Matt Singer: Steve, if you had to pick one thing that's missing from Criticwire, what would you say?
Steve Greene: A cafeteria?
Matt: All right, good to know. Personally, I think it's degenerate gambling. And with awards season now in full swing, we thought it might be fun to do a little betting on this whole thing. That's why we've created The Great Criticwire Fall Movie WagerTM. Steve and I are going to try to predict the best and worst reviewed movies of the fall, and because bets are no fun without wagers, the loser will suffer a horrible, horrible fate.
Steve: A fate worse than Oogieloves.
Matt: Far, far oogieworse. Here's how it will work: Steve and I are each going to pick one movie in five different categories. At the end of the year we'll average out those movies' Rotten Tomatoes scores and whoever has the highest average score wins. The loser will then have to write a piece on Criticwire that neither of us wants to write: a defense of director Dennis Dugan, the tawny auteur of such modern classics as "Grown Ups," "Jack and Jill," "The Benchwarmers," and the upcoming "Grown Ups 2."
Steve: It's an unparalleled career.
Matt: Not only will one of us watch these movies — we'll have to find some way to praise them, and him as an auteur. And Steve, I hope it's not me, because I have no idea what that defense would be.
Steve: I'd argue the "Grown Ups" poster helped jumpstart a lagging water park industry.
Matt: I'm stealing that if I have to write the piece. Before we get to our picks, let's just mention that a lot of the fall movies have already played some major festivals and racked up quite a few reviews. So choosing, say, "Argo" as the best reviewed movie of the year is no great stretch, since it's already gotten phenomenal notices. So for the purposes of this contest, we've eliminated anything from contention that already has ten or more Rotten Tomatoes reviews. So "Holy Motors" (90%), "Amour" (96%), and "Killing Them Softly" (89%) are all sadly disqualified. If you want though, Steve, I will let you pick "The Paperboy." Just to be nice.
Steve: Oh thank you. And we should mention that Criticwire ratings would also be an effective way to measure critical feedback, but a few of these titles might fall out of the usual, general Indiewire oeuvre.
Matt: Right. So worst of luck to you and let's begin.
Steve: I wish you everything but success!
Matt: What's our first category?
Steve: First, we'll be selecting Best Reviewed Sequel. The way I see it, this is pretty much a two-horse race and I'd be happy to go with either. But when it comes to comedy, I'm going to follow Marc Maron's lead and take "This is 40." A sequel (kind of) to "Knocked Up," I think critics are going to look back at the first two-thirds of "Funny People" and look for a film that delivers on that promise. Apatow's also got cache from the way he steered "Girls." Plus, I think everyone's going to want to see Leslie Mann get a chance to erase all memories that she was ever involved in "The Change-Up."
Matt: It's a good pick. But I have to admit the reaction to "Funny People" is what makes me nervous about "This Is 40."
Steve: My only fear is that people might subconsciously have hoped for a different set of Apatow characters to get a sequel.
Matt: Well it may be a sequel to "Knocked Up" — which got great reviews — but it looks more like "Funny People" to me — which did not. It's interesting you called it a two horse race because I thought so too — and went with the other horse. I'm going with "Skyfall."
Steve: I still can't see that title without thinking that Bond's going to spend the whole movie ordering from an in-flight catalog.
Matt: "James Bond WILL return in 'Skymall!'" "Quantum of Solace" wasn't a critical darling — and rightfully so — but "Casino Royale" earned a kind-of-shocking 94% on Rotten Tomatoes. I'm guessing that the addition of Sam Mendes and Roger Deakins gorgeous looking cinematography pushes "Skyfall" over the top. I certainly don't think "Skyfall"'s gonna make top ten lists — but Rotten Tomatoes' ratings are about consensus, not intensity of admiration.
Steve: Plus, the addition of Ben Whishaw should be fun and, by the looks of it, this is going to feature a lot more Judi Dench, which is hardly ever a bad thing.
Matt: Indeed. I think lots of critics will like "Skyfall." They may not love it, but I think they'll like it. All right. What's our next category?
Steve: Time to bring out the giant sacks of money! Next is Best Reviewed Blockbuster, which we defined as movies with a budget of over $100 million. I may (read: probably/almost assuredly) regret this, but I'm going with "Rise of the Guardians." It seems just weird and dark and off-kilter enough to earn some critical bonus points.
Matt: Is it a sequel to the "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Gahoole?"
Steve: That's what I thought at first. Until I saw that it's an animated film where the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and yes, Santa Claus, team up to fight the forces of darkness. I'm in.
Steve: Now, it's a DreamWorks film, which can be hit or miss.
Matt: From "Monsters Vs. Aliens"' "head of story!"
Steve: Stop it! You're making me second-guess myself.
Matt: I kind of liked "Monsters Vs. Aliens." You're rolling the dice here, but it's a high-risk, high-reward situation. Hard to imagine this one being mediocre. It's either going to kill or kill your chances in this contest.
Steve: I know. My list is not for the faint of heart. But Guillermo del Toro's on board as exectuive producer, along with a great voice cast (this WILL be Hugh Jackman's best role of 2012).
Matt: It's an appropriate pick in this sense: I also picked an animated movie in this category. I'm going with "Wreck-It Ralph."
Steve: Nice. I was wondering if that's where you were going.
Matt: And here I'm taking a calculated gamble on this fact: I think younger critics are going to love this movie. It's sort of "Toy Story" for video games — and I think the cameos by all the real video game characters are going to go over very well with a certain youthful segment of the critical population. So I'm counting on Sonic and Q-Bert to save the day.
Steve: That first trailer is pretty incredible. And I usually avoid trailers like the plague. (Or Dennis Dugan movies.)
Matt: What's next?
Steve: Next up: Best Reviewed Literary Adaptation. This is where including festival films would have given us an insane amount of options.
Matt: Right, but several — including "Anna Karenina" and "Wuthering Heights" — are not on the table. This was definitely my least favorite category because, obviously, I don't read.
Steve: Me neither. I'm actually dictating this to my personal assistant. Also disqualified were a few you wouldn't think of first as "literary," like "Silver Linings Playbook." You want to take first pick this time?
Matt: Sure. I'm going with "Life of Pi." I'm basing a lot of my picks on the quality of trailers — which might be downfall — but I was absolutely astonished by the trailer (in 3-D) to this movie. Director Ang Lee has also had a long history of critical success; "Crouching Tiger" has a 97% on Rotten Tomatoes and "Sense and Sensibility" has a 98%. So this is the horse I'm riding. Or tiger, I guess.
Steve: This is one book that I actually have read. All I'll say is that if it sticks the landing on the novel's last 50 pages or so, this is going to be a smash.
Matt: From your mouth to the critics' ears.
Steve: Yeah, what am I doing? I'm not supposed to be applauding your choices.
Matt: I appreciate the vote of confidence.
Steve: Well, I'm going to have to go to the judges on this one. Is "Les Miserables" a cheat here?
Matt: Hm. Make your case and we'll see what they (I) say.
Steve: Well, the musical that it's based on is taken from the Victor Hugo novel, so the story's still the same. Theoretically. And even though "The Hobbit" *should* be spectacular, I'm afraid that all the discussions of 48 fps and Peter Jackson stretching it out to a trilogy are two strikes against it in some people's minds. So I'd like to steer clear of that.
Matt: All right, the judges will allow it. I don't necessarily know if this "counts" as a literary adaptation, but I also think there's a very good chance this movie will be horrible. And so in the interest of victory, if not fairness, I'll let you have "Les Miz." But if you lose you have to sing-speak your Dennis Dugan piece.
Steve: Fair enough. Earlier you were talking about Rotten Tomatoes and how it's just about people liking it instead of loving it. Even if the translation to screen doesn't completely work and even if there's Tom Hooper blowback, I'm betting that the cast curries enough favor to put it over the top.
Matt: It's possible. Then again, some people just resist musicals. On the other hand, no one can resist Hugh Jackman when he has mutton chops. It's a scientific fact.
Steve: If the Easter Bunny grows mutton chops halfway through "Rise of the Guardians," I've got this thing wrapped up.
Matt: God, let's hope that doesn't happen.
Steve: Also, maybe I put too much stock in what people know about the production, but the fact that everyone's singing for themselves and that they used a lot of on-set dialogue/sound is going to add a subtle dimension that might win over some musical-averse folk. Are we ready for the fun one?
Matt: I think so. Let's pick the Worst Reviewed Movie of the fall. What's your pick?
Steve: This has to be "Atlas Shrugged: Part II," right?
Matt: Yeah, probably. When one of the writers of "Walker: Texas Ranger," one of the writers of "Atlas Shrugged: Part I," and a writer with no previous credits to his name get together, attention must be paid. The first movie's Rotten Tomatoes rating was 11% — it's hard to imagine it doing *too* much better.
Steve: I know you were forced to sit through the first one. Are you curious at all about how they're going to wrap things up?
Matt: So much so! (No, not at all.) I took a good long look at "Atlas Shrugged: Part II," but just for the sake of keeping things interesting, I'll pick the other option in what I think is another two movie race.
Steve: "Parental Guidance?"
Matt: No — I'm going to go with "Here Comes the Boom" starring Kevin James as a school teacher turned MMA fighter.
Steve: You mean "Zookeeper Warrior?"
Matt: Exactly. Here I'm going solely on James' track record with the critics — including several films made with our beloved Mr. Dugan. "Zookeeper," 14%, "Chuck and Larry," 14% — if "Atlas Shrugged" is even slightly better than the first one, I've got a (mixed martial arts) fighting chance.
Steve: I was going to make the case that Mr. James will be working from his own material for the first time, but it looks like he co-wrote "Paul Blart: Mall Cop." In other words: you might have a strong choice there.
Matt: If I don't, I will take up MMA fighting in the evenings to atone for my sins.
Steve: UFC #173: Matt "Typewriter" Singer vs. Dennis "The Grown-Up" Dugan. OK, our last category is the big one: Best Reviewed Movie of the Fall.
Matt: Indeed, the Big Kahuna Burger, as it were — not to tip my hand too much.
Steve: The Widowmaker, as it were — not to tip mine. And now that we've both given away our picks to astute cinephiles, do you want to make it official?
Matt: Yup: I'm going with "Django Unchained." I actually thought about going with "Life of Pi" here too, but in this case, I believe Tarantino's history with critics will give him the slightest of edges. Just about everything he's made has gotten at least 80% on Rotten Tomatoes; even "Grindhouse" has an 83%. There's a huge amount of anticipation around this movie and I just suspect people are going to flip for it as they've flipped for everything else he's done. There is a small part of me that worries the rumors of a runaway production might result in a messier-than-usual finished movie. But how do you bet against Tarantino? It's like betting against Tom Brady in a big game.
Steve: An apt comparison. Although, this may be Tarantino's Super Bowl XLVI.
Matt: It's true.
Steve: I want "Django" to be excellent, so it's hard for me to root against it. The reason I avoided it as my pick is that while he got away with re-writing WWII with "Inglorious Basterds," I can't help but think that a few critics won't be as forgiving of Tarantino for the racial questions he's bringing up.
Matt: A fair point. What about yourself?
Steve: Speaking of things that had to be re-written, I'm going with "Zero Dark Thirty." Aside from Steve McQueen's next film, "Twelve Years a Slave," this might be my most anticipated ensemble ever. It's like they took all my favorite TV shows and movies from the last few years, put the cast in a blender and then poured it out into a story that would have been fascinating even if you and I were in the lead roles. Maybe the story of killing Bin Laden might have been better served with less recognizable faces, but I think everyone's going to be up for the challenge. Plus, we know that Kathryn Bigelow has the chops for tense action sequences. So, even if critics generally might be thinking that this story's coming too soon, there'll be plenty of reasons to still appreciate it as a work of film.
Matt: Absolutely. My concern with "Zero Dark Thirty" is similar to your concern about "Django;" I wonder if the politics could be come a touchy subject. Controversial movies aren't always your best bets for consensus.
Steve: We'll always have "The Artist."
Steve: I'm banking on "Zero Dark Thirty" being closer to "The Hurt Locker" than, say, "Lions for Lambs." But I could be wrong.
Matt: And for my sake I hope you are!
Steve: Heh. Any films you had apprehensions about leaving off?
Matt: Hm. I did give a long look at "Silent Hill: Revelation 3-D" for worst of the fall.
Steve: As did I. Don't count out "Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning" either, even if Van Damme's on an "Expendables" hot streak.
Matt: People might expect "The Hobbit" to be up there, but I'm with you — I'm worried the sequel multiplication might yield some skeptics and a thin plot.
Steve: If you took "Zero Dark Thirty," I was going to go WAY off the board for "Promised Land." Which would be another insane high-risk, high-reward pick, but I wouldn't count out a Gus van San/Matt Damon pairing, "Restless" and "We Bought a Zoo" aside.
Matt: All right well we'll find out who was right in a few months. And if this goes well — and one of us doesn't kill the other over Dennis Dugan movies — we'll do this again next year.
Steve: I'm looking forward to it! Unless this time next year, I'm huddled in a corner in a single-room apartment just muttering "'Rise of the Guardians'… 'Rise of the Guardians'…" over and over again.
Best Reviewed Sequel: "Skyfall"
Best Reviewed Blockbuster: "Wreck-It Ralph"
Best Reviewed Literary Adaptation: "Life of Pi"
Worst Reviewed Movie of the Fall: "Here Comes the Boom"
Best Reviewed Movie of the Fall: "Django Unchained"
Best Reviewed Sequel: "This Is 40"
Best Reviewed Blockbuster: "Rise of the Guardians"
Best Reviewed Literary Adaptation: "Les Miserables"
Worst Reviewed Movie of the Fall: "Atlas Shrugged: Part II"
Best Reviewed Movie of the Fall: "Zero Dark Thirty"
What do YOU think will be the best and worst reviewed movies of the fall? Leave your guesses in the comments section below. Beat Matt and Steve and earn yourself the ultimate bragging rights. We won't even make you watch Dennis Dugan movies if you do poorly.