Venice Crowns Joker

The Venice Film Festival has drawn to a close and the awards bestowed today are sure to generate some controversy. The Golden Lion prize (equivalent to Best Picture) has gone to Joker, with its acclaimed performance from Joaquin Phoenix as the iconic villain. It won out over numerous foreign titles and Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, which drew raves and is anticipated to be a major Oscar contender.

A year ago, the Lion went to Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, which nabbed multiple Academy nominations including Picture. In 2017, the recipient was the eventual Oscar Pic winner – Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water.

I didn’t have Joker predicted as a nominee for the past couple weeks. Does the Venice action change the dynamic? Well it’s certainly a boost. I’m still skeptical it will make the final cut, but this publicity and its expected massive box office will be feathers in its cap.

Perhaps an even bigger shocker was the winner for the Grand Jury prize – essentially the runner up spot. It went to Roman Polanski’s An Officer and a Spy. Controversy surrounding the filmmaker is not the only reason for prognosticators being surprised. The pic currently sports a middling 56% on Rotten Tomatoes. Unlike last year’s Jury winner The Favourite, don’t expect this to be in the Oscar derby.

Acting races also showcased performers not on the Academy radar. Luca Marinelli took Best Actor for Martin Eden and Ariane Ascaride was named top Actress for Sweden’s About Endlessness. That film also saw its director Roy Andersson victorious in his race. A nod for Best International Feature is feasible for it.

All in all, Venice gave Joker a hoped for ace up its sleeve in precursor activity. Let’s see if momentum continues to grow…

Best Picture: A Look Back

A few weeks ago, I posted look backs at major categories at the Oscars from 1990 to the present. I’ve covered all four acting races and if you missed it, you can peruse them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/11/04/best-actor-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/31/best-actress-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/25/best-supporting-actor-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/20/best-supporting-actress-a-look-back/

In each post, I review what I’d classify as the three least surprising winners, as well as the three biggest upsets. And I select what I believe are the strongest and weakest overall fields.

Today on the blog, we arrive at the Big Daddy – Best Picture. It’s important to remember that hindsight doesn’t come into play here. For instance, Forrest Gump won the top prize in 1994. Since then, many believe fellow nominees Pulp Fiction or The Shawshank Redemption should have won. Yet the Gump victory was not an upset at the time. Same goes for 1990 when Dances with Wolves bested GoodFellas.

Let’s begin with a reminder of each winner since 1990:

1990 – Dances with Wolves

1991 – The Silence of the Lambs

1992 – Unforgiven

1993 – Schindler’s List

1994 – Forrest Gump

1995 – Braveheart

1996 – The English Patient

1997 – Titanic

1998 – Shakespeare in Love

1999 – American Beauty

2000 – Gladiator

2001 – A Beautiful Mind

2002 – Chicago

2003 – Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

2004 – Million Dollar Baby

2005 – Crash

2006 – The Departed

2007 – No Country for Old Men

2008 – Slumdog Millionaire

2009 – The Hurt Locker

2010 – The King’s Speech

2011 – The Artist

2012 – Argo

2013 – 12 Years a Slave

2014 – Birdman

2015 – Spotlight

2016 – Moonlight

2017 – The Shape of Water

We start with my three least surprising winners:

3. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)

Peter Jackson’s final entry in the acclaimed trilogy seemed due for a win after the first two installments were nominated, but lost to A Beautiful Mind and Chicago. This was as much a recognition for the entire franchise and by 2003, it was obvious the Academy would move in that direction.

2. Titanic (1997)

James Cameron’s epic was plagued with rumors of a troubled shoot and the possibility seemed real that it could be a costly flop. The opposite occurred as Titanic became the highest grossing motion picture of all time upon its release. It seemed clear that Oscar love would follow.

1. Schindler’s List (1993)

Capping an amazing year which saw Steven Spielberg direct Jurassic Park over the summer, his Holocaust feature Schindler’s List became the undeniable front-runner at its end of year release. Winning all significant precursors, this was a shoo-in selection.

Now to the upsets. In my view, there were four very real ones and I had to leave one out. That would be 1995 when Braveheart emerged victorious over the favored Apollo 13 and Sense and Sensibility. Yet there’s 3 others that I feel top it.

3. Moonlight (2016)

La La Land appeared ready to pick up the gold after its filmmaker Damien Chazelle and lead actress Emma Stone had already won. And it looked like the script was being followed when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway actually announced the musical as Best Picture. Perhaps Oscar’s largest controversy followed as the wrong envelope was given and the Barry Jenkins effort Moonlight had actually won. Correct envelopes or not, the Moonlight victory was still unexpected given the La La momentum.

2. Shakespeare in Love (1998)

All eyes were on Spielberg’s World War II epic Saving Private Ryan to win as Spielberg had already picked up his second statue for directing. Shakespeare rewrote that script and few saw it coming.

1. Crash (2005)

Here is perhaps the most surprising BP winner in history. Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain was the strong favorite when the Paul Haggis race relations drama took it. Even presenter Jack Nicholson looked shocked when he read the envelope.

And now the fields. That’s a bit tough because just under a decade ago, the Academy switched from five finite nominees to anywhere between five and ten (nine being the most common). For weakest, I’m going with 2011 when there were 9. While there’s some quality picks like The Artist, The Descendants, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, and The Tree of Life – I feel even some of them might have missed the cut in stronger years. And I think that certainly applies to Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, and War Horse.

For strongest, I will go with the aforementioned 1994. Pulp Fiction and Shawshank are indeed two of the most impressive cinematic contributions in recent times. Winner Gump and other nominees Quiz Show and Four Weddings and a Funeral filled out the slate.

And that does it, folks! Hope you enjoyed my look back at Best Picture in modern times.

L.A. Loves Roma

Alfonso Cuaron’s Mexican drama Roma continued its precursor love today as the Los Angeles Film Critics Association awarded it Best Film. While that’s certainly a feather in the cap for something that’s a near lock for a Best Picture nod, it’s not necessarily a harbinger of what’s to come. Only once in this decade have the LAFCA and the Academy agreed on their top race  – 2015’s Spotlight.

While Cuaron’s effort got the big prize, the filmmaker himself came in second in directing to a surprise selection of Debra Granik for Leave No Trace. Her name hasn’t surfaced much for Academy consideration and I currently do not have her in my top 10 possibilities. Ironically, only two directors this decade have shared the Oscar and this category. One is Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water last year. The other? Cuaron for 2013’s Gravity.

Three of the acting winners are seen as strong players for the Oscars: Ethan Hawke (First Reformed) in Actor, Olivia Colman for The Favourite in Actress, and Supporting Actress victor Regina King in If Beale Street Could Talk. In Supporting Actor, Steven Yeun won for his work in the South Korean mystery Burning. He’s been nowhere on Oscar’s radar and likely won’t be.

With Roma taking Best Film overall, the LAFCA had a tie in their Foreign Film race between Burning and Shoplifters.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? got some attention, taking Screenplay over runner-up The Favourite. That could help its already decent chances at an Adapted Screenplay nod down the road.

Another surprise came in their documentary pick – the Netflix release Shirkers from Singapore. It has not been discussed much in what’s seen as a crowded field of selections.

SpiderMan: Into the SpiderVerse took Animated Film, further positioning itself as the main rival to Pixar front-runner Incredibles 2.

My updated Oscar predictions will be up Thursday!

Roma Takes Venice

The Venice Film Festival has wrapped up its business with awards bestowed. Alfonso Cuaron’s autobiographical Mexico set drama Roma is the winner of the fest’s version of Best Picture – the Golden Lion.

This comes as no surprise. Roma has received rapturous reviews and it seems destined to compete at the Oscars in Best Picture and not just the Foreign Language race. It’s worth noting that last year’s Golden Lion recipient, Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, went on to Oscar glory.

The Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize (basically runner-up) went to the Yorgos Lanthimos pic The Favourite, which has also achieved the status of a likely contender come Oscar time. Olivia Colman took the Best Actress trophy for her work in it. And Willem Dafoe is Best Actor as Vincent Van Gogh in At Eternity’s Gate. Both performers appear primed to hear their names mentioned in the Academy’s nominees for their respective lead races.

If there was a surprise, it’s the Coen Brothers winning Best Screenplay for their Western anthology The Ballad of Buster Scruggs over Roma or The Favourite. While critical reaction appeared somewhat mixed, one wonders if this could still have enough admirers to be a player in future awards mixes.

All in all, Roma and The Favourite have solidified their place as true Oscar hopefuls.

Oscar Watch: The Sisters Brothers

Two notable Westerns have had their debuts an ocean away at Venice and Oscar attention could be questionable for both. The first is The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the latest effort from the Coen Brothers. Today brings us The Sisters Brothers, The first English language project from acclaimed French filmmaker Jacques Audiard (whose titles include A Prophet and Rust and Bone).

Said to be a violent romp with comedic touches, the cast includes John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Riz Ahmed. The performance getting the most attention is Reilly’s. Could the Academy honor the venerable actor 16 years after his sole nod in Supporting Actor for Chicago? Like any other nominations in the major categories, it’s likely a long shot. Even though Venice reviews have been pretty sturdy, I just don’t envision this as a player for Oscar voters.

Two exceptions could be Cinematography and the Original Score from Alexandre Desplat, an Academy favorite who’s won twice already for The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Shape of Water.

Bottom line: despite solid buzz, don’t expect that to translate to significant awards chatter for The Sisters Brothers.

The film opens stateside on September 21. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The Best Picture Wouldn’t Have Been Contenders: 2009-2017

A couple of days back on the blog, I speculated about what films in the 21st century would have been nominated for Best Picture prior to a rule change in 2009. As a refresher, nearly a decade ago, the Academy changed its Best Picture Nominees from a finite five to anywhere between five to ten. In that time frame, the magic number most years has been nine (it was actually a finite 10 for 2009 and 2010 before the fluctuation change). My recent post selected two pictures from 1990-2008 that I believe would have been nominated. You can find that post here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/08/03/the-best-picture-coulda-been-contenders-1990-2008/

Today comes the inverse of that column. What if the rule had never been altered? What if the last nine Oscar ceremonies honored just five features?

In making these picks, there’s obviously one extremely easy selection – the movie that won. In naming the other four, I’m looking at factors such as number of other nods it received. For instance, if a Director won that award for their work and the Picture went to something else, that director’s film is in.

So let’s get to it in this alternative Oscar universe. I’ll be reminding you all the pictures recognized and then showing my final five.

2009

The Actual Nominees:

The Hurt Locker (Winner), Avatar, The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, A Serious Man, Up, Up in the Air

Had It Been Five:

The Hurt Locker, Avatar, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, Up in the Air

2010

The Actual Nominees:

The King’s Speech (W), 127 Hours, Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit, Winter’s Bone

Had It Been Five:

The King’s Speech, The Fighter, Inception, The Social Network, True Grit

2011

The Actual Nominees:

The Artist (W), The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, War Horse

Had It Been Five:

The Artist, The Descendants, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris

2012

The Actual Nominees:

Argo (W), Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty

Had It Been Five:

Argo, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook

2013

The Actual Nominees:

12 Years a Slave (W), American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, The Wolf of Wall Street

Had It Been Five:

12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Gravity, Nebraska, The Wolf of Wall Street

2014

The Actual Nominees:

Birdman (W), American Sniper, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash

Had It Been Five:

Birdman, American Sniper, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game

2015

The Actual Nominees:

Spotlight (W), The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Room

Had It Been Five:

Spotlight, The Big Short, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant

2016

The Actual Nominees:

Moonlight (W), Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Manchester by the Sea

Had It Been Five:

Moonlight, Arrival, La La Land, Lion, Manchester by the Sea

2017

The Actual Nominees:

The Shape of Water (W), Call Me by Your Name, Darkest Hour, Dunkirk, Get Out, Lady Bird, Phantom Thread, The Post, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Had It Been Five:

The Shape of Water, Dunkirk, Get Out, Lady Bird, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

And there you have it with my posts on the “what if” Best Picture happenings in Oscar world!

The Shape of Oscar 2017

Well, the 90th Annual Academy Awards have come and – after 220 minutes of ceremony – gone. This is my annual wrap up of the show and (of course most importantly) how I did with my predictions!

In short, not too shabby…

I went 19/21 on my predictions – missing out on just Best Original Song (“Remember Me” from Coco won over my upset pick “Stand Up for Something” from Marshall and A Fantastic Woman took Foreign Film over The Insult). Neither were a surprise.

In fact, the night was rather predictable as far as winners. The Shape of Water was the big victor, taking Picture, Director (Guillermo del Toro), Production Design, and Original Score. The acting winners (Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour, Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Allison Janney in I, Tonya) were the wise ones to have in the pool. Get Out got its recognition via Jordan Peele’s Original Screenplay. Legends like James Ivory (for his Call Me by Your Name Adapted Screenplay) and cinematographer Roger Deakins (for his Blade Runner 2049 work) finally won gold statues.

Some other quick observations:

  • Jimmy Kimmel, as he was last year, is a solid host for the show. I would have no problem with him essentially being the new Billy Crystal and hosting every year or every other year. That said, it sure would be interesting to see what a Tiffany Haddish or Dave Chappelle could do with it.
  • That 90 years in movies Oscar montage could have gone on another half hour and I would have been fine with it.
  • I hope the Phantom Thread costume designer is enjoying his jet ski today.
  • And, of course, no Best Picture screw up! Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway can relax today.

And there you have it, folks! That’s my shape of Oscar 2017.