PGA: The Rise of CODA

When it comes to the Producers Guild of America awards, there’s a 14/21 match between their best picture and the Academy’s in the 21st century. The two-thirds ratio is 3/5 in the past five years. In 2016, La La Land took PGA over the Oscar selection of Moonlight. For 2019, PGA went with 1917 while the big show went with Parasite. Other 21st century examples: The Big Short won PGA in 2015 (Oscar: Spotlight). For 2006, Little Miss Sunshine got the PGA prize while The Departed took Oscar.

The PGA’s for 2021 occurred last night and it’s another feather in the cap for CODA. Sian Heder’s coming-of-age drama built upon its recent SAG ensemble victory  to triumph here. If there was any doubt before, CODA has unquestionably positioned itself as the alternate to The Power of the Dog winning Best Picture at the Oscars. Not Belfast. Not King Richard or Dune. This is a two-horse race between Dog and CODA and they both have important precursor hardware. No matter which one grabs the gold, it will be the first BP win for a streamer (Netflix for Dog and Apple TV for CODA).

Jane Campion’s direction of Dog won the Director Guild of America (DGA) prize this week and that’s a reliable Academy precursor. She’s almost certain to be the Oscar winner (CODA‘s Sian Heder isn’t nominated). In fact, CODA only has three nominations overall: Picture, Supporting Actor (Troy Kotsur), and Adapted Screenplay. It didn’t seem feasible until recently, but it could legitimately go 3 for 3.

Having said that, I wouldn’t dream of counting Dog out. It’s the Globe and BAFTA recipient. The precursor bonafides for it are just as impressive as CODA‘s. Even a week ago, however, I would’ve said Dog had about a 90% chance to be the Oscar BP. Now… well, it’s considerably less and we’ll see what I predict when I make my final picks on Wednesday.

In the Animated Feature and Documentary races at PGA, the respective winners were Encanto and Summer of Soul and they maintain their status as Academy favorites.

Oscars 2021: The Case of Don’t Look Up

My Case Of posts for the 10 Best Picture nominees is down to our third entry and that’s Adam McKay’s end of the world black comedy Don’t Look Up. If you missed the first two covering Belfast and CODA, you can find them here:

Oscars 2021: The Case of Belfast

Oscars 2021: The Case of CODA

The Case for Don’t Look Up

The Netflix property has probably received more social media chatter and buzz than any of the other hopefuls (with the possible exception of Dune). The streaming numbers were said to be massive so it is certainly one of the most widely seen contenders. For McKay, it marks his third BP nominee in a row behind 2015’s The Big Short and 2018’s Vice. 

The Case Against Don’t Look Up:

That aforementioned chatter was definitely not all positive. Reviews were mixed and Up‘s 56% Rotten Tomatoes score is easily the worst of the lot (the next lowest is Nightmare Alley at 80%). While some viewers sang its praises, plenty more derided it. This also missed key races like Director and any of the actors involved (Leonardo DiCaprio was likely close but no cigar in Actor).

The Verdict:

Netflix could be well on its way to its inaugural BP statue and that would be for The Power of the Dog. Their other hopeful is too divisive to have a shot and its total of four nominations is on the low end of the scale.

My Case Of posts will continue with Drive My Car

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…

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)

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…

2021 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Best Director Race

After four posts focusing on the acting races at the 2021 Oscars, it’s time to turn to Best Director. If you missed those entries on the lead and supporting performer derbies, you can find them here:

2021 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Best Actress Race

2021 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Best Actor Race

2021 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Supporting Actress Race

2021 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Supporting Actor Race

With the directing category, I do believe there’s three filmmakers that have likely punched their ticket to a nomination. Before we get there, let’s take a look at how my projections panned out at the same early November time frame in 2019 and 2020.

Two years back, I correctly identified four of the five contenders: winner Bong Joon-ho (Parasite) as well as Sam Mendes (1917), Martin Scorsese (The Irishman), and Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood). Todd Phillips (Joker) was mentioned in Other Possibilities. 2020 was more unpredictable with two months left to go and that resulted in only two directors being accurately named: Chloe Zhao (Nomadland), who took the gold, and David Fincher (Mank). Lee Isaac Chung (Minari) was in Other Possibilities while neither Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman) or surprise nominee Thomas Vinterberg (Another Round) were yet listed in my top ten.

Back to 2021 and the three individuals who I believe stand probable shots at making the cut. They are Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog), Kenneth Branagh (Belfast), and Denis Villeneuve (Dune).

It was 28 years ago that Campion was nominated for The Piano. If it hadn’t been for Oscar juggernaut Schindler’s List, she likely would’ve been making a speech. Upon its premiere in Venice, Campion took the Silver Lion (equivalent to this competition) for Dog. I don’t see her being left off the ballot.

Belfast is the current frontrunner for Best Picture and it’s hard to envision  writer/director Branagh not making it in. If so, it would be his first nod in directing since Henry V some 32 years back.

Dune is being heralded for its technical wizardry and it should pick up numerous down the line wins and nominations. Five years after his behind the camera work was recognized for Arrival, Villeneuve should be a factor again.

Interestingly, I don’t feel there’s a clear favorite to win. There are plausible scenarios for any member of this trio to emerge victorious. Campion, Branagh, and Villeneuve constitute my top 3 (in that order), but it’s more of a 1a, 1b, and 1c at press time.

As for the other two slots, there’s a few contenders stemming from unseen product. There’s big names in that bunch: Guillermo del Toro (Nightmare Alley, who won four years ago for The Shape of Water), Paul Thomas Anderson (Licorice Pizza, a two-time nominee for There Will Be Blood and Phantom Thread), Ridley Scott (for House of Gucci and not The Last Duel), Adam McKay (Don’t Look Up, previously nominated for The Big Short), Lin-Manuel Miranda (Tick, Tick… Boom!), and Steven Spielberg (West Side Story,  a two-time winner for Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan).

Any of these gentlemen could bubble up to the surface once their pictures are screened. I’m sticking with the two I’ve had in my five recently: del Toro and Anderson.

King Richard has a chance to win Best Picture, but I’m skeptical its maker Reinaldo Marcus Green makes it here. The sports drama seems destined to be recognized more for its performances, but if the Academy really falls for it, Green could be theoretically be swept in. That holds true for Joel Coen (The Tragedy of Macbeth) and Pablo Larrain (Spencer) as well.

Lastly, Thomas Vinterberg’s nod in 2020 for Another Round came out of nowhere. While it was pegged to take International Feature Film (which it did), Round was not nominated in Best Picture. There’s a slew of directors who could fill the “surprise” slot this time around (many from foreign features): Pedro Almodovar (Parallel Mothers), Julia Ducournau (Titane), Asghar Farhari (A Hero), Paolo Sorrentino (The Hand of God), Joachim Trier (The Worst Person in the World). I wouldn’t completely count out Rebecca Hall for Passing. Yet none of these upset selections are in my top ten.

The one that is: Jonas Poher Rasmussen for festival darling Flee. While I don’t have it nabbing a Best Pic nom at the moment, I do foresee the Danish doc contending in Animated Feature, Documentary Feature, and International Feature Film. That kind of attention could cause the voters to include him.

Here’s how those rankings look at the start of November:

Best Director

Predicted Nominees:

1. Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog (Previous Ranking: 1)

2. Kenneth Branagh, Belfast (PR: 2)

3. Denis Villeneuve, Dune (PR: 3)

4. Guillermo del Toro, Nightmare Alley (PR: 4)

5. Paul Thomas Anderson, Licorice Pizza (PR: 5)

Other Possibilities:

6. Pablo Larrain, Spencer (PR: 6)

7. Steven Spielberg, West Side Story (PR: 7)

8. Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Flee (PR: Not Ranked)

9. Reinaldo Marcus Green, King Richard (PR: 9)

10. Ridley Scott, House of Gucci (PR: Not Ranked)

Dropped Out:

Joel Coen, The Tragedy of Macbeth

Julia Ducournau, Titane

Best Picture is next!

The Producers Roll With Nomadland

In the previous decade, the winner of the Producers Guild of America (PGA) best motion picture ended up matching with the eventual Oscar recipient 70% of the time. So it’s no wonder that all eyes of prognosticators were on tonight’s ceremony. Would the PGA do anything to interrupt the narrative that Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland is a sturdy favorite to take the Academy’s gold?

The answer? No. Nomadland received yet another honor from the PGA to go with its Golden Globe for Best Drama, Critics Choice Award, and numerous regional group best pic designations. Had Minari or Promising Young Woman or The Trial of the Chicago 7 won, it might have created more suspense for the Oscar ceremony happening on April 25th. Yet the PGA victory is another arrow in the quiver for Zhao’s achievement.

If you’re another movie hoping to best Nomadland, the PGA and the Academy have differed three times in the last five years. In 2015, the Guild picked The Big Short over Spotlight. In 2016, it was La La Land instead of Moonlight. Last year – 1917 over Parasite. 

As for other races, Disney/Pixar’s Soul, as expected, took animated feature and it remains a major frontrunner at the big show. The documentary category went to My Octopus Teacher and that certainly puts it in serious contention in one month.

Bottom line: Nomadland is rolling and nothing may be able to stop it.

Oscar Watch: The Laundromat

Steven Soderbergh, Oscar winning director of Traffic, has apparently given us a fun and breezy true life story about tax evasion. It comes in the form of The Laundromat which has premiered at the Venice Film Festival. The pic is star studded as well with Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, Antonio Banderas, Jeffrey Wright, James Cromwell, and Sharon Stone.

Reviews are out and they’re mostly solid. Yet from what I’ve seen thus far, I’m not sure if this will be an Oscar contender. Hitting Netflix in October, there’s been some comparisons to Adam McKay’s The Big Short, which did score several nods four years ago. There’s also mentions of Soderbergh’s 2009 pic The Informant! and that’s no accident since they share the same screenwriter – Scott Z. Burns.

Mr. Burns could get attention for his upcoming political drama The Report with Adam Driver and Annette Bening. Streep’s category placement is still uncertain but she seems to be a lead. It’s foolish to ever count her out, but she might also factor into Supporting Actress with the upcoming Little Women. Banderas looks to be a contender in lead for Pedro Almodovar’s Pain and Glory. Oldman won two years ago for Darkest Hour. And Netflix itself might focus more on Marriage Story and The Irishman.

In other words, that’s some significant players involved here who are getting mentions for other projects. While The Laundromat is getting mostly positive feedback, it may not translate to Academy attention (with the potential exception of Adapted Screenplay). My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The PGA Goes Green

The eyes of Oscar prognosticators were on the Producers Guild of America (PGA) Awards and for good reason. In this decade, the Best Picture Award has matched the Academy’s 6 out of 8 times (there’s a little fudging here because in 2013 there was a tie between Oscar recipient 12 Years a Slave and Gravity). The non matches occurred in 2015 when the PGA selected The Big Short over Spotlight and the following year with La La Land winning and not Moonlight.

Two scenarios could have changed the Oscar landscape in a significant way. A victory for Roma (coming off its Critics Choice honor) could have solidified standing as a front-runner. If A Star Is Born took the top prize, it would have marked a much-needed win after some high-profile precursor snubs.

Neither scenario happened as Peter Farrelly’s Green Book was named. This is a surprise and it opens up an already uncertain race for Best Picture at the big dance. It certainly lessens Green Book winning the Oscar being seen as an upset. It’s a real contender along with Roma and Star.

Tonight’s ceremony also gave yet another animation award for SpiderMan: Into the SpiderVerse. Coupled with its Globes and Critics wins, it now appears Spidey is the Academy favorite over Incredibles 2.

Bottom line: the PGA made the Oscars a bit murkier. We got ourselves a race.

Vice Box Office Prediction

Three years after receiving multiple Oscar nominations for The Big Short, Adam McKay is touching hot button issues yet again with Vice. The biopic of Dick Cheney is out Christmas Day with Christian Bale in the title role. Costars include Amy Adams as wife Lynne, Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush, Steve Carell as Don Rumsfeld, Tyler Perry as Colin Powell, Jesse Plemons, and Alison Pill.

Like The Big Short, this has been subject to awards recognition already as it led the Golden Globes in number of nominations. The embargo for reviews was up earlier this week and the Rotten Tomatoes rating is currently 67%. That’s a bit less than expected, but a Best Picture nod seems quite possible while nominations for Bale and Adams look assured.

The decision to release Vice in the competitive holiday week could limit its potential out of the gate – yet it could appeal to adult moviegoers and politicos. With Christmas falling on a Tuesday, it’s likely its first threes days of earnings could match or even exceed the traditional weekend that follows. Short took in just over $10 million in its Yuletide 2015 wide expansion. For another comp with similar subject matter, Oliver Stone’s 2008 biopic W. did the exact same number as Short. 

Considering there are six days to ponder, I’ll say $7 million for the weekend with over $7 million added from Tuesday-Thursday.

Vice opening weekend prediction: $7.2 million (Friday to Sunday); $14.8 million (Tuesday to Sunday)

For my Holmes & Watson prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/12/18/holmes-watson-box-office-prediction/