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!

Molly’s Game Movie Review

At its best, Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue is cinematic music. Like many distinctive screenwriters icluding Mamet and Tarantino, he has an unmistakable style. There’s a zippy and often whip smart quality present. We heard that melody in The Social Network and on “The West Wing” and large parts of A Few Good Men, The American President, Charlie Wilson’s War, Moneyball, and Steve Jobs. On occasion, there are heavy-handed and slightly preachy notes in his wordy tunes.

We know what we’re getting in a Sorkin screenplay. An unknown until now is how he performs behind the lens and Molly’s Game answers it. The frequent highs and more infrequent lows of his writing are present here. And he pleasingly proves he’s got some style in the director’s chair, too.

The film is based on the real life story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), who went from a wannabe Olympic skier sidelined by freak injury to underground poker syndicate magnate. It’s an improbable yarn where truth is indeed stranger than fiction. Following her slopes related incident, Molly travels to L.A. and soon finds herself as assistant to a rich on paper and sleazy real estate developer (Jeremy Strong). He seems far more concerned with his high stakes poker game that involves celebrities and the West Coast wealthy – all male. Molly starts out basically holding their money. That doesn’t last long as her intellect soon has her running the show.

This puts her in constant contact with an unnamed movie star played by Michael Cera. A quick look at the facts of Bloom’s true events would put Tobey Maguire as the actual actor. Sorkin’s screenplay doesn’t dwell on the famous names that real Molly came in contact with, as apparently the subject’s book this is based on didn’t either. I will say this. If half the stuff about Maguire (err Cera’s character) is accurate, he’s not exactly your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

It also puts her in proximity with far worse types than bratty leading men. There’s the Mob, in Italian and Russian form. And that’s where it all gets truly dangerous. These individuals provide a risk to her personal safety, as do the drug fueled measures she takes on her own to keep the business rolling in celebrity, Mafia, and trust fund kid cash.

Molly’s Game is told in flashback as our central figure’s legal troubles mount. Idris Elba is her skilled and sympathetic lawyer. Kevin Costner is her hard charging dad – a therapist who is always seeking perfection from his daughter. It’s their dynamic that turns out to be the key one here and provides a window into Molly’s behavior. In some ways, it’s a relationship we’ve seen countless times onscreen before and this doesn’t add much freshness.

That said, when Sorkin’s writing is at its best, it’s an entertaining sound. Molly’s Game gives us plenty of long exchanges between particularly Chastain and Elba that qualify. We’ve seen the world of closed-door poker (in the solid Rounders for example) before, but not often. The writer/director frequently excels at displaying this fast-paced universe that just a minor segment of the ultra rich are privy to.

Chastain is present in nearly every frame and she provides another electric performance as a strong female getting it done in a male dominated universe. Elba offers sturdy support. Even though Costner’s subplot is the most routine, he adds some depth in the third act as the complicated dad.

Those familiar with Sorkin’s word games will find plenty to enjoy here. It doesn’t rise to the level of The Social Network, mind you. It does comfortably give me confidence that his dialogue works just fine with him also wearing the director’s hat.

*** (out of four)

 

Top 25 Best Movie Trailers (1990-2015): Nos. 5-1

Ladies and gentlemen, we have arrived at the best of the best of my personal favorite movie trailers of the past 25 years and that means the top five!

This has been a tremendously fun list to come up with, especially because it afforded me the opportunity to watch this friggin sweet teasers and trailers. We now get to the creme dela creme and here we go:

5. Inception (2010)

Christopher Nolan’s trailers are always pretty darn awesome and I could have included any from his Dark Knight trilogy or last year’s Interstellar. Yet the most impressive for me was our first look at his mind bending and visually groundbreaking Inception.

4. Pulp Fiction (1994)

OK, yes it’s also my favorite actual movie of the last 25 years, but that’s not why it’s included. The trailer itself with its playful tone of winning at the Cannes Film Festival (which it did) coupled with its violent images, music song shifts, and second to none cast put the trailer in a league of its own as well.

3. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

The spot for Martin Scorsese’s collabo with Leonardo DiCaprio’s perfectly captures the wild spirit and tremendous excess of the film itself and Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead” backing track helps, too. I remember watching this over and over again when it premiered.

2. The Social Network (2010)

David Fincher’s trailers are typically in a class of their own (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo made this list as well), but this initial trailer for the picture about the founding of Facebook is an editing masterpiece set to the beautiful strains of Radiohead’s “Creep” as covered by the Vega Choir.

  1. Gravity (2013)

The trailer titled “Detached” for Alfonso Cuaron’s Sandra Bullock lost in space megahit earns the #1 spot here due to its dazzling visuals and the fact that it amazingly captures the suspense that the film brought forth. The original trailer for 1979’s Alien is often and justifiably considered the greatest trailer ever with its tagline “In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream”. This is our generation’s Alien trailer.

And that’ll do it, loyal blog readers! I hope you enjoyed reading this list as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Oscar History: 2010

In my ongoing series of Oscar History posts, we arrive at what happened during the year 2010. This was quite a strong year for movies and, unlike other years, I can’t really quibble with the ten pictures that were nominated.

I can, however, differ with what won: Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech. While this was a very solid and entertaining picture, I would have definitely put at least three of the other nominees above it: Black Swan, Inception, and my favorite of the year, The Social Network. Other nominees were 127 Hours, The Fighter, The Kids Are All Right, Toy Story 3, True Grit, and Winter’s Bone. 

Picture/Director matched up as Tom Hooper’s work in King’s Speech would win over Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), Joel and Ethan Coen (True Grit), David Fincher (The Social Network), and David O. Russell (The Fighter). I may have found a spot for Christopher Nolan’s visually striking work in Inception. 

The love for The King’s Speech continued in Best Actor as Colin Firth was honored for his portrayal as King George VI. He triumphed over Javier Bardem (Biutiful), Jeff Bridges (True Grit), Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network), and James Franco (127 Hours). It’s worth noting that Franco co-hosted the Oscars that year with Anne Hathaway. It wasn’t too memorable.

While his supporting players were showered with love, Mark Wahlberg was snubbed for his anchoring performance in The Fighter. Others worthy of mention: Leonardo DiCaprio in either Inception or Shutter Island and Robert Duvall for Get Low.

Natalie Portman was a bit of a no-brainer pick for her tour de force work in Black Swan in the Actress race, beating out Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right), Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole), Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone), and Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine).

I was a little surprised to see Bening’s Kids lead costar Julianne Moore left out. Franco’s co-host Anne Hathaway would’ve been a solid choice for her fine work in Love and Other Drugs. The Oscar voters rarely honor comedy, but they could have here with Emma Stone in her hit Easy A, as well.

Supporting Actor honored Christian Bale as Mark Wahlberg’s drug addicted brother in The Fighter. The other nominees were John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone), Jeremy Renner (The Town), Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right), and Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech).

I might have found room for either Andrew Garfield or Justin Timberlake in The Social Network. And keeping the snubbed comedy theme going, here’s an outside the box mention: Rob Corddry for his hilarious work in Hot Tub Time Machine.

The Fighter also won in Supporting Actress with Melissa Leo, who edged out her co-star Amy Adams. The other nominees: Helena Bonham Carter in The King’s Speech, Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit, and Jacki Weaver in Animal Kingdom. The voters could have certainly nominated either Mila Kunis or Barbara Hershey for their roles in Black Swan.

And that’s your Oscar History of 2010, my friends. We’ll get to 2011 soon…

Top 25 Best Movies (1990-2015): Nos. 10-6

This evening on the blog, we move to the top ten of my personal favorite 25 pictures of the past generation, from 1990 to now. Not an easy task for sure, but clearly all of these ten titles (top five coming tomorrow) are masterpieces in my book. Let’s get to it:

10. Seven (1995)

David Fincher’s run of terrific movies began with this gut wrenching serial killer tale with Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, and a deliciously sadistic Kevin Spacey. The final act of these proceedings represent some of the most intense moments on film I’ve ever witnessed.

9. Up (2009)

Over the last 20 years, the creme de la creme of family entertainment has come from Pixar with the Toy Story franchise, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Wall-E, Inside Out, and so on. To me, their absolute high point is Up. I wrote a post on the blog before discussing the sequence which shows the main character’s romance with his wife throughout her life. It’s one of the most beautifully constructed and emotional montages I’ve ever seen, period.

8. The Social Network (2010)

Back to David Fincher again and here we have his brilliant tale of the founding of Facebook that I contend will stand as one of the most important pictures to explain the time we live in.

7. Almost Famous (2000)

Cameron Crowe’s autobiographical tale of his youth spent at Rolling Stone magazine is one of the ultimate feel good experiences filled with great music and performances. The bus scene set to Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” is perfect and one of the best examples ever put to film about music advancing the story line.

6. Groundhog Day (1993)

In a career filled with amazing performances, Bill Murray is at his apex in this uproarious and also touching tale of one very long day. It is easily my favorite comedy of the last many years.

And that’ll do it for today and the top five will hit the blog tomorrow!

Ranking David Fincher

This weekend, director David Fincher’s latest film Gone Girl posted his largest box office debut among his ten pictures he’s made over the past two decades plus.

The 52 year old actually his start in the world of music videos and his long list of credits includes Madonna’s “Vogue” and “Express Yourself”, Aerosmith’s “Janie’s Got a Gun”, Don Henley’s “The End of the Innocence”, Michael Jackson’s “Who Is It?”, George Michael’s “Freedom 90”, The Rolling Stones’ “Love is Strong”, and Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer”.

Fincher would get his big break in film with a beloved sci-fi franchise, though his entry failed to meet audience expectations and his directorial career was looking shaky. Three years later, an unexpected hit would arise and since then, Fincher’s never looked back. And by doing so, he’s provided audiences with some of the greatest and often darkest entertainment in cinema for 20 years.

In honor of his 10th effort, I decided to take on the very difficult task of ranking every Fincher flick from 10-1. Let me make one thing clear… there’s not one of these films that you shouldn’t watch if you haven’t already… he’s that good.

Here we go!

10. Alien 3 (1992)

Not nearly as bad as its reputation, Alien 3 does certainly suffer in comparison to Alien and Aliens, but it gives viewers a first taste of Fincher’s distinct visual style. The shoot of Alien 3 was a notoriously difficult one and Fincher was brought in at the last minute after several others dropped out. The result is uneven, but still worthwhile.

9. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

The first of his pictures to receive Oscar attention is actually the only Fincher feature I would call slightly overrated. Stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett are solid and the visuals are undeniably remarkable, but it’s overlong and not as involving as it should be.

8. Panic Room (2002)

This might be a conventional home invasion thriller if not for Fincher’s splendid technical work, a forceful lead performance by Jodie Foster, and an unexpectedly great turn by Dwight Yoakam as a demented burglar.

7. Gone Girl (2014)

Fincher followed up Tattoo by taking on another celebrated novel and the results were quite pleasing. Like Mara in Tattoo, Rosamund Pike received an Oscar nod in this thriller that would make Hitchcock proud.

6. Zodiac (2007)

The true life police procedural focusing on the mysterious Zodiac killer is right up Fincher’s alley with a sturdy lead performance from Jake Gyllenhall and Robert Downey Jr. beginning his remarkable comeback as an alcoholic reporter. The murder scenes are disturbing in ways only its director can pull off.

5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Many were skeptical that Fincher could pull off adapting this beloved book, but he accomplished that and then some here. Rooney Mara earned an Oscar nod and a sequel is still rumored with Fincher participating.

4. The Game (1997)

It might be implausible when you rewatch it over and over, but it doesn’t much matter. The mind warp of a thriller starring Michael Douglas and Sean Penn is one helluva ride.

3. Fight Club (1999)

Fincher’s most polarizing effort has a lot to say about its generation, materialism, and conformity. It took me a second viewing to realize this a pitch black comedy… and it’s an astonishing one with Brad Pitt and Edward Norton shining in their roles.

2. Seven (1995)

This is the picture where Fincher truly emerged after the disappointment of Alien 3… and did he ever. The last 30 minutes, I would argue, is possibly the most intense segment of a movie. Ever.

1. The Social Network (2010)

When it was announced that the wonderful David Fincher was making a movie about the founding of Facebook, cinema lovers were confused and highly suspicious that he’d gone off the rails. Turned out he made one of the most important films of our era. Lesson: don’t doubt Mr. Fincher.

And there you have it! Feel free to chime in with your thoughts on his best works and, as I said, if you haven’t seen all of these titles – you should.

Oh… and I forgot to mention he also directed a number of Paula Abdul videos, including “Straight Up”. So here’s that!