By Ezra Stead
Every year, I struggle with the relatively arbitrary process of ranking movies, so this year I’ve decided to do something a little different. Instead of a traditional Top Ten list, I’m grouping two thematically connected films together for each place on the list, resulting in a hopefully more interesting Top 20 list. I’ve also included a more traditional Top Ten below that, for all you “too long, didn’t read” folks. One final note before we get to the list: it should tell you a lot about my credibility as a film critic that I liked Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa more than most of the Academy Award Best Picture nominees for 2013.
10. THE WICKER MAN: FINAL CUT / JURASSIC PARK 3-D – BEST RE-RELEASES. Obviously, this category doesn’t really count, as both of these films were originally released decades ago, but I can’t deny that each of them provided one of the most enjoyable experiences I had in a movie theater in 2013. This new cut of the original 1973 classic The Wicker Man adds some nuance and more musical numbers to an already great film. Most crucially, it opens with a scene of Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) praying in church, emphasizing his piousness from the very start, which enriches the events to follow. Jurassic Park, on the other hand, is quite simply my favorite movie (it has the most dinosaurs in it – I rest my case), and seeing it on a big screen again, in 3-D no less, made me fall in love with it all over again. Read More
By Ezra Stead
This is one of the most persistent clichés of film criticism: that the book is always better than its film adaptation. More often than not, it’s true, as the novel is generally able to provide a richer, more nuanced character study, not limited to only two senses the way films are. However, in some cases, less is more. Here are seven films that I would argue are even better than the books on which they are based.
1. THE MALTESE FALCON (1941) – Dashiell Hammet’s original 1930 detective novel is a masterpiece of stylistic economy, so faithfully adapted by director John Huston that reading the novel is almost like reading an exceptionally detailed treatment for the film. However, eight simple words improvised by Humphrey Bogart as detective Sam Spade make all the difference. When asked what the titular bird sculpture is at the end of the film, Spade says, “It’s the stuff that dreams are made of.” This classic, oft-quoted line of dialogue has become the most memorable moment of the film, a subtle commentary on filmmaking itself, especially of the Hollywood “Dream Factory” variety, of which The Maltese Falcon was itself a part. The line is nowhere to be found in the book, and that alone is enough to warrant the film’s inclusion on this list. Read More
By Ezra Stead
Well, it’s that time once again, and as always, I didn’t get around to a lot of the films I would have liked to see – as I write this, a DVD of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris sits on my desk, glaring at me – but there comes a time when every movie lover has to call it a year. I have somewhat arbitrarily picked today as that time, so here now are my top 10 favorite films of 2011:
# 10) MELANCHOLIA – anyone with whom I talk movies already knows how much I love Lars von Trier, and though this is definitely not my favorite of his films (2003’s Dogville still takes that honor), it is nonetheless a striking and powerful depiction of the nature of depression, as well as a highly unusual and compelling look at what the impending apocalypse might feel like. The stunning opening and closing sequences alone make this film impossible to ignore, or to forget. Read More
By Scott Martin
The American, USA, 2010
Directed by Anton Corbijn
This is a film that exists nervously in the pits of our stomachs. Director Anton Corbijn knows the value of undue paranoia and cleverly exploits his characters’ emotional states, birthing a labyrinth of intrigue and questionable motives. Butterflies are present throughout the entire film, existing as both a motif and symbolism for our lead character’s life. He has a butterfly tattoo on his hand; he falls asleep reading a book regarding butterflies. People begin to know him by this trademark. In fact, it’s one of only a few truths we have about him: he’s interested in butterflies, he kills people for a living, and his weakness (like any classic movie character) is love, and in a film as patient and caring as this one, we’re afforded the time to focus on all of these truths.
The story itself is fairly simple: an assassin hides in Italy while conducting his last assignment. He is given a task by his boss, Pavel (Johan Leysen), to assist another assassin with a weapons exchange. He builds her a gun. During his stay, he befriends a priest and a prostitute. The dynamic in all of these relationships is the existence of sin. Despite the warm world that Corbijn creates for us, there is an underlying sense of dread throughout the project. He assigns a color palette to the film from the first frame, using warm earth tones to put his audience at ease. Our prostitute is given her own opposing colors, and by the end we don’t know which spectra to trust. It’s the understanding of small detail that Corbijn shows that is the genuine pay-off for his audience, if we pay close attention. Read More
By Scott Martin
Kung Fu Panda 2, USA, 2011
Directed by Jennifer Yuh
Perhaps the most important aspect of Kung Fu Panda 2 (and I never thought I would type this) is that the series is aging with its fans; so much so that I could expect Panda 3 to be the most adult of the series. They’ve already started exploring more personal themes than the last entry, which mostly took the themes of following your heart and believing in yourself and employed them. Here, the story deepens more than you might expect, dealing with themes of adoption, unrequited love, and acceptance of others. More importantly, the imagination of the film has grown tenfold.
Of course, there’s a bit of formula; you can’t escape the fact that it’s a kid’s movie, but it gets further away from the drama-killing formula that impeded the first film. When I sat down in the movie theater in 2008, I knew exactly what I was getting. It was going to be a film about a goofy “man-boy” (bear-cub?) panda who doesn’t quite belong, who gets a Jungian call to duty to learn kung fu and save his village. Here, that formula is side-stepped in favor of a generally engrossing and slightly depressing storyline. Po (voiced by Jack Black) finds out that he’s adopted and wants to find his biological parents, he’s in love with Tigress (voiced by Angelina Jolie), who may or may not share his feelings, and the entire country of China is under attack by a villain who has a cannon that shoots a blast so powerful it wipes out any trace of the kung fu that seems to be the nation’s bread-and-butter. So Po and his Furious Five – Tigress, Crane (voiced by David Cross), Mantis (voiced by Seth Rogen), Monkey (voiced by Jackie Chan), and Viper (voiced by Lucy Liu) – go off to defeat it; but how do you use kung fu to stop something that stops kung fu? “By finding inner peace,” Po’s mentor, Master Shinfu (voiced by Dustin Hoffman), tells him. That’s heavy. Read More