Oscar Watch: The Goldfinch

John Crowley’s The Goldfinch looks like a picture made for Oscar consideration. It’s a prestige drama based on a well known novel (from Donna Tartt). This is the follow up to the filmmaker’s Brooklyn, which did receive a nod in the biggest race four years ago. Nicole Kidman is in it, as is Ansel Elgort in his first headlining role since Baby Driver.

Yet I found it curious that Warner Bros didn’t screen it last weekend in Venice or Telluride. After all, its Toronto screening today is a mere five days ahead of its stateside release. That’s not much time to build awards buzz.

Now we know why. The Goldfinch is being savaged by some critics and the Rotten Tomatoes score is at 22%. So while numerous movies have increased their visibility on the voter circuit in the last few days, this would be a casualty. If anything, perhaps Roger Deakins (who at last won a gold statue two years ago for Blade Runner 2049) could see his cinematography noticed. That would be the extent of it. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch – Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom isn’t the only high-profile sequel to a 2015 release coming to a theater near you this month. Sicario: Day of the Soldado follows up on the critically acclaimed Denis Villeneuve crime drama that garnered three Oscar nominations in that year. Soldado debuts a week from tomorrow and reviews are already out.

The verdict? Somewhat mixed as it stands at 65% on Rotten Tomatoes at press time. That’s a pretty far cry from the 93% that its predecessor earned. Interestingly, I’ve seen at least two critical reactions that compare it to Rambo: First Blood Part II. Go figure. Even with its great buzz from reviewers, 2015’s Sicario missed out on the big nominations, including Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, and Benicio del Toro for Supporting Actor. The pic did receive nods for the Cinematography of Roger Deakins, the late Johann Johannsson’s Score, and Sound Editing. Deakins does not return here and he finally won a long deserved statue for last year’s Blade Runner 2049. Villeneuve was busy with 2049 as well and Stefano Sollima takes over directorial duties here.

Bottom line: the Soldado reaction leaves it as an extreme long-shot for any recognition, while part 1 found itself more in the mix.

The Shape of Oscar 2017

Well, the 90th Annual Academy Awards have come and – after 220 minutes of ceremony – gone. This is my annual wrap up of the show and (of course most importantly) how I did with my predictions!

In short, not too shabby…

I went 19/21 on my predictions – missing out on just Best Original Song (“Remember Me” from Coco won over my upset pick “Stand Up for Something” from Marshall and A Fantastic Woman took Foreign Film over The Insult). Neither were a surprise.

In fact, the night was rather predictable as far as winners. The Shape of Water was the big victor, taking Picture, Director (Guillermo del Toro), Production Design, and Original Score. The acting winners (Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour, Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Allison Janney in I, Tonya) were the wise ones to have in the pool. Get Out got its recognition via Jordan Peele’s Original Screenplay. Legends like James Ivory (for his Call Me by Your Name Adapted Screenplay) and cinematographer Roger Deakins (for his Blade Runner 2049 work) finally won gold statues.

Some other quick observations:

  • Jimmy Kimmel, as he was last year, is a solid host for the show. I would have no problem with him essentially being the new Billy Crystal and hosting every year or every other year. That said, it sure would be interesting to see what a Tiffany Haddish or Dave Chappelle could do with it.
  • That 90 years in movies Oscar montage could have gone on another half hour and I would have been fine with it.
  • I hope the Phantom Thread costume designer is enjoying his jet ski today.
  • And, of course, no Best Picture screw up! Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway can relax today.

And there you have it, folks! That’s my shape of Oscar 2017.

 

Oscar Watch: Blade Runner 2049

24 hours can change the dynamic considerably at this time in the Oscar season. When I made my weekly Oscar predictions yesterday, Richard Linklater’s Last Flag Flying was ranked 8th in my Best Picture possibilities with Blade Runner 2049 outside at #13.

Yesterday, support for Flag wavered a bit with a mixed critical reaction stemming from the New York Film Festival. On the other hand, Blade has sharpened its chances with reviews coming out this morning. Denis Villeneuve’s continuation of Ridley Scott’s classic sci-fi pic from 35 years ago is drawing raves (it’s at 97% currently on Rotten Tomatoes). The word “masterpiece” has been thrown around by some critics.

Bottom line: its chances for a Best Picture nomination have risen dramatically. Just last year, Villeneuve’s Arrival scored eight nominations, including Picture and Director. That could happen here again. While I doubt any of the actors (including Ryan Gosling and the return of Harrison Ford in the role of Deckard) will hear their names called, there are other races in play. This includes Adapted Screenplay, Production Design, Editing, both Sound categories, and Visual Effects (where it will almost certainly be named).

And then there’s Cinematography. Again, a nomination for its cinematographer Roger Deakins seems virtually assured. If so, it will mark his 14th nomination. The list of films he was nominated for? The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, Kundun, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Man Who Wasn’t There, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, No Country for Old Men, The Reader, True Grit, Skyfall, Prisoners, Unbroken and Sicario. Number of wins? 0. There’s definitely a feeling that Mr. Deakins is long overdue for his gold statue and the 14th time could be the charm.

When I made my box office prediction for 2049 earlier this week, I compared my $44.1 opening weekend estimate to Mad Max: Fury Road from two years ago. As of this morning, I’m thinking the opportunity is there for it to come close to Fury‘s 10 Oscar nominations too.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Sicario Movie Review

Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario gives us a trifecta of characters who firmly believe they are doing what is right when it comes to our country’s war on drugs. They are frequently diverging opinions yet this is a picture smart enough to let the audience decide who is right. It’s also a technical masterpiece with its direction and screenplay sometimes reaching close to that level.

Meaning “hitman” in Spanish, Sicario plucks FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) from her current stateside activities to teaming with shadowy government officials (CIA?) to combat the brutal Mexican drug cartels. She believes her work in our borders isn’t making much of a difference and the prospect of this new venture is enticing. Kate is soon introduced to the cocky Matt (Josh Brolin) and Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), who head up a squad that also consists of military operatives who’ve seen action in the Middle East. The team is tasked with obtaining results and Kate and her partner Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya) soon learn just how far they’ll go to get them. Kate serves as the film’s moral compass in many ways, but Matt and Alejandro’s reasonings are not without merit. As they see it, nothing they do can possibly compare to the vicious acts of those they hunt and the end justifies the means.

As Sicario unfolds, we are witness to some brutal violence that is quick, realistic, and not at all glamorized. Viewers who have watched Villeneuve’s previous effort, 2013’s Prisoners, should know what they’re in for. With much credit to cinematographer Roger Deakins, this includes some startling set pieces including a showdown at the US/Mexican border that is intensely breathtaking. Even a convoy ride through Juarez is hair raising. There’s another sequence in an underground tunnel that is a triumph of camera work and lighting.

Taylor Sheridan’s script is not overly concerned with character development and we don’t know much about its lead subjects. Blunt is able to fashion her determined and lonely agent into a fascinating individual. We may have some trouble at first accepting the notion that her character would be placed in the situation she’s in, but this material is solid enough that I quickly forgave that. del Toro elevates his role into something even more special. His mysterious character’s motivations are revealed slowly to the audience and the screenplay smartly develops him this way to maximum effect. He’s not a man who wastes words and you hang on the ones he expresses. In many ways, Brolin has the least to work with but his swagger along with occasionally needed humor provide a bit of levity.

We have seen Steven Soderbergh’s 2000 pic Traffic take a more expansive look at this subject (it also earned Mr. del Toro a Supporting Actor Oscar). Sicario is more limited in its approach, but that does not take away from its power. Villeneuve and company know this war on drugs is complex at best and not winnable at worst. The primary trio here are working their way through it. Some have their tunnel vision set while another is attempting to make sense of it all.

***1/2 (out of four)