Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of film critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?”, can be found at the end of this post.)
In honor of Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!,” which just became one of the only movies to ever earn an “F” Cinemascore rating, what is the craziest movie that a major Hollywood studio has released this century?
Joshua Rothkopf (@joshrothkopf), Time Out New York
Talk about a self-answering question. Unless you can point to another movie that brews such an aggressive whirlwind of psychosexual anxiety, starring the biggest star in the world (who is also romantically involved with the director), then we’re talking about “mother!” I’m sure you’ve got “The Wolf of Wall Street” at the ready as an alternative, but how crazy is that film, given that Scorsese has been making variations on it for decades?
Richard Brody (@tnyfrontrow), The New Yorker
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This one is easy and fun: the craziest studio film of the century is also the best one, “The Wolf of Wall Street.” To prove that the intersection of the two categories is no coincidence but, rather, a likelihood, most of the other top candidates in one list are also near the top of the other, such as “Marie Antoinette,” “Bamboozled,” “Gentlemen Broncos,” “The Master,” “The Tree of Life,” Wes Anderson’s entire century of films, and, while we’re at it, Black Swan. And Mother!, which is one of this year’s best films, follows suit. But this intersection raises a worthwhile question: why is this so now? And the answer is that it was always so–the Hollywood classics, whether Hawks’s “Scarface” or “Citizen Kane,” “Vertigo” or “To Be or Not to Be” or “Johnny Guitar, “The Gang’s All Here” or “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” “Greed” or “Sunrise,” Sirk’s “Imitation of Life” or “Husbands,” “Heaven’s Gate” or “Ishtar”—all the greatest studio movies have always been the craziest, and the only difference is that, in today’s Hollywood, the producers have less control over the best directors’ work and, so, the directors’ crazies come out more uninhibitedly—and that’s all to the good. That’s one reason why it’s easier to tell the good movies from the bad ones now, whereas in classic Hollywood, where the studio control remained tight, it’s all too easy to mistake the exception for the norm. (The general misplaced nostalgic veneration for many of the mediocrities of the high-studio era is the evidence.)
Karen Han (@KarenyHan), Freelance for /Film and Vulture
20th Century Fox
It seems crazy that “A Cure for Wellness” got made. It — as per most of Gore Verbinski’s work — is profoundly weird, to the point that most of the supposed plot is shed at the end of the first act to make room for further frights, including the forced ingestion of eels, incest, and a full-on “Phantom of the Opera”-cum-“Eyes Wide Shut” turn. The level to which things escalate makes it all the more difficult to believe that a major studio (20th Century Fox, in this case) gave it the green light, but also make it (at least, as far as I’m concerned) one of the best things to come out of the system in recent years.
Siddhant Adlakha (@SidizenKane), Birth.Movies.Death.
I can’t think of any recent major release more out-there than “Inception.” A studio giving Christopher Nolan carte blanche between Batman movies is one thing, but the result being a film that needed to make general audiences lean forward and absorb a complicated structure was a risky investment. Most people go to the movies to switch off. and they prefer their entertainment easily digestible. That isn’t a derision, it’s just the way the world works. Your average movie-goer has no reason to view a film as a system of inter-connected decisions even on a subconscious level, yet “Inception” hinges on actively paying attention to the illusion that is film editing.
Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@chrisreedfilm), Hammer to Nail/Film Festival Today
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture
There have certainly been a fair amount of flops in the 21st century, and many crazy films made in the last 17 years, but the nuttiest studio project that I can think of, in the “what were they thinking” arena, has to be the Wachowskis’ 2015 “Jupiter Ascending,” distributed by Warner Brothers. A complete mess of a film, it cost (according to Box Office Mojo) $176 million and grossed just under $184 . . . worldwide ($47 million domestic). And no wonder! Narratively incoherent, with an outrageously bad performance from Eddie Redmayne – an actor we know can do better – as the villain, “Jupiter Ascending” flits from one inane plot point to another. At the time of its release, some reviewers bemoaned that its critical drubbing and poor box-office performance might make Hollywood less prone to risk big budgets on original scripts. To which one can only answer . . .original? Everything in there has been cribbed from better sci-fi movies, including ones by the Wachowskis, themselves. But it’s true that the bigger budgets continue to be lavished on direct retreads and reboots, so maybe those critics had a point . . . The siblings haven’t made a movie since then, though they are actively involved in the Netflix show “Sense8.” Here’s hoping both they and Hollywood recover sometime soon.
Kristy Puchko @KristyPuchko, Pajiba/Nerdist
Yes, yes “mother!” is weird. But sorry Aronofsky disciples, it’s nowhere near the craziest movie studios offered us this year. It’s not even the craziest movie Paramount has offered this year. Have we already forgotten the gonzo glory that is “Monster Trucks,” the Paramount production that dared to ask: what if we took monster trucks literally! There you had a totally tubular coming-of-age story starring clearly not teenagers, plus a CGI pack of truck-loving deep water creatures, plus Rob Lowe gleefully flailing at a “Southern” accent. If you somehow missed this treasure that feels like a heady relic from the ’90s, you’re missing out. It’s absolute commitment to a premise conceived by a child (seriously), was winsome and unapologetically fun.
Then, just one week later, Paramount gifted us “xXx: The Return of Xander Cage” which begins with Vin Diesel skiing through a jungle to bring illegal cable to the masses of a remote village. Things just get more WTF wondrous from there with stunts that include a motorcycles on water chase scene and a team that boasts a getaway driver best known for crashing his cars, Ruby Rose as a fiercely fashionable sharpshooter, and a DJ, whose special skill is being a DJ. It’s a spectacle-stuffed movie so mental that as you watch it, you question your sanity, assuming this must be a hallucination, because of course your mental break with feature a jorts-sporting Vin Diesel playing hot potato with live grenades and smirking at Toni Collette.
Then came June and “Transformers: The Last Knight”, a sprawling robot-battling movie that begins with Stanley Tucci as a drunken, conning Merlin, Anthony Hopkins blithely spouting “dude,” and a throwaway line about how Harriet Tubman was totally friends with the Autobots. I mean, even for Michael Bay, that movie was next-level nuts.
These movies may have gotten panned by most critics. They may have disappointed to bombed at the domestic box office. But, personally, I admire a big swing. And as much as we criticize studios for playing it safe, you got to give it to Paramount. They’re taking risks. Each of these movies–yes, “mother!” too–takes, big, bold and sometimes silly swings. And while they may not have connected with enough of an audience to make them “successful” in the traditional sense, each one made for a truly engaging theatrical experience full of surprises, spectacle, and deeply deranged artistic choices. That’s a victory from where I’m sitting.
Charles Bramesco (@intothecrevasse), Freelance for the Guardian, Nylon, Vulture
Fun fact — did you know 20th Century Fox released “Freddy Got Fingered”? I like to imagine Tom Green rolling stoned into the Fox offices and screening his working cut for executives, who then demanded to know just how much of their money he set on fire.
Max Weiss (@maxthegirl), Baltimore Magazine
I’m going with “The Counselor,” a loosely plotted film that featured Cameron Diaz doing unmentionable things to a Ferrari, Javier Bardem sporting the swarthy version of Guy Fieri’s spiky shag, and Brad Pitt being slowly decapitated on a city street by something called a “bolito” (that also managed to amputate his fingers on the way out—good times). Four years later, I’m still not fully recovered.
David Ehrlich (@davidehrlich), IndieWire
For me, it has to be Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby.” Sure, it may not transmute Jennifer Lawrence into a living symbol for our entire planet, and it may not have two Michael Fassbender robots making out with each other (Ridley Scott is a lot further out there than most give him credit for), but there’s something deeply, wonderfully deranged about adapting The Great American Novel into an $105 million, 3D summer movie spectacular, complete with hip-hop, Lana Del Rey, and enough CG to fill a “Star Wars” movie. But the craziest thing about Luhrmann’s film is that it worked.