Best Actor: A Look Back

My look back at the major Oscar categories from 1990 to the present arrives at Best Actor today! If you missed my posts covering Actress and the Supporting races, you can find them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/31/best-actress-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/25/best-supporting-actor-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/20/best-supporting-actress-a-look-back/

As with those previous entries, I am picking the three least surprising winners of the last 28 years, along with the three biggest upsets. Additionally, you’ll see my personal picks for strongest and weakest fields overall.

As a primer, here are the winners from 1990 to now:

1990 – Jeremy Irons, Reversal of Fortune

1991 – Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs

1992 – Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman

1993 – Tom Hanks, Philadelphia

1994 – Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump

1995 – Nicolas Cage, Leaving Las Vegas

1996 – Geoffrey Rush, Shine

1997 – Jack Nicholson, As Good As It Gets

1998 – Roberto Benigni, Life is Beautiful

1999 – Kevin Spacey, American Beauty

2000 – Russell Crowe, Gladiator

2001 – Denzel Washington, Training Day

2002 – Adrien Brody, The Pianist

2003 – Sean Penn, Mystic River

2004 – Jamie Foxx, Ray

2005 – Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote

2006 – Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland

2007 – Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood

2008 – Sean Penn, Milk

2009 – Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart

2010 – Colin Firth, The King’s Speech

2011 – Jean Dujardin, The Artist

2012 – Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

2013 – Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

2014 – Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

2015 – Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

2016 – Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

2017 – Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Let’s begin with the three that I’m deeming as the non-surprise winners. Whittling this down to that number was a challenge. The double wins by Hanks and Penn and even last year’s winner Oldman could’ve easily been named here, too. Here goes…

3. Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman

The legendary thespian was 0 for 6 when it came to nominations and wins entering 1992. He picked up his 7th and 8th nods that year with his supporting role in Glengarry Glen Ross and lead role as a blind former colonel in this Martin Brest directed drama. By Oscar night, it was clear he was finally going to make that trip to the podium.

2. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Like Pacino, DiCaprio had been an Academy bridesmaid before… four times. His fifth nod for The Revenant guaranteed he’d finally be a winner against weak competition (more on that below).

1. Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

I could have named the Method actor’s victory in 2007 for There Will Be Blood as well, but his win five years later as the nation’s 16th President edges it out. From the moment the Steven Spielberg project was announced, Day-Lewis was the odds on favorite and it never changed.

Now – my selections for the upsets:

3. Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs

While it might seem an obvious win nearly 30 years later, Nick Nolte’s work in The Prince of Tides had nabbed him the Golden Globe. Additionally, there was some controversy about Sir Anthony’s inclusion in the lead race due to his approximate 16 minutes of screen time. This is truly evidence of a performance so towering that it couldn’t be ignored.

2. Roberto Benigni, Life is Beautiful

The Italian director/writer/actor was an underdog against competition that included Nick Nolte (once again) for Affliction and Ian McKellen in Gods and Monsters. Mr. Benigni seemed a bit shocked himself when his name was called, as he famously bounded exuberantly to the stage.

1. Adrien Brody, The Pianist

The smart money in 2002 was with Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt or Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York. Brody’s win was pretty shocking, as was the giant smooch he planted on presenter Halle Berry.

When it comes to overall fields, I’m going recent history with both. For strongest, I’ll give it to 2012. That’s the year Day-Lewis won for Lincoln. All other nominees were rock solid as well with Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables), Joaquin Phoenix (The Master), and Denzel Washington (Flight).

For weakest, I’m picking 2015. This is the aforementioned year of DiCaprio’s overdue win. The rest of the field, however, was a bit lacking. It consisted of Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), Matt Damon (The Martian), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), and Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl).

And there’s your Actor look back, folks! Keep an eye out for Best Picture soon as the final post in this series…

Oscar History: 2012

It’s been quite some time since I’ve done an Oscar History post (about two and a half years) and I’m at 2012. It was a year in which Seth MacFarlane hosted the show – fresh off his comedy smash Ted. Here’s what transpired in the major categories with some other pictures and performers I might have considered:

The year saw nine nominees for Best Picture in which Ben Affleck’s Argo took the top prize. Other nominees: Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook (my personal favorite of the year), and Zero Dark Thirty. 

Many Wes Anderson fans would contend that Moonrise Kingdom should have made the cut. And I could certainly argue that The Avengers (perhaps the greatest comic book flick and the year’s biggest grosser) was worth a nod.

The nominations in Best Director were a huge surprise at the time. While Argo won the top prize of all, Affleck was not nominated for his behind the camera efforts. It was the first time since Driving Miss Daisy‘s Bruce Beresford where an Oscar-winning Picture didn’t see its filmmaker nominated.

Instead it was Ang Lee who was victorious for Life of Pi over Michael Haneke (Amour), David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook), Steven Spielberg (Lincoln), and Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild).

In addition to Affleck, it was surprising that Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty) was not included. And I certainly would have put in Tarantino for Django.

The race for Best Actor seemed over when the casting of Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln was announced. And that’s exactly how it played out as he won his third Oscar over a strong slate of Bradley Cooper (Playbook), Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables), Joaquin Phoenix (The Master), and Denzel Washington (Flight).

The exclusion of John Hawkes in The Sessions could have been welcomed, but I’ll admit that’s a solid group.

Jennifer Lawrence won Best Actress for Silver Linings over Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark), Emmanuelle Riva (Amour), Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts), and Naomi Watts (The Impossible).

Again, no major qualms here. I did enjoy the work of Helen Mirren in Hitchcock (for which she did get a Golden Globe nod).

Supporting Actor was competitive as Christoph Waltz won his second statue for Django (three years after Inglourious Basterds). He was a bit of a surprise winner over Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln. Other nominees: Alan Arkin (Argo), Robert De Niro (Playbook), and Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master).

Here’s a year where there’s a lot of others I thought of. Waltz won, but I think the work of Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson in Django was equally impressive. There’s Javier Bardem as one of the greatest Bond villains ever in Skyfall. Or John Goodman’s showy role in Flight. As for some other blockbusters that year, how about Tom Hiddleston in The Avengers or Matthew McConaughey in Magic Mike? And my favorite comedic scene of that year was due to Giovanni Ribisi in Ted…

In Supporting Actress, Anne Hathaway was a front-runner for Les Miserables and there was no upset. Other nominees: Amy Adams (The Master), Sally Field (Lincoln), Helen Hunt (The Sessions), and Jacki Weaver (Playbook).

Judi Dench had more heft to her part as M in Skyfall that year and I’ll also give a shout-out to Salma Hayek’s performance in Oliver Stone’s Savages.

And there’s your Oscar history for 2012! I’ll have 2013 up… hopefully in less than two and a half years!

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 Movie Review

Over the last near four years, The Hunger Games franchise begat the true birth of YA novel adapted pictures that have continued with diverging and maze running. Perhaps more importantly, it gave the masses Jennifer Lawrence who’s gone onto quite an impressive career thanks to this series and David O. Russell with Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, and the upcoming Joy. It also gave its studio Lionsgate a serious cash cow and that explains the decision to divide the final installment Mockingjay into two parts. They did so because they knew the cash cow was about to graze and last year’s Part 1 felt incomplete. That picture didn’t feel so much as half a film. Instead it often felt unnecessary and slowly paced with filler where they didn’t need to be. Mockingjay – Part 1 was light on action and often too grim, dark, and plodding for its own good.

Some of those same tenets hold true for Part 2 (the first hour drags a bit), but this experience feels much more satisfying and sends the franchise off with competence. We pick up where we left off with Lawrence’s Katniss fervently marching towards the Capitol to kill President Snow (Donald Sutherland, still relishing his villainous role). There is still a love triangle between the brainwashed Peeta (Josh Hutcherson, whose acting here is better than we’ve seen before) and hunky Gale (Liam Hemsworth), though we correctly sense how it will turn out eventually. And Katniss is still being used by District 13’s President Coin (Julianne Moore) for propaganda purposes as her motives are constantly in question. The goals of Katniss are undeniably noble while we’re not so sure about the President she’s working for.

Part 2 ups the adventure quotient and director Francis Lawrence is serviceable at delivering these sequences. One in an abandoned subway system with some freaky looking creatures is particularly well-constructed and suspenseful. Yet the real suspense lurks with what Katniss will do once reaches her nemesis President Snow and whether he really is the baddest of the bad guys.

The dynamic between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale has been a running theme throughout these movies. A common complaint has been the underwhelming acting of Hutcherson that sort of makes you root for Gale more than you should. It’s not a notion I disagree with. Here, however, Peeta’s struggle with the mind tricks Snow heaped upon him adds a fascinating dimension. In one segment, he tells Katniss “You should cuff me…” and he means in the literal restraint form with zero shades of grey.

As for various performances, Lawrence again shows she was meant for this role and brings an emotional heft that elevates the material. Moore, Sutherland, and Woody Harrelson as returning mentor Haymitch are all pros. Philip Seymour Hoffman is here in limited screen time, which is probably due to his tragic death nearly two years ago. There are a couple of scenes where he should obviously be in it. Elizabeth Banks is given a couple scenes as franchise favorite Effie.

For the most part, Mockingjay – Part 2 is about getting down to the business of Katniss exacting her revenge. And that thirst for revenge only grows during the fairly well-paced proceedings taking place here. The body count piles up. The stakes grow higher and everything feels urgent in a way that it didn’t and really couldn’t in Part 1. Having never read the Suzanne Collins books which these Games are adapted from, I don’t know about the complaints I’ve picked up about a disappointing ending for the series. The actions of Katniss in the third act worked for me and the action displayed here is pretty good stuff. If there’s a quibble to be had, it’s that the first two Hunger Games films had more of a sense of humor and there was fun to be had. The original actually felt rather fresh and 2013’s Catching Fire brought the series to a creative high. It stands as easily as the finest picture of the quartet. The final two are considerably bleaker in tone, but word is that faithfully follows what Collins brought her readers. As I wrote in my review of Part 1, there’s no actual “hunger games” happening anymore in these last two entries. Thankfully, Part 2 concludes The Hunger Games franchise in a mostly sufficient manner.

*** (out of four)

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 Box Office Prediction

The final installment of the wildly popular franchise based on Suzane Collins’s novels hits screens next Friday as The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 opens. Francis Lawrence returns to direct and Jennifer Lawrence is back leading her impressive cast that includes Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Donald Sutherland, Sam Chaflin, Jena Malone, Stanley Tucci, Jeffrey Wright, and Philip Seymour Hoffman (in his final film role). So far, this is getting better reviews than Part 1‘s 65% Rotten Tomatoes score as this stands at 88% currently.

While all entries in this series have made major bucks, it is worth noting that predecessor Mockingjay – Part 1 came in below the first two flicks. Let’s take a trip down box office history lane with this franchise that began in spring 2012:

The Hunger Games

Opening: $152 million with $408 million overall domestic gross

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Opening: $158 million with $424 overall domestic gross

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

Opening: $121 million with $337 million overall domestic gross

I find it unlikely that the final tale will outdo the first two, but it could edge out Part 1 simply due to the fact that it’s the last one. It has become commonplace for studios to divide a franchise’s finale installment into two parts. We’ve seen it with Harry Potter and Twilight and Lionsgate did just that here (we’ll see this tactic employed again in the future with the Divergent and Avengers series).

My gut tells me this performs similar to what Part 2 of the last Twilight picture accomplished by making about $3-6 million more that what its predecessor debuted to.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 opening weekend prediction: $124.2 million

For my The Night Before prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/11/14/the-night-before-box-office-prediction/

For my Secret in Their Eyes prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/11/14/secret-in-their-eyes-box-office-prediction/

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 Movie Review

Everything is toned down in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 from the makeup and hair of Elizabeth Banks to Woody Harrelson’s alcoholism to, most importantly, the tone of the franchise. Hell, even Stanley Tucci’s flamboyant talk show host seems to have gone all Charlie Rose on us. A lot of the excitement is toned down too. The result is what too often seems like a perfunctory bridging of the gap between Catching Fire and what hopefully will be a rousing conclusion to the blockbuster franchise a year from now. Where that leaves Part 1 is left to be determined by what we get in Part 2. For now, it leaves this particular picture as the weakest of The Hunger Games entries by a somewhat considerable margin.

When we last left Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) in 2013’s superb Catching Fire, her love interest Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) had been captured along with others by the dastardly Capitol, led by President Snow (Donald Sutherland, always oozing appropriate creepiness). The main focus here is Katniss’s efforts to eventually get him back. The question is whether or not Peeta’s mind has been corrupted by his captors. His imprisonment means Gale (Liam Hemsworth), best friend to Katniss, has got a legitimate shot at creating an old fashioned love triangle once again and the pic explores those issues.

We are also treated to the sight of some truly fine actors sitting around a lot talking about politics and rebellion – including returnees Harrelson, Jeffrey Wright, and the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman. They’re all assisting the effort of bringing President Snow’s reign to an end and it’s Julianne Moore as the latest terrific actor joining the club as District 13’s President.

Mockingjay – Part 1, as has been noted by others, doesn’t exactly require The Hunger Games moniker ahead of its title. There are no Hunger Games here and a more accurate title could have been The Propaganda Games. The leaders of District 13 are not shy about using Katniss as their symbol to topple the Snow regime and it even results in video cameramen following her to film her heroic exploits. This leaves our central character conflicted about her desire to free the people against her hope to reunite with Peeta.

Jennifer Lawrence has created a heroine for the movie ages with her performances in this franchise and her strong work doesn’t let up here. She’s not the problem here and neither are the other actors – though I’ve never quite been sold on Hutcherson in his important role. The problem is not Francis Lawrence’s adequate direction, even though the action scenes don’t pop like they did in Catching Fire (there’s also not as many of them).

The issue is the Part 1 behind the title. I suspect there could have been a top-notch two and a half hour feature made from the Mockingjay novel. Lionsgate, for clear financial purposes, chose to divide it into two features (much like the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises before this). Due to that choice, Part 1 feels like a commercially viable stopgap made to monopolize profits.

Don’t get me wrong. If you’re a fan of this series (and I consider myself one), this is obviously required viewing. Yet the level of satisfaction provided here doesn’t match the first two films. It feels like half a movie and it’s about half as entertaining as Catching Fire was last year. Let’s hope that Part 2 provides a main course high on entertainment that could relegate this to “leftovers” status. Sometimes those leftovers are just as good as the main course. Not here despite the best efforts of its star, but you’ll need to get through this to get to the main course.

**1/2 (out of four)

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 Box Office Prediction

This Friday, only one new release debuts in the marketplace, but it’s a massive one. Yes, Katniss and company are back in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 and expect a number of 2014’s records to be broken.

For starters, it needs only to top the $100 million earned by Transformers: Age of Extinction to have the largest opening weekend of the year. That should be no problem whatsoever. 2012’s original Games got off to a $152M start while last year’s sequel Catching Fire took in $158M. Additionally, Mockingjay 1 (the part two franchise finale is out next year) is almost certain to eventually gross higher than 2014’s current box office champ, Guardians of the Galaxy, which has earned $330M. Both of Mockingjay‘s predecessors have earned over $400M domestically.

Jennifer Lawrence returns at Katniss with a large ensemble cast including Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Julianne Moore, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. Reviews have been mostly strong, though notices for Catching Fire were more positive.

This third entry appears unlikely to gross under the original’s $152M out of the gate. However, I question whether it manages to top Catching Fire‘s $158M haul. I’ll predict this opens right in the middle of the first two while easily claiming the title of best roll out of the year.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 opening weekend prediction: $155.8 million

My Love of Movies Part II: The Blog’s Second Anniversary

This week, Bill Murray spent an hour on Howard Stern’s radio show. Hearing these two true comedic icons shoot the breeze was an absolute pleasure. Filmmakers who try to recruit the indispensible Murray to even be in their movies have a tough time getting through to him. The actor is notorious for not having a manager or publicist or checking his cell phone (which he told Howard he has because his children only text and don’t answer calls).

At one point, the conversation turned to the late, brilliant film critic Roger Ebert and Murray told a fantastic anecdote about him. Earlier in his career, Murray was not known at all for dramatic work and Roger criticized him, stating that he should stick to comedy only. Years later, when Murray saw Ebert at an event, he quoted a famous critic for making that statement. Ebert didn’t know who would make such a claim since Murray was obviously a wonderful actor in any forum. Murray reminded Roger that it was him that said it years ago. As the actor recounted, Ebert gave him a look like, “Boy, was I wrong!” The Ebert conversation ended with Murray stating his love for the critic and Howard agreed. Bill Murray’s main point: Roger Ebert loved movies.

You see that deep affection for the world of cinema in the documentary Life Itself, which recounted Roger’s career and the last few months of his life. I’ve talked about it on the blog before when reviewing that documentary and in my post on the sad day that Roger died. My general feeling is this: you can tell when a person who writes about movies loves them and when they don’t. Let me make an important distinction – I’m not talking about loving a movie that you give four stars to and not liking a movie you award with two stars. I’m speaking of being able to determine whether or not a writer truly loves the craft they’re writing about. Roger Ebert did. Many more do. Other critics and bloggers seem to revel in trashing movies far too often, at least for my taste.

When I read a critic’s work or their blogs, I want to feel like they have a deep appreciation for the subject they spend so much time writing about. Frankly, it’s the main thing I strive to achieve on my blog – which will celebrate its 2nd anniversary officially on Saturday. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve written my share of negative reviews. So does every other critic and blogger on planet Earth. Many pictures, simply, don’t measure up to expectations, are a rehash of previous material, are badly paced, etc…

Yet here’s my philosophy when it comes to writing about movies – every time those theater lights go down or (more often) I hit play on the Blu Ray or On Demand, I hope that I’m going to like what I see. I hope to have that satisfactory or even profound film watching experience that us lovers of cinema seek out again and again and again and again. I’ve had it recently with that Ebert documentary. I had it when Little Groot danced to the Jackson 5 in Guardians of the Galaxy. I had it watching the delicious twists and turns of David Fincher’s Gone Girl. I had it watching Leo DiCaprio on speaker phone suckering in a client in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. I had it watching Tom Hanks remind me that he’s one of the most astonishing actors in the world during the last five minutes of Captain Phillips.

And that was all in the last year! Now let’s go to just last night when I reviewed Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West. I’m a fan of his work – both “Family Guy” and 2012’s Ted. I found his sophomore directorial effort to be pretty darn disappointing. Guess what? I loved writing my review of that just as much as writing a highly positive post – the kinds I recently wrote for Her or Fruitvale Station. 

Now here’s the irony: two years ago when I began this little venture, I stated that I wouldn’t write movie reviews on the blog. Boy, was I wrong! Just like I’ve been wrong about many of my box office predictions that remain the most read entries on this site. For every time I nail a prediction (or close to nail) on The Equalizer or Gone Girl, I grossly underestimate the potential of Annabelle or grossly overestimate the performance of the Sin City sequel.

I’ve now been writing movie reviews for about 23 years since I was a preteen. It took my snap decision to start the blog to rediscover my love for that exercise. Yet the movie reviews are just one part of that aforementioned love of movies. There’s plenty more posts – whether box office related or Oscar prediction related. Hell, I’ve even found myself posting about music and TV more often than I could have imagined.

In the two years since the blog began and much to the assistance of WordPress, I’ve been able to discover other movie bloggers. They may have different writing styles than myself, but they have one thing in common: they love movies too. Joe Giuliano, who predicts box office results with freakish accuracy. Thy Critic Man, Daniel Prinn and Justine B, whose reviews are a joy to read. Trevor and Jason from boxofficeace.com and their fine podcast… I just wish they did it every week! And there’s many more.

As I said on my year anniversary of the site, I sincerely cannot thank you enough for reading this site. I would love writing this blog regardless, but it means a heckuva lot more knowing that eyeballs actually see it. I appreciate each and every one of the thousands of blog views and readers in 142 countries (!) who’ve read some of my 777 (!) posts. For those who take their time to check my box office predictions or read my Oscar forecast or peruse my reviews and so forth, I can tell you what I strive for everyday on this wonderful hobby of mine. The goal is for the reader to come away with this general feeling – that guy loves movies and writing about them. And if I’ve been able to direct you in the path of something great that you haven’t seen, that’s a feeling I cherish.

Back to the beginning:

Bill Murray. Roger Ebert.

For movie lovers like me and you, think about the joy that someone like Bill Murray has brought into your lives. Caddyshack. Ghostbusters. Groundhog Day. Lost in Translation and so forth. I’ll have that feeling of excitement soon when St. Vincent premieres. Maybe it’ll be great. Or maybe not, but I love anticipating finding out and I’ll love writing about it.

For movie writers and bloggers like me and some of you, think about how Roger Ebert’s work may have influenced you. I know damn well he influenced me. He helped teach me how to put that indescribable affection for this world of movies into words. Don’t get me wrong – I am no Roger Ebert and never will be. I’m just trying my best to put my perspective on movies before the reader and hope you enjoy it.

The thing about movies is this – as I described in an earlier post, it’s a Never Ending Story. There’s always more to discover. There’s always something new to write about. There’s always the joy of revisiting older titles and or rediscovering something about a favorite that you hadn’t noticed before. There’s always box office predictions to make for this blogger. There’s always Oscar predictions as the race takes shape.

And there is always, always, always the love that I hold for the subject I choose to write about and the joy that those making and writing about movies give to us, the audience. Whether it’s Bill Murray in front of the camera or Roger Ebert at that typewriter.

Mr. Ebert might be gone, but his words are here for us to enjoy forever. In the last year, we’ve been saddened to learn that Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman are gone. Yet their work will live on for us to savor – from Truman Capote to a British nanny to a cult religious leader to a therapist telling his pupil that “It’s not his fault” to the Big Lebowski’s socially awkward assistant to that inspirational teacher telling his students to “Seize The Day!” For us movie lovers, the medium gives us these special moments and performances and memories to seize on those days when we might need it.

And I’ll close by saying that it’s a real pleasure to write about it.