The Movies Fantasy League Mea Culpa Spectacular

Ora Sawyers

Photo-Illustration: Vulture

This is the latest edition of the Movies Fantasy League newsletter from Joe Reid. The drafting window for this season has now closed, but you can still sign up to receive the newsletter below, which will provide a weekly recap of box-office performance, awards nominations, and critics’ chatter on all the buzziest movies, with commentary about what it all means for teams participating in the league.

And we’re off! Welcome to everybody who drafted a roster. We hope you’re happy with your teams. And en garde to all the other movie podcasters participating in the movie podcast mini-league, which will be exciting to watch unfold.

A quick note to everybody participating in a mini-league — we did some work to clean up the database, which included fixing typos (and assumed typos) in mini-league names and deleting any mini-leagues that only had one member. If you see an oversight — i.e., if you aren’t linked up to the rest of your mini-league because you spelled it differently — please email us at [email protected] and we’ll address it.

And now, on to the first issuance of points of the 2023-34 MFL season.

Since we haven’t hit the awards portion of the year yet (though the Gotham Award nominations are coming sooner than you think), it’s only box-office points at the moment. There was a lot of anticipation heading into Saw Patrol weekend. It feels like everybody decided to marathon the Saw movies this September, so Saw X, a mid-quel that had Tobin Bell and Shawnee Smith playing their characters at the age they were between Saw and Saw II, had a good head of steam. And there was Gareth Edwards’s The Creator, starring John David Washington in an original sci-fi concept that our own Alison Willmore called “shockingly good.” Those are two movies with clear box office potential, and those are two movies that got blown out of the water by a group of cartoon pups.

PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie took the top spot at the domestic box office with a $23 million tally. This season’s points structure gives one point for every million, so that’s 23 points, plus another 20 for finishing No. 1, putting 43 points in the pockets of PAW Patrol pickers. Saw X racked up $18 million in second place, and The Creator finished in third with $14 million.

Only films that opened on September 29 or later were eligible for box-office points, so for now it’s just those three. Big congrats to the five teams that have each of those movies on their rosters, giving them an insurmountable* lead in the standings with a full boat of 75 points:

*jk it’s very surmountable

To find your place on the full leaderboard, you can visit the Movies Fantasy League landing page.

With that out of the way, it’s time for some radical honesty. Now that rosters are locked and we’re underway, it’s time to admit that in our best efforts to assign each movie a dollar value that reflected its in-game potential, we got some things wrong. We launched the MFL much earlier this year than last, bravely stepping into the light of public scrutiny before the fall festivals, and our prices reflected the existing wisdom of that moment. Now, in the cold light of morning, after partying all night in Venice, Telluride, and Toronto, some things we thought were true now seem … not. Rather ridiculous, even. And for that we say: Hey, we tried our best.

What can we say? Kate Winslet playing a World War II war photographer sounded like something that might be able to pay off an $8 price tag. But after a Toronto premiere that didn’t make any waves (and the few word-of-mouth whispers were not very complimentary), this one clearly isn’t the kind of player that warrants such a price tag.

$15 for a movie that sat on the shelf for two years, first because of COVID-19, and then because they needed to scrub it of every last inch of Armie Hammer? Look, Taika Waititi won an Oscar for a movie where he played Hitler. Weirder things have happened in this world. But after a Toronto premiere where the reviews were quite unkind, we really hope most of you saw that price tag and kept right on shopping for better bargains.

Aha! Thought it was going to be nothing but groveling, didn’t you? Well, in this case, we were wrong in a way that allowed you to make out like damn bandits. Yorgos Lanthimos’s new movie, in which Emma Stone gets mad-scientist-ed back to life but with a childlike naivety about the world, seemed like the kind of art-heavy, surrealistic wonderland that might prove to be too much for awards voters. And that may yet be the case! But a Golden Lion from the Venice jury has this movie firmly in the Oscar conversation with buzz around Emma Stone’s performance (and perhaps Mark Ruffalo’s and Willem Dafoe’s too). At the low low price of $10? Enjoy your steal.

It’s sometimes tough to quantify the buzz that comes out of Telluride since it doesn’t hand out awards and the whole event takes place behind a veil of mists that only thousands of dollars in pass/travel/lodging expenses can pierce. But if there was a movie that could lay claim to being the toast of Telluride, given the chatter that descended down to sea level, it was Andrew Haigh’s queer, surreal, emotional new drama. At $5, we’re sure a lot of people have pinned their hopes on this being 2023’s Aftersun, and that sounds good to us.

Emerald Fennell’s Talented Mr. Ripley–esque new movie starring Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi, and a gorgeous English manor was an odd fit to premiere at Telluride — and the reactions reflected that. We can’t guarantee that a TIFF premiere would have improved things to the tune of justifying that steep price tag, but it might have!

Of the many sentences I wrote in the VMFL Draft Guide, the dumbest will surely prove to be calling Cord Jefferson’s debut film intriguing as hell but “not at all commercial.” In completely underestimating the ability of Jefferson, Jeffrey Wright, and the rest of this film’s incredible cast to make a true crowdpleaser out of a satire about the Black experience in the literary world, I showed my ass. American Fiction went to Toronto and won its People’s Choice Award, a reflection of just how broadly popular and commercial this movie could be. Now the film is firmly in the mix for awards season, and that $5 price tag looks like the deal of the year.

The buzz on foreign-language contenders tends to break late since it’s dependent on the individual countries selecting the films they’re going to submit for Oscar consideration. Japan choosing Wim Wenders’s incredible Perfect Days and France bypassing the Palme d’Or winner Anatomy of a Fall (which admittedly has a lot of English and features a main character who can’t stop talking about how much it sucks to live in France) for the culinarily sumptuous The Taste of Things has now given the International Feature race some shape. Consequently, $3 for either of these movies is pretty cheap.

Dicks as a $1 buy will probably prove fruitful in some way. After winning the Midnight Madness award at TIFF, there’s clearly enough juice behind this to get some kind of year-end honor. Indie Spirits? New York Film Critics? AARP Movies for Grownups Awards? (Honestly, Nathan Lane and Megan Mullally deserve!) It’s the perfect dollar movie. That breaks down to just 50 cents per sewer boy!

David Gordon Green moves on to his next reimagination of a classic horror franchise with Exorcist: Believer, which hopes to be the spooky season movie we’re all talking about this year. That’s the only new movie opening wide on Friday, though we’ll also see limited-release debuts of:

➼ Martin Scorsese’s awards hopeful Killers of the Flower Moon
➼ Raunch musical extraordinaire Dicks: The Musical
➼ The viral short story-inspired Cat Person

A more chaotic triple feature we could not imagine.

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