He’s a performance artist, published author, gala host, former soap star, college student, professor, and one of the most prolific film actors currently working in Hollywood. This week, James Franco is keeping busy as the director and star of The Disaster Artist, which dramatizes outsider hero Tommy Wiseau’s efforts to bring his infamous The Room to the big screen, so we decided now would be the perfect time to take a fond look back at some of the brightest critical highlights from Franco’s bustling career. From indie flicks to blockbusters, he’s been in just about every kind of picture — and we’re ranking them here while inviting you to rank your own favorites. It’s time for Total Recall!
(Photo by Monterey Media)
As if it weren’t enough that Memoria served as one of a whopping nine movies Franco released in 2016, it’s also based on a short story he wrote — all of which might make it sound like the vanity project to end all vanity projects, if not for the universally positive critical reception it earned during its limited release. Granted, at five reviews, we’re dealing with a limited sample size — at a certain point, Franco becomes too prolific even for people paid to watch the movies — but a rave is a rave, and this quiet character study about a troubled Bay Area teen earned its share, with its author’s supporting turn as a concerned teacher helping anchor the drama. “Despite clocking in at a scant 70 minutes,” wrote Michael Rechtshaffen for the Los Angeles Times, “Memoria manages to make a hauntingly poetic impression.”
(Photo by Focus Features)
Sean Penn rightly received most of the many accolades afforded this 2008 biopic of assassinated political activist Harvey Milk, but director Gus Van Sant wasn’t content to let his movie rest on its star’s performance — he rounded out the cast of Milk with a number of actors whose seamlessly committed performances helped make it one of the most lauded films of the year. Franco fills a supporting role here as Scott Smith, Milk’s onetime lover (and, eventually, the executor of his will), who moves to San Francisco with him during the first act and helps him start his political career. Franco’s work earned him an MTV Movie Awards nomination for Best Kiss — and helped inspire Tom Long of the Detroit News to write, “Progress is slow, but Harvey Milk was one of the first to set the wheels in motion. He more than deserves a movie this good.”
(Photo by Chuck Zlotnick/Fox Searchlight Pictures)
(Photo by Columbia Pictures)
Long before Tom Holland swung into the MCU as Spider-Man, Tobey Maguire brought Marvel’s wall-crawler to the big screen in director Sam Raimi’s blockbuster trilogy — and Franco joined the core ensemble cast as Harry Osborn, Peter Parker’s best pal and the future Green Goblin. Harry’s tortured arc helped form the backbone of Raimi’s overarching narrative throughout the three films, and although Spider-Man 3 proved a dissatisfying low note for the end of this chapter in Spidey’s big-screen life, the movies together helped pave the way for the looming great golden age of superheroes at the box office; more importantly, as Mick LaSalle observed for the San Francisco Chronicle, they offered “Smart, fun entertainment made by people who took nothing for granted, including the audience.”
(Photo by Suzanne Hanover/Sony Pictures)
If an actor is playing themselves in a movie, should it count as one of their best performances? More often than not, we’d say no — but we’re making an exception for the gloriously loopy This Is the End, in which some of Hollywood’s sharpest young talent play exaggerated (or straight up invented) versions of themselves against the backdrop of the apocalypse. The end of the world, naturally, is witnessed from Franco’s abode, where he’s hosting a house party (including Seth Rogen, Danny McBride, Jonah Hill, and Emma Watson) when things go haywire. The end result, while decidedly not for all tastes, hits its comedic targets far more often than it misses; as Dana Stevens observed for Slate, “This Is the End, true to its subject matter, is as funny as hell.”
(Photo by 20th Century Fox Film Corp.)
(Photo by Paramount Pictures)
In addition to taking a supporting role, Franco also donned his producer’s hat for Goat, a harrowing drama from director/co-writer Andrew Neel about a college freshman (Ben Schnetzer) whose efforts to fit in on campus include pledging his older brother’s fraternity — a fateful decision that soon goes violently wrong, further complicating a young life already shadowed by horrific violence. Like a good number of Franco’s film efforts, it was destined for limited release and aimed outside the mainstream, but for many of the critics who screened it, this hard-hitting coming-of-age story — distinguished by a scene-stealing turn from former pop idol Nick Jonas — proved difficult to shake. “This isn’t an easy film to watch,” admitted the Washington Post’s Stephanie Merry. “But it’s even harder to forget.”
(Photo by Monterey Media)
One of several films drawing from Franco’s 2010 short story collection Palo Alto, this 2015 indie drama weaves together “Yosemite” and “Peter Parker,” a pair of stories from the book, to observe moments in the lives of three fifth-grade boys in 1985. As with other Palo Alto-derived movies, Franco produced and starred but didn’t write or direct; here, he handed the reins to writer-director Gabrielle Demeestere and appeared in one segment as Phil, a father taking a trip to the titular park with his son (Everett Meckler). While certainly not one of his more widely seen efforts, it ranks among his most satisfying for the majority of critics who reviewed it — including the Village Voice’s Alan Scherstuhl, who wrote, “Yosemite mines Franco’s fiction for its most vital quality: his unsentimental depiction of youthful insecurity, this time among fifth-graders.”
(Photo by First Look International)
(Photo by Warner Bros. courtesy Everett Collection)
In this Paul Haggis drama, Franco took a supporting role alongside Jason Patric as one of two politely dismissive Army officers who interfere with the efforts of a grieving father (played by Tommy Lee Jones) to uncover the facts of his son’s gruesome murder. Though its Iraq War overtones didn’t do it many favors with audiences, and some critics felt Haggis took an excessively heavy-handed approach, most were able to appreciate In the Valley of Elah’s message — and the hard questions it asked in a time of war. “After the potent final image faded to black,” wrote Aisle Seat’s Mike McGranaghan, “I had that very special tingle I get when I know I’ve just seen a great movie.”
This week, Chadwick Boseman stars in Marshall, a new drama chronicling an early case in the career of Thurgood Marshall, the man who would become the first African-American US Supreme Court Justice and preside over several milestone cases, including Brown v. Board of Education. To mark the occasion, we’ve put together a list of 10 more films about Americans whose monumental accomplishments and lasting legacies have impacted the country in immeasurable ways.
This week on streaming video, we’ve got an Oscar-winning drama, a raunchy animated film, and a handful of smaller films on subscription services, while new titles available on FandangoNOW include a couple of Oscar nominees this year, an old Hollywood classic, a John Wayne western, and more. Read on for the full list.
Sean Penn won a Best Actor Oscar and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for their work in Gus Van Sant’s biopic of slain San Francisco politician and gay rights advocate Harvey Milk.
Available now on: Netflix
Seth Rogen and Kristen Wiig lend their voices to this raunchy animated comedy for adults about a number of supermarket food items who suffer a crisis of faith when they realize their purpose is to be devoured by humans.
Available 2/23 on Netflix
This first successful collaboration between director Jeff Nichols and star Michael Shannon centers on two families linked by the same father who become bitter rivals when the father dies.
Available now on: Amazon Prime
This Certified Fresh documentary tells the story of a 40-year-old housewife who became the talk of the literary world when she penned an acclaimed but fictional autobiography under the titular pseudonym, a young male writer.
Available now on: Amazon Prime
This documentary follows five different teenagers — each of whom fits a specific high school stereotype — in a small Indiana town as they experience their senior year.
Available now on: Amazon Prime
This period drama centers on a 14-year-old boy in 1950s who trains to run the Boston Marathon in hopes that winning the race will miraculously pull his mother out of a coma.
Available now on: Amazon Prime
One of the best movies ever made about movies, Billy Wilder’s portrait of a delusional Hollywood has-been holed up in a decaying mansion is darkly funny, deeply poignant, and features terrific performances from Gloria Swanson, William Holden, and Erich von Stroheim.
Available now on: FandangoNOW
Newcomer Auli’i Cravalho and Dwayne Johnson lend their voices to Disney’s latest treat, about a Polynesian chieftain’s daughter who is tasked with tracking down demigod Maui in an effort to save her tribe.
Available now on: FandangoNOW
This animated biopic from Japan tells the story of 19th century artist Katsushika Ōi, whose masterfully painted portraits and erotic sketches were sold under the name of her famous father.
Available now on: FandangoNOW
Hayden Christensen and Peter Sarsgaard star in this drama based on true events about Stephen Glass, a promising young writer who rose quickly in the journalism world until his career was marred by scandal.
Available now on: FandangoNOW
Natalie Portman stars in this portrait of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy during the days immediately following the assassination of JFK.
Available now on: FandangoNOW
Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr. star in David Fincher’s gripping retelling of the real-life search for the notorious Zodiac serial killer who terrorized San Francisco during the 1980s. This director’s cut is five minutes longer than the theatrical release.
Available now on: FandangoNOW
John Wayne and Geraldine Page star in this western about a cavalry scout who attempts to protect a frontierswoman from an impending Apache attack.
Available now on: FandangoNOW
This documentary examines the lives of juvenile offenders in the California penal system.
Available now on: FandangoNOW
William H. Macy and Maria Bello star in this drama about an unlucky gambler in severe debt whose luck starts to change when he meets an alluring cocktail waitress.
Available now on: FandangoNOW
This horror anthology film includes four stories all directed by women — including Karyn Kusama and Annie Clark (aka singer/songwriter St. Vincent) — framed by stop-motion animated segments.
Available now on: FandangoNOW
Alan Ball’s supernatural HBO drama, based on the books by Charlaine Harris, imagines a world in which vampires are out in the open and in conflict with each other about whether to live in peace with humans or to prey on them.
Available now on: FandangoNOW
From his breakout appearance as beloved stoner Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High to his Academy Award-winning efforts as a dramatic actor, Sean Penn has had a remarkable journey. This weekend, he’s adding “action hero” to his résumé with The Gunman, so in honor of Mr. Penn’s cinematic exploits, we decided to dedicate this week’s list to some of the brightest highlights from his distinguished (and quite eclectic) filmography. It’s time for Total Recall!
Before New Jack City and the decade of hard-hitting urban cop dramas that followed, there was 1988’s Colors, starring Penn and Robert Duvall as a pair of LAPD officers out to purge the streets of gang activity — when they aren’t clashing with one another over their conflicting methods of serving and protecting the public, that is. There’s truly no shortage of movies that start from the same rough setup, but director Dennis Hopper — working from a script by Crimson Tide writer Michael Schiffer — had a tremendous cast to work with, including a roster of solid supporting players (among them Maria Conchita Alonso and Don Cheadle) to ground what might otherwise have proven an overly familiar tale. “There’s great pleasure in watching these two actors work,” wrote Hal Hinson for the Washington Post. “And Hopper, a great actor himself, knows what they need to thrive.”
Director Phil Joanou opened his career with a better-than-average teen comedy (Three O’Clock High) and a well-intentioned, albeit indulgent rockumentary (U2: Rattle and Hum) — which is to say that few could have expected that he had it in him to helm a drama as tense and gripping as 1990’s State of Grace. Starring Penn as an undercover cop whose latest case tests his loyalty to his best friend (played by Gary Oldman) — not to mention his affection for his friend’s sister (Robin Wright) — Grace exploited an instantly recognizable formula while transcending it thanks to outstanding acting from its leads. Calling it “a superior gangland drama that deals imaginatively with the familiar themes of family, friendship and loyalty,” Don Groves of SBS wrote, “Wild-eyed and sporting lank, greasy hair, Oldman dominates the screen as a truly terrifying character, while Penn effectively portrays a man battling with diametrically-opposed emotions.”
By the time Casualties of War arrived in 1989, filmgoers had already seen a growing list of films about the wretched aftermath of the Vietnam War, including dramatic hits such as The Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now, and Platoon as well as action-driven blockbusters like the Rambo trilogy — which might go a little way towards explaining why they failed to show up for Brian De Palma’s Casualties of War, in which Penn and Michael J. Fox take opposing sides in the nightmarish conflict within an American patrol squad that erupts as the war rages on around the soldiers. A solid hit with critics who offered Penn another round of hosannas and expressed surprised admiration for Fox’s strong dramatic turn, Casualties lost money at the box office while earning praise from scribes such as Michael Wilmington of the Los Angeles Times, who wrote, “There’s a moral charge to the action, but it’s also swooningly exciting, coldly scary. Every friend may be an enemy, every innocent a traitor.”
The ’80s produced no shortage of Cold War dramas, but 1985’s The Falcon and the Snowman is utterly unlike any of them. Rather than a pulse-pounding thriller coasting on patriotism-driven intrigue, this fact-based, John Schlesinger-directed effort stars Penn as an opportunist drug dealer who finds himself lured into selling government secrets after he’s approached by a defense contractor (Timothy Hutton) who becomes disillusioned after realizing the U.S. government’s overseas activities aren’t always as noble as he’d once believed — and whose rather impulsive decision to commit treason soon finds both men struggling to control forces well beyond their control. “It’s a watchable, likely accurate recitation of facts, with two outstanding performances,” wrote Nick Rogers for Suite101. “But in the case of The Falcon and the Snowman, the truth we don’t see onscreen may be stranger, and stronger, than the historical fiction that has been created.”
Nothing gets a cineaste’s anticipation humming like news of a new Terrence Malick film — and since Malick is nothing if not deliberate, we had plenty of time to hum over Tree of Life. Originally announced in the wake of Malick’s 2005 effort The New World, it tumbled down the release schedule throughout 2009 and 2010 before finally bowing in May 2011 — all 139 inscrutable minutes of it. The product of Malick’s progressively harder-to-contain ambition, Life took viewers from the dawn of life to the 21st century, leaving plenty of room for solid acting from Penn, Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain — as well as hosannas from critics like the Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern, who deemed it “Daring in concept, occasionally daffy in execution and ultimately unforgettable” as well as “a heartfelt answer to the question of where we humans belong — with each other, on this planet, bound by love.”
1986 was the best of times and the worst of times for Sean Penn in the critics’ circle: August brought the roundly derided Shanghai Surprise, co-starring our subject and his newlywed bride Madonna in one of the decade’s most infamous flops, but April found him in a different — and altogether more successful — kind of family affair. At Close Range placed Penn alongside his brother Chris in director James Foley’s bleak crime drama about a mob boss (a mustachioed Christopher Walken) whose return from exile upends the lives of his grown sons. In spite of its compelling story and excellent cast — which included Mary Stuart Masterson, Kiefer Sutherland, and Crispin Glover — the movie didn’t make much of an impact at the box office, but it resonated with critics like James Sanford of the Kalamazoo Gazette, who called it “a dark jewel of a drama, with first-rate performances.”
Hollywood stories about childhood loyalties divided by adult lives that unfold on opposite sides of the law aren’t exactly in short supply, and really never have been — but when you have Clint Eastwood behind the camera, Brian Helgeland writing the script from a Dennis Lehane book, and a cast packed with reliable names like Penn, Laura Linney, Marcia Gay Harden, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, and Laurence Fishburne, you’re pretty much guaranteed a terrific movie. That’s exactly what filmgoers got with 2003’s Mystic River, which transcended its rather familiar framework to earn over $150 million at the box office and a pair of Oscars, including one awarded to Penn for his portrayal of Jimmy Markum, a gangster whose life is upended when his daughter is murdered — and the investigation rekindles his connection with an old friend (Bacon) who’s grown up to be a police detective and has to face the possibility that the crime was committed by another of their youthful buddies (Tim Robbins). It sounds like the stuff of bullet-riddled melodrama, but few mainstream authors spin literary gold out of pulp as reliably as Lehane, and with Eastwood’s flinty direction providing a solid foundation for his stellar cast, River deserved the praise of critics such as Eleanor Ringel Gillespie of the Atlanta Journal-Constiution, who wrote, “Eastwood has handed Penn the role of a lifetime, and the actor scorches the screen with his anguish and angry vengefulness.”
The word “iconic” is sorely overused, but Penn’s portrayal of the blissfully zonked stoner Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High richly deserves it — and it was followed by a complete 180 in 1983’s Bad Boys, a grim teen drama from director Rick Rosenthal about a petty hood (Penn) whose thirst for bigger scores puts him on a collision course with a rival (Esai Morales) that ultimately lands them both in the same hellish juvenile correctional facility. While plenty of critics took issue with Bad Boys‘ unrelentingly dark tone (and expressed astonishment that it was directed by the same person responsible for Halloween II), most agreed that whatever the movie’s problems, it was substantially elevated by powerful performances from its stable of young actors, most particularly Penn. “Bad Boys misses its chance at greatness, but it’s saying something that this movie had a chance,” mused Roger Ebert. “I have a notion it will stand as one of those benchmark movies that we’ll look back at for the talent it introduced.”
Nine times out of 10, when you see a movie poster that focuses on a man and a woman, their characters are romantically involved. Not so 1995’s true events-inspired Dead Man Walking, starring Penn as a death row inmate and Susan Sarandon as Sister Helen Prejean, the real-life nun whose experiences advocating on behalf of a pair of convicted killers inspired her to write the non-fiction book of the same name — and pursue a life of speaking out against the death penalty. It’s harrowing stuff all the way around, ably adapted by writer-director Tim Robbins and achingly brought to life by his cast; both Penn and Sarandon as well as Robbins were nominated for Oscars in their respective categories, and while Sarandon was the only one who won, each of the trio were lauded by critics for their part in what the Washington Post’s Hal Hinson deemed “An intelligent, balanced, devastating movie.”
Actors have earned acclaim for starring roles in biopics often enough that it’s easy to be cynical about the genre as a whole — but it’s just as easy to understand why Penn picked up his second Best Actor Oscar for his work in Milk. Directed by Gus Van Sant from a Dustin Lance Black screenplay, it stars Penn as Harvey Milk, the activist whose promising political career was cut short when he was assassinated by a fellow member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1978, and surrounds his wholly committed performance with stellar contributions from a talented stable that also included James Franco, Emile Hirsch, and Josh Brolin as Milk’s killer Dan White. While it wasn’t a massive box office hit, Milk more than made up in plaudits what it lacked in dollar grosses, with more than a few critics singling out Penn for praise in a production with no shortage of brilliance. As Andrew O’Hehir wrote for Salon, “I don’t know that this is Penn’s best performance, overall — let’s have that debate some other time — but as far as the mannered, immersive impersonations of his later career go, Harvey Milk takes the cake.”
Finally, here’s a compilation of some of Penn’s best moments as the legendary Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High:
Home video enthusiasts, prepare yourself for what may be the best week ever! This week you’ll have to choose between Academy Award flicks Rachel Getting Married (Best Actress Nominee, Anne Hathaway) and Milk (Best Actor, Sean Penn), plus a few films that should have been honored at this year’s Oscars (Happy-Go-Lucky, Let the Right One In). Next, consider a Certified Fresh comedy (Role Models), a Charlie Kaufman original (Synecdoche, New York), and a pair of period pics (Cadillac Records, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas). We won’t judge if you give Jason Statham’s latest a spin (Transporter 3), but we do insist that Blu-ray viewers pay attention to a few key re-mastered releases (Pinocchio 70th Anniversary Edition, The Batman Anthology). Dig in to RT on DVD for more!
Anne Hathaway put those Princess Diaries days behind her with an excellent (and Oscar-nominated) performance as Kym, a recovering drug addict who powers her way through her sister’s wedding like a locomotive in Jonathan Demme‘s Rachel Getting Married. Director Demme, best known for making films like The Silence of the Lambs (and in recent years, the acclaimed documentaries Neil Young: Heart of Gold and Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains), lends the proceedings the feel of a verité film, his viewer another guest at the weekend nuptials; the script from Jenny Lumet (Sidney’s daughter) stings and warms in equal measure.
One notable DVD featurette examines the film’s eclectic soundtrack, which includes songs from Robyn Hitchcock (who performs on-screen during the wedding), and TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adembimpe (who in a key role, plays Rachel’s fiancé). Deleted scenes, a cast and crew Q&A, and two commentary tracks highlight the remainder of the bonus menu. Watch an exclusive clip below.
Next: Watch Sean Penn’s Oscar-winning performance in Milk
Two weeks ago on Oscar night, a pair of acceptance speeches reminded us that sometimes movies are about more than just entertainment. Both Sean Penn (who won the Academy Award for Best Actor) and Dustin Lance Black (who won for Best Original Screenplay) honored slain San Francisco politician and gay rights advocate Harvey Milk, whose life and work became the basis for Gus Van Sant’s moving biopic, Milk. Penn, no stranger to politics, and Black, a Mormon-raised gay writer who thanked Milk for helping him overcome his own struggles, are just two reasons to pick up the triumphant, bittersweet period drama this week. (Need another reason? It’s among the best-reviewed films of 2008.)
Bonus features include deleted scenes and three featurettes on the real-life Harvey Milk and the intersection of Hollywood and gay rights.
Next: The best movie you didn’t see in 2008, Let the Right One In
A piece of future advice for 2010: don’t get caught buying a ticket to the American remake of Let the Right One In without having seen the original. This Swedish vampire tale, adapted by writer John Ajvide Lindqvist from his own novel and directed by Tomas Alfredson, is a quiet miracle of a film that, in this writer’s opinion, deserved a shot at the Foreign Oscar race (it went un-nominated by its home country). Part fang horror, part coming-of-age romance, Let the Right One In tells the story of young, bullied Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) and his new neighbor, Eli (Lina Leandersson), a girl who appears to be Oskar’s age but in fact is a blood-drinking vampire who must keep her secret from the public eye; when her older human caretaker leaves (was he once, like Oskar, young and in love with Eli?) the pair turn to one another for help and companionship, captured poetically by Alfredson. It’s one of the most beautiful — and dark, and darkly humorous — films of last year, and a much-needed jumpstart to a genre that’s become reliant on mediocrity and gore.
Deleted scenes and a making-of documentary comprise a disappointingly light special features menu, but if sales do well don’t be surprised to get a commentary track on an eventual double dip.
Next: Catch Sally Hawkins’ infectious cheer in Happy-Go-Lucky!
Should British actress Sally Hawkins have earned an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of a supremely cheerful school teacher in Mike Leigh‘s Happy-Go-Lucky? We say yes, but judge for yourself this week as the intimate, infectious film makes its way to home video. Through a series of real-life trials that might test the patience of any normal person, the effervescent Poppy (Hawkins, who workshopped the role with Leigh) maintains a smile no matter how rough life gets — to the consternation of her grumpy driving instructor, Scott (a hilariously on-edge Eddie Marsan), and perhaps, also to viewers. Only a few extra features are to be found here, including a commentary track by director Leigh, although one behind-the-scenes featurette in particular provides insight into the creation of the film and of the Poppy character, whose bliss is anything but ignorant.
Next: Raunchy laughs with Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott in Role Models
Director David Wain has had a hit-or-miss career with his comedies (I blame that Stella sense of humor) but his latest flick, Role Models, is a solid combination of crass humor, strong characterizations, and dorkiness of the RPG-playing kind. Which is to say, I was sold. The Certified Fresh comedy — a rarity these days, unless your name is Judd Apatow — follows energy drink-selling buddies Danny and Wheeler (Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott) sentenced to mentor a pair of troubled kids as community service: sword-wielding LARP devotee (that’s Live Action Role Playing game to you non-nerds), Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, AKA Superbad‘s McLovin’) and foul-mouthed troublemaker Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson, who steals the show).
The DVD includes both the theatrical cut and an uncut version that runs three minutes longer, as well as a host of featurettes/deleted scenes/alternate takes. Look for Knocked Up OB-GYN Ken Jeong in a scene-stealing role as the king of Augie’s role-playing realm.
Next: Charlie Kaufman’s challenging Synecdoche, New York
If you’re a fan of Charlie Kaufman, chances are you’re enamored of the signature complexities of his screenplays for films like Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Well, if you like those Kaufman flicks, just try to wrap your mind around his latest, which also marks his directorial debut. Synecdoche, New York tells the story of a struggling playwright (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who decides to mount his life’s greatest work — an autobiographical play with no ending — in a giant warehouse, casting actors to play himself and his loved ones until the whole thing takes on a meta-quality that will have you scratching your head well past the end credits. It’s impressive stuff, if fairly impenetrable; as Roger Ebert advises, see it twice. Four DVD featurettes, including a Blogger’s Roundtable discussion of the film with Glenn Kenny, Walter Chaw, Andrew Grant, Karina Longworth, and Chris Beaubien, should help you filter Kaufman’s opus.
Next: Transporter 3 the worst of the franchise, but hey — it’s Jason Statham!
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who actually want to see Transporter 3, and those who wouldn’t do it for a million bucks. (There’s also my kind — people who had to see it and wish they didn’t.) While the first Transporter (53%) is a straight-up pleasure, and the second (51%) is more of a guilty one, this third flick — directed by Olivier Megaton, who named himself after Hiroshima — is a slim imitation of a Transporter movie, and features the worst actress of the entire franchise (newcomer Natalya Rudakova, who was apparently discovered by Luc Besson on the street). But if you like the idea of watching Jason Statham fight baddies using a dress shirt as a weapon (all the while getting increasingly unclothed), then Transporter 3 might not feel like a complete waste of time.
Next: Beyonce, Mos Def sing the blues in Cadillac Records
If soul music is your bag, then Cadillac Records should be worth a rental; the biographical tale of Chess Records, the studio that brought musicians like Etta James (Beyonce Knowles) and Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright) to the masses in the 1960s, earned decent enough reviews but critics agreed the light drama coasted on the strength of its music. Adrien Brody stars as Leonard Chess, the R&B-loving businessman who made it all happen; Beyonce, Wright, and Mos Def (as Chuck Berry) hit all the right notes in performing their own songs. Featurettes, deleted scenes, and a commentary by director Darnell Martin supplement the disc.
Next: Holocaust dramatics in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
A German boy befriends a Jewish prisoner and begins to question the Nazi way of life in this Holocaust drama, which drew mixed reviews from critics. While some thought it among the best films of the year, others criticized its execution and the decision to turn an event as horrific as the Holocaust into a parable. Deleted scenes, a making-of featurette, and a commentary track by writer/director Mark Herman and author John Boyne, who wrote the original book of the same name.
Next: Pinocchio celebrates his 70th birthday on Blu-ray
It’s hard to believe that Disney’s classic adventure Pinocchio is already celebrating its 70th birthday, but what’s even more incredible is how good a job the Mouse House has done with this Blu-ray release; every single scene is a dazzling work of art. Disney’s remastering process has burnished the film with an amazing clarity and richness, so much so that watching Pinocchio again this way is like watching it for the first time. You’ll be swept away by the painterly details that the Blu-ray cut reveals — the way something as simple as an ocean wave laps against another in the background, or how the camera turns to follow Pinocchio walk up and down a street despite the medium’s two-dimensional constraints.
Fans of the wooden hero (or of Disney animation history in general) should employ either the new pop up trivia track or the “Cine-Explore” track featuring film critic Leonard Maltin, animator Eric Goldberg, and J.B. Kaufman. In addition to behind-the-scenes documentary features that cover all things Pinocchio, Disney has included deleted scenes (told via storyboards), production galleries, archival trailers from every one of Pinocchio‘s theatrical releases, games, alternate viewing options (including the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio), and, as with Disney’s Blu-ray titles, a standard DVD of the film. Wish upon a star for this stellar (and limited edition!) Blu-ray release.
Next: Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology on Blu-ray
It’s that Bat-time, people: time to sit down with all four pre-Nolan Batman flicks and revisit the franchise before the franchise, from Batman (69%) to Batman Returns (77%) to Batman Forever (44%) to Batman & Robin (12%)! Warner Bros. is releasing all four films to DVD and Blu-ray (each in their own 2-disc Special Edition), and though the set does not include either Batman Begins (84%) or The Dark Knight (94%) (or the camp-tastic 1966 version), keep in mind that a double and triple dip is inevitable. That said, if you’re a Batman completist and love the high def format, you’ll find that these remastered flicks look and sound good even one to two decades after initial release. Just watch out for those Blu-ray-enhanced codpieces.
A host of commentary tracks, deleted scenes, featurettes, and even a four-film spanning “Shadows of the Bat” documentary come within the box set, though there are no added materials beyond what has already appeared in the anthology on standard DVD.
Until next week, happy renting!
In the movie world there is no event greater, no red carpet glitzier, no awards show more meaningful, than that of the Academy Awards. While millions watch the biggest night in Hollywood via television and thousands post show commentaries on their blogs (or, in the case of this year, on Twitter), Rotten Tomatoes was on the ground, right smack dab in the middle of it all. Read on as RT’s Jen Yamato recounts this year’s Oscars show, from the best parts of the musical-laden telecast to the quiet moments backstage with the night’s triumphant winners.
Jen here! After weeks of anticipation and months of populating Rotten Tomatoes’ Awards Tour with major awards show news, galleries, trivia, and interviews with this year’s Oscar nominees and winners, the day finally came to cover the Superbowl of movies: The 81st Annual Academy Awards! So on Sunday afternoon, I gussied myself up (left) — formal wear mandatory, even for the backstage press room — and headed to the Hollywood Renaissance Hotel to camp out for the next eight hours. It was just like my Senior Prom, only instead of a tuxedoed date (he’d worn white a la Mickey Rourke this year, incidentally) I’d be cozied up with my laptop, watching glamorous A-listers traipse up and down the red carpet practicing their best “It was an honor just to be nominated” faces.
Would Kate Winslet break the Susan Lucci curse and wrestle the Best Actress trophy from Meryl Streep‘s greedy paws? Could any film other than Slumdog Millionaire really contend for the Best Picture prize? Would Hugh Jackman usher in a new era of song-and-dance hosting, or make us long for the days of a Billy Crystal wisecrack? And would Beyonce please change out of that black and gold mermaid dress, which someone apparently made from her grandma’s drapery??
— Oscar host Hugh Jackman, before launching into the opening musical sequence
Oscar watchers had known for a while that this year’s show would be different; ratings in recent years had dipped so low that some wondered if the Academy could ever get America watching again. (ABC’s early numbers show that ratings were up six percent from last year’s all time low of 32 million viewers.) But who knew it would be this different?
Filmmakers Bill Condon and Laurence Mark (the writer/director and producer of 2006’s Oscar-winning Dreamgirls, respectively) were tapped to produce the show, no doubt in hopes that they would jazz up the proceedings. As they’d done to the film musical genre (with Dreamgirls and Chicago, which Condon wrote), the duo injected the Oscar show with a healthy smattering of shuffle-ball-changes and jazz hands, employing Aussie stage star-turned-Wolverine Hugh Jackman to lead two huge musical numbers; the first one, lampooning the Best Picture nominees, worked (thanks in large part to singing starlet Anne Hathaway, plucked from the crowd to duet with Jackman in the spirit of Frost/Nixon).
The second number, featuring guest stars Beyonce, Amanda Seyfried, Dominic Cooper, Zac Efron, and Vanessa Hudgens…not so much. Even with help from Baz Luhrmann — the king of the overdone, sentimental spectacle — the ode to music in movies from Jackman and Co. had many viewers wondering when the Oscars had become the Tony Awards. That is, those viewers who knew what the Tonys are to begin with. Others (read: the under-40 crowd) just squirmed in their seats until the singing and dancing were over.
Fun fact: The Oscars provide an “Academy Librarian” in the press room to answer your nerdiest, most obscure Oscar-related questions. When did Oscar last feature an all-star musical number?
It was back in 1990, two years after the infamous Alan Carr-produced spectacle-debacle featuring Snow White and Rob Lowe. My personal favorite is the sequence from the year before, with “stars of the future” like Ricki Lake, Patrick Dempsey, and Corey Feldman.
Next: Backstage with Kate Winslet, Best Actress winner
— Kate Winslet, after winning the Oscar for Best Actress
Being backstage in the press room amounts to a lot of waiting around. You can tune in to the telecast on a headset when the winners, ushered to us after receiving their Oscars, are not at the podium taking questions. Even then, it becomes tedious; I hate to say it, but even journalists don’t much care what a production designer or technical Oscar-winner has to say. So you look forward to the big stars coming through, for the moments of true giddiness and jubilance that can only be delivered by an actor or actress who’s been waiting years for their moment to shine.
Kate Winslet gave us one of those big emotional moments. At the end of a three hour plus telecast, her speech onstage revealed a bundle of nerves — a seasoned actress who, despite numerous accolades this year alone, was obviously still blown away by her first Academy Award win.
Backstage minutes later, she was still visibly overwhelmed. Clutching her Oscar with both hands, shock still on her face, Winslet still had tears of joy in her eyes. After answering a few minutes of questions, she paused. “It’s sort of dawning on me now that I just won an Oscar,” she mumbled, looking down at the statuette. “It’s only starting to sink in right now actually. Oh, my God.”
When a familiar voice took the microphone to ask the next question, she ran off the stage to greet him. “Baz, where are you?” After greeting Daily Mail columnist Baz Bamigboye with a hug — he’s been interviewing her for almost two decades — she returned.
On the controversy surrounding her film The Reader, for which she won Best Actress: “I don’t have any concerns, you know. I mean, I can’t be responsible for the emotional response that an audience has to any film,” she said. “I don’t think any actor really can, and I think going into it, I was very aware that if an audience did feel any level of sympathy for Hanna, and they felt morally compromised as a consequence, that would be an interesting emotion for them to then deal with. It certainly wasn’t my intention to make people sympathize with an SS guard.”
Next: Best Actor Sean Penn gets political in the press room
— Sean Penn, after winning the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Harvey Milk
In stark contrast to the highly emotional Winslet, Best Actor winner Sean Penn strode into the press room as if entering a post office; there to run an errand, to do a job required of him: to talk to the press. His Oscar was nowhere to be seen. He stood, hands in pockets, and answered a line of questioning prompted by his politically-charged acceptance speech.
“I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect,” Penn had said during the telecast, “and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren’s eyes if they continue that way of support.” It was poetic justice of sorts for the man who’d portrayed slain gay activist Harvey Milk to receive the night’s top acting honor while outside, anti-gay demonstrators surrounded the Oscar perimeter with signs. In the press room, Penn continued to shame those detractors. What would he say if he should come face to face with them?
“I’d tell them to turn in their hate card and find their better self,” he answered. “I think that these are largely taught limitations and ignorances…it’s very sad in a way, because it’s a demonstration of such emotional cowardice to be so afraid to be extending the same rights to a fellow man as you would want for yourself.”
After a string of politically-themed questioning (What does Penn think of Barack Obama’s stance on gay marriage? He hopes it’s not a “future one or a felt one”), Penn was ready for lighter talk. Could he describe his friendship with fellow nominee Mickey Rourke, who many felt might steal the Oscar from underneath Penn’s nose?
“I’ve been making movies for over 25 years and I can’t speak for his consistent sense of me. He’s an excellent bridge burner at times, but we’ve had for the most part a very close friendship,” Penn shared. “And he’s somebody that I alternatively looked up to and advised and directed, I’ve wanted to work with and admired and quite literally had me, almost throughout The Wrestler, weeping.”
“He’s one of our most talented actors; he always was. Comebacks are funny, and we talk about it with him, but everyone in this room has to make a comeback every day. Life is tough. And I think what’s sensational about him is always what’s been sensational about him; he’s one of the great poetic talents in acting that we have.”
Next: Montages, skits, and everything in between — did the telecast work?
— Oscar-winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski
Of course, while winners are addressing the press backstage, there’s still a show going on. This year’s production introduced new concepts and experiments; what would hold audiences’ attention, or help the Academy get past its popular reputation as an elitist night of self congratulation?
The answer: montages and skits, and lots of them. The Academy worked closely with Hollywood’s major studios to trade on-air exposure for content that could engage the minds of American viewers. Space Chimps, for example, would never have been mentioned in a previous year’s show, but it made an appearance in the night’s Animation reel. Step Brothers, a Will Ferrell comic flop, showed up briefly in the Comedy tribute. Even the show’s closing credits featured a montage highlighting upcoming films, most of which (Sherlock Holmes, Old Dogs, Terminator Salvation) aren’t exactly Oscar material and in all honesty won’t be nominated at the 82nd Annual Academy Awards.
In one skit, Pineapple Express stars Seth Rogen and James Franco watched the “Oscars” in character as their stoner counterparts, a funny bit (for a bit) that included the random appearance of Oscar-winning DP Janusz Kaminski: “Suck on that, Anthony Dod Mantle!” Mantle did, in fact, suck on that, later winning the Academy Award for Cinematography for Slumdog Millionaire.
Zeitgeist-capturing catch phrases were as plentiful as if in any Shrek film, from Ben Stiller‘s post-postmodern Joaquin Phoenix shtick to Will Smith‘s ad-lib following a teleprompter flub: “Boom goes the dynamite!” Even the old fogies on ABC’s pre-show red carpet coverage had learned to reference Twitter, which was the new media forum du jour for the night.
Next: Heath Ledger’s family remembers their son backstage
— Kate Ledger on her late brother and Best Supporting Actor winner, Heath Ledger
When asked if we had questions for the Ledger family, the entire room answered together in one shout: “YES!” And so the family of the late Heath Ledger — father Kim, mother Sally, and sister Kate — came in to discuss his posthumous Oscar win for portraying The Joker in Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight.
Gingerly but with quiet strength, the trio answered inquiries on a range of topics.
Would they take the Oscar home to Australia? (By Academy rule, it belongs to Heath’s daughter Matilda, who can claim it when she turns 18.)
How would Heath have reacted to his win? (“I think he would be really quietly pleased,” said mother Sally Bell.)
How close is the family to Matilda’s mother, actress Michelle Williams? (“Very close,” answered Kate Ledger. “She’s doing an amazing job with Matilda, and we speak all the time so we’re in constant contact and always will be.”)
Lastly, Ledger’s sister shared what she’d seen of Heath’s unfinished film, Terry Gilliam‘s The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. “We have seen a little bit of footage,” she said. “He only completed about a third of the film. And we’ve had some incredible actors — Johnny Depp and Jude Law and Colin Farrell — step in to complete it. And I think it’s going to be…amazing.”
“Terry is amazing and Heath always had such enthusiasm and interest in whatever Terry was doing,” she concluded.
Next: Best Supporting Actress Penelope Cruz thanks Woody Allen
Spanish actress Penelope Cruz kicked off the night with one of the first major awards — Best Supporting Actress, for her fiery performance in Vicky Cristina Barcelona — which marked her first Oscar win. (I personally think she was robbed in 2006 in the Best Actress race, which she lost to Helen Mirren.) After threatening to faint onstage in her acceptance speech, she made her way to the press room, where she stood serenely, cradling her Academy Award in the crook of one arm as if it were a bouquet of roses and she’d just been crowned Miss Universe.
Cruz explained that while filming Vicky Cristina Barcelona she was quite insecure in her performance, and only learned that the film was a comedy at its Cannes premiere.
“When you’re working with Woody Allen you know that you can trust the person that you’re working with and if he doesn’t like something he will tell you,” she explained. “If he likes it, he will tell you. He’s not a man of too many words, but he’s honest and that’s what counts for me. We just trusted him. We did the whole movie in four weeks — four and a half weeks, so I had no idea what it was to be.
With the Oscars this year and last going largely to foreign winners (including Cruz’s real-life boyfriend and Vicky Cristina Barcelona co-star, Javier Bardem), is Hollywood opening itself up to honor international filmmakers? Cruz thought so.
“Could you work in America if you have an accent? Yes, you can. And that has been changing in the last 10 or 15 years. It was much harder before, but movies represent life, movies represent what happens in the streets. Then we are all in this together.”
After doing her duty, Cruz left the room to return to her seat and watch the Oscars, as she’d said she’d done as a child growing up in the Spanish town of Alcobendas.
Next: Slumdog Millionaire’s Danny Boyle shouts out to Rotten Tomatoes
— Slumdog Millionaire producer Christian Colson, backstage after his Best Picture win
In the Oscars press room, you sit in an assigned seat amongst a sea of journalists from around the globe, every one of them decked out in tuxes and gowns, for formality’s sake; the official, scan-able press badge must also be worn at all times, no matter how it clashes with your outfit. Lucky ones get to park their laptops and recording devices at a table, from which they write and file reports throughout the night. Food and non-alcoholic beverages are kindly catered in the hallway (try the shrimp!), and you’re free to roam, headset in ear tuned to ABC’s official telecast, around a guarded 50-foot perimeter. It’s a strange combination of traditional etiquette and voluntary imprisonment, and the tightest-run ship in movie journalism.
At every seat there is an assigned number card, which you must hold up to be called on during each press conference. If your number is called, you’ll get the microphone to ask a winner one of ten or so questions before they’re shuffled offstage, to escape back into the safety of the Kodak Theater and rejoin the show. Rotten Tomatoes’ number was 141, and it was called once — at the end of the night, while the night’s biggest winner, Slumdog director Danny Boyle, was taking questions.
“Rotten Tom-ah-toes? We love Rotten Tom-ah-toes!” shouted Slumdog producer Christian Colson, who along with Boyle received an Oscar for the film. “It’s got a 95!”
(Slumdog Millionaire actually has a 94 percent Tomatometer rating. For a second I thought about it, then politely declined to correct Colson; he was only off by one point.)
Boyle, whose naturally jubilant demeanor was especially cheerful after eight Slumdog wins on the night, stood with his Oscar in his left hand and a glass of champagne in his right. “My other film, Millions, also did really well on Rotten Tom-ah-toes!” (He was right — Millions scored an 88 percent Tomatometer and won the Golden Tomato Award for best-reviewed family film.)
After the shout out, Boyle answered my question: even with all of its Oscars and accolades, does he still think Slumdog is and should be an imperfect film? He used the opportunity to reiterate his onstage mention of choreographer Longinus, who directed Slumdog‘s end-credits dance sequence. At his side, Colson jumped in to praise Boyle for having the humility to note his error while onstage accepting his Academy Award. “I don’t want to embarrass Danny, and this would embarrass him,” Colson began, “but it’s a measure of the man that in his Oscar acceptance speech, the last thing he addresses is forgetting someone off the credits, and I think that is awesome.”
Boyle and Colson also juxtaposed their tiny Slumdog — which nearly didn’t get a theatrical release — to the big studio flick The Dark Knight. “It was wonderful to see Heath Ledger’s work acknowledged in The Dark Knight,” Boyle said. “And it is extraordinary work. But like virtually, I am sure, everybody, Heath started small as well. He started [in] small films, you know. Everybody does and we’ve got to protect them.”
“And the studios have got to protect them as well,” he continued. “Because that’s where everybody starts, and they go on. Some people go on to some things and some don’t. But that’s where everybody begins, in those small independent movies. And you learn the business, you learn your craft, you learn what you are doing, you know. So, it’s very, very, very important. The first film I made [cost] a million pounds. The whole film cost a million pounds. That’s where you learn your craft.”
In the end, Boyle himself summed up his entire Slumdog experience. “This amazing British poet called WJ Jordan talks about Americans putting jukeboxes on the moon. Soon you will be putting jukeboxes on the moon. I love that expression, and that’s what tonight feels like. Just amazing like that. The bringing together of things that are just so unlikely and yet wonderful and about entertainment and pleasure and exploring things and changing things.”
Next: More of our favorite backstage snippets from Oscar’s big winners
— Wall-E director Andrew Stanton, Best Animated Film
— Best Cinematography winner Anthony Dod Mantle, on filming Slumdog Millionaire in the heart of Mumbai
— A.R. Rahman, composer of Slumdog Millionaire, on the absence of “O Saya” co-nominee M.I.A from the telecast (pictured below)
— Best Sound Mixing winner Resul Pookutty, the first Indian technician to earn a nomination
— Best Animated Short director Kunio Kato (via translator) on his “Mr. Roboto” acceptance speech
Still have Oscar fever? See the full list of winners from the 81st Annual Academy Awards, and browse our Oscars red carpet gallery. To find out where Slumdog Millionaire‘s 94 percent Tomatometer ranks among every Best Picture Oscar winner ever, check out our updated Best of the Best Pictures.
For award season interviews with Oscar nominees and winners, plus winners lists of every major award show and more, check out our Awards Tour.