Oscar Watch: Bad Education

Few actors had a better movie year as Hugh Jackman’s 2017 with two smash hits – Logan and The Greatest Showman. Yet despite the acclaim, Oscar didn’t honor him. In fact, his sole nod came five years prior in Les Miserables. Last year’s The Front Runner looked like awards bait, but it fizzled quickly.

Now we have Bad Education for possible consideration as it screened in Toronto. The comedic drama tells the true tale of a beloved New York school superintendent cheating the system. And Variety has called it Jackman’s best performance to date. Other reviews also praise his work in this effort from director Cory Finley. This is his sophomore film following 2017’s well regarded Thoroughbreds. Costars include Allison Janney (who did win in 2017 for I, Tonya), Geraldine Viswanathan, Ray Romano, and Alex Woolf.

I say possible consideration because Education has yet to land a distributor. However, that shouldn’t be a problem. The real question is whether this gets released in 2019. If so, I would expect a campaign to be mounted for its lead actor. And as I’ve said repeatedly in the past few festival days, that race is looking incredibly competitive. Unlike The Front Runner, I would anticipate some critics vying for his inclusion. It could be a long shot, but he’s in the large mix. A Golden Globe nod in Musical/Comedy might be more reachable. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

2017: The Year of Kumail Nanjiani

It was early in 2017 when The Big Sick started garnering buzz from its screening at the Sundance Film Festival. Nearly one year later, the unique rom com was a smashing box office success and established its star/co-writer as a fresh and exciting new voice on the big screen.

Kumail Nanjiani was best known for his role on HBO’s “Silicon Valley” and stand-up. He had appeared in numerous supporting roles in comedies such as Central Intelligence and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, but The Big Sick was something else entirely.

The Pakistani born performer penned the screenplay with wife Emily V. Gordon. Loosely based on their relationship and their dealings with her illness and cultural issues, the pic resonated with critics and audiences. The reported $5 million production took in $43 million stateside with a sizzling 98% Rotten Tomatoes score. Sick could soon attract Oscar attention, especially for Best Original Screenplay and Holly Hunter in Supporting Actress.

For Nanjiani, the year began with a festival screening that turned his movie into an audience favorite throughout the year. 2017 ends with his many new fans eager to see his next move.

The Big Sick Movie Review

The Big Sick is a pleasing combination of a romantic comedy that feels one part wholly original as it comes from the real life experiences of stand-up Kumail Nanjiani, essentially playing himself. The other part is not without imperfections and that could be called the Judd Apatow part, who produced it. Like Apatow’s best work, there’s plenty of heart, laughs, and observations about the comedy scene. Like even in his best work (and certainly his most middling pictures), it’s a bit too long and occasionally veers into semi-stale territory.

That said, Nanjiani’s creation takes you out of typical genre territory for most of its two-hour running time. Sick was written by its star and wife Emily V. Gordon and it takes a page out of their true life experiences. Pakistani comic Kumail Nanjiani portrays Pakistani comic Kumail Nanjiani, who’s struggling to make ends meet doing night gigs in Chicago while also driving an Uber. One night he’s pleasantly heckled on stage by Emily (Zoe Kazan) and the two hit it off post show. A one-night stand that transpires over several nights occurs – in the sense that they keep saying it’s the last one-night stand. She’s busy in grad school, he’s doing his career thing. Before they know it, they realize they’re in some sort of feeling resembling love yet they dare not say it.

Kumail can’t tell his family of his new whatever he and Emily call it. His background demands that he enter an arranged marriage with a girl of Pakistani ethnicity and his parents (especially Mom) bring a slew of such women to the dinner table every time Kumail comes to dinner. It’s this complication that soon ends the relationship.

The title comes into play when Emily is rushed to the hospital and put into a medically induced coma. Kumail is informed and he soon meets Emily’s folks (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter). Their knowledge of their daughter’s former relationship is the opposite of Kumail’s parents. They know everything and aren’t exactly warm to the idea of Kumail hanging around the ICU.

The Big Sick, more often than not, avoids many typical rom com cliches. Some of this is due to one of the leads not being available for a solid portion of the proceedings. This allows Kumail and Emily’s parents to develop a fascinating dynamic. Veteran performers Hunter and Romano make the best of their parts and their marriage is an interesting one in itself. The screenplay is refreshingly honest in a way that few in the genre manage to be. Kumail is far from perfect in how he handles situations, but not in an overly broad silly way. He’s trying and it’s not easy to balance his cultural leanings and his feelings for Emily. Kazan is charming and vulnerable as Emily, as she slowly realizes the difficulties involved with dating Kumail.

We get a little bit of exploring the stand-up comedy scene as Kumail is trying to land a sought after spot at the Montreal Comedy Festival. There’s nothing terribly new about that aspect of the script (Apatow covered it well in Funny People), but Nanjiani is certainly familiar with it. And that’s what really puts The Big Sick in satisfying territory. Nanjiani and his spouse write what they know – each other. And you root for them to work it all out.

*** (out of four)

Oscar Watch: The Big Sick

Another day, another Sundance Film Festival write up of a film that could have 2017 awards hopes. The Big Sick has emerged as a huge audience favorite in Utah. This romantic comedy was written by Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon and borrows from their real life experiences as a mixed faith couple. Nanjiani (who you may recognize from HBO’s “Silicon Valley”) also headlines and costars include Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, and Ray Romano. Judd Apatow serves as a producer.

Sick is said to be a crowd pleaser and Amazon showed a lot of their faith with it when they plunked down $12 million for the distribution rights. When it does receive its stateside release, it could have a sleeper status potential.

Will that translate into awards chatter? It’s doubtful as comedies always have an uphill battle for recognition. Yet one category where it could pop up is Original Screenplay, depending on level of competition.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

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Ice Age: Collision Course Box Office Prediction

20th Century Fox’s Ice Age franchise keeps rolling along as Collision Course glides into theaters next weekend. It is the fifth in the series that began in 2002 and the four previous pictures have performed pleasingly. Predecessor Continental Drift was the lowest grosser thus far, but not by much with a $46 million opening and $161 million overall take. 2009’s Dawn of the Dinosaurs was the series high point with $196 million.

Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Queen Latifah, Jennifer Lopez, and Simon Pegg (pulling double duty over the weekend with Star Trek Beyond) all return for their voice over work with Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Adam Devine, and Nick Offerman joining the party.

Animals and animation have been a potent box office combo in 2016 and that does mean competition as The Secret Life of Pets should still be raking it in in weekend #3. That could dent Collision Course a bit and I do expect it to post the lowest opening weekend of the franchise so far by a rather substantial margin.

Ice Age: Collision Course opening weekend prediction: $28.3 million

For my Star Trek Beyond prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/07/13/star-trek-beyond-box-office-prediction/

For my Lights Out prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/07/15/lights-out-box-office-prediction/

David Letterman’s Goodbye Begins

This evening brings the beginning of the end for the longest tenured late night host in the history of the television medium. After 33 legendary years, David Letterman’s final run of programs kicks off tonight with five and a half weeks and 28 shows left.

A CBS press release confirmed what many suspected: the final Dave shows will be a very star studded affair. Many Letterman regulars will make their pilgrimage over the next month and change (his swan song is Wednesday, May 20).

That impressive list includes Bill Murray, Oprah Winfrey, Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Howard Stern, Steve Martin, Jerry Seinfeld, Robert Downey Jr., Sarah Jessica Parker, Martin Short, Don Rickles, Ray Romano, George Clooney, Scarlett Johannson, Will Ferrell, Alec Baldwin, Michael Keaton, Jack Hanna, John Travolta, Bruce Willis, Tina Fey and Billy Crystal, among others. Not too shabby. Musical guests include Elvis Costello, Mumford and Sons, and Dave Matthews Band.

The press release promises more names not yet revealed over the last 28 hours of Letterman’s TV existence. Who could that be? Let’s start with the easy. Foo Fighters are Dave’s favorite band and it is likely they could be the final musical performance. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Dave’s late night brothers come to pay their respects. That list includes Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Jon Stewart and Letterman’s successor Stephen Colbert. I also anticipate an appearance by Jay Leno – something that would truly be an event after their over 20 year history of being rivals and their battle for The Tonight Show after Dave’s idol Johnny Carson retired in 1992.

Furthermore, it wouldn’t surprise me to see politicos such as Hillary or Bill Clinton or even President Obama appear. I will have one more post timed to Letterman’s departure to pontificate on what his show has meant to me and, frankly, my sense of humor. It’s not insignificant.

Until then, it’s going to be an interesting few weeks of Dave bidding America farewell.