Oscar Predictions: Marcel the Shell with Shoes On

Over a decade ago, comedian Jenny Slate and director Dean Fleischer-Camp teamed up for the acclaimed animated short films Marcel the Shell with Shoes On. They were centered on a character that fits the description of that title. At Telluride over Labor Day weekend last year, the feature length version of their creation was screened to winning reviews.

Slated for release on June 24th via A24, Shell‘s vocal contributions (besides Slate and Fleischer-Camp) include Rosa Salazar, Thomas Mann, and Isabella Rossellini. The mockumentary also includes Conan O’Brien, Lesley Stahl, and Brian Williams playing themselves.

With a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes, Marcel could certainly turn the heads of Academy voters. It might come down to how serious a campaign its studio wages for it and how various Disney and Netflix animated works are received in the months ahead. Bottom line – Shell should be in the mix for the five Animated Feature slots and my Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

Hustle Review

There are so many cameos in the Adam Sandler hoops drama Hustle that it would’ve seemed appropriate for the funksters of the group Cameo to appear and belt out “Word Up!” during a scrimmage. That would’ve been kind of awesome. Not much activity of the awesome variety occurs in this Netflix offering beyond some sweet athletic moves, but it’s hard to dislike this love and basketball tale.

Sandler’s Stanley Sugerman spends much of his life overseas as an international scout for the Philadelphia 76ers. It’s a grind of an existence constantly searching for that diamond in the rough that could put the team into championship contention. He’d like to see his wife (Queen Latifah) and about to depart for college daughter (Jordan Hull) more often. That opportunity presents itself when Robert Duvall’s team owner offers him an assistant coaching position. The promotion is short-lived when a bald capped Ben Foster (as Duvall’s son) interferes with it.

Back across the pond, Stanley stumbles upon Spanish prospect Bo Cruz (Juancho Hernangomez) at a neighborhood pickup game. He clearly has incredible skills though his family circumstances (including having a young daughter) prevented his shot at professional glory.

In Philly, Stanley preps Bo for a potential draft selection through running up hills early in the morning and various other montages involving athletic drills. Considering the town this takes place in, you’d figure there needs to be a Rocky reference and there is.

Whether Bo’s viability in the big league is gonna fly now is complicated by a checkered past and how he responds to intense pressure. Anthony Edwards (star guard in real life for the Minnesota Timberwolves) plays the consensus #2 pick whose trash talk gets under Bo’s thin skin.

Naming all the actual NBA figures cycling in and out of Hustle would be quite an undertaking. Sandler is a die-hard fan and he had no trouble enlisting authentic figures to this fictional teacher-student story. I’ll point out an amusing one as Kenny Smith portrays a super agent who owes Stanley a favor due to their playing time together in college. His performance is perfectly adequate though any fan of the game might chuckle when we see the rest of the Inside the NBA crew (Ernie Johnson, Shaq, Sir Charles Barkley) minus their fourth member.

We have seen that Sandler can nail dramatic roles especially when high quality material accompanies it (Punch-Drunk Love and Uncut Gems for example). Hustle is nowhere in the league of those pictures. I must admit seeing Adam Sandler as a coach on the sidelines never seems like anything other than Adam Sandler as a coach on the sidelines. Hernangomez (currently playing for the Utah Jazz) has a breezy rapport with his costar who clearly loves this source material. It’s so earnestly presented that it’s easy to admire even if it’s never a slam dunk.

**1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Predictions – Jennifer Lopez: Halftime

The title Halftime refers to Jennifer Lopez’s joint Super Bowl extravaganza with Shakira in 2020 (at a time when we were just beginning to hear the term coronavirus). The documentary from filmmaker Amanda Micheli has opened this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. While some of its focus lies with that performance, it also takes us through Lopez’s Oscar campaign for Supporting Actress in Hustlers. As you may recall, she was a frontrunner for a nod that never came to fruition.

Perhaps the Academy will reward this after the general feeling that she was snubbed three years ago. Halftime may stand at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes based on a handful of reviews, but they’re not raves. Premiering on Netflix on June 14th, I doubt this will be a threat to make the final five in Documentary Feature. And, this time around, Lopez’s exclusion will not be a surprise. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

Oscar Predictions: RRR

S.S. Rajamouli’s three-hour action epic RRR took in $13 million this spring domestically, but was a smash in its native country of India. Starring N.T. Rama Rao Jr., Ram Charan, Ajay Devgn, Alia Bhatt, Ray Stevenson, and Alison Doody, it’s picked up plenty of new viewers now that it’s available for streaming on Netflix.

With an 88% score on Rotten Tomatoes, it will be interesting to see if India mounts a spirited campaign for International Feature Film. I imagine they will. While RRR (that’s Rise Roar Revolt by the way) may not be your typical fare in the category (and there’s potential heavy hitters on the way like Broker and Bardo), it could have enough admirers to at least make the cut. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

Oscar Predictions: Hustle

Adam Sandler likely came close to a Best Actor nod in 2019 with Uncut Gems. Anytime the comedian makes a dramatic turn, it’s worth checking into whether that kind of buzz materializes again. Hustle hits select theaters tomorrow before streaming on Netflix June 8th (coinciding with the NBA Finals). Jeremiah Zagar directs with a supporting cast including Queen Latifah, Ben Foster, Robert Duvall, Heidi Gardner, and Juancho Hernangomez. Newly minted billionaire LeBron James coproduces and there’s appearances by numerous NBA players such as Anthony Edwards, Trae Young, and Kyle Lowry.

Playing a basketball scout bringing a troubled player over to the big leagues,  early reviews indicate this is an effective and often rousing crowdpleaser. Sandler is getting good notices, but not to the level that placed Gems on many a top ten list of its year’s best.

From the sounds of it, Hustle should find plenty of fans. However, I doubt it will compete for any trophies at awards ceremonies. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

Oscar Predictions: Aftersun

Irish thespian Paul Mescal has received an Emmy nod and plenty of critical praise for his role on Hulu’s Normal People and he recently made his cinematic debut in Netflix’s The Lost Daughter. 

More kudos are coming his way via Cannes for Aftersun, a family drama currently holding at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. The first feature from Charlotte Wells and produced by Moonlight auteur Barry Jenkins, the A24 acquisition is potentially the type of project that could generate awards chatter with the right campaign.

The issue could be that A24 will have other pics to focus on and there’s only so much promotion to go around. Time will tell, but there’s no doubt Mescal is an actor on the upswing. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

Oscar Predictions: Operation Mincemeat

It was released across the pond last month and Operation Mincemeat hits US small screens tomorrow courtesy of Netflix. The World War II drama comes from John Madden, whose Shakespeare in Love won Best Picture just over 23 years ago. Lately he’s been best known for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and its sequel. The cast is led by Best Actor recipient for The King’s Speech Colin Firth as well as Matthew McFadyen, Kelly Macdonald, Penelope Wilton, Johnny Flynn, and Jason Isaacs.

The Rotten Tomatoes score is 92%. Yet many of those positive reviews aren’t quite raves. Perhaps Costume Design or Production Design isn’t completely out of the question and maybe BAFTA voters will take notice of it. However, the likelier scenario is that Netflix will have bigger contenders that they’ll be championing and not this particular operation. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

Oscar Predictions: The Bad Guys

We’re not yet a third of the way into 2022 and it’s at least feasible that three of the five eventual Best Animated Feature nominees will have been released. DreamWorks Animation’s The Bad Guys opens this Friday and with a 92% Rotten Tomatoes score, it shouldn’t be counted out for inclusion.

It joins the already out Turning Red (Disney) and Apollo 10 1/2 (Netflix) as viable contenders for the prize. None are shoo-in nominees, but all three had their chances assisted today with the announcement that Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse has been pushed to 2023.

Bottom line: there’s two-thirds of the year left for other hopefuls to emerge, but The Bad Guys has a fighting shot to make the cut. My Oscar Predictions posts will continue…

22 for ’22: Oscars Early Look

It’s been an entire week since The Slap… check that, the 94th Academy Awards where CODA parlayed its Sundance buzz from January 2021 all the way to a Best Picture victory.

That also means I’ve managed to wait a whole week without speculation for the next Academy Awards which will hopefully be a slap free zone. So what are some titles that could be vying for attention?

On May 27th and after numerous delays, Top Gun: Maverick will find Tom Cruise returning to his iconic role some 36 years after the original. There’s a decent chance it could be up for similar prizes that its predecessor landed like Sound, Film Editing, and Song (courtesy of Lady Gaga apparently). Visual Effects is a possibility as well.

My weekly Oscar prediction posts won’t begin until mid to late August. In the meantime, you’ll get individualized write-ups for pics that open or screen at festivals.

Yet for today – I feel the need. The need to identify 21 other 2022 titles that might end up on the Academy’s radar. Enjoy!

Armageddon Time

Despite acclaimed movies like The Lost City of Z and Ad Astra, James Gray has yet to connect with awards voters. This drama, rumored to be centered on his Queens upbringing, is the next hopeful and features a stellar cast including Anne Hathaway, Anthony Hopkins, and Jeremy Strong. Release Date: TBD

Avatar 2

The 2009 original amassed nine nominations and won took home three. The first sequel (there’s three more on the way) arrives in December from James Cameron. Will it capture the critical and box office magic of part one? That’s impossible to know at this juncture, but one can safely assume it’ll be up for some tech categories like Sound and Visual Effects. Release Date: December 16th

Babylon

Damien Chazelle is no stranger to the big dance. Whiplash was a BP nominee and J.K. Simmons won Supporting Actor. Chazelle took Director for his follow-up La La Land along with Emma Stone’s Actress victory and it almost famously took BP. First Man nabbed four nominations, but missed the top of the line races. Babylon is a period drama focused on Hollywood’s Golden Age and should be right up the Academy’s alley. The cast includes Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, and Tobey Maguire. Release Date: December 25th

Canterbury Glass

Robbie also turns up in David O. Russell’s latest ensemble piece. Anytime he’s behind the camera, Oscar nods typically follow (think The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle). Slated for November, the dramedy also features Christian Bale, John David Washington, Rami Malek, Zoe Saldana, Robert De Niro, Mike Myers, and… Chris Rock. Release Date: November 4th

Elvis

Arriving in June but with a Cannes unveiling in May, Baz Luhrmann’s musical bio of The King stars Austin Butler in the title role and Tom Hanks as The Colonel. If this doesn’t contend for the major awards, I would still anticipate potential tech recognition (Production Design, Sound, etc…). Release Date: June 24th

Empire of Light

Sam Mendes was likely in the runner-up position in 2019 for Picture and Director (behind Parasite) with 1917. His follow-up is an English set romance starring Olivia Colman (who would be going for her fourth nomination in five years), Michael Ward, and Colin Firth. Release Date: TBD

Everything Everywhere All at Once

From two filmmakers known collectively as Daniels, Once is already out in limited release with spectacular reviews (97% on RT). The sci-fi action comedy might be too bizarre for the Academy, but I wouldn’t count it out as its admirers are vocal. Picture, Director, Actress (Michelle Yeoh), and Original Screenplay are all on the table. Release Date: out in limited release, opens wide April 8th

The Fabelmans

Steven Spielberg directs a semi-autobiographical tale and cowrites with his Lincoln and West Side Story scribe Tony Kushner. The cast includes Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, and Paul Dano. Needless to say, this is a major contender on paper. Release Date: November 23rd

Killers of the Flower Moon

Alongside The Fabelmans, this might be the most obvious nominee from a personnel standpoint. Martin Scorsese helms this western crime drama featuring Jesse Plemons, Lily Gladstone, and his two frequent collaborators Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro. Apple TV just became the first streamer to get a BP victory with CODA. This could be the second in a row. Release Date: November

Poor Things

In 2018, The Favourite scored a whopping ten nominations. Based on an acclaimed 1992 novel, Poor Things is Yorgos Lanthimos’s follow-up and it reunites him with Emma Stone along with Willem Dafoe, Ramy Youssef, and Mark Ruffalo. The plot sounds bizarre but it could also be an Oscar bait role for Stone and others. Release Date: TBD

Rustin

One of Netflix’s contenders is George C. Wolfe’s profile of gay civil rights activist Bayard Rustin (played by Colman Domingo). In 2020, Wolfe directed Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman to nods for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Look for Domingo to be a competitor and the supporting cast includes Chris Rock (maybe he will be back at the show), Glynn Turman, and Audra McDonald. Release Date: TBD

See How They Run

The 1950s set murder mystery could provide 27-year-old Saoirse Ronan with an opportunity to land her fifth nomination. Sam Rockwell, David Oyelowo, Adrien Brody, and Ruth Wilson are among the supporting players. Tom George directs. Release Date: TBD

She Said

Five years after the scandal rocked Hollywood, She Said from Maria Schrader recounts the New York Times sexual misconduct investigation into Harvey Weinstein. Zoe Kazan, Carey Mulligan, and Patricia Clarkson lead the cast. Release Date: November 18th

The Son

Florian Zeller won Best Adapted Screenplay in 2020 for The Father along with Anthony Hopkins taking Best Actor. This follow-up (based on the director’s play) finds Hopkins reprising his Oscar-winning part in supporting fashion. Other cast members seeking awards attention include Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern, and Vanessa Kirby. Release Date: TBD

TAR

It’s been a while since we’ve seen Todd Field behind the camera. Previous efforts In the Bedroom and Little Children received 8 nominations between them. A decade and a half following Children comes this Berlin set drama with Cate Blanchett, Noemie Merlant, and Mark Strong. Release Date: October 7th

Three Thousand Years of Longing

Scheduled for a Cannes bow in May, Longing is a fantasy romance from the legendary mind of George Miller (who last made Mad Max: Fury Road which won six tech Oscars). Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton star. Release Date: TBD

The Whale

Darren Aronofsky directed Mickey Rourke to a comeback narrative nod for 2008’s The Wrestler. Two years later, his follow-up Black Swan earned Natalie Portman a statue. Brendan Fraser is hoping for the same treatment with The Whale as he plays a 600 pound man attempting to reconnect with his daughter. Costars include Sadie Sink, Hong Chau, and Samantha Morton. I’d expect Makeup and Hairstyling could also be in play with this. Release Date: TBD

White Noise

Not a remake of the Michael Keaton supernatural thriller from 2005, this is Noah Baumbach’s follow-up to Marriage Story. Based on a 1985 novel, it’s the filmmaker’s first picture based on other source material. Marriage landed three acting nods (with Laura Dern winning Supporting Actress). The cast here includes frequent Baumbach collaborator Adam Driver, real-life partner Greta Gerwig, Raffey Cassidy, Andre Benjamin, Alessandro Nivola, and Don Cheadle. This could be Netflix’s strongest contender. Release Date: TBD

The Woman King

Expect this West Afrian set historical epic from Gina Prince-Bythewood to be heavily touted by Sony with awards bait roles for leads Viola Davis and Thuso Mbedu. The supporting cast includes John Boyega and Lashana Lynch. Release Date: September 16th

Women Talking

Based on a 2018 novel, Sarah Polley writes and directs this drama focused on eight Mennonite women and their story of abuse. The sterling cast includes Frances McDormand, Jessie Buckley, Ben Whishaw, Claire Foy, and Rooney Mara. Release Date: TBD

And that’s just a small preview of the features that could materialize for the 95th Academy Awards! As always, the speculation on this site will continue throughout the year and into the next. Stay tuned…

Oscar Predictions – Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood

Utilizing similar rotoscoping technology as his earlier animated efforts Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, Richard Linklater’s Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood hits Netflix on Friday after its South by Southwest premiere a couple of weeks back. A coming-of-age tale set during the 1969 Moon landing, early reviews have mostly soared with a 91% Rotten Tomatoes launch.

Linklater is no stranger to the Oscars. He nabbed screenplay nods for Before Sunset and Before Midnight. 2014’s Boyhood was nominated for six categories. Since that effort seven years ago, his follow-ups (Everybody Wants Some!!, Last Flag Flying, Where’d You Go, Bernadette) have all failed to reach the Academy’s radar.

Apollo could change that trajectory with an Animated Feature mention. The critical reaction is strong enough, but let’s see what else lands in the remaining nine months. It’s entirely possible that two of the five eventual contenders (Turning Red and this) are already available for streaming pleasure as of this weekend. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…