Friday, December 29, 2017

Rapid Reviews: All the Money in the World and Call Me by Your Name

With the worldwide phenomena of the #MeToo movement engrossing every walk of life, Hollywood was no exception to the unmasking of workplace sexual harassment claims. One unexpected casualty of the movement was Kevin Spacey, a veteran actor with a stunning resume, who faces multiple accusations of unwanted sexual advances. Consequently, director Ridley Scott felt compelled to do the unthinkable with his new film All the Money in the World. A mere six weeks before its official release, Scott recast Academy Award Winner Christopher Plummer in Spacey's role and re-shot 22 scenes in 9 days with the committed aide of his cast and crew members. But how much of an effect would all of these 11th-hour changes have on the overall quality of the film? Truth be told, these last-minute edits are the least of the movie's issues.

All the Money tells the unbelievable true story of oilman John Paul Getty (Plummer), the world's richest man, who refuses to pony up a $17 million cash-ransom demanded by the kidnappers of his 16 year-old grandson Paul (Charlie Plummer, no relation) in 1973 Italy. But when Paul's mother, Gail (Michelle Williams), pleas desperately for Getty's assistance, he enlists the services of personal advisor and ex-CIA agent Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) to take care of matters "as quickly and inexpensively as possible". Pressed for time as Paul's abductors make it clear that they aren't afraid to kill the teen if necessary, Gail and Chase try to scheme a way to cut a deal.

There's a more interesting story embedded somewhere within this broadly told screenplay from David Scarpa. But instead, All the Money muddles its focus and emerges as a thinly-elaborated and thrill-less bout of factual exhaustion. Widely outstretched to nearly 135 minutes of uninspiring and occasionally agonizing narrative, Michelle Williams and Christopher Plummer deliver effort-saving performances that are but twinkles of starlight in a dark and empty void of crumbling deficiencies. The film's two most-prominent characters, Gail and Getty, become lost in a sea of meaningless subplots. The lengthy amount of attention given to the kidnappers and their prisoner, Paul, lacks the required tension needed to justify its overwhelming inclusion. Moreover, Mark Wahlberg is so noticeably miscast that it's difficult to tell whether his designed character arc is poorly scripted, terribly acted, or a disastrous combination of both. Either way, this bitter and cold real-life story lacks a genuine purpose. It fails as a suspenseful thriller, it underwhelms as a cheaply-explored character study, and it by no means engages the viewer emotionally. You will find some brilliant examples of skilled acting and a few strong moments of direction sprinkled throughout the film, yet there's very little else to be found inside of Ridley Scott's All the Money in the World.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

Although it took a pair of tries to finally get it right, last year's Best Picture award went to Barry Jenkins' poetic and astounding drama, Moonlight. The film focuses on a central character who experiences a life-long journey of uncovering his sexual identity. This underlying similarity also reigns supreme in Luca Guadagnino's critically-adored festival darling, Call Me by Your Name, which makes it categorically impossible to avoid a distinct comparison between these two cinematic achievements. Yet, no matter how much you try to weigh one against the other, much like Barry Jenkins' prestigous award-winner, Call Me by Your Name appears destined to end up as a Best Picture Nominee from the Academy Awards.

Set against the picturesque landscape of Northern Italy circa the early 1980s, Elio (Timothee Chalamet) is a gifted scholar and musician born to a professor (Michael Stuhlbarg) who's gathering research during the summer months. And as his father's latest research assistant Oliver (Armie Hammer), a strapping American man radiating with confidence and a chiseled build, visits and stays at the family's residence, Elio's sexual curiosity begins to transform from an internal passion to an exterior pursuit. The seventeen year old boy eventually confesses his feelings to Oliver and they embark on an unforgettable summer romance that's doomed by an inescapable expiration date when Oliver must return home to the United States.

Call Me by Your Name is a sweet and subtle examination of first love in all of its beauty and heartache. James Ivory's adapted construction of Elio's sexual evolution from an inward curiosity to an outward plea for Oliver's companionship is a true marvel. And while the film's ability to stir an emotional response occurred more in a meditative retrospect than in the actual moment of viewing, mostly due to an overly detailed and laboring pace, director Luca Guadagnino achieves his ultimate goal and delivers an effective dramatic story. Speaking of Guadagnino, his eye is spectacular as he captures an array of masterful shots that are emboldened by pristine cinematography. These technical and atmospheric accomplishments are further supported by a fantastic lead performance from Golden Globe and SAG Nominee, Timothee Chalamet. The youngster serves as the life-force behind Call Me by Your Name and he effortlessly captures the undulating teenage emotion engulfed by first-time love. And despite my mixed feelings regarding Armie Hammer's onscreen work, perhaps a little off-putting due to the clear age difference between the characters, fellow supporting star Michael Stuhlbarg mesmerizes with an unforgettable closing soliloquy regarding intimacy and the important of discovering love in its purest form. Experiencing Call Me by Your Name can often feel like a chore, wading through the sometimes exhaustive nuance of Luca Guadagnino and James Ivory's storytelling, but it's also a tender and heartfelt journey that's worthy of your patience.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Oscar Talk - December 24th, 2017

Since our last break down of the major Oscar races on December 7th, both Golden Globe and SAG award nominations have been handed out and it helped paint a clearer picture of the road to the Academy Awards. I still haven't seen a trio of films with major Oscar potential, namely The Post, Call Me By Your Name and Phantom Thread, but I was able to catch a few other films that have helped shore up the awards season landscape. Here we go:

Best Picture

Safe Bets: While I'm still of the belief that Steven Spielberg's The Post will benefit as Hollywood's response to the current political landscape, a new film has emerged in the "Safe Bets" column. Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird, the most well-reviewed movie of the year should also find itself as a finalist alongside Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and The Shape of Water

Other Potential Nominees: The next tier of films include Dunkirk and Call Me By Your Name, both of which check off a lot of necessary boxes to help them make the cut. As we push closer to the announcement of Oscar Nominations, which are less than a month away, Sean Baker's The Florida Project keeps appearing on critics' end-of-the year lists. Perhaps the small budget indie will have what it takes to land a nod.

Dark Horse Contenders: Kumail Nanjiani's The Big Sick raised its stock with a SAG Best Ensemble Nomination, but being an early release can prove challenging. One or both of Mudbound and Get Out have a chance of sneaking in, especially following strong reception from SAG, while Darkest Hour keeps losing momentum ever since its festival debut. Phantom Thread has found immense praises from Paul Thomas Anderson devotees who have seen the film, and it could be a huge player a month from now, but I, Tonya is up against some difficult odds coming from a film company that's inexperienced in the awards season game.

Best Director

Safe Bets: From what I've seen nothing tops Guillermo del Toro's sharp direction for The Shape of Water. His work is undeniably good and should land him a nomination alongside the great veteran of filmmaking Steven Spielberg (The Post). Beyond those two things get a little murky but I'm starting to believe that Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards) will definitely find a place in the final five.

Other Potential Nominees: Lady Bird director Greta Gerwig was snubbed by the Golden Globes, but her film is still in the hearts of many and that could be enough to muscle her into the mix. Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk) has a long history of being overlooked by the Academy, yet many feel that this is the year he gets his justice. While the quintet listed above would make for a fine group of Best Director finalists, Dee Rees (Mudbound) could still play the spoiler if the Oscars decided to nominate the first African American female in this category ever.

Dark Horse Contenders: Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name) and Sean Baker (The Florida Project) helm a pair of beloved titles, but lack the clout of the names above. Instead, perhaps a more notable dark horse such as Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049) or Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread) will sneak their way into the big dance.

Best Actor

Safe Bets: It's difficult to imagine a final Best Actor race without Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour) or Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread), a pair of veteran powerhouses who everyone believes will duke it out for the statue. However, Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.) has surprisingly elevated his position in the category with nominations from both SAG and the Hollywood Foreign Press, despite the lack of fanfare for his film.

Other Potential Nominees: I anticipate that hope is still very much alive for Spielberg's The Post, even after being shut out by SAG (which sometimes happens for very late releases), so Tom Hanks should still get a nod. However, space is quickly becoming limited with strong fringe-players in James Franco (The Disaster Artist) and the youngster Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name). Five of the six actors mentioned above should get in, and I'm leaning towards Franco as the one who misses out.

Dark Horse Contenders: It's been a fantastic ride for Get Out's leading star, Daniel Kaluuya, who scored nominations from both the Golden Globes and SAG, but it's just not the type of film that gets recognized by the Academy. Jake Gyllenhaal's (Stronger) Oscar hopes appear to be fading, especially considering his numerous career snubs from the Academy, but I still believe he delivers a worthy performance.

Best Actress

Safe Bets: Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water) is absolutely masterful and I firmly believe the Oscar field is set in this category with all of Margot Robbie (I, Tonya), Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird), Meryl Streep (The Post) and Frances McDormand (Three Billboards) closing out five nominations. I also believe that the winner is up-for-grabs and this should be one of the more exciting races to watch down the stretch.

Other Potential Nominees: Judi Dench replaced Streep in the SAG Nominations for her work in Victoria and Abdul, but I don't think her run has staying power. Jessica Chastain (Molly's Game) is always a threat and last year's Academy Award Winner, Emma Stone (Battle of the Sexes), could be a shocking spoiler as well.

Dark Horse Contenders: Any other Best Actress competitor feels like the longest of shots but it's at least worth mentioning Michelle Williams strong work in All the Money in the World. I wouldn't bet on it, but rumblings have also been heard regarding Vicky Krieps performance in Phantom Thread.

Best Supporting Actor

Safe Bets: This race should come down to Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project) and my personal favorite, Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards). I also feel confident that Richard Jenkins will score a nod for his deserving turn in The Shape of Water, although I don't necessarily see him as a threat to win it all.

Other Potential Nominees: That leaves two nominations up for grabs with an endless list of possibilities. The next tier of supporting actors would most likely include Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards), who will struggle to capture votes thanks to a more prominent co-star, Steve Carell (Battle of the Sexes), Armie Hammer (Call Me By Your Name) and Christopher Plummer (All the Money in the World).

Dark Horse Contenders: While the bottom half of this category remains wide-open, it wouldn't be too crazy to see and of Jason Mitchell (Mudbound), Mark Rylance (Dunkirk), Bryan Cranston (Last Flag Flying) or Michael Stuhlbarg (Call Me By Your Name) sneak in as well.

Best Supporting Actress

Safe Bets: This happens to be a two-horse race as well, with either Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird) or Allison Janney (I, Tonya) primed to capture a first Oscar statue. Mary J. Blige (Mudbound) also solidified her stature with recent nods from both SAG and the Golden Globes. 

Other Potential Nominees: Like Blige, Downsizing's Hong Chau earned nominations from both voting bodies as well, but her entry into the final five feels a little less secure. Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water) and Holly Hunter (The Big Sick) are both serious threats to capture a spot or two.

Dark Horse Contenders: Early work is Phantom Thread's Lesley Manville has the ability to play spoiler, as does Oscar Winner Melissa Leo (Novitiate). And finally, the Academy Awards don't usually reward comedies or their performers, but if the tides change this year than Tiffany Haddish (Girl's Trip) could very well steal a nomination.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Rapid Reviews: Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Molly's Game

Following the box office and critical powerhouse that was The Force Awakens, fans and enthusiasts were shocked to learn that J.J. Abrams wouldn't be returning to direct the next chapter of the Star Wars saga. Instead, Disney put its full faith behind Looper and Brick helmer Rian Johnson. But where would Johnson's vision take this delicate collection of old and new characters? Early indications and trailer footage suggested a darker tone would exist throughout The Last Jedi, and only time would tell if this was the correct path for the franchise. Well now, the time has finally arrived.

Rey (Daisy Ridley) has taken her newfound abilities to a desolate island to learn the ways of the Force from Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). But as her understanding of the Force grows, so does Skywalker's skepticism in her intentions as he becomes fearful of her uncontrollable strength. Meanwhile, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the First Order look to put an end to the Resistance once and for all.

From start to finish, The Last Jedi becomes plagued by an artificial cheapness in both story structure and delivery. This isn't to say that the film is a complete miss, because that's by no means accurate, Rian Johnson's effort is rather a misguided continuation of the re-branded universe that J.J. Abrams worked diligently to build. Where The Force Awakens goes overboard in its reliance on familiarity, both in terms of the story's likeness to A New Hope and its return to key figures from the original trilogy, The Last Jedi desperately ventures in a polar-opposite direction by offering numerous thematic statements that this trilogy intends to have its own voice. Consequently, this branching-out approach from Rian Johnson comes with a wide range of successes and failures. Rey, Finn and Poe prove to be a strongly-developed trio of characters who are well-equipped to carry the saga into Episode IX. However, an absolute mishandling of Luke Skywalker's character, which even drew public criticism from Mark Hamill leading up to the film's release, is just the beginning of The Last Jedi's careless ideas. Everything from the revelation of Rey's parents to shameful amounts of inorganic slapstick comedy sprinkled throughout, and lest we forget cinema's most unimaginative and prolonged "chase sequence" ever, The Last Jedi's most shining qualities are sadly clouded by many blatant and unforgivable blunders from its writer and director. Therefore, we must turn our hopes back to J.J. Abrams for a stronger and more appropriate conclusion when he returns for Episode IX.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

Most successful individuals must work or train tirelessly to hone their craft, devoting a lifetime to reaching the pinnacles of their professions. Yet, somehow Aaron Sorkin appears to circumvent the norm with his seemingly effortless skills that have transformed the screenwriter and playwright into an Oscar-winning titan of the industry. Sorkin's rare mastery of rapid dialogue interspersed with comedic undertones are staples in cinematic achievements such as A Few Good Men, The Social Network, Moneyball and countless others. But now Sorkin feels ready to embrace the next major challenge in his life, as the prestigious writer tackles his directorial debut with the unbelievable true story behind his new film, Molly's Game.

After a crushing defeat ends the Olympic dreams of young skiing sensation Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), she ventures to California for a sunny retreat from her intense training and stressful upbringing at the behest of her father (Kevin Costner). While on the west coast, a series of odd jobs somehow navigates Molly into the underworld of high-stakes poker headlined by actors, athletes, politicians and all other kinds of celebrities. But as Molly's thirst for expensive taste and a desperation to be a part of the action crosses the line of legality, she's forced to beg attorney Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) for his counsel after the U.S. government presses serious charges and confiscate all of her finances.

If you're a fan of Aaron Sorkin's past work, his trademark style is on full display once again in Molly's Game. Told through a non-chronological approach, the audience is given a thorough glance into the mindset of a remarkably gifted woman who trades her intellectual and physical strengths for a dark and exhausting life of underground gambling. Molly is at the forefront of nearly every scene, paving the way for Jessica Chastain to grow an audacious and compelling character. Despite Molly's crazy life story that manages to stay engaging even through a lofty 140-minute affair, Chastain's performance is strong but not transcendent. Her work rings familiar to another recent turn Chastain delivered in John Madden's Miss Sloane, and the similarities sour the experience a bit. Idris Elba and Kevin Costner provide stellar supporting performances as well, but the largest issue with Molly's Game is the film's inability to elevate the stakes. The story feels grossly repetitious at times and its dramatic conclusion is regrettably unnatural. However, Sorkin's usage of heavy dialogue is executed to his typical standards, keeping a comfortable beat and tempo that's constantly moving and never bores. Molly's Game is a decent effort and a fine directorial debut for Sorkin despite the movie's lack of necessary escalation.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The 15:17 to Paris and Annihilation Trailers

While footage is available for the rest of 2017's slate of end-of-year releases, we're starting to get a look into what the early months of 2018 have to offer. Usually marked with awards season release dates, director Clint Eastwood finds his newest work hitting theaters in February. The 15:17 to Paris tells the heroic true story of American soldiers on board a train to Paris who find themselves in the midst of a terrorist plot. Eastwood also uses the actual real life soldiers to play themselves in the film, a daring move that will interesting to see on the big screen. Check out the first official trailer for The 15:17 to Paris below.

Alex Garland put his versatility on full display when the renowned screenwriter took a seat in the director's chair for his 2014 debut film, Ex Machina. Critics and audiences alike provided overwhelming praises for the effort and the film's success paved the way for Garland's follow-up feature, Annihilation. Natalie Portman stars as an army-trained biologist who ventures into an environmental anomaly in hopes of finding a way to save her husband (Oscar Issac) who got deathly ill following his mission into the same disaster zone. Annihilation also arrives in theaters this February and you can catch the film's new official trailer below.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Golden Globe and SAG Nominations: Snubs and Surprises

What a busy week it's been in Hollywood. From the red carpet premiere of The Last Jedi to the combination of Monday's Golden Globe and Wednesday's Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Nominations, there is no shortage of storylines floating around the left coast. But before I discuss the biggest snubs and surprises from this week's nominations, you can find complete lists of the nominees below:


While the Golden Globe Awards span far more nominees, with their drama and basically non-drama distinctions for all acting categories, I view it as more substantial and telling when a performer misses out on a SAG Nomination. One of the biggest surprises comes from the Supporting Actor race where Armie Hammer (Call Me By Your Name) was surprisingly left out of the top five. Hammer did earn a Globe Nomination, but with SAG's wider overlap of voting members with the Oscars, this SAG omission hurts Hammer's cause far more than the Globe recognition helps him. His status changes from "safe nominee" to a fringe-player in the category.

I was extremely shocked to find Jake Gyllenhaal's phenomenal work in the drama Stronger was left on the outside looking in from both awards ceremonies. I knew Gyllenhaal was a borderline selection with SAG, yet even the Globes couldn't find room for such an emotional performance. I also had hopes of his co-star Tatiana Malsany sneaking into the mix, but she's less of a surprising snub since she was a long-shot from the start.

What happened to Steven Spielberg's The Post? SAG completely shut out the film, which includes it's legendary leads Meryl Streep (Best Actress) and Tom Hanks (Best Actor) who both earned Globe Nominations. While this type of blind omission for a film may spell trouble for its Oscar chances, Spielberg's film screened extremely late and many voters may note have seen it yet. If not, then The Post is in trouble with the Academy Awards, but I doubt that's the case.

Kumail Nanjiani's semi-autobiographical comedy The Big Sick went overlooked by the Globes, only to find redemption shortly after with a huge SAG inclusion. As clearly one of the year's most thoughtful and hilarious comedies, The Big Sick was left out of the Best Picture - Comedy/Musical, Best Screenplay (where many believe it could earn an Oscar nom) and Best Supporting Actress (where Holly Hunter has a fighting chance to make the final cut) races. Surprisingly, Nanjiani and the rest of the cast landed in a SAG Best Ensemble nod, over Guillermo del Toro's beloved The Shape of Water, and Hunter captured a nomination in her race.


Get Out shockingly stole a Best Ensemble nomination from the field, a big win for the film as it wasn't expected at all, and the Best Actor race also got very interesting as the movie's lead, Daniel Kaluuya, scored an acting nod from both the Globes and SAG. While his surge is quite impressive, I'm not sold on its sustainability. Category rivals Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name), James Franco (The Disaster Artist) and Oscar veteran Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.) feel like safer selections from the Academy. 

Steve Carell boosted his Oscar hopes, seemingly, but not for the movie we all expected. Oscar chatter regarding Carell's quiet and nuanced performance in Last Flag Flying has all but passed, especially after Carell garnered recognition from both the Hollywood Foreign Press and SAG for his role as tennis star Bobby Riggs in Battle of the Sexes. Oddly enough, Carell's pair of nominations also came in very different categories (Best Actor Comedy/Musical with the Globes and Best Supporting Actor with the Scren Actors Guild). Clearly his role is of the supporting variety, so if the Oscars do go that way, that's where he'll land. 

Ridley Scott (All the Money in the World) continues his dominance with the Globes as he supplants the consensus pick, Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), in the Best Director category. Furthermore, Scott's leading lady Michelle Williams earned a nod, as did late addition to the film, Christopher Plummer (Best Supporting Actor). Plummer's nomination is particularly surprising considering he was brought on board nearly a month before the film's release to replace Kevin Spacey following some shocking sexual harassment allegations. Best Supporting Actor is typically a crowded field, but Plummer catapulted his way up the ranks with the inclusion.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Rapid Reviews: The Shape of Water and The Disaster Artist

While I've longed respected the career work of Pan's Labyrinth director, Guillermo del Toro, somehow his films have always failed to resonate with me. But after catching an early screening for the filmmaker's new Oscar-bound fantasy-romance, The Shape of Water, those sentiments no longer ring true. Welcome to my heart, Mr. del Toro.

Set during the early 60s, in the midst of America's tenuous Cold War with the Soviet Union, Sally Hawkins stars as Elisa, a mute cleaning lady who works alongside her chatty friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) in a high-security government laboratory. Caught in the monotony of her safe and low-key daily routine, Elisa stumbles across a new living and breathing "asset" that's been brought to the facility where she cleans. And as Elisa sneaks behind the backs of everyone in the lab to forge a deep-rooted connection with the beast, she also learns of a sinister government agent's (Michael Shannon) plan to terminate the creature.

Often referred to as a master of storytelling, Guillermo del Toro  establishes a daring tale of romance that hurdles the traditional love story. But even more absorbing than the magical fantasy he creates, it's Sally Hawkins who steals the spotlight with an absolutely majestic performance, one that could very well top my annual list for lead actresses. Her work doesn't grab you with a loud and verbal demanding of your attention like awards season rival Margot Robbie in I, Tonya. Instead Hawkins lures the viewer using an earnest and wholesome charm that feels so sadly unfamiliar nowadays. She tap-dances her way into your heart and catapults an odd and profound romantic affair that straddles the line between derivative and innovative remarkably well. The Shape of Water also comes with a wide range of engaging subplots and co-starring talent. While my personal taste navigates a preference towards the supporting work of Richard Jenkins and Octavia Spencer, both Michael Shannon and Michael Stuhlbarg prove invaluable to the film as well. Any of them are fair game for awards season success, further validating how well-rounded of a movie del Toro has created. Everything from Alexandre Desplat's enchanting score to del Toro's sleek and calculated direction, there's hardly a blemish to be found. The Shape of Water is beautifully filmed, superbly acted, boldly told and without a doubt my favorite film of 2017 so far.

Stars: 3 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: A-

James Franco's intimate examination of a talent-less auteur-turned-cult legend debuted as a "work in progress" selection at this year's SXSW Festival. And although I avoided the screening while there, mostly due to the fact that I had never seen The Room before, as rumblings of its sharp-comedic effectiveness grew, so did my anticipation for the film's release. The Disaster Artist has found its way to select screens, and while the effort is certainly a solid watch, it's also a far cry from the comedic gold we've come to expect from Franco and his crew of usual suspects.

When a shy and timid actor named Greg (Dave Franco) stumbles across the fearless performer Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) in an acting class, he immediately reaches out to him in hopes of doing a scene together for class. Yet, as their bond grows, Greg learns of Tommy's mysterious financial security and they venture to L.A. together with visions of making it big. But as the harsh realities of Tinseltown begin to set in, Tommy and Greg quickly discover that, if they want to be in a "real Hollywood movie", they'll have to make it themselves.

What can be said about The Disaster Artist's source material, The Room, that hasn't been said already? The king of the "so bad it's good" genre, Tommy Wiseau's hysterically awful production proves to be a worthwhile central focus for director/actor James Franco. He tackles the strange and mysterious aura of Wiseau with immaculate precision. You can sense his passion and commitment for the project, which should be fully appreciated, but Franco's performance also suffers from his usual bouts with hyperbole, even when portraying someone as outrageous as Wiseau. In fact, there were a few moments throughout the film where I caught myself favoring James' brother, Dave Franco's, onscreen work over his own Golden Globe nominated performance. And from a pure story standpoint, The Disaster Artist struggles to get off the ground running. You're forced to wallow through a stale first act before they finally jack-up the energy with the behind-the-scenes filming of The Room. To the movie's credit, however, it does improve with every passing minute and concludes in a truly satisfying fashion. The Disaster Artist isn't nearly as funny as I had hoped, but it's still a strong and respectful homage to an unskilled visionary who somehow made cinematic history.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (NEW) and You Were Never Really Here Trailers

Colin Trevorrow's Jurassic World devoured the competition at the box office, becoming 2015's second-ranked film in ticket sales behind only The Force Awakens. Just three short years later and Trevorrow leaves his imprint on the franchise's upcoming sequel, Fallen Kingdom, as a credited screenwriter, but J.A. Bayona (The Impossible and A Monster Calls) takes over directing duties and it has me even more excited this time around. Little is known about the film's plot, as details will surely unveil themselves as we approach its June 2018 release date, yet Fallen Kingdom's first-look footage leaves nothing to be desired. Catch the debut trailer for one of the summer's biggest blockbusters below.

Lynne Ramsay first caught my attention with her dark and hypnotic tale of a high school massacre, We Need to Talk About Kevin. Odd circumstances had her on the set of the western Jane's Got A Gun, only to walk off mid-production, completely unhappy with the project. Now she finally returns since her last masterpiece with the Cannes selection, You Were Never Really Here. Joaquin Phoenix stars as Joe, a brutal enforcer who goes in search of a missing teenage girl only to discover a much deeper secret. You Were Never Really Here is said to include an enormous amount of insanely graphic violence with it's brisk gut-wrenching sub 90-minute running time. Primed to hit theaters in April 2018, check out the first official trailer for the film below.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Oscar Talk - December 7th, 2017

Since our last break-down of the upcoming awards season in mid-November, Steven Spielberg's The Post debuted to a standing ovation and has completely changed the landscape in nearly all the major categories. Let's revisit the current state of these races just days before Golden Globe Nominations (Monday 12/11) and SAG Nominations (Wednesday 12/13) are announced.

Best Picture

Safe Bets: Thanks to Hollywood's tenuous relationship with the current administration, The Post and it's timely story which chronicles a newspaper's Supreme Court battle with the government, clearly signals a new frontrunner has arrived. Other films that feel all but assured entry into the final dance include the fast-rising contender Lady BirdThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and The Shape of Water.

Other Potential Nominees: Joe Wright's Darkest Hour has been on the decline, but there will still be a devout faction of voters showing support for the film. Holding steady as strong possibilities for nominations are Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk and Luca Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name. Finally, I, Tonya is being carried by the film studio NEON, which doesn't possess the experience of touting a Best picture contender, which could ultimately hurt its chances.

Dark Horse Contenders: I still expect one of either Get Out or Mudbound to make the cut, due to the somewhat recent backlash of #OscarsSoWhite, but I'm not sure which one it will be. Lastly, a few long-shots remain with Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread, Linklater's Last Flag Flying and festival darling The Florida Project.

Best Director

Safe Bets: Iconic filmmaker Steven Spielberg tackles a timely issue with The Post and that could prove to be a lethal combination for the rest of the pack. Often times, when momentum starts to build in December, it's difficult to derail a frontrunner. Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water) will certainly land in the final five but I'm not sure anyone else feels guaranteed of a spot at this point. Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk) would probably be the next closest.

Other Potential Nominees: Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird continues to rise among the ranks in all categories, making her a strong contender here as well, while Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards) and Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name) hope to ride the wave of possible Best Picture selections. Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread) is always a threat in the Best Director category and, while Joe Wright's Darkest Hour appears to be on a downward trajectory, it's still hanging on at the moment.

Dark Horse Contenders: I keep hearing Dee Rees' (Mudbound) name thrown around, but as an inexperienced Netflix film, I'm not quite sold on her chances yet. The Academy has shown copious amount of love for Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049) in the past and I, Tonya is a strong enough film to still keep Craig Gillespie in the conversation.

Best Actor

Safe Bets: Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour) remains the frontrunner until he isn't, but that doesn't mean Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread) will go down without a fight. Especially considering this is "supposedly" Day-Lewis' final film. Two-time Oscar Winner Tom Hanks should benefit from the overall affection of The Post, even if the Academy hasn't been too kind to him in recent memory (Sully and Saving Mr. Banks).

Other Potential Nominees: Jake Gyllenhaal remains a quiet but worthy selection for his role in Stronger, and James Franco continues to receive an outpouring of adoration for The Disaster Artist that should linger throughout the awards season, even though it's difficult to make the cut in a comedy. A name you'll want to keep an eye on is Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name), who's rather young for a Best Actor nod, but who also continues to hold strong at this stage of the game. Also, a storied favorite of the Academy, Christian Bale has solidified himself as a worthy contender for Scott Cooper's Hostiles.

Dark Horse Contenders: Sadly, Andrew Garfield's (Breathe) stock is plummeting. Mild expectations left me surprisingly satisfied with the film and especially his work, but he's quickly falling out of contention. Finally, Steve Carell (Last Flag Flying) has enjoyed recent Oscar recognition, yet the film seems to be slipping in all categories.

Best Actress

Safe Bets: In one of the most crowded categories of the year, it's really a toss-up as to who's atop the leader-board at this stage of the game. Lady Bird's slow-mounting ascension up the ranks places Saoirse Ronan in an interesting position. She made the but lost for her terrific turn in Brooklyn recently, so perhaps she garners the redemption vote? However, the Oscar queen Meryl Streep muscles her way past the competition with the head of steam backing The Post, and Margot Robbie (I, Tonya) also stands a serious contender for the win. Three Billboards should end up a finalist for Best Picture and it would be expected that leading star Frances McDormand receives a nod as well. The same logic applies for Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water) but it's dangerous to feel too content with a predetermined top five this early in the process.

Other Potential Nominees: As we saw with Amy Adams (Arrival) last year, no one is safe from exclusion. Despite the five actress mentioned above feeling like a strong group of finalists, Jessica Chastain (Molly's Game) has a long history of success with the Academy. The same can be said with Kate Winslet (Wonder Wheel) who provides a phenomenal turn in Woody Allen's latest, and Allen has a track record of success for his leading ladies.

Dark Horse Contenders: Early word says rising star Vicky Krieps stands toe-to-toe with the great Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread, so don't count her out quite yet. Also, foreign-film stars have a history of faring well in the Best Actress category, making Diane Kruger's highly-regarded work for In the Fade a silent, but deadly, player.

Best Supporting Actor

Safe Bets: Until the bitter end I plan to stand with my overwhelming choice for Best Supporting Actor, and that would be Sam Rockwell's transcending turn in Three Billboards. While I'm extremely confident he'll get in, his chance at a win doesn't feel as strong as it once was. Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project) may be his fiercest competition, but it would also be unwise to disregard Armie Hammer (Call Me By Your Name) in this race as well. 

Other Potential Nominees: Outside of the Big Three listed above, the last two spots are wide open at this point. Bryan Cranston once felt like a safe bet for his hilarious work in Last Flag Flying, but he may be forced to give way to votes thanks to co-star Laurence Fishbourne. The same applies to Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards) who may end up on the outside looking in when all is said and done. This could free up room for recent Oscar Winner Mark Rylance (Dunkirk) to make it into the top five, as it would be odd for a Best Picture Nominee to NOT have an actor nominated. Jason Mitchell's work in Mudbound is quite good, and he's got the fear of #OscarsSoWhite in his favor, but Richard Jenkins has also received a heap of praise for his performance in The Shape of Water.

Dark Horse Contenders: Much deeper down the list we have the longest of shots with Michael Stuhlbarg (Call Me By Your Name) and Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water), each of whom will struggle to earn votes because of internal competition from their films as well.

Best supporting Actress

Safe Bets: A pair of TV actresses headline the competition in this race, either of which have a strong chance at winning their first Oscar statue. Allison Janney (I, Tonya) delivers a louder, more attention-grabbing performance, while Laurie Metcalf's work in Lady Bird is a bit more subtle. Either would be a fine choice by my standards, but after it's nothing but murky waters in the Best Supporting Actress category.

Other Potential Nominees: Oscar Winner Melissa Leo has scratched and clawed her way into the discussion with her work in Novitiate, and Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread) is also garnering high praises. I haven't seen either film, but both are immediately on my end of the year radar. Moreover, Mudbound's Mary J. Blige gives an impressive turn, making her another strong contender from a film that will most likely find a nomination somewhere. Oscar Winner Octavia Spencer's (The Shape of Water) name also carries some clout and her work in one of the year's most well-regarded films could land her in the final discussion as well.

Dark Horse Contenders: Downsizing's Hong Chau continues to have her name thrown around, as both her and Girl's Trip co-star Tiffany Haddish captured nominations from The Critics' Choice Awards. As for Haddish, comedies are a tough sell with the Academy, but it's been done before (i.e. Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids). 

*** Keep checking back as we continue to monitor the ever-changing landscape of the major Oscar races ***

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

DVD Outlook: December 2017

What's been a surprisingly slow transition from the fall to winter months is sure to pick up in theaters with Oscar players like The Shape of Water and Spielberg's The Post joining what may end up being this year's box office champion in The Last Jedi arriving shortly. However, in the meantime, there are a few notable films finding a December release on DVD, Blu-Ray and streaming that you may want to consider adding to your Christmas or holiday gift list (November's suggestions). So here's a look at what's new this December.

Dunkirk - 3 stars out of 4 - (Read my full review here)

Christopher Nolan's hypnotizing and intense war epic, Dunkirk, may not carry the same bravado as it does in a big-theater IMAX setting, yet that won't stop it from remaining as one of the year's finest achievements and a strong Best Picture candidate when all is said and done. Nolan's film highlights three phases of war, namely on the ground, in the air and by the sea, as everything must come together perfectly in order to rescue the hundreds of thousands of soldiers pushed to the shorelines of Dunkirk, France by German forces during the early stages of World War II. This tense journey sadly misses out completely on profound elements character building, but it does paint a harrowing picture of the true atrocities of war that many everyday people take for granted. Dunkirk is a clear testament to Nolan's towering directorial efforts and is an experience like none other. (December 19th)

Stronger - 3 stars out of 4 - (Read my rapid review here)

Where Nolan's Dunkirk completely ignores character development, David Gordon Green flips the script completely and almost solely relies on that element of storytelling in his extremely well made drama, Stronger. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Jeff Bauman, a severely injured bystander from the tragic 2013 Boston Marathon bombing who lost both of his legs and experienced immense psychological anguish in the aftermath as he was heralded as a hero despite feeling otherwise. Gyllenhaal's superb on-screen work brandishes a deep and layered character who's both heartbreaking and fascinating. And while Gyllenhaal's talents have been long documented by a career filled with exceptional performances, he's equally matched by the outstanding supporting turn from co-star Tatiana Maslany. Stronger is worthy of a viewing for its acting alone, as evident by Gyllenhaal's presumed awards season recognition in the near future, but the film offers so much more than just great performances. (December 19th)

Detroit - Not Rated - (No review available)

It's a rarity, but occasionally I'm forced to toss a movie I haven't seen myself into my top suggestions of the month. While a few of the honorable mention picks listed below may feel more appealing to you, whether it be for political reasons or just personal taste, it's difficult to ignore a critically acclaimed film by an Oscar winning director. Kathryn Bigelow's Detroit tells the controversial true story of a 1967 violent and deadly police raid that resulted in one of the largest riots in U.S. history. While the work has been self-labeled as "fact-based", it's important to recognize this as a dramatized interpretation of historical events. Yet, no matter where you views and opinions reside on this matter, Detroit has clearly been lauded for its entertaining and compelling story that's won over audiences and critics alike. This is one film I plan to check out once it becomes available on Blu-Ray. (December 12th)

Honorable Mention: Along with Detroit (mentioned above), there are a few other movies I'm interested in finally seeing like the sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle (12/12), historical drama Victoria and Abdul (12/19), and holiday horror flick Better Watch Out (12/5). Family films Despicable Me 3 (12/5) and The LEGO Ninjago Movie (12/19) are also available this December. Finally, survival flick The Mountain Between Us (12/26), Reese Witherspoon comedy Home Again (12/12) and Darren Aronofsky's insanely polarizing work Mother! (12/19) round out this month's list of new arrivals.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Avengers: Infinity War and Mary Magdalene Trailers

Marvel's ever-expanding universe comes together in May of 2018 for what's guaranteed to be next summer's biggest blockbuster, Avengers: Infinity War. All of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's superheroes bridge together and unite to fight against the almighty Thanos (Josh Brolin) and his quest to destroy the universe. The first official trailer for Infinity War has dropped and, although it still manages to stay tight-lipped regarding the film's plot, it shows just enough footage to satisfy your superhero-craving needs. Check out the debut trailer below.

With its announced March 30th release date, it appears Lion director Garth Davis' Mary Magdalene film will aim to cash on in a pre-Easter appeal at the box office rather than stand out as an awards contender like his previous work. Rooney Mara stars in the title role as a devout follower of Jesus (Joaquin Phoenix) who was both present at his crucifixion and a witness to his resurrection. Mary Magdalene carries a bit of intrigue with its Oscar-Nominated leads, also including co-star Chiwetel Ejiofor, and its acclaimed filmmaker at the helm. Catch the film's first-look trailer below.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Steve Carell's Finest Performances

While he may be best known for his role of Michael Scott on the former long-running television sitcom, The Office, Steve Carell has more than proven his capabilities as a big-screen actor. And with Carell's second notable, and most recent, role of the year making its way to select theaters, in Richard Linklater's Last Flag Flying, I'm devoting November's Movie List of the Month to Carell's career-best work (October's List). Here's a look at the actor's finest performances:

Honorable Mention: The 40-Year-Old VirginBattle of the Sexes, Crazy Stupid Love, Dan in Real Life and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

#5. The Way Way Back (2013)

Although Nat Faxon and Jim Rash's little-known indie gem hasn't reached nearly as many screens as most of the other films on this list, The Way Way Back offers a rare perspective for this typically lovable actor. Carell co-stars as Trent, a single man courting the mother of the film's main protagonist, Duncan. As the teen and his mom join Trent for a summer at the shore, Carell illustrates how well he can play a conniving and unlikable character, psychologically abusive toward the teen and downright two-faced behind the boy's mom's back. The Way Way Back stands as a true testament to Carell's ability to extend far beyond his comfort zone, making him a bona-fide talent in contemporary Hollywood.

#4. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

Most of Carell's top performances are more recent, yet the role that opened all of our eyes to his immense talents occurred in the indie Best Picture Nominee Little Miss Sunshine. In the film Carell plays a suicidal uncle, evident by the bandages wrapped tightly around both of his wrists, who joins his unconventional family on a road-trip to his niece's beauty pageant. The emotion oozes out of Carell's every word and action, painting a truly bleak picture that manages to stay with the audience long after the credits role. Ever since this exceptionally eye-opening role, Carell has transitioned his career into one that commands award season attention with regularity. And for that we all should be grateful for Little Miss Sunshine.

#3. The Big Short (2015)

Despite Steve Carell's exceptional work in Adam McKay's The Big Short, it remains a bit overshadowed by the superior performance of co-star Christian Bale. Nonetheless, Carell and Bale provide insanely different perspectives on the housing market collapse that crushed the U.S. economy in 2008. With Carell's character, we're given an emotionally scarred individual with a bit of a loud mouth and cynical attitude. Carell's turn is both attention-grabbing and heart-breaking, allowing the work to serve as a stellar example of his profound acting abilities. 

#2. Last Flag Flying (2017)

It was a difficult choice between my #3 selection and Steve Carell's most recent onscreen performance, but I felt compelled to go with his award's worthy turn in Richard Linklater's Last Flag Flying for one distinct reason. While loud and aggressive roles call for attention and often times gets remembered more in the long-run, such as the one Carell delivers in The Big Short, there's something to be said about a quiet and nuanced performance that packs a more meaningful punch. This is clearly the case with Carell's work as a Vietnam veteran coming to grips with the recent loss of his Marine son during the Iraqi war. His work is soft, soulful and simply unforgettable. Perhaps enough so to earn him a second Oscar Nomination in these upcoming months.

#1. Foxcatcher (2014)

And we finally arrive at the pinnacle of Carell's career. In his lone Oscar Nomination, Carell goes through quite the transformation to take on the neurotic persona of convicted murder John du Pont. In this tragic true story of a lonely tycoon who brings America's finest wrestling talent to his home estate in order to train for the Olympics, Carell masterfully captures the eeriness of du Pont. While motives to the eventual murder have been widely hypothesized, Foxcatcher subtly lays out its theories regarding the crime, but it's Carell's remarkable performance that makes director Bennett Miller's interpretation all the more believable. If Foxcatcher is any indication of the talent we can hope to continue to expect from Steve Carell, then we have plenty more to look forward to in the future.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Rapid Reviews: Justice League and Thor: Ragnarok

Earlier this year the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) was on life support until Patty Jenkins revived hope with her blockbuster hit Wonder Woman. The release date was chosen specifically to build momentum for DCEU's most pivotal installment to date, Justice League, which combines and introduces an elite army of superheroes synonymous to Marvel's The Avengers. And with DCEU figurehead Zack Snyder's unfortunate late-stage departure from the film and, coincidentally, The Avengers writer Joss Whedon's claiming of the throne, no one knew what to expect from this wildly anticipated release.

Following the death of Superman (Henry Cavill), Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) learn of an other-worldly threat with devious plans of destroying Earth. Together they recruit the help of metahumans The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) in order to combat the villain Steppenwolf (voice of Ciaran Hinds). But are they strong enough to resist the forceful army of Steppenwolf? If only Superman was still around to help.

Transitioning the formula to fit the comedic tone of the DCEU's previous effort Wonder Woman, Justice League continues with a dark-aura that's lightened by timely humor. This is reasonable to expect with long-time Marvel scribe Joss Whedon crafting the screenplay. And although the final effect is nowhere near the level of Wonder Woman, mainly due a surprisingly low amount of energy and a complete level of predictability, Justice League still manages to satisfy a bit more than previous DCEU films like Man of Steel, Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. Gal Gadot continues to impress and Ezra Miller also delivers a standout performance, yet Affleck and new faces Jason Momoa and Ray Fisher aren't nearly as successful. Furthermore, the film pridefully relies on a bombardment of mind-numbing visual effects that are in no way an acceptable substitute for a meaningful story or valuable character development. Justice League serves as another flat and superficial endeavor from the DCEU that won't hold up over time.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

Personally, I needed Marvel's latest inclusion, Thor:Ragnarok, to redeem its title character's overlying franchise. After 2012's The Dark World dragged the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) to an all-time-low, the God of Thunder quickly transformed into one of the MCU's most uninspiring characters. And while critics and audiences alike have heaped praise onto new director Taika Waititi's first go-around with Thor, let's be clear that Ragnarok isn't nearly as impressive as you've been made to believe.

When Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returns to Asgard, he finds Loki (Tom Hiddleston) posing as Odin and learns of his father's self-imposed exile. As Thor and Loki venture to find and confront their father, Odin's first-born and demonically powerful daughter Hela (Cate Blanchett) returns to claim the throne of a vulnerable Asgard. Meanwhile, Thor and Loki find themselves trapped on a planet of outsiders where they form a special team that returns to Asgard and battles Hela in order to save their home.

To varying degrees of success, Ragnarok's campy delivery pokes fun at the formulaic approach used widely within the MCU. This hyper-exaggeration leads to a whole new level of comedic absurdity that, fairly stated, comes with a nearly equal share of hysterical hits and hokey misses. Thankfully, though, Ragnarok also incorporates a more stylish vibe, courtesy of new helmer Taika Waititi, and this refreshing overhaul to one of Marvel's least interesting Avengers brings edginess and excitement to a spin-off desperately in need of a boost. Chris Hemsworth benefits from this complete redirection of his character and he's joined by the towering talents of Cate Blanchett who illuminates a strong villainous foe to the story. And while Ragnarok's reemergence of Mark Ruffalo's the Hulk is both bold and spirited, in a gladiator-esque battle scene that's worth the price of admission all on its own, the introduction of Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie character proves a far-less compelling addition. Consequently, Ragnarok comes with its ups and downs, but the film also places Thor back on track and propels him into the spotlight as the MCU gears up towards its highly anticipated Infinity War.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Oscar Talk - November 16th, 2017

In my first Oscar discussion of the season I will take an inside look at all of the major categories. I've had the opportunity to catch many of this year's biggest awards season players, but there are still quite a few I'm waiting to catch. Some of the contenders I'm still yet to see include The Shape of Water, Call Me By Your Name, Mudbound, Molly's Game, as well as unseen works Phantom Thread and The Post. I'll catch all of them at some point, but in the meantime let's break down this year's upcoming Oscar contests.

Best Picture

Safe Bets: There are a few films that feel like guaranteed nominees for Best Picture even this early in the game. Martin McDonagh's dark comedy Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water lead the pack as early head-to-head frontrunners. Following closely behind and rising is Greta Gerwig's critically adored debut, Lady Bird, along with Joe Wright's Lincoln-esque examination of Winston Churchill, Darkest Hour.

Other Potential Nominees: Outside of the four films listed above, anywhere from 1 to 6 more entries could sneak into the final vote. While the Academy has a history of turning their nose of to Christopher Nolan's work, Dunkirk has held firm as a viable option for Best Picture. Festival darling Call Me By Your Name continues to surface in conversations and I can personally vouch for the strength of Craig Gillespie's I, Tonya. And although The Post hasn't screened yet, you can never count out a film from the beloved Steven Spielberg.

Dark Horses: With the not-so distant memory of #OscarsSoWhite still looming over them, the Academy may feel hard-pressed to include a film with ties to the African American community. While Jordan Peele's Get Out is the strongest option, the content isn't quite up to Oscar standards. Therefore, Netflix film Mudbound may be a surprise inclusion, as could any of Blade Runner 2049, Last Flag Flying, Phantom Thread, Molly's Game and even The Florida Project.

Best Director

Safe Bets: Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water) continues to widen his lead over the rest of the field, while Atonement snub, Joe Wright (Darkest Hour), feels like a safe redemption pick. Finally, I'd be very surprised if Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk) gets omitted for what's clearly his strongest directorial work to date. 

Other Potential Nominees: If Three Billboards continues to hold strong as one of two or three possible Best Picture winners, then Martin McDonagh should also find his way into the mix for directing. Steven Spielberg (The Post) is always a potential spoiler in this race, as well as newcomer Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird) and regular fixture Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049).

Dark Horses: Other long-shots to steal a nomination include Dee Rees (Mudbound), Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name), Richard Linklater (Last Flag Flying) and Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread).

Best Actor

Safe Bets: The universe could be aligning for veteran performer Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour) as his epic portrayal of Winston Churchill stacks up very well in an unusually weak year for the Best Actor category. Oldman's staunchest competition will come from three-time Academy Award Winner, Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread), who always delivers an exceptional performance.

Other Potential Nominees: Jake Gyllenhaal's valiant work in Stronger shouldn't be ignored, and Andrew Garfield certainly carries the surprisingly worthwhile film, Breathe. Steve Carell continues to offer stellar onscreen work, and his quiet and subtle turn in Last Flag Flying is no exception. James Franco's work in The Disaster Artist has been lauded by the critics, while Tom Hanks (The Post) is always a threat to snag a nomination as well.

Dark Horses: Other potential spoilers include Jeremy Renner (Wind River), Christian Bale (Hostiles) and Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name).

Best Actress

Safe Bets: Much like last year, the Best Actress field is flooded with supreme talent and for that reason no one feels particularly "safe" (do we remember what happened to Arrival's Amy Adams last year?). However, for the sake of argument I, Tonya's Margot Robbie, The Shape of Water's Sally Hawkins, Three Billboards' Frances McDormand and Lady Bird's Saoirse Ronan feel like the strongest four contenders at this early stage of the game.

Other Potential Nominees: While the aforementioned women above all deliver superb performances, it's still not out of the possibility for any of them to relinquish their spot for the also impressive work of fellow competitors Jessica Chastain (Molly's Game), Meryl Streep (The Post), last year's winner Emma Stone (Battle of the Sexes) and Kate Winslet (Wonder Wheel).

Dark Horses: With eight elite ladies listed above it will be hard for any of these long-shots to find a way into the final mix, but it's worth noting performances from the Dame Judi Dench (Victoria and Abdul), Diane Kruger (In the Fade), Annette Bening (Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool), Vicky Krieps (Phantom Thread) and youngster Brooklynn Prince (The Florida Project).

Best Supporting Actor

Safe Bets: My love and affinity for Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards) can't be overstated, so rarely am I in an actor's corner like I am for Rockwell. He's the most formidable character in one of the year's finest films, but he still finds staunch competition at the pinnacle of the Best Supporting Actor race with veteran Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project) and rising star Armie Hammer (Call Me By Your Name).

Other Potential Nominees: Bryan Cranston is not only the comedic energy throughout Last Flag Flying, he's also the film's heart and soul. In fact, Cranston and Carell almost feel misplaced in their respective categories. Woody Harrelson offers a quality turn in Three Billboards and could ultimately steal support from Rockwell. But if both make it into the final five, it will be the first time that's happened since Barry Levinson's 1991 film Bugsy. Richard Jenkins and co-star Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water) also prove to be a fearsome pair that could sneak into the mix.

Dark Horses: It seems odd that Dunkirk could draw a Best Picture Nomination without a single performance, so recent Oscar Winner Mark Rylance could play the spoiler role in this race. Mudbound's Jason Mitchell has an outside chance to muscle past the competition as well.

Best Supporting Actress

Safe Bets: With the meteoric climb of Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird, which still holds an astounding 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the Academy often times tries to find a way to reward a multitude of strong films and perhaps Laurie Metcalf will be the biggest beneficiary. However, it won't be an easy task supplanting the vulgar and hilarious work of I, Tonya co-star, Allison Janney, who gives one of the year's finest performances. 

Other Potential Nominees: Kristin Scott Thomas possesses a quietly effective role in Darkest Hour but the film's strong standing could help propel her into the final five. Grammy winner Mary J. Blige received high praises out of Sundance for her work in Mudbound and deep down I'm sure the Oscars fear another year without an African American nominated in an acting category. Similarly, previous Academy Award Winner and the always-great Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water) may find herself in the final running as well. Furthermore, Melissa Leo's role in Novitiate is said to be exceptional (I haven't seen it), but it's also rumored to be more of a lead performance that could either push her into the other, more competitive category, or alienate some of the voting body.

Dark Horses: Sadly, it appears that the Academy may be sleeping on one of my favorite supporting turns of the year, Tatiana Maslany's heartbreaking performance in Stronger where she stands toe-to-toe with Jake Gyllenhaal. I was also extremely impressed with Claire Foy's work in Breathe and stand firmly in her corner, despite being a huge long-shot in the race. Holly Hunter (The Big Sick) was a bit of a pleasant surprise and Hong Chau (Downsizing) has garnered some rumblings for a nomination as well. 

*** Stay tuned throughout the next few months as the road to the Oscars continues ***