Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

Hail, Caesar!

Hail, Caesar!, is Joel and Ethan Coen’s loving lampoon of Hollywood in the early-'50s.  Josh Brolin's film noir studio executive/problem solver keeps us moored to the Coen's version of reality on a stroll through popular film genres of the time:

George Clooney, the star of a Biblical epic, has been kidnapped by a mysterious group that turns the political climate of that era on its head. Meanwhile, Scarlett Johannson as an Esther Williams type isn't quite the All-American girl, Channing Tatum is a Gene Kelly song-and-dance man tap dancing around a secret, and a host of cameos from the likes of Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Tilda Swinton as twin rival gossip columnists, and a hilarious turn by Frances McDormand as a chain-smoking film editor (setting up the best joke of the movie).

But the biggest revelation is heretofore unknown (to me, anyway) Alden Ehrenreich as a lariat-twirling singing cowboy trying to transition to sophisticated Cary Grant-style comedy while dating a Carmen Miranda.

7.5 out of 10

The Oscars 2016

Below are my picks for the 88th Academy Awards, to be presented on Sunday, February 28, 2016.  As always, we have thumbnail sketch of the contenders in each category, followed by my predicted winner, and in some cases, the film or individual(s) I think should win.
In the hottest horse race of recent Oscar years The Revenant—Academy leader with a whopping 12 nominations—is the front-runner.  It is, however, more to be appreciated than enjoyed: visually dazzling, but unremittingly grim and violent, and, essentially, a revenge movie.  It does have an advantage over its closest competitors: The Big Shortand Spotlight in that they are social-issue movies which, for that reason, could split votes, allowing The Revenant to slip in for the win.  Mad Max: Fury Road came in second with ten nominations, but it is more likely to win technical awards.  Room, is a respected little film that could shock.  The remaining films—Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn,and The Martian—as good as they are they won’t win.
            Will win:  The Revenant

            Should win:  The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, or Spotlight.
Another tough call, this time between two: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (The Revenant) and George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road).  Inarritu, who won last year for Birdman, hopes to become the first director in 65 years to win two years in a row.  Miller’s film sprung totally from his imagination and was brought to the screen with minimal CGI. The other nominees—Lenny Abramson (Room), Tom McCarthy (Spotlight), Adam McKay (The Big Short)—can relax and drink champagne.
            Will win:  Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant

            Should win: George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Leonardo DiCaprio has been better in several films, but he has never sacrificed so much for a role as he did for The Revenant.  Besides, everyone feels Leo is due.  The other performances—Brian Cranston, (Trumbo), Matt Damon (The Martian), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), and Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)—were very good, but Leo is pre-ordained.

            Will win and should win: Leonardo DiCaprio
In a category stocked with excellent performances, Brie Larson, as “Ma” in Room, has been the clear frontrunner since September.  Possible spoiler is Saoirse Ronan as the young Irish immigrant in the charming indie, Brooklyn.  Powerful perennial contenders Cate Blanchett (Carol) and Jennifer Lawrence (Joy) are unlikely winners because both won Oscars in recent years—2014 and 2013, respectively.  Respected veteran Charlotte Rampling’s recognition for 45 Years is in the nomination.
            Will win:  Brie Larson

            Should win: Brie Larson or Saoirse Ronan
Until recently, this had been one of the most competitive fields.  Each actor—Christian Bale (The Big Short), Tom Hardy (The Revenant), Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight), Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies), and Sylvester Stallone (Creed)—garnering significant support.  Lately, though, Stallone has punched his way to the top with a string of precursor awards.  Should he win, it will be the first time an actor has won the Oscar twice for playing the same character.  Considering the practice he has had over the years, it hardly seems fair.
            Will win: Sylvester Stallone, Creed
            Should win: Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
An icon in Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs), a comeback kid in Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight), a surprise in Rachel McAdams (Spotlight), and two leads misplaced as Supporting in Rooney Mara (Carol), and Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl).  Favorites are respected veteran Winslet and up-and-comer Vikander, who worked on six films this past year, including another award winner as an android in Ex Machina.
            Will win and should win: Alicia Vikander
Five diverse contenders: Cold War-era prisoner swap intrigue of Bridge of Spies, claustrophobic sci-fi suspense of Ex Machina, animated working of a young girl’s mind of Inside Out, crime-busting investigative journalists of Spotlight, and the controversial hagiographical origins of NWA in Straight Outta Compton.  It should come down toSpotlight or Inside Out, but
            Will win and should win: Spotlight, Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy.
Four of the five films in this category—The Big Short, Brooklyn, The Martian, andRoom—are nominated for Best Picture.  The fifth, Carol, the 1950s-set story of forbidden love between a shop girl and a beautiful older woman, still enjoyed six other Oscar nominations and critical acclaim.  All are worthy, but only one explains esoteric details of a financial tragedy in a clear, humorous way.

            Should win and will win: The Big Short—Charles Randolph, Adam                                                  McKay.  From Michael Lewis’s book.
It seemed Sicario’s Roger Deakins would finally win after 13 Oscar nominations.  Then came Emmanuel Lubezki’s work on The Revenant, and it became clear that he will win for the third year in a row (Gravity in 2015 and Birdman in 2015).  Of all The Revenant’s nominations, this is the one that is most deserved.  Carol’s colorful rendering of the early 1950s, the 70mm IMAX treatment of The Hateful Eight, and the imaginative chase of Mad Max: Fury Road are relegated to also-ran status.

            Will win and should win: The Revenant—Emmanuel Lubezki
This category goes a long was toward determining our understanding of a film, as well as its flow and whether or not we are checking our watches, even during an otherwise terrific film.  At times, The Revenant, for all of its action, plods, and Star Wars: TFAbattles seem interminable.  On the other hand, Spotlight’s methodical investigation is lean and well paced.  But the top contenders here are Mad Max: Fury Road, a never-a-dull-moment race from beginning to end; and The Big Short, its ebb and flow and changes of pace following Swill clock precision.
           Will win:  Mad Max: Fury Road

            Should win:  The Big Short 
Movie scores work hand-in-hand with cinematography and editing to create the atmosphere the director intends, and each nominee here stands out: the bittersweet, romantic strains in Carol; the slow-boil intrigue of Bridge of Spies; the thrumming, gut-wrenching unease in Sicario; the wry, twanging Western edge of The Hateful Eight.  I take issue with John Williams’ excellent Star Wars: TFA because it has a “been there, done that” feel that has already been awarded.  Look to six-time nominee Ennio Morricone, the Italian who makes iconic Western music FTW.

            Will win and should win: The Hateful Eight—Ennio Morricone
And in other categories:
COSTUME DESIGN:  Will win/should win: Cinderella
MAKEUP AND HAIR:  Will win/should win:  Mad Max: Fury Road
PRODUCTION DESIGN:  Will win/should win:  Mad Max: Fury Road
BEST SONG:  Will win/should win: “Til it Happens to You” from The Hunting            Ground  Diane Warren and Lady Gaga
SOUND EDITING: Will win: The Revenant; Should win: Mad Max: Fury Road
SOUND MIXING:  Will win: The Revenant; Should win: Mad Max: Fury Road
VISUAL EFFECTS:  Will win:  Mad Max: Fury Road; should win: Ex Machina
ANIMATED FEATURE:  Will win/should win:  Inside Out
DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:  Will win/should win: Amy
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:  Will win/should win:  Son of Saul


I finally got to see Room, the only Oscar-nominated film I hadn't seen before Sunday.  Based on the 2010 best-seller by Emma Donoghue, who also wrote the screenplay,Room, as directed by Lenny Abrahamson, is a taut, claustrophobic psychological thriller.  It's a slow burn story of Ma (Brie Larson) and her five-year-old son Jack (newcomer Jacob Tremblay) whose world exists within the confines of a garden shed. 

How did they get there? Who is confining them?  The answers to those and other questions reveal slowly as we adjust to the close confines and strictures of their world.

And "world" it is to Jack, who has known no other.  The ways Ma has rationalized that world to her son, and to herself, are part of the psychological study that makes up the most compelling aspect of Room.  How a child develops in a stunted world; how an abductee deals with the trauma of long-term imprisonment and abuse; the tests and strengths of the human spirit--these are the aspects of the film that draw us in.

The conduits of that magnetism are the two leads.  In one of the most competitive of recent Lead Actress performances, it's difficult to argue with the touching balance of vulnerability and strength that Brie Larson portrays as Ma.  And I don't even know what to say about Jacob Tremblay's Jack.  Never have I seen a child perform so convincingly.  To think that he achieved no Academy recognition when his performance was clearly superior to other children who have received nominations is an indictment of the system.

7.5 out of 10

The Coen Brothers

With the release of Hail, Caesar! today, I thought it would be nice to remember the enjoyment the Coen brothers have given me since 1984 (kind of the opposite of the Koch brothers).  Here is my ranking of their films I have seen, it's important to note that I mever met a Coen film I didn't respect, so I can recommend every one on this list:

1)  Fargo (1996) - 3 Oscar noms., Won Orig. Screenplay
2)  No Country for Old Men (2007) - 4 Oscar noms, won Picture, Dir., Ad. Scr.
3)  The Big Lebowski (1998)
4)  Miller's Crossing (1990)
5)  O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) - 1 Oscar nom., Ad. Screenplay
6)  True Grit (2010) - 3 Oscar noms, incl. Best Picture & Adapted Screenplay
7)  Blood Simple (1984)
8)  Raising Arizona (1987)
9)  Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
10) Man Who Wasn't There (2001)
11) Burn After Reading (2008)
12) Barton Fink (1999)
13) A Serious Man (2009) - 2 Oscar noms, Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay

[I have not seen The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), Intolerable Cruelty (2003), and The LadyKillers (2004)]

The Coens also have an Original Screenplay nomination this year for Bridge of Spies, and they wrote the Adapted Screenplay for Unbroken last year.


In 1952, Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) leaves Ireland to find her fortunes in Brooklyn, thanks to her sister Rose's appeal to an Irish Priest (Jim Broadbent) who runs a program for immigrants in the US.  Eilis is set up with a job and a room in a boarding house for young woman run with an iron fist by prim and wisecracking Mrs. Keogh (Julie Walters). 

Brooklyn is the story of the immigrant experience torn from the Old Sod and planted in a new world--her hopes, fears, triumphs, and tribulations.  And we see the romance of first love, complicated by two suitors, an Italian American (Emory Cohen) and an Irishman (Domhnall Gleeson), both magnetic on screen with Ronan. 

I first heard of Brooklyn when it entered the Sundance Film Festival with little notice but received adulation, followed by a hot bidding war for distribution rights, a justified gamble for a film whose budget was so tight that a date to Ebbets Field is discussed but not seen.  It has earned over $30 million and has been nominated for three Oscars: Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay--Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy, Wild) adapted Colm Toibin's best-selling novel, and most significantly a marvelous performance from 21-year old Saoirse Ronan, who owns our heart from beginning to end.

8 out of 10
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