Best Year’s Ever

As one year turns to the next in short order, it got me thinking. What are some examples of actors and directors who had remarkable calendar frames over the past few decades? The guidelines are pretty simple – the individual must have had two (and in a couple of cases, three or more) pictures that made an impact during 19(fill in the blank) or 20(fill in the blank).

And wouldn’t you know it? My ruminations quickly turned into a lengthy list that I’ve paired down to a top 25. Let’s call this Best Year’s Ever and count down from #25 to #1!

25. Channing Tatum (2012)

It was a busy year for the performer to say the least. Tatum was in Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire, but three major roles made him the star he is today. There was the hit romance The Vow, hit comedy 21 Jump Street, and his signature and semi-autobiographical title role in the summer sleeper Magic Mike (also from Mr. Soderbergh).

24. John Travolta (1996)

Two years following his major comeback in Pulp Fiction and a year following his Golden Globe nominated lead in Get Shorty, Travolta’s hot streak continued with three hits: John Woo’s action thriller Broken Arrow and fantasy dramas Phenomenon and Michael.

23. Clint Eastwood (1971)

The last two months of 1971 were fruitful for the legend. In November, he made his directorial debut with the well-reviewed psychological thriller Play Misty for Me. This began a career of dozens of behind the camera works, including Best Picture winners Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby. In December, Eastwood starred as Dirty Harry which spawned his lucky cop franchise.

22. Sigourney Weaver (1988)

Weaver won two Golden Globes 30 years ago – Best Actress (Drama) for Gorillas in the Mist and Supporting Actress for Working Girl. She would be nominated for two Oscars as well, but come up short. All part of a remarkable decade that included Ghostbusters and Aliens.

21. Joe Pesci (1990)

Pesci won an Oscar for his unforgettable supporting work in Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas. That same fall, he was a burglar terrorizing Macaulay Culkin in the holiday classic Home Alone.

20. Kevin Spacey (1995)

Current scandals aside, there’s no denying Spacey was the movie villain of 1995. He won an Academy Award as (spoiler alert!) Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects and as a demented serial killer in Seven. Earlier in the year, he costarred with Dustin Hoffman and Morgan Freeman in  Outbreak and headlined the critically approved indie comedy Swimming with Sharks.

19. Nicolas Cage (1997)

Leaving Las Vegas awarded Cage his Oscar two years prior. By the summer of 1997, he was a full-fledged action hero with two blockbusters in the same month: Con Air and Face/Off.

18. Will Ferrell (2003)

Ferrell’s transformation from SNL favorite to movie star happened here with the spring’s Old School as Frank the Tank and in the winter as Buddy in Elf.

17. Morgan Freeman (1989)

The nation’s Narrator-in-Chief had a trio of significant roles nearly three decades ago – his Oscar nominated chauffeur in the Best Picture winner Driving Miss Daisy, a dedicated and stern principal in Lean on Me, and a Civil War officer in Glory.

16. Steven Soderbergh (2000)

The prolific filmmaker made two Best Picture nominees with Erin Brockovich and Traffic (he would win Best Director for the latter). Both surpassed the century mark at the box office and Julia Roberts won Best Actress for Brockovich and Benicio del Toro took Supporting Actor in Traffic.

15. Halle Berry (2001)

Ms. Berry had a revealing role in the summer action fest Swordfish. She then became the first (and thus far only) African-American to win Best Actress for Monster’s Ball. This was all sandwiched between XMen hits.

14. Hugh Jackman (2017)

Berry’s XMen cast mate Jackman retired his Wolverine character to critical and audience admiration with Logan in the spring. At the end of the year, his musical The Greatest Showman was an unexpected smash.

13. Leonardo DiCaprio (2002)

Five years after Titanic, the jury was still out as to whether DiCaprio’s leading man status would hold up. His roles in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York and Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can left little doubt. He’s been one of Hollywood’s most dependable stars since.

12. Francis Ford Coppola (1974)

In 1972, Coppola made perhaps the greatest American film of all time with The Godfather. Two years later, its sequel came with enormous expectations and exceeded them. Like part one, it won Best Picture. As if that weren’t enough, he made another Picture nominee in ‘74 with the Gene Hackman surveillance thriller The Conversation.

11. Michael Douglas (1987)

His signature role as greedy tycoon Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street won him an Oscar and gave him one of the most famous cinematic speeches ever. He also lit up the screen in the blockbuster thriller Fatal Attraction, which was the year’s second largest grosser.

10. Julia Roberts (1999)

She started the decade with a smash star making turn in Pretty Woman. Julia Roberts ended it with two romantic comedy summer $100 million plus earners: Notting Hill with Hugh Grant and Runaway Bride (which reunited her with Pretty costar Richard Gere). She’d win her Oscar the next year for Erin Brockovich.

9. Tom Cruise (1996)

1986 wasn’t too shabby either with Top Gun and The Color of Money. Yet it’s a decade later that serves as Cruise’s year with the franchise starter Mission: Impossible in the summer and Cameron Crowe’s Jerry Maguire, which earned Cruise a Golden Globe award and an Oscar nod. They were the third and fourth biggest hits of the year, respectively.

8. Sandra Bullock (2013)

Nearly two decades after her breakout role in Speed, Bullock had a banner 2013 alongside Melissa McCarthy in the summer comedy The Heat and her Oscar nominated turn as a stranded astronaut in the fall’s Gravity.

7. Sylvester Stallone (1985)

Sly was the undisputed champion of the box office (not to mention sequels and Roman numerals) in 1985, notching the second and third top hits of the year behind Back to the Future. They were for his two signature characters with Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rocky IV.

6. Robert Downey Jr. (2008)

A decade after all the wrong kind of headlines for his drug addiction, Downey Jr. pulled off perhaps the most impressive comeback in movie history. 2008 saw him as Tony Stark in Iron Man, the film that kicked off the MCU in grand fashion. Later that summer came Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder, which earned Downey a rare Oscar nod for a comedic performance.

5. Tom Hanks (1993)

There’s more than one year to consider for Hanks… 1995 (Apollo 13, Toy Story) comes to mind. Yet 1993 saw him with Meg Ryan in the now classic Sleepless in Seattle and winning an Oscar in Philadelphia as a lawyer diagnosed with AIDS. His status as a romantic and dramatic lead was solidified in a matter of months. A consecutive Academy Award followed in 1994 for Forrest Gump.

4. Mel Brooks (1974)

The director managed to make two of the most beloved comedies of all time in one year… Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. The two features combined contain some of the funniest scenes ever filmed.

3. Jennifer Lawrence (2012)

Already an Oscar nominee two years prior for Winter’s Bone, Lawrence’s road to superstardom was paved in 2012. In March came The Hunger Games, the year’s third top earner that spawned three sequels. In December came Silver Linings Playbook, where she won Best Actress.

2. Jim Carrey (1994)

In 1993, Carrey was known as a great cast member of Fox’s groundbreaking sketch show “In Living Color”. By the end of 1994, he was the most bankable comedic star in America as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber all hit screens.

1. Steven Spielberg (1993)

In a list filled with lots of choices, the #1 selection was rather easy. The highest grossing filmmaker of all time’s 1993 was astonishing. Dino tale Jurassic Park in the summer was a marvel technical achievement that began a franchise. At the time of its release, it became the largest grosser in history with the top opening weekend yet seen. Six months later, Holocaust epic Schindler’s List won seven Academy Awards (including Picture and for Spielberg’s direction).

I hope your New Year is your best yet, readers! Have a happy one…

Alien: Covenant Movie Review

Ridley Scott is now nearly 40 years into his Alien franchise which started with his 1979 classic and preceded Alien: Covenant with the often confounding Prometheus from 2012. Scott has now made half of the six series entries. In many ways, this latest one is the least effective of all. It’s not bad and I’d say none of them have been (middling, yes). Covenant, however, lies in a strange place. The dark visual splendor and occasional jump horror scares are present at times. Memorable characters are not and that’s different than when we were rolling with Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and others. The film is indeed a sequel to Prometheus, which was more of an existential exercise about where we come from and not a traditional xenomorph flick. Covenant wants to cover that territory, as well as bringing H.R. Geiger’s famed creature more in the frame.

There’s another crew in deep space and they’re on a colonization mission occurring a decade after the events of Prometheus. The membership of this crew (the Covenant) differs from previous ones in that they’re married couples. When a malfunction on the ship wakes them from their long slumber, they must deal with that quickly. A longer term problem is an unexpected xenomorph presence onboard which soon causes a growing widow population.

Katherine Waterston is Daniels and she’s basically new Ripley, but not as interesting. Danny McBride brings a little gravitas to the party as Tennessee, the ship’s pilot. Billy Crudup is the anointed captain. Yet it’s a Prometheus holdover that gets the most attention. Michael Fassbender is back as David, the android who stood out in the predecessor. When the crew must land on a planet they weren’t supposed to, they find him. Finding out what he’s been up to since the end of Prometheus takes up plenty of screen time. Fassbender doubles his time as he also plays Walter, a newer model droid that part of the Covenant crew. Their dynamic is somewhat intriguing in moments, but I never got over one big issue. I simply wasn’t begging for the unanswered Prometheus questions to be filled in, as that picture didn’t ultimately warrant the curiosity.

The talented Mr. Ridley never struggles to master production design and visuals. True here. And he strives to bring the gory action that we previously expected from this franchise. It’s here, but the mayhem is inflicted upon characters we won’t remember for long and with a xenomorph who’s popped out of better written people before.

** (out of four)

A Monster Calls Movie Review

J.A. Bayona’s A Monster Calls finds creative ways to deal with familiar themes and it often does so quite effectively. Based on a novel by Patrick Ness (who also did the screenplay), it tells the coming of age tale of Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall). Conor, as we’re told in the opening sequence, is too old to be a kid and too young to be a grown-up.

It’s at this delicate age in England that he must deal with some heart wrenching experiences. His mother (Felicity Jones) is terminally ill. Conor doesn’t particularly get along with his well-meaning grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) and his father (Toby Kebbell) resides in Los Angeles with his second family. He’s also bullied at school. The boy’s active imagination allows him to conjure up the title character. It arrives in the form of a giant tree come to life (voiced by Liam Neeson), who visits Conor promptly at 12:07. The Monster does not terrorize him, but rather tells him three tales. These are done in animated form. While they begin as fairy tale like yarns, its listener isn’t sure what to make of them as they divert into surprising endings.

We as an audience aren’t sure either and we along with Conor are told that the boy will tell the final fourth tale. A Monster Calls may contain elements you’d find in many fantasy tales, including nifty creature design and impressive special effects. Yet it’s more concerned with themes of grief and how to find ways to cope with it.

A subpar child actor performance runs the risk of spoiling material, but MacDougall shows we needn’t worry about that. He delivers believable and touching work, as do Jones and Weaver in their supporting roles. Much credit is also due to Neeson’s voice over work (look for a cameo from the actor himself that becomes pivotal after the picture’s conclusion).

Bayona and Ness tug at the heartstrings mostly without being cloying and have a splendid visual landscape to go along with it. Is the story anything truly new? Not really, but they find rather inventive ways to tell it and it earns its emotional resonance.

*** (out of four)

A Monster Calls Box Office Prediction

When J.A. Bayona’s A Monster Calls debuted in September at the Toronto Film Festival, it did so to solid buzz and even some awards chatter. Much of that talk seems to have dissipated from nearly four months ago and the pic may struggle to find an audience when it opens wide next weekend.

Based on an acclaimed 2011 novel by Patrick Ness, Calls mixes science fiction elements with tearjerker family drama in this tale of a monstrous creature helping a young boy deal with his grief. Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Lewis MacDougall, and Liam Neeson (voicing the title character) star.

As mentioned, most reviews have been encouraging (it’s at 89% on Rotten Tomatoes). Yet I wonder what segment of the movie going public will turn out for this. The film was originally scheduled for an October stateside debut before being pushed back. Sci-fi genre fans have had plenty to feast on lately and Underworld: Blood Wars opens against it. A female crowd that might get drawn in by the family drama angle could be put off with the mystical elements. The early January release date doesn’t inspire much hope that Focus Features has tremendous confidence in it.

Festival word-of-mouth aside, I’ll predict A Monster Calls struggles to reach  a mid single digits reception. At least director Bayona can take comfort that his next feature, 2018’s Jurassic World sequel, will likely gross at least 50 times what this might in its opening weekend.

A Monster Calls opening weekend prediction: $3.4 million

For my Underworld: Blood Wars prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/12/28/underworld-blood-wars-box-office-prediction/

For my Hidden Figures prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/12/29/hidden-figures-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: A Monster Calls

Director J.A. Bayona’s name may not be too familiar yet with the moviegoing public. At least not yet. His two previous movies were acclaimed 2007 horror pic The Orphanage and 2012’s Tsunami drama The Impossible, which earned Naomi Watts a Best Actress nomination. His name ID will surely increase soon as he’s about to take on the sequel to last summer’s biggest blockbuster, Jurassic World. Or perhaps even sooner with A Monster Calls, his fantasy tearjerker which opens December 23rd statewide and screened at the Toronto Film Festival this weekend.

It’s been reported that Monster received a rapturous audience ovation after its premiere. Based on a 2011 bestseller by its author Patrick Ness, the film stars Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, newcomer Lewis MacDougall, and the voice of Liam Neeson as the calling title character. Buzz from Toronto suggests this is a weepie crowd pleaser that deals with serious themes such as parental loss coupled with more fantastical elements.

Not all critics seemed to fall for it with some calling it heavy handed. However, if Monster can break through at the box office, it could find itself with some Oscar talk in Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay. Certain technical category nods seem more likely. And Felicity Jones is said to be a highlight. She’s the It Girl of Fall 2016, appearing in this, Inferno alongside Tom Hanks, and headlining a little something called Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Her inclusion in Supporting Actress for this one is not out of the question.

As Toronto continues, look for more Oscar Watch posts.

Ghostbusters Movie Review

After over a quarter century of dormancy, the Ghostbusters have been rebooted with a female team and an appreciation for what came before it. Maybe too much appreciation. The 2016 iteration may not be ‘fraid of no ghosts, but perhaps it is of its own 1984 shadow and what followed it.

The concept here isn’t much different. Take a talented director (Paul Feig) and fill the leading roles with SNL related stars. Here it’s Melissa McCarthy (a favorite SNL host) along with former cast member Kristin Wiig and current ones Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones. They’re the new Ghostbusters and the New York City setting is the same. Wiig is a Columbia professor who once cowrote a paranormal related book that she’s trying to forget about. McCarthy is her coauthor who’s now stuck in a dead-end job at a technical college along with McKinnon (she handles gadgets). Jones is an MTA employee who finds that ghosts are real in the bowels of the city’s subway. The NYC setting provides one of the most abnormal moments here when the team chows down on Papa Johns pizza. In New York City?!?!?! Product placement is vital, people…

Ghouls and goblins begin to sprout up in the Big Apple and soon the foursome find themselves in business, even if the city’s leaders don’t wish to acknowledge the presence of them or those they’re hunting. The Annie Potts secretarial duties are handled by a game Chris Hemsworth, showing off the same occasional comedic abilities he showed in another subpar 80s relaunch last summer, Vacation.

And there’s cameos by way of the franchise before it – both in human and special effects form. They serve more to make us nod in knowing appreciation than actually laugh. As for the Ghostbusters themselves? McCarthy and Wiig acquit themselves fine and have their strong moments, as does Jones. The weakest link is McKinnon, whose over the top antics work well in five minute SNL sketch bursts but seem out of place and rather annoying here.

Perhaps what hinders Ghostbusters from being a satisfactory experience is the fact that the melding of science fiction and comedy felt fresh over 30 years ago with Ivan Reitman’s original. Since then, we’ve seen everything from Men in Black to more obvious (and less pleasing) knock offs like Evolution and The Watch to name just a couple. The injection of a gender change isn’t enough to make this feel new and the CG effects add nothing out of the ordinary either. It is the ghosts of genre past that ultimately haunts what we see here.

** (out of four)

Ghostbusters Box Office Prediction

One of the biggest summer 2016 mysteries will be answered next weekend when the Ghostbusters reboot hits theaters. 32 years after the original became a smash hit (with a less beloved sequel that followed five years later), the Columbia Pictures property is a hopeful franchise yet again. This follows years (decades in fact) of rumors about the comedic paranormal team making a return to the big screen. A third go round with the original cast never materialized, so the series has undergone a makeover with Paul Feig taking over directorial duties and a female ghostbustin’ cast donning the iconic uniforms.

Like they did in 1984 – the Ghostbusters have a strong “Saturday Night Live” connection consisting of frequent host Melissa McCarthy and current and former cast members Kristin Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones. Chris Hemsworth takes over secretarial duties in the part made famous by Annie Potts. OG ‘Busters Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Ernie Hudson (along with Sigourney Weaver and Potts) are said to cameo.

This is the fourth collaboration between Feig/McCarthy. They’re previous pics (Bridesmaids, Heat, Spy) have grossed $169M, $159M, and $110M, respectively. This is a whole new ball game that comes with a different set of expectations, however. For starters – the budget is a reported $154 million with a studio likely hoping for a domestic haul in the $200 million range.

That could be a challenge. The word of mouth for Ghostbusters has not been overwhelmingly positive and underwhelming trailers had a little something to do with it.  The first trailer even earned headlines for being the most disliked trailer in YouTube’s history. Buzz aside, it’s been marketed relentlessly in recent weeks.

The release poses a whole bunch of questions that won’t be answered until its opening: will younger viewers turn out for a franchise that’s laid dormant for nearly 30 years? Will the negative trailer reaction greatly hinder its potential? If and when the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man returns, is it the same one from the original or his offspring?

Ghostbusters, even with the lengthy time passed between entries, is still a massive brand name and the name alone should get it to a $40 million opening. How much above that number seems to be the real question. I’ll predict that it falls just under $50M in the opening weekend. How it plays out in subsequent weekends will answer the question for the studio as to whether those grosses make them feel good.

Ghostbusters opening weekend prediction: $47.3 million

For my The Infiltrator prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/07/06/the-infiltrator-box-office-prediction/