Oscar Watch: 1917

Twenty years ago, Sam Mendes made American Beauty and it dominated the 1999 Oscars, with the filmmaker taking Best Director and the movie being named Best Picture. Lately, Mendes has been known more as the Bond director behind past two installments Skyfall and Spectre. 

His World War I epic 1917 has held its initial screenings prior to its Christmas release. Early   word of mouth suggests the saga about The Great War is a great picture and that Oscar is likely to pay attention. Most of the buzz thus far has centered on its making as a one camera take experience. Before today’s reviews, this seemed like a probable contender for multiple tech awards already. That includes Cinematography, Editing, Production Design, and both Sound races. All of that still holds true. The legendary Roger Deakins is responsible for the cinematography. After many nominations, he won his first gold statue just two years back for Blade Runner 2049. He could pick up a second here.

Similarly, composer Thomas Newman (a frequent Mendes collaborator) has heard his name called 14 times by Oscar, but has yet to be the victor. That, too, could change as the score is getting numerous mentions.

The cast includes George McKay, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, and Benedict Cumberbatch, but I don’t expect any acting nods due to the packed nature of those categories. However, I do expect Picture and Director (and maybe Original Screenplay) attention. I’ve had the film itself and Mendes in my guesstimates for some time. When my weekly predictions come Monday, I anticipate both will be ranked higher than ever before. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Can Rocketman Contend?

Something struck me as I was preparing my weekly Oscar predictions that will be up on the blog later today. At this late October date in 2018, Bohemian Rhapsody was about to open. Reviews had trickled out and advance word of mouth was quite mixed. The Freddie Mercury biopic ended up at just 61% on Rotten Tomatoes. Yet it turned out to be a box office phenomenon with a $51 million debut and $216 eventual domestic gross.

Looking over my weekly projections from a year ago, Rhapsody wasn’t even in my top 25 possibilities for Best Picture. And Rami Malek was listed at #6 in Best Actor, just on the outside looking in. He ended up winning. It also emerged victorious in Editing, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing. The only race in which it was nominated for and didn’t win was Picture. Bohemian Rhapsody, despite its middling critical reaction, was bestowed with four gold statues and that’s more than any other movie last year.

This brings us to Rocketman. The Elton John biopic premiered in May at the Cannes Film Festival just prior to its summer rollout. Reviews were stronger (89% on RT). However, while it was a solid performer financially at $96 million, those aren’t rhapsodic numbers. Maybe it came out too early in the year because Oscar prognosticators (including me) are not seeing it as much of a factor in the awards derby.

Still I can’t help but wonder if we’re shortchanging it considering the Academy love for Bohemian. I currently only have Rocketman slated for nods in both Sound races and Original Song (the Elton and Taron Egerton duet “(Im Gonna) Love Me Again”).

I don’t think it has much of a chance at the moment to break into the Best Picture race (it’s not in my top 15). Taron Egerton is at #7 (even behind Malek at this point a year ago) on my chart. I do ponder, though, whether there’s an outside shot that Rocketman could still be standing as the dust settles.

Rocketman Movie Review

Rocketman, the biopic of legendary piano man Elton John, exists in familiar territory. Yet it manages to do so in an often inventive fashion with a commanding performance by its lead. The pic is directed by Dexter Fletcher, who filled in on Bohemian Rhapsody when Bryan Singer was dumped. They share similar themes of a shy boy coming into his own as an eventual iconic music figure. Unlike Rhapsody, Taron Egerton quite capably and bravely provides the vocal work of the man he’s playing.

The opening finds Elton in a high place both literally and figuratively as he’s about to once again play to a sold out crowd. He’s also at a low in terms of multiple kinds of addiction. Finally asking for help via Alcoholics Anonymous, Lee Hall’s screenplay then provides the framework for flashbacks of his life. It begins with him as the pint sized Reginald Dwight in 1950s England. He’s ignored by his father (Steven Mackintosh) and treated with ambivalence by his mum (Bryce Dallas Howard). His discovery of the piano is a watershed moment. Reginald has natural talent but a laser focus on perfecting the craft.

His most significant encounter comes through Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell). He writes the songs and Elton provides the melodies. Bernie is often the only figure in his life who genuinely cares about the newly christened Elton. Fighting through timidity, the newly named vocalist gets loud on the mic and with his outfits. Fame, fortune, and drug addiction follow as they so frequently do.

Those plot points are as known as the lyrics to many Elton tunes. Lucky for us, this isn’t just about a musician. It’s a genuine musical with tightly choreographed numbers set to high energy bangers like “Saturday Night’s Alright” and “The Bitch is Back” and contemplative pieces like “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me” and the title track. It has the second best movie scene set to “Tiny Dancer”. It’s a tall order to top Almost Famous.

Elton’s love life and homosexuality are explored from an ill-conceived marriage to a woman to his turbulent romance with manager John Reid (Richard Madden). By the time “I’m Still Standing” rises over the speakers, I felt pretty satisfied with this journey through his career and road to sobriety. There’s certainly a theme of Elton forging through his issues and creating his own reality with his outlandish persona. He may not have written all of the words that skyrocketed him to superstardom, but he provided the unforgettable notes. Rocketman often succeeds at capturing them.

*** (out of four)

Rocketman Box Office Prediction

After a stellar premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, Rocketman plays its way into theaters next weekend. The long planned biopic of legendary piano man Elton John starring Taron Egerton comes on the heels of similar genre entry and smash hit Bohemian Rhapsody. It even shares a director in Dexter Fletcher, who filled in on the Freddie Mercury tale after Bryan Singer was dropped from the project. Costars here include Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, and Bryce Dallas Howard.

The film’s French Riviera rollout resulted in praise for Egerton. An Oscar nod for him (especially after Rami Malek won in 2018 as Mercury) is certainly feasible. Some reviews were mixed, but this currently holds an 88% Rotten Tomatoes score.

As mentioned, the easiest comp is Rhapsody, which debuted to an amazing $51 million in November with $216 million total domestically. However, while buzz is strong here, it likely won’t reach those heights in the busy summer season. I still think mid to high 30s can be reached and that would have Elton’s story still standing tall.

Rocketman opening weekend prediction: $36.1 million

For my Godzilla: King of the Monsters prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/05/23/godzilla-king-of-the-monsters-box-office-prediction/

For my Ma prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/05/24/ma-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: Rocketman

The Cannes Film Festival is in full swing over in France and the highest profile feature so far has screened (with Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood following next week). That would be Rocketman, a flashy musical biopic featuring Taron Egerton as legendary performer Elton John. Costars include Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, and Bryce Dallas Howard.

Ahead of its May 31st stateside bow, festival goers rewarded the pic with a lengthy standing ovation (with Elton and Egerton attending). This might prove to be an audience pleaser. Some early reviews are glowing while others are more mixed.

Box office could be strong, but will this blast off with awards voters? We have very recent history to consider. I’m referring, of course, to last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Despite its rocky critical reaction, that film was a hit with audiences and Oscar voters. The Freddie Mercury biopic ended up winning four gold statues, including Rami Malek’s portrayal of the Queen frontman in Best Actor.

Rhapsody made an astonishing $903 million worldwide. Rocketman may not reach that territory. If it does, it could be impossible to ignore. Yet even if it turns out to be a sizable crowd favorite, Academy voters could nominate this in a variety of categories. That includes Picture, Actor, and the sound races (for which Bohemian was victorious in both). The comparisons between Rhapsody and Rocketman don’t end there. Dexter Fletcher took over directorial duties from Bryan Singer on the former. He is behind the camera again for the latter.

Bottom line: there’s a chance that voters might not honor Mr. John like they did Mr. Mercury, but Cannes reaction at least indicates it’s a possibility. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…