Get those pens (not pencils) ready for one nominee in the Animated Feature race at the 96th Academy Awards. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is out this weekend. The sequel to 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is drawing similar reactions to its predecessor. That means some serious raves as it currently stands at 95% on Rotten Tomatoes (on par with the 97% for part 1).
In December 2018, Into upended the animated category. Any hope that Incredibles 2 or Isle of Dogs held for taking the prize fell by the wayside upon its release. That happened late in the calendar for the first Spidey. We are not even at the midpoint of 2023 and Across has established itself as the strong frontrunner. Pixar’s Elemental, which drew so-so chatter from Cannes, may even struggle to make the final cut of five nominees.
Across is guaranteed a slot and is a huge threat to win no matter what follows in the next few months. It is only the first half of two sequels as Beyond the Spider-Verse follows in March of next year. You can safely assume it might be a hopeful for the 97th Academy Awards.
As for other competitions, I suppose Adapted Screenplay is feasible if Sony were to make a dedicated push. Critics are also pointing out the visual effects. Yet animated titles struggle to get noticed in that particular derby. It’s more likely this will stick to Animated Feature and it could very well stick the landing. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse swings into multiplexes on June 2nd and hopes to start the month off on a high note. The animated sequel is the follow-up to 2018’s Into the Spider-Verse, which drew widespread critical acclaim resulting in a Best Animated Feature Oscar. It also grossed nearly $200 million domestically and $384 million worldwide.
There’s a trio of directors in Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson. Shameik Moore is back behind the mic as Miles/Spidey. Other performers voicing additional versions of the hero and other characters include Hailee Steinfeld (back as Spider-Woman), Brian Tyree Henry, Luna Lauren Velez, Jake Johnson, Jason Schwartzman, Issa Rae, Karan Soni, Daniel Kaluuya, Oscar Isaac, Greta Lee, Shea Whigham, and Andy Samberg.
Parts 2 and 3 of the franchise were assembled at the same time. Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse is slated for March 2024. In December 2018, part 1 started out with $35 million before legging out impressively to a $190 million stateside haul. Achieving a rare A+ Cinemascore rating, it stands to reason that audiences should be pumped for the sequel.
In the summer (as opposed to December), tentpoles are expected to post a gigantic opening immediately. Some forecasts have their projection as rosy as $100 million. That’s certainly possible, but I’ll temper expectations a bit and say $90-95 million is probably where this Verse starts.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse opening weekend prediction: $93.4 million
If at first you don’t succeed, try and fail again. Dark Phoenix is the 12th feature in the X-Men universe. It continues the significant dip in quality that we witnessed in predecessor X-Men: Apocalypse. While it’s not necessarily worse, the mystique of this franchise was pierced last time around and the bloodshed continues here. We also have Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique and, like in Apocalypse, it seems she’d rather be elsewhere.
Like 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, this is focused on Jean Grey’s origin story. A 1975 flashback shows how she became an orphan and it’s got a lot to do with her telekinetic mutant powers. We already know that Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) quickly brought her into School for Gifted Youngsters after a tragedy and she grows up to be played by Sophie Turner. By 1992, Jean’s abilities are accentuated in outer space while rescuing a group of astronauts with her colleagues. It also triggers some repressed memories, putting her at odds with her mentor. That’s not the only collateral damage from Jean’s galactic adventures. An alien race known as the D’Bari had their planet inadvertently destroyed by this particular gifted youngster. Jessica Chastain is Vuk, an extra-terrestrial leader looking to harness those gifts for her own use. Like Oscar Isaac in Apocalypse, Chastain represents another talented performer wasted in a forgettable villain role.
While X-Men: First Class had cheeky fun with its 60s setting and Days of Future Past grooved to a 70s vibe, Phoenix does nothing with the early 90s time frame (other than not aging the actors appropriately). Even Apocalypse tried to capitalize on the 80s retro craze.
Missed opportunities to dwell on a decade and boring baddies aren’t the worst problem. Jean Grey isn’t a compelling character in her own film and Turner’s bland acting shines that light brighter. When Michael Fassbender shows up from time to time, it’s a reminder that his island getaway and small army of followers might offer up a cooler storyline. I know that comic book lovers hold the Dark Phoenix Saga in high regard, but they’e been given the short shrift twice now. Maybe Fassbender, his effortless magnetism, and the backstory of his current circumstances might have more firepower.
This is Simon Kinberg’s first at bat directing the series. He is responsible for writing The Last Stand so he’s .000 with the Grey matter. I guess he’s .250 on his X screenplays as he also penned Apocalypse but had a hit with Days of Future Past. Some of the violent encounters are dimly presented and plenty of the CG is subpar. A final set piece aboard a train has the most competent technical work and random moments of effective action. That doesn’t come close to saving this. The X-Men have been off the rails for two movies in a row.
Denis Villeneuve’s Dune arrives nearly three decades after David Lynch’s oft criticized version of Frank Herbert’s mid 60s sci-fi novel. It is source material that I’m frankly not familiar with so take that for what it’s worth. With the director of Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 at the controls, this is a technically masterful and consistently stunning looking experience. I also must admit that I didn’t get swept up in it no matter how amazing the desert landscapes appear (and do they ever).
Set 10,000 years in the future, the dense plot (as in often hard to follow) introduces us to the royal family of Caladan. Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) is the leader of House Atreides, a land with a plentiful supply of water and bagpipes. His concubine is Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) who possesses the powers of Bene Gesserit, a sisterhood of mystical beings thought to bear children with God-like abilities. Their offspring is Paul (Timothee Chalamet). One problem: the Lady was supposed to have a girl who eventually delivers this story’s version of The One, but she skipped a step.
The Atreides are ordered by Empirical decree to take over Arrakis, a planet with hardly any water (I’m uncertain about bagpipes). However, it is the only land with spice and that substances serves many purposes. First, it gets you high and gives one visions that might play into the plot later. Most importantly, it fuels interstellar travel and is therefore an extraordinarily valuable commodity. It’s what Gollum would be droning on endlessly about if this were another epic adventure. House Harkonnen and their rotund ruler (Stellan Skarsgard), the current Arrakis deed holders, are not going to give up those property rights without a fight.
We sense where all this is heading due to Paul’s visions of Chani (Zendaya). She’s a native of Arrakis and their citizens called the Fremen have learned to use their planet’s sandy and almost unlivable terrain to their advantage. They will need to accept Paul as their captain and that development… will or won’t happen in part two. Yes, part one is a subtitle here. Like some Marvel products that preceded this, you may find yourself realizing that not a lot really happens in this origin tale by the time two and a half hours has lapsed.
I recognize this may sound like sacrilege to the book’s devotees. There is plenty to praise in this immensely gifted director’s adaptation. The cast is uniformly top notch from Chalamet on down (FYI – Zendaya is a part II kinda thing because her participation is limited). Ferguson is perhaps the standout in a sprawling ensemble that includes Josh Brolin (as a trusted Atreides warrior), Javier Bardem (as a Fremen warrior), and Charlotte Rampling as a Reverend Mother of the Bene Gesserit.
Dune worshipers forgive me. While I spent time marveling at the look and anticipating the unearthing of giant sandworms, I would put this behind Arrival and the Blade Runner follow-up without hesitation. Saying it feels like half a movie is easy criticism. That doesn’t mean it’s not true. It is tempting to recommend Dune based on spectacular work of composer Hans Zimmer and cinematographer Greig Fraser and the sound and visual effects artists. Yet I often found myself a bit shocked by my lack of awe in the story itself.
Coming nearly a year after its anticipated arrival, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is out in theaters and HBO Max on October 22. The sci-fi epic, with a budget of at least $165 million, comes with high hopes from Warner Bros (so much so that Part One follows its title). Based on Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel (beloved by genre fans), this is its second adaptation behind the 1984 version helmed by David Lynch. Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 maker Villeneuve employs a sprawling cast including Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Zendaya, Stellan Skarsgard, Dave Bautista, Jason Momoa, and Javier Bardem.
Critical reaction is mostly strong as it stands at 89% on Rotten Tomatoes. Dune is expected to contend for numerous Oscars including Picture and Director and multiple tech races. It could easily lead next year’s ceremony in terms of nominations. Reviews all seem to agree on one item: that it’s meant to be watched on the big screen. The studio has still stuck to its 2021 strategy of simultaneously premiering their product in multiplexes and HBO’s streaming service.
Sci-fi fans have been breathlessly awaiting Dune for years. This is nothing new to Villeneuve as the same could be said for 2017’s Blade Runner follow-up. However, it debuted to a disappointing $32.7 million and failed to reach $100 million domestically (despite similarly solid reviews).
Could the same fate await Dune? That’s definitely a possibility. Beyond its core audience (which is fairly sizable), this could struggle to find a younger crowd. We have seen this year that they are the driving force for pleasing returns in the COVID era market.
If No Time to Die could manage just $55 million and with the inevitability that some fans will opt for home viewing, I have a tough time envisioning Dune majorly surpassing expectations. That’s about $40 million and I do believe the decent buzz and event picture status should put it right in that range of mid 30s for the floor and high 40s (maybe even $50 million) for the ceiling.
For a filmmaker who always focuses on loners, it stands to reason that Paul Schrader’s newest picture is about playing cards. That’s not really what The Card Counter is ultimately about as the emotional damage inflicted upon the man at the poker and blackjack table is the real story.
William Tell (Oscar Isaac) follows the archetype of many a Schrader creation. Emotionally distant and more comfortable on his own, he spends considerable time in casinos across the nation. Tell, as the title suggests, knows how to count them. He also knows when to fold them. Tell could cash in big, but prefers modest winnings and even more modest motels (where he covers all the room’s decor in plain white sheets that he provides). His existence seems to suggest not wanting to be noticed at all.
William’s orbit expands when he happens on a global security convention during a gambling spree and meets Cirk (Tye Sheridan). They share a connection. Cirk’s father is deceased ex-military who was present at Abu Ghraib. So was Tell. The speaker at the conference is Major John Gordo (Willem Dafoe), who’s now a private contractor. He escaped any blame for the horrific actions overseas. Tell did not and flashbacks show us the subhuman conditions he witnessed, participated in, and was incarcerated for. In Cirk, our card counter attempts to help a troubled soul by winning him some some cash and paying off debts. Tell enlists La Linda (Tiffany Haddish, going for no laughs), a players manager on the mission.
From Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver to Ethan Hawke’s pastor in First Reformed, Isaac’s Tell fits the mold of the auteur’s central figures. These are damaged figures tired of what the world have to offer while making last ditch attempts to help another troubled soul. The problem with The Card Counter is that there’s not much in this example that we haven’t witnessed before from the same author. Most distressing is that the players around Tell simply aren’t compelling. In Schrader’s Light Sleeper (see that one), Susan Sarandon provided a captivating counterpart to Willem Dafoe’s lonesome drug dealer. Haddish’s character is barely written and her late inclusion as a love interest seems forced. So too is the case with Sheridan’s mopey apprentice. Dafoe’s character here hints at a fascinating backstory that’s unexplored.
Isaac’s performance, as we’ve come to anticipate, is quite good. Yet his tale isn’t nearly as gripping as others in the director’s previous works. We catch a glimpse of Tell’s training as a torturer and it is riveting and brief. With First Reformed, Schrader is righteously angry at political events. In that predecessor, it involved the Earth’s destruction via environmental means. In The Card Counter, it’s the hell on Earth that Tell witnessed in an Iraqi prison.
The screenplay offers not enough exploration of its universe. Had Schrader delved into the redundant and seedy world of casino dwellers more deeply, perhaps it could have paid off. After all, few writers have succeeded better in their other scripts penning depraved figures. The plot just never seems to properly call its ideas to fruition and the result feels unfinished. That’s rare when Schrader is at the table and it makes The Card Counter all the more disappointing.
One of America’s best known spooky families returns in animated form on October 1 with The Addams Family 2. The sequel to the 2019 hit brings back the vocal stylings of Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron, Chloe Grace Moretz, Nick Kroll, Snoop Dogg, Bette Midler, Bill Hader, and Wallace Shawn. Javon Walton replaces Finn Wolfhard as Pugsley. Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan direct once again.
Two Octobers ago, the original started with a better than expected $30 million and wound up at $100 million. It came in second behind Joker. The follow-up will undoubtedly also be in runner-up status to another comic book character with Venom: Let There Be Carnage (which opens against it). In fact, with Venom being PG-13, it could siphon away some younger viewers.
The other challenge is that Universal made the curious decision to make part 2 available for home rental on the same day. This was a bit of a surprise considering family entertainment has fared relatively well given the COVID circumstances.
Due to those factors, my snap judgment is that The Addams Family 2 may earn just over half of what the first nabbed out of the gate.
The Addams Family 2 opening weekend prediction: $16.6 million
For my Venom: Let There Be Carnage prediction, click here:
The arrival of Dune at the Venice Film Festival has been a breathlessly anticipated one. Denis Villeneuve’s epic version of Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi novel is one of 2021’s most buzzed about projects. And that’s after it held the same status in 2020 before its COVID delay. The $165 million futuristic tale held its Italian screening and the results are fascinating to behold.
Dune currently has an 85% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Some reviewers are calling it quite special and the kind of technical achievement that we witnessed 20 years ago with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. In fact, there seems to be no question that it looks amazing. There was never much doubt that this would contend in several tech races including Visual Effects (where it should be the front runner), Sound (same), Cinematography, Editing, Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, Production Design, and Score.
Whether this breaks through in above the line races is less clear. The mixed to negative critical reaction is mostly focused on its narrative shortcomings. That’s why I feel Adapted Screenplay could be a reach (not to mention that it looks quite competitive anyway). My hunch at the moment is that Dune, primarily due to its technical wizardry, should still manage a Best Picture nod. If it does, I would say Villeneuve makes it in for his direction and that would give him nomination #2 after 2016’s Arrival. I will extend a caveat: if Dune is considered to be a box office disappointment when it comes out October 22, that could hinder its chances in the big dance.
As for the cast, Timothee Chalamet and Rebecca Ferguson are being praised for their work. Yet I suspect none of the sprawling ensemble will hear their names among the final five.
My Oscar Predictions posts for the films of 2021 will continue…
Writer/director Paul Schrader experienced a career resurgence three years ago with First Reformed. The critically acclaimed work nabbed the screenwriter of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull a Best Original Screenplay nod. However, the Academy ignored the heralded lead performance from Ethan Hawke and it didn’t grab any other nominations.
Schrader’s latest is The Card Counter and it has premiered in Venice. Out September 10, the crime drama mixes political intrigue with the game of poker. The title character is portrayed by Oscar Isaac, who’s seeking his first nod despite lauded roles in Inside Llewyn Davis, A Most Violent Year, and Ex Machina.
Early word-of-mouth from Italy suggests Schrader has another winning hand, though not all reviews are totally flush with praise. The lead is unsurprisingly being singled out, but if Hawke couldn’t get in for Reformed, I really question whether Isaac could. Whether he may contend in supporting for Dune is a question that will be answered in the next 24 hours. As far as all actors involved, he’s the only one that stands a remote chance and not costars Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan, or Willem Dafoe.
I feel the same for its Picture and Director prospects. Original Screenplay is not out of the question though this doesn’t seem quite as highly regarded as Schrader’s predecessor. Bottom line: I wouldn’t count Card as much of an awards player. My Oscar Prediction posts for the films of 2021 will continue…
The Venice Film Festival kicks off on Wednesday this week. For this blogger, it means my Oscar speculation will kick into overdrive. You can anticipate a flurry of Oscar Watch posts starting September 1st and continuing throughout the month as the Telluride fest transpires over Labor Day weekend. Toronto is right behind beginning September 9th.
To put it all in perspective, the eventual Best Picture winner has premiered at this trio of festivals more often than not lately. Nomadland (last year’s victor) started off in Venice and won the Golden Lion, which is the equivalent to BP. The same narrative holds true for 2017’s The Shape of Water. 2018’s Green Book debuted at Toronto. 2016’s Moonlight premiered at Telluride. 2015’s Spotlight rolled out at Venice and 2014’s Birdman opened that festival. You get the idea.
So what are the highest profile titles jockeying for position? What are the movies that could become instant hopefuls for the Academy’s attention? I’m glad you asked. Let’s take a look, shall we?
The Power of the Dog
In 1993, director Jane Campion had her last major Oscar contender with The Piano. It won Best Actress for Holly Hunter, Supporting Actress for Anna Paquin, and Original Screenplay for Campion. She became the first female ever to be nominated for Best Director (losing that race and Picture to Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List).
Her latest is The Power of the Dog and it will be a mainstay on the festival circuit before its theatrical release in November that’s followed by an early December Netflix bow. Dog is, on paper, the film that prognosticators like me are looking at as an early favorite.
In my previous weekly rankings, I have Dog listed at #1 in Picture, Director, Actor (Cumberbatch), and Adapted Screenplay. Dunst and Plemons are, respectively, ranked second in Supporting Actress and Actor.
We will know quite soon whether it lives up to the hype.
Pedro Almodovar’s latest will open the proceedings on Tuesday. The Spanish language drama stars Penelope Cruz and she could be a factor in what appears to be a potentially crowded Best Actress derby. Original Screenplay and Best International Feature Film could also be races where it contends. Just two years back, the auteur’s previous work Pain and Glory was nominated in the international competition and it nabbed Antonio Banderas a Best Actor nod.
Additionally, Cruz and Banderas star in the comedy Official Competition, which is also premiering here. It may also be one to keep an eye on.
Speaking of that Best Actress race which features numerous players, that holds true with Spencer. Pablo Larrain’s biopic about Princess Diana may propel Kristen Stewart to her first nomination. Larrain directed Natalie Portman and she made the final five as Jackie from 2016. Will Stewart break through on the awards front after a series of post Twilight acclaimed roles? The answer is coming.
The Hand of God
Another Netflix property is this Italian drama from Paolo Sorrentino, whose 2013 effort The Great Beauty dominated the foreign language races at the Oscars and Globes. His latest could be another contender and I will be keeping an eye on whether it could branch out to Best Picture (like Roma and Parasite recently did).
The Card Counter
Paul Schrader’s last pic First Reformed received an Original Screenplay nod for its filmmaker. His latest crime drama features Oscar Isaac, Tiffany Haddish, and Willem Dafoe. I haven’t had this featured at all in my weekly predictions, but a splashy Venice rollout could alter that.
The Card Counter cannot claim the title of being Oscar Isaac’s most breathlessly awaited arrival. That would be Dune from Denis Villeneuve as the sci-fi epic is debuting out of competition. Originally slated for 2020, Dune could be a major awards threat in lots of categories (especially the technical ones). Whether it is Best Picture material will soon be established.
The Lost Daughter
Maggie Gyllenhaal directs Olivia Colman in the Netflix drama slated for late December. Colman has been nominated in two out of the three years at the big show. She won in 2018 for The Favourite in Best Actress and got a mention in supporting last year for The Father.
Last Night in Soho
Edgar Wright psychological horror experience features Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy (coming off her heralded role on The Queen’s Gambit). The genre is not one usually geared to Oscar love, but you never know.
The Last Duel
Ridley Scott has not one, but two competitors seeking awards attention in 2021. The most obvious is House of Gucci. The other is this historical drama with Jodie Comer (another possibility in Actress), Matt Damon, Adam Driver, and Ben Affleck. We will soon know whether Scott has two pics in the mix.
And that’s just some of what I’m watching out for, folks! Get ready as the Oscar picture should become clearer in the coming days and I’ll be here to cover it…