Oscar Predictions: Empire of Light

Empire of Light is the ninth feature film from Sam Mendes. Six of his previous eight titles received at least one Oscar nod. His debut, 1999’s American Beauty, won Best Picture and Director. His last, war epic 1917, garnered ten nominations and was victorious with three of them. The Mendes streak of awards success should continue with Empire of Light, which has premiered at Telluride prior to its December 9th stateside release.

Called the filmmaker’s most personal effort, Empire is a late 70s/early 80s set celebration of cinema with a May/December romance between leads Olivia Colman and Micheal Ward. Costars include Tom Brooke, Toby Jones, and Colin Firth.

We are early in the review process and some of the write-ups are rather mixed. Yet the superlatives going to Colman has me thinking she’s going to receive her fourth Academy mention in five years. She won for Best Actress in 2018 The Favourite and then nabbed a Supporting Actress nod in 2020 for The Father. A lead actress slot followed last year for The Lost Daughter. The other races where this looks strong are Cinematography from the legendary Roger Deakins and the Trent Reznior/Atticus Ross score. Production Design is also doable.

Ward’s work is also being praised. However, I’m not near as confident he makes the Actor cut. Firth’s role, by the way, sounds too small for a supporting bid. The latter’s performance and its viability could be determined by Empire‘s strength in BP (as well as the original screenplay). Voters do love movies about their industry and that could help. I don’t believe this has established a guaranteed spot among the ten. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

Oscar Predictions: Bones and All

Love and cannibalism collide in Luca Guadagnino’s Bones and All, which has premiered at Venice before its November 23rd stateside theatrical release. The mix of gore and romance reunites the filmmaker with his Call Me by Your Name star Timothee Chalamet (I will refrain from making any Armie Hammer references from now on). Taylor Russell, who drew raves for the little seen Waves, is co-lead with a supporting cast including Mark Rylance, Michael Stuhlbarg, Andre Holland, Chloe Sevigny, and Jessica Harper.

The road movie, based on a 2015 YA novel from Camille DeAngelis, is drawing mostly positive early reaction in Italy. The Rotten Tomatoes meter is a strong 92%. Praise is plentiful for Chalamet (he scored an Oscar nod for Name), but Russell is being called the highlight.

Despite the encouraging buzz, I’m not sure voters will bite for this late 80s set horror tale. Five years ago, Guadagnino’s Name called up four Academy nods including Picture and winning Adapted Screenplay. His 2018 follow-up Suspiria didn’t make a dent with the awards crowd.

MGM/UA would need to mount a major campaign for Russell or Chalamet for them to be viable in my view. I would say Bones‘s best shot could be Adapted Screenplay or perhaps the score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. My Oscar Prediction posts will continue…

2020 Oscars Shortlist Analysis

Taylor Swift will not be performing an Oscar nominated track at this April’s ceremony. Sonic the Hedgehog will not be the Oscar nominated Sonic the Hedgehog. Sacha Baron Cohen’s makeup team from Borat Subsequent Moviefilm who transformed him into former President Donald Trump will not see their work recognized.

These are some of the headlines from today’s unveiling of shortlists in six categories covering feature films from the Academy. On the positive side for its respective studios, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey could contend in at least three races. A documentary about refugees from Chechnya is a Visual Effects hopeful. And Borat is still on the board for his song “Wuhan Flu”. There were mixed results from the announcements for features such as Hillbilly Elegy, The Invisible Man, and The United States vs. Billie Holiday.

Let’s break this all down and what it means for my weekly predictions, shall we?

Best Documentary Feature

Fifteen films were shortlisted today as follows:

76 Days

All In: The Fight for Democracy

Boys State

Collective

Crip Camp

Dick Johnson Is Dead

Gunda

MLK/FBI

The Mole Agent

My Octopus Teacher

Notturno

The Painter and the Thief

Time

The Truffle Hunters

Welcome to Chechnya

Analysis: 

There are two docs I had in my top ten that missed the cut: The Dissident, which I had ranked all the way up in second and Totally Under Control, which I had sixth. This is a pretty open race in 2020 and I had Time in first position two days ago. All In and Dick Johnson are sturdy contenders as well.

Best International Feature Film

Fifteen films were shortlisted today as follows:

Another Round

Better Days

Charlatan

Collective

Dear Comrades!

Hope

I’m No Longer Here

La Llorona

The Man Who Sold His Skin

The Mole Agent

Night of the Kings

Quo Vadis, Aida?

A Sun

Sun Children

Two of Us

Analysis:

My only top ten hopeful falling out was my #10 Notturno (which made the Documentary list). No real surprises with Another Round as a soft frontrunner to win.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Ten films were shortlisted as follows:

Birds of Prey

Emma

The Glorias

Hillbilly Elegy

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey

The Little Things

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Mank

One Night in Miami

Pinocchio

Analysis:

Two of my predicted nominees from my last round had their possibilities cease today: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm and The United States vs. Billie Holiday (ranked fourth and fifth respectively). Also dropped: The Trial of the Chicago 7 (#7), News of the World (#8), and Mulan (#9). Ma Rainey will probably remain in my #1 spot with Hillbilly and Mank following.

Best Original Score

Fifteen films were shortlisted as follows:

Ammonite

Blizzard of Souls

Da 5 Bloods

The Invisible Man

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey

The Life Ahead

The Little Things

Mank

The Midnight Sky

Minari

Mulan

News of the World

Soul

Tenet

The Trial of the Chicago 7

Analysis:

My #6 entry Hillbilly Elegy was a rather notable miss here while my other nine entries are still in the mix. This race could come down to Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor competing against themselves with Soul and Mank.

Best Original Song

Fifteen films were shortlisted as follows:

“Turntables” from All In: The Fight for Democracy

“See What You’ve Done” from Belly of the Beast

“Wuhan Flu” from Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

“Husavik” from Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

“Never Break” from Giving Voice

“Make It Work” from Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey

“Fight for You” from Judas and the Black Messiah

“Seen” from The Life Ahead

“Rain Song” from Minari

“Show Me Your Soul” from Mr. Soul!

“Loyal Brave True” from Mulan

“Free” from The One and Only Ivan

“Speak Now” from One Night in Miami

“Green” from Sound of Metal

“Hear My Voice” from The Trial of the Chicago 7

Analysis:

As mentioned, no Taylor Swift for her track “Only the Young” from Miss Americana. Yet a larger omission was “Over the Moon” from the animated Rocket to the Moon, which I had ranked at #4. Another to miss the cut: “Tigress & Tweed” from The United States vs. Billie Holiday, which achieved a Golden Globes nod. “Speak Now” might have an edge, but I wouldn’t count out “Seen”.

Best Visual Effects

Ten films were shortlisted as follows:

Birds of Prey

Bloodshot

Love and Monsters

Mank

The Midnight Sky

Mulan

The One and Only Ivan

Soul

Tenet

Welcome to Chechnya 

Analysis:

Some genuine shockers in VE with my #3 The Invisible Man and #4 Greyhound out of contention. Also missing: Wonder Woman 1984 (#7), Sonic the Hedgehog (#8), and The Call of the Wild (#10). In their places are pics I didn’t have on my radar like Bloodshot and Love and Monsters (the Chechnya nod was at least spoken of in recent days). Soul getting in certainly gives it a solid shot at inclusion, but Tenet and The Midnight Sky still appear to be the heavyweights.

Today’s news will certainly alter what you see when I update my estimates this weekend! Stay tuned…

Oscar Watch: Mank

For two months now, I have had David Fincher’s Mank ranked at the top of the Best Picture contenders and that was with zero buzz about its quality. Why? The biographical drama, which tells the saga of Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) and his battles with the bottle and the making of the film, sounded like Oscar bait from its announcement. Fincher is, of course, a heralded filmmaker who’s seen two of his pictures (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network) nab Best Picture nods. Neither won, but many (including this blogger) feel that Network should have done so over The King’s Speech a decade ago.

Ahead of its November 13th limited theatrical bow and December 4th Netflix streaming debut, Mank screened for critics yesterday. While the official embargo has yet to lapse, reaction is out. And it confirms that Fincher’s first pic in six years (since Gone Girl) should score plenty of nominations. As I’ve estimated for several weeks, you would be smart to bet that this will receive the most mentions on nomination morning.

Let’s break them down. Picture and Director appear to be foregone conclusions at this juncture. Gary Oldman is highly likely to get his third Best Actor nomination. That said, after winning just three years ago for Darkest Hour, I don’t foresee a victory. On a side note, the Best Actress winner from 2017 (Frances McDormand for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) also looks like a locked in nominee in 2020 for Nomadland. Amanda Seyfried appears poised for her first nomination in Supporting Actress in her role as Marion Davies. Supporting Actor is more murky. While Charles Dance as William Randolph Hearst could sneak in, the race is quite crowded. I wouldn’t count on Dance or costars Tom Pelphrey or Arliss Howard getting in over the considerable competition. Many come from the same streaming service like the cast of The Trial of the Chicago 7 (most notably Mark Rylance and Sacha Baron Cohen) and the late Chadwick Boseman in Da 5 Bloods. 

The screenplay is solely credited to the director’s deceased father Jack. An Original Screenplay nod is inevitable with the biggest competition so far being Aaron Sorkin for Trial. The tech race possibilities are plentiful: Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Production Design, Original Score (from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross), Sound, Makeup and Hairstyling. All in all, Mank could conceivably hit about a dozen nominations.

Now let’s get serious. Could it win Best Picture? Some early buzz suggests it might be too geared toward cinephiles and not a mass audience to achieve that. I’m not so sure. I would say the same could be said for recent winners like The Artist and Birdman. Hollywood loves features about its own industry and this might be the granddaddy of them all considering the subject matter. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mank is still listed in first place when I update my guesstimates next Thursday. I am confident it will never fall below the upper echelon. As for Fincher, he may well be in line for a Director victory and that’s even if Mank doesn’t win the biggest prize. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Soul

Disney/Pixar’s second 2020 release Soul has long been seen as their most viable Oscar contender over this spring’s Onward. Today’s buzz after it held the first screening at the London Film Festival confirms that. The jazz infused tale from Pete Docter and Kemp Powers is being called two familiar adjectives in the studio’s lexicon – heartfelt and crowd pleasing. Soul, after experiencing delays due to the COVID pandemic, is slated for a Disney+ debut on Christmas Day.

Featuring the voices of Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Questlove, Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs, and Angela Bassett, several reviews are already claiming it’s in the upper echelon of Pixar pics. Docter is no stranger to Academy love. All three of his directorial efforts – Monsters Inc., Up, Inside Out – were nominated for Best Animated Feature. The latter two emerged victorious and Up is one of three animated flicks to achieve a Best Picture nomination.

The question is not whether Soul will make the final cut in Animated Feature. It absolutely will and it’s absolutely the strong front runner to win. A better debate is whether this is the fourth animated effort to contend for the big prize. I don’t believe that’s automatic. Inside Out also garnered sterling critical reaction in 2015 and fell short of that achievement. However, Soul has solidified its position as a legit hopeful.

Additionally, expect Best Sound and the Original Score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to be in the mix. Bottom line: Soul helped it cause to play beyond Animated Feature. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Patriots Day

Just two months back, director Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg collaborated on the timely Deepwater Horizon, which opened to decent box office numbers and reviews but little Oscar hope (save for some potential recognition in the Sound categories). Last night at the AFI Film Festival, their third team-up (the other was 2013’s Lone Survivor) was unveiled in the form of Patriots Day.

Another timely drama – Day focuses on the Boston Marathon bombing and the city’s law enforcement and political response to the tragedy. Wahlberg headlines a cast that includes John Goodman, J.K. Simmons, Kevin Bacon, and Michelle Monaghan. The reported response from the AFI crowd was overwhelmingly positive and early critical reaction puts it at 80% on Rotten Tomatoes. The general consensus? “It gets the job done.”

So where does this information put Patriots Day in the Oscar derby? I would say as an outside contender. I had yet to put the picture into consideration in my top 20 possibilities for a nomination, but it’s feasible that it could slide in towards the bottom next week. It certainly seems more likely for a nod than Deepwater. And don’t be shocked if Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross get some love for their score, which has already been singled out in some reviews.

Time will tell if this manages to become more of a realistic possibility as the weeks move along.