Best Picture 2018: The Final Five


We have reached 2018 in my posts speculating on a specific piece of Oscar history. As awards followers are aware, 2009 saw the Academy expand the Best Picture category from five movies to ten. That lasted for two years and in 2011, it switched to anywhere from 5-10 with 8 or 9 as the magic numbers for several years. In 2021, the number reverted back to a set ten.

What if that hadn’t happened? What if the BP derby had stayed at a quintet? What pictures would have made the cut? If you missed my write-ups centered on 2009-16, they are linked at the bottom of the post.

2018 is a tricky year to winnow down. In fact, all 8 nominees have strong cases to make the final five. Only one thing is for sure. Peter Farrelly’s Green Book is one of the five considering it won Best Picture. It stands as one of the more surprising (and derided) victors in recent years. The race relations drama went an impressive 3/5 on its nominations – taking Picture, Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali), and Original Screenplay and missing Actor (Viggo Mortensen) and Film Editing.

So what of the other seven hopefuls? Here’s my speculation:

Black Panther

The only MCU flick (and for that matter comic book adaptation) to score a BP nom was Ryan Coogler’s phenomenon with Chadwick Boseman as the title character. Its seven nominations included three wins for Score, Production Design, and Costume Design.

Does It Make the Final Five?

No. Besides BP, the other six mentions were all technical. It missed directing, any acting inclusions, screenplay, and even editing. It’s hard to leave this out though that’s the case with everything here.

BlacKkKlansman

Spike Lee received his first and only Oscar for his adapted screenplay. That’s the only victory of the night among its six total nods as Lee did make the quintet for direction. The others were Supporting Actor (Adam Driver), Score, and Film Editing.

Does It Make the Final Five?

Had this not taken Adapted Screenplay, I’d leave this off. Yet that win has me (somewhat reluctantly) leaving it in.

Bohemian Rhapsody

Rami Malek was crowned Best Actor for his performance as Queen frontman Freddie Mercury in the biopic. Despite mixed reviews, Rhapsody was successful in four of its five noms. Picture is the only race it didn’t win as it took Actor, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Film Editing.

Does It Make the Final Five?

Yes. That 80% ratio solidifies it even without attention for the direction or screenplay.

The Favourite

The period piece from Yorgos Lanthimos tied all nominees with 10. The lone victory was an unexpected one as Olivia Colman took Best Actress over the favored Glenn Close (The Wife).

Does It Make the Final Five?

Yes. Despite the 10% ratio, it still led all contenders with key placements in Director, two Supporting Actress bids (Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz), Original Screenplay, and Editing.

Roma

Alfonso Cuaron was your Best Director in the Mexican drama that was the other picture with 10 nods. It also won Foreign Language Film and Cinematography while contending in Actress (Yalitza Aparicio), Supporting Actress (Marina de Tavira), Original Screenplay, both Sound competitions, and Production Design.

Does It Make the Final Five?

Yes and easily. The Netflix property was supposed to be the streamer’s first BP (they’re still waiting) and was favored before that Book upset.

A Star Is Born

Bradley Cooper’s version of the frequently remade melodrama achieved 8 nominations and one win for the director’s duet with costar Lady Gaga “Shallow” in Original Song. Both Cooper and Gaga were up for their acting as was Sam Elliot in Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay, Sound Mixing, and Cinematography.

Does It Make the Final Five?

No, but another tough call. Star‘s shine with voters seemed to dim as the season wore on. This is evidenced by it missing directing and editing.

Vice

This is a good time to point out that all 8 BP hopefuls won at least one statue. Adam McKay’s biopic of former Vice President Cheney (played by Christian Bale) took home the Makeup and Hairstyling award. Other noms were for the direction, Bale, Supporting Actor (Sam Rockwell), Supporting Actress (Amy Adams), Original Screenplay, and Film Editing.

Does It Make the Final Five?

No and I really struggled here. Vice landed mentions everywhere it needed to. The so-so critical reaction made it a tad easier to leave it out. Simply put, this could’ve been in over BlacKkKlansman or Bohemian, but I had to make the judgment call.

So that means my 2018 final five is:

BlacKkKlansman

Bohemian Rhapsody

The Favourite

Green Book

Roma

I’ll have my post for 2019 up soon! The 2009-17 write-ups are here:

Amsterdam Review

David O. Russell’s Amsterdam exasperates more than it fascinates. Opening with the tagline “A lot of this actually happened”, the brief explorations of American history between the World Wars hint at a compelling narrative. Wanting to go down a Wikipedia rabbit hole afterwards doesn’t necessarily make for a gratifying experience.

Dr. Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale) is a member of New York high society through marriage. His snooty in-laws and high maintenance wife (Andrea Riseborough) ship him off to what will become World War I in 1918. Under the command of the kindly Bill Meekins (Ed Begley Jr.), the good doc practices his skills for an all black regiment. They must wear French uniforms since the American forces aren’t integrated. That’s a part that actually happened. Burt makes fast friends with Harold Woodsman (John David Washington). They fight together and are seriously wounded together. Burt is given a glass eye that’s often used for screwball comedy effect. Their injuries introduce them to peculiar nurse Valerie (Margot Robbie), who takes the soldier’s battle scars (such as the metal embedded in their flesh) and turns it into surrealistic art. Burt, Harold, and Valerie form a close bond including the romantic sort for the latter two. The trio live a joyous existence in the title city until Burt returns to the Big Apple. Harold eventually follows suit to become an attorney. The men stay friends and colleagues while Valerie’s whereabouts are unknown.

Fifteen years later, the U.S. is in a depression. Our two New Yorkers have an even more pressing issue. Former war commander Meekins (now a Senator) turns up dead and mysteriously so. His daughter Elizabeth (Taylor Swift, in a performance that will surely generate memes) enlists dad’s former soldiers to investigate. This snooping leads to a vast government conspiracy – some of which falls under the actually happened headline. The case additionally leads them back to Valerie and an all-star cast beyond Bale, Washington, and Robbie.

Chris Rock is a member of the French uniformed clad force. Michael Shannon and Mike Myers are intelligence officers amusingly masquerading as bird experts. Zoe Saldana, in the picture’s most underdeveloped role, helps perform autopsy work and is a potential love interest for Burt. The most intriguing character is General Gill Dillenbeck (Robert De Niro), a combat hero being recruited for fascist propagandist purposes. Russell’s screenplay gives De Niro a noteworthy role to play with (this is the fourth collaboration between them). The legendary actor has done some of his finest 21st century work with the filmmaker.

The political potboiler aspects kick into gear when Dillenbeck pops up for the second half. That’s when Amsterdam improves. The first half feels like Russell’s attempt to do a Wes Anderson or Coen Bros type whimsical comedy and he fails the test. There’s a lot of characters crowding the scene. Rami Malek is an affluent textile magnet with connections to Valerie. Anya Taylor-Joy is his wife, who has a funny fangirl crush on Dillenbeck. Alessandro Nivola and Matthias Schoenaerts are detectives assigned to track the lead trio.

Once Russell gets to what Amsterdam is really about (with some unmistakable current events overtones), I realized lots of these famous faces and subplots could’ve been jettisoned for a more focused approach. Of all the names, Bale (always committed) and De Niro come out best. The director’s eye for the solid material keeps getting dislodged – like Burt’s fake one. This makes it questionable as to whether it’s worth seeing. More of the stuff that actually happened and not the forced whimsy would have been a reasonable start.

**1/2 (out of four)

Amsterdam Box Office Prediction

David O. Russell’s Amsterdam will need to rely on star power to bring in audiences when it opens October 7th. Considering the middling word-of-mouth and so-so trailers and TV spots, that could be an uphill battle. The comedic mystery is the filmmaker’s first picture since 2015’s Joy. It boasts an impressive cast led by Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, and John David Washington. Other familiar faces include Zoe Saldana, Anya Tayl0r-Joy, Robert De Niro, Chris Rock, Rami Malek, Alessandro Nivola, Mike Myers, Michael Shannon, Taylor Swift, Timothy Olyphant, Andrea Riseborough, and Matthias Schoenaerts.

From 2010-2013, Russell had a trilogy of Oscar and audience friendly titles. The Fighter, in addition to multiple Academy nods, made $93 million domestically. Silver Linings Playbook, in addition to multiple Oscar nods, took in $132 million. American Hustle, in addition to its several award nominations, earned $150 million.

Times have changed. The aforementioned Joy, which drew a more mixed reaction than Russell’s predecessors, grossed $56 million. In the seven years that have followed, the director has been embroiled in some concerning stories about his personal life.

20th Century Studios didn’t bother to screen Amsterdam for the film festival circuit a couple of weeks back. Critical reaction has skewed toward the negative with a 36% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Despite the pedigree, the red lights glowing indicate a high profile flop. This might not manage double digits.

Amsterdam opening weekend prediction: $8.4 million

For my Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile prediction, click here:

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile Box Office Prediction

Oscar Predictions: Amsterdam

From 2010-13, David O. Russell made three pictures (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle) that collectively earned an astonishing 25 Oscar nominations. This included acting wins for Christian Bale, Melissa Leo, and Jennifer Lawrence. The filmmaker himself has yet to receive a gold statue and his previous effort (2015’s Joy) nabbed just 1 Academy nod for its lead Lawrence.

His latest is Amsterdam and the comedic mystery will be lucky to garner any attention during awards season. It was a curious decision when Russell’s first feature in seven years skipped the festival circuit of Venice, Telluride, and Toronto. Now we may know why.

Early reviews for the October 7th release are not encouraging. There’s only a handful of official reviews which show a 20% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Yet we also have plenty of social media reaction claiming this is a high profile disappointment. The impressive cast is led by Bale, Margot Robbie, and John David Washington with tons of other familiar faces including Robert De Niro, Zoe Saldana, Taylor Swift, Anya Taylor-Joy, Rami Malek, Michael Shannon, and Chris Rock (to name some). I wouldn’t expect any to compete in the acting derbies. Bale and De Niro are getting some decent notices, but it shouldn’t matter (maybe Bale could show up at the Globes for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy if competition is light).

As I see it, Costume Design and/or Production Design are the only possibilities for Amsterdam to be an Academy player. It’s entirely feasible that it won’t show up at all. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

Elvis Review

Bad Luhrmann’s Elvis succeeds much in the same way that Bohemian Rhapsody did. Which is to say that it doesn’t always succeed, but it frequently captures the musical spirit of its subject impressively. Or maybe the magnetism of Elvis Presley or Freddie Mercury and lively performances from the actors portraying them is simply overpowering.

From Moulin Rouge! to The Great Gatsby and more, Luhrmann’s stylized productions have always flashed a bigger than life vibe. Mr. Presley is a sensible icon for him to cover. Austin Butler plays The King. Before he inhabits the role (and he does), we see the poor Mississippi youth who catches musical inspiration in two ways. One is the sacred in the gospel church. The other is more profane in the sweat drenched blues sessions nearby.

The melding of each eventually makes him the best selling solo artist of all time. Narrating that four decade long journey is Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), his corrupt and crafty manager. Their union is the rocky constant in a triumphant and turbulent career that includes the popularization of rock and roll to the masses. The two and a half hour plus biopic is told in a sometimes Forrest Gump style journey through history that somewhat clumsily brings the MLK and RFK Jr. assassinations into the fold. Of course, it also includes the known greatest hits and misses. Iconic wiggles. The close knit and cut short relationship with his mother (Helen Thomson). A hoped for James Dean style film career stalled. The marriage to younger Priscilla (Olivia DeJonge). Pills and guns.

Much of this is familiar territory for this genre. In fact, one could say Elvis’s trajectory is perfectly suited for it. A star is born. And the star’s light goes out too soon. Unlike the aforementioned Gump, Hanks is not among the strongest aspects. Buried in makeup that doesn’t make you forget it’s Hanks buried in makeup, his acting borders on cartoonish parody. If their relationship is meant to be the emotional core, the screenplay falters in that regard.

Where Elvis builds its momentum is in Butler’s dynamism. To offer that he’s  utterly convincing even in the live hip shaking portions says it all. Those sequences are rhapsodic and a wise use of Luhrmann’s overwhelming brand of storytelling.

*** (out of four)

Oscar Predictions: Elvis

Will Elvis be in the building when the Oscars air next year? The eagerly anticipated Baz Luhrmann biopic has debuted at Cannes prior to its June 24th stateside bow. The splashy musical casts Austin Butler as The King with Tom Hanks (in some apparently memorable makeup) as Colonel Parker. Costars include Helen Thomson, Richard Roxburgh, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Olivia DeJonge, and Kelvin Harrison, Jr.

Luhrmann’s movies can attract wildly divergent opinions. Elvis is currently at 88% on Rotten Tomatoes. Yet it’s worth noting that the negative reviews are quite negative and the positive ones point out plenty of flaws. It’s not often you’ll read this, but Hanks’s work is drawing mixed buzz. He’ll need some coattail action to be a factor in Supporting Actor.

On the flip side, Luhrmann’s pictures also generate Academy mentions. His last four have done so. 1996’s Romeo + Juliet was nominated for Art Direction. 2001’s Moulin Rouge! was his most acclaimed title with 8 nods including Picture (though not Director). It was victorious in Art Direction and Costume Design. His less regarded 2008 follow-up Australia received a Costume Design nod while 2013’s The Great Gatsby landed wins for Costume Design and Production Design.

We are talking about Elvis so you have to assume Costume Design is easily in play. So are Production Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, and Sound. And, yes, Best Picture is a possibility. Whether or not it hits at the box office could move the needle one way or the other on the big race. If he couldn’t do so for Rouge!, I doubt Luhrmann gets his first behind the camera recognition.

One consistent thread in most of the reaction thus far compliments the performance of Butler. He is absolutely in the mix for Best Actor. Butler’s best hope is to follow in the footsteps of Rami Malek, who took home the gold stature for 2018’s Bohemian Rhapsody as rock legend Freddie Mercury. Or he could end up like Taron Egerton, who surprisingly was left off the final five in 2019 as Elton John in Rocketman. 

Bottom line: despite some grumbling, Elvis has at least established itself as a mover and shaker for the awards season. My Oscar Prediction 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…

No Time to Die Review

The five film run of Daniel Craig as perhaps the world’s most famous cinematic character comes to a close in No Time to Die, the 25th feature in the nearly 60-year-old 007 franchise. It began 15 years ago with Casino Royale, which I list at #2 in the canon behind only From Russia with Love (Sean Connery’s second entry).

For those who think the dedicated team behind the series have no time for surprises, be prepared. Like the midsection poker sequence in Royale that stands as one of the finest in Bond history, there’s times where they go all in. There’s also moments that harken back to the Roger Moore days and, in this case, I mean it as a compliment. By the time we reached Craig’s third and deservedly praised Skyfall in 2012, the pics had achieved a level of seriousness that risked becoming too dour.

Despite its considerable flaws, 2015’s follow-up Spectre thankfully remembered that the action and plots in this cinematic universe can be silly. 007’s 25th adventure isn’t afraid to display that. The threat to the world here involves passing a weaponized virus only through that individual’s DNA and those related to them. It’s a little ridiculous and I once again mean that in a good way.

This is not quite the triumph that Casino Royale was. In fact, I’d also rank this a smidge behind Skyfall. The villain is not particularly memorable. Like all Craig films that followed the first, no romantic entanglement will rival the one he had with Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd. Yet Die achieves the unlikely feat of bringing those fun Moore elements dashed with Timothy Dalton’s more weighty tone. The result is that Craig’s time as the super spy (the longest in terms of actual time but not volume of titles) is easily the most satisfying since Sean Connery’s.

From the jump, we realize Die is going to be a little different. The pre-title sequence begins with a franchise first: an eerie and gorgeously rendered flashback that sheds light on the childhood of Madeleine Swann. As you may recall, she’s Bond’s love interest from Spectre played by Lea Seydoux. Her connections to that criminal enterprise led by Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) is expanded upon. In the present day, James and Madeleine are making a romantic go of it. A visit to Vesper’s tomb disrupts both their safety and Bond’s trust in his current relationship.

This all occurs in the lengthy prologue before we hear Billie Eilish’s title cut. Let’s dispense with that. Ms. Eilish has some quality tunes, but her contribution is forgettable and not the kind of Bond tune you’ll be humming leaving the theater or rushing to download for the ride back.

In the serialized fashion we’ve come to expect from Craig’s tenure (something unique only to his), we jump five years to Bond in retirement. And (gasp) he’s no longer 007. MI6 is still going strong but relations with their U.S. counterparts are strained. It’s not the new 007 (Lashana Lynch) or M (Ralph Fiennes) or even his beloved Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) or Q (Ben Whishaw) that convince Bond to emerge from his Jamaican R&R. Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), along with a new eager associate (Billy Magnussen), recruit him for a mission that involves dismantling SPECTRE. Bond hooks up (not literally as Bond’s libido seems to be catching up with his age) with another agent (Ana de Armas) to do so. This culminates in a wonderfully fabulous and bizarre action set piece in Cuba.

All this activity soon puts James in the same space with Madeline again and with Blofeld. And we soon meet Safin (Rami Malek), the head baddie with his own troubled history with the criminal organization. I won’t wax rhapsodic about Safin as I mentioned he’s a pretty weak villain. On the other hand, No Time to Die is not really focused on his story. This Bond story, more than any other besides Skyfall, is really about Bond. That gives us one more opportunity to soak in Craig’s terrific performance that’s spanned this quintet. One could argue the series goes too far in making it all about him. With Craig in control, you’ll hear few complaints from me (heck even Quantum of Solace had some cool stuff in it).

No Time to Die has Cary Fukunaga taking over directorial duties from Sam Mendes, who helmed the previous two. He presides over some amazing looking chases and battles that rank right at the top of what we’ve seen previously. On a slightly contradictory note, there’s one during the climax that was a little too video game oriented for my taste. The screenwriters (with an assist from Phoebe Waller-Bridge) also remember to bring the humor. As much as Safin isn’t much of a memorable character, he does get a moment with a toddler that left me chuckling for a good minute or two after their interaction. The makers also don’t forget that these pictures can be quite weird in their production design. Safin’s Poison Garden is a glorious example.

Additionally, the team isn’t afraid to bring a rare level of emotion to the proceedings. However, it’s not that out of place for Craig’s service. We witnessed a love story in Casino Royale that went beyond his typical dalliances. His connection to Judi Dench’s M (particularly in Skyfall) went far deeper than the same character giving James his orders in the past. In No Time to Die, Mr. Craig’s mission involves the striking visuals that we’re used to. What’s different is that over the five adventures connected to each other, I felt like these missions developed a familial bond that shook the foundation of a franchise in a stirring fashion.

***1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Predictions: No Time to Die

The 15 year era of Daniel Craig as one of cinema’s most famous characters concludes with No Time to Die. James Bond will return… but not with arguably his best incarnation since Sean Connery. Prior to the October 8 stateside bow, the embargo lifted this evening and the results are encouraging.

007’s 25th adventure stands at 89% on Rotten Tomatoes (with 35 reviews out at press time). Many critics are calling it a surprisingly emotional swan song for Craig’s contribution to the British super spy series. There’s also hints that it resembles more of the Roger Moore era of the canon than one might expect (a direction it seemed to be taking with predecessor Spectre). Ana de Armas is drawing raves for her very short amount of screen time. The consensus on Rami Malek’s main villain seems a bit mixed. There’s some complaints about the length (a Bond high 163 minutes).

Yet no one seems to be arguing that it’s a rather fitting conclusion to Craig’s tenure in the part. So will Oscar take notice? Skyfall, the third pic in the actor’s five appearances, probably came close to a Best Picture nod. It did earn five nominations – winning Sound Editing and Original Song (Adele’s title track) with mentions in Sound Mixing, Score, and Cinematography. 2015’s follow-up Spectre (which had less laudatory reviews) managed a sole nomination in Song with Sam Smith’s “The Writing’s on the Wall” where it scored an upset victory.

I wouldn’t be shocked if an internet campaign is mounted for Craig to get a Best Actor slot (kind of as a tribute to the whole run). It’s highly unlikely to materialize. I do believe Die will make it three in a row for the songs with Billie Eilish’s title tune work. Whether she wins is a question mark (Beyonce has a ditty from King Richard that might serve as its main competition). Cinematography and Sound are two other feasible possibilities.

Bottom line: while I don’t foresee this factoring into the biggest races, tech and musical recognition could be coming its way. My Oscar Prediction posts for the films of 2021 will continue…

No Time to Die Box Office Prediction

***Blogger’s Note Part III (10/06): I have revised my No Time to Die prediction from $104.1 million down to $94.1 million, which would still set a COVID era record.

***Blogger’s Note Part II (10/03): With the news that Venom: Let There Be Carnage has grossed approximately $90 million out of the gate, it’s go big or go home for No Time to Die! I’m re-upping my estimate from $84.1 million to a COVID era best $104.1 million***

**Blogger’s Note (10/01): A week before its stateside premiere, I have decided to significantly increase my prediction (partly due to the apparent over performance of Venom: Let There Be Carnage). I’m going from $72.1 million to $84.1 million**

Ladies and gentlemen, the second frame of October finally marks the weekend for Daniel Craig’s swan song as 007 in No Time to Die. The 25th official entry in the James Bond franchise was gearing up for release in April of 2020 (Billie Eilish’s title track had already dropped) when COVID scuttled the plans. It experienced several more delays before at last settling on October 8. Craig is back for his fifth and final appearance along with series returnees Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Jeffrey Wright, Rory Kinnear, and Christoph Waltz. On the job for the first time are Rami Malek as the main villain, Lashana Lynch, Craig’s Knives Out costar Ana de Armas, and Billy Magnussen.

Anticipation is certainly present with the culmination of Mr. Craig’s service as the British super spy – one rivaled by only Sean Connery. He’s actually had the longest run as the character in terms of time, though not actual volume of pictures. It seems like eons since moviegoers have had their Bond fix. With the frequent pushbacks, the just shy of a six-year wait is the second lengthiest break between 007 adventures (beaten by the sabbatical of 1989’s Licence to Kill and 1995’s Goldeneye at nearly six and a half years).

Fifteen years ago, Craig defied expectations with the critically acclaimed Casino Royale. It made $40 million for its start but legged out very impressively. Sequel (and it was the first true Bond sequel) Quantum of Solace debuted two years later with $67 million. 2012’s Skyfall marked a high point at the box office as it grossed over a billion dollars worldwide. The premiere stateside is a series best $88 million. Three years later, Spectre kicked off with $70 million.

So where will this golden era of 007 culminate in terms of opening weekend? There’s certainly a range of possibilities. First things first: it will have no trouble eclipsing what Craig’s first foray achieved a decade and a half ago. I do believe the COVID times will prevent the record setting starting number of Skyfall managed (but you never know). It’s hard to totally factor in the excitement for its star’s last go-round. A video of Craig bidding adieu to his costars and crew has been widely circulated on social media in recent weeks.

My hunch is that a premiere in the range of Quantum and Spectre is most likely stateside (I’m sure its overseas haul will be massive). I’m tempted to say a low to mid 60s gross just under them could occur. However, I’ll err on the side of over performance and project low to mid 70s. (PER ABOVE: I have increased estimate from $72.1M to $84.1M to $104.1 million)

No Time to Die opening weekend prediction: $94.1 million