2015 Oscar Winner Predictions

revenant oscar

They’re happening. This Sunday. Here’s who I think will win (and who I think should win)…

Best Picture

  • The Big Short
  • Bridge of Spies
  • Brooklyn
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
  • Room
  • Spotlight 

For the first time since 2006, I truly don’t know who’s going to win. The furthest I’ve come (and most people who care about award predictions seem to agree) is this has come down to three movies: Spotlight, The Revenant, and The Big Short. Spotlight was once the assumed front-runner, and would make the most deserving winner of the three, but its only big win this seasons has been the SAG Award for Best Ensemble (not a huge endorsement, but one that foretold Crash‘s surprising win in 2005). Meanwhile, The Revenant has won key awards from the Golden Globes, the Directors Guild, and the British Academy. The Big Short won the Producers Guild Award, and has a certain political relevance to it. When predicting the Oscars, it’s wise to hope for the best while expecting the worst. A win for The Revenant might be the most fitting way to celebrate ten years since the aforementioned, and equally horrendous, Crash won Best Picture.
Will Win: The Revenant
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road 

Director

  • Adam McKay (The Big Short)
  • George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)
  • Alejandro G. Iñárritu (The Revenant)
  • Lenny Abrahamson (Room)
  • Tom McCarthy (Spotlight)

For the past couple of years Best Director has gone to the least subtle and most visually extravagant of the nominees. Otherworldly environments, state of the art visual effects creations, overall virtuosic filmmaking. These are the kind of achievements the Academy likes to reward, and thus, it only makes sense that George Miller, the clear stand-out in this list of nominees will take the prize, right? Well, don’t hold your breath folks, because why would we award a work of genius, when Alejandro G. Iñárritu made a movie with perhaps equal flash, and none of the substance? Miller composed a freaking symphony, Iñárritu played the same note over and over again for two and a half hours. The choice is clear, isn’t it? 
Will Win: 
Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Should Win: George Miller

Actor in a Leading Role

  • Bryan Cranston (Trumbo)
  • Matt Damon (The Martian)
  • Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)
  • Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs)
  • Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)

You guys, did you ever stop to think how being cold is actually really unpleasant? Leonardo DiCaprio was so cold when they were shooting The Revenant. There was so much snow. I’m not kidding, he was so cold. He should totally win an acting Oscar because he was so cold. In all honesty, though, let’s fucking give him the award and stop this whole “when is Leo going to win?” thing already because I don’t think I could survive another year of him trying to win an Oscar.
Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio
Should Win: Michael Fassbender

Actress in a Leading Role

  • Cate Blanchett (Carol)
  • Brie Larson (Room)
  • Jennifer Lawrence (Joy)
  • Charlotte Rampling (45 Years)
  • Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)

Look at those nominees, isn’t this category great? If only Oscar showed this level of good taste across the board… As for who will win, Brie Larson has won a bunch of awards already, and Room is well liked enough to have gotten a surprise Best Director nomination.
Will Win: Brie Larson
Should Win: Cate Blanchett

Actor in a Supporting Role

  • Christian Bale (The Big Short)
  • Tom Hardy (The Revenant)
  • Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight)
  • Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies)
  • Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

Mark Rylance is one of the most respected stage actors in the world. Theater aficionados and Shakespeare scholars could surely agree that he is perhaps the greatest living actor. This Sunday, this man will lose an acting award to Sylvester Stallone. Stallone, in case you’ve forgotten, has won a “Worst Actor of the Century” award. And I’m not saying one deserves it more than the other -they’re both really good in their movies- I just find the chaos of award shows incredibly endearing.
Will Win: Sylvester Stallone
Should Win: Sylvester Stallone

Actress in a Supporting Role

  • Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight)
  • Rooney Mara (Carol)
  • Rachel McAdams (Spotlight)
  • Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)
  • Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)

This is the one acting category that is unclear enough as to provide some surprises this Sunday. Most experts will say the race boils down to veteran Kate Winslet (perhaps because someone is into the idea of both Titanic stars winning Oscars at the same time) vs. ubiquitous rising star Alicia Vikander (who benefits from the fact that she’s been nominated for what is actually a lead performance). But Rooney Mara and Jennifer Jason Leigh were once presumed to be front-runners to win this award, and Rachel McAdams is the only of these people whose movie is nominated for Best Picture. What I’m saying is, there’s the possibility of a surprise here, and I’m looking forward to it. As for my prediction, Vikander’s suffering wife role seems most likely, since her performance is 90% crying.
Will Win: Alicia Vikander
Should Win: Rachel McAdams

Original Screenplay

  • Bridge of Spies (Matt Chernan, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen)
  • Ex Machina (Alex Garland)
  • Inside Out (Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley)
  • Spotlight (Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer)
  • Straight Outta Compton (Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff)

A pretty great list of nominees –Straight Outta Compton‘s script is a joke, but whatever- but the clear winner here is Spotlight, since it’s the only one of these five that has a decent shot at winning Best Picture. But let’s not forget it will be a hugely deserving win too, for one of the most elegant and careful scripts of the year would be winning.
Will Win: Spotlight
Should Win: Spotlight 

Adapted Screenplay

  • The Big Short (Adam McKay, Charles Randolph)
  • Brooklyn (Nick Hornby)
  • Carol (Phyllis Nagy)
  • The Martian (Drew Goddard)
  • Room (Emma Donoghue)

The Big Short is the nominee with the clearest shot at a Best Picture win, which makes it the clear front-runner here. Having said that, a surprise win for Room could mean strong support and perhaps a Best Picture upset later in the night? As for the others: a win for The Martian would annoy me a little bit, a win for Brooklyn would be hugely unexpected but welcomed, and a win for Carol would be a gift sent from heaven.
Will Win: 
The Big Short
Should Win: Carol 

Animated Feature

  • Anomalisa 
  • Boy and the World
  • Inside Out
  • Shaun the Sheep Movie 
  • When Marnie Was There

Inside Out came at a difficult time for Pixar, and became one of the studio’s biggest hits. It made a gazillion dollars and critics loved it, it’s obviously going to win this award. But let the fact that the winner is set in stone detract from the fact that this is a particularly exciting list of nominees. From small foreign marvels to animation intended for an explicitly adult audience, it’s one of the most eclectic and exciting groups of nominees this category -which is usually full of good-enough computer-animation- has ever seen.
Will Win: Inside Out
Should Win: Shaun the Sheep Movie 

Foreign Language Film

  • Embrace of the Serpent (Colombia)
  • Mustang (France)
  • Son of Saul (Hungary)
  • Theeb (Jordan)
  • A War (Denmark)

I’ve only seen two of the nominees, though I’ve been trying to find some time to catch up with Embrace of the Serpent for about a week now. I didn’t quite love either of the two I saw, but really liked Mustang, most commonly known as the Turkish Virgin Suicides, except for a couple of weak decisions in its third act. I also respect the filmmaking aesthetic of Son of Saul, even if the moral implications of turning the Holocaust into a video-game style sensorial experience can be questioned. It won’t matter at the Oscars, though, Son of Saul is impressive enough to be the clear winner.
Will Win: Son of Saul
Should Win: Of the two I’ve seen, Mustang

Documentary Feature

  • Amy
  • Cartel Land
  • The Look of Silence
  • What Happened, Miss Simone?
  • Winter on Fire 

Back in 2013, Joshua Oppenheimer’s brilliant The Act of Killing, a documentary that followed and confronted the perpetrators of the Indonesian genocide lost this award to Twenty Feet from Stardom, a far lighter and more optimistic look at the work of the music industry’s most prolific back-up singers. This year, Oppenheimer’s sequel, The Look of Silence –which focuses on the victims of the genocide instead of the perpetrators- is nominated again, and will probably lose to another music-centric documentary.
Will Win: Amy
Should Win: I’ve only seen one of the nominees.

Cinematography

  • Carol (Ed Lachman)
  • The Hateful Eight (Robert Richardson)
  • Mad Max: Fury Road (John Seale)
  • The Revenant (Emmanuel Lubezki)
  • Sicario (Roger Deakins)

It’s hard now to remember the time when Emmanuel Lubezki was a grossly under-rewarded cinematographer. As recently as five years ago, it seemed like he might never win, now he’s about to get his third Oscar in a row. Three in a row, including one for the admittedly beautiful but totally shallow Revenant, seems excessive. And embarrassing, because, hey guys, Ed Lachman is also nominated. 
Will Win: 
The Revenant
Should Win: Carol 

Production Design

  • Bridge of Spies (Adam Stockhausen)
  • The Danish Girl (Eve Stewart)
  • Mad Max: Fury Road (Colin Gibson)
  • The Martian (Arthur Max)
  • The Revenant (Jack Fisk)

Cinematography and Production Design are two categories that tend to go hand-in-hand in terms of wins, but truly one would have to be insane to think The Revenant -a movie that takes place almost entirely outdoors- could win this category, right? And I know, that the production designer does a lot of work scouting locations and not everything is about the set, but come on, if you want a movie that takes place almost exclusively outdoors but comes up with unique and awesome design choices at every turn, Mad Max and its flame-throwing guitar-player are right there.
Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road 

Costume Design

  • Carol (Sandy Powell)
  • Cinderella (Sandy Powell)
  • The Danish Girl (Paco Delgado)
  • Mad Max: Fury Road (Jenny Beavan)
  • The Revenant (Jacqueline West)

This is a truly tricky category. No idea who is going to win here. I initially let my mind think Carol , based on the foolish notion that the best costumes could actually win. Then Cinderella, because we know the Academy thinks most costumes = best costumes. Then, The Revenant started to become more of a front-runner (and how insane would it be if Leo’s fur coat won the award over Carol’s?), and Mad Max won the Best Costumes award at BAFTA, and what the hell, The Danish Girl could also win, I guess? I don’t fucking know… 
Will Win: 
Mad Max: Fury Road
Should Win: Carol 

Film Editing

  • The Big Short (Hank Corwin)
  • Mad Max: Fury Road (Margaret Sixel)
  • The Revenant (Stephen Mirrione)
  • Spotlight (Tom McArdle)
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Maryann Brandon, Mary Jo Markey)

A win in this category for either The Big Short or Spotlight, would be a strong signal that they’re about to win Best Picture. Curiously, I think The Revenant -despite its front-runner status- is probably not going to win here. And thank goodness, because giving an editing award to a two-and-a-half hour drag would be the peak of irony. Instead, I think the most likely winner is the super-tight, no-fat-around-the-edges Mad Max. 
Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road 

Original Score

  • Bridge of Spies (Thomas Newman)
  • Carol (Carter Burwell)
  • The Hateful Eight (Ennio Morricone)
  • Sicario (Johann Johansson)
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens (John Williams)

Remember at the Golden Globes when Tarantino got up and said Ennio Morricone had never won a major award for his work as a composer? Well, he actually had won a couple Golden Globes before, and he’s also won an Honorary Academy Award, but that doesn’t really matter. Tarantino started a narrative, Morricone is flying to attend the ceremony, and he’ll probably win an Oscar.
Will Win: The Hateful Eight
Should Win: Carol 

Original Song

  • “Earned It” (Fifty Shades of Grey)
  • “Manta Ray” (Racing Extinction)
  • “Simple Song 3” (Youth)
  • “Til It Happens to You” (The Hunting Ground)
  • “Writings on the Wall” (Spectre)

Come on, it’s time to retire this category. Lady Gaga’s solemn warning about campus rape is the most likely winner -I guess- but it’s also by far the worst of the nominees. The other options aren’t exactly great, although I would gladly vote for The Weeknd’s “Earned It” because it’s a total jam and I would love to say Academy Award-winning Fifty Shades of Grey for the rest of my life. 
Will Win: 
The Hunting Ground
Should Win: Fifty Shades of Grey 

Sound Mixing

  • Bridge of Spies
  • Mad Max: Fury Road 
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens

By this point, you’ve clearly realized that the big story with the technical categories this year is Mad Max vs. The Revenant. They’re both the kind of movie that could easily win both sound categories. I honestly don’t know which one is going to win, so maybe one wins Mixing and the other Editing? 
Will Win: 
The Revenant
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road 

Sound Editing

  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
  • Sicario
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Sticking to the plan I just laid out for Sound Mixing, I’m giving Mad Max the advantage in this race. But before we move on, let’s take a second to remember how insanely effective the sound design in Sicario was.  
Will Win: 
Mad Max: Fury Road 
Should Wind: Sicario 

Makeup and Hair

  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The 100 Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared 
  • The Revenant 

Every year, the makeup branch somehow manages to find a movie no one has heard about and nominate it. This year’s 100 Year-Old Man, however, has no chance of winning against the two biggest heavy-hitters of the season. The fleshy wounds of The Revenant are one of the movie’s most impressive aspects, but the grotesque iconography of Mad Max seems more in line with the kind of movies the Academy likes to reward in this category.
Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road 

Visual Effects

  • Ex Machina
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens 

The Force Awakens is now the highest-grossing movie of all time. Avatar, Titanic, and Star Wars the previous three highest-grossing movies of all time, have all won this category. At the same time, they were all Best Picture nominees, and when a Best Picture nominee gets nominated here, that means they usually win. That being said, we have three Best Picture nominees this year, could they split the vote? This is just a long and confusing way of saying I’m sticking with Star Wars. 
Will Win: 
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Should Win: Ex Machina 

Animated Short

  • Bear Story
  • Prologue
  • Sanjay’s Super Team
  • We Can’t Live Without Cosmos
  • World of Tomorrow

How foolish would I have to be to expect World of Tomorrow, not only one of the most impressive animated shorts I’ve ever seen but my absolute favorite movie of 2015, to actually win this award? This category’s recent history suggests that the much more popular Sanjay’s Super-Team is the one to beat. So, my mantra continues: I’m preparing for the worst, but I swear I will jump up and scream with joy if World of Tomorrow manages to go the distance.
Will Win: Sanjay’s Super Team
Should Win: World of Tomorrow

Documentary Short

  • Body Team 12
  • Chau Beyond the Lights
  • Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah
  • A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness
  • Last Day of Freedom

Haven’t seen any of these, but one has the word “Shoah” in the title, which makes me think is very likely to win.
Will Win: Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah
Should Win: haven’t seen any of the nominees.

Live Action Short

  • Ave Maria
  • Day One
  • Everything Will Be Okay
  • Shok
  • Stutterer 

Haven’t seen any of the shorts, but have heard quite a bit about them in terms of who will win and why. None of these people are in agreement about who will win, but quite a few say Everything Will Be Okay as the best of the nominees. Curiously, none of them predict it to win.
Will Win: Everything Will Be Okay 
Should Win: haven’t seen any of the nominees.

Dreadful Character: A Review of Robert Eggers’s The Witch

the witch

There tends to be one movie every year. One horror movie that people say it’s “the best horror movie in years”, or “decades”, or whatever. A couple years ago it was the incredibly tense, and indeed pretty great The Babadook. Last year it was the moody, but ultimately disappointing It Follows. This year, it’s The Witch -the feature debut of Robert Eggers- which fulfills the promise of having deeper, more unusual, interests than your run-of-the-mill horror movie. Whereas It Follows couldn’t quite back up its brilliant conceit -supernatural monsters as metaphor for venereal disease- with a satisfying story, The Witch succeeds thanks to sharp focus on its protagonist’s journey.

This protagonist is Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), a young woman who has the misfortune of coming of age in seventeenth century New England. Thomasin’s father William (played by Game of Thrones‘s Ralph Ineson) is a deeply religious puritan with a deep and raspy voice. The movie opens with William being accused of being too much of an extremist, and being banished from the local community. Thus, William and his family -which includes Thomasin, her mother Katherine (payed by Kate Dickie, also from Game of Thrones), her younger brother Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), and a set of incredibly creepy twins- hop on their carriage and make their way into the wilderness.

The family builds their new home close to a dark forest and a nearby brook, but the screeching soundtrack lets us know things won’t go well for these outcasts. Thomasin is taking care of her newborn brother Samuel, playing peek-a-boo, when the baby mysteriously disappears. We the audience soon learn poor Samuel’s gruesome fate, but the family doesn’t have a clue what happened to the child. In their attempt to deal with such a heavy loss, and the crisis of faith that comes with it, the family’s trust starts to crumble.

The Witch is similar to The Babadook in more ways than one. Both movies’ protagonists are dealing with loss, and both movies are interested in the tension and resentment that said loss can generate in family units. The Babadook focused almost exclusively in a single relationship, between a mother and a son, and used its “villain” as a clear metaphor for the guilt and hate that exists between them. There are more characters in The Witch, and because the movie has things to explore in all of them, it ends up feeling shabbier. Its source of evil is also not as focused as The Babadook‘s.

The evil that haunts Thomasin and her family is mysterious, and doesn’t take a clear form. We know this evil exists -we have seen it- but the family doesn’t. For them, it can take many forms, and they often don’t know where to look for it. Whereas The Babadook played with our expectations that the monster would come every time the characters went to sleep, The Witch plays with letting the audience know more than the family, and finding new, and clever, ways to represent this evil. This makes The Witch a less tense -and perhaps less impressive in terms of pure horror- experience than The Babadook, but also one that was easier for me to enjoy. Be it in the form of an old witch, or a creepy goat, it’s just very exciting to see what form evil will take next.

The most important thing The Babadook and The Witch have in common -and one It Follows lacked- is their investment in character development. The horror genre is known for its disposable characters who are only there to die, but these movies refuse to settle for cardboard players. Their protagonists have clear arcs, and the people around them are complex beings, too. The Witch in particular creates compelling personal dramas for most members of its ensemble. William struggles with his religious stubbornness, Katherine with the grief of losing her youngest child, and Caleb with the bubbling sexuality that is characteristic of pubescent boys.

At the center of all this is Thomasin, who is a firm believer in the God her father has taught her to love, but can’t seem to reconcile her earthly feelings with the pious life her family expects from her. Thomasin is so repressed that it’s hard to spot her arc for most of the movie’s first half, by the end, however, her journey has become very clear, even if it might be a little hard to swallow. In any case, she -and her family- are the reason the movie works so well. These are characters you can invest in, and that’s truly important.

One thing I noticed while watching The Witch, is that its brand of horror is quite unique. The movie isn’t focused in any kind of cheap thrills and jump scares, but in what will happen to these people. I was more concerned with what these characters would do next -often dreading what they could do to each other- than anything that had to do with the actual witch. And don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler, the movie makes it very clear very early on that there actually is a witch living in those woods.

Even if the horror comes from the characters’ actions, this is still a deeply disturbing movie. Cinematographer Jarin Blaschke uses only natural light -in a perhaps not as impressive, but far more effective feat than The Revenant– and creates some truly evocative, beautiful, and disturbing images. Images that are so carefully created, they can fuel nightmares with their detail, and suggest other levels of horror in their shadows. Specificity is key here, with Eggers subtitling his movie “a New England folktale” and going as far as including a title card that informs us most of the dialogue in the movie is taken from historical accounts of alleged witchcraft.

There is, obviously, a moral problem that comes with setting a movie in the America of the Salem Witch Trials, and imagining that witches were real. These were, after all, real women who were falsely accused and brutally murdered. But The Witch works around this problem quite effortlessly, reveling in the satisfaction of alternative history rather than denying it. If anything, learning that the dialogue in the film was taken from historical accounts makes its final moments all the more fascinating. I doubt there will be an ending this year that will be as unique in the deep well of emotions and possibilities it brings as the last couple scenes of The Witch. 

The Witch is a wonderful movie. When it was over, the bros behind me complained it wasn’t scary enough, and that it was more of a drama than a movie. I think they meant to say that this was an actually interesting movie with something to say, and not just another horror movie with nothing but gore and jump scares on its mind.

Grade: 9 out of 10

Having Your Cake and Shoving It Up Your Ass: A Review of ‘Deadpool’

deadpool-movie-image

There are little things more annoying than a moralist. And I know it is just rude to deliver a rant when one has promised a review, but in this case, certain things cannot remain unsaid. There are some characters out there -film critics among them- who will try to sell you on the idea of spending money to watch Tim Miller’s Deadpool with the argument that it is “not your typical superhero movie”. These characters will argue, Deadpool is an irreverent hero who breaks the fourth wall and addresses the camera directly in order to subvert our expectations of what a comic-book adaptation looks and sounds like.

In reality, their argument begins and ends with the fact that Deadpool is rated R. Yes, there is a lot of blood, and yes, the main character’s sense of humor is very similar to Seth McFarland’s. But dear reader, I beg of you, please, please, do not let anyone dare try to tell you that Deadpool is anything but yet another unoriginal and uninspired superhero movie. Because it isn’t.

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. Deadpool‘s opening title sequence winkingly credits its cast with such descriptors as “A Hot Chick” and “Bad Guy with a British Accent”, seemingly sharpening its knives for what could be as much a takedown as a reinvention of the superhero genre. It’s less than thirty minutes into the movie when things become clear: this is going to be another boring origin story. After enduring quite a bit of Deadpool’s reference-filled sense of humor, the movie detours into a flashback that presents us with the man before the hero: an assassin with a heart of gold by the name of Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds).

Long story short, because you’ve surely heard this one a million times before. Wade falls in love with a sensitive woman (maybe prostitute) played by Morena Baccarin. Their relationship is awesome -and I must admit Reynolds and Baccarin do sell the hell out of the montage that details the evolution of their romance- but Wade soon learns that he has cancer. This is when the Bad Guy with the British Accent appears and offers to cure him. He does, but at a price. Wade doesn’t have cancer anymore, but he is now a mutant who can heal himself Wolverine-style. He is also deformed. He adopts the name Deadpool and decides to take revenge.

The question of “is Deadpool a conventional hero” can be answered two ways: You can say he is not a hero, and you wouldn’t be wrong. There is a subplot that delves into whether or not Deadpool is a hero, and the answer from my end is that he clearly isn’t. Sure, he does kill a bazillion “bad guys”, but we never know what bad things these supposedly bad guys are doing. They do try to kill Deadpool’s girlfriend and that’s pretty bad, I guess. The other way to answer the question is that, yes, despite his juvenile sense of humor, Deadpool is a lot like your typical reluctant hero. You see, nowadays, a movie featuring a well-hearted boy-scout good-guy hero is more unusual than a movie featuring a cynical anti-hero badass. Ryan Reynolds’s portrayal of the character fits that mold very comfortably.

The most disappointing thing about Deadpool, forgetting whether it was to be expected or not, is that the way the movie handles the character’s seeming mental illness or insanity, by which I mean the fact that the movie doesn’t handle it at all. Deadpool’s acknowledgement of the camera and the audience that is watching his own movie suggests that he lives in a different plane that the other characters in the movie. That he is either delusional, or that his mind has entered a higher level of consciousness. When we see him as Wade -before he is “cured” of his cancer- there is no acknowledgement of the camera whatsoever, and he seems like a cynical, and “funny” guy, but not at all insane.

Even after the flashback is over, there is no clear moment in which Wade lost his mind, no idea of when he started to recognize that he is a fictional character, and no hints at all that anything at all changed within him before, during, or after the horrific experiments he was subjected to. He just became ugly and decided to take revenge. This interdimensionality is, by far, the most interesting aspect of the character. This is where the movie could have turned interesting, or exciting, or challenging, or interesting. Instead, we get a completely mundane and pedestrian story peppered with a few jokes that would’ve been edgy if they had been told in 1924, but then again, nobody in the twenties would know who Limp Bizkit is.

I could talk more about the boring superhero plot of this movie, but why waste your time? Everything in this movie is mediocre. If you’re not a twelve year-old boy, or a grown man who would like to believe it’s still 1994, you have no reason to watch this movie.

Grade: 2 out of 10

The Greatest Puzzle Never Solved: A Review of the Coen Brothers’ Hail, Caesar!

hail caesar review

The most common criticism leveled against Hail, Caesar! is that this existential Hollywood comedy by Joel and Ethan Coen is a movie that doesn’t quite come together. The Coens get this kind of criticism all the time, including the first time they decided to set one of their movies in Hollywood. Winner of the Palm D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, Barton Finkstill one of their best movies- turned what started as a fairly realistic story of a playwright-turned-screenwriter into a darkly surreal comedy, and later, into an outright nightmare. Perhaps the people who were put off by Fink’s dreamlike descent into hell are the same people who can’t find thematic cohesion beyond Caesar’s seemingly incoherent detours.

The more movies the Coens make, the clearer it becomes that they are deeply interested in cosmology. Over and over again, they ask the same question: is there any rhyme or reason to this world? The characters at the center of these movies rarely find a satisfying answer to this question, but the brothers -and their fans- always come back for more. Perhaps because, much like a Coen protagonist, we are all trying to find the right way to live.

These repeatedly unanswered quests can seem like a sick joke. The Coens are so precise and exacting in the details of their filmmaking, that their movies often feel like perfectly crafted puzzles that for some bizarre reason, cannot be solved. In fact, Hail, Caesar! features this very same metaphor in a scene where two writers are about to finish a puzzle only to discover that the last piece, inexplicably, doesn’t fit. How could it not fit, if it’s the only piece left? Just when you think you’ve understood everything there is to understand, an even bigger question appears.

The man searching answers this time around is played by Josh Brolin, and his name is Eddie Mannix, the chief of “physical production” at the fictional Capitol Pictures. The character is based on a real man of the same name, who by most accounts was a ruthless fixer who worked for MGM and would do anything in his power to keep the studio and its stars’ images clean. Unlike the real-life Mannix, Brolin’s character is a deeply religious man with a moral dilemma. Eddie loves his job, and he loves the movies, but how do frivolous entertainments fit into the world’s cosmology?

Perhaps Eddie can find some moral appeasement in Capitol Pictures’s biggest production: “Hail, Caesar!”, a Biblical epic about a Roman soldier who turns his life around after encountering Jesus Christ. This movie seems to be Eddie’s way of making it right by the Almighty. He is so concerned with the respectability of his movie that he assembles a panel of religious leaders and asks them to find any moral objections to the movie’s depiction of God and Jesus. A priest, a pastor, and a rabbi all walk into the room, but no one is as concerned with doing God justice as Eddie.

That Eddie finds time to go to confession and consider the moral implications of his own life is impressive considering the amount of actors, directors, and gossip columnists he has to deal with on a daily basis. If that weren’t enough, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), Capitol’s biggest star and the protagonist of “Hail, Caesar”, is nowhere to be found. Turns out he’s been kidnapped by a group of communist writers that call themselves The Future. The clueless Whitlock bumbles into a room full of communists and is quickly mesmerized by their rhetoric. He too is “for the common man”. What are these communist after? Money, of course.

One would surely describe this as a particularly challenging day in Eddie’s career, but as far as dealing with kidnapped celebrities is concerned, Mannix is on top of his game. Everything that has to do with keeping the studio afloat, he can handle in his sleep. It’s the moral implications of being part of such a frivolous and seemingly decadent industry that haunt him. The stakes of Hail, Caesar! do not revolve around rescuing Whitlock and keeping the Studio afloat, but around Eddie’s salvation. Midway through the film he is offered a job at Lockheed Martin, a “real” job, he is assured. A job that matters.

Behind the bells and whistles of a comedy that finds ample time to let the audience glimpse Capitol Pictures’s many productions -including westerns, melodramas, and musicals- lies a very personal movie. Eddie Mannix’s search to find value in his life can be interpreted as a representation of the Coens’ own struggles with their art. After mocking all ideologies, particularly communism and religion, the Coens find salvation in the frivolous pleasures of the movies. Film critic David Ehrlich is right on the money when he compares Hail, Caesar! to The Grand Budapest HotelBoth movies argue for art’s value, but where Budapest is madcap and propulsive, Caesar is eerie and disconcerting.

The most effective way in which Hail, Caesar! argues for the movies are its own superficial pleasures. What we see of the movies being produced at Capitol Pictures isn’t very profound -and often dumb and ridiculous- but it’s also incredibly enjoyable. The most impressive of these moments is a song-and-dance sequence featuring Channing Tatum in a sailor uniform that could be described as overlong and self-indulgent if it weren’t so delightful. Tatum, once again, proves that he is this generation’s closest equivalent to Gene Kelly; and the Coens, that they understand that movies are, above all, entertainment.

The magic of the movies is on full display in Hail, Caesar! I was particularly impressed by how the amount of showmanship to the performances, and the role of physicality in impressing the audience. One forgets about the possibility that some of the feats in the movie could’ve been achieved with the help of computers because watching Tatum tap-dance is as transfixing as a live circus act. It’s also impressive when simpleton cowboy Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich in the movie’s standout performance) does lasso tricks with spaghetti, and when sexy Carlotta Valdez (Veronica Osorio) demonstrates the trick to dancing with “so much fruit on her head”.

If there are any weaknesses to Hail, Caesar!, they probably have to do with its rather abrupt ending and the often bizarre rhythms of its pacing. At the same time, the bizarre nature of the movie could mean that those qualities are perfectly intentional. The movie is packed with characters, stories, detours, and plot developments that, at first glance, have little to do with each other. Upon further inspection, they might still not make sense. Like most of the Coens’ movies, not all the pieces might fit in this puzzle. But by the time Eddie Mannix finds value in the trivial product he helps produce, the audience has found value in the movie’s own superficial pleasures.

Grade: 9 out of 10