Oscar Watch: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Ahead of its Labor Day weekend bow in theaters only, Disney has lifted its review embargo for the 25th Marvel Cinematic Universe pic. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is garnering positive reaction to the tune of a current 91% Rotten Tomatoes score.

Many reviews point out that it closely follows the MCU formula, but there’s enough to make it highly recommendable. Despite the many kudos, I don’t see anything that indicates a play for Best Picture (where Black Panther still is the studio’s sole nominee in that race).

Instead Shang-Chi‘s possibilities at awards attention should come down to where most MCU titles are viable. That’s in Best Visual Effects. Early buzz suggests it may be strong enough in that space to qualify. However, it will face numerous competitors with three coming from its own multi-billion dollar franchise.

I do think it has a better shot at making the final five than the already out Black Widow. Yet Eternals and Spider-Man: No Way Home loom. It’s worth noting that neither Spider-Man entry from the MCU (Homecoming or Far From Home) made the cut. Eternals could be the biggest in-house competitor. Then we have plenty of other hopefuls. Some have premiered and they include Godzilla vs. Kong, Jungle Cruise, The Green Knight, The Suicide Squad, and Free Guy. Some await like Dune and The Matrix 4.

Bottom line: there’s much to be determined, but Shang-Chi could certainly be the MCU’s nominee in VE. I doubt it will be the fourth picture with Rings in the name to win (as Peter Jackson’s trilogy did). After all, 10 of Marvel’s flicks have nabbed a nod for their visuals. None have won. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Free Guy

Three years ago, the video game extravaganza Ready Player One from Steven Spielberg was enough of an eyeball feast to earn a Visual Effects nod at the Oscars. Could the same logic apply to Free Guy, out next week?

Shawn Levy’s sci-fi action comedy starring Ryan Reynolds had its review embargo lifted today. Early word indicates a lightweight but highly entertaining and heartwarming experience. The Rotten Tomatoes meter is at a better than anticipated 85%.

Yet its visual effects may well be too lightweight compared to heavy hitters coming this fall including Dune, The Matrix 4, Nightmare Alley, Eternals, and more. The VE category does sometimes produce surprises and Free Guy could make the shortlist and then who knows? I wouldn’t expect it to play though. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: The Suicide Squad

I’m not sure what I anticipated for The Suicide Squad when its review embargo lifted, but it definitely wasn’t this. Five years after David Ayer’s Suicide Squad posted impressive box office returns but poor critical reaction, the Squad’s new comic book adventure appears to be a major improvement. James Gunn, maker of both Guardians of the Galaxy flicks for the MCU, has taken over directorial duties. Opening next Friday in theaters and HBO Max streaming, the difference in reviews is quite startling.

How much so? 2016’s Suicide Squad ended up with a 26% Rotten Tomatoes score. Putting The in front of the title for 2021’s version apparently upped the quality considerably. Its Tomato meter stands at (get this) 98% with 55 reviews up at time of posting. Gunn’s iteration is said to be a hard R rated blast that is more of a redo than reboot of the franchise. Sounds like mission accomplished.

No, I don’t think this will get a Best Picture nomination. I do believe it could play in down the line races (two in particular). You may have forgotten that the first Squad is actually an Oscar winner for Makeup and Hairstyling and The Suicide Squad could easily show up there again. Gunn is no stranger to that category as the first Guardians nabbed a nod there. Both Guardians also made the final five in Visual Effects and Squad could too. The competition in that race should be serious and some of the other hopefuls also come from Warner Bros. (Godzilla vs. Kong, Dune, the fourth Matrix).

Bottom line: reviewers are crowing that the latest makeup of the Squad is a vastly superior experience. It may only get a Makeup and Hairstyling nomination to show for it. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch – Space Jam: A New Legacy

Lebron James will not become the first NBA superstar to score a Best Actor nomination and no, his former teammates Shaquille O’Neal (Kazaam) and Kyrie Irving (Uncle Drew) didn’t do so. #23 headlines the long in development sequel Space Jam: A New Legacy this Friday and reviews only have the live-action/animated mix at 42% on Rotten Tomatoes.

There is, however, one category where Oscar attention is at least feasible and that is Visual Effects. Even some of the negative critical posts mention the solid special effects. The original Jam 25 years ago couldn’t manage to get in the VFX derby. Back then, there were only three nominees and 1996’s winner was Independence Day over Dragonheart and Twister.

Could the expansion to five give LeBron’s iteration a shot? Doubtful. Warner Bros. already has three stronger hopefuls with Godzilla vs. Kong, Dune, and the fourth Matrix and it’s questionable whether much of a campaign would be done here.

Bottom line: Legacy could make the shortlist of possibilities for inclusion at the end of 2021. I would be surprised if it makes the starting lineup. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The Blockbuster Is Back: A Not So Quiet Return

When my intense interest in all things movies (including box office returns) began at a young age, the concept of the blockbuster was a fairly rare thing. Many classified it as a feature earning over $100 million domestically. When I became a teenager in 1992, there were only seven pictures that reached the milestone in that calendar year. When I turned 16 in 1995, there were six. The list expanded to 11 in my 18th year.

$100 million being a significant benchmark isn’t what it used to be. In fact, if a MCU extravaganza only grossed that number, it would be considered a massive flop. The number of films blasting past nine digits in recent times speaks for itself. In 2015, there were 29. 2016 brought 30. There were 33 in 2017 and 34 in 2018. The 2019 number was 31.

And then… COVID-19 happened and that previous consistency fell by the wayside. Theaters were shuttered or open in limited capacity for the bulk of 2020. That meant the number of domestic releases last year that topped $100 million were… 2. Both premiered before the coronavirus changed our world as we know it: Bad Boys for Life and Sonic the Hedgehog. 

Studios occasionally put out big movies that otherwise would have surely reached the mark like Warner Bros with Tenet and Wonder Woman 1984. However, the challenges affiliated with the virus prevented that.

Over the last several weeks, we see the country opening back up in lots of different ways. We will see an important example occur tonight. A Quiet Place Part II is poised to become the first movie in a year and a half to gross $100 million. Godzilla vs. Kong is sitting at $99 million and could also achieve that designation by the weekend. In short order, the number of blockbusters will have matched what we saw in 2020.

As the summer box office rolls along, there are other contenders that should or could do the same. F9 (which is over $200 million already overseas) and Black Widow are obvious ones. In the Heights, out today, is garnering Oscar chatter and glowing reviews and it could ride that buzz to hefty grosses. There’s also The Suicide Squad, Space Jam: A New Legacy, Jungle Cruise, and Hotel Transylvania: Transformania. 

The September-December frame brings other surefire contenders and possibilities: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, Dune, No Time to Die, Halloween Kills, Eternals, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Top Gun: Maverick, Encanto, West Side Story, Spider-Man: No Way Home, The Matrix 4, Sing 2 among them.

Bottom line: there likely won’t be 30 plus $100 million makers in 2021. Yet the eventual number will far exceed what we witnessed in 2020 where multiplexes were a quiet place. Not anymore.

Oscar Watch: Army of the Dead

Zack Snyder’s zombie tale Army of the Dead hits hundreds of screens this weekend before its Netflix streaming premiere on May 21. Reviews are out and several indicate it’s a winner (especially the opening scene which is drawing raves). The Rotten Tomatoes score currently sits at 76%.

If an Oscar Watch post for this particular genre seems strange, I get it. I’m not talking about a Best Picture nod or lead actor recognition for Dave Bautista. However, some critics are pointing out Army‘s visuals. Just last year, the Netflix monster pic Love and Monsters scored a surprise nomination in Visual Effects.

Here’s the caveat: several contenders in the race from 2020 were pushed back to 2021. In other words, VE should be more of a crowded field this time around. That includes potential heavy hitters like Dune, Eternals, the fourth Matrix, Top Gun: Maverick, The Suicide Squad, and Spider-Man: No Way Home.

Having said that, if Netflix launches a serious campaign, Army could march to the shortlist in this specific category and a nod is not out of the question.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…