Jason and Ezra discuss the basic elements of good and bad film. From dramas to comedies, action to science fiction, good and bad movies come in many forms and take on many critics. Here are just a few examples as we ponder the idea of what makes a good film good and a bad film bad.
Everyyear, 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
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 Parissits 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
If you watch Drive on a superficial level, you get a bad-ass action film – a slow burning, tightly paced one, at that – but if you watch it from a critical standpoint, you’ll notice more than one polite tip of the hat to Taxi Driver (1976), slight turns from Martin Scorsese’s directorial play-book by director Nicolas Winding Refn. Really, Drive could be viewed as a pastiche of action movies and westerns from the glory days of Hollywood in the 70’s and 80’s era.
Ryan Gosling has a skill for determining the darker aspects of characters that appear to be a little blank on paper. In 2001, he played a self-hating neo-Nazi Jew in Henry Bean’s The Believer; in 2010, he was a failing husband in Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine (I really hope you all saw that); and here, he’s the wheel-man with no name. He goes by “the kid,” and that’s barely a term of endearment from the man who took him in. He has a hell of a job: he’s a stunt driver for the movies by day, and a getaway driver at night. Of course, he’s freelance all the way. When a producer needs a flawless car crash, he’s the guy, and when a mob king needs a flawless getaway, there’s nobody better. He works with a man named Shannon (Bryan Cranston) who gave him a job years before the movie (and the kid’s criminal activity) started. Read More
Why can’t Hollywood put out more movies like this? Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive is a superbly well-crafted modern film noir that expertly builds and breaks tension, alternating between heart-pounding suspense, lyrical moments of quiet human connection and graphically violent action setpieces that should manage to shock even the most jaded viewers. It also contains some of the most exciting car chase scenes since Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse feature Death Proof (2007), beginning with the opening sequence.
And what a sequence it is. The beginning of this film is a master class in how to build cinematic tension. After a brief, beautifully shot introduction in which Driver (Ryan Gosling) outlines the rules of his business as a getaway driver, we see him on a heist with two unknown criminals. As promised, he gives them five minutes to carry off a robbery, then drives them to safety before disappearing into the night, as anonymous to the two criminals as he is to the cops he helps them evade. Using a police radio in order to track their progress in attempting to catch him, Driver uses his wits and consummate skill in the profession that bears his name (a small joke on my part; his actual name is never said in the film) to outsmart numerous patrol cars and even a police helicopter without ever breaking a sweat. It is a bravura opening perfectly set to a brilliant score by Cliff Martinez, perhaps best known as Steven Soderbergh’s favorite composer, that subtly evokes a ticking stopwatch in this scene in order to underscore the tension. Read More