Oscars 2019: The Case of Jojo Rabbit

In my blog series laying out the cases for and against the Oscar nominees in major categories, we arrive at the third picture for consideration. That would be Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit. If you missed the first two posts covering Ford v Ferrari and The Irishman, you can find them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/01/14/oscars-2019-the-case-of-ford-v-ferrari/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/01/15/oscars-2019-the-case-of-the-irishman/

Let’s hop on it!

The Case for Jojo Rabbit

Viewers who like Jojo REALLY like it. With confusion regarding which handful of contenders like 1917, Parasite, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Joker, or The Irishman might win, Jojo could nab enough first place votes to sneak in. The satire that blends wild comedy with pathos is certainly unique and it even has comedy legend Mel Brook singing its praises. Taika Waititi is one of the hottest directors of the moment as he followed up Thor: Ragnarok with this and is now attached to an Akira remake and future Star Wars projects.

The Case Against Jojo Rabbit

Despite Waititi’s popularity, he missed out on a Best Director nomination. He was nominated by the Directors Guild. It’s very rare for the Best Picture winner to not have its maker named in the directing final five. That said, it has happened twice this decade with Argo/Ben Affleck and Green Book/Peter Farrelly. There are box office heavy hitters aplenty in the final nine this year and Jojo isn’t one of them with $22 million currently stateside. The 80% Rotten Tomatoes rating is also on the low end of the scale.

The Verdict

There’s no doubt that Jojo winning would be a major upset, though I would say it’s got the best chance of the pictures where the director isn’t nominated. That still doesn’t change the fact that it would rank 6th of out 9. Still, it’s a wide open year…

Up next in my Case of posts… Joker!

Oscar Watch: Cats

Yes, readers, the words Oscar and Cats are in the same post title, so get on board! Truthfully, this shouldn’t be surprising at all. The adaptation of the long-running Broadway musical comes from director Tom Hooper. His last three films (The King’s Speech, Les Miserables, The Danish Girl) garnered a total of 24 nominations and 8 wins, including Speech nabbing Best Picture. Each one of them gave us one acting winner – Colin Firth in Speech, Anne Hathaway in Miserables, and Alicia Vikander for Danish. 

So to say Cats had potential awards pedigree is not an understatement. Had being the objective term. One day before its release, the review embargo is up. Note to everyone: Oscar contenders don’t lapse their embargo 24 hours before release.

This has proven accurate as the Rotten Tomatoes score for Cats is currently… 19%. Some reviews are of a mixed nature while others are deeming it an unmitigated disaster. Weeks ago, the prospect of a Jennifer Hudson nod in Supporting Actress seemed at least feasible. There will be no second nomination for the Dreamgirls winner.

That said, Cats is definitely contending in one race. Earlier this week, the Academy released their shortlist for Visual Effects nominees. Ten pictures were named and this is one of them. This seems potentially amusing as a number of reviews say the visual look is ugly and garish. I don’t expect this to make the final five and I foresee chatter as to how this got on the shortlist over material like Ad Astra and Spider-Man: Far From Home. Could this show up in other races like Production Design or Makeup and Hairstyling? That seems like a reach.

The one category where Cats did seem like a genuine player was Best Original Song via “Beautiful Ghosts”. That track is sung by costar Taylor Swift and it seemed like a good excuse for the Academy to get her on the stage. Surprisingly, “Ghosts” was excluded from the 15 finalists that were also named this week.

I’ve ended dozens and dozens of these Oscar Watch posts with “My Oscar Watch posts will continue…”. Indeed they will. However, this appears to be the final one of 2019. Have no fear as the Sundance Film Festival is around the corner in January and there’s always Oscar bait at that event. Therefore, my Oscar Watch posts will continue… in 2020. And in the meantime, my predictions for this year’s Academy nominees will continue as well.

Cats Box Office Prediction

One of the longest running Broadway musicals of all time gets the big budget screen treatment next weekend with the unleashing of Cats. The rendering of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s work comes from the Oscar-winning director of The King’s Speech Tom Hooper, who also made the Les Miserables adaptation in 2012. Performers donning the fur include James Corden, Judi Dench, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson, and Francesca Howard.

When the Cats trailer was posted a few months back, it was greeted with a certain amount of derision. Even with that negative buzz and a review embargo that doesn’t lapse until right before its release, these musicals with hefty price tags have shown their muscle before during the holiday season.

In 2017, The Greatest Showman was met with mixed reviews. Its $8.8 million opening on the same pre Christmas weekend was a disappointment, but it legged out to an amazing $174 million domestically. Five years back, Into the Woods took in a joyous $45 million over its extended Christmas rollout.

This is not expected to reach the highs of Woods or lows of Showman out of the gate. Competition is fierce with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker premiering on the same day. That said, Universal Pictures has perhaps smartly scheduled this as counter programming for female and older crowds. On the other hand, Bombshell (also out next Friday) is searching for the same audience.

I believe this manages low to mid teens haul for starters as it hopes for positive word-of-mouth afterwards and nine lives of profitability in subsequent frames.

Cats opening weekend prediction: $14.5 million

For my Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/12/10/star-wars-the-rise-of-skywalker-box-office-prediction/

For my Bombshell prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/12/11/bombshell-box-office-prediction/

Jojo Rabbit Movie Review

Taika Waititi is a tightrope walker when it comes to the execution of Jojo Rabbit, the kind of picture that few directors might be permitted to make. It helps when you’re coming off Thor: Ragnarok, the best received of that sub franchise in the MCU. This is a tale of atrocities and those involved in it. And it’s handled with a primarily light tone that eventually doesn’t shy away from the horrors of Nazi Germany.

The premise, based on a novel from Christine Leunens, sounds high concept in description. A boy with an imaginary friend that happens to be Adolf Hitler. That sentence could provide a visceral reaction for many and it’s up to Waititi to justify it. He does so in large measure.

The boy is Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), a 10-year-old Hitler youth living with his single mother (Scarlett Johansson) in the waning days of World War II. All he really knows is the propaganda of his nation’s leaders and he’s part of the Nazi youth camps. They’re taught by an alcoholic Captain (Sam Rockwell) and a no nonsense Fräulein (Rebel Wilson). Jojo reveres Hitler so much that he acts as his imaginary companion. Waititi pulls double duty as the monstrous Chancellor and plays him as a total nincompoop. Yet like most fictitious companions (even if they’re based on evil real life figures), Jojo’s Hitler serves to reinforce his misguided feelings toward the Jewish people. Also because he’s lonely.

When he discovers that his mom is sheltering young Jewish Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) upstairs, his adolescent worldview is shattered. The witless Hitler doesn’t know what to make of it. Therefore Jojo struggles with how to handle this until his humanity starts to shine through.

To call this movie is a delicate balance is an understatement. There are satirical tones, but there’s a lot more heart. Anyone expecting a Mel Brooks style Producers exercise should look elsewhere. The humor is abundant for the first two acts especially, but always imbued with a level of pathos that comes into sharper focus as it goes on.

Jojo Rabbit is mostly an inventive case study in showing one child learning not to hate. It could fall apart without the casting of Davis. He’s rarely off screen and his performance is fantastic. Not fantastic for a child actor. Fantastic. Not many youngsters could pull off the range of emotions he has to go through and he nails it. McKenzie, in many ways, has an equally challenging role as Elsa navigates teaching Jojo not to fear her. The humanity of her character and the actress playing her convinces us and him. As you might imagine, Waititi has a tricky part as well. He’s got some of the best lines and reactions of all in his campy take. The more recognizable actors are all first-rate. In one of the most powerful scenes not involving Jojo, Johansson has a heart to heart about adulthood with Elsa (on the cusp of entering that status). And speaking of highlights, Jojo’s actual best friend Yorki, played by Archie Yates, is a scene stealer.

So… does this all work? Mostly yes. I also can’t deny that Rabbit never quite reaches the emotional impact that it’s trying to land. The concept doesn’t block that possibility. It’s more that the tonal shifts can be somewhat jarring in a couple of cases. It’s practically unavoidable. I never doubted that Waititi’s heart is in the right place and he’s assembled a superb cast to provide numerous laughs and a lot of warmth. Most importantly, it’s told through a child’s eyes who doesn’t recognize his idols are as false as can be until those eyes are opened.

*** (out of four )

Oscar Watch: Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit is undoubtedly one of Toronto’s most eagerly awaited screenings and it held its unveiling last night. The latest from writer/director Taika Waititi (who hit the big time with 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok), Jojo is a comedy that involves a child with an imaginary friend who happens to be Adolf Hitler. The child is played by newcomer Roman Griffin Davis while the filmmaker himself plays Hitler. Other costars include Thomasin McKenzie, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Sam Rockwell, and Scarlett Johansson.

It’s tough to gauge if this odd concoction will work based on the trailer. Early critical reaction is all over the map. Some love it while others seem quite turned off with claims that its unique tone never comes together. The result is shown in the current Rotten Tomatoes rating – 55%.

Most films with that score wouldn’t be in the conversation for a Best Picture nod. This could be an exception as those who like it really like it. I still think it’s probably an on the bubble candidate, but let’s see how it plays out.

The two actors getting the most praise appears to be youngsters Davis and Thomasin McKenzie. Waititi and Johansson were looked at as possibilities for the supporting races. Not so much anymore in my view (Scarlett can take comfort in that she’s appears in for Marriage Story). And Waititi could still land an Adapted Screenplay nod.

Bottom line: Jojo Rabbit looks polarizing enough to keep it away from the big dance, but ardent supporters could change that dynamic. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The Hustle Box Office Prediction

A remake of a remake, MGM is hoping moviegoers want to do The Hustle next weekend. The pic updates the Steve Martin/Michael Caine comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which itself was a reworking of the 1964 Marlon Brando/David Niven effort Bedtime Story. Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson are the newest pair of con artists. The supporting cast includes Alex Sharp, Tim Blake Nelson, and Dean Norris. Chris Addison directs.

Hathaway hasn’t headlined a high-profile laugher since 2015’s The Intern, which made $17 million for its start. Wilson, on the other hand, starred in Isn’t It Romantic earlier this year and that debuted at $14.2 million. I like that comp better and I’ll throw in another: 2015’s Hot Pursuit with Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara. It opened in mid May as well with $13.9 million.

That sounds about right here with a so-so low teens take.

The Hustle opening weekend prediction: $13.4 million

For my Pokemon Detective Pikachu prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/04/30/pokemon-detective-pikachu-box-office-prediction/

For my Poms prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/05/02/poms-box-office-prediction/

For my Tolkien prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/05/04/tolkien-box-office-prediction/

Isn’t It Romantic Box Office Prediction

It might be a satire of romantic comedies, but Warner Bros is hoping Isn’t It Romantic brings in a Valentine’s and President’s Day crowd when it opens this Wednesday. Rebel Wilson plays a lovey dovey denier who finds herself in a rom com cinematic universe after being knocked out. Liam Hemsworth, Adam Devine, and Priyanka Chopra are in the supporting cast. Todd Strauss-Schulson directs.

As mentioned, Romantic will look for a female crowd that hopefully bring their dates. Wilson is no stranger to this holiday frame. Three years ago, she costarred in How to Be Single and it grossed nearly $20 million for its long weekend start (Valentine’s Day fell on Sunday that year).

With Wednesday and Thursday (the 14th) factored in, this will likely make under that figure for the four-day frame and could even struggle to top $20 million for the six-day earnings. I’ll say it manages to just top it.

Isn’t It Romantic opening weekend prediction: $14.3 million (Friday to Monday); $20.7 million (Wednesday to Monday)

For my Happy Death Day 2U prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/02/06/happy-death-day-2u-box-office-prediction/

For my Alita: Battle Angel prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/02/06/alita-battle-angel-box-office-prediction/