2021 DGA and PGA Nominations Predictions

Two significant Academy precursors are coming our way tomorrow when the Directors and Producers Guilds of America reveal nominees. Both groups could shed major light on who and what we will see on Oscar nomination morning in less than two weeks.

The DGA nominates five directors for their top prize and it is a reliable preview for usually 4 of the 5 eventual hopefuls at the big show. In the past five years, the DGA’s list corresponds with the Academy’s on the 4 of 5 ratio. The exception was 2018 when it was 3/5. You have to go back to 2009 to find the last year in which there was a perfect match.

For weeks, my Oscar projections in Best Director has remained consistent: Paul Thomas Anderson (Licorice Pizza), Kenneth Branagh (Belfast), Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog), Steven Spielberg (West Side Story), and Denis Villeneuve (Dune). That’s probably the safest lineup to predict for DGA as well, but I’m hesitant to do so since it’s been over a decade with the two corresponding.

So who’s vulnerable and who could rise up? It’s hard to see Campion (the Oscar frontrunner), Villeneuve, or Spielberg missing. Same generally goes for Branagh though there’s whispers that Belfast could be slipping a bit (still not enough for me to take him out). That leaves Anderson and there’s some precedent. In 2017, the Academy nominated him for Phantom Thread while DGA omitted him. He’s the easiest to leave off their ballot.

Who takes his place? I doubt that it’s Ryusuke Hamaguchi for Drive My Car. In recent times, the Academy has been more generous with nods for filmmakers and their international features. Last year, they nominated Thomas Vinterberg (Another Round) and in 2018 they did the same for Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War) while DGA ignored them.

If there’s a surprise fifth nominee in store, watch out for Guillermo del Toro (Nightmare Alley), Maggie Gyllenhaal (The Lost Daughter) or Sian Heder (CODA). However, I think it could come down to Joel Coen (The Tragedy of Macbeth) and Adam McKay (Don’t Look Up). The latter is a two-time DGA nominee (The Big Short and Vice) and Don’t Look Up is a buzzy streaming success story that’s been widely viewed. Coen, on the other hand, could be honored for the technical mastery of Macbeth. 

This is a close call, but I’m ever so slightly leaning toward McKay and I’ll go that route. Therefore – my official DGA predictions are:

Kenneth Branagh, Belfast

Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog

Adam McKay, Don’t Look Up

Steven Spielberg, West Side Story

Denis Villeneuve, Dune

Runner-Up: Paul Thomas Anderson, Licorice Pizza

Second Alternate: Joel Coen, The Tragedy of Macbeth 

Let’s move to the PGA, shall we? Over the last five years, these are the matches between the Producers and the Academy when it comes to their Best Picture awards:

2016: 9/9

2017: 7/9

2018: 8/8

2019: 9/9

2020: 7/8

It’s important to keep in mind that the Academy, for the past several years, can have anywhere between 5-10 BP contenders (the magic number has been 8 or 9). Yet in 2021, the Oscars are reverting back to a set 10 (the PGA always nominates 10 except for 2017 when they had 11 for some inexplicable reason).

That means there’s only been three films (Darkest Hour and Phantom Thread in 2017 and The Father in 2020) that received Oscar nods and didn’t materialize on the PGA list.

My current 10 selections for BP from the Academy are as follows: Belfast, CODA, Don’t Look Up, Dune, House of Gucci, King Richard, Licorice Pizza, The Power of the Dog, The Tragedy of Macbeth, West Side Story.

I’m estimating that only Gucci and Tragedy could be truly vulnerable to miss the PGA cut (anything else being left off would constitute a pretty big surprise). If that happens, CODA or Richard might be the ones.

In my view, Tragedy is exactly the kind of feature that PGA may not recognize. Gucci is more of a question mark as the Producers generally like to nominate pictures that performed well at the box office. To that point, the PGA has a history of honoring moneymakers that the Academy does not. Recent examples include Bridesmaids, Skyfall, Gone Girl, Straight Outta Compton, Deadpool, Wonder Woman, Crazy Rich Asians, A Quiet Place, and Knives Out.

That could absolutely open the door for No Time to Die or Spider-Man: No Way Home… or both. I’m slightly more hesitant to include Spidey being that neither Avengers: Infinity War or Endgame got PGA love. However, I’m not oblivious to the fact that this guild may want to mention the picture that broke pandemic era box office records.

Outside of the blockbuster mold, you could also see titles like Being the Ricardos, Drive My Car, The Lost Daughter, Nightmare Alley, or Tick, Tick… Boom! factor in.

I’m keeping Gucci in (with extreme uncertainty) and projecting 007 in the mega-earner slot so here’s my PGA ten:

Belfast

CODA

Don’t Look Up

Dune

House of Gucci

King Richard

Licorice Pizza

No Time to Die

The Power of the Dog

West Side Story

Runner-Up: Spider-Man: No Way Home

Second Alternate: The Tragedy of Macbeth 

So there you have it! I’ll have reaction up on both DGA and PGA tomorrow on the blog…

Red Notice Review

Red Notice poaches from plenty of superior action comedies. It scrambles to find a consistent tone between being a parody of them and just being one of them. The trio of famous faces are hampered with their hastily written hardboiled characters. That’s what we get in this caper about thieves trying to retrieve Cleopatra’s blinged out eggs. And no matter how much I’ve liked Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, and Gal Gadot elsewhere, this is an easy picture to pan.

Rawson Marshall Thurber teams with Johnson for the third time after Central Intelligence and Skyscraper (they’ve gotten progressively worse). As Special Agent John Hartley, he’s hot on the trail of master cat burglar and escape artist Nolan Booth (Reynolds). There’s a plan afoot to reunite the ancient Egyptian queen’s bejeweled artifacts for a $300 million payday, but the two end up working together to stop another lifter known as The Bishop (Gadot). In a competition for world’s best art thief, The Bishop seems to have a slight upper hand. She’s framed Hartley and led an Interpol agent (Ritu Aryu) to think he’s in cahoots with the endlessly quipping Booth.

The elusive third egg is in the possession of quirky arms dealer Scotto Voce (Chris Diamantopoulos) and the trio double and triple and quadruple cross one another in hopes of achieving their score. Booth and Bishop’s reasoning is money and pride. Hartley’s is to clear his name. The three leads should do their own name clearing after this utter misfire.

Like Deadpool, the screenplay (by the director) goes the self-referential route at times. This is mostly through Reynolds. Unlike his Wade Wilson, he’s not very funny and doesn’t have solid one-liners to ironically spew. Whistling the Indiana Jones theme while the pic serves as a pale comparison doesn’t qualify as clever. Johnson gets to briefly find himself in a jungle setting in the third act and I believe that’s contractually obligated nowadays. Gadot’s comedic skills were effective in Wonder Woman… at least the first one. They’re strained and forced here.

A decent caper needs a worthwhile twist or two. If you pay even a little attention to the characters actions, you’ll spot them coming way before their reveals. For having a reported $200 million up on the screen (the small one since Netflix bought it), there’s not one action sequence worthy of note or hilariously inspired bit to break the monotony. Red Notice hops all over the globe with its megastars and goes nowhere fast. The true robbery is two hours of watching them coast.

*1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Land

She’s had high profile career for over 30 years now with The Princess Bride, Forrest Gump, and Wonder Woman to name just three. Robin Wright has also won a Golden Globe for her streaming work on House of Cards, but she’s yet to get on the Academy’s radar. Her directorial debut Land just played at the Sundance Film Festival. Wright also stars as someone looking for the meaning of life in the wilderness (shades of Wild with Reese Witherspoon). Costars include Demian Bichir and Kim Dickens.

Critical reaction is of the mixed variety with a current Rotten Tomatoes score of 63%. Land is eligible for the 2020 Oscar season since the Academy expanded the calendar. The pic lands in theaters on February 12th. However, any talk of this being a late entry making waves is pretty much finished with the so-so reviews.

Bottom line: don’t make space for Land in your predictions. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

2020 AFI Top 10 Films Predictions

The American Film Institute will announce their top 10 pictures of the year tomorrow and it’s usually a safe predictor of half or more of the films that will land Best Picture nods at the Oscars. Over the past five years, the magic number has been 7 of the AFI selections getting Oscar love in the big race. That holds true for 2016, 2017, and 2019. In 2015 – it was 6. In 2018- it was 5.

So where do we stand this year? My overall estimates keep the estimated AFI number at 7 for my current Best Picture hopefuls (which could and probably will change). It is worth noting that for the previous two years, there’s a bit of an asterisk. Being that it’s the American Film Institute, foreign selections are ineligible. Due to this, surefire Oscar contenders Roma and Parasite didn’t qualify. This would apply in 2020 to The Father which is a British production.

As for the matches, they are as follows: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Mank, Minari, News of the World, Nomadland, One Night in Miami, and The Trial of the Chicago 7.

Now for the differences. AFI has shown a Disney love recently that the Academy did not share. AFI nominated Inside Out, Zootopia, and Mary Poppins Returns over the last five years with Oscar not following suit. Therefore I’m saying Pixar’s Soul makes the AFI cut.

The other two are critical favorites that (at press time) I have just missing Oscar’s cut: Promising Young Woman and Sound of Metal. This means the three pics I have getting Oscar’s attention and not from AFI are Da 5 Bloods, The Father, and Judas and the Black Messiah.

What else could surprise? I would not be shocked to see Borat Subsequent Moviefilm make AFI’s list. If they don’t choose that comedy, there’s a lesser chance that Palm Springs could show up. AFI has also selected some blockbusters that Oscar ignored as of late. Examples include Knives Out, A Quiet Place, Wonder Woman, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. However, due to COVID in 2020, there’s just not a huge list of those types of contenders. Could Tenet sneak in? Doubtful.

Others that could be sleepers are First Cow, Pieces of a Woman, Malcolm & Marie, and Hillbilly Elegy, but here’s my take on what AFI does tomorrow:

AFI TOP TEN LIST PREDICTIONS

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Mank

Minari

News of the World

Nomadland

One Night in Miami

Promising Young Woman

Soul

Sound of Metal

The Trial of the Chicago 7

Wonder Woman 1984 Review

I wish Wonder Woman 1984 wasn’t the disjointed viewing experience that it mostly is. I wish it had the humor that landed in the 2017 pic and the sweet love story between its heroine and her man that was well-developed. Here the humor seems forced as does the interplay between Gal Gadot’s title character and WWI pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). This is a sequel that feels like busywork and it’s devoid of, yes, some of the wonder that made the original a bright spot in the DC Extended Universe.

1984 means leg warmers and action sequences set in shopping malls. It also means part 2 picks up nearly seven decades later. Gadot’s Diana fills her days as an anthropologist at the Smithsonian and her nights pining for the long departed Steve. Of course, she also does some Wonder Woman stuff in between. When she thwarts a jewel heist in one of those sprawling shopping structures, it turns out the thieves were really after some black market artifacts that weren’t on display. That includes an ancient “Dreamstone” of Latin origin that grants wishes no matter how dangerous they might be. For Diana, it means bringing her lost love back. This is handled by Pine returning in the form of some random DC dude. While Pine’s courtship with Diana was a high point the first time around, the actor is now relegated to gawking in wide eyed disbelief at rocket ships and escalators. His participation here never smacks of anything more than plot device mechanics and that’s a letdown. He does get a reverse Pretty Woman style sequence in which he tries on pirate looking shirts and fanny packs in front of his nonplussed girlfriend. So there’s that.

Of course, this “Dreamstone” leads to nefarious actions from others. Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) is a failed businessman who’s known for cheesy infomercials. His acquiring of the artifact allows him to amass significant power and oil. He also has a young son that he’s desperately trying to impress and that results in some mawkish moments. And there’s Kristin Wiig as Barbara. She’s Diana’s supremely unconfident geologist coworker. Barbara feels invisible until her interaction with the Stone makes her as tough and beautiful as her fellow employee. Unfortunately her power trip partners her with the megalomaniac Max and his misguided plans. For Wiig, Barbara is one of those characters who immediately becomes attractive once her big glasses and frumpy dress go by the wayside. She’s simply not a memorable villainess. There are shades of Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman from Batman Returns, but she’s not written nearly as potently.

Pascal’s Max is another story. I can’t say he’s not memorable because the performer portraying him goes way over the top in doing so. I think Pascal knows how much he’s hamming it up and his go for broke attitude does provide a bit of fun. That’s welcome because it’s in short supply. I might volley back and forth on whether he’s actually great or kinda terrible here, but it’s a performance worth mentioning. That’s more than I can say for everyone else.

For two and a half hours, 1984 often forgets to bring the joy. There’s a make it up as we go along vibe that wasn’t as noticeable when Patty Jenkins helmed the first (she returns here and is one of three cowriters).

Wonder Woman 1984 is all about how you can’t get ahead by cheating and lying (a prologue featuring some familiar faces from part 1 makes that message clear). The following 150 minutes hammers it home with convenient and haphazard storylines that, ironically, sometime feel like cheats. I wish this came close to the quality of Gadot’s first stand-alone venture, but we are left waiting and wanting in 1984. 

** (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Wonder Woman 1984

After experiencing COVID-19 related delays, Warner Bros. is finally unveiling their superhero sequel Wonder Woman 1984 on Christmas in theaters and HBO Max. Needless to say, this is certainly one of the most anticipated 2020 releases as the 2017 predecessor was a critical hit and massive blockbuster (making over $800 million worldwide). Patty Jenkins returns as director with Gal Gadot back in the title role and Chris Pine reprising his role. Costars include Kristin Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Robin Wright, and Connie Nielsen.

Two and a half weeks ahead of its unveiling, the review embargo has lifted and signs are encouraging. The current Rotten Tomatoes meter stands at an impressive 89% (just slightly lower than the 93% achieved by part 1). There are some gripes about over length, but reviewers are mostly calling it a nostalgic blast. Could the second coming from the warrior goddess also known as Diana garner any awards attention?

It is worth noting that Wonder Woman 2017 received no Oscar nominations. That said, the amount of eye-popping blockbusters in 2020 is smaller than any other year in recent memory. This could mean that 1984 could pop up in technical races including Makeup and Hairstyling, Production Design, Sound, and Visual Effects. The first two categories could be a bit more doubtful while Sound and Visual Effects seem like solid possibilities. Gadot’s hero will compete with another Warner Bros. superhero property in those races with Birds of Prey (released just before the pandemic outbreak).

I do not expect that this will play in the big awards derbies. There was some chatter three years ago that part 1 could get a Best Picture nod, but it never materialized. Black Panther still stands as the only superhero property to play in that race and Wonder Woman 1984 is highly unlikely to be the second. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

 

Aquaman Movie Review

In movies nowadays, the superhero genre has become so popular that a rule now applies to well-known thespians. You can play a hero or then you act long enough to see yourself become the villain. Or vice versa. Patrick Wilson was a good guy in Watchmen and now he’s a bad guy in Aquaman. Willem Dafoe was the key villain in SpiderMan, but he’s an ally to the title character here. As for Nicole Kidman, she was Bruce Wayne’s love interest in Batman Forever. Now she’s Aquamom.

This is all in a feature-length experience that HBO’s “Entourage” treated with humor. The thought back then… who would really buy this comic book creation in his own two-hour saga? Director James Wan’s weird but often endearing take ups the ante by padding nearly an extra half hour. It sorta works. It does by knowing that it’s silly most of the time despite occasional meanderings into thinking it belongs in Lord of the Rings territory. While it doesn’t, some of the battle scenes approach that grandeur.

We’ve seen Aquaman before in the DC Extended Universe. He was introduced briefly in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (which I still think is a little better than its reputation) and his role was expanded in the sub par Justice League. He gets the whole origin treatment here. In 1985, the Queen of Atlantis names Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) washes up on shore after a storm in Maine. She makes the acquaintance of the local lighthouse keeper (Temuera Morrison) and Splash style romantic sparks fly. Leaving her King hubby behind underwater, Atlanna and her new flame bear a son named Arthur and that little tyke eventually becomes the heavily tattooed punk rockish muscle man embodied by Jason Momoa.

As we witnessed in the previously mentioned pics, Momoa’s Aquaman becomes a mysterious superhero above water when not chugging beers with Dad. Atlanna, on the other hand, is long gone after being hunted down by her husband’s henchmen and returning below the surface so her new family isn’t harmed. She’s said to be dead.

Soon enough, Arthur is pressured to see Atlantis for the first time. His half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) is hell-bent on becoming the ruling Ocean Master. That means the destruction of Earth is on his to do list. Mera (Amber Heard) is the daughter of an Atlantean  King (Dolph Lundgren) allied with Orm. She disagrees with her father and along with Arthur’s old mentor (Willem Dafoe), they attempt to recruit our hero to become the King himself.

The family drama is a very familiar plot point in most movies in the genre – no matter which cinematic universe it takes place in. This is no exception. Orm is the Loki to Aquaman’s Thor, but he’s not near as memorable. Mera is the love interest and she has some humorous moments due to her unfamiliarity with our land. Those light moments reminded me of Gal Gadot’s acclamations to her fresh surroundings in Wonder Woman. And while we’re talking similar plot themes, this will remind you of Black Panther from time to time.

There’s only so much you can accomplish with this well-worn origin stuff, but James Wan conjures up a visually vibrant tale with an engaging lead. Momoa’s Aquaman is a bit of a Hulk like creation who seems impervious to harm. Frankly, the tension is a bit watered down because it seems like he could swat Orm off like a fly. Yet the action sequences are effective when they’re not too weighed down in confusing CG mayhem. The best one takes place in Italy when all the players remain dry. Aquaman is worth the watch, despite its flaws, as it builds plenty of worlds we’ll see again and with more details. This uses what seems like a record of title cards to tell us where we are as the plot moves along. Unlike other films where we might see “St. Louis” with The Arch in frame, they’re necessary here. Most of the places we visit come with acceptable levels of entertainment value.

*** (out of four)

Shazam! Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (04/04): On the eve of its premiere, my estimate has changed from $59.5 million to $52.5 million

The DC Extended Universe adds another cinematic hero to its stable with the release of Shazam! next weekend. The tale of a teenager who morphs into a superhero was first introduced in comic book pages nearly 80 years ago. David F. Sandberg directs with Zachary Levi as the title character and Asher Angel as his younger self. Costars include Mark Strong, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou, and Grace Fulton.

Said to heartfelt and funny, Shazam! is already a winner with critics and sporting a 92% Rotten Tomatoes score. DC, while not quite up to MCU levels, has been hitting its stride lately with mega performers like Wonder Woman and Aquaman. There were previews of this that surprisingly managed to outdo what Jason Momoa’s creation did late last year. However, that was during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.

The range expected is $40-$60 million. I have a hunch its good word of mouth will propel it to the upper reaches of those expectations. It’s feasible the range could be surpassed, but I’ll say high 50s.

Shazam! opening weekend prediction: $52.5 million

For my Pet Sematary prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/03/28/pet-sematary-box-office-prediction/

For my The Best of Enemies prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/03/30/the-best-of-enemies-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: Shazam!

The DC Extended Universe branches out to lesser known source material on April 5 with the release of Shazam! The superhero tale puts a teenage boy in the body of an adult crime fighter with David F. Sandberg (Annabelle: Creation) directing and Zachary Levi in the title role.

The character has been around since 1940 and this big screen treatment is receiving praise based on its early screenings. Critics are calling this sweet and funny and continuing in the more lighthearted vein that DC has employed lately with hits like Wonder Woman and Aquaman.

With a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, could Shazam! resonate with Oscar voters? It’s doubtful. If the aforementioned DC efforts couldn’t land a single nod, it’s tough to envision any for this.

Bottom line: Shazam! should be another box office success for the revitalized franchise, but don’t expect awards chatter to follow. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Captain Marvel Movie Review

By the time the strains of “Just a Girl” blare over the speakers during a climactic fight scene, there is no doubt that Captain Marvel has adequately placed itself as a bridge between Avengers epics. That’s not an especially high bar in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it answers the most important question needed before April’s Avengers: Endgame – who’s this new heroine that’s going to help the team we’re accustomed to seeing?

That would be Brie Larson as Vers. She’s part of the Kree alien race with persistent flashbacks to an old life on C53, a planet otherwise known as Earth. Her mentor is Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), who helps her hone her mysterious superpowers. The flashback mentor is Mar-Vell (get it?) and she takes the form of Annette Bening as an all-knowing being who may have taught Vers in a previous life that’s fuzzy to her.

Since this is the MCU, we correctly suspect that purported good guys may become bad guys and vice versa. Vers and her team are battling another race called the Skrulls, led by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn, always solid). They can take the form of any being they wish, so we see Mr. Mendelsohn in his bespectacled British form and in impeccable creature makeup.

Vers’s interactions with the Skrulls involves a crash landing in Los Angeles. Not today’s L.A., mind you, but 1995 L.A. where relics of the past like Blockbuster Video and two-way pagers exist. This time frame is mined for humor and its soundtrack that includes Nirvana and Salt n Pepa. We also meet Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) in his pre eyepatch days and a rookie Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg).

The Earth bound action gets us to a place where we can call Vers the Captain now. And clad in her Nine Inch Nails t-shirt, it get us one step closer to her joining Captain America, Tony Stark, and others decades later.

Captain Marvel is yet another origin story and it follows the tried and true MCU blueprint. Luckily for us, that familiar path includes picking directors (Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck) that are unconventional choices (they’re known for indie dramas like Half Nelson). It includes humorous touches that work and plenty of them come in the feline form of Goose, who steals some sequences.

Have there been stronger intros in this franchise before? Absolutely. As the first female MCU hero with a stand-alone tale, Larson is spirited. Is her back story as inspiring as what the DCU provided in Wonder Woman? I’d have to say no. And like many MCU pics before it, the villains here are standard – even with fine actors playing them. We will see if Larson’s character can become a fan favorite in this vast world. I’d say the jury is currently unsure. At the conclusion of Avengers: Infinity War, we learned she was needed. Captain Marvel provides some decently entertaining history as to why.

*** (out of four)