Daily Streaming Guide: March 20th Edition

For today’s Daily Streaming Guide, let’s call this one the “in-between” movies. Three pictures that arrived at midpoints between career highlights for certain huge directors and stars. And all three are recommendable watches that stand on their own.

HBO Streaming

The sci-fi tale The Abyss hit theaters in 1989 from director James Cameron. Its release came in-between two acclaimed sequels from the filmmaker: 1986’s Aliens and 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Cameron had two massive blockbusters in a row with the first Terminator and Aliens. This represented more of a gamble and the aquatic thriller divided critics and audiences. While it isn’t a classic like some of the director’s other efforts, The Abyss is well worth viewing (deservedly winning an Oscar for Best Visual Effects). Even South Park ended up parodying one of its memorable near death scenes in their landmark trilogy “Imaginationland”.

Netflix

1981’s Nighthawks is a gritty NYC crime thriller that arrived in-between the creation of Sylvester Stallone’s two iconic characters. It came five years after Rocky and its first sequel and one year prior to First Blood (aka Rambo). It also features Billy Dee Williams (in-between stints as Lando in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi) with Rutger Hauer as the main baddie (a year prior to his more famed villainous turn in Blade Runner). As far as watching Stallone in non Rocky and Rambo material, this is on the higher end of material.

Amazon Prime

1974’s The Conversation was nominated for three Oscars, including Best Picture. Yet it’s also the movie in-between Francis Ford Coppola’s two masterpieces: The Godfather and its sequel. Gene Hackman is featured in one of his best roles as a surveillance expert caught up in a government conspiracy. In multiple ways, The Conversation is a film ahead of its time. In an era rich with great pictures, this is an often overlooked gem.

That’s all for now, folks! Until next time…

Oscars 2019: The Case of Joaquin Phoenix

The Case of posts for performers up for Academy Awards on February 9th arrived at Joaquin Phoenix as Joker in the Todd Phillips directed blockbuster:

The Case for Joaquin Phoenix

After three previous nominations for Gladiator, Walk the Line, and The Master, all signs are pointing to Phoenix finally getting the gold. For this particular comic book pic, Joker defied all expectations with a worldwide gross of over a billion dollars. Much of the focus was on Phoenix’s intense performance and he’s been rewarded with Golden Globe and SAG victories already. The film itself leads the Oscars with 11 total nominations.

The Case Against Joaquin Phoenix

The release of Joker was met with some controversy about its themes and overall message. There could be enough of a backlash that it could prevent Phoenix rising up to the podium.

The Verdict

Simply put, he is a massive front runner for his first Academy Award. If Phoenix does so, he would make a bit of Oscar history. There’s only been one combination of actors winning for playing the same fictional character: Marlon Brando and Joaquin’s Joker costar Robert De Niro as Michael Corleone in the first two Godfather epics. In 2008, Heath Ledger was posthumously awarded Supporting Actor as Joker in The Dark Knight. Expect there to be a second instance of that occurring.

My Case of posts will focus next on Charlize Theron for Bombshell!

Oscars 2019: The Case of Al Pacino

Al Pacino’s work in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman headlines my third Case of post for Oscar contenders in the Best Supporting Actor category.

The Case for Al Pacino 

His legendary cinematic career has spanned half a century and Pacino’s performance as Jimmy Hoffa has earned him his ninth Academy mention. It took his nod in 1992 for Scent of a Woman (he got double recognition that year for Glengarry Glen Ross) to finally reach the podium, despite previous nominations for the first two Godfather pics, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, …And Justice for All, and Dick Tracy. 27 year later, voters could feel obliged to give him his second podium walk.

The Case Against Al Pacino

Vote splitting with his Irishman costar Joe Pesci will likely occur. The film’s lead Robert De Niro couldn’t even make the cut in Best Actor and The Irishman has fallen back from potential Best Picture winner to long shot contender. Pacino also appeared in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and his costar Brad Pitt is running away with the precursor attention.

The Verdict

Pacino’s chances are on par with his film’s in Best Picture – slim.

My Case of posts will continue with Scarlett Johansson in Jojo Rabbit!

2019: The Year of Joaquin Phoenix

My first Year of 2019 post for actors named Scarlett Johansson on account of her remarkable year in film. My second goes to her A.I. character’s human boyfriend from 2013’s Her, Joaquin Phoenix. The mysterious performer has been a fixture onscreen for 30 years dating back to Parenthood. He’s a thrice nominated Oscar contender for Gladiator, Walk the Line, and The Master who’s yet to win.

That could change this year due to his title role in Joker from Todd Phillips. The project was considered a significant risk for Warner Bros and this is evidenced by its $40 million budget (peanuts for a comic book adaptation). The result? Over a billion dollars worldwide.

Phoenix is not the first actor to make his interpretation of the Joker iconic. Yet this origin story was the most unexpected smash success. I currently have Joker slated to receive eight Academy nods, including Picture. Its biggest chance at victory goes to Phoenix. If he wins, he would follow Heath Ledger to the podium after his performance in 2008’s The Dark Knight. That would be Oscar history as only one other combination exists of two actors winning statues for playing the same character. This honor belongs to Marlon Brando and Phoenix’s costar Robert De Niro as Michael Corleone in the first two Godfather pics.

For three decades, Phoenix has appeared in numerous acclaimed works with kudos for his skills. Joker might finally earn him the Academy’s praise with his billion dollar gamble. My Year of posts will continue…

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…

A Supporting Actor Oscar History

In the eight decades of Oscar history, we have seen the Supporting Actor category honor actors from the same picture about one-fifth of the time. It’s a fairly rare occurrence, but it’s been especially so as of late. It’s been 26 years since the Academy last did so and that serves as the longest gap by a lot. 2017 could change that.

Before we get to that, a little history lesson…

The first multiple Supporting Actor nominees happened in 1939 when Harry Carey and Claude Rains were nominated for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. 

It was 14 years before it happened again with 1953’s Shane bestowing nods for Jack Palance and Brandon deWilde. The following year gave us our first three actor nominations when Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden, and Rod Steiger all had their names up for On the Waterfront. The 1950s would do this twice more – in 1957’s Peyton Place for Arthur Kennedy and Russ Tamblyn and 1959’s Anatomy of a Murder for Arthur O’Connell and George C. Scott.

1961 would bring Scott another nod for The Hustler, along with Jackie Gleason. 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde nominated both Gene Hackman and Michael J. Pollard.

1971 was the first year when one of the multiple picture nominees actually won. Ben Johnson emerged victorious for The Last Picture Show, while costar Jeff Bridges was nominated.

The Godfather saga would bestow six nominations among its two classic films. The 1972 original nominated James Caan, Robert Duvall, and Al Pacino. The 1974 sequel had Robert De Niro winning the statue, along with the nominated Michael V. Gazzo and Lee Strasberg. 1976’s Rocky nominated both Mick (Burgess Meredith) and Paulie (Burt Young) while Jason Robards won for 1977’s Julia with Maximillian Schell getting a nod.

Timothy Hutton would win for Ordinary People in 1980 with costar Judd Hirsch nominated. Jack Nicholson won for 1983’s Terms of Endearment with John Lithgow getting recognition. 1986’s Platoon was granted two nominees – Willem Dafoe and Tom Berenger.

And in 1991 – Harvey Keitel and Ben Kingsley were nominated for Bugsy. 

That is the 16th and final time this has happened.

As mentioned, this year could potentially change that and there’s a surprising four ways for it to happen.

The least likely of the four scenarios in my opinion would be Jason Mitchell or Garrett Hedlund for Mudbound. Perhaps Mitchell could sneak in, but even that’s a long shot and the chances of both getting in seems non-existent.

The other three scenarios are all plausible. There’s Michael Shannon and Richard Jenkins for The Shape of Water. We have Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg for Call Me by Your Name. It wouldn’t shock me for either to occur, but maybe the best chance is Sam Rockwell (a lock for a nod) and Woody Harrelson (less so) for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. 

It’s been a quarter century since two actors from the same film heard the names called in Supporting Actor. Will 2017 change that?

Stay tuned…

A Most Violent Year Movie Review

JC Chandor’s A Most Violent Year finds our central character succeeding and struggling to achieve the American dream. It is a journey hampered by time, place, and competition. It is one helped by his own drive and tireless ambition and a genuine belief that he is always attempting to do the right thing.

That person is Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) circa New York City 1981. He owns Standard Heating Oil Company and he’s already taken it from a small operation to a growing one. The time and place troubles he faces is a metropolis plagued by high crime rates. His trucks are frequently being hijacked. The competition troubles comes from his suspicions that his rivals are responsible. And that attempting to always do the right thing business doesn’t mean an ambitious District Attorney (David Oyelowo) isn’t breathing down his neck.

Abel’s professional endeavors are assisted by two key individuals: his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) and his attorney (Albert Brooks) who seems to rarely give him good news. Anna is a fascinating character and Chastain’s performance only accentuates her. We are told she comes from a known family with a Brooklyn gangster father. We see flashes of ruthlessness in her that likely came from that upbringing. There are times when you wonder if Abel’s burgeoning yet troubled enterprise would run more smoothly (and probably with more bloodshed involved) if she were CEO.

We’ve seen plenty of crime dramas where our subject is a bad guy attempting to go good. Abel is more of a protagonist trying not to turn antagonist. Isaac is terrific. There are absolutely times where his acting reminds us of Pacino in the first Godfather. He’s a man surrounded by corruption, but with a moral compass that allows him to sleep at night.

For a movie called A Most Violent Year, we see little of it. A subplot involving one of Abel’s drivers (Elyes Gabel) provides some suspenseful and unexpected moments. There is thematically nothing very new here, but I welcomed this Sidney Lumet influenced character study and the first rate acting. Its early 80s NYC vibe doesn’t feel retro. More pleasingly, Year just feels like it could have made in 1981 when we would have watched it in old school VHS glory.

*** (out of four)