Oscar Predictions: Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

2022 should be the year where Netflix makes significant waves in the Best Animated Feature category at the Oscars and Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is its lead off hitter. The acclaimed filmmaker’s stop-motion passion project is out in select theaters next month with a streaming release on December 9th. Receiving a first look today at the London Film Festival, Pinocchio arrives a half decade after del Toro’s The Shape of Water took Best Picture (along with a directorial victory) and one year after his follow-up Nightmare Alley made the BP ten. Actors providing voiceovers include Ewan McGregor, David Bradley, Gregory Mann, Finn Wolfhard, Cate Blanchett, John Turturro, Ron Perlman, Tim Blake Nelson, Burn Gorman, Christoph Waltz, and Tilda Swinton.

Since I added Animated Feature in my predictions a few weeks back, I’ve had del Toro’s tale of the iconic puppet turned real boy listed in first place. Part of that is due to its maker’s track record. That’s not the only reason why. The other is that it might be a rare off year for Disney, who have taken the gold statue 15 out of 21 times. This summer’s Lightyear was a high profile flop that is likely to be omitted from the final five altogether. Turning Red from the spring achieved solid enough notices to make the cut, but I certainly don’t see it as an automatic winner. The Mouse Factory still has next month’s Strange World in their arsenal so we’ll see if that emerges as a major threat.

Several critics from the London screenings are proclaiming this Pinocchio to be great or near great. On the other hand, some reviews aren’t quite as effusive. I do think the early word-of-mouth is enough to take comfort in the #1 ranking. Yet I wouldn’t say it’s a slam dunk pick to take gold like, say, 2020’s Soul was. I would also keep an eye on Original Score with Alexandre Desplat composing. Visual Effects is also doable (if perhaps a stretch).

A nomination seems assured and Netflix could hold 60% of the nominees this year. Wendell and Wild, another upcoming stop-motion pic from Henry Selick, should get in. Either The Sea Beast or My Father’s Dragon could as well (though probably not both). The streamer got their first contender in 2019 with Klaus and then Over the Moon in 2020 and The Mitchells vs. the Machines last year. They’re 0 for 3 in wins. That may change with del Toro in the company mix. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

Nightmare Alley Review

Guillermo del Toro has been making geek shows geared to movie geeks for years. In Nightmare Alley, based on a 1946 novel and the picture that followed it a year later, he gorgeously opens up his stylistic bag of tricks to give us a film noir where the scariest creatures are of the human sort. Geek shows take on a different meaning as the traveling carnivals where we spend the first act features one. That’s where spectators with jaws agape watch a drug addled performer (“geeks” in the show’s vocabulary) bite the heads off of chickens. All for the price of a quarter or two!

We meet Stan Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) in 1939 as he happens upon the larger road show filled with psychics, strongmen, and beautiful ladies with electrical currents running through them. He’s destitute and jobless and picks up menial duties from Clem (Willem Dafoe), who runs the demented circus. Stan is an audacious fellow who’s not fearful of romancing good-natured performer Molly (Rooney Mara) or picking up mentalist tips from the alcoholic Pete (David Strathairn) or his clairvoyant (with help from cue cards) wife Zeena (Toni Collette). He occasionally takes pity on the resident geek (Paul Anderson) but it’s clear Stan is mostly looking out for himself. An opening flashback sequence shows a strained relationship with his deceased father who was also a fan of the drink. While dad, mentor Pete, and that poor chicken feeder suffer from substance abuse, Stan’s vices are hubris and power.

The opening scenes of Alley explore this fascinating world with the exquisite production design, cinematography, and impeccable lighting that we would anticipate from its maker. This is constantly a visually striking experience. When we flash forward two years later, Stan has used the teachings of his colleagues to move up to the big city (Buffalo) and deem himself a psychic. With Molly as his assistant and companion, his dinner theater act attracts the attention of the city’s elite. Dr. Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett), a psychologist, tries to unmask Stan’s schemes during such a performance. It only serves to fool more of the attendees. The two decide to team up and swindle movers and shakers like a judge (Peter MacNeill) mourning a son and his devastated wife (Mary Steenburgen). For a price, Stan will convince them that their loved one is with them in spirit. The doctor provides the backstory from such grieving former patients.

Stan and Ritter also engage in therapeutic sessions that occasionally crackle with intensity. The two actors are up to the task with Blanchett picture perfect as the femme fatale and Cooper’s aw shucks Southern drawl cloaking his wild ambitions. Mara’s Molly gets lost in the shuffle as Stan’s pining is not just for a quick buck, but for the bad doc as well.

The ladder climbing of his consultations leads to Ezra Grindle (Richard Jenkins) and, at last, Stan may have bitten off more of an assignment than he can chew. Not a typical crime boss type of figure, the calm but firm Grindle looks for otherworldly messages from a former love. If Stan doesn’t produce, he may lose more than the fee.

Nightmare Alley is worth seeing for its look alone. Mr. del Toro is known for his onscreen creatures (from Cronos to Pan’s Labyrinth to his Oscar-winning The Shape of Water). We don’t see those types in his latest, but there’s monsters around and Stan is among them. Their habits are often just as frightening. When Dafoe’s Clem explains how the geeks are hired, it’s a tad hair raising.

Not all is as pleasing as the aesthetics. del Toro is clearly having a blast playing in the noir sandbox. So much so that he doesn’t seem to realize that these genre excursions should be lean and mean in their running time. Alley plods along for 150 minutes. Plenty of the characters are mean though it’s not so lean in execution. There are sequences that land effectively after the carnivorous first act but plenty that don’t match their potency. On the plus side, it’s got a humdinger of an ending with its darkly appealing beginnings and that makes it worth the price of admission.

*** (out of four)

Don’t Look Up Review

The forecast in Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up is a planet killing comet mixed with a heavy dose of condescension. This is an all-star experience about our home star being decimated. The writer/director is a Saturday Night Live veteran scribe who mastered the art of penning sketches with exaggerated characters. Even with all the talent involved (there’s lots of Oscar nods and wins among the cast), hardly any rise above caricature status. The nerdy but hot scientist, the clueless government officials, the spoiled pop princess, the pompous and feeble brained news anchors, the empathy devoid and weird billionaire…

These one-note types may fit a mold in a cleverly developed bit that runs five minutes. Not so much in this two and a half hour countdown. They’re mostly tiresome in McKay’s latest politically charged tale. In The Big Short, the filmmaker mixed a cast of familiar faces, complicated financial talk, and humor to rewarding payoffs. McKay’s comedies with Will Ferrell (particularly Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy) are already classics. The issue presented here isn’t complex… a scientific discovery (doubling as a metaphor for climate change) is on its way. McKay’s treatment of the subject matter isn’t subtle. And the screenplay often fails to be funny when showcasing its righteous indignation. Anger and laughter can be a potent combo if handled properly. It’s a test that isn’t met here.

Michigan St. Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) discovers said object hurtling toward Earth with a delivery date about six months out. Her professor, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) teams with her along with the head of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (Rob Morgan) to warn a White House filled with scandal and nepotism. The President is Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep), whose Supreme Court nominee may be a porn star and her lover. Her Chief of Staff is her intellectually challenged but supremely confident son (Jonah Hill).

The 100% certainty of a deep impact causing armageddon is not music to the ears of the flailing administration. In fact, Kate and Dr. Mindy are booked in the back segment of a “news” hour hosted by a duo played by Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry. The segment preceding them is about the romantic entanglements of a famous singer (Ariana Grande). Some of the country takes the threat seriously while another segment pretends it doesn’t exist (and yes it’s easy to draw comparisons to the pandemic era).

President Orlean and her bumbling bubble get more involved when eccentric tech mogul Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance) figures out a way to monetize the materials from the potential Earth shatterer. And while Dr. Mindy becomes distracted with his new fame and social media status, Kate’s stern warnings make her an enemy of the state.

I won’t get to Kate’s two boyfriends or Dr. Mindy’s wife and kids or whether the snacks in the White House are free or not (actually a gag that’s pretty solid). There’s a whole lot of players in Don’t Look Up and I’m challenged to name a performance that sticks with me for the right reasons. DiCaprio and Lawrence are adequate, but we know they can be so much better. Others are outright annoying and that includes Hill, Rylance, and even Streep. That’s because McKay never writes them above the level of cartoonish morons.

Will your political viewpoints determine whether you dig this? I don’t think so. The frequent struggles to develop the principals and the jarring tone shifts (a late pivot to sentimentality falls flat) should offend both sides and those in between. I’ve watched McKay skewer his targets with far more precision that achieved more lasting results. He’s clear that we’re all doomed in Don’t Look Up. With the characters inhabiting his screenplay, you might find yourself pulling for the comet.

** (out of four)

Nightmare Alley Box Office Prediction

The last time Guillermo del Toro was behind the camera, 13 Oscar nominations came his way with 2017’s The Shape of Water (including wins in Picture and Director). His follow-up is Nightmare Alley, a remake of a 1947 pic which was based on a 1946 William Lindsay Gresham novel. The noirish thriller boasts an impressive cast led by Bradley Coper (in his first starring role since 2018’s A Star Is Born). Costars include Rooney Mara, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Ron Perlman, Mary Steenburgen, and David Strathairn.

Long looked at as an Oscar contender, the recent review embargo lapse made the situation a bit murkier. The 83% Rotten Tomatoes score is decent, but some critics are griping that it’s a disappointment. Its standing in the Best Picture race is questionable.

Stronger awards buzz could have pushed this to higher numbers, but that’s not the only challenge. Plenty of moviegoers will be distracted with the release of Spider-Man: No Way Home, which looks to blow away pandemic era records. Alley is only opening on about 2000 screens (about half of Spidey’s). It’s normal for projects in the December time frame to open relatively small and hope to play well in subsequent frames. That is likely to be the case here and low to mid single digits is my forecast.

Nightmare Alley opening weekend prediction: $3.3 million

For my Spider-Man: No Way Home prediction, click here:

Spider-Man: No Way Home Box Office Prediction

Oscar Predictions: Nightmare Alley

Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley is likely to be the final film screened that could contend for Best Picture at the 2021 Oscars. That happened tonight and its social media embargo has lifted. This is the filmmaker’s follow-up to 2017’s The Shape of Water, which won four gold statues including Picture and Director. A remake of a 1947 noir thriller, Alley has a cast filled with familiar faces led by Bradley Cooper and Rooney Mara (who are slated to contend in the lead races). The supporting cast includes Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Ron Perlman, Mary Steenburgen, and David Strathairn.

Reaction out tonight offers plenty of praise. Unsurprisingly, this is being lauded for its technical aspects. Production Design and Cinematography sound like shoo-ins (and might challenge Dune for the victories). Other down the line derbies such as Sound, Costume Design, Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, and Score (though that’s gotten awfully crowded) are feasible.

How about the big dances? Early word solidifies its opportunity to get a Best Picture nomination and for del Toro’s behind the camera work. I had it ranked 8th yesterday and my early hunch says that’s about right. There’s enough mixed buzz in reaction tweets to make me think it’s not a threat to win. Adapted Screenplay is probable.

As for the actors, Cooper and Blanchett are the recipients of the most acclaim. The former’s path will be fascinating to track. I had him ranked #1 in Supporting Actor for weeks before Licorice Pizza was unveiled. That race, as has been discussed on the blog, is wide open. His limited screen time in Pizza could cause him to miss there. The question is whether Best Actor is already too packed (Will Smith as King Richard, Benedict Cumberbatch in The Power of the Dog, Andrew Garfield for Tick Tick… Boom!, Denzel Washington in The Tragedy of Macbeth, Peter Dinklage in Cyrano, Leonardo DiCaprio for Don’t Look Up). Is there enough space for Cooper? Precursors will tell. Supporting Actress is also filled with hopefuls and Blanchett will also need some early love from either critics groups or SAG or the Globes. Best Actress is also overflowing and I don’t see enough Mara talk for her to be viable.

Bottom line: Alley helped itself. It might be the “last in” but I feel decent about a Picture nod and definitely tech competitions. Cooper and Blanchett are more of a mystery. My Oscar Predictions posts for the films of 2021 will continue…

Oscar Predictions: Don’t Look Up

Up until the last couple of weeks, I’ve had Adam McKay’s political satire Don’t Look Up on the outskirts of my predicted 10 Best Picture nominees. After all, just how many Netflix contenders will get in? I figured The Power of the Dog would be their main play and there’s other possibilities with Tick, Tick… Boom!, The Lost Daughter, and Passing. 

I recently vaulted it into the fold of ten and (better late than never), that appears to be the right call. Before its eagerly awaited December 10th limited bow in theaters and Christmas Eve Netflix premiere, Up has screened for critics. The social media reaction is leaning toward the positive with particular shoutouts for certain elements and performers.

The star-studded cast is filled with previous Oscar winners and nominees: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Timothee Chalamet, Cate Blanchett, and Meryl Streep. There’s also Rob Morgan, Tyler Perry, Ron Perlman, Ariana Grande, Kid Cudi, Chris Evans, Matthew Perry, and Himesh Patel.

McKay’s last two pics (2015’s The Big Short and 2018’s Vice) were both up in the biggest race of all. His original screenplay detailing the end of the world should be recognized. I’m not as confident he’ll make it for directing though I will note that he made the cut for the previous two and it’s certainly feasible. While Dog may continue to be the Netflix flick I rank higher when I update my forecast Sunday, I don’t see Up moving down the charts and out of the 10.

As for the massive list of performers, the early word is that Leo could vie for his seventh nod (his sole win came for 2015’s The Revenant). He still needs to get past other sturdy thespians. I do like his chances better tonight than I did earlier today. With Lawrence, Best Actress is overflowing with hopefuls and I doubt she lands #5. Ms. Streep is going for her 22nd trip to the dance. Her work as the President here is being mentioned in the laudatory tweets. Supporting Actress has got its share of contenders too, but betting against Meryl is always risky. Supporting Actor is wide open at the moment yet I’m skeptical about Hill or Rylance (or the many others). If Netflix goes all in on one of them, that dynamic could shift.

Surprisingly enough, its most assured nomination could come with Ariana Grande. Not for Supporting Actress (her part is said to be brief), but for her Original Song “Just Look Up”. Editing seems a safe bet as does Score and other down the line races like Sound and Visual Effects are possible.

Bottom line: it’s looking up for Don’t Look Up to get up to a handful of nominations. My Oscar Predictions posts for the films of 2021 will continue…

The Depths of Hellboy

Over the past year and change, the superhero genre has been flush with massive successes such as Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Aquaman, Captain Marvel, and current box office champ Shazam!, which has dutifully met expectations. The upcoming Avengers: Endgame is looking to set the all time opening record in two weeks. Something was bound to eventually get lost in the shuffle and that turned out to be Hellboy this weekend.

The film rebooted the Dark Horse Comics franchise that debuted in 2004 with Guillermo del Toro behind the camera and Ron Perlman as the horn clad anti-hero. A 2008 sequel, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, built on the grosses of its predecessor.

Neil Marshall took over directorial duties for the new Hellboy with David Harbour of “Stranger Things” cast as the title character. All along the way, the marketing campaign seemed curiously muted. It was as if Lionsgate might have known they had a dog on their hands. And they did. The review embargo didn’t lift until late this week. Rotten Tomatoes has been ripe with bad critical reaction with a 15% score. CinemaScore audiences haven’t been kind either with a lowly C rating.

On Sunday, the initial results have Hellboy in third place with just $12 million. Not only is that behind the second frame of Shazam!, it’s after the debut of the Regina Hall comedy Little. To put that in perspective, the 2004 Hellboy made $23 million out of the gate. The Golden Army took in $34 million. For both of those films, the opening weekends represented a hefty chunk of the overall earnings. In the case of the second installment, it fell hard in its sophomore frame due to another comic boom sequel premiering called The Dark Knight. With its toxic word of mouth, I expect this version to tumble at least 60% in weekend #2 and probably more.

If there’s any silver lining for the studio, it’s that the reboot cost a reported $50 million. That’s certainly low on the scale for this genre. Yet we can be sure this iteration of the character is a one-off. And we’ve found out what the depths of Hellboy are on a financial level and it’s not pretty.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=pBdbbEJN4fw

Hellboy Box Office Prediction

Rebooting itself 15 years after its half demon anti-hero first appeared in theaters, Hellboy hits theaters next weekend. Based on the Dark Horse Comics that started in the early 90s, David Harbour of “Stranger Things” takes over the title role from Ron Perlman. Costars include Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Sasha Lane, Daniel Dae Kim, and Thomas Haden Church. Neil Marshall, best known for making horror pic The Descent, directs after Guillermo del Toro handled the first two installments.

In 2004, the original film adaptation took in $23 million in its opening frame and $59 million total domestically. It took on cult status quickly and that catapulted 2008’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army to a $34 million start with $75 million overall.

Those numbers are nowhere in the MCU or DCEU range as of late. While certainly different in tone, Hellboy arrives during the second weekend of Shazam!, which should still be performing well and a month after Captain Marvel. The chances of this, which seems to be lacking buzz, getting lost in the shuffle is real.

I’ll predict that even though it arrives more than a decade since we’ve seen this character, Hellboy will experience the lowest premiere of the trio.

Hellboy opening weekend prediction: $17.4 million

For my Missing Link prediction, click here:

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

For my Little prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/04/06/little-box-office-prediction/

For my After prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/04/07/after-box-office-prediction/

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Movie Review

Now that Harry Potter’s wand has been cinematically retired (at least until Warner Bros figures out how to eventually resuscitate him), it’s J.K. Rowling to the rescue with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. This is the first entry in the wizardry world with a screenplay directly from the famed author who created it. This expands greatly on her 2001 novel (which is when Harry debuted onscreen) to create another franchise meant to draw youngsters into its spell, as well as Potter fans of all ages.

In order to achieve that goal, David Yates is back directing. He’s responsible for the last four features in the Potterverse. Our central character this time around is Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a magizoologist from London who comes to New York City circa 1926 with a briefcase full of creatures. It’s not clear immediately why he’s in the Big Apple, but his back story tells us of his time at a little school called Hogwarts where he was expelled and was tutored by a much younger Dumbledore.

Wizards need to be registered stateside and Newt finds himself generating the skepticism of Tina (Katherine Waterston), who works for MACUSA, the Magical Congress of the United States of America (obviously). She’s frustrated with her job, which is headed by its President (Carmen Ejogo) and enforced by Colin Farrell’s head of security. Newt and Tina team up to protect his various beasts and those who wish to destroy them. It’s not a two-person team as Newt befriends aspiring baker and World War I vet Jacob (Dan Fogler). Tina’s mind reading sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) is also involved and is the apple of Jacob’s eye. Before we continue with the rest of the review, let me declare that the subplot of Jacob and Queenie’s flirtation and budding romance was my favorite thing about the movie. Fogler serves as the general comic relief here anyway and does so quite wonderfully. Sudol shines in her first role. Their chemistry has genuine magic and if there was ever a case for a rom com spin-off of a hoped for multi-billion dollar franchise, this is it.

Moving on, that’s a small but very winning part of the two-hour plus running time. I wish I could say the chemistry between Newt and Tina was as impressive, but it’s not. Tina is a bit of a blank slate in this first installment and it certainly remains to be seen whether Redmayne’s Newt will come anywhere close to being as beloved as you know who. He’s got a long way to go. Not even Harry Potter could have sold doing a “mating dance” with a titillated CG rhino and neither can Newt. On the other hand, Beasts has its own version of a Star Wars-like cantina scene with Ron Perlman’s cool voicing of a nefarious creation and it’s a highlight.

There are other performances worthy of note, including Ezra Miller as an abused teen with mysterious powers and Samantha Morton as his wizard hating adopted mom doing the abuse. Our main villain Grindelwald is mostly just spoken of but not seen (kind of like Voldemort was for a bit), but we know he’ll play a bigger role as the series moves along.

Fantastic Beasts is heavy on effects (most of them eye-catching) and creating the visually arresting template for sequels. I didn’t think it reached a Sorcerer’s Stone level of quality as far as part 1’s, but Rowling is generally successful in making us curious about what comes next with this real and generated crop of characters.

*** (out of four)

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them Box Office Prediction

The wildly popular fantasy world created by J.K. Rowling is back in theaters for the first time in five years as Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them debuts next weekend. Based on a novel by the Harry Potter author, Beasts looks to create a new franchise for Warner Bros after that aforementioned wizard yielded the studio $2.3 billion dollars for the previous one. David Yates directs and he knows this universe well after making the last four Potter installments. Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne stars with a supporting cast that includes Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Colin Farrell, Carmen Ejogo, Samantha Morton, Ezra Miller, Ron Perlman, and Jon Voight.

The reported $225 million production is intended as the first in a five-part series and it’s safe to say there’s a lot riding on this one. Seven of the eight Potter pics reside in the top 100 domestic earners of all time and even the lowest grossing one (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) made just under $250M.

So where does this first entry in a budding new franchise land? I don’t believe it’ll quite reach the $90 million that first Potter experience The Sorcerer’s Stone opened at 15 years ago. That said, a gross in low to mid $80s range out of the gate seems quite probable. I’ll predict it’ll do just that and we can expect to see plenty more wizards and muggles coming our way in the near future.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them opening weekend prediction: $83.1 million

For my Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/11/09/billy-lynns-long-halftime-walk-box-office-prediction/

For my Bleed for This prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/11/10/bleed-for-this-box-office-prediction/

For my The Edge of Seventeen prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/11/09/the-edge-of-seventeen-box-office-prediction/