opening weekend prediction: $4.4 million

For my The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It prediction, click here:

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It Box Office Prediction

Oscar Watch: The Woman in the Window

On paper, at least, Joe Wright’s The Woman in the Window has a whole lot of Oscar connections in it. The psychological thriller stars Amy Adams, recipient of six nominations who’s never won (she’s considered well overdue for a victory). Costars include Academy winners and nominees such as Gary Oldman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Julianne Moore in addition to Anthony Mackie, Wyatt Russell, and Brian Tyree Henry. Screenwriter Tracy Letts has a Pulitzer Prize to his name. And Wright has seen two of his efforts (Atonement, Darkest Hour) nab Best Picture nods.

Window hits Netflix today after originally being planned for a fall 2019 premiere via 20th Century Fox. It was pushed back to May 2020 due to reshoots and the COVID-19 pandemic. The pic was finally snatched up by the streamer, foregoing a theatrical release. So there’s the question of whether this is even eligible for the Oscars since it’s not hitting the big screen. Not that it matters.

Word of mouth over the past several months has not been kind and the just lapsed review embargo confirms that. The Rotten Tomatoes score is a troubling 27% with many critics calling it a poor Hitchcock ripoff. Despite the many participants with a nexus to awards attention, Window appears more likely to garner Razzie mentions than anything at the big dance.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Army of the Dead

Zack Snyder’s zombie tale Army of the Dead hits hundreds of screens this weekend before its Netflix streaming premiere on May 21. Reviews are out and several indicate it’s a winner (especially the opening scene which is drawing raves). The Rotten Tomatoes score currently sits at 76%.

If an Oscar Watch post for this particular genre seems strange, I get it. I’m not talking about a Best Picture nod or lead actor recognition for Dave Bautista. However, some critics are pointing out Army‘s visuals. Just last year, the Netflix monster pic Love and Monsters scored a surprise nomination in Visual Effects.

Here’s the caveat: several contenders in the race from 2020 were pushed back to 2021. In other words, VE should be more of a crowded field this time around. That includes potential heavy hitters like Dune, Eternals, the fourth Matrix, Top Gun: Maverick, The Suicide Squad, and Spider-Man: No Way Home.

Having said that, if Netflix launches a serious campaign, Army could march to the shortlist in this specific category and a nod is not out of the question.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

May 14-16 Box Office Predictions

It’s been a minute since we have had four new releases to ponder, but that’s the situation this weekend as theaters continue to open their doors. The ninth pic in the Saw franchise Spiral, Angelina Jolie’s thriller Those Who Wish Me Dead, the Zack Snyder directed zombie fest Army of the Dead, and tech suspense flick Profile all open on Friday. My detailed prediction posts on the quartet can be found here:

Spiral Box Office Prediction

Those Who Wish Me Dead Box Office Prediction

Army of the Dead Box Office Prediction

Profile Box Office Prediction

Spiral should have no trouble scoring a #1 premiere. The question is: what kinda Saw bucks are we talking? I think this could certainly over perform (word of mouth is decent), but my estimate puts it in line with the last entry in the series – 2017’s Jigsaw. 

The runner-up slot should go to Ms. Jolie and her joint venture with Warner Bros/HBO Max. However, unlike the recent Godzilla vs. Kong and Mortal Kombat, a start north of $10 million (and certainly $20 million) seems unlikely.

Blogger’s Note: Dead prediction downgraded to $3.8 million

Jason Statham’s Wrath of Man should fall to third after its opening met expectations (more on that below). I anticipate his latest action tale to lose a bit more than half its audience.

Here’s where things get a little interesting. Army of the Dead is the first Netflix release to open on a fairly wide screen count (at least 600). If that holds, the potential for a $2-$3 million haul is feasible. It could even do more. What’s unknown at this juncture is whether the streaming giant will actually report its grosses. They haven’t in the past in their limited theatrical runs, but we are venturing into new territory. With this question unanswered, I’ll be doing a top five that includes Army and one that does not.

As for Profile, it’s hitting a large 2000 screens. Yet I suspect its low profile and my predicted $1.2 million forecast could prevent it from making the top five in either scenario.

And with that, here’s my two versions of this weekend’s top five:

1. Spiral

Predicted Gross: $16.1 million

2. Wrath of Man

Predicted Gross: $3.9 million

3. Those Who Wish Me Dead

Predicted Gross: $3.8 million

4. Army of the Dead

Predicted Gross: $2.5 million

5. Raya and the Last Dragon

Predicted Gross: $1.4 million

***If no Army grosses, Raya would move up to #4 and I’ll say Demon Slayer is fifth with $1.3 million

Box Office Results (May 7-9)

As mentioned, Wrath of Man took the pole position and met expectations with $8.3 million. How much did it meet them? It certainly met mine as my projection was $8.3 million!

Demon Slayer dropped to second with $2.7 million, on par with my $2.9 million estimate. Its three-week tally is $39 million.

Also in its third frame, Mortal Kombat was third with $2.4 million compared to my $2.7 million take. Overall gross stands at $37 million.

Godzilla vs. Kong was fourth with $1.9 million (I said $2 million). The monster mash continues to inch toward the century mark at $93 million.

Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon flew off with another $1.9 million. I incorrectly had it outside the top five. It has earned $43 million.

Finally, the Billy Crystal/Tiffany Haddish dramedy Here Today showed zero staying power as it opened in seventh with $1 million. I was a bit more generous at $1.5 million.

And that does it for now, folks! Until next time…

Army of the Dead Box Office Prediction

In a newsworthy announcement from this week, Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead will roll out in hundreds of venues on May 14 prior to its Netflix debut one week later. The zombie thriller (sporting a reported budget of $90 million) stars Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera, Theo Rossi, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tig Notrao, and Garret Dillahunt.

This is the first time where the streaming giant and some theater chains have agreed on a wider release plan. Cinemark and Alamo Drafthouse are just two companies that will be showing Snyder’s latest. The same cannot be said for AMC and Regal so that limits Army‘s capacity. While some Netflix titles have played on limited screens for awards consideration, the estimated 600 count here is a high mark.

Snyder’s name has been visible due to his reworking of 2017’s Justice League that recently hit HBO Max. That combined with its often popular genre could bring out eager fans who wish to get the jump on its streaming release. That said, 600 screens certainly limits its potential. There’s also the matter of Spiral, the reboot of the Saw franchise that could siphon viewers aware and appears poised to easily debut at #1.

Giving Army a per screen average of around $4,200 would result in a gross between $2-3 million and that’s what I’m envisioning.

Army of the Dead opening weekend prediction: $2.5 million

For my Spiral: From the Book of Saw prediction, click here:

Spiral Box Office Prediction

For my Those Who Wish Me Dead prediction, click here:

Those Who Wish Me Dead Box Office Prediction

For my Profile prediction, click here:

Profile Box Office Prediction

Spiral Box Office Prediction

The Saw franchise is back in theaters on May 14 and it hopes to take a solid financial cut of box office grosses. Spiral (subtitled From the Book of Saw) is the ninth installment of the slasher series that began in 2004 and it definitely looks different (although not in every way). There’s more star power than we have seen before in the reboot with Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson leading the way. Other costars include Max Minghella and Marisol Nichols. This looks to be the first Saw pic without stalwart Tobin Bell (aka Jigsaw). Lionsgate did bring back a regular in the director’s chair with Darren Lynn Bousman, who made parts II-IV. That’s likely not an accident as that trio posted the biggest domestic grosses of the bunch.

Another shift is in the release strategy as this is the first Saw entry not premiering in October. That wasn’t always the case. Originally slated for October 2020, it was actually pushed up to May of last year. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic changed that plan. The reported $20 million production budget is actually listed as the highest thus far. Even with continued theatrical capacity limits, Spiral should have no trouble turning a profit.

The high mark opening weekend for the franchise is almost surely out of reach. Saw III holds that record with $33.6 million. A better question might be whether it gets the lowest start of the nine. That mark is held by 2009’s Saw VI at $14.1 million. Spiral, as just announced this week, is getting some competition trying to attract a similar audience. The Netflix zombie flick Army of the Dead from director Zack Snyder snagged deals with certain chains to put it on around 800 screens (my prediction for that one is coming soon).

Spiral will open on far more screens and should have no trouble debuting in first place (as five of the previous eight have done). I’m thinking this probably ends up in the range of its processor Jigsaw, which made $16.6 out of the gate.

Spiral opening weekend prediction: $16.1 million

For my Those Who Wish Me Dead prediction, click here:

Those Who Wish Me Dead Box Office Prediction

For my Army of the Dead prediction, click here:

Army of the Dead Box Office Prediction

For my Profile prediction, click here:

Profile Box Office Prediction

Oscar Watch: The Mitchells vs. the Machines

As we wait to hear the Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards this Sunday evening (hint: it’s Soul), we have a fresh possibility for the competition next year. Formerly titled Connected, Netflix premieres The Mitchells vs. the Machines on April 30. The computer animated sci-fi comedy comes from director Michael Rianda and is produced by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (the team behind 2019’s Oscar recipient Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and The Lego Movie franchise). Actors doing voice work include Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Eric Andre, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, Conan O’Brien, and Olivia Colman.

The Sony Pictures release was originally slated for theatrical release before the COVID-19 pandemic switched it to streaming. Reviews out today are nearly across the board positive with a current 96% Rotten Tomatoes score. It is early in the year and there’s eight more months of animated hopefuls to come. Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon is already out and could easily make the final cut. Pixar’s Luca (out this summer) is certainly one to keep an eye on. However, Mitchells has already established itself as a contender in the 2021 mix.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…