Oscars 2019: The Case of Adam Driver

My Case of posts for the acting contenders at this year’s Oscar brings us to the third performer in Best Actor… Adam Driver in Marriage Story. Here’s his story:

The Case for Adam Driver

2019 capped off an amazing decade for Driver. In addition to his high-profile role in the HBO series Girls, his filmography over the past few years has been remarkable. To give you an idea, here’s some of the directors he worked with in the 2010s: Clint Eastwood, the Coen Brothers, Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Steven Soderbergh, Jim Jarmusch, Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, Rian Johnson, Terry Gilliam, and Spike Lee. The latter filmmaker helped Driver get his first Oscar nod last year in Supporting Actor for BlacKkKlansman. 2019 saw his best year yet with his final portrayal as Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and critical praise for the political drama The Report. Yet it’s his role as the divorcing husband to Scarlett Johansson in frequent collaborator Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story that garnered his greatest reviews thus far.

The Case Against Adam Driver

He’s still young enough that there’s little overdue for a win sentiment happening. Marriage Story has fallen behind in numerous categories with the exception of Laura Dern in Supporting Actress. Joaquin Phoenix has swept the key precursors.

The Verdict

Driver will likely place second in the voting behind the rising of Phoenix over the past few weeks.

My Case of posts will continue with the third competitor in Best Actress… Saoirse Ronan in Little Women!

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Movie Review

We talk about the Star Wars franchise the same way we speak of politics or sports. With passion and fervent opinions and disagreements. Perhaps we are giving it too much credit, but it’s become an American cinematic pastime. No group of films has inspired as much thought and re-thought. So we arrive at the ninth episode, The Rise of Skywalker, with all that baggage and more. After all, this one is tasked with closing out the saga that began at a time far, far away in 1977. Returning to direct with that weight on his shoulders is J.J. Abrams, who kickstarted the series for new owner Disney four years ago with The Force Awakens.

He does so two years following The Last Jedi from Rian Johnson, which sharply divided fans and critics by going in unexpected directions. Even Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill, didn’t jive with the choices Johnson made with his character shuddered on an island and not wishing to utilize his Jedi skills. That was one compliant from some diehard fans, among others. You could say they had their knives out for it, so to speak.

I found The Last Jedi to be flawed and disjointed, but also filled with great moments. There aren’t many of them here in Skywalker. As I ponder it, episodes VII-IX do follow a similar arc as the iconic I-III. The Force Awakens was tasked with introducing new and exciting characters from these galaxies. It also had to mix in Luke and Leia and Han Solo and Chewie. I felt, for the most part, that it did so successfully. That especially applies to Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). In fact, their little therapy sessions from The Last Jedi were highlights of the whole trilogy. The common critique of Awakens is that it was a rehash of the first Star Wars. While this is with some merit, it didn’t take away my immense enjoyment of it.

As mentioned, The Last Jedi was more of a mixed bag. Yet with Johnson’s sometimes confounding but often daring choices, it was also the boldest. This is where a comparison with 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back seems fair. Don’t get me wrong. It’s nowhere in its league, but it did take what happened in the predecessor and take it in unexpected directions.

And now The Last Skywalker. Like 1983’s Return of the Jedi, this trilogy finale has to wrap it all up. Allow me to throw in this disclaimer – I don’t hold Return of the Jedi anywhere near the regards of what came before it. While I feel there are terrific moments, there’s a lot that didn’t work me and not just the Ewoks. It often felt a little tired and unsure of what to do with itself for a chunk of the running time. That applies to Skywalker and there’s aren’t as many terrific moments.

The similarities don’t end on just a quality level. Ultimately, the main plot here finds Rey facing a choice of whether to stay a Jedi or follow her lineage to the dark side… just as Luke did in Jedi. By the way, those lineage inquiries are addressed. Another complaint in Rian Johnson’s script was how he handled that aspect. Rey’s supporting cast is around with Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) marshaling support to take on Kylo. And as the trailer suggested, Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is back in the mix, too. So is Billy Dee Williams as cocky fighter pilot Lando. His return isn’t exactly as pined for as what we got with Luke, Leia, and Han. As for Leia, Carrie Fisher does return utilizing unused footage from Awakens and Last Jedi. It’s handled delicately.

There are new players with Richard E. Grant joining Domhnall Gleeson as one of Kylo’s top lieutenants. Abrams throws some small parts to Keri Russell and Dominic Monaghan (who both starred in his TV shows). The short shrift is given to Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), who had more of a presence in Last Jedi, but is basically ignored. That’s not exactly a problem as this is the Rey and Kylo show. Once again, both Ridley and Driver’s performances are first rate. Truth be told, though, Johnson wrote their dynamic better the last time around.

For the major detractors of The Last Jedi, perhaps this episode will feel like a return to Star Wars normalcy. I’m happy to listen to an argument that Johnson’s effort pairs well with the return of Abrams, but it would take lots of convincing. Skywalker often reeks of a course correction. This is becoming more common with franchises. We just saw Terminator: Dark Fate ignore the three pictures ahead of it. The X-Men series had to get creative with their timeline and do away with it under specific circumstances.

Those franchises aren’t Star Wars. The meeting between Han Solo and his son Kylo in The Force Awakens was a memorable, emotional, and surprising one. Whatever Mark Hamill and others might think about his treatment in The Last Jedi, a brief reunion with his sister in it was marvelous. In Skywalker, Abrams goes for a lot of those moments. And it felt, well, forced. The visual splendor and incredible production design (and the rousing John Williams score) is intact. A few scenes with Rey and Kylo work. Ultimately, I suspect my feelings about The Rise of Skywalker will be somewhat similar to Return of the Jedi – as an inferior product to its two predecessors.

**1/2 (out of four)

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (12/19): Hours before its opening, I am revising my estimate down from $206.4M to $191.4M

The ninth episode in the galaxy is not far, far away as Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker arrives in a theater near you next weekend. Capping the third trilogy of the landmark franchise, the film finds J.J. Abrams returning to the director’s chair after Rian Johnson (currently having his own box office hit with Knives Out) handled duties on previous entry The Last Jedi in 2017. The familiar faces introduced four years ago in The Force Awakens return with Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac headlining. Stars from the original trilogy are back including Carrie Fisher (via unreleased footage from previous efforts), Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, and two cast members making their respective first appearances since 1983’s Return of the Jedi and 2005’s Revenge of the Sith – Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian and Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine. Other notable performers returning include Domhnall Gleeson, Lupita Nyong’o, and Kelly Marie Tran. Newcomers to the series are Naomi Ackie, Keri Russell, and Richard E. Grant.

Disney took over the reigns of George Lucas’s creation a few years back and the results have been billions more into the Mouse Factory’s considerable coffers. That said, the last two years have shown some chinks in the once impenetrable armor. The aforementioned Last Jedi divided audiences and critics and came in $300 million under Awakens. A few months later in May of 2018, prequel and spinoff Solo: A Star Wars Story was the first picture in the series that was a genuine disappointment and actually lost money.

In Star Wars world, “disappointing” numbers are relative. The Last Jedi took in $220 million for its start on this same weekend two years ago, ending its run at $620 million domestically (that’s still good for #9 all-time). Yet, as mentioned, that’s considerably below the $936 million that Awakens achieved. It continues to stand at #1 overall in terms of stateside dollars.

Estimates for Skywalker show a pretty wide range. Some are as low as $175 million. Only in this franchise and the Marvel Cinematic Universe would that number be called low. Despite the mixed Jedi reaction and Solo grosses, I have a hard time buying that this last entry of the trilogy could come in with $45 million less than its predecessor.

The more reasonable anticipation is that this manages to top $200 million. There is certainly more serious family competition than Last Jedi had with Jumanji: The Next Level being in its second frame (it was the inverse in 2017 with predecessor Welcome to the Jungle arriving the week after Jedi).

My projection here gives Skywalker the seventh biggest debut ever, in between MCU titles The Avengers and Black Panther. 

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opening weekend prediction: $191.4 million

For my Cats prediction, click here:

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

For my Bombshell prediction, click here:

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

Knives Out Movie Review

Whodunits aren’t an omnipresent genre on the silver screen these days and rare recent ones like Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express have had a bit of an unnecessary regurgitated vibe to it. Not so with Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, which displays  the writer/director’s enthusiasm for playing in this murderous sandbox to satisfactory effect. Like the 1974 version of Orient Express, we have a 007 involved. 45 years ago, it was Sean Connery and now it’s Daniel Craig. There’s a Marvel superhero (Chris Evans) playing decidedly against type. A captain of the American crime novel industry meets his demise in a stately manner that’s a triumph of production design. Craig and Evans are having a good time here, as is the rest of the cast. Some get better opportunities to shine than others. One of the standouts even has her crowd pleasing moments that involves regurgitation.

The Thrombey family is celebrating the 85th birthday of their patriarch Harlan (Christopher Plummer), a wealthy novelist who won’t allow his capers to be adapted into films or TV specials. This is a source of frustration for son Walt (Michael Shannon), who cares for his publishing empire. The family drama doesn’t stop there. Harlan is prepared to expose family secrets or cut off the gravy train for eldest daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her philandering husband (Don Johnson) and daughter-in-law and would-be life coaching guru Joni (Toni Collette). Evans is the black sheep grandson in a clan where that’s saying something. Everyone has a reason to get rid of Harlan. His most healthy relationship is with a non-family member – caretaker Marta (Ana de Armas). She’s from another country and it could be Brazil or Ecuador and one ending with “guay”. Don’t ask the Thrombeys as they express an admiration for her, but hilariously have no clue where she came from. This is all part of Johnson’s integration of the immigration debate into a screenplay that manages to occasionally weave current events into the foul play happenings.

That foul play means Harlan’s celebration is short-lived. Enter private detective Benoit Blanc as played by Craig and his work is a far cry from James Bond. Adopting a thick Southern drawl and a patient attitude to finding the killer, Blanc nevertheless seems a step ahead of the other policemen investigating. They want to believe Harlan might have committed suicide as the evidence suggests. Yet no whodunit script could make it that simple, could it?

Knives Out clues the audience in on some revelations before they enter Blanc’s consciousness from time to time. Johnson probably could have held some back for stronger pacing results. And some of the performers never quite have the running time to develop their roles. These turn out to be minor criticisms in the grand scheme. De Armas and Evans form the yin and yang of the case and are afforded the most clock time in the game along with Craig. The frequent twists and turns experienced are a hoot as we anticipate what Johnson will throw up on the screen next.

*** (out of four)

Knives Out Box Office Prediction

In his first feature since dividing audiences and critics with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson has come up with a comedic whodunit in Knives Out. The pic debuted at the Toronto Film Festival back in September and critics have pointed it out as a winner. Its Rotten Tomatoes score is 97%. Daniel Craig leads a cast of familiar faces including Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Jaeden Martell, and Christopher Plummer.

Rolling out over the long Thanksgiving holiday (with previews scheduled for this Friday to build anticipated word of mouth as an audience pleaser), Knives hopes to generate a #2 debut behind the second weekend of Frozen II. It will likely compete with the sophomore frame of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and perhaps Ford v Ferrari for that distinction.

I believe this should serve as a solid option for adults over the Turkey Day period. A start in the mid to high teens for the traditional Friday to Sunday portion and mid 20s for the five-day looks probable. That doesn’t get it near the $28 million earned two years ago in November by Murder on the Orient Express. However, if moviegoers enjoy what they see, Knives should succeed in avoiding sharp declines in the weekends ahead.

Knives Out opening weekend prediction: $18.5 million (Friday to Sunday); $27.7 million (Wednesday to Sunday)

For my Queen & Slim prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/11/21/queen-slim-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: Knives Out

Good old fashioned whodunnits are rare on the silver screen, but Rian Johnson has one on deck with Knives Out. It’s premiered in Toronto and early reaction indicates a major crowd favorite that has killer box office potential. The Looper and Star Wars: The Last Jedi maker has apparently fashioned a laugh out loud comedy that makes fine use of its all-star cast led by Daniel Craig. We also have Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, Lakeith Stanfield, and Christopher Plummer onboard.

So when it comes to this genre, will Knives follow in the path of Robert Altman’s Gosford Park (multiple nominations) or Kenneth Branagh’s 2017 version of Murder on the Orient Express (nada). The likelihood is that nods in the major categories could be elusive even if it strikes a chord with crowds. The best hope could be with Johnson’s original screenplay or supporting turns that have been singled out, like Evans and especially de Armas.

The better bet is a nomination for Production Design, which has been praised in every write up I’ve scanned. Bottom line: Knives Out has announced itself as a probable hit and there’s at least a chance that Academy voters could notice. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The 2019 Oscar Season Cometh

As the summer season winds down, the movie industry and this blog’s attention will soon turn to the Oscar race. And if you think it’s too early to do that, consider that less than a month from now – an avalanche of Academy hopefuls will be unveiled at film festivals. Toronto, Venice, Telluride, and the New York festivals are on deck. The programmers behind those events have already released the names of many of the pictures premiering. Here are some of the pictures wishing for Oscar glory that are hitting the circuit:

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Tom Hanks is iconic children’s host Mr. Rogers in director Marielle Heller’s follow-up to last year’s Can You Ever Forgive Me?, which nabbed nods for Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant. Premiering at Toronto.

Ad Astra

James Gray has made multiple critical darlings, but has yet to pop up on the awards circuit radar screen. Could this sci fi drama with Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones change that? Premiering at Venice.

An Officer and a Spy

It will need serious acclaim to overcome the baggage that comes from its maker Roman Polanski, but this historical thriller will attempt to do so in Venice.

Dolemite Is My Name

Prior to its anticipated Netflix launch, Craig Brewer’s biopic of comedian Rudy Ray Moore portrayed by legendary comic Eddie Murphy will bow at Toronto.

Ema

Pablo Larrain has had his pics No and Jackie attract awards nods and this Chilean drama hopes to follow suit. Premiering at Venice.

Ford v Ferrari

Matt Damon and Christian Bale star in James Mangold’s 1960s set tale of the flashy automotive industry. Premiering at Toronto.

Harriet

Cynthia Erica was a breakout in last year’s Widows. This year she has an Academy baity role as abolitionist Harriet Tubman in this historical epic from Kasi Lemmons. Premiering at Toronto.

Jojo Rabbit

This concoction from Taika Waititi is set during WWII with a dark comedic premise finding a young child with an imaginary friend who happens to be Hitler. The filmmaker himself plays Hitler. Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell are among the cast.

Joker

Heath Ledger won a posthumous gold statue as the comic book villain in The Dark Knight. Joaquin Phoenix will attempt the same here. Premiering at Venice.

Judy

It’s been awhile since Renee Zellweger had a role receiving awards buzz. This biopic of Judy Garland could alter that. Premiering at Toronto.

Just Mercy

This drama about a falsely accused prisoner features Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, and Brie Larson. Premiering at Toronto.

Knives Out

Rian Johnson’s murder mystery has a sprawling cast of hopefuls including Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, and Michael Shannon. Premiering at Toronto.

Marriage Story

Noah Baumbach is a favorite of the critical community. This drama is headlined by Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver and hits Venice and other fests before its Netflix premiere.

The Goldfinch

Brooklyn director John Crowley adapts this drama based on a well-known 2013 novel. The cast includes Nicole Kidman and Oakes Fegley. Premiering at Toronto.

The Irishman

Rightly kicking off the New York Festival, Martin Scorsese directs this gangster saga starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci.

The Laundromat

Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh directs this dramatic thriller with Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, and Antonio Banderas. Premiering at Venice.

The Personal History of David Copperfield

Lion nominee Dev Patel is the Charles Dickens character with a supporting cast including Tilda Swinton and Hugh Laurie. Premiering at Toronto.

The Two Popes

Jonathan Pryce is Pope Francis and Anthony Hopkins is Pope Benedict in this Netflix effort from director Fernando Meirelles. Premiering at Toronto.

Followers of this blog know that I’ll do Oscar Watch posts on each of these and many others as they screen in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!