Oscars 2017: Hail, Caesar


The Film: Hail, Caesar

The Pitch: There’s No Business Like Showbusiness … Ya Got That, Buster?

Number of Nominations: 1

Which Categories? Best Production Design

Will it Win? No. In another year, Jess Gonchor and Nancy Haigh‘s loving recreation of 1950s Hollywood, with sets that wouldn’t look out of place in famous movies of the era, and beautifully-appointed offices and houses, would stand a good chance of taking home Oscar. After all, Hollywood loves nothing better than films that celebrate it, but unfortunately that’s Hail, Caesar‘s problem: it’s up against another love-letter to showbiz, La La Land.

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Synopsis: In the early 1950s, Hollywood movie executive Eddie Mannix keeps production rolling while covering up scandals and soothing the egos of directors, stars and gossip columnists. When the studio’s biggest star is kidnapped, Eddie finds help from a surprising source as he attempts to save the day yet again.

 

The Coen brothers have always been in love with Hollywood’s Golden Age, and have paid tribute in their own way to several classic genres throughout their career, from gangster picture (Miller’s Crossing) to screwball comedy (The Hudsucker Proxy) to Hitchcockian thriller (Blood Simple) to film noir (The Big Lebowski, a convoluted detective story by way of Hammett and a great deal of pot). O Brother, Where Art Thou is the title of the unmade film within a film in Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels.

And then of course there’s Barton Fink, a bleak, horribly blackly comic dissection of the madness of Hollywood in the 1930s, and one of the best treatments of writer’s block ever made.

Hail, Caesar is something of the joyful twin to Barton Fink. Both are set around the fictitious Capitol Pictures, but while the earlier film veers into madness and despair, Hail, Caesar is a frothy romp from start to finish, revelling in the silliness of the backlot at the tail end of Hollywood’s glory years. At just over 100 minutes, it’s one of the Coens’ shorter films (it’s arguably too brief, and some may walk away wanting more), and it doesn’t waste a second of its screen-time.

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Adhering to one of the basic rules of screenwriting – the ticking clock – the film takes place over twenty-four hours and includes, among other things, a Communist plot, a kidnapping, the H-Bomb, the Hollywood Ten, attempted blackmail, a phony marriage, and juicy gossip served up by a pair of twin sisters in the Hedda Hopper/Louella Parsons vein, not to mention glorious, gorgeous-looking movies (take a bow, Roger Deakins) – major motion pictures of the sort they don’t make any more: an Esther Williams-type water extravaganza; a sailors n’ dames musical akin to On the Town; a serious, “classy” tuxedo and cocktails melodrama; and an epic, religiose prestige picture a la The Robe (the last of which stars one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, the fantastically-named Baird Whitlock).

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Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Channing Tatum, Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes, Frances MacDormand, Tilda Swinton and others all have a ball with the cod-195os patter and La La Land lingo, and if nothing else, it’s always a joy to hear Coen dialogue (one throwaway line during the filming of the Roman epic, when the character encounters Christ – offscreen -is delivered by the film’s director, yelling “Squint! Squint against the grandeur!”) And where else would you have philosopher Herbert Marcuse enthralling a movie star with an explanation of the Marxist dialectic?

Hail, Caesar will never make the Coens’ Top Ten, but still, this is a delightful, hilariously silly film.

Verdict: Three and a Half Backlots out of Five

 

 

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