Review – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

To parallel the dichotomy of  our favorite “hokey religion,” I will address the The Force Awakens from two perspectives. How are you to recognize the good side from the bad? You will know!

The Good
Much of being an effective director comes from solid casting. So from that notion, J.J. Abrams did an excellent job of directing this movie.

Daisey Ridley is a very rare Mary Poppins: she’s practically perfect in every way. She displays the rare thespian gift of physical charisma. This does not speak to her corporeal beauty, but rather to the notion that she carries herself in a believable manner for this universe. For contrast, this was problematic for George Lucas/Hayden Christensen/Natalie Portman (and even someone like Sam Jackson) in the prior installments. Sure, Christensen played the “great warrior” aspect well, but both he and Portman were difficult to settle your eyes upon as they never seemed to appear comfortable. Ridley truly commands a viewer’s gaze within the frame.

Harrison Ford kills the quips. Chewie rocks his best role yet. Oscar Isaac was great. John Boyega was good even though Finn seemed fairly underdeveloped (perhaps befitting of a character raised to be nothing but a stormtrooper). Adam Driver was a very convincing Kylo Ren. A big highlight comes from his sorrowful admission to the anguish caused by the widening spectrum of The Force’s influence. It feels very much akin to the addictive nature The One Ring holds over Frodo Baggins.

But the best new character in Star Wars isn’t played by any actor. I was admittedly very skeptical of BB-8 before seeing the movie, but the droid rolls as a wonderful merging of WALL-E’s mannerisms and color to the voice of EVE.

OBLIGATORY SPOILER WARNING FROM HERE ON OUT

There were maybe three moments that really nailed me with a hard case of The Feels. The first was the reveal of the Millennium Falcon, a character in it’s own right. The second was Rey’s flashback/premonition induced by Anakin’s lightsaber. And though it brought to mind the best scene from all of Harry Potter, my heart skipped a beat when the lower corridors of Cloud City appeared in her vision. The third really great moment involves, naturally, the Son of Skywalker. Having spent the majority of his career as a prominent voice actor, the idea that Mark Hamill wouldn’t say a word during this installment is really quite amusing. The look on his face nearly brought tears to my eyes. Anguish, disappointment, defeat, yet hope and redemption? ¡Increíble!

But again, there were only three moments here for me. Which brings me to…

The Bad

I’ve had several days to sit on this and really mull it over. So now I’m just gonna say it: The Force Awakens ranks #7 out of all 7 Star Wars movies in terms of story strength. That’s right. It’s worse than all three members of the Prequel Trilogy (PT).

Eps 1-3 have MANY flaws (others might use terms that are less sparing). But the overarching story of a prophesied Christ of the Force and his transformation into a principal for genocide remains quite compelling. Additional themes of note include: the dangers of religious dogma, the faults in a merged church and state, and a caution to the strength of deregulated financial institutions. We also received a solid glance at a larger galaxy with a better understanding for how The Old Republic operated in the heyday of the Guardians of Peace and Justice. So on paper, the PT was actually pretty awesome. It was just terribly executed.

Opposite is true for The Force Awakens, a bad story executed reasonably well. Abrams/Kasdan like to talk about how they wanted these new movies to be reminiscent of the Original Trilogy (OT) which is naturally admirable. What they didn’t tell us was that they would take the safest route possible to barf out a lackadaisical fucking reboot of A New Hope. Did they really think that Star Wars loyalists would miss this?

Good guy hides crucial item in droid that’s very important to Leia’s team. Droid evades bad guys. Fresh-faced desert-dweller picks up droid. Leaves planet in Millennium Falcon with new friends narrowly escaping bad guys. Oh and there’s also a bar/opium den involving Han + Chewie + aliens. Later: new friend’s info helps Leia’s team figure out how to blow up a planet-destroying superweapon. Then X-Wings and TIE Fighters fight and the planet-destroying superweapon gets blow’d up.

HOLY SHIT ARE YOU SERIOUS? This is is the exact same fucking story as Ep 4! I can forgive many many things but a DEATH STAR for the third time in four sequential chapters reflects incompetence at every level. Disney/Kennedy/Abrams/Kasdan had EVERY SINGLE RESOURCE at their disposal yet this was their Plan A. Did the backroom monkeys look at the numbers and go “well it worked twice before. So let’s just…use…it…again?” COME ON!

 

“But dude, it played to the nostalgia just so well.” I’m sorry, but that’s just unacceptable. If you want nostalgia, go pop A New Hope into your VCR. Bringing the OT’s characters back should be enough to fulfill your sentimental quota. Giving the characters funny one-liners that reference a former era does the same job. A sequel to Return of the Jedi with the same cast should already be a shoe-in for success yet NOTHING these writers could derive from the Lucasfilm Holocron inspired a new course. Instead, Disney chose a plot device that was too dated for even their own amusement park ride. Do you feel insulted yet? Because all they did was sell you the original Star Tours.

“I know audiences feed on crap, but I cannot believe we are so lacking that we cannot dish it up to them with some trace of originality.”-Darryl F. Zanuck.

Star Wars is the great American Hollywood success story. It set the standard for rewarding innovation. So where Disney/Kennedy/Abrams/Kasdan had the chance to take bigger risks with broader unseen concepts, they instead chose the safer road akin to The Avengers (which was totally forgettable other than the one moment).

 

“Well most people don’t seem to agree with you. Look how much money it made.”  I clearly do not share their optimistic appraisal of the situation.  The large majority of real Star Wars fans are grown adults that should be able to tell the difference between an homage and a blatant hackjob ripoff. Take a peak out the Star Wars window there and tell me what you see. Because there’s a 42.9% chance of a fucking DEATH STAR!

Disney/Abrams thought they could separate themselves from the PT with the inclusion of familiar characters while touting the construction of practical sets/effects. The critical praise seems to reflect success there. But I am most displeased by their apparent lack of progress because they half-assed the most important part of a movie, the story.

I gave pause back in November to the idea that George Lucas’ influence would no longer have any bearing on the future films. And it turns out my suspicions were valid. You know what this movie could have used? Someone behind it with an original thought in their brain. I’m not saying Lucas needs to actually pen the dialogue. But Kasdan clearly wasn’t capable of bringing a relevant new concept to the forefront.

“But Han Solo died. That was unexpected and fresh and dark and cool and stuff.” I can admit that I enjoyed the moment and dialogue between Han and Ren. But the death was all-but-assured as soon as Episode 7 was announced. The concept of a combo Solo death/Luke disappearance dates back to ROTJ. Harrison Ford has talked about his Solo death wish for years.

“Well what more could you really want? J.J.’s a real fan that made a movie for the fans.”

Part of me wonders if Abrams and Kasdan actually watched the original trilogy again prior to shooting this pic. In Awakens, Rey questions whether the Falcon was the “the ship that made The Kessel Run in 14 parsecs?” Ford petulantly responds with “12 PARSECS!” The audience laughs. But it’s not a funny moment. It’s sad. Because The Falcon didn’t make The Kessel Run in 12 parsecs. It made it in “less than 12 parsecs.” And while that may seem like a small detail, how hard could it have been to get right? Again, they have EVERY POSSIBLE RESOURCE available to them. “Sorry Harrison, the line is actually ‘LESS than 12.'” Or “Harrison, can we do it again but where you yell-out ‘ELEVEN-AND-A-HALF’ instead?” Strive for excellence goddamnit. And since I’m on a Nerd Rant, did Incom and Sienar Fleet Systems get exclusive military contracts that forced all other ship designs from commission in the 30 years since Return of the Jedi?  I feel like I’m taking crazy pills here.

These types of things represent a lack of commitment and sincerity that Disney should have been capable of handling. I get that at the end of the day it’s about money and generating additional revenue streams from an expanding fan base. So I’m not even gonna discuss TFA’s other weak points like Carrie Fisher’s awkward delivery (hurts to say that because she’s my first bae) or the unnecessary CGI MIB/Prometheus tentacle monsters. Shall we skip my tirade on the picture’s inability to explain anything that’s happened since ROTJ? But bro, it’ll all be explained in a future movie.” Shut the fuck up, Donnie. Just because it’s part of a series doesn’t mean you get to treat it like a television episode. There are rules. It should still be able to stand alone and yet now I feel compelled to read the novelization (let’s be real, we all know I was going to anyways).

George Lucas took us to a galaxy far, far away. Disney takes us shopping with Basic Bitches on Main Street, USA. I wanted a story from someone with a PHD in Star Wars, not something written by a 100-level course showoff. The ball has now been firmly passed into Rian Johnson’s court. And while I don’t particularly care for Brick, Brothers Bloom is tremendously under-appreciated and Looper’s obviously sick. So my faith remains unwavering in a delivery from the repetitive evil found in The Force Awakens. That’s some unoriginal ratchet shit right there.

 

How Much Will The Force Awaken at the Box Office This Weekend?

Quite a few people have been asking me how much I think Star Wars will make domestically in its opening weekend. “The largest opening ever” is my answer.

Though the industry loves to talk about how high their box office take is, actual domestic attendance is still trending in decline. Ticket prices continue to inflate at a rate higher than they should (3D/PLFs partially to blame). As such, there’s only one movie (Avatar) in the new millennium that can be counted in the Top 20 of all time, adjusted for inflation. This make Star Wars a little tricky to project, especially because of the December release. Holiday movies generally don’t have the opening weekend strength that summer releases do (for a variety of reasons) yet they tend to have longer legs.

But Star Wars has the largest & most intensely devout following of any fan group in existence. They are the Catholic Church of Geek’s Christianity. Nerd/comic/game culture retains its contemporary popularity BECAUSE of Star Wars (also perpetuated by the internet…a convo for another day). The idea that ONLY 67.8% of tickets sold are for men truly astounds me. That is, I’m quite impressed with the female showing. Speaks volumes about Nerd Culture’s coming-out. 16 years ago, I’d estimate Ep. 1’s opening week was maybe 80%+ male.

The most comparable opening in my mind would be The Avengers which, adjusted for inflation, snagged $218,123,365. And this year’s Jurassic World grabbed an unacceptably large $208,806,270 despite bursting with mediocrity (I’m being kind). 

So with great 95% and an 8.2/10 on Rotten Tomatoes (to go with a 91% and an 8.3 by the Top Critics), The Force Awakens should easily stomp both. I think anything below $220 million would be a sore disappointment. $228,783,492 is my guess.

Is Donald Trump Intentionally Throwing the GOP’s Game?

Donald Trump is on an absolute tear. Love him or hate him, he’s making an absolute mockery of our political campaign system. But at some point you have to wonder, what more could The Don possibly do to tilt the electoral scale in Hillary Clinton’s favor? If one were to author an ideal liberal strategy, it’s hard to imagine what you could write to make the current situation more favorable for the Democrats. Trump’s current views are simply not aligned with anything close to moderate. His xenophobic rhetoric has become so extreme that he’s forced the party leader to publicly condemn his actions even as the left extends their vocal outrage. Less than hours later, Trump fired right back at the GOP through poll numbers suggesting a favorable third-party run. He’s holding the GOP in a hostage situation they were totally unprepared for.

But at what point do we acknowledge that his actions may be more than remarkably convenient circumstance for Democrats? Are we absolutely certain that Trump’s not doing all of this for the sake of entertainment value? Is he  perhaps playing the political version of Joaquin Phoenix’s I’m Still Here? If you were seeking an allegory that you might be more familiar with, I can also direct your attention to his past association with the WWE (including remarks about Rosie O’Donnell).

Our bipartisan political system is now played as a game of chess by those wealthy enough to move the pieces. This is not news. But which team is Donald Trump really playing for?

The Tea & Koch Party
We know about one side because Rupert Murdoch’s been in the limelight for decades. We know about the other players on his team because everyone from Rolling Stone to Bernie Sanders has made sure their names are heard loud and clear: David and Charles Koch. As proprietors of the Tea Party, or what Aaron Sorkin calls “the American Taliban,” the Kochs have hijacked the once honorable Republican Party dressed as a libertarian extension. They are Geppetto to player puppets like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Speaker Paul Ryan. They even have ties to Supreme Court Justices Thomas and Scalia and fund think-tanks that promote the deregulation of government under the guise of “liberty.”

Yet Donald Trump hasn’t been allowed to play with this Party. Much has been made of his exclusion from the Kochs’ semi-annual meetings where ALL of the other GOP candidates have been in attendance (minus the recent exception of Rand Paul…curious). Yet they’ve never considered him a credible candidate because, let’s face it, none of us have. His party loyalty has been suspicious. He went indy from the GOP in 1999 before registering as a Dem in 2001. Yet in September 2009, he re-registered as a Republican with potential ambitions for a 2012 nomination. David Koch was vocally suspicious of the move in May of 2011 saying:

“Donald’s political positions over the last 10 years have been highly variable and unusual. He’s a wonderful guy, but I don’t think he should run for office.” And later, “At some point I think he’s going to drop out of the race when he realizes that he’s really not qualified to be President.”

While Donald had already jumped aboard the Birther Conspiracy Train at this point, The Koch Party had made it clear that they weren’t buying into his shenanigans. So Donald golfed his way back to his tower and waited.

Flash forward to 2015: Since announcing his candidacy, Donald Trump has stolen the GOP stage from the full arsenal of Dave and Chucky’s marionettes. Capitalizing on the party’s reluctance to promote one of their own pawns as a Queen, he has stepped onto the board for himself. Spouting nonsense consistent with his Birther ramblings dating back to 2011, he’s filled his truck with the GOP’s Koch-fattened evangelical livestock and driven them back to his farm. Since Murdoch’s Trump-specific opening question in the first debate, he’s forced the rest to fight for mere scraps of the attention he receives. If he manages to pull the GOP’s nomination, the evangelical right aren’t gonna be enough to win a general election while the lazy liberals are angered-out to the polls.

But Trump and camp has to already know this, right? Certainly. So why would he do knowingly push any resemblance of moderation away from him? There are only two likely reasons:

1) Trump and camp believe that publicity of any kind will produce name-recognition for poll support and, in-turn, primary votes. It seems naive, but it’s also unproven at this scale.

2) The Kochs were right, and Trump doesn’t actually care about the Republican party. He may even be doing all of this in opposition. If this were true, how would he best go about it, and what does he stand to gain?

Trump’s Clinton History
When Donald announced his candidacy by blasting immigration (an early grab for the bible belt), an idea floated around suggesting that Trump may be a Trojan Horse for the Clintons, with whom he has known ties. As his campaign surges forward, this notion deserves further examination.

Though his campaign contributions since 2008 suggest Trump aligns with the right, he was previously known as a bipartisan contributor with liberal tendencies. Following discussion at this year’s first debate regarding the Clintons’ attendance at Trump’s 2005 wedding, a Hillary spokesperson re-stated, “He invited her. They’re acquaintances. This is long, long established.”

So while it’s hard to gauge exactly how close Trump is with the Clintons, we do know that:

  • Trump supported Hillary’s prior campaigns (as well as The Clinton Foundation) on multiple occasions both financially as well as vocally.
  • Hillary sat front-row when the Clintons attended his 2005 wedding.
  • Chelsea and Ivanka are like BFFs (not real evidence, but funny)

(CNN Video interview from 2007)

But the Clintons aren’t the ones seated in opposition to the Kochs at America’s chess game. They, like Trump, are just key pieces.

So who’s wealthy enough to move the chess pieces that oppose the 5th and 6th wealthiest people in America? The common thought would be someone traditionally associated with the lobbying game like George Soros ($24.5bil), but he sits at the kids table compared with the Koch’s $82bil. So perhaps sociopolitical influence can be managed without obvious contribution through monetary lobbying. What else motivates the human condition? When you already have all of the money and power in the world, what do you do with it?


“Philanthropy is the gateway to power. There are few people who get to decide what will happen in our world. You have been invited to join them. Pull back the curtain, and take your seat.” -Bert Cooper, Mad Men.


The Giving Pledge: Trey Gates and The Wizard

To the top of the Forbes list we go! While our elected officials squabble over our progressive condition, Bill & Melinda Gates’ mighty Foundation has been out crusading against inequity. This isn’t some local charity that you throw spare change to. This is a $40bill heavy-hitting organization that crushes poverty and disease with tremendous results. Bill Gates’ legacy as the co-founder of Microsoft will stand meaningless next to his role in disease eradication. But while he may have some ability to influence a general population by non-conventional means, Gates has never really shown comprehensive interest in the political spectrum. So he’d need a partner. Someone with precognition enough to stay far ahead of domestic socioeconomic trends. He’d need The Wizard of Omaha.

Enter Giving Pledge co-founder Warren Buffett, our chief mastermind. Though quiet about it, we know Buffett stands with the left. Population control has always been of significant importance to him while The Susan Thompson Buffet Foundation has long supported women’s reproductive health. He’s also a known opponent of big money lobbying and its ability to prevent a more progressive tax system.

So just how far back do we need to go for Buffett to have recognized that our political system would be undermined?

I think that The Oracle has had his eye on the Kochs for a long time. With the acquisition of Georgia Pacific back in 2005, Koch Industries drew significant attention from the business world by becoming the largest privately-held company in the country. You better believe Buffett took notice, especially considering their notorious political background. We know that the Koch Party’s closed-door summits date back as far as 2005. And, while unlikely receiving an invitation himself, it’s very likely that Buffett had already received word of their Neocon uprising. But he needed a plan alternative to monetary lobbying.

The following June, Warren Buffett made a public spectacle of pledging-away his fortune to The Gates Foundation and his four family foundations. His gift to the Gates Foundation of 10 million shares of Berkshire Hathaway stock, to be paid in annual installments, was worth approximately $31 billion at the time. But the Kochs either didn’t pick up on the subtlety of Buffett’s message at this point, or simply didn’t care.

In ’08 Buffett (like everyone), thought Hillary would walk with the nomination. They weren’t expecting the youth of American, who’d been dicking around for the prior 10 years, to rally behind Obama. But following the era of Bush, everyone knew the Dems would take Washington regardless on the nominee.

Michael Bloomberg

Following the election, Gates and Buffet hosted a series of secret New York meetings starting  in May 2009. With the Citizens United vs FEC hearings underway in the Koch’d-up SCOTUS, they were able to recruit Michael Bloomberg aboard to advise on a new strategy. Gates and Bloomberg have old ties. In 1999 the Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health was installed at The Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. Partnering on initiatives like combating tobacco in 2008, Bloomberg’s continued support of The Foundation made him an easy shoe-in for what would become The Giving Pledge. Having  stood as the “Republican” mayor of NYC since 2001 Bloomberg abandoned the party back in 2007. His New York political ties and media assets were surely welcome additions. Expecting Obama’s popularity to retain incumbency, it was time to look forward to 2016 and an alternative method: False Flag Candidacy.

If one were to attempt to defame the opposition, how would you go about doing so from the inside? What would be the ideal situation for a false flag candidate?  You would need someone who could give you the following:

– Brand-name recognition (early easy polling)
– Financial means enough to combat Koch-handout candidates
– A history of voting Republican (recognizable conservatism)
– The ability to energize supporters to action (strong public speaking)
– Enough media attention to combat the inevitable dismissal by Fox News

Donald Trump not only qualifies for the above, but he’s also thrown the left two MASSIVE gifts by:

– Angering the opposition into vocal action beyond what the status quo candidates would normally push (even to an international level)
– Suggesting a 3rd-party run if the GOP continues to oppose him.

So how did Trump get involved? Despite acknowledgement of Trump’s base, Buffett’s direct ties to the candidate aren’t significant (though it’s great to hear his commentary on the entertainment value). Similar story with Gates. So if a connection to the Clintons seems too obvious, then maybe a casual golf companion like Michael Bloomberg seems more appropriate.

(Photo: July 14, 2008: Joe Torre’s Safe At Home Foundation Golf Classic

Motivation

But why would Trump agree to run for The Giving Pledge + Clintons? Do we really need a reason beyond the attention? He’s now the star of the greatest reality television show ever!

Yet hidden beneath his recent inflammatory rhetoric and xenophobic bullshit lies a single principal: separation of big money from politics. Trump’s been steadfast with this idea since his announcement and his ability to self-finance stands as a monument to the power of one individual’s influence over political system. Perhaps Trump’s also realized that all of the money and attention in the world is meaningless if he does nothing remarkable with it.

“But what about his loyalty pledge to the RNC?” Pffffftt! You think that would stop The Don from doing whatever the hell he wants? Last week’s shots back at Paul Ryan speak volumes. His continued pledge during the last night’s debate really wasn’t very credible as he demands to still be treated fairly by Reince Priebus and GOP leadership.

Most likely scenario? I’m just totally wrong here. Trump really is just a rogue Republican who loves the popularity currently being showered upon him from the likes of Murdoch, Bloomberg, Ted Turner, and all of our social media.

Capitalist theory and physics both tell us that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. So for every move the Koch/Big Oil think tanks spends towards deregulated anarchy, The Giving Pledge counters with insurance policies like the Breakthrough Energy Coalition.

And the chess game rages on.

Bold Prediction for 11/08/16: Democrats win in landslide following Trump exit’s causing the GOP split. Gives concession speech on behalf of the Great American Party (GAP). Trump invites special guest to say a few words. Ashton Kutcher can be seen pushing a very large sparkling cake to the stage. Taking the mic, “America…you just got PUNK’D!” Fireworks + 1812 overture. Bill Clinton pops out of the cake and gives Trump an ultimate high five. Helicopter carries them away. David and Charles Koch retreat back to their Technodrome to go about their fracking.

Some key events:
July 5th 1991: Buffett and Gates meet for first time.
August 2001: Donald Trump registers as a Dem.
-January 22, 2005: Trump wedding. Clintons attend. Hil sits up-front.
September 25, 2005: John Roberts appointed Supreme Court Justice
November 14, 2005: Koch Industries’ acquisition of Georgia-Pacific turns it into the largest privately held corporation in the United States with annual sales of $80bill.
June 25th, 2006: Buffett commits most of his fortune to The Gates Foundation.
December 16, 2007: Ron Paul fundraiser raises $6mil in 24hrs. The Tea Party is born.
June 07, 2008: Hillary Clinton ends Presidential bid. Supports Obama.
August 18, 2008: Citizens United vs FEC Case docketed w/ SCOTUS.
March 24, 2009: Citizens United vs FEC Argued
May 5, 2009: Buffett/Gates hold confidential New York meeting with 9 other billionaires to talk “philanthropy.”
September 2009: Donald Trump re-registers as a Republican.
September 9, 2009: Citizens United vs FEC Re-argued
January 21, 2010Citizens United vs FEC comes to close. Corporate contributions to PACs no longer have limits.
June 16, 2010: The Giving Pledge announced. Bloomberg joins 08/04.
November 2, 2010: Election Day.
March 23, 2011: Trump first speaks as birther.
April 30, 2011: Obama mocks Trump at White House Correspondents Dinner
November 06, 2011: Election Day. Kochs spend reported $60mil against Obama
June 16, 2015: Trump announces candidacy
November 29, 2015: Key Giving Pledge members announce the Breakthrough Energy Coalition to accelerate clean energy research/production.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spotlight: Leading the Best Pic Race?

Don’t get me wrong. Spotlight doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is: a poignant investigative drama featuring a flawless ensemble performance. Yet it still runs as monochromatic as a newspaper feature.

There are complaints that Steve Jobs took too man creative liberties. Which means Spotlight stands on the opposite side of the spectrum. An audience could believe that the series of events surrounding the 2002 Boston Globe feature played out exactly as depicted on screen. So any sense of shock or discovery I though I might feel had already been spent back when the stories first broke. That doesn’t mean the movie’s boring. It just feels too familiar.

Following the recent less-than-perfect reviews for Revenant (it’s still gonna play hard) and questionable (or bad) reviews for JoySpotlight seems to be out-front in the Best Pic race. But should it be celebrated as the year’s definitive apex of our finest art form? I’d say no. A Best Pic nom? Certainly. And I expect the cast (particularly Ruffalo) and screenplay team to see continued recognition.

I still need to see check out Brooklyn and Carol. And, as mentioned in an earlier feature, I get the sneaking suspicion that Anamolisa could make a late surprise surge (if enough word gets out). But at this point, Steve Jobs and Room are the more vibrant, enthralling, and imaginative prospects to stand atop the best of film in 2015.

Do the NBR’s Best Pics Translate Into Oscar Nominations?

On Monday the National Board of Review teed-off the Oscar season’s playoffs by announcing their 10 Best Pictures of the Year. With more populist pics than in recent years, just how influential/accurate are the NBR’s selections?

While their choices certainly serve as easy marketing decor (“One of the National Board of Review’s Best Pictures of the Year!”), the snowball effect is rather difficult to measure. Do AMPAS members actually look to the NBR list before penning 5 favs for nomination?

While their influence as tastemakers may be questionable, the idea that studios throw resources their way for the occasional screenings/discussion acknowledges that the NBR are at-least the first ones out of the gate.

So where do we draw the line between primary influence vs. simply choosing logical choices? Let’s do some math!

The Oscars expanded the Best Pic field for movies released in 2009 from exactly 5 noms to between 5 and 10 (varying due to the preferential balloting process). Since the expansion, the titles on NBR’s short-list have served as predictors for 34 of the 55 films (or 62%) that would eventually receive top Oscar nominations. And while the NBR’s top pic last year (A Most Violent Year) didn’t even get nominated for an Oscar, the eventual Oscar winner has also made their list 87% of the time over the last 75 years.

But NBR’s overall nomination prediction rate has slipped with the increase in the number of AMPAS nominations. From 2000-2008, the NBR’s list truly missed predicting a nomination only twice (Erin Brokovich and The Queen). The other ten missed picks were likely due to December releases they weren’t given the privilege (read into that however you want) of seeing. This gave them an effective net forecast rate of 94%. Since then, they’ve had 15 blatant misses for a rate of 69%.

So how does affect the field going forward? What’s still to-be-released that the NBR hasn’t seen? The Revenant and Joy are likely sure-things. The Big Short features a heavy ensemble cast, relevant topic, and solid early buzz. And while unorthodox, Charlie Kaufman’s  Anomalisa could squeak in if Paramount plays their screener/screening game TO THE MAX (12/30 release means public buzz won’t exist in-time).

What might have already been released that the NBR’s blatantly left out?  Steve Jobs, while a commercial miss, was expertly crafted on all fronts making it very attractive to the guilds. Carol and Brooklyn have big performances, great reviews, and slow buzz-building distribution models synonymous with the successful arthouse Oscar push. They may be competing with each other for votes though.

Who falls away in these situations? Straight Outta Compton won’t make it. If I have to choose between Mad Max and Hateful Eight (may also compete w/each other for votes), I’d say Eight sits out in the cold but it’s very unlikely that either will represent at least 5% of the Academy’s ballot first-choices. Sicario would make my personal list, but it has too much working against it to stay in the convo. Disney’s Oscar track record is notoriously non-existent and a likely push for Inside Out should also leave Bridge of Spies behind. Creed truly is the darkhorse that may continue to play well enough to stay in the convo.

The NBR’s never missed more than four of the nominations in a single year. Yet if AMPAS nominates 10 Best Pics this year, it may be the first year with 5 misses. But hey, this is a GREAT problem to have for the industry to have. It only means there’s been a larger quota for quality in 2015.

2015: NBR’s Top 10 vs My Predicted Oscar Noms
(For the now. There will undoubtedly be momentum shifts )

National Board of Review Top 10 AMPAS (Oscar) Best Pics Noms
1 Spotlight 1 The Revenant
2 Room 2 Spotlight
3 The Martian 3 Room
4 Inside Out 4 Steve Jobs
5 Creed 5 Carol or Brooklyn
6 Mad Max: Fury Road 6 The Martian
7 Sicario 7 Joy
8 The Hateful Eight *8 Inside Out
9 Bridge of Spies *9 The Big Short
10 Straight Outta Compton *10 Creed

*=Would make list if 10 nominees make it.
-(Yes, I get that I’m cheating with Carol/Brooklyn and I’m still anxious to see both as I’ve heard nothing but amazing things.)