34th Producers Guild of America Awards Predictions

The Screen Actors Guild and the Director Guild announced their nominees today. Tomorrow it’s the Producers Guild time to reveal their 10 selections for outstanding films and 5 picks for animated feature.

This list often comes pretty darn close to mirroring the Academy’s eventual BP contenders. Over the past decade, here’s the matches:

2012 – 8/9

2013 – 8/9

2014 – 7/8

2015 – 7/8

2016 – 9/9

2017 – 7/9

2018 – 8/8

2019 – 9/9

2020 – 7/8

2021 – 8/10

That’s a pretty remarkable 78/87 over the past 10 ceremonies. We have seen some British or foreign pics make the Academy cut and not with PGA including last year with Drive My Car. Other recent examples include Amour, Darkest Hour, and The Father.

Some PGA nominees that Oscar voters didn’t honor include some pics with more of a popcorn flavor. They include Skyfall, Gone Girl, Deadpool, Wonder Woman, Crazy Rich Asians, Knives Out, and Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.

Keeping that in mind, that’s why I have All Quiet on the Western Front on the outside looking in. It could certainly materialize, but gotta pay attention to history, eh? Same goes for Aftersun.

I could envision something like The Menu, Nope, or RRR appearing on the list though I’m not feeling bold enough to pick either. As with BP, I feel there’s a relatively safe 7: Avatar: The Way of Water, The Banshees of Inisherin, Elvis, Everything Everywhere All at Once, The Fabelmans, Tár, Top Gun: Maverick. In addition to the aforementioned hopefuls, the remaining three slots could be down to: Babylon (I feel it’s more possible here than with the Academy), Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (same), Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, The Whale, The Woman King, Women Talking.

Here’s how I see it shaking out:

Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures

Predicted Nominees:

Avatar: The Way of Water

The Banshees of Inisherin

Elvis

Everything Everywhere All at Once

The Fabelmans

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Tár

Top Gun: Maverick

The Woman King

Women Talking

Runner-Up: Babylon

As for the animated fare, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio should be way out front. For the other five possibilities, you just need to pick which one to eliminate.

Outstanding Producer of Animated Theatrical Motion Pictures

Predicted Nominees:

The Bad Guys

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish

Turning Red

Runner-Up: Wendell and Wild

I’ll have a recap up tomorrow!

They/Them Review

John Logan’s directorial debut They/Them tries to mix social commentary with the slasher genre. The result doesn’t feel sharp or incisive and it especially doesn’t provide many scares. Logan has written many a screenplay (from Gladiator to The Aviator to Skyfall) and it’s a little shocking how much of a misfire this blend ends up being.

A group of teens and young adults arrive at the Whistler Camp run by Owen (Kevin Bacon) and wife Cora (Carrie Preston). It’s billed as a conversion camp for the LGBTQ community though Owen insists the experience is all about finding your true self. Their educational methods are soon discovered to be on the bizarre and barbaric side with non-binary Jordan (Theo Germaine) as the most vocal critic. Another skeptic is Molly (Anna Chlumsky), a newly employed nurse at the facility. She’s the only member of the staff not drinking the Kool-Aid.

In addition to the horror of Owen’s work, there’s a potential Friday the 13th situation happening with a masked killer on the grounds. That part of the storyline is put on the back burner mostly until the third act and the eventual twists are pretty obvious.

For the majority of its length, They/Them struggles mightily with its tone. We have glimmers of camp (including a cringe worthy Pink singalong) and then a therapy session that goes for Get Out vibes and fails. Some of the performances are decent. A small subplot about deeply closeted high schooler (Anna Lore) and her budding romance with the more confident Veronica (Monique Kim) might have been interesting in a different movie.

Despite the clever title with a double meaning (they slash them), the picture itself never solves its own identity crisis. By doing so, it certainly does a disservice to the issues it tries to explore.

*1/2 (out of four)

Oscars Reaction: 94th Academy Awards

The pranksters of the Internet had a little fun with the justly criticized decision to have a “Fan Favorite” award. The top 3 consisted of Netflix’s Army of the Dead, the reviled Cinderella remake, and Johnny Depp’s barely seen Minamata. I’m guessing this viewer’s choice designation experiment will be unique to the 94th Academy Awards and this ceremony only. Gotta love footnotes, eh?

Let’s talk about what else happened at the Oscars. No… not that. Not yet.

I went 17 for 20, but I missed the biggie. CODA took Best Picture over The Power of the Dog. In fact, the Apple TV pic went 3 for 3 as it also won Adapted Screenplay (I picked Dog) and Troy Kotsur for Supporting Actor.

I admittedly had an upset selection with “Dos Oruguitas” from Encanto over “No Time to Die” from that Bond pic. Billie Eilish did indeed take the musical prize and it’s now the third 007 theme in a row to win after “Skyfall” (2012) and “Writing’s on the Wall” from Spectre (2015).

The other 16 categories went according to my prognostications… Will Smith as Best Actor for King Richard… NOT YET…

Jessica Chastain (Best Actress for The Eyes of Tammy Faye) and Ariana DeBose (Supporting Actor for West Side Story). Belfast for Original Screenplay. Encanto in Animated Feature and Drive My Car for International Feature Film and Summer of Soul as Documentary Feature. You can read the rest. Dune won the most trophies with six.

The Power of the Dog took just one award with Jane Campion taking Director and becoming the third woman to do so and second in a row.  It marks the first time since 1967 that director’s win for the movie marks its sole victory. For you trivia buffs… it was Mike Nichols for The Graduate. 

OK… let’s get real. All of what I’m writing about is a footnote. That’s because  Will Smith’s open hand slap of Chris Rock for a joke directed at wife Jada Pinkett Smith is all the 94th edition of the Oscars will be remembered for. It was shocking (and riveting) TV made even more so with the knowledge that Smith would be giving a speech moments later. I still don’t know what to think and I’m still a little aghast at what I saw. That whole reading the wrong winner from five years ago seems a little small potatoes now.

I do know this… my Oscar predictions and speculations for the 95th Academy Awards will be here before you know it.

2021 DGA and PGA Nominations Predictions

Two significant Academy precursors are coming our way tomorrow when the Directors and Producers Guilds of America reveal nominees. Both groups could shed major light on who and what we will see on Oscar nomination morning in less than two weeks.

The DGA nominates five directors for their top prize and it is a reliable preview for usually 4 of the 5 eventual hopefuls at the big show. In the past five years, the DGA’s list corresponds with the Academy’s on the 4 of 5 ratio. The exception was 2018 when it was 3/5. You have to go back to 2009 to find the last year in which there was a perfect match.

For weeks, my Oscar projections in Best Director has remained consistent: Paul Thomas Anderson (Licorice Pizza), Kenneth Branagh (Belfast), Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog), Steven Spielberg (West Side Story), and Denis Villeneuve (Dune). That’s probably the safest lineup to predict for DGA as well, but I’m hesitant to do so since it’s been over a decade with the two corresponding.

So who’s vulnerable and who could rise up? It’s hard to see Campion (the Oscar frontrunner), Villeneuve, or Spielberg missing. Same generally goes for Branagh though there’s whispers that Belfast could be slipping a bit (still not enough for me to take him out). That leaves Anderson and there’s some precedent. In 2017, the Academy nominated him for Phantom Thread while DGA omitted him. He’s the easiest to leave off their ballot.

Who takes his place? I doubt that it’s Ryusuke Hamaguchi for Drive My Car. In recent times, the Academy has been more generous with nods for filmmakers and their international features. Last year, they nominated Thomas Vinterberg (Another Round) and in 2018 they did the same for Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War) while DGA ignored them.

If there’s a surprise fifth nominee in store, watch out for Guillermo del Toro (Nightmare Alley), Maggie Gyllenhaal (The Lost Daughter) or Sian Heder (CODA). However, I think it could come down to Joel Coen (The Tragedy of Macbeth) and Adam McKay (Don’t Look Up). The latter is a two-time DGA nominee (The Big Short and Vice) and Don’t Look Up is a buzzy streaming success story that’s been widely viewed. Coen, on the other hand, could be honored for the technical mastery of Macbeth. 

This is a close call, but I’m ever so slightly leaning toward McKay and I’ll go that route. Therefore – my official DGA predictions are:

Kenneth Branagh, Belfast

Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog

Adam McKay, Don’t Look Up

Steven Spielberg, West Side Story

Denis Villeneuve, Dune

Runner-Up: Paul Thomas Anderson, Licorice Pizza

Second Alternate: Joel Coen, The Tragedy of Macbeth 

Let’s move to the PGA, shall we? Over the last five years, these are the matches between the Producers and the Academy when it comes to their Best Picture awards:

2016: 9/9

2017: 7/9

2018: 8/8

2019: 9/9

2020: 7/8

It’s important to keep in mind that the Academy, for the past several years, can have anywhere between 5-10 BP contenders (the magic number has been 8 or 9). Yet in 2021, the Oscars are reverting back to a set 10 (the PGA always nominates 10 except for 2017 when they had 11 for some inexplicable reason).

That means there’s only been three films (Darkest Hour and Phantom Thread in 2017 and The Father in 2020) that received Oscar nods and didn’t materialize on the PGA list.

My current 10 selections for BP from the Academy are as follows: Belfast, CODA, Don’t Look Up, Dune, House of Gucci, King Richard, Licorice Pizza, The Power of the Dog, The Tragedy of Macbeth, West Side Story.

I’m estimating that only Gucci and Tragedy could be truly vulnerable to miss the PGA cut (anything else being left off would constitute a pretty big surprise). If that happens, CODA or Richard might be the ones.

In my view, Tragedy is exactly the kind of feature that PGA may not recognize. Gucci is more of a question mark as the Producers generally like to nominate pictures that performed well at the box office. To that point, the PGA has a history of honoring moneymakers that the Academy does not. Recent examples include Bridesmaids, Skyfall, Gone Girl, Straight Outta Compton, Deadpool, Wonder Woman, Crazy Rich Asians, A Quiet Place, and Knives Out.

That could absolutely open the door for No Time to Die or Spider-Man: No Way Home… or both. I’m slightly more hesitant to include Spidey being that neither Avengers: Infinity War or Endgame got PGA love. However, I’m not oblivious to the fact that this guild may want to mention the picture that broke pandemic era box office records.

Outside of the blockbuster mold, you could also see titles like Being the Ricardos, Drive My Car, The Lost Daughter, Nightmare Alley, or Tick, Tick… Boom! factor in.

I’m keeping Gucci in (with extreme uncertainty) and projecting 007 in the mega-earner slot so here’s my PGA ten:

Belfast

CODA

Don’t Look Up

Dune

House of Gucci

King Richard

Licorice Pizza

No Time to Die

The Power of the Dog

West Side Story

Runner-Up: Spider-Man: No Way Home

Second Alternate: The Tragedy of Macbeth 

So there you have it! I’ll have reaction up on both DGA and PGA tomorrow on the blog…

2021 Golden Globe Winner Predictions

I’m used to saying the Golden Globes will air Sunday evening, but that’s not the case in 2022. The ceremony honoring the best of 2021 will come to us in an as yet undetermined format. This is due to various controversies brought to light recently about the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and NBC’s decision not to broadcast the show.

However, the show will go on (possibly streaming on your computer) and the Globes still serve as a barometer for what Oscar voters could be thinking in coming weeks. That said, the HFPA is certainly capable of providing surprises. Just last year, Andra Day’s victory in Best Actress (Drama) for The United States vs. Billie Holiday and Jodie Foster as Supporting Actress for The Mauritanian were legitimate upsets.

As a reminder, the Globes split their picture and lead acting races into Drama and Musical/Comedy though not with the supporting derbies or screenplay. I will be making my picks along with runner-up selections while also providing numbers showing the correlation of Globe winners to Oscar recipients in each respective category for the last ten years.

Let’s get to it!

Best Motion Picture (Drama)

Nominees:

Belfast

CODA

Dune

King Richard

The Power of the Dog

Predicted Winner: Belfast

Runner-Up: The Power of the Dog

Globe Winner to Oscar Winner Ratio: 4 out of last 10 years

Commentary: The HFPA competition for the drama prize is the first major showdown between Oscar frontrunners Belfast and The Power of the Dog. With the international flavor and feel good vibes of the former, I’m picking Kenneth Branagh’s coming-of-age drama to come out ahead. If there’s a shocker in store, it could be CODA (which seems to picking up more steam on a weekly basis).

I will admit that picking Belfast to win Drama and take no other awards (as you’ll see below) feels strange. There is recent precedent, however, with 2016’s Moonlight. 

Best Motion Picture (Musical/Comedy)

Nominees:

Cyrano

Don’t Look Up

Licorice Pizza

Tick, Tick… Boom!

West Side Story

Predicted Winner: West Side Story

Runner-Up: Licorice Pizza

Globe Winner to Oscar Winner ratio: 2 out of the last 10 years

Commentary: I wouldn’t count out Licorice Pizza but its miss in Best Director could be telling. West Side Story should be right up HFPA’s alley and its the only feature where its maker made the director cut.

Best Director

Nominees:

Kenneth Branagh, Belfast

Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog

Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Lost Daughter

Steven Spielberg, West Side Story

Denis Villeneuve, Dune

Predicted Winner: Steven Spielberg, West Side Story

Runner-Up: Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog

Globe Winner to Oscar Winner Ratio: 6 out of the last 10 years

Commentary: This is a tough one. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s nod for The Lost Daughter was unexpected and she’s the only contender that I feel stands no chance of winning. Branagh could certainly ride a wave of Belfast love. Villeneuve could be honored for the technical mastery of Dune. And Campion is the hopeful picking up the bulk of critics prizes. Yet I’ll go with the HFPA honoring the legendary Spielberg.

Best Performance in a Motion Picture – Drama (Actress)

Nominees:

Jessica Chastain, The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Olivia Colman, The Lost Daughter

Lady Gaga, House of Gucci

Nicole Kidman, Being the Ricardos

Kristen Stewart, Spencer

Predicted Winner: Kristen Stewart, Spencer

Runner-Up: Jessica Chastain, The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Globe Winner to Oscar Winner Ratio: 6 out of the last 10 years

Commentary: This is the first test to see whether Stewart really is the frontrunner that could sweep through the season. I’m skeptical and I honestly believe any of the performers could take this (I struggled to pick the runner-up as it could be any of them). I wouldn’t put money on it, but I’ll say Stewart manages to nab the crown.

Best Performance in a Motion Picture – Drama (Actor)

Nominees:

Mahershala Ali, Swan Song

Javier Bardem, Being the Ricardos

Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog

Will Smith, King Richard

Denzel Washington, The Tragedy of Macbeth

Predicted Winner: Will Smith, King Richard

Runner-Up: Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog

Globe Winner to Oscar Winner Ratio: 8 out of the last 10 years

Commentary: As you can see, this is a rather reliable predictor of where the Academy could go. For 2021’s features, the ceremonies should boil down to Smith v. Cumberbatch. I don’t think HFPA will pass up a chance to honor one of cinema’s most durable draws for the last 25 years in one of his most acclaimed performances.

Best Performance in a Motion Picture – Musical/Comedy (Actress)

Nominees:

Marion Cotillard, Annette

Alana Haim, Licorice Pizza

Jennifer Lawrence, Don’t Look Up

Emma Stone, Cruella

Rachel Zegler, West Side Story

Predicted Winner: Emma Stone, Cruella

Runner-Up: Rachel Zegler, West Side Story

Globe Winner to Oscar Winner Ratio: 3 out of the last 10 years

Commentary: There was an upset last year when Rosamund Pike (I Care a Lot) emerged over the favored Maria Bakalova for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. The West Side love extending to Zegler is probably the smartest pick to make. Alana Haim’s work in Pizza could deliver her a victory and she probably should be listed as the runner-up. Yet if there’s any upset, I could see Stone surprising and there’s almost always one during the Globes. Perhaps against my better judgment, I’m going with it.

Best Performance in a Motion Picture – Musical/Comedy (Actor)

Nominees:

Leonardo DiCaprio, Don’t Look Up

Peter Dinklage, Cyrano

Andrew Garfield, Tick, Tick… Boom!

Cooper Hoffman, Licorice Pizza

Anthony Ramos, In the Heights

Predicted Winner: Andrew Garfield, Tick, Tick… Boom!

Runner-Up: Leonardo DiCaprio, Don’t Look Up

Globe Winner to Oscar Winner Ratio: 1 out of the last 10 years

Commentary: Dinklage is a threat though I’ll go with DiCaprio as the runner-up since he’s arguably the biggest star in Hollywood. That said, Garfield (he’s likely #3 in the Oscar contest at the moment) is the most likely winner.

Best Supporting Performance in a Motion Picture (Actress)

Nominees:

Caitriona Balfe, Belfast

Ariana DeBose, West Side Story

Kirsten Dunst, The Power of the Dog

Aunjanue Ellis, King Richard

Ruth Negga, Passing

Predicted Winner: Ariana DeBose, West Side Story

Runner-Up: Aunjanue Ellis, King Richard

Globe Winner to Oscar Winner Ratio: 7 out of the last 10 years

Commentary: Jodie Foster’s win for 2020 came out of nowhere so who really knows? I’ll go with a West Side pick and DeBose. Other than Negga, I could foresee any of these candidates making (theoretical) podium trips.

Best Supporting Performance in a Motion Picture (Actor)

Nominees:

Ben Affleck, The Tender Bar

Jamie Dornan, Belfast

Ciaran Hinds, Belfast

Troy Kotsur, CODA

Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Power of the Dog

Predicted Winner: Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Power of the Dog

Runner-Up: Troy Kotsur, CODA

Globe Winner to Oscar Winner Ratio: 8 out of the last 10 years

Commentary: Another tricky one in a race where the Globes and Academy typically match. Assuming the Belfast boys split and Affleck isn’t a factor, this comes down to Smit-McPhee vs. Kotsur. A win for either could propel them to a glorious season ahead. I’m really tempted to go with Kotsur, but I’ll say this marks the best opportunity for HFPA to bestow an honor for Dog. This is a coin flip.

Best Screenplay

Nominees:

Being the Ricardos

Belfast

Don’t Look Up

Licorice Pizza

The Power of the Dog

Predicted Winner: Licorice Pizza

Runner-Up: Belfast

Globe Winner to Oscar Winner Ratio: 5 out of the last 10 years (counting both Original and Adapted Screenplays at the Oscars)

Commentary: Your guess is as good as mine here. I’m going with a bit of an upset with Pizza, but the smart money is probably on Belfast or Dog. I also wouldn’t count out Aaron Sorkin for Ricardos (he took this category last year for The Trial of the Chicago 7). And Adam McKay could be called up for Don’t Look Up which (despite its mixed reviews) is drawing plenty of ink.

Best Animated Feature

Nominees:

Encanto

Flee

Luca

My Sunny Maad

Raya and the Last Dragon

Predicted Winner: Encanto

Runner-Up: Flee

Globe Winner to Oscar Winner Ratio: 7 out of the last years

Commentary: The Globes are capable of unexpected picks here (2019’s Missing Link for example). Don’t be surprised if Flee from Iran gets this, but I’ll go with Disney’s likeliest hopeful of its trio of nominees and that’s Encanto.

Best Foreign Language Film

Nominees:

Compartment No. 6

Drive My Car

The Hand of God

A Hero

Parallel Mothers

Predicted Winner: Drive My Car

Runner-Up: Parallel Mothers

Globe Winner to Oscar Winner Ratio: 6 out of the last 10 years

Commentary: Watch out for Mothers to pull off an upset, but this is Drive My Car‘s race to lose. The Japanese drama has established itself as the frontrunner in international competitions at all ceremonies.

Best Original Score

Nominees:

Dune

Encanto

The French Dispatch

Parallel Mothers

The Power of the Dog

Predicted Winner: Dune

Runner-Up: Parallel Mothers

Globe Winner to Oscar Winner Ratio: 7 out of the last 10 years

Commentary: Another race that Mothers could unexpectedly take, I also wouldn’t discount Dispatch or Dog. This should be Dune‘s best opportunity to take a prize though.

Best Original Song

Nominees:

“Be Alive” from King Richard

“Dos Oruguitas” from Encanto

“Down to Joy” from Belfast

“Here I Am” from Respect

“No Time to Die” from No Time to Die

Predicted Winner: “No Time to Die” from No Time to Die

Runner-Up: “Be Alive” from King Richard

Globe Winner to Oscar Winner Ratio: 6 out of the last 10 years

Commentary: This should be the battle of Billie (Eilish) for “Die” vs. Beyonce (it’s just Beyonce) for “Alive” and that should be the dynamic for the Oscars. The HFPA has honored the last two Bond themes for Skyfall and Spectre. I’ll give it a very slight edge.

And there you have it! The Golden Globes will air, err happen, Sunday. I’ll have reaction up on the blog shortly thereafter.

October 15-17 Box Office Predictions

Jamie Lee Curtis is back battling Michael Myers in Halloween Kills while Ridley Scott’s medieval drama The Last Duel with Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Jodie Comer, and Adam Driver also debuts. These are the new offerings in the mid October frame as No Time to Die enters its sophomore frame following a less than expected start. You can peruse my detailed prediction posts on the fresh offerings here:

Halloween Kills Box Office Prediction

The Last Duel Box Office Prediction

It has been two straight weeks of me either grossly underestimating (Venom) or significantly overestimating (Die) the newbies. So let’s see what happens with Halloween, shall we? I’m going with a low to mid 40s take and that would be well under the $70M+ that its 2018 predecessor made (Kills is curiously available for streaming on Peacock). Of course, given my October track record, watch it make $60 million or more. I gotta get something on the money in October though… right??

As for The Last Duel, the less than anticipated haul for 007 was further evidence that pictures geared toward older viewers continue to struggle. With scant awards buzz, I’m projecting Duel barely gets to double digits and that should mean a fourth place showing.

Back to Bond. 2015’s Spectre dropped 52% in its second frame and I see no reason why Craig’s finale wouldn’t dip about the same. Venom may fall in the mid 50s in weekend 3 with The Addams Family 2 rounding out the top five with the smallest decline (mid to high 30s) of the bunch.

Here’s how I see the top 5 looking:

1. Halloween Kills

Predicted Gross: $41.2 million

2. No Time to Die

Predicted Gross: $25.8 million

3. Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Predicted Gross: $14.1 million

4. The Last Duel

Predicted Gross: $10.4 million

5. The Addams Family 2

Predicted Gross: $6.6 million

Box Office Results (October 8-10)

Well, we all get carried away sometimes. The fantastic premiere for Venom and the hoopla surrounding Craig’s swan song got me thinking No Time to Die was capable of achieving a COVID era best start of $94.1 million. I was dead wrong. Die managed just the fourth best output of its star’s five features. The $55.2 million debut didn’t approach the vicinity of Skyfall ($88 million), Spectre ($70 million), or Quantum of Solace ($67 million). Only Casino Royale‘s $40 million fell under it. Theories will abound. Was six years (COVID delays were abundant) too long a break? Perhaps. As mentioned, it likely didn’t help that older moviegoers are still seemingly reluctant for a multiplex engagement. Die‘s saving grace is overseas grosses in line with expectations. Yet it’s hard to spin the fact that the 25th 007 adventure came in at the absolute lowest range numbers that prognosticators foresaw.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage was second with $31.7 million, not quite hitting my $33.7 million estimate. The $141 million ten-day tally is very impressive as it looks to reach $200 million by the end of its domestic run.

The Addams Family 2 took in $10.1 million in its second weekend, ahead of my $9.2 million projection for $31 million overall.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was fourth with $4.3 million (I said $3.4 million) and it’s up to $212 million.

Finally, The Many Saints of Newark crumbled after its weak beginning. The $1.4 million gross (I went with $1.8 million) brought its puny earnings to $7 million.

And that does it for now, folks! Until next time…

No Time to Die Review

The five film run of Daniel Craig as perhaps the world’s most famous cinematic character comes to a close in No Time to Die, the 25th feature in the nearly 60-year-old 007 franchise. It began 15 years ago with Casino Royale, which I list at #2 in the canon behind only From Russia with Love (Sean Connery’s second entry).

For those who think the dedicated team behind the series have no time for surprises, be prepared. Like the midsection poker sequence in Royale that stands as one of the finest in Bond history, there’s times where they go all in. There’s also moments that harken back to the Roger Moore days and, in this case, I mean it as a compliment. By the time we reached Craig’s third and deservedly praised Skyfall in 2012, the pics had achieved a level of seriousness that risked becoming too dour.

Despite its considerable flaws, 2015’s follow-up Spectre thankfully remembered that the action and plots in this cinematic universe can be silly. 007’s 25th adventure isn’t afraid to display that. The threat to the world here involves passing a weaponized virus only through that individual’s DNA and those related to them. It’s a little ridiculous and I once again mean that in a good way.

This is not quite the triumph that Casino Royale was. In fact, I’d also rank this a smidge behind Skyfall. The villain is not particularly memorable. Like all Craig films that followed the first, no romantic entanglement will rival the one he had with Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd. Yet Die achieves the unlikely feat of bringing those fun Moore elements dashed with Timothy Dalton’s more weighty tone. The result is that Craig’s time as the super spy (the longest in terms of actual time but not volume of titles) is easily the most satisfying since Sean Connery’s.

From the jump, we realize Die is going to be a little different. The pre-title sequence begins with a franchise first: an eerie and gorgeously rendered flashback that sheds light on the childhood of Madeleine Swann. As you may recall, she’s Bond’s love interest from Spectre played by Lea Seydoux. Her connections to that criminal enterprise led by Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) is expanded upon. In the present day, James and Madeleine are making a romantic go of it. A visit to Vesper’s tomb disrupts both their safety and Bond’s trust in his current relationship.

This all occurs in the lengthy prologue before we hear Billie Eilish’s title cut. Let’s dispense with that. Ms. Eilish has some quality tunes, but her contribution is forgettable and not the kind of Bond tune you’ll be humming leaving the theater or rushing to download for the ride back.

In the serialized fashion we’ve come to expect from Craig’s tenure (something unique only to his), we jump five years to Bond in retirement. And (gasp) he’s no longer 007. MI6 is still going strong but relations with their U.S. counterparts are strained. It’s not the new 007 (Lashana Lynch) or M (Ralph Fiennes) or even his beloved Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) or Q (Ben Whishaw) that convince Bond to emerge from his Jamaican R&R. Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), along with a new eager associate (Billy Magnussen), recruit him for a mission that involves dismantling SPECTRE. Bond hooks up (not literally as Bond’s libido seems to be catching up with his age) with another agent (Ana de Armas) to do so. This culminates in a wonderfully fabulous and bizarre action set piece in Cuba.

All this activity soon puts James in the same space with Madeline again and with Blofeld. And we soon meet Safin (Rami Malek), the head baddie with his own troubled history with the criminal organization. I won’t wax rhapsodic about Safin as I mentioned he’s a pretty weak villain. On the other hand, No Time to Die is not really focused on his story. This Bond story, more than any other besides Skyfall, is really about Bond. That gives us one more opportunity to soak in Craig’s terrific performance that’s spanned this quintet. One could argue the series goes too far in making it all about him. With Craig in control, you’ll hear few complaints from me (heck even Quantum of Solace had some cool stuff in it).

No Time to Die has Cary Fukunaga taking over directorial duties from Sam Mendes, who helmed the previous two. He presides over some amazing looking chases and battles that rank right at the top of what we’ve seen previously. On a slightly contradictory note, there’s one during the climax that was a little too video game oriented for my taste. The screenwriters (with an assist from Phoebe Waller-Bridge) also remember to bring the humor. As much as Safin isn’t much of a memorable character, he does get a moment with a toddler that left me chuckling for a good minute or two after their interaction. The makers also don’t forget that these pictures can be quite weird in their production design. Safin’s Poison Garden is a glorious example.

Additionally, the team isn’t afraid to bring a rare level of emotion to the proceedings. However, it’s not that out of place for Craig’s service. We witnessed a love story in Casino Royale that went beyond his typical dalliances. His connection to Judi Dench’s M (particularly in Skyfall) went far deeper than the same character giving James his orders in the past. In No Time to Die, Mr. Craig’s mission involves the striking visuals that we’re used to. What’s different is that over the five adventures connected to each other, I felt like these missions developed a familial bond that shook the foundation of a franchise in a stirring fashion.

***1/2 (out of four)

October 8-10 Box Office Predictions

Blogger’s Note (10/06): I have revised my No Time to Die prediction from $104.1 million down to $94.1 million, which would still set a COVID era record.

After the absolutely fantastic and record breaking performance of Venom: Let There Be Carnage, James Bond looks to set his own high mark this weekend with the 25th 007 adventure No Time to Die. You can peruse my detailed prediction post on it here:

No Time to Die Box Office Prediction

Daniel Craig’s fifth and final contribution to the storied franchise has been climbing up with my estimates. Early last week, I figured it would do $72.1 million (good for second in the series after the $88 million achieved by Skyfall). By Friday, I went with $84.1 million. Following what Tom Hardy’s superhero sequel did, I am now figuring this will be the first Bond feature to debut north of $100 million.

There are potential obstacles. It certainly has a longer runtime than Venom. We would be in new territory for this franchise with a gross that enormous. That said, no one foresaw the Venom follow-up hitting $10 million more than its predecessor. I also believe the hoopla surrounding Die being Craig’s swan song (and the solid reviews) will only help.

The original Venom fell 56% in its sophomore in October 2018 to $35 million. Competition this time around is steeper and I do believe a 60% or more dip is certainly possible (thought it could continue to confound expectations).

After a decent debut, The Addams Family 2 will be third and I’d look for a drop in the mid 40s range (similar to its predecessor from 2019). Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings should hold the 4 spot with The Many Saints of Newark (after a subpar showing) in the 5 position.

Here’s how I envision the chart playing out:

1. No Time to Die

Predicted Gross: $94.1 million

2. Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Predicted Gross: $33.7 million

3. The Addams Family 2

Predicted Gross: $9.2 million

4. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Predicted Gross: $3.4 million

5. The Many Saints of Newark

Predicted Gross: $1.8 million

Box Office Results (October 1-3)

I’m pretty sure the number $58.7 million is going to haunt me for awhile. That’s what I said Venom: Let There Be Carnage would gross out of the gate and, umm, I was a little low. As mentioned, the Tom Hardy sequel set a pandemic era best haul with a cool $90 million (topping the $80 million of part 1 and the COVID times best $80 million achieved by Black Widow). I think it’s safe to say get ready for part III as champagne corks are popping over at Sony.

The Addams Family 2 couldn’t come close to the $30 million start of part 1, but it wasn’t expected to. The $17.3 million output is right in line with the best of expectations and slightly ahead of my $16.6 million projection.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was third with $6.1 million (I was higher at $7.6 million) for $206 million total. It’s the first pic to reach the double century milestone domestically since COVID.

Sopranos prequel The Many Saints of Newark was a theatrical dud at just $4.6 million for fourth. I went considerably north of that with a $8.6 million projection. Look for this to fade fast as HBO hopes its Max subscribers stream it on their service.

Dear Evan Hansen tumbled badly in weekend 2 with $2.4 million. Again I was generous with $4.2 million. That’s a troubling 67% decline after a weak opening and the tally is $11 million.

And that does it for now, folks! Until next time…

Oscar Predictions: No Time to Die

The 15 year era of Daniel Craig as one of cinema’s most famous characters concludes with No Time to Die. James Bond will return… but not with arguably his best incarnation since Sean Connery. Prior to the October 8 stateside bow, the embargo lifted this evening and the results are encouraging.

007’s 25th adventure stands at 89% on Rotten Tomatoes (with 35 reviews out at press time). Many critics are calling it a surprisingly emotional swan song for Craig’s contribution to the British super spy series. There’s also hints that it resembles more of the Roger Moore era of the canon than one might expect (a direction it seemed to be taking with predecessor Spectre). Ana de Armas is drawing raves for her very short amount of screen time. The consensus on Rami Malek’s main villain seems a bit mixed. There’s some complaints about the length (a Bond high 163 minutes).

Yet no one seems to be arguing that it’s a rather fitting conclusion to Craig’s tenure in the part. So will Oscar take notice? Skyfall, the third pic in the actor’s five appearances, probably came close to a Best Picture nod. It did earn five nominations – winning Sound Editing and Original Song (Adele’s title track) with mentions in Sound Mixing, Score, and Cinematography. 2015’s follow-up Spectre (which had less laudatory reviews) managed a sole nomination in Song with Sam Smith’s “The Writing’s on the Wall” where it scored an upset victory.

I wouldn’t be shocked if an internet campaign is mounted for Craig to get a Best Actor slot (kind of as a tribute to the whole run). It’s highly unlikely to materialize. I do believe Die will make it three in a row for the songs with Billie Eilish’s title tune work. Whether she wins is a question mark (Beyonce has a ditty from King Richard that might serve as its main competition). Cinematography and Sound are two other feasible possibilities.

Bottom line: while I don’t foresee this factoring into the biggest races, tech and musical recognition could be coming its way. My Oscar Prediction posts for the films of 2021 will continue…

No Time to Die Box Office Prediction

***Blogger’s Note Part III (10/06): I have revised my No Time to Die prediction from $104.1 million down to $94.1 million, which would still set a COVID era record.

***Blogger’s Note Part II (10/03): With the news that Venom: Let There Be Carnage has grossed approximately $90 million out of the gate, it’s go big or go home for No Time to Die! I’m re-upping my estimate from $84.1 million to a COVID era best $104.1 million***

**Blogger’s Note (10/01): A week before its stateside premiere, I have decided to significantly increase my prediction (partly due to the apparent over performance of Venom: Let There Be Carnage). I’m going from $72.1 million to $84.1 million**

Ladies and gentlemen, the second frame of October finally marks the weekend for Daniel Craig’s swan song as 007 in No Time to Die. The 25th official entry in the James Bond franchise was gearing up for release in April of 2020 (Billie Eilish’s title track had already dropped) when COVID scuttled the plans. It experienced several more delays before at last settling on October 8. Craig is back for his fifth and final appearance along with series returnees Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Jeffrey Wright, Rory Kinnear, and Christoph Waltz. On the job for the first time are Rami Malek as the main villain, Lashana Lynch, Craig’s Knives Out costar Ana de Armas, and Billy Magnussen.

Anticipation is certainly present with the culmination of Mr. Craig’s service as the British super spy – one rivaled by only Sean Connery. He’s actually had the longest run as the character in terms of time, though not actual volume of pictures. It seems like eons since moviegoers have had their Bond fix. With the frequent pushbacks, the just shy of a six-year wait is the second lengthiest break between 007 adventures (beaten by the sabbatical of 1989’s Licence to Kill and 1995’s Goldeneye at nearly six and a half years).

Fifteen years ago, Craig defied expectations with the critically acclaimed Casino Royale. It made $40 million for its start but legged out very impressively. Sequel (and it was the first true Bond sequel) Quantum of Solace debuted two years later with $67 million. 2012’s Skyfall marked a high point at the box office as it grossed over a billion dollars worldwide. The premiere stateside is a series best $88 million. Three years later, Spectre kicked off with $70 million.

So where will this golden era of 007 culminate in terms of opening weekend? There’s certainly a range of possibilities. First things first: it will have no trouble eclipsing what Craig’s first foray achieved a decade and a half ago. I do believe the COVID times will prevent the record setting starting number of Skyfall managed (but you never know). It’s hard to totally factor in the excitement for its star’s last go-round. A video of Craig bidding adieu to his costars and crew has been widely circulated on social media in recent weeks.

My hunch is that a premiere in the range of Quantum and Spectre is most likely stateside (I’m sure its overseas haul will be massive). I’m tempted to say a low to mid 60s gross just under them could occur. However, I’ll err on the side of over performance and project low to mid 70s. (PER ABOVE: I have increased estimate from $72.1M to $84.1M to $104.1 million)

No Time to Die opening weekend prediction: $94.1 million