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
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 Ezra Stead
Drive, USA, 2011
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
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
By Ezra Stead
Since M. Night Shyamalan’s much-ballyhooed 1999 feature The Sixth Sense, twist endings have gotten something of a bad rap, and usually with good reason. After all, in many cases they are a cheap way to add excitement to the climax of an otherwise dull story; sometimes they are a cop-out, negating all emotional involvement that may have been invested in a film up until that point; others seem to be the sole reason for a story’s existence, without which the whole thing crumbles. On the other hand, when they work, twist endings can make a good film great, and they occasionally even reward repeat viewings by revealing previously unseen layers that can only be recognized once the conclusion of the story is known.
As rightly reviled as are many recent examples of the technique, especially many of Shyamalan’s subsequent efforts, there are also many laudable examples to be found among some of history’s greatest cinematic achievements, old and new. Widely respected filmmakers from Alfred Hitchcock to David Fincher and Christopher Nolan have successfully employed the well-placed twist to wonderful effect, and even Orson Welles’s immortal classic Citizen Kane, considered by many to be the greatest American film ever made, concludes with what can only be deemed an elegant, emotionally rich twist ending. Read More