In a previous post on Ghostbusters, I wrote about how 1984 was a hell of a summer for movie nerds like myself. On May 23, the highly anticipated Raiders prequel Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was released, while the following week saw the release of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, almost equally anticipated because we’d get to discover whether or not our beloved Spock could be brought back from the dead on the Genesis planet.
But the summer got really crazy when thirty years ago, on June 8 1984, both Ghostbusters and Gremlins opened on the same day. Back then, if a film didn’t open in the #1 spot, it wasn’t considered “dead on arrival” and even though Ghostbusters prevailed opening weekend, both films went on to become huge hits, each breaking $100 million at the box office that year.
My favorite of all these movies turned out to be Gremlins, directed by Joe Dante, who at the time was rapidly become a favorite director of mine, having previously made Piranha (1978), The Howling (1981) and the “It’s a Good Life” segment in Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983). It was on Twilight Zone that the director began working with composer Jerry Goldsmith, who matched Dante’s insane cartoon-fueled nightmare images with a score featuring police whistles and car horns. This began a collaboration spanning two decades and eight additional feature films.
I’ve always felt an odd connection to Joe Dante’s work, a mind clearly as twisted as my own, probably from watching too many cartoons as a kid — or perhaps more likely from watching too many cartoons as a grown-up.
Gremlins was the first screenplay of a young writer named Chris Columbus, who of course would go on to direct Home Alone (1990) and the first two films in the Harry Potter series. In the story, young Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) is given a creature called a Mogwai as a Christmas gift by his father (Hoyt Axton) with the understanding that three basic rules need to be followed: don’t get it wet, keep it out of bright light and never feed it after midnight. Of course we know these rules will be broken. That’s part of the fun.
It’s time once again for my annual Academy Award predictions. For those keeping score, here are my results in recent years: 2010 (17 out of 24), 2011 (20 out of 24), 2012 (17 out of 24) and 2013 (16 out of 24).
American Hustle (Charles Roven, Richard Suckle, Megan Ellison and Jonathan Gordon, Producers)
Captain Phillips (Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti and Michael De Luca, Producers)
Dallas Buyers Club (Robbie Brenner and Rachel Winter, Producers)
Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón and David Heyman, Producers)
Her (Megan Ellison, Spike Jonze and Vincent Landay, Producers)
Nebraska (Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa, Producers)
Philomena (Gabrielle Tana, Steve Coogan and Tracey Seaward, Producers)
12 Years a Slave (Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen and Anthony Katagas, Producers)
The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Joey McFarland and Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Producers)
PREDICTION: 12 Years a Slave. For the first time in many years, there’s no clear front-runner for Best Picture. The Producers Guild of America Award was no help, as it was a tie between 12 Years a Slave and Gravity, but it serves to indicate just how close this year’s Best Picture race will be. It could easily be awarded to Gravity since this year’s Directors Guild of America Award went to Alfonso Cuarón — and a Picture/Director split is somewhat rare. But despite all that, as much I’m never comfortable predicting a Picture/Director split, I think 12 Years a Slave is the slight favorite.
David O. Russell for American Hustle
Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity
Alexander Payne for Nebraska
Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave
Martin Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street
PREDICTION: Alfonso Cuarón. Since the Directors Guild of America has an excellent track record of predicting Best Director winners (it’s only been wrong seven times in over sixty years of DGA Awards), Alfonso Cuarón is most likely to win the Oscar.
Christian Bale for American Hustle
Bruce Dern for Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio for The Wolf of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor for 12 Years a Slave
Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club
PREDICTION: Matthew McConaughey. Months ago, I thought Robert Redford would be tough to beat in this category, but he wasn’t even nominated. Shows how much I know. That pretty much leaves Matthew McConaughey, especially after his win at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. While I won’t be surprised though if Bruce Dern’s name is called, McConaughey is the favorite here.
Amy Adams for American Hustle
Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock for Gravity
Judi Dench for Philomena
Meryl Streep for August: Osage County
PREDICTION: Cate Blanchett. After winning both the Golden Globe and the always important Screen Actors Guild Award, Cate Blanchett appears to be the favorite.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Barkhad Abdi for Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper for American Hustle
Michael Fassbender for 12 Years a Slave
Jonah Hill for The Wolf of Wall Street
Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club
PREDICTION: Jared Leto.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Sally Hawkins for Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence for American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts for August: Osage County
June Squibb for Nebraska
PREDICTION: Lupita Nyong’o.
It was a three year wait to find out what happened to Han Solo, who was last seen frozen in carbonite and loaded onto Boba Fett’s spaceship. 30 years ago, on May 25, 1983, Return of the Jedi, one of the most anticipated films of my youth, finally hit theater screens.
I saw this movie on opening day at the Stamm Theatre in Antioch California with my friend Zant Burdine. As related in a previous article on WarGames, Zant and I went through a time when we liked to sit in the front row of the theater. For a period of about one year, our ideal movie seat was front row center. As Zant always said, “We like to get the full effect.” Call it a poor man’s IMAX if you will. We were first in line that opening day to madly scramble for two seats that no one wanted.
For my friend and I, Return of the Jedi delivered as promised — spectacular space battles, a few unexpected character revelations, plus (spoiler alert) some ominous foreshadowing regarding Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon that doesn’t come to pass. After the movie, which of course we both thought was awesome, I saw my friend Alex Baker standing in line for the next showing. He immediately covered his ears and went into full “Shields Up” anti-spoiler mode. But of course I never would have spoiled anything for him. I just smiled and moved along, much to his relief. Alex later told me that he also loved the deceptive foreshadowing.
As I begin putting together my annual Academy Awards predictions, one thing is certain — if Ben Affleck had been nominated for Best Director as he should have been, this year would be a whole lot easier. I don’t recall a time in recent memory when the Directors Guild nominations differed so much from the Best Director Oscar nominations. Only two of them matched this year (Steven Spielberg and Ang Lee) which makes it especially hard to call the Best Picture and Director winners since the DGA winner is usually a good indicator of both. As usual, if I have any last-minute changes before the big night, I’ll post them in the comments section. For those playing along, here are my results in recent years: 2010 (17 out of 24), 2011 (20 out of 24) and 2012 (17 out of 24).