A Critic’s Manifesto

I’ve been watching the Rotten Tomatoes score for The Lone Ranger slowly climb from a rather horrific 17% today, and it’s gotten me thinking about critics and reviews and the movie review industry as a whole.  In fact, I read a blurb from one review that stated, “Everyone wants this to be horrible,” and it makes me wonder how much film reviews in the industry are shaped both by what people expect from a movie, what they want to happen to the movie, and what they think people expect and want the reviews to say.  So if you’ll excuse the rambling, unorganized and meta nature of this post, here are some of my thoughts. Continue reading

What’s your favorite comic book superhero film?

In my review of Man of Steel, I talked a bit about the modern phases of comic book superhero movies that began with 1978’s Superman.  I’ve enjoyed some of these phases more than others (I’m not a fan of Nolan’s style), but they’ve all produced good films and bad.  So I thought I’d come up with a list from best to worst of the comic book superhero movies of the modern era.  I kept the list limited to my arbitrarily chosen “major” superheroes, so you won’t see things like Blade or Hellboy on the list (though I love Hellboy).  I’m also not including more indie comic book films, like The Rocketeer or Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, both of which I love.  I tried to just use the films people were most likely to have seen.  (Note: Green Lantern is not included because I actually never saw it.)

Lists are great for discussion, so let me know what you think!  (In other words… BRING IT ON!!! I can’t wait to hear people challenging where I have the Batman Begins saga or Man of Steel.)  If there’s anything obvious that I left off, let me know.  And then vote below as to what is your favorite comic book superhero movie (you can fill in your own choices).  Continue reading

Top 12 of 2010

Overall, I found 2010 to be a pretty disappointing year at the movies.  I skipped many of the summer blockbusters, and those I did see, like Iron Man 2, were underwhelming.  I also skipped several of the major critical darlings for various reasons.  I wasn’t particularly interested in The Social Network; it just wasn’t a story that appealed to me.  I passed on Black Swan basically on principle, since I hated Darren Aronofsky’s last movie, The Wrestler, so much.  So in lieu of a “Top 10 movies of 2010” list, I’ve decided to do something slightly different.  I’ve compiled a list of my 12 favorite things from the movies this year.  They’re mostly what I would call “Movie Moments”, either particular scenes or sequences that stood out to me, and that I really enjoyed.  Sometimes it’s nothing more than a few seconds of film, sometimes it’s an entire scene or sequence of scenes, and in one case it’s an entire film.  Some movies have multiple spots on the list.  So here’s what I liked the most at the movies last year: Continue reading

The Worst Movies of the 2000s: #5-1

5) The Departed
That’s right, an Oscar winner for Best Picture is on my list of worst movies of the decade. This one is mostly a case of being enormously over hyped. A Martin Scorsese film with a cast that includes DiCaprio, Damon, Nicholson, Wahlberg, Sheen and Baldwin should never be this bad. A horrible script of uninteresting characters and a cliché mix of good cop undercover with the mob and a bad cop playing traitor to his department make for a waste of film. Worst of all is Jack Nicholson’s mob boss, a character so over the top that he becomes annoying whenever he’s on screen. The plot is full of twists and turns but is always predictable, with the only surprise coming in a manner designed to elicit the loudest screams from the audience. And then ending, so obvious and insulting, is totally pointless. It’s such a shame that such talent was wasted, and even more of a shame that most people don’t even realize it’s a waste. Continue reading

The Best Movies of the 2000s: #10-6

10) Finding Nemo
It should be no surprise to anyone to find a Pixar film on this list. If the 2000’s belong to anyone, it’s Pixar. John Lasseter’s studio evolved from a technological revolution to the premier movie production studio of the last decade, culminating in Pixar’s purchase by Disney and Lasseter’s positioning as Disney’s Chief Creative Officer. Finding Nemo was the turning point. Pre-Nemo Pixar films were beautiful, technological achievements, with cute, funny and entertaining stories that offered glimpses of what animation could become. Finding Nemo, however, is a work of art. An epic story, full of heart, endearing characters and some of the most gorgeous visuals, all combined to rock the movie world to its core. The fact that computer animation could be used only as a means to tell a story instead of a fun and gimmicky way to entertain kids was incomprehensible to most studios and viewers. But by the end of Finding Nemo, when you’ve forgotten you’re watching talking fish that come from a computer and you’re rejoicing in the reunion of father and son, you’re experiencing the changing of an entire industry. Continue reading

The Worst Movies of the 2000s: #10-6

10) Hulk
In a decade when superhero movies ruled the box office, Hulk was the worst. The really sad part is that Hulk was supposed to be the cure for the modern superhero movie, adding a layer of depth and artistry rarely seen in the genre. It had a respectable, though not spectacular, cast in Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly and Nick Nolte, but where Hulk really stood out was its director. Ang Lee is an Oscar winning director with films like Sense and Sensibility, The Ice Storm and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, in his resume, and it was quite the coup for Hulk to get someone of his caliber. Even the best director, however, couldn’t have saved this film. The tedious and nonsensical script, the amazingly plastic special effects and the absurd 3rd act combine to doom this movie despite what I can only assume were the sincere efforts of the cast and crew. From a script standpoint, the hero is boring and uninteresting, the military are ridiculously stupid, and the Nick Nolte character is an absolute mess. The effects, wildly hyped pre-release, are passable during night scenes, but the biggest action sequence takes place in the desert in bright sunlight. The Hulk looks rubbery and toy-like at the best of times, and looks worse the more dirt he gets on him. It’s embarrassing when your star creature looks like something you could find in a Wal-Mart bargain bin. As for the final act, I haven’t a clue what was going on. Nick Nolte turned into a giant electrical monster for no apparent reason, but the Hulk somehow stops him. Yay? What was the point? An expensive mess, it still managed to have a sequel that I mercifully skipped. If that’s not Hollywood, I don’t know what is. Continue reading

The Best Movies of the 2000s: #16-11

The 2000s were an interesting decade for movies. Animation became a dominant creative force, with Pixar leading the way. Big budget, action adventure spectacles reached the peak of their critical success, and then began to fade in favor of simpler fare. Cheaply made comedies and horrors are now all the rage. And independent films are no longer independent but “indie” and are manufactured by the studios to make people feel like they’re seeing something from outside the system. Oh, and the professional movie critic has become an endangered species.With all that in mind I offer part 1 of my list of the best films of the 2000s. (For this list I am counting any series of films as one film, since I generally view movies in terms of the overarching storyline rather than as individual films.) Continue reading

The Worst Movies of the 2000s: #16-11

I do my best not to see bad movies. If you look at my average ratings for the films I see, they tend to be pretty high. That’s not me being too soft in my reviews, it’s just that I’m fairly selective in what I see (and getting more selective as time goes by). However, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t seen some real stinkers in the last 10 years. It’s probably a good thing, because it makes me appreciate the good ones more, but it’s hard to feel good about seeing a crap film when you’ve spent 9 dollars on the ticket and 2 hours of your life you can’t get back. Bad movies, for me, tend to fall into three categories: generally awful movies, disappointments, and overhyped/overrated films. So without further ado, here’s part one of my worst movies of the decade list, numbers 16-11. I’m only counting movies I actually saw in the theaters, so there’s no Gigli or Jackass or Napoleon Dynamite, as much as I’d like to include them. Continue reading

The Year in Film: 2006

Well… awards season is upon us once more.  Therefore it’s fitting that I do my list of the top 10 films of 2006.  This was a year without all the big name sequels of 2005 (or 2007), filled with many smart, interesting movies, that unfortunately many people did not see.  My list includes only films eligible for Academy Award nominations (i.e. films that ran for at least a week in a theater in L.A. and were not eligible last year).  This list may change as I still have several films from 2006 to see (most notably Children of Men and Letters from Iwo Jima).

 

Honorable Mentions: The Illusionist, Stranger than Fiction, Lady in the Water, Hoodwinked, V for Vendetta, Monster House, Thank You for Smoking, Snakes on a Plane, Little Miss Sunshine, Flags of Our Fathers, The Pursuit of Happyness.

 

10) Rocky Balboa

I rolled my eyes along with everyone else when I first learned that Sylvester Stallone would finally be making his long-gestating final installment of the Rocky film series.  I was pleasantly surprised to find this wonderful film.  It is exactly everything it needed to be; hopeful, pure, believable, sweet, and badass.  Sly does the best acting of his career and brings the heart to a character that will always stand for how far your heart can truly carry you. 
* A *

 

9) Casino Royale

I think all the Daniel Craig haters have shut up.  Lacking only in a bit of the Bond humor and sleekness, this was the perfect way to “reboot” the franchise.  As long as they don’t try to make the next several movies so gritty that they cease to be Bond and start becoming something else.  (as a side note, please bring back Q and Miss Moneypenny) 
* A- *

 

8) Shut Up & Sing

One of many movies I had to drive an hour to Yuma to see.  I was the only person in the theater for this and it’s truly a shame.  If you want to know my feelings on the Dixie Chicks then read the article I wrote several months ago.  The documentary does a great job of showing us what the ladies went through, and their motivations and reasoning behind what they have done and continue to do.  It offered several moments of great humor, especially the F.U.T.K. shirt, and had a couple scenes that will absolutely break your heart. 
* A *

 

7) United 93

One of the more emotional experiences I’ve ever had at the movies, United 93 will rip your heart open.  Watching the passengers’ last hours and minutes was one of the scariest things I saw on film all year.  The film follows what was in the 9/11 Commission Report pretty exactly, but still manages not to be stiff or heartless.  If you ever want to see a film about some true heroes, check this one out. 
* A- *

 

6) An Inconvenient Truth

Despite some sketchy science (ask my best friend Bess if you want to know more) this documentary definitely deserves a spot in the top 10.  Not only did the film have a good message to deliver, it did so with style, heart, and even a little humor.  People have been preaching the scary truth about how we impact our planet, but it seems like Al Gore (Mr. Lockbox himself) might have finally gotten through to some people.  And it makes a perfect gift for the people in your family who might have their eyes closed. 
* A *

 

5) Cars

Disney/Pixar has always delivered.  I own every Pixar movie on DVD.  They continue to show not only their technical skill (which is becoming more common with other studios) but their endless creativity and imagination.  One of the funniest movies of the year, thanks mainly to Larry the Cable Guy, it also has a heart of the size which can only be expected from Disney. 
* A *

 

4) Happy Feet

If Cars has heart, then Happy Feet has soul.  It is hard to classify and describe due to the vast number of layers and messages that can be found in it, but I will say that I was very touched by this film.  I must also add that Robin Williams continues to set the gold standard for comedic voice acting, and I think “It’s called LAND” might be my favorite quote of the year. 
* A *

 

3) Dreamgirls

Dreamgirls got an A+ in my book and a spot on this list because of one song.  If my showing of Borat had had Jennifer Hudson’s amazing performance of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” in it, then it would have the same honor (and that is saying a lot, because Borat is the worst thing my eyes have ever seen, was the only thing I ever considered walking out of, and is the only thing on my list that does not have a grade next to it).  That one song is possibly (it’s a tough call) the most powerful moment I’ve ever seen in a theater.  I’ve never had a theater burst into applause after a musical number, nor have I ever seen musical acting like that before.  Some say it is second only to Judy Garland in A Star Is Born, but I might (again, tough call) rate it higher.  The rest of the movie is good, especially Eddie Murphy’s performance, though the film falls flat in a few places, and the other musical numbers are smashing.  It was great to see people of many ages and races in the same movie (not something that happens too often); I can’t remember the last time I saw that many elderly white people in a theater along with teenagers of all colors.  If Jennifer Hudson does not win an Oscar (and Murphy should too) then I might have to purchase a new TV after shattering mine in anger. 
* A+ *

 

2) The Queen

The newest edition to this list is The Queen.  An interesting look at the aftermath among the Royal Family and all of the UK of Lady Diana’s death in 1997, this film is best described by the word subtle.  Helen Mirren most definitely deserves the Best Actress Oscar for her amazing performance of Her Majesty Queen Elisabeth II.  She manages to portray a wide range of emotion while maintaining the reserved and private style of the Queen.  The film is practically perfect, from the wonderful script to the nuanced performances.  No moment is wasted, no word, no look, as carefully thought out as the speeches delivered by Tony Blair and the Queen to the people.  Yet despite all of that, Mirren never makes the Queen sound cold or uncaring, and shows her heart and her conflict under the exterior that tradition demands of her. 
* A+ *

 

1) A Prairie Home Companion

For me, by far, the greatest film of the year was Robert Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion.  It is certainly not for everyone.  It is replete with folk music, has a tint of melancholy throughout, and has very little story.  It is, at heart, a moment in time, captured expertly by one of the greatest filmmakers who ever lived (and who died at the end of 2006).  Altman juggles a perfect ensemble cast including Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Kevin Kline, Garrison Keillor, John C. Reilly, Woody Harrelson, Virginia Madsen, Tommy Lee Jones, and (incredibly) Lindsay Lohan.  It is a movie that offers no morals, messages, conclusions, judgments or the like.  It simply is, and what it is, is beautiful.  This is one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen, in the way that it celebrates life, and makes the most out of the moments it is given.  It makes your heart swell with the feeling of the now, and casts aside all worries about the future or sorrows of the past, and on top of all that is vastly entertaining.  I have not laughed any harder in a theater as I did during the “Bad Jokes” song.  Yet true to Altman style, that moment is immediately followed by a moving rendition of “Frankie and Johnny” by Lindsay Lohan (providing the best performance of her career), which is moving not because of the ridiculous song, but because of what it represents to the cast and crew of the show, and therefore what it represents to us.  What I took away from that moment of silliness, is that nothing good ever ends, it just changes, and if you fight hard enough, it will find a way to carry on.
* A+ *

The Year in Movies: 2005

With awards season upon us, I thought I should give you my top ten movies of the year. Just for statistical purposes, I went to the cinema 60 times and saw 42 different films. The complete list of what movies I saw is available if anyone’s interested. I’m only including films eligible for this years Oscars in my top 10 list, since some of the movies I saw in 2005 already got their awards, and some of the movies I’ve seen in 2006 are still eligible, so, that being said, here’s the list (it should be noted that I have yet to see Munich, and that I don’t go see slasher movies or sophomoric comedies).

First, the honorable mentions, films that were good but did not make my top 10 (in no particular order):
King Kong
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Brokeback Mountain
The Producers
Sin City
Kingdom of Heaven
Batman Begins
Memoirs of a Geisha

And now for the top 10:

10) The Constant Gardener
– Though most people never saw this film, they should have. A story about one man’s quest to find out why his wife was killed and to get justice, not vengeance. Ralph Fiennes is a truly special actor, and one of the best in the business. Rachel Weisz is captivating as well. A small piece with big messages and a well told story.

9) March of the Penguins
– Most people know I’m biased towards penguins, and now they can see why. There is nothing cuter than a baby penguin. In addition to the warm and fuzzy feeling of the penguins, this movie tells a story of struggles and hardships undergone just to have one chick. Deeply moving, funny, and totally cute.

8) Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit
– Funniest movie of the year by far, and it can even bring a tear to your eye (if you cry at the drop of a hat, like me). Great sight gags, witty dialogue, and a wonderful story, this had it all. Any worries about the transition from short to long films were put at ease. If this film doesn’t win the best animated picture Oscar, then something is very wrong.

7) Rent
– I had never seen the show, though I had an opportunity to that didn’t work out, and I was truly amazed. This film has many messages to send about gay rights, AIDS, art, love, music, film, dance, anarchy, and so many other potent topics. The music is phenomenal, basically a string of show-stoppers. It’s easy to see why the play was such a success. Most of the original cast of the show was used for the film, which was wonderfully directed by Chris Columbus (of Harry Potter fame). The best musical since Chicago and one that will set the standard for years to come.

6) War of the Worlds
– Spielberg is a genius. This tense thriller has aspects of Jaws, Jurassic Park, and Saving Private Ryan all in one. Despite Tom Cruise’s best attempts to draw attention to himself, he is still a great actor, and Dakota Fanning is amazing as well. The scariest movie I saw this year, and it will haunt you for a long time after. Some of the greatest effects as well. I will see every Spielberg movie until he stops making them.

The top 5:

5) Cinderella Man
– Boxing has always been inherently dramatic, at least on film. This is no exception. Russell Crowe dominates the film, and Renee Zellweger continues to show why she is so sought after. Paul Giamatti is excellent as well. True story movies either float or sink, there’s no in between. This year was a great one for truth in the theater, as 3 of my top 5 were based on true stories.

4) Walk the Line
– Joaquin Phoenix and Reece Witherspoon bring so much feeling to this film as Johnny and June, and not enough can be said about their performances. They did their own singing (something Jamie Foxx didn’t do) and sound remarkable. And the marriage proposal scene at the end is one of the best marriage proposals on film, ever. Truly a film not to be missed.

3) Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
– Should a Harry Potter movie actually be considered one of the best films of the year? Absolutely. Scary, emotional, gripping, exciting, sad, funny, romantic… this film was everything. A huge step up from the other 3 HP films, this one upped the ante for the next 3 to come. The PG-13 rating helped Mike Newell add some weight to the film that he couldn’t have under a PG rating. The 3 leads are spectacular, and they have truly defined their characters in ways Rowling probably could not have imagined.

2) Good Night and Good Luck
– Basically a snapshot of a moment in time, this tells the story of Edward R. Murrow’s historic “battle” with Senator Joseph McCarthy. George Clooney directed, co-starred and co-wrote this film, and his ability is surprising. A short, calm, simple movie about a big turning point for television and politics. Everyone should see this film (don’t be afraid of it being in black and white).

1) Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
– Just for the record, I saw this 9 times in the theater, and for good reason. I know people think I’m biased and silly for picking this my #1, but it deserves it. In addition to being the most powerful film and powerful story of the year, it was one of the most well put together productions I’ve ever seen. It was practically flawless. Much has been said about the acting, but I’ll say this, it works. You may find Anakin annoying, but the character is played exactly as it should be. Ian McDiarmid is outstanding as Emperor Palpatine, and Ewan McGregor is perfect as Obi-Wan. Spectacular fights, spellbinding effects (the opening shot, over a minute long, is almost a ballet between starfighters), believable acting, magnificent direction, heart-wrenching emotion, beautiful sets, costumes and music, and the greatest story all make this #1. The Star Wars saga is one of the greatest stories ever told throughout human history, and no story has ever been told in as grand a fashion as this. George Lucas is a storyteller, not a writer, not a director. He sees everything (as all storytellers do) and can communicate it to us easily, no matter how complex or confusing. The symbols, the archetypes, the motifs… it’s a masterpiece, and it will take its place as the link that forms this amazing story. It will live on forever.