John Gallagher Jr., Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and John Goodman in 10 Cloverfield Lane10 CLOVERFIELD LANE

If your biggest complaint about a movie lies with its title, that movie is probably pretty great, and director Dan Trachtenberg’s 10 Cloverfield Lane is pretty great – a splendidly acted, hugely entertaining nail-biter that continually surprises despite its claustrophobic setting and cast of characters that can be counted on the fingers of one hand. But while it may lure fans of 2008’s astoundingly irritating “found footage” monster mash Cloverfield, did that title really need to be baked into this one, effectively establishing Trachtenberg’s outing as some kind of sequel or prequel? Theoretically, the thrill of 10 Cloverfield Lane lies in our not knowing where its true threat lies. It’s a measure of the film’s success that it works despite a title implying exactly where that threat lies.


Tina Fey in Whiskey Tango FoxtrotWHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT

Two of my favorite repeat-viewing movies, for wildly different reasons, are Broadcast News and The Hurt Locker. But as much as I love them, I would never have dreamed they’d wind up loving each other, getting married, and having a baby – which is kind of what we have in the new Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. On the surface, it would seem an uneasy, if not unholy, blend: James L. Brooks’ snappy workplace comedy meets Kathryn Bigelow’s intense war thriller. In the hands of directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, however, what results is a humane and thoughtful entertainment that, blessedly, doesn’t sentimentalize or cheapen the subject of Middle Eastern conflict. It’s the film last fall’s Rock the Kasbah could have been if it had a brain in its head.

the team behind Best Picture winner SpotlightWhether it was a conscious decision on their parts is something, of course, that we’ll never know. But faced with #OscarsSoWhite outrage and numerous categories seemingly locked tight as drums, voters for last night’s Academy Awards did the smartest, and perhaps only, thing they could do: They changed the story, so that instead of talking about the controversy, we talked about the winners – more often than not, the surprise winners.

Brenton Thwaites and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in Gods of EgyptGODS OF EGYPT

When the first preview for the mythological-sci-fi-fantasy-action-adventure something-or-other Gods of Egypt landed last fall, it was met with widespread derision due to the overwhelming whiteness of its cast of “Egyptians.” To their credit, film studio Lionsgate and director Alex Proyas quickly issued statements of apology for the movie’s lack of diversity. But now that the ghastly embarrassment in question has been released, I’m hoping for a statement of rebuttal from slighted Egyptian actors everywhere: "Hey, you know what? No apology necessary."

Anya Taylor-Joy and Harvey Scrimshaw in The WitchTHE WITCH

Good horror movies make you jump. Great ones make you unable to move. And writer/director Robert Eggers’ feature-film debut The Witch may be as close to great as this decade’s horror movies have yet come – a mesmerizing, stomach-tightening descent into madness completely devoid of irony. Its trappings may portend a literal-minded take on Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, but the wickedness here is in no way theoretical or the product of mass (McCarthy-influenced) hysteria. Eggers’ ballsy achievement suggests, rather, that true evil can be an entity as real as those who believe in it, a physical presence conjured through excessive pride, fear, suspicion, lust, and, most critically, lack of faith. The Witch is a haunting experience, and the more you think about it, the more haunting it gets.

#OscarsSoWhat?Last March, in promoting his eventual blockbuster Furious 7, Vin Diesel made a bold pronouncement to Variety: “It will probably win Best Picture at the Oscars, unless the Oscars don’t want to be relevant ever.”

Predictably, Diesel’s braggadocio about his movie – the latest in a series of genially dopey action thrillers that had never garnered any previous Academy notice – was much repeated, and mocked, in the press. But here we are 11 months later, with Furious 7 nowhere near the 2016 Oscar race, and one wonders if Vin Diesel is not only buff and baritone-voiced, but quite possibly prescient.

Leonardo DiCaprio in The RevenantThe conversation about this year’s Oscars may have been swallowed whole by the second-annual #OscarsSoWhite controversy, but there are still predictions to be made!

With Best Picture, thrillingly, the most unpredictable category of this year’s Academy Awards telecast (scheduled to air on ABC at 7 p.m. Central on Sunday, February 28), here are my educated and admittedly uneducated guesses in the evening’s 24 categories. The past two years, I guessed 18 of 24 correctly. The year before, I had a personal best of 19 out of 24. This year, I’m feeling wholly confident on about 15 of my guesses, so if you’re making bets with your co-workers or bookies, make sure not to wager a hefty amount of personal wealth.

Ryan Reynolds in DeadpoolDEADPOOL

Your ability to find the superhero comedy Deadpool funny is dependent on your being a 14-year-old, or more precisely someone who can easily access his or her (most likely his) inner 14-year-old. For director Tim Miller’s new Marvel adventure, I couldn’t quite. But I also can’t deny the obvious pleasure many are getting from this cinematic, deservedly R-rated comic book. And if we must endure future origin stories – and trust me, we do – I’d prefer they all shared this one’s anarchic spirit and happy willingness to trash, within studio-approved reason, the tenets that make so many of them boring as sin.

Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, and Kyle Mooney in Zoolander 2ZOOLANDER 2

Probably no film genre currently flashes a bigger “get out of jail free” card than the Hollywood comedy, if for no other reason than there being so many outstanding comedians that any movie employing even a half-dozen of them is guaranteed to feature a fistful of reasons to attend. Zoolander 2, however, has the comics and still isn’t worth seeing.

Scarlett Johansson and Josh Brolin in Hail, Caesar!HAIL, CAESAR!

When the first official trailer for Joel and Ethan Coen’s Hail, Caesar! landed, it suggested that their latest movie – set in the glorious Technicolor Hollywood of the early 1950s – would be something increasingly rare for the siblings: the sort of unapologetically lighthearted goofball comedy they haven’t made since 2004’s The Ladykillers. Look! There’s George Clooney in heavy eyeliner and a toga! Scarlett Johansson with a mermaid tail! Channing Tatum tap-dancing in a sailor suit! By this point in their careers, however, the Coen brothers may be incapable of delivering anything lacking in subtext and social critique, and if we were paying attention, we were told as much in the second trailer for their deeply entertaining yet startlingly profound entertainment.

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