The Importance of Being Venice

For those who don’t follow the Oscar game and film festivals like I do (which is understandably most of you), this post looks to be a helpful primer on why such festivals are so important when doing predictions.

The 2021 Venice Film Festival kicks off tomorrow and you can anticipate plenty of Oscar speculation chatter on the blog in the next several days. You may ask – why is this Italian extravaganza so key in determining how this year’s awards landscape may look?

Let’s look at just the past five years as prologue. Of the 43 features nominated for Best Picture from 2016-2020, 31 were originally screened at the various high-profile festivals. There were six from Sundance and four each premiered at Telluride, Toronto and Cannes (with one emanating from the New York Film Festival). Eleven had their start in Venice. That’s right. Essentially one in four. That means that, lately, the average year has seen two to three BP nominees coming from this one event.

Of the last five Best Picture winners, all of them kicked off at a festival. 1 from Telluride (Moonlight). 1 from Toronto (Green Book). 1 from Cannes (Parasite). Two from Venice: The Shape of Water and last year’s Nomadland. 

How about the acting derbies? Of the 20 winners in Actor, Actress, and the supporting fields from 2016-2020, only two were performances that did not come from a festival screened film. There’s 1 from Cannes. Three each from Telluride and Toronto. Four from Sundance. And seven from Venice.

This is why the titles hitting Venice in 2021 currently hold lofty positions with prediction makers like myself. It’s why Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog took over House of Gucci (not currently slated for a fest) at the #1 slot in my BP rankings. This explains why I’m keeping a close eye on pics like Dune, The Hand of God, Parallel Mothers, Spencer, and Last Night in Soho. Maybe Spencer won’t win Best Picture, but it could nab Kristen Stewart her first nomination and victory.

Of course, only the screenings themselves will demonstrate the viable contenders. Yet there’s a recent history proving that Venice has become the most important festival of all. Ask the makers of Nomadland and The Shape of Water. Or Emma Stone (La La Land), Olivia Colman (The Favourite), or Joaquin Phoenix (Joker) to name just some.

My coverage of the Venice Film Festival begins tomorrow!

Oscar Watch: Flee

Back in January at the Sundance Film Festival, Flee was a home run with critics. The film has the very rare distinction of fitting multiple categories – it’s animated. It’s a documentary. And it comes from the nation of Denmark.

Directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen (and executive produced by last year’s Best Actor nominee Riz Ahmed), Flee tells the true life story of an Afghan refugee’s trials and tribulations. Based on nearly 50 reviews, it holds a pure 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating.

Flee is unique in that it could contend in all four races at the Academy Awards honoring feature-length efforts: Best Picture, International Feature Film, Animated Feature, and Documentary Feature. The recent news coverage from Afghanistan could contribute to its urgent nature.

Bowing in theaters on December 3rd via Neon, the acclaim for Flee should get this in at least half of the categories where it is eligible. Just last year, Collective managed to do so in International Feature Film and Documentary. It remains to be seen whether this is the Danish pick for the former competition. My hunch is, if so, it could show up in both races.

Animated Feature is also a strong possibility though I’ve written before about how packed it could be. Other viable hopefuls include The Mitchells vs. the Machines, Raya and the Last Dragon, Luca, Vivo, and the forthcoming Encanto and Wendell and Wild. 

Best Picture is obviously the toughest one to breach, but I wouldn’t count it out. I could even envision a narrative developing rooting Flee on for inclusion in the entire quartet.

Bottom line: expect to see Flee in the mix in more than one category next year. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

CODA Review

A remake of the 2014 French film La Famille Belier, Sian Heder’s CODA finds its emotional pitches and frequently hits them out of the park. This is an uncomplicated and charming story with a central character in a complicated position. Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones) fits the description of the title as she’s a child of deaf adults. She’s the only hearing person in her family of four – parents Jackie (Marlee Matlin) and Frank (Troy Kotsur) and older brother Leo (Daniel Durant).

Ruby spends her early mornings in the water as part of the family’s struggling New England fishing business. As she arrives at school during her senior year, she finally decides to take up choir. Her little secret is she loves to sing.  It doesn’t hurt that her crush Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is also enlisted. The teacher Mr. V (Eugenio Derbez) soon recognizes her potential. Family obligations make her ability to practice a challenge. Ruby is the clan’s full-time interpreter and has never really considered leaving the nest until the opportunity to attend the Berklee College of Music becomes achievable.

CODA is a romance between Ruby and Miles with the teacher/pupil dynamic  involving the caring and tough Mr. V in there too. Neither of those subplots makes a huge impression (though Derbez gives a fine performance). The Rossi family dynamic is where its heart lies. And it’s also where we find some truly superb acting.

Jones’s Ruby is a believable teen torn between her outsized obligations and her dream. This may be a typical coming-of-age tale in many respects but we see it through a unique lens of an atypical cinematic household. Kudos go to Matlin as the mom who just assumes her daughter will always be there and Durant as the brother who supports Ruby’s need to spread her wings and vocal cords. The biggest tearjerking moments come courtesy of her relationship with her father and Kotsur’s work leaves an impression equal to that of Jones. He’s also responsible for some genuinely funny moments.

With a minimum of melodrama, the teary joy you may experience at key moments feels earned. This is a love letter to family and the idea that we need them to get by and sometimes that involves getting out of the way.

***1/2 (out of four)

The Night House Box Office Prediction

There has been no shortage of horror offering for audiences this summer (almost all sequels), but Searchlight is hoping the masses turn out for another with The Night House. Directed by David Bruckner, the ghost story premiered all the way in January 2020 at the Sundance Film Festival. It stars Rebecca Hall, Sarah Goldberg, Evan Jonigkeit, Stacy Martin, and Vondie Curtis-Hall.

Reviews from Sundance were encouraging and it stands at 88% on Rotten Tomatoes. However, the recent glut of genre titles (Don’t Breathe 2 is out the weekend before with Candyman the frame after) could cause this to get lost in the shuffle.

Opening on a fairly low 2000 screens, prospects for The Night House look dim. I foresee this debuting between $2-4 million and foreclosing in theaters quickly.

The Night House opening weekend prediction: $3.1 million

For my Reminiscence prediction, click here:

Reminiscence Box Office Prediction

For my The Protege prediction, click here:

The Protege Box Office Prediction

For my PAW Patrol: The Movie prediction, click here:

PAW Patrol: The Movie Box Office Prediction

Oscar Watch: Worth

Sara Colangelo’s Worth debuted all the way back in January 2020 at the Sundance Film Festival, but is finally being released by Netflix on September 3rd of this year. The fact based drama centers on the activities around the 09/11 Victim Compensation Fund. Its cast is led by a trio of Oscar nominees in Michael Keaton, Stanley Tucci, and Amy Ryan. Colangelo is best known for The Kindergarten Teacher, her acclaimed second feature with Maggie Gyllenhaal that didn’t gain traction with the Academy. Max Borenstein is the screenwriter and this is certainly a departure for him as he’s recognized for penning the 2014 Godzilla reboot and Kong: Skull Island.

The streaming debut arrives just prior to the 20th anniversary of the tragic day. Early reviews from Sundance were mixed and Worth currently has a 65% Rotten Tomatoes rating. There have been numerous pictures centered around 09/11 and the War on Terrorism and few have become contenders come Oscar time. The Report and The Mauritanian are two recent examples.

With its so-so critical reaction, don’t expect Worth to prove itself worthy of awards chatter. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

2021 Oscar Predictions: July 29th Edition

I can’t help myself. I keep doing my Oscar predictions earlier and earlier each year. Today marks the first edition of my ranked forecasts in the 8 biggest races: Picture, Director, the four acting competitions, and the two screenplay contests.

It probably stands to reason that the sooner you do projections – the more inaccurate they might be. Oh but it’s so very fun to speculate! I do like to put my initial rankings up before the Toronto, Venice, and Telluride Film Festivals make the picture more clear and we are only about a month from that. Those events will bring us early buzz on The Power of the Dog, Dune, Spencer, The Last Duel, The Humans, Parallel Mothers, Belfast, Dear Evan Hansen, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Last Night in Soho, and more.

This post comes about three weeks ahead of when I did this in 2020. That year, to say the least, was hard to figure out. In fact, many of the pictures and performers I had in my 2020 inaugural rankings were moved back to 2021 due to COVID delays. Think Dune, The French Dispatch, West Side Story, Respect, C’Mon C’Mon, Annette, and The Eyes of Tammy Faye.

So how did my first ranked predictions from 2020 pan out? My Best Picture guesstimates yielded three of the eventual nominees: winner Nomadland, Mank, and The Trial of the Chicago 7. Nomadland started out of the gate at #2 (behind Mank). Three other contenders were listed under Other Possibilities – The Father, Judas and the Black Messiah, and Minari. Promising Young Woman and Sound of Metal were not mentioned.

2 of the 5 director nominees were correctly identified: winner Chloe Zhao (Nomadland) and David Fincher (Mank). None of the other hopefuls (Lee Isaac Chung for Minari, Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman, or Another Round‘s Thomas Vinterberg) were even in Other Possibilities.

In Best Actress, I initially identified 2 – winner Frances McDormand (Nomadland) and Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom). Andra Day (The United States vs. Billie Holiday) and Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman) were Other Possibilities while Vanessa Kirby in Pieces of a Woman didn’t score a listing.

As for Actor, winner Anthony Hopkins (The Father) and Gary Oldman (Mank) made my first cut. I incorrectly had Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah) projected here instead of Supporting Actor (which he won). **This is a good time to remind you all that some of the acting contenders thought to be in lead right now will switch to supporting and vice versa. As further evidence, I had Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey) predicted in supporting, but he contended here. I did not yet have Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal) or Steven Yeun (Minari) on my radar.

Two Supporting Actress players were correctly called: Glenn Close (Hillbilly Elegy) and Olivia Colman (The Father) with Amanda Seyfried (Mank) in Other Possibilities. No mention for the winner Youn Yun-jung in Minari or Maria Bakalova for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.

Per above, Daniel Kaluuya’s work in Judas was slotted in lead, but he emerged victorious here. My Supporting Actor picks did get 2 of 5: Lakeith Stanfield in Judas and Sacha Baron Cohen for Chicago 7. The two others (Leslie Odom Jr. in One Night in Miami and Paul Raci in Sound of Metal) went unnoticed at the early stage.

Just one nominee in Original Screenplay got the initial mention – Chicago 7. I did have 3 others (winner Promising Young Woman, Judas, Minari) down for Other Possibilities while Sound of Metal wasn’t mentioned. And in Adapted Screenplay, I only rightly projected Nomadland. Winner The Father, One Night in Miami, and The White Tiger were other possibilities with no mention for Borat.

Whew. OK. I’m not going through all for 2019. However, I will say my results were better two years ago with my first picks (evidence of the uncertainty of last year). The quick rundown: I got 6 of the 9 nominees in Best Picture and identified the remaining three in other possibilities. In Director, it was 4 out of 5. For Actress – 4 for 5 with the other nominee listed sixth. Actor – 3 for 5 with the two others as possibilities. The weak spot was Supporting Actress – just 1 out of 5 with 2 others as possibilities. 2 for 5 in Supporting Actor with 2 others as possibilities. 3 for 5 initially in both screenplay races.

And now we come to 2021. Will I look back next year and be happy with the accuracy or shake my head? Hopefully a mix (that’s probably the best case scenario). In about two months, I will start predictions for all categories covering feature films and whittle BP from 25 to 15 hopefuls with all others going from a projected 15 to 10.

There already was some news from when I penned my early and unranked predictions last week. David O. Russell’s Canterbury Glass, with an all star cast led by Christian Bale and Margot Robbie, has reportedly moved to 2022. It was mentioned in numerous categories (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor – John David Washington) and it now waits its turn until next year. Same story for Taika Waititi’s Next Goal Wins and Blonde from Andrew Dominik.

Let’s get to it!

Best Picture

Predicted Nominees:

1. House of Gucci

2. The Power of the Dog

3. The Tragedy of Macbeth

4. Nightmare Alley

5. Dune

6. Soggy Bottom

7. Mass

8. West Side Story

9. Belfast

10. Don’t Look Up

Other Possibilities:

11. A Hero

12. CODA

13. Flee

14. The French Dispatch

15. Spencer

16. Tick Tick… Boom!

17. Cyrano

18. The Humans

19. Blue Bayou

20. King Richard

21. The Last Duel

22. Dear Evan Hansen

23. In the Heights

24. Last Night in Soho

25. Annette

Best Director

Predicted Nominees:

1. Ridley Scott, House of Gucci

2. Denis Villeneuve, Dune

3. Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog

4. Guillermo del Toro, Nightmare Alley

5. Joel Coen, The Tragedy of Macbeth

Other Possibilities:

6. Paul Thomas Anderson, Soggy Bottom

7. Asghar Farhadi, A Hero

8. Kenneth Branagh, Belfast

9. Steven Spielberg, West Side Story

10. Adam McKay, Don’t Look Up

11. Fran Kranz, Mass

12. Sian Heder, CODA

13. Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Flee

14. Wes Anderson, The French Dispatch

15. Pablo Larrain, Spencer

Best Actress

1. Lady Gaga, House of Gucci

2. Frances McDormand, The Tragedy of Macbeth

3. Kirsten Dunst, The Power of the Dog

4. Jennifer Hudson, Respect 

5. Jessica Chastain, The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Other Possibilities:

6. Penelope Cruz, Parallel Mothers

7. Kristen Stewart, Spencer

8. Emilia Jones, CODA

9. Rachel Zegler, West Side Story

10. Cate Blanchett, Nightmare Alley

11. Renate Reinsve, The Worst Person in the World

12. Nicole Kidman, Being the Ricardos

13. Jodie Comer, The Last Duel

14. Jennifer Lawrence, Don’t Look Up

15. Olivia Colman, The Lost Daughter

Best Actor

Predicted Nominees:

1. Denzel Washington, The Tragedy of Macbeth

2. Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog

3. Will Smith, King Richard

4. Adam Driver, House of Gucci

5. Amir Jadidi, A Hero

Other Possibilities:

6. Andrew Garfield, Tick Tick… Boom!

7. Clifton Collins, Jr., Jockey

8. Peter Dinklage, Cyrano

9. Bradley Cooper, Nightmare Alley

10. Leonardo DiCaprio, Don’t Look Up

11. Joaquin Phoenix, C’Mon C’Mon

12. Cooper Hoffman, Soggy Bottom

13. Adam Driver, Annette

14. Javier Bardem, Being the Ricardos

15. Nicolas Cage, Pig

Best Supporting Actress

Predicted Nominees:

1. Ann Dowd, Mass

2. Ariana DeBose, West Side Story

3. Martha Plimpton, Mass

4. Jayne Houdyshell, The Humans

5. Marlee Matlin, CODA

Other Possibilities:

6. Ruth Negga, Passing

7. Olga Merediz, In the Heights

8. Regina King, The Harder They Fall

9. Thomasin McKenzie, The Power of the Dog

10. Toni Collette, Nightmare Alley

11. Judi Dench, Belfast

12. Anya Taylor-Joy, Last Night in Soho

13. Meryl Streep, Don’t Look Up

14. Audra McDonald, Respect

15. Sally Hawkins, Spencer

Best Supporting Actor

Predicted Nominees:

1. Bradley Cooper, Soggy Bottom

2. Jesse Plemons, The Power of the Dog

3. Jason Isaacs, Mass

4. Richard Jenkins, The Humans

5. Idris Elba, The Harder They Fall

Other Possibilities:

6. Corey Hawkins, The Tragedy of Macbeth

7. Richard E. Grant, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

8. Jared Leto, House of Gucci

9. Reed Birney, Mass

10. Ben Mendelsohn, Cyrano

11. Jamie Dornan, Belfast

12. Adam Driver, The Last Duel

13. Al Pacino, House of Gucci

14. Brendan Gleeson, The Tragedy of Macbeth

15. David Alvarez, West Side Story

Best Original Screenplay

Predicted Nominees:

1. Mass

2. Soggy Bottom

3. Don’t Look Up

4. The French Dispatch

5. Blue Bayou

Other Possibilities:

6. Belfast

7. Spencer

8. C’Mon C’Mon

9. Last Night in Soho

10. Being the Ricardos

11. Annette

12. The Harder They Fall

13. After Yang

14. Nine Days

15. Red Rocket

Best Adapted Screenplay

Predicted Nominees:

1. House of Gucci

2. The Power of the Dog

3. The Tragedy of Macbeth

4. Nightmare Alley

5. Dune

Other Possibilities:

6. CODA

7. The Humans

8. West Side Story

9. Cyrano

10. Tick Tick… Boom!

11. Dear Evan Hansen

12. The Last Duel

13. The Lost Daughter

14. King Richard

15. A Journal for Jordan

Back at it next week, ladies and gents!

Oscar Watch: Where Is Anne Frank

In 2008, Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman received heaps of acclaim for his animated war docudrama Waltz with Bashir. It took home the Best Foreign Language prize from the Golden Globes in addition to winning the Annie Award. Bashir was in the Academy’s five nominees in their international feature competition. His 2013 follow-up The Congress did not match the bonafides of its predecessor as far as awards chatter.

At the Cannes Film Festival, Folman’s latest drawn feature Where Is Anne Frank has screened. As you can tell from the name, this is another title dealing with serious subject matter. Frank is told from the perspective of Kitty, the imaginary girl whom the title character addressed her letters.

While some early reviews are positive, the current 71% Rotten Tomatoes rating puts in the same realm as The Congress. That causes me to doubt whether this makes the cut in what is shaping up to be a competitive Animated Feature Oscar race in 2021. Disney already has a trifecta of hopefuls with the already released Raya and the Last Dragon and Luca and the forthcoming Encanto. Netflix has a strong contender with The Mitchells vs. the Machines and could have another in Wendell and Wild. And there’s already a checked box with animated fare showcasing more dramatic themes in Flee (which screened at Sundance earlier this year).

Bottom line: I wouldn’t completely count this out and we’ll see if it picks up any steam. Yet this could certainly be on the outside looking in come nomination morning.

Oscar Watch: Zola

Janicza Bravo’s Zola (or @zola) is certainly a film of its time. The biographical dramedy is based on a series of Tweets that went viral and led to a Rolling Stone article. Taylour Paige is the title character – a part-time stripper whose adventures in Tampa are chronicled here. Costars include Riley Keough, Nicholas Braun, Colman Domingo, Ar’iel Stachel, and Ts Madison.

Released Wednesday on approximately 1400 screens, Zola is picking up some buzz following its well-regarded screening at Sundance in January. It should make its meager $3 million budget back in its first few days of release. Critics have taken notice too and it sports an 88% Rotten Tomatoes rating. As a side note – this was originally slated for James Franco to direct before his personal scandals canceled that possibility.

Distributor A24 could mount an awards campaign. Paige turned some heads late last year in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and is being heralded with this headlining showcase. Zola could also be the first Adapted Screenplay contender originated from the omnipresent social media platform.

My guess is that the subject matter may be a tad too left field for the Academy, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some critical branches have this on their radar screen at the end of the year. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

2021 Oscars: A Mid-Year Report

We have somehow reached the midpoint of 2021 and that means it is time to take stock in the Oscar contenders that have been released or screened so far. In short, we are talking about fairly slim pickings.

That is not rare. The bulk of the Best Picture nominees are typically unveiled between September-December of a given year (or in the case of 2020 – January or February of 2021 as well). For the previous Academy Awards, not one of the 8 BP contenders were distributed in the first half of the year. However, 3 of them (The Father, Sound of Metal, Promising Young Woman) premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2020. Another (Sound of Metal) was screened all the way back in September 2019 during Toronto’s festival.

As a reminder, Oscar rules were altered moving forward starting with next year’s ceremony. There will be a fixed number of 10 BP nominees (thank goodness). As I see it, the 2021 Sundance Fest gave us three potential hopefuls in the big race: Sian Heder’s Coda, Rebecca Hall’s Passing, and Fran Kranz’s Mass. 

Coda and Mass, in particular, seem like real possibilities. The former, in addition to a Picture nod, could see itself as a contender for Emilia Jones in Actress and Marlee Matlin in Supporting Actress. The latter sports a quarter of performers (Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton, Ann Dowd, Reed Birney) that could find themselves in the mix. Passing, while more of a long shot for BP, features Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga and they will likely be campaigning.

How about movies that didn’t go the Sundance route? The obvious one is In the Heights from Jon M. Chu. The musical garnered glowing reviews when it premiered in theaters and on HBO Max last month. However, its surprisingly lackluster box office grosses may hinder its chances. Time will tell.

There are already three released animated features that could make the final five: The Mitchells vs. the Machines, Luca, and Raya and the Last Dragon. I think the first two have strong chances while Raya is more of a question mark. Flee, which screened at Sundance, was critically hailed and it could find itself competing here and in Documentary Feature.

As for other docs, keep an eye out for Summer of Saul (which actually releases tomorrow) and Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain.

And when we look at below the line categories, there’s Cruella. Costume Design and Makeup and Hairstyling are two derbies where it could not only be nominated, but prevail. I also wouldn’t completely count out Coming 2 America for the same categories. The Sound race is open for A Quiet Place Part II. Godzilla vs. Kong is a hopeful in Visual Effects.

Bottom line: expect nearly all of 2021’s Best Picture players to see their release dates in the next six months. At least two could come from Sundance with Heights hoping its box office fall doesn’t sink its chances.

Oscar Watch: Summer of Soul

Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson has had a sterling career with his rap group The Roots and as Jimmy’s Fallon’s Tonight Show bandleader over the years. He can now add acclaimed documentary filmmaker to his resume with Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised). The film focuses on the Harlem Cultural Festival, a series of concerts featuring the likes of Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight & The Pips, and Sly and the Family Stone that took place in the summer of 1989. That also happened to be the season of another festival named Woodstock.

Soul premiered at the Sundance Film Festival to massive acclaim and ended up taking that festival’s Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize. The doc hits theaters and Hulu streaming this Friday. More reviews have come in and it stands at 97% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Will the Sundance love translate to Oscar voters? Every time I write about documentaries in these posts, I must point out the Academy’s branch in that category is notoriously unpredictable. Oftentimes, the most hailed and popular docs don’t make the cut. I suspect distributor Fox Searchlight will give this a major push and that could put it over the edge. That said, projecting the pics of this genre which make it in is always a tricky proposition. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…