(Photo by Priscilla Grant/Everett Collection)
Since breaking out on the big screen with her scene-stealing appearance in the hit 2011 comedy Bridesmaids, Melissa McCarthy has earned a reputation as one of Hollywood’s most fearless — and gut-bustingly funny — stars, proving her willingness to endure even the most awkward situations and ego-bruising pratfalls in follow-up efforts like The Heat, Spy, and Ghostbusters. But McCarthy isn’t just here to make us laugh — she’s also proven her dramatic chops in more subdued fare like St. Vincent and Gilmore Girls, leading up to a Best Lead Actress Oscar nomination for Can You Ever Forgive Me?.
Now, we’re ranking all Melissa McCarthy movies by Tomatometer!
Twenty years ago, Jennifer Lopez was just another one of the girls getting her swerve on before commercial breaks on Fox’s In Living Color. Things sure have changed: Today, Lopez is a certified multimedia mogul, with a successful acting career, platinum CDs, a clothing line, fragrances, and a production company to her credit. It’s been a couple of years since we’ve seen La Lopez in theaters, but she’s back this week with The Boy Next Door; to celebrate her return, we decided to take a look back through her filmography and revisit her best-reviewed starring roles. Let’s go Total Recall, J. Lo style!
Lopez teamed up with Ralph Fiennes and The Joy Luck Club director Wayne Wang for this 2002 romantic comedy, which told the story of a hotel maid (Lopez) who finds herself swept up in a romance with a politician (Fiennes) even though he — gasp! — doesn’t know she cleans up after people for a living. Based on a John Hughes story, Maid in Manhattan is the sort of sunny, charming, perfectly critic-proof movie that tends to do very well at the box office in December — which is just what happened here. Despite largely negative reviews from critics who carped that its predictable plot was beneath its stars’ talents, Maid cleaned up to the tune of over $150 million in worldwide grosses. Not all the press was bad, though: Rich Cline of Film Threat conceded to the film’s charms when he wrote, “When we catch ourselves sighing at the end, we get mad that we’ve fallen for this same old formula all over again. But mad in a nice way.”
Give Jason Statham a shotgun and a few quips and he’s capable of wringing movie magic out of even the most hackneyed script, and Jennifer Lopez has proven her way with a good crime thriller before. Putting them together with Oscar-nominated director Taylor Hackford for an adaptation of Donald E. Westlake’s Flashfire, the 19th entry in his bestselling series of novels about the master thief known as Parker, looked like great pulpy fun for genre fans — on paper, anyway. In reality, Parker was neither a critical nor a commercial success, trudging its way to less than $20 million at the box office while enduring a hail of withering scorn from scribes (opined Rex Reed for the New York Observer, “Mr. Statham is to acting what Taco Bell is to nutrition”). A big part of the problem, according to many reviews, was that Lopez’s character was shoehorned in — and subjected to a series of insulting and/or misogynistic plot contrivances. Still, for some, Parker proved a sufficiently entertaining diversion during a dreary era for action fans; as Steven Rea quipped for the Philadelphia Inquirer, “Take that, Nicholas Sparks.”
After the complete disaster that was Gigli, nobody was asking for another Ben Affleck/Jennifer Lopez movie — which probably goes a long way toward explaining why 2004’s Jersey Girl was dead on arrival before anyone had even seen a frame of film. It’s unfortunate, because writer/director Kevin Smith was branching out here, moving outside the “View Askewniverse” for the first time with a sweet story about a single dad (Affleck) and his struggle to square his career ambitions with his obligations to his daughter (Raquel Castro) while falling in love — maybe — with a foxy video store clerk (Liv Tyler). As for Lopez? She really isn’t in much of the movie, but the shadow of Bennifer loomed large over the production anyway, as well as the stony disbelief of critics who refused to accept Smith’s more sentimental side. But for scribes like Jeffrey Overstreet of Looking Closer, the change from Clerks to Jersey Girl was a welcome one: “Even as the critic in me raged against the clichés, I found a big old lump in my throat and blinked back a few tears.”
She’s chiefly known for romantic comedies, but for awhile around the turn of the century, Lopez made a point of branching out into more diverse fare — like 2000’s The Cell. Nominally speaking, this Tarsem Singh-directed thriller starred Lopez as a groundbreaking child psychologist, but that only scratches at the surface of The Cell‘s bizarre, nightmarish second act, which plunges viewers — and Lopez’s character — into the twisted mind of a comatose serial killer (Vincent D’Onofrio). In an effort to locate his next victim before the prison he’s left her in fills with water, Lopez enters D’Onofrio’s fractured psyche, where she encounters a surreal landscape filled with intense (and often intensely disturbing) visuals. According to a sizable number of critics, Singh’s fondness for S&M-inspired eye candy overwhelmed the plot — but for others, The Cell was an absorbingly disquieting experience. Film Blather’s Eugene Novikov was one of the movie’s staunchest defenders, calling it “the year’s first masterpiece, an insanely ambitious movie that miraculously fulfills every one of its ambitions.”
Lopez got one of her early breaks as a “Fly Girl” dancer on Fox’s In Living Color, but few of her films have taken advantage of her dancing ability. A notable exception: 2004’s Shall We Dance?, which pairs her with Richard Gere in a remake of Mayasaki Suo’s Shall We Dansu? Marketed as a romantic comedy, Dance? is really something more — a portrait of an aimlessly dissatisfied man (Gere) who finds friendship with a dance instructor (Lopez) who helps him rekindle the spark that’s been missing from his personal life and his marriage. There’s a love story here, but it’s really between Gere and Susan Sarandon, who plays his wife. This alone makes Dance? a more thoughtful, mature film than much of what passes through theaters, but for a lot of critics, it couldn’t help but compare unfavorably to the original. Still, for others, Dansu‘s Americanization wasn’t necessarily a bad thing; as Jay Boyar of the Orlando Sentinel wrote, “The central idea — that losing yourself in a small, private world can help you to better engage the larger world — isn’t lost in translation.”
Mark Spragg’s novel got the Lasse Hallström treatment in this 2005 adaptation, which stars Lopez as a widowed single mother who tries to escape an abusive relationship by fleeing to the Wyoming ranch of her estranged father-in-law (Robert Redford). Co-starring Morgan Freeman, Josh Lucas, and one very threatening bear, An Unfinished Life shuffled around Miramax’s release schedule for years, and when it finally reached theaters in September 2005, neither its reviews nor its box office totals reflected the high-priced talent assembled to bring it to the screen. Though filmgoers were indifferent and many critics felt it was too sentimental and predictable, for some scribes, An Unfinished Life was a movie rich with quiet pleasures. Wrote Will Harris of Bullz-Eye, “This is a phenomenal character study of the grief of a father and the guilt of a friend. If you find it’s unfolding too slowly for you, just focus on the wonderful performances by Redford and Freeman, and they’ll pull you through.”
Oliver Stone took a noir detour with this twisty thriller, which embroiled Lopez in a sweaty imbroglio involving her psycho husband (Nick Nolte), an eight-fingered drifter (Sean Penn), a violent maniac (Joaquin Phoenix) and his girlfriend (Claire Danes), an unscrupulous mechanic (Billy Bob Thornton), and the town sheriff (Powers Boothe). As you might guess given all the players, U-Turn is a story cluttered with sex, thievery, and double crosses — and one as luridly violent as Natural Born Killers — and all that plotting left some critics pining for the days when Stone was more interested in the lives and deaths of American presidents. For others, though, it was a straight-ahead treat: In the words of Time Out’s Geoff Andrew, “Penn turns in a crisp, unfussy comic performance, Lopez vamps like a scorpion in heat, Nolte sustains a pretty good John Huston impression, and Thornton is mighty peculiar as the mechanic from hell.”
A year before her breakout with Selena, Lopez scored one of her earliest film roles in Bob Rafelson’s Blood and Wine, the third leg of the loose trilogy he and Jack Nicholson started with Five Easy Pieces. A noir thriller about an adulterous jewel thief (Nicholson) and his duplicitous partner (Michael Caine), Blood and Wine didn’t ask Lopez to do much besides add the storyline’s requisite erotic heat; fortunately, she was more than up to the task, playing Nicholson’s Cuban mistress-cum-accomplice with the same sort of smoldering verve she’d bring to the screen in Out of Sight two years later. Though it didn’t enjoy much commercial success, or the same sort of critical status afforded Five Easy Pieces, Blood wasn’t without its fans. Applauded Nick Davis of Nick’s Flick Picks, “Bob Rafelson sends this movie out like a hissing flare from the island of the nearly-forgotten, and if justice had prevailed, moviegoers would have answered the call.”
The shocking murder of singer Selena Quintanilla-Pérez had barely faded from the headlines when this Gregory Nava-directed biopic reached theaters in 1997, and sensationalism aside, it isn’t hard to see what drew Hollywood to the story — during her brief career, Selena showed all the makings of a huge star, and her death only intensified the devotion of her fans. For Lopez, the opportunity to portray Selena was the chance of a lifetime — a bittersweet reunion with Nava, who gave her a small part in 1995’s My Family, for a starring role in the most high-profile production of her career. Though Selena was rightly criticized for taking a reverential approach to its subject, even its harshest critics were quick to praise Lopez for her glowingly confident performance. As Jean Oppenheimer wrote in her review for Boxoffice Magazine, “Jennifer Lopez is sensational. She not only looks remarkably like the real star, but she radiates the same incredible energy, warmth, style and magnetism for which the young pop singer was known.”
When Jennifer Lopez wore a barely-there dress at the Grammy Awards in February 2000, she dropped jaws around the world — but for anyone who’d had the pleasure of seeing her with George Clooney in 1998’s Out of Sight, a skimpy Versace gown and some double-sided tape couldn’t compare to the way Lopez had burned up the screen as U.S. Marshal Karen Sisco. There’s a reason Entertainment Weekly voted this the sexiest movie of all time, and it boils down to the ingredient Roger Ebert identified in his review: “At the center of the film is the repartee between Jennifer Lopez and George Clooney, and these two have the kind of unforced fun in their scenes together that reminds you of Bogart and Bacall.” With his adaptation of the Elmore Leonard novel, director Steven Soderbergh could have created just another heist flick, but Lopez and Clooney’s chemistry, along with Scott Frank’s razor-sharp screenplay, takes it to another level. As Sisco, Lopez gets to alternate between tough and vulnerable, all while being lovingly lit by Soderbergh and cinematographer Elliot Davis; meanwhile, Clooney’s screen presence had evolved from “moonlighting TV star” to “certified leading man.” As Radheyan Simonpillai noted in his review for AskMen.com, “Soderbergh finds the perfect equilibrium between mainstream entertainment and arty panache, lacing this heist movie/romantic comedy with character-motivated time shifting, prominent freeze-frames, a funky soundtrack and an all-around hip vibe.”
Finally, here’s Lopez warning us, the general public, not to be duped by her (admittedly impressive) collection of bling, as she remains essentially unchanged in the years since her meteoric rise from humble origins:
This year so far seems like it’s been a bit of a letdown for many people; while there have been some excellent standout films, the feelings seems to be that everyone was hoping for more than we’ve gotten so far. With that in mind, a lot of the brand new DVD releases are, of course, going to follow suit. So brace yourselves for the likes of The Back-Up Plan and Survival of the Dead, both of which were poorly reviewed. But once you move past those, we’ve actually got some decent choices, like a couple of indie hits that went unnoticed, a couple of highly acclaimed TV shows in their entirety, a sci-fi cult classic, a grindhouse cult classic, and even some plain old classics. Have yourself a gander:
It’s already been pointed out that this seems to be the year for movies centered around “alternative” pregnancy, what with the unintentional coupling performed in The Switch, which just opened a couple days ago, and the dual insemination antics of The Kids Are All Right. But earlier still this year, a certain fly girl-turned-actress went down the same path in the romantic comedy The Back-Up Plan. Jennifer Lopez plays Zoe, a single New Yorker who’s experienced her share of dating woes and ultimately decides to take matters into her own hands by having a child via artificial insemination. As fate would have it, of course, she runs into the charming Stan (Alex O’Loughlin) on the same day of her insemination and the two begin a romance… but when will Zoe tell Stan about her pregnancy, and how will he react? Unfortunately, critics didn’t much care to find out, saying that while Lopez is as endearing as ever, the plot is a mish-mash of rom-com clichés (what’s new?) and hardly anyone in the cast is relatable. The Back-Up Plan earned a paltry 21% on the Tomatometer, but you know, these types of films don’t pretend to be anything more than feelgood fluff, so if that’s what you’re looking for, then this one’s for you.
George Romero seems to resurface with a new film every few years or so, just to remind us he’s still around. And, appropriately, his last three directorial efforts have all been within the zombie franchise he created and which went on to inspire countless other zombie movies of the same ilk. The bad news is that critics seem to be tiring of Romero’s take on the undead, claiming that he’s beginning to run out of tricks and that his biting wit and social commentary just aren’t as potent as they once were. While 2005’s Land of the Dead is Certified Fresh at 74%, 2007’s Diary of the Dead sits on the cusp of Freshness at 60%, and his most recent effort, Survival of the Dead, fell down to 31%. Survival immediately follows the events of Diary, focusing instead on a pair of feuding families on an island off the coast of Delaware. While one family dedicates themselves to the eradication of the undead on the island, the other family chooses to harbor their infected loved ones in hopes that a cure will be found. The popular criticism of the film is that Romero fails to break any new ground with Survival, and the film feels too much like the director is simply going through the motions. Still, hardcore Romero fans might find it worth a watch, so you can pick it up this week.
Earlier this year, a small indie film hit theaters quietly, made a little bit of money, and disappeared just as quietly. It was an ensemble dramedy written and directed by Raymond De Felitta and starring Andy Garcia and Julianna Margulies, who had previously worked together on The Man from Elysian Fields. In City Island, Garcia and Margulies again play a husband and wife, Vince and Joyce Rizzo, whose relationship is slowly deteriorating. When Vince, a correctional officer, discovers that one of his inmates (Steven Strait)eligible for release is actually an illegitimate son of his, he offers to take the young man in, and the ex-con ends up affecting the family in ways none of them ever could have imagined. Throw in a couple of fine performances from people like Emily Mortimer and Alan Arkin, and you’ve got yourself a bona fide charmer of a movie, one that flew under the radar for most folks. Critics mostly enjoyed City Island, calling it an effective combination of warmth, humanity, and natural humor that’s helped quite a bit by its outstanding cast, and the film accordingly earned a Certified Fresh 81% Tomatometer score. If you’re looking for something a bit quirky, a bit dry, and a bit uplifting, feel free to pick it up this week.
Australian Joel Edgerton is known more for his acting, but in 2008 he made the leap to writing. Along with Matthew Dabner, Edgerton penned the script for The Square, an Australian crime film that was also directed by Edgerton’s brother, Nash, who himself had only directed short films before. The end result was a taut, twisty thriller that made quite an impression on critics, who saw fit to grant it Certified Fresh status at 86% on the Tomatometer. The story revolves around two lovers, Raymond (played by David Roberts) and Carla (Clair van der Boom), who are both married to other people and who are planning to leave their spouses and run away. In order to do this, however, Ray wants to make sure he’s got enough money to start afresh, because Carla’s husband happens to be a dangerous man. As the two plot their eventual departure and take steps to make it happen, murder and arson soon enter the picture, and before long, the starcrossed couple find themselves in more hot water than they bargained for. Though The Square opened down under in 2008, it only saw its US release earlier this year, and now it finds its way onto home video. By most accounts, this is an impressive debut for the brotherly writer-director team, and the Edgertons may be a force to watch in the future.
Whimsical both visually and philosophically,Time Bandits is like a British Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure without the grossness of stoners or the Circle K. Kevin (Craig Warnock) is an imaginative boy who’s wardrobe contains a hole in time. En route to misadventure, a group of little people fall through his wardrobe fleeing their manager, The Supreme Being (Ralph Richardson), on an only slightly organized looting spree through space and time. They all figure they’re good to go because they got the Boss’ map. The visuals on Time Bandits aren’t as romantic and gauzy as those from say Baron Munchausen (sp) but they’re similarly baroque. This is one of director Terry Gilliams’ greatest hits and established his reputation for inspiring adventure and awe, which, of course, made other works, like Tidelands and The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus possible. Blu-Ray should be a good buy, as the director’s style involves amped up production design, so seeing all the deliberate and grubby grandeur clearly should be a treat! DVD includes director commentary, a production photo gallery, dream facts, interviews with Gilliam and collaborator/Monty Python collegue Michael Palin and a hidden Spiderwoman Story Board with script!
Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement have steadily built up their reputation over the past decade, beginning with their stints performing back home in New Zealand, where they had a small following. Their Grammy-winning comedy act soon found a place on BBC radio, which was then followed up by a TV show that began airing on HBO in 2007, appropriately titled Flight of the Conchords. The show followed the duo as they played somewhat fictionalized versions of themselves, searching for fame and love as transplants to New York City. Their adventures are often absurd, and shows are peppered with tangential performances of the comedic songs they had become famous for. This week, the full 22-episode run of the show is available on home video as a complete set, which also includes a slew of extras like a never-before released 30-minute special, a documentary feature, commercials for Dave’s pawn shop, outtakes, and deleted scenes. Flight of the Conchords has amassed a huge following, helping to jumpstart further projects for both McKenzie and Clement. You can pick up the complete set this week.
To talk about the next DVD entry, we’re going to take it back to 1970, when the very first Lone Wolf and Cub manga was published in Japan. The story, set during feudal times, focused on a disgraced samurai named Ogami Itto whose wife is murdered and who sets out with his young son to exact vengeance. An epic story, Lone Wolf and Cub was eventually turned into a six-film franchise in Japan, famous for its violence, and in 1980, the first two films of this series were combined to create Shogun Assassin, a chopped up US version that was shopped to the grindhouse circuit by none other than Roger Corman. Though purists may look upon the film as a bastardization of the original series, others prefer to remember
As bitter as a shot of vodka and bleaker than a foggy day in London-town, Withnail & I isn’t exactly a laff-riot. However, if you’re in the mood for razor-sharp dialogue, vinegary chuckles, and some of the best acting that late 1980s British cinema has to offer, you’ve come to the right place. Unemployed actors Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and Marwood (Paul McGann), fed up with the big city, decide to head for the countryside cottage of Withnail’s horny uncle. Along the way, the pair court disappointment and disillusion but, given the strength of the performances (particularly Grant), you can expect plenty of acid humor. The shiny new Blu-Ray release features a ton of featurettes and commentary tracks, making it the ideal choice for those in a bad mood looking for entertainment on a rainy night.
Austrian director Josef Von Sternberg is most known for his early sound film collaborations with Marlene Dietrich (Morocco, Blonde Venus and the starmakinger The Blue Angel). The actress who famously travelled with her own cinematographer worked well with Von Sternberg because he was as much DP as director, and we can see his skill with light very provocatively wielded in his dramas about men and corruptibility. Three of said dramas are coming out in a box set with high-def digital transfers and new scores via Criterion. Underworld, a crime drama that predates the Hollywood boom of Gangster films in the early ’30s, stars George Bancroft as criminal kingpin “Bull Weed,” a man whose crazy/scary love for his lady, Feathers (Evelyn Brent) is… bad for business. Screenwriter Ben Hecht (most famous for His Girl Friday) won the first Oscar for best script for Underworld. DVD comes with two Alloy Orchestra scores and a new visual essay by UCLA Professor Janet Bergstrom. The Last Command stars German Sternberg favorite, Emil Jannings (The Last Laugh, The Blue Angel) who won the first Best Actor Oscar for his performance here. Playing an exiled Russian Czar who’s only job opportunity is to perform the role of a stripped down Czar in a movie, Janning’s Big Man ultimately can’t stand his reversal of fortune. DVD comes with a score by Robert Israel and another by Alloy Orchestra, and a visual essay by scholar Tag Gallagher. In The Docks of New York, George Bancroft plays Bill, a roughneck who’s work-a-day-life is thanklessly upright, until he falls for Mae (Betty Compston), a dance-hall girl with a fog-shrouded, waterfront apartment-cum-naughty nest. DVD has two scores (one by Robert Israel and another by Donald Sosin & Joanna Seton) and an interview with Sternberg originally made in 1968 for Swedish TV.
Back in 2004, a commercial airliner crashed on a mysterious island in the South Pacific Ocean, stranding a number of its passengers and forcing them to survive while they waited for help to arrive, and so began the saga of one of the most popular television shows in recent history, namely JJ Abrams’s LOST. Though the show had its ups and downs, LOST succeeded in keeping its viewers glued to the TV every week as questions were raised and mythologies were established, and despite the fact that several of the earlier seasons’ subplots were never fully explored or explained, when all was said and done and the final credits rolled, most viewers seemed satisfied enough. Not only did the show demonstrate top-notch storytelling, exotic locales, and impressive special effects (for a television program), it also left a lot of room for its cast to work its magic. LOST‘s formula was so effective, in fact, that several shows attempted to duplicate its success with similarly mysterious premises and multiple story arcs converging via coincidence, but none seemed to be able to pick up where LOST left off. This week, the entire series is available on both DVD and Blu-Ray in an impressive collector’s edition jampacked with goodies like over 30 hours of bonus material to sift through, featurettes galore, tons of footage from special events like Comic-Con, a replica of the island, a replica of the Senet game played in Season 6, and more. A lot more. It’s a must-have for any die-hard fans who followed the show from beginning to end and still can’t get enough.
Written by Ryan Fujitani, Sara Vizcarrondo, and Tim Ryan
This week at the movies, we’ve got pregnancy pratfalls (The Back-up Plan, starring Jennifer Lopez and Alex O’Loughlin); mercenary mayhem (The Losers, starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Zoe Saldana); and aquatic animals (The Disney nature documentary Oceans). What do the critics have to say?
Jennifer Lopez hasn’t been heard from in a little while, and the good news is that critics find her appealing in The Back-up Plan. The bad news is they find little else to like in this romantic comedy, which is sitcommy, predictable, and unconvincing. J Lo stars as a woman who’s given up on finding Mr. Right, so she decides to have a child via artificial insemination. Naturally, once she becomes pregnant, she meets the man of her dreams in Stan (Alex O’Loughlin). Can these crazy kids make it work? The pundits say The Back-Up Plan is contrived and artificial, taking an intriguing premise and bulldozing it with strained, weather-beaten gags and manufactured quirkiness. (Check out this week’s Total Recall, in which we count down Lopez ‘s best-reviewed movies.)
If you like your slam-bang action-fests to contain not a shred of subtext or intellectual pretention, The Losers is for you. But mindless explosions can only take you so far, and critics say this formulaic flick is pretty brainless stuff. Based upon the Vertigo Comics series of the same name, The Losers is the tale of a group of former black-ops types who vow to enact revenge against a rogue CIA agent after a double-cross – an agent who has designs on destabilizing various geopolitical entities. The pundits say The Losers has its moments of humor and white-knuckle intensity, but it’s a largely disposable film, and a mostly unmemorable one.
It’s Earth Day, and what better way to celebrate than by gazing upon the wonders of nature? If that’s your aim, critics say Oceans should do the trick. Co-directed by Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud – the team that brought you Winged Migration — Oceans scours the sea for images of the many creatures that call the oceans their home, some of which have rarely been captured on film. The pundits say while the images in Oceans may sometimes lack explanation, they’re so remarkable that viewers will likely find themselves immersed.
Also opening this week in limited release: