Babylon Review

The silent days and boisterous evenings of Hollywood in the 1920s and 30s are meticulously depicted in Babylon. From the gourd of Damien Chazelle, this is his version of Boogie Nights in many respects. It focuses on one version of Tinseltown technology fading out in favor of another. In Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece from a quarter century ago, it was X rated material shot on film being transitioned to video. Here it’s the silent era making way for talkies. The adult entertainment is on ample display at the swank and sweaty bashes that feature cocaine and elephants as party favors.

We meet the main principals at an L.A. happening in 1926. Manny Torres (Diego Calva) is an immigrant doing menial work for Kinoscope Studios. At the company’s debauched soirée, aspiring star Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie) literally crashes into his consciousness and a years long infatuation is born. Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt) is the already established screen hero whose shooting schedules seem to last longer than his marriages. Jazz trumpeter Sidney Palmer (Jovan Adepo) provides the soundtrack to the sin while cabaret songstress Lady Fay Zhu (Li Jun Li) supplies sultry vocals. Columnist Elinor St. John (Jean Smart) is around to gossip about it.

The night serves as the intro point for Manny and Nellie to mount separate meteoric rises in a shifting industry. She becomes a silent film sensation just as sound (courtesy of The Jazz Singer) is around the corner. Manny’s connection with Conrad opens doors to big jobs as the movie headliner’s career begins a downward slide. Palmer, meanwhile, becomes a popular if exploited attraction in a series of musicals.

For three hours plus, Babylon celebrates and denigrates the excesses of the era. Nellie’s substance fueled rocket ride and downfall is given bulky screen time while others get the short shrift (Jun Li’s Zhu being one example). There is impressive production design to spare where odious actions occur within the walls. Tobey Maguire’s cameo as a whacked out criminal at an underground function displays scenarios that might make Robbie’s and her costars from The Wolf of Wall Street blush.

Chazelle’s message is pretty straightforward when there isn’t vomit and defecate being spewed. As ugly as Hollywood is, the end result can be beautiful. This is evident in a couple of terrific sequences that show the joy and pain of moviemaking. In one we witness Conrad’s war-torn romance catch the light at the perfect time. In another we suffer along with Nellie as she acclimates herself to the noise being introduced to celluloid.

I wish the gifted provider of Whiplash and La La Land could’ve reigned himself in. The aforementioned segments show how special this would have been with a tighter focus. Unfortunately it’s not only septa being deviated from. While Robbie and Pitt both have shining moments, Chazelle’s screenplay never makes Manny a compelling central figure. Calva doesn’t have much to work with considering his blank slate of a character. There are many known faces that pop up in the crowded script including Olivia Wilde and Katherine Waterston as fleeting wives to Conrad. Lukas Haas is the sad sack friend to the frequent divorcee whose character is similar to William H. Macy’s in Boogie Nights. That picture and Babylon take place in different eras of Hollywood shifts. One is brilliant. The other is occasionally inspired and often maddening.

**1/2 (out of four)

Babylon Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Update (12/20): I am revising my Babylon prediction down to $8.7 million

The La La Land man turns his attention to the debauchery of Hollywood’s early days in Babylon. Damien Chazelle directs the epic dramedy that rivals Avatar: The Way of Water (188 minutes) in terms of length. Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Diego Calva, Jean Smart, Jovan Adepo, Li Jun Li, Lukas Haas, Max Minghella, Samara Weaving, Olivia Wilde, and Tobey Maguire are among the sprawling cast.

While the review embargo hasn’t officially lifted, social media reactions are all over the map. There’s praise and contempt for the hard R rated extravaganza. This week it received five Golden Globes nods (including Best Picture – Musical/Comedy) and nine mentions from the Critics Choice Awards (including Best Picture). Oscar attention is anticipated.

There’s comparisons in terms of tone (and rampant drug use) to The Wolf of Wall Street from 2013. It also was presented during the Christmas season to a traditional three-day haul of just over $18 million. That’s probably the ceiling of where Babylon would manage.

I’ll project lower double digits is where this starts as it hopes the buzz keeps it going into the new year.

Babylon opening weekend prediction: $8.7 million (REVISED)

For my Puss in Boots: The Last Wish prediction, click here:

For my Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody prediction, click here:

Oscar Predictions: Babylon

One of the last significant pieces of the 2022 Oscar puzzle has come into sharper focus with Damien Chazelle’s Babylon. The 188 minute epic set in late 1920s Hollywood has screened for industry and critics and reaction is wildly divergent. Some posts are calling it a triumph while others proclaim it a grotesque mess. One thing seems certain – this one will get a whole lotta chatter leading up to its December 23rd release. One other thing – the buzz below could change with more screenings as we get closer to the premiere.

Newcomer Diego Calva headlines a cast that includes Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt, Jovan Adepo, Li Jun Li, Jean Smart, and Tobey Maguire. While the review embargo won’t lift for a bit, the all over the map chatter raises some questions for its awards viability.

Chazelle has a sterling track record with voters. His first two features – 2014’s Whiplash and 2016’s La La Land – were both Best Picture nominees (the latter rather famously losing to Moonlight). Chazelle did take the Director prize for La La. On the other hand, 2018’s First Man underperformed at the box office and with the Academy (its four nods were all in tech categories).

So it’s a given that Babylon has (sight unseen) sat high on the projections of prognosticators for months. First things first. This won’t end the streak of Chazelle’s movies getting nominations. It’s a major possibility in numerous below the line competitions like Cinematography, Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, Production Design, Score, and Sound. Film Editing is one that could be contingent on a BP nod.

Will it get there for the biggest race? I think it still probably makes the cut. Yet Paramount might be feeling that Top Gun: Maverick is now their ace contender. The studio has had such a solid year that both could get in. There’s been some comparisons to The Wolf of Wall Street with the running time and frequent debauchery. That was a BP hopeful in 2013. For another Leo pic reference, Don’t Look Up was up last year and it too garnered severely mixed reviews.

I suspect I’ll still have Babylon in my top 10 when I updated my projections this weekend. I’ve had it listed 3rd for weeks and I would anticipate that ranking will drop. Chazelle is unlikely to be my #2 where he’s sat behind Steven Spielberg (The Fabelmans) for awhile. I’m not completely sure he’ll be in my estimated quintet.

As for the actors – Robbie is getting a lot of praise thus far as is Calva. Best Actress, as I’ve noted a lot on here, is packed this year. I believe Cate Blanchett (Tár), Michelle Yeoh (Everything Everywhere All at Once), and Danielle Deadwyler (Till) are currently top 3 in the race and there’s a handful of others vying for spots 4-5. That includes Robbie and I still believe she stands a realistic shot. So does Calva and that may be due to Actor being pretty weak this year. His inclusion is far from guaranteed, but he could nab a fourth or fifth slot like his costar. While Pitt is getting decent notices, I’m less convinced he’s in for Supporting Actor.

Bottom line: Babylon doesn’t seem like a threat to win Best Picture and it’s questionable whether it even gets in. Acting nods are feasible but not assured. Tech noms are inevitable. My Oscar prediction posts will continue…

2022 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Supporting Actor Race

With two months to go for 2022 releases to make their mark with awards voters, it’s a opportune time to assess the six major Oscar races. That would be Picture, Director, and the four acting derbies.

It begins with Supporting Actor. Over the past couple of years, this has been the category that’s confounded me the most during this juncture in the calendar.

That was a different story three years ago. In late October of 2019, I correctly identified 4 out of the eventual 5 nominees. This included winner Brad Pitt for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as well as Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood), Anthony Hopkins (The Two Popes), and Al Pacino (The Irishman). The other nominee – Joe Pesci for The Irishman – was in my #6 spot.

For the unpredictable year that was 2020 (due to constantly shifting release dates because of COVID), I only named 2 of the 5 hopefuls two months out – Sacha Baron Cohen for The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Leslie Odom Jr. for One Night in Miami. I still had eventual victor Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah) projected for lead actor until the studio announced him for supporting.

In 2021, I made a point to say that the Supporting Actor derby was wide open in late October. And that was evidenced in my only identifying 1 of the eventual Supporting Actor quintet in the Halloween time frame – Ciaran Hinds in Belfast. I had Troy Kotsur (CODA), who would take the gold statue, in 10th place. Bradley Cooper (Licorice Pizza) was in first place and he missed out. Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Power of the Dog), who made the cut, was in 8th place. His costar Jesse Plemons and J.K. Simmons (Being the Ricardos) weren’t listed at all.

Which brings us to 2022 and at this spooky time of year, I would say this competition is up in the air with no obvious frontrunner. 12 months ago, however, I couldn’t have imagined I’d kick off the speculation with this sentence…

The Supporting Actor discussion starts with Ke Huy Quan.

The 51-year-old actor belongs in the mid 80s cinematic Hall of Fame with his turns as Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Data in The Goonies. His return to acting in Everything Everywhere All at Once has been met with raves. It’s also undeniable that his win would be a heckuva Academy narrative nearly 40 years after his iconic child performances. I’ve had him listed in first place for weeks and that remains.

In four of the last five years, we’ve witnessed double nominees in Supporting Actor. Last year it was the aforementioned Smit-McPhee and Plemons for The Power of the Dog. In 2020, we had the winner Daniel Kaluuya in Judas and the Black Messiah and his costar Lakeith Stanfield. 2019’s Irishman double duo was Pacino and Pesci. Five years ago, it was Sam Rockwell (who won) and Woody Harrelson for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Martin McDonagh directed Billboards and his follow-up is The Banshees of Inisherin. Brendan Gleeson has sat in the #2 position for several prediction posts in a row. He’s a threat to take the prize. I believe his costar Barry Keoghan may also get in.

Banshees is not the only viable option for double nominees. Ke Huy Quan’s Doom maker Steven Spielberg has The Fabelmans. Before it screened at the Toronto Film Festival, we wondered whether Paul Dano or Seth Rogen (or both) would be the likely nominee(s). Post screening, scene (just one scene) stealer Judd Hirsch bubbled up while Rogen’s viability dwindled. Dano’s work is understated and certainly not as flashy as Hirsch’s brief turn. That leads me to put Hirsch in with Dano on the outside looking in. I’ll admit it’s a coin flip.

Damien Chazelle’s Babylon screens for critics in two weeks. There’s a trio of possibilities with Brad Pitt, Jovan Adepo, and Tobey Maguire. I’ve had Pitt in my 5 previously. It’s fair to speculate whether his recent tabloid headlines could hinder him. We’ll know more once reviews roll in.

Ben Whishaw in Women Talking is a trendy selection and for good reason. I’m not completely sold as voters could opt to focus only on his female cast members Claire Foy and Jessie Buckley (and maybe others) in Supporting Actress. Yet it feels wrong to keep him out right now.

You have to go back to 2013 to find the last time the five contenders all came from Best Picture nominees. I’m not wild about the fact that my projections currently do. There’s a few names that could get in from movies I’m not putting in BP list. We have Eddie Redmayne in The Good Nurse, Brian Tyree Henry for Causeway, Jeremy Strong or Anthony Hopkins in Armageddon Time, Mark Rylance in Bones and All, Micheal Ward in Empire of Light, Don Cheadle in White Noise, and Tom Hanks in Elvis. Of that group, I’m starting to flirt with the idea of Rylance being the guy. He scored an upset win here with Bridge of Spies in 2015 over Sylvester Stallone in Creed and Bones has its ardent admirers. I wouldn’t discount the Redmayne pick as he’s a Best Actor winner in 2014 for The Theory of Everything who was nominated again the following year with The Danish Girl. If Elvis manages a BP nod (not out of the question), this would increase the inclusion of Hanks. I do have Triangle of Sadness in my BP ten and that could mean a third nomination for Woody Harrelson.

Bottom line: I feel pretty confident about Ke Huy Quan and Brendan Gleeson. Everything everywhere else is up in the air.

With that said, here’s my state of the race:

Best Supporting Actor

Predicted Nominees:

1. Ke Huy Quan, Everything Everywhere All at Once (Previous Ranking: 1) (E)

2. Brendan Gleeson, The Banshees of Inisherin (PR: 2) (E)

3. Ben Whishaw, Women Talking (PR: 4) (+1)

4. Judd Hirsch, The Fabelmans (PR: 6) (+2)

5. Barry Keoghan, The Banshees of Inisherin (PR: 5) (E)

Other Possibilities:

6. Paul Dano, The Fabelmans (PR: 3) (-3)

7. Brad Pitt, Babylon (PR: 7) (E)

8. Mark Rylance, Bones and All (PR: Not Ranked)

9. Woody Harrelson, Triangle of Sadness (PR: 8) (-1)

10. Eddie Redmayne, The Good Nurse (PR: Not Ranked)

Dropped Out:

Brian Tyree Henry, Causeway

Tom Hanks, Elvis

My deep dive with the Supporting Actress field is next!

Spider-Man: No Way Home – The More Fun Stuff Edition Box Office Prediction

After amassing over $800 million at the box office and becoming the third highest domestic grosser of all time, Disney and Marvel are looking to spin more bucks for Spidey on Labor Day weekend. That’s in the form of Spider-Man: No Way Home – The More Fun Stuff Edition. The revamped version contains 11 minutes of additional footage including more of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield donning the spandex alongside Tom Holland.

Over Labor Day 2021, the MCU made a killing when Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings took in $94 million over the Monday to Friday frame. In 2022, Hollywood seems to be taking the holiday off. This could allow Marvel to hit #1 again with our webbed heroes. Fun is out on approximately 3000 screens and that wide release could allow for a seventh non-consecutive weekend atop the charts.

That said, I don’t expect this to top $10 million. The, um, less fun (?) iteration is already streaming and has been for some time. I don’t imagine a large audience will turn out for 11 extra minutes.

Spider-Man: No Way Home – The More Fun Stuff Edition opening weekend prediction: $7 million (Friday to Monday estimate)

For my Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. prediction, click here:

Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. Box Office Prediction

For my Jaws prediction, click here:

Jaws Box Office Prediction

Summer 2012: The Top 10 Hits and More

My look back at the cinematic summers of 30, 20, and 10 years ago culminates with 2012. A decade ago, the Marvel Cinematic Universe went from a successful franchise to the phenomenal juggernaut that it remains today. That’s due to the release of a little something called The Avengers. On a side note, it’s worth mentioning that the biggest grosser 30 years ago (Batman Returns), two decades ago (Spider-Man), and in this post all share comic book roots.

Before we get to Iron Man and company, I’ll recount the other features in the top ten moneymakers before covering additional notable titles and some flops. If you missed my write-ups about the seasons of 1992 and 2002, you can find them here:

Summer 1992: The Top 10 Hits and More

Summer 2002: The Top 10 Hits and More

10. Prometheus

Domestic Gross: $126 million

Some three decades after Alien terrified audiences, Ridley Scott returned to the franchise. However, this was more of a mixed bag in terms of critical and audience reaction. The production design and Michael Fassbender’s performance were praised while the script drew its share of critics. Nevertheless Scott would be back in the mix five years later with Alien: Covenant. 

9. Snow White and the Huntsman 

Domestic Gross: $155 million

Hot off the Twilight franchise and hot off playing Thor in The Avengers, Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth battled Prometheus costar Charlize Theron’s evil stepmom in this fantasy adventure. Reviews were so-so but it performed well enough to warrant a less appreciated prequel The Huntsman: Winter’s War in 2016.

8. Ice Age: Continental Drift 

Domestic Gross: $161 million

The fourth entry in the animated franchise featuring the vocal stylings of Ray Romano and John Leguizamo kept the grosses hot. Sequel Collision Course would follow four years later.

7. Men in Black 3

Domestic Gross: $179 million

The third teaming of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones (with Josh Brolin playing a convincing younger version of him) earned $11 million less than 2002’s part II. That sequel made less than the 1997 original. The series was revamped in 2019 with Men in Black: International with none other than Chris Hemsworth, but audiences tuned out.

6. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted

Domestic Gross: $216 million

Ben Stiller and Chris Rock returned for the third time voicing their respective lion and zebra. Spin-off Penguins of Madagascar came out two years later while a proper fourth entry never materialized from DreamWorks.

5. Ted

Domestic Gross: $218 million

Moving from Fox’s hugely successful animated sitcom Family Guy the big screen, Seth MacFarlane’s story of Mark Wahlberg and his crude talking bear Ted was the breakout comedy of the season. Follow-ups A Million Ways to Die in the West and the Ted sequel were not as well received.

4. Brave

Domestic Gross: $237 million

The first Pixar film led by a female hero is also the inaugural studio entry (co)directed by a woman. It would go on to win Best Animated Feature at the Oscars.

3. The Amazing Spider-Man

Domestic Gross: $262 million

After not moving forward with a fourth title directed by Sam Raimi and starring Tobey Maguire, the Spidey franchise was rebooted with Marc Webb behind the camera and Andrew Garfield donning the red. The dollars followed although reviews were mixed and a 2014 sequel was widely considered a disappointment.

2. The Dark Knight Rises

Domestic Gross: $448 million

While perhaps not quite reaching the heights of 2008’s The Dark Knight, the culmination to Christopher Nolan’s trilogy sent Christian Bale’s Caped Crusader off in stirring fashion and with hugely profitable earnings.

1. The Avengers

Domestic Gross: $623 million

Setting record after record upon release, the melding of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye transfixed filmgoers. It’s been Marvel’s world and we’ve been living in it ever since.

And now for some other pics worthy of discussion:

Magic Mike

Domestic Gross: $113 million

Steven Soderbergh’s saga of male exotic dancers was based loosely on Channing Tatum’s real life experiences. It turned him into a superstar while giving Matthew McConaughey a memorable showcase. The micro budgeted pic (a reported $7 million) spawned a 2015 sequel and there’s a third scheduled to hit HBO Max next year.

The Bourne Legacy

Domestic Gross: $113 million

Audiences weren’t clamoring for Jeremy Renner to replace Matt Damon in this franchise, but the stateside and overseas grosses were still pretty acceptable. That said, Renner’s tenure lasted this pic and this pic only.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Domestic Gross: $46 million

While it performed even better overseas, this British import with Judi Dench  was a sleeper hit stateside that begat a 2015 sequel.

Moonrise Kingdom 

Domestic Gross: $45 million

Wes Anderson scored with critics and crowds with this coming-of-age dramedy that premiered at Cannes and then found an audience in the weeks that followed.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Domestic Gross: $12 million

This indie drama from Benh Zeitlin was truly a little movie that could. Shot for under $2 million, it eventually nabbed Oscar nods for Picture, Director, Actress (Quvanzhane Wallis at age 9), and Adapted Screenplay.

They’re not all winners so let’s get into some critical and/or commercial failures from the period:

Dark Shadows

Domestic Gross: $79 million

Johnny Depp’s box office happy days were beginning to fade as his 8th collaboration with Tim Burton was perhaps the least memorable. This horror comedy failed to enlighten viewers.

Battleship

Domestic Gross: $65 million

Action fans weren’t taken with this Peter Berg directed board game adaptation starring Liam Neeson and Rihanna with a bloated budget of over $200 million.

Total Recall

Domestic Gross: $58 million

And your action sci-fi fans weren’t signing up for Colin Farrell taking over for Arnold Schwarzenegger in this unneeded remake.

Rock of Ages

Domestic Gross: $38 million

Based on the Broadway musical, there was a deaf ear turned to this adaptation despite Tom Cruise getting solid notices for his performance. Lucky for him, he’d rule this current summer with Top Gun: Maverick. 

That’s My Boy

Domestic Gross: $36 million

Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg’s comedic partnership drew a 20% Tomatoes meter and ambivalence from usually devoted Sandler fans.

The Watch

Domestic Gross: $35 million

That wasn’t the only high-profile comedic flop as this sci-fi mashup with Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Jonah Hill fared even worse in numbers and rotten reviews (17% RT).

And that’ll close it out, ladies and gents! It’s been a pleasure revising these cinematic seasons of days past.

Summer 2002: The Top 10 Hits and More

In the turbulent months that followed the terrorist attacks of 9/11, domestic audiences needed some escapism at the box office. In the Christmas season of 2001, they found it with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. 

By summer 2002, moviegoers turned out in record-setting droves for the first big screen treatment of an iconic superhero.

20 years later, that’s one thing that hasn’t changed as Spidey continues to dominate the charts. It all started with a memorable upside down kiss. Before we go there, there’s plenty more to discuss for the cinematic summer of two decades past.

As I do every season on the blog, I’m recounting the top 10 hits, other notable features, and flops from 30, 20, and 10 years ago. If you missed my post covering 1992, it’s right here:

Summer 1992: The Top 10 Hits and More

Let’s begin with that top 10!

10. Mr. Deeds

Domestic Gross: $126 million

When Adam Sandler remade Frank Capra, the result was another blockbuster for the star and a needed one after his previous pic Little Nicky was a rare commercial flop.

9. Minority Report

Domestic Gross: $132 million

The first and still only collaboration between Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg is a prescient sci-fi tale and its reputation has grown since its release. It’s my personal favorite film of 2002.

8. xXx

Domestic Gross: 142 million

Riding high off the success of the previous summer’s The Fast and the Furious, Rob Cohen and Vin Diesel reunited for this over the top action flick. A sequel would follow three years later without Diesel’s involvement (Ice Cube starred instead), but Vin would return to the role in 2017.

7. Lilo & Stitch

Domestic Gross: $145 million

This Disney animated effort performed just fine (if not in the stratosphere of some 90s gems) and spawned numerous direct-to-video follow-ups. A live-action version is being planned.

6. Scooby-Doo

Domestic Gross: $153 million

Critics might have thought it was a dog, but crowds lapped up this live-action/animated hybrid based on the very 1970s cartoon. Scoob and the gang would return two years later for part 2. Fun fact: James Gunn of Guardians of the Galaxy fame wrote the script.

5. Men in Black II

Domestic Gross: $190 million

Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones teamed up again for the sci-fi comedic spectacle from Barry Sonnenfeld. This fell short of the original’s $250 million domestic haul and the reviewers weren’t impressed, but that didn’t prevent a third offering that will be discussed in my summer of 2012 post.

4. Austin Powers in Goldmember

Domestic Gross: $213 million

Mike Myers continued to flex his box office mojo alongside Beyonce, Michael Caine, and Mini-Me in this threequel that I believe surpassed the quality of predecessor The Spy Who Shagged Me. 

3. Signs

Domestic Gross: $227 million

After the more mixed reaction that Unbreakable garnered, M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs with Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix was more of a return to crowd favorite status. What followed was several pics from him that drew considerably more ambivalent to negative vibes.

2. Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones

Domestic Gross: $302 million

$302 million is just dandy for nearly any movie, but this second prequel from George Lucas fell well short of the $431 million achieved by The Phantom Menace three summers prior. Many consider this the worst of the nine officials episodes. I’m one of them.

    1. Spider-Man

Domestic Gross: $403 million

When Sam Raimi’s spin on the webslinger kicked off the summer, it did so with the largest opening weekend of all time at $114 million (breaking a record that had just been set by the first Potter). Two sequels followed for the Tobey Maguire/Kirsten Dunst trilogy and, as we all know, the character has never left us. Spider-Man: No Way Home recently brought all 3 Spideys (Maguire, Andrew Garfield, Tom Holland) into its MCU Multiverse.

Now let’s move to some other notable titles from the season:

The Bourne Identity 

Domestic Gross: $121 million

While outside the top ten, Paul Greengrass’s action thriller with Matt Damon as an amnesiac spy is more influential than the bulk of the flicks above it. Damon would return to the role three times.

The Sum of All Fears

Domestic Gross: $118 million

Right behind Damon is his buddy Ben Affleck who took over the role of Jack Ryan (previously played by Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford) in the Tom Clancy adapted hit.

Road to Perdition

Domestic Gross: $104 million

His follow-up to Best Picture winner American Beauty, the Depression era crime drama from Sam Mendes cast Tom Hanks against type as a hitman with Paul Newman as his underworld boss. This only nabbed a Cinematography Oscar, but reviews were mostly strong. It also provides a juicy role for pre-007 Daniel Craig.

Insomnia

Domestic Gross: $67 million

Hanks wasn’t the only legend stretching in a villainous turn. Robin Williams memorably did the same as he was pitted against Al Pacino’s detective in this chilly thriller from Christopher Nolan (three years before Batman Begins).

Unfaithful

Domestic Gross: $52 million

Adrian Lyne made a movie about another fatal attraction and Unfaithful earned Diane Lane an Oscar nomination as the cheating wife of Richard Gere.

And now for some movies that didn’t perform so well…

Reign of Fire

Domestic Gross: $43 million

This dragon centered fantasy arrived before Matthew McConaughey and Christian Bale would be Oscar winners a few years later. Critics weren’t kind and the box office failed to generate much fire.

Windtalkers

Domestic Gross: $40 million

John Woo’s financial win streak blew over with this World War II action drama headlined by Nicolas Cage that only managed 32% on Rotten Tomatoes.

K-19: The Widowmaker 

Domestic Gross: $35 million

Seven years before her Oscar winning The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow’s 1960s set submarine thriller with Harrison Ford was a pricey disappointment.

Halloween: Resurrection

Domestic Gross: $30 million

Michael Myers and Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie Strode are about to team up for the final (?) time in Halloween Ends in October. In 2002, this was the sequel to the successful Halloween H20 from 1998. This one was not so successful and it’s considered by many aficionados as the weakest of the whole franchise.

Bad Company

Domestic Gross: $30 million

One is a double Oscar winner and the other is one of greatest stand-ups of all time, but this cinematic pairing of Anthony Hopkins and Chris Rock in Joel Schumacher’s action comedy was met with a shrug.

Blood Work 

Domestic Gross: $26 million

Ten years after Unforgiven won Best Picture after its summer release, Clint Eastwood’s mystery didn’t work for critics or crowds.

The Adventures of Pluto Nash

Domestic Gross: $4 million

Speaking of legendary stand-ups, Eddie Murphy reached a career low point as sci-fi comedy Nash stands as one of cinema’s most notorious flops. Its budget was a reported $100 million and that’s not a misprint above… it made an embarrassing $4 million.

2012 is up next!

22 for ’22: Oscars Early Look

It’s been an entire week since The Slap… check that, the 94th Academy Awards where CODA parlayed its Sundance buzz from January 2021 all the way to a Best Picture victory.

That also means I’ve managed to wait a whole week without speculation for the next Academy Awards which will hopefully be a slap free zone. So what are some titles that could be vying for attention?

On May 27th and after numerous delays, Top Gun: Maverick will find Tom Cruise returning to his iconic role some 36 years after the original. There’s a decent chance it could be up for similar prizes that its predecessor landed like Sound, Film Editing, and Song (courtesy of Lady Gaga apparently). Visual Effects is a possibility as well.

My weekly Oscar prediction posts won’t begin until mid to late August. In the meantime, you’ll get individualized write-ups for pics that open or screen at festivals.

Yet for today – I feel the need. The need to identify 21 other 2022 titles that might end up on the Academy’s radar. Enjoy!

Armageddon Time

Despite acclaimed movies like The Lost City of Z and Ad Astra, James Gray has yet to connect with awards voters. This drama, rumored to be centered on his Queens upbringing, is the next hopeful and features a stellar cast including Anne Hathaway, Anthony Hopkins, and Jeremy Strong. Release Date: TBD

Avatar 2

The 2009 original amassed nine nominations and won took home three. The first sequel (there’s three more on the way) arrives in December from James Cameron. Will it capture the critical and box office magic of part one? That’s impossible to know at this juncture, but one can safely assume it’ll be up for some tech categories like Sound and Visual Effects. Release Date: December 16th

Babylon

Damien Chazelle is no stranger to the big dance. Whiplash was a BP nominee and J.K. Simmons won Supporting Actor. Chazelle took Director for his follow-up La La Land along with Emma Stone’s Actress victory and it almost famously took BP. First Man nabbed four nominations, but missed the top of the line races. Babylon is a period drama focused on Hollywood’s Golden Age and should be right up the Academy’s alley. The cast includes Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, and Tobey Maguire. Release Date: December 25th

Canterbury Glass

Robbie also turns up in David O. Russell’s latest ensemble piece. Anytime he’s behind the camera, Oscar nods typically follow (think The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle). Slated for November, the dramedy also features Christian Bale, John David Washington, Rami Malek, Zoe Saldana, Robert De Niro, Mike Myers, and… Chris Rock. Release Date: November 4th

Elvis

Arriving in June but with a Cannes unveiling in May, Baz Luhrmann’s musical bio of The King stars Austin Butler in the title role and Tom Hanks as The Colonel. If this doesn’t contend for the major awards, I would still anticipate potential tech recognition (Production Design, Sound, etc…). Release Date: June 24th

Empire of Light

Sam Mendes was likely in the runner-up position in 2019 for Picture and Director (behind Parasite) with 1917. His follow-up is an English set romance starring Olivia Colman (who would be going for her fourth nomination in five years), Michael Ward, and Colin Firth. Release Date: TBD

Everything Everywhere All at Once

From two filmmakers known collectively as Daniels, Once is already out in limited release with spectacular reviews (97% on RT). The sci-fi action comedy might be too bizarre for the Academy, but I wouldn’t count it out as its admirers are vocal. Picture, Director, Actress (Michelle Yeoh), and Original Screenplay are all on the table. Release Date: out in limited release, opens wide April 8th

The Fabelmans

Steven Spielberg directs a semi-autobiographical tale and cowrites with his Lincoln and West Side Story scribe Tony Kushner. The cast includes Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, and Paul Dano. Needless to say, this is a major contender on paper. Release Date: November 23rd

Killers of the Flower Moon

Alongside The Fabelmans, this might be the most obvious nominee from a personnel standpoint. Martin Scorsese helms this western crime drama featuring Jesse Plemons, Lily Gladstone, and his two frequent collaborators Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro. Apple TV just became the first streamer to get a BP victory with CODA. This could be the second in a row. Release Date: November

Poor Things

In 2018, The Favourite scored a whopping ten nominations. Based on an acclaimed 1992 novel, Poor Things is Yorgos Lanthimos’s follow-up and it reunites him with Emma Stone along with Willem Dafoe, Ramy Youssef, and Mark Ruffalo. The plot sounds bizarre but it could also be an Oscar bait role for Stone and others. Release Date: TBD

Rustin

One of Netflix’s contenders is George C. Wolfe’s profile of gay civil rights activist Bayard Rustin (played by Colman Domingo). In 2020, Wolfe directed Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman to nods for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Look for Domingo to be a competitor and the supporting cast includes Chris Rock (maybe he will be back at the show), Glynn Turman, and Audra McDonald. Release Date: TBD

See How They Run

The 1950s set murder mystery could provide 27-year-old Saoirse Ronan with an opportunity to land her fifth nomination. Sam Rockwell, David Oyelowo, Adrien Brody, and Ruth Wilson are among the supporting players. Tom George directs. Release Date: TBD

She Said

Five years after the scandal rocked Hollywood, She Said from Maria Schrader recounts the New York Times sexual misconduct investigation into Harvey Weinstein. Zoe Kazan, Carey Mulligan, and Patricia Clarkson lead the cast. Release Date: November 18th

The Son

Florian Zeller won Best Adapted Screenplay in 2020 for The Father along with Anthony Hopkins taking Best Actor. This follow-up (based on the director’s play) finds Hopkins reprising his Oscar-winning part in supporting fashion. Other cast members seeking awards attention include Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern, and Vanessa Kirby. Release Date: TBD

TAR

It’s been a while since we’ve seen Todd Field behind the camera. Previous efforts In the Bedroom and Little Children received 8 nominations between them. A decade and a half following Children comes this Berlin set drama with Cate Blanchett, Noemie Merlant, and Mark Strong. Release Date: October 7th

Three Thousand Years of Longing

Scheduled for a Cannes bow in May, Longing is a fantasy romance from the legendary mind of George Miller (who last made Mad Max: Fury Road which won six tech Oscars). Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton star. Release Date: TBD

The Whale

Darren Aronofsky directed Mickey Rourke to a comeback narrative nod for 2008’s The Wrestler. Two years later, his follow-up Black Swan earned Natalie Portman a statue. Brendan Fraser is hoping for the same treatment with The Whale as he plays a 600 pound man attempting to reconnect with his daughter. Costars include Sadie Sink, Hong Chau, and Samantha Morton. I’d expect Makeup and Hairstyling could also be in play with this. Release Date: TBD

White Noise

Not a remake of the Michael Keaton supernatural thriller from 2005, this is Noah Baumbach’s follow-up to Marriage Story. Based on a 1985 novel, it’s the filmmaker’s first picture based on other source material. Marriage landed three acting nods (with Laura Dern winning Supporting Actress). The cast here includes frequent Baumbach collaborator Adam Driver, real-life partner Greta Gerwig, Raffey Cassidy, Andre Benjamin, Alessandro Nivola, and Don Cheadle. This could be Netflix’s strongest contender. Release Date: TBD

The Woman King

Expect this West Afrian set historical epic from Gina Prince-Bythewood to be heavily touted by Sony with awards bait roles for leads Viola Davis and Thuso Mbedu. The supporting cast includes John Boyega and Lashana Lynch. Release Date: September 16th

Women Talking

Based on a 2018 novel, Sarah Polley writes and directs this drama focused on eight Mennonite women and their story of abuse. The sterling cast includes Frances McDormand, Jessie Buckley, Ben Whishaw, Claire Foy, and Rooney Mara. Release Date: TBD

And that’s just a small preview of the features that could materialize for the 95th Academy Awards! As always, the speculation on this site will continue throughout the year and into the next. Stay tuned…

Spider-Man: No Way Home Review

Spider-Man’s neighborhood grows exponentially in No Way Home, our third iteration of Tom Holland’s web slinger adventures with Jon Watts back directing. Not all the visitors he encounters are of the friendly sort. As you may recall, the conclusion of predecessor Far From Home had the scheming Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) reveal Peter Parker’s identity to the masses. That has serious repercussions as Peter/Spidey’s anonymity is gone and the Daily Bugle and others paint him as a bad guy.

It might be easier to erase that divulgence so Peter visits his old avenging buddy Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to cast a spell to accomplish that. It doesn’t go as planned and it opens to a portal to a multiverse of characters who knew of Spider-Man’s alter ego. THIS IS WHERE WE GO INTO SPOILERS SO CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED.

Crashing into this trilogy are the antagonists from Spider-tales of old. As in the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield entries that we witnessed from 2002-2014. The sinister company consists of the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Doc Ock (Alfred Molina), Electro (Jamie Foxx), Lizard (Rhys Ifans), and Sandman (Thomas Haden Church).

With the great power of the Marvel Cinematic Universe comes a responsibility to tap into our nostalgic leanings and No Way Home does it in heavy doses. Seeing Dafoe’s maniacal Goblin and Molina’s Doc from the first two Maguire installments is a kick. As for the rest, they came from lesser pics (Maguire’s last and both Garfield excursions). That said, Foxx’s characterization is a lot more fun than what we saw in The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

My reviews of Homecoming and Far From Home concentrated on the best moments being the most grounded. Holland (the most effective Spidey in my view) and his interactions with love interest MJ (Zendaya), Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), and bestie Ned (Jacob Batalon) were highlights. That holds true here, but No Way Home is anything but grounded. The third go-round is bigger in every sense.

In many ways, it’s the most satisfying since Maguire’s original double feature. Is it gimmicky? Absolutely and there’s an overload of exposition to plow through in the first act. Yet it also reminds us how unique Spider-Man is in the realm of superheroes. It’s also a plus that the villains in this series are complicated ones (for the genre at least) whose motivations are varied and often understandable.

I could go even further down spoiler territory and it’s fair to say the most amazing moments are ones I won’t delve into. No Way Home does provide humorous retribution for one hero in particular (you’ll know when you see it). This is grand entertainment that occasionally approaches the scale of the wars and endgame of Spider-Man’s former team. He’s got a fresh troupe of buddies to collaborate with to save humanity in this trilogy capper. The teamwork provide multiple thrills.

*** (out of four)

Oscar Predictions – Spider-Man: No Way Home

When Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man trilogy kicked off nearly 20 years ago, it managed to nab a Best Visual Effects nod (losing to Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers). Two years later, the 2004 sequel won the prize. Since then, the five Spidey features that followed (Maguire’s third, both Andrew Garfield iterations, and the first two Tom Holland MCU flicks) didn’t show up in the race. Will Spider-Man: No Way Home change that?

The 27th entry (and fourth this year) in the Marvel Cinematic Universe debuts Friday and I have it pegged for the fourth best domestic opening of all time (behind Avengers: Endgame, Avengers: Infinity War, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens). The review embargo lifted early this morning and it stands at an impressive 97% on Rotten Tomatoes.

While nearly all critical notices are positive, I don’t think this will be the second MCU title to nab a Best Picture nomination behind Black Panther. While Best Sound is feasible, Home‘s best hope at Academy inclusion is in Visual Effects. MCU movies vying for that prize is not unusual. The inaugural pic in the biggest franchise of all (2008’s Iron Man) made the cut. So have Iron Man 2, The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Infinity War, and Endgame. None have won.

So despite the last quintet of web slinger sagas not being honored for their effects, Home should have no problem? I don’t think it’s quite that simple. There are two Warner Bros sci-fi extravaganzas (Dune and The Matrix Resurrections) that should get in. That leaves three slots. Warner has another hopeful with Godzilla vs. Kong. Marvel itself has Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Eternals (and Black Widow to a lesser degree) vying for spots. Shang-Chi especially could get in (the Critics Choice Awards included it on their ballot). Don’t Look Up, Finch, and No Time to Die are other possibilities. It’s worth noting that whether Home makes the five, Dune is the very heavy favorite to take gold.

Here’s my hunch: by the time Academy voters cast their final votes, Home appears bound to have heightened box office numbers to their highest achievements in the pandemic era. That fact alone might get it some recognition from the Oscars and that would be for its visuals. Another interesting stat: of the ten current largest stateside premieres ever, only two (Avengers: Age of Ultron and Jurassic World) didn’t score at least one nomination from the Academy. That puts this in a decent position. My Oscar Predictions posts for the films of 2021 will continue…