I recently finished watching the IMDB Top 250 list and for that exercise I watched every film, regardless of whether I expected to love or hate them. I’m now working through the BBC’s 21st Century’s 100 Greatest Films list and, well, I’m being slightly less rigorous. There are certain directors (Tarantino, Scorsese, Nolan and Jackson for example) that I’ve simply had a bellyful of on the Top 250 list. To put it bluntly, I won’t be watching any more of their fucking films. Steven Spielberg is a different case. There are quite a few of his films on the 250 list. Some of the earlier ones (Jaws, Jurassic Park) I enjoyed. Others I really hated (Schindler's List). Generally the sentimentality and artistic misjudgement of the later films outweigh the positive elements for me – there’s no denying Spielberg’s talent, but the rage these later films generate in me can’t be good for the heart, so I’ve decided to add Spielberg to the Cunt List along with Tarantino etc. (Sorry I’ve got a bit sweary in this introduction, by the way.)
All of this is a longwinded way of saying that I haven’t watched the film at Number 83 on the BBC list, A.I. Artifical Intelligence, by Steven Spielberg, and I’ve replaced it with Hail, Caesar!, by the Coen Brothers.
WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS
Hail, Caesar! isn’t a well-loved film among the Coen Brothers’ output. People complain that it hasn’t got a plot, or they walked out of it, or fell asleep during it or whatever. Personally, I loved it and chuckled my way through the whole thing.
The set pieces – George Clooney’s epic Roman scenes, Channing Tatum’s tap-dancing routine, Scarlett Johansson’s synchronized swimming extravaganza, Alden Ehrenreich’s adventures with his horse, Whitey – are all magnificent, and serve both as a homage to the entertainment value of 1950s Hollywood big-budget movies and a knowing nod to the artifice and non-reality of these glitzy entertainments.
Review continues below...
Inspire your baby with the Visual Baby series of picture ebooks. Original patterns and art designed for young eyes. Try them today by clicking the covers below.
"It's the only thing that stops her crying" Katie Alison
"All three of my children love this book" Janice Peterson
"Moons, trees, leaves... fabulous!" Linda Matson
Of course, without the problems in production (Hobie’s miscasting, Scarlett’s character’s pregnancy, Clooney’s character’s kidnapping), there would be no need for Eddie Mannix (played by Josh Brolin) as the Hollywood fixer, who has to keep the expensive productions running smoothly. Mannix is a Catholic and he is often tempted in the film – to lie, to smoke cigarettes after he’s told his wife he’s quit, and to change industries to a well-paid position being offered by the engineering firm Lockheed. But while the crazy, frivolous world of Hollywood is held up against the sober, cushy world of Lockheed, Mannix is never in any doubt about where his heart lies. When the Lockheed recruiter shows Mannix a photo of a hydrogen bomb detonation that his company has been involved with, the relative evils of the two industries are put into focus.
A nicely understated aspect of this film is that Mannix is such a brilliant manager. He walks the line between satisfying political pressures and compromising quality. He promises to follow up on the results of his decisions (such as watching the rushes) and always does what he says he’ll do. He deals with the creatives in exactly the right way to keep them happy and to extract their best performances. It’s not often that the mundane techniques of proper work are convincingly shown in art, but this is a great example.
Personal Score: 9/10
This is part of a series of film reviews where I give my comments on the BBC's Top 21st Century films as a writer. The idea is that over time these posts will build into a wide-ranging writing resource.
For more details about the approach I've taken, including some important points about its strengths and weaknesses (I make no claims about my abilities as a film critic or even the accuracy of my comments... but I do stand by the value of a writer's notes on interesting films), see my introductory post here.