With the Critics Choice Movie Awards, Golden Globes, SAG Awards, and the Oscar nominations all coming-up next week, it's safe to say Awards Season fever is officially here. The following are some of the performances and films that should have a pretty good next 7 days:
Cate Blanchett has been the early favorite in the Best Actress category, already winning many city-based Association awards. But momentum has been building for Judi Dench, and the "based on a true story" drama that she stars in. "Philomena" is up for the Best Picture (Drama) Globe and just received a surprise BAFTA Best Film nod (and there are only 5 nominees). While the British version of the Oscars aren't until Feb. 16, watch-out for Dench and some "Philomena" love in the Best Adapted Screenplay category, where Jeff Pope and co-star Steve Coogan could take the well-deserved take the prize at the GGs and CCMAs.
My favorite film of 2013, "Saving Mr. Banks", hasn't been getting as many accolades as it should. Tom Hanks has yet to receive a Supporting Actor nomination from anyone (though this could be one of the major Oscar surprises Thurs. morning). This previously untold story of how "Mary Poppins" was brought to the screen is up for the Critics Choice Best Picture. And star Emma Thompson is a leading contender for all the Best Actress honors. Already a two-time Oscar winner, she's close to a lock for another nomination, and could win a Globe, SAG and CCMA.
Daniel Bruhl is the sole shining light from Ron Howard's "Rush", which was released in September to mixed reviews. Bruhl's performance as racercar driver Niki Lauda has a shot at beating everyone to the Best Supporting Actor finish line - though Jared Leto ("Dallas Buyers Club"), Barkhad Abdi ("Captain Phillips"), and Bradley Cooper ("American Hustle") make this the toughest competition of the year. "Rush" is also up for the Best Drama Globe, but it doesn't have a shot.
Best Picture and Best Director will likely go one of three ways: "Gravity"/Alfonso Cuaron, "12 Years a Slave"/Steve McQueen, or the film/director that seem to be getting more and more positive buzz every day: David O. Russell and "American Hustle". The film is stylish, fun, and has a phenomenal cast, which is why I'm pulling for it to win the SAG Ensemble award, along with several CCMA and Globe honors.
But as they say, "Anything can happen", and I'm convinced that this Awards Season is going to be one of the most unpredictable and surprising of all time.
Best Supporting Actor is the most packed and wide-open category of this Awards Season. Using the nomination results so far, there appear to be a few locks for the BAFTAs and the Oscars - but there's always the possibility of a surprise or two. Even though there are only five available spots, each of these 14 actors (listed in alphabetical order) deserves strong consideration:
Barkhad Abdi "Captain Phillips" - The first time actor goes toe-to-toe with Best Actor nominee lock Tom Hanks as the Somali Pirate captain, and steals the show in several scenes. He even came-up with the line: "I'm the Captain now" himself! (BFCA, GG, SAG Nominee)
Daniel Bruhl "Rush" - While I didn't stand and cheer for Ron Howard's racing drama, Bruhl is excellent in a physically demanding role. (BFCA, GG, SAG Nominee)
Steve Coogan "Philomena" - The British comedian shines along side Best Actress contender Judi Dench in a role that was out of his wheelhouse. He also co-wrote the powerful screenplay.
Bradley Cooper "American Hustle" - For me, the most impressive performance from David O. Russell's ensemble crime dramedy. Cooper even tops his own great work in last year's "Silver Linings Playbook". (BFCA, GG Nominee)
Colin Farrell "Saving Mr. Banks" - While Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks are attracting the most attention for Disney's "Mary Poppins" drama, Farrell is riveting as the alcoholic father of the young P.L. Travers' - the true inspiration for the story of the flying nanny.
Michael Fassbender "12 Years a Slave" - Fassbender dominates the second half of Steve McQueen's historical piece with his hold-nothing-back performance as a ruthless plantation owner. (BFCA, GG, SAG Nominee)
Harrison Ford "42" - As Brooklyn Dodgers GM Branch Rickey, Ford plays a man who puts his career on the line for all the right reasons by making Jackie Robinson Major League Baseball's first African-American player.
Will Forte "Nebraska" - Best known for his years on "Saturday Night Live", Forte's subtle, breakthrough dramatic performance as Bruce Dern's son is difficult to ignore.
James Gandolfini "Enough Said" - The late actor demonstrates his tremendous range with this down-to-Earth performance as a middle-aged divorcee looking for love. (BFCA, SAG Nominee)
Jake Gyllenhaal "Prisoners" - As a detective desperately trying to solve a disappearance case, Gyllenhaal is the emotional center of the film. The car scene with Hugh Jackman in the final act is one of the best of the year.
Tom Hanks "Saving Mr. Banks" - Even though he doesn't exactly look or sound like him, the two-time Oscar winner is outstanding as the legendary Walt Disney, highlighted by remarkable seven-minute monologue in the film's pivital scene.
Jared Leto "Dallas Buyers Club" - The singer and "My So Called Life" star is transcendent as a transvestite battle AIDS. He and star Matthew McConaughey have been nomination locks since the film's release in November, and deservedly so. (BFCA, GG, SAG Nominee)
Sam Rockwell "The Way, Way Back" - The coming-of-age Summertime comedy features a stellar Steve Carell and an equally impressive Rockwell as a theme park owner and true best friend of a shy 14-year-old (Liam James).
Geoffrey Rush "The Book Thief" - Nominated in 2011 for "The King's Speech", Rush is excellent once again as the caring "Papa" to young Liesel (Sophie Nelisse) in this WWII melodrama.
2 - "Tammy", "Deliver Us From Evil" (That's It...For Now)
11 - "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes"
18 - "Jupiter Ascending", "Planes: Fire and Rescue"
25 - "Hercules", "Sex Tape", "Step Up All In"
1 - "Guardians of the Galaxy", "Get On Up"
8 - "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles", "The Hundred-Foot Journey", "Into the Storm", "Lucy"
15 - "The Expendables 3", "The Giver"
22 - "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" (after a year delay), "When the Game Stands Tall"
29 - "Jane Got a Gun", "Jessabelle", "The Loft"
5 - "Addicted", "The Green Inferno"
12 - "This Is Where I Leave You", "No Good Deed", "Search Party" (In That Order)
19 - "Dolphin Tale 2", "The Maze Runner"
26 - "The Boxtrolls", "The Equalizer" (My man Denzel!)
3 - "Gone Girl" (Dir. David Fincher w/Ben Affleck)
10 - "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" (like that will fit on marquees), "The Interview", "The Judge"
17 - "Dracula Untold", "Book of Life", "The Best of Me"
24 - "Paranormal Activity 5" (Why bother?), "Untitled Vince Vaughn Movie"
31 - Happy Halloween! - No New Movies
7 - "Interstellar" (Dir. Christopher Nolan), "Big Hero 6" (Disney animated Marvel movie) (HUGE Weekend)
14 - "Dumb and Dumber To", "Brad Pitt/David Ayer Untitled", "Blackbird"
21 - "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1", "McFarland" (which will likely move)
26 - "Home", "Horrible Bosses 2"
12 - "Exodus", "Paddington"
17 - "The Hobbit: There and Back Again"
19 - "Annie" (Only a year away)
25 - "Night at the Museum 3" (Why?), "Into the Woods", "Unbroken" (Dir. Angelina Jolie)
(Dates courtesy of BoxOfficeMojo.com)
3 - "Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones"
10 - "The Legend of Hercules", "Her" (Wide Expansion), "Lone Survivor" (Wide Expansion)
17 - "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit", "The Nut Job", "Ride Along", "Devil's Due"
24 - "I, Frankenstein" (I, Angry)
31 - "Labor Day" (Wide Expansion), "That Awkward Moment"
7 - "The LEGO Movie", "The Monuments Men" (Finally!)
12 - "Robocop"
14 - "About Last Night", "Endless Love", "Vampire Academy", "Winter's Tale" (4 Valentine's Day romances)
21 - "3 Days to Kill", "Pompeii", "The Wind Rises" (English Version - Limited)
28 - "Non-Stop", "Son of God", "Welcome to Yesterday"
7 - "Mr. Peabody & Sherman", "300: Rise of an Empire" (after a seven-month delay)
14 - "Grace of Monaco", "Need for Speed", "Tyler Perry's Single Moms Club"
21 - "Muppets Most Wanted", "Divergent", "Stretch"
28 - "Noah", "A Haunted House 2", "Bad Words" (Wide Expansion)
4 - "Captain America: The Winter Soldier", "Island of Lemurs: Madagascar" (IMAX Exclusive)
11 - "Rio 2", "Draft Day", "Sabotage", "St. Vincent"
16 - "Heaven Is For Real"
18 - "Bears", "Transcendence", "Oculus"
25 - "Earth to Echo" (ET-knock-off), "The Other Woman", "The Quiet Ones", "Walk of Shame"
2 - "The Amazing Spider-Man 2"
9 - "Neighbors", "Chef", "Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return" (Limited)
16 - "Godzilla", "Million Dollar Arm"
23 - "X-Men: Days of Future Past", "Blended" (Sandler/Barrymore reunion)
30 - "Maleficent", "A Million Ways to Die in the West"
6 - "Edge of Tomorrow" (Live...Die...Repeat), "The Fault in Our Stars"
13 - "How to Train Your Dragon 2", "22 Jump Street" (BIG Weekend)
20 - "Jersey Boys" (Dir. Clint Eastwood), "The Purge 2", "Think Like a Man Too"
27 - "Transformers: Age of Extinction" (Fingers Crossed)
(Dates courtesy of BoxOfficeMojo.com)
There were some true masterpiece films in 2013, and even more epic failures. So many, in fact, that a few major disappointments ("After Earth", "The Heat", "The Fifth Estate", and "Man of Steel") couldn't even make it onto my Honorable Mentions list. Here are the Worst of the Worst:
1. "PAIN & GAIN"
Michael Bay decided to take a break from robots and direct Mark Wahlberg and a completely miscast Dwayne Johnson as bodybuilder criminals. And this was supposed to be a comedy! From the over-narration, to the slow motion, to the ridiculously goofy plot elements, all-over-the-place tone, pounding soundtrack and even a dog carrying a severed toe, this is one of the most disjointed films I've ever seen.
2. "GROWN UPS 2"
Adam Sandler's painfully unfunny sequel to the 2010 hit could easily have been #1. There are tons of cameos (including Shaq and a urinating deer), loads of bathroom jokes and offensive one-liners, and some of the most embarrassing performances of the year - particularly from Steve Buscemi and "Twilight"'s Taylor Lautner. Sandler and his buddies probably had a ball making it, but I cringed watching it.
Jeff Bridges combined Rooster Cogburn ("True Grit") and Bad Blake ("Crazy Heart") for his role as giant, hideously-disgusting "deado" hunter Roy, and he adds an unintentionally ridiculous accent. Kevin Bacon simply goes through the motions, and Ryan Reynolds is his usual bland self (he was more effective in two animated movies this year - "The Croods" and "Turbo"). This was an awful and misguided "Men in Black" rip-off.
4. "THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES"
The first of several tween/teen book series adaptations to make the list stars Lily Collins ("Mirror Mirror") in a very cheesy "Twilight" knock-off complete with a love triangle, boring special effects, and the return of Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (where's he been?)
Two hours of my life I'll never get back. Vin Diesel, some dark, blood-bath fighting sequences, way too much dialogue, and a CGI K-9. Let me make that point again: The dog wasn't even real!
6. "WALKING WITH DINOSAURS"
The dinos' mouths didn't move and yet they wouldn't shut up!
7. "THE HOST"
The best scene in this Stephanie Meyer "Twilight" wannabe was when two guys committed suicide by crashing their truck into a wall. They were the only characters the audience could relate to.
8. "THE WOLF OF WALL STREET"
This Stock Market "Goodfellas" went absolutely NOWHERE. Hopefully director Martin Scorsese learned a lesson: Never try to copy one of the all-time masters - even when it's yourself.
9. "ENDER'S GAME"
Ultimately, it's ruined by the weirdest final scene of the year, but it was pretty bad even before that.
10. "AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY"
Meryl Streep is top-notch, but who wants to go to the movies and watch unlikeable characters fighting, yelling, screaming, and cursing at each other for two hours. That's what reality TV is for.
"HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS" - When a film's best feature is the makeup, you've got a problem.
"THE LONE RANGER" - Johnny Depp as Tonto? No wonder Jerry Bruckheimer and the Mouse House parted ways.
"PACIFIC RIM" - The action scenes are quite dark. Seriously, I couldn't see a thing.
"PARANOIA" - Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman got paid to be in it. I had to pay to see it. Doesn't seem fair.
"PERCY JACKSON: SEA OF MONSTERS" - Still haven't figured out why this was made.
The first nine months of 2013 were fairly solid. But the final quarter of the year has been so good that this has become the strongest Awards Season race of the 21st Century. Out of all the films released, these 10 stand out above the rest:
1. "SAVING MR. BANKS"
Like Mary Poppins herself, "Saving Mr. Banks" is "practically perfect in every way". Emma Thompson as Poppins author P.L. Travers and Tom Hanks as the legendary Walt Disney lead an outstanding cast in director John Lee Hancock’s cinematic masterpiece, that’s more than just a "Making of" film. “Banks” captures the sadness and love, the joy and the pain it took to turn a popular children's book series into one of the most beloved movie musicals of all-time. There is so much love and care poured, by the spoonful, into every scene. It’s a sweet, heart-tugging movie that's destined, like the film it inspires, to become a classic.
Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite examines the use of incredible killer whales in theme park shows, and the history of negative results, using amazing, unseen footage of actual, life-and-death events, along with TV news accounts and raw, compelling interviews with former SeaWorld trainers and others forever effected by this practice of capturing these creatures and turning them into entertainers. "Blackfish" is an intense, shocking, important, emotional and completely mesmerizing documentary.
Disney's best animated musical since "Beauty and the Beast" is inspired by the fairy tale, The Snow Queen. Not only are the musical numbers fantastic, but the animation is phenomenal and the script isn't as simple as you might think. Josh Gad’s Olaf the snowman is a modern animation classic character. "Frozen" is a sweeping epic adventure, packed with romance, suspense, comedy and drama. In short: A crowning achievement.
Beautifully shot in black in white by Alexander Payne, this is one of the most intricate and engaging narratives of the year. Bruce Dern gives a rich performance as a man of few words, but unforgettable emotional control. He and Will Forte provide some of the most heartfelt on-screen moments of the year. "Nebraska" is not only a 'father-son' story, but a commentary about life, dreams, and missed opportunities.
5. "12 YEARS A SLAVE"
This is a moving, heartbreaking, and inspiring historical drama masterfully directed by Steve McQueen. "12 Years a Slave" captures your emotions from the start and never waivers for the entire 2+ hours. I was thoroughly invested in free man turned slave Solomon Northup’s struggle to survive. The ensemble cast is a powerhouse, led by the fantastic Chiwetel Ejiofor. Lupita Nyong’o and Michael Fassbender are equally strong.
6. "AMERICAN HUSTLE"
Directed by David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”), this is a smart, chic, sophisticated con-caper that's hugely entertaining. Amy Adams gives the best performance of her career, and Jennifer Lawrence is a shoe-in for another Academy Award nomination and could actually win again. Even THE Robert De Niro makes an uncredited cameo. O. Russell has once again made a fun, challenging movie from the first to the final frame.
7. "ENOUGH SAID"
The late James Gandolfini shines in this delightful romantic comedy. His chemistry with Julia Louis-Dreyfus is completely natural and magical. The final ten minutes include some of the best scenes of the year.
8. "STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS"
J.J. Abrams’ Starship Enterprise sequel is just over two hours of non-stop action, drama, suspense and laughs, drawing pure emotion out of every character and situation. There's nothing more you could possibly want out of a popcorn movie.
Judi Dench gives a golden performance in this true story of a woman who wants to find the son who she gave up for adoption 50 years ago. Steve Coogan plays a journalist who goes on this quest with Philomena. Coogan also co-wrote the sharp, deep, believable screenplay that doesn’t pull any punches.
Chadwick Boseman is excellent as legendary baseball player Jackie Robinson, and Harrison Ford gives one of his best performances as Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey. Writer-Director Brian Helgehand doesn't hold back in showing the abuse that Robinson was forced to endure in this effective, authentic sports drama with a simplistic yet celebratory treatment.
"DALLAS BUYERS CLUB" - Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto shine in an inspiring, emotionally powerful drama.
"DESPICABLE ME 2" - Two words: More Minions!
"GRAVITY" - Sandra Bullock and George Clooney soar in space under visionary director Alfonso Cuaron.
"THE SAPPHIRES" - Pure entertainment from start to finish.
"WORLD WAR Z" - A serious action film that's one heck of a good time.
During this time of year, you're likely gathering around with loved ones watching some great holiday-themed films - "A Christmas Story", "It's a Wonderful Life", "Miracle on 34th Street", "Christmas Vacation" - and modern classics such as "Elf", "The Santa Clause", "The Polar Express", "Scrooged" and "Arthur Christmas".
But what about those OTHER Christmas movies?
Box Office Mojo.com calls them "Christmas - Setting Only" films. They aren't about the Birth of Christ or Santa. The fact that they take place on/around Dec. 25 is either secondary or completely irrelevant to the story. Included in this group: the first two installments of the "Home Alone" (which may surprise many) and "Die Hard" series', "Gremlins", "Lethal Weapon", and even "Love Actually" (which I disagree with). The most successful film of all-time in this genre: this past May's "Iron Man 3". However, the fact that director Shane Black set the superhero showdown during Santa's sleigh ride added absolutely nothing to the story.
"Getaway", one of the worst reviewed films of 2013 (though not by me) also takes place on Christmas Eve. Ethan Hawke and Selena Gomez speed their way through the streets of Bulgaria, destroying tons of holiday decorations in the process. If this was set at a different time of the year what would they have spent the entire film running over?
Should these "Setting Only" films really be called "Christmas Movies" and put in the same category as year-enders such as "How the Grinch Stole Christmas", "The Nightmare Before Christmas", "A Christmas Carol", or even "Bad Santa"?
Yes and No. Yes, because they do take place during the holiday season, at that setting often plays a role in the storyline. No, because they lack that special, emotional impact that comes with the season.
So, my advice to you this week: Stick to the classics, unless you consider Bruce Willis shooting bad guys Christmas Magic.
Comedian Kevin Hart has had great success as a stand-up comedian, taking his act to the big screen in 2011's "Laugh at My Pain" and this year's "Let Me Explain", a 4th of July weekend hit that grossed over $32 million.
But now Hart has transformed into a bonified movie star. Sure, he's had memorable roles in African-American ensemble comedies "Death at a Funeral" and "Think Like a Man", and even played himself in "This Is The End" (before falling to into the pit of death). But over the next few months Hart will truly be showcasing his potential as a bonafide film powerhouse.
Receiving third billing under legends Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone, Hart co-stars as promoter Dante Slate, Jr. in the Christmas Day boxing comedy "Grudge Match". He's got some of the funniest lines in the trailer (including an exchange with Alan Arkin: "What was Jesus like? I'm curious.") If Hart can hold himself with that cast, he's ready for anything.
A few weeks later, on January 17th, Hart stars alongside Ice Cube in the buddy-cop action comedy "Ride Along". And the laughs will likely keep coming with the Valentine's Day release of the rom-com, "About Last Night". Plus, "Think Like a Man Too" is scheduled for June 20th.
Also in the works: "The Wedding Ringer" (co-starring "Frozen"'s Josh Gad), and a basketball flick with none other than NBA superstar Lebron James.
The great thing about Hart is that, unlike many current comics, he can be hysterically funny without relying on "dirty" jokes and adult language. That's why he's solid gold as a talk show guest (his recent "Tonight Show" and "GMA" appearances were fantastic). Mark my words: 2014 will be remembered as the "break-out year" for Kevin Hart, who's already big, but destined to be HUGE.
While the trailers and clips of "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues" look surprisingly unfunny, every other marketing idea for promoting Will Ferrell/Ron Burgundy and the rest of the Channel 4 News Team's return has been genius.
It began back in May 2012 when the first teaser trailer for "Anchorman 2" was released, with several follow-ups (each complete with corny one-liners) over the next year.
The campaign really kicked into gear last month with one of the biggest TV success stories of the year - Ron Burgundy's hilarious Dodge Durango commercials, which have included horses, saxophones, cue cards, and ballroom dancers. Sales have gone up a staggering 59% since the ads began airing.
Burgundy has become Ferrell's true alter ego, as the 70's newsman has also provided commentary for a Canadian curling match, interviewed Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning on ESPN, appeared on Dan Patrick's radio show and even co-anchored a half-hour newscast in North Dakota.
When a co-star of a film hosts "Saturday Night Live" that can certainly boost ticket sales. When he decides to bring the main cast on during the monologue, that helps - a lot. Earlier this month "SNL" host Paul Rudd surprised everyone with live appearances from Ferrell, Steve Carell, and David Koechner. Together they, and boyband phenomenon One Direction, sung "Afternoon Delight" - the song that played a major role in helping the 2004 original achieve its cult status.
So, will this unique marketing strategy and hard work from Ferrell and the others pay off at the box office? "Anchorman 2" opens on Wednesday and could do as much as $50 million over the 5-day weekend, most of that coming from fans of the original. If reviews and word of mouth are good, the film could stay strong throughout the holiday season. If that's the case, look for other studios to try to copy elements of this ad campaign for their future films. Only problem: they won't have Will Ferrell to help pull it off.
This weekend's "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" is expected to be one of the biggest films of the year. But, considering we're in the early stages of the most crowded holiday season ever, will it be able to surpass the original's $303M take at the box office?
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" opened to $85 million on the very same weekend last year. Keep in mind, "Lord of the Rings" fans didn't know what to expect from Peter Jackson. The result was a very lengthy journey indeed (almost three hours). Plus, the HFR (high-frame-rate), with even higher ticket prices than 3D, made it a must-see.
"Smaug" is ten minutes shorter than "Journey" and is again in HFR, but I don't think the attraction will be quite as strong. Yes, "Smaug" will absolutely win the weekend with at least $75 million. Obviously diehards are going to go, and even those who didn't love the first installment but think this second chapter looks better (I'm in that group) will be giving it a shot this weekend.
The interesting other new option at box office is "Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas". Perry movies, particularly those starring the crazy old lady, traditionally open quite well and then die very quickly. "Madea" may steal some of "The Hobbit"'s thunder (grabbing some patrons who get sold-out of "Smaug"), as well as bring in Perry's strong African American audience ($30M target open).
"The Desolation of Smaug" should have some legs before the bombardment of Christmas Day releases, and end up with an estimated $260-$270 million total, landing right in between WB's other two 2013 blockbusters, "Man of Steel" and "Gravity".
Attention: This is a Spoiler-Free Blog
Final scenes can make or break a movie. These are the standout conclusions (the extraordinary and the epic failures) of 2013:
"12 YEARS A SLAVE" - The culmination of Chiwetel Ejiofor's fine performance.
"CAPTAIN PHILLIPS" - Tom Hanks at his best (and most emotional).
"DESPICABLE ME 2" - Two hysterical Minion musical numbers!
"FROZEN" - An untraditional, perfect ending to an animated masterpiece.
"NEBRASKA" - Underdogs always come out on top.
"SAVING MR. BANKS" - A powerful finale set at a movie theater that needs to be experienced in one.
"THE WOLVERINE" - The best "Easter Egg" (or post-credits scene) of the year features a glimpse of May 2014's "X-Men: Days of Future Past".
Honorable Mention: "PAIN & GAIN" - After wasting two hours of my life watching Mark Wahlberg and co.'s awful shenanigans, they got what they deserved.
"AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY" - I don't know what Julia Roberts' character or director John Wells were thinking.
"THE BOOK THIEF" - What's up with Death?
"ENDER'S GAME" - Five minutes I am still trying to forget.
"GROWN UPS 2" - If you count the entire pool party fight sequence as one scene, it was a disaster.
"PRISONERS" - Jake Ghyllenhaal looks around for a minute and then hears something. In my mind: "That's a stretch."
Honorable Mention: "THE SPECTACULAR NOW" - Confusing and just plain goofy.
"ALL IS LOST" - Can be interpreted in multiple ways. At least it was the liveliest minute in the film.
"THE FIFTH ESTATE" - A contradiction of the entire movie from a main character: UNHEARD OF!
"FREE BIRDS" - Move over turkey, there's a new Thanksgiving entree.
"GRAVITY" - A stretched-out scene from an obscure angle and location.
Honorable Mention: "THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE" - It is rather abrupt.
Last year, I walked out of "Lincoln" having a pretty good feeling that Daniel Day-Lewis was going to walk away with every Best Actor award. Check! After watching "Silver Linings Playbook", I predicted Jennifer Lawrence would be the year's Oscars darling. Check! And practically everyone could see that Anne Hathaway's Best Supporting Actress dream would come true after witnessing her gut-wrenching performance in "Les Miserables".
But the remaining acting category: Best Supporting Actor, was clearly up for grabs, and resulted in multiple winners over the course of Awards Season. Phillip Seymour Hoffman won the Critics Choice for "The Master", Tommy Lee Jones took the SAG for "Lincoln", and Christoph Waltz won the BAFTA and Golden Globe for "Django Unchained". So, come Oscar night, the statue could've easily gone to any of the five nominees, and it was Waltz starting off the show with the somewhat surprise victory.
As we get deeper into this Awards Season it's appearing that every major category will be up for grabs. I've already seen several amazing films and performances (with, hopefully, a few more to come), but in my mind there are no clear-cut favorites (no Daniel Day-Lewis' this year). There's strong Best Picture buzz surrounding "12 Years a Slave", "Gravity", "Saving Mr. Banks", and New York Film Critics Circle selection "American Hustle".
Could Tom Hanks take home two Oscars (one for "Banks" and one for "Captain Phillips")? The Best Actress category is packed , with A-listers Amy Adams ("Hustle"), Sandra Bullock ("Gravity"), Cate Blanchett ("Blue Jasmine"), Judi Dench ("Philomena"), Meryl Streep ("August: Osage County"), and Emma Thompson ("Banks").
What about Supporting Actor? Will the late James Gandolfini be honored for his performance in "Enough Said"? How about Jared Leto ("Dallas Buyers Club") or newcomer Barkhad Abdi ("Captain Phillips")? And Supporting Actress is wide-open too: Will Jennifer Lawrence be the Golden Girl again - or do veteran heavyweights Julia Roberts and Oprah Winfrey have a shot?
As often happens, one contender could get hot and on a roll, with the Globes, Critics Choice, and SAG Awards all in the same week this year (Jan 12, 16, and 18). Or there's a good chance the honors could be spread out. And with such a large gap this season between all the other Awards shows and the March 2 Oscars, anything could change.
Here's a prediction I'm confident in: this will be the most unpredictable Awards Season ever.
It's been a tremendous year for African American films and performers. "12 Years a Slave" is the current frontrunner for Best Picture of the Year and star Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong'o are top acting contenders. "Lee Daniels' The Butler" has grossed $116 million and could see stars Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey walk the Oscars red carpet in March. Whitaker's year has also included roles in "Black Nativity" and "Out of the Furnace".
The baseball biopic "42", starring Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson, was a surprise hit this spring and led to Boseman picking-up starring roles in the upcoming sports drama "Draft Day" and the James Brown biography "Get On Up".
Barkhad Abdi's stunning performance as the pirate captain alongside Tom Hanks in "Captain Phillips" will likely earn him numerous Supporting Actor nominations throughout Awards Season. "Fruitvale Station" and "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" feature notable work from Octavia Spencer and Idris Elba, respectively.
Morgan Freeman's career has hit a new high this year thanks to hits "Olympus Has Fallen" and CBS Films' highest-grossing release to date, the ensemble comedy, "Last Vegas". Halle Berry's "The Call" exceeded box office expectations in March. The romantic comedy "The Best Man Holiday" nearly took down "Thor: The Dark World" when it opened in theaters a few weeks ago. Star Terrence Howard also gave a great performance (with co-star Viola Davis) in the drama, "Prisoners".
Still to come, Tyler Perry's second 2013 release, "A Madea Christmas", which could give "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" a run for its money. Comedian Kevin Hart's documentary "Let Me Explain" performed nicely over 4th of July weekend. His upcoming comedy, "Grudge Match", with Stallone and De Niro, should be a knockout over Christmas.
In all there have been nearly 40 2013 films written, directed and/or produced by black filmmakers and so many standout acting performances that they're too numerous to list. And audiences everywhere have enjoyed and embraced these movies.
The Broadcast Film Critics Association, of which I am a proud member, will be hosting a "Celebration of Black Cinema" on January 7th in Hollywood. BFCA President Joey Berlin said, "Our membership...believes that this special level of accomplishment deserves to be acknowledged and saluted."
Many of Hollywood's biggest stars, including Will Smith, Samuel L. Jackson, Denzel Washington, Beyonce, Chris Rock, Zoe Saldana, along with several of the actors listed above (Elba, Freeman, Perry, Spencer, Whitaker, Winfrey) are expected to attend this landmark event, which will take place at The House of Blue in West Hollywood on Jan. 9, just nine days before the 19th Annual Critics Choice Movie Awards. No doubt many of those celebrated that night will also be hearing their name called at the CCMAs on Jan. 16. I know they'll be on my ballot.
MR. PEABODY AND I WANT TO WISH ALL OF YOU A HAPPY THANKSGIVING!
ABC's hit show "Shark Tank" is one of the biggest success stories in modern TV history. After being on the air and practically unnoticed for three seasons, the quintisential "American Dream" reality series finally caught-on last year and is now a national phenomenon and must-see TV every Friday - or, for those of us who are at the movies on Fridays - must DVR TV. The show has sunk its teeth into the role as Friday's #1 program (in the key demo) and refuses to let go.
Friday night has always been a tough night for networks to get ratings, because people are out of the house and not watching TV. ABC was very successful with it's "TGIF" family sitcom programming in the 90's, but since then Friday's had been a dead zone until CBS' "Blue Bloods" starring Tom Selleck became a surprise hit, with over 10 million viewers, in the 10pm Friday night slot beginning in 2010. And that show has remained consistently popular.
While the "Tank" attracts only 6-7 million viewers a week (still a huge number), it's been able to do what TV execs thought was impossible: getting 18-49 year-old viewers to stay home instead of going to the mall or movies. And not for a pure entertainment program or reality competition singing show. "Shark Tank" is regular people pitching their unique, products or services to business moguls in hopes of getting an investment and a partner. Thanks to the success of the show, the Sharks, including Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, have become some of the most recognizable faces on television.
And the Sharks are one of the main reasons why "ST" works so well. Not only are they experts in running their business empires and not afraid to say what's on their (or our) minds, but they have a lot of fun on the show while playing-off each other. There are no rules. It's one of the most unpredictable shows on TV because you never know what's going to happen next. What will their initial reactions be? What are the entrepreneurs hiding? How's Kevin (aka Mr. Wonderful) going to want to get his money back this time? Does QVC queen Lori think the product is a Hero or a Zero? Will anyone go in, out, and then back in on a deal? Plus, the teases for the following week's episode make for some of the funniest moments of the entire hour.
ABC had an equally hot TV product in "Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?" Ten years ago, the network went overboard with it - airing new episodes practically every night of the week. It was the classic case of "too much of a good thing" (caused by greed) and it killed "Millionaire" (in primetime). I'm sure ABC is tempted to take advantage of "Shark Tank"'s popularity and expand it to to another night or two, but so far that hasn't happened. But I'm guessing the network sharks are circling, sensing blood (and money) in the water. So, if you haven't done so yet, now's the time to dive into one of the best shows on TV, before it "jumps the sharks".
One of my favorite awards season categories is the one which honors the film with the best group of actors, performing at the highest level. Most call it "Best Ensemble". The Screen Actors Guild Awards call it "Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture." This year there is a tremendous number of movies vying to be nominated. Here's my predictions of who the voters (including yours truly) will select this year:
The Top Contenders
"12 Years a Slave" (Best acted film of '13)
"American Hustle" (Packed with star power: Adams, Bale, Cooper, Lawrence, Renner and De Niro)
"August: Osage County" (Meryl and Julia: Enough said)
"Lee Daniels' The Butler" (Forest, Oprah, and a ton of cameos)
"Saving Mr. Banks" (Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks lead the best team of '13)
"Dallas Buyers Club"
"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"
"The Wolf of Wall Street"
But there's often a "wild card" selection in this category. Last year it was "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel". The year before it was "Bridesmaids". My favorite long-shot pick is "The Way, Way Back". But SAG voters have also liked musicals in the past ("Hairspray", "Nine", Dreamgirls", and most recently "Les Miserables"). "Inside Llewyn Davis" may have a shot, but a nomination for the Coen Brothers film would be a major surprise.
The SAG Awards nominations will be announced on Dec. 11. Sasha Alexander (TNT's "Rizzoli & Isles") and "Marvel's Agents of SHIELD"'s Clark Gregg have been selected to do the honors.
By this time next month, we'll be able to wave goodbye to "Iron Man 3" as the highest-grossing film of 2013. "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" will undoubtably claim that title. But just how big will this second installment in the "HG" series be? Here's a break down:
Last year's "The Hunger Games" opened with a very impressive $152.5 million, a total that exceeded each of the "Twilight" films. Why? Because this saga, about teens (and now adults) fighting to the death on a TV show in post-apocalyptic Earth, has more mass appeal than the "Twilight" stories of young vampire and werewolf lovers. "THG" held the #1 spot at the box office for four straight weeks. No film has duplicated that achievement since. Its final grand total of $408 million put it at #3 for the year, behind only "Marvel's The Avengers" and "The Dark Knight Rises".
"Catching Fire" should be able to outgross that figure. Since last year, star Jennifer Lawrence won an Academy Award (for her riveting performance in "Silver Linings Playbook"). And a fellow Oscar winner- Phillip Seymour Hoffman, joins the already star-studded "Catching Fire" cast of Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Liam Hemsworth, Donald Sutherland, and Stanley Tucci. Seymour Hoffman plays Quarter Quell head gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee.
And there's no denying that "The Hunger Games" brand has grown in the year and a half since the first release. I believe more people who skipped the first enstallment will take a shot at this one (and catch-up with the first film on DVD). Plus, the trailers for "Catching Fire" are very promising.
Still, I don't see "Catching Fire" opening to "Avengers" numbers ($207m), but it'll come pretty close. And with the Thanksgiving holiday right around the corner, it should follow with a very strong second week.
Opening Weekend Prediction: $172 million
Total Gross Prediction: $475 million
I have officially seen all the major contenders for this year's Best Animated Feature Oscar. It's time for my nomination picks:
THE THREE LOCKS:
"FROZEN" - Disney's spectacular musical comedy inspired by The Snow Queen is an animated triumph. With songs destined for Broadway, memorable characters, and two fantastic twists, it's truly the best of the bunch. If you thought Disney tried (and failed) to get back to its core roots with 2009's overrated "The Princess and the Frog", get ready to be blown away.
"MONSTERS UNIVERSITY" - Pixar's first prequel received mixed to positive reviews from both critics and audiences. So did "Brave", which sadly took home the Oscar last year. But "MU" delivers laughs, college antics, and a lot of heart in the final 10 minutes - enough to deserve a nod.
"THE WIND RISES" - I know what you're thinking: "Aren't all three films are under the Disney umbrella?" The answer is Yes. That's just the way its played out this year. Two years ago, three of the five noms were distributed by Paramount ("Kung Fu Panda 2" and "Puss in Boots" from DreamWorks Animation along with winner "Rango"). Hayao Miyazaki's final feature is both beautiful and emotional. He won for 2002's "Spirited Away", and he may take home the prize again, in part to honor his legendary career...but we're not going there quite yet.
IF THERE ARE FIVE:
"THE CROODS" - The DreamWorks stone age comedy isn't one of the best from this year's crop, but it's fast, fun, and takes a decent risk at the end.
"DESPICABLE ME 2" - While the 2010 original failed to receive a nomination, the hilarious sequel (which is currently the second highest-grossing film of the year with close to $370 million), should attract enough attention to get on the ballot. The Academy will make up for the mistake of not loving the Minions three years ago.
THE WILD CARD:
"TURBO" - The stronger of DWA's 2013 releases has a unique story and a great payoff. Speedy snail Turbo won over critics this Summer, but was lost in the Minion Mayhem at the box office. Hopefully the Academy will give this better-than-average underdog story a fighting chance.
We'll see if I'm right when the nominees for the 86th Academy Awards are announced on January 16th.
The announcement by Disney that "Star Wars: Episode VII" will be released Dec. 18, 2015 is not only exciting news, but it also means the studios behind the two films previously set to debut on that date - "Inferno" (Sony) and "Warcraft" (Universal) - have to be scrambling to find new spots to open. Either or both could move up a week to Dec. 11, where the only competition right now is "Alvin and the Chipmunks 4". Each of the previous six "Star Wars" films opened in May. It'll be interesting to see how an Awards Season release affects the box office.
And "Star Wars VII" will also share a release day with another somewhat successful film that hit theaters on Dec. 18, 2009: a little Sci-Fi adventure called "Avatar".
Disney's other big news - moving the "Tomorrowland" release from December 12, 2014 to May 22, 2015. This means a couple of things for the Mouse House:
1) It enhances Disney's already impressive 2015 calendar, which also includes (besides "Star Wars VII"): "Cinderella", "Avengers: Age of Ultron", "Inside Out", "Ant-Man" and "The Good Dinosaur". Wow!
2) It allows the studio to be able to focus on "Into the Woods" in Dec. 2014, instead of having to split its attention/promotional efforts between the two films.
The Hollywood Foreign Press has officially designated which films will be elidgible in which categories for the upcoming Golden Globes. And there are a few surprises.
The movie most were waiting to learn about - David O. Russell's "American Hustle" - will compete in the Drama category. Like last year's "Silver Linings Playbook", O. Russell had a tough choice. He went Comedy with "SLP", which helped Jennifer Lawrence win Best Actress honors.
From the trailer, "American Hustle" looks like a dramatic period piece with some light moments. It will be going head-to-head in the DRAMA category with the likes of "12 Years a Slave", "Gravity", "Captain Phillips", "Lee Daniels' The Butler", "Philomena", and "Saving Mr. Banks", so it may struggle just to get a nomination.
For me, the biggest surprise entry in the DRAMA category is "Blue Jasmine". The film was promoted as a comedy and played as a comedy. Would Woody Allen have done this so Cate Blanchett could avoid going up against Meryl Streep ("August: Osage County") in the Best Actress - Comedy/Musical category? We all know how much the HFPA LOVES Ms. Streep. If this is the plan, it's a smart one. However, Blanchett will still face tough competition from Judi Dench ("Philomena"), Amy Adams ("American Hustle"), Emma Thompson ("Saving Mr. Banks") and, above all (literally), "Gravity"'s Sandra Bullock.
Along with "August: Osage County" getting a COMEDY designation, the other mildly surprising decision in this category is "Her", which appears more heavy-hearted than light-hearted, but it may help Joaquin Phoenix snag a Best Actor nomination. I also wasn't expecting "The Wolf of Wall Street" to be called a COMEDY, but I guess trailers don't lie. They will face-off against potential noms "Nebraska", "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty", "Inside Llewyn Davis" (the sole musical of this group) and "Enough Said".
The 2014 Golden Globes are Jan. 12.
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