Oscar Watch: Private Life

This Friday on Netflix, Private Life debuts. The comedic drama marks the first directorial effort from Tamara Jenkins in over a decade since her acclaimed The Savages in 2007. Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn star as a couple dealing with infertility. Costars include Kayli Carter, Molly Shannon, Denis O’Hare, and John Carroll Lynch.

Life premiered at Sundance way back in January and warm reviews followed. It currently stands at 88% on Rotten Tomatoes. I don’t expect this to be a player in Best Picture or any of the acting races. However, it stands at least a shot at Best Original Screenplay. It could, however, be a long shot.

That category currently has three near sure things (The Favourite, Roma, Green Book), an unseen possibility on the horizon (Vice), and other contenders like Eighth Grade and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. In its favor is that Jenkins was recognized here before for The Savages.

Bottom line: the only chance at a nod for Private Life is Original Screenplay. It’s unlikely, but not out of the realm of possibility.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Morgan Box Office Prediction

The science fiction thriller Morgan hits theaters over Labor Day weekend. Directed by Luke Scott – scion of Ridley (you know, the guy who made Alien and Blade Runner) – the pic centers on a young girl who’s developed in a lab and obtains super human qualities. When she starts to cause trouble, all sorts of “stranger things” (so to speak) begin happening.

Ridley executive produces his son’s first feature and the cast features Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy, Toby Jones, Rose Leslie, Boyd Holbrook, Michelle Yeoh, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Paul Giamatti. This is unlikely to make an impression with audiences like the aforementioned classics of the elder Scott’s resume.

Morgan is debuting on the holiday weekend least known for producing hits. This is a historically slow time at the box office where newbies often struggle to achieve anything above low double digits. I believe that will hold true here with a four-day haul reaching just that.

Morgan opening weekend prediction: $9 million (Friday to Sunday), $10.6 million (Friday to Monday)

For my The Light Between Oceans prediction, click here:


Ratchet & Clank Box Office Prediction

Next weekend, the video game based 3D animated feature Ratchet & Clank plays in theaters and will try to gain a fanboy audience and a family audience who may still be distracted by The Jungle Book. The pic features the voices of Paul Giamatti, John Goodman, Bella Thorne, Rosario Dawson, and Sylvester Stallone.

I’m not confident at all that this will manage to ratchet up any business. Films based on video games have a shoddy track record and the aforementioned competition (Disney’s Jungle juggernaut should still be #1) could hinder its potential.

I’ll predict this just clears $5 million and that Ratchet & Clank will be available for viewing on PlayStation consoles in short order.

Ratchet & Clank opening weekend prediction: $5.2 million

For my Keanu prediction, click here:


For my Mother’s Day prediction, click here:


San Andreas Movie Review

It’s Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson vs. Mother Nature in disaster pic San Andreas, which gives us impressive visuals of destruction and a screenplay that feels like it was written by a computer program.  With its 90s action score pounding into our heads, this is essentially a near two hours of buildings and landmarks being decimated. The Golden Gate Bridge has a bad day, as has become tradition in these proceedings.

While millions of people are subject to the earthquakes and tsunamis wrought here, San Andreas concentrates on fire and rescue worker Ray Gaines (Johnson), his estranged wife (Carla Gugino), and their daughter (Alexandra Daddario). Their family dynamic (with Ray’s divorce papers having just arrived in the mail) is the stuff of lazy Screenplays 101. Gugino is now dating a stuffy British real estate tycoon (Ioan Gruffudd). The separated couple is still mourning the tragic drowning of their other daughter and if you think the circumstances in which she perished will be presented to our protagonist again, you have seen movies before.

A subplot involves a seismologist played by Paul Giamatti and he gets to yell warnings to his fellow citizens. This is a good thing because Giamatti has shown since Private Parts that he’s terrific at yelling stuff and it’s fun to watch him do it here.

Most of our time, however, is spent with the Gaines clan as they fly, drive, boat, tandem parachute jump, and bad wisecrack their way to finding each other. The daughter is joined in her journey by a British hunk (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and his little brother (Art Parkinson) that adds another romantic angle.

Lost veteran Carlton Cuse has sole script credit and I was a bit surprised how lackluster it is. You might find yourself mouthing the predictable lines — “Let’s go get our daughter!!” — before the actual characters utter them. That said, I can’t deny that San Andreas is directed well by Brad Peyton and Johnson is sturdy and dependable as the anchor. This is nothing special but it’s certainly no disaster and is passable enough for a lazy couch day.

**1/2 (out of four)

Straight Outta Compton Movie Review

Chronicling approximately a decade of time following the three most notable members of gangsta rap supergroup N.W.A. and named after their landmark debut album, Straight Outta Compton is a musical biopic that often approaches the large proportions these artists deserve. This is not “Behind the Music” nor the chintzy examples of this genre that we sometimes find on VH-1 or Lifetime. F. Gary Gray’s movie is a timely tale about timeless music that was thought to be a total fad when Dr. Dre first spun his iconic beats for fellow group members Eazy-E, Ice Cube, DJ Yella, and MC Ren.

It begins in 1986 with the group’s formation in the drug infested Los Angeles suburb of Compton. Talented DJ Andre “Dr. Dre” Young (Corey Hawkins) recruits local drug dealer Eric “Eazy E” Wright (Jason Mitchell) to help fund the group. O’Shea Jackson aka Ice Cube (played by Cube’s real life son O’Shea Jackson Jr.) is the fiery rapper and lyricist along their side. MC Ren and DJ Yella… well, they’re also in N.W.A. I don’t say this to minimize their contributions. The film just really doesn’t spend any time exploring them. This is understandable because Compton has a lot on its plate and packs a lot in during its two and a half hour run time.

The period of time covered here does explore two managers who both helped make the group’s and Dre’s solo masterworks occur and employed nefarious tactics that wreaked havoc. For N.W.A., it’s Jerry Heller (played with gusto by Paul Giamatti) and later on it’s notorious Death Row cofounder Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor). For those familiar with the story, we get the expected high and lowlights beyond the corporate intrigue – the young men adjusting to fame, Cube’s controversial exit, Eazy’s eventual health issues, and the group’s dealings with police brutality both before and after they achieved fame. Of course, some of those instances lead to their most notable tracks.

What helps Compton achieve more than most of its contemporaries is likely due to director F. Gary Gray, who early in his career directed videos for Cube and Dre and helmed 1995’s weed classic Friday, which starred and was cowritten by Cube. Mr. Jackson and Mr. Young are also producers and this all leads to an air of authenticity that permeates the production. It elevates this material to superior heights, even if we’ve seen these tales (whether based in truth or not) before.

Mitchell stands out as Eazy and he is given the most emotional story arch to work with. Jackson, as you’d expect, has probably had plenty of practice mimicking his old man and does a commendable job and Hawkins is a suitable Dre. And of course, there’s the music. A sound that was dangerous to so many ears and still is. It was also brilliant and Dre’s incredible contributions to the sound of the last 30 years is given its proper due.

Straight Outta Compton sometimes does feel like its trying to pack in so much recent history that it feels fragmented. The N.W.A. tale and Death Row saga could easily be separate pics (brief glimpses of Snoop and 2Pac make you wish for that 2 1/2 hours of devotion). For what we’ve been presented, though, Compton is on the higher (not a Chronic reference) end of these tales with beats by Dre that keep its propulsive rhythm humming.

*** (out of four)

New York Critics Go Caroling

In 2002, the New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC) went gaga over Todd Haynes’s drama Far From Heaven, bestowing it with their award for Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (Dennis Quaid), and Supporting Actress (Patricia Clarkson). Yet when it came time for Oscar nominations, none of those picks were reflected with the Academy.

Thirteen years later, could history repeat itself again for Mr. Haynes? It’s a worthy question as the NYFCC have showered love upon his latest project, Carol. The 1950s drama centering on a lesbian relationship won big at their ceremony today, taking Picture and Director. The Big Apple critics appreciation for Carol gives it a somewhat needed boost for its Oscar chances. When it screened at film festivals earlier this year, it seemed close to a lock for Picture recognition but its stock has waned some.

As I did yesterday with the National Board of Review’s selections, it’s important to show you how often each critics organization matches what the Academy ends up doing. With the NYFCC, 12 out of their last 15 selections for Best Picture (the ones in the 21st century) have gone onto Oscar nominations in the same category. The exceptions were the aforementioned Heaven, 2001’s Mulholland Drive, and 2006’s United 93.

The same 12/15 ratio extends to the Directing category in which winners were Academy snubbed. Besides Haynes, the others were Mike Leigh for 2008’s Happy Go Lucky and Kathyn Bigelow for 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty.

I believe it’s much more likely that Carol manages a slot in the Picture race come Oscar nomination time than Haynes himself, but we’ll see how that plays out well as my predictions continue to be updated on the blog.

As for the acting races – the NYFCC hit us with two surprises. The biggest was Supporting Actress where they selected Kristen Stewart for her work in the little seen Clouds of Sils Maria. While she’s been mentioned as a possibility, very few prognosticators (this one included) have picked her for a Oscar nomination. I still don’t see it happening, but this win does raise her profile for sure. It’s also worth noting that only 2 of the last 15 NYFCC recipients in this category haven’t received Academy attention (the aforementioned Clarkson for Heaven and Maria Bello in 2005’s A History of Violence). Even more surprising is that the NYFCC didn’t honor Rooney Mara’s work in Carol, since many consider her the most likely winner for the gold statue.

The other surprise was Best Actor, which went to Michael Keaton in Spotlight. The shocker was the category he won for because Mr. Keaton is being campaigned for in Supporting Actor and not lead. It’s highly likely that the Bat/Birdman will be recognized come Oscar time… just not in the race where the NYFCC feted him. Of note: three past winners in the 21st century didn’t get Oscar nods: Paul Giamatti in 2004’s Sideways and the last two recipients: Robert Redford for All is Lost and Timothy Spall as Mr. Turner.

Actress went to Saoirse Ronan for Brooklyn and her Academy nod seems pretty much assured. She joins Room‘s Brie Larson (who won the NBR yesterday), Joy‘s Jennifer Lawrence, and Carol‘s Cate Blanchett as front runners for award attention into the future. As with Actor, three winners out of the past 15 didn’t receive Academy attention: Hope Davis for 2003’s American Splendor, Sally Hawkins for 2008’s Happy Go Lucky, and Rachel Weisz for 2012’s The Deep Blue Sea. 

Supporting Actor went to Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies and he’s also a strong contender in the big race. It is worth noting that the NYFCC has actually picked five out of their last 15 winners that never made it to the Academy’s red carpet: the previously mentioned Quaid in 2002, Steve Buscemi for Ghost World (2001), Eugene Levy in A Mighty Wind (2003), Albert Brooks in Drive (2011), and Matthew McConaughey for Magic Mike and Bernie (2012).

Bottom line: a solid day for Carol and we’ll see if the momentum keeps up as my analysis for the 2015 awards season keeps rolling along…

Straight Outta Compton Box Office Prediction

Telling the story of one of hip hop music’s most iconic groups, Straight Outta Compton hits theaters next Friday and could be poised for a stealthy debut. Centering on the story of N.W.A. and its members Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy E, MC Ren and DJ Yella, Compton is directed by F. Gary Gray, who made music videos for Dre and Cube back in the day prior to becoming an accomplished maker of Friday and The Italian Job, among others. A cast of relative unknowns formulate the cast with the exception of Paul Giamatti as band manager Jerry Heller. Cube’s son O’Shea Jackson Jr. plays his pop.

Fans of the hip hop genre should flock to this. Shot on a meager $25 million budget, it stands to top that (probably easily) in its first weekend. Dre and Cube served as executive producers and Dre has a highly awaited album coming out tomorrow that’s inspired by the film. Reviews have been strong with a current rating of 91% on Rotten Tomatoes.

While Compton is unlikely to reach the heights of Eminem’s 8 Mile ($51 million debut) in 2002 when that artist was at the top of his drawing power, I think believe Compton should rule its weekend. I believe it could approach and maybe surpass $40 million for its premiere, I’ll go just a tad under.

Straight Outta Compton opening weekend prediction: $39.3 million

For my The Man from U.N.C.L.E. prediction, click here: