Directed by John BoormanUnited States | 1972
The story itself is simple, taking the classic “man’s return to nature” archetype and using it to profoundly disturbing effect… the film seems to suggest Carl Jung’s quote that “Too much of the animal disfigures the civilized human being, too much culture makes a sick animal.” Deliverance presents the endless struggle between the two and, in doing so, manages to transcend its modernly tepid shock value.
Directed by Peter WeirUnited States, United Arab Emirates | 2010
It’s in the desert that the seeds of character development finally bear fruit. We see the group struggle to find water. Mister Smith spots an oasis to the east, but is begged by Janusz to continue south as he thinks it a mirage. After an arduous montage, there’s a brief respite at the oasis, merely a water well and a few skinny trees. The survival motif truly reaches harrowing levels after this, with some of the party dying before they leave the desert. One of these death scenes, in particular, is beautifully composed while heartbreaking and all by itself redeems the slow build-up. At this point, Weir’s characters have earned our investment in their journey, but, sadly, the reward for our patience is their agony and demise.
Directed by Martin BrestUnited States | 1988
Perhaps much of this freshness is due to the fact that Midnight Run gets the small moments and gestures right as much (if not more so) than it’s big ones. The quiet, character building sequences are likely more critical to the film’s success than any of its action. Walsh’s reunion with his ex-wife and daughter, for instance, has a real sense of heartache and loss to it, while the film’s ending, as Ebert deftly said, has a genuinely moving intimacy in a film that manages to earn it.
Directed by Peter FlinthSweden | 2007
Director Peter Flinth and cinematographer Erik Kress do some amazing things making dreary skies, woods, and stone look more full of life than waning legend Ridley Scott did in last year’s ill-conceived Robin Hood update. Flinth and Kress never fail to evoke their ever-changing tones, switching up tender romance to the quiet menace of jealousy and betrayal to the dread of citizen soldiers squaring off against a seasoned army for the first (and last) time.
Directed by Henri-Georges ClouzotFrance, Italy | 1953
These themes are telescoped in the film’s opening shot (a lesson in film economy, this takes all of 20 seconds), which features cockroaches, loosely twined together, being tortured wantonly by a half-naked child. An ice-cream vendor passes, distracting the child away; the child returns to the captive playthings, but a vulture has taken their place. It’s sleight-of-pan; Clouzot does this with a single shot. Cruelty, shortsightedness, opportunism—all succinctly addressed in the opening seconds. Of course, that’s what you think about afterward. For Clouzot’s purposes, it serves the moment, sets the tone. This place of vultures, he’s convincing us from the start, is not a place you want to be, and it only gets worse.
Directed by Peter ManoogianUnited States | 1986
She and the Mandroid decide to go seek their revenge on Dr. Reeves and stop whatever evil, ill-defined plan he is concocting. So far, so good. Eliminators has taken all the major elements of The Terminator and rearranged them in such a muddled, haphazard way you can’t quite accuse it of plagiarism. It’s almost as if the filmmakers hadn’t actually seen The Terminator themselves, but were basing their movie off of a friend’s drunken, half-remembered recounting of the plot. There’s even an awkward attempt at establishing a catchphrase along the lines of Schwarzenegger’s “I’ll be back.”
Directed by Steve WangUnited States | 1997
Before Jason Statham and Crank there stood Dacascos as Toby Wong, a diminutive Chinese martial arts expert with a bio-engine in his chest that afforded him super-fast reflexes and super-human strength. The problem is that Toby doesn’t really want to continue working for The Leung Corporation that installed his engine. The love of a good woman (now deceased, of course) freed him of the will to be a covert assassin and now he’s journeyed to California to sell the technology to another, presumably slightly less evil, corporate entity.
Directed by Mamoru HosodaJapan | 2009 Even the pervasiveness of CGI in modern science fiction films is a (frequently lame) attempt to incorporate that abstract and creative freedom. But what most Hollywood studios haven’t figured out is that the reality in front of a camera’s lens and the reality created out of a nothing on a blank page will inevitably clash. The more they integrate, the more we fall into that nasty Uncanny Valley. I simply couldn’t imagine the finale, which features an enormous hulking shadow monster of the AI battling against Kazuma, Natsuki and Kenji, ever being replicated in CGI-integrated live-action.
Directed by Ethan Coen, Joel CoenUnited States | 2010
[Mattie] is hurled backwards by the force of the gun into a cavernous hole in the ground where a pack of snakes emerge from the torso of a skeleton. It’s like a punishment delivered from on high, while Rooster’s subsequent cutting and sucking from her hand where a snake bit it (which removes the farcical quality of an earlier, similar scene of Rooster violently pulling out LaBoeuf’s tooth) seems to have an almost cosmic sense of karma. True Grit ‘s concluding twenty minutes possess an iconic mournfulness missing from the rest of the film, climaxing in a poetic collage of superimpositions of Rooster carrying Mattie home on a fatigued horse that obliquely recalls F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise.
Directed by Ethan Coen, Joel CoenUnited States | 2010
As played by Josh Brolin, [Chaney] is a backwards idiot who has a tragically funny voice that constantly mumbles, “Everything is against me,” not the monster we have imagined through Mattie’s description and the trail of his misdeeds—a perpetual loser, someone who never gets a lucky break. Upon sitting with him again, he is, as Josh Brolin has said in an interview, “bizarrely conversational” and it seems that even Mattie feels sorry for him. This complicates the morality of vengeance as well as the satisfaction of finding what you have nearly killed yourself looking for (that is, of course, until Chaney turns into the sociopath we have suspected him to be). The Coens didn’t have to do much else than stick to the source material to make a Coens film.
Directed by Ethan Coen, Joel CoenUnited States | 2010
Which brings me to the film’s second major problem. For much of the run-time, our heroes are in pursuit of the big, bad Tom Chaney. LaBoeuf talks about his previous crimes, including the murder of a Texas state senator, and how it’s tricky for even just two men to try and take him alive. Chaney is painted as a ruthless super-villain; so when we finally meet him and discover that he’s a just a dirty half-wit with an underbite the air is completely sucked out of the rest of the story. The cliché that a movie is only as good as its antagonist is especially true here. I guess the message is that Chaney is dangerous because he’s dumb and mean, but as a force to be reckoned with, he may be the lamest outlaw in the history of westerns.
Directed by Danny BoyleUnited States, United Kingdom | 2010
Boyle fetishizes the whiz-bang technology at his disposal, copying the aesthetic of early David Fincher, early Darren Aronofsky, and modern Neveldine/Taylor, without asking himself whether or not that aesthetic applies to the story he’s trying to tell. With Fight Club, Requiem for a Dream and Crank, the amped-up shots, kooky transitions and bizarre sound effects contributed to the audience’s understanding of their characters’ psychotic, drugged-out states. The key is that—in most cases—the directors knew when to tone down the silliness to balance out the frenzy with drama. 127 Hours is one note, all the way through, and it plays less like an adventurer facing down death at a glacier’s pace than an aloof MTV reality star recording absolutely everything while overdosing on Mountain Dew.
Directed by Lee UnkrichUnited States | 2010
If the film falls short of its predecessors it’s that this diversity can frequently come off as a lack of focus, rather than as an organic mixture. Unusual for a Pixar film, Toy Story 3 actually takes some time to establish its primary conflict. The opening one appears almost as a reprise of the second film, with the theme of toys lamenting their owners growing up. The debate between Woody and the other toys never seems to feel as natural as the ones in the first two films, and the action-centric second and third acts seem to forsake character for more superficial entertainment.
Directed by Steven SeagalUnited States | 1994
Like Tommy Wisseau’s The Room, Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce or John Woo’s Heroes Shed No Tears, Steven Seagal’s On Deadly Ground exists in a realm separate and distinct from bad or good. It’s just funny. “So bad it’s good” funny. The film ushered in the steep decline in Seagal’s credibility even if he managed a few more films that at least were watchable before descending to the lowest depths of action movie hell where he’s resided for about a decade now. This is the end.
Directed by Terrence MalickUnited States, United Kingdom | 2005
The visuals, while still incredibly strong, can’t quite match the sheer beauty of Days of Heaven, the elegiac tone of Badlands or the terrifying power of The Thin Red Line, and its best moments seem far too fleeting and fragmentary (a criticism that might fit the entire film, actually). The length proves more of a detriment than a strength as it forces Malick into repetitions that add nothing to the film; I lost count of how many scenes we have with Smith and Pocahontas frolicking and flirting in nature.
Directed by Alister GriersonAustralia, United States | 2010
Characters also engage in a kind of verbal melodrama that suggests “action moments”, as if they are participating in a trailer for a film rather than a film itself. Elsewhere, nonstop dramatic music is supposed to substitute for pathos. When will modern filmmakers learn that music is a tool of punctuation, contrast, to accompany or even multiply the meaning of images, and not the show itself? Sanctum might be 15% better if you deleted 90% of its excess score. It still wouldn’t be good, but perhaps it might achieve something like a mood.
Directed by Ridley ScottUnited States, United Kingdom | 2010
For most, the comparisons would end there, and I certainly won’t compare the depth, humanity and poignancy, nor the dramatic form or characterizations of Shakespeare to Robin Hood. These relative failings have largely been the focus of the negative reviews leveled at it, frequently concluding that this is nothing but yet another empty-headed epic. Yet I think these criticisms have missed the heart of the film, which lies in its pristine, neo-classical craftsmanship.
Directed by Dean BeBlois, Chris SandersUnited States | 2010
Aiding the visuals is a truly cinematographic sensibility guided by the great DP Roger Deakins who was a consultant on the film. Deakins’ versatility is all over the lighting schemes of the film, effortlessly gliding from the luminous glows of fire in the night scenes to the eerie, low contrast fog and greenery of the forest. Even the interiors are given an attention to photographic detail in regards to candle lit shadow movement. If Deakins lends the film a visual touch, then John Powell’s phenomenal score helps to galvanize the film from beginning to end. The main triumphant theme soars to glorious heights in the first flying scene and the last battle.